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Solitude Was The Only Logical Ending

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Solitude Was The Only Logical Ending

Prologue

That day, the hot sun was hanging awkwardly in the cloudless blue sky above them. The birds were chirping tirelessly, seemingly unbothered by the stifling summer air. All in all, it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. In fact, it was the kind of afternoon during which the main characters of any stapler romantical comedy or family film would be going on a road trip or having a picnic in a park.

Sadly, they were not the main characters of a feel-good film. Both of them also weren't dressed in light summer clothes and didn't have their feet planted on the soft and lush grass, even if they were outside. Rather, they were standing in uncomfortable shoes, on an old pavement which was full of cracks, and dressed in black formal clothing, which was making them sweat profoundly.

What's more, they were in no mood to have a picnic or go on a road trip together. Truth be told, neither had been in the right state of mind to spend time with each other for quite a while now.

"I want a divorce." Kaoru announced as her cigarette smoke hit Kenshin's nostrils.

The red-haired man turned to her. It was the first time he took a proper look at her in the last few days.

Her once shiny midnight hair no longer gleamed in the sun and were pulled into a bun so tight Kenshin was sure she would get a horrible headache in a matter of hours. Large black bags hung heavily under her big blue eyes, indicating the woman's lack of sleep, as well as the nightmares which plagued her nights instead. Huge beads of sweat were rolling down her exposed pale forehead, but that's only to be expected. After all, she was wearing the same pencil skirt and blazer she occasionally wore to work during the colder months of the year.

Kenshin gloomily chuckled to himself. Without a doubt, his appearance mirrored the one of the woman standing next to him.

"Okay." He finally replied. "I'll pack my things and leave the house to you. Just send the necessary paperwork to my office."

After saying those words the man averted his gaze from his soon to be ex-wife once more, looking somewhere over the horizon and not seeing anything at the same time.

"Why the fuck would you even think of such a nonsense? I don't want to stay in that house a single minute longer than I have to. Just like you." The young woman was unable to keep her cool.

Another puff of smoke followed her statement.

Kenshin breathed in the toxins. He didn't notice when she began to smoke again. He truly did try to remember the day when the familiar scent flooded their house once more, but no matter how far back he looked it always seemed to be present on those colourful walls.

The thing was, Kenshin clearly recalled Kaoru quitting smoking. She did it before they even got married. Probably during the early days of their engagement. Or maybe during that short period of time between the red-haired man making the decision of proposing to his girlfriend at the time and actually going through with the deed.

"We'll sell the house and split the money then." He concluded with a sigh.

"It's been few days since I packed my suitcases. They're already in my car, you know." She stated while putting her cigarette out on the sole of her black high heeled shoe. "You can either throw away or keep everything that I left behind. I don't care."

To this Kenshin did not respond, simply because he did not know what to say to the woman standing next to him. All he did was kneel down to the grave in front of which both of them were standing and placed the flowers – which he had been holding during this whole conversation – right next to the grave stone.

Kaoru had also brought flowers, only she laid them down moments after coming to the cemetery. Now they were only centimeters away from Kenshin's.

Once more, the woman next to him glanced down. Fresh tears filled her eyes, threatening to spill any moment, but somehow she managed to control herself. Or maybe she simply no longer had any tears left to cry.

The older man could hear Kaoru fidgeting with the lighter in her hands, probably trying to light another cigarette.

"We should go." He whispered quietly, and more to himself than anybody else.

Without a word she turned around and left, making her way down to the cemetery's parking lot.

Another whiff of smoke never reached Kenshin's nose, hence he decided that Kaoru ended up not lighting the second cigarette. Then again, the wind might have simply changed directions.

The man continued kneeling down in front of the grave, waiting for the nature to be disturbed by the mechanical sound of a roaring engine and for it to quiet down one more time, as the person he once considered the woman of his life put more and more distance between them.

"I should go." He repeated the voiceless whisper by the time the only sound disturbing the heated air was the chirping of birds.

Kenshin made his way to the parking lot – the same one Kaoru drove out of just a few minutes prior – extremely slowly. It's been a long time since he had lost the luxury of walking so slowly, but there was no need for him to hurry anymore. After all, the only things waiting for him in that big house were bags which needed to be packed.

Chapter Text

Chapter One

"Cigarette Smoke Enveloped Balcony"

When they met for the very first time, Kenshin was still in his last year of studying the law and Kaoru was about to graduate from high school.

At the time, Kenshin was renting a small flat along with his friend Sanosuke. Kaoru was visiting her older brother during the weekend. That brother just happened to be the same Sanosuke, nicknamed by his sister and most of his friends as a 'rooster head' or simply Sano.

The young woman's only acquaintance in the whole city was her older brother, hence by default she ended up staying in Kenshin and Sano's shared apartment. However, at the time of her visit, the red-haired man was completely oblivious to the alien presence, as he was too preoccupied with cramming.

During his cramming sessions, Kenshin would rarely leave his room – having stocked up on food days prior to it. The only thing which would force him to leave the space, which by the time would always become a cave filled with what seemed random papers, books and just plain out trash, was the need to relieve himself. And, well, that time, of course, was no exception.

During one of his outings to the bathroom was when he noticed the smoke enveloped figure standing on the balcony, which was far too petite for it to be Sano. Though the law student's first thought was that he overworked himself, Kenshin still decided to check it out. Just in case the silhouette wasn't a very vivid hallucination.

The door to the balcony had been slightly open, letting the stench of cigarette smoke get inside the living room. Peeking through the said gap, Kenshin saw that a young woman with long midnight black hair, which gleamed in the early morning sunlight while loosely hanging over her shoulder, was standing there.

Her attire was funny, at the least, really. The young woman was wearing a baby blue pyjamas and over it, a fluffy pale yellow bathrobe with colourful rubber ducks printed on it. These ducks all had different facial expressions and if Kenshin hadn't been so concentrated on a green duck, which had a particularly interesting expression on its face, he would have probably noticed the dark haired girl turning around and bearing her piercing blue eyes into him.

"Jesus, you scared the shit out of me!" Kaoru yelled the moment she saw the red haired man looming over the doorstep.

She had been feeling a presence behind her for a while already but had decided to ignore it until it truly started to bother her. The sight which greeted her was a man, only slightly taller than herself, staring at her back, while completely unmoving. Between his long fire red hair, completely black clothing and the blue-black bags hanging under his violet eyes, the man seemed to be some kind of mythical creature, which made its way to the surface with the one and only purpose of dragging her down to whatever hellhole he crawled out of along with him.

Remembering her brother talking something about having a roommate Kaoru came to the most logical conclusion which could be drawn from the situation and introduced herself.

"I'm Kaoru, the rooster head living here is my older brother. His roommate, I presume?"

The young woman put out what was left of her cigarette on the glass candle holder, which she was using as an ashtray in the absence of the appropriate item.

Kenshin opened the door completely and stepped out into the balcony. He remembered Sano mentioning having a younger sibling few times, though he had never said anything specific.

"Yes." The man cleared his throat, preparing to return the favour. "Nice to meet you, I'm Kenshin."

"From the intensity of your stare I was almost sure that Sano had walked in on me taking a drag." Kaoru smiled at the red-haired man standing before her. "Please don't tell him that you caught me smoking, though. No matter how much of a rebel my brother is, that rooster head would have my head if he found out that I smoked."

"I promise not to utter a single word. And anyway, I doubt that he will notice the smell." A slight smile formed on Kenshin's lips. "The man himself smokes like a chimney."

"I noticed that and borrowed a few. He won't mind if he doesn't find out." The smile grew bigger on the girl's face, as she pointed her finger at the cigarette buds in the candle holder placed on the steeling railing of the balcony. "Couldn't really find an ashtray though." She borderline complained.

"Ashtrays aren't really Sano's style. He prefers to use half-drunken beer cans." The man winked playfully, causing both of them to laugh.

"Oh, I can imagine that." The dark haired female continued to laugh. "By the way, do you know if my brother has a girlfriend? Awfully strange to find a candle holder among his rubbish. You see, those aren't really Sano's style, just like ashtrays."

"As far as I know, he doesn't have a girlfriend at the moment. But this mystery can be solved very easily, either way." Kenshin pointed at the candle holder. "It's mine."

"Fuck!" The red-haired man laughed at Kaoru's unexpected outburst. A shade of red, indicating embarrassment, washed over the young woman's face as she continued to talk. "Sorry. I'll clean it out right away."

"There's no need for that." Kenshin still managed to say before his roommate's younger sister scurried past him. Though he wasn't completely sure that Kaoru heard him, as she seemed to be busy muttering something about a womanly touch, which he supposedly had. This caused the law student to laugh even harder, though if he was completely honest, the man felt a bit bad for her too.

... ∽  ...

The second time they met was during Kaoru's spring break of the same year. This time she wasn't alone, however.

She and her friend Misao were set on finding an apartment of their own during their few day stay, as their first choice schools just happened to be in that area. Though, of course, they didn't want to waste their break only on that, hence they decided to do some sightseeing while they were there as well.

Despite how Sano seemed at a first glance, he turned out to be quite an overprotective brother. Due to this slight quirk of his personality, the rooster head refused to let the two young women wander around the unfamiliar city alone. Instead, he decided to keep them company and, without a doubt, drag the law student with him.

The dinner the four of them shared at the end of their tour wasn't anything fancy.

"We're struggling university students, what did you expect, missy?" Sano jokingly asked his sister as they sat around a family sized delivery pizza, with plastic cups filled with boxed red wine in their hands, at the very edge of the park.

The very first person to get tipsy was Kaoru's friend – Misao. It didn't take long before she started trying to convince Kaoru to go on a summer-long backpacking trip and even take a gap year.

"Why not!?" She inquired, slightly annoyed after her best friend refused the offer for the tenth time. "We could get on the night train, sleep there and during the day walk around tourist attractions while making fun of those miserable people waiting in huge ass queues. Doesn't that sound like fun?"

Kaoru answered only with a laugh and a question of her own. "But we would still be waiting in the same queues and wouldn't that make us the same as them?"

"Ugh! That's not the point!" Misao started getting seriously angry.

Similar conversations followed all throughout the evening, with Kenshin and Sano rarely getting to say a word. Though it wasn't like what they decided to share mattered either way. Both women seemed to be determined to flat out ignore the men's opinions.

By the time they had finished the whole pizza and were nearing the end of the second box of wine, their tiny group decided to start making their way back. At the same time, Kaoru started feeling sleepy as she was also slightly drunk.

Somehow, in the dimness of the night, the young woman helping Kenshin throw out the trash, seemed nothing like the Kaoru he had the pleasure of meeting a few months ago. Now her demeanour was a lot more mature, and frankly speaking, it was hard for the law student to believe that she was almost ten years younger than him.

Kaoru was the one to begin the conversation as the two of them slowly made their way on the narrow sidewalk. Kenshin had to admit, it was really easy talking to her and making her laugh. It reminded him of riding a bicycle. The activity only required effort to begin and to learn, but after taking those first few steps you can do it without paying no mind whatsoever.

And he enjoyed it.

A while later, he did come to the realisation, that both the air of unexpected matureness around the young woman and her delight at his terrible jokes was simply an illusion created by the wine they consumed. At the time though, such a thought didn't enter his mind.

As their small group neared the old apartment building, Kaoru and Kenshin's conversation took a more serious turn. They ended up talking about the dark haired female's future plans, and the reasons behind her so eagerly refusing her friend. Though the woman herself admitted to not being the most responsible person on the planet, she turned out to be a lot more goal-oriented than the red-haired man thought at first. Actually, miles more than he ever expected Sano's sister to be.

"After our mother died, father was simply a lot stricter with me than he was with Sano." Kaoru began while playing with the dark strands of her hair. "As a child, I would get extremely annoyed with the double standards, and it irritates me even now, but, I guess, I started to understand father a bit more."

"He probably had no idea how to raise a girl and was afraid to do anything wrong. On the other hand, he just raised Sano the very same way he was raised. Even with all father did though, he still got told by many people that I'm not very ladylike." Kaoru looked up at the law student beside her, with a nostalgic smile playing on her lips, as she pointed to the two laughing people walking in front of them. "And that's how that rooster head grew up to be such a free spirit."

"Oh. Well anyway, what are you planning to study?" The older man asked after clearing his throat. It was his way of trying to diffuse the heavy mood which had set.

The girl seemed grateful for the change of topic, and without a second thought started talking about how she always dreamed of studying the law. The man was almost hypnotised by the sound of her voice – more listening to it than the words she was saying –, however, when Kenshin heard the bright-eyed woman mention the title of his university, he stopped her.

"Wait, so that's your first choice?" He inquired.

"Yes. You know people who go there?" Kaoru gave him a puzzled look.

"I am one of those people. Believe me, that place just sucks the soul right out of you and leaves you with debts you have to pay for the rest of your life." Kenshin replied.

"But isn't that just the complete university experience?" The woman laughed loudly. "I thought it doesn't count if you don't wish death after the first month."

"Nah, I'm afraid you got that wrong." The red-haired man grinned. "In order for it to count, it has to be two weeks."

The two of them continued to joke around until they reached the apartment building, where they had to quiet down in order not to wake up the neighbours.

... ∽  ...

When Kenshin woke up next morning, both Misao and Kaoru were gone. And along with them, the women's things.

After having a small, but satisfying breakfast, the red-haired man made himself a second cup of coffee and went to look for his roommate. Kenshin found Sano taking a drag on the balcony. Thankfully, the man had not started drinking yet – as it was only a quarter past ten in the morning – and instead of his usual unfinished beer can, used a glass candle holder as an ashtray.

It was the same one Kaoru had used just a few months prior.

"So, you fell for her?" Sanosuke asked his friend while continuing to smoke.

Kenshin only raised a single red eyebrow in question.

"My little sister. I noticed you and Kaoru talking last night. As well as the way you looked at each other." The taller man turned around grinning like a mad man. "Hey, when you become my brother-in-law, you'll still let me crash at your place, won't you?"

"Sano!" The long haired man choked on his coffee.

"Okay, okay, okay. I'll stop teasing you no matter how fun it is." The man couldn't stop laughing at his friend's reaction.

"Where are they, anyway?" Kenshin inquired after Sano turned away to put out his cigarette.

"Oh yeah, you were still asleep when they bolted. The spring break ends in few days so they took an early train back home." The taller man leaned on the rusty railing. "Ughhh, I should go call Kaoru and make sure they got there fine."

For a few moments, they stood like that, not saying a word, enjoying the nice morning sun.

"Imma go wash this and find my phone." Sano lifted the glass candle holder in his right hand while walking back inside. "And you, enjoy your coffee."

Chapter Text

Chapter Two 

"A Binge Drinking Situation" 

For her very first year as a university student, Kaoru ended up renting a two-bedroom apartment alone. If the young bright-eyed woman had known that she will end up being the only one to pay for the not-so-cheap flat, she would have at least tried to convince her older brother to let her crash at his place until she found a roommate. However, when Misao ditched her friend after a month of co-renting the mentioned flat to take a gap year, that ship had already sailed. 

Admittedly, Kaoru was a bit mad at her friend for this betrayal, but they were still on good terms. The young bright-eyed woman loved receiving photos of interesting and beautiful places Misao would visit during her backpacking trip around the world. Those pictures would show up in her mail around once a week, and Kaoru, acting as if she was a proud mother, would stick the said photographs on the fridge. 

The only times Kaoru was truly mad at her best friend for leaving like that, was during those particularly hard days at work.  

As she couldn't afford to pay for the apartment while working only one part-time job the young woman got two, and well... Both of them were at retail. Those kinds of jobs give you grey hair long before due time and the bright-eyed female was starting to feel as if she will soon need to start dyeing her hair to hide them. 

Another thing that caused the young woman great distress during her first year as a university student, was the simple fact that she had to see her brother's face. A lot. 

The rooster-head just had to decide to take a gap year for the third time, after seeing Misao so happily taking off. Honestly, it wouldn't have mattered to the dark-haired woman that much, as she knew perfectly well what a free spirit her older brother was, if he wouldn't have constantly come to her flat in search of company.  

"It's just this once." He would start as soon as his younger sister would open the door. "Kenshin's at work and I'm about to go insane looking at the crackling ceiling of our apartment." 

No matter how much Kaoru loathed the older man loitering around in her flat, it wasn't like she didn't appreciate Sano's visits either, as she herself quite disliked being alone for long periods of time. And hence, the dark-haired woman would let him in every time. 

 Though it did take her only five minutes to start regretting the said action. 

During that first year, she would mostly see Sanosuke's redhead roommate only in passing. Usually, as he left for work, while Kaoru hypocritically was loitering around their apartment, as being in her own flat she had deemed to be too lonely, or when she delivered a drunk Sano home. 

The latter one, however, happened very rarely and the young female could even count those times using the fingers on only one of her hands. 

"Do I seem that much of a monster that I would like my job?" Kenshin answered her with a question, one of those nights. 

Kaoru had asked the redhead if he enjoyed working as they were standing near a bus stop and waiting for the last bus of the night.  

No matter how much the dark-haired woman refused, insisting that she would be fine on her own, Kenshin made it an honour thing to walk her to the bus stop and wait for the bus along with her, whenever she ended up bringing Sano back late at night. Probably, because most of the time she would no longer be sober herself. 

Usually, the bus would come in a matter of minutes, however, for some reason, tonight it was taking an especially long time. So, Kaoru decided to make some small talk, to, in turn, make the time go by faster. 

The older man had been laughing as he said those words, but the young woman beside him could clearly see the tiredness on his face. 

"That bad?" The bright-eyed female returned the smile. 

"Well, they use me more as an errand boy rather than an actual lawyer, but what can I do." He played with his fire-red long hair while answering. The man before Kaoru was no longer laughing, but a child-like smile still remained on his lips. "And how's it going for you?" 

"About to start rocking grey hair." 

They laughed. 

The two of them continued to talk about everything and nothing at the same time until Kaoru noticed a neon number flashing in the distance. 

"Well, that's me. You can finally go back and get some rest!" The young woman giggled while stretching her hands above her head and trying to stop herself from yawning. 

"You too." The red-haired man whispered, amused at the apparent sleepiness in her voice, as he watched his best friend's sister get on the bus.  

...∽∾●∾∼...

Time flew by quickly and when four seasons had changed Misao came back from her year-long trip. 

Finally, Kaoru could quit both of her jobs and find another, more enjoyable one. As a result, the young woman started working as a waitress at one of the many small restaurants in the old town.  

Most days there were slow, with only a few customers sitting down at her tables. The pay was a bit lesser than at either of her previous jobs, but the young university student liked it there. At least, she no longer felt the need to check her head for any grey hairs every evening. 

Misao, however, did not come back alone. With her was a handsome tall stone-faced foreigner by the name Aoshi, with whom she claimed to be in love. Kaoru could never quite read the man by her best friend's side, but from time to time she would notice a spark of adoration in his otherwise usually ice-cold blue eyes. 

The two love birds had spent the whole summer together, in the same flat Kaoru and Misao co-rented, often making the blue-eyed woman feel like a third wheel and even resulting in her walking in on scenes she never wanted to see.  

Due to this, the dark-haired female spent many nights that summer sleeping on the sofa in Sanosuke and Kenshin's apartment. Amid one of those nights when she sought refuge in the men's flat, the young university student found out that her brother's redhead roommate had a girlfriend. 

The woman's name was Megumi. She was a beautiful dark-haired woman, who carried herself with confidence and maybe even had a slight air of superiority around her. Megumi also was only a few years younger than Kenshin and was currently having her internship at the hospital few blocks away. 

Kaoru felt a slight pang of pain in her chest at this new-found information. Only then did she realise that she might've had a crush on the older man.  

However, a while later she was no longer as sure that her feelings could be classified as even that. 

The young bright-eyed woman thought, that she had been more in love with the idea of him than the person himself. And even if it wasn't so, she made it her truth. That way, it was a lot easier to get over the heartbreak. After all, if she only fancied the idea of this gentle, polite and funny man, without a doubt when she will truly fall for someone, those feelings will easily be overshadowed. 

Hence, it didn't take long for the young university student to start dating another. 

The man was a funny and warm person, an art student to boot and only a year older than herself. In all honesty, Kaoru didn't start going out with the art student because she felt particularly attracted to him. Actually, it was more of a need to change something in her life and he just happened to ask her out at the right time. 

