Catharsis

grace
.:chapter nineteen:.


Shadows and light scurried over everything, mocking her anxiety and inability to sleep fitfully. Fingers gently rubbed her brow, trying in vain to ease her headache. Back stiff, eyes painfully dry and stomach churning uneasily, Kaoru rolled onto her side and curled into a fetal position.

She squeezed her eyes shut. Sleep only flirted with her. She only enjoyed a brief few moments of rest during the night. As desperate as she was to fall unconscious, her troubled heart wouldn't let her.

'He hates me...'

If she could just get to sleep she could have a sliver of peace... a moment free of uncertainty...

'Kenshin said he doesn't, but Yahiko agreed to leave so easily. What if he decides not to come back..?'

Sighing, she stretched out her legs and rolled over onto her back. There was a spot on the ceiling she never noticed before until tonight. It was a minor flaw, nothing more than a bump. The light of the gibbous moon exaggerated it with creeping shadows, making it appear larger than it was.

'I hate this. Why did it have to be this way? What did I do wrong..?'

Birds were beginning to chirp outside. Morning would soon come, but the night felt eternal.

'I could stay in bed all day if I want. Without Yahiko, I have no students to train...'

Her lips quirked upward cynically.

'Enishi probably wouldn't let me sleep that long... or would he?'

Never did she expect everything to blow up like they did. And she certainly never imagined that Yahiko would be so repulsed by her that he would want to leave. Angry, yes... but repulsed?

'Have I sacrificed too much for helping Enishi? What if Yahiko was right about him? But if I'm being manipulated, Kenshin would have noticed... that can't be it...

She chewed her lip, biting hard.

'But... why did Enishi come here? He never asked for my help... he just showed up. Did he want for this to happen?'

'He said Jinchuu is over... and Kenshin said I am to Enishi what Tomoe was to Battousai... but is that really true? Does Enishi think of me like that, too?'

'Asking him to stay... that wasn't a mistake... was it?'

Teeth cut into the tender flesh of her bottom lip, drawing blood.

'If Yahiko turns out to be right, I'll have betrayed his trust for nothing...'

The angry words of her student floated to the forefront of her mind, 'You ARE in love with him! Look at you! You can't deny it!!'

Kaoru flinched at the memory. Regret made her stomach quiver uncomfortably.

'I should have denied it... but... I couldn't...'

The window began to glow from the rays of a newly risen sun.

'What's wrong with me? I couldn't say anything! Why couldn't I deny it..!?'

The sun crawled higher into the sky, blotting out her last opportunity to get some much needed rest with light of a new day. The worry she let fester over night slowly began to transform into frustration.

'I'm such an idiot! By not saying anything I just condemned myself. That's why he told me he hates me! And then I had to go and make it worse by telling him that Enishi wasn't the same person as he was before... Is it any wonder that he pushed me?!'

Kenshin's parting words echoed in her mind, 'You are to Enishi what Tomoe was to Battousai.'

'If that's true,' Kaoru told herself, fighting for understanding, 'then Yahiko can't be right... Kenshin would have seen through it if Enishi was using me. Kenshin wouldn't have left me alone with Enishi if he didn't believe that he was changing...'

'If Kenshin trusts Enishi then there's nothing wrong with me trusting him, too... right?'

Kaoru sat up in her futon and tried to rub the stiffness out of her neck.

'But still... is Enishi worth losing Yahiko's trust over? Kenshin has never lied to me, but I have to know...'

She shrugged out of her night clothes and began to dress in one of her more tattered hakamas.

'Why did Enishi come here? What does he want from me?'

Kaoru quietly left her room, careful not to wake Enishi as she padded past his door. Dew sparkled in the early morning light as she made her way to the dojo. Yahiko was supposed to scrub the training hall floors once a week and today was the day the chore was expected to be done.

Taking up the task, Kaoru went to work.

• • •

Soft footsteps moved past his door, alerting him to her wakefulness. Eyes cracked open a sliver. He was surprised to realize how early it was, Kamiya wasn't one to rise with the sun.

