Disclaimer and a Note: I claim no rights to Rurouni Kenshin and this short fiction is simply in honor of a dear, kind soul and all that he has done.
Something had changed. How, he wasn't sure. When, he wasn't quite sure, either. Why, he had a decent guess, but wasn't willing to admit it, at least not yet. What he was going to do about it…that he was still debating. He'd experienced situations like this before, dealt with them in similar manners, and then forgot about them. Or tried to, at least. Perhaps he could do the same here, but…he was rather unwilling to do so. It would require his absence and the discarding of this place, with him being discarded in turn. He couldn't do it this time, for now…
…now this place was home.
It had felt so right to him, so perfect. The well-worn roads, the buildings so lovingly—or perhaps not so lovingly—kept, decorated in the bright, foreign colors that gave life to everything, action and emotion. The glorious, subtle shine of the sun in the morning, the gentle, kindly touch of the breeze upon his cheek, caressing his skin like a mother long forgotten. The sparkle of the blue-tinged river, the flow laughing over smooth stones in a constant, almost joyous motion.
Even the sakura trees were beautiful to him, though perhaps not so beautiful when they fell.
And the people, too…yes, the people. They were alive, living their lives in this era, safe…for now, at least. They could go on, they could change the world, they could be themselves. They could experience freedom and choice, pride and success; they could experience their homes and children, their dreams and realities. They could experience failure and despair, loss and grief, anger and hate; they could experience hope. They could wake up in the morning, the forgiving, unchanged sun filtering through their windows, and know that the malleable world was awaiting them outside.
This was the home he wanted; the one he had never expected to have. This was a place where people were not at war; it was not perfect, not to most people, but to him…the dead did not line the streets, children did not live in fear, parents did not disappear in the night. Though injustice still existed, it was no longer accepted as how things should be. Fires did not burn homes, lives were not destroyed with such disregard as one would show an insect.
He was not a hidden hitokiri with blood upon his hands. Not as he had been and he did not intend for it to ever be as such again.
It had been a long, terribly difficult road here. Many had been lost; indeed, the price had been high and mistakes had been made along the way. There were some things he wished he could have changed; a good-bye with an added word of truest feeling, destinations reached just a little bit sooner…deaths prevented. He had almost lost his path, almost given into a part of himself that he swore never to yield to again. It had been in desperation, really; how else would he have prevailed in the end?
How fortunate it seemed, then, that he had found another way. Or rather, that another way had been presented to him. Without it…he shuddered, truly shuddered in his mind and in his heart, to think of what might have been. He would have lost so much…so much that he was unwilling to lose. Not only that, but others would have been so wounded by him had he done so. It might have even been considered selfish, what he had been willing to do. To think that his life meant nothing, that it he could so easily sacrifice it; true, his cause had been noble and worthwhile, but to lose everything else would have done more harm to himself and those around him than he was willing to allow.
And if he had done so…he wouldn't have been able to come home.
However…something had changed here, in this place he now considered home. It had been subtle at first, hardly noticed. A few whispers here and there, quick exits on the street. Perhaps a closed shop, or a hesitant storekeeper who would not quite meet his questioning eyes. Children, even, did not visit him as often; and, when they did, they started to say something, start to ask some burning question, then stop, covering their mouths and almost, almost, revealing their horrified expressions. Then, as if they had done something wrong, they would leave his vicinity as quickly as possible, gazing back over their shoulders with wide, hidden gazes.
The phenomenon had grown steadily over the last three days, becoming something he could no longer ignore. The townspeople were incredibly leery of him. Not exactly what he was doing, but as to how they acted towards him. There seemed to be words they would not say, or actions they would not perform. If a woman was bending over some sewing project just within a kimono shop, at the sight of him she would suddenly put her work aside and bow her head, doing her utmost to avoid looking at him. Feeling an unwanted twinge in the region of his heart, he would, in passing, strike up casual conversation, be it over the weather or the status of her place of employment.
And, every time, said woman, or man, or whoever it was, would answer in short, clipped sentences, as if afraid to go on in depth. Then, when he could no longer bear it, he would politely excuse himself and continue on his way, wondering and worrying, though it would not show on his face.
Yes, something had changed, and he could guess the reason why, but he…
Was he really afraid?
…he knew the answer.
This morning, he knew, would be the one. He knew it as soon as he slid aside the door to his room, gazing out into the gold-dusted hall with questioning, violet eyes. Everything was quiet and that was not normal. There was no smell of her cooking attempts wafting through the air and that was not normal. And he felt none of their comforting presence, nothing of those he held most dear and that was not normal…
…it was wrong.
And he could guess the reason why.
Did they…after everything…could they really?
