Carefully hid eyes watched Kaoru as she crossed the courtyard just inside the dojo gates. "Kenshin?" With a sigh of resignation only he could hear, he lifted his face to see hers, pasting the brilliant, wide, and incredibly fake smile on his face as he did so.

If Kaoru had thought to look closer, she would have seen the unfathomable depths of sadness in his eyes. He could hide it on his face, but, as with the change between rurouni and hitokiri, his eyes would always tell the truth. "Hai, Kaoru?"

"We're going to have a dinner guest tonight, Kenshin. Takashi Masaru will be joining us." Kenshin nodded, his eyes going slightly darker, almost unnoticeably. "I have to bathe and dress before he arrives. Could you look after Yahiko, make sure he looks... decent?" Kenshin nodded again. He wasn't liking this turn of events.

He should have told her. Baka. Sesha wa Baka. There were hundreds of times that he could have told her his feelings for her, but he never had. Coward. The underlying thought darkened him even more, causing him to scowl slightly. "Kenshin?" Kaoru's voice broke him from his reverie.

"Do not worry, Kaoru-dono. Sesha will take care of everything." He brightened his smile for her and inclined his head slightly.

"Domo arigato, Kenshin." She started past him, then turned and kissed him on the cheek. "I appreciate it." Without realizing her affect on him, she continued on to the bath house, intent on her path.
A knock on the gates cause Kenshin to jump in nervous anticipation. He was a jittery mess, wondering if this would be the one that Kaoru would choose. He could only hope against the inevitable.

But wasn't it his fault? Wasn't he responsible for his own pain in this regard? If he had told her, maybe the crush she had had on him would have turned to something bigger, something closer to his own feelings. Unfortunately, should have's don't change the past, he knew, but he could still dream.

Yahiko, gentleman he was, or was pretending to be, went to retrieve their dinner guest, leaving Kenshin with another moment to sulk. I'm not sulking... He pulled in a breath of air, not wanting to admit the truth. He was sulking over something he had done to himself. I can't change the past. And past is exactly what I am to Kaoru. I suppose when she marries I shall have to move out and wander once more. He let out the breath of air slowly, trying to gain some semblence of control.

Takashi followed Yahiko into the house, and Kenshin turned around to see who, exactly, he was up against. Takashi was well dressed, he had money; he was good looking, he would compliment Kaoru. He was also taller. Much taller. This was an especially sore point for Kenshin, who allowed himself some solace in the thought, At least I would be easier for Kaoru to kiss. A slight flush warmed his cheeks at the thought. She would have to stand on her tip-toes with her face pushed up as far as possible to kiss him.

Strangely, he wasn't comforted by the thought as he believed he would be. It simply led to thoughts of the younger man kissing Kaoru. His Kaoru. Calm down, Kenshin. She isn't yours. You're dreaming, buddy.

"Konbanwa, Himura-san!" Kenshin bristled on the inside, but simply nodded and smiled. Luckily for him, he was not known for his conversation skills.

Why do they treat me as though I am her father or brother, the one to please in order to get her hand in marriage? She's all her own woman, I have no say... And yet he did, to some extent. If he felt one of her suitors was courting her for devious reasons, he would make sure the man did not come back. I just scare them. They know she doesn't need my permission, but they would rather not piss me off. Good. Perhaps I'll simply scare him away. The he paused and considered what he was thinking. No. That won't do. I already had my chance.
Dinner went by quickly, without any of the usual mishaps and breaking dishes. Yahiko had been careful not to call Kaoru any names throughout the entire dinner, possibly consituting the world's greatest miracle of all time, and Sanosuke, who had joined them about halfway through dinner, was now sitting with a fish bone in his mouth, though the dinner had been entirely devoid of fish.

Kenshin had sat quietly, watching Kaoru all through dinner, but being casual about it. Standing, he excused himself from the table, heading to the kitchen to clear away any remaining mess. Sanosuke sauntered in a moment after Kenshin. "Oi, Kenshin. What's up with Takashi? Why's he hitting on your woman?"

Kenshin turned around to regard Sano with amber coloured eyes, and Sano backed down as quickly as he had walked in, raising his hands in surrender. "Alright then, let's talk about something else." Sano began on his latest and greatest gambling debt, speaking of how his buddies had yet again 'stolen' all of his money from him.

Kenshin back around and regarded the kitchen in front of him, trying to decide if there was anything left worth cleaning. Shrugging mentally, he picked up a rag and began to wipe down the countertops again, all the while listening with one ear to Sano's rambling. Sano rarely rambled, it was as though he was looking for a reason not to leave Kenshin in his state, and figured if he could keep talking, he had a reason to stay.

