Eee! My second RK fic - my first all alone... (Many thanks to Rei-nee-chan for all her good work on Ochiru.) This one is - ::gasp:: - yaoi. Well... Somewhat. There's some non-yaoi in here, too, but all you K'n'K falls will be, I'm sorry, disappointed!
This one's pretty sad, just like the first one. Personally, I think Kenshin is a sort of sad series, for all its gags and head-chewing chibis. I also think a lot of the tone gets lost in the anime, although that seems to happen a lot. (Sailor Moon?! Love the manga - more or less despise the anime! Sorcerer Hunters? The manga is so much more awesome! X/1999? Tokyo Babylon? Both got shafted 'cause they only made OAV for the series.) Anyway... I think Kenshin is sad. Especially the Revenge arc.
Enough ranting, already... Spoilers ahead, probably. For the "Memories" chapters of the Revenge arc - basically what happened while Kenshin was Hitokiri. So, if ya don't wanna know, please don't read it. (Same goes for if you're not a yaoi fan.)
Some warnings: This story contains angst, yaoi, het, some violence/child abuse, mild references to shotakon (sort of), death, depressingness... And maybe (depending on how you look at it) a happy ending.
That's enough outta me... Please, enjoy!

This city will always be Edo to me. Always. Tokyo sounds too much like Kyoto, a place I desperately want to forget. This place, Tokyo, will always be "Edo" - nothing less, and nothing more.
In the crush of the city streets, I can feel the people swelling around me like water. This time of year, these streets are filled with human bodies, I am told. The capital is a place already full of people, but pour a little wine, bring a little music, and the hordes will eagerly swarm to the street.
Perhaps it is not fair to judge the fine city by what I see around me. Yoshiwara is, if nothing else, a disreputable place. It seems to me that there is barely room to breathe, let alone do those things for which this district is so infamous.
It is the summer of my eighteenth, and I am in the capital for the first time. If I ever thought Kyoto was overwhelming, I was obviously daydreaming. Edo is like a roaring sea of life compared to Kyoto's babbling brook.
I cannot say I dislike it, however. As soothing as the relative isolation I encountered outside Kyoto was, I much prefer the chaos of the capital. Here, I can indulge in my desire to disappear into the crowd and erase every trace of my existence. I want to stop being, to never be recognized again. Here, I could probably do it, too. But I know I won't. I'm only passing through, a wanderer now. I will not stay here in Edo.
Somehow, though, as I slip through the crowds of drunk, rowdy festival-goers, extricating myself from Yoshiwara, I cannot help but feel that I will be coming back.

I hate waking up in places like this. It's always the same: dark, unfamiliar, smelling of freshly-washed cloth.
It's frightening enough to make my breath come short and my stomach roil. It's always like this - always painful.
It's a lie to say that I hate waking up in places like this. I hate waking up at all. I wish I could just sleep forever. It is only in the waking that we remember our nightmares.
My entire life, it seems, has become a continual nightmare, and sleep is little comfort, mostly because it always happens that I must, in the end, wake up.
I dream about blood, I dream about death, about life, chances missed, wrong decisions... But, worst of all, I dream about love. And encompassed in love are all those other terrible things. Good God, I'm too young to be this haunted. But, then, I have done everything to deserve it... Absolutely everything I always wished I'd never do I have done.

"Have you ever actually seen anyone die from cholera...?"
Why am I talking about this? 'How horrid,' she said when the topic came up. She's such a sheltered girl.
"... No..." she admits, ducking her head a little.
"I have," I reply. Why am I pressing this? Why not let it pass, like everything else? "Several times."
"Oh..." She looks up at me, an apology in her teary-eyed expression. "Who...?"
"My family."
It's true. They died, withered, writhing, shouting and gasping in pain. I lived. I can remember everyone in that village, everyone in the villages around it. They were all dead, the crows pecking hungrily at their corpses. I can remember more about those people, their waxy, grey-green skin, their shivers, than I can about my own family. My predominant memory of my mother? How she looked right after she died. Those crows tried to peck at me, too, while I slept. They thought I was dead, but I wasn't. I was alive - the only one alive.
"I'm so sorry..." she murmurs.
"Don't be," I reply, realizing that I sound a little bit icy. I look past her, at the man sitting near the doorway, leaning against the wall. He's chewing on a fish bone, looking half asleep, but when I catch his eye, I know that he's heard every word I said.

