In The Arms of The Beholder

by Kagayaki Ame

 

Chapter One: Rose Among Thorns

 

            Kaoru followed Kenshin through the market. She loved shopping with him. It gave her a reason to watch him for long periods of time and she was familiar with every movement he made now. The way his face looked when he found the perfect radish or the way the sinewy muscles in his arms flexed as he felt for the perfect tomato. Such deft fingers. Often she wondered what it would be like to be handled by his careful fingers. The thought made her blush. She knew Kenshin cared for her but she doubted if it was in that way. He cared for her like an older brother would for his younger sister, not a desired lover, and she was grateful for that at least.

            Besides, she thought, Kenshin’s probably seen more beautiful women than I in his life. He’s probably even had a few of them…

            Kaoru shook her head. She hated to think that way. It was depressing. But she couldn’t help thinking that he might show more interest in her if she was… prettier. More feminine…

            Kaoru sighed. She didn’t know how to be. She was a tomboy. She’d never been very feminine – or at least not more so than she already was by nature. She could do kendo. She could do budo and wave around a bokken. She couldn’t cook. She couldn’t dance. She couldn’t flirt. She couldn’t do any of that pretty stuff, or if she could and did, she wasn’t aware of it. She sighed again, depressed fully now.

Kenshin noticed Kaoru’s change of mood – he was very sentient to her emotions. She’d gone from happy to desperately sad in a matter of moments. It bothered him when she subjected herself to these bouts of depression.

“Is there anything wrong, Kaoru-dono? He asked looking into her eyes.

Kaoru’s heart simmered at the steady glance. She felt a little better already. “Nothing, Kenshin.”

Kenshin smiled and watched her sideways. “Hmm… you’re lying.”

Kaoru’s cheeks reddened a bit and she averted her eyes trying to find something else to talk about… anything… Her eyes rested on a group of very excited girls gathering around something or someone. “What’s that?”

Kenshin followed her gaze. “I don’t know.”

They finished shopping and passed the group on the way home. Kaoru could see now that a very handsome man stood among them. He wore a western style suit that looked finer than any she’d ever seen. He had an expensive carriage behind him along with a driver. He must be very rich, she mused, eyes sparkling. Next to him a very beautiful woman in a fine satin kimono held a sign that read: Searching for young girls with potential to become models of grace and beauty for the Kurokami school.

A model. Kaoru began to feel depressed again. She surely wasn’t model material. She had no poise. No grace. Nothing a handsome man like he was looking for. More importantly, nothing Kenshin was looking for…

Her spirits fell again and she sulked all the way home.

Kurokami Shouri watched the pretty, onyx-haired girl walk away behind a short red-haired man and was captivated. Such sadness, such youthful sorrow. She was immaculate…

“Ame, find out who that girl is and let me know where I can find her at once. She’s perfect.”

The beautiful girl next to him nodded and gracefully put down the sign and followed an inconspicuous distance behind the girl. She didn’t quite see what Kurokami-san saw in the girl but he was a miracle worker. He’d taken the filthy farm girl she once was and had transformed her into the poised, proper, well read, pretty and graceful woman she was now. Fit for nothing more and nothing less than a noble marriage…

Ame followed the two to a large but slightly run down dojo just outside of town. They were greeted by a tall, strong, tree of a man; a little runt of a boy; two adorable girls; an older man; and a very beautiful woman dressed in doctors clothing. Perhaps Kurokami-san would be interested in her as well…

She retreated to report to him.

 

*           *           *           *           *

 

Kaoru was still in a foul mood the next day, which was bad for Yahiko, whom she took it out on in practice.

“No, baka-desshi! Stand like this!” she corrected his stance.

“You’re being unusually mean today, busu. What, is it that time of the month?”

Kaoru turned beet red and promptly began thrashing Yahiko for speaking to her in such a manner.

Kenshin watched the scene from over the clothesline with a little smile. There was a strange comfort in the familiarity of their situation. He knew Kaoru was still in a bad mood since yesterday and he wasn’t entirely sure why. He figured it must have something to do with the seeming lack of interest with which he treated her as far as matters of the heart were concerned. But he consoled himself that she was better off without him. She deserved more than he could offer her, even if he offered all of himself. She deserved something and someone as pure as she was – and pure he was not…

He was the first to see the tall, dark and handsome figure of the man from the market enter the Kamiya dojo gates. He watched the man warily who did not take his piercing blue eyes from Kaoru’s form. He studied her with a strange interest and Kenshin felt something flare up within himself… was it… jealousy? Kenshin hardened instantly. Whatever it was he did not like the way the man’s eyes roamed over Kaoru.

Shouri advanced stealthily. Kaoru was so into thrashing Yahiko that she didn’t notice. “Excuse me,” his voice reverberated, deep and sensuous.

Kaoru stopped abruptly and turned her gaze slowly to the man. She couldn’t hold a tiny gasp in as she took in his attractive countenance. She dropped Yahiko and stood taller. She smiled and bowed. “I’m sorry, can I help you?”

“I just wanted to tell you, I think you’re absolutely, perfectly beautiful. Breathtaking…” he drawled, eyes raking over her.

They were all speechless, even Kaoru.

She looked down at herself. She was in her practice clothes that were messy because she’d been fighting Yahiko, she was sweaty, she was sure she smelled of perspiration and she didn’t even want to think about her hair… “Me?” she squeaked, unable to articulate anything else.

Yahiko rubbed his head. “Yeah, are you sure you’re seeing right, mister? You can’t be talking about busu here…”

Kaoru kicked Yahiko and looked indignant.

“I assure you, I can see very well. But surely anyone with half an eye can tell that this lovely creature is perfection in motion.“ He touched her cheek. Kaoru’s eyes sparkled, totally swept off of her feet. She smiled brilliantly at him.

Kenshin bristled. How dare this man touch Kaoru like that? Look at her like that?! Cause her to look at him like that?!? His Kaoru!!! He stopped himself. She wasn’t his. But that didn’t stop him from saying something.

“It’s impolite to be anywhere for so long without introducing one’s self,” he nearly growled, clenching the wet laundry.

Shouri looked over. He’d barely noticed the red head from the previous day. “Oh, I do apologize. I’m Kurokami Shouri. I run the Kurokami finishing school for young women. I can turn any girl into the perfect lady - a model for all women to follow. It would be a simple pleasure to do so with anyone such as this lovely flower here. Is she your… wife?”

Kenshin loathed what he was about to say more than anything in the world. “No, she’s not.”

Shouri looked pleased. Kenshin wanted nothing more than to slap the look off of his face. “Oh. Your sister then?”

“I’m the assistant master of this dojo. That’s my student and Kenshin lives here,” Kaoru said finding her voice, eyes never leaving Shouri.

“Not only natural grace and beauty, but you have ambition as well. You may not require my services.” He smiled charmingly.

“What services?” Sanosuke asked coming out of the dojo.

“Finishing school. Allow me to bring out your natural, inner grace, my dear. What is your name?”

“Kaoru. Kamiya Kaoru,” she breathed.

“Lovely. Please consider my offer. Just come by my school tomorrow at noon and take a look. If you’re interested, I’ll give you lessons for no charge at all.”

“Okay,” she breathed.

He caressed her jaw line with delicate fingers. “When I’m finished with you, you’ll be the number one model in my school…” he took her hand and kissed it. Sano held Kenshin back with a firm grip. “Good day, Kamiya Kaoru.” With that he stalked out of the yard.

