Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin, and most of the characters related to and featuring in the following fictional stories are property of creator and master manga artist Watsuki Nobuhiro, and no copyright infringement was intended in any way in the creation of these projects. Used without permission.

~*~

Peace, In Your Arms

A "The Light of The Snow-Red Village" Side-story

Akai Kitsune

~*~

Part I

~*~

Don't tell me that it's morning
Can we keep the curtains drawn
I haven't given you fair warning
But our ship, she sails at dawn...

And it's true I must be going
But I swear I won't be long
There isn't that much ocean between Boston and St John's
I'm a rover, and I'm bound to sail away
I'm a rover, can you love me anyway?

And if some suitor comes approaching
Will you let him through your door
And what if I return half-broken
Will you still want me anymore?

Close your eyes and dream and tell me what you see
You can tell me what you want, just tell me that you'll wait for me
But, oh, don't tell me that it's morning
Can we keep the curtains drawn
I haven't given you fair warning
But our ship, she sails at dawn...

~*~

There was blood on the night air. Blood of war.

Kenshin resisted the urge to cover his nose against the stench, knowing it would be a futile show of weakness. Instead, he let the knowledge of Tomoe's warmth and sweet plum scent waiting for him back at the inn comfort him and hold him to his post.

'Just a few more hours... if all goes well, I can return to her...'

He could already feel her arms around him... brushing back his hair, banishing the dark and the memories and...

His senses alerted him of another arrival, and he reluctantly retreated from his illusions before he lost it completely. Turning to the side, he saw the leaders of the Shishi had finished their meeting and were ready to return to their own resting house. Katsura's eyes bored into his, asking silently, and Kenshin nodded. 'Peaceful,' he thought to himself. 'Easy, tonight.'

However, experience told him it was nothing but false hopes. The Shinsengumi were growing more and more careful, and they had begun to change their patrols regularly. It was impossible to determine how safe or long the return trip would be. Shaking the last of his daydream from his mind - he needed it clear and alert to do his job properly - he moved ahead of the officials and began the journey through the darkened alleys of Kyoto.

~*~

Tomoe lay awake on the futon, staring blankly at the ceiling. Shifting uncomfortably, she sat up, taking another glance at the window.

'I should be sleeping... there is much work to be done tomorrow...'

'But... I can't help but worry...'

'He hasn't told me anything, but I've heard rumours... the men of the inn have been speaking of the dangers becoming greater each night... and the Shinsengumi...'

No one thought to close their mouths with a woman in the room. No one suspected her of anything. They never had, it seemed; even when she was plotting the Battousai's murder, no one had questioned her presence.

'Now though... not anymore. Never again. I will never again think of killing him.'

'I... I love him. I could never...'

Thinking to where her former alliance and loyalty lay, she almost smiled in irony. How strange, it was. For so long, she had hoped for an end to the war... an end that triggered the destruction of the Ishin Shishi revolution and traitors. Now... she worked dutifully - sometimes contentedly - at a secret housing for the very officials her father had cursed so often. Now, she was the loving and faithful wife of the most well-known and feared Shishi hitokiri... the strongest of their soldiers.

Ironic, yet somehow... fitting. And she could not complain of her role. Not when doing all she could to aid the one she loved filled her with such joy.

She stood, gracefully stepping towards the sill, and cautiously looked out. The streets were empty, quiet as death itself. Nothing moved, nothing stirred. A soft wind brushed against her skin, and she shivered.

'It is cold, tonight...'

'The wind... it felt almost like... a brush of death against my skin...'

'Or... a sword...'

She touched her neck gingerly, almost hesitant. The memory of her husband's blade against her throat so long ago, at that very window, still came fresh when she thought of it.

But also clear and concise, almost as if he was here, standing before her, was the shattered, broken terror in his eyes as he barely managed to withdraw, his sword biting deep into his left hand guard, barely able to stop the attack that would have killed her. Just like he had killed her beloved fiancee only a few months before.

But... he had stopped. He had controlled the vicious intent to take her life, knowing full well that it would destroy the man he had fought and trained to become. Whether or not he was happy with who he was, she was no longer sure.

Sometimes she could see it; the love, the pure and utter joy when he was with her. When she touched him, when he allowed himself to touch her... she felt a sliver of sweet excitement trail her spine. She had long grown accustomed to his tender, almost fearfully hesitant way of love, had come to expect it, look forward to it. There was a strange gentleness hidden in his slight body, just as surely as the strength that had brought him through the war. She admired that gentle touch, loved him even more for the softening in his eyes at each glance in her direction, knowing that it was she, and she alone who brought about this change.

