Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin or any of its characters.
This one-shot is set when Kenshin is nine, during Kenshin's first winter with Hiko, and is kind of a side story to my other fic – although you obviously don't need to read that one to understand what's going on. One of my reviewers had asked me to describe some of Hiko's old memories from chapter 9, so this originally started out as a simple flashback scene. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on if you like it or not), it kind of got away from me and ended up being way too long to fit in the chapter itself, so I turned it into a separate one-shot. Hopefully, people who don't approve of my ghost story might like this one…because even though I put the poor duo through a bit of hell through this fic, at least Kenshin's still alive! ;P
Written by lolo popoki
It was the middle of December, and the bitter cold mountain air had brought down a snowstorm the night before. Despite the freezing temperature, Hiko Seijuro decided to continue with their training as usual. It was the first major snow-fall since he had taken the boy in, and he determined that now was a good opportunity to teach the child how to handle himself in adverse weather conditions. But first, they needed a quick trip into the village for supplies.
Trudging through the snow, Hiko paused briefly to admire the view as they passed by the waterfall on the way to town. The spray from the falls had covered the ground and trees near the lake in a thin layer of ice that seemed to shimmer in the early morning light.
"Oh!" the boy cried in wonder, as he saw the frozen landscape. "Shishou, look at all the ice!"
The swords-master smirked in amusement at the nine-year-old's delight. Hiko was actually pleased by the child's positive reaction; it had taken the man several months to finally break through Kenshin's traumatized psyche, and to start building up his confidence. Kenshin had been in a state of numb shock when Hiko first took him in; and after that had worn off, the boy was almost completely silent, blindly obedient, and entirely too submissive... a mentality he had apparently acquired after too many beatings by the slavers.
Hiko scowled at the thought. It still sickened him that anyone could treat a helpless child in that manner. However, the boy had really started to open up over the past year... slowly recovering his determined spirit, and showing signs of the strong personality that lay hidden within.
Fondly, he watched his student now, as the boy approached the edge of the lake and knelt to poke at the ice that had formed on the surface of the water.
"Oi, baka!" Hiko called to him teasingly. "Don't get too close... if you fall in, I'm not going to bother to fish you out!"
Kenshin turned, grinning up at him, and started to stand up. "Don't worry Shishou, I won't fa..." he abruptly broke off with a startled cry, as his foot slid on the icy ground and he splashed head first into the lake.
"Kenshin no baka..."
Hiko shook his head in disgust as he waited for the boy to surface. He would definitely make certain that his deshi would never live this one down. However, when he didn't come back up right away, the swordsman began to grow uneasy. He took an uncertain step toward the lake.
Panic suddenly engulfed him, when there was still no sign of the little red-head.
Frantically ripping off his mantle, Hiko dove forward onto his stomach and plunged his arms into the frigid water where he had seen his apprentice go down. He gasped involuntarily at the icy shock.
Kuso... it's freezing! Kenshin, please hang on!
After a moment, he felt something solid brush past his shaking hands. Grabbing what turned out to be an arm, he hauled the limp figure out of the water, and pulled him tightly to his chest as he crawled away from the lake. Hiko roughly dropped the boy to the ground and began pressing the water from his lungs.
"C...come on Ken...Kenshin...breathe!" he panted, his teeth chattering from the cold.
A full minute passed, and there was still no response from the still form. Hiko paused to check anxiously for a pulse. His eyes shut tightly in despair when he failed to locate any sign of life... although the uncontrollable trembling in his hands may have had something to do with his inability to find a heartbeat.
He opened his eyes and stared down at the tiny child lying motionless in the snow.
I...I can't lose him like this!
Any lingering trace of self-control vanished, and the swords-master found himself gripping the front of Kenshin's gi and shaking him violently.
"No, no, no, no... Kenshin, no... don't you dare die on me now!" he shouted desperately.
He froze as he suddenly recalled something from his younger days. During his travels, he had witnessed a gaijin doctor seemingly bring a man back from death by blowing air through his mouth... Would something like that work for him? Glancing down at the deathly-pale face, he knew that it was definitely worth the attempt.
Trying to remember exactly what the doctor had done, Hiko hesitantly reached out and pinched Kenshin's nose closed with one hand, tilting the head back slightly with the other, before placing his mouth over the boy's. Keeping in mind that Kenshin's capacity was a lot smaller than his own, he forced a short, gentle breath into his deshi's lungs.
He drew back with a startled gasp as he felt Kenshin's body jerk suddenly, and watched in elation as the boy violently started coughing and gagging on the residual lake water. The swords-master carefully rolled the choking red-head onto his side to keep him from aspirating the excess fluid, rubbing his back in a soothing manner as the child continued to retch, the spasms racking his small body.
