A/N: No matter how much I admire and respect and love Kenshin; no matter how good of a person he is, I refuse to believe he isn't human. Because being human means feeling and thinking and doing things that sometimes aren't meant to be good. And thus, while delving into Kenshin's character and trying to understand the reasons how and why he is human, this chapter came up.


"The hardest part of walking away from you is knowing that you won't run after me."

A childhood lesson. Letting go. And holding on.


"SELFISH"

A Rurouni Kenshin Fanfiction

by shirotora-san


PART FOUR

Purpose

"What was that just now?!"

It wasn't the sight and sound of people barging into my master's hut that surprised me. Somehow I already expected that, what with the sudden flare of outraged ki just seconds before the door broke down. Twenty years of practicing the art of the sword honed my senses to be alert to ambush attacks so I could react even before I was consciously aware of the enemy's presence.

This time, however, I was rooted to the floor. I couldn't move, couldn't even think. Twenty years of practicing the art of the sword didn't teach me how to react to the sudden presence of people who weren't enemies.

"Who are you people?"

Twenty years of practicing the art of the sword taught me that it was better to trust no one. It's easier to maim, to hurt, to kill, to throw away someone's life when you don't have an attachment to life itself. Even within the Ishinshishi, there were only a handful of people whom I trusted. Even though we were all supposedly fighting for the same ideal, we were fighting in a time of war. Betrayal was as easy as a flick of a sword. Putting your trust in another person was like signing a contract with death itself. I trusted my sword more than I trusted my own people.

There was one person, however, whom I trusted completely.

And I killed her.

My sword wasn't the one that betrayed me. It was my sheath.

Twenty years of practicing the art of the sword taught me that it was much easier to deal with people who would want to kill me than people who would die for me.

"Misao-dono? Yahiko?"

Because those people who would die for me are the people who care. And it hurt to care. That was why it was so much easier to leave them behind. That was why I left this cabin fifteen years ago, and why I left all those people who cared back in the Aoi-ya and in Tokyo. That was why I wandered, and left her lying peacefully underneath the earth in a humble grave that I did not dare visit for ten years. That was why I wandered, and left her crying alone with only the fireflies to offer her light amidst the consuming darkness of the night.

"…Kaoru… dono…"

I left because I cared. And it hurt to care. But it hurt even more to love. It hurt because I wanted to stay.

And she did not ask me to stay.

"Are these friends of yours?"

The disbelief in my master's voice was apparent. Somehow I couldn't blame him. He knew what happened the last time I allowed myself to trust – to care. To love.

"Yes."

He must think I'm a fool for letting it happen all over again.

"It's like Grand Central Station here today."

I tore my gaze away from those liquid blue eyes, dark and deep like the ocean. I refuse to let them draw me in. I refuse to drown in them. I will not be trapped again. I will not be taken by her again.

I will not allow her to hurt me again.

"People should know when they're not wanted."

What right has she to follow me now when she did not even ask me to stay?


"I sought that kimono… just because it was something that I wanted."

The wind tousled my hair as I stared unseeingly at the rushing waters in front of me. I sat beside her quietly and listened until at last she finished telling her tale, and a wall of silence stretched between us – an infinite wall of words left unspoken but understood. A few feet away rested the bucket and the fishing rod, neglected and forgotten.

I leaned back against the trunk of the oak tree and let my sakabattou rest against my shoulder. I held on tightly to the sword by my side – the sword that had always been by my side. Somewhere in the middle of her story, she had let go of my hands. I tried to hold on, but she insisted on letting go. Just like she did so many years ago with the crimson kimono that lay on the topmost shelf behind the counter. Just like she did so many nights ago when she refused to say the words I longed and needed to hear.

"In the end, your reason became irrelevant. In the end, you are still—"

"Selfish," I murmured, recalling her mother's words.

Her head turned slightly to the side as she looked at me. It still amazes me how no matter how softly I speak, she always hears the words I say – and even the words I don't say. That is how I knew, even though I never said it, even though the words I spoke that night were entirely different from what I wanted her to hear… I knew she heard me tell her that I wanted to stay.

