A/N: The last chapter in this story, but hopefully worth the wait. A special thanks to those who had the patience to finish this story!
The coming evening brought much worry to Kaoru as she began to fix supper. After her inward decision to find out more about Kenshin's life, she had found little opportunity to do so. He had stayed with the children until well into the afternoon, then had gone to the market on an errand with Sano. Soon, though, he would return for the meal and she would be able to speak with him afterward, perhaps she would even make some headway this night.
Kaoru sighed as she stirred the pot full of strange food stuff, her mind preoccupied while her hands made one horrid creation after another. Finally the meal was prepared and she could hear the voices of the two companions walk into the courtyard of the dojo. She scowled as she heard Sano say his goodbyes with a wise crack about her terrible cooking.
Kaoru was still angry as Kenshin entered the kitchen, his eyes brushing over the food with some hesitation. Yahiko was less polite as he came into the room, his nose twitching with more than a hint of disgust as he reluctantly seated himself at the table.
"What'd you do, let it spoil?" he teased with some sincere questioning as Kaoru began placing the rest of the food on the table.
"If you don't like it, don't eat it" she shot back as she sat down on one side of the table while Kenshin seated himself opposite her.
"Really?" he asked with hope in his voice, half rising and attempting to make his getaway.
However, Kaoru had every intention of letting him go. At least, for this meal.
"All right" she obliged, startling both males at the table. "But if you get hungry, there will only be leftovers to eat" she warned, an evil grin on her face. "I used the last of our food to cook this meal."
Yahiko stared at her in horror as his stomach suddenly growled in protest, but his face suddenly lit up in glee. He dug into his pockets and found a few loose change, enough to be triumphant in this exchange of words.
"Then I'll go buy my own food" he announced as he stood and left the room in a blur of motion, afraid Kaoru would stop him from leaving.
"Well, do you want to go to?" she asked Kenshin in an almost threatening manner, causing the rurouni to look alarmed.
"No, no, that I don't" he answered, picking up his own chopsticks with a soft sigh.
Kaoru smiled and shook her head as she began eating some of the, admittedly, terrible food. She was grateful Kenshin at least attempted to swallow her cooking, but even she was having a hard time choking down her concoction. With the two participants hesitant to eat too much, the meal was soon over. As Kenshin began to rise to take the plates to the kitchen, Kaoru stopped him with an outstretched hand.
"Wait" she said, catching his attention immediately. "I want to talk to you about something."
Kenshin, surprised by her sudden announcement, seated himself back onto his cushion. He patiently, though curiously, waited for her to begin.
"Well, I was just wondering about your past" she tried to ask in an offhand manner, but her question caught Kenshin's suspicion. "And, well, how many people you might have...killed" she added, regretting the word even as it left her lips.
Kenshin looked at her in silence for along moment, his eyes holding a strange expression. Then he stood to his feet and walked around the table to sit beside the ashamed woman, making her very nervous.
"Kaoru, I want to know, that I do" he softly replied, placing a hand upon her shoulder. "What has been bothering you?"
Kaoru was surprised by his sudden show of concern, and especially his hand upon her shoulder. He rarely made physical contact with anyone besides those who had tried to kill him, and yet now here he was trying to give her solace. He had even dropped the honorary title he so often used with her name, all to make her feel more comfortable. She felt tears come to her eyes at his sudden willingness to assist her in her time of trouble, and felt foolish for not having come to him sooner.
"I...I don't know" she honestly answered, turning her eyes from his penetrating stare. "It happened the night you were playing hide-and-seek with the girls. Someone was there, someone who wasn't supposed to be there."
"Who?" he questioned, his face and tone one of concern.
"I don't know" Kaoru replied, shaking her head. "Every time I see them, it's too dark to make out who they are."
"How many times has this happened?" he asked, his free hand gently cupping her chin and turning her eyes to face his gaze.
"Several" she spoke, a controlled quiver in her voice. "But they're getting worse" the young woman admitted, shuddering at the thought of tonight's probable visitation. "I...I need your help tonight."
"Yes?" he asked, his tone eager showing his eagerness to help her with her trouble.
"Don't laugh, but I think it might be a...a spirit" she admitted, a bit of a blush of embarrassment upon her cheeks. "And I want to try to talk to it tonight, but I need you to help me lure it into the dojo."
For a long moment Kenshin remained quiet, his eyes unblinking at he stared at her with an indistinguishable emotion upon his face. Then he slowly smiled and nodded his head, his hands dropping off her shoulder and chin while he stood to his feet. He offered his hand to her, an expression of determination on his face.
"I will help you, that I will" he spoke as Kaoru's face lit with a smile and she eagerly took his hand.
With Kenshin's help, she knew tonight would mean the end of her suffering.
The night found the two companions within the dojo, both apprehensive about the coming confrontation. Kaoru had placed numerous lamps about the room to give light when the intruder arrived, to both give her comfort and provide light to recognize the person. As the last light was put into place, the sun sank below the horizon.
"Well, this is it" she nervously stated as the room grew into total darkness.
Kaoru had planned their positions so each would be standing next to a lamp should the visitor arrive, and both would be able to cast light upon their features. Then, if the person were truly a spirit, they would begin their communication with the vengeful soul. If her theory was proven wrong, they would still be able to adapt to the situation with each of their swords, placed next to them in the room.
However, even the best laid plans can go awry.
As the minutes passed Kaoru became more anxious, wondering silently if her tormentor would not arrive. She looked to where Kenshin stood, though with the limited light she could not see anything but the outline of his figure. The young woman was about to communicate with him when she suddenly felt a chill about the room.
