Ok! Here's the revamped version! Why does it look the same? Good question! The only thing different is that the ending is longer! Turns out that the reason I didn't like it when I first posted was because it wasn't finished yet! Leave it to me to do something like that…but it's also part the story's fault since it took the spurring of a reviewer for the actual ending to click. In any case, now it has closure! Something that's good in a story's end, no?
Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin.
She was captivated to say the least with her surroundings. Notably, there was a difference in what she had seen every single time before. White was the color these days and nothing else save a small unnoticed black-rimmed patch stitched into the equally white oversized overalls to match a once perfectly white shirt.
She stared directly at the silver chair sitting patiently at ease by her intent gawking. The two men—another intense splash of forgotten color to her white-stained vision—behind her visibly relaxed. Unlike the indifferent chair, the men squirmed under her blank and disturbing stare. The one man, who was tall and had a full beard speckled salt-and-pepper-like, had just stood perfectly still, not making any sudden movements or eye contact. The other, a slightly taller man but who was smooth-shaven and much younger, had taken involuntary steps back with pensive, worried glances into those unsettling blue eyes.
Honestly, she would have laughed had it been any other situation than this. Or cried. Whichever came first. Only there seemed a lot more reasons to burst into helpless sobs than to laugh. Perhaps it would be both when the time was right; she would laugh and cry and scream all she wanted. She wondered silently if the chance would ever come…
Her father was a rich man. He had a large, well-groomed estate not an hour's drive away from the ocean: her most favorite place to go since she was a small child. Her father enjoyed taking time off from business to take her down there, to a small cove that her mother and father had found on their first night after moving into the estate.
It was a beautiful spot. The sunsets were immaculate against the horizon forefront of water, reflecting dancing colors from the sky. In the mornings, if they were ever there early enough, the dolphins were plentiful to watch as they played with the rolling waves.
They would feed the gulls as they hovered overhead on swift, sea salt winds. The scavenger seabirds would soon, once the food ran out, be chased away by the jovial calls and squeals of a running little girl, her ink black hair waving behind her with a shimmer of its own reflecting the sunlight as the locks bounced across her shoulders and blew with gusts of wind. The gulls would call their fright as the girl reached her arms to the sky as they took frenzied flight long before her small legs could have gotten her close. She would laugh and laugh, look back to her father to see him clutching his stomach with one hand as his deep tone played chorus to the laughter of the woman wrapped up in his other arm.
As the girl grew a few years older, her father would still be laughing as she chased those white and grey and black birds, but it would not be quite as full as before. And his one arm would be forever empty. He still took her to the ocean shore, to that small cove that her mother and father had found, but it never seemed to be the same without the woman she so lovingly called mother tucked by her father's side, protected by his strong arms.
She knew her mother had been protected by her father's arms, as she felt whenever taken into his embrace. She always thought it would all be alright as long as her father was there to wrap her and her mother in his arms. But her father could do little against a raging illness. She learned that though his arms were a safe place, a place to stay warm in the winter winds down at the cove or a fortress to stay her bad dreams, a father's embrace could only do so much.
She cried at her mother's passing, but not near as much as she secretly saw her father. His tears shocked her, for she had never seen him cry. That first time when the man just broke down and cried, she ran to his side, fallen to her knees in front of him, and wrapped her little arms around his shoulder. Once, just that one time if there wasn't to be another, she wanted to be the protector.
It wasn't long after that when she noticed her father beginning construction of a strange building at the western corner of their immensely large backyard; it was something to occupy his mind after, and sometimes during, work hours. The site was far from her swing set and sandbox—which then, at the prime age of nine, she insisted she was much too old for—and the tree house with the rope ladder and small windows as well as a door.
She had asked him what it was. He smiled at her as they stood at the wall window in the common room overlooking the backyard with the answer, "You'll see in time, Kaoru."
"But what is it?"
Her father chuckled as he moved toward the glass door leading to the veranda that spilled into a number of steps meeting the green grass of the yard. "It's a surprise. Be patient."
"Kamiya, sir," a younger looking man knocked on the glass from outside. "Would you like to come and choose your accessories now or would later be a better time?" he asked once Koshijirou opened the door for the grimy, sweat-covered man.
"Now is fine," he answered. "I would like to at least see what there is so I can make the best choices."
"Of course, sir," the young man beamed, turning a wink towards Kaoru, who had pressed her face against the glass to get a better look.
"Kaoru," Koshijirou said before following the young man. "Please stay inside."
"Alright," she chirped. "But you promised we could go to the beach today."
"Not today, Kaoru."
Her brow knotted as she looked up at him, her wide blue eyes questioning. "But, it's Saturday and you said you weren't busy-"
"Not today," he snapped. "I'm sorry, Kaoru, but I can't go today. There are some things I have to see to here. Maybe next weekend."
Kaoru had nodded only as a puzzled nine-year-old could at her father's request…
Kaoru withheld a sigh as the younger man behind her whispered for an estimated time someone would show up, when their babysitting would be done. It became silent again after the questioning man was cut off with a curt "Shh!" save for the uncomfortable strain of shifting nylon vests and the occasional squeak of a shoe.
The knock on the door scared the men more than it startled her: they were expecting anything from the woman in response to the sudden noise. Not in the mood for the usual dramatics, Kaoru merely turned her practiced, blank stare towards the door, adding a slight droop to her eyelids to mock drowsiness, or whatever the men decided to interpret it as. The men relaxed again. It was become something of a sport for her: seeing just how long her actions could keep them on edge. One of them opened the door—she had turned around, slowly, feigning a complete lack of interest—and closed it softly. He fussed at the newcomer in a tone that wanted to be a yell but knew it could not be. He was quiet and sharp with the one outside, but his displeasure at almost having a problem on their hands was clear in his voice.
Kaoru couldn't hear what they said after that, but it could only be a further delay. With time to kill, she turned around again, and immediately killed the threat of laughter showing in her eyes when the younger of the men glanced at her. The seed of apprehension in his light blue eyes grew into fear when Kaoru would not look away. Only when his fingers began to twitch for the feel of the cool metal from his belt to be in his palm did she finally release him.
There was a mirrored wall directly across from her; she wasn't sure if someone was behind it yet or not. Her guards weren't angled right for them to see her reflection in that mirror, but that still stopped her from smiling when the young guard nearly squeaked that he needed a piss break…
The construction went on for many months. School ended for Kaoru, which would have meant more time to spend with her father and at the cove during the hot months of summer. A tradition since Kaoru could remember was family escape the first weekend Kaoru was out of school. They would drive out to the beach in the early morning and spend the entire day playing in the sand and water, eating sandwiches, and burying Koshijirou unaware as he took his afternoon nap.
That year, that first weekend, Kaoru didn't catch a glance of her father. And she still didn't know what the big to-do was about in the backyard.
Kaoru thought it was a very ugly thing and the excitement of it wore away once the thing started taking shape. It was a box. At that point it was still a skeletal frame, but she had snuck into her father's office once and unrolled the architectural blueprints and plans before getting shooed away by one of the architects.
They were a strange folk, those architects. They would spend all day under any weather watching the construction workers laugh and yell as the endless clamor of noises from power tools and trucks and other various motorized vehicles that Kaoru would often dream of riding in—the one she saw dig like a shovel was her favorite—kept the place as busy as ever. After hours, Kaoru would more than often see at least one of the five architects speaking with her father on strange things that made no sense to her, such as compacted furnaces for more heated blazes, many different combinations of metals and steel for strength, the cost of certain accessories that would decorate the walls of the structure, and the tolls of magical whatnots.
When these meetings were through, her father would retreat and the architect or architects would sit drinking her father's ales and wines, and have pleasant small-talk if there were more than one.
"Daddy," she questioned Koshijirou one afternoon when he had finally taken her to the cove. He wasn't any fun; he just sat thinking, staring off into the frothy waves or the shell-covered dunes in the direction where he had parked the car.
"What is it, Princess?" he asked softly, as if tired.
"I know you won't tell me what it is. It's a surprise," she needn't explain "it". "It" had been in plenty of previous conversations. "But those men, the ones who stand there a lot, why are they here?"
Koshijirou took a deep breath, then smiled. "They're the ones who are in charge of the construction. They make sure everything is right as it's built and even before they start building."
"But, they're here all the time!" she complained, kicking over her sand castle.
