Disclaimer - Sadly, I don't own Rurouni Kenshin. It is the sole property of Nobuhiro Watsuki and the many companies who have purchased the rights.
A Walk in the Sunlight
Chapter 22 - The Beginning of Another
The miles passed unnoticed beneath Kenshin's feet as he led Sano and Aoshi to the small clearing he'd found almost a month before when he'd first searched for Iizuka by himself. Weaving his way effortlessly through a small stand of trees, he glanced up to the dark, cloud-filled sky as they broke out into the open again. And for the umpteenth time he tried to quell the anxiety twisting his gut into a bloody mess... to no avail.
A small, humorless smile curled the edge of his lips as the knot tightened even more and he dropped his attention back to the deserted road they were currently following. It wasn't supposed to be like this. A very small part of him could see where his shishou was coming from, but the larger, more volatile side of him riled at the fact that he was miles away from Kaoru with no way to know what was happening. If Hiko thought this would help him keep a cool head then his master didn't know him nearly as well as he thought he did. If anything this not knowing, this exclusion, would likely set him off faster than if he had remained at her side, even if it was to witness her death.
As if to prove his thoughts the knot in his gut coiled even tighter as his eyes flashed golden and he unconsciously bared his teeth, fists clenching tight enough to draw blood. Yes, Hiko was dead wrong. If this kept up he'd lose it right here and now.
In an effort to keep that from happening, Kenshin inhaled deeply through his nose and held the breath as he forced the beast back. Struggling to regain control and assert rationality. He almost sighed when he felt the fear-tainted rage settle down into a dull roar in the back of his mind again. Deep down he knew Hiko wouldn't let her die, not without a fight, but that still didn't stop him from wishing he was there and not here meting out punishment to a worthless little snake that didn't even deserve his attention. Casting a baleful glare over his shoulder at Iizuka as he guided Aoshi and Sano into the last stand of trees surrounding the clearing, he smiled coldly. At least he'd be able to take out this frustration and repressed rage on Iizuka. Doing so he just might make it through this wait yet.
A heartbeat later they broke out into the clearing and Kenshin slowed, then stopped in the middle of the heavily shadowed glade. A moment later Sano and Aoshi came to a stop right in front of him and he motioned for Aoshi to drop his burden at their feet. "You two go to the edge of the clearing and wait. This, I will do alone."
Aoshi simply nodded then vanished and reappeared several feet away just under the tree line. Sano, however, leveled a brutal kick to the gut of the already battered vampire at their feet and growled, "That's for jou-chan, you dirty little bastard." And without another word he too shimmered to the edge of the trees, across from where Aoshi stood guard.
Kenshin secretly smiled and calmly walked the five feet Iizuka had traveled from the kick. "Are you ready to settle our score, snake?" he asked smoothly, as he hauled the glaring vampire to his feet and released him to see if his legs had mended enough for him to stand. Iizuka winced but did manage to stay on his feet and with an icy smirk he nodded. "More than ready."
And with that the injured vampire vanished.
Kenshin shook his head as a tiny humorless smile touched his lips and he reached out and grabbed Iizuka's wrist before he could land the blow he was aiming. "I already told you, even with Katsura's blood you're no match for me."
And before Iizuka could do anything but scowl, Kenshin rammed the heel of his free hand dead into the center of his chest. The distinct crunch of bones cracking filled the still night air sickenly. He watched dispassionately as Iizuka hissed in pain and stumbled backwards from the force of the blow. Katsura's blood or no, he was still nothing but an irritating little flea that needed to be squashed. Pity, it would have been nice to give his more primal side a true run after all these years. But no matter, getting back to Kaoru was much more important right now anyway. It would be best to simply kill the little snake and be done with it.
Iizuka leveled a hate-filled glare on him and growled, "That all you got, Himura?"
Kenshin scoffed softly, "Looks like that's all I'll need."
Iizuka scowled and wiped away the thin trickle of blood that had escaped from the corner of his mouth. An arrogant glint lit his eyes. "Don't get cocky, Himura. There is no way you can beat me, not even you can kill an Elder."
Taken aback by the vehemence, Kenshin's eyebrows shot up and for a long moment he simply stared at Iizuka in stunned silence. Did this little snake really not know what he'd done all those years ago? Is that why he'd chosen to come after him now that he'd stolen Katsura's blood? Did he honestly think he was safe? Warily searching Iizuka's face for some sign that the snake was trying to bait him, he was surprised to see nothing but honest belief.
Snorting softly under his breath, Kenshin fought back the smirk pulling at his lips and decided to keep the truth to himself for now and instead softly said, "We'll see..." What Iizuka didn't know would kill him in the end.
Iizuka's eyes narrowed to slits and Kenshin did his best to school his features to keep from betraying his thoughts. It must have worked because a moment later, Iizuka smiled smugly and spit out the remaining blood in his mouth. "You didn't think I was going to come after you to extract my revenge unprepared, did you? I intend on killing you as slowly as I can for what you did."