As the attack began to subside, Hiko gathered his student into his arms and stood up unsteadily, his legs having gone somewhat numb. Clutching the shuddering child tightly to his chest, he staggered over to his discarded mantle and crouched down to gently wrap his precious burden in the heavy cloth. The master noted with some concern that Kenshin still hadn't quite regained consciousness.
"Come on Kenshin..." he murmured anxiously, slapping his deshi's cheek lightly. "Open your eyes... wake up now..."
Still gasping slightly for air, Kenshin allowed his eyes to open briefly in a vague, uncomprehending stare, before they fluttered shut once more.
Alarmed by that blank, unfocused gaze, Hiko slapped the boy's face again, a little harder this time, trying to keep him conscious. "You need to stay awake, baka!" the swordsman said urgently. "Kenshin, open your eyes!"
Cursing shakily, Hiko scooped up the now comatose child and began to run back in the direction of their cabin, taking care not to handle him too roughly. By the time Hiko entered the clearing, he worriedly observed that Kenshin's shivering had stopped, and his breathing had become slow and extremely shallow, with a disturbing raspy quality... most likely caused by fluid that was still trapped in his lungs.
He's hypothermic... I've got to get him warm, now!
Bursting through the door, the master lowered his apprentice to the floor and deftly removed the mantle from the boy's small frame. Hurriedly, he stripped Kenshin out of his soaked clothing and wrapped him in a spare blanket, before turning his attention to the fire pit in the middle of the room.
By the time the room started to heat up slightly, Hiko had already changed out of his own wet clothes into a dry pair of pants, and dragged a futon over next to the pit. He knelt down next to the red-haired boy and anxiously checked to make sure he was still breathing. He was... but just barely; and his pulse was weak and erratic. Forcing down his panic, Hiko picked up his unconscious student and carried him over to the waiting futon, which was now quite warm from it's proximity to the fire.
Oh, gods... please don't let him die...
Aware that sharing body heat was one of the best ways to fight off hypothermia, Hiko pulled the blanket off Kenshin and held him tightly to his bare chest, biting back a startled yelp at the boy's ice-cold skin. Shivering slightly from the icy contact, the swordsman laid down on the futon, facing the fire so that Kenshin was the nearest to the heat, and pulled the blanket over them both.
There was nothing left to do now but wait... and pray that his efforts would be enough.
Hiko remained in his position for several long hours, arms wrapped securely around the child in a desperate embrace. Throughout this time, he prayed to every kami he could think of, that his little deshi be allowed to live through this disaster. The swordsman kept as still as possible, for some reason afraid that if he moved the boy too roughly, it would cause that fragile heart to stop beating.
Finally, Hiko became aware of some improvement... it was subtle at first, but he noticed that the boy's frigid skin was finally starting to warm, and his shallow, labored breathing was beginning to deepen somewhat. Overjoyed, he quickly checked Kenshin's pulse and closed his eyes, grateful for the stronger, steadier rhythm that met his fingertips.
"Oh Kenshin... thank the gods..." Hiko whispered in relief, his whole body going limp as the built-up tension drained away, leaving the swords-master feeling lightheaded and very tired.
A lethargic sensation crept over him as his exhaustion combined with the relaxing heat of the fire, and he found that he could no longer keep his eyes open. Hiko fell asleep, at peace now that he knew his apprentice would recover.
Hiko woke up some time later, feeling uncomfortably warm. In addition, he could feel an odd tickling sensation on his neck...
Opening his eyes, he quickly took stock of the situation. His gaze softened, and a small indulgent smile played across his face as he became aware of the warm body pressed up against him. Apparently while his master was asleep, Kenshin had snuggled up closer to Hiko's chest and now had his head tucked under the man's chin. It was the child's soft breathing that was now tickling his neck.
The swordsman lingered for a moment, fondly reaching up and gently stroking his deshi's hair. Reassured that Kenshin would be fine, he disentangled himself from the blanket and carefully slipped out of the futon, trying not to disturb his student's sleep.
Kenshin stirred slightly at the move and mumbled something under his breath, before falling still once more. Leaving the boy to his rest, Hiko hurriedly pulled on a shirt and went about trying to prepare their dinner. He scowled slightly as he remembered they had never made it into the village for supplies.
Damn... looks like plain miso broth and rice again...
When the meal was ready, he knelt down next to the futon and paused to study the sleeping child, marveling at the hidden strength concealed inside that tiny body. Kenshin could have easily died, despite all of Hiko's efforts... but he didn't. That same strength of spirit... the same stubborn determination that had first attracted the sword-master's interest in the beginning, was probably one of the main things that had kept the boy breathing while his body tried to recover. The Hiten Mitsurugi master knew he had made the right decision in choosing Kenshin to be his successor.
