|Babies and Bullets
Author: nooziewoozie PM
"They're already Kenshin-and-Kaoru in Misao's social vocabulary, and usually so pink with satisfaction it would be embarrassing if everyone didn't already know they were going to end up married someday." -In which Kaoru is pregnant, Aoshi is confused, and Kanryuu is very, very foolish. A Christmas fic two months too late. Kenshin/Kaoru, Aoshi/Misao. Rated for sex.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance - Kaoru & Kenshin - Words: 10,465 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 58 - Follows: 9 - Published: 02-26-13 - Status: Complete - id: 9050967
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Babies and Bullets
Pairings/Characters: Kenshin/Kaoru, nascent Misao/Aoshi; peripheral Sano/Megumi. Hiko shows up.
Rating: M. Just to be safe.
Notes: I...don't even know. Here, have a Christmas fic nearly three months too late. Set in the "Besides the Point" universe. This was written for two reasons: 1. an experiment in a short story with Actual Honest-to-Goodness Plot Structure (...which, to be fair, fell kind of flat, but this is self-indulgence anyway, so what the hell); and 2. to set up Aoshi and Misao for later. (And yes: I gave Kenshin part of Jason Todd's origin story.)
11:37 AM, December 23rd, Himura Residence: In Which Kaoru Discovers Some Things Are Not Quite as Expected
"Are you all right?" Kenshin sounds concerned through the door. "Do you need me to come in?"
"No," Kaoru says. She stares dumbfounded at the little plastic stick in her hand. A plus sign. She gropes for the information leaflet—maybe she read it wrong, maybe a plus means that she's not pregnant—oh. Nope. There goes that hope down the toilet.
"Are you sure?" Kenshin touches the doorknob tentatively. From him, it's the equivalent of a lesser soul rattling the doorknob, and then backing up in preparation of kicking the door open.
"Yes," she says as robustly as she can manage. "I'm fine, Kenshin. Why don't you go check on the fish?"
"If you're sure…"
"I'm sure," she croaks, and manages to keep from diving for the toilet until his soft footfalls fade away. Damn it all, she thinks, heaving. "It's not your fault, kid," she mutters, jamming a toothbrush in her mouth a few horrible minutes later. "I'll freely admit that. It takes two to tango, etcetera, but you are really messing my morning up."
She climbs into the bed, and then pulls the blanket over her head.
2:46 PM, Sept 13th, Shirobecko Coffee and Antiquities: Kaoru, Misao, and Megumi Discuss Sex, Power Differentials, and Kenshin's Skinny Ass
Kaoru is blindsided by a vision of Megumi wearing fishnets, a corset, and, oddly, a fedora while wielding a whip and a rather menacing expression that's fixed on Sano, who in turn is trussed like a Thanksgiving turkey at her feet and looking only too pleased to be there. "Ack. Megumi, ever heard of TMI Tuesdays? Today isn't Tuesday."
"Stop being a child." Megumi rolls her eyes. "It's only sex."
"I'm not grossed out by sex. Or even the fact that it's you having sex. I'm grossed out by picturing you and Sano having it. Especially Sano."
"And you're getting it on with Kenshin's skinny ass, so you don't get to judge." Misao takes a great gulp of her pumpkin-flavored drink, which is more cinnamon and caramel than coffee, but Kaoru has just been told not to judge so she keeps her mouth shut, even though she has some choice words on the tip of her tongue about Kenshin's ass and how one could, if one wanted, bounce a quarter off of it. "Anyway, back to your problem. What are you going to do?"
"If I knew, I wouldn't be putting it to the peanut gallery here." Kaoru sighs. "I mean, he's not doing anything wrong."
"By the sound of it, he's doing everything right," Megumi says.
"Exactly," Misao nods. "He could, I don't know, have a penchant for sucking elbows, like an ex-boyfriend I could but won't name. And not that I would ever go for a guy like Kenshin, but, according to you, he makes you come three times per sexual encounter on average—and I still can't believe you charted this out, by the way—so isn't that evidence of there, you know, being nothing wrong?"
Kaoru winces. "It's not that I'm complaining about that. It's just, whenever we're going at it, he's always three steps ahead of me. He's always on, you know? Thinking and planning and freaking diagraming my body into quadrants so he doesn't neglect anything, and when he's basically turned me into a puddle of endorphinated goo, he lets go. And then, like, literally a second later, he's back again, offering me tea or a sponge bath or something equally lovely but that's not what I want, okay?"
"What do you want?" Megumi asks.
"I want him to stop making love like a gentleman! It's just—I feel like I'm the only one swept away at sea, you know? While he's still in a calm estuary, sipping a damn piña colada." She shakes her head. "Kenshin is really sweet and probably the kindest man I know, but he's also the only man who feels honest-to-God guilt from being on the receiving end of a blowjob."
"Ah," Misao says.
"Well, then." Megumi leans over and begins pawing through the various bags strewn at her feet. "What we have here," she says, emerging with something in hand, "is a classic power differential. You're worried that you desire him more than he desires you, meaning that he's got the upper hand in the relationship." She places a small package of rope in precisely the center of the table.
