Beginning Note: Yes. I know. It's been forever since I have updated this story, but I had been worrying about college and now I'm worrying even more. It's not like I didn't get into college, it's just now it's a little tight with money, especially since I got into a car accident on the 3rd of February. It really sucks now. My passenger's side door is totally smashed. :sigh: Okay, enough of my feeling sorry for myself and about my car. This is to say thank you to my two wonderful reviewers:bows: ARIGATOU GOZAIMASU! Thank you for reading and I hope that you will come back to finish the story. I have 22 chapters planned out so far! Let's hope it works! Alrighty! See you next chapter!

-Little Sakura-chan

:SPOILER ALERT: Okay. For those of you who haven't read the translations to the Kenshin manga, there is a spoiler from volume 23 (I think that's the volume). It's the whole Enishi incident. If you've seen Samurai X: Reflection, the whole thing with Enishi is different, so please don't get angry if you don't recognize what's going on. I used a different reference! Thanks! – Little Sakura-chan

Disclaimer: Just making it clear that I do not own any of these characters, yet the plot is all my own. If you want to post my story on another site, please ask my permission and give me credit because once before I let someone post my story and they didn't give me credit. I was just a… tad bit angry. Thank you! – Keito-chan a.k.a. Little Sakura-chan

:AUTHOR'S NOTE: The Battousai in my story is like a different personality. It's sorta like Kenshin has multiple personality disorder, but not at the same time. My Battousai is a violent, possessive bastard that likes to provoke Kenshin as much as he can. Ignore the fact that Kenshin seems schizophrenic.

"But if you find an angel,

follow her.

Don't let her disappear,

don't let her fly away"

The Quest by Lorenzo Montero

Chapter Two

"You promise you won't leave me?"

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

Kenshin swallowed painfully after signing his name to the letter. The dark ink gleamed in the kerosene lamp as it dried. As he re-read the letter, Kenshin felt the already large knot in his stomach get bigger. He was doing the worst thing he could ever do in the world. He was breaking a dearly held promise.

He knew that Kaoru would be devastated, even as he tried to deny the fact. Was he doing the right thing? He was doing this for Japan and for atonement. Surely Kaoru would understand his leaving. She was so understanding about everything else.

A knock on his door startled him.

"Kenshin?" came Yahiko's voice through the thin, rice paper wall. "Are you almost ready?"

Kenshin tried to speak, but began to cough because his mouth was dry.

"You okay?" Yahiko asked, concern in his tone.

"Yes, I'm fine," Kenshin said after he got his breath back. "I'll be out in a minute, Yahiko."

He heard the boy's heavy footsteps walk away from his door and sighed heavily. Kenshin knew that the boy would hate him after what he was planning. Idol or not, the young boy would hold a grudge. Kenshin would not only be betraying himself and Kaoru, he would be betraying Sanosuke, Megumi, Tae, Tsubame, anyone he had met since coming to Tokyo four years ago.

Kenshin stood up and adjusted the sakabatou on his hakama belt. It felt heavier than usual, but he ignored it. Closing the door quietly behind him, he thrust any thought of the letter to the back of his mind. He carefully walked past Yahiko's room so the boy wouldn't hear him. He padded to the kitchen and smiled. This was one of his favorite places. He liked cooking.

Kenshin's smile faded a little. He wouldn't be able to for cook his adopted family one last time. Nor would he do their laundry. He would be gone hours before they woke up. It would be less painful this way, or at least for him it would be. As he stepped back into the hallway, he inhaled the faint scent of the day's last cooked meal.

Kaoru had insisted on making lunch, besides that fact that she would be a few minutes late to the other dojos that she taught at. The food hadn't been very good. It never was, but she tried. She always did. Since her mother had died when she was little, Kaoru didn't have anyone but men to tell her that her cooking was very edible and tasted like charcoal. It wasn't until Megumi that he cooking improved slightly.

Charred fish and rosemary filled Kenshin's nose. It was Kenshin's second favorite food and Kaoru had worked hard to please him. He ate the burnt, rosemary-tasting fish without a complaint, unlike Yahiko, who said that 'he'd be safer eating bird crap.' That comment didn't go over well, and Yahiko ended up eating two helpings of fish to appease his kendo instructor, keeping him from extra chores.

Kenshin would miss Kaoru's horrible cooking. He had grown used to the slightly acidic taste that the food sometimes got. Well, if you didn't mind having extremely painful heartburn for the rest of the day. Kenshin shook his head.

The things we do for the ones we love, he thought.

Well, aren't you the hypocrite, Himura, came a sneering voice in the back of his head.

Kenshin grimaced. Shut up, he told his other personality. You don't know anything about what's going on.

Oh, really? asked Battousai. You're a filthy hypocrite that preaches life and honesty. You are far from honest.

What would you know? Kenshin shot back angrily.

