Disclaimer - Sadly, I don't own Rurouni Kenshin. It is the sole property of Nobuhiro Watsuki and the many companies who have purchased the rights.
Epilogue - New Beginnings
Kaoru sighed softly as she scanned the table, the carefree banter filling the room a welcome sound after all that had happened. They were all here, all the people she loved most, Aoshi, Misao, Sano and Megumi all sat to her right, Dr. Genzai, Yahiko and the girls sat to her left and Kenshin sat directly across from her, even Tae and Tsubame had come the two women squishing in amongst the rest. A small sad smile came to her lips as she scanned each of their faces, she had come so close to never seeing any of them again but even here amidst their teasing and joking she felt so far away from them. She'd only been gone for three days, three days that felt like a lifetime. She was no longer the naive girl they all knew; she had seen too much to retain that blind innocence. Shishio had stolen more than her blood, he had taught her how to hate and he had also shown her just how cruel the world could be.
Swallowing another sigh, Kaoru dropped her attention back to the delicious meal Megumi had cooked and half-heartedly pushed the food around the bowl trying to fight down the loneliness that seemed to be her new best friend. She knew it was wrong to feel this way but there was no way to stop it, she felt so alone. It was her own fault really, she'd made Kenshin promise not to tell anyone what had happened and there was still a lot even he didn't know and she had already decided she would never tell him, she wouldn't tell any of them, it would be better to just let the memories fade.
"Kaoru...are you ok?"
A hush fell over the room as Kaoru lifted her eyes and met Misao's gaze. Digging up the best smile she could she nodded, "Hai, just a little tired."
Misao gave her a skeptical look, "Are you sure, you've been real quiet tonight," pausing she eyed Kaoru more closely and saw something in her friend's eyes that she hadn't seen before, a shadow that shouldn't have been there. A spark of anger lit deep in her gut at the mere thought of someone hurting her. Pinning Kaoru with a piercing blue gaze she asked "Did he hurt you Kaoru?"
Startled Kaoru simply stared at her best friend. How was she going to answer that? If she told them what happened or what she was they would just think she was a freak, she couldn't handle losing them completely.
"Kaoru has had a long three days," Kenshin spoke up suddenly, "maybe we should let her go to bed, she's only been home for a couple of hours."
Relieved, Kaoru threw a grateful smile and a silent heartfelt thank you to Kenshin and rose from the table, "I think I will go to bed." Smiling faintly she let her eyes drift to each of them before she spoke again, "Thank you all for being here when I came home, it really means a lot to me. I'll see you all tomorrow."
Slipping silently from the room Kaoru didn't see the concerned looks pass around the table or the intense violet gaze locked on her retreating form.
Kenshin watched her until she was out of sight before he shifted his gaze to those sitting around the table, "Leave her to me, I promise she will be alright."
"Are you sure? She won't talk about it." Misao pressed clearly worried. Kaoru hadn't said anything about her time with Shishio and now she was sure that that monster had harmed her friend in some way, if not physically then mentally and emotionally.
Megumi eyed him suspiciously when he remained silent. "What really happened Kenshin?"
Kenshin stifled a sigh and met Megumi's concerned gaze. "She's asked me not to talk about it and I don't know the whole story, she hasn't told me either." Letting his eyes wander the table he added, "Right now she doesn't feel like herself and she's pushing me away afraid that I'm going to leave her, the first thing I need to do is prove to her that I'm not going anywhere and then I'm going to show her that she is still the same Kaoru we all love."
"So you have chosen to set aside your wandering and remain here with Kamiya-san?" Aoshi asked quietly surprising everyone.
A small smirk curled the edge of Kenshin's lips as he met the Okashira's gaze, "Yes. She's mine...there's no way I'm going to let her go."
Sano chuckled then hissed in pain as his stitches pulled. "Jou-chan isn't going to know what hit her is she?"
Kenshin smiled then chuckled himself, "No, she isn't."
