Dedicated to Beriath: thanks for following my fic all this time! I love you!
To all readers: Yippee! This fic is coming to a merciful end finally… a million apologies for the procrastination… I suck at updating… in fact, everyone must be awarded a medal for being so patient! (See recipients at end)
Ch. 11: Talk about Excellent Control (3)
"Kaoru-dono, you should leave this place as soon as possible, that you should."
There are times when one has to tell his closest and dearest about his past--- This is especially true if it was the kind of past that happened five minutes ago, and would shortly produce calamitous consequences.
"As Kaoru-dono can see for herself, sessha… is a dead man." Said Kenshin gravely, after informing her of recent developments.
It hadn't produced the effect he had expected on Kaoru.
"Mou! Kenshin, there was rather careless of you." She said briskly. "But I'm sure Hiko-sensei will get a good laugh out of it himself. Anyway, we have to get to Hiko-sensei's house now, it's far more important."
"So we can bolt his door and hope he doesn't cut his way through it?"
"Of course not," said Kaoru, a bit impatiently. "We have to get the Final Masterpiece of Kageaki back before Harada claps his eyes upon it. We can't get your master into trouble with the law--- or the other way round, whatever. "
"Oh, right!" Yipped Kenshin. This does sound like a good opportunity for an act of compensation. He started running up the mountain path as if he had been given a new lease at life.
"I hope we'll get there in time…" Kaoru muttered as she followed.
Ironically, while technically capable of outrunning a gating gun, god-speed was never fast enough for some things--- like dodging Kaoru's punches, getting an opponent before he has successfully pronounced the name of his technique, and so on. In this case Kenshin and Kaoru arrived in perfect time to see Harada Reizo standing transfixed before the table like a knight who had discovered the Holy Grail.
"Ah, my love…" The artist said, with a voice that would have been soft and sinuous, if he hadn't been panting hard at the same time. "What… I have gone through for you…"
What Harada had gone through probably wasn't very interesting compared to what was happening now, as a huge figure blotted out the sun from the doorway.
Harada did not turn around. "Ah, I had been expecting you." He said, with a tone that suggested that he had been rehearsing it.
Hiko Seijuro stood scowling at the entrance. At the moment he was not the coolest and most good-looking master of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, but definitely the unhappiest: His hair hung down in dripping coils like dead eels; his clothes looked as if it had dredged quite a lot of the lake bottom; by the sound of water sloshing out of his boots, a fair portion of the lake seemed to have been relocated, as well. And, for the first time in history, the white cape failed to billow in the breeze.
AND, someone had stolen his line.
But Hiko wasn't a man who wasted time feeling sorry for himself, preferring to let other people do it for themselves instead. Currently his sadistic sneer seemed to suggest that a baka deshi would shortly feel very sorry that he hadn't leaped off a cliff to a relatively convenient and painless death when he had the chance. Fortunately, deciding that his student could come after the main course, Hiko turned to the source of all evil, Harada Reizo.
"Harada Reizo," He growled. "You won't believe how much I'm going to SOAK you for assault of an honest citizen. That is, if you don't end up at an asylum first."
"That," Harada whipped around dramatically with the Final Masterpiece of Kageaki. "Is what I was about to say to you." He held up the incriminating evidence triumphantly. "You took it… Mr. Battousai can testify to that, right Mr. Battousai?"
Mr. Battousai, who seemed to be having a sudden bout of paralysis in the corner, simply emitted a faint "Eep!" and said nothing.
Kaoru stepped forward boldly. "I'm afraid you're mistaken, Mr. Harada." She said. "It was I who took it."
"You?" Spat Harada, his voice radiating disbelief that a member of the female species could be capable of anything more heinous than making meals. "Why did you bring it to him? Do you work for him? Speak, woman!"
"Ugh…" Kaoru hadn't thought of this bit yet. "I… I wanted him---" She gestured at Hiko, who was listening impassively. "to, to identify whether its, um, authentic."
"WHAT?" Exploded Harada. "It doesn't need to be identified--- least of all by HIM--- it has, after all, been certified!"
