Of Wine and Water By: P.P.V.V.
Disclaimer: The Standard Disclaim applies…
AN: I'm glad to see that there a few of you that are interested in this. Here's the next instalment. I hope you enjoy.
Warnings: Mentions of abuse.
- Making Promises -
It had been the longest day Shinta could ever remember.
All at once, everything changed. He had a new mentor, a new home, a new name…
But I am still me, he told himself, firmly.
No one would ever change that.
He struggled to keep up with the long strides of the man who was holding his hand. A part of him wanted to pull away – the man was as much a stranger to him than anyone else. At the same time, the feeling of security in the power of his grip was overwhelming. It had been a while since Shinta…er, Kenshin, had felt that way. He was reminded of his father and with a pang, he found himself missing the man severely.
Once again, he was at the mercy of someone else.
To say he was scared was not adequate enough.
He was terrified.
But he'd learned that showing fear was an invitation to being taken advantage of. In desperation, he tried to school his expression into a blank slate and fight it down. He had the feeling that Hiko was not the type of man who was very patient.
What kinds of things lay in store for him?
What did this mountain of a man have planned for him?
In his mind's eye, he could see hands reaching for him, fingers moving over his body, pinning him down…
Terror at the mere thought made him shiver and pause momentarily as he battled the images away.
Hiko must have sensed his uneasiness because the man shot a questioning glance over his shoulder, and Kenshin ducked his head, feeling his cheeks warm. Realizing that he was falling behind because of the way the slack in their linked hands became taut, the boy doubled his steps yet again.
He couldn't help but admire the way Hiko so gracefully and so effortlessly put one foot in front of the other. As big as the man was, over six feet most likely, his footsteps were a mere whisper on the ground. Compared to him, Kenshin sounded like a herd of wild boars rampaging through a brush. His legs were burning, the continual slope of the road that they travelled making it hard for him to keep up.
But how could he tell him that he was tired without receiving a punishment?
To his surprise, Hiko's stride began to slow, and instead of tugging the child along, he fell back a few paces to match his.
A million and one questions popped into Kenshin's head then, but he voiced only one. "Sir…where are we going?"
Hiko obliged him with an answer. "To a place far away from village fools and the rottenness of the Country." As he spoke, he gingerly helped Kenshin climb up some rocks before continuing. "I prefer the seclusion of the trees than the pettiness of man's pride."
Kenshin didn't quite understand, so he said nothing, trying to decipher the meaning behind the words.
Before long, they came upon a large clearing, well-hidden, feeling separate from the rest of the world.
A squat hut lay just to the west, where the sun had set quite a while ago. There was another tiny hut close by, made of the same material as the first. It was sturdy in its simplicity, made of wood and brick that stood strong against the harshest weather.
He stood awkwardly in the doorway, trying to drink everything in. This was it. His new home. He wondered if it would feel like it without his mother standing by the hearth or his father working away in the corner…
"Don't stand there like an idiot!" Hiko's snap made Kenshin take an involuntary step back, and his sandal caught on the wooden slat behind him, causing him to fall in a disgraceful heap before his new master.
In two steps (gosh, his legs were long!) the swordsman crossed the room toward him, wearing what looked like a disapproving scowl. It made Kenshin's face heat up in embarrassment.
If ever the man were re-thinking his choice of an apprentice, it was probably now.
He grasped Kenshin's arm and hauled him to his feet before the boy could gather any semblance of bearing. "You're a sack of bones!" he exclaimed in dismay.
The child bowed his head. "I'm sorry, sir," he said.
Hiko snorted, "As if that's going to help me." He seemed to pause, letting out a few puffs of breath before gesturing with his large hand behind him. "Well, come on in. Unless you plan to sleep outside tonight?"
"Yes, sir. I mean…No, sir…er…y-yes, sir…"
"Heaven help me, I've acquired an idiot after all," Hiko muttered, but he didn't sound angry. At least, Kenshin hoped he wasn't angry. After all, if he could kill people on the spot without blinking an eye, he was certain that he could beat him without a second thought. He would have to do everything in his power not to upset the man.
But he extended his hand to me, he quarrelled with himself. He wouldn't have done that if he meant to hurt me…
Still, he stayed rooted to the spot, a growing sense of apprehension keeping him grounded as Hiko swept about the small cabin, throwing his impressive cloak down on one of the cushions that lined the floor.
When he turned the oil lamps on, Kenshin could see that the place was snug and welcoming. Various tidbits lined one wall to his right, which led to another room – probably the sleeping quarters. There was a tiny kitchen to his left, which Kenshin had to wonder how a man of Hiko's size could possibly move around in. Next to the fire pit that was swept clean of any embers, there were bunches of logs that were neatly cut and stacked together. The whole area had a sort of precision to it that left the child feeling even more out of place.
