Chapter 1: Kamiya Dojo - about an hour before sunrise
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.
Chapter 2: Breakfast
Kaoru mopes all through the making of breakfast, and Yahiko whines about the fact that she’s cooking instead of Kenshin. He opts to offer a trade for washing dishes in return for a meal down at the Akebeko.
The comment catches Kamiya Sensei’s attention. “This man, he cooked for you?”
“Yes, Father. His name is Himura Kenshin, and he’s a pretty good cook. Much better than me.” She smiles ruefully before continuing, “He also cleaned, did the laundry, ran errands, and anything else the school needed. The only thing he wouldn’t do is teach. He left that to me. Because of his past, he won’t pass on his fighting style. You know, he’s made a vow to never kill again and he encourages everyone to embrace the idea of the sword that saves. I think that teaching is the one that made the most impact on him.”
“Is that so? What kind of a past could such a young man have? It’s not like he could have been in the Meiji Revolution with me or any of the minor skirmishes afterward.”
“Actually, he’s 31 and he did fight in it. But that’s his story to tell.”
Kamiya’s eyebrow shoots up, but he respects his daughter’s wish to let this Himura speak for himself. So, he mulls out loud, “Yet he serves here, instead of being served like most samurai would. Interesting. Kaoru, dear, consider that it looks very much as if he’s running from something. If he won’t kill again, why carry a sword?”
Trying not to be frustrated, she explains, “He’s faced his past, Father. Time and time again. His atonement is to protect those he cares for and help where he can. His sword is a reverse blade sword, so when he actually does fight - no one has to die. I’ve seen his legendary skills, Father. But he won’t use them for employment. He even turned down an offer from Yamagata-San himself!”
Blinking and stepping back, he tries to absorb the information his daughter has just shared and her admiration for the red head, scar-faced man he’d just kicked out. A memory from his time with the Ishin Shishi pops into his mind. “Oh dear God. It can’t be the Battousai...” Seeing Kaoru quickly busy herself with her work again, only makes him more suspicious and worried.
His unusually outward feelings wash over her in waves. So, Kaoru opts to change the subject. “How was teaching in Hokkaido? Is the new school well established now?”
After breakfast, the concerned friends start to trickle in one or two at a time. Megumi is the first, and pulls Kaoru aside before she can be introduced to Kamiya Sensei.
“Are you ok? Are you pregnant and need help? The bird-brain stopped by and told me about what happened,” she inquires and puts a supportive hand on Kaoru’s shoulder.
The sympathetic gesture and idea that her friend thinks she could be with child startles her momentarily. Megumi had been her rival after all. Recovering, she nods, “Of course not! I’m ok. But that means he didn’t go to Doctor Gensai’s?”
Megumi shakes her head, causing Kaoru to bite her lip in worry.
“Don’t do that dear, it’s not attractive,” Megumi scolds with her practical vanity. “May I speak to your father on Mr. Ken’s behalf?”
After Megumi’s testimony, Sano, Tae and Tsubame from the Akabeko, many of the villagers that Kenshin saved from the renegade police swordsmen, Sano’s teacher friend, and finally Saito all show up to vouch for Kenshin over the span of the day. Though, none of them know Kenshin’s whereabouts. Sano opts to stay to watch, if not for helping his friend, maybe for the sheer entertainment value.
Sano’s and Saito’s testimony make the most impact on Kamiya Sensei - because they fought on the opposite side from himself and Kenshin, yet they’re adimant about his character - despite having been the dreaded Battousai the Manslayer.
Saito is relaying Yamagata’s message as Kenshin comes around the corner. Seeing the dour policeman standing up for him, causes him to stumble in shock and give himself away. Just how fast did the rumor get around? Good grief! He reasons if even Yamagata heard about this - Miss Kaoru’s reputation must really be in jeopardy! His knees buckle and he hits the ground in a full on repentant head to the ground bow. “Kamiya-sama, Miss Kaoru I ... I don’t know what to say! I swear I haven’t said a word!”
Panting, Yahiko zips in with pride and winks at Sano, “I got word out to the last of them.”
