(EDIT: Ok, so the first couple of reviews I got for this brought up some valid points. The first being, effectively, "why didn't you tie up all the loose ends?". It was a deliberate choice not to. Do fairy tales tell you what happened to the woodsman or the dwarves when they finish? Not any I read. They focus is on the main character (in this case characters) and the decision not to tell you what happened was deliberate. Fill in what you like or what you will. Fairy tales are like that. I enjoy the vagueness, sometimes filling in all the blanks feels like talking down to people. Maybe I'm just weird.

Second of all, the abrupt nature of the ending also ended up being deliberate. I felt it was consistent with the nature of how the story was going. After all, it was being told to someone. . . and while exposition can take a long time when telling a tale often times a story will rush into an ending.

Oh and please tell me it's clear that there was more than one battle. It's a war people. Things aren't decided that quickly. Maybe I just assumed people would take it for granted that things would be decided over the course of a month, not one day. It's not Troy, but it's not the movie version either. Don't get me started on that film. We'll be here for hours. is a Classics geek

There are always reasons for what I do. I promise. And I'm sorry if you're disappointed, but this is all there is. --;; )

La de da. . . oh, hey. Chapter? What chapter? I don't see any chapter.

Ohhh. This chapter. XD Yeah. Here you go.

Sooo, I lied. This is the end. I basically decided not to write a big battle scene. Why? Because it didn't involve Enishi and Kaoru and I don't write huge battle scenes well

Thanks for reading and reviewing when you felt like it. Reviews always make an author feel loved, or at least prove to them that they were listened to in some form. Not that these stupid little fairy tales are particularly riveting or anything, but it was fun enough to give it a shot.

Someone else going to step up to the plate and write some E/K? I loves me the Enishi Kaoru. If you do too then take a look at the C2 (shameless plug) on my profile. Someday maybe I'll get my act together and get a shrine up somewhere for them. Until then. . .


Disclaimer: I make no money, I mean no harm, I don't own Rurouni Kenshin! (But if I did Kaoru probably would have stayed on the island with Enishi. . . cough)

Chapter 8

In the end it was a lack of ability to transport the mirror that caused her the most heartache. The immorality of killing the girl who had once been as close to a daughter as she would ever have had disappeared from her heart the day she thought she held the girl's heart in her hand. There had been no more room for sadness amidst the raw triumph. Yumi would win this, or else it would destroy her. She saw it as a battle for survival. It didn't matter to her that the other party was unaware. In fact, that was in even better than the other person knowing because it made it that much easier to fool them.

That old man seemed very surprised to learn that having witnesses was not something Yumi would tolerate after he sold her that poison. Shishio had chosen his consort well and taught her many things along the way. This act was out of love for him as much as for herself. The poison would sicken the princess, torture her, then continue to twist her flesh after she died. It was everything Yumi wanted and had dreamed of for her, that little interloper. Kaoru could have lived a long life as a servant if she had simply slipped and cut her cheek or had constant hives in reaction to some allergy, or had gotten the pox.

"How much longer?" It was cold, even wrapped up in many furs and with heated pans placed periodically under her skirts. She was feeling rushed, anxious to get there quickly since she was without her beloved mirror. It felt like her strength was oozing out of her bones when she was this far away from it. That it could be an addiction, a source of danger, had occurred to her before. However, like most junkies, the thrill of use was enough impetus to ignore the ill effects. Shishio's gift had come with a steep price and she didn't regret it to this day.

"By nightfall, your majesty."

So just a few more hours in this cramped carriage and then she could rest and prepare. It was going to be a busy day, and she had to be sure that nothing much had changed since she had last looked in the mirror. Yumi's eyes became glassy as she thought of how transformed she would feel when she returned, sure of her victory, and saw herself once again reflected in its surface as the true beauty in the kingdom. And how much more would Shishio value her for getting rid of the girl? The anticipation made her as impatient as a child again. She demanded the horses be driven to their limit, and they were.

"Get lost brat."


"I don't need you here. We don't need you here."

"That's not what Aoshi said."

"And since when were you so eager to listen to him?"

