. blue .

WARNING: Character death.

Summary: With an endless sorrow held close to her heart, Kamiya Kaoru, when taken hostage by an assassin known only as the Hitokiri Battousai, changes him in ways unimaginable. She gives him the gift of her eternity and gains the ability to touch deeply the heart of one known as Himura Kenshin as well, staining him with her innocence forever.

"Our souls belong together," she said, " like this gold and this shell -
Somewhere, sometime, on earth or in heaven, we shall surely
And she sent him, by his messenger, a sentence reminding him
Of vows which had been known only to their two hearts:
"On the seventh day of the Seventh-month, in the Palace of Long Life,
We told each other secretly in the quiet midnight world
That we wished to fly in heaven, two birds with the wings of one,
And to grow together on the earth, two branches of one tree."
Earth endures, heaven endures; some time both shall end,
While this unending sorrow goes on and on for ever.

-Bai Juyi

("A Song of Unending Sorrow")

That Endless Sorrow

. blue .

He had met her on a walk through the park. It had been an impulse on his part to take a guarded stroll through the greenery and he had never expected to catch a glimpse of her for the first time. He would never be described as the type for parks, preferring the dingy streets that were a reflection of his nature, one that was easier to blend into. It was the darkness, the narrowness, and the confinement of the City that he lived for, not the open spaces and forfeited masks of deceit on beauty and nature that the City tries to capture and preserve in these quartered spaces.

The skies were red and gold during a brilliant, smoggy sunset. The sky was hardly ever blue anymore, a color he could vaguely recall being told about in his youth. A trip to the country-side far, far away had confirmed it once in his teens but such times had long passed and such memories always held bitter remembrances of other things. Time did not run backwards anyway, so he discarded the memory but the feeling of awe lingered in his mind no matter how far back he pushed it.

He had found her that day on a bench by the lake. Her dark hair spilled over one white chemise-clad shoulder even as her unconventional ribbon tried to pull back the strands, though a few still managed to escape. There was an innocence about her that was a reflection of the park, a stark contrast to the City that lay outside of the confinement, the boundaries set by society. Somehow, it was as if the park had coveted those like her in its embraces before the intangibility of what she represented was swept up by the true nature that the City hidden, for the time being, from those like her.

She had smiled at nothing in particular and rose with a lithe-like grace that was borne of one who learned the way of the sword. Even then he had seen glimpses of her warrior spirit, a stark contrast to the picture she painted. The distant, ringing of bells startled him, the small, silver ornaments sewn onto the sleeves of her pale jacket. He scowled at the hollow, haunting sounds their ringing and clinking made. The very fact that they prevent stealth agitated him, and her foolishness on indulging such girlish whims over simple things like survival made him doubt her abilities.

A swirl of her dark-hair, the flare of her short, blue-skirt - her school uniform - and then their eyes met under the sunset, just before dark. The metallic lights overhead begun to flicker to life as the daylight hours fell away. He blinked and stepped into the shadows he was borne from, even as she ran to him with a curious expression on her face.

Those eyes were so wide and full of wonder for illusions, spilling out with all of her emotions and yet just as unreadable in the shadows... that moment as night met day.

She had seen him and marked him because he did not belong, not with the night wrapped around him even in daylight, a shadow he did not cast off in this make-shift garden. It was a first. He made sure then that she would not find him a second time, but the girl had left a memory, an imprint on his mind of the other side. Like the blue skies glimpsed in his youth, he could not erase her any more easily. It would be a few months later when his lord Katsura would send him the black envelope with the name of her mother written in somber black ink that would change everything. Orders to kill he expected, but the orders to kidnap had set him off on an edge he had never before found himself facing. He had not expected their second meeting to be so violent and bloody, not when she had been so pure during their first meeting. Yet, the judgment of Heaven had decreed it so. There could never be true innocence there, not in the City.

And time never did run backwards and innocence was so easily lost. It was the curse of the City.

It was inevitable.

