Welcome to my opus. Enjoy the ride.
I do not own Rurouni Kenshin.
The sky looked like wet cement.
Kenny sat on the edge of the curb, waiting patiently in the chilly spring air. The sky kept acting like it wanted to drizzle, but wouldn't; occasionally Kenny felt a drop or two against his cheek, but the performance was lackluster at best.
The entire day had been that way. Kenny had turned in a paper in English that he knew wasn't going to do any better than a B, but he hadn't had the energy or incentive to make it any better. Math had been more geometry, which was so easy it was painfully boring, and he'd skived gym to miss dealing with jocks who thought that being five three and long-haired meant they had a good excuse to mess with him. That had sparked a trip to the principal's office after lunch and a lecture, then Spanish class and Government and AP science. He'd had to stay behind to ask the science professor about a typo on the homework that made it due next year instead of next week, and had ended up missing the bus.
Now he had to wait for his mom to come pick him up since his dad wouldn't let him get a car.
Sighing, Kenny rubbed his hands together to get them warm. As the sun went down 'early spring chill' was rapidly devolving to 'downright cold', and the heavy, blank cloud bank was looking more ominous by the minute.
He spent some time people-watching. A freshman girl with way too much eye makeup was leaning against a post under the covered walkway, thumbs going a mile a minute on the phone in her hands, apparently texting. Another couple was making out behind a tree. They probably thought they were well-hidden, but Kenny was betting that they were going to be caught as soon as that teacher quit adjusting the shoulder strap on his bag and looked up.
He was right. At least I'm not the one getting detention…
Another kid was leaning on the chain-link fence, smoking. Kenny thought he recognized him, but wasn't sure.
A car horn honked; Kenny looked around and there was his mom's silver Lexus, waiting ten feet away. He put his backpack in the trunk and got in the front seat, putting on his seatbelt. "Hi, Mom."
"Hello," Elen said, smiling timorously at him as though she wasn't quite sure. "How was your day?"
"Okay." Which wasn't really true, but there was nothing she could do about the truth, was there?
"Oh good," Elen said. She bit her lip like she was going to say something else, but didn't.
Those nine words seemed to use up their quota of conversation for the drive. Kenny wished for something to break the silence, but he didn't want to talk and Mom said the radio distracted her when she drove, and since it was starting to rain in earnest now he didn't want to make her nervous.
When they got home he put his backpack and jacket in the closet and went to change out of his school uniform into a pair of cotton pajama pants, a t-shirt, sweatshirt, and a pair of thick socks. If Dad had been home he'd never have gotten away with it, but Frank was on yet another business trip out of town. Mom didn't mind so much.
"Kenny?" Elen called up the stairs. "Dinner's ready."
Dinner tonight was soup and a salad—again, if Frank were home, Elen probably would've made pot roast or chicken Madeira or stuffed bell peppers, something fancier with more courses—but both of them preferred it simple. Dinner was almost as quiet as the drive home, with a few bland remarks about the weather and the food.
Just as Kenny was getting ready to go put his plate away, Elen took a deep breath and said, "I got a call from the principal today."
Kenny balled his hands into fists in his lap and said nothing.
"He said you skipped class again," Elen said. The words were almost a question, like she didn't want to believe it.
He was quiet.
"Is that true?"
"Oh." Elen sighed inaudibly, and said, "Why?"
"It was just gym!" Kenny stood, shoving his chair away behind him, unable to bear the disappointment in her eyes. "It's not like it was my AP class or anything. They just need to stay out of everybody's business!"
Not looking at her, he took his plate and bowl to the sink, pausing to scrape the leftovers into the trash.
"I'm sorry," Elen said, coming in behind him. "I know it's not as important as some of the other things you're doing, I just worry about you. I want you to be happy."
"It's fine," Kenny said. She was upset now, tears glimmering unshed in her pale eyes. "Forget about it."
"If you need any help…" Elen said haltingly.
"You'll be the first to know," Kenny said. He put his dishes in the dishwasher and without looking back took the stairs as fast as he could to his room.
The bedroom was as clean as hours of insomnia and boredom could make it, the bed made with hospital corners and vacuum marks in the corners where feet rarely trod. The dresser and computer desk were both free of dust, and a few novels were stacked in ascending order of size on the bedside table. Kenny picked one up and set it down again, frustrated at losing control of yet another conversation with his mother. It seemed like he hurt people no matter what he did.
He checked his e-mail; there were no messages.
Until five in the morning he did homework, Spanish and geometry; read a few chapters of his book and sketched a bit on a still-life project. Finally the lines were blurring before his eyes no matter how he blinked, and his head swam when he stood.
When Kenny crawled between his sheets they were cold, and he curled his feet up under himself, hoping sleep would come quick and gentle. He was so tired….
