Author's Notes:
Ah, finally, another new chapter.
Rei-chan, the poor dear, finally squeezed it outta me. Meh. In any case... This one doesn't come from our RP-ing - This one is based on some discussion (not role play, just discussion) about what else Rei and I wanted to cover, and then I just wrote it out of my head. Heh. A few more notes at the end, I think... Mostly cause I like the sound of my own voice. Or typing. Or whatever.
Oh, but wait-! Much love, of course, to Rei. Huggles to Pia-san(-dono, as I privately say in my head) and nemo... Pia-san - I don't even know where it's going, and I'm writing it! (This is a bad sign...) nemo - To tell the truth, I'm not entirely pleased with the way Sano speaks, either. However... I'll try and rationalize it a little further - Have you ever noticed how, when someone's upset, all their pretenses sort of drop away? It's like, when you're down and you know you're down, it doesn't do any good to pretend to be up. Sano's just kinda - depressed, and he's just kinda like, Fuck you, good grammar.' So, that rationale sucks, but oh, well. Also, this chapter is six pages long! Hope you're pleased! ::Wink.:: And, lastly, a big-ass hug for one Mz. Clarus-sempai-sama-dono, who likes me best on my knees and writing lemons, but tolerates me even when I'm not... (Clarus, I want my fucking French Toast.)


Chapter Six

... Kaoru...?

She startled, and turned around. Kenshin was leaning in the doorway, looking tired. She hadn't even heard him approach. Maybe it was a mistake to assume that Kenshin wasn't the same man he had been.

Kenshin sat down on the porch beside the dark-haired woman, and his spine popped, his shoulders slouching as he leaned his elbows on his knees, looking out at the dojo yard.

Then again, Kaoru thought, biting her lip, maybe it isn't... I wish he'd tell me... He hasn't said anything besides, I was in prison there.' What does that tell me? What part of my worries is that supposed to alleviate? She sighed, released her lower lip from between her teeth, and turning to look at his profile. You've been sleeping a lot...

I'm tired... His voice was soft, and he did sound tired. Sounded tired, looked tired, acted like a tired, old man...

The other day... in the kitchen... The words did not come easily to her. Are you...?

It was nothing serious, he said, still staring out at the yard. A cool, lazy wind swept a few stray leaves across the earth. I just...

You just push yourself too far and you don't do anything about it until you're passed out on my kitchen floor! Slowly, Kenshin turned his head to stare at her, his eyes wide with shock. Kaoru let out a breath, a little startled by her own anger, as well. I'm sorry, Kenshin... I shouldn't have said that, but... It's true.

Kenshin sighed, bowing his head a little. I know.

So, then... Why do you do it...?

The redhead shrugged slightly. I don't know... Maybe... Maybe for the same reason you push yourself so hard in training now...

That hurt - it hurt Kaoru's heart, like salt in a wound. Kenshin, don't-

I ought to, don't you think? he cut in, his voice soft. I don't need to worry about me, but-

I do!

I don't need to worry about me, he repeated calmly, his eyes never leaving her face, but I do worry about you... Kaoru... I... I don't want to lose you for good.

You won't! she cried, unable to keep her frustration in check. Kenshin, what worries me is that you don't care what you're doing to yourself! When you faint, it's time to reexamine how you're living! I- I have no idea what's wrong with you. You say it was nothing serious, but what do you know? What do either of us know, for that matter? What if it's - I don't know - What if it's consumption!? When you start coughing up blood are you going to say, Well, you were right'? Any number of things could have happened to you in prison, but I don't know anything! How many hundred different illnesses could you have picked up in jail, Kenshin? Something happened to you in there, I know it, but you won't tell me!

Kenshin remained silent through this onslaught of angry words, his head bowed again. he began, finally. Nothing happened to me... Something... Something happened in me... But... He looked at her. Please... I don't want to talk about it right now... Maybe... Maybe later...

The young woman sighed, staring out at the yard, her shoulders slumping for a moment. Fine, Kenshin... Fine...

But... I... I did come out here to talk to you... About something like that...

She straightened, and turned her gaze to Kenshin again.

It's... I don't want to make you angry... And I don't want to preach... So... I apologize... He let out a deep breath, and was silent for some time, collecting his thoughts.

Finally, Kenshin resumed. ... Anger... is a dangerous thing... What I see in you, right now, Kaoru... When - when you're training, or, sometimes just when you look at me... You're so angry... And hurt, and afraid... But what's worse is that you're keeping it all bottled up inside...

