The Dance of the Firefly

Chapter 7: Lost Roads


The thud of horse hoofs and the whizzing sounds of flying arrows ceased slowly. Kaoru opened her eyes and let her hands slip down from her ears to her cheeks. Nibbling on a pinky finger, she carefully looked from left to right, but the railcar was as abandoned as it had been when the prisoner dragged her inside. She frowned. There was nobody here. Perhaps, she should look around a little, find out what was going on…or maybe she should just stay where she was and wait for the prisoner…Kenshin… to come back. She sighed and slumped back against the dusty wall of the railcar. She really didn't need to have her arm twisted off again. He would come back eventually. The last thing she needed was to step out and land in the middle of an armed confrontation between the men who were beating the rail car walls with clubs and those who were shooting arrows at it.

There was a flash of movement at the entrance. Kaoru crouched low behind an uprooted wooden seat. She licked her lips nervously and waited. She counted the seconds ticking in her head. Still no Kenshin. Where had he gone….heavens, what if something happened to him? What if they caught him? What if….

"Boo." A sudden waft of hot breath in her ear made her jump. She whipped her head around to find the prisoner watching her with a smug smile on his face. She pursed her lips together, leaned forward and smacked him across the face. The sound of the slap echoed hollow in the empty railcar.

"What is wrong with you?" She hissed as loudly as possible without shrieking. He did not turn his face back. The faint imprint of her fingers traced a delicate red pattern on his pale cheek. He blinked once before turning his face to look at her. Something dark floated in his eyes as he stared back at her, stealing her breath away.

"You hit me." His voice was faint, but brimming with some unnamed emotion.

"You scared me." He arched an eyebrow. She stumbled for words, painfully aware that she had just struck a man who was an assassin for the rebel forces, a man whose livelihood depended on the expediency with which he sent people to their final resting place. She dry swallowed. This man unsettled her. She never really knew what to make of him. There had been a time yesterday as they had stood arguing in the middle of a mud-filled village road, that she had thought him mad, and pitiable. And here he was now, hair falling over his molten eyes that gleamed with fire, his voice raspy and his mood unstable. "I wasn't thinking. It was just an impulse."

That sent both his eyebrows shooting up. "I see." He smirked. "How interesting."

Kaoru looked at him suspiciously. "What is?"

"That you see fit to indulge…your impulses with me."

Kaoru stared at him. There was nothing wrong with his words…not entirely, but she couldn't shake the feeling that they were no longer talking about the same thing anymore. Or that he was thinking of something that really didn't relate to her little act of defiance. And that she should really be affronted by the silky, smooth timbre of his voice and that he was really saying something that was grossly inappropriate. Then he looked away and the little bubble of oppressive silence between them burst into nothingness.

He stood, pulling her up to her feet. "Come on, we have to go."

"But…what about all that noise…and those people?" She grabbed their little bundle of food and clothes and craned her neck, looking back at the devastated railcar, even as he urged her to walk faster. Slipping out of the railcar, he turned to her. Placing his hands on her waist, he quickly pulled her out of there and stood her on the ground before she could protest.

She wriggled away from his grasp, but he hardly noticed. He was busy looking for something on the ground. "It's alright. There's no need to worry." He retrieved her sandal from a depression on the knobbly ground and knelt, patting his knee. She stared at him.

"What are you doing?" She asked uncertainly.

He glanced up at her. "That cut on your leg is still raw. Just put your foot here", he patted his knee again, "I'll slip your sandal on and we can be on our way."

Kaoru blinked and looked down. She raised her foot, slowly, too slowly if his reaction was any indication. He rolled his eyes, grabbed her ankle and hoisted it upon his knee. He slid the sandal onto her foot in one swift movement and stood. Kaoru bit her lip and stood awkwardly while he secured his sword to his hip tightly. She looked down, letting her hair fall into her eyes so she wouldn't have to look at him and more importantly, so he wouldn't see the red tinge dusted across her cheeks. His unexpected kindness was surprising after his early rough behaviour. She wasn't sure if she should thank him or not. Ultimately she decided against it – it was all his idea wasn't it? Kaoru frowned as she was suddenly having trouble figuring out what to do with her hands, so she bunched her fingers in the material of her kimono, hoping that her rigid, soldier-like stance wouldn't be commented upon.

