Author's Note: I must warn you! My beta is currently very busy with school, so unfortunately she didn't have the time to look at this chapter yet. But since it's been lying on my hard drive for some while now, I didn't want to make you wait any longer and publish it. I'll replace it with the edited version as soon as possible.
Therefore, I apologize for the horrible and awkward English (it's not my native language...) - if you get very annoyed by grammar mistakes and the like, you should probably wait for the edited version...
I hope the next chapter won't have such a long wait as this one, but I'm afraid I can't promise anything...
Before I forget it: Big thanks once again to Luna, who helped me a lot with the wedding stuff!
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I do not own Rurouni Kenshin. If I did, we'd have an awesome animated version of the Jinchuu arc by now!
Kaoru took a step back and looked at her parents. She hadn't known Saito Tokio during the Meiji era, but she guessed that her mother had had the same long, black hair and dark brown eyes as she had now. That, and the same kind smile everyone thought she always wore, but which could change into a piercing look directly into one's soul as fast as a summer storm approached, as her family knew only too well.
Right now, Tokio nudged her husband, who was a spitting image of his Meiji era self. "Oh, so I'm not enthusiastic enough anymore for your taste, Hajime? Maybe I should stop the... greeting altogether for a while, so you will appreciate it more?" she asked with one eyebrow raised, mocking him openly.
Saito only took a last pull on his cigarette and carefully stubbed it out before turning a bit to face the woman to his side. "Like I couldn't do the couple of days without your greeting before you come crawling back on your knees to me, wife!"
Kaoru noticed the sparkle in her mothers eyes and decided it was definitely time to retreat to her room. She sighed and rolled her eyes while going upstairs and thought that it was probably better to put her headphones on tonight, just in case. Reaching her room, she slammed the door shut and fell on her bed, suddenly feeling absolutely exhausted.
Images and memories wavered in her mind. Kaoru still felt that she couldn't really grasp the whole meaning of her recent experience yet. She felt so many things at the same time. Excitement about the general idea of having a past life and remembering it even. Happiness when she thought about the turn that past life had taken at a certain point. Sadness about what had happened before she had finally been able to claim that happiness. She also felt her love for Kenshin suddenly exponentially increased, too large for her young heart actually.
That was something she really didn't want to elaborate further tonight, though. For now, all she wanted to do was sleep.
Misao sat on the bed in her dark room, legs crossed and chewing on her lip. Maybe Kaoru and Kamatari were right and she should try thinking before acting more often. Not that she regretted calling Suzuki-sensei, but in hindsight it was such a bad idea to do that on her birthday party. She was only happy that she had asked Kaoru to be the first along with her. What would have happened if it had been Kamatari and the boy suddenly decided he wanted to antagonize them once again?
She sighed and shook her head. No, no, no, she would not let that happen! Even after their fight at the Aoiya, Misao had been able to understand why Kamatari had acted like he had in a way, but now that she knew what a sweet and caring person her friend actually was, she would never let him fall for the wrong guy again. Maybe she should actually start looking for a boyfriend for him. Couldn't be that difficult, after all.
Ah, but first thing she would do in the morning was to call Kaoru and get back at her for not believing she really was the descendant of ninjas, and the modern Oniwabanshu was in fact the successor organization of the Oniwabanshu that had once guarded the castle of Edo.
Then again, it probably wasn't a good idea to tease Kaoru right now. That girl had been lovesick enough even before, and now it probably was getting only worse. Why couldn't Himura simply see what he had in her? The problem was Tomoe-san being alive and in love with him, of course... Not that she begrudged them their happiness, but she couldn't see Kaoru suffer, either. Why did it always have to be that complicated with Himura?
Speaking of complicated... Not that her own situation was easier. Deep down, she had always known that she and Aoshi-sama were meant for each other. And now she had proof. Well, kinda. At least for herself. All she had to do now, was to convince Aoshi-sama of the same and get rid of that fox. Which probably would have been a lot easier if Sano would have been around. As far as she knew, he unfortunately wasn't. Maybe she should ask Kaoru about it tomorrow. Helping Kaoru was more important anyway, since it was only a week until the wedding. And even she wouldn't dare to try ruining a marriage. Or would she...? No, no, no!
Misao was so caught up in her own thoughts, she didn't notice her parents carefully opening the door and checking on her. They only looked at each other as they saw their only daughter tear at her hair, roll around on the bed, grimace and mumble to herself. They were used to it after all.
