Darkest Days

A Moment of Peace

It was well past midnight when Tomoe finally gave up trying to take a nap like the rest and gently eased herself out from beneath her slumbering husband‘s arm. Standing slowly so as not disturb him, she carefully made her way to the small fire they’d lit to illuminate the tiny glade and settled down with a weary sigh to watch the glowing embers freed from the wood spiral into the overcast night.

Across the fire and to her right Shougo lay sleeping soundlessly, his head pillowed by the tiger he’d summoned to keep watch. Meeting the feline eyes she could feel watching her, she smiled and dipped her head in silent acknowledgement to set the creature at ease then glanced to her left where Hachiro lay sprawled haphazardly, his soft snores barely audible over the crackling of the fire.

If the truth be told she would rather be on the move than here. But it was the Sanada that had called for the halt and even though she chafed at the delay, she knew he would never have asked had he not desperately needed to rest and in all honesty he had earned it tenfold. He’d already done wonders by getting them to within eight miles of Kanryuu. Thanks to that they had an excellent chance of catching him before he even got close to Kaoru.

A faint twinge of anticipation tightened her chest as she shifted her attention back to the flickering flames, but it was quickly overcome by the small niggling shred of fear that still refused to go away.

“You should be sleeping…”

Tomoe jumped as her husband’s sleep-thickened voice cut into her thoughts and she glanced at him with a weak smile as he settled down beside her.

“I can’t. Not until I know without a doubt Kaoru is safe from him.”

Akira sighed. Wrapping his arm around her he pulled her into his side. “I know you would rather teleport to Jouden yourself and take her to safety but there is no guarantee Kaoru even knows how she did it herself. If you go and find out it was simply a coincidence it will leave both of you vulnerable if Shougo, Hachiro and I can‘t stop him.”

Tomoe exhaled tiredly and leaned into his warmth. He’d said the same thing when she’d broached the subject earlier and she knew he was right however that didn’t make it any easier. “I know there is that possibility but what if we don’t catch him in time. She can’t go against him alone, at least if I was there he would have face me to get to her.”

“You are not going“, Akira reiterated sharply. Tomoe winced at his tone but before she could say anything to calm him down he continued. “With him now fully released we don’t even know if the four of us are going to be enough for what‘s coming.”

Tomoe’s eyebrows creased in confusion at the strange wording and she waited for her husband to elaborate. When several moments passed with nothing more from him she finally moved to look him square in the eye. “What do you mean for what’s coming? Is there something you’re not telling me?”

Akira stiffened at the question and Tomoe had the distinct feeling he hadn’t meant to let that slip. Her surmise was proven correct when his face went completely blank, a sure indication that he was hiding something she wasn’t going to like. She was sure it must have something to do with Kanryuu since Akira was the only tracker in their group.

A finger of fear crawled up her spine at the thought and she tugged further out of his arms and leveled a hard look on him, “I can tell you’re hiding something. What is it you don’t want to tell me?”

Akira scowled and simply looked at her for a long moment before he sighed wearily and settled his attention to the fire, “I didn’t want to tell you this until after you had gotten some rest…”

A sense of foreboding tightened Tomoe’s chest and she watched warily as he slowly slid his eyes back to her.

“Tomorrow we will be facing more than just Kanryuu.”

That caught her completely off guard and she stared at him in silence for a minute before she sagged in relief and laughed. That was it?!

“We already know he‘ll have rogues with him.” She replied with a smile. “But I‘m sure we can handle whatever they throw at us.”

Akira shook his head and fixed her with a look that made her blood run cold. “There are no rogues with him but he is not alone.”

Tomoe narrowed her eyes and tried to ignore the small knot of fear curling to life in her gut. “What do you mean?”

Akira sighed. “The person he is traveling with is not a mage… but it’s not human either…”

An icy chill swept through Tomoe and for a brief moment an image of the white haired man she’d seen with Kanryuu flashed before her eyes. Not a mage and yet… not human. That was the exact same feeling she’d gotten the day Azrael died.

“Is it him?” She muttered more to herself than to her husband. Glancing to Akira she asked, “Then… what is he?”

Akira seemed to stiffen and Tomoe tensed as she peered deeply into her husband’s eyes. He knew but it was blatantly obvious he didn’t want to tell her.

“What is he, Akira?” Tomoe pressed. Good or bad she had to know.