Kaoru padded swiftly down the hallway and slipped silently into her room, closing out the murmurs she could just barely hear coming from the dojo where they had been dining. She sighed softly as she slid the door closed behind her and took in at the shadowed yet familiar surroundings. It really did feel good to be home. Lighting the candle resting on her desk she quickly shed the ruined hakama and gi and donned a yukata, before loosening her hair. She smiled as she finger combed her hair. She hadn't had time to do anything when she'd first gotten home. Almost as soon as she'd stepped through the door she'd been engulfed in a bone crushing hug from Misao then had been passed around to all the rest who had been anxiously waiting, even Aoshi had clasped her in his arms for a brief moment which had about knocked her over. From then on things had gone crazy, everything had happened so fast that before she knew it she was sitting at the table eating without so much as changing her clothes.
Relishing the peacefulness she hadn't had since she'd been kidnapped she settled down at the desk and glanced out the window to watch the moonlit clouds skitter across the sky. On the way home she'd started to put a small measure of distance between her and Kenshin too. She winced as her chest tightened, she had already decided she wouldn't hold him here against his will. There was no reason for him to be her guardian anymore and she wanted him to know that he was free to wander again if that's what he chose. He had enough problems without her adding more. She had noticed though that ever since leaving the mansion he no longer tacked the honorific onto her name or called himself unworthy, it was almost as if he had found himself and she was glad for that. Maybe he would finally find the happiness he deserved even if it wasn't with her.
With a sigh she ignored the loneliness those thoughts provoked and shifted her eyes from the sky to the small wooden box still sitting on her desk. Trailing her fingers along its smooth surface she smiled sadly, she no longer needed the answers within but she was still curious to know what was inside. Nimbly unclasping the chain that still hung around her neck she unlocked the box and slowly lifted the lid.
Tucked inside were two yellowed scrolls, both looking so old and fragile she was sure they would fall apart if she so much as breathed on them. Lightly trailing a finger along the top most scroll her curiosity finally got the best of her and she gently lifted it out. A quick tug loosened the ribbon holding it closed and she unrolled it being very careful not to tug on the fragile parchment. Laying it flat on the table she scanned the flowing script slowly deciphering the faded kanji. Her eyes misted over as she read what must have been the last words her ancestor Aiko had ever said to her daughter, the worry and love written on the page almost too much to bear. With the back of her hand she wiped away the single tear that escaped her eye and rolled the scroll back up then set it aside. She shouldn't have read that. That had been something private between a mother and her beloved daughter it hadn't been meant for just anyone eyes.
Shifting her attention back into the box she hesitantly lifted out the second scroll unsure now if she should read it or not. Her eyes widened when she saw a lone white feather resting in the bottom of the box beneath the second scroll. Carefully lifting it out she studied it closely in the flickering light and noticed that the feather was not pure white but white tapering into gold at the tips. A small smile came to her lips, so she really was the descendant of a fallen angel, she hadn't really believed even when she'd met Akiko but now with the proof right here in her fingers there was no way she could deny it any longer. She really was an angel...or at least she had been, but now she was just like everyone else a simple human trying to make it in this dark world.
Setting the feather aside she gave into her curiosity again and unraveled and read the second scroll, finding within the answers she had been desperately searching for while she'd been captive. Here it was, the truth of what she was written by the one who had given birth to the line of women just like her. Akiko had left a detailed description of what they were and how to control it; it even said how to kill if someone tried to steal their blood. It was all here, everything that could have saved her from the nightmare she'd been put through. A small spark of anger lit in her gut but faded almost as quickly as it had come, it was true she had suffered but because of her sacrifice all the rest that would come after her would no longer have to worry about the same fate befalling them. With her it was finally over.
With a smile she rolled the scroll and gently laid them both along with the feather back in the box. Picking up the key she laid it on top of the scrolls and closed the lid, locking the box once again against prying fingers. Her family no longer needed the words her ancestors had written they had finally been set free.
Smoothly rising from the desk she placed the box at the bottom of her clothing chest, hiding it among the many kimonos she hardly ever wore. She stiffened as a light scraping sound drifted to her ears from the open window. Silently closing the chest she tiptoed to the window and hesitantly looked out half afraid of what she might find. She shivered as cool blast of wind blew in heavily laced with the scent of rain, leaning a little closer she looked down and saw red hair glinting in the candlelight filtering through the window. "Kenshin, what are you doing?"
