(STANDARD FANFIC DISCLAIMERS APPLY)
He was slipping into the nightmare once more.
Oh, gods, not again!
Kenshin frantically tried to halt the grisly procession of images. The memories that had somehow become so twisted out of proportion that Kenshin was no longer so sure of them. Did he kill this man because he was a Shogunate spy? Or was it because it gave him an excuse to blood his blade? Did he kill this woman because she was a traitor? Or maybe because he wanted to see what it would feel like, sliding the sword into her soft body, feeling the slick warmth of her blood…
The hitokiri he had been stood up after killing half a dozen Shinsengumi. Instead of flicking away the blood from his sword, he brought the blade up to his lips...and licked away the blood.
What the hell are you doing?
Kenshin looked down and saw himself holding the sword. A true katana, not a sakabatou, a real killing blade. He saw himself reflected in the steel blade, saw a glint of amber fire in his eyes.
Tasted the blood in his mouth and realized that it was so good…
What is happening to me?
The scene shifted and changed to a dark Tokyo street. A drunk was tottering on his way home, an empty sake flask dangling from one hand. He straightened up suddenly as he saw Kenshin appear from the shadows, golden eyes glittering.
"Battousai," the drunk whispered, suddenly stone cold sober.
Kenshin caught him easily, pinning him against the wall. He felt so empty, so thirsty…the feeling soon becoming a driving, relentless Hunger. He stared at the pulse beating frantically at the man’s throat and understood what he needed to do.
He bared his fangs and sank them into the man’s throat.
Oh, gods, no…I can’t be doing this!
He froze at the sound of that beloved voice, dropping the drunk’s body at his feet as if he’d been a rag doll. Kaoru was standing there, the blue eyes wide with horror.
"No…" he croaked. "No…Kaoru…koishii."
"Kenshin?" Kaoru took a step closer, one hand outstretched towards him.
"NO!" he cried out. Even sated, he could smell the sweet scent of her blood, calling to him, promising delight beyond measure. Her blood and the child she carried in her womb. "Don’t…please…" He brought his bloodly hands up to cover his face. The Hunger flared to life once more, and this time it wanted her.
"Get away from me!" he screamed. "Run, Kaoru!"
But suddenly, she was there, her hands gently prying away his own, her fingers caressing his blood-stained cheeks.
"I am here," she whispered. "It’s all right, koishii. It’s all right."
Her love at that moment seemed to be tangible thing, a promise of light and hope. He held on to it, despite the beast that raged within him, despite the dark Hunger that screamed to be fed. He would not give in to it. He would not let himself be defeated by it.
"Aishiteru," he choked out, the words surprisingly difficult to say. As if something tried to prevent him from saying it. He fought it, whatever it was. "Kaoru…aishiteru."
And then, he came awake.
Rhiannon crept back into the room, flushed from the recent kill. She smiled with satisfaction as she heard the snores of her orange-haired lover. He was brutish and had no finesse whatsoever. But he was in the rudest of health and his blood was all the sweeter for it. He was some sort of bandit chieftain with demented dreams of glory and an abiding hatred for foreigners. However, his hatred didn’t seem to include foreign women.
The vampire didn’t want to kill him outright as she did the others. Yabu had the makings of a fine servant, an excellent attack dog, so to speak. Rhiannon was vulnerable alone, she knew. She needed to make her own brood soon, one that would be entirely loyal to her. Yabu would make an excellent first choice. And his men would soon follow.
Of course, he would never be the man to stand by her side. Rhiannon smiled, thinking of what she had wrought this night. She had already found the man for that. Her beautiful former Master.
And yet…his love for the other woman was so strong. It was to be expected, of course. He had ever been one to have deep feelings, the one who fought so hard to retain his humanity. No matter. Rhiannon enjoyed a challenge and his struggle made it all the sweeter.
Especially since she was only paying him back in kind. It was all part of the pattern, all part of the same path.
"Kenshin," she murmured softly, savoring his name like she would one day savor his blood.
Yahiko took a long, dubious look at his miso soup after Kaoru handed him some. Long experience had taught him the warning signs. Kenshin was nowhere in sight. Neither was Sanosuke. Only Kaoru was there, her face beginning to show signs of her infamous temper as Yahiko still refused to eat his breakfast.
"Well?" said Kaoru impatiently. "Are you going to eat it or not?"
"Where’s Kenshin?" Yahiko stalled, praying that he was wrong.
An odd look crossed Kaoru’s face. "He’s still sleeping. Kenshin DOES need a break once in a while. He’s always the one doing the cooking around here."