"I don't think that's it, exactly," Kaoru says, ignoring how thrilling a picture Kenshin would make, tied to the headboard and golden eyes smoldering. She'd only seen flashes of those eyes in moments of insanity, of passion. She wants to hold him still and take a long look at them. "Not—not a power differential. I'm frustrated that he doesn't see that he's worthy of mind-blowing orgasms, too. Besides, aren't there rules for this kind of thing?"
"Sure there are," Megumi says, "but you two are about as vanilla as vanilla gets." She taps the package of ties. "I'm not giving you these, but think about it, okay? Tie him up with that nice pink scarf he got you and then blow his mind." She smiles. "You could blow him, too, but that's passé."
"I don't know," Misao says. "Never underestimate the power of a blow-job."
"Thanks," Kaoru says, "and I'll…think about it."
10:19 PM, Sept 25th, Himura Residence: In Which Kaoru ties Kenshin to the Bed and Has Her Wicked Way with Him
"Not fair? I'm tied to the bed!"(1)
Kaoru bends to lick his neck but bites it instead. "I know. It's one of the things I like best about this situation."
He growls low in his throat. "Kaoru, I swear to God…"
"What, Kenshin?" she asks, smiling as she seats herself against him so his erection runs against her ass. Oh, yes. She undulates slowly. The friction is delicious, and the heat glowing in his eyes more so. "What are you gonna do?"
He tugs at his bonds, the tendons standing out in his neck. "Untie me."
"No." She wonders briefly if she ought to have blindfolded him as well, but—no, most of his pleasure comes from looking. Let him look. She touches her breasts, and feels his eyes on them heavily as she would his touch. Her nipples tighten almost painfully as she runs her nails over them. She watches the muscles in his neck work as he swallows, watches the interplay of lust and fury and yearning on his face, how he flexes against the bonds, how he vibrates with frustrated lust, ropy muscles quaking, his chest rising and falling, how eyes burn a fierce, tawny gold. The power thrumming through her is heady: she has seen what Kenshin can do with cold, hard steel in his hands, and here he is, spread out before her like a feast.
She smiles like a cat bathing in cream, and slides her fingers between her legs.
Kenshin can't tear his eyes away. She is too much, all at once: miles and miles of smooth skin, undulating arches and bows, a voluptuous goddess, pagan. She straddles his hips, leans forward to kiss him. But for who's pleasure? Kaoru would have kissed him for him; this terrible, thunderous goddess takes only what she wants. No matter. He kisses back hungrily, head and shoulders coming off the bed as far as the ties would let him.
Damn it. How did she talk me into this? It had all seemed perfectly innocuous only half an hour ago.
It doesn't matter. Nothing matters but this. He watches, entranced, as she arches above him, lean thighs gripping his sides, and her fingers slide, slow and languorous, among the folds between her legs. He watches her touch and stroke, each moan and gasp charring him to cinders. There will be nothing left of him after this—just ashes rattling around where his brain ought to be. He watches her play and caress and the slippery evidence of her arousal run past her knuckles and down her thighs. He growls and strains, and she only smiles down at him, deliciously secretive, selfish and terrible and so fucking beautiful—
Orgasm takes her, and not delicately. Her hips buck, once, twice, three times. She throws her head back, her neck arching, and she keens, low and long. He fingers still move, around and around her clit, gliding, back-and-forth, back-and forth.
That's it. He's had enough of this game.
The aftershocks of her orgasm are pinging through her. She leans forward and indulges herself, sipping at the wet heat of his mouth, reveling in the hard planes of his body, at the voluptuous sensations—
Her world spins: Kenshin flips her over and enters her in one fluid, impossibly smooth motion.
Stars streak across her vision. Yes. Yes. This hot flood, this swell of savage pleasure—yes, this is it, this is it, exactly.
He pumps into her, fast, hard motions, no room for tenderness in his eyes or the set of his mouth. He bites her shoulder, her neck, her jaw, her mouth—raining kisses and words of love and blasphemy. Yes: he ought to always presage her name with an oath; he ought to always paint the air with profanity when he makes love to her—
Her orgasm comes again, blistering and greedy, spreading through her as though she is dry tinder and his touch fire racing through her branches.
Their breathing is loud in the silence. Kenshin doesn't know what to say; a thousand apologies do not strike him as enough.
She rolls half on top of him, resting her chin on his chest. "Go ahead and apologize," she says, smiling indulgently. "I know you want to."
"I'm sorry," he croaks. "I am so sorry."
"Would it make a difference if I told you that you did exactly as I've wanted you to do for ages?"
The words stick in his mouth. "Surely you couldn't have wanted…that." Cavemen who dragged women off to their caves behaved better than that.
She kisses his jaw. Surely, she isn't going to leave him if she's kissing him. Surely. "That was exactly what I wanted. All of the passion, none of the bullshit."
"I'd like to think I'm passionate in the—normal course of things."
"Of course you are," she says, still smiling that fond, whimsical smile, "so long as you're not cycling through forty different ways to make me come my eyeballs out before you even think about yourself."
Never would he understand this woman. "But…but I thought you liked the foreplay…"
"I do. Words cannot express how thankful I am that you're a man who appreciates how important it is. But, you know, you can take a little, too. I'm not made of glass."
