The very last chapter.

Hopefully these thirty pages will wrap everything up. After multiple rewrites and the horror of final weeks this is finally complete. NO it has not been beta-read. I decided to go ahead and post it. My beta-reader has been sent the chapter and when she finds the time, she shall send it back and I shall repost it with the edits. Its the holidays. It might take her some time.

Otherwise, I have also set up a LJ. The link for it is posted on my FFN authors page. This bit of information is probably just more shameless promoting. More than likely. Err...


Warning: More Violence. SMUT! VIOLENCE! MORE VIOLENCE! If you don't like sexual situations, please do not be offended by the content of this chapter. It is rated M for a reason. I have given clear warning. This is an adult chapter and that should be taken into consideration as you read this fic.

Misao rolled over and swatted around until she reached the phone and blearily turned it on. "Hello," Misao mumbled into the phone, forcing her eyes open to glare at the clock. 'Who in…'

"Misao," Kenshin's tense voice came over the line. "Is Aoshi there?" Misao frowned and buried her head into her pillow.

"No," She mumbled aware that he probably couldn't hear her and not really caring. "Got a call early this morning and went to go and check up on something that someone had found. I don't think it had anything to do with Kaoru's case...why?" She yawned loudly and waited for him to asnwer.

Kenshin was quite for long moments and she propped herself up. "Why?"

There was a long silence before Kenshin finally spoke. "Jiro showed up yesterday evening to talk to Kaoru." There was a tightness to his words that had Misao frowning. She sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes awake.

"Okay," Misao said, letting him know that she was awake and following along.

"He brought some picture over for Kaoru to look at and I.D." The frigid note rolled into his voice and Misao was suddenly awake. "They were of her mother."

Misao frowned. "So we have pictures of her mother. That should make things easier to go by," Misao mumbled to herself. She paused mid-thought when there wasn't an answer on the other side of the phone. "Kenshin?"

Kenshin was quite for long moments. "She was butchered Misao." He told her softly. "It looked like someone had taken something and deliberately beaten her to death and then tore stripes of skin out of her face. It could have been the pronged end of a hammer but I am not sure. I scent the pictures to Megumi for her to look at, so feel free to go and borrow them." His tone was hard. "If the way Kaoru reacted, then it wouldn't be far fetched to think she had watched it happen."

"Oh gods…" Misao breathed tossing the covers back. "Do you think that's why she is running from the mob? She witnessed the murder?" Her mind was racing with all the possibilities.

"I don't know," Kenshin finally said. "I would like to think that's the case but my gut instinct says it's something darker than that. That there is something else going on. I need you to find out what the official reason for Mrs. Kamiya's death was and I need to know as soon as possible. I also want to know where Mr. Kamiya is and if he had died, then what caused that death." He hesitated. "Kaoru hasn't really spoken since Jiro came by and I think she is planning something."

Misao frowned. "You don't think she would attempt to bail do you?"

Kenshin snorted. "If she thought it would protect us? In a heartbeat. I don't plan on giving her the option. Listen Misao, she is going to be waking up soon and I would prefer not to have to explain this to her right now. Find out what you can and then email me a report. I want something by tonight."

Misao grinned. "On it boss-man!" She hung up and then hit the speed dial for Hannya. "We need to talk!"

Kaoru bit the inside of her lip to keep from snapping at Sano. It wouldn't do any good, not when he was attempting to be positive in his own way. Clutching at his arms she continued to rock across the device he had brought by. It still amazed her that Sano had a degree in physical therapy but he did and he was being utterly stubborn about taking over for Kenshin. Her ankle rocked back and forth painfully and she forced herself not to making biting comments. The device itself was almost as if someone had cut a softball in half and glued it to the bored. She was rocking backing and forth in an attempt to strengthen her ankle. Sano was just providing balance.

"I know that hurts, Jou-chan," Sano informed her lightly. "But if you're nice I will give you the orange Gatorade instead of the grape."

"If you want to be able to go home and snuggle with Megumi," Kaoru counted as she felt sweat start to build on her temples. "Then you're going to give me the orange."

Sano laughed at her.

Kaoru grunted a reply. She only had to survive five more minutes with this stupid exercise and then she would be done. She had already been forced to bounce on the tips of her toes on the mini-trampoline Kenshin had bought for ten minutes. The way they were treating this whole experience it was if they weren't attempting to just get her over the weakened muscles, they were attempted to cure her from weak ankles for the rest of her life. "Sano," Kaoru growled. "How much longer?"

Sano grinned at her. "Oh, you were done about two minutes ago but I wanted to see how long it took you to notice."

She hit him with her good hand as hard as she could in the gut. He made a whoofing noise and bent over, his breath ghosting over her arms as she gingerly stepped down. The first day she had bounced right off and landed on her ass when her tired ankle had given out. Now she was bit more careful. Kaoru's eyes swung to the clock and she sighed. Kenshin took one or two days a week now to go to the law firm and check up on cases and files and to bring home more work for him to do when she watched a movie or napped. Not that she really minded him having work, at least he wasn't bothering her; but Sano was worse than a drill sergeant.

"You're getting better Jou-chan," Sano soothed as he handed her the long awaited Gatorade. "In fact, I would give you another two weeks before your back in top shape. Kenshin tells me you have been complaining about putting weight." He quirked his brows. "Do you want to do some crunches or something while I am here?"

Kaoru grinned at him. "Does Kenshin know your making that offer? The last time he caught me doing crunches I thought he was going to kill me." She made face. "I am telling you, that man has issues."

Sano chuckled and picked up the little board and went and put it next to the trampoline. "I think it's more of him attempting to tell you that he doesn't care what you look like. I am assuming you have your own routine. Why you don't you tell me what you normally do and we can work around that ankle and wrist?"

Kaoru sighed in relief and began to explain what exercises she normally did. She was a naturally curvy woman and she was short. She had a healthy appetite and knew her limitations so she worked to stay healthy and to keep the pounds off. It was very easy for her to gain and extra five to ten pounds and she liked where she had been before the attack. She would never be stick-skinny, but she was healthy and slender.

Sano put Kaoru through a full morning of exercises and only stopped when Kaoru was to tired to do anymore. Sano made her drink another of the Gatorades he had brought with him and they did some stretches to cool down before they turned the TV on and waited for Kenshin to come home to lunch. Somewhere along the way she must have drifted off because she woke up to the sounds of men talking in the kitchen and the sounds of dishes clinking as Kenshin set out the food.

"…Wore herself out." Sano's voice agreed. "Probably sick to death of sitting around. You know how active she is."

"And you two should have woke me up," Kaoru returned as she walked into the kitchen, her stomach finally filling her in on the Chinese take-out Kenshin had brought him. "I'm starving. If you even think about eating all the egg rolls this time Sano I will brain you with one of Kenshin's many large skillets." For some reason she had the urge to wrap her arms around Kenshin's waist and lean against him when he turned a soft smile in her direction. Stifling the urge, and the desire to know how it would feel to lean against him; she turned and slipped in front of Sano for the food.

Kaoru tried not the jump when she felt fingers trace down her spine an instant before Kenshin's cologne was noticeable and she felt his chin rest on her shoulder. "Don't you think you should eat more than that," he asked lightly. Kaoru drove her elbow backwards in slight warning before she grasped the spoon for the orange chicken. "If you would get out of my way."

Sano snorted. "What do you think you are going to get away with, Kaoru? Stealing all the orange chicken again….hey, leave some of that…Kenshin, your just letting her take the entire carton into the other room!"

Aoshi sipped on the cup of tea Misao had brought him and frowned at the computer screen. The information he was getting was still in to many wholes and jaggedly put together. He sighed to himself. Not only had his tea gone cold, but Misao had gone to hours ago. He hated letting her sleep alone.

Frowning he continued to read the report and stood.

He had sent Hannya an email and was going to have to go and investigate this little problem himself. Saitoh had already agreed to meet him at the target, and then after that it would simply be a matter of locating whatever it was that had gone wrong. Something had obviously gone wrong.

The simple fact that the pictures Kenshin had given him of Kaoru's mothers murder didn't match up with her listed means of death suggested that. There was some sort of cover up going on, and he was going to get to the bottom of it.

