Disclaimer: Now. Answer me this. Why would we need to come up with a great master plan to overtake the anime industry if we owned Kenshin? I thought so.
Author's Notes: This chapter was written by me, Crystal Renee, completely. The story started out as a collaboration with Lady Himura (somehow I lost contact with her). I'm going through and edigint and making everything pretty for you all to see. No more extreme rants in author's notes.
Chapter 1- Foreshadowing Fate
Relaxing in the bath, Kaoru sank into the warm water until the ripples she made tickled her chin. Sighing, she opened her eyes and stared at the wall in front of her. Something had kept her jumpy all day, but she wasn't sure of what it was. It seemed to just be some unnerving feeling that wouldn't let go of her sanity. She shook her head to dismiss it; it was probably nothing, anyway.
For now she should enjoy the bath Kenshin had prepared for her. Kaoru blushed. Ever since he had first begun staying with her, he had always prepared the baths for her. It was some sort of unwritten rule in their lives; Kenshin prepared the baths, and Kaoru sat in there blushing while she thought of him. The reality was he was always sitting right outside the building, and he would jump in there if he had to.
That thought only brought a deeper blush to her cheeks, and she let her thoughts wander as she sunk into the water up past her lips, but not quite reaching her nose. Was that why he did this for her, constantly preparing her baths? To protect her? To be sure he knew where she was and that she didn't scald herself in hot water? Did he think she was going to cook herself?
Kaoru shot up quickly, slightly angered and then calming down. Of course Kenshin didn't think she'd do that!
She shot rim rod straight just as she was relaxing again, since she hadn't expected to hear the familiar voice. "Yes Kenshin?"
"Is everything all right?" he questioned her, worry tingeing his voice so slightly it was unnoticeable.
Well, unnoticeable to anyone who hadn't lived with Kenshin for as long as she had.
"Hai." She responded, trying to ease his worries over nothing. "It's wonderful."
"No. I meant are you all right? You've been on guard all day, that you have." He explained. "Is there a threat you haven't told me about, or is it something that's been bothering you?"
'Kenshin baka!' Kaoru thought, hoping he'd dismiss the subject after she answered him. 'Don't worry about me so much! Don't worry so much for that matter.'
"It's nothing, Kenshin, so don't worry, okay?"
She heard a sigh and could picture the stress on Kenshin's face since she refused to give him a clear answer.
"I can't help that, Kaoru-dono, that I can't."
Kaoru groaned. "Kenshin, you do realize that you worry too much and it's not good for your health or your mind? You're going to give yourself wrinkles from all the stress you insist on putting yourself under."
"Are you saying that I look old?" Kenshin asked, humor in his voice. "I don't believe I look old, that I don't."
"Kenshin baka! If I was out there I'd smack you over the head!" Kaoru shot back at him. "You don't even look as old as you really are now; you look so much younger it's not funny! I think I'm starting to believe Misao. Is the Hiten Mitsurugi some fountain of youth thing?"
"But tell me what's been bothering you, please Kaoru-dono." Kenshin stated. "It'll help you to tell someone."
"You should practice what you preach, Kenshin." Kaoru shot back. "I don't see you telling anyone what's bothering you, and I know that you're constantly..."
"Sessha should not burden you with his problems, Kaoru-dono, that he should not." Kenshin interrupted her.
Kaoru fisted her hands in the water. She had finally got him to quit saying sessha, and she'd been working on the whole -dono suffix, but he was so stubborn sometimes it was frustrating. Finally calming down, she responded.
"Kenshin, you know I'm not going to judge you. You can't expect people to trust you and tell you their problems if you can't share your own."
She could see him now, leaning back with a grin on his face and his hand behind his head in a nervous manner. "Sessha is not good with people, that he isn't!"
Fuming, Kaoru resisted the urge to grab her towel and go out there and pummel him to the ground. "Kenshin, what have I told you about calling yourself Sessha? Stop belittling yourself. Anyone who worries so much, does so much work and is so kind to everyone he meets is defiantly not a sessha."
"I'll try to remember your words, Kaoru-dono." He assured her. "But still, I do think you need to tell me what's bothering you. If it's a threat, I need to know so I can protect you."