"I'll keep that in mind." How could he tell her otherwise? This love—this passion—that drove him to her over and over again, to break like the sea on jagged rocks, had very little to do with his pleasure, except that her pleasure was his. He kisses her then, long and sweet.
"You better." She smiles wickedly, her eyes twinkling. "You're pretty screwed up, you know, with your saving-and-pleasing-people thing. Maybe I'll just tie you up every time you get too far up your own butt."
He buries his face in the crook of her neck and laughs his amazement, his wonder, his awe of her, into her skin. "I'm counting on it."
10:05 AM, December 24th, Himura Residence: Kenshin in the Kitchen with Fish Entrails
"Well, I had counted on you coming," Kenshin says into his small earpiece. Such things are important, especially when he is fileting salmon just so. "I want you to meet Kaoru."
Aoshi's voice is even flatter across the phone. "I have work."
"Put one of your underlings on it."
"It is imperative that I monitor the situation."
Kenshin puts down his knife. "Are you coming here after?"
"We talked about this. Full sentences, please." Kenshin almost rubs the bridge of his nose before remembering that his fingers are sticky with fish entrails. "Put in an appearance. Half-an-hour." For me.
A pause, and then Aoshi says, "Kanryuu has missed meetings with his parole officer. I am afraid that he is going to put in effect his plans to target you and Dr. Takani as he vowed to do during his trial and during his tenure as a guest of the state."
"Target?" Kenshin gives up and rubs his forehead anyway. "As in, he's going to make me swim with the fishes? Jesus."
"You are partly responsible for his sentence."
"What kind of crackpot—he was muscling in on distribution of dangerous narcotics in the city and blackmailing several health-care professionals, one of whom happens to be my friend. Of course I prosecuted him to the greatest extent possible. Of course I wanted him in jail." Kenshin closes his eyes in annoyance. "What can you give me?"
This time, the pause has a distinctly irritated cast. "Not very much. Hannya only just heard from a contact but that was the extent of the information."
"Hannya is reliable?"
"Should I start making calls? Call off the party?" Kenshin grits his teeth. This party is more than just a party. He is putting down roots. He bought a house in the suburbs near Kaoru's school. He has made friends with his neighbors. He is in a steady and promising relationship with a woman he loves. He's considering running for district attorney in the next election cycle, for God's sake.
A longer pause this time. "No. You are right. There is little Kanryuu can do with what you left him." He pauses. "I will be there."
You and your twin .45 semi-automatics, Kenshin thinks with a grimace, but keeps his mouth shut. "Then we'll expect you at six."
"Of course," Aoshi says, and hangs up without preamble.
Kenshin sighs, and gets back to his fish.
4:25 PM, December 23rd: In Which Misao arrives, Bearing Goodies and Alcohol
"Hello!" Misao calls, stepping through over the threshold without knocking and into a cloud of good food smells. She is not the sort of woman who would poach on a friend's private territory (besides, Kenshin might be gorgeous but she wants some size in a man), so to speak, but damn, Kenshin could cook. It helps, of course, that she is over for dinner about four times a week.
"Come on in!" Kenshin's voice floats from the kitchen, so Misao toes off her shoes—Kenshin had some funny ideas about shoes being worn in the house—and pads past a twinkling Christmas tree, a roaring fire, and a stereo system that cheerfully informs her that Santa is creeping on her.
"Kenshin!" She spots him as soon as she enters the kitchen. His hair is swept up into a neat tail, his cheeks flushed, and he's whisking a bowl of something that smells so heavenly she can almost forgive him for being prettier than her. "Dinner smells divine."
"Thank you! I hope the taste lives up to the smell." He relieves her of her armful of haphazardly packed goodies. "Rum? It's December. No one's making mojitos."
"Live a little," she says brightly. "It's for your cake. Anyway, could you be any more stereotypical? This place looks like a spread from Vanity Fair." She holds out her centerpiece—a wreath made with pages of old books, all cut in the shape of leaves. "This'll lives things up."
"I take it you approve?" He deposits the wreath on the dining table, already set beautifully.
"My inner twelve-year-old is expiring from glee," she says, hopping up to seat herself on an unused counter.
"Not that inner," he says, rolling his eyes and getting back to beating batter into submission. "Off the counter. I have cake to bake and not enough time in which to do it."
"Hut, hut," she says but makes no move to get off. "Where's Kaoru at?"
There's the slightest hitch in his movements, but he says smoothly, "She's feeling a little under the weather today. Would you mind going upstairs and checking on her? She threatened me with exsanguination if I ran up one more time."
"You offered to cancel on all of us?"
He sighs. "Multiple times."
There's something forlorn about this scene: a beautiful man putting out a beautiful dinner in a beautiful house and none of it is all right because the woman he loves is not beside him laying cheerful, completely unintentional siege to his masterpieces. "Be right back," Misao says, and runs upstairs to shake some sense into her friend.
She finds Kaoru face-down on her bed, eyes red from crying and nose running and hair that looks like a bird's nest.
"Oh, honey," Misao says, sitting down next to Kaoru. She tentatively rubs her friend's back. "Tell me who did it and we'll whack his ass."
Kaoru rolls over. "No one did anything," she says, looking tragic. "Except me, I suppose."
"I—" Kaoru sits up and rubs at her eyes.
