Chapter 19

A Bed of Roses

"Kaoru..."

"Yes?"

"You have made me angry and mad and happy at the same time."

"Really. Thank you. I'm glad I'm doing a good job."

"I've waited for so long and do not want to wait anymore. Please, Kaoru..."

Startled, she looked at him cautiously, almost wearily.

"What is it?"

"Marry me."

The ensuring silence made Kenshin wonder if he uttered something wrong. Kaoru bit her lips and turned away. Hugging herself, she forced her trembling body to stop shaking.

"Kaoru?"

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry but I can't. I just can't."

XXX

His heart literally stopped for a moment before his lungs cried out for air. Kenshin stared at the woman before him, her eyes full of regrettable sorrow.

"Why? Why can't you marry me? I thought we resolved the issues? I love you, Kaoru. I want to marry you and have children with you and build a family. You are all I want. Why can't you see that?" Kenshin asked, masking how desperate he felt by chilling his voice. It made Kaoru wince but she did not turn to see him. She kept her gaze on the pond and sighed.

"It's not that I do not want to marry you, Kenshin. I do, I really do. I want a family with you too," she murmured softly before turning to meet his gaze. In her eyes, he could see the burden of the world and wisdom far beyond her years shining through. "I want to marry you but so many things have happened. I can't keep up. First, there was us and then there was Enishi and Tomoe. What happened between Enishi and I, it just froze my heart. I can't imagine getting married right now because whatever happened is burned in my mind and I keep hearing his voice. I keep hearing him saying we are going to get married and that I belonged to him and my heart just stops. I know it is not logical or even rational, but fear rarely is. And the two of us? We just settled our differences. I don't know you...really know you. What you like, what you don't? I don't know how you react in different situations. I have seen you jealous and sometimes, you are nice to me but those are not enough."

She took a step towards him and laid a hand gently on his scarred cheek. Smiling softly, she kept her eyes on his.

"I want to know you, Kenshin Himura, like a lover. Not just the physical aspect of our relationship, which incidentally we are not going to explore until we are married, but the intimacy of our relationship. I want to know the man I am going to marry. Is that so wrong for me to ask?"

Kenshin sighed and his eyes soften. She could really do that to him, he realized affectionately as he covered her hand with his own and kissed the inside of her wrist.

"Why can't you know me after marriage? I assure you, even after marriage, I have many aspects for to see and uncover. Do we really need to wait?"

Kaoru smiled sadly and laid her head on his shoulder, absorbing his strength. He might have a slight and slim build but she could feel the muscles on his shoulders. As Kenshin wrapped his arms around her, Kaoru sighed in contentment, feeling safer than she had ever felt before.

"You and I need to know each other better. Kenshin, you have never courted me. Don't argue. I want to know you before we get married. And I still have some doubts about walking down the aisle. When we get married, Kenshin Himura, I do not want to have any doubts at all."

"When you say it like that, how can I say 'no'? How can I deny you anything, love?"

Kaoru's smile widened and she reached up to brush her lips lightly against his. As Kenshin leaned forward to deepen the kiss, she pulled back playfully. He frowned and tried to grab her but she pulled away.

"Koi..." he growled warningly.

Kaoru laughed. "If we end up kissing that way, we will end up possibly on the grass with our clothes tossed aside. No way, Kenshin! I am not risking that! We are going to have a time out! Besides, I have a wedding to plan."

Kenshin pouted but Kaoru only laughed and tugged her hand away from his grasp. She walked away from him before turning back and grinning mischievously.

"Besides, if I have to be sexually frustrated until we are married, I want you to join in with me!"

Kenshin looked stunned before he raised a well shaped eyebrow and looked pointedly at her. "I am the one that wanted the wedding to be sooner."

"Yup! But I want this romance to last a little longer first," Kaoru countered as she kept a safe distance between them.

"What's the point if I can't even kiss you?"

"Well, consider it a kind of punishment..." Kaoru said playfully as she skipped back inside. Kenshin shook his head and followed her.

"For what?"

Grinning cheekily, she threw back a sassy reply. "Oh, I just felt like simply punishing you. It seems fun for some odd reason."

"Kaoru!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Kaoru laughed as she ran inside the mansion followed closely by her lover.

What started as a disaster finally seems to have seen the light.

XXX

"He proposed?"

"Yup!"

"You rejected him?"

"Yup!"

"Why????????????" Misao cried out in frustration as she thumped her head on the coffee table. Kaoru helpfully patted her back and earned a glare from her friend. Megumi, on the other hand, pointedly ignored Misao's outburst and concentrated on Kaoru.

"You did tell him you are interested, right?"

Kaoru smiled widely at Megumi, her eyes sparkling with joy and humour. "Oh yes! I made sure he knew. Besides, I was not going to accept his proposal then and there. The man's rushing everything. It's choking me! I need some space. As I said, it's all too soon!"

Misao sighed and picked up her drink. "That man has been waiting for 5 years, Kaoru. Give him a break."

