Gah. This was supposed to be a long one-shot, but fourty pages is far to long to inflict on you lot in one setting. The second half is written and sitting on the beta-readers computer to be looked over. This is just a fun little story that I wrote that might spawn a squeal. If it does, its on the back burner of some of my other lengthy stories that I am attempting to write. Hope you all enjoy.
A quick reminder that on LJ I have started a writing community for those of you who are interested.
Warning: This chapter is fairly clean, but the next chapter will have some M content. This is a two chapter story.
Disclaimer: I do not own RK. Very sad.
Kaoru dug her heels in as Honey complained about the pace she was attempting to set. Both ignored the wind that was picking up and the dark hovering clouds. Kaoru needed time to think and she needed time away. The mountain had always been her sanctuary and even with the storm rising, she needed that privacy, she needed to rage. Tears burned at her eyes and she let Honey have her head, blinded.
It was getting colder but the carefully contained rage burning through her kept her warm. Honey stopped when they reached the clearing, and she swung down from her saddle and dropped to her knees, curling in on herself. Honey breathed heavily next to her, shivering in the cold. Kaoru dug her fingers into the earth and took ragged breaths. No matter how badly she wanted to scream and rage and rail, it would do her no good. Tears leaked between the eyes she had squeezed tightly together and she beat the ground with her fists, screaming tightly between her teeth to muffle the sounds. The sound of Honey wuffling her hair ended her rage as quickly as it had sparked and she pressed her face into the cold earth. "Daddy…."
Taking a deep breath she pushed up and wiped at her face. She didn't know how long she had been pressed into the dirt, but it was colder now and she needed to get back to the village. She turned and met the eyes of her favorite mare. Leaning forward she wrapped her hands around her neck. Enishi would make sure that Honey was sold to someone else. He would never let her keep her friend. "If Daddy was still alive, things would be different." She whispered into the mare's mane. "I'm sorry." Another glance around her beloved glade she swung up into the saddle and shivered. "I think we have stayed out too long, pretty one."
Honey moved into a brisk walk to warm her abused muscles and Kaoru crooned down at her friend with the promise of a hot mash and a warm blanket. She didn't know if it was because she wasn't looking, or if the winds had blinded her, but Honey, who had never done anything like it in her life, rammed her into a branch. Kaoru hardly remembered hitting the ground.
Kaoru woke up because Honey was nudging her awake. She had no idea how long she had lay there, but blood clung to her fingers when she brought her hand from her temple. She was so cold that her teeth were chattering and there was a fine dusting of snow on the ground. She had to grasp the dragging reigns in order to pull herself up and Honey moved slowly so she could stumble along. "I-I think w-we might be i-in trouble," Kaoru stuttered into her friend's mane. Honey nickered at her, and Kaoru closed her eyes and ducked, attempting to use her friend to block the biting wind. She was so cold.
Somewhere along the way she lost the feeling in her toes and fingers and stumbled to the ground; felt the cold seep into her clothing from the damp snow. It continued to fall down and she shivered. It was dark now and there was no way she was going to find her way home. Honey whined in complaint, stomping her foot in agitation. Kaoru was to cold to care.
Just before she lost consciousness she thought she heard the sound of someone shuffling their way through the snow.
Kaoru woke up feeling warm and drowsy and frowned as her view was obscured by the course strands of fur. The memory of the cold had her ducking a little firmer into the furs, but a sudden realization as she shifted had her frowning. She was rather naked. In fact, she was naked. That realization had her blinking rapidly. Nosing out of the end of the blankets she found that she was curled up in front of someone's happily blazing fire and even though she was missing her clothing, she was warm. She was trying to decide what she should do when the door opened and a male voice was heard.
"No, that does not make it…" a low growl rumbled from the area of the voice and she Kaoru shut her eyes again as the door shut and a cold breeze had her tucking back into the covers and shivering. The swearing had stopped and Kaoru heard the sound of logs being stacked.
"I wasn't expecting company," the male said finally. "Your clothes are drying."
Kaoru peeked upwards and found herself admiring long strands of red hair as the man placed another log on the fire. A quick scan of the space she could see without shifting her head said that she was alone with the man. Who had he been talking to? He turned from where he had been breathing and she found herself meeting a pair of violet eyes that seemed to reflect sparks of firelight oddly. "You should be warm now." He told her in a quieter tone than his gruff words moments before. She recognized a question when she heard one.
"Yes," she told him softly, wondering if the furs would swallow her whole if she thought about it hard enough. There was something about his eyes that had her nervous. People didn't have those blue-violet eyes. Long bangs only highlighted how pale his skin was and Kaoru wondered if she had been taken in by a hinalea or perhaps something worse. However, his expression softened out of the harsh lines as he watched her and he shook himself.
"I'm sorry," he apologized. "Dinner will be a while. I have some warm cider if you are interested."
Kaoru grasped the edge of the fur and assured herself that they weren't going to suddenly disappear. "My…clothes?" She finally managed to ask and she blinked when she though she saw him blush. It had to be the fire…
"They're drying," he said, returning to the gruff tone he had used early. He stood. "I wasn't expecting company and didn't bring…" he sighed. "My spare set is drying from its wash earlier. Here…" he moved away from her and brought back a soft blanket. "Maybe you can wrap…" he placed it down and turned stiffly, moving towards the table that had what appeared to be the makings for something to eat.