Curious, Enishi followed after her, careful to not alert her to his presence. On her knees, she carefully polished the floor, working her way from the far side of the dojo toward the main entrance. He knew instinctively that she was troubled. She barely spoke after the brat left and she retired for the evening in a funk. Even as she cleaned, she seemed distressed.

Deciding to confront her, he waited for her to notice him by standing just inside the doorway. It took her a few minutes, but she finally caught sight of his feet and paused. Tired, bloodshot eyes regarded him.

"You're up early," he said.

"I couldn't sleep."

He noted the shadows under her eyes and the tiny cut that marred her lower lip. As he stared at her mouth, she began to chew again, threatening to reopen the small wound.

"You're worried about the boy, aren't you?"

"Whatever gave you that idea?" She asked dryly.

Enishi frowned, not appreciating her grumpiness. "The brat will be back before you know it."

She glowered at his use of the word 'brat.'

"Trust me," he said. "He'll come back. You know he will."

A 'hmmn' was her only response, then she lowered her eyes to look at the floor. Shoulders tense and fingers tightly clenching the rag in her hand, Kaoru said nothing more. Enishi lifted a quizzical brow as he watched her. There was more she wanted to say, more she wanted to express...

A smudge caught her attention and she busied herself by rubbing it away. "Why are you here, Enishi?" She asked without looking at him.

"I heard you get up—"

"No," she interrupted. Sitting back on her feet, she peered up at him. "Why did you come to the dojo when Jinchuu was over?"

Enishi tilted his head toward her, searching her face curiously.

'Is this why you're so grumpy this morning? You spent the night thinking about me..?' He smiled, 'You should know the answer to that already, Kamiya.'

"I came here for you," he said.

The forward simplicity of his reply didn't appear to be quite what she expected. She flinched a little from the truth, but still dug for more.

"Why?"

Enishi closed some of the distance between them and knelt down beside her. Peering into her eyes, he asked, "Why do you think?"

"Jinchuu—"

"No," he said, cutting her off. His interruption earned him a miffed look, but he softened it by touching her hand tenderly. The contact succeeded in distracting her. Giving her hand a fond squeeze, understanding flooded his mind. Her questions, her ill temper, her insomnia... what he thought should be obvious was confusing to her.

But inexperience was like that. It often led to second guesses and doubts, which ultimately prevented a person from seeing the obvious. He would have to help her put the puzzle pieces together.

He would have to tell her.

"Jinchuu was always a means to an end," he explained, expression softening. "It is a path. Battousai murdering my sister was the start of that path."

Her mouth opened to speak, but he didn't give her a chance to form any words.

"The ending I originally hoped for was eternal suffering for Battousai," he continued. "I have since learned that the path of Jinchuu was never meant to lead to that."

Kamiya's brows creased. "Then you did come here because of Jinchuu."

"My conception of Jinchuu drove me to you."

"You're going in circles," she said testily. "I don't understand—"

"You are the end, Kamiya. Jinchuu led me to you."

Stillness filled the dojo. His answer surprised her and confusion continued to stubbornly cling to her.

"Wh... what do you mean..? I'm the end..?"

Enishi shifted his position and sat cross-legged on the floor. Wasn't he being clear? Why didn't she understand? She understood his Jinchuu better than anyone else alive. She witnessed the depth of his pain for Tomoe. He went to her after he finished reading nee-san's diary. He sought her out, not so much out of anger, but out of his deep-seeded need for solace. A solace he instinctively knew only she could give him.

He still remembered the swirl of emotion that threatened to choke him when Kamiya reached out to comfort him that night. The compassion was so foreign to him that he recoiled, but she wouldn't let him. And her words... he never forgot what she said to him, 'It's okay. You know the truth now, Enishi. You can make her smile again...'

"Yahiko is a lot like me when I was his age," he said, breaking the silence. She blinked bewilderedly at him, but Enishi continued. "I sometimes treated my nee-san worse than the way Yahiko treated you. I never realized how rotten I was to her until I thought about it yesterday, but when I regretted it, I saw her face change. I saw the whole of Jinchuu in my mind and I finally understood what nee-san wants for me."

