Chapter 11: As the Walls Crack
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Rurouni Kenshin, including my favorite traumatized swordsman, Sou-chan!
Sorry for the late update again, everyone! I just had minor's writer's block, is all, though minor wouldn't be the word I use. - What really happened what that I was uninspired to write the Misao/Kaoru action part, because I actually had to think of how it would go, and I'm not so good with writing action. Luckily, it came to me easier than I thought it would, so here's the update!
I'm so glad that so many of the old fans are still here! I hope that you guys don't think that my usual has gone down, and I'm sorry to report that... Wahhh! This story is finishing! I lied again, because this isn't the last chapter. The next one is. I had planned for chapter 11 to be split into two parts, but then I thought, what? Why don't I just drag this out a little longer! So here it is! In the end, there will be twelve chapters, plus an epilogue. I promise. No more dragging out.
Well, not to worry! I've still got plenty of stuff to dump on you guys! Enjoy!
Himura Kenshin stared at the boy before him, the one with the infamous empty smile and blue eyes. Soujiro seemed, for one second, sad, as he was about to attack. His head was bent—Kenshin could not see the Tenken's eyes.
One last smile. One last smile for Himura Kenshin, he told himself as he rushed forward in a gust of power. His eyes were blank, staring... He was frightening, this boy, this boy who was so young and had experienced violence, because how else could have Shishio Makoto could have trained him to this extent?
He was so fast, Kenshin gave a gasp of surprise. But there was something wrong with this attack... 'The speed of his sword isn't consistent from last time. Why?'
Soujiro was still smiling, still trying to finish what he had started, what he had to start. He struck, again and again as he sped across the room, his feet making shallow dents in the tatami mats, while Kenshin valiantly tried to block every thrust.
'You should have killed him. You were supposed to have killed Senkaku-san back then. It's because you did something strange like not killing him... That's why'The finality of the statement shocked even Soujiro as he ran up the screen doors.
He could almost feel his soul cracking slowly as he wondered and remembered...
The memory of the words Senkaku had said right before he had killed him scared him, jolted him, made him wonder if what Shishio was doing was truly right.
The heavy-set man with the cone-shaped head ran, his leg still broken, as he tried to escape the men who, just hours ago, had been under his control.
Soujiro himself was right behind him. He didn't even have to try to keep up with the lame animal as he rolled down the steep cliff and finally rested next to the river.
"Surprised me again. I didn't think you'd escape them." The words were said with the usual flair–politely, quietly, and calmly.
"You going to slay me?" The statement was also calmly said, but Soujiro could clearly taste the fear in the air.
"Shishio-san was telling to me that he hadn't told you anything important, so you weren't even worth killing." He paused, smiling again. "That's what Shishio-san was saying... But Senkaku-san, why are you still alive? You lost to Himura-san."
"You're wondering why the Battousai didn't kill me, aren't you? I would have been killed by Shishio-sama by now, and drowning all the way down to hell in a pool of my own blood if it wasn't for the mercy that he showed me." The man paused as he remembered, his grotesque face twisting to a smile as he pulled himself to a sitting position with his back to Soujiro, his face turned towards the river as if he expected something. "But thanks to the Battousai, I get to spend another day standing beneath the sun and breathing the air; I'm grateful. I realized that the Battousai isn't just strong, he's a completely different kind of man, nothing like our boss, who uses fear to manipulate people into doing whatever he wants them to do."
'Why? I don't get it. Not killing... Himura Kenshin. Not killing... Himura.'
A heron rose from the side of the river and some of its feathers fell, glowing iridescently blue as they floated down around the back of Senkaku's head.
Soujiro smiled again, his eyes blank and haunting–already, he had decided what he was to do. His sword swished through the air and through Senkaku's head, his eyes still blank, his smile still haunting.
As a feather fell onto the smooth surface and started flowing down the river, blood from the corpse sitting before him started snaking into the water.
