Into Ashes
By Mir

Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin was created by Watsuki Nobuhiro, published by Shueisha in "Jump," and produced by Sony Entertainment. All rights are theirs.

AN: I haven't posted anything in well, probably years; I can't quite remember. But I read a story by SiriusFan13 tonight and decided to emerge from my turtle-shell and actually write something in the same spirit – i.e. spontaneously. As reference, it used to take me about 2-3 weeks to turn out about 14kbs of text. This I wrote in under 15min lying on my carpet with pencil in hand. Please read the aforementioned piece (it's story id 2458772; I'm sure you know how to cut and paste) before reading this, as it's somewhat of a continuation. What you see below is unedited. I sort of liked it that way.

He had meant to walk away, leaving nothing behind to elude to his past occupation of the little downward-sloping patch of countryside. For purification, there were three substances he'd been taught to believe in—fire, water, and salt. He'd lost the latter two in the crimson mix of blood, snow, and tears that drenched him to the bone and soaked through both himself and the motionless bundled he'd carried in his arms through the smothering silence of the snow-laden forest. So his only remaining recourse was to start the blaze that would sear his memories to smoldering embers, dark billows of smoke, and ashes that would once again return to the earth and mix with the sweet-smelling soil from which his hands had so carefully coaxed green things to grow.

It was customary for a wife, after marriage, to enter into the Buddhist sect of her husband's family. But Hiko had never bothered with such things as priests and temples.

The dead not properly cared for hover between this world and the next as vengeful spirits that bring misfortune upon the living. Even as he stared into the orange flames, felt their warmth upon his skin, he reassured himself that this was naught but folk superstition, and of all people, not she—she would never be vengeful in such a way. But still, he remained rooted to the spot, dust settling on his sandals, ashes blowing into his hair because he couldn't bring himself to simply turn and walk away.

The one who finally arrived to accompany him back to Kyoto was not Katsura nor anyone of the Ishin Shishi that Kenshin could recognize by either sight or name. He was young, eyes still too bright for him to have been running the narrow streets in a race between life and death for more than a month or so. But he was quiet and did not ask questions he knew would not be answered. He simply greeted his charge with a bow and proceeded to carefully unwrap the bundle tucked carefully beneath his arm. He offered the note written in Katsura's own hand.

To return her to the protection of her own family would endanger our cause. The strokes were neat and exact, neither motion nor words wasted. My family is of the Renzai School, and I have made the necessary arrangements for her.

As much as he regretted every additional moment spent in the shadow of the house's crumbling ruins, there was no denying Katsura, not especially since he'd gone to the trouble of…. so Kenshin took the small container from the other's hands and stiffly knelt down in the dirt near the side of the fire where the ashes had already begun to cool. Black dust—hers, theirs, neither. It didn't matter.

It was all he could do to keep from falling over as he filled the container, secured the lid, and handed it back to the man hovering wordlessly somewhere behind his left shoulder. He stumbled as he rose to his feet again—and was surprised by the hand offered without hesitation to help steady his balance.

And with the dying heat of the fire on their backs, the two turned toward Kyoto once more, carrying a soul lost but not forgotten. Memories may melt and drip away like snow, and spring returns each year to blanket the scarred earth with her fields of green…. But still. It hurt.

End notes:

(1) Concerning Buddhism, Shinto, and Japanese religion in general:

This piece may be rather confusing, so I'd better provide a little background information. I'm currently taking a course on Japanese religions, and one of the characteristics of Japanese religiosity is the layering of different traditions and the tendency toward incorporation of new ideas with the old (as opposed to exclusivity). For example, the first layer is Japanese folk religion which is based on the idea of kami (gods) that inhabit the natural world. Shinto, as a defined religion, arose only with the arrival of Buddhism from China in the 6th century as Japanese folk tradition sought to solidify itself in the face of this new intrusion. Thus, Shinto was focused around the worship of specific kami that were housed in shrines, and people mostly prayed to them for assistance in concerns of this world (for example, if a family member was sick).

Buddhism was, at this time in Japanese history, principally a religion of the samurai elite, not a religion of the masses, and in contrast to Shinto, it was more focused on taking care of peoples' spirits after death. But unlike Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism that originated in India, Japanese Buddhism incorporated elements of Japanese folk religion into its belief system—and so thus arose ideas such that if one did not care for family ancestors properly, they were able to (from the spirit world) interact with this world and bring bad luck or misfortune onto the offenders. It was also believed that if a person died without any family to take care of them after death, they would not be able continue into the spirit world and would be caught in limbo between this world and the next.

Therefore, for someone like Katsura who was brought up as a proper samurai, the idea of caring for the dead in a Buddhist way would have been a more important issue than for someone like Kenshin who was raised first as a farmer and then by an eccentric swordsman living in a hut in the woods. I have absolutely no idea what Buddhist sect the Katsura family belonged to, but since the 12th century or so Nichiren, Pure Land, and Zen (Soto, Renzai varieties etc.) began to replace the original sects of the Nara period (Tandai and Shingon). So since I had no idea I picked Renzai, since it really doesn't matter for the sake of the story, and the name sounds nice to my untrained ear.

(2) Concerning the story itself:

No real reason for writing it except that I felt like it. I've actually written about half of a chapter each for the stories Picture Bride, Divergence, and Kokoro no Natsukashii, so perhaps you'll see updates on those within the next month if you're lucky. No, this doesn't mean that I'm going to go back to updating on a regular basis sorry!. Those were middle/high-school days, and unfortunately I've bigger fish to fry now… such as that presentation I was supposed to be working on tonight (concerning China and ASEAN and the Spratly islands and the problem of supplying East/SE Asia with oil).

そ して、今学期に私は東京の上智大学で留学することになっています。今度の前に日本に行ったことがないし、とっても良い経験をしています!でも宿題や試験や 合気道の稽古や東京の見物(もちろん)なんては忙し過ぎるので、FFを書く時間があまり少なってしまう。そうと言っても、最近には東京は体に危ないほど (私の意見)全く暑くなっていて、友達は気をつれば方が良い、外で遊ばないで家の内で残りべきと言ったなら、たぶん来月に自分の部屋でFFを書く時間が得 るじゃないか?:)

(If the text above looks like gibberish, it's probably because you don't have Japanese fonts installed on your computer. And if you can read it, please excuse my bad grammar. I think I'm on the verge of failing my Japanese class this semester.)