The Stages of Drowning Thyself

Part 10 : Death

Notes: This was definitely one of the hardest chapters to write. I hope it's enjoyed by anyone and everyone who reads it. :-) The end is near~ C&Cs are again, much appreciated.

---

There weren't many moments of happiness in Himura Kenshin's life. In fact, if he were to put a label on his life thus far, he wouldn't go anywhere near the word 'happy'. He had barely escaped abusive parents, went through years of struggling through orphanages, had continuously mistaken good gestures as indicators of good people – and had paid dearly for his mistakes, and had suffered more deaths to the people he had even an ounce of care for than to the ones who had done him harm. All in all, Kenshin always expected the worse to come his way and was extremely careful to never allow anyone near him.


Of course, that changed when he met Kamiya Kaoru.


It wasn't for lack of trying to push her away. Actually, he had tried pushing her away too many times to count. No, Kaoru was stubborn and curious and was just too damned caring to let him go. Kenshin had been attracted to her at once – it was a rarity to meet a woman who was beautiful, strong and with such vivacious energy, he could hardly keep up with her. However, knowing his record with the people who had cared for him or he had cared for personally, he tried to stay away. Dear Kami-sama, how he had tried to stay away.


Kaoru made him happy. He felt contentment that he had never felt before for anyone else or from anything else rise within him whenever he was near her. It was apparent that after being around her for several months, he would lose his battle with keeping her at bay. Because for some strange reason, Kaoru seemed to find joy with him too.


Kenshin beamed to himself as he thought that to himself. He looked down at Kaoru, sleeping in his arms, and realized that he wanted to be selfish for once and allow himself to share happiness with Kaoru.


Kaoru had never flinched at his oh-so-obvious scar, never seemed to really notice his scar. She only seemed to see him, Kenshin, as he is. Kaoru had also never asked him about his scar either. Something which he found refreshing as people tended to view him with suspicion and would normally ask within the first hour of meeting him.


But no, it had been almost seven months into meeting Kaoru and she had never once asked him about it. By Gods, he knew he loved her. And he wanted to marry her.


Soon. Immediately.


Kenshin sighed, the burden of his past always weighing down on him whenever he thought of marriage to Kaoru. If he wanted her in his life forever – and forever was a long time – then he needed for her to know the most important part of him. Why there was such a scar on his face and why the same scar had been forever etched into his conscience.


Kenshin nudged Kaoru gently, smiling to himself as he watched her awaken.

"Kenshin?" Her voice was laden with sleep. "What's wrong?"

"Kaoru-dono…," Even after months of being together, he couldn't quite call her anything else. He felt too much respect for her. "Kaoru-dono, there's something I've got to tell you."


Her eyes blinked several times and she pushed herself up into a sitting position. Rubbing the weariness and sleep from her eyes, she gave him a look in which he knew that she knew the gravity of what he was about to tell her.

"Yes?" She reached out, her hand smoothing its way across his cheek, running her fingers through strands of his hair. "Yes, Kenshin?"


He also sat up, his annoyingly long hair draping him as he leaned in for a brief kiss. He reached out to hold her face in his hands.

"Kaoru-dono," Kenshin started softly, "I'm in love with you."


Kaoru's eyes visibly brightened, her smile speaking volumes of delight and surprise as she leaned in to give him a longer, sweeter kiss.

"I love you too," Kaoru whispered the words across his lips, kissing him again.


Kenshin felt the warm breath of joy seeping through him at her words. It was a feeling he hadn't quite yet become accustomed to – but he enjoyed it immensely nonetheless.


He broke away from her, his smile turning a bit more wary.

"There's something you need to know about me."

"What?" Kaoru's face turned worried, her eyes searching his expression.


Kenshin took in a deep breath, putting some distance between the two of them, contemplating his next words and the wisdom of sharing his past with her.

"I've been married before."


He kept his eyes down and didn't notice the way Kaoru's expression froze.

"She died." Kenshin took in another breath. "It was my fault."


---

Kaoru felt something like déjà vu wash over her as Enishi lowered his eyes, turning away from her.

"Yukishiro Tomoe was my sister." Enishi spoke slowly, drawing out the syllables of her name as if they hurt to be spoken aloud.

