I know, it's not Merciful Dreams, I'm sorry. But the mildly-creepy bug bit me earlier, and I ended up finishing this before and after work today.
This is a very strange continuation of mswyrr's 'Specter', a short what-if fic supposing Hiko did not end up at the bandit attack in time, and thus among the bodies he buried was a small red haired boy.
Rurouni Kenshin is not owned by me; I think we all have figured this out.
There is punishment for those who fail the will of the gods.
The specters started three days later.
In the dark he awoke, the piercing scream tightening his hand around his sheathed blade before he could locate the source of the sound. Beside him, curled up and sobbing as if he had seen death himself, was the red-haired little boy.
The child on the floor was transparent, but that was unimportant.
Unable to comprehend the entirety of the situation, Hiko knelt, dazedly following instinct. A child shouldn't be left to suffer.
Dropping the sword, he slowly reached for the child. The redhead seemed to see him and, still sobbing, held out his small hands, seeking comfort. Hiko leaned forward to scoop the boy into his arms, and the spirit dissolved before they could touch.
Frozen in the moment, not understanding, Hiko stared at the empty space.
Not knowing what else to do, Hiko picked up his sword, placed it beside his futon and went back to sleep.
In the morning, he remembered everything in startling detail. That the boy was no longer living suddenly hit him, hard, and he shuddered.
The next week of screaming nights was torture.
Several months passed before he saw the boy again. He was a little taller now, a little more filled out, and standing in a ready position that was easy to see through the spray of the waterfall and had startled Hiko out of his kata.
The boy charged at him, and was thrown back by an unseen blow before he was close. Hiko watched as the boy readied himself and tried again, only to be thrown back. Midway through a third failed attempt, he vanished, never hitting water.
Hiko stared a little longer, then turned and left.
Biting back a sigh, Hiko sat, taking in the last rays of sunset as he sipped his sake. No matter how he tried to ignore the boy, the quiet whirrrr-thud of a translucent wooden top kept stabbing at his senses and had driven him outside.
His ears pricked up yet again as a new noise started; the clattering of someone into the storage chest. Despite himself, he peered over his shoulder into the house. Nothing was moving except the boy, standing and crossing to look at someone not there.
The boy was saying something; Hiko turned away to keep the sounds at a murmur.
I AM NOT SHORT YOU'RE JUST TOO TALL! Came the scream. Hiko nearly fell off his seat, and sloshed the last of his sake over his hand.
Momentarily, the boy came running out the door, headed towards the woods with a bucket in hand. The scowl on his face changed to a smile as he passed Hiko, and when the boy hit the edge of the clearing he began running. He was soon out of sight.
Hiko shuddered, and went inside for more sake.
Adjusting the sack slung over his shoulder, Hiko continued up the mountain. In an effort to have time to himself, he'd risen early, arriving in the closest small town just as the shops were opening.
Tempted to reach for his new bottle of sake, he stopped himself; it would be even sweeter once he'd returned home.
Shishou, what are we getting?
Hiko's head rose quickly to look up the path. The waif like redhead was nearly skipping downhill, trying to keep pace and looking to his side. Hiko's mood soured as the boy frowned.
That's not very much.
"I can't get much when you're too much of a runt to carry anything," Hiko muttered as the spirit went past him.
Am not! The last ghostly phrase floated back.
Hiko had checked, and the boy was practicing by the waterfall. He had some time to indulge his new hobby.
He was just carrying the clay and his tools outside when the boy returned, shivering and wet, dripping water that never soaked the ground.
The boy reached out his hands and grabbed as if to catch something; a towel appeared in his grasp. He wiped his face, then wrapped himself in it, trying to get warm. The boy opened his mouth to say something, but scrunched his face and ducked.
Hiko threw down his supplies in disgust as the boy swore he'd get it right next time, really.
How can you stay on your mountain and do nothing? Don't you care about the people? DON'T YOU CARE AT ALL?!
Hiko glared at the boy, who yelled toward the far corner of the room.
WHAT IS HITEN MITSURUGI FOR IF NOT TO HELP OTHERS!
Hiko pulled his blanket over his ears, and wished the kid would shut up.
The next day, the boy left.
Maybe now he could get some quiet.