A/N: Sorry it took so long. I had to rewrite it about 4 times before I was satisfied. The next chapter would be the last chapter since this chapter was getting too long and there was a style change near the end, thus I had to separate them. This part was slightly influenced by Shinobi: Heart Under the Blade (the ending was so sad).

Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin, nor do I own Shinobi: Heart Under the Blade

Requiem of the Firefly


Time was said to be the best medicine, the greatest healer of all that even the God of Medicine himself, bowed down to it in reverence. But exactly how long would it take for the wounds to heal? A person could spend a lifetime healing and never recover; only when the death bell tolls did everything end.

Time stopped for no man, yet man was always stopping for time.

The war was over and peace was finally achieved, at least for now. Kenshin returned to Mt. Hiei, returned to the scene of the massacre.

A temple for the worshiping of Izanagi once stood proudly at the foot of the mountain, but was reduced to ashes and rubble in 2 days. Glancing around solemnly, Kenshin clutched onto the bucket and continued walking until he spotted a little clearing which overlooked the lush forest.

He gently set down a cluster of jasmines and his offering of incense on the newly erect grave. It had only been 2 weeks since the massacre but the memory was so vividly strong that it seemed like an event of yesterday—at once surreal like a dream but was nothing more than a nightmare, it was simply reality.

Swirls of amber and amethyst in his eyes clashed as he stared at his bandaged hands—severely burned and wounded from his impulsive actions when the temple collapsed.

"This unworthy one finally understands. So this is how the friends and families of this unworthy one's victims feel, when someone important to them is taken away by another's bloody hands". A solitary tear rolled down his cheek and landed on a jasmine petal, the fragrance tormented his senses.

Under the dead Oda Nobunaga's influence, Shishio Makoto and Yukishiro Enishi declared war against Lord Ieyasu for the sacred territory where the Izanagi Temple stood. Armies were dispatched and blood was shed.

Within a week, Shishio and Enishi seized the Temple through the infiltration of spies—yet amongst them was a traitor, seeking to right past wrongs. The people had no right to judge or blame the traitor, for Shishio and Enishi were far more ruthless than their predecessor, yet still operating under one principle: If the nightingale does not sing, kill it.

And in 2 short days, Izanagi Temple became a graveyard for the living; streams ran dry, foliage turned to dust and one man made it rain blood. Night and day did not exist, succumbing to sleep meant instant death.

"Battousai, you are not allowed to die without my consent", scowled Shishio in his battle worn state. His bandaged body was covered with old and new wounds; the bandages hiding his burned skin were falling apart.

The ugliness of the truth could never be hidden; denial could only last so long.

"I'm afraid my death is not for you to decide, especially in your condition". Kenshin looked down where Shishio laid, their intense battle ended not too long ago. Although exhausted and wounded, Kenshin stood his ground, his amber eyes fiercely lit with a fighting spirit and determination. His fiery, red hair took on his enemies' blood, heavy with sin.

"If I was not already wounded by that Yukishiro bastard, you would have already been at my feet, begging for your miserable life." Shishio refused to lose, determined to fight unto death.

Kenshin stepped forward, determined to quickly end the battle, "That is a pretty pathetic excuse, even for you, Shishio. Now stand up so I can properly send you off to hell." The baritone of his voice was cold and distant. This was the real Battousai.

Laughing contently, Shishio struggled to stand up as flames lit up around his body—he was planning to use the last of his strength to finally rid of Kenshin. "Let's meet again in hell."

Shishio seemed to have finally lost his mind and the will to live, his attacks morphed from desperate to suicidal; and though they proved to be effective somewhat in harming Kenshin, it placed his life at risk. He was honouring his word when he wanted to continue their battle in hell—a place with no limitations, a place where there was no fear of death, just the raw satisfaction of subduing the other.

The will to kill was as strong as the will to protect.

Death was liberation.

Life was atonement.

A twist of his hips and a side step back was all it took to narrowly evade Shishio's pervasive attack. As Shishio charged forward, Kenshin executed the first move of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu and leaped off a pillar, then executing the second move. Flames of death and hatred flared around Shishio's body as he tried to trap Kenshin in a bear hug so they could burn together—die together. That was what their fate should have been years ago.

