Snowfall in the Forest of Barriers

A Rurouni Kenshin Fan-fiction

A Ronin Kaoru Side story

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By the Dragon's Daughter

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Summary: Ronin Kaoru Side Story. This is what transpired after Raven returned Kaoru from the dead and sent her to save Tomoe.

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Disclaimer: I don't own RK.

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In God's world, for those who are in earnest, there is no failure. No work truly done, no word earnestly spoken, no sacrifice freely made, was ever made in vain.
Frederick Robertson (1816 - 1853) English divine

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*note* I don't know the exact translation for the 'forest of barriers' so if someone out there does, please tell me! And if its you, JML I soooo won't be surprised. I should just start referencing with you BEFORE I post the chapter. Give me your e-mail and I will.

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Kamiya Kaoru was re-born in winter, a few miles west of the great Tokaido highway, ten meters away from the Mori no Seki: the Forest of Barriers.

She came into the world naked, as all beings do, and like mustangs in the Americas she was running within minutes of her birth. A few steps into her new life, she found herself clad warmly and shod with shoes, but she did not stop to wonder at this marvel. Instead she ran.

Her feet sank into the deep snowdrifts and they slowed her, but she did not stop, could not stop.

The Mori no Seki loomed ahead of her. Alone they seemed eerie and foreboding, but something else about them gave her pause… the woods seemed dead somehow. Lifeless. Inert. Her senses shrieked against entering the woods, but iron will had gotten her this far in life. It would motivate her just a little further.

Kaoru entered the forest without hesitation. The clawed and naked branches of the trees to tore into her soft cheeks and left jagged red scratches in her pale flesh, but she neither noticed nor cared.

There was a tragedy in the offing and she had sworn to avert it or die trying… again.

She knew exactly where to go and followed her path as though she'd run it a thousand times before. Turn left at the lightning scarred tree, go straight through the underbrush, over the ice pond… and she was there!

Not a moment too soon, either.

Kaoru skidded to a halt at the edge of the wintry clearing. Before her, two men were embroiled in a death match by sword. One was huge, muscled, and fresh, while the other was nearly half his size and bleeding from half a dozen wounds. She could tell, from the way he moved, that smaller man could barely see or sense his surroundings. That man was fighting blind.

'The only hope he has is a suicide strike.' Kaoru thought. 'I knew before what he planned, but knowing and seeing… I can't let this happen!'

A flicker of violet at the edge of her eye was the only clue that there was another witness to the violence. Kaoru turned immediately towards it and started running. It was instinct more than anything else that directed her movements, that and a bit of forewarning.

The woman was dressed in white and if she hadn't been wearing such a dark obi then Kaoru might never have spotted her. Thank Kami for small miracles.

The woman was closer to the duel, but she was less conditioned than Kaoru was and also dressed in a restrictive winter kimono. Kaoru overtook her easily, but it was a close cut. If Kaoru had been so much as a step behind then the woman would have charged straight between the two dueling samurai.

If she had, then it would have been her death for as Kaoru had moved to intercept the woman's reckless charge, the smaller man had rallied for a final strike as the older swordsman stood poised above him for an overhand death blow.

The small man's blow went underneath the large man's defense and gutted him. However, the strike was not an instant kill, which gave the older samurai a chance to complete the downward arc of his blade… or at least it would have if a small dagger hadn't blossomed in the pressure point underneath his arm.

The wounded giant bellowed in pain as all neural function ceased in his right arm. The smaller man's amber eyes widened as nerveless fingers fell from the man's blade and the path of the blade went wide to bite into the tree behind and to the left of its intended victim.

Those same eyes darted unerringly to where two women lay crumpled in the snow.

One lay on her side, halfway beneath the other and stared at him with dazed eyes that glowed with relief. He knew her. He had come to retrieve her… to rescue her. He reached towards her as though he need to touch her, to confirm to himself that she was in fact untouched.

"Tomoe!" he croaked.

Tomoe struggled to her feet, but only made it halfway before she started running. "Kenshin!" she cried out. It was only a few steps, so her clumsy movements did not end in a tumble. Rather, she slid to her knees beside Kenshin who opened his arms to her.

She fell into them with a sob.

The second woman, Kaoru opted to stand and pat the snow from her hakama. She watched the reunited pair for a moment with an unreadable expression in her deep blue eyes. A thin red line ran the length of her cheek where Tomoe had scored a hit on her as she'd attempted to prevent the other woman from disarming her.

For the second time that day, a flicker of movement in the forest cover attracted her eyes to where a young boy, not even nine years old, bolted into the underbrush.

"Oh no you don't!" she muttered to herself and took off after him.