The next day was a Sunday. Kaoru woke up extremely early, a fact for which she was thankful. This way, no one noticed that she put on her keikogi and hakama, took her bokuto and left the house.
She headed towards a nearby park, where she started practicing simple strokes first and later the more complicated katas. After executing a particular complicated one perfectly, she wanted to lie down in the grass, when she repeated the movements in her head and suddenly noticed something.
Without even meaning to, Kaoru had performed some of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu techniques she wasn't even supposed to know yet. Apparently her body remembered on its own. So there obviously were benefits to the current situation, who would have guessed? That would make teaching tomorrow so much easier.
After almost six hours, Kaoru went back home. Her mother was in the middle of preparing lunch and only smiled at her. Tokio knew well enough that her second daughter didn't want to talk about whatever she was brooding over when she decided to let her sword do the talking and thinking for a while. If it was important, she would come to talk later. She was exactly like her father in that aspect.
Kaoru did indeed brood over something the rest of the day. Misao sent her a text message, that she wanted to meet, but she didn't want to talk about it today. First, she needed to become clear how she wanted to handle the situation for herself.
When Kaoru and Yahiko finally appeared at the dojo for the beginner's lesson the next morning, they were more than surprised to see Misao standing at the gate. Kaoru didn't think her friend had ever been at the dojo before. Well, not in this life at least.
She stopped and gazed at the girl, who had strange look on her face. "Misao-chan! What are you doing here?"
Misao took a deep breath and stared at the sign of the dojo. "It's a bit strange to come here today, isn't it?" she smiled.
"Yeah," Kaoru smiled back. "But, seriously, what are you doing here? Are you angry because I didn't want to see you yesterday?"
"Oh no, of course not." Misao pushed away from the wall and waved her hand. She grinned her broadest grin and gave Kaoru a thumbs up. "I'm only here for emotional support!"
"Hey weasel girl, what the hell are you talking about? The ugly is only trying to teach today, she isn't going to war or anything!" Yahiko muttered.
Kaoru and Misao looked at each other. Then both of them chirped simultaneously "Yahiko-chan... Shut. Up!" and underlined their last words with punches to his head.
Ignoring the complaining boy, Misao looked at her friend questioningly. "You sure, you're okay? You can tell me, you know!"
Once again, Yahiko interrupted them. This time, he had an earnest look on his face. "Seriously, what are you talking about? Is there something I should know?"
Exasperated, Kaoru turned towards her little brother. "Yahiko, could you please leave us alone for a minute? I have to talk to Misao, and it's nothing you need to know about."
"Of course I have to know if you're in trouble, ugly! Someone has to defend your honor, right?" Yahiko grinned.
That was too much for Kaoru. Her already worn out nerves snapped.
"God, Yahiko! Just leave us alone for a minute, is that too much to ask? If you don't go, I'll tell Tsubame-chan how you looked at that girl at the Akabeko last week!" she yelled with might and main.
Unfortunately it didn't have the desired effect. Instead of blushing, stammering and retreating, Yahiko simply looked at her bewildered.
"Erm... Okay... Well, go ahead and tell Tsubame-chan. Whoever that might be," he said carefully. "And whatever that Akabeko is..."
Kaoru now looked almost as bewildered as Yahiko. "What do you mean, whoever that might be? I'm talking about Tsubame-chan! Your- What?" she snapped at Misao, who had been coughing and tugging at Kaoru's sleeve for quite a while now.
"Kaoru-chan," she whispered and leaned over. "There is no Tsubame in this life! And no Akabeko! At least none that I know of..."
"Oh...!" Kaoru was mortified. Maybe it was for the best that Misao had come. She couldn't keep making mistakes like that, especially not here, or she would never be able to set foot in the dojo again. She really hoped with time passing, she would be able to better control the memories of her two different lives and not mix them up anymore. For now, that was still a little bit hard. And she hadn't even interacted with too many people so far. And especially not with a certain someone.
"Ah, whatever! We better go now, or I'll be too late for my first lesson and I won't give that little moron over there that satisfaction!" she finally said resolutely.
When Kaoru later entered the training hall, she was greeted by Himura-sensei. She introduced Misao and explained that her friend would like to watch the lesson today.
