Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to either 'Rurouni Kenshin' or 'The Princess Bride'. Sue me and I'll just have to kill you.

Author's note: Greetings one and all! I'm back! As promised, I've started the editing work- it's kinda slow, I've printed out the whole story and I'm going through it by hand noting changes and adjusting things, but I find it's easier to think through it properly when it's on paper. So yeah, the editing will continue as I work on new chapters, too.

And this is the first update in a year! It's been a long time, and I'm sure lots of things have changed for you guys, I know they have for me. But it's good to be back, and working on this story again.

My note to all of you is at the end of the chapter, so for now I'll just say a big thank you to everyone who's stuck around and checked back, despite the huge wait. I'll do my best not to let any of you down with the rest of this story.

A note on this chapter: in the book, Buttercup threatened to kill herself if she had to marry Shishio. I don't know about anyone else, but I tried and I really couldn't see Kaoru ever doing that. She's not the type to give up without a fight. So that's the only tweak to this chapter.

And so, without further ado: here is the long-awaited chapter twenty-six. Enjoy.

The Princess Bride: Kenshin Style

Chapter Twenty-Six

Kaoru had decided what she wanted to do, but her courage held out on her. It wasn't normal for her- she could usually bowl her way through a bad situation, and somehow end up on top, but this was difficult, and she wasn't sure how to approach it. The nightmares, in the meantime, got worse.

The night after her first nightmare, she dreamt that she had the Prince's child, and it was a girl. But when Kaoru tried to feed her, the child cried bitterly and said that Kaoru's milk was sour. Kaoru, upset, tried to reason with the child, but the baby girl only cried and cried, and finally told Kaoru that her milk would kill her, because there was no love in it. As Kaoru froze in shock, the child died and turned to dust in her mother's arms. Kaoru had woken with tears streaming down her face.

The following night, Kaoru again dreamt that she had a child from the Prince, but this time it was a boy. When Kaoru asked to see her son, he refused to enter the room. No matter what Kaoru said, the boy wouldn't listen and wouldn't come and see her. In the end, Kaoru had to order the child to enter, and he walked in cautiously, looking frightened and wary. When the Princess asked her son to come and hug her, the child said, "Are you going to try to kill me, too?"

"What do you mean? Why would I kill you?" Kaoru asked, shocked.

"You killed Kenshin," the boy said.

Kaoru heart skipped a beat, and she froze. "I didn't kill Kenshin! I love him!"

"Didn't you see his face when you left the Fire Swamp? You ruined his life. You made him miserable. You killed him."

"I… I didn't…"

"Murderer!" the baby yelled. "Murderer!"

"I'm not a murderer! Please!" Kaoru cried, running and embracing the child. "I love you!"

"Your love is poison," the baby said, and he died as Kaoru held him.

Kaoru woke with tears on her face once more, and she couldn't stop shaking, and though she kept reminding herself there were many days yet to go before her wedding, she couldn't calm down.

Her decision had to be carried out: she could not go on in this way, having these dreadful nightmares. She couldn't sleep anymore for fear of having another, and after a few days, her insomnia had worn her down to a state of over-anxious exhaustion. Her reflection in the mirror showed her darkening patches under her eyes, hints of redness from crying, and an increasingly pale complexion. Any other girl would have looked frightful in such a state: Kaoru, being the most beautiful girl in the world, merely looked a little unwell. She didn't so much mind not being perfectly beautiful, but her health was suffering. She couldn't wait any longer, courage or no, and, in the end, there was only one person who could help her.

So she went to the Prince.

"Enter," came the familiar voice when she knocked.

She slipped inside, closing the door behind her.

He was alone again. Firelight lent the well-remembered flickering, close orange glow to the study, and Shishio, seated in front of the fireplace, silhouetted by its crackling, snapping flames, did not look surprised to see her, though he was very adept at concealing his emotions.

Perhaps they both knew something was different that evening. Several seconds passed as they simply looked at each other, Kaoru's pale face painted gold and orange by the firelight, the Prince's eyes searching her expression for the reason behind her stoic look. There was silence, but for the small sounds of the burning fire.

