Tomoe watched furiously as the sky darkened. In a few days, the man she wanted to marry would marry the woman she wanted to torture. It left a vile taste in her mouth.
She had raked her mind for ways to stop this wedding but nothing seemed to work. She knew about the household of Himura. They were staunch followers of Dioni. With a blessing as pure as that wench and her man had received, Tomoe was sure not even Lord Syousuke would stop the wedding. It was unheard of.
There was a chance Lady Aya would protest the bonding of her only son to the daughter of a known murderess but she would not win either. Not to mention Kenshin's own fascination with Kaoru...
In the midst of all this drama, her brother had disappeared. She knew where he was but for him to not be here...!
Tomoe had to restrain herself from flinging a vase to the nearest wall and watch it break to pieces. Only the humiliation of her servants knowing she was out of control stopped her.
No...if anyone was to suffer, it would be that wench!
Even if Kaoru was married to Kenshin, Tomoe would never leave her alone. She would make sure Kaoru would never have a happy marriage life.
She would make sure Kaoru regretted her bond to Kenshin with every fibre of her being.
And when she was done...
Tomoe smirked as she watched the full moon throwing her rays of light generously to the people in the dark.
When she was done, she would not even allow Kaoru the mercy of a quick death.
Kaoru would suffer and Tomoe knew she will enjoy every moment of it.
The question rang loudly in Kaoru's mind.
"Were you raped by Heishin?"
The man before her kept his eyes on her but Kaoru knew her face had already given away the secret she kept close to her heart. She was so pale that she wondered if anyone cut her, would there be blood?
She closed her eyes tightly, her arms wrapped her around her body in an almost desperate grasp. Her breathing had turned frantic and Kaoru forced herself to take slow breathes to regulate her breathing once more. In her mind, memories played one after another relentlessly, mocking her for her helplessness and fear.
She almost cried.
She would never give in to that kind of despair again. Her mother had demanded her to stand for herself. Aoshi had told her repeatedly to be strong. She would not allow a ghost to rule her life. And yet...
And yet the mere mention of his name sent her to the depths of her hellish thoughts.
She could see the rooms he took her to.
She could smell the scent of him on her skin.
She could feel the touch of his calloused hands on her body.
She felt dirty, tainted.
Warm hands covered her shoulders and shook her furiously, almost making her head snap. Blue eyes blinked in an alarming rate before focusing on the towering figure before her.
Kaoru almost screamed as she tried to pull away before remembering who held her.
"I'm alright. I'm fine. Please, let go," she gasped as she dropped her face to her hands and pulled her knees up.
Hiko stood uncertainly but did as she asked.
"Yes," she whispered brokenly.
"Was it true?"
She wondered what she could tell him. She did not even know if she could trust this man. He was Kenshin's master but his attitude was so different from her betrothed.
"Who told you?"
It wasn't an answer, Hiko knew but he refrained from pushing her.
Confusion filled her eyes as she looked up at him. She stared at him but she could not remember him at all.
"How did you know mother?"
Hiko simply shrugged as he returned to his seat and watched the small figure huddled on the ground. He wanted to carry her to the bed and place her there but feared his action would gain an unwanted reaction.
"It is more fitting to say I knew your father. We were...friends."
A memory clung at the back of her mind, forcing itself to be known.
A tall man, standing beside Seichiro, holding a redheaded child. She could not see their faces. It was a very old memory. She had been so young. About three, she guessed. Her memory of her father was so faded she could barely remember him nowadays much less this stranger before her.
"I can't really remember you."
Hiko shrugged. "It was a very long time ago. I used to bring my idiot of a student to your dojo. You used to watch him from inside the house. Your father and I were always outside, in the dojo. I barely saw much of you anyways. What I remember of you is a laughing blue-eyed baby."
She smiled softly. "It is nice of you to remember me then, sir. I had no idea I used to know Lord Kenshin as a child. Sadly, I cannot remember him or you."
"It is expected. You were too young to remember us and so was he at that time. Or rather, he did not have his attention on you so he would not have remembered you much."