The blue-eyed woman stared blankly at a poster behind Megumi and allowed the noise of the coffee shop to surround her before shaking them off. They had returned to the mansion where the wedding was to take place. Somehow, Kaoru felt very uneasy. There were too many memories here. Memories of Enishi tying her up and touching her made her skin crawl and she lost some of her colour. She looked at the braided hair woman sitting on her left and felt a slight pity for her friend. Misao has been pulled emotionally into her troubles and Kaoru knew her friend felt confused about her decision. Misao was always one who jumped at opportunities and this was a good opportunity for her.

"Misao, I love Kenshin and he loves me. We both are well aware of our feelings. But I want some romance in my relationship with him. Both you and Aoshi had a courting period and it was so sweet and dreamy just looking at the two of you. I felt a little jealous then. I need this now. I need to spend time with Kenshin outside the bed. To know him, not just his body. Great sex is wonderful. It is a part of the whole marriage ingredient but it is not the only ingredient. Marriage needs a lot of work. Understanding, patience, tolerance. Love is not all. Love is what binds all. I need to feel the others. I want to know him in my heart. Create more memories, where he isn't jealous with Soujiro or Enishi. I need that. Am I wrong to want that?"

Misao covered Kaoru's hands with hers and smiled understandingly. "Okay, I get it. Every girl deserves some romance. And Aoshi and I did create some memories. I just want the best for the two of you."

"Me too, Misao-chan." Turning to Megumi, she looked pointedly at the young doctor. "What about you, Megumi? How are things progressing with you and Sano?"

Instantly, Megumi's eyes lost their shine and she sighed. "That idiot is barely doing anything. I wonder why I'm with him sometimes."

Misao nodded understandingly and held Megumi's hand. Kaoru too gave a tight smile.

"Sano's brains are known to be elsewhere, if you catch my drift," Misao said cheekily. Megumi laughed but her laughter had lost some of its joy.

"We have always been in an on and off relationship but no one else clicked for us. For sometime now, he seems serious about me so I hoped...mum is getting restless and keeps bugging me to settle down but I can't imagine a life without that idiot and he isn't doing anything!? At this rate, I'd rather marry Shougo-san!"

"Ouch!" Kaoru said and she tightened her hold on Megumi's hand. "I can't say relax because he is an idiot and it has been so long but seriously, guys can be insensitive pigs sometimes. That includes Aoshi too, Misao so don't go defending him."

Misao pouted. "But Aoshi-sama is perfect!"

Rolling her eyes, Kaoru hit Misao over her head playfully. "Says the girl that comes crying to me for love advise!"

Misao and Megumi burst into laughter.

Megumi shook her head, snapping her mind away from Sano. "So, what's next?"

Kaoru shrugged and then smiled. "We have a wedding to take care of and some major girl time. We need it."

Megumi grinned. "And when we are alone, let's drink and dish on the guys."

Misao and Kaoru laughed and nodded as they pulled the pretty doctor out of the shop and into the streets. It was going to be a long and eventful day and they were going to enjoy every minute of it.

XXX

"I asked Kaoru to marry me," Kenshin said softly as he faced the tall, dark-haired man. There were butterflies in his stomach and his palms were damp but his eyes never strayed away from Aoshi's. Aoshi looked back at him, keeping their gazes locked as he played with the idea in his head.

He knew this moment was coming. Ever since he knew the truth and saw the way Kenshin acted around Kaoru, he knew. He also saw the way his cousin sister defended Kenshin. Kaoru was the vision of a defending angel, brave and proud. It was at that instant that he knew Kenshin and Kaoru would be together. But he could not find it in his heart to accept it. As much as he knew they would be together, he also knew she was hurt so badly in the past. Whether that issue has been resolved, he did not know. Yet he was reluctant to give Kaoru away to the same man who broke her heart so many years ago. The same man who violated a child. No matter how he looked at it, she was a child and Kenshin had been an adult.

These past few days, the events that had taken place had somewhat changed his perspective of Kenshin. He viewed him now as a responsible adult who was also completely besotted by an innocent blue-eyed dragon. That image alone made him smirk. Mentally, of course. It would ruin his image if he smirked literally.

Still, Aoshi sighed mentally, it does not make this any easier. Give Kaoru away? It already hurts theoretically, how can it not hurt literally? He wasn't even her father but the fierce possessiveness and over protectiveness he felt over her was unbelievable. If he has a baby girl, he is going to have to carry a gun around to chase the men away.

Especially university professors.

Aoshi scowled.

Kenshin felt his heart sink. He had expected some resistance but he thought Aoshi had accepted him after the last few events. However, if the scowl on Aoshi's face was anything to go by, he was definitely not pleased.

"I love her, Aoshi. Just like you love Misao. I know I hurt her before but everything is resolved. It was only a misunderstanding. I assure you, it will not happen again. I can't live without her. I don't want to hurt her by having misunderstandings with you either."

Aoshi frowned. What the hell was this fool blabbering about? He has not said anything yet, right? Aoshi searched his memory for any indication he rejected the couple and came up with none. Honestly, could Kaoru stop attracting weirdoes?

"Aoshi...?"

