Eyes of the Innocent

Disclaimer: About all I own of Rurouni Kenshin is my growing collection of merchandise. Those who hold the rights to it are making money off ME, not the other way around.

Opening notes: I don't know what came over me. Last night, while reading some fics, this idea smacked me upside the head. Maybe a craving to do a more serious and introspective RK piece than shameless plug> Twisted Paradise, but something without the same Seissouhen-induced angst of Fallen. end shameless plug> So, I present you this. Reviews are appreciated, flames will be MSTed without mercy.

For such a nice, sunny spring day, the dojo was awfully quiet. It was amusing the difference in the noise level when the others were out somewhere. To the best of my knowledge, Sanosuke was probably sleeping off a hangover at his place. Yahiko was helping Tae at the Akabeko, and Kaoru-dono was off giving a guest lesson at a dojo across town, leaving me to take care of the chores and babysit Genzai-sensei's two granddaughters, as he and Megumi-dono were particularly busy at the clinic that morning.
Ayame-chan and Suzume-chan had fallen asleep, so I went about the chores that had become so familiar since I had become a resident of the Kamiya dojo. Despite how 'feminine' a task it was, I found I particularly enjoyed doing the laundry. True, in a symbolic sense, it was refreshing to get dirt and stains out of something as absorbent and fragile as cloth, but I admit, it was also satisfying to be able to see and handle Kaoru-dono's undergarments without repercussion. After ten years of wandering, I suppose I had come to understand what an old man I had met shortly after I began my journey had said about laundry and perverseness. 'At your age it's weird, at my age, it's a hobby.' It was as close as I could come to being intimate with Kaoru-dono, and I had long ago stopped caring if other people thought I was strange.
I leaned back and contemplated the clear sky overhead after getting a particularly nasty stain out of one of Kaoru's kimono. (I tried not to think too much about the source of the stain, as that would lead to other thoughts I don't dare entertain.) I heard footsteps behind me, and was interrupted from my thoughts by a pair of small hands obscuring my vision.
"Guess who!" Ayame's voice giggled from behind me. Even though I had heard her coming well in advance, I played along with the little girl's game, waving my arms about as if trying to locate the source of my temporary blindness.
"Oro! Sessha can't see anything de gozaru yo!" I smiled to myself at Ayame's subsequent laugh. "Ayame-chan, is that you de gozaru ka? Sessha thought you were napping-ORO!"
Ayame had released her hold on me in favor of suddenly pouncing me and my nearly getting a face full of dirty washwater. The little girl beamed up at me happily. "Ken-ni! I've got a question!"
"Oro?"
I was prepared to answer any number of questions that a child Ayame's age would likely ask- anything from why the grass was green to where babies come from. (Though the latter would have been accompanied by an 'oro' suitable for the situation.) I was not prepared for the question I least expected to hear from the child.
"I overheard some people in the clinic talking about 'the old days', and they talked a lot about somebody they called-" Ayame frowned, taking extra care to recite the unfamiliar word properly. "-Battousai."
I froze, stunned as dense as I often acted. Ayame, not noticing my sudden tension, turned inquisitive eyes on me. "Ken-ni, do you know anything about it?"
My heart sank at the innocent question. Ayame was obviously too young still to comprehend the bloody past that gave rise to the relatively peaceful era she knew, but she was also curious enough, as I've found is typical of children her age, to ask.
I considered my options. I could tell from the look on the little girl's face that she had since picked up on my hesitation, and from that, she could easily guess that I did in fact know something. If I tried to change the subject, she would most likely pursue it that much more diligently. I couldn't bring myself to lie about the situation, either. As much as I may regret my actions in the past, I would never allow myself the luxury of denying that it had happened. Besides, no matter how much I could try to deny it, the undeniable proof was forever etched into the two scars on my face.
"... Ken-ni?" Ayame waits for me to answer her. Taking a deep breath, I finally respond, ending my contemplation of the events leading up to this entire conversation.
"Hai... sessha... knows about Battousai de gozaru."
"Really?" Ayame beams at her success so far. "Did you know him?"
Ouch. How does somebody respond to that one? Do I know him? It would be hard for me to NOT know the hitokiri Battousai, or the madness and the bloodshed that went with the title. But again, Ayame is still too young, too innocent to know about the bloody past from before she was born.
I slowly nod, silently hoping that Ayame's curiosity will be satisfied and that she'll let the subject be, rather than continue to ask uneasy questions.
Still smiling up at me, she sits in my lap, effectively indicating she isn't going to be done any time soon. "What was he like?"
This has got to be some sort of trial of atonement, I note dryly to myself, before considering the question. The answer ought to be easy. As the Battousai, I was antisocial, reclusive, paranoid, and ruthlessly efficient in carrying out the bloody work that was driving me rapidly to the brink of insanity. But I can hardly tell this optimistic child that. Thinking about it more thoroughly, I also realize that while it was certainly the truth, it wasn't the whole truth. I subjected myself to what I did voluntarily, partly out of ignorance, partly out of youthful idealism that I could make things better, no matter what the cost. Even in the darkest of the times, I still honestly believed that what I was doing would make a difference. It wasn't until after Tomoe that I began to realize there had to be another way, that I had been amazingly immature, and cowardly, hiding behind the belief that all the murder was for the greater good. After she died... after I killed her, I finally began to grow up.
I carefully select the words I'm going to use to answer. "Battousai was..." I swear, that name will always taste sour. "... well..." So much for all my careful wording. "He made a lot of mistakes and did a lot of nasty things that he ended up regretting, and he hurt a lot of people."
