Continuing Tales

Hakama Dake

A Rurouni Kenshin Story
by Indygodusk

Part 7 of 16

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Smiling, she turned a speculative gaze upon the now abandoned pine tree.

"What about you, handsome, would you like a private lesson?"

Kaoru had to laugh at her silliness. Right, so go do whatever it was you were going to do before you heard that growl. At this thought, Kaoru remembered a very basic fact that had escaped her up until now: birds can't growl. So where had that sound come from?

Remembering the massing thunderclouds behind her sparrow, Kaoru concluded that the sound must have been a herald of the storm to come. Scanning the sky, she could see that the dojo was now covered by a slow moving froth of black and grey clouds. On the edges of the horizon, random fields of blue sky stood out boldly like stepping stones in a white foamed river of wind tossed clouds. The sun, a golden koi, shimmered and leaped over those stones and through that cloud-formed spray. Taking a deep breath, she inhaled the earthy perfume of the coming storm. Pleased by the scent of rain, Kaoru turned to go back inside the dojo and clean up. But before she had taken more than a single step, she heard a masculine voice respond to her teasing question.

"I'd love one."

Birds can't talk, and neither can clouds.

Kaoru felt icy panic as she recognized his voice. As she flipped around to look at Kenshin, what is he doing here? her mind whirled frantically. Her initial panic and embarrassment quickly disappeared under the more useful combination of anger and cunning.

If I knock him on the head hard enough, he'll forget he ever saw me half-naked. While I'm at it, I'll hit him so hard he'll forget all about seeing Megumi today too. Hopefully, he'll still remember who he is when he wakes up.

Usually she felt confident that her fist alone could do the job, but with someone as hardheaded as Kenshin, a bokken couldn't hurt... or an iron skillet. Method of violence decided, Kaoru broke out of her quick scheming as she finished her turn. If I'm quick, he won't know what hit him. Bracing herself for action, she took a long look at her potential victim.

Kenshin, all red, gold, and white, stood silhouetted against the ash gray sky like a pillar of flickering flame. The red hair she'd so recently fantasized about looked disheveled, alternately gilded and shadowed as wind-tossed clouds tumbled over the sun. Pale green pine needles were intertwined within the copper and garnet strands. As the sun disappeared behind another cloud, the courtyard darkened. Wind whipped the hair back from his strong cheekbones, exposing his forehead and the arch of red-brown brows over…

His eyes! I should have realized from the sound of his voice, his eyes are GOLD!

Jolted, Kaoru gasped. She felt like she'd been struck by a bolt of lightning from the seething clouds above. Staring into those blazing amber orbs, she supposed half-hysterically that she now knew where the sun had disappeared to. The way his eyes burned brightly into her own made her feel like she'd been branded.

Ripping her eyes from the intensity of his gaze, Kaoru looked down. She needed to find something familiar to look at, like the top of his magenta gi.

Except Kenshin- Battousai- the redheaded man in her courtyard wasn't wearing it!

Breathing shallowly, Kaoru's eyes darted between his bare chest and the weapons inside the shadowed dojo. Did she have anything hard enough to make both of them forget what they'd just seen?

What was he doing here anyway, alone and undressed like that? He should be either still in town helping Megumi, or else in company with Sano. But she'd know if Sano was here, because he'd be making rude and probably salacious comments right now. This made no sense! Kaoru would almost swear that this wasn't Kenshin at all.

As Battousai's lips curved into a sexy smirk, Kaoru had an epiphany. First, she decided that his moist lower lip was definitely the most perfect lip she'd ever seen. This being an important discovery, she had to think about it for quite a while. As soon as her mind allowed her to move on, she had her second big realization. She knew what was going on.

Of course, I'm fantasizing again.

You are another bird, just a bird… why aren't you changing into a bird? Nibbling on her lower lip she hesitated, could it really be Kenshin?Avoiding the intensity of his eyes, she examined the man standing across from her more closely, and not just his chest and lips.

No. No, this was definitely her imagination. No way would Kenshin be amber eyed, bare-chested, and flirting with her. She needed to be practical and not let her desire do the thinking.

