Finally, Finally, Finally, I'M BAAACK!!! Here's Paradise 9, a longer chapter than usual!!!
O.K., lemme say this: STICK WITH ME ON THIS CHAPTER!! Read all the way to the end, and I promise, the patient will be rewarded ;)
As always, flames and reviews alike are quite welcome. Now, on to my reviewers who ROCK my BEiNG:
Neko-Kyolover: Aww, me sorry! Hate to leave you like that, but it does make for a more interesting read, ne? thankies for the review!!
JDFielding: I'm glad you liked the Kenshin/Kazuo confrontation, I had FUN writing that one! Thanks for such a long review, it's so nice of you!! And that B/K story is on my list of things to do, ::scout's honor::!! Thanks again for the review, buddy!!
bscl43: more Mis/Aos goodness on the way for ya!! Glad you liked it and here's your update!
MZ. AMbER EYES: I totally agree! Kaoru is being such a BAKA for not knowing what to do!! Hehe, I'm glad you can get into it, and I'm xtra happy you're still with me after all these chapters! Hope you like the update!
aphrodite24goddess: thank you SO much! I'm glad you like it that much, you have no IDEA how happy that made me to read that!! I hope this chapter was worth the wait and you're still reading!
Peachie-Chan: ::throws update at you:: here ya go! Enjoy!!
Mia, Princess of Eternity: ::helps you glomp da AOSHI:: Gawd, I love him. Hehe, thanks, dear!! I appreciate the support, your reviews are always so nice, THANK YOU!!
Monkeystarz: ::finally recovers from endless bouts of reincarnation:: Hehe, yesh, I'd rather die than marry Kazuo, too! Thanks, as always, for the awesome/funniness review, my faithful Monkeystarz!!
link : hope you like this chapter as well as the last one! Thanks for the review!!
Quist: Quisty!! ::huggles you:: hehe, thanks for the review, bud! Read on to find out what happens to our 'kick-butt' rose of Kenjitsu, hope it's to your liking. I threw you for a loop? YESH! HAHA MY EVIL PLAN IS FINALLY COMPLETE!! ::malicious laughter:: Hope you're still reading!!
PrincessofWildfire: Glad it was worth the wait! Hope this one is too!!
TenkunoMeiou: She is, isn't she?!! Haha, thankies for reading and reviewing!
cincygurl22: haha, I don't like him either, buddy. ::silent death to kazoo the jerk:: tear on the cincinatti part, it's a fun city, isn't it? I've never been to Chicago, but I'm sure its awesome, too
Shiomei: Don't die!! ::chucks chapter and oxygen tank at you:: here's the update, buddy!!
the nadja: THANKIES! Thanks about the Yahiko-chan part, I can never tell if I'm making him look too much like a kid or too much like an adult, so that really means a lot!!
El Capitan: ::virtual high five for evil people:: haha, glad you like the cliffies, they're so much fun to write!!
loyanini: haha, aren't I the evil one? Hope it kept you in suspense and you like chapter nine!!
misumi kanegawa: sure thing, buddy! Here's your update, late though it may be. Cool username, btw. What does it mean?
Alea Seikou: HAH! ::falls out of her chair:: HAHA! ::rolling around on the floor:: gawd, I LOVE your reviews, you never fail to make me laugh!! But I'm glad you found the chapter to your liking; I wasn't sure how it was going to go over, honestly. Hope the wait wasn't too long and you're still intrigued enough to check out chapter 9 (:
Jouko-chan: Haha, I'm with you buddy! Read on to find out what goes down at the kamiya dojo!! Thanks for the R&R!
Zxully anti-nostalgic: Aww!! ::huggles you:: thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it! And I always pictured Kaoru nonchalantly walking down the hall in that scene, and then throwing open the door, consequence of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. At least, that's what I was going for ;) hehe, glad you liked the scene with Kazuo, too! Thanks for the review, dear!
