To Be Free
By Maria Cline
(Parts 1-4 by Ami-dono)
It was dark as Kaoru opened her eyes and sat up in her futon. "The sun's not up yet?" She wondered out loud as she picked up her candle and lit it. She got up and walked down the hallway. It felt like forever since Kenshin finally told them his tragic past but it was only last night. She peeked into Kenshin's room to see Sano and Yahiko sleeping their backs snoring loudly. Kaoru couldn't help but laugh at the resemblance between the two. They had the same hair, the same boyish charms, and they are both very stubborn. However, Yahiko acted far more mature than Sano, like he had grown up faster than he did. The boy spy, she could not help but wonder what will happen to him after this 'assignment' was completed. He was a good student and had plenty of potential but did he want to study under her? She doubted it. Her past students rejected her the moment things got difficult.
Kaoru signed as she looked at Kenshin who was sleeping next to the wall with his sword on his shoulder. No matter how hard she tried, she could not see a former manslayer or a former slave. Kenshin spared no expense when he told her the dark details of his former life as the Battousai. It was like he was trying to scare her away. She sat down on the wall opposite to him and watched him twitched and moaned as he held his sword tighter. What nightmares haunted him at night? When she first met him, she thought that his nightmares had to do with his years of slavery but now his nightmares must be more about his years as a manslayer. He had killed three hundred people in his lifetime and caused pain for many more. If she killed that many, she would have shattered. The irony of it, Kenshin tried to scare her away but it just made her want to get closer. Kaoru's heart broke as she thought of the years of suffering he had endured. He was a manslayer for four years and a slave for ten years. 'Mou, he spent half of his life serving others and suffering because of that.' She thought sadly.
He twitched again and she thought. 'That woman in my dreams, she must have been Tomoe trying to see if I can help him. Even from beyond the grave, she still tries to help him.' Her heart warmed at the idea of this woman helping her friend. True, she was a little jealous that Tomoe helped Kenshin more than she did but she could not hate her. Tomoe had freed Kenshin from the Battousai and so she will make sure that Tomoe's death won't be in vain.
Slowly, she crept up to Kenshin and watched him sleep softly. "I wonder how much longer it will be until you can sleep lying down and without a sword in your hand." She wondered to herself as she smiled slightly and got up and walked out to the hall. Kenshin tilted his head up and opened his eyes.
"Are you sure I shouldn't be going to work?" Kenshin asked as he and the others were eating breakfast.
"You were nearly killed; I don't think that Kudo would let you work like that. Sensei said that he'll explain everything. So, don't worry about it." Sano said as he started to eat.
"But, I had been missing work several times and I just started working." Kenshin pointed out guilty.
"You were held hostage and now you are fatally wounded by a psychotic cop." Yahiko explained, "I think those are good reasons."
"But, I feel fine." The man insisted, "It's just a minor wound."
"In your side." Kaoru warned as she waved her finger, "Megumi warned you not to do anything stressful for a few days. I don't want you to be working on a high roof with that wound of yours."
"I suppose." Kenshin bowed his head down. "I just didn't want to trouble anyone any more than I already had done."
"You're not troubling anyone!" Kaoru screamed and then Kenshin jumped back. The woman bowed her head down. 'Oh Kenshin.' She thought mournfully as she bowed her head down. All Kenshin did was make sure he was not an inconvenience. He always smiled and agreed with everything. Despite his power, he was still afraid that others would punish him. "Say, Kenshin, maybe we can do shopping later today. Okay?"
"Hai." Kenshin nodded.
"Good." Yahiko got up, "I ah… need to see Saitou and Tetsu about what I will do now." The boy looked to the side. "I'm still their spy and all."
"Okay, Sano can come with you." Kaoru said eager to get the former street fighter out of the way. "Yahiko-kun, I really hope that you can study the Kamiya Ryuu Style again. You have great potential."
Yahiko stared at her. /I don't believe this lady. She is housing a former assassin, an idiotic fighter, and a spy and she is acting like we're family to her./ "Maybe, but maybe I can find someone who looks better than you." Yahiko laughed and Kaoru swung her bokken at him.
"No dojo master is better looking than me!" Kaoru screamed as Kenshin and Sano tried to hold her back.
"Let's go, Yahiko-chan." Sano said as he picked up Yahiko and carried him away. "Maybe I can see that beady eyed freak and fight him again."
Kaoru calmed down and watched the two leave. "I swear, that guy is going to get himself killed or get tossed into jail someday."
"I'm sure he will grow out of it, that he will." Kenshin smiled slightly as he pointed out. "I just hope that Saitou would show restraint when he fights Sano."
"Let's clean up and we can get going."
Kaoru and Kenshin walked down the street as always. The dojo's bloody floors had been cleaned and the walls still need work. The woman was dressed in one of her better kimonos while Kenshin was dressed in his normal clothes with his sword in its cloth sheath as always. The weather was warm and the sun was shining. "Such a great day." Kaoru sighed as she smiled slightly.