In the West... all the fashionable women wear diamonds. No, wait, this is going somewhere - at least, I hope it is... Diamonds - you get them out of coal, out of putting coal under an unthinkable amount of pressure. The coal hardens, and hardens, and eventually it turns into diamond. Diamond, a substance so pure, and so sharp it can cut glass - made out of coal, just ugly, old coal. It makes me wonder... I mean... What happens, when you put something under so much pressure...? It's either going to blow up, or get very, very hard... And, either way... Either way, it's dangerous....

I can see you doing it - or, rather, I can see that you have done it - and it frightens me. Pain is not meant to be kept to oneself. That's why people marry, have children, live in villages and towns and cities... Because we can't be in pain alone... It does even more damage that way... It solidifies into something that's hardly human... Kaoru, I can see it in your eyes, and I know it, and it scares me...

They were quiet for some time, the only sound the buzzing of a few intrepid insects, and their soft breathing.

I'm sorry, Kenshin said finally.

The blue-eyed woman shook her head. No... You're right... I know it's true. I think... I think that's why I tried to kill myself, really... Well, sort of... I mean... She sighed. Why is this so hard...? I felt that, I think... It hurt so much, and I just couldn't stop myself from holding it in... The worse it hurt, the harder it was to say anything... So I just stopped saying anything... It got to the point where the only thing I could think of to make it stop hurting was... was to take myself out of the equation entirely... Does that make any sense...?

Kenshin nodded slowly, his lower lip tucked between his teeth. I'm still sorry, Kaoru... For causing you that pain...

Kaoru shrugged. There's nothing that will change what's already happened... Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes not... But... A small smile graced her lips. ... Now I'm not alone, anymore. You're here, and I know you won't leave again... I won't let you! Just having you here makes me feel better.

But... Kaoru, just having me here' won't solve all your problems, either. He had his hands clasped, the thumb of one hand rubbing over the bony knuckles of the other hand.

I know, she replied.

I don't know what will solve them, either, though...

I didn't expect you to, Kenshin, she said softly.

The silence stretched over them again, expanding every moment that it lagged on. Kenshin continued to rub his knuckles with a subdued concentration. Kaoru's hands remained folded in her lap, her eyes trained on Kenshin's hands.

Finally, the sight of Kenshin's thumb passing roughly over his knuckles became rather taxing, and Kaoru reached out, putting one of her fine hands over both of his. That isn't doing any good, Kenshin...

For a long time, the red-headed man was silent, submitting to Kaoru's touch. Finally, he looked up at her, his purple eyes solemn. I'm not a sick man, Kaoru...

The young woman guided Kenshin's hands into his lap, and then replaced her own hand in her lap. I know.

Please don't treat me like one.

Kaoru frowned. Don't act like one, if you don't want me to treat you like one, she snapped. Kenshin fell silent again. You worry me, Kenshin. You really do. You're not sick - not like normal people are sick, anyway. She sighed. You were never weak, certainly never like this. After Shishio... after Enishi... you were weak because you were injured. That I can understand. That I can fix - or, at least, Megumi can fix it. But... This is different.

he agreed quietly.

She thought, for a moment, that he might say more, that he might explain himself, but no explanation came. This is like... It's something from the inside, not any outside force. It's something that's eating away at you. I... I recognize it... It's... It's like... like how I feel... Kaoru took in a deep breath. Kenshin- You said you understood how I felt - the depression. He looked up at her, and nodded minutely. So... I mean... Is that... Is that what it is?

For some time, she thought that Kenshin would not respond. The only sound from him was his quiet, slightly laboured breathing. But, finally, he came through, and spoke again. Not quite...

This was getting frustrating. I know you said you didn't want to talk about it, Kenshin, but... You can tell me anything... I'm not going to turn away from you, I swear. I wouldn't know how.

Kenshin bowed his head, resting it in his hands. He massaged his eyes, which ached from strain, although he wasn't sure what strain. I wouldn't consider killing myself, Kaoru. The will to live.' That's something I can't seem to get rid of, no matter how hard I try. He laughed softly, the sound hardly more than an exhalation, and his eyes did not open. I've never wanted to kill myself... I've been careless countless times... I've been careless because I thought maybe I would die... But I've never put the sword to my stomach and wanted to press. Suicide is for people better than me... Kenshin sighed.

he repeated. That's how I got in prison, in the first place... Simple distraction, and disregard.

