Dude, I am sooooo sorry for the loooong wait! I cannot tell you how sorry I am. See, I've been revising the story and rewriting all of chapter one, then editing and adding to chapters two to four. I think five is perfect… mostly. he he. Anyway… I'm back in da' house and here to stay! I've only got a million ideas for RK fics, so, don't worry, after this story, I'll keep you busy. Now, for those of you who have given up on me… I have every reviewer written down and I will come for you! Da dum dum… And for those of you who review this chapter and stay with me, I will love you forever and make reviewer responses for each of you.
All right, let's give a round of applause for my beta-reader, Megan:claps fiercely: )
Now, I really hope you like this new version – don't worry, the story still has the same plot and chapter one is the only one with the most changes. The rest are basically the same, 'kay? Okay.
On with the fic!
Disclaimer: Ahem. Whatever.
Dancing a Storm
Chapter One Spinning in Showers
A gentle breeze wafted through the open porch doors. White clouds floated idly in the fresh blue sky. The last few traces of dawn disappeared as mid-morning arrived soundlessly while the city of Kyoto slept in.
The night before, the Festival of Fall – a party commemorating the beginning of autumn – took place. Friends, family, guests, and people all over Kyoto partook in celebrating late into the night. Still in need of sleep, numerous parts of the city remain in a doze. Few are awake yet, and of these few is a resident at the Shirobeko Inn. This lodge is famous for adequate service, delicious food and a convenient location. The entrance faces the rows of stores in the market. Behind the Shirobeko is a mysterious thick forest and beyond are the vast, rolling plains of Kyoto.
A hushed wind blew over the hilly grasslands, above the wood, and through to awakened resident's open doors. She welcomed the cool gust as she finished putting on her lightest sword training gi. The weather has been quite humid, signaling fall – which is notoriously known as a rainy season in Kyoto – has begun. Outside, dark clouds can be seen in the distance. 'That storm should be here by late afternoon. I've got plenty of time to go practice my swings,' the raven-haired girl thought. She checked her appearance in the mirror. She had on a white gi with light green hakama pants. They happen to be the thinnest clothing she owns and will have to do for moment. Walking over to her futon bed, she kneeled to the hardwood floor and folded her futon carefully. After she put it against the wall she sat in the doorway to the porch.
'Ah, what a beautiful morning. It always seemed very rare to see a morning such as this back home in Tokyo. Or maybe I just didn't pay enough attention… We've been here since early June, and now it's September! Wow, time sure flies. We already go home in two days. I had better remember to do something really special for Ms. Tae Akabeko. I still can't believe she invited Kenshin, Yahiko, Sano, and I to come with her to visit her twin sister, Sae Akabeko, here in Kyoto. What's even more amazing is that Tae owns the Akabeko restaurant back home in Tokyo, and Sae owns an almost identical Shirobeko Inn! Hm, how strange,' she shrugged slightly. Her blue eyes – a startling opposite to her long, dark hair – remained glazed over as she continued her contemplation.
'Speaking of strange, my "family" sure is weird. There's me, Kaoru Kamiya. I'm… well; I'm seventeen and am a master of the sword style my father made, Kamiya Kashiin Ryu. Or in other words, "swords that give life." My father made this swordsmanship style to bring out people's fighting potentials, without killing. I lived with my father until he died when I was fifteen. Unfortunately, my mother died when I was very young and I don't have any siblings. So, I was left orphaned and alone. My father left me all his money and our dojo, which is also my home. All the students began to leave me after awhile, so, I was truly alone. Sure I had friends around town and my last few students, but I felt insecure and solitary. Two years after my father died, a murderer came and scared off the rest of my students. He called himself "The Battousai," claiming to be the same legendary manslayer from the Revolution – called the Bakumatsu. He also claimed to stud Kamiya Kashiin Ryu and killed people nearly every night for two months!' Kaoru frowned at the memory.
'I guess I got fed up with it and that was the night I met Kenshin Himura…' A small smile touched her lips at the thought of Kenshin. 'It was late at night and I caught up with him mistaking him for the killer. Well, he had a sword and looked suspicious! Ah well, turns out the sword was a reversed-blade sword – a sakabato. He's saved my life so many times, including that night. The funny thing is, he really is the Hitokiri Battousai from the Bakumatsu. Kenshin is a master of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, an ancient sword technique that is unmatched by any other. It's speed of the sword, speed of the body, and speed at reading his opponent's moves. He currently is living with me and is my best friend… I wish it could be more than that though,' She sighed heavily. After she switched to a more agreeable position, she resumed her reflective thoughts.
'I suppose that redheaded – more like hardheaded wanderer or Rurouni might feel something for me. I mean, I'm not repulsive, am I? I don't think so, and I sure hope no one thinks I am. Well, I think Sano and Yahiko do…' Shaking her head vigorously, the young woman tried to cheer her reasoning.
'No! Yahiko and Sano may tease me, but they're my friends and are a part of my weird "family." Yahiko Myojin was a ten-year-old pickpocket before Kenshin and I met him. He actually tried to rob Kenshin! Hn… we saved him from a gang that was forcing him to steal. Poor kid, he lost his parents and then brought up by the gang only to be a thief. I suppose he's happy now, I think he should be anyhow. He's my only student now – which, by the way, is making tremendous progress – and he lives in my home for free. Occasionally, he'll do chores, but Kenshin does most of them – and the weirdo doesn't ever seem to mind!' Kaoru's sapphire blue orbs flashed in resentment.
'Ugh, how can Yahiko be so ungrateful? I take him into my home, feed him, care for him, make him my swordsmanship student, and do all this for him without even asking for anything in return! What do I get? I get called "ugly," teased daily about my cooking, and…' Frustrated, she sighed heavily.
'And… I don't say a word… Nevertheless, I work just as hard even if I do complain. That just shows how much I care for my friends!' Kaoru felt a satisfied smile spread across her face.
'Now to the next oddball in my family, Sanosuke Sagara. He used to be a fierce street fighter called Zanza, but now, he's just an annoying freeloader. Sano stops by to talk and eat all my supposedly "disgusting" food. All the same, he got to come to Kyoto with us too. It's too bad Megumi and Tsubame couldn't come though. Ms. Tae left the little girl, Tsubame, in charge of the Akabeko restaurant back in Tokyo. Tae said that Tsubame may only be about ten-years-old, but she is the most hard working and most trusted worker Tae has… I still wish that shy little girl could've come with us. I'm not sure I really wanted Dr. Takani Megumi – Miss Vixen – to come though. She flirts with Kenshin way more than I want her to! Can't she see that Sano is in love with her? Sure, Sano hides his feelings well, but if Megumi has the same thoughts about him, she hides it really well. I think that fox loves him too. I have a feeling about it.' Her glazed eyes looked at the immense blue sky as she went on with her notions about her life.
'The most recent additions to my bizarre "family" are Misao Mackamachi and Aoshi Shinomori. They don't live in Tokyo though. They live here in Kyoto. Misao has become one of my greatest female friends. Somehow I seemed to have ended up with a lot of guy friends… Great, more proof of me being a tomboy. Guess Megumi's right, I lack feminine touch.' Kaoru snorted and unconsciously muttered aloud. "Humph! Feminine touch… lotta good that is…"
'Ah, at least Misao thinks I'm okay. Anyway, Misao is a skilled ninja and about a year younger than me. She really respects Aoshi and she's even confided small hints that she loves him. I think Aoshi is an honorable guy but he's way too quiet and well… icy for my taste. Regardless, he is still one of my friends. Hmmm… I think I have covered all of the people in my unusual "family." Wow, okay Kaoru, done reflecting on you life yet? Jeez, I am so weird… Hey! How much time has passed? I want to leave and go practice my kendo before anyone awakens.'
Blinking a few times, the raven-haired girl shook herself out of her reflective thoughts. She sat up straight, her ears straining for any sounds of movement in the building. She didn't hear anything except for an occasional snore from Yahiko's and Sano's shared bedroom. Satisfied, she grabbed her bokken – her practiced wooden sword – and headed off the wrap-around porch that connects all the inn's rooms together, and she moved into the thick forests of Kyoto. Still caught up in her thoughts, she didn't feel the pair of curious eyes watching her.