Kenshin just nodded as he looked around. He stiffened when he recognized the area. "Kaoru-dono, was that where we… ah… first met?" Kenshin asked as he pointed to a spot.
Kaoru looked and then she nodded. "Oh yeah. Yes, this was the place." 'This was the place where I first met Kenshin. When I first bought him and, oh man.' The woman blushed as she glanced at Kenshin. "No offense, I'm surprised you remembered it. I mean, you were so shy and timid. You changed for the better and I liked that."
"Yes, I did." Kenshin sighed as they strolled down toward the cherry tree grove and sat down. "It's strange thinking back when I was a slave. I was completely numb, I was used to taking orders and doing everything in my power to keep my masters happy. I could have escaped if I tried hard enough but I just couldn't."
Kaoru took his hand and held it. "It's okay. You won't have to deal with that any more. You can do anything you want now."
Kenshin nodded. "But, I don't know what I want." The man confessed, "I am still so confused about everything. You had been nothing but kind to me despite of my past but I still feel troubled. What if I start killing again?"
"I see." The girl put her hands on her lap and took a deep breath. "I know that you lead a hard life and that you did kill a few people but I believe that is because you didn't know it at the time. You were a kid and you just let those Imperialists tell you what to do. But, you're older and wiser so you won't make the same mistakes this time. Trust yourself for a change, Kenshin."
"You trust me despite my past but I'm still not sure about myself." Kenshin observed, "I do have some idea of what to do but I don't know if I'm ready or not to do it." He paused and then looked at Kaoru. "Kaoru-dono, may I ask a question about you?"
The girl blushed and then she smiled. "Of course, you told me as much as you could about yourself, I should return the favor."
The man blushed as she looked away and asked, "Ummm... may I ask, what made you decide to free a slave? I was pondering that since Sano told me a little about your past. You must have had a hard time with money and yet you decided to free me and I was just wondering how come."
Kaoru gasped as she looked away. "Oh, I never told you that. It's an interesting story, to be honest, I never really thought about freeing any slaves until just a couple of months ago."
Rain fell as Kaoru stood in front of her empty dojo. Sano, her savior, had gone back home, Dr. Gensai and his granddaughters were off visiting Dr. Gensai's sister, and so she was left alone. Water soaked into her kimono and into her hair but she didn't care. There were no students today, no one even bothered to visit her.
"Damn it." She whispered as tears came down her face.
The woman turned around to see a strange man dressed in a typical traveler's outfit with a huge hat covering his head. "Who are you?!" Kaoru demanded as she picked up a bokken and held it up.
"Is this the Kamiya Dojo?" The stranger asked as he looked up at the sign.
"Yes." The girl did not trust him. There was something strange about him that she could not explain. "What do you want?"
Rain fell harder and Kaoru and the stranger stared at each other. Finally, the stranger gestured inside. "May we speak inside? I hate rain."
The girl blushed as she saw the man was soaked to the bone. "Of course. Come inside." The two entered the dojo and the man looked around.
"Where are the students?" He asked.
"There are no students." Kaoru said bitterly. "They ran away."
"Even the Battousai?"
Enraged, Kaoru slammed the stranger's head with her bokken. "The Battousai was never my student!"
"Of course not, you were too young." The stranger muttered as he rubbed his still covered head. "I heard rumors that the Battousai was in Tokyo killing again so I thought I should check things out."
The girl sighed as she sat down. "I'm sorry, I was just so mad. That guy was a fake, exposed by a friend of mine. He wanted to ruin my dojo and force me to sell it to his brother just for land. It made me so mad that bastard would murder so many people just to get me." Tears came down her face again as she buried her head. "I am just so alone."
The stranger nodded as he looked outside. "I thought it was another false lead. It's not like him to go around announcing his name to everyone." He muttered to himself and then saw the woman still crying. "Stop crying, I hate it when a pretty girl cries." He ordered as he reached into his shirt and gave her a handkerchief. The girl accepted the cloth and blew her nose. She handed it back to him and the stranger waved his hand. "Keep it."
"Thank you." Kaoru bowed her head down. "I just feel a little lonely right now and I don't know what to do. It's been a week since the fake Battousai had been brought in and no one came. I don't think that I'm a good enough teacher for them or that I was just a girl."
The man took a deep breath as he stared at her. "You're young. You can recover. You have it far better than other people that's for sure."
"Maybe." Kaoru pouted.
"I'm serious." The man stared out of the window and into the pouring rain. "You have your own place, you have a good idea of what to do in life, and you have actual control over your life. That's far more than what many people had."
The girl smiled slightly. "If you put it that way, I am lucky but still, I wouldn't mind if my students come back."
"If they have not come back before now, they are worthless. People these days don't have a good sense of loyalty. It's sad really." The man stood up and turned his back toward her. "I had this man who owed a great debt to me; he actually gave me his life. Not once did he complain or try to escape me despite the tortures I put him through. He was so loyal to me. I actually had grown quite fond of him but I lost everything and him as well. I don't know what happened to him, made me wish I had set him free before."
