Ronin Kaoru; Kyoto Arc
Chapter One; Lessons in Living
"Forget regret, or life is yours to miss."
AU- it's ALIIIIVVVVEEEEE for all you sillies out there that thought I'd finished Ronin Kaoru: you are sooooo wrrrooooooonnnnnnggg. I'm still here and worse than ever! Here's the next bout of insanity!
As a being without tangible mass, he really didn't bother with niceties such as food, shelter, or clothing. A faded memory of the time when he'd been mortal and plane bound caused him to retain human form and at least the semblance of clothing, but other than that most of his humanity had faded with the centuries.
However, there was a corner of the void between timelines -called the Flux by those who could transverse it and survive- that he tended to go when he desired privacy and time to think. He also kept a few puzzles and board games there for the numerous times when he became bored. If he was pressed then he might tentatively call this place home.
He came there now to contemplate the problem of the plane bound female that Raven -Aiden's chosen companion- had been filling up her time and energies with.
Normally, Aiden would no more have concerned himself with a plane bound any more than a plane bound would have concerned itself with any particular ant crawling around in the dust at its feet. Millennia had passed since he'd won his way free of the karmic wheel and attained a metaphysical body along with enlightenment.
His darling Raven was something of a younger soul; newly re-born and still obsessed with her past existence. At one time Aiden had indulged this vice of his lover and had believed that she would outgrow it.
Except, what he had once taken for a passing phase was actually a deep difference between them; when Aiden's power was great, it was clumsy and more suited to affecting things on the scale that he himself existed on.
Raven, on the other hand, was powerful as well-- perhaps even more powerful than him, but she was able to focus her attention and energy to an incredible precision.
That talent was most likely what had drawn the Watchers Guild to enlist her in their numbers. The Watchers were the self-appointed monitors of the Timelines, they thought of themselves as Guardians of the Worlds that had spawned them. They were usually young souls freshly enlightened; it was a phase they went through.
However, they had grown in power until the Watcher's Guild was no longer such an amusing pastime.
Where Aiden -were he so inclined- would change the course of a timeline by sinking a continent or detonating a volcano, Raven -as a Watcher- would direct a single plane bound through a few seemingly pointless actions that caused a chain of casualty that involved the entire country.
Of course, when working on a level that exact Raven was usually oblivious to everything around her. Aiden usually took it upon himself to defend his lady at these times, or aid her efforts by stepping back and watching the large picture when she could not.
Yet, never before had Raven allowed her fascination with the Timelines to detract from her time with Aiden. Even when she was figuratively neck deep in alligators, she'd always had time to at least spend a few moments with him just so he wouldn't feel as though he were less important.
As this 'Kaoru' took up more and more of Raven's time, Aiden found himself grappling with emotions he'd forgotten he could feel, for the first time in eons he was feeling things he'd almost forgotten the names to; pain, jealousy, fear of rejection…
It was time to take a hand in things or risk losing all the self-control that had taken him millennia to acquire.
Three solid weeks of kimonos.
'As if I wasn't already depressed.' Kaoru thought acerbically from her banishment on the veranda where she was busily engaged in watching Enishi instruct a certain violet-eyed imp in basic footwork.
"How's this Raiden-oba?!" Yutaro called over to her and executed a series of perfect kata.
* (Oba- suffix meaning Aunt) not to be confused with (obaa-grandmother)
"Good, Yutaro." she called back, forcing some cheer into her voice. "Keep it up!"
Yutaro beamed at her praise and went at his lessons with a vengeance. Enishi glanced away from his student to cast a sympathetic glance at her. When she caught him looking he offered a tentative smile that begged response… however Kaoru couldn't force it. She looked away and clenched her fists in her lap she couldn't see Enishi deflate and turn back to the lesson with slumped shoulders.
Perhaps it was just fate's cruel twist on Kaoru's emotional state, but for someone whose emotional fabric was hanging in tatters, Kaoru had never physically looked better.
Ever since Tomoe's death, Kaoru had not been able to work up enough emotive energy to refuse anything. As a result she now had an entire wardrobe of her own kimonos (courtesy of Yutaro) and also her hair had been cut so it hung down her back meeting her hips. She wasn't sure who'd done that, it had happened in her sleep.
Kaoru hadn't resisted the changes, but she didn't welcome them. Deep inside her, there was a bit of her psyche that liked the person she was but couldn't force the rest of her into action.
