First chapter of my first RK fic. Give it a chance, 'kay?

Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin.


A number of small round objects were tossed in the air and into the center of the dance floor. It hit the polished concrete ground in soft thuds - bouncing off once - and within moments thick, black smoke emerged from the protruding hole and rapidly filled the room. People started running in a panic - not an ounce of care who they were bumping and crashing into.

Nice. With the smoke keeping the guards' hands full trying to calm the frenzied crowd whilst guiding the King and his Queen to safety, it was the perfect chance for her to escape. She could just easily blend in with the crowd and make her way outside without catching any suspicion.

Or so that was what she thought.

...a firm grip on her arm ceased her from fleeing.

...amidst the thick and foggy atmosphere that clouded everything else, his amber orbs illuminated brightly.


~.o.~

The Game of Disguise

Kenshin drew aside the shade that hindered his view from the outside world. He figured he must have taken his quick little nap much longer than he planned to. The sun was already nowhere in sight. Beyond the spotless window glass, the cloudless azure sky has turned into grey. The approaching night was slowly embedding the earth with darkness, but the lights that radiated in the household - the one place he long dreaded to step foot again - boldly defied mother nature.

In an hour or less, he would face again the shadow of his past that he ached to forget.

He dropped his hand down to his knee and cast his eyes closed - shutting his vision away from all the vestiges. Yet behind his closed lids, solitude, despair, anguish, betrayal - the agonizing sensations that he prevented to hark back still took shape and tugged deeply at his chest, pulling him deeper into the abyss.

"Your Imperial Highness," Kenshin's eyes fluttered open at the sound of the voice, "we have arrived at the Yukishiro Household."

The desperation he felt to prevent the sore memories from leaking out any further caused him to fail to notice that the carriage he was in has come to a complete halt. He realized he has fallen asleep yet again and this time, it was a deep, uncomfortable slumber.

"Yes." Kenshin said audibly.

The side door of the carriage silently cast open and Kenshin, clad in a black coat, then emerged. Although Kenshin could not see where the carriage driver's gaze were cast upon - with his body bent in a stoop to show courtesy - he was definite the gaze rested on his sheathed sword that dangled against his pelvic region, like where all the other people secretly stared at.

Kenshin dug his hand deep into the pocket of his dark trousers and brought out a golden pocket watch. Both hands formed a straight line with the longer one pointing to the right.

Ten minutes after eight. Kenshin heaved a heavy sigh as he returned the pocket watch back to its place. The footman, who he brought along with him on his two-day journey to Kyoto, straightened his figure just in time to meet the gaze of the man he served under. Before turning his body around, the footman gestured politely to Kenshin and indicated to follow him from behind.

The Yukishiro estate was considerably vast. The distance they both sauntered just to get to the main entrance was still quite a stroll. Kenshin did not mind walking the long distance at all, but ever since the disappearance of his sole reason to endure the exhausting walk, he wasn't quite sure now.

Kenshin took his ground a few metres behind his servant. He watched as the young man raised his right hand to the iron-cast door knocker and struck the ring against the plate underneath thrice. Within few seconds, the gargantuan double-leaf mahogany door swung open, revealing an elderly housekeeper.

"Welcome, Your Highness." The elderly man greeted with a bow. "We are greatly honored of your presence here." The housekeeper stepped to the side, glancing at the lassie dressed in a maid outfit. "She will guide you to the guest room."

"This way, Your Imperial Highness." The girl smiled sheepishly in a curtsey.

She led them both up the swerving staircase and into a room at the end of the east hallway which Kenshin found less familiar with. "The Lady will be with you in a short moment."

Once the door closed behind the housemaid, Kenshin went straight to the large glass window instead of taking a seat on the grand sofas. All the while, he has been observing the large and imposing house warily - searching for the slightest changes that may have materialized during his absence - and found none. Beyond the ornate window glass, at the farthest right of the estate, was the flower garden he second held dear. Every visit he had at the Yukishiro Household, it was at that one place he usually spent his time most.

His lips arch into a smile. He was glad that at least someone still cared for the garden and kept it blooming with life.