"Ever since you started making sure you and Kaoru were alone as much as possible." Yahiko bristled, his too thin growing body trying to look impressively bulky as he faced the taller and more muscular man. "And I won't let you."

Enishi had thought the boy's deepened devotion to Kaoru was cute, and had even acknowledged to himself that it resembled his past behavior towards his sister, but that didn't make it any less annoying. "Shouldn't you be calling her 'Your Royal Highness' if you're going to be so uppity, twerp?"

"He can call me Kaoru if he likes. Now stop arguing, I can hear Yahiko all the way down the hall and I know this is probably your fault." She crossed her arms to look at Enishi who was wearing his injured innocent expression.

"I was just trying to get the puppy off of your heels, but if you like him there. . ."

"I'm not a puppy!" Yahiko exclaimed loudly.

"Stop yelling!" Kaoru insisted imitating his volume.

"You're the one who's yelling!" Yahiko turned on Kaoru readily enough, now that he was riled.

Enishi would have continued to look on, amused, if he hadn't wanted to get rid of the kid and pursue a more adult. . . conversation. . . with Kaoru. She had recovered from her near crushing with remarkable aplomb. It was hard to believe she was supposed to be a princess. Weren't they supposed to be delicate and beautiful? She was beautiful, that couldn't be denied, but it wasn't delicate so much as healthy. Her skin glowed, her hair was shiny and full with a hint of tangle because she moved around so much. There was often a blush on her cheeks since she was busy these days helping Tokio when she could with whatever she could. It was a complete turnabout, or so he had heard, from how she had acted before he arrived. His ego was fully ready to accept the compliment.

What it signified however, was something more complicated than what he was ready to actually deal with. She was fond of him, yes that was obvious, attracted to him, well who wouldn't be, and ready to both argue with and kiss him at the drop of a hat. But, he wondered increasingly, was any of this love? The question hadn't seemed important until Tokio had cornered him yesterday and nearly demanded to know of his intentions. That woman was a regular mother bear when it came to Kaoru. He hadn't lied to her when he said he wasn't entirely sure. The smaller woman, refined until she was up in arms, had given him a look that would have sent weaker men into fits of panic and told him he better figure it out and soon. The ultimatum was out there, and he was taking it seriously more because it was something that weighed on his mind anyway and not because he actually feared Tokio. Much.

The only valuable interpersonal relationship he had to compare it to was the one he had had with his sister. This wasn't quite the same, though he did want to protect Kaoru just as fiercely. The feeling he had when he thought of her was strong in a way that wasn't born of family ties or long association. They were still people who had only known one another a few months, albeit he had saved her life. One big difference between them was the things he wanted to do to and with Kaoru were certainly thoughts he never would have entertained about his sister. But the jealousy he felt when other people were around her certainly had a familiar flavor.

This was still new. He didn't think he could come to any conclusion about how he felt for a while yet, no matter how much anyone demanded such things or even if he demanded it from himself. Feelings were there or they weren't, and what overshadowed everything in his daily life was his need for revenge. Until that was completed he didn't think he would be able to love or to accept anyone else's love.

Bah, to think about such things was a useless exercise in self reflection. Yahiko was wandering down the hallway with Kaoru already, still arguing. They certainly brought out the worst in one another and if you could catch them being civil, that was a miracle. But this was probably cathartic for her, after being thrust into her princess role so firmly and isolated from a normal life so completely once again. The little bit they had talked since he had gotten here had allowed him to easily establish that much. She hated being put on pedestals.

Her modesty had made her address to the troops a particularly impressive display, actually. They looked at her, her strength and beauty, standing firm in the cold with them and telling them the words Goro had prepared for her. . . well, damn it all, he had been out there in the crowd too and he had felt it. They were ready to rally behind her, behind what she stood for: a return to better times. He hated to admit Aoshi or Goro had been right and that they needed someone like her to represent them. If they hadn't needed her, he could have stolen her away by now. Life was, as always, unfair in many senses.

Up ahead he noticed Kaoru and Yahiko were talking to someone, gesturing rather than arguing. He couldn't make out who it might be, and lengthened his steps to catch up.

