Synopsis: (KK) Texas. 1887. A rich landowner's daughter, a traveling ranch hand, and the night with decided their future. (One-shot)
Author's Note: I blame the inspiration for this small nagging idea on all the sappy crap I've been saturating myself with lately. Hope those that read enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin.
Flickering tangerine fingers of the sun's rays seared the thick air as heat curled and bathed the dry earth in a sickening wave of stifling warmth. No blissful shade blocked the demanding light; no trees disrupted the wide, billowing expanse of nascent grass and dirt-covered rocks. The wind mustered a weak slip of vacant breeze, offering little barrier to the omnipresent afternoon temperature. Slumping in the worn, creaking leather saddle, Kenshin pushed his dusty Stetson up from his sweating brow and wiped a dirty hand across his moist skin. The steady rhythm of the horse's even steps rocked him recurrently, his body moving in a planned, predictable rhythm. Settling the Stetson back in place, he rolled his shoulders tiredly, working taunt muscles loose.
It had been a long, precarious day. Soon the blazing sun would creep below the horizon, cloaking the land in a humid, sweeping blackness. Sighing, Kenshin closed his eyes wearily and splayed his hands gently in front of the saddle, his fingers falling in the coarse, chestnut mane of his horse. He was relieved the day was drawing to a close, albeit sedately. Apparently distraction caused him to be lax in his assigned duties, his mind cresting wandering thoughts. And of her. Of tonight. Tonight….
Slipping a hand into the pocket of his snug fitting, mud-slicked pants, Kenshin pulled out a brittle strip of dried jerky and roughly bit off a chunk, chewing the tough snack determinately, his eyebrows furrowed. He needed to relax. Tension was seeping into his bunched muscles; his mind was starting to ache with a delicate lace of pulsing pain, while his stomach rolled with a nervous tinge of distant nausea. Distraction kept him off balance.
It was going to take him at least ten more minutes to hit the main path leading to the ranch he currently resided at, working as one of the many ranch hands. Good thing, since his horse was wearied from a day's travel, sweat dampening her deep chestnut-colored chest and shoulders, her large nostrils flaring with small bursts of heavy breath. Rolling the bridle's bit in her mouth, Circle lifted her head and tugged on the reigns Kenshin held loosely in his hands. Smiling slightly, Kenshin slid a hand down Circle's neck and uttered soothing words in a soft voice. She could inherently sense his anxiety, her ears flicking back and forth, attuning to his every movement and their surroundings.
Circle was a medium sized chestnut mare, seven years old and stubborn to a fault. Though she was prone to bask in a shaded grove, her body relaxed and mind cooled of pressure, she loved the feel of the wind as she galloped, her wild spirit untamed. Kenshin knew she was nearing her limit for the day, her steps somewhat apathetic in their languorous gait. Walking was helping to pace her for the rest of their journey, her muscles painfully cramping from the day-long exercise.
Their progress was slower than usual, hampered by the mounting exhaustion and wandering ripples of thought. It was a handful of drawn out minutes before they reached the subtle decent of earth leading directly to the sprawling white ranch house and surrounding out-buildings. Stray streaks of gray merged with brilliant dashes of splitting red and orange as the shimmering sun slowly escaped beneath the lip of the land. Dinner had probably been served already, gobbled greedily by Kenshin's fellow ranch hands. Kenshin sighed and took another absent bite of the tough jerky he held loosely in his hand, his eyes trained on the linear, dirt-covered path of the rudimentary road. He wasn't very hungry anyways. His normally healthy appetite curdled in his stomach, unease finding a comfy home there. Kenshin decided sleep would be a better idea; he needed to rest his tired limbs and refresh his garbled mind.
The crushing heat of the afternoon dimmed languidly, cooling with a slow, sweeping blackness blushing through the once translucent, cerulean sky. A distant salting of oscillating dots sparked the darkness as they gradually slipped through the cloud induced haze of gray. Through the shadowed dusk, Circle slowly accelerated her steady pace as the house came closer, the ranch hand loft and impressive barn peeking into view. It was two short, anticipated minutes before they reached their destination.
