Precious Memory - A Rurouni Kenshin Vignette
This is just a short story, set in the universe I've created for my future fic, Plenus Circulus. It's a world based on Magick and Crafts (just my word for magic and spells, really) where people are ruled by one of seven Elements: Earth, Air, Water, Fire, Light, Darkness and Magick. I should also add here that while this vignette is actually part of the story, Kenshin, Kaoru and Misao won't be called by their normal names in THIS particular memory. It's actually a flashback to Kenshin and Kaoru's previous lives, so they'll be called something different. Misao's character is actually Misao's future mother.
Anyway, the prologue to Plenus Circulus will be coming out very, very soon and it will make everything I've written here become clear. But Precious Memory was demanding to be written in a most strident manner and who am I to refuse the muse? (hey, that rhymes! hee!)
Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin or it's characters.
WARNINGS: Just a bit of lime. Nothing too tangy. It's rated M for safety. Also, this vignette is un-beta'd and was written this evening.
To say that Kaoru felt nervous was an understatement.
Once again, the high pitched, slightly hysterical voice inside her head asked what on earth she was doing standing in front of the polished, dark wood door. Kenshin's door.
The smooth, even, unnaturally calm voice—the counterbalance to the hysterical voice—answered immediately, telling her that she was here because she was meant to be here. Because she wanted to be here. She'd somehow known the direction she'd wanted things between them to take ever since that first day, months ago. She knew things would end this way.
The day Kaoru started her studies at The Institution had been the most exciting time of her life. She'd graduated from the Academy of the Crafts at the end of the previous year, gaining numerous glowing recommendations from her tutors and a rock-solid friendship as a bonus.
To be completely truthful, she hadn't expected either. She'd always considered her Craftsmanship to be average at best. Sure, she could summon and wield the Sword of Light, but that in itself wasn't considered to be anything particularly amazing. She was Light-bound and, in these times of peace and prosperity, it was extremely rare for a Craftsman to be unable to summon their Elemental weapon. On top of that, Kaoru had always been a bit of a lone wolf. She found it uncommonly difficult to connect with other people and make friends, preferring to spend her time in quiet solitude. Feelings and emotions were things she rarely ever thought about, let alone confided in anyone else. She'd never considered her lack of social experience to be a problem before.
Then Misao, that little Earth-bound imp, had exploded into Kaoru's life, along with all her noise and chatter. She'd transferred into the Academy from a neighbouring prefecture, her parents wanting to give her the best education they could afford. The Academy that Kaoru attended was known as the best in the entire region.
Despite their many differences, Kaoru and Misao seemed to bond almost instantly and were inseparable throughout the remainder of their learning careers at the Academy. Misao's unconditional loyalty and friendship gave Kaoru something she hadn't realised she needed. It was Misao who taught Kaoru that feelings were natural and normal, rather than just luxuries she couldn't afford. She taught Kaoru to feel and to talk about what was going on inside, rather than staying silent or pushing the feelings away.
Misao had been there for Kaoru all the times she'd needed her support. When her family had broken the news to her about her arranged Hand-fasting to Makoto, one year before graduation, she'd gone straight to Misao, feeling shocked and numb inside. She needed her friend to coax her emotions to the surface, she needed to know how she felt about this. Kaoru knew that she depended on her friend for psychological validation a little more than she probably should, but Misao never seemed to mind.
"What is your heart telling you?" Misao had asked, clasping Kaoru's hands in her own tiny ones.
"I don't know," Kaoru answered, desperation making her voice crack. "I know I should be feeling something, but there's just nothing there!"
"It's all right," Misao soothed her. "Stop trying so hard. The reason you're feeling nothing is probably because there's nothing there."
Misao had been right. There was nothing there. She felt nothing for Makoto, the same indifference she'd always bestowed on members of the opposite sex. Makoto was from an influential family; his father was one of the members of the Council of The Apex. Kaoru herself came from a family involved with the important ceremonial work often done for the Council. Their families had agreed that a Hand-fasting between their children would be beneficial to them both.
