By Yuki Takano

Author's note:
Hey there minna! I'm back again.

And since everyone seemed to have enjoyed Kon'ya wa... I decided to play with Sano and Kaoru again. This time, I gave myself the leeway to include not only Megumi and Kenshin but also Aoshi and Misao.
I'm a little apprehensive writing Aoshi and Misao as I'm not sure if they are all in character, but I hope you can all tell me what and where I went wrong in this fic. As always this fic is um...a little weird. I have a feeling that this is going to be another multi-chapter thing and might be a long one because I tried writing snippets of the whole story in every character's point of view. I'm new to this kind of...style(?) but if it's not working and this is giving you a headache reading, tell me so we can revise it for everyone's pleasure.

By Yuki

Hearts and Minds
Chapter 1


She could still remember the exact day Misao's letter came. It was just about the time dinner started at her dojo. Sano was cursing Yahiko for his delayed absence and Kenshin was beginning to worry. When Yahiko arrived letter in hand, Kaoru was sure it wasn't meant to disturb them, but it did anyway.

As any letter from Kyoto seemed to generate several different effects from each one of them. Kenshin had been initially worried sick, and she hadn't even opened the damn letter yet. Megumi was teasing Sano and had announced that it was probably a letter confirming the rumors that Saitou was very much alive and well. Megumi didn't even have to hint that this piece of news should bother Sano, she had announced it for all to hear. Which was probably true, although Rooster Head had vehemently denied it.

Kaoru on the other hand was just plain excited.

As it turns out, she had the right feeling about the letter. Nothing to fear and nothing worry about, Misao was just inviting them to stay over for a couple of weeks. Okina was dead set on celebrating the coming of the Autumn Season and had extended his invitation to them. Kaoru wasn't exactly sure what Okina had planned for the said event, but she couldn't care less, she was very much looking forward to staying with Misao-chan.

Convincing Yahiko to stay at the dojo took her two long harrowing days and one sleepless night. Which involved a lot of name-calling and then some sake. All of which she had blamed at Sano, who had somehow brainwashed Yahiko into believing that a Guy's Night Out was some sort of rite of passage for bratty 10 year olds.

Getting Sano not to go with them was a lost cause. He was determined to be there or be square. He had even threatened that should they leave him behind, he would follow suit and be at Kyoto in no time. Thus, to avoid any more mishaps, she had reluctantly agreed to let him go with them.

Not before inviting Megumi that is. She figured that if Sano was going to be a pain in the ass that he usually is, someone should be there to annoy him too.

As for Kenshin, she hadn't even asked him yet if he wanted to go when he told her that he'd go if she goes.

Which was a little unsettling. She was hoping Kenshin would join them but only if he wanted to come and not because he felt that it was a duty of his to be wherever she was at all time and at all cost. The more she thought about it the more she was convinced that Kenshin would rather stay at the dojo than travel to Kyoto and face painful memories but he was going anyway because he felt that he should be there to protect her. She had confronted him with this, but he had assured her that he was happy to go with them and was actually looking forward to see everyone again, including Aoshi.

"And Okina?" She had asked teasing him.

"Hai." He answered his innocent smile playing in his lips.

"And maybe your Shishou too?"

"Maybe." He shrugged his violet eyes laughing at her.

"And even...well, Okon and Omasu and Misao-chan?" She pressed trying to sound a little hurt and jealous, which wasn't really that hard to do.

"Hai. Especially Misao. I wonder how she's doing with Aoshi." Kenshin replied not taking his silly grin off his face.

She liked that grin. "Misao said she's working on it. And who else would you be seeing there Kenshin? You seem too excited. Maybe another girl that I don't know of?" She teased some more.

When Kenshin's smile vanished she almost fainted. "Is there another girl at Kyoto that you met while we were there and you didn't tell me about Kenshin?" She asked.

"O-oro? Of course not Kaoru-dono." He had answered feebly and immediately placed his distant rurouni mask on. She had playfully bopped him in the head, just to ease the sudden tension she felt in the air.

She tried to smile, at least for both of them and just shut her mouth. She tends to always say the stupidest things anyway. She had quietly sat beside Kenshin and watched as the two girls ran around her yard laughing gleefully. Kenshin was watching them.

Except that she knew he was pretending to be watching them. She couldn't guess what he was thinking about. She was tempted to ask, but she remembered their earlier discomfort.