"Hey Yahiko, do you think you could go see if Kenshin is up? I want to know if he still plans on making breakfast for Tae and I. He told me not to dare let him forget," Sae asked politely.
Her twin sister came into the room and yawned. She obviously had just woken up. "Who asked you not to forget what?"
A small smile spread across her Sae's face. "Oh, remember last night when Kenshin insisted on making breakfast for you and I? He made me promise not to let him sleep in because he said that it was the least he could do after we let his friends and him stay here all summer for free."
"Oh, he doesn't –," Tae stopped to yawn. "- Have to do that. It was our pleasure. Besides, he's already done our laundry for three months! That itself should be more that enough."
The sisters broke into giggles while Yahiko smiled. After they stopped laughing, Sae turned to Yahiko. "Go ahead and check to see if he's awake. He sounded like he really wanted to cook breakfast even if he doesn't have to."
Yahiko nodded and paced down the hall towards Kenshin's bedroom. 'Lucky, Kenshin got a room to himself while I get stuck with that birdhead, Sano, as a roommate. Who's even luckier is Kaoru. Sae gave up her room for Kaoru and went to share a room with her sister, Tae. Oh well, lets see if that Kenshin is awake yet.' Carefully, Yahiko pried the sliding door open as quietly as he could.
He peeked in only to discover Kenshin's futon empty. Yahiko's chestnut eyes scanned the room, and then he spotted Kenshin. Much to Yahiko's surprise, the redheaded Rurouni sat upright against the open doorway to the wrap-around porch. Walking over to him, Yahiko bent over and looked into Kenshin's face. He's asleep!
The young boy decided to sit next to Kenshin for a while. As he sat, Kenshin mumbled in his sleep. "Kaoru…"
A slight smirk emerged onto the small boy's face. 'Well, well, well… what do ya' know… I knew it! Kenshin loves Kaoru!' Yahiko thought triumphantly.
Glancing back at Kenshin, he noticed something he didn't see before. Kenshin's muscles looked awfully tense. Yahiko frowned as he observed the Rurouni's tightly clenched hands. 'What…? If he's dreaming about Kaoru, why does he all seem as if he's having a nightmare? Hn, if I had had a dream about Kaoru, it would be a nightmare… but… it wouldn't be that way for Kenshin. They have a different kind of relationship. Kaoru and I are like siblings – almost always fighting. Kenshin and Kaoru aren't like that… what is going on in his dream?'
Inspecting the Rurouni again, Yahiko looked at his face. Instead of the usual child-like sleeping face, Kenshin's expression was twisted into a frown and mournful visage. It is amazing how much emotion Kenshin can hold in his face while he sleeps!
Yahiko started to worry when Kenshin's left hand gripped the hilt of his sakabato. Kenshin's sleeping face twisted into absolute anger as he mumbled a few unintelligible words. The only words Yahiko could perceive were "Kaoru" and "death."
'Is Kenshin dreaming that Kaoru is dead!' Yahiko thought frantically.
Uncertain of what to do, the young boy ran his hand through his spiky black hair while he kept an eye on Kenshin.
The Rurouni grumbled a few words about a man escaping and bewildering Yahiko, Kenshin's expression of hatred turned to one of sadness. The redhead soon started to cry softly in his sleep, muttering "Kaoru" every once in a while.
The young boy's face wore a doleful countenance. He didn't know what was happening in Kenshin's nightmare, but seeing his friend look so… heartbroken, made him want to break down in tears too. Even in his slumber, the man bore such an emotion – emotion he usually hid when he was awake. The poor Rurouni looked so lost and hurt, Yahiko couldn't stand it anymore.
Just as the young boy reached his well-toned hand to wake his friend, Kenshin's eyes shot open as he shouted Kaoru's name.
Kenshin's blood-red hair now sticked to his perspiring face. The man breathed heavily as if he had been running for miles and miles. Instead of his sweet, violet Rurouni eyes when he's normal or his amber Battousai eyes when he's enraged, it was neither. His violet orbs held swirls of amber as if he were fighting to keep Battousai beneath the surface.
Apparently, Kenshin did not notice Yahiko's presence, for he didn't acknowledge the boy. The Rurouni's eyes searched blindly in front of him for something that wasn't there.
Hesitantly, Yahiko brought his hand back to his chest. "K-Kenshin…?"
As if breaking away from a trance, Kenshin blinked and his head snapped to Yahiko. The Rurouni's eyes softened to a deep violet. "Oh… Yahiko. What are you doing here?"
The boy remained unresponsive while he continued to stare nervously at his friend. Upon seeing the young boy's distraught face, the Rurouni's smile faltered. "What's wrong?"
After a moment, Yahiko spoke quietly. "Kenshin… did you… er, did you have a dream – a bad one?"
Kenshin's face grew tense. "You were here quite a few minutes, weren't you." He stated, instead of asked.
"I'm sorry, yes, I was. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
"No, no, since you have already seen me, I shall tell you my nightmare. But first, you must do two things for me," Kenshin said solemnly.
Yahiko's chestnut eyes widened as he nodded. "Sure, anything."
Still remaining grim, the redhead began to as his two favors. "Okay, first, you must understand, I don't tell my nightmares to anyone. Or if I do, it's under certain circumstances – like you – and this happens rarely. So, what I need you to do for me is important, okay? Okay. You cannot, I repeat, cannot tell anyone about this dream, especially Kaoru."
"Alright, secondly," Kenshin continued. "Please tell me how long you were in here and what you saw."
The next few minutes passed as Yahiko told all that he saw and heard. At the end, Kenshin nodded. "Alright, this is my nightmare. I will tell you all that I remember. It might not seem as bad when I tell it but it was pretty gruesome… Well, I was standing…
"The rain poured down like a thousand waterfalls. It was almost as if it hadn't rained in so long, the sky was falling down with it. Mist and darkness surrounded the Rurouni. He was unable to see anything except for a small light with Kaoru standing in the middle of it.
Wishing to capture her attention, Kenshin tried calling out to her. His voice didn't come and his body wouldn't obey his brain. He couldn't move, all he was able to do was watch. His violet orbs moved to her face to see if she could see him. From what he could tell, she couldn't. Her attention was captured on a dark figure slowly making his way to her.
The shadow was saying something Kenshin couldn't hear, revealing his appearance that Kenshin couldn't see, and spreading a painful wave of dust with his sword that Kenshin couldn't feel. The poor redhead stood helplessly as the shadow tortured Kaoru. Each second it grew worse. Many minutes slowly passed an eternity; Kenshin remained vigilant as the man beat Kaoru. No matter how high his will to move and save her was, the Rurouni was unable to advance even an inch.
Almost like he wasn't even there, he couldn't hear her cries of pain that followed each punch. Kenshin could see the tears streaming down her bruised cheeks and her screaming mouth, but his ears were deaf to it all.
Each tear that fell, each tear that joined the pouring rain, tore into the depths of Kenshin's heart. Finally, after what felt similarly to years, the shadow left howling with laughter – that was something Kenshin could hear.
Once the shadowy figure disappeared completely, the Rurouni found himself able to move again. Immediately, Kenshin ran through the pouring rain to the raven-haired woman on the ground. The light that surrounded her was flickering, dimming slowly. Kenshin fell to his knees and turned her over on her back gently. Her pale face held cuts and bruises while blood stained her kimono.
Flashbacks of his deceased wife of many years ago, Tomoe, entered Kenshin's mind. She had died in his arms after she got in the way of Kenshin's own lethal swing. Only this time, the redhead hadn't done anything.
That was the problem.
He hadn't done anything.
Although it wasn't Kenshin's idea to get incompetently stuck while the most important person to him was ruthlessly overpowered, the Rurouni felt responsible. He felt as if he failed. He couldn't protect her when she needed him most…
"Then I whispered her name. She opened her eyes and looked at me. She smiled a little, though I know not why. She said I was crying; but I didn't care. I just cared about her…" Kenshin drifted off. A tear hovered on his eyelashes before slipping down his cheek. It fell slowly, flowing over the cross-shaped scar on his left cheek.