Admittedly, the bright-eyed woman did feel guilty from time to time and if it was any other person, she probably wouldn't have had the heart to proceed with this course of action. Mostly why she did end up going through with it, though, was because she was almost sure that the young artist's feelings towards her weren't that genuine either. 

And also, it was incredibly easy being with the art student. He had the gift of making her laugh and would paint the most beautiful portraits of her, saying she was his one and only muse. The young female loved how those words, whispered by her boyfriend, rang in her ears, even if they were greatly exaggerated.  

Sometimes, the man would profess his love to her, catching her off guard. Those times, Kaoru lied to her partner, saying that she loved him too. The young dark-haired woman simply didn't want to hurt his feelings, when he was so gentle with her. 

Even after many years, when they had gone their separate ways long ago and the only memory left of the art student she once called her boyfriend was a portrait of her, which he painted during those days she spent at his apartment, Kaoru wasn't so sure if he had ever been to her anything more than a friend with benefits.  

...∽∾●∾∼...

With Kaoru living in this comfortable relationship, the seasons changed once again. Aoshi had to finish his trip and return home, leaving Misao sad and bitter due to the distance between them. Sanosuke had changed several girlfriends and now, once again, was single, while Kenshin and Megumi preserved. Just like Kaoru and her art student. 

When the leaves started changing their colour, and some of them had even fallen already, the small group consisting of the six of them, decided to spend their evening drinking together. Well, actually that wasn't the initial plan. At first, it was supposed to be only a dinner with friends, but it just ended up turning into this binge drinking situation. 

That night, Misao drank because she was lost and didn't quite know what to do with her life from then on. Quite frankly, she expected her trip to help her find a peace of mind, however, that never happened. And, of course, she also drank due to the fact that she and her lover were separated by thousands of kilometers. 

Sanosuke drank because he fancied the young doctor, whom his best friend and roommate called his girlfriend, and because, being the loyal friend he was, he had promised himself to never breathe a word about it to anyone. And he kept it. Except for this one moment of weakness, when he called Kaoru in the middle of the night, telling his younger sister everything. Simply because he needed to tell someone. 

Kenshin drank not only to keep his best friend company, but also because the overwhelming feeling of nostalgia, which visited him every autumn, was crushing him particularly hard that night. 

Megumi drank due to reasons unknown to anyone else. After all, with the only exception of Kenshin, no one in the small group was close enough to the female to share secrets with her. And even if the red-haired man tried to guess, he didn't share his thoughts about the woman, who hardly made any sense to him anymore, with anyone. 

Kaoru drank due to the inexpressible feeling of inferiority which had haunted her for the last few weeks, and which had intensified sitting there, only few people away from the beautiful and sophisticated female doctor to whom, at least in her mind, she couldn't even begin to compare to. 

Her art student drank because of the strange atmosphere looming over the rest of the group. Because of the looks the redhead and his girlfriend would occasionally exchange and the feeling that he simply didn't belong there. 

Later that night, Megumi admitted the reason for her sadness. With the exception of Kaoru's art student, nobody heard her, and the young artist had already been far too drunk to comprehend the meaning of her words, resulting in them being lost forever. 

Just before the young doctor decided to talk, Sanosuke and Misao went out for a second round, after being turned down by the rest of the group countless times. 

With both souls of the party gone, Kaoru's art student turned on the TV, causing his girlfriend to wake up from her nap. No matter how much the young woman wanted to stomp her feet angrily after being woken up so abruptly, she made no fuss at all, as she was far too tired to act on her fury's behalf, and just left the living room and continued to sleep, only now in her brother's bed. 

Kenshin was completely unable to find the peace of mind he so craved, and the TV going off in the background messed up his thoughts even more. No longer being able to stand the noise, the red-haired man decided to leave the flat and wander around the dark streets and alleyways, before returning home and coming to a conclusion that he should take a nap himself. 

When he opened the door to his room, the redhead noticed a petite figure of his best friend's younger sister sleeping on his bed, completely oblivious to the man standing only few meters away from her. The short man gently nudged her, trying to wake the young woman up. However, it took him a lot more than that to do it. He hadn't known that Kaoru was such a heavy sleeper. 

As she woke up, the blue-eyed female felt the heat rising up her cheeks, quickly realising her mistake. She wanted to bolt from the room due to the overwhelming feeling of embarrassment swallowing her up, but Kenshin only laughed, saying that there's no need to feel ashamed. After all, the doors to his and Sano's rooms were not only right next to each other, but also identical. 

A light conversation began between these two, reminiscing about the hot summer nights and days which they didn't get to spend together. Soon Kaoru started ranting about something, but Kenshin wasn't able to hear her voice, too immersed in the way the young woman's skin glowed in the streetlights shining through the window of his room. 

They moved to sit closer, as the redhead claimed that it was difficult for him to make out her quiet voice due to the television blasting at full sound in the living room. 

However, Kenshin wasn't the only one to feel braver under the veil of night, with alcohol flowing in his veins. Kaoru became a lot bolder too. She decided to allow herself that, preparing to use the excuse of being drunk if needed. 

Once the two of them were sitting close enough, the young woman started fluttering her eyes more and controlling her laugh, just enough so that it would sound seductive. 

The flame in the bright-eyed female's heart, which had already been burning low, was rekindled again. 

And then, Kenshin kissed her. With absolutely no regard to their respective partners sitting in the other room and the possible consequences of his action. 

It was a passionate, but short-lived kiss. The kind which makes you go weak in the knees from the overwhelming feelings of joy and need, but which you start regretting almost instantly. 

"I'm sorry, but it's late." Were the very first words to leave Kaoru's mouth after she sobered up due to the shock of his action. "I should leave." 

No longer feeling as flirty, she suddenly became very painfully aware of the cute art student and the pretty doctor watching TV together just behind a thin wall. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three 

Just Don't Mention It 

To say that things got awkward between Kaoru and Kenshin after that night would be an understatement. They started avoiding one another like the other person was the black plague. Whenever one of them would walk into the room where the other was, one of the two adults would instantly come up with a reason why they could no longer stay and so on. 

It didn’t take long before Sanosuke noticed their strange behaviour. Even Misao, who by then had become Sano's good drinking buddy and the frequent visitor to the small apartment he and the red-haired man shared, started feeling suspicious about the look on her best friend's face whenever the redhead would be mentioned.  

Both Sanosuke and Misao hinted at this notion to the people in question many times, but neither the dark-haired female nor the violet-eyed man would budge. They were incredibly good at evasion: with ease would change the topic or find some kind of excuse for their actions. This annoyed both of the drinking buddies, however, they could never truly do anything about it more than irritate their friends into confessing whatever there was to confess.  

But one time Misao came out victorious and ended up cornering Kaoru. That night, as the two females shared a family sized pizza, the bright-eyed female finally told about the kiss she and Kenshin had shared that night, almost three months ago now. 

She had whispered those words breathlessly, almost hoping that Misao would not be able to catch them. Though, of course, she wasn't so lucky. 

The young university student herself, never truly understood why she gave in to her best friend that time. Though it was a tedious task, it was never that hard to get Misao off track, until, that is, the next time she would start interrogation anew. Kaoru's best guess was that she was simply tired that day. Tired from her job, tired of the studies, the constant awkwardness and simply lying. 

And maybe, also tired from trying to figure out what was it that she truly felt. 

By then, the young female was no longer dating her art student. A month ago, he left for an exchange program, and though at first, the two of them were determined to have a long-distance relationship, both of them knew that the feelings they shared simply weren't intense enough for such a commitment.  

To be honest, Kaoru had mixed feelings regarding her art student's decision to study abroad. The young bright-eyed woman felt relieved because she no longer needed to live a lie, but also angry and disappointed because it made her feel as if she was cast aside. 

When Misao realised that Kaoru had admitted to being kissed by Kenshin, she could feel her jaw dropping. The young woman knew perfectly well about the crush her best friend used to have on the older man and could see a certain fondness in the redhead's eyes whenever he caught a glimpse of Kaoru, but never expected their relationship to develop into something more. Mostly, because both parties involved refused to come clean about their feelings to one another. 

But the shock of it didn't stop the young free-spirited woman from being extremely happy for her friend. After finally knocking out of it, Misao had responded to the news with a smile and inquired Kaoru what she was planning to do from then on. 

...∽∾●∾∼...

Sano, however, was a whole different deal. When Misao spilled the beans the very next day over the drinks in one of the bars they were regulars at, he was livid. The rooster head even hit the red-haired man square in the jaw, once he came back home. 

"I'm sorry." Was the only thing the shorter man managed to force himself to say after receiving the said punch. 

Kenshin didn't need to ask his friend what brought on his actions, as it perfectly reflected on his face. Or maybe, they just knew each other well enough to communicate without those useless words. 

"You think sorry's gonna cut it?!" The enraged man shouted. "Who are you to think that playing with my sister, while you so clearly have a girlfriend, is okay as long as you feel – no, say – that you're sorry?!" 

Sano stared at the bleeding man standing in front of him and cursed inwardly. This is precisely why he never wanted his sister to get involved with any of his friends, even if he teased many of them, offering to set up a date, whenever they brought Kaoru up. He knew, that in the case that bright-eyed woman – who was still only a little girl in his mind – got hurt, he would have to choose between his friend and his family. And no matter how dear of a friend the person was, Sanosuke always knew that he would choose his sister. 

"I wasn't trying to play her." Kenshin finally responded after wiping the blood off his lower lip. 

The red-haired man knew that the best course of action was to let his friend blow off some steam and end it there, while keeping his mouth shut, be he was also doubtful that their friendship would ever be the same if he did so. 

"Then, please do tell, what were you trying to do?!" The taller man stormed. 

"I think... I think, I actually like her." The redhead confessed. 

This statement earned Kenshin another punch, but this time he managed to avoid it. After cursing at him for a bit more, Sano retreated into his room, banging the door as hard as he could, in anger that still hadn't passed. 

...∽∾●∾∼...

During the months after this confrontation, Kenshin tried to decide what to do with the realisation he came to while arguing with Sanosuke. At the time, those words thoughtlessly left his mouth, no matter how unlike him it was, and the redhead didn't fully comprehend their meaning until the heat of the had moment passed.  

Due to this and many other reasons his head had become a complete mess. He didn't have the slightest idea how to patch up his relationship with Sano, as they were still engaged in a passive-aggressive battle of wills. He also didn't know what to tell Megumi or how to act around Kaoru. 

In fact, after the night when he shared the kiss with Kaoru, the red-haired man was spending less and less time with the young doctor. On his part, it was mostly due to the guilt from the previously mentioned act, however, Megumi also didn't show much desire to meet up often. And well, they were also preoccupied with work.  

When they ended up finally arranging a meeting, all the redhead could say was apologize, just as he had to Sanosuke. 

To be completely honest, Kenshin was starting to get tired of repeating the same phrase over and over again, but he truly did not know what else to say. After all, he couldn't tell the young woman that he had kissed Kaoru. He had no desire to hurt Megumi's feelings by admitting that he fancied another. And the fact that Kenshin's feelings had gone cold – about which he ended up talking the most – wasn't a lie, just not the whole truth. He had felt their relationship becoming stale even before the said kiss. 

The young doctor also admitted that even she herself no longer felt as strongly about the man sitting in front of her as she once did, claiming that it wasn't his fault, trying to rid the redhead of his guilt. 

When the two of them went their separate ways, they did so without holding any grudges. They even promised to one another to stay friends, though truthfully, both of them perfectly knew that it wasn't very possible right now. Maybe, sometime in the distant future, or maybe just in a couple of years, but not now. Even if they didn't feel contempt toward the other person, neither of them truly knew how to act around one another as friends, with no awkwardness lingering in the air between them. 

Though Kenshin and Megumi's relationship ended on friendly terms, the man knew it was still too early to feel relieved. His relationship with Sanosuke still hadn't gotten any better and the climate which enveloped their apartment reminded the shorter man of the Cold War. Though there were no physical actions, or straight out insults, there was this undeniable mood of underlying hostility between the two men. 

However, even a bigger problem was Kaoru. He continued to avoid her as if his life depended on it, while the dark-haired woman acted no different, causing their encounters to become extremely rare. And even if they did end up meeting because of some kind of miracle and stay in the same room for more than five seconds, Kenshin didn't have a clue how to begin the conversation. 

Apologize for so suddenly kissing her? 

He could. That would be the most logical course of action, but wouldn't it give off the wrong impression? Wouldn't it make it seem as if he regarded the said kiss as a mistake? 

Confess his feelings? 

That also was a reasonable option. But what if she didn't feel the same as him? What if she thought about the kiss as a mistake? What if he seems like a fool who assigns too much significance to such a meaningless act? 

And even if she felt the same, there still were many problems. 

How would Sano react? The taller man had been ready to beat Kenshin to a bloody pulp when he found out about the kiss his best friend and Kaoru shared. Surely, he won't take kindly to it if they start going out. 

And then, of course, there was the age gap. He was quickly approaching thirty and Kaoru... Well, would she really be happy with him? Sometimes, the redhead, without meaning to, would think of her as a young girl. As a high school student he met while she was staying at his and Sano's apartment. That girl full of excitement for the life ahead of her. Could he bear to see the light behind those beautiful blue eyes disappear if he is unable to give her what she needs? 

Then maybe, it's best to continue ignoring this situation all together? Maybe that way, they could eventually get over the embarrassment which still enveloped them whenever they remembered that night. 

But it has already been a while and nothing seemed to change. If anything, it only got worse with Sanosuke and Misao finding out about it. 

...∽∾●∾∼...

For better or worse, after long weeks of vicious inner debate, fate had seemed to save the young lawyer from having to make the incredibly hard decision himself. Well, it wasn't as much as fate, only the wrong bus he got on one evening. 

Kenshin saw Kaoru get on and was fully aware that the young female had noticed him as well, for their eyes met when she was searching for an empty seat. He knew, that she even noticed the empty seat next to him, but chose to feign ignorance and ended up sitting down at the very front of the bus, as far away from Kenshin as it was physically possible. 

At first, Kenshin was not only surprised to see the woman on the same bus as him, but also a bit hurt by the fact that she practically ran away from him. Though he knew that it was only to be expected, after all, it had become a common practice over the last few months for the both of them. 

Suddenly, the red-haired man was overwhelmed by a wave of courage. He was tired of those games and decided not to put off the conversation they were bound to have anyway, anymore. Hence, Kenshin got up from his seat and went to sit next to the dark-haired female. 

Kaoru lifted those piercing blue eyes, staring at the older man's face. 

"Let's talk." He offered. 

At first, the young woman was set on refusing. She really didn't want to go through the embarrassment of hearing the man next to her apologize for kissing her that night. But what Kaoru hated even more was the current situation – the looming uneasiness whenever the two of them happened to be near each other and having to run away because she could no longer stand it.  

Coming to the conclusion that both of them were grown up people – even though she doubted about herself regarding the fact – and that it's better to handle this situation as the adults they were, the young female agreed. 

"When?" Kaoru inquired after hearing the man next to her breathe a sigh of relief.  

She was a bit jealous and angry at his action. The young university student also wanted to feel relieved, but the emotions in the pit of her stomach were only worry and nervousness. 

"How about now?" It took only moments for the red-haired man to speak. 

"Now?" Kaoru was surprised. 

"If you have time." 

"Okay." She replied, slowly forming the word in her mouth. 

In Kaoru's opinion, it would have been better if she got at least few days to mentally prepare herself, but maybe, finishing it off quickly, just like ripping off a band-aid, was a better course of action. 

They got off at the next stop. There were still few stops left before Kaoru would have needed to get off and one too far for Kenshin to change busses. However, they didn't really think about that, as both were itching to be done with this ordeal as fast as they could. 

"About the kiss..." The red-haired man began as he watched Kaoru sit down on the bench near the bus stop sign. "It wasn't a drunken mistake.... I think, I actually like you." 

A perplexed look was present on the dark-haired woman's face as she snapped her head up to look up at him. 

"I just want you to know that." Kenshin didn't so much as glance at Kaoru as those words left his mouth. 

For some reason, the redhead wasn't able to express his feelings accurately. Those few words he was able to mutter, did nothing to reflect the mysterious pull the woman had on him. It was as if he lost the gift of speech the very same moment he tried to convey the strange feeling, which, at least in his mind, though was less than love, had grown to be more than just like over the months of them playing the game of evasion. 

But no matter how hard it was for him to make any kind of words leave his mouth, Kenshin didn't want to let Kaoru talk. He didn't want to know what she was thinking, at least not right away, because the red-haired man was almost sure that the words she would speak would be the words of rejection. And Kenshin was oh-so afraid of being rejected. 

"Just... just let me think about what you've said first... It's quite a bit to take in." He heard her whisper softly, interrupting him as he was about to talk again. 

Yes, he will let her decide. Just because he was a little bit older didn't mean that he was any wiser than her. 

Kenshin finally looked down, seeing his roommate's little sister's face covered by her hair. She was playing with a rubber band in her hands, the same one which only a few minutes ago was holding up her hair in a high ponytail. 

Even though Kaoru felt quite happy hearing Kenshin say that the kiss they shared was not meaningless, the young woman refused to let it show. She knew she felt something more for her brother's roommate than the mere affection one would hold towards a friend, but she just didn't know if the possible flame between them was worth the possible pain it might end in. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four  

The Date Night Is Friday

While Kaoru was still undecided on how to react to Kenshin's words, she received a painting in the mail. It was her portrait sent by her now ex-boyfriend and the art student who used to claim that she was his muse. The young university student recalled posing for it many months ago, in the dimly lit apartment, which now seemed so incredibly distant. 

She laughed when he asked her to pose for it. The man had insisted that such a beauty as herself deserved to have millions of portraits painted of her, and he wished to at least paint the first one. And with a warm cup of tea in hand, with which she was trying to shield herself from the cold winds raging outside, Kaoru agreed, flattered by the art student's words which she was still not used to hearing. 

Now, the young bright-eyed woman stared at the painting with a feeling of longing for those days and the ease of their relationship. With the painting, came a note which read:  

"My dear Kaoru, 

I won't hide the fact that I was mad after we decided to end our relationship. Despite the façade I put on in front of you, I truly wanted for you to ask me to stay, while confessing your love, or simply agree to come with me. I was furious with how cool you were with the whole thing, but mostly I felt hurt by how  you had used me and then thrown me away when you were done.  It might sound funny to you, especially, because I was the one to leave.  

My pride didn't let me contact you for all these months, but while going through the mountain of boxes I had stored away in the attic of the house I'm currently staying in, I found this painting and realised that I was using you all that time as well. 

We both had emotional needs which we couldn't find the right person to quench with . Thus, we used each  other.  We  worked together because both of us did just enough to satisfy the very basics of those needs , but neither of us held the unrealistic expectations one would have towards their significant other while blinded by the feeling called love. 

You can call me  pretentious , but  after moving out here, I started thinking  about my  relationships  with people in general. I did it probably because it took me a while to meet new people and I was left alone with my thoughts a lot. In the end, I  came to the conclusion that we were never truly happy while being together, but simply satisfied with the idea of having that someone who makes us feel a little less lonely than one usually is. 

Kaoru, I hope that one day, you will find someone who will make you feel something more, not just distract you from your  loneliness ." 

Once again, the red-haired man's confession rang in Kaoru's ears. This note almost seemed to be meant to serve as a push into Kenshin's arms.  

A tiny voice, belonging to the hints of the feelings suppressed so long ago, whispered into her ear, that maybe that violet-eyed man, her brother's roommate, had the potential not to only prevent her from feeling lonely. 

Kaoru dug out her phone from the mountain of pillows on her bed, but before she even began dialling the number, the young woman stopped herself. Was she truly doing the right thing? Maybe jumping into a new relationship just because of a stupid note wasn't such a great idea. Kaoru was aware that she had a bad record of regretting the choices she made just as rashly as she was about to make this one, and maybe this sudden need to do something was just caused by the envy towards her ex-boyfriend, who seemed to have found his peace of mind, while she was still torturing herself. 

However, due to a reason she herself didn't even know, Kaoru still ended up dialling the number. 

"Are you busy?" The woman inquired, after the person on the other end picked up his phone. 

"I'm still at work. Did something happen?" She heard Kenshin's oh-so familiar voice ask in return. 

"Can we talk later?" Kaoru ignored the question even though she knew that the redhead was right to be concerned. After all, she had never called him before. 

"I can come to your flat after I'm done with work." The man on the other end sighed. 

...∽∾●∾∼...