"I'm sorry." Kaoru said as she looked down. "Why didn't you set him free before?"
The man shrugged. "I don't know, pride, ego, who knows. Many people like to keep slaves around because they like to have power over other people. Slaves had no choice in what to eat, where to sleep, many times, they don't even have a choice on what others can call them. That's why it's so hard for rich people to set slaves free because then they would lose control over their lives."
"That was sad." Kaoru confessed, "I didn't want to get married because I was afraid my husband would try to 'own' me and control what I do." At that moment, she knew what to do. The rain stopped and she stood up with sunshine beaming down on her. "I know what to do! I'm going to free at least one slave!"
"You are going to do that?" The stranger asked confused. "Slaves don't come cheap you know."
"I don't care. I saved up plenty of money and my friends can help out too." Kaoru said excited as she paced. "Why didn't I think of this before? It makes perfect sense. Thank you, sir." The girl bowed repeatedly and the stranger just waved his hands.
"It was nothing. Really." The stranger looked outside at the sky clearing up. "The rain stopped, I must leave."
"So soon?" Kaoru asked disappointed.
"Hai, I have places to see and leads to follow. Good luck on your quest." The stranger bowed and opened the door.
"Good luck on yours." Kaoru said as she bowed again and then she gasped. "What's your name? I'm Kaoru."
The man chuckled as he turned toward her and tilted his hat to reveal a patch of white hair. "I think it's better that you don't know my name." He smirked as he put on a pair of strangely colored glasses and walked away.
"And that's what happened." Kaoru concluded as she leaned back against the tree. "I never saw that strange man again."
"I see." Kenshin said as he stared at her. /Strangely colored glasses, I wonder if that's him. No, he hates me./
"I admit, I never dreamt that I would meet anyone like you, Kenshin." Kaoru beamed at him. "If anyone deserved to be free, it was you."
Kenshin blushed as he looked down. "Really?"
"Mou! Kenshin, you practically herald in the new Meiji Era without as much as a 'thank you' from the Government!" Kaoru exclaimed as she slapped her forehead.
"I didn't mind."
"I know." 'You didn't want recognition for what you did but you deserve at least some credit.' Kaoru thought as she leaned on her hand. "Say, Kenshin, wanna go back home for a while?"
"Okay." Kenshin nodded as the two got up and walked back to the dojo.
Sanosuke's jaw dropped as the two walked down the rich streets of Tokyo. The former fighter rarely saw such wealth and splendor. "Are you sure they live here?" Sanosuke asked Yahiko who was holding a map.
"I think at least Saitou lives here. Tetsu said that he's responsible for what happens to me." The boy sweatdropped, "That kinda scares me."
"Yeah. He is a little creepy. When I get stronger, it's rematch time!" Sanosuke vowed as he stood straight up.
The two looked to see a tall woman carrying an infant on her back using a special carrier. She was lovely with piercing eyes and have a grace about her. "Yeah?" Sanosuke asked as he stared at her.
"You two are looking for Fujita Goro?" The woman asked softly.
"Yeah, you know where he lives?" Sanosuke asked, "I've never been in this part of town before."
"Of course. This way." The woman gestured toward a fairly large house and sitting on the front porch was Saitou in a gi and hakama.
Saitou glanced up and said, "Tokio, I see you brought guests."
Tokio chuckled as she took off the carrier and held the baby in her arms. "I figured they were looking for you."
"You know that beady eyed psycho?" Sanosuke asked dumbfounded. /How can such a charming woman be with such a wolf?/ He thought.
"That beady eyed psycho is my husband and the father of my little baby here." Tokio said as she glared at him. "You really are as stupid as Saitou said."
The two fell over in shock. "Husband?! Father?!" Yahiko exclaimed, "That's crazy! How can you stand a creepy guy like him?"
Sanosuke got up and yelled, "I'm not stupid! Why do people think that I'm an idiot?"
"Because you are one." Saitou replied as he stood up. "Oh well, what do you want to speak to me about?"
Yahiko looked down and asked, "Well, I was just wondering what am I supposed to do since my job was done at the Kamiya Dojo."
"I don't know. You have great potential as a fighter and a spy. You're sharp, insightful, and very blunt. There has been some trouble recently that we may need help with." Saitou said as he rubbed his chin. "You can stay where you wish until then but you must remain in Tokyo for now."
"Sounds fair. There's no place outside of Tokyo I want to go to anyway." Yahiko nodded as he crossed his arms.
"Good." Saitou looked at Sanosuke who was glaring back. "Oh, you better improve on your fighting skills. You are an absolute amateur."
Sano's face turned bright red as he slammed his fists toward Saitou who just raised his arms and blocked every one of his punches. Sanosuke paused and Saitou lowered his arms. /I hit every one but he never flinched./
"Was that all you can do?" Saitou asked as he reached into his sleeve and got out a cigarette pack. "You are strong, but you relied too much on your strength in your fights. You're sloppy with your technique and you don't have any defense abilities. I don't know how you became such a famed fighter."