I am no stranger, really, to love.
I was a boy when I first felt it - eleven or twelve... maybe even as young as ten. It was soul-shaking, that love. It was also completely ridiculous and impossible. I didn't know myself, then, but I knew that I loved him with everything I had.
Later on, I encountered it again, a cooler, stranger love. I still wasn't really free of my childhood attraction when I met her, but she was almost enough to make me forget my master. She hated me, deep inside her soul, but it didn't stop her from loving me, too. I loved her back, of course, and when she couldn't find it in herself, some nights, to hate me, I always had enough self-loathing to make up for it. It took time, but, when we finally met, it was burning, passionate.
When we parted, a thread of blood and unresolved hatred trailed along behind me. For years, we were held together by that ghastly bond, and it cinnects us still. Ties forged in hell cannot be broken by death.
And now there is this love, threatening to break every bond I ever had before. This love is strange, but not like the others were strange. We are passionate, yes, but we do not rely on it. Our relationship is not built on worship, or pain. It is built on love, and a deep, if tentative, understanding. I never knew, before, that love could be like this. I never knew that... love could be this peaceful.

It's always the same, I think. Dreams are dreams are dreams. It's all the same. I was stupid to think that leaving Kyoto would make any difference.
But here I am. I suppose I'm not really Hitokiri anymore. Virtually no one here knows that I am, except for Tomoe. I haven't heard from Katsura in some time, nor from anyone else from Choshu. Sometimes I wonder if whether I really have succeeded in erasing the memory of my existence.
That's not possible, though. The war is not yet over, and Tomoe remains with me, always a sad presence nearby, a reminder that I am, in fact still very real.
She is lying next to me now, her body warm, but her hands, which rest against my chest, out of the blanket, are cold. That is always how I see her: cold. I know that isn't the only side there is to her. I know she is strong, and beautiful, and very much a woman. But, to me, she is often little more than a statue.
I suppose a time will when I have to kill again... I don't want it do to, but I know it will. The war - my war - isn't over yet...
Why am I thinking of this? I ask myself, suddenly a little angry. Why Kyoto? Why Katsura? Why do I think, now, of killing?!
I know the answer, though. No point in asking. There is something about her, this woman beside me, that reeks of death. Her dead fiance, her smothered dreams, even those people I have killed... All of it clings to her like my ghosts cling to me. They follow her, bringing with them the scent I will always remember her by... Blood and white plums.
I can't sleep. After the nightmares I just awoke from, there is no way that I'll be getting back to sleep any time soon. But I can't get up, either. Tomoe would sense my movement and wake up.
This is a trick she plays on me, although I'm not completely sure that she knows she does it. She never really touches me, that is to say, she never embraces me. A hand, or one of her legs, always rests just close enough to me that she is barely invading my personal space. She always near enough to me that she knows what I am doing, where I am, but never close enough that she need show any affection.
I lie on the futon, staring at the wall. I try to school my breathing, try not to hyperventilate from this sudden attack of claustrophobia.

July 5, Genji Year 1 -
Himura left to join his fellow loyalists in Kimon today.
He was really given no chance as to whether he would go, or not. As part of the Choshu Ishinshishi, he has an obligation. As Hitokiri, the guardian of chaos, he has an obligation. Where bloodshed goes, Himura follows.
He is barely two weeks past fifteen, now. The older he gets, the sadder he gets, it seems. It makes sense. The longer he stays here, the longer he lives, the more death and destruction he sees, the more of it he causes.
He didn't want to go to Kimon, I could see it in his eyes. Outwardly, he was ready, because he is always ready, at any moment, to leap into battle again. He is dangerous even when he is asleep, and it is self-flattery to think that I have changed him any.
I am no one to stop Himura from going into battle. It's his own stupid mistake if he wants to fight. He knows, I'm sure, that he's killing himself. Maybe he'll do us all a favor and really die one day.