Kenshin almost laughed in Iizuka's face at that, but somehow managed to keep a stoic expression and instead shook his head. "No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to kill me. Not after what you've already done to me." Taking a step forward, he smirked when Iizuka tensed slightly. "As to your revenge, you have no cause. They were killed to keep you in line..." Taking another measured step forward, his smirk turned into a full blown grin as Iizuka scowled and almost took a step back, "... Katsura knew what you were up to. Their deaths are on your head, not mine."
Iizuka's face instantly contorted with rage and he shot forward with such speed that Kenshin didn't have time to dodge the fist that rammed into his chest. Stifling the groan of pain that tried to erupt from his throat, Kenshin clutched his chest and nearly growled as all the pent up aggravation and rage he had managed to keep contained finally broke loose. For the first time in a hundred and fifty years he gave himself over to the killing machine he was. With an inarticulate snarl he locked Iizuka's neck in a vice grip, with a twist threw him as hard as he could across the clearing. A teeth grinding crack exploded into the quiet clearing as the trunk Iizuka hit split and fell, sending the vampire tumbling further into the trees. Iizuka had no time to fully process what had just happened when Kenshin shimmered to where he was picking himself up and grabbed him around the neck again; throwing him back into the clearing.
Already dazed from the first impact, Iizuka simply tumbled through the air like a rag doll before he hit the ground hard. Half rolling-half bouncing a couple of times till finally sliding to a halt on his back. Less than a heartbeat later Kenshin was beside him again, slamming his foot into the middle of Iizuka's chest before he could recover, pushing down on the snake's cracked ribs until the he was gasping for air, "You have no reason... but I do. I will kill you for all you've done to me and mine."
Iizuka scowled blackly and shoved Kenshin's foot off his chest. Pushing off the ground slowly, he winced as he regained his feet "No reason?!" he growled, "You killed my entire family!! They weren't even a threat and you still killed them!!"
Kenshin chuckled hollowly and shook his head. "Do you honestly think Katsura didn't know about your plan to seize control of the Ishin clan?" Iizuka paled at that and Kenshin smiled humorlessly. "He knew it all. Your sorry attempt to keep him from changing me so he wouldn't have anyone to watch his back. Your plan to have him change your brother instead so you and he could sow dissension among the ranks." Kenshin's smile widened and he leaned toward the now glowering vampire, "That's why he had me wipe out your entire family. Be happy he left you alive."
He almost laughed at the cornered look twisting Iizuka's face. "Don't worry, snake. There is no one left alive who cares about that anymore." And then before Iizuka even had time to blink, Kenshin had his throat in a vice grip again. "All I care about is fulfilling the vow I made on Tomoe's death..." Tightening his grip even more, he caught the fist Iizuka tried to throw at him and softly continued, "... and that was to see her killer dead." And with that he twisted the fist in his hand until Iizuka's wrist shattered into dust. He released the vampire in a heap and kicked him hard in the ribs; the already damaged bones giving easily under his foot.
Iizuka gasped loudly as blood spurted from his mouth and for a long moment he just laid there in the dirt like a broken doll before he finally made an effort to rise again. Kenshin watched in silence until the little snake managed to climb to his knees and then he grabbed a fist full of hair, yanking Iizuka's head back. "Shall we put your theory to the test and see if I can kill an Elder?"
If it was possible, Iizuka whitened even more. Smiling softly to himself, Kenshin didn't bother to wait for an answer and lifted his free hand to his mouth. With one fluid motion slit his wrist open with one of his fangs; releasing the blood he was sure would even kill an Elder. "I may not be able to kill you by normal means..." he said silkily, as he dropped the bleeding wrist into Iizuka's line of sight, "... but I can with this."
For a minute Iizuka simply stared blankly at the blood dripping from the wound, then he started to thrash feebly as understanding finally dawned in his eyes. "No..."
Kenshin fisted his hand even tighter in Iizuka's hair to stop the worthless escape attempt and yanked the snake's head back viciously until they were eye to eye, "It's time to reap what you sowed." Anticipation singing in his veins, Kenshin rammed his wrist into Iizuka's teeth, forcing the snake to taste the toxic blood he had created so long ago. Iizuka swung his head weakly from side to side in an attempt to avoid the blood but Kenshin held the wound firmly against his mouth waiting for the bloodlust to kick in.
He didn't have to wait long. Less than a heartbeat later, Iizuka's eyes flashed red and he sank his fangs into the wounded flesh, drinking the blood that would soon rip him apart. Kenshin let him take several draws to make sure the snake ate enough to kill him then wrenched his wrist away and flung the vampire backwards. Iizuka landed in the dirt with a dull thud and slumped there in stunned silence; the blood dripping from the corners of his mouth dark in the shadowed light. For a long moment that seemed to last a lifetime nothing happened, and Kenshin started to doubt this was really going to work as a triumphant smile slid across Iizuka's face. But Iizuka suddenly went rigid, then started to gag and claw at his throat; his face contorting in agony as the blood finally started its destruction.
