Prologue: The Human Condition
Most people think that shadows follow, precede or surround
beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words,
ideas, desires, deeds, impulses and memories."
*note!* I went through and fixed all the nasty little typos I could find! I even listened to some of your suggestions on things that would make the story flow better. No major plot changes, sadly. I'm too busy trying to regularly update two fics at once!
Also, there will be canon couples in this fic! That means K+K, S+M, Y+T, M+A of course... it'll be a trick to get S+M together, you'll see why.
Kaoru kicked lightly at the pebbles lining the outside walk of the Dojo. It was an entirely subconscious action, but she had to stop and wonder how she'd managed it.
How simple to just reach out with her toes and send the rocks rolling.... still how?
"How?" she echoed her thoughts verbally.
She looked inside the Dojo; there was no answer but the steady drip, drip of thick liquid hitting the polished floor. Kaoru watched in morbid fascination and the dripping continued.
Red blood pooled on the floor beneath the body cruelly pinned to the wall by Enishi's sword. The pool swelled and crawled across the floor at an agonizingly slow
She really didn't envy whoever had to clean that up.
"How," she repeated. "Can I be here, when I'm dead? Am I a ghost?"
"It's complicated, Mihita."
Kaoru didn't look, but she already knew... somehow... about the black garbed woman lounging beside her.
"You died over there, but you're still alive." The woman rolled a set of Chinese mood balls in her hand... they chimed softly and sound was comforting. "Touch your cheek, you're still bleeding from the cut he gave you."
And so she was, the fact wasn't surprising her though.
The woman laughed, "Chica... girl, don't ask me, I'm just the messenger." She paused and for a moment all that was heard was the soft chimes of the mood balls.
"If you had the chance, would you save Tomoe?"
"Yes." Kaoru looked at the stones she stirred with her toes. "For the past two nights... ever since Kenshin old us, I've fantasized about a thousand different ways it all could happen. He'd have been happy with her... happier than a macho, tanuki-no-onna could make him." She said bitterly.
"Maybe," the woman allowed. "Maybe. So if you could go and stop Tomoe from dying... would you ? Would you save the one woman who comes between you and the one you want?"
Kaoru sighed. "Kenshin loves her... I love Kenshin. When you love someone, you want what is best for them, no matter what it costs you." Oh yes, she was well acquainted with that old adage, she'd been ruthlessly reaching it at herself ever since she'd found out that Kenshin had been married... and she did love Kenshin, beyond that shadow of a doubt.
"Si, si, she is a barrier to you both dead and alive, I suppose. Better her alive and him happy than her dead and him sad. Is that it Chica?" the woman prodded gently.
"Yes... selfish, but yes."
The woman burst out laughing. "Chica... chica. It is to laugh, you are willing to save the one person between you and his heart, to cross time it's self and you, estupida, say it is selfish. Yes, he'll be sad , but who is to say if you did not wait he would learn to love again?"
Kaoru sighed. "Whatever you say it doesn't matter. There's no chance now. In case you haven't noticed that's MY body pinned to the wall over there!" she cried gesticulating wildly at the obvious. "That's MY blood running towards your shoes."
The woman raised and eye brow at the tiny rivulet of blood as it pooled around the tip of her boot.
"I'm dead." Kaoru cried. "Dead! You're here to take me to where ever it is dead people go!"
"No, Chica. I deal with dead people, true, but as they say in a faraway place. 'I don't do widows'. I'm here to offer you a deal, Mihita. Your life for hers, you get your chance. You save her and then you take his place in the world. YOU help the people he helped. You walk the path of the Ronin in his place."
Kaoru stared, her jaw slightly ajar. "Wha.."
The woman nodded. "You see, there are certain laws that the universe follows. One of them is the Law of Resonance. It is sometimes known as Destiny, or Fate. Certain things must happen but there can be different results of those events. Someone out there believes you deserve your chance. Here it is... take it or leave it."
