by Rei and SnM

This story was born out of a -type chat Rei-chan and I had... We seem to enjoy torturing KnK... But, then, it's Kaoru - She's so obnoxious, she deserves it... Don't ask me if I really believe that. I might be tempted to say I don't. Anyway, Rei was playing Kaoru, and I was writing Kenshin. I, of course, tinkered with it, elaborated, and added
Yes, I am totally aware that this is incredibly out-of-character and highly improbable. Don't talk to me about that - I know. It's just fun to entertain the concept.
This is predominantly K+K, and it's my first fic with a het couple in the main pairing... Being the yaoi fangirl that I am, I couldn't resist throwing in the possible romance between Kenshin and Hiko (or at least some love/longing I feel like Kenshin had/has for the pompous jerk with the freaky cape). Also note the representation of Battosai as almost a different person, or, as they deem it in schizophrenia, an alter ego. I believe that Kenshin has many facets, including the personality and the personality. Maybe the psychopath in this vignette is another facet of Kenshin's subconscious, just waiting for the right moment to jump up and scare the Bejeesus out of Kaoru.
Well, I finally caved... Rei finally enticed me to write a sequel to this, although I'm really not a fan of happy endings and simple denouements. So. That'll be coming soon. Until then, enjoy the reedited version, with easier-to-read formatting and better grammar!
Yoroshiku de gozaru yo!


God, Kaoru! The day you wear that is the day I commit seppuku!

Don't joke about that, kid, came Sano's rumbling voice. Knowin' Kaoru, she'll hold you to it. He could hear the tall man laughing, deep in his chest, followed by the growls of both Kaoru and Yahiko.

I mean, it's not even a proper wedding dress! Yahiko continued. Yeesh! Who'd wear something that plain to be married in?

I think you need to be less of a snob, Yahiko, Kaoru snapped.

Yes, it would do well to respect your Master, that it would, he said with a smile.

Three pairs of eyes were suddenly fixed on him - They obviously hadn't heard him approach, nor noticed when he leaned against the frame of the rolled-back door.

Kenshin watched as Kaoru's cheeks turned cherry-blossom pink. But he wasn't terribly interested in that, at the moment. No, he was more intrigued by the dark, blue-black kimono she was wearing, which hung just low enough to bare a little of her pale shoulders... The layer beneath the outer kimono was a pink the colour of Kaoru's blush, and matched the pastel embroidery at the bottom of the kimono and at the lowest parts of sleeves so long that they nearly touched the floor. The obi, as well, was a pale purplish colour with more pink stitchery, interspersed with silver and blue thread.

Kaoru was so obviously embarrassed, and Kenshin knew why, of course... She must've found this kimono, a family heirloom, no doubt, somewhere in the shed, or in one of her chests. Struck by its beauty, she probably decided to try it on, only to be caught admiring herself in the mirror. Yahiko, her constant harasser, found this subtle display of vanity and romanticism all too funny.

I think it suits you, he said gently, smiling at her.

Yahiko all but screeched, only to have Sano pick him up by the collar of his kimono and cart him out of the bedroom.

You've had enough fun for one day, punk, Sano said as he carried the boy down the dojo hall. We've got some work to do, I'd imagine.

We do not! And since when do you do any work about here, huh? Put me down! Hey! Hey! Are you listening to me...!?

Kenshin laughed softly, more of a good-natured exhalation of a held breath, than anything else. But, in truth, now that Sanosuke and Yahiko were gone, he didn't really feel relieved at all... He felt... nervous.

He looked up to notice that Kaoru was blushing from the tips of her ears all the way down her neck.

What's the matter, Kaoru-dono? he asked.

You're... Ah, you're staring at me... Kaoru looked away, blushing more.

Was I? Ah, in that case, my apologies...

There was a long pause, during which neither of them spoke. Kaoru wondered why Kenshin didn't just leave, and Kenshin was wondering much the same thing.

