~*The Gift*~

            Everything had gone. All that was left of his former life was a pile of rubble. It was so much to take in. Shishio was strong. The strongest. No one could have beaten him…and yet…someone had. The man who had helped him, taught him, acted more like a father then his real one, was gone. Soujiro went back the way he had come, unable to look at the ruined fortress any longer. He felt empty inside. He usually did… but this time he thought he should feel something.

            Soujiro came out of the dark cave and stared up into the blue sky. At least he had a purpose. Somewhere out there, he had to find his own truth. Discover what he really believed…and what he wanted to live by. But what if his truth told him that he couldn't live? What then? Japan, which had seemed so small, now suddenly was too big… and he was lost in the middle of it.

            "I thought you might come back here," said a familiar voice. Soujiro looked down and smiled at the redheaded samurai that stood there. Smiling was just a natural response to anyone, even if he wanted to see them or not. Kenshin Himura was one of those he definitely didn't want to see at the moment.

            "I'm surprised to see you here Himura-san. Your wounds don't look like they've quite healed yet."
            "They've healed enough for now," Himura said, as if it didn't matter. Soujiro mentally shook his head. Coming before an enemy…even a former one…when wounded wasn't the wisest thing to do. It was strange that Himura should do that. But then, many things that Himura did were strange. Soujiro just didn't understand him. Of course he didn't understand anything anymore.

            "You should leave Kyoto soon," Himura said after a while. "They're looking for you, de gozaru."

            "I would think you would want them to find me," Soujiro said.

            "I want you to find yourself," the man said with a smile. It was a genuine smile that lit up his eyes. This man had found peace. A peace with himself. A peace with the world. A peace that Soujiro doubted that he himself would ever find. For a moment, he wasn't sure whether to admire Himura for it or despise him.  Soujiro folded his hands behind his back and knew his smile was there too. As always. Protecting him from the evils in the world…and in himself.

            "I don't think that's possible. I don't think there is a 'me' to find." He hadn't meant to say it. He hadn't even given it a conscious thought. The words had just spilled out of his mouth like something deep inside him was trying to be heard.

            "It does seem that way doesn't it? You feel like you're covered in blood. That nothing you can do will ever take it away.  You feel like the blood has taken away your soul and all that's left is an assassin. It took me a long time to get over it…and there's still something deep inside my heart that doubts that I'll ever be completely human."

            "So you still might return to being an assassin?"

            "No…because I've found something worth living for," Himura said. Soujiro laughed a little.

            "Well Himura-san, I'm afraid I don't have the friends you do." I don't have anyone to bandage my wounds, he thought. I don't have anyone waiting for me to come home. I don't have anyone…not anymore.

            "Yes you do."

            "No. I don't. I know that for sure. You can't fool me there Himura-san." 

            The redhead started to come closer to him. Soujiro tensed. He suddenly realized that he was afraid. A part of him was afraid. But why? He'd never been afraid of Himura before. Don't hurt me. His mind whispered. Don't hurt me. Don't hurt me. I have a dagger. If you hurt me I will hurt you. Suddenly he realized his foot was tapping. He was preparing himself to attack. Himura must have noticed…but the man didn't even look alarmed.

            A hand…on his shoulder. A simple touch. It scared him. And it scared him even more because he didn't know why it scared him. The walls around his heart were breaking down even more, crumbling to dust at his feet. He didn't want them to fall; he didn't want to see what was hiding behind it. Or, even worse, to realize there was nothing behind it. 

            "I'm not trying to fool you Soujiro. If you need help. Or if you just want to talk to someone who knows what you're going through, I'll always be here."

            "W…why?" Again, the words just fell from his mouth without him thinking. It didn't make any sense. They were enemies! If things had been just the slightly different, if Himura had been a little slower pulling out his sword, he would be dead. Shishio would be the master of Japan.

            "Because I like you, de gozaru," Himura said. And he meant it. He meant it. Soujiro laughed again. He wanted to get away. Himura always confused him so much. He had to get away before he lost control again.

            "You're pretty weird and honestly, I don't think I want to see you again," Soujiro said.

            "That's fine too. But here…." Himura reached inside his gi and took out…a top. A little red top. Why was he giving him a child's toy? Now Soujiro was really confused.

            "I don't need it anymore. I thought you might like to use it," Himura said. Soujiro took it, willing to do almost anything to make the man go away. Soujiro put the top in his own gi, bowed his thanks and started to walk away.

            "Take care of yourself," Himura said.

            "I will." Soujiro didn't even stop as he spoke, just kept on going, walking as fast as he could without actually running.

---

            Wrrrrrrr. Clatter clatter clatter. Soujiro watched the top stumble to a halt. It was night now and he'd managed to find himself an inn, but he couldn't sleep. He'd never been able to sleep very well. He took the toy, wound the string around it and made it spin again. It was so simple. So basic. But as he watched the top dance on the tatami he smiled…and something in his heart smiled too.

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Disclaimer: Don't own Kenshin. Wish I had a katana though so I could go around screaming 'Amaka Keru Ryuu no Hirameki!'. Ohhh wait. I dooo have a katana. *eeevil grin*

Night~Mare