Well, this was like pulling teeth.
I think I changed the title of this chapter five times! As always I apologize that it has taken so long, though this time was considerably worse than any other. I'm so ashamed, but I will blame my distractions and the fact that I think I discouraged myself. I did have some of this chapter already done a long time ago, but every time I brought it up to write on, I never felt inspired to do anything. Not to mention I couldn't figure out where or how I wanted it to go from where I had stopped. So, by the time I figured out what was really wrong it had already been a year. And so… I erased the entire thing and started this one. Yay! Thanks everyone for continuing to encourage me, I hope this is satisfactory, and as a reward for sticking around (and because it took me so long) there is a nice, juicy present at the end for you. A, a, a… no skipping.
Disclaimer: Maa, maa…
"I'm madly in anger with you."
St. Anger - Metallica
Chapter 22: In Anger
"We are not discussing this for one second more."
Huffing out a breath of annoyance, her lips twisting when he chuckled in amusement, Kaoru shoved her bokken under one arm and lifted a long strip of cloth to her face. Effectively covering her eyes until nothing but darkness was visible, she knotted the blindfold tightly and reached once more for the wooden sword.
"Kaoru, when you asked me to train with you I did not think this was what you had in mind." Shaking his head when her frown darkened, Kenshin sighed. "What was wrong with our training at the dojo?"
"That was merely a warm-up. We're past all of that now. I need something a little more challenging." Swiping at him with her bokken, she jerked around to follow his movement when he dodged. "I'm not always going to see someone attacking me, and I want to know how to anticipate that happening."
Sidestepping another half-hearted swing, Kenshin sighed again. "If this is about that Kurogasa business, I do not think you will have to worry about it. You were not feeling well, Kaoru. That will affect all of your senses." Catching the tip of her sword in one hand, he stepped closer, his forehead leaning into hers. "You have improved a lot, koishii, and besides… what is wrong with letting me protect you?"
Sensing a note of dismay, Kaoru realized finally what had been bothering him for the past few weeks. "Kenshin… you can't do everything, and though I know you don't like hearing it, you can't always be there, either." Freeing a hand to lift to his face, trying to judge his feelings by the curve of his features, her chest grew heavy at the deep furrow of his brow. "If I can protect myself as well as you can, then you won't have to worry about being away. Hell, even if I can protect myself half as well as you can you'll have nothing to worry about." Patting him on the cheek, she smiled when he laughed. Forced as it was.
"You are my responsibility, Kaoru, more so now than ever… I can't…"
"Kenshin, if this is some primitive male instinct trying to demand I stay hidden from the world I'll have you know that this day and age does not allow for it. I am a perfectly capable human being, and I will not be treated like a defenseless, pampered object just because I'm a woman." Shifting her grip quickly, she jabbed him in the gut with her bokken, satisfied when he wheezed. "Now go hide somewhere, you're defeating the whole purpose of this exercise by standing right in front of me."
"Koishii… you are so difficult."
"But I'm right. Besides, you wouldn't love me if I wasn't." Flicking her wrist, she giggled when he yelped, his voice indignant.
"Be careful with that thing!"
"Really Kenshin, I thought hitting you was the point."
A tense silence filled the air, the gentle feel of his ki disappearing as he obliged her request. For a moment it was disorienting. Just a bit frightening. Kenshin had always been a large part of her life, and though he had always unconsciously masked his ki, she had been around him long enough to recognize his presence. Subconsciously? Maybe. More than likely an occurrence that was allowed more by him than because of her own experience and strength. Kenshin had always strove to comfort her, to protect her from everything, including those small fears of loneliness and anxiety. Such a habitual activity could not be broken so easily, and it had only taken a few short days after his reappearance for that gentle reassurance to resurface between them.
Recently, however, that warmth had changed and her heart sang with the metamorphosis. Wrapping soothingly around her, covering her like a thick wooly blanket to ward off the cold, his ki spoke of love and contentment. So much more enjoyable than before. So much more desirable and luxurious. Such a Kenshin thing to do, to spoil her as he was. Almost too quickly she had become dependant on his support.
It could not be helped that her balance wavered with its absence, threatening to throw her face first into the dirt where she would lie, alone, confused, and uncaring of the world around her. A terrifying realization, to discover how deep and overpowering her weakness for him truly was. The exact reason why she needed these moments of training. Not to overcome her weakness, for that was a happening that was both impossible and undesirable, but to lessen her reliance for him. Especially within areas she herself could or most definitely should handle. Kenshin was a strong man, there was no doubt, but that did not mean he would not need support himself every now and again.
Steadying herself with a forceful breath, Kaoru set her stance, lifting her bokken straight out in front of her so that she was ready to defend at will. For several long minutes there was nothing. No sound but the wind whispering through the trees, no presence but that of the birds hopping from branch to branch as they flirted, their small pulsations of energy slightly calming. Tilting her head as one took flight, she sucked in a sharp breath and twisted to counter, just barely able to keep her footing as her muscles compensated for the strike. Stinging shocks of vibration shot up her arms, her heartbeat thundering in adrenaline, and her ki sprung to life in answer. Collecting herself to respond, she hissed out a breath when he vanished.
Kenshin pushed her as hard as he dared, nearly more frightened than she as he helped train her awareness. Though he would not tell her so, he was not putting his full effort into the strikes, because somewhere in his mind he knew she could not handle what that would consist of. He understood what it was she was trying to accomplish. Understood that it was not only a matter of pride, but a reassurance for him. To comfort him and let him know that she would be fine even if he could not be there to protect her. The thought touched him, and he appreciated her effort, but inside his heart he knew he would never feel completely at peace with her safety unless she was snuggled tightly in his embrace. Without her there, he always felt edgy.
Coming to terms with the notion that Kaoru could possibly mean more to him than she ever had before had left a surprising impression on him. Kaoru had always been his center; his peace; his light. For many years he had known her to be the reason he strove to better himself. Known that without her his life would have been so very different than it was now. He owed her everything, would allow nothing to take her away, and jealously snatched at every second of her regard that he could. But now… he ached just having to leave her long enough to make breakfast, and the feeling would not disappear until she was once again positioned between his arms; whether to share a brief moment of affection or as she drifted off into pleasant dreams.
It made him wonder what other levels of possession would come with their slow progress into this relationship. Kenshin already felt at times that he would go mad without her near. Was he teasing insanity with his desire for a deeper taste of intimacy with his life's mate? Would the restlessness consume him and create a stranger, more lethal creature? Would the darkness that was cast behind him from her light lengthen, intensifying to a depth that would lash out at anyone who came too near? Whether friend or foe? There was no denying the twinge of irritation he already felt at those passing, interested personages who eyed his beloved with envy and appreciation. Would that soon spread to even the innocent observations of those around them? More terrifying still, would she notice and become impatient of his actions, leaving him alone with bitterness and a need that would drown him slowly into despair?
All of it only intensified his final conclusion. He did not want her to worry about any of this. Practicing kendo was an indulgence he had allowed to a child of seven, had encouraged when she seemed delighted in the enjoyable art of its dance. Protecting herself was a bonus, of course, but only for as long as it would take for him to step in. Kaoru belonged to him, she was his responsibility. Whatever happened to her was his fault, and he wanted that to consist of happiness and joy. He would protect that happiness for her. And for himself. Because Kaoru was the beginning step to a paradise he was only now understanding.
Was he dismissing her skill? Of course not. Kaoru was quite capable of more than he had ever imagined she could be. And how could one ignore that when she had created an entirely new style of swordplay with only the basis of a mere year or so under her belt? She had barely been introduced into the motions before her imagination had begun working through the movements and twisting them into variations that suited her. How wonderfully amazing she was! There was no doubt that she could hold her own, even against him.
Kaoru was a quick learner, and he was reminded of this as she began to parry his attacks with a growing ease. Knowing she would be upset if she thought he was merely indulging her, Kenshin placed more care in his actions. A frown line appeared between her brows, and he grinned as she caught on, her concentration focusing to a dangerous precision against him. Such an intimidating opponent she was, and as her retired teacher, he felt a stab of pride. Even though the emotion was in direct contrast with his current status of desire for his new koishii.
His change in tactics was not lost on Kaoru, and she bit her lip as she dodged smoothly and struck out with a quick jab. Not surprised that she missed, she followed his movements and dug into him relentlessly. She was beginning to recognize the change in flow around her, how to discern the stoic pressure of a tree from the agitated fizzle of an attack. Able to expand her defense beyond simple dodges and blocks, Kaoru felt confidence in her judgment as she jumped back, slipped to the side, and kicked off a tree trunk to hurtle herself towards the area of disturbance that marked Kenshin's form.
Surprise could be felt in the harried way he reacted, his movements not as smooth and precise as usual. It was always satisfying to draw out such a response from him, and her grin was half-cocked when she rolled to her feet. Trying to keep him off-balance, she transitioned easily into her next attempt, using the terrain to her advantage, well-aware that her handicap would shorten his suspicion of her abilities and allow her to deceive him. There was hardly a chance of her actually connecting, he was a legend, after all, but his strength would challenge her to become better. Being good enough to hold one's own against Himura Kenshin meant more than sparring with a dojo master and winning.
For a short while it seemed she had him on the run, his attacks altering abruptly to defense as she turned the tables on him. Pleased with her progress in such a limited amount of time, Kaoru let herself indulge a surge of pride. Though she had practiced with Misao in discerning shadow attacks and the differences in pressure that announced such dishonorable thoughts and deeds, they had never brought it to such a level as this. Those exercises before were merely for self-defense purposes. Never had Kaoru thought to incorporate them into her serious training. She was beginning to see the benefits of it, however, and she briefly entertained her imaginings with how to settle it smoothly into the Kamiya Kasshin-ryu.
