Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin does not belong to me. It is merely a vehicle to work out my sexual perver- I mean, oh, never mind.
AN: This is the result of a very sexy dream that a cruel alarm clock wrenched me away from. Unable to return, despite repeated use of the snooze button, I was forced to work out my UST with this drabble. Of course, I have to actually set up the scene first so it isn't just a PWP, darn it.
Warning: This fic may be triggery for some, as it contains stalking, which is dubiously consensual, and Kenshin refusing to let Kaoru leave the city.
Edited 06Apr06 with the help of Elley.
The Slumbering City
Chapter 1: The Dead Fountain
Water shouldn't smell like sunlight. In fact, sunlight shouldn't have a smell. Nevertheless, there Kaoru was, kneeling with her hands submerged in a fountain of briskly flowing water, inhaling the subtle aroma rapturously.
Distant and muted in her mind, she heard the beeping of her watch alarm. Why the alarm sounded she couldn't quite remember. As she watched the trickling water wash away years of grime and neglect from the blue stoned fountain, she wondered why she tried.
Between the carvings of flowering vines were small etchings of dancing couples. They looked happy. Leaning closer, she noticed that there were words carved along the rim. Water and age had worn them to mere impressions, yet as she watched they became deeper and sharper. She didn't recognize the shape of the letters. Nevertheless, she knew that if she just stared a little bit longer their meaning would become clear.
The beeping became louder. Fuzzily she realized that unlike her old watch, this gift from Megumi was waterproof. Megumi! Thoughts of her practical doctor friend, combined with the shrillness of the alarm, finally awoke Kaoru from her stupor.
Removing her hands from the chilly water, she turned the watch alarm off. It took her three tries because her hands were shaking so badly. The tremors didn't come from the chill of the water – they came from exhaustion, fear, and exhilaration. Kaoru wasn't sure what had just happened, but she knew she shouldn't be this tired. Something was tugging at her attention, trying to get her to gaze back into the fountain, back at the words carved on the rim. The sting as she bit her lip provided just enough of a jolt that she was able to resist it. All she knew for sure was that she needed to leave.
If she was late for lunch with Megumi, her friend would worry. Then she would give Kaoru a harsh scolding. Megumi could wield words as artfully as she wielded scalpels during surgery. Kaoru really didn't want to give her more practice.
Standing up shakily, she walked over to the now sturdy-looking wooden porch circling this private garden and carefully climbed up. She just needed to find her way back to the entrance. Someone else could worry about why the overgrown courtyard she'd first discovered now looked like a perfectly groomed garden.
Only a few hours ago she'd been safely ensconced in a museum tour group, viewing the artifacts of this historic mansion. Kaoru had been so determined to prove to Megumi that she was still the brave, independent girl Megumi had once known back in their small town. Although Megumi had moved to this far off city years ago to become a doctor, they had stayed close through letters, calls, and visits.
After the accident, Megumi had temporarily abandoned her practice to come stay with Kaoru. Megumi had only agreed to return to this metropolis after she'd extracted Kaoru's promise to come and visit. It had almost been a forced promise to move here as well, but Kaoru had managed to successfully put her foot down. Moving in with Megumi would not help prove her independence.
Of course, Megumi had failed to mention that she still had to work for part of Kaoru's visit. Megumi had offered to let Kaoru hang out in her office while she visited patients on the medical floors, but Kaoru had seen too much of hospitals in the past two years to ever voluntarily visit one.
As an alternative to hiding out in Megumi's apartment, Kaoru's first choice, Kaoru had offered to visit the city art museum instead. "Are you sure you no longer-" Megumi began to ask gently before Kaoru interrupted her.
"I'm fine. I go to the museum by myself all the time back home."
Megumi searched Kaoru's eyes for a moment before yielding. "Alright, but at least let me meet you for lunch. I should be able to visit all of my hospitalized patients by about one. Why don't I meet you in front of the museum at 1:30?"
When Kaoru had visited museums back home, especially when she went in the morning, they were always quiet sanctuaries occupied by few people and a myriad of oil paintings, marble sculptures, and wooden masks caught on the cusp of emotion. She loved the way art sparked her imagination. Museums were also a sanctuary from the crowds in other public places. At least, they were back at home.
