Author's Note: I started this chapter while still editing the one before it. This story is really really insisting on being written. In fact this chapter pretty much wrote itself fairly quickly. Too bad it takes me forever to edit it…sorry. I'll try to get better. (Even though I never seem to be able to.

Disclaimer: Psh…I wish.

Chapter Six

Trusting a Stranger

Aoshi barely flinched as the sharp blade bit deeply into the skin on his back. It punctured the flesh above his right shoulder blade, and dragged down in a curved path that ended on the lower part of his back. He felt blood run down from the wound, but made no move to harm the one wielding the knife or treat the serious cut. His hands remained fisted at his sides and his eyes didn't waver from a spot on the far wall. The slash was one of many on his body, but this was only the third made today. They were different than most injuries he had acquired in his years of protecting his sister. The cuts burned when first made, a slow blistering feeling that hacked right through him. After a few minutes they went cold, like someone had stuck ice to the bloody cuts.

The woman holding the knife hummed under her breath as she drew it down once more, this time on the left side of his body. Aoshi ignored the person completely, gritting his teeth as the pain throbbed and grew. She twisted the knife and Aoshi sucked in a harsh breath. Inwardly he cursed, knowing that she'd done it purposely. He only had to be there a few more minutes, could tell that the incantation she was working was nearly finished. Sweat dripped from his brow and covered his arms and chest. His hair hung into his face and clung wetly to his neck.

A familiar and heavy stench hung throughout the room, and he knew even without his eyes exactly how the room was furnished. It hadn't changed since he'd lost his sight so many years ago. The layout of the room was the same, the carpet, wall hangings, and the numerous instruments within. The putrid smell had grown though, the odor so thick and pungent that even breathing through his mouth made his stomach twist in nausea. Fighting both the pain and the queasiness had been hard at first, but now Aoshi was able to stay in control usually throughout the entire session.

Yumi made a final slash, and Aoshi felt a pulling sensation in his navel. She said a word under her breath, and the tugging feeling jerked agonizingly. As if someone had taken a grater over his skin, over his very magic, the sensation ran over the marks she had made. Every nerve ending in his body burned in fiery agony. Aoshi hunched forward and clenched his fists, determined to remain silent. He wanted to keep at least that satisfaction from her. When the feeling finally passed, he straightened his frame and made no move to stop the bleeding or quell the remaining pain. The sweat on his body had grown cold and stale, and Aoshi resisted the urge to draw his hand over his brow.

He listened to Yumi walk behind him, capping the bottle of the magic she had strained from his core. He felt her twisted form approach and turned to face her. While other people he could sense often appeared in his mind as a strong color, smell, or taste, Yumi was so warped that trying to focus in on her energy was enough to make him ill. She felt like a festering wound, smelled like rotten garbage and old blood, and tasted like stale milk mixed with old eggs.

"Aoshi darling." Her voice crawled into his head and nested, "Before you leave there is a situation you need to be made aware of."

He grabbed his shirt and slid it over his head. It stuck to his back, but over the past few days he had gotten used to the feeling. He ignored it and stood waiting for her dismissal. Aoshi heard her shuffle around for a few minutes, and tried to not draw in the putrid air too deeply. Now that Yumi had finished working her magic, the smell hung heavy in the room. He thought of the words she had said, and inwardly scowled. She had called him in earlier that week and had said the exact same thing.

"Aoshi darling, there is a situation you need to be made aware of."

Yumi sat at her desk and Aoshi listened as she spoke between bites of an apple. He'd just left Kaoru in the old library, and he was wary of leaving her alone. It was true that few went there, but he would feel much better back at her side. Whatever Yumi wanted, he hoped she would spit it out quickly.

"You and Kaoru have lived here under my care for a long time, haven't you?"

Aoshi didn't respond. He'd learned early that she never wanted her questions actually answered. 'Under her care' indeed, like Kaoru and he were nothing more than small unruly animals she was house-sitting. He wouldn't have trusted Yumi with a rock for a pet. He had never considered any of Yumi's actions anything less then manipulation and torture.