Realizing too late how distracted she had become, Kaoru's heart lurched into her throat as she recognized the shift in Kenshin's ki. Readying himself to attack, her headlong dash placing her at just the right location to ambush, Kaoru was completely unprepared to counter. Trying to react last minute, her body twisted under the swipe, a sharp ringing swish of sound tearing through her ear, and she landed with a skid in the dirt. Dead branches on the ground tore up one side of her, digging harshly into her thigh and soft belly, and she ground her teeth at the burn of friction. Grunting as she flopped onto her back, wincing when her head connected with a stray stone, she dropped her bokken and held up her hands in surrender.
Kenshin must have realized her mistake before she even hit the forest floor, because he was beside her almost as soon as her hands lifted. "Kaoru, are you ok?" Translating her grimaces of pain, he ran careful fingers over the back of her skull and down her side, instinctively reaching to part her training gi to have a better look. Hooking a thumb under her blindfold, Kaoru lifted a brow and graced him with a sardonic look.
"I'm fine, Kenshin. I think I wounded my ego more than my backside." Wiggling a finger in her ear to ward off the ringing, she frowned. "What were you trying to do anyway, take my head off?"
"Kaoru, you were…" A frantic note had entered his voice, and Kaoru sighed, her lips smiling.
"I know, Kenshin. It's not your fault. I let myself get distracted." Heaving an exaggerated breath, she folded her hands meekly over her chest and tilted her head. "So, now that I am thoroughly defeated, what, teacher, happens next?
"Well, as a teacher, I'm sure what is expected of me to say is, get up and try again." Speaking very reasonably, his eyes twinkled with an echoing mischief and she grinned before she shrugged.
"Ok." Rolling to brace her weight on one elbow, she knocked aside the arm he had been leaning on, slamming herself headlong into his chest and knocking the wind from him as she landed on top. Sprawled halfway across him, her blindfold sticking the short strands of her bangs straight up in the air while still half covering her eyelids, she grinned broadly down at his wide-eyed expression. "I win."
Laughing, her chin dropping to rest on his sternum, she enjoyed the rumble of his own amusement. Closing her eyes as his arms encircled her, she clenched them to show enjoyment of his embrace, her fingers fisting involuntarily in his clothing. This was the only time she ever felt completely whole. This was the peace she only felt with him.
"Hmm?" Opening her eyes, she smiled warmly, coaxing the expression to spread across his own features. Lazily his eyelids drooped, the hand at her back rubbing lovingly up her shoulder and then down again.
"Are you happy with me, koishii?" The question was accompanied by a gentle brush of calloused fingers over her temple.
"Of course I am, Kenshin." Her warm smile softened, her clenched fingers relaxing to flatten over his chest. Feeling the need to elaborate, her cheeks flushed pink. "I have always wanted to be with you… this way. Sometimes it seems unreal that… I finally was able to confess my feelings and have them returned." The blush deepened with the darkening of unreadable emotion in his eyes, a restless heat sliding up her spine. Lungs heavy, her voice dropped to a whisper. "I have never in my life been happier…"
"I'm glad." Grip tightening in the material at her back, the hand on her face coaxed, wanting her closer. Briefly her teeth clamped over her lip, abusing the moist flesh, and she released it only in time for him to quiet the ache.
An ache that spread between them and squeezed his heart, unearthing a fear that he wished to dismiss. To dismiss such a notion, however, was impossible and more than just wrong. Kenshin loved her. Loved more than just the acceptance and affection she showed toward him. Their bond had become tangible, indescribable, and too important to simply ignore. It would last a life-time, if not possibly longer, and he wanted that span to be littered with joy, love, peace, and happiness. There could be no room for guilt between them. Not over any aspect of their relations together. Which meant they needed to talk.
As much as the notion frightened him; as hard as it was going to be to look her in the eye and confess such a horrible truth, it could not be ignored. Not now that they had professed their love and spoke, even lightly, of what their future would be. He wanted there to be no secrets; no fears; no confusion. Only trust and comfort. Before they progressed much further… she needed to know about her real parents and how they had died.
Even such a small light shining on the darkest secret in his heart made his stomach heave. Ribs contracting; lungs pinching; his touch roughened in reaction, desperation a thick cage over his mind. Fear opted to leave it be; to accept her gift of beauty and drown in it. If she was happy now, would it not be wrong to risk destroying that? Would it not be cruel to take away her life of peace by tainting her joyful heart and soul with such a notion? Didn't she deserve so much more than that? Wasn't she more important?
Shifting his position, he was careful to let her weight slide slowly off his chest, snuggling her gently into the pine needles and new moss. Adjusting his shoulder, bracing himself on one arm, he settled his body closer, the firm grip on her forearm the only show of his inner turmoil. Always considerate of her comfort, he would not frighten her. He would not let her know even an inkling of the pain he felt. Because they were still too new in this relationship. Any show of displeasure would surely make her doubt, and there was nothing left to doubt. Not from him. Everything he was belonged to her. He wanted her to know that.
Pure bliss clouded Kaoru's thoughts, the heat radiating from Kenshin's body cocooning her in pleasure and wonderful apathy. Nothing else mattered at that moment. Only the feel of his chest softly skimming the planes of hers; the way he seemed to surround her with his scent. Silky red hairs tickled her cheeks and neck, catching in her eyelashes and between her fingers. She felt so safe and wanted; sheltered from the outside world. Even his ki seemed to protect her; twining with hers, but also over and above. Though a part of her would have normally rebelled… Kaoru was surprisingly excited by his dominance.
As was to be expected the pleasing occurrence did not last long, and Kaoru was only partially disappointed when he finally pulled away. They were, while not blatantly in public, training in a wooded area that was accessible by the public. And while both of them would have been able to tell if someone was coming, which was a highly unlikely event anyway, Kenshin did not feel like testing the limitless span of desire he suspected lay dormant within his chemical makeup. Made all the more tempting by Kaoru's undeterred nature and limpid gaze as she lazily blinked up at him.
Swallowing thickly, he released her pinned arm and rolled slowly to his side, settling next to her instead. "I think… you have nothing to worry about."
"Oh?" Idly she lifted a hand to his chest, smoothing her knuckles over his collarbones and down over his free shoulder to his wrist.
"Hai…" Watching her actions curiously, he half-smiled when she weaved her own fingers around and through his, her thumb a soft caress against his skin. "You have always been a quick learner."
The smile on her lips tilted, a light blush darkening her nose. "I also have a great teacher." Darting him a quick glance to see what he made of this, she squeezed his hand. "I have the great responsibility of honoring my sensei by being the best I can. I have never taken that duty lightly."
"Koishii…" Brushing her nails softly against his lips, he leaned forward to nuzzle her hair. "You owe me nothing." Brow furrowing, mouth twisting, he hid the expression against her neck. "I have done nothing to earn such respect."
"Don't say such things. I could fill pages with deeds you have done that deserve admiration." Lifting her free arm in a lofty imitation, she grinned as he chuckled at her teasing remark. Dropping it to trail down his jaw, she hesitated only briefly before planting a moist kiss on the side of his mouth. "Silly Kenshin. You have done so much for me… and this country." Voice tender with praise, she swiped her hand back up his cheekbone and into his hair. "I'm not saying I owe you anything. I'm explaining how happy I am to have been with you and experience what I have. Not just as my teacher. But as my friend and… my love. Even if you don't think you deserve any type of reverence, it won't stop the fact that I have the deepest respect for you."
"Kaoru." How was he supposed to confess to her now? How was he to be expected to destroy her beautiful words of high regard by even suggesting the blasphemy he had committed? Not to Kaoru, with her pure heart. Not to his little one that looked up to him. Not to the woman who belonged to him so fully and unconditionally. Not to the one person in this world that had only ever gazed upon him with love and anticipation.
Tugging her into the curve of his body, he hugged her tightly, aware to the point of pain how happy this action made her. With her arms wrapping gently around his neck and her face buried in the hollow of his throat; the tiny kisses she left on his collar leaving deep imprints on his soul; he could not be required to kill that image of perfection she was imagining. Not now. I cannot do this now. Amber tinged irises parted to sweep suspiciously over the trees around them, his heart urging him to protect this happiness she was feeling. We will discuss it later… when the moment is not so perfect.
Yahiko was hard pressed to keep down his excitement, and who could blame him? Today would be the first time he was allowed to accompany his sensei on an outside training day. Trying to even his light-footed steps to something uniform and indifferent, Yahiko clutched at the strap of his training bag until his knuckles turned white. Anticipating the knowledge he would no doubt gain was an easy emotion to deal with, but he also had to think about the nervousness that was knotting his belly. Most of the students in the Maekawa Dojo were older than him by a few years, or so Kaoru had informed him, and were much more experienced. Not only did this make him worry over his own ability to defend himself well enough against them, but he also had the pride of the Kamiya Dojo sitting on his shoulders. He was the only student, after all, and he had to prove that Kaoru's technique was equal to that of theirs. Stewing over his responsibility, he unconsciously began chewing on his lip, his eyes cast downward to the pavement.
Smiling, Kaoru felt a stab of pride for her student before looking away so he wouldn't notice her attention. Yahiko was not one for affection or any type of emotion that he considered girly. Or so he liked to tell her. However, he never minded Tsubame's blushing words of fondness when she spoke to him at the restaurant. Rolling her eyes in a sisterly motion, Kaoru hid her laughter. She guessed guys just did not like anyone to know their true feelings except for that one special woman. Realizing how happy that made her, warmth blossoming inside her chest as she thought of Kenshin, her smile softened into a dreamy expression. One she was hard pressed to keep off her face after the past few weeks.
Maekawa-sensei met them at the door when they arrived, greeting them politely and gracing Yahiko's presence with praise and enthusiasm.
"It is nice to finally see Kaoru-kun's student in my dojo. She has spoken nothing but approval of your skill." Maekawa bowed slightly as he spoke, his smile as kind as his words. Seeing Yahiko's eyes widen, Kaoru cocked a grin.
"Don't tell him that, Maekawa-sama. He will surely get a big head."
Laughing it off, Maekawa's dark eyes bored into the black depths of the boy's. "I doubt he will do anything to dishonor his sensei. After all, he is your chosen successor, is he not?"