Frowning when his fax-machine began to beep he turned and walked over and waited for it to finish printing. He blinked in surprise when a report he had forgotten about came in, he read the material. Something was nagging in the back of his brain. Setting in on top of the documents he was going to take with him, he quickly located the duffle bag he kept packed and went to join his lover in their bed.

As Misao curled into him, her small legs and arms wrapping around him tightly, he carefully re-memorized the feel of her to take with him.

Kaoru bit down on a light yawn as she propped herself up on the couch and blinked at the game on the TV. She wasn't a huge football fan, but she could see the attraction of watching people beat the tar out of each other. She absently noticed when Kenshin picked her legs up and sat down, letting her legs splay across his lap.

It was a setting she had grown used to.

As usual, his hands found the tight knots in her calves so that she purred in pleasure, sighing to herself at how she could get used to this. Except she couldn't. The nervous fizzing of her stomach hit her hard, and she swallowed to herself. There was something about him that continuously beat her. A steady stream of safety and the desire to stay. She wanted to stay so badly that, at night, she would lay awake and watch him sleep. Sometimes she thought he was awake, and humoring her, but she was never certain.

With that thought, she realized that she needed to be heading to bed. If she wanted to fall asleep before Kenshin decided to curl up with her, then she needed to get going. She didn't particularly care to spend another night sleepless in his arms, watching the rise and fall of his chest. Shifting her weight she pushed herself up and tilted her head to tell him goodnight, when she finally noticed the look in his eyes.

'Uh oh…' Kaoru thought. Swallowing she tilted her head and attempted to give him an innocent look. "Kenshin," she started but her words died when flecks of amber crowded out the violet. Her legs were still tossed in his lap and his fingers were making little patterns just below her knee and there was something about his posture that suggested he didn't plan on letting her go just yet.

"We need to talk," he finally informed her, his dropping out of his normal careful tenor. Now it was deeper and she swallowed. He reached up and tangled his fingers in the hair behind her ear, trapping her so she couldn't move her head.

"I don't know," Kaoru tried, retreating behind her mask. She attempted to move her head back an inch or two, so she wasn't quite so close to his mouth, but he tightened his hold and she stilled. Instinct warred with her panic and she forced herself to relax.

"Why are you still running from me, Kaoru?" He finally asked her, his other hand coming to splay across her collarbones. He never took his eyes from hers as his thumb feathered across her pulse point.

Kaoru swallowed, acutely aware of how warm his hand was, that he could feel every breath she took. "Kenshin, I don't think…"

His brow arched a little and she quieted again. His thumb continued to thrum against her skin and she desperately attempted to keep from reacting to the motions. "We need to talk about this," he told her firmly. "I am tired of dancing around the subject and waiting for you to stop jumping at shadows. If you're going to run from your past, Kaoru, I would much rather prefer that you ran to me than away."

Kaoru met his gaze. "I am not running," she informed him firmly. 'I am practicing my Olympic sprinting.' She mentally informed him. However, the light that was suddenly burning behind his eyes had her stilling in warning.

"Is that so," he purred, the shift on her hands suddenly more than the casual touches they had been seconds ago. Kaoru opened her mouth to agree or argue with him, she wasn't sure, when he leaned in and kissed her.

Kaoru was startled enough that she didn't react right away, and then she couldn't. The hand along her throat had slipped behind her neck to hold her in place while he took complete possession of her mouth. Kaoru moaned low in her throat at the way his tongue stroked and tangled with hers, whimpering when he adjusted his hold to angle her mouth so he could devastate her. When he pulled back for air it was only long enough to let her breath while he shifted her forward so she was completely sprawled in his lap before he dipped his head against hers again.

She melted into him.

Kaoru tangled her hands in his thick hair and fished it between her fingers as she wiggled closer in an attempt to press against him. He made a noise in the back of his throat and her world spun for a moment as he lowered her back onto the couch, shifting so he could brace his weight on one-elbow. Somehow through the re-arranging of limbs he never took his mouth from hers.

Kaoru tossed one leg around the back of his thighs in an attempt to press closer to Kenshin as he continued to taste and explore her mouth, occasionally letting her breath and nipping at her jawline and kisses along her cheeks and nose. However, his little trips away from her lips never lasted long and she moaned again as he returned, his lips moving against hers as his tongue licked and flicked so she shivered underneath him.

Kaoru wasn't sure when she had unbuttoned his shirt but the smooth feel of his skin under her hands and the way he groaned low in his throat jarred her from her blissful haze. Swallowing as he breathed against her neck, she felt panic welling in her tummy.

'Oh no…'

Kenshin much have sensed her distress because he paused where he was nibbling along her shoulder and lifted his head to meet her eyes with his. They were burning hot and churning with emotion that terrified her.

"I can't do this," she babbled out so fast that she almost bit her tongue. She moved to struggle against him and he seemed torn but shifted backwards, his expression hardening as he watched her scramble to the end of the couch, her breath coming in heaves. Strands of her hair had been worked free from her ponytail and famed her wide-eyes and pale features. Her eyes were still dilated from his attentions and the decorative buttons in the front of her shirt were undone to show the curve of breast as her chest heaved. She was swallowing and fidgeting and he deliberately ran his tongue over his lips, tasting the lingering remains of his kiss. She stared at him and he raised a brow at her.

"Kaoru," he started softly, his voice so as he watched her tremble. "Kaoru, tell…" the noise of his cell phone broke the tense silence and Kenshin swore under his breath as he grabbed for it.

Kaoru took the opportunity to bolt leaving him to deal with Aoshi.

Kaoru all but ran into the bathroom and shut the door, her breathing ragged. The shower would have been the best option but the water facet was turned on instead and she locked the door. Sinking to her knees she bent so her upper-body was parallel to the floor and let the tears come. The pres of his mouth against hers, the horrible, twisting knowledge that she was tasting forbidden fruit; was hot and warm and addicting against her tongue. Her nails dug into the enamel floor and she slowly gained control of herself. Standing up careful of her sensitive ankle she washed her face and looked at herself in the mirror.

'Don't be a fool Kamiya.' Kaoru warned herself. 'You cannot have what is in that room. No matter what he offers you, if you accept it, then all that you're going to do is fall into a trap that will get both of you killed. Is that what you want? To know that you were the cause of his death? There. See. It's easier to breath now.' Taking a deep breath she struggled for a few more moments, shutting her emotions behind a wall he had been chipping away at for weeks now. Breathing deeply between her nose, she made sure there was no sign of her tears and stepped into the living room.

She wasn't expecting what she saw.

Kenshin was standing in front of the window with his shirt unbuttoned all the way down the front. The carved muscles of his stomach were visible in shadowed relief due to the moonlight flowing through the window. The shirt hung lightly off his shoulders and the short sleeves showed off the sinew muscle of his forearms. His hair was mused and tangled from where her fingers had been buried knuckle deep and there was something about the line of his jaw that had her stomach fluttering.

"Kaoru," her name from his lips was almost purred and she visibly flinched. "Were not finished yet."

"Yes," Kaoru managed, an edge born from panic and fear sharpening her voice. "We are. You shouldn't have done that and I shouldn't have allowed you to." Kaoru took a deep steadying breath through her teeth. "It can't happen again. I should leave." She didn't want to leave. That knowledge shuddering down her spine but she bit down on the words before they could form. She had to leave. It wasn't about what she wanted anymore.

He turned towards her so that his face was shadowed and only the glint of amber-fire flared at her from the planes of his face. His eyes and his jawline were the only things she could see. The butterflies intensified and she stifled her urge to bolt. "I want to know why you're running from me." He moved forward. She held her ground only because doing anything else would give him an excuse. "You want me. Your body, your mouth, your eyes tell me that, Kaoru. You want me as much as I want you." There was a curl in his voice that shook her resolve. "I will have my answers, Kaoru."

Kaoru shook her head carefully taking a step backwards to give her more space. "The truth won't do you any good. I told you that. Stop pushing for answers I won't give her." She gritted her teeth at the look that flared in his eyes. "I can't tell you anything." He cleared the space between them so fast she didn't see him move. She would have stumbled back in reaction but one hand wrapped around her bicep and his fingers angled under her chin to force her eyes to met his.