"Let me get right to the point Aoshi, keeping Kaoru around has became rather cumbersome."

For a moment Aoshi felt himself grow still. It seemed unreal. Could it possibly be…could she really be considering letting them go? It seemed unnatural, preposterous, and ridiculous. But he couldn't stop his heart from starting in his chest, couldn't help the small seed of hope that uncurled within him. He listened to her eat, waited while she took several more large mouthfuls. She used her napkin, and a servant entered as soon as she cleared her throat. The energy of the male was low and servile as he took away the plate and asked in a low tone if she needed anything. Even after all this time the reverence shown to Yumi made him sick. Her response was one of a queen to an ant, she ignored him completely. The man left, and Aoshi waited for her to continue. She didn't disappoint.

"I'm going to start siphoning magic from her I think, as a sort of payment."

The stillness he had felt before grew to iron cold resolve. That he had ever thought she would set them free was laughable. He wouldn't be able to pry them away until Yumi was in the ground. And this was too much, this was too far. The stupid bitch had everything, and still she wanted more. He'd heard of magic tapping before and knew that it was both painful and dangerous for the victim. It left scars, mental and physical, and caused individuals on more then one occasion to die from complications. Hell, he'd seen several corpses after Yumi had finished with them. Drained, they looked like dried out husks. His sister, who had already been through so much, would be dead after only a few sessions with Yumi. And the slut had to know that.


She would have to crawl over his dead body.

He heard Yumi purse her lips and waited for what she'd say next.

"Well," he could hear the smile in her voice, "Are you volunteering to take her place?"

Aoshi had done the only thing he could. He had agreed to do it. There had not been an option. And he'd known that it had been Yumi's plan from the beginning. Usually no one was insane enough to do it for more than a couple of days in a row. But Yumi had said she needed a little 'pick me up' before the fair, and he would be used daily until further notice. He hadn't argued.

"Well," Yumi spoke firmly, "In two days there is going to be rather large court gathering. Kaoru will be there, please make the arrangements."

What for? He wanted to ask. Aoshi felt Yumi turn her back to him, and he listened to her pick up one of her instruments. It made a noise similar to a harp, but the tone made his head ache and his body tremble. He took back his earlier thought on its music, the instrument sounded like people wailing.

He didn't want to know what all of her objects did, let alone the one she was working with now, so he and turned on his heel and walked out of the room. If the bitch wanted to talk more, let her chase him down the hall. He pushed away the slight dizziness that always followed a session. The cool hallway was an immediate relief from Yumi's presence, the heavy stone walls helping to shut away the stench that drenched her. Aoshi let the door close without looking back, and ignored Yumi's trailing laughter.

He needed to dash back to his quarters and shower and then check in on Kaoru. She was still under the lingering effects of the spell he had cast yesterday, and he wanted to bring her fully out of it. She was an emotional wreck from Himura though, and he had to be careful with how he treated her. He'd left Kaoru curled up on her bed the day before, but only after prying her fingers from his tear streaked shirt. Her energy had flickered dismally, and the last part of what was left of his sister had curled up and died. Aoshi had already decided that whenever he was away she would stay in her quarters. He would nip this Himura situation before it grew, and Kaoru would never have to deal with him again.

Hell, he was looking forward to it. It had been awhile since anyone had been foolish enough to mess with Kaoru. Aoshi would enjoy putting Himura in his place.

He ran a hand over his sightless eyes and moved into a rarely used passageway. Although no one ever paid him any attention, he still didn't want anyone to see the dark wet marks that showed through the shirt. They were a sign of weakness. They were a reminder that he was a tool. Someone might see the marks and make a move against Kaoru thinking him frail. And if a person knowledgeable in magic viewed them, they would know that he had been worn down. The magical sickness he couldn't mask. The longer Yumi continued with her actions, the more magically maimed he was left.

The physical slashes too were healing poorly, and it was making things much more difficult. He was forced to fix them as quickly as possible, and his back was riddled with rough scars strained from improper mending. He was no healer, and his muscles protested each time he pieced together a sketchy spell.

