Disclaimer: The characters of Rurouni Kenshin are not owned by me, but are lovingly re-created in interesting situations. Hopefully I do them justice, occasionally I fail. I am human. I likewise don't really own me. So no suing me for that, either please.

Chapter 13:

For centuries, man believed that the sun revolves around the earth. Centuries later, he still thinks that time moves clockwise.

~Robert Brault

The second his sword swept away the last of the overgrowth, the pounding stopped. He exhaled in relief as the blinding pain receded and then disappeared completely. If that wasn't a sign, he didn't know what was. He heard the rest of his group stagger out of the woods and stop beside him, as he surveyed the area.

And then he saw it.

In the distance, in the shadow of ancient trees with fluttering paper charms hanging from their boughs, sat a small wooden building. It was weather-worn and dark, but it was familiar. This was where he had met the Weaver. At that moment he felt all of the rising anxiety leave his body, but it wasn't long before it came back with a vengeance : There was no one here, there was nothing else nearby, and it was getting dark.

He hoped the Weaver liked house guests.

-o0-0o-

"No. Absolutely not."

"Why not? We need to sleep somewhere and we will never find our way back."

"You might not."

"You'd rather blindly wander in the dark, through a forest that could be filled with wild animals, than spend one night in a shrine? You can't be serious."

"I'm not going in there and you can't make me. That place is creepy. 'Horror movie' creepy."

The gangly man crossed his arms over his chest and looked away, so much like a pouting child that Kaoru almost laughed out loud.

Evil smirk on his face, Yahiko chimed in.

"Oooh. Sanosuke's afraid! What a crybaby!"

"I don't care what you say, a place like that's got to be haunted.", the tall man stood stiffly as he shook his head.

"Seriously? Ghosts? After all the harassment you've given Kenshin about his story, you're going to tell me that you believe in ghosts." , Kaoru scoffed.

"Hey! Ghosts are well documented. You show me one single person who has traveled through time or met a god.", Sano stepped forward, toward the scowling Kaoru.

"Right there!", Kaoru dramatically flourished toward the awkward-looking red-head.

"Kenshin doesn't count!", he exclaimed as he turned toward the wanderer, "No offense, buddy."

"None taken."

"You are such a big baby. I'm ten years old and I'm not even afraid.", Yahiko said, stepping up toward the door.

"See that? Even Yahiko's more of a man than you are."

"That hurts, Missy."

She rolled her eyes and followed the boy to the doorway.

"What do you mean 'even Yahiko'? Did you have to say it like that?", Yahiko quietly whined.

"Sorry. It came out wrong.", she amended, "Yahiko's so brave he's going in first!"

The boy shot her a clearly-terrified-but-trying-to-hide-it look and slowly rolled his eyes toward a grinning Sano.

"After you.", the tell man waved toward the door, clearly enjoying the latest turn of events.

"I'm not afraid.", the dark eyed boy lied.

"Sure."

"I'm not."

"Good."

"Oh for god's sake, I'll go."

Kaoru stepped in front of the door, removed her shoes, and gently knocked. She quietly listened for noise inside, and finding none, she gently slid the door open and stepped inside.

She'd like to say it was a deeply religious or spiritual place, a fascinating repository of divine knowledge , a sacred life-changing edifice, but no. It was a basic, run-of-the-mill, wooden room.

A very basic room.

It was kind of a let-down.

Kenshin entered behind her, followed by Yahiko. The red-head stepped forward into the middle of the room and spoke toward the back wall.

"Please forgive our intrusion, Miss Weaver. It is not out of disrespect..."

"Why is Kenshin talking to a wall?", Yahiko whispered to Kaoru, who responded with a shush.

"... We have nowhere else to go and it is getting dark and cold. Please allow us to stay."

He paused, awaiting a response, but the room remained unchanged. They waited for a moment, listening.

"Well, This one supposes silence is as good an answer as any."

Kaoru nodded, somewhat unsure, and began to remove some of the extra warm-weather clothes she had packed. They may not have beds tonight but at least they'd have a pillow, and inside of the shrine they would be sheltered from the wind, which was better than nothing.

"You guys ok in there?", a worried voice whispered, a spikey-haired silhouette taking up most of the small doorway.

"I thought you weren't coming in here.", Kaoru mused, still digging through her bag for any food she may have packed.

"That was before it got fricking cold out there."

Before long, the group was sitting in a circle in an almost-darkened room, contemplating the fact that no one had a flashlight.

