I did a little bit of research for this story, so I hope I got it right or at least close to it. I think you will understand once you get to that point in the story. Oh, and one more thing before I go. This story was sort of inspired by the really cold weather we have had for the last two days, and this is Texas!
Well, I'm going to shut up now and continue on with the story.
Warnings: A good dose of lime.
Summary: Kenshin is finally home for good and they are to be married, but why is Kaoru still acting distant and alone?
: Weak to the Cold :
Kaoru sat on the Dojo's porch, staring out into the sky, and listening to the chime being rustled by the coo,l crisp, wind. Snow was on the way, she could tell. It always got so cold and cloudy out before it snowed. It had been eight years since Kenshin's fight with Shishio, but even after that fight, things didn't go as happy and easy as she'd hoped.
For four years, after Kaoru had held out her hand to welcome Kenshin home, their relationship didn't go anywhere. Kenshin was still calling her Kaoru-dono and the most he would ever do was hold her hand. Now that eight years had passed things were much different. She and Kenshin were to be married soon and nothing was going to make him leave her side ever again.
Yet, even though that news should have made her the happiest person alive, she still couldn't help but get lost in thought about the events that happened to her four years ago. The cold always reminded her. Those memories left a lingering feeling in her heart.
"Kenshin, I'm getting worried about Kaoru lately."
Kenshin turned his head to Megumi as she spoke.
"She keeps doing this. Every year she distances herself from everyone and acts as if she is depressed. Yet she smiles and simply brushes us off when we ask her anything about it."
"Yeah and that buso won't even think about sparing with me when she is like that. She even tells me that if I really wanted to spar I could do it by myself." Yahiko immediately added after Megumi had finished. Everyone looked at him funny. How could he spar by himself? but then assumed that was the point he was trying to make.
Sanosuke thumped Yahiko on the head. "Don't you ever get tired of calling Jou-chan that?"
Yahiko just glared at him, "Don't you ever get tired of calling her Jou-chan?"
Suddenly an idea came to Megumi's mind. "Do you suppose it has something to do with her trip four years ago?"
Kenshin sighed and looked out the window to see Kaoru looking a lot more mature than he had ever seen before. He supposed a lot of it had to do with her not being 17 anymore but still, there was something more to it than just age. For some reason he felt as though he might not know her anymore. Slowly standing up he walked to the door. "Well, I'm going to try and see if she will come back inside. It's cold out there and we don't want her to get sick. That we don't."
"That's a good idea." Megumi said, "I'm going to start making dinner."
Kaoru was so lost in thought that she didn't even notice that someone had come outside and sat next to her. It wasn't until that person placed a hand on hers did she come back to reality and look to see that it was Kenshin.
"Kaoru, your hands are like ice. You should come back in and have a nice warm cup of tea so that you don't come down sick." While saying this, Kenshin picked up her icy cold hand and put it between his two warm ones.
Kaoru looked down at her other hand that wasn't being held by Kenshin and saw the ring on it. "I'm fine Kenshin. You go ahead and go back inside. I just want to sit here for a couple more minutes, if you don't mind. I promise I will be back inside in no time." She turned to him and smiled. She was always happy when he showed concern for her and would usually always do what he said, but this time she just wanted to be left alone for a little while longer.
Kenshin let go of her hand. "Is something bothering you? You seem upset. Does the cold weather do this to you? For the past four years you have been acting strangely like this every time it starts to get cold."
"Whoa! One question at a time Kenshin. I guess it's just a new habit I picked up. I like to be outside the day before it snows and just think about all the many different things."
Even though Kaoru had given him a pretty good answer, Kenshin still couldn't help but feel that she was hiding something big from him. Instead of pressing into the matter, he figured she would tell him in her own time. "I guess I can understand that." He then stood up and said, "but please come back inside before too long."
Kaoru simply nodded and listened to the footsteps of Kenshin's retreating form. A single tear slid down her cheek. She quickly wiped it off and pulled out a silver necklace in the shape of a cherry blossom. Looking at the necklace that held so many memories, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes to remember what exactly happened four years ago.
"Kaoru, Kaoru!" Yahiko yelled while running across the front yard of the Dojo.
"What is it, Yahiko?" Kaoru said, a little unnerved by the loud racket he was making.
"There is a letter here for you from way up north."
Now interested, Kaoru took the letter from Yahiko's hand and looked at the address. "Hokkaido? I wonder who this can be." She quickly opened it up and began to read.
"Hey, isn't Hokkaido that big island that use to be called Ezo? Why would you get a letter from there?"
"Shh! I'm trying to read."
Yahiko's eye twitched at that.
Finally after a few seconds Kaoru finished reading. "It seems one of my old students has recently hit into some money and they want to give my Dojo a donation."
Yahiko brightened up. "Wow that's great! We sure could use more money."
"Yeah but-" Kaoru was quiet for a bit. "I would have to travel all the way there to get it."
Yahiko said nothing to this but noticed how her eyes looked sad and distant as she turned to look at Kenshin playing with the little girls. He knew that Kaoru was upset at how Kenshin showed barely any affection for her, even though it had been four years since the battle with Shishio, and everyone knew that they were in love.
Kaoru tucked the letter away in her clothes. "That's that. There is no way I can make a trip that far away just for some money." With that, Kaoru walked away not saying another word.
Frustrated at Kenshin and Kaoru, Yahiko kicked a pebble in the pathway right at Kenshin's head. Kenshin, of course, knew it was coming and caught it in his hand just in time. He looked up to see a frustrated Yahiko stomp away. "Oro?"
"What's wrong uncle Ken-ni?" One of the little girls asked when she noticed Kenshin had stopped chasing them around.
Kenshin smiled pleasantly at them and patted their heads. "It's nothing."
Later that night Kaoru was setting the table. Tonight everyone was going to be there so she cooked up something really nice. Over the past years she had worked hard in fixing her cooking skills. Her stuff wasn't as good as Megumi's still, but now nobody could complain about how it was inedible.
Once everything was set, she just simply sat down and waited for everyone else to notice.
The first person to walk in was Kenshin. He greeted her like normal and took his place at the table. "What are we having tonight, Kaoru-dono?"
