Guide in the Wilderness
by David A. Tatum

Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin belongs to Nobuhiro Watsuki. I'm only
borrowing from his excellent work.

Notes: Well, I finally saw all twenty-five volumes of the anime (seeing it
has actually caused some additions to this fanfic I was not planning on).
I've also read Maigo-chan's translations, but they don't go QUITE as far as
the anime does. Since I haven't read past that, I can't set it past that,
so... consider this an anime continuation, and, er, disregard the manga...
Oh, and I'm not used to using honorifics in my fanfics, but for some
reason, the only other real option I think would work (which has Kenshin
calling Kaoru 'Miss Kaoru') doesn't appeal to me, so I'll try using them
here- let me know if I blunder them totally... Anyway, enough of this
note, here goes the story. Enjoy...
-------------------------

Chapter 1

'Where's Sanosuke when we need him?' Kaoru thought desperately. A knife
was pinning Yahiko's shirt to the wall with a struggling Yahiko in it, she
was being held in place by a brutish giant, and Kenshin, worn out from a
battle he had just returned from, was facing off against another rogue
hitokiri. Sanosuke had yet to come home from a lunch at the Akabeko and
Misao was back in Osaka, so there was no help in the immediate vicinity to
come to their aid, so it was up to them.

The flat of the attacker's blade crashed down onto a weary Kenshin's head,
dropping him to the ground like a sack of rice. The sakaba sword clattered
to the floor and slid across the smoothly-polished wood.

"No!" Kaoru screamed, as the hitokiri raised his katana, ready to deliver
the blow that would separate the half-conscious Kenshin's head from his
shoulders. She struggled to break free and stop him, even if it meant she
would take the death blow, but the man holding her picked her up and put
her over his shoulder in order to pin her better.

She couldn't escape his grip, but the adjustment to her position did free
up one of her arms. She reached out looking for any kind of weapon, and
found some kind of polearm one of the hitokiri's entourage was holding.
She tore it from his grasp, and without being able to see anything and in
too much of a hurry to look anyway, swung wildly, hoping to distract the
killer and perhaps give Kenshin a few more seconds to recover and defend
himself. She felt something connect hard and heard a meaty 'thwack.'

Kaoru went tumbling to the floor much like Kenshin had moments before when
her captor dropped her, shocked. A collective gasp from the hitokiri's
followers went unnoticed by her and she rolled to her feet and wielded the
polearm in a more defensive and controlled manner. A small drop of
something fell on her hand.

Kaoru's eyes shifted, preparing her for a sudden attack. None came- in
fact, most of the people were looking at her with abject horror- even
Yahiko. It wasn't until Kenshin spoke that she began to wonder why.

"K-kaoru... what have you done?" he asked, his voice trembling.

Kaoru looked at Kenshin, then at the hitokiri. Make that the now deceased
hitokiri, who had a serious wound on his head. She raised her eyes,
looking at the messy blade of the poleax she was wielding. Finally, she
glanced at the small drop on her hand, which had been un-noticed by her
until just then.

The tiny red pool the drop of blood had made drew Kaoru in as she realized
what, exactly, she had done. As the weight of it all impacted on her, she
screamed, and then blacked out.

* * * * *

Kaoru woke up to two loudly bickering voices. It took her a moment to
clear her head and understand what they were saying, but when she did what
she heard made her decide it probably wasn't a good idea to be waking up
right then.

"...r over to me," Saitoh was demanding. Saitoh? Wasn't he killed in that
explosion at Shishio's stronghold?

"Dammit, Saitoh!" Kenshin cursed- not something Kaoru usually liked to hear
him say. "You KNOW that what happened was not her fault- I was about to be
killed, she was being held in mid-air by that giant oaf, she was swinging
wildly, and she couldn't even see that she was holding a poleax at the
time! She never meant to kill the guy- just to buy me some time to recover
and prepare for his next attack!"

'Oh, god,' Kaoru thought, her mind suddenly snapping all of the sleepiness
out of her system. 'It wasn't a dream- I really did k-kill him... but my
father's teachings, my philosophy- why? Why was I not able to control
myself better? Maybe I was in a desperate situation, but I should have
known from its weight that it was more than just a bo, and swung in such a
way to make sure only the flat of the blade would impact him! But I
couldn't... I didn't... I failed. I failed to follow my budo- the sword
that protects life.... Oh, god...'

