Hello minna! This is my first fanfiction that I have ever posted after writing...Oh well I guess I couldn't just let my friends listen to my deranged ramblings forever huh? Well that aside I guess I should tell you that Rurouni Kenshin isn't mine. I guess I should also say that I don't own any of the characters. Oh yeah...Spoilers for the Kyoto Arc, but not many. I wanted to write a fic that would fit within the continuity of the manga without disturbing anything. I hope I accomplished that. My friend said this would be an excellent Doujin. I don't make any money at all from this or anything for that matter...I'm a stay at home mommy after all. That being said please don't sue me! My poor husband works hard enough to keep up with my anime appetite
^ ^x

Flower Blooming in a Time of War

The Aoiya: Two weeks after the fight with Shishio

Kamiya Kaoru lay in the garden at the half-rebuilt Aoiya. Stars wheeled through the sky as she heard the faint din of a party. "Two weeks...You'd think they'd have had enough by now." Kaoru felt the blush of sake on her cheeks and the warm taste in her mouth. Her hands threaded through her long hair and pillowwed her head comfortably. The party sounds reminded her of home. People laughing, talking, drinking. "Well maybe too much drinking...Especially Yahiko." Okina periodically burst into song making Kaoru chuckle in spite of her true feelings. That was when she heard it.
It was Yahiko.
Maybe if she just lay there he wouldn't see her. What if Kenshin's wounds had gotten worse...Or...
He interrupted her thoughts just long enough to make the shihondai very angry. "What do you want Yahiko-CHAN!" She tried not to let the venom sneak in. Tonight was supposed to be different. It should be...

"Hey Busu. Don't let me bug you! I was just worried...Besides Sano was just gonna' tell us about his trip here from Tokyo to Kyoto, and you know how much funnier his life is when he's dru...?!?" Yahiko stopped mid way through his rant. His teacher was lying in the grass staring straight up. The moon made her look pale as the dead. Her arms were lying behind her head and Yahiko couldn't help but remember his mother after she had died. Her skin had had the same rice paper quality his almost sister had in the light of the moon. The sake was fuzzing up his brain and he felt tears welling up in his eyes. "Kaoru..." He looked at the shihondai's rising and falling chest. She would shudder from time to time as if in a sob. One of her hands untangled from behind her head and wiped at her eyes. The unceremonious act awoke Yahiko from his trance. "Kaoru...Is something wrong?"
Yahiko wasn't buying it. "Please, if you have been hurt I Myojin Yahiko the Tokyo Samurai will take vengeance." She had looked over at Yahiko and he could make out her red rimmed eyes, the arch in her eyebrows made it evident that she didn't think he could help. "Please?" He knew that if he waited long enough his shihondai was a sucker for her number one student...Well, her only student, if you didn't count Yutaro. Yahiko didn't.

"Ok Yahiko...Come join me...I'll tell you a story." Kaoru didn't really want to be alone anyway. Giving Yahiko a lesson would be just the thing. Her eyes followed Yahiko until he sat beside her, then returned to the sky and its twinkling. "Once," Kaoru began "when I was younger my father told me that life is worth protecting because each life is connected. We are all woven together in a great tapestry of love and hate, strength and weakness, revenge and atonement. I had been so angry with him when he told me those words. Not because of the words, but because of our lives, we..."
"Were you already a student at the time?" Yahiko interrupted
"Don't interrupt. Yes Yahiko I have been a student since I was very young. However wonderful my father was to me, he just had no idea how to raise a girl. So I became like his son, I was already tomboyish. I couldn't see any point or reason in learning to sew, or cook, or do ikebana. It didn't suit me. I had no mother, and I didn't know many women. There were so many men in the house..."

Kaoru's voice trailed off and Yahiko looked back toward the porch and noticed the whole house had crept outside and was now listening to Kaoru's story. Sano was apparently in charge of bringing the sake outside as he had just set down six jugs in the center, keeping one for himself. He wondered where Kenshin was. "He would probably want to hear." Yahiko scanned the garden with his eyes and noticed Misao sitting in a tree halfway between listening and watching the room on the second floor with the light. "Aoshi's room." Yahiko realized quickly. "Probably meditating. What does that girl see in him...Even if she explained it to me I just know I would never get it." Yahiko ventured. He then continued his search in the garden from his seat next to Kaoru for the red haired rurouni. Not even a trace of him was evident to Yahiko in the dark garden. "Oh well I guess he'll miss her story then."

"Yahiko are you listening?" Kaoru's voice reached into his brain and flipped on the re-play button.

"Yeah, men in the house...sorry." He gave a lame smile.

"Yahiko, it's okay if you don't want to hear..." Kaoru noticed his disappointed look...As well as the faces of everyone gathered on the porch and gave them the benefit of the doubt. "I guess I'll start the real story then..."

Ten Years Ago: The Bakumatsu: Kamiya Dojo

"Kaoru-chan?" Koshijirou had looked everywhere for his incorrigible daughter. "Chibi...Please come out. I know you're mad...But I can finally explain."

