I just want to thank everyone for sticking by me even when it took me a while to update. This is my first completed story which is an achievement I'm proud of. I know there are many mistakes with the grammar and some things in the story not adding up. All I can say is I tried my best to catch those mistakes. Thank you for reading and cheering me on even when nothing seemed to be looking up for Kaoru! Standard disclaimer…

Chapter 12: A New Beginning

Birds chirped overhead and the sun was shining. A soft breeze lessened the heat of the sun. Sano strolled beside Megumi, occasionally kicking rocks and chewing on a piece of grass. He knew something was up with her but just couldn't put his finger on exactly what.

He was never good with emotional subjects and always hid under a tough exterior. Somehow or another Megumi put up with that and stayed with him when even he knew he was acting like an ass.

The past year had been like a dream to him. He would have never believed someone like himself could actually find love and snag a catch like Megumi. She was everything opposite of him and wasn't afraid to stand up to him. Yet, she loved him and wanted to be with him.

Kaoru and the others were like the family he never had, but Megumi completed him and made his life worth living. Seeing Kenshin with Kenji had stirred up feelings and desires that Sano wasn't even aware that he had. He wanted his own family with Megumi.

Stopping before they reached town, Sano turned towards Megumi. "Fox-lady, I mean Megumi, I…what I mean to say is…you…no that's not right!" Getting angry and flustered, Sano kicked at the ground.

He could never find the right words to say how much she meant to him.

Megumi had about as much patience as he had and glared at him with impatience.

"Spit it out, Rooster-head!" She said which shook him out of his stupor.

"Dammit, Megumi. What I'm trying to say is that I love you!" Surprising himself as well as Megumi that he finally said it, Sano said it again in a softer voice. "I love you, Megumi."

Taking her into his arms, Sano smiled down at the dumbfounded look on Megumi's face. It was the first time he had ever seen her lost for words.

Gathering her wits, Megumi smiled a brilliantly at him. "Kiss me, Rooster-head."

Obeying her command, Sano placed a passionate kiss that conveyed all the feelings he could not say to her.

With the need for air, Sano reluctantly pulled back and smiled cockily at Megumi's misty eyed look.

Dropping to his knees, Sano pulled out the box that he had for several weeks in his pocket. He heard Megumi's gasp as he opened it to reveal a modest sized golden ring with a modest sized diamond on it. It wasn't much, but it was all he had. It took him almost a year to just save up for this ring.

"Megumi, will you marry me?" Looking up, Sano put on his biggest puppy dog face that has won him many treats in the past and waited expectantly for her answer.

"Of course, Rooster-head, I will marry you! It's about time you asked especially with the baby coming."

"Hey! I was waiting for the right mom…what did you just say?" Sano jumped back from Megumi in a whirlwind of motion.

Megumi pursed her lips and blew her bangs back. "I said, I'M PREGNANT!"

Sano turned white and crashed to the ground in a boneless puddle. In a shaky voice, he asked, "How did that happen?"

Grinning evilly, Megumi smiled at him. "Well, Sano, when a man loves a woman…"

Shaking his head, Sano pulled his self to his feet. Then as if a light clicked on in his head, he broke out in a huge, dumb smile.

"I'm going to be a father." He said in a quiet voice. Then he said it again louder, "I'm GOING TO BE A FATHER!" Jumping up in joy, Megumi laughed at his enthusiasm.

Rushing over to her, Sano bent down and put his mouth against her flat stomach. "Hey there, little one. I'm your daddy." Smiling at his goofiness, Megumi pushed him back.

"The baby can't hear you yet. It's going to take some time before the baby starts fully developing."

Slipping the ring on her finger, Sano gave her a small kiss. "I love you, Megumi. You have made me the happiest man alive. I don't know what I would do without you."

Her eyes watering, Megumi gave him a smile. "I love you too, Sano. With you, I can finally start the life I've always wanted."

Hand in hand, they started walking towards town again and off to the beginning of a new life together.

