Continuing Tales

Hakama Dake

A Rurouni Kenshin Story
by Indygodusk

Part 5 of 16

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Soft yellow dust coated Kenshin's lips as he walked back to the Kamiya Dojo. His light footfalls and the slight breeze raised clouds of powder from the dry dirt road, tasting bitter on his tongue. It made his mood darker as it clung to the cooling sweat streaking his face and neck. It wasn't like he'd never, in ten years of wandering, experienced walking down a road tasting dust under a fevered sun. Sun, wind, and sleeting snow – he'd traveled through them all. Yet he never remembered them making him so miserable.

That's because it isn't the weather, it's the way Kaoru is treating you.

For over a year he hadn't been ready or willing to risk having more of her. But after this last week, he knew he couldn't bear having less. Somehow he'd deluded himself into thinking she would never change. That even if she someday had another family (with razor-sharp clarity he could picture Kaoru dreamily cuddling a babe with her same blue eyes, but he'd never been able to see the theoretical husband as more than a hazy shape), life at the dojo would continue on as before. That or he would finally choose to leave in a noble attempt to protect them from his bad karma. He'd never even entertained the idea that she would be the one to voluntarily leave him.

Angrily he flicked muddy sweat off his face. This whole situation drove him crazy. The frustration made him want to provoke her somehow. Provoke some response so that she once again looked at him, into him with that smile that said she saw, understood, and accepted.

Crossing over the bridge, Kenshin looked down into the sluggishly flowing river below. Shimmering above the brown, blue and green of the water, he noticed several ghostly white blurs. Curious, he looked around for their source. Ah, clouds, perhaps rain clouds… Kaoru will be pleased.

Lips quirking in a faint smile, Kenshin finished crossing the bridge and veered off the road at an angle into the sun dappled forest. Staring at the water had given him an idea. He decided to swing by the river where it curled around near the dojo and rinse off some of the dirt and sweat. Maybe it would help him cool off his temper as well as his body. He needed all of his wits if he was to figure out how to stop Kaoru from distancing herself any further.

He couldn't take too long, though. If Sano and Yahiko returned to the dojo to find him missing, they might say something to worry Kaoru. This might break her out of her detachment, now that he thought about it, but he couldn't make her worry. He'd promised. Besides, she had enough problems without him adding to them.

How many of the people in town talked about Kaoru behind her back because of him? Because she had taken Yahiko and him into her home and, he liked to think, her heart? Unfortunately, today wasn't the first time he'd heard insinuations like that. When it had happened in the past, he'd been able to either quietly threaten or politely finesse the offenders into admitting they were wrong.

But this time had been different. Perhaps he was unbalanced because of Kaoru's cold treatment this last week. Whatever the case, his anger had ignited, hot and fierce. How dare they insult Kaoru! Instead of trying to convince them to respect Kaoru in the future, his body had clamored to do something damaging and permanent in the present. Like showing them that while a shovel could break skin, a sword could cut even better, cut a message into their flesh that they'd never forget.

Such violent rage had startled him, making him afraid to even twitch. He knew what he was capable of under the onus of such a rage. Kenshin feared that if he moved at all, he'd not regain control until he'd done something so awful that he'd have to wander again, away from Kaoru and the family he'd established here.

Luckily for them, Sano had taken that moment to glance over at Kenshin. Sano's slight recoil seemed to indicate he'd realized how precariously Kenshin teetered on the cusp of violence.

In an attempt to regain control, Kenshin had visualized a heavy iron chain wound around his body from chest to knees, keeping him from leaping off into the abyss of rage. On each thick link, he arduously engraved a reason for not exploding into violence and shedding blood.

Link 1. If I move, they will die.
Link 2. If they die, I would have to leave Kaoru.
Link 3. Kaoru must be protected.
Link 4. If I protect Kaoru now, I won't be there to protect her later.
Link 5. Sano will also protect Kaoru's honor.
Link 6. Sano knows not to take it too far. 
Link 7. Sano knows how to take it far enough.
Link 8. I can trust Sano.

At first it helped his control, but soon this logic started to sound less and less convincing, even when Sano stood up angrily to confront them. What if Sano went easy on them? After all, to Sano, Kaoru was just his Jou-chan, while to Kenshin she was his-

It was a testament to Sano's courage and trust that he'd squeezed Kenshin's shoulder in both warning and reassurance, promising to take care of the problem. Walking forward, he had purposely blocked Kenshin's view while he confronted the boys, simultaneously threatening and, without their knowledge, protecting them. They had run off, if only Megumi hadn't come in right then, and, while the glint in Sano's eyes screamed that he'd get them later, Kenshin still wasn't sure if he was satisfied with that.