"Forget it!"

He heard Kaoru's falsetto reach him from under the dojo. "There you are." He peeked his head under the dojo and his hand closed around her ankle. In the next second a sputtering young Kaoru hung upside-down swinging balled up fists in a very dirty informal kimono. An embarrassing position for any eight year old, but more so for the young swords girl. That was when the young girl began to register the cold draft where she would have known the kimono should be and threw her hands straight up against her body to secure her clothes.


Kaoru blushed a deep red and attempted to look scandalized. Koshijirou laughed at his sputtering daughter and placed her on the ground. Perhaps Ichido sensei's wife was rubbing off on Kaoru after all, she had never been that worried about her modesty before. "But then she was getting older." He thought with a smile. "Now will you listen to me?" He asked out loud. He couldn't help but smile. The eight-year-old was the very picture of adorable anger. He could never say no to those eyes.

She looked so much like her mother. Deep blue eyes, thin small frame, the way her ears curved just so. Her hair hung long down her back. She had refused to cut it from the day her mother died, vowing that she wouldn't do so until the end of time. That was her spirit. The spirit that was very much Koshijirou himself. Fiery, quick, and she could be ever so slightly violent. Koshijirou hoped it was a phase...She beat up on her friends like a boy, she would never be marriageable material at this rate. 'Miko' will never forgive me when I see her again. Kaoru was all muscle, sweat, and swords. Koshijirou was very proud of his daughter. She would be an excellent master of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu one-day, if she could find a man that was willing to put up with his little tomboy he would be worthy enough. She had her mother's ability to see and bring out the good in anyone and any situation. She was unfailingly kind, if not rough around the edges. The stubbornness he thought ruefully as she pursed her lips at him, was definitely all him.

"Okay I'm listening Father. What kept you?"

"Dear god...Should I lie again? What would she think if I didn't." Koshijirou's mind scrutinized over a formulated answer. "Now Kaoru-chan it isn't like I was gone very long..." He could see her eyes misting with tears. "Kaoru...Our sword is necessary. Kamiya Kasshin Ryu is a sword that protects. I am protecting in my own way." He hoped deep down that he wouldn't have to tell her the truth...The fact that he was not in fact teaching at another dojo...but...Kaoru was crying and her small hands wrung together. Hands, Koshijirou realized that were covered in calluses. Calluses earned learning the style he had just used as a shield for his behavior.
Kaoru's young eyes were staring up at her father. He had missed her birthday; he had missed her mother's birthday. She went and laid fresh flowers at her grave alone. She cried alone asking her mother what was happening to her family. Strange men moved about the dojo, the students had whispered names like Hitokiri and Ishinshishi before they had all gone away. Some of the village children had told Kaoru that their parents had forbidden them to see her. Kaoru had smiled through it all...Until her room was taken and she had to move in with her father. It had been months since her father had seen his normal students. For all intents and purposes the dojo itself was closed, but it was still a hub of activity for some reason. Some of the men stayed for weeks, some days, others were like night ships that would only come in and leave as if they had never come at all. They had all avoided contact with Kaoru, but she had also had her hands full as a student. A family friend, a doctor, and his wife had come to live with them days after the dojo's final formal class so that her father could "travel". Ichido sensei had moved his practice into her old room. Kaoru now slept with Ichido sensei's wife Akari. She had, according to her father, moved in with them to be her teacher. She had tried day after day to teach her Ikebana, but Kaoru didn't much like flower arrangement. Akari was a good teacher she imagined, and her father said that she had to learn everything Akari taught, because even if she was a Master she would still one day also have to be a woman. Laundry was boring, and her cooking was frightening. Akari had just sort of let her loose in the kitchen one day. Kaoru thought of that day and frowned. It was the only time Akari had slapped her. She thought that Kaoru had just been obstinate and burned all the food neglectfully. When she ordered her to go back the next day and the same thing happened Kaoru was banned from all kitchen activity. The only thing that Kaoru enjoyed was writing, and eventually found that she had excellent penmanship. Her father said it was because of all the hours in practice. Akari had demanded that she wear a kimono to classes every day for some reason or another she was convinced that ladies didn't wear hakama. It was something that they argued...constantly.

But right now Kamiya Kaoru didn't want to discuss hakama, or calluses, or bruises. (Apparently, "real ladies" didn't have them.) Or muscles, (that would go away, ("real ladies" didn't have these either) if she took better care of her skin) or skin (which apparently would never be white enough because of years of harsh treatment and neglect...Use Aloe...). Kamiya Kaoru wanted in. The eight-year-old girl who stood atop the dojo ridgepole and defeated the boy two classes ahead of her wanted to know the truth. She would set her jaw and no one would dissuade her. Edo itself would crumble and be rebuilt before she would budge. Her father would explain why. Why Ichido sensei would be in what used to be her room all night and come out covered in blood. Why she would hear curses and screams in the night. Why she would hear and feel running feet, commands for food, clothing, and bandages. Why the storage shed was full of weapons, food, clothing, medicine, and bandages. Why food came and went...

