Title: Absolution

Summary: Takes place during the Kyoto arc on a what-if-scenario of Kaoru falling off the ship before reaching Kyoto and losing her memories of the Kenshin-gumi. Aoshi, driven to insanity inadvertently rescues her.

Disclaimer: I don't own Kenshin. It's the property of Nobuhiro Watsuki

Absolution Chapter One:

He had spent months preparing himself for the challenge to gain the title of 'The Strongest.' The title would be like a rose adorning his comrades' headstones. In this goal, Aoshi vowed that he would not fail. After he felt himself physically competent in defeating Battousai with his twin kodachi technique it didn't take long to track down the location of his residence. The Kamiya Dojo was on the outskirts of Tokyo and soon he would face Battousai. His misfortune was in arriving days late and finding the inhabitants all gone.

However, the dojo was not empty for Kanryu Takeda's former opium maker was there. Unfortunately, she proved useless with her unshakeable loyalty to her new-found friends. Who would have thought she'd develop such a backbone in the short time since he knew her? Honestly, after he gave her the tanto he thought she'd have ended her life. He was about to end it for her, albeit several months later, but the Wolf of Mibu showed up and told him exactly what he wanted to know.

Aoshi knew good and well that Hajime Saitou was trying to manipulate him. The wolf's reasons for disclosing Himura's whereabouts were irrelevant. Aoshi left, knowing that in the trees another presence watched him. It was not the Battousai, so the identity of the spy mattered little.

Reaching Kyoto was all that mattered now.

It took little time to discover the location of Battousai's friends. Kamiya, the woman who owned the dojo, was on a ship for Kyoto along with the boy. The thug was somewhere lost in the woods. Battousai was probably already there.

He had never met the woman, but he had seen her from afar. He had no idea what drew the Battousai, the most violent man in history, to take up residence with a young woman. What kind of person willingly accepted an infamous murderer into her home?

It was times like these that he missed his companions, mostly Hannya with whom he'd have discussed such musings. He tried to imagine what Hannya might say. He'd probably point out that not only does the Battousai live with her, but so does a former thief. He'd also point out that her friends also included an ex-gangster and an opium dealer. From what he could tell, she had no dark past of her own, perhaps she liked sharing in those of others?

He shook his head to clear it of such ridiculous thoughts. His feet crunched on the fallen leaves quietly. He brushed back the wet bangs that fell over his eyes, it had started to rain. He could see the ship that transported the young woman and child thief a few miles off the coast. They would arrive soon and then he would follow them. He would follow them as they lead the way to Battousai.

A clap of thunder pierced the air and the rain began to become thicker. The water became more violent as the waves began to crash against the hull of the passenger ship. He was glad he didn't come from Tokyo on one of the passenger ships, but had instead bartered a ride off a crew of pirates who were known for their speed and ability to remain invisible.

His icy eyes narrowed as he watched the ship come closer to the shore. The captain had best be careful in avoiding the deadly rocks that aligned the coast. He walked closer to the shore, not as cautious to be in the shadows since the sky had darkened dramatically. He felt phantom fingers clinching around his heart when he saw the body drifting in the water, afloat by clinging to a piece of driftwood.

Aoshi felt torn, as the last bit of his moral center made its presence known. He had been ignoring it for so many months now, he could barely register the feelings it invoked. The world was a cruel place, life had taught him that several times over since the tender age of fifteen when he first became the Okashira. It was not his business to insure the future of that lost soul on the driftwood. He only had one thing to do in this life before he could join his friends in the ever-after, and that was to defeat Battousai.

He had almost willed himself to turn his back on the individual and wait near the docks for Battousai's companions. But when he saw the long dark hair he looked closer. He had never seen her up close, but he would recognize any target he had established.

With a curse muttered under his breath he tossed off his long coat, kicked off his shoes, and set aside his kodachi. Then Aoshi Shinomori, a man driven into near madness, dived into the sea to save Kaoru Kamiya.

With each powerful stroke of his long, muscular arms he drew nearer. The waves had begun to set the woman drifting away from land, back into the perils of the sea. She looked half dead, but her fingers clung to the driftwood in spite of her unconscious state. Aoshi reached her side and slipped his arm around her waist. He then grabbed hold of the driftwood himself and began to tow her back towards land.

He only looked at her once, and that was to see how white her skin had become. Those phantom fingers closed around his heart once more. Naturally, it must have been due to the rage he felt at having his cover blown by the woman. But it really didn't matter. The Battousai had agreed to a rematch so he had nothing to hide.

When the water reached his waist he tossed aside the driftwood and picked up the woman, legs cradled across one arm while he supported her head against his chest with the other arm. He felt mild relief at the feel of her cold breath fanning against his wet chest. If he got a cold from his impromptu rescue mission he would be sure to take that out on Battousai as well.

