After the battle at Toba Fushimi, what might have happened if Kenshin had chosen a different path to redemption?
Disclaimer: I don't own anything pertaining to Rurouni Kenshin or Nobuhiro Watsuki except merchandise, and whatever odd situations that might come out of my head.
Wow! I finally did it! My first posted story! I don't know how long it will actually take to finish it, but I hope you will enjoy my attempt. I will warn you right now that this is not an action-oriented fic, so if you don't appreciate drama, I'm truly sorry. It also starts out rather depressing, what with all the angst, but it will eventually have some humor to it. Any and all reviews are welcome, but I am particularly interested in constructive criticism. I would like to know how I might be able to improve.
Only the Beginning
Written by lolo popoki
Chapter 1: The Message
Hiko Seijuro, the thirteenth master of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, was bored. Completely, utterly, wretchedly bored. Before his baka deshi's departure five years ago, he never realized just how much of his time had been spent on the little twit…or how enjoyable that time had actually been. Since then, the swordsman's life had slipped into a dreary, mind numbing routine of eating, drinking sake, and sleeping, broken only by necessary chores or the occasional artistic impulse.
On this particular afternoon, Hiko had already finished up his chores, and his muse had not decided to pay him a visit recently. So he sat outside, drinking his sake, and ignoring the bitter cold wind that swept though the clearing. And as they so often did when he was bored, his thoughts drifted back to more pleasant times with a sense of wistful nostalgia.
He missed the days spent training…the insulting taunts…the boy's fiery indignation. He missed their meals together…having someone else to do those hated chores…Kenshin's surprising mischievous streak, and his sweet, innocent smile. He even missed the heated arguments that had plagued their last year together. A hermit Hiko may have been by choice, but even he had to admit that the everyday human contact his deshi had provided him had been rather comforting. It got dreadfully lonely on that damned mountain. Not that he would ever admit to such a thing, however.
Gazing wearily down the forest path that led from his cabin, he wished fervently that Kenshin would come walking down that trail, his head bowed in remorse, begging his Shishou for forgiveness. Hiko, being the "kind" and "understanding" man that he was, would naturally take his errant pupil back…after putting him through a satisfying amount of mental torture first of course. The swords master grinned evilly at the pleasant thought. A nice dream, but not damned likely, seeing as how the boy had always been just as stubborn and mule-headed as his master. Not to mention the disturbing rumors he had heard about the dreaded "Hitokiri Battousai" that his deshi had allegedly become. He truly hoped those rumors were unfounded. Hiko shuddered at the thought of what kind of damage the war might have done to his student's gentle spirit.
He was, therefore, understandably startled when he sensed a rather strong swordsman's ki approaching his location from the very direction he had been staring moments earlier.
Could it really be…?
It didn't feel like Kenshin, but who knew how drastically he might have changed these last five years. Probing the ki further, he determined that the man, whoever he might be, did not seem to be hostile. In fact, the mood he was picking up was one of nervousness colored with sadness and regret. Rising to his feet, Hiko set aside his sake jug and stood in front of the cabin, arms crossed in front of his massive chest and his face set in a forbidding scowl, to await his unexpected guest.
The man revealed beneath the trees, while his head was indeed bowed with obvious sorrow, was most definitely not Kenshin. In fact, he was someone that Hiko was sure that he had never seen before in his life. He was somewhat young looking, of medium height and build, dressed like a swordsman, and had long black hair pulled up into a warrior's topknot. Surprisingly enough, the stranger also appeared to be completely unarmed. What kind of swordsman doesn't carry a sword?
Lost in his thoughts, the intruder trudged nearer to Hiko's position, seemingly unaware that he had nearly reached his destination. His head snapped up, startled by Hiko's expectant cough, and his eyes widened slightly in shock as he caught sight of the intimidating swords master towering over him. He swallowed uneasily and bowed deeply from the waist.
"Please forgive my intrusion…you are Hiko Seijuro-san?"
"I might be," Hiko replied coldly, not bothering to return the bow. "Who is asking?"
The man straightened, his composure returning, lending him a dignified air. "I am Katsura Kogorou of the Choshu clan," he stated, meeting the larger man's eyes steadily.
Hiko raised an eyebrow. Katsura...I recognize that name. He's one of the leaders of the Ishin Shishi, that band of rebels that Kenshin ran off with. "My baka deshi's commanding officer," he growled, his eyes narrowing ominously. "If you're here about recruitment, then you should leave now. I have no intention of joining either side."
Katsura winced slightly at the icy tone. "I have already been made aware of your feelings on the matter, Hiko-san. At any rate, your assistance is not really necessary. Due largely to Himura-san's outstanding efforts, the Imperialists are now in control of the government. However, the condition of the government is not what brings me out here at this time."
Hiko felt an unexpected spark of pride at his student's accomplishment. After all, the use of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu to overthrow the Shogunate was the very thing he had been so dead set against... the main issue that had caused master and apprentice to part ways in the first place.
Mentally shaking his head over such an illogical reaction, he curiously watched the rebel leader pull a folded letter out of his wide sleeve. Katsura hesitated briefly, then held the letter out to him.
"Himura-san left instructions for me to deliver this," he said quietly, his eyes downcast, avoiding Hiko's piercing gaze.
"Since when did the Ishin Shishi commander become a messenger boy for his subordinates?" Hiko questioned tersely, an uneasy sensation tightening in his chest. He was suddenly gripped by the feeling that he really didn't want to read what was in that message.
Katsura didn't respond. He merely continued to hold the letter out. After a long moment, Hiko grudgingly accepted the folded parchment. He glanced down, recognizing the abysmal handwriting on the lower corner that was addressed to him. Disturbingly, Kenshin's brushstrokes seemed even worse than usual, as if they had been written by a drunken child.
"Is a return message required?" he asked, clutching the still unopened letter tightly in his hand, his face an unreadable mask.
Katsura shook his head slightly. "No…however, I am sure you will probably have some questions after you finish reading." He then moved a little farther away and turned his back, politely offering the swords master some privacy.
Hiko stared at the letter, almost afraid of what he might find written beneath the papery layers. Bracing himself, he reluctantly began unfolding the parchment. Scanning the first few lines, his heart constricted painfully as his suspicions were confirmed. This was not just a simple letter. It was a suicide note. A heartbreakingly emotional message, laden with pain and self-loathing. He closed his eyes for a moment as a wave of grief swept over him.
Kenshin…why damn it? Why?
Struggling to compose himself, he forced his eyes open and focused on the creased paper in his hands. Silently, he continued to read his student's final words.
Glossary of terms: (most of you should know these by now)
Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu – Hiko and Kenshin's sword style
baka deshi – Hiko's pet name for Kenshin, means "idiot apprentice"
sake – Japanese alcoholic beverage made from rice
Shishou – old fashioned term for master or teacher
ki – life energy or spirit
-san – polite honorific
Ishin Shishi – the imperial rebels that fought against the Shogunate
I am aware that Hiko may seem a little out of character throughout this story, but keep in mind that it's a very emotional situation for him. He raised the kid for several years; I'm sure it would feel as if he had lost his own son.