Warnings include language, violence, and a horrendous distortion of the Rurouni Kenshin story.
Many thanks to my beta reader, Nekotsuki.
wynd: (n.) alley
Majutsusha: a term I horribly coined – 'majutsu' means 'black magic; sorcery', thus 'majutsusha' roughly means one who practices 'majutsu'.
Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and all affiliated characters, storylines, and settings belong to the wonderful Watsuki Nobuhiro and all companies holding title to its license. Used without permission for no profit.
One: The Civil Outlaw
The streets of the new capitol were eerily quiet these days, Kaoru noted as she swept off the front porch of her small kenjutsu dojo. Usually even her area of town on the outskirts was bustling with at least a handful of merchants peddling their wares. The near-deafening silence was far too creepy. True, she had heard of the recent string of murders involving magic on the other end of the capital, but that shouldn't cause everyone on this end to run and hide. Nobody had actually spotted Battousai, who was supposedly responsible for the murders. Hadn't he died in the war anyway? The Politicians had eliminated the Majutsusha, hadn't they? She personally wasn't too worried; as the temporary headmaster of her dojo, she could handle herself against magic. Her father had trained her well.
With a sigh, she looked back at her lonely little dojo. To tell the truth, though, there hadn't been much of an interest in kenjutsu lately, which surprised her greatly after the ban on magic. She thought people might be more interested in learning how to defend themselves, and kenjutsu was a perfectly legal alternative to magic use. Part of her knew, however, that that wasn't really the case. Truth be told, nobody wanted to have anything to do with any art considered even remotely violent after the war, even if that was a decade ago. She had been almost too young to remember it herself, but she knew more than enough people who did remember to fill in the horrendous details for her. It had been a bloody, frightening time to live in.
Shuddering, she swept that thought aside with the same fervor with which she swept the leaves off her porch. Autumn was always a beautiful time, but sometimes the housework was almost too much to deal with by herself. Her stomach grumbled, and she frowned at the thought of trying to cook – Try is the key word, her own voice in the back of her mind snickered. Oh, she knew her cooking was bad. She was the one who had to put up with it on a daily basis, after all. Maybe a trip to Tae's inn was in order.
Finished clearing the leaves off her porch, she put the broom back into the supply closet and brushed her hands off on her workout gi, which had already been smudged with dirt and whatever else it had managed to get on it while Kaoru cleaned. She took a quick bath and changed into a fresh uniform before she grabbed her money pouch and left for the inn.
"Kaoru-chan! How nice it is to see you again!" Tae greeted as soon as Kaoru stepped through the wooden doorway.
"It's good to see you as well, Tae-chan! How are you?" Kaoru gave a bright smile.
Tae's expression faltered only slightly, but it was enough that Kaoru saw the worry lining her friend's eyes. "Oh, I suppose I'm alright," Tae replied cheerily as she led Kaoru into the dining area. "Here, have a seat over at this table, Kaoru-chan. I'll have Tsubame bring you some tea right away."
"Thank you," Kaoru said after Tae had bustled away, not even sure that she'd been heard.
Even Tae looked a little nervous, Kaoru realized as she sipped her tea. Her friend had tried to put on an air of acting like nothing was amiss, and that she was perfectly fine… but Kaoru knew the girl well enough to tell that she was far more jittery than usual. There weren't many customers in the inn, also out of the ordinary for a place renowned for its good food and service. Well, at least that much was in order – as always, her food was absolutely delicious, and the service was as outstanding as ever. But when Kaoru began to lavish her usual compliments on Tae, she seemed to accept them half-heartedly.
"You seem upset today," Kaoru said quietly, quirking an eyebrow. "Is everything alright?"
Tae looked around the restaurant almost suspiciously before she seated herself across from Kaoru with a sigh. "Oh, I guess it's as alright as it can be. I guess you haven't heard the rumor that Battousai's been sighted on this side of town," she said with a low voice.
"Battousai? The Majutsusha? I thought they didn't exist anymore."
"They're not supposed to be around, but there is a warning up – signed by a Politician, no less – that there has been a dangerous criminal sighted in our area, and that we should be careful. Everyone's assuming that it's the one responsible for the murders last week, and you know what those rumors say."
Kaoru snorted. "That's a ghost story, Tae. Battousai doesn't exist anymore, and neither do Majutsusha. This is all the result of bored socialites who have nothing better to do with their lives than make up rumors like that."
Tae gnawed on her lower lip for a minute before she replied, "You're probably right, but that doesn't mean I'm any less worried. It looks like the people in this area are listening – business was pretty slow today, and that warning only got posted yesterday evening."
"You know what they say; rumors spread like wildfire," Kaoru said with a sigh.
"Kaoru – I know you don't like it when we worry about you, but since you are a single woman living in that dojo by yourself…"
"Tae, we've been over this before. I'm perfectly capable of handling myself."
"I know, but… just… please, just be careful." Tae's eyes were brimming with worry, and Kaoru felt a little guilty. She knew her friends worried about her regardless of her reassurances that she was fine.
"I'll be careful," she relented. "I promise."
