Continuing Tales

Hakama Dake

A Rurouni Kenshin Story
by Indygodusk

Part 12 of 16

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"Sit down and close your eyes, Kaoru," Yahiko instructed after she'd dropped off the dishes in the kitchen.

"Why?" she asked suspiciously. Considering the pranks those two played on each other, Kenshin couldn't entirely blame her.

"Just do it Jou-chan, or you'll ruin the surprise," came the order from Sano.

"Oh all right, but I depend on you," she stated pointing at Kenshin, "to defend me from anything underhanded." Though she sounded disgruntled, a smile kept breaking through the scowl she tried to pin on her face. Kneeling down by the table, she closed her eyes and intertwined her fingers in her lap.

Holding out a mysterious bundle wrapped in a cloth of leaf green, Yahiko suddenly looked shy. "Okay, you can open your eyes now."

Fidgeting with excitement, Kaoru opened her eyes. Yahiko stood in front of her with a green package extended in his slightly trembling arms.He looks nervous! With his boyish face creased with vulnerability, he also looked his age. It was so rare that she saw him in such a state that it almost broke her heart. Immediately she decided to act happy about this surprise, even if it killed her.

Smiling gently up at his anxious face, she took the soft green bundle. "Thank you, Yahiko."

Scuffing his feet against the tatami, Yahiko spoke in a slightly rough voice. "It's kinda stupid, so don't get too worked up. Sano helped with it too." He peeked up at her for a fleeting moment like an uncertain fawn. "You can open it now, if you want. You don't have to wait until later." His eyes returned to examining his worn tabi, "If you want."

Funnily enough, at his words she felt her own hands tremble for a second. Come on now, no crying in front of the guys. Blinking rapidly seemed to help.

"For crying out loud, just open the damn thing, Jou-chan," Sano griped. "This suspense is killing me."

Meeting Kenshin's soft lilac gaze, she felt the wave of his compassion and understanding flow over her mind. Calmed, she returned to her examination of the package. On closer inspection she saw that the cloth was interwoven in a pattern of variegated greens ranging from the color of rice shoots in the fields to the exact shade of pine needles in the spring. "Well, if nothing else the furoshiki is lovely," Kaoru offered happily.

At the sound of Sano's impatient sigh and Yahiko's fidgeting, she took pity on them and laid the package in front of her knees on the floor. Her fingers moved to the complex knot in the furoshiki. For a few moments it eluded her best efforts. There was no need for Yahiko to tie it so tightly, she thought in frustration.

Finally, with a breathy exclamation of victory, she loosened the knot enough to spread the corners of the cloth out until they formed a flat square on the floor. The green now formed a frame for a folded piece of dark blue fabric. Rising up from her heels, she picked the blue garment up and shook it out. It made a sound of fluttering feathers as it unfurled.

A hakama.

Oh dear, she thought with a sniff as her eyes filled with tears. It was the most beautiful blue hakama she had ever seen. Overcome with emotion, she didn't know what to say.

At her silence, Yahiko started babbling. "I noticed that your hakama have gotten really worn out and I know that with you trying to teach at other dojo, how ya' look is important. I'm sorry we couldn't afford a gi too, but even with Sano pitching in we could only cover the hakama, and it's used. But I was thinkin' that this way at least you don't have to sew it yourself. Sano lost most of his money gambling last weekend, the idiot, and I'm not very good at saving up money and-"

"Yahiko," she interrupted, "thank you. Hakama dake wa subarashii desu." Swallowing back happy tears, she reached out and embraced him in a one-armed hug. For a moment he leaned into her warm embrace. Then, remembering himself, he squirmed until she removed her arm and stopped endangering his manly pride with her girlish sentiment.

Cuddling her present to her chest she looked over at Sano. "You too, my friend. You guys are the best. I never expected-" choking up again, she had to pause.

"No, you're the best, Jou-chan," he offered with a gentle smile. The caring in his eyes gradually turned into a devilish gleam. "Now, where's my hug?" he demanded, glancing quickly at Kenshin from the corner his eye. "And maybe my kiss, since you aren't spoken for yet?" he continued, turning to her with puckered lips.

For a split second, a very SMALL split second, she wondered if his lips were as soft as they looked. Would they feel that different from Kenshin's? Then her sanity returned, and she proceeded to beat him into the ground.