 

*           *           *           *           *

 

To be continued…

In The Arms of the Beholder

by Kagayaki Ame

 

Chapter Two: Pygmalion

 

Kaoru rang the bell at the gates of the Kurokami Finishing School and waited nervously. She still couldn’t fully grasp what she was doing or what had happened to her the previous day. Shouri made her feel… precious… perfect. It was only for a brief moment but she felt the need to feel the sensation again. It was addictive…

The doors opened and before her stood the beautiful girl from the market. She smiled at Kaoru prettily.

“Welcome, Kamiya-dono. Kurokami-san has been anxiously awaiting your arrival.” Her voice was soft and even, her appearance immaculate. She wore a white satin kimono trimmed in silver with large azure sakura printed on it. A large white rose perched on the side of her head behind her ear. Her lips were cherry red.

“I- I’m not late, am I?” Kaoru stammered. Would Kurokami really be able to transform her into this?

“Not at all. Right this way.” The girl inclined her head with such grace that Kaoru likened her to the most reverent of swans. She followed her through the vast lawns sprawling before the Victorian style building that was the Kurokami Finishing School. She felt clumsy and awkward compared to the girl who seemed to float gracefully ahead.

Inside she couldn’t hold back her amazement. The house was richly decorated with fineries from Japan as well as from all over the world. There were many other girls milling about that watched Kaoru with curiosity and something else she couldn’t quite name…

Before she could place it she was being ushered up the stairs to Kurokami’s offices. The girl turned abruptly and Kaoru almost ran into her.

“Wait here a moment, if you please. I have to announce you.”

“Oh, okay,” Kaoru said in a thin voice. She’d never been announced before.

Ame turned and smiled a little smile. She knew what the girl was feeling. This is only the beginning, she thought silently. Prepare to be finished, primped, propered, pampered and spoiled into nothingness.

 

“She’s here,” Ame said evenly. Shouri stood at the window overlooking his lawns like a proud king. He was the kind of man you’d hate to love and love to hate. He could make you think the Gods were wrong to color the sky blue and convince you that the grass was any other hue than green. He was handsome and charming and smart. Oh, he was so very smart, Ame thought ruefully.

“Ah, yes,” Shouri turned to Ame and with the ever present charm about him asked, “what do you think of her?”

Ame smiled properly not without a hint of cynicism and replied, “She is remarkable. The best yet, I would say. It will not take much effort on your part to make her a lady as she is already quite enthralled with you.”

Shouri didn’t miss the purpose in Ame’s tone. He smiled and maintained his even gaze. “Yes. But do you think she’ll be the one?”

Ame mused and looked directly into his eyes. “Well, I have been wrong before, after all,” she turned her head pointedly, “I thought I was the one for awhile.”

Shouri chuckled a bit and came toward her to caress her cheek. Ame closed her eyes unable to resist the power in his simple touch. “Ah, Ame. You never really loved me. You loved what I did for you.”

She forced herself away from him. He was too close… intoxicatingly too close. “Love and loathing… you made the two one, Shouri,” she whispered. “I will send her in.” She turned and Shouri smiled at her from behind as though she were some sort of petulant child.

 

Kaoru stood when Ame came out and held the door open for her. “Are you alright?” she asked detecting Ame’s unease.

Ame smiled perfectly and said, “I am well. Kurokami-san will see you now.”

“Arigatou, umm…”

“Ame. Sakura Ame. And you’re welcome.”

Kaoru watched her float away before entering the office.

“I am pleased that you’ve decided to consider my school. Are you impressed?” Shouri’s deep voice shook her to the core. He stood by the window, hands behind him, smiling. Kaoru felt his gaze upon her and blushed. It was both exciting and strange to feel so… admired. “You’re blushing. Why?”

Kaoru struggled to find the words. Part of her was simply amazed that another man could make her feel this way. The same part was doubly amazed that he had any interest in her at all. “You’re watching me… it makes me nervous.”

Shouri chuckled again and stalked toward her. He slowly prowled around her like a stealthy cat hunting its’ prey. “Nervous? Why, you act as if no one has ever admired you before…”

Kaoru flushed deeper and said a bit sadly, “No one has.”

“Nonsense.” He stopped in front of her. “You simply haven’t allowed yourself to notice. That’s what I want to teach you, Kaoru. To be what all women want to be… beautiful… desirable… you have these qualities. I’m just here to bring them out. I will show you the ways to speak, act, dress, and carry yourself to achieve your full femininity. Surely you have someone you want to impress with these qualities.” He held her chin up with his delicate touch. Kaoru felt hypnotized by his gaze. “Someone who has been taking you for granted perhaps…”

Kaoru gulped unable to do anything else.

“Tell me, my flower. What would you like most for me to help you with? I could tell you longed for something when I saw you in the market…”

“I want… I… want…”

“You can have anything and everything you want… if you let me teach you…”

His voice was so soft… so convincing. Kaoru closed her eyes and sighed. “I want you to make me beautiful. I want him to want me…”

Shouri raised an amused eyebrow. “Him? Well, now were getting somewhere. You, my flower, will start your lessons today.”

 

*           *           *           *           *

 

Kenshin tried to be inconspicuous as he waited for Kaoru to arrive home that night. He’d swept the patio a million times, so much so that his nervous strokes had left slight grooves in the wood. When he noticed them before sunset he decided to sand them out. After the entire dojo floor had been sanded and Kaoru still wasn’t back yet he sat on the steps and stared out at the gate, sakabatou in hand.

He didn’t like Kurokami Shouri. He didn’t like the effect he had on Kaoru. She didn’t need finishing school. To him she was perfect the way she was. What’s so wonderful about that guy anyway, he thought stubbornly.

He isn’t afraid to tell Kaoru what he thinks of her, that’s what.

Kenshin sighed. His slow pace had finally caught up with him as he knew it would. He didn’t imagine that Kaoru would fall so easily into another’s grasp, though.

He shook his head. Who said she’d fallen into anything at all?  She was only going to the school, not getting married. But something inside told him that it wasn’t that simple anymore. She’d been acting oddly with him lately and if she was feeling neglected by him, she would obviously find any man who found interest in her more appealing. He was just concerned that she would truly fall for the suave young man who was much taller, just as handsome if not more so, and so very persuasive...

He stood up quickly when an expensive looking carriage pulled into the practice yard. The coachman got up and opened the door.

He gasped when Kaoru emerged wearing a fine light blue kimono instead of the lavender one she left in that after noon. It was carefully folded over her arm. Instead of her normal ponytail she wore an intricate bun with decorative chopsticks protruding from the side. She even donned a bit of lipstick.

Kenshin had to admit, already she looked more… he hated to say feminine because she was always the center of femininity to him. But there was something a bit nobler about her…

“I will be here tomorrow morning to pick you up, Kamiya-dono,” the coachman said bowing slightly.

“Arigatou,” Kaoru said smiling the way she’d learned today. Pleasant, not overbearing…

 

She turned as the carriage drove off and stopped when she saw Kenshin watching her. She blushed. He’d never looked at her like that before. He looked at her the way Shouri did…

“I, ah, didn’t expect to be so late…” she said demurely trying to walk steadily.