"Can't," Kenshin quietly replied, her eyes focusing so she could read his expression. "Can't, Kaoru?" He trailed his fingers along her jaw so they could cup the curve of her face. "I don't believe you."

All the frustration of the past few months welled up inside her and she reacted. Her hands shot out to fist in the lapels of his shirt and she glared up at him. Couldn't he see that she was doing this for his own good? "I won't, Kenshin." She informed him tightly desperate to get her point across before he pulled them over the edge of the abyss. "Why won't you understand that? I won't let him hurt you. I won't let you put herself in the middle of this and I can't bare the idea of something going wrong." Her voice was a painful rasp as the words she had been biting back were wrenched from her. Her face was reflected in the burning amber of his eyes and she swallowed at her appearance. She looked wild and terrified and she stilled when she realized his thumb was stroking back and forth.

Kenshin absorbed her words as he took in the desperation in her face. Her hands were still fisted in his shirt but he was rather sure it was because she hadn't realized it yet. Reaching down her caught her delicate wrists and when her fingers loosened as she realized what she had said, brought them to the warmth of his mouth, smiling against her skin. "Is that so," he murmured against the sweetness of her skin. She jerked a bit but he held on easily, meeting her eyes with his as he dropped a light kiss against her knuckles. Lowering her hands he pressed her hands together and reached out with his free hand and cupped her jaw. Her lower lip was trembling again, and she was breathing heavily. Tilting her head up he caught the glitter in her eyes and smiled at her. He was aware that there was nothing reassuring in his expression, but couldn't help it. Her breath hitched in her throat. "I am afraid that's not going to be enough."

His voice was soft and silky and Kaoru was thankful her breathing was already rough because his tones were not making it easier on her. She squeaked as she was suddenly pulled against his bare chest so he could lean down and breathe his next words into her ear. "I want to know how far your resolve will take you, and how far I can you before you give into me."

Karou's eyes widened for a long moment before she jerked forcefully out of his hold and stumbled back, swallowing hard as his eyes narrowed. She continued to move backwards until her back hit the wall. He stalked forward, following her frantic motions, angling his body so there as only one direction for her to go. "I wouldn't run if I were you," he told her softly. "We are going to deal with this irrational fear of yours tonight. Running isn't going to solve your problem, Kaoru."

"I don't have a problem," Kaoru shot back as she flicked her eyes around, looking for an escape. "Keep your hands to yourself, Kenshin."

He chuckled lightly. "Kaoru if you didn't have a problem then why are you attempting to crawl through my walls?" Kaoru stilled and slowly raised her eyes to his face. He was watching her with eyes that were seeing far more than they should. He moved forward lightly, gracefully. "We have already proven you attracted to me and I refuse to continue to dance around the subject." His arms caged her between his body and the wall. "Don't you think its time we stopped, Kaoru?"

"This isn't a good idea," Kaoru whispered as she stared up at him. "It's to much of a risk…" his mouth settled over hers, cutting the sentence off. She whimpered in the back of her throat as he deepened the kiss, his tongue setting off sparks under her skin as his tongue tangled her with hers. Kaoru automatically fisted her hands into his shirt, hanging on tightly as her knees went weak. He pulled back just enough to allow her to breathe, his breath ghosting raggedly over her lips.

"I won't let you go this time," he told her raggedly. "You cannot possibly think I could ever let you go." Kaoru opened her mouth to argue but he was kissing her again, his hands lowering to trace the curves of her breasts and the flare of her hips. She whimpered into his mouth as his hands slid under her shirt, his calluses catching lightly against her skin. Both of them were breathing heavily when he released her mouth to taste the skin of her jaw, sliding down the smooth lines of her throat so she moaned when his tongue flickered out to rasp against her skin.

Kaoru shuddered as his teeth nipped at skin she hadn't been aware was quite so sensitive and she swallowed as his mouth curved against her throat. He continued to drop nibbling kissing along her throat and collarbones. Kaoru let go of his shirt and ran her hands across the expanse of his chest, feeling the way his muscles shifted under his skin and the firm expanse of his tummy. When his mouth settled back over hers she melted into him and slid her hands up so she could wrap her knuckles in his hair. He shoved a hard thigh between her legs, forcing her to straddle him; and continued to kiss her until she was breathless and shaking in his arms.

He didn't saw a word as he picked her up in a bridal hold and continued to kiss her. Kaoru wasn't paying much attention to anything other than what his mouth was doing to her own, but her eyes flew open in surprise when her back hit the soft bounce of his mattress. Swallowing hard when her eyes met hers, she stared up at him as he let his hands roam under her shirt. She closed her eyes and moaned when his fingers stroked sensitive hollows she had forgotten about. Her breath was coming in shorts pants as she absorbed his touch. She started when his hands began to tug her shirt up her tummy and she reached out and grasped his hands frantically. "Wait," Kaoru gasped, and he stilled and looked up at her.

"Kaoru," he said her name as a question and she struggled to find a way to explain.

"I'm…it's that…there are…" she screwed her eyes tightly shut again and let her breath shudder from her lungs. "There are scars." She told him in a small voice, tilting her head down and away from him. His fingers stroked just under her navel for several long moments, the tips of his fingers rasping back and forth.

"Do you trust me," he finally asked. She looked up at him startled, unsure at the expression on his face. Biting her bottom lip she swallowed again.

"Kenshin?" She asked softly, a knot forming in her stomach. Something flickered through his eyes and his mouth tilted at the edges.

"We have things to work on then," he murmured before lowering his head to kiss the taunt skin of her tummy, dipping his tongue into her navel, and dancing patterns across sensitive nerve endings that had her moaning. Carefully, inch by inch, he shifted her shirt until it rested just below her breasts. There were pale lines across her ribs that sometimes flared across her stomach. He traced each faint line with his tongue, lingering where her breath hitched and her body shifted under him.

He continued to shift her shirt upwards, pulling her upward so he could pull the shirt over her head. Tossing into the corner of the room he took in her pale form, outlined by the ink of her hair and the cotton of her bra, and he traced the scalloped edges with his fingertips he gave her a hungry glance that trailed across her skin. "You're beautiful," he told in her a husky voice that was as honest as it was rough and she stared at him for long moments. He smiled at her expression and leaned in to kiss her, sucking her bottom lip between his for a moment before lowering her back onto the bed. When she made a slight noise of protest he shushed her. "You can play next time," he purred as his hands trailed along her back to unhook her bra. He grinned as she pouted up at him but she helped him remove her bra anyway. Tossing the bits of white fabric in the generally direction the shirt had gone he let his gaze drink in the lines and curves of her chest, reaching up to brush his thumb across one peaked nipple.

That motion wrung a moan from Kaoru and he lifted his eyes to her face and did it again. She shuddered and bit her bottom lip. Enjoying the expressions that crossed her face he cupped the weight of her in his palms, caressing her lingeringly, enjoying the way her head tossed back and forth on the pillow. Lowering his head he kissed along her collarbones, sucking lightly at her pulse point. "You taste so good…" he murmured into the arch of her neck. He flicked the tip of his tongue against her skin again. Reluctantly he stopped his ministrations on her breasts and smoothed his hands down her stomach. She made a faint noise of protest that he silenced with his mouth. "Don't worry," he teased her as he hooked his fingers into the band of the boxers she wore. "You're going to like this."

He dragged her practical cotton panties with the boxers and followed the path of his hands so he could pull them off. Her socks came off next. Shrugging out of his own shirt his eyes slid up the length of her slender legs until he came to her thighs. Running his hands up the back of her legs as he crawled back up her, he paused as he felt the ridges of old scares under his fingers. Looking up he saw the expression that flickered through her eyes as he continued to trace the old scares with his fingers, hitching her legs up a bit so he could get a better feel for how far that went. "Kaoru," he murmured quietly. She bit her bottom lip. He continued to trace patterns along her skin. "Your going to tell me where each one of these came from someday," he told her softly. She looked started, so he leaned in to kiss expanse of her stomach again. His hands slid around so they could trace the silky skin of her inner-thighs, distracting her from the scars. A wicked smile curved his lips as he continued to memorize her thighs. Glancing up at her through his bangs he admired the pale column of her throat and the way chest heaved as she attempted to breathe around the sparks he knew he was setting off under her skin.

It was nothing compared to the reaction he got when his fingers slid just a little further north.