A lot more than you think, Battousai said smugly. I'm here all the time. I see they way you look at her and the way she looks at you. She's far from stupid.

Hey! Kaoru-dono is not stupid! Kenshin protested heatedly.

Calm your girly, red head, Battousai said. I never said she was stupid. I was saying that she knows you're hiding something from her. Does the name Tomoe ring any bells?

Leave Tomoe out of this! Kenshin said angrily, a twinge of sadness squeezing his heart. I'm sure that Kaoru-dono would love to hear about my wife and how I killed her. Don't mention Tomoe again, Battousai.

I loved her same as you, Battousai said, voice quiet. She was my wife and I'll mention her whenever the hell I want!

Forget this, Kenshin told his violent alter ego. I'm not having this discussion with you.

Hypocrite, Battousai spat.

Enough! Kenshin roared. I'm a hypocrite all right! That's what you wanted to hear, right? I spew crap about honesty when I'm not even honest with those I care about or myself! When I get to Kyoto, who knows what will happen!

Hopefully you'll reverse that pansy-ass blade and kill that bastard Saitou, Battousai muttered darkly.

Knock it off, Kenshin said sternly. We're ending this conversation and with any luck, you don't wake back up.

Oh, I think you'll be hearing from me a lot more, Battousai said slyly, then became dormant in Kenshin's racing mind.

"Yeah, I'll bet," Kenshin mumbled bitterly. "Up my ass the whole time no doubt."

He thought he heard Battousai snicker and he scowled. He let Battousai calling him a girly, red head slide. He had been mistaken for a girl for so long, it didn't bother him too much. Battousai was just trying to get a rise out of him because him being called a girl was a sore spot. He had killed people who had mistaken him for the other sex. Unlike Kenshin, Battousai had little tolerence for mistaken identity.

Kenshin's sensitive ears heard his name being called, mixing with heavy footsteps. Yahiko must have gone back to his room and found that Kenshin wasn't there. Kenshin quickly made his way towards that boy's voice. Yahiko frowned when he appeared around the corner.

"Where were you?" he questioned. "You had been in your room five minutes ago."

"I was in the kitchen," Kenshin said lightly. "I was seeing if we needed anything."

Yahiko raised an eyebrow. "Why? We went to the market yesterday."

Kenshin kicked himself mentally. He had forgotten they had gotten the fundamental items they needed the day before. "I felt as if we forgot something," he lied. "Plus we only purchased essentials."

Yahiko bought it. "Oh," he said shrugging. "Kaoru's out of the bath, so we're waiting on you."

"Okay," Kenshin said and followed the boy onto the porch.

Sanosuke was sprawled on the wooden expanse of the porch, watching Kaoru brush her hair as she emerged from the bathhouse. Kenshin glared at the back of Sanosuke's spiky head. That was his Kaoru Sanosuke was staring at. He was probably making her uncomfortable. Kenshin had a strong urge to choke his friend with his red headband, but thought the better of it. He didn't think it would go over too well.

He opted to look at Kaoru instead. She was wearing a white kimono with delicate, pink petals embroidered on it. Her obi was different shades of pink. It looked great on her. Then again, rags would look good on Kaoru because she'd make them beautiful. The kimono sleeves fell back to reveal pale arms as she tied her hair into a ponytail.

Kenshin longed to be able to touch her without having to restrain himself. He wanted to able to hold her close to his chest. He wanted to be able to hear her heartbeat race with his. Sometimes Kenshin ached because it was so hard to not touch her. He had to avoid looking at her lips when she talked because it was so difficult to not capture her perfect lips with his own. He loved washing her clothes so he could breathe in her personal scent. It was mixed with the scent of jasmine, the perfume oil that she used sometimes. Kaoru was an unreachable dream.

Kaoru stepped into the bathhouse and was hit with a wave of heat. It was so hot that she started to sweat. The bathhouse was never this hot. What had Kenshin been thinking when he lit the fire? She knelt by the bath and felt the water. It wasn't exactly scalding, but it wasn't a comfortable temperature.

Guess I have to deal with boiling water, she thought as she got up.

She began to undress, carefully laying her clothes in a neat, folded pile. She shivered as cold air hit her bare skin and quickly got into the bath. Kaoru gasped unused to the temperature. At least this was better than being cold while waiting for the water to cool off. The minute she had shed her clothes, she had stopped sweating. Winter was approaching rapidly. Autumn had been comfortable, but the days were growing shorter and colder each week. Soon she would need to bring out the quilted jackets and down blankets for everyone.

Yahiko needs a new quilted jacked, Kaoru thought, dismayed. He doesn't fit into his old one anymore.

The boy had grown. He had a lot more muscle and he was filling out in his shoulders. Yahiko was so different from the scrawny brat that had pick pocketed Kenshin's wallet that four years ago. He had matured and in more ways than one. He had just begun puberty and he voice began to crack and squeak, much to Kaoru's delight. She took great pleasure in teasing him about it.

