Light of the Snow Red Village:
Part VII - Flicking Shadows - The Devil's Walking Stick
by Akai Kitsune ::: 12.Mar.2006
Sanosuke didn't like
not getting what he wanted. Above all else, he didn't like not
getting food when he wanted it. So he was quite unhappy when he
arrived at the dojo to find it quiet, no sign nor sound of the usual
scuffles between teacher and student - or student and student, if
Hikari got herself involved. Which she usually did. He was stalking
through the yard and around the property, the prospects of a free
meal decreasing with every step, when he suddenly caught a whiff of
tea in the air.
...Score! Shifting to
a jog, he made it to the kitchen just as Kenshin was pouring himself
a cup. "Yo."
The vagabond turned,
not so much surprised - he often wasn't - as simply looking as if he
hadn't expected a visitor. Normally it might've been the same thing,
but Kenshin and 'normal' were not exactly friends.
Kenshin murmured somewhat absently, offering the cup to Sano instead.
"You're here early."
Sano raised an eyebrow,
downing the tea easily. As always, Kenshin made a damn fine brew.
"Early?" he echoed. "Was hoping I'd be just in time
Kenshin smiled faintly,
shaking his head. Curiously enough, there were telltale signs of
worry in his expression, though apparently it was nothing big enough
to make him take off at a mad run to whatever was wrong. "Then
you're still early."
and the kids?"
Yahiko are training at Maekawa dojo," the rurouni sat down,
placidly drinking his own tea, trying to look as neutral as possible.
Sano wasn't fooled. "She asked me to come, but there's shopping
to do, and I have to pick up Hikari at the clinic in a few
"Not that I know
of," Kenshin answered musingly, "But I suspect Megumi-dono
would notice better than I. Hikari asked if she could go and learn a
few things from the doctors. She seems interested in herbal medicine
for some reason..."
Better medicine than
swordsmanship, he added inwardly.
"Go fig. What
then?" Sano prodded, leaning against the wall, eyes glinting
Kenshin hesitated, then
admitted, "We're meeting for lunch at the Aka-"
Two minutes later, the
pair headed out the gate, Sano eagerly - and hungrily - leading the
Megumi leaned down to study the mixture, giving it a careful waft.
Pausing a moment longer, she nodded in approval. "Not bad,
The girl's expression,
which had been somewhat worried for a while, brightened considerably.
"Really? I thought I'd missed something so I was-"
Megumi mused. "You missed the burdock." Hikari's eyes fell
again. "Don't feel bad. It takes practice, and by the look of
it, your measurements were good. Take another look at the recipe and
fix it, and I'll add it to my supply."
Hikari grinned and spun away, eagerly going back to work. Shaking her
head in amusement, Megumi took another look at the girl's
accomplishments. She was an attentive student, at least; not
particularly gifted for the trade, but focused and patient enough to
listen to the instructions given. Both traits were certainly useful -
and mandatory in her line of work - though really, what Megumi wanted
to know most was why the girl had the sudden desire to learn about
medicine. She'd asked, of course, but Hikari had shrugged it off as
mere curiousity. It might have worked - she was young enough to not
have other motives for it - if she wasn't a terrible liar. Which
doesn't give me any answers either, the doctor reflected, shaking
aside her thoughts. It probably had something to do with Kenshin,
knowing the girl's attachment to him and his tendency to get injured.
It wasn't surprising for her to want to know how to deal with
But still... that's
too much responsibility for a child.
Perhaps it was just one
of those childhood impulses, a phase she'd outgrow. Megumi wasn't
sure whether it was good or bad, but, really, she didn't know the
girl well enough to be a proper judge. Kenshin hadn't objected, so
obviously it wasn't much of an issue on his part. A swordsman of his
caliber would have taken pride in her abilities, and frown upon
anything that turned her attention from that... or perhaps as an
Ishin Shishi, he was a traditionalist? Not that medicine was a
woman's trade either...
