Continuing Tales

Hakama Dake

A Rurouni Kenshin Story
by Indygodusk

Part 15 of 16

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"How does it taste?" she asked anxiously.

"Delicious," he murmured, and he wasn't talking just about the soup. His entire focus was centered on her mouth, leaving the rest of the world to fade away.

Taking the spoon from her fingers and setting it down on the counter, he snaked his other hand up her body to tilt her head back for another kiss.

"Ohayo, whoa!" Of course, Sano had to choose that moment to enter the kitchen.

Through her shock, Kaoru distantly felt Kenshin's arms briefly tighten protectively around her, crushing her back against his chest. Her heart would have raced at the feel of his strong body if it hadn't already been galloping in horror.

Letting her go, Kenshin spun away to face Sano standing stunned in the doorway. His movement attempted to block Kaoru from view, but considering the height disparity between the two men she doubted it worked. She wondered why Kenshin even bothered. After all, Sano had already seen her in the kitchen. How could it get any worse?

A quick glance down answered her question. The folds of her kimono were slightly askew, baring the blush-pink skin of one collarbone and a hint of her cleavage. Mortified, Kaoru knew a stranger looking at her face would think her either drunk or sunburned. Sword-calloused and soup-sticky fingers swiftly straightened her appearance.

Of all people, Sano had to walk in! The only thing worse would be Yahiko.

Where was a tofu bucket to hide under when she needed one? Panicked eyes scoured the kitchen, but couldn't find one. What sort of kitchen didn't have a tofu bucket!

Embarrassment, like always, quickly gave way to anger. She had several burnt fish just dying to kiss Sano's gaping mouth. Unfortunately Kenshin was in the way.

Stupid Sano, why did he have to walk in? And Kenshin, why didn't he stop cuddling before Sano came in? Kaoru fumed silently. Granted the cuddling was nice, very nice, but she didn't want people to see them doing it!

Glaring at the side of Kenshin's face, the only thing she could see besides Sano's bandaged hands braced against the doorframe, Kaoru noticed something odd. Below Kenshin's glaring eyes were pink-tinged cheeks. Did he somehow not notice Sano coming? Kenshin's trained to hear people sneak up! He's supposed to get less distracted than me!

While still mortified, Kaoru also felt a tad smug. Go feminine wiles! Of course, she wasn't quite sure what she'd done to so entrance the great Battousai, but she was confident she could figure it out. Later.

Right now I need to teach Sano a lesson about keeping his mouth shut.

After all, Kenshin didn't seem to be doing anything. Maybe he was also embarrassed, and it was true he rarely resorted to violence, but Sano was a hands-on learner. If Kenshin wouldn't teach Sano manners then it was up to the shihandai. Creeping sideways until she could clearly see Sano, Kaoru prepared to attack.

Sadly, right before she lunged past Kenshin he finally spoke up in a soft and even voice. "Sano, breakfast is not ready. We'll bring it out later." For some reason, Sano's jaw tightened. The look he shot Kenshin seemed almost disappointed, and not about the food. Kenshin's posture shifted in a nonverbal reply that Kaoru couldn't interpret.

Whoever said that women were supposed to be the moody ones needs to live in this house for a few days, she thought with frustration at their odd behavior. Well, as the only person around here without mood-swings, I guess it's up to me to straighten them out. However,Kaoru decided she'd worry about that later. First things first, head injuries equal memory loss, ne?

Of course, she'd had a similar plan yesterday but had never actually gotten to carry it out. Now she had a chance to test her theory. Smiling evilly, she briefly scanned the kitchen for an appropriate tool for her… experiment. She found at least three items within easy reach. I really need to spend more time in the kitchen. Grabbing the rolling pin off the counter, she prepared to charge around, and if necessary through, Kenshin to reach her victim. Things would be better as soon as Sano was twitching on the floor. She had almost passed her redhead and could see the whites of Sano's eyes; anticipation hummed in her veins.

Of course, that's when things got worse. A whole lot worse – Yahiko spoke up from behind Sano. "What? What? Why are you blocking the doorway, Sano? I can't see anything!"