Kaoru supposed that, since she felt nothing for any other man, it wouldn't be so bad to be Hand-fasted to Makoto. He was handsome. He was wealthy. He was Darkness-bound, or in other words, an extremely talented Craftsman. He was unfailingly kind, gentle and attentive with her, always promising that he would care for her and provide for her and their children once they were bound together. Kaoru had gradually come to accept the prospect of being Hand-fasted to and having children with this man, even though he still felt like a stranger after a year and a half of betrothal.
But then… Kenshin had come along… and everything changed.
The day Kaoru started her studies at The Institution had been the most exciting time of her life. She desperately wanted to excel and reach the level of Master Craftsman; an achievement that took four years of relentless study and single-minded dedication. Much to her relief, Makoto had promised that they would postpone their Hand-fasting until they had both completed their studies and left The Institution. Kaoru knew that she would have done so even if he hadn't agreed, but letting him believe his consent mattered was far less aggravating for all parties concerned.
Kaoru raced through the halls on that first day, her books practically overflowing from the circle of her arms. She was late for her first class.
With a bone-jarring thump, she collided with someone, sending books flying in all directions.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Kaoru cried, struggling to her knees to bend over her victim. "I was in such a rush, I wasn't looking where I was going!" Now she would be late for sure, but that fact was instantly forgotten as she recognised the person she had knocked down.
If there was one man Kaoru would ever express more than casual disinterest in, this was him. She didn't know his name, even though they had attended the same Academy for years. He was Fire-bound, with long scarlet hair, pale skin and golden eyes. Kaoru had always been fascinated with the Fire-bound, putting it down to the age-old connection between the Fire-Bound and the Light-bound, starting with Kasei and Hikari, the first Humans. She'd always wondered a little about him, he was quiet and rarely spoke to others, spending his free time alone in the corner of the Academy courtyard, reading.
"It's all right," the Fire-bound answered her, his voice smooth, mellow and utterly calm. "I was rushing too, not paying attention to my surroundings."
Kaoru climbed to her feet, extending a hand to her companion, which he accepted as he rose. They hastily gathered their books from the floor before setting off together at a slightly reduced pace.
"What class were you heading for?" Kaoru asked, slightly breathless. She'd forgotten how fast the Fire-bound were when they wanted to be and she was labouring to keep up with him.
"Ritus," he answered. It was the subject dealing with Magickal ceremony, where they were taught the advanced methods of paying tribute to The Apex.
"Oh! Me too!" Kaoru said in surprise. The corner of his mouth twitched slightly at the corner, so quickly that Kaoru thought she might be imagining it.
"I know," he said softly.
They arrived at their class room a short time later. Kaoru gave her apologies to the tutor for their lateness, explaining that she had been involved in a collision the red-head standing beside her. This had been a great source of amusement to both the tutor and the class. Kaoru had eventually taken her seat, flushed with embarrassment, next to Misao, who was trying valiantly to keep a straight face. She knew that Kaoru wasn't used to being the object of so much attention. The Fire-bound sat a few rows behind her, smiling slightly at her as he passed.
Kaoru picked up her text and flipped it open, wishing that the thick parchment would just swallow her whole. She took deep calming breaths, feeling the blush start to recede. To her surprise, a folded piece of paper slipped from between the pages of her book and fell silently onto the surface of the table in front of her. Bewildered, she picked it up and carefully unfolded it.
It was a drawing. Kaoru studied it, thoroughly impressed and a little envious of the artist's talent. It was a sketch done in charcoal, depicting a dark haired girl about her age. She was sitting on the ground with her legs tucked underneath her, leaning against a stone fountain. Her head was tilted downwards; she was reading a book that lay in her lap. Her hair was pulled back in a high ponytail, exposing her high cheekbones, straight nose and full lips. There was something inherently familiar about this girl; her posture, her features.
