It’s over a cup of tea, that Kaoru finds herself studying Yahiko and Kenshin. Yahiko looks a few years older, and she contemplates if it’s rude to ask how long she’s been dead. Kenshin though… He looks exactly the same. Not even a single hint of crow’s feet in the corners of his eyes. She sips her tea again, barely tasting the sweetness of it. It couldn’t be….
“So busu, does this mean you’re better now?” Yahiko’s expression is solemn, and she feels a pang of loss for her missing time. Just this once, she’ll overlook that busu comment. “Yes. I-” Her mind frantically races for how to phrase her answer. “I am not what I once was. When you met me I was already dead.” A fierce hope lights his eyes and he leans forward. “And now? What about now? Will you disappear again or are you here for good?”
Kenshin sits straighter at this question, and Kaoru feels her lips curl into a smile. “I may disappear from time to time, but I will always come back. For as long as you believe in me Yahiko-chan.” Well perhaps she couldn’t resist tossing that small barb she thinks as she hides a smirk behind her tea. During Yahiko’s outburst, she watches Kenshin from the corner of her eye.
Kenshin’s eyes are bewitchingly changing between violet and gold. Yahiko’s voice startles her enough to stop watching Kenshin. “So what was really going on when you were sick?” Kaoru pauses only a moment. “I’m not sure what you’re asking.” His lips press together and he seems to pause so he can gather his thoughts. “I feel like there was a lot going on that we didn’t understand. Like why your feet were always bleeding.”
Ah. That’s information that she never thought she would be able to divulge. Briefly, she considers that it isn’t a story she can tell or that it could bring up old hurts. The moment she glances Kenshin, he speaks up. “This one would like to know too. Everything, I mean.” Well then. She supposes that it’s a tale worth telling anyway. “I was nothing more than a mere slip of a goddess for a small village nestled in the mountains far away from here…”
When she had stopped, the tea was long cold and the dojo was dark from the sun’s absence. Kenshin’s face is carefully blank and his bangs are covering his eyes. Really, she needs to see if she can convince him to cut them back just a little bit. Yahiko’s voice distracts her again. “But… What about the pirates? Why were you acting so weird then?” Her blood feels like it’s frozen, and she doesn’t say anything. Gold eyes burn into her’s and she barely notices. How could she have forgotten?
“Kaoru?” She thinks of a dagger hidden beneath the floor in her bedroom, and fiddles with her teacup to buy time. “That… That is a story that I won’t be telling.” She feels as though she’s made of spun glass when she stands. “I think it’s time for us to sleep. We’ve been awake all night, and we should be up bright and early tomorrow. I want to hear about Megumi and Sano.” Kenshin and Yahiko sit in silence for a few minutes after she leaves. It’s raining outside.
One thing Kaoru had never considered coming up was the story of what happened during her time with the pirates. All she can think of is the dagger tucked beneath her floorboards, and the shoji clacks with the force she puts behind shutting it. Her fingers tremble as she stands there for a moment leaning against the shoji. She can feel Kenshin and Yahiko still in the kitchen.
Carefully, she kneels on the floor and moves the wooden panel. The dagger lies there from when she had carelessly tossed it in. For such an evil thing, it is very pretty. Shining pearls are inlaid in it’s shimmering green blade and the handle is beautifully sculpted from what appears to be white bone. It’s beautiful. Delicate. Cursed her mind whispers.
Kaoru fiercely reminds herself that she is far stronger now than before, and fortifies herself with a slow inhale. Kenshin will never be safe as long as this blade exists. She hadn’t the power before, but maybe now. Trembling fingers wrap around the blade, and almost immediately she can feel it struggling to overwhelm her. Death, it whispers. Death for freedom.
Instead, she walks into the rain and kneels on the ground. Kaoru holds the blade up to the rain as if in offering. Everything feels hypersensitive, and each drop of rain feels as though it’s trying to caress her in reassurance. Kaoru exhales and concentrates her power into destroying the blade. Anyone looking outside would have seen a glowing blue figure, and glowing rain rising to the sky around it. That is if the rain weren’t coming down so hard that one wouldn’t be able to see further than an arm’s length in front of them.
Kaoru had wanted to be able to provide for her family and signed up to work on a boat. Of course, she had never expected for them to have signed up to work on the same boat! Kenshin had been so worried about her being there. He was so worried about her safety since the pirates were notorious for their vicious nature. “The Kairyu are like demons.” A sailor had told them. She laughed it off.
The sea may not have been a part of her as the rain was, but it was similar enough that she felt at home there. Kaoru even felt a little stronger. So when she found Kenshin still awake in the middle of the night, she wrapped her pinkie around his. “I’ll be fine. I promise.” The storm that followed was not her doing. Then the pirates attacked. During the fight, she was distracted by dark shapes moving in the water.
“You’re in too much danger here Kaoru-dono.” Kaoru wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she ran and hid. Instead, she shouted back at him. “I won’t get in your way.” Only to be injured by a pirate crawling up the boat’s side. It was her fault really. She had been so distracted with the shapes after they started calling. “Sister. Sister of water. Sister to us. Come.”