He didn't want to think of it that way, didn't even want to consider it, but…he had to. Too much had happened, too much in him had changed, too much had been unavoidable. It was possible…he knew it was, but he didn't want it to be. Maybe he was…paranoid. It was almost embarrassing to admit to such a thing, but he was. He might have been entirely able to believe in the good of people, but not necessarily in their rash actions. Rash and foolish and so damaging that he couldn't help the whisper of sadness that flickered in his eyes.
He didn't want them to be afraid.
She couldn't be…could she? No…no, that was foolish. Perhaps she had gone to reason with them, although her 'reasoning' would more than likely result in several needing medical care. He would carefully calm her with a smile on his face, taking any abuse as she worked her way down from the height of her anger and, later, apologize for her actions with a lowered gaze and a blush spreading across her cheeks. He would then comfort her, say it was no problem, and they would both know it was just how she showed her feelings to him, proved to the world who it was that she cared for.
And yet…why wasn't anyone else here?
"They have gone to help…"
It was entirely logical, entirely probable, and more than likely, but…why did it sound false? Perhaps his fear was working against his confirmed perceptions…but, for that to be true, he had to admit to the fear first. And, as true as it was, he didn't want to say it; not to the sun-warmed air he emerged into, not to the un-swept path his sandals scraped over, not to the deserted street that welcomed him with silent, empty arms.
Not to himself, even though he already knew.
It wasn't just the dojo thusly affected; no human being was in sight as he made his way down the main avenue, no trace of movement save the rustled scattering of stray papers long forgotten. Here, an overhang flapped in the breeze, low, accusing, unfeeling. There, a door rattled on its hinges, loud, angry, restricting. The soft, lonely sound of his own steps, the flashing of gleaming red at the corner of his vision that seemed to be hiding just out of his sight. The weight of the weapon at his waist, an accumulation of all things; protection and life, memories and death, regret and a newfound fear that crept up his spine and lodged itself cruelly in this throat.
There was no way it could be true, but neither could be this scene. No one and nothing, a visual reprimand that stung at him like a living thing, cut a small tear in his heart that ached more terribly than any wound. This was one of the things that he could not heal within himself, a pain that he had no control over for it was the pain of others, their fear and doubt and mistrust, reflected back on him.
His fear was visible now, a shaking in his hands and a wide, searching look in his eyes that many would never suspect of being possible.
He himself almost couldn't believe it; him…afraid? Of course, he had been afraid before, but never…never for anything such as this. He had never thought this scenario possible, a terrible fancy so far from reality that to even dwell upon it in passing was wasteful and foolish.
How much a fool he must be now and how wasteful the steps he made through a refusing town, his very presence unwanted and unfair. It was all he could do to keep from turning where he stood, taking the path of retrospect beyond this place and life, into a realm he knew all too well and a continuing indecision that would never be satisfied. Especially now, with a home left behind.
Really? He had never made sure…would he be proven differently now? He…he didn't want to be. This truth would be too painful, too…unbearable. Too much of what he had always feared…
The force of it upon his heart was enough to stall his steps, to cause his breath to shudder into his lungs, to make a pale fist clench at magenta fabric. It wasn't defeat that tore at his mind as an accountable occurrence; it wasn't his death that shifted in ugly waves against his perception. It was only their hatred, their fear, their denial of him and his offerings of peace, all that he tried to do, that ate at his very soul, that consumed the kindness in his eyes and left only a glaring, amber gleam that struck with sharpened blade to all separated from it.
To face that degradation that brought forth a defense more deadly to the innocent, naïve realm of home that an instinctual terror coursed through him at the possibility of its awakening.
Quite suddenly, the muscles in his slender legs tensed to run, the arctic grip of dread and silent lamentation preparing him for a flight already fled. Courage was not the proper method for combating this undeniable menace; only comfort, the easing hand of another upon his shoulder, murmured words of solace to chase away the darkness. What he wanted, what he needed with a frightened desperation was an understanding embrace, tender arms about him that did not judge…only cared.
It wasn't' true, it couldn't be, there was no way they had rejected him…they couldn't be afraid, they couldn't hate him…please, no…
In an instant, he had turned, had readied himself for something he would regret throughout all of his years, when a small movement, hardly more than the soft rustle of fabric, escaped into the still air. Even as insignificant as it seemed, his still-keen senses caught it with all the desperation of a starving man seeing a few scraps of food, and spun around. Violet eyes, bordering on gold but the unwanted gleam fading slightly, beheld a tiny hand, and child's pale skin with a wide, mahogany-colored eye that quickly disappeared back into the dark recesses of…
For a moment, he felt incredibly foolish. He hadn't even realized where he was; thinking about it, he wasn't even sure how long he had been standing in the middle of the street in front of the eating establishment, wallowing in his doubt. Now, he saw a way to confirm or disprove all that he was feeling, all that he so shamefully suspected and feared with all that he was; a way to remove the anguish hovering at the edge of his heart, just as lethal gold hovered at the edge of gentle lilac.
