Standard Disclaimers Apply
WARNING: Major OOCness
"Kaoru?" He gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Did you hear me?"
"Yes," Kaoru had heard his questions. Tell me about the man who hurt you. How did he know? She did not want to talk about it or anything else that was real and outside the fragile peace of this moment. Hold back the world, her instincts warned. To speak of her future life might destroy the present one. No, she would not do it.
She glared at him through the darkness, barely containing a harsh reply behind her clamped jaws. "I……I really don't believe it's any of your business."
Kenshin reached out for her hand and threaded his fingers through hers. "You need not be afraid to talk to me, Kaoru. I want only to know how to help you."
His gentle, ardent words shook her resolve more than she expected. She trusted him with her life, how could she not trust him with her secrets? After all, hundreds of people had witnessed her scandalous behavior. Where, then, was the harm? But she knew the answer to that question. The harm lay in exposing her shame to the one man who had accepted her for herself but who might then think less of her if he knew how the world judged her.
"How did you know? I can't recall a time I mention about Mamoru."
"I heard you talking in your sleep."
Kaoru bit her lip; she scrambled about in her mind for excuses. But then, she found none.
Sighing in defeat, she told him what happened.
"There was a scandal in Tokyo," she swallowed with difficulty and felt him squeeze her hand encouragingly. "It involved a man whom I thought loved me, he married another."
"Was it so terrible for you?" His tone was neutral, offering neither sympathy nor pity.
"It was unforgivable!"
"Why?" Again, only curiosity colored his voice.
"Because he made a fool of me, of my feelings."
"Why did you allow that?"
"I did not allow it!" She tried to pull away from him, but he tightened his hold on her hand. "He used me," she whispered. "He made me think that there was a chance for us. But then he dumped me just like that when someone older and richer came along."
"So, he flirted with me while all the time he made love to someone else."
"But you must have suspected?"
Tears started in her eyes. "Suspected what, that he could never have truly wanted me, that I am too plain and unfeminine to attract him?"
"That he did not love you." He chuckled. "Oh, Kaoru, any woman knows when she is loved and when she is deceived, if she listens to her heart."
"How would you know?" she retorted, growing angrier by the heartbeat.
"Men are the same as women. The only people deceived by love are those who allow themselves to be."
'Just like I did,' he thought bitterly.
"So you say I deceived myself." She jerked her hand free of his grasp. "Perhaps I did. Perhaps it was because I foolishly expected to be loved like any other woman that a man who had no scruples about deception blinded me. I was hurt because I let myself be."
"There. Does that make you feel better?"
"It does not!" She replied with a catch in her voice. "It makes me so ashamed."
"Then you are not thinking of it in the right way. He may have deceived you about his intentions, but you deceived yourself about love. You are a strong and proud girl. You won't ever make that mistake again, will you?"
She did not bother to answer his question.
Now that she had begun the story, she saw no reason not to make her confession complete. "It would seem I have more pride than sense. Out of pride I attended his wedding and reception, even congratulated him on his marriage."
"There is more," she said, flailing her pride with the shame of telling him what had occurred. "At the reception I drank too much wine. I made a fool of myself before all the wedding guests by blurting out my pain and anger."
She sounded miserable and hurt all over again, "He loved her, you see. With me he did not feel the same."
"I felt so stupid," Kaoru whispered. She looked up at him. The agony in her eyes seared him. "I don't ever want to feel that way again." She covered her face with one hand, but not before he saw the humiliation in her eyes.
He touched her cheek. "If he was blind to your beauty, your generosity and tenderness, then it is his loss." He looked at her in a way that made her forget to breathe.
"Look, I'm not an idiot. I don't have the kind of body that makes men drool."
"What are you trying to tell me? You are a man?"
She frowned at his logic. "No."
"Then how do you know what men want to ogle?"
"Because they never do. Okay? Heck, I'm lucky if they even realize I'm female."
Kaoru bent her head with a sigh. "The biggest compliment I've ever gotten from a guy was when I was fifteen and it was from our bratty neighbor in Texas. He came to pick me up for the movie. He took one look at me and said. "Damn, you cleaned up better than I thought you would."
Kenshin scowled. "I worry about the men of your time, Kaoru. They all seem to be great fools."
Kaoru shrugged nonchalantly. At least now, those old memories had ceased to bother her. She'd come to terms with it long ago. "I know for a fact that men don't like me because I have no boobs."
She swore she could feel his hot, prolonged stare on her chest.
"You have very nice breast."
"Thanks," she said awkwardly, and yet somehow the unorthodox compliment warmed her. "What about you?"
"I have no boobs."
He said it in such a serious deadpan tone that she burst out laughing. "That's not what I mean, and you know it. What were you like at fifteen?"
"I already told you."
She gave him a menacing glare. "Seriously."
"Seriously, I fought, ate, drank and bathed. Usually in that order."
"Why don't you tell me how you felt the first time you went into battle."
"I felt nothing."
"You were not scared?"
"Of dying or being maimed?"
The sincerity of that single word baffled her. "How could you not be afraid?"
"You can't fear dying when you have no reason to live." His amber eyes glowed keen and phosphorescent as the moon rose higher, wreathing him in a nimbus of silver.
