Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

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Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:27 am

I hope you won't mind if I post each chapter in a new post ^_^

All comments are welcome Smile

In case you're wondering I called it Contemplation in the style of the Rurouni Kenshin OAV's - Trust, Betrayal & Reflection as it's an RK Fanfic Smile
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Ehryn

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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:28 am

Prologue

“Step down Battousai, I’m not here for you.”
The sentence rang out across the small open courtyard like a bell. The red-haired young swordsman smiled slightly and shifted his grip on his sword.
“You know I can’t do that.”
“No, I know you won’t but I felt I ought to at least give you the chance to change your mind.”
“You could always leave…”
His opponent smiled this time, eyes looking away from him, towards the house behind him.
“You know I won’t do that any more than you will.” His opponent drew a sword and the red-haired man noticed it was double-edged.
“I know” came the simple reply.
The battle was a long one between evenly-matched opponents. Slash for slash, parry for parry, cut for cut they fought desperately, each searching for the moment they could get the upper hand. Their swords locked as they pushed together, both hoping they would be able to get the cut in but knowing that they couldn’t possible break the other’s guard. They broke apart, jumping high into the air and landing either side of the courtyard, panting heavily before rushing into the fray once again.
Finally, after what felt like hours of attacking, parrying and thrusting, the red-haired man misjudged a feint and lay on the ground with a sword pointed at his throat.
“Well done Battousai, I haven’t fought an opponent this good in years.”
He looked up, no fear in his eyes.
“Do you yield?” The simple question asked with such innocence, as if this were merely a practice match and his life didn’t hinge on this answer.
He smiled again, then laughed aloud.
“It seems I have met my match this time… Go, seek your vengeance, for all the good it will do you, for all the relief it will bring your soul.”
The sword drew away from his throat and his opponent dashed away into the house.
D*mn, he thought, she’s better even than the stories say, better than I imagined… But why does she seem so familiar..?


Chapter 1
A familiar face


Goodbye, Himura-kun…
Those words echoed in her mind every time she saw someone with red hair. Her own was the shade of blood itself, a deep red colour frequently likened to mahogany. A not unpleasing but inaccurate description but…
She was broken out of her reverie by a shout nearby.
“Stop! Thief!”

* * *

“So why did I have to come into town too?” whined Sanosuke as he and Kenshin headed for the tofu stall.
“This one thinks it’s because it keeps you out from under Kaoru-dono’s feet.”
“But we don’t even need any tofu!”
Kenshin shrugged then smiled up at his friend.
“It could be worse Sano, she could have made you help with the chores, then you would have vanished and missed out on a free meal that you would.”
Sano sighed heavily.
“Yeah, but…” Sano’s complaint was cut off by a commotion just ahead of them.
A panicked looking man hurtled past the pair, seeming for all the world like the hounds of H*ll were on his tail. Before Kenshin could regain his balance enough to give chase he was spun around again by a violet streak going in the same direction. When he and Sano regained their balance, they stared at the running pair.
The violet streak turned out to be a girl who leapt gracefully into the air above the man clutching a money pouch, drew a sword that was slung across her back and hit him on the back of the head with the flat of the blade. He stopped in his tracks, looking a little confused before she kicked him hard between the shoulder blades as she fell then neatly landed beside his now prone form. Kenshin and Sano both looked suitably impressed by this neat capture.
She sheathed the sword and, picking up the man in one hand and the pouch in the other, turned and walked back towards them.
Kenshin felt a momentary flash of recognition but it was gone in an instant as she passed them by without a glance and walked to the distraught woman whose money had been stolen. The girl dropped the thief on the floor, handed over the money pouch and then walked away without saying a word or even paying the slightest bit of attention to the woman’s grateful words of thanks.
Handing a stunned Sano the tofu bucket, Kenshin quickly caught up to her.
”That was quite impressive that it was” he said jovially.
“Get lost” came her short reply.
“This one hasn’t seen anything like that in many years, you must be very skilled at swordsmanship that you must” he continued.
“I said leave me alone, baka” she said, not changing her pace.
“No, you said to get lost but this one cannot get lost in a place where he knows every street and corner that he cannot” he replied smoothly “but maybe you could do with a guide in Tokyo and this one can certainly help… Miss Nerina…”
She stopped short at this sentence and whirled around to face him.
“How…?!” she exclaimed before breaking off at seeing his face “Battousai! I should have recognised your voice, you’ve changed in these few years since we fought.” Her tone and manner were aggressive but he could see in her eyes that she wasn’t seriously angry, more annoyed at being caught out than anything else.
“This one no longer answers by that name. As I hear you no longer go by Nerina, though this one was sure it would at least encourage you to talk to me that it would.”
She made a sour face and gestured towards a narrow stone bench nearby, indicating that they should go over there to talk.
“Ok, talk. What do you want from me?” she said, breaking off to stifle a cough.
“Nothing” he spread his hands “this one was just wondering what you were doing in Tokyo…”
“A person can’t go to Tokyo if they choose?” she said scathingly, cutting him off.
“This one is merely curious as to why you didn’t return to your home when you were done with your… vendetta. This one has no objections whatsoever to your being in Tokyo, or anyone else for that matter” he smiled at this point and shrugged “curiosity gets this one in a lot of trouble sometimes and you must understand that there are a lot of people who wish to find Battousai the manslayer and challenge him. Either for a loss during the Revolution, though this one admits there aren’t that many of those, or because they wish to prove themselves the best, or for reasons even this one cannot fathom. This one was wondering if you were one of these kinds that he was.” He kept smiling at her in an annoyingly pleasant way.
“Well don’t worry that little red head of yours, I’m not here for vengeance or a re-match. I’m not interested in hurting you or anyone else for that matter and I’ll be out of your city within the week ok? Now can I go? Or am I so pleasant to look at you’d like to sit and talk some more?” she said with a hard edge in her voice.
“Oro” Kenshin said blushing “This one is just concerned for your well being, there are many people out there looking for remnants from the Revolution that there are…” he broke off and looked away towards the street.
She laughed, a short tinkling laugh that sounded completely out of character for the hardened front she showed.
“I appreciate your concern, Himura-san, but as you see I am completely capable of looking after myself. Besides…” once again the conversation was interrupted, this time by Sano.
“Hey! Kenshin! What’s the big idea leaving me to go chasing after some girl huh?!” he called, waving the tofu bucket in the air.
“Sorry Sanosuke, this one just didn’t think perhaps… Please, meet Miss…” he broke off and looked at her quizzically.
Kuroko” she whispered before coughing again.
“Please meet Kuroko-dono, an old acquaintance of this one's.”
Sano took a moment to give a good look at the girl. She looked about 22, 23 tops and wore her blood-red hair short around her face. Her clothes were unusual, a gi with purple trousers and a very pale lilac top. It was a slightly clashing effect, though Sano didn’t really notice having no fashion sense to speak of, but it was beautifully offset by the strain of the shirt over her chest.
She cleared her throat “had a good look have you?” she said sharply.
“Uh, uhm” Sano stammered, trying to think of words that weren’t ‘oro’ so he wouldn’t sound like a nervous Kenshin but failing miserably “I’m Sanosuke Sagara, uh, pleased to meet you” he stuttered, feeling like a teenager.
“Sagara…” she said to herself.
“Yeah, you wanna make somethin’ of it?” Sano said dangerously.
“No, not at all” she replied “I was just wondering if you were related to an old friend of mine…”
“I’m not.” He said shortly.
“Why don’t you come back to the dojo and have dinner with us?” Kenshin cut in quickly, sensing there was an argument about to happen “this one would be very pleased to catch up on what you’ve been doing since we last met that he would.”
She looked away from Sano and shrugged.
“Why not?”
The trio made their way back after a quick stop at the tofu stall, Kuroko insisting that she pay for it claiming that she didn’t believe in free meals.
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:28 am

Chapter 2
Memories and recollections


“Kaoru-dono!” called Kenshin as they stepped inside the dojo.
“Hey! Kaoru, Yahiko! Where are you?!” shouted Sanosuke in his usual brusque manner.
Yahiko’s head appeared around the door and he glared at Sano before noticing their guest.
“Hey, who’re you?” he challenged.
“My name is Kuroko, young swordsman; it is my honour to have been invited by Himura-san to your dojo. I assume a man of your apparent skill is the First Apprentice here? I mean no disrespect but your age belies the fact that you cannot be the master although I would not be displeased if this was an incorrect assumption.”
Sano and Kenshin couldn’t help but be impressed by the smooth way that the young woman had brushed Yahiko’s young ego while still maintaining that he was, in fact, an inexperienced child.
Yahiko’s face coloured slightly “You’d be right, the Assistant Master is bathing at the moment but if you like I could bring some tea for you in the sitting room while you wait? Oh, Kenshin, is that the tofu? I’ll take it to the kitchen for you.” Yahiko somehow managed to make this speech without stammering too much and, taking the tofu bucket from Kenshin, turned and started to walk towards the kitchen. Turning back he said “would you like a rice ball Kuroko-dono? Kenshin made them fresh this morning, they’re pretty good.”
“No thanks, I wouldn’t want to spoil my appetite for dinner.”
“Yeah you would, Kaoru’s cooking and she’s awful at cooking” Yahiko laughed, stepping into the kitchen.
Kenshin and Sano took Kuroko into the sitting room and settled themselves around the small table.
“I must admit I am impressed girlie” said Sano “I don’t remember ever having seen Yahiko be so polite to anyone, let alone a girl! He called you Kuroko-dono, that’s a real compliment coming from him.” He laughed slightly.
“What made you speak to Yahiko that way Kuroko-dono?” asked Kenshin “That was some very skilled flattery for that young one; this one is also very impressed.”
She shrugged comfortably. “It is obvious he’s a swordsman and I know from experience that young swordsmen are very objective to being addressed as ‘kid’ or ‘boy’. I admit I was trying to avoid a conflict with some of the words I said, but nonetheless he appears to me that he has the makings of a great swordsman when he is grown. After all, we were all young novices once right? Perhaps a small boost for his self-esteem would not do him much harm and it’s easy enough to make him realise how inexperienced he is if he gets a little too big for his sandals.” She stifled a cough then smiled and fell into a thoughtful silence.
Yahiko returned with the tea several minutes later, serving Kuroko but leaving Sano and Kenshin to serve themselves. After another few moments of silence, Sano sighed and looked around.
“Women sure do spend a long time in the baths” he mused, half to himself.
Kenshin and Kuroko looked at him, both with similar bemused smiles on their face.
“What?!” Sano exclaimed.
“Nothing” they replied in unison, then looked at each other and burst into laughter which Sano eventually caught.
When their amusement subsided Kuroko poured herself another cup of tea and looked at Sano.
“You were in the Sekihoutai weren’t you?” She asked innocently.
Sanosuke spluttered a little, spitting tea on Kenshin, before answering “Yeah, what of it?!”
“Nothing of it, I just recognised you and besides, the name ‘Sagara’ kind of gave it away….” She trailed off slightly before continuing. “He was a good man” she smiled “it’s a great tribute that you took his name, Sanosuke. He would have liked that…” she looked away from him and out of the window. Sano looked stunned but had a second, harder, look at this woman who claimed to have known Captain Sagara.

