Shades of Reality

Chapter 8: Father

Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin. That is the property of Nobuhiro Watsuki, and various other entities, and I profit from this is now way, shape or form. It's just entertainment, and a time waster. Get over it. Or small references to the book, I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak.

- - - - -

Kaoru didn't sleep much that night. Lying awake, sometime near dawn, she heard her father walk in.

She couldn't remember the last time she had had an actual conversation with him.

It hurt.

She abandoned her bed once more, following the broad back to the kitchen.

"…Daddy?" The word tasted like rust in her mouth. He turned.

"Yes, dear?" He returned to hanging his suit up in the coat closet.

"I love you."

He said nothing. Did not turn.

She returned to her bedroom. Leaving pieces of her in a trail behind her dragging feet. Closed the door. Broke. Quietly.

- - - - -

"Miss Kaoru? Breakfast is ready, that it is. Come and eat. I made waffles… I know they are your favorite." Kenshin knocked at the door hesitantly. It wasn't like her to wake up late. Yes, she loathed getting up early, but it was her routine.

"… Miss Kaoru?" No response. "I'm coming in." He pushed the door open.

She laid upon the bed, unmoving. A tendril of fear wrapped around his heart. "Miss Kaoru?!" He rushed to her bedside, turning her face to look at his own. A pair of dull eyes looked back at him.

"He never loved me." Her vibrant, bouncy voice, reduced to a monotone. "Mother loved me. But she left… now I'm all alone… no one cares." It was stated with bleak resignation. She turned to face the wall.

He pulled her into his lap, cradling her head, smoothing her hair. "That's not true. You know it isn't-"

Her eyes brightened at his words, the tender gesture.

"-Miss Kaoru."

And dimmed once more.

- - - - -

Breakfast was a silent affair. As was school. Both made their way throughout their respective days with an apathetic stillness. Far from their usual comfortable lack of chatter. That stemmed from a mutual understanding. This was nothing but frigid confusion.

Sano was no where to be seen. They needed outside intervention, someone that they at least had to feign normalcy for. Apparently he had some new girlfriend, Megumi. Kenshin was happy for the guy, to finally find someone that could keep up with him, but he would have rather had him there today.

She didn't watch people. She stared listlessly at her food all lunch long, before throwing it untouched in the garbage.

She didn't whack a single person all day long.

Eating nervousness, he broke the silence. "Miss Kaoru… I just want to understand..." He quoted her, taking a risk.

She regarded him with unseeing eyes. "How can you ever hope to understand me when you won't even call me by my name?"

He felt like he had been punched in the stomach.

- - - - -

She left school during 4th period.

He would have left himself right then and there, but no one thought to tell him. Neither him nor Sano had any classes with her in the latter half of the day.

He arrived home to see her now sitting on the couch unmoving, clutching a business card. He gently removed it from her frozen hands, taking a seat himself.

Clapman's Funeral Home

317 Followell St.

(555) 378-5623

"Father died in a car crash this afternoon. Aunt Omasu is making all the arrangements. There's a funeral next week."

- - - - -

Watching people once more. Black suit after black dress after black veil after black hat after shiny black shoes. A somber procession in place of the usual one. He swore that irony would be the death of him.

The tension was palpable. The discomfort tangible.

People were here to keep up appearances. Nothing more.

Kaoru recognized next to no one. Her five year old brother held her hand. Peering up at her from under his spiky black head Yahiko whispered, "Busu," and giggled to himself.

He never knew father. And he's only five. What can you expect? I don't think I ever knew father myself.

Kenshin stood beside her in his rented suit. He looked at her full on for once, making no attempt to hide. His eyes said, Trust me.

She let him take her other hand. He squeezed it gently. She wanted to slap him. You act like you care. But you don't. You never say my name. You never make a move. I don't want your pity. …I don't want to be hurt again.

But she didn't say it. Until they got home.

- - - - -

"I don't want your pity."

"What?" He looked up from the condolence cards he was slowly cutting up. That order had been the only other thing she had said to him all night.

"I said, I don't want your pity." Despite his utter confusion, a small traitorous part of his mind observed that that was fairly obvious, as he stared at the very small pieces of various flowery cards strewn about the table below him.

"Miss Kaoru, what do you mean?"

She shot him a look. "I know you don't care about me. Don't try and deny it. I don't mind. I just want you to admit it." He looks so damn innocent… dammit.

Kenshin's features softened. "Miss Kaoru… I do care."

"Prove it. You never call me by my name. You don't trust me. You won't tell me about your past. Why should I believe you?" The anger was clear in her voice, despite the tears running down her face, slumped against the doorway.

He took one step, two. His arm hesitantly raised towards her shaking form. Dragging the weight of his past behind him. "I'm… unworthy… of you."

"You've said that before." She spat it at his feet, the words caustic, the acid seeping through his shoes, stinging. "How are you unworthy? You're kind… and giving… and noble… I have nothing like that to offer. I'm just a plain, ordinary, damn average girl. Why do you keep saying that?! Why?! Why?!"

"Because it's true. Because… I love you. Because I could never give you what you deserve. Because I am none of those things. Because I couldn't even take care of myself. Because I'm poor. Because I do nothing but take from you. Because I am little but a fool. That's why. The plain truth."

The foot between them, the few tiles of checkered linoleum seemed like an eternity stretching off into the distance.

"Why won't you tell me about your past?"

"Because I don't want your pity either."

"Say my name." It was a challenge.

"Kaoru." He took it.

She fell into his arms, sobbing into his chest. He wrapped his arms around her, and they both sunk to the floor. Collapsing. The wall fell down around them, littering the kitchen floor. They paid it no heed.

"Kaoru… I always cared." He murmured into her ear, stroking her hair.

"I loved you… from the first moment I saw you..." She whispered into his faded red pajamas.

"And I you… Kaoru."

Two broken humans. Healing. Alone, save for the other. They both finally realized that whatever came before didn't matter. Just now. And them.

- - - - -

Dawn break found them on the couch, Kaoru drooling slightly onto the aged red flannel of Kenshin's nightshirt, his head tucked into her mussed hair, the outline of her ponytail holder imprinted onto his chin.

They both thought the other had never looked so beautiful.

- - - - -

They didn't watch people anymore at lunchtime. They watched each other.

People wondered about them.

Do I know that girl? I think I do…

Who is that guy? He looks familiar. Have I met him before?

Why does he have that scar? That must have hurt.

Is that the girl who's dad died in that crash down on the highway? I was stuck in traffic for hours after that…

Where did they meet?

They sure do look happy…

And it comes full circle.


- - - - -

A/N: LAST CHAPTER!!! –dances- I hope you all enjoyed the ride, and didn't find this a complete waste of your time.

I solemnly hope this didn't turn out to simply be one big cliché. It is my dearest wish.