Waking slowly, Kaoru groaned trying to sit up only to find her sluggish limbs tangled hopelessly in the covers. Shoving half heartedly at the heavy blankets with leaden arms she rolled, trying blearily to free herself. With a startled yelp she tumbled off the mattress blankets and all.
Grumbling sleepily to herself she rolled to her feet to glare menacingly at the offending textiles. With a sigh she bent, gathering the unruly mess into her arms, she winced, her side protesting the movement. Depositing the covers on the bed she rolled her shoulder trying to stretch out the soreness as she walked towards her shelving reaching for a comb and a leather tie. Quickly she wrestled her hair into a ponytail not wanting to mess with braids.
Pulling off the rumpled clothing she had slept in Kaoru dressed in a clean tunic and black leggings. Clinching the tunic with a simple leather belt she brushed a hand absently over the soft well used fabric where it lay over her thighs.
Stepping out of her room and mounting the stairs she headed upward towards Megumi's wakeful but nervous ki. Knocking on the doorway Kaoru poked her head into the room.
"Morning, sleep well?"
Startled Megumi glanced up from where she was looking through various jars on the shelves, "oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snoop."
"Feel free; it's only a few ointments and such. I like to keep at least some on hand, just in case."
Megumi nodded, lifting a hand to one of the earthen jars, "May I?"
At Kaoru's nod she opened it sniffing carefully at the contents. Her brow wrinkled as she thought, "Hmm, I don't know this scent…"
Walking over Kaoru glanced at the label, somehow picking meaning out of the delicate spiked script, "ahh, that's not that surprising, I make this myself, hmm…let me see, this is a mix of wild mint, purple clover, and that briar that Sano keeps warning you about it tends to be very aromatic, it can throw people off."
Megumi nodded thoughtfully, "What's it used for?"
"It's a good barrier over healing wounds, keeps down infection. I generally mix in a good amount of honey to promote healing."
Setting the jar down Megumi followed Kaoru downstairs.
"Feel free to look around, poke through what you like, though I'd advise staying away from my weaponry, some of the stuff I keep around can be touchy. How 'bout we see if the men folk have awakened?"
Answering Kaoru's grin with a downright fox's smirk of her own the pair pattered quietly down the stairs.
Soft sounds from the kitchen meant that Kenshin was already up and about, while a quick peak into the living room revealed Sano to be very much asleep. With a conspiratorial wink Kaoru slipped into the kitchen to distract Kenshin, a sleepy stumble infiltrating her silent movements. Ducking her head she mussed her bangs and stifled a yawn, a sleep fuzzied mew escaping her.
For a moment Megumi blinked watching her total change before she grinned shaking her head and slipping into the living room.
Kenshin looked up with a smile when he saw Kaoru's drowsy form wander in. Her long glossy black hair had been pulled back from her finely featured face and spilled carelessly over her shoulders and back, accenting her gently slanted eyes and fully revealing the delicate points on her ears.
"Are you feeling better?" he asked
Brushing a hand through her bangs she walked over, "Mmm, much the scar still feels a bit sore but that will pass soon."
Brushing flour off his hands he gestured at her shoulder, "May I?"
"Kenshin, it's fine." She said lightly
"Humor me." His no nonsense tone brooking no argument.
With a sigh Kaoru pulled her hair over her right shoulder tipping hr head so that he could ease the collar of her tunic to the side revealing the top of the scar. Careful hands inspected the slightly raised scar tissue for a moment before slipping the cloth back into place. Gentle hands ran lightly up her side tracing the damage. Pressing firmly and carefully Kenshin probed for undue soreness.
"Nothing feel overtly painful?" he asked before tugging gently on the bottom of her tunic waiting until she nodded to slip the cloth up revealing the puckered and reddened skin over her ribs.
Cool fingers probing the wound he frowned, "This has not healed so fully as the top, please be careful."
He commented letting her step back and tuck her tunic back under her belt.
Kenshin smiled at her wry tone, "Yes, hungry?" as he asked he turned back to the counter.
"Very," Kaoru replied peeking over his shoulder to see what he was preparing.
Soon he turned, handing her a simple flatbread of sorts slathered with honey. Taking one for himself, he subtly herded Kaoru until she was seated against the wall, munching happily.
"You had a lot of flour stored away in the cabinets. It's heavier than I'm used to, what's it made of?"
Making a small sound of satisfaction Kaoru replied, "Mmm, this is good, it's that grain you've seen me cook with, I believe it's a strain of wild barley. I haven't exactly come up with a good way to use it so there's quite a lot, the stuff stores for longer as flour."
"I bet it would make a good bread."
Kaoru raised her right hand as if she were swearing an oath, "I can boil stuff, past that, things have this odd habit of exploding."
Kenshin chuckled, "Sadly, I feel I must agree with your self assessment."
"You should, I had to live through over a century of my own cooking." Kaoru remarked with a grin
"Very true, I wonder if Sano and Megumi-dono are awake as of yet."
A surprised yelp filtered into the kitchen followed by mischievous, full throated laughter.
"I'm gonna go with, they are now." Kaoru remarked, as she calmly began licking the honey off her fingers.
Kenshin shook his head, he could almost see the grin Megumi must be sporting and from the look on Kaoru's face, she had some inkling as to what might have caused said grin to appear.
Eyeing her innocently wide cerulean eyes, he raised a single red brow in askance. If anything the angelic innocence radiating off of her increased, for a moment they stared at each other before both collapsed into stifled laughter.