"Pervert!" she yelled, almost as angry about the thoughts he'd caused as his flirtatious words. She blamed her bad thoughts on her sensual awakening this afternoon. It had put possibilities into her head that she'd never acknowledged before. However, if she was lucky this new view of Sano would also be something she'd never have to acknowledge again. She didn't love Sano like that, not like she loved Kenshin.Nope, not gonna think such bad, weird thoughts ever again. Never ever.

In the midst of her beating, she heard Yahiko pretending to gag in disgust at the thought of kissing her. "I'd rather eat weevils!" the boy-who-was-about-to-get-bruised-if-he-didn't-shut-up exclaimed.

With all of this commotion she couldn't be blamed for only then noticing Kenshin's strangely tense form. He stood slightly behind Sano's twitching body. She could barely make out over Sano's groans and Yahiko's disgusted monologue the sound of his low-level growling. White fingers clenched and unclenched around the hilt of his sakabatou as he glared down at the white-clad man prone at her feet. Red bangs obscured his eyes, but she fearfully suspected just what color they'd be.

Uh oh. I need to distract him, but how? She didn't think nibbling on his earlobe was a very good idea with Yahiko and Sano in the room, even if she was pretty certain it would work. Maybe as a last resort? Unfortunately, a naughty part of her now hoped for things to get that drastic.

"I was only," Sano grunted as he uncurled from his fetal position, "kidding." Looking up into Kenshin's face he blanched. "Really, really only kidding." Crab-walking backwards until he reached a wall, Sano used the support to lever himself to his feet. Weaving only slightly, he kept his eyes on a Kenshin who still radiated barely-leashed violence.

"I'm glad you enjoyed your surprise, Jou-chan. I'm going into town for a little while, but I'll probably be back later. Don't wait up." After delivering this announcement, Sano backed out onto the porch, only turning his back when he'd reached the gate.

Somehow, Yahiko had missed all of the byplay, too caught up in the cleverness of his speech. Honestly, one moment they're boyish and adorable, the next they're insulting and begging for a beating.

"And even if I had sea monsters nibbling on my toes, I'd still not-," he continued through Sano's departure.

"Yahiko!" she growled. "We. Get. The. Idea. Now go clean up the kitchen." Grumbling at the unfairness of shihandai in specific and life in general, he stood up and stalked outside towards the well to get a bucket of water for washing. Well, now that he was out of the way.

"Um, Kenshin?" she questioned softly, touching him hesitantly on the arm. At her touch, he released a long breath. She felt the muscles beneath her hand relax, dropping his fingers away from the hilt of his sword. As he relaxed so did she, grateful that the seeming crisis was over.

That's why she was so surprised when a moment later he grasped her around the waist and twirled her body around to crash into the wall. One hand cradled her head to protect it from knocking against the wood. Hidden from Yahiko's view, he pressed her flush against the wall and buried his nose behind her ear.

Through her own uneven breathing she heard him inhale deeply. His moist exhale ruffled the hair at her nape and raised goose bumps. Through the chest pressing into her own, she felt the vibrations of his rumbling purr. Trailing his nose back along her cheek, he brought his mouth a hair's breath from her own, "You can't leave me." Confused and on sensory overload, she could only stare into his blazing golden eyes as his breath pushed hotly against her sensitive lips.

"You're mine," he demanded, hovering above her lips. Wide-eyed, she wasn't sure how to respond to his sudden, blatant possessiveness. The marks were one thing, but this was totally outside of her experience.

And what did he mean by 'don't leave me'? He was the rurouni, not she. She could no more leave him than she could leave her art. Nothing short of death would make her abandon his side. Wait, could it be that-

Growling at her lack of response, he positioned one hand on her hip while the other spanned her throat. Tilting her head commandingly back, he fastened his lips over her own.

Like in the dojo, her body came to tingling life in the wake of his touch. While tangling her hands in the luxuriously soft hair flowing down his back, she tried to hold onto her previous thoughts. The hungry tongue tracing the seam of her lips didn't help. When a moan escaped her mouth, he surged past her lips and ravaged her mouth with a raw and all-consuming passion. Weak in the knees, she relied upon his body pressing hers against the wall to keep her from falling. Hazily she wondered if they'd ever get a chance to start and finish a kiss in the middle of a room instead of against a wall. Not that I'm complaining.

Ripping his mouth away, he slid his lips along her cheek until he reached the sensitive shell of her ear. Just feeling his moist breath puffing along the wet trail left on her skin made her ache to writhe against his body.

