Clair de Lune
"It's the German soldiers. "
"I'm damned if I'll be living by their rules!"
Kaoru could hear these and similar whispers in the crowd before her. She believed that something similar could be heard all over the France and maybe the whole Europe during this last year. After all, those crowds gathering to look as the German troops passed them didn't come forced by such a simple feeling as curiously, but were led by a long burning spite.
It was cold winter's morning of the year 1941 and most bystanders were freezing. It had been a long time since France faced such a harsh winter and most townspeople didn't have a coat able to withstand this weather, hence most people wore several layers of thinner coats and jackets.
Near the edge of the freezing and whispering crowd Kaoru stood, blowing her warm breath into the atmosphere and watching it turn to steam. She was one of the few people who had no need to layer their clothing and wore a coat thick enough to warm her, you can blame this onto being a daughter of a well-off bourgeoisie family. Kaoru silently observed everything that was happening around her as if she wasn't a part of it, as if it had nothing to do with her and it was only a cruel play unfolding on a stage of a theatre.
When the German troop was near the fountain in the middle of the town's square the buzzing of the crowd seemed to become louder. Kaoru's eyes traced over the people standing before her once more. All of them radiated hate and annoyance towards the so-called victors. And speaking frankly who could blame them, every single one of them had lost something precious in the war. It didn't matter if it was this or the last war.
Kaoru got bored with this show of hate and turned to leave when one of the Germans started shouting something in his native tongue making the crowds buzzing cease. This caught Kaoru's attention. It wasn't impossible that people quietened to hear whatever the soldier was saying, but to her knowledge only few people in this town could actually understand German. Kaoru returned to her previous spot and stood on her tiptoes trying to see why the crowd who was so lively only moments before, became as silent as the grave now.
The only thing she saw over the heads of the townspeople was the soldier's – who was shouting – red hair. Kaoru thought about jumping up and down until she saw his face, because as unusual trait the red hair of this hue as it might be, it was in no way enough to silence all of those people, hence there had to be something wrong with his face. The odds weren't in her favour though, as just as she felt that morbid curiosity the troop was already making its way to the local government building with the red haired soldier leading the way.
The moment the troop was out of the crowd's sight that annoying whispering began again. This time it centred around the red haired soldier. Most of them sounded something along the lines of "I heard rumours about him. Isn't he the one who killed so many people that the blood of his victims seeped into the roots of his hair so deep that it became red?" As Kaoru walked away she couldn't help herself but wonder what bizarre things a person could believe when he desperately needed to believe in something.
Kaoru was one of the first people to leave the crowd. She had to hurry home and help her sister, Megumi, hide all of the valuables in the house. Every household was forced to accommodate at least one soldier, so that the men serving in the staying troop would have where to stay, and of course the Kamiya household was no exception. It wasn't a first time the sisters had to host a German soldier, but every time Megumi would still hide everything she held precious. But Kaoru never judged her. She knew that her sister acted that way out of hate and fear, that were completely reasonable taking into account that Sanosuke, her husband, was suffering in a labour camp and their father had died during this war.
When Kaoru unlocked the door to her childhood home it already barely resembled the house she spent most of her life in. When she came in and took off her coat Megumi was running around the room and putting various things into the box on the floor and Tae, their maid, was carefully taking out the expensive china from one of the cupboards in the kitchen. It took another two hours before the walls of the house were completely bare and only essentials were left for use. Kaoru couldn't help herself but marvel at how gloomy the rooms had become. The walls now, instead of telling the story of the happy side of their childhood, told the story of their mother's death and the goodbyes they said to their father when he left for war.
It didn't take long before the knocking on the door announced the soldier's presence. Kaoru's imagination began to run wild as she wondered what kind of sullen man was standing behind that door. It was always like this for Kaoru, even though this is the third time they will be hosting a German soldier. She heard Tae open the door, letting the German in. As the man took first steps into her home Kaoru could feel the heavy steps taken with combat boots resonate within her skull.
Megumi seemed to notice how anxious Kaoru was and took her younger sister's hand into her own. "We will pull through." Megumi whispered. "We always do."
The view of the soldier's feet suddenly invaded Kaoru's vision. His boots seemed extremely muddy and she wondered if they were leaving a trail of mud on the wooden floor, as she was unable to see anything except those shoes.
"Good day ladies." The soldier spoke. "I am Kenshin Himura, lieutenant of the staying troop. I have been told that this is where I am to stay. I promise you not to cause any inconveniences by staying here and if you would just show me where the free room is, I would not disturb you any more." Kaoru couldn't help herself but be surprised at how gentle his voice sounded. The man spoke with such a child-like innocence that Kaoru wondered if he was at least as old as twenty.
Kaoru stopped looking at the lieutenant's shoes and now was studying his appearance. The moment her eyes took in the red strands of his hair Kaoru realised that he was the same soldier shouting in front of the local government building. He was a clean shaven man, his purple eyes radiated warmth and a huge cross shaped scar stretched over his left cheek. He had a small built, but from the few words he said and from the way he carried himself Kaoru reckoned that the lieutenant was a part of bourgeoisie just like her.
"Your room is on the second floor, Tae will show you to it." Megumi's cold voice broke the silence which had fallen in the room. She didn't let the tension, which was so thick you could slice it with a knife, show in her voice or face.
"Thank you. I am terribly sorry for disturbing you then." The German soldier smiled gently yet weakly and followed Tae's lead. Even though Kaoru tried, she couldn't drown out the sound of those heavy footsteps the German made with every step he took while going up the stairs. She was sure that this sound will haunt her forever.
That evening Kaoru and Megumi dinned in silence. It wasn't that much of a dinner though as both sisters only stared at the plates filled with food and half-empty wine glasses set before them. Neither of the sisters had the appetite to stomach even a single bite as the German's footsteps ringing above their heads made them feel as if they were prisoners in their own home.
"You know I would like to see every single one of them choke on their own blood." Megumi hissed out so suddenly that Kaoru jerked in her seat. " We are forced to host them in our own home whenever they please, even if they killed our loved ones. And you know what is the worst part? The only fit room is father's study! Every time a filthy German like him stays in our house." Megumi pointed at the ceiling. "He stays in father's study! If father knew anything about this, he would roll in his own grave!"