Kaoru's righteous fury, burning so brightly only a split second before, fizzled under the horror of hearing that voice. She couldn't handle Yahiko's teasing this morning, she just couldn't. Not about her new and fragile relationship with Kenshin. She'd either burst into tears or break one of his legs. Yahiko still had chores to do; she really didn't want to break his legs.

Holding her breath, Kaoru turned large, liquid eyes on her almost-victim. She now realized that the hands Sano braced against the doorframe weren't just supporting shock-weakened legs, they were keeping Yahiko out. Sano's clenched jaw softened at her wordless plea.

Then Sano turned his head toward Kenshin and glared. This unusual action shocked Kaoru into a surprised twitch and the abrupt motion proved too much for her horror-limp fingers, causing them to lose their precarious grasp on the wooden rolling pin. It rebounded off the ground with a BANG!

Kenshin twisted lightning-quick at the sound and caught the rod in mid-rebound. However, he never even looked at the rolling pin. Instead, his concerned golden eyes focused on her face. After all of the shocks of the morning, her mind only numbly commented, Yes, definitely have to straighten that out later.

"What was that?" Yahiko asked worriedly from his position behind Sano. "It's just Kenshin and Kaoru in there, right? Are we under attack again?"

Tuning in the doorway, Sano seized Yahiko in a headlock and started dragging him away. Outraged, the boy kicked and squirmed. "Hey, lemme go!"

"Jou-chan's cooking in there, squirt. Distracting her will just make the food taste even worse."

"Noooooo! Kenshin, how could you?" wailed Yahiko as he was dragged down the hall. Thank goodness for Sano, even if he did have to use my cooking as a distraction, thought Kaoru grudgingly.

Wilting against the wall, she felt her emotions rioting; she didn't know what to feel first. Kenshin softly placed the rolling pin back on the counter. Then he came over and cupped her face tenderly in his hands.

"I'm sorry." His long fingers smoothed across her still burning cheeks gently. Bringing her hands to rest against his waist, she met his contrite honey eyes. They reminded her of a scolded puppy. It wasn't fair. She hadn't gotten to yell even once before he'd turned those irresistible eyes on her. Sighing, she looked down and wrestled her emotions into order.

When she had regained control of herself she raised her head with a crooked smile. Lacing her hands behind his back she asked quietly, "Kiss me, Kenshin?"

Momentary surprise danced across his face, quickly followed by a soft smile. "With pleasure."

One strong hand lovingly cradled the nape of her neck while his other feathered across her kimono-covered collarbone. Parting her eager lips, Kaoru met his descending mouth halfway. Only their arms and mouths touched each other, but it was enough. It was exactly what she needed.

Their lips melded slowly, thoroughly reacquainting themselves with the other's shape and texture. When his tongue finally slid into her mouth and curled against her own, Kaoru could taste a lingering hint of miso combined with something smoky, dark, complex, and purely Kenshin. Sipping at his mouth, she hummed contentedly. Kaoru could have blissfully continued kissing him all day.

However, the boys were waiting for breakfast and she didn't want to be walked in on a second time. The same thought must have occurred to Kenshin, because his tongue regretfully retreated back into his mouth. For a few more moments they lingered with their lips caressing and clinging. When their mouths finally separated, Kenshin leaned his forehead against hers and smiled into her eyes.

"Shall we serve breakfast?" he asked.

Letting go of his waist, she kissed him on the nose fondly. Then she turned to get the bowls. She couldn't express how giddy it made her feel to be able to act on the romantic impulses she'd been repressing for so long. "I guess we can't avoid them forever," she sighed.

"No, it seems like we're destined to be interrupted." As he spoke his arms rubbed comfortably against hers as he grabbed several trays out of the cupboard.

Relaxed silence, broken only by the clicking of cups set down upon lacquered trays, filled the kitchen while they worked. Looking up from her task of pairing matching chopsticks, Kaoru noticed he was staring at her instead of assembling dishes. It had been several moments since she'd heard any sounds from his corner of the kitchen. Just how long had he been staring? The open love in his eyes, banked and hidden from her for so long, sent warm tingles from the center of her chest to the tips of her toes. "Kenshin?"

"Kaoru, about the future, I want you to know-" he paused as if struggling with his words.

