Rating: M, for blood, violence, and adult implications.
Pairings: None in this chapter
Summary: How would things have been different, if Himura Kenshin had been born a girl? Genderbender AU, going from the beginning of the series to the end…
Chapter summary: We first meet Kenshii and Hiko and Kenshii gets her name…
Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin. It belongs to Nobuhiro Watsuki, Shounen Jump, etc.
The river had gushed along its path like a white rushing snake for years. Its endless flow had, over time, worn smooth the stones nestled in its banks and underneath its waters. As time passed, the river had dried up, but the stones remained. On one of these smooth stones a man sat, contemplating. He looked up into the sky, the full moon glowing against the velvety blackness of the night.Illness is everywhere in this era, even in its people. So much so, the moon peers down on a diseased world.
Elsewhere, a cart's wheels pressed flowers down as it trundled along a field. A young girl-child, in a light and dark green striped kimono and gray obi, stared tiredly through liquid amethyst eyes at the brightly colored wooden top in her hands.
There is no cure for this disease.
The little girl bent and picked up a flower that had been uprooted from the ground due to the cart she was walking next to. She looked up at the black haired girl in the red kimono who was walking beside her, then looked back at the flower in her hand. After a moment of intense deliberation, she gestured for the older girl to kneel down, then placed the flower in her surrogate older sister's black hair. After all, flowers were meant to be placed in the hair (preferably behind the ear), and the flower was white – it went much better with black hair than with red.
The smell of blood is as common as the smell of white plums. Death no longer terrifies man, so he creates slavery and savagery, which surpass the horror of death. It can only be fought with more bloodshed, and the cycle never ends.
The man walked down the path shaded by trees, moonlight streaming through the branches. With each of his long strides his sheathed katana knocked against the bottle of sake he carried, whilst his white cape billowed behind him gently.
Even if a person of incredible strength were to arise, they would not be able to stop the inevitable.
They would be able to do nothing.
She was glad her baby brother had never – and would never, now - know what it was like to be called a demon because of something you were born with, and couldn't help, like your hair and eye color. Mikitsu had been wonderful, a treasure, and he deserved so much more than he got. They all did.
A blood stained blade gleamed in the moonlight, and greedy eyes locked on the caravan passing through the plains. Then clouds cut off the moon's light, throwing the world into darkness.
This world is headed for destruction.
Screams cut through the night air, telling a tale of terror and suffering. Bandits, bloodthirsty men with nothing in their hearts but greed, cut down the members of the caravan with no concern for the lives that they were taking.
Screams and chaos filled the air. Feet ran, pounding the road as the members of the caravans ran for their lives, to no avail. A man was cut down from shoulder to hip; another's head was driven through with a spear. A woman was skewered and thrown to the side of the road, the blood seeping through the folds of her obi sash, taking her life with it.
Takuma Gesu sneered to himself as he cut through a man in a peasant's gi and hakama and laughed as the man fell on the grass, staining it with his lifeblood.
Weaklings, all of them. Is there no one here to give me a challenge? Gesu was different from the rest of the bandits by one major point – all the other members of his band wanted to see was gold. All he wanted to see was blood.
Weak, weak, weak. Is there no one here to give me a little sport! He thought as he cut down a man in rough peasant's garments.
He looked past the corpse and a flicker of red caught his eye.
Blood...no… his eyes widened in shock …hair! Red hair. That color …he grinned …it must belong to a demon! Heh, maybe he could get a little sport after all.
Bloody visions dancing in his head, he headed for the little girl who had caught his eye as she struggled to hold a fallen katana in her small hands.
Ever since her mother had died, she had had no one to rely on but herself. She had had to take care of Mikitsu, who was just a little boy, only three years old, and her father, who had been blinded in an accident. She had had to be mother and daughter, sister and wife – without ever really experiencing someone taking care of her herself. So it was a shock when she had arrived at the caravan, with blistered feet and eyes blinded by tears and met the three girls. The three girls who had adopted her into their small, fractured family, who had wiped away her tears, and soothed her nightmares. The girls who had made her smile and laugh in what seemed the first time in years… she had sworn to protect them as best she could. Protect this small, fractured family, as she had been unable to protect her own.
She would do anything to protect them.
Even break all the rules of sex and class and creed that had been bred into her by her family, by the villagers and by the slavers, and bend down and pick up the sword that one of the men had dropped.
Even change her life forever, and start on a path that would end up staining her very soul with blood.
And she would do it with no regrets.
