A/N: Hey guys, it's been forever since I've been on here, and I hope my writing has improved since then. If not, I apologize, and feel free to flame away. Anyway, this is just a little blob about the time shortly before, during, and after Kenshin's return from the Shishio fight. Musings centered around Sano, Kenshin, Kaoru, and a bit of Megumi. Not told in POV, it's all third person, but the writing revolves around different characters at different points. So, yeah. That's about it. Review, please, be it a 'love', 'meh', or 'hate' review. I just wanna know. Thanks a bunch.
Oh, and by the way, parts of this are written based on the anime, parts on the manga. I can never decide which one I want to go with, so I combined them. Just in case there's any confusion.
Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin, its characters, its plot, etc, etc.
Bring The Hero Home
Sanosuke knew they had to hurry, to get Kenshin down the mountain to where his wounds could be treated. He could feel his friend's blood seeping between his own injured fingers as he half-carried the samurai down the road. Sano was surprised to feel how light Kenshin was, despite the densely toned muscles that formed his slight frame. At one time, as he and Aoshi tried to hurry down the road, it would feel to Sano as if Kenshin was trying to walk, shuffling against the dirt, but when he glanced under Kenshin's curtain of red bangs, he found the violet eyes open just a sliver; not enough to be considered truly conscious.
Kenshin's breathing was shallow and raspy, and it seemed to echo around Sano's head as he listened to it, worry throbbing through his veins with every beat of his heart. He could feel his own muscles trembling slightly as exhaustion dug its claws into him, but he simply narrowed his eyes and trudged on, trying to not to jostle Kenshin's still bleeding injuries too much. Cursing his own feelings of weakness, he berated himself for not being good enough, not being even nearly as strong as the man whose arm was slung over his shoulder. He knew that Kenshin had, more than once, surpassed his own limits in the fight against Shishio, and he was determined that if Kenshin could pull off a feat like that, than it wouldn't be too difficult just to help him get down the mountain.
They had just come in sight of the town when Kenshin raised his head slightly.
"Kao…ru…dono…" he wheezed and Sano smiled slightly. Then Kenshin's head dropped back down and all the help he had been giving to make Sano's time of carrying him easier suddenly drained away and he went completely limp. Sano felt panic flare in his chest.
"Kenshin?" he murmured, tugging on the red-head's arm slightly. "Kenshin?"
"He's still breathing," Aoshi said softly. Sano paused, and heard the faint sound of Kenshin's breathing. "We must hurry." Sano nodded, swallowing his concern and trying to focus on getting his friend to the help he needed.
Hold on, Kenshin, we're almost there.
Kaoru looked up from where she had just finished tending to Yahiko's back when Kenshin's teacher rose to his feet, turning to face the road that lead up into the mountains. She squinted slightly, then caught sight of a few dark figures making their way carefully towards them. As they stepped out of the shadow of a building and into the moonlight, Kaoru saw that one was Aoshi, his head bowed slightly. Then she saw Sano, stooped slightly, with one of Kenshin's bare arms slung over his shoulders. The rurouni was limp, his feet dragging the ground. He was only supported by Sano holding his side with one hand and carrying his other arm across his shoulders. Then, for a moment, the three of them disappeared into the shadow of another building. She held her breath as they got closer and closer, appearing briefly in a flash of exposing moonlight before vanishing again. Then, as they entered the very outskirts of the patch of moonlight that she and the others had been waiting in, she saw just what kind of condition the three of them were in.
Aoshi looked to be in the best shape of all of them, with only a few spatterings of blood across his long coat, and a nasty, torn up welt of an injury across his chest.
Sano had streaks of blood down his face from a dark red stain on his headband. There were small rivulets of blood oozing down his bare chest, and his white coat was torn, ragged, and filthy.
But Kenshin looked the worst, even though Kaoru couldn't see his face. The shoulder that was supported by Sano was entirely coated in thick red blood, and it ran down what Kaoru could see of his bare torso, his entire gi shredded and hanging in tatters from his waist. Streaks of blood lined his arm and dripped off his fingers. His white hakama was ragged and torn, bloody splatters creating a gory patchwork that was highlighted eerily by the bright moon over head.
