January—30, 1868

I woke with the jolt, into searing, blinding pain! I shut tight my eyes, even sunlight hurt. The coach settled back onto its trappings without skipping a beat.

I could feel the slick in the crisp linen folds under me—rough and damp and unsettling. Shifting onto the other side, I grit together my teeth and waited. While the pain wouldn't pass, it hadn't all night, it would be easier borne with time.

Clip-clop clip-clop—stone, had to be, so we had left the dirt path. How much further could the inn be? How much further could she?

Bumps were fewer and much much farther between. I wondered briefly what I was traveling with, or who?

I shifted a little to avoid cramping my legs, and settled into the warmth. The sun marked a welcome trail at the mouth of the hood—soft, soothing. I closed my eyes.

X-----------------------------------------------------------------------X

We had been rushed out of Kyoto as the sun was about to slink off behind the far hills. An entire restless day after the first shots had been fired—by us!

It was the emperor's army and not the shogun's who took the first field—massacred the unready, obsolete vanguard. Swords and spears and the Bakufu banner blasted to hell by our guns.

What would we do in a similar field—would ours be the same fate?

We were herded into farm-carts, horse-drawn rectangular boxes, with thatched roofs and benches sat parallel, no foot-space and little to no room under the planks. But it was hardly my place to complain, seated at the end of my row, nearest the earth and the soft wind.

The teahouses and apothecaries gave way to copses and trees and trees, and trees with the liquid scent of the last light dusting lingering from many nights ago. The old wood groaned, wheels creaking along the well used ruts in the dirt track.

The last bump had sent me tumbling into Aheto-san, in front of me. But this time, I crashed into Kensuke, next on the bench, and it didn't stop there. The muttering and curses stopped as soon as they had started—a chink, metal in metal—followed closely by a panicked yelp.

The cart stopped the next second, and a young man, another new face, rushed through, elbowing his way out. Others followed his example, though far more civilly. Some needing to relieve themselves while others wanted to ease their cramped legs. I was left alone, inside, except—I realized, Himura!

The reaction made sense now, even if it was childish enough. As did Kenshin, trying to make himself as small as he could in the half light—which was amusing given the circumstances, and very small indeed. What didn't make sense however was that unmistakable flicker, he tried to mask it, but I was sure of what I'd seen!

But—no! How could that be? Himura, and smiling?

I walked, hunched over, to the seat next to him, as the men trooped back into the cart, pushing and struggling for room. The other ones, ahead of us, had started off. And so did ours.

It wasn't quite the easier set in his shoulder, nor the way he seemed to droop more than glare down at the planks below, nor fatigue, that made me think of the little boy I had once seen, in similar dim lights—seemingly lost, but still hopeful, waiting—with a head full of that absurd hair, in a Kyoto inn filled with other hopeful but eager faces. No. It was simply that he was silent, not the usual thick silence that caught on to most when around him, no, just quietly at ease. Something was definitely amiss!

X-----------------------------------------------------------------------X

I shot awake! Left hand grabbing, right fisting—the angry yell died in my throat.

The cool wet cloth scaled down the length of my face before plopping onto my lap. The girl in attendance seemed stricken. It took me a second to mumble out an apology, and yet another to let go off her hand.

I would have apologized again, but I wasn't quite sure where she was anymore—with my eyes tearing up, and an acrid taste rising up my throat. I felt like I was falling, fast. It hit me, then, that it wasn't my head but my side that was on fire.

I must have reeled back down to the sheets, fingers clutching at the now soggy bandages.

She eased loose my fingers, dabbing at them with the cool cloth. When I opened my eyes next I could discern, through the throbbing in my ears, her face, dimly, looking down, apprehensive. Nozomi.

X-----------------------------------------------------------------------X

February—6, 1868

Okami-san has warned me, bad things will happen if she catches me out of bed, she said. She was smiling then, the first smile I've seen on her face in so long. It's hard to believe—truly, it's over—we've won!

The tables turned even before the Bakufu were denounced, 'rebel forces' that dared to raise swords against the emperor's banner. Doddery lords left and right saw fit to betray the shogun, cut off his troop's backing and supply lines. And the hammer strokes fell heavy—several hard fought defeats in only a week.

I wasn't there when we won Toba, or Yodo, or Fushimi. Fushimi—my comrades, how many have fallen? Where is Katsura-san?

And—Himura, what of him? Had Katsura told him something before we went off? Or had he just known, in his uncanny way, that the end of the bloodshed era and his role as the drawn blade was at hand? Where is he now?

I've been lying in bed, twisting and turning, wondering. So many questions, but only one answer I want, no need by tomorrow.

Okami-san didn't catch me out of bed last morning, even if she knew. I needed time to stretch and think, and Kyoto was finally safe. The walk had only brought me one question, one face, one name. I saw a few flowers, small but sweetly fragrant, on a patch of green not far away. I have only to wait till first light

I close shut my eyes—drift away.

X-----------------------------------------------------------------------X

A huge thanks to lolo popoki for all her help. And to Missbehavin.. one of her journal entries solidified the idea.

Questioning Change has been done to Ushiro Ryu and Nozomi.. both characters by SiriusFan13 from her amazing story, Out Of Time(and many others).The story is a direct prequel to Change(by SiriusFan13) with a few changes.