"her song is made of lullabies, of
rhapsodies of ocean eyes, and
someone listen, before it's gone
her voice is the sound of silence. . ."

. notes . First version of Her Voice was eight parts; condensed it into two. I now perceive the original in utter shame, but sincerely thank those who supported it. Tried to maintain the discrete assets of the original, and switched the point-of-view from first to third.

. warnings .
Character death, angst—very much like 'Will You Remember Me Forever'. However, this one not only switches roles, but its essence resides in, not memory, but the bittersweet sorrow that comes when one opens the soul to another...the agony of hoping, the happiness of never knowing how.

winter . acacia

>>

. H e r . V o i c e .

>>

I

There were times where he had wondered, times he had remembered, times he had found himself wishing.

He wandered the streets, salty air raking through long mahogany strands. She was there—she was everywhere— the brightness of her smile in the blur of blank faces; sapphire eyes in the folds of the river; ethereal raven-blue tendrils in the blossoms of spring—sugary-salt scent ravishing the ocean air. She never existed; she was there, always there, had always been there where he strayed. Distant. He reached out. Touched nothing but the breeze she left behind.

It had been years since he had returned to this seaside town, but it had changed. Had somehow become a skeletal image of all that once was whole: its lively spirit, its dance that had once been thrilled with life—instead the sunken sockets of the gaze that disappeared. He watched from afar, from the sky, from the heavens, as he approached the ocean's mesmerizing waves. Folded with memories, receding, closing on the sand, pulling back, temptingly, tantalizingly. The foamy white bubbled crisply at its edges: closing in, sharply pulling back, hazily fading along the edges, like a photograph burning.

It was her.

He collapsed into her embrace. His clothes were dampened, matted to his skin, pushing against a heart that had been empty for so long—her thin shoulder against his chest, hair spilling about his own, fingers brushing his face and the whisper of comfort on her lips. He sat with her a while; rocked back and forth, back and forth in the rhythm of her caress. There was something he had been missing for a while...something he had been missing for a long, long time.

>>

He had found her during summertime.

She had been tucked in its recesses, invisible; forsaken by the very shadows she struggled to conceal herself underneath. Her frail body had been cupped in a kimono much to large for her, gingerly splaying across pale skin; ripped and bleeding, eyes closed as she lay unconscious on the ocean shore. The waters splashed along her feet, threatening to sweep her away into the depths of their embrace; her face peppered in dry salt, raven-blue tresses sprawled over the delicate features of her face. He turned her fragile body over in capable hands.

She was beautiful.

He held her lips with his as he steadily exhaled into her throat, her body limp in his arms as he gently wrapped her in his gi. Thin fingers wrapped themselves around his wrist as he stopped, startled at her touch. She awoke without opening her eyes. "Are you all right?" he asked tenderly. "The young miss should be seeking help, she must—" he exclaimed mid-sentence.

Something broke within her. Lashed out, hurling his hand away with her own, writhing from his touch—shuddering from his voice, screaming with incoherent cries. Her frightened eyes had been wide open, flaring with an unseen defiance, as she tumbled forward into the sand at her side. The azure of her eyes the cerulean of the bottomless ocean—blank and expressionless, staring into a place somewhere beyond the sky, beyond the heavens, beyond the graying clouds; blistered heels scraping uncertainly across the sand.

She was blind.

He held out his arms as she shrieked, spinning helplessly about, collapsing into his arms as she dangerously swayed on her feet. Her fist stuck his face until it nearly bled, his lip bruised with the effort of holding her, stuttered words attempting to calm her picketing terror. His hands, as they slowly slid around her waist, steered her closer to him so she could hold on to a stable surface; keeping her steady. A stranger. She saw only darkness.

She reached out for his hand. Ran the tenderness of tentative hands on his calloused palm, fingering the scars and pained memories. She held her breath, wrapped her fingers comfortably on his, eliciting his blush and guilty praise for the fact that she had lost the ability to see him.

