Chapter 22

Her mind stirred yet her eyes refused to open. All she wanted to do was snuggle her cheek against the smooth feel of the covers bunched up near her face. As the cold air licked at her bare feet as the blanket slid upward, her hands grabbed a couple more fists of it to cushion her head further. Suddenly, the cold seeped into her otherwise warm skin and she shivered and moved her head further into the blanket. There she felt the touch of a hand's warm skin against her face and she nudged it with her nose, relishing the heat it emitted. The whole comfortable atmosphere made her awakening mind sink back toward the quiet world of sleep.

Just before sleep claimed her once again, she felt a tickling feeling underneath her eye and decided to scratch at it with her hand, the one she rested her face against. Her brain sent the message, yet her hand didn't respond where she thought it would. Her cheek was still itchy and her hand kept on moving… yet it was under the covers and nowhere near her face. Opening her eyes she blinked a couple times to make sure the image before her wasn't dream induced.

The hand against her face wasn't hers… it belonged to the redhead sleeping just a few inches away from her. She calmed her heart enough that it beat as calmly as she could get it to considering the situation. This was as perfect a time to watch him and observe the beauty that was this man. She always thought he was handsome, the handsomest man she'd seen up close. With that she unconsciously rubbed her cheek further against his hand. When he didn't stir or make a face, she smiled and continued to soak in his features with her eyes.

His hair let loose from its tie flowed down and over his left shoulder where it laid across his chest… and there her eyes lingered. She felt a blushing heat come over her in a wave, the thought of when she felt those same lean muscles she saw now through the opening of his robe. It had been a night sometime after her father had returned home injured when the redhead found her training at a feverish and unhealthy pace. He tried being discreet about it by leaving her, yet she ended up entangled in his arms, his hands pressing her shoulders to the wall of the dojo. She remembered the rhythmic beat of his heart under her hands pressed up against his chest. The feel of his muscles, taunt against her skin, and the way they loosened when he recognized her and let her go; all of that, she remembered. Her hands lingered then as her eyes did now. What a beautiful man.

Without knowing it, she sighed aloud. At the sudden noise, Kenshin stirred his head a little and turned to his right where he faced Kaoru. She closed her eyes quickly in fear of being caught, yet after a couple seconds opened them again to see that his eyes were still shut in sleep. Thankful that she didn't wake him, she continued to watch on, drinking in the sight of him who lifted her heart when she felt it heavy. She knew one thing as sure as she knew her salvation, Kenshin was sent into her life and her heart understood this now more than ever. And from what she would get from the funny feeling in her gut and the fluttering in her chest, there might be the chance that he saw her in a similar light. She had to tell him, let him know of her thoughts in some manner, yet the thought of being rejected made her hold her tongue.

Without warning, his brow furrowed and his forehead creased in what looked to be pain. Kaoru watched on and saw his eyes moving beneath closed lids. Kaoru refocused her eyes on his chest, but this time she noticed it rising up and down at a quicker pace than before.

He's dreaming, Kaoru concluded, finding herself unable to keep herself from worrying. If it was a good dream he would have been calmer, breathing easier than he was. Yet she saw it in the expression on his face; he was having a nightmare.

The more she watched his expression worsen, the more she began to worry. What's going on behind those eyes? She almost leaned forward to see his face better, but the sudden movements of his hand against her face made her think otherwise. Just one more minute, then I'll get up. She really didn't want to move, wanting to fall asleep again and wake up to see him looking at her the way she had been looking at him. Gently, she sat up in her bed, turned her head away and closed her eyes. She quieted her breathing and focused her senses outside of herself. She could hear it; Kenshin's breathing. It took a good minute for her to get her legs free from the entangled mess of covers on the bed. Finally kicking them off with a huff, she pulled them close again to fold and place neatly at the bottom of her futon.