Even though Kaoru understood her sister's feelings of contempt, she couldn't claim that her feelings towards the Nazis were as strong as Megumi's. She felt something more along the lines of the hatred for her own helplessness. More than once Kaoru wished that she had also fought in the war. At least this way she could have actually done something instead of cowering in the safety of her home with every blood freezing piece of news she heard on the radio and listening to one of her neighbours describe every morbid detail of someone's son's death.
About an hour later Tae cleared the dining table, carrying away plates of barely touched food and an empty bottle of wine. Neither Kaoru, neither Megumi said even a word to another until the soldiers announcing that it's already past curfew went by their house, and even then the sisters only said their goodnights before going into their own rooms for the night. Both of them listened to the heavy footsteps of the German soldier the whole night, even though he had already stopped making any noise long ago.
The tension was still in the air for the next few days but didn't last as long as a week. The lieutenant leaving the house before even the sun had risen and coming back only in the dead of the night was the cause of this. Also after first short conversation and few failed attempts at making small talk and offering his help to either of the three women, he didn't try talking to either one of them again. To the sisters this made coexisting with him a lot easier and at least from Kaoru's point of view returned a bit of that homely feeling to her childhood home.
The townspeople were also getting used to the new troop as well. It didn't take nearly as long as it took for people to get used to the first troop that stayed in this small town. This troop was no longer sea of nameless faces, now there was the butcher's blond, the gravedigger's green eyes, the Kamiya's lieutenant and many more. Laughter started filling the streets once more, as young kids – who were too young to tame their curiosity – started playing with German soldiers and young women – who hadn't been in the presence of young, attractive men, since the beginning of war – joked around with them. This sight made the mothers and wives of the French soldiers who died in the front lines, or were still imprisoned in labour camps frown. They could understand the kids – their souls were far too pure to know hatred – but they just couldn't comprehend how those young women could so shamelessly flirt with their enemies!
It took a month, but eventually the routine usual previous to the troop's arrival resumed in the Kamiya house as well. Today Megumi was out of the house, visiting the farmers living in her husband's lands – as Sano was the heir to a quite well-off family of landlords – and collecting the rent. Tae was busy taking care of her sick niece named Tsubami and the lieutenant was never around anyways, hence today Kaoru had the house all to herself.
After Kaoru was done eating her breakfast she tiptoed to her father's study, where the German was staying. When she, Megumi and Tae were hiding all the valuables she locked the piano and hid the key to it in a book, which was laying on top of the instrument, completely forgetting that the item belonged in her father's study. She had cursed herself for this blunder up until now and even as she went up the stairs Kaoru felt the uneasiness of entering the room while the German soldier was staying there.
When Kaoru turned the doorknob a creaking sound echoed throughout the house and it almost made her shiver. She opened the door completely and left it ajar behind herself as she took first steps into the enemy's territory.
Kaoru drank in the sight of the room before her. It was a lot tidier and had a lot less personal items in it than Kaoru would have expected. To be told the truth the only things indicating that this no longer was just her father's study were the bed – which herself, Megumi and Tae brought up the stairs just a month ago – a leather traveling suitcase, a riding crop left on the said bed and a tiny mirror which, along with a razor, were abandoned on the windowsill. She could also smell a faint scent of cigarette smoke. Kaoru figured that he didn't spend enough time here to make the room smell like him. This lack of lieutenant's presence made it a bit easier for her to look for the book.
She scanned the bookshelves from afar, looking for a leather bound Shakespeare's collection of sonnets. Thankfully to her, Tae seemed to have put it where she always puts it – in the right corner of the top shelf. Kaoru sighed and hurried to grab the book.
Just as Kaoru took the book into her hands she heard a loud barking accompanied by the sound of heavy footsteps outside. She panicked not knowing what to do. Should she just run and hide in her sister's bedroom? But wouldn't that lead to him thinking that she was doing something incriminating in here? Then maybe she just should stay here and calmly explain the whole situation. But what if he doesn't believe her? Kaoru reckoned that whatever consequences she would end up facing, it wouldn't be pretty. He wasn't even supposed to be here, dammit!
While Kaoru played through the various scenarios in her head – unfortunately none of them ended well for her – the German officer made it to the doorway of the room. Kaoru turned and saw a large white dog by the man's side and a look of confusion and surprise on the soldier's face that seemed equal to her own. Though that expression didn't stay on his face too long as only moments later he started radiating something similar to anger, yet not quite it.
"What are you doing here?" He hissed out. The soldier's eyes seemed to abandon their previous warm purple hue and turn into liquid amber like colour, but Kaoru blamed this on the lighting.
"I..I.." Kaoru stuttered and the German's eyes hardened. "This book... There is a... A key from the piano lid in it." She showed him the leather bound book which she was holding. Kaoru's hands were slightly shivering and Kaoru cursed herself for not being able to hide her feelings as well as Megumi could.
"Oh." The soldier relaxed a bit. "Is...Is that so.."
"Yes." Kaoru flipped through the pages, looking for the said key until she found it. Once the tiny item was in her palm she closed the book, put it back on the top shelf and brought the hand holding the key to her chest. "Now, if you excuse me, I will be leaving." She took a deep breath and slowly made her way towards the doorway, where the lieutenant was standing. The man also stepped back, letting her exit the room.
Just as Kaoru was about half a meter away from him, the dog started barking at her. She went pale and the officer's only response to this was laughter.
"Shush, Bubi." He chuckled again. "Do not worry, it will not bite you. It just wants to play." He ruffled the fur of his four-legged companion. "I am sorry if Bubi scared you, though." The man softly smiled at Kaoru. "I hope it would not cause too much trouble if it stayed here for few days from time to time. My troop found it abandoned on one of the roads and we just did not have the heart to leave it there to die, hence Bubi we take turns watching it. I think you might even get along as you are both French."
"You can do as you please." Kaoru pressed her lips together.
The piano room was on the same floor as her father's study. Once Kaoru reached the room she didn't even try to unlock the piano lid. She just sat down on the piano chair and clasped the key from the lid even tighter, trying to calm her relentlessly beating heart. Kaoru felt that it's getting harder to antagonize Kenshin after witnessing that laughter and soft smiles.
After their unexpected conversation, Kaoru and the soldier started exchanging greetings whenever they met. He also started offering his help anytime he saw her carrying heavy bags and sometimes Kaoru would take him up on his offer. The lieutenant also started coming back a bit earlier – right on the curfew – and leaving a bit later – when Tae was making breakfast for Megumi and Kaoru.
