A/n: Greetings. This is all Alina's fault. The only thing I'm guilty of is being extremely susceptible to flattery. She's the one who thought this was a good idea; blame her, not me.
Of course, this didn't have to start turning into an actual story, with plot. It could have stayed a happy little plotless drawerfic, written for my id and no one else. But apparently I'm bad at doing that. So I guess you can blame me.
But blame her, too, because she didn't talk me out of it.
Brief historical note: "Meiji" refers to the emperor currently reigning. Even though the Bakumatsu never happened, Komei still died when he died, since he died of old age and not a sudden attack of revolutionaries. So it can be the Meiji, but still have a shogunate. ~The more you know~
Warnings: This is set in an AU where chattel slavery exists. If that's going to be upsetting to you, please don't read it. There will be mentions of sexual slavery, and of slaves being used sexually because that's kind of unavoidable in a setting like this, but there will be no graphic depictions of non consensual sex, nor is that particular form of slavery the focus of the story. So don't worry on that account.
Well. Here we go.
They were hunting her.
They wouldn't find her. Not before she could escape. The false trail was too well laid, it had to be, she refused to even consider another outcome. So she ignored the shouts, and the dogs, and the torches flickering as Kanryu's men spread throughout the estate, because she had time and she would escape.
The loose stone was still there, looser now that she'd spent so many weeks picking at it, stealing moments from her carefully-watched schedule. She pulled at it, breaking her manicured nails – yes, she thought, exulting, tear it all away, let me begin clean, let me be shed of him – muscles straining in protest until it finally moved from its moorings and left a space just large enough to crawl through.
Sagara was on the other side, waiting at the foot of the steep, stone-covered hill. She had to believe that. She had gambled everything on his word.
"But even if I die…" she whispered.
A stick snapped behind her. She whirled.
She nearly sobbed.
The manslayer stood at her back, sword unsheathed and gleaming in the moonlight. She fell backwards, groping towards her tunnel, knowing that there was no way on earth she could outrun him. Her heart pounded rabbit-fast in her chest; her fingers went numb and thick with fear.
"Please." Her voice cracked. "Don't."
He advanced on her, blank-eyed, and raised his sword.
"I'm not an intruder!" she cried desperately. "You don't have any orders! I know you don't!"
His arm froze at the top of the arc, trembling. His eyes – those terrible blank eyes – but they weren't always blank. She knew they weren't. She had seen – had believed – had hoped beyond reason that there was still a man in there, somewhere. That Kanryu was not the god he dreamed he was.
She'd never expected to have to hang her life on it.
"Please…" she breathed, and used the one weapon she had left. "Kenshin."
Then she squeezed her eyes shut. It would be quick, at least, when it came. She knew that. She had seen the bodies of the men he killed seen in their faces that none of them had noticed their own deaths coming.
One heartbeat. Two. Three. And she wasn't dead yet. She looked up at him, tongue thick in her dry mouth.
His eyes weren't blank anymore.
He sheathed his sword. She scrambled backwards, clutching her small bag of belongings.
"Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you." Ah god, if there was any mercy Kanryu would never know and he would be safe…
But that she knew that for a fool's hope, because there was no mercy in this world. She didn't even have ignorance to comfort her.
She left anyway.
The manslayer watched her go.