Hiko Seijuro the XIII, was not the type of man to believe in anything he couldn't confirm with his own senses. He did not believe in the Shinto gods and goddesses, in Buddha, or any other kind of higher power. He believed in men, and what men could do, and even that had been sorely tested over the years, as he'd seen too many atrocities to count.
But just as he didn't believe in any higher power, he also didn't believe in fate, and, as such, was always tempting it. This, (as anyone who had ever said 'nothing could possibly go wrong' could tell him) was a very bad idea. He had been so sure that nothing could reaffirm his faith in the human race.
He was about to get a bit of a nasty shock.
He'd been walking home from the village where he went to get sake. There was a small village at the foot of the hill he had made his home, which did for supplies, but the people there didn't have very good sake.
If it weren't for that, he never would have heard the screams.
The little girl tensed as a dark figure approached splattered with blood. The gleam of teeth was a shocking white in a dirt-smeared face – the man was smiling. He was enjoying this. Enjoying the slaughter. If he got his hands on Kasumi-san, Akane-san, and Sakura-san…no. She wouldn't think about that, because it wasn't going to happen.
She wouldn't let it happen.
She would protect them as she had failed to protect her father and Mikitsu.
She launched forward – and lost her grip on the katana as trembling hands pulled her back. The hands belonged to the girl who had received the flower, the one called Kasumi, and she held the redhead close as she and the other girls crouched in fear.
"Don't look" Kasumi whispered, "please, don't look."
Through a small window made by Kasumi's shoulder and neck, the violet eyed girl watched as a member of her little, makeshift family, (Sakura this time) - ran forward to the bandit, crying out for mercy. Not mercy for Sakura though, the girl realized. She was asking him to spare her!
"Please, spare this child, please, I beg of you!"
In an instant, she was cut down. Blood filled the girl's vision.
The same thing happened to Akane, but the child didn't see it this time as Kasumi had thrown her body forward, blocking out the view. But that didn't stop the sounds. The sound of Akane running forward, of her cry as she was cut down without even the time to finish her plea – again, to spare the child…
There was a sob in Kasumi's voice as she cried "Akane!" and then her voice firmed as she raised herself up to look down at the child she was protecting.
"Listen, little one, my life will end here like that of my sisters, but you cannot die yet! You are just a child. You have not chosen your life, as we have been able to. You cannot die now. You must live. Live a full life the way you want to – for the sake of those who died here tonight--"
She wasn't able to finish her sentence as a rough hand hauled her up by her hair. The bandit sneered and raised his sword, and then, with one swift movement, thrust it through Kasumi's neck. The little girl gasped, as Kasumi placed her trembling hands on the sword that was now covered in blood. The black haired-girl's mouth formed words that could barely be heard.
"Live dear heart."
The bandit ripped his sword away and dropped Kasumi who fell on the ground in a heap, her face turned towards the little girl who she and her sisters had practically adopted in the short time they had known her. She had to tell her, somehow. When someone is close to death, sometimes they can see things others can't. Kasumi knew that her 'imouto' was not meant for this fate, she was meant for something greater, something that would shape the world; she just needed to tell her…
And Takuma Gesu slammed the sword down through Kasumi's red kimono, dying it black in the moonlight with an innocent woman's blood, as the sword cut into her heart. Her last thought was of the girl that was the last of her family, now, and as she breathed her last breaths, Kasumi looked at her 'little sister'…and she smiled.
She would live, and that was all that mattered.
Itoe's head was ringing. It seemed impossible that all her family was gone. Mother, Father, Mikitsu…and now Kasumi-san, Akane-san, and Sakura-san… were the villagers right, all along? Was she a demon, a monster that destroyed all she touched?
And as if that wasn't enough, Kasumi's last words were running through her head, over and over.
She had chosen, hadn't she?
She had chosen to look after father, to take care of Mikitsu…
Or had she?
Was there really anything else she could have done? She was eight years old – and a female eight-year-old at that. What else could she have done, it's not like she could have just left - she'd have been dead, or worse, before the day was out. Had she really ever chosen anything, out of her own free will before? With nothing pushing her or stopping her from making that choice?
Her head was spinning with all the new thoughts that had come upon her. It was as if some dam had broken, and something had rushed in and filled her, something new and bright and burning.
Something an awful lot like hope.
But it looked like she wasn't going to be able to explore this new flame that had settled inside her, or to think about Kasumi's 'choose'.
Because the man who had killed her sisters was still standing right there, and he had his sword raised.