Kaoru sighed slightly but not enough for Kenshin to really notice, or at least he didn't let on that he had. "Just a simple dish really. I'm a little tired so I didn't want to go out of my way." Of course she had lied, but she didn't want to tell Kenshin she had worked hard on it for some reason.
"Are you coming down ill? Maybe you should go to bed early today."
Before Kaoru could reply to the rest of the gang had shown up.
Yahiko plopped down quickly, a look of absolute hunger on his face. "Wow, this all looks really good. What's the occasion?"
Kaoru cringed. Now there was no way for Kenshin not to notice how the meal wasn't that simple. "It's nothing that great, and no occasion besides the fact that everyone is here today." She smiled pleasantly not daring to look in Kenshin's direction.
That was when Sanosuke decided to butt in. "Well, I can say one thing for sure. You're cooking skills have definitely improved. I don't have to make funny faces while I eat anymore." Then he laughed, when he noticed how Kaoru didn't really seem to appreciate those words.
"Yes, Kaoru-dono's cooking has definitely improved a lot. She would make a good wife someday."
Everyone flinched at those words. Stupid Kenshin, how could he say something like that around Kaoru when it was so obvious to whom she was in love with?
Kaoru laughed nervously. She didn't know what to say to that. She wasn't even sure if she understood what Kenshin was implying there, but it was making her heart hurt a lot.
Everyone except for Kenshin was watching her every move while trying to eat. They noticed that her eyes where starting to tear up just a bit even though she tried to keep a smile on her face.
Kaoru didn't let this go unnoticed though. She knew that everyone was watching her and she almost couldn't take it anymore. Stirring a bit she heard the sound of crinkling paper inside of her clothes. Suddenly wanting to get away from everything for a bit, she took the paper out and cleared her throat.
"Um- Everyone, I have something to tell you." Kaoru paused.
"Yeah, what is it?" Sano said through a mouth full of food.
"I will be leaving Tokyo for a while."
At this everyone dropped their chopsticks, including Kenshin.
"What are you talking about Kaoru?" Megumi was first to speak.
"I got a letter from one of my old students." She held the letter up to show everyone. "They had moved to the newly named Hokkaido and hit into some good money and wanted me to come visit for a while to give me some money for the Dojo."
This time Yahiko spoke. "Hey! I thought you said you weren't going to make such a long trip just for some money."
"I got to thinking about it Yahiko, and I haven't seen these people in such a long time, so going to visit them would actually be nice."
Sano scratched the back of his head in frustration. "That's a really long trip though, Jou-chan. About five weeks by carriage and boat, what would you do about the Dojo?"
"Well, actually, I was hoping you guys could watch the Dojo for me. You can stay here and use whatever you need. I even have some savings left for you to use for food and stuff."
"This is all so sudden though." Megumi said quietly.
Kenshin was still the only one who hadn't said anything.
"Kenshin?" Kaoru asked but he didn't look her way. "This is okay, right?"
Actually it isn't okay. Kenshin had thought, but he couldn't say that out loud for some reason. Finally he looked up at her and smiled. "I think it would be a good idea Kaoru-dono, you will be safe on the trip right?"
Kaoru's face showed some sadness. She was actually kind of hoping he would eject to the idea. "Yes, of course." Taking her last bite she stood up, taking her plate with her and placing it in the sink. "Kenshin, will you please do the dishes when everyone is done? I'm going to go get packed."
"Thank you." With that she walked away heading towards her own bedroom.
"Are you sure about this Kenshin?" Sano asked a little bewildered by all of it. Kenshin didn't answer him.
Kaoru grabbed her things early the next morning and stepped out of her room. Kenshin was already awake, no surprise. She walked up to him and tapped his shoulder to get his attention. He turned around quickly and greeted her with a good morning.
"I'm on my way now. I left some instructions on the kitchen table in case anything goes wrong, as well as the place I will be staying at once I get there." Please say you have changed your mind and you want me to stay.
"Thank you Kaoru-dono. I'm sure everything will be just fine."
"Well alright. I will see you in 4 months then." Hug me, kiss me, do anything other than just tell me good-bye.
"We will miss you. That we will. So please come back as soon as possible."
"I will, good-bye Kenshin."
Once she was a good distance away from Kenshin she mumbled to herself. "Stupid jerk, why do you always have to be so polite?" A few tears trickled down her cheeks.
Five weeks had passed and Kaoru was very tired. The trip was extremely hard on her, especially since she was moving to a colder climate. The cold was always something she was weak to. Trudging through the snow of the unnamed town she kept her eyes wide open to find a house, yet was so tired that she didn't know if she could keep searching, and since it was already dark outside there was really no one to ask. When she thought she would just have to give up and spend some money at an inn, she spotted a young fellow walking her way.
She quickened her pace to get to him. "Um, excuse me sir." Once she got up close enough she noticed that the guy didn't seem much older than her, but the smile he wore on his face seemed to give him a more childish manner.
The guy seemed a little surprised at first that she was trying to get his attention, but he recovered quickly. "Is there something the matter?"
Kaoru stumbled a bit and her vision started to look a little blurry. No! I can't pass out now. With much strength she managed to spit out the word, Oosugi, before everything went black.
The guy immediately caught her and began to panic. "Um- miss, wake up miss." With no luck he gently picked her up. "I guess I have no choice but to take her with me." He had heard her mention Oosugi and wondered if that is where she was heading. If that was so, she was lucky to have passed out on him. Yet he still couldn't help but think that if this were another time she wouldn't have been thought of as lucky.
As he walked to his destination with her being carried in bridal style another thought came to him. What was a young woman doing all alone here?
"You awake now Kaoru-san?"
Kaoru slowly opened her eyes and flinched as the sunlight poured into them. Once adjusted to the light she immediately sat up and looked to where she heard the voice. An older lady was standing next to her bed with a glass of water in her hand. The memories of what happened to her yesterday where slowly starting to come back to her. She placed her right hand up to her head and tried to remember what happened after she found that guy, but nothing would come. "Where am I?" She finally asked.