A moment later the peaceful atmosphere is ruined with Sano's painful yell, "WHAT?" and Megumi following with "YOU NEED TO GET A JOB, YOU LAZY BUM!"

Kaoru woke up from her dream to the sound of Kenji crying once again. Blinking away the sleep from her eyes, Kaoru groggily got to her feet. All of a sudden, Kenji stopped crying.

A sense of panic overwhelmed Kaoru and she hurried to the other room where Megumi had laid Kenji down at. Dread rose in her when she saw the empty crib. In that instant, a dozen scenarios raced through her head, none that were good.

"Kaoru, what's wrong?" Turning around, relief flooded through her as she saw Yahiko holding Kenji awkwardly in his hands. Smiling at them, Kaoru took Kenji in her arms, nuzzling his head with her nose.

Yahiko scratched the back of his head and peered up at her. "I thought I could help out and let you sleep some more."

"Thank you, Yahiko." Kaoru said. It seemed like Yahiko was growing up now which was about time.

"How about I feed and change Kenji, then you can watch him for an hour or so why I take a bath?" Kaoru asked smiling at the joy that Yahiko seemed to get at the thought of helping out.

"Sounds good, ugly!" Yahiko said in an uncharacteristic non-sarcastic tone. "I'll even get the fire going for your bath."

Surprised, Kaoru could only nod as Yahiko rushed off to do his job. Maybe there was hope for him after all.

In no time, Kaoru was soaking in the warm water while she let the day's efforts wash away. Even though it was early this morning when Kenji was born, to Kaoru it seemed like days ago. Megumi had said the birthing process had gone smoothly and little damage was done. She was sore and probably shouldn't do anything too strenuous, but otherwise Kaoru felt fine.

Musing on thoughts of her new family, her thoughts led her to Kenshin. He had been gone for a while. Speculating on where he went, Kaoru almost cried at the thought of him going back to Tomoe after she rejected him.

Then again, Misao and her group were gone as well. Kaoru would have at least thought she would have stayed back to be with her new second cousin and help Kaoru adjust these next few days.

Sano and Megumi probably wouldn't be back till morning if Kaoru was accurate in her guess about Megumi's condition. Soon they would have little ones running all over the dojo.

Scars littered her body, each one holding a different memory and feeling. She wondered what she would say to Kenji when he asked about them which he undoubtedly will. Little kids didn't know better than not to ask. Maybe one day when he was old enough to understand, she would tell him.

When her skin started wrinkling, Kaoru reluctantly got out of the water and wrapped herself in a loose robe. Wringing her hair of water, she stepped out of the bathing room and stopped abruptly at the sight of Tomoe waiting for her.

Tightening her robe, Kaoru waited for Tomoe to say something.

"I see my cousin failed once again to kill you which doesn't surprise me. He was always worthless." Looking down at Kaoru like she was dirt beneath her shoes, Tomoe glanced at her nails in a comfortable ease.

"We used to laugh so many times together about the things he made you do, you know. The way he had you on the floor, begging for him to take you like the slut you are." Kaoru forced herself not to wince and to hold her ground. No matter what Tomoe said to her, they were nothing but words and couldn't possibly hurt her anymore than she's been.

Seeing her tactic wasn't working, Tomoe said, "You know Kenshin is in love with me. We have shared many….many intimate things together. I know that you were the one who were spying on us that day." Putting on a fake, innocent act, Tomoe started to walk towards Kaoru.

"I know you tricked Kenshin into sleeping with you. I should have expected no less from the slut that you are." By the time she was saying the word slut, she was right by Kaoru. Giving her an accessing look, Kaoru felt as if she was being judged by Tomoe and failing miserably.

The condescending, icy stare Tomoe had perfected turned Kaoru cold inside and a depressing spirit settled on her. This was her competition, the perfect lady.

'Perfect my ass!' Kaoru thought to herself and she gathered her strength. She would not lose against this bitch.

"I don't know why you hate me so much, Tomoe, nor do I really care. All I know is nothing you will say will ever hurt me. You are nothing but a vindictive witch who enjoys making others miserable to hide her own imperfections."