"So he was a bad person?" Ayame asks, and I cringe mentally.
"No... he meant to do good things, he wanted to help people, but he was misguided, and messed up pretty badly. He wasn't much older than Yahiko is." I stare out at nothing in particular. Fifteen was an awfully young age to have gained the reputation of a merciless assassin.
Ayame is quiet for a moment, and I briefly hope that's the end of the discussion.
"Then why didn't he get in trouble with his 'kaasan and 'tousan?" Ayame asks, and I frown slightly at the faded memories her question dredges up. I only distantly remember my parents, their names lost to my memory. Otousan, what little I remember of him, was a man of modest stature and was harsh, but fair, virtually the polar opposite of the man who later became almost a surrogate father to me, my shishou, Hiko Seijiro the thirteenth. Okaasan... I remember her a little more clearly than I do my otousan. She was gentle and kind, and I can still remember, however faintly, that I got most of my appearance from her and not Otousan. It was from her side of the family that I inherited my decidedly non-Japanese red hair and violet eyes, both a blessing and a curse. While several women thought it was attractive (and admittedly, I used to be rather proud of my looks), after the Bakumatsu, such distinctive features made it difficult to blend in to the general populace, when I didn't want to be found.
Remembering Ayame and the situation at hand, I force myself to pay attention. It wouldn't do to space out when I'm the only one here with Genzai-sensei's granddaughters. "Ayame-chan... he lost his okaasan and otousan when he was very young, and he had a fight with the man who raised him afterward, and left." I say quietly.
Ayame blinks in momentary confusion before she realizes what I meant. "Oh..." She cuddles up against my chest, her head against my shoulder. "I lost my 'kaasan and 'tousan too." She sniffles, and I wrap an arm around her. I can't honestly remember if I shed any tears at all when my parents died of cholera. Even at such a young age, my life was surrounded by death. First my parents and other villagers from disease, and shortly thereafter, the slavers... and the three women who saved my life, or at least kept me from getting myself killed until shishou showed up and killed the bandits that had attacked and killed the slavers.
Ayame sniffles a few more times before wiping her eyes and, apparently recovering from her momentary sadness, fixated as only a child could be, returns her attention to the subject of her curiosity. "Ne, Ken-ni, you know a lot about him, but you didn't tell me yet what he was like!" She shifts her position to glare up at me, and I wince and utter a tiny 'oro!', since the little girl isn't terribly mindful of where she puts her feet. While I recover from the glancing blow, she continues. "You told me about him, but not what he was like." She adds, stressing the all-important difference. "Was he nice?"
My eyes widen at the question. Of all the things people have guessed or assumed about myself, about the Battousai being a cold-hearted, ruthless, wicked, bloodthirsty killer, I can't readily think of any time when 'nice' was among those adjectives. "Aa..." Twice in under an hour she's stunned me speechless! Actually, I don't know WHAT to say. I've always thought of myself as being generally a nice person, with the obvious exception being my role as the Ishinshishi hitokiri, but here I am being asked if, as the hitokiri, I was 'nice', and I honestly don't know how I can answer that. I was young, stubborn, and admittedly cold and rude to several people in order to protect myself and hide my insecurities, but then again, there was the old woman at the inn who I would assist with the chores, much like I do now for Kaoru. And there was Tomoe. My heart still breaks at the memory, of the happiness she and I had together, and the happiness I tore from her, though unintentionally. Would someone who was 'nice' do something so terrible?
"I... don't really know, Ayame-chan." I finally admit after a long silence, one hand straying to feel the rough scars on my left cheek absently. It occurs to me that, in the seriousness of my thoughts, I'd dropped the polite, although quirky, speech habits that had become part of my 'goofy rurouni' routine. At least it seems Ayame hasn't picked up on the subtle significance of it. If Kaoru was there, I'm certain she would have noticed the lack of 'sessha' or 'de gozaru' in my speech, and been all over me trying to find out if something was wrong. It's truly endearing the way Kaoru gives her trust and concern so freely, and that's part of what drew me to her, though I don't dare admit my feelings for her. I don't want to endanger her more than I already have, and... I'm deathly afraid that if I got closer to her than I am now... that she would end up hurt or even dead because of me. Just like Tomoe.
Ayame and I sit in thoughtful silence for a few moments before she suddenly gets to her feet and faces me. She regards me with her young, innocent eyes and a happy smile, and reaches over, her small hand softly patting me on the left cheek. "I think Ken-ni is the nicest ever!" She declares, hugging me before running over to the porch, where a sleepy-eyed Suzume had just emerged. I blink in momentary confusion and stare after the little girl, at a loss. Did she really understand what I had told her, or had she just simply grown bored of the subject?
I resume doing the laundry, this time with an attentive audience, and think about what happened. While it had been awkward and painful at first to discuss the subject of my former self, I feel surprisingly content for having done it. Perhaps it's just the simple fact that, even if only to a child, that I was able to get some of my past off my chest. Or perhaps it's simply the innocent acceptance and forgiveness of a child for the mistakes of the past.
Some time later, I hear Kaoru's familiar footsteps approaching the gate, and hurry to start preparing the bath, since after a long day teaching, she's probably going to want one.
"Kenshin! I'm back!" She calls out. I peer around the clothes hanging to dry and smile.
"Sessha has already prepared the bath de gozaru." I inform her from around the hanging garments. She smiles warmly and heads for the bathhouse.
"Arigatou, Kenshin."