Yahiko had tears in his eyes also, but he refused to let them fall. He had to be strong! "Then w-what happened?" Yahiko stuttered. So much for being strong. But he couldn't help it; he somehow knew what was going to happen next.
Kenshin gulped sadly before continuing. "A-and then she whisper, 'Now I know. Now I know what it is.' I never found out what she meant. H-her… light… went out… s-she was… g-gone… forever…"
Clear droplets of tears spilled down Kenshin's face. His breathing became uneven as he took sharp intakes of breath. He shadowed his eyes with his blood-red bangs as his hands clutched the sides of his face. Kenshin unclenched his teeth as he barely managed to talk. "I-I… have been… h-having this n-nightmare… many nights n-now… and it's scaring m-me… Not only be-because of what happens b-but… I know m-my mind is trying to tell me something… I d-don't know… I just always have n-nightmares like this w-when… when something's going to happen… Something b-bad… something terrible…" His scattered speech was interrupted by an uncontrollable sob erupting from his throat.
Kenshin covered his tightly closed eyes as he let out all the sorrow he'd been holding for much too long. Understanding that Kenshin needed comfort, Yahiko hugged him. "It's okay, Kenshin. Kaoru isn't going anywhere. She's perfectly fine and nothing will happen to her."
The young boy stopped talking. He realized tears were falling freely down his face. Just thinking of Kaoru that way scared him. Kaoru's the sister he never had. Kaoru… she is Kenshin's will to live. She is the one Kenshin loves. But as ignorant as Kenshin is, he doesn't realize the extent of his feelings for Kaoru. Just like him to misinterpret his feelings. 'Stupid…' Yahiko thought to himself.
The ten-year-old's chestnut eyes wandered down to the redhead who was resting his head on Yahiko's chest. Finally, he looked up. His violet eyes were still a bit watery and a little red. "Thank you, Yahiko… It makes me feel better to at least talk to someone about it. Oh! I hope I have not worried you –," Kenshin said.
Yahiko snorted. "Worried? Me? Nah… You stupid Rurouni! Of course you've worried me now! I don't think I've ever seen you cry! Sure, teardrops in your eyes… but never a full-blown breakdown! Jeez, Kenshin… I don't mind you talking to me about this stuff, so don't you dare decide to not let me in on your problems! Kenshin, you can't talk about a huge problem to someone and not have that someone worrying a little. It's only human."
What Kenshin did next surprised Yahiko a good bit. Kenshin's mournful expression spread into a goofy grin from ear to ear.
Feeling awkward under the knowing 'Rurouni smile,' Yahiko attempted to change the subject. "Um, anyway… I came in here because Sae and Tae want to now if you want to make breakfast – or lunch. It's about noon and mostly everyone is still asleep. That festival wore everyone out, I think."
"Ah, I suppose. Well, I sure slept in, didn't I? Let's go have some breakfast!" Kenshin said enthusiastically.
The two walked down the hall towards the kitchen. Just as they opened the kitchen door, Sae and Tae greeted them.
"There you are! We've been waiting for half an hour!" The twins said simultaneously.
"We thought you guys got eaten or something," Tae said irritably.
Yahiko grumbled under his breath. "Well, sorry!"
The twins looked about ready to pummel Yahiko before Kenshin asked if they wanted beef stew for breakfast-lunch. They all agreed excitedly as they followed Kenshin, telling him the exact way they like their stew.
After forty-five minutes passed, Kenshin's beef stew was completed. By that time, most of the Shirobeko Inn guests were awake. Even Sano had awakened from his doze.
Subsequently following the serving of the other guests, the group of friends wondered why Kaoru was still asleep.
"Kenshin, should we wake Kaoru? She has to eat anyway. The beef stew will be cold by the time she wakes up!" Tae said as she dusted off her white apron and orange kimono.
Following a small pause, Kenshin responded. "I guess. Let's all go, we'll give her a little surprise," he smirked, acting the exact opposite of his usual self.
Sano, Yahiko, Tae, and Sae all trailed behind Kenshin as they approached Kaoru's room. The tall, spiky-haired man, Sano, whispered a plan to scare Kaoru. "Okay guys, on three, we throw open the door and say, 'Good Afternoon, Sleeping Beauty,' okay?" They all nodded and grinned evilly.
The redheaded Rurouni stood in front of his friends with one hand on the sliding door. Slowly, he held one finger up as he mouthed 'one,' then 'two,' and smirking, he held up three fingers. Kenshin threw open the door as they scrambled into the room shouting. "Good afternoon, Sleeping Beauty!"
Their grins faltered, as their ears heard not an angry shriek, but instead, silence. Glancing around the room, they learned that Kaoru wasn't there.
The forests of Kyoto are thick and dark. Most of the fighting and killing during the Bakumatsu Revolution happened in the heart of Kyoto. Unfortunately for Kaoru, she had to go through the creepiest wood of all – The Midnight Forest.
It is said dark assassins used to roam in this particular forest. Also said is that the most horrifying and bloodiest assassinations occurred in the wood. Although the sun was high in the sky, it looked close to evening in The Midnight Forest. Creatures could be heard moving about, but none could be seen. Kaoru's mind played countless tricks on her – ghosts and their haunting. 'No such thing. No such thing,' she thought repeatedly.
What felt like years to Kaoru, was only a few minutes. Finally, she reached the edge of the wood. Kaoru found her sapphire eyes admiring the endless rolling hills of the Kyoto plains.
In these hilly fields were continuous bits of lovely wildflowers amongst the tall grass. Stepping into the sunshine, Kaoru acknowledged that the grass came as high as her knees. 'How nice,' Kaoru thought lazily.
Strong gusts of wind blew, sending a ripple through the grasslands. The way the wildflowers and the grass surrounding her flowed with the wind, made the hills resemble a vast sea. Gazing out into the imagined ocean, Kaoru spotted the menacing dark clouds she saw earlier that morning. The only differences were that of them being darker and closer – really close. Blue skies and white clouds still survived, but Kaoru knew it wouldn't be for long. The storm clouds were so at hand, it seemed as if they were directly above Kyoto. Not quite, the rain was at the least, a few miles off. The storm wasn't on Kyoto – yet.
'I still have time. Besides, what is a little rain going to do to me? I love the rain!' Kaoru thought optimistically. Sparing another nervous glance at the rainstorm that loomed threateningly nearby, the raven-haired woman walked out into the fields and began to warm up for her kendo practice.
Just as she finished stretching, a burst of energy surged through her, just like what always happens before she practices. Felling fired up, she began her fierce yet perfect swings. These pretend swings are the second stage of her warm up. 'Finally, the fun begins!' She thought impatiently.
The woman's small hands gripped her bokken wooden sword tightly as she concentrated on her imaginary opponent. Her blue eyes narrowed. She made a side swing and ducked from her fake opponents attack. Kaoru moved gracefully into many other attacks and at the same time, made rolls, dips, and ducks as her "opponent" swung at her.
Right when her body stopped her vigorous work-out, she heard a series of small grunts – as if a person was attempting something difficult. Kaoru whirled around towards the sounds only to discover Sae's and Tae's nieces and nephews. Each small child was trying to do all the moves Kaoru just accomplished with their pretend swords.
Breathing out deeply, she felt relieved it was only small children behind her. Upon noticing the looks of concentration in the faces of four little girls and three little boys, she chuckled. "Why, hello there. I didn't realize you followed me. When did you get up? I was up pretty early."
Kneeling down to the kid's eye level, she listened patiently to Ami, Jinya, Aka, and Sumi as the three boys remained focused on getting their invisible swords to be as quick as Kaoru's. (A/N: guess they haven't seen Kenshin's quick swings, eh? Sorry for the interruption. )
"Well, we went to bed early. So," Ami began.
"Of course we woke up early!" Sumi continued excitedly, her brown hair swishing side to side as she jumped.
"And-an' we saw you… an'…" Aka stuttered.