Then, the spell that seemed to have bound all those waiting outside the Aoiya broke. Kaoru leapt to her feet and ran forward, tears in her eyes and a wide, relieved smile on her face, Yahiko stumbling close behind her, grinning. Misao leapt forward, shouting Aoshi's name giddily. The others were not far behind them, all of them breathing sighs of relief and laughing away the tension that had plagued them for so many days.
"Kenshin!" Kaoru skidded to a stop by Sano, the first real trickles of worry threading their way through her brain. Kenshin didn't respond; he didn't speak, didn't move, didn't get any sign that he'd heard the young woman. "Kenshin?" She crouched down to peer at his face, and her mouth fell open in a silent gasp. Blood striped his face, and his mouth was open very slightly, the faint whispers of breath barely audible over the sounds of everyone's slowly stopping footsteps. Then she saw the large, charred, bloody mess on Kenshin's chest. Sano's hand, supporting Kenshin's side, was soaked in red, and somehow Kaoru knew that it wasn't Sano's own.
Sano waved the crowd of worried onlookers aside and made his way to one of the benches, the very one Kaoru had spent so much time waiting on. He carefully pulled Kenshin's limp arm from around his shoulders and laid him down on the bench. Then he waved to the surprised, onlooking policeman.
"You! Get some doctors out here, now!" he barked. The young officer took one look at the dying, red-haired man, then bolted back the way he'd come.
"Kenshin!" Kaoru's voice was desperate as she laid her hands on Kenshin's bloody arm. "Kenshin!" The red-head didn't stir. Tears started to leak from Kaoru's eyes to run down her cheeks in glittering streams. "Kenshin!" Sano turned back to his friend.
"Hang on, buddy," he murmured, brushing Kenshin's sweat-damp hair off his forehead, listening to Kaoru's choking sobs. "Just hang on."
It was all a blur.
He remembered walking, but he couldn't remember where.
He remembered feeling Sano's chi right beside his, lending him his strength.
He remembered fire, fire all around him, and the very ground beneath his feet shaking and bucking like the waves of an ocean.
He remembered being too weak to stand back up.
He remembered floating in and back out of consciousness, darkness wrapping its tendrils around his mind and tugging him back into the sleep he longed for.
But it was more than sleep.
It was an eternal rest, free of the guilt, the pain, the regret that was his daily life.
The darkness urged him to come with it in silky, hushed tones, caressing his tired limbs. Its little fingers lingered on his scar, and he could almost feel the pain it carried starting to heal, to fade, to drift away…
He forced his eyes open, to stare at the dark, dirt path beneath his aching feet.
He took one weak, shuffling step, then another.
This one's life is not all pain.
Another step. A vibration of surprise from Sano's chi.
This one has friends.
This one has people waiting.
Another step. His eyes started to close.
His words were weak, so he weak he doubted anyone heard them.
But saying them kept the darkness at bay, kept him from wandering again, this time not from a home, but from the world he had helped…
And he tumbled into a darkness that bore him no ill will.
Megumi stared down at Kenshin's pale face, at the grey shadows under his closed eyes.
"I've done all I can for him," she sighed to the group of anxious people across from her. "Now, it's up to him." Kenshin had his blankets pulled up to his chin, his chest slowly rising and falling beneath them. If not for his pallor and the bandage on his forehead, he looked almost as if nothing had happened. But Megumi remembered the struggle it had been to keep him alive not long before.
As soon as she had gotten the letter that they sent her, she had packed her bags and rushed to Kyoto. She had arrived to find him dying, under the care of a handful of nervous, unsure doctors. She had roughly shooed them away and gotten to work herself.
He had a lot of minor scrapes and plenty of bruises, but there were a few, far more worrying injuries. At the base of his neck, along the line of his shoulder, was what appeared to be a huge bite mark, where a large chunk of skin and muscle had been ripped raggedly away. From the back of his right shoulder almost the back of his left hip was a fairly deep slash, but she was relieved to find that it hadn't gone totally untreated. On his right side, just a little above his hip bone, was what was clearly a wound from a katana. The sword appeared to have entered through the front, and sliced a hole clean out the back. That was the wound he had lost the most blood from. There were also two, parallel slices on the side of his neck, barely missing the live-sustaining veins there. She was relieved to see that these, also, had been bound sooner than the others. But the worst wound, she had discovered, was the massive, bloody burn on his chest. It looked as though a bomb of some kind had exploded right in front of him, burning away the skin and some of the muscle, but leaving it to bleed like any other wound.
