Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin does not belong to me. The characters and the entire plot are copyrighted to someone else, not me. I didn't come up with the concepts of underwear or trees either. Aren't you glad?

By The Unseen Watcher

The Rurouni walked through the woods, fall leaves crunching under the tread of his sandals. He traveled until the sun was low on the horizon, setting his already flaming red hair ablaze in its' fading light.

Eventually he came upon a clearing, and he stopped at the border, surveying it. Coming to a decision, he resolutely walked until he stood in its center. Looking around, he extended his senses, scanning his surroundings with more than mere eyes and ears. Finally satisfied that he was totally alone save for a few forest animals, he reached into his gi and pulled out a previously concealed bundle.

Shaking it out, the package was revealed to be another gi, in a shade of dark blue that was a sharp contrast to the bright pink one he wore. He fingered it for a moment, sword callused hands catching on the cross-knitting. He stood, head bent, until with a decisive movement he took hold of the pink gi and pulled it off, casting it aside without a second glance.

Now clad in only hakama and the soft cotton underlining covering his chest, he carefully slid his arms into the dark gi's sleeves, shrugging slightly to settle it into place. Adjusting his belt ties, he paused once again, his manner even more hesitant than before.

Slowly, one hand reached up to cautiously finger the tie that held his waist-length hair low at the nape of his neck. Taking hold of it, he gently pulled it off, allowing the red curtain of his hair to spill freely around his shoulders.

Then in one quick movement he gathered the long strands up again, tied them securely in their new position, and let his hands fall to his sides.

He stood there, eyes tightly closed, his breath coming more quickly.

Gradually his breathing slowed, tensed shoulders relaxing somewhat as he moved his head, his bound up hair slapping into the back of his neck half a second later.

One last step.

Drawing in one last calming breath, he was moving even as he exhaled. In a movement impossible to follow with the human eye his katana was out, the sharp reverse edge catching the dimming light for an instant as it flashed by. Eyes still closed, he moved in the almost dance of a sword kata, weaving the weapon effortlessly through the autumn air.

At times he would rush forward, swinging at an unseen target. At others he would leap high into the air, descending like the wrath of heaven down onto the unsuspecting earth, causing large craters.
All this was done in near silence, save for the occasional gasped breath and the concussion of displaced air and earth. He made no verbal sound as he moved like a ghost over the dry leaves, their rest undisturbed by his soft tread.

His focus wholly inward, his battle was internal. In the first moments the old memories had risen like wraiths, attempting to cloud his concentration with their familiar pain. Focusing, he allowed himself to relax further, to accept for the moment the guilt and remorse, allowing it to wash over him until he was past it. His spirit further freed from its burdens, he was now conscious only of his body and the steady passage of the sword's blade through the air.

Gradually, as he fell further into the trance-like state of the kata he forgot his body as well. Forgot his labored breathing and the straining of long neglected muscles. Only the sword existed now, moving through the twilight with a will of its own.

As the last of the light was replaced by the velvet darkness of night, his eyes sprang open, glowing faintly in the moonlight. The pace of the dance increased, until his shadowed form was often invisible for long periods of time.

Eventually it slowed, ending where he had begun, in the middle of the clearing. He made a few more passes before sheathing the blade in one fluid motion. Collecting himself, his first clear thought was surprise to find that he was breathing evenly, muscles tight and warm.

Looking up, he could see the first hints of dawn on the horizon. Had he taken all night? He felt more relaxed than he had in quite a while. He hadn't realized just how much he needed this. Life at the dojo was a blessing, a wonderful place where the peace-loving part of his soul could rest from all his trials.

Lately, though, he had been feeling restless. No new threat had come to menace his new family. No challenge had reared up to test his skills once more to their limits.

Everything had been calm and uneventful. Each day was the same as the last. He loved it. He hated it.

He had started to become edgy, reacting to the slightest movement. He'd never been left alone this long. Some unseen peril had to be looming over the horizon. Yet he senses nothing. He despised waiting.

His jumpiness finally came to a peak when Sano had slapped him suddenly on the back and he'd nearly taken the fighter's head off. After many profuse apologies to the stunned young man, he had gone off to think. He had to get away for a while to sort out what was bothering him. Which led him to this place.

Kenshin stood there, puzzled by the strength of the calm that had descended over him. He felt different somehow, as though something he had carried for years was missing. Absently, his hand rose to his cheek, fingers tracing the lines of the scars there.