Kaoru nodded her head and cast a side look at Yahiko, noticing his posture had straightened with the reminder. Thankful to Maekawa, she placed a confident hand on her young ward's shoulder. "That he is."
And it is not a position that would be chosen lightly. Sensing the statement left unsaid, Yahiko felt humbled by her faith in him. Bowing low to them both, Yahiko spoke quickly from his heart. "I promise to work hard and prove the worth of my master's teachings within your dojo walls, Maekawa-sama."
"Do not worry, young Yahiko. The style she practices has already been proven many times over. You are here to learn, not to demonstrate. You will accomplish nothing if you are too focused on what everyone else thinks of you."
A moment of relief washed over Yahiko and he nearly sighed. Squaring his shoulders once again, he set his face. "I still plan on working hard. I cannot make my sensei doubt her decision to bring me here today."
"Very well." Laughing Maekawa led them into the dojo.
Only a few hours after being there, and Kaoru was more than impressed by her student. If Yahiko complained and slacked off while they were home, it seemed he was determined to do the exact opposite when in the company of others. Sighing, and feeling a bout of irritation, she scowled and pursed her lips. If only the brat would show this much ardor during training, he'd probably be further into the technique than he is now. It only makes it worse since he blames me for his lack of knowledge. Rolling her eyes, Kaoru averted her attention back to the young man vying for it. Nodding her head at his words, she rolled her shoulders and lifted her bokken once again.
"One more time, Goro-kun. This time keep a firm grip and do not close your eyes when you swing."
Attuned so intensely on her surroundings, her next movement was almost instinctual. Watching in near slow motion the overhead chop of the student in front of her, the clench in her gut prompted her actions and she slid forward without hesitation. Slapping a hand into his chest, she noticed only vaguely the widening of his eyes in confusion before he was flung backwards and out of her area of concern. Twisting in the same moment, she brought her bokken up high and grimaced at the sting of vibration that wracked up her arm.
Quiet descended across the hall as she narrowed her eyes, the perpetrator's slow smirk maddening on his sharp face. "So his little wench has been trained well." Forcing more pressure on the still sheathed katana in his hands, he pushed a grunt out of her as Kaoru tried her hardest to give no ground.
"Who the hell are you?"
Suspicious, her anger only heightened at the police uniform this man was wearing so casually. And his golden irises, so like Kenshin's and yet so unlike at the same time, spoke of how his experience far surpassed her own. Frown deepening, she gathered all of her strength and shoved back, leveling her bokken between them warningly.
"My identity would mean nothing to you, little girl." Lifting his katana, he rested it on his shoulder, his taller figure looking down upon her.
"It'll prove useful when I call your superior and report your ass. That is, unless you killed a police officer to get that uniform. Either way I think I'll just beat you unconscious and let them take care of you."
Sniffing, the intruder lifted an eyebrow, cynical amusement plain on his features. "You're quite the sassy one. Shall we see if you can back up that claim?"
Strengthening her stance in anticipation of his attack, she shifted her grip on the bokken in her hands, waiting for an opening. Though the man had not drawn his katana as of yet, there was no mistaking the intentions of having it present in the first place. There were way too many bystanders here for an all out confrontation, and Kaoru's protective instincts were in conflict with her decisions. If she was to allow this fight to happen in this dojo that she was merely visiting then she was placing many innocent lives at risk, but there did not seem to be any alternative. There was no telling what this man would do if she were to run. If she knew he would follow she would not hesitate to do it, but the only statement that suggested he was there for her was his first when he had entered. Just because she was the first he had attacked does not mean he had planned it that way, either.
Worrying her lip, she glanced around the hall, taking in many of the uncertain faces of the young men. Only Maekawa-sensei seemed to have retained his wits, his strong hands shooing the younger and less experienced students out the back door. Glad for that at the least, Kaoru returned her gaze to the man, angered by his knowing stare. "Worried, girl?"
Pulling a mock imitation of his own smirk, Kaoru shrugged nonchalantly. "Worried I'll end it too quickly. Training on a more serious level actually sounds like fun." Kicking off, she struck a blow full on his front, testing his abilities. Not surprised when he easily blocked, she jumped back and circled to get a better angle.
"Hmph. It seems his arrogance has rubbed off on you. What a pity." Deflecting another blow with his sheathed katana, he followed her movements almost casually, his legs shifting his weight or sidestepping her thrusts with barely any effort. Forcing down her annoyance, Kaoru instead focused her entire attention on finding a weakness in his technique.
It wasn't until they had traded a half dozen blows before Kaoru began to notice the activity of the older students still left in the hall. Skidding to a halt, she chanced a brief glance in their direction. What are they doing? Lifting fluid arms to fend off another swift attack, Kaoru ground her jaw and dropped a hand from her bokken. Planting it firmly on the floor she executed a quick spin and kicked up at him to gain precious space. Satisfied when she grazed his shoulder, she sucked in a breath when he smirked and switched lead hands. Curling in on herself, the others forgotten, she used every ounce of her strength to stall the twist halfway and switch directions.
Feeling overexerted muscles cry in agony, she landed on her feet out of sheer will and faced off once more. One dark brow over slightly approving golden eyes lifted, and his smirk was that much more infuriating. "Well done, little girl. With some experience you just might be good enough to recruit."
"Sorry. Not interested." A sharp spasm ripped up her back and she bit back a grunt. Great. I must have pulled something with that little maneuver. I'll have to remember to stretch with Misao more often.
"Too bad. I heard the Battosai's gotten stale. Having his little student take his place might have been a trade up."
So that's what this is about. Feeling her anger overrule her pain, Kaoru's spine snapped straight, her mouth curling into a snarl. But as her body readied itself to attack, her legs coiling like a spring, she nearly tripped over her own feet when several cries of battle sang through the small enclosure.
With a small touch of horror she watched the leftover mass of students combine their strength and attack the intruder, each with a different call of their own.
"We won't let you hurt Kamiya-sensei!"
"Get out of our dojo!"
"Fight me instead!"
"Wait!" Holding up a hand hurriedly, her plea was ignored as they jumped forward into the fighter's circle. Scornful amusement pulled at the man's features, but he did not move to react to their threats, not even to lift his shielded katana. Instead he opted to meet each of their blows in a rather derisive manner, swatting away their pitiful strikes with his opened palm. If Kaoru did not find him so arrogant an opponent, she would have wondered at his withholding of power, for he was definitely a strong enemy.
It did not take long for him to disarm each of the boys, their weapons either broken or tossed harmlessly out of the way. Bruises in abundant numbers could be counted peppered across their skin, some groaning as they cradled their rolling stomachs in half-bent positions. Irritated with both parties, Kaoru was thankful only that Yahiko had not entered the short ambush. If it could be called such. His smaller figure could be seen clearly enraged as he fought against the hand restraining him by the collar. Pursing her lips, Kaoru shouted across the dojo, her eyes staying quite steady on her opponent.
"Maewaka-sama! Get these boys out of here now! They don't need to interfere with business that does not concern them!" It wasn't exactly the truth, as this was their dojo to defend, but Kaoru was hoping the older master would see the sense in her demand. This man had already proven that he could and would take each of them down with nothing more than his bare hand, and also it seemed he had no interest in anything but her as his own amber irises kept an annoyingly apt eye on her actions. As Kaoru was more than able to handle herself, and Maekawa was in no condition to be fighting, it would be much easier for her to concentrate without them getting in the way with their silly notions of heroism.
Sighing, Maekawa reluctantly agreed. "It seems you may be right, Kaoru-kun. Come boys, let us leave this matter to the lady."
Sneering at a few as they limped passed him, the tall trespasser watched them leave with no small amount of disdain. "How pathetic. To be so obedient to the demands of a mere woman."
"Mere woman?" Anger igniting at such sexist views, Kaoru's face flushed. "This mere woman is enough to fend you off."
"Overconfidence is not something to encourage while fighting for your life."
"If you are going to preach to yourself, please do so in private."
A reluctant laugh huffed from his lungs and the man cocked his head to one side. "Either the Battosai has been too lenient with his wench, or he is more pathetic than I thought."
"If he's so pathetic, then why are you the one attacking a 'mere woman?'"
Kenshin frowned, his eyes distant as his thoughts ran inward instead of focusing on the obstacles around him. Instinct would lead him through the busy streets, so he felt no fear of letting his mind wander paths of uncertainty. He was only thankful that uncertainty was not, at that moment, because of his reluctance to speak with Kaoru. Unfortunately that thankfulness did not stretch to the subject of his new concern.
Leaving Kaoru to walk herself to the Maekawa Dojo had not sat well with him, as more often than not a voice in the back of his mind demanded she not leave his sight. Regrettably there was not a compromise as Kaoru was expected to teach there, as well as being Yahiko's first day training outside of their dojo, and he himself was required to be at the police station to speak with Chief Uramura. Though he had argued with Kaoru to postpone the trip, she was having none of it and he could not come up with a clear excuse to shut her down. Feeling frustrated and helpless as she had left, trying to convince himself that he was merely being paranoid, he had not shown up to the meeting in a pleasant state of mind.
And had left in an even worse. Several high-ranking officials in the last week alone had been found dead in their houses, sometimes with family members in attendance. It was enough to make Kenshin's jaw hurt, and the pictures he'd been forced to flip through caught onto a darker part of his psyche. Though some of the men he only knew through reputation, many of them were either comrades in battle or commanders he had served under. While he had not enjoyed his time in the war, it could not be helped that he had learned much about the soldiers around him, and so felt a certain responsibility and empathy towards their backgrounds and futures. Especially since there was a large probability that their deaths were the direct result of his own failings.
