Katsura opened his eyes and stared the long beams hulking in the shadowed ceiling, unsure why he was awake. It was too early; the darkness told him that much. A distant, rhythmic tapping revealed water dripping from the rooftop, and then he heard it, the faintest whisper of fine, early morning rain.
He was now completely alert, his senses extended. Confused, Katsura sat up and cast his futon cover aside. Something felt different; his old fighter's intuition was warning him. In the relative sanctuary of the Kohagi Inn, he had never known such a thing. It was as if the world and everything in it had changed, and he was waking into a dream.
The morning did not feel right; aside from the thin patter of rain, there was no sound, not even the stirrings of birdsong.
As he stood, straightening his sleeping yukata, he became aware of it. The hum. He felt it, rather than heard it. It was low, and it almost escaped him, but he felt it in the way an animal heard a sound well beyond the reach of human ears. He had almost missed it, but now he began to understand.
Could it be?
Low, soft, imperceptible to all but a skilled swordsman.
Taking a deep breath, Katsura slid the window screen aside to reveal the courtyard below. It was still deep in shadow, but he saw the paving stones glisten, slick with moisture. He breathed the scent of water on fresh earth, and felt his eyes widen as a pale face stared back at him.
It was that boy… Himura Kenshin. The one Takasugi-san had sent from the mountain. Katsura froze as the boy regarded him for an instant and then turned, unmoved by his scrutiny. Despite the dismissal, Katsura could not draw his eyes away from the slender white hand resting on a characteristically patterned tsuka.
There was barely enough light to make out the boy's features, however it was enough to catch the edge of the blade. Like wildfire to dry grass, it sped along the edge of the katana as it was drawn. Until the boy stood, his weapon bare. The rain was a little stronger now, a cool, steady thrum. It blanketed the Inn in a haze of soothing noise. Underneath the rain, that other noise had also become more intense. Katsura closed his eyes and reached out with his own spirit. He blinked, and drew back, astounded by the way he had become so completely enveloped.
His eyes were drawn to the sliver of light, which had started to move, guided by a pale hand. Katsura marvelled at how the boy's wrists appeared when the sleeves of his dark gi fell back: stronger than folded steel. Morning approached; he could now make out the high topknot and strands of ferocious red, flicking back and forth. And in the background there were three faces. Katsura knew them; the strongest Ishin fighters. They too would have sensed it. Like him, they watched, silent. Perhaps knowing, but still disbelieving.
At first, the taut wrists flexed, bringing a flash across the void. It was an act of symmetry, of absolute reverence. He was the blade's master, as much as its servant. As the katana sliced through rain-tempered stillness, Katsura began to comprehend.
He, too, was a master of this art; the study and ritual of killing. It was the essence of kenjutsu, every movement with its sinister purpose. But that which had been conceived from the most brutal of intentions now appeared before him as beauty.
There was no other way to describe it. Take away the intent, and what was left was pure, joyous movement. The boy's face, indistinct just moments ago, was now clearly visible. That expression; Katsura had never seen anything as serene.
The rain turned from a fine mist into full droplets. They could be heard on the roof, in the small rivulets that turned into streams, flowing through cracks and crevasses and falling, to strike the hard earth below. The boy, in his trance, did not see the impression he made on those who watched. He was unaware of his ki, which cut through paper thin walls and merged with the rain-song, rousing men from their sleep. A small crowd was starting to gather.
Faster, he moved. Faster, went the blade, until it was merely an extension of body. The rain turned from droplets into a downpour, the noise deafening. And the men watched as water soaked through the boy's hair, turning it the colour of blood. The dark blue gi was wet through; it became like the midnight sky, and all around him tendrils of liquid crimson flung back and forth.
Faster, even faster; Katsura could no longer make out the lines between boy, sword and the falling sky. The three had become one, and in that instant Katsura saw beginning and end come together in a perfect enso. For he knew this was kenjutsu in its ultimate form.
In one so young, who has never shed blood.
At times, the boy disappeared, only to re-emerge, soundless. A shiver coursed through Katsura and his eyes widened in horror. He alone knew this boy's fate.
As he stood by the open window, overwhelmed by the twin floods of the rain and that pure, terrifying ki, Katsura saw more than just movement. In every precise stroke, slash and step, the meaning was clear. Himura truly was Izanami's child.
He does not yet know it.
Because of what he was, death would follow. It was inevitable.
In the fluid way in which it had began, the dance stopped. He stood still in the rain, once again a boy. His katana, now muted, found its saya. His expression was of one at peace. Katsura exhaled, surprised he had been holding his breath. That deep, reverberating hum lingered. Himura looked up, saw the men gathered, noted Katsura's still form in the window. As if in shock, he withdrew his ki. Katsura felt as if the wind had been sucked from him.
The rain beat down, covering everything. Himura walked away, through the torrent, strands of hair slicked around his face. The sodden gi clung to his small frame. Across the clearing, the men who came to watch had not yet moved. Neither they or Katsura would witness anything like this from Himura ever again.
Forgive me, young one.
For his next kata would be tainted, and that knowledge alone was Katsura's punishment.
Enso – "circle"; enlightenment, strength, the Universe and the void. A common subject of Japanese calligraphy.
Kenjutsu – The art of the sword.
Izanami – "she who invites," Japanese goddess of both creation and death.
Tsuka – The katana's hilt.
Author's note: This is just my attempt at a 'Kenshin does his kata' story, inspired by some of the excellent ones already out there. Try 'The Watch' by Sueb262, 'Like Breathing' by SiriusFan13 or 'Kata' by Unseen Watcher if you like the idea. And… well, it must be exam time, because I am procrastinating again. I feel very bad for not concentrating on my other, unfinished fics, but honestly, this just slipped into my head, and I will definitely get back onto those someday. Hope it makes sense!