She needn't have worried since Kenshin made no mention of her sudden silence or the stiff way she stood at attention. "The men who attacked the railcar just now are rebels. I managed to speak to their captain and they've given us safe passage till the next town. Of course, we are going to have to walk. They're putting barricades across the tracks."

"Ugh, couldn't they have stopped the train until we were in next town or something. We've hardly covered any ground. I think I can still see the garrison from here." She held her hand over her eyes and peered into the distance. Kenshin looked at her and smirked.

"Really now, being with me has spoilt you. Now you can't even walk the short distance to the next village."

"That's rubbish and you know it." She deftly caught the apple that came sailing over his shoulder. "Where did you get these?"

"It's difficult guarding all the shogun's orchards in times like these. One of the guards decided to be generous and help the cause of the revolution."

"By giving you apples?"

"Yes." He rolled his eyes. "Don't tell me you have moral compulsions about eating stolen fruit because between here and next town, there's nothing to be had. And I don't fancy wandering around some destitute village stealing the last shreds of stale boiled cabbage when you start whining about starving." He bit into the apple.

"Who do you think I am? I am no stranger to eating stolen apples. I just don't go around bragging about it." She swallowed. A little juice dribbled down her chin. She didn't seem to notice it because she continued to munch away at the apple. Kenshin smiled. She was like a child in so many ways. He looked away before she became aware of his scrutiny. Tossing the apple core away, she hurried to catch up with him.

"You never finished telling me about that man." He didn't slow his pace; he didn't even turn to look at her. Kaoru bit into her lip thoughtfully, hoping that if she remained quiet, Kenshin would drop the subject. She didn't want to tell him about Enishi. It was personal. What right did he have for asking her? Why should she tell him? And even if she did, he would just laugh at her and call her a simpleton. All he needed to know was that Enishi was an aristocrat and he would tell her what most rational people thought – that he was just playing around with her, that there was no reason for an aristocrat to be interested in her. And she didn't want to hear it again. Least of all from a man who had just given her a stolen apple.

"Well?" He was nothing if not tenacious. She groaned.

"Don't you have other things to think about?" She replied waspishly.

"Oh, nothing quite as interesting as this. Come on, tell me. It'll help pass time. Besides, we're travelling together. We should know each other better." He turned and offered her a devilish grin.

"There's nothing to tell. He's somebody I used to know in the village, and…and he's probably going to ask about me and maybe they will send soldiers after me!" She finished flippantly; her smile grew wide but the mirth she wanted so desperately to show just didn't reach her eyes.

"And they shall come and rescue you from big, bad me. Bad man gets clapped into irons and the fair maiden goes home to the arms of her pining lover." He scoffed. "Fairy tales don't come true in real life."

Kaoru stopped walking. Kenshin stopped as soon as he felt her footfalls cease. He turned to look at her. She watched him with numb eyes. "What if they send someone for me? What will you do?"

He stepped closer to her and cupped her face in his hands. Lifting her face, he looked straight into her eyes. "If they try to take you away from me, I will kill them." Kaoru felt her breath shudder. He ran the pad of his thumb over her lips. "If you choose to go…of your free will, I will try and persuade you to stay."

"Why?"

He shook his head sadly then shrugged as he struggled to find the words to explain his predicament to her. Did she realize what she was doing every moment that she remained at his side? Every moment they spent bickering and arguing, he was moving further and further away from the person he had trained himself to become for years. When she had asked him why he'd taken her along, he'd evaded her. He hadn't had the courage to tell her. He had always prided himself on being someone who understood what he did and the reasons why he did things. Kenshin knew what he was, but knowing this also meant that he couldn't run from the fact that his attraction to this girl was fast evolving from the superficial lust any man feels when he sees a beautiful woman to an emotional connection that would leave him bereft if she were to leave him now.