A stab of panic and awareness pierced Kaoru's mind.

"I think you also know," Enishi sighed, "…that she had once been married to Himura."

"B-b-but…," Kaoru was still shocked by the revelation. She took a deep breath, calming her thoughts, grasping at her words. "Does… does Kenshin know?"

"Oh," Enishi's voice took on a wry tone, "I'm sure he'll figure it out soon enough."

"Kenshin never told me that she had a brother." Kaoru sounded disbelieving.

Enishi gave a bark of a laugh, the sound was hollow and painful to her ears.

"Yes well, theirs was not a long marriage – as you already know."

Kaoru gathered his sheets around her, making a make-shift cover.

"You're – you're," Kaoru gulped, "You blame Kenshin for her death?"

"Gee, you're quick love," Enishi's sarcasm proved to be another pierce through her senses.

If there had been any warmth in the room, it quickly disappeared with the aloof tone of his voice.

Kaoru wasn't particularly sure how to proceed. When Kenshin had described his short marriage to Tomoe, she had thought that the past was long gone and buried. Apparently, the past had carried on into the present in the form of Yukishiro Enishi and it had stumbled into her life.

Kaoru noticed the word 'stumbled'.

'Had he really 'stumbled' into my life?' Kaoru's thoughts turned to horror.

"If you knew about Kenshin…," Kaoru felt her face drain of blood, " Did you… did you…"

"Yes, I knew who you were the moment I met you." Enishi paused and then fixed her with a cold stare, his eyes void of feeling. "No, I knew you from the instant I saw you. Before you even made your introductions."

A mixture of emotions tumbled through her. There was confusion, of that there were aplenty. There was also grief but she was not sure why it was there. Anger, disappointment and uncertainty swiveled into a big mess that made it difficult for her to breathe properly. Kaoru looked up to Enishi and wasn't sure what she was looking at.

Several moments ago, he was a welcomed sight. A man she had cared for, someone whom she thought she might let herself love.

'Love?' Kaoru's inner thoughts screamed desperately. 'What was I thinking?!'

Kaoru was glued to the bed, unsure of whether to move, run, speak – unsure of how to properly react.

She chose to swallow all her emotions, closing her eyes momentarily.

"What are you trying to tell me, Enishi?" Kaoru's voice sounded hoarser than she had thought.

There was quiet and all she could focus on was the blackness and emptiness behind her closed eyes. She couldn't handle the tumultuous feelings that crashed violently into her every time
she caught sight of his eyes. It was too much.

"I thought," Enishi paused.

Quiet again.

Kaoru breathed in. Breathed out.

There was a sound of shuffling and she felt his fingers against her bare shoulder. She shuddered and pulled away from his touch.

Enishi looked pained but didn't press forward again.

"I thought I would hurt him." Enishi steeled his voice, keeping a check on his emotions. "I would hurt him by hurting you."

If there was any way to make her eyes shut even more tightly, she would have. She wanted to blot him out. Block out his voice, the sense of his presence, him… She needed to get away.

"No." She wasn't sure when she had spoken, her voice coming out as a whisper. "You wouldn't hurt me. You couldn't…"

Unbeknownst to Kaoru, she had started shaking. Enishi noticed and drew nearer again, not touching her.

"I was going to sell you off." Enishi noticed her shaking becoming more pronounced, "Tonight. Just now – before I came in."

She felt like she would vomit. Things were overflowing inside her, too many things which she couldn't name and they were threatening to spill forth in some way or another. A choking sound ensued as she struggled to keep the contents of her stomach in.

Her eyes opened and Ensihi felt something slice through his gut, ripping him open. There were tears pooled in her eyes and she was struggling to keep them back. She looked… repulsed.

"Kaoru…" He reached out to her.

"No!" Kaoru tried moving away from him.

"Kaoru, I couldn't do it." Enishi ignored her attempts to throw him off and continued to reach for her.

She was screaming words – or maybe they were just sounds of frustration, despair, wrath – she was just screaming and trying to get away from him. Enishi was determined to hold her to him. They both struggled and as she continued screaming, Kaoru realized that she was too tired – her energy had been spent on her emotions and she couldn't even fight him off properly. Throwing out her arms in a last futile attempt to push him away, Kaoru managed a satisfying slap against the side of Enishi's face before he scooped her into his arms, locking her arms and herself in his hold.