"Say it, Kaoru," he roughly whispered.

Say what?

Still confused, as well as out of breath from his kisses, she closed her eyes and tried to order her thoughts. Now, what was I thinking about? Nothing short of death? But that's how he lost his wife, isn't it.

Tomoe may have betrayed him, but she did repent of it in the end by trying to shield him with her own body. The fact that he was too wounded to recognize her in time to halt his attack was a cruel accident. Yet I know I haven't even scratched the surface of how that affected him.

Perhaps he somehow thinks that by admitting he loves me it curses me to the same fate? Or does he think that I too might betray him? No, he has to know me better than that.

Distracted by her thoughts, Kaoru was completely blindsided by his next action. Before she knew quite how it had happened, she found both of her hands extricated from his hair and restrained above her head. Instinctively she struggled. His hold made her realize just how large his hands really were compared to her own. Both of her wrists fit comfortably inside the palm and fingers of one of his hands. Looking at the fevered golden light burning deep in his eyes, she knew that some strong emotion held him in its grip.

Biting her lip, Kaoru reminded herself that Kenshin would never hurt her. This was still the complex man she loved, even if his actions right now confused and maybe even scared her a little bit. There were a few moves she could pull that she thought would hurt him or break his grip, even restrained as she was. However, his grip wasn't painful, just firm. Kaoru would trust him until he did something to prove that her trust was misplaced.

When he felt her body relax slightly, his other hand slid slowly down the outside of her body from her wrist to her waist, leaving a tingling wake where the pads of his fingers traveled, especially when they brushed against the sensitive side of her breast. Sighing, Kaoru allowed her body to become pliant in his hands. As if her surrender had somehow answered part of his question, she felt part of the tension in his body dissipate.

As his talented lips nibbled on the edge of her ear, the fingers capturing her wrists became limp. Quickly twisting her arms apart, she placed her freed hands on his shoulders. His only response was to gently nip her earlobe in chastisement. However, at the same time the hand on her waist squeezed soothingly before slipping down and back caressingly, massaging the flesh along the way.

Tilting her head back, she purred in pleasure. The movement of his velvet mouth sliding up and down her skin caused his smooth auburn hair to brush softly against the side of her face like a silken caress. He has hair the envy of a palace concubine. I wonder what he'd say if I told him?

A foolish smile trembled on the edge of her lips, but was quickly forgotten when the hand on her bottom tilted her hips minutely, increasing the friction with his own. Kaoru had to bite her bottom lip to stifle her moans of pleasure. His lips trailed down her neck tantalizingly before licking back up the line of her jaw, pausing to nip her lightly on the chin.

"You're mine. Now say it," commanded his husky voice again, but this time she caught the underlying hint of vulnerability. That hint crushed any half-formed plans she might have had about keeping quiet until he revealed just what he was thinking.

You silly, stupid, lovable man.

Before she could finally formulate a reply, his mouth returned to her own. Dominantly thrusting his tongue into her mouth, she met his advance fiercely with her own. As their tongues rubbed back and forth, she couldn't suppress the hungry moans caused by the actions of his hand and mouth.

If the fit of her kimono had allowed it, she would have widened her stance so that his body could press even closer. But with her legs restrained by clothing and her hands restrained by him, all she could do was rub against him with her hips and mouth. Yet her attempts to increase the delicious friction seemed to affect Kenshin quite well, because as soon as she undulated he groaned gutturally into her mouth and forcefully deepened their kiss.

The thump of a bucket in the kitchen managed to finally penetrate their haze. Thankfully, Yahiko had used the kitchen entrance to return; he hadn't seen them. After a few more moments of softening kisses, their lips finally broke reluctantly apart. However, Kenshin was staring at her expectantly, the feverish light in his eyes more subdued but still present.

"I'm yours, Kenshin," she finally huffed out on a disbelieving laugh. "My love, of course I'm yours. I'm not going anywhere."

"I love you," replied Kenshin in a voice overflowing with intensity. Then, giving her nose a soft, loving kiss, he released her wrists and stepped back. Meeting her eyes again, he whispered, "Mine."

Yes, she was his. But he was hers too. Smiling, she gave him a small nod.

Grinning roguishly, Kenshin spun around and sauntered into the kitchen. She would have recovered a lot quicker if he hadn't smiled at her like that. Oh… my. That was strange. And interesting, she thought as she raised a trembling hand to her passion bruised lips.When she heard the sound of Yahiko's voice echoing out from the kitchen, she finally managed to rouse herself enough to retreat to her room.