-snow falling ice pink freezing blood enemy gone but no one saved paindeathcolddarkness-
"Kenny! Sweetie, you're going to be late for school!"
Kenny woke with a gasp, heart pounding like he'd run a marathon. This was the eighth time he'd had this nightmare. Anticipation and familiarity only seemed to make it worse.
The glance he'd gotten at the alarm clock had said it was seven oh five, which meant he'd had a grand total of two hours' sleep, which brought his weekly total to… six hours and twenty minutes. Great.
"Are you up?" His mother's voice drifted up the stairs.
"Yeah!" Kenny sat up and scrubbed his face with his palms. "I'm up!"
He had to leave by seven twenty-five in order to be at school on time. That meant he had enough time to pull on some clothes, brush his teeth, grab a Pop-Tart, and get to the bus.
Standing (and the bout of nausea that came along with it) interrupted that plan. Kenny wiped his mouth with the back of his trembling hand and elected to skip the Pop-Tart.
He dozed most of the way to school, head resting against the window. He felt loopy, like he was high on too much cold medicine.
First period passed in a blur. Kenny doodled idly on a scrap of notebook paper, fighting to keep his eyes open over the teacher's drone. His eyelids felt heavy and leaden, grainy, his head stuffed with cotton. He was so tired, but he couldn't sleep, couldn't afford to sleep.
Kenny glanced down at his drawing, realized it was the rough etching of a woman's face, and hastily crumpled it up. He stuck it in his pocket for later disposal.
"Kenny!" The voice cracked through the air like a whip, and suddenly he was staring at his locker door, trying to remember the combination. He turned and there was Sam, the tall, wild-haired senior who had the locker next to his since he'd moved in a few months ago; the older jock had always been inexplicably friendly, despite the different social strata in which they moved.
"Sam," he acknowledged.
"Hey man." Sam lounged casually against the locker, the ends of his red bandanna fluttering. "Haven't seen you much lately."
"Been busy," Kenny said evasively, reaching into his locker to grab a book. He didn't know what book it was—or what class he had next. He had a headache….
"We should do something," Sam's voice seemed to come from a great distance. "Y'know, hang out or something."
Kenny nodded. "Uh… yeah…." He shook his head, hoping to clear it of the buzzing. Sam's voice reminded him of something….
"You okay?" Sam's face swam back into blurry view. "You look kinda sick."
"I'm fine," Kenny said, pressing his fingertips against his temples. He could almost remember—
"Sure you don't want to see the nurse? She's the master of headaches. Concussions, too, come to think of it…."
Master… mastery… Mastery of the two layers! Futaae no kiwami!
"You—you're—!" Kenny managed. Then he blacked out.
"Crap, Kenshin!" He thought he heard a voice as he slipped into unconsciousness. "I didn't know you'd remembered!"
Kenshin, Kenny thought. That's his name—
Darkness claimed him.
Bright lights; loud voices; a dull, pressing pain in his hand: It washed over him like a wave over a dune, wearing away at him. I don't understand… the thought floated up from a morass of confused emotional memories. I was fighting the Shinsengumi… and then Sam came….
"Mr. Harris!" A loud, cheerful, insistent voice grated on his senses. "Mr. Harris, can you hear me?"
"Go 'way," Kenshin mumbled.
"Come on, Mr. Harris," the voice prodded. "Dr. Thomas is here to see you."
Megumi…? He opened his eyes and immediately shielded them from the bright overhead lights. "What…?"
"Hey, Kenny." A woman's voice, warm and gentle. "Hey. Can you hear me?"
"Hai, Megumi-dono," he murmured. "Sessha… sessha hears you."
"Kenny, it's Mary Thomas, your doctor," the voice sharpened with concern. "Do you know where you are?"
"Some hospital," he said thickly. "I don't know which."
It looked, after all, like any other hospital in which he'd ever been: Dim now that his eyes had adjusted and astringent-smelling, with a plastic bed and a single lumpy chair. A small bathroom was attached, but there were no windows, no sharp protrusions, and the lock was on the outside.
"The psych ward," he realized aloud. There was the doctor, a tall, voluptuous woman; and the nurse, a blunt-faced overweight creature with a penetrating voice; his mother, a crumpled, stained handkerchief in her hand, eyes red-rimmed, lingered in the doorway twisting her fingers.
"Boston Regional," Mary— Mary? — her voice felt like it was coming from the end of a long tunnel. "How do you feel?"
"I don't know," he said, and it was true. He felt spacey and disconnected; nothing really hurt, per se, but something didn't feel quite right.
"Do you want to see your mom?" The nurse asked.
"No," he said, and there came a low wail from the doorway. My mother's dead… cholera….