"I'd forgotten….what it's like….to be able to talk to someone who won't tremble just by looking at me. Now that I know what it feels like again, I don't want it to stop. I can't stop. Do you understand? I don't feel like a monster when you talk back to me." He smiled. "It's almost as though the past ten years never happened." His voice was very faint. She couldn't be certain if he was really saying the words she heard or if it was all just a figment of her imagination torn by exhaustion.

"If I do not want to stay, will you let me go?"

"If you do not want to stay, you will have left already. There will be nobody left for me to persuade." He let his hands drop. "You are no prisoner Kaoru. You never have been. I want you to stay with me, and come with me to Kyoto. If you wish to return once we get there, I will make it happen. Nothing will happen that you do not wish for." Kaoru bit her lip and stared at her feet, her forehead furrowed in concentration. He did not know what she as thinking but he suspected it had something to do with the blue-eyed man they had left behind at the railway station. Kenshin felt a momentary madness sweep through his body as he felt the cold stranglehold of jealousy tighten around his neck only to dismiss it in the very next moment. Who was he to feel jealous? And for her? She was a sweet, kind girl who had helped him in the only way she knew and he held no part in her world. She deserved somebody who was…well, at the very least she deserved someone who wasn't guilty of mass murder for whatever reason.

He stepped back. She didn't need somebody like him to taint her pristine life. Already, her life had been thrown into chaos because of his interference. But, maybe, he could keep her with him, just for a little while. For a little while, he could steal her away from the world.

X

"How much further?" She called out weakly.

"Just a bit more."

"That's what you said two hours ago!" She huffed in annoyance.

Kenshin shook his head. "I didn't know you were paying attention."

"Of course I'm paying attention."

"I'm flattered."

"Not like there's much else to do." Kaoru grumbled under her breath. She groaned. The wind had picked up. The afternoon sunshine had given way to early evening fog and she couldn't see anything beyond ten metres. To make matters worse, the rain had started again. The thin cloth of her kimono did little to keep the cold at bay and the wind threw needle-like drops of rain into her eyes and bit into her cheeks. Her lips were cracked. She shivered. Her clothes were damp, her hair stuck to her scalp and her teeth chattered.

"Kenshin."

"What?"

"I'm tired."

He stopped and turned to her. "We can't stop Kaoru. We have to keep going."

"But, I'm really tired." She sniffed. "And I'm hungry and cold. Can we just sit down for a while?"

"Sit down where? There's nothing out here." He closed his mouth abruptly. She looked like she was ready to cry. He sighed. He looked around. "Alright, there has to be a village nearby. We have been walking for hours. Let's see if someone has a barn or someplace we can make a shelter. Come on." He held his hand out. She sighed and took it.

They trudged down the visible portion of the road together, occasionally stumbling over an upturned root or large rock but mostly managing to keep to the track. Soon enough, they could see faint lights glowing in the distance. As they walked closer, the lights grew until they materialized into a fairly large inn. The main doors were shut but a smaller door to the left, opened into a small room that also served as a makeshift liquor shop. A group of men sat around a fire, taking turns drinking from a bottle of cheap rice wine. Kenshin pulled back. He pushed Kaoru behind him, silently asking her to keep quiet. As he approached, the curtain that hung across the room's door was pulled back and a woman in a loose kimono stepped out. She was strikingly beautiful. The swell of her breasts was visible but only just. The tantalizing curves of her body were only aluded to, not put on display, not like the woman they'd run into earlier, at the railway station, She held herself with a confidence that would make it difficult to look at her with anything but respect.

Her hips swayed as she walked out into the foggy night. Behind her, a wiry man in scruffy clothes rushed out, waving a bamboo umbrella. "Ai-chan! Ai-chan! Don't go out in the dark alone. Wait for me." His words slurred together and he struggled to open the umbrella. The woman glanced at him and smiled, softly shaking her head at his silliness. He finally shook the umbrella open and stepped up to her, holding it above her head.

The woman smiled. "Why thank you Aramaki-san. I never would have taken you for a gallant."