Itoe shut her eyes, and then, just as the bandits sword came sweeping down to end her life as it ended so many others lives before now… Hiko Seijuro came upon the caravan.
He was too late. He'd seen it the moment he'd arrived and seen one of the bandits cut down a woman. And the fact that there were more women dead around her just confirmed it. They were all young and pretty – and those were usually protected. The only reason they wouldn't have been was if there was no one left to protect them.
The little girl must be the only one to have survived from the caravan. And she was about to be murdered in cold blood, just like her sisters.
He would not allow that to happen.
And so he drew his sword.
And, five minutes later, Takuma Gesu was in five pieces along the ground, and the rest of his gang was soon following. The last thing they heard, was his answer to their question.
"You won't be alive long enough to remember my name."
There was blood all over the girl.
Hiko flinched almost imperceptibly. She was young, about six or seven he guessed, and had very big eyes and very pale skin. Pale skin that was currently splattered with blood. Blood he had spilled. A child…an innocent…covered in blood he'd spilled…
'The sword of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu is swung to prevent the shedding of innocent blood…'
He shook himself out of his thoughts with the mental reminder that the blood wasn't innocent, it had belonged to the bandits that had just slaughtered a caravan, and busied himself in wiping his sword clean with a piece of rice paper.
Eventually, he looked up. The child hadn't moved, not even to blink, simply sitting there, staring motionlessly at the dead bodies. Shock, he supposed. It would make sense seeing as she had just had everyone she cared about ripped away. Perhaps he could get her to get moving, break out of it, or else she might simply give up and let herself die. He'd seen it before, but… he didn't want to see it again. Not with this little girl, who had barely even begun to live.
He stifled a sigh and began to speak.
"I don't know why I happened by this place... I suppose it was fate." He sheathed his sword, and looked down at the girl. "Be glad I did – I took care of your revenge. However, bearing a grudge against these men will not bring your loved ones back. Let your survival be their memorial, and revel in the fact that you are alive. Go to the nearby village – surely they will be able to help you."
She still hadn't moved, not even reacting to his voice.
There was nothing he could do, not when she was so far gone. He'd come back in a week or so, see if she'd gone to the village, and if she hadn't…well, then he supposed he'd just do what he always did.
Bury the bodies.
He turned away, and started walking. The shifting of clothes brought him up short. He started to turn and was half way around when he heard the whisper, so soft that anyone else wouldn't have been able to make it out.
Hiko blinked. Maybe he'd heard wrong, but… no, his hearing was incredibly sharp.
What did that mean, anyway?
The child's brows furrowed as she tried to explain what she meant.
"In plays, like the ones Tou-San used to read to us…when they were describing the scenes of great battles… they used to say 'and a rain of blood fell', but you, you really made it rain…" Her voice faded to a whisper. "Rain…of blood…"
So that's what she meant. Now he sort of wished he didn't know. Figures.
Her soft voice brought him out of his thoughts again.
"You…avenged the sisters," her voice firmed, "Thank you."
She bowed, a deep bow, with her eyes fixed on the ground. She didn't say anything more before he left. Neither did he.
But she was still bowed as he left the clearing that had been the sight of the tragedy… and the only ones to notice the soft droplets on the ground in front of her were the dead.
Hiko wondered down the path lit by the setting sun, thinking. The man at the village had said that nothing had passed through the village recently – not even a cat, let alone a small girl.
He sighed. She'd probably despaired of the world and killed herself after what she had seen - it wasn't uncommon.
My sword is guided by the teachings of Hiten-Mitsurugi. Yet when all is said and done, a sword is a tool of destruction, not salvation. Many times, I cannot use it to save even one person's life. Not one living soul, as it would seem to be this time.
He sighed as he pushed away the last of the hanging branches and prepared to enter the scene of slaughter. The bodies had been there for a few days, so it wouldn't be pretty.
It is enough that I bury the victims' corpses, I suppose. That is the only way I can maintain what humanity I have left.
He walked out into the blinding sun, but he did not shield his eyes as they widened.
Where before there had been dead bodies laying splayed on a blood-spattered ground, now there were crosses, monuments to the dead, stretched out across the clearing.
He wandered through them, the setting sun illuminating everything with an orange color, and stopped at the end of the makeshift graveyard. There were three rounded stones there, and standing before him, her back to him, was the girl from before. He noticed things then that he hadn't noticed in the dark, such as that the hair that had seemed so oddly pale in the dark was actually red, and that her kimono was of nice make, but obviously not professionally made. The girls he'd seen around her before had probably made it.