Her long dark hair clung to his arm and neck, her lips were an unhealthy shade of blue and her breathing rattled like she had inhaled some water. She wasn't dressed in a kimono but rather clothing that was used to spar in dojo matches. It was plastered against her in a way that left little to Aoshi's imagination.

He walked onto the shore; the dry sand clung to his wet feet. He deposited her gently into the dark sands and shook her shoulder. Nothing. "Kamiya," he addressed her firmly. Still nothing.

Her lips were still an unnatural shade of blue, only darker now than before. What did he know about drownings? He knew that water in the lungs was bad. How does one remove water from the lungs? One puts air into the lungs and it would force the water out. He frowned at the conclusion his logical thoughts had drawn. Then as he knelt beside her, he leaned over and pressed his lips against hers forcing the air from his mouth into hers. Her lips were so…cold and unresponsive. It was an eerie feeling.

He pulled back, expecting to see her looking at him with a confused expression. Instead he saw, nothing. He took a deep breath and forced his lips over hers once more. This time the results were better as she began to cough and he turned her to her side as water spewed from her mouth.

She began gasping greedily for air and the rain lessened to a fine mist. Aoshi sat back and waited for her reaction. Cautiously she turned and faced him. He noted with mild satisfaction that her lips were now a pale pink instead of cyan. He wasn't sure what he expected, perhaps screaming?

She surprised him though. She offered him a shaky smile as she drew her hand to her chest. "Thank you for getting me out of the water." She looked back towards the sea with a slightly lost expression. "I must have fallen off a ship."

Her words echoed in Aoshi's mind and he turned them over a few times. Didn't she know if she fell off a ship? "You do not remember falling off the ship?"

She frowned and directed her eyes to the sand where she began to idly draw shapes with her finger. "I must have, but," she looked up and met his eyes evenly and gave a nervous laugh. "I don't actually remember being on a ship."

Why did she look at him that way? There was no spark of recognition whatsoever in her eyes. Aoshi knew that she knew his identity, so why did she look at him so blankly?

"Um, where are we?" she asked after he remained silent after her last statement.

"A few miles south of Kyoto," he answered.

"Why would I go to Kyoto?"

"I imagine to reunite with the Battousai," Aoshi said dryly.

"The Battousai?" she whispered. She locked eyes with him, large sapphire eyes that showed obvious confusion as she searched his for answers he was unwilling to reveal. "Why would I be looking for the manslayer from the war?"

Why indeed? "Tell me, Kamiya, what is the last thing you remember?"

"I remember visiting father's grave. It was the one year anniversary since his death," she said sadly. "Dr. Gensai had taken me to lunch with his granddaughters." Her brows furrowed together as she stared at him. "How do you know my name?"

"You do not know Battousai?" he asked instead. When she did not answer he continued. "How about Yahiko Myojin, Sanosuke Sagara, or Megumi Takani?" She shook her head.

"I think you must have me confused with someone else. I'm sure there are lots of Kamiyas," she offered in consolation.

Aoshi's brow arched, "Kaoru Kamiya?" She bit down on her lip but didn't answer that. "What is the date?" She told him and his eyes widened marginally. She was approximately a year and a half off on her date.

"So, how do you know me?" Kaoru probed.

Aoshi told her the true date and watched her reaction carefully. "Do I know those people?" He nodded. "Do I know you?" After a moment's hesitation he nodded again. Then she surprised him by casting him the most radiant smile he had ever before witnessed, moments before she flung herself at him.

She had her arms around his neck and knocked him off balance so that he had to catch himself with a hand braced behind his back. He couldn't actually remember being…hugged before. When she settled down and pulled back she seemed to realize the awkwardness of the situation and scrambled away with a fierce blush.

"I'm sorry, but I am glad to know that at least a friend, even one I can not remember, saved me from a near-death experience." She stood and shivered violently, but she didn't complain and earned a few points of respect for that from the stoic man. "Your name if you will," she requested.

"Aoshi Shinomori," he said quietly as he too rose. He walked back to his things and slipped his shoes back on and strapped his kodachi across his back. He picked up his large coat and dropped it over Kaoru's shoulders. "Come," he said. He couldn't leave her here. She might not be able to lead him to Battousai in her current condition, but he was confident that she would lead Battousai to him.

He began walking, expecting the woman to follow. She didn't move so he chanced a look at her from over his shoulder and saw her staring off at the sea towards where she came. She then turned and ran to catch up with him. She offered an apologetic smile. "Sorry, I was just hoping to remember."

"It will come back to you," Aoshi assured her.

She tilted her head back and met his eyes, "Thank you for your coat."

Aoshi didn't want her gratitude. "Come," he repeated and this time she followed.