Still sitting where she was, Kaoru let her fingers glide through her bed mangled tresses hoping to tease the tangles out. A pang of sickening nostalgia hit her, square in the stomach. She felt like a child who had lost a favorite toy as she remembered back to what once adorned her head. The soft blue flower comb her mother had given disappeared in the fire at the inn some few months ago. She paused, finding that she memorized the heat and lack of air from that day. The hair on her arms began to stand on end, and she rubbed at them, getting the goose bumps to recede. The memory of that incident was a bit fuzzy… she decided it wasn't too important to think about. Kenshin had gotten her out and that's what mattered. The sudden flittering of her heart couldn't be stopped at the thought of such heroics. Twice, he had saved her from the clutches of danger.

It made her love him all the more. Her heart was heavy from the desire to share her love with him and wistful hoping for the reciprocation of those feelings. She wished, hoped, prayed… did all she could before leaving it all in the hands of God and the man she pinned for.

Her eyes were drawn over her left shoulder where the samurai continued to sleep, the hand that once cradled her face now resting on his chest. The same words came to her mind yet again, the mere picture of him screaming this as true. He's just so…beautiful.

They had been away from Tokyo for nearly four months. How the time could have passed so quickly, she couldn't begin to explain. This was a stark cry from the way she was living her life this time last year. Her and her father were living as quiet a life as they could, trying their hardest not to attract attention. Their faith was a secret thing, something only shared with others who identified with it.

Now, it was up to her to continue with the faith that had given her so much joy through the pain.

Her eyes began to sting and she wiped at them with the back of her robe's sleeve. Her mind was so deeply immersed in thought that she didn't catch the first words spoken to her that morning.

"I hope that is sleep you are wiping from your eyes, that I do." Kenshin had woken up to the sight of her sitting on her futon with her back toward him. And until now, did he say something. He could feel his heart-rate increase when Kaoru ran her fingers through her hair… he wished he could be the one to have his fingers kissed by her thick, silk locks. And that's when she stopped and just sat for a good few minutes, still unaware that he had awoken.

Kenshin braced himself on his elbows and stayed there, quirking his head to the side as he waited for her to say something back.

"Kaoru?" He stretched a hand and touched her shoulder, causing her to jump. "It is just me, that it is."

After composing herself, Kaoru faced him rather embarrassed at being startled. "Sorry about that. I, uh… have a lot on my mind."

"It's too early in the morning for such a thing, don't you think?" Kaoru looked up from her hands and found his smile and attitude nothing short of contagious.

"Yes, I guess you're right."

Still tired from having just woken up, or simply unwilling to relent, they held each other with a simple look that could have gone on a lifetime if not for Kaoru's sudden move to get up.

"I should get my stuff and get going." Kenshin nodded, albeit sadly, and watched her retrieve her kimono and other personal articles from the corner near the lamp whose light died down late last night.

"Did you have a pleasant sleep?" Kenshin asked, sliding the rest of his body up and out of his cover.

"Yes, I did. I slept like a rock." Kaoru's comment made her stop for a second and smile sheepishly at how quickly she answered. Yet, from the look of it, Kenshin was too busy arranging his bed to pay any mind to it.

With everything in hand, Kaoru walked past the rurouni finishing up folding the blanket near his bed. She glanced back at him through thick lashes, a bashful smile meeting him as she reached the door.

She stopped and turned around, finding Kenshin standing there, just beyond his bed and fully attentive. He knew she had something else to say, something more personal and less politely vague. A confession, he wished. Maybe it was a question.

"You don't snore…" Kaoru smiled, finding her observation important enough to leave with the man.

"That is a good thing, I take it." Kenshin lightly chuckled.

Kaoru nodded and moved to open the door. "A very good thing." And with that, she stepped out and closed the door.

Kenshin smiled to himself, finding a bit of pride in what he heard and even a bit of hope.

A good fifteen minutes or so passed before the rurouni emerged from his room, his eyes set toward the kitchen even this early in the morning. It seemed that everyone was off in various places doing various chores.

Without another thought, Kenshin felt a little ashamed at having not helped much around the Aoiya, him having been out of commission for most of his stay there.

A couple more steps would take him to the kitchen and there he would insist on lending a hand in preparing the meal. Omasu's eyes were the first to catch sight of him, and her hands were the first to push him out the door.