What's more, the soldier was right, even if the first time she saw the dog, Bubi frightened her, but Kaoru enjoyed spending time with it now. It was a very friendly dog, after all. Megumi wasn't as pleased with the whole thing as Kaoru was, but eventually the dog's presence also warmed her heart. She still ignored Kenshin whenever the man tried talking to her though.
Another month flew by. By this time the snow had already melted away, letting the rain take it's place and today Kaoru was alone in the house again.
This time Megumi took Tae to help collect the rent. There was quite an aggressive and brutish debtor left from the last month and even though Megumi was quite sure that she would be able to deal with this situation by herself, she still took all the help she could get. The officer should also reach the house only in the afternoon – about half of the troop was receiving some kind of special training, and the talk in town was that today about lunch time it all ends and the other half of the troop will take their place. So as long as Kaoru fit in the time frames between Megumi's departing and the officer's arrival she could play piano to her heart's content, without being worried of someone overhearing her.
Kaoru began playing the first notes of Debussy's "Clair de Lune" very carefully, letting the notes ring out. She felt as if it's been hundreds of years since she last played the piano and it took few moments to let her fingers freely fly over the keys, pounding the notes without her even thinking about it.
The music helped her drown out the real world. As Kaoru played "Clair de Lune" she imagined the sun sinking over the horizon and the moonlight washing over her. As she played the beginning of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonnata" she started seeing the snow falling from the sky and painting the world white once again. When she finished playing "Moonlight Sonnata" Kaoru lost herself in Chopin's Prelude in E-Minor which was followed by "Spring Waltz", Nocturno op.9 No.2, Mendelssohn's "The Venetian Gondola" and many more.
No matter how much time passed, Kaoru just wasn't able to return to the real world until the sound of heavy footsteps taken with combat boots made her mess up the end of Erik Satie's "Gnossienne no. 1".
"Just as I thought, the piano is yours." The German officer spoke softly. "I am sorry for disturbing you, but would you mind if I listened?" As he voiced this question Kaoru saw a glimmer in his eyes that reminded her of a young child.
Kaoru replied to his question with a slight nod of her head. She watched as the German sat down in the armchair across the room. It seemed to her as if he made an effort to keep his distance from her, and even if it wasn't intentional Kaoru was thankful to him for not sitting down in the chair right next to the piano. She took a deep breath and started playing Erik Satie's "Gnossienne no. 2". Kaoru continued to play all the way until she finished "Gnossienne no. 7" which was followed by the soft clapping of the lieutenant.
"You play just as well as my wife. Well, maybe even a slight bit better, but I would be thankful if you would not relay my words to her." He spoke as he stood up.
"But you are too young to be married!" Kaoru didn't realise that she was voicing her thoughts and the moments the words left her mouth, she felt her jaw drop. Why couldn't she control her tongue at least this once?! Kaoru was terrified, all of the most terrifying scenarios playing out in her head, but to her biggest surprise the German started laughing.
"How old do you think I am?" He finished laughing and took few steps in Kaoru's direction, smile not leaving his face.
"Nineteen, I presume." She felt blood rush to her cheeks.
"Well, then I am a lot older than you think." The lieutenant chuckled at the puzzled look on Kaoru's face. "Twenty-eight." He admitted taking few steps closer. "I have been married to my wife for three months when the war started and I have not seen her since. Even though those three months was a short time, during them we were truly happy, but I am afraid that the man who I am now is not the same man she fell in love with. I do not think she is the same person I fell for either, since a lot of time has passed and that is what time does. It changes people." His smile got sad.
"Oh." Kaoru honestly didn't know what to say. She never expected him to start talking so openly with her.
"Well anyway, enough of that. Now that I have shared something personal, might I ask you something in return?" Now he was standing right next to the piano, his purple eyes boring into her blue ones.
"You can ask whatever you want, but that does not guarantee that I will answer it." Kaoru replied to him with one of the courtesy phrases her sister had taught her.
"Fair enough. Why do you never call me by my name?"
Kaoru was dumbstruck by the question. What in the world was she supposed to answer to that?! It is true that she never referred to him by his given name or last name, not even in her thoughts. For her, it was sort of like a small rebellion against the world and everything that was happening in it, as well as against the German officer staying at her home. This helped her keep things impersonal and regard the lieutenant as her enemy. She hoped that no one had noticed it, but it seems he had.
Kaoru took a deep breath before replying. "I have no knowledge of how you prefer to be called, hence I used whatever came to my mind first." Kaoru looked straight at the German's eyes, who seemed to be able to see through her lies.
"From now on, If you could call me Kenshin, that would make me really happy."
"Then I will do so."
"Would you mind if I called you Kaoru?" The officer smiled.
"Of course not."
"That's great." He straightened up. "Well then I must excuse myself now, as I am very tired. Please play some time for me again, Kaoru."
"I will be sure to do so, Kenshin." Kaoru replied and the man flashed her another smile at the use of his name.
Kenshin left the room and Kaoru locked the piano lid once more, putting the tiny key into her dress pocket as she got up and left the room as well. This all was so confusing. She just had to get away as far away from him as possible. Maybe take a walk, clear her head and try to sort out her feelings, because for some unknown reason her heart was beating a lot faster than it ever had before.
First Kaoru intended to go to the city square, but was forced to rethink that once she realised that a lot of people should be there since they were no longer as afraid to leave their houses. Instead she decided to head to the woods, which were on the opposite side of the town from her home. As she passed the governing building she noticed a soldier gluing another poster to it's walls, which prohibited or made mandatory another thing. Wherever you would turn now, you would see a poster with the word PROHIBITED written in red bold letters and PUNISHED BY DEATH PENALTY in a slightly smaller letters underneath.
Kaoru finally reached the woods. Those big trees, only affected by the season and untouched by war, charmed her. The first steps she took on the damp grass were careful, she even tried to avoid the puddles on the ground. Soon, though, all that carefulness was gone and she ran through the woods without any self restraint.
The puddles in which her feet had landed splashed on her legs and dress and the bushes in which she ran into left traces of raindrops on her skin. Soon most of her body was wet and covered in mud. Kaoru just couldn't stop herself from laughing at the fact. She felt as if she was a child again.