'I'll recover soon enough.' Kaoru told herself, even if she didn't feel this was really so.
She was keenly aware of Aoshi's ki even before she heard his stocking feet on the hardwood floor behind her.
"I have started tea in the kitchen," he informed her. "Will you join me in the garden?"
Kaoru blinked up at him, honestly caught off guard. She nodded slowly, which was her response to everything these days. She got up slowly with sore muscles protesting how long she'd gone without exercise. Kaoru made a mental note to tell Megumi to get stuffed next time she protested her morning drill with Kaori.
Aoshi led her through the halls of the dojo. Kaoru walked with her head tilted down and her hands together in front of her thighs-- much the same way she used to walk in her original timeline.
Kaoru's eyes widened and she shivered as an icy finger of dread traced itself down her spine. Was she backsliding?
That was a serious concern, she realized. Comparing the helpless little girl she'd been to the woman she was now, Kaoru realized that she liked being strong and capable.
In fact, looking back on her life before Kenshin, Kaoru had been working hard to become the sort of the person she was now.
'I became who I was to save Kenshin pain, but I picked up the sword for myself. I wanted to be better, stronger.' Kaoru lifted up a hand to touch her forehead. 'When did I forget that? When did Kenshin become my entire life? When did I stop wanting this for me and start tolerating it for him?'
"Kaori has told me that she'll bring the tea when it's ready." Aoshi told her as he leaned against one of the wooden columns supporting the roof over the veranda.
Kaoru walked out to the little pond and looked down into it.
"Aoshi? Have you ever looked back on your life and found that your reasons for doing what you do changed somewhere along the way?" she asked quietly.
"I think that happens to everyone." he replied. "What's wrong? Is it Tomoe?"
Kaoru shook her head, then winced, nodded, and then shook her head again. "Yes… no…" she sighed, "it's complicated."
"Apparently." he observed and then patted the spot beside him. "Tell me about it." he said with just a touch of resignation in his voice.
"Well if it's a burden on you…" Kaoru huffed.
He shook his head. "It is not. If anything I owe you for kitchen time and I sincerely wish to help you through this time in your life."
Kaoru cocked an eyebrow but came to sit down beside him. "This is going to sound incredibly strange."
"What isn't strange about you life?" Aoshi asked facetiously (or as facetiously as he was capable of) but subsided under Kaoru's glare. "You seem to be recovering." he commented.
"Maybe," Kaoru agreed. She clasped her hands in her lap and leaned forward, focusing her attention away from Aoshi. "When I was young… well, younger. It is my treasured fantasy that thirty is not old." she confided to Aoshi who nodded, having similar illusions as he himself was nearing the dark side of twenty.
She cleared her throat and started again. "When I was seventeen I met someone," she paused to glare at Aoshi as he rolled his eyes. "It's not like that!" she cried at him and aiming a half-hearted smack at him.
Aoshi ducked it and held up his hands helplessly. "I understand!"
"As I was saying," she continued with frown lines wrinkling her brow. "I met a man who made a big impact on my life." she sighed and her brow smoothed out as she considered what to tell Aoshi. "He was involved in the Revolution, same as most people around that time and he was scarred from it."
"Few were left unscarred." Aoshi agreed.
Kaoru touched her scar. "He had a mark on his face just like mine, its sort of ironic. He'd sworn never to kill again, having had a belly full of it as a solder. That sentiment defined his life. He stayed with me for a while… until certain events forced us apart. I… I started this lifestyle after that. He was the reason I became a Ronin, but lately I've been remembering when I first started Kenjutsu simply for the love of it. It just struck me a little while ago… when did I just stop doing it because I loved it? When did I stop pushing myself simply because I wanted this and start doing it because of him?"
Aoshi let that statement hang in the air between them for a while. "That's a good thing to realize," he said finally. "What you need to think about now is which reason is the one that really motivates you to improve. Do you simply want to be a better fighter? Or do you wish to honor this man's memory?"
Kaoru pondered that. "A little of both really. I want to do this for K… him, I mean. Yet, I also want to find the simple joy of it that I once had: Kenjutsu for its own sake rather than morals or ideology. Those play a major part of it, but the simple thrill of the muscles moving under my skin and tendons stretching in my arms is something I'd forgotten."
