Alrighty. Second half is here. Before I forget, a big thank you to Ithilriel for looking over both sections of this story. Forty pages is a hell of a lot to read over in the short amount of time that she did. So cookies and battousai shapped cake for her.

Again, I hope everyone enjoys this story.


Warning: This story contains MATURE Content. That means there is M rated material. If this displeases you, please do not read it. There is fair warning.

As always, Guilty Pleasures has been sent my complete chapter. To have this chapter hit the FFN guidelines I was forced to cut a few pages from the smut scene. If you are interested in reading it, please head over there. I will have the link at the bottom of the page.

Disclaimer: I do not own RK characters.

Kaoru woke up alone and she was thankful for that. It took a while to find her boots and she needed to find something familiar. She had cried in his arms like a child. A child. She hadn't cried like that since she put her father's body to earth and Enishi had taken her to live in his home.

She wouldn't cry now.

Honey was waiting in her stall. It wasn't until she got there that she realized she was still wearing his clothing. Shaking her head she walked over and wrapped her arms around her horse's neck and breathed in the scent of horse and wild. "I think we have to leave here," Kaoru told her longtime friend. "I can't allow…"

Honey shook all over and pulled back. Kaoru blinked at her for long moments. "Honey?"

Honey stomped her front hooves and reared in the small den and Kaoru frowned. She had been around horses since she had been a child and she had never seen a horse react like this. The door to the little stall was open and she frowned as the wind continued to rush through the doors. Great, now even her horse was upset with her. Kaoru sat down on the floor and shivered.

You're running.

Kaoru jerked up and looked around, attempting to locate the voice. There was nothing there. "Oh great, Kaoru," she whispered. "Now you're starting to hear voices." Running a shaking hand through her bangs she bent in defeat. The only thing waiting for her out in the weather was a frozen gravestone. Taking deep long breaths she calmed herself down enough to head back into the house. 'I didn't hear anything,' Kaoru continued to chant as she opened the door. 'I did not hear anything.'

She went and sat in front of the fire and attempted to warm up.

She is upset.

Kenshin looked up from where he had sat long enough that a fine dusting of snow covered him.

She needs you.

Kenshin closed his eyes. He wondered if he had ever really had a choice.

Not with her…

Kaoru blew on her cold fingers when the door opened and Kenshin walked in. His hair glinted with fallen snow and he shook himself off as he entered. How long had he been out there?

"Kenshin?" Kaoru quietly asked, looking up at him. His shoulders trembled for a moment and then turned. Kaoru felt her eyes widen when she saw his eyes. There were hot and burning. His eyes trapped her and she swallowed as he stared at her.

"Enishi and Gohei were attempting to come up the paths this morning," he suddenly stated, never taking his eyes from hers. "They were looking for you."

Kaoru was thankful she was sitting down or she would have swayed on her feet. As it was, she felt the blood drain from her head and she felt dizzy. She swallowed when he took a few steps inside the cabin, moving closer. "They think you are dead but are going to keep an eye on the mountain until spring. Then, I imagine they are going to come up here and look for themselves."

Kaoru stood and stumbled backwards. "I should go," she babbled. Kenshin's expression went blank and Kaoru swallowed. He was so small, they were…they were…they would… "If they find out…." She swallowed even harder. "I should go."

"Go," Kenshin asked in a soft voice. "Where do you plan on going?"

Kaoru swallowed and bumped into a wall as he danced forward, his eyes glittering gold. "I don't know," she told him honestly. "But if they find out about you, helping me, they will…" her words were stuck in her throat as he settled the palms of his hands on either side of her head.

"You're not going anywhere."

Her eyes flashed up at him. "I won't let them hurt you after you helped me." Kenshin felt a flicker of amusement roll through him and his temper died down. She was still being the crazy little wildflower that had stumbled into a storm looking for a place to hide.

Make her understand.

Kenshin leaned down and met her eyes squarely, so close her breath ghosted across his lips. "I will not let them hurt something that is mine."