The door to the room creaked open but Kenshin did not bother averting his gaze from the window. Even without looking at the approaching person behind, he knew perfectly well who it was - judging by the light footsteps.

A pair of delicate porcelain hands found its way at both sides of his body - bending inwardly on his torso upon meeting.

"Thank you for the invite, Kenshin." Tomoe whispered audibly as she rested her well-groomed head on his shoulder.

Kenshin continued to stare beyond the window, not moving an inch of his muscle, and for the longest while, they both remained on that upright position. Tomoe, holding Kenshin close from the back, fastened her embrace more tightly.

"I miss you." She said breathily. "So much."

It was clear that she yearned for this man and made no effort to hide it from everyone, especially from him. "Kenshin..." She spoke his name once again in a whisper.

Tomoe turned Kenshin's body around with little effort so he was facing her. His blood-hue fringes concealed half his face, obstructing the view to his eyes - the eyes that could tell the feelings he was experiencing at the moment...the feelings which he could not utter into words. She cupped the side of his cheek and erected his downcast head. The languid gaze he displayed caught her unsurprised and the small smile that followed indicated that she was expecting it.

She finally managed to have his gaze meet hers. Although his gaze was fixed into her own, she knew he wasn't exactly looking at her. It was more like he was looking through her.

Tomoe elevated her short stature with the tip of her toes - resting her free hand on his other shoulder for support. She knew she'll only be stopped by him yet again before she could even get a few inch closer to those sensuous lips but she couldn't help but do another round. She closed her lids as their faces drew closer. And anticipated the hand, incorporated with a gentle push, that would stop her from tasting those lips which never came.

However, deepening her kiss was a bad move to make. When her eyes fluttered open at the detachment she no longer expected, Kenshin had taken a small step back away.

"Why don't you stay for the night, Kenshin?" Tomoe offered after a quick chuckle at herself, though not due to embarrassment. She waltz to the grand sofa and took her seat. "You look exhausted." She commented as she poured herself a cup of Darjeeling tea.

"I appreciate the offer but I have to refuse." Kenshin spoke finally. "I have to get back as soon as possible. With the ball fast approaching, my schedule is pretty tight."

Tomoe watched Kenshin from the room they were previously in as he got on in the horse-drawn black Berlin carriage and disappear out of sight. Kenshin told her she need not to participate but she knew better. If the Imperial Majesty has invited her specifically, then it was for very significant reason. She then left the guest room and went straight to her bedchamber. An in her room, she found the present Kenshin mentioned before he took his leave. It lay on top of her silky bed sheets. She motioned towards the white box and stared down at it for a moment before pulling loose the scarlet ribbon that bounded it. Lifting the cover, what she saw inside was what she least expected Kenshin would bring her.

She drew it out from the box to expose its full feature and held the elaborate apparel against her chest. She moved towards her wardrobe and cracked it open.

"It's beautiful." Megumi, her younger sister by a year, commented.

"Yes." Tomoe said in agreement. "It is." She smiled as she twirled once more, catching another glimpse of herself in the full-length mirror.

Sitting on a sturdy branch of a tree that overlooked the merry room, a sly wicked smile slowly crept to Misao's face. Soon, when the lights inside the manor have dimmed down, she would make her move.

~.,.~

With the last customer tottering his way to the front door, Kaoru trailed behind the bulky man and locked the latch securely after expressing her gratitude. That day as well, they barely made any profit.

Aoi-Ya was a haven built by her foster parent in hopes of creating a place sublime enough to escape - even for just a mere moment - the harsh reality of the heart-breaking, poverty-stricken neighborhood they dwelled in which was located on the outskirts of Kyoto, near the sea side area. Aoi-Ya went from being a place to educate the children to being a lodging house and lastly, to being a bar. It seemed like they only attracted men's interests - listless men who chose to indulge themselves in booze.

Kaoru had no choice but to open her door to them, reminding herself, 'beggars can't be choosers'.

"Kaoru," the voice of a child called meekly, "it's past midnight."