"Wait." Misao pulls out her phone and FaceTimes Megumi. "Whatever this is, Megumi needs to be in on it."
Megumi's face pops into view, annoyed and resplendent as ever, though Kaoru doesn't look as haggard in miniature. That's something. "Hello? Kaoru? What happened to you?"
"Your bedside manner brings tears to my eyes, as usual," Kaoru mutters.
"You aren't paying me," Megumi snaps back, but there's no heat behind her words. "Who do I have to poison?"
Kaoru laughs through her tears. "I'm telling you, someone needs to go Malleus Maleficarum on you guys."
"Kaoru," Megumi says while Misao nudges her shoulder, saying, "Spill. It can't be that bad. And if it is, I have alcohol."
"I can't have any alcohol." Kaoru takes a sharp breath. "I'm pregnant."
Misao drops the phone. "What?"
Kaoru bursts into fresh tears. "What do I do?"
"Pick up your phone," says Megumi's disembodied voice.
"Right," Misao says, snapping to it. She scoops up her phone, presses a tissue into Kaoru's hands, and puts an arm around her. "Right. Have you told Kenshin?"
"No," Kaoru sobs.
"Have you seen your OB/GYN?" Megumi asks.
"I only found out this morning!"
"Okay." Megumi takes a deep breath. "Okay. First things first. I'm calling a friend of mine and making her squeeze you in—she's excellent." She turns away to press another phone to her ear. "When are you free?"
"Whenever," Kaoru says despondently.
Megumi rolls her eyes. "Slap her for me, will you?" and begins speaking into her other phone.
Misao winces. "No one's slapping any pregnant ladies around here," she says, pulling Kaoru closer.
"Thanks," Kaoru sniffs, "even though I probably deserve it."
"What happened? I thought you were on BC."
"I was. I don't know how—how this happened. The pills must have failed—I had the flu a little while ago, I couldn't keep anything down—oh God, I'm pregnant." Kaoru buries her face in her hands. "What do I do?"
"Get your ass downtown at three o'clock Sunday," Megumi says. "I'll pick you up."
"Thanks, Megumi," Kaoru says. "I know we're terrible to each other sometimes, but you're a brick."
Alarm flickers across Megumi's face. "My 4:30 is here," she says, glancing off screen. "I'm stuck for another hour. I'll be over as soon as I can clear the waiting room." She glances a message at Misao: Take care of her.
"I'll be here," Misao says, and terminates the call. "So, aside from how this is unplanned and all, what's the matter?"
"The matter?" An edge of hysteria creeps into Kaoru's voice. "The matter is that I'm only twenty-five and I have no idea what I'm going to do with a kid, how am I even going to feed it, I can't cook, Kenshin cooks, and he's only twenty-eight, and what if…" He voice goes very soft. "What if he doesn't want it?"
"What, Kenshin? Not want a kid? Come on, the man's been nesting since he laid eyes on you."
"You don't—it's not—nothing's ever simple when it comes to him," Kaoru says, calming down a little. "He was really careful about it, too. He insisted on condoms until I got on birth control, and even then for the first month he used them just to be sure, and then there's the fact that if I spill this now, he's never going to leave me."
"What the hell? Do you want him to leave you?" The notion is nearly unthinkable. They're already Kenshin-and-Kaoru in Misao's social vocabulary, and usually so pink with satisfaction it would be embarrassing if everyone didn't already know they were going to end up married someday.
"Of course not!"
"Then what the hell are you talking about?"
"He wouldn't leave me even if he wanted to!" Kaoru angrily wipes away fresh tears. "I don't want to tie him down. He's the guy who spent upwards of half a decade bouncing around the planet. What if he wants to go again?" She twists and tears at the wad of tissues in her hands. "What if he gets to be absolutely miserable because I was careless with my pills and sprung a kid on him? We've never even talked about kids. What if he doesn't want them? I can't stand it, Misao, I just can't, and I can't take this choice away from him."
"Oh, Kaoru," Misao says, kissing her friend on the cheek. "Oh, honey."
"You don't understand," Kaoru says, "it's like a—a thing with him."
Kaoru laughs humorlessly. "Like, he'll go down on me for hours if I so much as look at him funny, but he's really, really hesitant about taking pleasure for himself. You remember how I told you he makes love like a gentleman? That wasn't really true. He makes love like a penitent."
"So that's why you insisted on therapy?"
"Right. He's getting better, but what do you think will happen if I spring a baby on him? He'll tie himself into a million different knots to make me happy and he'll make himself miserable by staying with me even if he wants desperately to leave because Kenshin doesn't believe that he deserves to be happy." She buries her face in her hands again. "Oh, God. Oh, God. What do I do?"
"Here's an idea," Misao says. "You could talk to him."
"I will. I mean, I'll try. But he's a very private person. That we've gotten so far is kind of…" Kaoru shrugs, "Kind of a miracle. Like, he was all ready to cancel today because I've been in a funk. Do you know how long he's been planning this dinner? Three freaking months. He's been experimenting with recipes for at least twice that. And I sniffle a little—and I swear, that's all I did, he was all, 'I'm going to start calling and telling people to make alternate plans.' He just went through convincing this one recluse of a friend of his to come, too. As though that's fair. As though that's what I want him to do." She pounds the mattress, punctuating each word. "I just want him to be a little selfish."