"I remember you," her voice had a defensive quality to it. She was brash and the feverish light in her eyes told him that she wanted to die. He had long deduced the former on their first meeting, and confirmed it when she had charged at him with all the hopeless rage within her. Her mindless and brazen act had imprinted this impression of her upon him. Her quiet acknowledgment of defeat in their first battle humbled her but only slightly, for the face of her anger, her grief only grew with time. "You were in the park," the blue of her eyes darkened as she narrowed her eyes at him in recognition. "You were following me?" though it wasn't really a question.

Her eyes were red from her earlier tears, but she stopped when she had learned who he was. She had discovered herself captive and the uncertainty of her fate was a goad for her tongue. This woman-child, she possessed a warrior's spirit and a child-like innocence. He would never have imagined himself meeting one like her, a twisted irony of contradictions. Not in his line of work, not until now, he had never guessed her existence to be possible until he had laid his eyes upon her and seen how the other side lived.

He had felt no need to answer her as she was bound quite securely to the bed-post and was equally secure in her position as hostage. The apartment was small, if not extremely cramped. He needed only a corner to sleep in and the size of the place was more than enough for a lone man to survive in without problems. The bathing area was even smaller, but he never complained nor minded. Now stuck with her as his captive though, the place suddenly seemed to shrink.

There had never even been a need for a kitchen. He made a habit to never eat in this cubicle space, preferring the take-out place a block down that was equally run-down. How unfortunate now that he had a tenant he had fiercely objected to receiving, but Katsura had made up his mind and his lord's words might as well be the commandments of a god in times like these.

"You will take care of the girl, for now," Katsura had said with calm gravity, a sad look seeping into his eyes. "Until Kamiya-san acknowledges the position he is in, we can do nothing else." There were circles under Katsura's eyes. The man had never enjoyed killing women or capturing children, but the war was nearing an end if only they could get through this one last obstacle. At least, that's what Kenshin had been telling himself since the beginning, since that was the only way to continue as he did in his profession.

There was no room for a conscience, not for an assassin. So he marked the days passing one at a time, hoping that it would be the last black envelope, the last blood spilt. But it never came, not the last, anyway. There were always more political enemies to kill, more shadows to slither into and a bleaker road to follow in his quest for the hand of Heavenly Justice. That was the City. It had an endless amount of both enemies and darkness. Sometimes, the future seemed to be only filled with more blood and bleakness.

"I don't know what you would want from me," she had spat out with all the fierceness in her words when she could not express it otherwise. "My family has no money, no prestige to boast about-"

"Be quiet, woman." He growled at her, but she was far from deterred.

"Or else what?" she demanded unafraid. Already she had lost much in one day. "You will kill me?" Now she was taunting him with her bitter, mocking words and the tainted laughter of hysteria and hopelessness echoed between them.

He smiled at her cynically and pointed to the bathroom door, "Or else there will be no bathroom breaks for you."

She got a hold of herself then, paling visibly but keeping face. "I guess I'll have to wet your bed then," she said pointedly, her chin held high. She was too stubborn for her own good, he noted. Any other assassin might have killed her by now for her defiance, or punished her severely for her reckless spirit.

He smirked at her, watching the surprise and the outrage flutter across her face. Her face that was so open on joys and sorrows, on fears and resolutions, she was so very innocent still, and so out of place in his cramped life and cramped living space. "You are the only one sleeping in that," he told her with a tilt of his head and his indifferent eyes gazing up to his stained ceiling. "I could care less what you do to the bed. It is yours now, after all."

"You wouldn't dare," and from there the argument was over. What surprised him was how long she had held on, even as she gave in piece by piece. That strength he recognized beneath all the girlish modesty and naive world-views survived, a would-be warrior's strength. It was the beginnings of a strange relationship. It promised him that though her innocence may not survive his world, he would prefer not to see it broken any earlier than necessary. How strange he found himself like the very City he loathed. Strange, what he felt whenever he remembered that smile she wore the day he first saw her at the park. It was foolish to hope the hope that the City would not lay claim to her as it did every other being he had come in contact with that resided there. Still, he had hoped nonetheless for her - a garden in dark of the City - pale and glittering and fragile, though she did not know it herself.