Himura-sensei didn't have any objections, and so Misao took seat at the side of the hall. He then introduced Kaoru to the students and explained why she would be teaching the next six weeks. He also offered to stay and watch the first day, in case she had any questions or problems, but Kaoru politely declined. She knew she would be able to handle a lesson like this easily.
And she was right. This time, she deliberately let the memories take over and so she had no problem teaching or putting some of the bolder students in their place. After the first three guys who didn't listen to her or talked too much had been thoroughly yelled at, no one dared to misbehave anymore. Even Yahiko didn't call her "Ugly".
At the end of the lesson, Kaoru was so lost in her own world that she shrieked when Misao suddenly jumped on her back from the behind and shouted "That was great, Kaoru-chan, simply great!" directly into her ear. She was very thankful though, when Misao added in a whisper: "Don't get startled, Himura's been sitting over there for fifteen minutes. Oh, and he's totally coming over right now."
Misao could feel Kaoru tense at once. She glided down from her back, took one of her arms and patted her hand. Then both of them turned around, strained smiles on their faces.
"Kaoru-san! Congratulations on your first lesson, that was really excellent," Kenshin said in his usual kind tone. "I must confess though, when you yelled at poor Sasuke-kun, you were almost as frightening as an Oni!" he added with an innocent smile on his face.
At this comment, Kaoru exploded, as she always did when Kenshin teased her. As always, she smacked his head with her shinai, several times and not too gentle, and screamed "Kenshin, you IDIOT!"
And as always, Kenshin didn't dodge and let out a surprised "Oro!"
Only this time, he stared at her with an expression of shock, mixed with some other emotion she wasn't able to place. This was the moment she remembered that she didn't want to make any more mistakes. And hitting Kenshin on the head, something she'd never done so far in this life, certainly counted as one.
"Oh my god! Kenshin, I'm so sorry! I don't know, what... I didn't... Really, I am so sorry!" Kaoru stammered, turning beet-red and wishing for hole to open underneath her feet. She didn't dare to look at the man standing in front of her and fixed her gaze at the suddenly very interesting floor instead.
"Ahaha, don't worry about it, Kaoru-san, it's alright!" he only chuckled. "Actually, I've always wondered when I would finally be the target of your rage. I almost felt left out of the fun."
Kaoru lifted her head a bit at his words, but immediately lowered it again, as she saw him winking at her.
Once again, Kaoru thanked the gods for Misao deciding to come by today, as the small girl rushed to her help.
"Great, now that everyone in the room had been hit on the head by Kaoru-chan at least once, maybe we should properly introduce ourselves? I'm Shinomori Misao, one of Kaoru-chan's best friends, and it's a pleasure to meet you." Misao bowed down and looked at Kenshin expectantly.
Kenshin bowed as well and smiled at Misao. "My name is Himura Kenshin, son of the current master of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu, and it's a pleasure to meet you as well. Actually, my father asked me to invite Kaoru-san for dinner tonight, maybe you would like to accompany us? It will only be me doing the cooking though, so please don't expect too much."
Misao beamed at that invitation. "I'd love to, especially if you still cook as good as- Er, I'd love to!"
Kenshin glanced at her inquiringly, but didn't comment any further.
Both Kaoru and Misao spent the rest of the day at the dojo. Kaoru was busy giving classes, or training herself, while Misao either watched the training, bickered with Yahiko, who spent a good of the day at the dojo himself, or simply sat outside in the yard, shooting more than one nervous glance at her mobile.
"Now, whose call are you waiting for?"
Misao jumped when she suddenly heard Kaoru's voice next to her. The girl even had the nerve to giggle at her startled face.
"Who would have thought that one day I'd be able to sneak up on you instead of the other way round? I really have to mark this day in my calendar!" Kaoru remarked happily. She had already changed out of her hakama and was now wearing a dark red yukata.
"Huh? Wearing a yukata? I didn't even know you owned more than one. Oh, and I tried to reach Kamatari, but he doesn't pick up his phone or answers my text messages," Misao added frustrated.
"Yeah, I kinda felt like it. And don't worry about Kamatari. Didn't he say something about a job during the holidays or something like that? He probably worked all day and tomorrow you'll find a super annoyed message on your mailbox, asking why you bothered him all day."
"I guess you're right..." Misao answered thoughtfully. She quickly let a grin appear on her face once again, though.
