Author's Note: This is it. The last chappie where all will be revealed. It ain't no big revelation, actually. Just the reason why this is entitled Heart of the Woman.

Thanks again for all the support. And thank you so much for the constructive comments regarding the use of Japanese language! (Especially Kiruchan, Stormlight and Yawarako) Whoo-wee! That beautiful language is a doozie! The wonderful readers who helped me with the definitions are heaven sent! Made the necessary corrections already, and if there are more, let me know. I will promptly administer first aid: Revisions.

I might be taking a break from writing RK fics for a while. Oh, I'm not giving it up or anything. Just so I can finish the one fic I can't seem to complete! Who knows? My little sabbatical from RK just might give me fresh ideas.

Standard disclaimers apply.

Heart of the Woman

Part VII: Full Circle

When I got back home from my visit to Akira Banshio, I immediately set out to find Kaoru. I found her sitting in the dojo, reading a book. "The Philosophy of Peace" was etched on the cover.

I took a moment to grin. It's just like her to read something like that.

"Well, if it isn't Mr. I've-Got-A-Secret-And-I-Won't-Tell-You," she said loftily, not taking her eyes from off her book.

"Maa…" I said, kneeling beside her. "You're not still sore about that, are you?" I reached out to play with a lock of hair that had fallen on her forehead.

She pouted and glared at me, flicking my hand away.

Ooooh! She's so adorable!

I chuckled and pulled her into my arms, making her lose her place with her book and earning me an even fiercer pout.

"Hmph!" She huffed, not resisting my attempts to have her cradled against me. "You think you can get away with anything when you do the cuddling bit…" she grumbled.

"Don't I?" I asked, unable to keep my smile from surfacing as I looked down at her.

"Grrrr! You spoiled man!" She replied, curling a fist.

This got me to laugh. "Maybe this unworthy one has a lot to make up for indeed. What do you say about dinner tomorrow, dearest? Just the two of us."

Kaoru arched an eyebrow and maintained her haughty expression. "And where will this dinner be?" She inquired, looking at her nails to affect nonchalance.

"How does Taicho sound?"

Her eyes widened momentarily in excitement, then remembering that she was being aloof, she returned to her unaffected expression. "I guess that's alright, I mean…for dinner and all…"

It took all of my willpower not to give a wide grin. "Very well. It's settled then. Don't make any more dates. Tomorrow night, you will be mine." I said, kissing her cheek then getting up to head for the kitchen.

"I'll block it off on my schedule and cancel on meeting my long-lost sister and the emperor," she muttered, raising her book to her face.

I caught a glimpse of her bright smile before I turned to leave.

What a witty sweet one she is.

Another midnight and another meeting with the father.

Akira Banshio gave me the last piece of this long and winding puzzle, and I must admit, after seeing it and knowing what it is, I felt it was worth all the wasps, and hags and basically all the torture I had to endure these past three days.

If anything, this meeting I'll be having with Kamiya-sama…it's to thank him for giving me this wonderful gift.

When I arrived at the dojo, I set out to light the lamps, but halfway through the task, Kamiya-sama appeared bringing a light of his own to illuminate the dark training hall.

"Did you get it?" Kamiya-sama asked me in a subdued tone, marring the cold draft with the warmth in his voice.

I gave him a slight smile. "Yes. I did."

"And you know what to do with it?" He asked me quietly.

There was a solemnity in him that I had never felt from him before, almost like he was ashamed of himself.

What happened to the loud and self-confident man I came to know? Even if it's just been a few days, it felt like I wasn't speaking to Kamiya-sama as I stand here before him.

"Yes, Kamiya-sama," I replied. "And…thank you. Thank you for deeming me worthy of Kaoru. I know…I've been somewhat of a…brat, but please believe me when I say that for coming back and doing all this, you have my greatest respect."

He cocked a small grin. "Well, I almost screwed up big time. I'm not about to let Kaoru hate me after I've died, and…Himura, you are a great man. No matter how terrible you see yourself, what matters to me is that you make my little princess happy. Besides, you're a living legend. Not too shabby for my Kaoru."

Right. Not too shabby. I never thought of myself that way. Well, at least, not quite in that positive light.

"I know I've been a world class jerk, Himura," Kamiya-sama said, much to my astonishment. "But you see, I was just being a dad, and heaven forbid you be deprived of the experience of romancing a woman with an over-protective father."

I must say, I couldn't help but chuckle. He's given me a hell of a lot more than what I bargained for.

"Well," he said, suddenly becoming a bit more animated. "I trust that you're going to do this right, now that everything's back to the way it should be. It's been nice knowing you, Himura."

Something akin to regret touched me when he said it. As much as Kamiya-sama had ventured to grind my dignity to the dirt, it would be nice if I got to know him more amidst the wise-cracking we constantly exchange. "Can't you stick around for just a while longer? For the wedding if Kaoru says yes?"

