Three samurai, late at night, two as bodyguards. The first two falling fast; the last, determined to live. A stab through the neck, a twist and a flower from the red snow of them, coating the ground. A job he performed suitably and still came away from marked.
Washing his hands, again and again. The bleeding scar. Iizuka's superstition. The taste of blood becoming almost ... appealing.
A bar, a woman that smelled like white plums, and overgrown thugs that were easily scared away. An assassin with chains that killed them, and tried for him as well. The rain of blood, startled - the woman, a witness, who fainted into his arms. Trying to sneak her past Okami. Flustered.
Confusion. Upset, uncertain how to deal with this very odd girl and her unconventional ways.
The most embarrassing breakfast at the inn, ever, as the lot of them tried to pry for details. Katsura being a little too laid back, then tense as the report involving another assassin was given.
Tomoe's refusal to leave, and her accusations leaving no time for any counter. Strong frustration.
Several weeks of avoiding, and sharing the one refuge. A job, bringing back a new and old tension. Washing his hands, again and again.
Rage, and fear, as he awakes and almost kills her. A promise, and a promise returned.
The Ikeda-ya raid. The battle, the fires, more than a month later. Katsura sending them off, Tomoe accepting his proposal.
Months filled with a newly learned happiness, a quiet living, until Iizuka's news of the war. Playing with the children, carefree one last time. The arrival of Enishi. Tomoe opening up to him, telling the story of her past. A vow.
Cruel news from Iizuka, shattering the peaceful air completely. Battles, fights against well trained men in an area where ki cannot be sensed. Wounds, explosions, half deaf and blind. Being beaten into the ground, fighting desperately in the hope of saving Tomoe no matter what.
Tragedy of the worst sort, Tomoe saving him at the cost of her own life, dead by his own blade, a new scar cut, bleeding out crimson on the white snow, smiling at him, no no no Tomoe please -
Kenshin shot up, his eyes tracking around the room, his breathing harsh. His heart rate slowed as he found no threat, and he raised his left hand to his unscarred cheek, his expression horrified.
"Oh my God," he said.
Chapter One Soundtrack: All My Life - Foo Fighters
Tossing the blanket away, he leaned his elbows on his knees and rested head in hands. For several minutes, all he could do was breathe, in an attempt to understand what was going on.
It was real. It was a dream, but somehow, it all felt real. He had been sure he was living it until he awoke. It was close to being one of the most disturbing things he'd ever experienced.
And as there was nothing he could do about it now, there was no point in lazing about. It was morning; as he had not worked the night before, he would be expected to appear downstairs if he wanted to eat. Standing up quickly, pausing a moment to steady himself, he quickly went to dress.
He almost haphazardly threw on his clothes, exercising care only when he picked up his sword. He stared at it for a long moment, then slowly pulled it close. He needed to get moving or someone might start asking questions, and he was in no condition to provide answers.
Barely remembering to close the door as he left his room, he wandered down. Like a well controlled puppet, Kenshin made his way to the dining room, ignoring the sudden drop in conversation and the mutters he wasn't supposed to hear. Dropping to his knees at a spot near the wall, he stared off into empty space.
One of his braver compatriots chanced to watch him curiously out of the corner of his eye. After several minutes, when it became clear the redhead was truly rattled by something, he scraped together his courage. "Hey. Something go wrong?"
Kenshin turned his face to him, and the hollow, blank expression on his face scared the man out of any further bravery. Kenshin watched him unconcernedly for a while, then turned back to staring ahead. He barely noticed when breakfast arrived, and he didn't register any taste as he mechanically ate.
Nothing of notice occurred until he left the room, and Iizuka caught him in the hallway. Kenshin was first shocked at his appearance, and then had to work hard to keep from slicing him in half as he remembered his dream. There was no way to catalog the many reasons listening to a dream was idiotic, no matter how real it had been. He had to remain calm, placid.
"Hey, Himura! Another job for you, tonight. Should be easy." Iizuka smirked, in a way Kenshin had always found disconcerting, and he found himself hard pressed not to slap the man, or do anything to get him to leave. "Not that it ever isn't, for you. We'll leave at nine." Iizuka squeezed his shoulder, and Kenshin tensed even as the man let go and continued down the hall.