She sighed. The only
way to know was, of course, to ask Kenshin, and knowing him he would
smile and give no answer at all.
indeed... he leaves no openings. Smiling faintly to herself, she
turned back to Hikari, finding the herb mixture well corrected and
acceptable for use. She was about to say so when there was a pounding
of footsteps on the floor, and a young man burst into the clinic,
clad in a simple dojo uniform.
cried, eyes wide with fear. "An attack on our dojo - our
master's been hurt! Please-!"
"Bring him in!"
Megumi instructed swiftly, even as two more students followed the
first, an older man supported between them. Following was,
surprisingly, Yahiko, and another student just behind, carrying-
Megumi inhaled sharply,
and Hikari gasped a the sight.
When they finally
arrived at the clinic, Kenshin and Sano were surprised to find a line
of unfamiliar kendo students waiting around one of the examination
rooms. Upon questioning them, they were both startled to find they
were in fact from Maekawa-sensei's dojo, and that both he and the
young, female instructor who had been visiting were currently with
"It was crazy!"
one student told them, expression wild with concern and amazement. He
didn't seem to notice the glint in Kenshin's eyes, silently demanding
the full story. "This huge man came in and challenged the dojo!
He defeated Maekawa-sensei easily, and when Kamiya-sensei tried to
stop the fight, he attacked her with wind!"
exchanged a look at this - Sano didn't miss Kenshin's expression so
easily - and were about to head right in to see what was going on
when the door opened, and out stepped Hikari, wearily lifting a hand
The colder, calculating
part of Kenshin wanted to grab the girl practically interrogate her
on what exactly was going on. The father half - the stronger of the
two, always always - pushed it aside in favour of asking if she
alright, just whose blood it was on her hands and tunic, and then
what had happened.
Hikari attempted a
reassuring smile, letting him take her hand and pull her to a wash
basin. "It's not mine," she murmured, "It's
Kaoru-san's. That man... Yahiko saw it, not me. But..." she
trailed off, eyes widening at his expression, adding hastily, "She's
not bad! But she's resting... she hurt her head. Megumi-san said it
looks worse than it is, that she was lucky."
"Only because he
was aiming at her shinai," a curt voice called from the door,
and they turned as Yahiko stepped out as well, looking unusually
Kenshin questioned, his voice worried.
Hikari sighed, leaning
tiredly against him, murmuring, "Papa, I told you..." but
he merely brushed a hand through her hair, shaking his head
Yahiko shrugged. "She's
out. Megumi says she will be for a while. Concussion or something.
There's not much else they can do, so we gotta wait." He
shuffled a little, eyes drifting towards the door before returning to
Kenshin. "He cut her arm; not deep, but she can't move it yet.
It was mostly that... wind blast." His brow furrowed. "Ever
seen anyone attack with the wind from their sword like
There was a pause.
"Perhaps," Kenshin replied cryptically, his voice soft,
"But I didn't see it."
Yahiko snorted. "Well,
whatever. It knocked her right over - she hit her head. I was gonna
get him but the other students..." he reddened faintly. "I
mean, the hag was out, and someone had to help carry her here. She's
too heavy for one person."
Kenshin chided, but his eyes were on the door. "What about
him up," the boy jerked a thumb at the other room. "I think
he broke some bones, but he'll be okay. ... Kenshin," he said
after a moment's silence, "This guy who did this..."
"I wanted to ask
you," Kenshin nodded. "Who was he?"
Raijuuta," Yahiko answered, eyes narrowing. "He's an
"We got that,"
Sanosuke rolled his eyes.
Yahiko bristled. "Shut
up! I'm serious! He's nothing like you, Kenshin - says swords are for
killing, and dojos like busu's are worthless! He's trying to shut
them all down." His scowl deepened. "He even had his own
little sidekick - stupid brat. I coulda kicked his ass if I wanted
Kenshin looked to the gangster, "Your information network. Do
"On it," Sano
grinned, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "I'll see what I can
dig up." He waved off Kenshin's quiet thanks and within moments
was gone from the clinic.
Yahiko shuffled again,
his eyes shifting to look at the floor. "Kenshin... don't get
pissed, but he might be heading to our dojo next."
boy's first comment, Kenshin merely questioned why.