His room only a few doors away, Aoshi paused as a person entered the hallway behind him. Their power vibrated energetically in his ears, a light bright noise that seemed in direct contrast to his state of mind. It was unquestionably female, and he was unsure what to make of it. There was no malice he could find in her aura, no streak of cruelty or hostility. He breathed in, and the clarity she emitted ended the lingering headache that being with Yumi always produced. He listened to her half skipping movement and kept on determinedly at his own pace. Let her pass him, an unnoticed guard that was just minding his own business.

Who was she? She had to be someone who was visiting for the fair, her signature was new and unfamiliar. Aoshi was familiar those that lived in the castle, recognized individuals that came often. She was among neither. He wasn't sure how she had managed to get herself into this wing of the castle, but he hoped she would leave him be.

"Excuse me?"

Her voice was fluffy, sweet like the sugar treats his sister had loved when younger and much closer than he thought. He turned himself in her direction. If he didn't know any better he would say she was an assassin. But there wasn't anything he could sense in her that was more than curiosity. There was an edge to her that he could feel was sharper than what she was showing, but it wasn't tinged with wickedness. And he had to admit to himself that he was intrigued. It had been years since anyone had spoken to him directly. Aoshi was Kaoru's shadow, and he always faded into the background. People were afraid of him, people hated him, people did not say 'excuse me' to him.

"Um, I was wondering if you could help me with directions?"

Only a few feet away from him, he started at just how short she was. She was even smaller than his sister.

"Well I was sort of wandering and then I somehow-"

Although a little squeaky, her voice was so pleasant, so… happy, that it seemed unnatural. The nobles in Yumi's kingdom, even the servants, were so caught up in themselves. Every word and gesture was filled with hate, jealousy, fear, and ulterior motives. And his sister's voice was a distant memory, a child's voice that had faded with the years until only the skeletal remains were left. Even he could no longer claim that-

"Hey…is your back okay?"

Her sudden words cut through his musings. Aoshi felt her hand stretch out toward him, and stepped out of her reach. He had let himself trail off, and she had noticed.

"It's fine."

He made the words brisk and cold. Hopefully she would get the hint and leave. Instead she moved toward him again, and Aoshi found himself backing up farther. He didn't like how she made him feel. A lit match in the dead of winter reminded those that were already frozen what it was like to feel warm. And she blazed like the sun.

"It looks really bad. Do you need to see a healer?"

Her words solidified his belief that she was visiting. Yumi didn't have any healers in her lands. No one here would have even suggested going to one for medical treatment. And even if Yumi did, he would rather slice off his own ear then put himself into the care of anyone working for that bitch.

"I have a couple of healing magics my friend bottled for me, do you need one?"

She seemed to read his mind.

Her words were purely helpful, but he was instantly worried. Even if the idea was tempting, who knew if her intentions were good? Maybe she was a pure person being used by someone cruel. It had happened before, and Aoshi knew how easy the innocent were manipulated. Knew from personal experience. She could give away something about him without even knowing.


He kept his voice level and waited for her to skitter away. When she didn't he started to walk briskly, hoping the woman would get the hint and leave him alone. If he went directly to his quarters he could be with Kaoru by late morning. The dizziness he had thought was past surged forward again, and paired with the darkness he saw, Aoshi felt his equilibrium tilt.

He hadn't had this strong of a reaction before, and took a moment to try and re-orient himself. Usually the dizziness past quickly, lasting only a few minutes. Another wave hit him, accompanied with a twist from his stomach, and Aoshi spotted white splotches in his otherwise black vision.

"Are you alright?"

The woman's voice seemed as if it was traveling from the end of a long hallway. He shook his head, but that made the lightheaded feeling only spread. His hand came up to wipe the new sweat that had accumulated on his forehead and he tried to calm his now shallow breathing. From a distance he realized that what he was experiencing was very very bad. He swayed and put up an arm to brace himself on the stone wall.