Though there was not a lot of evidence to suggest that this outbreak of murders could be pinned on Shishio Makoto, the Police Chief was also under the impression that there was not a great possibility it wasn't. They had already ruled in the notion that he was not working alone, and while they were not able to pinpoint his direct location as of yet, they knew he was in the country and that there were several strange dealings happening at opposite ends of the islands. Whether in the mass purchase of weapons, the strategic deaths of strongly positioned bureaucrats, or the complete destruction of government buildings… it was beginning to feel as if the entire system might collapse. Already the populace was starting to react to the frantic and quite chaotic atmosphere, speaking openly of another war. Kenshin was only thankful they did not realize the new emperor himself had been moved from the capital in secret or there would have been an all out bought of panic.
Sighing, he pressed two fingers into the bridge of his nose, thinking back over those pictures he had been shown. Though the content was undesirable to look upon, he knew why he had been asked to study each photo. Though he had never met Shishio Makoto, he had heard rumors of his sword style, and as a decent sword master himself it would be the quickest way to identify just who the killer was. Whether it was the mastermind himself, or someone else that worked under him, and if Kenshin could recognize the technique then they would be on better ground to deal with their opponent. However, Kenshin had never seen anything like it before in his life, nor did he recognize the style through hearsay.
He did understand how frightening the kill itself was, though. Quick and precise, without any seeming hesitation in the strike. These observations themselves would do no good in naming the suspect, and Kenshin did not insinuate that he could even help narrow it down with several of their intelligence operatives, but it was the chill itself that settled in his limbs. Something about this assassin frightened him, and it had much to do with the way he had killed even the children. As if there was no sense of humanity in him… or a sickening glee that took pleasure in death. With these kind of enemies, it made him fear for Kaoru and all of his friends. None of her training would do her any good if she were forced to face such a relentless foe.
No. She will not have to face this enemy. She will not face any of them. I will simply have to fix this before she is involved or even thought to be involved. Fists clenching, the sakabato he held in one hand pressing into his skin, he closed his eyes and shook his head. There was only a few blocks left to walk before he made it to the Maekawa Dojo, and he did not want Kaoru to see the trouble his visit to the police station had caused him. This was his responsibility and it would not affect her. He was determined not to let it.
Waiting patiently at a crosswalk for the light to change, resolved to keep a calm state of mind for the next few hours, every muscle in his body tensed at the unexpected slam of harried ki that jerked at his senses. Eyes snapping up, heart threatening to jump out of his throat, Kenshin vaulted the two lane of cars in instantaneous reaction. Though the tangle of energy was choking, almost blinding in strength and number, he could no longer miss Kaoru's warm heat if he was deaf, blind, and half drug into the underworld.
Sprinting, he met Yahiko's form running in the opposite direction, not far from the gate of the dojo. Slowing long enough to slap a hand on his shoulder, to watch his eyes widen, and then lift an arm to point behind him, he was gone even as his breathless voice was explaining the situation. "Kaoru… some guy… looking for you…" Of course. Why else would he be here when she is alone? Anger igniting in turbulent response, he ducked around the disordered mass of boys with ease and in the opened doorway to the dojo in time to see Kaoru's slim figure duck, weave, and twist into the air, vault off a wall and land with a skid, the bokken still in her hands broken in two.
Instead of relief, rage darkened his already agitated anxiety, seeing not how well she was doing against her strong opponent, but recognizing the man and how much danger the woman was willingly placing herself in. How idiotic of her to face this wolf alone, with a broken weapon no less. Golden irises narrowing, his chin lifted in challenge to meet the gaze of an enemy he had fought with years before.
"Ah, there you are Battosai. I was wondering how long you were going to make me wait." Smirking when Kaoru darted a quick look over her shoulder, the tall samurai shot forward with a speed he had so far kept in check. Knocking the bokken from her hands, catching a wrist and spinning her like a top, he snapped tight fingers around her ponytail and yanked her back so that she was bowed awkwardly. With one arm angled above her head and her weight overbalanced, she grimaced at the pain that ripped across her scalp. And you just had to pull that muscle earlier, too. Che! "No matter, your little woman was helping me warm up."
Half stepped into the room, Kenshin scowled, his hand instinctively wrapped around the hilt of his katana. "Then if the warm up is over, why don't you rid yourself of the woman and test your skills against a real opponent?"
Completely indignant, Kaoru's mouth opened, the free hand gripping at her attacker's arm loosening as her emotions became indifferent to physical pain. Eyes darting up to Saito as he answered mockingly back, she ground her jaw and felt resentment burn on her tongue for both of them. What arrogant, egotistical, biased, sexist, prejudiced, bigoted, self-assured… assholes! Running out of words to express her humiliation, Kaoru turned her concentration away from vocabulary and quick-studied her condition. Two seconds later she had both feet clutched around his katana, her shoulders twisting her weight to throw it and herself across the floor. She was merely grateful it was still in its sheath or she would probably be sporting some sick cuts on her soles.
Rolling to a crouch before either could react, she had the blade pulled free and leveled parallel to the ground where she directed an angry look at them both. "Sorry, but I really hate being ignored." Standing slowly, she switched her grip on the alien hilt of the katana. "Nor do I appreciate being treated like I'm inferior." Eyes locking with Kenshin's she let them harden against the fury she could read in his own.
Laughter burst from the wolf standing now on the far side of the training hall, amused and harsh. "I'm truly beginning to think the woman will be more of a challenge than you Battosai. Already her skill has increased since when I first arrived."
Attention shifting back to the smirking features of her dueling partner, Kaoru took a breath to shut him up, and jumped in surprise when the weapon in her hand was knocked quite successfully, and rather violently, to the wooden floor. Nerves stinging, her mind unable to process what had happened as she was more than sure her opponent had not moved to attack her, in fact was still standing several meters away, Kaoru gasped in confusion and took a step back. Blinking as Kenshin's glaring features came into focus, the aggravation that she wanted to feel was overpowered by hurt. "Kenshin…" Cradling her throbbing hands to her stomach, resisting the urge to wince, she swallowed the tears that wanted to overwhelm her throat and encouraged her anger instead. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Kicking the dropped katana ruthlessly across the smooth floor, Kenshin grabbed her by the arm and jerked her behind him and away from the wolf, unconsciously protecting her even from his gaze. "I will not let you taint the Kamiya Kasshin-ryu so thoughtlessly by using such an impure weapon."
"I…" Stuttering, unsure what it was he thought was going to taint her, she hissed back. "Just what did you expect me to do then? Let him rip my hair out by the scalp?"
"I expect you to let me deal with him!"
Though her teeth ground together to still the accusing statements that wished to be free, Kaoru's blue eyes sparked with challenge, narrowing before looking away. "Then deal with him…" Wrenching her arm free of his fingers, she sketched a mock bow. "…sensei."
Kenshin swallowed as she walked away, aware of her insult and yet relieved that he had managed to make her leave so easily. Tension returning as the man behind him laughed again, he turned and noticed with a sharp once-over that the wolf had retrieved his katana… and was not paying any attention to him. His golden irises were following Kaoru's rigid form. "It's nice to see that you do have control over the girl. I was afraid you had grown soft enough to let a woman-child walk all over you."
Anger reigniting, Kenshin growled. "You do not look at her." Cold eyes shot back to him, curiosity replacing amusement as one eyebrow lifted. "You do not speak or even think of her, or I will crush you where you stand."
Resting his katana on one shoulder, Saito frowned, observing the pull of his opponent's features. Though he had always been fierce in battle, Himura Battosai had never exuded a rage that trembled in such unsteady emotion. The man before him now was different in many ways, though with the way he had reacted with the girl, he wondered at how soft he had become.
"I can see now how easy it was for Jin-e to use her against you." Moving to circle, one foot setting meaningfully in front of the other, he shook his head sadly. "You are too irrational with her safety."
A flick of his thumb released the sakabato from its sheath, readying its strength to attack. Stalling his enemy's movements with the sharp sound that echoed through the training hall, Kenshin ducked his chin and spoke low to try and contain the shake in his chest. "I told you not to speak of her."
Smirking slowly, Saito lowered his blade carefully to level between them, waiting to counter. "I was merely musing over the reasons that must have caused you to struggle against such a man. The Battosai I remember would not have wasted any time in taking his life. Instead I hear of this silly vow of yours, a promise I am sure you made to this little woman to keep her happy and warming your bed." Kaoru paused in the doorway, her head jerking to glare over her shoulder as her nails bit deeply into the wood of the shoji. "Such base desires have robbed you of your senses. If you were not so weakened by this vow she would never have been taken."
"You're wrong!" Half stepping back into the dojo, Kaoru clenched her fists, ignoring the way Kenshin's being jerked at her return interference. "There was nothing that Kenshin could have done to stop that maniac. It wasn't his fault at all."
"No? Then you mean to tell me he hasn't grown so dull he was unable to notice and recognize that spy at the club for what he truly was?"
Blue eyes widened, echoing the disbelief that lifted Kenshin's chin. "W-what spy?" Uncertain, Kaoru gripped at the fold of her training gi.
"The one who so graciously asked for a dance and was no doubt very interested in hearing all about his partner." Something heavy dropped into the pit of her stomach, amusing the tall wolf with her clear expressions. Averting his attention to the small ex-hitokiri, Saito shook his head. "It is sad that your mind has become as stunted as your blade, or you would have seen through his pathetic ruse to exploit the girl's obvious importance. The Hitokiri Battosai from before would have killed that man before he was able to report back to his master and employ that sycophant to test you. And that he tested you at all speaks poorly of your skill now that you have taken that ridiculous vow not to kill."
"Say what you will, but this vow I have spoken will not be changed merely because of your mocking words." Kaoru's muscles relaxed, feeling Kenshin's ki calm from its harried anger of before. "The strength I have now is enough to protect those around me. The strength that is gained from killing is a useless tool."
"A useless tool? I wonder if Shinomori Aoshi feels the same? For certainly his comrades would still be alive if it wasn't for your absurd notions and your insistence in pushing them upon those around you." Continuing his round a few more steps, Saito stopped when he was parallel with the opened door, Kaoru's frozen figure directly across from him. "And what strength is there in such an idea if you were not even able to protect them or they protect themselves? Their opponent felt no need to make exceptions for their faults. Tell me, Battosai, how this strength is enough when the ones you would 'protect' die around you? As the girl could have died by Jin-e's hand."