'Oookay,' Kaoru thought slowly. 'This is obviously a very awkward situation for both of us…'
Kenshin firmly kept his back to his unexpected guest and chopped the canned vegetables he had traded for on his way up the mountain. He had made sure he would have enough food to make it through the storm he had felt building. There was a small bag of beans over the in the corner he could soak the eat the sprouts to protect against certain problems, but it was the clear jar of honey he was hoarding.
You worry too much.
He gritted he teeth. He was not worrying to much. He wanted to remind the mountain whose fault his current predicament was, but he had long learned that pointing fingers would just irritate her. It had been close to five years since he had been on this particular mountain, but she was just as stubborn. 'I will have to hunt more than I originally thought,' he informed her crankily. 'I didn't plan on having a house-mate for this storm.' He sensed the mountain displeasure and he pressed his lips together as he pulled down a mug. 'I am not keeping her.'
It's warmer with two than one.
He almost dropped the pitcher of warm cider and rolled his eyes. It was like having a conversation with a two year old. He forced himself to ignore the images her words had conjured, the soft curves he had been forced to warm with his own body. Shaking his head to clear the image he turned and swallowed.
She was tucking the ends of the blanket into place, securing the toga-wrap she turned the soft blanket he had bought some time ago. Unfortunately, it left the expanse of her shoulders and collarbones bare to the firelight and her dark hair was still pulled back into the high-tail she had secured it in. He hadn't thought to take it down. Even the vivid red of the cut across her temple didn't really detract from her slender form. She had tucked the furs around her legs and he forced himself under control. She took the mug with a quiet thanks and he nodded and went back to chopping food.
He hadn't been able to afford a lot of canned goods. The glass was expensive this far north. There was a hunk of salted pork, some weathered onions and potatoes, and a few bags of dried fruit. He had expected to have to hunt and had spent the past two days laying out his traps. He knew that she would fill the traps. Any sense of guilt he would have felt had died out years ago. There was a large bag of salt so he could keep some of the meat if he didn't want to turn it all to jerky or smoke it. He frowned as he considered his options, revising his plans now that he had two mouths to feed.
She is small. She will loose weight easily. I shall take care of the meat.
Kenshin paused in his chopping. 'How long will this storm last?' He mentally asked. He had to force himself to ask his questions mentally. He didn't want to startle the girl, and he doubted hearing the second half of a conversation would be reassuring.
Big white. Long time.
Kenshin frowned to himself. He hoped the girl's family wouldn't be too worried about her. He frowned as he rolled that idea around in his head. The girl had a family and he would need to get her down the mountain before they declared her dead. He wasn't sure how superstitious this particular village was, but he knew that in some places, he would have to find a new village for her.
Kenshin sighed as he walked over to the pot he had been heating over the fire and scraped the onions and potatoes he had chopped up, along with pits of salted pork, and went back and gathered the finely chopped spices and added those as well. 'Not mine,' he shot back. He wasn't sure the lack of response was comforting.
Kaoru sipped the drink he had given her and watched him bustle about. It surprised her how agile he was, moving around and balancing things. She wondered if he even remembered her presence camped out in front of the fire.
The cabin itself was sparse. There wasn't a bed or anything and she wondered if he had been sleeping on the furs. They weren't uncomfortable, they were actually surprisingly thick, but she wondered where he would sleep. 'Hopefully with you.' The thought came unbidden and Kaoru mentally whapped herself.
She felt a little better now that she was wrapped in his blanket, although she wasn't sure why. It smelled faintly of ginger and pine and she found it comforting. There was something comforting about his presence, now that she was a little less leery, that surprised her. There wasn't anything special in the way he dressed. He wore a pair of clean breeches that looked worn but well cared for, and he had rolled the sleeves of his tunic up past his elbows. His only vanity seemed to be the length of long hair that continued to fascinate her as he moved. It hit several inches past his shoulder blades and caught the light with bursts of color: pale red, scarlet, and deeper crimson. She wondered faintly if the ends bleached out in the summer.
There was an air of power that surrounded his slender frame though. She wouldn't have noticed it if she hadn't grown up around horses and watching the practices that came with every summer to prepare for fending off bandits in the winter. There was an air of confidence that only the stallion who led the herd ever emitted and that grace came with years of training. She wondered where he was from. Traditionally her people were small and dark, with a few brunettes and the occasional blond thrown in. She had never seen anyone with hair as bright as his. It must have been annoying when he had been fighting.
She wondered what his name was.
She also wondered what she needed to do to spark conversation. "How long was I asleep?" Kaoru asked quietly. She wasn't sure he had heard her at first, but then he turned and offered her a kind smile.
"Only a few hours; you were quite lucky. It took me a while to warm you up." He turned back to the heavy pot over the fire and Kaoru was almost certain that he was blushing that time.
"Thank you," she told him quietly.
"If you don't mind my asking, what were you doing out in that storm?" He said, turning to look at her with grave purple eyes. "You had to know the storm was coming."
Kaoru wondered if that was his version of a chastisement and she shrugged, looking at the fire, wondering how she was going to phrase this without telling him the truth. "I had…an argument with someone." Kaoru finally said. She met his eyes squarely. "Honey rammed me into a tree; otherwise I would have made it home on time." Well, that was a little bit of an embellishment, but he didn't need to know that.
She speaks in part truths.
Kenshin was surprised when the mountain spoke up. She normally didn't feel the need to give him details, not when simply waiting out would give him the truth. The light change in her Chi had already clued him in that she wasn't speaking honestly, but she wasn't lying. She probably had gotten into an argument, and he wondered mildly what type of argument would send a young woman to the mountaintop.
Now that did surprise him. He continued to stir the stew, ignoring the way she watched him. He hadn't seen any physical wounds on her pale body, but that didn't mean that the mountain wasn't referring to something else. 'How badly?'