Her eyes widened, and then a painful longing entered her eyes, and she swallowed, dropping her eyes to hide her emotions. However, he had seen it. It hit him in the gut, hard, and he closed his eyes for a moment of thanks. She wanted him as badly as he wanted her.

Kaoru swallowed hard when calloused palms, slightly cool from the snow, curved along her jaw and tiled her head upwards. The expression in his eyes set butterflies to dancing in stomach and she felt something clench low in her tummy. His eyes were back to that stormy violet, sparks of hot gold rising to the surface and bursting. She stared at him for long moments before he dipped his head and brushed slightly chapped lips against her own.

He had almost expected her to be shy in returning his kiss, yet she pressed her mouth back to his eagerly, her small hands found his tunic and bunching the material in her fists. One of his hands slid around to the back of her neck, pulling her against him, nibbling on her bottom lip. Her lips parted and he delicately stroked his tongue against the roof of her mouth, sliding his hand down to cup her bottom and hold her up as she leaned into him.

She tasted like honey.

Kaoru whimpered in the back of her throat as his mouth claimed hers. She had been kissed before, but there was something about the ease that he claimed her mouth and held her against his body that was different than anyone she had kissed before. His mouth moved lazily over hers, as if he was enjoying just being able to kiss her. Even when he pulled back to let her breathe he lazily nibbled on her bottom lip, dipping back in to slide his tongue against hers again.

Kenshin kept a careful grip on Kaoru, slowly moving backwards until he hit the furs and then lowered himself onto the pallet. Kaoru settled against his lap, her hips pressing into his so that he groaned into her mouth and pulled back, panting as she stared at him with wide-eyes that were dazed. He trailed his fingers along her jaw and behind her ears so he could untie her hair ribbon. Her dark hair tumbled around her expressive features and he leaned back in to nibble on the bottom lip that had been driving him crazy, enjoying the way her hands tightened on his shoulders and her hips shifted in his lap, pressing closer.

Kissing lightly along her jaw he tasted her skin carefully, feeling the way her chest heaved against his. Pulling back he gave her an assessing glance. There was a great deal of shy desire filling her eyes but there was a spark of nervousness that he wanted to see the end of. Reaching up he smiled at her, teasing her fingers free of his shirt. She licked her lips and hesitated. "Kenshin?" She asked, fairly squeaking his name as he settled her small hands against his chest.

"Hmmm?" he asked, leaning down and nibbling at the pale column of her neck. "Yes, Kaoru?" Her throat worked as she swallowed and her hot breath ghosted across her ear.

"What…" she started and stopped as his tongue flickered against her skin.

"I want to touch," he told her quietly as he leaned back, brushing her lip with his forefingers. "There is such pleasure in a simple touch…" he breathed stroking his fingers down her slim wrist and dropping his hand to her hip. "Touch me," he asked softly, meeting her startled eyes with a hint of mischief. "Please."

Kaoru looked at him long moments, her expression startled. Kenshin forced himself to remain still and to move his other hand to her hip, keeping his touch light as he stroked along the curve there. She swallowed again then her hands shifted along his skin. Kenshin let out a sigh of pleasure as she did so and her eyes swung back to his and he gave her a lidded look. "Don't stop," he purred, closing his eyes as her hands moving along his chest again.

Kaoru swallowed and continued to examine his chest. His hands shifted on her hips and she bit her lip as she felt his muscles flex and move. She wondered if he would mind if she took his shirt off. She lowered her hands and looked up catch him watching her with eyes that were rich with desire. She tugged lightly at his shirt and he shifted to help her. Kaoru swallowed as the firelight brought out the pale gold of his skin and she found her fingers tracing the pale scars. His breath hitched in his chest when her fingers brushed certain locations and she glanced up as his chest heaved a little under her hands. Leaning forward she flicked her tongue out against one of those spots and his hands tightened against her hip; a shuddering breath rattled in his throat. Smiling against his skin, Kaoru explored his upper chest, neck, and shoulders with her lips and tongue, allowing her hands to trace to flat line of his tummy.