Kaoru does a face palm. Kenshin’s fists clench. Kamiya’s eyes roll heavenward, but he verifies, “So Himura, you didn’t spend your time gathering your friends to speak for you?”
Mumbling into the dirt, Kenshin answers, “N... No, Sir. I went to be alone to deal with my last demon. The one that kept me from asking Miss Kaoru to marry me.”
Saito smirks as he bows, and passing by murmurs to Kenshin, “I didn’t even make this much of a fuss when my wife and I were discovered before we were married. How did you manage it? Everyone in town knows now.”
Kenshin groans and Saito laughs as he departs, “You’ll be fine. Just marry the girl already.”
When Kenshin is about to scrape up the nerve to look up, Doctor Gensai, Ayame and Suzume turn up. The girls squeal in delight at seeing Kenshin, but they’re astute enough to see something’s not quite right.
They gently poke him as he’s in his prone position. “Uncle Kenny, are you in trouble?” “Yeah, are you in twouble?”
He whispers, “I think so.”
“Is it big trouble?” “What did you do, Uncle Kenny?” They chime in at once.
“Yes. But I can’t say why,” it pains him to have to say it to these little girls that look up to him so much.
“Well...” the oldest sister offers the sage wisdom of children, “When you do somethin’ wrong you gotta apologize and make it right!” The younger chimes in agreeing, “Yeah! Apowogize, Uncle Kenny!”
There’s only one way through this, and they hit it spot on. Letting out a deep breath, he murmurs to the girls, “That I will.” Then raising his voice he follows through, “I’m sorry Kamiya-sama and Miss Kaoru, for messing everything up and waiting so long.”
Scrunching his eyes shut for a moment, he gathers his calm. It takes all his courage to lift his head and face Kaoru’s father, but the nod he receives gives him strength to get up, dust off, and go to ask for Kaoru’s hand.
“What kept you from marrying my daughter?” Kamiya questions, needing this one last tidbit, now that he knows most of this man’s character, and the fear that a violent killer would be the one marrying his daughter was quelled by his friends’ reports.
Automatically, the rurouni’s hand goes to one of the scars on his cheek. His voice is rough as he shares, “Loosing my first wife, then finding out that she had been the fiancé of one of the first men I killed in the revolution,” His hand traces the other scar as he remembers. “She had originally planned to help a group ambush me. But she’d fallen in love with me and put herself between me and the attackers when they blinded me. Loosing her was devastating. I wandered for 10 years after that, afraid to let anyone get close.” Coming back to the present he meets Kamiya’s gaze then Kaoru’s as he adds, “Miss Kaoru was the first one to believe in me. I think I fell for her that first day we met - when she attacked me out of nowhere, accusing me of being the Battousai as she tried to defend her family name. Her boldness and bravery really surprised me. But her kindness and insistence that the sword is a weapon to protect really affected me.” In a formal bow, he requests with hurried words before he loses his nerve, “Sir! Please, let me marry your daughter!”
“What do you think Kaoru?” Kamiya prods his daughter.
Dashing off the porch, Kaoru almost bowls Kenshin over in her exuberant hug. “Yes! A thousand times, yes!”
The rurouni buries his head in her shoulder and puts his arms around her in return. “Thank you, Kaoru and Kamiya-sama.”
“Well, I can see my help wasn’t needed after all!” Doctor Gensai exclaims and pats the couple on the back. The girls are so giddy they’re dancing around the couple babbling about “Uncle Kenny apowogized!” and “All better now!”
Two days later, the whole town shows up for the wedding.
After the ceremony, Sano asks Megumi, “So Fox-lady, you really went to stick up for them as a couple?”
“Um-hm,” she winks coquettishly.
“Does that mean you’ve given up on Kenshin?” he wheedles.
“Um-hm, Bird Brain, it does,” she repeats and wraps her arm around his.
“Does that mean...?” he pushes just a little further, afraid to really ask but staring down at her arm around his and liking the direction so far.
“Um-hm. And I see I have a lot to work on with you, ya’ big lug.”
Sanosuke wipes his hand over his face wondering what the heck he got himself into now. She better not try to ‘fix him’.