Mato-ko: You're about to find out, friend!! Hehe read on to discover how evil I am!!
cyberdemon: Kenshin really isn't thinking things through, is he? ::hits him over the head with a frying pan:: glad you liked it, though, and thanks for reviewing!!
Crytal Renee: :: glomps :: ::glomps:: ::GlOmPs:: ::GLOMPS!!::: I LERVE YOU SISTAH!! Haha, thanks for the nice review, buddy. Hope the mud mask turned out ok and such. Hows sam? Things doing ok?? Email me!!
Azulrealms: np, dear. Hope you like this update too!!
Asilin Kheldarson: I am evil, aren't I? heh heh heh, here's your WAY overdue update!!
Serenity8882003: here ya go! And thankies for thinking its good!!
Yuri: hehe, me too! Glad you like it!!
Sinnah: ::joins you in kicking Kazuo:: haha, he deserves a good kick, ne? hope you find this chapter to your liking!!
angelic-kuti: aww, thankies! :wears evil title proudly:: hehe, hope you're still reading!!
misengai: update for you!! Hehe, feel special. Your review made me get off my butt and actually attempt to write something!! Here ya go!
Ya'll for some reason, my reviewer's box is messed up on this story, so, IF YOU REVIEWED AND YOU'RE NOT ON HERE, it's because is SOOO screwy!! I'm sorry!!!! I LOOOOOOVE YOU ALL and YOU ALL give me the drive to do this, you're my inspiration, guys!! ::huggles you::
Now, on with the story!!
Chapter 9: Paradise Forfeit
Kenshin's eyes sprung open as he shook himself out of a cold sweat. He had been dreaming…
No…. A nightmare. A horrible nightmare of…
Had he been sleeping after all?
The muscles in his body suddenly contracted.
He could have sworn…he heard...
His feet hit the floor at a run down the hallway. The shoji made a weird sound in the stillness as he flung it open.
Kenshin had felt genuine panic twice before in his life. Both of those times Kaoru had gone missing. Enishi. Jineh. He hated them both, even now. The wierd feeling, the tightening of the chest, the claustrophobic drowning feeling overwhelmed him again and his mind jumped to the worst possible conclusion.
She wasn't missing. He could hear her screaming, at least, he thought he could… But it was more of a noise in his brain than it was a noise in the air. Kenshin shut his eyes and focused on his breathing. Where was she?
He began to move, faster, faster still, until he was darting into the cool dark. He could hear the rhythm of his sandals pounding against the dirt in time with the loud beating of his heart, letting his body take over.
Before he knew it, he had slowed to a walk, and then stopped. Kenshin peeked out of one eye, shocked to be standing in front of…the bathhouse?!
A little more force and the exterior door would have been ripped off its hinges. Well, there were her clothes, but… "Kaoru-dono!"
The interior door flew open and he looked around, blinking to adjust to the light. Was that….oh Kami… in the basin….
Strands of black tresses snaked around a large copper pot.
A magenta gi was torn from a swordsman's body, hands delving into the water, the ends of crimson hair resting on the surface. Hands grasped and locked behind a tiny waist, pulling towards themselves.
The basin shifted.
Her creamy body slid from under a watery prison and upwards, upwards into the air.
Kenshin found himself tumbling back with the momentum, but he held on to the mermaid, wrapped himself around her, cushioned her, and landed on the hardwood with a thunk loud enough to break a vertebrae. She fell like limp seaweed on top of him, his flimsy gi the only separation between his naked chest and hers.
For a moment there was stillness.
Then the panic took over again. Kenshin was afraid to look, afraid to peer down and see…
'Oh Kami…let her be breathing…please let her be breathing….I'll do anything… I'll give her to Kazuo, I swear I will, as long as she's just…please….'
He tilted her face away from his chest, gathering his gi about her as he did. The smooth brow, the dripping lashes, the pale lips, but…was that? Kenshin leaned closer to her and placed a hand to her breast. Slowly, ever so slowly, he could feel a methodical heartbeat.