The Aoiya: Ten years into the present

"Hey Jo-chan...You musta' been pretty sheltered if you didn't understand all that stuff..." Sanosuke gave his best "I'm adorable please don't hurt me" look.

"Sano, baka, I am still a woman under all this shihondai. My father felt I shouldn't be subjected. Besides Ichido sensei's wife told me that since Ichido's practice was now in the Kamiya Dojo I would see a lot of sickness, and perhaps death. It was a war out there after all. I just didn't know my father's place in the war...And I didn't until that night." Kaoru's audience was captive.

Kamiya Dojo: Ten years ago

"Well?" she was always so stubborn, impossible, and frustratingly mothering. How could an eight-year-old be mothering? "Kaoru-chan promise me right now that you will follow your heart forever and I will tell you everything." Koshijirou held out his pinky and Kaoru locked her pinky about her father's larger one. "I will follow my heart forever father." A smile covered his lips as he led her to the house. "Father...Why are we going into the house?" Kaoru smiled through her question. "We need tea. All good stories need refreshment."

Aoiya: The present

"Here, Here!!!"

"Shut up Sanosuke!"

"Ok Jo-chan." Smiling cringe.

Kamiya Dojo: Ten years ago

Koshijirou smiled at his daughter. This would be harder than he thought. "I have lied to you kitten." Kaoru's eyes got big and then settled down into her tea. "Ah, she acts so grown up." He thought. "The men staying here aren't all just patients of Ichido-san they are also soldiers. Ishin to be exact." His eyes caught his daughter's shock.

"Ishinshishi? All of them? Father? Are you? Is that where you? Have you been hurt?" Kaoru began checking her father for imagined wounds.

Koshijirou laughed in spite of the situation. "No Kaoru, I'm not hurt."

"Why did you lie?" Cold blue met his dark coal gray and he reconsidered telling her.

"Why did you learn Kamiya Kasshin Ryu?" He questioned.

"Father?" Kaoru asked confused. "To protect the ones I love and those who are not as strong as myself." She said aloud. "And so I don't get chained to a kimono and a washtub." She added internally with a mental smirk imagining Ichido sensei's wife in leg irons with a happy smile on her face while she plunged her hands into soapy water.

"Correct" He looked at Kaoru the student. Thinking of her as his daughter now would be devastating to his resolve. "I have been away on small missions, sorties they're called. We deliver medicine, food, weapons, and we bring back the wounded. I have seen only a little in the way of combat. I have seen much in the way of death. I have allowed entire clans solace in our walls. I have slept in the same room as hitokiri. I have carried bodies alive and dead..."

Kaoru's voice was quiet. "You've killed? But father...Our budo...Kamiya Kasshin Ryu is a preventive style...No killing."

"Kaoru, a sword is a sword. It is what it is. I regret killing those men. You must understand that I do this in the name of a time when you will teach our budo in halls where the students speak of kenjutsu as a sword that protects and never kills. I love you that much." His eyes were filled with remorse and he looked older than his Thirty-two years.

"You missed seeing mother with me to stand in a field of slaughter? How could you? I hate you!" Kaoru's words were like whips and her small eight-year-old frame shook with tears of anger. "You've gone against your budo. You lied again and again." Her eyes were smoldering.

"You're right Chibi...I have done it. I protected those men with my sword. So far, I have not died for them. Many have died for us. Both sides feel the pang of death, but I have thrown in my lot with the cause I believe in." Koshijirou was serious. His eyes held his young daughter in them; tears gently flowed from her blue eyes that were so like her mothers.

"Why though?" she asked pleadingly.

"For your innocence, because you don't understand and I don't want you to." His eyes were wet and tired. "I must leave again tomorrow. I told you that already, the state of your kimono would tell the world that." Kaoru winced as she looked down at the soiled kimono. "Ichido-san tells me that he always knows I am leaving because you mess up your kimono and hide under the dojo. Personal habits aside, now that you know where I go, do you feel better?" He hoped that she would say yes. Her eyes held so much right now.

"I'm coming with you." Kaoru looked at her father with determination. If he were going to go out there and defend her, she would be with him.

"No" he said "No you're not. I have kept this from you for your own good. Now that you know I will not let you do anything so foolish. If I die I have to know that you will be safe and alive. The world I am helping to create is worthless without you in it. The deception, the nights I was so far away and dreaming of home...They would be in vain."

"How long will you be going then?" Kaoru's eyes looked pained.

Koshijirou tried to remember being so obstinate when he was younger. "I may be gone only three days. After that...You may worry. I think you could handle the dojo. The Ishin know better than to bother a grieving child. It would be your decision to let them stay or not" His voice trailed off at his daughter's strained look.

"Father, you are coming back...right?"

Koshijirou took a deep breath. "I hope I always come home to you Chibi. The fighting worsens every day however. War is terrible, but I have to protect the weak. I need to protect the people that can't defend themselves. Most of all I need to protect those I love."

"But the Dojo is safe. We're safe here. We could stay here forever. No one would ever dare fight us here, together...Together we could defend." Kaoru said in a rush.

