Disclaimer - Sadly, I don't own Rurouni Kenshin. It is the sole property of Nobuhiro Watsuki and the many companies who have purchased the rights.
Hi all, here's a little oneshot for your reading pleasure. I just finished writing this fic for the oneblanket community at livejournal and decided to put it up here too. Also this is the first time I've tried to stay in the canon universe so please forgive me if it's not quite right, it's been quite a while since I read the manga and watched the anime. Hope you like it.
Ages; Kenshin - 22, Kaoru - 9 (ages determined from RK Profiles book)
One Snowy Night
Kaoru wrapped the heavy cloak around her shoulders and tiptoed to the door. She had to find that ribbon, it didn't matter that her father had told her not to leave the small inn they were staying at tonight. She couldn't leave that ribbon out in the cold, it was the last thing she had of her mom and she couldn't stand the thought of never seeing it again. Sniffling back the tears suddenly burning her eyes she slid back the door and hesitantly stepped out into the deserted hall. She would get it back, it couldn't have gone too far. It wouldn't take her very long to find it, she would go find it and be back to the inn before her dad got back and he would never know.
Nodding to herself she slipped down the hallway and tiptoed up to the shoji leading outside. Stopping a foot away she held her breath and listened for any sign of people on the other side. She let it out slowly when all she heard was the wind, it was dinner time that's why there wasn't anyone around. Smiling she slid the shoji open and slipped outside. A shiver whispered over her skin as the cold air blasted into her face, small snowflakes landing and melting on her cheeks. She almost laughed when she realized it was snowing, but as she glanced around the slowly darkening yard the smile fell away. There was already a light dusting on the ground, if she didn't hurry she would never find it.
Spurred by the thought Kaoru stepped off the porch and jogged to the gate, pulling it open she peeked out into the street. Looking both ways she smiled, there was no one to see her, not a soul walked the cold dark street. Slipping silently out the gate she jogged down the deserted road and headed out of town, the pure white snow giving off a light all its own. It shouldn't be too far, they had almost been to the town when the wind had ripped it from her hair. Glancing at the snow falling from the sky she frowned. It looked like it was starting to get a little worse. If she didn't hurry she wouldn't find it before the snow buried it. A small knot tightened in her belly at the thought, she couldn't lose it, she just couldn't!
Quickening her steps she left the small village behind. The biting wind driving small snowflakes into her unprotected cheeks, stinging as they hit her steadily cooling skin. Cursing the snow she stumbled down the darkening road searching for the old dead stump she remembered seeing when the wind had ripped the midnight blue ribbon from her hair. She lost hope as the snowflakes started to fall faster, the road before slowly becoming a hazy white wall. Snuggling the cloak a little tighter around her shoulders she pushed on, her steps slowing more as the snow fell even harder. She heaved a sigh when she spied the stump. Stumbling through the rapidly deepening snow she leaned against the stump for a minute to catch her breath. Peeking over her shoulder back towards the town a small knot of fear tightened in her belly. A sudden feeling that she was completely alone filtered through her body, the utter silence and empty road behind her feeding her fears.
Swallowing around the lump suddenly lodged in her throat she shifted her attention to the forest beyond the stump where her ribbon had vanished. Scanning the trees and ground tears started to burn her eyes again, one lone tear slipping free to trail down her cheek. It had to be here somewhere, she couldn't lose it, without it she would forget her mom and she couldn't do that. It made her sick to her stomach to even think of the possibility that she might forget her mom. Her dad had told her that there was no way she could forget her but Kaoru didn't believe him. How was she supposed to remember her without seeing her everyday? There was no way. She had to have that ribbon.