"You must return home," he told her after recovering himself. "I will aid you in finding it if you need someone, but—you must—return to your family." A sad smile as she nodded in understanding. Her lips moved. There was no sound.

His own voice faltered as he realized, almost in horror: She could not speak.

He listened to her thoughts by deciphering the movement of her lips. I have no home, she said, bitterly. No one to go back to—It was murdered, all of it. I don't ask that you understand. She pursed her lip into an almost obdurate expression. Thank you for helping me, but I'm fine now. I'll be all right.

She turned away and stumbled as he watched her disappear into the sunset. He did not follow her.

II

She had been attacked.

He did not know the men who had assaulted her, nor did he understand the reason why. But she had been there, in that shadowed alleyway—forbidden to her kind—underneath the feet of men, with eyes leering in the pale moonlight of a starless city sky. Metallic blood—blackened with darkness, turned bitter with conscience—splattered against filthy walls, against dirtied asphalt, shredded the silken fabric, smeared mercilessly on pristine skin. She lay in a broken heap on the floor.

And something writhed within him. Burned. Tore and bled until it shattered.

So out of place. Something so innocent and so promising, dying in the very place where he stood.

"Don't touch her."

He did not even ask their names. Face livid, he had thrown away reason to save the very being from which his soul had already dissipated. Had no room for conscience, had instead sacrificed his essence for another; had torn with his own blade the child within himself that had already died long ago. Blinded by fury and senselessness, he drew his sword from his side and slaughtered. Savored the reprisal. They fell at his feet, sickening screech of bones cracking, bruises blossoming, shrieking in blinding pain as they clutched broken joints and skewered ligaments.

The last dripped in cold sweat, shivered at those haunting amber eyes, held her wrist tightly in his hand. Her kimono was askew now, revealing bare shoulders etched with the morbid stench of blood. She wept—cursed him—struggling vainly, ebony hair tangled in filthy disarray, draining strength and hope until it was gone. She fainted.

He left the man with no time to react. Had lurched forward, slamming the sword against the other's chest, until the blunted blade slashed muscle and fiber—left its bruising imprint of creased excruciating pain. Screamed. Spitting salt and blood at his face. Kenshin drew his blade, pointed the murder-stricken steel towards the heavens; slowly, mercilessly—bringing it down upon the injured man's neck. "You die here." The cold metal reflected, for a fleeting instant, the pale light of the moon.

The man yelled and writhed on the ground, a soft thump beside him. A twisted, insane, sickening grin, before collapsing. Kenshin cried out.

Her shoulder lay wounded and bleeding in his arms.

>>

"You are very, very fortunate that she was able to withstand surgery, Ken-san." The doctor had made it clear. Megumi-san's long, emerald-black hair had dipped behind her back as she stared distinctly at his violet eyes, red lips pursing slightly.

"But she is—she did not—"

"Die? Oh, no, Ken-san, she is very much alive, but only just. Her fractured bones and injuries will disable her from walking or moving much for a week or so." She combed her fingers through her hair. "She is sleeping right now, mind you, but it has become apparent over the night that she can neither see nor speak. I highly suggest someone guide her through such a town as this, especially since the Meiji government has wrought near-poverty upon this city's head." And she said it with finality. Said it with apology.

"Thank—thank you so much, Megumi-san." He bowed. There was the lethal weight upon his shoulders, the lingering spirit of heaven's hand upon his presence; the soul, the hope of forgiveness, the sins of injury, of murder—the crimes which slashed and slaughtered him until he broke under its painful cords of regret. She had not died; her life had then spared his entity. She had lived. She threatened his sanity, his conscience, his bitter knowledge that he had been the one to inflict pain upon her fragile being.

She had lived. And he had been the one to murder her.

III

For a moment, he wondered what it would be like, to be blind.

To turn around in every direction—wildly, desperately—and yet, seeing nothing but empty darkness. To hold nothing, to be certain of nothing, betrayed by the incandescence of the artificial heavens preserved in quartered spaces.