Exhaling softly in relief, Kenshin smiled sadly at the sight as the memory of another suffering the same fate flashed before his eyes.
Shaking it off the best he could, he dropped down beside the now spasming vampire and grabbed his chin, forcing Iizuka to look at him, "And now that I have fulfilled my vow, I have to thank you. If you hadn't done this to me I wouldn't have been able to give Kaoru the chance she now has."
A sickening gurgling sound was his only answer as Iizuka's eyes rolled up into his head and he started to convulse violently. Stepping away to keep from being covered in the blood now spilling from the dying vampire's mouth, Kenshin watched impassively as Iizuka gave one last bone breaking shudder and then he finally lay still, his lungs expelling the last of their air softly into the quiet night. For a moment he simply stood there staring at Iizuka's pallid features and then he sighed softly as a wave of peace flowed through his body. It was over. After all these years, Tomoe had finally been avenged. Now maybe she could rest in peace wherever she was.
A gentle shifting in the air pulled him from his thoughts and he glanced to Aoshi and Sano who now stood beside him.
"Damn, Kenshin. Remind me never to piss you off..." Sano said tightly as he nudged the dead vampire with his foot. "I would rather be dragged into the sunlight than die like that."
Kenshin calmly replied, "He deserved it, for everything he's done."
Sano snorted his agreement at that, but before the tall vampire could say anything, Kenshin spun on his heel preparing to head back to the clinic. "Do me a favor and take care of that. I have to get back to Kaoru."
"Go. We've got this." Sano assured him as he reached down to haul the corpse off the ground. "We'll dump him on a deserted part of the beach. The sun will do the rest."
Kenshin gave them a grateful smile then shimmered and sped out of the clearing. Now it was time to see if his master had managed to keep Kaoru alive. His gut immediately knotted with its previous tension and he picked up his pace as much as he could. She better be alive because if she wasn't...
Shoving the thought from his mind, he flew even faster over the silent landscape, closing the five miles back to the clinic as fast as he could. It would be best if he didn't think about her dying. Not right now. There was still hope, even if it was only a tiny shred.
Hiko scowled darkly and shielded his eyes against the intensely bright light emanating from the young woman across the room as another ear-piercing scream filled the air. And for the hundredth time he silently cursed Iizuka to the deepest pits of hell.
That's the only way he could describe what must have been in the glass Kenshin had given her. Pure, unadulterated sunlight. The cruelest death one of their kind could suffer. It was even enough to keep him on the other side of the room. Had a normal vampire been in the room they would have most likely been severely burned, if not killed, by the intensity of the light surrounding Kaoru. He couldn't imagine what it must feel like to have that spilling through her veins.
His scowl deepened at the thought. Had he known this was the case he would have dealt with Iizuka himself and been sure to draw out his death as long as physically possible. But he hadn't and it was too late now. He knew Kenshin would hurry the snake's death simply to get back here and Iizuka deserved to suffer for this ten times over. Kenshin of all people should know that.
Slowly, the blinding light subsided again and Hiko strode across the room to see if Kaoru was still alive or if this bout had finally done the job. He sighed tiredly as he neared and heard the erratic heartbeat still pounding in the unconscious girl's chest. With a small shake of his head, he tightened the strip of sheet binding her right wrist again, then checked the other straps to make sure they were still tight before he headed back to the other side of the room to wait for the next attack.
Leaning heavily against the wall Hiko crossed his arms. For the last half hour the poor girl had endured three attacks, like the one that had just ended. The first time she'd been hit it had taken him completely by surprise, forcing him to hold her down to keep her from falling off the bed. Had he known what was going to happen he would have strapped her down from the start. But he hadn't because he'd arrived five minutes after Kenshin had died the night his apprentice had done this to himself.
A light scraping caught his attention and he glanced to the door separating his room from the front one.
"Was that the end?" Megumi asked softly from the small opening she'd made.
Hiko shook his head. "No. She's close, but she hasn't let it kill her yet."
Megumi simply inclined her head in understanding and backed out, slowly closing the door behind her. They were the only ones left now that the doctor had left to spend the time waiting with Kaoru's parents. He'd had to send the good doctor away after the second attack or risk losing the aged man himself. Genzai-san had just about had a heart attack the first time Kaoru had screamed and from then on it had only gotten worse until he'd finally demanded the elderly doctor leave or die by his hands. Thankfully the good doctor had seen sense, because Hiko really hadn't wanted to explain his death to the young woman who was already suffering more than anyone should.