He had never cared for battle. The stench of death and blood, the moans of the dying. He had fought only because it was expected of him.
For a moment regret clung to him. Raw as a winter wind. His eyes narrowed, dark with regret and a thousand shattered dreams. He shivered, feeling images that were too vivid press at his head.
"How do you do it, Kaoru? How do you keep going?"
"That's easy. I keep walking."
"So am I. You just have to move on." She gave him a one-sided smile. "You're a strong man. You are, Kenshin. You're tough."
"Don't confuse me with you!" He said with anger.
Kaoru shook her head in disgust. "I hate it when people try to bail out without a fight. Its emotional cowardice and it violates everything our lives should be about."
"Shut up!" he said, glaring at her.
He folded his arms across his chest, knowing full well that he looked like a sulky little boy, but he could not help himself. She seemed to bring out the worst in him.
Kaoru chuckled. "Kenshin, you're going to have a heart attack before you're forty if you don't learn to take life a little easier."
Kenshin gave her a little smile. "I was pathetic, wasn't I?"
"Let me think," she said seeming to ponder the idea. "Yes."
He laughed at her. "You have the optimism of a child."
She returned his smile. "Peter Pan all the way."
Taking his hand, she led him inside the cottage. "Come, and I will tell you of Peter Pan and his lost boys."
Kaoru tensed as she heard him whisper in his sleep.
Rolling over, she looked at him. "Kenshin?"
He tensed and started speaking in jumbled words. "Don't! Tomoe! Tomoe! No!"
Instinctively, she touched his arm. With a cursed, he grabbed her and pulled her over his body. He threw her back on the floor. His eyes were wild as he held her down, his lips curled.
"Damn you!" He snarled.
"Kenshin," she gasped as his grip on her arm tightened and she tried to make him let her go. "It's me, Kaoru!"
"Kaoru?" He repeated, his brows drawing together into a deep frown as he focused on her face.
Blinking, he pulled back from her. He lifted his hands and stared at them as if they were alien appendages he'd never seen before.
He looked at her. "Did I hurt you?"
"No, I'm fine. Are you all right?"
He didn't move.
"Kenshin?" she reached for him.
He pulled back from her as if she were poisonous. "I'm fine. It was just a bad dream?"
"A bad dream or a bad memory?"
"A bad memory that always haunts my dreams," he whispered, his voice laden with grief.
"Is that what you've done in the past?"
"Have you ever told anyone about the dream?"
Kenshin stared aghast at her. What did she take him for? Some sniveling child that needed its mother?
He rolled his eyes. Is she stupid? As if someone would listen to him. He'd always borne his anguish inside as he'd been taught. It was only when he slept that the memories were able to sneak past his defenses only when he slept that he was weak.
"No," he whispered. "I've never told anyone. And I'm not going to tell anyone. Not even my master."
"Master Hiko. He's the one who taught me my sword technique."
"Tell me about him."
Kenshin shrugged. "There's not much to tell, except he likes sake, is egotistical and loves to call me idiot apprentice."
Kaoru made a face. "Your master sounds weird. No wonder you're such a neurotic little freak."
"Tell me, Kenshin. I'm a good listener."
"No," he said firmly. "I don't want to relive it."
"If you're reliving it every time you dream, then what's the difference? Let me in, Kenshin. Let me see if I can help."
Dare he even hope that she could?
You know better.
He wanted to purge the demons. He wanted to sleep one night in peaceful slumber, free of torment.
"Tell me," she gently insisted.
Kaoru sensed his reluctance as he frowned and looked down at his lap. "I killed the only person who ever loved me despite my crimes."
His anguish reached deep inside her. She wanted desperately to run her hand over his back in a comforting manner, but didn't dare touch him least it make him withdraw again.
"What did you do?"
He ran his hand through his hair, and then balled his fist in it. His jaw more rigid than steel, he stared at the wall. "I allowed rage and doubt to poison me."
He paused for a long minute before he spoke again. "I met Tomoe not long after I became an assassin for the Ishinshishi. I was assigned to assassinate shogunate members."
"How old were you?"
Unable to imagine being forced to become a killer at that age, Kaoru gasped.
"There was nothing unusual about it," he said without looking at her. "The country's in turmoil. It's either kill or be killed."
Kaoru cringed at the world he was describing. She tried to imagine what it must have been like to live in it. "You were just a young boy." The injustice of it cut her.
He shrugged as if the matter were of little importance. "I was ambushed by a shogunate assassin while returning to headquarters. Tomoe witnessed me killing the man and she fainted. I don't want to leave an eyewitness, so I had no choice but to bring her back to headquarters at Kohagi Inn. There, she became a helper for she said that she doesn't have a family, anymore. It was June 5th, the day of the Gion Festival when the news that the Shinsengumi attacked the secret meeting of the Ishinshishi, killing almost everyone. Fortunately, Master Katsura Kogoro escaped and told us to go into hiding. He asked Tomoe to stay with me and poised as my wife."
Kenshin smiled bitterly at the memory. "I told her that I don't want it to be a cover-up only. I wanted us to be married, for real."