Leading his horse to the stable, Kenshin's hands clenched tightly on the narrow reigns when he was suddenly halted by the singular voice of a man he could not find within himself to respect even the smallest amount.
Mr. Kamiya, Kenshin's esteemed employer, was a stout man, his face bearded, blue eyes beady, mouth continually drawn in an expecting frown. His thick arms were crossed sternly across his chest, feet planted apart in a stance that commanded attention. He drew his eyebrows together in disapproval, his expression already schooled contemptuously for a hopeful tongue-lashing for Kenshin's possible inability to perform the task he had been handed earlier that morning. Kenshin not only disliked the domineering man for the heavy hand he bestowed on his wife and daughter, but also for the harsh way he treated his hired hands.
"I assume," Mr. Kamiya drew out with a dark sneer, "everything went…exactly as I directed. My message was delivered?"
"Yes, sir," Kenshin replied, his blank stare meeting his employer's glare with unflinching accuracy. "It was delivered to Saitoh Hajime at noon. He told me to inform you he would be arriving in two days time to negotiate your proposal."
He stared at Kenshin, his mouth drawn in a thin line as he nodded tersely. Dismissing Kenshin with a turn of his back, the older man treaded to his brilliantly built and organized house, a good evening meal now the most prevalent thought in his narrow mind.
As Kenshin lead his horse into the age-worn stable specific for ranch hand use, he removed his Stetson, placing it carefully on a solitary post. Leading Circle to her usual stall, he made quick work of removing her heavy saddle and releasing her sweat-dampened face from the uncomfortable constraint of her leather bridle. Circle nickered softly, nudging his arm with evident gratitude. Running a hand up the dusty, white blaze on her face, he fondly straightened the delicate hairs of her forelock, and then gently slid his fingers down to the sensitive, soft skin of her muzzle. She nibbled the tips of his fingers before lowering her head and walking lazily over to the corner of her stall to a waiting bale of sweet hay.
Quietly stepping out of the stall, Kenshin hefted up the saddle and slung the bridle over his shoulder. Walking the short distance to the tack room, he sighed and shook his long bangs from his eyes. He placed the saddle away and with a damp cloth, cleaned the bridle's metal bit before hanging it up beside the saddle. His movements were slow as he walked out of the tack room and grabbed his waiting Stetson off the post as he emerged from the barn. Trudging down the age-worn path toward the loft he currently called home, he slipped his hands into his coarse pant pockets and tilted his head up admire the darkening vastness of the night's deep sky. His mind wandered in those scant minutes it took to walk to his destination. Shoulders relaxing as the brisk night air infiltrated the thin sleeves of his flannel shirt and signs of strain disappearing on his young visage, Kenshin took a deep breath just outside the closed door of his home. Placing a hand flat against the cool wood of the door, he gave it a slight shove and stepped into the medium sized, oblong building, hushed sounds of serious conversation filling the interior.
The building was split into two sections: the right third served as a recreational gathering point with a small round wooden table shoved near the wall under a window with seven rickety chairs surrounding it. A worn bench sat off to the side, the arm rests sagging from overuse. Finally, one old rocking chair stood against the wall adjacent to the circular table. The remaining part held twelve bunk beds, six on one side, six on the other, separated by a narrow walkway in between.
Kenshin's entrance almost went unnoticed. Almost.
"You missed supper, Red," a deep voice uttered softly, carrying from the circular table.
Smiling sheepishly, Kenshin shrugged and sent the other man a wary look. "I know. I stocked up on plenty jerky, though, so I'm fine."
The dark-haired man, Sanosuke Sagara, shook his head slowly, sending the shorter man a slightly bemused grin. "I don't think I could survive on jerky. Nope, not me."
"You get used to it."
"You going to chat all day, Sagara, or actually play?" Cho interrupted, his shoulders hunched as he leaned heavily on the tabletop, his posture stiff.