Giving his attention back to the deathly pale girl laying silently, he sighed quietly. He had a feeling the reason this was taking so long was the fact that she didn't want to die. It seemed she was going to fight this tooth and nail right up until the end. Hopefully that desire to live would be enough to carry her through, for both her and his idiot apprentice.
His train of thought was broken suddenly as Kaoru came up off the bed again, this time shrieking so loud that he had to cover his ears as the blinding white light exploded out of her very pores. Closing his eyes against the glare, he hissed as the skin on his face and hands started to heat up. The light imitating the sun was more intense this time than her previous paroxysms. This had to be it. There was no way she'd be able to survive this time. Not with this intensity.
A moment later the light and her screams faded and he immediately pushed off the wall to see if that attack had delivered the killing blow. Nothing but silence filled his ears as he neared and he almost smiled as he came up beside Kaoru and felt for the pulse he already knew was no longer there. Not wasting a second, he quickly lifted his wrist to his mouth and sliced open the flesh with one fang then, with his free hand, he pinched her mouth open while pressing his bleeding wrist against her teeth. Now was the true test. Would she accept his blood and fight for life again or would she give in and let death take her right now?
Time seemed to stand still as he involuntarily tensed and waited for her to accept the chance at life he was offering. If she didn't take this chance he'd have one hell of a mess on his hands. He knew that no matter what he'd said, Kenshin would never be able to simply walk away from her if she died. And that would leave him no choice but to use the knowledge he'd dragged out of the old crone who started all of this before he'd killed her and kill Kenshin himself.
Sickened by the thought, Hiko scowled and released her chin. She'd take his blood if it killed him. She would fight for life whether she wanted to or not. Using the freed hand to lift her head up, he tilted it back in an effort to force the blood already in her mouth down her throat. "C'mon kid. Don't make me kill him."
Several agonizingly long moments passed with no reaction and he finally growled, "You're stronger than this, kid! Take the blood!"
Nothing but silence answered him again, and he was just about to cut a bigger gash to force more blood into her when her eyes suddenly flew open and she instinctively clamped onto his wrist. Wincing slightly at the force she bit down, he let her draw a couple of times before forcing her to release him to keep from killing her with his blood. Kaoru gasped loudly as she was wrenched away from his wrist and for a split second her eyes unclouded enough for him to see the absolute horror of what she'd just done swimming in their depths. A single moment, then they slid closed as she sighed and went limp again.
But she was still breathing.
Hiko couldn't help but smile as her heart beat a steady rhythm into the silent room. Now the rest was up to her.
The door between the two rooms opened again and he turned to the woman striding into the room. "It's done. There is nothing more we can do."
Megumi smiled softly and inclined her head, "She's stronger than she looks. She'll make it." And with that she set to work cleaning away the blood that had escaped the now unconscious girl's mouth.
Hiko smirked at that and was just about to head back across the room to wait for Kenshin's arrival when Kaoru's eyes flew open again and she gasped as her body went rigid and then with a loud exhalation she went limp again, the heart beat that had been thumping steadily in his ears a moment ago now completely gone.
Before he could so much as exhale, a loud bang reverberated through the clinic and Hiko swung his attention to the back door where Kenshin was now standing. The horrified look on his apprentice's face quickly turned into one that could only be labeled as bone-chilling rage, any rational thought clearly nonexistent. Grimacing in resignation, Hiko closed the distance between them before Kenshin could do something he would regret and wrapped his hand around his apprentice's neck; squeezing just enough to catch the redhead's attention.
"Get a hold of yourself. This isn't going to help her."
Kenshin scowled darkly and glared balefully at his master as the sight of Kaoru's limp, silent body continued to play over and over in his mind. She wasn't dead. She couldn't be. Not now, not when he was finally here! The rage pounding through his veins spiked even more and he nearly snarled. He wasn't going to let her die!
As if Hiko could read his thoughts, the hand around his throat tightened even more and his master wrenched his head back with his free hand, forcing him to look at him. "She's -"
A great inhalation of air behind the tall man cut him off and his master smiled, immediately releasing him. Hiko stepped out of the way so Kenshin could see the now breathing young woman lying on the bed behind him.
Stunned, Kenshin was beside Kaoru in two strides, hesitantly he reached out and laid his hand softly on her now moving chest. The steady thump of her heart beating under his palm calming the fury that had been threatening to consume him only moments before. She was alive. She had survived.
"You died three times before you finally woke up." Hiko explained as he came up to stand at the foot of Kaoru's bed. "I don't know how many times she will die, or if she will even wake up." Loosening the restraints holding Kaoru's ankles, he continued, "Her fate now lies in her hands. All you can do is take her home and wait."
Kenshin winced as the tension in his gut tightened and softly trailed his finger along her hairline. So it wasn't over yet. But there was still hope, as slim as it may be.
With an almost inaudible sigh, Kenshin untied the strip of sheet holding her right wrist, then freed her left one before lifting her limp body into his arms. Cradling her gently against his chest, he tucked her head under his chin then looked from Megumi to his master, "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Megumi said with a smile.