Acting more on impulse than anything else, he stepped towards the flushed young woman. Kaoru-dono... Why do you blush when I tell you you look nice? She tried to look away, tried to pretend like she wasn't blushing even more. He took her hands in his own, and held them up, smiling gently. Of course you're - beautiful. He had paused, but he'd done it. He'd told her exactly what he probably should have told her months ago. There's nothing embarrassing about that. He smiled sweetly, his entire face brightening.

In response, the young woman only went an impossibly darker shade of red and studied her bare feet against the cool wooden floor.

He laughed gently, squeezing her hands to get her attention. he said, as though he were pointing out a bird to a small child, there you go again...

Kaoru drew in a deep breath. She tried to look up and meet his gaze, but couldn't bring herself to do so. She chewed nervously on her lip, and Kenshin, watching her bowed head, felt like doing much the same thing. How can I help it...? she murmured. With you looking at me like that...

He let Kaoru's hands drop gently to her sides, and took another step closer to her. He tucked one finger under her chin, and titled her face so that she had no other choice but to look at him. Like what, Kaoru-dono? he asked in a smooth, soft voice. Does it... bother you...?

Kaoru looked up at the redheaded man, feeling so lost in his eyes, so far away and yet so very near. She shook her head minutely, so as not to dislodge his cool, smooth-skinned finger under her chin. No... It doesn't - bother me... It... She took a deep breath, and Kenshin leaned in just the slightest bit closer, hanging on her soft words. I feel... I don't know...

Kenshin could feel the young girl trembling slightly... He could feel the shallow shaking from where he was standing, and he suddenly realized that they were, indeed, quite close to each other... He drew in a deep breath.

You have such a pretty smile, Kaoru... he said, his voice a near whisper. He tilted his head a little, studying her bright, blue eyes. But you always look so worried when we're alone like this... He smiled gently, trying to reassure her, trying to make himself feel more at home in this rather foreign situation.

Kaoru smiled weakly up at him, the expression trembling just like the rest of her body, before fading away into a mildly nervous look. She lowered her head and looked up at Kenshin through her eyelashes. It reminded him of some women he'd - known, in other times, other places. But he pushed thoughts like those away, because to compare this shining, innocent young girl to those women would debase Kaoru... I feel like I've got a million butterflies in my chest, she whispered. He could taste her breath, they were so close... They're trying to break loose... It was both an obseravtion and a promise. Kenshin wondered if, should he put his hand to her heart, he would be able to feel the beating of their wings against her rib cage.

he said in a low, clear voice. That's the way it's supposed to be. He smiled at her once more.

In the next moment, Kenshin had stepped back, away from Kaoru, letting his hands fall like weights to his sides. Silence spread thick between them, blocking out whatever else he might have wanted to tell Kaoru, whatever else she might have wanted to admit.

The only thoughts that came to him, although he didn't know why, were of how young and sweet this girl before him was. How she would more than likely give him anything he asked of her, and how... How willingly he would take it all.

I'm going to go check on Yahiko and Sano, see that they're not getting into any trouble. He flashed her an uneasy half smile, and darted out of the bedroom before she could stop him.

She was silent for a moment, rather confused. The name slipped past her lips unbidden, and she felt a little weaker for it... It seemed, she mused, that every time he left her, she lost a little more...

She chuckled softly to herself, though the sound was caught and muffled in her clenching throat, shaken by the trembling of her chin. Just when I think something's going to happen... She choked on the words, feeling heavy.

She ghosted out of her bedroom, not even thinking to change out of the fine kimono... It gave her a little bit of comfort, somehow, even though it reminded her of her pain. My mother, my grandmother. Numerous Kamiya women, wives to my family's men, all wearing this, no doubt, to be married in... She sighed as she slipped quietly through the dojo. I wonder if I'll ever wear it...

She didn't really notice where she was going, so when she found herself standing on the back steps of the dojo, she was a little surprised. She sank to the floor, heedless of the dust and dirt, and what it might do to the old silk. She sighed, and stared without seeing at the pink-tinted fall garden. The sun was just beginning to set, gold and red, with hints of purple, and everything was tinged with a blush-coloured light.

