Mailing List Madness!

A Rurouni Kenshin Fan-fiction

By the Dragon's Daughter

Chapter Five: Real Time

It was colder than a snowman's butt crack in the Dojo. The hot homemade chai latte helped. Kaoru had a battery-powered teakettle stashed in the Dojo's kitchen, so she had no shortage of hot beverages.

She was –however- short on answers and the temperature wasn't helping her find them any quicker.

The renovations had stopped a long time ago when she'd run low on money. The building was barely up to code, but Kaoru still wasn't making enough to heat it. She kept lights in the place because she was rarely around and the bill was negligent. It was more convenient to have power available in to Dojo for when she did want to go install cabinets or something. At the moment she just wished that she'd gone ahead and installed the furnace when she'd thought about it.

"… but noooo, you wanted to wait until after you'd finished the training hall. Next thing on the Dojo budget is heat and air. God, it's cold…" Kaoru sighed and burrowed into her little nest of accumulated blankets. The futon was leftover from the guest bedroom. Most of the furniture was in the storage shed and the garage, but Kaoru had dragged out a few choice items. It was sort of cozy in her old bedroom, if by 'cozy' you meant 'small and frigid'.

It didn't help that the nightmares were getting so bad that she couldn't bear to close her eyes for fear that she'd see Kenshin standing in that blood drenched alley with his eyes literally burning in the darkness and a sword clenched in one trembling fist as he looked down in disgust at the man he'd murdered… no, 'murder' implied that the thing that had attacked Kaoru was even vaguely human. No, Kenshin had slaughtered that… that…

The ironic thing was that she'd started that day happier than she'd ever been in her entire life.

She could remember the elation in perfect detail. Kenshin had asked her to move in. It made perfect sense. His apartment was so much closer to her High school and he was out of the city so often that it was really asking too much to have Aoshi or Misao to check up on it. Those weren't the reasons he'd given her when he asked, but that was just icing on the cake.

"I want you to be here." He'd told her the night before as they'd lain tangled together on the couch ignoring a movie in favor of one another. "I come here and all I can think is 'How long until Kaoru will visit again?' It isn't home anymore unless you're here with me."

What sane red-blooded heterosexual woman would have said no to that?

The thrill had carried her all through the day and right into the afternoon when she'd nipped by the coffee shop to get something sweet, hot, and caffeinated. That day had been too good for a mere mint hot cocoa and she'd come out of the shop with a venti mocha bearing a triple shot of green mint flavor and a peppermint swizzle stick.

She hadn't expected anyone to pull her off the street and corner her in an alleyway she was positive hadn't existed there before. What had followed… Kaoru shuddered. If the man had been any normal mugger she'd have been able to handle it, but when his face had started to melt…

"I don't know what was worse, when that man started to change or when Kenshin arrived and… and…"

"You touched what belongs to me. For that you die." Even now, the words sounded so strange. Kenshin's voice had changed from the light tenor she'd come to love to a deep resonant baritone. He hadn't spoken above a whisper and yet his voice had filled every nook and cranny of the alley.

Who… no, what was he?

Kaoru had been training in martial arts her entire life and even she could barely follow his movements as he methodically took the bearded man apart limb from limb with almost surgical precision. Her conscious mind kept insisting that the man had simply exploded because it didn't want to process what had actually happened. Kenshin had slaughtered him… like he knew how.

… like he'd done it before.

… like he did it everyday.

That thought was the one that kept making her brain want to run away screaming, but that wasn't half as frightening as the realization that she still wanted to go into his arms and listen to him tell her it would be all right.

Time went strange after that. The next thing that Kaoru could really remember, she was curled up in the corner of her father's old bedroom, rocking back and forth, and making a high pitched whine in the back of her throat that made her wince to think of even now. That was where she'd been for the past week, trying to compute what exactly had gone on.

'… and my so-called friends.' Kaoru's mouth twisted as though she'd tasted something sour. Of course her immediate reaction was to call Misao and Megumi for moral support only to find out… "They knew. They knew this whole time and they kept it from me." Kaoru hated the bitter little laugh that crawled out of her. "It was all one big joke on Kaoru. They… they… how could they?" In retrospect, she should have guessed that Megumi and Misao knew. They worked with him. How could they not know about this?

How foolish of her to assume that they'd been kept in the dark the same way she had.

All at once she wanted to cry again, but she couldn't manage more than a few dry sobs. She'd cried herself out days ago. Now she was only numb… in more ways than one. "I want to go home…" She was cold and tired and worn out. Still, deep inside all she wanted was to go home –and home was Kenshin's arms despite everything.

"Then come home."