Kaoru shifted a little in his lap and gasped against him when she was reminded of something she had forgotten about. She looked up at him, startled, and he leaned down and kissed her soundly, flicking his tongue against hers lightly. Carefully he wrapped his arms around her waist and rolled them, so her legs were still wrapped around his waist but she was on her back. Kenshin pushed himself up by the flat of his hands and looked down at her as her hands wondered up and tugged his own leather strap free. His hair tumbled around them, making a fire colored curtain around her face. "Can I touch you, Kaoru?"

Kaoru was memorized by the little glints of starfire in his eyes and nodded, licking her lips. Kenshin nuzzled her temple, running his fingers along her sides soothingly. "Remember how it felt to touch me," he crooned in her ear. He nibbled lightly at her earlobe and enjoyed the way she shuddered under him. Smiling to himself he continued to explore until they both went up in flames, wrapping around each other as they crashed into sensation.

Gasping Kaoru wrapped herself as tightly around Kenshin as possible. He had pulled her into a vortex of color and sensation. She had never experienced anything in its like before and she collapsed against the furs; panting as he nibbled on her shoulder as they caught their breath.

Kaoru relaxed under him as she sleepily ran her hands along his back, sighing when he rolled them so that she could curl around him and settled her cheek against his shoulder. "S'rry Ibit you." Kaoru mumbled as she drifted off. His low chuckle and the feel of his hands running along her back was the last thing she remembered.

Kaoru pouted at Kenshin as he rebuilt the fire that had turned to mere coal. He had also pulled on his soft breaches. She watched him move about drowsily, his hair tumbling wildly down his back. She grinned to herself as she caught the faint marks along his shoulders and the mark on his left bicep where she had bit him. Her eyes danced with amusement at the memory of his reaction to that and she ducked to his her grin as he turned and gave her a suspicious glance.

"Do you find something amusing, Kaoru?" He asked, quirking a brow high into his bangs as he assembled some of the salted pork and bread for a light meal.

"Maybe," she teased back. "It depends on who wants to know."

He chuckled lightly and Kaoru admired the breadth of his naked chest and shoulders. She had known that he was lean, but his entire body was covered in whipcord muscle and faint lines that she knew had come from his battles. He walked over and sat down, placing the plate on the floor before grasping her wrist and pulled her up. Kaoru squealed in laughter, shivering as the cool air hit her naked skin. He leaned down and nibbled on her shoulder and she squealed as he ran his fingers along her waist. "You better learn I bite back," he warned, kissing her shoulder soundly before settling her comfortable. He handed her a chunk of meat and bread. "Eat."

Kaoru leaned against his chest; trying not to feel self-conscious about being naked while he was clothed but if the way he kept touching her skin: her hip, her thigh, her arm, she felt some of her shyness fade. "You're beautiful," he told her suddenly, wrapping his arm around her waist so he could press his forehead against her shoulder.

Kaoru shyly wrapped her fingers around his wrist. "Thank you," she whispered, ducking her head and pressing it against his neck. She liked his neck, the way it melded into the strength of his shoulders. She liked his hands, too. However, she was hungry and they were wandering in places that were not congruent to eating, so she nipped warningly. "I'm hungry," she told him testily and he laughed, brushing his fingers so her breath caught in her throat.

"Eat," he purred. "You need your strength," he nipped at her ear ridge and Kaoru scooted out of his lap and pouted at him. He chuckled and picked up his own sandwich. He mollified himself by wrapping her hair around the knuckles of his left hand and admiring the blush that dusted along her chest, neck, and cheeks. He would have been content to stare at her for some time but she elbowed him lightly in the gut and gave him a withering look. He hid his amusement and took another bite. It was while he was sitting there, watching her eat and the fire play against his skin, that he realized something.

"I need to go and do something," Kenshin's voice broke through her musings suddenly and Kaoru turned and blinked rapidly. His eyes were focused inward and he was nodding at something, and she was again left wondering exactly how stable he was.

"Okay," Kaoru managed, her brows tucking together. He must have caught some of her expression in her eyes because he leaned over and kissed her lingeringly.