The lady handed her the glass of water and she gladly accepted it, happy to have something cool and refreshing go down her dry throat. "You are at my home, Oosugi Estate. Seta-san brought you here unconscious and with a high fever."
"Oh, so that is what happened." Kaoru took another sip of the water when something hit her. "Wait, you said a Seta-san brought me?"
The lady nodded her head. "Yes, a Soujiro Seta."
Kaoru pondered this for a moment. Why does that name sound so familiar? "Oh! I'm so sorry. I'm being so rude. Thank you for taking care of me. Are you Oosugi-san?"
"Yes, I am. I was glad to see you made it here in time. My foolish husband should have had given you better instructions on how to find us."
Finishing up the last of the water, Kaoru shook her head back and forth. "Oh, it was my fault really. The instructions are good, I'm just not used to such cold weather for such a long period of time."
"Oh you poor dear. That is understandable. You need to get some more rest though. Your fever has gone down, but you will need your strength back completely if what you say is true. I will be back here in five hours to give you something to eat, so rest until then."
Oosugi-san started for the door when Kaoru called out.
"Excuse me, Oosugi-san?"
"Call me Hanabi." Hanabi said while smiling.
"Ah, Hanabi-san. About this Soujiro Seta guy, who is he?"
"He is some rurouni that we are letting stay at our house until he continues his wandering again. Why?"
Kaoru was now confused. She was hoping that asking her would make her remember where she had heard the name before. "No reason really. His name just sounded familiar to me."
Hanabi opened the door and looked at Kaoru to say one last thing. "Well, maybe you can ask him yourself once you are able to get out of bed. It was nice to meet you Kaoru-san." Then she closed the door and left.
Kaoru stayed sitting in the bed and stared down at her hands. "What am I doing here?" She whispered to herself. "Sometimes I can be so foolish." A sudden chill blew past her making her shiver a bit. "I hate the cold." She quickly lay back down and covered herself up; sudden exhaustion hit her making her fall into a peaceful slumber.
In her dreams she was happy. She didn't feel alone and she was deeply in love, being loved by someone else in return. He held her close, keeping her warm and safe. She would sigh in contentment as he whispered sweet nothings in her ear. She never wanted this moment to end, but alas, all dreams come to an end no matter what you do.
Kaoru woke to the smell of something yummy. She sat up in bed to see Hanabi-san there, just as she said she would be, with a tray full of warm food.
"You seem to be feeling better Kaoru-san."
Kaoru took a bite and sighed in delight. "This is wonderful, and yes I'm feeling much better, thank you."
Hanabi smiled and took a seat next to her. "I'm glad you like my food."
Kaoru laughed happily. "Now if only I could cook even halfway this good."
Hanabi chuckled a bit. "Well if you like, I could teach you some things while you are visiting us."
"Really?" Kaoru's eyes glistened with excitement.
"Yes, of course." Hanabi said while standing up. "Enjoy your meal. There is a change of clothes for you on the other side of the bed. When you are done, you can come on down and meet my husband and your old student."
"That would be nice."
Hanabi smiled at her one last time before leaving.
Kaoru quickly gobbled up her food and changed into the clothes. She was getting tired of being all alone in that room and was ready to meet people. The clothes she had put on were nice and warm, which was really nice. After checking to make sure everything was correct, she made her way out the door.
Looking at her surroundings as she walked along, she noticed how nice the house was. "Wow, they really must have hit into money." Just as she was about to look ahead of her again she bumped into someone sending her falling backwards. Luckily a strong hand grabbed her firmly by the arm and kept her from landing on her rump. "I'm so sorry!" She immediately spit out in embarrassment. "I should have been paying more attention to where I was going."
"It's quite alright miss, I'm just glad I could keep you from falling."
Kaoru recognized the voice right away and quickly looked up to see the smiling face. This time she noticed he also had pair of soft blue eyes. "You're the guy who saved me last night. Seta-san, correct?"
Soujiro chuckled lightly. "Hearing you be so formal feels so weird. Please just call me Soujiro."
"All right Soujiro-san. Thank you so much for helping me out the other day."
"It was the least I could do, miss- I'm afraid I haven't gotten your name yet."
Kaoru threw her hands up to her mouth. "Oh my, I just keep being rude all day today. I'm sorry, my name is Kaoru."
Soujiro bowed slightly. "Well it's a pleasure to meet you Kaoru-san."
Kaoru bowed in reply, "the pleasure is all mine." She was about to say her goodbyes when she remembered she wanted to ask him who he was. "Um... this may seem a little forward of me, but you see, your name sounds so familiar to me and I was wanting to know if maybe I have seen you before or known you from someone else. Do you maybe have any clue as to why your name rings a bell?"
Kaoru watched him as she asked all that and could have sworn she saw a falter in his smile, but it was so faint that it could have just been her imagination.
"Not really." Soujiro said with nothing else to add.
Kaoru studied his face carefully but couldn't read if he was lying or not. She was about to ask more when she heard her name being called out.
"Kaoru-dono? Is that you?"
It was a friendly male voice and one that she hadn't heard in a long time.
"Wataru-kun?" Kaoru replied, forgetting all about Soujiro for the moment.
A young man about 6 years younger than her came around the corner.
"Wataru! It's been a long time since I have seen you." Kaoru exclaimed happily.
"It sure has Kaoru-dono, and may I say you have gotten even prettier over the years?"
Soujiro watched all this silently, thinking the line that the young boy had given her was really silly but when he saw the smile spread on her face and the slight blush he began to understand that even if it was silly, a compliment was still a compliment.
"Don't pull my chain Wataru! I see you haven't changed. Still just as much the suck up as before."
Wataru laughed heartily at Kaoru's words. "You may be right Kaoru-dono, you may be right." He stuck out his arm for Kaoru to take. "Shall I show you around the house?"
Kaoru took it politely with a smile never leaving her face. "That would be nice." Just as she was about to leave with Wataru she remembered that Soujiro was still there. "Oh Soujiro-san, would you like to come with us?"
Soujiro shook his head slightly. "Actually I have something I need to be doing."