Kamiya-sama rolled his eyes around. "You're such an idiot, horny-monkey. Of course my little princess will say yes! But…I can't stay. I'm actually dead, in case you've forgotten."

"Yes, of course, how can I forget?" I said with a snort. "But, I don't mind staying up and having some sake…even if you can't drink with me, we could talk…"

"I appreciate the offer, Himura, but I can't. After-life policies, dead-guy rules…you understand."

Actually I don't, but shees…who wants to argue with the After-life anyway? "Of course. Give my regards to Kieko-dono. Tell her she has borne a wonderful daughter and has given an idiot like me something to live for."

"Will do."

"Say hi to Death for me as well. He and I, we go way back."

"Hey! A dead-guy joke!" Kamiya-sama told me with a grin. "I'm really beginning to like my idiot future-son-in-law."

"Thank you."

"And Death's a she, by the way."

"Oro…"

Kamiya Tetsuro chuckled and he began to fade. "I'll see you around, Himura."

I gave him a respectful bow. I'm glad to have known him, I'm glad that I met him under the best of circumstances.

"It's been real…" were his final words as he disappeared and left me in the darkened dojo.

Real. Yes…definitely real.

I stared across the dinner table at Kaoru who seemed to have found something interesting in the distant hillside.

We have been in Taicho for almost an hour and a half, and we were quite through with dinner. The cozy ambience had given much opportunity for us to have intimate conversation and the occasional comfortable silence. In spite of the slight murmur of the other guests, we can certainly pretend we were the only two people there.

Our open-air table situated along the railed porch of the restaurant afforded us a gorgeous view of the city below. Faint lights made visible by the night framed by the well-maintained foliage surrounding the establishment, the gleam of the moon shedding a pale glow…the soothing string music being played from somewhere in the restaurant only made it more perfect.

But Kaoru was the main attraction for me. I do believe she has outdone herself this time. I had always thought she looked good in light blues and purples and yellows and pinks, basically pastel shades that brought out the color of her eyes and hair, but tonight, she had opted for richer shades. She had gone with a very deep red, the fabric festooned in just the right places with embroidered sprigs, not merely just the flowers, of Sakura with very pale-yellow thread. Her obi was a dark plum color, patterned with a lighter tinge of violet daisies. I never realized she could be so ethereal in such sophisticated hues. Her raven hair was held back by a scarf the same cast as her kimono, which only accented her beautiful face.

I can stand to gaze at her the whole night, but that would be selfish of me. We're here for a reason.

"Kaoru," I said to call her attention.

She looked at me, pulled out of her reverie. "Hmm?"

"What are you thinking?" I asked. I may have read her mind before, but I am not so arrogant as to believe that I always know what she's thinking thereon.

She smiled. "I was thinking…of my parents, particularly daddy."

How terribly appropriate.

"What about Kamiya-sama?" I prodded. This will prove to be interesting.

A blush crept up her cheeks. "For a while, especially when I thought you didn't love me, I resented the fact that he raised me the way he did, like a boy."

I chuckled. It's probably one of the few things Kamiya-sama did right.

"Seriously," she continued. "He called me little princess, but I was in no way raised like one. He taught me Kamiya Kasshin, never objected when my anger led me to use a wooden sword, told boys off when they teased me…"

I chuckled again. How ironic that the things she finds ill fitting to a princess are the very things that endears me to her the most.

"If mother had been around, I would know how to cook edible food, make flower arrangements…you know, act like a lady," she went on.

Well, I'm sure Keiko-dono would have more sense than to think that is all there is to a true lady. Besides, it wouldn't be fair to the other women, dearest. To be the perfect lady and a kick-ass swords-woman at the same time…mercy me, you'd have the best of the enlightened men falling prostrate at your feet! As for myself…this unworthy one would be more floored than he already is that he would never be able to get up.

"But you love me the way I am, don't you Kenshin?" She asked with an affectionate tilt of her head.

"I wouldn't have you any other way, my love," I replied, pinching her chin gently.

"And even if by some disaster you didn't…" A tender look crossed her face. "Daddy raised me the best way he knew how, and that's all that should matter."

What a wonderful woman she is.

"I wonder…" She mused out loud. "What he would think of me now if he were alive."

I looked intently into her eyes as I replied to her introspection. "He would be very proud of you, especially because you are a Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu adjutant master, because you insist on being independent and because you never let anyone bully you into giving up your principles." I hope she sees the truth in my words.

I think she did, because she smiled and twined her fingers through mine delicately. "Kenshin, have I told you I love you?"

"Yes, many times, in fact," I replied with a smug grin.

She laughed and dug her nails into my hand to punish my impishness. "Well, I'm telling you again. I love you."

It's time.