"I'll hurry," he promised with a mischievous smile. He finished his meal in two bites and went and located the rest of his clothing. He was going to need to pick up some more clothing, both for her and him at some point. He tried to remember how many marks he had but decided he would worry about it later. He fished around in his back until he found what he was looking for. He looked back and saw her bright eyes watching him. "No one can make it up the mountain, Kaoru," he softly replied. He wondered if there wasn't something else bothering her.

He made sure the door was firmly closed behind him. The wind had settled a little and the sky was still dark gray with the overcast. Once the sun came out he would bring Kaoru out and let her work some of the boredom out with that horse of hers.

He trudged along, admiring the way the snow clung to the trees. He was glad he had a thick shirt on. He was allowed a little immunity to the cold weather so it didn't bother him nearly as much as it would her. She was so tiny anyway, and there was nothing on her bones to keep her warm. Mentally he began to tally the different things she would need, happy to spend some of his monthly funds on her. He wasn't allotted much from the temple, but he never managed to use it all and always had to deal with her complaints.

He found the little area he was looking for.

It wasn't a complete fairy circle, but the half-moon shape of it would serve his purposes. Carefully he placed the little charm he had picked up from his pack in the middle. The delicate shape was simple, a piece of amber shaped into a tear drop. Kenshin opened his being to the earth. The sensation of being underground deep within the earth and standing on the top of a cliff hit him at the same time. He closed his eyes and felt her consider his request, felt the curious shifting that signaled acceptance.

When he opened his eyes he felt the normal required draining for the magic he had requested, but the little bit of jewelry was attached to what was referred to as fairy rope. It was pale and slivery and would only come off if Kaoru wished it. Right then it looked like it would fit along either her ankle or her wrist. He murmured a word of thanks and stood, realizing it was dark.

He always forgot how much time she chose to use. Grinning he turned and trudged back to the cabin.

Kaoru had gotten bored. Kenshin had been gone for quite some time so she had located her own clothing and pulled it on and headed outside. After filling the woodbin on the porch she had felt a little warmer and decided to trudge around. She needed to come up with something to do about dinner. Kenshin might be brining dinner home, but she somehow doubted it. She had trudged around, trying to locate some of the traps Kenshin had set, when she heard the sound of water. It was cold enough that it was snowing but the rivers up here were fast and it would be a little later in the season before it was safe to ice-fish.

However, he might have a fish trap.

She had been delighted when she had found the little fish basket. It had held two fat brown trout wiggling around. Brown trout were tricky to catch, but far tastier than the rainbow trout that were easier to catch. She had trudged the basket back to the house and set about cleaning and filling the meat while she waited for Kenshin to come back. She had rummaged through his things before she found a knife sharp enough and was quite happy with her efforts when several long, clean strips of meat were set out and ready to be cooked. Instead of leaving the fish out she had found a small pail and packed it with snow and then put the fish stripes inside so they would stay chilled and then took the basket out to dump the remains away from the cabin so the wildlife wouldn't get to it.

On her way back she tripped. Kaoru yelped as she skidded on her knees and swore violently. Sometimes she hated her klutz streak. Her knees felt bruised and she grumped as she looked up. Tilting her head she looked back at what had tripped her and grinned as she recognized the plant. Carefully she dug up the roots. They could be wrapped in the leaves of the plant and buried in the ashes and would actually go really well with the fish.

Trudging home, she managed to get the roots and her hands clean in the river before she headed back. By then the sun was setting and she was shivering hard. She had just managed to huddle up next to the fire when the door opened and Kenshin came in, a sheepish expression on his face.

"Hi," Kaoru said cheerfully, allowing the heat to warm her frozen fingers. "I went to the river and found some fish in the trap." She tried not the flush at the surprised expression in her eyes. "They're cleaned and in fillets so if you can cook them…there are some roots too," Kaoru hastily finished as his expression maintained that blank little look. "I thought about salting the meat or something for you…but um…Kenshin?"

His eyes swung to the bucket. "Is that where you put the fish?" Kaoru nodded slowly and wondered why his expression was so…so…bland. Her sudden doubt ended when he picked up the bucket and wandered over to her, leaning down and kissing her firmly on the mouth.