“Sano, Katsu, meet Ne-Ne. It’s an alias but we can’t risk anyone overhearing she’s here, the enemy could be anywhere. She’s going to be joining us for a little while; I’m counting on you to look after her while she’s with us.” Captain Sagara smiled at his two eager young comrades. He knew he could trust these boys with this, she could look after herself and they needed the morale from being given an important duty after all the hard work they had done.
“Nice to meet you, young warriors, I am glad to be put in your care. I know Captain Sagara wouldn’t ask just anyone to protect me.” The girl, only about 4 years older than them, smiled and Sano thought his heart would stop. He and Katsu looked adoringly at the girl and swore that they would give their lives before letting anyone hurt her…


“Dammit!” Sano exclaimed, slamming his hand down on the table and making Kenshin jump slightly. “You spoke to me that way! D*mm*t!” he exclaimed again.
“What way?” she said, calmly sipping her tea, having not even flinched at his outburst.
“The way you spoke to Yahiko just now! And you know it!” he shouted at her.
“Ah, I remember now” she said, setting down her tea “and if memory serves, and it usually does, you told me you’d die before anyone hurt me am I correct?” she smiled sickeningly sweetly and if Sano hadn’t been so flustered he was certain he would have strangled her on the spot. He made a few gargled sounds in the back of his throat before falling into a sullen quiet grumbling, being unable to think of any suitable retort at present. Kuroko picked up her tea again and began to sip it once more, eyes lowered in a mock demure pose. Looking from one to the other, Kenshin felt he should do something to lighten the mood.
“So, uh, this one thought perhaps that you could tell him what you have done for the last few years. Did you ever manage to find the ones you were looking for? Or is that the reason you are still travelling?” he asked.
“No, I found all the ones I was looking for. There are a few I feel I ought to revisit but they are not pressing matters. I was, in fact, just travelling to see what this revolution has brought us. Having been neutral in the conflict I feel I ought to know exactly what this new era has brought us, for good or ill.” She coughed again and Kenshin waited a moment before continuing.
“I see… And have you found what you were expecting?”
“I was expecting very little, and found less. The country is still as corrupt as ever with the little pockets of goodness one expects to find in any place. I feel I ought to admit, I was hoping I might run into you, Himura-san, as I have heard rumours that you had become a Rurouni, travelling around helping people.” She laughed at this point “I have to say, I wanted to see the great Battousai as a humble man again, swearing not to kill ever again and living an ordinary life. It was not one of the options I had considered when wondering what you would do during peacetime.”
Kenshin was a little stunned that she had wanted to find him, let alone had given thought to what he might do after the Revolution was over.
“This one feels a little… flattered that you should be concerned about his welfare after the war…”
“But Kenshin” this was the first time she had used his first name, and the absence of the honorific too surprised him a little “of course I was concerned about you… You may have forgotten me but I certainly haven’t forgotten you.” She laughed again.
“Oh really?” came an indignant voice from the door.
Kuroko rose from the table and turned towards the sound.
“You must be Kaoru-dono. Himura-san…” the use of his family name and the honorific had returned he noticed “…seems to hold you in great esteem.” She bowed low to Kaoru “I am honoured to meet someone who has gained the respect of a great swordsman such as he, you must be very talented.”
Kenshin and Sano noticed the sweet talking even as Kaoru blushed and visibly relaxed somewhat, but both sensibly decided not to mention it.
Yahiko pushed Kaoru through the door and stepped in behind her.
“You don’t have to be nice to this ugly girl, pretty lady, it’s only Kaoru.” He said rudely, nimbly dodging Kaoru’s swinging fist and dancing out of her reach.
“But, my friend, no matter what your personal feelings, you should always be polite to your assistant master, especially when there are guests in the house. Besides…” She laughed again “if I can recognise talent in one even so young as you, then I can surely recognise talent in the one who hones that natural ability into perfection.” With this sentence, the men noticed, she had deftly smoothed over the argument that would surely have broken out, paid compliments to both parties and ingratiated herself seamlessly with Kaoru. She was definitely blessed with a silver tongue indeed.
Kaoru stood up from the ground with surprising grace and then seated herself beside the other woman, nudging Kenshin over a little so as to make room and effectively barrier this newcomer from him. She was still undecided as to whether this girl was a threat or not and decided to play it safe until she was sure. She poured them both a fresh cup of tea and turned to speak to Kenshin.
“Would you be a dear and make dinner this evening? I should very much like to get to know our unannounced guest.”
Kenshin smiled and nodded. “Of course Kaoru-dono, this one would be happy to, that I would.”
“I am most terribly sorry Kaoru-dono, I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Kuroko, I met Himura-san in town and he asked me to come back for dinner. I hope this is ok...” She paused “This is the Kamya Kashiin dojo is it not?”
“Yes, it is, how did you know?” asked Kaoru, suspiciously.
“Well, I will admit I read it on the sign above the gate as we came in, but I visited here once before, when I was very young and I came with my…. my father. He was friends with the old master, is he still here?”
Kaoru looked a little pained. “I’m afraid not, he passed away several years ago, I was only a girl myself when he died.”
“I am aggrieved to hear that, he was very kind to me when I visited.”
The conversation moved on to other matters that women like to talk about and Sano and Yahiko were starting to get bored when Kenshin called them all into the dining room for dinner. As they rose to go and eat, Sano could have swore he saw a look of relief pass briefly across Kuroko’s face.
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:29 am

Chapter 3
Questions and revelations


When they had finished dinner it was decided that Kuroko should stay the night, she hadn’t got a room booked at the inn in town and it was a long walk in the dark for someone who didn’t know the way. Sano stayed also, as he occasionally did, so the house was full of laughter and pleasantness which Kenshin was acutely aware was because of Kuroko. Every time it seemed like someone’s back was getting up and a fight may break out, Kuroko deftly changed the subject or smoothed things over, leaving all concerned, several times Kenshin himself, feeling relieved and justified.
Towards the end of the night, Kaoru insisted that Kuroko stay a few days ‘to rest after her long journeys’ and Kenshin, having watched the girl closely all night, thought that perhaps once she had arrived this may have been her intention all along. She had certainly spent a lot of time sweet talking Kaoru but that may have just meant that she wanted to keep the peace. And after all, as a fellow traveller Kenshin knew it was beneficial to have people who like you in a town or city, if only so that you could have somewhere to sleep if you couldn’t afford an inn.
Eventually, the conversation wound down and everyone went to bed. Kenshin lay in bed for a while, thinking, until he heard footsteps pass his door and head down the hall to the courtyard. He got up and followed, wondering why Kuroko would be sneaking around the house. He knew it was she because it was a pace he did not recognise. Silently he followed her and then hid so he could watch her. She went outside and put on her shoes. She had her sword strapped to her back again, he noticed, but that wasn’t so unusual – he kept his sword on him at all times and had it with him now.
He watched as she went through a few moves, swipes with the sword, jumps and punches and the like, but the strange thing was that she did it all in slow motion, as though she were just trying them out rather than training.
“Have you seen enough Himura-san?” her voice was soft and quite quiet, though in the still night it was easily loud enough to carry to him in his hiding place.
“You knew this one was watching?” he asked, surprised and stepping out from his hiding place.
“Of course, I heard you get up and I was counting on you hearing me walk past your room and coming to see what I was doing walking around late at night.”
“You were… counting on it?” he asked, confused.
“Naturally. I was hoping we could continue our conversation, since we were interrupted earlier. All the swordplay, though excellent practice, was merely for show.” She smiled at him warmly then walked over to the wooden walkway near where he stood and sat down, leaning against one of the support beams. She motioned for him to join her and he did so, sitting opposite her and copying her by leaning against one of the beams.
“No doubt you are wondering how I believe I know you from before we met in battle am I right?” She produced a packet of cigarettes from somewhere in her clothing and lit one with a match. She didn’t bother offering him one, she knew he wouldn’t smoke and she hated the habit in herself.
“We-ell… I admit this one is intrigued. This one had no memory of you from before that time, although I know some small amount of your past from rumours and hearsay. This one hopes you will be forgiving if I have made a few assumptions, that I do.”
“I would be interested to hear your ‘assumptions’ but please, before we continue, drop the Rurouni act. We both know you can use the first person and don’t need to end most of your sentences with little expressions like ‘that it is,’ ‘that I do’ et cetera. It will only complicate conversation and make it more long winded than it needs to be.”
He laughed at this, not many people could tell that the way he spoke was merely a favoured means of expression he had picked up somewhere in his travels. He found it helped to make people feel more relaxed around him but obviously this was not necessary with this girl.
“Very well, I will try to drop the habit if I can, please forgive me if I occasionally forget myself and lapse back though.” She smiled and nodded before gesturing for him to continue.
“I first heard about you when I joined the Revolution. The people I worked for told me to be careful if I ever came across a girl who called herself ‘Nerina’ and that I should run away if I did because she would undoubtedly kill me. Naturally I was intrigued and determined to meet you and I would not run away from you if I did...” She just nodded and smiled again, stifling a cough, obviously wanting him to tell his tale without hesitation.
“I heard you were looking for vengeance against the Imperialists for something but also that you were actually after the high ranking members of the shogunate so I did a bit of digging around and finally found that you weren’t on either side. You were after revenge for the murder of your family and that both sides had a hand in it. I couldn’t really glean much more than that other than you were undefeated by anyone in battle but you were merciful and would let anyone who surrendered live, unless they had your family’s blood directly on their hands. You even allowed some of the people who ordered it to live, under certain conditions, which is why I suppose you said earlier that you think you ought to ‘revisit’ some of them. I think that’s everything I know, that I do.”
“I’ll admit you have certainly done your homework.” She sighed. “My family were killed because we wouldn’t join either side in the Revolution. I was away at the time which is why I was spared their fate. My parents and siblings were easily able to defend themselves, I was the youngest of four, and if it had been just them I would have grieved them and then gone on with my own life.” Her eyes narrowed and Kenshin felt that she looked actually rather frightening at that moment. “The reason I went on my, ah hah, ‘vendetta’ as you called it, was because they killed my 3 year old twin nieces. Barely able to feed themselves let alone fight armed adult men, they were slaughtered in their beds after they watched their own parents die trying to save them. None of them were just killed; they were massacred in an unnecessarily brutal way. Not a one of them were left completely whole, even though the first thrust undoubtedly killed them. And that was not a nice sight for a 13 year old to see…” she was shaking now; her hands balled into tiny, white knuckled fists that Kenshin knew could easily break a man’s bones. She took a deep breath and released it slowly, unclenching her fists as she did so.
“But you wanted to know how I knew you right? You needed to know a little of my history before I told you, although it takes place while my parents were still alive…”

