An Inn in Hokkaido
By Calger459
Chapter 4

Conventions: //...// is thoughts, *...* is emphasis


Hokkaido, Year 5 Meji

Madness. Chaos. That was the impression Kenshin got from the next few frenzied hours. His question of where the police had been during the whole riot was quickly answered. The landowners, who also served as town council and administrator of the police, had denied the officers' salaries for that entire season claiming that since the peasants couldn't pay their taxes in full there wasn't enough left for law enforcement. So they'd all essentially been fired. //And to think that I saved those bastards. I suppose though that there was nothing else I could have done. //

Kenshin was back at the inn now, along with the unconscious Yan and dozens of the injured. Sakura's inn was one of the largest buildings in Furano and she'd been gracious enough to accept the people who couldn't fit in the local clinic. The leader of the uprising, much to Kenshin's surprise, had been the most helpful of all. He'd been going non-stop for the past several hours, making the rounds of his men and helping the one doctor with everything. Kenshin sympathized with the man's plight; had he been in a similar situation, rebellion might have been his choice too. //I remember what it was like to be a peasant child, always hungry, my parents struggling to feed us. Even now as a wander-especially now as a wanderer-hunger is a constant concern. // Images of his long-dead family flashed through his mind. He pushed the memory hastily away. That was in the distant past; he didn't need the sadness of their deaths making his current situation any more painful.

Kenshin heard a groan behind him and turned to watch Yan toss and turn feverishly in his sleep. He'd come out of the uprising surprisingly intact. He was burned and bruised, but would recover. Even so, Kenshin regretted that the young man had been hurt at all. //To think he would have tried something so desperate. Even I never thought he could be so foolish. // His heart heavy, Kenshin knelt down carefully beside the young man's futon, wincing from his own collection of burns. He'd exchanged his ruined pink yukata for a plain white one. The magenta robe had vanished soon after, spirited way by a distraught Sakura. //She's probably thrown it away. // Part of Kenshin was relieved to be rid of it, but another part of him was also saddened. He *had* worked pretty hard on the garment after all, and to have it ruined in such an unusual manner...


"Yan-dono?" Kenshin blinked in surprise to see the young man suddenly awake and staring at him. //Thank the gods he wasn't hurt worse. It's a good sign that he's woken up. // "How are you feeling?"

Yan stared at him a moment, eyes bright with fever. He seemed to struggle with his next words. "You...saved me? Why?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Kenshin said earnestly, "What reason would you have to die? I would have taken any chance to prevent an unnecessary death."

Yan stared at him in confusion. "'re a hitokiri. *The* hitokiri! Why..."

Kenshin closed his eyes painfully. "The story behind that is very long, far too long to tell now. My goal now is to protect instead of destroy...without killing. It is a promise."

" who?"

Kenshin opened his eyes and saw genuine curiosity in Yan's gaze. //Well, I suppose there's no harm in telling him. // "Someone long dead, a person as important to me as your Akari is to you."

Yan's eyes widened in surprise, then realization. "Akari! Where is she!"

"I'm here." Kenshin had sensed her standing in the doorway for the past few minutes but had hardly noticed when she'd knelt down beside him. "Arigatou gozaimasu Himura-san, for saving his life. May I speak with him alone?"

"Of course." Kenshin stood and bowed to her. She nodded her head once and turned to Yan, taking his hand in hers. Kenshin left the room, making his way slowly and painfully down the hallway to the mens' quarters. He lay down on his futon with a weary sigh and watched Eji and Mahiro rush around the room, attending to the sakabatou wounds of some of the farmers. He was strongly aware of their awe-struck and slightly frightened stares as he curled up under the blankets. He was too tired to care though. They were certainly no threat now; soundly defeated, injured and without weapons. As sleep settled over him his thoughts drifted to the young couple down the hallway. //I wish the best for them...I hope Yan has found whatever answer he was looking for in all this. //


"Yan." Akari watched her beloved struggle to focus on her and had to bite back harsh words. It was his own fault he'd ended up like this. If only he'd listened to her!

Yan looked dazedly at her. "You waited for me." He smiled. "Thank you."

She glared at him. "You can smile at me like that, after what you said? Do you need me to remind you?"

"No," he whispered, closing his eyes. His mind had already supplied the memory of their argument earlier that day as he had been about to rush out of the inn:

Yan hurried inside the inn, Akari right behind him. "Yan, wait! Where are you going?!"