It was an impossible dream, and yet, she made it possible for him to begin to wish for the impossible. He found himself, for once, looking for the blue in the sky and wondering if his voice could be carried to another god, one who was not Katsura, one who did not demand for Heavenly Justice to be dealt. She made him change. And like the vastness of the blue skies, it scared him and rattled him down to the depth of his bones, down to the soul he forgot he still possessed.

Still, Katsura's voice was louder and clearer than any god Kenshin knew, and for that, the Lord's words were law. "You will not escape, better to allow fate to run its course. You are a captive now in this city, like everyone else." He told her one day, after she had attempted to escape again.

"Will you let me go then, when whoever hired you no longer has use for me?" She asked, but it was not a question that held hope or despair. Its simplicity startled him.

"If my Lord commands it," he replied simply in return.

"Even your Lord must answer to someone. A different god I suppose," she had said to him once out of the blue. "Not as human," she had looked out the window that day, "and not as cruel." Her hands were testing the bonds as those words left her inexperienced mouth. The struggle to get out of her bindings was now but a half-hearted attempt to leave, but she had still not given up.

In small, startling ways, she had never given up if he had cared to look.

He had brought her breakfast in bed every day. He never cooked but the food he ordered were decent, far better than what one might have expected from someone who lived in the hole in the wall that he called an apartment. He had cooked for her once, and his skills were far better than she had expected from an assassin, a kidnapper, a murderer...

He was a pretty decent cook, despite their lack of equipment. She had been so indignant the first time she had tasted his food, the thoughts of her own failed attempts to cook for her mother and father were but lingering memories in the back of her mind, taunting her lack of skills in the kitchen; reminding her of the precious, simple things she had lost. Such moments and such memories sustained her, reminding her to hate him a little at the very least for doing this to her, to those she loved. Hated and loved him and ached for him.

Ached at the face she had glimpsed one morning as he rested, for it was a face that had lost the hard edge of wakefulness. She had caught a glimpse of his humanity and she knew then that she had lost. She could not leave here, even if the bindings were gone and she could be free.

She would never be free again, so long as she remembered that face of innocence lost.

"You're the Hitokiri Battousai," she had stated on the second day when he didn't seem to be in any hurry to kill her any time soon. He had been so still under her eyes, but she quickly learned that it was a norm to get used to. "You're going to kill me."

He had grunted. He had later protested under a shrug of indifference, but she was never delusional enough to know that her worth was to expire in just a matter of time. Kamiya Kaoru was not priceless, her aging father's pride would outlast her and their value in family-name would also fade as quickly as their money did, as quickly as their ancestral glory had already faded, and just as quickly, she too would fade when a bullet is placed between her eyes. "That is for others to decide, whether or not you live or die." He had told her at long last, unwilling to give her any names, in case she lived. His naivety had made her smile; an assassin's innocence she could not have guessed without having met him. And this naivety moved her and dug her ache deeper into herself.

"My life was never my own," she had told him one evening when he had came back from his assignment, reeking of blood and filled with guilt. "That is not an option to those born in the City, this city with everything and nothing." It was the first time she acknowledged the world outside the four walls she was trapped within, walls she had never really left. His surprise at her knowing amused her. It was clear that he had thought her so blinded by her inexperience that she could not see what laid waste before her eyes. "In that, I can understand even one such as you, Battousai. Would it surprise you to know that the City understands, and that I understand the City, at least somewhat?"

"You understand nothing," he told her vehemently before slamming the bathroom door shut. His experience had blinded him. Battousai the manslayer, in many ways, was still a boy. He sulked when he lost an argument, was sullen in the mornings from nightmares, and she had surprised him enough, once or twice, to make him cough up a laugh. He was very rusty at the laughing business since he always ended up sounding like he was gurgling, but the smile had been genuine each time.

In many ways he was the child, and she saw that. The City saw that.

"What god do you slay in the name of, Battousai?" She asked him.