He chuckled, watching behind his sunglasses as Kaoru bash her lopsided castle back into the sand with little feet. "They're very important. They have to be here a lot so nothing goes wrong. It all has to be precise and perfect for it to work. If not…"
Kaoru didn't see the way her father trialed, she was busy throwing sand over her legs. "When it's done, can I play on it?"
"No," Koshijirou said, leaning back against the rocks. "No, you can't play on it."
Her lower lip stuck out for a short moment before she remembered her declaration that she was no longer a small child, and instead stuck her chin out a little too far. "Then why do we have it if I can't play on it?"
"It'll still be exciting, Princess. Just be patient," he assured her before yawning.
Kaoru was patient, like her father requested. She was patient for years…
Kaoru had a reputation, and it was one to be held. It was a false reputation attached to a woman who didn't really exist, even though that woman was herself. Although, with the constant blanket of white that had nothing to do with snow—which she wondered if she would ever be able to stand again—it wasn't a far thought that this insanity could possibly sneak up on her. But for now she felt she could be half content with ignorant and disobliging people.
So, for now, she was a thrashing mess full of frantic screams. Just the two guards had gotten extremely boring, especially when the young guy was replaced with another weather-faced old one. It had been decided then that she would cause misery for more, and had had the cavalry called in. She had waited until the right time, and the sudden noise of the door opening as the young guy left would be what was claimed the cause of her set off.
Jumped, nearly mangled, and dragged kicking, screaming, flailing for all her worth, it had taken six men to properly drag her from the room with the silver chair into a cozy room with a bed accompanied with a nice array of needles and syringes. Six. It was one more than the last time.
Kaoru wanted to be conscious once they all left: the busy bees buzzing around her, yelling things she had heard before and once had a dose of. She wasn't doing it again. Once the cold clamp was around her wrists and ankles, her head fell to the side and her body limp.
They lingered; leaving one-by-one to make sure the patient was ok, that no sedative was needed. Of course, there wasn't a real reason for any of it, but the fake one seemed more than enough for them.
A sapphire eye cracked once the door closed. Kaoru scanned for cameras. The metal and wire creatures were crawling everywhere and there was one intently focused on her. She seemed to sigh in exasperation much more these days.
It was worth it, she thought, overriding the message for her lips to smile. The way they had jumped when she screamed was priceless, but all of this was beginning to be a price that she no longer wanted to pay…
Preparing for collage was a hassle, especially when one's father wasn't any particular help. Not that Kaoru really blamed him. The business, for one reason or another, was going downhill at a frighteningly rapid pace. He wanted to make sure his daughter had everything she needed financially while finding her place and gathering her legs under her in the world. He seemed less worried about himself, and when that started Kaoru didn't really know.
But the least he could have done was say goodbye.
The campus wasn't far; she could have lived at home, but Koshijirou insisted she at least try out her own apartment first. When things got rough, he wouldn't think twice about helping her. Kaoru agreed with him, but reluctantly. She ruled out dorm life as quickly as possible. She informed her father that the noise would be too much, and she didn't want to deal with the possibility of a roommate from hell. The real reason was the curfew: Kaoru wanted to have time to make frequent stops and check ups on her father. It was something that couldn't be guaranteed at the dorms.
So, Kaoru opted for a small, somewhat grungy apartment complex nearly all the way across town. It didn't take long to learn the back roads and shortcuts that weren't already popular during the morning, lunch, and after school and work hours.
Her job was something she always said she'd never have: a waitress. Not that the Akabeko was a bad place; it was the complete opposite. It had a wonderful historic atmosphere, her boss was an angel named Tae who completely understood the chaotic ways of collage and was very lenient on Kaoru's work hours, and the fellow workers were a joy to work with.
It was the customers that were the problem.
Rude, crude, drunken fools, whining adults, "Miss Thangs", and the whole rest of the lot. Kaoru had them all and more. The occasional generous tips made her days though. But they were too few and far in between to really rely on them to make working as a waitress better.
She took the job; she was going to stick it out as long as she had too.
Those rare times when she wasn't nose-deep in notes and books or slaving for ungracious people at work, Kaoru was at home checking up on her father. Some days he seemed better than others. The days when he wasn't feeling up to par confused Kaoru. He wasn't sick as far as she understood. He was just drained, but restless like something was bothering him. Sometimes it would go so far as to look like paranoia.
Her visits became more frequent as she barely skimmed the lines for things: being late for work, classes, or skipping a few hours of homework and making up for it during the early morning hours.
The more time she spent at home, the more things seemed to go wrong. For days in a row, the people she waited at the Akabeko were the ones who grated her nerves the most. Grades in her classes dropped considerably, and she was in a car accident that totaled her small pick-up, leaving her to ride the bus at much earlier times just so she could make her morning classes on time.
Koshijirou reprimanded her once he found out about the grades. She had been keeping that under the table, but the car crash wasn't something that would fit being kept out of sight. At his request, her visits nearly came to a complete halt.
Strange enough, things changed for the better and the weight on her shoulders that she didn't know was there lifted.
On the other hand, once her first year was done, the business went under.
Furious, Koshijirou left for a couple weeks. He didn't say where.
The estate wasn't in any trouble, and there weren't any threatening debts lingering; Koshijirou was careful about that. The numerous accounts in the various banks were large. All in all, they were ok until things got started up again. There were a number of family friends who would be more than happy to help out with anything they could.
While her father was away, Kaoru contemplated moving back into the estate and shifting her funds more into things that were necessary. She was wandering the empty house—the maid was given a vacation. Kaoru tried to let the woman know that they wanted to rein as many things in money wise as possible for the time being, but the lady just insisted that she'd gladly work for free.—when she found herself walking by the common room and something caught her eye.
She blinked, walking to the window as the last sliver of the sun was slipping from the orange and pink splashed sky. She had forgotten the building that was in the backyard. The last time she had really thought about it was once it was finished a number of years ago.
Kaoru never was as interested in the ugly thing as her father had once thought she would. The purposely weathered look to the steel walls, in her eyes, was distasteful. The shining, silver weaponry shaped like some futuristic guns protruding from each corner of the square structure looked out of place. Her father had chosen the designs and the accessories. It wasn't a wonder why she didn't like it.
Once the sky was dark, flames from the center of the walls spewed upward, and Kaoru jumped.
Recalling a conversation that Koshijirou had with a neighbor when the thing was finally complete and housing some manner of creature, Kaoru stepped outside into the warm summer air. Her bare feet softly crunched the grass. Stopping an arm's distance from the wall closest to the house, Kaoru glanced it over and listened.
"Sometimes you can hear it roaring," Koshijirou had said to that neighbor, and every other person who stopped by to inspect the structure. "Or snarling. Whatever it is that these things do," he had added with a laugh.
Kaoru didn't hear anything.
She snorted, turning toward the house when the silent sniff caught her attention. It was breeze-like and hard to hear, but, with shock, she heard it: the soft sound of tears. Someone was crying.
At first, she thought it was from over the stonewall fence that barricaded her yard from trespassers, but once she walked far enough away from the small building the sound was gone. When she retraced her steps, the sound returned.
Not wanting to bother with it then, Kaoru quickly ran back inside and locked the back door. She locked the door to the side of the house in the kitchen as well.
After a quick stop in her old room, and a glance out the window, Kaoru was closing the front door when the chill of eyes on her ran the length of her spine. Turning, there was only the empty car she was using for the past few days and a second car down the street that hadn't been there before. The driver's side was blocked by the bushes at the end of her drive, so Kaoru glanced up once she reached her car.
There was a person inside the deep, deep red car; its color was odd under the streetlight. Their eyes were on the fence gate leading to her backyard, but slowly trailed to her. Almost yelping out of her stupor, Kaoru quickly jumped in her vehicle and drove down the street before realizing that the man, woman, whoever was staring at her back yard gate and just sitting rather conspicuously in front of her drive.
Robbery floated though her mind, and she U-turned in someone's driveway, gunning it back to the house. She'd be damned if she let some whack-job rob the house at a time like this. But when she slammed her brakes in front of the mailbox, there was no other car.
"So have you decided yet if you're going to move back home with your dad?" Tae asked pleasantly a few days following the home incident, after Kaoru told her that Koshijirou had returned from his sudden trip.
A sullen Kaoru wanted to sneer, but she chose to save the look for her current table's occupants.
"I…haven't," she confessed. "I'm still not sure. I don't understand why this is such a hard decision to make…"
"Well," Tae patted her hand with a smile. "Sometimes the hardest decisions end up being some of the best ones we make. Just wait it out and see what happens. Who knows; maybe there's a reason for this."
