Disclaimer: RK and its characters are not mine. I merely borrowed them for my story.
A.N. Well, sorry for the delay with this chapter but here it is! Ready for your reading pleasure. I have one chapter, maybe two left. It all depends on how long the next chapter is. It will probably a little longer than average for my next chapter since I'm moving this week. :o But it won't be too long.
The Past Returns – Chapter 23
Time stood still.
Seeing Kenshin standing there holding a real sword caused everyone who was conscious in the clearing to freeze and stare. It had been over 11 years since he used a real sword in a fight. What would the outcome be? Would he kill Kyosuke? Would blood be spilled that night?
Kenshin stood tall and strong. His short red hair was weighed down by the rain. His gi and hakama stuck to his small frame, showing the obvious muscles beneath. His amethyst eyes were narrowed and focused. His breathing was even and steady. He was a sight to behold.
Aoshi watched in fascination. Kaoru watched in concern. Yahiko watched in awe. Hiko just watched. He had yet to see his student fight. Truly fight. Not as the Battousai. But as Kenshin himself. The man who was undefeated. The man who protected those around him. Hiko would find out just how strong his baka-deshi was while he fought with a real sword.
Kenshin pulled back from Kyosuke, breaking the contact between their swords. He distanced himself from his enemy and gripped the blade firmly in his hand. The smell of blood invaded his senses as he held the achingly familiar blade. Memories of his past flooded into his head. The weight, the balance, the feel of the sword in his hand was so strange to him. It was as if he had never let it go. It felt exactly the same. It fit his hand perfectly.
Closing his eyes, Kenshin lowered the blade and just let the feeling wash over him. The strength in the sword was not diminished. He could still feel the weight of the lives taken. But there was an odd feeling. Something else. The lives that had been saved by the blade were far greater than the lives taken. Kenshin smiled. Opening his eyes he looked down at his sister who still lay unconscious near him.
"Will the Battousai finally break his vow on me? I feel honoured." Kyosuke said, breaking Kenshin out of his musings. Turning back to his opponent, Kenshin raised his blade so it was parallel to the ground, and pointing at Kyosuke.
"This blade has not taken a life in over 11 years. Neither has this man. That will not change tonight." Kenshin replied evenly.
Both men moved. Covering the distance between them in the blink of an eye. Adrenaline pumped through Kyosuke's veins, giving him the drive he needed to succeed, to win. Their blades crashed with such force the rain was pushed away from them for a moment.
Yahiko gasped. He had seen the same thing happen between Hiko and Sakura the previous night. He knew the force of the fighting had taken on a whole new level. Seeing the same occurrence snapped him out of his trance. Watching Kenshin wield a real blade was strangely fascinating, and terrifying at the same time. Turning, Yahiko focused on the girl near him. She had dropped her guard as she took in the fight before her. Yahiko used her distraction to his advantage.
Raising his shinai, Yahiko brought it down on her wrists. He heard the sound of snapping bones before the girl screamed and dropped the sword. He kicked the blade away from her and gave her a quick shove sending her to the soaking ground. Kaoru turned at the sound of the scream in time to see Yahiko give the girl a shove.
"Yahiko!" Kaoru shouted. She watched him take several steps then pick up the reverse blade sword. Her eyes focused on Midori who sat on the ground clutching her wrist to her chest and crying. The young girl's eyes remained fixed on Kyosuke and Kenshin.
The two men had broken apart and were circling each other at a run. Kyosuke was waiting for an opportunity to present itself before trying to launch another attack. Kenshin's defense was amazingly tight.
"Kenshin!" Yahiko shouted, throwing the sword.
Kenshin didn't bat an eye. He didn't break eye contact. Nothing. Instead he hurled himself at Kyosuke, engaging in another attack. The sakabato soared through the air towards the two men. Yahiko watched the sword with baited breath. A hand reached out and snatched it from the air, before it reached Kenshin.
Hiko stood towering over Sakura's form, holding the reverse blade sword. Bending over he grabbed the girl and slung her over his shoulder.
"What are you doing!" Yahiko shouted over the sound of the rain.