"Kenshin, my name is Kenshin." And she discovered then his dislike for his vocation no matter how passionately he believed in its usage for the betterment of others.

"Kenshin," she had echoed and deemed his god but the devil in disguise. He was so innocent. She cried for him that night, but he did not understand why and told her not to pity him, to not be afraid of her fate, that he was sorry for the death of her mother. He didn't understand a thing. She hated him a little for many of the things he begged her to forgive him for, but she had long began to love him a little too for the bits of humanity that remained in him, for the pain in his eyes and that unsmiling face that did not know joy or sorrow or love, but she did not pity him. All she ever did was mourn for him, for the things he could not comprehend about himself, for the things he never had and would not appreciate until it was torn from him (as she had learned when it was torn from her), and all the things he would have to accomplish in the end that would kill him without him realizing it now.

She mourned for the things that could never be, not in the City anyway. The City neither could escape from no matter how far they ran or where they went. She knew that when she died it would be for him. And from then on, she smiled from the moment she woke to see him to the moment she slept with his haunted gaze tucked safely within her. The saddest revenge that would break them both.

For him, she would live.

The black envelope with her name on it came on an ordinary weekday. He had anticipated the moment but still failed to see its coming. He had thought himself ready for the routine of its request but found that he was infinitely unprepared for it. She was drinking tea at the bed-side, smiling at him. "Kenshin," she said, "It's time, isn't it?" Somehow she knew and her innocent question forced his eyes to the window.

"Your father-" he began. Your innocence, those words were stuck between his throat before he swallowed it down.

"I know," she smiled, "for your god my father can do nothing." She didn't understand. The City had killed her father rather than let him live to be of any use to Katsura; the City had killed her father even though he betrayed his own daughter to it, so to let live a bloody-handed government. Someone was onto Katsura's revolution, and to destroy all evidence meant the destruction of her. Heavenly Justice was demanded, and yet, it did not feel like justice to him any more.

She was the only innocent in this entire mess.

"I can't," he wanted to say. But he took up the katana and headed for her. "I will try to make it painless," he said.

"I wish for," she interrupted him before pausing. There was uncertainty in her eyes that he had never before seen. "I wish to die in the way of honor - seppuku." At the look in his eyes she knew he would deny her of that, so her next words were hurried and desperate, tumbling from her lips like rushed water over stone. "For my father, for the honor I could not give to him in life, for never being a son," for loving you instead of hating you, but she never said that. "For my mother, then-" she continued when he still refused her of such a request "-for not being strong enough to protect her." Her eyes told him all that she dared not say, her small betrayals and the large ones she dared not name.

He knew that she wished it because she could not be his enemy even for all the crimes he had committed against her and her family. She could not hate him for coveting her and the innocence that lay dying in this room. She would not hate him for any of it, not even for destroying her life and her soul. It was forbidden, she was a woman and there would be no honor in that type of death for her. She had no master, no lord, and no honor to protect or follow in death. She had no need to suffer any more than she already has. He had seen her bravery. Such a death would not prove any different to anyone, and it would only make him hate himself more.

"No, you're a woman," he said, his eyes darkening in grief.

"Yes," she countered. "Give me this much, Kenshin. I-I—"

"Do you think me a monster still, Kaoru?" He asked her when he found that he could not refuse her.

Her blue eyes had been wide with surprise before they softened at the harshness in his expression and the sadness that only she was close enough to see. "I'm sorry," she apologized in the dark, instead. "I was being selfish, wasn't I?" He didn't have the heart to point out that she didn't answer his question.

It was May, six months since he had taken her away from her home. She had told him once that it was her favorite month of the year because it was when the cherry-blossoms bloomed and fell to the ground in her homeland. The blossoms would fall like boats gliding into the harbor, she had described to him with a dreamy smile that crinkled the corners of her eyes. "Father said one could spend one's whole life looking for the perfect blossom, that it was the way of the warrior long ago." He stared out the window, mouth moving without sound as he echoed her words to the wind. He had been grim then, filled with the misery of the prospects placed before him. At the memory of her words and the look in her eyes, he could not find the will to do what he knew he must. "So long as there is such a search, there is reason for life, Kenshin." Even then, her words were still able to reach him.