Shoving the depressing thoughts away she tugged the cloak even tighter around her slim form and pushed on into the trees. It couldn't have gone too far, it should be just a few steps off the road somewhere. Kicking her feet as she walked she pushed on for several minutes searching the snow covered ground and tree limbs for some sign of the blue cloth. She steadily lost hope the further she went into the forest, if it had gone this far then she was never going to find it. All of a sudden out of nowhere a cold blast of wind whipped through the trees ripping the cloak from her numbing fingers. Struggling to keep the cloth wrapped around her she lost her balance and fell into the thickening snow, the white wetness biting at her exposed hands, clinging to her hakama clad knees. It was then that she noticed how deep the snow had already become.
Struggling to her feet she released the cloak long enough to dust off the snow, another blast of wind whipped past her ripping the cloak from her shoulders and temporarily blinded her with stinging snowflakes. Ducking her head she shielded her face with one hand and wiped at the freezing cold water coating her cheeks. Finally the wind died down enough for her to glance back up. A block of lead settled in her stomach as she looked around searching for the cloak. There was nothing but white for as far as the eye could see, the ground and tree limbs were covered. Spying the cloak tangled in the limbs above her head she tried to jump up and snag it but only succeeded in ripping down a low lying limb. Trying again she realized that it was way too far up for her to reach, with one last jump she gave in and scanned the area to find the way back to the road.
A sudden explosion of fear set her trembling uncontrollably as she noticed that she had no idea from which direction she'd come, everything looked exactly the same. The fall had turned her around and there were no footsteps to follow, they were already buried beneath the thickening snow. Fighting down a sudden surge of panic she swallowed back the tears filling her eyes and slowly turned scanning the area. Another gust of wind crashed into her and she shivered, the wind cutting through the thin material of her hakama and gi.
Taking a deep breath she fought down the fear and panic to take stock of her situation. Glancing around again she scowled, there was no way to know which way to go but she had to keep moving. If she stopped she would die, she knew that for sure, her dad had told her a story about a couple of men who got lost in the mountains once and froze to death. A shiver of fear whispered through her body at the thought. She couldn't die too, that would leave her dad all alone. She couldn't stand the thought of him being any sadder than he already was. She had to find her way back to the inn.
With that last thought she took off in the direction she thought would lead her back to the road. Stumbling through the steadily deepening snow she rubbed her arms in a futile attempt to keep warm, the knot of fear tightening the further she went with no sign of the road. Fighting back the tears stinging her eyes she tried to think of a nice warm summer day to fend off the biting cold sinking into her very bones.
Pushing on, she shivered again as the wind howled through the empty tree limbs, the sound a haunting reminder that she had to find shelter and she had to find it now. Focusing her full attention on the search she slowly started to realize that although her feet were moving she could no longer feel them. In a panic she wiggled her toes and had to bite back a groan of pain as they protested the extreme movement.
Was this it? Was she going to die now?
Hanging her head the tears she'd managed to hold back until now started to quietly trickle from her eyes, a sense of hopelessness nearly driving her to her knees. And then out of the quiet of the forest she heard it. Her name whispering on the wind. Snapping her head back up she searched the darkened forest for source of the one who had called her name. The voice was haunting familiar... it had sounded like... her mom.
Taking a few steps forward she closed her eyes again and listened with everything she had. After several heartbeats she'd almost given up hope when she heard it again dead ahead, the soft calling of her name. Snapping her eyes back open she hurriedly stumbled through the snow, no longer feeling the pain in her feet or the cold wind whistling around her. Slowly, as if a dream, something started to materialize out of the wall of white falling from the sky.
Quickening her steps she almost collapsed to her knees in relief when she saw it was an old worn down cabin sitting quietly among the leafless trees. Digging up her last reserve of energy she stumbled the last few feet and threw back the door. Tripping into the dark room she turned and put all of her weight into closing the door against the howling wind and stinging snowflakes. Finally getting it closed she collapsed to the floor where she was and leaned her forehead against the cold door, the last of her energy sapped.