All too soon Kaoru discovered that here in the big city it was different, very different. Masses of people swarmed through the museum, creating a constant buzz of noise. Bumps and jostles were taken as a matter of course instead of met with apologies. Kaoru had entered the museum in between rushes, and so had not realized until too late how crowded it would be. The area around the entrance and exit was even worse than the exhibits. Hyperventilating, she wedged herself between a wall and a desk in the seething lobby. There were too many people.
Attempting to distract herself, she counted the number of blossoms surrounding the ivory-colored orchid ornamenting the chestnut desk on her left. When her breathing finally slowed, she began examining other items on the desk: the old-fashioned silver nib feather pen, the stacks of colorful brochures advertising exhibits, and the large black and white sign proclaiming the start of a private mansion tour in less than two minutes. Seeing the word private, her mind immediately latched onto it like a life preserver. She didn't worry where the mansion was or who it belonged to; she just cared that it would be private and hopefully less crowded.
Taking a white-knuckled grip on the edge of the desk counter, she made her way in front of the sign and wrote her name. Only five other names were on the list. With an escape in sight she allowed herself to relax. Hiding her hand between her body and the desk, she flexed the fingers carefully. They were stiff and slightly painful from the tightness of her grip on the counter.
A bell rang, assembling the group to leave out of a small side door to the museum parking lot. Inside the museum van, Kaoru sat next to an excited elderly couple. The van seat fit four, so Kaoru had an empty space between her and the duo. Introductions were made after the wife elbowed the husband. "We're the Hiromu family. Charmed," he said shortly but politely.
The spectacled wife clutched her husband's arm and leaned over his lap to grin at Kaoru. "We actually get to see his house! Isn't it wonderful?"
Unsure just who he was, Kaoru merely nodded and smiled. Luckily the tour guide started speaking and spared Kaoru the need to come up with a better reply.
"Welcome to Museum Excursions!" smiled the petite young woman leading their tour. Shaggy black bangs framed sparkling blue eyes. The rest of her hair was tied back in a long braid that curled over her shoulder into a coil on her lap.
"My name is Makimachi Misao. Please feel free to call me Misao, as I'll be your tour guide. Today we are visiting the mansion of the mysterious and enigmatic Lord Battousai. One of the founders of this city, and the only one to settle here after the wars, the story of Lord Battousai's life has become completely mixed with legend. This year is the first time his home has been opened to the public since it was built. His date of birth is unknown, but he helped establish this city over 250 years ago and was the premier warrior of his, some argue of all, time. Since then, his household has helped to rule this city. Like their progenitor, they have all insisted on remaining just as private and mysterious."
Mrs. Hiromu interrupted the guide with a question. "I heard he had a tragic love affair and died of a broken heart. Is that true?"
Kaoru noticed that Misao's eyes flickered with some emotion at this question, but she couldn't tell which emotion. "History and legend tell conflicting tales of just what happened, but it is known that Lord Battousai had a contracted wife named Tomoe." Seeing the interest her statement had generated, Misao smiled and leaned forward. "Unknown to Lord Battousai, Tomoe had infiltrated his household with the intention of destroying him and his new city. "
"Women," snorted a young teenager lounging in the back of the van cockily. "Never trust 'em." Over half of the people in the van turned and glared. Kaoru was wishing her seat reclined back so that she could accidentally bash it into his head.
"Excuse me," continued their tour guide with lowered brows, "but she was motivated by love!" Clearing her throat after that vehement statement, Misao smoothed her hands down the front of her skirt a bit embarrassedly. "As I was saying, during the wars Tomoe's fiancée was killed by Lord Battousai. This prompted her to seek revenge. However, after marrying Lord Battousai a terrible thing happened." Misao paused dramatically.
The van was hushed except for the muted sounds of tires rolling over asphalt and the hum of the engine. "What?" Kaoru asked into the baited silence. "What happened?" For some reason she couldn't explain, the story of Lord Battousai's life was resonating in her mind. It wasn't familiar, but it felt important. She had to know more.
"Lady Tomoe fell in love with her husband. Loving him, she could no longer bear to betray him. But it was too late. While she was attempting to stop the conspirators from carrying out their plan, Lord Battousai showed up and there was a fierce battle."
"What happened to the Lady Tomoe?" Mrs. Hiromu asked.