"Look, I have no idea what I said to indicate I object to this union. I don't. It is not easy. I am still not fully convinced you are the best man for her but she seems to think you are. I'm fine with that. However, if you hurt her again...I will make sure you wish you were dead. Are we clear on that?" Aoshi asked as his voice dropped even lower to an almost freezing temperature. Kenshin barely stopped himself from shivering. This man is no weak opponent.

Kenshin smiled and thrust a hand out to shake Aoshi's. Raising an eyebrow, Aoshi accepted his hand. "Trust me, Aoshi. If I were to do anything to Kaoru, you will have to get in line. By the time my Shishou is done with me, I am sure there would be nothing left."

Aoshi's lips barely twitched. "Kenshin."

"Yes?"

"Don't dodge."

Kenshin's eyes widen and before he could not, Aoshi's hand pulled him forward while his other hand delivered a strong punch to Kenshin's abdomen. The redhead felt his breath being forced out of his lungs before a searing pain tore through him. He fell on his knees and Aoshi simply let go of his hand.

"That is for everything Kaoru went through and only a preview of what I'll do to you if you ever hurt her."

Kenshin just nodded. The pain was intense but since he knew the reason behind it, he kept quiet. Too bad someone else could not.

Sano whistled loudly at the show before him. He had silently watched the whole thing while drinking a can of beer and munching on some fries he ordered the maid to deliver. It was a good show. Excellent ending. He could not have planned it better.

Aoshi only closed his eyes and counted to ten before opening them again. He felt tired and exhausted. With the wedding approaching soon, he felt an undeniable need to be with Misao but the girls had dragged her off somewhere and he was stuck with a redheaded moron and an idiotic rooster head. Could this day get any worse?

Kenshin struggled to his feet and sighed. That was going to leave a pretty bruise, he thought fondly and wondered if he should tell Kaoru. It would be interesting to see her reaction. Then he dismissed the idea as she would most probably side with her cousin and tell him to go to hell. Probably. Still, the idea had its merits.

Kaoru in a nurse's uniform.

The image had him burning with desire and he tampered it down when he saw Sano grinning evilly at him.

Before the rooster head could say a word, Kenshin beat him to it to salvage his pride.

"So Sano, looks like Aoshi and I are pretty settled. How about you?"

Blood drained from Sano's face when he heard Kenshin's question. Megumi's face drifted into his head as he thought of marriage and family and a strong sense of need built inside of him. He stood up and walked over to the window in Kenshin's study, looking outside blankly before rubbing his head. Marriage was a serious matter and he did not want to screw it up.

"Sano?"

He sighed.

"I have no idea what I should do if she rejects me," Sano muttered as he rested his forehead on the window, the cool glass a contrast to his body heat.

Aoshi and Kenshin looked at each other before turning away to look at Sano. Kenshin has never seen his friend so serious except when it comes to Sayo. Even then, he tried to make a joke out of it. However now...this Sano was serious. He was thinking hard and he was worried. As a friend, Kenshin wondered what he could do for his friend.

"May be Kenshin can propose to Dr. Takani for you, Sagara?" Aoshi said sarcastically as he raised a well shaped eyebrow at Sano.

The idea seems to have some merit as Sano turned to Kenshin with pleading eyes. The redhead backed away nervously.

"Oh no, Sano. Even I have not gotten a yes there from my lady. I am not going to get involved in yours."

"Aoshi?"

"Not a chance," came the cold reply that sent Sano to the corner of the room with a cloud of thunder on his head.

Aoshi and Kenshin mentally shook their head at Sano's behaviour but they said nothing. This was an issue for Sano to solve and if was not willing to share, they had to respect his privacy.

XXX

The wedding preparations went on smoothly. Kaoru and Kenshin could barely spend time together as she zoomed around the mansion, ordering the people around. There were so many things to take care of and so many things can go wrong at the very last minute. Kaoru knew all this well as she carefully and meticulously went through each stage of the wedding preparations. However, to ensure the bride and groom take a breather from each other, she sent Misao off with Megumi to run one errand or another. It was important that these two have a cooling period of sorts before being bonded together for life.

On the other hand, Kenshin was fuming silently as the love of his life could barely sit down for a private dinner for two. He had been trying to get hold of Kaoru to spend some quality time together but she was just too slippery. She avoided being alone with him at all costs. Of course, she gave the wedding as a reason but Kenshin could not help but wonder if she was avoiding him. Ever since their talk in the garden, he could not approach her alone. It was becoming quite frustrating.

It wasn't as though he needed her beside him all the time, he thought, annoyed with both of them as he looked out the window and saw her ordering the men about and setting up the chairs and tables. Well, it wouldn't hurt to have her around all the time, a darker side of him thought wickedly as images of a scantily dressed Kaoru appeared in his mind. Kenshin sighed and was about to move away when he saw Soujiro approaching Kaoru. He frowned.

He watched as Soujiro played with a strand of Kaoru's hair and noticed the way her eyes brightened and her smile widen. Jealousy clutched his heart and he forced himself to stay calm. Didn't Kaoru say she loved him all this while? There was no reason to be jealous. He knew intellectually that Soujiro and Kaoru were not romantically involved but his traitorous heart hammered with jealousy. Disgusted, Kenshin moved away and slumped on his chair.