Saitoh nodded gruffly. "Of course I know that- and that's the only reason
I haven't killed all of you yet to get to her! Remember, I live by the
philosophy of Kill Evil Instantly, and if I thought Kaoru was a real
murderer she would be dead already, as would anyone who tried to stop me!
But if someone is obviously cut down by a blade, then his death MUST be
investigated by the law, and for that reason I must take her down to the
station with me for questioning, and so I need her to come with me now."

"No!" Kenshin screamed. Kaoru could hear his sword sliding in its sheath
in preparation for some battou-jutsu technique, and she felt the shifting
of Saitou's feet on the floor to indicate that he was moving to his
Gattoutsu stance- she knew the battle was about to start, one which
(between these two) would lead to one of them being killed and the Battosai
likely emerging, but... she couldn't stop it. She'd killed a man- what
right did she have to stop someone else from doing the same?

"Stop it, both of you!" Megumi's voice shouted. "You are being as
unreasonable as five year olds- no, less. Ayame-chan and Suzame-chan have
always been more willing to compromise than the two of you are right now!
Kenshin, Saitoh is right! He HAS to bring Kaoru in, or else she won't be
able to explain what happened and will be thought of as a murderer!"
Saitoh smiled slightly, amused at having been defended by one of Kenshin's
friends. "And you, Mr. Policeman, should realize the necessity of allowing
Kaoru the time to recover her wits- she's been in a great shock! And you
should also allow Kenshin to accompany her, as well- she'll need the moral
support-"

Saitoh snorted. "Whatever. I'll just wait here until she's ready to
travel, then. But don't make me wait too long, or else I won't bother with
courtesy anymore, and I'll just sling her over my shoulder and drag her to
jail."

Megumi nodded, satisfied. Turning to the other swordfighter, she asked,
"Ken-san?"

"...hai."

Kaoru was surprised. Kenshin had seemed to hesitate before agreeing- why?
The agreement seemed perfectly reasonable to her. In fact, she didn't see
the need for an agreement. She'd killed a man- she didn't deserve time to
recover. She didn't deserve to have Kenshin stay with her any more.

"Good. Now, let me return to my patient, and when I think she's ready to
see the two of you, I'll let you know. Now, get out of here!" the female
doctor ordered. A shuffling of feet indicated the two had left, and soon
Megumi was back by Kaoru, and a cold wet cloth was placed on her head.
Still, Kaoru did and said nothing.

After a moment, Megumi clucked. "You know, I really don't like treating
people who only pretend to be sick."

Kaoru's eyes opened and she sat up. "Then why don't you leave?"

Megumi smirked. "I'm not going to answer that just yet. First, I think
you need to be caught up on the news. It seems our Saitoh was only
pretending to be dead to us, but when he heard you had killed a man he
rushed right over. To gloat about it to Ken-san, I suppose."

"Gloat?"

"Saitoh has always said that Kenshin was an idealist. You, as it turns
out, were that ideal."

"Ideal?" Kaoru asked.

"The sword which fought for what it believed in, protected those it cared
about, and never had to take a life. Your philosophy, in other words- and
your ability to keep it."

Kaoru sobbed. "Until now. I've ruined Kenshin's ideal, I've failed
myself, and I've killed a man- what do I have to live for?" She closed her
eyes again, laying back down. "I should just kill myself right now, before
I mess up anyone elses life."

The stinging sensation of Megumi's slap forced Kaoru's eyes back open.
"Snap out of it!" the female doctor snarled. "You killed a man, yes, but
in doing so you saved Ken-san's life! It would all be for nothing, though,
if you were to kill yourself. You may have ruined Kenshin's ideal, but as
long as you live he will go on with his own life. If you were to die,
though, he would become a shell of what he is... or may even follow you in
death."

"But-"

"Don't 'but' me! If anything, you can give Ken-san a new ideal- a person
who was once forced to kill, but resists the urge to kill again. And if
you kill yourself, you WILL be killing someone else."

Kaoru sighed. "Okay... for Kenshin's sake, I won't kill myself...."

Megumi frowned. "With that attitude, you'll start feeling suicidal the
next time you and he have an argument. You have to live not JUST for him,
but for yourself, as well. And Sano, and Yahiko-chan, and Ayame-chan, and
Sazumi-chan, and Tae-san, and Tsubasa-chan, and Misao-chan, and... and me!
Dammit, you're my friend, too! Live for yourself and live for us, because
no-one here wants to see you die! Not even Saitoh- if he did, he would
have killed you already."

