Obligatory disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
-Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians
I don't have to do this.
He sits awake with night-shadows playing over his features, listening to the child's cries, watching the small body toss and turn until it's entirely off the futon. The moon's brilliancy tells him that it's halfway between dawn and dusk, and he's too tired to wake the child up tonight. He's run out of comforting lies and clichés to tell the boy, and he was never any good at them to begin with. He's out of things to do as well, because if the last few days are any indication it's obvious that patting him on the back won't chase away any nightmares.
He's exhausted. Defeated. One little boy did what years of training under Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu could not. He's about ready to put an end to this. He's met the village people at the base of his mountain before, people who are certainly more equipped to deal with a world-scarred little boy than he is. The boy would do better there.
I don't have to do this.
He washes the sheets by the river after they've been soiled yet again. Two weeks and still it's like nothing has changed. He can't tell the boy to do it himself, the blankets weigh twice as much as he does, the kid would fall in and drown. He glances at the child sitting next to him, hugging scrawny knees to scrawny chest, downcast eyes looking at anything but him. He wonders about the boy he met that day at the newly-dug gravesite, the boy with the soft, steady voice and fire-warm ki, the boy he thought he had taken home. Where had he gone? Where did this scared little child come from?
He's frustrated. For a moment he had seen someone with the will and heart worthy of a Hiten Mitsurugi disciple. For brief moments, he had caught a glimpse of hope in a pair of bright violet eyes. Fleeting moments.
I don't have to do this.
He catches the boy's arm in mid-swing, stopping the movement with the intention of correcting his stance before it becomes a bad habit. The child jerks back from his sudden touch like a startled colt, and he mentally grimaces. A month now and he still can't touch the kid without giving him a heart attack. Now the child's looking sheepish, embarrassed at having been caught with his guard down, and he wonders why the guard has to be up at all.
He's so confused. Up till now everything in his life could be overcome by brute force or quiet patience. But this, this, how is he to get past this? What is the right way of dealing with a child the world has disowned? He's trying his best, trying harder than he ever has in his life, because it's such a shame to cast away that bright-eyed child he'd only met for mere moments in time. He does what he thinks will work and when it doesn't he tries something else, and again and again (he's bad at giving up, really), but when, when does this end?
I. Don't. Have. To. Do. This!
A month and a half. That's how long it took for him to finally learn that the boy hasn't completely forgotten how to smile.
Two months. He takes the boy out for a walk (as much for himself as for the child, he needs to clear his head). The child's ki is conflicted the whole way, and he wonders what's up now. Unexpectedly, he feels a small, warm hand slip into his, and he can't completely stifle his body's surprised reaction. But he doesn't pull away.
Three months. Their eyes finally meet and lock, and with a shock he sees a sweet young gaze staring up at him. The boy's tired out from practice, and the light from the setting sun reflects off to give his eyes a gem-like sparkle. This isn't the boy he meant to take home, not really; it's not the tough, scarred survivor. But it's not the boy he's lived with for so long either; not the terrified, subdued child. The child peering up at him with a smile teasing at his lips, something lively in his movements despite the day's workout, an energy tingling in his sun-soft ki, who is this boy?
I know I don't have to do this.
Nine months. The boy's filled out and grown a little. He gets up every time he's knocked back down until finally it's obvious that he can't go on and he's called to stop for the day. Sometimes he smiles at nothing at all, beaming just because he feels like it. There are days when he's quiet and contemplative, nights when he stays up watching the moon (it's nice that they share an appreciation for silence, solitude, and quiet reflection), but then again he's the same boy who loves to help him cook and clean and who also, somewhere along the way, has uncovered a rather subtle streak of mischievousness.
When did the boy start calling him Shishou?
"Come on. We're going to the village."
The child doesn't cringe anymore at the thought of the village, of other people, of the place where he had almost been sent. Months ago, he would have looked at him with apprehension at the mere mention of the place, scared that he had been displeasing and would be sent away. He knows better now.
The boy doesn't hold his hand often anymore when they walk, because he no longer so much needs the assurance and affirmation. There's a spring in his steps, a promise in the way he takes in everything and never strays too far.
"You've done a wonderful job with him, Hiko-san. Why do you do it? You really don't have to."
He watches the boy waiting for him outside the shop, curiously observing a small sparrow hop along the ground in search of food. He had been wrong. The survivor he found at the clearing of wooden crosses wasn't the only thing that made the boy worth saving. It was this child, this one with the growing smiles and soft laughs and a wonder for everything that would one day carry hope to those he met. This boy is every bit as worthy of Hiten-Mitsurugi as the survivor of the raid is. Maybe more.
"Yes. Of course I don't have to."
The boy looks up as he walks out with his purchases, scrambling to his feet with a speed derived not from fear of being too slow but out of eagerness to see him.
"Baka deshi. Let's go."
"Are we going home now, Shishou?"
It's not like I had to learn swords. I didn't have to fight, and I didn't have to kill those bandits.
For the boy with the fire that speaks of strength. For the boy with the warmth that speaks of hope. For the boy. Just the boy.
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