Author-chan's notes: Hello again everyone! I'm so happy that I got such positive feedback for this story. Thank you.

Enjoy Ch. 2!

Skin and Bones

(Chapter Two: Hangon)

Hangon was never meant to be widely used. That was the rule. As a result, even the monks that protected the sealed scrolls containing the flowing script outlining the technique had no knowledge of Hangon.

Hangon was ignored and almost forgotten.

On occasions, rare occasions, a monk guarding the Hangon scrolls would study them, the accursed technique branding itself in the mind.

Those who were discovered studying Hangon were punished. Those discovered practicing it...

...Even Buddhist monks could show no mercy

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Year: Kaei 6; 1853 A.D.

Hayato was nervous, an uncommon feeling for him. However, it was understandable, considering what he was attempting. The last practitioner of Hangon had lived nearly 200 years ago and still the legends of his punishment were used to inflict terror upon young monks at the temple.

Hayato shivered, visions of torture dancing through his mind. If any of his fellow monks caught him…Hayato barely left the temple without anyone realizing he had read the scrolls on the technique. He still had no idea how he had been able to avoid anyone from knowing about his secret sin. The punishment he escaped for even reading the scroll was terrible; the sheer number of lashes made Hayato's back ache just by thinking about it. The punishment for studying the technique and knowing it was even worse.

As for actually performing Hangon? Hayato didn't even want to think about that. He considered it a miracle that his knowledge had not been discovered.

Why had he learned the technique to begin with? If he hadn't learned Hangon, then he wouldn't be in this situation in the first place! He had been compelled to learn the technique during one of his meditations, and he was smart enough to understand a hint from the universe when he got one.

He wondered if the kami had a hand in that.

"Yare, yare," Hayato sighed out loud, "There is no fighting kami."

Hayato and Shinta's parents had secretly moved the boy's bones out of the hut. In a forest clearing, a few miles away from the village, the three of them carefully reassembled Shinta's skeleton. If any of the bones were misplaced or lost, there would be problems for Shinta later in his second life.

It was difficult, to say the least. Shinta was still very young, so his bones were rather small. Hayato took an especially long time reassembling the boy's hands, the minute-sized bones hard to work with.

Finally, the last bone was set. Hayato couldn't help but muse about how lonely the skeleton looked lying there without its skin. But what was truly strange was the feel of Shinta's spirit brushing over his senses. His eyes saw Shinta's remains on the ground before him, but his spiritual awareness argued that the child was drifting quietly next to the three adults, the tendrils of Shinta's spirit wrapping around Hayato's fingers, scared and looking for guidance. Hayato couldn't stop his hand from curling around the almost there, almost real, presence that was begging silently for reassurance.

'Hush, little one,' Hayato projected towards the soul in his fingers, 'Relax.'

'Scared…' whispered the abstract voice that was not a voice that made no sound.

'Everything will be alright,' Hayato promised.

Hayato wondered it the child was having a strange double feeling. Shinta was there…but not there. It must have been a very odd feeling. Did Shinta (the spirit) feel anything of his bones? Could Shinta feel it when Hayato and Shinta's parents reassembled the bones? Did it hurt? Or not?

Hayato shook his head and faced the parent, "I'll be performing the ritual soon. You need to leave."

"Why?" the husband asked, "We want to be here when Shinta wakes up."

"I understand," Hayato replied, "But this is for your safety, as well as Shinta's."

"…Very well," the husband agreed reluctantly, leading his wife away, "Take care of our child, Hoshi-sama."

Hayato was no idiot. He knew the difference between a request and an order.

Sighing to himself, Hayato spoke to the now empty clearing, "We are alone now."

And he was promptly knocked off his feet by the sheer force that answered him.

Hayato grit his teeth, trying not to scream at the powerful voice passing over him in waves as the kami voiced their acknowledgment. As it was, the monk was forced onto his knees, his whole face depicting agony. This was no child's voice of light and innocence. This was power in its purest form.

Kami were by no means gentle.

'Sir! Daijoubu ka?' Shinta's light spirit voice yelped, surprised and worried. The boy's spirit twined about Hayato's body, offering the older male support. Hayato smiled through the pain, thankful for the small kindness.

"Daijoubu," Hayato gasped, wincing slight, "We need to get started."