Startled, Kaoru dropped the damp cloth she was using to wipe the few tables. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the small figure that stood at the foot of the narrow staircase. "Yahiko," she said as she picked the cloth from the wooden and brought it to the sink behind the counter to wash it from dirt, "you're still up?"

Yahiko nodded. "I can't sleep. Misao's not home yet."

"Again?" She asked rhetorically. Lately, the second sibling has been coming home late at night. Sometimes she doesn't even come home until the following day breaks. "I'll just finish this up. I'll be up in a sec." Kaoru told Yahiko as she rinsed the few glassware clean and wiped the sink dry. She paced over to the end of the counter and hooked her apron on the crotchet near it.

Kaoru sighed as she took a final glance at the deserted place before flipping the light switch and begin ascending the stairs.

She found the frail figure of her little brother on top of the futon, sitting idly whilst looking out the window. Yahiko was the last member who Kashiwazaki Nenji took in into his family. He was born with a weak body from the start. At the age of three, his condition worsened. The orphanage where he was left behind could no longer afford the expenses for his medical treatments. But luckily, before his health turned out for the worse, the aged man crossed paths with the little boy and decided to take him under his care.

"Are you worried?" Kaoru asked softly and took a seat beside the boy.

"Not really." Yahiko replied as he shook his head in a slow manner. "I'm sure she's out spying on the nobles again." He heard a low chuckle from Kaoru and he smiled. He was about to speak again when Misao's head jutted in from the window.

"Misao!" Kaoru exclaimed at the moment she recognized the intruding person. "Where have you been? I've been worried sick. Even if you're a skilled kunoichi, it's still dangerous for a young girl like you to go out this late!" She said, surprised at herself to have managed to utter the words in one breath.

Misao gaped at her until her very last word. "Now, now, Kaoru. Don't stress yourself with trivial stuff." She said, waving her hand in the air as if shrugging the tension away as well. "Listen," she took her seat in front of Kaoru in a seiza and looked her in the eyes, "I want you to leave the bar to me, 'kay? Don't work for the evening shifts. I'll take over after six."

"What happened? Did reality finally hit you good?" Yahiko interrupted. Misao glared at him which eventually led to a glaring contest between the two.

"Yeah." Misao spoke but not averting her glare away from Yahiko. "In fact, it did." She smiled wickedly as she pulled out a white envelope from her waist pouch and presented it to Kaoru.

"Invitation to...Bal Masqué?" Kaoru read the gold-printed letters innocently. She flipped the little envelope and saw the royal seal on the other side. "Where did you get this, Misao?"

"Like I said, don't worry about the trivial stuff." Misao stated firmly yet again. "My point is, Kaoru, I want you to at least have a wonderful experience. You're aware of Cinderella's tale, right?" She asked rhetorically. "Well, I want you to be Cinderella for once. Is that so hard to ask for, Sis?"

Kaoru heard Misao's pleading voice but she couldn't help but feel doubtful. "But," she started, "the dress...I can't imagine how much it'll cost. In fact, I don't think we can afford it."

"And it's in Tokyo. Miles away from here." Yahiko said in a matter-of-fact tone. Kaoru nodded in agreement.

"I will grant you all that." Misao said confidently. Kaoru and Yahiko stared at Misao with wide eyes, looking befuddled.

"But," Kaoru began her reason again, "don't you think they'll easily find out anyway? I mean, we look poor no matter how much we dress up." She raised her hand to her face and touched a palm against her cheek. "And I don't have the facial feature of one who's born with a silver spo-"

"Kaoru!" Misao interrupted Kaoru in a bellowed voice. "It's a Bal Masqué." She said, emphasizing the last word. "Everyone will be wearing a mask on that evening. Okay?" She added in a little coerced tone.

Misao then drew her face closer to Kaoru's and whispered audibly, "It's a game of disguise."

"So, get a good rest, 'kay? Try to take it easy." Misao added before she disappeared to the bathroom. Kaoru remained seated beside Yahiko with a perplexed expression, still not able to shake off the feeling that there was more to it than just attending a ball.

~.o.~


Please review. I need to hear your thoughts about the story.

~Soo-Yun