"Thank you," he told her softly. "I forgot about dinner." His smile was sheepish and she smiled back.

"I wasn't certain how you would cook the fish, so I just did basic cleaning." Kaoru told him as he bustled out pulling stuff together to cook the fish with.

"The fire is about right broil the fish," Kenshin replied cheerfully. He placed the bucket of snow near the fire. "Once that melts if you will soak the leaves for about thirty seconds and then wrap the roots up? I can put them down to cook as well."

They worked in silence for long moments. Kaoru completed her tasks easily, and turned and watched as Kenshin took a flat board and fanned the coal, cleaning the ash from the tops before laying the seasoned fish directly on top of the coals. Once he was finished he tucked the roots into the hot ash and coal to the left and let everything cook. He dusted his hands off and grinned at her. He quirked a brow out a she sat down with a sigh.

"Did you fall?" He asked suddenly and Kaoru looked down at her knees and blushed.

"I tripped a little," she admitted, averting her eyes. People were either amused by her klutzy streak, or they were annoyed. "It wasn't a hard fall." She didn't expect him to enter her field of vision and she turned and looked up as he looked at the stains on her knees. Kaoru blinked rapidly as he easily rolled his pants up over her knees so he could look at the bruised flesh. He repeated the motions on both knees and Kaoru watched him carefully as he examined the bruised flesh. They were slightly scraped but it was hardly the worst of her klutz moments.

"Kenshin, they're fine," Kaoru scolded him. "They're just little bumps, I don't bruise easily. I am sorry that I got your pants dirty." She apologized quietly. He gave her a look she wasn't quite certain she knew how to read before he settled her pants down her ankles. Kaoru winked at him, attempting to take that expression out of his eyes. "If you wanted to see my legs you just had to ask." She grinned at him but was completely caught off guard by the way he leaned forward and kissed her. Pulling back his eyes were dark honey.

"I will keep that in mind," he purred, trailing on finger down the side of her throat, lingering on her pulse point before pulling back and turning the fish with two long, thin knives. Kaoru watched everything he did in case she would have to mimic it one day, but she was quite aware that whatever he did, she would only manage a pale comparison. One bright spot was that Enishi would be eating his own cooking, which was worse than even hers.

Once Kenshin was satisfied he took one of the curious flat dishes of his and filled it with two of the fillets and some of the carefully unwrapped roots. A few moments later Kenshin settled next to her and they ate hungrily, cleaning their plates neatly. The food was warm and delicious. The coals had given the fish a flavor Kaoru had never had before and she considered her options of getting it again in the future.

Kaoru put her empty tray aside and finished off her mug of cider and grinned behind her mug as she caught him watching her out of the corner of his eye. Kaoru rolled her eyes at him and turned back to the fire. She snapped herself out of her daze when Kenshin picked up her plate and she glared at him as he ignored her attempt to help him.

"Sit down, Kaoru," he ordered. "You have done enough." He grinned at her indignant expression. "Besides," he finished off, putting a hand on her shoulder as he balanced on his heels as he bent to meet her eyes. "I know you're a little sore right now." He watched a pale blush rose in her cheeks. "So rest tonight and I will let you do the dishes tomorrow."

She is yours.

Kenshin wasn't really surprised that she decided to join in the conversation now that he wasn't so distracted. Kenshin grinned to himself. 'She is mine.' Kenshin agreed.

Good. No more loneliness.

Kenshin wondered who she was talking about. Granted, he had missed human contact but he wasn't sure he had ever been lonely. Setting the dishes aside to dry he looked at Kaoru to find her looking at him. She had brought one leg up to her chest and was resting her chin on her knee; her arms wrapped around her calve. "I have something for you." He told her as he walked back over and settled in front of her, reaching into his pocket and opening his palm. The little piece of jewelry glinted in his hand and he watched her pick it up and examine it with her fingers.

"What is it?" Kaoru asked softly, stunned that he something for her. It was a little drop of amber attached to something she had never seen before. Her throat tightened.