He almost cried.
Kenshin tilted Kaoru's body forward and let her head hang over the floor. Almost instantly, the water in her lungs shifted and she began to cough. Her eyelids sprang open and she held her hand to her throat, clutching the gi wrapped around her shoulders at the same time. Kenshin smiled and wrapped his arms around her, burying his nose in her hair.
"K-Kenshin?" Kaoru sputtered, turning around to face him. "I'm….I'm not…"
"Shh, don't speak, Kaoru-dono," He cooed, pressing her to him as she lapsed into another coughing fit.
From somewhere deep inside Kaoru, a tear surfaced in her eye. Soon, her coughing had turned into swaying, painful crying.
It took Kenshin a minute to note the change. "Kaoru-dono…? What's wrong?"
"I…I…I-oh, Kenshin! I'd be dead right now if not for-"
"P-please don't say that." He winced at the words.
"But don't you understand, Kenshin?!" She brought her tear-streaked face closer to his. "Kazuo never would've been able to save me!"
Kenshin pressed Kaoru to him again so she wouldn't see the tears threading to jump out of his pupils. He tried to control his breathing. He had sworn… he had sworn to Kami he would let her go…
"You…promised. You said you'd always take care of me… and now you're leaving! You…promised!" She tightened her grip around his neck.
Kenshin's lips found their way to Kaoru's forehead. He kissed her, lightly, as if she might dissipate away at any minute. ""Aa, but Kaoru-dono, you are replacing me."
A solitary ray of light threw itself from the window of the bathhouse across the rotten floorboards. Kaoru caught sight of it first, her eyes widening as if a cobra had just crossed her path.
It was morning.
The morning of her wedding day.
Bow ties were not his forte.
His big hands dropped to his sides and his face showed just enough agitation for the girl leaning against the doorframe to sort of, kind of, guess what he was feeling.
She padded across the room and stationed herself in front of him, her small hands whizzing about his neck. Aoshi looked off behind her, indifferent.
Misao struggled with the satin piece of cloth, trying to act like she knew what she was doing, and stretching to reach the top of Aoshi's frame.
She slid forward on the clean wood, standing up on her tiptoes in her sock feet and…
The floor was too slick and-
Right into Aoshi's chest. He widened his eyes in genuine shock as they both tumbled backwards and hit the floor, hard.
"Er..." Aoshi found his voice first.
Misao was dreading opening her eyes, afraid to see Aoshi's annoyed expression. She blushed, her hair falling in pieces around her face.
"Misao, You look…" he began.
Stupid? Childish? Idiotic?
Both of them!
Sano slammed his hand into his fist repeatedly and watched night grow around him. He strained his ears and tried to hear if any unnatural sounds were coming from the room next to him. If they were, he'd have to vomit.
Well, the deed had been done and Jou-chan had been officially married for five whole hours.
He hadn't believed it at first, either, but he was sure now as he recounted the day to himself.
He was there... at least in body. He had seen the cathedral doors fly open and watched her creep down the aisle, her face on the ground.
He had seen her squeeze Kenshin's hand and drop down on her knees in front of the altar.
He had seen her flinch as the priest sprinkled the holy water over that creep Kazuo, asking in forced Japanese if she would take this man to be her lawfully....
At that point, she had raised her head. Sano saw it in her eyes, the look of flight or fight. She was a scared animal, hunted for days and finally cornered. Her gaze drifted to Kenshin, and he...
"BAKA!" Sano roared in irritation, unable to forget the moment he had watched Jou-chan's spirit flicker and die.
"I do." Her small voice. Her broken neck. Her clipped wings.
Sano remembered how, at the reception that night, she looked old and tired. Kazuo paraded her around like a deer mounted on his wall, his conquest, showing her off to all his business partners who spoke foreign languages chocked full of l's and rolling r's.