"Kaoru," he interrupted. "I must protect my loved ones." Koshijirou tried to smile but found he couldn't. "Chibi, all life is worth protecting because each life is connected. Yours to mine, mine to your mothers. We are all woven together in a great tapestry of love and hate, strength and weakness, revenge and atonement. I have to preserve your thread above all others because yours is the most beautiful thread of kindness and innocence."

"Kindness won't save us if the shogun comes to kill me when you're gone." Kaoru was angry now. Why was he being so stubborn? Certainly she could take care of herself. She understood what her father had just said, but she couldn't lose them both.

"Kaoru-chan I'm not finished." This time he was stern and the usual ring in his voice was dull and flat to her ears. "I can protect you in a way that I could never protect your mother Makiko...My sword will protect you for now. There was no enemy for me to fight against when she died. I won't allow you to die." Koshijirou threw his arms around his daughter and they both found themselves crying again.

"I won't leave you father! I won't die. I can't die! We are partners. If I have to stay here, then I will protect this dojo. I will stay alive for you...We will live for each other." Kaoru choked on the words and tears stained her young face as she smiled up at her father and master. That was of course when the world exploded around them.

The Aoiya: The Present

"It's been so long since I thought about that night...I'm sorry everyone." Kaoru curled her legs tight against her body as if to ward off the cold, but no tears came from her eyes. It was as if her tears had dried up for the incident long ago, that she could only shudder at the memory.

"So your father was in charge of an Ishinshishi squad?" Yahiko was looking at Kaoru in wonder. "I thought that he just ran the dojo. I didn't know he was some sort of great war hero."

Kaoru's head snapped up and her eyes flashed. "Yahiko...War doesn't make a man great. My father was a great man for being a teacher." Kaoru realized that she had been a bit harsh with her first words. They were almost growls. Lessons could not be taught by scaring the student. She tried again, with more success, to explain. " My father was a great man for being my father, a kind, giving, responsive person. My father's budo was strict in its conception, to bring out the potential in a man. Ones potential can never be fully recognized if one is dead."

"Yeah...But yours won't be either if you are the one that is on the other end of the naginata." Misao chimed in from the tree. "Soldiers in a war are just that. Philosophy doesn't really have a place on a battlefield...I mean unless you want to get killed. A lot of times a man is made great by being the last one standing."

"I gotta' agree with the weasel-girl on this one Jo-chan. Some things are just worth fighting for. Sagara-san taught me that. I doubt that he would have been able to live with his wife and son knowing that things would never change. He wasn't a common man, not a farmer at all, but he knew that the people were suffering." Sanosuke's eyes were serious now. His drunken haze disappearing to make way for determination. "I gave up my family to be with the Sekihotai. I never regretted it. We were going to make a world where everyone could live without the fear of the ruling class. Equality..." Sano's eyes then sparkled. "Besides that, I find that the ladies find it hard to resist looking at my scars." He winked and Kaoru blushed while trying to look as if she were ashamed of him.

Omasu winked at Sanosuke. "What kind of scars chicken-head?" Her eyes traveled over the length of his leg.

"Down girl." Misao glared at Omasu. "You're gonna give him the wrong idea. He's not really your type anyway. I thought your were going to go after Himura's shisho." Omasu's smile broadened and her eyes glazed over.

"Hiiiiko-saaaaaama!" Omasu was slightly drooling.

"Nonsense..." Megumi walked out from the kitchen with a cup of tea in one hand and a medical kit in the other. Smile of evil on her face. "Who doesn't have a little chicken from time to time." She set the case down and began to gently unwrap the old bandages from Sanosuke's damaged hand.

Sanosuke could swear that he could see fox ears spring up on Megumi's head. "Listen here Fox..." well at least that's what he would have said were it not for the fact that he'd been struck dumb. She was smiling at him and holding his hand...Well not really...She was just doing her job as a doctor, but Sano couldn't help but look flustered. His statement was more muttered and came out an indecipherable "Lisssan he Faaaah...."

"And that's" she interrupted. "Why I have decided to become a vegetarian. Sanosuke. Hold still." She had a concerned look on her face as she ran her fingers along Sanosuke's hand. "What are we all holding court about? I thought that you were all having some big party. Where did it go?" She winced when she felt a new dislocation. Looking into Sanosuke's eyes she tried to prepare him for the pain as she pulled the joint back into place. Sanosuke just stared at her and didn't show any reaction. "Don't move I'll be right back." Megumi rose up and walked back the way she came.

"Hey Sano...Didn't that hurt?" Kaoru looked at her friend concernedly. "If it didn't there's a lot more for you to worry about than I thought." She said to herself not wanting to concern the injured man.

"Like hell" He was beaming at her. His teeth were clenched and she could swear she saw his eyes watering.

Megumi walked back in with a basin and a rag and began to wash the injured hand.
"Hey...If this is torture...What would you do if I broke my leg?" He tried to smile winningly but he winced when she ran her hand over the righted joint.