And she did mean it enough that Tae looked relieved. They talked briefly after that about business until another customer arrived and Tae had to get up. Kaoru paid her bill and bid her friend farewell.
After Tae's warning, the darkening sky seemed to creep in around her ominously, making Kaoru feel much more ill at ease than she had when she'd left the dojo. A small tingling in the back of her mind told her that she should be careful, and she listened; her grip around the handle of the shinai tucked into her obi tightened. Almost every little noise made her jump reflexively, her heart pounding heavily in her chest.
This is ridiculous, a voice in her head finally told her as she tried to close her eyes and even out her breath. You have more self-control than to be scared by a silly ghost story. Get a grip, Kamiya Kaoru.
She was proud of herself when she didn't flinch at the sudden sound of police whistles blowing shrilly behind her. Stepping to the side to let them pass through, her eyes widened and she lost her grip on her self-control when she thought she heard the name 'Battousai' whisper through the police ranks as they sped down the main thoroughfare. Quickening her pace, she decided that it was best if she got back to the dojo as quickly as she possibly could.
But as she approached the final bridge on the road back to her dojo, she froze as she watched a figure stagger along in the dark on the bridge ahead of her. The figure wore a wide-brimmed hat and a heavy cloak, leaning heavily on a stick as he walked along. Taking a deep breath, she figured he must be some kind of drunken farmer headed back to his home further down the road. But that thought vanished as the man groaned and pitched into the side of the bridge, collapsing against the railing. Releasing her white-knuckled grip on her shinai, she rushed up to the bridge.
"Are you okay, sir?" she asked hesitantly as she approached. The figure was completely still, and didn't answer. Kaoru looked around the road wildly to see if anyone else was coming who might be able to help, but she saw nobody. Biting her lip, she knelt down beside the man and reached out a hand to shake his shoulder. "Sir? Can you hear me?"
It was then that she noticed the heavy cloak she had her hand against was damp, and that it concealed a rather thin shoulder for a man. A woman? Carefully, she moved the now-crooked hat aside, and was shocked to find long, reddish hair glinting in the moonlight. Turning the figure on its side, she noticed that although the face was rather delicate-looking (Pretty, the voice said), the angular jaw line was definitely masculine. A boy, perhaps. She brushed some of the fine red hair out of the man's face, and noticed then that only the top half of his head had red hair – underneath, the hair was definitely black. The walking stick – still gripped tightly in the man's guard-clad hand – looked rather elaborate for a simple stick, with a sword-like grip in its center of its twisted shaft. There was a fresh bandage on the man's left cheek, a strange black tattoo under his closed left eye and a small scar across the bridge of his nose. The man was both strange and intriguing all at the same time. As she moved her hand to check his forehead for a fever, she noticed then that blood coated her palm.
"Oh my god," she breathed, casting a wide-eyed, worried glance at the man's still, pale face. "You're hurt!"
Brilliant observation, the voice in her mind chided sarcastically, and she told it to shut up. She quickly moved an arm under the boy's shoulders and got him up enough to lift him awkwardly to his feet, pulling one of his arms around her shoulder with one hand and putting her other arm around his waist. The walking stick fell from his limp fingers, so she bent down to pick that up as well and held it in the hand gripping his side. He stirred slightly with the movement, murmuring something she couldn't quite pick up before he seemed to drift off again. He had a nice voice, she noted absent-mindedly as she struggled down the road back to her dojo. And she noticed that despite his slender frame, he was heavier than she thought he would be.
Luckily, it wasn't far to her dojo from the bridge – she could tell he was very much not well from the scorching heat in the hand she gripped against her shoulder, his heavy breathing and the way his face scrunched in pain with every misstep. She almost cried out in relief when she saw the dojo, encouraged enough to quicken her pace. Shuffling and grunting with the effort it took to hoist the limp body of the boy up the small set of stairs into the practice room, which was the closest room. Settling the boy on his back on the floor and placing the walking stick above his head, she quickly ran back and shut the main gate before she ran to get medical supplies from the dojo's supply closet. Kenjutsu had its fair share of injuries, so she always kept the medical kit stocked. Then again, it helped that the old man who had served as her guardian until she came of age was also the head of the local medical clinic.
Kneeling down next to the boy once more, she lit several candles so she could properly see where he was hurt. Once she got a closer look at his face, however, she realized that her estimation on his age was probably quite off – in the candlelight, she could see lines around his eyes and mouth that indicated he'd been through much more than a simple boy would have been through. He was definitely young-looking, but she had a strange feeling that he might be older than her own eighteen years. It was hard to tell, though.
She unfastened the heavy, ragged black cloak from its clasp at his shoulder, and as she parted the fabric to show the lighter tunic underneath and numerous pouches tucked into his belt, she blanched at the sight of the blood staining the right half of his shirt. Her hands wavered uncertainly over the shirt, trying to figure out how to remove it; with a wince she realized she'd have to replace it anyway because there was no way she'd be able to get the blood out of it. Pulling out a thin-bladed knife, she breathed an apology as she cut the shirt down the middle and moved the pieces aside to get a better look at what she was dealing with. The first thing she noticed – besides the blood, of course – was that the young man was in considerably good shape. He had lean, chiseled muscles, despite the presence of several old scars across his stomach and chest. This man had seen a lot of action, and her age estimation went up another few years.