'Akira-san... he was always kind and loving. Demo... Kenshin... I helped him become this... the man he is... my husband... I...'

'We changed... we bound ourselves together and allowed this love to change us...'

Turning her eyes to the night sky yet again, Tomoe knelt beside the window to wait for her husband, to wait for the arms of warmth and love to envelope her.

~*~

He had known what to expect from the night; the others had learned long before. Night was for demons, monsters... warriors like him.

Night was for battle in the shadows.

He had known.

And so, when he noticed the clear presence of a small group of Shinsengumi ahead of them, no one, especially Kenshin himself, was surprised.

"Adachi-san," he called one of the Shishi guards from the back, pointing ahead. "There are too many to fight. We don't have enough men to spare, and a battle would result in both unnecessary casualties and lost time... nor can we afford to put Katsura-san and the others in danger." his eyes narrowed at he watched the enemy guards with deadly calculation. "Take the others through the back passages to Kohagiya. Keep careful watch; there will be other guards."

"What are you going to do?" the other man asked cautiously, as if he already knew.

Kenshin gave him a sideways glance, and merely nodded. Adachi's eyes widened, but he said nothing.

As the guards drew closer, Kenshin lowered his voice to a bare whisper. "Don't move until we're out of sight." Before anyone could react, he disappeared into the shadows for a moment, then rushed out of the alley, sword drawn and glinting in the moonlight.

"What the-"

"Nani? Kuso- aah!" the enemies barely had time to react when his sword swung forward, bringing down two of the men with ease. He paused only to allow them time to recognize him; once they did, there would be no time to rest.

"Hitokiri Battousai-! After him!"

Turning, he flew out of the fray and down a different road, carefully avoiding the path his comrades were to take. If they followed his instructions, and were careful enough, they would all survive the night. He heard the pounding footsteps of those following him, and eased himself into a steady pace so as not to lose them until he was ready.

He closed his eyes for a moment, letting the instincts and memories of the night lead his feet, even as the image of Tomoe awaiting his return gave him the strength and guided his heart to last till morning came.

~*~

The chills brought her back to consciousness, and Tomoe awoke realizing she had fallen asleep at the windowsill. She frowned, guilty and heartsick from worry, and wondered how she managed to fall asleep when she knew her husband was risking his life - possibly in battle at that very moment - for her. She knew it was for her that he now fought; knew it, and felt the saddening weight of that knowledge on her heart. He loved her enough to stare into the eyes of death day after day - and all she could do was clean house and wait for him at night.

Though even that, apparently, was too much for her. Already her eyes were growing heavy, her limbs weary from the day's work and the discomfort of her position. Rising, she returned to the bed and pulled on a heavier hanten, letting the soft fabric settle over her cold skin. So warm... but not enough, not by far. He was warmer... always warmer when he held her. When she held him. She moved to the window again, assuming her former position, and prayed that Kenshin was warm enough... and safe.

~*~

Fleeing into a side alley and pressing his body against the wall, Kenshin watched the Shinsengumi intently as they paused, unsure of where he had gone. Eight of them, now; four, as they split up and went separate ways, some hurrying down the same alley he had so carefully hidden himself in.

Four... it was enough. It would have to be enough.

He attacked in silence, letting the wind takes him through the steps of his swirling dance of death, the jaws of his sword crushing the blood and bone and tissue beneath his uncanny strength. The Mitsurugi dragon was in battle, and from a distance, it may have been beautiful.

'Perhaps,' he thought idly, as the last man fell, his blood staining the ground, a deep gash in his chest. 'But why should it be believed that death is beautiful? That murder... is so glorious?'

'Beautiful... there are so many other things far more worthy of that name...'

Wiping the blood from his katana and sheathing it, he prepared himself to return to the inn. The others would already have arrived; he had given them plenty of time, and the other guards had followed the wrong path. It was almost over, he was nearly safe.

Safe... with her...

Much later, when he had time to consider the occurrences of the night with a clearer mind, he honestly admitted to himself that he didn't sense another presence until he turned the corner... and was knocked flying by someone else's body slamming into him.

He was on his feet in an instant, sword half-drawn to beat back the offender, cursing himself for not sensing it... but suddenly, he froze, as the supposed attacker remained on his knees, deftly patting the ground to get a grip on his surroundings. Small fingers closed on a gnarled rod of old bamboo.

'A child,' Kenshin thought dazedly. 'What on earth-?'

"Gomen, gomen nasai..." the boy was murmuring repeatedly, getting up unsteadily with the help of his cane. "Please forgive me for bumping into you... you were so quiet I didn't even realize you were there..."