A sardonic smirk touched Hiko's lips. "Don't thank me until she wakes up."
Kenshin inclined his head and with an unconvincing smile, started for the door, "She will wake. She's too stubborn not to."
And without another word, he opened the door and vanished into the disappearing night before he said what he was truly thinking. To be honest he wasn't sure if she would wake or not but at least he would be there to say goodbye if she chose to let herself slip away. That was more than he'd thought he'd get.
x x x x x
"What do you mean it's not over yet?!" Koshijiro nearly shouted, as he stormed back into Kenshin's livingroom from the bedroom where Kaoru lay unconscious. "Why weren't we told she might die?!"
Kenshin inwardly flinched as he followed the elder Kamiya. Thankfully she'd remained alive the entire time her parents had been in there or this would have been a hell of a lot worse. "Kaoru didn't want you to worry. I promise you, sir, she will be fine. We both know she's a fighter and this is worth fighting for. I have no doubt that she will wake, I just don't know when." He tried not to wince as the half lie dropped from his lips.
Koshijiro's face darkened even more, but before he could say anything more Kazumi asked, "May we stay here until she does?"
Kenshin exhaled softly and nodded, grateful for the change of subject. "Please, make yourself at home. But I would ask that you to leave Kaoru to me, I will let you know as soon as she wakes."
Koshijiro looked as if he was going to argue, but thankfully Dr. Genzai came in at that point from his own examination of Kaoru and said, "I think that would be for the best for Kaoru-san too."
Kenshin smiled, having the aged doctor in his corner had once again proved to be his greatest asset. His relief was short lived though as Dr. Genzai threw him a grave look and tilted his head towards the bedroom. Immediately understanding Kenshin paled and without another word he took off for the bedroom hoping and praying she'd be breathing again when he got there.
But he knew as soon as he reached his bedroom that his hopes were for naught. Nothing but silence greeted him as he raced to the edge of the bed and he laid a hand on Kaoru's forehead, hoping she would feel the contact and know he was still there waiting for her. "Come on, Kaoru. Don't give up now."
One agonizing long moment passed, followed by another and then another before Kaoru finally arched slightly and inhaled deeply, filling her lungs to capacity as her heart shuddered back to life. Stifling a bone-weary sigh, Kenshin watched for a moment to make sure she was indeed breathing again before he rose and went to close the door. The last thing her parents needed right now was to see a scene like that if it happened again.
Soundlessly making his way back to Kaoru, he settled down on the bed beside her head and leaned back against the wall. He sighed softly and closed his eyes as he absently started toying with her hair, relishing in the sound of her steadily beating heart. If this kept up much more he was going to lose it. This was the fourth time in as many hours that she'd died since he'd brought her home. Each instance had set his own heart pounding, his breath held as he waited helplessly. He didn't know how much more he could take.
His only consolation was the fact that each time she died she seemed to revive herself more quickly than the last time, even if it could only be measured in seconds. That little bit was enough to keep him going. Now all he needed was for her to open her eyes and his world would finally be set right.
With a jaw cracking yawn, he finally opened his eyes and slid down until he was laid out beside her on his side. Propping his head up with one hand, he wrapped the fingers of his other one around one of Kaoru's limp hands, cradling it gently. Unfortunately he had no idea just how long that might be. But he would wait... because right now that was all he could do. Watch and wait.
But what he didn't count on was the bone-deep exhaustion that all of a sudden swept through him, sapping his energy. Fighting it off the best he could, he managed to stay awake for another half an hour before the steady thumping of Kaoru's heart lulled him into a light, dreamless sleep; his head dropping from his hand to land beside hers on the pillow, his steady breathing soon slowing to match hers.
x x x x x
The first thing Kaoru became aware of as she finally starting rising out of the achingly empty darkness was a soft, warm puff of air rhythmically hitting her temple. The gentle breeze of it stirring the few loose hairs caught in its path. Latching onto the familiar sensation like a life line, she forced her way further up out of the inky blackness surrounding her very being and desperately searched for another sign that she was still alive and not just hallucinating.
And she found it. Or at least she thought she did.
Forcing herself to flex her fingers in an effort to actually feel the hand she thought she could sense holding hers, she almost cried when the hand suddenly tightened and she heard the soft calling of her name through a thick cotton wall. Grasping onto the hand with every last bit of strength she could muster, she followed the sound of her name as it came again; dragging herself up out of the depths, fighting for the life she now knew was there if she could only manage to reach it.
And after what felt like an eternity of swimming blindly through the thick murky blackness she finally succeeded; her consciousness quickly expanding to her entire body as she became aware of the sounds and scents now surrounding her. Relishing the simple feeling of being alive, she inhaled the unique scent that defined Kenshin as she slowly opened her eyes; blinking owlishly a couple of times in the subdued light before she found him hovering off to her left.