Kaoru swallowed and watched as ghostly figures raced into the room. Kenshin was on his knees... she could watch as his spirit crumbled. Could it be that... he...
"I love him." She whispered. She loved him far too much to let him go through losing someone close to him again, even if she was the one he lost.
The woman opened her hand and looked at the mood balls clustered in her palm. They were painted to resemble two perfect little skulls. "I'll take that as a 'Yes', Mi amiga."
Kaoru watched passively as Tomoe gently tended the tiny vegetable garden clustered among the cherry and plum trees that fed her and Kenshin. She smiled and hummed softly to herself.
It was amazing, Kaoru thought, how quickly she had come to like the woman who had Kenshin's heart in her palms. She smiled as Tomoe looked up and waved her over with a timid smile of her own.
"Hello, neighbor! Welcome back." She called.
Kaoru waved heartily. "Hello yourself."
Tomoe gracefully rose from the muddy soil and quickly stepped forward to embrace Kaoru. "It's been too long, where have you been keeping yourself?"
Kaoru smiled. "Feed me and I'll tell my tales of poverty."
Tomoe nodded. "Of course. I'm sorry that Anata isn't here to meet you. He's ... on other business." A dark shadow flitted through Tomoe's dark eyes like the raven she took her name from.
"The Bakumatsu." Kaoru nodded. "I realized. I heard Katsura found a new assassin, but it makes sense that Kenshin-san would want to see that battle through to the finish."
"I should have known, you're never around when he is home. Do you avoid all your fellow swordsmen so arduously?" Tomoe asked gently.
"Just the ones that want to pick fights. But Kenshin... he's still curious about that night in the forest." She sighted and opened the screen for her friend. Tomoe slipped off her Geta and entered, pausing while Kaoru untied the thongs from her traveling sandals. Kaoru stepped into the house proper after she'd dusted herself off. "I'm not really comfortable talking about that."
"None of us are." Tomoe allowed as she took Kaoru's pack and laid it in a corner.
Kaoru nodded and pulled out a rope-woven net of vegetables and some fish from her strapped on basket. "Some daikon radish, taro root, and fish. I figured this close to winter you couldn't spare too much so I brought tonight's dinner."
Tomoe sighed. "It's true, there's not much to put away for winter without Kenshin here to ply his medicines, but you bring in so many things from your travels that we'll be just fine." Tomoe took the sack. "There's more than enough here for three meals at least. I suppose trying to get you to keep some is going to be impossible yet again?"
Kaoru grinned unrepentantly and Tomoe sighed. "You do so much for us, and I repay so little..."
Kaoru cocked her head at a soft scuffle outside. "Speaking of little..."
"Nee-chan! Nee-chan!" Enishi burst through the door, stopping only to shut it again and slip off his shoes. "The neighbors said they saw Kamiya-san on the road...oh."
Kaoru waved sheepishly. "Hi, sorry to beat you here."
Enishi sighed. "Darn, I wanted to surprise you with my training." He sighed again. "Oh well, after dinner?"
"Sure." Kaoru smiled and ruffled his hair. "We'll do some forms after supper."
"Shatei, be a dear and get some water for the tea please? Maybe some fire wood?"
Enishi nodded and was out the door before another word was said. Tomoe smiled. "He's always so happy when you visit. Kenshin and I are so busy with work that I'm afraid we have little time for him. When you train him in Kenjutsu it's like you're his surrogate older sister." Tome placed a hand over her friend's. "This family in forever in your debt. When you appeared in the forest that night and pulled me out of Kenshin's sword path, you saved my life. And when you searched the hills and brought Enishi out of hiding you saved his sanity. The events of that night were no thing for a child to see, whatever you said to him to make him understand about Kenshin... I will always love you like a sister for it."
Kaoru squeezed Tomoe's hand. "I know, trust me." She smiled. "All the demons of the Meido couldn't have stopped me from helping you." She smiled tiredly. "If you really love me, please cook the fish. I'm dying from my own cooking."
Tomoe giggled. "Really.. all right. I will." She took the cover off the fire pit and stirred up the coals.