She gave a surprised shriek that faded into sobbing moans as he continued to stroke her, his other hand holding her hips firmly in place. Her upper bodytrembled and her right leg hooked around the back of his thighs as her body began to shake. Smiling he dipped his tongue into her navel and lapped at her skin, tracing her belly button with nibbling kisses as she suddenly shrieked his name; her entire body tightening before she went limp, her breathing ragged.

"I think I liked that," Kenshin informed her as he shifted to his knees, levering himself up so he could unzip his pants, never taking his eyes from her heaving form. He pulled his clothing to his knees before bracing himself on one hand and kicking his pants and boxers off. Dazed blue-eyes followed his motions and he watched her swallow and stare with a surge of satisfaction. "Let see if we can do that again," he purred, crawling up her body to take her mouth for another heated kiss.

He was fire and heat again. Kaoru melted under him as he kissed her, running his tongue along the roof of her mouth and then tangling it with hers. She whimpered as his hands curved along her breasts, rubbing and stroking so that heat washed through her system again. Her cries would lost in his mouth as his hands continued downward, circling her navel and tracing the line of her hip and thigh. He carefully caught her just above the curve of her bottom and hefted her so that there hips pressed against other. Kaoru gasped against his lips as he pulled back to let her breath for a moment, pressing against her so that she shifted against him, attempting to press him where the throbbing ache was building again. He murmured something low and husky in the back of his throat and then he was there, slowly sliding into her. "Ooo…" Kaoru managed, the sound forced from her throat as Kenshin shivered above her. His breathing hissed through his teeth as he stilled in her arms. He didn't relax until she did and when he did finally give himself some sort of internal permission to move, he lit up lights behind her eyes she hadn't known were possible.

Kaoru kissed any skin she could reach while Kenshin continued to move, incoherent pleas and shrieks torn from her throat. She thought she might have gasped his name but it was hard to think about anything besides the warm fire that was spiraling through her veins and the way her body was striving for completion. Screaming his name as suddenly her world was awash with fire and sensation she could only gasp and breathe deeply as they both collapsed back onto the bed. His breath was hot against her shoulder as she tried to think past the warmth that lingered in her veins. Kenshin placed small kisses on her skin before rolling so that he could pull her against him, settling her comfortably against his chest.

"Do you know how long I have wanted you," he questioned her softly, slowly running his hands through her hair. Kaoru looked up at him and forced herself to shed the sleepiness that had settled over her.

"Why did you…" her words died as he pulled her close and kissed the skin of her shoulder.

"Because I can," he told her simply. "Because I want to." He pulled up enough to meet her eyes. "Aren't you tired of running, Kaoru?"

She swallowed and slowly nodded, lowering her eyes. "I don't know what else to do."

"Let me worry about that," he suggested, rolling so that she could press herself against the length of him. "Let me worry about everything."

Kaoru closed her eyes and memorized the feel of the moment. "You can't protect me from everything Kenshin." Her voice was drowsy but she needed for him to understand what she was trying to tell him. Her lashes fluttered open in surprise when his fingers left her hair to trail down her spine and cup her bottom.

"Your mine now," he told her softly, keeping his voice at a comforting rumble. "I take very good care of what is mine. Trust me." He quietly asked, moving to play with the ends of her hair as she relaxed into him, sliding towards sleep. "I won't let you down."

She stirred sleepily in his arms, sighing. "Just hold me," she whispered, her words drifting. Kenshin was content to hold her for long moments, the way her body was limp and trusting in his arms.

"I love you," he told her quietly, aware she was already asleep. "I will not let anything happen to you. I promise." Closing his eyes he gave into the sirens call for sleep.

Kaoru woke up to a cold nose nuzzling against her cheek and she swatted at it. A male chuckle rumbled next to her ear and she made a sleepy noise of complaint. A kiss pressed against the shell of her ear.

"I'm going to head into the office for a few hours," his words were amused and she peeked open her eyes to glance at the clock. A disbelieving noise erupted from her throat and she buried her face back in the pillow in a clear sign of disapproving irritation. He laughed again and his hands brushed down her hair.

Only an insane man would wake her up at 5:30 to tell her he was going into the office. Especially when he had woken her up more than once during the night with his hands and persistent mouth. When she was a bit more awake, she was going to inform him that next time, he could leave a note. Rolling back over she didn't move again until it was half past ten. Yawning she forced herself to roll out of bed and enjoyed the fact that she had the apartment to herself. It didn't happen often and as she shifted she realized that certain regions were a bit sore. It wasn't just the idea of being able to indulge in a hot bath without being interrupted that appealed to her, but the idea of a having some time to think of the repercussions of sleeping with him.

Kaoru padded into the bathroom and turned on the taps, heating the water until it was almost to hot and left the tub to fill while she went and collected a mug of the coffee Kenshin had made before he left. Sighing in bliss she rummaged around and located a banana and some cream cheese to pile on a bagel. Humming to herself as she worked, she checked on the filling tub. On an after-though, she dumped in some of the bath salts Kenshin had bought her. The thick scent of jasmine wafted out of the steam and she sighed in bliss, setting up the little stool next to the tub so she could eat her breakfast while she soaked.

'There is no doubt about it,' Kaoru told herself ruefully as she slid into the scalding water. 'You're becoming soft and spoiled.'

She couldn't quite seem to come up with the proper self-depreciation to climb out of the tub however. Sitting up once the stress-aches in her shoulders and neck faded a bit she sat up and leaned over the tub while she inhaled her bagel and sipped on her orange juice. As much as she loved her coffee, she would have to wait until the water cooled a bit before she could convince herself to drink it in the tub.

Settling back with a full stomach she stared at the chipped polish on her toes as she thought about the night before. Her lips twisted in amusement as her pink toes curled with the memory of what he done to her. Repeatedly. As if he was trying to prove a point to himself and to her.

'Not that you can entirely blame the man,' Kaoru mused to herself. 'You have been planning on running. He has to have picked up on that at some point.' She sat up and wrapped her arms around her knees. Breathing in the scent of her favorite scent soothed her, but some nagging worry tugged at the back of her brain. 'Is this right? Can I let myself love him how he deserves to be loved, with the knowledge that my father is out there and is willing to kill him? Will kill him for his…affection for me?' She chewed on her lip. 'Am I willing to fight for this?'

That was the crux of the matter wasn't it?

Chewing on her bottom lip for long moments she exhaled hard enough to disturb the water. She knew that Kenshin was being as forthcoming about his past as she was with her own. What sort of man kept a pair of perfectly polished, used Katana's above his fireplace? 'Well it's not like you have gone out and asked for an explanation or details to his life, Kamiya.' She mentally berated herself. 'Okay…so it's obvious that he knows how to defend himself.' Kaoru mentally rolled her eyes. That was the first thing she had noticed about him. The liquid grace he moved with, the way his frame was corded with muscle that had been earned. He never used those disgusting protein drinks she had seen some men use. No, anything he had had been beaten into him. 'So, knowing that he knows how to take care of himself, can you still risk him? More importantly, can you make that decision for him?'

The obvious solution was to tell him everything and then to let him decide. However, something twisted and boiled inside her at that idea and she swallowed hard. How did you tell someone something like that? Just bring it up over coffee and pie or inform him when he came home? Write him a note…

Kaoru rolled that idea around in her head.

She could write him a letter of sorts she supposed. Tell him about Jiro and her mother and let him see if he wanted to know more, and if he did, give him more information. Break it to him in stages that she was broken in more than one way? 'It's a start,' Kaoru decided. 'I know I'm not strong enough to break it to him all at once and that…okay. Stop there. Write the damn letter.'

Kaoru stood up fast enough to cause a bit of a wave to splash over the edge of the tub. She hardly noticed, however; as she reached for a towel and wrapped herself in it. She didn't both to pick up the shirt she had donned when she had crawled out of bed. Instead she bee-lined straight for Kenshin's desk, determined to write the letter while she had the guts to do so.

She had no idea how long she scribbled on some of the fine parchment she had located in one of his drawers, but when she scribbled her name at the bottom, her real name, she had filled two pages with her slightly sloppy writing. Taking a deep breath she scribbled his name on the front and sealed it. Setting in on top of some document she knew he would need later, she took a deep breath and headed for the bedroom to locate some clothing.