-o0-0o-

It was quite pitch-black when the shrine door opened and light pierced the night, scaring everybody half-to-death, and sending a paranoid Sano launching toward their would-be attacker. Just as he was about to grab the throat of the intruder, he was knocked to the floor and held down by something impossibly fast.

"That was a dirty move! Don't think you've won. I'm going to wipe the floor with you.", he barked at the shadow that held him to the ground.

"I hope that you won't.", a small, feminine voice replied from the doorway.

The stranger entered, illuminating the inside of the shrine with her lantern. She was a youngish woman, clad in the distinctive red and white attire of the local Miko. Her long ebony hair was tied in a low ponytail fastened with ribbon at the base of her neck, and her eyes shifted from person to person as she regarded the group with eagle-like scrutiny. She stopped when her eyes locked on the deceptively innocent redhead that sat perched upon Sano. Kenshin gave the woman an awkward smile seconds before the lanky man pushed him onto the ground.

"Kenshin! What the hell!", Sano stood and straightened his clothing.

Kenshin put his hands up apologetically, with an impossibly humbled voice and and smiled daftly.

"This one is sorry, Sano. This one did not want our guest to be hurt."

"Yeah, well, what about me?!"

Ego bruised, Sano pulled his collar up around his neck in one quick movement, an attempt to assert some sort of dominance over the tiny man.

"This one knew that a simple knock to the ground would not hurt you. And in any case, if this one remembers correctly, we are now even."

The tell man let out a grunt and jammed his hands into his pockets.

"Well, don't do it again."

Snickering resounded from behind them, courtesy of Kaoru and Yahiko. The young woman cleared her throat and addressed the red-head, glancing only momentarily toward the others.

"Mr. Himura,I presume? Come with me."

And with that, the Miko exited the building, followed shortly by four very apprehensive tourists.

-o0-0o-

Kaoru sat with the group, surrounded by a large and open room, and watched as their new host served tea, lingering only slightly when she served Kenshin.

That annoyed her.

But it shouldn't have. Actually, it more annoyed her that it annoyed her.

She looked down at her tea cup and silently shook her head. Beside her sat the other two boys- more cloth than human- and she rolled her eyes as she watched them hug their tea, perched atop floor pillows with thick woolen covers over their shoulders, like they had just finished trekking trough Siberia. She quietly scoffed.

Men.

One of the blankets was the first to speak.

"So, you gonna tell us why we're all here?"

The Miko looked at him, taken aback.

"Sano! That's rude.", Kaoru scolded, as she swatted the lump beside her. She would never admit it, but she was glad someone had asked.

She had been sitting with tea for too long, wondering what this woman knew about Kenshin. She watched her leave the shrine before them and not once look back to see if they were still there. In complete silence she led them across the clearing, down a pathway to another larger building and walked inside, without so much as looking back. Without a word, she exited and returned with tea, pointing in the direction of the stored pillows and blankets. She wasn't unkind, or rude but there was a kind of entitlement to her that Kaoru couldn't stomach. Like she had all of the answers. And like they had none.

Although it's not like that was untrue.

It was, in fact, horrifically and excruciatingly true and, at the moment, possibly killing her to keep quiet when all she wanted were a few answers. Just a few. All she wanted to know was absolutely everything that had happened, would happen, and wouldn't happen. Who everyone involved was, where they came from, where they were going, their motivation... the history of the universe... the essence of time...

Yeah.

She was pretty sure that whatever answers she managed to get tonight would be like a drop in a pretty endless bucket. And upon finishing that revelation, she looked down again and quietly sipped her tea.

-o0-0o-

He felt Kaoru's troubled aura surge, and looked over at her. He carefully watched her as she sat very still, brow furrowed, carefully scrutinizing her tea cup, and he wondered where this near instant flow of emotion had come from. He had sensed many emotions from her during their trek. Most of the energy felt like nervousness, which was understandable, but this time it felt a bit like sadness? Or more ferocious... frustration then? Whatever it was, he was most likely the cause of it. Although, it may also have been about Sano's little outburst...

As though she were reading his thoughts, Kaoru looked up at him and locked eyes for a brief moment. He quickly looked back at the Miko, in an attempt to bury any emotion on his face, and felt her eyes drop away from him once again. It would not do to have her be concerned any more than she already was.

The Miko finally spoke, eying Sanosuke with what might have been mild amusement.

"Does this man speak for all of you?"

The group paused and stared at her, unsure. Did they really want to sign up for that? Sano, although well meaning, was not what one would call diplomatic.

