chapter 1: dreams
He was running, urgency pounding through his veins. The night sky was black overhead and the sound of his swiftly beating footsteps echoed through his mind. Kenshin gripped his sakaba sword horizontally at his side as he ran, praying that he wasn't too late. His troubled lavendar eyes searched the streets, his breath coming in shorter and shorter gasps. The dark gates of the Kamiya Dojo loomed ahead of him, the frightening sound of clashing metal ringing in his ears. Kenshin drew his sword in a wide sweeping motion, fighting his own limits in order to run faster. Just as he approached the open gates, he skidded to a halt and turned to stare into the dojo's courtyard, his heart beating wildly. What he saw made his blood run cold in horror.
He could only see her back but he knew it was her. She was wearing her familiar training outfit: a dark grey hakama and a white gi. Kenshin's eyes widened in horror - what was that rust stain spreading on one shoulder of her gi? He watched with horrified fascination as a thin trail of thick red liquid ran down her forearm from under her sleeve. The droplets of blood dripped from her fingers onto the hilt of a...sword? The silver flash of a Japansese long sword. Only then did Kenshin see her opponent in the darkness - a dark-haired man holding up a sword, preparing to attack. The man crouched in an attack position.
"Kaoru," the name escaped Kenshin's lips as a strangled prayer.
Kenshin, gripping the handle of his sword, began to rush forward as the other man lunged for Kaoru.
Too slow... a gnawing voice taunted Kenshin's tortured mind.
Before Kenshin was even able to pass through the gates of the dojo, the ringing of steel against steel assualted his ears. Kaoru and the man were locked in tight combat, their swords sailing through the pitch dark quickly. Still running forward, Kenshin panted in frustration as he watched Kaoru parry and thrust and then -
"Kaoru!" a strangled cry flew from Kenshin as he anticipated their next move.
Both fighters had thrust their swords forward. Both were still for what seemed an eternity to Kenshin. Then Kaoru's back arched slowly, her blood trickling from the sword that was protruding from her back. He heard her gasp softly, quivering slightly as her white gi slowly turned red. Kenshin stared in silent horror, his sword clattering to the ground, as both Kaoru and her opponent fell slowly backwards away from eachother onto the courtyard ground - both of their swords bloody to the hilt, both of their chests growing dark from each of their own life-blood slowly draining from their bodies. The metallic smell of blood assaulted Kenshin's senses as he felt the sudden urge to vomit.
"Kaoru," he choked, as he stumbled forward hazily, "Kaoru."
"I'm sorry," Kaoru breathed softly, in heart-wrenching agony.
Kaoru's eyes fluttered closed, a tear gliding from the corner of one eye and falling to the ground - a sound that resonated in Kenshin's ears with excruciating pain.
As Kenshin, eyes burning, continued to approach in stumbling steps, he faltered and was suddenly falling. He fell, eyes refusing to open, and then everything was black.
Darkness, darkness everywhere. Except for a sliver of moonlight that streched across his thin blankets. Kenshin sat up on his futon, gripping his chest and breathing heavily. What terrible dreams. His eyes slowly grew accustomed to the dimnesss of his room at the Kamiya household. Gradually calming, he lay back in bed uneasily, thoughts racing.
Kenshin tried to close his eyes and rest.
With an exasperated sigh, Kenshin sat up again. He climbed slowly to his feet and stretched gently. With neat movements, he quickly folded up his futon and placed it in a corner. In a few minutes he had already changed from his thin sleeping yukata into his familiar red gi and white hakama. As he slipped out of his room, he deftly tucked his sword into the folds of his belt. With catlike quietness, Kenshin padded down the hall towards Kaoru's room. He stopped by the entrance to her room and pressed his ear gently to the thin rice paper. He heard her softly breathing. Holding his breath, Kenshin slid the door open a crack and peeked in. Kaoru was lying on her side, the gentle rise and fall of her breathing apparent. Kenshin slid the door shut again as silently as he could and, with a contented sigh, started towards the kitchen to prepare breakfast.
"Good morning!" Kaoru cried joyfully, entering the kitchen.
"Oro?" Kenshin glanced up from pouring some tea.
"Ugly's finally up," muttered Yahiko between bites, just loud enough for everyone to hear.
"What's that, kid?" Kaoru asked, glaring down at the small boy.
"I said -"
"Here, Kaoru-dono!" Kenshin interjected happily, handing Kaoru a small cup of tea with a wide smile.
"Oh," Kaoru said, slightly distracted, "Thank you Kenshin."
"So," Kenshin began, smiling as always, "Why are you so happy this morning?"
Kaoru grinned wickedly.
"Oro?" Kenshin blinked his wide carefree eyes at kaoru.
"I," she began, still grinning ear-to-ear, "Am going to go buy a new kimono today!"
"That's it?!" sputtered Yahiko, "That's the reason you're so happy? Geez, as if it would change any-" He stopped when he saw the look of pure death gleaming from Kaoru's eyes. "Fine, fine," he ammended, "Do whatever you want."
"I will," kaoru said resolutely, "It's my money anyway - I feel like buying something nice."
"That's nice Kaoru," Kenshin replied, nodding.
"Great!" Kaoru exclaimed happily, standing up, "So then, let's go!"
"Hmm?" Kenshin questionned innocently.
"Well?" Kaoru hinted impatiently.
Kenshin stared at her blankly.
Heaving an frustrated sigh, Kaoru prodded, "Let's go already!"