“You are going to learn swordsmanship, Kuroko, you’ll love it there and perhaps it might teach you some sensibilities too.” Her father smiled down at her, his face kind but determined.
“No! No! I don’t want to go! Please Papa, I’ll behave, I promise!” she sobbed, clutching his trousers and burying her face into them.
“I’m sorry Kuroko, but the twins need care and you’re being very disruptive. You will thank me when you have new skills and can see that all I do is for your benefit. I’m not driving you away and if your master believes you are unable to make any progress you will be welcome home at any time. I can see in you that you will be a great warrior some day so please, for your Papa, try? Just for a little while?” He picked her up in his arms as though she were 5 instead of 10 and dried her tears. She looked up at him with a stricken face but nodded sadly, terrified that she would have to leave her beloved father and train with a stranger.
The next day, he took her down into Kyoto where they were met by a tall imposing man in a white cloak who looked down at her with little emotion.
“I have agreed to train her because you are a good man and a good friend. But, if she is unwilling to learn I will send her back in disgrace with no hesitation, Togusa, I think you should know that before you send your youngest daughter into my care. She will work hard, and it won’t just be martial arts and swordsmanship she will work at. There are many chores which need to be done and she will be expected to help with those also.”
Her father nodded, understanding completely. Kuroko was no stranger to chores, the youngest in a large household she often helped with chores but she resented being told she would have to do them for this man. Her father embraced her, gave her some money and the sword he had bought for her when he started to teach her the basics and told her to behave herself and remember to write every week. She had in her bag many sheets of paper and writing implements but she was doubtful that this hateful man, who she had been instructed by her father to call ‘master’ at all times, would give her half a second to write any letters at all.
They left soon after and travelled up into the mountains to a little house. Outside she saw a red-haired boy of about her age sweeping the leaves away from the door. When he noticed their arrival he looked up, saw her and blanched. She smiled inwardly at this; perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad at this place, if she had this effect on him already…
She soon found that it wasn’t as bad as she had imagined. Once a week she was allowed, nay, instructed to write her father a letter home and once a week she was given half an hour to read his replies and give them thought. Other than that her days were taken up with a strict regime of training and chores, and she found she actually quite liked living here with the master and his boy. The boy, in fact, wasn’t all that bad, for a boy. He was kind, though headstrong and stubborn, and would always back her up if there was an issue she needed to raise or a question their master didn’t want to answer. Occasionally, the master would have to head into Kyoto for a day, sometimes staying overnight too, and would allow them to play together instead of training, as long as they kept up with their chores.
“Can’t catch me Ken-Ken!” she called one morning as they played catch by the waterfall.
“Yeah I can, I just want to give you a head start ‘cause you’re a girl!” he called back, knowing full well she was faster by far than him and hating the fact. She let him catch up to her then danced out of his reach easily, backing away and taunting him again.
“Watch out!” He shouted as she hopped backwards, giggling.
“Oro?” she said before losing her footing on the rim of the ledge that she had backed up to without realising. She screamed as she slipped and saw the land become sky, falling into the deep gorge caused by centuries of the waterfall crashing into it.
“Kenshiiin!” her normally soft voice rising to an ear-splitting pitch that hurt his head as he ran towards the edge.
Somehow, neither of them could ever truly understand how, he managed to reach the ledge before she was too far away to catch. He grabbed her hand and felt the spray from the waterfall make his grip slip a little on her wrist.
“Don’t you let go, you hear?!” he shouted to her above the roar of the waterfall. She looked up at him, terror in her eyes but miraculously, he thought, not crying. He would have expected any girl to be sobbing by now but though her green eyes, locked onto his blue ones, showed horror, they also showed utter determination. She brought her other arm up and grabbed his wrist more securely, allowing them both to grip each other. Then, she dug her toes into the damp, mossy rock and pushed herself up, climbing with her free hand as he pulled, digging his own heels into the grass. After what felt like hours of work, they both collapsed on the grass, exhausted and panting but safe.
“That… was a close one…” he managed to say. She sat up, took a deep breath and regained her composure. Then she turned to him grinning.
“You know, I’m glad you did catch me Ken-Ken… Although next time, I’d prefer if you didn’t wait until I was over the edge before you manage it huh?” she looked at him impishly but then her face turned soft again.
“Thanks…” she said quietly. “Seriously… I owe you one…” then she stood up and started to walk back toward the house to change and wash her clothes.
They never mentioned that episode to their master, and only rarely spoke of it themselves. They were much more careful in the future, and there was never a repeat performance. Eventually, they forgot about it and everything just went back to normal.
She stayed for three years, learning the Hiten Mitsurugi style of swordsmanship, never seeing her parents but getting a letter from them every week without fail. One week, there was no letter. She worried but perhaps her father had been too busy to send it on the right day and it would come a few days later. When it didn’t arrive after the second day, she decided that the messenger must have been delayed by some conflict that she knew was going on outside their safe haven. When she didn’t receive a letter the next week either, she decided enough was enough and told her master that she was going home. He told her that if she left he would not teach her again, but that although he saw great potential in her, he believed she was following the right path.
Almost a year later, she heard from a villager she bumped into in Kyoto that the red-haired boy had left too, apparently to join the Imperialists. She hoped she would never have to fight him…
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:30 am

Chapter 3 [cont]

“Ken-Ken…” Kenshin murmured when her story was over. “You know, I remember now… I can’t believe I even forgot it…” he looked slightly ashamed.
“I can. You went through a lot of hard times back then and it’s natural that you would forget. I forgot myself until I saw you in that courtyard, blocking my path… Do you understand now why I spared your life? Why I gave you the second chance to yield?”
“You felt you owed me that much for saving you that day at the waterfall…”
“I know you only did it because we were friends and because you didn’t want me to die, but I didn’t want to kill you, I wasn’t even all that keen on fighting you…”
“Do you know, I think that’s one reason I say ‘oro’ a lot” he grinned at her “after all, you had perfect comedy timing that day and it’s such a perfect word.”
“I hope so; it would be nice to think that I had somehow affected you, if only on an unconscious level.” She flashed him a cheeky grin. “Besides, there’s not much consciousness to work with on you, there never was!” she laughed aloud and leapt to her feet as he chased her, both laughing, though quietly. They had been talking for a long time but it was still a couple of hours until dawn. He caught her finally, by the ribbon tied to her sword hilt and she spun and threw her arms around him, tucking her face into his neck. She felt his face grow warm as he blushed but she refused to let go of him.
“Kenshin, my friend, it is so good to see you again, truly it is…”
“Oro?” was all he could think of to say. She smiled against his neck and closed her eyes; breathing in his scent then sighing and releasing him. He was blushing furiously and it was quite hard to see where his skin ended and his hair began.
“Oh Kenshin, I don’t mean it like that at all!” she exclaimed, realising the reason for his discomfort. “I just… It’s not often I meet people from the past and it’s just so nice to finally see you again and speak to you like an old friend and though I’ll admit I love you dearly, it is more as a brother than what you’re thinking…” now it was her turn to blush, she hadn’t intended to get emotional.
“This one is just a little… surprised at your apparent affection…” he looked at the ground and they shared an uncomfortable moment.
Finally, she sighed. “Well, there’s no point for me to go to bed now… I think I’ll train a little.”
“This one will go back to bed, if for only an hour’s sleep at most.”
“G’night Ken-Ken” she grinned.
“’Night old friend” he smiled back before entering the house again.
When she was sure he had left she crept slowly over to a tall plant in the corner of the garden and reached behind it, catching Sano by the ear and twisting viciously.
“Did no-one ever tell you it’s rude to eavesdrop Sanosuke Sagara? I know they did because I told you myself when you were naught but a child. Did you hear and see everything you wanted?” her tone couldn’t have gotten any frostier and her face was dangerously full of cold fury.
Sano stammered and faltered, trying desperately to think of some excuse but drawing a total blank. She sighed again and her face went back to its usually serene expression, although there was sadness in her eyes.
“Sano… You’ve really hurt me tonight, I hope you know that.” She said the short sentence with such utter melancholy that Sano could truly believe her and, strangely, he couldn’t help feeling guilty. He was genuinely fond of this youthful girl with the face of and angel and the tongue of a snake. He admired her too, which was unusual as he rarely admired anyone who hadn’t bested him in a fair fight. She released his ear and turned toward the house.
“Go back to bed Sano, and please… don’t mention to Kenshin you were here, I don’t think he noticed you and I’d prefer it if this little… episode stayed between us. I’m very fond of Kaoru-chan and I can tell she’s very fond of Kenshin so…” she left the sentence hanging and went back inside to her room.
Sitting on a cushion she leant against the wall, her mind a tumult of thoughts.
What is happening to me? She thought to herself. Yesterday I didn’t, couldn’t, feel these kinds of emotions, is seeing these people changing something in me? And is that a good or a bad thing? I can’t decide… She thought about it for a long time until finally, her head nodded onto her chest and she fell into a fitful sleep.
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:31 am

Chapter 4
A happy reunion and a plan…


“Morning Kaoru-dono!” Kenshin called brightly a few days later while sitting in the garden playing with Ayame and Suzumi.
“Mo…orning Kenshin” yawned Kaoru, who hadn’t slept at all well. She rubbed her eyes but then had to rub them again as she didn’t believe the scene before her eyes.
Kuroko was sitting on the walkway with one of the slender pieces of bamboo she had taken to wearing in her hair in hand and Kenshin sat in front of her with Ayame and Suzumi. The tie had been taken out of Kenshin’s long hair and Kuroko was busy styling it, deftly parting it with the bamboo stick and then braiding it into three long plaits which elicited delighted cries from the two young girls, before undoing it again and starting over with a new style. She paused for a moment and looked over at Kaoru.
“Good morning Kaoru-dono, would you like me to do yours next? I’m just playing at the moment but I’m really not all that bad, I can do lots of pretty things with a girls hair.” She smiled, stifling a cough, “I may wear mine quite short but I used to be really good at styling it when it was long, if you’d like, I’m sure Kenshin will be happy to go and make you some breakfast while I do your hair, isn’t that right Kenshin?” she said, poking him in the back of the neck with the bamboo.
“Oro? Oh, of course, this one will be happy to Kaoru-dono. This one admits it is rather wearing having their hair styled many different times for the amusement of others…” He trailed off and smiled warmly at Kaoru and then at the girls who giggled and threw themselves at him.
“Oh Uncle Ken-Ken, do it again! Oh please do it again!” they begged.
“This one is going to go and make some breakfast for Kaoru-dono, if you ask nicely though I’m sure Kuroko will do your hair after she has done Kaoru-dono’s, that she will.” He rose and, with his almost permanent look of bemusement on his face, strode towards the kitchen.
Kaoru-dono! Kuroko! Thought Kaoru, Why is he on friendlier terms with her than he is with me?!
“He’s fond of you Kaoru-dono, and so he feels he ought to be more respectful than with me.” Kuroko said, as if reading Kaoru’s mind “To him, I’m as much a woman as Sanosuke… I’ll admit I’m a little rueful that he doesn’t call me -dono… I hate being thought of as an it rather than a she… So! What would you like me to do with your hair?”
Kenshin smiled from where he was standing behind the door. He didn’t like calling Kuroko by her name only, but he knew that it was the only way he would be able to continue his close friendship with the girl without incurring the wrath of Kaoru-dono, whom he was very fond of. He carried on down the hallway to the kitchen and busied himself making breakfast.
By the time Kenshin came back he almost didn’t recognise Kaoru. Her hair had been separated into six separate strands, then twisted and plaited into a ropy cord and pinned deftly around Kaoru’s head. She had a few bangs hanging over her face and looked at him demurely as he gave her the plate of food. Kuroko was busy doing Ayame and Suzumi’s hair in a myriad of amusing and child pleasing styles and therefore looking the other way.
“What do you think Kenshin?” Kaoru asked him, noticing the look on his face. “Do you not like it?”
Kenshin stuttered a stream of oro’s before managing to stammer “this one thinks you look very beautiful Kaoru-dono, that you do” and practically running towards where Yahiko was practicing.
Kuroko, with her back still to Kaoru and Kenshin’s retreating form, grinned to herself.
“I think it definitely had the desired effect Kaoru-dono” she laughed to herself “that I certainly do.”
“You really think so?”
“I know so. I’ve never heard so many uses of ‘oro’ in one sentence and I used to use it myself rather a lot you know.”
“Oh I hope it wasn’t too much” Kaoru sighed before realising she was giving away a little too much information about he feelings for Kenshin. She laughed hastily and said “after all, I wouldn’t want him getting all enamoured about it, it’s only a silly hairstyle after all!” she laughed a little louder and a little longer than was really necessary and Kuroko smiled to herself again. Her first impression of Kaoru on that first day was correct then, and she intended to do something about it…
Around midday she sought out Sano at his friends’ house doing what he usually was – gambling.
“Sano, I need your help with something.”
“Not now Kuroko! Can’t you ask Kenshin or something?”
“No, I need you, will you come?”
“No I won’t, I have to win my money back from these guys!” he glared at his friends who smiled at him.
“Perhaps you should go with her Sano, before we win the shirt off your back!” they laughed.
Kuroko sighed; this was going to be tougher than she thought.
“If I help you, will you come with me?”
“I don’t see how you can help but sure, why not?”
She sighed again and sat down beside him.
“Is it evens and odds or do I have to guess the numbers too?” she asked wearily.
“We-ell… it’s evens and odds although if you get the numbers right too I guess we’ll double the winnings since there’s only a 1:12 chance of you getting it right.”
“Ok, shake the dice” she said in the same weary tone.
They shook the dice and slammed them on the floor.
“Well?”
“Uh, evens!” said Sano, crossing his fingers.
“Odds, four and seven” said Kuroko, dropping her bet in front of her and looking bored.
They lifted the pot and…
“No way! Four and seven! You have one lucky friend Sano, but I bet she can’t do it again!”
“I’ll take that bet” said Kuroko “how about I bet you all the money Sano lost that I can do it three times in a row? But you have to take my bet too and make the double payout like you promised.”
“Why not? There’s no way you can do it again!”
They shook the dice again and slammed the pot on the floor. Kuroko dropped her bet in front of them again and looked at Sano.
“Odds or Evens?” she asked.
“Um… odds?” he questioned.
“Nope, evens, two and six.” She replied with a cough, watching with smug satisfaction as they lifted the pot to reveal a two and a six and collected her payout.
“But… How?! You’ve fixed the dice!”
“No need, besides, I have no interest in gambling whatsoever but I need Sano now and I can’t wait all day for him to lose the rest of his ill-gotten gains. Shake the dice.”
They shook them once more and once again she got it right with an even number and a five and a three.
“Ok, please hand over Sano’s money and my winning’s and we’ll be on our way” she said, rising.
Reluctantly, but knowing that Sano certainly, if not this sword-carrying girl, would make them regret it if they went back on their promise, they paid up.
“You know he’ll only come back another day and lose it all again so why worry?” she said with a grin.
Grumbling they returned to their game and Sano reluctantly followed her out of the room.
“You know we could make a fortune with that skill of yours, how d’you do it?! I’ve brought Kenshin down here dozens of times and he hardly ever gets one right!”
She sighed again. “It’s easy. All I do is remember what numbers they’re on when they go into the pot, then from the noise it makes I calculate how many times they turn before they’re thrown down. It’s easy when they’re not rolled after the shakes, you don’t have to compensate for vigorous rolling. Now can we please go?”
Sano stopped. “Can you teach someone that?” He asked, a light shining in his eyes.
“Yes, I can, but only if they can see things as I can see them and only if they’re very good at fast calculation. And no I won’t teach you. At least, certainly not until you help me with my problem first” she coughed again.
Once they got to Sano’s room, she quickly outlined the problem and her proposed plan. Sano agreed with her and they set about making the preparations.
Two hours later Kuroko and Sano strolled into the dojo and sought out Kenshin and Kaoru.
Kenshin was still pink around his cheeks every time he looked at Kaoru and she was grinning fit to burst with the sheer amazement of this effect she was having on Kenshin, she hadn’t even hit Yahiko when he told her the new hairstyle was ugly!
“Hey, you two, c’mere.” Said Sano, in his usual gruff manner.
“We were thinking…” said Kuroko once they had been joined by the other two “why don’t the four of us go down to the… what do you call it?” she looked over at Sanosuke quizzically.
“Akabeko” he replied
“That’s right, why don’t the four of us go down to the Akabeko for some food? Just us four, it’ll be nice to have a meal with just us four adults and I know Yahiko won’t mind looking after the dojo if I ask him nicely.” Kuroko said, with apparent innocence. The other three had noticed over the past few days that although Yahiko was still his usual argumentative self, he would do almost anything Kuroko asked him to without question, especially if she told him she was trusting him. This seemed to count for a lot.
“Uh… I guess that could be nice, no kids for a change” said Kaoru “what do you think Kenshin?” she asked him, smiling sweetly.
After a few more utterances of ‘oro’ Kenshin finally said he thought it was a brilliant idea and it was settled.
Kuroko sought out Yahiko and then they were on their way.
When they reached the Akabeko, they stepped inside and almost immediately Tae came over to serve them. Once they were settled at a table, Kuroko looked hard at the retreating back of Tae.
“I’m sure she looks familiar… I think I’ll just go over and have a quick word…” she got up and went out the back to find Tae. Tsubame came over and took their orders and then returned a little later with their food.
“Where has Kuroko got to?” Sano grumbled moodily “I think I’d better go and find her…” he sighed with a look of longing at the beef stew still in the pan but rose and went towards the back to find Kuroko.
Kenshin and Kaoru looked at each other then, blushing, ate their food.
In the back, Sano found Kuroko and Tae deep in conversation.
“Kuroko, what are you doing?!” Asked Sano incredulously.
“Well, it turns out Tae and I are old friends! I used to eat often at her sister’s restaurant in Kyoto and we met one time when Tae was visiting, isn’t that great?!” enthused Kuroko.
“But what about…” Sano jerked his head in the direction of the restaurant “…you know…”
Kuroko giggled “I think they’ll be fine, let’s go and have a peek.” She crept to the curtain and looked through.
“They’re blushing but they’re talking, I think this has worked out just fine don’t you?” she and Tae laughed happily.
“Let’s go out the back, they’ll soon forget we were here and then I can make Yahiko and us some dinner, ok Sano?”
Sano agreed to this, a second meal, and they left quietly through the staff entrance.
Several hours later Kenshin and Kaoru returned.
“What happened to you guys?!!” shouted Kaoru at Sano and Kuroko.
“Sorry Kaoru-dono, I found out Tae and I are old friends and we were having a chat. After Sano came back we thought you two seemed to be having such a good time we thought it would be a shame to spoil it so we came back here and I cooked us a meal. Did you enjoy yourselves?” Kuroko, the silver tongued demon replied calmly, with a sincere look on her face, though inside her sides were splitting.
“Uh… well…” stammered Kaoru while Kenshin rattled off yet another load of oro’s and blushed the colour of his hair.
Sano and Kuroko laughed and then Kenshin and Kaoru couldn’t help themselves but join in and then, somehow, everything was fine again.
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:31 am