I saw it in the way her beseeching blue eyes had helplessly searched my face. I heard it in the deep shuddering breaths she had taken when she tried and failed to stop herself from crying. I felt it in the way her body had trembled pitifully against mine, and the way her cold tears had dropped into the shoulder of my gi, the same shoulder that now supported the sword that both took me away and brought me back to her.

On that evening of May 14th, amidst the soft glow of the fireflies' light, I knew she heard me tell her without words how much I wanted to stay. And it hurt, so deeply and unforgivably, that she did not ask me to stay.

"Kenshin?"

Her gentle, hesitant touch brought me back to the present. A little surprised, I looked down and saw the way her fingers skimmed over mine. Camouflaged in the grass, our hands seemed to meld into one, even though in reality my skin barely brushed against hers. We would always be near enough, just within each other's reach, but we would never be fully touching each other – never fully holding each other. Always so close… and always so far.

I watched as her hand retreated for a moment. She slowly curled her fingers into a fist. And then suddenly, with a renewed determination, she grasped my hand fully in hers.

Confused, I raised my head to look into her eyes. I had always found it strange how people would always comment on how predictable she was, on how easily they could tell when she'd shift from one temperament to the next. Because whenever I'd look into her eyes, I couldn't even begin to fathom the depths of those bottomless blue pools. Sometimes I think she's even more of a mystery than people say I am.

"Kenshin?" she repeated softly. "What do you think my mother was trying to say?"

Why did she reach for me now when she had just insisted on letting go?

Why did she follow me when she didn't even ask me to stay?

"It is you, Kaoru, who doesn't understand. You don't know the difference between value and worth."

I pulled both my hand and my gaze away from her so I wouldn't have to see the mixture of surprise and hurt that flashed across her eyes at the action.

"Sessha believes that Kaoru-dono's mother was right."

Reluctantly, she pulled her hand back and let it rest on her lap. Confusion laced her voice as she timidly asked, "What do you mean?"

I lowered my head and let the fall of red hair cover my shadowed eyes. The weight of the sword by my side felt heavier than ever.

"Sessha believes… Kaoru-dono should've considered the feelings of the kimono."


I picked up the bucket and walked past her without a word. Neither of us spared a glance at each other. Neither of us could. Neither of us was prepared to look into each other's eyes and acknowledge that this time, these eyes were not just images our deluded minds conjured in the days we were apart out of a desire to see what we could never have.

This time, these eyes were real.

"Why did you just stand there?!" I heard Misao exclaim when I had already walked a few feet away from my master's hut.

"Exactly!" came Yahiko's voice. "If you couldn't speak you should have at least started a fight!"

I heard her murmur something under her breath in response, but I was already too far from the hut to make out the words. I pressed my lips together and tried to quell the disappointment I felt. What did I expect her to do, anyway? Did I expect her to call out to me, like she did so long ago within the death grip of Jin-ei's spell? Did I expect her to cling to me, like she did so long ago within the shadows Saitou brought from the past?

I slowly picked my way through the forest, down a familiar path I haven't walked in over fifteen years. My sandals scrape across the ground, the grating sound as loud in the silent night as it was the moment I left her behind with only the fireflies to keep her company. What did I expect her to do now that she has followed me here?

Why was she here? What reason would she have to travel all the way from Tokyo, where she was safe and secure within the company of people who care for her, who can protect her, to come to Kyoto, where she might end up a pawn or – my grip on the bucket tightened – a casualty when Shishio Makoto creates a new world of the strong by burning down the old world of the weak?

I shook my head. What an irrational and stupid girl. She has absolutely no good reason to follow me here. So why was she here, standing just outside the door of my master's hut, as if there was nowhere else in the world she'd rather be?

I stopped in my tracks. Surely… surely… it wasn't because she just wanted to see me?

With a flutter of wings and a rustling of the leaves, an owl hooted from the trees, as if in mocking response to the irrational and stupid joy that suddenly swelled within me at the thought.

I pressed my lips together and angrily stamped the feeling down. No. It wasn't the reason. It couldn't be. Not when she didn't even ask me to stay.

"Sessha wa rurouni…"

I trudged deeper into the forest, into the darkness where I walked alone, without even a single firefly to keep me company.