When she was younger Kaoru used to run here with boys her age and play all kinds of boyish games, that according to her sister were unfit by young girls to play. As a kid, Kaoru would always return home muddy. She couldn't remember a night when she would return home after a long day filled with fun games and Megumi wouldn't have lectured her on her dirtied dress.
As Kaoru felt that her legs were about to give out she slowed down her pace. She slowly walked until she found an old fallen tree – a place to rest. Once Kaoru sat down she laughed again. It has been a long time since she felt so tired and safe. Sitting here she could imagine opening her childhood home door, Megumi lecturing on how she shouldn't be out so late and asking will she ever get tired of playing in the mud. Kaoru could see their father coming down the stairs from his study and laughing at the scene. Just as it used to be when she was a child, just as she would like it still to be now.
The smell of cigarette smoke brought Kaoru back from the fantasy land. She cursed. It seems that the woods weren't as untouched by the war as she thought. Kaoru sighed and continued sitting on the fallen tree, waiting for a German soldier to appear from the bushes any moment now.
"Kaoru, is that you?" Leaves rustled as someone asked. It was a man's voice that terribly reminded of something to her. Once Kaoru turned around and saw the person's face, it took only few seconds for her to recognize him. It was Enishi.
Kaoru wouldn't dare to call Enishi her friend or say that she knew him very well. As children they used to play together quite often, but even then their relationship was a quite shallow thing.
Now Enishi hardly resembled the boy Kaoru used to play with. The man was a lot taller and had a lot more muscles. He now also wore glasses and probably the biggest change in his appearance was his hair. As a child Enishi had raven black hair, but now he stood before her with snow white hair. Kaoru was pretty sure that if not those few facial features that remained unchanged, she wouldn't have recognized him.
The gun in Enishi's right hand caught Kaoru's attention. The Germans collected all of the guns during the first week of their stay and he shouldn't have had it. All this situation gave her a bad feeling.
"You mind?" The man pointed at the spot on the fallen tree. Kaoru nodded her head and Enishi started making his way in her direction. She noticed that he was limping and remembered hearing about his leg few years back. Apparently he was hunting with friends when a stray bullet tore his leg muscles and a major vein, causing the said limp. Actually that leg was the only thing that stopped him from joining the front lines, as Enishi was more than full of fighting spirit and hatred.
The man flopped down next to her. He held the gun tightly and took few whiffs of his cigarette, before putting it out on the sole of his shoe. "Been a while, huh?" Enishi started talking again.
"Four years, I think." Kaoru tried to concentrate on the mud under her feet, trying not to look at Enishi's gun.
"Time flies." The man said so softly and quietly that Kaoru wasn't sure if she was supposed to hear it or not.
They sat in silence for a while. Both were glad to enjoy the chirping of birds and not hushed whispers in the street, for a change. They sat like that until Kaoru could no longer keep her eyes off Enishi's gun.
"Kaoru, don't start." She lifted her eyes and noticed that Enishi was staring at her with his ice cold blue ones. Kaoru remembered as a child shivering under his stare, though still pretending that she wasn't afraid.
"But you should not have it. You will face execution by the firing squad if Germans see you with it!" Kaoru ranted. Even if she wasn't that close to Enishi, Kaoru still didn't want him to die. There was enough brutality in the world at the moment, even without the man's death.
"Actually I've got a favour to ask of you regarding it." He pointed to the gun. "My neighbour's seen me few times with it. He's an old man but holds grudge against me. He thinks I dishonoured his daughter by refusing his arranged marriage offer. Sooner or later he will tell Germans about me hiding it. I'm sure-"
"That is why you should have given them the damned thing while they were collecting all the guns." Kaoru hissed interrupting Enishi.
"You don't understand! I'm not a farmer, I can't grow anything! And I'm not sitting on a pile of money like you! I was always a hunter and I'm still a hunter now!" The man was furious and Kaoru could see veins popping on his forehead. "If I gave them my gun I wouldn't be able to survive and I'm very passionate about not starving to death! Besides I'm not the only one! I bet even Megumi hides a pistol under her bed!"
Kaoru couldn't argue. It was true that Megumi was hiding a gun, even if the German officer was living with them now. Her sister claimed that there was no way to know what could come to his mind. The way he was now might also turn out to be only a façade hiding a horrible personality beneath. If it turned out this way they were only three women in the house, without a gun they couldn't put up a serious fight.
"Anyway, back to the point." Enishi seemed to calm down. "Can you tell the lieutenant living with you that if he hears something about this, he'd just brush it off?"
"But I don't talk to him." This wasn't completely a lie. Kaoru doubted that greetings counted as talking and she just chose to ignore the whole thing that happened today.
"That's not what I heard." He had this knowing look in his eyes as he said those words. Kaoru opened her mouth, about to speak in her defence, when Enishi started speaking again. "At least promise that you'll try." He sounded angry, yet almost desperate.
"I will think about it." Kaoru promised and got up. She doubted that she would be able to shy away from reality once more, even if Enishi left her alone. Besides it was almost curfew anyway.
Kaoru's clothes were extremely dirty and she wasn't able to even see her shoes. It seemed as if the layer of mud directly covered her feet. As she made her way through the town her appearance attracted a lot of curious looks and even judging stares. Those eyes burning into her made her feel extremely uncomfortable, hence she decided to get out of the main street the moment she got a chance. Kaoru was about to go through the gap between the houses when she saw Yahiko running in her direction at full speed.
"Good thing I caught you before curfew!" He shouted and Kaoru yelped at the surprise.
Yahiko was a ten year old brat. A lot of people said to her that they were similar, but both physically – he had black hair and brown cat like eyes – and mentally she saw no likeness whatsoever. After his parents had died the butcher took him in. The old butcher had no children and cherished Yahiko as if the boy was his own son. In return, every week Yahiko helps the old man to deliver meat to the out of the town houses and usually by this time still shouldn't be back, that's why Kaoru was so surprised to see him.
"What are you doing here?" Kaoru asked stopping in her tracks.
"Well we were delivering meat and..." The boy rolled his eyes. He didn't even make an effort to talk clearly, hence Kaoru wasn't able to make out the rest of that sentence. "Anyway I have a message from Tae. She and Megumi will be staying at Megumi's mother-in-law's house. She said that the old lady came down with something bad and her maid ran away during the whole panic thing, so basically they're both stuck caring for her." Yahiko said between ragged breaths, indicating that he must have run more than one lap around the town while looking for her. Yahiko's face suddenly got serious. "You think you're gonna be alright though? Alone with that officer."