Gazing after Iizuka, Kenshin pulled out the black envelope that had been tucked into his sleeve. He unfolded it, and suddenly felt very, very sick. The name in the envelope, impossibly, read 'Shigekura Juubeh.'
He staggered, reeling across the hall because he knew that name. Catching himself against a wall, he steadied himself, barely able to breathe. It was all too much. Running down the hall, he fled the inn.
He dashed along the side streets, running, running, trying to escape the confusion that roiled within. He ran nonstop until he reached the edge of the city, collapsing under a small bridge. He caught himself on hands and knees, the back of his mind absently noting he was alone. After several moments, he crawled to the stone foundation and curled against it.
He pulled the black envelope out of his sleeve - When had he put it there? He didn't remember - and stared at it. Was it real? Was everything in that dream real? Shigekura - tonight, with Kiyosato as a bodyguard, was to be murdered. Would he be able to do it? He remembered knowing in Otsu that if he didn't continue killing, didn't finish the war, all the lives he had taken were for naught. That still - already - applied. He had to kill them.
But what of Kiyosato? Would he be able to kill him? Should he kill him? He would be a witness, and so his death would be assured by one blade or another. And that fate would bring Tomoe to Kyoto, her brother following behind.
Oh God. Tomoe.
The thoughts suddenly too much, he staggered up, locking his emotions away for the moment. Dusting himself off and tucking the envelope away, he left his hiding place, to circle around the city until he hit upon his favorite secluded place to practice.
The people he passed on the way were going about their business, loud and boisterous as always, as if nothing had changed it all. He studied them, wondering that they did not feel it, did not understand that everything was suddenly different from what it was, what it was supposed to be. Vendors peddled their wares, children ran while an exasperated mother tried to catch them, a young man bought flowers for his sweetheart. Kenshin hurried his steps.
Twenty minutes later he encountered his practice space, and verifying his hair was well secured, methodically began the first practice forms of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu. Emotionless, he lost himself in the kata.
He ran through one after another, forcing himself to practice and perfect every thing he knew. The near mindless repetition was soothing, and when he looked up again it was late afternoon. If he wanted anything other than breakfast that day he'd have to hurry back soon. He sheathed his sword, swiped his bangs out of his eyes and started walking.
When he made it back to the inn, Okami and the kitchen girls were scrambling to get dinner prepared. He passed them, entering through the back, and made straight for his room.
He had forgotten to fold his futon, he noted as he crossed to a corner. He pulled his top from behind a few books he'd left in here, and sat against them. He spun the top, and as he watched it spin he realized he was sitting by himself again, much as he had returned to after Tomoe's death. Snatching up the top, he went right back down to the kitchen.
He sat himself out of the way there, and though Okami eyed him oddly she said nothing at the expression on his face. He spun the top again, trying to calm his thoughts and make some decision.
Kenshin looked up, realizing he had been spinning his top for quite some time. He nodded lightly to Okami in acknowledgment.
"Dinner is being served, Himura-san," she continued, a touch of curious worry in her eyes.
Kenshin realized the two kitchen girls were gone, serving dinner no doubt; he was alone with Okami and he hadn't even noticed. Such distraction was dangerous. He was going on a mission; he could not afford such distractions.
"Thank you, Okami-san," he murmured, and got to his feet, top disappearing into his shirt. He hurried out with Okami's concerned gaze following him.
He entered the eating area, picking a spot away from the others and sat to eat, ignoring the eyes studiously not looking in his direction. Dinner, for him, was a near silent affair, the only sounds he paid attention to the clicking of chopsticks and the noise of men chewing.
He left as soon as could, having barely eaten anything. He couldn't stomach it. He hesitated in the hall; he still hadn't come to any decision, and didn't know what to do. The only thing clear at this point was that the assassination had to be carried out. But Kiyosato would be there, and the dilemma remained. And not to mention what to do about Iizuka.
A loud laugh came from inside the eating area, and brought Kenshin back to reality. Any moment someone else could come out, and he was standing in the hall staring off into space. He didn't need for someone to think he was insane - he was having enough trouble keeping himself convinced he was fine. Another quiet corner was called for, the kitchen and dining room were out of the question, and he didn't feel like staying in his room for the several hours until the assignment. Maybe some sake would clear his head.