With a gentle smile, Hiko reached out to brush a stray lock of hair from his deshi's forehead before arranging his features into its usual, indifferent expression. "Oi, baka deshi!" he said loudly, shaking Kenshin's shoulder. "Are you going to sleep forever? Wake up!"
Kenshin's eyes blinked open to meet his master's enigmatic stare. The boy's gaze was still slightly unfocused, but even that cleared after a moment as recognition lit his face.
"Shishou..." he whispered hoarsely. "Wh..what...?" He was interrupted by a painful coughing fit. Catching his breath, he tried again. "What happened?"
"You almost drowned, baka," Hiko calmly stated. He raised an eyebrow. "Next time, you might want to wait until the weather warms up a bit before you decide to go take another swim," he said dryly.
Kenshin blinked. "Drowned...? I don't... Oh!" he abruptly sat up, his face paling as he recalled the icy shock as he fell into the lake, and the intense, burning pain of water rushing into his lungs. He began to tremble slightly as he suddenly grasped how close to death he had been.
Trying to distract Kenshin from the frightening memory, Hiko quickly shoved a bowl of miso soup into the boy's shaking hands.
Kenshin stared uncomprehendingly at the bowl, his mind still rather confused.
Hiko sighed in exasperation. "Oi, are you going to eat that, or are you just going to stare at it for the rest of the night?"
"Oh... right..." the apprentice blushed slightly in embarrassment. "Gomen, Shishou."
Slowly eating his own meal, Hiko kept a watchful eye on his deshi as he drank the hot broth. By the time Kenshin had finished, the swordsman was satisfied to observe that the color had returned to his face, and he seemed a lot calmer as well.
He's so resilient... he'll definitely make a fine swordsman someday...
Kenshin suddenly looked up at his master as he remembered something. "Didn't you say something about not fishing me out if I fell in the lake...?" he asked innocently.
Hiko's eyes narrowed, and he scowled. "What? You think I was just going to stand back and let a nine-year-old child die?" he said gruffly. "What the hell kind of master would I be, if I allowed my only student to drown? I'm not that heartless... Besides, I really don't feel like wasting my time trying to find a new apprentice." He shook his head in disgust. "Baka deshi..." the swordsman muttered under his breath.
The student smiled faintly in amusement, and then started coughing again.
"Well, I guess we might as well have you go see the doctor... you're probably going to end up with pneumonia..." Hiko scolded crossly, hiding his concern. He rose to his feet and went to retrieve some dry clothing from Kenshin's bedroll. "Here, put these on," he said, tossing the clothing to the half-naked child.
"Hai, Shishou," Kenshin said meekly, bowing his head. He carefully dressed himself, still feeling unsteady, and then allowed his master to wrap the blanket back around his body.
Hiko paused long enough to extinguish the fire and to drape the white mantle over his shoulders, before turning back to his deshi. The swords-master gently picked Kenshin up and cradled him to his chest, his arms tightening briefly around his apprentice in an affectionate hug that went completely unnoticed by the weary boy. He left the hut and began the trek through the snow, heading towards town. Glancing down at the precious bundle in his arms, he smiled inwardly.
You did well, Kenshin…my little baka deshi…
Ha! My first one-shot! Hope you enjoyed it! Hopefully, chapter 10 of my other story should be finished sometime later this week…although as I've mentioned before, it's still giving me a bit of a hard time…
Some notes on the story:
Hiko's observation of resuscitation measures might be possible, because although mouth-to-mouth resuscitation didn't really start becoming popular until maybe the 1950's, The Paris Academy of Sciences officially recommended it for drowning victims in 1740; and there were references to mouth-to-mouth as early as 800 B.C. in the Old Testament.
Also, when re-warming a person with severe hypothermia, rough handling can cause dangerous heart rhythms and can lead to cardiac arrest; so Hiko's fear was actually justified. I guess some of the information I learned in the army came in handy for something after all… at least the first aid stuff anyway (learning how to take apart, clean, reassemble, and fire an M-16; figuring out how to put on a gas-mask in less than nine seconds; and learning the proper way to throw a grenade; though interesting, are not exactly skills I need in the civilian world…)
Glossary of terms:
Shishou – master
Oi – Hey
baka – idiot
deshi – apprentice
Kenshin no baka – Kenshin, you idiot
kuso – an expletive (bad word)
gaijin – foreigner
kami – a spirit or god
Hai – yes
Owari – the end