Brushing past Tomoe, Kaoru did a half turn. "If you would excuse me, I should be getting inside."

Seeing she struck a nerve, Kaoru brought up her guard in case Tomoe tried something.

Curling her fingers into a fist, Tomoe struggled to regain her composure. No one talked to her like that. Smoothing the lines from her face, Tomoe finally played her ace.

"After I get through with you, I'm going to kill that brat of yours. Then Kenshin will be all mine and we can start our own family, free of the corruption your blood brings." Smiling when Kaoru stopped, Tomoe continued.

"Yes, I think that's what I will enjoy the most. Getting rid of that red haired brat." Laughing devilishly, Tomoe suddenly ate a mouthful of grass as Kaoru planted a punch on her jaw.

Grabbing her by her hair, Kaoru glared at the woman below her. "I will NEVER let you lay a hand on my son."

Moving back to punch her again, Kaoru suddenly had to go on defensive as Tomoe moved to kick her.

Wiping the blood and dirt from her mouth, Tomoe gave Kaoru a stare that would freeze a lesser person. "You, bitch! I will make you pay for that!"

In a move that belied her strength, Tomoe ran straight towards Kaoru and performed a roundhouse kick. Barely ducking, Kaoru braced her arms in front of her as Tomoe followed up with a series of punches.

She had no idea Tomoe actually knew how to fight. Breaking away, Tomoe jumped back into an offensive stance and grinned at Kaoru.

"What? You thought I couldn't fight? I live at a dojo. Of course, I can fight." Tomoe sneered then ran at Kaoru again.

Collected now after Tomoe's little tirade, Kaoru swiftly countered Tomoe's attacks and even landed a few punches and kicks. Soon though, she started tiring from the days exertion and her robe was more of a hindrance than a help. Her sense of modesty kept her fighting to keep her robe on as much as she was actually fighting Tomoe.

Kaoru sensed someone watching them and saw in the corner of her eye, Yahiko gawking at them with Kenji in his arms. Blood freezing in her veins, Kaoru looked at them in horror especially when she saw Yahiko's gaze directed at her open robe and not Tomoe.

Tomoe must have sensed them too because she suddenly broke away from Kaoru and raced towards them. Taken back, Yahiko had no time to move or put Kenji out of harm's way and instead braced himself for the attack while trying to protect Kenji.

When it never came, he looked up and saw Kaoru in front of him taking the full brunt of the attack. Never before had he seen her with such a feral look on her face. She really was a lioness protecting her offspring.

"I warned you that I would let no harm come to my son." Letting out a warrior's yell, Kaoru charged in a flurry of hits and kicks with Tomoe doing somersaults and side maneuvers out of the way.

Doing a roll, Tomoe found the old practicing bokkens that they kept outside. With a crazed look in her eyes, Tomoe smiled devilishly at Kaoru and rushed towards her. Blue eyes widening in a moment's fear, Kaoru pushed back her worries and weariness and calculated her next move.

Dodging appropriately, Kaoru maneuvered Tomoe to where Kaoru herself could grab the other bokken. Barely grabbing it, Kaoru grunted under the force of Tomoe's attack. Sweat poured down her face and dirt clung to her in many places. Already her arms were shaking under sheer exhaustion.

Yahiko watched on for what seemed like hours as the two women fought and silently rooted for Kaoru. Apparently, Kaoru was right in accusations against Tomoe. He only wished Kenshin was here to witness it.

Yahiko felt admiration as he watched Kaoru fight to protect them. He always knew Kaoru was a great fighter but he could never really see it in all their other fights because their enemies were always on Kenshin's level. Now that she was evenly matched with someone on her own level, her talents were obvious even though she was clearly exhausted.

Breaking apart once again, Kaoru and Tomoe stared at each other, both breathing heavily. Tomoe may have the advantage since Kaoru was still recovering from giving birth, but she was clearly out of shape.