"I would probably break the other one chicken-head." She was going to win this round of glib comments as well it seemed. Yahiko took this moment to explain the situation to Megumi trying to save what little dignity the young street fighter had left.

"Kaoru is telling us about her childhood." Yahiko chimed. "Well actually it's supposed to be a lesson but you missed the beginning so at this point I guess it's more of a walk through of Kaoru's eighth year." Yahiko smiled broadly, not because of his relation to Megumi, but because he'd remembered that Kaoru had been eight. This was one story that he wasn't going to mess up on. Kaoru seemed to be building up to something and he had the strange feeling that he wouldn't get it if he didn't pay attention now. "I think something's about to happen. You know...Exciting stuff. You wanna' join us? Megumi smiled appreciatively and sat next to Sanosuke under the garden overhang.

"Nice to know you're all still listening..." Kaoru smiled at her friends. She had felt so melancholy when she'd stopped. Now she felt strong enough to continue. It was as if they knew she needed her smile, and they gave of themselves willingly. "I have happened upon the most wonderful family father." She said to herself as she stared up at the stars. "You would truly be proud of them."

"Get on with it BUSU!"

"Stuff it Yahiko-chan! OK! Where was I?"

10 years ago: The Kamiya Dojo


Kaoru screamed as the front reception room wall was blown into the one she was sitting. Her father's body knocked her to the floor. Whether it was protective or simply the blast Kaoru would never know. Flames licked up and out and the smoke made her eyes tear and her lungs hurt. "Get out!" It was her father. That was when Kaoru noticed the blood trickling down his temple and the piece of wood he was pulling out of his right shoulder. "NO!" she screamed above the din. Men were running everywhere. Putting out the fires and becoming ready for war, a war that had finally entered the Kamiya Dojo by the front door. Chaos was everywhere and Kaoru could only sit and watch. Part of her wanted to throw off her kimono and change to join the fight, the other half...the winning half was too petrified to move at all. The crackling of fires, the thumping of running feet, the screaming of the injured and the dying, and the constant clanging of swords. She had never heard so many swords. She could see the men pouring in through the destroyed gates. Blood was everywhere. Men lay in puddles of it. Three men had just died in what was left of the front room ahead of her. Their blood all mixed together in death although two had been Samurai and one Ishinshishi. Kaoru couldn't look away and she couldn't close her eyes. She would never be the same again. She wondered if it was truly her father's voice she was hearing above the battle.

"Remember what I told you. Go quickly and get out of here...If I don't see you again little one...Know that I love you more than the world." Koshijirou felt the pain shooting through his arm and he knew that he would bleed to death if medical care didn't reach him soon. "Ichido Sensei!" The doctor was running through the door on the right with his medical bag. "Not good." He looked at his long time friend and smiled. "If I live through this one...I know that Miko is looking out for me." He tried to smile but failed. Koshijirou looked for his daughter and found her still at his side. "CHIBI...GO!" he roared. He watched her jump as if brought out of a trance or a deep sleep. Tears slipped down to the already ruined kimono. Koshijirou looked on as his one and only daughter got up from the floor, kissed his shoulder, and ran for her life. "Miko watch over her...I can't anymore. Please don't let us be apart, if she goes to you today...I will follow you both." His eyes went to the floor as Ichido pulled out the board and applied pressure to the wound.

"Sir!" A man that Koshijirou had come to know as Hideo ran up towards him. "The first unit leader has fallen...It leaves me with little choice but to ask...Sir...They need you..." The only confirmation the soldier received was a stern nod of the head. Koshijirou stood and went out into the yard.

The Aoiya:

Everyone was silent and Kaoru looked up at her friends. They all seemed to understand so well. She felt the pain of that night returning again. The confusion of not knowing who was dead and who was alive. She felt a tear slip down her cheek.

"Dear God...Jo-chan...How...How did you get out of there?" Sanosuke's eyes were skittish, as if he knew the same feelings in her heart. They were pounding through his veins just as they were pounding through hers. "I mean...They weren't in the habit of sparing anyone. Especially the daughters and sons of core revolutionaries."

Misao put her hand around Kaoru's shoulder before she even realized she had dropped to the ground from her tree. "Do you want to continue...Kaoru...Don't make yourself..."

"It's ok Misao. I can handle it, the incident has passed, and I've had ten years to let it heal. Now all I can do is make sure it doesn't happen again right?" Her eyes lightened slightly and she messed up Yahiko's hair. "Now if only I can beat it through his thick skull..." Yahiko shot Kaoru a look. "I guess now would be a good time to inform you that I have no idea what happened with my father. He told me that a soldier came to him with news of the death of Oku and that was all he would tell me. I guess he didn't like to talk about it...Any time someone mentioned it, my father would become quiet, almost reserved. He never touched the family sword after that, not until he left for the south almost more than a year now..." Now Kaoru felt her breath hitch. "It's all I really have left of him, and he hated it so much at the end." Kaoru's hands covered her face as she wept. To the surprise of all but Misao however it was no longer Misao who's arms held Kaoru but those of a bandaged rurouni.