She grabbed some baggy cut-off sweats and instead of wearing something of her own, stole one of Kenshin's shirts. The scent of ginger soothed her twisting nerves as she flipped through the stations.

Around lunch she looked at the clock and wondered what was taking Kenshin so long to return home. He never stayed away this long if Sano wasn't coming over. Shrugging to herself she stood and remembered the mess she had left in the bathroom. With a flush to her face she went to clean it up.

The sounds of the door swinging open paused her movements and she turned with a smile to greet Kenshin.

She froze in sudden panic as her father and two goons walked through the door.

"Hello, daughter," Jiro softly purred in an icy voice. Next to him stood two hulking men, and she knew they didn't have to have a gun pointed at her. The expression in her fathers eyes was threat enough, promise enough, if she attempted to run. Her blood ran cold and she was thankful that her hands were at her sides because she knew the fine tremors of fear that were racing along her body would be most visible there.

As her father and his bullies came in, she forced herself to lift her chin and to square her shoulders. She would not allow him to intimidate her. Not now, not ever. Her gut rolled and clenched and she would never say she wasn't terrified, but she had known this was inevitable. 'God, please don't let Kenshin walk in that door…they will kill him…'

"So nice of your lover to leave you all alone so that I could get to you," Jiro told her softly, reaching out to wrap his fingers in the stubborn locks of damp hair that refused to be put into a pony tail. His fingers tightened until it was almost painful but she refused to show him how sick she felt. A hard glint entered his eyes and she had a moment to brace herself before his hand cracked across her face brutally. She rocked back on her heels with the force of the blow.

Shock and pain filtered down her spine as the tang of her blood entered her mouth. The slap was out of his normal range of brutality and she felt a cold hard certainty knotted in her stomach; he did in fact plan on killing her. A sort of cold numbness settled over her. She had been preparing for this since the day she had decided to run. She supposed she should have felt resignation to her fate but to her surprise anger began to churn deep in her stomach. Her father was looking at her with eyes that were dead, filled with only the pleasure killing her would bring. She was angry because her father was going to kill her.

That was bad. If he saw her anger, her temper, he would attempt to break it from her before he killed her. She had known her life was on borrowed time so she struggled with her own anger now. This was Kenshin. This desire to live, to breathe, to love; it was Kenshin. 'Please,' she thought as the two goons came to drag her away. 'Please forgive me for this weakness.'

Kenshin unlocked the door to his apartment, a content feeling rising in his chest at the idea of seeing Kaoru. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply for a moment. He knew his lover was going to be a bit sore this morning, so he was going to have to keep his hands to himself. As he stepped into the room he took another deep breath and frowned.

The apartment was silent.

There was something in the air, some sort of cologne, he didn't recognize.

"Kaoru," Kenshin called, forcing the rage and panic down into his gut. "Kaoru… darling?"

There was no answer. Forcing himself to move into the master bedroom to make sure he wasn't sleep, he prayed she was sleeping. 'You kept her up…logical,' he told himself as he moved with brisk steps to their room.

The bed was rumbled and pillows were on the floor from there play the night before.

There was no Kaoru.

He checked the bathroom. One of his shirts was crumpled in the corner of the room and there was a plate with a few bites of bagel, a half-empty mug of coffee, and a glass that looked like it had held juice at one point. The tub still held water and the scent of jasmine was heavy in the air but there still wasn't a sign of Kaoru.

Swearing under his breath now he tore the apartment apart looking for clues that she had simply gone to get some coffee. He ignored the little voice that pointed out there was still half a pot in the little maker in his kitchen. There were no signs of struggle and the scent of a male's cologne had disappeared. Yet, his gut instinct said something had gone wrong.

It was by accident that he noticed the envelope on his desk.

Picking it up, his worry ate at his stomach as he tore it open. Carefully printed sheets in Karou's handwriting fell onto his desk and he picked them up.

Ten minutes later he was on the phone with Misao.

"I. Want. Jiro. Found. NOW!" Kenshin barked, furious as he moved into his bedroom to pull out the box under his bed. "You have half an hour to report."

Cutting off the cell phone a grim smile tugged at his mouth as he looked at what was in his box. "It's been a while," he told the contents softly. "I think it might be time to make the rain bleed again."

Misao didn't slow as she saw the light switch to yellow in front of her. Instead she shifted gears and pressed her foot even further on the gas. Switching lanes she avoided the car in front of her by inches. Moving through the downtown streets at this speed was dangerous and she almost missed her exist ramp. Barely managing to keep from clipping the car next to her when she shifted over, she hit the highway with acceleration as she put her dainty foot all the way to the floor.

Aoshi's flight was going to touch the ground in ten minutes and she was still half-an-hour out. She didn't bother to look at the speedometer as she raced traffic. Kenshin had called fifteen minutes and if her husband didn't have something to placate him, all they were going to be able to do was hope they got the to bodies before the police did.

How long had it been since she had heard that note in his voice, demanding response, action, and answers? How long had it been since she had been twelve, standing on a street corner, looking for scarlet, rain-drenched hair to come and take out the man in front of her? How long…Misao shifted her car into fifth gear and looked in her rear mirror for lights. There were none and she continued to breathe her prayer of thanks. She didn't plan on slowing anyway.

The information that Kenshin had told her ran over and over in her brain and she cursed herself for her lack of attention to something. Jiro was her father. Gods, what did that mean…

The security tapes had been stolen, Aoshi was getting off his plane, and Kaoru had written Kenshin a letter. Her vehicle skidded as she slammed on the brakes and whipped into an illegal parking space. She ignored the shouts from the police officers and took off, racing through the airport to where Aoshi would be. She hoped Hiko was still in the process of keeping tabs of his adopted son, because he was the only one who was going to talk sense in him when he was this furious.

She hoped her message on Saitoh's machine had gotten through. She needed all the information she could find on Jiro's police records and she needed them yesterday.

She hoped Aoshi's plan had landed, and she was feeling slightly winded as she skidded around corners, swearing as she heard and felt her heel break. Kicking off her shoes she kept going until she reached his gate and found him waiting, his bags at his feet.

"Aoshi!" Misao called out, knowing he was aware of her approach and that it was possible Hannya had already gotten him on the phone. The expression on her lovers face was as cold as the tone in Himura's face and she felt a bit of relief. His expression was not of a man who was furious at a lack of information, but the expression of a man who was ready to hunt.

Misao attempted to breath around her pounding. "I parked illegally." She informed him as he reached down to smoothly pick up his bags. "We need to hurry."

Aoshi raised a brow and stepped into pattern with her. "How long?"

"Kenshin says when he arrived he could still smell the cologne. I would say its been maybe two hours. There is a chance she is still alive." Misao said as she attempted to catch her breath.

Aoshi smiled. Misao blinked rapidly, because her lover rarely smiled. It was tight, a curling of cold malice on his lips that she would have put on someone else's mouth before his. "She is alive. Jiro wouldn't risk killing her just yet." His voice was low and dark. "Not before her buyers have paid him."

Misao's eyes went wide. "What?"

Aoshi didn't answer, instead his pace picked up so she was forced to quicken her steps. He suddenly looked down and frowned at her. "Where are your shoes?"

Misao gave him a dirty look. "Now isn't the time, just hurry up!" She picked up her pace and was formulating plans. Jiro…Kaoru….she almost skidded to a stop as Aoshi's words sank in but the firm grip he had on elbow was enough to keep her going and she swallowed hard. 'Oh gods…'

Kaoru curled around herself as she was tossed back into the little closet they had been keeping her in. Jiro had taken a great deal of delight of beating her into submission. He couldn't risk damaging her to badly, but he could do things that would hurt more tomorrow than they would today. The shot he had given to her ribs made it difficult to catch her breath and she could taste the blood from where her cheek had been split by her teeth. She had bitten through old scares as she kept from crying out at his precise blows.

She listened to the voices outside argue. The huge brute who had been in the hotel room when she had been brought in had protested the beatings.

"If you damage the goods, you won't get full price." The giant warned her father, and Jiro gave a nasty chuckle.

"If this businessman of yours doesn't get here soon, then the deal is off." Jiro warned the taller man, seemingly unconcerned with the knowledge that breaking the contract could get him killed as well.