"An' we wanted ta' come!" Jinya finished.
Standing up, Kaoru laughed at their scattered explanation. Turning to the older boys, she smirked. "And why did you boys come? Hm?"
"Uh… 'Cause… we, um, wanted to come too?" The little boy's answer came out as a question more than a statement.
"I just wondered why you were curious of my swordsmanship skills when all summer you said, 'girls weren't any good with swords.' Oh, and you also joined Yahiko in calling me 'ugly,'" Kaoru pointed out, and saw the boy's guilty faces. She smirked inwardly while her expression stayed innocent.
"Um… we wanted to make sure our sisters and cousins would be okay?" Another attempt was made, but it failed. Kaoru's inward smirk was now visible on her face.
Turning away, she said in an amused tone, "So, are you ready to play some games?"
"Yeah, Aunt Kaoru!"
Her sapphire eyes twinkled with mischief as she turned to her joyful playmates. Kaoru kneeled down and motioned them to move in closer to her. "Alright," she whispered. "The game we're about to play is… TICKLE FIGHT!" With that, her arms reached out and began tickling the children.
Loud giggles emerged and squeals erupted into the air. Four little girls and three little boys attacked each other with silly grins on their faces. Two of the girls and one little boy chased Kaoru in zigzags through the hills. Finally, they managed to get near enough to jump onto Kaoru, knocking her to the ground. Small squeals came out of Kaoru's laughing mouth as she remembered just how ticklish she is.
Her squeals soon burst into screams while the rest of the children joined in making her laugh. The raven-haired woman attempted to move away but all she succeeded was doubling over in more laughter. Instead of squeals in between laughter, it's now turned into resounding screams in between giggles. These screams echoed through the fields, through the wood, and straight into the Shirobeko Inn.
"Kaoru? Gone?" Sae asked nervously while she glanced around Kaoru's empty bedroom.
"I didn't hear her leave… nor did I hear her get up…," Tae mumbled, her eyes growing larger with worry.
Yahiko's chestnut eyes stared at Kaoru's empty bedroom. He abruptly remembered Kenshin's nightmare and his eyes shot to the Rurouni.
Kenshin's violet eyes stared aimlessly at the wall. Through his navy gi, Yahiko could see his muscles growing tense with each passing minute. Although the others didn't know what emotions were going through Kenshin's eyes, Yahiko did – worry.
Immense worry – and fear.
Fear that his worst nightmare had come true.
'She's fine; it's all my imagination. She… is… fine… Oh! Who am I kidding? I'm more worried than anyone could possibly comprehend!' Kenshin thought. He sighed. 'Okay, let's see… where could she have gone… or been taken? Ah, Kenshin no baka! Stop it, Kenshin, just stop it. Don't be stupid, she's fine,' he silently scolded his wild imagination.
"Maybe," Sano began, breaking into Kenshin's troubled thoughts. "Maybe she went to practice her kendo. Her bokken's gone," Sano nodded at the counter where Kaoru always put her wooden sword. With that observation, everyone in the room gained a look of realization – not to mention, relief.
"Perhaps we should go look for her," Sae suggested, looking out the open window. "It looks like it's going to rain. The storm is almost on top of us, it's now just a matter of time before it pours. Believe me, I've lived here a long time and I know what I'm talking about. Not one storm here 'showers,' it pours!"
"Well, we sure don't want Kaoru to get pneumonia – especially since ewe all are going home in just two days!" Tae said.
"We should first ask Misao to come over and watch our nieces and nephews. Oh! We can't forget to remind them to be good for Misao," Sae replied.
The sisters moved out of the room and headed towards the kid's bedroom. Only to their shock, the children weren't there!
"Ah! Oh no!" Tae shouted. Her hand slapped her forehead in disbelief. Both her twin's and her own brown eyes widened and their brown hair seemed more frazzled as their faces showed ultimate shock. Running back to Kaoru's bedroom, the sisters exclaimed, "They're gone! They're gone! The children are missing!"
"WHAT!" Kenshin, Yahiko, and Sano yelled simultaneously.
Just before Tae and Sae had a chance to explain, loud screams erupted into the air. These screams sounded… like… Kaoru!
Sano, Yahiko, and Kenshin tore open the door and sprinted through the yard and into the gloomy forest without another word to Sae and Tae. Kenshin, being the former assassin, Hitokiri Battousai, ran swiftly through the trees. Though being the good friend he is, he made sure he kept a close distance to Sano and Yahiko. As they neared the edge of the woods, the screams grew louder and more… desperate. The three men hurried on until they emerged from the thick trees.
They stopped, trying to pinpoint her screams. Kenshin's head turned to look straight ahead. "That way!" As soon as a direction was made, they ran straightforward. After about four small valleys and three steep hills, the men were out of breath. What kept them going was that every few seconds, a small scream was heard. As they drew closer, what was in between the screams was more distinguishable – laughter.
Kenshin knew it was her giggles; he knew her too well for it to be anyone else. The threesome continued and walked up the next hill only to have Sanosuke pull Kenshin and Yahiko onto the ground. At the top of the hill, the Rurouni and the young boy looked questioningly at Sano. "She can't see us if we lie down here. I want to see what our little Missy is doing. Besides, let's see what she's like when we're not around… So, be quiet, okay?" Sano whispered, then motioned to look at Kaoru in the small dip between their hill and the other ahead.
Kenshin's violet eyes slowly made it's way to her. She lay on the ground, laughing at the seven little children tickling her. Apparently, she's extremely ticklish because she can't see m to be able to stop screaming. How… like a little girl. How cute. How pretty…
The three men, who knew Kaoru to be responsible enough and a little practical, were surprised at Kaoru's laid back and fun-loving childish behavior. They liked it… they liked to see Kaoru relaxed and enjoying herself. 'She looks… beautiful, laughing and smiling like that,' they all thought. Their wide eyes stayed entranced on the raven-haired girl. She laughed until her face gave a rosy complexion. Abruptly, she yelled, "Stop! Please, stop! I need air, you know!"
The children scrambled off her slowly, disappointed they had to stop. Kaoru lay flat on her back gasping for air, and her eyes stared happily at the sky. Eventually, her breathing flowed back into a normal pace. Without moving from her position on the ground, she moved her twinkling blue eyes to the small children around her. She smiled mischievously. She stood up slowly, taking care to act normal. Kneeling down to her playmate's eye level, she motioned them to come closer. Curious, the children drew in cautiously.
Unbeknownst to Kaoru and her friends, the three spying men craned their own necks in effort to see what Kaoru was going to do. Slowly, Kaoru glanced around at the kids leaning in closer to hear her "secret." Suddenly, Kaoru shot out her hands, grabbing the two nearest kids. With each hand on each child's arm, she stood up and began spinning around in place. The children laughed and squealed in delight. Kaoru spun while the kids were holding on her arms for the fun of it now. They spun as if they were a wild carousel. Kenshin, Sano, and Yahiko gazed at each child's happy expression in awe. Kaoru did that. All by herself. She made them have fun… laugh… and smile. They looked at Kaoru and took a sharp intake of breath. Her eyes were watching the young ones surrounding her but still all the while, her blue eye twinkled with joy. She had such a delighted expression, her spying friends couldn't help but to smile.
Eventually the kendo teacher – Kaoru – became too dizzy to stand. She fell to the ground with a loud 'thump.' She laughed at the spinning sky until it came into focus. Just as she began to ask if anyone else wanted to be spun around, lightning flashed a warning through the sky. The noise startled Kaoru, but it certainly didn't frighten her. There was an old saying that said if one counted the seconds after lightning shown and kept counting until thunder sounded, whatever number you were as is how many miles away the storm is. Kaoru didn't know if it was true or not, but she started counting anyway. 1…2…3…4…5! Thunder crackled like drums through the clouds. 'Five miles away, huh? I still got time. I like the rain anyway,' she thought carelessly.
For the first time, Kaoru noticed she couldn't see the blissful blue sky anymore. The murderous looking clouds now replaced the blue sky with a look of nighttime. Still, this realization didn't frighten her. She knew very well that it wasn't a minute past three o'clock. But to the regular eye – and small brain – it would appear to be seven thirty.