His eyes took in her hands, hands that were scraped raw and bleeding, with the nails torn and dirt and splinters encrusted in the cuts. The makeshift graveyard; that the girl hadn't gone to the village; her hands… it all pointed to one thing. But what kind of person would have the sheer fortitude to bury all those people single handed, without any food or water. Especially if that person was only a little girl?
"You buried the bandits, as well as your family?" he asked in shock.
A moment of silence, then she answered in a soft, hoarse voice.
"They were slave traders. Not my family."
He gasped, eyes widening, everything he'd seen the night before, being seen in a new light. The three dead girls - young pretty girls, exactly the type slavers would want. And this girl. This small, delicate, girl with that exotic red hair – not to mention young enough to be trained. His lips firmed at the thought. The caravan might even have been heading to the red lights district. He was almost glad the slavers were dead, filth like that deserved it, and if it hadn't been for the young girls, he'd probably have gotten rid of the almost in that sentence.
Whilst all this went through his mind, the girl continued to talk, her voice slightly stronger then before. "My family died of cholera a while ago. But once they died they weren't Bandits or slavers, just dead bodies." Her voice dropped. "Dead is dead after all."
"Yes," He nodded and paused for a moment in contemplation. "Dead is dead."
He looked down at the three stones before them. If the caravan she'd been traveling with were slavers, and the bandits were, well, bandits, then who would she care enough for to drag these stones here? He thought he already knew the answer, but…
"Who are these stones for?" He might as well ask anyway.
"Kasumi-san, Akane-san, and Sakura-san. I only knew them for a few days, but they protected me as if I was their own. I wanted to protect them, but I'm just a little girl. But because of that, they're gone. They died protecting me. They said, 'Please, spare the child'." She lowered her head, clenching her dirty hands.
The man's face grew thoughtful.
"I wanted their graves to be beautiful, so I wanted good stones. All I could find were these ugly rocks, but it's the best I can do. I wish I could have found flowers. They all deserve flowers."
He hesitated more. Could this child be the one? But he'd never even thought about his successor being a girl.
Would she be able to handle the burden of taking other peoples lives? Of having the best sword style in Japan at her fingertips? For that matter, would she even be able to handle the training? It was hellish.
He had to know, "What are you going to do now? You've buried them all. Are you going to go to the village?"
She paused thinking a moment, the shook her head. "No."
She considered the stones before her a moment, then started to speak slowly and haltingly. "I don't know what I'm going to do. Kasumi-san's last words were for me to live… to choose a full life, and live it the way I want to…"
"What do you want to do?"
"I…want…to protect people, and to help them. I couldn't do it before, I was too weak. I couldn't help my family; I couldn't protect the girls. But I want to be able to. I want to become strong, so no one else will ever feel this kind of pain. I want to be strong so that I can protect the people precious to me, my precious people…" She trailed off.
He paused for a moment, in thought, and then took out his Sake jug and uncapped it.
She looked at him startled. "What are you-"?
She was cut off as he started to pour the sake on the biggest stone in the middle, the liquid coursing down the sides and onto the other two stones, then down to the ground.
He answered her question; "No one should reach Nirvana without the taste of good sake on his lips. This is my tribute to them."
"Thank you. Um…"
He recapped the jug and turned to her, looking into her eyes. "My name is Hiko Seijuro. I'm an intermittent swordsman."
She lowered her eyes to the ground. A samurai…
"Listen, you were unable to protect the lives of the women who took care of you. Now your inner-self is laden with their memories. Your small hands can attest to the weight of their lifeless bodies. However, you will learn that their memories are heavier, and carrying them will make you stronger. This strength will be your defense, and aid you in the protection of that which is truly important, but this can only happen if you are properly trained. Tell me your name."
She blinked. Why would a samurai want her name, and what was this about training? "Itoe."
"Bless with love," He snorted at the irony. "That name is too soft and sweet for a swordswoman."
She hesitated, uncertain if she had heard right. A swordswoman? Her?
"From now on your name is Kenshii."
She brought her eyes up once more, and repeated what he had said hesitantly, "Ken…Shii?"
"Ah." He looked up at the sky. The girl had a lot of potential, but it would take a lot of hard work to bring it out. A sudden gust of wind blew, ruffling their hair, one as red as the sky above, the other as black as the raven's who flew in it.
"I have found myself a pupil. Consider yourself…fortunate."
And so it began.