Misao takes a deep breath. "Okay. Okay. You've got some problems, I can totally see that, and you're going to have to have a serious talk with Kenshin at some point in the immediate future, but right now? You have guests arriving in—" she checks her phone "—half an hour. If you care enough about Kenshin and his party, you will swallow this, save it for later, and put your game face on."
Kaoru looks up at Misao with huge blue eyes.
Misao snorts, yanks Kaoru off the bed and toward the bathroom. "Come on. Shower time."
"No buts. I will hose you down like that scene from First Blood if I have to." She shoves Kaoru into the bathroom. "I'm giving you fifteen minutes. What are you wearing?"
"Never mind. I'll find something. Fifteen minutes!"
She shuts the door in Kaoru's face and begins rummaging in her closet. "Ugh," she mutters, "beige, beige, taupe, salmon, beige…God damn, Kaoru, I know you're a teacher and all but a little color wouldn't kill you…"
7:17 PM, December 23rd: Hiko and Kaoru Have a Conversation
Hiko seats himself in the center of his idiot student's home, slings and arm across the back of the couch, inhales the scent of the very excellent Scotch he'd had to provide because Kenshin wouldn't know quality whiskey if he'd drowned in the stuff, and makes sure he's oozing disdain and culture. He savors the slow slide of Scotch over his tongue as he surveys the crowd; it's an eclectic one, composed of neighbors (one veritable giant of a man, taller than even Hiko, and a family of three, including a small child who wouldn't climb off of Kenshin's shoulders); colleagues (the policeman and his sturdy, sensible wife and their rather highly strung boy); and assorted friends, one of whom distinctly resembles a rooster in both hairstyle and mannerisms.
None of these people are why Hiko had accepted the invitation, however.
He had been surprised to receive one, as he and Kenshin had made it a matter of absolute importance to avoid one another if they could help it. This new girlfriend of Kenshin's, however, seemed determined to end all that. ("It's from both of us," Kenshin had said over the phone, "but mostly from her." Then he'd muttered something about promises and cats and hung up.)
So Hiko had accepted, if only to see with his own eyes who this girl is.
So far, she hasn't passed muster. She's seems to be a pale, red-eyed little thing, trying hard to smile and failing most of the time. A muscle ticks in Hiko's jaw despite the excellent Scotch. The very last thing Kenshin needs in his life is another charity case, yet another woman who would look to him as a savior-cum-caretaker and draw him into her troubles and leave him blasted to smithereens.
Sometime later, he catches her eye. She smiles that hollow, preoccupied smile at him, but sits next to him anyway.
He nods at the drink in her hands. "You're not drinking?"
"I am. Sprite."
He slants her a narrow look. "Does Kenshin know you're pregnant?" She chokes on her drink, coughing and hacking and making a general nuisance of herself. He pats her on the back, chortling. "It's not news, I hope."
"No," she says when she finishes coughing. "How did you know? I've only known for about six hours now."
"Why haven't you told him?"
She fiddles with her glass. "I will."
"It is his?"
"Of course!" She glares her outrage up at him.
He smiles. That's more like it. "Then tell him."
She is silent for a few moments, gazing at him, worrying her lower lip, and considering. She leans forward and puts her glass down on the table, and when she looks at back at him, she seems to have come to a conclusion. "I want to ask you something."
He inclines his glass at her.
"How do you think he'll react?"
Hiko snorts. I've raised that boy to handle bigger storms than this. Then again, fewer things could change a person's life more than a child. Hiko himself could attest to this fact, much to his annoyance. "Well."
"Well. He'll take it well."
Her lips narrow at him. "I could have told you that. Kenshin is steadiest man I know."
Hiko sips his drink, hiding his smile behind the rim, and thinks back to the grubby boy he'd found in that alley, eyes bright with fever and worn thin with the kind of hunger than comes from long, slow starvation. Kenshin hadn't let all that stop him from lifting those tires, though. "As you say. He wet the bed for years, you know."
"Of course he did," she snaps. "After the sort of trauma he went through at such a young age, it's practically expected."
So you've told her everything, eh, Kenshin? "Is that all you had to ask?"
She blows out a puff of air, and then settles against the couch, crossing her arms. "Yes and no. You didn't really answer the way I wanted."
"I rarely do."
"So I've been told," she mutters. "The thing is, I don't want to make his martyr complex even bigger than it is." She turns imploring eyes on Hiko. "You know how he is. I don't…I don't want to force him into anything he doesn't want, and he won't tell me what he wants because he's so accommodating. I want this baby." She curls her arms protectively around her abdomen. "I want this kid like burning, and I really want him to want it, but I don't want him chaining himself to the idea because he's so afraid of causing me pain. It's like he holds a huge part of himself back, you know?"
Because I didn't get to him in time. Hiko brushes the thought away. He has neither the time nor the inclination for old regrets. "Let me tell you something. There is only one person in the world to whom Kenshin will mouth off." He takes a long pull of whiskey. "And that person is me."
She blinks at him.