"It's just a little piece of amber. The metal is called fairy rope. Here…it disconnects here, and you can either wear it around your ankle or your wrist. It won't break or come off for a year." He told her quietly. "Once you put it on, you won't have to worry about bearing a child." He told her softly. "The spell has to be renewed once a year."

Kaoru looked up at him with wide eyes. Dragging her tongue over her bottom lip she smiled at him. "Thank you." She told him softly, running her fingers over it again. "I've never been given jewelry before. Even if it is practical." She grinned at him. "I supposed to keep it on for the year?" He nodded and she pursed her lips. "I should probably wear it where it isn't going to be knocked off then." Kaoru looked down. "You think it would fit along one of my ankles?"

Kenshin grinned to himself and reached over and took the bit of jewelry from her fingers and rolled and hitched her right ankle into his lap. Shoving his pants leg up her calf he rolled her sock down and easily placed it around her trim ankle, running his fingers along the delicate bone there before rolling her sock back up. "It won't break off, Kaoru. You're the only who can take it off now."

She smiled brightly before her smile turned into a yawn and he chuckled. "Come here," Kenshin offered, opening his arms. She rewarded him by crawling into his lap and snuggling against him, draping her legs over one side of his body and wrapping her arms around him as she leaned into his neck. Kenshin wrapped his arms around her, content to hold her as she slowly fell asleep.

Kaoru continued to shiver as Kenshin dropped her in front of the fire, a very irritated expression on his face as he went back and locked the door. Kaoru tucked into herself, shivering hard enough to crack her teeth. He tossed two more logs on the fire and reached over and proceeded to strip her down. "What," Kenshin asked again, his voice a little louder than a growl. "Were you thinking?" He jerked her clothing off at her so he could get to the chilled skin underneath.

"W-was an a-accident," Kaoru chattered as he pulled her soaked socks and pants off her legs. "I only w-went half-in!"

"Only went…" He managed before jerking his own shirt over his head. "Get under those furs." He ordered as he continued to strip himself down before he slid in next to her, hissing as he moved his legs over so she could place her frigid feet between his calves. "What where you doing so close to that riverbank?"

"I didn't know it was crumbling." Kaoru whimpered into his shoulder, wrapping around him and shaking with the cold. "Honey was just trying to get a drink of water." Kaoru managed to out without stuttering. "Is she alright?"

Kenshin swore. "The fool animal is fine." He snarled. "You're the one who decided to immerse herself into a river that just finished breaking up yesterday." He took a great breath. "Do I have to watch you all the time?"

Kaoru muttered something vile under her breath and he relaxed a little as her shivers started to ebb. "I am fine," she grumped at him as she started to relax.

Kenshin rolled them so that she was under him and he glared down at her. "You dunk yourself into a frigid river so your horse could have a drink of water. Do you realize how insane that is?"

She blinked up at him. "You got me out."

Kenshin snarled and dropped his mouth to hers, desperate to taste. Kaoru reached up and wrapped her arms around his back and Kenshin forgot about the cold.

Kaoru woke up to Kenshin trailing fingers up and down her hip. Opening her eyes she looked up and found him watching the fire, his calloused fingers warm against her skin. "Kenshin?" Kaoru asked as she woke herself up and snuggled a little closer. It wasn't cold in the little cabin, but it was cool enough that Kenshin was nice to have to snuggle against.

"Go back to sleep," he suggested softly, but made no move to actually lay back down himself. Kaoru rubbed her eyes and shook her head.

"Something is bothering you," she accused softly, looking up at him. He looked down and brushed some of her hair away from her eyes.

"You're a stubborn little thing," he muttered before sitting up. Kaoru flopped on her side and looked up at him, not quite willing to leave the warmth of the blankets. He gathered a handful of her hair and played with it for long moments. "I have been thinking about what will happen when spring comes."

Kaoru was quiet for long moments as she digested his words. It was difficult to believe that she had been here for a few weeks now. She had learned a lot about the man who she was sharing her bed with, and while every discovery hadn't been pleasant, he had been worth it. "Oh," she finally said, breaking the silence when he continued to stare at the flames, rubbing her hair between thumb and forefinger.