By the time Kenshin showed up, Kaoru had already started cursing herself for having called the man at all. This whole situation was shaping up to be even more awkward than all of those times she ran away from him. When they finally were in the same room, both of them acted so robotically, showing that neither of them were comfortable with as much as standing next to each other.  

Kaoru offered Kenshin something to drink after having him sit down on the bed in her room. Truly, she would have preferred if this took place in the living room, but didn’t want their conversation to be interrupted by her best friend. Even though Misao wasn't in the flat at that moment, the young university student didn’t really know when her roommate was going to come back and wasn't really in the mood to deal with her having walked in on such an embarrassing conversation. 

The red-haired man responded by asking for a glass of water. He knew that the bright-eyed woman in front of him was trying to stall, and, well, so was he.  

After Kaoru came back from the kitchen, with a glass filled with water in her hand, they sat in an uncomfortable silence for the following few moments.  

She kept playing with the corner of the pillow she had placed in her lap just a few seconds ago and he kept gulping down the water in his glass until it was completely empty. The young woman felt the need to stall even longer, claiming that she needed to use the bathroom, yet, somehow, she managed to control herself. 

"I was planning to ask you to date me." She finally spoke, breaking the unbearable silence. 

"Then, why don't you?" Was Kenshin's soft, yet not nearly as calm as usual, reply. 

Neither of them were looking at each other as they talked. Rather, the redhead kept his eyes on the blank white wall in front of him, while Kaoru stared at the dark purple pillow in her lap. 

"I don't know." The woman lied.  

There was no way she could force herself to admit to him just how miserable she was feeling because of some measly note she got from her ex. This situation was humiliating enough as it was. 

"It seems that you just need someone to talk to and help you organise your thoughts."  

"I could've come to the same conclusion without your help." Kaoru laughed at his statement, but there were hints of tears in the very corners of her eyes. 

"I can be that person you talk to. If you want, that is." Kenshin turned his head to look at the woman sitting beside him, who, as he found out, was already looking back at him. 

"How about Megumi?" She squeezed the corner of the pillow in her hand, causing her knuckles to turn white. 

"There's nothing between me and her anymore. There hasn't been for a while already." The redhead talked as he freed the purple pillow from the woman's death grip and started caressing her palm. 

"Oh." Kaoru was no longer looking at his face, but rather at their hands in her lap. 

"There's no need to rush, let's take it slow. First, let's become truly good friends, not just acquaintances, and play it by ear from there on." 

The young woman nodded her head as the man sitting next to her flashed her a small smile. 

"How about we start meeting every Friday? We can complain about shitty things that happened to us during the week and grow to know each other better." 

Kaoru nodded in agreement once more. 

That's how it all began. Those meetings were something that both Kenshin and Kaoru looked forward to during their whole week and which seemed to fly by far too fast. During most of those evenings, they were in a semi-private booth in a cosy restaurant, in a coffee shop trying out the newest concoctions the owners of those shops called items on the menu, in a bar sharing the largest serving of greasy garlic bread and sometimes in either of their rooms. 

Kenshin's relationship with his roommate grew warmer once again too. It took more than a little while, but, finally, they were almost as close as they had been before. 

Sometimes, Sano and Misao would join in on Kenshin's and Kaoru's meetings as well. However, never on Fridays. As the two of them started meeting more and more frequently and as most of their free time was filled with what they jokingly referred to as 'play dates', the two of them managed to avoid any intruders on Fridays. 

...∽∾●∾∼...

It was one of those Fridays when Kenshin and Kaoru shared their second kiss. With Kaoru being the one to initiate it.  

That night, nothing special happened to set her off. Everything was as ordinary as it could get. They both met up after work, argued for a while regarding the subject of where they should go, and after talking each other's ears off, they left the cafe on which they had settled earlier. And well, as usual, Kenshin brought his companion home after the evening they spent together. That evening, they didn't even go out drinking.  

When it happened, both of them were sitting in the red-haired man's car, which he had only bought recently, about to bid their goodbyes. 

Kaoru had put her hand on the young lawyer's shoulder, gripping the fabric of his jacket tightly, in hopes of lessening her nervousness, before going in for the said kiss. At first, Kenshin just sat baffled by the young woman's actions. Her kiss had come out of nowhere, as the man still believed that she didn't see him as anything more than a very close friend.  

But soon, the man gave in, letting the burning passion completely absorb him and responded by gently touching her lower back with one hand, while playing with the woman's hair the other one. The carefulness, with which Kaoru started their kiss, was quickly swallowed up by the unimaginable need to hold each other as close as possible, press into the other with every inch of their bodies. 

Once they finally pulled apart, both of them were out of breath. Kaoru nuzzled into the crook of Kenshin's neck, taking deep breaths and trying to regain control of her legs, as she was almost sure that she will have difficulty walking once she gets out of the vehicle. 

...∽∾●∾∼...

Neither of them said anything because they simply had no need for words to understand what the other person was feeling. The heated, mutual kiss was enough of a sign that today was their first day as something more than friends.  

Maybe because their relationship didn't change much, besides the more romantical things they started to do together, and the label they put on it, Kenshin and Kaoru didn't tell anyone that they started going out. Their mutual friends had already accepted that they will probably get together eventually, so even when they did find out no one was shocked or even surprised.  

Only Misao and Sanosuke were a bit angry, as they found out the news not from the happy couple themselves but from a third party – Kaoru and Misao's neighbour, as well as their good friend, Tae. And Tae herself found out when she happened to walk in on quite an intense make-out session in the stairwell by yours truly. 

Tae was a few years older than both women living next door to her. Her major was also different from either of them, all three of them even attended different universities, and the beautiful not-so-long-lived friendship managed to blossom simply because they lived next door.  

Kaoru was the first one to get to know her because both women shared the love of drinking their morning coffee in their windowless balconies, which just happened to be separated only by few tens of centimetres of nothingness.  

Though this wasn't exactly the reason due to which both women shared their first conversation. Rather, it was Kaoru's smoking habit.  

The older woman suddenly started politely complaining about it one morning when Kaoru sat down in front of the small glass coffee table in her usual breakfast spot. To be honest, if it was any other morning, the young bright-eyed woman would have probably just put out her cigarette and continued having her breakfast, without blowing the whole thing out of proportion, but unfortunately, she had woken up in an awful mood that day. Just like an entire week before. 

And, well, Kaoru showed her nasty temper which she could proudly display when someone or something made her mad. With the other woman not giving in, the whole situation grew into a huge argument, leading to Tae leaving her balcony without even taking a single sip of her coffee and seeking refuge inside her flat.  

For the next few weeks, the women would exchange icy glares whenever they had the luck to encounter each other. However, once the pressure in university was off Kaoru, she started feeling bad for overreacting to such a degree. The woman next door hadn't done anything wrong in politely asking Kaoru to put out her cigarette and she was the one who turned the whole thing into a hundred and twenty episode telenovela.  

...∽∾●∾∼...

One morning, completely ready to apologize, the bright-eyed female went out onto the balcony only to find the older woman drinking her coffee, reading and.... smoking. The young university student was completely dumbfounded by this turn of events and was about to start interrogating the woman, until she heard her speak. 

"I'm sorry, I was trying to quit." She said, flipping the page of the book in her hand and taking a long drag of her cigarette. 

"It's okay, I guess..." Was Kaoru's only reply. 

Deciding that there was no longer a single problem with lighting a cigarette herself she did so and after few puffs started laughing. The woman on the balcony next to hers joined in. 

On the mornings which followed, both women ended up chatting occasionally. They found out that despite the outward appearances, they had a lot in common.  

The older woman had also turned out to have been living on her own. She had no, even potential, roommate, hence the said flat was considerably smaller than Kaoru's. It consisted only of a bathroom, a kitchen, a single bedroom and, of course, a balcony.  

Though Tae was studying management, but she also attended cooking classes on the side. During one of those chit chats, she admitted to always having dreamt of opening a small restaurant of her own. Kaoru, after having tasted the older woman's cooking on few occasions, promised to be a frequent customer in the said restaurant once Tae opens it. 

After finding out that the bright-eyed woman plans on becoming a lawyer Tae promised to give Kaoru a bit of work as well – when she gets divorced from her future husband, whom she still hadn’t met. The young university student, while laughing, agreed to help her with divorce as many times as she decided to have it. 

Tae was one of those people who helped Kaoru greatly to get through those lonely months in still quite an unfamiliar city when Misao was abroad. 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five  

Call Logs   

Being a senior in high school, Misao was in love with the idea of traveling the world and finding your purpose, the way it was portrayed in films, books, magazines and social networking sites. It just seemed so grand and exciting. Despite being a positive, mostly happy-go-lucky and, as most people would say, an air-headed person, she never expected to work up the courage to go on one herself. Hence, the young female kept her mouth shut, not even telling about her dreams to her closest friend – Kaoru. 

Everything changed on that weekend when Kaoru took her along to visit Sanosuke and look around the city which was to become their new home in only a few months. There, she was encountered with two complete opposites – the carefree Sano, the same way she had always remembered him to be, and his responsible redhead roommate named Kenshin. As the day went on, she started noticing just how much the dynamics between two older men resembled the one between herself and Kaoru with the latter, of course, being the more mature one.  

That day, Sano told them a lot about his travels. The unbearable coldness of Siberia and the exhausting heat of the Amazon forests. From time to time, Kenshin would interfere, claiming that one of his stories was fake, as the two of them had watched a film with the exact same event. Those times, the taller man would scratch his head, laughing, saying that he had unintentionally mixed up. 

But Misao knew that the claim to have traveled was true. Kaoru had shown her the pictures her brother had sent from the various parts of the world, many times before. 

By the time the four of them were having their dinner, Misao, with the help of boxed wine, voiced her dreams of traveling, loud and proud. It pained her a bit that even Kaoru, a person which was supposed to be her best friend, laughed it off, taking it for merely a drunken antic. However, still not being that serious about it herself, the young girl managed to go along with it, pretending that it truly was only one of those many things she said without ever truly thinking about it.  

Probably because of that, everyone seemed so shocked when Misao did make up her mind to put going to university on hold. Though it was hard to leave Kaoru and take on the world herself, as the females had not separated as long as they could remember, in the long run, Misao was sure that it was the right thing to do. 

...∽∾●∾∼...

She had seen, learned and done many things on her trips, which she wouldn't have been able to otherwise, making her life, and in turn, the whole world, appear so much more beautiful and vivid than before. The young woman even seemed to have met a man of her dreams in one of tourist groups. Given, he turned out to be a complete asshole, but at least the person which sat next to her on the plane and was forced to listen to her complain about it, beneath that cold exterior he was putting up, turned out to be decent. Later, she even found out his name, Aoshi, and in no time, knew that her heart belonged to him. 

Though it was beyond cheesy, you could say, that his love was the only souvenir she had brought back from her yearlong travels. 

But eventually, Misao had to go home and Aoshi couldn't stay in the apartment she and Kaoru rented forever, hence around the time the man left, Misao felt that she had changed. She was no longer satisfied with just attending her classes, getting a degree in something she didn't really care about and, later on, working some menial job.  

Just as the feeling started to set in, the Kenshin and Kaoru fiasco happened. It served greatly to distract the young female from her own problems, making the routine slightly less hellish. But after everything was done, and Kaoru had started dating Kenshin, Misao started feeling empty all of a sudden.  

There was no denying it that she loved talking with Aoshi, occasionally meeting him, having a drink with Sanosuke, watching a film with Kaoru and spending her free time with her other friends. She felt genuine happiness at all of those given times, but her overall direction in life was no longer able to satisfy her. But she tried to endure, and she did. For about three long years Misao managed to put up with doing everything that was required of her, in hopes that it will get better. One day, however, she woke up completely certain, and terrified, that she never will be satisfied with her life, as long as she continues living it this way.  

And that's how the young female ended up in her current situation: crying her eyes out in the supermarket while asking Kaoru what she would do if she moved out. 

Kaoru just stared at her perplexed and beyond confused about what her answer should be. Though, if Misao was honest, that was a completely normal response as the question which left her mouth left as "Do you want to move in with Kenshin?" rather than "What would you do if I moved out?". The fact that she couldn't stop crying a river added a whole another level of weird all together, as well.  

"Why?" Was all Kaoru managed to say, finally putting the cereal box which she was still holding back onto the shelf. 

It was the very first time she had seen her usually bubbly best friend so down. Yes, Misao sometimes had her days, but most of the time the young woman was the one who would smile through situations like these, saying that everything was going to be okay or simply stay by her friend's side, offering a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. 

However, when Kaoru looked at her that day, standing right next to a row of shelves filled with all kinds of cereal, Misao no longer resembled that carefree person Kaoru had for her best friend. The worst thing was though, that by the way the other female talked, it was crystal clear to the blue-eyed woman, that she had been feeling like that for a while. And even though they shared a flat, grew up together, and spent most of their free time in each other's presence in general, Kaoru didn't see it coming. 

"But to change your life you don't need to move out." The dark-haired university student muttered her thoughts aloud and instantly hated herself for saying those words.  

"At first, I thought so too." Misao started talking once more, having caught her best friend's quiet words even over the noisy shoppers, the beeping coming from cash registers and the music playing in the background. "It took me a while to realize that in order for this feeling inside of me to change, I should change my environment too. I'm just so tired of having to stare at those four peach coloured walls every day, of that fucking double bed, on which I can no longer fall asleep." She sighed. "I'm just so fucking burned out... from the life itself." 

As the last words left her mouth, sobs started shaking Misao's body even more violently and her knuckles had turned white from the death grip she had on the trolley in front of her. Kaoru swiftly pulled her friend into a hug, running one of her hands up and down Misao's back in an attempt to console her. 

"It's okay... We'll find you a nice affordable apartment. Or you can move in with one of your friends. Or Aoshi. Or go on another trip. We'll do whatever you like." She softly whispered into her trembling friend's ear.  

As they stood like that, passers-by gave them strange looks, as if asking if everything was alright, but neither of the two women paid any attention to them. 

...∽∾●∾∼...

Just like so, in the span of the next few months Misao quit university and packed her things into what seemed like millions of cardboard boxes, before moving out. And though her new flat was only 15 minutes' drive by a car away, it was still a change of pace for the young female. And though on one hand, the previous light behind Misao's eyes returned quite quickly, on the other hand not long after her best friend moved out, Kaoru started feeling lonely. 

With Tae having also moved out about a year ago, she simply missed having someone to eat breakfast with, someone to argue with over the unwashed dishes in the sing and about who should do the grocery shopping or the laundry that week. 

Even if the women met frequently, it was still there. The same crushing feeling of loneliness Kaoru so incredibly despised, the same one she felt seeping into her bones when Misao left for her backpacking trip more than four years ago. 

Of course, Kaoru's best friend's absence in the apartment also meant that she and Kenshin also had more space. Their very own lovers' nest, if you will.  

There was more than one occasion on which the red-haired man spent the night in that flat. His body tangled with Kaoru's, his clothes tossed all around the small living room. Truthfully speaking, there were more mornings when he woke up next to the young woman, sucking all the morning breath out of her with a kiss, then those when he slept in his own bed.  

But to Kaoru, it was only a temporary remedy. She hated to appear too clingy, too needy and too high maintenance, hence she always bit back the offer to stay a bit longer or to continue their activities later the same night. The dark-haired female knew that it was silly, truly, but she just couldn't smother the voice in the back of her mind whispering those vile things to her. 

Motivated by this, and after taking a hard long look at her life, the direction in which it was heading and weighing all the pros and cons, one morning Kaoru woke up before Kenshin and after seeing the redhead stir from his sleep as well, she asked the man if he would like to move in with her.  

Completely caught off guard by the sudden question, Kenshin agreed on the spot. However, during that whole day, whatever he was doing or trying to concentrate on, was pushed aside, his mind far too preoccupied with the hastily given answer to a seemingly random question. 

Were they moving too fast?  

Maybe he should have refused? 

Maybe Kaoru wasn't serious and he put her in an uncomfortable spot having agreed to it?  

Should he call her, saying that he changed his mind? 

Fortunately, after considering all the ifs and maybes, the violet-eyed man came to the conclusion which mirrored his thoughtless decision made that morning. And if Kaoru did ask him without meaning it... well he'll just have to deal with it. After all, he wanted to share a future with his girlfriend and he would be a fool to pass this chance up. 

The first one to find out about the move was, of course, Sanosuke. And, well, he was underwhelmed. It wasn't like he opposed their relationship, or anything overly dramatic like that, but he simply wanted to be cautious about this whole thing. He didn't want either of the people equally precious to him to get hurt, because it was getting serious and those were the relationships which had the messiest endings and left the deepest scars. 

Despite the man's worries everything seemed to be going well for the young couple. Of course, they would get into arguments, during which Kaoru would sometimes kick Kenshin out of the apartment, forcing him to stay at, now, only Sano's flat. Other than that, at least to such outsider as Sanosuke, it seemed that the two were genuinely happy. 

...∽∾●∾∼...

It had been almost a year later when Sanosuke received a worrying call from a hospital in his and Kaoru's hometown, the nurse regretfully informing him that their father was in critical condition. Apparently, there had been a car accident, caused by the slippery road due to the merciless rain which had been plaguing the region for the past few days. Their father's car had wrapped around a utility pole like a pretzel, with their father in the driver's seat.  

In a matter of moments, Sano contacted his sister. When she found out, Kaoru was in the middle of having her lunch in-between the lectures, the awful news causing the young woman to completely lose her appetite. Without any regard to the lectures she had left, the young woman took off to the train station, where she promised to meet her older brother. 

When the siblings finally saw each other on the platform, they didn't say a word. Just sat down on one of the benches and waited for the train while smoking their cigarettes, both of them too engulfed in their worries. 

Only when Kaoru got onto the train, did she remember that she left without saying anything about it to Kenshin. She felt like she should at least send a text, so that the red-haired man wouldn't worry when she doesn't come home tonight, but she just had no words or energy for the said task. However, she forced herself to and after long minutes of writing and deleting, Kaoru sent her boyfriend short and not very informative text, hence it didn't take long before she received Kenshin's call anyway. Yet, she didn't pick up, as it was simply too hard to force herself to speak with that huge lump in her throat. 

At least not right now. 

Kenshin called her few more times while they were on the train, but Kaoru didn't pick up either of them. 

During the train ride, which lasted an hour, Sano and Kaoru sat in dead silence, not uttering a single word. Both siblings just stared at the familiar scenery flying past them behind the windows. Even though they should have cried, cursed and tried to console each other, they didn't do either of those things. With the situation still feeling so incredibly surreal, neither of them wanted to break that illusion. Maybe it was childish on their part, but they hoped that this situation can still turn out to be only an unpleasant dream. 

...∽∾●∾∼...

"Which hospital?" The first words Kaoru spoke in so long tasted bitter in her mouth. 

By then, the two of them had gotten off the train. Sano was already calling the taxi company, whose number he found on a flyer left in the pocket on the back of the train seat in front of him. He didn't even bother answering his sister and it made Kaoru more than a bit angry. She wanted to shout, that she was just as worried about their father as he himself was, and if he could just at least not ignore her, she would be more than very thankful. 

But it didn't matter. Few more minutes and they will be at the hospital anyway. She just had to bear with it for a little while longer. 

Regretfully, when Kaoru and Sanosuke finally got to the hospital, the nurse at the registrar informed them that the patient by the name Kamiya Koshijiro had passed away only minutes ago. 

Upon hearing the news, Kaoru broke down in tears. It was just so painful. Even as an adult, she never truly believed that she will ever have to bury her father, to leave him, in the cold hard ground where her mother had been resting ever since Kaoru was still a child.  

Sanosuke clenched his fists, trying to feign strength and heed the words he heard his father use so often when he was still but a little boy: "Men don't cry". 

Kaoru could feel her phone vibrating in her pocket and she ignored it once more. 

Once the initial shock passed, the two siblings went to their childhood home. Sanosuke and Kaoru looked through their father's many notebooks, searching for a funeral home number, which they knew their father had used when their mother died, and deciding whom to invite to the funeral and whom not. Kaoru was tasked with the first one and Sano with the latter. 

...∽∾●∾∼...

The next time the dark-haired woman's phone rang, it was already dark outside. And, well, the inside of the apartment wasn't much different. With the only source of light being Sano and Kaoru's lit cigarettes. Neither of them felt like turning on the lights. Rather, in the darkness, they felt a lot more comfortable. This way, their grief was invisible to each other, hence they could pretend to be brave and there was no need to use those cliché phrases of consolation. 