"Kaoru," Enishi murmured her name amongst her sobs, "Kaoru, please…, I couldn't do it to you. I couldn't… Kaoru, I couldn't…"

Kaoru shook her head, still sobbing, not realizing she was sobbing, still struggling in his hold.

"Kaoru…," Enishi continued to chant her name in a whisper, burying his face in the crook of her neck, "Kaoru, Kaoru, Kaoru…"

And they sat that way – Enishi holding her tightly against him, Kaoru attempting to free herself from his hold from time to time. Kaoru's incoherent sobs turned quiet, Enishi still murmuring her name as a prayer. When at last she stilled herself in his arms, Kaoru forced herself to calm down. She focused on no particular corner of the room, taking in all her senses.

His skin was warm against hers, a blanket over her chilled skin.

His breathing was more frantic than hers, her name spilled from his lips in fervor.

She could smell a clean scent, almost like the ocean air, emanating from Enishi.

The faint scent of leather hung inconspicuously from his room.

There was the scent of their recent lovemaking, the haze of confusion clung amidst it.

She noticed his fingers, clutching at her arms, digging into her skin as if she buoyed him to the surface.

She heard his breath, slowing down – but felt the slight tremor in his hold.

Kaoru then felt emptiness, feeling tired and resigned.

"'Nishi." She spoke his name without inflection.

He loosened his grip on her. His face still turned to her neck.

"Kaoru?"

"Let me go." And, probably as an afterthought, "Please."

Enishi released her slowly. Almost as if he was afraid she would disappear if he let her go too soon. He leaned back against his bed, his eyes downcast, his white hair mussed and in
disarray. Kaoru turned to view him and saw that his limbs appeared broken. They didn't look comfortable in the position they were in, his head hanging as if it were lifeless. He made no move towards her.

Kaoru stood up. A feeling of self-consciousness overwhelmed her at the state of her nudity.

Her eyes roamed for her clothes.

"You're leaving me." Enishi's voice was again dead and hollow, his statement tinged with hurt.

"You can't have thought I would stay." Kaoru managed to say.

"No," Enishi's head moved slightly, his eyes remained away from hers. "No, I never thought you'd stay."

Kaoru felt herself being stabbed by the same piercing hurt as before. She didn't want to leave him. She wanted to stay. Kaoru clenched her hands into fists, her nails digging into her palm.

'Stupid stupid Enishi.' She berated him mentally.

"Why'd you have to do this?" She asked, almost pleading, her voice breaking. "Why tell me about Tomoe-san now?"

Enishi shrugged, his moves careless.

"I had to. Himura would have told you sooner or later."

Kaoru swallowed. She didn't know what else to say. By Gods, she didn't want to leave him. But she knew if she stayed she would be making the wrong choice. One didn't let one's
boyfriend sell one off and still be with them. Even if they changed their minds. What would it say about him? Kami-sama, what would that say about her?

"He divorced you to protect you from people like me." Enishi spoke monotonously.

Kaoru turned around swiftly, glaring at Enishi.

"What are you trying to say?" Kaoru nearly yelled. "That he's coming back to me now?"

Enishi shrugged.

"You're better off in his protection."

"So you're pushing me to him now?" Kaoru's voice was definitely a yell now.

Enishi shrugged again, this time not saying anything.

"I don't need his protection!" Kaoru stomped her foot, feeling ridiculous but needing to stress her point. "I don't need him!"

What she really wanted to shout out was: 'I need you!'

Kaoru wished Enishi would look at her. She couldn't gauge his feelings when he was looking away.

She found her clothes folded neatly atop one of his chairs. He must have brought it in when … when…

Kaoru couldn't allow herself to finish her thoughts. She hurried through putting them on, needing to be away from Enishi – at the same time, needing him to plead her to stay.

Once done, Kaoru turned to Enishi again and found that he hadn't moved.

"Are you going to come after me again?" Kaoru managed to ask.

"No."

"Are you going to hurt Kenshin?"

"Maybe." Enishi shrugged. "Yes."

Kaoru looked pained.