"I told him you
could kick his ass too."
... well... that's one
way to deal with the problem...
managed, shaking his head. "... I suppose we'd best hurry back
there when Kaoru-dono is well enough."
Hikari complained, her voice rising, shattering the serious
atmosphere, stomach growling a scant second later. "'m hungry.
Didn't you go shopping?"
Kenshin blinked; he had
forgotten all about the shopping trip. He smiled gently, curving his
daughter's head in the direction of the buckets he had carried in and
deposited in the corner. "There are some vegetables in the
second basket - leave enough for supper, please, but a few now won't
beamed at him, expression bright, her weariness vanishing in the
midst of her hunger. Kenshin wondered - he often did, these days, and
blamed it on the fact that he really wasn't getting any younger -
where she had gotten her endless energy from, and gave Yahiko a
pointed look as she bounded over to the buckets to hunt for her
The boy shrugged his
shoulders, leaning against the wall. "Not hungry," he
answered the silent question. "I'll eat when we get back."
on the door, and Kenshin had to withhold a smile at what he found
It never ceased to
amuse him, the constant cycle of denial and bickering they seemed to
thrive in. "I'm going to check on Kaoru-dono and see if they
need any assistance," he said softly, straightening up and
heading for the door himself.
"They might kick
you out," Hikari chimed in, the words half-muffled by the piece
of daikon she was chewing on. Yahiko gave a curt nod in agreement,
but Kenshin merely smiled, pushing open the door and stepping
"Oi! I think
Kaoru started to snap before her eyes even opened, but then she gave
a low groan, voice quieting as the pounding in her skull told her
that raising her voice was definitely a bad idea. "Don't call me
that. What happened...?"
injured," Kenshin murmured. She lifted her gaze to see him
leaning over her, smiling patiently. Aside from that, his expression
was unreadable; it was a little disturbing.
Dr. Genzai was there a
moment later, checking her eyes. "How do you feel, Kaoru-
mumbled. And blinked. "That... that man... Raijuuta...?"
Yahiko spoke up again, eyes narrowed sharply. "Him and his punk
follower. Probably to trash some other dojos around town."
case," Megumi frowned tightly, two fingers massaging her
forehead, "It seems we should expect to see more patients coming
Kenshin sat back in his
chair beside the bed, offering his hand out to Kaoru as she attempted
to sit up again, Genzai supporting her from behind. "I think
this Raijuuta should be dealt with as soon as we can meet with him,
to prevent more injuries from occurring."
"And just how are
you going to do that?" Kaoru gave him a suspicious look,
wavering a little, but apparently less likely to fall over than she
had a moment ago. "You're not going to challenge him, are
"It's a little
late for that," Kenshin murmured wryly, sending Yahiko a
The boy reddened a
little as Kaoru echoed the look. "Yahiko, you didn't!"
was lying or anything!" he protested, crossing his arms and
looking away. "Kenshin can kick his ass, and he will,
There was a pause, as
Kenshin stared mutely at him. He wasn't sure if Yahiko was talking
about revenge for hurting Kaoru or simply asserting his strength, but
either way, he didn't like being volunteered as an opponent to a man
he'd never even met.
He ignored the
inner-voice that firmly reminded him that had he been there, he would
have interceded and probably already faced the man for Kaoru's sake.
They didn't need to be told as much; from the expressions they wore,
they probably already knew.
I suppose it's what I
get for becoming so predictable... there is no avoiding it now. He
lifted his head, glancing at the corner, and was met by Hikari's
smile, while Kaoru and Yahiko argued in the background. He found it
curious; she hated when he was dragged into fights that weren't his
own, yet now she seemed to be encouraging him to get himself
involved, despite the fact that Kaoru had already been injured
because of it...
"Come on now,
Kaoru-chan," Dr. Genzai urged, his voice a slight, scolding tone
to pull her out of her verbal battle and bringing Kenshin's attention
back to the aforementioned patient as he helped her swing her legs
around to dangle off the edge of the bed, "Let's see how steady
"I feel silly,"
she mused, cheeks going pink, her feet lowering to the floor, slowly
putting pressure on them to rise. "All this attention for a
little bump on the head..."
