I just thought I'd take a break from my "Red Haired Samurai" story to write this. It's my first one shot, so I hope I do an okay job with it. This story is also based off of the manga, not the OVA series, so just don't get confused. ^_^
Mata ne: Good bye (used when parting for short period of time, like "See you later")
Sayonara: Good bye (used when parting for a long period of time)
Domo Arigato: Thank you very much
Arigato: Thank you
Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin…and I never will.
Kenshin closed his eyes and slowly breathed in the crisp autumn air. He opened his eyes after a few moments and was relieved to see the small clusters of houses that were just beginning to come into view. It had been a long journey from Tokyo, and he had been beginning to think that he'd never reach Kyoto—let alone the small cabin of Hiko Seijuro the Thirteenth.
"C'mon daddy, let's hurry! We're almost there!" A small hand tugged on the ex-samurai's sleeve. Kenshin smiled weakly. Yes, he had decided to bring little Kenji along for the journey, if for no other reason, to meet Kenshin's former master. But the child's energy was beginning to tire Kenshin out. Ever since learning the secret of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, Kenshin's heath had been steadily deteriorating. Recently, he found that the daily tasks of washing and cooking would tire him out, and he found himself needing to rest much more frequently. He tried to hide the rapid deterioration in his health from Kaoru, but Kenshin was finding it nearly impossible to hide anything from her lately, especially concerning his constant fatigue and waning strength.
So naturally, she had objected to the trip to Kyoto, and went on a ten-minute rant about how Kenshin should be taking care of himself and not go about planning trips without her say so and whatnot. Normally, Kenshin would have stayed back in an effort to keep Kaoru from worrying so much, but this trip to Kyoto was something he needed to do, regardless of how much she might worry about him. He had also asked Kaoru if he could take Kenji as well so he could see many of the sites that Kyoto had to offer (and visit Hiko of course). Kaoru had objected to that as well, but something inside her told her that she should let the two go, regardless of her concern for the two's well-being. Kaoru had at first suggested that she go as well, but with Yahiko out of town, there would be no one to watch the dojo, and so to her dismay, she was forced to remain behind.
Kenshin looked down lovingly at the small red haired child who was pulling on his arm in an effort to get him to walk faster. Kenshin was wary about going any faster than he was already, but would do just about anything for just one more smile from him.
"Of course. I promised we'd get there before sundown, didn't I?" This produced a broad smile from the energetic child who had just celebrated his fifth birthday the day before.
"Yeah!" Kenji grabbed hold of his father's hand and practically dragged him towards the large sprawling city. By the time they reached the outskirts, Kenji had completely tired himself out, and was now resting comfortably on Kenshin's back. Kenshin of course was a bit winded himself after being pulled along for almost a mile, but he enjoying letting his son get a ride on his back, simply because it pleased the child; And it if Kenji was happy, that was good enough for him.
"Daddy, we passed a lot of houses," Kenji yawned before continuing, "How much farther does your old Shishou live?"
"Not far…perhaps a few more miles. He doesn't actually live in Kyoto, you see."
"Then how come you said he did? You said it's bad to tell lies." Kenshin chuckled softly. His child was certainly very perceptive for his age. He would have made an excellent swordsman.
"Ah, you see, I never said he lived in Kyoto, I said he lived near Kyoto." Kenji seemed to deliberate on the subject for a little bit before deciding that his father was right.
"Oh…okay then." Kenshin smiled and hoisted the child up a bit higher on his back then continued through town. It was late in the afternoon when the two reached the foot of the mountain where Hiko lived, and it was then that Kenshin stopped to place Kenji back on the ground again. The child had firmly stated that he wanted to walk the rest of the way so he could tell all of his friends that he had climbed a huge snow-capped mountain by himself. (It wouldn't hurt to exaggerate a little bit of course.)
