Hi, guys! Now don' t panic - I have every intention of finishing my other fic before I even TOUCH this one again, but while I was elsewhere, away from my chapter writing for Tanabata Jasmine, I decided to scribble this up. This functions as a short prologue for my next fic attempt, and I'm putting it up mainly as a teaser, to see if it garners enough interest for me to continue. I do hope you like it ... but I'll be going back to this only after I've finished my other work. So let me know what you think! Heh.
Snow touched everything in pristine white.
It dusted across the bare-branched trees and collected in the hollows of the landscape, undisturbed by the passage of human travel. There had been a flurry of snowfall earlier, but the heavy clouds had moved away to the east, leaving the winter sun to cast its weaker warmth and light across the ground and flare the pale blanket of snow to blinding. A glaring white, broken only by the edge of outcropping rock and the dubious shelter of close-knit trees. Broken by the river, a wide expanse of murky grey moving sluggishly along its course, cold enough that a thin layer of ice collected on the smaller pools and rivulets that diverted away from the main body of water.
Broken by the small figure sprawled by the water's edge in drenched blue and grey, trailing ponytail a streak of fiery red against the snow, shoulders shaking in a spasm of coughing. The river was cold enough to steal a man's breath away.
He still held the katana in a death grip, knuckles white on the sheath as he finally rolled onto his back and stared blindly up at the sky, breathing hard despite the sear of the cold in his throat. The wakizashi was gone, although its sheath was still tangled at his belt, caught within the soaked folds of his hakama. For a moment he tried to piece together how he'd lost the sword and not the sheath, and then recalled what he'd been doing, before he fell.
Himura Kenshin, known as the hitokiri Battousai to most and Himura to a rare few, blinked in the weak sunlight and found the energy to scowl.
This had not been a good day.
He took a breath and sat up; took another, and shot to his feet as the urgency of the situation became apparent. He was uninjured apart from mild bruising, but soaked to the skin – in winter, when the events of the morning had driven him far from any landmark he recognised. His pack was lost to the water. He had nothing but the clothes on his back and the sheathed katana in his hand. And …
… he wasn't alone.
Ki flared on the edge of his senses; hostile, angry and familiar. He froze into stillness, half expecting an attack despite the distance between them. His hand curled on the hilt as he turned a careful circle, surveying the landscape, looking for others that he might have overlooked, given the feral brilliance of the man's spirit. But there was no-one … and to his surprise, the ki flickered and ebbed away almost immediately.
Nevertheless, he knew that he was not the only one to escape the pull of the river. Kenshin spun on his heel as he ran slender fingers through wet bangs to pull them away from his eyes, before he settled his hand once more on the hilt of the katana. He was forced to jerk the sword free, flicking a spatter of water across the ground from the waterlogged sheath as he drew.
The river. Downstream, further still. He moved swiftly, mindful of the chill of waterlogged clothing as it began to seep more insidiously into his flesh. Yet the danger this would bring to his health was a distant second to building a fire with such a powerful enemy at his back.
In this way, moving swiftly through the snow with his sword drawn, drenched clothing close to his skin and the trailing wet ends of his fiery topknot clinging to the curve of his neck, Himura Kenshin came across the man he was hunting for.
The blue and white haori was torn; had caught on something in the water. The long, clean tear across the shoulder was visible, still seeping red through the cloth of his uniform – a wound Kenshin had managed to give him, before the end – yet, this shouldn't have been enough to put the wolf down. For a man with such presence of mind and disciplined skill with the sword to drag himself half from the water before collapsing face down in the snow … something else had to be amiss.
The hitokiri reached out one foot carefully and prodded the unconscious form in the wounded shoulder, searching for a reaction. At the lack of response, he crouched down, the tip of his sword embedded in the snow, his hand still on the hilt. He reached out with his free arm and took hold of the haori, pulling the man onto his back. And found the reason for his fall. A shallow, jagged cut by the hairline under the trailing wisps of dark hair, swollen with bruising.
His journey through the river to this place had been far rougher than Kenshin's own; but then, the Shinsengumi captain had entered the water already wounded. For the wolf to have taken a head injury and still manage to pull himself from the river showed a remarkable strength of will; the wound itself wasn't serious, but he was willing to bet the man was concussed. Not that it truly mattered. Once he awoke, Saitou Hajime would no doubt stand, search him out wherever he had gone to ground, and attempt to finish what he'd started.
With that in mind, Kenshin rose to his feet, emotion shuttered away behind the blank mask of the hitokiri. Lifting the tip of the sword from its resting place, he reversed his grip and brought the edge of the katana to the wolf's throat.
Hope you enjoyed. Are you interested in seeing me continue this? Click that little 'review' button and let me know. ::grin::