Feeling bad for just blowing him off like that, she smiled sadly but didn't push any further for him to come. "That's a shame. I hope I can talk to you again soon then."
"I'm sure you will." Soujiro said then walked away with his smile never leaving his face.
Once Soujiro was out of ear shot, Wataru made a comment. "That rurouni is strange. He never stops smiling and he has been here for about a week already. We let him stay because we have plenty of room and he didn't have any money to stay at an inn. We even told him he didn't have to do anything in return, yet he insists that we let him help with house hold chores and stuff."
Kaoru stared at the place to where Soujiro was standing a few seconds ago and sadly said, "He reminds me of someone I know."
Later that night Kaoru went outside, thinking she would be alone, when she spotted Soujiro sitting on the porch looking deep in thought. She walked up to him and sat down right next to him, getting his attention. His smile was once again plastered on his face.
"I hope you don't mind if I sit here with you."
"Not at all."
They sat in complete silence for a while, both just looking up at the sky. Finally Kaoru couldn't take the silence anymore and decided to ask him a question. "Why did you become a rurouni?"
He turned to her, a bit surprised by the question.
"I'm sorry, if you don't want to answer that you don't have to." Kaoru said, realizing just how personal her question was.
He continued to smile, but didn't look at her. "It's alright. Actually I started wandering to try and find my own truth in life."
"Your own truth?"
He turned to her and nodded his head. "For a long time I believed that I had already found the truth of life, until a certain rurouni made me come to my senses. The realization was quite a blow and it was then that I decided I would become a rurouni just like that man and find the truth for myself."
"Sounds hard." Kaoru mumbled, amazed by his dedication.
"Sometimes it is, but Kaoru, I couldn't help but notice that you have traveled here alone. Why?" Seeing her eyes show sadness, he immediately regretted asking her that. "I'm sorry." He said, "I guess I'm asking a personal question."
Kaoru shook her head. "No, it is only fair that I answer that. I was trying to get away from some things for a while I guess. Mainly one person really, he is a rurouni like you."
"I see." Soujiro said quietly. "Excuse me if I seem too forward but it looks as though you are in love with him."
Kaoru sighed sadly. "Yes I am, but I'm afraid it doesn't matter. He will never love me while his old wife is still on his mind." Laughing slightly in irony, Kaoru continued. "It's funny actually. I fooled myself into thinking he was in love with me too. After he battled with this guy named Shishio and won, I thought for sure we'd get together, but nothing happened, and I still fear he will just leave me one day."
At the mention of Shishio name, Soujiro became a little tense. She couldn't be talking about Himura-san? Could she?
Kaoru noticed that he became really quiet when she was finished and wondered if maybe she said too much. "I'm sorry. I have said too much and made you uncomfortable."
Soujiro's smile never left his face as he shook his head. "Not at all. I was only thinking."
"Thinking about what?"
"That I shouldn't be allowed to sit here with you as if we are friends."
Kaoru's eyes widened, she wasn't expecting him to say that. "But I was the one who sat down next to you. I think I should be the one to judge who can and can't be my friend."
"Even if I was someone who once tried to kill that rurouni you say you love?"
"What?" Suddenly it hit her. His name, where she had heard it before and so much more, "you're Soujiro the Tenken aren't you?"
Soujiro said nothing and didn't dare to look at her. He waited for her to get scared, mad, or just leave, but she did neither. Instead he felt her put her hand on his shoulder, trying to get his attention. He looked up and was now eye to eye with her. Something in her eyes told him she had no ill feelings for him and he began to relax.
"Soujiro, the past is the past. The important thing is that you didn't kill him and, in fact, got taught a very important lesson instead. The Soujiro I see right now is not Soujiro the Tenken, but Soujiro the Rurouni."
Kaoru continued to smile at him. She remembered how she had said something very similar to Kenshin once, and this time she felt it was no different.
"You saved me, and for that I'm grateful."
Soujiro didn't know what to say. He wasn't good at talking with people and with the sudden approval even after she had found out who he was confused him.
"So, will you let me be your friend?"
"You are willing to befriend someone you know nothing about?"
Kaoru laughed. "I have a tendency to do that, but I have a feeling that befriending you will end up being a positive thing." Noticing that her hand was still on his shoulder, she blushed and quickly removed it. "Well, I'm starting to get really cold so I'm going to head for bed." She stood up and headed for the door. Turning back one more time, she opened the door and said, "Good night Soujiro." Then she closed the door behind her and was gone from Soujiro's view.
Kaoru woke early the next day not feeling so good. She had barely gotten any sleep. The cold was too much for her, and even though she was covered in warm blankets and wearing good clothes, she couldn't get comfortable. "I'm such a wreck. It's not even that cold in here." She slipped out of bed and put on her purple kimono. It smelled nice since it was freshly washed and dried. She would have to thank her hosts again for being so kind to her.
Just as she was about to leave her room, she heard a knock at the door.
"Yes? Come in."
Wataru walked in bright eyed and sunny as ever. "Oh, good. I'm glad I didn't wake you."
"Is there something I can do for you?"
Wataru scratched the back of his head, obviously a little nervous. "Well actually, I was wondering if you would like to spar with me, like the good old times?"
"I would love that." Kaoru said right away. She was still feeling a little puny, but didn't want to say no.
Sighing in great relief, Wataru once again held out his arm for Kaoru to take. "Then shall we?"
Kaoru took it and they walked out the door. Wataru was acting so happy that he began to ramble. "You know when people were saying your sword style was evil, I never believed that was true. I always wished that I hadn't moved before all that, so that I could have stayed by your side and helped fight!"
Kaoru just smiled at him. She appreciated his words, but she knew that in truth he probably would have left her school just like all the rest of her students did.
"Well, we're here." Wataru said while opening the door.
Kaoru's eyes widened in amazement, she figured they would just be sparing outside.
"This room is something we decided to build with the house because it gets too cold outside to do anything, but being cooped up in a house all the time can get annoying."
"I have to say that I'm amazed."
Wataru pointed to the far left and Kaoru eyes followed to where he was pointing. "There is a dressing room over there with some more suitable clothes for you to change into."