And so, they began their trudge up the mountain. Kenshin remembered the path distinctly, for he had traversed it many times before during his time spent as Hiko's apprentice. However, now that the road was hardly used anymore, many parts of the path were overgrown with bush and weeds, so in many instances it was only thanks to Kenshin's knowledge of the geography of the mountain that kept them from becoming hopelessly lost. Kenji on the other hand wasn't paying any attention to where they were going, but instead was constantly lagging behind because of his need to inspect every creature (crawling or dead) that he happened to come across. He also had to point it out to his father, who would come over and inspect it with interest, answering whatever questions the boy had. It was in this manner than they continued up to Hiko's cabin, and so Kenshin wasn't surprised when they arrived sometime around dusk.
"We're here," Kenshin announced, his exhaustion clear in his tone. Kenji didn't seem tired at all, but instead bounded up to the cabin and knocked on the shoji door, eager to finally meet the man that had trained his father so well. And although he only vaguely remembered his father even holding a sword, considering how much people revered Kenshin—especially Yahiko—he had to have been good.
"Don't tell me it's that baka deshi of mine." A loud voice called from the inside of the cabin. "You don't talk to me for seven years and then you decide to show up—!" Hiko slid back the shoji door, but immediately froze when he saw that Kenshin had not come alone. "Uninvited." He finished when he had finally found his voice. Hiko stood there for a few moments staring at the wide-eyed red-haired boy who was clinging to Kenshin's gi. There was no doubt about it. This was Kenshin's kid. For a moment Hiko wondered who the mother could be, but once he took a good look at the child's deep blue eyes, he knew there was no mistaking who the mother was.
"You married the Kamiya girl…"
"I'm sorry that I never told—"
"You baka!" Hiko give Kenshin one hard punch in the face, which sent the man crashing to ground a good ten feet away. Kenji yelped in alarm, frightened that Kenshin's master was so violent towards his former pupil. "You get married, have a kid, and don't even have the decency to tell me!" Kenshin sat up and rubbed his jaw, surprised that it hadn't been fractured.
"I said I was sorry. I truly forgot. Things just…happened." Hiko raised an eyebrow, but decided to let it go. If he were younger, perhaps he would have knocked the crap out of his deshi for being so absent minded, but Hiko was already fifty years old, and the idea of beating Kenshin senseless just wasn't as appealing as it would have been years ago.
"You always were a scatter brain." Hiko mumbled, as he helped Kenshin to his feet. He observed Kenshin for a moment before letting out a sarcastic grin. "Looks like your age is finally catching up to you, isn't it." Hiko said, observing the dark circles underneath Kenshin's eyes, as well as a few gray hairs that were beginning to appear.
"I was about to say the same about you. If I remember correctly, your hair was black, not gray and black."
"Shut up." Kenshin half smiled and shook his head. His master's pig headedness was definitely not something that would go away with age.
"So, kid," Hiko said, turning his attention to the young child who was staring at him with awe, "what's your name?"
"You're really tall." Kenji said, apparently ignoring the question as he strained his neck to see the samurai's face.
"No, you're just really short." Hiko knelt down to the child's height and smirked when he saw the child's face pucker up with annoyance. "Anyway, let's go inside. It's getting cold." Hiko stepped into the cabin, followed by Kenji and then Kenshin, who slid the shoji back in place. Kenshin then placed the small bundle of belongings that they had brought from Tokyo in a small corner in the room.
Hiko walked over to the middle of the room to check on the food, then decided to add more rice to the pot that had been boiling. There definitely wouldn't be enough for everyone since he had only been cooking for himself. He settled cross-legged on the floor, and then beckoned for Kenshin and his son to do the same. They sat across from each other, neither one speaking. Hiko was simply observing the two—one who was waiting patiently for his master to speak—and the other whose eyes were busy wandering around the room admiring all the beautifully painted pottery.
"You still haven't told me your name." Hiko rested his chin on his hand and leaned forward with interest at Kenshin's offspring.
"Oh! I'm Kenji." the boy said with enthusiasm, "and I'm five years old. Yesterday was my birthday. Daddy said I'm a big boy now." Kenshin smiled and nodded, and Hiko smirked.