It wasn't quite dark yet, and that made things all the more dangerous. In the dark it was sometimes difficult to see, but get the setting sun in your eyes and you were blinded completely. He stuck to traveling a route parallel to the local main street, keeping a sharp eye out around corners and down alleys. It was also more dangerous because it was still light enough to see his hair, and late enough that a hitokiri such as himself might conceivably be about.
As he turned the last corner, he felt a slight twinge as he sighted his destination. He was back at the restaurant after so many months away from a drink before every job. And still he'd traveled here without thought.
Kenshin shook his head at himself as he crossed the street. He had not been away from Kyoto for months; he'd only been to here several times, not made a habit of it. Not yet, anyway.
Fulfilling his propensity for corners, he seated himself at a far table with a clear view of the door and a fair path to the kitchen for escape. When the serving girl came by he ordered sake, and after its arrival he downed a cup in one swallow.
He forced himself to hide his wince as the coppery taste of blood slid across his taste buds and down his throat. It would help steady the nerves when it was down, but getting it there was awful. He observed the other patrons as he poured another cup and sipped it, slowly.
By the door there were a pair of men, who by their dress and furtive glances were likely thieves. In this time of war many might think them spies with their lack of caution, but Kenshin could sense a lack of focus in their ki that bespoke no formal training in anything whatsoever. Probably carried a knife or two, but only street thugs.
In the middle of the room, a man and a woman, apparently a couple, were trying to enjoy dinner on a budget. They were dressed too high class for the place; maybe they had come from the play house or some other upscale location. Various other people, mostly men carrying swords, were imbibing as well.
He observed for a while longer, then stood, leaving payment on the table. He headed out to get back to the inn in time for the assignment.
When he arrived there was still half an hour until they were to leave, so he leaned against the wall by the door to wait. His even stare and motionless frame unnerved quite a few men coming and going. Slowly those who would accompany him began to gather.
Iizuka was the last to arrive, sliding up in his typical oily manner. Kenshin resisted the urge to fetch his wakizashi and plunge it into what little there was of the man's heart. He couldn't just off him without proof. Iizuka could be trailed until he gave himself away, if he had turned at this early date. Killing him could wait. The night's job would not.
"All here, eh? That's good. Let's go." Iizuka led them out of the inn. The men followed. Kenshin stayed to the back, raising the hackles of the group in front of him as he began to radiate inhuman efficiency.
They ghosted through the dark streets, continuing toward where the target would be located. When Kenshin was suddenly in front of them, holding up a hand, they stopped. Scattering to find places to hide, the men disappeared as Kenshin continued on.
One turn left, around a building to the right, another turn left. They were fortunate. The target and bodyguards were far down the street. Outwardly calm, Kenshin silently walked behind them.
His heart was racing. 'Oh God ...'
He forced his face to remain calm as he felt anguish. The lives I have taken will be meaningless if I do not continue to see the revolution through.
Closer now, he could see them clearly, and paused for a moment as the younger guard was illuminated briefly in the moonlight.
'Kiyosato ...' He was right there. Kenshin forced himself to step forward, and crushed a vibrant blossom that had settled upon the ground.
He could hear them. They were talking about hitokiri. They were worried about hitokiri. Kenshin felt sick.
The talk moved onto an upcoming marriage, and Kenshin faltered again. He couldn't do it. He couldn't.
He had to. He resumed his silent walk behind them. As they continued talking he steeled himself, his eyes narrowing along with his focus to the men before him. He took a breath.
"You must be Shigekura Juubeh. Though I bear no grudge against you, for the sake of the new era, I must have your deaths."
The larger bodyguard eyed him sharply, assessing. "Who are you?"
Kenshin said "Choshu Ishin Shishi. Himura Battosai," with no small amount of disdain. The nameless bodyguard reached for his sword, and Kenshin sliced him before he could draw. In a hurry to get it over with, he leapt into the air, stabbing through Shigekura from above.
That left Kiyosato. Kenshin turned to him, and an option occurred. If he surrendered, he could leave before the others arrived, and Kenshin would not add him to the blood on his hands this night. Kiyosato was crying out the names of his late companions, shocked. His eyes turned to Kenshin.
It was possible Iizuka's group had worked their way closer. He needed at least a pretense of a fight, in case they watched. Kenshin swung at him, lightly enough for Kiyosato to block. Kenshin struck again, knocking Kiyosato back against a wall, holding bloody sword to his neck.