Kaoru faltered a little, clutching at her stomach. She still hadn't fully recovered from having Kenji, but there was no option of losing. There was no one here to save her and now she had to someone to protect. She had to end this now!

Renewed in strength, Kaoru prepared herself for her final move. Changing her stance, Kaoru moved into the stance her father taught her to use when she had no other options left.

The move would incapacitate her opponent in three strikes. The first one would disable the user's fighting arm, the second their legs, and the third would knock them unconscious. All of this was done by hitting their pressure points.

Waiting for her sign, Kaoru tried to concentrate on calming herself. She knew Tomoe knew this was the final move too. Tomoe moved into the familiar stance that Tomoe's father often used to show his students the true strength of their technique. Kaoru grimaced at seeing that. This meant Tomoe was high ranking and probably could perform it perfectly.

If Kaoru screwed up just one small movement, then she was a goner. Tomoe's family did not believe in the same philosophy as Kaoru's which meant Tomoe had no qualms about killing Kaoru. Seeing Tomoe's muscles tighten, Kaoru knew the time to strike was now. It was now or never.

Kenshin felt like he had been running for hours. When Misao had first showed him the way, it had taken hours to get to their destination. She had told him a shortcut on getting back and he had quickly left her in the dust using his fastest speed.

But that way had been blocked by fallen trees and he was left with no choice but to use his sword to cut through them. Doing so had taken valuable time and energy which decreased his time getting back. Along the way he had saw Sano which meant Kaoru was with Yahiko or alone. He might very well be too late.

Finally he saw the dojo, sensing inside the warring kis. He could also feel the hidden ones on the outskirts of the dojo. Seeing Yahiko first with Kenji, Kenshin forced himself to a stop.

Kaoru's scream stopped his heart though and forcing himself for the worst, Kenshin rushed past Yahiko.

Tomoe was on the ground unconscious with Kaoru on one knee before her breathing heavily on her bokken. Kaoru's face was pinched with pain and very pale.

"Kaoru." Kenshin whispered in relief as he visually checked her for wounds and tightened her robe for her. Besides for a few scratches and bruises, she seemed fine and smiled wearily at him.

"Kenshin." Kaoru simply said in greeting. Putting up his reverse blade, Kenshin took Kaoru into his arms.

Holding her gently, he felt her lean into him in exhaustion. Making up his mind, Kenshin lifted her into his arms before she could protest. Sighing Kaoru relaxed into him, letting her bokken fall to the ground.

"Look what I have here." Sano announced coming in carrying three unconscious men. "Seems to me they were about to try to break up this family reunion, so I put them to sleep for a little while." Dumping them at the door, Sano glanced at Tomoe's fallen form.

"Wow the little missy sure did a number on that one. Way to go, Kaoru! I knew you had it in you!" Sano complimented with a loud whistle.

Blushing, Kaoru hid her face in Kenshin's neck. "I did what I had to do to protect my son."

Remembering what Tomoe had tried to do made Kenshin tighten his grip on Kaoru and glance towards his sleeping son in Yahiko's arms.

"KAORU!" Hearing her cousin's voice, Kaoru peered out from Kenshin's grip and saw Misao coming in with an unhappy Saitoh trailing behind her.

Saitoh strode past everyone, barely glancing at the bodies of the men by Sano's feet and looked at Tomoe.

Even beat up and unconscious, she still looked like a frozen beauty. "I'll take Miss Yukishiro with me. My men will be here shortly for the rest of them."

Surprising everyone by picking her up himself, Saitoh left without another word with his promise coming true as his men came back in seconds for the others.

"Um Kenshin. You can put me down now." Kaoru said, absentmindedly drawing circles on his chest. Tightening up at the innocent gesture and he reminded himself that he would have to wait a couple weeks for that to happen again.

Ignoring her request, Kenshin turned around and went back into the dojo. Going into Kaoru's room, he called out over his shoulder for Misao to spend some quality time with her new cousin and shut the door.

Gently placing Kaoru down on the futon, he waited for her to lie down in a comfortable position and then moved to lie beside her.