"Letting him fight." Hiko replied.
Kyosuke swung wide, trying to slice Kenshin's chest open. Leaping back in time, the blade only cut the fabric of his gi.
Both men leapt away from each other, putting distance between their opponent. They were breathing heavily. Kenshin was slightly surprised at Kyosuke's power. Kyosuke was astounded at Kenshin's strength. This was a battle unlike any either had partaken in before. Kyosuke's shear determination to survive was what gave him the strength to fight Kenshin evenly.
Kenshin surveyed his opponent for a moment. Kyosuke was proving to be a much stronger opponent than anticipated. It was easy to see where his strength came from. Kenshin knew the strongest thing a person could have was the will to survive.
"We don't have to fight." Kenshin said, staring at Kyosuke.
"I will not rest until I get my revenge, Battousai." Kyosuke replied. Kenshin gripped his sword tightly.
"So be it."
The battle started again. The clash of steel rang through the air once more. Kaoru picked herself up and started towards Midori's crouched form. Worry for the young girl motivated her but before she could take two steps her legs cried in protest. Stumbling, Kaoru started to fall back to the ground when Aoshi reached out and grabbed her elbows, steadying her. Kaoru looked up into his eyes. The pair were soaked through to the skin from the rain. But Kaoru could still see and smell the blood on Aoshi. Fear coursed through her when she thought of whom the blood belonged to.
"Misao?" Kaoru asked.
"She's with a doctor now." Aoshi replied.
"Is she alright?"
"I hope she is." Aoshi said. Kaoru's heart clenched painfully. His tone of voice was not promising to Kaoru. Squeezing her eyes tightly Kaoru fought back tears of fear. Shaking her head slightly she reopened her eyes and looked over at Midori once more. The girl was still crying.
"I need to see her." Kaoru said, looking back up at Aoshi. Turning, he looked over at the young girl. He knew who she was immediately. The second she had entered the clearing Aoshi had visions of the most terrifying moment in his life replay in his head over and over again. She had been the one who stabbed Misao.
Nodding, Aoshi complied. Wrapping an arm around Kaoru's shoulders, he supported most of her body weight on his and helped her walk over to the injured girl. Kaoru watched the girl get closer as she and Aoshi approached her. She could hear her sobs over the rain. Midori was oblivious to their approach. Her eyes were fixed on Kyosuke.
"Midori." Kaoru said softly. Aoshi helped the young woman kneel on the ground next to the girl. Midori turned to Kaoru and looked at her with dead eyes.
"Kyosuke-sama?" she asked.
"Are you okay?" Kaoru asked softly. From the look of Midori, she wasn't thinking straight. The girl was confused and in pain. Kaoru reached out and brushed a wet clump of hair out of Midori's face. The girl blinked and Kaoru watched her eyes come back into focus. The fires of rage ignited in her eyes and she let out a scream before launching herself at Kaoru.
Kaoru scrambled back in surprise. Midori never landed on her. Aoshi grabbed her by the back of the neck, stilling her movement. He gave her a sharp jab in the neck and her world fell black. She became a dead weight in Aoshi's hand and he released her, allowing her to slump to the ground.
"Aoshi!" Kaoru exclaimed.
"She's not dead." He replied, turning back to the fight. Kaoru crawled to Midori's side and rolled the unconscious girl onto her lap. A shout pulled Kaoru's eyes from Midori back to Kenshin.
Kenshin stepped back and positioned himself as if he were about to complete a battoujutsu. His grip was firm on the hilt of the sword, the blade pointed behind him, and his other hand hovered just over the edge of the sharp steel, as if he was holding a sheath. He focused every ounce of his attention on the man in front of him. Kyosuke recognized the posture. In turn, he took on the pose of the ultimate shinsengumi technique.
"Gatotsu." Kaoru whispered. Kyosuke knew the gatotsu?
"Does this seem familiar, Battousai? You are wielding a real blade, facing a shinsengumi. You must feel as if you were back in the revolution." Kyosuke said, tauntingly.
"You are not a shinsengumi."