"Do not worry about me. I think I will manage somehow." Kaoru reassured the boy. "Anyway you should hurry home." Kaoru tapped two fingers on her wrist, indicating that it's almost the curfew.
While turning her back to Yahiko, Kaoru waved him goodbye. She disappeared behind the corner before the boy was able to mutter even a word.
As Kaoru walked those winding streets back to her home she started thinking about the officer. She still hadn't figured out why was her heart starting to beat faster every single time she thought about the man. Her trip to the woods failed her and she ended up reaching the gates leading to her house's back yard before she could work out something on her walk either.
She didn't need to go far into the property to notice the lieutenant, as he was playing outside with Bubi. First Kaoru smelled the smoke of his cigarette and after taking few steps to the left, so that the corner of the house would no longer interfere, she saw him pretending to throw the ball in his hand and Bubi chasing it. Kaoru laughed at Bubi's confused face as it looked in the grass for the said ball – being completely sure that the man had thrown it there – and found nothing.
The German officer seemed to have heard her laughter and turned his head in Kaoru's direction. At first he was smiling, but once he saw the state she was in, the look on his face changed into the one of horror. After seeing him completely and utterly devastated Kaoru couldn't help herself but laugh once more.
"You look as if you have been laying in the mud the whole day." He said, still lost at what to do after seeing her like this.
"Well, lots of women pay huge sums of money to enjoy mud baths and I just happen to know a place where I can do it for free." Kaoru giggled. Even she couldn't believe in what a weird mood she was.
"What a wild hostess I happen to have." The smile returned to his face again.
"Speaking of which, I advise you to go nowhere near the food you will find in the kitchen for the next few days." She spoke in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.
"Is the maid plotting to poison me?" The man joked, flicked what was left of the cigarette on the ground and trampled it. Kaoru took few steps in his direction.
"No. Neither Tae, nor my sister will be home for a while. I will need to cook for myself and it just so happens that I am not much of a cook."
"Well, I mostly eat at the soldier cafeteria set up in the government's building, so I am in the clear. Are you sure that you are okay, though? If you are not that good I could try to cook something up, but I am afraid I am nowhere as good as your maid." The smile on his face turned into a childish grin.
"There is no need to bother yourself. If I poison myself with my own cooking, at least I will know who is to blame." Kaoru took another few steps in his direction and now they were standing a meter, or so, apart.
Kaoru's heart started beating faster. The last time they were this close was when she was looking for that key in a book. Kaoru didn't know if it was the fear she was feeling at that time, but then her heart was beating just as fast then as it was now. It seemed as if every encounter with the man left Kaoru with her heart trying to escape the confinement of her chest and a confused mind.
Kenshin also took a shaky step closer to her. Now they were only centimetres apart and could feel another's warm breath on their skin. The feeling was almost erotic. Then with the back side of his hand the man moved the wet stray strands of her hair out of her face. And then Kenshin slowly kissed her, closing the distance between them. It was a slow and careful kiss, but one filled with passion. The world seemed to disappear around them leaving only that heated dance of their mouths.
Once they started running out of air, they pulled apart, but Kenshin held Kaoru close, not letting her out of his arm. His face was in her wet hair and when Kenshin took a deep breath, he smelled the woods in her hair. They both wished that the time would just stop and this moment would last forever. But time doesn't stop for anyone, not even for them, and after standing like that for few minutes they heard a soldier shouting that it's already past curfew.
Kaoru abruptly broke free from his hold and took few steps back. "We should get inside." She pointed in the direction the voice was coming from. "The curfew."
"No, let us stay here." Kenshin gripped her wrist gently. "No one will say anything to you as long as you are with me."
And Kaoru did. She stayed next to him and they talked. They talked until it got too chilly for Kaoru to stay outside but even then they didn't go inside the house. It took few hours but the cold got better of Kaoru and she started shivering. After noticing this Kenshin draped his military jackets over her shoulders and they continued talking. Their subject was nothing in particular, yet at the same time everything. They were sitting on a stone bench, right next to the back door, with Bubi sleeping at their feet. They watched stars until the first sunrays hit their eyes, forcing them to come out of the wonder filled night to reality.
It was already morning when both of them went to their beds and they managed to wake up only in the afternoon. Kenshin was mortified when he saw the time the clock placed on the windowsill next to his bed. The man knew that he will have to make quite an excuse to his superior once he reaches the government building.
On the other hand even though Kaoru woke up way past the usual time she was up, she didn't fret. It was not like there was a need for her to keep some kind of schedule anyway. After taking a bath, washing all that mud away and removing the dirtied bedsheets, she slowly picked out her dress – a red long sleeved one, with a black thin belt to go along with it. After that Kaoru did her hair and prepared to face the day ahead of her, even if there was only half of it left.
They passed each other on the stairs. The officer was rushing down like a mad man and Kaoru was slowly making her way up, as if she was taking a leisurely stroll. They managed to squeeze out their greetings when they passed each other, but weren't able to talk more, as it took only few second for Kenshin to run out of the house. Kaoru couldn't help herself but wonder if their next conversation will be filled with awkwardness due to yesterday's events.
Kaoru made her way to the piano room and unlocked the instrument's lid. She put the tiny and muddy key – unfortunately some mud seemed to get into her dress's pocket, hence the key got muddy – and put it on the floor next to piano. Kaoru did so not want to dirty the shiny surface of the piano and even if the mud on the key was already completely dry, she just couldn't bring herself to put the said key on the instrument.
At first Kaoru didn't play, only ran her fingers over the keys. Then she started playing Erik Satie's "Gymnopédie No.1". Kaoru didn't know why but every time she played or listened to any of Satie's work she felt extremely melancholic, even if the piece playing had no association with any of her life events whatsoever. She often pondered if that melancholic feeling was what Erik Satie wanted to convey while writing his music.
Another two months passed peacefully like this. During these two months Megumi moved to her mother-in-law's house. It seemed that whatever made the old lady ill was fatal and her sister didn't want to let Sano's mother die while feeling lonely.