Chapter 5
The past catches up


Ayame and Suzumi chased Kenshin and Kuroko around the garden with a wet towel while Yahiko and Kaoru watched, having a break from their practice. Sano sat on a stone in the garden, chewing and playing with one of Kuroko’s bamboo sticks, stolen from her hair.
All in all, they all decided silently to themselves, it was turning out to be a beautiful, ordinary day.
Giving the girls a game to play and moving over to sit near Sano, Kenshin and Kuroko, who had been dubbed ‘Auntie Koko’ by the girls, laughed together with a strange familiarity. Once again Sano found himself watching Kuroko.
“How old exactly are you anyway Kuroko? I just can’t seem to work it out…”
“What do you mean?” she asked, smiling over at him.
“Well, when I met you when I was in the Sekihoutai, you looked about 4 years older than me. Now, I’d have to put you as a few years younger but if you’re Nerina from the revolution you’d have to be older than I can work out…” Sanosuke was rather rueful that he was so bad at maths.
She laughed again, that pretty tinkling sound that always made Sano shiver slightly for it was completely not in-keeping with the rest of her demeanour.
“I’ll be 29 this Fall” she replied, pleased that this revelation made Sano splutter.
“No way! You’re not 29 not a chance! 24 at the most!”
She grinned “I am how old I am, even if I don’t look it although I’m flattered that you think I’m so much younger than I am” the trio laughed happily together.
Suddenly, their moment was broken by a frantic banging on the gate.
“I wonder who that could be?” mused Kuroko aloud as she rose to answer it, the other two following her in case they were needed.
She opened the creaking gate, thinking to herself that she must grease it this afternoon. A young man practically fell inside and looked around wildly before noticing Kuroko, who had been partially hidden by the gate. He fell to his knees and looked as though he was on the verge of tears.
“Mistress, I have found you!” he exclaimed, much to the surprise of the others, and to Kuroko herself.
“Mistress, I have followed you all over Japan, each time I get close to you, you have already left but now you have finally stopped travelling long enough for me to find you! Please, I have a message from your hometown, please read it.” He thrust a piece of paper at her, which she took with a confused expression.

Mistress Kuroko, she read aloud, we are in desperate need of your help. We know you are a master swordswoman now and we need your skills! Shortly after you left here that last day your Uncle came to us and told us that you had slaughtered your family because they would not allow you to join the Revolution and that he was going to take your place as Master of our town. We didn’t believe him because some of us had seen the assassins leaving your house covered in blood and had even heard of a few that you had… disposed of. But we couldn’t stop him. He hired people to take your families bodies away and clean the house and then moved right in. He has raised the tax almost to the point where we can barely feed ourselves, let alone pay him as well, and he travels around with a group of hired swordsmen who kill anyone who shows any resistance.
Please, please come and re-take your land!


Here, the letter was a little smudged but evidently contained the signatures of most of the town.
She threw the letter back at the man, still on his knees in front of her.
“No.” she said and turned to leave but Kenshin’s hand on her arm prevented her from taking another step.
“Why not? They need your help Kuroko, you can’t abandon them. All the time he has been chasing you across the country, who knows how much worse things have gotten?” he said quietly.
“If you care so much why don’t you go Himura-san?” she replied coldly before a coughing fit caught her.
“This one intends to. But you will be coming with me, if I have to tie you up and drag you there myself that you will” he said with only the faintest trace of humour in his voice.
She sighed and relaxed a little, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“You don’t even want to know why I don’t want to go. It’s not that I don’t care, I just can’t go back there, I don’t know what it will do to my mind. I almost went mad when I saw them; it was only by thinking solely of revenge that I stayed sane. If I go back now, I think it would drive me over the edge and I’m too… happy now to risk that…” she trailed off and for the first time Kenshin saw a tear run down her face.
“I sympathise Kuroko-dono, truly I do. But if I go with you, and I’m sure Sano, Yahiko and Kaoru-dono will come as well, I think you’ll be safe from that happening. And if it does then we’ll snap you out of it that we will.”
She sighed again.
“Can we at least go into the house and I’ll fix us some lunch. I’m sure our friend here could do with a good meal too am I right?” she barely glanced at the messenger before walking away.
Sano and Kenshin exchanged a look but followed Kuroko towards the house with the other man. Once inside they settled in the dining room adjacent to the kitchen and Kuroko busied herself making lunch so that she didn’t have to talk. After some time she called the other four in from outside and seated them around the table taking great pains, Kenshin noticed, to seat herself furthest away from the messenger. They ate happily, Ayame and Suzumi laughing and joking in their usual young manner, even Yahiko joined in with them and the messenger, whose name was Akaro, was a big hit with his impressions. Only Sano and Kenshin noticed how increasingly quiet and withdrawn Kuroko was becoming, only looking up from eating to speak to the children or head off yet another conflict.
When everyone had finished eating, Kenshin suggested that Yahiko and Kaoru take the girls back outside and play then turned back to Kuroko who had fallen silent and would not meet his eyes.
“Kuroko… I know you’re confused but…” he began.
“I’m not confused, I’m upset.” She said vehemently, still staring at her hands.
“But you can’t just ignore this!” Sano said, slamming his hand on the table.
She jumped and dipped her head further down towards her chest.
“I turned my back on those people the day I left that town” she said in a small voice “I never intended to go back and I still don’t…”
“This one thinks you’re being very selfish” said Kenshin, a little harshly “but this one understands why you feel that way. This once would like to come to a compromise with you. If I can beat you in a fight, will you come?” he challenged.
She looked up at him, tears in her eyes.
“I don’t want to fight you… I’ll go, but you should know that I’m not choosing to go, I’m going because I don’t want to hurt you…” The tears fell and she looked back down to her hands, tears dripping on them as she cried silently.
There was nothing more they could say to her, they all knew that anything they said would only make her feel worse, or at the very least she wouldn’t feel better. The messenger’s face was full of gratitude to Kenshin, however. They left her alone for a while and agreed they would leave as soon as they could.
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:32 am

Chapter 6
Sano talks sense?!


