(With the exception of a few disposable OCs, I do not own these characters or this world. Moving on.)
Hello. I'm Mengde, and Rurouni Kenshin is a longtime favorite of mine - my first story on this site was actually a RuroKen fic I never finished. With that in mind, I reread the series recently and wanted to do a piece exploring several things: Kenshin and Kaoru's relationship after the end of the Jinchu arc, the clash between their idealistic katsujin-ken and the reality of death, and how another fight with Saitou would go. If any of these things sound interesting to you, I invite you to read on. This story has five parts, which will be posted on Mondays and Thursdays. I've rated it T for violence and mature themes. Without further ado, then...
A Sweet, Naïve Lie
A Rurouni Kenshin Fanfic
Written by Mengde
Scroll I: The Stage, Kyoto
Himura Kenshin knelt before the grave of his wife, Tomoe, his head bowed in contemplation.
Almost a year had passed since his battle with Enishi – since he had given up his rurouni lifestyle and settled down with Kaoru. Now, with winter upon them, he had requested Kaoru's permission to return to Kyoto and make an offering at Tomoe's grave. It was the anniversary of her death.
The sakabatō hung, heavy, at his side. Snow gathered on his shoulders and head, but he did not move. He continued to kneel, mind elsewhere, remembering the scent of Tomoe's perfume, of Hakubaikō.
Kaoru had agreed to his request on one condition: that she come with him.
She was not here. Kenshin understood why she'd stayed at the Aoi-ya – why she'd insisted on traveling all the way to Kyoto with him, then let him go alone to Tomoe's grave. Somewhere inside her, Kaoru still feared Kenshin would drift away again, returning to his rootless rurouni life.
He had no intention of doing that, but it would be pointless to reassure her. She would only deny she had any doubts. It was not Kaoru's way to admit misgivings. Despite the solemnity of the occasion, Kenshin felt a small smile quirk at the corners of his mouth. Even a year and a half ago, he would have felt guilty, thinking of Kaoru at Tomoe's grave, but now he knew Tomoe did not mind. He'd learned that much in the living hell inflicted upon him by Enishi.
Kenshin's mind drifted in this manner for the better part of an hour, wandering through different fields of thought as he'd once wandered through Japan – never staying long, never getting attached or rooted to one place.
As the sounds of the city began to increase around him with the rising path of the sun, Kenshin stood, the small smile still on his face. He had his answer. The gold hairpin in his right hand glinted in the sunlight. Today, he would ask Kaoru to marry him. This visit had erased all doubts from his mind.
"Thank you," he murmured. "Tomoe…"
He left the graveyard. The snow, still falling, began to cover the bare patch of ground which he'd occupied. His footprints faded.
The snow crunched beneath the boots of a new figure, his narrow eyes taking in the offering of incense and flowers Kenshin had left at the grave.
"Still rurouni," Saitou Hajime said to the air. He knelt, leaving an offering himself. A blue and white headband, the one he'd worn as a Captain in the Shinsengumi, now rested on the grave.
Saitou took a long draw on his cigarette. "And I'm sorry for that. I'd hoped you would be yourself when I killed you." He stamped out the cigarette. It smoldered in the snow for a moment before dying completely.
The last Wolf of Mibu stalked out, leaving the headband resting in the graveyard.
Aoi-ya was still quiet when Kenshin returned. Happy as he was, he was not too distracted to notice that the inn was too quiet.
Kenshin's danger sense began to flare. He didn't know precisely what was wrong, but there was something off. Ready to draw his sakabatō, he opened the front door of the inn.
Nobody was there to greet him. He stood alone in the front room, snow drifting in from behind him to land softly on the tatami. For a moment he strained his ears, trying to detect breathing, but could hear nothing. Was everyone still in their beds? Kaoru he could understand still being asleep, but Aoshi, Okina and the rest should have been awake by now.
Moving cautiously, Kenshin crept through the hallways of the Aoi-ya, straining his senses. As he approached Kaoru's room, he heard breathing – but not hers. He had memorized the small sighs of her sleep, the whimpers inspired in her by a nightmare, the small hitch that meant she was awake. This was someone else.
Kenshin did not hesitate. He threw open the door to Kaoru's room, dropping into a battoujutsu stance immediately afterward. If the enemy launched a surprise attack, he would run straight into Kenshin's draw.
No attack came. The man in Kaoru's room was sitting with his back to the far wall, his posture relaxed. For a moment, his long, black hair hid his face, but it fell away as he looked up at Kenshin. His eyes were flinty, his mouth drawn into a flat, cruel line. Kenshin didn't know him, but he recognized the face of a killer when he saw it. The man wore a robe and trousers, both black, and sandals. He was not visibly armed.
"Himura Battousai," he said. His voice was melodious, smooth, a stark contrast to his harsh appearance. "You make quite an entrance."
"This one has no interest in who you are or why you are here," Kenshin said, ignoring the man's statement and not relaxing from his stance. "This one has only one question: where is Kaoru-dono?"
"Safe," the man said, his tone soothing. "You can relax, Battousai. I'm not here to fight you."
"If you are not," Kenshin replied, "then take this one to Kaoru-dono."
"In good time. I have a proposition for you first."
"THIS ONE DOES NOT CARE!" Kenshin bellowed, sending a wave of chi rushing at the intruder.