He stopped and glared at her. "Stay here, Akari."

She felt tears in her eyes as she looked at him. "I can't do that! I can't just stay here while you go risk your life; that's what's happening, isn't it?"

"I'm not sure," he confessed, walking back to her and taking her hands. "Something *is* wrong though, and if it is what I think it is this may be my one chance to set us free. I need to do this; we'll never be happy if I don't prove I'm worth something..."

She yanked her hands away. "How dare you say that! How dare you be so selfish! What worth will you be if you're dead? Being able to tell if I'm sitting in front of you when your eyes are closed is *not* the same as fighting with a real sword! Would you rather die than be with me?"

He stared at her, hurt and confused. "Akari-chan..."

"Please stay here," she whispered, "Let the samurai handle this..."

"Himura-san?" He snorted in contempt. "There's no way I'd do that! There'll be nothing but dead bodies by nightfall if I leave this to him. I can fight Akari, I can! I will prove my worth to everyone."

"You don't need to prove *anything* to me!" Akari was crying now. "You never did, you know that!"

"I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about everyone else!"

Now her eyes blazed with fury through the tears. "You idiot! Are you saying my opinion of you means nothing? If you don't come back I'll be alone and everything we've gone through-"

Yan's eyes were set. "I'm doing this, Akari. It's the only way I know how to break free. I will come back to you, I swear it." He suddenly pulled her into a tight embrace. She leaned into his chest with an angry sigh. "Wait for me, Akari."

"Baka," she whispered brokenly, "You're such a selfish bastard. You know I can't do anything else."

Hurt, Yan let her go. "I will come back." She refused to look at him. "Akari?"

"Just go."

Yan watched her for a moment, then nodded. Without another word, he left.

Yan opened his eyes and looked up at her. "I'm sorry Akari. I'm truly so-"

She leaned over and silenced him with a kiss. Drawing back a little, she stared hard at him. "Just shut up, you idiot! You kept your promise to me, now go back to sleep."

//There's no defying her when she takes that tone...// Yan smiled and obeyed without further protest, Akari watching over him long into the night.


Several days later Kenshin knelt in a quiet corner of the inn, arranging the few belongings he'd arrived with almost a month before. //A month...who knew so much time could pass so quickly and so slowly at the same time? // He was dressed once again in his hakama and heavily patched blue gi. It was still stained with blood in places, blood that refused to come out no matter how many times he washed it. It served as a constant reminder of the life he had led as an assassin, the existence he was still trying to leave behind years after leaving the Ishinshishi. If these weeks at the inn had taught him anything it was that the part of him that was hitokiri was not only still present, it was easily visible to others. He couldn't truly hide from his past behind the Rurouni's cheerful front. //The only thing I can do is keep wandering, before my past does permanent harm to those I meet. // He thought of Yan, Akari and Sakura as he carefully folded the two extra white underlayers for his gi. Inside the folds of cloth he tucked a tiny corked bottle. He hadn't opened it in years, but then he didn't need to; his memory easily provided its scent. //White plum. Tomoe. I hope I've truly kept my promise these last few weeks; the gods know I've tried. //

He finished packing the travel bag with extra food, bandages and medicine for his burns and pulled it shut. Hanging his sword at his side, he made his way to the entrance. Sakura's offer to stay the season, while tempting, was impossible. //I have to leave this place. There were too many witnesses to the uprising. I'm no longer safe, if in fact I ever truly was. //

"Leaving so soon, Himura?"

Kenshin looked up sharply to see Yan standing in his way, arms crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face. "Yan-dono! I'm relieved to see that you're better. Is Akari-dono all right?" Kenshin hadn't seen either of them in days; both Yan and Akari had gone to Yan's father's home the day after the uprising and hadn't returned. Kenshin had been too occupied helping Sakura tend the inn and the last remaining patients to check up on them.

"She's fine. So am I, thanks to you." Yan's tone implied that he wasn't at all happy about this.

Kenshin raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm not sure whether to be insulted or complimented. Which is it?"

Yan suddenly smiled, a genuine smile. Kenshin stared in disbelief. "Both. I'm glad to be alive, and to have survived my stupidity intact. My father is still giving me hell, but that's no surprise. Don't get me wrong, I still don't like you Himura...but I thank you anyway."