"Did daddy get you a gift?" Hiko asked, although he was looking directly at Kenshin.
"Yea! Look!" Kenji pulled a yellow top out of his gi then held it up proudly for Hiko to see. Hiko held out his hand for the toy, which Kenji gave to Hiko to inspect.
"That's…" 'This is the same top Kenshin used to play with…It certainly looks old enough.' Hiko looked over at Kenshin and shook his head. "I didn't know you'd kept it that long…but I suppose you always were overly sentimental." Hiko handed Kenji the top, who walked over to a corner in the room (where he couldn't be disturbed) to play with it right away.
"But, I'm guessing he isn't the only reason you've come after all these years." Hiko gestured toward the happy five-year-old who was watching the top spin with great interest.
"No. He's not." Kenshin sighed as tucked a lock of scarlet hair behind his ear.
"Is it about your health?" Hiko asked, his voice steady and monotone. Kenshin's eyes widened.
"How did you—?"
"You didn't have to tell me, Kenshin. For one, you're not wearing your sword. And the only reason you'd come all the way to Kyoto without a means of defense is if you physically couldn't wield the sword anymore."
"You don't miss anything, do you?" Kenshin said with a sad grin.
"Of course not. I'm your master." Hiko rolled his eyes, and the two were silent for a long time after that.
"Have you seen a doctor?" Hiko asked suddenly.
"Not recently." Hiko frowned at this. He knew that Kenshin never gave much though to his physical well being, but for his body to have deteriorated enough for it prevent him from practicing Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, he'd think that his baka deshi would see that as a sign visit a doctor. Baka…
"Do you want to die?" Hiko asked, but Kenshin only sighed.
"You don't understand. Megumi-dono told me this would happen no matter how careful I was, so I see no point in visiting a doctor now. I knew that this would happen eventually…but during the Bakumatsu, I never thought I'd live long enough to face the after effects of practicing the Hiten style… but…" Kenshin glanced over at his son, who wasn't paying any attention to Hiko's and his father's conversation at all. The top was still keeping him occupied. "I just wish I were able to play with him more often, like Kaoru does, without having to stop in the middle of a game because I have to rest. I want to teach him so many things, but…" Kenshin trailed off for a moment. "This body of mine…" Kenshin looked down at his hands before balling them into fists. "Perhaps this is my punishment for all the lives I took during the—"
"No, it's not." Hiko interrupted. "This would have happened regardless if you had joined the Ishin Shishi or not. Although I'm sure the many battles you fought it brought it on faster." Kenshin shrugged, his eyes downcast. Hiko frowned again, for although he didn't want to openly say it if he didn't have to, he was genuinely concerned for the red head's well being. There was probably nothing that could be done about his deshi's deteriorating body, and Hiko was sure that it was only going to get worse. This made Hiko experience an emotion that had been foreign to him for quite some time: guilt. He had known ever since he had taken in the boy that this would happen—for it had been clear from the very beginning that the child's physical body wasn't meant for the style. But his spirit—that was what had attracted Hiko in the first place. No matter what terrible choices his apprentice had made, Hiko had never seen that strong swordsman spirit break—not once. Yes, it had been tried, but Kenshin had always managed to come through somehow. But the depressed and frustrated ki that the redhead was emanating right now was unlike any he'd seen before from the young man. Even as a traumatized child who had been an emotional wreck, he still had hope, and a goal to reach: being strong enough to protect others and prevent suffering. And now I suppose he feels that he can no longer do that anymore…
"It isn't just about not being able to play with your son, or help out around the house, now is it?" Hiko stated, ignoring the astonished look on his deshi's face as he continued. "You've dedicated these last fifteen years of your life to protecting people and repaying your sins, yet you think it's not enough to repay the lives you took. Right?" Hiko said in a sarcastic way, even though he knew that he was right. The very look that Kenshin gave his master proved his suspicions correct.