Kaoru nodded in understanding and headed to the room. When she walked into the room she noticed there was another door and wondered where it lead. Shrugging it off, she spotted the clothes and began to get undressed. She took the bow out from her hair first and set it down nicely on the bench. Then she started to remove her kimono. Just as she had completely removed everything and was getting ready to put on the other outfit, she heard the other door slowly open. She panicked and looked up only to come face to face with Soujiro.
Soujiro looked up and then down, then back up again. His face started to turn a slight red color.
She heard a knock on the other door and a worried voice. "Kaoru-dono, are you okay?" The door started to shake, as he was about to open it when Kaoru yelled at him. "Wataru don't you DARE come in here." The door stopped shaking immediately and then Kaoru turned her attention back at Soujiro. "And you! Turn around right now before I rip out your eyeballs!"
Kaoru quickly grabbed the clothes and finished dressing while mumbling a few choice words.
Soujiro stood completely still, a little afraid of what was about to happen to him. He wanted to run away, but knew he should just be a man and take the consequences.
"You can turn around now."
Soujiro did as he was told.
"Now, explain why you are in here?"
Soujiro swallowed and looked at the door. "I was coming inside."
Kaoru raised an eyebrow. "Coming inside?"
"Yeah, that door leads outside. I always come in through that door after I've fed the animals."
Kaoru put and hand to her head and shook her head in frustration. "That's crazy, then I suppose it isn't really your fault. How much did you see?"
Soujiro was afraid she would ask that, because he had a bad habit of always telling the truth. "Um- enough."
Kaoru began to blush. "Oh great! Not even Kenshin has seen that much!" When she realized what she had just said, she turned even redder.
Soujiro, a little surprised by the too much info, began to blush again himself.
"Stop blushing!" Kaoru chirped. "You're going to make me blush more!"
Kaoru noticed that he was still smiling that strange smile. "You are smiling as if you are happy about the show you got."
When Kaoru had said that he put his head down and sort of laughed nervously. "I'm sorry. It's just that I can't help it. I mean I always seem to be smiling, even in uncomfortable situations."
Sighing, Kaoru got an evil idea. "Fine, but now it's your turn. Strip."
Soujiro's head shot up at that. "Wha- what?"
Kaoru started to laugh like a mad woman. "I'm just kidding, of course. I wanted to see what sort of reaction I could get out of you." His smile was still on his face she noticed, but his eyes told her all she needed to know. "Forget everything you saw; let it leave your mind. You should feel lucky that I'm feeling this gracious. If it ever happens again though, you won't get away without an injury."
His smile seemed to get bigger and his eyes even closed. "Understood."
"Good. Now you owe me. You have to stay around and watch me spar with Wataru-san."
Soujiro didn't really understand how that was suppose to make up for him seeing her naked, but if it was what she wanted... "No problem."
They walked out of the room together into the room that Wataru was waiting patiently in. As soon as he saw her he sprung off the floor and rushed her way.
"What happened? Why were you screaming?"
Kaoru didn't want to tell Wataru exactly what happened so she came up with a pathetic lie. "Um... I'm very clumsy lately and I slipped, that's all."
Wataru could tell that it couldn't have been that as he looked over at the smiling rurouni and then back at Kaoru, but he decided that if she didn't want to tell him he wouldn't press into the matter anymore. "Oh, okay. I'm glad you didn't get hurt. Are you ready?"
Kaoru nodded her head and they walked out into the middle of the spacious room.
Soujiro walked over to the left corner of the room and took a seat. He watched as they began and found it really interesting. He had never seen that type of fighting before. Curious as to what it was called he called out to Kaoru after she had defeated Wataru for the first time. "What style is that?"
Kaoru, happy he asked replied, "Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. It was founded by my father and was created with the idea of bettering oneself spiritually without killing or using weapons."
Soujiro was now even more interested. "But how can you win if you don't kill your opponent?"
"Kind of the same way Kenshin beat you." Kaoru flinched, regretting saying that, but Soujiro's smile still never left his face.
Wataru looked at her strangely. "Kaoru-dono, do you know this man?"
"Sort of, but that's not important. Anyway, there are worse things than death you know. To me, death is the easy way out."
Soujiro was now standing as he spoke to Kaoru. "Why do you say that?"
Kaoru turned all her attention to Soujiro this time, Wataru now being completely ignored. "Because living is the hard thing."
They continued to stare at each other, neither saying any thing more. It was like they were having some sort of conversation without words.
Wataru stared at the two, wondering if there was something he missed. He was almost afraid to break the silence, but restlessness got to him more. "Kaoru-dono?"
Kaoru came out of her trance once she heard her name and turned back to Wataru. "I'm sorry, shall we continue?"
Soujiro watched them begin another round and then turned to leave. He had a feeling that he had saw all that Kaoru wanted him to see, and felt no need to continue sticking around.
The rest of the days went by a little like the first one. Kaoru would spar a bit with Wataru then she would learn some cooking techniques from Hanabi. She had to admit that Hanabi had an excellent way of teaching, and she could have sworn her cooking skills had already improved a lot.
Every evening would be saved no matter what, just so she could sit and talk with Soujiro. Sometimes they wouldn't even say much, but just sit in each other's company. Somehow it felt really nice to have someone not mind her being around and never trying to push her away. Sometimes she would catch herself almost placing her head on his shoulder or grabbing his hand, or even hugging him tightly. She knew she was only doing this because she wanted to do all that with Kenshin and he was the closet she could get to him. That is why she held herself back so hard.
It was now a week from when she had to leave and she was sitting with Soujiro once again. Her head was hurting her a bit, but she tried to ignore it. Unfortunately, she couldn't hide it from Soujiro.
"Are you feeling okay?"
Kaoru shivered a bit. That was one thing that never changed. She constantly felt cold and that kept her from having a good night's rest. "I guess I haven't been sleeping well enough."
Soujiro put his hand up to her forehead. She was startled a bit by how bold he was being for a change. "I think you might have a little fever. You should go to bed early tonight."
Kaoru shook her head in disagreement. "I don't want to, it won't matter what time I go to bed. I still won't be able to sleep."
