Diclaimer: Ruroken isn't mine.

"Until Dawn"

"Find what you are lacking…"

Those five simple words I spoke last night have been haunting me. Either he will understand or he will die. That's what I've been telling myself. He has two choices now, and it's up to him, as it always has been.

This is the lie I tell myself.

I'm aware of the third option: that he could drive himself mad, sitting there trying to work something out that I never taught him. The hitokiri could take over simply because he has grown incapable of understanding. Because I failed in teaching him that this is his choice. That living or dying has always been his choice.

True, I saved his body all those years ago, but it was his strong spirit that allowed him to live. Live with what he couldn't accomplish. Live with the acceptance that he couldn't save those women. His spirit kept him sane. He knew back then. He used to understand what life meant, used to know that his was a life as well. That he was worth as much as anyone else. That baka understood…

My baka deshi…

And my breath catches as realization drops with a sick thud in the pit of my stomach. He understood… before he met me. Before I taught him what I thought he needed to learn… He already knew. And he lost that. Did he lose it as I trained him or after? Was it truly being called demon that made him lose is self respect? Or was it being called baka, constantly beaten down when he was already standing?

I wanted to protect him from the inevitable. From tomorrow, come what may. I wanted him to live and not regret whatever would happen. Did my protection destroy his core? Did my methods kill what I was trying to save?

I've never doubted myself. Not once.

Until now.

Could I have changed anything? Done anything different? Should I have left him alone to forge his own path? Could he have survived without my care? I didn't think so at the time. Was it my arrogance that destroyed him, turning him into a shell of what could have been? Was it the coldness I pretended to feel toward him that cut him down like steel, bleeding the life out of him?

Or is it still there? Can he find it? Can he do it? Is it possible that the worst damage I've done is raise him to become like me, hiding everything so well that even he can no longer see it?

"Find what you are lacking…"

It is dawn.

Dawn, and I haven't slept.

I stand, stretching stiff limbs, ignoring my own exhaustion. His will be greater.

And I see him as I step into the soft, damp light of early morning. He has not slept either.

"So. Have you found what you're lacking?"

His steady eyes meet mine, and for a moment my heart skips a beat. But I see his answer before he can even form a word.


He is his own judge, and he has condemned himself, leaving me to complete the sentence.

For once I don't meet his eyes. I don't want him to read what is written in my heart.

Then I have failed you.

Author's Note: A one-shot inspired by a review written by Nemesis Jediof my "Acrostic Scar." Nemesis Jedi made the interesting comment that in protecting Kenshin, Hiko may have hurt him more than helped. Too interesting a thought to remain in my head after I read that... So here's the result.

Thanks for reading. Please review!

Dewa mata!