"How much does my mother trust you?"
It was a question he had not expected her to ask and frankly, he had no answer. So he told her so. Kaoru frowned.
"You are not sure if my mother trusts you much and yet you expect me to believe that she told you I was raped? By Heishin on top of that?"
Hiko only raised his eyebrow at her incredulous look. "I think it is more...appropriate to say Lady Hana insinuated that you were raped by Heishin. If that was the case, I understand why Lady Saya would offer you her protection and work to get your mother out of prison."
Kaoru only nodded.
"And my father?"
This he knew without hesitation. He knew Seichiro like the back of his hand.
"With his life."
Kaoru gave him a haunted smile then.
"Unfortunate, isn't it? It is my life and not his that matters at the moment..."
Hiko barely twitched but inside he was startled. This young lady had all but twisted him around her finger. She had found out about him without giving a single verbal clue about herself!
From her reaction, he could guess the answer to his question but no one had in a long time manage to side track him in this way.
He was impressed.
"You are not going to tell me."
It was a statement. Kaoru did not bother answering at first.
She then sighed as she pushed back painful memories to the back of her mind.
"I am not ready to answer you. However I believe you have already formed your opinion. As you said my mother must have told you enough for you to make a good guess...or even a valid conclusion."
Hiko neither agreed nor disagreed with her statement. "A conclusion? Not the conclusion, child?"
Kaoru simply shrugged. She did not answer his question. Instead, she asked one of her own.
"What will you do with this information?"
He raised an eyebrow.
"What information? You gave me nothing."
Kaoru smirked but refused to take his bait. It was dangling too obviously.
"It is getting late, sir. Are you sure I can't get you anything?"
The swordsman rose.
"No. I do not believe there is anything for you to give me at this moment."
Hiko turned away from her and walked to the door. As he turned the handle, he heard her soft voice clearly.
"Will you ask me this question again?"
"Will you answer me?"
"I do not blurt my heart out to strangers, sir."
"My name's Hiko, son of Seijuro. Now we are no longer strangers."
"That is for you to decide."
Kaoru stared at the closed door contemplatively. Her mother had told something to Kenshin's master, enough to hint of sexual abuse but not enough to act on it. It was interesting.
Just a few days to her wedding.
Kaoru looked outside to the darkening sky and sighed heavily.
She needed to tell Kenshin before they got married but she had no idea how to bring the topic up or even when to bring it up.
Her mother was right.
If she did nothing soon, her whole life would be ruined.
A bond so strong and pure...
Kaoru wanted to laugh hysterically at that. If it was such a strong bond, why did she feel as though she was drowning and no one was handing her a rope?
Megumi watched as Kenshin paced the length of the study once more. It was a good thing that the study was a huge room and he had a lot of space to pace. Whatever was bothering her brother was eating him inside and she was curious enough to wonder what or who had worked her brother up so much. However if she was to hazard a guess, she would say it was his future bride. Only a woman could work a man up to such a painful degree.
Curiousity won as she slipped into the room and glided to the comfortable armchairs in the room. She gracefully sat down and continued watching her brother. She knew him well enough to know that he would stop soon just to pay her attention and she was right when he stopped suddenly at the window and sighed.
"What is the matter, Kenshin? What has she done now?" Megumi inquired with a bored voice as she leaned forward to take in the sight of her agitated brother.
The dark haired woman raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow at Kenshin's deliberate and hopeless attempt to sidetrack the conversation and smiled sweetly at him. Her smile was sweet enough for him to know he did not succeed.
"I wonder how she does it? Does she even realize she is doing it?" Kenshin finally said as Megumi waited patiently for her to answer.
"Perhaps if you enlighten me on what she has done, I could help you out?" Megumi replied as she rose to pour herself a light drink. "After all, I am a woman and I might understand her better than you for now."
She was laughing at him, he knew that but the scene he walked in burned before his eyes and he knew he was working himself to a ball of irate nerves.