He was the one who did not choose to look between the words she spoke.

"I cannot hate you Kenshin," she said to him, "but we both know I can never forgive you." She closed her eyes in the dark so that he could not read her heart. "What kind of world are you fighting to create, Kenshin?" she had finally asked him in the silence that had stretched between them. He blinked in surprise at the change of topic, at the things he had long forgotten. It had been such a long time since he had thought of it, and the knowledge brought a wistful smile to his lips.

"What kind of world would you like to live in, Kaoru?" He asked quietly instead, finding it difficult to remember the hazy and determined person he had been when he had chosen this path to walk. With her innocence radiating like the beams of moonlight in the dark, he could not recall why he had never questioned how things had turned out until now. He could not recall when it had ever hurt this much to choose and to act.

"Me?" Kaoru blinked in surprise, reflecting his earlier expression. A soft look came over her face, less regretful but no less distant. "It would be a world without a need for so much sacrifice," she finally answered with quiet thoughtfulness. It was a whisper of hope that did not even have the chance to echo, but he was close enough to hear it. "Even though life is filled with suffering, it would be nice to have a shoulder to lean on instead of taking all the burdens onto yourself. Sacrifices… it's so sad, don't you think? In the end, no one is saved." She was looking at him so directly that it hurt. The truthfulness in her words could not be denied.

"Kaoru…?" He murmured, unable to help the way he had caressed her name. The sound had been so foreign and welcome to his tongue that he could not but hope, irrationally, to say it like that forever. To have her look at him like that, without pity or hatred or expectations, forever. He remembered the smile she gave him. In the moonlight, he could not distinguish the emotions behind it.

"My mother loved bells, did you know that? And my father, he loved the City during this time of year the most. I remember how he would say: 'The cherry-blossoms will bloom and fall. Even if it is here, isn't it still so beautiful?' I wish I could have had the chance to see it this year." Her blue-eyes looked passed his shoulder to the grey skies beyond the window pane. Maybe she was remembering that day, long ago, when they had first met and the bells on her sleeves made music that distracted him. The bells, she had once told him, her mother had lovingly sewn onto her school uniform, despite her protests. "If I were reborn, I would want to be a bird so I could fly far, far away. Away from places like the City, to that vast skies that stretches forever, towards the sun. I think that is what I would wish to be and what I would wish to do. Even if I would miss the ground sometimes…" She paused and looked at him then, "Would that make me a coward, Kenshin? Trying so hard to run away from the shadows and constantly chasing the sun?"

She had been talkative that day. He wished she would be like that, standing beside him, always. Finally, he had found something he wanted to protect with all the strength and skill that he had.

"Tomorrow," he told her. "We will settle this business of killing you tomorrow."

That night, he walked her to the park to watch the buds lay still on the branches, many blooming already. He watched her laugh carefree again into the night, watched her cry at memories he never shared with her nor knew about. He watched her become more than a captive and in her place was the woman-child he had long met by that road, by that bench and by that lake that seemed to be a reflection of her eyes when she cried. She smiled at him and the sky because she saw it one last time in such beauty and her inability to regret drew him in closer than he thought he could be to anyone.

Strangely, she never once attempted to run away. "I am bound to you," she told him when he had finally asked her about it, reluctantly. "Bound as the ocean is to the earth, bound as the fire is to the air and Man to destinies of their own deciding."

He heard her singing out to the polluted sky about two birds flying and sharing one wing, two branches growing from the same tree and twin sorrows that had intertwined themselves together as one to last beyond time and earth and space. She sang about the fear and the suffering of the City; it was a song about the end of her innocence.

"Even the City will not endure," she had smiled while she spoke this. "Even the sword and the gun and the hunger will die away. But my sorrow will not die – my love combined with my sorrow for you," she looked into his eyes with open honesty at those words. The gold and blue neon lights from outside were cast onto them, coloring them both with colors not their own, that artificial color of the City.