"You're a baka. You always were and you always will be." Hiko got up to go stir the rice, leaving Kenshin with his thoughts for a moment. His master truly knew him better than anyone else probably ever would. That was a good thing sometimes; however it also became Hiko's biggest weapon when he felt like torturing him for being a "baka deshi."
"Hey, Kenji, come here." Hiko called, (well, demanded really.)
"Ok!" The young boy bounded up and ran up to Hiko, excited to be doing something other than playing with his top, which was starting to get a bit boring.
"I want you to keep an eye on this for me."
"You mean cook for you," Kenshin corrected with a quick grin.
"Shut up." Hiko said mechanically—apparently he was quite used to saying it. Kenji however smiled at the prospect of helping out, but he first had to ask his father if it was all right.
"Daddy, can I?" Kenshin raised an eyebrow.
"You mean you want to? I didn't know you liked to cook," Kenshin said with a hint of sadness, for there were probably many other things about his son that he didn't even know.
"Mommy taught me, so I'm an expert now."
"Ah. Then yes, it's alright with me." 'I just hope she didn't teach him too much…' Kenshin thought as images of Kaoru's burnt rice and fish flashed through his mind.
"Well," Hiko took his sake jug and sat down with two clay cups, and then poured some out for the two of them, "It looks like you could use some sake. That is, if you can still hold your drink."
"Arigato." Kenshin said quietly, ignoring his master's playful remark as he accepted the clay cup that was handed to him and took a sip. Hiko also drank his serving of the alcohol, refilling the cup three or four times before Kenshin had time to finish his small serving. Hiko placed the cup on the ground, his expression suddenly becoming somber.
"You've done enough." Hiko said, his sudden change of mood from sarcastic to serious startling the younger man for a moment. "You need to forgive yourself and move on. If you don't you're only going to make it harder on your family." 'And me.' Kenshin sighed and shook his head.
"Master, the things I did during the Bakumatsu—"
"I don't give a damn what you did!" Kenji looked up from stirring the rice for a moment, but then, deciding that the conversation was probably none of his business, concentrated on getting the burnt rice off of the bottom of the pot.
Kenshin's eyes widened at his master's intense reaction, and he immediately shut his mouth to let his master continue.
"You made a huge mistake, yes, and you were a complete idiot for leaving before your training was finished, however—your intentions…they were pure." Hiko's voice became lower, and he sighed softly. "Kenshin. You…" 'You've suffered far more than anyone should have to. And… "The only thing you should worry about is being happy." Kenshin and Hiko locked eyes for a moment, with Kenshin feeling a lump rise in his throat at hearing his master's words.
"Hiko-sama! It's finished!" Kenji announced as he took a spoon and padded the rice into some bowls he'd found on a shelf. "Eat it while it's hot!" The young boy walked over to the two adults and handed them their bowls. Hiko and Kenshin both exchanged glances, glad that the conversation had been suspended for a chance for them to gather their thoughts—and for Kenshin to get rid of that stupid lump in his throat.
"Arigato." Kenshin forced a rurouni smile, which seemed to satisfy the child who was now sitting down with the two holding his own serving.
"Try it!" the young child chirped, excited to see what the two thought of his cooking. Hiko inspected it for a bit, then raised an eyebrow. "It's burnt. He burned the rice. How do you even burn rice…?' While Hiko simply began to stare at the bowl in his hand, Kenshin had already started on his serving. He was prepared for the taste, for (Kaoru's cooking had prepared him for that) and ate it like nothing was wrong.
"Hiko-sama, what's wrong?" Instead of insulting the child's cooking, Hiko decided to let the kid try the burned rice for himself.
"Why don't you try it first? To make sure it tastes right."
"Oh…okay!" Kenji complied, separating his chopsticks to start his meal. He didn't get past the first bite.
"Bleh!" He spit out the burned rice, and then looked at the meal with distaste. Hiko burst out laughing, while Kenshin did his best to hide his amusement, but even he chuckled.