Summoning his ki, Kenshin kicked a bronze statue between them and once they touched, Shishio violently combusted. His ten minutes of grace was over. He over exhausted his remaining strength. Most importantly, he underestimated Kenshin.

The will to live would always be stronger than the will to die.

"With all the sins I have acquired, we'll probably meet again in hell. One day…" Kenshin mumbled and sheathed his sword.

The snap of a twig echoed eerily in the forest and Kenshin awoke from his reverie, thankful for the noise because he dared not to continue on with his musings. Tomoe stood behind him with a forlorn look on her face, she was truly a classic beauty—elegant and poise. Those deep honey brown eyes darkened with both compassion and sadness like a vast dessert that ran for miles but never out of reach. Simply timeless.

"The dead doesn't desire guilt or sadness, but the happiness of the living. It may be difficult to do so, but it's not impossible. The path was made for more than one person, we'll walk it together". Tomoe knelt down beside Kenshin and clasped her hands in a silent prayer.

"Thank you, Tomoe." With those thoughts, Kenshin smiled a genuine smile—the first one in the last two weeks. "Yet I still feel like I have failed Kaoru-dono someway…somehow", he mumbled in painful regret.

"But she smiled at you for one last time, didn't she?" comforted Tomoe as Kenshin nodded is assent. "Kenshin, why didn't you bury her in the Kyoto cemetery?"

Without glancing at her he replied, "Kaoru-dono doesn't like cemeteries. She'd rather be thrown into the sea than be buried in one". A soft chuckle escaped his lips as he reminisced of their countless banter on the philosophies of life. "What did you want to say to her?"

Tomoe looked up from her prayers and stood up silently, pulling on her purple shawl. "I wanted to know her better. If things had been different, we could have become friends—good friends. Despite her heretic nature and tendency to say things she did not mean to spite others, she's a woman just like me." Sighing, she looked up at the endless blue sky, the fleeting clouds slowly passed by—everything may change but the sky would always remain the same. Tomoe stared at the grave and whispered in a sisterly tone, "You're wrong, night and day are equal. Good deeds and vengeance will fade away all the same."

Kenshin sighed as he stood up and held out his hand towards Tomoe, who graciously accepted it, being careful as not to aggravate his wounds. "I'm sure the both of you would have been good friends, but her mischievous ways and sarcastic remarks can be a nuisance at times", he added fondly, remembering the times she drove him over the edge with her crazy antics and devil-may-care attitude.

"And you? What did you say?" her eyes bored into his with hesitation and determination. He may not realize, but Tomoe had always been intimidated by Kaoru—intimidated by her carefree nature and openness of her feelings towards Kenshin. The living would mock her for envying a dead woman.

Kenshin glanced back at the grave, lost in thought. There were many things he wished to tell her, things she should have known when she was still alive. Curse his cowardice and fickle heart. She deserved better and he knew. A pair of butterflies fluttered by, hovering above the cluster of jasmines—its scent enraptured them into an airy dance: free yet attached.

He took in the scene and summarized his thought into one phrase, "Sorry".

There were many things Kenshin wanted to say to Kaoru, but none of them was 'goodbye'. He wasn't prepared for her to just leave his life permanently. She already wiggled her way into his life by force without his knowledge; she could not just leave like that. No, he was not satisfied. He inwardly scorned himself for such selfish and heartless thoughts. He took her presence for granted, always expecting her to be there by his side.

Tomoe looked at him questioningly but said no more. She took his arm and smiled, "Let's go home". The two slowly walked away from the clearing.

With a side glance, Kenshin looked back for one last time before moving forward to an unknown future with the woman he always loved, and yet his heart still felt heavy. The chains Kaoru had on him were still attached, weighing him down immensely. The night she had decided to let him go, she gave him the key—gave him the power—it was up to him to unlock the chains. In the end, the choice was his. She wanted to let go, but she was still reluctant.

And now that the choice was his, he became indecisive.

Kenshin and his comrades had just defeated the Juppon Gatana and the Four Divine Monks, but amidst their battle, one of the Juppon Gatana members fired large cannons at the temple while another spewed out fire like a mighty dragon. After receiving word that Kaoru was still in the temple, Kenshin had rushed off, following the scent of jasmine. His heart was in despair when the scent slowly faded the closer he got to her.

