11-30-2001

Title: An Iris in the Rain
Author: Lys ap Adin (lys_ap_adin@yahoo.com)
Genre: Drama
Warnings: Severe and total spoilers for the Kenshin ovas. Blood, gore, angst, death, shonen ai, and politics that I don't fully understand. (Anyone who would like to correct mistakes that I have made will be lovingly glomped.)
Archive: Sure! Just let me know where, ne?

A lot of the dialogue I used in the fic I just posted comes directly from the ovas, and has been modified slightly by me to suit my nefarious purposes.

For Joyce.

~~~
An Iris in the Rain
Part One: A Man Who Kills

 

*Disease is everywhere, in the era and in its people.* Zechs Merquise watched the moon, sipping his sake and reflecting. *Violence increases every day. Regardless of your strengths, the times are unstoppable.*

He grimaced, the taste of the sake turning bitter with his thoughts, and rose from his seat, returning to his journey.

~*~

Due looked up at the tall figure of Helen and her silhouette against the moonlight. Walking beside her made him feel safe.

Sensing his eyes on her, Helen turned slightly and smiled down at him. Duo smiled back. He'd only known her for a few days, but he liked Helen. She was nice to him, in a way that reminded him of his mother. Hirde and Cathrine were nice too, but Helen was his favorite of the three.

At the head of the caravan, he saw movement through the tall grass, and blinked in astonishment as armed men sprang from their cover into the roadway. The caravan erupted into screams and shouts, dissolving into chaos under the assault. The unarmed women scattered, and the men put up what resistance they could, if they were armed. Mostly the caravan members died. Duo watched as a man speared Noin through the back, and then pitched her limp body aside like a doll.

Seeing a sword clutched in the lifeless hands of its owner, Duo picked it up, feeling that he should be trying to do something. He could barely lift the sword, and the point hovered just above the soil. One of the bandits advancing on him grinned at the sight, amused by the resistance.

Then soft arms wrapped around Duo, yanking him back and away from the sword and the bandit. It was Helen; she and Hirde and Cathrine huddled together, shielding him from the carnage. "Don't look," Helen gasped, shaking. "Duo, don't look. You're so young--surely you'll live, you couldn't possibly have chosen. They'll spare you, they have to--"

Over Helen's shoulder, Duo could see Hirde reaching out to the bandit, perhaps to plead for her life, perhaps for his. She screamed as the man cut her down, falling.

"Live, Duo," Helen was sobbing. "Live and make your life mean something. Live!"

Hirde's scream died in a gurgle and a froth of blood, and then the bandit seized Helen by her hair, lifting her up and driving his sword through her throat. She clutched at the blade protruding from her throat, and the man drew it out, letting her fall. She tumbled forward, still maintaining eye contact with Duo, and as she died, she gasped, "Live... Duo..."

The bandit raised his sword to kill the boy, but was distracted by the shouts of his companions. Turning, he saw a stranger, the moonlight glistening off his white cape, cutting down his comrades with clean, efficient strokes that barely ruffled a wealth of blond hair. "Who are you?!" he screamed.

The man sniffed coldly. "I don't introduce myself to dead men."

Duo had nothing left to react with as the stranger slaughtered the bandits, and could only watch him as he approached. *Is he going to kill me too?*

Zechs looked down at the boy, the lone survivor of the caravan, and felt a distant stir of pity. "I've avenged their deaths," he said, offering the only comfort he knew as he wiped the blood from his sword. "There's a village nearby. Go to it. Tell them what happened. They will see to you."

The boy stared up at him with round violet eyes. Zechs expected him to say something, or perhaps cry, but he did nothing. Discomfited, Zechs turned and walked away.

*The smell of blood is in the air... it's common now, and perhaps always will be. Perhaps this is how it must remain.*

~*~

Duo looked at the bodies strewn around him. Go to the village, the man had said. They would take care of him.

Duo touched Helen's cool cheek, considering. He would go to the village, yes... but first there was something he needed to do.

~*~

The setting sun painted everything in shades of blood. Zechs mused that it was an appropriate color for the violent times.