"The boy is a born people-pleaser. Don't look at me. I tried to beat it out of him. And if you want my personal opinion—and of course you do—I would say that Kenshin is still looking for signs of rejection from you. Don't give them to him. The reason he tries so hard to please you is that he doesn't want you to reject him. Talk to him. Tell him your fears. Nothing is ever solved by stewing in silence. One must transform intention into action."
She stares at him, a strange smile blooming on her face. "You know, Kenshin says things like that all the time. 'Transform intent to action.' 'Know the dimensions of your own weakness.' 'Face the truth, and turn it to your own use.'"(2)
Those very words, in that very order—he remembers telling Kenshin: one, when wrapping the boy's fingers around a hilt for the first time, another when he'd fallen off a bicycle, and yet another when he'd woken, sobbing, from another nightmare. He clears his throat. "The effects of having a phenomenal teacher."
"Uh-huh." Her voice firms. "Well, he's not going to get rejection from me. I'm in this for the long haul."
He smiles. "So you're going to tell him?"
"As soon as you all clear out." She takes a deep breath. "We'll figure it out. And thanks. I think. This talk has been, ah, illuminating."
"Of course it has. You are talking to me, after all."
She shakes her head. "Just out of curiosity, what would you have done if I told you the baby wasn't his?"
"I would have destroyed you, privately and discretely, and made it so you'd never set eyes on Kenshin again." He makes his tone appropriately grave. "Not that he'd appreciate it, the brat."
She stares at him for a moment. "You're not kidding."
"No." He raises an eyebrow at her. "Do I have cause to doubt you?"
She snorts. "How did you know, by the way? I didn't even figure it out until today."
"You're not drinking," he says, "and you've been getting teary-eyed every time you look at Kenshin carry around that baby."
Her mouth twists. "Don't tell me you haven't been getting weepy about it, too."
Some things, Hiko thinks, are best carried to the grave. "Of course not."
"Liar." Her smile widens. Hiko thinks he understands why Kenshin has latched on to this girl so quickly—Kaoru Kamiya is not particularly beautiful, but her smile performs a strange sort of alchemy in her face, and elevates it to something more meaningful and searing than simple beauty. "I see you looking at him. You're so proud, your heart is about to burst, isn't it?"
"Perhaps you ought to learn a thing or two about discretion."
She leans forward and kisses him on the cheek, surprising him. "Don't worry," she whispers. "I won't tell." Then she grins. "You're not such an asshat, after all."
But she is already gone.
They would have a sweet baby, Hiko muses, finally allowing himself to savor the thought. Sweet and mischievous and with a father who would have no desire to check its whimsy because Kenshin had a heart made out of Jell-O. Hiko settles back with his drink, plotting already how to kidnap the baby for summers they would spend travelling the world and learning to swing swords.
8:33 PM, December 23rd: In Which Misao Decides That She Is Going to Climb Aoshi Like a Tree
The man has a jaw like a superhero. A man who could leap buildings in a single bound, rescue a damsel in distress from the dastardly villain and respect her boundaries afterwards. Cheekbones like sheer cliffs, eyes like wintry skies, and a mouth that was right out Michelangelo's repertoire of comely, muscled youth. Misao licks her lips.
Megumi's fingernails dig into Misao's arm. "Pay attention."
"Ow. Stop that." Misao shakes her arm away. "What was that for?"
Megumi rolls her eyes. "I get it. He's gorgeous. Pay attention to the problem at hand, please."
"Right." Misao steals one more look at the man. He's dressed in a nondescript suit, but no government employee, which was what Kenshin had introduced him as (the head of a department whose initialism sported too many letters), packed such an air of icy menace. What did it say about her, that her hormones were tripping over themselves to get at him? Nothing good and, alas, nothing new. "Okay. Focused now."
"Good. What did Kaoru say after I hung up?"
Misao shrugs. "She's mostly worried that she's inexorably tying Kenshin to her with the bonds of fatherhood and family."
"I don't think Kenshin is the sort to object." Megumi glances across the room, where Sano stands in animated conversation with Cho (a man whose hairstyle choices rival Sano's when it comes to ridiculousness) with an arm slung around a small apple-cheeked boy. She shakes her head, frowning. "Is she right to be worried?"
"Personally?" The tall government agent crosses his arms while leaning against a wall. Perhaps that is his idea of being inconspicuous. Silly man. He couldn't be inconspicuous if he tried. She imagines his office, a spare, ruthlessly curated room. The walls would be blindingly white with a lone print framed—a blocky monochrome minimalist piece, something with straight edges and sharp corners. A sleek Apple laptop and a glass-topped desk. He'd sign his name with a glistening Montblanc pen. Sometimes, when underlings wore his patience thin, he would think about rapping it against his desk. "I don't think so. I get that she doesn't want to pressure him into anything he doesn't want to do, but Kenshin doesn't strike me as an easily bullied man."
Neither does the tall man. His eyes, for the third time this evening, flicker over to her. Shivers skitter up her spine.
"Oh, for God's sake," Megumi mutters. "Go talk to him."
Something in Megumi's tone sets alarms off in Misao's head. "Everything okay? Besides the obvious, I mean."
"You're obviously attracted. Go make conversation."
"You're obviously snarling. More than usual, I mean. I get it, you think I'm not being properly supportive—"
"That's not it. It's just—I don't—I don't like him."
"What, Kenshin? No." Megumi jerks her head toward the government agent. "Him."
