(May 03, 2005 - I removed lyrics of Bryan Adam's "Back To You," in compliance with FFnet's warning.)
Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin is the creation of Nobuhiro Watsuki, with the manga and anime rights belonging to Jump Comics and Sony Entertainment, respectively.
"Are you sure you don't want to bring an extra blanket?"
Words flung itself on my consciousness. I was too busy to acknowledge them at the moment. I was too engrossed with my own thoughts, too concerned on deciding what things I'd let my mouth leave, things I won't.
"Kenshin," repeated the voice, this time a little less patient. "Are you listening?"
That shattered the temporary crystal wall I had built around my mind. Almost automatically, I build them whenever I feel my thoughts are too unsuitable to escape the confines of my skull.
"Um, what was that, Kaoru-dono?" I said, wincing as I expected a smack from her fist.
"I said, would you need an extra blanket." She sounded annoyed but there was a preoccupied look on her face. In her eyes, the worry was unmistakable.
Now in a carriage, I still remember those blue eyes. A little moist perhaps from the tears she tried to suppress but still overwhelming in their depth and sheen that has always taken my breath away. In fact, the unspoken plea in them, almost made me stay, almost prevented me from leaving for Hokkaido. Instead, I turned away from her and avoided even a glance on the subtle beauty I am so unworthy of.
Like always, though, she caught me. I can never escape her. It is nice to know that one is wanted. Sometimes, I am still dense enough to wonder whether she really does.
At least, Kawaji-dono understood the roots of my second thoughts and the nature of Kaoru-dono's torment. He did offer for her to come along, a gesture that deeply touched me. Truly, I would have given anything to have her beside me. However, I was mindful of the dangers we could have possibly met and I would have protested. To my surprise, she declined out of her own volition.
"No, thank you," she had said. "I'd love to but I have the dojo to attend to. Besides, I trust Kenshin to take care of himself."
And she gave me a pointed look.
It was a simple phrase, yet I read the wealth of meaning behind her words. Now that Sanosuke has gone "gallivanting off to a wild goose chase around the world", as Kaoru terms it, there's no one to drag me back to the dojo just in case. She trusted me to come back on my own.
For a while, it made me puzzled, almost a little betrayed. After all that happened to us, she still doubts me? Is she still afraid that I would go off and leave her?
Then again, I cannot blame her for fearing the worse. I have done just that before and left her with her heart bleeding while mine broke repeatedly as the sounds of her pain-filled sobs filled the night. And I have also given up hope on her once, one thing I feel in my heart she will never do to me. When I thought Enishi killed her, I felt like I was going through living hell. Life no longer mattered. Nothing mattered. Not without her.
She should have known by now……. I will never leave her again.
Later that day, a few weeks back from now, my slow apathetic mind finally understood the reason behind her uncertainty.
We were both silent as she helped me get ready to leave. The snow was falling thickly outside and she was making sure I was bundled up warmly. A good thing Yahiko was elsewhere, otherwise we would have gotten a good dose of teasing. And him a number of bruises from Kaoru's bokken.
Kaoru continued to fuss with me wordlessly. She was unaware that I was watching her closely, discreetly following each of her graceful movements with my eyes. I could see her biting her lower lip, as if holding off from telling me not to leave, especially at the foul weather. I was fighting the urge to reassure her, to comfort her, but I was fearful of falling under the power of her eyes and thus avoided eye contact. Anyway, she beat me to speaking first but nothing prepared me for what she said.
"Do you love me?" she asked bluntly, her voice dry and emotionless.
I gaped at her, stunned at her question, at the frankness of it all. She turned her face away from my sight when she had said that but now she gazed at me expectantly. I continued to stare back at her, my face just as undaunted and unreadable.
Intimidated by my eyes, she averted hers to her hands, which were still resting on my jacket she was previously smoothening.
Panicking inside, I struggled for something to say. Nothing surfaced except for the stupidest things. Not even the words that mattered came out even though they teetered at the tip of my tongue.
"You understand," I finally said, finding at last a reply that would hold her off while I sort out my thoughts, something both sincere and non-committal.
"Women…. like to hear it…. from their lovers, you know," she stated haltingly.