Tears of relief coursed unheeded down her cheeks and she curled up right where she was not noticing the shivers racking her small body. Slipping slowly into a fitful sleep her body suddenly felt very light and warm as if she were floating in one of the hot springs she and her mother used to visit when she was alive. Smiling she slipped further away not seeing the other occupant of the cabin.
Kenshin just stared in shock at the slight form curled up in front of the door, the wind whipping though the cracks of the dilapidated cabin tossing her loose raven locks across her deathly pale features. Why would a little girl be out in a blizzard like this? In nothing but hakama and gi?
Continuing to stare at her his eyes finally adjusted to the darkened room again and he noticed the tremors wracking her small body. Spurred into motion by the sight he threw off the blanket wrapped around his shoulders and set aside his sakabatou. Shooting to his feet he covered the distance between them in three strides and knelt down beside her, it was then he noticed the clothes she was wearing were completely soaked. Inhaling sharply he shot back to his feet and picked her up, a whimper of pain stopped him dead in his tracks. She was freezing, there wasn't a hint of warmth coming from her small body. Quickly taking the few steps back to the only part of the room that still seemed in good enough repair to keep out the wind he kicked open his own wet cloak and set her down.
Grabbing the satchel that held his few worldly possessions he untied it and withdrew the lone candle and flint he'd been saving for an emergency. If this wasn't an emergency he didn't know what was. Flicking the flint he finally managed a spark large enough to set the wick ablaze, the wind swirling through the cracks of the wood set it to dancing precariously, the weak flame threatening to go out. Shielding the small flame with his hand he searched for the best place to keep it lit. There in the corner a pile of dirt sat untouched, if the dirt wasn't being stirred up then likely the wind wasn't reaching that far. Setting it down he waited a second to see if it would stay lit.
Seeing that it would he turned his attention back to the small form shivering on his wet cloak. Kneeling back down next to his satchel he withdrew the last item, a second gi, the only other piece of clothing he owned. Shaking it out he smiled when he noticed it would definitely be big enough to cover her once he stripped her out of the wet clothes. Taking a deep breath he fought down the sudden surge of embarrassment coursing through his veins.
Scowling at himself he shoved the feeling away. Now was not the time to be worrying about seeing this child naked. She had to get out of those clothes or she would die. He'd seen too many people die he wasn't going to let her die too. Fighting back the image of Tomoe dying in the snow that was still too fresh in his mind he set to stripping the girl out of her wet clothes.
With trembling hands he stripped the gi from her small frame averting his eyes as he slipped his own gi around her shoulders. Getting it tucked securely around her small frame he set to removing her boots and hakama. Finally completing the task he tossed her wet cloths to the side and gathered her to his chest, grabbing the discarded blanket he tossed it over his shoulders and with her still cradled to his chest he sat down against the wall and tucked the blanket securely around them both. Now he had to wake her up, she couldn't sleep in the state she was in, it would kill her.
Giving her a little shake he started rubbing her arms and legs trying to cause enough friction to warm her chilled limbs. A whimper escaped her and he nearly sighed in relief at the sound, slowing his rubs he glanced down and smiled into the confused sapphire gaze trying to focus on his face.
"W..who a..are y..you?" She stuttered as another set of shivers wracked her body.
Kenshin just smiled and resumed his gentle ministrations, "This one is just a wanderer caught in a snowstorm. And who might you be?"
"K..Ka..Kaoru, Ka..Kamiya K..Kaoru." She whispered as her eyes slid closed once again, another round of shivering shaking her small frame.
Giving her another shake, Kenshin smiled when her eyes popped open much quicker this time. Settling her into a more comfortable position in his lap he went back to rubbing her limbs, he was starting to feel heat coming from her slight form, it shouldn't be too much longer before his body heat and the heavy wool blanket warmed her enough to stop the shivers.
"Kamiya-san why were you out in this storm?" He asked in an effort to keep her awake and alert. It all still seemed extremely strange to him that a young girl would be allowed to roam alone in such weather, without a cloak no less.
