This is written as a twist on all those "Kenshin-accidentally-kills-and-becomes-Battousai" stories. 

That plot theme is overdone, so I decided to make my own plot, with the basic climax but far different results. 

This is going to be a very dark and angsty fic, especially for Kaoru, for the most part.  It deals with Kenshin and

his darker side Battousai, Kaoru and a side of her that no one ever sees, and a lot of the fundamentals of the relationship between the two. 

Things might move a bit slowly, so please bear with me.

*…* denotes thinking.

"…" denotes speaking.

*          *          *

One man scorned and covered in scars

tried with his last ounce of courage

to reach the unreachable stars;

and the world will be better for this.

—Miguel de Cervantes

Chapter One

The sun rose fair and high in the sky, over the downtown Tokyo district.  The birdsong was echoing through the autumn woods and down the streets, cheerful and bright.  The wind flew down from the east and whistled through the busy market streets, dodging into back roads and alleys, and swirled into the yard of a small, extremely clean dojo.

Kaoru smiled in pleasure as the welcome breeze entwined itself in her midnight hair, giving her a brief relief from the warm glare of the sun.  Her ocean-blue eyes opened wide, and she gave the dojo that she had owned and run for several years a look of benevolent satisfaction.

Everything was right, for the time being—at least, as right as it could be.  Yahiko was obeying her for once, and had consented to his chores without much of a fuss.  Sanosuke was gone for the moment, but had promised to drop in later for dinner (especially with the assurance that she would not attempt to cook tonight).  Megumi too was coming over—no doubt the Rooster and the Fox would be at it before dinner was cooked.  And most important of all. . .

Her smile brightened until it could nearly outshine the sun, as her eyes caught and held on the figure resting comfortably in the grass not five yards away.  His scarlet hair seemed to blaze like fire in the bright glare of the sun, and the wind made it float in the air and seem like the softest silk.  His muscular form, hidden under the ridiculous pink gi he always wore, rippled and moved easily through his chores.  His hands—swordsman's hands, artists hands—ran lightly over the task in front of him, fingers carefully feeling each task.

Kenshin.

Her sigh echoed throughout the yard as she gazed at him.  As always, her heart was immediately caught in that familiar, beautiful ache she always felt when she looked at him.  The wind seemed to have carried her high into the sky, and the feeling of falling was doing wonderful things to her stomach.

It had been several months since the wandering ex-hitokiri had come to stay in her dojo.  As far as Kaoru was concerned, those had been some of the best months of her life, excepting when he had left her to fight in Kyoto and that damned Enishi affair.  Her family, which had included only Dr. Genzai, Ayame, and Suzume a year before, had now expanded dramatically.  Kenshin, Yahiko, Sanosuke, and Megumi had all managed to entwine their lives with hers, and the result was a much happier and interesting Kamiya dojo.

The only problem was…

"Miss Kaoru?"

She half-jumped, startled as she saw Kenshin's soft eyes peering up at her from beneath unruly bangs.  "Yes!"  She bit her lip, blushing as her voice pitched unnaturally high.  *Hmmmm…let's try that again…* "Yes, Kenshin?"  She said sweetly, pleased that her voice had returned to its normal octave.

The ex-hitokiri blinked at her for a moment before smiling.  "I was wondering if Miss Kaoru had gone to the market yet today."

Kaoru flushed.  "Ah, damn!—sorry, Kenshin."  She said hastily, noting how the wanderer had winced at the expletive.  "I forgot—I meant to go before Yahiko's lessons, but he was back from the Akabeko sooner than I had expected—"

 Kenshin held up one hand to halt her babbling.  "Miss Kaoru, it is no trouble at all.  I was just thinking that I had plenty of time to go over and buy tofu if you had not gone already."  He smiled innocently, lavender eyes bright and seeming to tell her that there would be nothing more fascinating in the world for him than to go to market and buy her dinner.

Kaoru returned his smile.  "I would appreciate that, Kenshin.  I had meant to decorate the dining-place a little before Megumi got here.  It'd be nice if I didn't have to worry about doing it in a rush."  Her eyes flashed angrily for a moment as she remembered Megumi's sly comment from the last time they had had the Doctor over for dinner.  She'd show that tricky woman that she could be a kenjitsu instructor AND a feminine woman!  Sweaty little girl?  Hmph!

"What was Miss Kaoru considering using to decorate?"  Kenshin asked, polite interest in his voice.

"Er…"  Kaoru laughed nervously.  "I'll think of something."

"I could get some flowers as well, if you'd like it."  Kenshin offered, a hint of amusement passing over his face.

"I'd like that, Kenshin.  Thank you."  She smiled brightly at him, heart sinking in her chest.  So…when Megumi came, the table deserved flowers.  Her smile turned slightly forced as she turned away to go inside and fetch the money for tofu.