Her eyes widened as Kamiya's lips parted soundlessly.

"Jinchuu led me to you," he repeated. "I am where I am supposed to be."

Enishi waited for her response with eyes and ears trained solely on her. He confessed his heart to her, now it was her turn. The seconds felt cruel as he waited for her to speak.

'She's inexperienced, but she isn't stupid,' he thought, studying her. 'She has to understand...'

"Kamiya."

She blinked, and looked up at him.

"The other day, while Battousai and I were talking," he said, changing the focus of the conversation, "you and the boy were arguing about me, weren't you?"

The sudden shift threw her off guard. She hesitated and frowned.

"What did you say to the boy that made him push you?" He clarified, getting straight to the heart of the matter.

"Did you... hear us?" She asked.

A brow raised at her question. "No."

The look of relief that softened her features was difficult to miss.

"You said something to Yahiko just before he pushed you," he prodded once more. "What did you say?"

She fumbled for several moments, obviously searching for the right words. Cheeks already rosy from his earlier confession only grew darker. She glanced up at him with an uneasy countenance. Patience looked back at her and she cringed. Everything about her screamed the desire to discontinue the conversation right then and there, but Enishi wasn't going to grant her that kindness. Especially when she was acting so flustered about it.

He knew there was something worth seeking within her. He could see it building over the last few weeks. Battousai's return, her defense of him, her argument with the boy... none of those things would have happened if there wasn't some sort of attachment for him within her heart.

"You may as well tell me," he said.

"It was just a silly argument—"

"Was it?"

"Yes," she insisted a little too abruptly. "It was about nothing."

Enishi narrowed his eyes, his doubt obvious.

"Really," she reiterated.

"I don't believe you."

A forced smugness lifted her chin. She was trying to regain control over the conversation by playing his game. It was a good attempt, but it would ultimately fail.

"You're acting like a child," he said.

Kamiya glared and Enishi looked on impassively. He knew saying that would irk her. If he got her temper going, she would be more likely to confess just out of spite.

"I'm not 'acting like a child,'" she said, voice edgy. When Enishi didn't retract his statement, she went a step further and let her grumpiness take charge, "And it's none of your business what Yahiko said to me!"

"Ah, so now it's none of my business," he said, annoyance beginning to seep into his voice for the first time. "I find that hard to believe."

Kamiya huffed and looked away. She was still trying to avoid the question. Enishi simply wouldn't have it. When he asked a question, he expected an answer. That was the way things were done.

The part of his psyche that managed to claw its way to the top of the Chinese Syndicate wanted to demand an answer out of her... but he knew doing so would be a mistake. She wasn't one of his subordinates to be dominated. If he tried to bully her, it would backfire. Her personality was far too strong. But knowing that didn't change the need growing inside him. The desire to know the secrets of her heart was near unbearable.

He was in a conundrum. Enishi needed Kamiya. It was a truth he felt in his gut for months, but only recently did it solidify in his mind. He needed to be with her and be accepted by her. The need was so strong, it frightened him if he thought about it too much. But that was the way it was. He could no more change that fact than he could change his dependence on oxygen. He had no other choice. He had to know her heart.

"Alright then," he said, setting up the bait. "How about I tell you what I overheard the brat say to Battousai when they thought I was out of earshot? Would you like that?"

It was a bluff, but it certainly caught her attention. Her body language answered more questions than she seemed willing to voice, in spite of trying to act aloof.

He leaned toward her, invading her personal space. "Tell me, Kamiya," Enishi said, voice low.

The color drained from her face, leaving lips deadly pale. His nearness made her squirm, but he didn't pull away. Her eyes avoiding his, Enishi could almost hear her heart pounding hard in her chest. Her fingers clenched into a tight fist and he knew she still wasn't going to answer him.

'So stubborn...'