There was a lot of blood, but it looked like most of it came from a bullet hole in the young man's shoulder, and a deep gash in his side. There were several faint burnt-looking patches across his chest, but they didn't seem quite as serious as the other two wounds, which were still bleeding, much to her dismay. Taking a clean cloth, she dipped it into the bucket of drinking water – Genzai had taught her to always use clean water for this – and cleared the blood from around the wounds as best she could. The gash looked like it could use stitches, and the bullet wound seemed inflamed around its edges. Slipping her hand under the back of his shoulder, she felt around for an exit wound and gulped when she didn't feel one. She didn't know if she could deal with an infection, much less getting the bullet out of the wound, so for the time being she pressed a clean cloth compress against the small hole and the gash, and wrapped a bandage tightly across the young man's muscled chest and across his abdomen. She was going to need to fetch Genzai, so she hoped that the compresses would help slow the bleeding long enough for her to get him. Biting her lip, she knew she hated leaving the wounded stranger by himself in her dojo, but if she wanted him to live, she'd have to get help.
Quickly tossing his black cloak back across his chest, she rinsed her hands off and bolted out the door, taking her shinai with her. She hoped he would still be alive when she returned.
Consciousness returned far too slowly, but then as he realized he hurt, he recalled that he had been wounded. He vaguely remembered a bridge and a girl's voice calling out to him, but after that – or what she had said – eluded him. Opening his eyes slowly, he noticed he was in a dimly-lit room – a dojo, from the looks of it. Carefully, he winced and moved himself into a sitting position, side and ribs protesting morosely at the effort. In the process, the cloak fell away from his chest and he saw that someone had taken the time to bind his wounds. They weren't well-bound by any means, but not bad. His staff was resting above his head, he saw now. The sight offered a small measure of relief, meaning that whoever had brought him there was neither an enemy nor saw him as one.
Blinking away the blurry edges of his vision, he wondered where his 'rescuer' had gone, and what kind of person would just pick someone up off the road and trust them enough to leave them alone. Most people were incredibly suspicious these days, whatnot with all the crazy rumors about the Battousai going on a murderous rampage in the capital. That was what had caused him problems in the first place. While the murderer had been using magic with eerily similar effects to his own style, he had not been the one to kill those people. He might have the capacity to kill, but he would never murder anyone in cold blood – not since the war had he ever done something like that again.
He shuddered, roughly scrubbing one hand over his eyes as he tried to think of something else. Like where he was, for that matter. He had been trying to get out of the capital when the police caught up with him. They'd attacked first and had ignored his pleas to talk it out, and he had been forced to protect himself. None of them had died, but it was enough to prove to them that he was indeed the Battousai. He'd been hurt in the scuffle but had barely managed to get away, and had been on the run for several days since. They'd nearly caught up to him again, but he'd ducked into an alleyway and let them pass by.
And by the way his vision wavered and his head felt like a cannon ball on his neck, he realized he'd been injured pretty badly. He would have to thank the person who took care of him before he left. Whoever had helped him would be in trouble for harboring and aiding a wanted criminal.
It took him a moment to register the fact that he heard loud voices outside, speaking rudely to someone on the road. Two burly men, he realized after he concentrated and found their life forces. Magic users, at that. Not talented ones, but they had a little knowledge. They were speaking roughly to a smaller man – elderly, likely – and a young woman outside the dojo. He frowned when he heard them strike out against the older man, and the girl was yelling something angrily. She had a bright, enthusiastic life force, but a fighting spirit would do nothing for her against even amateur magic users.
Without another thought on the matter, he snagged his cloak and refastened it around his shoulders – noticing then that his ruined tunic was missing, but no matter – and grabbed the staff as he painfully pushed himself to his unsteady feet. Gritting his teeth, he hurried outside as fast as he was able, and just in time to see the young woman rush by the open gate with a shinai held high in both hands. With a muttered curse, he got as far as the bottom step when he heard one of the two men begin chanting a rather nasty spell that he knew as well. Quickly, he traced the outlines of the runes for a protective spell, muttering the ancient tongue rapidly as he did so, and he managed to pinpoint the girl's location and strike the ground with a shout just before the man finished his spell. He heard the man squawk with surprise when his own spell failed, and the resounding crack as the girl's shinai connected heavily with his shoulder. His light faded.
He felt rather than heard the second man's summoning spell, and with another curse he began chanting again a counter-spell, and then drew out a binding spell in the ground with the end of his staff. The second man's voice faltered when he realized the summon wasn't bringing anything to his aid, and his voice went quiet all together as the binding spell took effect. Another crack, and the second man's light faded as well. They weren't dead – those two – but they wouldn't be messing with this girl for a while. Satisfied that the danger was no longer present, the adrenaline rushed out of his system and left him feeling horribly weak. Stabbing the bottom end of the staff into the soft dirt, he leaned heavily on it for support and tried to will the dark edges of his vision to go away.