"Shhhhh...Kaoru-dono..." Violet eyes were looking into her own tear stained ones. They reflected her feelings. Sorrows, sadness, perhaps anger? His hand brushed back a loose hair and she could swear that he had dried her tears, but she didn't see him do it. "You don't have to go on..." He whispered it to her and she tried to hold on to the sound but the words were like notes of music and were gone as soon as they were spoken. "No...I have to. Tonight is special...I want to share this with my new family." She smiled with her tears still sparkling in her eyes. "You see...This is the first time that I have ever missed this night. I always go to see them on this night every year. They are buried five blocks from the dojo. Somehow though I know that sometimes if I concentrate hard enough I can hear them walking the grounds where the earth soaked in their lifeblood..."

Ten years ago: The Kamiya Dojo

Kaoru's feet brought her quickly through the home she thought she knew so well. Of course she had never had to step over bodies in her house either. Screams followed her into the room that she and Akari had shared. Akari was pinned under an unknown man, she was bleeding from her mouth and a pool of sticky looking sanguine liquid was forming under her left side. Kaoru's bokken was in her hand before she could think and she clubbed the man into oblivion. Akari stopped screaming and her bloody hands clutched at Kaoru's kimono as if to hold onto life for a little longer. She was coughing blood now; blood and bile seemed to spill from her mouth.

"Tr *choke* unk"

Akari's breath was slowing like everything else in her body. Kaoru was leaning over her teacher, uncontrollable tears runnelling down her cheek like a river meeting the ocean. There was nothing she could do. Kaoru could only sob. "Don't die Akari...Please...Please don't die. I will learn to arrange flowers just for you. Please."

"Don't...Don't die *cough* here...Kaoru." Her soft hands slid away from Kaoru's smaller rough ones. She looked down at her hands and saw them covered in Akari's blood.

"I swear it to you Akari...I will not die here." In the hall a new body slumped to the floor. Kaoru's hands shook as she went into Akari's trunk. The woman was now a complete mystery to Kaoru. A full samurai daisho was laid above the fine silk of a formal kimono. She clutched the katana and its mate to her small body. "I have to get out of here." She thought aloud. "Father told me that I should run, that I should get as far away as I could." She tried to remember what her father had said exactly and the words came to her in one firm realization, he had been expecting this.

"Look as innocent as you can Kaoru. They must never think you are a threat. A girl especially a young one will never be an open threat...They would kill me before they kill you. You have to live."

Her hands slipped up towards her hair with a ribbon and she paused for a second. Her heart was beating at a million miles a minute. "If the samurai have come...They will surely know father...I can not leave him to fight alone!" She looked down at the blades in her arms and selected the smaller of the two. The tanto slid out of its seiya easily. She pulled her hair together and in a quick movement of the small blade her long hair fell onto the floor in a silken mass of black. Quickly it was repositioned to the top of her head. Her father's words were still ringing in her ears as she leapt towards the other part of the closet where her training gi and hakama were kept. Kaoru was quick to pull her clothes on; time was of the essence. Katana and tanto attached to her hakama she slid open what was left of the door to her room. "I will fight with him. We will live or die together."

Kaoru stumbled through the door. There was a haze from all the smoke. Men seemed to fly from one room to the next in a dance that Kaoru knew meant death for one fighter or the other. Clanging swords, and shouts erupted from every direction at once and she fought the desire to run; to fall to her knees and clamp her hands over her ears to make the sounds go away. To shut her eyes from the disparaging scene that filled her senses. "You there! Boy!" Her head snapped up and a man wearing black hakama and a blue gi now turned off every sense that had previously been over-stimulated. "Here is the letter to the Southern Clans. Take the trail outside of town. You have to make sure this gets to the runner two days from here. He will be on a black mare with a white mane. He will probably be Choshu. If you don't arrive before the fall of the sun on the second day we will all fail and they might be ambushed on the way into the city, they were going to hide here...Now there is nowhere left in Edo to hide. They have burned sixteen of our posts in the last three days. You are holding the fate of Japan in your hands Kudo...NOW GO!" The man was pointing towards the back gate. He was already bleeding from scores of wounds all over his body, so Kaoru never knew if he had died before or after the katana skewered through his body. The man holding the katana seemed to care little as he made his way effortlessly over a pile of three men toward her. Kaoru found her legs then and ran.

She knew she would die now, but her father's words ran through her mind like a mantra. "You have to live." So she pushed herself further than anyone could expect. Her legs were pumping and each stride took her closer to the back gate. It was gone of course ripped free she guessed by one side or another. "DIE!" she heard the man as if he had been right over her. Perhaps he was. She heard the katana swish through the air. Each second ticked by like a million years until a sound pulled her free of the stopped time.


"A sword? Who's?" Kaoru would never know, for she had torn forward and he was now behind her. The burning Dojo was well out of site before she slowed to breath and rest. To her surprise Kamiya Dojo was not the only home burning this night. Her heart never slowed before she began to run again.

The Aoiya: Ten years into the future

"Well what happened then?" Yahiko was all but shaking with excitement. "Did you get to kick any butt?"