A few days later they packed some few essential items in a knapsack each and arranged for a carriage to take them to Kuroko’s town. Surprisingly, Kuroko herself paid for their transport, insisting that she would at least fund the trip, even if she wasn’t going willingly. For the whole journey no-one said very much and it was a subdued mood which passed over them.
Kenshin was acutely aware that Kuroko was the source of this negativity – no doubt hoping that if she made them all so apprehensive they might turn back. She became increasingly withdrawn and her usually expressive face gazed out of the window blankly, not showing any emotion or recognition – even when Akaro pointed out familiar landmarks. She didn’t speak a word for the whole journey and Kenshin started to wonder to himself if perhaps they hadn’t made the right decision in forcing her to accept her responsibilities…
Eventually the sombre party rolled in to the town, only a few miles away from Kyoto. They stepped down from the coach one by one with finally only Kuroko left inside. Kenshin beckoned to her and she took a deep breath before getting out. Her face took on a pained expression as she looked around her and the others waited patiently, knowing he needed time to come to terms with some inner conflict.
“Mistress!” came a shout from just ahead of her. She turned in the direction of the sound, her face becoming blank and expressionless once more.
“Mistress Kuroko! You returned finally, I’m so glad to see you!” the man who had spoken rushed over with an almost childish exuberance. She looked at him blankly.
“You don’t remember me do you? Well I’m not surprised” he laughed “I was ten the last time you saw me. It’s Tashiko, we used to play together as children, do you remember now?” he smiled warmly.
Kenshin noticed an almost imperceptible change in her expression but then she looked the man in the eyes and shook her head and it was gone. The man looked crestfallen but brightened up again and insisted that they joined him in the restaurant for dinner, as it was getting quite late.
As they entered, there was a stir in the patrons and the four strangers could hear whispers run through the crowd…
It’s the mistress…
Oh look at her, the image of her mother…
Togusa and Nerina would be so proud…

And other similar statements. The name Nerina made them look at each other in puzzlement but they decided not to ask Kuroko about it just yet.
They settles at a table and gave their orders – except Kuroko who just nodded when Sano suggested something to her.
They were all becoming increasingly worried about the youthful girl, whose deadpan expression was so out of character for her. Tashiko looked concerned but told them all about how the town had fared since a thirteen year old Kuroko had left.
“About a year, perhaps a little longer, after you left my lady your Uncle came in a grand carriage. He went directly up to the house and came back about an hour or so later. As we described in the letter, he announced that you had come back from your training and asked to join the revolution. When your parents refused to let you, you killed them in a fit of rage and went off anyway. Well, of course we knew this was untrue but we had no was to prove it. He had the house cleaned from top to bottom and then moved himself in as the Master, saying you had been disowned for your actions. To start with, it wasn’t too bad but then he started to raise the taxes higher and higher while all the time living in luxury.
Eventually he hired a group of swordsmen, cast-offs from the revolution we think, and started having them execute anyone who objected to anything he did along with tax-evaders and thieves and the like. He even has women and children killed, he’s a monster!” Tashiko slammed his palm down on the table.
“Anyway, as soon as he brought in the mercenaries we sent that letter, I’m so glad you finally got it my lady, it means so much to us that you came.” She gave him a cold smile then looked at Kenshin and shrugged, saying I don’t care with this tiny movement.
“Um… did she lose the ability to speak? What happened?” asked Tashiko worriedly.
“No, she hasn’t said a word since we left Tokyo” replied Kaoru “I think she’s mad ‘cause we made her come…” she trailed off as Kuroko gave a derisive snort.
“She… didn’t want to come?” said Tashiko, shocked.
“Kenshin had to threaten to fight her to get her to come” said Yahiko in a small voice.
Suddenly the doors burst open and a young girl rushed in.
“Tas! He’s come! Quick, hide the mistress before he finds her and puts us all on the block!” she cried at the party, who all leapt to their feet. Kuroko sat still, placidly toying with her chopsticks, then she looked up at Kenshin with a malevolent expression on her face.
“We don’t have time for this…” sighed Sano and picked her up in his arms. “Hide our bowls and stay here – no doubt he’ll have noticed the coach so he’ll be surprised if there’s no-one here.” He turned to Tashiko. “Where can we hide?”
“There’s a small room upstairs, I’ll take you. He won’t check up there…” They ran up the stairs and Sano put the still motionless form of Kuroko down and shut the door to the room just as he heard a voice say loudly in an overly jovial tone “Strangers! How unusual!”
She stared as the wall with the faintest of smiles playing about her lips. Sano crouched down in front of her but it was as if she looked right through him.
“Kuroko, snap out of it!” he whispered angrily. She merely smiled a little more, her eyes still unfocused.
“For God’s sake, girlie, this is serious! These people are risking their lives to hide you here and you just…” he broke off, fishing for the right word before hearing her quiet laughing.
“Risking their lives?” she said quietly and there was a strange tone in her voice Sano couldn’t quite place. “They begged me to come and you forced me so don’t try to make me feel guilty Sanosuke.” She fell silent again and Sano tried to remember when he’d heard that tone before…
Of course! It was exactly how Kenshin had sounded when he was fighting Saito…
Sano slapped Kuroko right across the cheek, hard enough to leave a bruise on most people. Her head whipped to the side and she looked vaguely stunned and almost upset.
“Snap out of it you child!” he exclaimed, careful to keep his voice low. “These are your people and like it or not you have and obligation to help them. If it has an effect on your mental well-being, well tough. Hate me, hate Kenshin and the others if you must, but don’t you dare act all high and mighty as though letting these people die is the right thing to do!” Sano was getting worked up now, it was a real effort to keep his voice down.
“Truth is, you’re scared girlie, and you don’t want to admit to anyone you’re terrified out of your mind. You’re just being selfish!! Kenshin takes the world on his shoulders with no thought or regard for his own life! He does it because it’s right. And you’re just behaving like a spoilt brat who’s been asked to do something for someone else for a change!” Sano stopped and took a few deep breaths to calm down. Through his tirade she had stared at him, one hand up to her reddening left cheek and now she turned away from him, her short hair falling across her face, obscuring it from view.
“You’re right Sanosuke, I am scared…” she began in a small voice. “Truth is… I’m more scared than I’ve ever been in my entire life… I’m frightened that if I go back to that house the voice of reason will leave me and I’ll just start killing everyone… That’s how I felt last time I was here… The only reason I managed to stay sane was fixating myself on revenge and I knew it would mean nothing if I was just a crazed killer…” He saw a tear drip onto her folded hands and he thought his heart would break – he genuinely liked this girl – but she needed this shock. He stood up and turned his back on her, as much for his benefit as hers, turning his head slightly towards her. “That won’t happen, Kuroko, we won’t let it. And if my some strange chance it does, well, we’ll knock some sense into that silly little head of yours, count on that.” He was shocked by the appearance of her arms around his waist and he was glad she couldn’t see him blush.
“Thank you, Sanosuke Sagara, you truly are deserving of that name.” She squeezed a little tighter and released him, stepping back a pace. He turned and looked at her face. It showed strength of will and an utter determination but none of the harshness that had been there since they left Tokyo.
“With friends like you four, I have nothing at all to fear!!” she said vehemently “I will do my best for this town and make up for all the years of neglect! With you, Sano, and Kenshin, Kaoru and Yahiko standing beside me, there is nothing we cannot achieve together!” she sat down with a bump and some of the zeal seemed to leave her face.
“Feel better now?” came a question from the doorway to her left. Sano and Kuroko both jumped and turned to Kenshin who stood there smiling.
“This one is so glad you are yourself again, Kuroko-dono, but perhaps the others who didn’t hear your speech could use an apology? They feel very upset that you were so angry, that they do.”
She nodded and looked sheepish, obviously embarrassed that she had behaved so badly. The trio made their way downstairs and back to the table where Kuroko bowed low and begged their forgiveness for her abysmal treatment of them, which they readily gave. She embraced Tashiko and confessed that she did remember him and was equally as pleased to see him as he was to see her and that she had never really forgotten her old playmate.
The six of them sat and talked, joked and caught up on what had happened other than the atrocities occurring daily and, for a few hours at least, everything felt happy and normal.
They were given rooms upstairs to sleep in and retired one by one to rest up for the next day’s inevitable conflict…
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:32 am

Chapter 7
A reckoning.