Kenshin swallowed. “Are you hungry? I made dinner…”

Kaoru shook her head. “No, thank you. I’ve already eaten at school…” Kaoru’s heart twisted to see actual hurt in Kenshin’s eyes. She tried to tell herself, this was all for him. He would appreciate it one day. It was not in vain… “I’m going to just go to bed, Kenshin… Goodnight.”

Kenshin tried to smile. It didn’t quite work. “Goodnight, Kaoru-dono.”

Kaoru smiled weakly and hurried past him to her room. She kept telling herself that it was all for him. It would all pay off…

Kenshin walked slowly to the kitchen. There was something different in her eyes when she looked at him just then. Almost like… regret. That hurt him. He looked at the dinner he’d been keeping warm for her. He put it away. Perhaps Yahiko would want it tomorrow. To think she regretted spending time with him instead of being with someone like Kurokami was too much for him. He didn’t bother to brush away the tear that escaped the corner of his eye. He blew out the candles and went to his own room. He didn’t sleep well that night…

 

*           *           *           *           *

 

For a month the routine went on. Kaoru left in the morning and came home late at night. Yahiko’s lessons were being ignored and Kenshin barely saw her. The others saw her even less. The only reason Kenshin saw her at all was because he waited up for her at night. But each night the look in her eyes changed. She was changing into the lady Kurokami promised she would be. She was changing into the lady Kurokami wanted her to be. She was changing into Kurokami’s lady.

 

“So does he notice and appreciate the changes in you, my flower?” Kurokami asked one day at the end of her etiquette lessons. Kaoru sat dutifully at the end of the table, hands folded in her lap. She was the picture of perfection, the childish tomboy she once was a simple hint of a memory long forgotten. She wore the finest silk Kurokami could buy, her kimono a deep blue matching the blue of her eyes, white rosebuds woven into her hair. Her face was pure and her skin was soft and glowing as a result of the extensive skin care he subjected her to. Her lips were as red as blood.

“We… don’t talk much anymore.”

Shouri knelt next to her and caressed her cheek. “And that saddens you, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” she answered softly. The truth of it was, she thought going through this would make Kenshin more responsive to her, but he only seemed more distant. Partly, she told herself, it was her own fault. She was never home. She had neglected everything. But she convinced herself that it was worth it to make Kenshin want her.

“That is not all that troubles you, my sweet.” Kurokami whispered, his warm breath against her ear making her tremble. “Tell me what weighs so heavily upon your mind…”

“I have been neglecting my responsibilities for too long...”

“You are concerned about your dojo as well. I see. Well I wanted to propose something. How about if I offer you enough money to repair the entire thing so that when you return you may run it more efficiently?”

Kaoru turned to him, eyes wide. “I can’t accept such a favor. However would I pay you back?”

Shouri smiled his most enchanting of smiles and his caress moved to her neck. “It is a gift…”

Kaoru weakened. Lately Shouri’s attentions had become more ardent… she was beginning to be confused about his politeness. He seemed to want more from her than she could offer him. He wanted parts of her she wanted to give only to Kenshin. But he never asked. It was like he wanted her to just give it to him… He conjured all sorts of thoughts in Kaoru’s mind. Some that frightened her… to think she could want another man… her eyes fluttered and she slightly moved out of his magnetic touch.

Shouri leaned into her and whispered, “He doesn’t appreciate you the way I do, Kaoru. If he hasn’t yet he never will, but I do…”

Kaoru’s heart raced. Were her thoughts so evident? She turned to him, which ultimately was a mistake. “Nani?”

Kurokami touched her lips lightly with his. “You are perfect. Perfect for me, my flower…” He deepened their kiss.

Kaoru’s mind raced. Part of her loved the feelings Shouri evoked in her. The other part hated it. It felt wrong. Wrong! Her mind screamed. She pulled away and stood up walking toward the window trying desperately to catch her breath.

Shouri smiled and decided that was enough for one day. He had her doubting herself. That was quite enough… he would take care of the rest later.

 “Tomorrow night I am having a graduation dinner here in honor of your completion of the course. You may invite all of your friends. If he sees you the way I do, then go to him. But he will not. You will see…”

Kaoru tried not to listen to him but the words stuck. If Kenshin didn’t appreciate this then he surely had no interest in her at all. It would hurt. But at least she would know…

“Arigatou. I will be there.”

 

*           *           *           *           *

 

Much later, after Kaoru had gone for the night, Ame entered Shouri’s rooms quietly. He stood at his usual place by the window and she watched him for long moments.

“You know she is in love.”

“Yes.”

“You know the man returns her love.”

“Yes.”

“And yet, you still peruse and confuse her and entice her to fall in love with you.”

“She doesn’t feel anything she doesn’t wish to feel.”

Ame frowned. “You hide behind these silly excuses. You put the responsibility on us so that you feel no guilt for your actions. For what?”

Shouri smiled. “For the pursuit of love.”

Ame scoffed. “In your search you cause heartache. Love from loathing… from pain and sadness. Why does this kind of love interest you so?”

He turned to her. Then he walked over to her and put his arms around her and looked deep into her eyes. “Because it is the purest form of love. The line between love and hate is very thin, Ame, my love.”

“Your love.” Ame’s eyes became teary. “You don’t love me. You don’t love anyone but yourself.”

“And how about you, Ame? Do you love me?”

“I hate you.” She stayed stiff in his grip and the tears began to fall from her eyes.

Shouri smiled surreptitiously with hooded eyes. “Mmm… same difference.” He kissed her deeply. Soon she softened and melted into his embrace.

 

To be continued…

 

In The Arms of the Beholder

by: Kagayaki Ame

 

***A/N: Well! I seem to have overcome my writer’s block! That whole Jou-chans and the men they love… thing really loosened me up and got my mind off of my eminent dilemma. I have two more chapters to this story now. Hopefully this one will clear up any confusion the last created. It will have total K&K interaction and lay out everyone’s mindset for the last chapters of the ficcie. So without further a-choo, heeeeere we go…

 

 

Chapter Three: Speaking Without Listening

 

            Kaoru walked into a dark and empty dojo that night. That was how she felt inside. Empty. Alone. Confused…

She pulled the ornate chopsticks from her hair, letting it fall gracefully down her silk-adorned back. She looked down at herself in the moonlight. Pretty Kimono, pretty slippers, pretty hair… pretty girl. She was everything she always thought she wanted to be. She sighed. Somehow she thought she’d be happier…

That’s because, her inner voice said, you always imagined impressing Kenshin with these qualities. Instead you’ve barely spent time with him. You barely talk anymore. And it’s because of Shouri.

But he helped you, another voice said. He made you this way and he compliments you and appreciates your hard work. Kenshin…

Kenshin doesn’t care about you the way I do, my flower, echoed Shouri’s voice. Kaoru’s knees felt weak. Even his memory disarmed her. Sometimes she liked the way Shouri made her feel. But there were the times she didn’t. She felt like her self control was stolen and all of a sudden he was her very persuasive and charming, unassuming puppet master. But he changed roles so suddenly that it left Kaoru feeling dizzy.

She walked silently to the kitchen and sat down at the table. So many things were going on in her head. So many things had changed. So many things had become difficult and confusing.

At least before when she was a tomboy, she had her head on straight, even if it was up in the clouds.

But Kenshin never appreciated you. He still doesn’t. If he did, he’d have shown it by now, the second voice said. Shouri tells you how he feels…

True, spoke the first voice. But how does he make you feel?