Nothing but silence met her question and Tomoe was just about to demand an answer when Akira finally said, “If I’m not mistaken… it’s a god.“

The world seemed to fall out from underneath her as her stomach knotted into a rock hard fist and she felt herself begin to tremble. A god… but… that was…

“Impossible.” She murmured shakily. “They‘re gone. The Ancients destroyed them all save Ryujin who was too powerful for them. That‘s why he was sealed.”

Akira shook his head, his hands gently cradled her cheeks to make her look at him again. “I’ve been thinking about this ever since I found their trail and it’s the only explanation I can come up with. He is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. That person is not simply a wielder of power, he is power.”

Tomoe’s stomach roiled and she clenched her teeth to keep from being sick. If that was true they were doomed. There was no way the four of them could touch such a being. Akira gathered her into his arms and she locked her own around him tight in an attempt to ground herself again.

“Now do you see why I didn’t want to tell you yet.”

Tomoe could do nothing but clutch him even tighter. He was right, there would be no sleep tonight.

Later that morning Kaoru woke from her exhaustion induced sleep feeling more refreshed than she had in days. Stretching like a cat, she blinked her eyes open to the semi-dark room and grimaced slightly as a new wound on her back pinched. By the feel of it she’d have another nasty bruise to deal with thanks to the fireball she’d taken the day before. Thankfully it seemed her ribs had finally healed enough though that yesterday’s run in hadn’t affected them.

Smiling at the thought, she stretched again for good measure relishing the feeling of renewal, before it suddenly dawned on her that she didn’t remember going to sleep. Or even preparing the extremely comfortable futon she now rested on. Startled by the realization she sat bolt upright as a shot of adrenaline flew through her veins, instantly obliterating the last tendrils of sleep from her mind.

A faint snore caught her attention over the thundering of her heart and she swung her head around to find Kenshin sleeping on his own futon barely a foot away. For a long moment she simply stared at him as blood continued to hammer through her veins, wondering how she could have been put to bed without even realizing it.

The question soon lost its relevance though as her eyes drifted over his peacefully sleeping features and Kaoru found herself relaxing at the sight. She had never seen the redhead so… unguarded before. The last couple of days he’d always been awake before her so she’d never gotten the chance. A tiny smile curled the edge of her lips. He looked so much younger in his sleep, she could almost imagine him within her reach.

Kaoru’s eyes flew wide at the unexpected thought and she quickly looked away before he could wake and catch her in her perusal. Where had that come from?!

But no sooner had she tore her eyes from Kenshin then she found the silhouette of someone sitting in the shadows on the opposite side of the room and she froze like a rabbit caught in a wolf‘s gaze.

"Good morning,” a deep, distinctly male voice murmured as the figure inclined his head.

A knot of fear tightened Kaoru’s throat and she stiffened even more as a small measure of power unwittingly flooded into her hand.

“Don’t scare her, Shishou…”

Kaoru nearly jumped out of her skin when Kenshin’s sleep thickened voice sliced through the silence and she swung her attention back to the redhead starting to rise between them.

“… she just might blast you through the wall.”

A hearty laugh came from the figure and Kaoru scowled as her face flushed a deep red and she immediately dampened the electricity tickling her palm. “I would not!” she huffed as the man finally rose and moved into the light.

Kenshin cleared his throat lightly to catch her attention and gave her one of those smiles that made the breath catch before he motioned to the dark haired man now settling beside the fire. “I’d like to introduce you to my master, Hiko Seijuro. This is his hut.”

Kaoru’s eyes rounded in horror as a breathless ’oh’ dropped from her lips and she hastily dipped her head in greeting. “I’m sorry! I-”

“It’s fine.” Hiko cut in with a smirk. “The kid said you might be jumpy when you woke.”

Kaoru gave him a strange look, “The kid?”

A large hand motioned to Kenshin and Kaoru almost burst out laughing at the glare the redhead nailed his master with. But before Kenshin could say anything Hiko motioned to the pot steaming over the fire and said, “It’s ready if you two are hungry.”

Kaoru’s belly immediately grumbled in anticipation and Hiko smiled at her as he handed her a bowl and chopsticks then did the same to Kenshin before he rose again and stepped to the door.

“There are a few things I need to do this morning,” He explained as he smoothly slid the heavy panel back. “I will return soon.”

Kenshin dipped his head in understanding as Hiko stepped through the door.

“He’s… different.” Kaoru said softly when the slid closed behind the tall man.

Kenshin smiled and took the bowl from her hands to fill it. “That he is. Growing up with him was… interesting.“

Kaoru snorted. “I bet,” she murmured, accepting the steaming bowl held out to her. “How old were you when you came to live with him?”