Six ranch hands were crowded around the table, their elbows jammed against each other's, their heads all bowed over a small hand of cards they each held. Sanosuke slid Cho a slightly annoyed look. "I'm playing."
"Well, act like it."
Anji, another man at the table, sighed and sent the two a disgruntled glare. "Be quiet, both of you. Let's just get back to the game." His large frame was huddled over his cards and he peered at them with a mixture of curiosity and frustration.
"Want to play, Kenshin? I'll deal you in," Sanosuke said.
Shaking his head negatively, Kenshin moved away from the already crowded table and jerked his head to the side. "I think I'll just turn in for the night. That ride today tuckered me out. I'm fading fast, pard."
Sanosuke accepted his answer, silently turning back to his faded red cards, his concentration visibly shifting. A thick aura of focused deliberation shrouded the six men as they continued their deep card game. Kenshin's steps were muffled on the creaky wooden floor as he made his way to the very end of the line of bunk beds. Turning left, he sat down heavily on his bottom bunk, his muscles aching with rooted fatigue. Shucking off his muddy boots, he leaned back, placing the back of his head on top of the fluffy down of the clean pillow, slipping the brim of his Stetson up and over his eyes. He crossed his legs at his ankles and slid his arms under his head, stretching the taunt muscles. Groaning, he relaxed against the comfortable bedding, letting his worn body slowly relax, tension ebbing from his limbs.
He need as much rest as possible. He planned on rising early before the spread of dawn touched the tips of the horizon's hills. It was time to leave again, for in his mind he knew that wandering would begin anew. But, maybe, this time it would be the final trek in his life. Maybe this time, he would find a real home to settle down in; a real place to plant his own roots as his parents had.
As the crinkles of sleep slid drowsily into his subconscious, drawing him into the blackness, his thoughts drifted. Settling on a visage burned into his mind so clearly it would never be erased, Kenshin dreamt of a day barely a year ago that turned his mundane existence upside down. The day he met her.
8 months ago. 1886.
Leading Circle through the robust trees lining the weak dirt path, Kenshin squinted as he peered through the pesky foliage, his eyes scanning for the cattle that had wandered from the herd. It was only his third day on the job, the need to perform well in the eyes of his new employer prevalent on his mind. It had taken a good month to find a good paying job, and Kenshin planned to keep this for a while to earn much needed money. Though he didn't plan on staying for a prolonged period of time, it was a good place to rest his mind for a few peaceful months before starting up his wandering again. Everyone needed a break every once and while, and Kenshin decided that this would be his.
The day was dull and dreary as clouds stealthily hid the face of the sun. Intermittent showers of rain dampened the soil, creating pockets of puddles and slippery mud. Urging Circle to quicken the pace, Kenshin cleared the trees and broke into a small clearing. Hastily scanning, he saw nothing of interest. He was about to head on when a brush of movement off to the side caught the corner of his eye. Turning his horse in that direction, he headed that way.
A slip of a boy stood knee-deep in a mud hole, his hands tightly clutched around the end of a mud-slicked rope which was tied around an errant calf's neck. The poor thing let out a mournful wail as the boy strained to pull it free from the confining mud. Kenshin dismounted from his horse and tied her reins loosely around a low hanging branch.
"Need help?" he called out, startling the boy. Letting out a surprised yelp, his hands lost their tight grip on the rope and he tumbled backwards, landing in the squishy mud with a distinctive thud. Sputtering, he clumsily struggled to regain his footing, knocking off his worn brown Stetson and turning toward the red-haired intruder.
Kenshin stood stunned for a few moments as his calm violet gaze clashed with the turbulent, annoyed glare of two beautifully hued blue eyes belonging to a winded young woman. It seemed the boy wasn't a boy at all, but an angry female. Her long black hair, free from the restraint of her hat, tumbled wildly down her back in a tangle of long strands. Her fisted hands were clutched tightly.
"Who are you?" she growled abruptly, striking the air with distrust.