". . . back the way you came, take a right, go past the sliding doors with the star above the door frame. . ." Yahiko was giving directions, but the old woman looked really confused.

"It's the cleaning lady. She came last Friday. Don't worry, I've seen her before." Kaoru said this for Enishi's sake as he narrowed his eyes at the old woman. Even if this section of town was well monitored, he felt uneasy about something.

The old woman wandered off, with Yahiko leading her. Kaoru turned and waved, and the old lady waved back. Maybe she was a little too old to be cleaning. Of course, to Enishi's view, if she couldn't even find her way around the house correctly then she was a security risk. On the subject of Kaoru's safety he, Aoshi, and Tokio were of one mind. He would tell one of the others this evening and it would be taken care of soon. He had better not tell Kaoru since she would no doubt be upset at him getting some poor old thing fired. The girl's sense of perspective was all askew due to her soppy heart.

"Why do you look like that?" She was talking around something, and there was a paper wrapper in her hand.

"What are you eating?"

"It was just some candy the lady gave to us. She was eating some when we found her and she offered Yahiko and I some too. It tastes like apple. I wish I had another piece to offer you."

Enishi frowned. "I don't like sweets. And you shouldn't be taking candy from strangers."

"I said she was having some too, didn't I? And unlike you I actually rather want more sweets. Misao was sneaking me chocolate until Tokio found out and ever since then it's been nothing but healthy food. If I have to be a princess again, I could at least be able to eat the things I want now and then." She swayed and put a hand to her head. She looked for a moment liked she was stunned. Enishi figured she should breathe more when she made her little speeches.

There was still something bugging him about this whole situation. It could just be his usual paranoia. He was too sensitive to every situation and it had caused problems in the past. Enishi wasn't a nervous person by nature, just a nervous person by habit. It was one of those things that made battle very easy but living a normal life much less so.

"I guess I don't have to tell you that you'll spoil your appetite."

"Maybe I'll just stay in my room during dinner." She had been taking her meals in the kitchen area with everyone else, since leaving her alone had proven to be a bad idea in general.

"Maybe I'll keep you company." Enishi drawled, he reached out to take her hand and slide his fingers over her knuckles.

"Maybe I'll just vomit up lunch." Yahiko was already back. That kid was too fast for his own good.

"Even I know that old woman was the wicked queen. C'mon mom, this stuff is for kids." The boy is interested, even a little on edge. He's invested something emotionally into this and doesn't want it to end. Stalling tactics are another thing his mother thinks he gets from his father.

"It's easy when I tell it like this, but if it was you there then how could you guess?"

"I would have known. If it was me, I would have seen through that stupid disguise." His mother laughs. "I would! And then I'd drag that nasty witch outside and slash!"

His mother looks at her little boy in slight shock. "You, young man, are not going to speak to me so casually about killing so much as a bug again. Are we clear? You know how much I dislike it. The whole purpose of being strong is so that you don't have to kill. There are other ways."

"Don't listen to your mother. That sort of justice is for politicians." The father is there, unexpected, standing in the doorway. Who knows how long he has been there.

The mother looks back at him, displeased. "Don't contradict me. We are not above the law and you won't be telling him such things."

"Well, in this case, I fully agree with him. The witch should have been taken care of from the beginning and none of this would have happened. Everyone could have been saved a lot of pain." The father walks in and puts a hand on the mother's shoulder. The kid is sitting up in bed, happy to receive rare attention from both parents at the same time.

"She was punished, and I suppose I can't do anything about it now."

"So what happened?" Even basking in the glory of dual parental attention the kid would still rather hear the end of the story. The mother ruffles his hair and launches back in, the father behind her unsmiling.

"After this, it gets a little tricky for me to explain. Maybe your father can help you out, he knows this part much better than I do."

She was dying, and there was nothing Enishi could do about it. It was a slow and painful death too, which was breaking his heart a little every moment of the day. He hadn't slept much for the past three days and Kaoru hadn't been in a position to speak for one. She was delirious, sweating, babbling about all sorts of things. Sometimes she would call out for her mother or her father, more often she would call out for him. Sometimes she would just plead to no one in particular not to be left alone. It was a good thing the soldiers had marched out to place themselves at the site of the intended battle because if they had seen her like this it would have been devastating.