"Hiko-sama!" The child whined, although he had to release a small smile himself. It really did taste terrible. And his mother had told him that he was such a good cook…
"It's alright Kenji, it tastes fine to me." Kenshin placed his hand on his son's shoulder and smiled. Hiko considered giving a snide, sarcastic remark, but eventually decided against it. The kid had tried, at least.
"Well anyway, I suppose I'll have to make some more rice." Hiko stood up to get the sack of rice in the corner of the room, but stopped when Kenshin spoke.
"That's alright Master. You see, we'll be leaving shortly."
"Already? Why?" Kenji complained, a little upset that he would have to leave so soon.
"Yea, why?" Hiko repeated, "You come all the way to Kyoto and you won't even spend the night?" Hiko questioned in a tone that suggested that Kenshin was out of his mind.
"We're staying with The Oniwabanshu. I didn't want to impose myself on you, especially since you're um…" Kenshin looked around in the small cabin, "limited on space. Besides, I promised Kenji I'd show him around Kyoto in the morning, and I also promised Misao I'd be spending the night at their place. And…I must also visit Tomoe." Kenshin added as he stood up slowly and took hold of his belongings.
"You and your promises." Hiko sat back down on the tatami mat, for apparently he wasn't going to come outside and say goodbye as they left.
"Thank you for the sake, master. I will always remember the kindness you've shown me." Kenshin said, although Hiko knew that he was really thanking him for showing that he cared.
"Why are you talking as if we'll never see each other again?" Hiko asked skeptically, his eyes locked onto the redhead.
"I…" Kenshin rubbed his head, for he'd hoped his master wouldn't ask him that. "It's just that…well…I don't think I'll be able to make the trip back to Kyoto again." Kenshin lasts words were only a whisper, but to Hiko, they were loud and clear.
"I see." Was all Hiko managed to say. He turned his back towards Kenshin and poured himself more sake. He raised his hand, his only form of saying goodbye.
"Mata ne!" The young boy waved as was led by the hand out the door. It was now completely dark out, except for the sliver of a moon that hung in the sky, and the millions of stars that sparkled overhead. They started to head out of the small clearing, but were stopped by when the shoji door slid violently open and Hiko ran to catch up with the two.
"Wait!" Hiko demanded as he took a small pouch out from inside his cloak. "Here." He handed the leather pouch to the young man, who after hesitating for a few moments accepted the small gift.
"What is it?"
"Special herbs. I've had them for a while, but I've had no use for them really. They're supposed to help heal and strengthen the body. I don't know if it would work but…" Kenshin squeezed the pouch slightly, the lump in his throat coming back.
"Domo Arigato Shishou." His voice cracked slightly, and Kenji looked up at his father with a bemused expression. He didn't understand why his father would be so choked up about some dried leaves.
"Yeah." There was an awkward silence for almost a minute, until Kenji got fed up and tugged on his father's sleeve.
"Daddy, I thought we were leaving." Kenshin snapped out of his slight trance, then looked down lovingly at his son.
"Yes, it is about time we were on our way." Kenshin turned around and began to head out of the clearing and onto the mountain path, but before going out of view turned his head to the side and spoke.
"Sayonara." He said slowly and softly, his voice being carried by the slight breeze that was beginning to blow. Then he and his son continued down the path, leaving Hiko standing in the clearing, watching them disappear behind the trees.
Notice how I put the glossary at the beginning, simply because the difference between "mata ne" and "sayonara" are important in this story. It's up to you what happens in the end though. Did Kenshin eventually die or did the herbs magically make him better? Was that the last time they ever see each other? Maybe, maybe not. . Hehe.
And no, I didn't like the fact that Kenshin died in the OVA, however I believe that because of the physical damage done to his body because of practicing the Mitsurugi style, Kenshin's body would probably only continue to get worse with age. So it isn't impossible (in the manga) that he might eventually die because of the strain he put on his body in his younger days. But eh, whatever.