"Finally!" A panicked and an oh-so-familiar voice of her redhead boyfriend came from the other end, once Kaoru picked up his call. 

"Kenshin..." She whimpered. 

Kaoru could feel her eyes welling up with tears once more. She didn’t want to cry. Not again. Not today. And certainly, not now. 

"What's wrong, love?" The man asked softly. 

"Please... please, come... I need you." The sad female was unable to hold back her tears.  

Kaoru put out her cigarette and slowly made her way to her old bedroom, sat down on her dust covered bed and told him everything that happened that day. She did all that while crying those ugly and heavy tears which were filled with her misery. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Six 

Lunch: The Story of a Near Heartbreak  

After holding a modest, close friends and family only, funeral, Sanosuke and Kaoru stayed in their father's apartment a while longer, both taking some time off from university and work. The morning of the said funeral, Kenshin had offered to stay with the pair, however, the siblings had adamantly insisted that he wasn't needed. Sano even went as far as saying that at least the redhead should keep his job and support the three of them, just in case himself and Kaoru got fired for staying in recluse for so long.  In the end, the young lawyer had caved in and left the siblings alone to their own sorrow. Of course, with a promise of being a phone call away at all times 

In his will, their father left the flat they grew up in, to both of his children. Neither Kaoru nor her brother quite knew what to do with the newly gained property, but it didn’t take long for them to come to a conclusion that at least for now, selling it was out of the question. It probably wasn't the smartest of decisions, but for now, they simply couldn't bring themselves to part with the flat which held so many fond memories of their childhood and their teenage years.  

... ∽∾●∾∼ ... 

For some reason, there was an unfamiliar ache in Kaoru's chest as she boarded the train, ready to come back to the life she had built for herself in once an unfamiliar city with Kenshin in it. The young woman simply couldn't stop thinking about the two graves Sano and her visited right before leaving – the freshly dug grave of their father and the one belonging to their mother, a grave which had settled already so long ago. 

There were so many flowers on their father's grave that, to Kaoru, it reminded her of a morbid, yet especially beautiful garden. Koshijiro had been a good person who had so many friends that he could hardly count them. With only a small fraction of them being actually able to visit their dear friend's funeral, every single one of them sent a large obligatory banquet of flowers with a card expressing their regret at Koshijiro's untimely passing, added to it. However, few of the previously mentioned banquets came without any note attached to them and those just happened to be Kaoru's favourites, simply because the senders had spared her the annoyance of being forced to read another cliché line. 

And then there was that wretched smell. It clung to Kaoru's skin for dear life ever since the funeral. She despised that sickeningly sweet stench so bad that, to be completely honest, the dark-haired woman doubted she could ever look at any flower the same. 

But maybe she wasn't being fair. Those people obviously meant well and if she had to express her condolences to a person mourning their loved one, Kaoru wasn't sure she would've been any wiser and stuck to the socially accepted cliché. 

Then there was their mother's grave.  

In comparison to their father's, it had seemed so bare, the only flowers placed on it being the ones, her children brought. It seemed as if her death had been forgotten by the world and imagining her father's, even her own death, forgotten the same way made a chill go down Kaoru's spine. She was afraid to be forgotten. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ ... 

It was the middle of the day when Sanosuke dropped her off at her apartment. The flat was empty when she returned, with Kenshin obviously still at work and only the dust merrily dancing in the bright sunlight beaming through the windows. Without any hesitation, the young woman swiftly crossed the living room, not bothering to take off her shoes at the door, went onto the balcony and, as if on reflex, lit a cigarette.  

However, she never brought it to her lips. The bright-eyed woman just kept an eye on the cigarette as it wasted away and turned to ash, until only the bud of it was left. In its own way, Kaoru witnessed the short life of a cigarette, as if paying a tribute to the death itself, as well as to the overwhelming fear she just couldn't shake off. 

Realising the pointlessness of her action, Kaoru lit another cigarette, except she took a drag of this one, but no longer felt the pleasure her daily dose of nicotine always provided her with. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ ... 

By the time Kenshin unlocked the door to the apartment he and his girlfriend shared, it was already late in the evening and the lonely moon changed the sun in the presence of which every living thing relished. He found Kaoru seated on the sofa in the living room area, with a box of delivery pizza on her knees. She was still nibbling on the first slice while watching some dumb reality show on TV. The red-haired man was beyond glad to see her clad in a pair of grey sweats and a dark blue, almost black, t-shirt, as opposed to that dreadful formal black attire he had last seen her clothed in. 

A small tired smile played on his lips as Kenshin took off his suit jacket, placed a gentle kiss on her forehead, sat down next to her and started eating pizza out of the box on her lap. 

"I'm going to be okay, you know." Kaoru surprised him by speaking over the two women screaming on the TV screen. 

"What?" Kenshin turned to her, asking before being able to process the meaning of her words. His own question sounded muffled and not clear at all, due to the cheesy goodness he had stuffed his mouth full of, only moments before. 

"Even if it hurts right now, I'm going to be okay after a while." The sapphire-eyed woman sitting next to him clarified. 

Kaoru didn't glance at her boyfriend while she talked, even though she could feel his eyes boring into her face, searching for something yet being unable to find it. Soon, he gave up and followed her suit, gluing his eyes to a brain-numbing, yet incredibly entertaining reality TV show. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ ... 

Just as Kaoru said, it took a while, but both she and Sanosuke moved o with their lives. The young woman even ended up quitting smoking, though it was a hard and long process. The reason behind it, however, seemed stupid even to herself – her fear of dying. It even made Kaoru laugh, as living in the big city was already dangerous enough and, seemingly, had nothing on smoking, but it was her way of fighting death.  

One night, she had told about it to Kenshin, expecting the man to tease her to no end, but he hadn't. He just smiled softly while running his fingers through her hair and commented on how much he loved the light aroma of her jasmine perfume lingering in their bedroom, instead of the previously always-present cigarette smoke. 

Sano, on the other hand, just returned to his old annoying and free-spirited self. Though one couldn't claim that Sanosuke's character remained completely unchanged either. From time to time he would display the new-found matureness in a setting one would expect him to goof off, as his father's death made him realise one simple thing – he wasn't a child anymore. 

It also made him recall his mother's death much clearer and all of the pain, which was erased by his childish mind to protect itself. Just as if it had happened yesterday, the tall man could see the grief and desperation filling his father's eyes, strangers clad in black clothes filling their flat, hear his sister cry her eyes out as his own wails joined it.  

Once, Sano asked Kaoru if she remembered anything of the sort. Though he didn't expect much, he was still disappointed to hear that his little sister didn’t recall as much as their mother's voice. She had probably read the sorrow off his face, as her next statement was an apology. And though he felt guilty for making Kaoru torture herself over an unnecessary thing, he continued to try and jog her memory by asking unimportant things about their mother. However, Kaoru still didn't remember a single thing about the woman, hence he shared his most precious memories of her. 

The following week, Kenshin asked Kaoru out on a series of rushed lunches and fancy dinners, which were quite unusual considering the fact that on most of their date nights the pair had always preferred to stay in and watch a film, rather than go out. 

Having lunch on a work day wasn’t a common occurrence either. After all, they simply were far too busy to allow themselves such luxury. Most of the time, the red-haired man would spend his day either in court or his office and end up getting a takeout delivered to him, while the bright-eyed female would just grab a bite in a café nearby her university with whomever she ended up encountering there. Not seeing each other before reuniting at home to spend a quiet night in, had become a routine to them at that point. Though it wasn't an ideal arrangement, the pair was content with how things had panned out and didn't really see the need to change anything. 

On the first day, the couple ended up having their lunch on a park bench. Though, to be completely honest, it wasn't even that much of a lunch as they only ate croissants from a café Kenshin drove by on his way. Their schedules weren't kind to them that day and forced the pair apart only after half an hour spent together. 

At the time, Kaoru interpreted it as a one-time whim, and though it was completely out of character for Kenshin to do, she didn't over analyse it. That is, until the red-head unexpectedly asked her to have lunch with him again the next morning. With a bit more planning involved, they were able to spend a bit more time together and not only buy a meal at a fast food joint, but even finish it.  

As the second week started off with the same requests, Kaoru was beyond suspicious. All those fancy restaurants and rushed lunches weren't normal for them, she couldn't help herself but wonder if their relationship hit the rocks. And it didn't help even a slightest bit that her boyfriend seemed to become more and more jittery with every single meal they shared. As if he wanted to tell her something, but never could bring himself to do it. 

Everything led the bright-eyed woman to one conclusion – her boyfriend was going to dump her. Though she didn't want to turn her life into a teen drama, where breaking up with significant other was usually portrayed as the end of the world, but she felt crushed. She really thought that they had a thing together – a thing that could have lead them to bigger things, especially after all this time they had known each other. 

It caused a dull ache in Kaoru's chest. She hated the fact that he was leading her on for such a long time. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ ... 

She thought about all of those things during an early morning run on the weekend of the second week. It was quite an unusual occurrence for the young female to be up before her boyfriend, and she would've loved to have stayed in their bed frolicking between the sheets if not for that damned insomnia caused by so much worrying.  

At the very end of her route, Kaoru made up her mind not to let this go on any longer. As Kenshin seemed to be uncappable of doing starting a conversation regarding the end of their relationship, Kaoru was perfectly fine with taking matters into her own hands and doing it for him.  

To her surprise, Kaoru found Kenshin in the kitchen, wearing only his underwear and making himself a cup of coffee. Kenshin was surprised to see her too, as his eyes grew to the size of the saucers once the young woman emerged from the doorway. Probably, he assumed that she had wandered off to the bathroom and just hadn't bothered to check and prove himself wrong. 

"Coffee?" The redhead pointed to his own cup, having just brewed it. 

Kaoru replied with a shake of her head, afraid that she might chug the boiling liquid at him once the cup was in her hands. Kenshin just smiled at her, confusion evident his raised brows and slightly wrinkled nose. It wasn't like her to refuse something she loved as much as coffee. 

"Breakfast?" He tried again, but got himself the same reply.  

Writing it off as Kaoru being in an extremely bad mood, Kenshin decided to not be in her way for the next few hours and try talking to her then, however, before he got the chance to go through with it the woman next to him spoke up. 

"Can I ask you something?" 

"Go ahead." The redhead cocked his head, looking straight into the young female's eyes as hers bore into his own. 

"What's been going on with you for the last few weeks?" She didn't hesitate and went straight to the point. In her mind, she repeated that it's better to do it quickly. Kaoru tried to believe that this will be just like ripping off a band-aid – the faster you do it, the less it hurts. 

"What do you mean?" Kenshin tried to feign ignorance, surprised by her question. Unfortunately, his mask had been poorly constructed, hence Kaoru easily saw through it. 

"Don't play stupid." Truly, she tried to make her voice sound harsh, but the desperation took over and the words came out a lot weaker than she expected them to.  

"You're getting the wrong idea." Kenshin whispered softly while reaching out for her cheek, realising that his plan had gone a bit less than exactly as he wanted it to.  

"Am I?" She easily dodged his fingers, turning away and no longer even looking at her boyfriend. 

Despite his best efforts not to seem patronising, a small understanding smile appeared on the redhead's lips as he looked at the woman in front of him. If he would have had even the slightest idea that such a misunderstanding would arise, he wouldn't have been such a coward, wouldn't have looked for a perfect moment when he knew very well that timing will always seem off. 

"I can prove it, just give me fifteen minutes." 

Kaoru didn't respond at all, didn't even nod or shake her head just stared at him, as if she was seeing the man for the first time.  

"Kaoru..." Kenshin gently touched her shoulder, trying to pull her in for a hug. 

"Okay." The woman agreed quietly while trying to break out of his hold. The red-haired man just threw another smile her way, before making his way to their shared bedroom. 

Kaoru spent those fifteen minutes, which seemed like an eternity to her, pacing around the living room. Her palms began to sweat from the overwhelming fear of the inventible. She tried to prepare herself for the sight of her boyfriend's bags stuffed with his clothes, that velvety voice of his proclaiming that he will spend the night at his friend's and return to collect his things in the next few days. 

However, she became extremely confused when the said man came out of their bedroom wearing a suit and the same nervous look on his face. 

"This isn't how I expected it to be." Kenshin admitted while awkwardly smiling up at her. 

It took mere seconds for him to cross the distance separating the pair, kneel in front of her on one knee, gently grab Kaoru's hand and briefly wonder what an uncomfortable position it was, as the coffee table was digging into his right side. 

"Kamiya Kaoru," he took a deep breath, mentally preparing himself for the words which were supposed to follow. "Will you marry me?"  

Uncontrollable tears flooded the young woman's eyes. Swiftly, she yanked her hand out of his and started furiously wiping the fallen tears. 

"Is that a no?" Kenshin smiled fearfully. 

"I should've taken a shower." Kaoru muttered while continuing to cry just as hard. 

"Pardon?" 

"I should have taken a shower. Now I'm all sweaty and you get to wear a suit." She choked out. "It's not fair." 

"So, is that a yes?" 

"Of course, it is." 

Kenshin embraced the crying woman in front of him, whispering words of love she was unable to make out due to the fact that he himself was laughing like a madman. 

Chapter Text

Ch apter Seven  

To Wine  and  Dine  in  Style  

Due to immense nervousness – the same one which had been plaguing him for the last two weeks – Kenshin forgot to take the actual ring while proposing. He realised it only later. Kaoru had already gone to take a shower while humming happily and he himself was in the middle of trading his work suit into a more comfortable outfit. It was then that the box with the diamond ring in it fell out of his pocket. 

As he waited for his fiancé to get out of the bathroom to give her the said ring, that damned nervousness clouded his eyes again. Kenshin felt as if he was about to propose for the second time. Once Kaoru found him at the bathroom door – waiting for her with that puppy dog look in his eyes – she laughed lovingly, letting the older man slide the elegant, yet simple silver ring with two small diamonds on her right hand's ring finger. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ ... 

When the giddiness passed, the two of them sat down to discuss the actual marriage over a meal. 

"Actually, I don't want to rush into marriage." Kaoru admitted. "I always thought that I'd like to finish university before taking another big step." 

She seemed a bit anxious while talking about it. An awkward smile playing on her lips and the way she kept messing with the mashed potatoes on her plate as she said those words gave it away. It went without saying, Kaoru was afraid of Kenshin's was so happy, and the last thing he wanted was to horribly disappoint him now. 

"You're a cruel woman, you know that, Kaoru?" The said redhead began, trying to contain the mischievous grin which he felt his lips forming into. 

"What are you talking about?" She gave him a perplexed look. The last thing Kaoru expected was for the violet-eyed man to call her cruel. Maybe accuse her of being afraid of commitment or something along those lines. Just not cruel. 

"I know what you're doing." He continued. "You're going to string me along until a newer and better model comes around and piques your interest. This is what I call cruel." 

Probably, because Kenshin knew that this time he was in complete control of the situation, his mask didn't crumble and he managed to keep any cracks at bay. He could see a scowl forming on Kaoru's face and almost felt sorry for her. If only he wasn't having as much fun, he would've probably stopped then and there, as well as apologised his wife-to-be. 

"But what should an old man like me expect. You're young and funny, and pretty... and young... In retrospect, I think I threw my back out while putting on the suit so hurriedly this morning." He sighed, it was getting harder not to crack. "What could a youngster like you be doing with an old geezer like me? I ask myself this question every single morning I wake up next to you." 

Kenshin felt immense pride due to his stellar performance. He never had even a slightest suspicion that his acting skills were that good. Nonetheless, the moment he felt a bunched-up serviette hit his shoulder softly, the man broke and started laughing madly. From the side, it might have seemed as if he had a few screws loose. 

"Why is it, that though you no longer live with my brother, you act more like him than ever?" Kaoru fumed, though Kenshin could clearly see that she was doing her best to keep her face twisted in a frown. 

"Can't a man be happy once in a while? I promise, I'll get my serious face back in few days. Well, maybe months... Or years... Let's just see how things go." Another serviette hit him, only this time it was aimed at his head rather than a shoulder. "Love, you wound me." He teased again. 

"Oh, just shut up-!" 

"In all seriousness though," he interrupted Kaoru as she was about to give in to her anger. "We can take as long as you want. Of course, with the condition that you're still going to marry me. Or are you having regrets already?" 

"Of course not." The look in her eyes softened. The irritation was replaced by gratefulness. 

'Then, I don’t see a problem." 

... ∽∾●∾∼ ... 

The pair, however, did end up deciding to let their friends and family know about their new relationship status right away. Partly, because the decision they made was huge, but also because of the reaction they received for not telling anyone about taking their relationship to the next level the last time. 

Kenshin called his father the same day, arranging to have a meal together the following week. All while Kaoru called their friends inviting them to have a dinner at their place the same weekend. 

Truthfully, Kaoru was a bit frightened at the thought of meeting the famed Seijuro Hiko. It made sense though, as she had heard a lot of interesting stories from Kenshin about the said man. And besides – even without those snippets of her fiancé's childhood she happened to have the knowledge of – the redhead's father was a quite well-known man.  

Most of the people interested in law in any way, had heard his name come up in a conversation at least once. The man by the name of Seijuro Hiko just happened to be a vicious persecutor whom no attorneys – even the experienced ones – wanted to meet in a hearing.  By that point, he had even turned into a sort of an urban legend used to scare newbies, as he was often described as a monstrous being who ate inexperienced lawyers for breakfast. 

According to Kenshin, those stories were a very harsh exaggeration of reality, probably spread by his father himself. With his stories, the redhead painted a picture of a very human man, nowhere near the monster he was made out to be. From what Kaoru gathered, in his personal life, Hiko was quite a crude man with a biting sense of humour. An eternal bachelor – few times engaged but never married – with a huge love of women and good booze. Quite strict as well, but above all else – very kind. 

The redhead claimed, that his father was one of the kindest people he had ever met, despite the fact that he rarely chose to show it. Actually, according to Kenshin, he didn’t know a single person who would have accepted a nine-year-old boy – whom they were seeing for the first time – into their own home and even feed him a warm meal, except for his father. Of course, that moment of gentleness was followed by a thorough interrogation, but the prosecutor did let him stay none the less. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ ... 

The designated place of meeting was one of the more upscale restaurants in the city in which Kenshin spent his teenage years. For the couple to get there, they only needed to endure a two-hour drive by car. In theory, it wasn't that long, but to Kaoru, those two hours went by excruciatingly slow. 

During the whole ride, she just couldn't stop sweating buckets and no amount of softly whispered words coming out of Kenshin's mouth could help her. All her mind seemed to be able to do was worrying about being disliked by her fiancé's father. 

Various scenarios of how the events were going to turn out flashed before her eyes. She could just feel the awkwardness which was bound to hang in the air when she won't be able to find a suitable conversation topic. Or stick a foot in her mouth in the way only she could. Or, the worst of all, be too afraid to even start talking. 

Of course, Kaoru trusted Kenshin. Even believed him when he claimed that things will turn out well, that his father isn't as scary as she was imagining him.  Despite all that, that picture of a merciless prosecutor she heard so often talked about, just wouldn’t leave her mind. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ ... 

The man by the name of Seijuro Hiko seemed to be nothing like Kenshin. For one, he was very tall and towered over both his son and Kaoru alike. He was also quite muscular – compared to Kenshin who was, admittedly, short, quite petite and nowhere near as macho as his father. The only exception was their hair which both men chose to grow out. However, Hiko's hair was black, nowhere near the vivid hot red colour of his son's hair. 

Despite how patronising the man looked in his expensive black suit, Seijuro Hiko turned out to be friendly in his own way. Just as Kenshin had warned, his father kept making sarcastic remarks – almost going too far at times – and kept calling the redhead next to Kaoru his 'idiot son'.  

The young university student was more than grateful that her fiancé's father had such a personality. Thanks to it, the tension, which enveloped the table at first, was soon dispersed. It didn't take a long time before the three of them were joking around while having their dinner. Most of, regretfully, was at Kenshin's expense. However, the redhead seemed only a bit irritated, as his annoyance was greatly overshadowed by the fact that the two most important people in his life were getting along quite well. 

"So, why is it my idiot son?" The older man inquired after putting down the knife and fork which, only moments prior, he had been holding in his hands. 

"Excuse me?" The bright-eyed woman was caught off guard by this question, while in the middle of taking a bite out of her steak. 

For some reason. The conversation had taken a bit more serious turn as soon as Kenshin left the table to take what seemed to be an important call from work. 