Kaoru smiled and thanked Tae as the woman stood to attend her own tables.
She stared at the meager tip the last larger group had left her after making her run like mad for their food, refills, and changed orders all in the name of "We don't have much time," they claimed. They certainly had enough time to make an absolute mess on the table.
"Kaoru?" Tsubame, one of the workers with a work schedule similar to Kaoru's since the girl was only in her last year of middle school, asked.
"Yes?" Kaoru grunted as she leaned under the table to fetch a dropped cup.
"Ms. Tae wanted me to let you know that after your last customer you can go home early today."
"Really?" Kaoru grinned, tucking a loose strand of her bangs behind her ear. "That actually sounds great. Tell Tae thank you for me, Tsubame."
"I will," the shy, little brunette smiled.
"Last table," Kaoru muttered to herself, looking over the evening crowd that was starting to thin out for the night. She waved to Tsubame, who was leaving with a boy who lived close to her. She and the brown-eyed, wild-haired punk who occasionally stopped by to do some chores for the Akabeko were excellent friends. Yahiko was his name, and he came by every evening when Tsubame's parents were too busy to take her home. In Kaoru's book, he was pretty ok for a punk.
Yahiko tossed Kaoru a rather mocking salute before following Tsubame outside.
Kaoru busied herself wiping down the table since there weren't anyone else seated in her designated section, but when she returned from the back Kaoru found the lone figure that was seated in Tae's section at one of her tables. Kaoru knew it was the same man. Hair that red and that long wasn't easily forgotten or hidden.
Miffed that now she couldn't talk her way out of having to deal with one more person, Kaoru plastered her smile on and quickly approached him.
"Anything I can help you with, sir?" She almost forgot the sir part when he looked at her. It wasn't so much the color of his eyes that shocked her, thought they were very different indeed, but it was something that she found familiar with him now that she saw him up-close, and it wasn't that she merely saw him from the corner of her eye when he walked in.
He smiled. "I noticed you were having a bit of trouble with that last group."
She frowned. "Did you?'
"I believe I said so," he replied, not affected in the least by her sudden mood swing.
"And is there something you'd like to say about it? If not, then can I please ask you to return back to your original table?"
"Why?" he asked. "Can't we as the customers move if we want to? Is this someplace where we can't?"
"Yes," she replied after a mere second of deciding weather to be nice or downright vent on this stranger.
He laughed. "Actually, I'd like to stay here. I like this table better. The services are more interesting over here."
Determined to find Tae, Kaoru whirled on the red-head. But when she found the woman, it was too late.
"Oh, he moved, did he?" Tae said as Kaoru approached her. "Well, there's your last one for the night, Kaoru. When he leaves I expect you to be close behind him. Go get some much needed rest. I should give you a bit of time off."
"No," Kaoru sighed. "No. I don't need any off time. I'll take care of him then get out of here."
Tae nodded with a smile. "Good. And I don't think I'd notice if you came in late tomorrow," the woman winked.
Kaoru smiled, but it was wiped away when she returned to check on her table. She had wandered for a time longer than she should have without checking the customer. It was a ploy she chose to use to get rid of the red-head so she could split. Her bed was calling so loud she could hear it all the way from her apartment.
But he was still there with the same cup of tea that Tae gave him.
"Excuse me, sir," Kaoru said, smiling almost viciously at him. "But if there's something else that you want…?"
He thought for a moment. "No. Not now, anyway. Thank you."
Kaoru was too distracted by his sudden exit to notice the twenty five dollars left beside the full teacup.
"Do you normally have this many unpleasant customers?" the red-head asked a number of days after his first visit.
Kaoru wanted to drop the wide, heavy bucket of dishes on his head, but worried that it might not do so well with Tae's business. She walked away instead. Unfortunately, he was sitting in her section again. And it was even a different section.
"Well?" he sprang the question on her as soon as she came relatively close enough for him to ask.
"Well, what?" she snapped.
"My question," The odd sparkle in his otherwise rather bland, sometimes blank, eyes flashed as she neared his table.
"Yes. Yes, I normally get people…like that. Drives me up the wall, but it's my job. Probably just some streak of bad luck."
"Do you believe in luck?"
That caught her off guard. Kaoru blinked. "What else could it be?"
"What else, indeed," he muttered softly and took a sip of his tea.
"Do you believe in luck?"
He set his cup down, turning his violet eyes to her. "Luck? Unlikely, I think. It's just when we happen to be at the right place at the right time with the right preparations, or the wrong place and the wrong time with nothing we have prepared. That's all so-called good and bad luck is."
"That's what you think?"
"You don't agree?" he asked, looking up from the teacup.
"It makes since, but what about at the right place at the wrong time? What would that be?"
He nodded. "There's that also. It could just be human error completely. Rushing into things to fast, to slow and we miss the first opportunity…things like that."
"Things like that?"
"It's what I said, no?"
"It is… It's just interesting."
"Never thought about that way?"
"I guess not," she relented.
"Human judgmental error…" he sighed, sitting back and looking up at her. "It can cause so many problems, can't it? It can drag others around us down as well, or leave them behind."
"Are you some kind of psychologist?"
"What?" he laughed.
"I'm just wondering," Kaoru replied, embarrassed. "I mean, you at least sound like you know what you're talking about."
He shrugged. "Maybe I do, but maybe I'm a nutcase trying to convince people of strange things. You never know, do you?"
"I suppose not. But I don't think you're a nutcase."
"Is that so?"
Kaoru smiled. "No, not a nutcase. Just weird."
"Weird," he grinned. "I guess that's a step or two up. I can live with that."
That night, Kaoru's tip from him was thirty, and he drank the tea.
Slowly, over the next couple weeks, the red-head became a regular. He was in his seat in Kaoru's section, wherever it happened to be that night, nearly every night. Conversations between them ranged from normal everyday routines and the collage courses Kaoru was taking the next year to the odd ones about anything he happened to bring up; she was happy to talk about anything with him. She found it strange sometimes after the man left that she was sharing so much about herself to him, and she didn't even know his name. But there was an equally strange sense of relaxation and peace whenever she was around him that overrode her cautiousness. The only time she fretted and mentally kicked herself over it was when he wasn't around, which was still most of the time.
"So, tell me your name," Kaoru said one evening. She was sitting with him at the table on a break. He looked up with an odd expression. "Oh, come on. You have to know mine by now, what with all the times you've bound to have heard it."
"You're right," he said after a short time. "My name is Kenshin."
"Well, it's a pleasure to have met you, Kenshin," she held her hand across the table with a smile.
Slowly, Kenshin took her hand but his smile was so strained she could see the way his teeth were clenched and the slight pinch of concentration around his eyes.
"Is something wrong?' she asked when he quickly released her hand.
"Nothing, Kaoru," Kenshin's smile was normal and sweet.
She let it go, but he left much earlier than usual.
"Kaoru!" Tae said in a voice Kaoru recognized as soon as Kenshin was gone. Kaoru turned around to find the woman with a very large grin on her face. "I see you've found out the young man's name."
"How did you-?"
Tae laughed. "I know these things, Kaoru. I can see it!"
"See what?" Kaoru asked a bit too blandly.
Tae giggled when the slight pink tint brushed Kaoru's cheeks. "Well, he is handsome."
At that, to her dismay and Tae's enjoyment, Kaoru had to agree.
Kaoru visited her father after a time of giving the man some space to cope with the loss of the company, but Koshijirou wasn't coping very well.
Kaoru had found a number of expensive ales that he kept for special occasions empty and scattered on the floor in his office. Papers were strewn all over. Books, file folders, and even old charts on large poster boards littered the floor also.
When Kaoru found his tidy, well organized office in such a state, she sought him out to confront him. When she found him, he was sleeping heavily on top of the covers of his large bed, and was still dressed in his button-down shirt and black slacks. Kaoru carefully removed his tie from his neck. Koshijirou did not stir.
Her worry was easily picked up by both Tae and Kenshin.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, though not anywhere near the same manner in which Tae asked the very same question.
Kaoru's reaction was also different. "Is it really that easy to tell?" she responded heavily, and dropped her head to her folded arms. She was once again having a break—they seemed to grow in number by the day if not the hour—and was, once again, spending it inside the restaurant sitting across from her red-headed…friend.
"Mm, only for those who know you, I would say."
