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.

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Peace, In Your Arms

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

Akai Kitsune

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Part II

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Fumio proved himself to be a very talkative child, and Kenshin was surprised at how easy it was to slide back into his cheerful, more casual mindset; the same mentality he had used when living peacefully in Otsu. Children liked him, usually, and he had missed his days with the sons and daughters of the village people. He missed his days with Tomoe, the peaceful existence they led day by day.

'If the war was over, we could go back...'

"Niisan?" Fumio squeezed gently on his hand. Kenshin looked down in surprise; he couldn't recall the child even taking it. "You smell funny."

Kenshin almost fell over. "Ano..." taking a quick glance at himself, he suddenly realized with horror that his clothes were stained with the fresh blood of the Shinsengumi. "... I know. I'm sorry."

Fumio shrugged, smiling again. "It's okay. My dad smells like that sometimes." his small fingers twitched in his grasp, and it was Kenshin's turn to squeeze in reassurance.

'Strangely, I'm glad... you don't have to see him... us... like this... covered in blood... the blood of men we have killed...'

'Children should not have to see such vicious bloodshed, especially from the father you love enough to follow him into danger... there is far too much of it in Kyoto these days... I almost... envy you...'

"It's so cold out..." Fumio shivered, drawing closer to him as they walked. "I wish it was spring. I miss the sun."

"Nani?" Kenshin asked, puzzled.

The boy laughed softly. "I can't see it, but I can feel it... it's always warm, and feels good on my skin. Right?"

"Aa." Kenshin murmured, smiling. "I like the sun too."

"That's good. Anyone who doesn't like the sun is weeeeeeird..."

This caught Kenshin off guard, and he laughed, quietly, so as not to arouse the attention of any more enemies, but loud enough for Fumio to hear.

Fumio stared at him, delighted. "Oniisan, you laughed!"

"Eh?"

"You seem so dark, I didn't think you would laugh." Fumio released his hand, skipping ahead cheerfully. "And the night's not so scary when you're happy!"

Kenshin nodded distantly, surprised by the outburst himself. "Aa."

In the corner of one eye, he noticed Fumio rushing headlong into a wall, his stick waving in the air, and Kenshin panicked. "Fumio, dame!"

The child started and whirled around, blinking in confusion. As he turned, the staff he held struck a display stand, knocking the support from beneath it. Both winced in silence, as the contents of the display came crashing to the ground.

"Ano..." Fumio said after a moment, when all was quiet, "That was stupid of me, wasn't it?"

Kenshin didn't answer. Extending his senses, he searched with more than his eyes for the presence of enemies who might have heard. He heard pounding footsteps in the distance, and groaned audibly.

"Oniisan?" Fumio stepped over, concerned. "Are you okay?"

Kenshin grasped his hand and pulled into into a side alley, his mind racing and calculating where they could go, where they could hide, to be safe. Fumio gasped, frightened, as he dragged the boy into a side alley, but his voice died down when Kenshin covered it gently.

"Fumio, listen quietly for a moment. There's someone coming. I don't think it's safe... so, whatever happens, just hide here and stay quiet. Alright?" the blind child nodded, biting his lip in fear. Kenshin ruffled his hair in reassurance, then stood, pressing his body against the shadows of the wall, and waited for the approaching patrol.

The part of him that was Kenshin cried out in fear and despair as the remainder of his earlier pursuers made their way down the alley, carefully inspecting Fumio's scattered mess... and the part that was Battousai screamed for their blood.

'No... I can't attack. Not with Fumio here, so close... he might leave the alley and interfere, he could get hurt...'

'No point in killing when it's unnecessary...'

Thankfully, Fumio was a wise child, and he stayed quiet as the patrol passed by, without questioning who it was or if it was safe to leave the alleyway. 'It is a frightening world for children, now.' Kenshin thought sadly, as his eyes followed the guards' every movement. 'They are able to understand when speaking out will get you killed...'

'But... perhaps it is not all lost...'

'He gave me his name... asked for mine... as if it were still a safe, trusting world...'

One of the Shinsengumi stepped away from the others, eyes dark and caught in the fierce mindset of the hunt. Without hesitation, he spoke out into the night. "Whoever is there, show yourself!"

From behind him, Kenshin heard Fumio utter a soft gasp.