The never-ending day was coming to a close, "This feeling inside me will not die—" she held his hand to her heart "—will yours?" She asked with equal curiosity and equal honesty. Will ours? He replied in silence through a glance and a brush of her hand against his.

"Sorrow for what?" he asked instead, pretending not to know and pretending not to have heard her words.

"For what could not be," she answered in a sad and wistful way before she kissed his cheek softly, her touch weighted as her words and her gaze.

She lay next to him that spring evening, pulling him onto the mattress that was too soft from rusted springs that squeaked in protest beneath their weight. But they did not mind and time stretched for them for an eternity that night. Her passion was driven by her anger and hate for him, her tenderness by her love and understanding, and tied always by her sympathetic heart that pounded so frantically against his before quieting to a slower pace.

She held him to her breast when they were done and told him to listen to her heart, playfully calling him doctor and questioning him about her health. In morbid fascination he complied, his hands skimming her flesh and feeling as if his very presence stained her and yet, even in this moment she remained so pure, so much more infinitely purer than he. Everything about her glowed beneath the moonlight, and already, she seemed out of his reach… even then.

He should be guilty, for taking the last of her innocence. She had always been not of his world and out of his worldly grasps. Even so, she had wanted him. Even so, having been consumed by his violent desires and touched by his stained hands, she had remained untainted.

In the hours of sunset she let him hold her without complaint, not even when his grip tightened and he felt the fear of losing her wash over him. "What you share, I wish to share." She said to him. Her words fell from the lips of a woman, and yet her eyes shone like that of a child. "It will always be like this, Kenshin, no matter what happens. Even the City cannot take it away." In the night they had been only a man and a woman, needing each other so desperately in the desolate world. In the morning, he would be an assassin and she would be his captive once more, his to do away with.

They watched the sky light up after sunrise together for the last time as the weight of his task forced him to lean upon her for comfort. In those last moments she gave it without a murmur and held him close. "My last chance at happiness in this life," she whispered in the night when she thought he could not hear. "For the one who is more than the heart of a sword," and it was then her voice trailed to whispers that even he could not distinguish, but he knew well enough what she meant.

Even the words stained him of her with the despair of innocence lost.

"Can you buy me some ramen? It'll be my last request." She asked innocently enough that morning, blue eyes smiling at such sad things.

"So you could escape while I'm out?" he had played along, almost teasing and almost serious. She had only smiled at his words quietly. "Would you prefer something else?" He finally said instead.

"Chocolate!" she declared cheerfully and her smile had grown wider. He sighed and let himself out the door. Did this woman even realize she was living with someone who was supposed to assassinate her? Those were the thoughts in his head when he returned, realizing belatedly that he had forgotten to lock the front door.

Almost hopeful, almost fearful, he had rushed into the apartment. The ramen rolled out of the brown paper-bag at the entrance of their apartment. Could the foolish woman have escaped? The thought almost made him smile. It died a quick death when he saw her slumped form lying on the bed they had shared. The red was a blooming flower of dark crimson, spreading upon her white blouse. "Kaoru!" Her name, this time he called it with questioning pain and a panic he had never felt before as he rushed to her side.

"The sheets smell like us, Kenshin," she was looking at him through heavy lids, almost dreamily, as if she had only been waiting for his return. Her blood was a bright red spread upon the cotton, covering over the evidence of her lost innocence. "Aren't I a hypocrite, wishing for a world without sacrifices and still, acting like so…?"

He had studied the wound and his conclusion made him despair. "Kaoru, why?" he asked instead, feeling the rush of angry grief that made him clutch her arm tighter than he meant to. The fear, for the first time in a long time, descended upon him, cold and thundering.

"Ouch," she murmured and Kenshin forced himself to cradle her more gently.

"Why?" he demanded fiercely again, the emotions in his eyes were gold and purple, the color of confused despair.