Kaoru sweated. "There are just some places that look…ambiguous…"
"Where?" Demanded Harada, thrusting the Final Masterpiece of Kageaki at Kaoru. "If you can show me…"
"Uh." Kaoru hesitated, and tossed the masterpiece to Hiko, deciding to let him figure out how to save the day. "Um, I'm sure you can find out what's wrong with it…"
"I did not tell you to give it to him, you fool!" Raged Harada, charging at Hiko. "Take your fingers off it!"
Hiko, looking emotionless, gave the pottery a glance. "This is apparently a fake." He said. Harada stopped in his tracks, seething in anger.
"That's heresy… you know nothing about Kageaki, you layman." He breathed.
"I might not know much about Kageaki…" Said Hiko, sounding almost bored. "… but a true masterpiece of Yoshi Kageaki should not have the signature 'Goro Fujita' inscribed on the bottom."
"Saitou!" Kaoru gasped.
"What rubbish are you talking about?" Demanded Harada, walking up to have a look. His face then turned deathly pale as he read the characters. "How on earth…" He muttered, his voice shaking like that of one who's starting to seriously doubt his own sanity.
Kenshin, having snapped out of his stupor, also joined in the Art Critique. "This does resemble Saitou's handiwork." He pointed to the hole through the side. "That looks like a gatotsu strike to sessha, that it does."
Kaoru was considerably tickled to find that her artistic instinct had struck home. "Now that I look at it, it's definitely a Saitou." She agreed. "It must be quite well-made though, to fool the eyes of Mr. Harada."
"What's the meaning of all this…"Stammered Harada. His expression was empty now, like one who had just discovered that everything in the world no longer made sense. "And who's Goro Fujita…"
"Your son-in-law." Said Kenshin helpfully.
"My son-in-law?" The artist looked blank. "But why…"
"I think he probably made this substitute to prevent the real one from being stolen, Mr. Harada." Kaoru speculated.
"Well, fancy calling yourself an expert, Harada." Snorted Hiko, having lost interest in the artwork. He thrust it back to Harada. "Now take it and leave my mountain--- I don't want this monstrosity to muck up my abode's perfect harmony."
The artist only swayed a little, gently, seemingly in a trance.
"Goro Fujita…" He reiterated, soullessly.
"What's wrong with him?" Said Kaoru, concerned.
"Probably still in shock," said Kenshin. "but sessha thinks he has finally remembered Saitou's name, that he has."
Hiko cleared his throat. "Mr. Battousai?" He said coldly. "Shall we have a word alone?"
Kenshin gave a squeak like that from a lab mouse who hoped the process would be swift and painless.
"Mr. Kakunoshin?" Said Kaoru, stepping in front of the quivering rurouni protectively. "Kenshin can't go with you."
"Leave." Stated Hiko.
Kaoru suddenly burst into tears. "But… but this mountain trail is so dangerous! I need Kenshin to… to protect me!"
Kenshin saw hope shining down like a ray of light. "Um… right! Sessha has to accompany Kaoru-dono to… um… protect Kaoru-dono's… er… virtue!"
Kaoru sprouted a few more gallons of tears and pointed an accusatory finger at Hiko. "Or YOU'RE going to be responsible if some bad people… take advantage of me! Like, um, bandits!"
Hiko gave an exasperated sigh. Women…He thought.
"Yeah, bandits…" Mumbled Kenshin, sliding towards the exit. Kaoru followed, shepherding the artist in front of her. He lurched mindlessly, still mumbling 'Goro Fujita' under his breath.
"I wish I hadn't run into some bandits 21 years ago…"Sighed Hiko aloud, squelching to the cupboard to fetch a towel.
"Let's go, Kenshin! You carry Harada, I'll get the lamp!"
"…Not to mention the other party would have been perfectly happy with the arrangement…"
Outside, Kenshin and Kaoru had already taken flight for Tokyo with a speed that could only be called "Reduce Earth".
It had taken a month for Himura Kenshin to recover from sore heels, countless nightmares and a phobia of pottery, but soon the resilient rurouni was up and about once more to face the challenge of everyday laundry--- it was, after all, very comforting to finally do something that could, for once, go according to plan…
… on another day, perhaps, but on this one he was interrupted again, by an excited yell and the approaching footsteps of Yahiko, who a moment ago was lethargically shifting dead leaves around the dojo in the hope of wearing away the broom.