Pain. Tears. Cried out to the earth.
Which would explain why she ended up on his doorstep; if the mountain thought that she needed help with something and that she was crying out for it, she would have responded. Feeling a little relief at having that solved he turned back to the girl and found himself looking into a pair of dark-blue eyes that gleamed with something that was too fast to catch. He hadn't expected that. Then she smiled, and the shadows were chased away.
"My name is Kaoru," she told him, her voice holding a hint of mischief. "Do you also have a name?"
Name… "Kenshin," he replied lightly. "Dinner is almost done." He went to clean up his mess to distract himself from that smile.
'You're not helping me out,' Kenshin shot out the mountain irritably. 'She doesn't want anything from me other than someplace to keep warm as the storm dies down and you and I both know it.'
The mountain didn't answer and he felt a bit of the bottom of his stomach drop down. Either she didn't want to lie to him, or was determined to let him find out that one on his own. Swallowing, he berated himself. He should know better than to bait the mountain. Taking a deep breath he set the jug of cider near the pallet and then filled her bowl. "Here you go Miss Kaoru." Formality. He needed formality.
She wrinkled her nose at him. "Kaoru please," she told him in a firm tone. "You saved my life and I don't think with only two of us here that you need to worry about offending someone."
The slightly panicked expression in his eyes was cute. In fact, most of his reactions so far could be considered cute. Kaoru was quite aware of her own lack of attributes. It was the reason Enishi was going to get away with shoving her off on Gohei. She was past the prime marrying age, and as far as she knew, no one else had asked for her. Being in the presence of a man who was flustered by something was almost encouraging.
She blushed a little at that. The way his gaze sharpened a little as she felt her face heat caused her to glare at him. She wasn't sure why that expression in his eyes had her hackles rising, but something about it set off fizzies in her stomach and she didn't appreciate it.
The stew was salty but good and she ate it all. He offered to give her seconds but she declined. This was more food than she was used to getting once Enishi and his friends had cleaned out the pot and far tastier to boot. However, the heat and the full tummy were making her sleepy and she bit down on a yawn.
Not that it really did her any good.
"You should get some sleep," Kenshin spoke up suddenly and Kaoru turned to give him a surprised glance. He offered her a half smile. "You've had a long day."
Kaoru blinked at him for long moments before nodding. However, something had been bothering her about the lack of bedding. Taking a deep breath, she broached the subject. Being timid had never gotten her anywhere around her family back home. "Where are you going to sleep?" She hadn't meant for her words to come out like a challenge and she wanted to smack herself.
"The furs are yours," Kenshin was quick to assure her but paused when she started shaking her head. "Miss?"
"Kaoru please," she corrected him automatically, a slow plan taking root in her brain as she stared at him. Maybe it was a long shot…Enishi's words danced in her brain for a moment and she couldn't quite shake them. "How much wood do you have stored?" She asked him quietly. "Because this storm is going to last for a while, isn't it?"
She watched the way his shoulders tensed. She should have known he was honorable, even though she hadn't a stitch of clothing to herself right then, but the way his seemed to withdraw into himself only proved that. The little bud of an idea grew stronger and she held her breath.
"There is enough." He told her finally. He offered her a smile. "I will be fine."
Kaoru looked at him. "Fine," she picked up the top fur and tossed it to him. "You get one and I get one." She tried not to grin at his blank stare. "And please, perhaps my clothing is dry now?"
Kenshin moved on auto-pilot to locate the breeches and tunic she had arrived in and frowned when he grasped them. They were thin. Taking a deep breath he put them back and grasped his own. They weren't new by any means, but certain…places were cranky if he didn't replace his own garments when they reached a little worse than what Kaoru wore. He rooted out a pair of thick socks and walked back inside.
"Your clothing isn't completely dry," he tried to sound apologetic but wasn't sure he pulled it off. He set down his clothing and turned and went back to the table and fidgeted. The rustling of clothing had him pressing his hand into the table until it hurt.
"I'm covered," her voice broke the silence. He turned and wondered how a woman could look that adorable in clothing too large. The pants hit the ground and she scowled a she struggled with the sleeves, eventually giving up. She settled down on the fur on the bottom and he frowned as she half-rolled. The furs were substantial but they weren't large. It hardly covered her.
"Don't," she said looking up at him. "Even think about giving me your fur once I fall asleep." Her eyes were narrowed. "I am not pleasant when I am cranky."
He swallowed. Since he had been thinking about it, he could hardly refute her claims. Settling down in his own corner, he watched her.
It was cold. Kaoru gritted her teeth to keep from shivering. She was sleepy, but it was too cold to drop off. However, the day dragged at her, so she was dozing when she finally heard the sounds of footsteps and the feeling of something warm settling next to her. She felt his blanket settling over her and thought she might have heard him muttering under his breath. Rolling over Kaoru burrowed into his side. "Sn'bad." She mumbled into the warmth of his throat. "…verr'comfrtoble…nothin'to…worry'bout…" Finally warm, she drifted off to sleep with the sensation of a pair of arms wrapping about her waist.
Kaoru woke up with the feeling that she shouldn't be alone. She snuggled into the fur and grumbled in the back of her throat at the lack of a pillow and wondered if she had knocked it off the bed again. Everything smelled of ginger and pine again and she wondered if someone had aired out the furs somewhere near the pine trees. Peeling open her eyes she let her fingertips ghost out of the furs to see what the temperature was like.
It was warm.