Kaoru peeked from under her bangs. "At least not everyone knows I've got problems," she growled, burying her face in her arms again.
"We all have our own problems," he smiled. "It's just harder to fix some than others."
"I agree with that," Kaoru raised her head with a sigh.
"Would it be too much to ask what's bothering you?"
She shook her head. "No. It's…my dad. The family business he owned just completely collapsed, and he's not taking it very well."
"I see," Kenshin withdrew, hid behind a mask that always would reappear at any given moment. It didn't bother her anymore. "How so?"
Kaoru's face scrunched. "The usual, I guess. Drinking, messes, a bit of isolation. I'm hoping it passes soon. I know that he could rebuild the company, with some help."
"Is he suffering from anything?" Kenshin asked, very interested. "Any…sickness of the body, or of the mind?"
"I don't know is he's sick," she frowned in thought. "And he's perfectly fine mentally, just devastated. Why'd you ask that?"
Kenshin shrugged. "You never know when something unexpected could come along."
"How are you taking it?" Kenshin sipped from his tea.
"About as hard as any rich girl would who is suddenly close to being poor, only without the raging, screaming fits I suppose. But, as I said, I'm more worried about my father…"
"If you would like to, may I ask to buy you dinner, say…tomorrow night? Perhaps it will help settle your mind with unfamiliar surroundings?"
Kaoru's wandering eyes wandered back to his face. "Kenshin," she smiled playfully. "Are you asking me on a date?"
"It depends," he returned her smile. "If I say yes, will you? If not, then I will say no."
Kaoru laughed softly, her smile growing into a grin. "Yes," she nodded. "Yes, I will go."
His bland eyes twinkled with laughter for a moment. "Then, yes, it's a date. How does after your shift sound?"
"Sounds good to me!"
Kenshin reached over the table and lightly grasped her hand in his, and brushed his lips over her knuckles. "I'll be waiting," he grinned almost sheepishly.
As he turned to leave, Tae rushed to his side, spoke a word to him, and rushed back into the kitchen.
The next night, Kaoru felt almost like she was floating on air she was so happy, which was strange considering that her father was sitting at home probably nursing yet another bottle of ale and sitting in a lawn chair facing the structure in the far corner of the yard. He had been there in the morning when she arrived, and hadn't moved when she left later than usual for work in the early evening. It was as if as soon as she stepped foot inside the doors of the Akabeko, the heavy feeling in her chest and on her shoulders that was always present, especially at home, lifted.
When she spotted Kenshin in the room, the weights completely disappeared.
He was sitting in her section, as was expected, but he was conversing quietly with Tae. His back was to Kaoru so Tae's facial expressions were seen. The woman was frowning slightly with her head cocked to the side in confusion. Kaoru ducked quickly into the kitchen and returned to see Tae speaking. What was being said, Kaoru couldn't tell. She wiped the table in front of her down without really concentrating on the table, but on Tae's face.
The woman's frown was still in place, but she began to nod and soon smiled. Glancing Kaoru's direction, Tae quickly finished the conversation and stood, her friendly smile ready for a customer just walking through the doors.
Kenshin leaned around to find Kaoru and catch her attention. He waved her to him with a smile.
"Evening, Kenshin," Kaoru chirped happily. "Anything I can get you?"
"Just the name of the place you would like to eat later."
She blinked. She hadn't thought about that. "Well, we don't have that one, sir," she grinned, tucking her notepad into the front pocket of her apron. "Might I take some suggestions?"
Kenshin straightened his back a little more and placed a rather snide look on his face. "Certainly." The look faded, and was replaced with a broad smile. "Actually, I was thinking of having dinner here. I've never eaten here before."
"Which is fascinating since you spend nearly every night here."
"I have my reasons," he grinned impishly.
Kaoru's cheeks tinted pink. "All good ones, I hope."
"Very good, yes," he nodded.
"Do we have to eat here?" Kaoru asked, veering the conversation back on track.
"We…don't have to," Kenshin relented. His tone was much less reluctant when he spoke again.
"Anywhere you like, but we will have to eat here at least once."
Kaoru placed her hands on her hips, mocking irritation. "Are you assuming that I'll even enjoy this first one, and you're already planning for others?"
Kenshin mocked thinking for a moment, tapping his chin. "Yes," he answered confidently. "Yes, I am."
Kaoru laughed. "I'll be back. My other tables are being neglected. I'll think of somewhere."
She did. Kenshin took her to a dinner movie theater at her request. When he questioned her choice with a look, Kaoru explained that she hadn't seen a movie in a long time, and there was one or two that she was interested in. Kenshin relented eventually, but all the while promised to treat her to a more exquisite place. Kaoru at first refused, but soon saw a stubborn streak in Kenshin that was nearly as big, if not bigger, than her own.
The next date, set a week later, was at such a place. It was not so fancy, which Kaoru appreciated, but it was very nice. Her pick for the next time was at first the cove at the beach, butshe changed her mind last moment, and asked instead to go see yet another movie. Again, Kenshin relented, but took her to the nicest theater in town and bought her dinner elsewhere.
Even with set dates, Kenshin still came in a little after her shift began at the Akabeko and left a bit before it was over. He would always ask about her father: how he was doing, if any progress was showing, and whether the state of Koshijirou's body and/or mental stability was up to par. Kaoru would always answer with a negative comment on how his wallowing was becoming very unnerving, his drinking increased since the past week, and his sleeping habits were so irregular now that he spent so much time pacing in front of or staring at the structure in the backyard. Even Kaoru herself began to really ask if her father's mental state was secure.
It was a hard question to ask.
"Kaoru," Kenshin asked softly. He was seated across from her in a coffee shop at a very small, high table near the window open to the streets.
Kaoru stopped stirring her chocolate Frappuccino and look up at him. His blue-violet eyes were guarded, but there was something in them she didn't recognize, and would have missed had she not been sitting so close to him. Tilting her head to the side with a smile she asked, "Yes?"
"Do you find me trustworthy?"
She blinked at the unexpected question. "O-of course I do, Kenshin," she assured him though she was confused. "Trust me, I wouldn't be sitting here with you, or any of those other times if I didn't. Why do you ask?" she laughed.
He opened his mouth to answer, but trailed without a sound. The guards fell thicker over his eyes and spilled over onto the rest of his face.
"Are you saying that I'm wrong to trust you?" she challenged lightly, leaning back from him.
"No," he answered quickly. "No, Kaoru, I want you to trust me. It…it means a lot to me, Kaoru. It really does," his smile suddenly swept over his face, brightening his features, but it was a false light. It was faint, but Kaoru noticed a difference in this smile and a true one. Something was bothering him.
"Is everything alright, Kenshin? You look worried."
"Oh, no, Kaoru," his smiled widened, but the beams did not follow as they should have. "Don't worry about me. Your father is already taking so much out of you. I can see it. I'd like it much better if you didn't worry so much, but…"
"He's my dad," she finished for him. He nodded solemnly. "I know that it makes you worry when I worry, but I can't help it, you know?"
"I understand. If there's ever anything you need, anything at all, no matter what it is," his eyes seemed to capture her with their sudden intensity. They were so much brighter and more…alive then she'd seen. "I promise you that I'll do whatever it is."
"Are you sure about that one, Kenshin?" she asked, breathless and wondering exactly when he had gotten that close. "Who knows what that could be? Maybe something crazy…"
He was tracing her cheek with the back of his finger. That strained look was on his face again, but it wasn't so severe. "You'll have to ask first, then we'll see, hm?"
"I'm very serious, Kaoru," he said to her slightly mocking tone, and drew away from her slowly. "I've given you my word. Don't take it so lightly, if you don't mind."
His voice had turned to a slow purr, and Kaoru had to really think for an answer. "Ok."
"I imagine you'd like to check on your father tonight before you go home?" he asked with a chuckle.
Kaoru blinked. "What? Oh! Yes! Yes, I haven't seen him in a couple days. Would you take me back to the Akabeko though? I can get home from there."
"Of course. Riding the bus still?" he inquired as they piled into the black Chrysler Town and Country minivan.
She had only asked him once why he had a van; he didn't seem to be the van type, she had said. Kenshin had replied it was a friend's that he was borrowing for a while since the air conditioning in his own vehicle wasn't working. That was all the answer she needed. The summer was hot and humid. It was bad enough having to ride on the local busses to get place to place.