Any ordinary man would have been stunned by the force of Kenshin's battle aura, or at least perturbed. This man, however, merely stood up. Kenshin could see steely muscles rippling beneath his garments. "I understand your hesitation. But rather than reject me out of hand, hear me out. It will ensure that your friend, who is safe, remains that way."
Kenshin gritted his teeth, but he relaxed from his stance. "What do you want?"
"To recruit you," the man said. "You remember Udō Jin-e, the Kurogasa."
Memories flashed back to Kenshin. To save Kaoru-dono, this one will once again become the hitokiri…
"Well, once he killed himself after your duel, things became complicated. Several other assassins were brought in to try to replace him, but none of them worked out. You may remember dealing with one yourself – Akamatsu."
"Yes." Kenshin kept his voice cold, but inside, he seethed with frustration. Whatever this man had to say was trivial compared to the necessity of finding Kaoru. Kenshin wished he would come to the point.
"Well. The government decided to let the matter drop after that – until now. There is need of a hitokiri once more."
"There are others in the government who could perform such duties," Kenshin said. "You must know of this one's vow not to kill. Why, therefore, approach this one?"
The man smiled. It was a meaningless expression, devoid of warmth. "The destruction caused by Yukishiro Enishi in his pursuit of revenge on you has also called into question your status. Are you a national hero, or a national liability? Certain people with influence believe the latter."
"So you have come to either recruit this one to serve as the government's hitokiri," Kenshin said, "or kill this one."
Kenshin shook his head. "This one will do neither. Killing is not possible, nor can this one allow himself to die. If you wish a fight, this one will oblige you – after you have returned Kaoru-dono safely."
"I told him you'd say that," a familiar voice rang out from behind him.
His heartbeat loud in his ears, Kenshin shifted and turned such that he could look the newcomer in the eye while still keeping the intruder in his peripheral vision. He found himself locking gazes with Saitou Hajime, his one remaining rival.
"Saitou," he said. "This one thought he had been given up on."
"You have been," Saitou said. "By me, at least. But my superiors have ordered me to accompany Tetsuo-kun on this mission, so." He rested his hand on his sword. "Here I am."
The man called Tetsuo strode toward Kenshin, his footsteps quiet despite his considerable mass. "We took Kamiya Kaoru as insurance," Tetsuo said. "Against your refusing to hear our offer, and against your running away if it came to blows. If you want her back, you will have to come and retrieve her."
Kenshin felt his teeth begin to grind. "Your affair is solely with this one," he said. "This one will ask, once more, for you to return Kaoru-dono. If you refuse –"
Tetsuo suddenly stood inches away from Kenshin, one hand resting on the sakabatō's pommel, keeping Kenshin from drawing the sword. "Don't mistake us," he said. "You cannot take both me and Saitou here, not at the same time. We have your woman at the six-gated shrine on Mt. Hiei, where you fought and defeated Shishio Makoto. Come to that place one hour from now."
He lifted his hand from the sakabatō, turned away. "If you arrive sooner than that," he added, "my other comrades have orders to kill her."
Kenshin's gaze drilled into Tetsuo's back, but he did not turn around, instead walking toward the exit. Saitou lingered for another moment before following, his expression grim.
For a long minute after they had both left, Kenshin stood there, eyes closed, a cold and deadly fire burning inside him, the likes of which he'd not felt since fighting Kurogasa. He'd conquered Battousai since that fight, learned to draw full strength while still being careful of his opponent's life.
But now, at this moment, he wanted nothing more than to kill that man, Tetsuo. He wanted to cleave his flesh with his blade, watch his lifeblood stain the snow crimson. Between that, and the slow deterioration of his body from the strain of Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū, he wasn't sure if he could win.
"But this one must try nonetheless," he said, gripping his sword. "Kaoru … please be safe. This one will bring you back."
He headed toward the exit, Mt. Hiei looming in his mind's eye.
The Secret Lives of Characters: Himura Kenshin
(These have always been one of my favorite parts of the manga, so I'm doing these small afterwords on the various characters appearing in this story just for fun. They're my thoughts on the series characters and a little backstory on my original characters.)
Kenshin being one of my favorite characters, I knew I had to do him justice - but which Kenshin, specifically? There's the smiling, serene Kenshin, the bumbling, confused Kenshin who says "oro," the sorrowful, repentant Kenshin... I initially wanted to explore as many facets of Kenshin as I could, but the direction of the story ultimately demanded I stick to just one. Since this is, in the end, a story about Kenshin fighting for his and Kaoru's lives, I opted to eschew Kenshin's bright, funny side for a more serious depiction. I love the "Trust & Betrayal" OVA based on the flashback chapters of the manga, so that is an influence - but this story is based on the manga continuity, which (in my humble opinion) is the most satisfying, so I tried to preserve the rage and fire he shows whenever he is seriously provoked.
The fact that Kenshin is so inflexible and stubborn about his unwillingness to kill is simultaneously one of his most fascinating, admirable, and frustrating qualities; the Jin-e arc, despite its relative earliness in the scope of the manga, is one of my favorites, since it has as its core conflict the disconnect between Kenshin's ideals and the world in which he lives. That was, as I said in my foreword, one of the things I wanted to explore in this story. His relationship with his sword, his relationship with Kaoru - I wanted to poke at how he fits it together in his mind.
But that is for the future. The next installment will be on Monday, February 28th; please look forward to it!