Kaoru tiredly leaned her head back against the wall and breathed in slowly. The idea of not being able to beat her senseless must have really irked him. Her scalp still tingled from where he had ripped her head from the carpet by gripping the base of her ponytail and jerking.

How could she have forgotten about his little part time trading?

Kaoru didn't move when the door opened and the large man's frame filled the doorway. He had a roll of duck tape in his hands and said nothing as the wrapped her ankles tightly together and then repeated the motions on her wrists. He said nothing as he finished and left her back in the dark closet. The room itself was roach infested and she felt herself shudder. Now that she couldn't move around she was probably going to have to deal with the little critters. Her stomach rolled.

She was forced to keep her mind off her own imagination of bugs crawling around and gritted her teeth as she stayed there. She knew this was another one of her father's mental games and she felt no need to fall prey to it. Instead, she thought about the feel of Kenshin's hands on her body and the taste of his skin on her tongue. The warmth of his arms as he curled around her and let her sleep feeling safe and protected; his habit of sliding one hand under her shirt to rest against her waist, even when they hadn't been sleeping together.

Lowering her nose as close to the collar of Kenshin's shirt as she could, she breathed deeply, looking for some remnant of the scent of his skin. She had fretted that morning if she was going to be able to stay with him and tears prickled at the idea that the decision had been taken away from them. She knew he would be looking for her. The idea that he might find her letter filled her with hope, but it died almost as quickly. He could still be at the office, unaware she had been taken. When he did find the letter it would be too late. Trembling with the force of her emotions she leaned against the wall and let her head fall forward.

'What a horrible moment to realize what you feel Kamiya,' Kaoru thought desperately. 'Perhaps…no.' she slumped.

There were already voices outside the closet. He wasn't going to be able to save her this time.

Kaoru knew the drill. Her mother had been put through the paces when she was a child in an attempt to break her spirit. Kaoru had been forced to watch. It had taken her years to get over that particular trauma, but at least she knew what to expect. Her mouth trembled a little and she knew that Kenshin's touch was going to be her shield. The men who were going to buy her were going to want to test her out. Being raped in front of her smirking father was going to be shot at breaking her, and if that didn't work, then they would simply hand her over to someone with more…expertise.

There was the off chance that she would be able to make a break for it. Kenshin had forced her to memorize several phone numbers and she knew if she dialed on they might be able to find her. However, if she was caught by the syndicate group who was going to sell her as a whore, then the punishment would be far worse than she could imagine. Her subconscious wasn't ready to let go of the fact that Kenshin was going to be looking for her and she wasn't sure she wanted to let go of it either.

Kaoru mentally prepared a shield as the voices rose in pitch outside. She tried to listen to them, the walls were thin, but her breathing kept echoing strangely back at her. There was a single blare of gunfire and her stomach lurched into her throat and she shivered uncontrollably. The next second light streamed into the little closet and she was left blinking as she attempted to focus on the frame in front of her.

Kenshin snapped the cuffs of his business suit into place, his movements almost jerky. It was the closest Misao could remember the man moving without his normal grace and she winced. His eyes were still burning amber, even narrowed in the permanent slits they had been reduces to the past hour as Aoshi arranged everything. Was it really only three to four hours since the woman had been taken from Kenshin's apartment?

Kenshin was glaring moodily at the shabby little roach invested hotels that Aoshi had been informed was his location. The two bodies they had shoved in the back of the SUV were signs of the actual contacts where supposed to have been meeting to pick Kaoru up. Misao figured that Aoshi and Kenshin hadn't quite killed them slowly enough. She was thankful they had the place of mind to wrap them in a tarp.

"If your sources are wrong," Kenshin started, turning a bit so only his sharp profile was visible. Misao wanted to roll her eye as she adjusted her wig in the mirror she had set up, realizing that she as never meant to be a blonde. Aoshi could defend himself.

Aoshi's words were clipped and precise as he set up his own disguise. Misao decided that Aoshi was never meant to have a mustache either. "My sources are precise and correct," he told Kenshin irritably. "Your wife is as safe as we can make her." He turned and gave Kenshin a considering look. "You cannot kill him. No matter the shape she is in, hands off. He has not raped her, nor," he gave the dead bodies a pointed look. "Will he be able to touch her again. There is the possibility that he has attempted to…soften her up a bit."

Misao felt her own bright pink lips thin into a straight line. Adjusting her skirt so it rode a little higher on her thighs she ignored Aoshi's look. The dainty little shoes she had on wouldn't hold up if they broke out into a scuffle, but that was why she had knife sheathed just an inch above her hem-line. It was amazing what past school uniforms had taught her about weapons.

When she finally looked up she gave them men a brilliant grin. "They will pay for that as well," she pointed out. "A few punches and kicks are easily healed. If we screw up and die then her fate will be a lot worse. Buck up. She will be fine after a few months of spoiling and loving care." Her eyes took on a wicked caste. "Whenever you gentlemen are ready, I am quite prepared."

Kenshin offered her a smile that was a sharp as a daggers blade. "Yes, he will." He looked at Aoshi. "I am assuming that his…trip is completely funded and that you took the appropriate credit from my account?"

Aoshi gathered up the fake briefcases and gave a curt nod. "Of course."

Kenshin accepted his and began to move in the direction of the hotel. "Good. Make sure the buyers understand he is to live as long as possible. I want him to suffer."

Aoshi's smile was just as sharp. "Of course."

The place Jiro had chosen was dank and dark. Hiding from peering eyes behind shuttered windows was easy. Kenshin ignored the click of Misao's heels on the concrete and fought down his blood lust. Misao had covered his read hair with a short, black wig and the sunglasses he wore covered his eyes. Between the bangs on the wig and the dark lighting the scarlet of his brows was hidden.

Stepping over broken glass and empty bottles he waited for Aoshi to knock on the door, making an effort at looking bored. He could sense Kaoru's Chi inside the room and she was hurting and worn. He wanted to rush inside and rip things apart with his hand and he wanted to pull her against his chest and never let her go. Misao was clutching his arm and cooing up at him, hiding the frigid glitter of revenge in her eyes.

The door opened and a large man with dark skin looked at them for long moments before letting them in. Kenshin had to curb his instinct to lunge when he finally saw Jiro. There were flecks of blood staining his shirt and he looked a little haggard, but there was a twisted smile on his face and his eyes were wild as he examined them.

"Did you bring the money?" Jiro demanded fiercely, pacing back and forth along side a bed that had been stripped of its pillows, blanket, and top sheet. Kenshin's stomach churned with the force of his temper as he realized exactly what Jiro expected to happen.

Jiro's head turned toward him suspiciously but he didn't move.

It was the man in the back of the room who made the first move. Misao saw his hand go for his gun and something in the back of her brain worked on what had gone wrong even as she tugged the knife from her thigh and chunked it, catching the man who had drawn his gun in the throat.

The sound of a gun going off startled her and she spun to see Aoshi holding a smoking gun. Jiro fell to his knees, clutching his hand, and Misao took a great deal of delight in kicking in the sternum. He coughed and gasped and Aoshi finished it off by bringing the gun down on the back of his head.

Kenshin was already yanking the closet doors open.

"Dammit," Misao muttered as she looked around. "I thought Hiko had taken you for acting lessons," she sighed as she realized that Kenshin wasn't paying attention.

Kenshin let his eyes adjust and saw Kaoru looking up at him. She didn't make a noise when he reached down and picked her up and he realized that she didn't recognize him. There was a slightly glazed look to her eyes. Setting her down on the made bed, he reached up and pulled his hat and wig off, ripping off his glasses and taking her face between his hands. "Kaoru, darling, it's alright."

Kaoru hadn't been able to stop her instant reaction to the knowledge of what was going to happen. The moment the light had shattered her darkness in the closet she had retreated like she had as a child. However, she slowly became aware of her surroundings when she realized that she could hear Kenshin's voice.

Uncertain she allowed her eyes to focus and stared at the man in front of her. She swallowed hard and fought down her instant urge to throw herself in his arms and bawl like a baby, but couldn't quite stop the way her body was taken over with fine tremors as he worked to cut the tape from her arms. She hardly noticed as the tape was pulled away from her skin or her ankles. Instead she concentrated on the bright blur of his hair and clamped her teeth shut.