He made his way towards the western chamber and saw her sitting there in lifeless defeat, holding a body to her chest. He called out to her, hoping it wasn't too late but the fire engulfing the chamber made his hope diminish even quicker. If only he wasn't badly wounded, he would be able to rush into the chamber and get her out, but every breath he took was painful. He nearly collapsed when the entrance caved in and all he could see was her face, so pale and lifeless.


Kaoru must have sensed his distress because she did the most unexpected thing. She smiled at him. She smiled at him as if nothing was wrong, as if she was fine and that there was nothing in the world to fear.

It was a beautiful smile.

That was the smile he longed for.

Upon seeing the temple collapse, Kenshin did not think of anything as his feet sprinted forward and his hands started to move away the burning remainders of the temple. His mind was blank, but in his heart he knew he had to save her, he had to get Kaoru out. He couldn't lose her; just the thought of it was painful enough. He didn't care about the burning sensation in his hands, everything was numb to him.

Before Kenshin completely lost his mind, he was pulled back roughly by Sano and Soujirou; the two held onto him and tried to desperately pull him away from the burning temple.

"Let go of me!" Kenshin warned, his voice cold and dangerous, "I have to save Kaoru-dono".

Neither Sano nor Soujirou were able to tell him that no one could have survived the collapsing of the burning temple. Everything that they could utter was lost on the devastated red head.

"Kaoru-dono", muttered Kenshin as he aggressively tore away from them. He clenched his burned hands and continued digging his way through the burning remains, calling out to her incessantly as if his voice alone could keep her alive. "No…please no…"

"You're hurting yourself…" Sano hollered, as Kenshin grabbed a burning wood.

Kenshin could hear nothing but the cackling flames, see nothing but that haunting smile. "Kaoru-dono…please hold on..."

Left with the inevitable, Sano and Soujirou swiftly knocked him out cold. It was the only way to save him from his insanity.

The sun reigned high in the heavens, nestled between the clouds as the snow fell slowly and gently. Winter was slowly becoming another faraway memory as the winds grew warmer. A cabin deep in the mountains of Kyoto sheltered its dwellers against nature's wrath—steam rose from the large kiln and surrounded the cabin in a warm blanket.

A large and intimidating man sat by the window enjoying his warm sake while keeping a close watch on an unconscious woman lying on the futon.

The white mantle resting on his broad shoulders rustled as a slight breeze entered the cabin. He took a sip of his sake as he watched the woman's brow furrow in anguish. It took quite a bit of his energy to heal the woman back to health but now it was up to her whether she'd wake or not. The fresh bandages wrapped around her body was slowly becoming a second skin and he grimaced with the thought of her being blood related to Shishio.

"Even the sake is bitter", mumbled Hiko as he put down the cup in a not so gentle way, trying to rid himself of a not so pleasant thought.

Lightly pounding his forehead with his fist, he wondered if what he did was right. The Okashira of the Oniwabanshu and the Wolf of Mibu had come to him with her bandaged body two weeks ago and requested that he kept her existence a secret from Battousai. He later learned that the two secretly rescued her from a collapsing temple and upon her plea in her state of waking and dreaming, promised to not tell anyone, especially him, that she was alive. The Wolf didn't care but the Okashira understood.

Though the woman was a member of the Koga Clan—rival of the Iga Clan—there was no hate or sense of contempt. There was only profound respect and admiration.

Hiko was not exactly the sensitive type; yet he could not help but feel remorse. In a way, she reminded him of his past and the Iga Clan—just the thought of the clan made the taste of sake unbearable and all he could taste and smell was blood. A strong breeze came through the opened window, bringing along light snow. Hiko watched as a few fell into his cup, he took in the aromatic fragrance of snow and sake; and sighed.

He stood up and knelt by her futon to remove the towel he had placed on her forehead moments ago. "It is such a pity for someone like you to submit yourself to your clan's fate." The tone in his voice was harsh and almost sympathetic.

There was a slight movement of eyes behind closed lids as lips parted for an intake of air. "I…I will never submit", replied a rough and coarse voice—dry and cracked from lack of use.

Hiko smirked as he poured tea into a cup for her parched throat. "Kamiya, I see that hell has forbidden you from entering their gates".

Kaoru gave a snort as a frown made its way to her dry lips, recognizing that voice and arrogance anywhere. Her eyes were still closed as he helped her drink the warm tea.