Kaoru tried in vain to stop the shivers racking her body, a fresh bout of tears slipping silently from her eyes. Sniffling she ducked her head, "M..my mom's ribbon. I...I lost it," she answered in a small voice. She hadn't found it either and now she never would, it was buried under the snow, there was no way she was going to be able to find it before they left. It was gone.
At the thought she fell into silent sobs, an image of her mom's smiling face playing across her closed lids. Covering her face in an attempt to keep her savior from seeing the tears dripping from her chin she unconsciously leaned into the warmth he offered. A finger found its way under her chin and she felt her face lifted to face his.
"Was it that important to you that you would risk your life for it?"
Sniffling, Kaoru wiped the wetness from her cheeks, meeting his curious violet gaze she nodded, "It's the only thing I have left of my mom. I have to have it or I'll forget her."
Kenshin just stared into her innocent sapphire eyes and then slowly it sank in, her mother was dead. That explained a little but he was still a bit confused, quirking an eyebrow he asked, "You believe you will forget her if you don't have the ribbon?"
Kaoru nodded, "How can I remember her if I don't see her everyday. Without the ribbon she will be completely gone and I'll forget her."
It was then Kenshin saw it clearly through her young eyes, for some reason this little girl believed that without something material to remember her by she would somehow forget her mother. Smiling sadly he shook his head, he of all people should know that there was no way to forget anyone you have known even when they were no longer beside you. Gazing off into the dark of the cabin he whispered, "You will never forget her Kaoru-dono, she will forever be in your heart. This one promises, you will never forget her." Closing his eyes a knife stabbed into his heart as memories of he and Tomoe surfaced to remind him that yes, he would always remember. No matter what happened he would always remember.
Kaoru shook her head in disbelief, she would forget, she knew she would. She was always forgetting to pick up her clothes or forgetting to clean the dojo like her dad always wanted her too. How was she going to remember her mom? Glancing at her savior's profile she opened her mouth to argue but stopped when she noticed a cross shaped scar cut into his cheek in the flickering light of the candle. Curious she reached out and traced the deep red X wondering who would cut such a mark into their own cheek. She stopped when he jumped and swung his head around to stare at her.
Blushing she dropped her hand into her lap, all else forgotten except for the shocked look he still had fixed on her. Staring right back at him she noticed something she hadn't until now. His eyes looked just like her dad's, sad. He looked like he had also lost someone close to him. Tilting her head curiously she whispered, "You hurt too, don't you? Is that why you cut that X into your cheek? To help you remember?"
Kenshin just stared dumbfounded. Shaking his head he whispered, "No. It's a mark this one must carry to remind him of the sins he has committed."
Kaoru cocked an eyebrow, "What do you mean, how can you have so many sins. You're not that old." He didn't look much older than maybe sixteen. How could he have sinned so badly?
Kenshin chuckled at the question, "This one is twenty-two years old Kaoru-dono."
Kaoru snorted in disbelief, there was no way he was twenty-two years old. "Sir there is no way you can be that old, besides even if you are the gods would forgive you because you helped me. If you hadn't helped me I would have died, right? So there it's even now." Smiling Kaoru nodded at her rationalization and suddenly yawned. Out of nowhere a wave of exhaustion swept over her and she had to fight to keep her eyes open. Snuggling into the warmth offered by the man holding her and the blanket snuggled around them both she gave in and slowly started drifting off to sleep.
Kenshin just stared at the innocent little girl slowly falling to sleep in his arms. In just one sentence this innocent child had come to the conclusion it had taken him so long to figure out. He would dedicate the rest of his life to helping those in need in an attempt to cleanse the blood from his soul, and he would continue to adhere to the vow he had made on Tomoe's death. The vow to never kill again, not even to defend himself, his blade would no longer drink the blood of man.
