DISCLAIMER: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin. Other people do… they're the ones making all the money…
Notes: Dedicated to Hiko, the coolest RK character of them all. (Tho Saitou comes close, and Aoshi's my personal fave… And in the OVA Sano is really sexy, and Yahiko grown up is soooo cute, and Kenshin is really heartbreakingly adorable, wait, Kenshin in Battousai mode is pretty sexy too… Oh, heck, they're all really cute… ummmmm yeah.)
There are, naturally, spoilers for the original storyline, but the main spoilers are for the two OVAs, Trust/Betrayal and Seisouhen. But the spoilers themselves are minor spoilers, mind you. Tho if you don't want to know what happened in the OVAs I'd suggest you scram. ^_^ I don't follow the storyline for Seisouhen exactly, however. There's only slight mention of about one major plot point. Oh, yeah, I sort of meshed the manga and the OVAs together… So, yeah… The dialogue is a bit different. And I should give credit to maigo-chan for her awesome translations. (I relied mostly on those, cuz the subtitles on the OVAs I downloaded weren't that great.)
BTW, if you are a Hiko fan, I recommend reading Conspirator's "A Star is Born"… Trust me, you are going to laugh your ass off. ^_^
~ Meetings under the Yellow Moon ~
He sat on a large rock, drinking from his jug of sake as the yellow moon watched silently from above.
He was twenty-four years old, and already he had given up on the world.
Everywhere he turned, he saw disease, seeping through not only the decaying era but also its people. The violence increased every day; there was no longer a single minute when he did not smell the reek of freshly spilled blood in the air. It was inescapable. His country was sick, ravaged by incurable malady, and it was dying, dying before his very eyes and he could no longer bring himself to care.
Already, now, he heard screaming, the clash of steel. And the smell of blood, always the blood.
He stood and strode away, out of the clearing and down the abandoned country road, too dangerous for most to travel on at night. Even with the beautiful full moon shining down, sake always tasted bitter with the scent of death in the air.
It was a lonely walk.
He had always had such romantic visions of wandering swordsmen, detached from the rest of the world yet a part of everything at the same time. As a child, he had loved the tales of the ronin, dishonored yet honorable, lawless yet disciplined, drifting from place to place, protecting justice everywhere they went.
Foolish, naïve fantasies.
It was a lonely life. A life for cynics and broken dreamers, for solitary men, for the apathetic. But such was the way of the sword, and such was the path he had chosen, and such was the path he would walk until the day he died.
He realized suddenly that instead of walking away from the agonized screams that ripped through the still night, his feet had actually led him straight to the origin of the noise.
Even as he grew more and more indifferent, he still could not turn away from ones who needed his help. He hated it.
He hid in the shadows, watching, realizing that he was too late to make a difference. Always he was too late. He saw the bandits mercilessly stabbing through a group of poor, defenseless women who were huddled around something, as if trying to protect it… Those bandits – fallen samurai, no doubt, the ronin of the present era… The very thought made him sick. Pathetic, dishonorable men. And yet, at the same time, he knew that they had had no choice. Their lives had been stolen away by war and desperation… He pitied them.
And then, as the women fell in showers of blood, one by one, left crouching there was… a little red-haired boy… A gaijin child? The last remaining member of the party that had been attacked. Was that what the women had been protecting? Fools, all of them… To attempt to hide the harsh realities of life from an innocent child in such violent times… He watched, intrigued, as the boy cowered before a steadily approaching bandit, and thought that the boy's hair was as red as freshly spilled blood, and that the look in the child's violet eyes was fearful, and yet determined at the same time. Different from the look of helplessness and despair he normally saw in the faces of those who looked in the eyes of Death.
It mesmerized him.
He stepped forward and sliced through the other ronin. Quick, and painless. They did not even get a chance to scream. Perhaps, for once, he hadn't been too late after all.
Hearing the drawing of steel, the bandit who had been about to kill the boy turned around, and gaped at the sight of his fallen comrades.
"W-who are you?"
And he said nothing but smiled, a grim, pitying smile. "It would be pointless to introduce myself to one who is about to die." And he took his sword and disposed of the poor, pathetic man. May you find happiness in your next life.
He drew out a piece of cloth and began wiping the blood off his blade, and glanced over at the boy, apparently still in shock, for he had not moved an inch, though the danger was now gone.