Slowly, eyelids fluttered open, revealing a pair of dark blue eyes, devoid of any emotion. The windows have shut, the opening to her soul had closed out to the world and there's no sign of them ever opening again.

Kaoru winced as she tried to lift an arm, feeling uncomfortable and rigid from her long slumber. "Is it already that late in the evening? Why are the candles not lit? It's so dark in here". She questioned, blinking rapidly to adjust her eyes to the darkness. "Really Hiko-san, I know you are great but you cannot possibly see in total darkness."

Hiko stilled with concern etched onto his face. In an abnormally calm tone he said, "I may be great but anyone can very well see without the use of candles. It's mid-afternoon."

Things couldn't have possibly turned out this way, it just couldn't. Everything was over now. The occupants remained silent, the will to speak was taken away and the only sounds heard were the whispers of the wind and the snarls of the fire. Eyes of dark blue stared blankly at the ceiling before retreating behind closed lids. Kaoru fisted her hands and began laughing, first disbelievingly then bitterly as if she came to accept her current condition as just punishment.

She continued laughing as if she could laugh no more. "I had eyes, but could not see and now that I could finally see, I am blind—oh the ironies of life!" sobbed Kaoru as her laughter ceased. "This must be my divine punishment; now I can no longer inadvertently harm others with my Eyes of Destruction. I can finally live a normal life, a life I've always wanted. Isn't this perfect?"

"Kamiya," Hiko frowned and was unsure how to comfort the distressed woman, "there's no such thing as perfection". Her sobs became sniffles and he added, "The only one closest to perfection is yours truly."

That pompous man never failed to amuse her with his superiority complex but she felt an underlying light tone in his voice and wondered if underneath all that arrogance he was actually a very sensitive man. That was highly doubtful. Even so she was glad to have his company.

Her erratic breathing slowed as she stared blankly at the ceiling, searching for any colour or light. She blinked a few times, hoping that somehow, her vision would magically return.

"Your eyes must have been damaged by the fire and I'm not sure if both the Iga Clan and Koga Clan have a way to cure your blindness. Unfortunately Iga ceases to exist".

"I understand", she sighed dejectedly. "Besides, Koga is no more. Shishio's pre-emptive attack with the army of undead was all it took". Hiko tucked the blankets around her shoulder, keeping the cold air from seeping in. "Why?" she asked.

There was no need for her to elaborate, he understood.

"Friend or foe matters not. Iga or Koga, they're all the same", Hiko replied as he grabbed a bottle of sake.

Kaoru shivered under the blanket while Hiko stood up and went to close the window.

"Thank you", she whispered.

"The ones you should be thanking are Shinomori and Saitou. They saved you. I understand Shinomori's purpose as you both came from Koga but Saitou?" He was curious. The Wolf was never really the caring type.

"He owed me a favour", she replied.

Hiko scoffed disbelievingly. The Wolf actually owed this little girl a favour?

"So I'm destined to live in darkness for the rest of my life", Kaoru murmured as she drifted back into a deep slumber. The prospect of being blind forever was not favorable but she would have to learn to live with it.

Hiko did not comment, instead he stepped out to collect more firewood.

After her awakening, Kaoru came to terms with her blindness, but that did not mean her blindness would overcome her life and place limitations on it, instead she used it to enhance her other senses—focusing especially on her sense of smell and sound. Sometimes the truths could not be seen with the naked eye. A month had passed by quietly and winter had been long gone.

Still adapting to the world of darkness and uncertainty, Kaoru continued chopping wood and visualized the forthcoming spring. Throughout the whole ordeal, one man occupied her heart and soul, never relinquishing one bit for her to heal spiritually and emotionally. Even in her dreams, the only colours she could see amidst the darkness were passionate reds, summer gold and gentle violets—a tapestry of colours and images she loved.

She felt a presence join her, silent on the outside, noisy on the inside. "Reaching out to someone who's always letting go is very tiring", mentioned Hiko as he watched how she expertly chopped the wood. Although she was without sight, she was just as capable as one with it.

"Then hold on tighter", she replied with a teasing smile, "Or knock them senseless with a stick until they can't let go". They sat in comfortable silence, listening to the wind and the chimes above their heads.