He must have felt her stare on him because when he turned towards her, he had the same happy violet eyes and content smile back on his face. "You don't have to worry about anything Kaoru-dono." He said softly.
She blushed and berated herself for it. "Hai. I know." She said nodding. "I trust you." She added. The shocked expression that briefly passed his eyes were gone the instant she saw them, or thought she saw them. He thanked her and then looked away.

She wasn't sure what was wrong with her, or with him, or with their whole conversation. She was just teasing him and she could tell that he wasn't lying...but she could also swear that his answer wasn't completely the truth.

That had been the first bad sign she had failed to see.


The week started out fine. At least by their standards. Ever since the thing with Shishio he had been admittedly a little jumpy. He knew it was mildly getting on everyone's nerve, especially Kaoru's since he had practically refused to let her out of his sight. He figured there was no harm done in being prepared. After defeating someone as powerful and notorious as Shishio expecting the worse as well as the unexpected was actually very rational. Of course if he told everyone that he had been secretly camping outside of Kaoru's room for a several months now, they would have all thought that he had gone insane. Except that he wasn't insane, he was just in love.

And that was what he had been scared of for the past few days. Because the emotions he had been so successfully denying was resurfacing each day and getting stronger even by the seconds. Or he was just insane.

He refused to believe the latter. He couldn't be in love with Kaoru. Sure she was one of the most beautiful girl he had seen, she had the bluest eyes, the warmest heart, the most heart wrenching smile, the softest looking lips...

He stopped himself. Yup, he was going insane.

The day said letter arrived he had seriously considered snatching it from Kaoru's hand and tearing it into pieces. Save them from all the trouble of having to read a letter written by a complete psycho challenging Battousai. Of course, as he later found out all his fears had been imaginary. He had simply watched and enjoyed the laughter in Kaoru's eyes as she read them Misao's invitation. He delighted in the way her blue eyes seemed to sparkle in obvious excitement, though she tried to hide it from everyone. He was a little surprised that she would jump at the opportunity to visit Kyoto. Especially with what had happened the last time they were there.

From what he heard from Sano, Kaoru had been a little subdued then. That was Sano's exact words. Maybe it was because he was injured and hadn't seen much of her. He didn't like the thought that he had worried her, but that was probably the case. They seem to needlessly worry about each other too much. And yet everything always remained unspoken between them.

There were a lot of things he still couldn't tell her. When she had teased him about another girl, he was sure he'd choke to his death. His oro proved to be a life-saver of some sort. He hardly thought that it was the time and place to tell her about Tomoe. The truth was, he didn't think there would ever be the right time or place to tell her that. But he just couldn't blurt it out over dinner.

'Kaoru-dono would you please pass the water and by the way de gozaru I used to be married once but I accidentally killed her.'

He cringed at the thought.

Their last day at Tokyo was a little too eventful. Especially for Yahiko who had somehow gotten Kaoru to agree that he be allowed to have a "few sips" of sake. He was there, but Sano was also there. To cut the long story short, they came home with a very drunken Yahiko who was babbling about how pretty Tsubame was.

Sano was mercilessly teasing the boy, but Yahiko was way way out of it that he even went as far as telling them he'd miss Kaoru.

Of course Kaoru wasn't able to hear that and before they boarded the ship she had made sure that Yahiko would be grounded for two weeks under the strict guidance of Genzai-sensei and be forced to work at the Akabeko for the remaining week.

Yahiko grumbled, but the pleased smile was obvious in his face.

Sano was late and that made Megumi and Kaoru very, very edgy. Kenshin had seen the signs, but had ignored it. How could he even concentrate when Kaoru was standing so close beside him smiling widely waving her goodbyes at Yahiko, her jasmine scent lightly mixing with the smell of the sea? He was just content to watch her blue-green eyes shine with excitement.

"We'll only be gone for a couple of weeks Kaoru-dono." He teased her when he heard Kaoru sniff and unconsciously wipe the corner of her eyes. "I'm sure Yahiko would take good care of the dojo de gozaru." He assured her.

The boy had in fact promised him that, in exchange for his most solemn vow that he'd take care of Kaoru.

The memory of that conversation a few hours before they left was still fresh in his mind and he was glad that Yahiko was maturing quite well. Regardless of the fact that his idol was an ex-hitokiri hiding from himself and a Chicken head punk.