"Fate brought us here," he said calmly. "I've avenged their deaths."
And yet still the boy did not move.
"No grief or damnation can ever bring back the dead," he said then, almost sternly. "Be thankful you survived. An incidence such as this is commonplace."
He stalked off, then, wondering if he had been right to interfere. If there would ever be an end. If the scent of blood would ever fade away. Turning back to look, he noticed the little red-haired boy still crouching there, staring at his retreating figure with wide blank eyes. He hesitated for a moment, and he knew then that the child had lost all will to live.
He closed his eyes. "Go to the village and tell them what happened," he said at last, though he knew it was probably useless. "They'll find some way for you to make a living."
And then he turned and continued on his way.
The yellow moon gazed down still.
It was an insult, to be killed as dogs and sold as concubines, he thought. But still, it happened. It had already happened so many times in the past. But he thought too that in such an age, warped more towards madness with each passing day, and infested with villains that he killed and killed over and over like flies, things could only get worse.
Perhaps, this was how it would remain.
The next day, at sunset, he returned to the site of the slaughter, as he always did, walking along a forest path that already was completely lined with graves. For it was no consolation to him that even wielding a blade, following the precepts of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, he still could never save anyone. Always, always, he was too late. But even so, he could at least be assured that the victims would be allowed decent burials.
Each village he had passed by, he had kept an eye out for any sign of the strange little boy who looked like a foreigner. And each time, it was the same.
"He didn't come this way?"
"Iie. Not so much as a cat's been to the village, much less a gaijin boy."
He wasn't too surprised, but felt oddly disappointed. But perhaps he had been mistaken when he had seen the boy's eyes the last night as the child faced his death, and thought that the boy carried himself in a way that was distinctly Japanese, determined to confront any obstacle he met. Perhaps, instead, he had been right as he had stridden away, when he thought that the child had lost all will at last.
And so he was amazed at the sight that met him as he entered the clearing. The field was lined with crude wooden crosses, and not a single body was in sight. And the boy… the boy stood alone, in the midst of death, before three graves marked with stones.
"You dug graves for the bandits as well as your parents?" he asked, somewhat incredulously. The boy looked up as he realized he was no longer alone, and his eyes widened as he recognized his savior from the previous night.
"These are slave traders," replied the boy hesitantly, explaining. The child's voice was soft and sweet, and he spoke in perfect Japanese. "My parents died a year ago of cholera. But… even bandits and slavers are only bodies once they die… so I made them graves."
"And these three stones?" asked the swordsman, indicating the markers before them.
"Kasumi-dono, Akane-dono, and Sakura-dono. They were taken from their families because of debts. I only met them the day before, but I was the only boy and we didn't have any parents. I… I thought even if it cost me my life, I had to protect them."
"But…" He thought of the three women, shielding the little boy.
"But they protected me instead," whispered the child. "They asked that I be spared because I am still a child. That's why… I looked for good stones for their graves, but these were the only ones I could find. I looked for flowers too, but I couldn't find any…"
And at that moment, he came to a decision. He strode forward with new purpose, pouring sake over the three stones.
"Man or woman, it would be a shame to attain Buddhahood without knowing the taste of good sake. This is my offering to them."
"Aa… Arigato…" the boy said, looking up at the swordsman in awe.
"I'm Hiko Seijuro, a swordsman," he added nonchalantly.
"Even though you couldn't protect the ones you loved, you were given these three for a reason. Your hands have been entrusted to the dead, but not their lives. Now you are forced with their responsibility. Find the strength in yourself to hold your own and protect others."
"Protect…" said the boy, seeming to realize something.
Hiko Seijuro smiled. A smile of amusement, of joy, of hope.
"Boy, your name?"
"Not quite appropriate for a warrior." His smile grew wider as he saw the boy look up, shocked.
"From now on, you shall be known as 'Kenshin'."
Sword… Heart… Heart of sword. The sword's heart. He could feel it, he knew it – this boy…
He felt a sudden surge of joy.
"I'll teach you all I know," he proclaimed as he walked off again, beckoning the boy to follow.
You shall have the finest weapon!
Sorry for all the awkward wording. I didn't feel like editing this very thoroughly.
Err, so what did you think? This was gonna be a one-shot, but it got kinda long… like, really long… (Meaning it's already completely written, and the rest will be posted shortly…) So I divided it up. Any OOCness that really bothered you? Please review and tell me!