Aoshi did not get sick. He had been injured protecting his sister less then the amount of fingers on one hand. A fever he hadn't suffered from since he was seven. He was determined that this was nothing, and in a few seconds he would shake it off and be fine. He didn't have time to be ill.

His knees went weak, and he started sliding toward the floor despite his best efforts to stay standing. Cool hands steadied him as he dropped, and with his last conscious thought he wondered how she was so strong despite her size.

Kaoru uncurled out of the ball she was in and attempted to pull herself from the emotional stupor that swamped her. She'd awoken several moments earlier and had lain there wondering why she was still in bed at such a late hour. The sunlight from the windows hadn't stirred Kaoru, no maids had pestered her out of sleep, and even her brother hadn't checked in on her. She felt exhausted, weak, and very uncertain as to why she was in such a state. Her throat was tight, her body was stiff, and her eyes were dry and swollen. Cotton seemed to be stuffed between her ears, and as it slowly parted, she realized that something just wasn't right.

Her mind shied away from the memories just out of her reach, and she wrestled with herself. Something inside of her whispered that she did not want to know, that remembering was a bad idea. She sat up wearily, her arms shaking with the effort to right her body. As Kaoru did so, she glanced down and stilled at the sight of herself. She looked a mess. The black nightgown was bunched and wrinkled as if she tossed and turned all night. The ribbons at her neck were untied, showing off her neck and the beginning curves of her breasts. Her loose hair hung over her shoulders, messy and unbraided. She knew without a mirror that she was a total disaster. What had she been thinking?

The thought made her start, and her hands unintentionally clenched the loose blankets she was still halfway wrapped up in. Something wasn't clicking in her head. She shook it as if trying to push out the confusion, and tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. Although her mind was struggling, it seemed as if her body had already figured everything out.

She fought her way free from the tangled blankets, and pulled herself to the edge of the bed. Her feet, still covered in stockings, hung loosely, and she pushed back at the hair falling in her eyes. A muffled noise sounded in her room and she looked around in an effort to see what was creating it. With natural sunlight filling the space, the sound seemed to be coming from nowhere. Still trying to piece together what had happened she pushed herself off the bed, and jumped when the sound happened again.

Realizing where it had originated from, she started toward the door, sure her brother was waiting in his usual spot. Maybe he would have some idea why she was so befuddled. She suddenly wanted Aoshi by her side, wanted him to wrap his arms around her and tell her that everything would be okay. Rubbing at her temple, she ignored the cold of the door handle and pulled open the heavy door. Her weak arm protested, and she had to use both to wrench it wide.

The eyes that stared at her were clear amber and cut right to the heart of her. Red hair spilled over them, and she was suddenly overwhelmed. It wasn't Aoshi that was waiting for her, but the man she had seen in the library. The man whose smile was kind, and whose reading tastes were eerily similar to her own. The man who she saw yesterday, standing with… The remaining cobwebs cleared from her mind, and Kaoru clearly saw the knowing look on his face. He looked resolute, furious, and ready to act. She stumbled back, bringing the door closed as quickly as she could. Kaoru had to shut the door.

He didn't seem surprised by her actions, and shoved his foot forward so that the door couldn't close. Her eyes glanced down and then back up into his face. Who knew what he was going to do her? And where was Aoshi? Where had he gone? She stumbled backwards, tripping over her own feet as she did so. She needed Aoshi. He followed after her, closing the door behind him and locking it. Her heart jerked erratically and she fled backwards and around to the far side of her unmade bed. Where was Aoshi? He followed unhurriedly, taking in her room with one all encompassing glance.

"Take slower deeper breaths or you'll get dizzy."

His voice was low and soothing, but an order nonetheless. She paused, not even noticing that her breathing had gotten to be such a mess. She was embarrassed. Overwhelmingly humiliated at her previous actions. Ashamed of her feelings that even now bubbled just beneath the surface. And she still wished that her brother was there to shield her.

As Kaoru retreated farther, placing herself into a cold corner, his face softened at the visible fear.