She barely smiled and spent most of the night staring off into the distance until Kazuo, breath reeking of Sake, elbowed her and told her that if she didn't get her Head Out Of The Clouds and Put Her Act Together, he was gonna-
Sano had shut his ears at that point, knowing that if he heard what was coming next, he was going to beat the groom into a puree.
And so the night had passed. Guests filtered out the door until only the Kenshingumi and the greasy newcomer remained.
Back at the Dojo, Sano had stood in the hallway nervously with Kenshin, Jou-chan, and The Rat.
Kazuo grabbed Jou-chan's hand and had led her to her room, simultaneously opening up the shoji and putting out his cigarette. She flashed a look over her shoulder, a flower about to lose its petals.
He looked into her face for the first time all night, his eyes hollow.
The shoji slammed shut in reply.
And then what?
Sano had walked off to a vacant room down the hall, too tired to make his way back to his own place, leaving Kenshin the room across the way from Jou-chan's.
Now thin paper was all that separated Sano from the two 'lovebirds'.
He wondered what they were doing right this instant.
On second thought, he really didn't wanna know. He was feeling sick enough already....
She blushed unexpectedly. She hadn't anticipated being so...nervous.
Kaoru gathered her white kimono about her shoulders and surveyed the dimly lit room.
She was married now...there was nothing wrong with this...
Then why was she so scared?
Slowly, Kaoru made her way over to the futon and lay down. Kazuo shifted, smiling, and pulled her to him. He kissed her lips, passionately, hard, possessively, whispering in her ear "Mon petite chou..."
Kaoru closed her eyes, beginning to relax. "Tell me. Tell me what that means. You promised me you would and you...and you never have."
"My little...." Kazuo kissed her eyelids and reached for her sash. "My little cabbage..."
Kaoru's eyes sprung open.
"...lemme get this straight," she blurted out, putting a hand on his chest and pushing him back a bit. "All this time you've been calling me a cabbage?"
"Mmm, does it matter?" Kazuo tried to snuggle onto her shoulder.
"Well yeah, it kinda does! If you think your boyfriend-"
A knot formed in Kaoru's throat. Right. "Husband, if you think your husband is calling you some romantic name, like darling, or beautiful, and it turns out he's comparing you to a vegetable-"
"I-it's a term of endearment, ok? Can we just forget about it?"
".......K-Kazuo, I can't do this."
"What?! Because of the cabbage thing?!"
Well, that had destroyed the mood a bit. But Kaoru was finding it very hard to concentrate on anything at all when... "No, it's not that. I think something's under my futon. Help me move it."
She jumped up and began tearing the bedding to shreds.
"Do-do we have to do this now?" Kazuo tried to hide the irritation in his voice.
"Look, it's gonna bug me to death if we don't."
"Come on, Kaoru, you're acting childish!"
"Mou!" She pouted, throwing the last pillow behind her and stooping down to examine the floor. "There's the problem!" One of the boards was sticking up at an odd angle, jutting out an inch above the rest of them.
Kaoru cupped her hands around the plank to try to force it back into place, but it slid out with the slightest touch. Underneath it was a large hole where the foundation had been cut away. She peered into the depths and gasped. There was something down there!
Very gingerly, Kaoru fished the object out of the blackness. It was a box, a lacquered box no bigger than her hand. But it wasn't the size that made Kaoru begin to shake. It was the writing transposed on the onyx lid.
"Kaoru" was written out in a flouncy, flowery hand, a hand she couldn't help but recognize...
"Kaoru, what're you-"
"Shh!" She snapped back at Kazuo, her eyes wide, trying not to let him see her so disheveled. The hinges had rusted shut from years of misuse, but one good tug and they gave way.
A piece of paper folded into quarters. She opened it gingerly, the paper yellowed and crackling with age.
A treasure fell into her lap. Perfectly uniform, perfectly shaped, perfectly colored moon tears.
Her mother's white pearl necklace.
