Disclaimer :
Rurouni Kenshin is the property of Nobuhiro Watsuki, Shonen Jump, Viz, and Sony Productions.

Author's Notes : I'm terribly sorry for the lack of updates in the past few months. I hope you enjoy this chapter and you should expect the following final two installments to be posted soon. Thanks for reading this and staying with me until the end. I really have appreciated all your encouragement. Thank you so much again! ::hugs all her readers and Happy New Year 2005::




Chapter 24 : Sapphires

"Sir . . this is . ."

Kaoru abruptly looked over at Kenshin, who was at her side driving. This wasn't the way back towards the Seijuro estate. Where could he be going?

She watched and saw a small smile appeared on the young man's lips as he kept his eyes on the road ahead of them. The woman raised an amused eyebrow in response and turned to look outside the window once more. Seeing this entirely new side of Kenshin was a surprise to Kaoru. She didn't know what to think. Was this the same person? She remembered what the man had said to her mother at the time in the mental health clinic.

"Until now, I've only brought your daughter pain. But from now on I will never hurt her or give her a hard time. I will take care of her. I promise."

Did he mean it?

After another thirty minutes or so of driving, the two found themselves in the city once again on the streets of the Shijo shopping district. Kaoru found her eyes glued to the window. All the hustle and bustle of the people roaming the sidewalks with bags and boxes heightened her excitement. It had been so long since she had come to this area. It reminded her of the few times that her mother and her would come to the place to go shopping. Finally, the car came to a stop in front of a department store.

Kaoru silently looked over at Kenshin, her eyes questioning why they were there.

Feeling her eyes on him, he turned around. A playful smirk appeared on the man's face as he looked at her. "What's wrong? Let's get out."

"Yes, sir . . but where are we going?"

The young man flinched a bit when he heard 'sir' once again. For some reason, the way she addressed him always felt like a sign of rejection. He sighed as he shook the feeling away. "Just leave today to me and try to fix the way you talk." Without giving her any more of a response, he unbuckled his seatbelt and got out of the car.

The girl nodded her head reluctantly and began to make her way outside. Exactly what is he thinking?, she wondered to herself.

Kenshin took a deep breath of air as he stepped outside. It had been a long time since he had felt this comfortable, this kind of freedom. He looked over at Kaoru who had just gotten out and a ghost of a smile played on his lips. He remembered the promise that he made Kaoru's mother. He meant it. He never wanted to cause her pain again.

Without saying a word, Kenshin grabbed Kaoru's hand and led her to the department store. The young woman was too shocked to say anything. When they walked inside, the first thing that Kenshin noticed was that everyone seemed to stare at them.

"Isn't that an Armani suit?" a voice whispered from the side.

"Who are they?" another person asked.

"Could they be famous?"

Kenshin looked down at his clothes and for the first time he realized how out of place the two of them seemed to be. He had never before worn anything other than a suit when going out of the house. And the fact that everyone else around them was donned in casual clothes made the two of them stand out more than usual.

Kaoru shrunk back a little as she felt all those piercing gazes upon her. It reminded her of the time when she had met Kenshin in the club, the night when she discovered just to what extent her father's debt would cost her. Her grip on Kenshin's hand loosened at the memory.

He looked at her in a questioning manner and gently squeezed her hands, thinking that she was intimidated by all the stares. Kaoru looked up at him as he did so and found herself dismissing her earlier thoughts. Then, Kenshin led her deeper within the store towards the clothing section and let go of her hand so that he could sift through the clothes. Soon afterwards, he picked out a light gray sweater and jeans.

"Try this on," he said.

Kaoru looked at the man, utterly confused by his actions. Awhile ago, Kenshin would have never allowed her to be seen wearing casual type clothing, but now he was taking her shopping to buy some? She hesitantly took the pair of jeans and sweater from his hands and walked to the dressing room.

As she got dressed, a thought crossed her mind. Maybe he's changing? She shook her head at the absurd thought. Kaoru walked outside when she was fully changed. She looked at herself in the full-size mirror and smiled. Surprisingly, the outfit that Kenshin had picked out for her matched her very well. The soft gray color contrasted well against her raven-black hair and seemed to bring out her blue eyes.

"It looks good."