"Enishi…"

At the desperate, saddened tone of her voice, Enishi looked up. He wished he hadn't. Kaoru was looking at him as if he had broken her heart.

'Don't be ridiculous.' Enishi grimaced. 'You had no effect whatsoever on her heart.'

Kaoru walked briskly to his side, sitting in front of him again.

"Enishi…"

Resting a hand on his face, she tried to memorize him. Why, she didn't know. It seemed she had a penchant for disastrous relationships.

Enishi held her gaze, quirking an eyebrow as if questioning her.

And then she kissed him.

Kaoru tasted him, pressing her lips against his, feeling him responding to her. His hand tentatively touched her yet not daring to come any closer to her.

She hated it.

Hated that she had to leave him. Hated that he wouldn't even try to make her stay.

Why was he just allowing her to leave?

She broke away, touching her forehead to his.

"Stupid, stupid Enishi."

Enishi's lips pulled into a grim half-smile.

"So I've realized."

---

"It was a long time ago." Kenshin felt the same guilt and devastation cloak him as he brought his past into the present. "We were young, we rushed into it. I was in no shape to be married and neither was she."


Kaoru remained quiet. Words seemed inappropriate at the moment. She noticed that his violet eyes turned somber, the shade turning almost grey.

"I tried to make her happy but, you see, she was incapable of smiling." Kenshin's lips turned into a quiver of a smile. "All I ever wanted was her to smile but it seemed like she couldn't. I knew she never smiled even before we were married but I thought –,"


Kenshin stopped. His smile wavered then turned into a grim line.

" – I thought I would be the one to change that." Kenshin looked up to Kaoru, wanting her to understand but never hoping she would. Kenshin shrugged, looking away again. "I comforted myself by thinking that maybe I made her happy even when she didn't show it."


Kaoru saw how he struggled with his words, how he was fighting the shadows as they spilled forth. She felt herself lean towards him, her heart heavy with his grief.

"But I don't think she was capable of feeling joy." Kenshin didn't seem to notice that Kaoru had leaned into him. "She loved me, I'm sure of that, but her love wasn't anything bright and blissful. It was a melancholy love. There was something that was too dreary in her that she wouldn't let herself feel anything but that sorrow."


Kaoru's hand gently skimmed over his, threading their fingers together. Kenshin looked at their entwined fingers and she could feel his emotions in the strength of his grip.

"Still," Kenshin continued through clenched teeth, "I thought I would be enough. I thought our marriage and our love could sustain us, even with her constant sadness."


Kenshin gave a hollow laugh,

"I thought that I could have a marriage without smiles and laughter."


Kaoru felt her heart constrict. What kind of life had he gone through to accept love in such dire measures?

"But I never thought that I made her condition even worse." Kenshin's eyes lowered, his grip loosening its hold. "Tomoe became more withdrawn towards the last few months of our marriage and then there came a point where she stopped speaking to me altogether. A few more months later, she was almost never in the same room as I was and I only saw her when she prepared our meals and when she cleared them away."


Kenshin closed his eyes.

"I got upset." Kenshin brought Kaoru's hand to his cheek, leaning into her warmth. "I didn't know how to confront her. I couldn't yell or physically shake her so that she would even try to tolerate me. So I reacted selfishly and steered away from her."


Kaoru flattened her palm against his skin, her thoughts at a standstill as she witnessed the grief in Kenshin's expression. He turned his face to her palm, almost as if he was shying away.

"I told myself at the time that I was only trying to give her what she wanted – that she wouldn't want me around anyway. I told myself maybe I was helping her this way." Kenshin paused. "I was lying to myself. I loved her and I couldn't bear seeing how she couldn't tolerate my company. I was only thinking of myself."

"Kenshin -," Kaoru felt she should speak up at this point.

"And then she killed herself." Kenshin's voice was monotonous. "She didn't prepare lunch one afternoon and I thought she had finally extracted herself from me. I didn't see her for the whole day… and then she didn't prepare dinner. The next morning she didn't prepare breakfast and then lunch… and dinner again…

"I thought she had decided to completely remove herself from me. I didn't know…," Kenshin voice was still low and matter-of-fact, but there was a pained look in his face. "Two days had passed by and it was then I noticed that I hadn't heard any movement from her room. When I found her she was lying on her bed, her arms folded over her like she was sleeping. Only she was still. So still.