"Oh!" Kaoru's hand found its way to her mouth. "I-I thought the looters took it after her death!" Kaoru was too excited to notice Kazuo's disinterested reply. At present time he was busy focusing the cleavage peeking out from her kimono. "And look! The paper has a note on it!"
She held it up to the light.
My lovely Kaoru. It's often hard to believe that you're growing up so fast. And on this, the third anniversary of your birth, I store these pearls away to await the day of your marriage, when I shall pull them out from their resting place and clasp them around your neck.
Kaoru's heart contracted fiercely.
I watch you now as you play in the yard. You are a good child, Kaoru. You will grow up to be a fine woman, a daughter any mother would be proud of.
I Would she be proud of her? Would her mother be proud of her today? Right now?
Already, you are strong-willed like your father. Loving. Caring. I know you will choose a man with the same qualities.
Kaoru stole a peek at Kazuo and bit her lip.
You will find love, my dear Kaoru, probably sooner than I'll be ready to let you go. But you must know, love comes not without danger. Love comes almost unrecognizably. The trick is distinguishing it from fame and fortune. I don't doubt that when the time comes, when you fall in love, it will be for the right reasons. We'll laugh over this note, together, when I give it to you on your wedding day. We'll talk about what a silly mother I was to ever worry about you. You have my blessing now. You'll have my blessing then.
"Oh Kami...Oh Kami-sama...what have I done?"
"Hn." Kazuo narrowed his eyes and began to walk towards her. "I've waited long enough, woman." His eyes were glassed from the alcohol.
Kaoru stared at him, for what felt like the first time, through streaming tears. "Kazuo, Kazuo, I'm so sorry, I can't!" She sprang up again, clutching the pearls and the note tightly to her.
"Run out on me, will you?!" Kazuo's claw groped about for any part of Kaoru's body to hold on to. It settled on her shoulder. She tried to shrug him off, but he held while she moved, causing her white kimono to rip across her body. She wheeled around and smacked out into the darkness, hard.
"Ow! You bitch!"
He sprang to life. That had been no dream. That had been real, he was sure of it. He bolted for the shoji door and stepped out into the cool air of the hall. "K-kaoru-don-umph!"
Something had smacked into him as it had been racing towards his room. It was now wrapping its arms around his waist and sinking to the ground. He strained to see in the shadows and made out the faint outline of a white kimono.
Kenshin let his knees give out. "Kaoru?" She gasped for a reply, burying her head in his shoulder and silently grieving. "Kaoru." He smiled, running his fingers through her smooth black hair. "Kaoru. Kaoru. Kaoru. Kaoru. Kaoru." It was a whisper, an escaping mantra never before spoken.
"Kenshin, I've done a horrible, horrible thing!" He lifted her face in his hands and tried to brush the pain away. "I-I shouldn't have married Kazuo! I should've married you!"
Kaoru fell back onto his shoulder again. "Shh, Kaoru." His arms encircled her protectively. "It'll be all righ-" But before he had time to say anything else, a familiar ki stumbled into the hallway, leaning drunkenly against the wooden side-paneling.
"Listen here, you low-life bastard!" Kazuo's eyes had a dangerous, razor-like edge to them in the dark as he rubbed a red mark on his cheek in the shape of a hand. "The girl is my property, so hand her over now or I'll hafta..." he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a metal object. Kenshin heard the safety click to the "off" position. "I'll hafta show you both who wears the hakamas around here!" Kazuo centered the gun right over Kenshin's heart, where Kaoru's head was pressed against his chest, and closed one eye to aim.
"Kenshin, Kenshin, please don't leave me – p-please don't leave me-"
The sheath of the sakabatou clanged coldly as it hit the wooden floor. Amber eyes flickered.
"I told you...I told you if you tried to hurt her, I'd kill you!"
Well folkses, that's all!!
Reviews and flames alike, as always, are welcome and will win you chapter 10!
hope you liked it, till next time