"Not even death is able to reach that person". Hiko took a swig from his jug of sake.

Kaoru sighed and put down the axe, she knew what he was thinking, and he had been bothering her with the same problem for the entire month through witty comments. "It's best that he believes I'm dead…if only he did not feel guilty". She gave a bemused chuckle and brushed her bangs so that they would cover her eyes. "That's just like him".

Her death should signify a new beginning, not an anchor that held Kenshin back to the past. Whether or not she should meet Kenshin again was a matter she wished to not deal with.

"Life and death are like a dream. Without a dream, there's no happiness, no sadness. No coming, no going. Having no gain, having no lost. There is nothing from the very beginning. This is fate. This is karma", chanted Hiko as he swirled his sake idly, and scrutinized Kaoru carefully.

"Then what is reality? The state of nothingness?" There was silence and Kaoru realized there was something missing, a part of her had been missing the moment she came to. "Hiko-san, have you seen my flute?"

"They buried it in place of your body", was his reply.

"I see. Will you please retrieve it for me?" she asked in a pleading tone.

"Do you realize what you're asking me?" His brows raised in questioned with a scowl. "I will not rob a grave".

Kaoru mustered her most perfect smile and continued, "It's not a grave and you're not robbing it. You're simply retrieving a lost item that happens to be buried under a slab of stone to indicate its location."

Hiko gave a grunt, not sure whether to be awed or annoyed by her twisted sense of logic. To think that a man such as his caliber had to dig up a false grave to retrieve a flute, his apprentice would mock him if he knew.

"We'll be leaving Kyoto soon, that baka is becoming a nuisance, especially now with that upcoming marriage of his", snorted Hiko in contempt. He's still sour that Kenshin abandoned his teachings and served Lord Ieyasu who continued on Nobunaga's legacy. Not to mention that Kenshin dared defy him for a noble woman with a brother that had incestuous tendencies.

"As his master, you should be happy for him and I suppose that you won't be staying for the celebration either". Kaoru lowered her head slightly. Her heart still ached at the thought of him marrying another woman.

"Worldly things do not befit me", he said plainly. "I prefer my solitude…but it won't hurt to have a companion who knows where to get the best sake. I still need someone to pass on my wisdom and greatness." Kaoru smiled and felt a sudden warmth surge through her chest. He was going to care for her like a father would his daughter.

"Your arrogance knows no bounds", Kaoru chuckled. "I'm beginning to wonder if you saved me because I know where the best sake of the Koga Clan is hidden", she teased. But her face turned morose when she remembered that Koga was no more.

Hiko noticed but smiled and arrogantly said, "It would be a great insult to the brewer if that sake was not drunk by me".

Kaoru shook her head, wondering how his arrogance never got him killed. "Don't you find it ironic that banished members from Iga and Koga would find solace in one another and passed on the heirlooms to that one person?" Her laughter danced in the air but Hiko was not amused.

He stood up abruptly with a swish of his mantle and retorted, "The clan did not banish me. It was I, who banished the clan. And what gave you the idea that I passed the Sword of Kusanagi to that baka?"

Kaoru smiled mischievously and tilted her head sideways. "I've seen him use it a few times. And Hiko-san, there's no shame in admitting you were banished".

Hiko scoffed and reached into his gi for a pouch of money and tossed it to Kaoru who caught it with ease. "We're out of sake, go buy some more. We leave in two week's time". And with that he strutted to the back of the house.

Kaoru's laughter died once his presence was no longer felt. Sighing softly, she clutched onto the pouch. Two weeks, that meant this was goodbye forever. She let out a breath as her mind shifted off to Izanagi Temple and her last moments of being able to see.

Due to her connection with the Koga Clan, Kaoru had been targeted by many who wanted to get their grubby hands on the coveted heirloom of the clan—The Yasakani no Magatama (jewel), one of the three Regalia Treasures of Japan. The Iga Clan possessed the Kusanagi Sword and the Royal Family inherited the Yata no Kagami (bronze mirror). Legend had it that obtaining all three treasures could give one total power and reign over Japan.

After fighting off Yumi's puppets and suffering from a few serious injuries, Kaoru secretly followed Yumi to the west chamber where Yumi was planning to use the Forbidden Spell and resurrect Shishio. Kaoru stormed into the chamber and confronted Yumi.