"And what, might I ask, are you doing on your feet?"
He looked up suddenly at the girl's voice, and at the concern evident in her expression as she regarded him warily. The old man was conscious again, but the girl was supporting him with a hand on his back she helped him on to the grounds. That voice – he realized it was the same voice that had called out to him on the bridge, which meant—
"…You're the one who brought me in, aren't you?" he asked quietly, surprised at how shaky his own voice sounded.
"Is this the injured boy you told me about?" the old man asked.
Boy? he thought amusedly, quirking an eyebrow. He would have chuckled at the comment had he had the strength to do so, but at this point he wasn't sure how much longer he could remain where he was.
"Yes," she replied to both questions. "Genzai-sensei, tell him he shouldn't be on his feet; he was pretty badly wounded."
The world swayed gently and his legs felt like rubber, and the voices sounded far away and faded altogether, save for the startled yelp of the girl. He saw her running towards him with a concerned frown on her face and tried to apologize for worrying her, but as blackness blotted out his vision entirely, he wasn't sure he had.
"How is he, Genzai-sensei?" Kaoru asked quietly as Genzai wiped his bloody hands on a clean towel. They had moved the young man into Kaoru's room; she said she could sleep in the guest room. Though it looked like the young man was breathing evenly in rest, she didn't like the frown on Genzai's wizened face.
"Well, these wounds are several days old, from the look of it," Genzai said worriedly. "I got the bullet out, but I'm worried that he might have been poisoned by the lead or that infection will set in further. It was already starting to get infected."
"He's not going to… die, is he?"
The frown disappeared. "Heaven's no, child. It just might take a little longer for him to recover, is all. He was lucky that you found him, though – a few more days with that kind of injury, and who knows what could have happened to him. He'll need to rest a while."
Kaoru nodded, breathing a sigh of relief. She recalled coming back to the dojo with Genzai, and beating down the two thug magic-users who had caused them trouble outside the grounds. She knew her training was the only reason that she and Genzai had managed to make it out of the situation relatively unscathed, though she did wonder why they both seemed to pause in the middle of their magic spells. Maybe they were simply thugs, and were only trying to bluff. At any rate, they were no longer an issue, she surmised. But when she saw that the young man had wandered outside during the conflict, at first she was shocked – she honestly hadn't expected him to wake up so soon. She had been even more surprised when he'd barely managed to murmur an apology as he collapsed. Apology for what? He was probably just delirious from the blood loss, but even so, he had seemed like a rather pleasant young man from all of the two things he said to her.
Or maybe that's just what you want him to be, the voice in the back of her mind smirked. She frowned again. It wouldn't be polite to judge him anyway before he was fully lucid.
"He'll need you to change the bandages on his wounds twice a day, and I can take out his stitches at the end of the week if he's doing well enough," Genzai was saying. "Make sure he gets plenty of rest and nourishment…" At that, the healer's voice trailed off a bit, and he looked a little perplexed.
"What is it?" Kaoru asked, worriedly.
"Well… ah…" Genzai stuttered. "About that…"
Your cooking, you idiot, the voice in Kaoru's head scolded. He's worried about you feeding him your infamous cuisine.
Kaoru turned up her nose. "I know my cooking's bad," she said, insulted, "but I have yet to kill anyone with it."
Genzai laughed at that. "That is true, though if you'd like I can send someone over to help you out with that."
With a sigh, Kaoru nodded. It wouldn't be such a good first impression of her if she fed this man bad food. Not that you care, right? the stupid voice said mockingly. She frowned again. That was the issue – she did care, for some reason.
"All right, then. It's late, so you need to get some rest, Kaoru-chan. I will be back again tomorrow evening to check on his progress."
"Thank you so much for coming at such a late hour, Genzai-sensei," Kaoru said with a bow. "I don't know what I could've done for him without your help."
Genzai smiled. "It's not a problem at all. Who knows, maybe this young fellow can help you out a bit around here when he's all better."
Kaoru felt heat rush to her face, and she looked away embarrassedly. Genzai laughed, and then bid her farewell as he let himself out of the dojo. With a sigh, Kaoru looked back down at the young man laying on her futon, resting. Brushing a few stray red hairs out of his face, she was relieved to notice that his fever – though not entirely gone – was much lower than it had been before. He stirred at her touch, but did not awaken.
"Sleep well," she said quietly as she readjusted the blankets over him. She blew out the candles, left a small tray with rice – that much she knew how to make properly – and tea, and then went to the room across the hall to sleep.
The next morning, Kaoru wasn't sure if she was relieved to find the young man still asleep, or worried. She could tell he hadn't woken in the night, because he was in the exact same position she'd left him in and the tray of food had not been touched. She was in the process of setting up the supplies necessary to change his dressings when she heard the bell at the gate ring. Startled at first, she then remembered that Genzai said he would send someone her way to help with cooking. Taking one last look at the stranger, she rushed to the gate.
"Ah, good morning, Kaoru-san! Um, Genzai-sensei told me you had an injured young man staying here, and…" Tsubame said meekly, voice trailing off.