Outside, a carriage pulled up. I almost sighed in relief as I found an escape route to dodge her simple request. Gently, I pried her fingers from my sleeve and stepped out off the house.
Before I even covered a few paces, I felt a warm presence surround me. I froze on my tracks as Kaoru pulled into an embrace from behind. I was unbearably conscious of myself, sure that she can hear the nervous rush of air into my lungs as she pressed her face against my back. I did not pull away, however, nor did I return her hug. I merely stood in silence; lids slipping close as I cherished her scent, her warmth, her closeness, her love. Truth be told, I was far from pleased when a mild ribbing woke me from that daydream.
"Eh, Battousai?" said the cold, ever-calculated voice of Saitou Hajime. "I suggest you let go of your wife now. We have no time for that." A mischievous glint replaced the feral one that usually lingered in his sharp amber eyes.
Blushing furiously, Kaoru disengaged her arms from me, practically shoving me away. Letting the anger rise inside her, she allowed indignation to salvage some of her remaining pride.
"What are you talking about, Saitou?" she demanded. "Whose wife?"
"Considering how um, let's say reserved the Battousai is," he said. "And judging from your distance a while ago, I'd say you two are married."
Kaoru fumed in a mixture of embarrassment and exasperation.
"Baka!" she snapped. "How can I be married to him when he hasn't even courted me yet!"
Realizing too late what has left her mouth, Kaoru's face again became flooded with blood as she suffered the unflattering amusement of the Mibu's wolf. She hid behind me.
"You're late, Saitou," I managed to say coolly, hoping to distract his attention from the state he found us in a while ago. "I was beginning to hope you did forget about me."
By no means was I less embarrassed than Kaoru. As for me being a pathetic baka, or as Saitou placed mildly in the word "reserved", it was even more humiliating with him knowing. Not that he had not known before, just that he managed to make Kaoru say it herself. Indirectly perhaps, but say it all the same. Besides, I had trouble recovering from the shock I received when it hit me that Saitou was actually teasing us.
"Ahou," said Saitou. (Duh. Who else?) "At this weather, do you actually expect to find the roads in excellent condition? Besides, you should be thankful I gave you a few more sweet moments with the tanuki girl."
Chagrined, I fought the urge to unsheathe the sakabatou.
"Thanks a lot," I muttered.
"If you really cannot be parted from that child, she can come with us. Though due to economic reasons, you have to share a room." The grin that crept on his face was unmistakably tainted with lechery and lewdness.
Unwittingly, my hand went to the hilt. How dare he make that allusion! He actually implied satyriasis. I will never ever touch Kaoru-dono like that. Not with pure lust and carnality. No.
"I appreciate the offer, Saitou-san," Kaoru answered swiftly though undeniably a little stiffly, as well. "But like I said, to Kawaji-san. I still have work to do." She glared at him malevolently. "And the next time you offer us the pleasure of your presence in my domain, try to knock first instead of letting yourself in without leave of the hostess like an untrained lout. Thank you very much." She turned to me. "You should be leaving now. It's not good if darkness catches you at this weather. I'll wait here."
I gazed back at her orbs, sensing strongly the resolute promise behind those words. Holding her with my eyes a little longer, I said my goodbyes.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," I said firmly. To my relief, she gave no sign of bellying my words.
Today, I will be coming home. The problem Kawaji wanted us to handle was a simple one compared with the Shishio's coup de tat and Enishi's Jinchuu. Yes, much easier indeed, particularly because I was not constantly worrying about my companions. However, despite being a little liberating, it was a little lonely, too, without Yahiko, Sano, Megumi, even Misao and her Oniwabanshu around. Of course, without Kaoru, it is even bleaker. Somebody please remind me to stop taking SOS calls.
Going home was giving me mixed emotions: dread and anticipation, fear and joy. I definitely want to see Kaoru again but I do not know what to do when I finally do. What do I say? Is it time?
Thinking back to what happened when we exchanged farewells, I cringed at my pathetic self. If Sano had been there, he would have probably beaten me to pulp. Not that he's likely to succeed. Geeze, even Tomoe herself, my first wife prompted me to confess my feelings to Kaoru.