"Leave the cooking to the women, Kenshin. We can handle it ourselves."

"Oro?" Before he knew it, he was back in the hallway from where he came.

"By the way, shouldn't you be packing?"

His confused expression didn't go away; rather it increased with the woman's words.

"That must mean our train is leaving today, that it does," he said aloud, more to himself than to anyone. Omasu simply nodded.

"Okina said that it leaves at around dusk, so you still have most of the day to get ready."

I am ready. I need to leave Kyoto behind… and Tomoe. The thought of it would have brought a shadow upon his mind, but instead he felt a growing anticipation. He wanted to do this, needed to do this in order to really move on. Finally, he'd have the chance to show the city, the best witness to his bloodthirsty days, that he was now a changed man. He was renewed, born anew… and the streets of Kyoto will see and not deny it when, with Kaoru by his side, he will at last say goodbye.

A loud thud sounded somewhere within the yard, and from what his senses told him it came from near the fall wall in the courtyard. Suddenly on alarm, Kenshin fingered the hilt of his sword with his right hand, keeping his left ready to pop it from its sheath in a second.

The bushes alongside the wall started moving in one area, and a noise followed.

"Ouch... ugh," someone's voice groaned as they rose from the shrubs covered in twigs and dirt. Misao rubbed her butt where it hit the ground on reentry of the Aoiya, and she didn't even notice that she had been found.

"Miss Misao, isn't it a bit too early to be out on the streets? I believe you sneaking in over the wall does not speak well on your behalf, that it does not."

"I know…" she complained, finding it rather embarrassing and annoying that she was caught. With a quick glance around the area, she concluded that no one else must have seen her. "Please don't tell Okina, Himura. He'll skin me alive if he knew I went out to see the Doshisha."

Kenshin nodded at hearing the detail, feeling a little on edge when he heard the name of the school.

"You need not worry about that, Miss Misao. I will keep my lips sealed, that I will." He gave her his usual carefree, kind rurouni smile and Misao in return wiped her brow in relief.

"You're a lifesaver, Himura," she threw over her shoulder as she began to exit. She wanted to make it to her room before anyone found she was missing, but Kenshin's words stopped her in her place.

"What happened there, if I may ask?" When Kenshin turned and faced her, his face had lost its smile. The young ninja was a little worried at the change, but she shrugged it off and answered.

"A few of the officers guarding the place were taken to the hospital downtown, but I'm not too sure what really happened. From what I heard, it was a sloppy attack not connected to any organized group."

Kenshin said nothing as Misao looked away from him, the worry she felt before returning. He was quiet, but his eyes spoke of questions Misao had a feeling she wouldn't be able to answer. His eyes could have burned a whole in the spot he was staring at, the violet darkening with his thoughts and the sight of him made her bite her tongue.

The words she'd heard earlier that morning suddenly flooded her mind. As she spied on the police officers discussion, she overheard something that made her a cold sensation run its course through her spine.

"It is impossible that a hitokiri can be anything else. He will try and help, but I'll stop him if he sets one foot toward the Doshisha. After all, the man I knew during the Revolution is still there, buried alive behind all the pomp of his Christianity.

"Hey, Himura?" Misao forced the words out of her mouth, but as Kenshin turned, regarding her with such genuine curiosity, she immediately swallowed what she wanted to say.

"Yes?"

She paused, trying to think of how to formulate her words. With one more glance at his expecting face, Misao sighed and shifted her feet.

"Nothing," she shook her head. "I… I should go and check if I can help with something before I get yelled at."

With a shrug and a smile, Kenshin agreed. "Be sure to wash your face before they see you, otherwise the dirt on your cheek will give your secret away."

"Yeah," she said, rubbing her hand against her cheek while shifting her eyes away from him. Kenshin's smile widened as the smudge on the girl's cheek became larger with her efforts, but he stayed quiet, ignoring the change in her demeanor.

Misao watched the samurai out of the corner of her eye as she walked across the yard, keeping her head turned toward the kitchen but all other senses aimed in his direction.