"Alright," the doctor said. "I'm just going to leave Terry here to sit with you while I go talk to some people, okay?"
"Hai," he said. Heaviness was tugging at his senses, and suddenly he wanted to sleep more than anything else in the world. "Gomen, sensei… sessha is so tired…."
"Then sleep." Dr. Thomas brushed her fingers over his forehead, and as though her touch was magic, he was falling… into a bloody rain….
"Mrs. Harris," Dr. Mary Thomas was tired. "How are you holding up?"
The elegant, expensive woman dabbed at her eyes with a lacy scrap of handkerchief. "Oh, doctor, I'm f-fine. How's my baby?"
Mary resisted the urge to rub her temples. "I'll need further assessment to be sure, but I think he had a psychotic episode. What was going on that preceded the attack, do you know?"
The hand-wringing began anew. "Well, it was Spring Break last week, you know, so he went to a conference with his father in New York, but he was home all weekend. I've called his father, he's on his way—well, he was up in his room all weekend, Kenny, that is, and he didn't want to go to school this morning, but Frank said if I was just firm with him—"
"So this happened at school?" Mary prodded. She'd never get through this woman's drivel if she didn't interrupt.
"Yes, it was that awful boy, Samuel Adams," Mrs. Harris said. "Delinquent, doesn't come from a very nice family, not at all. I do believe his parents named him after the alcoholic beverage, can you believe?"
"No," Mary said shortly. She was hoping the father arrived soon, so she could deal with him instead. "Did this Adams boy do or say something?"
"I sent him away," Mrs. Harris said. "He cut his classes to come up here. Kenny didn't say anything about a bullying problem…."
Sensing she'd get no further with this line of questioning, Mary switched tactics. "So when he was in his room, what was he doing?"
"Drawing, mostly." Mrs. Harris said. "Pictures of Asian people, some Asian city, we've never even been out of the country, and we don't live anywhere near Chinatown, I don't understand!"
"I'll talk to him," Mary promised. "In the meantime, could you maybe bring some of those drawings up to the hospital?"
"Of course," Mrs. Harris nodded, her earbobs bouncing. "Whatever you need, Doctor."
"How has he been sleeping lately?" Mary asked.
"Not well," Mrs. Harris said. She sniffed a little bit. "I hear him at moving around at night, and sometimes he makes noises in his sleep. He's got these awful black circles under his eyes, and—"
"What kind of noises?" Mary positively pounced on that bit of pertinent information.
"Crying," Mrs. Harris said haltingly. "And—and moaning…." She hiccoughed. "I went to him once, you know. He was fourteen and yelling his head off, and I went to him, and I went to help him, and he—he sh-shoved m-me."
"You mean he was violent?" Mary asked sharply.
"No!" Mrs. Harris's eyes were puffy, and her denial verged on hysterical. "He wasn't even awake, I d-don't think he even s-saw me! But he was scared, doctor. My baby was t-ter-terrified!"
"Take a few deep breaths," Mary said, putting a comforting hand on the older woman's shoulder. "Okay. It's okay, we're going to get some meds and a psych consult. Everything's going to be okay."
Mrs. Harris swiped at her eyes with the lacy handkerchief. "I can't help but wonder if it's my fault. Kenneth's adopted, you know, when he was two years old. I decided to keep it a secret from him, and I wonder if that's—maybe that's why he doesn't trust me."
"Trust is a big issue for someone with depression," Mary said diplomatically. "We're going to work with your whole family, Mrs. Harris. Now I have to go write some orders. Why don't you go get some coffee and sit with him for a while?"
Mrs. Harris nodded tearfully and wandered back toward the nurse's station.
Mary gave her a long, unreadable look, then turned and stalked back past the rest of the patient rooms, past the elevator and found a dark corner next to the janitor's closet. She dug her phone out of a pocket of her scrubs. She punched in the first number on her speed dial and waited impatiently for the man on the other end to pick up.
"Hiko-sama? It's so much worse than we thought."
Kenny watched lethargically as the pretty young nurse attached a syringe to a port on his IV tubing. He had no idea what the clear medication was—Peggy was yammering about nausea and the side effects of drugs.
If you'd seen as much blood as I have, you'd be sick too, he thought. It's not the drugs.
Not that the anti-psychotics weren't making him totally loopy. His nighttime visions had been even more chaotic and bloody than usual, a kaleidoscope melee of flashing swords, glittering stars, and red blood on blue jackets.
"Shinsengumi-blue, Choshuu-blue," it sounded almost sing-song. "Not that much difference in the end…."
There came a shriek from down the hall, and Kenny flinched. There was a woman in room 302 who thought there were worms trying to eat her brain, crawling in while she slept. She always woke terrified and screaming.