The calm in Kenshin's ki faltered, losing control to emotions that were far from anger and much closer to desperation and irrational denial. "He certainly had her in his possession long enough to do what he liked. Even I, who set up your meeting with the police chief, have had enough time to take from her whatever I would have wished." The hilt in his hand jerked the sakabato further from its sheath, and Saito slid low into a stance, his blade leveling with his outstretched arm. "You have become so weak, I could still take her life. Even with you standing between us."
"That will not be allowed." Shifting so that he was blocking the other's path, Kenshin gave him no room to dodge around. "Not while I still breathe."
"Then come. Let's test your strength and see if it is enough to protect without killing, Battosai."
In a move that Kaoru found herself shockingly unable to follow, the man lunged forward. It seemed to her still novice eyes that neither had left their stances, but as her brain caught up to the blurring of space, Kenshin was already in the air, the sakabato drawn. Waiting expectantly for his counter, knowing in her heart that there was no one in the world strong enough to challenge Kenshin's skill, her being froze when the man she had fought only minutes before lifted his chin and brought his sword up into the smaller man's chest.
Blood, thick and rich, splattered against the ceiling, running down the length of Saito's katana and dropping onto his face. Laughter rose up his throat, his lips pulling into a grin as Kenshin grunted. "Nice dodge, but it won't do you any good." An angry grinding noise ripped from the edge of his blade as the wolf slashed into Kenshin's ribs, bone meeting metal with just enough resistance to keep them intact. More blood flew in bright droplets to spray over wall, ceiling, and floor, a sharp kick sending Kenshin's body across the training hall with a screech of skin and wet clothing.
Gasping, Kaoru took a step forward, jerking at the hand that fisted into the back of her training gi. Glancing behind her in anger, she frowned at Yahiko, his features serious as he stopped her. "Maekawa-sensei has already called the police, and I don't think Kenshin would like it if you were involved any further."
"You would speak to your teacher that way?" Indignant and anxious, even though her anger for Kenshin hadn't lessened any either, she snapped at the boy.
"You're more than just my teacher!" His face flushed, and he looked away, watching as Kenshin stood steadily to his feet, a hand pressed against the wound in his side. "And I know you're more than just a student to Kenshin. I… I saw him get angry that last time." Looking away as Saito repositioned for the gatotsu, Yahiko seemed confused but at the same time worried. "I don't want to see that again. It was really… different and… wrong… on his face." Brow furrowing, Kaoru returned her attention to the fight, no longer struggling against the hand that restrained her. Instead, she focused on the eyes of her beloved, and her lips trembled downward.
"I'm sorry, Yahiko… but I'm afraid you're going to see something much more frightening this time."
A clash of metal, a bright burst of light and Kenshin was once again rising slowly from his thrown position, his back tender from its connection with the solid wooden wall. His breathing was heavy, his eyesight narrowed, and the clench of his fist around the sakabato was unforgiving. Centered, his entire being was focused on the man in front of him, his consciousness no longer worried about the reason for the fight, the truth of it's existence, only an irritation that he seemed unable to counter a move he knew to be breakable. No man had ever pulled a move on him twice and succeeded in finishing it.
Lunging forward, he saw his enemy's eyes widen in the slightest, surprised by the increase of his speed. Once again his katana came up, his stance lengthening for the gatotsu, and Kenshin ducked it. Readying himself to attack, a cry of pain was cut cleanly off by his teeth clicking together and his throat convulsing inward from the harsh pounding of his opponent's foot.
More heavy breathing. The painful rise and fall of his chest as his lungs worked to bring oxygen for his adrenaline charged blood. Horrible twinges and the throbbing of torn tissue, begging for his attention. Wanting to rest and heal. A voice, like sound through a tunnel, distorted and calling his name. The fear he could feel in the cords shivering a response down his own spine. More clearly was the silencing of the wolf's amusement, the stunned and yet guarded ki that spoke of his more respectful regard. He no longer saw him as merely prey for his fangs, but as an awakening predator that threatened his territory.
But then, the Shinsengumi had always felt threatened by the hitokiri. For was not their code similar in essence. A swift death to all evil, and let there be no remorse for those fallen men. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, blood dripping off his chin, and his heavy breaths stilled.
Hard amber irises lifted, his stance straight, and Saito felt his own adrenaline kick in instinctively. That was the look he remembered. This was the man he had fought with before. And there was no turning back now. Whether it was the pain that had recalled the hitokiri, or merely the chance to wield his sword against a worthy opponent… it did not matter. Saito was about to receive the answer he had come looking for.
Switching his grip, he swung the blade over his head, changing his stance to accommodate. "Let's go then!" Calling out a challenge, an excitement of a different sort beginning to rise in his chest, he shot forward, his thrust aiming between the eyes. A sidestep this time, and Saito thought him the fool, his memory clearly muddled, or his mind merely snapped to ignore such a blatant countering. Cutting quickly to the side, preparing to take his head, the small hitokiri smoothly dodged, his body twisting with surprising ease, and his blunted sword connected squarely with the back of his neck.
Flung with such force, his body slammed headlong into the outer wall, busting apart the wooden planks over drywall, sending his personage outside. Wind whipped through the newly made hole, the sky darkening as heavy storm clouds covered the sun, and thunder rumbled low in the distance. Rolling with a grunt onto his back, Saito stared up into the massing clouds, watching a wicked crack of lightning whipcord across the sky. Then smiling at the words that invited him back into the dojo, the voice as deep as the storm's own.
"Stand up. I will not allow this to end so calmly."
"Indeed." Standing slowly to his feet, his figure a dark silhouette as rain began to pound against his shoulders, he reentered through the hole he had made, pressing a hand firmly into a loose section to make room. "This fight will no longer seem satisfying unless I kill you, Battosai."
"Do not be a fool. Even I can tell it is your death the heavens call for."
Lightning crackled yet again, and for the first time in years Kaoru felt a chill of fear lance through her heart in reaction. "No." The hand at her back slipped away as if in shock, and she took a hesitant step forward, the echoing thumps of drumming that pounded in her ears in tune with the sharp whacks of katana before her. No light dared intrude upon the duel, no spark to speak of their passing, and as the tempest fully set itself upon their city, only the ominous shadows flitting about the interior showed that there was anything of interest to watch. "Kenshin, don't…"
I know what this leads to. I know how this will end. I know that if it can't be stopped, Kenshin won't… he'll think…
A loud splintering crack demanded attention, causing Yahiko behind her to yell in surprise and jump clumsily out of the way of a shooting piece of metal. At the same time, light illuminated the two Bakumatsu warriors, giving pause to sapphire irises as they saw not only the broken length of Saito's katana still clutched in his hand, but also the well-ruined sakabato. Time froze. As if Fate herself had wrapped an arm around her shoulders and whispered suggestively into her ear, Kaoru could almost see the impending conclusion as cleanly as the break in folded metal. As if the happiness she had reveled in was only the calm before the storm.
The sakabato was a weapon that was meant to protect, to shield not only the innocents standing behind it but the wielder and his enemy as well. But this instrument of purity was not being used as such. Though this was not the first time it had been utilized in a bought of rage, the other occurrence had been stopped, the weight of fury lifted. This time there was no reason that Kaoru could see to make Kenshin react as he was, and nothing she herself could think of to calm him. There was only a single-minded determination to win, to not lose against this other warrior, and under the stress of such bitterness, the sakabato could not withstand. But this did not, in any way, stall the fight, and as Kaoru's lips quivered, her heart ached, both samurai went at each other with damaged swords.
Nor did amber irises even glance at the broken weapon as he planned his next move. Knocking aside Saito's feeble attempt at garnering an opening for attack, ignoring the bite of metal into the sensitive flesh of his bare hand, he struck out with deadly precision. Even severed in two, the sakabato could not take a life, but the splintered edge from the break was more than able to dig into the meat of Saito's shoulder. With the length of his katana shortened considerably, however, this placed him much closer to his enemy than normal, and he was unable to pull away quick enough to counter his own offensive action.
Crying out, Kenshin felt the bones in his right hand break, the swift snap of Saito's fist jarring the structure of his knuckles and forcing him to drop his sword. Disarmed, he could not oppose the beating laid into his chest, or the twisted cloth that suddenly appeared around his neck. Suspended, the blood trapped in his head began to throb, robbing him of intelligent thought and killing him slowly with the pressure. Aware that the grip on his neck would break first he felt no need to worry over such a trivial matter.
Again there was a voice, but the pounding in his ears was louder, giving rise to panic that was not allowed inside the mind of a hitokiri. Taken and twisted by instinct and obstinacy, his left hand slammed downward, kicking the end of his sheath up into the taller man's jaw. Dropping to the floor, his left hand ripping at the makeshift noose, he yanked roughly on the length of the metal sheath at his waist. Hefting its weight, he turned to his opponent.
There was no longer even room for reservations, the world narrowed and honed on their fight to the death. Outside the storm roared with rising intensity, violently lashing out in its strongest peak of power as it too felt the impending end of its tirade. Posed on the edge of destruction, concentration focused only on what was before them, muscles tensed in willing preparation, the jolting crack of lightning overhead threw them at one another and the dark path that awaited.
Somewhere outside of the madness there was blinding light, and in the back of his mind he knew that at one point that light had been a part of him. Or close enough to feel as if he were connected. It called to him, here and now, and though there was a place in his heart that yearned to answer, nothing in his mind saw the reasoning behind it. At that moment he was preoccupied, and there was nothing to sway him away from that duty to destroy all that threatened the vision of peace he fought for. No dog would keep him from fulfilling the task given to Himura Battosai.
"THAT IS ENOUGH!"