"No, that isn't the right question. You're young and beautiful. From what I've witnessed, you seem to also be a great woman. That makes me glad that you took pity on my son and agreed to marry him. However, there are still so many things you haven't experienced in your life, so many places you haven't visited and so many people you have yet to meet. Are you sure getting married is the right decision for you to make right now? You're what?" 

"Almost twenty-four." Kaoru replied, having put down her own utensils a long while ago as well. 

"My son is thirty-two. I'm sure that you've already noticed, but he's not only very tender-hearted but an idiot as well. Maybe, he didn't think about all of those little details when he asked you to marry him, and if so, it remains my responsibility to do that. So, are you certain that you won't feel trapped after getting married? That you won't hurt him by changing your mind because you wanted something more or someone else?" 

As the man sitting in front of Kaoru went on with his rant, the young woman realised why he had become an urban legend. He had accurately pointed out all of the things she had been insecure about during her whole relationship with Kenshin. The only exception was that Hiko seemed to be certain that she will leave his son after getting bored, opposed to it being the other way around.  

His words also strangely mirrored her fiancé's on the day he proposed. Though Kaoru knew that her husband-to-be said them in a jest, it still made her wonder if Kenshin was also insecure about the age gap between them. 

Kaoru came to a conclusion that the last thing she wanted was having to face him in a court of law. Even if she was confident in her abilities as an attorney, the dark-haired woman was sure, she would crumble under Hiko's precise attacks.  

Nevertheless, this time she had no other choice than to hold her ground against him. 

"Kenshin and I have our differences, but I'm completely confident in making this decision, despite being perfectly aware that being married won't be that easy." The university student finally began her rebut. "I know that living with another person will be hard, but we'll be able to do that. Having lived together for over two years, we know what pushes the other's buttons and how to talk them down. I know that we will fight, but we also have fought daily up until now. Some of those fights will be minor, easily forgotten. Of course, some will be serious. They might even make us consider divorce. However, if we put in the work, I'm sure that we'll be able to find a middle ground." 

Kaoru took a deep breath before continuing. She was making up her answer as she went, and due to this she was beyond terrified of saying a complete nonsense, repeating and contradicting herself. 

"And I'm not sure about a change of heart. Honestly, I'd rather find suspicious the person who could say with certainty that it will never happen." 

Seijuro Hiko picked up his utensils and was about to speak once more when Kenshin came back apologising for taking such a long time. They resumed their previous conversation – the one they were having before the redhead's phone rang – pretending as if nothing happened. Hiko changed gears quickly and professionally, while it took Kaoru a few moments to adjust, but Kenshin didn’t seem to notice. 

Later that evening, when Kenshin and Kaoru were finally driving home, her fiancé mentioned that his father seemed to be quite taken by her. Not knowing how to respond to that statement, the dark-haired woman had no need to feign the surprise which washed over her face. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ ... 

Kenshin and Kaoru told their friends and the only remaining member of Kaoru's family about their engagement the next day after the redhead proposed. 

With such a short notice, it would have been hard to book a table at a good restaurant and the couple didn’t want to impose on Tae more than they already did on daily basis. Hence, the two of them decided to hold a small gathering of their closest friends in their flat.  

Since early that morning, the two of them had been frivolously preparing to receive their guests. Kenshin – making the main dish – lasagne – as well as few other side dishes, and Kaoru – cleaning the flat. Her task, to be completely honest was especially meaningless. Firstly, because both of them liked neatness and kept everything quite clean regardless. Secondly, because the relationship between the small group of friends was closely knit and no one would've even batted an eye at a bit of messiness here and there.  

The redhead had also prepared the ingredients as much as he could the night before. Hence, in reality, there was no way it could have taken him that long to prepare the said meal. However, those idle tasks prevented them from trying to predict their friends' reaction, so neither of the pair muttered a word about it. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ ... 

When the evening came, Kaoru couldn't tell how much time she spent sitting on the bed, just gawking at the engagement ring on her finger, mesmerised by the piece of jewellery. It was the ring of the doorbell that knocked her out of her daze. As soon as she regained her senses, Kaoru exited the bedroom she and the redhead shared, intent on letting their waiting friends inside. 

"I'll take care of it, you should get dressed." She stated while looking at her fiancé and his state of undress. With having just taken a shower, the man's hair was still wet and he was clad only in a bathrobe. 

Kaoru herself was already fully dolled up – her body wrapped in a knee-length semi-sweetheart neckline royal blue dress, which made her bright sapphire eyes pop so much more. Her dark midnight hair was scooped up into a high ponytail and her lips were drawn on with a bold red lipstick, enhancing the contrast created by those striking colours against her pale skin. 

"Kaoru..." The red-haired man whispered her name, admiring her appearance. By the time those words left his mouth, the said woman had already crossed half of the living room area barefoot. 

"Yes?" The woman stopped in her tracks. She turned around to face the man while trying to clasp the plain silver necklace which she decided to get herself as a birthday present last year. 

"You look beautiful." He crossed those few meters separating the two of them and pulled his wife-to-be in for a hug. The older man was about to catch his fiancé's lips when the woman pushed away his face while laughing. 

"I can't let you have red lipstick smeared all over your face, now can I?" Kaoru joked as the man in front of her stared at her with a pleading look in his eyes. 

"I can wash it off while you open the door." He tried again. 

"So, you're okay with me looking like a clown?" Her statement was followed by a coy giggle, so unlike Kaoru herself. 

Any other evening, without a doubt she would have given in easily. Truthfully, she was about to do just that when the doorbell rang again, indicating how impatient people behind the locked door were getting. Hence, Kaoru maneuvered out of Kenshin's hold and tried to continue with the task he had distracted her from. No matter, how hard it was to resist the redhead. 

"How about I remove it later tonight, then?" A soft and seductive whisper came from Kenshin's mouth as he took over and clasped the necklace for Kaoru, before running his fingers along her back. 

"I'll think about it." A sly smile graced the bright-eyed woman's lips as she took few steps she had left towards the door of the apartment the two of them shared. In response, Kenshin triumphantly made his way to their bedroom to get dressed in private. 

Once she opened the door to see a group of four people – consisting of Misao, Sanosuke, Tae, and Aoshi – standing there. A slight irritation was evident on all of their faces, with the only exception being Aoshi. As the young woman let the small group in, she apologised for taking such a long time to get to the door. 

Of course, the moment the two women saw Kaoru they noticed the engagement ring on her finger. Misao's reaction was exactly what Kaoru anticipated it to be – she shrieked and asked so many questions it made the university student's head spin. Tae, on the other hand, hugged her and didn't bother asking her anything, planning to get every detail out of her later when the woman would be lulled by the feeling of false security.  

Once Kenshin finally returned fully dressed, he was surprised by the beeline the small commotion in the hall. Everything cleared up when Sano noticed him and shouted while laughing: "I'm warning you, brother-in-law! Somewhere along the way, I might make your couch my new home!" 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight  

Gramofon*

Almost an entire year passed before Kenshin and Kaoru ended up having their wedding ceremony. By then, Kaoru had already gotten her law degree and even had started working for the same company her redhead fiancé was employed at. 

At first, the young bright-eyed woman was against them sharing a workplace. In her mind, there were only two ways a situation like that could play out. Either no one would take her seriously and baby her or – even worse – she not only wouldn't be taken seriously but everyone would also assume that she got the job just because of her romantical involvement with Kenshin. 

Such fears were the reason behind Kaoru feeling so extremely repelled towards applying there. However, it wasn't particularly good time to be looking for a job as an attorney. Due to an economic crisis, not a lot of law firms were hiring and she was fresh out of university, with virtually no real-life experience in the courtroom. There was simply no way the bright-eyed woman could be picky about her first job. Hence, when her fiancé informed that their company was hiring, she sent in her CV and ended up getting the said job. 

Contrary to the aforementioned fears, Kaoru wasn't babied in her new place of employment. Frankly speaking, no one even seemed to remotely care about the existence of her involvement with Kenshin. Everybody was too busy with their own lives and cases. She had a normal workload for a rookie, which at that particular company, meant having to slave away her days. It reminded Kaoru of Kenshin's confession which he had made so long ago. Now, she as well, was more of an errand girl, despite being employed under the title of a lawyer. 

Though the mentioned redhead's cases and wins were often the topic of choice around the water cooler, Kaoru got to see her fiancé in the courtroom only a few times. On all of those occasions, she had come to the court with another attorney as their second chair, because she was still not allowed to handle cases on her own. Though sometimes it frustrated Kaoru, the blue-eyed woman knew that it was a great learning opportunity for her and somehow managed to put up with it. 

When the person she had initially come with would be done, Kaoru would sneak into Kenshin's hearings. Those times, the cute, kind, warm and sometimes clumsy man seemed to become a completely different person. Instead of the redhead she adored, Kaoru would get to see a cold, aggressive, fast-acting and merciless man. The persona she was so unfamiliar with, sometimes scared Kaoru. Of course, she never said anything about it to the man himself, not wanting to hurt his feelings. 

Thankfully though, that carefully crafted mask never lasted. The moment the judge would announce the verdict and Kenshin would be done exchanging a few words with his client, the red-haired man never failed to notice her and make all of the ice in his eyes melt away. While a smile would be tugging at his lips, the man would come and hug her, surprised by his fiancée's unexpected presence. He would also proceed with asking her out for lunch and the man Kaoru knew so painfully well would claim his rightful place. 

In the end, due to the huge gap between the two conflicting personas Kenshin possessed, the woman stopped actively seeking out to be at the court on the same day as her fiancé. It was just too uncomfortable and made Kaoru feel as if she was watching someone try to play Kenshin, instead of the man himself. 

Meanwhile, they were also preparing for their wedding. It was loads of work, that they couldn't handle on their own with their busy schedules. They ended up employing the help of their family - namely Sanosuke and Hiko. Be it as it may, as one should've expected from the couple, not everything went as smoothly as they would've liked it to. 

One of the major problems was actually, rather primitive. It was their disagreement with Seijuro Hiko. The long-haired man wanted to hold a big celebration. He insisted, that it would serve as a great networking opportunity for both Kaoru and Kenshin. In lieu of the extravagant event, Hiko was in favour of, the young pair wanted to have a rather small wedding. With few guests consisting only of family and their closest friends.  

It took many long and tiresome arguments for the older man to give in to his son and the future daughter-in-law. Nevertheless, he did manage to get the reception under his control. Given, to a certain extent, but that still was something. 

With this agreement in place, the ceremony itself was bound to be a rather simple affair. It was to take place in a small chapel, with barely twenty people attending. The reception, on the other hand, was unavoidably going to end up turning into a lavish party. Though, Hiko did promise tone it down more than a bit. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

Kaoru's wedding dress wasn't anything over the top – only a fit and flare dress with a V-neck –, yet incredibly elegant. As she gave her vows, the young woman wore her hair down with only loose curls at the ends of her hair. In her hands she held a banquet of jasmine, of which, Kenshin claimed, her hair smelled on any other given day as well. Only the light smoky eyes and slightly redder lips gave away the fact that she was wearing any makeup at all. 

The red-haired man, much like the woman who became his that day, didn't go over his head. He wore a traditional tux, though Sanosuke had tried to get him to wear a white one. Kenshin wore his hair scooped up into a low ponytail, as he placed his signature next to Kaoru's and said the words 'I do'. 

In the absence of their father, the person to take Kaoru to the altar was Sanosuke. Before placing her hand in his best friend's palm, he almost cried as he hugged his baby sister.  

Regretfully, he had to come alone to the celebration, declining to bring a plus one. It wasn't for the lack of a significant other, however. Neither was it because he thought that his new relationship wouldn't last. On the contrary, he had been smitten for years now and figured that it would take him at least just as long to fall out of love with the said woman. The thing was, he was just extremely careful about this whole thing – even if it seemed to be completely out of character for him – as his new girlfriend was Megumi. 

It had caused him a huge headache – making the aforementioned decision. After all, Kenshin and the female doctor had been involved once before and Sano was perfectly aware of the consequences bringing her could have. He had heard enough stories about the jealous ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend ruining the person's – who once was their significant other – weddings and relationships in general. And this wedding wasn't just a simple wedding. It was the union of his little sister and his best friend. An occasion Sano would never forgive himself if he brought ruin to. 

Once Sanosuke brought the matter up with Megumi, the foxy doctor insisted that there was truly no place left for the red-haired man in her heart. According to her, they parted on friendly terms and the most their relationship could now be described as was the one between acquaintances. He ended up going to the happy couple as well and, although, the conversation was painfully awkward neither of them seemed to have any problem with his new girlfriend being there. Sanosuke had even made up his mind to take Megumi with him. 

What changed his mind was the night the four of them had a double date. An awkward silence hung in the air, all of them were so stiff and clearly not comfortable with the situation at all. Sano realised it then, that they needed a bit more time to get used to the change of their roles in each other's lives. Hence, he came to a conclusion that bringing Megumi to the wedding would be a mistake and he'd rather ease Kenshin and Kaoru into his new relationship. 

The reception was held at a rather upscale restaurant, to which Kenshin's father invited a few of his influential friends. Though it took him a lot of self-control to not abuse the power given to him after those incredibly boring arguments.  

Truly having no say in the matter, Kenshin and Kaoru smiled as they received congratulations from a small group of strangers, consisting of few judges, medical examiners, and influential detectives. Those people didn't seem to spare compliments when talking about the bride's beauty, the groom's luck and Hiko's choice of venue. 

It didn't take long for the young couple to get lost in the conversations with the specialists in their fields. Due to their many years of practice, the said professionals had a lot of truly entertaining stories to tell. However, after a longer period of time, Kaoru and Kenshin grew tired of socialising. They simply wanted a break, a few moments just with each other.  

Just as both of their minds were buzzing with all of the possible excuses they could use, the newlyweds were saved by a waltz starting to play on the sound system. The red-haired man shared a look with his wife, involved in a conversation just a few meters away from him. 

"How about we finish this conversation later?" He addressed the detective standing in front of him. "It's her favourite waltz." 

Laughing and shaking his head, the detective encouraged him to go on. In a few strides, Kenshin reached Kaoru and gently touched her shoulder, interrupting the conversation she was in the middle of. If the redhead recalled correctly, the person she was talking with was a medical examiner, blabbering away about how incompetent policemen sometimes ruin the crime scenes. The other man also let the young couple go without insisting to further explore the topic, probably also tired of hearing his own voice. 

"Do you even know how to dance waltz?" Kaoru smiled up at the redhead beside her. 

"I took lessons especially for this occasion. There's no way I could allow myself not to be able to dance to your favourite waltz, now could I?" He chuckled quietly while whispering those words into her ear. 

"My favourite waltz?!" She inquired, a bit too loudly, unable to contain her amusement. 

"I had to say something to get us out of there. If you hadn't noticed, this isn't exactly the first waltz of the night, so I had no other choice but to get a bit more creative." 

As they reached the clearing between the tables Kaoru set her glass of champagne – which up until that point she held in her hands – down on the very last table. Kenshin swooped her as close to him as he could in order for their movements to still resemble waltz and they started dancing. 

"I forgot to ask you if you knew how to dance waltz." He whispered. 

"Well, as you can see, I'm pretty decent at it." She played coy, even though his touch tickled the small of her back. 

"You also took dancing classes in the old town?" Kenshin was surprised, he didn't remember seeing her anywhere around that area except the courthouse. 

"It was one of the elective courses I took while I was still in high school. It was a choice between that and visual arts, the teacher of which I despised." The smile on her lips grew bigger and the man standing in front of her had to stop himself from laughing out loud. 

Neither Kaoru, nor Kenshin noticed as the crowd gathered around them until it erupted with applauds the moment the waltz ended. Though they were startled, Kaoru and Kenshin still continued to sway to the music while roaring with laughter. Even though the music had already changed into another piano piece, refusing to let each other go. 

That night, they danced to many other songs, both separately and together. While Kaoru was dancing with Seijuro Hiko, he even offered to buy them a house, feeling a bit guilty for not having given them any kind of wedding gift. 

"It would be nothing special." Hiko smiled as they twirled to the sound of music. "Nothing big, but it would be a start and a lot better than nothing. You can't continue renting forever and I just think it would come in handy for the two of you when my grandchildren are finally born." At the last few words, the man smirked. 

"Grandchildren?! Already?!" The younger woman laughed and the sound of it merged into one with the melody. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

As they took a cab home, Kaoru retold her husband the conversation she had with her father-in-law. They laughed at it. The offer was certainly sweet, but they never really thought about children. Not Kaoru, and not in the last few years at least. After she got a job, she was just so busy all the time and the thought never truly had the time to enter her mind. 

Though the car ride was full of smiles, laughter and hand-holding, when the newlyweds finally stepped into the small flat they rented they realised just how tired they truly were. The whole day – even though it was one of the happiest days of their lives – was incredibly emotionally exhausting. And the only purpose the slight buzz from all those champagne glasses they drank seemed to serve, was making them that much sleepier.  

As they undressed, ready to fall asleep on the spot, Kaoru looked at Kenshin with a slight hint of jealousy in her eyes. He was already half way done with taking off his tux, while she was still unsuccessfully trying to get a hold of the zipper on the back of her dress. The redhead seemed to notice her staring at him. He smiled sheepishly at her before coming over to help her with the said item of clothing. 

"A house..." The redhead muttered while releasing his wife's torso from the constraints of the wedding dress and kissing the back of her bare neck. 

"A house." The bright-eyed woman repeated, with one hand in his vivid red hair and the other one on her hips, where her husband's hand made its way to rest only moments ago. 

"Kids..." He continued kissing down her neck, to her shoulder. 

"Kids." Her voice echoed as if the two of them made up a broken record. 

For some reason, the young woman remembered them dancing waltz earlier that evening. His laughter, mixing in with the beautiful tune, which now she could hardly recall. 

"Have we ever talked about kids, wife?" His words brought Kaoru back to reality. 

Kenshin continued to trail kisses down her back, right along the narrow slit of the zipper of her dress. Kaoru's lax hand fell from his red coloured hair and now hanged by her side. 

"I don't believe we have, husband." She let the straps of her dress fall down her shoulders. 

"Do you want kids, dear?" 

Kenshin suddenly pulled away from her back and turned the woman in his arms around. He proceeded to kiss her forehead, followed by her eyes, nose and then cheeks. 

"Do you want kids, honey?" Kaoru whispered back at the red-haired man, unbuttoning the few remaining buttons of his shirt and pulling it off him. She could feel an animalistic desire taking control of her body. 

"I want you to have our kids, my lovely Kaoru." The man avoided the dark-haired female's lips and began kissing down her neck to her collarbones.  

The action only served to further Kaoru's desire. It slightly irritated the dark-haired woman how her husband kept playing with her, even though he clearly wanted her as much as she did. 

"I want to have our kids, my beloved Kenshin." A voiceless whisper left her mouth. 

Not being able to endure it any longer, Kaoru stopped Kenshin from tracing butterfly kisses over her body any further and took his head into her palms. For few moments, the young woman just stared at his face, marvelling at how the streetlights reflected in his deep violet eyes, how it made his beautiful blood red hair shine. Only then, she pulled up his face closer to hers and gave him the same treatment she got from him. However, she did not miss his lips, rather choosing to make him go weak in the knees. 

"I love you..." She whispered after pulling away. 

"I love you too." His voice echoed in turn. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine  

Bathroom Break  

A bit more than two years after they officially got married, Kaoru was sitting in their law firm's women's restroom, waiting and panicking more than a bit. Those two minutes she had to suffer through surrounded by the cardboard walls of the toilet cubicle, were shaping up to be the longest of her entire life. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

At first, her constant drowsiness didn’t raise any suspicion in the bright-eyed woman's mind. After all, she had gained a lot more responsibility during the last two years. Though she hated to admit it, she was also a workaholic, just like her beloved husband. Due to the fact that both of them were like two peas in a pot, neither had ever said anything about it to another. It resulted in both spouses working overtime most of the evenings, which sometimes caused them to overwork themselves. 

And well, to Kaoru, this was all there was to it. She also regarded it as one of the reasons why she was missing her cycle. The young female knew a lot of women who had irregular periods, herself included. To some of them, it was so erratic because they were under too much stress, overworking themselves, or it has always been that way. There was also simply no reason to suspect pregnancy. Though both Kaoru and Kenshin loved to engage in certain nightly activities, they used protection all throughout their relationship – both before and after marriage. 