Some days, I regret stealing these pages. Some days, I just want to tear them up, to burn them. They serve only as reminders of the woman I loved, a bitter wartime memoir.
But I know why I keep them. It is for the very seem reason that I often wish to destroy them. They remind me of Tomoe, they remind me of Hitokiri Battosai, they remind me of the Bakufu. All of these are things I cannot afford to forget.

"Kenshin!" he gasps, shaking, his back arching.
As he releases himself into me, I allow myself to let go, as well. I don't say his name - can't, I suppose - but I let out a shuddering breath. Some days, I want to scream - literally scream - when I come with him, but I never do, never can.
I am always surprised that I can relax into his embraces. Sanosuke's presence does not worry me, does not give me pause.
I lie in the floor of his small home, clasped in his strong arms. He is still shaking, his damp chest pressed against my equally sweat-drenched back.
"Kenshin..." he whispers, twining his fingers in my loose hair. He loves this hair. Another reminder, another living memory. But he doesn't see it that way. To Sano, I am not a living ghost. I am the man he loves.

"You will not go!"
"Yes, I will!" I shout at him. I have never done this before - never shouted at my Master.
"You will do as I say, boy!" he bellows. We are being so loud that I am surprised someone hasn't come to tell us to shut up. The nearest house is nearly a kilometer away.
I have never been this loud before in my life... My entire body is tense, trembling. My face is twisted into an ugly, angry expression.
"I don't care!" I'm screaming now. It's gone far beyond speaking, yelling, or shouting... I am screaming at him. "You don't care! You don't care about anyone but yourself! People are dying, you selfish bastard!"
I hadn't realized how close we are to each other, but now that I do, I am struck with one urge and one urge only: I want to hit him. I want to hit my tall, handsome, strong Master, and knock some sense into him.
So I do.
He catches my wrist half-way to his chest, and I let out a wordless, angry scream. I struggle, of course, I can't stand him touching me right now. At any other time, I would have basked in it. Right now, I want to kill him.
"Of course people are dying, you stupid boy! People die!" He shakes my arm so hard that it wrenches and my body flops around. I growl at him, baring my teeth.
"I hate you!" I scream it so hard that my throat hurts, so hard that my voice cracks.
I don't even see his arm coming. It hits me so hard across my stomach that I double over, my breath flooding out of my lungs. I drop to my hands and knees on the dirt floor and vomit, retching and gasping from breath until I can do nothing but collapse. My vision darkens and blurs at the edges, the world spinning.
I stay there, sprawled on the cold dirt, my eyes closed against the vertigo and the pain. My anger has been replaced with hurt, and I realize that there are tears on my face. It is almost a natural reaction, then, as my throat constricts, and I want to sob.
"Master..." I whisper. I can do little more than stop myself from full-out wailing. The tears are still streaming down my face.
"Foolish boy..." he says, his voice soft and almost affectionate.
I feel him near me suddenly... It's strange. I can sense him like I can sense bad weather coming, like I can sense someone watching me. His strength dogs the edges of my consciousness my every waking moment.
His hands slide under me to pick me up, but I convulse violently, emptying my stomach again. He picks me up while I am still sputtering and coughing, and it isn't until he lays me on his futon that I realize he moved me because I was lying in my own vomit.
I hate this feeling, this weakness, the vulnerability. I hate that he can so easily control me I am not weak... I am not weak! This thought echoing in my mind, I make the decision: In the morning, I will leave for Kyoto, for Kogoro Katsura, for the Choshu Ishinshishi... I will leave him all alone, and he will have no one to abuse, no one to hate... no one to love.

"Yes, Kaoru-dono?" It is so dark that, even if I turned over, I still wouldn't be able to make out her face. I wonder why the starlight isn't shining through the window tonight.
"Will you make love to me?" Her voice is so small, and I recognize it for what it is: A child's voice. Kaoru is still a girl, still innocent. She clutches at the sleeve of my kimono, and I wonder whether it would tear, if I yanked my arm away like I want to.
I do not say anything for a very long time. I am not silent because I don't know what to say. It is because I don't know how to say it.
"No." There is no easier way.
"Kenshin..." She whispers.
Sometimes, I wish that she would stop saying my name like that. Sometime I wish she would just stop saying my name altogether...
But I can't begrudge her her love, even if I can't really return it. I have the sinking feeling that I will someday marry this girl. But I won't do it because I love her. I will do it because I know that Sano will not be able to stay here in Tokyo forever. His soul is restless, always will be, no matter how much he loves me. Someday, the tide will pull him away from me, like driftwood in Edo Bay.

