Disclaimer: I have yet to obtain this goal. But soon. I promise you. Soon.

Author's Note: Yes. We're at the end. I know I promised you all an epilogue, but you have to understand that I just can't do it. This story has given me too many problems as it is--- be happy I finished it for you. I just can't write it anymore. I've had writers block through the ENTIRE story. I apologize.

Silhouettes of Shadows

Chapter 16- Shattered Ties

            Silently creaking footsteps edged gently up the stairwell, trained ears listening deeply for sounds of deep slumber or rowdy movement. The entire building had been completely silent since his arrival, and that same, menacing grin fell over his face. Animalistic hungers and bloodlust began to course through his body, temptations to sink his sword into a body and twist its leather covered hilt, to hear the screams, became stronger and stronger. Memories of splattered bodies and chunks of blood shot through his mind, but he shook his head and remembered the only thing that kept him in check.

            His promise.

            Once more finding rigid control over his body and motions, Kenshin continued up the stairway until he came before a specific door. Having checked before at the front of the lodging home, he had discovered which floor he could find Katsura hiding within. Containing the rage he held within, Kenshin eased the door open with his weapon securely stashed a safe distance from his hand to prepare to strike immediately.

            Slow, carefully calculated steps led him inside the doorway and agaisnt the wall, his eyes glancing over the lumpy futon that housed the man he was to destroy. The tension in the room was thick, alerting Kenshin to fact that Katsura was still awake and obviously nervous. Had he known that Kenshin was on his way? Had he known all this time? Expected it to happen?

            Was it all staged?

            The thought of that did nothing more than anger him. Kenshin took deep, silent breaths, waging his options. It was dishonorable to kill a man within his bed, but it was obvious that Katsura had no intentions of getting up. Kaoru had begged him not to kill Katsura, and that kept him within his hesitation. Could he truly kill the man he had followed under unconditionally for so long, who he had remained loyal to for the better portion of his life?

            "You don't want to kill me, do you Himura?" Katsura questioned, sitting up suddenly from him bed. "You're confused."

            "Since when do you have the ability to see through my actions?"

            Katsura turned to his prodigy, and shook his head. "It's your code of honor, Himura. I know it well."

            Kenshin remained silent, not allowing a single word to pass toward his ex-leader that would disrupt his thoughts. There was a deep decision to be made. Katsura had placed Kaoru and Kenji in danger, and yet he had also done many good things for Kenshin. It was too confusing, too tightly strung together and knotted with special circumstances.

            "You have every right to hate me, to kill me." Katsura continued. "I know that much, after all I've done to you. You must understand though, I was not thinking of you. I was thinking of the cause when I did everything. I should have thought of you first and I did not. But being samurai, being the leader I am, I will not back down from my incorrect decisions, nor will I apologize."

            "How could you place her danger?" Kenshin shot back. "And Kenji? How could you do that?"

            "You were becoming weak, Himura. I did not want you killed." He answered truthfully. "I was more worried about keeping you alive than keeping you happy. You were an important link."

            "And therefore you would order me to kill someone I---"

            "I didn't know at the time what she meant to you." Katsura ground out, trying to get his side out. "I wasn't thinking that way………"

            Kenshin withdrew his sword, letting the small gleam of the moon from the only window in the room shine off its unstained metal. "I have every right to kill you for what you have done, Katsura."

            "As I have already said."

            "But there were many other things that you have done……… that were not evil, and I cannot forget that too." Kenshin stated. "I'm at a loss of how to act."

            "And I shall not decide for you." Katsura stated.

            Taking a deep breath, Kenshin sheathed his sword again. "If I asked, would you promise to leave us be? Would you promise to let us live peacefully without the worry of when you will be attacking us?"

            "I cannot guarantee what other will do, but I have no one else but myself to send after you." Katsura stated. "And I shall take responsibility for what I have done to you. I will not come after you again."

            Kenshin looked at Katsura, keeping his eyes directly into the Ishin Shishi leaders own weary and worn gaze. Any sense of hostility slipped past Kenshin, bathing him in a realization that Katsura was being truthful.

            "You can thank the woman you order me to murder for your survival." Kenshin stated, turning to leave. "If she had not begged me to let you live, you know that you would be dead in a pool of your own blood at this moment instead of breathing."