Kaoru's eyes widened and she abruptly turned around. She hadn't expected Kenshin to be standing behind her. But instead of responding, she found herself staring at him. Instead of the Armani suit he had been wearing previously, Kenshin was now in a dark blue cashmere knit sweater and khakis. He looked unexpectedly good in these kinds of clothes. It gave off a different feeling from when he wore the suit or school uniform.

Meanwhile, Kenshin stood in front of the mirror and stared at himself, feeling a little awkward at his new look. He wasn't quite sure if he liked it or not, but when he looked up and saw the bright expression on Kaoru's face through the reflection in the mirror, he smiled. Maybe wearing these casual clothes wouldn't be so bad after all, he affirmed.

Kenshin decided that they would wear the clothes that they had tried on for the rest of the day so that they wouldn't stand out in the crowd like before. While paying for it, he noticed that Kaoru's mood had lightened noticeably since earlier that morning. For some reason, he felt incredibly elated when seeing that. Kenshin took her hand and then headed towards a small accessory shop across the street.

He snuck a glance at her through the corner of his eyes as they walked into the store. What would she like? A necklace or a ring?, he wondered to himself. Kenshin looked through the glass casings at the impressive array of diamonds, rubies, and other precious gems. His lavender eyes finally fixated upon a pair of sapphire earrings.

Beautiful, he thought to himself. The jewels reminded him of Kaoru's blue eyes.

"May I help you, sir?" An older woman with curly dark hair and a bright smile greeted them from behind the counter.

"Yes, I'd like to see this," Kenshin said as he pointed to the pair of earrings behind the glass case.

The saleslady saw what he was pointing to and widened her eyes in surprise. "Oh, you have good taste, sir. This is quite a rare one. There were only two pairs of these earrings made and this happens to be the very last one left." She carefully took out the earrings and placed them on the counter.

Kenshin picked one up and placed it against Kaoru's ear. It suited her well, even better than he had imagined.

"Oh my! It looks very nice on her. These earrings are for her I presume?" the woman said with a knowing smile.

"Yes," Kenshin said as he smiled in satisfaction.

Kaoru looked at him in surprise and shook her head. She couldn't accept such an expensive gift. "No . . no, sir. I . ."

"It's nothing. It's a gift so just accept it."

". . . ."

"Hmm . . you'll have to get your ears pierced. Don't worry, it'll only sting for a second."

The woman at the counter smiled reassuringly. "Yes, don't worry, dear. It will only take a second to do. Please come this way." She gestured towards the seat near the back of the store and Kaoru made her way there and sat on the stool. She wasn't sure what to do, she didn't want such an expensive gift but she had no say because of Kenshin's obstinacy.

After the two of them left the store, Kenshin looked at the sapphire that now adorned her ear. "Are you okay?"

Kaoru who had been lost in her own thoughts hadn't heard him. "Excuse me?"

Kenshin pointed to the earring.

"Oh . . it just stings a little, sir."

The man grimaced as he heard her response. "I told you to fix the way you talk."

". . . . ."

Kenshin sighed sadly when he saw that she wasn't going to respond. Maybe it was too much to ask of her so soon. He started to walk faster as he felt a little dispirited. "Let's go. I have one more place I want to show you."

"Where is Himura-san? He couldn't possibly have forgotten could he?" Soujiro fretted as he looked at his watch for the hundredth time that day.

"It's possible if it's Himura," Aoshi remarked.

Soujiro looked over at Sanosuke who sat on the couch with his eyes blankly staring at the television in front of him. Sanosuke's mood had been down ever since his confession with Kaoru and there was nothing that Soujiro could do to cheer him up. And the fact that Kenshin had taken Kaoru out in the morning and may have forgotten their get well party for Kaoru only seemed to make it worse.

Ding Dong

Misao widened her eyes as she sat up in her seat. "Could it be Kaoru-san?" she whispered aloud.

Sanosuke came out of his trance and quickly got up to open the door. His heartbeat quickened at the thought of seeing her again after that day. He hastily unlatched the lock and opened the door.

"It took you long enough to open the door, rooster-head."

A hint of disappointment shone in Sanosuke's brown eyes when he saw it was Megumi, but he quickly hid it with a smile. "It's nice of you to come, Megumi."