A few months ago, I would have reasoned I did not deserve her that I would bring danger to her. Now, I cannot have any more alibis. True, I do not deserve her all right but she does no't care about that at all. She has always been ready to accept me without reservations, to love me unconditionally. My resistance only hurts us, mostly her. As for the danger, I would protect her with my life. I have learned to accept that I may not always be able to protect her but we have to take risks in everything. Leaving won't change. It'll cause more harm than good. As for Tomoe…
Tomoe understood. Tomoe understood far more than perhaps even I do. She understood how much Kaoru means to me.
Honestly, I still love Tomoe. But it doesn't mean I don't love Kaoru. It's just that I love Kaoru differently, maybe even more deeply.
Tomoe was good at understanding things. She understood me, and loved me in spite of the odds; despite the fact of who and what I am, despite of what I did and do, despite that I had stolen her happiness, despite the fact I had promised her another one and failed to keep that. Yet, she forgave me. She forgave me even before I did. Perhaps, she didn't want to, but she did. She taught me how to love. Unconditional love.
No. Kaoru is no replacement for Tomoe. And I can't say which of them is more important because they're both infinitely precious to me. And if either of them is remove from my life, I don't think I can bear it.
Tomoe was step one of my healing. She woke me up, caught me when I was slipping into the depths of living hell. I had already given up. Everything tasted like blood. Everywhere, I see blood. I was slowly losing my sanity. I was using the sword that protects to kill mercilessly, weeding out the barriers to our cause. My soul was little by little being devoured by the darkness I hid in whenever I fulfilled my grisly occupation. And I was losing the battle.
Then there she was. Blue shawl and the scent of white plums, the purity of white splashed with the red of blood. She changed my life forever.
That was how she entered my life. A spray of blood, the last moans of the dying, the darkness of an obscure alley. That was almost how she left it too. But at that time, it was her flesh my katana slashed, her blood that stained her kimono and her life that seeped into the soil, staining the pure white of the snow.
I have never forgiven myself for that. That and for all the lives I took as the Hitokiri. I was well aware of the people's sentiments, too. I knew of the overwhelming number of individuals bent on claiming my head. One of them was Yukishiro Enishi, my brother-in-law.
The past just kept on catching up with me. No matter where I went, where I ran, it caught me and shoved into my face the truth, the nightmare that was I. What I did, what I was, what I am. I could never hide, only run, run forever, from everyone, everywhere. I couldn't bear to involve anyone in the mesh of guilt and past sins that imprisoned my being.
But I was tired……. Ten years of escape has spent me, body, heart and spirit. And there she was, open and welcoming, a sunburst in the lethargic gloom of my overcast life. I was too weak to resist her. She has ensnared for all eternity.
She came the same way as Tomoe, a night of blood and violence. It was also the Hitokiri Battousai who slaughtered that night, but not me, just a vile person who had the guts to use the name of a legend capable of ending his life at a snap of two fingers. However, this time, my lady of the round eyes, a flame blue, and a bobbing tail of darkness, was not drenched by a rain of blood. Even then I knew without knowing that I will protect her, that we were destined to protect each other, that she was the salvation heaven had so forgivingly sent to an unworthy man like me.
I didn't mean to stay so long. It was just a sojourn, a few days rest. But Kaoru adopted me in her home. She didn't want me to leave. Even if she had allowed it, I probably wouldn't have so willingly.
Of course, my past would surface sooner or later. I was forced to go. I couldn't bear their getting hurt, the family she has built in that little time.
Would she allow that? Of course not. She followed me to Kyoto. I knew then she would always follow me, follow me everywhere, even to the ends of the earth.
Shishio Makoto, the man created from my shadow, believed that in order for man to survive, he must destroy everything in his path and establish himself as the strongest. Man is by nature selfish and ruthless. To safeguard ones survival, one must play by the order of nature, the ultimate rule of Darwin's Origin of the Species: the survival of the fittest in the jungle of human vice, error and evil.
I do not believe that. But I fought not only because of my belief but also for the future, the future of the weak and oppressed, those whom Shishio and his likes would gobble up without a thought.
I do not believe either that man is by nature good. Yes. I have seen too much of this world to cling to such a Utopian dream.
Man is capable of both. He has the capacity to do much evil, to create much havoc in a world not so gentle from the start. And, yes, he has the capacity for goodness as well as love, And what great love!