"You wanted something?" Shishio asked calmly, breaking the silence and the moment. His dark gaze was especially unnerving to Kaoru at that point; sleeplessness had drained her and made her anxious and nervous, and her dread of the wedding preyed on her mind. Shishio's implacable, hard stare seemed to look right through her with a callousness she had never seen in him before, yet his attention was obviously fixed on her herself, boring into her and pinning her. She took a breath to steady herself.

"I don't wish to marry you," she said, quite firmly.

The Prince raised his eyebrows slightly. "I thought you'd stopped fighting me, Princess. After all, it was you who said you would marry me, in return for the man in black's freedom." His voice was smooth and glassy, but Kaoru could hear a tension beneath it; a harshness, like fire beneath the surface, kept on a leash but ever-present and ever so dangerous. Yes, she thought. The Prince was a dangerous man. He was just very clever at hiding it.

She drew herself up, back straight and her face as calm as she could get it. "I have tried to convince myself that I can marry you, since I gave my word, but I know now that I simply can't." She paused, looking at him, trying to gauge his reaction, but he was unreadable; just those dark, glinting red eyes staring at her. It made her want to shiver. "You first asked me to marry you when I thought the man I loved was dead, and I told you then that I couldn't love you. Now that I know he is alive, I can never love you. I still love Kenshin, more than anyone else, and I know now that I always will."

"I believe I told you that I neither cared for nor desired your love," Shishio said, with the tone of a parent getting slightly impatient with a child who won't stop pestering them with trivialities. Kaoru felt demeaned by his attitude, and she didn't like it.

"When you told me I must marry you or die, I said, 'Kill me.' I meant it." Her blue eyes flashed, her tiredness momentarily overcome as her inner fire rose to the Prince's disdain. "I mean this, too: if you tell me I must still marry you or die, forgetting and forsaking my love for Kenshin, I will kill you."

The Prince's lips twitched. He continued to stare at his Princess for a moment, before he burst out laughing, a hard, derisive, lustful laugh that both frightened and angered Kaoru. She drew a step back from him without even meaning to.

He smiled at her once his laughter had died away, his amusement clear and cruel. The Prince who charmed the gentility at parties and spoke to his Princess with any politeness and respect was gone, a mere veneer covering the malicious creature beneath, and, more clearly than ever before, he allowed Kaoru to see that creature. It was dangerous, yes, and frightening. Kaoru had never known he was capable of such a cruel expression. "You think I could not harm a woman?" he asked, an eyebrow arched. His expression darkened, and Kaoru swallowed. "You would not kill me, Princess. You would not even be able to raise a weapon against me." His lip curled. "I would slit your pretty throat before you could shed a single tear for your wasted life."

Heavy, icy fear shivered through Kaoru as their eye contact held, his blood-red gaze glinting with maliciousness and laughter, Kaoru's blue eyes shining with irresistable fear and hard determination.

"Then you would have to kill me. I say what I said that first day, my Prince: I would rather die than marry you."

The Prince's smile was gone.

"Let me reason with you once again, Princess," he suggested, quietly and with the slight hiss of a snake waiting to pounce. "You may have one more chance. If you write a letter to the man in black, I will see that it reaches him. If he comes to get you before the date set for our wedding, I will let you leave with him without complaint."

Incredulity and broad, liberating hope rose high in Kaoru, and her eyes shone. "You would let me marry Kenshin?" she asked, almost unable to believe him.

"Yes," he affirmed, sounding as if he didn't really care anyway. "But, I must ask you: what makes you think he will still want to marry you?" He allowed the thought to sink in for a brief moment, rising from his chair, the firelight behind him making him seem shadowy and imposing. His gaze remained on her face, watching Kaoru's eyes widen, and her expression freeze. She'd never considered such a thing. "You betrayed him in the Fire Swamp, Kaoru. You chose me over him. Didn't you think how much you must have hurt him?" He walked around the desk to Kaoru, and she stepped back again. He leaned forward, invading her personal space, watching her avidly, his voice as soft and deadly as his words were insidious. Kaoru was shocked into silence.

"You broke his heart, Kaoru," he whispered.