Rubbing at her eyes she pushed herself up and looked around, suddenly remembering where she was and that she had spent the night curled around a man. Blinking she watched as Kenshin looked up from where he was seemingly repairing what appeared to be a pair of breeches and realized they where hers. She must have torn them when she fell off Honey. "I can do that you know," she told him, hiding a yawn behind her fingers so that her words were muffled.
He grinned at her. It was an easy smile, one that lit up his eyes and showed off an intriguing dimple in his right cheek. "It's alright." He said with a shrug. "It's still snowing and there isn't a lot to do." A little twinkle of mischief turned his eyes into a deeper shade of violet. "I promise not to ruin your pants."
Kaoru shrugged, trying not to let her embarrassment show through. "Oh, I wasn't worried about that. I really can't sew in a straight line anyway." Reaching up Kaoru let her hair down and scratched at the tender spot that always occurred when she wore her hair up too long and the heavy mass protested. Looking back up through the long strands she caught Kenshin watching her with a curious expression and blushed. Instead of putting it back up she settled the ribbon in her lap and bit her bottom lip, uncertain what she was supposed to do or say.
Kaoru brought her thumb to her mouth to chew on the nail there before blowing her bangs out of her eyes and pulling the fur up around her shoulder. She was not going to be shy and embarrassed. It just wasn't something she ever did. "So, what are you doing up on the mountain?"
She decided laughing when he jammed the little needle into his thumb was not prudent and ducked her head.
Kenshin swore mentally, sucked on the little sting and looked up when he heard a suspicious noise that sounded like a snicker from the woman who had been driving him crazy all morning. First he had woken up warm and comfortable in a way he hadn't been in years. 'Since you started this crazy pilgrimage,' he corrected himself. She had been snuggly wrapped around him and it had taken a good half a candle mark to disentangle himself without waking her up. She had all but disappeared under the furs by the time he had gotten the fire going, but he had been thankful for the bite in the air. It had cooled him down. He was a man who hadn't even really seen a woman in ten years and his body was reminding him of that fact.
He had needed something to do to keep from staring at the interesting lump she made under the furs and the wish to crawl back under the covers and join her all morning. He had remembered the tear he had noticed in her clothing while he had rinsed them clean and set out mending them.
Then she had started to stir. The little noise of complaint she had uttered at finding herself alone had his back molars creaking as he held himself in check. It had amused him the way her fingers had peeked out to test the air and then she had sat up, rubbing her eyes and looking like a child. That had been what he had latched onto, forcing himself to consider his and her age, and then she had blinked fuzzily at him, letting those long strands of long hair down to frame a pair of sleepy blue eyes. He had been very, very thankful that he had the pants draped over his lap.
"I travel a lot," Kenshin said, finally answering her question, absorbing the little pain thankfully. "It's surprising where people will let you stay during the winter to keep an eye on things." Which wasn't a lie, not really. He did keep an eye on things and the Mountains would be insulted if they couldn't provide a place for him to stay. He also knew that once he left she wouldn't be able to find this place no matter how hard she looked.
'You are not starting that again.' Kenshin thought firmly. The mountain was silent for long moments.
You do not like her.
It was a firm statement and Kenshin almost stabbed himself again. He looked up in time to catch laughing blue eyes peaking out at him and he swallowed hard.
He was being quiet. Something had startled him in her questions and then something else had caught his attention. Kaoru wondered if he was mentally sane. He had seemed alright, and he didn't have that sense of wrongness that Enishi had. In fact, there wasn't anything about him that screamed that…but there was something.
'Gohei only needs a virgin to break…' Kaoru reminded herself. Ducking her head she chewed on that thought a little more. Peeking up at the man grumbling under his breath, she tilted her head and considered him.
He really was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Perhaps that was what had been bothering her. There was just something about his face. The scars really didn't detract from his looks; there was an added rakish quality that saved him from being perpetually pretty. She imagined when he had been younger and growing into that jaw he had been teased mercilessly. 'Perhaps not to his face…' those scars proved that he had seen something hard. She vaguely remembered a hard fighter's body cushioning her from the floor. No, she couldn't say that if he wanted something more than snuggling at night that she would really complain. Not if it meant staying out of Gohei's bed and foiling Enishi's plans to have her broken and some man's whore. She doubted Gohei would have any use for her after her wedding night and wouldn't enjoy tossing her to his men. The idea of being married to the brute of a man left her feeling slightly ill. Especially when she compared him to the lean grace that was Kenshin.
Right. So now she had a plan. Now she just had to worry about how she was going to go about executing it. Men were not something in life that she could approach comfortably and she doubted her experience with horses was going to help her.
'Maybe in the future you can come up with something you can execute in better style, Kamiya.' Kaoru chastised herself. 'So just how exactly are you going to get him interested enough to sleep with you?'
Oh the great questions of life….
Kaoru stared at the wide bucket that was dropped in front of her. She blinked at it for long moments before looking back at the red-head who was watching her from shadowed eyes. "It's a bucket," she informed him irritably. His mouth quirked up at the corners.
"I am going to heat a pot of water," he told her in an amused voice. "I thought you would like to wash your hair."
Kaoru continued to blink up at him. "Water?"
His smile showed off that amazing dimple. "There is quite a bit of snow and I have been bringing it in all morning. We have enough to warm and to wash your hair with, if you're interested. I have some sage-leaves in one of my packs."