"Well I can't make you do anything, but I really think you should."
Kaoru giggled a bit. "You sound like you are very worried about me."
Soujiro turned to her his smile bigger than usual. "That's because I am."
Kaoru, a little taken aback by his show of concern, blinked a few times then smiled back. "Thank you, but I'm okay." Something inside Kaoru relaxed a bit and she could feel her eyelids getting heavy. "Do you mind if I use you for support though?"
"Of course not, go ahead."
"Thank you." Kaoru turned sideways and leaned her back against his side. Tilting her head back on his shoulder a bit, she took one last look at the stars before she was out like a light.
Soujiro noticed that she suddenly got heavier and checked to see that she was all right. When he noticed that she was just asleep, he carefully picked her up and took her inside.
He quietly made his way to her room, trying not to disturb any of the other residences. He was once again glad for his skills in moving around quickly so, in no time, he was at her room and placing her in her bed. However, there was one problem still at hand. Kaoru was holding on tightly to his gi and he couldn't get her to let go. So he did the only thing he could do. He laid down next to her and went to sleep.
Kaoru woke up, finally feeling refreshed when she noticed something was different.
"You awake now?"
Realizing what it was, she sat up and looked to see Soujiro laying on her bed and smiling at her as if nothing was wrong.
"What are you doing here?" She spit out, anger flashing in her eyes.
Soujiro sat up and placed his hands on his legs. "Well you see, you fell asleep on me last night and grabbed onto my gi. I tried to get you to let go, but your grip was very tight."
Kaoru blushed and looked down at herself. She was still dressed in what she wore that day and so was he. "I'm sorry. What time is it?"
"I believe it's about to be lunch time."
"What?" Kaoru jumped up surprised by how long she actually slept. "How long have you been awake?"
Soujiro slowly got up as well. "For at least the last 6 hours."
Kaoru looked down at her feet in shame. "I'm really sorry."
"Don't be. I enjoyed watching you sleep."
Kaoru's head popped up at that and Soujiro began to stutter.
"Wha- what I meant by that is, I'm glad you where finally able to get a good amount of rest, and I didn't mind having to lay there as long as I didn't wake you up."
Was that disappointment? Soujiro wondered to himself.
Kaoru scolded herself silently. What where you thinking he meant? Stupid girl.
"Well, I'll be leaving now so you can get changed." As he was about to leave he turned to her one more time with a smile on his face as usual, but something else was there. He looked as though he almost wanted to laugh. "Oh, and Kaoru, you may want to explain to Hanabi-san exactly what happened here." Then he left leaving Kaoru with a huge blush on her face.
"Just what was he implying there?"
Kaoru went straight to where Hanabi was, which happened to be the kitchen. "Good Afternoon Hanabi-san."
"It's good to see you up now. I trust you had a good night?"
Kaoru blushed once again. "Um, nothing happened Hanabi-san. We where just talking when I fell asleep on him."
Hanabi smiled. "What ever are you talking about Kaoru-san? I was merely thinking you must have had a very good sleep since you slept so long."
Kaoru knew Hanabi understood and smiled at her in return. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Would you mind setting the table and rounding everyone up?"
"Of course not." Kaoru quickly did as she was asked and then left to go and get everyone.
It didn't take her long to round everyone up since she knew where they would be right away. Wataru was in the sparing room practicing some of the routines she had taught him recently, Oosugi-san was sitting in the living room smoking his pipe and reading a paper, and Soujiro was feeding the horses.
When she had called to get Soujiro, she couldn't help but feel a little nervous seeing him so soon, but he just smiled his usual smile and told her he would be right there.
Once they were all seated at the table Kaoru decided she would apologize. "I'm sorry for sleeping in so late. It was very rude of me."
"There is no need to apologize Kaoru-san." Hanabi said, "Soujiro told me that you had a little fever last night."
Kaoru looked at Soujiro as he took another bite of his food. Wataru watched as Kaoru did this and smirked. He had heard from his mother that they had slept together last night and he noticed that Kaoru was looking much better today. The last few days she had been looking pale and a little worn out.
Kaoru noticed that Wataru was smiling like a fool at her, but decided to ignore it. He could think whatever he wanted, she didn't care anymore.
Once again, Kaoru found Soujiro sitting outside and relaxing.
"You know," She said to get his attention, "I was wondering why you always come out here every night?"
She took her seat next to him as usual and waited for a reply.
"I didn't always. My first time was actually that first day you saw me. After that I just kept coming. What about you? Why do you come out here every night?"
Kaoru blinked. That was a good question. "I don't really know either. I guess I like to sit here with you."
Soujiro thought about this for a while. "Maybe that is why I always come here. Hoping you will show up as well."
Kaoru smiled as he said this. He always said the right thing to keep her from feeling so embarrassed.
Soujiro placed his hand down on top of Kaoru's absent-mindedly. When he realized what he had just done, he quickly removed it as if he had touched a burning coal.
"It's alright." Kaoru whispered.
Not sure what she was talking about, he turned to her.
She took his hand and gave it a little squeeze. "You can hold my hand. I'm not going to bite you."
Soujiro closed his hand tightly around hers. "Thank you."
Kaoru watched the side of his mouth twitch. She knew something big was bothering him tonight, because his always-smiling face seemed like it was about to crack.
"What's wrong Soujiro?"
Soujiro said nothing.
"Please tell me. You don't have to hold everything in. I'm your friend and I want to help, even if it just means all I can do is take on your burdens with you."
"You don't want these burdens." He finally mumbled, his smile finally gone.
Frustrated by his answer, Kaoru let go of his hand and grabbed his head instead, pulling his him down to her chest.
Soujiro was a petrified rock by the overwhelming touching and affection.
"Would you just trust me for once?" Kaoru said softly.
Soujiro shook a little when she said this. He always knew he had a trust issue. "You are right. Living is the hardest thing to do. There have been times that I wish that I had just died that one rainy night instead of taking the life of others."
Kaoru said nothing, waiting patiently for him to continue.
Soujiro began to tell Kaoru his whole story and that night Kaoru cried for Soujiro.
