Beginning Note: Hey, you guys. Yes. I am back with another Rurouni Kenshin fanfic. Hooray for me! Please cut me some slack. I haven't written Kenshin in a while, so it will take a little while to get into the swing of things. I hope that you like my story. It's a lot darker and maybe a little more angsty than my last one. Please be kind! Read and review, as well please!

Disclaimer: Due to the disastrous result of the last time I tried to own the RK characters, I have given up. If you don't understand that, look in True Feelings for my adventures in Japan. They explain it. I don't own any of these characters, but the plot is my own. Please do not steal it. If you want to post it on another site, please, please, please give me credit because it has happened before. Thank you! – Keito-chan

Chapter One

"You promise you won't leave me?"

"I promise, Karou-dono. I won't leave you."

Kenshin stared at the bold strokes on the piece of paper he held in his calloused hands. He then quickly crushed the letter in his right fist. It was gutsy of Saitou to send the letter; Kenshin owed him no favors.

"Kenshin?" came a sweet voice from behind him. "Kenshin, what are you doing?"

Kenshin turned to see Kamiya Kaoru coming towards him. His muscles relaxed. The sight of the dojo's assistant master always soothed his agitated nerves. At twenty-one, Kaoru was still unmarried, but extremely independent. She ran the Kamiya dojo, teaching Kamiya Kasshin Ryû to a few students. People were finally starting to come back after the fraudulent Battousai incident two years ago. Some people were still daunted by the fact that she housed the real Battousai, so they went out of their way to avoid coming to the dojo.

"I was just getting ready to warm up your bath, Karou-dono," Kenshin said, smiling his irresistible rurouni grin and quickly hiding Saitou's letter in his gi sleeve. Kaoru saw him hide the paper.

"What's that?" she asked curiously.

Kenshin was thankfully interrupted by Yahiko's loud, callous voice.

"Hey! Busu, Kenshin!"

Kaoru spun on her heel and glared at the young boy trotting to meet them. "What was that, Gaki? Do you want extra chores?" Kaoru asked menacingly.

Yahiko skidded to a stop before them, kicking up dust in the process. He made a face. "No, but I got your attention, didn't I?"

Myojin Yahiko was almost as tall as Kaoru and he was only fourteen. He was strong after two years of training under the watchful eyes of Kaoru and he was determined. He had the makings of a promising swordsman. Even though Kaoru never said it to Yahiko's face, Kenshin could tell that she was extremely proud of her apprentice.

"Well," Kaoru demanded, wiping off the dust that had settled on the hem of her kimono. "What did you want? You have our attention."

"Can we go to the Akebeko for dinner? We haven't been there in ages! Please?" Yahiko pleaded, giving Kaoru a pitiful look.

"Ah!" she moaned. "Don't give me that look. Ask Kenshin if he wants to go."

Yahiko turned to give Kenshin the same look. Kenshin laughed and ruffled the boy's messy hair.

"That's okay with me."

"Alright!" Yahiko said happily. "I'll even pay!"

Kaoru raised her eyebrows as a smile began to pull at the corners of her mouth. "Aren't you a gentleman? You just want to impress Tsubame-chan," she teased. "Where did you get the money?"

"I did some odd jobs around town when I wasn't practicing," he said proudly.

Kaoru's smile was radiant now. "You cease to amaze me, Gaki. Let me take a bath before we leave." When Yahiko gave her an exasperated look, she sighed. "I promise I won't be long."

"Fine," he huffed. "I'll be in my room." He scampered off.

Kaoru turned to Kenshin, her eyes full of pride. "He's something isn't he? He's not the same boy from that day on the bridge, huh?"

Kenshin smiled tenderly at her. "Yes, Kaoru-dono. He is." He turned towards the bathhouse. "I will start heating your bath."

"Uh, Kenshin?"

He turned around. "Yes, Kaoru-dono?"

Kaoru blushed and looked away. "Never mind."

"Okay," he said, a question in his eyes, but he didn't dare ask it. He turned back to the woodpile next to the bathhouse.

Kaoru you idiot! she reprimanded herself sharply. Are you ever going to tell him? She sighed heavily and trudged to get a new kimono to change into.

Kenshin added more wood to the fire. He took Saitou's letter and threw it into the raging flames. He was so deep in thought that he didn't hear footsteps behind him.

"Hey."

Kenshin jumped with a start, his hakama getting too close to the bath fire. They caught fire, and he patted the flames out. He turned to glare at Sagara Sanosuke.

Sanosuke backed up a step. "Whoa there, Kenshin. No need to go all Battousai on me. It was an accident," he said, holding up his hands. "What happened to those hitokiri senses? You didn't even hear me."

Kenshin surveyed the damage to his hakama and sighed inwardly. Now he would have to change. "Sorry, Sano. I was thinking about something important," he replied wearily. "I didn't mean to glare at you."

Sanosuke clasped Kenshin's shoulder. "Naw. It was stupid of me to do that anyway."

He peered at Kenshin's face and noticed something that hadn't been there before. There were fine lines at the corners of his eyes and dark circles under them.

"Do I have something on my face?" Kenshin asked. "Why do you keep staring at me?"

"Are you okay? What have you been doing?" Sanosuke questioned him. "And what was that paper?"

Kenshin looked away quickly and added more wood to the fire. "I don't know what you're talking about. And I'm fine."

"Don't make me hit you!" Sanosuke threatened. "You've got bags under your eyes!"