The man grinned widely. "As long as you take me, Ai-chan."

Kaoru buried her head in Kenshin's shoulders to stifle her giggles. Kenshin glared at her. He squeezed her hand painfully as she continued to laugh softly. The amorous couple pair under the umbrella turned to them.

"And who are you?" The woman addressed Kenshin. She produced a fan out of nowhere and artfully positioned it to reveal just her eyes and the corner of her painted mouth. Kaoru watched with wide-eyed fascination. The manoeuvre was beautiful. It gave her an air of mystery, and Kaoru thought she looked quite worldly and sophisticated. She looked down at her damp and dirty kimono, at the stringy strands of hair that had escaped from her ponytail and then looked back at the woman who looked like she was made for seduction. She couldn't help but feel a small twinge of envy and sighed.

"Just passing through." Kaoru snapped her head up to look at him. His demeanour seemed to have changed completely. He spoke with a disdainful haughtiness that reminded her of Enishi's father rather than the gentle man who had been travelling with her so far. He held his sword with one hand, the thumb resting against the hilt, as though ready to draw the blade in an instant if he so chose, and the fingers cradling the sheath. The fingers of his other hand entwined with hers and held her back, hiding her from the gaze of the woman and her companion.

He glanced at the inn. "I need a place to stay for the night." The woman exchanged a glance with the man at her side. He arched an eyebrow. The woman inclined her head and tried to sneak a glance at Kaoru.

"Just you?"

"Answer the questions I ask and we'll be alright."

The woman laughed softly. "Oh my, I think I touched a raw nerve." She shut the fan and smiled prettily. "It's a busy time. There's a festival in the village tomorrow and we just received a company of swordsmen on their way to Kyoto. If you don't mind, I can inquire if there is a room available." She turned to go.

Kenshin clenched his fingers over his sword. Swordsmen on the way to Kyoto? He inwardly rolled his eyes. He couldn't possibly have such abysmal luck. Matters couldn't get any worse than if Saitou himself materialised in the doorway to this inn and demanded a match. He glanced at Kaoru who was fighting hard to keep her trembling in control. Her hand felt like ice. Her teeth were chattering yet she stood quietly by his side. He frowned. He would have to risk it. First, he needed to find out who these swordsmen were then, he would figure out the rest.

"Wait." The woman turned. Kenshin let Kaoru's fingers slip out of his hand and walked to the woman. Tilting his head slightly, he whispered something in her ear. She looked surprised but masked it quickly and shooting him a self-satisfied smile, she disappeared inside. Kenshin stood watching her for a moment before he returned to Kaoru who was inwardly seething. Inexplicable as it was, watching him speak into the woman's ear and follow her with his eyes made her feel sick.

"We should be inside soon and you can get warmed up." Kaoru glared at him, earning a baffled stare in response. She shook her head in disbelief and turned away from him. Kenshin frowned but the woman appeared in the doorway once again before he could ask Kaoru why she looked so angry. She gestured them to follow her. Holding a lamp up in one hand, she swiftly took them behind the inn and through a bamboo grove. The three kept walking in silence until the woman reached a hut. She turned to face them both. Smirking at Kaoru, she dipped her fingers into her cleavage and pulled out a key which she held out to Kenshin. Kaoru rolled her eyes and Kenshin stared back at her blankly.

"You will be safe here. Nobody from the house can see this hut. There's some firewood inside." She leaned against the wall of the hut. "All the other rooms were taken by the gentlemen who arrived his afternoon. Apparently, the rebels have barred the rail tracks with trees and carts. So, a team of the Shinsengumi had arrived to investigate." Kenshin froze. The woman turned to him and smiled. "Don't worry. I didn't tell them anything."

Kenshin nodded and unlocked the door. He lifted the bundle of things given to them by the mole in the village and dropped it in front of the woman. "It's not much but, it's all we have right now." Kaoru looked from the woman to him and rolling her eyes, stepped into the hut. Kenshin nodded at the woman one last time before he tried to follow Kaoru inside. An arm shot out, stopping him. He sighed and turned to her. "What do you want?"