Even the fireflies chose to stay with her.


She shook her head slowly. Doubt and disbelief had crept into her voice as she spoke. "Kenshin… I'm not sure I understand." Her fingers peeked out of the long sleeves of her kimono as she stroked the fabric meekly, hesitantly. "I-It's just a kimono. It doesn't have feelings."

I closed my eyes and let a small, humorless smile spread across my lips. I should've expected that was the reason. That was always the reason.

"It isn't human, okaa-san."

I could almost feel my smile turning bitter. I never expected, however, for it be her reason as well.

"Sessha believes it does, Kaoru-dono," I murmured. "Sessha believes it does."


I pushed back a long tree branch that blocked my path and stepped through before letting it snap back into place behind me. I brushed away the leaves that got tangled in the mess of my hair and let my eyes take in the dreamlike scene that, after fifteen years, still managed to take my breath away.

I smiled softly. If I didn't know my master that well, and I didn't know how much of a mean old slave-driver he is, I'd think he sent me here to make me feel better.

The denseness of the forest gave way to a small clearing, the tall trees surrounding the area like devoted sentinels guarding a precious secret. The trees opened up to a cloudless sky, and the stars sparkled like diamonds resting against a dark blue kimono. Even with a cool night breeze blowing, the moon's twin on the lake in the middle of the clearing remained still, the reflection never wavering as it stared defiantly up at its source. Moonlight bathed the grasses in a silver-blue glow, and the whole place shone ethereally, the only area in the forest where one can escape the looming and choking darkness of the night.

The smile on my face faded. Such serenity and beauty is the perfect shelter for the cruelest form of evil. Such peace is the perfect camouflage for the unrest that lies beneath.

I remember a clearing like this that I encountered not so long ago with Misao in another part of Kyoto's many forests. Only that time, I had seen that clearing in the light of day. And it showed all the more clearly how the leaves were bathed not in the silver-blue light of the moon, but in the sickening stench and color of blood.

It was a strange and painful twist of fate that I had once more encountered death much earlier than I had wanted to.

Perhaps in many ways, it was fortunate that Misao and I had found Eiji that afternoon, lying in the arms of his dead brother. I couldn't save his brother's life, but at least it gave me a chance to free the Shingetsu village from the clutches of Shishio's men. I couldn't save his brother's life, but at least it gave me a chance to save many more innocent lives. I couldn't save his brother's life, but at least it gave me a chance to face and learn about my opponents sooner, a chance to find a stronger sword that cannot kill and save the grandchild of that sword's maker, a chance to defeat the resurrected man from the Bakumatsu who has the power to reduce Japan into nothing more than a pile of ashes from which he would arise like a horribly mutated phoenix.

But it doesn't change the fact that I couldn't save Eiji's brother. Nor does it change the fact that I could only stand back and listen helplessly at Eiji's howl of unfathomable grief and despair as he saw how the lifeless bodies of his mother and father were displayed piteously – inhumanely – as a testament to the cruelty and heartlessness his fellow human beings are capable of.

No one deserves that kind of suffering. No one.

The grass crunched beneath my feet as I strode forward and dipped the bucket into the lake. The moon's innocent twin was shattered.

No human being deserves that kind of suffering. Not even me.

I straightened and watched as the ripples began to recede. My reflection on the water was shadowy and wavy, and I could almost imagine that it was a red-haired monster lurking beneath the surface just waiting for its chance to jump out and devour me.

No human being deserves that kind of suffering. It just so happened that the world was so intent on proving that I'm not a human being.

The waters finally stilled and I saw my reflection finally take on a human form. And even amidst the shadows and the silence, I saw clearly the way my eyes stared back at me.

They were tired eyes. Tired of seeing death and destruction. Tired of seeing endless wars and cycles of betrayals. Tired of watching loved ones die. Tired of watching others watch their loved ones die. Tired of holding back tears because there are no warm and gentle hands to wipe them away from a bloodstained face.

No human being deserves that kind of suffering. But I'm not a human being, because I'm kinder and nobler and stronger than all the men who had fallen before me, and therefore I'm the only one capable of bravely carrying the weight of every suffering of every other human being on my shoulders. I'm the only one who can save Japan, and everyone else is counting on me.