"She left without saying anything, without leaving anything." Kenshin paused. "I had nothing to tell her family. I didn't know what to tell them. Her brother even thought I had driven her to suicide."


Kenshin grimaced.

"They had to physically restrain her brother. He was crying and screaming and calling me a murderer." Kenshin sighed. "And I couldn't even defend myself. I had always known she had difficulty feeling joy but I didn't try hard enough to make her happy. Or I didn't help her the way I should have. I just… I …

"I just knew that even if I hadn't taken her life, I had played a hand in it anyways." Kenshin looked up at Kaoru, his eyes deadened. "I knew that I had caused her death."

"Kenshin – "


Kaoru leaned closer but Kenshin took her hand away from his cheek and held it against her heart. She felt him put the barrier between them as he gave her a leveled look.

"And that's not the only story I carry with me, Kaoru-dono." Kenshin said, "Death and grief seem to follow me and the people I care most for. I don't know if I can make you happy, I don't know if I can make anyone happy … I'm not sure if I'm capable of truly feeling that myself but…"

"Kenshin – "

"But Kaoru-dono," Kenshin broke in again, his expression turning earnest. "I need you to know. At least then you'll have a fair idea of what you're getting into. I care for you too much to mislead you. I want only happiness for you – you out of all people deserve it and I don't –"


Kaoru leaned in and kissed him swiftly, cutting off the rest of his sentence and the rest of his thoughts. She held onto him tightly, loving him with her kiss, trying to wash away his sorrow even momentarily. Kenshin held onto her just as tightly, pulling her to him and clutching her close. She kept her lips on his as she lowered herself back on the bed, pulling him on top of her.


Kaoru's lips left him only briefly – her eyes catching his resolutely. She whispered the next words against his lips.

"You make me happy, Kenshin."


---

Thinking back, Kaoru wondered why Kenshin didn't appear at her doorsteps earlier.

But he did – almost two weeks after Kaoru had left Enishi. He looked grim but there was a small tinge of satisfaction to his grimness that made Kaoru feel cross.

"What?" Kaoru glared at him, not even bothering for politeness.

"I have important news." Kenshin looked a little surprise at her glare.

"If it's about Enishi then you're two weeks too late." Kaoru narrowed her brows at him, not feeling like prolonging the conversation.

Kenshin looked a little perturbed.

"Did he – He told you - ?"

"He told me that he's Tomoe-san's brother." Kaoru nodded once, tapping her foot impatiently. "So you see, there's no more news that you could possibly tell me."

"Kaoru – "

"I have things to do Kenshin," Kaoru said firmly, "I hope you won't find me rude if I ask you to leave right now."

Kenshin did seem to think that she was being rude but he was also too surprised to do anything but nod along.

"Good." Kaoru nodded also, still looking cross. "Take care, Kenshin."

She closed the door without any more words and Kenshin found himself staring at her door once more.

---

Enishi had never overindulged in anything. One should notice that the previous sentence denotes a past quality. Enishi had always maintained cool, composure and had strictly disciplined himself to apply his stress onto work. He had never had too much to drink on the basis that it blurred his senses and he preferred to be on point at all times. He had always been extremely particular about the women he chose to allow into his bed (or theirs) as he was extremely paranoid (cautious, in his own words) and took the sexual act as merely a regular exercise in which he needed to exert himself in from time to time. He had never done anything on any scale of extreme (with the one exception being his quest for revenge for his sister, but that was another matter entirely) and felt that it reflected the degree of control he had on his life and others around him.

Well, one Kamiya Kaoru placed everything into perspective.

He wasn't sure when he picked up his first drink. He wasn't sure when he picked up his next drink. He wasn't sure whose bed he had slept on the night Kaoru had left him. And he was definitely unsure of how long time had passed when he next regained consciousness. All he knew of, once adjusting his blurred vision and taking in his surrounding, was that he needed more of forgetfulness, more of drinks, more of comforting himself with more women, and more of putting away Kaoru's face and memory from his mind.