Kenshin rose as the first rays of light were permeating over the horizon, and went downstairs to see about some breakfast for the small party. He found Kuroko sitting in the doorway, smoking as usual when she was stressed out. He stepped up beside her and looked down.
"This one ought to have known you would be already, you're an early riser at the best of times" he smiled.
"Unlike Sano" she laughed back "who would sleep until noon if he didn't have to worry about missing out on breakfast!" they chuckled together conspiratorially for a while before falling silent.
"I really am grateful, Kenshin, truly I am... To all of you, I mean, for everything..." he quieted her with a flippant wave of his hand.
"This one knows what it feels like to be alone, and how good it feels to have friends who care about you, that is. We're here because we care, not from any warped sense of duty or obligation but because we don't want you to have to face this alone that we do not." His kind face made Kuroko feel like crying so she looked away, towards their destination.
"I think I ought to tell you... I may have to kill my Uncle... I didn't make a vow not to kill like yours; I just don't see the need to kill unnecessarily... but... I can't help but feel like it might be necessary in this instance. I'm sorry Kenshin..." she couldn't meet his eyes. He put a comforting hand on her shoulder and turned back towards the door.
"This one is sure it won't come to that; but if it does, we will support you whatever your decision in the matter that we will." She looked up at him, gratitude shining from her face.
"You know, Ken-Ken, I don't feel at all frightened any more. I did yesterday but not now... I'm not at all. Because I know I have four wonderful friends beside me... I feel like I could do anything..." she broke off and coughed.
"This one knows what you mean. And now this one is going to go and see about breakfast that he is" he said as she rose and followed him inside.
"Did someone mention breakfast?" asked Sano, emerging bleary-eyed from his room adjacent to Kuroko's. Kenshin and Kuroko just looked at one another and burst into laughter while Sanosuke glared at them.
"Did I say something funny?" he asked, which set the two of them off again, clinging to each other and gasping for breath.
After breakfast, Kuroko gathered them all together to explain how they would make their attack.
"There's a long, straight road leading up to the house. Doubtless my uncle will have scouts on it and in the meadows to either side. There's no point in hoping to surprise him, he'll know we're coming before we can even see the house." She paused and dragged heavily on the cigarette she seemed to have permanently in her hand.
"Let's just walk up there at a leisurely pace but with our business faces on ok?"
Yahiko raised a hand and Sano looked confused.
"Miss Kuroko, what's our 'business faces' when they're at home?" he asked and she laughed.
"The serious faces warriors wear when they're about to do battle Yahiko, that's what I mean" her eyes sparkled with malice and she continued. "When we get there, there's likely to be a lot of hired muscle around so be careful. We are going to have to fight these guys. What I suggest is, and I mean no disrespect by this, is Kenshin, Sano and I take the ones with swords. Simply put, this is because wooden swords are only useful before they get cut in half by a metal one. After that they're just expensive firewood I'm afraid. After we've disposed of those guys," she continued, ignoring the incredulous looks on Yahiko and Kaoru's faces, "we go inside and fight the elite honour guard. I know there will be one because there always is. Kanryu had the Oniwabanshu, Shishio had the Juppongatana and I'm certain my uncle will have too. Telling me all those stories sure paid off right?" she laughed, nervously.
"Now, there is only one rule: feel free to improvise if you so wish, I won't try to stop you and the plan isn't carved in stone. The only rule is this - no one besides me is to attack my uncle. If I decide to attack him that is my choice, for good or ill, but not one of you is to go near him, pursue him, or otherwise engage him in anything other than conversation, are we clear?" her voice had risen a few notches and it sounded slightly pained. They all nodded, understanding the silent message him these words.
I may have to hill him and I don't want his blood on any hands but mine she was telling them, and they understood perfectly.
"Let's go then."
The five of them strode meaningfully up the road, each looking for all the world like they were ready to kill. When the messenger brought the news that 'a kid, a girl, two rough looking guys and a woman who looks like that picture you burned' were coming up the road, it was all Kenji Hariyama could do not to quake in fear. If these descriptions were correct then his niece, who looked so like his sister, had teamed up with Hitokiri Battousai and his gang to come and kill him. Even the kid and the girl were rumoured to be formidable, not to mention Zanza.
The fight outside went just as they had expected. The men weren't expecting opponents as quick and skilled as Kuroko and the 'Kenshin-gumi' so they fell quickly. Once inside however, the battle became more difficult. They had to leave Yahiko and Kaoru fighting the first opponent - a huge, staff wielding man with a face like thunder. A fist fighter who wasn't very strong but who was very quick and knew just where to hit a man to knock him down waylaid Sanosuke but Kenshin and Kuroko pressed on, not allowing themselves to be distracted from the matter at hand lest they get caught off-guard while worrying about their friends.
Finally, Kenshin and Kuroko arrived in what had used to be her father's study.
"Kuroko! My dear niece, how good to see you! Wait a moment and I'll call off the men, I hadn't realised..."
"Cut the crap old man!" she snapped, cutting him off.
"But my dear... you haven't had your welcome home gift!" he exclaimed, lunging for a rope nearby. Kenshin knocked Kuroko to the ground as a dagger shot past her head.
"Oro!" she said, pushing him away.
"Now that was impressive! Not many people can dodge a dagger thrown by Seikou," said her uncle, clapping his hands together before disappearing into a revealed door that had previously been hidden by a heavy tapestry.
Kuroko glanced at Kenshin who nodded. They picked themselves up off the floor wand she ran for the door while he turned to their knife-throwing opponent.
"You think a kid like you can beat me?" he sneered. In the doorway Kuroko turned briefly.
"Be careful Battousai, his daggers are poisoned" she warned and then was gone.
Seikou's eyes widened and then hardened again furiously.
"It's a bluff, you'll never beat me!" he said, throwing three daggers toward Kenshin, who blocked them easily with his sheathed Sakabatou.
"Just a test, just a test" sniggered Seikou "now you will see my true power!"
He moved fast, almost too fast for Kenshin to see, but his blows were weak and the poisoned daggers were no match for the speed of Kenshin's Hiten Mitsurugi Style. After sparring for a short while Seikou stopped and they stared at each other for a moment.
"Perhaps... it wasn't a bluff... You're fast enough to be Himura Battousai... But can you dodge this?!" he leapt into the air and suddenly the room was filled with flying daggers and echoed with Seikou's insane laughter.
Deflecting the ones he couldn't dodge, Kenshin felt several of the daggers tear his clothes but, thankfully, none pierced his skin. Finally the barrage was over and Seikou's laughter was cut short by the sight of a bedraggled but very much alive Kenshin.
"How?! No one has ever survived my Dance of a Thousand Daggers! You... you're not human!" he cried, panicking.
"For oppressing this town, you don't deserve any mercy" Kenshin said harshly, his eyes narrowed to wicked slits. "Now feel my sword! Hiten Mitsurugi Style, Do Ryu Sen!" Seikou fell from the blow and lay still, knocked senseless. Kenshin sheathed his sword as Sano, Kaoru and Yahiko dashed into the room.
"Everything ok?" smiled Kenshin.
"No problem for great warriors like us!" replied Yahiko, self-assuredly.
"Good, now let us find Kuroko-dono quickly" said Kenshin and they sped off through the doorway.
Meanwhile, Kuroko ran down the narrow corridor, sword in hand. Unbeknownst to her friends she had that morning switched her usual sword for the double-edged Katana she had carried during the Revolution.
Mother, Father, all of you... This is the last time I will kill in your name. I will not have our reputation dragged through the mud by our own kin... Forgive me...
Finally, the corridor opened out into a small room where her uncle sat, panting.
"I never thought you would return, Kuroko... Ah how like my sister Nerina you look! You know... With my brains and your skills, we wouldn't have to stop at this town!" he exclaimed, half wheedling, half begging.
"Why do you people always assume everyone is as greedy as you are?!" she said angrily, cutting a nearby table in half with a single swipe in her fury. "It's pathetic!" rage emanated from her and her eyes flashed a dangerous look at her uncle.
"Now, Kuroko, you wouldn't kill your own flesh and blood would you?!" he said in a desperate voice.
"Why not?! Tell me! It's better than what you did, sending others to kill me and my friends! At least I have the guts to dirty my own hands!" she was breathing heavily now, her anger driving her on. "Pick up that sword" she said, motioning to a sword on a stand in front of him "and face me like a warrior!"
He gingerly picked the sword up and unsheathed it, holding it as though it would bite him and trembling so violently that the swords point dipped and wavered.
"Please..." he begged, and she could see a damp patch spreading down his leg and pool around his feet.
Good, she thought.
"Please don't kill me, I'll do anything you say!" his stricken face damp with terrified tears.
"Sugawara Senkiko Style, Two Blade Strike!" she cried, dropping the sword to her side and running towards him, eyes narrowed and determined. As she began to draw her sword upwards for the first blow she heard a whisper in her ear.
"Kuroko..."
She faltered, turning. Her uncle had dropped to his knees, sobbing. She was vaguely aware from the smell that he had soiled himself.
"Kuroko my girl..." came the whisper again, stronger this time.
"Pa... Papa" she questioned, tears rising in her eyes. "But.. you're..." she managed, dropping to her own knees.
"Kuroko, my sweet daughter" came her father's voice again, and this time she could see him in front of her, standing with the rest of her murdered family. She laughed, ruefully.
"Now I know I'm either mad or dead..." she whispered.
"No, you're neither my dear" said her mother, kindly.
"We're here because if you do as you intend, you will be..." said her brother. She laughed again.
"You would have me let him go free?"
"No, not free, but not dead either. There's no need to kill him" said her sister, not unkindly "he's more use to us alive baby sister." Her uncle was gibbering wildly behind her, half driven crazy by near-death.
"No more deaths, my sweet" her father instructed gently "no more killings in our name, please..."
"You avenged us beautifully, Kuroko" said her mother in her soft voice "but now it's time to stop, love."
"Yes mama... papa... I understand..."; she wept softly. The twins ran over to her and, for a moment, she could touch them, smell them, hear their beautiful laughter. The tears streamed down her face, obscuring her vision.
"Goodbye, Kuroko Sugawara, we will see you again..." the voices faded and she looked up, sharply. Her tears blurred the image of her family, she blinked furiously and the world came back into focus. Before her stood Kenshin and her friends, looking at her proudly.
"You did the right thing, Kuroko-dono, that you did" said Kenshin with a smile and she couldn't help but smile back at him.
She wiped her face on her sleeve and rose, then turned back to her Uncle Kenji.
"Uncle, you have disgraced our family and you have disgraced yourself" she said flatly. "You will work for the townspeople until such time as they feel your repentance is complete, or until you die, whichever comes first." She turned her back on him "and if I hear that you have been disobedient or dishonest in any way, I will find you and finish what I started today" she warned coldly.
He gibbered and nodded his assent, crawling forward to clutch at the hem of her trousers, weeping his thanks. She kicked him brutally in the face, nearly breaking his nose, then spat at his prone form.
"You are not worthy even to lick the mud from my sandals! If you want to crawl the ground like a dog then I shall treat you like one! From now on the only name you will answer to is 'Dog' and you will address everyone as Master or Mistress, am I making myself clear, Dog?"
"'s M'str's" came his sullen reply. She kicked him again.
"Each time you misbehave, you will be kicked or beaten as a dog. Am I clear Dog? Say 'yes mistress' and say it so I can hear you, unless you want to find out if I can break your ribs!" she commanded.
"Yes Mistress!" he said loudly, terror in his voice.
"Every day you will go down to the town and perform tricks for the children's amusement. Then, you will do any menial chores the townsfolk give you. You will do this without complaint or you will be beaten, understand?"
"Yes mistress!" he exclaimed loudly again, an incredulous note in his voice this time, which she chose to ignore.
"And... yes... you shall sleep in the outhouse as befits a dog" she added, almost as an afterthought. “If Master Tashiko, to whom I am giving this title and all lands and lordship attached therewith, feels you deserve to be brought into the house then that is his decision and you will be grateful to him for showing you mercy you don't deserve!
I shall visit when I choose to and I will write once a month to check your progress. Do we understand one another?" her voice belied her amusement.
"'s" came another sullen answer. She aimed another kick at him, deliberately missing him by only a fraction.
"What?" she asked sweetly, putting a hand behind her ear.
"Yes Mistress!"
"Good. Now go and clean yourself, even dogs don't smell as bad as you" she held her nose and made wafting motions towards him.
When he had left the room the five fell into peals of laughter, further humiliating him. After they had recovered, Kaoru said to Kuroko "but seriously, don't you think you were a little hard on him?"
"No." she replied flatly. "He's a liar, a thief and a murderer. He deserves so much more. Besides, once we've knocked that rebellious streak out of him I’ll probably take pity on him and just give him some sort of a job or something."
"You're not staying then?" asked Kenshin.
"No, if I may, I'd like to return with you. I think perhaps I have much to learn before I can settle down"
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:32 am

Chapter 8
Farewells and New Beginnings


“You want me to have your land?!” exclaimed an astonished Tashiko.
“I can’t think of anyone better for the job” replied Kuroko with a flippant wave of her hand “besides, I need to know ‘Dog’ will be dealt with properly - I can trust you.” She said simply, shrugging.
“But...”
“No arguments my dear Tas, I know you can do it, I have complete faith in your abilities. If anyone challenges you get a message to me right away, or send them to me.”
He sighed, he wasn’t going to win, he knew. She’d always had this... manner of speaking to people. It was one of the reasons the townsfolk had always loved her as a child. In a way, it was a good thing that she hadn’t changed much during her absence.
“Um... Kuroko-dono...” he held out his hand to her. She looked at his upturned palm quizzically.
“Oro?” she said, looking confused. In his hand were two scarlet hair clips.
“Miss... You gave me these before you went to train with Master Hiko, do you remember?”
She laughed and took them from him, deftly clipping them into her hair and giving him a delighted hug.
“You kept them for eighteen years! You sentimental thing!” she exclaimed, visibly pleased.
“I knew one day you’d return for them, you see miss, and I didn’t want to not have them when you came...” he mumbled at his feet, blushing slightly.
“Kuroko-dono! The coach is here that it is!” called Kenshin from across the street.
“Coming! Just a second!” she called back before embracing Tashiko once more.
“Don’t you forget to write every month! If you miss even one letter I’ll be here faster than lightening you hear?”
“That’s reason enough for me not to write Kuroko-dono.” Tas laughed as she glared at him.
“And how many times do I have to tell you? Just call me Kuroko! I’m not lord and master any more as you well know.”
“You can tell me to the end of time mistress” he grinned.
“Kuroko! Come on!” shouted Sano.
She ran across the road and waved fondly at Tashiko as she entered the carriage for the journey back to Tokyo.
“Well, we’re going home” said Yahiko “that was an interesting little holiday” he chirped, looking out of the window at the passing scenery.
“Home...” echoed Kuroko - now fully back to her usual serene self.
On the journey back everyone laughed and joked and it seemed that a dark cloud had been lifted from them and they were glad.
Kenshin looked out of the window at the scenery rolling by and smiled to himself. Finally, he began to get the sensation that he was being watched and turned his attention back to the group. He saw Kuroko staring at him with a strange expression on her face. When their eyes met, she blushed and looked away out of the window as he had been moments before.
“This one wonders, why do you stare so at me?” he asked quietly.
“Oh, no reason... You’re just rather nice to look at is all” she replied, still with the strange look on her face.
“What?!” cried Kaoru who was sat next to him. Kuroko grinned but said nothing, though Kenshin blushed and tried to placate the fuming Kaoru.
This may be easier than I thought, mused Kuroko to herself.