Misao hadn't wanted to leave, but Tokio insisted she was needed to be a runner on the field and take messages between units, and Yahiko had been given similar orders. They were young and fast and small, all things that made them invaluable as runners even if not quite as much as fighters. Yahiko had been obviously torn between staying by Kaoru's side or engaging in the battle he had trained to fight in for years now. Sagara had stayed behind after a surprisingly loud and vigorous verbal battle with Aoshi. It had verged on mutiny, but he was here to sit by Kaoru's side when Enishi passed out for the few hours of sleep he needed per day. Aoshi had looked like he didn't care, but the man was obviously choked up with held back emotion when he had visited to say goodbye. Miaso had just cried by his side.

She had managed a weak laugh and waved at him. It was mere hours before she lapsed into the fever that she hadn't emerged from in any conscious sense of the word. He had been there when she fell, watched her pupils dilate and her lips crack. If it was possible he loved her more in that moment than he had every previous moment they had been together. There was no use beating around the bush. The second person he loved in his lifetime was dying, and once again he was useless.

The door cracked and a bedraggled Sagara entered the room. He looked like he had been to hell and back. The stubble on his chin and the bags under his eyes made him look as sunken and hopeless as Enishi. Kaoru had already become like a little sister to him, Enishi had a feeling. To a soldier your family was what you made of it, and you were used to them being removed from you by violence. However, sickness or dumb luck were far more difficult to cope with. It wasn't her time. "I looked everywhere, but no one knows where to find the woman. They say she disappeared right after you saw her, pretty much. It's like you said."

". . . please. . . please. . ." Kaoru thrashed about a little and then settled down again. It would have been more merciful if she had been asleep. It would have seemed like death then, and Enishi would have had time to adjust to the idea. This fever, this obvious sense of life, was cruel.

"I'm going out." Enishi stood up, swayed a little, then forced himself to ignore the way his body was screaming for sleep. "I'll find the woman, I'll make her pay."

"How do you know it was her? You don't know anything. You're grasping at straws and making me reach for them too!"

Enishi looked at Sagara, then looked down at Kaoru. "Her hands weren't lined. The woman looked old, she had a scraggly voice, but there wasn't a line on her hands anywhere. I'll find the bitch who hurt Kaoru, and I'll kill her with my bare hands."

Easier said than done, he discovered, but he wasn't without contacts or resources. As it turned out, some of those underworld contacts knew that a certain visitor from the palace had arrived and then suddenly left this morning. She had paid a lot of money to a number of people not to make her presence widely known. Nothing else was going on in town and no unusual bodies had popped up. Enishi had heard from Kaoru about what had happened and knew how dangerous anything from the palace was to her. If that was the only thing of note then he would follow it even if it was a dead end.

One tired horse later, he was holding up a royal carriage and wondering what sort of a future he could have after this. Yumi, in all of her icily beautiful glory stepped down and confronted this supposed highwayman. She smiled in that self confident was he had seen pretty and egotistical women look him over with before, as if he could be. Yumi was out of luck, though, he had no mercy in his heart for her or just about any other person on the planet. If Kaoru died, he was convinced that his sense of humanity would follow her.

"I have some questions."

"I don't need to listen to this. Have you killed all my guards? I was simply wondering."

"A few. Two are left alive should I prove to have made a mistake, but I have a hunch I'm not." He stared intently at her hands, willing himself to remember. Then there it was, a fat ebony ring dully insulting him by existing. So he hadn't imagined it, when she had waved he had seen the same ring. It had been a minor detail, nothing to particularly note, since jewelry was less useful than tattoos or facial shape to identify a person with. But in this case it was damning enough.

"What could a thug like you possibly have to say to me?"

Enishi was disgruntled by her poise. "You aren't afraid of me."