"He pushed you for the same reason you refuse to speak now," Enishi concluded. The twitch of her shoulder's confirmed his ascertain even before she spoke.

"I... I couldn't answer him," Kaoru said, sotto voce.

"Why?"

She peered down at her hands, uncurling her fists and rubbing her palms on the fabric of her hakama. "Because," she whispered, finally looking up at him. "I don't know the answer myself."

• • •

His eyes held hers for what felt like an hour of seconds. The longing she saw there made her mouth go dry and stomach quiver. Such intensity... she didn't know how long she could avoid answering his questions. She wasn't prepared for this confrontation, but knew Enishi wasn't about to let her get up and leave.

And after what he said about her... she doubted her conscience would let her leave.

"I think you do know the answer," he said, his proximity swallowing her up.

"I don't—"

She stopped speaking when he cupped her chin, his thumb gently pressing against her lips. The sudden caress startled her. Only moments ago he was annoyed with her... and now...

Kaoru resisted the heady excitement that shot down her spine from his touch. She tried not to think of the feel of his hand... warm and strong... and the way he looked at her... with such fervor...

He was going to kiss her. She was certain of it.

More than that, she wanted him to.

Enishi sensed her desire and the corner of his lip curled upward. Thumb moving over her mouth, he traced the curve of her lips. The sensation sent shivers racing along her nerves.

"What did he say to you?"

The feel of Enishi's thumb moving across her jaw and the silkiness of his voice was distracting. He was waiting for her to speak, watching her with such depth... she couldn't think clearly enough to figure out a way to avoid answering him.

"He... he asked me..." Chest thundered from the pounding of her heart, she swallowed hard, "if I was... in love... with... you."

His thumb paused and he caught her up in his eyes. "Are you?"

"I don't—"

Enishi's fingers tightened around her chin, killing her voice in her throat. Tilting her face upward, he claimed her lips with his. The kiss was soft and delicate, almost chaste. He pulled back and gazed deeply into her eyes, searching her. Kaoru didn't freeze up nor shrink back. Body perfectly still, she returned his gaze with half-laden eyes.

"Kaoru," he said, voice soft and earnest.

It was the first time he ever called her by her given name. Flutters of excitement shimmied up her spine.

"You know the answer," he continued, his fingers still curled around her chin and jaw. "What are you afraid of? What do you want?"

Kaoru hesitated in her answer, unsure how to respond.

"Would you feel better if I left the dojo?"

The thought of him leaving felt like a hit to the gut. "No..!"

Enishi raised a brow.

"I don't want you to leave," she said, feeling the blood rush to her face in anticipation for her next words. "But I still can't... I don't know..."

Embarrassment forced her eyes to look away. 'I must sound like an idiot...'

She sucked in a deep breath and gathered her courage. "I... I didn't want to feel this way. I just wanted to be your friend... but you're more than that."

Eyes still downcast, Kaoru touched his hand that still cupped her chin. His fingers grasped hers and held tight. "I'm sorry if I'm not making any sense," she said, still unable to lift her eyes to his. "I was up all night thinking about what Kenshin said and about Yahiko leaving and what I felt about you—"

"And what did Battousai say?"

A self-conscious smile lifted her features. "When he hugged me yesterday, he said, 'You are to Enishi what Tomoe was to Battousai.' That's what kept me up for most of the night."

Enishi said nothing for several moments as he considered. His silence peaked her curiosity and she ventured a look up. When her eyes met his, he finally spoke.

"It's true," he said. "I never thought about it like that, but it's true." Enishi's lips lifted into a small smile as he brought his hands to her face one more.

"You are my sheath," he whispered, just before kissing her again.

The contact didn't quite take her by surprise, but inexperience still caused her muscles to tighten up. If Enishi minded, he gave no indication. Patiently, he pressed his mouth against hers and waited for her to relax. The moment she did, his lips parted and the kiss began to deepen.

Allowing instinct to run its course, Kaoru's body leaned forward. Her unconscious actions won her the reward she sought. Arms pulled her closer as tingles of excitement stimulated her nerves. He pulled back from her to allow them both a moment to catch their breath and Kaoru couldn't help but smile.

