Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin or the characters. Someone else does. Please don't sue me.

I ran, the rhythmic tattoo of my heart a wild meter against my chest, the frantic pumping of my limbs driving me forward. The light jolting of my feet as they silently sped me toward my destination, the deep, even breathes, even the bouncing of my hair against my back, every part of my body was keeping time with a single name that beat itself into my mind. Kaoru. Kaoru. Kaoru. How could I be so stupid? How could I let… this… happen again…

An image of another face rose unbidden. It was an image of elegance, grace, poise. An image of a wonderful mystery, that cold beauty, bathed in blood. The picture of her face- so pale and yet so beautiful even in death- that was seared into my brain. Tomoe. I would not let that happen again! I would not see Kaoru the same way. Not another innocent would die because of me! Never again! Never! So I ran, not really seeing what I passed in the anguished haze that was my vision, only knowing where I was going. The shrine; I must reach the shrine. Faster! My anger boils. If only I had been paying more attention! Why had I let my guard down?

An image of blood stained snow. Tomoe… no, this is Kaoru. She is still alive; she has to be. Anger rises again. My blood simmers in my veins. That bastard! If he harms Kaoru…

The beating of my heart an insistent plea, I force my legs to go even faster. The cry of my soul's heart is not the only thing fueling me, driving me forward. It is joined by something else. It is a feeling that I had not wanted to ever experience again, a sensation that I had tried so much to forget. The thing that just a few hours ago I had been carefully trying to resurrect. The stone cold, calculating battle-mind of the Battousai. I want it. I hate it. I need it. I let it overtake me, let the fury and rage turn my vision red. The already frantic pace of my legs grows to a frenzied blur. Kaoru. Kaoru. Kaoru.

~~~

My predicament does not stop me from glaring at my captor. He is waiting for something- waiting for Kenshin, I remind myself- and so I am forced to wait as well. My wrists and ankles are bound in a rope that is equally as rough and unrelenting as his callused hands had been when he had snatched me from the riverbank. While I sit, I observe my surroundings. The wind whispers lightly through the trees that encircle the clearing. The moon is casting an eerie glow over the shrine, giving the place an almost surreal feeling. My attention is drawn back to my captor as the breeze picks up the long light-colored coat that he wears. He speaks to me then, speaks of the man to whom my thoughts have been continuously returning. His voice is not nearly as frightening as his hideous black eyes, but nevertheless his words send chills down my spine. I shake myself, reminding myself that this man, this Jin-e, is mistaken. Kenshin will never return to being the Battousai! His days as a hitokiri are over. He is strong enough to defeat this man without that former ferocity. Summoning my courage, I drive any doubt from my voice and tell my captor this. But in the back of my mind, a small niggling suspicion is forming itself, despite my best efforts to ignore it.

~~~

The shrine! There it is! Caution ingrained from my years in the war makes me slow my steps as I approach the clearing. I force my breathing to return to normal, driving the red haze from my vision as I do so. Perhaps there is still a way out of this, the Rurouni in me hopes. But that wish is quickly banished to an obscure corner of my thoughts. It would be a waste to hope for that, argues a mindset distressingly close to the Battousai's. Either way, I am not going to simply stand here- not with Kaoru's well being on the line. Confident that I have regained enough control over myself, I step into the clearing.

Jin-e is waiting for me. Kaoru is near the edge of the clearing, kneeling with her hands tied in front of her. At the sight of her bound, the precarious control that I have over my rage begins to slip.

~~~

The moment he stepped into the clearing, I could tell that something was different. There was no trace of the gentle expression that he had worn when we first met. The lethal glare that he directed at Jin-e made my blood run cold. I could only watch as he and Jin-e spoke, my fears mounting. Kenshin's increasing anger showed in the low hiss of his voice, the flicker of a color other than violet in his eyes. Despair clawed at the corners of my mind. Jin-e could not have been right! Kenshin had left the Battousai behind!

Then why did his eyes look like those of a cornered animal, ready to strike?

No! Kenshin, don't fight him! I don't want you to return to that hellish nightmare of existence! The two men standing in the moonlit night did not heed my unspoken cry.