Secretly amused by her determined defense of the calf and herself, Kenshin let a small smile curl his lips as he pushed his Stetson back, further off his forehead and took a step closer. "Kenshin Himura, ma'am. I was just given the position of ranch hand for this ranch. Sorry if I startled you."
Her gaze thinned as she settled her hands defiantly on her hips. "I faintly remember it mentioned that a red-haired man had joined. I guess you're him?"
Kenshin nodded silently.
Casting him a quick glance, then looking hastily over at the flaying calf, she sighed. "Can you give me a hand? He doesn't want to budge."
Without a word, Kenshin trudged into the slick mud, his feet sinking in the brown mess. He grabbed a hold of the rope in front of her tight grip and pulled in unison with her. It took a few minutes, but finally they felt the calf pull free from the mud's prison, stumbling heavily onto more solid ground. His legs were shaky, as he trotted his weary body hastily away from the death trap. The girl watched the calf depart with a solemn shake of her head, exasperation clear in her movements. Sighing, she turned and climbed out of the mud hole. With a mild sound of disgust, she shook mud off her arms and slid her hands down her legs to remove excess mud. Kenshin followed her, also attempting to remove as much mud as possible. She walked over to her waiting horse, a medium sized bay gelding standing with his eyes half closed, and ears turned to the side as he rested lazily. Detaching a small canteen from her saddle, she took a generous sip of the warm water, then poured some over her hands to remove the drying mud.
She held the canteen out towards Kenshin, silently offering him the water. With a smile, he shook his head and motioned toward Circle. "I've got my own. Thanks, though, Miss -?"
Taking a long gulp of water before answering his subtle question, she swallowed and wiped a hand across her mouth. "Kaoru Kamiya."
"Kamiya? Isn't that the name of the owner of the ranch?"
She smiled sardonically and nodded her head curtly. "My father." Turning, she reattached her canteen and unhooked her reins, holding them loosely in her left hand. She lifted her left foot into the stirrup and swung easily into her saddle. "I'd really appreciate it if you didn't mention this to anyone. Meeting me, that is."
Kenshin raised an eyebrow. "Not supposed to be out here?"
She snorted and clucked to her horse, urging the gelding forward. "Hardly. See you later, Mr. Himura." She smiled fleetingly, and was gone in a cloud of dirt as she cantered away, following the path of the errant calf.
Shaking head his, Kenshin turned to Circle and mounted. What an unusual female.
He didn't see her again for three days. When he did see her, she wasn't dressed in dirty, work-worn trousers and boots, but a soft, lacy sapphire colored dress emphasizing the brilliant blue of her eyes. She nodded to him briefly as she followed her mother and father into a two horse pulled carriage to go into town to socialize. The only small sign that she even knew who he was, was a small flicker of recognition in her eyes before she turned away. Slightly amused at the time, Kenshin had turned away and went back to the barn to clean dirty stalls.
It was even a longer passage of time before he met her again out on the far corner of the ranch, her hat jammed on her head hiding her hair as she sat astride her gelding. She waited for him to come closer, her eyes lighting with amusement as her mouth quirked upward. They had ridden together that day as they patrolled the perimeter mending breaks in the long fence. Kenshin had deviated from his initial plan, deciding to follow Kaoru perchance she ran afoul into trouble.
When she appeared again exactly a week later, Kenshin found out how she got away with her day-long rides her father apparently was adamantly against. Her neighbor, a young girl the same age as Kaoru was involved with helping out at the mission not far from her home helping to nurse sick and inopportune people in their area. Her friend's parents disapproved of the charity work, feeling it hurt her chances for finding a respectable spouse. Therefore, Kaoru and her friend had come up with a plan. Both agreed to say they spent the day together, when instead Kaoru was free to roam around her ranch as her oblivious father remained at home or at his office, while her friend walked to the mission and spent her day nursing unfortunates. Sometimes Kaoru joined her friend, but the majority of her time was spent enjoying the brilliant freedom of roaming the vast land her family owned.
