Author: Celyia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Everything within belongs to Nobuhiro Watsuki (my newest hero) and minions.
Note: HUGE thanks go out to Alyson Metallium: without you, I think I would have given up writing a loooong time ago. This is my first Kenshin fic, so please overlook any mistakes or whatnot. I'll get better, really! Just give me time to get to know the series!
Note 2: Okay, folks! I've corrected a few of the mistakes with your help. Thank you for taking the time! A note of apology to those who believe Kenshin is out of character! Part of the deal of writing is trying to present thoughts from a new perspective. As a writer, I've failed if you cannot believe Kenshin would act like this: sorry! I'll try to do better next time! There is a short sequel planned to this fic if you are interested and that will be coming up relatively soon. :-) Thanks!
He had never before seen anyone appear as beautiful before as Kaoru did in that single moment, with her pretty chin resting on her knees as she stared off into the distance. There was something so serious in her dark blue eyes, something that literally twisted at his heart until all he could wonder was why he couldn't allow himself to lay her head upon his chest and comfort her the way she needed.
A slight smile curved her soft lips in slight amusement as a rather obnoxious frog, complete with deep green skin and amber eyes, leapt by her zori-less foot.
Bare feet, soft and white.
Kenshin couldn't help but chuckle, earning a startled look from the woman who had never even sensed his presence until that moment.
"Not many women would respond so peacefully while in the presence of a frog, I say," he explained, still chuckling as he kneeled next to her.
The young woman just cocked an eyebrow, her face tinted with a slight smile as she regarded him carefully. Oro, not even a real smile. Her thoughts must be serious, indeed.
Quietly, he closed his light eyes, smiling softly as he listened to the steady rhythm of her breathing. There was something so inherently comforting about being in her presence that he had to restrain himself during the day from seeking her out too often; lest she start thinking something was possible when there could never be anything there.
And there could never be anything between them, Kenshin knew, his self-discipline crumbling long enough for him to peek out at her from the corner of his eye and drink her countenance in. He just could not do that to someone he respected and cared for as much as he did Kaoru.
"Kenshin?" her voice, light as a falling leaf, suddenly interrupted the calm silence.
"Oro?" he allowed his voice to sound surprised, casual, as if his heart didn't feel the heaviness weighing down on her thin shoulders.
The young woman smiled, but her hand started, with quick and nervous movement, tracing circles upon the blades of springy grass to her side.
"Megumi told me that if you keep fighting the way you do, you will die. That your body can only take so much."
Ah. So that's what is bothering her.
"Is that true?"
Kenshin couldn't do anything but smile weakly, turning his head away from her penetrating, dark blue eyes.
For a moment, he thought of denying it, he thought perhaps to save her feelings and her fears by telling her that which he knew she wished to hear. For that single moment, he wondered if maybe it was more of a sin to hurt her more by admitting it than to just lie.
"If Megumi-dono says, then that it must," he found himself saying, even before he knew he made his mind up.
"I thought so, you know," the girl said, her head suddenly held up even though she still clutched at the knees pressed against her chest. "After it took you so long to recover after Shishio Makoto, I knew something was wrong."
"You don't have to fight anymore," she continued, her voice somewhat coarse as she looked away into the brilliant blue of the sky. "You could just stay here and ..."
He closed his eyes, feigning ignorance at the sound of heartbreak they both knew emanated from her voice.
"...you could just stay here. I mean, I'd miss you... we all would... if anything ever happened to you. You should just stay here."
"Kaoru-dono," he started, his own heart aching as he could feel the flood of emotion that was bottled up inside of the young woman.
"Have you thought about what it would do to us if you left?" Kaoru growled, her nose wrinkled as if that simple look would keep her from crying. "Think about ... think about Ayame and Suzume!"
Unable to help himself, Kenshin raised his slender brows in confusion as he stared at her profile.
"Really," Kaoru continued on, slightly out of breath as if she were busy climbing up a mountain. "They've lost their parents. They've lost everything. Can you imagine what it would be like if they lost you, too?"
Her chin thrust out and her teeth gritted together with determination as she turned to look him in his eyes. With a deep breath, she finally said it.
"They love you, Kenshin. With all their hearts. With every single piece of their souls. They love you," Kaoru spoke plainly, her face reddened brilliantly.
And how precisely do I respond to that?
"Do you doubt it, Kenshin? You're not a stupid guy. You had to have figured it out by now. You are their world."
"I know they are fond of me," he started tactfully, suddenly wishing he was back fighting Shishio Makoto. At least that was comparatively easy.
"Fond of you doesn't cover it."
"They have the others, Kaoru-dono. They have their friends..."
"But those friends aren't you," Kaoru bit out determinedly, her fingers twisting within the helpless grass and tearing at it.
"I can't stop being who I am, that I cannot," he shrugged his shoulders, hating himself in that instant as he realized his decision to never become involved with Kaoru was a good one. What he would give for ignorance. "I will not walk away. I cannot walk away if I can help someone, even if it means I have to pay for it."
"And what about me, Kenshin? Why is it so easy for you to walk away from me? From us?"
Tears, unshed and yet plump, rested upon her bottom lashes as she glared angrily at him.
That's my Kaoru: never one to simply sit back and accept things, no, she does not. A fighter. A gentle fighter all the way to the depths of her heart.
"Will you continue to break Suzume and Ayame's hearts?"
For god's sake, Kaoru. I don't want to hurt you. This is precisely why I should have never stopped wandering. Don't you think I want to stay here with you? Why do you think I've stayed here so long? It's torture. Don't you understand? To be so close to you. To see you smile. And yet to never touch you, to never say that I love you.
And I do love you, that is true. I can't imagine waking up and not knowing where you are. If you're happy. If you've had enough to eat. If you are worried. Even if you do worry too much about me.
"I will not stop, Kaoru-dono. I can't. I ... How could I protect them if I do?"
Kaoru sighed, only to climb up to her feet so quickly that he couldn't help but be surprised at her agility.
"They trust you, Kenshin. Don't you dare hurt them. I could never forgive you for that," the girl shook her head even as she dusted the back of her kimono off. "I better go back. I'll see you at dinner."
He watched as she left, her entire body tense and yet her chin still held high. Proud and kind and all that was good in the world. His eyes were glued to her departing form, regretting the way the slender branches of the nearby woods soon swallowed her small figure up, almost as if she had never been there in the first place.
"Hurt you? Don't you see, Kaoru, I'm just trying to protect you" Kenshin sighed a moment later, his eyes closed as he recalled her face within his mind's eye. "I should have never stopped wandering, I shouldn't have at all."
"But now that I have, I don't think I could ever leave."
Thanks for reading! Think I may continue this one. I hate leaving sucky, unresolved endings like this! Let me know what you think! Thanks!