Disclaimer/ Author's Note: I don't own Ruroken or its characters. I do, however, own the characters, Ushiro Ryu, Kano and Nozomi (which you may borrow if you let me know), and I own the original that this fic is based on, "Out of Time." This is its prequel, set approximately 5 months before "Out of Time" and around a month after Tomoe's death...

Amethyst and Amber

"In the cold of winter I found the other half of me.
An amethyst broke through the walls of silent solitude.
But we are lost in a world of despair,
So we head for the ocean; a destination unknown…"
--Draconian, "Akherousia"


Okami's inn had been destroyed during the chaos of the Ikedaya affair, when the Ishin shishi had been forced to scatter, and Katsura-san had gone into hiding. Many comrades were missing, either hiding or scouting or dead. No one was quite sure which. It was hell during those days.

And during all of this, the okami of the Kohagi Inn chose to rebuild, closer to the edge of town. Nearer to the bridges. A bit further from the heart of Kyoto where blood pumped through the streets as the Shinsengumi weeded out "traitors" to the government. Assassinations. Public executions. Seppuku. There were more dead than alive in Kyoto those days.

And still, she rebuilt, carefully protecting her girls. Using most of her saved money to do so. Hoping that no one would find it odd or suspicious that someone would be erecting an inn during those harsh times. Grateful that no one seemed to care.

So, when the tide turned again, and we were able to reassemble with Katsura-san within Kyoto, we had a place to stay that wouldn't arouse suspicion.

Those first few weeks back were both dangerous and frightening. We had no idea how many of us would return. Every time a comrade appeared mostly unscathed, it was another blessing to count. Everyone was to stay put for safety's sake until as many as possible were accounted for as either present, traitorous, or dead.

Which is why it was such a surprise when Katsura-san broke his own rule and disappeared for several days. None of us could understand the meaning of it until he returned one evening. Silently, he entered the inn, spoke briefly to Okami, and retreated to his room.

It was then that we saw the silent figure slip in behind him. Outwardly, he had hardly changed. The same flaming hair. The strong, sure grace of his movements. At first, only the scar on his cheek was noticeably different. A second slash now bisected the first.

Then he stepped into the light, revealing his eyes. My heart nearly stopped at the sight of them, and any relief I'd felt at his return froze within me.

His eyes were half-dead. Empty. As though someone had forcefully torn his soul out and killed it right in front of his face. It felt like the completion of a terrible change I'd been watching intensify within him with every life that he'd taken.

Over a year ago, he'd stopped responding to me, and so I had stopped trying to talk to him, recognizing that it had become a futile gesture. He was letting himself become the monster people said he was, and I could no longer get through.

A year ago... when death had stopped having any visible effect on him. When he'd first started frightening even me... because it appeared he'd forsaken his humanity for us. For our cause.

And now here he was, gliding like a haunted shadow through the room as though no one were staring. As though he'd only been gone only a single night. He said a few soft words to Okami and then disappeared down the hall.

I started breathing again when he was gone, angry at myself for acting like such a baka.

Ironically, it was only when Battousai had appeared that I finally realized what had been missing from the inn since I'd returned.

The heady scent of white plums...

Author's Note: First of all, a great big thanks to lolo popoki, sueb262 and FrostPhoenix for beta-ing this chapter! It's greatly appreciated! Secondly, I'm posting it because I'm happy with it, but I won't promise regular updates. Sorry... "A Wolf in Officer's Clothing" takes precidence right now!

Anyway, thanks for reading! Please review!

Dewa mata!