Kenshin was furious. She could tell in the way he held himself as attackers kept coming. However, even as furious as he was, he was still weakened by the poisoned dart. Somehow Sano and Yahiko had ended up overboard in the sea. The sirens’ calls had changed the moment they landed in the water. “Food.” They hissed in joyful tones.
What strength Kaoru had left went into pushing the currents away from them so the sirens wouldn’t be able to reach. She wasn’t able to resist when the pirates took her with them. Instead, she focussed everything into screaming when she saw the sirens try for Yahiko and Sano again. “No!” Their black eyes turned to her with unnerving intensity, but they left her boys in the water. Instead, they followed her as the pirates took her aboard.
She had blacked out for a moment when they tossed her to the ground but came to just as they threw her into a small boat. Horror had taken her when she realized Kenshin took her place. Kaoru struggled to push herself up thinking of Kenshin reaching for her when bandits stole him from her village. Instead of seeing him, she came face to face with a siren. The siren’s black hair hung limply from her head, her skin was a grey-tinged white, and her eyes were black without pupils.
“Sister. Why do you walk with those humans? Why walk with such a curse?” It asks her these questions in a crooning voice. Kaoru couldn’t speak. Sirens are… They are children of water like she was. However, they don’t require belief or serve a purpose. Siren’s existed by eating living flesh and strongly preferred the taste of humans. She stares at Kaoru as if trying to pry secrets from her soul.
“Ahhhh. I see.” Its wet fingers smooth Kaoru’s hair to the side. “The man. This Kenshin. Do not worry sister. We will help you.” The siren flashes a fanged smile, and she darts back into the ocean with a flick of a sickly green tail covered in black spots. “Kaoru! Where’s Kenshin?” Sano and Yahiko had swum to the little boat to come to get her.
From the pirate’s boat, Kenshin yelled back at them. “Take care of Kaoru-dono!” Kaoru screamed for Kenshin and the storm that follows? It’s all her’s. She doesn’t even notice the sirens shrieking in glee for the hunt along with her enraged scream.
(Later, the leader of the pirates, Shura, asks what’s so special that Kenshin would trade his life for that woman. Shura is disturbed by the almost shy smile on his face when he answers. “Well, let’s see… Kaoru-dono is strong enough to help others without thinking of herself, but there’s also a lonely person deep inside her heart.” Just what kind of woman is this Kaoru that she provokes that kind of response?)
Kaoru won’t eat at the inn because of her guilt. She’s sure they’re not feeding Kenshin, and it’s her fault for being so distracted by the sirens. Yahiko interrupted Sano’s attempt to talk her into eating with news of Kairyu pirates coming out of the merchant’s home and loading a ship. Kaoru doesn’t hesitate when Sano asks if she’s sure that she wants to try going after the merchant’s ship. Anything for Kenshin.
They board a small boat to follow the pirates, and sirens point Kaoru in the right way when they lose sight a few times. Neither Sano nor Yahiko does more than give her an odd glance when she whispers. “That way.” Kaoru knew not to trust the sirens, but they appeared to be pointing her in the right direction. She had a strong suspicion their goodwill is only temporary.
They sneak onto the boat without issue, and then the gunpowder went off. Somehow, they were able to all land in the water. Sirens murmur amongst themselves as they swam near her group. “The cliff. Cliff? Yes, the cliff, but not there.” Kaoru lingered in the water longer than Yahiko and Sano. The siren had beckoned her closer, and Kaoru reluctantly paddled closer.
“Sister.” Her face was full of glee. “The one you are bound to. The man you call Kenshin. He jumped off a cliff but didn’t land. He is there on the island, and I swear to you he will not leave without us knowing.” Four others emerged from the water and passed something wrapped in green to Kaoru. The siren looked pleased. “We have a gift for you, sister.” Kaoru curiously opened it to find a dagger that looked delicate and otherworldly.
One touch and whispers started inside her head. “Sister, we give you the gift of freedom. All you have to do is spill his blood and claim his life. You’ll become one of us the moment the blood touches you.” Cold, wet fingers stroked through her hair again. “You’ll never have to bow before those creatures again. You’ll never depend on belief to survive again.”
She didn’t remember wandering onto the shore, or how she got to Kenshin. “Death for freedom.” It whispers to her still, but it’s quieter since she wrapped the fabric around it. Never trust a siren. As she drew closer to Kenshin, the blade whispered louder. All it took was a single trusting smile from Kenshin to quiet the whispers. For that short time anyway. As soon as she arrived home, she threw it under the floorboards.
In their own way, she supposes the sirens had been trying to help her. The leader of the sirens called out at Kaoru when she left with her family. “The water will always call you back to us. There is no escape sister. It’s a kindness really...” Kaoru died before using the blade, and this time she’ll make sure she destroys it. Finally, the blade disintegrates and disappears into the rain.