Small tugs on her gi drove her out of her thoughts. She glanced down to find four little girls and three small boys huddled around her. "Auntie Kaoru, are we going to go home yet?"
Hiding a smile, she knelt down to their eye level two whisper words of comfort. Kaoru could tell that the young ones were scared of the rain. Though, she couldn't blame them. They'd been raised to go inside when it's going to rain. Unfortunately for the children, Kaoru had no intention of leaving. In fact, she'd planned on staying until it started raining – and perchance, stay even after the droplets fell. This fault wasn't of Kaoru's either. She had been raised to love the rain. When Kaoru was a very little girl, her mother would take out Kaoru into the falling rain. They would dance and play for hours. Sadly, when Kaoru's mother passed away, no one would go into the rain with her. Her father was too busy training students and the poor little girl was an outcast to any other girls her age. No one except a few young boys would play with her in the rain – and even that was rare. That didn't stop Kaoru though. She went and played in the stormy weather anyway.
Today, the kendo teacher hoped to get her small playmates to stay in the rain with her. She knew they would enjoy the fun greatly. "Children, don't be scaredy-cats! Do you know what my mother told me when it rained?"
"What?" A few of the kids answered in unison. Kenshin, Yahiko, and Sano leaned forward to hear Kaoru. Kaoru had never spoken of her mother before, so they never asked. Kaoru's calm voice reached their straining ears with ease. "She said, 'Laugh like no tomorrow, sing as if no one were listening, dance as if no one were watching, and live as if every day were your last.' Then she'd smile and wink. Do you know what she'd do next?"
"What'd she do?"
Kaoru smiled with a sparkle of happiness in her eyes. "She'd bend over and put one hand on her knee, then held her other hand out to me and said, 'May I have this dance?'"
The kids all gave Kaoru an incredulous look. "Huh?" Kaoru laughed, the joyous sound echoing through the windy plains.
"She'd dance and play with me in the rain," she explained. "After she picked me up to dance in the storm with me, she began to sing, laugh, and just have fun."
She shrugged and continued. "I just… well, my mother died when I was young. I just hoped someone, maybe, would wanna dance with me."
The kids agreed to stay, claiming the idea sounded fun. Just after a flash of lightning lit up the dark fields, Kaoru noticed something out of the corner of her eye.
At the top of the hill nearby, she'd seen a blob of red hair and two heads of black and brown hair. Hiding her smile, she knelt down to her playmate's eye level and began to whisper her plan.
Kenshin, Sano, and Yahiko sure didn't think she could take care of herself. So, they spied on her. Humph! She'd show them. Kaoru had her own tricks up her sleeve.
Kenshin watched Kaoru whisper but he couldn't hear her. Sano turned to the Rurouni and whispered, "Can you hear her?"
"No," Yahiko whispered, answering for Kenshin. They turned their attention back when they saw her stand and say, "Ready?"
With her hands behind her back, she walked slowly toward their hill. Before they could edge away, Kaoru yelled, "Get 'em!"
With that, seven little kids scurried up the hill and pounced on the threesome. They had an unsuspecting Rurouni, a surprised Sano, and a bewildered Yahiko to the ground in seconds. Fourteen small hands tickled them and giggled at the men's outburst of laughter. 'Who would've thought a tough boy, a street fighter, and the former Battousai were ticklish?' Kaoru laughingly thought to herself. She shook her head, her long ponytail swishing behind her while she watched the tickle fight.
Yahiko's shouting brought Kaoru out of her thoughts. "Oooooh Kaoru, you are dead meat when I get these kids off!"
"Yeah, you just wait Jou-chan. You just wait," Sano threatened, giving Kaoru a death glare as he wrestled two boys.
The kendo teacher couldn't hear Kenshin's muffled remark. Three little girls had him tackled facedown in the grass. She laughed and began to run farther out it the fields. "You guys can try but you won't catch me. The grass comes up above my head over here – instead of just my knees! Let's see if you guys can even attempt you find me. Kids, keep them there as long as you can and then let them try to find me!"
After she disappeared into the tall grasslands, all her taunting left Kenshin, Yahiko, and Sano more than ready to go find her. "Wouldn't you kids like to let us go find her?" Yahiko asked sweetly.
"You're a kid too," Ami pointed out.
Before Yahiko could argue with that, Sano interrupted. "Hey, would you be interested in helping us find her if we promised candy later?"
The children reluctantly agreed. They were loyal to Kaoru but… being the little kids they are, candies a bit higher on their priority list. Once they got up, Kenshin whispered, "Nice thinking, Sano."
Sanosuke smirked and replied calmly. "No problem. Now, let's go find our little Missy. She can't have gotten far."
They didn't know how unbelievably wrong Sano was. Spiky-haired Sano underestimated Kaoru by a lot. By the time the group started running into the fields, Kaoru was already deep into the endless plains.
Really, really deep in the fields.
To make matters worse for her pursuers, she hasn't even stopped running yet. Although she was never taught to be conspicuous, she was. She barely left a footprint let alone move any grass stalks. Upon seeing a wide, tall tree, she decided to stop there. The tree, unknown to Kaoru, is ancient. Having lived through the eras and seen the horrors of the Bakumatsu, the tree had grown older and larger. Kaoru probably couldn't even hug the tree and not even be close to being able to touch her hands together.
When she reached the foot of the tree, Kaoru collapsed on to the ground gasping for air. She had been running nonstop for who knows how long. Once she had her breathing under control and her heart rate to a normal pace, she looked up at the tree. It was such a large, wide tree… which means many branches to climb. Kaoru reached up her callused hands to the lowest branch and began to climb. The tree was over thirty feet high, but she only climbed about eighteen feet of it. Settling down on a sturdy branch, she glanced around.
Thick green leaves sheltered her from the sight of anyone else, but the height of the tree was just right so she could see all of the grasslands. Unfortunately for her, because of the fast approaching storm, the strong gust of wind threatened to knock her out of the tree.
With one hand in a death grip on the trunk and the other laying at her side, she searched for her hunters. She immediately spotted Sano. He's so tall his head is above the tall grass. A frown marred his features as his eyes shifted constantly to locate her.
'Now… where's Yahiko?' Kaoru thought. Her sapphire blue eyes scanned the fields and hadn't any luck. 'He's too short…' Giving up her search for the boy, she looked for the redheaded Rurouni. She found him almost instantly. Being only a few inches taller than her, his head didn't breach the top of the grass either.
His violet eyes were in a haze but, somehow seemed to be concentrating on something that wasn't there. His features appeared horribly upset for some unknown reason. Kenshin stayed that way for one minute – and the next, he was vehmentaly shaking his head. Then he suddenly seemed to remember her challenge to find her. 'I wonder what's wrong,' Kaoru thought worriedly.
Kenshin repeated the charade a few times, he shook his head once again and regained his composure. Kenshin fully concentrated on finding Kaoru. He took a stance and gained an expression on his face. Kaoru craned her neck and squinted her eyes to see him a little better. That facial expression looked so familiar…
That Rurouni was reading Ki!
In other words, because of his experience as an assassin, Kenshin is able to scan a large area for any certain person's presence. And in this case, he was searching for Kaoru's presence – her Ki! Kaoru had no doubt in her mind that in just a few short seconds, he'd know where she was hiding. Now, some people knew how to conceal their Ki – but that's only experienced fighters.
The kendo didn't know the first thing about Ki, let alone concealing Ki! Boy, was she dead meat. Of course Kaoru knew she'd deliberately provoked Kenshin, Sano, and Yahiko. Well, mostly Sano and Yahiko. 'Kenshin's a bit more patient… um, I think,' Kaoru thought nervously.
Her blue orbs watched Kenshin close his eyes in concentration as she agonized every second drawing closer to her hiding place being revealed. She twisted the fabric of her hakamas as she waited restlessly. Even though she expected him to sense her Ki, it still surprised her when he did.