"And why should I be? If you kill me Shishio will know, find you, and have you executed so it isn't in your best interests. The same fate awaits you if you hold me hostage. He won't pay a ransom for me, I can already tell you that." Yumi smiled and pulled the ruff of her large coat tighter around her neck. "If you let me go then we'll just pretend this never happened and everyone can sleep better tonight."

Except Kaoru. "I know you poisoned her. Just tell me with what and I might spare your life."

"Pardon?" Those sickly sweet tones she had offered him before soured with that one word.

"The princess, Kaoru, I know you poisoned her, I know when and how but I want to know with what. If you can tell me that, honestly, then I won't kill you." Yumi's eye flicker gave away the man sneaking up behind him. Enishi must be tired if such an amateur could begin to get the drop on him. It was just the work of a moment to slit the man's throat before turning back to Yumi with a blood smear across his chest from where it had sprayed him. The man had been too close for comfort.

"Who are you? I know you're part of that rebellion. If you kill me all your little plans will be in shambles. Right now Shishio doesn't know as much as I do about your attack, but as soon as you kill me he'll be on his guard. What makes the girl so important? Why is she so special?" Yumi shrieked, almost not even asking Enishi so much as beseeching the sky for an answer.

Enishi was slightly odd, but he knew crazy when he saw it. This woman had entirely lost a while ago. He might be there with her if he hadn't had a goal in mind. Revenge, then Kaoru, had given him a renewed sense of purpose. But this witch was threatening to ruin both. It would be so easy to cut her down right here, but he refrained.

"I ask again, tell me what you used, and I'll spare your life."

"Not one apothecary in a thousand will know what it is, so I don't care if you take it. Here's the rest. I didn't need much." She tossed the vial down onto the ground where it broke, scattering the fine powder. Enishi wasn't concerned with her theatrics. There was enough still sitting in the glass and among the shards for him to gather it up.

Damn the woman but she was probably not bluffing about Shishio knowing if something happened to her. Well, there were ways of dealing with people if you knew what got to them. And he had heard the tales about the witch queen and her magic mirror. The kingdom had been bought for it, so everyone had an idea of the story. If that was so, then this was far sweeter revenge than killing her anyway.

The marks were deep, they had to be to leave a good scar. And he was pretty sure she wouldn't be able to see out of one of her eyes ever again. That split he gave her lip would probably heal, but with any luck it would be awkward as well. Hot oil would have been more effective, but this would do just fine. Scars would be just as disfiguring to her as sliding skin.

She had already screamed her throat raw by the time he had gathered up what was left of the poison and started back with one of the horses from her carriage. It was far fresher than the one he had "borrowed" in the city. She would get back to Shishio in another day or two, probably, and by then the attack would have already been launched. Things were falling into place, even if it was still to be seen if they were in his favor or not. Enishi wished he believed in something, he could have asked for a little help.

"And then the dashing prince rode to the fair princess' rescue. She had been poisoned into a deep sleep and no one could wake her, and having confronted the evil witch and defeating her he wanted to go two for two on the events as a whole."

The mother snorts. "Dashing prince. . ."

"No comments from the side. Who's telling this story? You were asleep."

"I know for a fact that Sano said you woke up every apothecary and doctor in town and threatened to kill them, every last one of them and their families, if they didn't find a cure by the next day."

The boy looks like he's just realizing this might not be the truth and nothing but the truth. Magic and danger and violence and true love are exciting, but how much of what they told him is the real story? He trusts his mother, at least. And because he trusts his mother he knows better than to entirely trust his father, which is part of why he idolizes him already.

"Well, I needed results. And fear is an amazing motivator." The father is smiling. He thinks this is funny, after all, but the way he tightens his hold on the mother's hand shows how he remembers that day as well as could be expected. "And then the doctors produced a magic pill, and the prince slipped it to the princess with a kiss. . ."

"Hold her up, damn you! Open up her damn throat so I can pour this in!"

"Stop it! She's barely breathing! This will probably kill her. What crackpot told you you had a chance?"