A couple of weeks later, Kuroko asked Kenshin to go into town with her for some shopping. When they reached the river she ran down the bank and stood at the edge. Kenshin followed her, puzzled. Kaoru, who hadn’t yet forgotten the incident in the coach and had followed silently at a distance, hid behind a nearby tree to watch.
“Kuroko, this one wonders why you stop here. The shops will shut very soon if we don’t hurry, that they will.”
She turned and, as she had done when they had their midnight rendezvous in the garden on her first night with then, threw her arms about his shoulders and buried her face in his neck.
“Oro!” he exclaimed, blushing hotly and quite unsure if he should hug her back. Kaoru stifled a gasp.
“Oh Ken” Kuroko said in her best breathy voice “you’re just so lovely, sometimes it’s hard not to want to hug you... I’m sorry, but I just...” she sighed and drew away, turning her back on him. Unthinking, he stepped forward and laid his hands on her arms.
“What is it?” he asked gently.
She leaned back against his chest and with her left hand, reached up and traced the scar on his cheek. She sighed again.
“You don’t love me in any way do you Ken-Ken?” she asked plaintively. His heart lurched and Kaoru’s almost stopped still as tears sprung unto her eyes.
“Kuroko-dono...” he paused “of course I do, very much. Just as I love Sano and Yahiko and... Kaoru-dono.” Kaoru covered her mouth to keep from sobbing, misinterpreting his pause before her name.
Kuroko sighed again and smiled, turning to face Kenshin. For a second, Kaoru thought that she would kiss him but she just stood there smiling at him.
“Let’s go home,” she said, taking his hand and pulling him up the embankment.
“Oro...” he murmured, “what about shopping?”
“Oh yes, I forgot, well ok then, we’ll go into town first.” She released his hand and skipped ahead of him as they headed into town.
Kaoru ran home then locked herself in the bath and cried. By the time she got out, Kenshin and Kuroko were back and acting normally and Kuroko had made some dinner for everyone. Kaoru said very little through the meal but Kenshin couldn’t help but notice she was a little short with Kuroko in particular. He assumed she was just sore because Kuroko was as good a cook as she was a bad one.
When the meal was over, Kuroko got up and touched Kaoru’s shoulder, indicating that she would like to talk.
Amazingly, Kaoru followed her out into a secluded part of the garden, still in sight of the house.
“What made you follow us?” asked Kuroko softly.
“You... you knew I was there?!” Kaoru exclaimed “and you still behaved like that with Kenshin?!”
“Of course, it was for your benefit almost entirely” replied Kuroko simply.
“What?!!” Kaoru shouted, her voice rising to a screech.
“You needed a shock so I gave it to you” she sighed. “You needed to realise that Kenshin’s a handsome man, and kind too, and if you don’t get your act together sooner or later someone else is going to snap him up.” Kuroko’s voice was harsh but not unkind.
“Wha... what?” Kaoru said in almost a whisper.
“Look, everyone except you and Kenshin - or so it seems - knows how you two feel about each other but you’re too embarrassed and he’s too much of a gentleman to do anything about it.”
Kaoru looked sheepish and blushed hotly.
“Sano’s content to see you two beat around the bush forever - it makes no difference to him what happens. And Yahiko’s too young to do much about it that would make a difference to you and you probably wouldn’t listen even if he could. Megumi’s straight talking but even she can’t help you, she can’t even deal with her own emotions let alone anyone else’s so it falls to me.” Kuroko sighed and then lit a cigarette, drawing deeply and letting the smoke wisp out through her nostrils.
“So how about it? Want me to send Himura-san over here? Although you know I probably will in any case...”
“But... but...” stammered Kaoru.
“I won’t force you two into anything but I think you should at least be honest with each other about your feelings.”
Kaoru blushed and looked at her hands. Kuroko smiled gently and put a hand on Kaoru’s head.
“Stay here young lady” she said and moved back into the house.
“Kenshin. Go and talk to Kaoru-dono.” Kuroko said matter-of-factly when she went back inside the house.
“Oro? What about cleaning up?” he asked looking confused.
“This is more important Himura, I’ll do that” she replied, taking the bowls out of his hands. Kenshin sighed and went out into the garden to Kaoru.
“Kaoru-dono?”
“Kenshin... Um... Kenshin...” Kaoru stared at her folded hands. Kenshin laid his hands across them and smiled.
“Do not let her bully you Kaoru-dono. Kuroko has a strong will and she likes to see things move at her pace that she does.” He looked towards the house to where Kuroko was watching approvingly.
“But Kenshin... I...” She broke off, blushing. They heard Kuroko cough a few times, stifling it with a hand. Kaoru rose and looked up at Kenshin. Her eyes sparkled but Kenshin wasn’t sure if it was just the light.
“Kenshin... I... I have something to say!” A blush rose slowly over her cheeks, causing colour to rise in his own.
“Kenshin... I... I... I...” they heard a soft thud from the house.
“Kuroko!” cried Yahiko, making the couple start and turn to the house.
Kuroko was lying on the deck, her breathing laboured and with a trickle of blood running from one corner of her mouth.
“Sano, get Megumi and Dr. Gensai, fast!” instructed Kenshin as they dashed inside...
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Ehryn

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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:33 am

Chapter 9
Strength - A fighter’s spirit


Kuroko lay on the bed, still breathing heavily and unconscious as Megumi finished her examination.
“I’m afraid it doesn’t look good” she sighed as she washed her hands. “From what I can see, it looks as though she’s been ill for many years, probably since she was a child.” Megumi looked at the group gathered around her. “It’s a very violent disease, I’ve never seen anything like it. She should have died years ago, it seems only her willpower - her warrior’s spirit as you would call it - is keeping her alive.”
“Is she gonna be ok?” asked Yahiko fearfully.
“I don’t know... Without treatment I’d say she will almost certainly die, but I can’t say I know of any treatments...”
There are none“ came a whisper from the bed. Kuroko coughed a few times, spitting blood into a bowl Megumi held for her, then sat up.
“Lie down! You need to rest!” said Megumi sharply. Kuroko simply laughed.
“I’ve been sick since I was 8 years old - they told me then I wouldn’t see 9. I’m 20 years too late for death, I can manage.” She coughed again and the others realised she’d been holding her coughing back all this time. “I had hoped to see my plans through but perhaps now...” she sighed and stood up. Then she swayed for a few steps before passing out again, falling into Sanosuke’s arms as he stepped forward to catch her. Sano laid her back on the bed with surprising gentleness, then turned back to Megumi.
“What now?”
“I don’t know... I am going to write to Yutaro and see if his western medicine can help but it could take weeks for my letter to reach him and more for his reply. I’m not sure she’s got that long...”
Kenshin stepped forward and placed his hand on Kuroko’s forehead.
“She’ll live through that time if it’s her will to do so, that she will. If not then no amount of western medicine will help her now, if she’s lost the will to fight the illness...”
“But Kenshin! Isn’t there anything we can do?!” cried Yahiko.
“We can only do what she wants and if she chooses to give up all we can do is make sure her last days are comfortable ones...” he raised his hand to his cheek to wipe away the blood Kuroko spat at him at this last sentence.
“I’m... not giving... up...” she wheezed rising on her elbows, “I’ll outlive you... you stupid... red-haired... washed-out... Rurouni!” there was fire in her eyes but her outburst had exhausted her. “You can say whatever you like but I’ll never give in Kenshin” she rose again from the bed but this time only wavered a little “and I’ll prove to you that, no matter what, I can beat this!” she was breathing heavily and sweat had begun to bead on her forehead but she stood firm. “Send your letter, Megumi, I’ll be alive when the reply comes.” She stated firmly. “I refuse to be bed-ridden however, so don’t expect me to just lie back. I have things to do, Sano, take me to see Katsu. I haven’t visited him yet and I think... the time for procrastination is about over...” she waved away his offered hand and moved towards the door.
“Kuroko-dono, you can’t possibly travel far, I must tell you that in my medical opinion you should stay here and rest.” Megumi tried to insist, but it was a weak attempt. “That said, I see you are a very strong person. I just wanted to make it quite clear that you are leaving against medical advice.”
Kuroko smiled warmly at the doctor.
“I appreciate your concern, doctor, I will be careful to have Sano bring me back here the moment I feel weak” and with that she nodded to Sano and swept from the surgery. Sano looked apologetically at Megumi and shrugged before following their friend towards the row house where Katsu lived.

* * *

“Ne-Ne?” said a startled Katsu when he opened the door to Sano’s pounding on the frame.
“Well at least you remember me, I had to jog Sano’s memory a little” laughed Kuroko “may we come inside?”
“Of course! Would you like some tea? Or perhaps you’d prefer sake like Sano?” Katsu looked flustered as he god the dishes and sake out at Kuroko’s indication.
Sano took the time while Katsu and Kuroko conversed to look hard at her. She smiled and laughed with her usual grace and to the casual observer she seemed perfectly normal. Under Sano’s careful scrutiny however, he could see the sweat on her face and neck and how laboured her breathing was. She was exerting herself a lot to give the impression to Katsu that there was nothing wrong.
“You’re not even gonna tell him are you?” asked Sano bluntly during a brief lull in the conversation. She gave him an almost imperceptible shake of her head, but Katsu was already concerned.
“Tell me what?” he asked her.
“She’s dying” came Sanosuke’s typically blunt reply.
“What?!”
Kuroko sighed, exasperated at Sano and his big mouth.
“I’m fine, Sano’s... exaggerating.”
“I am not! Megumi said you should stay in bed and besides, you need medicine we don’t have! And you would’ve lied to Katsu too.” Sano made a sour face.
“I told you, I’m fine.” She said bluntly but the effect was marred by a coughing fit she could no longer contain. Sano and Katsu were by her side in an instant but she waved them away scornfully, irritated at her body’s weakness.
“I told you, I’m fine. I’ve been dealing with this my whole life, I can contain it.” She sighed.
“Let’s get you home” said Sano firmly, she nodded in reply.
“It was good to see you again Katsu, I’ll see you soon.” They returned to the dojo where Megumi insisted she go straight to bed. Kuroko made a small objection but it was half-hearted - the fight had gone out of her.
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:34 am

Chapter 10
Life, Love and the other thing...


“Kaoru-dono, this one has finished the laundry!” called Kenshin into the Dojo where Kaoru and Yahiko were practicing. Kuroko was sat, leaning against one of the beams, smoking as she had increasingly started doing since her health deteriorated - against Megumi’s insistence that it was bad for her lungs. Her face was pale and sweat stood out on her forehead. He usually vibrant hair was flaxen and clung to her scalp like moss. The very effort of keeping herself alive was draining her essence, and Kenshin was worried about her.
In the last few days there had been little significant change in her. The coughing had gotten worse but other than that and her general appearance nothing seemed different.
“That’s enough for now Yahiko” said Kaoru, coming out into the sun. Kuroko rose and pinched out her cigarette, discarding the end into a flowerpot she had purchased for that reason.
“Let’s get some lunch at the Akabeko, my treat” she said, looking over towards the gate where Sano had just entered and was glancing hungrily at the kitchen.
“This one has chores...” said Kenshin half-heartedly.
“I’ll help you Kenshin” said Kaoru brightly “with the two of us it’ll take no time at all and we’ll follow the others down afterwards. Hopefully Sano and Yahiko won’t have scoffed the lot before we arrive” she said pointedly. Sano and Yahiko began to object but Kuroko quieted them with a glare and a threat of no food at all if they continued.
With Sano on one side and Yahiko on the other she set off towards town after giving Kenshin and Kaoru instructions to not be too long. The pair fetched water and cloths and set about cleaning the dojo with gusto. After they were half done Kaoru called for a rest saying it would be no good if they were too tired to eat. They sat outside for a few minutes in silence, enjoying the sun and each other’s company.
“Kenshin?” said Kaoru suddenly.
“Yes Kaoru-dono?”
“Remember the day Kuroko got sick? After we got back from her town?”
“Of course. This one regrets he was so useless...”
“Well... I wanted to tell you something. I... don’t know...” she trailed off and blushed. Kenshin turned slightly and gave her a quizzical look.
“You can tell this one anything, Kaoru-dono, that you can.”
She looked but at him, at the concern in his face.
“Kenshin... Kuroko’s so sick... and I realise now that life really is too short for your silly games...” her heart fluttered in her breast and she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to continue. She glanced down at her folded hands, wondering how to continue. Kenshin’s hand covered her own and she looked up, startled. He kissed her. He didn’t really know why, but somehow he felt if he didn’t his heart would burst inside of him. When they broke apart both were blushing and Kaoru looked away. He cupped her face in his hand and tilted her head so she was looking at him again.
“I love you Kaoru-dono... And... Well... You’re right... life really is too short...” he trailed off, embarrassed.
“I.. I love you too Kenshin” she breathed, curling her arms around him, chores and food forgotten for the time being as they sat surrounded in the love they felt for each other but had been unable to express.
Meanwhile, Kuroko, Sano and Yahiko made their slow and steady way into town towards the Akabeko. As they passed the surgery Megumi came flying out.
“I thought I saw the silhouette of that rooster-head, may I borrow him for a while please Kuroko?” asked Megumi in a rush. Kuroko nodded her assent and they continued toward the Akabeko while Sano found himself dragged bodily into the back yard of the grounds.
“What?! I’m keepin’ an eye on her, stop worrying fox-lady!” he exclaimed indignantly.
“Oh shut up you silly man, that’s not why you’re here. You always come to me when you want treatment or a free meal or something else” Sano gulped at this - he was obviously in trouble “and I always told myself it was guilt and doctor’s duty but I realise now that life’s too short for me to lie to myself any more” said Megumi hurriedly, unaware of how she echoed Kaoru’s words at that very moment.
“What are you talking about?!” asked Sano, confused.
“Be quiet and listen, I’m trying to tell you I like you so will you please shut up?!” she snapped then her hands flew to her mouth.
“You... like me?” Sano was stunned momentarily. Then on a moment of whim, and once again echoing another couple not far away in distance or time, he kissed her.
Hi tenderness surprised Megumi who had expected him to shout or laugh or something but not to actually kiss her. The kiss ended and they stood, almost glaring at one another.
“I like you too, ok?” Sano said gruffly, colour rising in his cheeks.
“That’s settled then” Megumi replied also blushing. With a small sigh she leaned forward into his arms, glad that was all over.
On their way to town, Yahiko was puzzled by a small smile that appeared on Kuroko’s face. She looked down at him.
“Just you and I then eh?” she said cheerfully and she seemed stronger than before.
They had just got settled in at a table when Sano sauntered in with Megumi close behind. They were bickering as usual but even Yahiko picked up on the affection now apparent in their jibes.
“All sorted?” asked Kuroko innocently, though grinning from ear to ear. Both glared at her before looking at each other and laughing.
“Oh good, I was worried it was going to take forever” Kuroko remarked blithely, looking down at the tray and pouring drinks. They only had to wait a few more moments before Kenshin and Kaoru entered, nervously hand-in-hand and with coloured cheeks. Kuroko’s face split into a grin again and she chuckled at Tae who was staring unabashedly.
“I told you Tae. All you gotta do is get a terminal illness for the couples to fall at each others feet” she laughed, taking a sip of tea.
“You...” stammered all four lovers.
“Well at least one good thing is coming from all of this, or rather two” she said, beaming. She still looked unwell but her cheeks had colour they hadn’t seen in a while and she glowed with pride.