"Give up," Kenshin suggested softly. He could explain it to Katsura, somehow. Let Kiyosato walk away. He prayed with all the pieces of his tattered soul that the man would take this way out, that his will to live would bring Kiyosato to walk away from the encounter alive.
It wasn't enough.
A wild determination entered Kiyosato's eyes, and Kenshin inwardly cursed, thoughts again chaotic. The man refused to believe he could walk away from an assassin. He pushed Kenshin back, and swung.
Hit for hit, the supposed fight between swordsmen continued, Kenshin focused on holding back and hard pressed to defend the blows with a wild, desperate strength behind them.
He was getting annoyed with the man. Why wouldn't he take the way out presented to him? He could just leave! He could go back to Tomoe!
With that thought, Kenshin's feelings were thrown back into turmoil, and he almost met his end at Kiyosato's blade. His eyes widened briefly he threw himself out of the way, and the world became only target and obstruction as he locked his heart away.
He struck the man, and though he cried out, Kiyosato kept coming. Again he was hit, and again he came, he wouldn't die. Kenshin changed stances and went for a final strike, and as he leapt he remembered why he was hesitant; but it was too late.
Even as shock shown on Kenshin's face, Kiyosato made a mark as he himself was sliced across his stomach. Kiyosato landed face down, and tried to drag himself towards one of the flowers littering the street. Kenshin put a hand to his bleeding cheek, then looked at it in wide eyed horror. Kiyosato groaned behind him, and Kenshin was filled with dread as he realized what he had done and what he had to do.
" I ... no, I ... don't want to die," Kiyosato moaned. "I was ... finally going ... to marry her. I've always ... loved ... To-"
Sickened, unable to stand it, Kenshin plunged his sword through the older man's neck, twisting it to make sure he was immediately out of pain. He stared down at the corpse, desolate, and prayed for the man's soul.
In front of his out stretched hand there lay a flower. It was the least left he could do, and he placed it on the man's body. He was still staring when his fellow soldiers came from a near alley.
He had to act normal. They couldn't suspect, not yet. Iizuka couldn't suspect; he would know when the time came, oh how he would know.
One man glanced at him warily, unsure of how to deal with a bloodthirsty hitokiri that had sated his thirst. "We're here to see," the man said, as if his role might have been forgotten, as if he would fall next under that cursed blade if he was not labeled ally.
Kenshin schooled his expression and turned to them. "Inspectors," he acknowledged, trying to put them at ease, "good work." He tried to keep sarcasm from his tone, and mostly managed.
Iizuka looked at him, and his shock was clear. "Your cheek!"
Kenshin looked at the man, remembered betrayal and annoyances and a superstition that was true, and growled out, "It's nothing."
Iizuka raised an eyebrow. "But he managed to strike you with a sword ... he must have been very good."
Kenshin stared at him. Was that jealousy in his tone? "No." He pretended to glance at Kiyosato's body and turn away with disdain, but he couldn't bring himself to see again and snubbed the pavement instead. "His skill itself was nothing," here Iizuka's other brow joined the first, "but his will to live was incredible." Kenshin needed to leave. He was going to kill the man now and cause problems. "I'll leave the rest to you." He turned and walked.
He'd killed him. He'd killed him. God. His gaze shot back, catching the edge of Kiyosato's feet, no farther.
"May you find happiness in the afterlife," he said softly.
One of the men looked up. "What was that?"
Kenshin's gaze turned to him for just a moment, then away. "No, nothing," he said, and left.
As behind him the others left the papers declaring 'Heaven's Justice,' Kenshin became lost in thought. He'd hesitated, he'd tried to do otherwise, but in the end he'd still killed Kiyosato.
He remembered and reminded himself that there was already blood on his hands - to have acted otherwise would make the ending of those lives useless.
'At least,' he thought bitterly, 'this will bring Tomoe to Kyoto,' and he hated himself for having the thought.
I tried for one page a day. Pfft yeah right, that's gonna work. I forgot how essentially lazy I am. I am such a cat - I might like it, but if it doesn't hold my interest right then I ain't gonna do it. I'd rather take a nap.
So obviously this is an 'I'm gonna update when I update' fic, it is not finished ahead of time like the last one, ain't happenin'. It's really too bad. Anyone who likes grammer, has obsessive attention to detail and spelling want to beta read? Anyone?
8.26.05: It was the typo that was driving me mad, but assuming the site is working it's fixed now. Yay!