"Nope..." Kaoru eased into a slow smile. "I didn't see a soul until I met the man on the black horse. I was very lucky. But by the time I got there I was sure that I was going to die. The skin on my feet was cracked and bleeding. Mud and soot and blood...I was covered in it. I made it before the afternoon on the second day. I don't think I rested once on the way there."

"What did the message say?" Megumi questioned.

"I don't know...I didn't read it." Kaoru was beaming now. "I found out later that Kudo was the personal messenger of an Ishinshishi leader that was only ever known by a pseudonym that meant the flower blooming in a time of war. I never met him I imagine. Very few knew his true nature, only that his role in Edo was to establish a balance of the clans in times of trouble..."

"Diplomat?" Misao supplied.

"I guess so." Kaoru shrugged. "By the time I reached the man on the horse it was three weeks until the final battle of the Bakumatsu no Doran. However, I heard only one cannon fire on my ride home."

"Ride?" Sanosuke craned his eyebrow.

"Yes...The man on the horse relayed the message to two other riders and rode for Kyoto, taking me along with him. He relayed his message first, and then let me have a hot bath and some food. We had returned to Edo four days after that. I was never more thankful for horses than on that return trip...He died too in the last true days of war. His name was Matsu. I kept in touch for the last three or four weeks he was alive, he said that he loved writing me because he didn't have anyone left to protect...His family had fallen under the hand of the Shogun. They were all executed. But now he had a little sister again."

"So what was the moral lesson here?" Sano grinned and looked at Yahiko.

"Ummmmmm"...Yahiko strained his brain over the sake and tried for a fitting answer. 'Don't get it wrong this time' he thought. "Well I guess it has to do with protecting the ones you love...And finding a reason to fight on, even when you don't think you have anything left?" He answered in a questioning voice that children give to teachers when they answer an exceptionally difficult math problem.

Kaoru smiled and hugged Yahiko. "Good enough."

Her smile made Yahiko warm. "I guess busu can be kinda' cute sometimes." He thought. "Well I'm going to bed early. I figure we gotta' get up early to work on the Aoiya and stuff." Yahiko got up and headed to the room the men were sharing his eyes shielded by his hair.

Yahiko was hiding his blush rather well so Kaoru decided to let it go. "Oyasumi Yahiko-kun." She smiled at his retreating form. His head swiveled around to stare at Kaoru in disbelief. She had finally done it...She had struck her student dumb. He bowed low at the waist and disappeared through the door to the kitchen.

The people on the porch sat in silence...and then fell into gales of laughter.

"Shut-up!" Yahiko screamed from inside.

"Oy, kid, it's ok...Jo-chan's a pretty girl..." Sano was up and chasing after Yahiko in an attempt to fully exploit his embarrassing moment. "Thanks for the story Jo-chan." He tossed over his shoulder with a smile on his lips. Kaoru grinned evilly at the street fighter and made waving motions with her hand toward the kitchen.

Jiya was standing and stretching and he looked about the people still on the porch. "We could all use some sleep. I agree with Yahiko. Let's get some rest." He eyed the Oniwabanshuu meaningfully looking at Kaoru who was studying the grass with intent now.

"I guess I should go back to bed..." Megumi smiled at Kaoru. "I have to take care of my invalids early in the morning. Ken-san...Please remember to rewrap that before turning in tonight. Good night all." Then she was gone as well.

Kaoru smiled as her friends left her alone again for the first time in hours and she felt how tired she actually was. Misao approached her and threw her arms around her newest friend.

"Sleep well Kaoru-chan. Good night everyone!" she called to the open air as she jumped for the nearest tree that would allow her access to the second floor.

Surprisingly she thought she heard another voice above all the other hushed ones that Kaoru recognized as Aoshi. "Good night Misao." They had both said at the same time. His eyes were still so cold and filled with anguish, but Kaoru cold see the warmth seeping in as he stared at Misao's lithe form sliding into a window. He looked down at Kaoru and bowed before snuffing the oil lamp in his room...And then Kaoru was alone...Or so she thought.

"What was really in the letter Kaoru-dono?" Kenshin sat down beside Kaoru and looked intently into her soft blue eyes. "I have to know if it was her." He thought.

"I guess I can tell you...I can't see that it would hurt." Kaoru tried to smile but her eyes were slightly wet. "I was asked to never tell anyone...I don't know why, the message was very cryptic at best anyway. It said that the northern trail was blocked. It gave the names of some recently dead...It told of the burnings in Edo, and of the defeated strongholds...And the last battle plans of a Takasugi Shinsaku, he had died just before a charge onto the battlefield succumbing to the coughing disease." She looked at Kenshin with a saddened look on her face. "Matsu told me that his woman would be sad...If she was still alive...She wasn't you know." She looked back at the ground. "Akari wasn't her real name at all...Ichido wasn't her husband either. She didn't have a husband...She only had a lover. His name was Takasugi Shinsaku. Those were his swords that I carried here to Kyoto. She was so lonely, and I never knew." Kaoru cried bitterly and she found herself once again drawn into strong comforting arms.

