Author's Notes: And here it is, the sequel to Broken Pieces (and I can hear you all screaming that linay FINALLY got off her lazy ass). Okay, here's what you need to know: the beginning is way less dramatic than the beginning of Broken Pieces since it starts during a time of peace. You don't need to reread Broken Pieces (and if you do, please try to ignore the blatant plot inconsistencies which I WILL be correcting sooner or later).
In Complete Me, Kenshin and Kaoru try to develop (redevelop) a relationship – an act complicated by the fact that Kenshin is not truly the same since his memories of his time as an assassin (and of Kaoru) have been wiped. (Don't worry, we'll get more sides to him – not just the happy one you'll see in this chapter – later on.) In the meantime, a new threat to the peace, for which they sacrificed so much, emerges. You will also remember that the nature of Kaoru's abilities is not completely clear; this will be further explored (we know so far that she can take and erase memories as well as short out electrical equipment).
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this. Please let me know what you think. I crave feedback.
Chapter 1: Lost Pieces
I looked for the one my heart loves,
I looked for him but did not find him.
(Song of Solomon 3:1b)
Kaoru found that there was never a moment when she was free of regret. She felt it keenly, as if there was something sharp wedged between her ribs as she breathed. At most times, it was a dull ache in her chest, like an old wound that refused to heal completely. But at certain moments, the pain flared up again as if someone was violently twisting the splinters of her dreams deeper into the torn muscles of her heart.
On a bright spring afternoon punctuated by the slight winter chill still in the air, Kaoru found herself battling one such moment. She was sitting in a blue plastic chair at a green patio table under a pink umbrella, watching as Kenshin tried to smile while swallowing a bite of the homemade lunch she had brought him.
She looked away with a huff. "Geez, Kenshin," she said with a light frown, "If you don't like it, just say so."
Without turning, she could already imagine the sunny smile he pasted on his face as he reassured her. "It's not that it's bad, Kaoru-san," he said as if apologizing for something he'd done, "It's just that I've never tasted anything quite like it before."
"In other words?"
"There are no other words, Kaoru-san," he said and she was sure he was still grinning ear to ear even with the vile aftertaste on his tongue, "I've just never had noodles cooked this way before."
Kaoru sighed loudly and rested her chin in the heel of her palm, her eyes wandering to the ice cream counter. It had only been a year ago that they had been at this exact place having ice cream, she thought to herself. At that time, Kenshin had hated the place and the pastel colours and had dragged her off after that emotionally charged incident with Yahiko.
"Do you want ice cream, Kaoru-san?" Kenshin's eyes must have followed her gaze. "It's a perfect way to cool down."
"Or get rid of the taste of the noodles," Kaoru commented dryly, "But yes, I'd love an ice cream cone."
"Chocolate, I assume?" He said, standing.
Kaoru nodded and watched him as he turned to buy ice cream. Though she'd never say it out loud, she still felt surprise whenever she saw him in his blue police uniform. Wryly, she thought that black had suited him better since the bright blue uniform clashed violently with the vivid red of his hair.
She watched as his nimble fingers counted out the coins. Of all his features, his hands seemed the most familiar to Kaoru. They alone were the same; in whatever he did, his fingers demonstrated the same dexterity she'd observed when he was wielding a sword, all those lifetimes ago. But, she thought as her eyes drifted up to the goofy smile he wore as he brought back their ice cream, everything else had changed.
"Here you go," he said cheerfully, handing her the cone and sitting back in his seat. Kenshin exhaled softly, leaning back, and Kaoru watched him enjoy the spring breeze as it drifted over his relaxed facial features. He smiled again and said, "This is a nice little corner. Thank you for suggesting it, Kaoru-san."
"Such pretty colours."
Kaoru swallowed a cough as she felt the jagged edge of regret turn and rip something in her ribcage. It hurt, she acknowledged, it hurt a lot. She turned her chin slightly to look at the man who was and wasn't the one she loved.
Kenshin watched as a strange expression passed over Kaoru's face. He resisted the urge to frown and smiled widely instead.
"Is the ice cream not good?"
"Is it, really?" He asked quietly, his voice suddenly dropping to a velvety bass.
Kaoru's eyes jerked up suddenly to search his expression, but he was already beaming sunshine through a broad grin. Kaoru tried not to frown at him.
"Yeah, Kenshin," she said, patting his hand affectionately, "It's fine."
She looked away again and the smile fell from Kenshin's face. She seemed distracted, distant even. Nearly a month had passed since their first encounter on a park bench in front of Fujiya high school. Kenshin had been surprised, to say the least, at the joy with which Kaoru had welcomed his friendship. They had been spending more and more time together since that day, even to the point of meeting during their respective work breaks. Kenshin even dared to think that their relationship had been progressing in a romantic direction.