"I found Kaoru in Aoshi's arms a few days ago."
"You heard me the first time, Meg. I do not need to repeat myself."
"Your betrothed and...and...Aoshi? As in Shinomori? As in the tall stoic and silent statue that follows each and every instruction our father gives, Aoshi? The really good looking one with the cute butt?"
Kenshin's eyes widened and he stared at her. "Cute butt?"
Megumi snickered. "That's the part you caught?"
"Not my fault you are so easily distracted."
"I am not!"
"Language, brother," Megumi mocked as she settled by his side. Calmly she held his gaze. Kenshin looked worriedly into her eyes before closing his own and turning away.
"What did she say?"
Kenshin kept quiet. Megumi frowned.
"You did question her, right?"
He took a deep breath and sighed. "She said it was just an innocent embrace and that I was making something out of nothing."
"What do you think?"
"Sano said she was the woman Aoshi loved. He recognized her at the engagement ceremony. He only knew her by her nickname before..."
"Do you believe they are trying to set you up?"
Kenshin thoughtfully gazed outside. He reviewed the incident over and over again in his mind before sighing tiredly.
"No. I don't think so."
"Maybe it is an innocent thing. Maybe it is not. Bottom line is she belongs to you now. As you belong to her. It is your duty to make her forget anyone else."
"Is it really that simple, Megumi?"
Megumi shrugged lightly before she kissed Kenshin gently on his cheek and moved away.
"Sometimes things are really that simple. Other times they are complicated. We don't know her very well so we are jumping to conclusions. Sometimes it is better to get to know someone before falling onto every conclusion possible."
Once he turned back to staring outside, Megumi left the room. However her mind was in full motion.
Were Aoshi and Kaoru really a couple? Is so why had they not come out?
Did Kaoru even care for her brother at all or did she truly orchestra the whole ordeal?
Who is Kaoru really?
Could she truly hurt Kenshin?
At the last question, Megumi's breath hitched. She loved her brother. She truly did. He was so much like her father that she could see Syousuke everytime she laid eyes on Kenshin. She could not bear to see her brother in much pain.
If Kaoru did intent to hurt Kenshin, Megumi knew she would do anything to hurt Kaoru back.
However if Kaoru really was the best for Kenshin, Megumi would even go against her parents to help the couple overcome their rocky start.
Whatever it was, Megumi knew she had to keep all her senses open and alert. Things were changing and if she was not careful, it would be for the worst.
Hiko kept his vigil without much complaint. In truth, he was very intrigued by young Kaoru. There was something about her that tugged at his senses. Even as he talked to her, he knew there was something that tugged at his memories. No matter how hard he tried to recall whatever he forgot, the memory evaded him.
Seichiro had mentioned it before. He knew his friend had mentioned it once before. It had been an offhand comment about Kaoru and Hiko had simply chalked it to being a proud father. As he talked to Kaoru, that memory tugged at his subconscious, demanding to be remembered.
He sighed, frustrated.
She was a good girl. Oh, she had her faults. Hiko was certain of that. She had quite a temper, although it was very carefully masked and he knew she lacked the confidence she needed to carry herself. Whatever the people thought of her, Hiko felt it in his bones that this young woman did not stage her betrothal or if she did, it was not a willing action. It also left Heishin's actions in question. If Heishin raped her – Hiko suspected that he did – then Kaoru was no longer a virgin. By all means and tradition, that betrothal ceremony should not have even been able to be performed. The bowl should not have emitted any light.
Yet that did not happen. Dioni had truly chosen Kaoru for Kenshin despite her background. He only wished his idiot of a student knew about this but he could not exactly go blabbering about it to him. No. Until Hiko was certain of Kenshin's role in this whole play, he could not say a word to him. For Hiko knew that Kenshin was very deeply involved in this play.
He only wished the boy knew what he was doing because this time, Hiko had a very painful feeling that Kaoru was a very innocent victim in a game. In this game, everyone else seems to know the rule.
And it looks like she did not.
Or, Hiko mused, pondering this idea as well, she could be a very good actress.