I did not want to fall. No. Never has it crossed my mind to fall in love, not after Tomoe, not after that madness and betrayal, that lie. I guess, now I could truly imagine how Tomoe felt. How her anger must have been at her weakness, how her despair must have felt like, knowing what your heart tells, demands, is unacceptable. We both did not want to fall in love, never in a million years but we both did. The difference lies in our respective reasons behind our abhorrence of our emotions.
She did not want to love me because she hated me. How could she? What kind of person would love the man who killed her love, who extinguished dreams nurtured since childhood, who stayed forever the lips of one who hesitated so long to confess her feelings? How abominable it must have been to find the sole person you hate, the one you seek retribution from and fall under his power!
I didn't want to love Kaoru not because it would betray the Tomoe's hate-love and my love for her. I wouldn't -couldn't- love her because I love her too much, much too much. I would never let anyone unworthy have an angel like her. That includes me, I, who have ushered a social revolution by the slash of my sword and the rush of blood that spurted from the slain. I have no right. It would offend her innocence, her trust, her naïve but wonderful belief of the non-killing sword, her very essence of living, that one such as I, her exact opposite should lover her. I didn't want to but I did, I do.
But I couldn't leave. I would never leave her ever again. So, I kept the barrier, the distance, careful not to let the passion inside me to peek from my demure image of a rurouni. Maybe she would give up. Maybe she would finally decide that I truly did not deserve her. But we're talking about Kaoru, the girl, the woman who challenged the formidable assassin with a sword merely of wood, easily broken and discarded, fragile and helpless like her body against the true strength of the monster that I was. Of course, she would never yield. Her love continued to flow freely from her magnanimous heart, unconditional love. Though seemingly impatient and rather impish in her efforts to draw some response from dense me, I know she is going to wait for eternity.
I never fooled anyone, it seems, not even myself. I love Kaoru. How much, I cannot say, for love has no measure. But all I know is her, the sole reason of my continued existence surpassing my vows of repaying the debts of my past sins by living by the sword, the true sword, the one I had mastered under the teachings of Hiko Seijuro, Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu. When Enishi came and played the cruelest of pranks, of revenge, when I thought I had lost her, I found out just how much I could bear living without her: naught.
She was supposed to have cured me, the second step in my healing process. She showed me why to live, showed me the very essence of life. She made me realize that by living and touching people's lives, I am of better use, that I can redeem my faults better instead of various self-crippling vows, instead of running away from the past. After Enishi's Jinchuu I was suppose to have resolved my doubts.
But now, I realized I've never told her. The three words that would sum up everything I want to say that cannot be said. I had to release myself from myself.
I am afraid, so afraid. History repeats itself. No matter how I try, I am only human and therefore fallible. Would I be able to give her what she deserves, be the man she should be with?
I couldn't tell her those words. Those words would seal our fate. Once I utter them, I know I'll never stop. The shroud I hide behind so cowardly will slip off and reveal the truth of what I feel, what she is in my life.
I had fallen asleep. Seems odd, though. The Ishinshishi's Hitokiri Battousai napping before Mibu's Wolf? Very odd, indeed.
I was spent by the last few days travail. None of us had slept the previous nights before and the elements of nature were harsh in Hokkaido. It would have been wiser to spend the night there and set home for tomorrow instead. Saitou would hear none of it, stating he has some urgent business in Tokyo. I decided to go along for the ride. I, too, have unfinished business I would love (and dread) to get to.
I had to sleep. No matter how perilous it may seem to be so unguarded before him, I had to. It's not as unsafe as it seems. Saitou would do no such thing as to throw his honor on the dirt. Even so, the most minute of treachery in his bearing or movement will immediately prompt my eyes to snap open and make every fiber of muscle in my body to perk up in anticipation. Besides, Kaoru would be furious if she finds out what I've been through. No, I don't believe my acting skills have gone for the worse……. Nonetheless, she'll know.
The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the almost curious stare of Saitou Hajime. Our eyes locked automatically, a predator checking out his fellow predator, seeking protection of territory. We remained like that for a quite some time, staring each other down but passing neither death nor assurance in our eyes. The awkward exchange, aggravated more so by the silence inside the carriage, prompted me to break eye contact.