~~~

Enough words! Jin-e is not listening to me, and I cannot stand to hear one more mockery from his mouth. The desire of the Battousai pounds in my chest. This man must die! Kill him!

No. No, I gave an oath.

Make him suffer!

No, free Kaoru.

Yes, that I could fight for.

With a battle cry half strangled by relief, half by regret, I charge forward. My initial strikes are blocked, and as I land I feel Jin-e's paralyzing gaze fall on me. Incensed, I have no trouble breaking free from the invisible grasp. "That won't work on me!" My voice is disturbingly coarse, even to my own ears. It sounds like it did those long years ago…

My battle-mind clamps down against this thought, driving it away as irrelevant. I dive forward again, easily reading my opponent's moves and countering them with my own. I see the moment that he is thrown off balance. My blade arcs ahead in a lightening fast thrust, assured to meet its mark. So I thought. It appears that I was wrong. Still in mid-charge, I watch as Jin-e's sword comes around in an unexpected move, driving straight into my shoulder. I cannot completely strangle a gasp of pain. The feeling of cold steel imbedded in my flesh is not a foreign one, but it has been some time since I have experienced that particular bitter kiss. We both stop and I turn, a hand to my oozing shoulder. Once more, Jin-e is talking. Battousai's anger sparks yet again at the sticky wetness under my palm, but I am still in control. I will not let him out; I do not need him in order to defeat this man. Then Jin-e turns in Kaoru's direction.

~~~

It is amazing how much your entire mindset can change in an instant. At first, I was helplessly watching as Kenshin and Jin-e exchanged words, and then as they exchanged blows. I was angry and worried, but more for Kenshin's sake than for my own.

I feel myself growing somewhat confused as Jin-e turns toward me. Then the confusion explodes into panic and shock as an invisible fist seems to wrap itself around my lungs. I can't breathe. I can't move. Every intake of air is agonizingly shallow, and accompanied by searing pain. I feel my eyes go wide. What… is… happening?

~~~

The metaphoric knife in my gut has just been twisted. Kaoru…the fury begins to overtake me. I don't care. This time, I want it to. He had no right to do that to Kaoru…

Kaoru. If it hadn't been for me, she would not be in this situation. If she had never met me, if I hadn't been so incompetent…

The scent of white plum, intermingled with the stench of blood; pure white snow covered in the scarlet color of death… Tomoe.

Kaoru.

Kaoru. No! Seeing Kaoru suffer like that, suffer because of me, is too much. My rage overtakes me; hatred rises like bile in my throat. Once again my vision goes red, anger dancing before my eyes. Everything around me becomes a blur, yet I can see him perfectly. Suddenly, he and I are the only ones who exist. Even Kaoru's labored breathing fades from my ears to join the sound of the rustling wind in the background. I am aware of it all, but he and I are the only ones who matter. It is the strange paradox that is the mind of the Battousai.

He is responsible for this.

With a cry of rage, I rush forward. My movements are too fast for the eye to follow. I know; I can feel the change. In an instant, I have broken Jin-e's nose and pulled away again. The injury I have inflicted on him only inflames my anger, sparking the mental embers that I have been fighting against since the Bakumatsu.

Jin-e is all too eager to fight. He begins to charge, then stops as the full weight of my glare finally registers in his mind.

You fool. Are you still so confident?

~~~

Kenshin…

Are you really so ready to throw your entire life away? Just to protect me?

They're talking again… I want to listen. I want to know what is going on. But it's so hard to pay attention to anything other than this pain in my chest.

So hard to just breathe…

In spite of the pain, I can feel another spark of anger. Kenshin, how could you? You're smarter than you let on. Couldn't you tell that my trust in you was not just because of your ability to protect me? I don't want you to do this! I don't want any of this! Please, please, can't you see that?

It's so hard to breathe…

~~~

I… will… kill… him. If that is what it takes to protect the ones that I care about, I will kill. Kaoru would never have suffered like this if it weren't for me. Almost mechanically, I slide my sword back into its sheath. Had any other man done this, it might have been taken as a gesture of defeat. But I can see in his eyes that he knows it means exactly the opposite.