If they had been a real family, they would have easily fallen on the Dysfunctional Family category. Kenshin wasn't exactly sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing.

Kaoru sniffed again, snapping him out from his thoughts. "Baka! I'm not worried."

"But you're upset." He said fighting off the urge to put his arms around her and hold her tight.

"I'm not." Kaoru said giving him a brilliant smile. There was something about the smile that made him feel a little dizzy, of course he was standing on a ship but... He opened his mouth to tell her how beautiful she looked with the soft sea breeze slightly messing up her hair when he heard Sano's voice.

"Jou-chan, I think I'm going to be sick." Sano managed to mumble before leaning over the railing and puking his guts out.

"Now I'm upset." Kenshin heard Kaoru mutter. She hurriedly stepped away from him and headed towards their cabin. "Find Megumi Sano...no wait a sec, stay there. Kenshin kindly help him before Megumi and I decide to throw him off the boat." Kaoru declared walking away.

That sign, Kenshin hadn't missed. This was going to be a very long vacation.


So he was a little under the weather, big deal. He hadn't caused any serious damage. He started a flu at the damned ship, what the heck was so wrong with that? Besides, how dare they point him as the culprit, it could have been anyone on the freakin' ship. And it wasn't even his idea to ride this ship. It was Kaoru's. Blame her.

He actually said that out loud. He did and Kenshin heard him. That was why he was now staying at his own cabin. Alone and bored. He was no longer sick. Megumi took care of that, of course. He was sure that he'd be hearing a lot of off hands comments about him getting the whole crew and passengers of the ship infected with a nasty flu virus.

Just like the stupid joke about his lack of sense of direction. What was up with that anyway? He had gotten a little sidetracked when he went to Kyoto alone. It doesn't necessarily translate to as "being lost." Not by his standards anyway. He was willing to prove it, if only they had allowed him to lead the way to Kyoto by foot. It would have save them a lot of money and not to mention trouble. Riding in this ship anyway was trice as boring as watching paint dry on a wall. Or Kaoru and Kenshin stare at each other all day.

In his opinion ships are about as stupid as trains are. Why is he the only one who can see that? Sanosuke sighed. Where can his only companion be? She was always here before lunchtime.

"Jou-chan?" He called out as soon as he heard the loud knocking. She had been nicer than Megumi. He had expected that.

He had avoided Megumi pretty well and that would probably credit to his ever escalating bad mood, but he didn't give a damn. He would rather spend the whole day staring out at the sea than hearing Megumi's gloating and precious pieces of advice. So half of them were actually right, but that still gave him a whole lot of headache and guilty feelings.

"It's me Sano. Open up."

Sano groaned. Megumi. "I uh....I can't open the door."

"And why is that?"

'Why?' Sano shook his head. He was somewhere between jumping off the ship and throwing the door open and kissing Megumi silly when an idea popped into his head. "I'm...I'm naked!" He announced.

"You are?"

He could almost hear the foxy laughter through the door.
What was it with this ship and this trip that was making everyone act so weird? "I am...I mean I was, now I'm not."

"Well...that was fast. Now open the damn door!"

Hearing the tone of the voice, he mumbled a curse followed by a brief prayer and then threw the door open. "What?!" He growled.

Megumi was staring at him with slanted brown eyes. She had her arms crossed and was giving him the third degree. Or so he hoped was already the third degree.

'She's not too happy to see me.' Sano mused.

"Why are you sulking?" Megumi asked him coldly.

"Sulking? Me?" Sano watched as Megumi raised an eyebrow. "Ok, I am sulking. Well, this trip sucks." He said lamely.

"You're spending an awful lot of time with Tanuki girl." Megumi retorted.

Sano blinked. He was?

Sano gave Megumi a quizzical look. "I am?" He asked. He scratched his head and tried to review the events of the past few days. Let's see. He got sick. Megumi was being a real bitch and had been spending all her free time with Kenshin, because apparently as he remembered Megumi was worried that Kenshin would also get sick. Kaoru was forced to take care of him and they were always in his cabin. Alone. Together.

Sano finally let a small smile play on his lips. "You're jealous aren't you?" He asked taking a bold step forward. His words obviously held some truth to it as Megumi stiffened and color rose to her cheeks.