"Well, ready for the big dinner? I would guess, if you survive this evening, I mean, with eating here of all things," she gestured around the dojo with her hands, "and everything, you will be able to survive the rest of the week as well. And I swear," Misao lowered her voice at the last sentence, "I will make sure that this wedding won't happen. Okay, I have no idea how yet, but that's only a temporary setback. I will find a way to open Himura's eyes and then he and you-"
Kaoru's determined voice interrupted her. She held up a hand and looked straight into her friend's eyes.
"Misao. Please, don't. I've made up my mind about this. I can't deny that I'm sad, but that doesn't matter. Kenshin's happiness is all that counts to me. He was cheated out of a happy life with Tomoe-san last time, and as sad as that is, it was the chance for my own happiness. But now it's Tomoe-san's turn. I'm more than glad that I was able to experience what was meant to be hers from the beginning at least one time. I guess they are simply destined to be with each other. We shouldn't try to interfere with destiny."
She smiled a sad little smile.
"And hey, I'm only 17! Can't be that hard to find another guy, right?" she added with a shallow grin.
Misao looked at her friend doubtfully. Kaoru seemed to have matured over night. Well, there probably was no surprise to that. Even she felt a little bit more mature than only a few days ago.
"Are you sure? And are you sure about the dinner? Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all..."
"Yes, I am sure, Misao. I can't run and hide from him all my life. And I meant what I said – I want him to be happy. I won't cry or sulk anymore. I will be strong and smile, and if Kenshin should ever need me, I will be there for him."
Misao hugged her vigorously. "But if you want to cry, you can always come to me, understood? I wish I could be strong as you. No matter what I have to do, I will make sure Aoshi-sama will be mine in the end!"
Kaoru had to giggle. "Poor Megumi! Actually, poor Megumi indeed. I guess I can finally really understand her feelings. Too bad Sano isn't here, hm?"
"You know, maybe we should try to find him!" Misao exclaimed. "That would make things in the Aoshi-sama matter way easier, I would guess. And I mean, I really like Megumi-san, I would feel bad for her, if I simply stole her boyfriend from her without leaving any replacement."
Rolling her eyes, Kaoru started to head towards the dining room of the dojo. "Yeah, let Sano hear that he's only a replacement and he's going to have your head. If Megumi isn't faster."
When the two girls arrived at the dining room, they saw everyone sitting outside on the engawa.
Besides Kenshin and his father, there were two other persons sitting around: A beautiful woman, probably about Kenshin's age, with skin like porcelain and long, smooth, silk like black hair. She had a serious expression on her face, but there was warmth obvious in her eyes.
Sitting across from Kenshin and the woman was a young man, a few years older than Kaoru, with tousled brown hair, who was laughing heartily about something at the moment.
Misao made huge eyes at the woman. "Is that...?" she whispered into Kaoru's ear.
Kaoru only nodded and cleared her throat to make their appearance known.
Everyone looked at them at once and they were happily greeted. Kenshin stood up and guided the two girls to their seats.
"Kaoru-san, Misao-san, I'm glad that you came! Please, let me introduce everybody," he said and turned towards his father first.
"Father, you know Kaoru-san of course. This is Shinomori Misao, a good friend of her. Misao-san, may I introduce you to Himura Shinta, my father and current master of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu."
Both of the girls raised their eyebrows at hearing Himura-sensei's name, but hid it by bowing politely. Himura-sensei, who seemed to have tasted a little too much Sake already, only nodded back and gruffly said in direction of his son: "At least my stupid son knows how to introduce someone properly. Maybe not all of my education was wasted."
Apparently used to comments like this, Kenshin chose to ignore it, and continued with the introductions. "Tomoe, Kaoru-san, you already know each other. Misao-san, this is Akahara Tomoe, my fiancée."
Tomoe looked up and gave both of them a short, but honest smile. Once again, Kaoru and Misao bowed and smiled back.
Finally, Kenshin gestured towards the young man, who was now looking curiously at them.
"And this is Tomoe's brother, Akahara Enishi. He just arrived to- Kaoru-san!" he shouted when Kaoru suddenly dropped to her knees.
At the moment she heard Enishi's name, Kaoru's mind went blank. Her face paled within a second and she couldn't feel her limbs anymore. She suddenly saw Enishi smirking from his balloon. Enishi's hateful glare on her during his fight with Kenshin in front of the dojo. Enishi holding her captive on his island. Enishi being intent on killing Kenshin.