Kaoru put her head in her hands. She didn’t know why, but she suddenly started crying.

 

Kenshin had been watching her from the moment she walked through the gates as he always did of late. He knew something was wrong. Something had been wrong for a long time, ever since that man showed up spouting his pretty words full of promise… full of veiled deceit and ulterior motives…

His eyes sparked gold for the briefest of moments. How he hated the man. His hold over Kaoru wasn’t right. It was almost unnatural. His influence on her was even worse. Not only was she neglecting her home and student but she was also neglecting herself. Kenshin knew that. She wasn’t happy. She hadn’t smiled in so long…

And you haven’t helped, a voice said. Neither will you tell her how you feel nor help her. You don’t even talk anymore.

It’s her life. She’s not in any immediate danger that I can see, so what exactly should I do?

Rescue her from her folly. She’s obviously unhappy and you don’t trust the man- as you very well should not. Isn’t that enough?

I haven’t spoken my feelings about her in the past. To come forth now in the name of jealousy will achieve nothing. She is…

Enchanted and dazzled… and confused. It’s not real for her… You know her. She will awaken with or without you. At least you can be there to save her.

She doesn’t want to be saved by me anymore. She’s found a new hero.

The voice paused. I never remembered you being so full of excuses. Or in such demand of reason. There was a time when because was enough for you.

Kenshin closed his eyes. She deserves more than because.

On the contrary. Because might be just enough. She deserves more than silence. Go. Talk to her. She’s in need of something. At least find out what.

Kenshin rose after long moments and headed out of his room. She hadn’t lit any candles. He listened, She was in the kitchen. Was she… crying?

 

Kaoru heard footsteps and quickly wiped away her tears hoping it was too dark to see that she’d been crying.

She looked over at Kenshin as he entered. There was an odd silence between them.

“Ohayo, Kaoru-dono.”

“Ohayo, Kenshin.”

More silence. She had been crying but she hid it well, Kenshin noted.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“Hai. I’m just a little… hungry.”

“No dinner tonight?” Watch the spite, the voice warned.

Kaoru shook her head. In the confusion she’d left without eating. Her stomach growled in confirmation.

“I made some onigiri and miso-soup. It’s nothing fancy but...” Kenshin said. The voice within him sighed, exasperated. Try to keep a hold on the sarcasm, lover boy. She won’t respond to that. Save it for the one you really hate.

Kenshin heard the slight hurt in Kenshin’s voice and her heart twisted. She smiled as pleasantly as she could at him and said, “that would be lovely, thank you.”

Kenshin nodded, not looking at her. Lovely… he mumbled inwardly. He had to admit, Shouri had done a hell of a job finishing her. She was… what?… even more perfect? She was a perfect porcelain doll. Beautiful, quiet, respectful and accommodating. Kenshin preferred the tanuki, jou-chan, bokken wielding cutie she once was… at least then she had a distinct personality. His anger at Kurokami stirred as he prepared her food. He remained silent, too angry to speak.

Kaoru felt the tension rolling off of him and saddened. What had she done to make him hate her so? He wouldn’t even look at her. Then again, she wasn’t sure if she could handle the pain in his eyes again. She almost started to cry once more.

Like I said, he doesn’t appreciate you. He’s upset that another man would actually want you. He’s jealous of Kurokami and angry that you’re no longer his little number one fan. He wishes…

That’s not true, her slowly fading first voice exclaimed. Kenshin would never feel that way… he…

Kenshin placed the food in front of her with borderline briskness. He couldn’t help it. The more he thought about Kurokami, the more he wanted to slice off his head and put it on display for everyone who would ever want to change anyone ever again. “Excuse me, I’m going back to bed.” He said flatly.

Kaoru’s heart wrenched. Why did he sound that way? “Okay,” she said weakly, imminent tears making her voice waver slightly.

Before he left she whispered. “I’d like you to come to a sort of graduation dinner tomorrow at school. If… if you want to… I’d appreciate it.”

Kenshin paused. He closed his eyes biting back rage. He’d never seen Kaoru so unsure and unhappy before. It was all Kurokami’s fault. The man, he decided, would pay, and dearly. “Sure. I’ll go.” He walked away.

Good going, lover boy. You do know that you fucked up big time just now right?

I don’t care. I’ll fix everything later. She’s too broken to understand what’s going on anyway.

The voice sighed. Now you’re in deluded denial… underestimation was never something that served you well…

 

Kaoru braced her hands on the table and bent over, sobbing silently. She’d taken his tone for sarcastic scorn. It hurt. The pain shook her body in violent soundless sobs. With a weak final statement, her first voice died. He really doesn’t care anymore, it said in heartbroken resignation.

She cried for a long time letting her food get cold. She’d lost her appetite anyway. Then she finally stopped. For no reason. She wiped her eyes and cheeks and looked at the food. She got up without touching it.

Emblematically she twisted her hair up and put the chopsticks back in. “If he doesn’t appreciate me, I don’t care. Shouri does. He liked me for who I was and made me be who I wanted to be. That’s all that matters.” Her new inner self settled in comfortably.

There was no voice to point out that if Shouri really cared, he’d not have changed anything about her at all. Not her own voice. Not Kenshin’s voice…

She left the kitchen fully transformed.

 

Somewhere Kurokami Shouri smiled in his sleep…

 

*           *           *           *           *

 

To be continued…

 

In The Arms of the Beholder

by: Kagayaki Ame

 

 

Chapter Four: The Lady or The Tanuki?

 

            Kenshin woke early the next morning feeling uneasy. He knew his behavior the previous night had hurt Kaoru. His nagging inner voice wouldn’t let him sleep in peace any longer, so before sunrise he decided to begin preparing breakfast; all of Kaoru’s favorites.

            He got to the kitchen and saw the untouched food he gave her. His heart sank. A bit choked up he cleared the dinner away and hoped Kaoru would even speak to him today.

Soon after getting breakfast on the table everyone started to wander into the kitchen, drawn by the wonderful smells. Even Dr. Genzai, Ayame and Suzume joined them. But there was no sign of Kaoru. He figured she was still sleeping and went to wake her up.

“Kaoru-dono,” he said rapping gently on the frame of the shoji. No answer. He sulked a bit. She was still upset. “Kaoru-dono, I’ve made your favorite breakfast… please come out and… have…” he slid open the shoji.

Inside all he found was her neatly made futon and an empty room.

*           *           *           *           *

 

Kaoru stared blankly at her reflection in the mirror. Her face was done up perfectly in delicate makeup and rouge to make her cheeks extra rosy. Kurokami had commissioned all of his girls to attend to her for the dinner that evening.

Ame gently applied a heavy outline of black liner to Kaoru’s unblinking, expressionless eyes. She sat motionless not speaking a single word. Ame looked at her and stopped the application. “Finished. You’re done. Perfect.”

Kaoru looked slowly at her sideways, then at herself in the mirror. She was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. “Arigatou, Ame. Shouri-san should be pleased, ne?” He tone was flat and melancholy.

Ame didn’t answer for long moments, not that Kaoru noticed. She sighed despondently. She’d seen many girls fall into Shouri’s irresistible grasp but none pained her more than this one. What had once been a vibrant and fiery, even if a bit insecure, young girl was now a hollow shell of a woman. A broken, confused project for Shouri turned perfect plaything. She was his now. She was the vain manifestation of himself that he needed to make himself feel absolute and accomplished in his magnanimity. She was a solemn doll that would love him soullessly. Pretty. Perfect. Most importantly; His.