She grinned at his care, and then shook her head. "You can't protect me from something I just feel, Kenshin. It's just been this feeling I've had all day, like something was going to happen and it was going to be a drastic thing."
"So I'm not the only one who's been having that feeling..." she heard him mutter to himself.
"You too Kenshin?" she questioned, quirking up in the bath. "It is something bad, do you think?"
There was a long pause before he responded. "I'm not sure, that I'm not. All I can say is to be safe; we should all be ready for anything, that we should."
Standing and wrapping her towel around herself, Kaoru stepped out of the bath and dried herself off. "Where did Yahiko disappear off to after practice, do you know?"
"I believe he went to the Akabeko to help Tae-dono and see Tsubame-chan, that he did." Kenshin answered. "And I'm pretty sure Sanosuke's having his hand checked again by Megumi-dono. He got in a fight last night and thinks he broke a few of his bones in the process."
She donned her yukata and tied it quickly, pulling her hair up to keep it from soaking the back of the flimsy material so much that it would cling to her. Stepping into her sandals, she opened the door and stepped out, nearly tripping on the step as she did. Why wasn't she paying attention to anything today?
"Sano should know better. He knows his hand isn't fully healed and he shouldn't be using it yet, especially with that Futae-no-kiwami." She answered, turning the bend to see Kenshin putting the fire out for her. "So it's just you and me tonight, huh?"
"All night I'm afraid, Kaoru-dono." Kenshin responded, looking at her. "Yahiko said he was going to stay with Tae-dono tonight so he wouldn't have to wake as early when he went to help in the morning. Seems she is holding a big party there and needs all the help she can get. And Sano promised me that tonight he'd be good and stay away from the gambling house and just go back to his place."
Kaoru looked at him quizzically. "And what's the reason for that?"
"Well, I'm afraid you don't realize that Sanosuke has been gambling off things from the dojo lately and I've had to get on his case. He tried gambling off Yahiko and my sword last night." Kenshin answered. "That's why I was gone this morning; I had to win my sword back."
"What about Yahiko?"
Kenshin shook his head. "Sano actually won that bet, that he did."
Rubbing the bridge of her nose, Kaoru sighed. "I'm going to have to give that freeloader a piece of my mind when he comes around tomorrow. You know he will be here by lunch, or at least dinner."
Kenshin had to agree with her there. Sano was bound to come by the next day for food, but none of them truly minded. Sano was a loyal friend, even if he did do stupid things sometimes just for the chance of winning a bet.
"Would you like me to clean the bathhouse or prepare dinner first, Kaoru-dono?"
"You do too much around here, Kenshin. Besides, Tae has been giving me cooking lessons... so do you think I could do the cooking tonight?" she pleaded with him. "I'll try and make something edible, I swear Kenshin!"
With that look, Kenshin found it hard to refuse her simple request. Besides, her food was edible... Sanosuke and Yahiko just exaggerated to get on her nerves. And unfortunately, they succeeded at that task, every single time.
"Of course Kaoru-dono."
She jumped up and squealed, giving Kenshin a quick hug before she ran back toward her room to change into a kimono. Kenshin spun around with the force of which she had used to leave and let go of him all at once, and finally regained his balance before turning his head toward the bathhouse.
'I wonder what this...thing is. Is this a warning of something to come? Maybe I should keep a better look on Kaoru tonight, that I should.' He thought to himself.
Kaoru bit her lip and scrunched her eyes up in concentration. Something was missing; she could tell that much by the way everything was boiling. There was something missing, and it was important. But what was it?
It hit her like a ton of bricks. Rushing to the door, her sandals clacking roughly with the wooden floors, she threw the shoji open. She had to be fast, or else her food would burn. And on her first night alone with Kenshin in what seemed like eternity, she wasn't going to let little mistakes like that ruin it. She'd been so preoccupied with her other thoughts and worries that she had completely forgotten this key ingredient.
She went to rush out, and found herself smacking into the chest of a very shocked rurouni, who's eyes were narrowed in concentration and then wide with shock. Kaoru stumbled backwards and gripped the side of the door tightly to break her fall, while Kenshin stumbled backwards, trying to hold a container in his hands without letting its precious contents tumble out. Miraculously he managed to regain his balance without spilling the simplistic treasure. His scowl came back to his face as he looked at her.
