Rurouni Kenshin Fan Fiction ❯ Retreat ❯ Retreat ( Chapter 1 )
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Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin is the work of Nobuhiro Watsuki. I am only using these characters for entertainment purposes. If you enjoy this, you will probably enjoy Nobuhiro Watsuki's work even more. Go buy it. You'll enjoy it.
AN: This is an odd story. It just came to me, so I wrote it, but it is different. You've been warned.
“Yahiko! Can't you pay attention!” Karou's voice slashed through the air with unerring precision, not at Yahiko's inattentive ears, but into Kanshin's finely trained senses.
He smothered the wince with a smile and looked up at Sano. “Yahiko does try Miss Karou's patience, that he does.”
The brunet shrugged, chewing thoughtfully on a grass stem. “Yeah.”
As the sounds of mayhem and running feet echoed from around the corner of the dojo, Kenshin wrung out Yahiko's training gi and set it in a basket to hang. Doors slammed, paper ripped, feet leapt and thudded down, Karou's voice snarled curses after her mutinous pupil. Kenshin smiled a bit wider as the two rocketed around the corner.
“Come back here!”
Sano sidestepped the two easily as they raced by. Kenshin, holding his now clean laundry, wobbled dangerously as they ricocheted around him, his eyes wide and his senses whirling in complete overload.
“That's no way to show respect to your master!”
“Ha! Who ever heard of a tanuki swordmaster.” Yahiko raced off with Karou in hot pursuit, leaving Kenshin tottering.
Sano casually reached out and steadied his friend. “Ah, to hell with it, let's go get something to drink.”
Kenshin blinked owlishly back, still recovering. “This one still has laundry to hang and Miss Karou's lunch to cook.”
“Ya know, you act just like a good little wife.” Sano eyed where Karou and Yahiko had raced off. “Leave it and let's go.”
Kenshin was already walking to the laundry lines he'd set out earlier. “It is only right that this one repays Miss Karou for her kindness. Laundry and cooking are little to ask.”
Sano shrugged. “Okay, but if you change your mind, I'll be over at Taka's.”
The smaller man nodded, hanging various items out to dry, tracking his friend's progress out of the dojo and partway down the street. Half paying attention, he let his mind sort through the other presences around him: Karou and Yahiko still snarling at each other; the old man from across the street napping in the shade of a tree; a merchant walking down the street talking to his wife who was limping slightly; a small group of children racing past the couple kicking a ball that whizzed and rebounded across the dusty road.
The clothes were now hung in neat lines in the sun. Kenshin gave them all a happy smile and turned to begin fixing lunch. Yahiko and Karou were now quiet, the boy practicing swings as Karou sat on the porch watching him. A few birds flitted by overhead tittering to each other.
“Excuse me.” A prim, proper voice called from the dojo's gate. “Please, pardon this intrusion.”
Chief Uramura was there again. Kenshin summoned up another smile to greet the man. “How good to see you again.”
Karou glared suspiciously at the man as Yahiko snarled a few threats.
“I am most sorry for this.” The man fiddled with the hat he held in his hands. “But a matter of great urgency has come up and we need your assistance Mr. Himura.”
“Fuck off.” Yahiko snapped. “Kenshin doesn't want you here. “
“Kenshin isn't going to help you with anything, so just go.” Karou nodded folding her arms and glaring at the man.
The man jittered nervously, but his eyes stayed on Kenshin, who gave him a smile and nodded.
“Please, come in inspector. I was just about to make lunch. Have you eaten?”
It wasn't much of an adventure. A few yakuza had gotten the idea of blowing up police stations with rolling barrels of oil. If Saitou hadn't been off working trying to sooth governmental hysterics, he'd have rolled his eyes at the stupidity of the whole thing and did as Kenshin ended up doing, simply walking around to find a group of men with a barrel of oil and order the police to arrest them if they started acting suspicious. It had taken less then two hours.
Two hours of his nerves quivering taunt. Two hours of feeling the old rush of danger as he moved through the streets wondering where the attack would come from. Two hours of feeling the shiver of too much energy racing through his arms and legs seeking a release. He loved it. He hated it. In the dull monotony of his present life, those two hours had encompassed the only time he'd felt vibrantly alive in weeks…months.
He stepped back into the dojo grounds to the sight of Karou sitting on the front step glaring at him. “If you keep doing these things for them, they'll never leave you alone.”
“This one is sorry, Miss Karou.” Kenshin looked away. “However, this one feels that help should be given if it is asked for.”
