Rurouni Kenshin Fan Fiction ❯ The Lost Hatchling ❯ Stories ( Chapter 3 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The Lost Hatchling, a Rurouni Kenshin fanfic by Raberba girl
Chapter 3 - Stories (PARTIAL ROUGH DRAFT)

A/N: "Shishou" means "Master" or "Teacher" (it's what Kenshin calls Hiko).

--

"It's been months," Kaoru raged, "and you're expecting us to believe that you haven't made any progress whatsoever."

Saitô Hajime gazed at her past a tendril upward-trailing cigarette smoke. "Calm down."

"Calm down? Calm down?! When Yukishiro Enishi still walks free?" she shouted at him. "He has killed and tortured my children! I want him dead!"

"Don't give me enough reason to arrest you," he said calmly. "I've got enough paperwork to deal with as it is."

"You heartless--!"

"If it's personal revenge you seek," he said sharply, "you're coming to the wrong place for help. This is a law enforcement agency, not a pack of mercenaries. We have specified guidelines for how to see that justice is done."

Kenshin spoke up now, his voice calm but very cold. "So you have no leads on where these people are?"

"Yukishiro is lying low, there hasn't been a peep out of him since the night of the explosion. Shishio's men, on the other hand, couldn't stay quiet even if they tried, though it's not certain how closely they are connected to Yukishiro. I am not in a position to draw any official conclusions yet from either the older or the more recent Dragon Project data."

"Which makes you and your men a gang of absolutely useless--" Kaoru started, but broke off when Kenshin rose.

"Thank you, Saitô," he said witheringly. "You've been very helpful."

"A pleasure," the police chief said with a straight face, exhaling more smoke.

When their mother and father came out of the office, the girls looked up from their coloring books and leaped gladly to their feet. They ran to their parents and were caught up at once by glad arms. "We're okay, Mommy," Suzume assured her as she was cuddled.

"Were you keeping an eye on us, Daddy?" Ayame asked anxiously.

He smiled. "Of course."

"Kenshin." He glanced over at his wife inquiringly. "Why did you leave? Was it really going to be impossible to get any information out of him?"

"We did get some information, as much as he was willing to let slip," Kenshin said slowly. "We need to talk to Megumi-san."

Kaoru looked away. After a minute she finally sighed, and muttered in answer to his continuing stare, "Yes, yes, I still have her phone number."

o.o.o.o.o

A man named Mikage Kagami was head of the committee in charge of the proposed Hybrid Species Regulations Bill. Disturbing information had come to light regarding the existence and criminal activity of individuals who could actually transform into dangerous animals. It was obvious that something needed to be done quickly to get this threat under tight control, and to make sure that legal elimination of these creatures would be possible if necessary.

At the moment, however, Mikage was not thinking about any of that. Rather, he was musing on the plans he had made that evening with his mistress, and he was also mildly annoyed at the news that his chauffeur had apparently gone to the wrong side of the building to pick him up. Now he would have to wait for the car to circle back around, and he was not a man who was used to waiting on his inferiors.

Mikage was slightly startled when a distinctive figure stepped up to him and smiled. The boy was slender and almost girlishly pretty, with long reddish hair tied up in a ponytail and large scars on one cheek that did surprisingly little to mar his looks. He would stand out in a crowd even if he was dressed normally, but he wore hakama instead of jeans and carried what looked like an authentic sword at his waist.

"What do you want, kid?" Mikage said impatiently. Such an odd (not to mention young) person should not even have been admitted onto the grounds.

"I want to kill you," the boy answered readily enough.

Mikage frowned, reaching for his cell phone. "I'm calling security. I won't tolerate this sort of thing," he warned, meaning both the breach of protocol and the fact that the boy was obviously either attempting a very unwise practical joke or was mentally ill.

The boy stepped back a little and adopted a vaguely ominous pose, one hand on the sword hilt as if he was preparing to draw it. "Actually," he continued conversationally, "it's not so much that I want to kill you - I'm only following orders, after all. Wait, there's a phrase for that - 'I bear no personal grudge against you,' or something. Yeah, what I really want is to prove to Shishou that if my old man could pull off assassinations in broad daylight, then I can, too. Bye." The young assassin's work was done in an instant, giving him plenty of time to flip off one of the security cameras before vanishing from the premises.

o.o.o.o.o

There was an awkward moment when Takani Megumi opened the door and then just stood there, staring. Finally the girls shifted in restless confusion and Megumi gave herself a little shake. "Forgive me...please, come in."