Megumi looked at him suspiciously. Usually Sanosuke would return her jabs with his own, but for some reason he didn't seem to be that energetic lately. Even that time when she saw him on the street the other day, he seemed to be depressed.

"Oh Takani-san, I didn't know that you were coming," Soujiro greeted from within the living room.

Megumi smiled. "I met this rooster-head yesterday while running an errand and he told me about Kaoru-san's party." She paused to look at her watch. "Although . . I thought I was going to be late. Is Kaoru-san not here yet?"

Soujiro's smile faltered. "No, Kamiya-san isn't here yet. Apparently, Himura-san took her out in the morning."

Megumi raised an eyebrow, amused by the prospect that the Himura Kenshin could possibly have a love interest in the patient from before. "I see."

Sanosuke clenched his hands together and grimaced when he heard the implications behind Megumi's suggestive tones. It wasn't possible, was it?

"There it is."

Kaoru looked towards where Kenshin was pointing. Her eyes widened with pleasant surprise. It was a dojo. Students both young and old were going in and out of the building dressed in a dark blue gi and hakama. Even from the outside, they could hear the loud cheering and applause of the audience and the sharp clashing of wood on wood. Kaoru's heartbeat quickened in excitement, there was possibly a tournament going on inside. They walked into the dojo and were greeted with sounds of different matches going on at the moment.

"Men!" Someone from the floor yelled.

Clap clap clap

"Let's find a seat," Kenshin suggested as he took her hand in his.

Kaoru nodded her head in agreement and they pushed through the crowds of people until they found a seat close enough to the main floor where the opponents were fighting one another. As Kaoru watched the match, she found herself reminiscing about the matches that both her father and her would have in their own dojo a long time ago. A small smile crept up on her face as she thought about it. Her father was always harsh on her when it came to kendo, but it definitely paid off in the end when she was able to win against the other students almost effortlessly.

Her smile faltered instantly as she remembered what her position was. Her gaze flickered over to Kenshin who was sitting next to her. Now that she was with him, would it be possible to ever do kendo again?

Feeling her eyes on him, Kenshin looked over, his lavender eyes displaying both happiness and excitement at watching the matches. "Is something wrong?"

"No, sir . ."

Kenshin studied her face and an idea came across his mind. "My father has a training area in one of the lower levels of our house. You're welcome to use it, Kamiya."

Kaoru widened her eyes in disbelief. "Really?"

Kenshin chuckled. "Yes."

The two of them turned their attention back to watching the match. Time passed by quickly and soon the tournament was down to its final matches. As Kaoru sat and watched, she remembered the time when Kenshin had fought the kendo teacher at camp. She looked over at him. "That time at camp . . why did you let the teacher win?" Kaoru asked, her questioning blue eyes looking into Kenshin's violet ones.

The young man stopped, surprised that she initiated a conversation. As he processed the question in his mind, a small playful smirk came across his lips. "You noticed?"

Kaoru nodded her head.

"You're better trained in kendo than I thought. The average person would not have seen it."

When the young woman heard his comment, she couldn't help but feel her cheeks heat up a little.

"That time at camp, if the teacher had lost against a student such as me, wouldn't it have looked badly upon him? If I had won, the class wouldn't have taken the teacher seriously."

"Oh." She furrowed her brows as she remembered what had happened that time. The answer was so obvious, yet she didn't see it. The thought that Himura Kenshin would actually concede to someone had just seemed out of the question to her at the time.

It was then that a group of older kendoists came to sit next to her. She felt one of them eyeing her and she unconsciously shifted closer to Kenshin. The other man beamed menacingly as he looked at the young woman.

"Wow, you're real pretty. If I win a match for you, would you give me a kiss?"

Kaoru jerked her head up quickly at the unexpected voice and found herself looking at an older kendo student who was smiling rather lewdly at her. The man was about to reach out and touch her hair when Kenshin grabbed his wrist and glared at him.

"Don't even think about touching her."

The other man broke away from Kenshin's vice grip and turned around, his face flushed with anger. "What the hell? Are you saying that you own her hair or something?"

Kenshin's jaw tightened and he clenched his hand into a strong fist. It seemed as if he would attack the other man at any second.