Just as Kaoru was satisfied with ignoring the seeming degradation of her health, the red-haired man was alarmed, and sometimes even furious with how she so easily brushed it off. More than one time, he had cornered his wife, making her promise to take better care of herself, but the bright-eyed woman didn't keep the promises she made a single time. On the same day, the man would find her sitting in her office, reviewing the documents she deemed to be more important. Knowing Kaoru, Kenshin couldn't do much more either, except whisk her away to the conference room, where both of them could work on the cases they needed to. 

The red flag to Kaoru ended up being the fact that she had an extremely hard time keeping her breakfast – or rather any kind of meal – down for almost a whole week. During the first few days, the woman was completely sure that she had simply eaten something that didn’t agree with her. Stress, as a causation for her vomiting, had also been a huge possibility.  After all, she had a difficult trial coming up, which she believed she would lose. Of course, that had happened before, but never on such a large profile case. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

The penny had finally dropped the morning of that day – at about 6:30 a.m. – while she was taking a quick shower before work. The dark-haired female was so astonished by the sudden realisation, that the bottle of shower gel, which she was holding in her left hand, slipped right out of her fingers. When hitting the floor, it caused a loud thud to echo throughout the small apartment and alert the other resident. 

"Kaoru, are you okay?!" Kenshin's voice could be heard instantly and the young woman hoped that they didn't disturb the neighbours. 

However, that thought in Kaoru's mind was fleeting and only lasted a mere second. Instantly, she was once again lost in the worries, which previously her mind was occupied with. Truthfully, the bright-eyed woman was angry with herself for being so dense. The signs were clear, one could have even noticed it from the outer space, yet she was oblivious to what was happening to her own body. 

"Kaoru?!" The redhead's voice reached her once again. This time the man sounded even more worried. 

"I'm fine!" She finally replied, though still completely lost in her thoughts. 

The young woman slowly picked up the bottle of shower gel at her feet and started lathering herself with a sponge. The last thought regarding the matter before Kaoru got on with her usual morning routine was that she had to go to the pharmacy during her lunch break and buy a pregnancy test. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

Probably, because Kaoru was so successful at suppressing those frigid worries in the morning, while she sat in the bathroom cubicle she felt as if she was going insane. 

Wasn't this supposed to be a joyous realisation? If yes, then why was she so beyond confused and scared? 

The dark-haired woman didn't know what she would do if the test result turned out to be positive. At some later point in her life, she was sure she wanted to have children – a little baby with Kenshin's hair and her eyes. Kaoru knew she wanted it with her whole heart, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to have a child right now. 

Was she even ready to have kids?  

Up until that day, Kaoru still thought about of herself more as stuck in that awkward phase between being a teenager and becoming an actual adult, rather than a full-grown person. Could she handle the responsibility of bringing a defenceless life into this world and looking after it? Sure, she could deal with a huge responsibility at work without the slightest hitch, but her personal life stood in contrast to that. 

Marriage was also, such a different matter. She married Kenshin after having met him and spent a vast amount of time getting to know him. By that time, they had even lived together, known each other inside out. However, she couldn't predict what her child could be like. Was she truly confident in the fact that she could love a person she never met and devote her life to raising him or her? 

With the thoughts of her marriage, an image of her red-haired husband came to Kaoru's mind. Well, at least she wouldn't be alone. Her husband would be with her every step of the way. After all, he was a good man, who wasn't afraid of taking responsibility. A man who would do anything to make, as well as keep, her happy.  

 However, that wouldn't necessarily mean that Kenshin would be happy with having a child himself. Though Kaoru recalled her cute redhead muttering something about wanting kids on their wedding night, it was said in the very heat of the moment. It might have been simply an innocent lie generated by the alcohol consumed prior to that night's events and his lecherous intentions. He might not even recall telling her anything related to having children. 

And besides, he could have also meant it as 'later in life'. 

Then, there was also work. God, they rarely spent their nights at home anymore. Most of the time, when either of them had an important case coming up, they would just stay over at work, spending the night at Kenshin's office which had quite a nice sofa. Though barely, the both of them always managed to fit on it. With that kind of a lifestyle, there was no place for a child. 

Could they even afford to have a child? Yes, they were doing financially fine right now, but what about later? If Kaoru decided to have the child, soon she would no longer be able to work and be forced to take a maternity leave. Later, after it was born, the little person would also become the cause of so many expenses itself. 

They would have to buy or rent even a bigger apartment. Maybe even a house. The flat they rented right now – though very cosy and enough to accommodate the two of them – was in a noisy neighbourhood. The building itself was also quite old, which resulted in many occasional problems.  

For example, it was only a few weeks ago that the water pipe in the bathroom burst and flooded the whole room. While they were cleaning the mess up, they found all kinds of things they never wanted to become aware of. Like the three or four types of mould she found right under the bath, which seemed to not have been moved since Khrushchev ordered the Berlin Wall to be built.  

What if that happened again after the child was born? Knowing their apartment, that was a very likely scenario. Kaoru could practically see herself trying to balance a toddler on her one arm, while throwing various rags on the floor, in hopes that they will be able to soak up all of the water leaking from god knows where. 

Then there would also be all those cribs, seats, clothes, toys and diapers. Without a doubt, all of that would add up to an impressive sum every single month as well.  

Lastly, things seemed to be going well for everyone right now. They were satisfied with their lives right as they were, and would it be so bad if she chose she wanted them to stay that way? 

The buzz of her phone, brought Kaoru back to reality, announcing that the two torturous minutes had already passed. Maybe it was stupid of her, but Kaoru didn't want to look at the test stick she had placed on the tank cover. The young woman was aware, that even if she was worried about being pregnant, a negative result would cause her just as much suffering as it would relieve her. 

Kaoru changed the position of her feet, causing her black high-heeled shoes to click on the tiled floor. Even if the young lawyer truly tried, she couldn't remember the last time she felt so tense. 

Her wedding? 

Even if it was a nerve-wracking ordeal, on that day the dark-haired was overjoyed. Hence, the positive feeling easily overshadowed the nervousness in the pit of her stomach. Well, at least, it seemed that way in her memories. 

The time she was first introduced to Seijuro Hiko? 

At the time, she felt more terrified than any other time in her life. Nevertheless, now, that dinner seemed nothing compared to having to look at the pregnancy test results. 

The day Kenshin proposed? 

Almost. After all, Kaoru had already been deeply in love with the man who – she was sure – was going to leave her that morning. Yes, that morning and the first case she had ever handled alone must have come the closest any experience can. 

Those thoughts led her to think about her redheaded husband once more. A tiny voice in the back of her mind started once again repeating what she was most afraid of: 'what if Kenshin doesn't want it?' And even worse: 'what if Kenshin never says a word about the fact and quietly suffers the rest of his life, while labelling it as taking responsibility?' The scariest part of it was, that actually sounded like something Kenshin would do and, well, the last thing she ever wanted was to become a burden to him. 

There was also a second voice in her head. A quieter, darker, a lot more broken one. A voice Kaoru refused to acknowledge, even as she gave into the fears whispered by the first one, as this voice repeated over and over: 'will Kenshin despise me very much if I'm the one that doesn't want it?'  

The young woman took a deep breath, mentally preparing herself the best she could. When Kaoru finally looked at the stick, she saw two lines blur, along with everything else in her field of vision. As if on autopilot, she returned to her office without noticing it, sat on her soft chair and stared off into space. 

Kaoru thanked her lucky stars that she hadn't met Kenshin on her way back from the bathroom. He would have certainly noticed her strange behaviour and, without a doubt, would have interrogated her until he got the reason behind it. As though through a mist, Kaoru remembered her redhead husband saying that they wouldn't be able to meet in the office probably that day at all. He was planning to spend his day in court, having stupid rich kid felony hearings stacked up on him all throughout his working hours. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

It took Kaoru a while to recover from her state of shock, but after few hours the young bright-eyed lawyer was working on the stack of documents on her desk once again. She grabbed the one at the one at the very top. It was a pro bono case.  

The person she was to defend in a hearing in a month and a half had been charged with the murders of three people and a robbery. Usually, Kaoru put everything she had into analysing a case like this, however, even it didn't manage to grab her complete attention. Her mind continued to wander back to the new life growing inside of her. It even reached a point where she began to worry if she could truly represent the person fairly. 

Deciding to take a breath of fresh air, in hopes that it will help her concentrate, Kaoru decided to go meet with the suspect and interview him. As she sat in front of the white-haired man, which claimed to be innocent, just like most of her clients, the young woman didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. 

Maybe, the only difference between him and her any other defendant charged with murder was that this man seemed to be a bit more neurotic. It caused Kaoru to wonder if the place which would fit him the most was a psyche ward, instead of the cell he was to be confined in. In neat and small handwriting, Kaoru quickly wrote down herself a memo to ask one of the therapists she knew to have few sessions with the man in question. 

When she made it back into the office, Kaoru was exhausted. Both physically and psychologically. Once back there, she just sat at her desk, playing with her fountain pen. Too tired to worry about the pregnancy or prepare for any of the upcoming trials. Mentally, the woman patted herself on the back for reaching the goal she gave herself few hours ago. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

That evening, like any other, Kenshin went into Kaoru's office to ask her where they should spend the night. He had to knock on her desk to get her attention, as the woman, who seemed to have been out of it since the morning, didn't react at all when he called her name. When the young woman finally lifted her eyes to meet his, she seemed extremely startled, as if not expecting to see anyone, much less him, there. 

"Kaoru, what's wrong?" Kenshin inquired worriedly. 

He didn’t like the look on her face at all. Had another symptom appeared? Had she finally gone to the doctor? Was it something serious? Something deadly? 

"I'm pregnant, Kenshin." The woman in front of him whispered softly while keeping her eyes fixed on his face. 

"Okay." Was all the redhead said, though she could clearly see the shock on his face. However, thankfully, his expression soon changed and his lips were graced with a slight smile. Kenshin was beyond relieved his wife's life wasn't threatened by some kind of mysterious illness. 

"Would you like to be a father?" Even a bigger fear was evident in her big blue eyes. 

Kenshin realised that his wife was having doubts and had to stop his smile from falling. But it was okay. It was her decision to make. 

"I would love to be a father to our child. It would make me the happiest man alive. Nonetheless, you make me happy enough as it is. You don't have to feel pressured into having this child, okay?"  

The redhead walked around Kaoru's desk, took her hand into his own and gently squeezed it. The small gesture served to reassure Kaoru that everything is going to be okay. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten  

Down  the  Rabbit Hole, We Go  

Their son, whom Kenshin and Kaoru decided to name Kenji, was born prematurely. More precisely six weeks before the due date. 

By the time, the young family had already moved into a new house. It had a backyard, three bedrooms, a moderately sized kitchen, as well as a living room and a bathroom. The house stood in a newly developed area, with most houses sharing a startling resemblance to theirs, still on sale. Hence, the family of three had very few neighbours. Strangely, it felt a bit lonely not having that one lunatic in the building, who would constantly blast dubstep no matter what time of day or night. However, it was a nice change of pace. 

Kaoru went into labour early in the morning, right before her husband's alarm had a chance to ring and wake the pair out of their slumber. No matter how much they had tried to mentally prepare themselves beforehand, the panic still overwhelmed them. The fact that they still had more than a month left to go, served only to unsettle them even further. All they could do was guess if something was wrong and wonder if they would be able to deal with it if there was. 

As he drove them to the hospital, Kenshin's hands shook. He was sure, he wouldn't be able to handle it if anything happened to Kaoru or the baby. Nonetheless, he still tried to calm his wife down as she was crying both from the immense pain and overwhelming worry. Fortunately, when they got to the hospital and the nurses looked Kaoru over, the young couple was informed that everything seemed to be going along quite alright. Five hours later, a small, beat red baby boy was born. 

As Kenji grew bigger and bigger, the resemblance he held to his father grew more and more overwhelming. It was as if the younger boy was a cardboard copy of the older man. Beginning with the same mop of fire red hair, all the way to the toothless grin the child would offer his parents from time to time. The only trait their son inherited from his mother was her piercing blue eyes. The same one's Kenshin so adored to lovingly stare at. 

It was when Kenji was a bit more than two years old when Kaoru returned to work. For the first few months being back in the office, the dark-haired woman was beyond anxious about leaving her young boy at the daycare. Even if she knew perfectly well that her son was in good hands, she couldn't help herself but worry. 

The first big case Kaoru worked on after returning to the job was with Kenshin. Remarkably, he was her second chair instead of it being the other way around. If the circumstances would have been different, without a doubt, Kaoru wouldn't have been the first chair in that particular dynamic. Especially, considering how much money was involved there. However, the defendant was charged with rapes and murders of two women, hence the higher-ups came up with the brilliant idea of putting a female attorney on the frontline. 

It wasn't the first time they had done this. On many occasions, Kaoru could recall herself standing in front of a stern-faced judge, arguing on behalf of a clearly guilty party. Just because she was a woman and just because it was a rape case. 

This approach to things sickened the dark-haired woman. She always felt so incredibly dirty during those hearings. It pained her to have to tear those poor women down, recount their sexual plights and paint her client as the victim of their ventures. She despised seeing the men smirk once she got them off easy and hated herself even more because she felt as if she was setting up another young girl to be assaulted. All she could do was curse herself for not realising earlier how cruel and dirty the reality of a defense attorney was, instead of continuing to stuff her mind with idealistic ideas she carried all throughout her youth. 

Before, she would be able to stomach cases like that one a bit better. However, along the way, Kaoru had noticed that after she returned to work after taking maternity leave, she became even more disgusted with the people she was defending. However, the dark-haired had no need to wonder why. She didn't want her son to grow up to be anything like those filthy people.  

Kenshin also disliked having to work on this particular case, but his reasons were different from Kaoru's. Of course, he was aware of his wife's discomfort and felt sorry towards her for having to go through this. He was even vocal about it, trying to use his father's influence to get her off this case. However, the true reason behind his protests was that he didn't want to his wife to see how ruthless he could get behind the scenes.  

Though Kaoru had seen him working many times before, it wasn't the same as working together. Mostly, she saw him mull over the case files or fill out paperwork. She even only saw him in action at court a few times. Nonetheless, the man was aware just how much his wife disliked seeing him like that and he was afraid that if she witnessed him butter up a judge, buy off few experts who were willing to say about anything during a hearing, she would be disappointed in him.  

He could bear to see her angry, he always knew the anger would pass eventually. However, seeing the disappointment in her eyes was a lot different. It killed him to put it frankly. He had only witnessed that emotion fill her features once – the morning she thought he was going to leave her. Nevertheless, that single time was enough for him to know that the last thing he wanted was to have her look at him like that again. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

In doing her research regarding the defendant by the name of Kiyosato Akira, Kaoru stumbled upon one of her old clients. It turned out that he was married to a woman named Kiyosato Tomoe, with her maiden name being Yukishiro. Which, in turn, made Yukishiro Enishi – a man she defended before taking her maternity leave – his brother-in-law.  

An image of a white-haired neurotic man appeared in her mind. A man charged with three murders and a robbery – all in all, quite a serious case. 

It wasn't hard for the dark-haired woman to recall the case. In all honesty, it was strangely an easy one she won without even going to trial by arguing an insanity defense. Not like it wasn't true that the man clearly needed the help of a psychiatrist, however it had been too easy. If the prosecutor had truly tried, he could have easily gotten a guilty verdict by pointing out the flaws in her version of events that occurred. 

Back then, such an easy victory had already grabbed Kaoru's attention. However, she ended up writing it off as the prosecutor simply being fresh out of law school. After all, Hiko had mentioned that the newbies were too soft, and sometimes would let one or another suspect slip through the cracks. They were afraid to ruin an innocent person's life, and, while still not entirely comfortable with the new position, would question every guilty verdict they got. 

Kaoru ended up rereading her old case files regarding the man. She even went as far as to research the case prosecutor argued more thoroughly than ever. It was only then, almost three years later, that she found out that the prosecutor was not fresh out of law school. Despite the youthful appearance the man had, it turned out that he was nowhere near being new to the rodeo. It had been his fifth year on the job. Unsurprisingly, after losing the case, the prosecutor came into money and even quit his job. Thought, the strange part was that Enishi didn't have a penny to his name.  

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

"Mrs. Himura?" A nurse – a woman in her fifties – called out when she saw Kaoru walking down the hallway of a psychiatric hospital. 

"Madeline, it's great to see you!" The dark-haired woman replied enveloping the older female in a tight hug. "What are you doing here?" 

"Well, things happened and I had to change jobs. How's the little rascal?" A small smile appeared on the nurse's lips when she mentioned Kenji.  

Kaoru first met Madeline back when she was still pregnant with Kenji. Previously, the woman also worked as a nurse, only in gynecology. It just so happened, that during most of the check-ups Kaoru went to, Madeline was there and eventually, the two women ended up getting on quite well. With a pang of guilt, Kaoru remembered promising Madeline to contact her even after she had given birth and not following up on the promise. 

"Oh, he's a prankster. We keep getting calls from the daycare because he got into a fight or something. He doesn't really behave any different at home without Kenshin scolding him either. And even then, the moment my husband is out of his sight, he starts acting up again." Kaoru felt giddy talking about her son. 

"Well, they're called the terrible twos for a reason." The older woman laughed. 

"I just want to know where he gets the energy." A sigh escaped Kaoru's lips though she continued smiling. "How about your daughter?" 

"Oh, you know what she's like... She's getting married again and I just hope that this time she'll be happier than with her first husband." The woman fidgeted with the pen in her hands as she talked.  

"So, how's your new son-in-law shaping up to be?" 

"Not really my style, to be completely honest. In my youth, I wouldn't have given him a second look. Fortunately, my daughter isn't me and they seem to love each other quite a lot." Madeline continued with a glint of happiness in her eyes. "Anyway, enough about me. Why are you here? This is the last place I expected to see you." 

"I'm visiting someone." Kaoru's face got serious, realising she got too carried away. "Yukishiro Enishi. Do you know him by any chance?" 

"The young man with white hair?" Kaoru affirmatively nodded at the question. "Well, of course, I know him. He has those random bursts of anger and occasional hallucinations. A bit secluded, but all in all, quite a nice person. I never knew that he was your friend." 

"Not really a friend." The bright-eyed woman corrected. "I was his lawyer on the case that landed him in here. I was hoping I could speak to him." 

"Umh. There might be a bit of a problem. How about I see what I can do and the next time you come here, bring a photo of your little boy in return?" Madeline smiled gently. 

"I think we have a deal." 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

"I thought I said that I don't want to take any visitors." Enishi greeted Kaoru with those words. 

"Well, I'm not just any visitor."  

Kaoru closed the door behind her and looked over the man standing in front of her. His hair was just as unruly as when they first met, only a bit longer. The only change in his physique was that during those years they hadn't seen each other, he got a bit more muscular. Other than that, the man really didn't change. Even the shades he was wearing seemed to be the same. 

"Doesn't mean that I want to see you." His eyes remained hard. 

"I came to talk about Akira."  

She leaned against the door adjusting the straps of her bag. She had been carrying it around all day, without getting a chance to put it down. As a consequence of that, now it started painfully digging into her shoulder. 

"Kiyosato Akira?" 

"He's your brother-in-law, isn't he?" 

"What if he is?" Enishi frowned. 

"Well, I know your sister asked him to pay off the prosecutor on your case. You know, the man is probably living it up somewhere in the Bahamas right now." 

"And I should care about that because?"  

"I have connections in the prosecutor's office. A little birdie could whisper someone that your sister had a hand in bribing an officer of the court. They could press charges." She threatened. In all honesty, Kaoru didn’t know if she would go through with it. Right now, she just needed the answer. 

"Don't you dare to get my sister involved!" The white-haired man huffed in anger.  

A shiver went down Kaoru's spine. Alarm bells started going off in her head. She was afraid Enishi would attack her. 

"I won't if you tell me a few things." 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

"Kenshin, do you have a minute?" Kaoru reached out to her husband the night of the same day. 

They had come back from work only a few hours ago. A lot later than either of them would've liked. Kenji was soundly asleep on their bed, having cuddled up to his mother when she was reading through Akira's alibi. 

"Yes, sure, love." The red-haired man looked up from his laptop, having busied himself with finishing the work he was behind on. 

As Kenshin looked at the woman standing in the study's doorway, he welcomed a break from the task.  His head had been hurting due to the conflicting statements given by the key witnesses and his wife seemed to be the perfect salvation. Especially, with her hair pulled up into a messy bun, her blue dress shirt wrinkly from a long day of wear and her suit skirt finally exchanged for a pair of comfortable sweatpants.  