He was on a grim errand. No one from the village had wanted to aid him in burying the dead from the caravan. Zechs felt it was an insult to the dead to force them to become the same carrion as the bandits. With no one else to do it, he'd have to bury them himself. He also wanted to see if the boy were still there; his discreet inquiries had found that the boy hadn't arrived at the village.

Zechs stopped short at the sight that greeted him when he arrived at the battle scene. Makeshift crosses marked shallow graves; there was not a body to be seen. The boy, his hands bruised and raw, stood with bowed head by three stones. Zechs moved to stand by him in silence, until he asked, "You made graves for the bandits as well as your family?" *The boy must have worked all night and day to do it.*

"They were slavers, not my family." The reply was so quiet that Zechs almost missed it. "I wanted to make headstones for Helen and Hirde and Cathrine, but these were the best I could do. They were good to me. I was supposed to protect them, but I failed."

Zechs absorbed this; uncorking his bottle, he poured a libation of sake on the three stones. It was the best tribute he had to give. "What is your name, boy?"

"Duo Maxwell."

Zechs nodded. "It's a good name for a swordsman. Come. There is nothing more for you to do here."

Duo looked up as the strange man walked away, and then to Helen's grave. "Goodbye," he whispered. *I'll live. And I will protect people. That is what my life will mean.*

~*~

The three men were talking about love and lovers as they walked through Kyoto's streets, the two oldest teasing the youngest about his mysterious lover. "She must be something, to tempt you into coming to Kyoto," said the oldest man, a captain in one of the many factions that plotted and schemed against each other.

Trowa Barton's lips curved up slightly in good-humored acknowledgement. "I can't argue with that," he agreed mildly. *Whatever it takes to make you proud of me, my love. If it takes walking through the hell that is this town, so be it. I will make you happy to be my lover.*

"Look at him... Have you ever seen a man so in love?" chortled his comrades.

Trowa waved it aside, knowing that it was only friendship that made them so familiar. "I feel guilty to be so happy in these dark times," he started to say, only to be interrupted when a dark shadow detached itself from the gloom behind them.

"Happiness is rare in this era," the voice agreed. "I hope you have savored yours."

The three turned. "Who are you?" the oldest man demanded.

"I am going to bring about a new era," the shadow said quietly, accompanying his words with the rasp of a sword being drawn from its sheath.

"Bastard! Do you think a sword can create a new world?" One of Trowa's companions rushed forward with his own sword, only to be struck down immediately.

"Captain, stay back!" Trowa warned, trying to step between the older man and the assassin.

"No! I won't let this travesty continue!" The captain stepped forward. The assassin rushed him, dodging the man's attack and ramming his sword up through the soft underside of his jaw and into the brain. Trowa froze, horrified by the spray of blood and brain matter as the assassin wrenched his sword free.

*Must I die? I don't want to die!* Trowa braced himself, parrying the assassin's first attack. The force of the attack knocked him back, slamming him against a wall. He and the assassin broke apart to regroup. *I don't want to die! I want to live!* Panting, he stared at the assassin--boy, really, not the man he had first thought.

"Give up," the assassin told him. "Make it easy on yourself."

"No! I want to live!" Trowa charged him, and time seemed to slow as they charged towards each other. Trowa deflected the assassin's blade slightly; what should have been a killing blow pierced his shoulder, and he had the satisfaction of seeing a long gash open itself down the length of the assassin's left cheek.

The assassin stopped, drawing a finger across his cheek and staring at the blood in something akin to bemusement as Trowa staggered to regain his balance.

*I want to live. I don't want to die. I want to live.* Trowa charged the assassin again, and felt the bite of steel deep into his side for his trouble. He collapsed, still moving feebly. "I don't want to die..."

The scent of flowers was heavy on the air, and he felt light headed as the world became progressively darker. The flowers... made him think of his lover... "I want to live..."

Duo stared down at the man, who was reaching out to something, and quietly made an end of him.

Footsteps pattered out of an alley. "Clean job of it?" Solo asked.

"Aa." Duo turned away, and Solo saw the wound.

"Did you have an exceptional opponent?" he asked, impressed.