Looking more carefully, Kenshin's eyes widened, as he realized the boy couldn't see a thing.

'I've never seen an affliction like that, and it's certainly not a wound. He must have been born with it...'

"Ano..." the child stepped forward, obviously nervous. "Is anybody there?"

Against his better judgement, Kenshin moved forward and steadied him. "Daijoubu, I'm here. Are you all right?"

The child started, as if the contact had been totally unexpected, but he shook it off and smiled. "Ah - hai hai, oniisan, I'm okay. Thank you."

Kenshin hesitated before continuing. "What are you doing out in the streets at night? It's dangerous in Kyoto these days..."

"I know..." the boy responded guiltily, "But I'm looking for my father. He was working last night and didn't come home. Kaasan wanted me to stay inside and wait, but I couldn't, I'm so worried about him." he smiled again, this time with pride. "The Shinsengumi are so brave and strong... and my father is an invincible warrior. But sometimes he goes out and forgets to come back for a few days. I thought that if I looked for him, I would find him somewhere."

Kenshin glanced back into the alley, eyes remorseful, at the four bodies left behind; clothed in the bold colours of blue and white... now stained dark red. Hoping desperately that the boy's father hadn't been one of them, he knelt down. "What is your name?"

"Fumio," the boy supplied with ease, surprisingly trusting for a resident of Kyoto in the midst of the Bakumatsu. "Who're you?"

Kenshin just smiled, wistful. 'If only it was that easy... if only a careless word to anyone wouldn't get you killed...' "Kenshin... you can call me Kenshin." the boy nodded. "I'm sure your father is fine, but you really shouldn't be out. Tell me where you live; I'll take you home."

"Oh no, oniisan, you really don't have to do that. I can get home myself."

'Not when you're rushing through the streets and slamming into paranoid, homesick hitokiri,' Kenshin mused silently. 'I could have killed you.' "It's alright. I insist."

Finally, Fumio reluctantly supplied the directions to his home. Carefully, Kenshin turned the boy around, urging him forward, away from the dead swordsmen.

Home.

'I wish... I... I miss my home. I miss being home... with Tomoe...'

~*~

The sudden, hushed voices she had heard from her room guided Tomoe through the inn, until she finally reached the kitchen. Okami was already hard at work serving tea for the men who had just arrived. Taking a quick glance at the group, recognizing a few of them - Katsura Kogoro was there, along with that Adachi fellow who was surprisingly loyal to his new squad leader, despite Kenshin's past - but unable to find the only one she really cared about. When she sent a fairly begging look in Katsura's direction, he stood and moved towards her, patting her shoulder assuredly. "It's alright, Tomoe-san. He's made himself a decoy again... he'll be back a bit later, as soon as he shakes them off. He'll be fine."

Tomoe's eyes were drawn to the wooden floor, and she bowed and excused herself before she lost her composure. Once arriving in her room, she moved back to the window, hands reaching for the shutters to ward away the cold.

'It's so chilled outside... he'll want to warm up when he comes back. It's no good having a cold room waiting for him...'

'Or a cold wife...'

She sent one final glance out the window before closing it, and let out a soft sigh. Decoy, again. Kami knows where such ideas come from; leading the strongest warriors of the Shogunate around the streets of Kyoto as if it were a simple game of chase between children.

He had always been brave... but this...

'He never wants me to worry... yet he constantly goes out, night after night, and does something like this, foolish and brave and noble and so admirable... my husband... why do you do this...?'

'He will be cold, spending so long in this night.'

She slid beneath the blankets, curling herself close and holding back a shiver.
'He will be cold... so I will keep a place warm for him.'

~*~

Notes: The song that went with it was originally "Easy Tonight" by Five For Fighting, (you'll notice that Kenshin thinks it himself, which is what brought it to mind) but I think it may have been a spur of the moment thing. I had a bit of an obsession for the song after downloading it for a friend, and I suppose I had to use it somewhere... but anyone who knows the song can easily tell that it DOES NOT FIT, besides the title itself. I don't know what I was thinking. Later, after giving it some serious consideration, (and listening to the Great Big Sea CD about fifteen times straight) I decided on "Boston and St. John's"... because I love the group, and I love the song. And it fit. Well, I'll leave it to you to decide.

Apologies to those eagerly awaiting the next part for LSRV... it's coming pretty slowly right now, so the wait will be a bit longer than usual. I have one more part for this fic, and another side-story coming, so that ought to give me plenty of time to finish up, ^_^ I hope, anyway...