All she could hear was her own blood rushing through her veins and a dulled growl coming from next to her.
Then, with a sudden, the present came back to her, when two concerned dark blue eyes stared at her intently and two strong arms gently lifted her up.
"Kaoru-san, are you alright? Are you not feeling well? Should we call a doctor?" Kenshin asked in a low voice.
For a short moment, Kaoru allowed herself to look back into his eyes and enjoy the feeling of him holding her. She wished she could tell him everything. Tell him why she had felt such a shock when she heard Enishi's name and recognized him. Tell him how much she loved him. Tell him that he couldn't marry Tomoe and that he was supposed to be with her. Tell him that they had already been happily married with children and that they could be as happy as back then again. Tell him that she would always love him, forever.
She could feel tears prick at the corner of her eyes. But of course she wouldn't do that. She couldn't destroy his happiness like that. Or Tomoe-san's for that matter. Both of them deserved to be happy. She had sworn to herself that she would never tell anybody about what she knew, and she had meant it. She had always been strong and she wouldn't start getting weak now.
She slowly took a step back and escaped Kenshin's soft grip. Taking a deep breath, she let a weak, but steady smile appear on her face.
"I'm so sorry Kenshin, everybody. It seems I... I don't know, maybe I just overdid training a bit today or something. Please, don't worry, a bit to eat and to drink and I'm sure I'm as good as new."
She could feel Misao, who was quite worked up herself, support her as they both sat down between Enishi and Tomoe.
Enishi worriedly gazed at them. "You know, for a minute there I thought that was because of me."
Kaoru suspiciously looked back at him, but all she could see in his eyes was earnest worry and a grin slowly forming on his face.
"But then I guess I should be used to girls fainting at my sight by now!" he added with a suggestive tone in his voice, winking at them.
Misao and Kaoru both let him feel what they thought about that particular comment, and suddenly the world seemed alright again.
The rest of the evening was fun. As expected, Kenshin's cooking was excellent and all of them had a good time talking about mostly trivial things. They learned that Enishi was normally living and working in Shanghai and had flown in because of the wedding. Kaoru noticed she could even enjoy talking about the wedding and the last preparations that had to be made, when she suppressed the thought of whose wedding they were talking about.
As the dinner finally got to an end, Enishi offered to walk both girls home on the way to his hotel. Misao declined, because she wanted to pay a short visit to Kamatari on her way home, but Kaoru gladly accepted. She was more than delighted that she could walk home in the night with Enishi without having any second thoughts about it or feeling uneasy. It seemed that to both Tomoe and Enishi, this life really had been very kind. For a second she thought wryly 'Ha, but maybe I'm not really the person who should believe her instincts when it comes to trusting people', but she shoved that thought away. She could feel that this time, Enishi was different.
At a crossroads, she said Misao goodbye, who determinedly whispered "You call me when you're home!" in her ear and she and Enishi went on their way home.
They were walking in a comfortable silence, when suddenly Enishi's voice sounded through the night.
"So you like him, huh?"
Kaoru froze. "Wha-what do you mean? Like whom?" she stammered, her face blushing.
"Kenshin of course."
She looked up at his face from under her lashes. He didn't seem to mock her, so she decided to answer.
"Is it that obvious?" she asked with a little awkward chuckle.
"Well, I'm an exceptionally observant guy" Enishi answered smugly. "In contrast to certain other people."
Kaoru looked at him pleadingly. "Please don't tell anybody!"
He seemed surprised by that. "Of course I won't. I'm not someone who interferes in other people's lives. But don't you plan to do something? Maybe you should tell him."
Shaking her head, Kaoru started to walk again. "Why should I tell him? That would only trouble everyone. I'm... Of course I'm not really excited about the wedding," she confessed with a rueful smile on her face, "but I want Kenshin to be happy. And Tomoe-san as well."
Enishi let out a little sigh. "Me too, me too." And in a whisper so low that Kaoru never heard it, he added: "You really should tell him."
During the next days, Kaoru managed to get her act together so well, that in the end she almost believed herself that the upcoming wedding the following Saturday wouldn't bother her at all. She spent most of her day at the dojo, the training and giving lessons calming her mind down so much, that she even could genuinely enjoy Kenshin's and Tomoe's presence, without wanting to run away and cry out of heartache.