Sanosuke gasped as he held his heart. "I'm a great fighter! I may not have fought in the Bakumatsu but I can handle myself just fine!"
Saitou just lit a cigarette and smoked it. "Maybe, but you were content with just fighting local thugs and the occasional gangster. You are a decent fighter but I am an excellent fighter. That was not your fault; you were just the product of the times. Just try to work on your abilities and maybe you have a chance with me."
"You bet." Sanosuke said as he started to tense up. "I will defeat you one day, Hajime Saitou!" He turned around and marched away. Yahiko hurried after him and left the three alone.
Sanosuke stomped angrily away. His pride was hurting and his ego was bruised. Saitou was the first person that had defeated him in years. It wasn't just the loss that bothered him but the way he was treated. "That overbearing bastard. I'll get him. And how can he live in such splendor?"
"I don't know." Yahiko shrugged. The boy paled and then looked up at Sano. "Say, that baby, do you think that he will grow up to be just like him?"
Sano gasped as he looked behind to see Saitou playing with the baby. "I don't want to know." Images of Saitou and a group of mini-Saitous running around waving their mini-katanas around and smoking cigarettes bombarded his brain. "Gah! I can't stand the idea."
Hashi-zume stared at the small dojo. He had to laugh at the sight. Dojos were losing popularity and this one was no exception. There was a gaping hole in the wall and the front porch was ruined. His sources told him that this woman was the latest owner of the Battousai. It irritated him that the Battousai had somehow made it so far into Tokyo. /That woman would be eager to get rid of the Battousai as soon as I pay her enough and tell her about him./ He smirked as he knocked on the door.
"Back already, Sano?" Kaoru asked as she opened the door to see the older man staring at her. "Who are you?"
The man smiled and bowed. "Hello, I am Hashi-zume. I understand that you had bought a slave recently."
Kaoru stared at him. He looked like a respectable business man but there was something odd about him that she could not comprehend. "Maybe. Why do you ask?"
"I don't know why a young woman would buy a slave for this run down dojo but I believe it would be your best interest to sell him somewhere else." The man said as he bowed.
"Sell him?" Kaoru repeated angrily.
"Yes, he had a history that involved manslaughter in the hundreds. It was in the government's best interests and yours if you just sell him to someplace far away." Hashi-zumi suggested as he reached into his jacket and handed the money to Kaoru. "What do you say?"
Kaoru looked to the side to see Kenshin hiding behind a door gazing at her with wide violet eyes. She smirked as she clutched the bag and flung it in the politician's face. "This is what I say." Kaoru said as she stood over the prone man. "I know about Kenshin's past and it was a little shocking for me but I don't care. I bought him to give him the freedom he deserved. So, I can't and won't send him away just because of some crooked politician!"
Hashi-zume rubbed his face and said, "You know, I can have you arrested for this."
Kaoru stuck out her tongue. "Like I care. Kenshin is my friend and friends don't sell each other out! Besides, it's thanks to Kenshin that you are even in power!"
"That's right. Your behavior was deplorable, makes me wish seppuku was mandatory." Tetsu said as he and another man came into the room.
"General Yamagata!" Hashi-zume said as he bowed. "I didn't know you were in town."
"I was. We will have a talk but now just leave." Yamagata ordered looking imposing as he pointed to the door. The other man scowled and bowed.
"Yes sir." The man walked out of the door and Yamagata stared at the girl. The taller man studied her.
"Interesting, so, you were the one who freed Himura-san despite his past. You are a very brave girl." Yamagata said as he nodded.
"Kenshin's not that scary." Kaoru confessed as she blushed slightly. /I can't believe this, the infamous General Yamagata is in my dojo./ She gasped. "Kenshin!" She looked to see that Kenshin had vanished. "Mou! Where could he be?" Kaoru wondered and then she bowed. "I'll be right back."
She ran around until she entered Kenshin's room where he was sitting against the wall shivering. "Kenshin, there you are! Are you okay?"
Kenshin gazed up at her with wide eyes. "Kaoru-dono, Yamagata-san is out there. I… I don't know if I can face him." He said as he wrapped his arms around his legs. "He obviously wanted me to kill again for him. I can't do that."
"Then, just tell him that." Kaoru supported as she put her hand on his shoulder. "Remember, you have the right to say no. You're not a slave or a hitokiri anymore. You don't have to do what other people order you to do."
"Right." Kenshin nodded as he got up. "It's just that it has been so long since I last saw him. I'm nervous but I have to face this." The former slave took a deep breath and walked out of the room. Slowly, he made his way to the main dojo room where Yamagata and Tetsu were sitting. The former comrades locked eyes and Kenshin sat down in front of him.
"Yamagata-san." Kenshin said as he bowed. His mask slipped on as he spoke. "It has been a long time."