While the storm had broken the drought and moderated temperatures, the night was still warm. Kenshin could hear insects chirping, frogs croaking, and fleeing prey rustling through damp foliage out in the night. Keenly staring out into the darkness, he caught no sign of anything unusual to disturb the peace of his home.

While he'd been doing the dishes earlier, Yahiko had been too hyped up by his successful surprise to notice anything unusual. He'd taken advantage of that fact to turn away from the glowing boy and plunge his hands into soapy water. Cleaning had always served as a great distraction and method for calming his mind. As long as Kenshin replied occasionally with an encouraging sound, the boy was content to prattle on happily.

Kenshin was so proud of him. Kaoru really did deserve more happy surprises in her life. It comforted him to know that Yahiko and Sano really did appreciate all she did for them. So often they didn't show it, but he knew that this night would stay in her heart for years to come.

It was ridiculously simple to make her happy; it shamed him that they all didn't try more often. Sometimes he would get complacent in his actions, thinking that he was making her life better with his simple chores and words.

But then he would notice her dragging footsteps at the end of the day artificially pick up when she heard someone approaching. He hated it when she returned from town with bruised eyes hiding behind a smiling façade. It made him feel helpless. So often he didn't know what to do to make it better, especially when she refused to burden him with the truth of her problems.

She probably thought her silence made things easier for him, but it didn't. He could read the truth in her eyes, and it just made his job of protecting her even more difficult. The situation inspired him to renew his efforts to be polite and friendly to everyone he met; whenever he ventured into town he always tried to recruit as many allies for her as he could. His theory was that they might be able to help where he could not.

At least she now had one less thing to worry about: she knew that he loved her. He hadn't realized how his conflicting emotions had eaten away at her contentment, but no more. It would be his life's joy to make her feel cherished.

Continuing his nightly prowl around the dojo, he made sure that all of the entrances were secure and that everyone was safe in their beds. Hearing Yahiko's light snores brought a fond smile to his face over the innocence of youth. Sano had returned a little while ago and now sat on the porch outside drinking from a bottle of sake he must have bought while in town. Making Sano aware of his presence by coming out of the shadows with a little wave, he continued on. As for Kaoru, Kenshin liked to save her room for last.

Gliding silently through the moonlit courtyard, he rounded the silvered pine trees standing sentinel outside of her room. The air hummed with insects singing their incessant songs, punctuated occasionally by the lone hoot of an owl and the rustle of its' windswept wings. Finally catching sight of the candlelight radiating from her room, he had to pause as he felt sweat break out on his forehead. Whether it was caused by the heat or the picturesque scene, however, he couldn't say.

Like Sano, Kaoru sat outside her room on the porch. The moonlight streamed down through the moist air in opalescent ribbons, twining around her supple body where she sat curled with her arms locked around her bare knees. In a very pleasant reversal from this afternoon, she seemed to be wearing only a slashed up blue gi. A very familiar blue gi.

Mine, he thought with an exquisite pleasure so sharp it bordered on animalistic. With her face tipped up towards the few pockets of stars shining though the veil of pale clouds, she looked pure and untouched by the evils of the world. Tilted up as it was, her face was perfectly positioned for a worshipful kiss.

Together, the uneven lighting of candle and moonlight cast half her body in muted shadow while emphasizing the other half's dips and curves through the thin fabric of his worn gi. The night shadowed her eyes, but left unhidden the curve of her cheek and the hollow at the base of her throat. Her slender fingers dangled by a pair of trim ankles topped by lightly muscled calves that he'd love to circle with his fingers. The skin of her long legs seemed painted by flickering shadows beckoning him closer, daring him to explore the secrets of her silken limbs.

When he'd first seen her moon-kissed form, he'd frozen in place as if under an enchantress's spell. But after this afternoon, things were different. He didn't have to force himself to leave and pretend he hadn't seen this glimpse of perfection.

Besides, they needed to talk. After their last encounter he was afraid that he might have scared Kaoru with his actions. He hadn't meant to be so aggressive or so possessive. Kenshin knew he could trust Kaoru, could even trust Sano.

It was just that he had finally admitted out loud how vulnerable he was because of her. He had hoped that the jagged fear of losing her, of suffering that agony again would be soothed after their mutual pledging of love. But he'd been wrong. His fears, rational and irrational, had swamped his mind earlier tonight. If he wasn't careful, he'd drive her away himself with his actions.