Kaoru felt her face redden again, and she laughed nervously as she put her hand behind her head. "Well, I guess everyone knows my little secret now!" she exclaimed, still laughing. "Come on in, and let me know if you need me to pick up anything at the market."
Tsubame smiled and nodded as she followed Kaoru into the kitchen.
"I didn't know you could cook, Tsubame-chan," Kaoru noted as she showed the younger girl around the kitchen.
"Tae-san has been teaching me," Tsubame said, ducking her head. "She gave me the day off work today to come here since she thinks it would be a good experience for me. She wanted me to send you her greeting as well."
"Did she, now?" Kaoru said thoughtfully. "I'll have to thank her for sparing you. I really should take lessons from her myself."
Tsubame giggled. "She is a good teacher."
"Well, take a look here. Do you need anything else?"
Looking into the cabinet, Tsubame shook her head. "It looks like you have enough ingredients for me to come up with something," she replied, her tone sounding more confident. The girl really was quite shy, but Kaoru was pleased to see that she'd found something she could tackle with assurance.
"In that case, I will leave you be. Call for me if you need anything," Kaoru said, though Tsubame didn't seem to hear her as she began talking to herself about which dish to make first, completely engrossed in her current task. Kaoru smiled as she headed back into the main part of the house.
The stranger was still asleep when she quietly entered her room once again. As she pressed the back of her hand to his forehead to check for a fever, he startled her as his eyelids slid open to reveal startling, glittering violet. Pulling her hand back as if she'd been burned, she opened her mouth to begin babbling an apology when he smiled softly, stopping short any words she might've said.
"So it wasn't a dream," Kaoru thought she heard the stranger murmur. His voice was a little higher-pitched than she remembered, but just as smooth.
"I'm sorry, what?" she asked.
The man seemed to wake up a little further, and the soft smile was quickly replaced with an expression of shock. "Oh, I'm so sorry to have troubled you, miss—" he said apologetically as he tried to sit up, but cut himself off with a wince at the movement.
"You shouldn't be moving around too much yet," Kaoru chided softly as she helped him lay back down. "You're lucky these wounds aren't terribly serious, but you'll have to rest a while longer if you want them to heal properly. I've been worried about you, since that little stunt you tried to pull last night was not the most brilliant thing to do, and—"
The young man frowned suddenly, looking away. "I'm sorry," he said again, uncertainly.
Now he thinks you're angry at him, you idiot! the voice scolded. "Oh! There's no need. I'm just relieved that you're all right, is all," said Kaoru defensively, waving her hands in front of her face. "I'm going to change your bandages now, just to make sure your wounds are still on the mend."
The stranger nodded, complying as she helped him sit up slowly. He looked a little surprised to see his wounds bound, but said nothing as she carefully unwound the long linen strips. With some relief, she noticed that his wounds were no longer bleeding, and that the edges of the skin around them looked less inflamed and red. But she felt her cheeks heat once again as she worked; it was so different being this close to a bare-chested man when he was awake than while he was unconscious. Especially since he was even better-looking than she'd realized, with his intense eyes and quiet manner…
Now look at you, all dreamy-eyed over someone whose name you don't even know, the voice mocked. Frowning as she cleaned his wounds, she realized that she had yet to ask him his name.
"Are… are they that bad?" he asked suddenly, and with a gasp she realized he'd been watching her work.
"Ah, no! They're healing nicely, actually," she said, startled. "I was just thinking that I forgot to introduce myself. How silly of me." She giggled nervously as she finished winding and tying off the bandages. "I'm Kamiya Kaoru, and this is my kenjutsu dojo. I found you unconscious on the bridge near here last night, so please forgive my boldness for bringing you here to care for your injuries."
"Oh, no, there's nothing to forgive. Thank you very much for doing that, Kaoru-dono," the man replied sheepishly. "This humble one goes by the name of Himura Kenshin… I should be the one asking your forgiveness for causing you so much trouble."
"Kenshin-san, is it? It's no trouble at all, really," Kaoru replied. "And there's no need to address me that way; it makes me feel old." Kenshin smiled that soft smile again, and it made her insides feel warm. She was sure her face was a deep red by now, and she quickly turned away and changed the subject. "Are you hungry, Kenshin-san? My friend Tsubame-chan is whipping up something delicious in the kitchen, and you'll need to eat if you want to regain some strength."
"Really, that's not necessary… I'm very sorry for the trouble…" Kenshin began again, but his stomach growled loudly, and Kaoru shot him a glare.
"You will eat, and you will not insist that you are an unwelcome guest in my home until you are fully recovered," snapped Kaoru. Kenshin gulped and nodded, and she smiled. "Good. Now that that's all settled, I will go see how Tsubame-chan is doing, and I'll be right back. Please take it easy."
Kenshin nodded, settling back down into the futon with only a small wince. Kaoru smiled once more after she'd turned her back and walked over to the kitchen. This Kenshin guy was indeed quite a polite young man, and honestly, she didn't mind the company.