• • •

EPILOGUE

It was an attractive weapon. It felt good in his hand. Solid. Well made... though, it was a little heavier than he liked. Still, it would be a nice addition to his collection. A highlight, in fact, considering it was his first Colt .45 Single Action Army revolver. Direct from America... and American made guns were his favorite.

Lian entered as Shing carefully polished the nickel finish of the barrel. He didn't look up from his work to acknowledge his arrival. Head bowed, he worked the barrel until it gleamed.

"What is the message?" Shing finally asked as he inspected his work.

"There is none, sir."

Shing paused and lifted his eyes. "None?"

"Yukishiro hasn't made contact with our agents."

A frustrated sigh and Shing finally turned his attention away from the gun completely. "Hasn't he finished yet? This quest of his is costing us too much. How does he expect business to proceed?"

Wisely, Lian remained quiet.

"Is he still there? In Tokyo?"

"Yes, sir."

Shing clenched his jaw. If Yukishiro hadn't killed Heishin, the organization probably wouldn't be in the crisis currently threatening to topple it. A leader was needed. One that instilled fear in those lusting for power while still maintaining a cool head for business and the well being of the organization. Yukishiro had served perfectly in that role. Everyone feared him. But with his absence over the last several months, a power struggle was beginning to take shape. If the leadership within the Syndicate wasn't forcefully reestablished, and soon, things would quickly turn bloody and millions of dollars in profit and resources would be lost.

"Lian, I want you to personally go to Tokyo."

"Sir?"

"I will send an entourage with you," Shing continued. "You must contact Yukishiro directly and bring him back here. I will have a message for you to relay to him. If he fails to heed it, you may do whatever you deem necessary to bring him here. We can no longer wait for him to satisfy his personal vendetta."

:. fin .:


AN: Yep. That's right. This fic is FINISHED! WOOOOOOT!!

That epilogue there... yeah. It came about because of an email conversation I had with Thunk a couple of weeks ago. She asked me: "Is there really only one chapter left?!" — and I said: "What else is there for me to do after they get together? I don't do the happily ever after stuff. That's not my thing... I like angst!"

And then inspiration had to come and bite me in the ass. I thought, "Wait a minute... would the Chinese Syndicate be cool with Enishi shacking up with Kaoru in Tokyo and essentially ditching his responsibilities as leader? Sure, he was planning to hand everything over to Heishin, but Heishin is dead..."

Of course, my immediate answer to that question was: "No, they wouldn't be cool with that."

I emailed that idea to Thunk and she jumped all over it. And wouldn't you know it? That stupid idea wouldn't leave me the hell alone! So I had to write that epilogue before I even had half the fic done! That's right! I had the damn epilogue done before I even left for vacation! eyeroll

So, there ya have it. There might be a sequel... or there might not. I don't know. The idea is floating around in my head, but I haven't put an outline together or anything like that. Any thoughts? Is the idea valid enough to warrant a sequel? Be aware, I don't write lemons. People have asked for some hot Enishi/Kaoru action, some of you have even assumed that this chapter would be lemony because Enishi and Kaoru are alone now... but I just don't do lemons. Therefore, if you're thinking a sequel would be good because you might see a lemon, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

In any case, this fic is done. Save for the revisions I'll be making to some of the earlier chapters, we've come to the end. It was a fun ride. I enjoyed writing it. I've always wanted to write an Enishi/Kaoru fic and Thunk was a huge help to me getting this thing off the ground. I owe her a lot of thanks... but more than that, I owe all of you a lot of thanks. All of your feedback, suggestions, support, ideas, comments, email... they were great. You guys kept me going. It made me feel good to know people were reading this thing and liking it. Every review and email made my day. Thank you!

One last thing, Irka-chan has been drawing fanart for this fic. Awesome fanart. I'm talking kickass, awesome, to-die-for fanart. Wanna see?? There's a link in my bio where you can see it for yourself...