Kyosuke never replied. Instead he lunged for Kenshin, anger clouding his vision. Kenshin watched the man approach at an alarming speed. He didn't flinch. Kyosuke thrust his sword forward the same instant Kenshin drew his blade around. The two blades crashed against each other with such force both men felt the reverberations down their arms.
It was Kenshin whose eyes widened when his blade continued on its path, shattering Kyosuke's blade and starting towards flesh. It felt as if the blade had a will of its own. It sought out Kyosuke's blood. Kenshin stilled. His whole body tensed and froze in place. The blade was just a hairs breath from Kyosuke's body. It brushed against his chest with every breath he took.
"Just as I am not a manslayer." Kenshin said. Stepping back, he pulled the blade away from Kyosuke's chest. He lowered the blade and turned away from his defeated enemy. Kyosuke stood still and let the rain wash over him. An eerie calm settled over him as he looked at Kenshin's retreating back. He still held the broken end of the blade. Gripping it tightly, Kyosuke launched himself at Kenshin.
Kaoru watched in horror as Kyosuke attacked Kenshin's back. She screamed a warning. Kenshin turned in time to see the broken blade descending down on him. The entire scene played so fast that Kaoru couldn't comprehend what had happened until it was over. She heard the familiar sound of steel slicing skin and shut her eyes tightly and clutching Midori closer to her.
Yahiko didn't blink. His eyes drank in the whole scene as if it was the last battle he would ever see. At the same time Kaoru screamed, Kenshin turned around. Hiko moved, flinging the reverse blade sword at its owner Kenshin reached out and grabbed the blade out of the air. The second it was in his grasp Kyosuke's broken sword found its path into Kenshin's shoulder. He didn't wince, he didn't flinch. Kenshin circled around himself, gathering momentum as he swung his own blade towards the enemy. Kyosuke didn't have a chance to breath, let alone move, when the sakabatou plowed into his body, sending him flying. Pain exploded throughout him for a brief second before darkness encompassed him.
"Kenshin!" Yahiko screamed. Kaoru's eyes snapped open just as Yahiko took off in a run towards Kenshin. She looked up and her eyes widened. Kenshin stood staring down at the body of Kyosuke. The broken blade was embedded in Kenshin's shoulder, blood flowed freely from the wound. In one hand, Kenshin held the katana, in the other he held his sakabatou. Her eyes fell to Kyosuke and she could see his chest rising and falling with every breath he took. He was still alive.
Kenshin sighed. Another battle complete. Another victory. Yahiko ran up just as Kenshin dropped the katana, letting it fall to the ground. With his free hand he grabbed the blade embedded in his shoulder and hauled it out. He clenched his teeth at the pain but ignored it as he threw the bloody blade to the side. Turning, he faced his friends. The centre of his attention was on Kaoru. The woman who had been the centre of his thoughts since the whole thing started was kneeling down cradling the unconscious form of Midori. Her hair was soaking wet and stringy around her face. Her lip was swollen, her eyebrow was cut, her kimono was ruined beyond recognition.
She was beautiful.
He smiled over at them and Kaoru smiled back. She was just relieved that the whole ordeal was over.
An explosion sounded in the distance. It was loud and caused the Earth to rumble underneath Kaoru. Her heart leapt into her throat in fear as she whipped around to look into the dark forest.
"What was that?" Kaoru exclaimed.
"Saito. He had another mission while he was up here. It was probably to destroy the house where you were held captive." Kenshin replied, coming up next to Kaoru.
"Are you sure?" Kaoru asked worriedly as Kenshin knelt next to her.
"I'm sure." He replied. "Is she alright?"
"She needs a doctor." Kaoru replied. Kenshin nodded at the response. Standing he looked over at Hiko and Sakura. The woman was still draped over his shoulder.
"How is she?" he asked. Hiko looked at the girl and back to Kenshin. He had momentarily forgotten she was on his shoulder while he watched his student fight. He was impressed and proud of the man before him. Kenshin truly was the 14th successor of the Hiten Mitsurugi Style, in every aspect of the title. With Kenshin's question as a reminder, Hiko put the girl back on the ground at his feet.