"Kaoru.." she asked as she set the grill rack over the
fire. "Will you be wintering here with me again?"
Kaoru shook her head. "No... it's nearly the time for me to move on. The Bakumatsu will end soon and then Kenshin will be here to care for you. I really don't do well with four walls anymore. I have some business to take care of in Edo, then I'll be off for new horizons."
Tome paused in laying the fish on the grill. "I see. You'll won't be returning then..."
Kaoru stirred guiltily. "Not forever, I'll be back through every year or so. I made a promise to keep an eye on you until Kenshin was back here. Once he's here, I'll have responsibilities in other places."
Tomoe covered the fish and looked at Kaoru. "Responsibilities like the ones that led you to save me in the forest?"
Kaoru flushed, but Tomoe continued. "I could tell, even then. You... were in that forest for one reason and one only. You were there to save us." She paused. "Kaoru, I don't know who or what you really are , but I know there seem to be no accidents where you're concerned. You seem to know everything that happens around you. Like the way you're so certain about when the Bakumatsu will end. When Kenshin left you promised me he'd be back before the cherry blossoms fell. I believe you... so I won't try and keep you here. I know you'll be out helping another family. I have no right to ask but grant me this one favor, when you travel to Edo, take Enishi with you. This isn't a place for a young boy to grow up, and I know Father needs him. The trip will give him time to say good-bye to you."
Tomoe touched the crossed scar on her dear friend's right cheek. "I understand, you bear the same mark as my anata. People like you are meant to help others."
Waving good-bye to Tomoe as she stood before the house, beneath the plum tree waving back as Kaoru and Enishi as they left for Edo would be the last memory Kaoru would hold of the woman she'd given her life for, she did not see Tomoe again for a long time.
As she promised she delivered Enishi into Edo, now Tokyo. He was reluctant to leave his sword master until she referred him to her father's school. She watched in concealment as Enishi marched into the Kamiya Dojo and demanded a place in the school by word of Kaoru Kamiya.
She smiled gently as her father promptly fell on his ass. Raven, the messenger who brought her here had informed her of several changes made to her life... like her birth date. Officially she'd left home and was reported missing.
She watched carefully impassive as her father broke down and cried as Enishi reported exactly how he had met Kaoru and every single little thing she'd done for his family, including his training.
As the other students led him inside the Dojo, Koinosuke Kamiya stood before the bushes she's used as cover and addressed empty air.
"I have a daughter who left my home in heated anger. She claimed I did not practice my principals in the manner they deserve. I hope she understands now that I practice them in the way I know best... teaching them. I have heard that she too is teaching my principals and practicing them as her way of life... I cannot be prouder of my daughter."
Kaoru swiftly debated leaving the bushes... but she knew her destiny. "Your daughter does understand, and hopes her father will understand why she left. She hopes he will also understand that she has gained knowledge in many things that weigh heavily on her heart and owes her life to her path. She loves her father with all her heart and hopes she can return one day once her path in complete."
Koinosuke smiled briefly. "The Ronin's code is that all roads lead home. She will return when she needs it most. I love my daughter with all my heart and bless her path that it will lead her safely home."
Tears softly fell from Kaoru's cheeks as Koinosuke re-entered the Dojo, for she knew it would be the last time she ever saw her father alive.
And so Kaoru Kamiya of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu journeyed for ten years, helping those she could, praying for those she could not. She touched many lives, and saved more before she once again set foot in Tokyo.
*Seiyuu* I bet you all think I'm insane. I wrote this story mostly to give Enishi another chance, and also because I hate the way Kaoru's character is so neglected. I see in her the potential to become more than Kenshin would be as a protector Ronin. Speaking of Ronin, I'll be using that term instead of Rurouni. Mostly because I think a different word would make this more of Kaoru's adventure than her just pretending to be Kenshin, because that's not what this story is about. That and Rurouni is a pain in the butt to spell repeatedly.
-that's all for now! Ja!