"You don't like him?" Misao eyes her friend dubiously. "Why? Do you know him?" Megumi, Queen of Rationality and acolyte of the Church of Eschewing Mushy Feelings, does not make such pronouncements lightly.
Megumi looks slightly disgusted with herself. "Not personally."
"Do you remember, a couple years ago, that Kanryuu thing?"
How could she forget? The trial had dragged on for the better part of two years. "Of course."
"And, well, how I told you he'd had an enforcer?" Megumi jerks her chin towards the tall man again. "That was he."
"It's not all bad," Megumi continues. "He was undercover, and it was his work that got Kanryuu behind bars in the end."
Breath whooshes back into Misao's lungs. "I…I don't know what to say." Except that perhaps this sharpened the edge she'd already perceived on him and that made him even more attractive. But could she pursue him, knowing that he made Megumi uncomfortable?
Megumi rolls her eyes again, and her voice retakes it characteristic steely quality. "Nothing to me. Go strike up a conversation with him, though. Charm him out of his pants."
"No. Go. His name is Aoshi Shinomori, his taste in minions is eclectic, his work is meticulous, and he's bizarrely friendly with Kenshin. That vouches for him. Go. Kaoru will keep. For thirty-six weeks at least."
Misao does not need to be told twice.
She reminds him of a bird.
Flashy feathers. Iridescent. She is the sort to completely disdain the rules of the animal kingdom: any male who flitted around her would be hopelessly outshone.
He could break her neck with a flick of his wrist.
His potential for violence should have stopped shocking him years ago. Kenshin had once said to him that it was worrying how he managed to inhabit completely the villains he played, or how dispassionately he calculated the merits of firing a bullet into another's forehead or sparing him to die in more useful ways. (Not in so many words, of course: Kenshin had only asked in a voice that ached with compassion, "Are you all right?" after a job gone sour. Perhaps he had not been all right. It had not mattered because his aim had been true when it counted—a neat double tap between the eyes, less than a few millimeters apart, and Gein lived to abduct children no more.) Violence is no stranger to Kenshin—it is something he and Kenshin share but something Kenshin refuses to commodify.
Which is yet another reason Kenshin is a much better man than Aoshi will ever be.
Aoshi does genuinely surprise himself, however, by glancing over at the woman for the third time this evening. This interminable, excruciating evening, which he would not enjoy even if every fiber of his being was not on high alert for anything out the ordinary. Aoshi did not relish the company of strangers, but somewhere, in the dark depths of what passed for his heart, he had developed an—an attachment to Kenshin. Aoshi had not had the heart to tell him to call off his party, and instead brought his guns.
Even more foolish to skim his gaze over the back of the woman's neck, to admire the play of firelight on her purple-black hair, especially when his tastes had lately run to the blackness of exhausted sleep and occasionally his right hand. He knew Hannya had nursed hopes that he would develop a tendresse for Dr. Takani, but he had not surprised himself when he felt not one flicker of desire for her: she was too much like him, and he had enough distaste for himself already.
This woman is different, lit from within with a vigorous sort of light, her long braid lending her movements energy and vitality. Thin, too—thin shoulders, thin wrists, a chin sharp enough to cut diamond, and eyes whose color he could not decide. Turquoise? Aquamarine? Plain blue?
She glances at him again from under her lashes.
No, not plain blue. Something infinitely more complex.
It does not matter. She wears too much make-up—eggplant eye shadow intensifying to black, sweeping like ridiculous wings toward her temples, lips an improbable shade of red. Besides, he is not here to enjoy himself—he is here, he sternly reminds himself, to protect the precious happiness of an unexpected friend. If there is some part of him that sways towards her, that part must learn forbearance.
Still, he avidly watches, much to his disgust, the clean lines of her neck as she turns to Dr. Takani; he studies the way her dress cinches around the waist and outlines the sleek curve of her ass. Her shoulders tighten for a moment, and then relax.
She turns to him, a resplendent smile on her face. Something in his chest catches.
"So," she says, coming to lean on the wall next to him. "What's your name, stranger?"
His answer is excruciatingly automatic. Understandable in light of the fact that he had not even the superficial charm that would get him through hard-to-open doors (he had, after all, a badge) but that was undoubtedly on the running list his subordinates had tallying the reasons he was still single. "I highly doubt Kenshin neglected to inform you of my name. And if he was so remiss, I'm sure Dr. Takani did so."
She blinks her large eyes at him and purses her lips. Perhaps it is his imagination—or some such faculty—that points out to him how her eyes shutter. He is filled with the sudden urge to kick himself in the face. Absurd. If she cannot deal with him as he is, he should shortly have no use for her.
Of course, he should have no use for her in any event.
Her lips quirk up in a small conspiratorial smile. "You got me." She jabs a thumb over her shoulder. "Megumi over there filled me in."
"Dr. Takani would have very little reason to speak well of me," he says.
"That's true," she says brightly. "You know, Megumi, right? She doesn't believe in things so pedestrian as hunches and intuition. So when she said she didn't like you, I knew you were either a complete monster or completely interesting."
"Have you decided which?"