He wondered of the eyes that saw nothing—those eyes that saw everything—the indigo that had seen more than he. The azure that had held him, all of him; those bottomless eyes that had been so open to emotion, so open to the world and all the horrors within it, so blinded by innocence and ever-stilled, disillusioned by childlike fantasy. He had thanked Megumi-san again for her hospitality, before she hurried inside the wards to drag the patient home.

There was a near-death battle in the hallway.

Megumi-san, however prestigious she had become in her medical studies, apparently had much to learn with her social skills. The girl had tossed about frantically with a wild expression, stray strands of stark-black tumbling before her face, even as her indigo ribbon attempted to pull it back. She bit the doctor's hand as Megumi-san reached out to her; shuddered behind the bed when the doctor attempted to prod her gently from her ward. There were powdered stains from the whitewashed walls where the girl had dug in with her nails in protest, screeches of pain where she kicked the wall in attempt to ward off the evil attacker.

The exasperated Megumi-san, patience leveled at a grand total of zero, finally wrenched the shrieking patient from laundered sheets and shoved her into the hall. Too exhausted to guide her anywhere, the doctor dully allowed the girl to walk into as many walls and counters as she pleased.

The moment he saw her—face unkempt, hair disheveled into a wretched mess—she tumbled wearily into his arms ("O-oro!") and grasped his shoulder to keep herself upright. He exclaimed as her weight suddenly increased in his hold, her blistered feet kicking the air and forcing him to step backwards.In dim surprise, he had fallen on the tatami floor, her fragile bones grinding painfully into his naval as she slowly pushed herself off of him. Her eyes blinked about, suddenly foreign to the place around her. With tremendous effort, Kenshin cast an apologetic smile to the already fuming Megumi-san.

"Kenshin. My name is Himura Kenshin." He had touched her hand, which had drawn back sharply in response. "I... Are you feeling all right?"

Fine, I'm fine. And it became clear, at that moment, that however delicate she had first appeared to him, she had been the strength he had not seen in all his years of searching—the compassion, the clarity—such things he had sought from within such a place of uncertainties. He was weak, was fragile and so easily shattered—nothing but a mere passerby— in her gaze of such unreadable expression, of such everlasting purity, of something he could never touch before he wavered and ebbed away from her memory.

She had touched her chest: Himura Kenshin. A smile, though it quickly faded as she turned away.

She was beautiful when she smiled.

And on her lips—the Himura Kenshin, the name not his own, but of what he could never be—the Hitokiri Battousai, just like that, became nothing.

>>

He had never prompted for her name, but she told him anyway.

Kamiya Kaoru.

"Owoh?" he managed to choke out, mouth crammed with pastry. They had been traveling together for days, resting under the bridge transcending the next town, searching for a respectable inn to provide her shelter for the night. She had followed him without letting go, at times clutching his arm so tightly she left splashes of red across his arms.

That's my name, you idiot. Kamiya Kaoru. Her face was clearly exasperated. Isn't it obvious?

She had not touched the baked bread he had given her. He had nodded, smiling ruefully and applauding—and dreading—the strength of her will. "This one apologizes, truly," he said serenely. "Kaoru-dono. Such a beautiful name, it is." She had responded sharply, telling him she didn't want his pity, that she despised her name and her prestige, that he needn't lie and ask questions he already knew she would not answer.

"This one—this one is—this one apologizes, this one will hope you will forgive—"

I know you saved my life last night. Her head tilted, suddenly transcending into a slow, sorrowful, dreamlike trance. You didn't have to do that. In fact, it would have been better if you just minded your own business, if you had just let me di—. An awkward silence as she stopped mid-sentence, though he knew very well what she meant. She suddenly seemed to catch herself: I'm sorry, I—I didn't mean that quite the way it sounded.