Lately, though, she'd been looking away more and more and he knew she was trying to hide something in her eyes. He knit his eyebrows together thoughtfully. He couldn't say that she was less interested in him or that she was avoiding him, especially since she jumped at any opportunity to spend time with him. But he had noticed a far away look in her blue eyes when he said or did certain things – almost as if it brought back a painful memory. He wondered, briefly, if her previous relationship had ended badly or if he was somehow offending her. Come to think of it, he hadn't even thought to ask if she was already romantically involved with someone.
He opened his mouth to ask, but stopped abruptly as he saw her stand up swiftly.
"Kenshin," Kaoru said, looking down at her watch, "I forgot that I signed up to attend a lecture at the university."
Kenshin swallowed the personal question. "Is it another library event?" He asked instead.
Kaoru smiled down at him. "Yes, the library is one of the sponsors for this lecture series."
Kaoru nodded and turned to walk toward the train station. Suddenly, Kenshin's fingers closed gently around her wrist. Her eyes immediately clamped shut as the sensation of his rough fingers on her skin elicited a flurry of emotion. How many times, she pondered, how many times had she felt this before?
"Yes?" She didn't dare turn to look at him, her eyes still tightly closed.
"Will I see you again tomorrow?"
"Of course." She gently tugged her hand away and he let her hand fall from his. "See you."
Without a backward glance, she hurried away. Kenshin stared after her escaping form, wondering if she knew that he could easily see how her face had crumpled forlornly.
Kaoru ducked around a corner and pressed her back into the wall, cradling the hand he had touched to her chest. She jerked her head back, letting it hit the bricks behind her. The back of her head burned painfully but not so much as the sting at the back of her eyes as she fought the urge to weep.
She scrunched her eyes as tightly closed as she could. In this one aspect of her life, she felt unable to find the strength to accept the situation. He was so similar and yet so different. For the hundredth time that day, Kaoru found herself cursing her abilities, the day she had been recruited by Katsura, the moment when she had fallen in love, and the decision she had made to erase his memories.
It's better to have loved and lost …
Kaoru swore as the common phrase ran like sick joke through her mind.
…than to never have loved at all.
It's not true, she wailed internally. She couldn't imagine anything worse than this – to remember with pinpoint accuracy the way he would flick his amber eyes to her, the way he would draw his rough fingertips over her cheek, the way he knew her and yet loved her. To remember, to imagine everything that might have been while knowing that she was alone in her memories. He no longer knew her. He no longer loved her in the deep, all-consuming way he had before.
Kaoru was lonely and, even worse, she had been forgotten.
Pulling herself together, she pushed away from the wall and swiped at her errant tears. Straightening her clothes, she reprimanded herself for wasting time. She might be late for the lecture and she was the person responsible for introducing the speaker. She smoothed the dust from her clothes and marched away, not looking back.
And it was fortunate that she hadn't turned back, Kenshin thought, otherwise she might have caught a glimpse of him as he lounged against a metal railing across the street. He had watched her struggle with herself and had barely restrained himself from surging forward to comfort her when she had banged her head against the wall. Had someone hurt her? He felt something twist deep in his gut as he watched her brush away stray tears. He didn't realize it, but his face darkened with an unnamed emotion.
Nearly an hour later, Kaoru entered the crowded auditorium with a smile. Her eyes found the familiar face of the chairman of the Faculty of Integrated Human Studies and she descended the steps to the front of the lecture hall with graceful ease.
"Mr. Araki," she said with a gracious bow, "It's nice to see you again."
"Ah, Kamiya-san," he replied with a bow of his own, "I'm glad you agreed to come. It's a lecture I'm sure you'll enjoy."
Kaoru smiled. The scheduled lecture was on the topic of memory loss in young adults. How could she not be drawn to such a subject?
Hayato Araki turned to the young man standing beside him, who dipped into a polite bow. "This is Mr. Yoshida's research assistant," he said, "Unfortunately, Mr. Yoshida has fallen ill and can't be with us today. But he assured me that his assistant is more than qualified to give this talk."
Kaoru turned slightly to offer the young man a courteous bow. "I'm looking forward to your talk, mister uh?" She fumbled for a name.
"Soujiro Seta, Kamiya-san." He bobbed into another deep bow, his short, unruly brown hair flouncing into his eyes.
"Well, then," Mr. Araki said, glancing at his wristwatch, "Shall we get going?"
Kaoru nodded eagerly and stepped toward the microphone, her eyes sweeping over the elevated rows of students. Just as she inhaled to speak, she thought briefly of Ikumatsu, who had taught her so much about etiquette. Then, she swept away the lingering sadness that threatened to distract her at the mere thought of her previous life.
