Past and Future by Hitokiri-san (Beta reader: Nekotsuki)
A/N: One whole year…(twitches) I have no excuse, except falling madly in love with Fullmetal Alchemist. But conscience states that I should not leave a story unfinished, so here you are. I am trying my best to trace my plot from where I left it rotting…and an apology to my reviewers and my lovely beta, Nekotsuki. I really have no excuse. I just hope that this story hasn't been forgotten...
Ch 19 A Soul's Reconciliation
It had been raining blood.
There was nothing melodramatic in that phrase, nothing exotic or addictively beautiful in its rarity. In fact, it was the first coherent thought that entered his mind as he stepped across the alley, eyes stretched to an unnaturally wide extent as his mind strived to digest the horror laid before him.
The area was deserted. Deserted, save for the multiple corpses lining every stretch of space imaginable, and the thoroughly drenched creature kneeling amidst it all; so easily, easily definable even from such a distance. Kenshin studiously avoided the lifeless, blank faces, preferring to focus on the only living human in the area. Some part of him was already immune to the gruesome sight - it wasn't the first time that he'd encountered a scene like this, though it seldom escalated to this level of repulsiveness. His personal opinion of blood and death aside, at least he had become used to such obscenities as a professional killer.
Another part of him, the part that could still recoil from shock and fear, was screaming that the perspective was all wrong; he, the killer, wasn't supposed to be an audience, wasn't supposed to watch as his younger counterpart struggled to deal with the dual burden of pain and guilt. He was in his own past, after all; why was he so powerless to change things for the better? Couldn't he have deterred himself from the destructive path of the hitokiri, to the benefit of his victims in particular, and mankind in general?
Because, a voice mused sedately inside his head, it was a path that could not be avoided at any cost. All the shortened lives and bloodshed against a whole new era…the trade itself might not be equivalent, but in that time of desperate chaos, it would have been necessary. He would have chosen the same path had he been allowed to start over; that was an unpleasant fact. It was madness made logical, a madness that could very well have prevailed in a world of havoc.
Kenshin ignored the voice, because it was right.
If it weren't for the boy…if he hadn't developed this newfound protectiveness towards the child know as Himura Battousai…things would never have been this complicated.
"Himura…" Kenshin was right in front of the huddling figure before he knew it, voice softened to a mere whisper. Torn between the desire to soothe his younger self or to punch his foolish head in, the rurouni was proud at how calm the greeting sounded. The flaming head before him was bowed, stray strands coming loose from the customary topknot to hide the child's features from view. It was impossible to guess the boy's state of mind as of now; Kenshin wasn't sure he wanted to, either. It was taking all his will not to consider the fact that those men around them were mutilated, had died an agonizing death, and that he – however indirectly – was responsible for this. This path of thought had madness as its destiny.
The wanderer didn't ask why the younger boy did it, because it was only so apparent; didn't tell him that everything would be all right, when it obviously wouldn't be. Didn't confront the hitokiri with accusations and screams, as it wouldn't help the matter any. Instead, Kenshin caved into a sudden streak of paternal instinct – he reached forward to fold the blood-soaked teenager into his arms, to offer the comfort that words alone could not bring.
Thus he was totally caught off guard when Battousai, who didn't seem to have registered his presence before, cut him deep across the thighs with a swift battoujutsu; too late to recognize the chilling tone of voice his counterpart so often adopted on the brink of desperate assault.
"STAY AWAY FROM ME."
That was how the older swordsman found himself falling onto his knees with a pained hiss, gazing directly into frozen pools of molten amber. Behind the obscuring tendrils, Battousai's face was a semblance of madness; breath coming in ragged pants as he assessed his metaphorical brother with a small, insane smile that made his counterpart flinch involuntarily. Strange though it was, Kenshin had long since taken for granted the fact that Battousai wouldn't hurt him, that he understood the boy – his past – well enough to ensure that he had no inclination to violence towards his future self.
It seemed, now, that a man's past and future could not always understand each other perfectly.
And for the first time in the whole eventful day, Kenshin realized that he was afraid. Afraid to die by his own hands,ironic as it was; afraid that he would be killed in this strange dimension, leaving his friends to wonder where he could possibly have gone.