That was how she saw me. That was why she did not ask me to stay. Because she knew our country needed its hero more than she needed to someone to stay – willingly, wholeheartedly, lovingly – by her side.

I could only wish that I was as kind and as noble and as strong as she believed I am. I could only wish that was how I saw myself. I could only wish that she would never know the real reason why I went to her to fulfill my promise of watching the fireflies with her.

It wasn't because I wanted to say goodbye. I never wanted to say goodbye. It was just the only thing left to say when she did not ask me to stay. And I wanted to stay – with her, with all of them. Because like every other human being, I just wanted to have a home. I just wanted to be home.

My gaze was transfixed on the clear waters of the lake. I could see the hollows deepening around my eyes, the shadows darkening beneath them. In the silver-blue light of the moon, my eyes looked dull and lifeless.

She never saw my eyes that night. She never saw how tired they looked, and how much suffering it had seen, and how much more suffering it doesn't want to see anymore.

The real reason why I came to her that night was because for once in my whole damned life, I wanted to be selfish. I wanted to believe that I had already sacrificed enough, that I had already lost enough, that I had already suffered enough – that everything I did and everything I've been through was enough. I wanted to believe that here, now, was an equally selfish creature who would find in me the happiness I find in her and would selfishly ask me to stay with her.

But the world was so intent on proving to me that I'm not a human being. Because it graced me with a kind and noble and strong woman who was unselfish enough to let me go.

And perhaps she was right. Perhaps I am kind and noble and strong enough to be Japan's hero once more. Perhaps my tired eyes can stand to see more suffering. After all, I'm not a human being. I'm kind and noble and strong enough to be unselfish. Just as I had always been.

I turned away sharply and a pebble dropped into the lake, dissolving my reflection into that red-haired monster once more.

My country needs me. And I cannot turn my back on my people. Not when Hitokiri Battousai – not when I – already caused them too much suffering. And so it is only right that I turned my back on the one person I needed more than Japan needed me. And it is only right that she did not ask me to stay. It is only right that even then, there, in my home, with all the people I love, she did not allow me to be selfish.

I began to walk back the way I came. My footsteps became louder. Rougher. Harsher.

Damn her for not asking me to stay.

A twig snapped underneath my feet.

Damn her for not being selfish.

A squirrel scurried away in fright.

Damn her for not allowing me to be selfish.

A wildflower was crushed as I walked all over it.

Damn me… damn me… for wanting to be.

The water sloshed loudly against the wooden bucket as I headed back to my master's hut. The weight of the sword by my side felt heavier than ever.


Everything was red. Everywhere I look, everything I once saw as beautiful and peaceful was painted in red.

I always hated this time of the day. While most people would enjoy watching sunsets, I detested it. I could never understand what it was about sunsets that people actually looked forward to. It signals the end of the day and ushers in the silence of the night – with all its shadows and omens and coldness and loneliness. During the days when I worked in the fields, a sunset meant the beginning of another night of hunger and going back to a shabby hut where wailing siblings and ailing parents waited. During the days of the Bakumatsu, a sunset meant the beginning of another night of black envelopes and bloody corpses on the streets. And during my days of wandering, a sunset meant the beginning of another night of sleeping on cold ground without a roof overhead and with only wild animals for company.

I always hated this time of the day. Because sunsets signal the coming of the night. And I hated the nights even more.

Silence settled between us as I stared unseeingly into the distance. The sun had settled haughtily on the horizon and burst into a ball of fire, and the once pure blue heavens and waters was doused in liquid flames, as if fire's destructive nature wasn't enough on earth. The once lively green leaves turned a sickening mixture of brown and copper that made the trees and plants look withered and burnt. And even the people aren't spared from the sun's unsettling blanket of red. At a certain angle, the once porcelain white skin of the Japanese seemed to turn into a strange blend of pink and yellow, the way they would look like if they were sick – or if they were dying.

I understand now, a little, how she could love it. But I could never understand what she found so beautiful in that red kimono.

