Author: Enkou Sokugetsu
Fandom: Rurouni Kenshin
Genre: nostalgic reminiscences, sometimes pleasant, sometimes angsty. Hopeful, in the end.
Characters: Hiko Seijurou, Himura Kenji, Himura Kenshin.
Pairings: None, really. Kenshin x Kaoru implied, since Kenji is there.
Rating: K+, for some direct mentions to killing, swordsmanship and some very mild swearing.
Summary: Hiko Seijurou meets Kenshin one more – last? – time. His stupid apprentice is a father, now. His son, his spitting image. SPOILERS MIGHT BE PRESENT, set after the end of the manga.
Disclaimer: Meh, I wish I did own Kenshin, but I sadly do not. I do not write for profit, just for fun and English practice.
Special Thanks: to my auntie, for beta-ing all my works, this included!
Dedicated to: every Rurouni Kenshin fan out there. Hold on tight, everyone! Soon we'll have a new anime, a new manga and a live action movie – it was well worth waiting!
Notes: English is not my native language. If you spot any mistakes, please do tell me and I'll do my best to correct them! It's the first fanfiction I've ever written about Kenshin. Please, go easy on me! (laughs)
The curtains of the shop fluttered lightly as the tall man walked past them.
The high, midday sun he had greeted when entering the dark, cramped izakaya was now a colder ball falling towards the west at the end of the afternoon.
- o -
When Hiko Seijurou had first taken in that skinny, weak whelp, a sense of peacefulness had pervaded him. As he watched that boy restrain himself with small and measured gestures not to unceremoniously devour what undoubtedly was his first decent meal in ages, he felt as if he had finally discovered the completion of the life he had lived by the sword.
Committing yourself to some ideals is a fine and noble aim, but, like any other lifelong commitment, it requires sacrifices.
A true swordsman can't have a family.
A true swordsman can't fit in the society.
A true swordsman can't support one side or the other and, thus, must live in the shadows.
Such a strict conduct code had been passed on from generation to generation, from teacher to apprentice, as if those words had been carved in the white fabric of the coat that identified the successor of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu.
That's why, when he had found that little, red-haired bundle of bones he had thought that the circle of his life was finally closing, that the reason why he had given up his everything was finally blatant.
Maybe he couldn't protect people from the sufferance of his era, nor even give them a hint of hope – but he could provide a lost puppy with a new reason to live, to become strong, to survive.
But then, something in his flawless reasoning had creaked.
The skinny whelp turned into a stubborn, resilient bud of a samurai, a bud that was just about to bloom when he himself decided to sever the ties with the tree that had been bearing him.
He wanted to protect people, he said.
He wanted his blade to change history, to bring some hope to all those who were too weak to stand for themselves.
If there was something that life had taught to a stoic man like Hiko Seijurou, was that a man was just a man, with flesh and bones and weaknesses and no man, no matter how strong or resilient, could ever carry the weight of this world alone.
A sword is a dangerous weapon. The art of the sword is the art of killing.
No matter how many good things you can enumerate, that reality won't change.
But how could a boy of barely fourteen really understand any of this?
He watched his own creation – cherished as if he were his son – walk away and dive into a sea of blood, despair, fear.
He just hoped such a delicate bud wouldn't wither before its time.
- o -
Even the quieter streets of Tokyo looked way too lively from the eyes of a man whose social interactions had been shrunk to the minimum for decades.
A girl at the izakaya had explained him the way to the famous Kamiya Dojo in every detail, and he had taken the shortest, most direct path to reach it.
Then why was his step so slow and his mind so clouded as the gravel cranked under his straw sandals?
He brushed off any thought, fetching his jar of sake and taking a good mouthful.
As long as his sake still tasted good, there was nothing to worry about.
He turned round the corner of a flower shop and his breath got caught in his throat.
Beneath a peach tree, a small boy was standing, aimlessly swaying a stick around to try and reach a succulent, juicy fruit on a high branch, grunting in frustration with every missed shot.
He was wearing a green kimono that fluttered with his every moment, a white hakama and a matching obi. His hair was bright in the afternoon sun.
As red as the flames of Hell.
- o -
Despite having decided that an old wakizashi would do for the first trainings, that short, worthless piece of metal was still taller and sturdier than the little whelp.
So many years had passed since the time Hiko Seijurou had raised his first sword, that he had completely forgotten how heavy and scary it would look from the point of view of a child.
Every small movement he did was followed by a heavy sigh and preceded by a heartfelt groan.
He didn't have any calluses yet, but the blisters that were appearing on his small, frail hands were in the right positions.
Albeit weak, his grip was correct.
His sandals too, were starting to wear out under his plant and toes, showing that his stance was improving day after day.
"Na, shishou?" the red-head let go of his sword, watching the tip sink into the soft ground. Then, he addressed a hopeful look at his mentor, panting "How far along is a thousand strikes?"
"You've done seven hundreds. Now, shut up and move, before I add other five hundreds..."
Dejected, the boy resumed thrusting that little sword that, in his hand, looked like a giant's.
Slash after slash, he knew he had chosen the right one.
- o -
The boy turned around, showing him a pair of dark, watery eyes.