Karou's eyes widened. "Oh," she smiled at him. "That would be nice," she admitted. He nodded and set about pouring water from another bucket she hadn't noticed into a large pot and hanging it over the fire. He headed outside and came back with a full bucket of snow and set that one close to the fire to melt. She supposed she had been a little antsy…
Okay she had been climbing the walls. Once she had bitten through her thumb nail and torn it bloody she had stopped chewing but she wasn't used to the inactivity. Even helping him clean up the small mess from breakfast hadn't managed to calm her down. There wasn't much of the loaf of bread he had left and she was suddenly aware that she was going to miss it once it was gone. So she had fidgeted, not quite certain she should try to have a conversation with him. Not after her last one had ended so well.
She had tried to get him to let her have her pants back, after almost tripping and landing flat on her face, but he had refused. She could have sworn there was a mischievous smile tucked into the corner of his mouth, but he had gravely explained that his clothing was thicker and he would prefer her to wear them for now. If he hadn't been so polite about it she would have been offended that he thought her pants were shabby, but any spluttering she had done had just widened that smile and then he had sat about polishing what looked like a sword but had a funny edge to it.
She hadn't been brave enough to ask him about that either.
'You're acting like a nitwit again,' Kaoru griped at herself. 'You are considering jumping that man's bones,' the colorful remark a friend had once made forced a smile from her. 'Yet, you cannot ask him a single question about his sword….the one made of metal.' She yelped at herself once she realized what she had thought. She was glad Kenshin wasn't the type to ask questions, because she had dropped her head into her hands and groaned at her line of thoughts. Looking up she glared at him when she saw his lips part and his teeth clicked together as he closed them. 'Smart man,' Kaoru thought violently.
Kenshin wondered if it would be prudent if to ask the mountain what was going through Karou's mind but decided against it. He had no right to ask such questions. Even if the mountain was right, he wouldn't have that right. Swallowing that though he poured the lukewarm melted snow into the bucket and then located the soap and sage; wishing he had something jasmine. Waking up with that scent faintly brushing his senses had been a pleasant change and he was almost sad to see it go. 'Not that you're going to let her curl around you like that again.' Kenshin informed himself. 'It's not that cold.'
Once the water was boiling he poured half into the bucket, filling it. He brought over another bucket to rinse her hair into and let the water cool. He watched her tilt her head and dip her fingers into the water, testing it. A pleased little grin turned her mouth into something else and he swallowed again. "I can wash your hair for you," Kenshin said, attempting to distract himself, and then realizing what he had said, mentally groaned.
'I don't need your approval!' Kenshin thundered back. The mountain made a noise that might have been a laugh but that was all. A pair of wide-blue eyes were watching him for a long second before something almost calculating entered them.
"Thank you," she demurely replied. "I would appreciate that." Her eyes dropped to the floor.
Oh ye gods…
She wasn't exactly sure how letting him wash her hair was going to help her get him to take her to bed, but it sure felt good. Kaoru stifled a groan as his hands worked up a careful lather. There was a towel draped along her shoulders to keep her hair from dripping onto her borrowed tunic. They had decided the easiest way to go about washing her hair was if she was on her knees, facing the bucket, while he settled on the opposite side. He took great care washing even her bangs. She was thankful she had to concentrate on staying semi-upright or she would have fallen over.
He rinsed as much of the soap as he could in the first bucket and then helped her get her mass of hair into the next. He stood and then, quicker than she would have given him credit for, warm water was rinsing the last of her hair clean. Once he was finished Kaoru rang the mass of it out and then wrapped it up in the towel he had given her. Looking up she smiled at him. Washing her hair in the winter was horribly difficult and she had contemplated cutting the mass off more than once. "Your turn now?" Kaoru asked sweetly, taking in the mane of hair that looked like it could use a good scrub. She looked at the buckets and chewed her lip. "I think we can manage."
He blinked at her for so long that she hesitantly repeated her question. "You don't have to…" he started but stopped when she turned those sparking eyes on him again.
"You're right," Kaoru told him in a sweetly acrid tone. "But I am going to. And you're going to not argue." Her eyes narrowed, and she changed tracks. "Really, Kenshin. You have done far more than is necessary; let me return the favor, all right?"
Kenshin swallowed at the hopeful expression in her eyes. Something in his smile must have given him away because her smile brightened. "Good. Now, you have more of that sage, right?"
Kenshin patted the pale little mare Kaoru had called Honey. The mare had been delighted that her mistress was better and Kenshin rather thought the two had very similar personalities. She was quite content to share space in the little stall with his little pack mule. Grumpy was aptly named, and Honey had been complaining about his attitude since he had stepped in. Sometimes being bound to the earth had its perks, but there were times when he wondered why he had been given this particular gift.
Because animals take you for what you are, you needed that in the beginning.
Kenshin tasted that statement for long moments and sighed when he realized it had rang true. He had needed the way animals gave there trust and refused to take it back. He patted the mares nose one more time, and leaned against the little stall gate.
'So why her?' He asked softly. 'Why did you decide to give me this gift, now?' He had become well acquainted with the way the different aspects of the earth moved. Most of the races had forgotten that the earth thought and spoke. It was something he had been warned about when he approached the temple, too much blood on his hands and no way to repay it. While he had been going through his ceremony to be bound to the ways of nature, the old priest had gone to a friend of his.
When he had stumbled out of the Room of Time there had been only the priest to greet him and a sword in his hands. He had told him that sometimes blood had to be spilled, and that the earth would weep for him, but until those times came, he could use his strength to protect.
A flip of the blade. It had been a dance far more difficult than anything he done as the Kings Assassin, but it hadn't left him feeling so torn, drained, and broken. Now there was a girl sitting in his cabin with more fire then he or she knew what do with. It had been in that expression she had shot him as she expected him to allow her wash his hands and the stubborn glint when she refused to give him the information he wanted over why she had climbed the Mountain before such a storm. "She is lucky to have you," Kenshin told the mare again. Honey ducked her head in agreement.