Timidly, Kaoru nodded. "Alright, Megumi-san. For myself, and you, and
Kenshin...."

Megumi smiled. "Good. Now, get some rest... when you wake up next time,
I'll let Ken-san know you're awake, and you and he can go meet Saitoh and
get everything cleared up...."

* * * * *

"Kaoru, Are you sure you're feeling up to this?" Kenshin asked, concerned.
"We can always hold off for another day or two..."

'No,' Kaoru thought. 'I will not delay whatever punishment I deserve for
killing that man. I deserve it...' She paused for a moment. 'And why
isn't he calling me 'Kaoru-DONO any more?'

"I'm fine, Kenshin," she said. "I want to get this out of the way."

Kenshin nodded. "Don't worry- I won't let anyone to do anything to you for
this."

"No!" Kaoru shouted. "Don't you DARE make that promise!"

Kenshin jumped back, startled. "Oro?! What did I say?"

Kaoru blinked- she hadn't meant to sound so angry. "I'm sorry, Kenshin- I
didn't mean to shout. But I really killed that man, so I deserve whatever
punishment the law sets down for me. Don't get into a fight trying to
prevent me from getting what I deserve."

"But I..." Kenshin began. A stern glare from Kaoru stopped him. "Okay-
but ONLY if the sentence is a just one. You know that they've gotten
carried away in the past."

Kaoru sighed. She really couldn't expect more from him- he would always be
her protector, she supposed. Even if she didn't deserve him any more.

"We're here," Kenshin said after a few minutes of walking. "Ready?"

"Yes," Kaoru said, and started into the building without looking at him.

Saitoh met them at the door. "Ah, good. You're here. About time, too.
Come on..."

He led them to a small office, and gestured for them to sit down. "Okay,
Kaoru, all I need is for you to confirm the report. According to what
we've heard from Yahiko and the Battosai over there, the hitokiri Gantarou
Itoko came into your dojo and challenged Kenshin to a duel. You and Yahiko
were detained, and while struggling you grabbed a poleax. You swung the
poleax wildly, and wound up killing Itoko with it. Correct?"

Kaoru nodded. "Hai... that's exactly what I did. Killed Itoko..."

Something flashed in Saitoh's eyes at the hopeless tone in Kaoru's voice.
Frowning, he nodded. "Good. As it turns out, Gantarou Itoko was wanted by
us for having killed several regional leaders. Good job! Now, get out of
here and go home...."

Kaoru blinked. "But... what about my sentence? I killed a man- shouldn't
I be imprisoned, or... or something?"

Saitoh laughed. "If everyone who killed a man was imprisoned, then
Kenshin, Aoshi, and probably Sano and Misao would likely be in jail right
now... and we would have just executed Shishio Makoto's gang in quiet
instead of giving them the jobs we did. And you were acting in
self-defense, after all...."

"Um... okay," Kaoru said, sounding somewhat disappointed. "Come on,
Kenshin, let's go home."

She turned to go, and a VERY relieved Kenshin started to follow.

"One moment, Battosai- I'd like to talk with you in private for a moment."

"Oro?" Kenshin said. Kaoru shut the door behind her and walked to the
front of the police station, and started to wait for him.

"Battosai," Saitoh said. "Just a suggestion- you might want to start
wandering again. And I mean now."

Kenshin's eyes widened. "But... I can't leave Kaoru alone- especially at a
time like this!"

"Who said you had to leave her alone?" A completely baffled look answered
him. "I meant you should go... and take her with you. It took you a
decade of wandering to finally get over what you did in Kyoto. Kaoru's
only killed once, so it shouldn't take so long... and if you bring her with
you, then maybe that time will be reduced."

"Saitoh?"

"Look, I don't like you- I think you know that," Saitoh growled. "But I'm
a man, just like you. I know what it's like when your woman suddenly gets
depressed- I AM married, after all. If Tokio were acting like Kaoru is
now, I'd damn well do something."

"This isn't like you, Saitoh," Kenshin said suspiciously. "What's in it
for you?

"You need a reason? Very well.... We haven't needed you for a while now-
we probably won't for some time, still. However, until you can get Kaoru
feeling better, I'm pretty sure we won't be able to bring you back into our
service if we need you."

Kenshin nodded. He expected the reason to be something like that. "Well,
if that's so, then I'd like something from you...."

Saitoh blinked. "From me?"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sir Desaix, member # 116 of the Knights of the True Fiancee
desaix@sysnet.net
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/7872
fanfics available at
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/7872/fanfics.htm