Where am I going to get the money to buy him a new jacket? Kaoru wondered as she washed her body. I can barely afford to have two freeloaders and a moocher here, even if Yahiko does do odd jobs around town.

Kaoru would never let her two boarders and a certain spiky haired guest know what she was low on funds. She had her pride. And she refused to damage it more than it needed to be.

Maybe I can give more lessons, she thought. Anything that'll buy Gaki a new coat.

Kaoru sighed. She might be able to sell her old kimonos. They weren't in bad shape and someone else could get a few more good years out of them. She could always ask Tae for a loan, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Tae had the restaurant expenses to worry about.

She closed her eyes and let her mind wander to Kenshin. Why was he acting so strange all of a sudden? He had seemed cold when he said that he was changing. Kaoru was almost positive that she hadn't done anything wrong. Neither had Sanosuke.

Kaoru had seen the two having a heated discussion by the bathhouse before he had become distant. Kenshin wasn't going to give her an explanation, at least not right away, and Sanosuke probably wouldn't tell her what they were talking about anyway. But Sanosuke had been surprised when Kenshin stalked away, too, so that meant that he didn't know what was wrong with their friend either. Had the two unknowingly done something to vex the rurouni?

Two patched of red appeared on her cheeks as she turned the thought over in her head. What gave Kenshin the right to be so rude? Kaoru sloshed water in the tub angrily. It wasn't her or Sanosuke's fault that they couldn't read his mind. If they had annoyed him, he should just come right out and say it. Kenshin had grown too used to hiding behind a mask.

Him and that damn smile and 'oro', she fumed. It gets him out of trouble all the time.

Kaoru let out a small shriek of frustration. Her frayed nerves couldn't take much more. Kenshin was extremely reluctant to let Kaoru go anywhere without him, not that she could really blame him. After the Enishi incident, Kenshin didn't even want her alone in the house. Seeing her impaled on his former wife's brother's sword had broken him. He seemed determined to have Kaoru in his sights at all times.

Feeling the water getting rapidly cooler, Kaoru let out a sigh. She would have to get out of the bath now. If she stayed any longer, she would have expected Yahiko to barge into the bathhouse, demanding that she get her lazy ass out of the water. She stood up and carefully got out of the water. The cool air chilled her quickly and she hurried to dry off. Kaoru got dressed and decided to brush her hair outside so that Yahiko could see that she was ready. She put her dirty clothes in the laundry tub neatly and slid the bathhouse door open. As she stepped out, she looked around. Surprisingly enough, Yahiko wasn't in the yard impatiently waiting for her. Sanosuke was the only person to be seen, sitting so that his long legs took up an entire corner of the porch. Kaoru smiled at the man and began to brush her hair. Sanosuke lifted his hand and waved.

As Kaoru was getting ready to tie her ribbon in her hair, she saw Yahiko come out onto the porch, a familiar redhead following him. Kaoru's breath caught in her throat. Her rurouni seemed burdened by something, but she couldn't tell what. He didn't seem too burdened to glare at the back of Sanosuke's head, though. Kaoru managed to notice that his fingers twitched ever so slightly, like he wanted to strangle their friend for watching her. The former hitokiri was acting ridiculously strange this evening.

Sanosuke sat comfortably on the hard, wooden porch. He had watched Kaoru enter the bathhouse with a sad look on her face. Sanosuke sometimes wondered if Kenshin even realized how miserable he sometimes made Kaoru. The two both hid behind pasted smiles that he could easily see through, though he never mentioned it to either of them. Fakery was how you had to get by in the underworld as well as the real world.

Sanosuke grimaced as he thought about Kenshin. Something other than Saitou's letter was bothering his friend and he couldn't figure it out. All he knew was that it had to do with Kaoru and himself. As Sanosuke racked his brain for a reason for Kenshin's baffling behavior, he was brought back to reality by a sharp pain on his head. He turned his throbbing head to glare at Yahiko.

"What do you want?" he asked through gritted teeth, wincing as he rubbed the forming bump. He had been hit with the boy's shinai.

"Where's Kenshin?" Yahiko inquired, placing the shinai back to its proper place, slung across his back.

"How the hell am I supposed to know?" Sanosuke barked. "He's not out here, go away!"

"Well, he's not in his room," Yahiko said, ignoring the fact that Sanosuke had asked him to leave. Well, in so many words.

"Then look somewhere else in the house, 'cause he's not here!" Sanosuke growled, no longer glaring at the boy, but watching the bathhouse door. "Go away."

"Jeez." Yahiko moved back into the house, mumbling curses under his breath.

"Damn kid," Sanosuke muttered darkly as he carefully felt the now very painful lump on the back of his head.