Hayato could feel the uncertainty coming off of Shinta in waves. Hayato smiled calmly towards the young spirit before turning his senses to the infinite light and power of the kami.

"K-Kami-sama," Hayato hailed, unable to keep the trembling from his voice, "Please, we s-seek your help and guidance!"

When Hayato had first met Shinta and the kami, he was constantly hit by surprises, one of which was the kami's request.

They wanted him to perform Hangon.

Needless to say, Hayato had been shocked. Why would kami need a mere mortal to reanimate the dead when they themselves could do it?

That was the ultimate surprise, Hayato believed, to discover kami couldn't do everything. There were rules in their Heavenly world, rules that forbade them from doing everything they wished.

As a result, Hayato was given the task of reviving a child that the kami favored. Hayato couldn't help but wonder what the kami wanted from Shinta. They had not been so kind as to give him privy to such information. However, whatever it was, it must have been something big since, not one, but several kami watched over the boy.

Under the supervision of the kami (how many were there, Hayato wondered, sometimes feeling one divine presence then in the next instant, hundreds) the monk began the Hangon technique.

But there were some differences. The kami had Hayato substitute a few elements during the ritual. A few added chanted words, a little less strawberry leaves rubbed on the bones…

Hayato was thankful for the help, automatically knowing that each change was beneficial to Shinta. Hangon was not a prefect technique and a kami's help was greatly appreciated and helpful. After all, kami were lords of life.

Though Hayato did wish they would speak more quietly to him. The power in their "voices" made his head spin.

When the first step of the ritual was complete, Hayato stood back to observe his handy work.

There was a pot still half full of boiling water, herbs floating on the surface. Hayato had doused the skeleton with the herb infested water, by request of the kami rather than painting the bones with arsenic as was the usual procedure. Different kinds of leaves had been rubbed on the soaked bones, and there were various blessings that had been uttered, enough that Hayato felt faintly parched from all the speaking.

Yes, the procedure he had done on Shinta was bit different than the technique outlined on the scrolls, but still the basics and the effect were the same. The once bare bones had begun growing flesh, slowly but surely. At the moment, there was only what looked like wet red mold clinging to the arms and legs.

'Cleansing breath,' Hayato thought, breathing deeply to center himself. It was time for step two of the Hangon ritual.

The second step was the trickiest part of Hangon and was, unsurprisingly, the one that often gone astray. Hayato was to bring back the spirit and place it into the body. Luckily, Shinta's spirit was already there, so half of the work was already complete. However, Hayato needed an "anchor". Without a good anchor between the body and soul, the body would fall apart within a few days. In the original Hangon technique, the anchor was an internal organ, usually a liver.

Hayato's eyes narrowed. Where would he get a proper sized liver at this time?

Then the kami began speaking to him again.

When they finally finished speaking, Hayato was lying eagle-spread on the ground, panting and sweating.

'Sir!' Shinta's anxious spirit voice floated over to the monk.

"S-Shinta-kun," Hayato gasped, slowly struggling to his feet, "What are you doing? Get into the body!"

'Demo…'

"I'm fine, now GO!"

There was a pause and then Hayato felt Shinta's spirit slowly trickle into the half formed body. Rubbing his temples and standing on shaking feet, Hayato reached into his robes, feeling for the object he knew the kami had placed there. When his questing fingers met a warm, gently yielding object, he pulled it out.

In his hand was a blood-red heart.

'Cleansing breath…'

Hayato shouldn't have been surprised. The kami had told him about this, that they would provide an anchor for Shinta's soul. But knowing and seeing were two different things.

And it was not everyday you held the heart of a kami.

With only slightly trembling fingers, Hayato placed the heart within Shinta's ribcage, sensing it instantly when the body and soul were once again tied together.

Sitting down on the cold ground, Hayato only had to wait for Shinta's body to finish forming. He watched, for awhile, as the body firmed, but had to turn away after only a few minutes to retch. Watching internal organs, muscles, skin, flesh, and hair grow was not his view of enjoyment.

Instead, Hayato thought back on the (few) other Hangon incidents over the ages.

Hangon was never a perfect technique. Since its creation, Hangon had been riddled with errors. Most of those brought back by Hangon returned to bones after only a few weeks but there were a few that had lasted longer.