Come to think of it, the girl in the picture looked an awful lot like her! Kaoru remembered a day towards the end of the previous year when she was still at the Academy. Misao had been sick with a fever and had stayed home, but Kaoru had been quite unaffected and had gone to school without her. She'd spent her break reading, curled up in her favourite spot, at the base of the stone fountain in the corner of the courtyard. She'd glanced around briefly at the people rushing past her and had spotted the Fire-bound in the opposite corner, his head buried in a book. His calm, still presence felt strangely comforting amidst the swiftly moving rabble around them.
For a few moments, time had seemed to slow and Kaoru had felt something fleeting and foreign blossom in her chest, like it was just the two of them alone among the old stones and the jasmine vines that curled across them.
Feeling strangely light-headed, Kaoru stared at the name written at the bottom of the sketch.
So that was his name. He was an artist, obviously. Did he slip this picture into her book when they'd run into each other before? Kaoru flipped to the front of the text to check that it was hers and froze when she saw Kenshin's name written neatly on the first page. This was Kenshin's book. She must have picked it up by accident! That meant, she wasn't even meant to be seeing this sketch.
To Kaoru's mortification, the blush from earlier that had mostly cooled was now back in full force.
"What's wrong?" Misao whispered, seeing her friend's agitation. Wordlessly, Kaoru slid the paper across the table. She knew she probably shouldn't, but she also knew that Misao would pester her with predictable tenacity until Kaoru told her what was on her mind. Self-preservation won out over protecting Kenshin's privacy.
Misao squeaked, muffling the sound admirably with her hand. Composing herself more quickly than Kaoru would have given her credit for, she returned the sketch. "It's a beautiful drawing," she said quietly. "You should be flattered."
"You think so?" Kaoru asked in a whisper. "I shouldn't be concerned that he's stalking me?"
"He doesn't seem like the stalking type," Misao answered thoughtfully. "I think he just appreciates beauty when he sees it." She grinned devilishly and Kaoru's stomach sank. "I think you should return the poor guy's sketch after class. Maybe talk to him about it! You know, discuss the relevance of the medium and all that. Artsy talk."
Kaoru nodded reluctantly and Misao, apparently satisfied, returned to her note-taking. Kaoru smoothed the paper out in front of her, unable to concentrate on what the tutor was saying. It was worn at the creases, as though it had been folded and un-folded many times. Interesting.
Unable to help herself, Kaoru twisted in her seat to look at Kenshin. It should be safe, he would have his head down taking notes, he'd always seemed like such a studious type.
She got quite a fright when she realised that not only was he not taking notes, he was staring back at her with an expression on his face that made her feel inexplicably nervous. It was completely different to the look he normally wore; it was sharper, more intense, almost… hungry.
When he realised she was looking at him, Kenshin's features softened into his customary dreamer's expression and he offered her a quizzical smile. Screwing up her courage, Kaoru smiled back shyly and let her hand drop to her knee, the sketch dangling from her fingers, clearly visible.
She watched in fascination as Kenshin's golden eyes followed the movement, then a hot blush sprang up on his pale cheeks as realisation dawned. He grabbed his text and flipped it to the first page, then looked up at her with wide, embarrassed eyes.
Kaoru tamped down on the giggle rising at the mortified look on his face. He was obviously humiliated enough without her laughing at him. With what she hoped was a reassuring smile, Kaoru slowly and deliberately folded the piece of paper, turning back around to tuck it between the pages of his book.
She would return it to him after class… once he had answered her questions.
Kaoru lifted her hand to knock on Kenshin's door, then promptly lost her nerve and let her hand drop back to her side. She was crazy. What was she playing at? If Makoto found out she was here, she would be in so much trouble.
"I don't care," she whispered. "I don't care what he thinks, he's not the ruler of me."
Ah, but he is your future Mate, a niggling little voice reminded her. What you are planning to do qualifies as infidelity!
"We are not Hand-fasted yet," Kaoru reminded the voice. "I don't care what my family thinks, they can't force me into a partnership I don't want. They need my cooperation for the ceremony to be binding."
Are you prepared to face the consequences your actions will bring? The voice asked her.