Kenshin paused in pouring out his own meal for a moment before he replied, “Six, I think. He didn‘t start to train me though until I was eight.”

Kaoru’s eyes rounded and her laden chopsticks stilled halfway to her mouth. “Your parents didn’t mind him taking you that early?”

A shadow passed through Kenshin’s eyes as he settled back with his breakfast. “I don’t have any parents and the family who was raising me at the time was happy to be rid of me.”

Kaoru felt a pang in her chest and she smiled sadly, “I guess we have something in common after all.” At his questioning look she muttered, “I don‘t have any parents either.”

Kenshin murmured a soft ‘ah’ as Kaoru finally took her first bite and a thick silence settled between them as they both set to work demolishing the delicious stew Hiko had made. To be honest family was not something Kaoru liked talking about. She supposed being abandoned had a lot to do with that. She still, to this day, wondered why she’d been left on the side of the road like she had. Was she really that unlovable that her own parents hadn’t wanted her?

A hollow smile flickered across her lips. Maybe she was but at least Tomoe didn’t think so. Her mentor had done everything she could to fill the void and Kaoru appreciated it more than Tomoe would ever know. Yet, for all the love Tomoe and Akira gave her there was still a huge hole in her heart that she was afraid would never be filled.

The scraping of her chopsticks against the bottom of the bowl drew Kaoru from her thoughts and she realized with a start that she had managed to finish off every last bite. A moment later a similar sound came from beside her and she glanced at Kenshin as he reached over to collect hers.

“There is a small hot spring not far from here,” He said as he rose with the dirtied bowls. “Would you like to take a bath now that you‘ve eaten?”

All thoughts of loneliness quickly flew out of her head as a huge smile split her face. “Really?!” She hadn’t been properly clean in days!

Kenshin gave her one of those smiles that made her heart flutter and nodded. “I’ll wash these in another pool while you are bathing,” he said lifting the bowls.

Kaoru immediately jumped to her feet and went to fetch her other set of clothes but as soon as she opened the pack holding them she realized the mistake she‘d made. She had never taken them out to dry, they’d have to be washed before she could even think about wearing them.

A disappointed sigh spilled from her lips. Which meant no bath today…

“Something wrong?” Kenshin asked.

Kaoru swallowed another sigh and glanced over her shoulder, “I have to wash these before I can wear them.”

Kenshin murmured a soft ‘oh’ then silently moved to a small wooden box she hadn’t noticed before and lifted the lid. Curious, Kaoru was just about to wander over to see what was inside when he produced two bundles of white quickly followed by a dark blue one.

“I keep this here to change out my clothes when needed.” He explained as he replaced the lid and held them out to her. “The white bundles are a set of hakama and an under kimono and the blue one is a gi.”

Kaoru eyed him for a long moment as a strange warmth filled her chest and then she gratefully accepted the clothes. “Thank you.”

Kenshin smiled, “Are we ready then?”

Kaoru nodded eagerly and Kenshin snagged a small bag from beside the box then collected the bowls again and headed out the door. Quickly following in his footsteps she slid the door closed behind her and followed him as he padded down the porch to the right where he disappeared around the side of the hut. Picking up her pace she stepped from the porch and followed him around to the back where a small but well tended track led away into the trees.

Without a word Kenshin lead them onto the shadowed path and Kaoru turned her attention to the track to keep from tripping over the exposed roots. Silence seemed to wrap around them as soon as they left the hut behind and Kaoru relished the calm serenity the simple sounds of nature inspired. It wasn’t until they were several yards into the quiet forest that Kaoru finally noticed a faint roaring sound that seemed to be blending in with the buzzing of insects and chirping of birds.

Tilting her head to the side, she listened more intently and tried to figure out what it was. The only time she’d heard anything like this was when they had come to the river two days before, it was similar but yet, not quite the same.

“What could that be?” She murmured softly, more to herself than her companion.

Kenshin paused, “What could what be?”

Surprised that he’d heard Kaoru stopped abruptly. “Um… well…. that sound?” she said motioning to the forest with a hand.

Kenshin gave her a strange look as his head canted to the side. A moment later understanding dawned on his face. “Do you mean the waterfall?”

“There’s a waterfall here?!” Kaoru exclaimed excitedly. She’d heard of them but had never seen one before.

Kenshin smiled at her childlike excitement and dipped his head. “The small river the hot spring empties into eventually leads to a waterfall. Once we’ve finished I’ll show you.”