"Yeah," she wrinkled her nose. "I'm thinking of finally getting an iPod or some other music thing to listen to on the bus. I'm getting tired of all the noise. It's ridiculous."
"Didn't you say that your birthday had already passed?" Kenshin asked coolly when she shot him a glare.
"I did, but no, Kenshin. I can get it myself whenever I can. I don't need it now."
"Sounds like you do. I'll pick one out for you. It's that or I buy you a car."
She relented to the iPod.
Kenshin was grinning happily as he dropped her off in front of the restaurant, and before she shut the door he said, "I'll have to wait a while and see if you forget about it so it'll be a surprise."
She rolled her eyes as he laughed, and slammed the car door.
Kaoru was in front of her father's door in less than an hour, but was suddenly very, very apprehensive about going inside. The bus schedule that she had memorized by heart was scrolling in her mind, showing her where the stops around here were and that she wouldn't have to wait very long for them. But, as she firmly told herself, she hadn't seen her father in a couple days. She had to check on him.
The house, as she came to expect, was very quiet. The maid that Kaoru had tried to ask to leave had long since been unkindly fired by Koshijirou. It was also clean enough to seem as if no one lived there anymore. The stairs still had the marks of the vacuum cleaner that had run over them weeks before, and had Kaoru's shoeprints in the carpet still from her visit upstairs.
It was the common room, the office, Koshijirou's bedroom, and the hall in between these rooms that was filthy with dirt, clothing, bottles, half-eaten sandwiches and other stuff that Kaoru ignored as she searched for her father. Things were most defiantly getting much worse.
She found him in his office, which was a surprise. He was usually outside, that being the place she looked first. There was another man in the office chair speaking softly to a disheveled Koshijirou as he paced around the room, over papers and broken glass. His deep brown eyes were shifting uncontrollably and he wasn't paying much attention to the man who was talking.
The man Kaoru didn't recognize became quiet and waited for a long time before asking the question, "Do you have any family that live here?"
Koshijirou stopped pacing, his wild eyes searching for something. "No," he barked quickly, and almost flinched at the sound of his voice.
"What about anyone who visits?"
"Daughter," Koshijirou answered.
"Your daughter visits? Did she live in this house before?"
"Yes, yes," he nodded quickly. "She moved out."
"Was that before or after your Demon Tent was built?"
"After. Long after,"
"Very well, then, Mr. Kamiya," the man stood. Koshijirou eyed him warily. "I will see you again in a number of days. I will have to speak with your daughter on some things-"
"No!" Violently, Koshijirou tossed the chair that man was sitting in aside and lunged for him. "Leave her alone!"
"Mr. Kamiya," the man's voice was so calm under the crazed stare of Koshijirou. "It's only for her own good, as it is for yours, and everyone else's around you. You signed this form before you made the purchase of the Demon Tent. It's your consent that if things go astray, as they clearly have, that you, and your daughter since she has been exposed-"
Kaoru ran, her father's scream nipping at her heels. She found herself outside, running toward the only hidden place in her backyard: behind the so-called Demon Tent. What was the reason it was called a Demon Tent anyway? It obviously was not a tent, and there was nothing inside of it… It was too confusing. Her mind was having trouble grasping her own thoughts out of the fear that sent her to her knees in the grass that she just noticed was dead.
Trembling from the sudden chill that raised gooseflesh over her arms, Kaoru sucked in many deep breaths. She was half expecting that man to shine a flashlight behind the wall and find her, but she heard nothing but the slamming of the front door, and shoes down the sidewalk.
She vaguely began to wonder why the man didn't bring a car when the chill returned, and she heard the sound of crying again. Kaoru didn't want to leave the space she was in yet, so she looked around. The sound seemed to be higher than she was kneeling, so she looked up. A very small, barred window was perched above her.
Kaoru paled whiter than a sheet, pupils drawn to pinpoints in terror.
Staring down through the bars were the brightest eyes of a deep amber color. She saw no outline of a face in the glow that burned the darkness around them. The sound of falling tears was strong, and became stronger as the eyes pressed against the confining bars.
Kaoru thought she heard a voice as she ran, while biting back a terrorized shriek, but it didn't register until later that it was somewhat familiar.
Distraught, but still stubborn as ever, it took Kaoru two days to finally confide in someone.
"Kenshin," she asked quietly.
"Hm?" he replied as he sipped his tea.
"Something is wrong. Something's very wrong."
"What is it?" Again, he was withdrawn and seemed very uninterested.
"My father. It's…it's like you said. I think that he's gone crazy!"
Kenshin shushed her rising tone. "You saw this? A sign of mental instability?"
"Yes! Kenshin, you told me that you'd do whatever it was I asked, so do something! Please! I-I don't know what to do! That man! He said something about a contract…something about my father! Kenshin, something about me!"
He shushed her again, and veered curious eyes from the scene with a swift glare. "Calm down, please, Kaoru. This isn't doing any good, now is it?"
"I guess not," she said. "I have to go to him. My father. See if he's alright."
"Kaoru, wait!" Kenshin gripped her arm, and she jerked. Her mind was clearer where she hadn't noticed it was muddled. She looked at Kenshin to see his eyes closed.
"Kenshin, what is it?" Her voice was different from it was not a moment ago, but she hadn't noticed the difference until it was already gone. Something seemed to click in her mind that reminded her that her voice had only just been odd. She frowned, very confused.
His eyes opened. They were dilated. "Kaoru, I have to talk to you before you see your father again. Tell me you won't see him tonight. We will talk tomorrow night after your shift."
Her head was shaking. "Kenshin, he's my father. I have to-"
"Tell me you won't go!" he insisted. "Promise me, please, Kaoru. Promise me."
Dumbly, she nodded. He let her arm go, and strode quickly to Tae across the restaurant. Her face was grave when Kenshin left and she glanced toward Kaoru. The sapphire-eyed woman shivered uncontrollably all through her shift the rest of the night.
She also went back on her word. Kaoru went home.
There was a large white van sitting in front of her drive and a number of dark blue cars sitting around it when she arrived out of breath from running all the way from the bus stop to the front gate. An angry shout came from the backyard where the first spurts of flame were shooting into the dark sky.
"Don't touch it!" Koshijirou was screeching at the top of his lungs when Kaoru stepped into the nightmarish dream in her backyard. "You'll let it out! You'll let! It! Out!"
He was wrestling with five men as they drug him towards the gate where Kaoru stood. They pulled him past her petrified form and he did not say a word to her, only thrashed and screamed.
"Are you Kaoru Kamiya?"
She jumped at the voice of the man she heard two days before.
"By the look in your eyes, and the way you're acting, I would say that you are her," the man's pen was flying across a page of a small notebook when Kaoru regained her senses.
"What…what the hell do you think you are doing on my property?"
The man's light brown eyes flicked up to her, studied her face with a softly muttered 'hm'. "Read this, Miss Kamiya. It's a signed statement that should this occur while in the possession of a Demon Tent, we have full rights to quarantine the individual, or individuals, involved in the purchase and ownership of the Tent."
Her eyes quickly scanned the page, and sure enough, it said exactly what the man had explained. Her father's signature was scribbled at the bottom.
"This was signed almost ten years ago," she said.
"It's a lifetime commitment, or as long as the Demon Tent in within the premises of one's home. Mr. Kamiya did not order the deconstruction before he became mad, therefore is now our responsibility."
"My father is my own responsibility if he gets sick," Kaoru growled, crisply handing the now wrinkled paper back to him.
He smoothed out the page before replacing it with other papers clipped inside his clipboard. "No, Miss Kamiya. As of now, your father is ours. He knew what the cost of this would be had this happened, but he wanted to spend his money anyway. It's not our fault, Miss, but his own."
Kaoru stepped a small step back under the man's gaze. He was studying her again, and closely. For what, she didn't know.
"You'll hear about this," she warned, waving her finger toward his cool, now amused eyes. "This isn't the last time we're going to be face-to-face."
He smiled. "I have no doubts myself, Miss Kamiya. I look forward to speaking with you again."
Another scream, this time from the cars lining the front, ensued. Koshijirou was peering out from the back window, looking at his daughter.
"Where are you taking him?!" Kaoru snapped, whirling on the suited man.
"The asylum, Miss, of course. It's where cases such as his go."
"My father is not insane! I don't want you people taking him when you don't know the difference between anguishing depression and insanity!"
The man chuckled darkly. "Don't presume that we don't know our job, girl. You obviously have no idea what we're dealing with."
"Then what is it?!"