"I'm not going to hurt you." He took smaller steps and raised his hands in a calming motion, "I would never hurt you."

He seemed almost appalled at the very notion of harming her. He grew closer and closer and her arms fluttered up in an attempt to protect herself. Her eyes shut on reflex, squeezing so tight that they hurt, and she stooped down into a crouched position.

Aoshi was going to be so mad. She'd opened the door, let him in- and now he was going to kill her.

A lightness touched the top of her head, and Kaoru jumped at the contact. The hand trailed over her messed up hair and onto her half hidden face. It felt warm and calming and she sunk fully to the floor. What was going on? Why did her heart hurt so much?

"Please excuse me." His voice was close. She could feel his breath ghost along her cheek and ear. It shivered down her neck and onto her back. "I didn't mean to upset you. I didn't mean to scare you."

He took in a deep breath, almost as if he was trying to inhale her, and she risked opening her eyes. The lids fought her at first, determined to stay closed, but after a brief struggle she managed to pry them open. Between her arms she observed him. He was kneeling next to her, so close she could see the individual strands of his hair. The sun made it glow, and Kaoru resisted the urge to reach out and touch it. If he was going to kill her, he was sure taking his time about it.

His hands gently encased her wrists, and she didn't fight him when he lowered them. He encircled them both with one hand, then used his free one to turn her face his direction. With only a few gestures Kaoru was trapped. Her chest rose and fell rapidly, and in her contorted position her lungs struggled to take in oxygen. She felt fear, but mixed with the terror was another emotion that she couldn't identify. It made everything much more muddled and painful, it made her ache.

"My name is Kenshin Himura, and I-" he paused as if trying to formulate his words, "-I really would like to know your name my lady."

The last bit was said almost sheepishly, his gaze tracing the line of her jaw and the tightness of her mouth as he did so. Her mouth opened reflexively, and she let out a wheezy breath. Her voice choked in her throat, tripping and stopping at Yumi's magic so that there was nothing left to exit. Her mouth clicked shut. She'd tried to speak. Kaoru hadn't made such an attempt in years, not since she was very young. Days when she would lie on her bed and try to scream or cry out were long past her. She felt a blush spread from her cheeks down to her neck and over her chest. She felt idiotic and utterly foolish. Kaoru tried to turn her face away from him, but his hand stopped her.

"Oh." Kenshin's gaze jerked from her mouth to the dark grooves on her neck. His face suddenly became furious. He kept his eyes there only a moment, flickering over the disfiguring marks. By the time he looked back up at her, he'd banished the anger and was once again calm and in control.

"My apologies, I know that you are unable to speak. I was being thoughtless."

Kenshin stood, using his easy strength to bring her up to her feet. Kaoru remained next to him, not quite sure what he was planning. The thick fabric of his shirt brushed against her wrists and she was startled by their closeness. Kaoru knew she should be struggling, she wasn't used to touch. But his hands didn't make her want to run away, they made her feel warm and… uncomfortable. She wasn't sure if she wanted Aoshi to come anymore or not. He didn't seem to want to hurt her. He was…nice.

"Deep breaths, remember?"

She nodded slightly at his words, and obediently fought her stampeding heart. He stood still next to her while she fought her own body, forcing herself to take deep steady breaths. Although not watching him directly, she could feel his eyes one her, carefully monitoring her attempt. The thumb on his hand encasing her wrist stroked soothingly over her pulse. After several minutes her body calmed enough that she didn't feel like she'd been running for hours.

Kenshin took a step toward her vanity, his hand still holding both of her own, and Kaoru followed meekly. She tripped over the long hem of her nightgown, and stumbled forward into him. His free arm wrapped around her, pulling her securely into the confinement of his arms. Pressed against him, one arm wrapped low around waist, her legs tangled in his own, hands trapped against his chest, she was completely draped over him.