For a moment she just stared at him and then she managed to whisper, "... Hi..."
A wide smile broke out across Kenshin's face and she hesitantly reached up to touch his cheek to make sure he really was there and not a figment of her imagination. She sighed softly and smiled as her fingers came into contact with cool, smooth flesh, "I made it..."
Kenshin chuckled at that and gently trailed his fingers along her face as if he couldn't quite believe she was actually awake, talking to him. "Yes. You did. Although it was touch and go for a very long time. To be honest you scared the hell out of me."
Kaoru's smile fell slightly as she gently tried to push herself up into a sitting position, the muscles in her body screaming at the unwanted movement. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to."
Kenshin shook his head and helped her sit up. "Don't be. It's not your fault."
Kaoru smirked. "No," she agreed as she gratefully settled against the wall, "It's yours."
She almost laughed at the stunned look that flew across Kenshin's face.
"I suppose you can consider it payback for not telling me just what was going to happen when I drank that stuff." She grouched half-heartedly, as she gingerly stretched out her arms and legs in an effort to relieve the severely abused muscles. Shuddering slightly at the memory of that white hot pain, she gave him a withering look, "You could have at least told me that I'd feel like I was being turned inside out when that stuff kicked in. I have never felt that kind of pain in my life. Ever."
Kenshin smiled sheepishly. "I didn't want to scare you away from the change." And then his smile fell away to be replaced by a far more serious look. "You deserve the sun more than anyone else in this miserable world, and I didn't want you to give it up because of that."
Kaoru snorted softly and was just about to tell him that if the possibility of dying hadn't stopped her then why would that, when the rest of what he'd said finally hit her. She swung her attention to the heavily curtained window on the other side of the bed where she thought she could see a faint outline of light, "Do you think it really worked?"
"Would you like to find out?" Kenshin asked softly.
Kaoru tried to ignore the faint twinge of fear that whispered through her chest and glanced back to him, "More than anything in the world."
Kenshin smiled as he stood up and offered her his hand. "Then let's go see."
For a minute Kaoru just stared at his hand wondering if she was ready for this or not. And then she hesitantly reached out and set hers in his as she eased herself off the edge of the bed. It had to be done sometime and now was good a time as any.
Kenshin smiled at her wariness but said nothing as he guided her slowly around the edge of the bed. Breathing a soft sigh of relief as her muscles eased even more with movement, Kaoru absently glanced to her right as they rounded the end of the bed and suddenly stopped dead in her tracks as her breath caught painfully in her throat. Her mind stunned by the image reflecting back at her from the ancient mirror hanging on the wall.
A heartbeat later Kenshin released her hand and came up behind her with an understanding smile, "Can you see yourself?"
Still too stunned by the impossibly bright sapphire gaze staring back at her to think up a coherent reply, Kaoru simply nodded. Dr. Genzai had been right, her eyes virtually glowed in her now extremely pale face, her loose midnight black hair emphasizing both to the point that she almost looked like an entirely different person. At least to her she did.
Kenshin must have read her thoughts because he leaned in until his breath brushed softly against her ear and whispered, "You look no different to me."
Kaoru scoffed softly and gave him a sideways look, "Then you must be blind."
Kenshin chuckled and dropped a soft kiss on the exposed skin of her shoulder before he reclaimed her hand and started leading her towards the door again. "You have always been beautiful to me. The vampire blood simply enhanced those features."
Kaoru couldn't help the blush that pinked her cheeks as she followed him out of the room and down the hall to the livingroom; the feel of his featherlight kiss a lingering warmth on her skin. No matter how many times he said something like that, she still found it hard to believe. Maybe someday she'd finally take him for his word... but until then...
Shrugging to herself, she started to glance his way when a sharp inhaling of breath caught her attention. Surprised, she shifted her attention over his shoulder to the source of the sound and for the second time in less than five minutes she stopped dead in her tracks, shocked by the sight of her parents and Dr. Genzai standing in the middle of Kenshin's livingroom. For a long moment she just stood there staring open mouthed and then she finally managed to find her voice and mumbled, "How - "
But that was as far as she got as her mother quickly closed the distance between them and wrapped her in a bone crushing hug, the tears glistening in her eyes striking Kaoru hard.
Startled by the simple statement, Kaoru's stomach hit the floor and she hugged her mother back just as tightly. "You weren't suppose to know," she whispered around the painful lump suddenly lodged in her throat.
"You should have told us yourself." Her father said gruffly as he came up behind her mother, the clear relief shining in his eyes taking the bite out of his words. Giving him a small sheepish smile, Kaoru gently pulled herself out of her mother's arms then wrapped him in a tight hug, "I'm sorry, I just didn't want you guys to worry."
Her father scoffed softly and gave her a quick squeeze, then stepped back and crossed his arms. "We were worried anyway. That's why we're here."