And suddenly, his heart began to pound. 'Oh no, oh no, please no, don't tell me-'

"Tousan?!" Fumio jumped up, rushing forward, one hand on the wall to guide him. Kenshin shut his eyes tightly and moved further down the alley, allowing Fumio to pass and seeking shelter as far from the guards as possible.

'That child... he's going to tell them...'

"Fumio! What the hell-?" Fumio's father whirled around, sword half-drawn, as the child stumbled out and stood before him.

The other Shinsengumi approached, puzzled. "Sekozawa, what's going on?"

Sekozawa waved a hand to the child. "My son- Fumio, why are you walking the streets so late? Where's your mother?"

"She's at home." Fumio was smiling brightly. "I went looking for you! When you go out at night, I get scared sometimes... because you didn't come home. But I found you!" he turned towards around, trying to remember where the alley was. "Oniisan, come meet my father! I found him!"

Kenshin quickened his pace down the alley, then suddenly stopped. Dead end. His heart was racing, fear and the gradual understanding of what was about to happen filling his mind. 'I'll have to rush out... a battou-jutsu should take care of a few of them, they'll be caught off guard if I go carefully...'

Shaking those thoughts away, he rubbed his forehead. 'No, no! Fumio is there, I can't risk hitting him... but if they see me again, in this enclosed space... I'll have to attack...'

'Oh Fumio, why did you reveal me...?'

He took a quick glance at the side walls, measuring the distance. 'There's just barely enough room to unsheathe my katana... not enough to fight directly, but if I can catch them unaware...'

Slowly, moving in complete silence, he moved towards the entrance. One of the guards, holding a lantern, headed for his position, eyes wary and dark. "Oi, whoever is down there, come out immediately!"

Fumio's voice followed cheerfully. "It's okay, oniisan, my otousan is really nice. He won't hurt you."

'Fumio...' Kenshin almost smiled, though he knew it would be an unhappy expression. 'If you only knew how much they hated me...'

'Though... I'm sorry that you will find out in a moment...'

His sword glinted in the moonlight, and the man holding the lantern was dead, his alarmed shout making a slight gurgle as it left his throat. The lantern fell to the ground, smashed, and they were left in darkness again.

"Dammit - who are you?" Sekozawa demanded, shoving the child behind his body. "Show yourself!"

Kenshin stepped forward, out of the shadows. His katana was unsheathed, and unmistakably stained with fresh blood.

"Oniisan?" Fumio sounded frightened, now, his blank eyes gazing in the direction of the scream, hiding behind his father. Kenshin almost wept at the fear he heard.

'I'm sorry... so sorry for scaring you...'

'So sorry, for what I am about to do...'

He raised his head, meeting the eyes of the Shinsengumi squad leader. "Retreat," he said softly, wishing for all the world that Fumio was deaf, and could not hear the evident death in his voice. "Retreat now, and you will live."

Sekozawa's eyes widened in shock, shooting a glance at his small son, whose jaw suddenly dropped open. The other samurai turned back to him, eyes narrowing, and raised his sword. "First rule of the Shinsengumi... never deviate from the warrior's path. Retreating is against everything we stand for! We will never surrender to you, Hitokiri Battousai!"

With that response, the battle began. Kenshin rushed into the fray, sword hissing in the wind. One down already, now two, the third resisting the death tugging at his heart. The fourth, trying to force a wailing child away, sword up in defense, for both himself and the boy. Kenshin hesitated; the child's pleads echoed in his heart.

"Otousan, don't leave, don't fight... don't fight with him, oniisan..."

"Don't hurt my otousan..."

Slowly, his sword hand dropped, and they were alone on the street. Kenshin gazed into the eyes of the father once again, nodding slowly. 'I am willing to retreat, to preserve your honour and your son's life,' he spoke silently, praying the man would listen.

Sekozawa seemed to understand, for he too lowered his sword.

Looking beyond him, he seemed to notice something. Kenshin blinked, then turned, cursing.

'Idiot - never let your guard down in battle - first thing you learn-'

He grit his teeth, as the man he had downed just a moment ago struck his left flank with a wakizashi. He spun on his heel, tearing his body away, and lashed out. Sharp steel carved its way easily through the man's flesh, a dark spray of blood hitting his face, and the man was killed instantly. A shout of defiance behind him made him turn yet again, preparing to avoid Sekozawa's charge.