"In other words," said Yahiko. "You’re the one who cooked breakfast which means this stuff is toxic. Man oh man, you’d think after living with Kenshin for over two years, you’d at least learn how to even boil water—OW!!"
Kaoru put her shinai back under the table while Yahiko rubbed his sore head. "Serves you right," she said, smirking. "Of course, you can always go without breakfast…"
"Geez! Okay, okay! I’m eating!" Yahiko took a tentative sip of his miso. His eyes bugged out in surprise. It wasn’t that great but neither was it toxic. An improvement, that. "Hey, it’s actually eatable! You’ve actually learned something from Kenshin after all!"
"Of course it’s eatable!" huffed Kaoru, picking up her shinai again. "And for that, Yahiko-chan, you’re cleaning the dojo straight after breakfast."
"Whatever (I’m always cleaning the dojo). And don’t call me chan, ugly!"
"Ugly! Why you—"
"Oi, Yahiko," said Sanosuke as he came into the room. "Don’t bug Jou-chan so much. She’s pregnant, remember?"
"Okay, Kaoru," said Yahiko grudgingly. "I take it back. You’re not ugly (at least not today)."
"Well, geez, thanks," said Kaoru dryly.
"Where’s Kenshin, Jou-chan?" asked Sanosuke.
"He’s still asleep."
"Yeah," said Yahiko. "She made breakfast today. Would ya believe it’s actually non-poisonous?"
"Yahiko—" growled Kaoru.
"Nani?" Sanosuke was surprised. "Kenshin shouldn’t let you work in your condition."
Kaoru rolled her eyes. "I’m only three months along, Sano and I’m not helpless. Besides, Kenshin needed the rest. He hasn’t been sleeping well lately."
Kaoru sipped at her miso, hiding her thoughts from the others. Last night was the worst one of all. She’d heard Kenshin cry out that he "could not be doing this". Could not be doing what? And when she’d tried to wake him up from the nightmare, to comfort him, he had turned away, screaming for her to run, to get away from him. As if he would actually hurt her! All she could do was hold him, letting her presence comfort him until he snapped out it.
And when Kenshin finally woke up, he still would not talk about it. She knew her husband, knew that he was trying to spare her the gory details of his past, to not make her worry. But that was why she was his wife, damn it! Kenshin wasn’t alone, didn’t need to bear his burdens all by himself. She wanted so much to make it easier for him, to shield him from every pain just as he did for her. And as for not making her worry, she was already worried sick.
These nightmares were playing merry hell on his mind, taking away the peace and serenity that Kenshin had fought so hard to attain. And of course, there was Saitoh Hajime, with his infuriating insinuations at the Akabeko. As if Kenshin would turn into a gaki and start killing people! Kaoru wished, for the nth time, that she could take a shinai to the wolf’s head. Kenshin seemed to have brushed off Saitoh’s thinly veiled accusation but Kaoru knew her husband all too well. Saitoh’s description of a red-haired, golden-eyed killer struck a nerve. And Kaoru had a sinking feeling that the wolf’s talk about gaki played a large part in Kenshin’s nightmare last night.
She didn’t know how long Kenshin could go on like this. This wasn’t an enemy that he could defeat with a lightning-swift stroke of his sword…and how Kaoru wished, guiltily, that it could all boil down to that again!
They had to talk. And soon.
"Hey," said Sanosuke in surprise, as he sipped his miso. "Jo-chan, this really is eatable! It’s a miracle!" His eyes widened at what he just said and prepared to bolt for dear life at the merest sight of Kaoru’s bokutou.
"I think I’d better see if Kenshin’s awake," said Kaoru absently, getting up and leaving the room.
Sanosuke and Yahiko looked at each other.
"Oi, rooster head, she didn’t even hit you," said Yahiko in wonder.
"No kidding," said Sanosuke, scratching his head. "Something’s wrong with Kenshin."
"Maybe I oughta get Megumi to come here and check things out," said Sano thoughtfully.
Yahiko looked pensive. "Somehow, Sano, I don’t think this is something a doctor can fix."
I must be going insane. Kenshin thought miserably as he walked beside Kaoru on their way to the market. Outwardly, he was as calm and composed as the river gently flowing beside them. Usually, he would be smiling too, being the cheerful and friendly little rurouni he normally was. But he just couldn’t find even the remotest thing to smile about right now and Kaoru always saw through his fake smiles. If he tried that now, she would know something was wrong with him in a minute and ask what was going on.
And he didn’t know how he was going to tell her.