She needs you.
'Why?' Kenshin shot back. He had never been this torn in his life. He had only been in the service of her for ten years. He had learned early on, and at his own expense, that when she gave him something, she meant for him to keep and use it. Whether it was the voice of the mountain or the melodic croon of the forest, she always made her points. She had never given him something he didn't need, something that hadn't quietly been harboring deep inside…
Was that was this was about? Kenshin frowned. "Oh no," he whispered out loud, hissing the words to the cold air. "This is not…" There was an uncomfortable sensation rising from the area around him and he narrowed his eyes. "This has nothing to with her."
She hurt you. You still hurt.
Kenshin raked his hand through his bangs. "Do you bring in some poor innocent in to take her place?" He snapped irritably.
You neither of you any justice. She is yours. Even without the spider, this one is yours
Kenshin wanted to beat his head against the wall in frustration. Both at the continued nickname for the woman, who he had loved and lost, and the fact that the mountain considered the young woman his; and that was, bothered him.
She was beautiful. Those large eyes and the spark of temper she tried to hide. The way she reacted, restrained and uncertain; it wasn't the idea that he didn't want her that bothered him. It was that he did want her. It lodged in his throat and ate at him. Honey whickered at him and he pried his fingers free from the railing. 'Even if she is mine,' he thought softly. 'I cannot have her.'
You are not the only one who runs.
Kaoru ran her fingers through her long hair, not quite willing to put it up yet. It had been a long time since she had been able to relax in front of the fire after washing her hair and let it dry comfortably. She let a sleepy smile cross her face. He had seemed so surprised when she had finally rinsed her hair. A giggle escaped her throat. Even with his hair dripping into his eyes, there had been an expression there she hadn't expected. A sort of surprised wistfulness coupled with something richer.
Had not one ever washed that man's hair before?
She had at least the memories of her mother's long fingers brushing through her hair during the winter when it was too much trouble to fill the great tub her father had carved himself as her wedding present. Then, after the great sweating sickness, her father's thick knuckled fingers attempting to deal with the mass of hair that his teenage daughter had complained about and wanted to cut.
Everyone had those sorts of memories. It was made up the thread of what you were, every family knew that. Somehow, she thought that Kenshin's family might have missed that message. With hair that long surely…
'Your thinking about the things that don't matter,' Kaoru reminded herself. 'Do you really want to become attached to this man?'
Kaoru rubbed her head and turned and sprawled out on the little blanket that Kenshin had put up. The wood was warm and if she hadn't known better, she would have said it felt softer than normal. That was crazy. Closing her eyes she enjoyed the crackle of the fire Kenshin was religiously feeding and was uncertain how long she had been there when she heard the sounds of the door opening.
Kaoru looked up and sleepily, not really certain she wanted to move. She watched as he stacked the wood in the second rack and then looked up at her, an amused expression flickering across his face. "Sleepy?" He asked quietly, his voice low and mellow. It was a different tune than the one she associated with his normal light voice. Kaoru made an agreement in the back of her throat, watching him as he moved around.
"What are you doing?" Kaoru managed to ask, her tones drowsy. He looked up, from where he had pulled a small figure out of his pack and a sharp knife.
"Carving," he replied easily. "I'm not very good, but it passes the time." He offered her a warm smile.
"You r'lly are pr'tty." Kaoru mumbled in his direction letting her eyes close. "Sh'ld smile m're."
Kaoru ignored the noise that came from the back of his throat. A smile curved her lips.
Kenshin stared at the woman who was rather soundly asleep with only his extra blanket to cushion her from the floor. She was only a few inches from the furs, shouldn't she have just laid down there? Silly woman was going to wake with sore knees.
Getting up he set the little carving down, and winced when his knees cracked. 'I'm getting old.'
You're bound to us. You are but a child.
He really had to stop forgetting about his little listener. He felt her amusement at the idea of being called little. He wasn't even sure if he was thinking of her when he thought little. Carefully he picked Kaoru up, a brow rising as he was reminded how light she was. There was nothing to her, and he made a mental note to get more food into her. He settled in her into the furs and had to tease her fingers free from his tunic and brushed her hair out of her face.
"I'm not pretty," he told her in a miffed tone. The slight smile that lingered on her lips was tempting enough that he wrapped her hair around his knuckles and watched her sleep for a long time, wondering how he was going to find the strength of will to keep to himself. He was managing because she hadn't showed so much of a flicker of interest, yet her sleepy mumble had caught his attention and stayed with it. The part of him that knew blood and battle was scenting a weakness and the part of him that knew the all the dark places of the earth was seeing someone who would enjoy her discoveries.
He wasn't certain how much longer he could shake the little voice in the back of his mind. It was insistent and determined, and even as he brought her hair to his mouth; he knew it was right.
He did want this little wildflower for himself.
Kaoru watched him prod the lumps of meat he was heating over the fire for their afternoon meal. "I cannot believe you let me sleep that long," she told him with a grumble. "I'm never going to get back to my sleeping patterns if you keep this up."
He gave her a once over. "Looks to me like you needed the rest; your body only asks for what it needs." He told her in a slightly chastising voice that had her rolling her eyes before she could stop the reaction. It just seemed to amuse him even more and she manage to curb the desire to stick her tongue out at him. Bored again she watched him. "What are you doing?"