It reminded him of all the times he'd willing and eagerly thought of suicide – and was this not a more complicated scenario of self-destruction? It also reminded him of the final, ultimate lesson that he'd learned in the face of death…
He did not want to die.
The wanderer could see his own reflection squeezed into the teenager's eyes, and beyond that, the mesmerizing arc of silver. Battousai had repositioned his katana, aiming for a horizontal stab instead of the lateral slash of before, and Kenshin had the horrible suspicion that his counterpart was already far too gone to realize what he was doing and who he was trying to kill. Anticipating the worst, the ex-manslayer sprang into action – the sakabatou was out in a flash, parrying the katana before it reached its target. Sparks flew from the contact, both man and boy struggling to dislodge the other's weapon with little success. Kenshin had to marvel at the hitokiri's strength and stamina; it had seemed to him, at first sight, that Battousai was on the very verge of collapse – the bloody battle must have caused him fatigue and a few injuries at least. But then, he supposed, fighting with yourself was never an easy thing to do.
It occurred to Kenshin how utterly ridiculous the current situation was. Ridiculous, that he should be forced to fight with his shadow self for no apparent reason; ridiculous, that Battousai should dare to pick a fight with him when he was only attempting to help. It was time to put this antic to an end.
Frowning in concentration, the ex-manslayer retracted his blade abruptly; unprepared, Battousai lurched forward, his sword biting into his counterpart's shoulder with a sickening spurt of blood. Kenshin paid no heed to his latest injury, one fist flashing out to strike Battousai hard across the jaw. There was disappointment on Kenshin's countenance as the younger man was sent sprawling across the corpse-cluttered street.
"What the hell…" Kenshin ground out, rising on legs that had gone wobbly with severe blood loss, "do you think you're doing?"
He had fully expected Battousai to lash out again, even with his blade out of reach, so it startled him when the boy raised his head to face him, the sheer hopelessness in Battousai's eyes cutting off anything he had to say.
"Why…why do you have to see this?" There was a certain tremor in the boy's voice that threatened to erupt into hysteria at any time. Battousai's voice was sharp and ragged now, almost child-like in its nature.
"You don't have to see this! You could have been in your own time! I…" the rest of his words were lost in a wet cough; Battousai was throwing up blood in the next instance, breath shallow and uneven as he struggled with the overwhelming nausea that had taken over his whole body. Kenshin's eyes were wide with shock; amidst the entire blood-soaked scene, he had failed to notice the deep gash across the lad's chest. He was at Battousai's side in an instance, any disappointment that he might have harbored promptly forgotten.
"There…let's get you to some place safe first. You're quite a mess, you know?" The wanderer's tone was tender as he gathered the boy into a secure hold, opting to leave the scene as soon as possible so that Battousai could be treated properly. It hit him with a sudden clarity that his past was dying, might actually be dead soon if he didn't hurry enough. That notion was enough to prompt him into action.
The pale hand that had suddenly fisted into his gi held Kenshin in place; he was momentarily thrown by how vulnerable, how dependent the boy could be despite appearances. Conceding that he should reassure the boy before moving on, Kenshin paused, staring down into eyes half-lidded with exhaustion and strain.
"I…I've always known…that you don't want to be reminded of my time. I know you don't want to remember what I am, and what you were. I'm sorry…I have never wanted you to hate me."
Hate? What was he talking about? Kenshin was dazed with incomprehension. In all this turmoil, the word "hate" seemed completely out of place. How could he hate someone who was dying, vulnerable and so very young in his eyes? How could he hate a part of his soul that - if he was honest enough to admit it – he had cared for more than his life? The question in itself made no sense to him.
Yet…Kenshin's eyes widened as he caught the implication behind the simple inquiry. Could he honestly say in turn that he had never regretted the way his past turned out? Did he not wish that he could understand his mistake before his life spiraled down the doomed path of a killer?
Repentance had always been the sole purpose of his life; why would he repent for what he had done if he'd never regretted it in the first place?
It was a bitter irony, Kenshin knew, that he could despise his past with such vigor even when he knew that particular path to be inevitable, but could not bring himself to reject the impersonation of his past when it…he…was pleading for understanding, for forgiveness. It was as though his loyalties were torn in two – to guilt and to simple human emotions. He could not forgive himself, but somehow, he wanted to. He wanted to see relief on that helpless, pain-ridden face.