"Kenshin!" she hissed quietly, afraid she would also alert the intruder. "It's here!"
To her utter horror, however, the figure she had taken for Kenshin suddenly shifted in their position. Their shadow seemed to lengthen even as Kaoru recognized the form which now stood before her eyes. She looked wildly about the room for her protector, but could find no trace of the rurouni's figure. Upon finding he had mysteriously disappeared, she could think of no further action but to question her tormentor. She swallowed her fear, pushed off the wall, and stood firm upon the dojo's floor.
"Do you...do you know Kenshin?" she asked, her voice revealing her fear with a slight quiver. To Kaoru's shock, and slight relief, the figure slowly nodded its head. "Why are you here?" she questioned, hoping the creature would be able to reply to more than a yes or no question.
To the young woman's horror the figure raised their hand and pointed at herself, while a small chuckle escaped their lips. She recoiled in fear and felt behind for her wooden sword, finding the weapon quickly as the person slowly lowered their accusing limb. Her fingers wrapped around the large stick, one point of relief in this ever growing nightmare.
"S-stay away from me" she spoke, wielding the stick but unsure how effective the weapon would be against the figure.
The figure stopped, but the sound of mocking laughter came to her ears. The figure himself pulled forth a sword, one which gleaned strangely in the limited light. Kaoru squinted her eyes, wondering why the weapon shined so unusually, until her eyes widened in absolute terror.
"No..." she spoke in shock, shaking her head as the figure took a step toward where she stood mesmerized by the shock. "Kenshin...it can't be you..."
"Ah, I had given you too much credit" the person finally spoke, their voice Kenshin's but their tone much darker than the gentle rurouni's own. "It finally took the sword for you to realize who I was."
"But...but you can't be!" she argued, not believing her own senses. "In the dojo, the bathhouse...how could you have done those things?!"
"Don't you remember, Kaoru?" the demon Kenshin asked as he suddenly appeared directly before her. He grabbed her wrists into one of his hands while his other arm wrapped around her waist, bringing their bodies against one another. "My god-like speed allowed me to pass you that night in the dojo" he answered as he carefully buried his face into her silky hair. "And I had set the wood atop each other so they would collapse at certain times to create the steam I needed."
Then the figure seemed to grin in the darkness, a soft chuckle escaping his lips. Kaoru struggled desperately to free herself, thrashing wildly about in his grip, but the person proved too strong.
"But I really must thank you, though" he said as his lips slowly began to move down the side of her face. "The fool had knocked himself out upon the dojo floor, and then at your calling, I awakened" the figure explained as his grip on her wrist tightened. Kaoru was forced to drop the weapon as she cried out in pain. "And with my chance, I couldn't leave such beauty alone by herself" he added, pressing her body against his own.
"You...who are you?!" Kaoru questioned, gritting her teeth as his hold became painful.
"You are forgetful, that you are" the person mockingly answered, his lips against her ear. "You have seen me once before, but only for a short moment."
Kaoru's eyes slowly widened as she realized who she now was dealing with and in what danger she now found herself in. The person holding her, the one who held the same voice as Kenshin, could only be the man-killer feared even so many years of the revolution.
"Ah, there you are" the Battousai slowly spoke, realizing she had guessed correctly who he was. He released his hold upon her wrists, but not the one upon her waist. "But what will you do abou-"
Suddenly the killer of legend, one who had slain countless men for no gain but to test his skills, was dumbfounded. Kaoru had taken her arms and wrapped them tightly around his body as she had buried her face into his chest. He could feel tears soaking through the cloth even as his body began to tremble with confusion.
"What...what are you doing?" he questioned, looking down upon the woman who held him so tightly.
"Kenshin" she softly called, her voice tinged with pity and hope. "Please, come back."
"He is not here, Kaoru" the Battousai answered even as he suddenly began to grit his teeth in concentration. "I will not let him return!" he shouted, throwing her off his body even as he clutched his head in his hands. "I will not be left caged again!" he cried out, but Kaoru could sense a different tone in his voice.
"Kenshin!" she called out joyfully, rushing to the struggling figure. "Kenshin, please come back! I still need you to smile at me every morning! To help eat my terrible cooking!" she shouted, tears flowing down her face as she hugged the distraught person. "I still need you" she whispered.
Her final words soothed the beast as Kenshin halted his struggles and slowly looked up into her face, his eyes shining with their usual mix of pain and pleasure.
"Kaoru-dono" he spoke, smiling at her tear-stained face. He reached up a hand and gently wiped away a shining drop. "I'm glad to be back, that I am."
"And I'm glad you're back" she answered as she buried her face into his clothes, laughing in relief as Kenshin wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly.
The next day dawned bright and warm as Kaoru sat upon the boardwalk which surrounded the dojo. She hummed to herself an old tune her father had taught to her as a child, the rays warm upon her skin. The young woman looked up at the sound of footsteps and smiled widely as Kenshin appeared around a corner.
"Good morning, Kenshin" she greeted, standing to her feet and bowing.
"Good morning, Kaoru-dono" he agreed, his usual habit having returned.
"How are you feeling today?" she asked, a look of slight worry on her face. "I mean, after last night..."
"I feel fine, that I do" he responded, smiling at her concerned expression. He seated himself down upon the platform and Kaoru joined him. "He sleeps again" he simply spoke, knowing she would understand.
"Good" she replied, leaning against his shoulder as she closed her eyes in contentment.
However, as Kenshin looked up into the sunlight with a bright smile upon his face, his eyes flashed with a tinge of golden. Perhaps today would be a wonderful day, but night would eventually fall once more.