"Ten years." Yamagata said as he bowed back. "I... I'm sorry about the hardships you endured. Tetsuosuke and Saitou told me your story. I wish I had known sooner. We could have helped you. I just could not comprehend why you let yourself be chained for so long. You were not the type to just give up."
Kenshin looked down sheepishly. "I do not know myself, Yamagata-san. I just had no reason to escape. That is all."
The general gasped as his face paled. "No-no reason?! How can you say that?! We could have given you a high ranking position, a good job, privileges that would make anyone green with envy, you were not stupid, and you must have known that."
The other man shrugged as he stared down at his hands. "I don't want to kill for you or anyone else any more. I never wanted a reward for killing innocent people. I made orphans out of children, widows out of wives; I've even killed many of Tetsu's comrades. How can anyone reward me for being a murderer? I... was nothing more than a tool for you. At least when I was a slave, people didn't ask me to kill. The only one who got hurt was me."
Yamagata closed his eyes as he tilted his head back. He could not believe it. Did Kenshin actually choose to be a slave over being a rich officer or a politician? "Kami... what about your friends and family, don't they care about you?"
"The only family I had was my brother-in-law and he was my first master. My former comrades were afraid of me, they don't like me. Kaoru-dono and her friends were the first people who cared about me in over ten years." Kenshin smiled slightly at Kaoru who blushed.
"I see." The man took a deep breath. "Then, I suppose you won't accept my offer to rejoin us in the new government."
"I'm afraid not. I want to see what it's like to be free for just a while." Kenshin replied as he looked up at Yamagata.
"It would be rude of me to force you." The man got up and bowed. "Very well, just remember that if you ever change your mind, we will always welcome you."
"That's right." Tetsu agreed as he waved, "The police department could always use another Bakumatsu veteran."
Kenshin just nodded and the two left.
Yamagata and Tetsu entered a carriage and they rode off. The older man watched out of the window amazed. "He had changed so much and yet he seemed the same somehow." He muttered, "Did you know that he once saved my wife?"
"No, sir." Tetsu shook his head.
"Ah, he was my bodyguard and he did everything in his power to save me and my wife. He was loyal to a fault to the Chousuu forces and not once showed any signs of betrayal. Yet, I was afraid of him and his abilities. Maybe, that was why there were those who turned a blind eye if they heard rumors of him being a slave." Yamagata stared out of the window. "We were the ones who caused him to be a slave in the first place. We forced him to kill when he was too young because of his power. The poor boy really gave up his freedom when he joined us. I just hope that he will find the peace he had been searching for." Yamagata muttered as he watched the dojo vanish into the distance.
Kenshin stood outside as the birds sang. He sighed as he felt the warm sun on his face. Kaoru came up and said, "Kenshin, are you okay? You've been fairly quiet since Yamagata-san visited."
"I was just thinking about what I should do now. I… I think that I know what I want to do but it will be hard." The young man gazed upward. "I had been to many places and seen many horrors in my life, Kaoru-dono. Many good people suffer every day due to the war, disease, and even other people. I… I know that you think that I should stay here but I can't." The man turned around and said, "I think that I should become a ronin like I was planning to before I became a slave."
Kaoru's heart stilled as she just nodded. Ever since she first met him, she had been mentally preparing for the day when she had to say goodbye to him. It felt too soon to her but he did gain some money and it was not like he couldn't defend himself. He was the Battousai after all. It was logical for him to take the next step and leave her but why does that sound so hard to accept? "I see. Well, I did tell you when I first freed you that you can leave any time you are ready." The girl fought the urge to cry. "I should be looking forward to this but I just feel sort sad. I'm going to help you prepare for the trip. You have to pack some necessities and you have to say goodbye to the others. Okay?" She smiled as hard as she could.
Kenshin nodded and slightly hurt at her expression. "I'm sorry; I didn't want to hurt you."
"No, I'm fine. I just… it's nothing." Kaoru held herself. "We better tell the others soon."
"You're going to wander around?" Megumi asked stunned as she checked Kenshin's wound. The two had shown up at the clinic at one of the more quiet times and told her about Kenshin's plans.
"Yes, I... want to do some good for a change." Kenshin replied as he winced slightly.
"I understand." Megumi said softly as she double checked the wound. "Your wound is healing nicely. You could start traveling today if you wanted to." She sighed as she wrapped the bandages again. "Ken-san, I know what it's like to need to repent. I... had blood on my hands as well. I didn't kill with a katana like you did but I did create suffering."
"Really?" Kenshin asked curiously.
"Hai, I left Aizu to look for my family. I came from a long line of doctors so I thought that if I became a doctor, I can find what's left of my family. I... I became apprentice to a doctor and it turned out he was creating opium for a dealer. That doctor was killed so I had to take his place. I made many people die from my opium and many more miserable. I had enough so I ran away. I was rescued by this stranger who killed the dealer. I... was despondent for a while but I know that even if I die, those people will not come back. All I could do now is try to save the ones still here. If I could at least save one life, then I am content. Perhaps, that is why I was so interested in finding out more about you. A part of me knew that you and I are the same in that regard. We both were forced to do things that we don't want to do." The woman smiled sweetly at Kenshin. "You're not alone any more, you know that right?"