"Please forgive the intrusion," Kaoru murmured as she stepped hesitantly into the house. Looking around, she found that it was small but tidy, and furnished with good taste. However, there were a lot of blank spaces on the walls, which probably had something to do with the pile of framed photographs on one of the tables in the living room. The removed photos were too far away to see clearly, except that the ones on top seemed to feature a red-haired figure.

Kaoru, suddenly blinded with tears, squeezed Suzume's hand convulsively so that the child whimpered. Kaoru had just been assaulted by a flash of grief and regret, imagining Kenji smiling to have his picture taken. What shows had he liked to watch on that TV? What had been his favorite things to eat? Where did he usually prefer to do his homework? Little things, but somehow they magnified her loss so that she had to work hard to suppress a wail.

She felt Kenshin's arm around her shoulders and leaned into his embrace, taking strength from him until she had her face under control again and was able to look up. Their eyes met, and she nodded, then looked around for Megumi.

The other woman had her back turned to them as if she, too, had needed a moment to compose herself. When she moved slowly to face them again, her eyes were bright and her voice was very quiet. "He...looked very much like you," she said to Kenshin.

None of them could speak after that. It was Ayame who broke the silence, frowning up at the stairs. "What's that?" There was a repetitive, muffled barking, apparently from a very frantic dog. As they all listened, the noise broke down into pathetic whining that sounded like a child's sobs.

"I locked him up," Megumi said apologetically. "He's not small, and he likes to jump on people. I didn't think it would be a good idea--"

"Is it Ken-nii's dog?" Ayame suddenly asked. Megumi looked at the faces of her guests and realized that Katana needed to be here. Wordlessly, she went up to let him out.

The girls shrieked when the animal, a mixed breed with russet fur, came bounding toward them. Their parents' reflexes were quick; Kenshin snatched up one daughter and Kaoru the other just in time. The dog reared up and rested its front paws on Kenshin's arm, licking hysterically at every part of Suzume it could reach; then it whirled and set upon the other two. Kaoru rocked back a step and braced herself against the dog's weight. Both girls were yelling at the top of their voices, looking excited, frightened, and fascinated all at once.

"KATANA, DOWN!" Megumi roared. Instantly the dog was flat on its belly on the floor, wriggling in abject hopefulness at her feet.

"Bad doggy!" Suzume shrieked, nearly choking Kenshin with the strength of her grip around his neck. "Wanna pet him!"

It was a few minutes before both the dog and the girls were calmed down enough to be politely introduced, but Katana proved to be well behaved when he had gotten past the initial ecstasy of greeting. Ayame and Suzume, when they dared to return to the ground, were delighted with his anxious-to-please friendliness.

"What happened to his back?" Kaoru wondered as she roughly stroked the dog's floppy ears. She was looking at the three or four long, thin scars where fur did not grow, and the practiced way the dog kept its weight off one paw, as if accustomed to an old injury.

A lump came into Megumi's throat as she realized that she could not bring herself to tell them. "An accident," she managed hoarsely. "It happened a long time ago, when he was still a puppy. He's all right now."

"Poor little thing," Kaoru cooed, stroking gently over the scars and then nuzzling her face against the dog's, laughing when he tried to lick her again.

Megumi looked up - into Kenshin's frozen eyes. "An accident?" he repeated, very softly.

Megumi was trembling. "It was a long time ago," she whispered again. "He's...all right now. Was." She hugged her arms tightly around herself.

"I see," Kenshin whispered back.

Kaoru was looking at them now, frowning. She opened her mouth, but then suddenly closed it again and squeezed her eyes shut. Unable to stand it anymore, Megumi went quickly into the kitchen to prepare some tea.

They all settled down, the girls playing with Katana in the living room while the adults kept an eye on them from the tiny dining area off the kitchen. Kenshin spoke first, since everyone was obviously finding it difficult. "We can get nothing more from the police, so we finally thought that we would come to you. I'm sorry we had to intrude on you at this time, but--"

Megumi was already waving her hand. "No, I'm glad you're here. I should have met with you earlier, it's just that...after what happened, I...."

Kaoru finally said, "We don't know enough about the Dragon Project. Tomoe-san told us everything she could, but--"

"Kiyosato Tomoe," Kenshin clarified. "She is Yukishiro Enishi's older sister, and was one of his key test subjects until he was arrested and the Project fell apart. She is...." He paused. "She and her husband are the reason all of this started."

"'All of this,'" Megumi repeated. She was looking hard at Kenshin and Kaoru. "So it's true that dragons aren't extinct." She took a pained breath. "I saw...all those years ago, I saw what Yukishiro had been up to, but they were all so horrible, even the ones that had survived...." Kenji was the only one who had looked healthy in comparison, the only one who didn't seem to be deformed, dying, falling apart from the inside - but then, she had never been sure that he was anything other than human, either. She had noticed a lot of strange things about Kenji, but there was nothing that could not be attributed to his nightmarish childhood. Was he simply human, or was he one of the 'successes'? Information had been very difficult to get hold of, even before she had gone into hiding.