"Kenshin!" Yipped the adolescent. "I've got wonderful news for you!"
Yahiko's grin became wider. "Guess what, your master has come to visit you! I think he has come to teach you some Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu skills that you haven't learnt yet!"
Anyone with less enthusiasm than Yahiko would have noticed that his announcement had the same effect on Kenshin as informing him that the world had just plunged into another ice age. Hiko Seijuros didn't walk into the hustle and bustle of civilization every day, and when they did, 50-foot monsters duck down side alleys if they knew what's good for them. "What… what do you mean?" stammered the redhead, whose color had drained so rapidly that it was a wonder his hair hadn't turned white as well.
"What he said was, he's going to have to teach someone a few things about his 'excellent control'!" Babbled Yahiko happily. "I can't wait to see that!"
Behind him, a few leaves floating idly in the air suddenly exploded mysteriously.
"Kami-sama…" Muttered Kenshin gloomily. Such is fate, he reflected. His shishou is not one to forgive and forget.
"Anyway, he told you to prepare yourself." Finished Yahiko (casting a disdainful look at Kenshin's apron). "Kaoru is speaking with him now."
"Kaoru-dono?" Breathed Kenshin, hope springing up like water from a desert. She had saved him once… would she be able to pull it off again?
"Oh, yeah--- Busu was telling him how humanely student are treated in the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu School…" Said Yahiko, making an incredulous face at the general direction of the dojo. "… not that I am a living proof of it, mind."
This, thought Kenshin worriedly, did not sound like an overly persuasive thing to say to an angry shishou raging after his baka deshi's insides. "Sessha had better go and look, that he should." He said cautiously.
On arriving at the training hall, a quivering Kenshin found to his joy and disbelieve that it was Shishou-free. Kaoru had prevailed once more!
She turned around. "Kenshin!" She said sharply. "What took you so long?"
"What… what did you do to Shishou?" Inquired the rurouni weakly, still trying to absorb the impossible scene.
"Oh, we talked for a bit," Said Kaoru. "Then he said seeing me was as good as seeing you, and left." There was, however, a subtle strained quality to her voice, like tension in an elastic band.
"What did you talk about?"
"Well, we started off talking about the different ways we discipline students…" Said Kaoru, walking briskly to a shelf of bokkens.
"Then he told me about some of the past scrapes you've gotten into…" She picked up a bokken dreamily.
"Oh." Said Kenshin. He had an ominous feeling about this. "Did he mention the waterfall-and-sake incident?" For some reason, at that moment he rather hoped that Hiko had mentioned that.
"No." Said Kaoru, her voice suddenly severe. "But he DID mention the time you slipped down the mountain after dark to meet the farmer's daughter…"
"And he mentioned the first kiss you had with her…"
"But…" Kenshin was flabbergasted. Had a boy no privacy?
"… in all its gory detail…" Said Kaoru venomously, blowing a speck of dust from the bokken. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"But that wasn't sessha's first kiss!" Protested the poor rurouni, before he could stop himself. "Oro…!" He whimpered, as realization came upon him like the curse on the Lady of Shalott.
A tremor went through the dojo as it was shaken to its foundations.
"KENSHIN NO BAKA!!!"
"Ororororororor…"Screamed a voice that trailed off into the wind.
Outside, Hiko Seijuro smirked as the sign "Kamiya Dojo" fell to the floor with a clang. Amakakeru Ryuno Hirameki is too good for baka deshis who go around shoving shishous into waterfalls, he reminded himself, as he set off on his return journey to Kyoto.
However, Kaoru certainly needed to learn a few things about his excellent control.THE END
Hope you like this ending! Comments/Flames? Please let me know what you think about it... if you prefer a more humane ending (Have to admit I'm a sadist, heh...), send me your version and I will post it! Sorry again for taking forever to update... I have trouble finishing a fic if I can't finish it within a month, call it diminishing marginal paragraphs... once again, thanks so much for investing your support, I owe my inspiration to you!
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