Hell, what was he supposed to say? That he’d been having weird nightmares about his past? No, not his real past. It was a twisted, distorted version of it. Where the Hitokiri Battousai enjoyed his grisly work. Where he really was the bloodthirsty demon portrayed in local legends.
But the truth was, Battousai was simply an angry fifteen year old boy, who had been given the power to change the world if he chose. Not a demon. Not a monster. Just a simple child, who had been forced to watch too long as the people he cared about died right in front of his eyes. His parents, the three young women that he would always think of as his sisters, Tomoe and his failure to save her…
Now, his dreams were telling him otherwise. Making him begin to question the rightness of his memories, his feelings, his motives. Last night was the worst one of all. All his dreams before, the ones where he’d actually licked the blood from his sword, the ones where he wanted…needed to see the blood of his enemies splatter on the ground…they were just a grisly prelude to what was to come. This dream was not a distorted memory. It was something entirely different.
He had killed a man…by drinking his blood. And then, he had almost, almost turned on Kaoru as well.
Damn Saitoh’s stupid gaki story, Kenshin raged silently, angry at himself. He shouldn’t be caught so off-balance by his overly active imagination, by a bunch of stupid dreams that were all lies…
But were they all lies?
The murders. Saitoh’s suspcions. Jay-dono and Iggy-dono’s friend Kenshin who happened to look so much like him. These were just too many coincidences for Kenshin’s comfort. He didn’t want to jump to conclusions. But something was telling him that there was a certain truth to be found out here. That while his dreams lied, they said something true as well…
For beyond death and rebirth, there are memories that refuse to be forgotten and paths that remain the same…
Kenshin froze. The voice in his mind belonged to neither the hitokiri nor the rurouni. But the voice was his, all the same. It was the same voice that he heard as he listened to Saitoh in the Akabeko. The very voice that had spoken to him about Hunger…
"Kenshin?" Kaoru’s oddly quiet voice startled him out of his thoughts. "We need to talk."
Kenshin turned to look at his young wife and saw with dismay that her sky-colored eyes were bright with unshed tears. Kaoru was clearly upset, the one thing that Kenshin had tried so hard to prevent.
Baka! Kenshin thought ruefully. She’s seen me having all those nightmares. How can she not worry about me?
Still, he had to give it one more try. He couldn’t stand seeing her like that. He put on his most cheerful expression and said, "Don’t worry, Kaoru-chan. I’m all right now."
Her eyes narrowed ominously. "You can’t tell me not to worry when you’re really not ‘all right’."
Uh-oh. Kenshin put up his hands placatingly. "Kaoru-chan—"
Suddenly, she was in his arms, burying her face in his shoulder, her muffled voice sounding suspiciously close to tears. "Kenshin no baka! When are you going to get it through your head that you’re not alone any more?"
He rubbed his cheek against her glossy black hair, breathing in its sweet flowery scent. "I’m sorry," he murmured.
She pulled away to put a finger on his lips. "Don’t be. Just tell me what’s going on."
Kenshin didn’t know but Kaoru had seen the barest hint of gold in his violet eyes. She smiled inwardly. Kenshin really hated seeing Kaoru worried. She’d seen the hitokiri peering out from her gentle husband’s eyes more than once whenever she was upset. It comforted her to know that the part of Kenshin that was Battousai would never lift a hand against her, that he would always be there to keep her from harm.
For he will never hurt me. Not even when the beast inside him takes control.
Kaoru blinked. Where did THAT thought come from?
Kenshin sighed. "All right. It’s just that I don’t want to worry you—"
Kaoru rolled her eyes. "Kenshin-love, you worry me the most when you try to keep things from me! You don’t have to do everything by yourself, you know!"
"Okay! Okay!" said Kenshin, surrendering. "It’s just that everything sounds so crazy that I don’t even know where to begin."
"For starters, you can tell me about your nightmares," said Kaoru soberly. "You can’t sleep. You’ve been dreaming about your past again, haven’t you?"
Kenshin was silent for a few moments, trying to collect his thoughts. Finally he spoke, in a sad, quiet voice.
"Not just my past." He bent his head, his red hair falling over his eyes, hiding most of his face from view. "It’s like everything I see in my dreams is all twisted up. Like I enjoyed—" He choked and lowered his voice. "Like I enjoyed killing all those people."
"Oh, Kenshin." Kaoru drew close again to her husband’s shuddering form. Very gently, she brushed his red hair away from his forehead. Golden eyes looked down at her, filled not with rage, but anguish.