He glanced up and realized the nurse had gone and that he didn't know when it had happened.
"God," he buried his tired, grainy eyes in one hand and felt them water. "God, I want out of here."
There came a tap on the door, and Kenny called dully, "Come in."
His mother—his shy, timid, fussy mother—entered softly, wringing her hands in agitation. "Good morning, sweetheart. How are you feeling?"
Her hand-wringing intensified. "Well, that's good, because I just wanted… um… to tell you, that is, I mean—" she took a deep breath. "Your father's here."
"Oh," Kenny said. He couldn't think of anything more coherent.
Frank Harris came in through the open door. He was a tall man, with iron-gray hair and a furrow between his brows. At forty-four years old he was still healthy and fit, and stayed so by vigorous exercise. He was the founder of a wealthy, successful business and owned lucrative stock elsewhere. Discipline and hard work were the two values that he prized most highly.
Kenny had never felt like he quite measured up.
"How are you feeling?" The furrowed brow was creased in concern.
"Fine," Kenny repeated, picking at a loose thread in the sheets. Dad's overbearing presence and the way he towered over Kenny, stuck in the low bed, intimidated the boy, which in turn infuriated him. Deep breaths. Don't be angry. Not after what happened in New York….
"You look awful," Dad observed, tilting Kenny's chin up for a better look at his face. "All gray."
Kenny resisted the frighteningly powerful impulse to jerk his head away and slam a fist into the older man's solar plexus. Deep breaths….
"We're flying in a specialist from Austria," he continued, releasing Kenny's chin. "His name's Nielson, he's supposed to be the best. Dr. Thomas recommended him; he's an incredible psychiatric physician. He'll be able to help us."
"Okay," Kenny said. An awkward silence settled.
"He'll be here the day after tomorrow," Mr. Harris said. "It's the earliest we could get him. Austria, you know. Pretty far away." He cleared his throat. "Well. I have a meeting in half an hour that I can't miss. –But I'll be back after lunch, maybe with some decent food. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
Kenny shrugged. "If you want to."
Mr. Harris nodded, lingering in the doorway. "Alright. Feel better, son."
Another scream echoed down the hall, and Kenny felt like it was bottled up inside him.
Dr. Henry Nielson, MD, PhD, and master of Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu, was seated in his private plane about to take off with a very cranky pilot who'd been woken out of a sound sleep. It was currently three in the morning and he was irritated beyond reason.
"Mary, you'd better not be exaggerating." He grumbled over the roar of the takeoff, though he knew Mary Thomas was far too professional to exaggerate. "I'm going to kill that idiot Sam," he decided, shifting in his seat to accommodate the armrest digging into his ribs. "Moron was supposed to be watching him."
As though that thought was a summons, his cell phone buzzed in his pocket. Nielson thumbed a virtual button on the screen and growled, "You'd better have a fantastic excuse."
"It's not my fault!" Sam protested on the other end. "He seemed like he was doing okay, and you know how quiet he is—"
"I don't care!" Nielson barked. "You know that and I know that, and that means you should have paid more attention!"
"School's been out for the past week," Sam sounded unbearably aggrieved over the tinny cell phone static. "Or did you forget that it was Spring Break?"
He had. "I did not," Nielson said with great dignity. "Alright, I guess you did fine. Have you seen him since he was hospitalized?"
"Yeah, Mary snuck me in while his mom was gone. He wouldn't talk to me."
"At all?" Nielson ruthlessly suppressed a flutter of uneasy fear in his stomach.
"Well, he answered yes-and-no type questions, but other than that…"
"Alright," Nielson said. "I'll be there early tomorrow morning, your time. We'll get lunch after I've seen him."
"Got it. How's Kathy holding up?" Sam asked.
"Fine. She's in the restroom right now."
"Just watch her, okay? She gets airsick sometimes."
The cynical doctor allowed himself a small smile. "Stop being a mother hen, bird-brain. Kathy will be perfectly safe with me."
Sam began to squawk—rather like a chicken, Nielson thought with no small amusement—but eventually he convinced the boy to shut up and hang up.
Nielson dozed a bit as the engines rumbled in the background. His pleasant daydreams were interrupted by the arrival of a pale-complected young woman with a faintly greenish tinge in her cheeks. She gingerly lowered herself into the seat across from him. She was long and lean, all legs, and very pretty with her long black hair and big blue eyes.
"Already airsick?" He asked.
"Not airsick," the girl said, forcing the words past pursed lips. "Heartsick."
"Ah," the doctor said. "Worried about him, are you?"
She nodded miserably.
Nielson patted her hand. "It's taken a long time to find him, but we're going to make sure all is well. It's going to be alright."
Kathy gave him a firm nod. "This plane better not be late," she said threateningly.
Nielson laughed out loud.