I reached into my gi and pulled out a box. Flipping it open, I placed it on the table for her to see what was in it. "Love me enough to marry me, Kaoru?"

She blinked. Funny how she's still surprised. She should have seen this coming, then again, if she did, there was no way she could have known I would propose with this ring.

"K-Kenshin…" she gasped, taking the box in both her hands to stare at the ring. "This is…"

I smiled gently. "The ring your father gave to your mother when he proposed to her."

Tears began to spill from her eyes. "Oh Kenshin…oh…you don't know what this means to me…"

"Perhaps I do," I said, reaching out for her hand again.

She took it and looked from the ring to me in somewhat of a daze. "How did you…oh! Maybe it doesn't matter right now."

I squeezed her hand. "Kaoru…"

"Yes, Kenshin, I love you enough to marry you," she said, smiling through her tears. "Goodness! That's a major understatement! I'll marry you because I am utterly and deliriously in love with you."

I believe this is the happiest day of my life to date.

I slipped the band around her ring finger and the blue sapphire solitaire embedded into the white gold sparkled against the lamplight. The distinct smelted Sakura patterns on the band itself gave it the character it so deserved: The ring that made it possible for two men to be honored by the women they love through the acceptance of the offer of marriage. A perfect circle…like the band on Kaoru's finger.

I want to take Kaoru in my arms and give her the most passionate kiss I could impart, but that might scandalize the other patrons.

Darn it, suddenly this place seems so crowded!

Dumping perhaps more than enough yen to pay for our fabulously expensive meal, I got up and pulled Kaoru to her feet.

"Kenshin…!" She gasped, allowing me to lead her hastily out of the restaurant.

I did not bother to give her an explanation. With a whistle, I summoned the coach I commissioned for our night out and immediately told the driver, "Kamiya dojo."

I practically hoisted Kaoru into the carriage and the moment we were secured inside, I expressed my feelings to her with the union of our lips without reservation.

After a considerably long period of making out, Kaoru and I pulled apart to breathe.

"Oh my…" Kaoru said breathlessly. "Kenshin, with kisses like that, how do you expect to wait until the wedding night…?"

Oh, I think I have a pretty strong motivation, or should I say motivator, to behave, but damn! Doesn't mean I consider that a good thing!

"This unworthy one will wait," I managed to tell her through a choked gasp as I held her. I swear, Battousai is either ready to kill me or laugh me into oblivion. "But it will be…" I bit my tongue before I could say "hard" and used a more neutral term. "…difficult."

Kaoru grinned and traced a finger on my scarred cheek. "Well…what if I don't want to wait."

Oro…indeed…who do I do?

Shit. Here I go again. It's WHAT, all right? What do I…oh never mind!

"Kaoru," I groaned. "Don't make this hard."

She giggled.

Oro! The little minx!

"Maa…stop teasing," I told her. It was more of a plea: Kaoru please, for the love of God, refrain from reducing me to a puddle.

She stopped giggling and gave a contented sigh, settling her head against my chest. "Kenshin, your trip to Omiya…and your meeting with Akira Banshio…was it all for this ring?" She asked, holding her hand up a bit to look at the symbol of our engagement.

"Yes," I replied, running my hand idly against her back.

"Dare I ask you how they are related?"

I gave it a thought and answered. "I am not at liberty to say."

"I thought so," she muttered. "Then can you at least tell me how you thought of finding this ring? I've been looking for it ever since I can remember, but I've never even breathed a word about it."

I imagine my reply will only be more confusing to her. "I didn't know about the ring and I didn't know how to find it. But don't ask me how I did."

"Mou! Kenshin, I'll get you for all this one of these days!" She vowed.

Chuckling, I brushed my forefinger against her nose. "I have no doubt of it, my love."

She rolled her eyes and then fell to looking at the ring again. "Kenshin, do you know what my father called this ring?"

"He has a name for it, does he?" I asked. This is interesting.

"Yes. Daddy liked doing that. Giving things names. He called his favorite bokken Junior, and he called the dojo Monkey Hall."

Thus the numerous references to my own monkey-hood. "What does he call this ring?"

"Dyouse no kokoro," she replied with a tender smile.

Ah, Heart of the Woman, another thing Kamiya Tetsuro did right.

Epilogue: Everyone and Everything Needs Closure

Kaoru knelt solemnly before her father's grave, her eyes closed in silent prayer. The sun's rays bounced off the hair on her head, but her raven locks were unrelenting to the light.

I remembered the time I had to be in this exact same place in the graveyard, but in secret because Kaoru had been sneaking off to her father's grave at night. It had been a turning point of my feelings for her. It was the night she made me realize that she can love unworthy little me in the most profound way. Now that I think about it, I believe Kamiya Tetsuro had been listening that night to her entreaties of rising out the grave and beating the crap out of me.