He would wake up to find himself in the cushion of a woman's softness. He would blink several times, delaying from taking a closer look at her face. But when he did, he felt the same nausea arise every time it was confirmed that the woman was not Kaoru. He would get up, find more drink and dulled his senses and memories away. During those moments where he was without his rational mind, he obtained more women, somehow managed to find his way into them and woke up to repeat the process all over again.

All in all, he was a mess after a month had gone by. Or maybe it was two.

He wasn't at a state where he needed to know exactly how much time had elapsed from the last day he had been sober and possessed a semblance of a logical mind.

Enishi was nursing an annoying headache (a trifle word for something that felt like a pounding on hell's walls) and was even more uncivilized than usual to the unfortunate people who graced his office that particular day.

'She didn't even say goodbye.' Enishi harrumphed to himself. Oddly annoyed by this small matter.

'After what you did, she didn't owe one to you.' Enishi continued his thoughts to himself. 'But you'd think that she was the type of person to end things with a 'goodbye'.'

Enishi paused in his train of thoughts, swiveling his chair so that he looked out into the view of his glass windows. The sunlight hurt his eyes and that in turn, made his headache worse. He turned away from the light and looked to nowhere in particular. His vision was flooded with the memory of his last night with Kaoru.

'She should say goodbye.' Enishi suddenly thought to himself, pushing himself away from his chair. 'I'm gonna make her end it properly.'

Enishi wondered if he should think out his sudden thoughts more carefully.

He paused next to his desk.

'It's not as if it could get any worse.' Enishi thought to himself grimly.

And with that, Enishi went out in search of Kaoru, telling himself that he needed an official rejection instead of an informal one.

---

Unbeknownst to Enishi, Kenshin had the same idea of approaching Kaoru on that same day. Kenshin felt that though Kaoru might not want to speak with him, he wanted to speak with her. Some things needed to be said and he wouldn't budge until she eventually gave in. Knowing Kaoru (which he did, having once been married to her and privy to her most private thoughts), she would understand the necessity of his actions as soon as she saw him.

Kenshin looked absolutely determined as he approached the Kamiya Kasshin Dojo, watching as his former love and wife (former wife, Kenshin corrected himself mentally, – he still held her as the love of his life) finished up classes for the day. Children of various ages stumbled out of her doors, breathless and still vibrating with the energy of their class. Kenshin waited until they had all emptied out before making his entrance.

Kaoru looked up, her blue eyes flashing as if she was expecting an intruder. Once she saw that it was him, Kenshin saw her eyes grow tired.

"Go away Kenshin." Kaoru murmured loud enough for him to hear.

Without waiting for a response from him, she went about the business of closing the dojo.

Kenshin was again stunned that she had turned him out point blank, not even bothering to look at him as she did it.

Brushing the surprise aside, Kenshin steeled himself to continue as he had planned.

"Kaoru-dono, we need to talk." Kenshin spoke in his most placating tone.

"No," Kaoru's voice was still monotonous, "We do not. And don't take that tone with me."

Kenshin was taken aback.

"What tone? I was being absolutely civil."

"That's exactly it." Kaoru murmured under her breath. "You take that tone when you think I'm being unreasonable."

"But Kaoru-dono –"

"Kenshin." Kaoru stopped in the middle of an action, spinning about to narrow her eyes at him. "Why are you here?"

"I told you." Kenshin felt confused. The conversation was not going as he had planned. "We need to talk."

"Yes." Kaoru tapped her foot. "Why are you here to talk?"

"There are things we need to settle." Kenshin wasn't sure where Kaoru intended the conversation to go.

"Kenshin." Kaoru sighed. "Kenshin, what are you hoping to achieve by settling things with me?"

Kaoru had again stunned him into speechlessness. Kenshin was unsure of how he was supposed to answer the question.

"Well, I had hoped to have things back to the way they were, I suppose." Kenshin spoke his words slowly, drawing them out as if he was continuously thinking his thoughts out loud.

Kaoru ran a hand through her sweat-drenched forelocks. She took a deep breath as she undid her ponytail, shook out her hair, re-gathered them in her hands and tied it back into a neat ponytail. Kenshin waited through her silent movements, wondering what she would say next.

"Kenshin," Kaoru's voice sounded pained, "Kenshin, we're divorced."

Kenshin felt the words like a blow to his gut. He managed to keep his face straight and pleasant as he cocked his head to one side.