In a dim corner of Kenshin's brain, Battousai toyed thoughtfully with a katana blade. //Little ingrate. Can't he give a straight answer to anything? // Kenshin smiled as he answered himself. //No...but I understand him anyway. In the end he still wasn't able to save himself; I had to do it for him. I'm sure he hates that. // "I wish you and Akari-dono only the best. I'm sorry to have caused you so much trouble."

Yan chuckled darkly. "That makes two of us. Actually, it's nice to know that you're human and not a demon like all the stories say. There's a brain and a heart behind that bloody sword; I appreciate that. I wanted you to know that my father finally cancelled my betrothal; I knew the draft thing was only an excuse anyway. This *is* Hokkaido after all."

"True," Kenshin murmured. The government had little power this far from Tokyo; the truth of that had already been made painfully clear. "But what of Akari-dono?"

Yan shrugged. "We're still working on that. She's still pissed at me for running off to fight; I imagine she'll get over that eventually."


"And what?"

Kenshin met his gaze. "Did you come to a resolution? About your worth."

Yan shrugged again. "Only time will tell I guess. You worry about you and I'll worry about me. Yuuna-san's waiting for you out front, you'd better get going if you're going to leave."

Kenshin bowed to him slightly. "Sayonara, Yanagi-dono. Be well."

Yan didn't answer for a moment. "That politeness of yours really is annoying, you know that? Just get out of here."

Kenshin smiled as he left the inn. //Yes, he's definitely himself again. He does seem more at peace with himself, though. Things should work out for him. //

He shivered in the autumn chill as he stepped outside the inn. Winter was definitely close; he could feel its presence in the wind, gusting with a bite sharp as a katana blade. It seemed logical to head back south from here; winter snows carried far too many painful memories for him. //I wish I *could* stay. This inn must be so warm and cheery on winter nights. // He looked up to see a small figure standing at the inn's gate, a wrapped bundle in her arms. Kenshin hovered uncertainly, then decided he should be the first to speak. "Sakura-dono, I wanted to thank you for everything you've done for me these past weeks. Your kindness, generosity and patience have been far more than my actions deserved. It seems I am a difficult houseguest."

Sakura smiled sadly. "Baka. You still blame yourself for everything. Sometimes you have to move backwards to go forwards. Yanagi understands that most of all, now. When will you?"

Kenshin sighed and looked up at the darkening sky; the stars above shone bright and clear. "I wish I could easily answer that. I'm still trying to learn what I'm really here for. Maybe when I can help those around me, instead of causing them pain. When I can save people like Yan-dono from themselves..."

"That is an impossible goal. You can't possibly hope to save people all on your own. Yan-kun told me what you said to him the other day, about you wanting to protect instead of destroy. So isn't that your purpose? To protect those around you?"

"I don't know," he whispered helplessly. "I still don't know..."

"Here." Sakura walked up to him and held out the bundle. "This is for you. It's my appreciation for everything you've done to help us. I regret that you had to risk your life in our petty little struggles."

"They're not petty. Everything I did during the Bakumatsu was done with one goal in mind, to end the suffering of people like Furano's farmers. Things still have changed so little, despite all the blood that was shed. I couldn't just stand by and do nothing."

"So you consider it your duty to help people like us?" Sakura gave him a thoughtful look. " I know the opinion you have of yourself, and I'm sure you have good reasons to feel the way you do. However, I disagree. Despite everything you've said you are a good man, Himura Kenshin. I truly believe that."

He bowed his head and took the bundle. "Thank you," he whispered. "Sayonara."

"I hope to see you again," she said softly. "I wish you well."

Kenshin nodded and stepped out onto the road. He left Furano the same way he's come, under the cover of darkness. He hadn't said goodbye to anyone else. //Hopefully eventually I'll fade from their minds and they'll forget that I was ever here. It's better this way. //

Later that night, guarded against the cold by his campfire, he opened Sakura's gift. He couldn't have been more surprised by the contents. Along with a spare blanket and a wallet with several yen's worth of money (enough to last him the rest of the winter and beyond) he found his pink yukata, cleaned and re-sewn into a gi-length kimono. "Sakura-dono..." he whispered. Kenshin sat for a long moment in silence, just staring at the cloth in his hands. Looking at the new gi he could see places that the old innkeeper had been unable to repair, areas marred by burn marks from when the building collapsed. Almost without thought he reached up to touch the scars on his left cheek. //Yet another mark to remind me of who I am, of my identity...// These marks though, he realized, were not the bloodstains of a hitokiri. They were the burns sustained by a man trying to protect the lives of others. He hugged the cloth to his chest and stared into the fire. //She was right all along. My purpose...I suppose I have one after all. //


Tokyo, Year 12 Meji

Dinner had long since ended and the various members of the Kenshin-gumi had parted ways. Sano has been generally amused by the whole thing ("You just attract all the weirdoes, don't you?"), Yahiko was thoughtfully tactless ("I never thought about the kind of life you had to lead. To think they'd heard of you in *Hokkaido* of all places!"), while Kaoru had just been silent and pensive.

