Kokoro No Itami Nakunaru Made Zutto: Sanctuary

By: Hitokiri Gentatsu

Rating: PG

Summary: Unexpected circumstances lead Kenshin to meeting a Buddhist monk and to make an unplanned trip to Aizu, which is still recovering from its war with the Imperial army. Tormented by events in the recent past and his soul wavering between life and death, can Kenshin find the will to 'live on' in the new era? Here is the third saga in the tale of the wandering years of Himura Kenshin.

Historical Note: In case some of you don't know, the Aizu clan was a strong supporter of the Shogun. The clan staged a rebellion (and I am using that term loosely) and was overrun by the Imperial Army, which was sent to pacify the area.

Author's Note 1: I couldn't wait to start on this one so you lucky readers get it earlier than planned. A word of warning this fic is a bit darker in tone then the other ones have been, so be prepared. Hope you enjoy this one as much as the others and don't forget to review. Thanks!

Prologue: Meiji 3 January 27, 1870

"You can die at any time. Living on is what really takes courage"

Himura Kenshin

RK Episode 21

Subtitled

The fire burned cheerfully in its ring of stones, casting a pool of light that drove back the surrounding shadows. Himura Kenshin paid little heed to the warmth of the fire nor its cheerful glow as his mind was occupied with other, far more weighty matters. Instead of looking at the fire, his eyes were trained on the starry expanse of sky above him. He stared at the stars with an intensity that he usually reserved for his opponents during battle, as if trying to divine whatever secrets of life the stars might impart to him. He was a man in search of answers, answers to the myriad of questions that occupied all of his waking thoughts and plagued his sleeping mind. He blinked his violet eyes slowly and took deep even breaths, trying to still the turmoil in his soul and the whirlwind of his thoughts. Nothing in his life had been easy nor was the conclusion he had reached about his future but still it was the only way. It was the only hope for peace that he could see in a future that could very well turn out as bloody as his past had been.

He was alone again but this time he had chosen to be so. There was no one around this place for miles, the nearest village being some fifty miles away. The closest people to his present location were some monks who lived in a temple a day's journey to the east. It was the perfect place for him to think about his future and to do what had to be done.

"I don't want to be around people right now," he thought as he watched the stars. "I'm a danger…a killer."

He had come to this place, seeking the solitude of the forest and the calming effects of nature. He had hoped that solitude would calm his spirit thereby strengthening his resolve but he had been camped in this place for three days now and still he could not bring himself to do what he knew in his heart was honorable and just. He needed the calming effects of nature now more than ever before, especially after his last encounter with people.

The rumors of the Hitokiri Battousai had spread this far into the countryside and even into the smaller, outlying villages he had passed through.  Rumors he could have ignored but, unfortunately for him, those rumors also included an exact description of him. He had not been able to stay in any town or village for more than a few hours, only long enough to gather supplies, before he was forced to move quickly on. He could not bear to see the fear in the eyes of the people he met. He could deal with people's sometimes violent reaction to him and with their sorrow but he could not deal with the fear in a child's eyes when he stopped to ask them for directions to the nearest in.

His answer to this problem was to seclude himself far from people and this area provided just such seclusion. What he was planning to do restrain the hitokiri in his soul would be hard enough without people trying to stop him or witnesses. He knew he was running the risk of the rumors spreading farther but he found that he did not care as much about that as he once had. If he were successful the rumors would mean nothing he reasoned since the Hitokiri Battousai was going to vanish completely from history. He turned his head and stared into the fire, watching the flames dance happily. He wished he were as happy as the flames seemed to be but he had not been happy in very long time. He turned his eyes back to the stars and wondered what his family would think of him now. Would they think he was brave and honorable or would they cast him aside just as others had in the past?

"At least there I will finally get the rest Dr. Asukara wanted me to have," he thought.

He grimaced at the memory and felt a flash of rage as the hitokiri made his presence known. Kenshin forcefully clamped down on that rage, trying to lock it down behind a sealed barrier so that it would not escape and cause harm to others. He blamed himself for Asukara's death, even though his blade had not been the one that had committed the murder. Toshihiro had told Kenshin that he was not to blame for this but he felt he was. If he had not been there then there was no reason for the doctor to die. The murderer had been after Kenshin's life in revenge for the death of a brother during the Bakumatsu and Dr. Asukara had been in the way.

Kenshin closed his eyes against the surge of regret in his heart. Dr. Asukara had died because of him and because of who he was in the past. There was nothing anyone could say and no way anyone could gloss over the truth of this fact. He opened his eyes again and tried to concentrate on the stars but found that his concentration was broken by the questions that moved through his mind.

"Is there any point in continuing this pretense? Am I only ever destined to be the one called Battousai? Will my heart always be that of a killer?" He looked into the fire again but saw a different fire burning there, the fire that raged in his own heart and soul: the cold fire of the hitokiri's rage. "I cannot fight that forever… Two wills cannot exist in one body…"

He shivered against the memories and turned his eyes back to the stars, which stared back at him from their positions in the heavens.

"Two years…" he muttered. "It's been two years since Tobu Fushimi.

"Two years since we last fought and tasted blood," the hitokiri muttered, a hard edge to his voice and a nearly overwhelming urge to kill rippling through him.