"No, truly, this one apologizes profusely, for intruding upon Kaoru-dono's private matters, that he does—" He was stammering, words tumbling from his lips like rushing water, colliding until it failed to make sense to even himself. "—Such a wonderful thing, it is, that Kaoru-dono may be able to find a happier life soon. This one is sorry he cannot be of much use to—"

She had covered her ears, shaking her head vigorously. Stop it. He questioned her gently. Somewhere inside, she was weeping: for him, for her, for the circumstances that plagued them both, for the forgiveness yet to be bestowed upon either of them. Don't ask me for...—the longings you have forgotten as a child, but she never said such words—...the things you know I cannot give. I don't want you to apologize anymore. I don't want you to pretend. She softened while turning away. You needn't do that for me.

He didn't understand. He didn't understand at all. But she pretended as if he did; forced herself to feign as if he understood—could understand— everything she could see, everything she could not. She stopped him mid-sentence as he prepared to apologize again, and asked him instead if he was hungry. She had felt down his face, forcing him to open his jaws, cramming as many jelly buns as she could feel into his mouth (Eat it! "Owoh!"); a wanderer and a blinded girl, rolling about like children in granite sand, his echoes of laughter satiated with unfamiliar life in the salty air.

She had devoured her own, and as white wheat and butter sunk down her throat, she winced at the reminder of her own inability to create anything remotely culinary. She had lost something so simple, so long ago; her life had passed on to greater—more overwhelming things—that required nothing, and had left her behind. It no longer demanded such beautiful, such simple whims.

The illusion of sunlight danced across her face. She threw her head back into the wind, eyes brimming in nonexistent tears, rocking back and forth, back and forth on her knees. He saw her laughing for the first time.

IV

She had taught him to be a child.

There were times when she had been terrified. Of herself, of fate, of the world around her. Times she had wrapped her arms around his shoulders so tightly he had to furtively pry her off to allow himself to breathe. There were the instants she had placated her stubborn expression to convince him to continue on, and the seconds in which she had dissipated into the fragile innocence of the naivety she could no longer grasp.

She had been frightened. She had taught him it was all right to be afraid sometimes.

He had been forced to stop to ask for directions. She had stared at him incredulously at such a suggestion. You said you'd been a wanderer for ten years. Shouldn't you know where to go?

He had apologized, again. She tensed. I didn't mean anything by it. And it was then he learned, how much she had become terrified that he would leave her.

"Kaoru-dono, this one sincerely wishes to say sorry for—"

I told you not to keep apologizing, didn't I? She had been screaming, then, had she a voice; waving her hands at him in desperate, exasperated hysteria. You don't have to be sorry for everything, and you shouldn't be—don't say anything if all you're going to do is apologize for it! He managed a rushed "Eh, this one is—!" again, before she soundly slapped his face.

And then she had given up. But she had never given up.

She had turned away, and it was then he had caught glimpse of the genuine emotion she had been devoid of for so long. There was the silent pleading, the words unspoken, the tears in the morning light—cascading down pale skin, dying on her lips; like crystalline snow. She held her face in her hands, wiping the wetness from her eyes; slowly, Kaoru shook her head, took his hand in hers, and rested it on her silken face. The tears captured shards of sunlight, like shattered glass on skin.

They stood there for a long moment, they did—the one who looked upon the heavens for salvation, the other who had discovered it was already there, had always been there.

She wept because he had forgiven her.

Her face collected against his shoulder. I'm sorry. He tried again to express regret, to take upon himself the weight of her guilt which he could not fathom; she quieted him, gently, with the touch of her fingers. Drew him closer. Please don't apologize. Her face was streaked in tears, trembling in his hands as he stilled her. In the sky above them, the last traces of the stars disappeared into the vaporous sunset. Please...please don't...

He smiled awkwardly. Held her for a long moment in his arms, her desperate sobs quieting in his embrace. She did not turn away.

>>

She had dreamed of her mother that night.

That mother, who had been sobbing with her child in her arms, stark-black hair sweeping over the thin cotton-material of her matted yukata. That mother, who held a screaming child in her arms; a child who clutched her mother's blanket in her tiny hands, meekly whimpering in pain as her mother shoved her against the wall.