"Yes." Kenshin glanced outside to see Kaoru playing with the kids. "Does Kaoru-dono know?"
"Of course she knows." The woman laughed, "She didn't really care. We go at each others throats sometimes but for entirely different reasons. Kaoru's like that. She's blind to the past and can only see the present and future. That kind of attitude may threaten her at times but she doesn't care. She hangs out with a former drug maker, a former pickpocket, a former gangster, and a former assassin and she treats every one like family. That is her ability; her gift." She cocked an eyebrow at Kenshin. "You are lucky to meet someone like you. You better not blow it."
Kenshin stared at her confused. He didn't know what she was talking about. Before he can ask, he heard a familiar voice. "Ken-nii!" Suzume asked as she and Ayame came in with Kaoru. "Are you really leaving?"
Kenshin nodded as he knelt down. "Yes, I am going to do some wandering. So, I won't see you two for a while."
"Don't you like being here?" Suzume whined.
"Yes, I loved being here but there is something I must do for myself." Kenshin explained softly as he put his hand on the little girl's head.
"It's something he has to do." Kaoru supported, "We can't keep him here against his will right?"
"Yeah." Suzume pouted and then grinned at Kenshin. "But, you'll be back soon right?"
"I will." Kenshin nodded. He wasn't sure when or if he would come back. There are still people who want him dead or worse and he didn't know if they will succeed in taking him but he cannot let that girl down.
"So, you're going to do some traveling?" Kudo asked as Kenshin stood in front of him.
"Yes, Chief-san." Kenshin bowed, "I'm sorry that I could not work here longer but I must go."
"I understand." Kudo nodded as he reached into his pocket and handed him a white envelope. "Here's your pay. You will need it on your travels. You had been an excellent worker although, I'm a little surprised that someone like you didn't get any better jobs than the one you had before this one."
"Oro?" Kenshin blinked.
The old man sighed as he held his hand. "Never mind. Good luck and I pray that you will find what you are looking for."
"Thank you for everything." Kenshin said as he bowed again and walked away.
"I had a feeling you would take up wandering." Sensei said as he came up to Kenshin. "How are you feeling?"
"Better." Kenshin nodded as he held his side. "Sensei, may I ask, why didn't you tell anyone about me? You must have recognized me the first time we met."
The older man shrugged as he gazed up into the sky. "I didn't like my past either. I had killed many times; many of them were innocent people who were just on the wrong side of the law. If I expose you, I would be exposing myself as well. I didn't want that. After a while, I knew that you didn't want that either. I could have had a better job but I didn't want to fight again. I love teaching children and working with my hands. Those kids were my way of redemption much like your wandering will be yours."
"I see." Kenshin bowed his head down. "I hope I can do some good during my travels."
"As long as you don't give yourself off to any slave traders, you'll be fine." Sensei leaned down and whispered, "You are the Hitokiri Battousai after all. You can defend yourself."
Kenshin gulped and nodded again. "I must go, thank you." He walked away and Kudo came up.
"Well, he was an interesting person." Kudo said as he shook his head. "He was nothing like the rumors said."
"I know." Sensei said as he crossed his arms.
"You're what?!" Sanosuke screamed as he punched a nearby wall. "You're going to wander around by yourself?!" The man exclaimed as he flung his arms around and then glares down at Kenshin. "Do you know what kinds of nuts are out there?! They could hurt you or worse!"
Yahiko sweatdropped. "Geesh, did you forget that he was the Battousai? Any nut he meets he can handle, like you."
Sanosuke stop in mid-rant and crossed his arms. "I knew that." He muttered.
Kenshin rubbed the back of his head. "I appreciate your concern, Sano, that I do, but I'll be fine." He picked up his traveling bag that he packed for his journey. He slung it over his shoulder using his sheathed sword to hold it. "I guess this is it." He sighed as he looked down.
"Yes." Kaoru nodded and then reached into her sleeve and handed Kenshin a small bag. "Here's what's left of what Hiko gave me. It should help you. Will you go to him to finish your training?" She wondered.
Kenshin smiled hesitantly. "I do not wish to get any stronger than I have right now. I might just head west and see what happens."
The two stared at each other for a moment. Suddenly, Kenshin rushed up and hugged her. "Thank you for everything. Goodbye." He whispered as he let go and vanished.
Kaoru's heart froze as she slumped down onto the floor. He was gone. Kenshin had finally become totally free.
Hours passed as Kaoru stared out of the doorway. Ever since Kenshin left, she found it hard to move or even think. Why was she feeling this bad? The last time she felt this lost was when she received word that her father died. She slumped onto the floor and closed her eyes.
"It's always hard to see someone you care about leave."