Kaoru's heart stuttered to a halt in her chest and he gaze snapped up to the man who stood in her bedroom door gripping the frame with a white-knuckled grasp. For a second she almost didn't recognize him. He looked as though he hadn't changed clothes in days. His hair was dull and tangled. She couldn't even begin to guess when he'd last slept, but his eyes were red rimmed and underscored by deep shadows. He took a step forward.

A high thin noise of panic snaked out of Kaoru's throat as she shrunk back and tried to bolt to her feet, but the blankets tangled around her legs and instead she staggered forward. Kenshin flickered and she fell into strong steady arms instead of dusty tatami. Uncontrollable shivers raced through her as he righted her on her feet and jerked her into an embrace so tight that it was almost painful.

"Don't…" His breath was warm and harsh against her throat. "Please, dear God, don't run away from me. This is why I couldn't tell you."

Kaoru yelped as he swept her up into his arms. His grip only tightened when she instinctively fought him. "Kenshin, put me down this inst…ant…" Kaoru glared up at him, but instead she found herself transfixed by a pair of otherworldly yellow eyes that fairly glowed in the dim light. No, they were glowing. If she hadn't believed it before, there was no escaping the awful knowledge that was only confirmed by the elongated incisors in his grimace.

"I will not leave you here." That deep bass rumble echoed under his voice like a leviathan deep beneath the surface of a placid lake. Kaoru shivered as he turned on his heel and carried her out of her old bedroom and out of the Dojo. Doors opened to let him pass then locked and closed in his wake. Kaoru tried not to watch, but morbid fascination held her in its thrall.

Without speaking, Kenshin placed her in the passenger's seat of his benighted BMW and belted her in. Kaoru let him and didn't even question why the interior of the car was still warm when the engine read stone cold and snowdrifts had piled up against the sides of the car. How long he had been there at the door watching her, listening to her talk to herself…

Kaoru didn't want to think about that anymore than she wanted to know how the snowdrifts vanished before Kenshin started up the car.

The trip was made in complete silence. Kaoru could think of nothing to say that she wanted to discuss with a sleep deprived man while he was driving over patchy ice, although Kenshin seemed to be using that mysterious power of his to change the road conditions to suit him. They pulled up not in front of Kenshin's apartment building, but rather in front of a medium sized house in a picturesque sub-division. Kaoru looked at the building as Kenshin got out. It looked like the sort of house most of her friends had grown up in as children. The trim was green and the siding was white. Lilac bushes lined the front blocking easy access to the windows. Someone kept the lawn in immaculate condition.

Kaoru's first incongruous thought was that someone was going to raise a family in that house.

Kenshin opened her door and didn't wait for her to get out on her own. Instead he unbuckled her and swept her back up into his arms. Without pausing he kicked the car door shut and strode up the icy walk to the front door of that beautiful little house. Kaoru's sharp intake of breath seemed to amuse him as that door opened for him as easily as the doors in the Dojo had…

There was not a great deal of furniture inside. Clearly, this was not an active residence, but Kenshin seemed to know his way around quite well. For instance, he made for the staircase with unerring accuracy. Perhaps she shouldn't have been surprised to hear water already running in the house. The way lights flickered on a few paces ahead of Kenshin was a dead giveaway that he was still using that mysterious power.

Kenshin bypassed a small dark bedroom and went straight for the master suit at the end of the hallway the stairs let out onto. The door swung open for him… in fact, unless it was Kaoru's overactive imagination at work, the doors in this house fairly quivered in anticipation to do Kenshin's will.

The master suite was bare of furniture save a rather unused looking mattress that might still be in its factory wrapping, but Kenshin didn't pause there either. The bathroom was already lit and the large garden style tub almost full when they arrived. Kenshin wasted no time in setting Kaoru on her feet and proceeded to strip her.

"Eek! Kenshin… what are you…HEY!" Kaoru's protests were ignored and her stiff attempts at warding him off were deftly evaded. The next thing she knew she was completely naked and Kenshin dunked her into the steaming water.

The heat hit her like a brick wall. For a long moment all Kaoru could do was clasp the edge of the tub and try to catch her breath. It wasn't much of a surprise when the water level rose with the addition of a second body and Kaoru found herself planted firmly in Kenshin's lap as he massaged her arms and held as much of her in the hot water as he could without drowning her.

Kaoru found she had about just enough energy to lay limp against Kenshin's chest as the heat soaked into portions of her that she worried might never be warm again. How cold had she been anyway? Certainly it couldn't have been that bad. She knew the watch signs for chilblains and hypothermia and she hadn't been suffering from either. 'I was only uncomfortable. There was nothing dangerous going on…' Kaoru closed her eyes as Kenshin's hands slid up and down her back. She wanted so badly to just be able to just give into this feeling and let the questions rest, but she couldn't ignore what had happened… no matter how much she wanted to pretend that things were just like they'd been before.