            Not waiting for a response, Kenshin stormed out of the Inn, away from Katsura, and away the links to his past. All that was left now was the future.

            Kaoru was pacing. She'd woken up; realized Kenshin had left, and knew immediately where he had gone. Knowing how irrational he could be when it came to her, Kaoru couldn't bring herself to sleep. Having no idea where he was, she couldn't leave to search for him. If he came back and she was gone………

            She shook her head and opened the shoji door that lead toward the gate of the dojo. It hadn't been opened yet, but she kept her spirits up. There was nothing that said Kenshin had taken his katana with him, but she knew very well that could still kill with his sakabatou if he felt the need. That was what frightened her. No one else needed to feel the steel of Battousai if she could stop it.

            A creaking noise caught her attention and her eyes flew back toward the gate. She saw a silhouette enter and shut the gate, locking it before turning back to face the dojo. Standing there and staring toward the figure, she wasn't shocked to see it stiffen and not move as her gaze remained transfixed upon it.

            "Kaoru-koishii………"

            Kaoru took a few steps off the porch, slipping on her sandals as she did. "Kenshin, where did you go? I couldn't go back to sleep."

            "I………"

            After she had made her way completely over toward Kenshin, Kaoru looked directly up at him, her eyes warning. "Did you kill him?"

            "No." Kenshin stated. "I only spoke with him."

            Wringing her hands together agaisnt the slight chill in the air, she turned her eyes toward the ground. "And?"

            "He promised not to pursue you anymore. He said he'd leave us be." Kenshin responded slowly, hoping the words true reality would sink in.

            "We're free………" Kaoru whispered. "No more fighting?"

            "I wish it was that simple." Kenshin stated. "I have other enemies besides him, Kaoru."

            "I know." She stated, disheartened. "You'll always be hunted down, won't you?"

            Kenshin set a hand on her shoulder and led her back toward the dojo. "Most likely, and I don't want to drag you into that sort of danger."

            "Himura Kenshin, you are not leaving this place again!" Kaoru stated spinning and stomping her food stubbornly. "This is your home, and you have a family here! There is absolutely no way I'm going to allow you to completely leave us again! You belong here with us, whether it puts us in danger or not. We're not a weakness of yours; we're your strength, if you'll only let us be that!"

            Blinking slightly, Kenshin let a small smile spread over his face. "I didn't plan on leaving, Kaoru-koishii, unless, of course, you feel like kicking me out."

            "I just might do that." Kaoru responded, glaring at him with her critical eye. "I don't see how much damage it could do."

            "You………"

            "I'm not going to kick you out, Kenshin, don't worry." Kaoru smiled. "But I am tired. We fought hard today."

            Reaching out and taking Kenshin's hand, Kaoru smiled and neared him.

            "Let's go to bed. There's not reason to stand out here talking when what we really need to do is rest up."

            Nodding his agreement, Kenshin allowed her to lead him inside, through the doorways and toward their futon. He was exhausted, he had to admit it, and the invitation to sleep was a welcome one. For once, Kenshin thought, perhaps he could sleep without the need to stay half awake to prepare for sudden ambushes. Maybe, for once, Kenshin could actually sleep, and feel comfortable around his family, no matter how mismatched the members of it were.

            Kaoru pulled the blankets to the futon back, motioning to Kenshin to lie down. Nodding after he placed his swords agaisnt the shoji and deposited the fuchsia gi that caused the Battousai within him to grumble so much to the ground, he allowed himself to sit agaisnt the thin mattress, facing the wall that his sword leaned against. Kaoru came up behind him, her body agaisnt his back as she hugged him from behind.

            "I'm glad you're safe." She whispered, her eyelashes fluttering agaisnt his shoulder. "You don't realize how reckless most of your actions are, how much you make us all worry………"

            Kenshin placed a hand over hers, rubbing her fingers gently as he craned his neck to face her as well as he could. "I never mean to worry you."

            Pulling herself up, Kaoru placed her fingers on his shoulders, rubbing them gently; releasing the tension Kenshin had allowed to build up within them. He sighed, relishing in the feel of true relaxation. Neither said a word, just sat there, enjoying the rare, quiet moment they had together. Both smiled lightly, each one formulating thoughts and ideas of where to go from here.