After that she couldn't quite breathe around the coat Kenshin wore as he pulled her against him and held onto her as if he was afraid she was going to disappear. Since she was afraid of the same thing, she held on just as tightly.

"Please don't cry," Kenshin whispered against her ear raggedly and Kaoru was startled to realize that tears were slipping down her face. That brought on a storm of reaction and she wondered if it was possible to shake yourself apart. She heard the sounds of whispers and then Kenshin was lifting her again, and the cool night hair was against her bare feet and the back of her neck. She didn't quite know where she was, but suddenly the sound of a car door entered her fogged brain and the air was gone and she was being held on his lap while he rocked her back and forth.

Kaoru woke up gasping and found she couldn't breathe. The sheets were wrapped around her legs and waist and the night was sucking her and she struggling past the led in her dreams. An familiar body was pressed against her and she desperately attempted to sit up. The man at her side stirred and she gasped in fright until a familiar voice broke through her terror.

"Kaoru," his voice was sleepy as he sat up and pulled her against his chest. "Sush, it's alright." He crooned, letting her press against his naked chest, wrapping around herself around him as if he was a lifeline. She never cried, not after that first night. She just gasped painfully against his skin and once she realized who he was, plastered herself against him as if he was the only thing that was keeping her from flying apart.

Once her breathing slowed down he lay back down, knowing she would curl against him. She did, her thighs tangling with his as she clutched at him. He smoothed his hands down her bare back and felt her relax. But he knew that she wasn't going to be able to sleep for sometime.

"Kaoru," he softly questioned. She stilled against him. "I think you need to talk about this. It's not getting any better."

Her breath exhaled against his chest. "I know," she finally whispered, her voice raw. She shivered in his arms. "I…it's not…you…" she whispered brokenly, so he rubbed his hands soothingly down her spine.

"I know." He told her softly. "You need to talk about it. Holding it in is only going to make it worse."

She trembled for a heartbeat and then stopped. It never ceased to amaze him how much control she had over her emotions, or that she trusted enough to breach that control as often as she did. His heart broke at her hiccupping breaths but he stayed quite until with broken sentences she softly began to talk.

He stayed up most the night, just listening to her quietly speak, occasionally distracting her with the movements of his hands, but allowing her to finish her tale before shifting so he could burry his face in her neck and wrap himself around her.

He didn't sleep for a very, very long time.

Kaoru sighed as she woke up, sprawled out under her and Kenshin's sheets. She heard the sounds of him talking in what sounded like the Kitchen and groaned as she realized the time. He had let her sleep in again. 'What did I tell him about waking me up before ten? Much less letting me sleep till almost noon?' Kaoru groaned as she rolled onto her back and tried to wake herself up. She had accused of turning off her alarm or re-setting it, but he had just smiled and said nothing. Once or twice she had even woken to the damn clock being unplugged.

She showered quickly and settled for a pair of baggy jeans and a ridiculous Donald duck T-shirt Kenshin had bought her on a whim. It was comfortable, and she smiled every time she wore it. This, she thought, might have been the point.

Twisting her damp hair into a messy bun she walked into the kitchen to see Kenshin discussing something with a mountain of a man who looked vaguely familiar. She thought his name might have been Hiko or something, but was uncertain and not willing to say anything. Kenshin, however, looked up the moment she entered and smiled at her. She gave him a fierce glare and dug around for his keys and came up triumphantly. Both men had stopped there conversation in order to look up as she walked into the room.

Frowning at the men who stood there watching her, she scowled at them. "What on earth is going on here that I deserve those looks?"

"Convincing your husband that he needs to put a bit more time in the office," Hiko replied easily. He didn't look apologetic and Kaoru wondered faintly if anything she would ever do would rattle that man.

Probably not.

Kenshin looked miffed enough that Kaoru wondered if all those times he had been going to work had actually been something different. She also had the faint feeling that his work schedule wasn't everything they had been talking about. Shrugging to herself, she knew when to give men privacy, she started to dig around for Kenshin's car keys. He had wanted to get her a vehicle but the idea of him spending that sort of money on her had almost had her in palpitations.

"Where are you going?" Kenshin asked, raising a brow from where he had left Hiko in the living area. He rolled his eyes when she stuck her tongue out at him and dangled the car keys off her index finger.

Kaoru grinned at him. "I want ice cream, plus if I leave, you two can talk without having to dancing around the subject." She shrugged. "I can always beat it out of you later." Assuming, of course, that she wanted to know.

Kenshin's brow had risen into his hairline. "Ice cream? You haven't even had breakfast yet." He accused lightly.

Kaoru shrugged at him. "That's what you get for letting me sleep in so late." She blew him a kiss and attempted to skip by him. Instead, his arm snaked out and caught her around the hips and pulled her backwards so he could place a lingering kiss on her laughing mouth. "Pick up a carton, and I will help you eat it," he suggested, his eyes flickering with the possibility of more than ice cream.

"Greedy," she accused him but she disappeared anyway.

Kenshin waited until the door closed before the line in his shoulders tightened again. "Are you sure there is no way…"

Hiko snorted. "I took care of the details personally, Baka Deshi. Do you think I would risk something like that coming back to bite you in the ass when I am not around to pick up the pieces." He considered rolling his eyes, and realized it was beneath him. "The slave ring that I sold him to will take very good care of him." There was a nasty note in his voice. "I must admit, you sudden insight into devilry amuses me."

Kenshin closed his eyes and leaned against the counter for long moments. When his eyes opened they were pale gold. "I have already had Aoshi set up a false trail of documents and locate a banker who will suit our purposes. Aoshi has set it up so that the money from the sale of her father will be transferred into a new bank with the appearance of being transferred from different banks every two years. There is a lock box set up with all of the pass codes and records for her to find." He took a deep breath and some of the gold faded from his eyes.

"You think having her own money, and a good deal of it; is going to make things easier for her." Hiko guessed, watching his adopted son look down at the ring that he still wore.

"Yes," Kenshin deftly stated. "It will. She needs that kind of security. I don't think she knows it yet, but living with me, depending on me, because she has no other means, it grates on her. She needs to know she can care for herself if something were to change."

Hiko watched him for a moment. "Is something going to change?"

Kenshin looked up, and his eyes were storm violet now. "No. She removed those rings because she isn't sure if she wants them. Legally, we are married now. However, I am willing to wait on her. Its one thing to have someone she can turn to, to share a bed with, it's another idea all together to have a husband who controls her." His mouth curved. "I do not need to control her life to be happy and she will soon learn that. The idea that she can be her own person inside a marriage hasn't occurred to her yet."

Hiko stood. "When this sudden bright spot of intelligence fails you, I will kick your ass." Hiko warned as he gathered his briefcase. "There won't be enough left of you for Megumi to put back together."

Kenshin nodded his head in acceptance.

He brought up much later than she thought he would.

She was in the new apartment Kenshin had picked out and moved her into without her express permission, or her opinion, for that matter. However, the apartment itself was breathtaking. There were two bedrooms, hardwood floors, a balcony, a spaceous kitchen that gave her room to run when Kenshin realized she was invading his personal territory, and a Jacuzzi bathtub that had been…used, by both, more than once.

Her absolute favorite addition of the little place was the little corner he had set up so she could read/nap/sulk in peace. Kenshin had bought various sized small bookshelves and lined the walls and then set them up in a little semi-circle that was staggered. There were variants of plants. Ivy, a few potted flowers he wouldn't tell her what they were, and her favorite, various types of bamboo. Between the shelves there were various potted tress. Kenshin had rattled of the names, something to do with weeping orange trees or miniature figs. She had really ignored him when he started rattling about care and cleaning….

But the part she adored the most was the little hammock he had strung up for her to relax in while she did her thing. The bookshelves and the plans and the wide window that overlooked the balcony; and she loved it. She was able to watch him grill outside, or watch the little birds come and pecks up the seed he set out. There was the occasional squirrel that stuffed its cheeks and then bolted.

Against a corner there was a single fat, squared cushion that was set in a build in window-seat that Kenshin would sit on when he wanted to talk to her when she had retreated. It didn't happen often, but if she had fallen asleep basking in the sunlight, she would wakeup more often than not to Kenshin sipping a mug of tea watching her.