Together, Kenshin and Kaoru decided to meet at Baker's waterhole in the middle of the property every Thursday at mid-morning. An unlikely friendship was forged between the two as they worked silently together. Outside of the time they spend with each other, both acted as if they were strangers; Kenshin nodding politely to his boss' daughter while Kaoru murmured a quiet greeting. At four months, they were beginning to be able to read each other's body language and attune themselves to each's mood. But on the fifth month, she didn't leave the house, because her mother fell ill with a nasty cold which racked her with hacking coughs and a weak body. When finally her mother regained her strength, Kaoru began to meet him again. With her return, though, Kenshin noticed something had changed in her attitude towards him.
Three weeks later, he found out what that change was. They had stopped at the waterhole in the middle of a humid and stifling hot afternoon to allow their sweat slicked horses a reprieve from the heat. As the horses drank their fill of the deliciously cool water, Kaoru had turned to him, clasped his head in her gloved hands and kissed him.
That day, their relationship took a dramatic change.
Staring at the delicate molded pattern on the ceiling of her dark bedroom, Kaoru sighed and sank deeper into the plush embrace of her bed. Running the tips of her fingers over the thin lace at the top of the bed sheet, she worried her bottom lip with her teeth, turning her gaze to the open window to her right. A slight breeze brushed the translucent white curtains away from the window, lackadaisically falling back against the wall as the wind dissipated.
Sitting up slowly, Kaoru pushed the light coverlet off her body and slung her legs over the edge of the bed. A sliver of moonlight illuminated the side of her dresser and the corner of the bedroom door. In front of the large mahogany dresser sat a small valise packed with a few precious belongings.
Her feet slid down, touching the cool wood floor as she slipped quietly from the bed. Reaching down, she grabbed a simple pair of light blue slippers and placed them in the valise. Instead of a nightgown, she wore a thin, light blue dress that barely reached down to cover the pale skin of her ankles. Grabbing a wool shawl and draping it over her arm, she picked up the valise and turned to the closed door, hesitating for a moment.
Taking a deep breath, she reached out and turned the gold knob, opening the door and stepping barefoot into the eerily silent hallway. She crept down the long hallway, making her way down the red carpet covered stairs, careful to avoid the creaky, weak wood on certain stairs. Through the kitchen, she walked to the side-door, quickly unlocking the large latch, and opening the door. Her heart pounded nervously in her chest as she emerged from the house and closed the door behind her. Lighting down the porch steps, she disappeared into the black night, her mind directing her to her destination.
Precious minutes later, almost there and slightly winded, Kaoru slowed her hurried pace as she turned the corner around a small thatch of thin trees. The breath left her lungs as she felt the nervous butterflies in her stomach settle, the doubts in her mind dissipating into a haze of distant memories, and her mouth gradually curve into a perceptive smile.
He stood on the top of a small incline, silhouetted against nature's backdrop of a brilliant, clear night. His achingly familiar form was stationary beside the outline of his loyal horse. The wind caught his long hair, tousling it and brushing it away from his shoulders. She knew the second he saw her standing against tall trees. His body relaxed as he removed his hands from the pockets of his jeans.
Reaching down with her free hand, Kaoru grasped the hem of her dress, her feet carrying her towards him, the dew on the grass dampening he soles of her feet, her toes brushing the thick blades. The wind whispered around her bare legs as she went to him, a breathless laugh escaping her parted lips. He started towards her, meeting her. They stopped a foot away from each other. Kenshin closed the small gap easily, brushing the back of his hand against her flushed cheek.
They stared into each other's eyes for a moment, before he sighed, delicious tingles of awareness sliding down her back as he spoke, his voice filling the thick air. "Are you sure?" One last time, he had to make sure. He had to know.
Raising her arms to wrap around his neck, she studied his dear face, the daring violet of his piercing gaze, the flashing red of his long hair, and the distinctive curve of his jaw. Though she hadn't realized at first, he was the quiet answer to her childhood dreams of her future; the fate of her girlish fantasies. He was her everything. He was now her life.
She smiled, her content features illuminated by the luminescent glow of the moon. "I've never been more sure of anything in my life."
And their future began.