"Stay there, child—stay there, don't move—Kaoru-chan, don't you dare move from there!"

"Mommy, I'm afra—"

"This is no time to be a little girl!" Her mother's voice had risen to a desperate shriek, grinding her daughter's shoulders painfully into the wooden walls behind her. Face streaked with helpless tears: "Don't you understand? Daddy told us to stay here, Daddy's going to make it all right, Daddy's going to kill the evil murderer—" A crash in the back room. She had screamed, muffling her voice in her daughter's chest, panicked voice rising in a tempestuous crescendo. "DADDY'S GOING TO KILL HIM, DADDY'S GOING TO BE ALIVE, DADDY'S GOING TO SAVE US—"

There had been screaming and screaming, and her mother had cried her father's name until her throat rasped with salted tears. There was the sickening thump of dead weight crumbling to the floor, and her mother stopped screaming enough to let out a mournful, anguished wail. The child had watched, trembling, as her mother prayed, praying and praying, begging an unknown existence for mercy, begging her husband was alive, pleading she would not die here.

"Mommy—"

And the moonlight cast its vile reflection on the blade slashed brutally through the fragile paper door. A mere flickering of shadow, and her mother screamed again, screamed and screamed her father's name until cold steel tore through her voice, slashing through silken ribbons. The echo of her mother's cry resonated through the expanding walls.

For her daughter, there had been nothing.

The shadow shifted. Kaoru remembered nothing but cold, soulless orbs of amber eyes.

And then there was darkness. And then there was nothing.

>>

She had taught him to wonder.

Don't pretend I'm slowing you down. I don't need to stop. Just keep going, I'll stay with you. I'll stay by your side, always. She had said it to him, over and over, as if convincing herself of something that had never been able to retain her. Something which evanesced with the disappearance of her sight, her voice, her longings. Don't stop; please don't stop, please don't wait for me.

They had wandered among the seaside towns lining the coast, in search of, as Kenshin had insisted a temporary settlement for her to rest. During the weeks, elderly hosts had imparted their sympathies, allowing residence in their homes for short periods of time. While Kaoru rested in the small, heated rooms from the extended journeys, Kenshin had sought the small businesses among the villages for any need for help.

"I cannot have her. I sorely apologize." By weeks of monotonous twilights, the last innkeeper, gingerly sweeping the sides of a gnarled road, bore sunken eyes into Kenshin's amethyst with a piercing gaze. "There are no positions for the blind and deaf; sparsely do we find teachers for such patients nowadays. Frankly, even on slower business days, I haven't the time nor patience to guide her. I give you my deepest sympathies, but perhaps she will find a job elsewhere."

"Ah, this one understands. Highly apologizes for intruding upon such matters. Thank you, good sir, for your consideration, and have a good night." Kenshin had bowed, miserably shuffling back to the inn with heavy steps. Perhaps Kaoru could endure another disappointment for one more night.

The stars had been endless. He had meekly slid open the shoji-paper door, after dragging his lifeless weight up the steps to her room, lacquered wood disappearing under his feet. The wooden walls had been dimmed, lit only by the wavering movement of flickering candlelight.

He had gasped. She was gone.

He had dived into the closets, rummaging desperately through the tatami mattresses and spare yukatas, knocking past the bed-stand and tangled in freshly laundered sheets. Her scent of jasmine had wafted everywhere through the room, but he could neither see nor feel her presence. In a rushed panic, he racked his brain for anywhere she could be, and, in flustered horror, could think of nowhere. With determined calm, he slid his feet into his sandals and, gripping his reverse-blade sword, crept out the door.

The warm summer night had left nothing but a moonless sky in its wake, the stars glittering on velvet; silence calmed crickets' lullabies, and the cadence of rushing water by the small bridge, the creek-water dancing over pebbles and sifting through the reeds. She had stood at the bridge, gazing into the night, eyes as open to emotion as the ever-changing waters beneath her; her gaze surpassed the heavens, to a place only she could see, where he could not be with her.