The real Kenshin would have knocked at the gate, used a gentle voice full of humble honorifics, and probably be sputtering "oro" right about now. Or more likely he'd blandly inquire about when she'd like dinner. Then he would ask if she wasn't cold, dressed like that, and would she like a blanket or a hot bath? That or offer to make her some cold tea to cool her down while she found her clothes.

Thank goodness it was only a fantasy. She didn't need his lack of attraction shoved in her face today. Obviously, her weary mind had rebelled from going more than an hour without thinking about its favorite obsession.

In this fantasy, both of them were practically topless. Unlike her though, his gi was still tucked in and hung down around his trim waist. Deep down she knew that there were times that she didn't feel good enough for him. Since they both looked the same now, this fantasy must be about wanting to feel equal. Right?

Oh, who was she kidding!

This was a fantasy based on lust, pure and simple. After all, her chest certainly wasn't equal to that, all full of planes and dips and the outline of so many different intriguing muscles that she'd never noticed before on her body, and would he mind if she explored just a bit?

With his gi shrugged off, she could clearly see the play of defined muscles in his forearms, biceps, and shoulders. Rivers of blue veins flowed along the surface of his body. Moving down his chest, she found herself fascinated by the contrast between the dusky rose of his nipples and the pale gold of his skin. Her gaze slid over his washboard abdomen to catch the faint trail of red-gold hair descending in a line until it disappeared under the fabric of his bunched hakama and gi. The path her eyes followed led her to focus on his very sexy bellybutton, reminding her of an earlier fantasy.

Feeling mischievous, she sought out other hollows: the shadowed indents along his clavicles, the triangle at the base of his throat, and the well of his inner elbows. Kaoru wondered how much tea she could drink if she filled every dip and hollow on his body. Enough to never thirst again? Or would she come away thirsting forever?

Realizing how far her thoughts had gone, Kaoru reigned herself in. That bird in the pine tree must have really sparked her imagination. Too bad there wasn't much meat on a sparrow, or else she'd be tempted to feed everyone sparrow soup until she could trust her wayward imagination to restrain itself. She had to stop fantasizing about Kenshin, or else she'd never be able to move on with her life.

Disgusted with herself, she sighed and firmly lectured her mind. I'm not doing this anymore, so stop torturing me with these fantasies. Just stop it. Shooing away the steamy Battousai her mind had plunked into her storm darkened courtyard, she resolutely turned away and marched back into the dojo.

Kenshin had been prepared for a variety of reactions from Kaoru. This, however, had not been one of them.

One moment, he was watching the sunrise of her blush rising up from the top of her breasts to flush her cheeks. It was so adorable - adorable and enticing. She'd been staring at him, running her eyes down his body, and then she'd licked her lips. Aroused, he'd taken that as a very promising sign.

Then suddenly, she shook herself, sighed, and shooed him off like a wayward child! Giving him her back, she'd walked away. Staggered, Kenshin could only gape at her retreating form and defiantly swinging hair.

He had been taking her for granted, thinking he had her all figured out. Arrogantly, he'd assumed that after a year he knew all of her quirks. The many times she'd surprised him, reacting in unexpected ways, he'd somehow managed to forget.

Look how she'd reacted to his identity as the Hitokiri Battousai. Most women, most people wanted nothing to do with him once they learned his identity. They hated him, feared him, or wanted to use him. But none of them wanted to be close to him. None of them accepted him, asking nothing in return but his presence. No one until Kaoru.

As Kenshin decided how to react to her dismissive behavior, he realized that more important than tasting her lush lips, he had to have her acceptance back. In the past, he could grasp her regard like a cord of promise. It was like she saw him as clean and mended, instead of the stained and torn man he really was. Looking through her eyes, he could see his efforts making a difference. Somehow, she had become his hope.

When his will faltered on moonless nights, and the raging demons of his past beset his mind, he'd pad quietly into her room and tuck himself small and silent into a corner. Counting her every breath by the rise and fall of her chest, he would feel the waves in his mind quiet to ripples, and eventually calm.

She never woke to find his presence. He made sure of that. Nevertheless, on those mornings only, she behaved differently. Without drinking, she would cradle her steaming teacup to her face, moisture collected on the rim like foggy dew, and her eyes would unveil in a look of wisdom far beyond her years. A gentle smile usually graced her lips, and he could clearly read a promise in those ocean deep eyes. They promised him that one day he would find peace, that he would once again feel complete. And despite the guilt and sorrow tangling thorough his soul, he believed her.

