Summary: Somehow, he couldn't help but notice the young woman who dared walk the streets of Kyoto alone after dark and wielded only a bokken. It was only a matter of time before their paths crossed.
Notes: Mandatory Bakumatsu AU, because there are only 12094389701 of those. :P
Disclaimer: Would I be flailing so hard over not getting a proper live-action movie release if I owned RK? Didn't think so.
The first time he sees her, she has her back to a wall and is fighting off three men.
They probably thought they could easily take advantage of a young woman walking alone at night. He hides in the shadows, ready to intervene if she needs help, but her strikes are strong and precise and she quickly sends all three men to eat dirt at her feet - he releases the hilt of his katana as they scurry away.
The next time comes a few nights later. She tenses when she senses someone walking behind her and looks back at him.
The light of her lantern reveals the bokken propped against her shoulder - only a bokken, she uses only a bokken…! Her eyes search the darkness around her. She appears wary, but not scared or openly aggressive. She is too trusting, is his first thought, not suited for this age and city. Then he remembers the way she dealt with her attackers the other night, remembers that this is not the first time he sees her walking alone, after dark, in the dangerous streets of Kyoto. If she hasn't been eaten alive yet…
"Who's there?", she calls. She sounds annoyed more than anything else, not willing to waste time fighting lowlifes again. He would smirk; maybe even smile, if Battousai weren't on the hunt tonight.
He melts away in the blackness - Battousai leaves no witnesses but she's not one, she never saw him, he's sure of it.
The light of day reveals her eyes as blue. She has traded her hakama for a light yellow kimono, but her hair is still in a ponytail. He sees her walking up the riverbank from his vantage point at the window of his room in Okina-san's inn.
Then Iizuka walks in, black envelope in hand, and she slips out of his mind entirely.
Tonight is not a good night. The moon is red; the air is unusually hot and oppressive, he cannot stop thinking about that man's will to live but no one, no one ever escapes Battousai and it's making him sick, everything tastes, smells, reeks of blood and he is…
He starts. He never sensed her coming but doesn't have time to berate himself for it because she is inching closer, a concerned look on her face.
"Are you okay? Your cheek is bleeding."
He can only stare, dumbfounded.
"That looks pretty deep…" She's close, too close, extending her hand and almost crossing the limit of the virtual circle that every swordsman keeps clear around himself… Survival instinct speaks.
"You should not talk to strangers."
She huffs. Dozens, dead by his hand and she huffs. "I know who you are! You're staying at the inn a few blocks up the river; I've seen you around."
"… That… doesn't make me a commendable person." He avoids looking into her eyes, they're too honest, too open - he is used to samurai faces betraying nothing. In the dark it's easy.
"A while back," she replies, her voice softening some, "you were ready to help me when those thugs attacked me. And a few days ago, you were walking behind me - you didn't answer when I called, too; that was rude."
She… this time he can only stare at her again and subconsciously tighten his hold on his sword - only the strongest captains of the Shinsengumi have been able to detect his presence like this and this girl, barely his age…
She takes a step back, bowing formally.
"I'm Kamiya Kaoru, assistant master of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. Those who underestimate me usually wake up the next morning with bruises and a bad headache," she adds with a cocky grin, tapping her bokken on her shoulder for good measure. The threat is thinly veiled and he eyes her carefully. Battousai could take her out in a second but she hasn't been branded an enemy. And, more importantly, she is talking to him.
"Kenshin." He nods his head. His fingers now barely brush his scabbard. "My name is Kenshin. I apologize for not answering the other night; I was in a hurry."
Silence. His fingers flex.
"Very well. Apology accepted. Now, about your wound…"
Kaoru smiles when she comes across him at the market two days later. His own smile is shy, tentative, barely creasing the bandage she placed on his cheek.
It is there nonetheless.