"Kenshin!" Kaoru yelled, "Aren't you coming with me?"
Realization dawned on Kenshin's placid face. "Ahh..." he nodded, rising slowly, "Let's go then, Kaoru-dono."
"And what about me?" Yahiko demanded.
Kaoru put a finger to the corner of her mouth and pretended to think.
"You," she said, pointing to the dojo, "Are going to scrub the floors as usual."
Yahiko gaped at her.
"Well then," Kaoru sang happily, turning towards the gate, "Let's go Kenshin!"
Kenshin threw a sympathetic glance at Yahiko who was still gaping wide-mouthed at them and then turned to follow Kaoru out the gates.
The market was bustling with people as usual. Kenshin and Kaoru threaded their way slowly through the crowd, eyeing trinkets and fingering fine cloths here and there. Kenshin walked almost lazily, glancing now and then at the young woman beside him. Kaoru was alive with excitement, her eyes darting from stall to stall in search of the new kimono. Kenshin half-smiled to himself. So young, he thought. His eyes softened. So innocent He watched her as she bent slightly to examine the design on a blue fabric, her kimono rustling slightly as she moved. Kenshin sighed.
"Kenshin," Kaoru asked inquisitively, "Do you smell that?"
Kenshin sniffed the air curiously. There was a stench in the air. A husky, woodsy smell. Burning.
Down the road, a small crowd was gathering. A thin trail of dark smoke was rising from the middle of the group. Also recognizing the smell, Kaoru started towards the commotion.
"Kaoru-dono," Kenshin warned gently, "Maybe we should just go home?"
Kaoru shot him a stubborn look that obviously meant that they were going to investigate the matter. Kaoru unceremoniously pushed through the crowd, emerging at the centre of the circle.
"He sent my sons to their death!" An big, bearded man shouted angrily.
A loud murmur of agreement rose from his followers.
"This man, and everything he stood for must be torn down! Burnt to ashes - just like this plaque!"
The burly man pointed down at the smoldering plaque that lay at his feet.
"Don't you know you're causing an uproar?" Kaoru yelled at the man angrily.
The man turned irate eyes on Kaoru but she remained unflinching.
"Go home little girl," He snarled, "This doesn't concern you."
Kaoru straightened arrogantly. "What do you know? It's wrong to burn others' symbols."
"Do you know what this man did?" The incensed man demanded loudly, "This man taught our sons to kill. He fought as an assasin for the shogunate. He killed mercilessly! He is the one who sent our sons to their deaths! And then," the man's voice grew strained from anger, "He dares preach a philosophy of protection. Kamiya was nothing but a fake!"
Kaoru was suddenly silent, her body paralyzed. Her stricken blue eyes wandered to the burning plaque at the man's feet. Kamiya she read silently Kamiya. Her eyes lifted back to the man, filling with confusion.
"What are you talking about?" she whispered, her voice rasping.
"You see, little girl," The man muttered, "Kamiya was the most violent of men. And then he pretends to be peaceful. He was a fake. A hypocrite. A-"
"Enough!" Kaoru shouted, covering her ears and shaking her head violently, "My father was a good man and peaceful too. He taught the sword that protects life!"
A hush fell upon the crowd.
"You," the huge man stammered angrily, "You. I thought his accursed line had died out."
The big man's eyes wandered to the man beside Kaoru. His angry gaze rested on the red hair, the cross scars, the samurai sword. "How fitting," the man growled, "That the daughter of the most corrupt and violent man in the Edo era should associate with the likes of the Hitokiri Batoussai. You make a perfect pair."
"Fujiwara," a thin, lean man from behind addressed the big man, "You should make an example of this little bitch."
Kenshin eyes narrowed as he eyed the man warily. The man called Fujiwara approached Kaoru slowly, looming above her. Kaoru still had her hands over her ears, her eyes closed tightly. Kenshin's grip on the hilt of his sword tightened. Fujiwara noticed Kenshin's subtle movements and laughed derisively.
"Don't worry killer," he snarled, "I won't touch her. I'm not the filthy dog her father was." Fujiwara's eyes became slits of fury as he turned to stare down at Kaoru. "And you," Fujiwara muttered softly, in a tone so disgusted Kaoru winced with shame, "Know that your father is the reason for all the bloodshed I know of. He caused me all of my sufferings and I won't rest until his legacy is dead."
With those piercing words, Fujiwara turned and stalked away from the stricken Kaoru. Throwing hateful looks at the girl and the red haired young man, a group of mean-looking men trailed after Fujiwara, who was quickly disappearing from sight. Kenshin watched them retreat with cautious eyes. The rest of the onlookers had thinned, leaving the pair to watch the Kamiya family plaque burn. Kenshin looked at Kaoru worriedly. She had not moved, her hands still on her ears and her eyes clamped shut. He edged towards her uncertainly, at a loss. Kaoru was not aware of Kenshin's concerned purple eyes upon her. She didn't notice when he gently placed a hand on her frozen forearm. She didn't hear his voice calling to her worriedly. Swallowing painfully, Kaoru opened her eyes slowly, a thin trail of tears escaping them. Through her cloud of tears, she looked upon the still-smoldering wood before her. She could read it now. Kamiya Her father's name. Kamiya Her name. The plaque burned slowly, the letters becoming ash. Another tear slid down Kaoru's cheek. And all she could do was stare.
Her family name, in flames.
Gak! Hope someone like this! Please review so I know what you think and if I should be working hard on it!