Hours later the couple sat quietly together in their room, the pink gi between them. Kaoru was the one to finally break the silence. "So all this time this gi had so much meaning for you...I never would have imagined."

Kenshin smiled sadly and fingered the old fabric, which was falling apart in ribbons. "I carried the memory of that man for years. He had so many troubles in his life, many of his own making. In some ways we were just alike."

"Really though, he was your complete opposite. Yanagi lived for himself, while you live for others. Those are two very different views of the world."

"I suppose so." Kenshin sighed. "I don't think I can fix it this time, koishii, no matter how good I am at sewing."

Kaoru smiled. "We still have some extra money. Maybe it's time for a new gi Kenshin, in a more flattering color. Besides, I don't think you need it anymore."

He looked at her in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"You've finally found happiness, right? You aren't the same man you were when you met those people." Kaoru reached over the gi and took his hand. "You've said yourself what your purpose in life is, many times. To protect instead of destroy. I don't think you need this gi to remind you of that anymore."

He squeezed her hand back. "True. You'll help me pick the color?"

Kaoru laughed. "Of course! What would you like to do with this gi?"

Kenshin held the fabric up to her face with a smile. "Would you like another hair ribbon? This color definitely suits you better than me."

Her eyes shown. "I would be honored. So what do you think ever became of Yanagi and the others? Did you ever see them again?"

Kenshin picked up the gi and set it aside with an enigmatic smile. "That, koishii, may be a story for another day."


Arigatou gozaimasu: "Thank you very much", very formal
Sayonara: Farewell. You only use this version of "goodbye" when saying goodbye forever or for a long while.
Yen: Nowadays, 100 yen is about a dollar but in the Meji era a yen was worth a *lot* more, almost 100 dollars, so Sakura's gift is a very generous one indeed.
Koishii: beloved
Name order: I didn't mention this before, but I kept Japanese name order (last name first, first name last) for this fic because I'm used to watching the subtitled version of RK and also "Kenshin Himura" just sounds silly to me for some reason....

Notes: Wow it's done, it's done! Now that was an adventure for my first-ever solo fic ;) I owe a whole lot to Ranma-chan for beta-reading the chapters and to the members of the RKFF mailing list for all their encouragement and advice ^_^ Yanagi created himself in Chapter 2 for the purpose of conflict for Kenshin and gradually grew into his own character as I plunged ahead...I *cough* sort of made the plot up as I went. The focus of the story ultimately became Yan and his relationship with Kenshin. As for the pink gi...well, it was the original inspiration for this story and as things progressed it became a symbol for Kenshin and his reasons for wandering. I hope I pulled that off effectively.
Oh, for those who are wondering, Kenshin is *not* a samurai; everyone just assumes he is because of his swordsmanship. He was originally a peasant, which make his association with all the high-ranking government officials (not to mention the fact that he has a last name, probably given to him by Hiko) even more amazing.
This fic is dedicated to Eric-san's Bubblegum Crisis t-shirt, which he insists on wearing despite all the holes and stains because it's his "lucky" shirt. Why lucky? Because he was in a car accident while wearing it in which he went under a truck, the ceiling of the car sheared off and part of the truck stabbed into his shoulder (there's a *huge* rip in the shirt to prove it). So is that lucky? To use his words, "because I lived!" Guys and their strange attachments to clothing ;)
I would like to write more Wandering Years fics with Kenshin eventually, I'm working on sort of a prequel right now, set back when Kenshin first starts wandering. We'll see how that one goes. Oh, I'm writing another Kenshin/Yahiko one-shot too...I just can't resist the lure of WAFF ;) First though, I need to get my art commissions done (yes, I'm a semi-professional artist under all this fangirl-ness ;). My creative muse has been occupied with this story for months and, unlike fanfiction, commissions actually pay -_-;; I hope you all enjoyed it, please R/R!