"There you are then," he said. "You have answered yourself. Now, is this what you need to start living again? Or will you continue on as you have, living in a sort of limbo?"
Kaoru pursed her lips. "I-I still feel guilty about Tomoe's death… I…"
Aoshi let out a long breath and pulled his shoes out of his coat. "Kamiya-san… if you will humor me and go stand over there?" he gestured to the expanse of grass beside the pond and then bent down to put them on.
"Excuse me?" Kaoru blinked at the sudden change in subject, yet stood up just the same and slipped on her sandals, which had been secreted in her sleeve.
"If you would please?" Aoshi pressed and stood up, with his boots now on.
Kaoru shrugged and went to stand in the indicated place.
"Now if you would turn around to face the wall?" he made a turning motion with his finger.
She sighed and turned around. "I really don't see what this has to do with… HEY!" that last was uttered when Aoshi's booted foot delivered a swift kick to her defenseless rear.
Kaoru pitched herself forward, and somersaulted away form Aoshi. She landed on her feet facing him in a jujitsu stance. "What the hell!"
"Bull shit!" Aoshi spat and Kaoru blinked at him.
"I said 'Bull-shit!'" he repeated. "And I meant it. Tomoe's death is not your fault!"
"But I…" she started to say, but Aoshi broke her off.
"It was Tomoe's business what she did." he said in clear, concise terms. "You were concussed, woman! You were doing well to be standing! She had a choice to make and she made it, you cannot go faulting yourself for her decisions!"
Kaoru swallowed and took a step back… when she realized what she was doing. One more step and she became a helpless maiden in distress once more, was that what she wanted?
An angry scowl twisted her mouth. "Don't you yell at me, Shinomori!" she shouted back.
A satisfied smirk twisted his mouth. "That's better," he said smugly, only to dodge a punch a few moments later.
"I'll do as I please." Kaoru hissed and stalked past him into the house.
She ignored the fact that he was smirking back at her.
Roughly ten minutes later, the sound of Megumi shrieking could be heard through out the neighborhood as Kaoru emerged from her bedroom in gi and hakama with her bokken back in place.
"Kamiya Kaoru! You get back in that kimono! You're in no shape to… Hey! Come back here! Don't you run while I'm yelling at you!"
Kaoru grinned recklessly as she kept a few steps ahead of the fuming doctor. This was really the way to get exercise, she reflected as she vaulted over the laundry tub where Kaneda was washing clothes.
The young monk threw himself back and then let out a whoop of surprise as he got a look at who had just jumped over him.
The noise drew the attention of Enishi and his students. The three boys simultaneously abandoned their strike practice to and went for the source of the ruckus. With the exception of Shinnosuke, who accidentally walked into one of the porch poles and knocked himself out, they arrived just in time to see Kaoru exit the dojo grounds with Megumi hot on her heels and an unholy grin on her face.
Life, it seemed, was getting back to normal.
Megumi lost Kaoru shortly after they left the dojo. Little did she know that the kenshi woman had taken to the rooftops and even now was keeping pace with her from up high.
Kaoru kept a hawk's eye on Megumi's slender, green kimono clad figure. The doctor was fighting her way through a thick crowd with murder in her eyes and her fan in visible. It was doubtful that anyone would mess with her, but Kaoru had the feeling that she should keep an eye out just the same.
Besides, it appealed to her perverse side to be just barely out of sight while Megitsune tore up the city in search of her.
She chuckled at herself; perhaps Megumi's 'Kitsune-ness' was catching.
Down below she noticed a young lad bump into Megumi and receive a rap on the knuckles from her fan when his fingers strayed too near the coin purse hidden in her obi. Kaoru watched as the child slunk back into the crowd with a sour look on his face.
'I wonder why there is such a big difference between him and Yahiko?' she wondered. 'I remember when Yahiko was a pickpocket, he would have known better than to go after someone like Megumi. That was just plain silly. Pick pockets don't survive long if they don't keep their wits about them.'
She squinted after the boy and realized that he looked relatively well fed and clean. In fact he looked just a little too old to be a pickpocket. He looked old enough and strong enough to find honest work if he needed it. When she opened her senses to feel his ki she felt none of the annoyance or even anger he felt after a failed theft. In fact his emotions were almost not there. Curiouser and curiouser.