Slowly, he opened his eyes as a small smile of satisfaction graced his lips. Sparkles of amusement lit up his violet orbs. His eyes still straight ahead, not to the left where Kaoru hid in the tree. Just as he gradually turned his gaze to the ancient tree, a shrill voice screeched into the silence. 'KAORU! I found her! She's in the…"
The little girl never got to finish. Kaoru had been so startled by the young one's shout, she jumped about a foot in the air, releasing her death grip on the trunk of the tree. She let out a loud yelp but stopped abruptly when the realization that she was falling backwards hit her. Her hand scrambled for something to hold onto, but she had already started falling. She tried to grab something, anything, but she couldn't keep a hold on anything. Everything she managed to grab, broke off of the tree.
The fall was in slow motion, it seemed each second felt like a million years. Just before her back was to meet the ground, she sharply found herself caught in strong arms. Although she was in a state of shock, she knew who it was. Even without looking at his face. No one would've made it to her in time… except Kenshin. The man could move fast enough that he couldn't even be seen – and that isn't exaggerating. It was part of his sword technique and Kenshin was the best of the best.
Still in his arms, Kaoru recovered from her horrified state. "Nice catch," she whispered, trying to bring a smile to her friends stunned faces.
It worked. They all managed a small smile, but it quickly vanished. Surprisingly, it was Kenshin who got riled. "'Nice catch'? Is that all you can say after you fell twenty feet? You could've… If I wasn't… How… What if-?" Kaoru put one finger over his mouth.
"Yes, I know I could've been seriously hurt. Yes, if you weren't here… there would've been trouble. But you were here. That's all that matters, you… were… here. There is no sense in lingering on things that didn't happen. The point is, I'm fine. So, you can let up on your grip on my arm. I don't think I can feel my arm anymore… its really kinda numb now," she replied, answering all his unspoken worries.
Kenshin loosened his grip at once, but he didn't put her down. He just watched her with intense violet eyes. His expression and thoughts were unreadable. As he continued to regard her with a hard stare, Kaoru blushed uncomfortably. The depth of the unfamiliar emotion burning in his eyes frightened her. Yet it excited her at the same time. She couldn't place the feeling she saw in his orbs… but it seemed like she'd seen it before…
'Oh, forget that look, Kaoru!' She mentally scolded herself. 'Just concentrate on the fact that he's holding you!' Blinking away from his gaze, she cleared her throat loudly to send a silent message to put her down. Kenshin didn't move, he remained standing with her in his arms. 'Arrgh! It's just like that dumb Rurouni not to get it.' Frustrated, she nudged him while she cleared her throat even louder. Kenshin remained unfazed. It was like she hadn't even done anything. Nor did it seem that he could hear her 'ahems.' He just continued to give her a look she didn't understand.
Kaoru deliberately avoided eye contact with her friends standing around her. She couldn't look at them – let alone Kenshin. Finally after a few passing seconds, she scanned the faces of her surrounding comrades.
They all had the same expression.
They were smirking.
Kaoru couldn't believe it. She was stunned beyond belief. How can they have the nerve to do that? Kenshin and her hadn't done anything! And here they were – looking at her like… like… like Kenshin and her were… 'Woah!' She thought. 'No way… Kenshin and I aren't together. And it's not heading that way… is it?'
The puzzled woman frowned over her thoughts. Shaking her head vigorously, she remembered she had to get Kenshin to put her down.
Her eyes bravely met Kenshin's. Kaoru scowled at him so fiercely, she saw Sano take a step back out of the corner of her eye. When she focused her attention from Sano back to Kenshin, she noticed something different about his stare. His face was still placid, but his eyes were no longer unreadable. His violet hues twinkled with amusement as he cocked an eyebrow at her. Kaoru's glare intensified. This time both his eyebrows raised in surprise and a small smile touched his lips. Without a word, he gently set her feet onto the ground.
No one said anything for a few moments. Not a sound could be heard except for the wind against the tall grass stalks.
"It looks like the ocean," Kaoru whispered in an astonished tone. Her friends turned to look questionably at her. They were startled when they saw her composure. Kaoru stood with her hands limp at her sides, her complexion considerably paled, and tears flowing freely down her cheeks. It didn't seem as if she even realized she was crying. Her gaze was dazedly fixed on the ripples the wind made in the plains.
"Kaoru, why are you crying?" Yahiko asked, knowing that was the question everyone had on his or her mind.
Now it was Kaoru's turn to look startled. "What? Crying? Where did you get the idea that I'm crying?"
"Uh, from you. Kaoru, you have tears running down your face," Yahiko answered, cocking an eyebrow at her.
"Huh?" Kaoru muttered as her hands touched her damp cheeks. "Oh, so I am crying…"
"Yeah, so why're you sad, Auntie Kaoru?" A little girl, Ami, asked innocently.
"Well, um… you see," Kaoru stuttered. Taking a deep breath, she attempted to speak clearly. "Okay, remember how I told you how my mother would sing and dance in the rain with me?"
They nodded. "Well – hey, wait a minute. Kenshin, did you, Sano, and Yahiko hear that?" They nodded sheepishly.
"Alright… it saves me from explaining. Anyway, when my mother took me outside, she sang the same song every time. I may have been young, but I remember it. A few lines are about the ocean, so, seeing the plains looking like the sea… I guess it just reminded me of my mom…
"And I just hoped someone – like one of the children or somebody – would do the same thing my mother did. I wanted to dance…" Kaoru said quietly.
"We'll stay," the children declared. They each gave reassuring smiles to show their promise was sincere. Just before Kenshin, Sano, and Yahiko could pronounce their agreement to stay, lightning and thunder made their entrance together. No time for counting seconds… which meant the storm was there. It was only a matter of moments before the rain fell.
Somehow, Kaoru knew the exact second it was going to start. She listened to the wind, the thunder growl low and the sky grow darker and darker.
"Three… two… one," Kaoru whispered. Her friends didn't even get a chance to inquire as to what she was counting down to. The downpour had come, and they understood.
The bunch remained partially sheltered under the ancient tree, but hardly. Kaoru on the other hand, slowly strayed away from her cluster of companions. Her blue hues fixed on the source of the pouring droplets, she drifted out from under the tree. Her open palms in front of her, she caught the raindrops. In a matter of seconds, she was soaked to the bone. She let out a sigh of contentment. 'Oh, the rain reminds me so much of mom,' she thought happily.
As she wandered out farther from the tree, the young woman leisurely spun in small circles with her arms stretched out and her face upturned to the sky. Just before she reached the tall grass stalks, Kaoru turned and stared at her friends. Then her eyes moved to the seven little children huddled around Kenshin and Sano. Kaoru decided to persuade the kids out; she wouldn't force them.
On the outside, Kenshin appeared calm. However, Kenshin's heart was pounding, his mind was racing, and he couldn't take his eyes off Kaoru. Her wet loose gi clung in all the right places, her soaked green hakamas held her slim legs nicely, and… oh Kami-sama. God help him now. The woman's gi shirt was white. She had white bandage wrappings there so it covered mostly. But still, you can certainly see the… shape. Oh Lord, help him now. 'Just avoid looking there…' Kenshin thought mentally. Still, to wear white today! Being a guy, you can't help but to notice. Out of the corner of Kenshin's eye, he saw Sano's face. Apparently, Sano's attention was also caught on the fact that Kaoru is wet and wearing white.
Kenshin's eyes narrowed right away and his violet eyes flashed amber for a mere second as a warning. He elbowed Sano in the stomach. 'There, that ought to get him to stop gawking at Kaoru,' Kenshin thought.
Sanosuke started to shoot a furious glare but stopped dead when he saw the venomous look in Kenshin's narrowed eyes. If looks could hurt, Sano would be dead where he was standing. Sanosuke gave a barely perceptible nod to show he understood, but he couldn't help the glint creeping into his eyes that showed Kenshin that he really understood. Kenshin didn't like other men looking at Kaoru. For what reason? Even a dimwit can figure that out, right? Sanosuke did – he knew that particular reason. However, the question remains… can Kenshin figure out that reason?
'Probably not. He's waaaaay too ignorant for his own good,' Sano laughingly thought. Turning his attention back to Kaoru, he saw that she was kneeling to the children's height level.