'Hiratsuki... specialty of the Shinsengumi... forward strike, if I avoid it, it becomes a side attack... stay sharp-'

He expected the attack to be fast, painful if it connected. He expected it to be dodged, parried, and defeated, regretted later as a child's grieving cries rang out into the night.

He did not, however, expect that the same boy would rush in front of the sword, voice already screaming for them to stop. His father did not stop. Could not.

Kenshin's eyes widened in shock, at the same time as Fumio's, as the sword thrust its way through his small body, then out. He pulled his own strike, trying to stop the katana from finishing him, but the best he could do was twist his wrist, flipping the blade, to prevent a straight cut into the skin. The attack itself was enough to slam him into the wall, and something - Kenshin dreaded what it was - snapped upon impact. Both Shinsengumi and hitokiri halted instantly, as the boy fell back, his body limp, already growing breathless. Kenshin's jaw went slack; his mind whirling in terrified horror. 'Dead... we killed him? Fumio... is dead...'

"Oniisan, you smell funny."

"Anyone who doesn't like the sun is weird..."

"Oniisan, you laughed!"

- the sword - through his body -

- through his body -

A voice was lifted to the skies, screaming the child's name... and Kenshin wasn't sure is it was the boy's father, or his own.

His body began to move, robotic, almost by itself, towards the samurai who fell to his knees beside the boy. His hand went out - 'why, why are you doing this' - towards the other man's shoulder. His sword hand dropped again.

'Naze?'

At the contact, Sekozawa's eyes flashed, fierce anger mingling with remorse, his sword aimed at Kenshin's heart.

'Naze?'

The wakizashi at his waist was out, blocking the strike before it could connect, even as his katana tore through the man's flesh, spreading his dark blood across the already stained alley. The squad leader fell, a soft murmur leaving his lips.

"Fumio..."

Kenshin watched, frozen, and turned his eyes to the swords in his hands. Bloodstained, both of them. Murdered, both.

The alley was filled with the dead.

The air was filled with the scent of blood.

The air of war.

Slowly, he knelt beside Fumio, cradling him close. The boy's body shivered, moved, and Kenshin realized he was still breathing.

Still breathing.

Fumio gazed up at him blindly, his rasping breath visible in the cold night. "D... dare... ka...?"

"Fumio..." Kenshin said softly, voice almost choked off. "Sumanei..."

"Onii... san..." Fumio - miraculously - smiled. "I'm... okay... demo... my... tousan? Is he... safe?"

Without looking at the bodies strewn across the road, Kenshin answered, already grieving. "Aa. He is... safe... gone from here. Far away..."

The child's smile brightened a little. "Mm... otousan... is always okay. He's so strong... and... I'm glad you're okay too, oniisan..."

His hand reached up, painfully, and touched Kenshin's cheek. Left cheek, tracing along the scar. "Oniisan... you still... smell funny..."

Kenshin closed his eyes, treasuring the soft, untarnished hand. A child's hand, covered in blood. So wrong, yet so real, in the era of war. "Aa... oniisan will always be like that. Sumanei."

"It's okay... it makes me feel better... like my tousan is with me..." Fumio coughed, moist red droplets mixing with blood already spilled. "And... I'm glad... I'll see him again soon..."

Kenshin's eyes softened. 'Fumio... so young, yet you can understand it all...'

'Naze...?'

'Why this child?'

'Why is this child dying, and not I?'

'... why am I alive... when this child and his father will be empty and lifeless before morning...?'

"Oniisan..." Fumio whispered, his hand falling back, blind eyes strangely... sad. "Tell okaasan... we're okay... ne? She'll... be sad... d-don't want her to be... sad..."

'Why does this blind child have such sad eyes?'

'Why...?'

He turned away, unable to watch another death, as the sadness and all signs of life left the body of the child in his arms, leaving him alone in the biting chill of the night air.

The blood-air of war.

~*~

Tomoe heard him return, as she always did. She listened, as the door slid open, then shut, and after a moment of silence - he was walking, soundless as death itself - the water sloshed and moved in the sink. She waited, eyes closed in quiet relief, as no sounds of pain could be heard from the room below. Unhurt, or at least without unbearable pain. Waited, until his silent footsteps led him upstairs, and the shogi to their room opened.