The woman smirked. "That little girl doesn't look like she would even know what to do with a man. If you get tired of her, you know where to find me." Smiling, she let her arm drop and sashayed down the corridor, leaving Kenshin to shake his head in amusement as he too, stepped inside the loft. It was barely five metres wide. Kaoru sat shivering to one side. She rubbed her hands together to warm them up and kept her eyes on the floor. Kenshin arched an eyebrow and sat down opposite her. She didn't speak. He sighed.

"Do you want to tell me what's wrong with you?" He asked.

"Why don't you ask Miss Painted Lips? I'm sure she'll be able to tell you lots about it." She replied testily. She had heard what that woman had said to him right outside. She wasn't deaf! And what was that supposed to mean, anyway. She knew what men and women do, she wasn't an idiot. She had kissed Enishi, many times and….and…they had almost done that before he left. She wasn't the innocent little baby everyone thought she was. She had experienced lust and desire, just like any girl her age. But that didn't mean that she had to behave like that white-faced cat to prove her femininity. She was fine the way she was. And if Kenshin had a problem with that, well then he could go to her when he wanted. She didn't care. Wait a minute….. What was she saying….

"What are you talking about?"

She snapped out of her thoughts. "Don't act like you don't know. I saw you, the secretive whispering and the looks, I'm not stupid."

"I'm inclined to think so right now."

"Ugh..I don't care. Go! Go on, go to her."

"Go to whom? I don't understand."

"You're unbelievable! Alright, I'll tell you. That woman who was just here. Go to her."

"Okay. And why should I do that?"

"Because she's not a little girl who has no idea what to do with a man." Kaoru answered carelessly, not bothering to think about how it would be received by Kenshin. She bit her tongue the second the words left her mouth. Embarrassed beyond belief, Kaoru quickly turned away and buried her face in her knees.

Kenshin laughed. "Gods…you're jealous."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

She turned to glare at him. "I am not."

"Then explain your rabid reaction to whatever she said about you."

"She had no right! What I do or do not do, whether or not I do it, is none of her business, how dare she talk about me like that?"

"Why are you letting it affect you? So she said something; it doesn't mean anything. Why does it matter so much?"

"Because…" Shesaidittoyou. Kaoru shut her mouth and stared at her hands. She shivered as the adrenaline brought on by anger wore off. "It doesn't matter." She said in a small voice. "You're right. It doesn't matter. I don't know what came over me. I'm just….tired, I guess."

Kenshin nodded his head slowly, his mind grasping immediately what Kaoru's mind had realized and immediately pushed away. She didn't want him to think that she was a novice or unattractive. He was new, exciting and different from the life she had known so far. She was curious. He was dangerous, mild, gentle and rough in turns. He was unpredictable and unsettling. Both qualities intrigued and drew her near leaving her wanting more. He looked away, at a loss of what to do with this information.

Kaoru bit her lip. Why had she lost her cool like that? What must Kenshin think of her? Alright, honestly, she wanted to know more about him, what were the things he did, why he did them too. She wanted to know how he could be so gentle to her and switch to ruthless the very next moment, when it suited him.

The walls of the huts shook as the wind blew gustily outside. Kaoru shivered again. She rubbed her hands together with greater vigour. Her damp kimono and her wet hair weren't helping her cause. Kenshin stood. "We need to build a fire."

"But, there's hardly any room for that."

"There's just enough room. Besides, we need to get you out of those clothes before you freeze to death." Kaoru gaped at him, talking about removing her clothes as though he were talking about the weather. Kenshin looked into the small pit of sand in the centre of the hut. He looked up. Sure enough, there was a small gap amongst the wooden planks that made the ceiling, to allow for smoke to waft away from the hut. He pulled the bundle of firewood near and quickly set about building a fire. Using the lamp to light it, he stood. He pulled his damp gi off in one fluid motion. Kaoru first stared then jumped up with a yelp. Her face was flushed and she momentarily forgot about the cold seeping into her bones.