"Tomoe tried to stop the fighting and protect her husband, but events had grown beyond her control. She died in her husband's arms," finished the tour guide solemnly.
In the respectful and sorrowful silence, Kaoru felt tears prick her eyes. She could so easily picture the pale and beautiful Tomoe clasped in her tall and dashing husband's grief-stricken arms – his silver-streaked black hair rustling in the wind as he rocked her body gently, begging his wife to live and promising forgiveness if only she would open her eyes. Something seemed wrong with her image, but she was too caught up in the story to worry about what. "And Lord Battousai?" Kaoru prompted anxiously. "He didn't really die of a broken heart, did he?"
Misao looked at Kaoru's troubled face and smiled gently. "No, he didn't. He came back to this house," and Kaoru realized that without her noticing they had parked in a winding driveway in front of a huge mansion, "and continued working to protect this city. Then one day he just disappeared and his successor took his place."
"Did he ever remarry?" Surprisingly, this question came from the terse Mr. Hiromu.
"No, but it is said that many woman traveled to the city over the years in a bid to win his heart and title. None of them, however, could pass his test."
Checking her watch, Misao frowned slightly and then looked out the van's window. Only partially concealing a sigh of annoyance, she continued speaking. "Great magic went into the city's making. It took the combined might of all of the founders to set the spell. However, if any of you have visited the outer rings of the city, you'll notice they look completely different from the buildings in the center. They are shorter, flimsier-"
"Uglier," interjected the teenaged boy.
"Uglier," she grinned, "and much more mundane. There is no magic in them. But that's not the way it's supposed to be. Every building, even the new ones built hundreds of years later, were supposed to be protected and infused with magic, able to grow taller and fix themselves with minimum maintenance. Somehow, something has gone wrong with the foundation spell on the city."
"Too bad none of the founders are around to ask," joked the boy again.
A honk presaged the arrival of another museum van. "Finally!" she exclaimed huffily, and then looked up at our confused faces. "Oh, I meant to tell you, the East High football team will be joining our tour. Please remember that this is still a private residence and be respectful. Don't go into any rooms but those on the tour route, please. Let's all go inside, shall we?"
Kaoru felt her stomach turn into lead as the other van disgorged about twenty tall, beefy, chattering boys. Mrs. Hiromu reached over her husband's lap again to pat Kaoru's arm. "Maybe we'll even see a picture of Lord Battousai inside. Oh, this is so exciting!" With that, she spryly maneuvered herself out of the van with the help of Misao's arm. Finally Kaoru was the only person left in the van. Firming her lips, she forced herself to crawl over the seat. The football team's chatter as they thronged in front of the building made her stagger as she stepped out of the van.
"Excuse me, Ma'am," interrupted the driver of the van. "I need to close the door." Kaoru looked down and slowly peeled her fingers off the metal frame. Breathing slowly and deeply, she focused on the shoulders of Mrs. Hiromu and followed her into the palatial mansion. According to the Misao, the front of the building possessed one of the most elaborate and beautiful moldings in the country. Unfortunately, Kaoru didn't trust her fragile control long enough to look up from Mrs. Hiromu's bony shoulder-blades.
Inside the house, she forced herself to raise her eyes. The stunning murals painted on the walls and ceilings of the long hallways and rooms served to finally distract her from her phobia. As long as she walked slowly, she could stay at the rear of the group. She could even pretend she was almost alone. The football team always raced through each room to crowd around Misao in the next doorway. Kaoru rather suspected that they were more interested in Misao's legs than in the historical artifacts.
That all changed when they entered the armory. The football players momentarily abandoned their perky tour guide to exclaim over the cases full of, as one player so elegantly put it, "sharp and pointy things." Not hearing any of them able to make the distinction between a naginata and a spear, or a sword on a stick for that matter, Kaoru wondered about the quality of their education.
Nothing less than an exquisite sword could have drawn her into that seething maelstrom of idiocy and male testosterone. Unfortunately, the high-pitched squeal of Mrs. Hiromu drew her attention to the object of her downfall. It wasn't the spear that the older woman was exclaiming over that caught Kaoru's eye; it was the shadowed katana next to it. Even from a distance she could make out the gentle curvature of the blade, the dark enamel of its sheath, and the worn but well-preserved wrappings on the hilt.