Kaoru grinned at that, but before she could say anything her mother reached out and tucked her loose hair behind her ears. Fixing her with an unwavering, if watery stare her mother took in all her changes; her silence almost deafening. Bearing with it the best she could, Kaoru resisted the sudden urge to fidget as her new features were inspected, the intense scrutiny making a shiver of uneasiness slither up her spine.
"You look... different. But not as much as I thought you would." She finally said and Kaoru let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, immensely relieved for some reason. With a small smile she was just about to disagree when her mother caught her completely off guard. Whispering, "I've never seen such beautiful eyes," so softly that Kaoru was sure she was the only one who had heard it.
Kaoru felt her cheeks heat up at that, embarrassed to hear that from her mother. That was the second time someone had said that word in the last five minutes and it was just a little bit... unsettling. Especially when one of them was her own mother. But before she even had a chance to respond, her mother suddenly shook her head as if she had just awakened and stepped back to stand beside her father.
"Did this change do what it was supposed to?" Dr. Genzai spoke up softly, asking the one question everyone was thinking.
Shrugging, Kaoru was just about to say she didn't know yet when Kenshin nodded beside her and said, "Yes. I think it did."
Surprised, she swung widened eyes at him and he smiled, "No ordinary vampire has a reflection."
Kaoru quirked an eyebrow confused for a second and then she whispered, "Oh..." sheepishly as the truth finally hit her.
Kenshin's smile widened and he walked the five steps to the door and opened it so she could see the bright afternoon sunshine spilling over the world just beyond his front porch, "Are you ready to feel the sunshine?"
Kaoru's eyes flew wide and she tensed as a sudden surge of fear-tainted anticipation stole her breath away. Was she? Was she really ready for this? To have the one thing that she had been denied for so long?
For several moments she just stood there staring at the inviting rays of light that had, up until this moment, meant nothing but death to her. Not even realizing that for the first time in her life she was actually seeing the sunshine without the mind-numbing pain that usually came with the raw light.
And then she took one cautious step forward, completely oblivious to the three sets of anxious eyes watching her every move. Taking another step and then another, she slowly closed the distance to the door as Kenshin backed out onto the porch, silently inviting her to follow as she came to the threshold. The bright rays now filling her entire world as a warm breeze eddied softly through the opening. With one last steadying breath, she quickly crossed over the last barrier between her and the outside world before she could lose her nerve.
And promptly froze mere inches away from the distinct line on the deck that split the shaded area she was still in from the sea of sunshine beyond, unable to move another inch. This was too much, too fast. What if it didn't work? Would she be stuck in the darkness... forever?
Sickened by the thought, she tried to stomp down the chest-tightening fear stealing her breath away. Kenshin said it had worked. If she could see herself in the mirror then it must have worked. Right?
"It's going to be okay, Kaoru. I promise." Kenshin said softly as he backstepped down the first two steps of the porch into the bright sunshine. The hand now held out to her being the only part of him still remaining in the shade.
Still unsure, Kaoru simply stared at him for a long moment absently noting the way the bright sunshine made his already fiery red hair seem to glow like molten lava. And then with one last steadying breath, she shook off all of her reservations and reached out; setting her hand in his as she took the one step that would bring her into the sunlight.
Holding her breath painfully in her chest, she watched as the sun first touched her fingers and then slowly crawled up her arm, waiting for the intense pain and instant blistering that usually came with the exposure. But the only sensation she felt as Kenshin guided her down the steps and into the front yard was warmth as the sun completely washed over her. Nothing but a bone-deep, soul-cleansing warmth.
Releasing her breath in a rush, Kaoru laughed in sheer joy as she dropped Kenshin's hand and flung her arms out spinning around like a little kid. The feeling of absolute freedom making her giddy. Stopping before she made herself dizzy, she closed her eyes and eagerly turned her face to the sky, relishing the feel of the warm rays heating her flesh. The bright sunshine filling her senses to nearly bursting.
With a deep breath, she inhaled the intoxicating scent of sun-warmed earth surrounding her then finally dropped her attention back to Kenshin and with a huge smile flung herself into his arms. "Thank you!"
Kenshin laughed softly and wrapped his arms around her tight as he stumbled back a step. "There's no need to thank me. You deserved it."
If she could have, she would have cried as she hugged him even tighter, "I don't know about that, but thank you anyway. Without you I would have died without ever feeling this."
Kenshin snorted softly at that and gently extricated himself. "I guess when you put it that way all I can really say is you're welcome. Although I didn't really do anything but set it all up."
Kaoru smiled and lifted up on her toes to place a soft kiss on his cheek, "That was enough."
To her immense delight Kenshin's cheeks pinked slightly at that and she was just about to do it again to see if she could get the same reaction when a throat suddenly cleared loudly off to her right. Startled, Kaoru swung her head around and blushed herself when she saw her parents and Dr. Genzai standing a little ways away with wide smiles on their faces.