Not only would he have a lump, he would have a headache. Maybe Tae would be able to supply him with something for it, if Kaoru couldn't. He had been close to a reason for Kenshin's actions before he had been hit. He tried to think of it again, but the immense throbbing in his head prevented that.

"I'm going to kill Yahiko," Sanosuke said aloud to himself. "I'll break every bone in his body."

Settling back, trying to ignore his head, Sanosuke watched the bathhouse door and listened. It was too far away to hear if Kaoru was crying, but he could have sworn that he had heard her scream slightly. He felt bad for Kaoru. She had been alone for a long time and after Kenshin had come, she had people to be with again. When Sanosuke had first met her and Kenshin, he had still been Zanza, fighter for hire, until Kenshin knocked some sense into his thick head. Ever since then, he watched his two friends carefully, seeing how they reacted to each other.

It was very apparent that the pair cared for each other deeply, yet neither acted on their desires. After the Kurogasa situation, it was very clear to Sanosuke that the young kendo teacher was terrified of being left alone. When Kenshin had left from Kyoto to fight Shishio Makoto, she had completely shut down according to Megumi and Yahiko. While Kenshin's crazy brother-in-law was holding her hostage, she believed that Kenshin was searching for her, while in reality, Kenshin had become despondent and left the dojo. No one had the heart to tell her this.

Sanosuke sighed. Did Kenshin realize what leaving again would do to Kaoru? He suspected that Kenshin did, but felt that his feelings came second to Japan. Kaoru was an understanding woman, but Sanosuke was sure that there was only so much that she could take before she collapsed.

Sanosuke blinked as the bathhouse door slid open and Kaoru emerged, dressed in a white and pink kimono. He watched as she looked around the yard until she finally found him. She smile and he lifted his hand in a wave. She began brushing her hair into a ponytail as she slowly made her way to the porch. She stopped as she pulled her hair into a ponytail with a pink ribbon. Sanosuke heard Yahiko's heavy footsteps and Kenshin's shuffling steps behind him, but he ignore them. He stiffened slightly as he felt Kenshin's glare at the back of his head, but he didn't care. He had never seen a woman do her hair and was fascinated by watching Kaoru.

"Are we ready now?" asked Yahiko impatiently, emphasizing the word 'now' sarcastically.

Kaoru walked over to the porch and swatted at Yahiko. The boy ducked under his teacher's halfhearted swipes. "Yes, we're ready," Kaoru said. "You need to learn patience."

Sanosuke ruffled the boy's already messy hair. "Yeah. Jouchan's right. Ever hear that patience is a virtue?"

Yahiko made a rude gesture and earned himself a painful hit on the back of his head, courtesy of Kaoru. Sanosuke's laughed at the two's bickering, while Kenshin stared, stone faced, in the other direction. He cleared his throat, making Kaoru and Yahiko look at him.

"I believe that you mentioned how you wanted to leave, Yahiko," Kenshin reminded him gently. "This probably isn't the best time to be fighting with Kaoru-dono."

His eyes met Kaoru's. After a moment, she looked away and walked towards the gate. Kenshin blinked in surprise. Kaoru had never done that before. He bit the inside of his cheek as he, Sanosuke, and Yahiko followed Kaoru. Something was bothering her, but he couldn't figure out what. He blinked as Yahiko said something.

"What?" he asked the boy. "I'm sorry. I didn't hear what you said, Yahiko."

Yahiko rolled his eyes. "I said that we have to hurry. Tae-san saved us a table, but if we don't get there soon, she said that she would give it to someone else.

"Oh," was all Kenshin said.

"Jeez, Kenshin," Yahiko said, scratching his head as the walked down the road. "You've been out of it all day today. First in the kitchen and now. What's with you?"

Kenshin could feel Sanosuke and Kaoru look at him and he sighed mentally. "I'm just tired is all, Yahiko," he said, a bright smile pasted on his features.

The rest of the way to the Akebeko was silent.

"Welco- Oh! Yahiko-kun! You're lucky. You got here just in time. Tae-san was just about to give the table away."

Kaoru smiled. "Hi, Tsubame-chan. How are you?"

The young girl who greeted them smiled. "Hello, Kaoru-san. I'm very well. I hope you are as well."

Kaoru was about to reply when a voice called Tsubame. The girl bowed apologetically and hurried to help the customer.

"Kaoru-chan, Himura-san! It's so nice to see you again. Ah! Sagara-san! You're here as well? I need you to start paying your tab." Sanosuke grinned sheepishly.

"Honestly, Sanosuke!" Kaoru exclaimed. "You will put Tae-san out of business!"

Sanosuke waved her comment away as Tae lead them to their table.

Tae turned to Yahiko. "You're lucky I saved this table. We're completely full tonight."

Yahiko winced and bowed. "Thank you so much, Tae-san!"