In the evenings, she relished her mother's food, bickered with Yahiko or visited Megumi on her free day from the hospital. She enjoyed her first week of holidays so much, she didn't question the fact that she hadn't heard from Kamatari at all since the birthday party, and simply put the blame on his part-time job. That changed though, when Misao came to the Saitos' house at Thursday evening.
When the girl entered the living room where the whole family was gathered, she had an unusual frown on her worried face.
"Well well, what's wrong with you, weasel girl? Something happened to your Aoshi?" Saito asked mockingly at her entrance.
Misao only looked at him seemingly confused for a moment and then shook her head. "I'm glad you're home, Saito-san!"
Kaoru already hurried over and led her to a chair, while her father only raised an eyebrow.
"What's wrong, Misao-chan? Did something happen?" Kaoru asked her agitated friend in a calming manner.
"Yes. No. I don't know." Misao wrung her hands. "I'm afraid something happened to Kamatari!" she finally burst out.
Kaoru frowned. "Do you mean because he didn't call for a while now? I'm sure he's just busy with his job and too tired to call after he's done. He'll probably call on the weekend."
"I know, I know, I thought so, too, but..." She started to sob and squeeze Kaoru's hands in a painful way. "He never showed up at his workplace! And I went to his apartment every day now and he never opened. He doesn't seem to be home. And his mobile is turned off, probably the battery ran out."
This finally piqued Saito's interest. He went over to his daughter and her friend and knelt in front of the crying girl. Then he asked in a surprisingly gentle voice: "When exactly did you see him the last time? And did you notice anything unusual about his behavior or outside his apartment?"
Misao shook her head. "I saw him the last time on Saturday, after the party. He wanted to bring Suzuki-sensei home. Actually I think they might have been mugged or kidnapped or whatever together, because I couldn't reach Suzuki-sensei either since then, and he didn't receive his payment yet!"
Kaoru suddenly felt a pang of remorse. She had been so absorbed in her own problems, she hadn't spent a second thought on Kamatari not calling or giving any life signs. And Misao, who had the same troubles as her, had faithfully tried to reach and visit their friend every day. What kind of friend was she?
She hugged Misao tight and whispered into her ear: "I'm so sorry I didn't take it serious earlier... I'm so sorry... But I'm sure they're okay! You know Kamatari, he always comes out okay in the end."
Meanwhile, Saito scribbled something on his notepad. "What's the boy's full name? How old is he? Shouldn't his parents have noticed that he didn't come home and called the police by now?"
"Maruyama Kamatari. He's 18 and has lived alone for a couple of years now. His parents weren't too happy with his, um, lifestyle," Kaoru answered.
"I see. I need a detailed description of him and that Suzuki-sensei. We'll do what we can," her father said shortly, already taking out his phone and pounding in a number.
They didn't hear anything the next day, neither from Kamatari or Suzuki-sensei themselves, nor from the police. No word either on Saturday, the day Kaoru had dreaded ever since she knew it would come.
The day of the wedding.
Kaoru had managed to push the thought of it away quite well during the last week. Even when she woke up in the morning and ate her breakfast, she didn't think too much about it. Her morning chores distracted her mind as well.
But now it was time for her to change and while she absentmindedly put on her kimono, she wanted to do nothing more than crawl into her bed, hide under the blanket and never face the outside world again. That really wasn't too much to ask, was it?
Her hands trembled slightly as she tied her black hair into a ponytail with an indigo ribbon. Then she gazed at her image in the mirror a last time. To be honest, she looked horrible. Her face was too pale, there were huge circles around her eyes and her gaze was strangely dim. She tried to grin, but failed miserably. Taking a deep breath, she squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her fists until her knuckles turned white. Counting to ten, she slowly breathed in and out. As she opened her eyes once again and tried another smile, it at least didn't look like she was going to murder someone with an ax any minute anymore. She spent ten more minutes in front of the mirror until she could convince herself that her smile was real and finally went downstairs.
Tokio dropped her daughter off at the dojo, throwing her a worried glance, but not saying a word. As always, Kaoru was more than thankful for her mother's ability to know when silence was exactly what she needed the most. She waved her hand as she left the car and finally entered through the gate of what once had been her dojo.