She wondered if the idea of her being gone when he came home at night still kept him up as often as it did her. She hadn't expected to look up from her book and find him watching her with a expression more serious than anything she had seen on him in weeks.

They had never really talked about moving in with each other. She supposed she could have thrown a fit if she wanted her own place, but she found she really didn't. He had given her a place to have her own space, had never stepped on the personal boundaries she had raised. In fact, he was almost to careful not to distress her. It had been almost a month since that day Hiko had brought over an old will they had found in a hidden lockbox her mother had managed to hide. The fact that she was now independently wealthy had taken some getting used to. Almost as much time as the knowledge that her father was never going to come after her again; Kenshin had been something she could cling to as she forced herself to find something new to hold onto.

She recognized the expression in his eyes. Swallowing she rested her book on her stomach and watched him watch her. She wondered if she was going to have to start the conversation or if she could wait until he started getting it off his chest.

"When I was ten Hiko adopted me." He told her quietly.

Kaoru started in surprise and almost fell out of the hammock. He caught her, rising easily and steadying the hammock as she stared up at him, her eyes wide with surprise. "You don't…" the pads of his fingers settled over her lips and quieted.

"When I was ten Hiko adopted me and brought me into a different world." He told her softly, his eyes focusing slightly inward. "There are dates and names and places I can tell you about, but there irrelevant. He taught me how to live, Kaoru." Something hot flickered through his eyes for a moment before it settled. "And in the process I learned how to teach others the same way."

She nipped at his fingers and he quirked a smile at her and reluctantly removed them from her mouth. "Sano or Aoshi first?" She asked softly.

"Aoshi," he told her quietly. "He had already carved a path for himself but needed…guidance. I could not give that to him, and Hiko didn't want to try." His lips curved slightly. "He floundered for a bit, until he started collecting his own strays. Then he had to find himself."

Kaoru watched as his mouth curved into something…wicked.

"His world changed when he found a little five year old living out of a garbage bin and fighting off wild cats or dogs with a stick bigger than she was. Her parents had been killed in an FBI raid and she had been tiny enough to hide in the dryer. They never thought to look there." His fingers feathered across her collarbones. "After that, his little group had a new mission and they came to us. Sano was added a few years later when I had to pull him out of a tough situation that involved a drug ring. He was a witness and a inside opinion. It got worse, when two weeks into the job, he brought us a thin female. She wasn't much older than fifteen and was stubborn enough not to say anything until we had promised her the protection we were giving Sano. She was covered in blood, but it was her families and not hers. She had watched them slowly torn apart and wanted revenge." His mouth tightened. "We didn't find out until later that she was a medical protégée and that she had the answer to the drugs Kanryuu had been giving out."

"But?" Kaoru asked softly.

Kenshin shook his head. "Kanryuu fell and things changed. We suddenly had to many people who could be hurt and we shifted tracks, split up out ties. Aoshi took his little group and started something on the streets that is still going. Hiko and I went into a different business and started taking higher risk jobs and Sano and Megumi kept low profiles and quietly enrolled in different schools." He shrugged. "A few years later a case drew us all back into profile and we haven't quite left each other yet."

Kaoru looked down at her book and fiddled with the pages, attempting to ignore the way his fingers felt on her throat. "Why are you telling me this?" Kaoru asked softly. She had never asked.

"When you're ready to talk, I wanted you to know that all of us are willing to listen." He leaned down and gave her a leisurely kiss. "I'm going to start dinner."

Kaoru watched as he walked off and scowled. He had done that on purpose. She was really letting him to close…

Was she?

Kaoru frowned and fiddled with the ring on her right finger. Kenshin had quietly switched the rings on her right hand to her left. Well, the plain band he had placed in a small box on top of the mantel.

Next to it were a set of rings he had picked out for her. He had made his point clear without saying anything at all. She knew that Aoshi had made all the correct forgeries, and legally she was Kenshin Himura's wife. Where they had gotten a JP to sign off…well, she supposed they had forged those as well. It didn't matter. Kenshin was making it known that he considered them married, but would respect that distance until she put the rings on herself.

Not that they weren't living like a married couple. No, not when she needed the reassurances of his body late at night or when he went out of his way to make sure she had everything he needed. The only thing holding her back from actually considering herself as his was her own mental hang up.

'So what are you going to do about it?' Kaoru asked herself fiercely. 'He deserves some sort ending to this. You stringing him along because you need him but can you not need him and still manage? Perhaps it isn't the fear of your father coming back that is keeping you up late at night, but the idea that this isn't permanent.' She chewed on that thought for long moments. 'If that is the case, are you ready or willing to take the next step?'

To that she wasn't sure. Her stomach rolled and twisted and old fears crept into her heart that she wasn't sure how to deal with. 'Okay…you're scared. That's natural. You examples of happy marriage are not happy marriage…' Yet…the one time during the day when she wasn't nervous or fighting little fissions of unsurety, was when she could touch him. His arms were a safety that she could count on.

So what are you going to do about it?

"The first time my father hit me I was eight. He had had a rough day at work and had gotten irritated at the noise I was making." Her words were so soft he had almost missed them. He paused where he was taking the bread out of the oven and then slowly finished the motions.

"When I was thirteen he beat my mother so badly that she had to be taken into the hospital. She had tried to get us out, but someone had tipped him off." Her words were low. "My father worked for someone who worked in the slave-ring business in some foreign country. When I was fifteen there was a raid…dad came home furious. I was taken into the living room and held while my father…"

"Two days later I disappeared." Her voice was soft. "I covered my tracks using some tricks I had picked up listening to my father talk. I knew he would find me, but I wanted time. He caught up with me twice before the last time, but I managed to get away. I never stayed in one place to long." Her voice was quite. "You changed that."

Kenshin watched her carefully, judging her words. "And now?"

She swallowed hard and bit her bottom lip. Twisting her hair nervously he watched as her eyes landed on his left hand and he knew part of the reason she was so nervous. "Why do you still wear your ring?" She asked him softly.

He tilted his head at her and knew he needed to reassure her. "Because, for me, this is a commitment, Kaoru," he smiled when her eyes swung to his. "This is something I want Kaoru." He took a careful breath and let it out between your teeth. "Does it bother you?" He knew it made her uncomfortable, but he wasn't exactly sure where that uncomfortableness stemmed from.

She dropped her eyes. "I…" her fingers twisted harder against the ends of her braid. She took her own deep breath and let it out. "You want commitment." Her voice was so low that Kenshin almost didn't catch it. "I…I don't know if I will ever be able to give that."

"In what ways," he asked mildly and her head shot up. He met her eyes squarely. His mouth was curved in a self-mocking smile. "I thought we should have had this conversation earlier…" he sighed and took his ring off and set it on the counter. "This ring, Kaoru, is a reminder of the commitment and a warning. A reminder because as long as I wear it, it is a sign to you of what I feel and what I will do to protect those feelings. It's not to pressure you into something you are unsure of. Right now you are hidden behind forged documents and careful blackmailing." He smiled at her. "Until you're ready to change that, then that is enough for me."

She looked stunned. "But…what…I meant…" she struggled to find the words.

He moved forward and cupped her chin in his hands and tilted her head so she had to meet his eyes. "We are in a relationship, Kaoru. You share by bed, you have my heart, and you share my apartment. I want you to be here." His eyes darkened into gold. "I can't say I will ever be able to let you just walk out of the door, but I do understand that you need your freedom just as much as you need a warm body to crawl into bed with at night and hide against. I know that titles and names make you nervous. When your ready and comfortable with the idea of making this something more than what it already is," 'or giving what we have an appropriate title.' "Then all you will have to do is put those new rings on your left hand. That's all. You won't have to say a word, Kaoru."

She swallowed. "If I am never ready to acknowledge this as more?"

He traced her cheek with his finger. "Do you want me, Kaoru? Do you want to see where this is going and to explore the possible avenues?" When she nodded hesitantly he smiled. "Then that's all I need."

Authors note: Well, there you go. For those of you who were wanting a complete, happy, well ordered ending, my apologies. Kaoru needs some time to herself and past trama doesn't go away right away. So there.

Note: The trees are actually Miniature Orange Tress and Weeping Figs. Kaoru got them mixed up.

As always, let me know what you think.