Karou glowered. “They're taking advantage of you.”
He gave her a smile. “This one does not mind.” He walked forward towards her, still with a soft smile tugging his lips. “One hopes that you were not distressed…”
“Kenshin!” Karou yelled and snapped to her feet stomping over to him. “Next time they come here you say no!”
He flinched slightly at her tone, again hiding it under a silly oro and letting his eyes go wide and surprised. “Miss Karou!”
“I mean it Kenshin. They come here, demand you help them, then haul you off. No more!” Her voice was rising, grating on him. “Do you hear me!”
He nodded. “Yes. This one hears you very well, Miss Karou.”
“So, just what are we doing?” Sano slouched along at Kenshin's side as they walked through the crowds towards the market.
Kenshin bit his lip, pretending to be thinking it over. “We have to go to see Miss Megumi to pick up some medicine for Yahiko's bruised ankle.” He ticked it off on his fingers. “Then we have to go pick up some rice at the market.” He paused as if racking his mind for the next. “Oh, then we need to head to Tae's to pay for Miss Karou breaking that table.”
Sano, who had been the cause of Karou getting angry and breaking the table, snorted. “Running errands…”
“Battôsai!” A belligerent voice yelled from behind them.
Kenshin sighed, having long before sensed the man and his intentions. He turned looking as helpless and foolish as he could. He gave the man a smile. “Can this one be of assistance?”
The man, young, brash, dressed in expensive clothing, waved a sword around. “You are him! The Battôsai, the Demon of Kyoto. You murdered hundreds of men and yet you dare walk the streets!”
Kenshin looked mildly around, “Yes. This one does seem to be doing that.”
“Hey. Leave him alone.” Sano yelled striding towards the young man. “He's changed.”
“Can cutting short the lives of hundreds of souls be forgiven?” The man shook his head violently. “Never.”
Kenshin waited patiently for the man to brush Sano away and attack. Most likely with a phrase along the lines of prepare to die, or something close. He was becoming something of an expert on attack phrases. He personally appreciated the ones who took extra time to be a bit creative, like the man a few weeks ago that had actually said a brief haiku before trying to behead him with an axe, but the present attacker was too young, too sure of himself to bother with such things.
“Prepare to go to hell.” The man shouted, shoving Sano aside into a stack of rice bales and attacking with a clumsy overhead swing.
“I can't believe you just let that man attack you like that!” Karou's voice beat at him as he tried to not pay attention to the food he was eating.
Thanks to the young man's rich parents showing up as the police hauled the unconscious man to a cell, and their screaming that he had attacked their innocent child, he, Sano, and a half dozen witnesses that hadn't had the foresight to race away at the first police whistle had spent the afternoon explaining what had happened to the police. This had, of course, meant that Karou had to cook dinner. As he crunched through his rice, Karou continued her tirade.
Yahiko sat next to him, eyes down, stoically eating. The youngster had managed to acquire the skill of selective deafness and was practicing it with the ease of long use. Sano had taken a look at the fish head poking up out of the evening meal of fish stew and had scrambled off to dice the night away.
“…you need to anticipate these things! Be prepared!” Karou continued on.
He knew she meant well. She only yelled because she cared, but the volume… He poked at the stew, fishing a grey lump of potato out.
He looked up at her and smiled. “You are very right, Miss Karou, that you are. This one will try to do better in the future.”
She stood huffing. “Kenshin…”
“You should not worry for me, Miss Karou, that you should not.” He set his bowl down and got up. “You have had a hard day. To make up for the worry this one has caused, a nice hot bath would be best.”
“Kenshin. Eat your dinner.” Karou thumped down and reached for her own bowl.
“This one insists, Miss Karou.” He was out the door. “A bath should calm your nerves.”
Tae greeted them at the door and ushered them to a table with a weak smile. “I haven't seen you for over a week.”
Karou laughed. “Has it been that long?”
They settled around the table. Yahiko and Sano rough housing lightly about who had worse manners. Karou ignored them, instead smoothing her kimono down and hoping no one noticed her obi was a bit moth eaten. Kenshin, smile firmly in place and eyes wide, laughed as Sano bumped into him.
“Oh, you two. Always rough housing.” Tae set their meal down with a light laugh.
“Food! Real, edible food!” Yahiko exalted and lunged for the meal.
Sano grabbed the back of his gi. “It's got to be cooked first, runt.”
“Le'go.” Yahiko squirmed.
The two brawled and Karou primly smiled at the waitress who came to deposit a tea pot and four tea cups on the table.