Kaoru couldn’t stop the gleeful grin that split her face and Kenshin chuckled as he started up the path again. Several yards later they broke out of the trees into a small circular opening in the forest dominated by a similarly shaped pool barely large enough for one person. Surprised Kaoru eyed the pool in dismay, she might get clean but there was no way she was going to be able soak in that.

Kenshin must have seen her saddened look because he cleared his throat to catch her attention and motioned to the wall of brush and the single boulder that was taller than both of them lining the upper edge of the pool. “The hot spring is just beyond that shield. This pool is for washing.”

Kaoru murmured a relieved ‘oh’ as Kenshin set the dirty bowls on another flat topped rock. Then he loosened the drawstring on the bag and removed a small cloth along with a piece of hard soap before handing it to her.

“Inside is a thin towel, a jar of soap you can use for everything and a cloth to wash with.”

Kaoru accepted the items and was just about to say thanks when he pointed to the boulder and said, “Just follow that narrow path around the boulder and you’ll find the spring. My master and I are the only ones who know about these pools so you are safe to relax as long as you like.“

A surge of anticipation bubbled up in her chest and with a huge grin Kaoru dipped her head then immediately stepped to the small path. “I’ll be back soon!“ she called over her shoulder as she edged her way onto the track. A soft laugh followed her around the boulder but she ignored it in favor of reaching the blessed water. She had never wanted a bath so badly in her life.

A moment later she rounded the far side of the boulder and smiled wide as the faintly steaming pool came into view. Much to her intense relief it was twice the size of the washing pool and at least half again as deep. With a tiny squeak of happiness, she quickly dropped her clean clothes and the sack on a smooth stone beside the pool and was just about to start undressing when her hands stilled in the air. Was this really… safe?

Eyeing the thick stand of trees and brush encircling the pool, she hesitated for a moment more before she scoffed at her worry and quickly striped down. No one was getting through that without a really good blade so that meant the only way anyone was getting in here was by the path and Kenshin was standing guard there.

As soon as the last of her clothing dropped into the pile at her feet Kaoru stepped into the pool and nearly purred in pleasure. This was pure heaven. Lifting her unbound hair, she deftly coiled it into a messy bun then settled down onto a smooth rock at the bottom of the pool; submerging herself up to her neck.

A contented sigh whispered past her lips as the bone warming heat immediately started soothing her abused body. Thankfully she didn’t have much left in the way of aches anymore but she had a feeling that what did remain would be gone after this.

With a small smile she closed her eyes. Hopefully she’d be able to go a day or two without new injuries for a change. At least she didn’t foresee getting any today, well that is as long as Takeda didn’t find them. A familiar shrill cry suddenly broke into her musings and Kaoru nearly jumped out of her skin as her eyes snapped back open. Immediately turning her attention to the surrounding trees she searched for the oddly colored hawk and found him perched on the boulder separating her and Kenshin.

“Besshi!” She exclaimed. An echo of her shout came from the other side of the boulder as the white-faced hawk cried out again and then he jumped off the tall rock to land beside her. Kaoru grinned and gave his head feathers a loving rub, “What are you doing here?”

Besshi warbled in his throat then lifted his leg enough to catch her attention.

“Oh!” Kaoru murmured in surprise. Reaching for the towel she dried her hands then gently pried the top of the small cylinder off and removed the tightly rolled piece of parchment. Quickly recapping the tube, she unrolled the note as Besshi stepped back.

‘Make for Mihama’ was written on the scrap in Tomoe’s small flowing script and Kaoru felt her stomach plummet to her feet. Mihama! They were miles away from Mihama! There was no way they could make it there before Tomoe. Especially if she had Hachiro with her!

“Kenshin! We have a problem!” She all but shouted in her excitement.

A harsh scraping sound came from the other side of the boulder and Kaoru could almost feel the tension coming from the redhead. “What is it?”

“Tomoe-sama expects to find us in Mihama! We can’t make it there before her!”

A loud, relieved sigh came in answer and then Kenshin replied, “Its okay, Kaoru. She knows where we are. She must have sent Besshi before I contacted her yesterday.”

Kaoru eyed the rock separating them as Besshi took wing again and disappeared. “How did you do that?”

“My master had a wing pendant like the one you had. I was able to let her know through that.”

“Oh,” Kaoru muttered, trying to ignore the strange sourness tightening her chest. Shifting slightly in an effort to make it go away she asked, “Are you and Tomoe-sama really that… close?”