Only time will tell. For now, he could only be an observer.
The dark haired older woman sighed and turned to greet her husband.
"Yes, my Lord?"
Syousuke frowned. His wife very rarely addressed him in this manner. He walked over to her petite form by the large window and watched the last minute wedding celebrations being put up. Despite the change in bride, the celebrations were as they had originally planned. Kenshin had insisted on it. He told them that they should not bow to circumstances.
Syousuke agreed. It was important to present a good front to the people after all.
"What is the matter, love?"
"Why do you act as though you have no idea whatsoever? Why do you go on about your business as though we are really looking forward to this wedding? Why?" Aya cried out, furious at her husband's blatant casualness.
"Aya," Syousuke whispered tiredly but his wife brushed away his whispered call.
"I am sentencing my son to a life of misery! I can't do that...I can't..." Aya replied brokenly as she kept her eyes on the busy people below. Her chest tightened painfully and in her eyes, she could only see a desolate and unhappy Kenshin. The same Kenshin who was currently walking her hallways.
"We will always be here for him, love. We will always be at his back, giving him the support he needs. Aya, give the girl a chance. Everything happens for a reason. And she must be something for even Lady Saya to take her in. We don't really know who she is. She might not even turn out to be like her mother."
Aya turned around so quickly that her hair whipped around her. Her eyes flashed dangerously. Syousuke had to physically stop himself from taking a step back to avoid her wrath.
"Are you insane? You are talking about a woman whose mother murdered her protecter in cold-blood! I looked back at everything that happened, Syousuke! The more I think of all the evidence piled up against her and her insane look as she admitted her guilt, the more I fear for Kenshin. I feel as though we are signing him off to be slaughtered!"
"AYA!" Syousuke yelled as he shook his increasingly distraught wife. "Knock it off!"
Aya shook her head and pulled away from her husband's hold. She went and sat down on the bed. Syousuke approached her calmly and kneeled before her. He held her hands gently and kissed both her palms.
"Aya, love, listen to me. There is a reason we sent Kenshin to Hiko and that is because Hiko is the best. Hiko told us already that Kenshin is good. Really good. Even if Kaoru meant him harm, he would be able to detect it. But that is a really slim chance. Kaoru is after all, chosen. Trust him. Trust Dioni. Things will work out."
Aya looked into violet eyes so similar to her son's and nodded, partly reassured. Hiko was good and Hiko would also be around. For now, Kenshin would be safe. She leaned her head against his shoulder and rested it there.
"Can we not...can we not attend the wedding? I don't think I can see them getting married. I can't. Please?"
Syousuke sighed. He wanted very much to attend Kenshin's wedding but his wife's pleas caught at his heartstrings.
"Very well, love. We shall wait for them here."
Aya tensed. "But..."
"No. If not the wedding, at least the reception. Some traditions must still be honoured."
Aya sighed against his neck but she said nothing. It had to suffice.
Kenshin watched the increasing hustle and bustle around his home and sighed. Things were finally coming together. Still...
He shook his head, chasing away unwanted memories. What was done was done. Now, he could only continue with his plans.
By this time tomorrow, Kaoru would be his.
Whatever happens next, he would take it in stride.
My dear readers, thank you for reading my story once more. Thank you for your reviews. Thank you for your advice and encouragements. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I am also, as usual, going to apologize here. I am really sorry for not updating sooner but there is no way around this. I have been busy. As I know most of us are. I manage to do a little writing at a time but not enough to get the next chapter posted up as fast.
To be honest, the next update might take more than a month. I have my finals and my projects coming up. This could only mean one thing and that is more work for me. Ouch. If I do get to put up another chapter before the next four to five weeks are up, yay to me! Otherwise, I hope all of you are willing to be patient enough to wait until summer break starts. I know! It seems like a millennia away! Anyways, Thank you once again for your reviews and encouragements. That is all that keeps me going and NO WORRIES! I have no plans to drop this story. I will finish it!
Have fun reading and have a nice day!