"Kenshin…?" Oh, how she hated that weak little quiver in her voice. She sounded like the doe-eyed heroine in a lurid book. She was a strong modern woman, for God's sake! Never mind that the way Kenshin's hand seized on her when she spoke and then deliberately relaxed made the butterflies in her stomach go crazy. "I…what… I don't even know where to begin…"

"It's all right." Kenshin's breath caressed her ear and tickled her cheek. His breath came out in a slow rattling exhalation. "You're here. We're home. It's going to be all right. We can talk the rest out now. I've got you back."

Kenshin had her sort of spooned against his chest with his legs flanking her on either side as he held her with both arms around her waist. Kaoru wiggled around so that she could pillow her cheek on his chest and return that embrace. She tucked her legs up so that Kenshin could relax into a sort of Indian position. It was more comfortable than she'd expected. "What are you?" The question came out more easily than she thought it would.

Kenshin buried his nose and mouth in her hair and stayed that way for a long while, just breathing her in. "I'm a demon." He said finally. "That's oversimplifying it, but your people's concept of 'demon' was based loosely on what I am. I was created originally to police my own kind, an enforcer if you will. Then as a punishment I was banished to the human world and granted free will."

"That's a punishment?" Kaoru was incredulous. How was free will something to be endured?

A rusty grinding laugh was Kenshin's reply. Softly, he kissed her throat. "I understand how you can't believe that, but consider for a second living a life where there is no uncertainty, no doubt. Imagine knowing your precise function and place in the world, no floundering for some kind of purpose…to have that higher mission." He shook his head. "It was my slave collar, but it was a light one and it did not chafe. To be deprived of it nearly drove me mad."

Kaoru lifted her face from his chest and looked into Kenshin's troubled and tired gaze. His eyes were still the same shade as fine old amber. She caressed his smooth cheek and reflected that this was just one more sign of what he was not. Kenshin didn't need to shave because he was not truly human, or at least she assumed so. She couldn't imagine him taking the time to shave when he clearly hadn't bathed or slept in so long. He just appeared that way. "What did you do?" She asked.

Kenshin's fingers laced into the fine hair at the nap of Kaoru's neck and knotted into it. "I failed a task given to me by my master. He ordered that I should kill an Elder Creature." His mouth twisted. "The Elder amused himself with me for a while and then sent me back to my master with a message. As punishment for my failure I was expelled from Hell and sent here. I am less now and more in some ways. Some say I am a different creature. I'm not sure… but I do know that I had no real desire for anything until the day we met. I wasn't made to want, but still… I want you." His hands cupped her face. "You are everything I've never dared dream of. When you… when we…"

"Then why didn't you tell me?" Kaoru tried to keep the petulance out of her voice, but she was just too hurt. Damn it, she deserved a good whine after this! "It seems like everyone knew except me: Misao, Megumi, Sano, Aoshi… why was it so hard to let me in on this great big secret? Wasn't it more of a danger that I'd blindly stumble across the truth because everyone I know is involved in it? No, wait… that's exactly what happened!"

"It wasn't that simple. The decision was not mine alone to make." Kenshin caught her hand and lightly nibbled on her fingertips. The sensation of fangs prickling against her skin was not in fact unpleasant… just unfamiliar. "Kaoru, there are no half measures in this. If you know about me, then you must know about everything, and I couldn't make that decision for others. There had to be a consensus before you were brought into it. As it turns out, Gohei made the choice for us. I know you won't believe this, but I truly was going to tell you. I'd gotten clearance and you were approved for additional security. It was just… damn it all, this isn't the sort of thing one brings up in casual conversation!"

He would be logical.

"Why can't I stay angry with you?" Kaoru slumped in his arms and ignored the slow chuckle that rippled through Kenshin's chest. His arms tightened around her and he pressed a kiss to her temple.

"That would be because you love me too much." He suggested lightly… maybe even hopefully?

Kaoru sighed and snuggled back up against him. The water was making her sleepy, but she didn't want to fall asleep in this house. The bed didn't look terribly inviting. They still had to drive back to the apartment. Later she'd ask Kenshin some very pointed questions about the existence of this place and its intended purpose, but she suspected that she already knew.

There were still so many questions to be addressed. God knew she still owed her 'friends' a reaming, but here and now? She had Kenshin and that was enough.

Kenshin was watching her with a carefully neutral expression as she smiled up at him. "You're probably right." She admitted. "Don't push it, though."

His smile was a beautiful thing to see. "I won't." He promised.

"Good." Kaoru echoed his smile as he dipped his head in for a kiss.

fin

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End Mailing List Madness

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Seiyuu: Here it is! This is the fifth and final chapter of Mailing List Madness. Everyone thank the lovely Ariane for betaing this so quickly! Really, I am impressed!