"It was the times Kaoru. Those who found love, however fleeting, often found themselves alone again in the wake of the war." He was whispering, and he hoped that Kaoru had not heard the pain slip into his voice. "She doesn't need to know. She has enough pain in her heart for one lifetime." He silently vowed not to tell Kaoru of his own pain. "Tomoe..." He felt the familiar ache settle into his chest. Kyoto was a place of too many memories, apparently for all of them. He held Kaoru away from him and his eyes settled on her perfect blue eyes. Her eyes closed, and tears slipped down her cheeks. Her focus was now on the green grass in the garden of the Aoiya.

"Why?" Kaoru demanded in an almost childlike tone. "Why did they all have to suffer so much. Akari was innocent. They never got a chance to marry...To really even be together. He wrote to her constantly. I brought two of their letters with me. I guess I intended to lay them on his grave. I know that he was brought here. I tucked them into my gi before I ran from my home...They were under the swords. She knew he was dead. She was lonely, and I don't want him to be lonely. I want him to see the letters she wrote...She loved him so much...More than her own life." Kaoru was rambling and she knew it. Her eyes slowly made their way up to the two glowing purple orbs. "Like I love you." She said silently in her heart. His face was unreadable. Was Kenshin in pain? His eyes seemed to say so. Kaoru felt the need to comfort him. "Kenshin..." Her hand went out to touch his cheek, the scarred one, but the hand was too slow and was captured by his larger ones.

"I will protect you." He let the words slip from his mouth before he could recapture them. They seemed so unlike the words he actually wanted to say. He had only said these words once before and they brought him only pain. He didn't deserve this happy life. Her heart was so beautiful. He could see something in her eyes that went beyond friendship, and he understood why Koshijirou's only daughter was so important to him. Love, understanding, tolerance, and forgiveness all there. He found forgiveness in her eyes and he wanted to drown in them. He wanted to have her with him always, it was so selfish, but he wanted to keep her. He wanted to wake up in the morning and see those eyes smiling back at him. "No...I can't have her. These hands," he looked at the hands enveloping her smaller ones. "These hands are so stained." I will never belong in her heart, but I can protect it from further harm. Protect her, even if it is from myself... "I will protect you." He said again and stood.

Kaoru felt her heart thrumming in her chest and absently wondered if Kenshin could hear it. She watched his eyes; they were so lost in thought. He helped her to her feet and she thought that perhaps he would kiss her. Maybe she could have what she wished for in her heart, and for a second she was sure all of the days of loneliness were over for good. Then he said it...

"Good night Kaoru-dono. Sleep well. You look over tired. Sesha is sorry to keep you out so long after everyone else is asleep. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow, de gozaru."

She felt her heart crack. No, not today or ever. Kenshin was a rurouni, now and forever it seemed, no matter what lay in her heart. "Oyasumi Kenshin." She let herself smile broadly taking the last vestiges of comfort from their closeness and joined hands. Her hands left his hands and she walked toward the Aoiya. Sleep sounded so good right now, even more so than before Kenshin had asked her about the letter. Emotions were always more draining than physical work. She passed into the darkness of the Aoiya under what she knew to be Kenshin's scrutinizing gaze.

"It was her after all. The girl that came dressed as a boy and saved us all." He thought as he watched her disappear into the night. "Kaoru saved us all...If that letter hadn't arrived we would have continued on the northern pass and would have been ambushed, probably slaughtered. One day I guess I should tell her my ending to the story. She would be proud to know that she had been so instrumental in saving so many lives at one time." His mind was in a whirl and he hadn't yet looked away from where Kaoru had disappeared. His mind was trapped in a different moment however; one made up in a moment forever lost. A moment in time where he had held her instead of letting go, a moment that could never be real. He could still smell the Jasmine and sake in the air and he let them cover him like a warm blanket. "The plans..." He said aloud to no one that he could see. "They were Takasugi's last contribution to his cause. It was the only reason we won, we all might have died without them. Thank you Kaoru, thank you for protecting me, and for giving me a chance to live again."

In the darkness of the Aoiya Kaoru smiled. "No, thank you."

Closing Notes: Well...What do ya' think? I hope you like it. I know it's not all that great for a first fic. Nothing Earth shattering. The muse struck me and I couldn't help but answer the call. My husband says it sounds like I have angst. I really don't. I just thought that I had to be as true to characters as possible. I think I mentioned wanting to be inside the manga continuity. This means no Genzai, no Ayame, and no Suzume. I like the girls, and I don't despise Genzi-sensei. However I think that the characters are slightly unnecessary fluff, so I probably will never include them in any of these. If I get a response I will go ahead and do a few more of these. You know, like a Sano tells a story, Kenshin tells a story. Yahiko tells a story. Poor kid. If you ask me he gets seriously gypped for fan-fics. Read and Review! Thank you for reading. I would like to make a formal thank you to Jan Story for telling me Kaoru's father's name! Hoodehoooooo!