A long pause met her question before Kenshin finally answered. “We were for a long time, but we grew apart when she chose to stay behind the shield to protect and raise you.”

Kaoru froze. It was her fault they were separated?

“It isn’t your fault Kaoru-dono,” Kenshin said, somehow reading her thoughts. “For some reason I can’t cross the shield. If I could, things might have been different but it seems it wasn’t meant to be.”

The tone of his voice made that strange feeling tighten her chest again. Wasn’t meant to be? Did he mean--? The feeling intensified to the point where her breath caught in her throat and she finally realized what it was. Jealousy.

She was jealous of Tomoe and Kenshin. Their friendship, his love…

Horrified, Kaoru took a quick breath and dunked her head completely under the water to try to wash away the unwanted thoughts. What was she thinking, it’s not like they were even like that! At best they were acquaintances. That was it!

The need for air drove her to resurface and she came up spluttering just in time to hear Kenshin frantically calling her name. Surprised, she was just about to call out that she was fine when a loud scuffling sound came and then Kenshin’s head popped out from around the side of the boulder. The clear worry on his face made her pause for a split second before she let out an ear piercing scream and instinctively launched a small fireball at him as she threw her free arm over her breasts. “What are you doing?!”

A hasty ‘sorry!’ came from the startled redhead and he was gone by the time the dust settled from her instinctive attack.

Flushing a deep red with embarrassment, Kaoru called out, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean-”

“It’s fine, Kaoru-dono.” Kenshin cut in. “I shouldn’t have assumed the worst.”

Kaoru stared at the boulder for a long moment before she shook her head and gave up. He had every right to wariness after the last couple of days. With a sigh she reached for the sack to withdraw the jar of soap and cloth. There was no way she was going to be able to relax now.

“I’ll be finished in a couple of minutes.” She called out to her stubborn companion. A low ‘ah’ was her only answer and she set to work washing away the last couple of days.

Ten minutes later she was clean, dressed and standing beside the pool wringing water from her hair. Normally she’d use a water spell to dry her hair but she’d forgotten to grab her ribbon so leaving it wet would be much easier until they returned to the hut. With one final twist she wrestled the last drop from the damp strands then finger combed it the best she could. A stubborn snarl made her wince and she worked it free before she packed away the bathing items and towel, grabbed her dirty clothes and headed around the boulder.

As soon as Kenshin came into view, Kaoru felt her cheeks warm with embarrassment but the redhead simply smiled and waved to a barely noticeable track leading away from the one they’d used before.

“Would you still like to see the waterfall?”

All embarrassment instantly fled under a sudden surge of anticipation and with a vigorous nod she exclaimed, “Yes!”

Kenshin laughed and relieved her of the sack. Dropping the cleaned bowls inside, he waved her to follow and started picking his way along the overgrown path. Kaoru eagerly took off after him as her ears zeroed in on the rumbling sound she’d heard before.

Ahead of her Kenshin found his attention far from the waterfall as he broke the path for them and instead on the woman behind him. His clothes fit her better than he’d expected they would, the hakama barely brushed the ground and the gi, while a little large in the shoulders, still draped around her like it was meant for her. The dark blue material wasn’t helping either, the shade made her sapphire eyes nearly gleam in the morning sunlight.

Kenshin shook his head and broke a limb from the path as they came up beside the small river. Tomoe had worn his clothes once a long time ago but they had never seemed to fit her quite as well as they did Kaoru. It was unsettling and yet strangely… enticing…

Stomping the thought into smithereens before it could take root, he resisted the urge to rub his head. If he kept up with that train of thought he was going to be in a lot of trouble. And yet, if he was to be honest with himself he was already finding it difficult to keep them under lock and key.

Much to his relief the land soon began to slope sharply and they passed the well traveled path that led back to the village. A little further down the weed choked trail they finally reached the small plateau of grass that hugged this side of the large pool the river cascaded into on its trek to the village.

Kaoru could barely contain herself as the waterfall came into view and she shot past Kenshin as soon as she could, stumbling to a stop at the very edge of the pool. She gasped when her eyes landed on the shimmering water tumbling over the edge of the world twenty feet above only to crash against the boulders below. Watching in awe as the spray misted into the air, she smiled as the tiny crystalline droplets caught the sunlight and turned the air into a rainbow of colors.

She had seen several paintings of waterfalls in books and along the walls in the manor but none of them had been able to capture the sheer power created here in this violently splashing water. Without thinking she dropped her clothes and whispered a spell she’d only ever used on calm water then stepped out onto the swirling pool.