Soujiro only smirked when he saw the figure move away from the window. He knew Kaoru had not noticed Kenshin watching them as she was too distracted with the wedding preparations. As the wedding was the very next day, there was a lot to be done. The poor woman looked exhausted and ready to drop but with adrenalin rushing through her blood, she seemed to have more energy than him. He noticed the way her eyes brightened at the mention of Kenshin's name and the way she blushed when she talked about the redhead. Inside, he felt a little disappointed that she only thought of Kenshin but he brushed that feeling aside.

Kaoru was his charge, his duty. He was only supposed to help build a relationship between Kenshin and Kaoru. He was not supposed to fall in love with her. Even as she spoke to him and paid attention to the workers around them, he could not help but admire the beauty of her eyes and the gracefulness of her body. As he bid goodbye and wished he luck, Soujiro prayed and hoped that Kenshin would not hurt this delicate flower.

XXX

Sano watched as Sayo laid out the dress she was planning to wear to Misao's wedding. It was a gorgeous baby blue gown and the stark contrast between the dress and her features made each stand out complimenting the other. She was humming as she chose the right accessories to wear with the gown, not once talking to her brother. Yet the silence was not an awkward one. They were both used to this.

However Sayo knew something was on Sano's mind and she watched her brother's troubled eyes nervously jumping around the room. She was not the type to push but since she did know the reason for his nervousness, she felt the whole situation was slightly funny.

Humming happily, she could not wait for the wedding the next day.

XXX

Kaoru dragged her tired feet up the stairs. It had been two long days and tomorrow would be the longest of them all. Tomorrow she was going to be her best friend's maid of honor and the wedding planner. They were both heavy roles to play.

As she focused on taking one step up after another, she did not notice Kenshin watching her from his room or even heard him approaching her. All she remembered after her initial frightened yelp, was a pair of strong arms lifting her body bridal style and carrying her to her room.

Kaoru sighed in contentment as she wrapped her arms around Kenshin's neck and rested her head on his shoulder.

"My hero," she mumbled playfully as she snuggled closer.

"If you don't stop seducing me, I'll be something else altogether, love," Kenshin warned as he balanced her carefully and opened the door to her room. The cool air made her sigh and she smiled up at him.

"I missed you," Kaoru murmured sleepily as Kenshin laid her on the bed. She only groaned as he removed her shoes and massaged her feet.

"Who rejected my offer for dinner?" Kenshin replied lightly although he had felt hurt that his invitation was brushed aside without much thought. However, Kaoru seemed to take the matter much lightly.

"Only another day left, Kenshin. Then we can have as many dinners as you want. Undisturbed." She yawned when another thought struck her. "When there is no work, of course."

Kenshin shook his head and kissed her tired feet before slipping into her bed. He expected at least a little resistance but Kaoru did not utter a sound. Instead, she slipped her arms around him and snuggled into his embrace.

"Comfy," she whispered as she laid her head over Kenshin's heart. The redhead was stunned for a moment before his lips tilted to a small smile of contentment. Gone were the images of Soujiro from his head. The irritation he had felt for the past few days simply evaporated into the night. She was here. She was with him. That was all that mattered.

Snuggling closer, he whispered into her ear. "Comfy."

XXX

It was the wedding Misao had envisioned and more. Kaoru had outdone herself. Despite the last minute changes, everything had turned out well. Rows of light decorated the flowers around the house. The tables were set up just outside the maze. They had settled a purple theme. So the lighting around the mansion was a beautiful light blue, sparkling into the night to compliment the purple decorations. The chairs were draped with light purple cloths, so light that it would have been mistaken for white. The finishing touches were the elaborate bows tied to the back of each one. The tables were covered with a dark, royal purple, giving out a sense of romance and peace. Just at the entrance to the dinner reception, Kaoru had ordered the men to leave the ice sculptor. It was a majestic piece of pair of lions; the lioness was stretched out while the lion was curled around her. It was not exactly the most common sculptor but Misao was adamant that her wedding was a bit unique and the piece did turn out very well.

The centrepiece of each table consists of a variety of flowers, intricately designed by a florist Misao knew. Kaoru had to convince Misao that using candles for the night was not advisable so they substituted with tea candles instead to create a more sensual atmosphere. Lights were also decorated along the maze for anyone who would like to try entering it. As Kaoru herself had never gone right to the centre of the maze. She did wonder what she would find there but circumstances have not given her a chance to find out. Still, she had time.

For now, Kaoru turned back to the woman of the day. Misao was chatting gaily with Megumi and Sayo and Tsubame was helping her get dressed into her kimono. To contrast the night, Misao had chosen a white and green coloured Kimono that highlighted her features and made her look sophisticated and elegant. She had been against the traditional white kimono. As far as Misao was concern, it made her feel extremely uncomfortable to wear something traditional that so strongly symbolizes purity. Kaoru could not actually see her reasoning but she knew better than to ask Misao to elaborate. It might only make her head spin.