Kenshin had loved Kaoru for a very long time. Part of that love was, he admitted to himself, interwoven with some very primitive male instincts. Deep down he did want to possess her - possess her in every way possible so that she was kept safe and happy and his. Right now, however, he wanted to show her the other side to his love. He wanted Kaoru to see that his love could be gentle too.

About to glide forward, he heard a soft scuffle sound behind him. Closing his eyes in an agony of frustration, Kenshin lifted his foot up and stepped quite firmly on a dry branch. At the sharp –crack- echoing into the night, Kaoru'shead shot in his direction and she scrambled to her feet. Retreating inside, the –shush- of her closing shoji immediately followed. Through the rice paper he saw her feminine silhouette momentarily bend over a burning candle before her room went dark.

Feeling the sake burn down his throat, Sano swallowed and let out a sigh of contentment. Traveling was fun, but somewhere along the way these people had come to mean home to him. His place on Ruffian's Row was long gone, and Sano liked having somewhere to come back to where he knew he'd be welcomed. He was happy with his life; well, mostly happy considering he didn't have a warm woman or a fat wallet. Nevertheless, he wanted his friends to be happy too. Hopefully, it looked like one of them had finally gotten his act together and finally decided to pull his head out of his-

Seeing Kenshin standing frozen across the courtyard staring towards Kaoru's room, Sano decided to pry his limp body up and stroll over to have a little talk with his red-headed friend. While he wasn't drunk, he'd taken a little, actually quite a lot, of liquid courage to help steady his resolve for what he was about to do. Standing up, he ambled over to where his friend stood.

Along the way he carefully aimed before kicking a small rock towards the gate. His first kick whooshed through the air and hit… air. That's okay, that one was just practice. Tilting his head and squinting, he managed to actually swipe the rock this time. It wobbled forward in an awkward limp for a few moments before fetching up against the nearest tree. There's probably a lesson in that.Hell if I know what it is, though.

"Hey, Kenshin, nice night isn't it," Sano offered. For some reason, Kenshin had just stepped quite loudly on a stick. Maybe he couldn't kick tonight either.

Kenshin turned and took a few steps towards Sano, but his face remained in shadow. A little uneasy at his silence, especially after dinner, but determined not to show it, Sano clutched his sake jug more firmly in one hand. "Everything secure around the dojo, or is there something I should know about?" Keeping his voice friendly and calm during his enquiry was a challenge, but he succeeded.

Shifting so that the moonlight finally illuminated part of his face, Kenshin replied. "No, everything is fine." Something seemed to forcefully relax in his features as he finished, "that it is."

"Um, good, good, glad to hear it." At a bit of a loss as to what to say next, Sano decided to just jump into it feet first.

"Look, Kaoru is like a feisty little sister to me, or maybe a best female friend, or even like an ex-girlfriend, except that I respect her and we haven't had sex ye-," seeing the rapid, and frightening, darkening of Kenshin's features, Sano decided to try and define the relationship at a different time. Would he believe that it was just a slip of the tongue? Then again, mentioning Kaoru and tongue right now would probably just make things worse. How does he loom like that when he's so short?

Clearing his throat Sano continued, "Anyway, my point is that I care for Jou-chan a lot and want her to be happy. She deserves the best, and that includes a man who treats her properly and honorably." Guilt joined the anger shifting beneath Kenshin's features, but still he didn't say anything. If Sano hadn't known Kenshin as well as he did, he wouldn't have been able to read even that much. Fine, if he wants to play it that way.

"Since I don't know how much longer I'll be around, I'm depending on you to make sure any man she falls for offers marriage and not just a roll in the hay. Jou-chan's not just some strumpet on the street; she deserves better than that, not to mention the gossip that would follow."

The silence after his words seemed to echo with everything he hadn't said but intended. Finally, Kenshin looked him straight in the eye and steadily replied, "I know." Nothing more, but it was enough.

Satisfied that he'd planted his seed into fertile soil, Sano stood up. "Well, I'm off to bed. Have to get a good night's sleep if I'm to match wits with the Fox again tomorrow. Oyasumi." Arms folded behind his head, sake jug dangling from one finger, Sano strolled off to his futon and a well deserved rest.

Hakama Dake

A Rurouni Kenshin Story
by Indygodusk

Part 12 of 16

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