The surprise Kaoru felt at finding someone standing next to her was nearly enough to fight off her fear of the deteriorating situation. Tall and richly dressed, his features covered by well-groomed facial hair, he spoke of political authority, and yet his voice carried like a man who had seen much. Enough so to stop the two samurai in their tracks, stalling at almost the last second what could have ended everything. No matter who would have won.
"Saito! This is not the mission you were given!"
Wiping at the blood on his chin, Saito sneered, bloodlust still shining in his eyes. "I have lived for this. I can let nothing interfere. Even you Okubo-san."
Kaoru's eyes widened as she recognized the name and the identity of this stranger. A great leader of the revolutionists, he had shared that responsibility with another she had met a time before. Kenshin's own direct commander, Katsura Kogoro. Behind her she heard Yahiko's whispered words of ignorance.
"Your pride does not interest me, Saito. Only your skills and your evaluation of Himura's strength."
"Hmph." Sensing no way to resume their fight without further interruption, Saito shot a look to Kenshin. "How fortunate for you." A biting reply was made back and he sneered in disdain. Picking up his discarded jacket and broken katana, Saito made his way reluctantly to the door. "If you were planning on sending Himura Kenshin into this battle then you may as well send his woman instead. She has more bite than he." Glancing away from the glare in azure irises, he continued. "Himura Battosai, however, may prove to be promising."
With the newcomer halfway into the training hall, Kaoru was only able to see his back and not his own reaction to this declaration. As the wolf passed her, however, his taunting words did not cease. "I told you his vow was merely a farce. The question is now will you continue to force it upon him… or stop playing the fool and acknowledge what you lie with?"
Irrational fury shadowed her features, but before Kaoru could jump at the older man and make him pay for such a statement, her arms were caught and held firm. Struggling to be free, her lips spitting a few obscenities, she was unable to do anything while the wolf walked away, a newly lit cigarette in his mouth.
"Let go of me!" Knowing that Yahiko did not have the strength to hold her back, Kaoru turned on the new arrival, jerking her arms free as he loosened his grip. Her narrowed eyes stared back at him, still upset and angered, and she only looked away from the firm gaze of his own when Kenshin finally spoke.
"So you are behind this then, Okubo-san. Your explanation had best be better than your execution." Golden irises were still intent, reminding Kaoru of a time so long ago when her Kenshin had lived in a constant state of turmoil and suffering. They were intimidating, and born from the necessary hardening of his heart after witnessing the deaths of many men.
It recalled to her those emotions of helplessness and anxiety she herself had felt as a child standing behind him. Though her love for him had grown into something much deeper since then, her innocent desire to protect the man who was giving his very soul away had driven her to do everything she could. Briefly it seemed she had helped him find a way to atone, or at the least freed him from the path that had caused him such torment. There were steps that were required to find that peace she wanted for him, and while trying to guide him up them she had seen much a part of her knew she was not supposed to have witnessed. Now, looking into his eyes once more, seeing how little it took to push him back down those stairs, she felt the beginning of despair. What good was her presence if she could not produce any firm results?
Paled irises dropped to the floor, studying distractedly the pitiful form of the broken sakabato. It lay alone, sorrowfully dull on a bloodied floor amidst leftover convictions that it never should have been a part of. It too seemed to realize the possible outcome of its end, to understand that the soul it represented balanced unsteadily on the tip of decay and as it now was could do nothing to prevent that. Did it feel sorrow for the man as well? Or did it feel hatred for the hand that had wielded it against its very purpose?
"Kaoru." The conversation had continued, and as she turned to look at Yahiko, his hand tugging on her sleeve, she listened to Kenshin speak again. His voice was clearly angry, but it was losing that razor-sharp haughtiness of the hitokiri. Swallowing as he refused Okubo's invitation back to the police station, Kaoru looked up to the stern face of the official and then over to Kenshin.
Her movement caught his attention, briefly requiring his irises to search her over, and something in her chest trembled as she recognized the way he seemed to stumble over her presence. As if he either could not understand why she was there, or, for those few short seconds, could not identify her at all. Swallowing, Kaoru stepped forward, cutting off the other's words before the sound became intelligible. As she drew nearer, his stance shifted, wary, and she lifted her hand slowly to reach for his face, hoping he would read the intent in her ki.
Amber eyes looked into and through her own, and she briefly felt fear that he would not understand what it was she wanted. He looked so very untamed and wild, as if at any moment his teeth would bare and snap in return anger. The powerful bite of his ki seemed to coil, tensing as the nail of her longest finger brushed skin, and she almost flinched back to avoid the attack that it threatened. But a calmer part of her knew that this was still the Kenshin she loved, and he had never, nor would he ever, hurt her.
As if the test had been passed, he blinked, the enlarged width of his pupil retracting, and the tight expression around his eyes softened. Looking her over again quickly, red lashes closed over irises on the verge of blue, his head leaning into her palm.
"Kaoru…" Though the word was quiet, nearly inaudible, Kaoru felt in intense clarity the sensation of being lost, alone, and frightened. Like the child she used to be, curled under the blankets of her futon, praying for the lightning to pass harmlessly by and the arms of someone she depended on to protect her.
"It's alright now." Though the tone she had wished to adopt wobbled, she did not let any of the threatening tears fall, her other hand coming up to cup his face. Taking a steady breath, she tried again. "It's alright."
"Himura-san." Violet eyes snapped open, and Kaoru read irritation before she pulled away. Partially embarrassed by the intimacy they were sharing in front of such an influential personage, another part of her echoed an old feeling of resentment for these men who thought themselves better than the swords they tried to control. Turning from the intent gaze of her beloved, Kaoru tried not to let that animosity show. "There are more pressing matters to attend to. I insist that you join me…" There was displeasure and impatience in the important man's voice, but Kenshin had not taken his eyes off Kaoru. The curtain that had covered his mind had been yanked successfully free by her touch, his thoughts coming to order, and he smoothly spoke over the official to buy some time.
"Okubo-dono, I think it would only be polite if you were to apologize to the dojo master. It was, after all, his property that was damaged in your request of Saito. Not to mention the students that were no doubt put into jeopardy." Taking a couple steps forward, Kenshin waved a hand at the boy still standing in the doorway. "Yahiko will take you to him."
"And will you please call Megumi-san as well, Yahiko?"
"Sure, sure." Shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly, he gestured at the tall stranger and led him away down the engawa. "Just who the hell are you anyway?"
Kaoru's lips quirked at the boy's audacity before she walked a couple paces and bent over to wrap cold fingers around the hilt of the sakabato. Wind from the storm gusted through the open door, chilling her slightly as the rain beat down in unrelenting pebbles. It seemed almost too quiet with the absence of thunder, and a warning shiver rippled across her skin. Something felt wrong, and she knew it was because she saw no answer to the question forming in her mind.
"Kaoru?" Slowly she turned, her hands cradling the sakabato as if holding the lifeless body of something precious. Blue irises did not look away from it, her stance blatantly saddened by the wreckage, and Kenshin paused where he was. He could almost hear her thoughts. Could almost see the accusation in her posture. Wondering how he could do such a thing. Wanting an answer, to know the reason he would destroy the gift she had given him. Why he would turn his back on everything she had done for him in favor of living that nightmare again?
Sensing the spiral his thoughts were heading towards, violet eyes closed, his head shaking to bring him back to the present. "Kaoru." Again he spoke her name, his voice a mere thread of sound now, unsure what he could say to convey the regret that was already settling inside his core. When she inhaled, the action shaky and quick, he tensed at the disappointment he expected to follow.
"Does it hurt much, Kenshin?" Freeing a hand, she touched gently at the cut in his ribs, glancing briefly over the bruising on his neck, before pulling back the bangs covering his face. Sapphire irises were tender, anxious for the pain he must be in, and it amplified the guilt throbbing in his stomach. Swallowing, he leaned his forehead into hers, the tips of his fingers brushing her jaw.
"It doesn't matter." His voice was tight, and her lips jerked, trying to smile over her frown, the action sad and ineffective. Rolling her chin, she kissed him on the cheek, curling her arm around the back of his head in a sheltering hug. Over her shoulder he could see the other half of the broken sword, it's length lodged into the far wall, and his eyelids slid shut.
The events of only moments before were brighter in the darkness, bringing back to him feelings and emotions that should have been long since dead and gone. It had been over ten years since the last time his sword had been wielded for death, over ten years since the resulting rush of adrenaline and primal instincts. It had always frightened him, but not in any way that he knew Kaoru suspected. But because of the sensation behind them. Hidden inside the shadow of their wake. Tickling the pit of his stomach and making it churn sickly.
When he was securely alone, he had thought to examine it once. Was it pride, he had wondered? Or, even more alarming, a glee; a fierce, nearly unstable exhilaration, not at the demise of his opponent, but at the defeat of a worthy enemy? An addictive drug that fed on his battles and urged him into new ones. Were those the emotions leading him through the war? Was this the true extent of his heart? Not something pure and untainted by corruption, but a will that was no better than that of the sadist Udo Jin-e? The notion had shaken him, so much so that he had buried it under the much easier conclusion Kaoru had decided to give.
Now, however, he was beginning to see the consequences for such an action, and his heart sank in despair. After everything he had done to walk this new path, after all he had sacrificed, why was it not enough even for this? Why was his soul still so unstable?
"Was it all for nothing, then?" The arm holding him tightened, and he could sense her denial. "Have I gained nothing… when it is so easy to fall back into everything I have run away from?"
"He was right, Kaoru." Fiercely his arms wrapped around her, the bones in his right hand stinging with pain as he clenched desperately at the material of her gi. "How can I live by this belief when I fail every test I am given? Please, koishii, I don't know what to do."
"You haven't failed, Kenshin. We just… we…" Stumbling, Kaoru searched for the answer, but that question was still so new and there had been no time to examine it. "We'll just… have to keep going. We can't give up now." Pulling gently out of his embrace, Kaoru glanced down at the broken sakabato and smiled. Pressing the hilt into his hands, she wrapped her fingers over his own, her eyes as clear and knowing as the day he had met her. "Everything will be fine."