Just a few hours ago, the four of them struggled to get Misao out of the house and into the church. Misao had been so frightened that she literally clung to the doorknob as Megumi heartlessly pulled her. Kaoru and Sayo had tried to calm her down but the poor bride seemed like she was at the verge of hyperventilating.

However, the moment Misao's eyes met Aoshi's as he waited for her down the aisle, her nerves seemed to have disappeared. A calm, almost serene smile graced her features and she squared her shoulders and walked down to meet her future husband. Kaoru, Megumi and Sayo had been waiting down the aisle with their respective partners. Kenshin stood beside Aoshi, followed by Sano and Soujiro. Kaoru had the perfect vision of both Aoshi and Misao's expressions. As she recalled the moment, Kaoru wondered if she should have kept the two apart before their marriage but decided that things had turned out for the best after all. Watching Misao, she wondered how her own wedding would be. She frowned as she looked at them. It was unfortunately going to be a big wedding.

"Mi-love, we have to get ready faster than this. Aoshi is waiting for you, ne?"

Misao threw her head back and laughed. "Oh, he can wait a while longer. After all, it is our day and I wanted to enjoy every bit of this pampering."

Megumi hmmed but continued styling Misao's hair. The young doctor had been quite taken back by the wedding. Aoshi and Misao made a great couple. Just watching them brought tears to her eyes. She had never expected the tomboyish Misao to grow up to be beautiful woman with a blink of an eye. It made her realise once more that her life was heading nowhere. That thought was kind of depressing. The whole time she had walked down the aisle with Sano, it made her angry and annoyed. Here they were walking down the aisle when she knew it would take ages and maybe a lot of pushes and nagging to actually stand in Misao's shoes. The whole thought made the wedding nearly unbearable. Luckily, Kaoru seemed to have sensed Megumi's restlessness and gave her hand a comforting squeeze before she left.

"There, all done. Misao, you look gorgeous," Megumi sighed softly as she watched Misao eyeing herself in front of the mirror.

"Wow!"

"Misao-san, you look absolutely breathtaking!"

"Mi-chan!"

Misao took a deep breath and grinned. She nodded her thanks to Tsubame as the young girl opened the door for her. Turning to look at her friends, she grinned shyly.

"Shall we?"

Closing the door behind them, the women walked over to their men.

Aoshi paced downstairs as the women got dressed. Or at least that was what he wanted to do. It would be too out of character for him and he was afraid the other three men would look at him weirdly if he does. Leaning back on the wall, barely resting his feet, his thoughts flew to the one woman who occupied them. Misao. His wife. His love. His all. He wondered what was wrong. Why was it so long?

Sano only shook his head as Kenshin and Soujiro stood apart, their eyes on the groom. "She's gonna be here soon, man. Don't you think you will make her nervous looking like that?"

Aoshi merely shrugged. He had been the first to notice Misao's fear and had threwn a comforting smile at her. It was not often he did something like that. Comforting in public was not his strongest forte. But she looked so sweet and innocent standing there that he could not help but smile.

Kenshin could only grin as he saw how restless Aoshi was. He could understand Aoshi's feelings quite well. Still, it did look funny from his point of view. Turning to his left, he looked at Soujiro who gave him a large smile as usual. Kenshin sighed. His employee was a handful but he was a good man. Glad now that things have been resolved between him and Kaoru, he could see Soujiro as just another man than a rival.

However, Kenshin was worried about Sano. His best friend looked like he was about to faint. Kenshin did not know what was going on. He wanted to talk to Sano but now was not the good time. Whatever problem Sano has, Kenshin hoped he could help his friend.

The sound of feminine giggles made the men look up. And they could not look away.

Leading the women, and being the only one dressed in a kimono, Misao looked stunning. She was a breath of fresh air and Aoshi felt the tightness in his chest loosening as he watched her. Automatically, his feet moved towards the stairs and Misao walked down slowly to meet him. Her hair had been swept away from her face and a few sexy curls framed her face. Aoshi could see the gentle curve of her neck and the teasing glance of her back. His breath caught and he wondered if he deserved such a beauty as his wife. Misao smiled as she slipped her hand into his awaiting one and stayed a few steps up to give her a better leverage.

"Aoshi, sorry for making you wait."

Aoshi swallowed nervously and nearly ran a hand through his hair before he caught a hold of himself.

"Each second I spent waiting for you was worth it. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever laid my eyes on, koi," Aoshi whispered into her ears so that no one else could hear them. Misao blushed a deep red and her smile widened as she walked over to his side.

Megumi, Kaoru and Sayo walked down together, refusing to steal the limelight from Misao. Contrasting sharply to her elegant traditional looks, they decided to stick with the western looks. Covered in a baby blue gown and a complicated knot on her hair, Sayo looked like an angel, soft, sweet and gentle. Soujiro's heart lurched sharply but he refused to acknowledge it. Even as he complimented the young beauty and took her arm, he reminded himself that he was only a worker and she was an heiress.