“He’s changed you. You never had a chance…”

 Kaoru turned slowly to Ame and stared into her eyes, expressionless. Nothing within her was disturbed. Ame was truly frightened to think Shouri could succeed in totally gutting this soul…

“You- you’re not the same girl anymore…”

Kaoru smiled for the first time. A small smile. A weak smile. “Of course I’m not.” She turned back to her reflection and pouted then blotted her blood red lips. “But at least I’m grateful for the changes within me.” She looked sideways at Ame with derision.

Ame gasped lightly. Before she could reply, Shouri came in.

“My love, my flower.” For a moment Ame thought that he’d been addressing them both. But he walked up behind Kaoru and caressed her neck then kissed her ear, his eyes taunting Ame. Kaoru didn’t notice and leaned into him practically purring. “Ame, I certainly hope you haven’t been filling Kaoru’s head with any of your erroneous ideas…”

“No more than you have,” Ame said reddening angrily.

Kaoru looked at her blankly. Shouri looked sickeningly amused. He touched Kaoru’s shoulder lightly. “Leave us, my pet. I will come to dress you momentarily. Get out the black satin dress I had imported yesterday from China. That is what I wish for you to wear when I present you tonight.”

Kaoru smiled a small smile and nodded. Gracefully she rose and glided from the room, sliding the doors closed behind her.

“What manner of absurdity is this?!” Ame burst as soon as she was gone.

Shouri continued to smile and gazed at Ame. “Isn’t she lovely. Perfection in motion as I said she would be. I made her…” There was a lilt to his tone that reeked of self-importance and ironic satisfaction.

“You arrogant bastard! You self-absorbed, manipulative, bastard! She’s a human being, not a puppet of your making. She is, however, unusually and exceptionally yielding towards your advances today. What have you done to her?”

“Nothing she didn’t willingly accept.”

Ame stood and clenched her fists. “You son of a bitch!”

Shouri feigned insult then smiled. “I know what’s bothering you. You feel like she’s taken your place. Don’t worry, Ame, my love. You’re all my beautiful flowers. But she’s my new bud. She needs extra care and attention. You were once like her, surely you understand.”

“You’re insane and completely delusional!” Ame screamed, irritated.

Shouri’s cheerful veneer changed instantly to a visage of rage. He gripped Ame’s wrist roughly causing her to falter on her feet. “You will not raise your voice to me, my pet. Don’t forget to whom you owe yourself. I made you. All of you! And you will respect that!” He let her go roughly and stalked from the room.

Ame shook, alone in the room. She’d never seen him like that. She knew it was her innate fear of such an instance that kept him subservient and obedient to him in the future. But things had changed. She couldn’t take any more. Not for the other girls and not for herself. She sobbed as she got to her feet. Something had to be done and she felt that the only way was through Kaoru. The Gods had sent her for a reason. And now action had to be taken. She ran from the room and out of the Kurokami School toward the Kamiya dojo…

*           *           *           *           *

 

Inside the room Kaoru had been given the previous night after leaving the Kamiya dojo, Kurokami walked toward her slowly. She stood by the window solemnly. Beautifully. Perfectly. He smiled. She was…

"…perfect,” he whispered holding her around her waist from behind. He placed open-mouthed kisses on her neck. Kaoru remained motionless and stared forward, not seeing or wishing to see. “What do you see, my flower?”

“Ame…” she whispered almost inaudibly.

“What, my pet? I don’t…” He looked down at the lawns and saw Ame running out of the schoolyard. “She is a little upset, my love. She is jealous of your superiority over her. Until you arrived, she was my favorite flower. But now,” he turned her to face him. “Now, you. You are my only favorite. My most immaculate creation.”

Kaoru stared up at him impassively but smiled pleasantly. He smiled back and kissed her deeply. Kaoru allowed him to do so.

When he was contented with kissing her he led her over to the mirror and began dressing her in the fine black garment with millions of silver sakura printed on it. It was a strange garment to Kaoru, without sleeves and a collar that buttoned diagonally from the hollow of her neck to her shoulder. It fit her closely all the way down until it met her hips where it split dramatically on both sides and stopped at the floor. It had to be the most revealing thing she’d ever worn or planned to wear in public. The old Kaoru wouldn’t have worn it. The new Kaoru wore it because Shouri wanted her to.

Shouri smiled at her when he was done. “Yes, my love. That is wonderful. Now, go and prepare for tonight.”

Kaoru inclined her head elegantly and walked from the room. “Hai, Shouri-san.”

*           *           *           *           *

 

Ame slowed as she entered the grounds of the Kamiya Dojo. There was the redheaded man folding the dried laundry and looking terribly downtrodden.

“Excuse me,” she said.

Kenshin looked up and saw the same beautiful girl from the market more than a month earlier. The one standing next to Kurokami. “Yes?” He said as politely as he could.

Ame took a deep breath. She hadn’t actually thought about what she would say once she got here. “Kaoru is in trouble.”

Kenshin’s eyes flared. “You know where she is?”

Ame said, puzzled, “yes. She’s at the Kurokami School…” When she saw the hurt in Kenshin’s eyes she continued, stepping closer to him. “She must have returned last night then… after everyone went to sleep.”

“I don’t want to hear this,” Kenshin said, eyes tearing. He turned abruptly and headed for the dojo.

“But you must. You have to help her. I don’t think anyone else can. Please,” Ame followed him.

“Kaoru knows what she wants and is old enough to make her own choices. She decided to become a lady and now she’s had enough experience to become…” Kenshin dropped the basket unable to hold the tears back. “I should have stopped her a long time ago. I should have told her I loved her a long time ago. I drove her into that… that man’s arms. And now she’s…”

Ame’s heart broke. To think how many more people he’d broken with his selfishness only made her angrier. She walked calmly over to Kenshin and took his face in one delicate hand. She made him look at her. “It is true. You may have driven her there but I can assure you that until today, she never, ever loved anyone but you. And I still believe she loves only you. But she’s in trouble because Kurokami has sucked all of the love from her. She does not love him. And if you don’t save her, she’ll never love anyone again. Not even herself.”

Kenshin looked at Ame’s calm face for long moments and then nodded. “So what can I do?”

“Did she tell you about the dinner this evening?” Kenshin nodded. “You will be my guest. This way I can fill you in on everything that has happened. Perhaps her seeing you will be enough but with the way she is now…”

Kenshin squinted slightly. “What exactly has he done to her?”

Ame looked away sadly. “It is something you will have to see to believe.”

*           *           *           *           *

 

Ame led Kenshin to the place she’d spotted Kaoru. It was the first time that night that she’d been alone. Shouri was in the middle of playing charming host and didn’t notice the void at his side.

“You must speak to her now,” Ame said gently pushing him in the direction of the balcony.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Yes you do. You’ll have to tell her everything you’ve always wanted to because this may be your last chance. Now go.” Ame turned and closed the doors to the balcony, closing them off from the party. Kenshin looked at Kaoru, her back to him. She was bathed in the light of the full moon. She looked like an angel…

He swallowed hard and walked up next to her. Kaoru held her gaze forward.