Kaoru shook her head. She hated the way he used her name, pinning and attacking her with it. "He understood- I was only trying to save him!" she protested.

Shishio drew back a little, shrugging callously. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. In any case, if you give me a letter to send to him, we shall see if he is worth your devotion- and if not, marry me."

Kaoru looked down, escaping his gaze so that she could think properly. She had told him she would kill him, knowing he would simply kill her anyway, rather than marry him. That option would not lead her to Kenshin, no matter what- but she had thought of it while under the impression that Shishio would never let her leave. The Prince's offer gave her the chance to marry Kenshin and be happy, else die (she was still resolved never to marry Prince Shishio), which was no worse than she had planned anyway.

It was worth trying. And surely, surely, Kenshin would forgive her? If she explained everything properly in her letter, Kenshin would understand. They'd already come through so much, it was unthinkable that he'd turn her away now. He just couldn't.

She'd have to stake her hopes on that.

She raised her eyes to the Prince's face, jutting her chin out defiantly. "I accept your offer."

A smirk curled Shishio's lips, and he raised a hand, making Kaoru inadvertently flinch away slightly. She gritted her teeth, angry with herself for showing weakness. Shishio leaned closer, smirk widening, and ran a fingertip down her cheek, along her jaw. "You are beautiful, Kaoru," he said softly, that predatory hiss back in his voice.

"I'm not yours, Shishio," she said coldly.

His hand darted to the back of her neck with the speed of a striking snake, and he pulled her roughly against him, securing her with his other hand around her waist. She struggled, but he only held her harder, and pressed his lips against hers in a raw, hot kiss full of the fierce greed that he so rarely let come undone. As before, his scarred lips were harsh and unnaturally hard, but this time he was giving her no escape, forcing her, and it sickened Kaoru that he was kissing her, and that his scaly, bandaged hands were touching her. In anyone else, it wouldn't have horrified her so; she would have felt compassion and been able to see past the outside appearance. But with Shishio, his monstrous appearance was only the cage that held the greater monster within. She writhed in his unforgiving grasp, angered and frightened by the way he could render her powerless with such ease.

In her head, a voice kept screaming, I'm not yours! I'll never be yours! Her muffled cries, already ruined by her fear-tightened throat, were ignored.

He ended the kiss suddenly, and held Kaoru pinned in a charade of an embrace, putting his mouth by her ear to whisper cruelly, "But you are."

His mocking laughter echoed in her ears as she fled down the hall, half-blind with tears and scorched by Shishio's terrible power, and her own helpless anger.

A general note to all my reviewers:

Thank you all so much for sticking around for so long- I know I wouldn't have done as much for any story, and there are so many out there that are far better than this one. I've done a lot of things, and had a lot of experience in that past year, and I hope that will come through in my writing and make this story more enjoyable for all of you. I have read all of your reviews, most of them more than once, and I can honestly say you guys have been a large part of my renewed motivation to continue, and finish, this story. I know it's terrible of me to let you all down by abandoning PB: RK Style for so long, and I do feel very badly about it. But every cloud has a silver lining, and I think it's for the best, in the end, that I finish this story with inspiration and enjoyment, rather than with difficulty and fighting a writer's block constantly- I'm confident that I can do far better now than I would have done if I'd continued before.

So thank you to you all. A special shout-out to my adored and ever-appreciated supporters, Alec Ikiiki, Mewberries, Zeh Wulf, Shadowfax, dunkmoonX, Corran Nackatori, ElvenRanger, Tevrah, Lone Ranger, Silver Eyes Bright, and a big smiley wave to newcomers Aryanne, S3r3nity and Personage- I can't believe you guys reviewed so many chapters on your way through, I enjoyed reading your thoughts as you worked through the story and it's truly appreciated. :) If I haven't mentioned your name, I'm very sorry- it's been a year, ne? I'm gonna have to get back into the swing of this. :)

Well, that's about it for today. Looking forward to continuing the editing work of the past chapters, and adding new ones at last. Thanks again for sticking around and having faith in my story and me.

Here's to future chapters and some good fun along the way. :)