"I'm not." She stated flatly. "Just concerned." She added somewhat stiffly.

"Concerned? About me? Or what might be going on between me and Kaoru." He chose to use Kaoru's name for added effect. The truth was there really wasn't anything going on between him and Tanuki-chan. If there was, then he'd be damned because Kaoru wasn't on his list of what he would consider as 'available'. In fact, now that he remembered it, the only interesting thing he and Jou-chan had done the whole time she was in his room was tease each other.

Ok, so he had enjoyed her company. Probably more than he would even dare admit to anyone, but still...

"Kenshin's been asking about Tanuki." Megumi asked with a shrug.

"He has? Well tell him he can find Jou-chan here." He smiled pleasantly at the shocked expression that briefly crossed Megumi face. "Speaking of Jou-chan, if you see her kindly tell her that she's late. I've been waiting for her all this morning." And with that Sano closed the door on Megumi's face. Barely keeping himself from letting out a "whoop" in the air.

Sano was beginning to see this trip in a different light. Perhaps his luck was about to change. For once, Megumi wasn't able to put in the last word and that gave him enough reason to really enjoy the day. And the fact that she was jealous made this day all the more enjoyable.

She blankly stared at the door. She growled and made a fist prepared to knock again and tell Sano...

'Tell Sano what? That it bothers you that he was actually waiting for Kaoru and not you?'

She sighed. She had nothing to tell the Chicken Head Punk. And why she even cared was beyond her. She shouldn't have bothered. And for the record, she wasn't in any way worried that Sano and Kaoru were always together.

She should be happy, she thought dejectedly walking away. She had been with Kenshin the whole trip. Isn't that what she had been scheming for, ever since she decided that Kenshin would make a better distraction.

'Distraction for what or who?'

She refused to answer that mental question. Which was probably a good thing. She found Kenshin standing by the railing. His red hair seemed to be floating about him. He was as always quiet and pensive. He hadn't even notice that she was standing beside him.

Perhaps he did, he just didn't want to acknowledge her. The thought almost brought tears to her eyes when Kenshin turned to her and smiled.

"Is Sano better?"

"Hai." Megumi managed to say. The truth was Kenshin had never asked for Kaoru, but that doesn't mean that he didn't know where she was or he didn't care. Far from it. When they were together Megumi had from time to time watched, as Kenshin would silently search around him, always looking for the raven-haired girl. It hadn't gone unnoticed, especially to her that Kenshin was always unconsciously or consciously talking about her. Whether it would be as simple as comparing the blue sky to Kaoru's eyes or just plainly telling her something Kaoru had said or done the other day or even last month. It didn't matter; it was always something about Kaoru.

Sometimes she just had to smile. Kenshin seemed to have a treasure chest of Kaoru-anecdotes hidden inside his head...or heart.

It wasn't that she didn't like hearing about it, in fact she often found herself reminiscing with Kenshin, but at some point she would just block out Kenshin's voice and enjoy the day with her own private thoughts. And it had surprised her greatly that these private thoughts would include Sanosuke.

She wouldn't deny that he had become a part of her life from the time that he had stopped her from killing herself. She took him then as a protective person. Someone she can trust her life with.

But then she got to know him better, which included several dozen personal accounts of his arrogance, his sake drinking, his addiction to gambling, his love for children and women.

She found him as both intriguing and annoying.

Which confused her greatly. Most of the time she would find herself wanting to cut Sano's head off to give her a moment of peace of mind. And other times, she just can't help but take his hand and patiently try to fix it.


Kenshin's voice brought her thoughts. "Huh?"

"Is there something bothering you?" Kenshin asked.

"Uh...no. Just thinking."


The silence hung in the air for a moment, then they both spoke at the same time.

"Have you seen Kaoru?"

"I'll go speak to Sano again."

They both paused, a silent understanding in their eyes. And then decided that things would be less complicated if they just ignored the fact they almost admitted to each other that they maybe together at this time, but their hearts and mind were on another place and with another person.

"This is going to be a long vacation, isn't it Kenshin?" Megumi asked smiling.

"I don't know what to actually hope for Megumi." Kenshin answered smiling as well.

Ok, end chapter 1. Next time, it would be with Misao and Aoshi, and things are bound to get complicated when the gang arrived at Kyoto.
C&C's please. Thanks!