"So it really was you, you were the one who created the false Royal Army and attacked the clan's hideout", accused Kaoru as she pointed her flute at Yumi in anger.

Yumi smirked and stroked Shishio's head lovingly. "Why are you so angry? They deserved every bit of pain. If anything, you should thank me for helping you take justice upon their cruelty towards the family!"

"I don't need your help, especially not from a traitor. You were blessed with the gift to heal but you used it against your own clan members, bringing back the dead so they would blindly follow your orders." Kaoru twisted her flute and with a flick of her wrist, a long blade protruded from one end. "You've tainted my name for the Yasakani no Magatama, I cannot forgive you for such humiliation".

Gently placing Shishio's head on the altar, Yumi stood up and produced a long katana from underneath her kimono. "All that I've done was because of you, Kaoru-chan. The elders were blind, the heirloom and the Eyes of Destruction should have been mine".

Kaoru looked flabbergasted and scoffed, "I never wanted any of those things. I could care less for killing others or having a country within my grasp".

"Then you should have given them to me when I had asked nicely", Yumi said in a sweet and calming voice as she sheathed her katana.

"Just because I do not want them does not mean I'll hand them over to the likes of you", Kaoru hissed and began her attack.

Yumi easily parried, her revealing kimono allowed her perfect movements to execute her seemingly deadly attacks. There was a reason why she was Shishio's only lover—someone who could stand beside him and be his equal—she was both beautiful and deadly. She was Shishio's perfect Queen.

There was a sudden shake underground as the temple became heated and started to crumble. Yumi used that moment to stealthily throw a poisonous needle which embedded itself into Kaoru's right leg. Kaoru bit back the pain, pulled out the needle and used the strength of a wall to propel herself forward.

Steel and steel met in a deadly collision, as Yumi fiercely pressed her blade against Kaoru's, causing her to be slowly pushed back against the wall. Kaoru clenched her teeth as her eyes sparked a dangerous, electric blue, summoning the power of her cursed blessing. Her eyes met with Yumi's and the sparks slowly faded.

With a chortle laugh, Yumi sneered, "I've told you once, you are not fit to inherit the Eyes of Destruction; you can't even kill me with it".

Kaoru swiftly tilted her blade as Yumi's katana slid against it and hit the wall. "What do you know?" Kaoru spat as she twisted her body and gave a sharp kick. "As long as there's eye contact, I can kill you easily".

Yumi did not seem fazed and continued to attack relentlessly. "There's no need to lie, Kaoru-chan, I know your secret. Your body's not fit to handle the pressure of the effects and you still cannot control it. Most importantly, you can't eliminate family".

Growling, Kaoru flipped over and attacked Yumi's side. Although she hated to admit it, Yumi was right. Kaoru's body was too small to handle the after shock of the Eyes of Destruction—a telepathic attack that manipulated and broke down the opponent's important vital points through eye contact. If she constantly used it, she would lose her sanity. And then there were complications with blood relatives who were closely connected to the user. The closer a relative was by blood; the harder it was to use the skill against them.

Both of them were slowly losing strength and Kaoru was trying to clear her hazy vision. As her movement faltered, Yumi moved in for the kill like a silent predator and plunged her katana deep into Kaoru's right shoulder, pinning her to a pillar. There was a sudden explosion as the temple shook and flames from outside started to engulf it. The two women ignored everything, too immersed in their own battle. Yumi smiled and slowly twisted her katana.

"I've envied you for many years but only you can fulfill my last request".

Kaoru looked up and gave a sardonic smile; there was pain in her eyes, pain of a longing love. Slowly, she dropped her flute and grabbed onto the blade with her right hand. "You're such a fool for envying someone like me". She scoffed bitterly and pushed her body forward, ignoring the piercing pain as her left hand shot out and plunged through Yumi's chest, holding her still beating heart.

Yumi was stunned by Kaoru's impulsive movement but took no action to evade the attack. Her eyes lowered and her smile seemed to radiate a sense of bliss.

"You envy me, but I envy you even more. You had something I would trade the whole world for", she said sadly as her hand crushed Yumi's heart, blood splattered onto the floor.