Kenshin had reached out; and in a desperate hesitancy, let his hand fall back to his side. She winced at his brusque touch on her sleeve. "Kaoru-dono," he murmured, solemnly, "How long...have you been waiting?"

Since you left. Her hands were starkly pale, dispersing into a ghastly, sickeningly bluish glow. He stepped closer. She was visibly shaking, slighted by cold, his breath close enough to raise the sparseness of her neck. A long pause. Kenshin left his mouth agape, the scolding words still unspoken on his tongue.

Tendrils of midnight were plastered to her face in frosted sweat, her arms drawn protectively to her sides. You didn't have to wait for me. She receded somewhere he could not see again, tilted her head upwards. I was always behind you, wasn't I? Hands trembling. I told you I'd always be with you, didn't I? Didn't you believe me? Her face was solemn, demanding. Why didn't you believe me?

"Kaoru-dono," he admonished her sincerely. There was the simplicity of his patience, of quiet understanding that she herself did not comprehend. He leaned across the bridge resignedly. "You have done nothing, if that is what you are asking."

I did—I said no such thing— She held her face in her hands and broke. He stroked her hair gently, comfortingly, his hand on her shoulder. She seemed to shatter under his touch. In his eyes, she had been complete.

"Let us go inside," he said after a long silence. "We shall reach Tokyo by tomorrow morning."

>>

. end . I would imagine that this version is far more mature than the original, as I believe it's safe to say that, with much-needed help from reviewers, my writing has enhanced rather dramatically. I hope to have added more thought to the storyline, as well as clarifying my objectives—so it isn't simply a random chain of fluff and angst rolled into one, and each event actually contributes to the story's significance. I truly hope my readers have enjoyed this version as much as, if not more than, the original.

>>

. notes .

> "Forgive me, love...(( IV ))" These words are neither Kaoru's nor Kenshin's, but Yukishiro Tomoe's (as well as Akira Kiyosato) parting words. For those who have read the original, they know Tomoe holds much importance to me—for concision purposes, I had to delete her (as I also did Sano). However, I tried to leave a little bit of her to signify how much she means to Kenshin and Kaoru's relationship.

> Imouto (( ee – mou – toh )) n. Japanese term for, literally, "little sister".

> Oro (( Oh, come on, you RuroKen fans should all know this )) n. In Kenshin's case, it is a random outburst used as an exclamation when he is flustered or surprised. However, the literal term should have been "ororo"—in which, when devoid of the last "-ro", literally means "a vaginal discharge". (Dear, dear...)

>>

. thank you . (( to the original reviewers ))

Sakura Hopes . Mika . Lacri . Anounymous T . Bradybunch4529 . Even . TeamRocket Sapphire . Shiomei . Jill . GoldAngel2 . :( . connie . Aikawazaru Ai . LadySword04 . MP1 . Regan84 . Innocence8 . Annie . Jupiter's Light . Random Reader . Iridescent-Dreamer ( aka Catherine-chan!) . MisoSoupNoodles (Alexis-chan) . Mia-chan . Alea Seikou . The Fortune Teller . Falke-ness . ME . Mizztrapped . horse-crazy-gurl . Nekotsuki . darknessgirl . Scarlet Rayne . cinnamonroll . serilia . Kao-gurl . Imana . monkeyprassana . Twilight Sky . CurlsofSerenity . SamuraiX Koneko . kakashi-fan . titaness . Neko-san . super . Kastra . ichigodrops . catti-dono . rainingfruit . the SeVeReD-hAnD . Vic'chonn . Silent Tears of Agony . Brittanie Love . Himura Kamiya Kaoru . witch robin . Chris . Lydia-Blessing . oro-chan . unkown . Sakura's Shadows . Kiyosato Tomoe . MZ. AMBER EYES . kiki .