"What's wrong Kenshin?" Kaoru questioned, noting something had to be bothering him. He didn't give that particular scowl for no reason--- that death glare was reserved for only the most dangerous situations, most of which involved her, she realized with a blush.
Kenshin straightened and softened his serious composure somewhat. "I heard you shriek, Kaoru-dono, that I did. I was worried, plus I was on my way out here with the tofu, that I was."
"Kenshin no baka." She muttered, walking up to him and gently taking the tofu from his hands. "I didn't realize I had shrieked. I just realized I had forgotten the tofu and hoped to get it before my dinner..."
She didn't need to finish her sentence. Kenshin was already rushing into the kitchen to rescue and salvage what was to be left of their now inedible dinner. Kaoru let the tofu fall from her hands as she looked at the ground. Even after all this time with Kenshin, she still couldn't manage to even cook him a decent meal without it turning to a catastrophe. Most would just laugh the matter off, but to Kaoru it was something much more complex. Amongst the shouts of 'oro' that resounded from the room, she was positive Kenshin had already began planning to make a new meal. She hated depending on him that much.
All Kaoru wanted to do was cry.
If she wanted to think about it, her achievements could be counted on one hand, if even that. She bit back the urge to wail and instead found herself bolting off to her room to sit. To be alone and think about why she was so out of it that day. Something was bothering her, like an itch in the spot that you just couldn't reach. Except, this particular itch was underneath the skin, and it infested her entire body.
"Kaoru-dono, I'm going to start--- Kaoru-dono?" Kenshin questioned with a perplexed expression as he walked out of the kitchen. "Where'd she go?"
His better judgment screamed at him to go find her, to see what happened. But something made Kenshin remained rooted to the ground in front of the kitchen, looking toward the bedrooms of the Kamiya dojo. Fighting internally over if he should cook a new dinner or go find her was an oddly difficult decision. He didn't know which would be better at the moment.
Kenshin began to rub the back of neck subconsciously, as it was a habit. Had she been upset because of the ruined food? He hadn't found it such a bad thing, and ultimately the damage done to their meal hadn't been as bad as usual. The problem was that women were such confusing figures at times. When they were upset they wanted to be consoled, yet, they would bite your head off. Kenshin winced at the image his mind displayed for him. It wasn't pretty, and to put it cleanly, quite gory.
He snapped his fingers. He remembered something he had completely forgotten about. His mind had been completely directed at the strange feeling that had settled its self to rest in his gut, and most of the day had been going on at a whim. Unable to place his finger upon the problem, Kenshin had originally dismissed it. But when Kaoru had mentioned she had been feeling the same thing all day, and that had been her reason for her sudden jumpiness, he had been forced to think about it again. Maybe that was why the minor disaster in the kitchen had bothered her, if that was the case.
With a new found resolve, Kenshin found himself leaning his ear against Kaoru's shoji door. He couldn't hear any sobs from the room, but her ki clearly told him everything he needed to know. She was distressed. The drop in her attitude was a striking difference and it scared him. She was usually so lively.
His eyes narrowed. What if this foe he was facing now was an invisible one, aimed directly at Kaoru? He couldn't do anything for her if it was. He was already closer to her than he had originally resolved to be. That's what hurt the most, Kenshin decided. Usually, he'd have to be careful about what he did when she was upset, and he knew she expected more from him now. They'd been friends for almost a year and half, and yet he still had his boundaries. In the whole time he had known her, she had only had a few episodes like this one. And even then, he wasn't there for her. A wince befell his face. Those had been his fault, too.
Deciding finally that he couldn't wait around for someone else to talk to her like he normally would, Kenshin left to his room to retrieve the few things he would need.
Kaoru lifted her head. It felt like a weight but she ignored it. "Yes Kenshin?" she winced. Her fake cheeriness hadn't been very convincing and she realized that.
"Please excuse Sessha, but could sessha please come in?"
She closed her fingers into tight fists and then clenched her teeth. He was feeling guilty about asking to come check on her. Why? She had already gotten on his case that day for saying sessha, and now wasn't the time she needed to deal with his guilt.
"Kenshin, don't belittle yourself. And yes, you can come in. Don't be so shy to ask." Kaoru said. She blushed momentarily, realizing she had just given him full permission to enter her room at will.