How on earth could a coldhearted assassin become so gentle…? Only by his eyes and cheek I saw a hint of a warrior, but… She stopped just as soon as she reached the door and watched as Kenshin disappeared around the corner of the Aoiya. What Saitou said couldn't have been true, could it?

Kaoru bent down and retrieved a piece of clothing from her bed, folding it meticulously before dropping it on top the pile collecting on the blanket. Megumi sighed out loud, turning the younger woman's attention toward her.

"You are too much, Kaoru. Sometimes I think you have it all together, but then again, I can just stop and watch you and see…" Megumi said, tilting her head with a smirk from where she sat on her bed.

"And see what?" Kaoru asked, leaning ball fists against her hips in an irritated manner.

"See that you're just as lost as any young woman… without love." Her smirk widened, but Kaoru didn't pay attention to that. She was busy running the words still heavy in the air through her mind.

"Without love…" Kaoru repeated, mostly to herself.

Megumi picked herself up from the mattress, straightening her skirt and standing straight. From there she started following Kaoru's example of packing up, starting with her back of medical utensils and healing herbs, making sure everything was where it should be.

"Do you think I should tell him? I mean..." Kaoru faltered, stopping in the middle of her sentence as the blood rushed to her face. "If I, you know, tell him… how do you, I mean… how will he react?"

Her sincere question was answered by laughter and lots of it.

"Kaoru, my dear, Kenshin is a man. He will be mature about your confession and from what I've seen he has a secret of his own."

From the wide-eyed look Kaoru was giving her, Megumi rolled her eyes and proceeded to tell the girl of her observations.

"First off, I noticed how incredibly kind he is to you, even before you guys locked lips sometime ago. And yes, he's kind to everyone, but his demeanor changes when he's around you. He gets this quiet tone to his voice and the tender look he has when he looks at you is so genuine, he definitely has something more than mere friendly affection for you." Megumi stopped and sat on her bed, watching as Kaoru slowly sat on her own with a dazed look upon her face.

"Really?" was all Kaoru could say.

"You're blind if you don't see it." Megumi smiled. "He's probably got you on his mind this very minute."

A few steps were all he could take until a loud, heavy sigh escaped his lips. Kenshin was pacing about the small yard outside near the kitchen, thinking to himself many thoughts… All of which included the young, dark haired swordswoman who sat somewhere inside. He ran his hand through his fiery hair and sighed again as he looked at his hand.

"There are so many things…" his voice spoke softly, drifting off at the sound of footsteps coming from inside the building.

And there she was; the breath of fresh air and a comfort for his tired eyes. He could stare at her an entire day and not tire one bit from it. His lips couldn't help but twitch upward as she played with the edges of her kimono sleeves, slowly calculating where she wanted to sit on the porch, bible in hand. He walked, cutting his musing short in order to sit beside her. There might be a chance that she might read to him if he asked her, he thought.

Unbeknownst to them were a pair of golden, piercing eyes, bright and menacing in their glare… His skin crawled at the sight before him, yet he stayed silent and waited. He would have his time to strike, to bring the Battousai to his knees once in for all.

"Without the sword he cannot survive. Even if this faith were to hold him, his identity wouldn't let him stand still for long."

And he intended to shake Kenshin from this trash that permeated his mind more than he had imagined it would. It needed to be removed, the man thought, be it by intimidation… or death.

"I prefer the latter."

His lips curled up and over, baring his teeth like his name's sake, waiting in the day's growing shadows across the street to make his move.

As it was in many years past, the wolf waited hungrily to claim his prey.

A.N: I know… I know… I disappeared for the majority of the year. But I have good excuses! Just ask me and I'll let ya know! But, anyways… I hope those of you who have stuck around with me and this story enjoyed the latest piece. There are still things that need to be worked out in my life, school mostly, and that means that my updating will be sporadic, if even that. I'm trying to collect some of my pieces for school, seeing as it's my Jr. year in college… I need things finished in order to build up my portfolio even more. Anyways, I love feedback, as you can guess, and anything would be nice… but, please, no flames or I will seriously cry. With that I say, take care and God bless!