Kenshin walked over to his sister. She was still unconscious when he got to her side. Kneeling beside her he pulled the blue haori open to reveal her wounds. It was the first time he had a chance to see just how badly injured she was. Her whole side was a black and purple bruise. It appeared as if she had several broken ribs. But the bruising was extensive, suggesting that she had been injured long before they had set out on their rescue. There were several shallow bloody wounds on her body that would need some cleaning, and her face showed no sign of improvement. There was a thin trail of blood coming from her mouth that was not promising to Kenshin. Using his sleeve he wiped the blood away. Closing the haori Kenshin looked up at Hiko.
"Can you carry her back?" Kenshin asked. Hiko only grunted.
Midori opened her eyes and discovered herself in Kaoru's arms. Her wrist still screamed in pain. She discretely pulled the knife out of her sleeve as the rest of the people surrounding her watched that damn red-head.
Yahiko had picked up the blade Kenshin had discarded. He was returning to Sakura's side intending on putting it in its sheath. He saw slight movement occurring behind Aoshi. The ninja stood in front of Kaoru, protecting her. The movement came from the girl lying in Kaoru's arms. He saw the blade of a knife and his heart stopped beating.
A flash of steel. The sound of flesh being sliced open.
Kenshin stood in the garden of the Aoiya staring up at the clear night sky. The stars were bright and twinkling down on him. The spring breeze brought a promise of warmer weather. The smell of fresh rainfall was still in the air, even though it hadn't rained in days.
The peaceful surroundings could not drown out the images that had occurred in the forest.
He heard Yahiko's scream and before he could even turn he heard the sound of flesh and steel connecting. Whirling around he expected the worse. What he saw was surprising.
Aoshi stood over Kaoru and Midori. His eyes were wide with shock. Midori still lay in Kaoru's lap. The tip of the blade was the only part of the knife that was visible. It hovered dangerously close to Midori's stomach. The remaining part was grasped firmly in Kaoru's hand. Kenshin could see the blood seeping out from between her fingers and dripping onto Midori's kimono. The brightness that defined Kaoru's eyes was no longer there. In its place was anger. Kenshin had seen Kaoru angry before, but never truly angry like she appeared at that moment.
Ripping the blade out of Midori's grasp, Kaoru tossed it aside. Her hand was badly damaged from the sharp blade but she ignored it. Midori sat up and stared at Kaoru in shock. Kaoru glared over at the knife that was being washed of her blood by the rain. Turning back, Kaoru locked eyes with Midori for just a second before she lashed out and slapped the girl, hard. The force of the slap caused Midori's head to snap to the side. Kaoru had hit her with her injured hand, leaving a bloody handprint on the girl's face for a moment before the rain started to wash it away.
"Are you willing to die like that? Taking your own life! For what? Why?" Kaoru shouted.
"Because I failed Kyosuke-sama!" Midori cried, holding a hand to her offended cheek. "I'm nothing without him!"
"You are Midori! You are not defined by him!" Kaoru replied, tears forming in her eyes at the powerlessness she felt.
That had been over a week ago.
The Aoiya had been a welcome sight when they had arrived back.
At dawns break, Okina had been waiting outside the main entrance of the inn, hoping that his family would return safely. He spotted their silhouettes approaching him at a very slow pace. He could make out the hulking form of Hiko Seijiro who carried someone on his back. Beside him was the boy, Yahiko, who carried his shinai and two other swords. Aoshi was next to the boy, with a man trailing behind him. The last was a shorter man, most likely Kenshin, with someone on his back.
Behind the four men trailed the smaller forms of 5 young women.
He didn't even know he had called out, but Okina found himself heading towards the group of people with Omasu, Shirojo and the rest of the occupants of the Aoiya.
It was déjà vu. The same scene had occurred almost a year beforehand. The victors returning from their mission. The loved ones left behind overjoyed at their return.
There were some differences, however. Differences that had Okina faltering his steps as he drew closer to the group.
Last time, Kenshin had been barely conscious. The sound of Kaoru's voice as she called his name still echoed in Okina's head. Their group had been much smaller and all very badly injured. This time, the group was large. The men who had set out on the rescue all returned with some damage, but on a whole intact.