"I love your hands, Kenshin," her fingers traced his, the ones that were now wrapped around the hilt of the dagger in her belly. "What a painful way to go, you must think. But, I wanted to live long enough for you to know that… your hands… I won't be another stain upon them. I don't want you to remember me that way." Blood stained fingers traced his face, marking a crimson scar upon his flawless skin. "For someone like me, who loves a man like you, it is my fate, Kenshin. So long as the City is this way," her painful breaths made her words broken and her emotions raw. Each word was harder to hear than the next. "Despite everything, and the people you took away from me, I still… I wanted to… protect you…"

The minutes that he had held onto her had felt like eternity. Yet, it could never have been long enough. Watching the pain and suffering in her eyes, knowing what was to come, she had still died with a smile on her face. "Being held in your arms like this," she had said in the end. "I am protected," her fingers had slipped from the fabric of his shirt, smearing imprints of blood upon him that had never had the chance to be there before.

He could never seem to wash off the blood of her from himself or his blade, not after that. Her blood, it stained the walls of his heart and the sheets they had slept upon the night before. He was only marked by the smile he could not understand, the tear that had fallen from her eyelash and splattered onto his shirt, shearing the skin underneath. He could not stop, the flood of painful, angry tears, helplessly and silently escaping his eyes and falling upon her cooling flesh.

It stained him, her innocence, her pain and the torment she had reflected back at him, to live on within him that could never again be voiced.

He left the apartment and never returned to its one-room of too many memories, not after that day. What they had shared was sacred and could never be erased even though he would have preferred, at times, to not have to live with the painful and wistful memories that he could never discard. Katsura would understand that much he knew, and the other did. There would never be any question of his loyalty from that day forth, but it was also, perhaps the mark of the end of his time.

"I love your hands, Kenshin," her words haunted him wherever he went.

The City was changing at last. She would have liked to have seen it. He would often think such thoughts and they brought him but more regret. On that day she died, he could not shake the feeling that of the two, she belonged in this new era of change and hope and not he. It should not have been him who lived, even though it was he who had fought so long to see the days when the darkness of the City finally crumbled into ashes at his feet. There was no hope left within him, transferred as it were upon the now thriving and distance City that was internally altering from all that it once was.

"What kind of world are you fighting to create, Kenshin?"

He had requested to be the sacrifice long ago in his youth, valiantly volunteering to take the shadow of the City into himself so that others may live in sunlight. He had always fought for such an end. Now that he had accomplished such things, he realized that as a child he had not counted the people who have had to pay the same price as him. People like her, people who allowed themselves to be stained by the City even though they had never made such resolutions as him. People, whose blood were imprinted upon his skin until the end of time.

He was placed in a new cramped space in the City. It looked exactly the same except the food-stand was across the street now and the bathroom was on the other side of the room. The ceiling was stained and the bed was empty. The place was empty without her to fill up the crevices in the rooms, without her to fill the gaps in his life. Somehow it was like she had never walked into his life, but he knew that she did because he was different now.

Like the City, he too was changing and had been changed.

"Our sorrows will live forever," her words would echo through his memories when the night sky lit with the reflection of neon signs. And every year when the cherry-blossoms bloomed and fell, he would find the phantom of her becoming almost too real to be from the past. Her beauty, her innocence, and the life she led that bloomed and fell too quickly as well, plagued him day and night. He would take strolls in the dark, pass by the park bench he first met her at and sit there listening for the sound of the bells on her sleeves should she return.

But there was only silence now. "Even still, our twin sorrows will last for an eternity. This sadness that will linger will endure longer than the spin of the Earth and the cycle of time. And between our two bodies, there is something we created here that will last longer than the ageless void and the aging universe."

Her pale hand lay still on his cheek in the darkness of the night, her ghost sleeping next to his still form under the pale moonlight that strays from the clouds and fights past the human illuminations. Cold and empty is the place he had chosen to sleep, a foreign place that all exiles must go when cast away from the embrace of home. "Even the sword and the gun and the hunger will die away. But my sorrow will not."