Over the two days that Kenshin spent at the Kamiya dojo, he learned several interesting things about the young woman Kaoru. One, she was an awful cook, but to be honest, he'd had worse. Her cooking was still edible, at least. Two, she was entirely too trusting. Beyond asking him his name, she had hardly asked anything about his past, or who he really was, for that matter. He had called her on that, asking her why she was so willingly letting him – a stranger – into her home without so much as a question to his background. She'd simply smiled and replied, "Oh, everyone has at least one or two things in their past that they'd rather not talk about. It's just not my business to pry."
That surprised him; it was an almost reckless move on her side, especially since it quickly became apparent that she lived at the dojo alone. True, the old doctor – Genzai-sensei, he'd learned was his name – came on a regular basis to check up on her, but to him she was only putting herself in danger this way. It made him worry that she might pick up someone even more dangerous than he was with her trusting nature.
Then again, there weren't many people who were considered more dangerous than he was. Speaking of which, he was only endangering her the longer he stayed here; the police were bound to still be looking for him, and he was surprised that they hadn't been by here yet. Even though he wasn't actually guilty of the crimes they'd accused him of, he didn't want to run into further trouble with them.
She had a kenjutsu class that morning, and it had crossed his mind more than once to sneak out while she was teaching. However, he knew it would be extremely rude to do that to someone who had shown him so much kindness. While it would be for her own good that he left as soon as possible, he still felt guilty for even thinking about taking her hospitality for granted like that.
So he stayed, even though he was starting to feel a little fidgety. He wasn't used to sitting around in one place for so long; after all, he'd been in the capital for only a matter of hours before the police began chasing him down for murders he wasn't even in the area for. What a mess to walk into, he decided. But no matter, he would be gone from here in no time.
Once Kaoru deemed him well enough, that was. At this point, though, he figured he was well enough to at least try to repay some kindness by cooking lunch. He could still hear the shouts from the kenjutsu class; perhaps he would have it done by the time she finished, if he stuck with something simple. Slowly making his way to the kitchen, he noticed with a grimace that it wasn't necessarily in the best of order. After stoking up the fire enough to begin boiling the rice, he started a little organizing. It wasn't something that required a lot of exertion, he justified. Kaoru wouldn't be able to scold him very well for something in the past, after all.
He found some dried fish in the process, and decided that it would make a good filling if mixed with the right spices, which he also was pleased to find. Mincing the fish, he mixed it with a few spices and added a little sauce to make it stick together better, and after tasting it to satisfaction, he kept an eye on the rice. The practice must be long, he realized as he noticed he could still hear the shouts in the background. He dug out a small, rectangular serving dish, and once the rice was finished he proceeded to create several pieces of onigiri with the fish filling tucked inside. After he'd put on the finishing touches for the rice balls and arranged them on the dish, he froze, feeling an angered presence just behind him. With a grimace, he turned to find Kaoru glaring at him from the kitchen's entrance.
"And what do you think you're doing, Kenshin?" she demanded.
Offering the plate of onigiri out in front of him, he shot her a placating smile and said, "This unworthy one was just fixing lunch, Kaoru-dono. I thought you might be hungry after such a long training session…"
Kaoru suddenly seemed to notice that her kitchen had also been cleaned up and rearranged, and she cut him off. "Kenshin! What in the world were you thinking? You're still not recovered yet, and—"
Kenshin was suddenly in front of her, pressing one of the rice balls into her hand. "Please try one," he said with a smile, cutting her off.
Puzzlement crossed her face, and she looked at the rice ball with an eyebrow raised. At an encouraging look from Kenshin, she placed one end of it into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. Surprise replaced the confusion, and suddenly Kenshin was worried – did it really taste that bad?
"Oh my god, this is delicious!" Kaoru exclaimed, and Kenshin breathed a sigh of relief. "…Hey! How did you learn how to make these so well?"
Kenshin rubbed his hand over the back of his head sheepishly. "Well, one does learn much from traveling alone for so many years…"
"Oro!" Kenshin squawked when she grabbed the collar of the loose workout gi he was borrowing, giving him a wide-eyed, pleading look. "Of course – it's really easy, actually—"
"Kaoru-sensei!" one of Kaoru's students, Kenshin assumed, called from down the hall. "Where are you, Kaoru-sensei?"
"Later, then?" he said.
Kaoru gave him an apologetic look as she fled down the hall and called that she was coming. She was still clutching the onigiri in her hand. Kenshin chuckled quietly to himself, but then froze when he felt a hostile presence outside the dojo's main gate. No, make that several presences. And two of them felt familiar, kind of like the two from a couple nights ago. With a curse, he nearly slammed the plate of onigiri back down on the table as he rushed back to the guest room – he'd moved into it as soon as he'd learned he had been taking up Kaoru's room, despite her protests that it wasn't any trouble at all – and grabbed the staff as he rushed outside.
Kaoru was already there, clutching a shinai in a defensive stance, her students huddled nervously behind her. Sure enough, the same two punks from the other night were back – each had assorted bandages from the injuries Kaoru had dealt them – but this time, they had a few friends. And they were angry… very angry.
