Kokoro No Itami Nakunaru Made Zutto
Author: Hitokiri Gentatsu
Summary/Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin. He came from the pen of Nobuhito Watsuki and is owned by Shueisha 'Jump Comics', Fuji Television and others.
Chapter Six: Hidden from the Eyes of the World
"I will lend my sword to your cause…but once the battle has been won…I will never kill again…never again."
The ghosts of his past surrounded him and they all seemed to be stabbing every inch of his body with their already bloody katanas. They were after revenge for their deaths by his sword and there was nothing Kenshin could do to stop them. He screamed and tried to throw them off to no avail.
"Please just kill me. It's no more than I deserve," he moaned.
A quiet voice called out to him through the darkness and pain, speaking a name he had not heard in years, not since he was a small child.
"Mother?" Kenshin reached out to the sound of his mother's voice and felt someone's cool hands touch his face.
He cried out as the ghosts began to stab him again. He tossed and turned trying to throw them off but he was too weak and they had him pinned down.
"Just let me die," he whispered. "I'm too tired to fight anymore. I can't…"
"Shinta listen please. You must live. You have to live…"
Kenshin began crying uncontrollably. He was badly hurt and it felt as if his body was on fire, the ghosts of his past continued to attack him and now voices from his past were haunting him. It was almost too much for his overwrought body and mind to take.
"It's better I should die. I deserve it for all the pain I caused others. For all the death I brought…"
He heard another voice, the soft, quiet and calm voice he knew so well.
"What of your promise to me? Would you dishonor it and me? I did not give my life to save yours so that you could throw it away now nor did the others who died to protect you. You have to live. They still need you. Please live for me."
"I will try…for you…"
The voices and ghosts around him slowly faded until he finally fell into a true and deep sleep.
"Masahiro-chan, please fetch some more bandages and some fresh water."
The child left the room without a word of argument or complaint to get the items Takako had requested. She kept an eye on the young man who seemed to be in a peaceful slumber now after weeks of thrashing around and crying out in delirium.
Takako took the damp cloth from his brow and checked his temperature again. It was slowly returning to normal and his face was not quite as flushed as it had been. Takako and the others had worked on clearing his system of the poison it had received for several days and now it finally looked like it had all been worth the effort. He had survived but only barely and he would be weak for some months to come. If she had waited even a minute more he would have found an early grave. He was lucky he seemed to possess some hidden inner strength that belied his seemingly fragile appearance and a will to live that far surpassed most people's.
Shihobu entered the room bringing the afternoon meal with her.
"He still hasn't wakened?"
"No. His body is still healing itself from the poison but he is out of danger now and he will live."
"You have done a remarkable job. It's almost a miracle…"
"I did what anyone else would do." She never took her eyes from Kenshin's sleeping form.
"You should rest. I can watch him for a while," Shihobu said quietly.
Takako nodded and silently rose from Kenshin's side. She took the tray of food and walked to the open door and then turned to Shihobu. "He will need fresh bandages on his wounds and see if he will take some more of the medicine now."
Shihobu nodded and Takako left with the food, pondering whether she should tell the others the secrets she held within her heart regarding herself and this seemingly innocent boy.
"He is the Hitokiri Battousai." The thought did not frighten her or make her heart fill with rage like it once might have or like it had a few months ago when he had burst into that clearing to save them.
She had heard rumors when she lived in Kyoto, no one could not have lived in that war torn city without hearing people talk of an Ishinishi shadow that slew without mercy and in the darkness of the night. Even though her father worked for the Shogunate and was a member of the Shinsengumi, she couldn't help but admire the skill it took for this shadowy figure to do his job. She could also admire a man who stood up for what he believed in. Truth be told, her heart was with the Ishinishi.
She always believed that she had caught a glimpse of the infamous hitokiri from a distance in an alley one night early in the fighting. He was shorter than she thought he would be but the figure's red hair marked him as the Hitokiri Battousai. Her father had always told her that if she ever saw him she was to report it immediately to him but she never did. He had only been walking and she was not absolutely certain it was him anyway. She merely liked to pretend it was.
In the end it was her sympathies for the rebel faction that got her into trouble with her father and later the Shinsengumi. She was known in the Ishinishi circles for taking in wounded members after their battles in the streets of Kyoto but her father never knew of it. She set up a safe house where she would treat their injuries and allow them to stay until the Shinsengumi began to seek other prey. (Ironically that prey was often the Hitokiri Battousai.) This safe house was not far from her father's yet, despite that, the Ishinishi knew they could trust her to take them in and not give them away. At the same time they never asked her for any information about Shinsengumi or Shogunate business knowing that she would never dishonor her father in that way.