"Shinta-chan! Shinta-chan!"
I hear her calling my name, but I can't see her anywhere. The autumn grasses are tall, well above my height, and all I can see is their browning stalks.
"Mamma!" I cry. I try not to be afraid, but it's a little hard when I feel so lost.
The grain stalks to my left are moving, and I run in that general direction until I find my mother's legs. I cling to her, crying a little, until she picks me up. She smiles sweetly, and holds me to her chest.
"Shinta-chan, what were you doing all the way out here?" From the relative height of my position in her arms, I can see our little house. "You know you're not supposed to be out here. Papa needs to harvest this soon. Every little bit we knock loose is a little bit we can't sell when we go to market, all right?"
"Yes, Mamma," I say. I hold tight to her, and she carries me back towards our home.

Sano's tiny rowhouse reminds me of the house I grew up in. We were out in the country, but the house was about the same size. It was just the three of us in that small shack, but it was always cozy.
The same goes for Sano's place. It's falling apart, the roof leaks when it rains, and it's always a mess, because that's how Sano is, but it's comfortable. Unlike the Kamiya dojo, it isn't very sterile. For all her defects in the kitchen, Kaoru can at least clean, and she does it often - at least, she does when I don't.
I feel no urge to clean Sanosuke's home. It isn't because I don't care enough for him to do it. It's just that he doesn't mind it, and neither do I. I find his clutter comforting, homey, although I imagine that if it was actually my home, as well as his, I would eventually clean it. I love it because I can get away from it sometimes. There is always space outside where I can breathe.

He's inside me, thrusting, filling me. The river water laps at his waist, and I can feel the current on my legs, which are wrapped around him.
I don't know why I let him talk me into this - making love in the river...
"Someone will see us," I said.
He smiled sweetly at me. "So?"
So here we are, in the cool water. It is nearby the place where we fought, where his zanbato was destroyed. Perhaps it holds some important significance for him. I know that place is important to me, but I cannot bring myself to think of it now. Instead, I focus on the feeling of having him inside me. I moan, and push back against him, tightening my fingers in his hair.
Sano has one arm around my waist, supporting me. His other hand is buried in my hair, massaging my scalp. My body arcs backwards as he presses a particularly sensitive spot within me, and my hair trails in the water, pulled this way and that by the current.
It should be carrying us off right about now, this river. But the water is unusually peaceful tonight, like it is deferring to our will.
He pulls out shortly, and I tense my legs, drawing him back in.
"Kaoru asked me again," I whisper into his ear. I don't know why say it. I don't know why I have to bring her up now, in the river, while I'm making love to Sanosuke.
"I don't care," he says back, his voice soft, but ragged. He says it again, affirming his love for me, punctuating his words with another sharp thrust of his hips.
"You'll leave me some day, Sano," I murmur, drawing his head down to rest against my chest. I buck my hips, closing my eyes. "And then I'll be all alone with her, and I won't have a choice anymore."
It sounds almost like he's about to cry. "I won't ever go anywhere, Kenshin..." He moans, and picks up the pace a little. There is a warm, tingling sensation going up and down my damp spine. "I wouldn't ever leave you..."
But I know he will. He's restless, through and through... Instead of saying this, I kiss him, deeply, moaning a little into his mouth.
When we break apart, he looks me in the eye and says, "Come away with me, Kenshin... We'll go wherever you want... Let's go away together."
I moan in the back of my throat and pull him closer. The river's current is picking up, pulling more aggressively at our bodies. We are still moving together languorously, despite how long we have been joined. Neither of us is in any mood to rush. There is something somber, something a little final, about this moment between us.
It is a few minutes later that I realize we are up to our chests in water. I don't know how it's happened, whether we've strayed too far out, or whether the river is rising on its own. I don't care, though, and neither does Sano. He keeps pushing into me, and I keep pushing back, loving the warmth his touch creates within me.
"Sano..." I murmur.
"Let's go away, Kenshin... Let's escape..."
"... Yes... Let's..."
It seems as if my words are laced with magic, because as I finish speaking them, water come crashing down over us with crushing force, spinning us around. I shut my eyes, and let myself be pulled.
Sano does not lose me, does not let go. I can still feel him inside me, instilling that spreading heat in me.
I don't know if we'll die like this, under the water, being pulled along. I don't know if we'll live. What I do know is that I want him inside me like this forever. I want to float with him for the rest of my life, however long that ends up being.
We continue to make love, spinning steadily through the flowing water, the river seeming to stretch, unending, before us.

