Disclaimer- I don't own Kenshin, or any of the Kenshin-gumi.
In a dusty, roadside inn, the most feared man in the whole of Japan sat somberly, sipping a half-drunk cup of tea. Despite the fact that he was wearing a katana, forbidden in the Meiji era by the government, no one paid much mind.
After all, even though the terror of the Bakumatsu was a decade gone, it was not forgotten. It paid not to be too inquisitive.
At the moment, this infamous character was only distractedly sipping his lukewarm tea, that glimmered like a dusty emerald. His thoughts were more concerned on the future... specifically, his future.
Kenshin Himura, formerly Hitokiri Battousai, was feeling almost worried. Not for himself, certainly not. There were few, in this age or any other, that could come close to harming the notorious swordsman.
No, he was worried because after ten years, ten long, endless years of sleeping in the rain, snow, wind, sun, of eating and never knowing when his next meal would occur, of protecting the weak...
He was growing weary. Kenshin had begun the journey with full vigor, trying his best to atone for the endless oceans of blood spilled by his wayward and misguided sword, but slowly, bit by bit, with each passing day, he had lost a little more of that fire within him.
There was one idea, one sentence that was beginning to etch itself into his psyche, however much he fought with it.
Is this all?
Is this all I can do?
There was no doubt in his mind that he would continue to pursue his redemption, his atonement... but now the question was if this path would ever lead him to that atonement.
Would there ever be a day that he would not take a drink and taste the blood of men, a night when he was not troubled by old nightmares? Would he, at the end of his life, be able to look into the eyes of his beloved?
Even after over a decade since he murdered (he adamantly refused to call it anything else) his wife, the ache was still as fresh as that accursed day, with sanguine flowers blossoming on the ivory ground as a rain of blood soaked him to the bone.
Could there ever be a time that he did not feel that cooling liquid on his body, the slow, deliberate stroke of Tomoe's knife on his scar, the white plum smell of her corpse?
Arai Shukku'u's stinging words haunted his mind, reminding him of just how foolish the idea of protecting the weak with a non-killing sword actually sounded to his ears.
You will always be a hitokiri, the darker half of his consciousness whispered softly. You will never wash the blood from your hands, and what you will see when you die is the men you have killed, welcoming you to Hell.
Unconsciously, the former assassin gripped the hilt of his sakabato tightly, as if reminded of its forger's words.
What would he do? Was this all there was to this path to atonement? An uncertain future with no end in sight?
Is this all?
A feeling so close but not quite despair threatened the Battousai's fragile soul. So very close to giving up that spark of hope, that kernel of that single idea, that atonement was possible.
"You should go to Tokyo."
Kenshin started, disturbed at how lost he had become in his own thoughts as to have not noticed the ki of his fellow patrons. "I do not understand, that I do not." He responded quietly, turning towards his unexpected conversation partner.
The rather elderly man was tall, with a rounded and yet angular face that was quite friendly. His features were worn but not hardened, a sort of grandfatherly aura radiated off of him. Taking his own tea in his hands, he leaned against the wall and smiled.
"You look lost, something that I keep seeing in more and more of these young folk." The man paused, the smile never dimming. "You're a bit different than everyone else here, though. Your soul is so weary and tired, and your eyes are old. Tokyo would be a nice place for someone like you."
The former Hitokiri examined his elder curiously. There... the subtle chaffings, the roughness of the hands- "You were a swordsman."
"As were you, I'd wager." The man countered easily, glancing at the sakabato.
"I thought Tokyo was the new capital... I do not think that would be a good place for me." Kenshin responded quietly, knowing that the trouble that followed him like night follows day could only worsen in the capital of Japan.
"Perhaps... but then again if one was to try and hide, why not do so in plain sight?" The elder retorted.
Kenshin paused. The idea had merit. He himself had used the tactic with his bright pink gi and overly polite demeanor. No one would ever believe that the demon of Kyoto was this Rurouni.
"Who knows... what you seek may just be in the city." The man grinned.
"Perhaps you are right." The swordsman smiled. "Thank you."
To Tokyo then, he told himself.
Maybe there, he could find his answer.
AN: I was tempted to use Kenshin's regular sort of talk (i.e. Sessha, de gozaru, etc.) but I'm not Japanese and not quite familiar enough with the language to use it just yet.