Kaoru looked up to see that she was in a vast field divided in two. One half was covered in snow with falling snow and the other half was covered in cherry blossom petals with the petals floating from the sky. On the field of snow was Tomoe.
"Tomoe?" Kaoru asked.
The woman nodded. "He needs a new sheath. He was not completely free, not yet."
"A new sheath?" Kaoru repeated confused, "What do you mean? Kenshin is free right now. He has no duties, no obligations."
"Freedom is a state of mind." A man said as he came from the middle of the field. He was a young man dressed in robes with the set of swords at his side. "The burden of the Battousai is still weighing him down. He is still torn and he needs a new sheath."
"Who are you?" Kaoru asked, "Are you Akira?"
The man shook his head. "I am the one who set Kenshin on that path to becoming the Battousai, Katsura."
"Oh." Kaoru got up and slammed his head with a bokken. "YOU BASTARD! WHY DID YOU RECRUIT A FIFTEEN YEAR OLD INTO BECOMING AN ASSASSIN!"
"Kaoru-san!" Tomoe exclaimed in shock.
The man chuckled as he got up. "Yes, you are nothing like Tomoe. I did deserve that. Kenshin was young and cocky. I lured him into doing this job without thinking clearly about the consequences. That was why I told Tomoe to control the Battousai's behavior, to be his sheath. He was a naked blade that needed to be held back at times. He was the sword, Tomoe was the sheath."
Kaoru blushed at the imagery. "That was a very hentai statement if you think about it enough. But, what does this have to do with me? Kenshin is in control of himself now. He hates killing and does everything in his power to stop from killing again."
Katsura crossed his arms and stared at her. "A sheath does more than control the blade, it protects it. A katana is fast and strong but it's brittle. A sheath takes the blows and punishment to protect the sword."
The dead woman came up and stared at Kaoru. "I had been able to control his madness even from beyond the grave but I cannot protect him. I am not in the same world as he."
"But I am." Kaoru whispered, "You want me to be the sheath that contains and protects Kenshin?"
The two dead people nodded.
Moments passed as Kaoru looked down. "I want to protect Kenshin but I'm not as strong as he is. Tomoe, how do I be a sheath?"
The dead woman smiled slightly. "Just do what you did before. You have done a wonderful job so far." She came up and kissed Kaoru on the forehead. Her lips were so cold. "Now go."
Kaoru gasped as she woke up. She moved her hand to see a small cherry blossom petal in her lap. How did it get here? Then, she remembered the dream. "Kenshin!" She got up and quickly changed into her traveling kimono. With speeds that would rival the Battousai's, she packed several of her training gis and another kimono as well as some food.
"What are you doing?" Yahiko asked as he entered. He had watched her lying down staring into nothingness but now she was jumping all over the place.
Kaoru paused and said, "I'm going to find Kenshin. I know this sounds crazy but I have to see him again."
"Okay." Yahiko nodded, "I don't want you falling apart here. I can't come with you though. I have to stay in Tokyo."
"Good." Kaoru handed the boy a key. "Here's the key to the dojo. I'm trusting you to look after the dojo while I'm gone. You can have Megumi and Sano help you but keep a close eye on Rooster head."
Yahiko smiled slightly as he accepted the key. "I will. Now, go get Kenshin!"
"Yeah!" Kaoru ran out of the dojo and down the street. It was dark and the streets were lit up by lanterns but she didn't care. "Which way is west?" She wondered as she paused. It dawned on her, how can she catch up to Kenshin? He was faster than she was and all she knew was that he was going west. 'I can't give up on him.' She thought determined as she ran down the street. Then, a carriage pulled up beside her and a woman head from the window.
"Need a lift?" She asked helpfully.
"Sure." Kaoru nodded as she got in. "Thank you." She said relieved as she closed the door. Then, she looked up to see Saitou with a baby in his lap staring at her. "SAITOU?!"
Kenshin wandered down the road. It was dark but he was used to the darkness. He stopped as he heard a carriage running down the road. The carriage stopped and Kaoru jumped out. "Kenshin!" She gasped in relief as she closed the door and ran toward him. The carriage pulled away leaving them alone.
"K-KAORU-DONO?!" The young man gasped as he was caught in Kaoru's hug. "What are you doing here?"
Kaoru released him and said, "You need a new sheath. I know that Tomoe help you control your killing instincts but you still need someone to protect you. You need someone let you know that you are worthy of things and to give you a reason to keep going. A sheath does more than control the blade, it protects it too. That's why I'm coming with you."
Kenshin's jaw dropped at the speech. He did miss her and was reluctant to leave. "What about the dojo? Don't you have to restore that?" He asked.
"That's another reason I'm coming." Kaoru supported, "My only student was a planted spy. I think that if I travel with you, I can become a better swordswoman and restore my dojo's reputation. It's time that I try to see more of Japan and grow up."
Kenshin stared down sadly. "The last time a woman I cared about traveled with me, she died by my hand."
Kaoru put her hand on Kenshin's scarred cheek. "But she was not a dojo master. I can defend myself; I won't die. I'm coming with you but if you really don't I'll leave."