One night, not long after she had thought she saw the Hitokiri Battousai from a distance, she had an opportunity to see him again. Two Ishin samurai came into her safe house late with a third wounded man between them. She had them lay the man down and had begun to work on stopping the bleeding in his leg when the higher pitched voice of one of the men drew her attention. It was him again. The same man she had seen in the alley before.
"So this is their prime hitokiri, the one everyone fears?"
She studied the man before and what she saw surprised her. He was a lot shorter then she had thought from her brief glimpse of him in the alley and he was also much younger, not even a man yet. His face was disfigured by a scar on his left cheek that rumor said was left by one of his many victims. She watched him for several moments more before returning to her work.
"Will he be all right?" said a quiet voice next to her several moments later.
Takako jumped and found the Battousai standing next to her.
"I didn't even hear or sense him there," she thought as her heart pounded in her chest.
"If he rests for a few days, he will be fine," she replied calmly as if he hadn't frightened her in the least.
She looked into his eyes then and saw coldness but there was also something else in the violet gaze: sadness and loneliness. He smiled but that smile was devoid of any warmth and she saw his eyes change from violet to amber and then he was gone, leaving Takako to look at the spot he had been a moment before and the other man to mutter an apology and call after him to wait. A few days later her father was killed by the boy she had briefly seen a few nights before.
She had been grief stricken and had, from that moment on, closed her heart to all the suffering around her. She walked around the city of Kyoto hoping to take her revenge on the Hitokiri Battousai. She wandered for days, unable to find her father's killer. She was still dazed by her father's death and hadn't eaten for weeks when she finally found herself at the outer doors of a nunnery, where she began to slowly rebuild a life for herself. When she returned to the living world, she heard the Shinsengumi controlled the city and were in search of her because of her connection to the Ishinishi. She decided to remain hidden at the nunnery but she never forgot what had happened nor did she forget her vow to avenge her father's death. She spent years nursing her hatred for the man who had killed her father, letting it grow as time passed. Never letting it go
And now here he was again. The very man who had so heartlessly killed her father and left him to rot in the streets was here and under her power. She had the chance to avenge her father's death once and for all but now she found in her heart that she could not do this. The boy had changed. She had seen evidence of this in his eyes and deeds. He deeply regretted his actions. Pain and sorrow were still etched into his eyes but it seemed deeper than before. His smile held the warmth of life in it now and not the coldness of death.
Somewhere along the way he had stopped his headlong flight into darkness. Something or someone had taken the darkness from his heart and replaced it with light. He had not killed the bandit leader when he had the chance too and he had stood up to defend the villagers when no one else could. This was not the same man she had meet briefly a few years before. He was different and he was trying to atone for the evils he had committed. He deserved the chance to live. He deserved a chance to prove to himself and others that he was not an evil monster and that even the Hitokiri Battousai could be a peace loving and gentle man. Who was she to take his second chance at life from him? What gave her the right to take his life? She let him live and she prayed her father's spirit could forgive her.
He woke with a start, so suddenly that the woman who sat next to him jumped up in fright. He'd been dreaming again of the bloody terror of Kyoto. He panted with fear, his body trembling and his heart hammering in his chest. His eyes darted around the room taking in everything about it. Finally, his eyes came to rest on Takako, who was staring at him.
"Gomen nasai, Takako-san. Please forgive me." He laid back down on the futon and stared at the ceiling, wondering how much time had passed.
"It's alright, Himura-san. You just startled me. How are you feeling? You've slept for near a month now." She looked down at him with concern.
Kenshin looked over at her confused. Takako's entire attitude around him had changed. She was being polite to him and there was concern mirrored in her eyes. She no longer seemed angry with him. He took stock of himself and found that, although the wounds ached, they were no longer as painful as they had been. He felt weak from a combination of the poison and being in bed so long but otherwise he felt better than he thought he would.
"I feel better. Weak but better," he said looking up at her.
"I am glad." She turned away from him and walked to a table. "I have brought you some food."
Kenshin found that he was starving and he sat up so that he could eat the soup she brought. Takako left him to eat alone but he didn't really mind. He wanted time to think about things. He felt strangely relieved to find that he was still alive and he found the food before him tasted better than any food ever had before. For the first time since Tomoe's death it felt good to be alive again. Was his heart finally beginning to heal at last? Was the darkness that had encompassed his soul for so long be lifting as it had once before? Would he find a place in this new era?