Kaoru was shocked by Kenshin's reaction and quickly went over to block him. "I'm sorry. He's in a bad mood, please understand," she apologized to the other. She hastily got up and grabbed onto Kenshin's hand and began to pull him out of the place. With a dumbfounded look, the other man stared at the both of them as they walked away.

When the two of them left the main area, Kaoru quickly let go of Kenshin's hand. She was about to ask him whether or not he was okay when she saw that he quickened his pace and began walking ahead of her. She bit her lower lip and decided to catch up to him. "Oof." The young woman had been so lost in her thoughts that she didn't watch where she was going and had accidentally run into another person. "I'm sorry."

"No, it's all right," the other replied.

Kaoru looked up and noticed how tall the other man was in comparison to her. But before she could give it any more thought, she remembered that Kenshin was already a few paces ahead of her. She gave a quick bow to the person she had run into and hurried off.

The other man stood there blankly and stared at Kaoru's figure which was quickly becoming more and more distant. White face, blue eyes, long raven-black hair. There was something about her.

"Hey Yukishiro-sempai!!" someone called from afar. "Why are you so late?"

Enishi turned around with a slightly surprised look on his face. He seemed to have forgotten where he was for a moment. A small smile appeared on his face as he saw another younger boy run towards him. "Aha . . sorry about that, Yahiko."

"Your match is next. Are you ready?"

"Of course."

When the two of them finally got inside the car, Kaoru felt herself release a breath that she hadn't known she had been holding.


Kaoru looked over at Kenshin in surprise. She hadn't expected for him to apologize. "No, it's all right, sir."

"I was trying to make you feel better, but . ."

". . . I had fun today. Thank you, sir." Kenshin turned his head when he heard Kaoru's upbeat voice. The smile on her face came into his view. He couldn't believe it. She was smiling at him. It was a smile towards him and not another person.

"R-really? I'm glad you had a good time." A bright smile filled Kenshin's face and that smile stayed on his face throughout the entire drive back home.

The next day at school

Soujiro stood next to the Kenshin's locker and waited for him to arrive to school. Yesterday had been a disaster. The main guest of the party never showed up and no one was able to get a hold of Kenshin. Soujiro frowned at the memory. It was then that he saw a familiar red-headed figure walking down the hall.


Kenshin who had been in a blissful state since yesterday looked up in shock at the unwelcome sound. He wondered why the other seemed to be so upset.

"Do you remember what yesterday was?" Soujiro narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms as he waited for a response.


"Yes. Yesterday, Himura-san."

"Yesterday was . ." A thought suddenly crossed Kenshin's mind and his face grew pale. Kaoru's party. He looked over at Soujiro sheepishly. "Ah, Soujiro . ."

"It looks like you remember now."

Kenshin scratched the back of his head guiltily. "Sorry, I forgot."

Soujiro's blue eyes flared. "Forget, Himura-san? Do you know how much trouble both Sagara-san and I went through by getting everything ready? We tried calling you, but couldn't even get a hold of you. Why did you have your cell phone turned off? Both Makimachi-san and Shinomori-san informed us that you went out early in the morning. It's almost as if you had everything planned. What is going on?"

". . . ."

Seeing that Kenshin wasn't going to respond, Soujiro shook his head. "Forget it, Himura-san. I don't want to know what kind of excuses you will come up with."

At that moment, Soujiro saw Kaoru come towards them. She looked different that day, but he couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was.

"Good morning, Kamiya-san," the boy said with a bright smile.

"Hello, sir."

Right then, he noticed something shining around Kaoru's ear. He leaned in closer. "Did you get your ears pierced, Kamiya-san?" As he examined it further, he saw that it was a bright sapphire gem. "It's pretty."

Kaoru blushed. "Thank you, sir."

"It really fits you. Where did you buy it at?"

"A jewelry store at Shinjiko," Kenshin answered for her.

Soujiro looked over at Kenshin. "Shinjiko Shopping District? Hmm. . ." The blue-eyed man looked back at the earring adorning Kaoru's ear. His eyes widened slightly in understanding. Kamiya-san couldn't afford such lavish jewelry. Then Himura-san must have . .