"It's fun to dance in the rain, but not alone," Kaoru said. "Won't you please come and dance with me?"
"But there's no music."
"Yes, that's true. But –," Kaoru began.
"Will you sing, Auntie Kaoru?"
"Oh, I don't –," Kaoru started.
"Pleeease? We'll only come out if you sing."
"B-but what if I sing badly?"
"You don't," Yahiko mumbled.
"Huh? Yahiko, you haven't heard me sing," Kaoru pointed out.
"Yes, I have," Yahiko said confidently. When he didn't say anymore, Kaoru argued back.
"No, you haven't! Even if you did, when?"
"I've heard you many times, actually," Yahiko stated. "The first time was when I had forgotten my apron that needed at my job. You know, my job at the Akabeko restaurant? Anyway, you were hanging laundry or something while you sang. Kenshin wasn't home and apparently, you didn't think I was either… Kaoru, I was really surprised. You sing really well! And… I came home early on the days I knew Kenshin was out on errands to hear you sing…"
Kaoru didn't know whether to smile at Yahiko's blushing face or to get mad at her own red cheeks.
"Well… I… err, I d-don't sing good at all…" Kaoru muttered stubbornly.
"Oh, c'mon!" One of the little boys shouted. "It's simple really. Sing and let us be the judge of how well you sing. If you don't sing good, we'll tell ya'!"
"Yeah, what he said," The smallest of the boys boasted, feeling proud he was included.
"C'mon, Jou-chan," Sano interjected. He was curious if Yahiko was right about her voice. "What, you scared to?"
A look of absolute outrage crossed her dainty features. The rain had lightened for the moment. Few drops were falling, but if wouldn't last long. Another downpour was coming – bursts of thunder sent it's warning every once in a while. Kaoru felt just like the menacing thunder – she wanted to pummel Sano, but she held her anger, for the time being. Sanosuke had to resist all urges to look satisfied. He knew Kaoru couldn't resist a challenge, so a challenge is what he gave her.
"Fine! I'll sing! Though I won't sing the song that my mother always sang. Not yet. Just to show you I'm not a skillful singer, I'll sing you a short song my mother soothed me with to calm my doubts of having fun in the rain. She said that you never needed a reason for doing what you do. And that you never needed a reason for living life – for example, dancing in the rain," Kaoru shrugged at her last remark.
Walking over to the children, she kneeled to the height and began her song.
"Ever close your eyes
Ever stop and listen
Ever feel alive
And you've nothing missing
You don't need a reason
Let the day go on and on…"
The young woman smiled as she sang. She slowly linked hands with the children.
"Let the rain fall down
Everywhere around you
Give into it now
Let the day surround you
You don't need a reason
Let the rain go on and on…"
Kaoru swiped some loose strands of hair sticking to her face and held the children's hands. The young woman soon lost herself in the song and continued to sing in a soft, soothing voice while she leisurely led the kids into the light drizzling raindrops.
"Only take the time
From the helter skelter
Every day you find
Everything's in kilter
You don't need a reason
Let the day go on and on…"
The kind kendo teacher continued her serene song as she craftily eased the children into the pleasure and contentment of spinning in the rain.
"Every summer sun
Every winter evening
Every spring to come
Every autumn leaving
You don't need a reason
Let it all go on and on," Kaoru finished, lingering on the last note. She turned to face Kenshin, Sano, and Yahiko. "See? I told you I'm not – why are you all looking at me like that?"
The three astounded men quickly closed their gaping mouths. Yahiko was the first to recover. "K-Kaoru! That… that was even better than when I heard you at home! Hah! See, I told you! Wasn't she great? C'mon, Kenshin! Sano! Say something!"
"I c-can't," Sano started.
"I don't know w-what to say…" Kenshin murmured.
"See? Yahiko, they just don't want to hurt my feelings. Quit bothering them," Kaoru ordered.
"Uh… Kaoru?" Kenshin whispered, oblivious to the fact he forgot to say 'Miss Kaoru.' Kaoru smiled inwardly, 'Now that's more like it! I can't count the many times I told him to drop the formalities!'
"Oh! I mean, Miss Kaoru?" Kenshin corrected. Kaoru had to resist the urge to groan, so she settled with wincing. "Why would it hurt your feelings if we told you what an amazing singer you are?"
Forgetting her former anger, Kaoru was rendered speechless. A small child's voice broke her daze.
"Auntie Kaoru, we want you to sing your mommy's song! Pleeease?" She begged in her high-pitched voice.
The other kids joined in a chorus of 'pleeease.'
"Oh, fine," Kaoru sighed. She closed her eyes and slowly began to gently hum a tune. As she spun around, arms outstretched, palms open towards the sky, she hummed a soothing note. As if on cue, rain readily poured upon her upturned face.
Kaoru's lazy tune died down and she face the group of young kids. Her sapphire orbs opened as she started to sing.
"I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat
But always keep that hunger…"
The raven-haired lady gradually linked the children's hands together until they formed a small circle. All the while, she sang.
"May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid, love ever leave you empty handed…"
Kaoru leisurely began to nudge the small ones to spin and danced serenely.
"I hope you still feel small
When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance…
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance…"
Kaoru sang in a silky voice that was as smooth as honey. Abruptly, she turned to face Sano, Yahiko, and Kenshin. Looking down at her young apprentice, Yahiko, she sang the next lines for him.
"I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance."
She turned her eyes to Sanosuke.
"Never settle for the path of least resistance."
Kaoru's unwavering gaze met Kenshin's.
"Living might mean taking chances
But they're worth taking
Loving' might be a mistake
But it's worth making."
Thin hands locked with Sano's and Yahiko's. Kaoru led the two dumbstruck men out from under the tree and into the pouring rain. She pick up the youngest little girl and set her in front of Yahiko. Gentle hands placed Yahiko's hands in the small girl's palms. Kaoru made shooing motions to begin dancing. The young teacher did the same to Sano but instead put a little boy – that actually resembled Sano, spiky brown hair and all – into Sanosuke's strong arms. The whole time she sang calmly as time passed about her.
"Don't let some hell bent heart
Leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out
Give the heavens above
More than just a passing glance…
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance…
I hope you dance…
Time is a real and constant motion always…
I hope you dance…
Rolling us along…
I hope you dance…
Tell me who…
I hope you dance…
Wants to look back on their youth and wonder…
Where those years have gone."
Kaoru resumed humming. Feeling a tap on her shoulder, she turned to find Kenshin. His hand was outstretched to her, beckoning her to take it. The words he said next made her want to cry with joy and filled her heart with shattering bliss. Kaoru would never forget it.
"May I have this dance?"
Kenshin had just said the very same words her mother said before dancing with her. His violet eyes had a certain warmth to them with an emotion that she couldn't identify. Kaoru forgot all other thoughts as she found herself placing her hand in his in acceptance to his offer.
Kenshin gently led her in circles about the grass. He surprised her by raising their coupled hands about her head and softly spun her in place. He then pulled her back into his arms. As they swayed side to side in a relaxed manner, they barely noticed the rest of their friends dancing too. The whole world ceased to exist and if felt as if time had stopped. Contentment was the only emotion they felt while they listened to Kaoru's peaceful voice as she finished her mother's song.
"I hope you still feel small
When you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance…
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance…
I hope you dance…
Time is a real and constant motion always…
I hope you dance…
Rolling us along…
I hope you dance…
Tell me who…
Wants to look back on their youth and wonder…
I hope you dance…
Where those years have gone.
Tell me who…
I hope you dance…
Wants to look back on their youth and wonder…
Where those years have gone."
Kenshin didn't know when they stopped dancing. He supposed it was when Kaoru stopped singing. She stood before him, eyes closed as if she was remembering something. Kaoru hummed a lingering note and opened her eyes. She gazed shyly around at her friends, afraid they would tell her she was even worse that before. She didn't know why this surprised her but it did.
Again, they told her she was wonderful.
Kaoru said she wanted to be alone.
