Standard Disclaimers Apply.
"I've had enough of this kid. I'll kill him for this!"
The strong live and the weak die.
"Just kill him brother!"
The strong live and the weak die.
"Nobody will miss him, he's just a worthless brat."
The strong live and the weak die.
"Somebody.....help me.....help.....please!! Shishio-san!!"
The weak die.........
Soujirou flew out of his bed, drenched in sweat. That dream again. He had had that dream countless times since he left that horrible place, and yet every time he woke up completely terrified. It was always just as real as the night it happened. It seemed like forever before his heart resumed it's normal beating, and he fell back onto his futon feeling oddly exhausted for someone who had just woken up. He nearly jumped out of his bed when he heard a soft knock on the door.
"Yes?" He cringed at the faltering of his voice.
"Are you okay? I heard you yell." It was Kaoru.
"Ummm...yeah, I'm fine. I just...um....tripped over the futon."
"Are you sure? You don't sound fine."
"Yes. The fall just knocked the wind out of me. I'll be fine." Soujirou called, praying that he sounded convincing.
"Oh, alright then, just checking. Breakfast will be ready soon and there's fresh water in the bath if you want to clean up."
"Okay. Thank you Kaoru."
He watched her shadow through the paper walls as she walked away and he sighed in relief. He really didn't want to worry her. It seemed like she got worried far too easily, and the last thing he wanted was to cause any trouble.
Soujirou sluggishly crawled out of bed and gathered some clean clothing. He went to the bath house and scrubbed the sweat from his skin, as if washing away the last of the dream. After he was done and dressed, he made his way to breakfast and took his seat next to Kaoru. This was the third breakfast he had shared with them, and it was starting to feel more and more routine.
Throughout the meal he could feel a pair of eyes on him. He looked up to see Kenshin staring at him with a look of concern. After a few moments, he broke the gaze and went back to eating his breakfast. Kenshin was far too perceptive of other people's emotions. He knew something was wrong. Soujirou felt like an open book and Kenshin was reading all of his thoughts and fears. To say it made him uncomfortable was a huge understatement. The meal went by quietly, and soon everyone was done and the dishes were cleaned. Soujirou was heading towards the sanctuary of his room when Kenshin approached him. 'Please don't let him ask. Please don't let him ask.' Soujirou prayed silently.
"Would you like to come with me to the market?" He asked. "I need to buy some food for dinner."
'Thank you God.' "Sure." Soujirou answered with a nod of his head.
"Alright, I just need to do the laundry first, and then we'll leave." And with that, Kenshin walked off. Soujirou felt nervous all the sudden. He had a bad feeling that Kenshin asked him for a reason. There was something on his mind that he wanted to discuss with Soujirou.
It was quite a pleasant day out and people were taking full advantage of it. The market was crowded and noisy. Men, women, and children filling the streets to full capacity. Soujirou had almost forgotten what it was like to be around so many people, and it overwhelmed him. He stuck close to Kenshin, who was walking through the crowds with perfect ease, a pleasant smile on his lips. "Don't worry, you'll get used to it after awhile." Kenshin assured him. The first stop they made was at the tofu stand. They were greeted by an elderly lady who seemed to know Kenshin very well, as the two began conversing. Soujirou stood there silently, waiting for Kenshin to buy the tofu, when he heard muffled giggles. He turned to see two young girls staring at him, blushing and whispering to one another. Soujirou gave them a polite nod and quickly turned his back to them, utterly confused as to what they were giggling about.
"Do I have something on my face?" he whispered to Kenshin when he returned.
"Those girls over there are staring at me and laughing. I was just wondering what they were laughing at." He answered naively.
Kenshin looked over at the girls and gave a small chuckle. "You haven't been around girls much, have you Soujirou?" Kenshin asked. Soujirou gave him a helplessly confused look. "They find you attractive." Soujirou's eyes widened, giving Kenshin the impression of a frightened animal. "Come on, we better leave before they try to talk to you. I don't think you'd survive that." He laughed. Soujirou cast a wary backwards glance at the girls before rushing to follow Kenshin.
The remainder of the shopping went on quite uneventfully, for the most part. Soujirou followed quietly as Kenshin moved from vendor to vendor. A half an hour later, they had bought everything on the list and begun to head home again. As they were walking, Soujirou noticed that they were taking a different route home, a longer route. He was about to ask Kenshin about it, but Kenshin spoke first.
"May I ask you a question Soujirou?" he began. Soujirou nodded his head, so he continued. "Is something upsetting you?"
"No, of course not. I'm actually quite happy. Why?"
Kenshin stopped and turned to him. "Why don't you smile anymore?"
Soujirou came to an abrupt halt, staring straight ahead of him. Why didn't he smile anymore? Soujirou took a few minutes to gather all of his thoughts before he answered. "I guess," he began slowly, "I just got tired of smiling." Kenshin nodded, waiting for him to continue. "After our fight ended, I stood there and thought, 'This is the beginning to my new life, what is the first thing I'm going to do?' And it just came to me, it was so simple. Just stop smiling. I didn't need it anymore, I didn't need to hide my emotions from anyone. So I took a deep breath, and just let the smile drop from my face. I instantly felt different. And it was like a huge weight had been lifted off of me."
"That was over two years ago, and you still don't smile?"
Soujirou sighed and turned to face Kenshin. "After you do something for so long, it begins to lose it's importance, it's true meaning. Smiling was like a tool for me, a disguise to hide my emotions and give me an advantage during fights. I misused it for far too long, and now it has no meaning." And with that, Soujirou continued walking. Kenshin stared at his retreating form for a minute before following.
When they arrived at the dojo, Soujirou could hear the faint yells and the sound of wood hitting wood. He approached cautiously, peeking his head into the room. Kaoru and Yahiko were sparring with wooden bokken, exchanging blows with skill and a sort of grace. Soujirou watched as they attacked and blocked, noticing how much it differed from the style he was taught. Tenken was based purely on speed and was meant to kill quickly and effortlessly. But this style, he observed, was not meant to kill. Attacks were aimed at parts of the body that would disable the opponent, without fatally wounding them. Kaoru called for them to stop and looked towards him instantly, like she knew he was there the whole time.
"What fighting style was that?" He asked.
"That was Kamiya Kassin Ryu. It's been passed down through the family. Father taught it when he was alive, and now I teach it, although my only student is Yahiko. It's based purely on self-defense and fighting without killing."
'The sword that protects. The sword that doesn't kill.' Soujirou had thrown out his sword when he left Kyoto, determined not to kill anymore. He found sometimes that he had missed sword fighting, as it had been such a big part of his life for so long. The thought of picking up a sword again, without the intent to kill, intrigued him.
"Kaoru, do you think you'd have room for another student?"
Kaoru looked surprised for a moment. "You already know how to handle a sword Soujioru. You're one of the best swordsman in Japan. Why do you want me to teach you?"
Soujirou shook his head. "I know how to kill with a sword. I want to learn how to protect with a sword." Realization spread on Kaoru's face and she felt an odd sense of pride well up in her. "Well then, I would love to teach you." She grabbed a bokken off the wall and handed it to him, and he took it with a grateful nod. "Okay, today we'll just start with the basics...."
Kenshin watched as Kaoru instructed Soujirou, who was listening to her with rapt attention. He too was proud of Soujirou. What stood there now was a far cry from the emotionless boy assassin that he fought against years ago. Soujirou had completely turned his life around for the better, and that was not an easy thing to do. Kenshin knew this first-hand. At first he had feared for Soujirou, for all the new things he would have to deal with. But now, he was sure that Soujirou would do just fine.
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