“Ohayo, Kaoru…” he started lightly. She didn’t respond. He looked at her. She seemed serene but somehow hollow. Like she couldn’t hear him or see him. “Kaoru, I wanted to apologize.”

Kaoru turned slowly to him, face expressionless but smiling slightly. “There’s nothing to apologize for, Kenshin.”

“Yes there is,” he began. “I’m sorry for never telling you how I felt about you. I’m sorry I didn’t respond when you showed how much you loved me. But most of all I’m sorry I drove you into the arms of this man. This man who deserves you far less than I do. I never should have…”

“Why? Is it because I’m perfect now, that you feel the need to express these feelings? I think you are just jealous and sadly possessive. But still, you don’t need to apologize. I’m happy.” Her tone was somber.

“Are you really? Then why don’t you smile? Laugh? Why is it that ever since you’ve started coming here you’ve seemed so sad?” he asked firmly.

“Because I so wanted you to love me, Kenshin,” a tear actually fell from her eye; the first sign of expression. “I wanted you to notice. To care. To anything. But all you did was get angrier and angrier with me. But Shouri was here for me. He loves me…”

Kenshin grasped her arms and stared into her eyes directly. “Kaoru, this is nonsense. He does not love you… I…”

Kaoru twisted from him and the tears streamed down her face. “Oh, I see. He couldn’t love me right. I am just so unlovable. Nobody loves me. Not you, not him, not anyone, right?”

“No, Kaoru, that’s not what I meant…”

“Then say what you mean, Kenshin! Tell me what you feel! I can’t take this anymore! I’ve never been so mixed up and confused!” She held her head in her hands breaking down. Every emotion she’d been holding in came flooding out with her screams.

Kenshin held her close for a long time, letting her cry. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her. And in his quest not to do so, he’d hurt her more than he knew. He pulled away and forced her to look at him. “Kaoru, I know you can be loved. You’re a wonderful person. You always were. That’s why I don’t believe Kurokami loves you because he doesn’t love you for who you are. Who you were. He had to change you. And I don’t care what you tell me, Kaoru, you are not happy.” He sighed and she continued to sob. “I know I may not have showed it Kaoru but I…”

Shouri burst out onto the balcony in a fit of rage. “Kaoru what are you doing out here?!”

Kaoru reverted back into her protective puppet’s shell and shrank out of Kenshin’s embrace. She hurried to Shouri’s side. “Gomen na sai,” she said reverently.

Kenshin couldn’t believe what he saw. He watched in awe as Kurokami gripped her wrist and forced her back inside. Then he became animated again. He rushed behind them and twisted Kaoru out of Kurokami’s grasp. “Don’t you ever touch her again, you bastard!” he practically growled.

Shouri laughed, amused. “It’s the redhead from the market! What, have you come to beg her to return to you only so you may ignore her again?”

Kenshin ignored his remark. “You will not control her anymore, do you understand me? I don’t know who you think you are but…”

“I am her true love. I adore her.”

“You adore the doll that you have made her. She’d not the same anymore and it’s your fault.”

“Not my fault, my doing. She is perfect and you can’t stand it, can you?”

“What I can’t stand is your attitude. To think that you can do as you please with any of these girls. You find the vulnerable and impressionable ones and suck the souls out of them. You turn them into your puppets.”

They were drawing quite a crowd and Shouri didn’t like the way the people were beginning to look at him. He took Kaoru’s hand. “Come with me, my pet.” Kaoru followed him.

Kaoru looked back at Kenshin helplessly. And he finally saw that she did want him to save her.

“Kaoru, I love you!” Everyone stopped. Kaoru’s face held a look of utter disbelief.

Shouri grinned in his state of security. “Isn’t a little late for that now?”

Kenshin ignored him. Instead he looked directly at Kaoru. “That’s right, Kaoru! I love you! I loved you before the way you were. I love you now and I’ll always love you. And you know inside that it’s true! You also know that he doesn’t truly love you. He never will!”

Shouri resumed trying to lead Kaoru away. But Kaoru had stopped now. All the voices within her were screaming, but none louder than her old inner self. She was slowly taking it all in…

“Come on, Kaoru! You aren’t going to listen to this nonsense anymore!” Shouri yelled angrily.

“No…” Kaoru whispered slowly.

“He’ll tire of you, Kaoru, when he finds a more beautiful plaything! You’re more to me than that! You’re everything to me!”

Kaoru began to resist Shouri’s grasp but he still pulled her, demanding that she follow him.

“I’m not going to force you into anything, Kaoru. You have to do as you please but I want you to know that it’s the truth. I love you!”

Tears streamed down her face again and she struggled out of Shouri’s grasp. “Let me go! Let me go!” she screamed. The people looked on in disbelief. “You don’t own me! I won’t let you have me anymore!”

“I will always own you!” Shouri screamed back. But Kaoru was free again. Here eyes never left Kenshin’s and she finally got free of his grip. She ran to Kenshin recklessly, in her natural fashion. She ran into his arms and held him tight. The tears wouldn’t stop coming.

Kenshin held her closely and repeated the words to her over and over. “I love you. I love you.”

Enraged, Shouri made his way over to them and attempted to get a hold on Kaoru again. This time, Kenshin didn’t allow it. He spun Kaoru out of the way and drew his sword in a matter of seconds. Everyone gasped. Then there was silence. “I told you not to touch her,” Battousai said voice laden in the rich hues of amber. “She is coming home with me. And she will not return here. This will be the last girl you will have manipulated, you son of a bitch.”

Kaoru stepped in holding Kenshin’s wrist firmly so he could not run Shouri through. “No, Kenshin! No.” She made him look into her eyes. “Don’t let him be the reason you’re arrested. He’s not worth it.”

Kenshin thought momentarily and then nodded once to Kaoru. He backed off and sheathed his sword. “Come on, Kaoru. Let’s go.”

The crowd parted for the fierce samurai and the beautiful girl. They watched as the two made their way to the door. Kaoru caught Ame’s eyes and stopped. She walked toward her. “Come with us, Ame. Please don’t stay here. I am so sorry for all the things I said. But you can’t stay here. You saved me. Now let me save you.”

Ame looked tearfully at the raven-haired beauty and smiled ruefully. “Where would I go, Kaoru-chan? He’s already spoiled me for the world. I can do nothing but exist within his walls.”

“That’s right, my flower,” Shouri said slithering up behind her. He placed his hands on her shoulders already preparing to re-work his magic on her.

“No, Ame. That is not true. You know that. You can come live with me. I will help you. You’re good at so many things and so smart. You could be a teacher.”

“Don’t listen to her, my pet. You are too good for such menial labor. You are only fit for…”

Kaoru gritted her teeth angrily and gave Kurokami the knockout punch of the century. “Shut up! Dear God, just SHUT UP!!”

Ame, along with the other guests, looked at Kurokami on the floor in disbelief. Then she looked back at Kaoru. “What if he’s right? What if I can’t do it?”

Kaoru held a hand out to her. “I know it’s not true, and even if it is, you can not stay here. And I, as your friend, can not, will not allow you to.”

Ame slowly took her hand and smiled. “Okay.”

Kaoru smiled and the three left without a final glance behind them.