Soujiro looked back at Kenshin in disbelief. "Did you . . buy this for Kamiya-san?" He watched his friend's reaction steadily and saw a soft smile pass by his face.

After school

"Have you heard anything I've said, Soujiro?" Sanosuke groaned, tapping his fingers on the ledge of the table.

"Huh?" Soujiro who was sitting absent-mindedly on the sofa, woke up from his thoughts. He looked over at his friend and saw that he seemed to be waiting for an answer.

"What are you thinking about?" the other pressed when he saw the contemplating look on Soujiro's face.

"I . . umm . . nothing, Sagara-san. What did you say earlier?" A masked smile came in place again.

"When did they say they were going to come?"

"Ah . . Himura-san said that they would be here around seven."

Sanosuke looked up at the clock on the opposite wall. It was 6:50. "They'll be here soon then." He got up and went to the kitchen to prepare the food.

Soujiro watched Sanosuke silently from the living room.

Earlier that day

Soujiro approached Kenshin and pulled him aside as soon as the classes ended. He wasn't sure exactly what the red-headed man was up to, but he didn't want to see Kaoru get hurt again.

"Himura-san, what are your feelings towards Kamiya-san?" Soujiro's blue eyes searched his friend's lavender ones to see what his response would be. To his surprise, Kenshin didn't flinch nor did he look away.

"I can't sum up all of my feelings for her with just one word. I just know that I want to take care of her. I want to make her happy. Even when I look at her, I can't control the happiness that rises inside. I want to protect her and be able to embrace her. I want to give back that joyful smile on her face again. This isn't just a fleeting feeling and it isn't out of curiosity. I want to stay true to the feelings I have now for her. I won't ever hurt her again.

I just want to be with her."

"Himura-san." Soujiro looked at him, stunned by his response. It was the first time he heard Kenshin express his feelings with such sincerity.

"The path that I chose, I don't care how other people will look at it, but I want to do this no matter what the outcome will be in the end. I will never regret my decision to be with her."

Hearing his words, Soujiro was at a loss for what to say. Kenshin's lavender eyes displayed such genuineness and firm will. Every word that flowed out from his mouth was expressing his feelings towards Kaoru. He was completely serious.


Soujiro blinked when he saw that all the lights were suddenly turned off. He looked towards the side and saw Sanosuke come in with a cake balanced within his hands.

"How is it?" Even though it was dark, Soujiro could see that Sano's smile looked sad.

"It looks good, Sagara-san," he said, a little too cheerfully.

Sanosuke set down the cake on the table and sat down. "It's too bad that Misao and Aoshi couldn't make it today."

"Yes . . ."

". . . ."

"Umm . . . Sagara-san . ." Soujiro called hesitantly. He wasn't sure whether or not he should forewarn his friend about Kenshin and Kaoru. How would Sano take it?

"You don't need to say anything, Soujiro. I don't like these kinds of awkward moods either." Sano opened his mouth as if he knew how the other felt. Except for lunch time at school, that day was going to be the first time that he was going to see Kaoru again. He was nervous, but he firmly made up his mind to treat Kaoru the way he always used to . . . as a friend.

And nothing more.

He clenched his hands together as his head drooped down. But if it would make her comfortable, it was the least that he could do.

Ding dong

"Ara? They must be here already," Soujiro announced as he got up out of the couch. Sanosuke looked up from the chair and towards the entrance. His heart was beating so quickly that he thought it would burst.


"You go in first," Kenshin said as he motioned for Kaoru to walk inside. The blue-eyed woman nodded and slowly opened the door to step in.

" . . . ?"

All Kaoru saw was darkness around her. She was about to ask Kenshin what was going on when she heard a loud noise.

Pop! Pop!

Kaoru jumped a little at the sudden, sharp sound.

"It's a little late, but congratulations on your release from the hospital, Kamiya-san." Soujiro smiled brightly as he looked at her.

Kaoru blushed and returned his smile. Then she looked to the side and saw Sanosuke with a large cake in his hands. There was a large grin on his face as he welcomed her. She smiled back while the other two stood to the side and clapped.