"I can't hate you. There is no way I can hate you." You are me. I cannot hate you without hating myself.
The expression on Battousai's face upon hearing the statement roused a peculiar feeling in the pit of his heart – it felt like the small smile Tomoe gave him when they worked in the fields, felt like Kaoru as she bustled around the kitchen in an attempt at food, so full of life and determination; it felt like an ordinary day at the dojo, with his friends raising hell over the last piece of food and him raising a mediating hand.
To Kenshin, it felt like warmth after a whole day of darkness.
It was a strange way to reconcile with one's past, having to face "it" literally; but in the end, the rurouni was glad that he had found a way to make peace with himself, to lay the nagging guilt to rest. After all, repentance could hardly quell the self-loathing that had built up in all those years.
Gathering Battousai – who had promptly fallen unconscious in his arms – onto his back, Kenshin wondered if finding internal peace in a field of corpses was yet another joke from despicable Fate.
xZig-zagx: somehow, homework seems a very distant thing to me now that I've had a three-month summer holiday…I am sorry that the story's been on hiatus. If I am honest enough it has nothing to do with writer's block…(cough)
Ms. Zeal: now the sappy reunion scene is over, we can move on to darkness…this story is currently revolving around angst and darkness and plot! Katsura's in for next chapter, as is Saitou and his pretty company.
PhoebeOtaku: I think I am hating Econ now…got a unsatisfactory grade in the CE, that's what. Anyway, I'm trying to re-read my story so as to remember what the heck I'd set up in the past…not that I want to admit it, but I am forgetting. Isn't that a depressing thought.
Night-Owl123: (cringes in guilt) this can't be called "soon"…but anyway, sorry for the late update, I hope the next chapter will be up soon.
Hikari Tsuki Chi: Oh shit? I am wondering what that exclamation refers to…whatever that means, I hope you enjoyed this chapter!
Lilmatchgirl007: thanks for the compliment! Though I updated really slowly…I apologize…
Nekotsuki: it's been a few months since I've sent you anything…congratulations on finishing Tanabata Jasmine – I am hoping for Snowblind. I think I really got led off by Fullmetal Alchemist…have to work on both Kenshin stories first! I am trying to resist starting a multi-chaptered FMA story because I KNOW I'll never finish it at this rate. I think I'll send you another chapter of Final Chess Piece next. See ya!
Romm: I'm glad that someone actually cares about the random OCs that appear in my story. Takehashi and Kenshin will be crossing paths some time again, before which you can guess his reactions.
Ghost Whisper: Yeah, time travel is one of the cool things I like, but it can be so difficult to write at times. But it's fun, and that is what counts, right? By the way, I feel really honoured to have my fic put up in your archive!
Saitouu Ryuuji: Korosu Iikagen? I haven't heard of that name before. Is he some Choshu bigwig or something?
Himura Arashi: thanks for your support. This fanfic will be continued at all cost, so don't you worry.
Skenshingumi: I am working on the possibilities one by one… I hope I won't confuse myself, which I am already doing. And yeah, I have a LOT of problems with grammar…most of the time I get verb tenses wrong. You aren't the first person who have noticed that…(sigh)
Sailor-Earth13: I understand your doubt of this fic…just looking at chapter 1 all over again makes me want to tear my fic into tiny little pieces (which is why I seldom do that) my style at that time seemed to be lighter and everything I wrote then seemed to bend on the supernatural side… but considering that I started this fic 2 years ago, I can't really say anything…
Swirly: (gasp) you know Chinese! Is it your first language? Are you from Hong Kong? Taiwan? Mainland? (excited squeak) Funny that one can communicate with those " ni3 hao3 ma1" things…my Putonghua is getting rusty…
AthrunZallaLover: Thanks a lot, I'm trying to get the story panned out as soon as I can…wait for me, ne?
Kawaii meeh: I know I haven't been updating in about…10 months (nervous twitch) as I said, I have no excuse to offer. I'm lazy I know…but I really hope you enjoy this installment.
Shadowguard: Thanks for the con-crit…I know I've been using too much fangirl Japanese on this story, which is why I am putting up a Glossary in my other piece. If you're not sure about any of the words, feel free to ask! Sorry I have you confused.