*           *           *           *           *

In The Arms of The Beholder

by: Kagayaki Ame

 

Chapter Five: The Beginning of Us

 

Kaoru smiled at Ame . She’d given her one of her yukata to wear for the night. “Tomorrow we’ll go shopping. We deserve it.” Ame giggled. Kaoru hadn’t heard her do so very often. It was nice. “It’s not as glamorous as the things we wore for Kurokami…”

Ame rolled her eyes and smiled. “Thank the Gods! Those things heavy with so many things, including his hold on us.”

Kaoru smiled contritely. It was still too new to think about in depth yet. “Well that’s over now. Tomorrow I’ll also go with you to find a teaching job. I know you can do it. You were always the best in our classes with literature and mathematics.”

“Yeah, but you were always best in dance, music and… well everything!” Ame laughed.

Kaoru laughed and hugged her friend. Then she thought of all the other girls they’d left behind that night. “I wish I could help them all,” she said quietly.

Ame pulled away and looked at her with a sad smile. “I know. I do too. But if there’s one thing I did learn from Kurokami, it’s that people innately do only what they truly wish to do. Even if they’re manipulated into it. The girls can’t leave unless they really want to, and I know how they feel. I still feel that way.”

“How is that?” Kaoru asked.

“Like they aren’t fit for anything else, Kay-chan. You get so used to being pampered and not having to do anything but be pretty, that you forget how to do anything else. Most girls who leave, leave with husbands just like Kurokami. Others stay with him for years, traveling as he moves from town to town, looking for new victims. You were lucky. You were never his kind, really, though. You were just very pretty. That’s all. He didn’t think about the fact that you had to grow up a long time ago. Most of us who came before were naïve little girls when our families paid for us to become ladies. You already had everything. It’s just that nobody had realized it yet.”

“I just didn’t have what I wanted,” Kaoru said.

Ame grinned. “But you do now. So why are you here in this room with me? Go on, girl. You went through a lot for this little guy. You deserve him.”

Kaoru smiled, blushing. “I feel kinda weird. What do I say to him?”

Ame rolled her eyes. “I swear, you two are hopeless! I guess that’s why you’re so right for each other. Look, all you have to do is say what’s in your heart. And never hold back. That’s what got you in this mess. Now go! I need my beauty rest!” Ame giggled again.

Kaoru laughed. “Goodnight, Ame. And thank you.”

Ame waved her hand. “It was nothing. Goodnight.” She slid the shoji closed.

 

Kaoru took a deep breath before knocking on the frame of the shoji to Kenshin’s room. Kenshin opened it and smiled at her. “Ohayo,” he said.

“Can I come in?” she asked shyly.

“Sure,” he said stepping aside. He slid the shoji closed. He’d hoped she’d come to see him. When they got home from Kurokami’s she’d been busy helping Ame settle in and he didn’t think she would come to him. Not that saving her warranted a late night interlude…he closed his eyes and opened them slowly to get rid of the mental pictures before them in his mind’s eye. Professing his love might just have to be enough for one night.

Kaoru wrung her wrists in front of her yukata. She walked over to the window and gazed at the moon. “I feel I have to apologize to you, Kenshin.”

Apologize???…“No, Kaoru, you don’t have to - -“

“Please,” she cut him off. She hung her head slightly, unable to face him. “Just let me say something.”

“Okay, I’m sorry. Go ahead.”

Kaoru sighed. Say what’s in my heart… “I’m sorry for this past month. I wish I could erase it all. I know I hurt you at times but I didn’t mean to and I want you to know that I did it all for you. At least it started that way. I just wanted you to love me. I figured I wasn’t feminine enough before and I wanted to change. But when you and I stopped talking…” she sniffed. “Then Kurokami was there… and he made me feel… beautiful, perfect… but…” She wiped away her tears. “Anyway, I’m sorry.”

He watched her in silence for a moment and softened. He slowly walked up to her and stopped when he was standing behind her. He loosely wrapped his arms around her shoulders and buried his head into the crook of her neck. “I should have told you how much I adored you ages ago, Kaoru. But I felt unworthy of your love. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone as wonderful as you to love someone like me. And I always, always, thought you were beautiful. No matter what you do you’ll be beautiful to me, Kaoru.”

“Kenshin, I didn’t think you felt…”

Oh if you only knew how I felt, he thought to himself…

Why don’t you show her then, Himura? C’mon… give it a shot… his inner voice said persuasively.

“Kaoru, you don’t know how you consume me. Everything about you. The way you smell, the way you smile, your voice, your eyes… your touch…” he hesitated before tentatively grazing the skin at her neck with his tongue. She gasped a sensuous tremor flowing through her. “Your taste,” he ended, his voice thick with desire. The sudden ardor in his tone drove her crazy. She sighed raggedly and closed her eyes as Kenshin placed open-mouthed kisses on her neck. He gently turned her around and violet met blue with heated longing behind hooded eyelids. He passionately kissed the spot where her jaw met her neck. Kaoru felt woozy with pleasure. She reached around to unbind his blood red tresses and ran her fingers through them.

His lips finally met hers and all the emotions they’d held in check were loosed there. Kaoru moaned into his mouth and Kenshin explored hers with his tongue. His hands moved to gently caress her neck and found their way to the inside of the collar of her yukata. He continued the caress across her shoulders and stopped halfway to her elbows. He looked down at her semi-exposed globes of flesh and felt the baser part of his being stirring. Battousai wanted to growl and attack them greedily. Rurouni wanted to admire her forever. Kenshin found a happy medium. He placed a sweet kiss on the flesh between them. Kaoru purred. He longed to elicit another such reaction from her but they needed to get comfortable first. He carried her over to his futon and laid her down gently, joining her on her side.

He looked at her for a moment taking her in. She looked so innocent lying there, but she exuded a distinct yearning that he could not ignore. Her eyes pleaded for him to touch her… to kiss her…

“I’m going to show you what true love is, Kaoru. A love that gives without first taking, a love that is yielding and open. I want to give you all of me.”

Kaoru was beyond words. She looked directly at him and slowly removed her yukata. The she reached up to unbind her hair. The intricate style spilled around her head in an abundance of loose ebon curls and sakura petals. Kenshin watched her mesmerized. She blushed at his attentions and brought her arms over her chest, turning away. Kenshin took her wrists in one hand and supported her back with the other, pulling her up gently to face him. He feigned a few kisses making her giggle lightly before catching her bottom lip in a light nip. He bit down delicately drawing a gasp from her and then began to suck on it. She moaned this time.

Kaoru mirrored his earlier actions by timidly slipping her hands into the collar of his yukata. She marveled at the taut muscles beneath his strong, battle-worn skin. She slid the garment down to his waist, exposing his arms and chest. She pulled away to observe him. A deep, shuddering breath escaped her lips as her hands roamed over his sculpted chest and stomach.

Kenshin cherished the way her diffident hands explored him; her touch left a burning trail behind it. He guided her back up into a kiss and wrapped his arms around her, stroking her back. He let his hand roam to the underside of her breast and encompassed it slowly with deft fingers. She cried out. He ran the nipple between his index and middle finger and felt it harden to his touch. Kaoru curled her fingers on his chest, scraping his flesh. He gritted his teeth. Her small reaction sent shockwaves coursing through him. Involuntarily he squeezed her breast lightly, making her call out again.

He opened his eyes to see her biting her lower lip casually, her own eyes still closed. She was straddling him and leaning back. She was even more beautiful to him this way. He placed his other hand on her deprived breast and applied light pressure to them both, then slowly drew his fingers together to encompass her nipples.