Enishi tried to prop Kaoru's limp and nearly comatose form against the headboard since Sagara was proving reluctant to aid him. "The leader of the group, a Dr. Takuni, told me that this was the best chance she'd have if any. And even if the chance is fractional I'd rather take it than not. She's dying anyway, Sagara." For the first time in his life Enishi wondered if he would have to plead with another human being, actually beg, to get something he wanted. But Sagara saved him from the humiliation and relented.

"This had better work or I'll tell Aoshi you desecrated her corpse."

"Now is not the time for jokes like that you idiot. Hurry."

Carefully, they propped her up and opened up her throat. The liquid went down and Enishi petted her throat as if she were an animal to help her muscles get the liquid into her esophagus and clear the way for her to breathe again. That she still was taking in shallow breaths was the only way they knew she was alive. Her heartbeat was so slow and her body was so cold. . .

Would she die of lack of nourishment or hydration before she died from the poison? Her body had to be weak. Sagara and he took turns watching over her as hour after hour she clung to a tenuous fiber of existence. She didn't seem to be getting any better or any worse. More than a day passed, as did the battle.

They gave a thought to those who were fighting Shishio, wondering if the emissaries to the other kingdoms had gotten there and if the borders were being attacked as Goro had stipulated. With Shishio's forces spread thin, being assaulted on all sides, then this blitz against him might succeed. But that remained to be seen for probably another week, leading into winter weather and fallow fields being soaked with blood. It was terribly nice of Goro to wait until after the harvest to attack.

"Do you think she'll pull through?" Sagara had finally asked. He had felt as much hope as Enishi had that the antidote would work, but couldn't allow himself to get his spirits up.

"She's too stubborn not to." Enishi said. Kaoru was bullheaded. She allowed herself to be dragged down, but she always pulled herself back up twice as high once she got over it. He expected no less of her in this instance as well.

They force fed her broth that night, changed her bed sheets, and dozed in chairs until they woke up stiff and pained the next morning. No change.

Word came from the battlefield that afternoon. Things were too soon to tell, but the fact they hadn't been crushed at the outset was a good sign. Casualties were limited and the weather was still favoring them. Sagara seemed pleased, Enishi was indifferent. No change.

They forced more broth down her, changed her bed sheets again, and Sagara left Enishi alone to brood with. . . Kaoru. They were still saying Kaoru but there was a pause now, as if they were substituting Kaoru for "the body". She wasn't dead yet, she wasn't an "it." Her chest still rose and fell as the coma went on. Her fever would rise and fall as well. She was no worse, but no better. Enishi wondered how long this would persist, and how long he could stand seeing her in this half-life when he didn't get to ask her half of the things he wanted to, or taunt her some more, or hear her laugh at one of his jokes like she laughed at Sagara's.

They had too much to accomplish together for her to give up now. "I'll never forgive you if you die." Enishi said, placing a hand on her chest. She was wearing a gaudy nightgown. It was all they could find at the bottom of a pile of clothes that were probably meant to be thrown out. It didn't suit her.

"Watch. . . the hands. . . ."

It sounded like. . . sarcasm.

"If you die," he said sweetly, making damn sure his eyes didn't dare leek right now and spoil things. "I'll molest your corpse."

Kaoru opened her eyes, her lips twitching into what might have been a smile under better circumstances. "I'll haunt you."

Damn it was too much. It was just too much. "I don't care if you do. Just don't leave me, ever." He removed his glasses, folding them and putting them to the side so he could kiss her on the cheek.

"Does this mean. . . you love me?" Her eyes closed again, as if she were still tired. She probably was.

He had said it a thousand times in his head ever since he thought she would die. But now she was alive and it was a whole new deal. "I think we both need some water. SAGARA!"

"Yeah yeah and they lived happily ever after right? All these stories end the same way."

The boy is yawning. It really was a long story, interesting enough, but it needed 100 more dragons. Or something with lots of teeth. He is still pretty young, after all, and monsters are exciting.

"Kid, you need to learn a little patience." The father says this and the mother bites her tongue as she laughs at that comment coming from him of all people. "And, no, that's not everything. Your mother can tell the rest from here."

"I was going to anyway. You and your 'handsome prince' talk. . . ."

"Dashing prince, and it's dramatic."