While Megumi was packing her things she gave the pistol to Kaoru. "Take it." She said. "There will be a time you will need it more than I ever would."
Now Megumi visited her every chance she got, even though it wasn't often, and Tae worked in her house in the morning hours, devoting her time in the afternoon to help Megumi nurse the old lady.
This gave Kaoru unexpected freedom to think about why whenever the lieutenant was close, her heart was acting so weird, as well as about the kiss they shared. There was only one logical explanation – that she was in love, but Kaoru just couldn't bring herself to admit it. After all he was married and this all wasn't fair to his wife. That's why Kaoru tried to lock her feelings away, but those feather light touches and other gentle gestures Kenshin made whenever they were talking made her fall for him even harder.
Kaoru was playing the piano and Kenshin was reading "Notre-Dame de Paris" when they heard a loud banging at the back door. The German officer slammed his book shut, stood up and motioned to Kaoru to keep playing, but once Kenshin left the room she stopped playing.
Caught in the web of curiosity Kaoru followed after him, leaving a three meter gap between them. She didn't follow him all the way to the door though, when Kaoru made it down the stairs she leaned on the nearest wall and tried to listen. Unfortunately the only thing she heard was a flood of German words, which she didn't understand.
The conversation lasted a few minutes and then Kenshin was suddenly bolting in the direction of the stairs.
"I am sorry that our time was interrupted like this, but it seems that I will have to excuse myself." He spoke while climbing up the stairs. Kaoru knew that he is going up to his room to put on his military hat and jacket – the parts of his uniform he preferred not to wear around the house.
"Did something happen?!" She half-yelled after him.
"Yes, an accident. But you should not worry, I am sure that I will be able to handle it." Kenshin was finally on the second floor and only after hearing his footsteps ring out above her head Kaoru understood how erratic they were.
It only took few moments for Kenshin to be back on the stairs. He was already wearing the jacket and was holding his hat pressed between his chest and upper arm while with the other hand he skillfully tied an extremely low ponytail. The lieutenant stopped in his tracks once he was in front of Kaoru. Without saying a word he put on his hat, sneaked his arms around Kaoru and kissed her.
This kiss was only a shadow of the first one, but it still made Kaoru's knees go weak. It wasn't long before Kenshin pulled away, slowly releasing her from his gentle hold. They stared at each other for a while before the person at the door started yelling something in German. This seemed to bring back the lieutenant to reality and he bolted out of the door, leaving Kaoru gasping for air.
At the evening of the same day Megumi visited Kaoru. This visit was a surprise to her, since whenever Megumi would have free time to visit Tae would give her heads up during the breakfast and this morning the maid hadn't mentioned anything.
"I got an unexpected chance. My sister-in-law decided to drop by without saying anything beforehand, hence I have a free evening." Her sister said while taking wine glasses out of the dish cabinet above the sink. These glasses were made of green glass and couldn't even begin compare to those glasses that they hid, which could only be described as delicate works of art.
Once Megumi put down the items on the table, she went into the basement and returned holding a bottle of red Château d'Yquem. Kaoru gave her sister a questioning look, once the woman started pouring the wine into the glasses.
"Hard times are coming." Megumi sighed filling up her glass to the rim.
"What do you mean by that?" Kaoru inquired with the same look of puzzlement in her eyes.
"Do not tell me, that you have not heard anything." Megumi said sarcastically and when the expression on Kaoru's face didn't change she continued. "The Germans found out that Enishi was hiding a gun." She sat down and took a sip of her wine. "Of course, Enishi is not the kind of person to go down without a fight, so he shot one of the soldiers and ran. They say that the shot was of true hunter, it pierced the soldier's heart and he died instantly. And you know who is leading the search party?" Megumi took put down her glass, took out a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket and fished for a lighter in her other pocket. She lit one of the cigarettes and inhaled the toxic fumes deeply. "He." She said and Kaoru instantly knew who she was talking about. "The rumour is, that the Germans are going to search every single house in town. It might not be true, but you should hide the gun I gave you in a place where no one would find."
They finished the whole wine bottle before Megumi left. "Mother-in-law bribed her way out of this whole thing, so I am going to sleep there. I hope you do not mind." She said.
It wasn't even the curfew when Kaoru flopped down on her bed, not even bothering to undress. She felt guilt towards that soldier who got killed, as well as towards Enishi. This guilt was eating her alive. She shouldn't have forgotten about Enishi. He reached out to her a long time before this mess and if she would have just talked to Kenshin, this would have prevented the death of an innocent person.
Kaoru wrapped the blanket on her bed, around herself and just lied there, tortured by those guilty thoughts, unable to fall asleep.
She heard the front door open at dawn. Kaoru listened to the creaking sound of the wooden floor as heavy boots took rushed steps on it. She was sure that the person was Kenshin and she felt this giant need to go out of the room and talk to him. But no matter how much she wanted she remained unmoved on her bed.
When the back door closed, making the creaking sound, about an hour and a half had passed since Kenshi's return. The lieutenant was the one to use them to leave. From the short time of the man's stay Kaoru understood that the matter still hasn't been resolved, hence she stayed in the bed, letting the guilt consume her even further.
When Tae came to make breakfast, Kaoru was still unmoving in her bed and she resisted the maid sweet talking her into getting up. By the time Kaoru made it out of bed – and somehow miraculously made it out of her room – it was already late noon. She thought that Kenshin was still out, as Kaoru didn't hear him coming in, but found out about his presence in the house when she almost fainted straight into his arms.
"Are you okay?" Kenshin inquired softly.
"I am perfectly fine." Kaoru shook his hands off herself.
"Had trouble falling asleep?" He asked again. Kaoru looked up at Kenshin's face and noticed that he himself had dark bags under his eyes.
"Megumi came over. She told me about that matter." She started.
"Oh." The man's face got grim.
"I also heard that you are leading the search party and I was extremely worried about you."
Those words weren't completely a lie. There truly was a voice in the back of her mind repeating how dangerous of a man Enishi is, and that if Kenshin ends up face to face with him, there's no guarantee that the lieutenant will be the one to survive. It's just that the feeling of guilt was stronger.
"I am going to deal with this, so there is no need for you to worry." Kenshin muttered and Kaoru wasn't sure if he was reassuring her or himself.
"But you still have not found him, right?" Kaoru stared at Kenshin's face, looking for any sign of disagreement, but saw none. "Then what if you never find him?"