This last week of suffering through her distant behavior had been hell. Her kindness and generosity were still there. But for some reason she had shut the windows into her soul. He felt like a plant denied the sun, becoming brittle and unstable. He couldn't even trust himself to take care of a few insulting boys. The quiet looks that challenged him to strive harder, that acknowledged even his weakest efforts proudly, that filled his heart with so much joy it sometimes physically ached, had vanished. For a week, he had barely caught a glimpse of the blue eyes he loved so much.

Until today. Yes, she had turned and walked away from him. But before that, their eyes had met in an elemental clash that had resonated through both his body and, he suspected from the gasp she'd made, hers.

If she thought he'd give up so easily, she hadn't looked at more than the surface of the hitokiri rumors. Beyond the tales of his violence, they also told of his tireless pursuit of a goal and his implacable resolve once focused on a target. Somewhere along the way, this little Shihandai had become his target. He would get back her regard. And unless she insisted otherwise, he would have a taste of those dew-kissed lips and the smooth skin just below the shell of her ear.

Right now, he was going to pounce.

Slipping off his sandals, Kenshin moved like a ghost into the shadowed dojo.

Any minute now the storm would break. When that happened, her friends would come back, including the real Kenshin. She needed to look decent, meaning dressed, when that happened. Picking up the water jug from its position against the wall, Kaoru felt a huge boom of thunder shake the dojo. Not bothering with the ladle, she took a mouthful directly from the lip of the jar.

As she swung around, a bright bolt of lightning lit up the dojo for an instant. One second she was alone, then the flash of light ended and her fantasy Kenshin was standing inside the open shoji.

"I thought I told you to go away," Kaoru huffed in grumpy surprise. Well, at least her fantasy had some manners; he'd remembered to take his dirty sandals off before entering the dojo. Not that a fantasy could track dirt inside, but it was the principle of the thing.

With the start of the storm, the dojo had become a dark and shadowy place. Nevertheless, she had enough light to see the faint frown creasing his brow and the clouding of those golden eyes. Great, I've sunk so low that I'm hurting my own fantasy's feelings now.

"Look," she began in an attempt to reason with this manifestation of her desire, but another crash of thunder drowned out her words.

Firming his lips, he advanced towards her step by soundless step, and in the silence she realized that the thunder had stopped. Not that thunder should make it impossible to talk to the fantasy inside her mind, but she wasn't underestimating her stubborn imagination's ability to ignore her. Placing the water jar back on the floor, she placed one hand on her hip and decided to take more direct approach. "I can't fantasize about you anymore."

There, she'd said it out loud. Now maybe her mind would behave. Instead, her fantasy looked a bit puzzled, which made no sense to her. He was inside her mind, why should he be confused by what she said when he knew her thoughts? When he was her thoughts? She was the confused one.

Taking a step back, she was starting to get an uneasy feeling. This was the most realistic fantasy she'd ever had, not to mention the most complex. Usually she only imagined flashes of body here and there: his fathomless eyes, strong hands, firm chest, or soft auburn hair. This time, though, she was clearly seeing his whole body, even parts she'd never even known she'd noticed before. She could only think with burgeoning panic that something was definitely wrong here.

His puzzled look was soon extinguished when understanding dawned in his eyes. A fierce emotion she couldn't name blazed over his face blindingly, and with a flash of white teeth he grinned rakishly. Despite knowing he was only a fantasy, having those amber eyes fixed predatorily on her body was doing queer things to her heartbeat.

"Does that mean I have to stop fantasizing about you too?"

Kaoru felt like she'd been hit in the chest with a bokken. His flirtatious words and dazzling smile knocked her completely off center. Alarm had replaced her smug certainty that she knew what was going on. Taking another step back placed her flush against the sun-warmed wood of the wall. Her golden-eyed shadow matched her withdraw, step for step. He was less than two strides away and she had no space left to retreat.

