In the blue glow of the coming dawn, a blood curdling scream causes Kenshin to bolt out of bed, deftly scoop up his sword, and book it toward Kaoru’s room. That was definitely her voice. Now is not the time to worry about convention and what is appropriate for a man living with a young lady that he’s not married to. Kaoru is in trouble! Who ever is attacking the woman most dear to him will pay!
Taking a bounding leap from the courtyard and off the porch, he crashes through the fragile shoji screen separating her from him. In a graceful crouch he lands and instantly evaluates the situation. The perpetrator is gone. Where did he go?
Kaoru intakes a sharp breath at the intruder in her room, before her face turns hard as she throws her wooden takamakura pillow at him. “KENSHIN! YOU IDIOT!”
“Oro?” He questions before the wood block hits him.
Rubbing the bump on his head, he verifies, “Then you weren’t being attacked?”
“What? No! I was sleeping soundly until you barged in!” she grouchily retorts. “If this is your way of getting yourself into my room for the night, it’s not gonna work, buster!”
“But you screamed. I thought you were in trouble. Now that I know you’re alright I’ll go, Miss Kaoru. And I’ll fix the screen first thing after you get up, that I will.” He puts a bit of verbal formal distance between them again, and starts to back out of the room. “Sorry for bothering you.”
Letting out a heavy sigh, Kaoru relents, “It was just a bad dream, a very bad one.” As she shyly tucks a loose lock of hair behind her ear, she expounds, “I... I dreamt you left again.” Seeing that he would leave her to her thoughts, she pleads, “Don’t leave. Please. I just can’t get it out of my head.” Her hand trembles as she grasps his wrist tightly.
Just then they hear Yahiko’s shouts and pounding footsteps, as he runs up with his bokken. “Kaoru are you ok?”
Bringing her free hand to her mouth, she covers her giggle, “I’m fine, Yahiko. At least I have a couple of good protectors.”
Her apprentice scowls. “This wasn’t some kind of test, was it?”
She shakes her head.
Rolling his eyes, he pshaws and heads back yawning, “Whatever. I’m gonna do cleaning after breakfast today. This is way too early to be up! And you two obviously have something to sort out.”
Kenshin’s dropping jaw causes Kaoru to go on the defensive. “It’s not like that, you little brat!” she shouts at the young samurai’s retreating back.
“Yeah, yeah. Right... I’ll just go call off the mob coming to help.” Yahiko waves a dismissive hand.
When he’s out of sight, Kaoru squeezes Kenshin’s wrist again. And he looks down at the slender fingers with a death grip on his arm.
Heaving in a breath she gathers her courage, “Will... will you hold me?”
His head whips up, and her eyes bore into his. He protests, “But Miss Kaoru, it wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“Just for a few moments?”
Closing his eyes, he sighs. Isn’t holding her just what he himself had been dreaming? Consenting with a nod, he adds a condition before scooting over and she finally releases his wrist, “Just until sunrise. Then I’ll go. Yahiko doesn’t need to see me leaving your room, and get any ideas about what happened.”
Holding the blanket up for him to crawl under too, she tilts her head perplexed when he gently presses her hand back down. But she calms when he lays on his side right next to her - one arm under his head, and puts the other around her. Shuffling to her side, she tucks her head under his chin. He reciprocates by nuzzling his cheek into her hair and taking a deep breath of her scent.
Within a few moments, she’s softly snoring, but he’s wide awake and acutely aware of her every breath. That he’s actually here beside her in her room, by the gods he’s wanted this. And more. But he won’t push. The searing pain of losing Tomoe, still haunts him. He can’t risk precious Kaoru too.
When the first rays of dawn appear through the broken shoji door, he resigns himself to getting up and going about the day, despite desperately wanting to stay here with her. Tenderly tucking that stray lock back into place behind her ear, he places a first kiss on her forehead.
But as fate is often unkind, he hears a bellowing for Kaoru in a deep older man’s voice and as it enters the yard, Kenshin jolts up to a defensive crouch and reaches for his sword. Kaoru sleepily rubs her eyes and mumbles, “Father?”
Choice words go through Kenshin’s mind as he looks for a discreet escape route. No luck. Running will make things worse. This definitely won’t turn out good, but stoically he kneels and bows his head to accept whatever happens. Even just holding her for those few moments, is a gift he’ll treasure always.
“Kenshin?” Kaoru’s face goes white as she realizes what her dad will think.
“It’s alright,” he whispers back, as she sees him kneeling, then her dad’s hulking form hurtling toward them and leaping over the porch to crash through the door.
“Father! Stop!” Kaoru screams ineffectively as a meaty fist seizes Kenshin’s throat and lifts him from the ground.
Kenshin won’t fight back or even flinch. Miss Kaoru’s father has made a judgement and as a samurai Kenshin is always ready for death. He just wishes it wasn’t quite so soon.
“This pathetic dog will not bother you again, Kaoru. When I’m done with this wretch, he won’t be able to walk again, let alone break into a young lady’s room to assault her! I came as fast as I could when one of the villagers said the scream came from our house.” Kamiya Sensei rages.
Kenshin would really prefer not to have his legs broken, but yet death would be worse...
Launching herself at her father she tries again - now clawing at his arm holding the perceived perpetrator, “Let him go Father! Stop it! I love him!”