"I hadn't been sure there were any creatures - any people - who successfully came through what was done to them. The dragons have been a carefully-guarded secret until now, but because of my previous work, I...I heard...rumors, that not all of Yukishiro's subjects were failures. They were there, weren't they, on that night. Dragons." She was still looking hard at them, trying and failing to find any sign of something less - or more - than human. "Including you two."

Kenshin and Kaoru glanced at each other. Finally he said, "Megumi-san, the real dragons are all dead. It's true that they, at least, are extinct."

"They were animals," Kaoru put in. "Just animals like any other, with no human speech or thought. We...we lost several of our children to hunters, who thought they were...." She couldn't finish, and Kenshin took her hand.

"Kaoru-dono was different," he murmured.

Kaoru took a deep breath and seemed to get herself under control again. "I was born human," she said awkwardly. "I am human, we both are. I was transformed against my will.... It was Kenshin who freed me, but afterwards I found that I could use either form as I chose. I gave the power to Kenshin, and we thought we could be happy. But our children...."

"They are different," Kenshin said quietly. "They are not like us, limited to one form or the other. Our transformations are artificial; theirs.... They were born to it. For our children, there is no conflict between dragon and human."

"And Yukishiro Enishi became interested in that, and decided to use this...ability for scientific advancement," Megumi guessed.

Kenshin and Kaoru looked at her. "...No."

"No?" Megumi said in surprise. "But the laboratories, the experiments - wasn't the purpose of it all to develop a race of super-humans?"

"That was simply a by-product," Kenshin said quietly. "Shishio Makoto is the one who became interested in that. The true purpose...revenge."

Kaoru's eyes flicked to her husband in surprise. "What? It's not...it's not for Tomoe-san's sake?"

Kenshin glanced at her. "Kaoru-dono, have you seen his eyes, when he looks at his sister? There is no hope left in them, only rage." Kaoru frowned.

"But the Dragon Project," Megumi said. "Why was it so methodical? The results, and the failures--"

"Enishi was looking for a cure."

Megumi stared. "A cure...for being a dragon?"

"A long time ago," Kaoru said softly, "when...when that first egg was still unhatched, it was stolen, by Kiyosato Akira."

"He wanted to tame a dragon," Kenshin said shortly. "This was before the real dragons were gone. He thought we were animals like the rest, and he took Kenji - I bit him."

"You-- what?"

"Dragon bites," Kaoru explained, "are dangerous. If enough poison gets into your blood, you will lose your human consciousness and become an animal. If you survive, that is. That's what happened to Akira-san."

"Tomoe-san knew. She asked me to do the same to her. She refused to leave her husband, even when she saw what he had become."

"But," Megumi said, frowning, "there is nothing wrong with the Kiyosatos."

Kenshin's teeth clenched. "Yes," he ground out. "Now."

"Because," Kaoru growled, when she saw the other woman's uncomprehending expression, "Yukishiro Enishi eventually found that lost egg, and used the hatchling to develop a 'cure.'"

Megumi stared, open-mouthed. "What... He can...?"

"He can take humans, and he can turn them into dragons - with their humanity intact. When he perfected the technique with Shishio, he was finally able to use it on his sister and her husband, whom he had been keeping captive."

Megumi was slowly shaking her head. "It can't be." Then she gave them a sharp look. "You said this started back before the dragons - real ones - went extinct. If what you're saying is true, then you and the Kiyosatos and Yukishiro would have to be...." She trailed off when she saw their faces. "How old are you?" she said abruptly.

Kenshin gave her a small smile. "You probably don't want to know."

"Dragons have long life spans," Kaoru murmured.

Megumi sipped at her tea without tasting it, then abruptly set her cup down. "And the girls? They're...they were born that way? As dragons?"

"Yes."

Megumi sat in silent thought for a while. "May I see?" she finally asked, very softly.

Kenshin and Kaoru exchanged a long look. Then she nodded, and he turned in his chair to call to the children.

The girls bounded up to enquiringly, with Katana bounding at their heels. "What is it, Daddy?"

"Ayame-chan, Suzume-chan...will you show Megumi-san your wings?"

"Is it allowed?" Ayame asked uncertainly, glancing back and forth between the adults. Kaoru nodded reassuringly.