"You want me to know what?" she asked breathlessly, wondering if this was the moment she'd been hoping for.

Suddenly Sano's raucous voice shattered their intimate moment. "We're still waiting for food here!"

Kenshin sighed at yet another interruption. "We will have to finish this discussion later. Yahiko and Sano need to be fed," he commented softly, completely bypassing her question.

"Mou," she growled as she turned back to the chopsticks.

"Kaoru," Kenshin's voice hesitated again. She looked up hopefully, but his face was hidden. All she could see were his strong hands precisely arranging the steaming bowls of rice onto a tray. "Sano cares about you and only wants you to be happy. You do not need to worry."

Disappointment at his topic turned to anxiety. "But what if he says something?"

"You do not need to worry about what he might say," Kenshin soothed. "He is just trying to protect you."

"From what?"

"From me." Kenshin chuckled at the flabbergasted look on her face. "He's worried he might have to protect you from me."

"What? That's ridiculous!" Her face twisted into a scowl and her hands clenched. I oughtta pound some sense into that roosterhead!

The amused smile faded from Kenshin's features. "Not completely," he said seriously.

"What do you mean?" she asked. Putting down the handful of chopsticks she'd collected onto his tray, Kaoru gave him her full attention.

"Kaoru," he kept his gaze centered on the not quite simmering water in the teakettle on the stove, "you are a beautiful and single young woman with no family to look out for you."

Kaoru blushed at his compliments but refused to be sidetracked. "I can look out for myself! Besides, you guys are my family."

"Which is why Sano is acting like a protective older brother. Most of the women Sano has known growing up aren't… treated very nicely."

Kaoru knew he was trying to imply something, but she had no idea what. Her confused silence caused Kenshin to look up from the now steaming teakettle. Sighing, he looked back down and poured the hot water into a teapot already holding a handful of tea leaves. After replacing the lid, he set it on another tray.

Then he turned and took up her hands in his own. He seemed to be comparing the shapes of their hands as he thought, tracing the outline of her nails, the calluses from her bokken, and the webbing between her fingers. She would have tried to read his face, but he kept his expression hidden behind the shadows of his auburn hair. His playing with her fingers felt very intimate. The longer the silence stretched on the more his touch made her imagination veer off into unsafe areas, especially unsafe considering the two hungry boys only a hallway away. Shifting her weight, she blew her bangs out of her eyes. Patience had never been her strong suit. "Kenshin?"

Finally he spoke, "He doesn't want you taken advantage of."

But what if I want you to take advantage of me? What if I want to take advantage of you? Kaoru mused wickedly. The boldness of her own thoughts surprised her a little. The kissing has definitely gone to my head.

"Kissing a woman secretly in dark corners is not very respectful, that it is not." Amethyst eyes peaked out at her contritely.

Kaoru felt a spurt of panic at his words. Was her happiness going to unravel so quickly? Her relaxed hands tightened around his clasped fingers. "People who are courting kiss secretly all the time!" She wasn't actually sure about that, but she had the feeling that he didn't have a lot of experience with proper courting techniques either. Besides, she liked his secret kisses!

"And we are courting, aren't we Kenshin?" Her question came out more threatening and commanding than she'd intended. It also ruined her plans about subtlety discovering his intentions. Curses! When in doubt, keep talking… or hitting.

"You are the most respectful and honorable man I've ever met. When I think how long I've been trying to get you to drop the dono from my name I could scream! I love you, I trust you, and I know you respect me. Both Sano and you should know it, too."

Huffing at the idiocy of men, Kaoru went to grab a tray of food. That's when she saw the partially chopped radish still sitting next to the tray. It had been weapon choice number two when she'd earlier searched for a weapon to beat up Sano. Grabbing the daikon, she slammed it over Kenshin's head in punishment.

With a confused "oro" and swirly eyes, her rurouni held his abused crown as she stalked from the room.


Rubbing his sore head, Kenshin ruefully wondered if Kaoru had ever looked for a weapon and not found one. Sometimes he thought himself safe, not seeing any shinai or bokken near-to-hand. Then her anger would flare, her sea-storm eyes would glitter, and, caught up in her magnificent beauty, he would suddenly find himself walloped unexpectedly by some other hard, cylindrical object she had pulled out of nowhere.