She had moved quickly to stitch up and bandage the wounds, something the other doctors had attempted to do. But somehow, Kenshin had continued to bleed, even under their care. It seemed that no one had know really if they should bandage the bomb-wound or not, so they settled for pressing cloth to it when it started to bleed. From what Megumi heard from them, that was quite often. By the time she got there, she knew she was lucky to even have any chance.
Kenshin was a fighter, both in body and spirit.
It had nearly gotten him killed, but maybe, she hoped, it would save his life as well.
The sound of a wind chime. Summer.
But only somewhere far away.
In front of him…
A misshapen rock, trickling with rivulets of sake from the jar above it.
White. Sad, confused white.
A yellow and black butterfly on a purple flower, against the brilliant blue of dawn.
Shishio's sword, extended forward, protruding from above Yumi's breast, imbedded in his side. Shock. Pain. Surprise. More pain.
White. Horrified, agonizing white.
The butterfly, slowly flapping its wings.
Lying on the cracked stone ground, one hand over a bleeding wound, the puddle of blood spreading far too quickly. Ragged breathing.
White. Desperate, frightened white.
The butterfly, in a field of the flowers, still resting.
A darkened sky. Green glowing fireflies. A gentle, longing embrace, accompanied by soft words of goodbye. Of apology.
White. Heart-wrenching, painful white.
Red, blood red steam. The faint stench of burning flesh. A barely deflected, vicious attack.
The butterfly, gently rising into the hazy air over its flowers.
A simple gravestone in Kyoto.
White. Guilty, lonely white.
The butterfly fluttering away into the glare of the rising sun.
Kaoru watched Kenshin sleep for many hours of the day. For the most part he was still, and there was little change, but once in a while his face would twist in pain and he would cry out. Kaoru, on one such occasion, grabbed his head and held it steady, feeling his fingers trembling between hers. The first time this had happened, she called out to Megumi, thinking Kenshin's wounds were hurting him, but then she learned that, no, Kenshin was in the throes of a nightmare, his own mind attacking him even as his body tried to heal.
Once, Kenshin's condition suddenly declined, and he labored to breathe under a high fever. Megumi was at a loss as to what had caused it, and Kaoru spent a long time by his futon, crying, begging him to come back.
"You promised, Kenshin," she sobbed, clinging to his yukata. "You promised we'd all go back together!"
His fever broke almost a week later, just as Megumi was about to give up hope. Though his whole fever, she had been unable to get him anything to eat, even soup. Before, as he had slept, they would lift his head and trickle soup down his throat to give him the strength he needed. But then, while in the throws of his fever, he had coughed and choked on anything and everything except water. Then, the day his fever broke…
"K-Kao…ru-do…no…" Kaoru sat bolt up from where she had been slumped over Kenshin, tears still streaming from her eyes.
"K-Kenshin!" she exclaimed, hastily brushing the hair out of his face and replacing the cloth on his head with a colder one. "You're awake!" His eyes were glazed, but he nodded slightly.
"Indeed." His voice was hoarse and weak.
"Can…can I get you anything? Are you hungry? Thirsty?" Kenshin slowly shook his head, a weak smile on his lips.
"Just…tired, Kaoru-dono. So tired…" Kenshin looked back up at the ceiling and his eyes slid closed.
"Kenshin?" Kaoru's hushed voice was panicked.
"This one is sorry." Kaoru wouldn't have heard Kenshin's whispered words if she'd been any farther away. "This one has made…Kaoru-dono…cry…" His head lolled to the side slightly, and his breathing became slow and rhythmic for the first time since his fever set in. Kaoru blinked, wiping the tears from her eyes, then quietly rose to her feet. She walked quietly out of the room, then ran down the hall, calling for Megumi.