"I dunno if I speak for them, but we were all thinking it.", Sano grumbled, having appraised the group's reaction and apparently deciding that he didn't like the response.

The Miko met eyes with each member before continuing.

"The Weaver sent me to get you."

"Why?"

"Because you needed shelter and were not in a very hospitable place. I was to bring you here where it would be more comfortable and help you in whatever way necessary."

"The Weaver really cares if we get a good night's sleep?", Sano mused, skeptically.

The Miko let out a small sigh.

"For some, this life is very easily complicated by their own actions. I get the feeling you are one of those people."

Kenshin smiled to himself, as he heard a snicker come from the blanket on the other side of Kaoru.

"Please thank the Weaver for her hospitality, as this one thanks you for yours as well.", Kenshin offered, bowing to the Miko, as Sano made a face.

The Miko returned his bow and began to collect the tea cups as she spoke, somewhat cryptically to the small red-headed man.

"The Weaver wishes you to know that she is aware of your difficulties, and would like you to know that she sent you to this particular place and time because in it is the source of the disturbance. She would like you to know that you are very near, now. ", the Miko paused for a moment before continuing, "She also warns that there are several threads becoming very attached to your own, despite your removal, it seems. She will be able to separate them and return them properly for now, but very soon she will be unable to control the damage."

There was a pause, a moment where the air hung heavily all around. He could see it in their faces, confusion and intrigue on Sano's and Yahiko's, and something else on Kaoru's.

"It's me, isn't it?"

The Miko turned to the blue-eyed angel sitting amongst them.

"Am I the thread that is too attached? Am I causing the destruction?"

The Miko paused, gave a half-smile, and said very simply, "I'm sure that's not the case."

-o0-0o-

Her mind was a mess. It was loud and emotion-filled and endless. It shook her sense of who she was, it tossed her feelings around in circles until she felt sick. It belittled her and told her that she was too attached, too unwilling to let go of some imagined life, and it cried out that she was never again going to find another who made her feel so...

"This is where you will sleep tonight.", The Miko interrupted the chaotic soup in Kaoru's mind.

It was a small wood-lined room, prepared with four futons, pillows and blankets. There were a few flickering paper lanterns lighting and warming the room, and the boys each dove for a futon, yelling dibs immediately upon entry. Kenshin stood beside Kaoru in the doorway, watching her. She wasn't sure how long he had been standing there, but she heard the Miko excuse herself and softly pad away before she even noticed that she was staring at nothing.

"Hey, Earth to Kaoru! Go to bed already! You look awful.", Yahiko called out, teasingly.

Under normal circumstances she may have had a snarky comment to fire back at him, but tonight she simply looked at him, blinked, nodded, and made her way over to one of the futons. She stood looking down at it, mind in a million places at once, and none of it on pulling the covers back and settling in.

"Is everything okay, Miss Kaoru?", a gentle voice asked from behind her.

"Hmm? Uh. Yes, Kenshin.", she quickly responded, shaking herself a bit and forcing herself back to the task at hand.

She pulled back the covers and situated herself inside the layers of cloth, and laying back, closed her eyes. Beside her she could hear the quiet sounds of a sleeping Yahiko, and the light snoring from a little further away. She felt something move over her and opened a bleary eye as a red headed form pulled another blanket over her, and softly tucked it around her, before blowing out all but one lantern. But there was no way she was going to sleep. How could she? Yes, after a long day of hiking, nerves, and worry, her bed was a soft and lovely gift. And the room was cozy, and the blankets were warm and fuzzy. And the whole place smelled of old wood, warm incense, and faint candle-smoke. And the boys beside her were filling the room with soothing, rhythmic, white noise that quieted her entirely. But there was no way she would ever be able to sleep.

And that was the last thought she remembered.

A/N: So serious delay. Turns out my massive stomach upset is a baby. 3 months pregnant. Truly EPIC morning sickness that lasts an average of about 14 hours of the day. And turns out it has kicked my motion sickness up so many notches that driving (not even being a passenger, but driving at all), action movies, and the moving cursor on my computer and the scrolling of my screen as I wrote was making me throw up.

So yeah. That's why nothing got posted. I hate the excuses people give, but this one is more like an FYI. I'm gonna post as often as I can, but right now I'm getting about 1 good day every 2 weeks or so. Please keep up the reviews! They brighten up my day and I kind of need it right now!

And thank you for the lovely reviews that were left last time around... I hope I haven't lost too many of you with such a long delay!