During the Sengoku Era, the Warring States Era, there had been a revived miko brought back by a demon using a form of the Hangon technique. The dead miko lived for several years and had survived numerous situations that would have destroyed a normal human. There were even some rumors that she still lived today.

But then again, she had survived by feeding off the souls of the recently dead.

Then, in the early Edo period, there was a young child who had been brought back using the traditional form of Hangon. The child had lasted for several decades, un-aging and practically immortal until the monk who had created her pulled out the mermaid's liver that had animated the girl.

And the girl had eaten raw livers to sustain her undead body.

In both these cases, supernatural forces has been at work, not just the powers of man, and both of the revived humans had to use some sort of outside source to sustain themselves. In Shinta's case, supernatural forces had a hand in his revival; the kami had even gone so far as to offer the boy a heart of one of their own to anchor his soul to the world of the living. Distantly, Hayato wondered which kami had donated the heart, but decided it mattered little. Hayato could guess easily that, like his predecessors, Shinta would be difficult to kill. The kami had also outlined a few things for Hayato to help the monk understand what would happen next.

One: Shinta would not become ageless. He would grow and age as if alive, but at a certain point, the aging process would slow down, maybe even stop.

Two: It was highly unlikely Shinta would be the victim of a life-threatening disease ever again.

Three: Shinta would have to eat raw flesh. There was simply nothing around that (Well, Hayato had thought, it was better than devouring souls.) About half a pound once a week was good enough and Shinta could still eat other food.

Hayato sighed and prayed he hadn't made a mistake. Shinta would have a rough time fitting in, to be sure. Yare, yare, it should not be so bad as long as Shinta didn't advertise his state. Hayato had faith in the boy.

'I just hope he can live a normal life after this,' Hayato thought with a sigh.

After a few minutes (though it could have been mere seconds or long hours) Hayato heard some moaning behind him. Turing swiftly, Hayato knelt down to help Shinta up, seeing the boy in the flesh for the first time.

Short, pale, and redhead, Shinta stuck out like a sore thumb in an Asian community. It was no wonder the Elder had spoken so cruelly about the child! Abnormalities were rare and not often tolerated, especially by the more conservative. Hayato couldn't help but wonder where the boy had gotten the red hair, since both of his parents were dark-haired. But there was no question that the boy belonged to the gentle couple Hayato had met. The boy had the same violet eyes, slight build, and delicate cheekbones as his mother, but the nose, lips, and arch of the brow was clearly that of the father.

"Shinta-kun?" Hayato murmured, softly as he produced a blanket to wrap up the boy's naked form.

"S-Sir?" Shinta croaked, clearly recognizing Hayato's voice. Hayato smiled gently.

"I am Hayato."

"Hayato," Shinta repeated slowly, trying out the name, "Kaa-chan, Tou-chan?"

"I'll take you to them," Hayato offered, picking up the disoriented child.

"Hai," Shinta nodded, his eyes beginning to droop.

Hayato smiled as the child fell asleep, and his heart realized something.

He had made the right choice to bring this child back.

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Hayato was a good man. But he was too trusting. Or perhaps he wasn't curious enough.

He should have asked the kami "why".

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After Shinta's resurrection, it was agreed upon by both Hayato and Shinta's parents that the small family could no longer live in the village. Shinta had been dead not too long ago and his reappearance would bring about questions that the family did not want to answer. Shinta's mother was saddened to leave the village of her birth, but did not protest much knowing it was best for her child. Her husband had simply said of the village, "Good riddance."

So the small family packed up their meager belongings and traveled with Hayato to another village he knew well. Hayato, knowing that he had created a huge impact on the family, was reluctant to leave them. He felt responsible for them, in a way, especially for little four-year-old Shinta. Hayato couldn't believe Shinta to be a mere four. His short body and slightly pudgy cheeks told his eyes that the boy was three, yet when Shinta spoke, Hayato's ears argued that the child must be five or six. It was very confusing at times.

As Hayato traveled with the small family, he couldn't help but become attached to them. Soon, Shinta's parents were also "Kaa-san" and "Tou-san" to him and "Shinta-kun" transformed into a more affectionate "Shinta-ototou". To Shinta, Hayato was "Nee-chan", which always caused Hayato to be unsure whether he should wince or smile. Although Hayato tried to convince Shinta to say "Nii-chan" instead, the child insisted, more stubborn than rocks. Shinta was very set in his ways. Either that or the little imp was teasing him. After awhile, Hayato gave up entirely and began to accept that he would be "Big Sister" forever more. After a few more days, he could even laugh about it.