She saw his head move slightly as he repositioned himself and then he finally spoke, "Sleeping."
Kaoru's brow furrowed, "Out there?...Why?"
"Because I will not fail to protect you again."
Kaoru growled in irritation and glared at his bowed head. "Kenshin, you didn't fail to protect me. I already told you that it was out of our control, now please at least sleep inside it's going to rain and I don't want you to get sick."
She was somewhat surprised to see him nod and rise. "All right."
Watching as he made his way back down the porch she closed the window when she lost sight of him and turned to settle down into bed. The soft grating of her shoji being opened stopped her mid kneel and she watched horrified as Kenshin stepped into her room and closed the door behind him. With a great burst of speed Kaoru dove for the blankets and wrapped herself up tight, "What do you think you're doing?!"
Kenshin smirked. "Sleeping inside so I won't get sick". Ignoring her horrified expression he walked across the room and settled down underneath the window. With one last piercing gaze he settled in and promptly closed his eyes to let her know without words that there would be no arguments, he was staying.
Kaoru let out an exasperated sigh, this man was going to drive her insane. Scooting over the best she could she blew out the candle then buried herself deep in the blankets. How exactly was she supposed to get to sleep now with him just a couple of feet away? Didn't he know what kind of effect his presence had on her? She scowled. Obviously not or he wouldn't be in here with her...damn it. Heaving another sigh she forced her mind to forget the man currently sitting under her window and focused on trying to get to sleep, something she sorely needed.
Kenshin watched as Kaoru shift around until she got comfortable and listened as her breathing leveled out a couple of minutes later. She must have been more tired than he'd thought, he'd expected a bit more of a fight. Shrugging to himself he smiled, it was probably a good thing she didn't fight because she wouldn't have won anyway, he wasn't going to leave her alone. Ever since leaving the mansion she'd done everything she could to put distance between them and he wasn't going to allow that, tonight he was going to start closing that gulf and he would continue until she realized that he wasn't going anywhere.
Resting his head back against the wall he let the sound of her breathing sooth him into a light doze. He had come so close to never hearing that sound again... closer than he ever wanted to again. From now on he was going to do everything he could to make sure that sound was one he would hear every night before he went to sleep and every morning when he woke. Smiling slightly he drifted further into sleep with one last thought playing in his mind...she was his she just didn't know it yet.
In the early hours of the morning Kenshin was roused from his slumber as a soft whimpering sound penetrated his sleep hazed mind. Confused he opened his eyes and scanned the room. Unable to see anything in the pitch black he slowly moved from under the window and felt his way over to the desk, finding the candle he lit it and immediately saw the source of the whimpering.
Kaoru lay twitching beneath the blankets, her hands pushing against something he couldn't see. Moving closer he noticed the dampness wetting her cheeks and the look of utter fear marring her tear streaked face, murmuring her name he reached out and shook her shoulder trying to knock her out of the nightmare.
When all she did was whimper again he shook her harder, "Kaoru wake up!"
All of a sudden she began to thrash and push against him her whimpers turning into softly spoken words that hit him square in the gut. "Not again, I can't take it again."
Shaking her again he watched helplessly as more tears spilled from her tightly closed lids, the fear and pain etched into her normally smiling features cutting through his soul. Still locked in the nightmare she pushed against him one last time and fell back almost as if she'd given up fighting whatever was trying to hurt her. With tears still trailing down her cheeks she curled into a ball and whispered dejectedly, "Not again, please."
A surge of anger flared to life in Kenshin's gut. That was it, that was all he could take. Standing he stripped out of his gi and loosened his hair before blowing out the candle and slipped under the blankets beside Kaoru. Gathering her in his arms he tucked her head beneath his chin just over his heart and wrapped his arms tight around her. He would protect her even if he had to protect her from herself. Softly trailing his fingers through her hair he felt her finally settle against him, the tenseness that had hardened her limbs moments before melting away under his gentle ministrations. He smiled when he felt a soft sigh play across his chest as her arm snaked around his middle to cuddle him closer.