Shaking his head in wonder he smiled, this little girl was special. Feeling her breathing level out he closed his eyes and let himself drift off into a light doze. Tomorrow he was going to do his best to get this little girl back to where she belonged.
A couple of hours later the sound of the door opening snapped Kenshin to attention his arms instinctively tightening around the still sleeping girl in his arms. Unable to see anything but the lantern being held aloft by the one standing in the doorway he blinked several times and reached one hand out to grab his sakabatou.
Startled Kenshin stopped and nodded, "She's sleeping."
The person holding the lantern visibly relaxed and sighed. Stepping further into the cabin the man closed the door behind him and set the lantern on the floor. It was then Kenshin realized who this person must be, he must be her father. He was proven right when the man knelt down before them and set the cloak he had been carrying over his arm on the floor, the look of absolute relief on his face proving without a doubt that he was very glad to see the girl in his arms. Loosening his hold Kenshin pulled back the blanket and lifted Kaoru into her father's arms. A pathetic groan at the loss of heat whispered from between her lips as she passed from one set of arms to the other and then her eyes fluttered open blinking owlishly several times before they fixed on her father's face.
The big man just smiled and hugged her close. Feeling slightly out of place Kenshin leaned down and retrieved the cloak from the floor, snuggling it tightly around Kaoru's small body he took extra care to make sure her bare legs and feet were covered.
"I didn't find it. It's gone forever now."
Kaoru's whispered voice broke into the quiet of the cabin, the heartbroken tone ripping at Kenshin's heart. Unconsciously reaching out, he smoothed her raven locks from her face and smiled. "Didn't this one tell you that there is no way you will forget her. This one promises you Kaoru-dono that she will always live in your heart. Always."
Kaoru turned hope-filled eyes on her savior, desperately wanting to believe him, "Do you really think so?"
Kenshin smiled and nodded, "Yes. She is with you now and will be forever." His smile widened as he saw her relax into her father's arms her eyes slipping closed once again. Leaning down he retrieved her wet clothes and the lantern and handed them to her father. With a nod the big man accepted them and turned towards the door, taking a couple of steps he stopped suddenly and turned. "You are the one they call the Hitokiri Battousai?"
Kenshin sighed, "I was once but no longer. I am nothing more than a wanderer now."
The tall man inclined his head in understanding, "Be you a hitokiri or a rurouni I thank you for taking care of my daughter. She's all I have left." With that he opened the door and slipped out into the cold crisp air, the storm long since blown itself out, allowing the half moon to cast a surreal glow over the snow covered landscape. Closing the door behind them Kenshin made his way back over to the blanket and wrapped himself up again. A couple of more hours of sleep and he would set out again in search of the forgiveness he so desperately needed. Maybe if he tried hard enough he could cleanse his hands of the blood staining them and one day maybe he would find himself worthy enough to call someone like Kaoru friend again. One could only hope.
Kenshin shielded his eyes against the early morning glare emanating off the white carpet covering the wooded landscape. Wading through the knee high snow he slowly but steadily made his way towards the road. A cold blast of wind suddenly blew up whipping the hood from his head and he all of a sudden found himself staring into a piece of cloth covering his eyes. Reaching up he removed the obstruction from his eyes and stared in shock at the deep blue ribbon fluttering from his clenched fist.
It couldn't be... could it? Was this the ribbon Kaoru had been searching for?
A smile slowly formed on his lips as he fingered the soft material. Yes, this had to be the one she'd been searching for. Opening the front of his cloak he tucked the errant ribbon into his gi for safe keeping. Maybe someday he would see her again and return to her the treasure she had almost died for.
His smile widened as he continued out of the forest. Until then he would carry it with him as a constant reminder of the little girl who had somehow managed to weasel her way into his heart. He knew that like her with her mother he also would never forget their brief encounter. It was engraved on his memory... forever.
Well there you have it. This may evolve into a full blown fic someday but for now it will remain a oneshot.
Please review and let me know what you think.