Kenshin too fell under Kaoru's spell. It was like she had woven a magic wand and tightened the ropes binding them. She looked like a seductive siren, dressed in a glittering baby pink gown that was held together only by a knot on her right shoulder. She had opted like Sayo, to keep her hair up and left only a few tendrils to fall down around her. As Kenshin pulled her possessively closer, she laughed.

"How am I going to let you wonder around alone, love?"

"You have to. I am still the wedding planner. And you told me that I should mingle around to get new customers."

Kenshin narrowed his eyes at her. "Not looking like that! You will end up with a couple of persistent admirers instead."

Kaoru laughed and kissed him lightly. "As long as this persistent admirer does not leave me alone, I'm fine." She turned to look at Megumi and her eyebrows knotted together at the statue like stance Sano held. "What's wrong with Sano?" she whispered to Kenshin.

The redhead shrugged. He eyed his tongue tied friend uneasily. "I have no idea. Whatever it is, he better pull himself together. He has not complimented Megumi and I think she is struggling not to just bash him on the head."

Kaoru thought Megumi looked like she was going to cry.

For the night, Megumi had decided to dress specially. She wore a silk turquoise gown that dipped low at the front and the gown was held together by a series of criss-cross strings at the back that dipped dangerously low towards her bottom. It was a daring yet elegant gown that took Megumi hours to find it. A set of single teardrop diamonds decorated her bare neck and ears. Her hair was scooped up into a messy bun that only made the look sexier. Among the ladies, Megumi was the only one who would take such daring chances and pull off the look.

And Sano said not a word.

He bit his tongue, offered his arm and guided her out.

Megumi almost felt like stepping on his feet with her high heel shoes but decided against it as she thought of Misao. But Sano only made things worse for her.

Hardly knowing how to approach the matter, Kaoru and Sayo looked helplessly at each other. Neither said a word as they followed the progression for the reception. Lost in their own world, Aoshi and Misao barely paid attention to anyone else. They had eyes only for each other.

The wedding dinner progressed exceptionally well. Guests arrived in glitters and wished the newlyweds well. Despite being lost in their own world, both the bride and the groom knew that many thought Misao could have married someone richer and with a higher social status. Not to mention, Aoshi was much older than her. Misao ignored them and kept a firm hold of Aoshi's hand. She knew how her love felt about people's views on their marriage. He was quite self conscious about the age gap and social status but she did not give a damn. It also baffled her that the normally confident man, who did not care what others had ever said to him, gave so much thought when it came to her. It baffled her but it also made her love him more. It only showed how much he cared about her.

Akira and Tomoe arrived slightly later than the other guests. Both looked slightly uncomfortable due to the recent circumstances but still held their head high. Kenshin, Aoshi, Sano and Soujiro were instantly on alert when the couple arrived but Kaoru only huffed in annoyance. She knew the others were thinking of her but she still felt they should relax. She joined the newlyweds in welcoming the Kiyosatos and even guided them to their table. Kaoru kept a firm hold on Tomoe's arm when the other woman would have pulled away. Both knew Kenshin was not happy but Kaoru refused to allow Kenshin to dictate her actions. She chatted with them, put them at ease and left to mingle around.

As dinner came to a close, the music started. Misao had by then, changed into a dazzling strawberry white gown. It was a body fitting gown, that showed off her curves well and glimmered as the purple lights touched her. She danced with Hiko and then Okina, before finally dancing with Aoshi. The guests slowly started towards the dance floor and soon it was crowded. Kaoru had been talking to an elderly man when Akira asked her to dance. She smiled brightly and accepted. As they walked towards the dance floor, she saw Kenshin eyeing her sharply and frowned before glaring at him.

"Himura wishes to kill me, doesn't he?" Akira asked her as they swayed. His hand was splayed on low on her back and the other gripped her hand gently. Kaoru only laughed.

"He is very possessive and protective. It is only his nature. I'm just glad you and Tomoe-san made it today. I was hoping the two of you would come."

"It would not be advisable to skip the reception without proper excuses. It is also a way for us to show our truce, I suppose. I really did not wish any harm on you, Kaoru-san."

"Kaoru, please. And please forget about it. It was a difficult time for all of us and now it is time for us to put it behind us. It will take me time to forget but I am glad everything turned out for the better. How is Enishi?" Kaoru asked softly as she twirled in time with the music.

"Enishi...is currently at a hospital far away from here. He is as possessive and protective of his sister as Himura is of you."

"That does not excuse his behaviour but it does make me feel sorry for him. He frightened me a lot, Akira-san, and I can't forget that. Even if he was acting out of love, I wonder if there should have been a boundary of some sort. Then, I look at Kenshin and know he would have killed for me. It made me realise loving someone like these two men, can be quite dangerous."

Akira nodded and smiled sadly as the song came to a slow stop. "It can make one feel either extremely lucky or unlucky. All I can promise you is this: I will make sure he does not harm you. I will try my best to keep him from you."

Kaoru smile and nodded. "Thank you. That means a lot to me. Please take care of Tomoe-san."