Startled, Kaoru started to protest but they fell on deaf ears. Spooning against her, Kenshin clasped his hands around her waist. "Shhhh…just give me this moment…please."

Sighing in defeat, Kaoru relaxed and enjoyed the moment. Just for a moment, she could believe everything was right in the world. In just a matter of minutes, the exhausted couple fell into a contented sleep with peaceful smiles on both faces.

In the other room, Yahiko peered curiously towards the closed door. "What do you think they are doing in there?" He asked no one in particular.

Sano smiled evilly at him which caused Yahiko turn pale. "NEVERMIND! I don't want to know." When Sano advanced anyway, Yahiko rushed towards the door. "I'm going to see if Tae needs any help! Let Kaoru know where I am. Later!" Within seconds he was gone, leaving Sano to find another victim.

Misao giggled as Kenji gazed up at her with his big blue eyes. "We are cousins, but you are going to call me Auntie Misao anyway. Aren't you, Kenji?" Making baby faces at the baby, Misao smiled at Sano.

"Isn't he adorable? I can't wait to have kids with my Aoshi!" Getting starry eyed at the thought, Sano shook his head at her.

"Does Ice-man know about this?" He asked and instantly regretted it at the look of despair that crossed her face.

"He will…one day. I promise you that." Shaking off the melancholy mood, Misao turned her attention to Kenji once again and played with him till his mother decided to come get him.

Black hair tickling his nose roused him from his sleep. Gradually coming to awareness, Kenshin felt the small head resting on his chest. Somehow during their nap, Kaoru had switched positions and was now sprawled out on top of him.

Fully content, Kenshin stayed like that for a moment more before untangling himself from her. He needed to check on their son and see if there were any updates on what was going to become of Tomoe.

An unsettled feeling came over him at the thought of Tomoe. For some reason, she had triggered a change in him that helped him overcome his feeling of guilt over the people he had killed. When he had first met her, he thought he had seen a ghost.

Touching a hand to his scar, Kenshin mulled over that. Tomoe looked like a grown up version of the young girl who died that night he was sent on an assassination mission. His scar was forever a remembrance of the innocents he killed while working for the government.

When Tomoe was being harassed by the group of men, Kenshin jumped to help without a second thought. Then after she had insisted on buying him lunch, Kenshin just felt something lift inside his soul. Like he had been given a second chance to right a wrong from his past and he had succeeded in saving the little girl this time.

He had unconsciously stopped referring to himself as the unworthy one and actually talked normal. For a while after Kaoru's rescue, he had even stopped by Tomoe's on numerous occasions when he knew Kaoru was safe with someone else just to see if the effect was permanent or if he would somehow switch back into his old way of talking.

Unfortunately his meeting Tomoe was just a scam orchestrated by her in order to get him away from Kaoru. Yet, now with Kenji's birth and his feelings for Kaoru out in the open, Kenshin still felt that lightness on his heart. Of course, he could never atone for all of his sins and he would still feel remorse over them, but they no longer haunted his everyday life.

Making his way to his son, Kenshin looked at his sleeping form. Now he knew he could start over anew with his new family and not feel the need to distance his self for fear of contaminating them. With them by his side, he could finally start living again.

Life returned to normal after the fight and the strain of constant danger was finally diminishing. Everyone was enjoying the joy of Kenji and Megumi's impending child. Megumi and Sano had already started planning their wedding with the women being especially excited about that.

Kaoru stayed abed most of the time and relished in motherhood. For once she didn't mind all the rest since she had plenty of things to think about. Plus this gave her a chance to just spend time with her son.

Kenshin had told her last night the Yukishiro family were compromising with officials to put Tomoe in an insane asylum where coincidentally her younger brother Enishi already resided.

"KAORU!" Misao's voice drifted through the door followed by her head peeking through next.

"Misao! Shhh…Kenji is asleep!" Chiding her gently, Kaoru smiled at the sheepish look on Misao's face.