            Would there be more for them?

            Kenshin's eyes scanned the room, turning to the small red tuff of hair sticking out from a small futon. He smiled, and his eyes lightened. Kaoru kissed his shoulder, nuzzling his neck softly as if to be positive he was really there. His mind was made up.

            "Kaoru? Can I see that promise ring I gave you?" Kenshin whispered lightly.

            Kaoru moved from his back, slowly taking the ring off of her finger. Handing it over to him, Kenshin fingered it lightly, twisting the metal between his fingers as if in deep thought. Sitting and watching raptly, Kaoru awaited what he needed to say, or the return of her ring.

            "I need to get you a new one." Kenshin muttered. "This one is suiting anymore."

            "Why?" Kaoru questioned. "I haven't broken a promise yet, and neither have you."

            Kenshin smirked; glad Kaoru was behind him and couldn't see his face. Even if he loved her, all the parts of him still loved to torment her. He knew the next few words he said would have a deep impact on her, but he couldn't wait to hear her responses. Kaoru was known to have a sharp tongue--- he wanted to know if she still possessed that fire.

            "It holds no meaning anymore." He responded.

            There was silence.

            "What do you mean it holds not meaning?" Kaoru shrieked, trying to stay quiet so that Kenji would remain asleep.

            Kenshin's grin widened and the familiar mischievous grin of Battousai spread over his face. "If you wanted to kick me out, then this defiantly will make you kick me out."

            "Kenshin! You didn't go talk to Katsura, did you? No, you were off---"

            "I spoke to Katsura." Kenshin stated. "And I wasn't off with anyone else. This ring just has no meaning anymore."

            "Why not?" she cried. "Answer me now, or you'll regret it, Himura………"

            "Simple." Kenshin droned on, trying to get her to do something rash. "It just doesn't mean anything anymore. The ring is trash."

            Kaoru grabbed his shoulders, pulling him down so he was laying agaisnt the futon, and she could hover above him, her ebony hair falling over her shoulders and against his chest.

            "What is that supposed to mean?!" Kaoru cried, glaring at him.

            "Because, you don't need a promise ring." Kenshin stated. "Why have a promise ring when you're going to be my wife?"

            "Kenshin Him---- wife?" Kaoru stopped suddenly, blinking. "You mean………"

            Kenshin grinned. "I'll go get the engagement ring tomorrow. That is, if you---"

            He never got the chance to finish his sentence--- Kaoru grabbed his face and kissed him so passionately his head spun. Kenshin wrapped his arms over her back, flipping over so that she was the one lying agaisnt the futon. She pulled away, blinking through her thick eyelashes to see him.

            "Of course I do."

            "Mama?"

            Kenshin sat up, and turned to see Kenji attempting to step toward them, rubbing his eyes to get rid of the grogginess. He smiled at the picture it imprinted in his mind. Kenji was more reason than anything to stay where he was, to make his family a solid foundation. Sensing the disturbance within her son, Kaoru got up and lifted the boy into her arms and then sat next to Kenshin on their futon.

            "What Kenji?" she cooed, rocking the sleepy child back and forth.

            Yawning, Kenji blinked a few times to take in the view of his father and his mother. "Can…… sleep……"

            She giggled. "Yes, you can sleep with us tonight Kenji. You can help me keep an eye on your father, and make sure he doesn't run off again!"

            "Bad Daddy!" Kenji reprimanded.

            Kenshin hung his head in mock shame. "Hai, I was a bad boy, wasn't I?"

            "Hai!"

            Kenshin looked up at Kaoru, and smiled at her. She grinned back before positioning herself and Kenji in the sheets of the futon. Kenshin took his position next to them, letting his eyes drift shut, and lull him away. Slumber hovered over their bodies, and soon, the family of three was sound asleep, protected by the watchful eyes of each other.

Author's Notes: Argh. I hope I ended that well!! There were be NO sequel. No more. This is it. But please, do review! I wish to know EVERYONE'S response to this chapter! And don't forget to read Building the Hitokiri, Adrenaline Adoration, Breaking Through, and The Legend of Himura Kenshin!

Love and hugs---

Crystal Renee