Akira nodded and looked over to where Tomoe was sitting and watching them. "We both need to work on our relationship. I am sorry for all the trouble we caused you."

"I know."

When someone asked her hand for the next dance, Akira only smile and nodded before he left. Kaoru watched as he whispered something into Tomoe's ears before she stood and they left. Sighing, she hoped for the best as she continued to dance the night away.

She danced, she mingled, she impressed. Despite her preference to deal with the crew rather than the crowd, Kaoru grit her teeth and nodded at some of the most pompous and arrogant people she knew. These people bathed in money and yet they did not have the slightest inclination to having fun. They were the type of people she generally hated to meet. They thought they were above everyone else. They also thought Aoshi was clearly unsuitable for Misao. Of course, they did not know Kaoru was Aoshi's cousin. It made Kaoru fume inside but she clenched her teeth and bared a smile.

As the final dance approached, Kaoru searched for Kenshin. She felt tired after dealing with so many people. She felt a warm arm sneak around her waist and turned her. Her lips met Kenshin's warm ones and she closed her eyes to savour the gentleness of his kiss. Breaking apart, Kaoru smiled and rested her head against his shoulder as they swayed gracefully to the slow tune.

"You know, I should be really angry at you right now," Kenshin said as he tilted her head to meet her eyes. Kaoru cheekily smiled.

"Any why is that?"

"You already know that I am not happy with Tomoe and Akira being here yet you welcome them personally and even had a dance with him. Have you ever head of the spider inviting the fly into its lair?"

Kaoru laughed, amused at Kenshin's protectiveness. "He is not going to do anything with so many people around, Kenshin."

"Kenshin frowned. "He could have poisoned you or blackmailed you or any number of things even with so many people around you. I felt so helpless watching from far."

Kaoru rested her head against him once more. "I could only dance with him knowing you were watching me from far, Kenshin. I could not have done it otherwise. Akira does not frighten me as much as Enishi and even Tomoe. He is a nice man. I just did not want to see the rift between you."

Kenshin shook his head. "There was already a rift between us even before you came into the picture, Kaoru."

"Then, let me at least make sure it does not widen anymore. Please, Kenshin, I do not like it when people fight with each other."

Kenshin sighed and the grinned wickedly. "You could hold a grudge for years with me."

Blushing, she turned away. "It was not exactly a grudge I held."

"Oh, so what was it? I think I know a grudge when I see one, Kaoru-koi."

"Shut up."

"Tell me, Kaoru or I'll do something really...naughty right now," Kenshin whispered darkly into her ear as his hands travelled south to cup her bottom. Kaoru yelped and found herself being thrust firmly into Kenshin. Her face turned a deep red as she struggled to put some distance between them.

"Damn it, Kenshin! People will notice! Let go of me!"

"Not until you tell me, love. I can do this all night. I can do this and more," Kenshin said seductively as he nipped the sensitive shell of her ear. Kaoru almost moaned.

"Alright. I will! Just put some space, mister!"

Laughing, he obliged her and watched with both amusement and lust at her obvious embarrassment.

"Well?"

"I was still madly in love with you and since I was angry and disillusioned, I hated myself for still loving you after everything. I kind of convinced myself I was not in love with you. Does it make sense?"

Kenshin nodded and hugged her tightly. "Yeah, it does."

"Kenshin?"

"Hmm?"

"Uncle Hiko said something to me and I'm glad he was right."

"What was it?"

She looked into his eyes and saw the love he held for her shining through his eyes. "He said you were crazy about me and I should trust my heart. He told me, you never stopped loving me."

Kenshin nodded. "I could not stop. No one was perfect in my eyes but you. You are my world, love."

"Thank you, Kenshin. I love you so much it scares me."

"Yeah, it scares me too."

Smiling, they swayed to the music.

Standing just an arm length away, Aoshi and Misao danced together, flanked by the three main couples. With Kenshin and Kaoru dancing behind them, Sayo and Soujiro to the lower left and Sano and Megumi to the lower right, Aoshi and Misao stole the limelight. Their absolutely shining faces made everyone else sigh.

"Enjoyed the day?"

Misao looked up into Aoshi's eyes and smiled brightly. "It is the best day of my life!"

"I am glad."

Misao rested her head against Aoshi and sighed contently. "You do know I do not care about what anyone says, right?"

Aoshi stiffened slightly before relaxing once more. "I will try not to let it bother me."

Misao smiled. "Good. I would hate for others to be the reason we can't be together."

Aoshi tilted her head and swooped down for a long kiss. "No one can take you away from me now, Misao."

Blushing and grinning, Misao snaked her arms around his neck and kissed him once more.

"Well, they sure are enthusiastic," Megumi said softly as she watched the romantic scene being played out in the middle of the dance floor.

"I bet Iceman can't wait for tonight."

Megumi laughed. "Misao is going to have a lot of fun. Aoshi looks like he knows quite a few steps. He is after all, the kind of man a woman would love to get her hands on."

Sano frowned and looked away. "Even you?"

"What?" Megumi asked as she watched the couple but her attention was wholly on the man dancing with her.

"You too...did you ever want to get your hands on him?"