The City changes, and more lives are lain down so that it may be changed, it is how the path of destiny runs. The death of one to be replaced by the birth of another and this, he learned, was the root of all revolutions. Yet, the revolution was changing too.

He had changed with it. From her he was altered. Her blood now washes the floors and the streets and sings in the wind of the City. The long stained City that is now beginning to stain with her innocence and the innocence of so many others like her. In the alley ways she glances coyly out at him, from the shadows she sometimes stray, but always seeming just out of his grasp when he reaches out for her. Even the words of his god, of his lord quieted to a whisper to her whisper.

Even Katsura's voice faded eventually to only black envelopes that came less and less frequently. Slowly, the arrival of the last envelope came and went. He no longer anticipated it though, for there was nothing waiting for him after the assignments and assassinations ended. And he had never thought of a world after until he had met her, and now there was no after.

"It would be a world without need for so much sacrifice," that was what she had wanted.

But he had already lost everything.

He sits in the park sometimes and watch the children play, imagining her beside him. Sometimes he wondered if she had seen this, if he could live for her and return to her what he had taken away from those pale hands and those dark eyes. Occasionally, a sway of a long-haired girl with pale skin will walk by his shadow, or a bell would sound in the distance and the memories of her would flood him like the scent of lingering cherry-blossoms in May. Always, he stirs and tenses at those moments, thinking it is her ghost or herself, reborn. But always he finds it to be only him searching for what was gone forever. He sees now that he is but half-awake in his new life and that even dreams could not duplicate all that was her.

"Being held in your arms like this, I feel protected."

She sits at the corner of his bed in the evenings, hands tied still to the new bed-post, moving in half-hearted attempts to escape. She never did give up, not until she had succeeded. Her eyes, they would always be turned away, gazing out into the world instead of at him. "When I'm reborn, I wish to be a bird with wings of the sky," and he would turn to the window expecting to see a blue-bird there waiting for him. He never found her free spirit nor did he find a replica of her innocence. He never saw a blue-bird alight the polluted skies, not in the City with its artificial parks. "We would be two birds sharing one wing, two branches growing from the same tree... that endless sorrow I wish to share with you, Kenshin-" In the distance of the future, glancing back, she seemed to become more and more like a reflection of himself, that part of him that he had lost forever.

Sometimes, he wondered if she had ever been real. But the black envelop with her name upon it remained with him to remind him of this one thing that had been all too sad to be anything but real. She had lived, the bird sharing his wing, the branch sharing their tree, the soul sharing his sorrows. "-Because it never dies, it outlives the City and this time and this Earth, Kenshin. And just beyond it, I'll be waiting for you, that place where circumstances would never be able to separate us, not again, not this time."

Her sorrow became his, as her tear had been absorbed into his skin and his bones. Her blood coloring the City he resided in, her flesh becoming the place he called home if he ever dared to call it by such a name. And in the darkness she came for him, as she had only done so once on that evening when night met day, one bird missing one wing and searching for the other half…

…Two branches, growing from the same tree.

The End

- That Endless Sorrow is inspired by, along with many lines derived from, a Chinese poem called A Song of Unending Sorrow. I took pieces of it for its haunting qualities.

- Rebirth holds religious references to Buddhism, an integrated part of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian religion(s).

- The mentioning of searching for a perfect blossom is from "The Last Samurai"

- Kaoru and Kenshin are placed within "the City" which is someplace in the future. I decided not to give it a name.

- Characters are based on those created by Nobuhiro Watsuki, I did not create them.

- This story was revised because I realized that as out-of-character as it was that Kenshin did kill Kaoru (which was not proven true when in the OAVs, Battousai's reaction to Tomoe's accidental death revealed the truth of how he feels…) I discovered, as I looked over this piece that it was even more out-of-character that Kaoru would let Kenshin kill her. She knew he would be forced to live with that guilt, and even though it was hard for her to admit falling in love with her mother's killer, the Kaoru of RK would never have done such a thing. So I changed it. And, frankly, I like this version better.

- Please do not plagiarize this story.

. blue .

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