"Sano, if your absence of lucre was something you were truly worried about, then sesha doubts that you would be here talking to sesha about it." Kenshin turned around and gazed at Sano with bright lavender eyes. "Say what you feel you need to and get it over with." Sano gave a half sigh and grinned at Kenshin.

"Why do you let that happen in your own home?" Kenshin smirked at him, in a glance reminding him that Kaoru owned the dojo, not Kenshin, as most would like to think. "What I mean is, why do you just sit and watch it happen?" Sano shook his head at him. "I'd be about ready to bust the guy's... to beat him up." He finished lamely.

"It is not sesha's place to interfere." Kenshin lowered his head, as though in admonishment. "Sesha's wants Kaoru to be happy. And she will be, with someone else. She used to have a crush on sesha, however, those days are over now." Kenshin raised his head again and looked Sano in the eyes. "Sesha will be happy in Kaoru is happy."

"Bull shit." Sano turned and walked out of the room. You don't understand, Sano. Kaoru has made her choice, and it is not me. I cannot force her to love me. It only breeds resentment. Trust me, I know.
"Kenshin?" Kaoru's voice rang throughout the house, but she received no answer. Confused, she headed to the dojo to see if he was there. She found him, stripped down to his hakama, sakabatou in hand. He was amazing to watch. She found herself staring at him, unable to tear her gaze away from him. He was beautiful. And so fast.

The second that she walked into the dojo, he knew she was there. He felt her ki, specific to her, but didn't show any signs of it. He focused all the anger he had pent up during dinner on his strokes, swinging hard and fast, moving faster than he normally did when he practiced. He heard her take another step forward, felt her come slightly nearer, but didn't stop.

He swung around, bringing his sword up to eye level, pointing it directly at Kaoru, and was surprised when she didn't even blink. Slowly, he dropped his arm down and dropped his sakabatou. I could have... He couldn't even finish the thought. He lowered his face, his bangs falling over his amber eyes.

"Kaoru-dono..." He dropped to his knees, trying to keep his emotions in check, and raised his hands to his face. Bloody, soiled hands. No wonder she does not want sesha. Especially now.

Kaoru was amazed at the scene unfolding before her. Kenshin had never been this way before, even after some of the worst battles. Unhesitantly, she stepped forward, falling to her knees barely inches from him, and wrapped her arms around him. "Kenshin... Doushite?" He seemed, even though he wasn't moving, to be pushing her away. "Onegai, Kenshin, tell me! Onegai..." She brought her hands to his and pulled them away from his face.

Amber eyes regarded her solemnly, his gaze unwavering from her face. "Dounimo. It doesn't matter any longer." She skimmed her fingertips over his cheek, her gaze refusing to let his go. She shook her head at him.

"Iie. That doesn't work, Kenshin. Tell me." Tears were starting to form in her eyes, not only out of the anguish of seeing him in pain, but of the seemingly fruitless effort that she was putting out to get Kenshin to talk.

"No, Kaoru. It's done, or rather, un-done in the past." He seemed to be talking in riddles, and she didn't understand. Then, a few seconds later, she caught it. No honorific.

"Kenshin, tell me. Tell me!" At another shaking of his head, she put her hands on the side of his face, forcing him to stay in place. "Kenshin! Shimatta, tell me!"

"No, Kaoru. I will not." He shook his head one more time, and stood in one fluid motion, pulling Kaoru up with him. "Is there anything else?"

"Kenshin, you're my best friend!" She was surprised when he cringed. "I know when something is wrong with you, and something's been wrong for days? What is the matter?" Her face felt flushed, and she was desperately trying to get some kind of an answer from him.

"Nothing that can be fixed any longer, Kaoru-done. Is there anything else?" The man was insufferable, and finally, Kaoru knew she had to accept defeat.

"Iie." Kaoru hung her head, and listened to his light footsteps as he left the practice hall, quietly sliding the door shut. Why does he do this?
Walking out of the dojo was one of the hardest things Kenshin had had to do in a long time. The urge just to kiss her and tell her his feelings was so strong, he had almost relented to her pleas, but he knew it would only make things that much harder for her. She had to get married eventually, he knew, and it would be someone as old, or penniless, or... stained.

He knew he had hurt her by not telling her, by just letting her guess and wonder, but he knew it would kill him to be denied. If she turned him down... He didn't need his family mocking him too. He knew what they did when he walked down the streets, pointing and murmuring behind their hands about his sword and that the "samurai's spirit" just hadn't died in him. He knew that little kids would hear about him coming and run to watch him walk down the road.

He didn't feel like giving them another reason. Sighing to himself, knowing what nobody else did, he headed to his room and slid against the wall, preparing to sleep sitting once again. His demons were far too near.