Kenshin clamped down on the urge and ignored the comment. The voice in the back of his mind muttered darkly but left him in peace with the warning that it was only a matter of time before he would be released again.

" Two years…" he murmured again. "Two years since I laid aside the hitokiri's sword. And yet…I would reclaim that sword in an instant. Nothing has changed within my soul and within my heart I know I am still a killer. I am no closer to the truth now than I was then. And what is worse is the fact that one wrong move could send me spiraling back into the darkness and madness of the hitokiri."

He stared into the fire for a long time, remembering a sky the same color as the flames before him and the day he had decided to leave the Ishinshishi and the life of death he had lead. The setting sun had stained the clear sky crimson and orange and he was walking a path that would lead him far from the battlefield and from Kyoto, the center of the life he was giving up. He had felt an incredible sense of purpose and hope back then. A purpose that was symbolized by the sakabatou's reversed edge and by his vow to the one he had accidentally killed, a hope that he could now live his life according to his own beliefs.

"But two year later, where am I?"

The hope and purpose he had felt then had withered and slowly died, overshadowed by the Battousai's nearly uncontrollable killing rage. The killer he had been during the Bakumatsu was still with him, hidden in the shadows of his own mind. The hitokiri had been so easily drawn out by the thrill of a life or death battle and there was no denying that he would be drawn out repeatedly every time Kenshin chose to go into battle. His two spirits were like a double-edged sword that was posed to slay him and now he was back to where he started. The time he had spent in trying to tame the raging hitokiri within him had been wasted. Once again his two sides were in conflict and there was no need for anyone to tell Kenshin which side was stronger. He could feel himself beginning to slip into the madness and rage of the past again and he knew he could not hold out against it. The was only one thing he could do now to stop his descent and it was something he would never have considered if he truly believed in his heart that he could make it work.

He closed his eyes against the tears in them and the pain in his heart. "Tomoe…I don't think I can do this…the path of peace is to difficult for one such as I. I'm sorry I cannot be the man you thought I was, Koishii…Please forgive me… but I cannot…live like this anymore…"

He felt hot tears burning a trail down his cheeks and saw the serene face of his long dead wife. He put a hand to his left cheek and traced the deep and unhealed scar there.

"Perhaps it would have been better if I had died on that mountain…Perhaps it would be better if…I…"

He unsheathed his sakabatou and looked at the blade's sharpened edge, which glinted coldly in the pale light of the fire. Calmly, with tears still in his eyes, he reversed the blade to its sharp side and then pointed it at his stomach.

"An honorable death is all I have left. It is the only option open to me now. I cannot win this battle."

He gripped the blade below the hilt, drawing a thin line of blood from his hands. He knelt there in the snow for several silent moments, not moving an inch, the tip of his blade inches from his stomach. Then he sheathed his sakabatou and laid it next to him. He could not sully the blade that was meant to protect lives without taking them with his corrupted and tainted blood. He pulled the tanto that Tomoe had always carried with her from his sleeve. He looked at the saya and closed his eyes for a moment seeing it in the hands of a man who had meant to take his life on the same day his love died. Then he pulled the blade free from it and looked at its shining surface. It was the perfect weapon for seppuku and it had already tasted his blood.

He touched his left cheek again and looked up at the stars one last time, the tears in his eyes blurring their dim light. "Forgive me Tomoe but I cannot live like this any longer with my two selves warring against one another. I'm sorry Shishou. You were right. I have become nothing more then a murderer and I have dishonored your teachings."

He felt a sudden calmness in his spirit and he closed his eyes, speaking the prayer required of the ritual and then, before he could change his mind, in one quick motion, he slashed the blade across his stomach. He felt more pain then he had ever felt before and he fell forward, blood staining the ground underneath him. In his agony, he rolled over and caught a glimpse of the stars high above him. He focused his fading gaze on one that seemed to be twinkling in time with his heart. Time slowed down, every agonizing instant seeming like years to Kenshin's failing mind.

"This is no more then I deserve. Let…my death…serve as atonement…for them. Let my blood…free their tormented souls and…mine…"

"Death is not an answer!" he thought he heard a voice say but it was too far away and now he could feel nothing at all. All pain and regret seemed to have vanished from him. There was darkness at the edges of his vision but the star overhead seemed to have gained intensity, brightening until it rivaled the sum in brightness. He thought he heard voice shouting but he could no longer understand the words. He closed his eyes as a suddenly sharp wave of pain and darkness overcame him.

Author's Note 2: Now before some of you complain at me for having Kenshin be suicidal let us remember that he himself has said that he always felt in his heart that it didn't matter when he died or was killed. Also he is coming off of the events in the previous story here in which he came very close to reverting to his old self again permanently. Those thoughts and the fact that someone was killed 'because he was there' are weighing heavily on his mind. He feels this is the only answer to stop the killer that still lingers in him and a way to restore his honor. This will be a story of how his view is changed, how he found the will to 'live on' long enough for Hiko to restore the will to live that he lost during the Bakumatsu and is also an answer as to why the Hitokiri Battousai seemed to vanish so completely that people who might have been searching for him could not seem to find him.