"Then I will get punished." The man whispered.
"What kind of punishment?"
"The one like on the posters." His voice grew weary and Kaoru could see the words 'PUNISHED BY DEATH PENALTY' in red bold letters flash in her mind.
After asking Kaoru not to leave the house until the perpetrator is caught, or at least for the next few days, Kenshin left. Now Kaoru wallowed not only in her guilt but also the dread of the possibility that she might lose the love she only recently found.
Kaoru slowly went to the kitchen, made herself a cup of coffee and ate the meal Tae had left for her. After finishing this process, which surprisingly brought her no joy whatsoever, Kaoru just sat at the table and watched the clock tick. She desperately wanted to think about something else, but couldn't divert her mind from that mess with Enishi.
"Even if someone ends up sheltering him, there is no way they will give him up" A tiny voice in her head whispered. "People do hate Enishi, that is true, but they hate Germans more."
Kaoru pressed her temple trying to shut the voice up.
"You are partly to blame for this mess anyway. Should you not deal with it yourself?" It continued and Kaoru realised that everything the tiny voice in her head said was true.
Suddenly it hit her. She knows what needs to be done and she will do it herself if she needs to.
Kaoru took a deep breath and stood up. It was far too sudden movement for her tired consciousness, hence her feet got tangled up and she almost fell down right after standing up. It took few moments for Kaoru to realise that the only reason why she didn't fall down was her hand subconsciously moving and gripping the edge of the table to provide her body at least this little bit of support. Kaoru's sluggish mind came to a conclusion, that she needs to sleep. It doesn't need to be long, maybe few hours, so that she would regain her physical strength. Without strength Kaoru doubted that she would be able to do what her mind was set on doing.
Kaoru awoke to the sound of German soldier going past her house, announcing that it's already ten minutes past the curfew, and shouting at people who still had their lights on. She got out of her bed. Kaoru's head was still drowsy from sleep and she didn't feel as well rested as she hoped she would. Kaoru looked every room in the house for Kenshin, but found no indication that he was there.
Once completely sure that Kenshin was not home, Kaoru started brainstorming where she could find Enishi. Kaoru knew that she didn't know that man well enough to predict him and there was something soul crushing about that realisation.
After thinking for quite a while, the only conclusion Kaoru came to was that Enishi might be hiding in their childhood play spot in the woods. It was an abandoned bunker, left over from the World War I. It was no longer usable since all of the moisture in the woods started eating away the concrete and wild animals were making it into their lair. It would be perfect place for Enishi to hide, since Kaoru doubted that the Germans even knew of it's existence.
Kaoru snuck out through the back door, covered by the night's darkness. She was glad that tonight was a moonless night making her dangerous outing less noticeable.
It started to drizzle by the time she reached the woods and when she first caught glimpse of the abandoned bunker it was already raining pretty hard. Kaoru was so drenched, it looked as if she had taken a bath with her clothes on.
When Kaoru reached the bunker, at first she didn't notice Enishi. As a matter-of-fact, it was so dark in the concrete room she could hardly make out her fingertips whenever she stretched her arm. Once Kaoru was close enough to the rear wall to touch it without stretching her arms out too much, she heard the sound of bullets being put into a double barrelled gun.
"What are you doing here?" A harsh voice said. It was Enishi.
"Looking for you." Kaoru replied calmly. "I just found out about that mess and I just happen to know a place where you can hide."
"You're just gonna give me up to your German officer, aren't ya? I'm not that stupid, you know." The man harshly whispered. There was no sound of him putting away the gun.
"Do you think I would have come here when it was raining, in the dead of the night, if I wanted to hand you over to him? Surely if you ran from me in the middle of the day, when the sun was shining, it would be a lot more easier for me to catch you." The words came out a bit rushed and Kaoru breathed deeply to calm herself down once more. "You know, I feel guilty for not being able to prevent this mess, so I am offering my help now."
"And where do you plan on hiding me? I'm pretty sure those Nazis gonna search every spot where I could possibly hide."
"You are not forgetting that my family has lived in that house for a long time, are you?" Kaoru puffed out her chest in pride, even if Enishi wasn't able to see it. "There is a secret room built by my grandfather after the 1870s war. No one would suspect you to be hiding right under the house where the lieutenant himself is staying."
Kaoru heard the sound of Enishi putting away his gun. "Let's get on with it then. I haven't eaten in two days." He got up and left the room before Kaoru could even mutter another word.
Once again, Kaoru didn't even try to go to sleep that night. After providing Enishi with food cooked by Tae, which she didn't manage to consume herself, she planned on staying up all night waiting in Kenshin's room for the said German. Kaoru occupied herself by reading a book, hoping that this will help her not to fall asleep. It was one of the books from Kenshin's personal collection and Kaoru didn't even bother reading it's title.
"You should go to your own room." Kaoru heard a gentle whisper which was followed by a pat on her shoulder of equal delicacy.
Kaoru looked through the window only to realise that it's already morning. She didn't feel herself drifting off last night at all and this showed just how hungry for sleep her body truly was. Kaoru put the book, which she was reading prior to falling asleep, on the table next to her. Kenshin also seemed extremely exhausted and she pitied the man.
"Have you slept at all tonight?" Kaoru inquired as she watched the lieutenant look for something in his drawers.
"I am afraid, I was able to allow myself only few hours of sleep." He smiled weakly.
"I have something to show you." The words that came out of Kaoru's mouth were barely audible and Kenshin didn't seemed to hear her, hence she repeated them, only this time a lot louder and with more confidence. "I have something to show you."
Kenshin raised his eyebrow in question.
"But first." Kaoru sluggishly stood up and pointed at his shoes. "Take them off."
Kenshin slowly did as he was told, looking at Kaoru with the curiosity and puzzlement still present on his face. After finishing the task, the man followed Kaoru to her room. Here she dug up the revolver hidden under her mattress and watched Kenshin's face changed in surprise.
"I know." She whispered. "I only found out about it when Megumi gave it to me before leaving." Kaoru lied and it surprised her how naturally it came to her. "Handing it in now would raise too many questions so I kept it."
Kaoru carefully made her way down the stairs, keeping the gun behind her back. When they were in the kitchen she motioned Kenshin to hide somewhere and he fit himself in tight space between the wall and a five storeyed shelf which used to be filled with expensive china. Kaoru handed him the gun and opened the creaking door to the basement, making her inside and moving few empty wooden boxes, uncovering another door.