He blinked in surprise. "Well, we're almost out of bread. I thought that tonight or tomorrow I would bake some more, but I need a good coal base to do that." He grinned. "Which is probably why I am going to do it tonight."
Kaoru blinked at him for long moments. "You can make bread without one of those oven things the baker in town uses?" She let the question slip before she could stop it and he grinned at her.
"Yes, although it takes me a while." He shrugged. "Here," he grasped two light; round pans and fit them together, so that the bigger pan went over the smaller one. "Now, I can either put the two pans in the coals and let them back for half a candle mark, or I can just set the smaller one in front of the fire to bake the bread." He smiled at her expression. "Haven't done a lot of outdoor baking?"
Kaoru returned his grin with a larger one. "I can't cook, period." She told him loftily. "I can try, but I can't promise that I won't burn this place down around our ears."
He grinned. "Coal baking isn't that difficult. In the summer, I like to go down by some of the big rivers and dig for clams. You just bury them in the coals and cook them." He winked at her. "You should try it sometime." Kenshin watched as some of the fire and all the curiosity drained from her expression.
"I'll have to do that," she murmured in a dull tone before she shook herself and offered him a fake echo of her earlier smile. "What else do you cook over the fire?"
"Kaoru," he said softly. "Is something bothering you?" he pressed, the earth's warnings that she needed him softly pushing his actions.
She stared at him for long moments, and he watched her visibly consider talking to him but then she drew within herself, her eyes shadowed. He wondered who had taught her to hide her emotions and why she had to learn. "No," she told him quietly. She tried to smile. "We don't get many clams in our river."
"You don't plan on doing any traveling before you father arranges your marriage?" he asked delicately. He knew that most women were allowed to take a summer sojourn before their marriage.
"My father is dead," she told him quietly. "I'm…wanted here." Her voice dropped in unhappiness and Kenshin suddenly wondered if the drop of her shoulders was a response of what ever had sent her somewhere alone so she could vent. He couldn't fight the suspicion that his question of marriage had set off her mood swing. He also couldn't deny that the idea of her married to someone else had his stomach knotting.
He was already thinking of her as his. When had he made that mental switch?
Kaoru picked at the last bit of her bread. It was a little coarser than she was used to, but it had gone well with the rabbit he had somehow slow-cooked all afternoon. The meal had been far better than anything she had eaten at home, and she had been sentenced to only watch as Kenshin cleaned up. "You are not allowed to do all the work," Kaoru scolded him. "One would almost think you are attempting to spoil me."
That curious quiet smile and that mischievous wink that came out of nowhere, "one might be right." He shot back and Kaoru did stick her tongue out. She missed what he muttered under his breath.
"You never said what you were going up here," Kaoru suddenly remembered. "Do you just go from cabin to cabin and live off the land?" She raised a brow.
He shook his head. "You're a persistent little thing, aren't you?"
Kaoru offered him her most wicked grin. "You have no idea. So spill."
Kenshin walked over and handed her another mug of warm cider. This one had a little more kick to it and she wondered what he had added. "I would be careful of that smile," Kenshin murmured as he stood. "Could get you into trouble." Kaoru stared at him, the mug halfway to her mouth.
"I'm something of a wanderer," Kenshin replied quietly as he picked up his own mug and settled down as well. "This cabin belongs to the mountain and she happily supplies it to those she likes." He watched her face carefully and watched as she tilted her head.
"So do you belong to an order or something similar?" Kaoru asked him interested. She knew there were a few orders that roamed the mountains, and there had been whispers on cold winter nights of more. Of course Enishi had just laughed those off, but there had always been something grave in her father's eyes when he looked at the mountains.
"Something like that," he agreed. "I'm going to go and make one more round. You should probably be getting to bed soon."
Kaoru quirked her brow at his retreating back. "Hoping that I'm asleep when you get back?" Kaoru muttered under her breath as she watched him slip outside. However, she slipped under the furs and snuggled underneath them so that her she was covered from head to foot. The cabin always seemed colder at night and she was actually looking forward to being able to curl around Kenshin.
'You should enjoy this while you can,' a little voice warned. 'Because once you go back down that mountain, even if Gohei decides he doesn't want you, Enishi will find someone to sell you to.' And she knew it wasn't going to be who the best was for her, either. It was going to be to the man who offered the most money or would treat her with what Enishi would enjoy.
'So you enjoy being wrapped around something warm and hard and comforting.' Kaoru lectured herself. 'Enjoying having someone take care of you. Because it will never happen again.' Kaoru shivered inside the robes and closed her eyes tightly willing herself to sleep.
Kenshin stoked the logs for long moments, carefully feeding the fire so it would burn for most of the night. It would be bloody cold again when he woke, but by then, hopefully, he wouldn't have to worry about heat. Looking back at the pallet where Kaoru was soundly sleeping, he raked a hand through his bangs.
That motion just reminded him of the way it had felt to have her scrubbing his scalp. Her nails had scratched lightly and then she had done something. He didn't know what it was, but it had felt good. She had laughed at him later when he asked, but there had been a shy smile of satisfaction lingering in her eyes.
You need to sleep. The storm will end soon.
Kenshin looked up in surprise. The mountain didn't say anything else, so he did as she suggested. Kaoru curled against him automatically, tossing her leg over his and snuggling her nose into the hollow of his neck as if she did it all the time. It took several deep breaths before he managed to relaxed again.