Picking up the other breakfast tray, he made sure that everything, especially his rurouni mask, was in place. Satisfied, he walked out into the dining room where everyone seemed to be already eating their over-cooked rice. With Sano, Kaoru, and Yahiko all angry at him, no one had waited. At least they aren't all waiting to fly at me. Those sorts of mornings can be difficult to recover from. Resigned, he sat down at his customary place.

As soon as he had settled, Kaoru started serving him food. It was interesting to watch the expressions of solicitousness and irritation war across her body and face. Apparently he wasn't the only one to think so, either.

"Hey Busu, keep twitching like that and you're gonna knock the teapot over! Since Kenshin made it, it's the only thing that tastes good. You really should just stay out of the kitchen," Yahiko drawled through a mouth full of half-chewed fish.

All gentleness fled from Kaoru's face. Only anger-narrowed eyes remained. "You little brat, I don't see you cooking anything!"

"That's because it's Kenshin's job."

"Oh? Then what is your job around here, Yahiko-chan? Do tell," Kaoru rejoined sarcastically.

Yahiko straightened his small shoulders and puffed out his chest. "I'm here to keep you guys out of trouble."

Sano stopped chewing to give Yahiko a wide-eyed look of disbelief. Lips twitching, Kaoru also stared at the pint-sized samurai. Then she met Sano's eyes across the table. Immediately the two of them burst into laughter.
"It's not funny!" Yahiko protested angrily. "Shut up!"

Finally their laughter died down and breakfast resumed. Yahiko, however, was still fuming. "I'm gonna go practice my strokes in the courtyard," he abruptly announced. Gulping down the last of his tea, he jumped up from the table and stomped from the room.

Kenshin hardly noticed Yahiko's absence. He was too busy trying to figure out who he should try to get alone for a talk first: Sano or Kaoru. He had just decided on Sano when he saw the man lock eyes with Kaoru over the teapot. Was Sano going to try and have a big brother talk with Kaoru first? I don't want him to worry her, despite I what said to her about his good intentions.

Before Kenshin could figure out how to head the street fighter off, Sano winked at Kaoru. Then he silently mouthed, 'out of trouble.' This set Kaoru off into a gale of giggles. Soon the two of them were rolling on the floor, gasping for breath. Whenever things started winding down, one of them would squeak out the word "trouble," setting off another round of hysteria.

Seeing his plan of having any sort of rational conversation with either of them go up in smoke, Kenshin sighed. Gathering up the dirty bowls, he began clearing off the table. When in doubt, clean.

After the two of them calmed down, Sano would probably head into town and Kaoru would change and then go practice in the dojo. Considering both Sano's and Kaoru's reactions to the scene in the kitchen, he had some decisions to make. Things would have to go either forward or backward. His hope to simply bask in the present situation didn't seem like much more than a pipe dream in the light of morning.

While he wanted to try and reassure Sano, he had to decide what his own intentions were first. Things once again did not seem simple, not as they had yesterday in the dojo. His love for Kaoru hadn't changed. The difference lay in his certainty over further exposing her to his darkness. The closer they got, the less he would be able to shield her from. Was he right to allow that?

In the end, the most important thing was Kaoru. What would be best for Kaoru? As her name floated across his mind, he looked over at her sparkling eyes and laughing lips. Her joy made warmth blossom inside his chest, as if he'd walked out into a sun-drenched meadow strewn with wildflowers.

Opening the shoji wider in preparation for the heat of the day, Kenshin squinted at the bright yellow sun and wondering what weather today would bring. A few clouds lingered in the sky like a child's forgotten toys. From the sighs and shuffling sounds in the room behind him, he surmised that Kaoru and Sano were finally composing themselves and leaving.

Finding himself staring blankly at the sky a few moments later, Kenshin shook his head briskly. Stop procrastinating. You can't avoid it forever.

Their relationship had changed yesterday in the dojo. It would change again today. He would meet Kaoru there, he decided. They would talk. And when he left he would know his future fate, one way or the other.

Hakama Dake

A Rurouni Kenshin Story
by Indygodusk

Part 15 of 16

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