Edo is the old name for Tokyo, before the Meiji reformation.
Yoshiwara - Edo's officially endorsed "red-light" district. Apparently, at Yoshiwara's height, about 7,000 prostitutes lived in quarters of approximately 6,600 square meters. (I may be messing with the time-space continuum that Yoshiwara is still around after Tokyo is renamed. I would assume that the district didn't really change, but I don't know. So please don't kill me if it's wrong!)
"It is the summer of my eighteenth year..." Kenshin was born in 1851, therefore, he is in Edo in 1869, two years after the city was officially renamed, becoming "Tokyo." I can't say this is necessarily accurate. I know that Kenshin is sixteen when he kills Tomoe, and I've heard it said that Kenshin wanders for ten years. (Spoilers? Who, me?) If that's so, then I wonder what he did in two interim. I always thought he swore off killing right after he killed Tomoe, but... Ah, well, what do I know?! I just played it safe, and made him eighteen. I'me beginning to think that my math is way off somehow. If someone wants to correct me, please do so. But... whatever.
About the cholera - Yes, it's horrible. If you ever want a rather graphic depiction, watch Le Hussard Sur Le Toit, a French film set during the cholera epidemic in the south of France. Someday, I'd like to write a more in-depth story about Kenshin's childhood, and his family's death...
"Blood and white plums." I am aware that this is very cliche in Kenshin+Tomoe fanfiction. But it's such a strong image, that I couldn't resist. So, please forgive me! (Plus, at least it's cannon... unlike all that crazy "Kaoru smells like jasmine" stuff!)
"Kaoru-dono..." This is really the only Japanese I used in the story, besides proper names and such. This is mostly because I don't really like "Miss Kaoru." It seems sort of out of place, for whatever reason.
About all the pairings - Yes, I am really whoring Kenshin around, here. (::Gets killed by a rather (er, very?) angry Battosai.:: Eeep!) But I'm generally a big fan of all the pairings in this story: Kenshin + Sano, Kenshin + Hiko, Kaoru + Kenshin, Kenshin + Tomoe, although certainly not in that order... I'm such a big yaoi fan... Kenshin is one of the few series that I can stand the main het pairing. I won't begrudge Kaoru-chan her Ken-chan, but I do think he'd look damn cute with Sano. I also think Sano matches well with Saito (but Megumi and him are a nice pair to - Eee!). I can see Kenshin having hero worship/love for Hiko, even though I'm not incredibly familiar with the dynamics of the Hiko-Kenshin relationship as it is in the series... And, of course, Kenshin and Tomoe. Their love is weird - very weird - but I like it. Although I like K'n'K, and I really do like Kaoru (most of the time), I also really like Tomoe. She's... I dunno, I guess I can relate to her more ("I'm sorry, smiling is awkward for me, but I really do like children"!). I don't know. Are you actually reading these notes? Why?!? They're so long!!!
Gomen! Yes, this story skips around a lot. It is most definitely not linear. I'm sorry about that, I mean, if it confuses you, but... I like it this way. Sometimes stories don't have to be linear, and sometimes, it even strengthens the plot (although I doubt that's the case here). You can think of it as a box of snapshots that no one's put into a photo album yet, if that helps at all...
About the title - I don't really know why this story is called Devotion... It was the first thing I could think of when I was saving the first bits of text. As it progressed, I was trying, in vain, to come up with a better name. But as I worked on it, I realized that, somehow, to me, a least, the name fit. Incidentally, one set of kana that for the word "kenshin" translates as "devotion."