"No." Duo looked down at the dead man. "Just exceptionally stubborn." He turned and walked away.

Solo rolled his eyes at the retreating assassin.

~*~

Duo drew a bucket of water and dumped it over his head, rinsing some of the sweat from his face. The water stung where it touched his new wound. What had made the man so determined to fight him? Was it the woman? Duo smiled grimly, reflecting that she must have been very special indeed.

~*~

Standing beside a small fishpond, Treize Khushrenada raised an eyebrow at the sight of the hitokiri. "Someone managed to wound you?"

"It was negligence," Duo murmured.

"Who was it?"

Solo grinned. "Some nobody from the opposition. He's dead now, so it no longer matters."

"Aa." Treize turned his attention back to matters of business. "There is to be a secret meeting, and Noventa and Septem may attend. We may decide our stance."

"Will you need a guard?" Duo asked.

"No, but I thought you might be interested in attending."

"I would prefer not." Duo smiled slightly. "I am a killer; I have no other skills." He bowed slightly. "I will excuse myself now, with your permission."

Treize nodded slightly, and Duo walked away. Exasperated, Solo shrugged and pursued him, while Treize's companion grumbled. "How ungrateful of him. You were only trying to show your appreciation!"

Treize merely sifted some food into the fishpond, watching the sudden frenzy of slender golden bodies as they struggled to the surface for the food, and remembered how he had met the young assassin.

'Kihei-tai?' he had murmured, looking over the practice field full of men honing battle skills.

'They will be stronger than samurai,' Howard had said.

'But will they be enough?'

Howard had just smiled, and nodded his head at one slender youth, whose chestnut hair was darkened by the rain. 'Watch him.'

The boy was staring at a rope-wrapped log easily a foot in diameter. Then he drew his sword and struck the log with a motion so fluid that Treize could almost see the entire arc of the strike at once.

The top of the log slid and toppled to the ground.

Howard had chuckled. 'Your eyes are so wide.'

Treize had turned to Howard. 'That boy... That boy must come to Kyoto!'

~*~

Duo moved down the busy street, sidestepping gossiping women and men hurrying about their business. He was waiting for Solo, who should have another mission for him soon.

The mood of the crowd changed sudden, as a ripple of fear traveled down the street. Duo's eyes widened as he caught sight of the blue and white clad figures approaching. He ducked aside, standing well into the shadows of a shopkeeper's stall.

The crowds parted for the troop of the Shinsengumi, no one daring to even make eye contact with the feared warriors.

Duo glared at them from his hiding place. As they passed, one man in the center of the group turned his head slightly, eyes narrowing.

"What is it?" Quatre asked.

"I thought I smelled blood," Wufei said grimly, as they passed along the street.

Quatre laughed. "Perhaps you've killed lately, Wufei."

"Quatre. You should order your thoughts, and then speak them," Wufei reprimanded him.

Quatre just laughed.

Behind them, Duo stepped out into the street as the normal traffic resumed. Solo slipped to his side. "Look at them, walking the street as if they owned it," he snorted, even as he slipped a scrap of paper into Duo's sleeve. "Hmf." He looked at Duo. "What are you staring at?"

Duo jerked out of his reverie. "What?"

Solo craned his head. "You were looking at something. What was it?"

Duo looked across the street and frowned. "There was someone across the street. I thought he might have been staring at me."

"A spy?"

"I don't know. I'll keep watch."

~*~

The man knocked over a rain barrel as he died; the flood of water gained a reddish tint as it swept across the ground. Duo stared at it, feeling a sting in his own cheek. What he could see of his reflection, before it was washed over with blood, was his own pale face and the scar that still bled. He turned, brushing past Solo, who murmured to himself, amazed, "It bleeds."

~*~

Treize had looked out over the practice fields from the shelter of the building for a long time, ignoring the boy he'd had Howard drag away from training.

Duo had simply watched him, waiting, until the man whirled to face him. 'I want you to come to Kyoto,' he had announced.

Duo's only reaction had been a slight widening of his eyes.