"Well? Have you little girls had enough, or are you really looking for a long and drawn out death? I promise that if you surrender now, I'll make the end much quicker..." Kamatari's voice mocked the two young women before him.
Kaoru was still on the ground, eyes flashing with determination. "I made a promise, and I would never break it."
Kamatari rolled his eyes and flicked them over Kaoru's torso. "Well, if you say so."
Supporting her friend up, Misao turned to glare at their opponent. "Don't think that because you've wounded one of us you're better than us."
Laughing smugly, Kamatari threw them a mocking wink. "I don't have to think that. I already know that!"
Misao gritted her teeth angrily. The stupid, cross-dressing transvestite was really starting to get on her nerves, and if she had a choice and the knowledge that she would be able to do it, Misao would have skewered her already.
"Misao, don't do anything rash," Kaoru warned as she fought to stand without shaking. "We might have wounded her... him, but obviously he's stronger than he looks.
"That's right!" Kamatari had overheard their conversation. Taking time to look back to the troops. "Whoever sent out that telegram earlier saying we've already lost had better send another back saying it's not over yet!"
"Kaoru!" Misao's jade green eyes looked to her friend's sapphire eyes. "That means Himura thinks that you're okay!"
Kaoru smiled weakly. "At least he won't be worrying."
"The only think you should be worrying about is me! Come on, you two! Let's get this over with. If you stand ready now I might be able to make it back to Shishio-sama's side by nightfall to celebrate his victory!"
Kaoru's hands pulled Misao down to her, whispering into her ear. "I've got an idea." She murmured her plans to Misao. A wide grin starting spreading across their faces.
Their spirits renewed with the thought that perhaps, the situation wasn't quite so helpless now, Kaoru and Misao got into position for their new tactic.
Kamatari raised an elegant eyebrow. "Well, you heros—or should I say, martyrs—always like to go down fighting."
"Who are ya calling a martyr! We're going to take you down!" Misao's eyes were burning with ferocious intensity, her body tight and ready for action.
"See you in the afterlife!"
"Not if you're going go to hell!" With those saucy words, Misao's body started forward. Her legs were sprinting as fast as they could and Misao made a straight, obvious line for Kamatari's scythe. Meanwhile, Kaoru stood where she was, bokken raised and ready to bring it down.
"Too easy!" Kamatari swung down his scythe. Just as the blade swung down, Misao jumped and threw the kunai she held in her hands.
With graceful ease, Kamatari dodged them all. Misao, however, had forgotten about the ball she had dodged earlier.
The heavy, spike-covered metal sphere hit Misao right in the stomach. There had been no way to dodge it at all.
Tears pricked at the edge of Misao's eyes as she felt the air escaping her body. She heard a crack. At least one rib had been broken.
From two dozen feet away, Kaoru looked with worry towards her friend, who had fallen to the ground, the ball and chain next to her. "Misao-chan, are you alright!"
Misao couldn't breathe, much less answer. She curled herself into a fetal position, clutching her stomach as she tried and failed not to cry.
Kamatari gave a wicked smirk. "I said, too easy!" He raised his scythe once more. "I've learned all your petty little tricks, girls." She looked to Kaoru, whose face was as determined as ever. "Tell you what. If you surrender now, I'll even let you live. 'Course, you'll have to come back as prisoners, but it's still better than being cut to sashimi by my scythe!"
Kaoru glared. "We'll never surrender to someone like you. Come on, it's not over yet."
The cross-dresser gave another laugh. "If you say so!" With a battle cry to match theirs, Kamatari no Ohgama ran forward, weapon raised above his head, towards Kaoru.
At the last second, Kaoru rushed forward, narrowing passing the point of the scythe. She swung her bokken down straight onto the handle of the weapon, eyes fixed on Kamatari's.
"Is that the best you can—" Kamatari's words were cut short as both of them heard the unmistakable crack of wood snapping.