Her mouth opened and the smooth, gracious words tumbled into the auditorium. She thanked the sponsors and the university. Then liberally complimented the guest lecturer, Soujiro Seta, and briefly outlined the topic of the talk.
With a deep bow, she backed away from the podium and headed for a seat in the front row, next to Mr. Araki. She pushed down the folded seat with one hand and slid into it effortlessly. As the young man stepped up to the microphone with an impossibly wide smile on his childlike face, Mr. Araki leaned to Kaoru and patted her hand.
"You're getting better and better at this," he said with a wink.
Kaoru turned slightly to smile at the faculty chairman. "Thank you," she said with a bright smile, "I think I'm getting used to it."
The chairman smiled and the wrinkles at the edge of his grey eyes deepened. He wasn't an old man, mid-forties perhaps, but his smooth face was slightly rippled with age and his short hair was peppered with grey. In his dark blue suit and crisp dress shirt and tie, he was the picture of a dignified intellectual.
"It's a pity we can't have you out at all our faculty events," he said with an amused sigh.
Kaoru grinned and turned to the front to tune into the lecture. Soujiro Seta, she noted, really seemed to know and love his area of expertise. He spoke animatedly, gesturing and grinning all the while. She found herself smiling as he explained; his amiable tone and demeanour pleasant. His lecture ended with the enthusiastic applause of the audience and the young man spent several minutes bowing and smiling. He spent the better part of an hour fielding individual student questions. Mr. Araki and Kaoru watched and waited at the sidelines, occasionally commenting on the lecture's success.
"That was an excellent lecture," Mr. Araki told the young research assistant as he and Kaoru walked with him toward the entrance to the building, "I'm sure Mr. Yoshida couldn't have done it better himself."
Even while walking, Soujiro managed a half bow. "You flatter me, Araki-san." He turned slightly to Kaoru, flashing a jubilant grin. "Did you enjoy the lecture, Kamiya-san?"
Kaoru nearly blushed under the intensity of his sparkling blue eyes. "Of course, Seta-san-"
"Please, call me Soujiro."
"Soujiro-san, then. It was quite fascinating."
"I would love to know what part you found the most fascinating, Kamiya-san."
"It's Kaoru." They stopped by the large glass doors and she turned to face him. "Well, I thought that"-
Mr. Araki interrupted her with a low chuckle. "It seems we're on the verge of an academic discussion," he said with a warm smile, "Perhaps, we should have a drink at a restaurant? You know," he said with a slightly sly wink in Kaoru's direction, "I'm always looking for excuses to spend time with you."
Kaoru reddened slightly and Soujiro laughed merrily. "I would love to take you up on your offer, but I'm afraid I must visit Mr. Yoshida to let him know how the talk went." He smiled brightly. "I do hope we will meet again."
"Take care," said Mr. Araki.
Kaoru bobbed her head politely. "It was nice to meet you."
Then, Soujiro was stepping forward and Kaoru instinctively made as if to move to the side to clear the way for him. But before she had even shifted, she found that he was already abreast of her, his shoulder nearly touching hers. Startled, she looked up – only to find that he was already looking down at her, his blue eyes trained on hers and his smile gone. Their eyes met for merely a moment, but it felt as if time paused. And then his fingers brushed against hers.
Kaoru's face broadened in shock as she felt a jolt of electricity travel from the tips of her fingers to the soles of her feet. In that secret moment, her eyes widened as she saw.
There was so much blood. It coated her upturned hands and dribbled down her forearms. The coppery tang of it assaulted her nostrils and her throat stung from forcing down vomit. And beyond her, she could hear the shrieks and see the lifeless, mangled bodies with open, unseeing eyes.
But there, in the red haze: a streak of silver. And then another, like flashes of lightning. The haze cleared and Kaoru saw what she feared most.
Then, she was screaming.
"Be careful where you step, Kaoru-san," Soujiro said as he caught her across the chest with one arm before she stumbled forward.
She turned dazed eyes up and then pulled back, carefully scrutinizing his cheery grin. "What?"
"Looked like you tripped right over Soujiro-san's foot," Mr. Araki offered helpfully, "You would have fallen if he hadn't been so quick."
"I'm so sorry," Kaoru mumbled, her eyes going from one man to the other. Since they were both still smiling genially down at her, she deduced that she hadn't actually been screaming aloud. She gently pressed her fingers to her forehead. It had certainly felt real. She looked down and inspected her hands, turning them over.
"Well, then," Soujiro said good-naturally after an awkward pause, his face beaming, "Thank you so much for having me." He turned to leave.