He did, in a way. What with everything he made me go through to get the ring…Kamiya-sama, when I die, I want to be like you.

Oh, that just cracks me up!

Kaoru and I have been married for two weeks. After we got engaged…let's just say it was close to impossible not to, er…throw my Hiten Mitsurugi willpower to the wind. Unless I wanted Kamiya-sama to come back and haunt the hell out of me, the marriage had to be undertaken real fast.

Kaoru's demands. Not necessarily mine. Of course, I never even dreamed of defying her, or I'd really be an idiot.

So, on the wedding night, well…we broke barriers. That's all anyone has to know.

We're still breaking barriers, and not a morning has gone by that I don't have a stupid smile on my face. Well, stupider than my usual former-rurouni fare, at least.

I saw Kaoru open her eyes and rise to her feet.

I came up beside her and draped an arm over the back of her shoulders. "Everything alright, Kaoru?" I asked, giving her a tender smile.

"Yes," she replied, smiling back. "I think daddy is very happy for me."

"Oh, he is," I said in the most convincing way I can.

She arched an amused eyebrow towards me. "You seem awfully sure of yourself."

"I am."

Kaoru merely chuckled and shook her head.

I crouched down to level my eyes to Kamiya-sama's marker.

Kamiya-sama, you're one hell of a guy. I wouldn't exchange having met you for the world. You have my utter and complete respect, you old fart.

I know exactly what he's going to say to that. "Yeah, yeah. Up yours, horny-monkey."

Reaching into my gi, I pulled out a small flask of sake and placed it at the foot of his tombstone. For you, Kamiya Tetsuro…father…friend. Perhaps we can share a bottle next time.

I stood up and gave Kaoru a nod, indicating that I was done.

"That's mighty respectful of you, love," she said, kissing my cheek. "Thank you."

"Well…I respect him. He raised a fine daughter."

She grinned. "If you weren't so eager last night I'd say you're a scandalous flatterer."

"Oro!" I exclaimed in amusement. "I don't flatter anyway, but I'm glad to see that you're easily convinced."

You can be sure I got a wallop for that.

"Kenshin," she began as we walked back to the direction of the dojo. "Will you ever tell me the mystery of the engagement ring?"

I chuckled and took her hand to link it on my arm. "Maybe. Eventually. When I know you can laugh at it."

She frowned slightly. "What do you mean 'when I can laugh at it'?"

I grinned. "There are some things you might not like about it at this time, but I'm sure, somehow, sometime, someone will tell me that you're ready."

I can just see Kamiya-sama coming back. "Hey! Himura! I know my little princess has been asking you about that ring like, forever! I think it's about time you told her the real story." And eighty year old me would say, "A-Alright, sir…"

Or better yet, Kieko-dono would undertake to give me permission. I would certainly like to meet her. Wouldn't it be wonderful if she can tell me, "Himura, my dear, sweet and wonderful son-in-law…" Hey! I can embellish, can't I? It's my imagination and I can damn well do anything I want with it! Back to Kieko-dono… "You may tell Kaoru everything. Do not worry about my husband bothering you about it. I will deal with him myself." I'd give anything to see the look on Kamiya-sama's face. Hehe…

Kaoru's frown deepened, but she gave up. For the meantime, of course. There's no way in hell that she isn't going to bring this up again. Kaoru and I have proven to be evenly matched in stubbornness, a trait, I'm afraid, our children will inherit in biblical proportions.

Children…we'll have many of them. I wonder who will inherit the ring.

Interesting how things work out, in the most extraordinary way possible.

Everything for a single moment. We find ourselves doing the most extraordinary things for the simplest pleasures, and yet it is those brief moments of happiness that we cling to the most.

I have been blessed by wonderful gifts. From Tomoe…from Kamiya-sama…

Dyouse no kokoro…heart of the woman…offer, acceptance, binding, full circle. It will keep turning, and though the woman's heart means more than just precious metals and beautiful gems, there is no better way to embody the sentiment and value of one so dear to a man's soul.

Himura Kaoru, the ring symbolizes your heart. It is I who cherishes it.

THE END

Author's Note: Aaaaaaaaargh! The WAFF is killing me! Don't you just hate me?

Anyway, life has been good to sessha, so I figured, what the hey? An overdose of WAFF might make this world a better place, ne?

This is goodbye to this fic. I'll be back though, but maybe not for a while. The sequels for my other fics will have to wait. Especially with "Pig Boy". The mayhem on that one is still bubbling in my brain. Also, I might go with the serious stuff next. Angst-ridden romance maybe. Balance is essential. Or if I can't write it, I'll just read it!

Jeez! This A.N. is almost POINTLESS!

Except for this part: Thanks again for all you wonderful readers out there who cared for this little ficcie *sniff*…I really luv you all.

Ja! Till the next story!