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by moonsilver ::: 29.Jul.2003A continuation/side story of Soul of a Hitokiri by Haku Baikou
A week had passed since Katsura had asked his lady, Ikumatsu, to speak with the man known as Battousai. The talk had opened up a path to healing. Katsura had said that he only destroyed. It was up to someone else to try to heal the young man. Ikumatsu had been asked to try to talk to him.
She had tried. She had told him to live and that other people besides Tomoe cared for him. He might not realize it now, but he was cared about. For a few moments she believed that her words had not done any good, but then Kenshin also known as Battousai had said he would try to understand.
Other duties had kept her away for a week. Katsura had deemed it too dangerous for her to visit for a week, but gave her other things to occupy her time. After spending a few precious hours with her love, his duty as the Choshu leader interfered with their happiness.
Katsura had sighed as the knock on the door came. “Yes?”
The door opened and Takasugi poked his head through the opening. “We need you,” was all he said.
Katsura nodded. The door closed and the footsteps of Takasugi retreated. Ikumatsu smiled at her lover and he gave her a weary smile back. “There has been a difference in the boy.”
“Oh?” she said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes,” he replied. “He’s become less cold. Not warm, but a fraction less cold.”
She looked at him with gentle eyes. “You would like me to talk with him again.”
Katsura nodded. “If you would care to. This business I have to tend to might take hours.” Ikumatsu looked at the floor. He reached over to her and tilted her chin up. “After this is over,” he said quietly, “then we may consider the future. Together.”
Ikumatsu smiled again and she kissed him tenderly. Breaking apart, she winked. “I’ll see if he’d like to accompany me down to the tea house. I’m thirsty.”
Katsura nodded. “It is not well to leave a lady with a dry throat.” Ikumatsu laughed and walked from the room, glancing over her shoulder at the man she loved one last time.
That was how she found herself outside Himura’s room. She hesitantly knocked on the door and wondered immediately after if it would be too soft to be heard…
She let out a sigh of relief. “Himura-san.”
The door was opened in the next few seconds and the golden eyes looked at her speculatively. “Does Katsura-san want me?”
She shook her head. “He’s busy.” Pulling her courage around her like a cloak, she said, “I wondered if you would escort me down to the tea house.”
Kenshin was stiller than a statue for a moment. “My throat is dry and it is lonesome to drink alone,” she added.
He nodded sharply. “Let us go then, Ikumatsu-dono.”
As they walked, she noticed that her escort was growing stiffer by the moment. Was he uneasy because of her presence or was it something else?
They walked down the steps to the tea house and the conversation stopped. Kenshin did not halt in his steps, but gestured Ikumatsu ahead of him. She chose a small table to sit at alone and Kenshin joined her. The proprietor bustled over and Ikumatsu made her request for a pot of tea. Her request was filled and soon Ikumatsu and Kenshin were sitting quietly sipping their tea.
She glanced surreptitiously around and marked the difference in volume. Conversation had stopped when they had walked down the stairs and then begun again at a lower volume.
Ikumatsu leaned slightly toward Kenshin and whispered, “Himura-san, it seems that the people around us are uncomfortable.”
“Yes,” he said quietly.
“Do you believe it is my being here? I don’t wish to cause a disturbance.”
Himura looked straight into her eyes and said in a normal voice, “It is not you, Ikumatsu-dono. You are not causing anyone any distress at all. It is myself. I make them uncomfortable.”
The talk around them quieted to an even lower volume. Kenshin grimaced and set his hands on the table. He pushed back his chair and began to rise.
Before he rose four inches from the table, a gentle hand was placed on his shoulder. That gentle hand became quite firm as it pushed Kenshin down forcefully.
He sat down in his chair with an audible thump. He blinked a few times and looked at Ikumatsu with confused eyes. “But-“ he began.
“No,” she admonished. “I am not finished with my tea and neither are you, Himura-san. It would be impolite of you to leave a lady without an escort.”
Himura didn’t say anything. He didn’t nod to say that he had heard her. He only picked up his tea and drank.