Kaoru felt a tiny stab of jealousy.
"She was so beautiful," Kenshin whispered. "Living with her was pure bliss. That was the only time I've known tranquility, even with the war engulfing Kyoto."
"What happened next?" she asked, seeking to keep him talking while he was in the mood for it.
The light in his eyes faced. "She went to meet my enemy to protect me."
"Protect you from what?" Kaoru prompted.
Kenshin drew a ragged breath. "Her mission was to get close to me and seek out my weakness. Once she did, her revenge and my enemies' victory will be guaranteed."
Kaoru couldn't breath. "Revenge for what? Why did she betray you?" she asked in a choked voice.
Kenshin trembled as guilt and agony washed over him. "Because I killed her fiancé. I was the one who stole her happiness! He was the one who gave me the other slash on my left cheek."
Tears stung her eyes at the pain she heard in his voice.
Kenshin felt his lips moving, but he wasn't conscious of the words anymore. Instead, he closed his eyes ad relived the wretched day.
He was enraged when he found out that Tomoe was being used as bait by his enemies. When he arrived at the Kekkai Forest. His only thoughts were to save her.
He was engaged in a series of battles with his enemies that left him with several severe injuries.
He no longer fights with a clear mind. When he charges at his enemy, Tomoe suddenly stepped in. It was already too late for him to recover his attack. His katana slices through Tomoe's back and cuts through her chest, fatally wounding his enemy.
Tomoe's dagger flies back, slashing him on his left cheek, forming the cross scar.
Tomoe fell to the ground.
Dropping to his knees, Kenshin tossed his sword aside and pulled her into his arms. She reached up to his cheek and gave him one last smile.
He'd never meant for this to happen. Never meant to hurt anyone, least of all Tomoe. He'd only wanted someone to love him. He'd only wanted a home where he was welcome.
He was cursed from the day he was born.
Orphaned at an early age, sold to slavery, witnessing the death of the three women who protected him from the bandits, and accidentally killing his wife.
It was his entire fault. All of it.
Kenshin pressed his hands against his eyes as the horror of that day washed over him anew. "Dear gods, what have I done?" he said, his throat aching as new grip tore through him.
He would never be able to purge the sight of her, the fear in his heart, the absolute agony.
Why? Why had she had to suffer for his actions?
Kaoru closed her eyes as his pain washed over her. It was even worse than she had imagined.
Dear Lord, how had he survived it?
Over the years, she'd heard numerous horror stories, but none could compete with what he'd been through.
"I am so sorry," she whispered rubbing her hands over his back to comfort him.
She blinked back her tears. No wonder he'd never spoken of it.
Kenshin drew a deep, tormented breath. "The gods won't even grant me insanity to escape those memories. I'm not allowed even that much comfort."
The gods could only take from him. Never once had they given.
Pain sliced through her as she saw his face, etched in a misery so intense she could hardly bear to look at him. She wanted to comfort him. More than ever, she wanted to help him.
In fact, she wanted him…
She wanted him. Period.
Kaoru's jaw dropped as the full impact of her thoughts swept over her.
She loved him.
She truly; deeply, and most profoundly loved him.
He was a major keeper and she never wanted to let him go.
She touched his face, traced the line of his nose, and ran her fingers across the gentle swells of his lips. She felt a throb of regret for the things that had been taken from him—his youth, his wife and family, the sense that life just stretched on, a rolling landscape that met the horizon at some far meridian.
Kaoru put her head against his chest and felt his heart beating; a wonderful thing, a heart. It kept pumping away quietly, sending the blood coursing through your body, and you just took it for granted. She listened, for the moment content.
"Kaoru?" he said.
"Don't leave me."
Raw emotions flickered in his eyes. She saw his torment; his need, but most of all she saw his loneliness.
He didn't want her to leave.
He had walked the whole of his life in solitude with only his strength and his wits to save him. Even before Tomoe, he'd been weary. Tired of the loneliness, tired of having no one on earth, or beyond, who gave a damn about him.
"I'm here, Kenshin. I'll be here tomorrow. And the next day—that's enough for tonight, isn't it?"
"For tonight, yes, but—"
She put her fingers on his lips. "Later, we'll talk later. Go to sleep. I'll be here. I won't go away."
As he finally drifted to sleep, it wasn't the faces of the past that haunted his dreams; it was the vision of celestial blue eyes laughing with him, and of dark hair being caressed by gentle breeze.
She stared into the blackness, hearing now, her own heart beating. A stab of panic clutched at her. Why was she here, in this strange house, with this strange man, whom she loved but did not really know?
She looked at Kenshin. At the breath fluttering through his lips in the depth of sleep.
"I do love you," she whispered. "I want to cry when I think of how much you've been hurt. I don't want anyone to hurt you, ever again. God knows, I don't want to hurt you."
"But why am I so afraid?"
Borrowed time, she thought. We are now on borrowed time.
Kaoru clenched her eyes shut. She just couldn't see herself in this world. It was too different. Too strange.
She didn't belong here. She belonged in her own time.
I'm Back! Expect one or two more chapters, depending on my mood. THANKS TO ALL MY REVIEWERS! YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST! kisses & hugs