Settling her into a more comfortable position Kenshin shifted his eyes to the darkened ceiling and fought down the urge to kill something. What he really wanted to do was carve Shishio up into very small pieces for what he'd done to Kaoru but now he would never get the chance. That right had been stolen by the woman snuggled in his arms. Running his fingers through her hair again he pulled her close, she had died to kill Shishio, he would never let that happen again.
Her turned his nose into her hair and inhaled deeply, letting the scent of jasmine calm the killer within before he closed his eyes and started drifting off to sleep again with a soft smile on his face. Everything was finally as it should be.
Kaoru woke slowly, a steady thumping in her ear pulling her further out of the comforting darkness. Shifting slightly she mumbled "Go away Yahiko."
When the thumping persisted she shifted again. Drawing the blanket up over her head she snuggled into the futon a little bit more in hopes of drowning out the sound but found she couldn't penetrate it an inch. Confused she attempted to burrow again and was once again met with resistance it. And then it slowly began to pierce her sleep hazed mind that something wasn't right. Her futon had never been this firm or warm before and it sure as hell had never moved up and down. Tugging the blanket off her head she inched her eyes open and gasped softly. Before her lay the flat expanse of a well muscled, battle scarred chest. Slowly lifting her head she let her eyes wander up the warm flesh until they met the smiling violet eyes of the man currently acting as her pillow.
Shocked she immediately tried to sit up but was stopped by two very strong arms.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Kaoru simply stared at the redhead as her heart hammered against her ribs. Narrowing her eyes she gazed at him suspiciously, "What are you doing in my bed?"
Kenshin smirked, "Protecting what is mine, even from her nightmares."
Instant color blazed to life on her cheeks, ducking her head to hide the evidence of her embarrassment she tried to pull out of his arms again. When all she got for her effort was a tightening of his grip she sighed and rested her forehead on his chest, "You don't have to protect me anymore Kenshin, I'll be ok on my own."
All of a sudden Kenshin locked her in his arms and in one fluid motion flipped them both over, successfully pinning her against the futon. Leaning in until his nose almost brushed hers he murmured, "I know I don't have to protect you... I want to." And then much to Kaoru's surprise he leaned in further and brushed his lips lightly against hers. Stunned she watched with widened eyes as he pulled back and smiled, "You are mine Kaoru and I'm not going to let you go, you're stuck with me whether you like it or not."
Kaoru could only stare at him, "But..."
Kenshin shook his head and gently placed a finger against her lips to stop her. "There are no buts Kaoru, I love you, I'm sorry it took me so long to figure it out."
Before she could say any more Kenshin leaned down and capture her lips in a gentle kiss. He inwardly smiled when she hesitantly began kissing him back, taking that as acceptance he trailed his tongue along her bottom lip asking for entrance. She gasped softly at the touch and he took advantage of the opening, delving in to taste all he could reach. He shivered when she reacted in kind, the soft moan that suddenly bubbled up from deep within her forced him to break the kiss to keep from giving in to the feelings she'd sent rushing through his body. Now was not the time to pursue the desire raging through his veins...at least not yet.
With a sigh, he rolled off her and gathered her in his arms hugging her close, "Don't ever think you can push me away again, I'm right where I want to be and nothing is going to change that...ever."
Kaoru's eyes misted over as the realization that he really did want to be with her finally soaked into her stubborn mind. Snuggling closer to him she let his body heat chase away the chill still lingering in her bones, sniffling she smiled, "I won't, I promise."
"Good, now go back to sleep I'm sure you're still tired."
Nodding she wrapped her arm around him and pulled him closer, she smiled as he leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head. With the steady beat of his heart thumping in her ear she sighed and snuggled in just a little bit more, the calming sound lulling her into a dreamless sleep. One last thought followed her into the comforting darkness as she drifted off again.
This was exactly where she wanted to be too.
Thanks for reading! :o)