"I know, Kaoru-dono." Kenshin's voice was expertly smooth.

"When I ceased to be your wife," Kaoru inhaled deeply before releasing a 'whoosh' of air, "You ceased to need to put things back in order. I'm supposed to do that by myself now."

"But we're friends." Kenshin maintained his casual tone. "I had acted horribly the last time – when I had met Enishi, that last time I saw you. As a friend, I need to put things right."

Kaoru was quiet for a moment. She gave him a long stare, searching his eyes for something. Kenshin felt his heart drum rapidly, forcing himself to appear blank and impassive. He didn't need her to know what he was thinking about.

"Kenshin, this may sound awfully conceited of me but," Kaoru paused, still keeping her eyes locked with his, "I'm not getting back together with you."

If she had had a knife, it would have been in his heart right about now. The words were not just a stab but a cut, slicing whatever was left of his heart into tiny indiscernible pieces. Kenshin wondered if he would ever recover from the brutal blow.

"What?" He barely managed to get the word out.

"What?" He tried again, his voice sounding no better this time around.

"I'm not getting back together with you." Kaoru's voice was less soft, sterner now. "If you want to be friends, you have to know that. I'm never going to feel the same about you as I had before."

Kenshin didn't even bother to negate her statement. He knew he would be lying if he denied not hoping for a chance with her again. He had hidden the thought within himself, convincing himself that there was no harm in being close to her when he knew the opposite to be true.

Kaoru took a deep breath and continued.

"If we're going to be friends, I don't think I can see you for awhile."

"What?" Apparently, that would be the only word he would be able to produce today.

"I think that if we're really ever going to be just friends and nothing more, you need to stop seeing me." Kaoru gave him a deeply apologetic look. "I don't think you see me as 'just a friend' right now. And until you can honestly look at me and know you feel nothing romantically for me, I don't think we'll ever be friends."

Kenshin was dumbfounded. A life without Kaoru was unfathomable to him. It felt as if she was telling him to make the grass become purple and rabbits to start spouting haiku.

"But Kaoru –," he managed to croak out.

"You need to let me go, Kenshin." Kaoru's voice was pleading. "I can't have you hovering over me like a jealous husband. I'm not your wife. I've stopped being your wife for quite some
time now."

Kenshin closed his eyes, turning his head away from Kaoru. He couldn't look at her at the moment. Knowing that he would have to leave her, this time taking himself physically away from her, made him feel slightly suicidal. He wondered if this was the feeling that had constantly plagued Tomoe when she was alive. If it was, he understood all too well why she felt she needed to put a permanent end to her life.

He wondered if he would be able to be braver.

"And don't you dare think of following in Tomoe's footsteps." Kaoru frowned, as if sensing his thoughts.

Kenshin opened his eyes abruptly, noticing the cross look in her eyes.

"Look what good her actions brought on us. Look at how it affected Enishi."

At Enishi's name, Kenshin saw her expression soften briefly.

"You'll find happiness, Kenshin." Kaoru spoke softly. "It'll be with something new, something different this time. It just won't be with me."

---

'I don't love you anymore.' Kaoru thought to herself sadly, watching Kenshin depart from her dojo. 'At least, not the way you want me to.'

There were no teary good-byes this time. Kenshin was not the sort. But even without the great show of emotions, she knew she had hurt him deeply. Unfortunately, Kaoru knew that it was something she had to do.

Kaoru looked around her dojo and heaved a great sigh. She couldn't let Kenshin continue to dog her moves, acting as if they were still married when he was the one to have broken things off. She had had plenty of time to think about her ongoing relationship with Kenshin and knew that he would have continued to keep his feelings for her if she had not done something about it.

And anyways…

Kaoru watched as the last wisp of red hair disappeared from view.

… her heart was already with another person.

---

It was a testament to how the fates were now turning on him that Enishi stumbled upon Kenshin in the streets.

He had initially gone to Kaoru's apartment and had discovered that she was not in. Thinking that it was a sign from above intervening on his behalf, Enishi had felt the same annoyance which had plagued him throughout the day. Not being the type of a person to give up easily, Enishi went on a search for Kaoru's dojo. If he didn't find her there, then he would go to that Akabeko restaurant of hers.