A moment later, the great metal scythe-head fell to the ground. Brown dust from the dirt road flew up. As it cleared away, Misao, through tearing eyes, could see that they had succeeded in their plans.
"Do you surrender!" Kaoru's voice was strong and determined. Her eyes blazed as she stared into Kamatari's cinnamon ones. "Misao and I knew that we couldn't beat your scythe, so she threw her kunai at the handle of your weapon, and I used it as a nail to smack it down, breaking your scythe. There's no way you can fight now."
With a vicious snarl, Kamatari compulsively twisted the wooden stick as if getting ready to jab it into Kaoru's face.
She seemed to be prepared for that, because the moment the stick started to move, Tokyo's only female dojo master turned and used the hilt of her bokken to smash it into Kamatari's stomach.
"Y-you—" Voice and face still filled with hate, Kamatari slumped over, unconscious, over the woman who had brought him to his knees.
Kaoru smiled tiredly, her strength sucked dry. She placed the Juppon Gatana member onto the ground and she quickly moved to the ninja girl, who was lying prostrate on the ground.
"Misao, are you okay?" Kaoru's voice was streaked with worry. She carefully brushed the hair away from Misao's face in the motherly fashion.
Misao gave a weak smile. "You did it..."
Kaoru shook her head hard, smiling. "No, we did it."
Giving a content smile, Misao allowed her body to relax. Registering her friend's words, she gave into the blissful black void of her unconsciousness.
'In the end, it's only the strongest who survive.' Shishio's words were still wandering Soujiro's head as he desperately tried to pretend what he was doing was correct.
In the meantime, Soujiro smiled in an almost malicious grin. 'If you're strong, you live, if you're weak, you die. Shishio-san isn't wrong. The one who's wrong is you, Himura-san!' His sword slashed again, this time, aiming for Kenshin's heart, but like before...
He missed. The sword was swung, but it was the air pressure that pushed him back onto the ground, not Soujiro's attack. There was yet another slash on Kenshin's shoulder.
"Kenshin!" Sanosuke yelled out, his eyes roaming for any new rivets of blood on his friend's body, while at the same time, Yumi smiled and gasped out, "That's right!"
"I missed him again." Soujiro seemed to forget that there were other people in the room. His eyes wandered as he blanked out and tired to find a reason.
Another crack in his shell...
"Kenshin, hey, are you alright!"
Kenshin ignored Sanosuke's question as his eyes stayed single-mindedly on Soujiro's face. "What on earth is on your mind? There is a slight difference speed of your sword. I can't but help think that you have a nagging thought on the back of your mind somewhere."
"Are you telling me that you can see my deepest thoughts somehow, Himura-san? But I don't understand. Why do you hang on to this idea of not killing people? It doesn't make sense. After all, weak people always die in the end. The strong are the ones that are alive. That's the reality." The last sentence was a solid statement.
"I've had just enough of you, you little twerp!" Sanosuke choked on his words in his moment of anger. "You may be an old pro when it comes to waving a sword around, but when it comes to the real world you're nothing but a baby in underpants. Weak people only die, huh? Why don't you take a look at Kenshin–he's been fighting so the weak can live their lives, and he's willing to risk his own life for it"
"Himura-san has been fighting so the weak in happiness. That's an awfully strange thing to say." He widened his grin.
Yumi stared worriedly into Soujiro's face. "Oh kiddo..."
"I just can't understand that. I just can't understand you, Himura-san." He ticked off the things out loud. "Protecting the weak in the world, not killing, reversed blade... Everything that you do." He gave a smile to soften the questioning words.
"What's that!" Sanosuke was righteous with anger.
Soujiro chuckled as he stared at the ex-gangster.
"You let everything we say bother you, Soujiro, that you do... Perhaps, it's because the words 'not killing' stirs something inside you, could that be it? But someone slays men without any hesitation normally wouldn't allow these words to faze them." He paused and stared ever more intently into Soujiro's eyes, the windows to his shattering soul. "Deep inside your heart, you are..."