Then lift your hand and knock on that door. You can't back out now.
Her mind made up, Kaoru raised her fist and knocked three times, praying that Kenshin would answer before her resolve faltered.
The class room was empty. Even Misao had left, the look in her eyes telling Kaoru that she would be milked for every little detail later on. Kaoru sat straight-backed at her table, trying to tame her nerves. The fact that Kenshin was standing right behind her wasn't helping. Since when did men make her nervous anyway?
"Our Ritus text books seem to have become mixed up." It was Kenshin who spoke first. "During our meeting in the hallway, no doubt."
"Yes," Kaoru agreed, turning to face him. "I realised I had your book when I found your sketch."
Two pale spots of colour appeared on Kenshin's cheeks and Kaoru realised that he was trying very hard not to blush again.
"Did you like it?" he asked after a long silence, abandoning all pretences of nonchalance.
"I… well…," Kaoru stuttered, taken aback. She hadn't expected him to take this approach. Pulling herself together, she answered, "I think you are extremely talented. But I found the subject to be lacking."
One scarlet brow rose. His face was unreadable. "Oh? Why is that?"
All of a sudden, Kaoru was attacked by doubt. Doubt that she might have made a mistake. That the girl in the picture wasn't her at all. She was embarrassing this poor guy over nothing. Standing quickly, she held the book out to him.
"I'm sorry," she said, chagrined. "I should have given this back to you straight away. It was rude of me."
"Kaoru," he said quickly, touching her lightly on the wrist, "Are you upset because I sketched you? If you are, I apologise."
Kaoru stilled, embarrassed not only since she'd seemed to have offended him, but also because it sounded like he'd known her name for years, while she'd only just learnt his an hour ago."
"No," she said at last, not meeting his eyes. "It doesn't upset me. In fact, it makes me kind of… happy." She met his eyes briefly, only to blush and look away again. "But I am wondering, why me?"
"Because you inspire me," Kenshin answered her candidly. "You have a beauty and a spark that captivates me. It makes me want to draw you over and over again." Placing his fingers under her chin, he tilted her flushed face upwards, so that they were looking at each other once more. "Would you consider becoming my muse?"
Kaoru smiled to herself, recalling the shock she had felt at Kenshin's request. He wanted her as his muse? She couldn't believe it. Feeling a little overwhelmed, she had agreed, which earned her the full force of Kenshin's smile. Even the memory of it made her knees feel wobbly. She should have known, even back then, that she wouldn't stand a chance. Kenshin had obviously been watching her for years, waiting for her to notice him. He knew she couldn't refuse him.
She heard the soft fall of his footsteps behind the door and prepared herself for what she was about to do.
The months passed in a blur. Kaoru attended The Institution with Misao during the day and spent most of her afternoons with Kenshin. Thankfully, Makoto was busy taking extra classes, so he never noticed that she would disappear at the end of each day.
Misao had been delighted when Kaoru had told her that she was helping Kenshin with his art. She welcomed him with open arms, her naturally friendly and trusting nature coming to the fore. Kenshin, for his part, seemed to genuinely appreciate her friendship and the three of them spent a lot of time together while they were studying.
As it turned out, Kenshin was more than adept with numerous mediums; charcoal, paints and sculpture to name just a few. Once, early on, Kenshin had sculpted a bust of Kaoru's head and shoulders. He'd spent the longest time just trailing his fingers gently over her face, memorising every dip and curve. Kaoru had been lulled into a sleepy sort of trance, mesmorised by his slender white artist's hands. They were beautiful, just like the rest of him.
Kaoru had asked Kenshin in the beginning what he planned to do with all his creations once he was done with her. He had just smiled gently and said that he created art for his own enjoyment, no one else's. Initially, Kaoru had been bewildered by this; what was the point of working so hard when no one would ever see it? It wasn't until much later that she truly understood Kenshin's motivations.