She didn't look back to see the wounded Samurai staring after her nor did she hear the woman whose life she saved call out to her. Perhaps it was because she felt she couldn't remain in that clearing and retain any shred of dignity, but likely it was because she had another tragedy to nip in the bud.

It was something she was becoming good at.

The boy was fast, and if he hadn't been weighed down by the burden of a parasol far too large for him, then he might have eluded Kaoru. As it was, she nearly chased him all the way back to the edge of the Mori no Seki before she was able to tackle him from behind.

They plowed into a snowdrift and send up waves of white as Kaoru attempted to wrestle him into submission. The boy kicked, swore, scratched, and bit before dropping the parasol and going for a small dagger concealed in the belt of his hakama.

He slashed wide, aiming for Kaoru's face. Her reactions were still skewed by the magnetic field emitted by the Mori no Seki so Kaoru barely dodged it. She came away with a second cut to her cheek. This one ran horizontal to her jaw line.

With a practiced tap on the inside of his wrist, Kaoru numbed the boy's hand and plucked the dagger out of the air as it fell from his limp fingers.

"If you're going to pull something like that, go for the eyes. People will always move to save their eyes." she chided him as she flipped him over and pinned him into the snow with a knee at the small of his back.

"Let me GO!" the boy snarled, but Kaoru ignored him and continued her lecture.

"I mean, really, where did you think you were going to go, huh? It may have escaped your notice, but the men who were housing you are dead and I'll bet you a gold ryo that home's a long way from here." Kaoru slipped the sheath from the boy's sash and tucked his dagger into it. Then both went safely into her belt away from his reach.

"It doesn't concern you. Let me go!" the boy repeated.

Kaoru shook her head. "It concerns me, boy, in ways you may never understand. Besides, what kind of person would let a kid like you go running off into the wilderness after seeing a scene like that? Who knows what's running through your head right now?" she shook her head, causing her jet-black locks to flip into her eyes. "I'm going to take you back to your sister."

The boy went limp under her, but Kaoru knew better than to let him up. "What good would that do?" he said in a dull, defeated tone. "She's made her choice. She told me to go back to Edo. It's him she wants."

Kaoru shrugged. "So? That doesn't mean she wouldn't be glad to see you. Especially now. I imagine there are some things she needs to say to you… and you to her."

"Mind your own business! You don't understand anything!"

It confused the boy when Kaoru cocked her head and smiled ruefully at him. "Anything? Well… perhaps I don't. However, monme to sen you don't either. Which is why it doesn't matter if I understand or not: you go back to your sister on your own two feet or swinging unconscious over my shoulder. You pick." she pinned him with a sharp glare. "Either way, you go."

"Fine!" the boy said through gritted teeth.

"I knew you'd be reasonable." Kaoru chirped and removed her knee from his back. Almost immediately the boy surge to his hands and knees to sprint away, but a firm grip on the seat of his hakama soon had him under control once more.

So, Kaoru escorted the boy, whose name was Enishi, back out of the forest. Once or twice he attempted to make another break, but away from the influence of the Mori no Seki, Kaoru caught him almost before he tried.

When they reached the main trail, Kaoru spotted signs of someone's passing. The white snow was spotted with blood so she knew who it had to have been.

By the time they reached the tiny farm house on the outskirts of Kyoto the sun hung bloated and red in the darkening sky. Its ruddy light etched long shadows into the snow crust behind them.

Tomoe must have seen them approaching from the distance for she met them at the door. She said nothing, but when Enishi came within reach she grasped him to her and did not let go for a long while. When she did release him, Kaoru was positive she heard her whisper something to him that sounded like; 'Forgive me'."

Kaoru watched the reunion between sister and brother and looked for a chance to disappear. However, Tomoe was having none of it.

"Please, allow me to at least see to your wounds." the woman quietly insisted when she caught Kaoru trying to edge away into the tree cover. Tomoe took a step toward Kaoru and composed herself. "I owe you a debt of gratitude, doubly so for my brother's safety and for my husband's life. Please, at least stay the night?"

"I really must be…" Kaoru started to say, but Enishi caught her sleeve and looked up at her with guileless eyes.

"… but you said you'd stay." he said innocently, although his expression made it clear that he was after getting his own back for the scene in the edge of the forest.

Kaoru scowled at him, but didn't contradict him.

'If he's feeling up to making a fool of me then all the better.' she thought rhetorically as Tomoe gently led her into the farmhouse. 'Perhaps he'll be willing to forgive.'

Perhaps they'd all be willing to forgive.

It was just too bad she wouldn't be allowed to stay and find out.