The man's hand calmly lifted in front of her nose to ward off her agitated advances. "Miss Kamiya, you yourself said that we will speak again. It's only a matter of time before then. You'll get answers then, but not before. Good-night, Miss Kamiya."
Before she could respond, the van revved and pulled quickly away. Screaming wordlessly in frustration because she had no means of following the van and when she turned the man was gone, Kaoru stormed further into the now deserted backyard, sat down in the grass that was still alive and green nearer the porch, and cried, her tears mixing with the cries of the weeping from within the structure.
Her day from morning until early evening was slow. She stayed at her now completely empty home, sitting inside the common room and stared out the windows toward the Demon Tent.
Once five rolled around, she was hungry, but decided to go to work without eating. She didn't feel much like stomaching anything.
Kenshin was there at a table with a deep frown on his face when she shuffled inside the doors. Tea was at her side suddenly and spoke loud enough that everyone including the intended person heard that Kaoru was there.
"Kaoru! Oh, my, you look so tired! Did you have a long night? Here, come with me. I've got some tea waiting for you."
Kaoru was too busy noticing that Kenshin's head was turned their direction to hear Tea announce that tea had been made prior to her arrival. She followed Tae to the very back toward the doors to the kitchen but turned to the door on the left instead. She pulled a number of keys from her pocket—Kaoru frowned at this; Tae never carried the keys anywhere while working—and unlocked the door. Inside it was dark but for a single candle lighting the farther corner.
Tae lead Kaoru to a cushion lying on the floor at the table and helped her sit down. Kaoru was seated in the candlelight.
"Now, you stay right here. I'll be back with your tea in a moment."
The door was shut and Kaoru was alone for a few seconds to wonder why the candle was left unattended in a locked room and why she hadn't ever noticed this room in the first place before it was opened again.
"Tae, really, I'm ok," Kaoru protested as the silent feet carried the person closer. "Yeah, I'm…tired, but I just need to sleep tonight is all and-"
"Kenshin!" Kaoru said. "What are you doing back here?"
He sat across from her, which was closer than she thought it would have been. The table was very small. He did not answer her, and she couldn't see his face. He was sitting out of the light.
The door opened once more and Tae slipped inside. "Kenshin?" It was a question that meant more, Kaoru realized.
"Yes, everything is fine," he answered. "You can bring the tea."
A tray was set down but before the woman left, Kaoru asked, "Tae?"
"I'm sorry, Kaoru, but this is something you can only get from Kenshin. He's here to answer your questions."
The door shut once more, and Kaoru's apprehension climbed another notch.
"There's nothing to be afraid of, Kaoru. Trust me, please."
She nodded. "I do, Kenshin. I'm just so confused right now-"
"Kaoru," he interrupted quietly but firmly. "I know that it is very confusing right now, but I need to ask you some things first, please," he paused until she nodded her consent. "Why did you go back on your word, Kaoru?"
That sent her into a complete nervous stutter. "I…I didn't…I had to see him, Kenshin. I'm so sorry, but I had to. You don't understand. How could I stay away from him? I'm his daughter and I have to take care of him!"
"Please, Kaoru, calm down," he soothed. "It will be so much more difficult if you're upset."
"Alright," she nodded after a moment of just breathing.
"What do you know of Demon Tents?"
She snorted, and waited to answer when Kenshin reminded her to be calm. "I don't know much, but maybe the name implies something," she shook her head. "I don't know. How do you know about them?"
A small smile appeared from the darkness. "I'll answer that in a moment. The first one first. I'll explain the basis of a Demon Tent. It's housing where demons are kept after being hunted down and captured. The walls are specially built to keep the demon inside. Though many are not actually supernaturally that strong, people tend to think that they are.
"There are also wards placed in many intricate places during and after the construction so that the spirit side of the demon can be kept inside. The stronger the ward, the stronger, more powerful a demon it can hold."
"So it's true? It's exactly what it's called?"
Kenshin chuckled. "Is it really so surprising? Hunting demons, especially outside the city in the forests, is a sport nowadays."
"They're like pets!"
"That's disastrous!" Kaoru exclaimed. "Why would anyone…why would dad want something like that?!"
"Misconception mostly, I'd imagine. It's hard to say…harder for me to think of a reason anyway."
"I guess it's the thrill of owning a demon…" Kaoru marveled. "I never thought they ever came in from the forests. I thought they hated the city."
"Some do, some don't. It's actually almost split in between equally," Kenshin shrugged.
"I don't understand," Kaoru said. "If it's so popular to own a demon, then…"
"What went wrong with your father? It's a matter of a number of things. He was driven by sadness and grief over the loss of his wife and wanted to have something there to replace those feelings. It's not wise to have a Demon Tent built when one's not in complete surety of himself. That was his first mistake.
"Second, the wards that were placed on the walls were not powerful enough to hold the demon he caught that night in the forest. The demon put up a decent fight, so your father wanted to keep him, never thinking once to check the demon's power. It was quite simple escaping," Kenshin said factually. "But the wards were strong enough to keep a hold of the demon's supernatural energy and most of its spirit trapped."
Kenshin paused, looking into Kaoru's eyes, waiting and watching for any reaction.
"A demon's spirit will weep when it is torn from the demon, and the demon's features will change also until it is returned. The spirit will drive the person responsible for the separation, and usually those around that person, mad.
"That is what happened to your father. It was on the contract that any other person signs when they desire a Demon Tent. It is for the chance of such occurrence that would drive a man insane. For this, I am so very sorry."
"So…there are other ways for this to happen?"
"There are, yes. There are many, but that is the one that applies to your father."
"Then, that means…" Kaoru groaned, dropping her head to her arms and wailing helplessly, "I'm next! Oh, God! Kenshin, they said they'd be back for me! They know who I am now!"
"That is why I told you not to see your father last night," he reminded.
She lifted her head, her eyes narrowed. "How did you know they'd be there? And come to think of it, how did you know that was exactly what happened to my father?"
Kenshin was silent. He didn't move.
"Well," she prompted. "How did you know all of that?"
She jumped when his hand rested on her fist. "Relax, Kaoru."
"Not until you tell me- What are you doing?" she asked, her anger forgotten when he leaned into the light. The table was very, very small. That movement put him closer to her than he had been at the coffee house. Her heart was suddenly pounding as his dark eyes reflected the flickering light of the small flame and trailed across her face. His bangs brushed her forehead.
"Nothing I know you wouldn't want me to." Kaoru, a bit alarmed, began to pull back, but stopped at the soft touch of his hand on her face. "Trust me, Kaoru."
Kaoru was going to nod, but the action was halted before it even began when his lips pressed against hers. It was a pleasant shock as the innocent kiss morphed into something else completely when his tongue ran across her bottom lip ever so slowly, but even more so when Kaoru felt like something was being drawn out of her. Something, but she wasn't sure what.
The feeling was stronger once Kenshin delved into her heated mouth, testing her and tasting her. Earnestly, Kaoru's hand reached up to fist in as much of his hair as the tie at the base of his neck allowed. She felt her knees weaken into nothing and lost their support even as she was kneeling. Kenshin's hands softly but firmly on her upper arms kept her from toppling. They also pushed her gently away, but stayed in place.
Slowly, her eyes fluttered open and she nearly screamed. Had his fingers not found her lips and the light from the candle not lit the rest of his face that his eyes did not shine on, she would have.
Kaoru was staring so close into the eyes that had bore into her own from within the Demon Tent. Framed by Kenshin's face, the deep amber was frightening, but also beautiful. They swirled like molten rock heated by the intensity of his gaze. In the shadows, the light that his eyes gave cast the perfect shadows over his face, enhancing the outrageous gorgeousness of the man. His hair was more like flame than it had been, and added a flare to the color of his eyes.
As a small smirk graced his lips, the color of amber faded from his irises, replaced with the blue-violet she was so familiar with, yet somehow regretted seeing now.
Sitting back, he closed his eyes and asked, "How do you feel?"
"That's a silly question," she replied, and blushed at the breathy whisper of her voice.
"No, I mean how do you feel, Kaoru? Is there any difference that you can sense?"
Kaoru pushed past the pleasurable fog that had clouded her mind, and realized that there indeed was something different. "Yeah… Yeah, there is. I feel…lighter almost. Like a weight was lifted not off from, but out of me… What was it?"
"My spirit energy trapped inside your father's Demon Tent was affecting you, and if you had gone on any longer without my reclaiming it to myself, you would be soon behind your father."