"Are you two finished?" Her father asked in an uncharacteristically playful tone, as he cocked an eyebrow in obvious amusement. Blushing another two shades of red, she nodded guiltily as the three of them walked the few feet to where she and Kenshin stood. And then her mother grabbed her and hugged her tight. "I can't believe it worked."
Kaoru wrapped her arms around her and sighed softly as her chest constricted, "To be honest I can't either."
A light chuckle was her only answer, and then her mother pulled back to ask, "So, what do you want to do now that you're not trapped inside all day?"
Surprised by the question, Kaoru simply stared at her, unsure just what she wanted to do now that she was free from her forced daytime confinement. And then it struck her just what it was she wanted to see now that she was allowed to be in the sun.
"I want to go to the beach." She answered simply, "I want to see the sunshine dancing on the ocean with my own eyes."
"Then that's what we'll do." Kenshin said from beside her, as his fingers twined around hers. Giving him a bright smile, she couldn't contain the tiny squeak of excitement that escaped her throat. Glancing to her parents, she asked, "Do you want to come?"
Her mother and father both shook their heads. "No, I think we'll let you two go alone. But come visit when you get back, okay?" Her mother replied with a wave of her hand, silently shooing them away.
Kenshin didn't waste a minute and started leading her down the path as she quickly tossed, "We will." over her shoulder before they got too far away.
And then without a backward glance she settled into step beside Kenshin; a companiable silence falling between them as they made their way down the partially shaded, quiet road. They'd only made it a short ways away from the house though when a small gust of warm wind blew her loose raven locks across her face. Subtly reminding her that she should have her hair up if she was going to go face the ocean breeze. Making a small annoyed sound in the back of her throat, Kaoru tucked the wayward locks behind her ear and was just about to tug Kenshin to a stop so she could go put her hair up, when he stopped of his own accord and fished a long, dark blue length of ribbon out of his shirt.
Surprised, she was just about to ask where he'd gotten that from when he stepped behind her. "I've been holding on to this since we left the clinic..." he said softly in explanation, as he lifted her hair off her neck and began tying it up, leaving the hair framing her face free from the ponytail.
Blushing furiously at the simply yet meaningful gesture, Kaoru whispered, "Thanks Kenshin... for everything..."
A heavy, bone-deep sigh came from behind her and Kaoru felt her heart jump into her throat. Anxiously waiting for him to finish tying the ribbon into a bow, Kaoru cautiously turned around and immediately forgot how to breathe when she met the impossible bright violet eyes pinning her to the spot. And then Kenshin gave her one of the heartwarming smiles she had come to covet as he trailed his fingers softly along her cheek and said, "Don't thank me anymore. You cursed yourself to an infinite lifetime with me to have the sun, and with that one deed you made my life worth living again. You have no reason to thank me when you have already given me the one thing I've always wanted... someone I love to share forever with."
Surprised by the confession, Kaoru could only stare at him as a warmth that had nothing to do with the heat of the sun flooded her veins. Desperately trying to think of something to say, she was somewhat relieved when Kenshin took her silence as understanding and simply smiled in satisfaction as he reclaimed her hand and started leading them down the road again. Unable to do anything but follow him, Kaoru cast a surreptitious glance at his profile and secretly smiled. He wasn't the only who had gained a companion from this, she had waited her whole life to have this kind of love.
Forever may be a long time, but she knew that together they would be able to face it head on and live happily... beneath the bright rays of the sun.
And there you have it, two years almost to the day and we have finally reached the end of 'A Walk in the Sunlight'. I want to give a heartfelt thank you to all of you who read and reviewed, or even just read (I tend to be a silent reader too), you have no idea how much your continued interest and support helped me to get this story finished. I admit it was quite fun writing this story but also very draining this time for some reason.
And now that I've said that I do have some bad news, I have decided to gracefully bow out of the fanfiction world for a little while. Not forever though, I do have a couple of other fics kicking around my head, one canon Kenshin/Kaoru and one Enishi/Kaoru but they are just that, ideas. Once I have figured out how they are going to end and can keep the muse from rebelling, I'll start getting them down but until then I'm just going to relax and simply read other author's work. So thank you again for your unending support, I really do appreciate it.
FanArt Alert - Although this page says The End the actually ending to this story is in the form a beautiful piece of art done for me by MelyCat at devART. So please, when you are finished reviewing if that is what you wish to do, stop over to my profile page and follow the link in the fanart section to see the true ending to this story.
I also need to give MelyCat a heartfelt thank you for betaing everything I've ever written. Without her my stories would have been quite a bit rougher. She has saved me from sounding like a complete idiot. :D
And now with all that said, I guess there is only one other thing I'd like to say before I go and that is please review if you are so inclined. I'd love to know what you thought of this story.