"I didn’t do it that way," said Kenshin, reverting unconsiously back to his Battousai persona. "I killed them. They deserved to die so they died. But to enjoy it—" He closed his eyes, shook his head in disgust.
"But they’re dreams—"
"Yes, they are but they’re something more." Kenshin opened his eyes and Kaoru saw with relief that they had shifted back to their normal color. "And last night the nightmare turned into—" He struggled for the words. "In that dream, I killed a man…by…" He shuddered again. "I drank his blood. Just like a gaki."
And I almost turned on you as well, love. Mentally, Kenshin recoiled from that awful image. I will never never do that!
And you won’t, said that new little voice in his mind. For she loves you, accursed and stained as you are…
An image flashed in Kenshin’s mind…Kaoru reaching out to a hideous creature curled up in the shadows, her blue eyes filled with love…
"Ooooh!" Kaoru stamped her foot in fury, snapping Kenshin back to reality. "That Saitoh! I knew that insufferable Wolf got to you!"
This time, it was Kenshin who put a silencing finger on her lips. "Saitoh didn’t get me, though he certainly tried. But what he said can’t be put aside."
"But you heard him," protested Kaoru. "He himself said that his only witness was a crazy old man."
"Jay-dono and Iggy-dono have a friend who looks just like me. People are being murdered and then Saitoh comes around and says the killer could possibly look like me. At the same time, I’ve been dreaming of killing people." Kenshin shook his head. "No. There’s just too many coincidences. And somehow, they’re all connected to me."
"That’s crazy!" Kaoru exploded. "You’re making yourself guilty over something you didn't do!"
Kenshin gave her a rueful little smile. "I’m not making myself guilty over this. There is some kind of connection here. I just don’t know what it is yet." He scanned her face, his expression both anxious and earnest. "I know it sounds crazy, love. But that’s why I didn’t want to talk about it. Please, believe me."
Kaoru sighed. "I believe you, Kenshin." She briefly stroked his scarred cheek, then she tugged at his hand. "Come on, let’s finish the marketing."
Kenshin blinked. "Oro?"
Kaoru hastily stifled a slightly hysterical giggle. "I’ll think about our problem while we shop."
"Yes, our problem. Married people are supposed to help each other—oof!" She winced and put a hand over her still-small belly.
As usual, Kenshin fussed over her. "Kaoru! Are you all right?"
"I’m fine," she said and looked down in exasperation at her tummy. "Mou! You’re too young to be moving around yet!"
Kaoru gave another long-suffering sigh. "My stomach twisted, that’s all. Megumi told me that it happens. But I sort of think the kid in here is agreeing with me."
Kenshin began to laugh. "I do love you, Kaoru." He gently patted her tummy. "And you too, little one."
The two of them walked along in a companionable silence, taking a short cut through the alleys and little side streets. They were passing by the back of a local teahouse when Kaoru gave a little yelp of surprise and tripped.
Kenshin caught her before she hit the ground and steadied her on her feet. "Are you all right?" he asked for the umpteenth time.
"I’m okay. What was that—" Kaoru looked back and saw that she had tripped over someone’s leg.
A dead someone.
She gasped. "Kenshin! He’s—"
Kenshin knelt on the ground and turned the dead man over. An empty flask of sake lay near his hand, the spilled contents already dried away, leaving a sour smell in the air, mixed with the scent of blood. There should have been more blood there. The man’s throat had been torn wide open, his jugular ripped apart. But there was hardly any blood left in his body, the empty veins practically visible through the ashen pale skin.
Kenshin went white when he saw the dead man’s face. "Oh gods…" he whispered.
Kaoru put a hand on his shoulder. "Kenshin, what is it?"
"This man," he murmured in stricken tones. "This man was the same one I saw in my dream last night."
The man that I killed…by drinking all his blood.
IN THE NEXT CHAPTERS: It’s time to bug Saitoh (Finally!). Father Rosetti’s friends finally come to town (thought I forgot him, huh?). AND SCHIZOPHRENIA!! PSYCHOSIS!! SPLIT PERSONALITIES GALORE!! Wahahahahaha! Um. Excuse me. I’ve been listening to too much Castlevania soundtrack music. Symphony of the Night is sooooo cool!
I’ll leave you now with an excerpt from this wonderful OST from the old TV show "Beauty and the Beast." Read the lyrics and think about all those wonderful connections. Sorry, I don’t know who the singer is or the songwriter. Can anyone out there give me the info on that? Thanks!
"For all my life and forever,
There’s a truth I will always know.
When my world divides and shatters,
Your love is where I’ll go…"
--"The First Time I Loved Forever"
Beauty and the Beast OST