"So, that was your spirit energy I saw. I recognized it by the color your eyes changed to."
Kenshin nodded. "I would rather like to have the rest of it back, but there's a bit of a problem now."
"What? What problem?"
"Now that you've obviously been tested and found liable for following in your father's footsteps, they will be coming for you next. They won't leave you out in the public for much longer. And without you, as a part of the blood of the one who had my spirit sealed, I cannot get it back."
"Is that all I'm for, then? A key to open the door?" she frowned.
"No, no," he assured her with a smile. "I'd say you were important for a number of things now, that being only one of them."
She crossed her arms under her breast and glared.
"There's something that can be done about you being taken to the asylum."
"That's good. I'm not really up to spending any time in there."
"Oh, but you have to now, Kaoru," he smiled. "As I said, they know you now, and they will not let you go, no matter what it takes. You might as well already be behind those walls. Running is not an option, but there's one thing that will work."
"Well, what is it? I don't want to be tossed in the loony bin when I'm not a loon."
"Kaoru, I already said that you have no choice but to go now. They don't know that you've been rid of the spirit."
"Then I'll tell them."
"No," he asserted. "They cannot find me. At any cost, they cannot know who or what I am. It's why I do not just run away with you know. When they find you—and they will eventually find you—then they will also find me. That cannot happen."
"Why would they find you?"
"Because I am not leaving you, Kaoru," Kenshin stated. "And after this, you will not be leaving me either."
Kaoru's face turned dark red with embarrassment over his words and the scorching hot look that accompanied those words. "I guess I have no say in this?"
"Concerning you and me, yes, you do. Some. But I think we might be in an agreement on this," he stated pointedly, casting a smirk and gaining another blush to overlap the first just beginning to wear off.
"So, what do I do?"
Kenshin smiled, and took her hand, kissing each knuckle before answering. "If you saw how your father acted and how he reacted to things, then mimic him completely to a fine point. Make up some things on your own, so to add something different in the mix. That will only confirm their suspicions, and have you taken in without a long delay."
"This doesn't sound so good on my end of this so far," she frowned.
"Please listen. You will be placed in the asylum, and I will eventually come for you."
"That's it?" she asked. "All I do is pretend that I'm a nutcase and wait for you?"
"Exactly. The food and treatment and constant monitoring will be a small price to pay, you will see once it all comes to a close."
Kaoru looked very skeptical, but she slowly nodded.
"And if you can't come for me?" she whispered.
"I will come for you, Kaoru. I give you my word." He kissed her to seal his word.
Kaoru registered that he was gone as the door shut, and she took a deep breath to shake off the haze he left once again in her mind.
"I'm very sorry that you had to deal with all of our problems," Tae said. Kaoru hadn't noticed her enter either. "And that I couldn't tell you sooner."
"So, you're a demon too?" Kaoru wasn't so surprised.
Tae confirmed her. "But I'm a much less powerful one than our Kenshin, or, as he's better known in our world, Battousai."
"Yes. He's something like a…an officer among the demon-kind, only one that is greatly feared and seen with very high regard. But there's nothing to be worried about. If he's nothing else, and he most certainly is, Kenshin is trustworthy. His word is his honor."
"Kaoru," Kenshin called from the open doorway, the noises from the restaurant wafting inside the quiet room that had developed a strange, otherworldly feel.
"Good luck, Kaoru," Tae's eyes flashed their secondary color of gray-green as Kaoru walked past. "I hope to see you again soon."
Kenshin took Kaoru's hand and led her from the Akabeko to his car, the deep red that she immediately recognized.
"That was you spying on my house!" she accused.
He smirked. "It was. But I wasn't spying. I was observing."
"If you were so close, why didn't you try to get your spirit energy back?"
His smirk changed into a smile as he climbed in on the driver's side. "I can't touch the property that the Demon Tent housing my spirit stands. Not without being willingly invited by one of the blood-related kin to the person who bound my spirit."
"Which would be me," Kaoru finished.
"Yes," The engine revved smoothly, and he shot from the parking lot.
"Then let's get your spirit energy back before I head off to the loony bin." Kaoru urged, adding the flavor of sarcasm to top off her statement.
"That we cannot do," Kenshin disagreed. "Not yet. If they see an amber-eyed man, which is highly unusual, even in the realm of the demons, won't they be suspicious? They should be if they are any good as they claim at dealing with demon related matter."
"Ok, then, we wait until afterwards?" she corrected herself.
Kenshin nodded. "Yes. I can wait for my spirit. I just wonder how long I will allow myself to wait to get you out without resorting to…overly drastic measures."
"Overly drastic measures?" she repeated blandly, not believing if she understood what he meant or not.
"This is going to be very hard, having you away from me for so long, Kaoru."
"But," she stammered. "But, we met not too long ago."
"Does it really matter?" his scorching eyes cut to her face, and she nearly melted on the spot. It wasn't as knee-buckling as his eyes were when they had the bright golden hue, but it was pleasantly close enough.
"Are…are your eyes naturally amber? I mean, the color they are now, is it temporary?"
"It is. That is why I must wait to get my spirit energy back. Once I do, they will change to gold, and stay gold." Casting a glance her way, he smirked. "Why?"
"No reason," she muttered, looking out the window to hide her face.
"Stay here at the house," he instructed her once he parked his car in front of the mansion. "My spirit will still have an affect on you, but it should only be a small amount. Consider it helping you along the road to the loony bin," he smiled at her brief sneering face. "Just don't go near it enough where the sound of its weeping can be heard. In fact, don't go into your backyard. Stay completely away from it. It won't do either of us any good if you actually go insane while I'm on my way for you."
Kenshin leaned across the seat and captured her mouth as she was preparing to speak. Fingers buried in her hair, Kenshin peered into her eyes. "I will not take long, Kaoru. Hell itself won't hinder me. No matter what it takes, I will be there. I promise you."
Kaoru nodded dumbly, suddenly overcome with loss. He cradled her to his chest as she cried for reasons that were unclear. But, as she thought about it, maybe she just needed to cry…
"We're sorry for the delay, but there was an incident with the patient yesterday and we felt it unsafe to have her transferred at such a time…"
The blue-violet eyes of the man narrowed.
Perhaps not as sorry as you could be, he thought.
"…but we feel as if today is a prime day as any. The paperwork has all been filled out and approved of, Mr. Himura. All you need to do now is have someone come and transport thepatient-"
"That's what I'm here for," Kenshin cut him off.
"Oh," He scanned a form. "I doesn't say anything about you being the-"
"I have the proper vehicle and prerequisites if that's what you are wondering," Kenshin all but growled at the man. They had drawn this out long enough. It proves of an excellent system of proper workings, no slacking, very excellent, but Kenshin had had enough.
"May I at least see the patient?" he asked crossly.
"Mr. Himura, I realize that you've been requesting this person for a long time for reasons far beyond what I can understand. But, who are we to argue? You're the ones who specialize in this demonic insanity. We only have them dropped off after the specialized squad picks them up. Though I've never heard of this place that you want to take her… What was it called again?"
"Please, I don't mean to be rude, but-"
"Of course! Forgive me! I'm just a curious man, is all!" he laughed.
A bit too curious.
"Please, follow me. I'll have someone gather help. Are you in need of some of the men from here to accompany you?"
"No. Thank you, but no. I have everything under control."
The man was giving Kenshin an amused but worried look. "Suit yourself. She's a known wild one. Very difficult to handle by anything less than four men."
Kenshin was smiling hugely when the man stopped in front of the first security door. "Ah, I see."
Kaoru was becoming as sick of this room as she was the white one.
Once again, she was brought here for another round of peeling away at the layers from her mind. It was his word that kept her small hopes up. It was his promise that kept her from just letting it all go. No matter how long it took, she had to remind herself that he was a…demon of his word. His patience must have been so dangerously close to slipping away completely. Kaoru had to be patient where he would not.
Staring at the table, she barely heard the soft crackle of the radio hooked to the guard's belt. The two shuffled quietly more towards the door, and at a certain point, one stepped outside. There was a soft conversation beyond the door that Kaoru wasn't interested in. The guards that they gave her now were weathered old men, hard as stone, and weren't affected by her little games. The games had ceased, and, in that, halted her one form of entertainment away from nagging, disheartening thoughts of her lack of a future that involved anything other than cells and white, white walls.