"What are you doing? Stop! Stop that right now!" She spoke rapidly, clamping her hand over her eyes. Kenshin glanced at her briefly before patting his hakama down, checking for dampness. He breathed in relief. His pants were mostly dry. He settled down beside the fire, quietly feeding it twigs and brushwood to keep it going. Kaoru sat down across him, shaking her hair to rid it of excess moisture. He glanced at her.

"It's no use if your clothes are wet; you realize that, don't you?"

"What are you….just forget it! There is no way I'm taking my clothes off, you…you pervert!"

Kenshin rolled his eyes. "Your kimono is wet. You'll catch your death if you don't get into something dry and warm."

"I'm fine." She replied quickly.

"You're fine?"

"Yes." She replied, teeth chattering. Kenshin shut his eyes and shook his head.

"Alright, would it help if I swear I won't attack your maidenly modesty while you're …." He waved his hands in front of her. "I mean, I'm sure I can control my base instincts at least for a little while. I won't pounce on you straight away, I'll give you fair warning. You're free to run if you want."

"Stop joking about it. It's not funny."

"Tell me what to do Kaoru. I can hear your teeth knocking together all the way over here."

"Just stop telling me what to do, alright. I am fine. I won't die of a little cold."

"Fine. Feel free to freeze." He spread his gi flat on the floor in front of the fire and settled against the opposite wall and propped his swords against the wall. Crossing his arms over his chest, he rested his chin on his chest and shut his eyes.

Kaoru wrapped her arms around her body and began to rock to and fro. She held her hands out to the fire and ran them down her arms, clapped them together, blew on them but the trembling didn't stop. She sat facing the fire, but then her back began to hurt because of the cold. When she turned her back towards the fire, her hands froze and a strange constricting pain rose in her chest. She stood and started to pace in the tiny room until Kenshin glared at her and icily told her to sit. Her fingers were numb from the cold and she no longer had the will to move around to keep herself warm.

"Kenshin." She whispered from across the room. He raised his head a fraction, letting her know he had heard her.

"I'm feeling c-cold, Kenshin. It w-won't stop."

He rolled his eyes. "Will you please grow up and stop acting like a child about it?" He glared at her.

Kaoru bit her lip. "I….."

"Tsk." He rolled his eyes. "Gods, I am not trying to satisfy any dark urges. I am not in the least interested in what you look like when you're naked, alright? Now will you let me help you?"

Kaoru stuck her lower lip out stubbornly and turned away. "Not if you're going to be beastly about it."

He took a deep breath. She had to be the most stubborn girl he'd ever met. "Fine." He paused. "I'll be on my best behaviour."

Kaoru turned back to him by degrees. "Really?" A slow smile was already forming on her lips.

Kenshin smirked. It was that easy to make her happy. "Yes, really. Now, grab that futon over there. You can hold it around you when…." He trailed off. She shifted from one foot to another.

"I'll turn around." He offered.

"Close your eyes as well."

He rolled his eyes, but complied. Kaoru took a deep breath and slowly began to undo the strings of her obi. Placing it on the floor beside her, she straightened once more.

"Are you done yet?"

"Don't turn around. And keep your eyes closed!" Her hands froze, and her voice rose with panic.

"Fine, fine. Quiet down, even if someone didn't know we're hidden here, they'll find out because of your screaming." He grumbled.

Kaoru stuck her tongue out at him. Checking once again, to make sure he really wasn't looking at her, she slipped the garment off her shoulders and down her body. Shivering in the sudden chill that enveloped her, she quickly shook the futon and wrapped it around herself as best as she could. Her breast bindings were mercifully dry so she wouldn't feel completely bare even if the futon slipped by mistake. She laid the kimono out to dry by the fire. Pulling and tugging the futon this way and that, she finally settled down, feeling terribly self-conscious.

She sniffed. "Um…you can turn now." She stared at the floor. It was really very fascinating. She'd never noticed how interesting a wooden floor could be before. Kenshin turned and sat down without saying anything. If he noticed anything strange about the way she was holding on to the futon, he didn't mention it. In fact, he scarcely glanced her way, perfectly content to sit and stare at the walls.