He would find Kaoru and demand finality.

Even in Enishi's mind, the sentence didn't sound right but he was stubborn and unyielding and he went on in search of Kaoru.

Along the way, Enishi felt his simmering annoyance turn black when he caught sight of the familiar figure of Himura Kenshin. The urge to drive a sharp object into the man's eyes was very strong and Enishi had to physically fight himself not to reach for the small penknife he carried around with him. He stopped in his tracks and mentally prepared himself for the confrontation with Kenshin.

This was the man whom his revenge was targeted at.

This man was the reason that he couldn't be with Kaoru.

Enishi's brows furrowed deep as he scowled at the approaching Kenshin.

When the small, red-haired man finally raised his features and noticed his presence though, Enishi felt the anger ebb away into curiousity. There was a haunted look barely concealed by Kenshin's eyes.

"Himura." He called out the name, his voice neutral.

Kenshin didn't seem at all perturbed at seeing him in the middle of the street.

"Yukishiro Enishi." Kenshin sighed. "It was a wonder I didn't recognize you from your name."

"Apparently my sister didn't hold much importance for you." Enishi felt fury igniting itself within him.

"Your sister had irrevocably changed my life, Yukishiro. But that wasn't why I didn't recognize you." Kenshin's hollowed eyes were on Enishi but they did not seem to see him. "I heard news that you were dead. That and you look nothing like the boy I knew."

"I'm hardly a boy now, Himura." Enishi bit out, though with less venom than he had originally thought he had.

"No, you're not." Kenshin sounded tired.

"You have no idea --," Enishi broke off, shaking his head. He wouldn't let emotions color his speech with him. "You know of my situation with Kaoru?"

He had intentionally used her name in an intimate manner to spite Kenshin. It seemed to work momentarily – his eyes focused perceptibly before becoming withdrawn again. Kenshin appeared to be nothing more than a shell in front of Enishi.

"Kaoru…," Kenshin whispered her name.

Enishi fought the urge to slit the man's tongue for speaking Kaoru's name. It didn't escape his notice that Kenshin didn't add the customary address he usually used with her name.

"I'm leaving her." Kenshin said, his voice deadened.

"What?" Enishi snapped from his violent thoughts. "What?!"

Kenshin gave a wry smile – it looked as if it hurt him to lift his lips to manage that small movement.

"Well, I suppose the correct way to say it is that she made me leave her."

Enishi wasn't sure on how to respond. The first emotion he felt at this pronouncement was incredible relief. The second was apprehensiveness at the lack of emotion being displayed by Kenshin.

Kenshin looked up to Enishi, a hardened look on his face.

"I'm leaving Tokyo." Kenshin said. "I'm leaving for her sake, to see if there is some truth to what she had told me."

Kenshin paused, and then turned his glare on Enishi full-force. His eyes held amber flints as he considered his words then turned golden as he spoke,

"But if I hear of any trouble regarding Kaoru-dono, I will definitely come back."

Enishi wasn't sure of how to respond as Kenshin stepped away from him, almost as if they hadn't been speaking to each other in the first place. He kept his head down and walked away, a shadow looming over him as he left without another word.

It was then that Enishi understood what his eyes couldn't translate for him for the past few minutes he'd been talking to Kenshin.

He needn't go after Kenshin anymore.

Whatever hurt he would have inflicted on him would never be anywhere close to the one Kaoru had just meted out.

Enishi's eyes widened as he stared dumbly into nothingness.

It had been almost twenty years that he had moved, breathed, lived for the moment of exacting revenge and justice over his sister's death. Every step he had taken was towards bringing him closer to fulfilling his goals. He had always envisioned the end results. He had always known he would be victorious. It never occurred to him that the pawn he had wanted to use against Kenshin had turned around and done the deed for him (though he was sure that Kaoru had no idea the extent of damages her actions had on Kenshin).

He wasn't quite sure of whether to be insanely pleased or maddened by this turn of events.

After pondering this, turning a blind eye to disgruntled passersby who had to skirt around him as he stood in the middle of a crowded street, Enishi could feel only emptiness.

There was no feeling.

Enishi eyed the dojo – only a block away from where he was standing.

He contemplated.

And then he turned around and left.

---

End of Part 10: Death