One hand resting on the hilt of his sword for irrational, needed comfort, he slid the door aside and stepped through, forcing away the hesitation with the discipline he had paid dearly to obtain. In that fraction of time, uncertainty warred with need, fear fought for supremacy over faith, reason engaged in a deadly duel with a reinforced emotion, regret began to fall beneath the white-gleaming blade of hope. In that fraction of time, he knew again all the throes of denial and sorrow-laced love, the endless paroxysm that held him in an unyielding grip of circumstance coupled with a destiny that was hardly known but felt just the same. And a life continued to live though missing an integral part most needed but found elsewhere only to be possibly lost again.
It lasted less than a second, but it was very nearly enough to cause him to turn once again for fear of all that could be…
…so it was fortunate that he did not.
Through his shock, he idly wondered how so many people could be gathered within the rather limited confines of the Akabeko. True, the dividing walls of the separate eating areas had been removed and the kitchen doors flung open; even the rear service entrance was now an unrestricted passageway into the alley beyond. And, as he stared with such astonishment, he saw that the shops and establishments behind and aside it were done as such, walls capable of being removed gone from their frames to allow the dozens upon dozens of people—very nearly the entire population of Tokyo—access to a connected string of structures. The end result was one massive space for a gathering…a gathering that now had its guest of honor.
For several minutes, nothing more was said after the initial announcement and several attendees in the rear stood on their toes to inspect the fore, wondering what was wrong. In the end, it was several persons, either already near or shoving their way through the crowd, who remedied his stunned and overwhelmed state.
"Wow, would you look at Kenshin? Do you think we scared him?"
"Nah, he's just…err, what are ya doing, Kenshin?"
He tried to move his mouth, tried to find the words, but there were none to be found. After several false tries, a voice which owned stern, kind eyes of deepened teal came to his rescue, choosing instead to explain the situation rather than ask an explanation of him.
"Sorry about acting so strange the last couple of days, Kenshin, but we didn't want you to find out. We'd been planning this ever since we got back from Kyoto, but only started putting everything together this week."
Another voice picked up for her, a stranger to him but one who seemed to know all that was going on. It appeared that it didn't matter that this person didn't know him directly…
"Nearly everybody in town was working on one thing or another; the celebration kimonos, the food, the decorations. It was really hard to hide it from you. Even if someone wasn't working on it, they still knew about it, even the children, so we had to be real strict to make sure it was kept a secret."
Another voice, just as knowing and unfamiliar to him, but that was becoming of less and less consequence…
"We wanted to do something, anything for you. We might not know all about who you are, or what you're really doing, but that doesn't mean we don't notice something going on. We're not sure what it is, but we know you play a part in it."
Smiles were directed his way; relieved, happy, comforting, caring, understanding…
"So, even if we don't have all the details, we're still aware of everything you've been doing to help us. It's become so peaceful here and we know that's mainly because of you. You've been protecting us, helping us, making sure it's safe for our kids to play in the streets."
There was a general shuffling among the crowd and one small girl in a violet kimono—dusted with tiny golden butterflies—came forward, something cradled in her arms.
"When you left, we knew it was, not only for us, but for everybody in Japan. Knowing that, there was no way we could let you return without telling you how we feel. And, even though it isn't much, we want you to have this, as proof of our gratitude and thanks…very deep thanks that you're here for us. And also…"
A soft spattering of laughter all around which mystified him as he took the bundle in his pale, shaking hands, violet eyes still wide with mouth hanging slightly open.
"…also, as a kind of request; that you don't leave for a long, long time, mainly because…well, we don't know what we'd do without you to show us the kind of people we should be. So, arigato, Himura-san."
Gazing with glistening, pure lilac eyes at the fragile wind chime in his hands—the clouded glass patterned with doves, delicate wings spread over the elegant kanji for protector and friend, the small strip of silk the exact same shade as his gaze, though touched with silver—all Kenshin Himura could think to say was, "You…are welcome…that you are."
And so great was the joy and relief and hope and faith and life that he was certain it would overwhelm him, sending him tumbling up and over all the terrible things in the world to a place in the heavens where love was constant and harmony expected with laughter floating through the air on waves of unbroken peace.
In truth, it did, and a single glistening tear of his own thanks, soft and kind and happy, fell upon the their gift to him from the deepest part of his heart.
If there is anyone in this world who happens to find something, well, wrong with the nature and overall theme of this fic, then know right now that I don't give Michael Jackson's prosthetic nose. This was purely for Kenshin, because I think he deserves a little happiness. So, I gave it to him and I feel damn good about it. And, even with all the run-on sentences, I think it came out fairly well (if I do say so myself).
If you have anything to say that is not a flame (if it is, it will be laughed at by me and, if I show her, probably cussed at by my mom), then feel free to do so. I hope other people out there enjoy this, as I have enjoyed (very much so) writing it. ^_^
Rem-chan, 6th of November, 2003