For the next several weeks all Kenshin had the energy to do was rest. He was weaker than he thought he would be from the poison so any activity tired him greatly. This made him irritable and argumentative. Finally, the nuns gave him some chores to do to keep him active but without taxing his limited strength. This made him feel better because at least he wasn't forced to be cooped up in that small room that did not even have one window in it for hours at a time. Happily, Kenshin did the laundry and washed the vegetables, making it almost like a game for the children who came to watch.
All the children were happy to see him back on his feet again and they followed him constantly, clearly afraid that he would leave them again. Kenshin sat for hours watching them play games and them tell him about things like the flock of birds that flew overhead or the fact that one of the older boys had been caught trying to kiss one of the girls. In return Kenshin told them stories that he remembered his mother telling him as a child and spent time making up new games for them to play. Life had returned to normal at the shrine and soon Kenshin had grown strong enough to be allowed to do whatever he wished.
The first thing he did was play with the children. They romped through the woods together for hours, while playing the games he had invented for them. He showed the older ones what plants could be used for medicine and which ones were good to eat. He spent hours outdoors as if trying to make up for all the time he spent ill. His heart was as carefree as a child's and he was happy. He also made sure to continue his interrupted training with his sakabatou, growing more and more sure of how it would react to certain techniques and finally developing a new battoujutsu stance and technique that, in time, would be just as effective with the sakabatou, which was not designed for battoujutsu, as the old one had been with his other katana.
He began also to notice changes in the village. Akira was restored to his rightful place as the village's lord and the people of the village were much happier and seemed to be prospering again now that the threat to their lives and property was gone. They treated Kenshin with more respect then he thought he deserved but he let them. He had saved their lives. The nuns were asked to stay at the shrine as there had been no one there for years and the villagers promised to repair it and supply them with all the food it needed to run and several of the children were taken into new homes. The run-down houses at the edge of town were repaired and stood waiting for new occupants to fill them. They had asked him to have the best one but he had politely declined, telling them that he was a wanderer and that he preferred the house be given to someone else, suspecting that there were a few of the older orphans who were ready to marry.
He was happy that he had helped the village and the people but he was beginning to feel restless again. He had spent far too much time in this place and it was time for him to move on before he put them in any more danger. He had already said his farewells to the children after playing one last game with them. Now, he walked to the stream one last time to see the sunlight reflect off its surface and was surprised to find Takako and Akira there as well. He walked up to them and bowed.
"So you came here before you left?" Akira 'looked' at Kenshin whose mouth was opened in surprise.
"Yes, I must move on. I can't afford to stay in one place too long."
Akira nodded and Takako said softly. "Because you feel you are a threat to us being who you are."
Kenshin stared at her.
"I have known since you rescued us in that clearing and I have something to tell you." She told him the entire story of her life before becoming nun. "I thought I wanted revenge for the death of my father but then I noticed that you were not the same man you once were and I couldn't take your life. I hope you can forgive me for my lack of manners and for my desire to kill you."
"Takako-san, it is I who should be begging your forgiveness, though I know it is too much for one such as I to hope for. I regret the killing I did and am trying to atone for it. I am sorry for causing you pain." He bowed at her.
"And I forgive you. Please come back this way again. You will always be welcome at the shrine." She smiled at him and left.
"She will be fine now, Himura-san," Akira said. "Everyone will be fine now, thanks to you. You are welcome to return to Yasou Village anytime. If one day you find you are able to settle down then please return here."
Kenshin smiled and bowed. "Arigato, Akira-san. I will think about it on the road. But for now I think I must move on."
Akira nodded to him and smiled. Kenshin looked out across the river trying to gather his thoughts before moving on.
"Well, I must return to my estate. Akira-chan will be looking for his 'grandfather' and I still have to train my new retainers." Akira rose from his place on the rock and smiled.
Kenshin nodded. "Good luck to you then."
Akira bowed and left wishing him luck. It was time for him to move on but now he had a clearer understanding of his purpose.
"Tomoe…I will continue to follow this path you have set me on. The path that I hope will lead me to peace."
He smiled and walked out of Yasou Village.
A famous Hitokiri lay aside his sword
Swearing an oath to kill no more
From the darkness of the night
He thus returned to the light
Sought a path that lead to peace
There he at last found release
At Kyoto's gate he left his name
He disappeared leaving only his 'fame'