Megumi stared at the inhuman appendages that emerged, supple membranes stretched between the strong skeletal structure. From a purely biological standpoint, it was beautiful; in the context...shocking. She could not speak for a minute.

"Mommy?" Suzume asked in a small voice. "Does she like them?"

"Of course she likes them," Kaoru said soothingly, and glared daggers at Megumi.

"They're...very lovely," the other woman managed. She tried to smile, and the girls smiled back before shyly scampering back to the living room.

Megumi sat for a while, knowing that the other two were watching her. Then she leaned forward and put her face in her hands. "It explains things," she whispered. It was difficult, trying to say Kenji's name. "He always had problems with his back. He couldn't stand completely straight, and sometimes the pain was so bad he would have to miss school. But he refused to have surgery, or even to even let himself be more than superficially examined."

When she raised her head, her eyes were wet. "He hated all doctors. When he was first rescued, he had to be sedated almost the entire time he was in the hospital. Later, even after he came to trust me, some things were still off-limits, and he wouldn't let anyone touch him other than me. Of course it was because of what he had been through...." She swallowed. "But I'd never seen any sure sign that he was a dragon. He never let me see that part of himself, but...if it's true, it would...explain a lot." All three of them were crying again, silently so the girls would not notice.

"Megumi-san, please," Kaoru begged. "Tell us about him. We have nothing. We...we have nothing."

Megumi wiped at her eyes and tried to get a hold of herself. "Let me show you," she said slowly, and got up from the table. She came back with a photo album. The other two braced themselves when they saw it, desperate for what it contained, and afraid.

Megumi hesitated with her hand on the cover. "The first picture is from the day he was found. I also want to show you the last picture I took of him, and then we can look at the ones in between."

She had been wise to caution them. The first photograph, labeled 'Dragon Project, child A-1,' showed a wild-haired young boy wearing nothing but a blanket partially wrapped around him, screaming as he turned away from the camera and lifted one hand in a warding gesture; the other arm was gripped in an effort to keep him still.

Megumi did not let their anguished, furious eyes drink in the image; she flipped to the last page, which contained a couple of photographs of the same scene. The page was labeled, 'Takani Kenji, age 14; clockwise from him, Daisuke, Kyouya, Kimi, and Kakeru; Saturday study group.' In one photograph, the five teens were laughing about something as they sprawled comfortably amidst textbooks and plates of half-eaten food in the very same living room where Ayame and Suzume were now playing. Katana was curled up in a corner of the photo, chewing contentedly on a ragged stuffed animal. In the other photograph, the teens were all looking at the camera and smiling, some them making goofy poses as a laughing Kenji tried to ward off the dog's eager attentions.

The disparity between the terrified child and the grinning youth was incredible. This older Kenji was in jeans and a T-shirt like any other boy his age, seeming perfectly at his ease; even his crooked pose seemed like a natural slouch, only recognizable for what it was if you already knew. To think of this flourishing boy as they had last seen him, once more in pain and fear and darkness, to know that in the end he had been swallowed up before the light could reach him again.... It was too much, for a while.

The girls noticed the tears and came over in fearful concern, and it was all together that they looked at the rest, watched the wounded young boy slowly emerge from his shell and begin to embrace his new life, in these progressive instants of captured time. The child with haunted eyes glaring out from the darkness underneath a bed; hunched suspiciously over a birthday cake; crying in a school uniform as two little girls and a distressed-looking teacher tried to console him; smiling shyly as he clutched a shopping bag outside a toy store; open-mouthed in surprise as a russet-colored puppy was held out to him; uplifted face shining with delight as he gripped a kite string; grinning mischievously as he and another boy were caught reaching for an elaborate wedding cake; training determinedly with a shinai amongst a crowd of fellow students; posing casually with classmates in front of a school.

["So," Kenshin said after a minute, his voice a little cold, "you were tracking his progress."

Kaoru looked at him sharply, and Megumi's eyes narrowed. "Yes," she said curtly. "Of course I was expected to monitor and record him throughout his recovery. Do you honestly believe that, because of that, I was unable to love him at the same time?" She paused. "Like it or not, Kenshin-san, he was my son, just as much as he was yours."

After a moment Kenshin nodded tightly. "Yes," he said in a low voice. "I'm sorry. I was taking it out on-- I'm sorry."]

They were quiet for a while, except for the girls' soft murmurings as they paged through the photographs again. Then Megumi said thoughtfully, "Kenshin-san, you are proficient in the art of the sword?" She smiled a little when he nodded, adding that his wife also practiced sword arts. "He takes after you," Megumi said softly. "I enrolled him in self-defense classes, but he wanted more. He didn't just want to learn self-defense, or even how to fight for its own sake - he was very passionate about kendo itself. He always wanted to be strong. It's...." She hesitated. "It's a shame," she continued slowly, "that he wasn't born in an earlier era. He had...so much potential." Her throat was tightening again, and she could say the rest only in a whisper. "He could have helped so many people."