". . Thank you." She felt indescribably grateful towards them and her eyes began to fill with tears. Even in her situation, she was able to make such wonderful friends. Kaoru looked up at Sano who was now only a few mere inches away from her and her heart ached. As she looked at him, his smile faltered slightly and his mask fell. Even though it was for a moment, she saw the tinge of pain in his brown eyes, but there was nothing she could do about it.

Sano saw the look in her eyes and quickly dismissed it. He didn't want her to feel any pity for him. "Hurry up and blow the candles out, jou-chan. You don't want the wax to melt onto the cake," he chided playfully so to dissipate the awkward mood between them.

Kaoru swallowed back her thoughts and blew out the candles.

"Great!" Sano exclaimed, setting down the cake. After turning on the lights, he walked towards the cupboards in the kitchen and took out a few glasses. "We have to have a drink on such a good day like this! Don't you agree, Soujiro?" The other man looked over at his friend and flashed a smile.

"Yeah . . yeah . . of course." Soujiro saw that Sano was trying to act cheerful in front of Kaoru and could only feel sympathy for him. He's going to find out about Himura-san and Kamiya-san sooner or later . .

Sanosuke brought over the drinks and the four of them sat around the table and lifted their glasses in the air. "Cheers!"

Before Kaoru could bring the glass up to her mouth, Kenshin leaned over and whispered to her. "You don't have to drink if you don't want."

Soujiro watched the two of them, surprised by the action. He shot a quick glance at Sanosuke and to his relief saw that the other was occupied with his wine glass and most likely did not see what had happened. As the time ticked on, the blue-eyed man began to feel edgy about the situation. He wondered when Sano would find out.

"Sagara-san, would you mind getting me another drink?" Soujiro asked pleasantly, hoping to break the cumbersome tension in the room.

Sanosuke grinned. "Sure." He got up and made his way to the kitchen once more. As he was pouring the wine into the glass, his thoughts shifted back to Kaoru. It was becoming harder and harder to pretend as if nothing had happened between them. His heart was aflame with rampant feelings and he didn't know what to do about it. He told himself hundreds if not thousands of times after his confession that he shouldn't be like this. That he shouldn't feel that way about her. But the more he did that, his feelings for Kaoru only seemed to grow.

What's wrong with me?, he berated himself. Snap out of it, Sagara!

"Sagara-san, are you okay there?" Soujiro called out from the living room.

Sano snapped out of his thoughts. "Yeah," he called back.

He came out of the kitchen a few seconds later with Soujiro's drink in his hand. "Here you go, Soujiro."

"Thanks, Sagara-san. I was afraid that you were back there drinking all that was left." Soujiro said good-naturedly.

Sano laughed. But as he laughed, he felt his eyes moving towards Kaoru's direction. Almost as if it were natural for him to do so. Right then, he saw something shining behind her hair. He squinted his eyes slightly and saw that it was an earring. A sapphire earring. The color went well with her.

"Jou-chan . . your earring."

As the words spilled forth from Sano's lips, Soujiro felt himself cringe mentally. The time had finally come.

"It's pretty . . . it looks good."

"Thank you, sir."

After a long pause, Sano moved onto a different topic and started to talk again. He tried to talk as calmly as possible, but for some reason he was struggling with it. When Kenshin and Kaoru finally left, Sanosuke weakly collapsed onto the couch. His shoulders slumped forward and his head drooped down. Soujiro carefully sat on the edge of the sofa and looked at him not knowing what to say to comfort him. A resulting heavy silence blanketed the room.

"I . . . I knew about it," Sanosuke started, his eyes looking down at his hands.

". . . . ?"

"Kaoru and Kenshin . . . . I vaguely felt it, but . . but I saw it clearly today." He looked up from his hands and at Soujiro who sat next to him.

"S-Sagara-san. . ."

Sanosuke threw his head back and laughed. "Ha, it's obvious. The way that Kenshin and Kaoru have been . . you think I wouldn't have noticed it by now?" He smiled bitterly as he looked at his friend and then lowered his head.

"Kaoru . . Kaoru's going to be happy, right?"

". . She will be . ."

Soujiro gently pulled Sano's shoulder and hugged him. Soujiro's clothes that Sano's face was touching slowly began to get damp. After a few minutes, Sanosuke looked up and wiped away his remaining tears. A small smile appeared on his face as he turned towards his friend.