The temple shook once more with another blast as Yumi fell to the floor and Shishio's head rolled towards her bosom. Kaoru watched as tears pricked her eyes. Clenching her teeth, she forced the katana out of her body and collapsed onto the floor. She warily watched as the raging flames ate away at the temple as it slowly fell apart.

She crawled to Yumi's lifeless body, and heaved a breathless sigh—the woman was lucky even in death, to die with her loved one was one of the most fulfilling things in life.

Holding the woman in her arms, Kaoru shed a single tear to see that relaxed and contented smile on Yumi's pale face. "Good-bye, dear cousin. You really are a fool, wanting to die in the hands of your rival. You and Shishio are truly perfect for each other. I wish the both of you happiness in hell". Kaoru was both mentally and physically drained; she couldn't move anymore, she didn't want to move. She just wanted everything to end.

It was strange but she and Yumi shared a love-hate relationship. They hated and envied one another but there was sense of admiration and sisterly love between them. These two understood one another more than anybody.

From behind the crackles of the fire and the fallen objects, Kaoru faintly heard her name; there was clear desperation and worry laced in its tone. Gazing out of the entrance, she saw an array of warm colours—colours she associated with him. She watched as he rushed up the steps, wounded all over but never faltering. Kenshin spotted Kaoru's almost lifeless condition and within a heartbeat, rushed towards the chamber. Before he even reached the entrance, the roof started to crumble as large pieces of burning wood fell and blocked any entry.

The fire was relentless and unforgiving, blindly spewing out remnants of ember, flickering out its burning tongues and trapping anyone in the chamber. Kaoru saw the hopeless look in his eyes and wanted to reach out and wipe it away, he shouldn't have to worry about her. Blinking tiredly, Kaoru gave him her sweetest, most charming and most happy smile—a smile that said a thousand words and conveyed a thousand reasons of love. She caught sight of that single tear rolling down his cheek before her eyes burned with sizzling pain and everything went black. She then felt herself fall as the floor opened up and strong arms carried her away. Needless to say, the secret tunnel was destroyed; all evidence of it being used was no more.

"Can you believe that the wedding is the day after tomorrow?"

"It's about time. Those two would have been married sooner if it weren't for those grave robbers".

"Really now, what idiot would rob a grave?"

"It must be some desperate old man who has a corpse fetish".

Kaoru tried to stifle her laughter with coughs. She wondered what Hiko would do if he ever heard the rumours these woman were spreading. Those amateur grave robbers really chose the right time to cause trouble. Poor Hiko, fate must really enjoy torturing him.

"Yukishiro-san and Battousai are perfect for one another".

"A hero like him deserves a beauty like her!"

"A match made in heaven."

"I heard he was once under the spell of a witch."

"No, he was seduced!"

"But true love prevailed".

A ghost of a smile graced Kaoru's lips as she walked away from the gossiping woman, the supplies she had come to buy safely tucked in her arms. Just because she wasn't normal does not mean she's a spawn of evil. So what if she loved him? Was it wrong for her to want him to love her in return?

The people could believe whatever they want; their opinions have as much weight as a grain of sand. The only opinion that mattered and weighed more than the world was his. Her love for him was and always had been true and no one could downgrade that.

Lowering the straw hat to cover her face, Kaoru made her way back to the hut, relying on her sense, memories and walking stick. Each step she took became heavy, she wondered if letting him live with the guilt of her death was best. But if she showed up and with her blindness, he'd feel more inclined to look after her and she couldn't allow that. She didn't want to be his responsibility, not at all.

That wasn't love.

Pity wasn't love.

It did't matter anymore. Everything was as it should be.

She and Hiko would be leaving Kyoto tomorrow night; they'd find a small reclusive village and settle there with him making pottery and her brewing sake. They would no longer bother with the outside world.

Permanence did not exist.

There were no meetings without partings.

The time had come for them to walk their own paths.

Don't ask the world, 'what is love'?

Just one phrase says it all

Move on forward and don't look back

Leaving trails of star dust along the way

Iga Clan - birthplace of ninjutsu

Koga Clan - also the birthplace of ninjutsu

A/N: Kenshin's feelings for Kaoru is complicated, like a mix between enemy-friend-lover (lol I'm not even sure if that's possible). I know I'm cruel for doing that to Kaoru but hey, I believe blind characters are cool. The last chapter will be up when I find the strength/motivation to finish it. XD