That was what was wrong, she mused to herself, as she slid the shoji door open.  Ever since Kenshin had left for Kyoto, that one night had been always in her thoughts.  There wasn't a morning where the image of fireflies didn't dance behind her eyes as she woke, and a night didn't pass without her dreaming at least once of feeling his arms around her, holding her as if she was something infinitely precious, something to be cherished and loved and cared for.  But that night and Kyoto had passed into memory, and Kenshin had remained, towards her, still the kind, thoughtful friend he always had been.   He seemed to have lost any inclination to see her as more than a friend, and the memory of the firefly-night seemed to have never pierced his consciousness.

It was beginning to drive her mad.

A sigh, half-angry and half-sorrowful filled the kitchen as Kaoru began to rummage about in search of money.

*                      *                      *

She was driving him insane, that she was.

Kenshin plunged his hands into the swiftly-cooling laundry bucket, washing the last of Yahiko's socks with a ferocity that he usually reserved for battle.  His usually serene eyes had a slightly distraught look about them.  As his hands moved from washing to hanging the laundry out to dry, his mind carefully went over what had gone wrong.

He had never intended to love again, after Tomoe.  For 10 years, he was certain that the hole her death left in his heart could not be filled.  He had been forever wounded, but content with the never-healing pain.  He had loved Tomoe dearly, and it seemed natural to continue grieving for as long as he could.

Then he had made the mistake of wandering through the alleys of downtown Tokyo in the early morning hours of a fateful spring morning.

His first sight of Kaoru had left him stricken, though at the time he knew not with what.  Though he was used to being attacked on the streets by people claiming vengeance, he was not used to those attackers being pretty young kendo-instructors with a surprisingly strong right punch.  The second shock had come when the aforementioned attacker had invited him into her home, with no knowledge of who he was or where he came from and no need to know.  He was poor and hungry, and that had been enough for her.

Her courage and compassion had attracted him, and her kindness was certainly no reason to leave.  He had stayed, and then been adopted into her life-style as easily as if he had been there all along.  The fact that he saved her life several times was a bonus for both of them.

He didn't know when exactly he had fallen in love with her, but he was willing to bet that it was right about the time when she had shown her greatest bravery of all, and insisted that the ex-manslayer Battousai make his home with her.  He shook his head, remembering.  That girl's reckless desire to help those in need of aid was going to get her into a lot more trouble in the future.

With the last of the laundry hung, Kenshin stood where he was for a long moment, contemplating the sky.  A few clouds were beginning to drift lazily overhead.  He shut his eyes, trying to block out the memory that was fighting its way to the surface.

That night.  The fireflies.

Kaoru's warmth, her fire, held tight in his arms.

Scarlet and black entwining together as their heads brushed each other and hair fell like a silk curtain around them.

Telling her he was leaving.

The shock and pain she felt had ripped through his own soul.  Her tears had shone in the night like stars, and her voice, pleading, begging him not to leave her…

And he had walked away.  Left her to the darkness's cold comfort.

That night was one he never stopped alternately despairing and longing for.  Kaoru didn't deserve him, and he knew it.  She deserved a prince, a young man from an honorable family with a huge amount of money and prestige, that she did  Not some old ex-samurai with a soul as tarnished and black as a moonless night.

But then again, she probably wouldn't be happy with a prince.  In fact, he was sure of that.  Kaoru didn't want riches, and she didn't want fame.  All she really seemed to want was her dojo and her family.  He felt a touch of triumph for vanquishing this imaginary lord, then shook his head in rueful disbelief.

*She's a beautiful and innocent young woman, that she is.*  He told himself fiercely.  *She will find a dashing man, and you will remain a close friend and be there for her as an elder brother as she takes care of her husband and her friends and her children—*

The rage accompanying this thought was almost enough to make him want to find one of Kaoru's suitors, just so he could threaten him away.  How dare anyone think that they could steal her away!  She was HIS!  No—no, wait—not his, he didn't deserve—

*Ah, but you WANT her, don't you?* Part of him whispered.  *Her fire, her spirit, her warmth, those beautiful dark eyes, her silky hair, her innocent body—*

With great resolve, Kenshin grabbed the laundry bucket and poured the soapy water on his head.

"Kenshin?!"

Spluttering, dripping wet, Kenshin pulled his soggy bangs aside to peer up at Kaoru's astonished expression.   He coughed politely, well-aware that he was soaked through to the skin all over.  "Erm—hello, Miss Kaoru."

Kaoru stared at Kenshin, unable to keep her eyes from scaling him up and down, partially in concern, partially in naïve amazement.  Streams of water were trickling down over his face and body, making his clothes stick tight to his body.  The planes of his chest came into sharp relief through the soaked fuchsia gi, and the muscles in his slender arms and legs became suddenly very obvious.  A strange feeling curled in the pit of Kaoru's stomach before she jerked her eyes back to his face, a pink blush covering her cheeks.  "What are you doing?"