Tae chuckled with an evil grin. "You owe me, Yahiko-kun."

Yahiko mumbled something under his breath. Suddenly, a knife embedded itself a few inches from the boy's fingers. He looked slowly up at Tae. He was unexpectedly very sweaty.

"Oh, I'm so clumsy! Ohohoho!" she said, laughing innocently and pulling the knife from the wood. "Now what were you saying, Yahiko-kun?"

"I said whatever you want, Tae-san," Yahiko said in a strangled voice.

"Very good. Now, what'll it be for you all?"

After Tae left, Yahiko let out a sigh of relief. "Who knew that Tae-san carried around a blade and knows how to throw it so well?" he said examining the spot where the knife had landed.

"Ever since Sagara-san saved her from those drunks," Tsubame said, appearing with the group's drinks. "She told me about it and said that I should carry one, too." She laughed nervously as she set down her tray. "I don't think I'd be able to do that."

"I could teach you, like I did Tae-san, Tsubame-chan," Kaoru offered, ignoring Yahiko's look of surprise. "It's not hard. Just a few basic defense moves. And yes," she said looking at Yahiko. "I taught Tae-san that little trick as well as everything else she knows." Yahiko looked away.

Tsubame shook her head wildly. "I-I'm sorry, Kaoru-san," she stammered. "But I'm afraid that I'll hurt someone."

"That's kinda the point," Sanosuke pointed out, pleased that Tae had said he had saved her.

"I still couldn't," she protested.

"She doesn't need to," said Yahiko, suddenly. "I won't let any drunks hurt you, Tsubame."

Kaoru and Sanosuke looked at each other, eyebrows raised. Kenshin saw this and frowned.

"Arigatou, Yahiko-kun," Tsubame said, brushing her hand with his.

Yahiko turned scarlet and glared at Sanosuke, who was trying hard not to laugh. Tsubame, who was also a slight shade of red, hurried over to another stall. As soon as Tsubame was out of earshot, Sanosuke burst out laughing.

"Some romance in your life, eh, Yahiko?" he asked, nudging the boy in the ribs.

"Shut up, Ondori atama!" Yahiko yelled. "At least I have some romance!"

"I have romance!" Sanosuke shouted back, outraged.

Kenshin's ears pricked up at the sound of this. He watched Kaoru try to calm the two down, a question forming in his mind. With whom was this romance with? He knew he would be nosy by asking him, but Kenshin couldn't help it. He had to know. He would ask him on the way home.

"Kenshin?" asked Kaoru, startling him. "Can I have some help with these two? They're causing a scene and Tae-san might kick us out, regardless of how good of friends we are."

"Oh, uh, sure," he said. "Uh, Sano? Yahiko? Can you two please stop fighting? Tae-dono will make us leave and that means no food. We don't have much at the dojo."

Sanosuke and Yahiko froze.

"No food?" Yahiko asked, horrified. "I'll starve!"

Kaoru rolled her eyes. "No, you won't. I think you can survive without one meal. We'll all take a trip to the market tomorrow, since, apparently, we didn't purchase the right things."

The two settled back, grumbling how important food was.

Kaoru leaned over and whispered to Kenshin. "Nice thinking. I should have realized that the threat of no food would get them to stop."

Kenshin swallowed the lump in his throat that had formed when she leaned in close. He could smell her hair, scented like jasmine. He smiled and drank in her smell before replying.

"To them, food is the world."

Sanosuke tugged on Kaoru's hair. " We can hear you, Jouchan," he said, still gripping the girl's ponytail and grinning.

"Well, it's true," Kaoru said, easing her hair out of Sanosuke's large hands. Their fingers brushed and their cheeks turned pink. "Now give me back my hair!"

Kenshin was not pleased. He had seen the way the two had blushed when their fingers had touched. It may have been light, but his perceptive eyes picked it up. This was not good. Was Kaoru Sanosuke's love interest? He had to know, especially for his own sanity. If he was leaving for Kyoto, he didn't want Sanosuke taking what was his, or nearly his.

Getting a little possessive, now aren't we? came a familiar sneering voice.

I thought you went back to sleep! Kenshin thought angrily.

Yes. But you've been so much fun as of late. When you're like this, I can break past the line you have to keep me in, Battousai thought lazily. It's quite fun actually.

Just leave me alone!

What? You can't stand the thought of your best friend having the courage to do what you won't? Battousai asked maliciously.

No, Kenshin shot back. Sano can do what ever he wants.

You really don't believe that, Battousai said to Kenshin matter-of-factly. You know that you can't stand the thought of him protecting her in your place.


Holding her…

I said stop.

Touching her…

Please! Enough. Stop.

Kissing her…

Just stop!

Making love to her.

"Stop!" Kenshin said forcefully, cheeks red with anger.

