Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin belongs to Nobuhiro Watsuki

Ok, here it is, the new version. It has very little changes (plot wise). The prologue is tiny, I know, but the rest of the chapters will be far longer.

Thank you so much to hoshi-ni-onegai, my talented, speedy beta-reader.

Hope you enjoy!


Prologue


Just keep running. She could feel the drumming of her heartbeats in her ears, the snow burning the soles of her feet. With each exhalation, a tiny wisp of a cloud formed. She shoved the branch of a tree out of the way and scratched her arms in the process, not even registering the pain. She ignored the droplets of blood running down her chin, gliding over her neck and staining her kimono.

She stopped, and for a moment, heard nothing but her own desperate, gasping breaths. Her face was sticky with blood and sweat, and she felt a wave of nausea at the realization: not all the blood belonged to her. She stood frozen, aware of her surroundings. Were they following still or had she lost them? Where were they? Turning in all directions, she didn't know what to look for. Wherever she looked, the only thing she saw were the branches of the trees partially covering the cloudy sky. Where could she go?

She lifted a hand to her neck, searching, but it wasn't there anymore. She'd lost it. And then she heard it. The furious roar of a man spitting orders to find her at all costs. Fear paralyzed her for a second, before she forced herself to run again, getting as far as she could from the voice.

"Kaoru dearest, you can't run forever!" she heard him again.

The muscles of her legs were screaming for relief and yet, Kaoru knew she couldn't stop. Blinded by her desperation, she barely saw the cliff in time to cling to a trunk and stop herself from falling. Looking down, she met the powerful stream of a river over a hundred feet below. The fall would surely kill her. She didn't sense the man behind her until, seizing her roughly by the waist; he slammed her face down on the ground. She struggled against the strong grip that tried to put her hands behind her back. When she saw him pulling a thick rope out of his clothes, Kaoru took the dagger out of her obi and plunged it into her attacker's foot, piercing it to the frosty ground. The man howled in pain and let go for a second, giving her the chance to get up. She scurried away the cliff edge, hearing the man revealing her position. She kept running from the voices, not noticing the edges narrowing into a crag. She was trapped.

"There you are dear."

Kaoru turned slowly and found herself face to face with the man she despised.

"I know what you are used to, but things can´t always go your way," he said in the high pitched, unctuous voice that made her stomach churn. The man advanced a few steps. "It's over for you."

"I know," said Kaoru, retreating a few steps towards the cliff. "And now I'm going to end it for you too."

The man rolled his eyes in annoyance and offered a demanding hand. "Just come here and we'll talk about it, ok?"

"You are not going to destroy anymore of this country."

He smiled patiently. "If you're smart, you'll know what to do."

"I won't let you," Kaoru said without paying attention.

"Just tell me where they are," he said brusquely, all pretenses at kindness forgotten.

"You failed," Kaoru shook her head slowly, getting nearer to the edge.

"Come here," the man huffed angrily.

There was a second when their gazes met, when Kaoru saw comprehension dawn in the man's face. His sudden despair gave her the strength to do what was needed. Breathing faster, Kaoru turned on her heels, her back to him. She leaned over, watching the current for a moment… then jumped. She felt a sickening emptiness in her stomach when her feet lost contact with the ground. Falling, the last thing she heard was the man's angry cry echoing across the cliff.


Slowly, consciousness made its way through her senses. The first thing she noticed was the pain. Pain everywhere, her head was about to explode. An annoying, constant buzz filled her ears. And then the voices came. The words were distant and vague, and she couldn't make them out. A few seconds later, when she had gained more awareness, she heard her own feeble moan.

"Look! She's waking up."

She felt the touch of a hand on her forehead. The pain made her recoil.

"She's feverish. Hikari quick, go get the doctor."

She kept pulling in shallow breaths, making an effort to open her eyes. Where was she? The first thing she saw was the flickering, yellow light of a candle. Wearily, she focused on the two blurry silhouettes hovering over her.

"Hey," said one of them softly. "Don't worry, you're safe."

"What?—" Each breath cost her great effort. Her mouth was dry, and had an unpleasant coppery taste. She tried to swallow, feeling her throat raw.

"Hold on," said the voice, and she was offered a bowl with water, which she drank laboriously.

"What happened?"

"My son found you by the river, caught in some rocks. You were unconscious."

"River…" she repeated feebly, unable to understand. Her head was a whirlwind.

"She's pretty hurt," a second voice whispered.

"Where am I?"

"At my inn, The Hanako. My name is Aiko Matsumura. Who are you, dear? What's your name?"

It took her a few seconds to register that question.

"I…" she shut her eyes closed, feeling a stab of panic. "I—I can't…"

"You just rest, get your strength back. There will be time for introductions later."

"But I…" What was going on? She tried to remember how she had come to this, why was she so hurt… and she couldn't.

Oh no. No no no.

About to sit up straight, a gentle, but firm grasp prevented her.

"Get some rest. You are safe."


Kaoru hadn't even heard most of the words the doctor had said. He had recited the litany of the diagnosis to Mrs. Matsumura while Kaoru remained seated in bed, feeling like the subject of a study.

"Multiple contusions, three broken ribs, pneumonia, and I fear, severe head trauma-- with the consequent memory loss," at this point, the doctor had addressed her. "That's the confusion you have been experiencing, the reason you can't remember your accident. Have you ever heard the word amnesia?"

Kaoru shook her head.

"You forget what you have learned before. You are capable of retaining new information, but you may have problems when recalling past experiences."

At that, the people in the room looked at Kaoru with an unpleasant mixture of pity and curiosity.

"Is the damage permanent?" Mrs. Matsumura had asked.

"Probably not," answered the doctor, packing his things. "But it's impossible to know how long her recovery will take. Could be months, could be years."

The first days had been absolutely devastating for her. She was a beaten, lost woman, with no clue of where to go. Mrs. Matsumura's kind offering to stay until she got better was her only consolation. Endless questions accosted her day after day, she didn't have an answer for any of them. The only sign of her past life was the torn, bloody kimono she was wearing the day she'd been found. Kamiya Kaoru, indicated the kanjis embroidered in the fabric. Even after being washed and mended by the girls at the inn, Kaoru wanted nothing to do with it, and gave it to one of the waitresses. Two weeks after her arrival at the Hanako, Mrs. Matsumura had quieted Kaoru's other latent fear.

"You know, there's always so much work to do here, and I constantly whine that I could use a couple extra hands."

Despite the knot on her throat, Kaoru had managed to smile and nod.

"You can stay for as long as you want," said Mrs. Matsumura, holding her hand.

"Thank you."

It was after a whole month, when her body had finished healing, that her soul began to find some peace.

Life at the Hanako was quiet, and little by little Kaoru discovered the pleasures of a simple life, surrounded by the new friends she had made. She woke up before sunrise every day. After all the girls had a quick bite to eat, they made breakfast for the guests. On some occasions she worked as a waitress and served the food, others, she stayed in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning. The rest of the day went by among the chit chat of the girls while they performed the many chores necessary at an inn: cleaning up the rooms, picking up the futons, washing clothes and bed sheets, sweeping, shopping for groceries. There were days so hectic she even forgot to lament her fate.

Even so, doubt was never far from her mind. Out there, somewhere, there had to be someone worrying about her. Someone had embroidered her name in that kimono. In the months that followed, even with the help from Mrs. Matsumura and the girls, she couldn't find in all of Kyoto a single person who recognized her, or shared her last name. Did that mean she wasn't a native of the city? In that case, how was she ever going to find her family? Kaoru didn't have an answer, but she knew she wasn't going to stop until she did.


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