His light mood remained, and that caught the attention of the analytical part of his mind, the part that examined everything he said and did. Touching the crossed marks, he felt no pain, no anguish at the images they conjured. The memories were faded, foggy and distant like an old tale.
In wonder now, he looked to his sword callused hands, realization filling him like sunlight. The guilt, an ever-present companion for so long, just wasn't there anymore. He felt some sadness, but the bitter taste of it was gone.

The icy rage had faded too, subsiding in a gentle wave of acceptance. Somewhere in the middle of the dance of flesh and steel he had stopped denying his darker side, the side that would willingly kill to defend him and those he cared for.

He had let all restraint go, the hidden strain of trying to push away the killer inside him gone with the acknowledgement that it too was a part of him, as much as his gentler emotions ever were. In doing so he had won complete mastery over his soul once and for all. He had stopped running from who he was, and in facing himself had been made whole.

Almost reverently now he looked down at his Sakabatou, the sword that could not kill. Shishou had told him of Kata, the normally cynical man's tone respectful as he related the importance of it. He had told a young Kenshin that it was more than a training exercise. When he achieved true kata, he would know it. He hadn't understood then.

Kenshin hadn't minded it much, the flowing movements helped sharpen his control. But once that was done he rarely tried it, becoming bored quickly. After that he was too busy fighting real opponents to even think about it. By the time he started his journey, a broken and guilt-ridden man, he had forgotten about it completely. He didn't even practice anymore, the movements a painful reminder of past bloodshed.

Now he realized the true meaning of his master's words.

In Kyoto he had been an imperfect swordsman, divided against himself, with only the vague goal of bringing eventual peace keeping him going. As a wanderer he was little better, running from his past while carrying the weight of his guilt like a stone around his neck, reducing himself to the lowest of the low as penance, and binding his sword arm with an oath to never kill again.

It wasn't until his battle with his master and the learning of the succession technique that his body and spirit had truly begun to move in harmony. He'd at last found the right reasons and will to live, and had thus found his center in the process.

But, as the relative quiet of the Kamiya dojo had seeped in, he had become restless when it should have delighted him. Ignoring it hadn't helped, and the ever present cheery smile he presented to the world had become more strained. Before the incident with Sanosuke he had found himself fighting the urge to snap back at Megumi's veiled insults, and be understanding with Kaoru's tantrums.

He left, promising the worried group that he would return soon. He'd set off, making sure that his well-intentioned friends couldn't follow.

He'd bought the extra gi almost on a whim, his eyes drawn to it like a magnet, in spite of the fact that it wasn't easy to see among all the flashy ones. Its very inconspicuousness had been what caught his attention. He was used to looking for things that were hidden from casual sight.

Kenshin had not known what he was going to do with it until he had come upon this space in the middle of nowhere, his feet taking his straight to it, as if he had already known it was there.
Standing now in the awakening forest, he realized that his own longing for completion, for wholeness in a spirit that had been at odds with itself for too long. Ingrained lessons and instinct had led him, to this amazing binding of his broken soul together. It had left him forever changed, for the better. His past no longer clouded his present, and future.

Kenshin smiled, the expression at long last reaching his eyes. Tilting his head back, he basked in the warmth of the newly risen sun. The act reminded him of the weight of his upswept hair and his state of dress. Looking down, he stroked one flowing sleeve of his new gi. Well, there was no harm in wearing it, and he'd needed a new one for some time now. His hair he set back in his usual place low on his neck. He was no longer afraid of the symbolism of the samurai topknot, but his hair had grown in the past years and the constant weight of it would soon give him a headache.

Cutting it was out of the question, as Kaoru-dono . . .Kaoru would throw a fit. He had once suggested it and she'd immediately protested. She liked it just the way it was. This had provoked a fight between a teasing fox-lady and a madly blushing young Shihondai. His smile widened at the memory. No, it would have to stay as it was if he wanted to have any peace. Should any major fights come up though, the other style was an option.

Giving the clearing one last look, he gathered up his spare gi and headed out, deliberately treading on the leaves, enjoying the way they crackled under his feet.

He'd better get back before his adopted family tore Japan apart looking for him. Thinking of the headaches they must be causing a certain former-Shinsengumi captain, a most un-Kenshin like smirk wormed its way onto his face. If you hang around someone like Hiko long enough, he's bound to rub off on you a bit eventually.

Resolving to return to this newly discovered refuge as often as he could, the former hitokiri, ex-wanderer Himura Kenshin turned his steps for home.

C&C watcher578@yahoo.com. Or is that with a large W? pretty sad when you can't remember your own address, huh? (psst. You don't have to agree so vehemently!)