Treize had continued. 'I want you to help me build a new era...' He had paused, confronting something in the boy's eyes that disturbed him. 'But you will have to kill. Have you killed before? Will you kill to build the future?'

Duo's gaze hadn't faltered. 'Yes,' was all he said.

~*~

The cicadas had hummed so loudly that it had covered the sound of the man's body hitting the ground. Or perhaps it was only the blood roaring in his ears. Duo looked away from the body, staring up into the trees.

Footsteps sounded behind him; a thin man brushed past him, inspecting the body. 'I'm Solo, an observer. Your first kill? Some men get sick, or feel faint.'

'I feel... fine. Better than expected,' Duo had murmured.

'Huh. Well.' Solo had given him a cloth. 'We can't dally about here all day.'

Duo had wiped the blood from his blade slowly, lost in his own thoughts. *My first kill...*

~*~

'Master! I want to protect people!' Duo had shouted. 'People are dying, they're miserable! I can do something!'

Zechs snorted. 'You cannot change anything by yourself. Let the world take care of itself. You should concentrate on your training.'

'I won't accept that! We can use the Hiten Mitsurugi to--'

'Kill people,' Zechs interrupted. 'Swords are used to kill people, Duo. We kill some people to preserve others, but the men we kill are still human. Would you let yourself be used as some political pawn, just to serve others?'

'What good is it to stay up here on this mountain when people are suffering?' Duo persisted.

'Go then, protect them if you can--don't bother returning. I can't be bothered to train such a stupid pupil.' Zechs turned away from Duo, concealing his disappointment in Duo's refusal to listen to reason. 'Swords can't create a new world. Remember that.'

'I will protect people!' Duo vowed, clenching his fists. 'I will!' He bowed to his master's retreating back. 'Thank you, for everything.'

~*~

Blood poured through the slats of the bridge, pattering into the water below like rain. Solo half-ran to catch up with Duo. "You're amazing--they never have a chance to scream," he said, voice full of admiration. He stopped. "It's doing it again."

Duo touched his cheek, pulling his fingers away sticky with blood.

"I heard a legend," Solo said. "About a malicious wound... they say the bleeding won't stop until the will has expired."

Duo blinked, and the expression he turned on Solo might have contained a bit of fright. "A malicious wound..." he repeated, thinking of the young man who had died proclaiming his desire to live.

"A legend, perhaps." Solo shrugged. "Treize met with Noventa and Septem."

"And?"

"They argued. Treize may have even struck one of them."

"How unpleasant," Duo murmured.

"Yes. Will you come drink with me tonight?" Solo asked, as they came to a crossroads.

"No," Duo decided. Solo shrugged, and went down the street. Duo continued on into the darkness.

Duo walked alone into the darkness, thinking about his scar. *A malicious wound...* It throbbed with every step, until a soft sound in the darkness distracted him from the minor pain.

"Shinsengumi?" he hissed, ducking the blade and chain that whistled by him. *No, just another who lives in the shadows like me...* he decided, as his assailant came into view.

The bulky man hurled the blade again, and Duo's parry knocked his katana out of his grip. A length of chain wrapped around his throat. The man, sensing his triumph, tightened the loop, tugging on it until Duo's legs began to buckle.

The man moved forward to finish his prey, and Duo jerked on the chain, pulling the other assassin off balance and slicing deeply into his body. Blood sprayed everywhere as Duo sagged, supporting himself by using his wakizashi as a cane and gasping for breath. It was only as the black spots faded from his vision that he looked up and saw the young man watching him.

Blue eyes glazed with shock met violet. Duo clutched his wakizashi, knowing that he would have to deal with this unwitting witness somehow.

Then the young man spoke. "How remarkable..." he murmured. "You made it rain... a rain of blood."

Duo's mouth went dry, and his grip on his blade loosened. The sword clattered to the ground by his feet as they stared at each other. Then the young man pitched forward, unconscious, and Duo was moving forward to catch him before he had time to think better of it. As the young man's limp body sagged in his arms and sake-tinged breath washed over his face, Duo wondered what he was getting himself into.

 

~tbc~

 

Um, comments? Please???