A flicker of fire stirred in Soujiro, his mind and body shocked and tense.
The cracks from before started moving forward, creeping across the surface of his soul as he tried desperately to save his mask of over ten years.
Yumi also saw the change in the assassin. 'That color in his eyes... Could it be anger? That's impossible! There shouldn't be any anger inside Soujiro.'
"Don't you think you talk too much, Himura-san?" He stepped forward, his face passive for once, the smile wiped from his face.
'Something's wrong. I'm sure there's something different about Soujiro. What is it?'
"Let's go. I won't do something silly like not killing you. So this time you will..." He paused as he started tapping his foot, as he always did before a round of Shukuchi, and then jumped into the air. "Meet your end...!"
As he darted forward, reaching to swing the sword so he could finish this, letting Himura's blood cement the fissures together so he could just keep living as he had, but for his valiant tries, all that happened was... Nothing. His attacks were useless–all they did was merely scratch the legendary manslayer.
The strap of his shoe broke as his concentration did as he rushed toward Kenshin, and he jumped back, surprised. He kneeled and looked down to survey the damage on the sandal.
"What's going on with you, kiddo?" Yumi was getting more and more worried as she saw the strange changes in her lover's best assassin.
"I'm sorry, Himura-san, one of the straps of my shoes broke, so why don't you wait a bit? Feel free to rest anywhere." He paused and turned away, fearing the fact that Kenshin really could see into his soul, could see the snapping walls. "Let's see... I think the extra straps are kept here..."
Soujiro walked to the adjoined room behind the shoji door in his search as Yumi rushed behind him, her usually lovely face contorted in anger.
"Hey, why didn't you just finish him off when you were so close and had the upper hand back there! Why are you just tying your shoe?" She spat the words out hatefully as desperation–a different form of desperation–rose inside the heart of Komagata Yumi.
"I can't help it," Soujiro said simply. "I don't know why the things are turning out this way. I know that what Himura-san is saying is definitely wrong."
Yumi's voice softened. "Soujiro... You're saying..."
"You see, that's what he told me that only the fittest survive in the world." There was no need for Yumi to ask if the 'he' was Shishio or not. It was given. "That's exactly what he told me..."
Soujiro couldn't help it. The fissures were large enough for him to peek through, to the memory of the night that allowed him to turn into who he was today.
Blood. Rain. Tears and pain and fear and emptiness. The memories...
The sharp physical pain as his adopted father swung the heavy stick to his cheek, beating him down to the ground as he screamed once, his pupils constricting as he imagined the blood running down his body and onto the cool ground. The rest of the family stood in front of him, laughing, enjoying the sight...
The rain falling from the sky, the smile that was safely on his face as the blood on the cracked wakizashi mixed with the tears of angels and dripped into the ground, as he had once imagined his own blood. But... In this faint memory, like one an ordinary child has when they've stolen away something important of their parents... In this faint memory, he was happy. The bodies of his family members were lying before him, dead, as was his soul and his heart.
"Back then... Back then..." Soujiro paused, smiling as only he knew. He opened his eyes slowly and he looked straight ahead. The blood from his recollections were just swimming in the turbid sea of memories, and it was obvious to all...
"Back then what he said to me was..."
Ending Note: Sorry, sorry again for the change of plans. I usually consider myself a pretty good judge of predicting length, but this one has got me slumped. The episodes are much harder to write when you have to pause every two lines. Anyway, the next chapter will be the last. I don't care how many pages it is–it's going to have to end. Sorry for not finishing this on time, and updating late... Wicked is a bad updater, and too easily entranced by the dark, angsty eyes of Uchiha Sasuke... Ahem! Well, thanks to everyone, and look out for the next chapter... Hopefully out before the end of the year!
Responses to Reviews:
Anithene: Wow! You read my fic! I'm so grateful, and at the same time, ashamed! There's so many grammar mistakes that I have to fix... (–winces–) Eeek! Well, talk to you soon on YIM! Remember, we are the goddesses of SMut!