Fortifying herself with a flash of contempt for the football team's lack of intelligence, she held her breath and quickly and gracefully wove her way to the sword. A cold sweat broke out on her brow, but she reached her destination just as Mr. and Mrs. Hiromu moved on. Luckily for Kaoru, this corner of the room had emptied. The space allowed her to focus on the sword.
Unlike the rest of the weapons, this katana wasn't well lit. It hung in a shadowed corner without any white placard of explanation. Most likely it would be overlooked by an uninformed observer.
Uniformed, however, did not describe Kamiya Kaoru. As the heir to her own sword school, albeit one that used bokken instead of katana, Kaoru had always held a lively appreciation for weapons.
Up close, the katana was breathtaking. The hand-guard was molded into a simple but powerful geometric design. Under the low light the steel shimmered, revealing the folding pattern characteristic of only the best of swords. From the corner of her eye, the katana almost seemed to emit a soft glow. The stamp of the smith just under the hilt belonged to one of the most famous master craftsmen ever. To top it off, that smith had died over two hundred years ago. This had to be Lord Battousai's sword. Kaoru didn't know how she knew, but even if there had been a sign claiming it belonged to a second cousin twice-removed, she still would have insisted it belonged to the Battousai.
A sudden loud clap drew the room's attention to their tour guide. "May I please have your attention?" Misao loudly asked. Kaoru was impressed that such a small woman could produce such a large sound. "If you would all gather around, I'll explain a little more about the history of these weapons." With much jostling and laughing, the football team and the group from her van crowded up close to Misao's position.
Before she knew it, Kaoru was surrounded. Sweaty arms and backs bumped into her as the group strained to hear the tour guide's explanation. Kaoru found herself trapped and hyperventilating. Panicking, she flattened herself to the wall beneath Lord Battousai's swords and tried to figure out how to escape. The bodies pressed closer. In a sweep of vertigo she felt the room shrinking, almost scraping the top of her head.
Biting her lip bloody, she held in a sob and flailed her hand against the wall, blindly searching for an escape. Clutching at a piece of molding, she felt it move under her fierce grip and click up into the wall. Her whimper of surprise as the wall swung open was hidden under the sudden laughter of the tall group of boys standing in front of her. As she fell backwards, she twisted as best she could to absorb the blow. The sound of laughter ended abruptly as the hidden door swung shut.
Clumsily regaining her feet, she put her fingertips on the wall of the dimly lit passageway and began to walk briskly, and then run. She had no destination; she just had to get away. Mindless with fear, she didn't know how long she'd been running when she finally came to her senses to find herself staring at a crack in the wall. Her two hands were bracketing the crooked line and her nose itched from the dust. She sneezed.
It was a dead-end. Moving her hands across the cool wood and plaster in ever-widening sweeps, she finally found a small irregularity. Pushing down, she saw another section of wood pop out. Grabbing the knob, she pushed and pulled to no effect. Finally, with a growl of frustration, she twisted it like a doorknob. The wall silently swung open. Blushing, she realized that she should have tried that in the first place.
Upon exiting the passage, she found herself standing on a covered porch. It overlooked an enclosed garden. Unlike the rest of the house, this garden was in a horrible state. Weeds obscured the pattern of the ornamental rocks and sprawled up onto the rotting wood of the veranda. Yet even the weeds were pale, sickly looking things. It felt like a wound hiding in the midst of this magic sustained city. Remembering the dust and cracks inside the latter part of the passageway, Kaoru realized it wasn't only this poor, pitiful garden that had stopped cleaning and repairing itself.
"How long have you been like this?" she found herself whispering into the air. A glint of brightness in the midst of the decay caught her eye. Stepping down into the garden, she made her way to the only spot of color besides pale greens, yellows, and browns. Beneath the weed choked limbs of a maple tree, she noticed something gleaming blue. Kneeling down between its roots, she felt the weeds that hadn't flattened under her weight tickling at her shoulders.
Curious, she leaned forward and began ripping out handfuls of vegetation from around the speck of blue. Wiping away years of dirt and grime, Kaoru uncovered a dark blue stone flecked with gray and silver. It seemed to be carved into the shape of a flower. When she tried to pry it out, it wouldn't even budge. At first she'd thought it to be a small figurine, but it seemed to be attached to something.