"Maybe you should turn into someone else," Kaoru suggested nervously. "In fact, yes, I insist you become someone else. You are my fantasy, so become someone unthreatening and available and dressed and- and," distracted by the scent of sandalwood, ginger, and male sweat, Kaoru found herself trapped again in the honeyed gold of his eyes, despite her attempts to avoid his gaze. Swallowing sharply, she finished her sentence breathlessly, "and with brown eyes. You can't have eyes like that, it's not fair."

Placing his palm flat on the wall beside her head, he leaned over with his mouth directly next to her ear. Warm, moist breath puffed against the sensitive skin of her neck. Along her body she could feel the caressing heat radiating off of his skin. They weren't touching, but only a sigh separated their bodies. Fantasies couldn't smell enticing. Fantasies didn't feel warm. Which means that-? Oh no, no...

"No," he breathed in her ear with a barely audible growl. "There will be no one else. I'm the only one you'll fantasize about," pulling back, he paused with his face a mere finger's length above hers, "because I will make your fantasies come true." Amber eyes darkening, he slowly leaned forward to close the slight space separating their bodies. "And you like my eyes," he declared, surprised satisfaction tinting his voice.

As his hot breath feathered her face, shock finally broke Kaoru out of her paralysis.

He is real!

Bringing her hands up, she placed them on the scorching skin of his bare chest and pushed as hard as she could.

Kenshin didn't stagger so much as shift his weight with a smooth expertise that in a different situation Kaoru might have appreciated. However, her hands were now trapped by his own against the firm muscles of his chest, despite her frantic tugging. He'd also positioned his legs so that her knees were unable to get enough leverage to maim him. She'd tried. Kaoru was quite miffed. At least, she would be miffed if she wanted to be polite and understate it.

Since she didn't care much about manners at this point, Kaoru felt it safe to admit that she was enraged. He was trapping her against her will and not letting her get dressed. Anger was good and safe and much better than the squishy embarrassment and curiosity she might be feeling if she let go of her anger to think about the smooth skin burning beneath her fingertips and the chill breeze raising goose bumps on the exposed skin of her torso. Not to mention the effect it was having on his chest, an effect she could feel quite clearly pressing into her calloused palms.

"Where is your gi, my little Shihandai?" Kenshin questioned in a lazy yet predatory tone of voice, as if he had all of the time in the world.

Breathing raggedly, Kaoru felt her anger fast drowning in a swell of desire. Desperately she tried to reignite her rage. "Hypocrite, you're not fully dressed either. Let me go," she insisted, quite heroically in her opinion, as she stared sightlessly at the open shoji over his shoulder.

"No," he responded in an implacable tone of voice. "You've been distancing yourself from me." His thumbs began rubbing small circles on the back of her trapped hands. Each time his thumb completed a rotation, she could feel the slight scrape of his calluses.

"Well, we're not distant now," Kaoru joked, stubbornly resisting both the line of questioning and the maddening caresses. Now, how do I get out of this… do I want to get out of this? She could feel his racing pulse and accelerated breathing underneath her hands, enveloped by his long fingers against the wall of his chest.

Despite the frustration of her situation, she knew that he would never intentionally hurt her. The only way she'd get hurt was if she did it to herself, and even then she knew he'd try his best to protect her from her own clumsiness.

That's how she'd gotten hurt in the first place. She'd pinned all of her hopes for the future on his shoulders, without any indication that he'd ever wanted it. That pain had been self-inflicted, and she'd admitted it. It wasn't his fault. This week, she'd tried to give him what he seemed to want, removing the burden of her expectations.

So what was this, had she read him wrong? Maybe he'd figured out why she was so unhappy. Did he pity her, was that what this was?Anger cleared her mind and allowed her to momentarily think of something besides the man in front of her. Desperately she stared at the capricious wind buffeting the pine boughs in the courtyard. Curling the hands trapped on his chest into fists, she tried to minimize the contact between them. Taking a fortifying breath, Kaoru licked her lips and asked the question burning in her mind, "What do you want?"

From the corner of her eye, she noticed his own tongue flick out to moisten the flesh of that perfect lower lip. It took more strength than she cared to admit, but she kept her eyes locked on the courtyard.

"I want my private lesson," he huskily replied.

When this garnered no response from Kaoru beyond deepening the creases on her forehead, he continued in a more serious voice.