Kaoru, Sanosuke, and Yahiko looked at him oddly. He flushed even more and muttered an apology. He didn't notice Kaoru's worried look. Great. Now his friends would think that he was going crazy. Nothing seemed to be going right.

Maybe you are going crazy, Battousai said.

I told you to go away, Kenshin told Battousai.

You are going crazy. You talk to your other personality. I'm going to have a fun time with you.

Just leave me be!

Only for now. I'll be seeing you a lot sooner than you think, Battousai informed him and went silent.

A gentle hand on his shoulder made him start. He looked and locked his emotionless, violet eyes with Kaoru's compassionate, azure eyes. He felt a fluttery feeling in his stomach.

"Kenshin, are you okay?" Kaoru asked, concerned. "You're pale and have been spacing out ever since we left the dojo. What's wrong?"

He inhaled slowly and forced himself to smile. "I'm fine, Kaoru-dono. I'm just tired. Don't worry about me," he said brightly.

Sanosuke frowned at this. Kaoru was only trying to see if the he was okay, yet Kenshin was pushing her away. And not for the first time. The poor girl didn't understand why she was being given the cold shoulder. Sanosuke sighed mentally. He needed a surefire way that Kaoru would make him stay overnight at the dojo. He saw Tae serve something to the people across from them. He grinned. Perfect.

"Tae!" Sanosuke called cheerfully.

Tae glided over. "Yes, Sagara-san?"

"Can you bring some sake, please? I need a drink."

"Right away."

Kenshin looked sharply at Sanosuke. Feeling his eyes him, Sanosuke turned and smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. His eyes held a warning and a threat. Kenshin's own eyes narrowed at this. Sanosuke had never looked at him like that before, not even when they had fought. This did not bode well.

As Tae set the sake in front of Sanosuke, Kaoru looked at him uncertainly. "Are you sure that's a good idea?" she asked him.

"Since when has anything I've ever done been a good idea, Jouchan?" he solicited, winking at her.

"You're acting like his mother, Busu," Yahiko said, picking up his cup of green tea. "God, he is twenty-three."

Kaoru chewed her bottom lip. "I guess your right," she said. "Sorry, Sanosuke. You're old enough to make your own decisions. But if you drink it, you are staying at the dojo."

Sanosuke smiled and tapped Kaoru's small nose with a long finger. "We'll see," he said, giving her another hearty wink.

Kenshin was getting angrier and angrier by the moment. He saw Sanosuke's plans. He was going to get drunk, worrying Kaoru so much that she would make him sleep in one of the other extra rooms she had. Sanosuke would be there when he left. Perfect. If Kenshin's nerves hadn't been frayed a few seconds ago, they were now. Sanosuke was no purposefully flirting with Kaoru in front of him.

He was doing it as a way to get Kenshin to stay in Tokyo. Kenshin know that much. But Sanosuke and his flirtations were making Battousai come out more. Every time Sanosuke looked at or touched Kaoru, both sides of him silently growled in anger. Battousai was right. Sanosuke had the courage to do what he could not. Kenshin was sure that he heard the slight grumbling of Battousai about how his rurouni counterpart was a pansy and wouldn't stop the spiky-haired idiot from touching his property.

"Kenshin? Kenshin!" Kaoru waved her hand in front of the redhead's face. "Kenshin!"

"What?" he growled, forgetting who he was, where he was, and whom he was talking with.

Kaoru flinched at the icy tome and her eyes filled up with crystalline tears. She let her bangs fall over her face, obscuring her. She tried to make it seem like she wasn't crying, when both Sanosuke and Yahiko knew she was. Kenshin was still trapped in his mind, unaware of what he was doing, yet at the same time, perfectly aware of what he was doing.

"Jeez, Kenshin!" Sanosuke said, shaking Kenshin out of his trance and shooting a glance at the silently crying girl beside him. "What the hell is your problem today? Jouchan's only trying to help!"

"Yeah," Yahiko chimed. "Why're you being so mean?"

Kaoru stood up, head still own and walked off the platform. Kenshin tentatively reached out his hand and touched her wrist. She recoiled. He pulled back his hand, taken aback. Kaoru never flinched, not even when he was Battousai. Kaoru hurried away from their table and out the door. Kenshin went to stand to go after her, but Sanosuke's gruff voice stopped him.

"Don't," he said. Kenshin resettled himself. "I don't know why you're taking out everything on Kaoru, but stop."

Kenshin's eye twitched slightly. Sanosuke rarely called Kaoru by her name. But his friend was right. He was taking everything out on Kaoru when she had done nothing. Kenshin glanced at Yahiko. The boy was silent, but he was frowning. Wonderful.

Sanosuke stood up.

"What are you doing?" Yahiko asked.

"Looking for Jouchan. Stay here," he said, but looked at Kenshin with stern brown eyes. They made Kenshin feel like an adolescent and he didn't like it.