"You better not tell anyone about this, Soujiro," he threatened playfully.

Soujiro grinned. "Of course not, Sagara-san."

Kaoru's mood wasn't as cheerful as before on the way home. Sanosuke had always been energetic and friendly in front of her. Because he had acted like nothing had happened at the party, she was able to forget about the day he confessed. She looked over at Kenshin and a sad air came over her. Can I be happy knowing that someone is in pain because of me?

Feeling that something was wrong, Kenshin looked over at the girl and lightly took her hand in his own. As she felt the warmth of his touch, she smiled.

The next day at school

Kenshin looked at his watch and began walking towards the rooftop. Earlier that day, Sanosuke confronted him and told him that he wanted to meet him after class. He had an idea of what the meeting was going to be about. When he opened the door, he found Sano leaning against the wall. His ruffian type hair was even more disheveled than usual and his arms were crossed with his head down. He had changed a lot since he first came to Kyoto.

Kenshin watched his friend with sympathy. They had been the best of friends before Kaoru and now they seemed to be torn apart.

As the minutes passed, Kenshin saw that Sano wasn't going to say anything and so he decided to talk first. "What is it that you want to say to me?"

". . ." Sanosuke looked up at the other man blankly, unable to put his thoughts into adequate enough words.

"Sano . ." Kenshin said with a hint of annoyance in his voice.

"Kaoru . ." the other murmured in a low voice. Kenshin's anger immediately dissipated while he waited for the other to continue.

Sanosuke looked levelly into Kenshin's lavender eyes and spoke in a calm and serious voice. "If you bother or hurt Kaoru, I won't forgive you. Remember that."

". . ." Kenshin looked down, feeling sympathetic to the other man. Sano . . you like her.

The spiky-haired man frowned when he saw that Kenshin wasn't answering. "Why aren't you answering?" he pressed.

The other man looked up at him and with a resolute look on his face responded. "Nothing like that will happen. I won't ever hurt her again. If indeed that does happen, I wouldn't be able to forgive myself."

Sanosuke saw the confidence and gravity of his words in his eyes and smiled softly. "All right, I hope that feeling won't change."

"It won't," he said firmly.

Sano grinned and lightly hit the other in the shoulder in a friendly manner. "That's good. That's all I want to know." He shoved his hands in his pockets and opened the door. For some reason, hearing Kenshin say those words made him feel a little better.

As he walked down the stairs, he heard the click of the door from the bottom.

"Jou-chan . ." Sanosuke stopped as he saw her make her way upstairs.

Kaoru saw him and her eyes shifted to her feet. "Hello, sir."

Sano smiled. "Oi, didn't I tell you that 'sir' makes me uncomfortable? How many times do I have to tell you that?"

The woman bit her lower lip as she searched for something to say.

Sanosuke sighed and shook his head. "Well, if you're looking for Kenshin, he'll be coming in a second." He gestured behind him and then began to continue to walk further downstairs.

As Kaoru felt him pass by her, she turned around on her heels. "Sagara-san!"

Sanosuke stopped in his tracks and turned around, surprised by her sudden outburst.

Saddened blue eyes looked at him. "Sagara-san, I'm really . . I'm really sorry." Kaoru clenched her hands together in front of her as she faced him.

Sano smiled reassuringly. "As long as you're happy, jou-chan. That's what matters."

Kaoru smiled back.

"You know," Sano started, "it goes really well with you."

". . . ?"

"That earring . . Kenshin has good taste." I know by seeing that he has chosen you. The spiky-haired man gazed at the young woman's face for a moment longer before turning back.






- To be continued

Added Notes about Chapter :

1.) Shijo Street Shopping - The area from the river west to Karasuma-dori, roughly bordered by Shijo-dori (4th Street) and Oike-dori is where Kyoto's main shopping streets are located. In addition to the great department stores and the enormous number of small shops and specialty stores, there are major arcades. The arcades are covered roads from which cars and vehicles are banned - making it easy to walk and window shop regardless of the weather. The covered arcades are on Kyogoku-dori and Shinkyogoku-dori between Shijo-dori and Sanjo-dori (4th and 3rd Streets) as well as in Teramachi-dori between Shijo-dori and Oike-dori.

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