Kenshin rounded the last corner of the Kamiya Dojo for the fourth time that evening, his thoughts as cloudy and turbulent as the sky. Rechecking the locked gate, his hand running over the smooth surface, he sighed and turned his sight inward, staring at a soft ray of light that pierced the darkening grounds. A signal that Kaoru had yet to turn in herself, the shoji of her room parted to let in the cool air.
It was small wonder her own thoughts were keeping her up as well. Although the Chief of Internal Affairs had truly told them nothing new, he had confirmed Shishio Makoto's direct link to the current state of affairs, and it was seeming all the more real that Kenshin would have to actively cooperate with the operation. Which meant he would more than likely be required to leave her behind once again.
The notion jerked at his heart, closing his eyes over a sensation he was not yet used to. Leaving her had never been simple, nor easy, but now… it seemed nearly impossible. But he would… to make sure her life was safe, her friends protected, and the happiness she was experiencing guarded from the chaos Shishio promised the entire country. He would do whatever it took to secure her future… and when it was all said and done, hopefully his own as well.
Taking care of a man that had lost little of his skill within the last eleven years would be an incredibly hard feat. There was no small possibility that Kenshin might lose his life to that man, and though it frightened him, this was a situation he could not run away from. The problem was his responsibility to fix, and he could not in good conscience throw it off on anyone else. He just wished he had half the faith Kaoru had in his abilities.
That she could believe in him so much, even after everything he had done, made him feel all the smaller on the inside. After letting her down, time and time again, she still stood behind him, coaxing him gently forward, encouraging him to be better than he was. Than he ever could be. She commanded a strength he would never have, a will he could only envy her. And he loved her all the more for the quiet way she could look into his eyes even after destroying the precious gift she had given him.
Chin dropping into his chest, his hand rested on the hilt of his katana, nearly feeling the brokenness of the steel. Hearing all too clearly Kaoru's own lesson to Yahiko, his teeth clenched and his brow furrowed. If a samurai's katana was truly a representation for his soul, what did this mean about his own now? Was he as broken and useless as the blade portrayed? Was this merely a second step in his corrosion, and not the second chance he had thought it to be? Could there truly be any way to make this right again? Could a soul such as his ever be mended enough to accept the purity of hers?
Or perhaps her purity was the direct result of the taint within his.
I have been given a gift even greater than the sakabato. A gift I will never understand my possession of, but am grateful in its presence. Sucking in a shivering breath, he smiled thinly. And perhaps, if I am lucky, her purity will one day rub off on me.
Naturally drawn toward the light, he made his way across the yard and to the engawa. Body clamoring for rest, the aches from his wounds dragging at his energy, a part of him anticipated the warmth of not only her acceptance, but the comfort of her curled beside him. Though it was probably indecent for him to stay in her room, and he sometimes felt it would be more proper to find comfort in his own, the habit of her presence was an addiction he would be unable to break. This was the part of him that enjoyed only the ability to wrap around her as she slept and witness the tranquility of her breathing.
There was another part him, however, that forced him to be cautious of his actions. To never come to bed at the same time she did. To wait for her ki to be drowned in unconsciousness before lying down next to her. Though for awhile he had been able to use her own injuries as reason enough, her innocent wish for his arms around her easy to allow, lately he had sensed something a little less harmless between them. Their kisses lasted longer, her hands gripped a little tighter, and her body language was open; encouraging. Tempting him to discover the taste of her skin and the feel of his palm spread over her smooth stomach.
Standing outside her room now was against his better judgment. He knew full well she was still awake, and if her ki had anything to say about it, she would be for quite awhile yet. There were things, however, that he needed to speak with her about. Truths that she needed to understand. And, quite possibly, reassurance for an issue he had been blind to even as it had stared him in the face.
Her voice was soft when she spoke, allowing him entrance after a brief knock. Stepping inside, he automatically closed the door behind him, thinking little of the consequences. Until blue irises met his, the instinctive smile that spread across her face happy, and he instantly regretted the enclosure of their surrounding. Because he wanted to bless it as well.
Reverie broken, he sucked in a breath, his gaze dropping to the floor between them. "It seems… I am going to have to break my promise." He heard her take a breath and fearing her reply, he spoke quickly to save himself from that pain. "I'm sorry, Kaoru. I cannot ignore this. Not when I know how many people will be hurt if I do. Not when I can imagine the effect it will have. But I also won't be able to deal with your pain. Please, koishii, do not resent me."
A deep sigh left her lungs, but his eyes had closed, whether in fear or cowardice he wasn't sure. All that he knew was the frantic pounding of his heart and the stammering voice inside his head that pleaded for forgiveness.
"You idiot." Her feet brought her closer, the ki around her shifting, and he waited for the hit that he suspected her to give. "A girl could get tired of explaining herself after awhile, you know." Unable to stop himself, his head jerked up, his expression clearly confused and unsure of her meaning. Teeth chewing on her lip as she hid her smile, Kaoru rolled her eyes. "I only have so much patience, but I'll try and explain it to you again." Both hands curled into the front of his shirt, her head tilting to the side. "Kenshin, I love you, and I know you. If you were any other person, if you were any other way, I wouldn't love you at all. I can't be angry with you for wanting to help. I can't hate you for wanting to save others. And I'm not about to throw a tantrum just to get my way and make you stay here knowing the extent of the situation. I don't want you to ever question my feelings for you, because it is not something I would want to burden you with, and never something you should have to do."
Leaning forward, she wrapped her arms around his ribs, wanting to comfort him. Wanting him to be calm. "Besides… it's not like you're going anywhere by yourself, anyway."
"Really, Kenshin? Did you think I would just stay here and wait?" When he pulled back, his expression battling between confusion and coming denial, she planted her hands on her hips. "I'm not a child anymore, and I won't allow you to handicap me with your overprotective tendencies. I'm an adult now, and I'll go wherever I please." Lips parting to argue, he was shut down again with one raised hand. "I just might be able to help you, too."
"Kaoru, this is not…"
"If you don't let me come with you, I'll just figure out where you're going and follow. It's your choice."
"But koishii, I'm not…"
"No buts, Kenshin. I'm going whether you like it or not."
"Kaoru." Strong fingers dug into the curve of both her shoulders, demanding her attention and stilling her tongue. "You are not going. I will not allow it." There was desperation in his eyes and voice, and her features slowly melted into an angry contriteness. "This will not be a situation you can handle, that I want you to handle." Anticipating her argument, he instinctively shook her. "I didn't mind helping you train again, so you can better protect yourself, but going and looking for a fight is not the same. And if you… if you were to get hurt, I wouldn't know what to do, Kaoru. I need to be able to concentrate, and that won't happen if you're in danger of any kind."
"How unfair." Dark bangs covered her eyes from view as her chin ducked, and he frowned at her words. "That you can just stand there and tell me that no matter what I do, you'll never trust me with my own safety. You'll never have faith in my strength."
Sighing, he leaned forward to tighten his embrace, saddened when she refused to return the gesture. "I guess I can understand where you have developed this need to prove yourself and show that you can take care of your own, but… I'm tired of hearing you speak of how weak you are, or accuse me of thinking it. Just because I worry over your wellbeing doesn't mean I think little of your skill. It only means that I care, and I can't help that I care for you, koishii. Do you not remember saying the same to me?"
A quiet huff of acknowledgement was his reply, and her forehead dropped onto his shoulder. "Now that's unfair, Kenshin."
"All's fair, little one." He laughed with her, happy when she finally relaxed. "Your true strength, koishii, is not in how well or powerful you wield a sword, but in your faith. Very few people can look at a stranger and see only the good in him, and believe that he can one day be better." Throat constricting as he clearly saw one moment many years before, his eyes clenched shut. "Very few people can believe in others as willingly and strongly as you. I will never possess that kind of strength, Kaoru, and I envy you for it. I wish I could believe in myself as you believe in me."
Warm arms finally wrapped around his middle. "It is not so hard, Kenshin, because I know that you will always succeed. There is no doubt that you will."
"But I am not so sure. Especially after today. I don't understand how you could still look at me without anger after I so recklessly broke what you gave me. How could you still feel any kind of compassion after seeing what I can be like? After nearly breaking every belief you have?"
"I'm not about to just give up on you either." Jabbing him in the side to emphasis her point, she grumbled in growing irritation. "Thanks for showing faith in me, Kenshin. Like I'd really just stomp off and leave you there. I'm not heartless, you know."
"Yes, koishii, I know." Chuckling, he absently planted a kiss into her hair. "And I'm sorry, but you have only proved my point. If I were you, I would not have been able to keep faith in me any longer. Not after having broken that faith as many times as I have."
"Then it's a good thing I'm not you. You're a mess as it is."
They both laughed, and Kaoru closed her eyes, realizing how much she would have to rethink about the situation. It was obvious Kenshin would not be able to do what would be necessary if she were around. Either by distracting him with her presence alone, or becoming a burden, she could be the construction of his downfall without even willing it. That was not something she wanted, not something she could deal with. She wanted him to come back to her alive, and while this desire demanded that she go to make sure he was safe, it was a rash decision. In her heart she did not want to be apart from him ever again, but in her mind she knew that being separate was not always bad, or that it meant forever. Letting him go now meant there was a strong possibility they would be together for years. Going along leaned more toward becoming a victim of eternal loneliness.
"Alright, Kenshin, you win."
"Thank you, koishii."
"But you better promise to come back. I don't care if you can't walk, you'd just… better come back."
"I will. I promise. Even if I have to crawl."
Tears mingled with her amusement, and she sniffed quietly, trying to hide her emotions in the warmth of his shirt. Finding comfort in the quiet moment that descended around them, the smile that quivered her lips was small, her voice soft. "It's late, Kenshin. I think… we should get some rest. It's been a long day." The muscles against her back stiffened, his head lifting up.
"H-hai… you should do that, Kaoru."