"Doing the laundry?"  He offered weakly, scratching the back of his head.

"Ah."  Kaoru blinked a few times before a smile bloomed on her face.  A few high giggles began to break free, and she desperately clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle them.  But as Kenshin stared at her bewilderedly, her laughter broke free.  She began to howl with mirth.

Kenshin realized what he must look like, and several chuckles of his own escaped.  He shook himself slightly like a wet dog; and Kaoru let out another roar of laughter as water sprayed off him in all directions.  Giving up any hopes of getting dry, he joined in her merriment, grinning as he began to wring out his still-dripping mane of hair.

"I think that I should go get the tofu now, that I should."  He said lightly when the laughter had at last died away.  "Perhaps the walk will dry me off a bit."

Kaoru nodded, a last giggle escaping her before she handed Kenshin the few yen she had managed to dig up.  "I'll try and find you another gi to change into when you come back."  She promised, eyes twinkling at him.

His breath caught in his throat at the sparkle in her gorgeous eyes.  He half-bowed in thanks, and began to head out the dojo doors, still wringing his hair as he went.

Half-way there, he seemed to change his mind.  In mid-step he turned about and began instead to head for the dojo.

"Kenshin?  Wrong way."

He continued walking, giving her a polite smile.  "Thank you, Miss Kaoru, I do know that."

Kaoru blushed and bit her tongue in embarrassment.  "Where are you going then?"

He called back as he disappeared inside, "You said you wanted flowers as well for the table.  I saw a stand selling some very pretty ones the other day, and the money you gave me isn't enough to buy them."

"I can get you some more yen, then."  Kaoru said, beginning to make her way to the kitchen.

Kenshin stuck his head out and smiled.  "Actually, Miss Kaoru, I would prefer to buy these as a gift, that I would."

A gift?  Oh, a gift for Megumi.  Kaoru's spirits drooped as she offered him a feeble smile.  "All right, Kenshin."  She turned around and headed over to the laundry as if intending to take it off the line, though the clothes were still nearly as wet as Kenshin was.

He watched her go in confusion.  Did Miss Kaoru not like gifts?  Perhaps those attentions from him were not considered welcome.  His heart saddened as he turned back inside, still hoping to find some money left over from his meager purse as a wanderer.  Miss Kaoru did not want flowers from him, maybe, but he at least wanted the joy of giving her a present at least once.

Kaoru slowly ran her fingers over the clothesline, noting absently that the sky was beginning to fill with dark clouds.  There might not be enough time to dry the laundry fully if a storm hit…she frowned, looking at the sky more intently.  A few minutes ago, the day could not have been more beautiful.  Now a cool wind was beginning to blow, and storm clouds were slowly filling the horizon.

Kaoru shivered, wrapping her arms around herself.  There was something in the air that made her hair stand on end.  She kept her senses open, listening, watching, waiting for…something.  Whatever it was that was coming.  She was sure of one thing: it wasn't good.

Her breathing slowed as she concentrated.  Kenshin had taught her the beginnings of ki-sensing over the past month, and now she put her lessons into effect, reaching out with her mind to try and find out what was changed, what was making her so uneasy—

"Oy!  Jou-chan!"

Kaoru nearly jumped out of her skin.  "Sano!"  She screeched, whirling around.  "Don't you ever KNOCK?!"

The tall man chuckled, warm, dark eyes studying her from under his red bandanna.  "It'd take all the fun outta scaring you, wouldn't it?"  He inquired with a grin, reaching out to tousle her hair a bit.

Kaoru stuck her tongue out at him before smiling.  "I didn't expect you so early."

Sanosuke shrugged.  "Figured I'd come over and give y'all a hand."

"You lost all your money gambling and had to quit early."

Sanosuke colored.  "Does it matter?  I'm here, ain't I?"

Kaoru shook her head despairingly.  "Sano, I thought you said you were going to quit!"

"I said I'd quit the day the Fox an' I started courting."  Sanosuke corrected with a small scowl.  "And that day ain't happening any time soon."

"What's taking so long?"  Kaoru asked curiously.  Sano and Megumi weren't courting yet?  That was news to her—the way they blatantly flirted with each other had made her wonder if they had arranged a date with a priest yet.

"None of your business."  Sanosuke said gruffly, reaching out and giving her nose a tweak.  "How're you and Kenshin?"

Kaoru glanced at the dojo to confirm Kenshin was still out of sight.  "Bad."  She confessed, her voice dropping to a soft murmur that did not conceal her disappointment.  "I thought things would be different, after—you know—Enishi, and all.  But nothing's really changed.  He's friendly, but still so distant."  She shrugged and gave a half-hearted attempt to laugh.  "Maybe you and Yahiko and Megumi were right all along—I'm not feminine enough to interest him."  Her misery turned her usually vibrant azure eyes into a duller navy.