Oh, I'm such a foolish girl... I'm... No wonder Kenshin can't commit to me. I'm still just a child. But I can't take all the blame... There's something... something stopping him. But he'll never tell me, he never tells me anything about himself, not really...

She sighed. Why do you have to make it so hard, Kenshin?

Kaoru-dono...? What...? The soft voice ghosted across her ears like silk, like the cool breeze that was sweeping through the dojo yard.

Her breath felt heavy in her lungs as she sighed again, pretending not to hear his gentle plea. Why do you make it so hard to love you...? There, I've finally said it...

She could feel him, standing there, behind her, looming over her. She stood, uneasy.

Perhaps he thought she would leave, walk off without hearing whatever answer he could come up with. She didn't know why he did it, but he stepped behind her, tentatively winding one of his arms around her waist. She tensed, and then relaxed into the loose embrace.

Because... Because I'm afraid...

She stifled a gasp at his words. Kenshin rested his chin gently on her shoulder, and continued to speak.

Because I'm afraid that I'm not ready, he whispered into her dark hair, afraid that you're not ready, that you're too young, that I'm too old. He sighed. Because every time I think about it for too long, I imagine myself dying years before you, leaving you all alone. Because...

She shook her head, feeling his cheek brush against her ear with each turn of her head. That's stupid. Kenshin -

No - he interrupted, his voice sounding strained.

But she didn't stop. She looked up at the sky, hoping to dry her tears, hoping to find inspiration, hoping... hoping for something. I'll chase you to the ends of the earth, you know that! she promised softly.

Her heart skipped a beat as he released her from his soothing grasp and spun her around, holding her squarely by the shoulders. The look he fixed her with was intense, burning, quite unlike the Kenshin' she knew. Look at me. His voice was cool, commanding.

I'd follow you through eternity, if it meant we could be -

I said, Look at me.

Shocked, she did so. The expression she met with in Kenshin's eyes was foreign, something she'd never seen in his countenance before. His eyes betrayed an emotion somewhere between furious anger and deep, sorrowful remorse.

he continued, his voice urgent, there are so many things wrong with me, so many evil things I've done, so much staining my hands. Because I'm a killer, and because I don't trust myself to stay His eyes never left her face as he kept speaking.

You cage a beast for too long and he gets restless, he whispered harshly. He'd spoken like this before, of... Kaoru couldn't think of it. She wouldn't let him do this. So you let him go because it's the right thing to do. But how do you let go when you're still attached to it, still think it's - beautiful.

Every dragon has its master, Kenshin! she pleaded. She sounded, even to her own ears, desperate, urgent, so lost. Oh, God... And everyone deserves a new beginning!

Stop it, Kaoru, he said coolly. Hear me out.

She drew in a deep breath, trying to gather some of his strength. Go on.

Stop it! he bit out. Stop trying to justify what cannot be justified so simply! His voice was taking on some new level... No, Kaoru pleaded. Kenshin continued, hearing the harsh, rising anger in his words. It doesn't work that way.

But -

Don't make excuses for me! he interrupted. His entire body was tense, a bowstring ready to let loose some poisoned arrow. He didn't want to, he didn't want to continue, but he could not stop. I don't deserve them! And if I ever want to move on, I can't accept them.

Then go find your answer,' Kenshin, the dark-haired girl whispered. I won't stop you.

Shut up! he barked. Just shut up! His fingers tightened on her shoulders, making valleys in the silk of the kimono. Don't - say - a - word.

She felt some burst of defiant energy. Why not? she snapped, glaring at him.

Just be silent! He shook her. For once! He shook her again. For once in your life, just stop hanging on my every word, and let me talk like a normal human being!

She dropped to the wooden steps again with a shiver. For the first time since he arrived, Kaoru was afraid of Kenshin, somehow, really afraid. The look in his violet eyes was that of a wild animal, a masterless creature that would probably kill if provoked.

Kenshin let himself be pulled into a sitting position, as well, taking deep breaths as he steeled himself. He continued to take deep, meditative breaths, thinking, trying to focus this raging, angry energy.