"We want to know how you were able to defeat our magic, bitch," one of them was saying by the time Kenshin managed to sneak outside undetected.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Kaoru replied angrily. "Besides, you were the ones who came after me first. It's your own fault that you're hurt. Why don't you kindly remove your childish backsides from my property before I do it for you?"
Kenshin's eyes widened when he felt the stirrings of a rather powerful spell coming from the other side of the gate; there was one more person outside. Quickly muttering a counter-spell, he blocked off that threat as quickly as he could before he checked the back entrance for any intruders. Sensing none, he came up behind the children and told them to make for the back door in a low whisper. They nodded, scampering to the back of the property. Kaoru looked behind her with a surprised expression on her face.
"What are you doing out here?" she hissed, but he simply smiled and shrugged before he turned his attention back to the thugs, steeling his expression.
"Oh, I get it now," the first thug said, regarding the staff gripped in Kenshin's hand with a knowing look. "You were the one who stopped our attacks the other night, aren't you? Think you're so powerful, huh."
He felt Kaoru's surprised reaction rather than saw it, and for a moment he felt a little guilty. He really hadn't meant to hide it from her; it just never came up in conversation, even when he'd tried to bring it up to her.
"You should leave," Kenshin said, an edge of warning in his tone. "The sneakiness isn't appreciated, nor will it work."
Instinctively, the thug looked back towards the door with a surprised look, then turned back with a furious snarl on his face. "Damn you, I'll make sure you pay for that!"
"I don't wish to cause any trouble here."
"Well that's a shame, because that's what we're here for. You're going to get it along with the little girl, you bastard."
And with that, the man began chanting a spell loudly, but Kenshin saw directly through it when he realized the other three men were also muttering their own spells. Without a word, Kenshin began quickly tracing runes in the air in front of him, and with one loud exclamation, a barrier seemed to form around both himself and Kaoru. Kaoru stepped back in surprise, eyes widening as she watched the magician's battle take place. Kenshin realized then that she'd likely never seen one in action before; it would've been before her time that the serious ones took place. Without pausing, he began chanting a binding spell that targeted all four men before him at once, and also finished that before any of the thugs were able to complete their spells. They all fell silent once it took effect.
"Now that I have your attention," Kenshin said with a grim smile, "I will ask you one last time to leave Kamiya-dono alone, and to never return. You should know that magic wasn't originally created to be used to pick on people." They couldn't reply because of the binding spell, but he could tell by the frightened expressions in their eyes that they were realizing now that they'd seriously picked on the wrong person. "You're fortunate that I'm a considerate person, otherwise you would all be dead now. However, you will not be using magic ever again – I can guarantee that much."
He took one look back at Kaoru, expression softening further when he saw her wide-eyed surprise. He'd probably frightened her to death by now. Giving her an apologetic, grim smile, he said, "I'm sorry, Kaoru-dono… but would you please look the other direction for a moment?"
For a moment, he thought she wasn't going to listen when a determined light flickered in her eyes, but she complied after a quick nod. Turning back to the thugs, the cold-eyed expression locked firmly back in place, he began chanting the ancient words to a spell he absolutely hated using. No, not a spell, really – it was a curse, and hopefully the consequences of it would keep these punks from trying to use magic ever again. Drawing the ancient runes in the dirt before him, he finished the chant and then shouted the final word before he stabbed the end of the staff into the ground with such force that the air around them whipped up into a violent wind. Suddenly, there were five sharp cries as bright colored lights struck the four men – and the fifth, who was still outside the gate – and then they fell silent. Kenshin released the binding spells on them, and they regarded him with frightened, wary expressions.
"Now go," he spat with a glare, indicating the gate with a nod. They nodded violently and scrambled to their feet, quickly running towards the gate and down the road.
Once they were gone, he breathed a sigh of relief, but when he started to turn to face Kaoru, the strength suddenly bled from his legs and he was having trouble breathing. He sagged against the staff with a horrified realization that he'd used far too much energy on the curse, and he tried desperately to breathe properly to dispel the dark spots that were blotting out his vision. But before he fell to the ground, he felt Kaoru's arms hooking under his armpits as she moved to his side to help support him.
"Kaoru-dono… I'm… I'm so sorry," he panted, surprised that she'd moved to help him. She had to know who he was by now, and she was probably more than ready to turn him out of doors.
"Just… shut up," she snapped, helping him back into the dojo and back into the guest room.
Yep, she was furious with him, but he was confused. Why was she leading him back into the house? She helped him lay back down on the futon, and with a glare that spoke of death if he dared move from the spot, she quickly disappeared down the hall. Kenshin massaged his brows with one hand, cursing himself for not telling her sooner and for making her so angry at him. She returned soon after, with one of the onigiri he'd made and a clay mug of steaming tea. He let her help him sit up and accepted them with a quiet word of thanks.
"You idiot," she muttered, leaning in to check his bandages. She seemed relieved to find that the bandages were clean, and that the wounds still looked like they were healing.
"Kaoru-dono, I'm sorry… I didn't mean to make you angry," he said sheepishly. "I swear I meant to tell you sooner, but—"
She shot him a glare again, cutting him off. "No, I figured out after I saw your staff in a better light that you were a magic-user. I'm not that stupid, Kenshin, and no, I'm not angry about that. But you really need to learn to take better care of yourself, you moron! What were you thinking, taking on those thugs while you're still injured? I mean, what if they had come at you with shinai instead of magic, or if you'd passed out in the middle of a spell? What would you have done then, hm?"