Listened, as he whispered her name, a voice full of agonized grief.

She rolled over, gazing at him, concern in her expression. He stood in the doorway, clothes covered in blood, as more still seeped from a deep slash on his left side. He carried his swords in one hand, limp and careless, and as she rose, they fell from his grasp.

His eyes, tired and worn, had the same unvoiced impression of deep, painful sorrow.

She wondered what had happened that night, to hurt him so.

Without asking, she led him inside, gently undressed him, cleansed and bandaged the wound, then helped him into a clean, unstained yukata. Finally, when all was done, she took him by the hand and laid him down, softly pulling his head to her lap. She didn't ask - she never did - which made it all the more important that he tell her.

So he did.

She listened, without anger or accusation, worry or fear, in the silence that he had grown accustomed to. Her fingers twined themselves through his hair, stroking with gentle comfort when his voice broke in pain, a harsh combination of physical and emotional.

- the sword -

- through his body -

'Naze...?'

As he finished, words choking in quiet tears, she still didn't speak, knew more than anyone that all he needed was her presence.

No words of comfort could change this.

Instead, she held him tightly, knowing what tomorrow would bring; rumours, spread throughout the city, the tale of Hitokiri Battousai's bloodthirsty rule of the night... of his merciless slaughter, taking the lives of a full troupe of Shinsengumi and a poor, blind child. And she didn't loosen her hold with that knowledge, because she knew what had happened; she knew, and he knew, and it didn't matter to her that they were the only ones, because she loved him, and him alone.

He would be stronger, tomorrow. He would rise in the morning, make his report to Katsura, receive new orders, and quite possibly go out again when night arrived, ignoring the whispers of the men around him. Manslayer... now a Childslayer.

Yes, he would be stronger, but tonight, he could let himself be weak. He could let himself cry, and hold onto her like a child clings to his mother after being taunted by bullies. He could let himself show the side of him that was still that same child, the vulnerable, sensitive soul of a boy still growing, still maturing. With her, he could return to who he so desperately wanted to be, could regain the childhood lost, and allow the man within him to recoil in disgust at such weakness. But it didn't matter; he was with her, and they loved one another - all, not some, strength and weakness both - so... he could do all those.

He would be stronger in the morning, but tonight, she would lend him her strength; the strength a wife gives to her husband, when all the world wants is to steal it from him and throw it to the dogs for scraps. The strength that, in times such as this, he needed so desperately, believed himself to be empty without. Strength... love... peace.

He found peace in her arms, at last.

And, with her hands in his hair, her arms encircling his body, her voice a soft wind of comfort in his ear, he slept soundly that night, letting her peace take him far, far away from the bloody night air, the air of war.

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And what if I return half-broken
Will you still want me anymore...
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Owari
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Notes: I'll begin by saying that this isn't what I wanted at all. It originally started out as a nice, WAFF-y story, one where I could go all out and express the love between Kenshin and Tomoe. However, my muse crawled out of her hole and was in a foul mood... what can you do? Then this little heartbreaker came to mind, and I really couldn't help it.

Sekozawa: I found a list on the internet which has a great deal of Japanese names. Sekozawa was among the ones that I liked in particular; it wasn't until later that I realized how close it was to the name of an actual Shinsengumi captain (Serizawa Kamo). One of those funny coincidences... or maybe it was just a subconscious choice. ^_^ I may never know.

Fumio: pretty much the same as above... I needed a short, cute name, and this was stuck in my mind. I have no idea why. Maybe because it sounded more original than most of the others?

The idea of Kenshin taking the Shinsengumi on a merry chase around Kyoto as a decoy is the amusing, original idea of a very clever author named Naga, and can be found in her story "The Darkest Shadows, The Brightest Lights". The entire story is a wonderful source of inspiration for my writing about Battousai-Kenshin and Tomoe, and I would definately read it, were I you, because she writes the scene so much better than I do. ^_^ You may notice that the reference to Kenshin as the "Mitsurugi dragon" was also inspired by the same fanfic. I had it on the brain, you can tell...

Thanks to those who reviewed: Calger459, kumo, Fitz, Crystal.