Life is a cycle, a circle, and what you do unto others will be done unto you.

Her mother's wisdom comes unbidden as she stares at the man in front of her. Her hand tightens on her husband's - her mate's- arm. The wide- eyed look she gives him makes him smile, and she knows that that is why he's here. To see how she reacts.

"Ryo? I thought...my God." She feels faint, and suddenly she is sitting in a chair that wasn't there before. Clutching and twisting at her gown, she refuses to meet those horribly familiar eyes.

"Kaoru. How I've missed you, my love!" She looks up at that statement. Relief and surprise mix in her stomach. Ryo had always been rather dense.

"Ryo...I...I'd like you to meet someone..." She doesn't know how to tell him. How to explain that it has been five years and she hasn't been pining for him. That her heart, fickle, has moved on.

"Of course. But do it quickly- I want to arrange for our return."

"Re-return?" For a moment it passes in one ear and out the other, then truth strikes like lightning in her heart. A hand tightens on her shoulder, and she leans into him.

"To our village, Kaoru. For our wedding."

He looks so innocent, so happy, and when she thinks of all she has done in his absence, she feels much older. Ryo is still a naïve, slightly stupid young man, and she has changed too much. Hasn't she?

"Ryo...this is Kenshin. He and I...are already married."

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"And then, I..." Ryo trails off, staring at her with surprise. She cocks her head, confused, and sits up a little straighter.

"What is it, Ryo?" She asks, concerned.

His face breaks into a wide, sincere smile, and her heart flutters. "You look so happy all of a sudden."

"Just...being with you, like this..." She smiles at him, a worldlier smile, but a real smile all the same. "It reminds me of all he reasons I fell in love with you in the fist place."

He takes her hand, and they sneak, giggling, onto the balcony like children. She is a giddy, lovesick maiden again, thirteen and meeting friends out in the fields late at night.

Drunk on happiness, they kiss beneath the white moon.

The last remnants of the storm clouds melt away.

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Is it punishment, he wonders, for causing so much ruin? For shattering the life of one sad, despairing woman so he could piece her back together again?

Outside the darkened glass doors, Kaoru is kissing Ryo, and all the wine in the world cannot stop him from hurting.

The shadows in front of the moon part and the light shines clearly once again.

In his heart, however, there is only darkness.

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"Are you leaving me?"

She looks up from her poor attempt at sewing in shock. He can read her emotions as though they are scrawled across her skin; she is easy, for him. Loving her is too easy. But once he is with her, he cannot let go.

"You saw us?" Her face tenses for the painful words she knows he will say; his tongue is as sharp as his katana, and he wields it as freely.

"I saw you kiss him and walk away. Was there something else I ought to have seen, beloved?" He asks bitingly.

She can't tell whether or not the endearment is sincere or mocking, a planned attack or an ambush. The word from his mouth is both familiar and strange, and something in her twists at his tone.

"No." She says quietly. She looks down at her hands, at crumpled handkerchief, and looks back at him. "There wasn't."

"I'm surprised at that. You two never had the chance to be together, after all." She buries her face in her knees, the barbs he throws sticking to her like an arrow in soft flesh. Rage rises, unfairly, under her skin and she reddens.

"At the time, I was planning to wait til I was married." She hisses, voice muffled by her skirts and clenched teeth.

"So then, what happened with me?" He drawls. Now she knows he is purposefully lashing out, punishing for her for hurting him, for kissing Ryo.

"I-I changed." Se mumbles. The answer seems inadequate to explain their three year affair, or three year marriage, but war redrew all her boundaries. He redrew all the lines.

"I changed you." He stares out into the bright, sunny day. The sky is clear, blue. To him it is only empty.

She throws her embroidery, giving up, onto the ground. He hurries before she can flee, away into hiding. Away to Ryo. Again, and this time she will answer him.

"Are you leaving me?"

"I don't know." An empty sky for her empty words, her empty honesty. His heart feels hollow. "Do you want me to?"

He is at her side in an instant, trapping her in the oversized chair she loves so much. She hugs her legs, looking wide-eyed and innocent as she stares mutely at him.

"My kind mates for life, Kaoru." He whispers harshly, leaning over her so she is sure to absorb what he is saying. "You cannot possible think I would ever want to be parted from you."

He leaves abruptly, and crumpled, she cries.

Silent in the dark, so does he.

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"Fallen out of love with me?"

They always eat alone on Sunday nights. But tonight there is a third figure. Ryo lingers in both their minds like the smell of incense. She thinks of him, of them, her two bittersweet loves, and ignores him. All her favorite foods, and she finds the meal tasteless, pointless.

"It's much harder to fall out of love than it is to fall into it." He replies. Her silence is answer enough; he maintains a tenuous hold upon her heart still.

She will kill him if she leaves him. He knows that.

But there is no force on earth that could make him hold her fast, should she want to run.

She pushes a full plate, after picking at it for so long.

"Bed." She mutters, fleeing through the glass doors.

It is nearly dawn when she awakes, cold, and realizes for the first time in three years, she is sleeping alone.

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When she comes in, he doesn't acknowledge her. If he ignores her, he won't have to hear rejection pass from her lips. He can pretend his heart is still whole instead of ruined.

But the sound of her weeping will not let him be.

Sprawled across the bed, clutching at his pillow, she is shaking with suppressed sorrow.

He goes to her, sitting distantly at her side. It occurs to him suddenly that this may be the final time he can do this, sit beside her and stroke her hair, and he forces himself to remain detached.

Unable to stop himself, he touches her hair softly. She peeks at him from beneath lowered lashes, wet with tears, and the pillow is pushed aside.

"You're leaving me." He tells her flatly. He can see it in her eyes.

"No." She protests, shaking her head and sitting up on her knees. She hugs the pillow again. "I want to stay here. With you."

"Why?"

"A you said before, it's not easy to fall out of love with someone...and I still love you."

"More than you love Ryo." He murmurs, reaching out for her with steadier hands than hers.

"Why do you ever ask me questions if you know all the answers?" She sniffs. Collapsed against him, she cannot think of anything but him. She is obsessed, concentrated, bound to Kenshin in a way she is with no one else.

Even if he were to vanish tomorrow, she thinks, she would remember each and every second with him for the rest of her life. He is etched, irreversibly, onto her heart, mind, soul. She is too addicted, too dependent on him to leave.

Looking into his eyes, she can see that he feels the same way towards her.

He starts to unlace her corset, stitch by stitch. Instinctively, impulsively, she throws her arms around him and holds tightly to him. She could never let go of him; they are too tightly wound together, intertwined like the laces of her corset.

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They lie there, side by side, three endless inches between them. She keeps her back to him, not ready to face him just yet.

She rolls onto her back, once she is sure he is fast asleep, or intent on pretending he is. Her hand flops onto his, and she starts to move away in awkward shame.

"...beloved..."

His fingers thread with hers, warm and safe, and she is forgiven, saved, salvaged.

The night goes dark as he pulls the cover over both their heads, and the three inches between them disappear.

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When I said this was a one-shot...I lied. I am a bad, bad person.

It's over. I will not write any more. I will go do Contraposition (which still adamantly refuses to cooperate) and the other one-shot that demands my attention.

If any of you have the English manga Volume five, the title page (the one that reads volume five) has a picture that helped inspire the first scene of part one.

Hope you enjoyed this.

Review, please! This has been chickentyrant5.