I closed my eyes and tried to shut it all out. But in a day as bright as today, I could clearly see the light through my eyelids. Even they were colored red.

I sighed.

"What did it feel?"

I opened my eyes and looked at her questioningly. In the shade of the tall oak tree, the color of the kimono she wore darkened almost to that of blood.

She blinked when she realized I was staring and, following my gaze, she glanced down at herself. She smiled briefly – and a little sadly. "You said that I should have considered this kimono's feelings when I refused to buy it." She raised her head to face me again. "Why, Kenshin? What do you think it felt?"

In the shade of the tall oak tree, her skin looked deathly white against her blood red kimono.

She was surprised when I suddenly stood up. I could feel her gaze following me curiously as I slowly took a few steps forward until I could see the outline of my reflection on the flaming river. I saw clearly the way my eyes stared back at me. They were tired eyes. But they were also hard eyes. Defiant. Hurt. And… a little angry.

"Why did it have to have a purpose?"

My back was still facing her when I spoke. I could almost imagine her blinking in confusion. "I beg your pardon?"

My reflection talked back to me as I continued. "Kaoru-dono said that she learned from her mother that a work of art should be judged by the heart of the artist who made it. That was why Kaoru-dono thought that the artist created that kimono for a much higher purpose other than to be owned by Kaoru-dono. Did sessha get that right?"

The doubt had crept back to her voice. "Well… yes, that's right…"

My hands curled into fists. "But when the artist created that kimono… did he really have a purpose in mind?"

The wind picked up slightly, and a noticeable drop in temperature forewarned a coming night chill.

"Kenshin." A rustling sound behind me told me she had slowly stood up as well. "What exactly are you getting at?"

"What if the artist created that kimono for no reason at all? What if the kimono is just simply that? And even if it does have a purpose…"

I looked at her over my shoulder. Her eyes widened.

"Why can't a kimono be just a kimono?"

A strong gust of wind suddenly blew our hair against our faces. The strands settled back against our cheeks and shoulders as the air died down, but our gazes never left each other's faces. For what seemed like the longest time, our eyes – her wide blue ones surprised, my narrowed violet ones challenging – were locked upon each other.

"Th-That…" she finally managed to say. "That was the same thing my mother told me." She slowly shook her head. "But… I don't understand, Kenshin. I really don't."

I slowly returned my gaze to the river.

"If the artist created that kimono for a much higher purpose…"

My tired eyes looked angry.

"How come no one else wanted it?"

But they also looked a little sad.

"Kenshin…"

"Two years is a long time. Didn't Kaoru-dono ever wonder why no one else bought that kimono since she saw it?"

She remained silent, but the soft crunching of the grass gave her away. She was stepping closer to me.

"Kaoru-dono heard what the old lady who owned the shop told her. No one else wanted that kimono."

"For the past ten years, I have fought to keep myself from becoming Battousai."

"They said that it was too expensive, and the color was too exotic."

"However, that battle with Saitou really taught me something."

"The price was too high for something so strange."

"Deep within me, there is a vicious manslayer who will never change."

There was awe in her voice when she spoke. "You remember everything I told you?"

"But you were able to go back to normal soon afterwards!"

I closed my eyes. "Yes."

"No matter how close you get to the Battousai, you are yourself, Kenshin!"

"Sessha remembers everything."

"A rurouni who doesn't kill…"

She laughed softly. "But that's because all those other customers are idiots. They don't know a beautiful piece of work when they see one."

I whirled around to face her angrily. "But that's precisely the point!"

Startled, she unconsciously took a step back, her hand over her heart. "K-Kenshin?"

"You were the only one who saw beauty in that kimono! You were the only one who saw something special in it! You were the only one who thought it was worth having, worth keeping! You were probably even the only one who noticed it exists! Kaoru-dono—!"

I quickly turned my back to her and scrunched my eyes shut. There was a familiar prickling at the corners of my eyes, but I wasn't worried. My tired eyes were used to holding back tears anyway.

"Kaoru-dono…" I whispered. "…was the only one who ever wanted it. And she let it go."

Behind me, she was silent and still. Not even a rustling of cloth or a crunching of the grass to indicate a movement from her. Even her aura was unreadable.