It was the women who were in terrible shape.
The 5 women who had been kidnapped were relatively unmarked. The reunion between them and their families was a joyous one. Midori was not with the group. Instead she had been brought straight to the doctor's clinic. Her wounds were far greater than any physical wound that had been inflicted.
Kaoru was on Kenshin's shoulders. Her kimono was ruined with mud and blood, especially at her thighs which seemed to be badly hurt. Her hands hung limp over Kenshins shoulders and one was bandaged up. Blood was still seeping through the bandages. She had severe facial damage that marred her usually bright happy face. Exhaustion was apparent in her eyes and she seemed to be falling asleep against Kenshin's shoulder. She was in the best shape of the three women being carried just because she was conscious.
Sakura was unconscious, being carried by Hiko. Her face had been battered before she left, and it appeared that it had only gotten worse. She no longer wore the black training gi given to her by the Aoiya. Instead she wore a blue shinsengumi haori that was covered in blood and soot from the explosions. Her worst injury was not apparent. The blood that had been coming from her mouth had been wiped away and the haori covered the bandages wrapped around her midsection to stop movement of her broken ribs.
But Okina came to a dead stop and a feeling a dread came over him when he saw Misao. She was not on someone's back, which to Okina meant something terrible had happened. Instead the unconscious Misao was on a stretcher being carried by Aoshi and a young police officer. Her lip was cut, there was a gash above her head, and she wore a white robe.
After everyone had been settled, Ginji made his rounds to each person to check on their condition. He changed the bandages on Kaoru's legs and neck, as well he cleaned the cuts and lacerations on her face and arms. He treated Sakura's facial injuries for the first time, cleaning them and putting bandages on the worst of the wounds. There was nothing more he could do for her broken ribs. Misao was the last woman to check, and when he did he had a sinking feeling.
The stab wounds had been deep. Ginji was amazed at the job done by the young doctor Aoshi told him about. The man had managed to repair a lot of the damage. The problem was that Misao had come down with a fever. The only thing that could be done for the girl was try and keep her fever down with ice and cold cloths.
Ginji also managed to convince the men to get some treatment as well. Aoshi sat silently as Ginji repaired the damage done to his hand. The repair job was done in Misao's room. Aoshi flat out refused to leave her side. Someone had to change the ice when it melted and he fully indented to do so.
Yahiko's head was wrapped and he was given some medicine to help with the pain. Aside from the head injuries, he had a few cuts and bruises. Overall Yahiko was in the best shape of all the men.
Kenshin had a deep would left in his shoulder. It was not a clean slice either, since it had been done by a broken sword. It was cleaned and wrapped by Ginji, then he was ordered to take it easy on his arm. Of course Ginji knew that telling a man like Kenshin to refrain from using a sword was a stupid thing to do. Kenshin would use it whenever he needed or wanted to.
Hiko disappeared. The second Sakura was deposited in a room with a doctor he turned and left the Aoiya. His only desire was to return to his home and enjoy his sake alone. He was a recluse and had spent time with people for far too long.
Aoshi knelt next to Misao's sleeping form. He had stayed by her side constantly for the entire week. She hadn't opened her eyes. The only relief he could feel was that her fever had finally broken the night before. His eyes were closed in meditation. He couldn't leave her. At least not until she opened her eyes.
The sun had set long ago. The only light in the room came from the candle Omasu had lit at dusk. The only sound was the steady breathing of the two people. But to Aoshi all that existed was Misao. The fear he felt for the last week was unequal to anything he had ever felt. No one would be able to say though. Aoshi's face remained unreadable.
The whisper was so faint Aoshi barely heard it. His eyes flew open, snapping him out of his meditation and he focused on Misao who lay before him. Her bright blue eyes were open and she had a faint smile on her face.
Misao watched in awe as Aoshi's lips curved slightly, returning her smile.
A.N. Okay! So, no cliffhanger at the end of this chapter! But this is not the end. Still more to come! I hope you enjoyed the fight! Kenshin in all his glory is an excellent Kenshin.
Until next time!