Megumi shrugged nonchalantly. "I would have to be blind not to enjoy a male specimen like him, Sano."

"Is he really that much better than me?"

Megumi looked at her boyfriend. "You know I love you, tori-atama."

"Do you really?"

"What's wrong with you, Sano? You seem really weird today."

"Do you really love me?"

"Didn't I just say so? I really love you, Sano."

"Love me enough to marry me?"

Her heartbeat seemed loud enough in her ears. Megumi wondered what was wrong with Sano. Was he really saying what she thought he was saying?

"Sano?"

As the music flowed to an end, Sano gave Megumi a nervous squeeze, kissed her lips lightly and walked towards the stage.

"Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?"

Everyone turned and looked at Sano. Kaoru frowned.

"Aren't you the best man? What's Sano doing there?"

As the confusion in his head cleared, Kenshin chuckled and tugged Kaoru around so that her back rested against his chest. He kept his arms around her and swayed to an imaginary tune.

"I think Sano has finally decided to be a man."

"Wha..?"

"Thank you all for your attention. First of all, Aoshi, Misao," Sano said as he pointed towards the happy couple and grinned. "Congratulations! You two have finally decided to go crazy and book a train to hell. From what I've heard this marriage deal can be quite a hellish one."

Everyone laughed.

Sano cleared his throat, kept his eyes on Megumi and spoke again. His heart was racing and his hands were clammy but he knew he had to do this before he lost his nerve.

"It looks damn interesting, this hellish journey so I've decided to follow a journey of my own."

The silence in the reception area was deafening. Sano looked at Aoshi. "Sorry man, for stealing the limelight from you. I will give it back to you soon." Sano watched Megumi again and noticed how still she had gone. He slowly walked towards her as he spoke.

"Megumi, you have made my life both hell and heaven. Today, when I look at you, I wonder if a bum like me would ever suit your tastes. You looked like this goddess walking down dressed do beautifully that I felt like an ogre. You are so perfect and so damn beautiful it hurts! My heart just stopped and I could not even compliment you on your gown. By the way, it is a beautiful gown but I think its beauty only came out when you wore it, Megumi. I was so afraid but I am serious about you and I want you to know about it. I love you, Megumi. Will you marry me?" Sano asked, his voice slightly cracking as he knelt on one knee and took Megumi's hand. He looked up into her eyes and gave a shaky smile. "Will you?"

She thought he wanted to end it for sure. She thought he was fooling around. But one look into his eyes told her she was wrong. Tears rose unbidden. Her heart seemed to have stopped. She was aware that a lot of people were watching. Her eyes drifted over to Sano and she could not look away.

"Megumi?"

"Why should I marry you, Sano? You are more trouble than you are worth!"

"At least I am worth whatever little trouble you make for me."

Megumi tried to look indignant but she failed.

"You made me wait for so long. I really should make you wait as well."

"All these waiting has caused us enough already. Do you know how I feel right now?"

"If it is half of how I have felt all these years..."

Sano's grin was quick and deadly. "I wanted to be worthy of you, kitsune."

"Baka tori-atama! You did not even notice the gown! You said nothing!"

"Only because you stole the words right out of my mouth and my brain just froze at the sight of your beauty."

"Cheezy and lame, Sano."

"Marry me?"

"Two tickets to hell, right?"

"It's alright if it is the right person."

"You idiot!"

They laughed and at the thunderous clap of hands, Sano kissed Megumi.

XXX

Kenshin watched the lights around the maze. His gaze followed the way the lights danced on his lover's skin. Kaoru looked gorgeous sitting on a small bench designed years ago. It was a small hut in the middle of the maze. She should not have been surprised. But she was. The simplicity and elegance were amazing.

"It was such a beautiful event," Kenshin said in the silence on the night.

Kaoru nodded. "Beautiful."

She turned to look at Kenshin. "Sano and Megumi are so lucky. She was practically glowing in delight. I can't believe Sano was so tongue tied and nervous about the whole deal that he could not even compliment Megumi. Poor guy."

Kenshin snorted. "It is not that easy to propose to the woman you love."

Kaoru smiled. "I won't say no the second time, if the time is right."

"I'll wait for you, Kaoru."

Kaoru only smiled secretly. "I will be ready."

He looked up at the sky and smiled. "What a turn of unexpected events!"

Kaoru too smiled as she laid her head on Kenshin's lap. Her hands reached up to cup the back of his head and her lips seek his. Together, they twirled and lashed and fought for dominance. This time Kenshin retreated and Kaoru lay smugly on his lap.

"As unexpected as it is, I can't help but believed that it was all fated. You, me and the others."

"Yeah."

"Beautiful night."

Kenshin laughed and caught Kaoru's eyes.

"This time next year?'

The dark haired woman blushed but she kept her eyes on Kenshin.

"Sounds good."

Grinning, they kissed once more and this time, they did not stop.

XXX

Author's notes:

Finally!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It's done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thank you all for your fantastic and wonderful reviews. It helped me a lot. I hope you enjoyed this chapter! Have a great day! Bye for now!