The next day Tashiko arrived bearing a letter from Europe - Megumi’s reply from Yutaro. After greetings had been done Megumi read the letter, it wasn’t good news...
“I have enclosed some medicine which may help although with the disease this far advanced I’m not sure how much help it will be. I’m sorry. Yutaro” she read, unable to keep the disappointment from her voice.
“Don’t worry” smiled Kuriko, putting her hand on Megumi’s arm “I’m not.” With that she went into the garden with Tas to play with Ayame and Suzumi.
The group enjoyed that day, playing and having fun in the sunlight. Kuriko sang a little for them and it was so easy to forget how sick she was and just revel in their friendships. Kaoru and Kenshin, after a lengthy discussion on the speed of time in relation to lifespan had decided to procrastinate no longer and intended to get married the following week when the cherry blossoms would be in full bloom. Kuriko was naturally delighted at this news. Sano and Megumi, though never far from each others side, hadn’t yet made any such plans, but it would take time for them Kuriko knew.
That week was a hustle and bustle of activity with all the wedding arrangement. Kuriko dutifully took her medicine every day and kept out from underfoot, at the others insistence, appearing only for kimono measurements. Kuriko would not turn up to her wedding in men’s clothes, insisted Kaoru.
Instead, Kuriko went into town and bought a couple of surprises for her betrothed friends which she presented to them on the eve of the wedding. A sapphire engagement ring and silver wedding band she presented secretly to Kenshin whose stuttered thanks make her blush happily. She handed Kaoru a matching silver wedding band for Kenshin, insisting it was the least she could do and causing Kaoru to burst into overjoyed tears and, hugging her sickly friend, gulped her thanks through sobs.
The next day’s wedding went off smoothly, Kaoru weeping in her customary fashion and Kenshin muttering ‘Oro’ under his breath frequently. Surprisingly, Megumi wept with an enthusiasm rivalling Kaoru and even Sano feigned the old ‘something in my eye’ excuse at one point.
Kuriko, feeling too weak to stand through the whole ceremony, sat at the front with her eyes shining and obviously happy as the cat with the cream. Afterwards, Tae had arranged for them to have a party at the Akabeko and even Kuriko danced and sang with everyone, each person present feeling the warmth and closeness of being with their friends. That night they all went to bed full of contentment and grand ideas. Kenshin curled his arms around his new wife and buried his face in her hair. He had spared many thoughts for Tomoe in these last few days and knew deep down how happy she would be were she here. With a happy sigh he fell asleep, once again feeling the wonderful protection of love.
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Ehryn on Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:36 am

Epilogue

Morning found Kenshin doing laundry and Kaoru training in the dojo with Yahiko. Only their silver rings inscribed with the words ‘love forever, Kenshin & Kaoru’ indication of the previous days happenings. Around lunchtime Tashiko visited the newlyweds with some take-away from the Akabeko.
“Where’s Kuroko?” he asked when they were serving the food.
“Perhaps she is still in bed” chuckled Kenshin “it was a long day for her after all” he rose and went to wake her for lunch.
Knocking on the door frame, Kenshin called her name before sliding it open to let in some light. Kuroko lay on her back with a smile on her sleeping face, perhaps dreaming of her own wedding someday, Kenshin thought. He stepped into the room and knelt beside her, calling her name softly into her ear before shaking her gently. She didn’t stir, and her skin under her bedclothes felt cool to his touch. He touched her face and to his sorrow found it too was cold. A hot tear dripped from his face as he realised his old friend had left them. In her folded hands was a letter with the Kanji for love and friendship on it, which he extracted gently before kissing her forehead and wiping his pace on his sleeve.
“Come on lazybones” called Tas as he stumbled into the doorway “the day’s half gone already!” he laughed. Kenshin turned and looked up, trying to convey sorrow and sympathy at the same time. Tas fell to his knees with a cry of anguish before getting up and turning away.
“I don’t want to see her” he said, his voice thick with emotion and Kenshin followed him back into the dining room, carefully shutting Kuroko’s bedroom door as he left.
“Well I’ll have her share if she’s too tired to eat!” laughed Yahiko as they returned.
“Yahiko...” said Kaoru, seeing the stricken look on their faces “go and get Sano, Megumi and Katsu. Don’t bring the little ones, ok?”
“What?! Sano’ll scoff the...” he finally caught on and the words failed in his throat. “Really?” he said in a whisper before running off to fetch the others. By the time they arrived Tas and Kaoru were in floods of tears and Kenshin looked as though he was trying hard not to join them.
“I wanted everyone to be here because I found this letter” he said thickly “I thought everyone should hear what it said” he unfolded the letter as the others settled themselves and began to read it aloud.

To all my wonderful friends,
Most of you I’ve only known a short while but I think of every one of you as family.
Megumi - you were the best doctor I could ever have wished for and I know you will someday be a great doctor of this era, Rose of the Sewing Needle.
Sanosuke - when we first met you were headstrong and I was delighted to find that hadn’t changed. Your straight talking manner sorted me out more than once and I’m so grateful to you for that.
Katsu - You, too, have always been very strong willed and I know that if you keep it up all you wish for will be yours for the taking. Never give up on art though!
Yahiko - you remind me so much of my young nephew and I know you will be a great asset to the Kamiya-Kasshin School. You are going to be a great swordsman someday, make Kaoru-dono and I proud!
Yutaro - we have never met and I’m not sure you’ll ever see this letter but thank you for helping and the medicine you sent really did make a difference, thanks.
Tae and Tsubame - thank you for always being so kind to me, even when I was annoying or sick, it means a lot to me.
Dr Gensai, Ayame and Suzumi = thank you so much for your hospitality and care and I hope that the girls won’t forget their ‘Auntie Koko’ who loved them so much.
Kaoru - you took me in even though I was a potential threat and you were so good to me, even before my illness. You truly made me feel welcome and I honour you like a sister. Never give up on your swordsmanship, you are wonderful!
Kenshin - you saved my life more than once. I cheated when we fought that time. You are my rock, my kindred spirit, I spent years hoping every redhead was you, and I’m so glad we got to spend this time together. Perhaps we’ll see each other again in another life.
Finally, Tashiko - I love you. I always loved you. And if I hadn’t known I was dying I would have begged to be your wife. But now, find someone and have a flock of children and do my family name proud! It’s yours now.
All of you, I love you more than I can ever say; you all mean the world to me. Please don’t mourn me too much, I was 20 years over my lifespan and I got to spend the last of it with you. That’s more than I ever hoped for.


Here Kenshin had to pause, everyone in the room was crying and his own tears were blurring the page. He could see blots where she’s had to dry tears of her own off the letter, which didn’t make it any easier to read. After a few moments he swallowed the lump in his throat and continued.

To business now that all the sentimentality is over. Under the floorboards beneath my table there is a box. Sanosuke, go and fetch it.

“Hey! I wanna hear the letter!” objected Sano, wiping his face angrily.
“It’s in the letter” replied Kenshin calmly “It goes on to say ‘Kenshin, I know you’ll be reading this. Cuff him for me if he refuses’.”
Sano laughed. “She sure is nuts, bullying me even from the other side!” He rose and went to her room, averting his eyes from their friend still laying there peacefully, and returned with a large box moments later.
“Open the box” read Kenshin.

Inside is a wrapped, addressed gift for each of you. I won’t go into what they are right now, you’ll find out soon enough and you’ll know why too. My second to last gifts to my loved ones.
My final gift is in the bottom of the box.


Sano handed out the gifts which they clutched desperately then gasped at what was in the bottom of the box.

I sold my swords to a European museum. In there is what I got for them along with all my worldly wealth. There should be enough there for Kaoru to fix the dojo up and make it into an excellent school and family home. The rest I want you all to split evenly amongst yourselves, including Yahiko, Tsubame, Ayame and Suzumi. Young ones need a little spending money and I know Yahiko’s saving for a Sakabato - it should help. Sano’s share goes half to him and half to the Akabeko to pay off some of his tab! Think of it this way Sano, you’ll get more credit if you pay off some!
I think that’s about all I can think of now.
I love you all, every one of you and I reiterate that I’m so glad I got to spend my last few days with people like you, my good friends.

I may have left you,
But I’m never truly gone,
Always in your hearts.

My last thoughts, of you,
My final moments dreaming,
Of smiling faces.

Can’t describe my love,
Filling me with emotion,
Thank you all so much.

I was never good at haikus!

Remember, I’ll always be with you in spirit. Live your lives as though each day could be you last, as we warriors know too well. Life’s too short so don’t ever regret anything. Do everything you’ve ever wanted to do without hesitation. Trust me, there’s so much I would have loved to do, so many places I wanted to see. I wasted my life fighting; don’t make the same mistakes I did.
Never forget how much I love you all.
Love Forever,
Kuroko.


Kenshin ended his reading with a sigh, wiping his tear-stained face on his sleeve. They all looked at each other in sorrow.
“Right,” said Katsu wiping his eyes “she said life’s too short right? And not to mourn her right? So let’s celebrate her instead, sort out burial and have a big party. She’d like that...”

THE END
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Michael J. Gania on Thu Mar 20, 2008 9:35 am

*Claps* THat was aweeeesoome
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Kitana Moto on Mon Mar 24, 2008 12:24 pm

Thats great its really really good
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

Post by Kenji Moto on Wed Apr 02, 2008 4:27 pm

It is very good indead. Your work is very good.
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Re: Contemplation - Rurouni Kenshin FF - 10 Chapters, Prologue & Epilogue

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