The rest of that week was nothing big. Kaoru was happy that Soujiro had shared his deepest wounds with her. Ever since that time she spent more than just the evenings with Soujiro. She helped him with the chores even though her hosts where against the idea of having their guest help.
Soujiro himself had gotten more open with her and would start to show more emotion around her. He still would still smile a lot, but she figured that would be a habit that would take him some time to break.
It was the last day of her visit and Kaoru was depressed. She missed her home so much, but she wasn't ready to leave yet. She still wanted to spend more time with Soujiro.
Kaoru turned to see who was calling her.
Hanabi was standing there with a piece of paper in her hand. "This letter just now came for you. I think it is from your home."
Kaoru took it from her gratefully.
"It really is a shame that this is your last night with us."
"Yes, "Kaoru replied. "I will be sad when I have to leave."
"Well, I will leave you to your letter." Hanabi said then walked away.
Kaoru stared at the letter. She was afraid to open it there, so she headed for her room to read it in total privacy.
Once in her room she finally opened the piece of paper and began to read.
How have you been? This is Megumi. I know you were probably hoping this was a letter from Kenshin, but Kenshin- well you know him. Anyway, things are going pretty good here, but Yahiko is planning to hurt you when you get home. He was mad that you left him for such a long time without a sparing partner. I think that is his way of saying he misses you.
Kaoru smiled at that.
Sano tried to take off with your savings though. I had to tie him up for a couple of days, even though he said he was joking. I just don't trust that idiot. You got another sign up for another student. I told them you were on an errand to get more money for the dojo and that you would be really happy to hear they wanted to join. They told me to contact them when you were back. Well, you better come back soon. I'm tired of cooking for these fools, except for Kenshin of course.
Kaoru snorted. Megumi was never going to change, even in letter she tried to tease her. When she thought she was done with the letter, she saw something small written at the bottom.
P.S. Kaoru, I know you wanted to get away a bit because of Kenshin. I wish he would stop acting this way and be the one to write you instead of me, but I really think you should come back and be stronger for him though. Don't disappoint us, or him.
Anger started to boil up inside of Kaoru. She couldn't believe Megumi would say something like that to her, as if it was all her fault that Kenshin was ignoring her. Yet anger soon turned to tears, and before she knew it, she was down on the ground crying hard. She really didn't want to go back, she felt so alone and miserable.
Soujiro looked around the house for Kaoru. He knew it was her last night and he planned to make it his too. When he couldn't find her he figured she must have already gone to her room. Thinking that was odd, he went to her room as quickly as possible.
As he reached her door he could here her muffled cries. He opened the door without even knocking and found Kaoru curled up in a bawl and crying. Worried about her, he went over to pick her up and place her down on the bed. She continued to cry, seeming to only get worse.
"Kaoru, what's wrong? What happened?"
"I'm so tired of it all. I'm tired of being so alone; I'm tired of not ever feeling warm. I hate them so much, why do the things they do have to hurt me so much?"
Soujiro didn't really understand what was going on, but he figured she must have been talking about her family back at home. He couldn't stand to see her this way, and without even thinking he began to kiss her.
Kaoru's eyes widened when he did this, but soon she closed them, falling into the kiss herself. Her tears where beginning to subside and she was being filled with a warmth she had never felt before.
She knew it was wrong, she was supposed to only do this with Kenshin, but reason was losing out to the new feelings she was getting.
Soujiro broke the kiss, only to start slowly kissing the side of her neck.
Kaoru moaned slightly, getting tiny shivers when she felt his warm wet lips touch her bare skin. "Soujiro," she called out quietly.
Soujiro rose up to her face and stared into her eyes. Kaoru's checks were slightly flushed.
"Kaoru, you're not alone. In fact you are far from it, and if you are still cold maybe I can help change that."
Kaoru could see the seriousness in his eyes as he said that. She wondered how they got this way. Soujiro, a former enemy was now asking to make love to her. It was all so absurd, but still, she didn't want it to stop. Somehow she had a feeling she had been wanting to do this for a very long time, but reasoning kept her from admitting it until now. Kaoru brought him back into a kiss, but this time it was deeper and filled with a lot more passion. It was very obvious that she wasn't the only one who wanted to do this for a long time.
Soujiro's hand wandered around Kaoru's kimono, trying to figure out a way to take it off. Kaoru giggled slightly at his pathetic attempt and then took his hands to help guide him through it. It was actually a little awkward. Both of them didn't have the slightest clue as to what they were doing.
Finally Kaoru was free of her heavy kimono. She shivered a bit as the cold air blew across her now completely bare body. A slight blush rose to her cheeks as he stared at her, taking her all in.
Soujiro was in complete awe at how perfect she looked. He had seen her once before but at that time he didn't really take it in. Her every curve, her every mark, and her creamy white skin that glowed ever so slightly by the flickering of the candlelight. She was beautiful, and he felt so privileged that she was allowing him to see her this way. Not being able to hold back anymore, he pulled her into another deep kiss. Pressing her body to his as much as he could. Kaoru moaned softly into Soujiro's mouth as his tongue explored, stroking and tasting.
They slowly lowered themselves on the bed, Soujiro hovering above her. Kaoru started to pull at Soujiro's clothes. Breaking away from the kiss, Kaoru breathlessly spoke, "I want to see you too."
Without any hesitation he was out of his clothes in no time. Kaoru ran her hands over his well-developed chest, caressing it and admiring it. Then she wrapped her arms around him to bring him down, feeling the warmth of skin on skin.
Soujiro began to explore her body, cupping and molding her breast in the palm of his hand. Kaoru gasped when his thumb brushed over the sensitive bud.
Their skin perspired in the heat of the lovemaking as Kaoru ran her fingers through Soujiro's hair. All the sensations where so overwhelming that, before they knew it, their minds went blank with one last sentence being murmured from Kaoru's lips. "I love you."
Kaoru woke up to the sunlight in her eyes. She stretched as memories of the night flooded through her mind. Finally she wasn't feeling cold, even though she wore nothing under the quilts. Then she realized something wasn't right. She turned to her side and saw that Soujiro wasn't there. Quickly, she got up and threw on her clothes, then made her way out the door and to the living room.