“Boys.” Karou gave a worldly sigh and rolled her eyes.
The waitress gave them all a strained smile and left to serve safer, quieter customers. The two tumbled around next to Kenshin, who started carefully setting the meal to cook. Karou poked Sano trying to quiet them down. It didn't work, and as their meal started softly steaming, sending delicious smells around the small enclosure, the argument intensified.
“You two are making a scene. Everyone's looking.” She hissed under her breath, keeping a faltering smile on her face.
“I'm starving!” Yahiko yelled loud enough for the people passing by outside to hear. “If you'd feed me I wouldn't be so desperate.”
“I do too feed you!”
“How dare you say that…”
Kenshin poured tea for everyone, placing the cups on the table. He noticed that Tae had given them a sturdy metal tea pot and four, cheaply made cups. She wasn't a fool. He placidly sipped his tea as the two way brawl between Sano and Yahiko suddenly acquired a third. He delicately picked the cooked food off the burner and slipped it back on the plate, then picked up his tea cup and moved the tea pot to sit next to him as Karou accidentally kicked the table over. There were practical uses for godlike speed.
Hot coals bounced across the aisle, causing a few patrons to jump out of the way. Tae, standing with bucket of water already in hand, doused them down before they caused a fire. Kenshin set the food tray down and helped her straighten the table as Yahiko bit Sano and Karou shrieked at the two of them about their bad manners, all the while pounding Sanosuke's head with her shoe.
Night. Sweet peaceful night. Kenshin sat with his back against the dojo and stared out into the darkness. Yahiko was already sleeping peacefully, making soft snuffling sounds. Karou was washing her hands out back, humming a old song to herself.
It was a beautiful night, with inky dark sky, a full moon, and bright glittering stars. A soft wind shifted branches causing the leaves to whisper against each other. A few crickets sang love songs out by the well. Behind him, soft yellow taper lights warmed the dojo. Beautiful. But not to Kenshin.
“…by morning.” A large man stretched back in the saddle, his spin cracking pleasantly.
“Good. Good.” Another man answered, his voice jittery with nerves. “I just want to be home.”
He slipped closer. The jittery man was the target. He wanted to finish this job quickly, before the man got home where his young wife and son waited for him. The two were riding close together through Kyoto's winding streets, having just come back from a meeting in Edo. He slipped invisible over the roofs, the night breeze scented with blood. A fight must have broken out someplace and soon more blood scent would join what was already on the wind.
The two passed an intersection. Up ahead was a tiny square with a fountain, ideal for taking out two on horseback. He flashed ahead, fast and low to the tiles under his feet. The larger man was the first into the square, with the slighter, jittery one only a pace behind. He let them get to the center before he moved.
The large man died in a spray of blood as his blade slashed through his throat. The jittery man jerked back, his eyes wide as the blade flashed around, glittering in the moonlight.
His head hit the dirt at his horse's feet. The last word out of his mouth, his son's name.
Karou was walking around the side of the house, braiding her hair. She stopped as she saw Kenshin. “Don't you love the evening?”
She sat down next to him looking up at the sky. “My father used to sit and tell me stories on evenings like this.” She looked over at him. “Would you like to hear one?”
“That I would, Miss Karou.” Kenshin, still smiling looked over at her.
“Once, there was a young boy who was very brave…” Her fingers slid shyly towards his, but he shifted his weight, as if getting more comfortable to hear her story, and moved his hand away.
He was sitting on the temple steps. Karou and Yahiko were there to meet with a group of kenjitsu masters. Karou hoped to convince the others to start sending their students out to help the police control petty crime in the city. It was a good idea, a fine idea, for an ideal world. Unhappily, the world was less then ideal and Kenshin didn't have to imagine what would result if the masters, for some insane reason, agreed to her request. The images of Yakuza killing young boys, of young boys ganging together away from their master's watchful eyes to put their sword practice to use, of vigilante justice, of blood, of death…
Saitou was standing in front of him, smirking. “Battôsai.”
Kenshin sat still, only his eyes narrowing down to a sharper glare which made Saitou's smirk grow, the former Shinsengumi's ki rippling aggressively against his.
“Any time, Battôsai. Any time.”
“Why are you here?” Kenshin's voice was low, soft, and deadly, the voice of the one who had spilled too much blood and still woke with the smell of it in his nostrils.
Saitou put a cigarette in his mouth and casually lit a match, his gold eyes glittering in the shifting shade of the trees overhead. “As a police representative, it is my duty to tell those morons not to mess with police business.” He nodded his head up towards the top of the stairs where Karou and the others met.