Rubbing the back of her head absentmindedly, Misao then presented a blue package as a peace offering.

"I have a surprise for you!" Misao smiled big at the look of anticipation in Kaoru's eyes. It wasn't very often that she received presents.

"Misao, you shouldn't have." But even as she said it, she was eagerly reaching for the package.

Laughing at her cousin's obvious delight at receiving a present, Misao deposited it in her hands and bounced over to Kenji's crib to look over the infant.

Watching Misao for a minute, Kaoru then gently unwrapped the present. When she was finally through, she bit back a gasp and turned teary eyes to Misao.

"Misao, where did you find this?" Gingerly handling the golden, heart shaped locket, Kaoru opened it up to see her parent's pictures, one on each side of the heart.

"Gramps was cleaning out the storage and found it hidden away in one of the boxes. I had meant to give it to you earlier, but with everything going on I just forgot about it." Moving towards her, Misao took the necklace out of Kaoru's hands and put it on her.

Touching the heart now settled over her chest, Kaoru closed her eyes at the remembrance of the times with her parents. Even though her time with her mother was short, Kaoru still could feel the warmth of the love her mother had for her.

"Thank you." Kaoru whispered and hugged her cousin fiercly.

"You're welcome. But besides giving you that, I came to say goodbye." Shooting her an apologetic look, Misao rushed to say her next words before the sadness could fully impact Kaoru.

"I have to prove my love for Aoshi somehow and I can't do that here. I know I can win his love if I prove to him that I'm not a little girl but a grown woman. But I'm going to miss you and little Kenji so much! I'll be back to visit as soon as I can and maybe expecting a little one myself!" Wiggling her eyebrows at the last part, both her and Kaoru laughed.

Sobering up, they looked at each other and grinned. "I'm going to miss you, Misao."

"I'm going to miss you too, Kaoru." Hugging fiercely, Kaoru whispered in her cousin's ear, "Thank you…for everything. For never giving up on me."

"That's what cousins are for! Besides I'm so proud of you for sticking up for yourself and finally defeating that witch!" Misao replied with tears. Giving Kenji a small kiss on his forehead, they said their goodbyes and Misao was gone.

Lost in thought, Kaoru never heard anyone enter but came to with a start when someone was gently wiping the tears from her cheeks. Looking up in surprise, she saw Kenshin looking at her with an unknown emotion in his eyes.

"Kaoru?" He asked uncertainly. Kaoru looked past him to their son that lay resting in his crib. Kenji's red hair contrasted with his white bedding and the peaceful smile that graced his face made him look like an angel.

"Kenshin…" Sighing his name, Kaoru took his hand and rested her face against his palm while moving over to make room for him in her bed.

Wrapping her arms around his waist, Kaoru let her head rest on his chest so she could listen to his heartbeat. Kenshin only hesitated for a second before fiercely wrapping Kaoru in a secure hug and breathed in the scent of jasmine.

Staying like that, time seemed to freeze for the small family. Angling her head to look up at him, Kaoru gazed into his amethyst eyes searching them for the secrets of his heart.

"Kenshin, I do not know what the future will hold for us but….but I'm willing to give it a chance. I've been thinking these last few days and I know you messed up, but I'm willing to forgive you. Just don't ever do that to me again!" Laughing at her last few words, Kenshin smiled brilliantly at Kaoru.

"I love you, Kaoru and I will never do anything to hurt you ever again."

Liking what she saw in the eyes before her, Kaoru felt true peace for the first time in the last year. Confident in their future, Kaoru replied to Kenshin's unspoken plea.

"I love you, Kenshin, always and forever."

Despite the adversities and tribulations they went through, in the end Kaoru felt victorious with her new love and son coming out with her in the end. She had entered all this as a young, naïve girl and came out a mature woman who could fight her own battles but still knew when to ask for help from her friends and family. They had thought they had broken her, but it was her who triumphed in the end.

Finally I finished a story! I hope you like the ending, it was kind of sappy but I figured they deserved it after everything they went through! Hope you enjoyed this story!