By the time a beaming Megumi sashayed into the room identical looks of innocence were pasted over their faces. Masks, which thankfully stayed, more or less, in place as a grumbling Sano stumbled in this gravity defying hair looking slightly more frazzled than usual.
"What do you people have against sleep? I understand you two," he said gesturing at Kaoru and Kenshin, "he's always this chipper in the morning, which by the way, aren't cats supposed to like sleep? And you with the elfin perkiness, but you, sheesh woman, let a man sleep!" With a final grumble about the fate of demonic foxes and ice water.
He perked up considerably at the sight of food and they settled down to eat. The meal continued fairly peaceably Sano taking occasional potshots at the smug and quite unruffled Megumi. Meanwhile, Kaoru and Kenshin sat opposite the pair struggling not to grin.
Glancing around the table Kaoru smiled, this felt right, their company. Sano's rough and tumble bluster hid a good heart, he was loyal and honorable; a man she would want watching her back. Megumi's laughter was bright and carefree, like a caged bird set free. She was healing and happy, Kaoru had missed the simple companionship of another woman. Kenshin was special, warm and kind, his genuine care was something Kaoru had sorely missed for far too long.
Having someone who cared enough to look after you when you were injured, who worried for your well being, someone to talk to, to laugh with, to trust. The knowledge, that if she was left helpless, someone would be there to pick up the pieces. Listening to their talk she felt content, the echoing silence that had hung so heavy in her home was finally gone.
Glancing up from her food she cleared her throat, "Umm, by the way I will need to hunt soon."
At Kenshin's inquiring look she explained.
"You're appearance has seriously upped my food consumption, and as I was already low and on a 'hunting' trip when you so calmly and peaceably arrived, I will need to replenish my stores soon."
Kenshin mock winced at the subtle jab, "In that case I sincerely apologize that my untimely arrival so inconvenienced you. Might I offer to accompany the lady to make up for my mistake?"
Kaoru grinned, "I'd expect nothing less, besides I finally have someone else to carry the game back."
"If I can help, somehow, let me know." Megumi offered
"Would you be willing to collect something for me actually? I'm rather low on yarrow, if I told you where and what it looked like do you think you'd be fine?" Kaoru asked
Megumi nodded eagerly, to everyone's surprise Sano spoke up,
"I'll stay with Kitsune, she shouldn't wander alone."
Megumi snorted delicately but Kaoru was nodding, "While you are far more likely to tick something that bites back off, than Megumi, I'd rather neither of you wandered alone. Do you mind putting up with Sano for the day Megumi?"
Megumi nodded solemnly, "Why of course, we'll be fine. You two love birds have fun!" a gleaming twinkle in her russet eyes at Kenshin's muffled,
And Kaoru's gapping as she grasped futilely for words a deep blush creeping up her neck. Megumi ignored them both clinging to Sano's arm as she steered him out of the room, clearing the area just in time to catch Kaoru's outraged,
"WHAT!?!", as she found her voice.
The soft snickering that floated back to two sets of overly sensitive ears was quickly gone as the Megumi and Sano beat a hasty retreat up the stairs.
Being around Kenshin was easy, natural; they barely spoke, a look, a gentle touch enough to convey their meaning. His warm presence was comforting, and as they tread silently through the trees Kaoru let herself simply absorb the silence of the forest unbroken by their passage. Finally seeing the tell tail signs of a deer path along the forest floor Kaoru raised a hand stilling Kenshin. Slinging her bow off her shoulder she braced it carefully stringing it, and then, the hunt began…
Sunset saw them returning a young buck nearly larger than Kenshin carried over his shoulders, as Kaoru followed a grin on her face and a pheasant in hand. Finally retuning to the heart of the forest they left their game in the lower room to be processed, following the sound of voices and good natured teasing up the stairs.
Megumi and Sano were soon discovered in the apothecary, where Sano, weighted down with several bulky baskets of herbs, was circled by Megumi from whose hand a very familiar red bandana dangled just out of the man's reach.
Kaoru stood unobtrusively in the doorway a smile on her face, no haunted shadows darkened Megumi's expression and her laughter held none of the nervous apprehension Kaoru had sensed before. She was learning to trust again, her aura loosing it's stretched and tension ridden feel.
Glancing over her shoulder at Kenshin, as he walked up behind her, watching the pair over her shoulder, placing his warm hands on her shoulders. There was contentment in his expression as he watched their playful banter. A newly formed and ever fragile peace hovering in his violet and amber smattered eyes. Calm, caring and affectionate pools of fond protection which followed her. Strangely, Kaoru found, that she didn't mind the slightly possessive glints in his watchful gaze.
Because she had been isolated for far too long. And Kenshin was so very warm, the pure burning fire of his beast subdued into the comforting heat of a glowing hearth rather than a raging inferno. Because she knew, Eternity was not worth facing alone, Watching all you know and love fade and die, because with or without your acceptance, time moves on, people change, lives begin and end. Nothing you do can stop it. All there can be is happiness in the presence and peace with the past. A reason to live in the time you are given, a moment of contentment, a rightness, a peace. And right here in this moment, this was right.
Leaning back into Kenshin's touch his hands gently working the stiffness out of her left shoulder she softly whispered,
Wow...Gaurdian is done...well, thanks to all my reviewers who've stayed with me the whole way, making sure I don't loose interest and forget to post ^_^
I really loved this unvierse, so keep an eye out for some oneshots from this AU verse
I really wasn't quite satisfied with this ending, but tell me what you think,
All reviewers are good people whose couple of key strokes keep author's writing thanks!