"Ano…" I said, trying to start a conversation. I couldn't think of anything to say. With any other person, I could have tackled anything mundane. But this is Saitou, who cannot be distracted by any small talk. I certainly couldn't ask him what he thinks about the weather.
"Would you be going back to Sapporo after your business in Tokyo?" I finally asked, ignoring the almost condescending look he gave me when I first started speaking.
"No," he replied, casually opening the window nearest him. "After that frozen hell, I believe I deserve a vacation."
I blinked in disbelief. I didn't expect that answer. I was waiting for the smoothly executed hell-you-care come back.
"What?" An eyebrow slowly lifted from its usual position. "Do you think the Mibu's Wolf is incapable of experiencing physical exhaustion?" He chuckled dryly. "I must say I'm flattered Battousai."
I cannot deny that I huffed a little at that. That statement was more like Saitou all right.
"Just trying to talk," I muttered.
"Well, since you were game enough to be dragged into this goose chase, I suppose it's only proper I allow you to indulge in small talk."
"I wouldn't want to deprive you of sleep, Saitou Hajime. It's obvious you need it," I quipped wryly.
"I have to admit to that."
"So you mean even though you're assigned north, your family is in Tokyo?"
"Battousai do you actually believe you shall be given that information?"
I sighed. "All right. So wherever it is your permanent home is located."
His lips curled again in amusement. "Yes."
"Well, then, how…" I stopped. How can I ask him that?
"You want to know how I manage?"
"How I manage what?"
I was not to be baited that easily. "Surely you must miss them, her, at times." I smiled my usual smile.
"That was not what you wanted to ask."
"Perhaps, they miss you then?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"This favors of his are getting more and more frequent."
"He aims to help your economic status also. You can't deny it's good points."
Saitou smirked. "You wish to ask advice from the wolf on how he protects his cubs."
"Battousai, when she entered my life and decided to stay in it permanently, it was her decision to make my problems hers. Likewise, the tanuki in your case. Now stop grousing and let me smoke in peace." With that, he lit a cigarette and took a puff, ruminating in his newfound peace.
I pondered on Saitou's words. There's nothing wrong with what he said though I don't think I'm inclined to appreciate his meddling on my private affairs at the moment. Sometimes, love isn't enough. But with Kaoru, it's worth the risk. For her, anything is worth it.
It was already five in the afternoon, the winter sun was already well down the horizon, it's faint rays barely providing warmth for the frosty city streets. The bustle on the busy avenues were gradually dying down and children full of frolic were one by one leaving the games of their peers, uttering a groan or so at the sound of their mother's shrill summons.
Nothings changed. In the silence of my solitariness, I sighed almost in relief. Of course, nothing has changed.
"Good afternoon!" I called to the middle aged man prodding his little daughter home. "Hello Aki-chan."
"Konbanwa, Himura-san!" they greeted in return.
I've only been away for a few days. Nothing's changed. Of course, nothing's changed. Nothing…
A left around the corner, a step over a rut, then straight ahead. My brain didn't have to control my weary feet. It seems to know where to turn, where to go, attracted by the warmth they were bound to reach. How I missed that warmth!
Finally, I reached the gates, the threshold to the home I have recognized for more than a year now, a sanctuary after being homeless since time immemorial. Laughter and bellows, the sounds of home, ironically sounds of domestication. These are little things but this little things I cherish.
Tentatively, I knocked on the door, unable to stamp down the gleeful expectations of childish shrieks calling my name. I was not disappointed. Two little munchkins flung themselves at my feet barely a second after the door swung open.
"Ken-nii!" they squealed. "Okaerinasai!"
"Hello, Ayame-chan," I said. "Suzume-chan."
They dragged me inside. Another bright spirit was there to rescue me.
"Welcome back, Kenshin," she said.
"Konbanwa, Kaoru-dono," I managed to say.
A side-glance, however, revealed a quizzical look from her. She's worried, I know. It is because I did not say "I'm home", I guess and I always I do. Ever since that day we went home from Kyoto I always have. I love the way those words roll on my tongue, love the way my voice sounds saying them against my ears. But I have decided on a better greeting than "tadaima" for her.