"Head injuries are
nothing to laugh at," Megumi advised meaningfully, glancing over
at Kenshin. "You'll have to watch her carefully and keep her out
of trouble on the way home. No running off with strange swordsmen
until she's asleep."
She was jesting, of
course, and Kenshin did his best to smile in response. Fervently he
hoped any strange swordsmen would leave them well enough alone, at
least until morning.
Wishes against futility
never did anyone harm, after all.
The return trip to the
dojo was mercifully uneventful for the most part; Sanosuke met with
them just outside the clinic, reporting that very little was known
about Raijuuta aside from what they were already aware of, and the
fact that he was apparently staying in one of the richer sections of
Tokyo, specifically the Tsukayama estate. What he was doing there was
still a mystery, but one Sano intended to resolve - preferably after
a good meal and some sleep. The 'brat' that Yahiko had mentioned was
the only son of the estate owner, though his reasons for following
the rogue swordsman around were also unknown. Yahiko, not caring much
either way, redubbed him 'rich brat' and did his best to annoy
everyone with his foul mood.
Kaoru, for her part,
was quiet, and Kenshin along with her, somewhat uncomfortable walking
at her side with her arm curved a little too comfortably through his.
He had brushed it aside, firmly told her he didn't mind when she'd
asked - shyly - and he did his best to look like he meant it. A young
lady at his arm shouldn't be such a big deal, but he honestly didn't
want to set across the wrong impression, especially since he was
living with her. Rumours could ruin a person, especially when they
involved fidelity and the purity of unmarried girls; one such as
Kaoru, with no one else to support or shelter her, could easily have
her future stolen away by giving people ideas.
over as she lightly tapped his arm. "Yes, Kaoru-dono?"
were stuck again," she mused, smiling softly, then laughed a
little at his baffled expression. "In your head, I mean. Lost in
thought. Are you okay?"
The look faded, though
his confusion did not. He hadn't been aware that she was already so
attuned to his hidden state of mind; he wasn't sure if this bothered
him, either. "I'm fine." After a moment's hesitation, he
admitted, in an attempt to be honest, "Just wondering about the
man who attacked you."
He regretted it
instantly, when a look of pure and unadultured wrath covered the
kenjutsu instructor's face. "Oh, him! When I get my hands on
him, he's going to regret ever coming to Tokyo!"
She stopped there,
noticing his expression now looked more like one a riceball might
wear right before being devoured by Sano in the morning. "Er...
Kaoru-dono... you may want to take it easy until you
"I'll be just
fine!" Kaoru tossed back, waving her hand in dismissal. He chose
to ignore how her body wavered a little at the same time, leaning
against his. "Just need to rest a little. Genzai-sensei said I
would recover soon, so don't worry so much, okay?"
eyes, and they walked in silence for a while, avoiding looking each
other. Distantly, he wondered exactly how he was going to deal with
this particular issue without having Kaoru and Hikari tag-team him in
an attempt to convince him not to get in over his head. They were
getting good at that. Disturbingly.
Kaoru said again, squeezing his arm, "It's sweet of you to be
concerned. Thank you."
He almost spluttered.
Was proud of himself, actually, that he didn't; it took a great deal
of restraint. "O-of course, Kaoru-dono! It... ah... what else
She laughed. It was
brief, but gentle, and a welcome sound that made him forget just what
had made him so embarrassed to begin with.
He remembered it, hours
later; the memory was clear and unforgettable, if only because it was
the last time he heard her laugh for several days.
When they turned
final corner, the dojo coming into sight, he heard a cry break free
of her lips at his side, and he had to tighten his grasp on her arm
to keep her from running towards the pale flicker of a dying flame in
the middle of the street. The remains of a twisted piece of wood,
corrected, as she clung to him, shaking, eyes wet, and they came
close enough to see that the sign of her father's dojo - decades old,
a family treasure, if only in her eyes - was gone from the outside
And lay burning in the
street, for all the world to see her shame.