She spotted Hanabi right away and came up to her. "Hanabi-san, have you seen Soujiro?"
Hanabi gave her a sad smile. "I'm afraid he left a while ago. He was a rurouni after all."
Kaoru didn't understand. Why would he leave without even saying goodbye? Especially after the night they just shared.
Hanabi noticed that her eyes were starting to brim with tears. "I'm sorry Kaoru-san, but he left me with something to give you."
Curious, Kaoru watched as Hanabi went over to the shelf and grabbed a small box. Then she walked back over to Kaoru and held it out to her. Kaoru slowly stretched out her hand to take the box. She stared at it for a while until Hanabi told her to go ahead and open. Inside she found a silver necklace in the shape of a sakura blossom with a note that read. So you know that you are never alone.
Tears leaked from her eyes at that.
Hanabi admired the necklace in her hands. "That is a pretty expensive gift from a rurouni."
Kaoru only smiled at Hanabi's words. The gift could have just been a simple flower and she still would have treasured it. She didn't know if his note was talking about the necklace, the night they shared, or both, but it didn't matter. Clasping the necklace on herself she bowed to Hanabi-san.
"Thank you so much for being such a kind hostess for me over the past month, but now it is time for me to go home."
"It was nice having you around, and maybe next time we can come down to visit you instead."
Kaoru smiled, "I would like that very much." Then she turned to leave. It was going to be a long trip back.
As the memories slowly started to fade, Kaoru decided it was now time for her to come back inside. She opened her eyes and saw a familiar man standing in the gateway of her dojo. Here eyes widened when she realized who it was.
"Hello, Kaoru. It has been a long time."
Tears started to fall freely from her eyes. "Soujiro?"
"Kenshin! Is she still not inside yet?"
Kenshin looked at the frustrated Megumi. "No, I'm afraid not."
"Well dinner is ready now and if she doesn't come in to eat it I will be very insulted."
Kenshin sweat dropped as he got the picture. "Okay, okay, I understand. I will go and get her."
"You know Kenshin," He heard Sano say, "If you don't loosen up a bit with Jou-chan, you may just lose her."
Kenshin continued to walk away even as he heard the rest of the family bicker.
"Stupid!" Yahiko yelled. "Don't tell him something like that."
"But it's the truth! Even though they are engaged, they still haven't even kissed!"
Megumi snorted at that, her fox ears popping out on her head. "You sure do watch them a lot. Are you hoping to get a show?"
Sano turned bright red. "What? Stop saying stupid things like that Megumi!"
Megumi just laughed at that.
Kenshin sighed and shook his head. They were never going to change. Just as he was about to open the door to the outside he heard a soft voice.
Startled by hearing the familiar name, Kenshin slowly cracked open the door to see what was going on and, sure enough, Soujiro was there. A little worried for Kaoru's safety, he opened the door all the way and stepped out. That was when Soujiro began to speak.
"I'm sorry that it has been so long. I really didn't mean for it to be. These years have been very long and painful, but I think I have finally found my purpose in life and that is to be with you."
Confused by what he was hearing, he turned to Kaoru and noticed that many tears were falling down her cheeks. "Kaoru?"
Kaoru immediately turned to Kenshin in surprise. She looked down at her hand and realization hit her. Looking at Soujiro one more time her tears started to fall even more. "I'm sorry, but it's too late."
Soujiro was actually not smiling for once as he put the pieces together. He gave her one last look before turning to leave.
Kaoru held onto one of the pillars of the dojo for support as her legs began to get weak. Kenshin watched her, not liking to see her that way. There was only one thing for him to do now. He walked up to Kaoru and took her hand. She watched curiously with tears still falling, wondering what he was about to do.
Kenshin put his fingers around the ring she was wearing and pulled it off slowly.
Kaoru began to shake. "You don't want me anymore?"
Kenshin just smiled as he brought his face up to hers and placed his cheek without the scar up against hers. His mouth was close to her ear as he whispered, " It's okay. You can go to him."
Kaoru threw her arms around him in a tight hug. "I'm so sorry." She said between sobs. "I really was happy that you wanted to marry me."
"I know," Kenshin said in a soft voice.
"Thank you," Kaoru said before letting him go and running off in the direction Soujiro was.
Kenshin watched as she disappeared from view. "I guess Sano was right." He then took a deep breath and walked back inside.
As soon as he walked back into the dinning room without Kaoru once again, Megumi tore into him.
"Kenshin! Where is Kaoru? Can't you just force her to come inside by picking her up or something?"
Kenshin smiled at Megumi sadly. "I'm afraid Kaoru won't be joining us for dinner tonight."
Megumi held back her next words as she noticed his sad face.
"What's going on?" Yahiko asked.
"Sano was right, Yahiko."
Finally understanding what was going on, Megumi walked up to Kenshin and asked with sad eyes. "Are you going to be okay Kenshin?"
Kenshin smiled. "To be honest, I'm not completely sure."
Kaoru ran as fast as she could in her tight Kimono. As soon as she turned the corner to her front gate she spotted him not to far away. "Soujiro!" She yelled with all her might.
Soujiro stopped, but didn't turn around.
"You jerk! Were you going to leave me again without even putting up a fight?"
Understanding what she meant, Soujiro turned around with his usual smile back on his face. "Actually, I was going to go find a sword"
Kaoru smiled at his obvious lie, but was glad that he turned around. "You liar." Then she ran to him as he held out his arms to welcome her to his embrace.
"Don't you ever do this to me again, 'cause next time I won't be as forgiving." Kaoru mumbled into his chest.
Soujiro placed his hand on her chin and gently tilted her head up to his. "Don't worry, there is no way I could leave you again." Then he placed his lips on hers for a deep kiss.
Kaoru wrapped her arms around his neck and welcomed the kiss with all her heart. It had been so long since she had been able to taste him but she could still remember it as if it was yesterday. Finally breaking away from the kiss for some air, Soujiro cupped his hands on her face. "I love you too, Kaoru."
Tears spilled from her eyes once again, but this time it was because she was happy, happy that he had finally replied to her confession.