In the end, it was a good thing that Hayato had incorporated himself into the family. When they finally arrived in the village, the habitants there did not question the small family, seeming to write them off as "Houshi-sama's family". Hayato sometimes found that odd. He was, after all, fifteen, only a few years younger than the couple that he called "Kaa-san" (she was nineteen) and "Tou-san" (he was twenty-two). Surely they would have noticed that…

And then, in other times, Hayato simply passed it off as the divine will of the kami.

Hayato found himself enjoying the family life there at that little village. Tou-san and Kaa-san were wonderful farmers. Through their hard work and dedication, nearly everything they planted sprouted and flourished. As a result of their success in the fields, the local villagers were glad of the family's help in bringing in the crops, and readily accepted them. Shinta-chan helped as much as he could, carrying the seed basket and pulling up weeds.

He was such a lively child. It was hard to believe that he had ever been dead. Sometimes Hayato would even forget. But then Tou-san would present little Shinta with a freshly killed bird with the feathers still clinging to the body, and the red-haired boy would devour the raw flesh the same way Hayato did with grilled fish.

None of the other villagers knew of Shinta's "condition". The family was very careful to hide Shinta's "eating habits". The boy himself was smart enough to obey his parents' orders to hide his secret.

Shinta really was such a good boy.

Sometimes at night, Hayato would wonder, what was it that the kami wanted from Shinta? What task did they have for him? Shinta was only a child after all…

'But children grow…'

Hayato sighed. There was no point in wondering about the future. It was best to worry about the future when it came.

Hayato never was the most curious of human beings.

Months passed, and the icy flower of winter blossomed across the region.

Before Hayato knew it, he received word from his temple, and the quiet family life he had built with Shinta's family evaporated like water.

The temple had not discovered Hayato's use of Hangon. That was a relief. However, there was a disturbance elsewhere in the country and the temple needed as many monks there as possible.

That included Hayato.

So with a heavy heart, Hayato bid the small family goodbye, promising profusely that he would return soon.

Shinta had protested loudly as only a child could. Kaa-san had tried to convince him to wait until winter was over before leaving, but the temple's orders were resolute. Hayato had to leave. Tou-san, who had apparently come down with some sort of cold during the winter, had been unable to get out of bed to see the monk off.

However, when the older man turned his fever-bright amber eyes at Hayato they were sharp with something other than sickness.

Giving the family one last goodbye, Hayato headed down the road, only looking back once to promise he would see them all again.

The monk didn't know then that his promise would never be kept…

Glossary:

Yare, yare: "oh well", "oh bother", "if it must be so", etc.

Kami: god or gods

Houshi-sama: a respectful way of addressing a Buddhist monk

Daijoubu (ka): "Are you alright?"/"I'm alright"

-sama: "lord" or "lady"; used to indicate respect

-kun: used to address boys/young men; also used by a superior addressing an inferior

Sengoku/Warring States Era: the time before the Tokugawa shogunate; there was near constant civil wars (hence the name)

Edo Period: time of the Tokugawa shogunate; the "golden age" of Japan (1603-1868)

Hai: "yes"

Kaa-chan/Kaa-san: "mother"

Tou-chan/Tou-san: "father"

Ototou: "little (younger) brother"

Nee-chan: "big (elder) sister"

Nii-chan: "big (elder) brother"

Author-chan's notes: Thus ends chapter 2! Yes, I know I changed some things about the original Hangon ritual. Shrugs Consider it poetic license. Besides, what little information I know about Hangon came from a certain manga.

I am indeed referencing two other anime in this chapter. Brownie points if you can guess which ones. (One of them is the manga that I got my info on Hangon from.) Grin

As for Shinta calling Hayato "Nee-chan" in the OAV when Kenshin is training with Hiko, he mentions a "Nee-chan". Now that could be referencing one of the three girls, Kasumi, Akane, or Sakura, but he called them all by their first names, not by "Nee-chan". So I'll just say he was referring to Hayato there. Yes, Shinta is a little prankster for calling Hayato "Nee-chan"…

Next Chapter: Disease

Please look forward to it.