“Oh, Kenshin,” she moaned, her words heavy and broken. She wrapped her arms around his neck for support and pushed her chest closer to him, silently begging for more.

He bowed forward and drew one taut peak into his mouth. She gasped and moaned louder when swirled his tongue around it. He felt her nails dig into his shoulders and couldn’t hide an impish smile. He held the hardened bit between his teeth and pulled gently, then let go. He repeated the action, alternating between breasts until she writhed in his arms.

He leaned her forward to lie her down and sat up on his knees. He removed the rest of his yukata. Kaoru reddened at the sight of his impassioned manhood. When she turned away, he stalked over her with the stealth of a jungle cat. He tossed his head next to hers making her look at him. “Don’t be ashamed, Kaoru. That’s just what you do to me.” He smiled naughtily again, letting Battousai into the game for a while. “And if I’m not mistaken,” he let his hand roam slowly down her torso, her thigh and back up between her legs. She gasped again when his fingertips barely stroked her petals. “I’ve done something to you as well.” He gave her one long, slow stroke with his middle finger and she moaned loud and just as long. She began to tremble the more he did it. Her moans grew louder and she tossed her head back as she closed her eyes. He licked his lips and before kissing her exposed neck. He nipped her gently and slowly pushed a finger into her warm and wet depths.

Kaoru cried out loud, not caring that Ame was just down the hall. Her world was at her center right now and Kenshin was very expertly manipulating it. She wanted to pull him up to kiss her but couldn’t because he had her wrists pinned with his other hand above her head. It left her feeling totally exposed and vulnerable, but very excited.

When he finally did meet her in a kiss, she began to feel the knot in her stomach tighten. Her hips moved against his nimble digits without her control and soon she felt herself go rigid and everything in her vision flashed white. It took her a few moments to return to reality, and when she did, she felt him on top of her and between her legs. He’d let go of her wrists and held her head gently in his hands while he kissed her slowly.

“Kenshin… that was…” she panted. She was surprised at how exhausted she’d become with such seemingly little effort.

“Only the beginning,” he whispered softly to her. She shivered not knowing if it was his warm breath at her ear or the bass in his voice that made her react in such a way. He kissed her neck and trailed kisses down her body until he was right above her center again. Kaoru burned in anticipation of his kisses in places she’d never dared to dream they’d be.

He failed to suppress the intrinsic need to inhale her scent. She was sweet with lavender and something distinctly woman, distinctly her. He licked her slowly from the bottom of her petals to the top and reveled in the ragged outcry of his name.

Kaoru tangled her fingers in his hair as he continued to lap her up like some exotic and delectable drink. She tried to hold in her cries of ecstasy between clenched teeth but failed with each luxurious lap. And when he lightly grazed her with his teeth, she lost all control and felt her release break over her again.

Kenshin drank her in and felt her go rigid and then limp again. With a final kiss filled with the promise to return again someday, he returned to kiss her lips gain. She responded with increasing urgency as she recovered from her orgasm. She found the strength to fold one arm around him in an embrace.

“Dear Gods, Kenshin…” she whispered. “That felt so amazing. I wish I could let you feel what you made me feel…”

“Shh, koiishi, let me do the loving tonight. I have years to make up for.” He bit her lips again. He gathered her in his arms and pulled her into a straddling position over his seated figure. This time, however there was no yukata to restrict them. Her eyes flew open when she felt him beneath her. She looked at him, flushing again.

“Do you want me to stop, Kaoru?” he asked gently.

“No,” came the quick answer, “don’t stop, please.”

Kenshin kissed her again and positioned himself for entrance. Kaoru raised instinctively and impaled herself onto him. He watched her face twist in shock of the pain, then melt into pleasure. He didn’t move until she opened her eyes again. He smiled and kissed her gently. She kissed him back and he soothingly ran his hands over her back. Then he slowly began to move out of her and drove back in before he was out completely.

Kaoru cried out again and again with each stroke he made. She tried to move with him and found it more difficult than she thought. He leaned forward with her, laying her down again. Before resuming his task he spread her legs a little wider and pushed them forward just a bit. When he leaned forward she wrapped them around him. They moved together for a while before Kenshin began to feel his release coming. He pulled away from her mouth and drew her nipple into his mouth once again, almost instantly pushing her over the edge. She felt herself tighten over the part of him within her. She couldn’t stop herself and continued to do so until she felt Kenshin stiffen above her, his liquid heat penetrate her soul.

And now she was beyond screams.

 

She woke to feel him planting light kisses all over her face. They were wrapped snuggly between his sheets.

“Kenshin,” she whispered in the darkness.

“Hai, koiishi?”

She didn’t know what to say. There were no words. She moved closer to him and hugged him to her. The sounds of his heartbeat mirrored her own. “I love you…”

Kenshin held her tight and kissed her forehead. “I love you too…”

They fell asleep in each other’s arms.

*           *           *           *           *

 

Kaoru woke up the next morning alone. She dressed quickly and rushed to the kitchen. There she found Yahiko and Sano fighting over food, Megumi, Dr. Genzai, Ayame and Suzume eating and talking, and Ame at the sink next to Kenshin.

Ame turned around and smiled. “Good morning, sleepy-head. Too many lazy days at Kurokami’s, eh?” She walked to the table and set down a bowl of food that Sano and Yahiko quickly devoured.

“This stuff is great, busu! This girl is a great cook!” Yahiko said, mouth overstuffed.

“Really, Jou-chan, can we keep her?” Sano said, eyeing the pretty new girl. Ame blushed. Megumi looked livid.

Kaoru smiled. “Only if she wants to stay.”

“You’re not getting rid of me that easily, Kay-chan. I’m staying anywhere that there are gorgeous men enjoying my cooking.” Yahiko and Sano blushed, grinning.

Kaoru looked at Kenshin shyly. Instead of admiring Ame like the others he watched her, smiling mildly. She smiled and walked over to him.

“Good morning, Kenshin,” she said softly.

“Good morning, Kaoru,” he replied.

They didn’t notice everyone watching them. Dr. Genzai smiled knowingly, Megumi reddened, eyes wide, Sano’s mouth hung open as did Yahiko’s. Ame smiled perceptively.

“Hey… Kenshin… did you just call her Kaoru? No… dono?” Yahiko spoke first.

“Yeah, I guess I did…” Kenshin said, taking her hand.

Ayame and Suzume got up and ran to them, cheering. “Does this mean you’re in love now?!” they asked, childlike innocence beaming through.

“Yeah, I guess we are…” Kaoru said glowing.

Sano smiled devilishly and laughed. “So you finally hit that, eh, Kenshin? ‘Bout time!” Ame gave him a shove and he stopped laughing. She walked over to the couple and pried Kaoru away.

“Come, Kay-chan. You have to eat and then resume your classes. Then we can go out and take care of our errands. There will be time for romance tonight…” then she whispered to her, “as if you didn’t have enough last night.”

Kaoru reddened and averted her eyes from Kenshin. “You heard?”

Ame grinned. “Don’t worry. I was the only one here. It’ll be our little secret.”

Soon they all settled at the table to eat. Kenshin sat next to Kaoru and held her hand discreetly under the table. As everyone chatted she squeezed his hand and smiled at him. He smiled back and returned the gesture.

*           *           *           *