"Sano, really. I'm fin-"

"Don't lie!" he snarled, grabbing Kenshin's collar. "What was that paper!"

Kenshin stiffened. "I haven't been sleeping well lately. And that paper was a letter from Saitou. He wants me to come back to Kyoto."

Sanosuke let go of Kenshin's gi in surprise. "What! He wants you to come back? I thought you two cut ties?" he exclaimed.

"So did I. Apparently not. He was very vague about everything, so I don't know what he wants."

Sano rubbed his head and gave Kenshin a perplexed look. "What are you going to do then, Kenshin?"

"Saitou would rather have teeth pulled than ask for my help. It must be pretty serious for him to send that letter," he said wearily. "I'm going to have to go."

"What about Jouchan?"

Kenshin swallowed painfully. "I'm not telling Kaoru-dono." He saw Sanosuke begin to open his mouth. "No, Sanosuke," he said firmly. "She can't know. I can't have her close to danger like last time. Tell me I have your word that you won't tell her, Sano."

Sanosuke looked uncomfortable. "You're not very good at keeping your promises, ya know."

"What do you mean?" Kenshin demanded. "I have kept all my promises and you know that!"

Sanosuke cleared his throat pointedly. "You're just about to break the biggest promise you ever made. We were all there when you promised Jouchan."

"I know I'm breaking the promise, but-"

"Japan needs you more than she does, right?"

"NO!" Kenshin interjected angrily. "Kaoru-dono is perfectly capable of taking care of herself."

"Oh, really?" Sanosuke inquired. "Wanna bet? I'm sure Megumi never told you what happened after you left for Kyoto last time."

"What did Megumi-dono tell you, and why didn't she tell me?"

Sanosuke leaned on a tree. "Probably not to worry you. She told me about it, but told me not to mention it to you," he said. "Jouchan wouldn't get up or eat for days. She wouldn't listen to Tae-san, Tsubame-chan, or Yahiko. She stayed in her room."

Kenshin looked at him, sick to his stomach. He caused Kaoru so much pain without realizing it. Was he that selfish? Were his ideals more important than how he felt about her? What was more important?

"Megumi finally talked some sense into her. That's why she followed you to Kyoto, Kenshin. If Megumi hadn't provoked her, Jou-chan would have wasted away. If you leave again, the same thing is going to happen. The worst part is that you're not even going to tell her where or why you're going."

"What else am I supposed to do?" Kenshin asked. "Am I supposed to let someone ruin what I murdered for? The people of Japan need me."

Sanosuke, spotting Kaoru coming towards them, stood up straight. "And she doesn't?" he said, indicating Kaoru with a nod of his head. "I won't tell her, but if she does what she did last time, I will. That's a promise, Kenshin."

He walked away, leaving Kenshin staring at the evil character on his back. The black character mocked Kenshin as the slight breeze blew the shirt around Sanosuke's muscular form. Kenshin was the evil one for leaving Kaoru after promising not to. Did this mean that Sanosuke cared more about Kaoru's feelings than he did? Kenshin began to sweat nervously at thinking this. Did Sanosuke have feelings for Kaoru?

Kenshin watched them talk amicably in the middle of the yard. They were closer in age. Sanosuke was only two years older compared to his ten years. He watched Kaoru closely to see any hint that she liked Sanosuke more than a friend. It didn't seem that way. Kenshin felt relief, but he still wasn't positive. He'd ask Sanosuke later tonight because he was sure that he would be joining them at the Akebeko.

Kenshin added one more log to the fire before walking over to them.

"Kenshin! What did you do to your hakama!" Kaoru asked in surprise.

Kenshin looked down at his damaged hakama. "Sano startled me and they caught fire," he said, embarrassed.

Kaoru giggled and looked at Sanosuke. "Way to go, Sanosuke."

He winked at her. "You know me."

Kenshin's eyes narrowed. Were they flirting right in from of him! Didn't Sanosuke know how he felt about Kaoru? He wouldn't flirt with her when he knew that… right?

"I'm going to change," he said loudly and stiffly moved away.

Kaoru and Sanosuke watched him walk away, startled. Kenshin had sounded cold. Kaoru looked at Sanosuke worriedly. He shrugged, not understanding Kenshin's odd actions himself.

"Well," Kaoru said, falsely bright. "I have to get clean. I'll be out in a minute."

"I'm not goin' anywhere," Sanosuke said, moving to sit on the porch. "I'm getting a free meal out of this."

Kaoru smiled and went into the bathhouse. Sanosuke sat cross-legged on the wooden porch, while Kenshin was in his room, sitting at his wooden writing table and staring at a letter. Each of them was thinking about what had just happened. Kaoru worrying that she had done something to upset Kenshin, Sanosuke thinking about what Kenshin had told him, and finally Kenshin, who was praying that his letter wouldn't cause Kaoru pain.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sorry that chapter one's so short. As the story goes on, the chapters will get longer. Hopefully not as long as my 37-page chapter 10 in my last RK story! Please read and review! Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Arigatou gozaimasu! Ja! – Little Sakura-chan

Japanese Guide: I can't believe I almost forgot this! I know that you probably know most of these already, but I want to be complete. I know most of the definitions are long winded, but I want my readers to know this stuff! I didn't know half of it! Gomen!

-Busu – ugly; Yahiko calls Kaoru this, a substitute for ugly hag

-Gaki – brat; Kaoru calls Yahiko this