"Do you not plan on sleeping?"
"I… still need to check the gate."
Smile turning lopsided, Kaoru nuzzled her nose into his shoulder. "Again? You already checked it four times, Kenshin."
"D-did I?" Trapped between bracing her weight, and trying to pull away, he froze when her arms slide up around his neck, his heartbeat nearly painful.
"But if it'll make you feel better." The kiss on his cheek was light, melting the anxiety churning his gut. Eyes closing, the gentle scent of her shampoo trembling the muscles in his chest, he marveled at how with such a small contact she could rule every ounce of his being. "Just make sure you don't stay up too late. Your body will need rest if it's going to heal."
"Hai." Hands moving back to her shoulders, he was unsure if he wanted to hold her close or move her further away.
Blue eyes were lowered when she stepped back, her head tilted so that her pale skin barely skimmed his own. Briefly she paused, the air between them heavy, and long lashes lifted, slowly rising to meet his gaze. Though the look was lazy, alluring, the action was innocently unaware of his turmoil, and though a part of his mind recognized this, he was already bridging the gap. Already anticipating the drowning sensation her kisses engendered.
With no small amount of satisfaction he rediscovered that addictive experience, quietly willing it to surround him, contently savoring its beautiful dance. The soft warmth of her arms slid back around his neck, conveying her delight, and forcing his own hands to either drop or readjust. Mimicking both, the pads of his fingers skimmed down her back, tingling the sensitive nerves even under thick calluses. Suffering a similar sensuality, her spine arched inward, pressing them abruptly together and flattening his palms in a sudden urge to keep her there.
Their kiss deepened, taking him away from that slow spiral and throwing him into something even more overwhelming. Uncovering desires he had worked desperately to bury. Freeing them from oppressive excuses and letting them be as important and driving as any single-minded need. To please, to savor, to blanket her in more pleasure than she could ever imagine and watch closely as she fell over that edge. To finally allow himself to enjoy the heart-racing ecstasy her body had been promising him for weeks, and wallow in the euphoric apathy of afterwards.
Skillfully, her tongue curled around his, promising and teasing until he growled at her challenge. Fingers fisted into the material of her pajamas, wanting her to be closer, wanting to tear at the offensive clothing that covered her. Muscles already stretched taut, the tenderness in his knuckles throbbed, clearing away a part of the haze like a rock thrown into water.
Relaxing his hold, they parted, a wince whistling between his teeth as his brow scrunched. Confusion was working on the desire still warming her irises, her bruised lips parting in concern. It was a look he was familiar with, having seen it once before when she was sixteen, and the denial that arose within him was stronger than the small pain. Moving before she could question, one hand lifted to her face, his thumb a soft caress over her mouth to indicate his return there momentarily. Using the time to catch his breath, he nuzzled at her jaw, behind her ear, tasting her neck when she offered, grazing the skin with his teeth to make her shiver, before becoming impatient and plunging them fully back into the heat.
Unsure, for awhile, how to respond, she had clung to him, but she was beginning to find her footing and was more than just letting him know. Dissatisfied as the pleasure began to level, he felt her step back. Eager to keep their contact, he followed, blindly letting her lead him. A featherlike click snapped his eyes open, pupils enlarging in the surprising darkness of her room, and he looked her over as he realized why. Her own eyes blinked open momentarily, her cheeks flushing at such a bold move, and she glanced over her shoulder, trying to make the motion meaningful, but unable to raise her irises to meet his again. Catching sight of the futon, he sensed her nervousness and was overcome with compassion.
"My Kaoru has never been shy." Whispering the words behind her ear, he wrapped an arm low around her waist.
"I-I'm sorry." Breath catching as his lips slid to her collar, her arms lowered with his descent.
"Do not apologize." His demanding words ghosted hot against her skin, his other hand slipping beneath her top and spreading wide between her shoulder blades. "I will simply have to remedy it." Material twisted enough to free her torso, he lifted, ignoring the way she gasped, concentrating instead on the fingers that threaded through his hair and pulled.
Spending only a few seconds on tasting that skin he had coveted and teasingly nuzzling the underside of her breasts, he sat her down, was briefly satisfied with the dazed look in her eyes, and recaptured her lips to distract. Taking the lead back, he nudged her toward the bedding, trying to remember to tame his desire for now and concentrate on her. On carefully nestling her amongst the blankets, delicately removing her clothes, and slowly taking what belonged to him.
Irises already amber with longing, they burnt into bronze as she interrupted his set schedule, allowing him only to lower her until she stretched out beneath him. Kneeling between her parted knees, with only his mouth touching her, she curled one leg up and around him, encouraging him to come closer, forcing his teeth to bite down on whatever piece of her skin he was worshiping. Thrust so intensely back into his previous mindset, he stopped trying to control the situation, and let her lead as much as he.
Settled fully against her, her body warm and inviting, tantalizing and seductive, it was easy to forget she was innocent. Falling prey to the hunger, he fixated his attention firmly on her most sensitive spots, feeling a deep-seated pride at her responses, positive or shaken. The leg still curled around him tightened, a moan rubbing her throat, and she instinctively arched against him as the heat flared. Jaw clenching on a groan, he brought his lips back to hers, parting her teeth with his tongue possessively, and rocked his hips to give her what she wanted.
The pain that burst across his ribs stole his breath, his lungs laboring to return it as he gasped. Her eyes instantly opened, worry battling for dominance on her flushed features, and her hand reached. Abrupt anger flared to life, and he pinned that arm before she could touch him, his mouth returning to its most recent heady activity. Driving her fervently back down into the path of pleasure, his own was replaced by determination; wanting to please her; wanting to know everything. I willsatisfy her. I will make love to my woman.
Lost again, his mind blank, the stabbing twinge was twice as violent this time, shaking his arms as it stole his strength, and giving him no other choice but to rest heavily on top of her.
"Kenshin!" A light, fluttering touch hovered over his injured ribs, acknowledging the cause of his pain before alighting on the base of his skull. "I'm sorry. I didn't think…" The distress in her voice upset him, curling his brow, and his fingers found and tugged on her elbow to free his movements.
"Don't, koishii… daijoubu." Still warm and yearning, he kissed a small path up her neck to her chin. "Ne?"
Stretching to nibble on her ear, happy that he had successfully distracted her, he adjusted his position and grimaced as the ache kept throbbing. When her hands pushed him softly away, he knew she must have noticed.
"It's nothing, koi. Please…"
Soft laughter made him pout. "But Kenshin, you're in pain. How… do you expect to… be able to enjoy anything while you're in pain?" Though her voice stumbled slightly in embarrassment, the words were meaningful enough. "How do you expect me to?"
A muffled whine near her collar widened her eyes in surprise, twitching her eyebrows as she fought amusement and astonishment. "But koishii… I was looking forward to making love to you." Her cheeks flushed at his blatant confession, but her smile widened at his next sulky words. "It's unfair that I can't just because of a few stitches." The low growl of hatred for the man who had caused the wound made her sigh, but silently agree. Stupid wolf, indeed. I think I'll kick his ass myself the first chance I get.
"Kenshin, I think those painkillers Megumi gave you are kicking in. You're starting to sound sleepy." Half-lidded eyes focused on her face, proving her theory, since she'd never heard Kenshin whine about anything, and she cupped his face in her palms. His cheeks were warm, and she vaguely realized the acceleration of blood flow through his veins would speed up the time it took for the drug to take an effect. I guess that explains that. Smiling affectionately, she leaned up to kiss him on the forehead and encouraged him off of her. "Come on, Kenshin. You can still sleep with me." Teasing him enough to pull a smile out of him, she chuckled. "Besides, I'm sure it'll be better for both of us after you're all healed."
A hum of silent agreement made her bite her lip as she yanked on the covers, his nose nuzzling her hair when she cuddled against him.
Hmmm… much better, koishii… I promise.
A/N: Holy shit! I'm so ecstatic! I've been working myself to death trying to finish this (34 pages bitches, oh yeah), and I think I'm going to cry now. Ahhh…
Anywho… did everyone like their present? Yeah, I know, but he was injured. Give the guy a break. I didn't want Kaoru's first experience to be no good because her lover was in pain the whole time. Geeze… lol. But it was fun to write, especially Kenshin whining. I thought that was so funny. XD
Umm… so, I know the sakabato didn't break until the fight against Sojiro, but… I have other plans for that fight, so I wanted to do it here. Plus I thought it would be more meaningful if it was done in front of Kaoru since I made her give it to him in this story. The fight itself wasn't very thrilling, I realize, but I was having an incredibly hard time trying to think of how I wanted to do the fight. Since the manga and the anime pretty much show it from a third person perspective, I wanted to kinda show it from Kenshin's POV more than anything. Also, Kaoru's thoughts were a given, but they never do really explain why Kenshin just kind of snaps like he does. Yeah, I know it's because he's getting really into the fight, but the way they word it is he just reverts back into the Battosai mode, or whatever. Since I'm a pretty big believer in the rurouni and the Battosai not being separate to begin with, and Kenshin is just Kenshin in different stages of his life, I didn't really like that explanation all that well. I wanted to try and show it from a mental standpoint of someone trying to "clean up" if you will. Like anyone with an "addiction" of sorts, it is easier to fall back into what you are trying to quit doing than it is to fight it off. So… yeah. Hope I pulled it off. (Oh, and by the way, I do know that JHSS is based on the two being separate, but that's my exception. Because I also believe there is an exception to every rule.)
Next… I didn't show a conversation between them and the Okubo guy, because, well… I've already pretty well explained what's going on before hand, so it's nothing really new. And… I think that's it. Maybe.
Hope everyone liked it. Please… I worked really hard to make it for you. Don't throw me away now… sniff… cry… I just want love like everyone else… lmfao… Alright, next up, Kaoru just might get her way, and get to kick some ass while she's at it. Wohoo! As always, leave a review and tell me what you liked, didn't like, completely hated, laughed your ass off over, or… anything else that moved you… wink…