My fists tightened and trembled. Maybe she understands now. Maybe she understands why no one else wanted what she alone found so beautiful.

"It must've been lonely," I said quietly. I slowly opened my eyes and saw my reflection talking to me again. "Up in that dark and cold and dusty shelf, hidden among fabrics of more normal and more cheerful colors… that kimono must've felt lonely."

In the distance, I could hear happy noises of children playing in the afternoon sun. I could hear parents calling their children to dinner, and I could hear footsteps running towards the sounds of these voices. Welcome, familiar sounds of home.

"Day after day, it must have watched how people would pick another kimono over it. It must have wondered why no one would even considering buying it. It must have wondered if there was something wrong with it." I chuckled bitterly. "It must have wondered if the artist knew that creating it was a mistake in the first place."

"Kenshin…"

"Then this little girl came into the shop. And for the first time… someone actually looked at that kimono. Not with disgust or contempt, but strangely, with wonder and admiration. And the kimono was amazed that even with so many colorful fabrics around the shop, this little girl was drawn to this unwanted red kimono, hidden in that dark and cold and lonely shelf."

The flames on the water were disappearing. Rays of red and orange light still shot out from the horizon, but the sun can now hardly be seen as it slid slowly downwards, behind tall trees and rooftops.

"Then the kimono was even more amazed when the little girl kept coming back for it. And she would take no other kimono, wouldn't even look at another kimono. And for the first time, the kimono felt a ray of hope. It had been in the darkness for so long. Here, now, was a little girl who might finally let it out into the sun, where it could finally experience the world it used to only watch through stained glass windows. "

I tilted my head back and raised my gaze to the sky. The edges were already tinged with purple and gray. Night was coming.

"The day came when the little girl finally had the kimono in her hands. They were good hands – warm and soft and gentle. And then…"

I closed my eyes and let my head drop back down.

"…the little girl just let it go." I gazed at the river through half-lidded eyes. In the dying light, I couldn't tell anymore whether my reflection looked more like a man or a monster. "And the kimono doesn't understand. How could the little girl just let it go back to the darkness it wanted to leave behind?"

The temperature dropped a few notches lower. I shivered.

"She felt unworthy."

Startled, my eyes snapped open when she spoke. "What?"

"The little girl felt unworthy of the kimono," she continued quietly. "She believes that she won't be the only one who will see the value of that kimono. It's impossible that no one else will see how special and beautiful it is. And she believes that it would serve a better purpose other than to be owned by her."

"But what about its worth?"

It was small and almost inaudible, but I heard her surprised gasp nonetheless.

"It might be valuable to someone else. And perhaps it does have a higher purpose. But when that purpose is met, and its value is finally exhausted, it will only be put away once again, kept in a dark shelf or closet until someone else finds another use for it."

The air was getting colder. I could sense that she was shivering too.

"But that is not what a kimono is worth." I looked at my reflection in the river. And somehow, when I curled the corners of my lips, I saw how my tired eyes are also capable of smiling. "A kimono's worth is to be worn. To be seen. Therefore, it has to owned. And that's all the kimono ever wanted."

It was faint, obscured by the palette of colors still spiraling from the setting sun, but at one corner of the sky, an outline of the moon started to appear.

"It just wanted to be wanted."

And the emerging silver-blue ring of moonlight promised that the coming night wouldn't be as dark and gray as it usually was.

"Because to be as beautiful as it is meant to be, the kimono has to be taken care of."

The dusk air promised a cold night ahead. Yet the setting sun still offered warmth while it still can.

"It has to be… loved."

Gentle fingers touched my shoulder. I jumped in surprise. I never even sensed her coming up behind me.

"Kenshin…" she said softly, her voice a tender caress near my ear. "This isn't only about the kimono, is it?"

I turned my head towards her, and with our faces only inches away from each other, I found myself gazing straight into her eyes. I never noticed it before, but her eyes… they looked tired as well.

"No," I whispered. "No, it's not."


Water splashed over the bucket and onto the ground as I abruptly stopped at the foot of the hill. I stared at the path that would lead me back to my master's hut. I felt strange knowing that he is waiting – that she is waiting. Two different embodiments of two different homes I left behind together under the same roof.