His voice wasn't that low and somewhat arrogant tone he had come to know in six years of training. How stupid of him. It might be rare, but that stupid disciple of his wasn't the only one in the world with flaming hair, was he?
He sighed, walking past the kid to look up at the rosy peach that glistened in the sunlight as if it was made of gold.
"I can't reach iiiiit!" the little one whimpered, hitting full force the tree trunk with his stick out of rage and then wincing loudly for the recoil.
The tall man's gaze moved down. "You shouldn't sway around something like that with sun in your face. You can't focus on your target, if the sun blinds you. Here..." he pushed the boy towards a shadowy spot, watching him almost stumble under the light pressure of his hand on his back.
He couldn't help but think that, in the shadows, that red hair looked like dried blood.
Then again, why was he bothering with such a trivial matter?
Since when had he become one of those nostalgic middle-aged guys that lived of reminiscences?
'Yare yare... As usual, I'm too kind to everyone...'
"But..." the kid turned around, shooting him a scowl "...but ojiisan is very tall. I'm sure you could reach it if you stretched a little...!"
Not only appearance.
Even manners resembled those of that blockhead he had raised.
"That is your peach, not mine. Why should I fetch it for you?"
That sentenced elicited a surprised gasp from his miniature interlocutor "B-Because I'm a kid, of course. No matter how hard I try, I'm too short to hit it, even with this stick!" he hastily replied.
"Go get a longer stick."
"This is the longer I've found!"
"Then why don't you just give up and reach for other peaches?"
"Because I really want that peach!"
By then, the stubborn brat had already started panting in anger, his fists clenched.
Such a fierce attitude. He hadn't seen it in a long time, now.
Hiko Seijurou sighed, walking up to the boy who backed off a little.
"The branch lowers a bit towards the base. If you hit a lower spot of the branch hard enough, the vibration should make the peach fall..."
At the sound of those words, he saw a sparkle flash through those black, previously wet eyes. Gripping the stick clumsily, he charged full-force, striking the tree as hard as he could with the tip of his stick, that broke into a handful of chips.
The sparkle turned into a surprised look, then into a raging grimace.
"It didn't work! And I broke the tip of the stick! Now it's even shorter than before! It didn't work, it didn't work!"
- o -
"It won't work, shishou! There's something wrong in your teachings!"
Exasperated, the red-haired apprentice stuck the tip of his first daitou into the hard, frozen soil.
His breath formed little clouds with his every pant and he bent over, palms on his thighs, enjoying the January air on his heated skin.
"Tsk. Idiot. My teacher explained it to me the same way, and his teacher before him and so on, up to the very first Hiko Seijurou. If you're not smart enough to understand, you'd better leave now, or kill yourself..."
"Shishou!" Kenshin shot him a spiteful glance, eyes narrowed in a manner that was way too scary on the face of a ten-year-old.
"Battoujutsu is your worst technique. I could kill you countless times before your blade makes it out of its damn scabbard. Didn't I tell you? Most duels end in a single strike. If you're fast, you win. If you delay, even by a mere second, you lose. And since blades are not petty things you can toy with, losing means dying. It's as simple as that."
The boy's scowl deepened, gripping the hilt of his sword so hard that his knuckles whitened, making the small cuts the chilly winter had caused on his hands bleed lightly.
"I don't need that stupid Battoujutsu of yours! If someone tries to strike me, I'll just jump high and hit with the Ryuu Tsui Sen! It's as simple as that!"
The master smirked, putting aside his cup of sake "Do you really think you can make it in time? And avoid an attack with the Ryuu Tsui Sen?"
"Of course I can!" he pulled the blade from the ground, holding it firmly into his hands.
"Would you bet your life on it?"
The successor of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu moved in the blink of an eye, drawing his sword and slashing through his stupid disciple's chest before he could even move from his defensive stance.
The boy fell down with a thud, his hands reaching for his aching stomach to check the entity of the bleeding. However, when he looked at his fingers, they were absolutely clean.
"Mineuchi" said the older man, as if reading the boy's thoughts "I've flipped the blade right before striking, hitting you with the back of the sword. Let this be a lesson to you"
He walked away, leaving his apprentice clutching at his upper body in disbelief.
Kenshin didn't come back to their hut, that night.
From the small window, Hiko Seijurou could see him practice his Battoujutsu until the first lights of dawn.
- o -
"It's a matter of grip" replied the taller man, stepping behind the kid and correcting his stance "You should handle this as if it was a katana. And don't hit with the tip. Try to mimic a slash"
The boy scowled, but the giant and scary figure behind him induced him to shut up and give it a try.
He charged again, faster than before. He hit the tree again, with a strike that made the branch dangle a little, but not enough to make the fruit fall.
"See?" the master grinned "Now, do it again, harder this time"
The kid, refreshed from his almost successful attempt, raised his stick again, ready to go.
"Please, do not Kenji-kun."
A lower, well-known voice came from behind them.
The child and the older man turned around.
A slender figure, with equally red hair and an almost invisible cross-shaped scar on his left cheek stood there, wearing a red kimono with white hakama.