I turned my head to smile at her, never mind the fact I could not twist very far because of Suzume-chan's hold on my head.
She smiled back, her sweet smile warming my chilly flesh more than the fire inside will.
"You're early," said Kaoru.
"Aa," I said. "Saitou was good enough to tag me along his trip."
"At least he brought you back in one piece." She grinned menacingly.
From within the dojo, Yahiko appeared.
"Oi, Kenshin!" he greeted. "So glad you're home. At least, I won't have to endure busu-sama's stinkin' food."
Kaoru merely stuck her tongue out at him. "Dr. Genzai had an emergency to attend to," she explained to me. "I didn't want to be alone with the girls and it's pretty lonely for him in Sano's old…"
"Speaking of rooster-head," said Yahiko. "We got another letter from him. And one from Megumi, too."
"Wai! Wai!" rejoiced the girls.
"Why don't you go get it?" said Kaoru, stooping down to them.
"Hai!" said Suzume.
"I'll get it," said Yahiko.
"No, we will," chimed Ayame.
"Race you to it."
And off they went.
Meanwhile, Kaoru took me by the hand and pulled me back on my feet."
"Better," I said with a contented sigh. "How were you, Kaoru-dono?"
"Fine," she said. "Actually, you're late. Saitou borrowed you for only a week."
"Oro. I thought you said I was early?"
"Well, you are." She crossed her arms before her. "Knowing Saitou, you're earlier than you should be."
I chuckled. "You should have seen how he made the carriage fly."
"I wonder what's he up to." She frowned thoughtfully.
"Well, he wants to go home, too, Kaoru-dono."
"Oh." That reminded her of his arrival. "Hey." She prompted me with a poke on my ribs. "You didn't say 'I'm home'"
"Aa, gomen," I said. "Ai shiteru, Kaoru."
She did a double take and stared at me; the surprised pleasure on her face was priceless. I never saw the rest of her reaction but rather felt it as my lips met hers in a light sweet kiss. A perfect first kiss.
Slowly I pulled away, peering at her pinked face through half-lidded eyes.
"You do like it better, don't you?" I murmured.
"I don't know…" she said slyly, a slow grin creeping up her mouth.
"Seems too personal coming from a tenant."
"Aa. But not so from a husband."
"H-hai, not so."
"Kenshin, busu-sama!" yelled a voice. "What are you guys waiting for, the sky to fall? It's freezing out there!"
I don't know about him but I felt warm enough.
"Yahiko?" she asked, blushing self-consciously under her student's glare but exerting much effort in ignoring him.
"He could get used to it," I said, taking her hand and ignoring Yahiko as well.
"Well, then…" she said. "Ororororoooo."
I laughed at that. Cute. Very cute.
"Sheesh," said Yahiko, rolling his eyes and leaving. "You guys are nuts."
"Is that a yes?" I asked.
"What do you think?" she retorted. "You're the expert in the oro language. I'm just adapting."
"Well, you'll get used to it."
"And you'll get used to my version of 'tadaima'."
"You mean, you'll say it every time you come home?" she asked playfully as she snuggled under my arm.
"Good then. Yahiko would never leave us alone if he hears it."
"But he will. I'll keep on saying it every second."
Kaoru stuck her tongue out, blushing in spite of herself. "Keep the oro. I like it."
"Oro, too!" She giggled. "That one means 'Aishiteru'."
"Aa. Aishiteru, Kaoru. Aishiteru."
I…. I'm in shock. I actually wrote that?
Hmmm….. You're right, Seiyo-sama. I am willing to try anything. This is my take on cheesy romance full of sweet nothingness. And I utterly failed. LOL. Yes, I'll stop bashing myself in public.
Oh yeah, thanks for singing "Back to You" continually Elle Jei. You reminded me that this was originally intended to be a songfic for that song. The song "Back to You" was sung by Bryan Adams from the album "Bryan Adams MTV Unplugged". But since the fic went off track, I'm too lazy to incorporate the song into the story. Oh well.
I started writing this 022301 circa 18:00. It was growing dark and I stopped when I couldn't see anymore. I dug it up sometime this July and finished it during breaks. Can you believe this was suppose to be a simple fic? He, he…
Comments, suggestions, ranting, complaints are all welcome.