"Look at me." Loosening his grip on her left wrist, he brought it up to rub his chin against the back of her hand like a large cat.

"No," she answered stubbornly. If she didn't look, she could pretend she knew what was going on, and that she had the situation under control.

"I want you to look at me," he commanded. "Kaoru," his voice sounded low and intimate, "I need you to look at me."

The soft, aching need in his voice crumbled her resistance, along with the absence of that formal dono he always insisted on tacking onto her name. Shyly, she lifted her chin until their eyes again met in a soundless fusion. For a split second, she could see past the barriers of experience, strength, and pain in his eyes to a vulnerable young boy. She felt him reaching out for her, calling her name, and how could she do anything but respond to his need?

Shadows again blanketed the secrets in his eyes as the thunder roared, making her realize that part of the clarity in his amber eyes had come from the illuminating spell of the lightning a second before. Without her conscious volition, her thumb had started stroking up and down along the edge of his jaw. Something had changed, was changing, and she didn't know what that meant. She didn't know why this was happening or how long it would last. It scared her. Yet quickly rising above that fear was a feeling of effervescent exhilaration.

The sound of the storm changed, becoming a staccato growl as the clouds finally released their rain onto the parched earth below. Keeping his eyes locked on hers, Kenshin brushed a kiss along the blue veins of her sensitive inner wrist before turning her hand over and rubbing his lips across her knuckles. After a moment, his tongue darted out for a taste of her skin.

Suppressing a moan, Kaoru dug the fingers of her right hand into the flesh of his chest and swayed forward. Nipping her knuckles lightly in retaliation, Kenshin nibbled down her hand until he reached the tips of her fingers. Then he sucked one into the hot cavern of his mouth. Kaoru felt something clenching deep inside her body. This time she couldn't keep a needy whimper from escaping as her eyes partially closed with the sensation.

Releasing her now moist finger from his mouth, Kenshin's own eyes clenched shut as he groaned against her hand, "Yes, again. Teach me another, Shihandai." When he opened his eyes, Kaoru could read their message loud and clear. She may be innocent in the ways of romance, but every woman viscerally recognizes that look of lust and possession in a man's eyes.

He still hadn't touched anything more than her hands, and she already felt like melting into the floor. Tilting her head forward, she felt a sharp jerk.

"St-stop," she managed to gasp out. "Wait, stop."

Body tensing, a shutter fell over Kenshin's eyes. Closed, enigmatic, and mysterious, she could no longer read them. Looking up at her through his long eyelashes, he pressed a searing kiss into the center of her palm. Then he released both of her hands and took a step back.

Kaoru closed the hand he had kissed and pressed it to her rioting heart. At her movement he swayed forward as if to grab her again. "Wait," Kaoru repeated, holding her other hand palm out. "Just- I need- don't-" she was having trouble composing her thoughts into a coherent sentence. She didn't know why Kenshin had never shown her this side of himself before beyond stolen glances, but she did realize one thing. If she hadn't figured it out from his words and actions, the barely leashed desire in his tense form would have told her the truth. He does find me attractive. It seemed obvious now, but for a year she'd wondered.

Looking away from her face to focus on the jug by her feet, Kenshin clenched his fists until the knuckles shone white. She thought she heard him breathe, "Fine, it's not that hard to take off again," but that didn't make any sense. Running tense fingers through his hair he told her crisply, "You have one minute to get dressed. Then we are going to talk." Turning around, he presented her with his bare back. As much as she'd like to stare at the way his shoulders tapered down to his waist, she had more important things to do.

Exasperated, Kaoru used her now free hands to extricate the painful lock of hair that had gotten lodged on a splinter in the wall.

Stepping forward, she grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. As soon as his surprised face appeared, she placed her other hand on his bicep and brought their bodies into searing contact, melding the bare skin along their stomachs, chests, and arms. The hand on his shoulder came up to burrow into the hair at the nape of his neck and tugged his face determinedly towards hers.

"Our lesson isn't over yet." she demanded against his mouth as she bridged that final gap, fitting her lips firmly against his own.

Hakama Dake

A Rurouni Kenshin Story
by Indygodusk

Part 7 of 16

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