The man stared at her with teary eyes. "No, don't go." He whispered as he clasped her hand. "It's just that it will be hard. There are people out there who would want me dead and they may get you to get to me."
"Let them come." Kaoru said as she looked determined. "Let them come."
A month passed in Tokyo. The leaves were growing on the cherry blossom trees and things had grown calm. Well, not really.
Tetsu shook his head as he held the twin bamboo sticks in his hands. "Okay, try it again." He instructed.
Sano rubbed another freshly formed bruise. "You know, you are starting to make this feel painful."
"No pain, no gain." Tetsu chuckled as he went into attack position again. "You knew what you were getting into when you asked me to train you. If you want to get stronger, you have to fight those stronger than you. I did it by fighting people like Saitou-san and Okita-san and they were real killers."
"Right." Sanosuke muttered as he went into defense position again.
"Hey!" Yahiko yelled as he and Megumi entered the dojo. "Kaoru wrote us a letter!" He announced as he waved the paper.
"All right." Sanosuke said as Tetsu put down the bamboo sticks. "Don't just stand there, read it!"
"I'll read it." Megumi said as she took the letter and opened it.
I'm sorry I didn't write earlier but Kenshin and I had been busy. We have been traveling all over Japan looking for things to do. It was hard sleeping outdoors all the time and sometimes having to eat frogs on a stick but it was fun as well. Sometimes, it just felt so nice and peaceful to be in the sunshine. Still, we missed all of you very much. We may be going to Kyoto soon to visit Tomoe's grave and maybe talk to Hiko. I don't know why but I believe he can still help him.
Kenshin had gotten more confident in himself and his abilities but he was still so uncertain about things. He still had nightmares but they seem to be less frequent now.
Right now, we are helping a village recover from a fire. These guys had lost everything but they were very nice. The kids played with Kenshin constantly and even started calling me 'Kaoru-dono'. Ack! Those kids also gave Kenshin a cute nickname. He didn't tell the villagers his full name for obvious reasons and said he was just a ronin named Kenshin. Well, the kids called him 'ronin ni' Kenshin and somehow it ended up being 'Rurouni Kenshin'. That was just so cute and now everyone, even the adults called him that. I liked that nickname far more than well, you know.
Oh, I have to go and help cook. Don't worry, I got better. I can't wait to show you. Please, be well and take care of yourselves and my dojo!
Kaoru-dono and Rurouni Kenshin
Whew! I'm finally done! This is the first fic I focused on completing in a long time. First of all, I would like to thank Ami-dono for thinking of the idea in the first place. It was such a unique idea. When I first read it, I just fell in love of the idea and it got me thinking, 'What could happen to make Kenshin into a slave in the first place?' and it hit me. I left the story somewhat open for a sequel if I ever decide to actually do one or someone else can. Hee hee.
Secondly but not lastly, I would like to thank all the reviewers who had been motivating me the whole time. Their reviews have been extremely helpful.
Sailor-Earth13- I'm glad you liked the 'picture I painted'. Some of the previous chapter had been based on what I read from the manga and a little bit of creativity.
Xzully anti-nostalgic- Sorry about the little grammar mistakes. *sheepsish look*. Thanks for the compliments. Like I said before, not all of the previous chapter were from the OVAs, some of it I just made up or got from the manga.
Kenshin's-angel- I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Victoria- Yes, most of the last chapter really did happen to Kenshin. Sorry if I spoil it for you. That's okay. Sometimes, these updates tend to be missed. I missed a few fics like that.
Somewei- Yeah, Sano and Kaoru are not the type. Hmmm… maybe someday… who knows?
Invader Zim- Well, Kenshin has a self-confidence problem. I mean, Kaoru was one of the first ones to not show any fear of Kenshin despite his past and abilities.
Brittanie Love- Thanks.
RurouniKenshinMoonWolf- Yeah, the cute ones must have tragic pasts sometimes. That is the power of tragedy. We all know that Sano's not that dumb or oblivious, he's just a typical teenage guy who's slightly stronger than most others.
PraiseDevineMercy- Thank you so much for the tips. I did change the previous chapter to include the warnings. I'm glad you like that part about Tetsu. Hee hee.
BelleDayNight, Ashley, Kaoru Gal, Bu, and 5007- Thanks, I hope you like the final chapter.
Thirdly but not lastly, I wish to thank the wonderful creators of Rurouni Kenshin and PeaceMaker Kurogane for providing great characters for this fic. They are Nobuhiro Watsuki for Ruruoni Kenshin and Kurono Nanae of PeaceMaker Kurogane.
For those of you who don't know, PeaceMaker Kurogane is an anime/manga that took place during the Bakumatsu and it had the Shinsengumi as the good guys. It had Saitou (of course), Okita, and others that the RK characters like Sanosuke were based off of. It's really helpful if you want to write fan fics about the Shinsengumi or want to cover a different side of Rurouni Kenshin.