Kaoru left the room, motioning to her husband to stay where he was, only to return moments later carrying a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. Kenshin raised his eyebrow in confusion. 

"We'll need it." The woman claimed while filling both glasses almost to the rim. "Today, I found out something about Kiyosato Akira." 

"Oh?" Kenshin stared at his wife as she sipped the whiskey. He himself left his glass untouched. 

"I know how he makes his money." 

"Now, that's not really our business." The redhead started with the intention of ranting for a bit, but Kaoru cut him off. 

"Human trafficking and drugs. He gets them addicted, wait until they run up a debt, 'loans' them the money to pay it off and in return sells them into pleasure houses and similar establishments. He even does it to children." 

"Oh god." Kenshin whispered while rubbing his temples. His headache increased almost tenfold after listening to Kaoru. In the back of his mind, the redhead wished that he had lied to his wife. It would have been easier if he only said that he was busy. "Are you sure?" 

"I am." The tired woman nodded solemnly. "Here, I'm certain you need this as much as I do." She placed the glass, which Kenshin had been ignoring completely, directly in front of the said man. 

"How did you find out all of this?" 

"I defended his brother-in-law once." Kaoru left out the part where she threatened Enishi. "However, he claims that his charges are bogus. According to him, Akira's not the kind of a man to get involved directly. Someone probably wants to take him down." 

"This is big..." 

"I just don't know what to do." Kaoru's eyes started getting teary. "If I ignore this, I won't be able to live with myself thinking about those people... about all those deaths and families they left behind. But then... But then I look at our son... I look at you... And I get scared... What if I lose you...?" 

Kenshin took a big gulp of whiskey and set the half-empty glass on the ground. 

"Let's just throw the case." He suggested. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven  

The  Deepest Scars  

Equipping the help of Seijuro Hiko, Kaoru and Kenshin slipped the prosecutor's office every bit of information they had about Akira. On record, it was an anonymous tip, with no mention of either of their names. Hiko even had a prosecutor he trusts not to be bribed take over the investigation into Kiyosato's life. Everything was handled incredibly carefully and kept very hush hush. 

Unfortunately, it didn't take long before the prosecutor could enjoy the fruits of his labour. In a mere month, his team dug up the evidence indicating that he had previously successfully bribed an officer of the court at his wife's request. Evidently, the charges were pressed against both spouses. With how everything turned out, Kaoru was never gladder that Enishi was locked away in a psychiatric hospital and refused any visitors. She was terrified of thinking what the white-haired man would do if he found out that she was unable to keep her word. 

The media took a shine to the story of Kiyosato Akira. For weeks, it became the longest segment on the news as other charges started piling up. No one had any means to escape it, even if they wanted to. However, such a case was rare, as most people couldn't help but glue themselves to a TV screen whenever the topic came up. 

In their double rape-murder case, the Himuras made a good use of their and Hiko's connections. Actually, it was laughably easy to get a judge with political ambitions to make a ruling over their case. Getting a not guilty verdict became nearly impossible and, unsurprisingly, the defendant was found guilty and sentenced to a life in prison.  

Nevertheless, even before the said case was done, Kenshin and Kaoru's names became plastered all over the press. The pair received more attention than they ever wanted to or were prepared for. Thankfully, it wasn't because someone leaked the fact that they were the ones to provide the information about the bribery, drugs and human trafficking. Though in a way, it was far worse. The public seemed to be so interested in every detail of their lives because they viewed the couple as monsters. After all, they had to be ones for defending Akira, even if they had only been doing their jobs. 

The media were the worst offenders. They portrayed Kaoru and Kenshin as Akira sympathisers, same sort of swine as him. In that context, some passers-by found it to be their right to shout vile things at the pair, though most of the time they had enough decency to only whisper among themselves. Though, not like the whispering made it any less hurtful or terrifying. 

When they started receiving death threats, it became unbearable. Kaoru refused to let her son go back to the daycare. She was frightened of the mob of strangers lurking around at every corner, ready to lynch them. What would she do if they got her baby boy? 

Both she and Kenshin also started doing most of their work at home, with their duties reduced to doing the paralegal work for other lawyers. Though, truth be told, they were lucky to even have that to busy themselves with. Once the shit hit the fan, the higher-ups considered even firing them completely. Their reason was quite simple, actually, – too much bad press was associated with the Himura name. 

Eventually, the family of three stopped watching television too. Various talk shows and even the news became nothing more than their and Akira's public execution. But going online was even worse. Every dimwit with an internet connection seemed to have their own opinion about what awful people they were. If having functioning internet wasn't essential to their work, without a doubt, the pair would not have gone anywhere near it either. 

Propitiously, neither the journalists or the general public managed to her their hands on their personal phone numbers. Neither of the two adults was confident enough to claim that they wouldn't have simply gone insane if that would have happened. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

As the second week into their recluse began, Kaoru and Kenshin started wracking their brains to make up the excuses in case Kenji started asking why he hasn't been able to see his friends for such a long time. Due to a smidgen of luck, however, they managed to keep him entertained with old DVDs of films. The ownership of which, both of them had gained well into their teenage years, long before even encountering one another. Of course, their little boy wasn't particularly interested in the said recordings, but at the very least, they kept him from wondering why the tv wasn't on anymore. 

By the end of the same week, Kaoru noticed those dreaded question finally worming their way into Kenji's mind. Though the young boy had never voiced them, she had seen him more than once longingly staring out of the window and over the fence. Yet, the cold the young boy caught and the fever he had spiked – as a direct consequence of the said cold – served greatly to take his mind off such things. 

Since then, the two adults had gained a perfect excuse for their prolonged stay at home – taking care of their sickly son. It wasn't even that much of a lie, to be completely honest. Under normal circumstances, such an event would've reduced their time away from home drastically. Their version of things seemed even more convincing to the little boy when Kaoru started coming down with something herself. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

Kaoru was peacefully asleep in the comfort of her own bed until a loud crash woke her up. The dark-haired woman had fallen asleep unintentionally, exhausted from caring for her ill son and fatigue from her lungs trying to forcefully eject themselves out of her body every few minutes. Despite the fact that she had previously been blissfully lost in her tired and feverish dreams, now panic arose in the pit of her stomach.  

She yawned while looking at the time on her phone. Her nap lasted twenty minutes at most. The last thing she could recall before falling asleep, was giving Kenshin a memo with all of the medicine they needed written down on it, then seeing her husband leave. Hence, there was no way the redheaded man could have been the source of the unexpected noise. There was simply no way he could've managed to get to the pharmacy and back in barely more than a quarter of an hour. 

As Kaoru listened attentively, she couldn't make out anything in the house that could've caused the said sound. Judging from how quiet it was, even Kenji couldn't have been the source of it. If he was awake right now, he would be raising hell as his mother was trying to blink away her sleepiness.  

For a moment, the dark-haired woman even considered having dreamt up the sound. Maybe, her dreams weren't as tranquil as she thought them to be. It was a real possibility, as she was never good at remembering her dreams after having woken up. 

Kaoru even contemplated falling back asleep. Everything seemed to be okay and she just really wanted to rest a tad bit longer. If it turned out to be Kenji, he would end up waking her up regardless. And besides, Kenshin was bound to return home soon as well.  

Having made up her mind to go off into the dream world once more, the bright-eyed woman did just so. That is, until a loud distressed cry echoed throughout the house. There was not a single doubt in Kaoru's mind that the screeching voice belonged to her son. 

Quickly, the woman forced her eyes open. Using all of the strength Kaoru could muster up, she got out of the king-sized bed and, after stumbling a bit, rushed to Kenji's bedroom. Though the child's room wasn't that far from the master bedroom, it seemed to Kaoru as if she had miles ahead of her to run. 

Time slowed down. With every step she took, the dark-haired woman could hear her heartbeat getting louder and louder. The edges of her vision started to blur as well. A violent scream was threatening to rip through her already sore throat as hot tears started streaming down her face. 

Kaoru found the door to Kenji's room open, despite having vivid memories of closing it after her son fell asleep. Her whole body started shivering and she could no longer force her legs to move fast enough. 

Just as she was about to take the first step through the doorway, a rough calloused hand violently grabbed her forearm. The action had so much force behind it, that Kaoru was sure that it would leave behind a large bruise in the shape of the man's palm. 

"Does the name Yukishiro Enishi tell you anything?" A quiet voice, which seemed to have been hardened by the realities of life, roughly whispered into Kaoru's ear. 

The dark-haired woman frantically shook her head in denial, her mind unable to make sense of the man's question. Kaoru's body quivered, overwhelmed with panic and concern for her little boy. Clearly annoyed, the man did not hold back his strength as he shook the woman in his arms violently. The motion agitated her stomach and she could feel her breakfast rising up. Another sudden movement and Kaoru would have vomited all over herself and the man interrogating her. 

"Now don't play stupid, love." The man started once again. He had brought his face closer to hers and Kaoru's nose was assaulted by the stench of his sweat.  

"At one point, I was his attorney." She barely managed. Her voice just above a whisper. 

"Pretending once again, huh? Yukishiro told me that the two of you have been quite close friends for quite a while. You even shared important secrets and all that jazz. He also told me that while he had always been a very good friend to you, you haven't been such a great friend to him. For example, you promised him that you are not going to involve his sister in the mess you were planning on creating. However, you broke that promise as quickly as you made it. That's not a very nice thing to do to a friend, isn't it, love?" 

With his last words still hanging in the air, the man ran his hand down Kaoru's back. The action, as well as the terms of endearment he used, made the woman recoil in disgust, her body shaking now even more intensively. In response, the man laughed humourlessly, pushing the dark-haired woman into her son's room. 

The very same moment she got inside, a revolting shade of blood red invaded her field of vision. Her mind went haywire. Despite being painfully aware of the truth of the matter, Kaoru tried to find a different explanation for the abundance of that sickening colour in her baby boy's room. 

'It's just paint! That man just spilled red paint to frighten her, to drive home his point! It's going to ruin the light wood, but it's not that big of a deal! It's just damned paint!' Her mind screamed. 

Nevertheless, the stench of copper invading her senses didn’t let Kaoru believe that the mystery liquid was paint. It was definitely blood. The confirmation was that tiny mangled body, with a part of its head missing, laying in the middle of the puddle of red. 

Kaoru's knees gave out. She no longer could force herself to peel her eyes away from the body in front of her. It was the only thing left from what once was her Kenji, her little boy.  

The background noise was overwhelmed by the sound of her own laboured breathing and the need to puke, she had endured like a champ for so long. After throwing up a bit in her mouth, the dark-haired woman swallowed it and crawled towards Kenji's still warm body. When she finally took it into her arms, the boy's tiny head pressed against her chest, Kaoru finally let out a sound for the first time after entering the room. She screamed. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve  

Et  P uis   J e  Fume  

The next thing she knew, Kaoru woke up on an uncomfortable hospital bed with an intern by her side taking her blood pressure. As she looked down to inspect her body, the dark-haired woman noticed that her hands were covered in dark red. Her once grey sweatpants had also absorbed quite a lot of the liquid, hence there were crusty brown patches all over the material. A breathless voice in the back of her mind whispered that it's her son's blood that's almost done drying. Even as the horrors of what was only supposed to be nightmare started flashing behind her sad blue eyes, Kaoru refused to believe it. Kenji had to be alright. 

A slight movement at the foot of her bed caught Kaoru's eye. It was another intern, scribbling something in his notebook. In moments, he noticed that she was staring at him and started asking all kinds of questions the dark-haired woman couldn't even begin to wrap her head around. 

"Stop, the reading will be off." An annoyed voice interrupted what seemed to be a flood of never-ending questions. It was the first intern, clearly dissatisfied with having to share the work he believed to be fully capable of doing by himself more efficiently.  

"Whatever. I'll go talk to her family." The second intern stood up and left her field of vision. 

A soft click echoed throughout the room and Kaoru realised that the room she was in was deadly silent. There was no beeping of various machines, no sound of children crying, or the hushed whispers of the patients which one would usually be able to hear in the ER. The dark-haired woman came to the conclusion that she was confined to a private room. Her mind wandered back to the abundance of blood she was covered in. The hospital staff probably didn't want to freak out any of the other patients with the horror show her appearance was. 

The door opened once more and a tall man rushed into the room. A blur of red followed his suit, however, the second person walked slowly, as if he didn’t want to believe what had happened either. 

Kenshin kept himself in the back of her room, but Sanosuke sat down next to her and took one of her hands into his. It was all grimy but the older man didn't seem to care about that at all. Once she looked up from their hands, the dark-haired female could clearly see all the sadness, anger and tiredness evident on her older brother's face.  

Sano tried to say something, anything. He even opened his mouth, but the words just didn't seem to cooperate with him. So, instead, Kaoru spoke. 

"Where's Kenji?" 

The question hung heavily between the two siblings. With a pained expression on his face, Sanosuke looked around the room, trying to figure out if she needed to hear the answer she wanted or the truth. 

"Could you leave the two of us alone for a minute?" It was Kenshin who spoke. His voice was strained, it sounded nothing like the usual velvety sound which usually tickled Kaoru's ears when he spoke. 

Relief flooded Sano's features before it was changed by shame and guilt. The truth would be unbearable to admit out loud to him, yet he was forcing his best friend to face it when it, without a doubt, affected him even more. 

"It's okay, I can handle it." It was as if Kenshin had read his thoughts.  

A fake reassuring smile graced the redhead's lips. Clearly, it was not okay. Sanosuke wanted to put up a fight, tell his best friend that he'll do it, that it wasn't a big deal even if it was a lie. 

"I need to do it, Sano." The man in the corner of the room spoke again, without waiting for his friend to formulate an answer to his previous statement. 

After checking the IV attached to Kaoru's vein both interns left, followed by Sanosuke. Slowly, Kenshin neared her and sat down on the chair her brother was sitting on only moments before. As her husband's face entered her field of vision, Kaoru didn't need to wait for the answer to her question. From his expression, the dark-haired woman knew, like a mother, like as a wife does. 

"No... no, no, no, no, no." She started crying. 

"Kaoru, please..." Kenshin hunched down, wiping away the tears from her face. 

"Tell, me that it's not true...!" 

In turn, her husband started whispering sweet nothings, gentlest words of assurance in hopes to soothe her, but it was all in vain. The loud ringing of her own screams in Kaoru's ears drowned out any other sound that she could ever hope to hear.  

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

When Kaoru woke up the second time the two interns had returned with a doctor in toe. As she talked to Kenshin, the professional stated that aside from a few bumps and bruises she was physically fine. However, the woman also went out of her way and made a point to inform Kaoru herself that she will be referring her to a psychiatrist and is putting her on a suicide watch for the next 72 hours.  

A silent voice, claiming that she wasn't the kind to kill herself died in Kaoru's throat. 

"Kaoru, do you want something?" Kenshin asked once the female doctor was gone. His voice was quiet, almost non-coherent, but it wasn't like he needed to speak up any louder in order for Kaoru to hear him in that white and dead silent room. 

"Could you leave me alone?" The woman's voice was weak, strained from screaming and shedding all those tears she would still be crying if she had any of them left.  

"But, Kaoru..." He snapped up his head with every intention of disagreeing with her. However, the way she looked at him killed every bit of resistance the man had left. 

The look in his wife's eyes was just so void of anything. It was as if someone had ripped out her soul and torn into shreds, without any intention of returning it to the said woman. Not like he was handling the situation any better himself though. 

But at least, the two of them were alive. They needed to get on with their lives, no matter how much it hurt and how hard it was. He was sure the two of them could do that because they had each other. 

"Let me stay." Kenshin tried again, with a newfound strength. "You might not need me, but I need you. I need to know that you're going to be okay."  

"I'm sorry." The red-haired man could swear he witnessed her eyes softening for a moment when she talked. "I'm sorry for being so selfish. Stay." 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

In all honesty, Kaoru knew that she did a stupid thing by turning on the TV and breaking one of the rules she set for herself at the very beginning of all of this. It was just so dull staying between those four white walls. Especially, since she forced Kenshin out to take a shower. After all, he had been by her side most of her hospital stay and, without a doubt, needed to deal with his own feelings instead of trying to care for hers. In her mind, it seemed a great plan at first. She was sure, they could both do with some alone time. 

Kaoru hoped to catch a day-time melodrama. One of those sappy, romantic ones, which sucked you in and made you forget the reality. Unfortunately, the channels available to her were populated by reruns of various talk shows.  

The dark-haired woman sighed in disappointment. She had never really been a fan of those. However, due to the lack of better alternatives, she switched back to the first one she encountered, and let the voice of the host fill the room as background noise. It took the woman mentioning Kenji's name to pique her interest. 

In contrast to a few days ago, the host talked about her family as the victims. The woman even went as far as showing photos containing her, Kenji and Kenshin happily spending time together from one of her personal social media accounts. The story ended up being a real tearjerker and, unsurprisingly, more than a few people in the audience were crying by the end of it. 

That was what got Kaoru the most. Mere days ago, mobs were ready to publicly crucify her and Kenshin and now they faked pity, pretended not to look at their tragedy as an act of the divine justice.  

In what she viewed as a state of complete tranquillity, Kaoru picked up the mug on her bedside cabinet and got out of the bed. Slowly, she walked up to a still turned on TV, with the host wrapping up the talk show and smashed its screen to pieces. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

Kaoru's hospital stay got extended. This time, with more medication, more doctors coming to see her every day and a higher degree of supervision. She was officially admitted into the psychiatric ward, with group therapy every other day and a visit to her psychiatrist twice a week. 

The rules of visitation also were a lot stricter there. Kenshin could only see her for a few hours at a time and rarely two days in a row. He would've never said it aloud but the redhead wasn't as disappointed as he should've been by the new arrangement.  

His wife had changed after her meltdown. Those once lovely blue eyes, now made Kenshin shiver. The coldness in them was unfathomable to his mind. On the rare occasions the dark-haired female chose to talk to him, the redhead hated her voice. The staleness of it, to him, was something of a grim reminder of what had been, what could have been and how they failed. At night, Kenshin was unable to sleep, haunted by the shadow of her dead eyes and emotionless voice. 

His visits became more out of duty and the necessity not to stay in the house where their son was murdered, rather than genuinely missing her. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

It was about a month later that Kaoru got released. Diagnosed with severe depression and a few bottles of prescription drugs, she was deemed to be of no danger to herself or others. Her psychiatrist claimed that it was better that way – to let her deal with her loss without the constant watchful eyes of the professionals. 

Preparing for her return, Kenshin decided to clean up the house. It was something he didn’t even remember the last time he had done. This also meant facing his nightmares – going to Kenji's room for the first time ever since the incident which had taken his life. 

The redhead wasn't the one to find them. Rather, one of their neighbours had called the police after hearing a bloodcurdling scream while walking their dog. The public release of the local police department stated that the policemen sent to investigate found an incredibly gruesome crime scene. That the woman holding her son's body refused to release it and was on the verge of attacking a couple of officers when she lost consciousness. 

Kenshin never got to see his son's room the way it was described in the media. The courtesy of crime scene cleaners... He hadn't even seen Kenji's body. There was a morbid curiosity willing him to go to the morgue and request to see it. But he had seen what the sight had done to Kaoru, and though the man was never able to admit it to himself, he was afraid of seeing those once cheerful eyes dead, his son's body drained of blood. If he saw it with his own eyes, without a doubt, it would become real. Too real for his liking. It was a very stupid fear, just as much as it was a real one. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

A lot of fears attacked Kenshin at once upon Kaoru's return. One of the biggest of them was they had grown too far apart to patch things up again. Regretfully, it ended up coming true when one day Kaoru moved her things out of their bedroom, into the one where their rare guests would occasionally stay. The same day, was the first time the redhead smelt cigarette smoke on Kaoru once again. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen  

The Messiest Endings  

A closed casket funeral. That's how the two adults decided to send off their only child. 

By the point the police decided to give back Kenji's body to the pair, Kenshin and Kaoru barely spoke to one another. Gone were the soft words constantly whispered just a few months prior. No longer the wind carried their contagious laughter or sun shone on their genuine smiles. Now their lives were split in two: before and after their son's death. 

The before they could still recall with, fondness, though they could no longer comprehend how a person could ever be that happy. The memories of their relationship's early days, of their son's first steps and words were often followed by regrets.  

Why didn't they skip those unnecessary charades and confusing pas de deux? It was such an utter waste of time. They could've spent all those months getting to know each other better and falling even more deeply in love.  