Sanosuke left, leaving Yahiko and Kenshin shifting uncomfortably in the awkward silence. The people seated across from them were staring curiously. They had seen the whole incident. Kenshin glared at them and they quickly looked at their food. Yahiko cleared his throat, glancing at Kenshin, who was sipping hid green tea trying to pretend nothing had happened.

Tae came with their food. "Oh! Where are Kaoru-chan and Sagara-san?" she asked, placing the hot beef pot in front of the two.

"They'll be back," was all Kenshin said.

Tae gave Yahiko a startled look. He shrugged and said thank you. Tae nodded and scurried away. Yahiko picked up his bowl and shot Kenshin a disgusted look. The redhead didn't see. He was too busy looking at the exit for sign of Sanosuke and Kaoru.

Sanosuke threaded his way through the crowded restaurant, looking for Kaoru. He spotted Tsubame and asked if she had seen the raven-haired girl. Busy taking orders, she quickly pointed to the exit. Sanosuke thanked her and went towards the door.

He actually heard Kaoru before he saw her. She was sobbing quietly, leaning on the side of the Akebeko. He reached out and touched her shoulder. She turned and gasped.

"I'm fine!" Kaoru exclaimed, wiping away tears, only to have more over her cheeks. "Really, I am. I'm just being silly."

Sanosuke looked down at her. In the dim light that came from the restaurant, he could see that her eyes were red from crying. "No, you're not," he said, laying his hands on her shoulders.

She glanced up at him and completely broke down. She threw herself into his arms, crying hysterically. "What am I doing wrong?" she asked wetly. "He keeps being short and dismissive with me!"

Sanosuke was startled at first. He stiffened when Kaoru threw herself into his arms, but he quickly put his arms around her small, shaking frame and pulled her close, resting his cheek on her soft hair. He faintly noticed it smelled like jasmine. Her hot tears burned his skin.

"Shh," he whispered. "You're not doing anything wrong. Nothing at all."

"Then what is it? Why can't he let me in?" she asked hoarsely.

"I don't know, Jouchan," Sanosuke answered honestly. "I'm sorry."

"The food's here," came a voice behind them.

The two jumped apart, startled. Kenshin was staring at them coldly, his eyes unreadable, though his red cheeks gave away the fact he was angry. He turned away abruptly and stalked back into the restaurant. Kaoru choked back another sob while Sanosuke cast her a sympathetic look. She gave him a watery smile and wiped her cheeks for the last time.

"I'll be there in a second," she said, motioning him inside of the bustling Akebeko. "I'll try and make it look like I wasn't acting like a baby.

Sanosuke's eyes softened and Kaoru was stunned at the look. It was surprising and slightly unnerving. She shivered.

"You aren't a baby. You were justified," he said in a tone that Kaoru couldn't identify, and disappeared into the restaurant.

She stood outside, perplexed. Everyone except Yahiko was acting so strange. Kaoru was so overwhelmed with the new students that had joined the dojo, the shortage of money, despite the fact that she had more students, and Kenshin's strange and unexplainable behavior. The immense and deep throb she had felt almost the whole time in the Akebeko became a full-fledged headache. Just what she needed.

Taking a deep breathe, she swiped at her eyes to dislodge any stray tears and walking into the Akebeko.

If anyone at the table noticed that when Kaoru returned she didn't sit next to Kenshin and only picked at her food, they didn't say anything. When Tae came to get the money, she glanced at Kaoru and her eyes opened ever so slightly. As Yahiko handed Tae the money, Kaoru stood up and said a quiet 'thank you' before making her way to the exit. Sanosuke and Kenshin followed her.

Before Tae could open her mouth, Yahiko shook his head. "Not today. I'll tell you when I come in tomorrow." The boy looked worried.

The woman nodded and bade him goodnight. This couldn't be good.

"Thank you for the meal, Yahiko," Kaoru said as the boy came outside. "It was good."

Yahiko looked up at his teacher. She was paler than usual and had dark circles under her typically bright eyes, which were dull and flat. He reached out and squeezed her hand. She smiled at him tiredly.

"I just wish you had eaten more, Kaoru," he said as they walked through the streets. Sanosuke and Kenshin were behind them.

"Don't trouble yourself, Gaki," she said dotingly. "I just wasn't all that hungry."

Yahiko frowned at the older girl's lie, but ignored it. He talked to her about the dojo's new students to change the subject. Behind them, Sanosuke and Kenshin were talking quietly.

"What the hell is wrong with you, Kenshin?" Sanosuke asked brusquely.

Kenshin stared straight ahead. "Nothing," he said shortly.

"Nothing, my ass! You've been a complete dick to Jouchan tonight! She's really upset," Sanosuke quipped.

"I'm sure she told you that," Kenshin snapped, eyes burning amber in the dark.

