I've always watched over her, from the very first day I stepped foot in the dojo. From the moment I saw her, her eyes, her smile, I knew that I was destined to protect this girl. She was so trusting, so gentle, and strangely wise for her young age.
At first there were questions, timid suspicion... but it all seemed to melt away when I smiled at her. And she would return that smile so easily, taking my hand to lead me off on a new adventure she designed for me. Always trying to keep me smiling, she was. Not much time passed before she trusted me completely, never doubting my word, never questioning my advice.
I felt so deceptive.
So many secrets I have hidden away. So many things I could say to her, to any of them. So many times should I cringe and pull away when she takes my hand, the same hand that was stained with the blood of hundreds of men.
Manslayer. You have no right to touch her.
But I do, I still do. Her laughter brightens my days, her childish delights never fail to bring smiles to my face. I am too weak to suppress what I feel when she looks at me, her bright eyes filled with trust and - though I hate to admit it - love.
Yes, there is a great deal of love in those eyes. I fear it.
Genzai-sensei told me how she reacted when I left for Kyoto. Her tears, although I was not there to see them, echo in my mind. I cannot stand the thought of her crying for me. Why should she worry so much? I was not there long enough to leave such a lasting impression on her.
What did she see in a man like me?
I try to ignore my thoughts and turn back to the laundry, anxious to finish before the water cools. It is winter now, the beauty and dangers of summer long past and fading into the silence of colourless death. My breath is cold as it leaves my mouth, and the chilling wind stings my exposed, damp skin. I need to hurry and get my chores done; I certainly can't afford to get ill now. Kaoru-dono would not be happy...
But still, I can't help but watch her. She is chasing Yahiko around the yard, their footprints carving a path through the thin carpet of snow. She is laughing, and even he cannot keep the smile from appearing on his face. Even in the cold and the snow, they are smiling.
She is so sweet, so innocent. But she is an iris, isn't she? The iris is known to bloom even in the darkest of weather, the coldest of storms.
Even when it is a rain of blood...
Okami-san called Tomoe an iris, once. Such a beautiful flower, strong and untouched by the crying rain. She never knew that I would be the one to cut that flower down, mingle my tears with the draining lifeblood, hold her close to my scarred heart as she wilted away and died. Broken flower. Crimson iris. All by my hands.
Within the water, my hands begin to shiver, though not from the winter wind. I plunge them further into the bucket, searching for another article of clothing to wash. Always washing. Constantly finding something to clean, almost as if I seek to cleanse my own hands -
- my own soul...
But no amount of cleaning can free me from the bonds my actions have created around me. And nothing can change the fact that I am - and will always be - guilty of the crime of manslaughter, however blindly justified it may have seemed. The wounds on my heart, and the scars on my cheek, have become a reminder, one that will never disappear. And these hands - the same hands that caused those scars, killed the ones who embedded their lives into my own - will never be clean enough to touch her.
And yet... I do. I still do...
... because a part of me will always want to. I want to share her innocence, borrow her kindness and revel in the trust she places in me. I want to learn how to depend on the love she has for me... for me, someone who does not deserve to have love of any kind, after what I did to the first person to love me in all my dark days as a manslayer.
I can sense her approach, and so am unsurprised when she wraps her small hands around my damp, ice-cold arm, beaming brightly as she looks up into my eyes.
"Ken-nii! Come play with us!"
I smile, hiding the bitterness and my darkening thoughts. "All right, Ayame-chan, I'm almost done..."
She merely frowns impatiently, her enduring expression changing into a soft pout, then carelessly shrugs it off, returning to her game. Instead of finishing the laundry, I watch her for a moment longer, her smile contagiously passing on to me once again.
My iris in the snow. Never will she be a wilting flower, stained crimson by the blood of my hands... so long as I am here to keep her from that fate.
"Ayame" translates to iris. I thought that was interesting, and so this fic showed up. I think that there must be a few names Kenshin hears every once in a while that reminds him of the people in his past... I may write more of these. ^_^
Well... I never SAID it was Kaoru! And this supposed "love" that Ayame has for Kenshin is pure sisterly. So don't read too much into it, okay?
The references to Tomoe as an iris comes from the Kenshin OVA.
Thanks for reading.
Written January, 2003