A pile of weeds and dirt began to grow steadily by her side. The chalky topsoil quickly turned to damper earth and even clay. Licking her dry lips, she could taste salty sweat and bitter dust. After an indeterminable amount of time, Kaoru discovered that she had unearthed a small fountain. Despite her best efforts, the speckled blue stone was still dull and lifeless beneath its stains of grime. There seemed to be a pattern of flowers and vines tracing their way around the fountain's rim.
Inserting her fingers into the dirt-clogged pipe where water must have one flowed, she traced her fingers through the grime in a path for her imaginary water to run. It looked like the water used to spill over the rim and pour down into a streambed. With the wild grasses and weeds in the way she couldn't quite find its path, but she decided that it would have curled around half of the garden before disappearing underground where a rock garden's pebbled replica took the real water's place.
As she flopped down into the long grasses Kaoru thought to herself, this must have once been a beautiful sanctuary. Between the tree branches she saw fluffy white clouds patterning the heavens, but the brilliance of the sun did not exist inside her little square of blue sky. Rolling over, she placed her chin on her folded, grimy hands and stared at the fountain.
I want you to work.
Rising to her knees, Kaoru crawled forward. Something was urging her to crawl into the fountain. It promised that it would make the fountain work again, it would make her life work again. Almost in a trance, she had one hand flat inside the base and was moving to place her other hand inside. As she shifted forward, however, her hand landed on a pebble and rolled.
Falling forward, she slammed her chin into the rocky rim and bit her tongue. Kaoru let out a shocked cry of pain. In agony, she leaned forward and let the blood and saliva trickle from her mouth. Constant whimpers escaped her throat. With tearing eyes, she watched the moist strands of blood fall into the fountain… and disappear.
Beneath her hands she felt a humming start. Kaoru reared up in a bid to remove her upper body from the fountain, but her hands seemed soldered to the stone. Tears trickled from her eyes and combined with the blood dripping from her mouth. A few drops splattered onto her fingers and remained. For a second she had wildly wondered if she had only imagined herself bleeding; every speck of blood that touched stone became instantly absorbed. The blood on her hands proved she wasn't crazy. At least, not yet.
The humming ratcheted into rumbling and beneath the fear Kaoru found herself getting curious. She heard a pop. Then, amazed, she watched as out of the pipe plugged with decades of mud and debris burst a flood of muddy water. The brown liquid flowed out across her hands and quickly rose to her elbows. As it spilled over the rim it seemed to effortlessly dispel the tall weeds out of its way in a foot-wide swath. Miraculously, it twined around her ankles as if sentient and left Kaoru's feet dry.
Soon the water began to run clear in the fountain. It sparkled iridescent between her hands and, following the same previous impulse, Kaoru leaned forward and kissed her mouth to the surface, taking a sip. The dusty tail of her ponytail disappeared beneath the waters and danced in the fountain's current, tickling her forearms. The water tasted indescribable, quenching a thirst she'd never noticed until that moment.
Lifting her mouth from the water, Kaoru laughed joyously. Then she dunked her entire head into the water. Rearing back with in a move that sent her wet hair arcing through the air, Kaoru breathed deeply. It took her a moment to realize that her mouth no longer hurt. Moving her tongue cautiously, she realized it was healed. Even the scabs where she'd nervously nibbled her lips were gone.
A lingering glance around the courtyard revealed a drastically different scene. Although she still half-knelt in the fountain, her knees no longer rested on a pile of weeds. Instead, springy moss cushioned her joints. Healthy and clearly delineated tree limbs curved over her head and cast shade on the precisely arranged patches of moss, flowers, and stone that now festooned the garden. Even the air smelled different.
As she took in another deep breath through her nose, Kaoru identified the elusive scent painting the air. It was sunlight. Looking back down at her hands submerged beneath the water, Kaoru felt her thoughts slow. The ripple of the water was mesmerizing.
However, as the minutes crawled by, she began to feel a small voice tickling in the back of her mind. Water shouldn't smell like sunlight. In fact, sunlight shouldn't have a smell. Nevertheless, there Kaoru was, kneeling with her hands submerged in a fountain of briskly flowing water, inhaling the subtle aroma rapturously.
Distant and muted in her mind, she heard the beeping of her watch alarm.
TO BE CONTINUED (because KK really need to meet and get up close and personal)
Thanks for reading and please review!