Once the shadows had been chased away, Hiko closed the door, not bothering to lock it. Turning once more to Kenshin, he ordered, "Take off your clothes."
Mouth going dry, Kenshin's first thought was to run, but he couldn't – he was trapped.
Oh gods above…he knew it! He knew it…! He'd been so stupid to have hoped he'd escaped the perversion! There was no way to break free and no way to fight back. He wanted to cry, but he knew that crying was useless. It would happen all the same.
When he made no move to do as he was told, Hiko stared at him. "Did you hear me?"
Kenshin's legs felt like jelly and he felt a cold sweat break out over his face. He couldn't get his tongue to move even if he wanted to. Those hands…those hands would reach…and touch…and…
With a gasp, he back-pedaled when Hiko came to stand before him. In absolute fear, he cried, "No, sir…please, sir…please don't…please, please don't…" his arms came up to wrap themselves in a protective fashion around his torso. It was a feeble attempt to ward off the inevitable, but he'd fallen onto basic human instinct.
He hadn't realized that he was shaking or that he was crouched and hunched forward.
For a long time, all he could hear was his ragged breathing and the pounding of his heart. Try as he might, he could not shake the panic away, nor could he stop his pathetic trembling. The sound of rustling material in front of him made his eyes water and Kenshin squeezed them shut, waiting for the cruelty to begin.
When nothing happened, he chanced a peek, head light, breath shallow.
There was Hiko, kneeling on the floor so that he could be at eye level with him. His youthful face was passive but a murderous rage glinted in those stone-hard eyes. "Calm down," he commanded, and although his voice was kind, it still made Kenshin feel like he had to jump to obey. "It's all right, child. Calm down." He waited for Kenshin to do just that. Only when the boy had slowly unfurled himself did Hiko start speaking again.
"I just want to see if you are hurt. If you are and your wounds fester, that will leave me with a student who will be incapacitated to learn effectively. Do you understand?"
The boy hiccupped, measuring his words, arms still clutched to himself, trembling not quite gone, uncertainty at the man's explanation evident in his glance.
"I want to know what I'm working with," Hiko continued, as though he weren't witnessing the child's breakdown. "A potter must know his clay before he can give it any form. So too, must a swordsman with his student."
Still, Kenshin could not find his voice.
"And besides, I wouldn't allow you to go to bed wearing those filthy rags. You'll bring pests into the house and it will set a bad precedent. I'm sure your parents may have allowed it, but I will not."
At that, Kenshin felt his anger spark.
He met the master's eyes. "My parents were not filthy people," he said, defensively.
Hiko regarded him, coolly. "Then I expect you to know how to wash yourself." He waggled his fingers at Kenshin's clothes. "If you don't know how to clean your clothes, you will learn how. But I'll have you take them off this instant. The night is not getting any younger nor do you have anything that I haven't seen before."
Kenshin felt himself blush again and the fear that had retreated momentarily in the face of his earlier anger surged forward once more to encase him. "Y-you won't…you won't…"
The master's stern gaze softened slightly. "No, Kenshin. I won't." His voice was knowing and tinged with a trace of sadness.
Relieved that he did not have to explain himself, Kenshin hesitated a moment more before peeling back his shirt. He let it fall to the floor and began untying his pants. His fingers shook so badly that he was forced to stop time and again. His breathing had become erratic and laboured again.
"Focus," Hiko's voice interrupted his fumbling. "You've got courage, boy. I've seen it before. Show it to me again, lest I really think I made a mistake."
Kenshin latched onto his words, shot the man the most challenging glare he could muster and yanked his pants down.
Hiko stayed where he was and examined his charge with a critical eye. He did not poke, prod or even make a move to touch him. He merely gave him a few instructions and asked him a few questions. Then, he got up and fetched a towel, ordering the boy to put his clothes back on and follow him.
Once they were by the riverbank, Hiko lowered himself to Kenshin's eye level again. "You will wash yourself here," he said, in almost a gentle manner. "You may not be able to rid yourself of the stains that those people have given you, but those wounds will heal over time; if your spirit is pure and your will strong, you can overcome anything."
Kenshin watched as he lifted a finger, feeling smaller than ever. "Keep in mind that none of that was your fault. You were merely a victim – one of many – and you are not to blame. Now, you will never be the victim again and you will never have to undergo that type of pain any more. Not by me. Not by anyone."
The boy raised hopeful eyes to his mentor. "Really? Do you promise?"
Hiko's nod was solemn. "I promise."
Somehow, Kenshin knew that Hiko was the type to keep his word.
He chose to believe it.
Word Count: 1, 944
AN: I had the idea that Kenshin has shadows that only Hiko knows about. Abuse, no matter what type, needs a sensitive approach. I wonder if I did it justice… Please let me know your thoughts on this chapter in the form of a review. Be my inspiration!