The yard and the house were brimming over with people. Kenshin's and Tomoe's friends were standing or sitting around, chatting and laughing as they waited for the bridal pair who would be married in a Shinto ceremony with only the family attending at a nearby temple and join them later for the party. Kaoru joined a group of people she knew from the dojo, some instructors and older students. She tried her best to blend in and pretend to be happy as everyone else, but after twenty minutes, she couldn't take it anymore.
She excused herself and vanished to a silent corner behind the house where she knew no one would look for her.
It was three o'clock now. Which meant, that right at this moment, Kenshin and Tomoe were at the ward office, sealing their marriage certificate. Sealing Kaoru's fate.
She had tried. She had honestly tried to only be happy for the both of them. And she was, she was delighted that Tomoe-san was alive and breathing and that Kenshin could live his life with the woman he loved. But why had it to be Tomoe? Why couldn't it be her? If only she had been born ten years earlier. If only she had met Kenshin earlier, before Tomoe. Then maybe he would love her today. For a second, Kaoru was almost tempted to wish something had happened to Tomoe, but she directly hated herself for the thought. She was being unfair and she knew it. But today, she couldn't help it. Today, she wanted to act like a spoiled child, crying and screaming out all her anguish for the whole world to hear. But of course she would not do that. She had no right to destroy the happiest day in the life of the person she cared for the most. She wanted him to be happy and it was not her decision who could and would do that for him. It didn't matter at all that her world ended today. The sun would rise tomorrow just as it always had.
Kaoru was crouched down with her hands clenched and her eyes closed. The sound of her blood rushing through her veins was almost deafening and she desperately tried to fight off the feeling of suffocating that overwhelmed her. She whimpered as a single tear ran down her cheek.
It didn't matter. Her feelings didn't matter at all. She had decided to be strong for Kenshin and she would be. And even if she was alone for the rest of her life, she wouldn't be lonely. She always had him as a friend and that really was everything she could ask for. It would have to be enough.
She tried to shut out the memory of Kenshin's loving gaze as he held Kenji in his arms for the first time, when suddenly a hand gently touched her shoulder.
For a second, she was sure it was Kenshin who had come back to her to tell her that he would never leave her again, but of course it wasn't. Her teary look fell onto Enishi who knelt beside her with a sympathetic look on his face. She quickly rubbed her eyes with one hand and put on the smile she had trained earlier.
"Enishi-san, how nice to see you again! So the ceremony is already over, I take it?" she asked in a cheerful tone.
He smiled at her, clearly not being fooled for a second. "No, that should still be in full swing. I didn't attend. I couldn't stand to watch it."
Kaoru looked at him confused, a worried frown visible in her face. "So you are against the marriage? Do you- You don't like Kenshin?"
He smiled reassuringly. "No no, don't worry, I like him, he sure is a great guy for what he's gone through. Let's just say... Ah, actually better not talk about it at all. It would only make putting on our happy faces later more difficult, wouldn't it?" he grinned.
Kaoru couldn't help but smile back. "I guess it would. I'm sorry you had to see me in such a state." She stood up and determinedly dried her last tears. "I'm okay now. Thank you."
Enishi nodded at her. They stayed another few seconds in silence, and finally headed back to the front.
An hour later, the bridal couple and its families arrived at the dojo. There was shouting and cheering as everyone wanted to congratulate them first.
Kaoru avoided the masses at the front and stayed behind. When her sight finally fell on Kenshin and Tomoe, her heart clenched. They had already changed out of the formal kimonos and into a bit more casual, but still traditional attire. They looked a bit rattled, but also extremely happy. When she stepped forward to compliment them, Kenshin's smile widened and her breath caught. She couldn't remember ever seeing him this happy and carefree before. In neither of his lives. A small smile formed on her lips. If this was how Tomoe could make him look like, she was truly thankful the woman had fallen in love with Kenshin. As if they had heard her thoughts, the couple looked at each other and shared a smile before looking back to Kaoru who hurried to say her congratulations.
Kenshin was truly happy. He had anticipated this day for a long time now and while he knew that there were still difficulties ahead, to him it felt like the first day of the rest of his life. Looking at the black haired woman he loved so much and who never failed to make his heart beat faster with her smile, he had to smile himself. Whatever lay ahead, he wouldn't let his reason of happiness escape his grip ever again.
Please let me know what you think! And don't feel shy to point out all the errors I made ~_~