Kenshin gave one curt nod, his eyes never leaving or trusting Mibu's Wolf. “The others aren't fools. They won't allow it.”
“True.” Saitou puffed. “You seem to have the only idiot of that group. Still,” he paused, flicking his cigarette to the side, and the Wolf went away, his ki dimming till only a thin, stressed looking policeman with odd eyes looked back at Kenshin. “I have orders.”
Kenshin nodded again and blinked becoming a harmless wanderer sitting on a temple step. “Miss Karou doesn't like you, that she doesn't.”
Fujita Goro sighed tiredly, “I'll manage.”
The dice rolled. The men peered anxiously at them till they came to a stop, all except one, who sat back sipping his tea, his senses skittering around the room.
Sano rocked back with a small grin, and poked his friend. “I do better when I don't follow your advice.”
Kenshin, nearly toppling over in an effort not to grab a weapon, any weapon, and use it on his friend, covered with a yelped, “Oro!”
Sano laughed and the dice rolled again. The men sat silent a few seconds then leaned back again with cheers or moans. Sano's small home reeked of cheap sake, cheaper cigarette smoke, and sweat. The men, Sano's gambling buddies, drank the cheap sake, smoked the cheaper cigarettes, and sweated as they made or lost money on the whim of the dice.
Kenshin's head hurt, his nerves were strung as fine as the sharp edge of his sword, and he was exhausted after a night of roaming the bloody streets of Kyoto in his dreams. He hated meeting Saitou. He hated the dreams the Wolf always awoke in him. He hated the way his senses would sharpen even more than usual. He hated Saitou resurrecting him, like a ghost out of a dismal grave, forcing him back into a world he wanted no part of. He loved it, the feeling of being alive.
The bucket hit the ground with a thud, the miso spreading thickly onto the road. The young fool who'd kicked it out of his hand was on the road next to it in seconds, gasping in pain. Kenshin looked blearily around at the scene.
The fool whimpered, blood running down his chin, sharpening and drawing the golden eyed gaze back to him. It had only taken a second, one small second of overwrought nerves and he'd struck. It was lucky, he supposed, that the bucket had made drawing his sword too much work, so he'd struck out with his foot, cracking and crushing ribs. What was unlucky was the complete lack of remorse. Indeed, he wanted to stomp on those cracked, crushed ribs, to take the sakabatô and drive it home in the unprotected chest of the one sprawled in the dirt.
No. I promised not to.
He picked up the bucket and grimaced at the mess of miso and dirt that now coated it. He stepped past the man who still writhed and gasped and walked calmly down the road already thinking up excuses for Karou. He wasn't even at the gate when he heard Karou's voice yelling at Yahiko. His strained nerves shivered. He looked back towards where the man probably still lay then looked, almost curiously, at the dojo. He stood and considered a few moments, then set the miso bucket down next to the gate and walked away.
His master didn't say anything as he walked into the clearing. He was sitting on the same log as last time mending the white and red cape that usually wrapped around his shoulders. Kenshin came and sat down next to him, removing the sakabatô from his side and leaning it against the log.
“Do you mind?” Kenshin glanced over at the large man.
“Expected it.” Hiko nipped the thread off and inspected his work. “It was only a matter of time till you realized.”
On the entire trip to his master's mountain retreat, he'd expected a long lecture, maybe a few insults, and most likely a great deal of gloating from Hiko. He hadn't expected to be expected, or accepted with only a few words.
“Can I stay?” He just wanted to be sure.
Hiko nodded and stood. “I got you a new futon and blankets a few weeks ago.” He walked back to the cabin, swinging the cape over his shoulders. “Get some water and wash up. Dinner's almost done.”
He nodded watching him disappear into the cabin. The woods around him were quiet, only a few small animals rustling through the underbrush. A clean, cold wind ruffled the leaves. In the distance he could hear the soft thunder of water falling. In the cabin his master was taking pottery, probably bowls, down from a shelf, his ki quiet, nearly invisible. He took a deep breath and as he let it out, felt himself relax, and for the first time since he left to go fight for the Ishinshishi, he was at peace.
He got up to find the bucket for water, leaving his sakabatô leaning against the log.
As I said, this one is different, a series of scenes that I hope lead the reader to realize Kenshin's problem without me having to explain it in detail. Also, unlike my other stories, I tried to keep the comedy down to a minimum, to focus on Kenshin and what he was going through. I don't think it quite qualifies as angst, but it is definitely moody.