"I must apologize, but do not intend to teach him the way of the sword" said the figure, walking up to the big, juicy peach his son was longing for and picking it "It's been a long time again, shishou"
- o -
The colors of sunset tinged the sky in red, purple and violet.
Two men were sitting on a porch sipping sake, while a kid slumbered huddled in a blanket, his cheeks and fingers still smelling like peach.
"So... he's your son?"
The younger man nodded, turning towards the child to drape the cloth over his shoulders.
"How old is he?"
"Seven years old, shishou" replied Kenshin, caressing the little boy's cheeks with fondness.
"He looks a lot like you"
At the sound of those words, the former assassin turned around again, his eyes wide and somewhat...worried?
"Do you... really think so? Does he really ... look like me?"
Hiko Seijurou moved the cup of sake away from his mouth for a second, looking at his disciple in the eye.
"He's taken your flaming hair and resilient attitude, that's undeniable..."
Kenshin looked again at Kenji's sleeping figure, then took another sip of his own liquor, head hung down.
"Maybe...he looks too much like me..."
"Is that why you don't want him to live by the sword? Do you think he will be like you?"
The former disciple gasped, evidently surprised at the clever and probably right remark.
"Don't give me that look. You're my stupid apprentice. I will always read through you..."
The red-head nodded, turning the sake cup into his hands out of nervousness.
"Kaoru-dono would like him to learn the Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu sword. He looks excited whenever he sees Yahiko teaching his classes and whines to take part into the training, but I've managed to distract him up until now. I know that the Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu is a style that aims to enhance one's potential, that is based on defense and is never offensive. But...Kenji-kun's got my same blood, after all. What if shinai and bokken won't be enough for him anymore, at some point? What if he will crave for a real katana?"
Hiko Seijurou tilted his head a little.
"I thought I had told you. The sword is-"
"-a dangerous weapon. I know, shishou! That's why I know that I want to keep my baby boy away from them for as long as possible..."
"Then trust him. Trust your own flesh, idiot. And trust yourself too. It's not by keeping him away from blades that he will learn how scary and powerful they can be. If he asks you how it feels to hold a real sword, then make him hold it and guide him, so that he will understand. Don't let your past haunt you anymore Kenshin. Hitokiri Battousai has been buried a long time ago, don't you think?"
The younger one glanced at his master's eyes, then down again.
"...shishou? Do I still... smell like blood?"
The heir of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu didn't even have time to flinch.
"...you know... when Kenji was a toddler, he didn't even come near me. Whenever I approached him, he would tug on my hair, cry, or run away. I always thought... that it was because I smelled like the blood of all the lives I had taken. Children are more sensitive, they say. I always...thought that he could see through me, that he could see my hands soaked in red-"
"Enough of this!" the older man stood up, looking at the fading sun over the horizon "I had thought that aging would bring you some sense, but I was once again wrong. You were an idiot at 14, an idiot at 28 and you're an idiot even now that you're a husband and a father. Let me tell you this one last time, stupid blockhead. Blood is just blood. It doesn't matter how drenched you are, how many stains you've gotten, water will always clean you up" he quickly gazed at the man who had once been his disciple, letting a little smile curve his lips "Don't you think that your wife, your friends, your son himself are enough water to clean you up?"
Hiko Seijurou turned around, taking a couple of steps towards the entrance gate "One last thing. Where's your sword?"
Kenshin gaped a little again. His hand automatically reached for the spot where the hilt of his sakabatou would be, and a small pang clenched his stomach as he felt its absence.
Then, his mind regained calmness, and he hissed out a peaceful breath.
"I didn't need it anymore. It was my gift for Yahiko's genpuku. When Kenji will be 15, it will pass to him."
"And then, I can't use any of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu techniques, now. I guess my skills are barely enough to chop some logs for the stove..." concluded the younger man, chuckling softly. His features then relaxed and he assumed a serious expression "Na, shishou? Why did you come to Tokyo of all places?"
The master didn't even turn his head "Do you really expect me to state my reasons to someone who had been wandering for over ten years?"
The other smiled fondly, the hand that just a moment before had painfully felt the absence of his sakabatou reaching for the sleeping head of his son.
"Thank you shishou. For saving me that night..."
Talking no more, Hiko Seijurou walked past the gate, his white coat dyed purple by the rays of the dying sun. For a second, even his raven hair took the color of blazing flames.
One hour later, Kenji tossed a little on the polished floor of the porch, sighing.
"Tou-san...? Who was... that ojiisan?" he murmured, still half-asleep.
Kenshin put away his cup of sake, bending over to pick up that little bundle in his arms
"One of the strongest and bravest men you'll ever meet, little one" he smiled at his son, brushing a stray lock of hair off of his forehead "Shall we get ready for dinner?"
The little boy nodded, stifling a yawn as he latched his arms around his father's neck.
"Will you cook? Pretty please?"
Those same lips that many years before parted only to announce his "Tenchuu", were now letting out a heartfelt, deep laughter.
"Maa, maa... please, don't let your mother hear you, or she'll beat both of us...!"
As Kenji joined him in his laughter, Himura Kenshin looked up at the starry sky.
'Sayonara, shishou and...arigatou...'