The fabric of her nightgown seemed light now, nearly transparent. She felt vulnerable as if she wore no clothing at all. Kaoru was painfully aware that beneath the dress she wore nothing. His entire body was like a furnace, heat rolling off of him in thick waves. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and snuggle against the curve of his neck. He shifted his weight, and Kaoru could feel his muscular thighs flex against her own. Her mouth felt dry, her cheeks hot, and her chest moved against his own as she tried to take deeper slower breaths. When had she lost her breath again? He watched her with an intensity that made the blush on her face darken and spread.

Kenshin steadied her before stepping back, and she wanted to pull him back to her. She stood watching him as he pushed her hair back over her shoulder. He carefully moved the messy tangles, letting his fingers slide through the locks as he rearranged. His eyes trailed down her form before traveling back up and focusing on her face. Without moving his gaze, his hands came up and he began to refasten the ribbon. Looking down quickly, she gawked at her own state. How had she forgotten? Untied the dress gaped and showed off an inappropriate portion of her chest. He kept his eyes respectfully away from her, but she felt his fingers and the back of his hands brush against her breasts as he tied. Heat uncurled low in her stomach, and she suddenly felt tight and immoral. She wanted to step forward and feel the press of his hand more firmly. And that thought made her feel appalling shocked. Just what was wrong with her? He finished quickly with a small neat bow.

Abruptly she found herself come fully to her senses. A man was in her sleeping chamber, unaccompanied, and she was in a state of undress. She took a step back, hands coming to rest protectively over her chest. Even if she was nothing more than a freak to everyone, even if only moments ago she'd wanted him to touch her, she still had standards. She grabbed at a large shawl on the edge of her bed and wrapped it around her shoulders. Heavy and wool, it instantly made her feel much safer. Kenshin eyed the shawl, but said nothing of it.

Instead, he reached into a heavy leather pouch on his belt. Wearing casual clothes again today, the rough blue of his tunic contrasted with the dark leather of his boots and belt. He pulled out a leather-bound journal, well worn with use and age.

"It's a bit old, is that alright my lady?"

As he held the journal out to her and tugged out a matching quill, she slumped into her vanity chair in amazement. Any sort of writing device or tool was forbidden for her. Giving her one was grounds for Yumi to issue an execution. It had been infuriating when she was younger. She had been able to read and read, but wasn't allowed to practice her letters at all. And now he was offering her the chance as if he were afraid of disappointing her. It felt like a dream, and any moment now he would pull it away- and this would turn into a nightmare.

Seeing her hesitancy, Kenshin moved closer, nearly pushing it into her hands.

She reached out for the journal, her hands visibly shaking. It was warm, and she brought it up to her face. Smelling like old paper and ink, she breathed in deeply and let the scent fill her up. It was well worn, with time and with constant use. However, it was obviously treated well. Opening it, she encountered small script writing. Scrunching her face, Kaoru focused her eyes and began to read the words.

A few lines in and she realized that she was reading the private thoughts of Kenshin. She jerked the book closed and chanced a look at him. With one eyebrow raised, he crossed his arms and gave her a chiding look. Her heart skipped a beat. It lasted for only a moment before a smile spread.

"Sorry, I would have brought you an empty one, but I don't have one with me."

He handed the quill to her as well as he crouched down next to her. Kenshin reached forward and opened the book again on her lap, flipping it forward to an empty page. Now at a slightly lower height than her, she watched him fiddle with the pages, and a small smile tugged at her lips. It felt unnatural on her face.

"The quill doesn't need any ink- it's spelled."

She stared blankly at the writing instrument for a moment, having never seen something spelled for such a practical reason.

"It won't harm you." His tone was teasing, "Please my lady, might I know your name?"

She put the quill to paper, unsure of how to make it work. Drawing a wide loop, she was amazed at the dark mark that appeared. Pleasantly surprised, she looked back up at Kenshin. The expression on his face was one of gladness at her unexpected pleasure in something so simple. She felt light at the new discovery, the dark shades that made up her life turning to something a bit brighter for a moment. Bringing her focus back to the journal, Kaoru's fear spiked. Her breath started to feel shallow once more. Kaoru was going to have to go and ruin everything; she'd wrecked it from the start. She did the only thing she could think of, and her heart had nearly wrung itself out by the time she finished.