"Breakfast time! If you do not eat before that German comes back, you will end up starving the whole day!" Kaoru shouted and heard a loud groan in response. "Come on, move it!" She shouted again and banged on the door.
The door opened and sleepy Enishi walked out of the tiny, candle lit room. He yawned and stretched while limping after Kaoru to the kitchen.
"What's on the menu?" Enishi asked while rubbing his eye.
"The same thing as yesterday. Tae comes in at nine and now it's six at best." Kaoru retorted. She thought that Enishi was not particularly paying attention to her movements so she motioned to Kenshin to come out. Kaoru was sure that her movement was barely noticeable, but moments after making it she felt Enishi's breath on her neck and his hand painfully squeeze her wrist.
"I was right." He hissed out and Kaoru felt her heart start to beat faster. "You didn't think I was unarmed, now did you?" Enishi said as he pulled out a military style knife from his pocket and put it to Kaoru's throat.
Kaoru felt – truly felt – blood rushing in her veins of the first time in a lot of years. Probably the first time since her mother's death. It was a dreaded feeling that made Kaoru practically smell death and feel it with every inch of her body.
She caught herself thinking why she didn't feel this when she found out about her father's death. It wasn't like their relationship was cold. Maybe because the concept of death was no longer as foreign to her as when she was a little girl and her mother passed away?
'Then why now?' A tiny voice in her head whispered.
'Because I do not want to die.' Kaoru admitted to herself and felt her felt her eyes fill with unshed tears.
"I noticed you, so you'd better come out now or I will slice her like a piece of cake!" Enishi shouted and brought Kaoru back from her thoughts.
Kenshin came out from the corner he was hiding in. He seemed fairly calm, his hands were behind his back.
"Why do you bother using a woman as a shield? Are you that much of a coward?" Kaoru realised that the tone of voice Kenshin was using now, was completely different from his usual one. When she looked at his eyes even those orbs seemed different – a lot colder. Those eyes looked like they were the eyes of a man who has seen countless deaths and has committed half of them.
"You think I'm stupid? The moment I release her, you're gonna put a bullet in my head at best." Enishi laughed roughly.
"If I had a gun on me, I could have shot you already." Kenshin retorted.
"If you cared about her life you wouldn't've."
"She really has nothing to do with this." The German hissed out.
"Oh, really?" Enishi replied with a laugh.
Just as Kenshin was about to say something, a loud banging on the back door, followed by something being said in German, resonated throughout the house. Enishi turned his head, giving his full attention to the door, but Kaoru's eyes stayed glued on Kenshn. She watched as the man before her pulled out Megumi's gun from behind his back and pointed the barrel towards Enishi's head. As Kenshin pulled the trigger she saw his eyes beg her not to look.
Kaoru didn't close her eyes. She watched as the bullet flew past her, as Enishi's blood splattered leaving a bloody trail on her own face and shoulder. She could feel the man's hold on her relax, until his hands were completely off her. Kaoru then looked at the bloodied part of her upper arm and Enishi's distorted face. She could swear that she saw his brain matter.
There was more shouting in German and a sound of something breaking. 'The door.' Kaoru realised.
Warm hands gently grabbed her forearms and Kenshin was whispering something to her. Kaoru wanted to ask him why was he talking to her in German, knowing full well that she understands nothing of the language, until she realised that he was actually talking in French and his words just seemed to lose their meaning before they reached her.
Even if Kaoru always considered herself a strong person, she marvelled at how she was still standing on her own two feet and not fainting into Kenshin's outstretched arms. Though everything did seem just so red.
The gentle whispers coming from Kenshin continued and Kaoru could still feel the blood rushing in her veins. Soon soldiers wearing German uniforms – they seemed to be the ones previously banging on the door – and carried out the body, while Kenshin whisked Kaoru away to her room. She didn't hold out long with Kenshin rubbing her back and softly whispering to her, while she lied cradled in his lap, before falling asleep.
When Kaoru woke up Kenshin was already gone and Tae was sitting next to her. The maid said that Kaoru was out for four days, due to physical and emotional exhaustion, as well as shock and promised that Megumi will be back in few hours.
Her father's study was wiped clean of Kenshin's existence. The only thing which proved Kaoru that she wasn't making the said man up was the note the German soldier left on the last page of "Notre-Dame de Paris".
"I do not know when You will wake up, so I am leaving this note. At least I hope it is you who is reading this.
A lot of troops are being urgently dislocated from France to Russia and mine is one of them. We leave in two days.
I do not know when and how this war is going to end, but I promise you that when it is over I will come to find you. By that time you might be already married to some guy and have one or two children. If so happens, I will leave after seeing you wholeheartedly smile. I will disappear just like the harsh winds of winter disappear every spring.
However, if this future scenario will not be true, I will knock on your door and patiently wait for you to open. When you do so, you will ask me who I am and what do I want, not recognizing me, who will be completely different from the person you were used to seeing. I will smile while saying your name and introduce myself. You will return the smile and let me in, maybe even play the piano for me again.
But this is only going to happen when the war is over.
When Kaoru asked Tae about the troop, she only replied that they left this morning, with a smile playing on her lips.
Three years passed by and the war was finally over. Now Kaoru was living alone, with Tae working only for her. Megumi had left her childhood home once more, after Sano came back from the labour camp alive and in one piece. He didn't make it to his mother's funeral and that lit a fire of guilt in his heart, but that didn't stop them from living happily in the old lady's house.
Another four years had passed before Kenshin knocked on Kaoru's door one morning. By this time Kaoru still hadn't found her significant other, but had a brother-sister relationship with Yahiko and was living with him due to the butcher passing away a year back, and Megumi was now pregnant with her and Sano's first child.
Once Kaoru opened that door she immediately recognized Kenshin, even if he promised that she wouldn't. By the time the smile on Kenshin's lips was that of a very broken man and the look on Kaoru's face was that of a very cold woman, for too much time had passed and they met too long ago for either of them to stay the same as they used to be. But this no longer needed to be a secret affair with no declarations of love and their feelings no longer needed to be expressed in only fleeting gestures. Now their romance could begin anew, healing the scars that heated dance with death has left them with.