He looked down at her and smiled. "Do not worry," he told her quietly, reading the hesitation in her eyes clearly. "I have no intention of letting you go once the winter ice thaws."

Kaoru relaxed.

"But I do not know if you will wish to be with me," he murmured, as if his words were dragged out of him. Kaoru sat up then and looked at him. She had known all evening something was bothering him. It was one of the nights where he simply wanted to cuddle under the furs after their lovemaking and when she had fallen asleep he had still been holding her tightly. Now it was some unknown hour and he was, for all purposes, still awake. How long had he been watching her sleep? Silly man…

"Kenshin," Kaoru started but stopped as she attempted to figure out how to phrase her next question. "What is bothering you?" she pressed, pushing her loose hair out of her eyes and staring at him.

He sighed drummed his fingers on his thigh. It seemed like now that she was pushing for answers some of the tension had left his shoulders and she breathed a sigh of relief. She knew when to let him attempt to figure out a way to tell her whatever was bothering him.

"Kaoru," he said finally, a resigned note in his voice. "I haven't been completely honest with you."

Karou's eyes widened and she punched in him the shoulder. "If you're married I will…" She hissed at him, eyes narrowing when his mouth broke out into a grin and he shook his head.

"No," he told her, highly amused. "No, it's not that." Sighing he pinned her with a suddenly serious expression. "I'm…earth-bound." He said finally. His mouth quirked up at her expression of utter confusion.

"Earth-bound?" Kaoru repeated baffled. "Is that some sort of priest order?"

Kenshin gave her a thoughtful glance. "It's similar." He sighed. "You know what I used to do in the Kings Army." She nodded her head. "And that the guild that I belonged to is still looking for me? That the King has never quite let me go…" his eyes went back to the fire. "After the King was crowned I went to a small temple near the castle determined to swear myself into some sort of lifestyle that would allow me to atone for some of the blood on my hands." He sighed. "There was an old priest who I ran into on the way there who stopped me. I assisted him to a small altar that I had been unaware of its existence." He sighed. "That old man changed my life."

Kaoru decided he needed a hug and snuggled close enough to wrap her arms around him and rested her head against the meat of his arm, watching the dying flames as he sighed in pleasure. "There is an old way of life. An old…balance of sorts. It's a guardianship that very few take upon themselves. It was a chance to travel and to manage to stay hidden from those who wanted me to keep to my old lifestyle, so I took it." His mouth turned down and he looked down at the blue eyes that were watching him intently. "I should have asked more questions."

Kaoru looked at him for a long time. "This cabin really does belong to the mountain, doesn't it?"

Kenshin nodded slowly. "Yes. Any place that I stay for long periods of time do belong to the mountain." He hesitated. "She is very determined when she wants to be."

"She?" Kaoru repeated softly. "Are you suggesting that the earth talks?"

Of course I do.

Kaoru squealed and jumped into Kenshin's lap. Kenshin made a noise in the back of his throat and pulled her closer, rocking her as she swore violently. "That was not funny," Kaoru told him fiercely. "I swear to you if you laugh," her tone was fierce.

Kenshin smiled into her hair. "I would never," he assured her. "She wasn't so subtle when she introduced herself to me."

Kaoru enjoyed being in his arms but finally pulled a little ways back to look at his face. "So…all those times I thought you were going insane you were actually talking to…the earth?"

"Mostly this mountain," he replied, his eyes narrowing as he took in her expression. "The earth is one place and entity, but she has many voices. You're taking this very well."

Kaoru blinked at him and sighed, fiddling with the collar of his shirt. "Well…I just had…the earth, the mountain, whatever; speak to me. That rather adds to the truth of yours words. Unless I am suddenly realizing that being trapped with you in this cabin for weeks had driven me mad." She tried to smile. "You're not finished explaining, are you?"

He slowly shook his head and Kaoru sighed. "All right, you might as well hit me with it now. That way I can freak out over all of it at the same time." Her tone was surprisingly even and she congratulated herself.

"I stopped aging five years ago." He told her quietly.