The silence was suddenly interrupted by a sneeze. Kaoru covered her mouth and looked distraught. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean…" She was interrupted by another sneeze. She sniffled. Kenshin blinked. He narrowed his eyes. "Are you still feeling cold?"

She shook her head vigourously. "N-n-no. I'm fine. I'm warm."

"Okay."

Kenshin decided to stare at wall some more. The planks were teak. Kaoru sneezed. Whoever had this hut built, hadn't intended for it to go to ruin. Even in its dilapidated condition, the quality of wood was undeniable. She sneezed again. The floor was really smooth. And the ceiling was perfect, all excess smoke went out and the heat remained inside. And…sneeze…again.

"Kaoru…"

"I'm so sorry. I don't know what's happening."

He was quiet. He should let it go, really. She would be fine by morning….if she survived till morning….

"Kaoru…are you still cold?"

She looked back at him, teary-eyed, feebly nodding her head. He sighed. "Well then….I guess, you'd better…come here." He tried to keep his voice as neutral and devoid of feeling as possible. Kaoru slowly crawled over to him. She stopped next to him. He took her hand and turned her so she faced away from him, her back against his chest. He pulled the futon away, ignoring her horrified gasp as he did so. Folding his arms over hers, across her chest, he pulled her flush against himself, his legs rested on either side of hers and his chin rested upon her shoulder. His warm breath floated over the cold skin of her neck.

Her shivering subsided gradually even though her heartbeat showed no sign of slowing. She stiffened as his breath wafted across her skin once more, "Are you still cold?"

Kaoru gulped. She shook her head. "N-no. Um, I'm better now."

"Good."

The silence stretched uncomfortably. The close proximity put an end to any conversation. Even thinking proved to be too difficult a task to handle when each nerve and fibre of the body was bursting with the awkwardness of it all. Kaoru bit her lip.

"This is strange."

"Yes, it is." He agreed quickly.

"Tell me something, Kenshin."

"What do you want to know?"

"Tell me something about you."

He chuckled. "Nothing to tell. I'm a very boring person."

"Shouldn't I be the judge of that?"

He chuckled once more. Kaoru decided she liked the sound of that. "What do you want to know?"

She nibbled on her lip before answering. "Enishi's father said you were an assassin for the rebels. How did you become an assassin?"

He glanced at her. "Terribly inquisitive, aren't we?"

She arched an eyebrow and looked back at him, ignoring the butterflies that swam around in her stomach at the sight of his amber eyes. "I've never let a man so close before, I think I've earned the right to be inquisitive."

He raised his eyebrows at that and smirked. Shaking his head, he let loose a breath and spoke. "I became an assassin…because I was a fool." He smiled bitterly. "Ten years ago, I left my master's home to become an assassin. Ten years later, I'm still not any wiser than I was when I left."

"That's harsh."

"That's the truth."

"Tell me a story then."

"A story? A fairy tale?"

"A tragedy, a comedy….anything you like."

"Hmmm…well, once upon a time there was a man locked up in a deep, dark dungeon." He glanced at Kaoru. She was smiling. He continued. "He had no light, except for the days they brought him out to see the sky. On one such day, he saw…a little ball of light just beyond the bars. It was….the most beautiful thing he had ever seen…" Kenshin voice lowered to a mere whisper. "And he wanted that light more than he had ever wanted anything in his life, so he caught it and ran away with it. But there was no place in his dungeon to keep the light. So….he let it go and decided to forget it….the end."

Kaoru frowned. "That's the end? That can't be the end."

Kenshin shrugged. "That's the end."

"But, why?"

"Because….light does not belong in deep, dark dungeons."

Kaoru laughed. "You are a strange man. Why…a deep, dark dungeon is exactly where light belongs."

"Is that so?" He asked huskily.

"Yes."

"Even if it is very frightening in there, do you think the light would survive?"

"Of course. It's light. It brings dark things into the light. That's what it is for."

"Oh."

"Yes."

Author's Note

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