Sanosuke glared at the smaller man. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Do you have feelings for Kaoru-dono?" Kenshin asked abruptly.

The ex-fighter-for-hire stopped dead in his tracks and gawked at Kenshin. "W-What?" he sputtered. "F-Feelings for Jouchan?" To Kenshin's annoyance, he could see a fiery blush on Sanosuke's cheeks in the moonlight.

"Yes," he said, voice clipped.

"Are you god-damned blind?" Sanosuke asked furiously. Kenshin stiffened and his hands shifted to his sakabatou. Sanosuke noticed and backed away slightly. "It's not me that girl loves, you fool. It's you. If you hadn't noticed, I've been trying to woe a certain woman doctor."

Through his anger and frustration, Kenshin felt a slight feeling of relief. At least Sanosuke wasn't trying to steal Kaoru from him. He blinked. He made Kaoru sound like a possession, not a human being that he loved. Kenshin shivered unnoticeably. That made his sound like Battousai.


"Yeah, 'oh'," Sanosuke snarled. He spun on his heel and moved to catch up with Kaoru and Yahiko, leaving Kenshin in the dusty street.

Kenshin tossed restlessly in his futon, his eyes moving listlessly around the room. He could hear Yahiko's stentorian snores on one side and an occasional grunt from Sanosuke on the other side. Sanosuke's plan to be at the dojo when Kenshin left had succeeded. Kaoru insisted that he stay in an extra room for the night and laid a futon out for him before disappearing into her room for the night. The supercilious look on Sanosuke's face vexed Kenshin to no end.

He heard the faint chime of the clock in the sitting room strike 1:00am. He pulled of his blanket with hands ice cold from dread. He dressed quickly in a fresh gi and hakama before haphazardly stuffing all of his clothes into a cloth bag. He didn't want to leave any physical trace of himself for Kaoru to find. It would be too hard.

After folding his futon and storing it in the corner, Kenshin picked up the letter he wrote Kaoru and walked out of his room for the last time. He went across the hall to Kaoru's room and paused. Should he go in there? Would he change his mind if he saw Kaoru's angelic, sleeping face? He slid open the door softly and proceeded into the room.

Kenshin's heart ached at the sight of the redoubtable kendo teacher looking so vulnerable. Even as she slept, a smile graced her features. Kaoru turned and sighed in her sleep. As he knelt down besides the dreaming girl, Kenshin's body prickled with desire. He couldn't help himself. He reached out and traced her milky cheek down to her strong jawbone with a calloused finger. He gasped at the softness.

Getting up and moving away from Kaoru was like being ripped apart by a sword. Kenshin had to stop himself from crying out in despair. He moved to a small vanity-like table in the corner and placed his letter next to Kaoru's stiff-bristled brush. Turning away, a flash of color caught Kenshin's attention. A piece of cloth was peeking out from a drawer. Placing his hand on the cold, brass knob, he pulled the drawer open, feeling ashamed for snooping through Kaoru's room.

The drawer contained her hair ribbons, jumbled all together. He reached in and drew out a light blue ribbon. The fabric felt silky on his fingers. Kenshin carefully closed the drawer, but kept the ribbon fisted in his hand. He needed to leave and now. If he stayed any longer, he would change his mind.

"Goodbye, Kaoru-dono."

Shouldering his pack after sliding Kaoru's door shut, Kenshin cautiously made his way to the yard. He stepped onto the porch and hesitated.

Having second thoughts? asked Battousai cruelly.

Kenshin ignored him and stepped determinedly off the porch. A shadow pulled away from the wall, startling him. He dropped his back and his hands flew to his sakabatou. Kaoru's ribbon fluttered to the ground. Kenshin relaxed as he recognized the tall, muscular figure.

"So, you're really going?" Sanosuke asked quietly.

"Yes," Kenshin replied, picking his bag back up.

"You missed something," Sanosuke said, motioning to Kaoru's ribbon. "Took a souvenir, huh?"

Kenshin colored and swiftly bent down to pick up the momentarily discarded ribbon.

"Leave anything for Jouchan, or just memories?" inquired Sanosuke sneeringly.

Kenshin turned away and walked towards the gate. Sanosuke fell into step beside him. Kenshin looked at the formidable man sharply.

"Keep up your end of the bargain," he said.

"Coward," Sanosuke spat, knowing full well that it was impolitic to provoke the former killer.

Kenshin stiffened, but kept walking. He opened the gate and walked out into the street. Sanosuke followed him out, watching the redhead walk away from the only place that had everything he needed. Finally, Himura Kenshin, formerly Hitokiri Battousai was swallowed by the dark in the streets of Tokyo.

"Coward," Sanosuke whispered again and shut the gate, locking out the image of his best friend and comrade from his mind as well as the dojo.

Kenshin was gone.

Japanese Guide:

Ondori atama: rooster head

Please review! Arigatou!