"Yes? Tsubame?"

She stands perfectly stilled, waiting—still waiting, as she finds her breath, finds those hard to say words—holds onto her breath, waiting.

She dips her head a little as she finally approaches, her long fingers lingering that extra second longer on the lively green, slender, bamboo stalk.

"Is something wrong?"

She bows upon reaching him—wincing at the crunch that marks her every step.

A faint tremble—it's been long indeed—shoots along her frame. Kenshin notices, he follows her eyes.

Their surroundings, the bamboo forest, is unrecognizable, demolished. An avenue of uprooted green shafts lie ahead, smashed, in splinters. The ground has been tossed up—rocks and dirt —debris, coat the ruins. Stumps mark the warpath and the very earth seems to have cracked under the demonic power.

He follows her wide eyes, slowly watering, till, to his surprise, they reach his knuckles, bleached lifeless, gripping the hilt of the unsheathed sakabatou.

"Don't be afraid, Tsubame. He—we, we'll both be fine, I promise."

He only has time to open up his arm as she crashes into his shoulder. He holds her awkwardly as choked sobs wrack her small frame.

Kenshin stands in silence, comforting the young woman he's come to love as a daughter—gently patting her with his left hand—the right talons around the cold blade.



"Huh?"—the master of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu pauses—"Want to tell me something?"

"Kenji stop! What! You're the one staring at me. What's wrong with—no Kenji, no, stop that right now!"

Yahiko crosses the length of the training hall to reach the offering tray before it wobbles dangerously again.

The toddler gives the silken red cloth another gleeful tug as he sees the young man approach. Bursting into a fit of giggles as Yahiko's arms snake around his waist, Kenji laughs louder as he is lifted off the ground.

"Now, Kaoru—what? Huh? Where did she run off to? Where did your kaa-san go, Kenji? Say it, kaa, oo-kaa."

The child squirms to ease the strain on his clothes as he reaches forward for a handful of Yahiko's gi-sleeve.

The two move out of the training hall, heading towards the main door of the dojo. The sun is bright above them but a clotted white spec, last night's moon, remains. Yahiko's decides to check up on Kaoru after his class.

The doors sigh open easily, smoothly. Yahiko catches sight of a familiar dull green hakama before—



"Kaoru, what're you doing out here?"


"Hey busu! Answer already. This is worse than when you were preg—no Kenji, don't say that, no!"

The child erupts in overjoyed cries—"Busu!"—alternated with shrill laughter.

"Great, Yahiko. Just great! You had to teach him that."

"Well it's your damn fault for being so difficult."

Her brows knit, face darkening, till—they relax once more as she heaves a sigh. She turns on her two boys attempting a wide smile.

"I was thinking, Yahiko. Thinking, reading that," she casts her hands in the direction of the polished Kanji across the arch, "and thinking."

"Do you want to change the dojo's name and hand it over already, Kaoru?"

"Oh shut up!"

Yahiko puts Kenji down and turns to Kaoru.

"Now tell me, what's wrong?"

"Uh, Nothing—"

"Fine then—"Yahiko stalks back to the training hall, muttering about difficult ugly's. Kaoru enters the hall seconds later.

"Come on kid. I was saying that—"

"Yea, nothing. I don't have the time!"

"Oh shut up, Yahiko. I'm just—afraid—"

"Kaoru? Come now, you know there's nothing to be afraid off."

"I'm worried that—"

"I can handle myself, as I've proven—more times than even I care to remember. And as for Kenshin, the guy's practically invincible." Yahiko smirks at the expression of growing anger on Kaoru's face.

"I'm not worried about either of you, you runt! And I hope Kenshin gives you a good beat down. Stop interrupting me! As I was saying—" she huffs, trying to catch her breath after the little outburst. "Yahiko, this fight, I just don't know.."

"It has to happen, Kaoru. He's the one who wanted to, you know that—"

"I know—it's just—I don't want things to change."


"And hey, this is the best chance I'll ever have of showing off all my hard work."

"Don't change subjects—what change?"

"I err, things change, kid. Kenshin in his annoyingly infinite wisdom once told me that life—this life, is always changing. Think about Sano, Megumi, sure, they are still close to our heart, but it's just not the same."

"Oh—I don't—"

"I haven't felt like this since then. I don't like it. Sure change is inevitable, natural, but I don't have to like it, I don't!"

Yahiko edges closer to Kaoru.

"I'm happy Yahiko. Happy with the way things are—just the way they are. But after this fight, you know that there will be changes. My family, my entire little family will never be the same!"

Yahiko opens his mouth, he considers speaking, but doesn't.

"I don't like it," she whispers softly.

Yahiko face is at work again—contorting slyly.



Yahiko bolts, Kaoru chasing hotly, bokken raised—yelling angrily.

The first of the sleepy eyed students stare, amused at the rare sight. The yells follow overblown pained howls, ringing in the quiet morning. The neighbors can't help laughing at the return of the old routine.


Kaoru is sleepless—listening to the rain's steady march .

The hand across her waist is motionless and cold.

Morning comes too soon. She sits, sore-eyed, in the empty futon. There's a faint new scent, a nagging—

Kenshin cooks as usual, Kenshin smiles as usual.

Yahiko arrives slightly late—eyes lowered, steps hesitant.

The air is wet and clings to her chest, the smell is back—sour now, almost bitter.

The dishes are put away, it's already noon. The yard needs sweeping, the sheets need washing, but Kenshin just sits on the engawa.

Kaoru is at the washtub as Yahiko joins Kenshin.

She watches the sun on its downward course with fearful eyes. Turning to the two with a brave smile she offers to eat out—the Akebeko, maybe some new place?

Her voice falters as she sees Yahiko look down then away, she turns to her last hope, her Kenshin—

Looking into his upturned eyes Kaoru reads his smile—he needs her trust, acceptance, he needs her to believe.

She turns away, boldly collecting the remnants of her smile.

Afternoon. There are four in the training hall.

The smell is acrid now—like smoke from a wet wood fire.

The sakabatou rests on the highest rung on the sword stand. The worn rayfish cords in stark contrast with the glinting jet black saya. The tsuba seems aware, listening, reacting, vibrating—the focus of so much attention.

Little light, no warmth.

Yahiko stands ready, shoulders squared, knees bent, glaring down the length of his bokuto. Breathing deeply.

His eyes lift to Kenshin who, after a second, responds—flipping his bokuto, while testing the new, ligther weight, he fixes the boy with a warm smile. Yahiko is quick to follow, smiling back.

Kaoru eases her hold on Kenji, the child only stares, eyes' wide.

With the slightest of nods the warriors are off—twin roars colliding, blades bared, almost shining.


To, kokoro-nagamu and lolo popoki .. thank you, for the immense(and undeserved) flattery, the reinforcement and the (multiple)once overs.

For challenge 16 of the RkChallenge livejournal community.. FEAR

Saya – the sheath

Tsuba – the circular handguard.. between the hilt and the blade.

Bokuto – Wooden sword.

This is a bit of an AU, as any manga purist can see. And sorry for the weepy Tsubame one day I WILL do her justice.