When he finally turned to look at her, his face was not a face Kaoru knew. It was not Kenshin, and it was not Battosai.' This face, this man... He was on the edge, teetering, fighting with himself... This man was desperate and bitter, angry and vicious, and... and... He was so lost, so very, very lost.

he said, his jaw set, both his expression and his voice stony. I still... I used to think that Battosai was beautiful. For many years, I thought so, and I still do.

She didn't... She couldn't... understand.

I loved him, Battosai. I nearly loved him more passionately than I ever loved anyone else... More than Tomoe, perhaps. His dead expression shifted to a disdainful sneer. Does it mean anything to you yet?

Secretly, I loved Battosai, that side of me that could be strong, that could kill. I didn't become a hitokiro, in all bare-bones honesty, to help people, or because I had to. I became a killer because I loved him... I loved Battosai,' I loved the strength that flowed in my veins when I let myself kill, when I let myself do those terrible things.

Kaoru gasped. She thought of it... The images that filled her mind - No, she couldn't let herself think of Kenshin this way.

His disdainful sneer darkened into some sort of expression of malevolent promise... Kenshin could feel it, he was losing control. He could feel it in his trembling pulse, in his fingers clamped on Kaoru's shoulders.

I loved him, he bit out harshly. It was killing me, but I loved him anyway. The man who taught me to fight, taught me to be strong, be angry, taught me to kill. He showed me all that - He showed me discipline, he showed me hunger. Worst of all - or so I used to think - he made me love. Without ever willing it, he forced it into me, and once the feeling was there, I couldn't let it go. I still crave it - him. But, now, he has done himself one worse. He has redefined hatred for me.

Kenshin took a hissing breath. It felt like he was bleeding. Something was leaking out of him, strength, humanity, something.

I hate him just as much as I love him. He's the one who gave me Battosai! How could I not love him for such a beautiful gift? He laughed harshly.

Oh, God... Kaoru thought. She was beginning to loose feeling in her arms. He's going mad...

He's my Master, Kaoru, Kenshin whispered, leaning closer to her, anger bright in his eyes. This dragon has a master, a keeper. I do tricks for him! He let loose another bitter, grating chuckle. I can't control him, Kaoru. He has me under his thumb!

Who is he talking about...? she wondered. Hiko...? Or... Battosai...? She found that she couldn't take her eyes off his face, his twisted, angry, moon-pale, marble-smooth face. Even in this insane rage, he was so beautiful. Terrifying, dangerous, but... attractive...

Do you understand yet? he shouted, shaking her again. She gasped at the force with which he moved her about. She felt like some over-sized rag doll.

I've tried to be gentle with you, darling, he hissed. But you don't understand it that way. His face was suddenly soft again, although the rage still shimmered in his eyes. I'm sorry, Kaoru-dono... I don't...' That doesn't fucking work with you, girl! The sweet look dropped from him face once more, leaving an expression that made no excuses, none at all. He regarded her steadily for a little while...

You're afraid, aren't you? he asked. Kaoru paused before nodding slightly. You should be... Kenshin's expression vacillated between confusion and anger. He's a monster - I'm a monster. His hands, clamped onto her shoulders, were shaking. I have that capability. Every man does, but I, of all men, am willing to become it for... for you. His voice had dropped in volume considerably, and it was now a near whisper. And I'm afraid of that, and it's horrible, and, at the same time it's - so utterly beautiful.

Kaoru cut herself off, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth. She watched him carefully, finding that she was strangely fascinated by what she found there. Kenshin's rage and vehemence were slowly falling away, leaving in their wake a scarred, uncertain man... A man who was little more than just plain human.

I... I just... I don't want to hurt you, he murmured, sounding as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. I'm sorry... I just don't want to hurt you. Abruptly, Kenshin let go of her shoulders, and she wavered a little in the absence of his touch. The redhead turned to go.

As he took the first steps away from her, Kenshin hung his head, saying, I'm... I'm sorry. Kaoru almost didn't hear it.

She watched Kenshin walk away. As he disappeared through the dojo gate, Kaoru found herself wondering whether he would come back, and, if so, what his motives would be. She wondered what would be left for him to return to....

Ochiru - Japanese, To Fall.