How dare they insult Kaoru, how dare they! She was HIS- expelling all of the air from his lungs slowly, Kenshin tried to calm down. That was his purpose for going to the river after all, to calm down and cool off. He needed to stop thinking about what had happened. Sano would take care of it. Besides, he had other things to worry about, like what to do about Kaoru when he reached the dojo. Kaoru was his landlady, his friend, his sunshine; what he yearned for as he fell asleep and sought when he first awoke.

Reaching the riverside, Kenshin slipped his arms from their sleeves, letting his gi flop down around his waist over the ties of his hakama. Kneeling down on the rock strewn riverbank, he bent over and splashed his chest, arms, and face with water. The cool fluid rinsed away the sweat and grime of the day, along with some of his angry tension. Running wet hands back through his red bangs and over the top of his head, Kenshin closed his eyes and let out a long sigh, exhaling his aggravation and inhaling the scents and sounds of the river and forest.

With his head tipped back, he could feel the stretch of his arched neck muscles and hear the plop of water dripping off his hair and face onto the pebbled bank. Continuing his deep breathing, he dimly registered the feel of his chest rising and falling with each breath. Along his back the faint breeze breathed gently across his skin, cooler in the trails of water tracing down his muscles, shoulder blades and spine.

Delicately Kenshin extended the waves of his ki. No people wandered anywhere near to disturb his communion. About ten meters back he could feel a family of rabbits nibbling on the sweet-smelling summer clover. To his left, a deer stepped delicately to the waters edge, and he pictured her large brown eyes rolling alertly as her nostrils flared, scenting for predators. In the sun-drenched clearing to his right, he could feel the industrious energy of fuzzy black-and-yellow bees buzzing as they collected golden pollen from alabaster lily bells and ocean-blue poppies, whose cerulean centers mimicked the iris of Kaoru's eyes. All around him the forest thrived with the life-force of birds, snakes, foxes, beetles, and raccoons.

Once again centered and calm, Kenshin opened his eyes, stretching fluidly as he stood up to continue his trek. At his movement, a jet-black crow raucously cawed three times before flying up in an explosion of feathers, winging off in the direction of the dojo.

Despite the heat, Kenshin felt a chill race up his spine. His newfound calm evaporated as the old proverb rattled through his mind, 3 crow cries, someone died.

Kenshin knew it was only a saying, just a silly superstition.

Nevertheless, he took off running in the direction of Kaoru and the dojo. In his rush, he didn't even bother to refasten his gi.

Speeding along, now not even noticing the heat, he soon saw the familiar sign with its lovingly inked kanji – Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. The gate looked shut, but that wasn't too unusual. Throwing wide his senses, Kenshin was rewarded when moments later he located Kaoru's familiar energy blazing from inside the dojo and no one else's.

If you can sense her, she's still alive. She's fine. You simply let your fears get the better of you, you idiot. When only a few strides from the gate, he slowed down. He couldn't have Kaoru worrying that something was wrong if she saw him run through the gate, especially since she was fine.

But what if she wasn't? Refusing to plunge down into that murky pit of thought, Kenshin took a deep breath and pushed open the gate.

Or, at least he tried to – the gate wouldn't budge. It was locked.

Why would it be locked? There's no reason for it to be locked. Unless she went back into town? But he could still feel the pulse of her ki inside the dojo.

Something's wrong. What if this had been their last week together, with Kaoru distancing herself and him not understanding why? Would he regret his lack of action for the rest of his life? Heart squeezing painfully in his chest, Kenshin took a white-knuckled grip on his sakabatou and silently jumped over the gate. Landing in a crouch, he skimmed his eyes over the courtyard, but couldn't find anything unusual. Except… wait, the shoji on the dojo are closed. The dojo where Kaoru is. She hasn't closed those since this heat wave started, which means that maybe it wasn't Kaoru who closed them.

Stalking around the perimeter of the dojo, careful not to raise any betraying clouds of dust, Kenshin looked for an opening to peer through, a clue to reveal something before he rushed inside. The wind picked up and blew jade-green pine needles into the vermilion strands of his hair, but he barely noticed their pricking. He was too intent on deciphering this mystery. Kaoru's ki didn't feel hurt or damaged, she felt… satisfied? Determined?

Silently padding around the corner, Kenshin felt his pulse speed up as he noticed that the shoji on this side remained open. Step by cautious step, he advanced until he could see the interior of the dojo. Then he stared… and stared some more.

Kaoru was fine. Suddenly nerveless fingers dropped from the hilt of his sakabatou. In fact, she looks very… healthy.

Hakama Dake

A Rurouni Kenshin Story
by Indygodusk

Part 5 of 16

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