Kaoru stared at him. "Excuse me?"

The corner of his mouth quirked up. "I stopped aging five years ago. Right around the time someone else learned that I had stopped." He sighed. "I have never been married before but I have…come close." He looked at her. "If it's all right with you, Kaoru, I would like to save that story for another time."

Kaoru blinked at the weariness in his eyes and she nodded. He would tell her that story at some point and she trusted him. "All right. So will your aging pick up sometime soon or is this a prolonged thing?"

He shifted nervously. "I don't know."

Kaoru felt both of her brows shoot up to her hairline. "You don't know?" Her voice came out in a higher pitched tone than she would have liked and she had to swallow several times before she could manage her next sentence. "You don't know?"

He shook his head. "From what I understand the earth…decides. I have very little…input." He hesitated. "Any woman I marry….would be asked to take the same vows." He looked away. "I…would…want for her to live this walk with me."

Kaoru was almost certain she made some noise but he didn't look back at her. She swallowed. "Kenshin, was that some sort of proposal, or a suggestion that you want me to leave?"

Kenshin stared at her with wide-eyes that held a slightly panicked edge to them. Kaoru found herself giggling and he relaxed. "I would like for you to travel with me for a year." He said finally. "If you…if you like…" he took another deep breath. "If you like the way I live and you want to continue, then yes, I would very much," he swallowed as she leaned into him, his sentence dying on his lips.

"Shut up," she told him pleasantly. He jerked a little but returned the hug when she wrapped her arms around his waist. "I would very much like to spend a year traveling with you before I make my decision," she told him finally. She looked at the fire and then glanced back at him. "Is she going to talk to me all the time now?"

Kenshin shrugged. "It's up to her. However, I think you might…feel her more now."

Kaoru nodded absently before yawning. She looked up at him and her face smoothed into determined lines. "If you're finished worrying about my possible reactions now, I am tired and it's cold." She gave him a little push. "Put some logs on the fire and come to bed."

Kenshin grinned to himself as he tossed the last log into the fire and crawled in after her.

Spring came with a breathtaking slowness. Kaoru patted Honey as she shifted in the saddle, frowning down at her lover. "Are you sure you don't want me to carry more of the packs?"

He grinned up at her, wrapping his fingers around her ankle. "No. I am quite content with the way things are, Kaoru." His eyes darkened. "Are you sure you don't want to go down the front of the mountain?" His voice was soft.

Kaoru shook her head. "No," she sighed. "I think its better this way. Things have their way of working out." She smiled. "I think its best that Enishi and Gohei not know about you." She turned and watched as the pack animal behind them gave a long suffering sigh and moved closer.

He watched her for long moments before nodding. "You don't think they will try something similar with someone else?"

Kaoru shrugged. "I don't know. I do know that Enishi won't have the power to arrange things as he did with me because I was the last one he was in power over. The other families are much more careful with their daughters." She lifted her head to the sky. "It's so pretty outside."

Kenshin shook his head. "We're stopping and getting you something warmer to wear. Were going to be traveling north for a while, and it's only going to get colder," he informed her as he started off. "After that we may go somewhere older." He gave her a warm look. "I want to show you the dark forest and the fairies."

Kaoru perked up. "Fairies?" she asked, delighted. The pack mule moved behind Honey slowly, as if he was bored.

Kenshin chuckled. "Fairies and anything else you want to see," he promised as Honey moved between a trot and a walk. "Anything else."

I hope everyone enjoyed this little ficlet. Because I know the question will come up, yes, I am considering writing a sequeal of sorts that will catelog the year of travel after this. I have not decided how I will do that or what it will cover yet. It is still in the vague notion sort of area. Right now my major concerns are for Little One, Dark Dragon, and Amber Linings. But I shall be thinking and plotting.

I picked up the tips on cooking over a fire from this site: www(dot)inquiry(dot)net/outdoor/skills/beard/buil(underscore)dfire(dot)htm

Guilty Pleasures: www(dot)kokololio(dot)com/guiltypleasures/ You can always go to my HOMEPAGE link on my authors page to be directly sent to this page.