February 13, 1879

Kamiya Dojo

The sun shone down on the pristine snow causing the little crystals in it to glitter a thousand colors. It was really quite beautiful. However snow, no matter its beauty, had to be shovelled so people could walk the short path through the front yard into the dojo. To this end, Himura Kenshin, fiance of Kamiya Kaoru, stood out front, shovelling the snow.

The Kamiya Kasshin Ryu dojo had been open for business full time in the four months since everyone had returned from the big fight with Yukishiro Enishi on the island. Despite Kaoru and Yahiko's best efforts, no new students had joined, save Shinichi Kosuburo. Kenshin hoped the dojo would get some business soon, as finances were getting tight. If it didn't, he vowed to get a job; perhaps at the Akabeko to help bring in some money. This was his home after all!

"Kenshin, could I talk with you please?" called the voice of his beloved Kaoru.

Though her voice sounded as happy and musical as ever, something in her ki was a bit off. Looking up from shovelling, Kenshin saw her standing there smiling at him, but something in her eyes gave him pause.

"Certainly, Kaoru," he called cheerfully.

Kenshin stepped into the dojo. His eyes met Kaoru's, questioning. With a smile, Kaoru began.

"Kenshin... you were right. Being linked to Battousai has made it harder to get the dojo up and running again. No one will sign up because they don't want to be associated with the Hitokiri Battousai dojo, as they now call it. Yahiko and I tried to convince them that there's nothing to fear but... I'm afraid your reputation precedes you.

"Kenshin, this is very hard for me to say. I didn't want it to come to this! I wanted to be with you very much but... my first duty is to the dojo, to my father's legacy. A dojo can't run without students. Without students my father's legacy will die. I'm so sorry Kenshin but...

"I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave." Kaoru's smile never once left her lips.

Kenshin lowered his head to hide the tears in his eyes. He didn't know what to say. His heart was breaking, but what Kaoru was saying made sense to his logical mind. If he stayed at the dojo, he would only put Kaoru and the others in danger and his reputation as a former hitokiri would taint the name of a defensive swordsmanship school and ruin it. He couldn't bring Kaoru and the others down with him.

After packing up his things, which felt so very heavy, Kenshin left the warmth and security of the dojo, this time forever.

He walked for what seemed like an eternity, not paying attention to where he was. When he finally looked up, he was standing in the middle of the forest with the cold snow falling all around him.

He walked to an old weathered tree, leafless and covered in snow and sat down against it. He closed his eyes. He was so very tired and so very cold.

But as cold as the snow was, he felt even colder inside. Numbness was creeping in, the cold embrace of a lonely and empty death. No one to love him, hold him nor mourn his passing.

Blackness took him.

Kenshin's eyes flew open and his whole body jerked. He was covered in sweat and his face was damp with tears. Violet eyes took in his surroundings. He was still in his beloved's bedroom. There was a warm fire burning in the brazier. Kenshin turned over on his side and sure enough, there she was, blissfully unaware of his nightmares.

Only now did Kenshin's heart rate start to come down. It was just a dream. Kaoru hadn't rejected him, hadn't thrown him out into the cold as so many before had. She really loved him. Kenshin lay down so that he was facing Kaoru and then pulled her into his arms. By spring, they were to be husband and wife. He prayed that all would go peacefully. He couldn't bear anymore "surprises".

In her sleep, Kaoru felt the arms encircle her and draw her to the very warm body of her lover. But something was wrong. There was a tension in the embrace that only came when Kenshin was upset. This tension pushed her toward wakefulness. Kaoru opened her eyes and looked into a tear-stained face and a pair of sad and frightened eyes. No doubt about it, he'd had a nightmare.

"Bad dream?" she asked, sitting up and pulling him with her.

Kenshin nodded, looking down at the blanket.

"The doll?" she asked.

Kenshin shook his head.

"Tell me, please," Kaoru whispered.

Silence. Red bangs shadowing downcast eyes. Kenshin always asked her to tell him about her nightmares, but still needed some prodding to talk about his own.

"Who was it that said our dreams are our minds' way of telling us what our deepest fears and desires are?" asked Kaoru, cupping Kenshin's chin in her hand, gently coaxing him to meet her gaze.

"Mmmmm..." Kenshin had to admit, she had him there.

With a deep sigh, he began.

"You threw me out. You didn't want Battousai in your dojo," said Kenshin in a voice barely above a whisper.

He lowered his eyes again, reluctant to meet her gaze as shame overwhelmed him for having a dream that he knew intellectually would never happen.

Kaoru reached out and gently grasped Kenshin's face with both hands, once again coaxing him to meet her gaze. Hesitantly, Kenshin looked up and saw her smiling at him. Kaoru's bright smile chased away the doubts and darkness that lingered in his heart.

Closing his eyes, Kenshin leaned into her touch, nuzzling her right hand which caressed his scarred cheek. Her jasmine scent filtered into his nostrils, further calming him.

"You don't ever have to worry about something like that. Once I make up my mind to something, it stays made up," she said firmly. "This dojo is your home now and you are loved. Understand?"

"Yes ma'am," said Kenshin with a smile.

Kaoru's blunt words were just what he needed to pull him out of his blue funks and bring him back to his senses.

"I love you, dearest."

"I love you too, darling," said Kaoru. "Now let's go back to sleep."

"OK," returned Kenshin with a smile.

Snuggling as close to each other as they could get, the couple fell asleep under their blanket and dreamed of their future together.

~Owari~

Bliss

Ginger and Jasmine