Everyone was relieved to find that Kenshin's fever had broken, but Megumi still kept a closer watch on the rurouni from then on.
"He is, quite frankly, lucky to be alive," she said again, a constant remind to them all.
I don't need reminding, Kaoru thought, almost sadly, as she knelt back down next to Kenshin's sleeping form. His pain is all the reminder I need.
Kenshin finished folding his futon and stacked it off to the side of the room, then knelt down on the tatami floor, his hands on his thighs, and closed his eyes. So much had happened around him as the weeks had gone on during his recovery. Much of it was hazy to him, even as he tried to recall it; it had been clouded with pain, weakness, and fever. He remembered many times he would float back to consciousness, groggy and nearly unable to move, and he would hear Kaoru crying quietly beside him, sometimes accompanied by the murmured assurances of Megumi or the others. He remembered, vaguely, Sano stopping in to check on him rather frequently, but only once did he stop and sit down like Kaoru always did.
"Hey Kenshin." His voice was soft, and almost gruff. "The lady doctor says you're still pretty weak and stuff…and it looks like you're starting to get a fever too. I just…I just wanted to let you know that we're all waiting for you to come back. We wanna go back to Tokyo with you, Kenshin. Back to the dojo and all that. And…" His voice stopped abruptly, sounding choked, close to tears. But he stubbornly fought them back. "And I know you're tired, and all that…but we need you Kenshin. So just…just don't give up on us, okay?" Kenshin had wanted so much to respond, even open his eyes, to assure his best friend that he had no intention of giving up, that he would recover, even if it took a while, but his whole body felt slow and weak.
Fever…he mused dully. But then Sano stood up abruptly and walked out without another word.
Kenshin could always feel his heart thudding away in his chest, and sometimes the sound of it drowned out anything else. Normally, had he been strong enough to defend himself in the case of an attack from an enemy, he would have willed his heart to slow it's pounding, quiet itself just enough that he would be able to hear what was going on around him. But, in his weakened state, he knew his heart needed all the power it could get, and there was little chance of him fighting off too strong of a foe, anyway.
He was relived to find that, even in his weakened state, Kaoru had been thoughtful enough to lay his sakabato by his futon. He wasn't sure if she understood just how important it was to him that it be within reach at all times, but the fact that it had occurred to her made him smile to himself when he discovered it. It had been nighttime when he found it, and he had slowly reached out a hand to brush the sheath gently. Then he reached up and laid his hand carefully on Kaoru's, where the young woman was sleeping next to him, still sitting up.
"Thank you, Kaoru-dono," he had whispered, then pulled his hand back and returned to the healing world of sleep.
Whenever he woke up, but didn't feel yet ready to open his eyes to the world again, he would listen to the sounds around him. From where he lay, it sounded as though everyone in the near vicinity was throwing some kind of party, and it had lasted for many days. Even as he opened his eyes to the sunny room around him, he could hear the sounds of a party going on. He smiled slightly, then slipped his sakabato into his obi and left his room, sliding the door shut behind him. He looked up and down the hallway for a brief moment, then he caught sight of the stairway and headed towards it, the party-sounds growing steadily louder. He stepped down the stairs, but as he reached the bottom and the doorway to the main room, he deliberately scuffed his feet against the wooden stairs to get the attention of Kaoru, who was standing on the other side of the short noren. She froze for a moment, then slowly turned.
"Kenshin!" A wide smile lit her face and she dipped her head to look under the noren at him. "Are you feeling well enough to be up?" Kenshin noted the dull, slight throb in the wound in his side, but he smiled cheerfully anyway.
"Yes." He nodded and brushed the purple noren aside. "This one is fine; the wounds have healed." Kaoru smiled even brighter and breathed a sigh of relief. Kenshin stepped forward past the curtains and nodded at the group of his noisy friends, where they sat, stood, sang, talked, and drank, all laughing and talking. "Besides, with them being so noisy everyday like this, it was hard to get much sleep…"
A/N: Well, again, please let me know what you think. (bows) I'm very curious how my first fanfiction attempt in years will be received. Thank you!