Why didn’t they stop each other from seeking that arbitrary justice? Those matters in no way concerned them. They should've just stuck to doing their jobs the best they could, just like they had always done. That way... That way, Kenji would still be here...with them... 

And, of course, why did they even get together at all, if it was going to end like this? They could have saved themselves so much suffering, just staying as acquaintances. Everything would have been so much simpler if Kaoru remained as Sano's sister Kenshin would see from time to time and the redhead as the more responsible best friend Sano liked to hang out with.  

Both Kenshin and Kaoru hated knowing that they lived in the after. Here, the colours were nowhere as vivid as in their memories of the past. Even the quietest whisper seemed too loud, despite the fact that once upon a time they were used to hearing each other's roaring laughter. They hated the fact that their faces became so easily recognizable, the fact that, little by little, they were becoming too tired to actually feel anything.  

It caused them such pain when Kenji's funeral was turned into a huge fiasco. With crowds of people waiting for them at the funeral home and later, at the entrance to the cemetery. They didn't need all those flowers left by people who weren't aware of their son's existence mere months ago. All of those declarations of condolences fell on death ears, as that was the last thing they wanted to hear.  

All the way from the funeral home to the cemetery, Kaoru cried hot tears of hate. She didn't want her son's death to be treated as a mere spectacle to entertain the masses. She despised the fact that the crowds just wouldn't let them grieve in peace. Everyone had made that day about her and Kenshin when it was supposed to be about Kenji's untimely demise. However, she was the worst offender. Much worse than her husband who hadn't shed a single tear. Worse than those people enjoying their suffering. Worse than the person who took her son's life. She was worse because she cried for herself, for the crowds, for the hatred and no longer for her son. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

Though it was more evident in the way Kaoru carried herself, living in the public eye wasn't good for either of the Himura's mental well-being. Kenshin seemed to be able to soldier on, however, behind closed doors all he wanted to do was tightly hug his wife and cry, letting out of his sorrows.  

In fact, he tried to do it many times before. It's just that whenever he felt tears coming up, a tiny voice in the back of his mind told him that he has to be stronger than that. It kept repeating that his tears would only serve to satisfy those who did this. It was stupid, but every time those reasons would stop him from crying.  

Eventually, no tears would come up even if he truly wanted. He had become simply unable to cry anymore. Kaoru ended up taking it the wrong way. In her mind, the redhead's lack of tears indicated his lack of grief. The woman started distancing herself from her husband even more. It even reached a point where she could no longer look at him without feeling hatred. 

With the way Kaoru was acting, it became impossible to try and build their relationship from the ground up again. It wasn't for the lack of Kenshin's trying though. He made sure to do everything in his power to please her. He made her breakfast every single morning, though every evening he found it still untouched. He didn't say a word to her when she went out and bought a car, without saying a word to him or when she quit her job. 

Not a single thing seemed to work though. In all honesty, it made Kenshin even more tired, sad and angry. The redhead knew that there was no was no way he could comprehend what his wife went through and tried to understand her actions. It didn't stop him wishing that Kaoru would at least try to improve their relationship as well.  

In due time, Kenshin himself started spending less and less time at home, in favour of staying in his office even after he was long done with work. From the side, it probably didn’t seem like it but sitting there, hunched over a never-ending pile of documents on his desk, was a rather welcome break from that once warm house. Even spending a day at the court was better than being home, for it let the redhaired man forget that frosty look in his wife's eyes and their crumbling marriage. 

... ∽∾●∾∼ … 

Completely opposite to that, Kaoru spent every waking moment thinking about everything that happened to them. The cause of it was the simple fact that she had nothing else to occupy her days with. She wasn't cleared to go back to work, which she eventually quit anyway to regain at least a bit of control over her life. She also had to attend therapy sessions, courtesy of all those doctors she had the pleasure to encounter while still at the hospital. 

In theory, those therapy sessions sounded like a great idea. There was no doubt in Kaoru's mind, that too many people it led to salvation from their personal demons. However, she herself wasn't that kind of person. To the dark-haired woman, in practice, those sessions were a living hell.  

Though she couldn't deny the overwhelming need to talk about what happened, every time even a word left her mouth about that day, it would become too real for her to handle. And she didn't even want to think about all of those conversations she shared with her therapist regarding her failing marriage and her husband.  

Of course, she was aware that her therapist meant well, but that did nothing to change the fact that it was those sessions that pushed her to realise that she blamed Kenshin for everything that happened. Oh, how she despised herself for it. Especially, since deep down, she was aware that if there was anyone to blame for their son's death and the current state of their relationship it was her. 

That's why Kaoru knew she needed out. Out of that therapist's office. Out of the house, she and Kenshin bought merely three years ago. Out of this relationship which was smothering her. Out of her husband's life which she was ruining. 

Getting a divorce seemed like the only way to reach her goal. Hence, having no other plan than just to get over with it, Kaoru packed up all of her necessities, threw them in the back of her car and asked Kenshin for a divorce while visiting their son's grave. It all happened so fast – in a span of a few days. Just like that, she was done with her life in the after. 

Chapter Text

Chapter F ourteen

So,  We Meet A gain My Heartache

"Please, wait here, I'm sure they will be here in a moment." The young man working at the reception desk showed Kenshin and his client into the conference room.

They were in a moderately sized law firm, one the redhead man had never known to be involved in divorce cases. Most of the lawyers there were known for being familiar with the field of corporate law, and the firm almost exclusively specialised in it. It was quite a shock for him when his client informed him that the lawyer of her husband was set on meeting particularly there. Especially, since the woman sought him out in a free legal aid clinic.

"I'm sure everything will work out just fine." He reassured the woman standing beside him, once the door to the conference room closed.

Mrs. Adkins was a woman in her late forties, though she looked a bit younger than that. Brown roots peaked underneath her dyed honey blonde hair, informing her that they needed to be touched up. She had kind greenish/brownish eyes and never failed to show up on time with tidy clothing despite all of the stress the divorce was putting her through. The red-haired man admired that about her. There was no doubt in Kenshin's mind that if he and Kaoru hadn't done the whole thing through a third person, he himself would have been a mess.

Just as they took their seats at one side of the oval table in the middle of the room, Kenshin's phone buzzed.

"Want to have a date tonight?" The message displayed on the screen read.

Though the sender was shown as unknown, it didn't take him long to figure out just who it was. The only person he had given his number recently was a cute girl he met at a bar a few weeks ago. If he was completely honest, he didn't remember her face or name but gave her the number just so Sanosuke would shut up about him not being to hold down a stable relationship.

While putting his phone back into the pocket of his suit jacket, Kenshin sighed. That girl had piqued his interest and he would've loved to take her on a date or two, but now just wasn't the right timing. If only she had texted him a week back, this might have been avoided, but now with the 10th anniversary of Kenji's death just around the corner he definitely wasn't good company.

"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, I got held up in another meeting." A familiar voice pierced the air and interrupted Kenshin's train of thought.

A sapphire-eyed woman opened the door. She was wearing a dark purple knee-length pencil dress, with a black collar. It wrapped around her body perfectly, accentuating all of the right places, as if making a statement that the person wearing it was completely comfortable with their own body. Thin silver watch hung on her delicate wrist, creating a contrast between it and the golden necklace and earrings – the only jewellery that adored her body. With a shiny black bob for hair, the woman in front of him looked dazzling.

"This is Kamiya Kaoru, she will be representing me." A man which followed her into the room – most likely Mr. Adkins – spoke.

"Nice to meet you, I'm Himura Kenshin and I will be representing your wife." The redhead managed after a moment. He noticed a flash of recognition in her eyes followed by shock and confusion with a pinch of dread. It lasted only mere seconds, as soon Kaoru put on the poker face she had polished up to perfection.

"Well, hopefully, soon ex-wife." The man beside Kaoru smiled and sat down opposite of his spouse.

Finally, Kenshin looked him over. The man was dressed in a moderately priced dark blue suit paired up with a black tie. A crooked smile played on his lips – obviously a fruit of immense effort – and dark bags hung under his eyes. It even made the red-haired man wonder if Mr. Adkins was regretting his choice to get a divorce. Nevertheless, despite all that, the man in front of him radiated confidence and showed no other indications to have changed his mind.

"Would you like some refreshments?" Kaoru finally talked, while rummaging through the briefcase she had put on the table in front of herself. "Though, I can't promise you that we won't be done before they are brought it."

"And why is that?" The redhead watched the woman in front of him pull out a stack of papers and set her briefcase down.

"The Adkins signed a prenup before getting married. It's iron-clawed." She handed him thirteen pages stapled together.

"I'll have to take a look at it." He accepted the documents and set them down beside himself.

"It's one of the better ones I've seen. The terms are even quite fair – everything under a person's name belongs to that person, regardless if it was gained before or during the marriage. The only thing you could actually go to court with is the house. However, my client is ready to sell it and split the earnings in half."

"Very cooperative, aren't we?" Kenshin voiced with a mocking undertone. "My problem is that you're being a bit ludicrous. Mrs. Adkins here also paid for a lot of property under Mr. Adkin's name."

"Maybe she should have thought about it before signing the prenup." Kaoru was quick to respond. "Or she should have just been more careful with her money."

The redhead quickly shot a glance at the blonde woman sitting beside him and raised an eyebrow questionably. Without saying a word, she just nodded.

"That would be for the judge to decide." He began slyly. He was glad that Mrs. Adkins was so open about everything, he wouldn't have wanted to find out about the prenup only during a meeting. Especially, since it was Kaoru who was sitting on the other side of the table. "But my client would agree with all of those terms without putting up a fight if she got the full custody of both children."

"That is out of the question. Mr. Adkins loves his children and wants them to live with him after the divorce."

"Well, then there's also the custody matter we're willing to take to the court. The statistics show that women are more likely than men to get granted full custody these days." Kenshin wasted no time in rebutting.

"I'd like you to also take into consideration the fact that Mr. Adkins is a lot better off than his wife and could present his children with a lot more opportunities. Also, the kids themselves have voiced their want to stay with their father. Now, you might not be aware of it, but judges tend to do what's best for children's well-being, despite whatever your stats show."

"Neither of the two children stated a preference with which parent to stay. They might have mentioned something along those lines due to coaxing from Mr. Adkins' side, but they could easily change their tune in the court. You never know, if asked directly, they might even say they want to stay with their mother."

The man sitting next to Kaoru tapped her shoulder. He started whispering something in her ear and a small coy smile proceeded to grace the dark-haired woman's lips. Without a doubt, she liked what she was hearing.

"It just came to my attention, that Mrs. Adkins doesn't have a good relationship with her sobriety. Mr. Himura, you might be interested in how many times your client went into rehab. No judge would give custody of two children to a woman whose best friend is a bottle of vodka. What if an accident were to happen and you were out cold from having a binge?"

"Don't you dare...!" Mrs. Adkins' voice surprised all of them. The woman, who had been quiet up until that point, seemed to be on the verge of tears. "You think I like the way my kids look at me when I'm drinking?! That I can't stop?! Who do you take me for?! I try so hard and I know that when I get the custody of my children, I will never let anything happen to them! Because if it did... I wouldn't be able to live on...! What kind of a mother would I be if I got on with my life when my child died because of me!"

Kaoru turned as white as a ghost. She had to stop herself from crying or even worse – hitting the woman. Kenshin was looking at her with horror and pity. She hated that look.

"Let's continue this the next week. I'll have my assistant contact Mr. Himura about setting up another meeting." Her voice was barely audible.

"I think, that's a very good idea, Ms. Kamiya. I will be awaiting your call."

... ∽∾●∾∼ …

"Well, that could've gone a lot better." Jean commented while sitting down in one of the armchairs in Kaoru's office. He was looking out of the window overlooking a busy street, while Kaoru herself was in the other corner of the room, digging through her mini fridge.

"I'd say..." The said woman's voice quivered as she replied. With shaking fingers, she unscrewed the cap of a water bottle and started gulping down the liquid.

That woman had gone too far, both of the adults were aware. But it wasn't like Kaoru hadn't heard similar things before and compared to some of the comments she had heard her words had been nothing. Until she went into corporate law, divorces were her bread and butter. Those going through a nasty divorce always had the nicest things to say to the attorneys of their spouses. She didn't know why she reacted this strongly today though.

Probably, it was the fact that the anniversary was drawing near. The fact that Kenshin was sitting in the same room when the woman started her rant. Because for the last few weeks she couldn't stop dreaming of finding her son's body.

Kenshin. He had looked so much older than she remembered. Even at thirty, he looked like he had barely turned twenty, but now it seemed like his age had caught up with him. Though his hair remained of the same vivid colour, she definitely saw few grey hairs in his low ponytail. Tiny wrinkles etched themselves into the skin around his eyes, so visible through his thin-rimmed glasses. Had she also changed that much?

"Hey, that man... Wasn't he your boyfriend or something in university?"

"Or something..."

"Wait, that was your ex-husband wasn't it?" Finally, the man turned around and saw that from the dark-haired woman's paleness now gained a sickly green shade. Panic filled his features. "That was stupid, I'm so sorry. First, it was my ex-wife and now I stuck a foot in my mouth."

Kaoru and Jean have been old friends. They've known each other since university – even graduated the same year – but never truly went beyond being acquaintances back then. It all changed when they met about seven years ago, right after Kaoru went into corporate law.

The first account she ever worked for, the dark-haired woman got him as the opposition. It was a merger and an incredibly tedious process. The negotiation between the two companies lasted for months and they ended up getting reacquainted. Jean, even ended up hitting on Kaoru, having caught wind of her divorce. Of course, Kaoru had refused his advances. While still not having a good grip on her life, she didn't want to jump into any new relationship. He ended up respecting her decision, and even put a lot of effort in becoming her friend.

It was quite noble of him, Kaoru had to admit. She didn't know a lot of men who would truly stay friends with a woman who turned them down. Of course, now Kaoru realises that he did all that because he pitied her. After all, it had taken her a long time to get out of those dark woods depression was and certainly, by that time she was still very much depressed.

Ironically, he himself was already married for a long time back then. From what Kaoru gathered, she hadn't even been his first venture, there had been many before her. She wouldn't be surprised if it was Jean's affairs that pushed his wife to drink. Without a doubt, the man was a shit of a husband but at least he was better as a friend.

"It's not your fault. You can't know everything your wife is going to say." The dark-haired woman smiled weakly.

"Ex-wife." Jean corrected.

"Okay, okay, ex-wife." She let out a fake laugh.

"How old would he be right now?" The conversation took a more serious turn once more.

"Twelve." Kaoru's smile disappeared, she sat down on the armchair next to the one Jean was sitting in.

"Does it still hurt? Seeing your ex-husband, I mean..."

"A bit. There's a permanent dull ache in my chest, I doubt that it will ever be gone, if I'm completely honest. Of course, your wi- ex-wife's words didn't really help, but now I can handle myself a lot better. It's just that I can't stop feeling guilty. I just want to apologise to him so bad." She took a big sip of water, finally starting to calm down.

"Then, the next time you see him do just that. I gave you a perfect opportunity, now didn't I?" He laughed.

"Oh please." Playfulness returned back to Kaoru's face. "Get your ass out of here, my two o'clock can show up at any minute now and I still want to have a smoke."

... ∽∾●∾∼ …

Everything went a lot smoother when Kenshin and Kaoru had a meeting without their clients present. It seemed that after last week's meeting both decided that it would be best to let a third-party deal with the divorce.

In the end, they needed only two hours to come up with a compromise they could present to their clients. However, it was long enough for the winter sky to turn dark, creating the atmosphere between the two only night could.

"You've done well for yourself." Kenshin was the first to acknowledge that they shared a past. "I heard Sano mention few times that you're a corporate attorney. I knew it, but it's still hard to believe."

"Ahhh, so he's been ratting me out." A light smile tugged at her lips. "However, fear not my friend, he's been selling you out too. He told me you work in legal aid. Ever the hero, trying to help the broken and the damned. To be honest, I never expected to see you again. Not until we had to attend a funeral or something."

That it was a bad joke, Kaoru knew the moment the words left her mouth and she witnessed Kenshin's expression turn sour.

"Well, I do divorces quite often." The redhead tried to play it cool. "Hence, you're the wild card in this."

"Oh, I was a divorce attorney for a few years. Didn't really dig it. Too much drama. Corporate law is much more relaxing, if you could call it that. And well, a lot more profitable." She laughed, trying to disperse the awkwardness. "I'm only involved in all of this because Jean's my friend and he asked me for help."

The redhead stared at Kaoru. He couldn't believe how beautiful of a sound her laughter was. It was a shame that all he could remember vividly from their relationship was the last few weeks. She no longer laughed then, only cried herself into exhaustion.

Truthfully speaking, he felt a spark the moment he saw her enter that meeting room. It was a strange sensation, as he thought that it had been extinguished all those years ago. Now, he regretted not holding on to her, not refusing to get a divorce. Not being able to love her the way she needed to be loved when the tragedy struck.

"How about a drink?" Kenshin offered carefully while watching the woman in front of him light a cigarette.

Suddenly, Kaoru's face got serious. She put the cigarette she had lit in her mouth and opened the window before replying.

"I have a date with my boyfriend." The woman – which he could only describe as his femme fatale even now – stated. She watched thousands of windows light up in the apartment buildings across the street. "If I miss it, he will be worried."

"You're right. That's a bad idea." He stood up and began gathering up his documents scattered all over Kaoru's desk. "I was planning on meeting this girl tonight either way." It was a lie, but Kaoru didn't need to know that.

Kenshin wasted no time in shoving the said documents into his messenger bag and heading for the door. However, he froze seconds after setting a foot outside.

"I still love you." The redhaired man announced after battling with himself for a good few moments.

It was Kaoru's turn to freeze. Once she finally looked at him, her ex-husband's back was still facing her. She was grateful for it. Kaoru didn't want to show the red-haired man just how much his words had surprised her.

"Why can't you just hate me?" Came her reply.

There it was. One of the biggest problems she had with him towards the end of their relationship. That man loved her, he loved her so much, yet she was only able to feel hate and guilt toward him.

"I do hate you." Kenshin admitted almost instantly, causing the woman behind him to smile. "I still hate you for not sticking by me, for withdrawing to yourself, for not trying and rejecting all of my advances. But somewhere along the way, I ended up regretting letting you go that easily, for not loving you enough to put up with everything, for making you believe that you were alone."

"It never was your job to fix me." Kaoru interrupted. "I was in a bad place and I didn't want your love or support. I felt like I didn't deserve it because I blamed you for what happened to Kenji. Sometimes I still wake up blaming you for not stopping me from going in too deep."

Kaoru grew silent and Kenshin took it as a sign that it was his time to leave.

"I'm sorry for hurting you and being stupid enough to think that I no longer love you." Kaoru whispered to herself when Kenshin was halfway throughout the door. After ten years, relief finally flooded her. She had finally apologised. Maybe she could finally get her fresh start.

Even though she had no intention, Kenshin heard her confession very clearly. Shocked by the words spoken by his ex-wife, the man turned around immediately. He was greeted by a sight of small tears forming at the inner corner of the smoking woman's eyes.

As he was about to start walking towards her, his phone rang.

"You should answer. It could be that girl you mentioned." The woman's words broke the redhead out of his daze.

"I'll just let it ring."

"Don't do that." Kaoru put out the cigarette on the astray placed on the windowsill. Quickly, with her newly free hand, she began wiping her unshed tears. "I hated it when you ignored my calls. You should learn from that and treat her better than me."

Only moments later, Kaoru's phone started ringing as well.

"Why don't you answer first?" Kenshin inquired, studying the expression on her face.

"I don't feel like talking with anyone right now." A small fake smile formed on her lips.

"Even if it's your boyfriend?"

"I just call him that so that people wouldn't freak. He's only a guy I occasionally sleep with."

Both of the two adults were far too lost in their own world to even register the noise growing louder with each ring.

Quickly, Kenshin started making his way towards Kaoru, loosening his tie and uncuffing his sleeves in the process. The dark-haired woman waited for him to reach her. She waited for the redhead's hands to dance all over her body. Just like they did daily so many years ago. She waited for his lips to attack hers, sucking the air out of her lungs.

Then, their bodies finally collided. He pulled her in for a hungry kiss. Just as she wished, his hands roamed all over her body – her bottom, her back, and her neck. Nevertheless, Kaoru wasn't the one to go weak in the knees. Rather, it was Kenshin. One other thing he forgot about his ex-wife was just how good of a kisser she was.