Staying in her position of leaning against the wall with her knees drawn to her chin, and the yukata she had changed into somewhat revealing more than it should, she continued looking with unfocused eyes at the wall in front of her. She could hear Kenshin open the door, and then shut it. She could feel how hesitant he was to be in here, and it obviously didn't help that it was just them in the dojo that night. She blinked a few times as she saw his chest directly in front of her face.
"Here Kaoru-dono." He said, handing her over a plate. "I remembered I had bought this cake. I hope it makes you feel better."
Hesitantly she drew her eyes up and away from her line drive vision of his chest and stopped at the plate Kenshin was holding. She did love cake, and she had to admit that she wasn't allowed to eat it that often because of the lack of money around the dojo. It was hard to feed four people when the only pay they received was from the odd jobs thrown to Kenshin from the police department, Yahiko's limited pay from his extra work at the Akabeko, Kaoru's money from training at other dojos, and on extremely rare occasions, money Sano won at gambling. The problem was, the poor guy got so excited that he won that he'd splurge and lose it all again before he could do anything with it.
If she didn't accept it, she knew Kenshin would only worry more. She could feel her arms shake as she lifted her hand up to take the plate, and immediately hated herself for it. Kenshin would start to wonder. And her assumption couldn't have been anymore correct.
With a burst of unexpected boldness, Kenshin had wrapped his hand around hers to steady the plate.
She shook her head. "No."
Kenshin gave her a soft look before he removed the plate of cake from her hands and held her hands palm up so she could see what he was doing. "You're hands are cold, Kaoru-dono. You're cold."
He folded her hands shut and attempted to warm them within his own, his full concentration positioned on getting the chill out of her body. She didn't say anything as she watched him rub the warmth back into the frigid, useless, calloused hands of hers. She blinked again, but this time to hide her tears. Calloused hands. They were a testament to her pride in her swordsmanship; yet, soft hands signified a graceful woman. She could not attest to such a title now. Sometimes, that upset her.
"Don't worry about dinner, Kaoru-dono." She heard him say. "I'm not upset."
She bit her lip. "You weren't expecting anything from me, were you?"
The way she had said it bit at him, and he stop his attempt at warming her hands. They had been warmed a while back, but he couldn't bring himself to stop. It seemed to be calming her, and that was what he had wanted. But even as he refrained from the warming process, he let her hands remain in his grasp.
"It's not that, Kaoru-dono." He stated, gently setting his elbows upon her knees to try and draw them down and put her in a more comfortable position of her legs crossing over each other as she sat. After doing that, he himself did the same thing, and he dropped their hands onto her lap. "I understand you're mind wasn't on the cooking. It was on something different, like mine has been."
She let her gaze drop to their joined hands on her lap, and Kaoru was far past taking the time to blush anymore. She could only nod.
"Is something else bothering you?" Kenshin questioned, craning his neck to the side in an attempt to get a better look at her. 'Come on Kaoru, what aren't you telling me? Why aren't you telling me? Do you really feel like you have to keep this side of you locked away?'
She looked at him, trying to force the smile that she always had for him. Megumi had told her it was the best medicine for Kenshin, and right now she could think of nothing more to do to ease his sudden fears. Kenshin shook his head.
"No. You told me I didn't have to pretend to be happy when I was around you, so why can't you do the same with me, Kaoru-dono? When you do that, you only worry me more, that you do. And if what you said earlier was true, then I will grow wrinkles right here and now." He said.
Kaoru quirked a strange, somewhat amused grin. "I see one right there." She said, lifting her hand out of his and pointing right above his eyebrow. "I think it's a big, deep one too."
Kenshin's hand that wasn't still holding her other one flew to his forehead. "Oh dear. You don't suppose that Megumi-dono would have something I could use to get rid of this, do you? I don't wish to look old, that I don't."
"I think you'd look young even with gray hair and wrinkles, Kenshin." She said, trying to suppress the giggles that threatened to spill. "And I think that you have a gray hair, too."
Kenshin's eyes widened before a smile filled out his face. "Seems that I've worried so much I've gone past wrinkles and straight to gray hair."
She smiled at him. "How about that cake, Kenshin?"
Author's Notes: Well... that's chapter one. Hope you enjoyed.