In large script that was similar to chicken scratch she scrawled 'Lady of Loss.'

Kaoru's anxiety grew. Her scribble couldn't even be called handwriting. It looked like a child had written it. And she just knew that now he would decipher what she had attempted to write and run away. No one would willingly stay near such a gross anomaly. And she supposed that somewhere deep inside her she wanted him to go. If Kenshin left there wasn't any way he could harm her emotionally. Unintentionally he had already inflicted damage on her. Kaoru knew that she just wasn't strong enough to take this sort of relationship. One built on lies and deception. And no one could possibly love her when they knew the truth. No one but Aoshi, and he was family.

Staring blankly down at the words she had just written, she fought back the sudden urge to cry. Everything had gotten so frustrating. Coming out of her stupor she watched Kenshin's hand engulf her own. He leaned in close to her, so near that his hair tickled her forehead and his mouth brushed against her ear as he talked.

"No beloved, not that name." his voice was whisper soft and she shook at his use of an endearment. "Your birth name, your true name."

Her throat worked unconsciously, and his free hand came up to rest on her shoulder. It stroked down her back gently, staying in place even as he moved back enough to give her room. Kaoru shut her eyes and took an unsteady breath. Her insides had turned to liquid.

Opening them, she quickly wrote out Kaoru Kamiya before she could change her mind. The writing was even worse than earlier, barely interpretable by her own standards. Her hand unintentionally came forward to cover it. Kaoru didn't want him to read it, her actions were those of a woman shaken and dazed. She regretted writing it already. Kenshin's free hand came up and rested on hers, and the warmth of it spread throughout her arm. At the same time the hand on her back began a slow rub and she resisted the urge to sink back into the embrace.


The word, spoken softly, wrapped itself around her and she was powerless to stop him when he gently picked her hand up in his.

She watched him glance down at the writing, his lips moving silently as he said the words to himself. Not even having a moment to take a breath, she was suddenly enveloped in his arms, pulled off her chair and into his chest.

Kaoru was too shocked to protest. Sprawled out on top of him, one of his arms secured her at the waist, while the other rested gently at the back of her neck. He pulled her in close, this time resting her cheek against his own.


Her emotions pooled at the intimate way he murmured her name. Her arms, resting between them, worked their way up and around his neck. She knew it was improper, and she should be appalled at the way he took advantage of her. Instead she felt safe and tugged herself closer. He murmured her name again and again in her ears and she wasn't immediately aware when tears started running down her face. She hadn't thought that someone accepting her would be so emotional. But Kenshin not only recognized her magic, he acknowledged that she was something beyond the magic. She had a name, she was a person- and she deserved to be treated like one.

She didn't know how long she silently cried against his frame, but she did understand that today's tears were much different than yesterday's. Today she felt relieved, uplifted, accepted. It was invigorating. Eventually she noticed that Kenshin was no longer simply whispering her name. Between his words he was kissing her. Her forehead. Her cheekbones. Her nose. Her eyelids.

It was personal. She'd never been kissed by anyone outside of family, and it had been years since even that had happened. It was nice. It was sweet. Intimate. But she wasn't scared. She felt cherished. He wasn't pushing her for anything, wasn't asking her to do something she was uncomfortable doing. When he eventually stopped his ministrations, she couldn't deny that she was inexplicably calm. He held her loosely, supported her against his shoulder.

Being with him simply felt right.

"I want to help you beloved." He spoke quietly, but with determination.

His words tugged at her, but it was no use. Kenshin couldn't help her. No one could help her. Even though he acknowledged her, he would leave too. And she wasn't sure how she would be able to go back to having nothing, to being nothing. She would die. He must have seen the look on her face.

"Please Kaoru. Please just listen." He pulled her close so they were nose to nose. His eyes were dark and determined. "Trust me."

Next time: Kaoru and Kenshin talk, well…Kenshin talks and Kaoru listens. Aoshi wakes up to the craziness that is Misao.