The door opened, and Kaoru was assaulted by something so familiar that it broke the haze that had been drifting in her mind from almost day one of her captivity. Her heart raced at a frantic speed that it hadn't reached in a long time, and it hurt.
It hurt so much to actually smell his strong scent that she had taken for granted before: the smell of ginger and a bit of citrus. It hurt to hear his voice speak to the man softly but curtly, obviously confirming her suspicions on his quickly fading temper. It hurt sitting still when she knew he was not three feet away.
'Do not react in any way once you see me, Kaoru, she could hear his instructions clearly. Kenshin had given them back while they were sitting in his car parked in front of her home 'Absolutely no reactions. As harsh as this may sound, please save it for a later time. Don't ruin it all once the end is in sight, Kaoru.'
She had to concentrate to keep her lethargic movements when she turned. As his face filled her vision, Kaoru did as she was told. Nothing was expressed to show the innermost churnings of her bursting heart and rejoicing soul.
She fought it valiantly and fiercely, but it was so very hard to repress her tears and keep from weeping.
Kaoru drummed her fingers lightly across the padded side that was raised almost all the way around the back of the van. Not surprisingly, the interior was smothered in red. Everything from the ridiculously soft carpet that climbed halfway up the sides to the various sized pillows and the table; it was also covered in carpet. The only things different were the misplaced lamp that was a shinning black and lampshade, also black, and the slate grey of the actual interior that was exposed from lack of red carpet.
She thought he would be one to go so far as to cover the back windows in a red film, but they gratefully were not.
In any case, it was a very loud, and very bold statement, if that said anything about the one driving in a silence so agitated, Kaoru was surprised the second person sitting in the passenger's side hadn't raised any questions yet.
She could just picture the way his eyes had burned when that man insisted upon letting a worker drive along with them. It would have been the same intensity he pressed upon her when he had knelt in front of her, only in a different form.
With bangs a tad bit more shaggy than she remembered, Kenshin had stared at her while he gave her a shot that she did not even notice until he had already given it. She was hardly worried about that, it was probably water or something. She was, however, fretting over schooling her expression and keeping it that way.
The small, rather chubby man with a shiny spot stretching far back from his forehead was leaning over Kenshin's shoulder, clearly fascinated, which Kaoru didn't understand. Didn't he see these sorts of things daily?
"And what concoction was that you just gave her?" he asked.
Kenshin's voice soothed her to her very core. She didn't realize that a voice could be so painfully missed. "Something specially made for her cases," his eyes found hers again, and locked in place for a second before he stood. The message was received nonetheless. "It's for calming, and it renders the mind a bit fuzzy. As you know, it is matters directly of the mind we are dealing with."
"Ah," Baldy nodded almost excitedly. "It will shut her down for a time."
"Partially. The affects are different determining how strong the cases are." Again, he glanced her way. "The stronger the case, the more potent the drug will be," Kenshin waved his arm in a motion of explaining as he pointed to her. "It dabbles in magic, of course. We are not dealing with the natural."
"Of course, of course," Baldy agreed. "Now, how long will we need to wait for it to take affect? Would you like some coffee?"
"Not long. Soon, in fact. Very soon. And no thank you."
In other words, it was her decision. Kaoru slowly began to fall forward. Baldy gasped.
"Amazing!" he praised as he peered into her face like he was at the zoo, inspecting a very strange animal. Kaoru wanted to snort in his face; Kenshin, as she could see, was eyeing the man distastefully. "So quick!"
"As I said," Kenshin said curtly. "Now, I must be getting her into the van. The trip is long and I do not have an endless supply. I do not need to waist time."
Kenshin took her arm, and, as it had done so many times before, Kaoru's mind became clear; the affects of her last visit home were wiped away.
"Can she walk?"
"Yes," Kenshin steered her toward the waiting open door. Her stomach flipped in exhilaration. "Motor skills are in tact. It must not be such a strong case for her-"
Immediately, Kaoru slumped forward, tossing all her weight into the would-be fall. Kenshin caught her easily and hoisted her into his arms in one motion. She could feel his brief smirk. "It seems I spoke too soon."
"Allow me one favor for taking on such a burden," Baldy said once they reached outside.
Kaoru's scowl was hidden by Kenshin's shoulder. She subtly pressed her face to his button-up shirt and took a deep breath, taking in his scent of ginger and other more exotic spices that she could not place. Biting her lip, she stifled a laugh when his muscles rippled and his arm twitched somewhat at the tickling sensation of her breath.
"Take one other person with you," the man was insisting. "Believe me, Mr. Himura, I don't mistrust your skills in this area, but it would help me sleep better tonight knowing someone else was with you."
The thought of possibly biting his shoulder crossed Kaoru's mind when Kenshin agreed.
She didn't see the young man fatefully assigned the duty; by the time he arrived she was already tucked inside the security of the van with only the last, irately cute look on Kenshin's face for company.
Once the van was underway—Kenshin had sped from the lot like a madman himself, leaving Baldy in the middle of a sentence and his passenger up front had given a small yelp—Kaoru rubbed her face. She didn't have to hide from anyone anymore.
For no reason, she smiled, then frowned, and made an assortment of faces just because she could. Then she settled on a fixed irritated expression, scowled up at the barred window and the metal plating posing as yet another barrier from him, and began drumming her fingers.
Kaoru waited for a long time, and she was sure Kenshin was going over the speed limit. She had seen many cars fall behind on the long stretch of highway; their headlights glaring continuously forward until they fell out of sight and new ones replaced them.
The sky was a brilliant orange-red of dusk, and the moon was winking awake a little early to greet the night sky. For a very short moment, the grey of an overpass blocked the heavens, and then Kaoru was staring into a cushiony artificial red.
She scrambled to right herself as Kenshin turned the vehicle hard enough to send her sprawling on her face, and for the man to holler in fright. The brakes screeched like wounded birds, many wounded birds, and a door opened.
"Out," Kenshin commanded.
The man didn't argue, and he didn't utter a sound of pain when he all but threw himself out of the van.
Kaoru caught a glimpse of wide, fearful brown eyes before the window was blocked by a sea of red silk. The door shut, and Kaoru tumbled backwards with a surprised, "Eek!" as Kenshin floored it.
Rolling around the floor in the back of a wildly driven van, Kaoru suddenly had the most powerful urge to giggle, and giggle she did. She giggled until she was laughing enough that it hurt and tears watered her eyes.
When the van stopped, Kaoru calmed herself somewhat and crawled toward the twin doors. They opened, but instead of being ushered out, she was pushed back inside. Without thought, Kaoru answered to his welcomed action. She wrapped her arms behind Kenshin's neck, drawing him closer as he lay flush against her, and received his kisses as much as she dealt him her own. Even breathless she was reluctant to release him.
He chuckled as she ran her fingers through his bangs. Kenshin took her wrist and lightly planted kisses on each fingertip and to her palm.
"What drug did you give me, Kenshin?" she teasingly asked, shivering as his amber eyes roved over her face, peered into her eyes.
"Nothing," he smirked. As his eyes faded to amethyst, they softened some but did not lose much of their passion. "I missed you. I'm sorry it took so long."
"Well, there wasn't any need for drastic measures."
"Yet," he added darkly.
Kenshin sent her senses into a pleasurable buzz with a kiss before he answered. "No one was permanently hurt or…sleeping, as the bald one had put it." His smile was dazzling. She couldn't decipher if he was kidding or not.
"That's…pretty drastic…Himura," she giggled. "Where'd you come up with that?"
Kenshin rolled to his side, resting on his elbow with a silly grin on his face. "I had to have a last name for it to work. Demons don't have last names. Why? You don't like it?"
Kaoru smiled. "No, I like it. I do," she added with a light tug on his long pony tail. Kaoru curled against his chest, noticing but not really caring that the doors were wide open facing the small rest stop sitting beside the highway. She sighed heavily, weighed down with sudden but welcomed content. "So, where are we off to?" she asked.
"Anywhere you like."
"I'd like to visit Tae," she said thoughtfully. "Let her and Tsubame know that I'm alright."
"Done," he assured her.
"But first," she looked up into his eyes and pictured how they would be had he had the rest of his spirit returned. She smiled. "Let's go get your spirit energy back."
Still no flames…ah, what the heck. Go ahead if you really want to. I don't care. I'll just get rid of it after I laugh. (Please ignore the obnoxious mood of the author) But constructive criticism is welcome! It works, people, it works!
Thanks for still treating me kindly!