Kenshin grabbed her arm before she could take another step and she glanced over her shoulder with a reassuring smile, “I’ve done this before. I won’t go far, I promise.”

Kenshin’s expression remained dubious but he let her go anyway and Kaoru sure-footedly stepped further into the pool. At first the liquid stilled beneath each step but as she got closer to the violently churning froth at the base of the falls, the water became more than she could control and she was forced to stop several feet from where she truly wanted to be.

This was raw power at its best. Here, where earth and water collided, a wellspring of pure energy was continuously being created. Their collective power hummed through her boots from the soles of her feet all the way up her legs and deep into her chest. The feeling was enough to make the breath catch in her throat. Something deep within her answered their seductive call and she was just about to reach for the torrent of power when Kenshin suddenly hissed her name.

Startled, her concentration slipped for a brief moment and her feet dropped into the water up to her ankles, soaking her boots. Quickly resetting the spell she swung her attention to the redhead on the shore and was just about to ask what when she heard the distinct sound of a child’s high pitched voice over the waterfall. Oh, gods! Someone was coming!

In the next instant she was running across the water as fast as she could and managed to reach the shore before whoever it was came into view. But no sooner had she set foot on solid ground then Kenshin grabbed her wrist and she found herself being pulled across the small clearing into the trees right beside the waterfall.

Surprised, Kaoru wondered what they were doing when Kenshin tugged her into a narrow gap in the thick stand of brush shaded by the tree and tucked her in front of him against the wall forming the waterfall on this side. Kaoru’s face flamed bright red at the feel of him along every inch of her body and she instinctively tried to push away from him. What the-!

“Your eyes…” Kenshin murmured so softly she almost didn’t hear as he leaned even more against her to keep her from fighting.

Kaoru immediately stilled. That’s right! She was supposed to be blind! If whoever was coming had seen her without the ribbon they’d know she and Kenshin had been lying. With a soft sigh, she sagged against the wall and whispered, “That would have been bad.”

Kenshin nodded in agreement as the pair they were hiding from finally entered the small clearing. She could hear their voices but the sound of the crashing water was so loud that she couldn’t make out what was being said.

Which left her nothing to focus on but the man holding her in place. Not good.

Kaoru felt her cheeks pink again as her full attention settled on the redhead against her will and she noticed for the first time that although he was small he was far more muscular than she’d originally thought. She could feel the hard, smooth planes of his chest through all the layers of clothes separating them.

And yet, that wasn’t what really captured her attention, it was the gentle sandalwood scent she recognized from her own bath blended in with something far more… masculine.

Her cheeks darkened even more as her body reacted to the thought and she closed her eyes and attempted to focus her mind somewhere else before she accidentally let her wayward emotions show. But it was incredibly hard when all she could feel and smell was him. Of their own accord her hands fisted in his shirt and she rested her forehead against his shoulder.

When were they going to go away?…

Unbeknownst to her, Kenshin was thinking the very same thing as her head settled against his collar bone and he desperately tried to ignore the warmth flowing through his gi from every point where they touched. This was getting dangerous now. He was already finding it difficult to keep their relationship nothing more than friendship when she was at a distance but this was making it near impossible. It didn’t help that she seemed to be reacting to him too even if she was desperately trying to hide it.

He fisted his hand against the rock above her head and silently prayed that Aiko and her granddaughter would finish their chores quickly. If this went on for too long he was going to end up throwing caution to the wind, consequences be damned. But much to his dismay several more excruciatingly long minutes passed before Aiko finally hustled the little girl towards the path leading back to the village.

An inaudible sigh of relief spilled from Kenshin's lips when they vanished from sight and he moved back. "They're gone."

Kaoru exhaled softly and slowly lifted her head enough to meet his eyes. The last of his resolve nearly shattered at the touch of regret marring her otherwise relieved expression. If she kept that up he was never going to be able to keep it platonic between them.

“Let’s go before anyone else comes.” He said shifting his attention to the empty glade and moved out of the narrow hiding spot before he could give in.

Kaoru managed a weak, “Yeah…“ and followed as he led them back onto the path that would take them back to his master’s hut. Her emotions slowly started to settle down the further up the path they went and she sighed in relief.

Yet even though a companionable silence seemed to fall between them as they continued on she had the distinct feeling that for some reason Kenshin was coiled as tightly as she had been.

But what she couldn’t puzzle out was why.

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