Oro 0bject: Oh, don't worry! Soujiro won't kill Ken-chan! That would be too sad, and I need happy readers! Thanks for the review.
Crystal Snowflakes: Wow, I am so sorry I haven't been beta-ing for you. I guess my only excuse is that I'm so busy right now... I have extra summer classes and homework–I feel as if I'm back at school! Don't worry, I will finish editing it someday! Thank you for reading, and for your awesome support!
GoldAngel2: Well, not only am I not prompt about updating, I'm really, really slow. It's hard when you have a short attention span, and there's new manga and anime coming out all the time. I'm glad you still enjoy my work! It's been a little harder to be quick and inspired with updates since I entered high school–I'm going to be a Sophomore!– but I still try. I do think I overdo the drama sometime, but I'm so pleased that you think it's good. It's a pleasure to be read by a true writer like you, and, as always, I'd like to add that you are a true inspiration to all of us writers. Thank you again!
Kerichi: I'm glad you think I keep Soujiro in character! I try not to make him OOC, since he is a complex character whom I keep in high regard. There probably are a million grammar mistakes around, and my problem was tenses has driven English teachers mad. Once this is completely finished, I will edit everything. Thanks for the review!
Thrae Elddim: Thank you for those compliments! I'm very flattered, especially since my weak point is action and battle scenes. The episodes are a great help, though, so I can't say this is all my work. Sorry, I'm not dead, just uninspired and being detained by Uchiha Sasuke of Naruto... Drool... Ahem! Here's an update, and I hope you forgive me for being late!
WACKY: Sorry for the late update! Here's a new one, and thank you for complimenting me on this story!
Moronicus: Oh, a new reader! Thank you so much for the awesome review. I think the same way as you about Aoshi/Misao! Though I have nothing against the couple, I still find it awkward to see a daughter figure and a father figure falling in love. Just kinda weird, you know? There are a million spoilers in here, and the plot is the way it is because I thought there were too many cliche Sou/Mi fics around. After Sou becomes a Rurouni, Misao won't fall in love with Aoshi again. I think that the betrayal would be too much... But the ending will still have romance in it, so I fulfill that part of the genres. Thanks again!
Mari..: Sorry about the long wait again! I'm just so bad with updating this! At first, I remember I used to update this once a week... Now it's taking me several months! Here's a new chapter–enjoy!
Yuna (FFX): Trust me, I'm with you. I usually don't write action, because I'm so bad at it! But since I wanted to keep everyone in character, there are sword fights. Don't worry, the WAFF will come in soon... The ending will be sweet and fluffy!
Another Baka: I take it that you enjoyed the chapter! Hopefully this one brought another grin to your face, too!
Cathy Mark: Don't worry. Next chapter, there will be romance! Finally, right? Sorry about the late update! I've been uninspired to write the Kaoru/Misao part, partially because I'm so bad at writing action. Well, thanks for the review!
Chibi-Assassin: Here's an update! Sorry for the long wait!
MSN-chan: Hello MSN-chan! Please, call me Wicked-chan! Dono is just too flattering for me, especially since I'm only a passable writer. Sorry for the long, long wait... I'm just not inspired sometimes, so I have to work extra hard to churn out a new chapter. Sou did kill Senkaku, but I'm trying to keep him as in character as possible. Yes, I changed the battle between Kaoru and Misao, because I had an idea for that. However, it's still quite similar. Well, thanks for the review, and I would love to see that fanart!
Wood Worm: Don't worry, I haven't quit yet! As long as I'm breathing, I'm still going to love Soujiro, and that means updating! Hope you liked this chapter!
Random Person: Ack! Don't kill me! Here's an update! Enjoy!
Mischievous Lass: I'm glad you love it! Here's an update, and luckily you didn't have to wait a long time for it! Hope you like it!