The two of them sat in silence. The conversation eventually picked up and the volume rose, but not to the level it was before the pair had come down the stairs. Himura noticed the hands creeping toward their swords by instinct and then moving away as they realized what they were doing. He was making the people he fought with and protected nervous.
Ikumatsu noticed the conversation was of trivial things. Things that would not be delicate enough for a lady’s ears weren’t spoken. She paid no heed to it, drinking her tea calmly.
Kenshin’s thoughts wandered to Tomoe as they often did. Ikumatsu-dono would like me to live, he thought. Tomoe would have wanted me to live. I promised her I would.
He thought of their little cottage and the town they lived in. How happy he had been making medicines and having Tomoe there as company every day. The children he had played with. It was too dangerous to do that here. It was a pity, though. It might have soothed his nerves. But any child he played with would be a target for his enemies. He would not allow a child’s blood to be on his hands.
Kenshin’s thoughts turned to the last days he had spent with Tomoe. Not the last day, but the day before. He had fought with the two boys…
Ikumatsu’s eyes widened. “Himura-san, if it is not too bold, may I ask what you were just thinking of?”
He glanced toward her. “Nothing.”
She shook her head. “It wasn’t nothing. You almost smiled.” She paused. “Was it her?” Kenshin didn’t move. “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, Himura-san. I shouldn’t have spoken of her.”
Kenshin looked down at his tea. “There was no offense, Ikumatsu-dono. If any offense was to be given, it was to you.” She raised an eyebrow in question. “To make up for my untruth, I will tell you what I was thinking.”
He lifted his head and Ikumatsu saw his golden eyes flutter with a remembered joy. “It was during the time I was gone,” Himura said carefully, noting that the tables around him were winding down in conversation and volume. “The village children knew that I… or my wife were home most of the time. They would come over to play.”
Both Kenshin and Ikumatsu heard the whispers of ‘wife?’. Kenshin didn’t pay attention, but continued his tale.
“I took the time to play and keep them entertained. I wasn’t that busy and their parents were usually in the fields.” Kenshin ducked his head. “It was probably very silly of me.”
Ikumatsu shook her head and smiled. “I think it was nice of you. Please go on.”
Kenshin raised his head. He reached out his hand to grasp the cup and he drank some tea. Setting the cup back down, he said, “There were two boys. One had a wild thatch of black hair and the other had none. The black-haired proclaimed that he was the Choshu leader, Katsura Kogoro, and the other said that he was Takasugi Shinsaku. They held up their sticks and named who they were.”
“My,” Ikumatsu said smiling. “I didn’t know that Katsura was still a boy. Or that Takasugi had lost his hair.”
Kenshin inclined his head to her and continued. “I had two sticks in my hands and I had been named the captain of the Shinsengumi, the demons who silence crying children, Koudou Isami. I told them my blade Kotetsu would drink blood tonight. It was entertaining to crouch down and fight their wild blows with just sticks.”
Someone from the table next to theirs, greatly daring, said, “Joining the other side, Himura?”
Kenshin put down the teacup. Silence covered the tea house as they waited for his response. The man who had spoken was now regretting it with every fiber of his being.
“No,” Kenshin said coldly. “I am not.”
Ikumatsu leaned forward to act as a buffer between Kenshin and the man if it got out of hand. The man opened his mouth to say something in apology.
Kenshin did an unexpected thing. He ducked his head allowing his hair to come forward and cover his face. Then he tilted his head to the right and the hair moved out of the way. “But,” he said in a warmer voice, “the children wanted to be on the winning side.”
The man who had spoken smiled at Kenshin. Kenshin didn’t smile, but there was a warmer look in his eyes and his stance screamed that he was completely non-threatening. There was a difference in the tea house. If a hitokiri could admit that he liked playing with children, perhaps he was not to be feared as much as he was.
Ikumatsu could have laughed with happiness as she saw the men around Kenshin relax a little bit. So, she thought, you’ll live for Tomoe and fight to make that play fight you had with the children a reality. Maybe we don’t have to worry about you as much as we do, Himura-san.
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