"He can't now," Kenshin said sharply, out of his own pain, and again they fell silent.

"Look," Ayame laughed the next moment. "Ken-nii looks like Daddy again." She pointed at a picture of Kenji posing with friends, all of them in costume. "You like to dress up as ronin?" Megumi enquired dryly.

"She means...." It was too lengthy, and personal, to explain. He took a deep breath and changed tack. "Megumi-san," he said carefully, "years ago, when Enishi was arrested, we were unable to learn much about...about Kenji's fate. He was already far away and the investigation was secret by the time we learned what had happened. We came...."

"Please, Megumi-san," Kaoru spoke up. "We need the police's information on Enishi, and on Shishio. Will you help us?"

Megumi looked at them. "Nothing I can give you will help bring Kenji back," she said quietly. When their expressions hardened, she sighed and got up to find her paperwork on the Dragon Project. "I can make you copies," she said, knowing that otherwise they would stay until they had gone through every document.

"Thank you," Kaoru said.

"What about the computers?" Kenshin put in. "Surely this isn't everything you have access to."

Megumi fixed him with a meaningful look. "Please realize that if I dig into the past, especially in light of what's happened, especially if it's known you came to see me.... Are you sure?"

Kenshin and Kaoru glanced at each other, then looked back at her steadily.

Megumi sighed. "All right."

o.o.o.o.o

Kenji watched, fascinated, as delicate swirls of pink invaded the once-clear water and slowly permeated the entire bowl. He splashed his hands some more, refreshed by the feel of the dried stuff being washed away, but then the memory of blood-splattered grass came to him, and he suddenly felt a little sick.

The pleasure was gone as he turned instead to the sink, running a full stream of hot water and scrubbing vigorously. After a while pain began nagging at the corners of his mind, but he ignored it, thinking of blood and the way it looked and sounded when it came gushing out of a fatal sword wound. His skin prickled, he couldn't shake the disturbing sensation that there was blood soaking his clothes, running through his hair, dripping down his back--

He was jerked back to the present by a touch on his arm. It was very gentle, but he reacted instantly and soundlessly. There was a gasp, and Kenji's vision abruptly came in to focus, just in time; his blade halted a hair's breadth from Tomoe's throat. They stared at each other. "Uh...." He cleared his throat uncomfortably and sheathed his sword. "Sorry." It was a little hard to keep his grip on the hilt for some reason.

"Kenji-san." Her voice was quiet. It made him realize that the sink was still running, and he glanced over to see clouds of steam rising. He reached to turn off the water, but forgot to complete the gesture when he saw his hand. It was an angry red color, and very sore. He stared at it. After a moment Tomoe wordlessly shut off the hot water and ran the cold, then gently pulled Kenji's hands underneath the flow. "Please be more careful."

"Sorry," he whispered.

to be continued...

Author's Notes: If there's anything you don't get about the exposition/backstory in this chapter, please let me know. The prequel I'm working on goes into more detail, but if there's something that needs to be understood in this chapter and/or story that isn't clear enough, I'll try to fix it.

Okay, and because somebody is probably going to bring it up...this is such an undignified topic, but in the cause of realisticness, I must address the issue, though I will do it as non-specifically as possible...I'm going with the idea that, when the child of a hybrid is ready to be born, the mother will give birth in whatever form she's in at the time. And since humans are mammals but dragons are not, it's possible that a pregnant hybrid, after a certain point in the gestation period, might be stuck being in whatever form she is currently in until she gives birth.
A certain character is now tugging at my sleeve and huffing at me, "This would have been really good to know before we decided to start making babies." And my answer is, "Then we wouldn't have a story." She says that would have been perfectly fine with her. I don't blame her. *sweatdrop*
Oh, and also, apparently dragon eggs are really hardy. Or else...magic was involved in keeping the thing alive for so long. Something like that. Yes. See, this is one reason I like writing rough drafts so much more than editing.

I do have to write a new chapter after this, with some scenes that I missed in the first draft, and I have to go through the rest of the chapters to clean up some mistakes, but I am definitely not going to bother with much textual editing before I update again. OCD makes that task EXTREMELY slow and difficult, so I'll save that stage of the project until after I've gotten the complete second draft posted. I apologize, guys. No one should have to wait more than a month between story updates, yet here I was leaving the end of that awful chapter 2 dangling for half a year. *shakes head at self*