He wasn't certain when she woke him, but the fire had almost died, leaving nothing but warm coals, and she was twisting in his arms, as if she was agitated. Blinking away the last of the sleep from his eyes he looked down in time for her to catch his chin with her forehead, his teeth snapping together hard enough to click. Her distress levels rose as he attempted to get his ears to stop ringing and when she thrashed against him, he barely managed to pin her. They were too close to the fire to allow her thrash around, and he swore under his breath as she struggled harder. He had weight on her, but she was quick. "Kaoru," he snapped, shaking her a little. Her eyes snapped open and she shrieked, rolling her weight into the arm he was braced on so that he fell on top of her. "Kaoru," he rasped in her ear. "It's Kenshin."
Her chest heaved under his and she made a noise in the back of her throat and her body relaxed under him. "I'm sorry," she whispered and Kenshin breathed a sigh of relief until he felt the first tremor that racked her body. Then another followed, until she was trembling with quite hiccups and he lifted up to see tears slipping down her cheeks. Kenshin closed his eyes and reached down and lifted her up, settling her in his lap. He didn't know what to do but she seemed quite willing to help him out. She buried her head into his throat and shivered in his arms, so he wrapped his arms around her waist and rocked back and forth, hating the hot tears that rolled down his throat until they reached the edge of his tunic.
Weren't women supposed to make noise when they cried? He would have welcomed the distressing noises over the silent way she shivered and hiccupped in his arms, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist as if she was terrified that her demons would find her if she let go. Lowering his head he muttered nonsense in her ear, rubbing her back carefully. Eventually the storm ended and she was silent in his arm except for the occasional hiccup.
"Kaoru," he asked quietly, continuing to rock her back and forth. "What was that, what where you dreaming about?" Kenshin tightened his arms around her when she burrowed as close as she could, pressing against him. "It's all right," he crooned, using the same tone he would on a child or a frightened animal. "You're safe."
Her head moved against his shoulder. "…can't get away," she hiccupped. "Enishi will chase me," she hiccupped again and pressed her face against his throat. "I'm cold."
Kenshin sighed when he realized she was attempting to divert his attention. He knew he wasn't going to get anything else from her. "I'm going to put more wood on the fire," he cupped her cheek and tilted her eyes. "You're not alone."
He moved quicker than he had allowed her to see before, but she didn't seem to notice. She didn't say anything else either, just wrapped herself around him and was awake for almost as long as he was.
The mountain woke him before dawn. There were people coming up the mountain. Carefully he unhooked Kaoru's loose limbs and tucked the blankets around her and rebuilt the fire. The earth was edgy, but wasn't worried, yet. He had time.
The trek down the mountain gave him time to think; he didn't like his conclusions and the mountain was upset about something. The safety of the tail was only at the base so he skittered along the trails, moving fast. There was a lot of mountain to cover.
There were two men, dismounting from a set of irritable horses. One of them had a shock of white hair and a pair of dark leathers on while the other was a large man, with broad shoulders. He dismounted on the left side and Kenshin ideally noticed that the right thumb was held at an old angle, as if it had been smashed at some point. The blond tilted his head and slowly shook it. "She didn't survive up there. The passes are unstable and with that snow and no shelter….we both know there isn't anywhere to hole up."
The big one snarled. "That bitch is too smart, she had to do something." He rounded on the small man. "I didn't pay you fifteen pieces of gold to break that bitch in for nothing. You let her go up that mountain."
"Settle down Gohei," the blond said mildly. "There are still several women who qualify as a virgin who you can rape into submission. You just want Kaoru because of the damage she did to your thumb. I told you not to confront her when she had a pitchfork in her hand. You're lucky she didn't run you through."
"Shut up Enishi," Gohei snarled. "You're the one who was willing to sell your own cousin for gold." He glared up. "Are you sure that she couldn't have survived?"
Kenshin felt his temper cut and burn. It rose up so that he felt the Mountain taste it and latch on, the ground rumbling under Gohei and Enishi's feet. These two were the reasons that Kaoru had cried last night. He grasped the hilt of his sword in his hand and watched as Enishi's face turned white.
"We best move, this pass is dangerous, too many avalanches. Slake your lust another time." Enishi snapped, saddling up. "If she did find shelter and comes down before spring, we will know. Until then, there are other virgins you can…marry."
Gohei was forced to follow.
Kenshin trembled as forced himself to stay still and not to chase the two men down. Their bodies would never be found, not with the wolf packs that roamed this mountain. The blood stains on the snow would be bright and easy to locate and he hissed between his teeth.
They wanted to hurt her.
He would not hurt them. Not yet. He needed to know everything before he started at their ankles and went to their necks, breaking every bone between. Instead he looked at himself. It had been a long time since he had allowed himself to burn with rage that hot, and he needed to admit to himself why he was so furious. Crimes that Enishi and Gohei had spoke of happened more often than not when there was a young woman who was a burden to a family. Kaoru's shy smile when she admitted that she struggled with cooking and sewing would limit her offerings in a household. Honey had been happy to talk about her beloved rider, but women, once married off, were not allowed to do more than tend a household. Kaoru would wither and die in such an environment.
'Not that she would survive long with that large brute of a man,' Kenshin thought through clenched teeth. He would break the light in her eyes and he would relish it. It would be a race to what broke her. The lack of freedom or the abuse to her body; eventually, she would die on the inside. 'I am not ready to let that happen,' Kenshin finally decided. 'Not just for her sake, but for mine as well.' He thought quietly. 'I need her.'
Kenshin sat in the cold for a long time.
Well here is the first half to the little story. I have a wedding to attend and the shift back to school to make so I will hopefully get it out soon. For those of you who are curious the next chapter of Amber is 3/4 done!
As always, please let me know what you think.