"Everything is dramatic with you." The mother looks at the lamp, guttering and fading. Yes, it's almost done. Maybe someday she will write this story down. Then again she was never good with putting ink to paper and it was a much better oral tale. "Remember that the witch was still left alive by the," She laughs a little too hard and gets a nasty look for the father "dashing prince. . ."

They found Yumi later, dead, her mirror shattered but not in pieces. She had been killed in the first storming of the palace, or so people thought, since she died by sword wounds rather than by her own hand. They didn't know it was her until they had unwrapped the scarves that had been obscuring her face. No one mourned her loss, maybe Kaoru, but Yumi had never been much of a mother to her and with the revelation that she had thrice tried to kill her Kaoru didn't feel as much compassion as she might have. Shishio escaped, ultimately, but missing at least one arm and probably being rather messily stabbed through the leg. They found Enishi unconscious and bleeding to death and everyone assumed Shishio died from the injuries he sustained from the younger swordsman, but it was never confirmed. Enishi recovered and refused to speak of the events of that night, but few people pried for details at any rate. His revenge was his own business.

What was far more important was that this and the surrounding kingdoms were now freed from Shishio's dictatorial hold. Things were looking up, and people were feeling more positive. Then winter hit in earnest and the regular people were more interested in burying their dead and surviving than they were in the politics of the kingdom. When spring came they paid attention again because there was a coronation to go to. Goro would make a good king, everyone thought, since he had made such a good general. He was a name that was remembered from the old days, and the loyalists were allowed to show their true colors once more without fear. It would take a while to readjust.

Kaoru was brought out once more, and paraded around a little, but she reminded so many people of the bad old times that despite her beauty she was not received very positively by most of the rest of the populace. The soldiers loved her, the new king and queen supported her and allowed her to keep her title as a princess of the realm, but she willingly faded into something like obscurity as fast as possible.

There wasn't even a formal announcement when a year after Goro and Tokio ascended to their thrones she was married to some minor lord with recently granted land holdings in what had been disputed territory under old treaties. The new king had resolved a lot of issues with an alacrity that surprised much of the bureaucracy. And when he installed a particular white haired former crime lord in a position that had him in a trusted position monitoring a main trade route through the mountains, the minimal protests were ignored when he cited that it was 'better to be with them than against them'.

Enishi told Kaoru later that he just wanted to see more profits from Enishi's business than the crown had before. It was almost as much fun running a fast growing city as it had been when he had run his criminal empire. However, there were far fewer legs and arms broken. He actually seemed sad about that. Kaoru would purposefully ignore him when he invited her to fight like that. Most of the time.

Ok, pretty much every time she couldn't help but say something, but she knew he was doing it on purpose so it was hard to get angry at him like she used to back when they had lived in the cabin.

"At least the cabin was warm in the winter. Stone isn't very forgiving." Kaoru whispers as she puts the blankets more securely around her little boy. He's the combination of everything most wonderful and most terrible about both she and Enishi. The kid would be a terror when he realized that, but for now he is still sweet.

"You didn't actually live there for any of the winters. It was a wreck. The roof wouldn't have lasted much longer. . ." Enishi goes to take care of the lamp and then finds Kaoru's hand to lead her out of the room.

"You came back early." She's a little tired herself. Somehow the days are so busy, but she tries to put aside time at least twice or more a week to tuck her boy in. "If I had known. . ."

"Then you wouldn't have done anything differently."

"That's not true, I would have told him a different story. He likes to hear about duels at dawn and honor and all those nice things."

"You'll make him weak. If you push that knight's code stuff into him he'll never learn how to fight dirty." They are walking towards their rooms. "Let's have another kid. You can train this one, I'll train the next and then we'll pit them against one another and see who wins."

Kaoru sighs. "You are reprehensible and amoral. I don't know why I married you."

"I don't know why either." Enishi says, but he pulls her into their room with the intent to give her a good reason to stay married to him.

"So is the 'handsome prince' going to sweep me off my feet?"

Enishi pretends to think about it seriously, then settles on pushing her backwards onto their bed. "Dashing prince. And now that you're off your feet, I have a few ideas. . ."