"Don't you 'Kaoru-dono' me. I just want you to take it easy, and keep your own health in consideration for once," she said with a sigh. "It's the least you could do."
Kenshin nodded meekly, taking a bite out of the onigiri in placation. Kaoru seemed pleased enough with the action that her shoulders relaxed, and the angry expression left her face. She watched him eat quietly for a few moments, seeming as though she wanted to say something.
"Kaoru-dono, about the magic…" he said after he'd finished the onigiri. "There's something I need to tell you."
"What did I tell you about prying into others' pasts?" she shot at him with an anger that didn't reach past the surface of her voice.
"This is me offering it, not you prying," Kenshin corrected. "There is a reason that this unworthy one has been trying to leave the last few days; I really don't think you realize how much of a liability I am by staying here, especially now that those thugs know of my abilities. They might report me to the police."
"But they were using magic, too! We have plenty of witnesses, Kenshin – my class was standing there when they showed up. The police wouldn't have a case against you."
Kenshin sighed; this wasn't getting very far. "That's the problem, Kaoru… I can't have the police find me here. You see… ah… they're kind of looking for me right now." Kaoru's eyes widened in shock, and Kenshin knew then that he was right – he really should leave, and not cause any more trouble for this girl. "Do you understand now, Kaoru-dono? I really should leave before they find me here. You might get in trouble for harboring a wanted criminal, and—"
"You're Battousai?" she squawked incredulously.
Kenshin bowed his head, thick red bangs obscuring his face; hearing her say it like that somehow made him feel even worse. He nodded slowly. "I am—was."
"But—but you couldn't be!" she exclaimed.
With a sigh, his hand slowly reached up to the bandage on his face, and he peeled it away to reveal the cross-shaped mark on his left cheek. It was one of the most noticeable trademarks of the legend Battousai, a stark piece of evidence that he truly was the demon in the legends. Kaoru stilled at the action, and Kenshin moved to get up.
"You aren't responsible for those murders," Kaoru said, and Kenshin froze. It wasn't a question, but a statement.
"I may have killed many people in my lifetime, but no, those were not my doing," he replied quietly. "Someone has managed to pin the blame for them on me, however, so I am still endangering you by staying here."
"I don't care about that," Kaoru said determinedly, meeting his surprised expression with a fierce one. "What you did back then in the war, that was in the past. I want you – the wanderer – to stay!" Suddenly, her eyes widened when she realized what she'd said, and a blush crept across her cheeks as she slapped a hand over her mouth and looked away. His eyes were easily as wide as hers were, he realized after a moment, and he didn't know what to say. "You could at least stay until your wounds have healed," she added quietly after a moment of awkward silence.
With a sigh, he realized that at his current state of weakness, it probably wasn't the best idea for his health to be on the road anyway. While he was surprised that she would accept the information about his past at such an easy stride, he kind of did want to stay with this girl. She was possibly the most intriguing person he'd met in a very long time, and he did also worry for her a little. If he could use his ability to protect her in thanks for all that she'd done for him so far, it really was the least he could do.
"All right, then," he said quietly after a moment. "To tell the truth, I am a little travel-weary. If you would have me stay, that is…"
Kenshin's jaw dropped when she suddenly sprang towards him and grabbed him into a tight embrace. He could feel her shaking a little against him, and he smiled softly down at her back as he placed his hand across it. Third lesson – despite her cheerful exterior, Kamiya Kaoru really was lonely.
Suddenly, she pulled away and shot him a wide-eyed look. "Wait a minute, if you were part of the war…" She frowned and shot him a suspicious look. "Just how old are you?"
"I turned twenty-eight this past summer," he replied with a sheepish grin.
The shock that spread across her face made it quite difficult to keep from chuckling, despite the fact that it hurt his side a little. "That would make you almost thirty, and you hardly look like you're twenty! What in the world kind of magic do you use to make yourself look so young?"
His laughter echoed down the halls after that, and soon after she joined him. He decided that she would enjoy staying here, even if it was only for a little while.
.to be continued.
Haha. Um. I'm going to go hide over there, behind that bullet-proof piece of glass under my rock. Please don't mind me. Or maim me. 8D; But if you've managed to make it this far, I'm impressed.
This story idea hatched while I was rereading the manga, when Raijuta mentioned bringing back a generation of swordsmen who were "seen as sorcerers" (or some line like that in the translation I have) in their glory days. I immediately got the mental image of Kenshin as a 'sorcerer' or mage (essentially what I've described here – I even tried to draw him out with my shoddy sketching skills!), and then this story was born.
I apologize ahead of time for slow updates. Comments are always appreciated, as I aim to improve. This is both a different-setting and "what-if" type AU. In fact, I believe this is my very first AU fiction. I tend to hate RurouKen AU, unless it's well-written and sticks to canon characterizations. Please let me know how I'm doing.