Updated with rewrites 7/5/2014
Disclaimer: Characters of Rurouni Kenshin are the property of Nobuhiro Watsuki and he is gracious enough to not slap me with a law suit when I use them. Story rated for future violence, gore, and adult situations.
Before I Wake
Prologue: Frayed Edges
Kenshin shifted in his seat anxiously, picking at his spotless uniform sleeve. He'd been fidgeting for the last hour, and every compulsive movement only served to make him more apprehensive. He adjusted the collar for the millionth time, feeling choked and claustrophobic. Giving up on his clothing, he stroked the frayed edges of his suitcase, worn nearly into ruin. Another thread unraveled under his fingertips.
Why was time moving so slowly? He'd been onboard for only six hours, but it felt like a lifetime had come and gone. At the same time, though, he dreaded the approaching destination with every fiber of his being. He was not ready for this reunion, had not been ready since the day he shut the door three years ago. Part of him wished time would hurry up, would somehow deposit him in his hometown in the blink of an eye. But the other part of him desperately wished for a freak blizzard, a tornado, anything to slow the train's progress.
He scanned the few other late night passengers, blood pressure skyrocketing when he saw a man reach in his jacket. The man pulled out a stick of gum and Kenshin swallowed the lump in his throat. Not all of his old habits and fears had died yet. Even though he was now free to live a normal peaceful life, he couldn't unlearn his training; anyone and everyone was a potential terrorist with explosives stowed and ready to use. He turned to his window and stared into the black night, the passing lights lonely sentinels along the train tracks.
I don't want to see her. I just want to…see her. His mind turned inward, scenery fading away as he again saw that night an eternity ago when he'd walked out of her apartment. He watched himself leave over and over again, each time thinking of things he could have done to make the going easier on both of them, things he could have done to explain himself better.
Someone cleared her throat at him and he jumped in his seat, reaching for his hip without thinking, only to find nothing. He looked up into the isle, eyes flashing until he realized a matronly woman in a starched uniform and apron was staring down at him. She gave him a smile and patted his shoulder. "Home on shore leave, young man? You remind me of my grandson. He's over there right now and we haven't seen him for six months."
Kenshin gulped, trying to get hold of himself. When he was finally sure of his voice, he answered, "No, ma'am. I was just discharged from my last tour. I'm going home for good.
Her eyes warmed, and he was afraid she would tear up, but she motioned to her trolley cart instead. "Would you like something to drink? On the house."
Kenshin nodded hesitantly. "Ginger ale, please." Maybe having something in his stomach would settle his nerves. The woman handed him a can of soda and continued on her way.
He popped the tab and flinched as he ripped it off. The slip of aluminum glinted in the florescent lighting, strangely surgical. Kenshin stuffed it in his pocket, trying to empty his mind. The soda went down slowly, blocked by the knot in his throat. It didn't do anything at all to quell his butterflies.
This is a nightmare, he thought to himself, running a nervous hand through his red hair. He glanced up at the acid green clock numbers at the front of the car, feeling vaguely queasy. Their arrival time was scheduled for one o'clock. It was 12:38 AM, and he only had twenty-two more minutes to stew in his fear and anxiety.
He turned to the window again, watching his own reflection, pale and sickly-looking under the white lights. She's gonna take one look at me and know. There's no way she can't see. The red lines of scar tissue were stark on his cheek. His eyes were dark and sunken, evidence of too many sleepless nights. He'd lost weight, too, on his desert diet of jerky and fruit leather. The uniform that had once fit him so well now hung loose at his waist, belt cinched to the tightest setting. Maybe the packaging will scare her off. Maybe she'll see the uniform and decide enough's enough and just leave.
But he wanted to see her so badly his body physically ached. Kenshin couldn't remember what her hair felt like in his fingers, the scent of her shampoo, the feel of her hand in his. The sparkle in her eyes was as distant in his memory as the twinkling stars in the sky. I can't remember my best friend anymore. I really have lost everything.
He fingered the embossed letters on the suitcase, shuddering again as he pictured the second case hidden within the first—the one that held his shadows, his blood, and his nightmares. Those swords were the only friends he'd had for three years. No. There was Souzo, too. Souzo was a friend. A dead friend.
The train whistle sounded and he jumped again, fingers scrabbling against the case. His fist clenched and unclenched, knuckles groaning under the strain. So close. Too close. And he still had no idea what to say, what to do. Panic closed in on him, his throat clenching shut. Breathe, Himura! Breathe! Like the therapist taught you. He could face combat and not even flinch, but to face her, his heart was thundering, his palms sweating.
The train was slowing, and other passengers were stirring. A few glanced in his direction. One man smiled encouragingly as if to say, "Good luck, young man." Kenshin swallowed convulsively, nearly coughing as bile rose in his throat. If you can't face her, you can't face anyone, he told himself, rising and collecting his other bag. They shuddered to a stop, everyone lurching forward. Kenshin slipped into the aisle and hurried for the door. Don't freeze! Don't do it. Don't be a coward.
But I am a coward, another part of him whispered. Before he knew it, he stood at the ticket gate, a conductor giving him the stink-eye. He smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner while he fumbled in his pockets for the ticket. The conductor took the stub, his stern expression softening a hair as he motioned Kenshin through. Now or never… Kenshin stepped through the gate.