Both of them did not stop me from leaving. One of them, however, followed me.

I started walking through the uphill path, more slowly this time. My mind was whirling, confused and at a loss at what to do.

I don't understand. She didn't stop me from leaving, she didn't even ask me to stay, yet she chose to follow me and now she's here. And she's not alone too. Misao is here, Yahiko is here, and knowing how stubborn he is and how he won't listen to anything I'd tell him anyway, I bet Sanosuke is probably on his way here too. All of them will now be directly in the line of fire when Shishio attacks. And now this battle is going to be even more troublesome.

I gripped the bucket tighter. This is precisely why I left them all behind. I left them because I don't want to selfishly stay and put them in danger. I left them because I don't want to selfishly stay and be happy with them while I turn my back on my people whose happiness will be destroyed by Shishio, a ghost from a turbulent past that I helped create. I left them because… because I am selfish. I want them around, I need them around, and I'd rather leave them than lose them completely.

I ground my teeth together in frustration. Those idiots! If they knew how much they really meant to me, and if they really care that much for me, then the least they could do for me is to stay alive for me! They should have just protected themselves by staying home! They're being selfish by following me here!

I stopped in my tracks. My eyes widened.

They're… being selfish… by following me here.

They didn't come here to fight. And even if it was somehow the real reason, it wasn't the primary reason. If it was patriotism or nationalism or simply a love for our country and our people, they could fight in another way – and each in their own different homes. Sanosuke and Yahiko – and yes, I believe, even she – could protect Tokyo if they stayed. Now that I think about it, Tokyo's in even more danger than Kyoto. This is where Shishio might be, but Tokyo is slowly becoming the new capital of the country. It's the perfect target, and she and Sanosuke and Yahiko, they should have stayed to protect it. And Misao, she could enlist Okina's help and they could mobilize the Oniwanbanshuu and protect Kyoto from the inside. If they were really fighting for unselfish reasons, then they have absolutely no good reason for coming here.

Except… except perhaps… if they were fighting for a selfish reason.

I swallowed. I forcibly lifted my feet off the ground and walked the last few remaining steps towards my master's hut.

"If you have to leave then leave! But if you're leaving, at least tell me your name."

And that selfish reason…

"Battousai was the name of the patriot a long time ago. But then I guess you wouldn't want to tell me your real name…"

Just might be…

"Kenshin. Himura Kenshin. That's my name now."

Both Yahiko and Misao turned to me as I finally appeared in the doorway. And as I drew nearer, their expressions grew wary – annoyed, angry and afraid all at once. Expectant.

She's here, their eyes seem to tell me. She's here - Misao's eyebrows creased, and Yahiko's hands curled into fists - and we're here, so why are you ignoring us?

"I'm a little tired of traveling."

Don't we matter? Misao pressed her lips together, and Yahiko's fists tightened. Doesn't she matter?

"A rurouni never knows where he's going or for how long."

Because you do. Misao's eyes softened, and Yahiko lowered his gaze. And that's why we're here.

That's why she's here.

"But if you don't mind that…"

My master smirked at me. And for some reason, he had a knowing look in his eyes as he glanced from me to her and back.

"I'll stay with you a while."

And she… she was sitting on the floor in front of him, silent and unmoving.

She didn't ask me to stay.

"I never said I wanted Battousai to stay!"

But she never said she didn't want to be with me.

"…I want the rurouni."

She followed me. She might want to fight with me for our country, she might want to ask me to come home to Tokyo with her, with all of them, but somehow, I now know the real reason why she followed me – just as she knew the real reason why I came to her that evening of May 14th.

She followed me because she simply wanted to see me.

She… was being selfish.


End of part four


A/N: Ah well… I never seem to be able to keep my promises, don't I? Sigh. It's a disease I have – my stories keep evolving into more than what I first plan it to be. So yes, there will be another chapter. But it will be the last one. For real this time. Because I had already written most of it. ;) And it will be a short one – just an epilogue of sorts, and as a sort of introduction (a foreboding?) to the Jinchuu Arc. :)