Over time, Kaoru had discovered that her feelings where Kenshin was concerned ran a fair bit deeper than just muse and artist. The prospect of being Hand-fasted to Makoto became more and more repugnant by the day, the idea of being forced to settle down and bear his children stifling her with fear. She was at a loss at what to do about it, however. She felt trapped and powerless, unable to save herself. She needed Misao.
When she finally mustered the courage to confide her feelings to her friend, she'd simply smiled that knowing smile of hers and pulled her into a sympathetic hug.
"I know, dearest," Misao had whispered into her ear.
"What should I do?" Kaoru asked her, afraid of what her answer would be.
"You need to listen to what your heart is telling you," was Misao's response. "Only you know what you truly want. You need to figure that out, then go and get it."
So, Kaoru had formulated a plan. She wasn't sure it was going to work, in fact, she was quite sure that it wouldn't. But she was going to try it anyway. Kenshin had promised her a few days ago that he would give her a gift in return for all her time and patience spent being his muse. Kenshin knew that Kaoru spent a large chunk of her study time with him and he promised her that she could ask for whatever she wanted and he would give it to her.
Kaoru decided that, even if her Hand-fasting to Makoto was inevitable, she was still going to take this one chance to be happy before it happened. She would offer herself to Kenshin, ask him to give her a precious memory to keep close to her heart for the coming years when she would be separated from him forever. This one night would have to be enough to carry her through the rest of her life.
Kaoru clutched the collar of her robe convulsively as the door opened, revealing the man she had come to love so desperately.
"Kaoru!" he sounded genuinely pleased to see her. "I wasn't expecting you tonight."
"I'm sorry," she answered reflexively. "I can come back another time…?"
No you can't. If you leave now, you'll never find the courage again.
"Don't be silly!" Kenshin grinned, taking her hand and pulling her inside. "I always have time for a visit from you." Closing the door, he turned and took in the tense set to Kaoru's shoulders and the anxiety clouding her vibrant blue eyes. Something was wrong. "What is it?" he asked in concern, grasping her shoulders gently with his hands.
Kaoru looked away, feeling bare and vulnerable under his tawny gaze. Taking a deep breath, she collected her scattered thoughts. She had to do this.
"Kenshin, I've been thinking about the gift you promised me." Her voice sounded calm and even. Kaoru was immensely grateful for that.
Kenshin's eyebrows rose. "Oh, have you?" he asked. "Have you decided what you want?"
"Yes," Kaoru answered. Steeling herself, she slipped her robe from her shoulders, leaving it pooled on the floor around her feet. She stood before him skyclad, trying to banish her feelings of self-consciousness.
Kenshin froze, his eyes impossibly wide. Kaoru swallowed and said softly, "I want you to make love to me, right here, right now. Can you give me that gift, Kenshin?"
Kenshin simply stared at her in silence for a few seconds before stepping forward and trapping her in an embrace so tight she could barely breathe.
"Are you sure?" he whispered into her hair.
"I'm sure," Kaoru murmured. "I'm in love with you, Kenshin," her voice finally cracked as she said his name.
"As am I with you," he answered, trapping her with his burning gold eyes. "I've loved you for such a long time." He ducked his head and kissed her fiercely, his fingers tangling in her hair, ripping out the binding and letting her black tresses spill over her shoulders and down her back.
Kaoru opened her mouth eagerly, accepting his kiss and silently demanding more. He stroked his tongue against hers insistently, setting her body ablaze with the warm velvet caress. She had never imagined that a kiss could feel this way. She was eternally grateful that she had given her first kiss to Kenshin.
Eventually, they broke apart, flushed and breathing heavily. Kenshin took her hands in his and led her to his bedroom. Kaoru's self-consciousness at her state of undress was completely forgotten as Kenshin's hot amber eyes raked her body covetously, adoringly.
Then, she was on her back on Kenshin's bed, his lean body pressing hers into the mattress in places that made her writhe and arch against him. She closed her eyes in rapture and let herself get lost in the sensation of his kisses, his caresses and his love.
She would remember this night for the rest of her life. It would be her most precious memory.
Please read and let me know what you think!