Kaoru watched the man go, her puzzled eyes following his slight form until he turned a corner and was out of her sight. She was so deep in thought that she didn't even notice that Mr. Araki had placed his large hand on her shoulder.
"Would you still like to get that drink with me?"
His question snapped her back to the present. "Oh," she said with apologetic bow, subtly backing out from under the hand on her shoulder, "I'm sorry, Mr. Araki. I already have plans."
"Ah, yes." She stepped backward. "I'm meeting a friend."
She smiled as Kenshin ushered her into his office at the police department. She sank gratefully into a chair while he stood in front of her, leaning against the edge of his desk.
"Hello Kenshin," she said tiredly, "I'm sorry to visit you so unexpectedly."
"Not at all," he said, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and handing it to her, "I'm just sorry that you walked through the rain all by yourself without an umbrella. It really did come down unexpectedly, didn't it?"
Kaoru mopped the moisture from her face with the square of cloth. She grinned ruefully. "It only rains on the days when I leave my umbrella at home. Anyway, how are you doing?"
"Better now," he said, "Since you're visiting me. I must admit, my supervisor really seems to have it in for me." He sighed. "So what brings you, soaking wet I might add, to my humble office?"
Kaoru fidgeted. "Well," she admitted, "I had a sort of weird day. And I just wanted to, you know."
Kaoru watched as Kenshin's face lit up in delight. His eyebrows lifted, his violet eyes rounded and his lips stretched open. Kaoru watched this transformation and felt a glad sob rise from her chest. She quickly covered it with a sheepish laugh, pressing her knuckles to the bridge of her nose. Looking up again, she discreetly brushed away the tears that had collected in her eyes.
Ah, she thought as she gazed at the weightlessly happy expression on his face, this made it worth her sorrow – to see him smile freely, without guilt.
Without thinking, she reached forward suddenly to cup his cheek in her hand. A wistful smile graced her lips as she ran her thumb over the scar on his cheek.
"Oh, Kenshin," she exhaled quietly, drawing her hand away.
"Mm?" He caught her hand before it left his face, pressing his fingers onto hers.
"I, uh…" A slight blush crept onto her cheeks.
His smile widened, then, and his fingers curled around hers. He pulled her hand down to rest on his thigh, patting it fondly. "Yes?"
Her blush deepened. "Uh, well…I was wondering…"
Kenshin waited patiently, unconsciously drawing circles around her knuckles with the pads of his fingertips.
"Well, I haven't had supper yet."
One corner of Kenshin's lips turned upward in a knowing smirk. Kaoru's heart nearly stopped at this familiar look. "Are you hungry, Kaoru-san?"
"Would you like to have supper with me?" He supplied for her, sparing her the task of asking outright.
She nodded again, this time with gusto.
"Ah, hello Mr. Yoshida. I'm back." Soujiro announced his return to the dingy flat with bright enthusiasm, "The lecture went very well. I thank you for your excellent notes."
He closed the door behind him and pulled off his shoes, neatly arranging them in the tiled entrance. Noiselessly, he padded to the living room.
"Thanks to you," he called out loudly, "I was able to meet Kaoru-san. Quite an astounding young lady, I must say."
He stopped by the bay window and exhaled loudly. The small two-room apartment was sparsely furnished with only the most necessary items: an old futon, a low table and a yellowing lamp. All flat surfaces were covered in a thick grey layer of dust and Soujiro shuddered at the greasy film on the windows. It was even starting to stink.
"I might think of finding my own place soon, Mr. Yoshida," he said idly.
He bent over the table, which was covered in thick sheaves of paper, and fished a cellular phone out from under the mess. He straightened and, flipping the phone open, he dialed. It only rang twice before someone answered.
"Well?" The disembodied voice on the other end of the line fairly crackled with impatience.
"It went very well, sir," Soujiro said happily.
"What happened exactly?"
"I gave a first-rate lecture to rapturous applause. It was quite enjoyable, actually. Then Miss Kamiya and Mr. Araki walked me to the door."
"And?" The voice pressed.
"How do you know?"
With the tip of his pinky finger, Soujiro drew a line in the grime on the window pane. "I could see it in her eyes."
Extra Author's notes:
Okay, my wonderful readers and reviewers (who are not mutually exclusive, I hope!) here's the scoop. After a good kick in the pants from my husband and a couple of other people, I've decided to get my act together. Priority 1: Finish Complete Me. Priority 2: Finish The Sword that Protects. Priority 3: Edit and revise Broken Pieces. This means that I may not update the other new stories I've started as frequently as I originally thought I would. I will probably update the other stories sporadically, but my main focus will be on Complete Me and The Sword that Protects. I sincerely apologize for starting so many things at once – I know it can be frustrating. But thank you all for your exceeding patience and encouragement. It truly does mean a lot to me.