Sanosuke swallowed; he wasn't used to dealing with such strong emotions in Kaoru.  She was usually so upbeat and cheerful; seeing her down like this was almost unnatural.  "Hey, missy."  He said softly, awkwardly patting her shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting motion.  "Don't go thinking like that, now—unworthiness is Kenshin's job."  That earned him a laugh, albeit a sad one.  "If you think Kenshin ain't interested, you're wrong."  He told her, slightly encouraged.  "He's crazy about you, I've seen it.  The man's just too thick and too stubborn to get that you're nuts about him too.  Give him time, he'll come around."

"I've given him time."  Kaoru muttered defiantly.  "I've given him LOTS of time!  I've given him more time than I ever wanted to!  I'd hoped to be married by this point, and yet here we are, same as always, doing the laundry together.  How romantic."

"Would things really change that much if you did marry?  He does all the housework anyway."

"Not helping."

Sanosuke sighed.  "Just hang in there, Kaoru.  If things don't pick up in another week or two, I'll arrange for you two to meet in the bathing house, all right?"

Kaoru replied to this by smacking him upside the head with an outraged squeak.  Within a moment, the two were tousling and wrestling in the yard like children.

"Kaoru!  Hey, Kaoru, I finished the—the hell?"  Yahiko came out of the dojo in time to see Kaoru give Sanosuke a magnificent tweak to one of his messy tufts of hair.  Sanosuke responded by grabbing Kaoru by the ponytail and nearly lifting her off the ground, until she kicked him full-force in the shin.

Yahiko eyed the situation for a few seconds before giving a whoop and joining the fray.

The fray ended a few minutes later, with Kaoru triumphantly standing over her vanquished foes.

"That hurt."  Sano muttered, gingerly touching the bump on his head and watching the world swirl around him.

"Owwwwww."  Yahiko agreed, giving Kaoru a black glare.

"You nearly won with that one punch."  Kaoru said cheerfully, lightly patting both of their heads and grinning when both swatted her hands away.

"Excuse me?  Is this the Kamiya Dojo?"

Kaoru turned, a flush covering her cheeks as she realized how silly the three of them must have looked. "Yes, it is.  May I help you?"  She placed her hands composedly on her hips, hoping that her calm, collected image of Assistant Master was back in place.

The man standing hesitantly in the doorway of the dojo gave a small nod of his head that might have been intended as a bow.  He was tall and stocky, and his muscles stood clearly out in his bared arms and neck.  His hair was a little too well brushed and his skin too clean for him to be a street thug—a merchant, perhaps?  No, he was too muscular for that.  Craftsman?  Surely not, those hands of his lacked any semblance to art in their beefy fingers.  Besides—a small shiver ran down her spine—something about his aura was not at all reassuring.  She doubted that he was an honest worker.

"May I help you?"  She asked, voice cooled quite a bit.  Whoever he was and whatever he wanted, he wasn't finding it in her dojo!  Behind her, she sensed Sanosuke and Yahiko had risen and were now standing at her back, inspecting the newcomer.

"I'm looking for someone."  The man replied, giving her a careful once-over—which made her bristle—and then looking past all of them to stare at the dojo.

"Who?  Maybe we can help you find them."  Sanosuke said too calmly.  Kaoru heard the crack of his knuckles.

"A—a person rumored to live in these parts."  The man answered, frowning a bit at Sanosuke.  Kaoru realized with some alarm that he was not at all intimidated.  Not all men could hold their ground or their composure when Sano started cracking his knuckles.  The look that entered his eyes at that point was always enough to deter weaker-willed competitors.

"A person?"  Yahiko asked suspiciously.  Kaoru's training and his experience with Kenshin as a role-model had taught him enough that you never trusted anyone who showed up at the Kamiya Dojo looking for "a person".

"What kind of a person?"  Kaoru asked.

The man seemed to be getting slightly annoyed now.  He opened his mouth to retort—then his eyes shifted past her, and opened in an almost fiendish stare.  "Him."

"Miss Kaoru!  I found my last few yen, that I did!  Shall I go to market now?"  Kenshin stepped off the porch, beaming at his friends, then stopped when he saw the stranger in the yard.  "Miss Kaoru, who is this?"  He asked in confusion, looking from the man to the group of his friends.  

 Before Kaoru could reply, the man was striding forward.  He brushed back his cloak to reveal the dark-colored scabbard at his waist.  "At last!"  He crowed, drawing the sword from its sheath and pointing it imperiously at a very perplexed Kenshin.  "At last I've found you, Battousai!  Now, you will pay for your crimes!"

Three very exasperated voices broke out at the same time.

"AGAIN?!"