I am ready to kill.

I watch his expression through half- detached interest. For a moment, he shows an aura of uncertainty. But that passes to be quickly replaced by confidence. He thinks he can beat me. The arrogant fool. The bastard, that snake, the enemy! Kaoru's begging eyes and Tomoe's ever- sorrowful dying ones merge in my mind for a moment. Never again! Jin-e lunges forward. He is fast enough to avoid my initial strike, but he has not accounted for the second half of my attack. The sound of my sheath driving into the flesh of his arm fills my senses as the rush of fury and victory overwhelms my reason.

~~~

I see my captor crumple to the ground. I watch in horror as Kenshin raises his sword arm above his head. The blood soaking through his gi doesn't seem to bother him. He stares down at Jin-e with smoldering gold flecked eyes, ready to give the final strike.

No! My heart screams. Don't do it! Kenshin, you can't go back to that!

My heart beats again. I can feel its feeble attempts in every trembling muscle of my body. I draw another agonizing breath that doesn't even come close to filling my lungs with the oxygen that my body is longing for. It's not the only thing that I am longing for. My vision is hazy; the blackness around the scene in front of my eyes not caused just by the dark night.

~~~

I can see Jin-e through the haze of red. Can see him lying prostrate on the ground. He had thought he could beat me. He thought he was a match for the will of the Battousai. The fool. He will die.

No. The forceful thought pushes its way unbidden into the forefront of my mind.

But it's the only way, the darker part of me responds. Kill him. There is no other choice. He must die, he hurt Kaoru, he has caused you pain, kill him, kill him! I flip the blade in my uplifted arm.

"Die."

~~~

The agony of my situation is closing in on me, my vision tunneling down to those eyes, once so gentle and kind, now the eyes of a monster. He is going to kill Jin-e.

"Die." That one word sears through to my very soul.

No! Don't do it!

A last panting breath seems to tear apart my lungs.

Kenshin, you can't.

An equally painful beat of my slowing heart.

Kenshin…

I need to move! I have to stop him! Move! Move! Say anything! Anything that will stop him!

His eyes flicker gold and the hand holding the sakabatou tenses.

No! Panic sears through my chest. "Kenshin, Kenshin! No!" Suddenly I am no longer sitting in the torture-ridden position from which I have been held immobile, forced to watch the events of the past few minutes. Suddenly, somehow, I am moving, falling, babbling something, only hoping that he can understand. I hit the ground, not even completely sure how I managed to move in the first place.

Kenshin… no.

I can take no more. My senses fail and I fall into tortured blackness.

~~~

Movement in my peripheral vision causes me to snap around. With shock I watch as Kaoru tumbles forward. She is frantically calling my name, telling me to stop. Something in me snaps. I rush toward her, ignoring Jin-e. The anger of the Battousai is forgotten, driven away once again by the worry that is now in the forefront of my mind. I pick her up, cradling her still form in my arms. Kaoru, Kaoru wake up. Don't leave, Kaoru. Oh, I am so sorry…

~~~

"Kaoru-dono." Kenshin's voice, addressing me in the sweet tone of the Rurouni, works its way into my consciousness. I am half-afraid to open my eyes; fearful that I will see a pair of golden murder- crazed orbs staring back down at me. I open them anyway. My heart floods with relief as my watery blue gaze is met by his gentle violet one.

Jin-e has failed. Tonight's moon will not see blood spilled by the man who now holds me to his chest.

I have not seen this episode in some time, but I tried to stay true to the dialogue and order of events. Many apologies if I made a few mistakes. I hope you all enjoyed!