Kenshin’s eyes go to her. Kamiya Sensei’s head turns slowly to her in complete shock. At the same time his fist opens but stays in the air - dropping Kenshin to the ground in a heap and leaving him to cough and struggle for breath. “Explain!” her father demands, “It had better be good because it looks to me there can only be one reason the shoji door is broken and I saw his head pop up when he heard me coming.”
Squaring her shoulders in determination, she opts to keep it simple as she tries to smooth things over, “It was all a set of simple misunderstandings that built on each other, Father. You’re back early, did teaching in Hokkaido go well?”
Kamiya Sensei is having none of the dodging from her, but he kneels to listen. With a loving but firm voice he commands, “Daughter. The truth. All. Of. It. Why was this man in your room?”
Her eyes dart to Kenshin as he comes to a full formal repentant bow, “It was my fault, Kamiya-sama. I heard Miss Kaoru’s scream, ran to her side, and broke the shoji in my rush to ensure her safety. I'm sorry! If you allow me to return, I’ll fix it, that I will.”
“Kenshin...” she whispers, aghast at the thought of him leaving the house.
“Is this true, Kaoru?” her father’s suspicions rising as he watches the interchange between them.
“Yes, Father. I had a nightmare. Kenshin came to my rescue.” Her brows furrow as she guesses his thoughts.
“You’re on a first name basis with this man?” Kamiya prods.
Her eyes go to the floor and her cheeks flush. “Yes. We’ve been through a lot together.”
“Kaoru!” Yahiko and Sanosuke holler in unison as they hustle into the courtyard to help deal with yet another intruder alert.
She waves with a smile at her loyal friends, “We’re ok! Come meet my father!” and ignores the narrowing eyes of her dad, in favor of the welcome distraction.
Yahiko comes to a full stop as he blurts, “Kamiya Sensei? It’s such an honor!”
“Now is not the time, young man. You two may go home. Kaoru is safe.” Directing his attention back, “Daughter, you were explaining this man’s presence,” Kamiya Sensei interjects, but wisely leaves off the ‘in your room’ bit in front of the young men unknown to him.
“Kaoru Sensei, I’ll just go back to my room,” Yahiko uncharacteristically treats her with due respect as he and Sano take their leave. But the whole group hears their not so veiled whispering. “Sano, I can’t figure out why it looks like they’re in trouble. I mean, yeah Kenshin busted into her room when he heard her scream, but... I thought he left after that. Sure they’re all ga-ga over each other, but I didn’t think they’d actually admitted it yet. ‘Cause, they’re about as clueless as you can get. Well, except you and Megumi.”
Kicking Yahiko, Sano notes - trying to be more quiet but failing, “Shut it buckwheat. I think they can hear you. Considering how it looks, Kenshin probably did stay and you don’t want your Sensei and him to get in trouble, do you?”
“Ooooo-oooh...” Yahiko clamps his hand over his mouth and looks back to Kaoru’s horrified stare before booking it to his room, as Sano disappears around the corner.
Mentally muttering a ‘thanks a lot guys’, Kenshin scrunches his eyes shut and goes beat red over his friend’s appalling ‘help’. At least now it couldn’t get any worse for an introduction to her father. He takes a stabilizing breath and puts back on his warrior’s calm.
Giving the stink eye to Kenshin and then a glower to his daughter, Kamiya Sensei lets out a disheartened breath and pinches the bridge of his nose before asking what he dreads, “Kaoru, I should have known you would be a strongly independent woman like your mother, with your own ideas about things. But, you do know as a warrior - all you really have is your reputation. So how long, now? Is your reputation beyond repair?”
“Father!” Kaoru shoots back shocked at his accusation. “We haven’t done anything!”
At the same time Kenshin can’t have anyone thinking ill of his Kaoru. He leans forward and adamantly defends her, “Sir! Miss Kaoru’s reputation is still in tact! She’s an honorable young woman! The whole city loves and respects her! She’s done so much good here in Tokyo!” Returning to his head to hands bow, “I would never dishonor her! Please, know she remains untouched!”
Her father concludes, “But she wouldn’t have if I had not arrived. That is all, boy. Go back home. I’ll be speaking with your family.”
“But Father! Nothing would have happened! He was leaving this room as you came home. And he lives here! His room is across the courtyard,” Kaoru protests.
As Kenshin gets up with his quiet determined warrior’s pride, Kamiya Sensei roars, “And were you ever planning on marrying my daughter?”
That stops Kenshin in his tracks. Eyes to the ground in humility, he quietly responds, “Yes... I’ve thought often of it, Sir. But know, I will not allow Miss Kaoru to be forced into a marriage, that I will not.” Hearing Kaoru’s gasp, he continues, “As for speaking with my family - I have none, save my former father-in-law and my master. Both reside near Kyoto. Ask me any question. I will answer it, that I will.”
”Leave,” is Kamiya’s terse reply.
Horrified that her nightmare is coming true and he’s leaving, panic fills her. She can handle anything except the thought of not knowing if he’ll be back. Kaoru bounds with a warrior’s grace past her father to Kenshin’s side, as her father shouts for her to return.
Hoarsely she croaks, “Don’t go! Where will you stay?” A tear runs down her face.
Brushing the tear from her cheek with his yukata sleeve, Kenshin assures her, “Kaoru, go back to your father. It’s obvious he loves you very much and wants the best for you, that he does. Don’t worry. I’ll return and see if he will speak with me then. In the meantime, catch up with him.”
Not trusting her voice, she nods. Still upset, but mollified.