Then the lad… man, she realized, turned his head to look directly at her. He tiled back the broad kasa he was wearing and she caught a glimmer of amber light from under his heavy black bangs. Her blood froze as she saw him vanish into the crowd of people displaying ten times the skill and presence that he'd shown when attempting to rob Megumi.
… Or had he really been trying to rob her and not do something else?
Kaoru shook herself and decided to let the game go. She lit down a fire escape and waited in an alley for Megumi to pass. When she stormed past, Kaoru tugged her into the alley beside her.
The razor sharp tips of the fan were at her throat in an instant, but Kaoru felt no fear. She waited for Megumi to realize who had her and put the fan down.
"Kao-san!" Megumi squeaked and made the fan vanish. Then she frowned. "Got you! We're going back to the dojo now and you're…"
"That boy who just tried to rob you, did you get a good look at his face?" Kaoru asked.
Megumi blinked. "Well, if you could catch him before he lost the bad wig and washed off the face paint." she demurred.
Kaoru blinked. "He was wearing a disguise?"
The doctor nodded. "I didn't get too good of a look, but he looked like a foreigner trying pass as a Japanese. I only noticed because his face paint had missed a spot on his cheek around this bandage he was wearing."
"He must have had a facial injury." Kaoru guessed out loud. "The paint might have gotten into the wound if he let it get on the bandage."… Like that phantom wound Kenshin had acquired during the Bakumatsu, it might have reopened with Tomoe's death.
Kaoru gave herself a mental kick in the butt. 'You're reaching, Tanuki-chan.' she chided herself. 'After ten years the damn thing has to have healed! Besides it's not like Kenshin is the only person in all of Japan with a fresh facial wound'
"That's what I thought, there was a flush of blood seeping through it so it looked recent." Megumi agreed. "Why are you asking?"
Kaoru's stomach bottomed out as Megumi confirmed her fears, if in a small part. 'Calm down, Kaoru. It might not be him. It might just be another run-of-the-mill sociopath after you again. Maybe one that's unique to this dimension.'
"There's something oddly familiar about that thief and I'm going to go after him." Kaoru told her. "Please go home and tell everyone that I'll be late… ouch!"
Megumi tucked her fan back into her sleeve as Kaoru rubbed the smarting spot in her head. "Serves you right, getting into trouble already! Didn't you learn anything in Izu?"
"Yes, I did." Kaoru said quietly. "That I need to keep a closer eye on all of you. Especially when men who walk like assassins try to rob you."
"Pardon?" Megumi blinked and then gasped as the weight of Kaoru's words sunk into her mind. "You don't think that…" her hands shook as she covered her mouth with them.
Kaoru shook her head and patted Megumi reassuringly on the shoulder. "Nothing like that." she consoled her.
She had no idea what Megumi thought an assassin would want with her, but she did know that she couldn't suspect the same thing that Kaoru did.
'I went to a lot of trouble to keep that bloody letter from them. I know Aoshi expects Kenshin to do something, but Megumi shouldn't have anything to do with this.'
Or had she just been convenient?
'…Convenient for what though?' she wondered. 'If Kenshin really is here for his 'tendou' then I can't send Megumi home alone.'
"Look, Meg-chan, let's go home and…"
A shadow crossed the mouth of the alley. Kaoru went for her bokken, but relaxed as she took in Saitou's familiar, lanky form.
"Is there a problem here ladies?" he looked from one to the other. "Ah, Kamiya-san, Takani-san. Good afternoon."
"Saitou, could you please escort Megumi back to the dojo?" Kaoru asked urgently.
The ex-Shinsengumi soldier cocked his head at her. "In trouble again, are we?" he offered Megumi his arm. "I'll take you out of the cross-fire then."
Megumi hesitantly took Saitou's arm, with a look at Kaoru that promised retribution later. Saitou led her away, but stopped momentarily to turn back to Kaoru.
"Tokio has asked me to invite you to supper at our house tomorrow night, please try and survive long enough to make it there?" he asked wryly. "By the way, it's good to see you up and around again."
Kaoru smiled and nodded. "It's good to be up again."
She wasted no more time after that. As Saitou had Megumi in safe custody, she threw open her ki-sense in search for the same ki she'd sensed from the would-be thief before.
Her blood ran old as she found it.
It was directly above her.
End chapter one of the Kyoto Arc
Seiyuu; *wipes off sweat* Wow! Finally, it's done!!!