Raindrops fell around her motionless body, whispering an untold sadness. Violet eyes kept watch over her. After Kaoru finished her mother's song, Sano suggested they head back to the Shirobeko Inn. Everyone agreed, except Kaoru. She told everyone to go ahead without her.
She looked very sad, lost and lonely, yet thoughtful. Mostly sad, unfortunately. Kaoru whispered she wanted to be alone and then sat atop a hill nearby the ancient tree. Sano and Yahiko took the children back, allowing Kenshin to stay with Kaoru. The concerned Rurouni crept back and now sits in the old tree. It's been two full hours and Kaoru hadn't moved an inch. The downpour continued around her but she took no notice of it. As the sky darkened to nightfall, the Rurouni remained loyally watchful over the pondering maiden. Her azure eyes were glazed over in thought while she watched the cloudy sky. Her face showed not one single emotion, but her eyes were a different story. Kaoru looked… lost.
Not long after Kenshin realized that thought, the young woman started to cry. Not silent tears, but sobs that shook all of her small body. Her face was buried in her hands as her damp ebony ponytail fell across her shoulders. Kenshin had to use all his restraint he had to keep himself from jumping from the tree, hurrying over, and pulling the poor creature into his embrace. She needed to be alone though. Still worried, Kenshin decided to wait until it appeared that Kaoru was ready to go back. He didn't want to leave her alone in the dark where anything could happen to her.
Another hour passed, the downpour of water continued yet Kenshin still watched. He began to shiver in his wet clothing and thought it'd be best if Kaoru and himself went back to the Shirobeko to dry off. Soundlessly, Kenshin jumped off the branch and proceeded over to Kaoru. He stopped behind her, clearing his throat loudly. She didn't move. Her blank eyes continued to stare into nothing.
She jumped slightly, letting Kenshin know that she acknowledged him. Without turning to him, she responded in a soft-spoken manner.
"I'm not sure how many times I have to tell you but I guess I'll say it again. Call me Kaoru. Just Kaoru. No 'Miss.' No '-dono.' No formalities. Just Kaoru, okay?"
"Yes, Mi – I mean, Kaoru," Kenshin agreed.
"There. Isn't that easier?" Kaoru smiled.
"I suppose it is. Kaoru, aren't you cold? Are you… feeling okay?"
"Yeah… I'm okay. I guess I just miss my mama… Oh! I mean, mother… Sorry, she died when I was really young. I guess I still call her that… Anyway, thinking about her today made me a little sad. That and another thing…" Kaoru said quietly. Before Kenshin could ask what the 'other thing' that was making her sad was, she changed the subject. "It's getting late, you should go back. Besides, you'll get sick… in this rain…"
"As if you wouldn't get sick. You have to come back too," Kenshin stated sternly.
"Go on, I'll be fine. I promise I'll come in a little while. Please? I just want to be alone a little while longer," Kaoru pleaded.
"Oh… okay… As long as you come very soon. If you're not back in an hour, I'm coming for you, okay?"
"Okay," Kaoru agreed.
Back at the Shirobeko Inn, Kenshin paced. He sat on the floor, stood, paced, and repeated the whole cycle over again. After repeating the routine several times, Kenshin realized the extent of his anxiety. 'Okay, Kenshin. Take a deep breath and sit down! Calm down… Kaoru is fine… She's probably on her way back at this very moment! So… sit down and relax,' the worried Rurouni mentally kicked himself for so much worrying.
He did as he instructed himself to do. Inhaling a good amount of air, he slid to the ground while leaning his back on the wall. Kenshin ran strong hands through his already messed-up hair. His long hair tied at the base of his neck was such an odd color. It was as if couldn't decide between red and gold, so it picked a color in between. As Kenshin closed his eyes, he attempted to relax. It hadn't been a full hour yet. Only about forty minutes had passed. All he had to do was tough it out for twenty minutes… 'But where is she! I believe I remember specifying that she come before an hour is over! Not after!' Kenshin thought.
This thought made Kenshin uneasy. He debated for a while about whether or not to go and get her before the hour is up. In the end, he decided to give her the rest of the hour because she seemed pretty down about her deceased mother. His eyes remained closed as he listened through the quiet house for Kaoru's return For was seemed like hours but was only five minutes, all Kenshin could hear was the soft breathing of the others who had gone to sleep long before. The Rurouni began to think he probably should've told Sano and Yahiko about Kaoru not being home yet. After a few seconds, he changed his mind. They would probably be up waiting with Kenshin and worrying just as much. Kenshin laughed softly, maybe not as much as he was. To keep from falling asleep, Kenshin amused himself with imagining what Sano and Yahiko would be doing if they were awake with him. Kenshin couldn't fall asleep, and wouldn't fall asleep. But as he fantasized what his friends would be doing, something happened he didn't expect.
He fell asleep.
A certain raven-haired woman screamed for help as she fell to the wet grass in the pouring rain. A dark figure stood over her.
She screamed with all her might, but…
No one came.
Dawn came slowly, birds singing their noisy songs. The chirping woke Kenshin with a start. Opening his wide violet orbs, the sight of sunshine beaming into his room greeted him. Blinking his eyes groggily, he felt he should be remembering something… but what?
"Kaoru!" Kenshin whispered.
The Rurouni jumped up, still in his clothes from yesterday. He hastily put on white hakamas and a blood-red gi. He ran across the hall to Kaoru's room. Carefully, he slid the door open. Kenshin hoped she was sleeping in her futon instead of not even in the room, which is what his senses were telling him. When the door was fully open, Kenshin saw her futon folded against the wall.
Kaoru wasn't there.
"Hey Kenshin!" Yahiko's cheerful voice reached Kenshin's ears. It mocked his suddenly dull mind.
"What are you doing at Kaoru's door? Is something wro – Hey, are you okay? You look a little ill," Sano remarked.
Kenshin said nothing, he just pointed into Kaoru's empty bedroom.
"Whoa, Déjà vu. She was missing yesterday too," Sano said in an awed tone.
Yahiko knew the real reason for Kenshin's worries. The nightmare he's been having really scares the poor guy. "Kenshin, don't worry. I'm sure she's just in the kitchen with Sae and Tae. She's -…"
"No, she stayed out late last night at that field. I was supposed to go and get her after an hour but I –"
Misao's, Tae's, and Sae's shriek echoed throughout the Inn. In a flash, Kenshin was in the kitchen doorway. Shortly followed by Sanosuke and Yahiko. Kenshin seemed to be out of breath even though he had barely run. His heart ran at an amazing pace but… it stopped at the sight of Kaoru. The young woman leaned in the doorframe leading outside. She leaned on the doorframe for support. Kenshin, Yahiko, and Sano seemed to be frozen in place as she stood there. Misao, Tae, and Sae were stuck where they were at the kitchen table. Kaoru's countenance was shocking. Everyone was studying her face. She was very, very pale – as white as snow. Her rosy lips as light as her skin. Her ebony hair was mussed and her beaten, muddy body looked as frail as glass.
"Kaoru…?" Kenshin said in a gentle concerned tone.
She didn't say anything. Her sapphire eyes were dull and unfocused. She didn't seem to be looking at anything. Suddenly, she gasped.
They watched as her eyes grew full with utter fear and her face – even though it didn't seem possible – grew paler. Very unexpectantly, she started to fall forward while her eyes closed. Kenshin's god-like speed caught her as Kaoru fell gently into his arms.
-- … To be continued … --
WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! GO ME! I did it! I'm BACK!
So… what did you think?
Personally, I'm proud of myself because it's only a million times longer than the old chapter one. Now that I have redone the whole beginning of the story, I'm happy! Aren't you? I'm back, so you should be happy!
Sorry, I didn't get to update on July 6th, a series of events happened so that I could not update that day. Anyhow…
REVIEW! And if I get any flames, go ahead. I'll laugh in your face and personally respond to them on the next chapter when I do reviewer responses.
So, flame away.
See you next chapter!
P.S. you better be happy with this chapter, it's 29 pages on Word and 62 pages hand-written, be happy.
P.P.S. If you didn't like this chapter… as I said, flame away. Just remember to review, you people!