Kaoru pressed softly.

The rain was so heavy... It was the sort of heavy rain that blocks everything out and makes a man feel lonely in his own skin. What was worse, it was a cold rain, driving and cold, horrible weather for February.

Ever since the end of the Bakumatsu, I've chosen to avoid Kyoto as much as possible. There was, truly, no love for me in that place. It is owned by the spirits of the Shinsen Gumi, haunted by dead Shogunate supporters, frequented by shades of my own nightmares. I never thought, during the fighting, I would leave as a criminal to them, but... It is a place I do not like to stay long in.

A cemetery in Kyoto. I couldn't help but feel the pull of ghosts there - Tomoe's... And yours, as well... You were with me the last time I made that pilgrimage... And what is a ghost, really, besides the lingering image of a person's soul? There was a little bit of you kneeling there beside me, mixing with Tomoe's ethereal scent of white plums - an imagined scent, in that cold, hard rain. Memories, shadows, thoughts of people I'd left behind, wrapped around me, obscuring even the iciest gusts of wind.

I didn't fight the police officers who grabbed my shoulders. I didn't fight when they chained me. I didn't even fight when they put me in a cell in headquarters, or when, a week later, they moved me to solitary confinement just inside the city limits. It didn't matter. I didn't want to die, I just didn't care how I lived...

Sometimes peace brings out the gentlest parts of our being. And some of us cannot live without war and chaos. Sometimes I wonder which sort of man I am. A wanderer for ten years, but bad luck and violence has always trailed me like my shadow.

It's funny what changes a man. When I was challenged - Shishio, Enishi, all the countless others - they made it simple to separate the good side of myself from the side I would rather never look at again. I could let my dirty, little secret - Battosai - take care of the violence for me, and when the fighting was done, it was easy to see that I could be peaceful once more. But take away the challenge, and take away the violence, and my system crumbles.

In total peace - where there was no one for me to fight - I didn't know what to do... Most of the time, it was simple enough to maintain the role of moderator, peace-making, domestic servant... But sometimes I would find myself irrationally angry - just for a moment. There would be the overwhelming urge to break something, or the impulse to walk away from the laundry I was doing and say, To hell with it.' I didn't understand it. But I knew it was happening. And I couldn't stop it.

And then, one day - Good God, it terrified me - I got mad at someone. But not just anyone... I got so angry at you, Kaoru... So angry... I felt sick, just hearing myself, but I was angry. I couldn't stop myself. I wanted to hit you... And I couldn't - I couldn't let myself be that way, fall apart that way...

I promised you, after we'd survived Enishi, that I wouldn't leave... I was always promising that... But, finally, in the end, it wasn't violence that pulled me away - It was peace. It was me. I... I couldn't be with you like that. I couldn't ever touch you in anger. I couldn't be near you if I even thought of mistreating you.

Kenshin sat, unmoving, his head still bowed.

I see, Kaoru murmured after some time. But... If that's the case... Why are you here again? She wondered whether her words were actually as cold as they sounded. Looking at the redhead's blank expression, she couldn't tell... She just couldn't tell.

I... put a stop to it. I finally shut him out.

But it's left you like this... weak...

He sighed. It took a lot of effort - a lot of strength... It just sort of - wore me down after a while... But I know, now, that I won't - can't - be a threat to you. Kenshin looked up at her, his bright, purple eyes gentle, and he smiled.

Author's Notes (Again):
OK. Yeah, just a few more words...
I lied. There might be another chapter with 2K before we delve into S&M... I didn't get to do a Kenshin flashback - a good one - like I wanted to... But I might put that off til later. Then again, I'd be kinda happy to just end Kokoro no Tsubasa here... That's not gonna happen, but... This might be the end of the focused 2K plot... The rest is sort of aimless, but we're working on fixing that.
This chapter was basically an attempt to get into our protagonists' heads a little - Plus, they held hands! Whoo! Kenshin's such a ladies' man. Ha... Ha. No, really - Ha.
Kenshin's monologue gets very... weird. I'm sorry about that, but - I tried, OK?! ::Cries.::
In any case - I can't remember if I had anything else to say... But if I did... It's not gonna get said, now.
So - Please, please, please review! Reviews are why authors write! I need them! Rei-chan needs them! I'll give you French Toast if you review - Or, well, an I.O.U. for French Toast, once I learn how to cook it without burning it...
Love you guys!