Author's notes: Wow, this took awhile to write o_o Would you guys believe that I started writing this at about 10 am this morning, and here it is 2 am! That's 16 hours straight! After reading a short piece last night involving Kenshin and the chibis, the idea for this hit me and wouldn't let me sleep. For those who are wondering about the 'At your age it's weird, at my age, it's a hobby', I kinda sorta filched that from Gochan's "Rurouni's Guide to Idiocy". Getting inside Kenshin's head and thought processes is surprisingly difficult (and may explain why I've seen so very few Kenshin POV fics), but I think I did a decent job of it.
I've come to have a certain degree of amazed respect for just how truly perceptive and comprehending young children can be, which also helped fuel this story. Contrary to what a lot of people I know seem to think, children have often proven to possess a degree of understanding and compassion that most adults could never dream of. (One particular case being my own 6 year old cousin and the surprising degree of understanding he showed concerning events nearly a year ago.)
If you want to try and fit this into the series continuity, I'd place it shortly after Megumi is rescued from the Oniwabanshu and before the beginning of the Kyoto arc. *puffs up with pride* I don't know what anyone else thinks, but I think this little one-shot is probably one of the better fics I've written thus far, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please be kind and review. I'd really like to know if this fic came out as good as I think it did, or if it's really a piece of junk. ^^;

Japanese terms used in this fic:
'sessha'= a very humble form of 'I', and generally how Kenshin refers to himself.
'de gozaru (yo!/ka?)'- Slightly archaic bit of Japanese, generally translated as 'that it is', 'that you should', etc. 'yo!' indicates it's an exclamation, while 'ka' indicates a question. (If I botched that, feel free to lemme know.)
'oro'- Any fan of RK ought to recognize this as Kenshin's cute little catch phrase.
Okaasan/'kaasan= mother, mommy, etc.
Otousan/'tousan= father, daddy, etc.
'Ken-ni' (also seen in the anime as 'Ken-niichan')- Ayame and Suzume's nickname for Kenshin.
'hitokiri'= basically an assassin. Translated in the DVDs as 'manslayer'
'Battousai'= Kenshin's nickname from his time as an assassin.
'rurouni'= wanderer, vagabond, etc.
'Bakumatsu'= the revolution that led to the Meiji era, in which Kenshin participated.
'Ishinshishi'= Imperialists, basically the guys Kenshin fought for during he Meiji Restoration.