"One doesn't necessarily preclude the other." The light shining in her eyes is unholy and sparks something inside him as well. How utterly mortifying that it should make him want to kiss her and watch it intensify. His fingers twitch. "You're not giving me much to work with, buddy."
"I am not in the business of making others' lives easy."
"I imagine not," she says. "So, tell me, O Icy One, what do you do, exactly?"
He pauses for a second, foolishly distracted by the sweep of lashes along her cheeks when she blinks. "I am the head of—"
She waves a hand at him in a cutting motion. "I don't need any descriptions of paper-pushing. I spent too many years doing that, myself. Tell me what you really do."
He catalogues her as she speaks. There is nothing about her that is not limned in good humor. How curious that he should find himself so attracted as he had always imagined himself settled down with a tall, svelte woman who owned a closet full of sleek business-wear and who spoke little and laughed not at all. How strange, then, that he feels like someone is shining a very bright spotlight at his face. He has never wanted so much that his activities did not require so much evasion. "I am not at liberty to say."
"Are you also not at liberty to make conversation?" She rolls her eyes. "Figures."
"You really ready to hear this?" She raises an eyebrow at him, her lips twisting in an impish challenge.
He almost says, Hit me. Swallowing down that bit of inanity and making a mental note not to spend so much time with Shikijou, he nods.
"Okay, so this concerns a very long, very gross string of ex-boyfriends." She rolls her eyes again. He can imagine her as a teenager. She would have been the sort of girl who would wear bright turquoise sneakers and sequins on her shorts, and have an entourage eighty admirers deep. She would have popped gum insolently and listened to rude music and rolled her eyes and completely ignored the sort of boy that he had been. "Like, I don't know why I dated most of those losers—I had a happy childhood, my parents were loving while they were around, my grandpa was pretty good when they weren't, and I had tons of friends. But I had the worst taste in guys."
Does her really want to hear the rest of this? "How bad?"
"Bad." She shudders mockingly. "Like, elbow-sucking bad."
"Elbow-sucking." He dares a glance at her elbow. He supposes if one were of such a mind—no. Thinking in that direction would only lead to distraction.
"Oh, yeah. Anyway, as I was between losers, I came across a list(3) written by Susan Sontag about the characteristics a person would need to have in order for her to love them. Bullshit, right? The heart wants what the heart wants." She shrugs at him, smiling. "Incidentally, she would have disapproved of me for reducing the complexity of love into an aphorism, but anyway, back to the list. So, the list is titled, 'Qualities that turn me on'. You've gotta have three to make her love you."
"Do you have such a list?"
"Ah, but sir, I am a creature of an uncompromisingly avaricious nature. I'm just going to tell you all about hers."
He is not going to ask. He is not going to ask. "What is on it?"
"I never thought you'd ask. Here is it is. One: intelligence. Two: beauty and elegance. Three—"
"You just listed three." Why does he feel lighter? One ought to not feel such things, not with holsters heavy with guns strapped to one's body and one's men stationed outside to ward off miscreants.
"No, that's two. My list, dude. I make up the categories."
"Technically, it is not your list at all." He feels his lips twitch. "If you'd like, I can tell you how to apply to her estate such that you might own the list one day."
"And I would tell you to stuff it." Still smiling, she flicks his tie up into his face with two fingers.
"Physical responses to verbal volleys betray a lack of wit." He had not flinched—though his abdomen tightened abruptly at the mere suggestion of her touch—but perhaps he ought to plant a foot in his mouth anyway.
"Oh, God, if this is how you flirt, I'd hate to see how you handle elbows."
"I do not flirt." He does wince this time—he had sounded like something straight out of an eighteenth century morality play—but she laughs at him.
"Anyway," she continues, "also on that list: douceur, defined as gentleness or sweetness; glamour and celebrity; strength; vitality, sexual enthusiasm, gaiety and charm; emotional expressiveness, tenderness—verbal and physical—and affectionateness."
What a peculiar beast attraction is: when he had felt light before, now he feels heavier than granite. He has always been of a sour disposition, and had always valued honestly and competence in his hierarchy of personal virtues—charm and affection, he had always thought, were unnecessary in his line of work and landed somewhere between having competent personal hygiene and knowing which fork to use for which bit of a meal. Liabilities. How irrational. He had never apologized for himself. He would not start now. "I don't know why you're speaking to me. I haven't got any of those qualities in abundance."
But still she considers him, smiling slightly. ""No, you don't. You're not very charming, because over the course of this conversation, you've accused me of having no wit, of being a thief, and then admitted to having no intention of helping this sorry attempt of a conversation along, anyway. Nothing about you speaks to gentleness or sweetness or expressiveness, emotional or otherwise."
"I'm glad you've been listening."
"No need to be so waspish," she says. "How about this? Take me out to dinner sometime and I'll explain again how I think having a list is bullshit." She bends down over a nearby side-table, and does something that should probably have had him shaking his head in scorn but instead twists something painfully tight inside him: she scribbles her number on a napkin in bright red lipstick, folds it, and tucks it inside his suit. Her fingers are cold as they brush against his chest. Breath stops in his throat.
That's when gunshots rip through the door.
Thank God, he thinks, and darts out to do something blessedly uncomplicated.
8:44 PM, December 23rd: In Which Kanryuu Does Something Exceptionally Foolish
"You're sure you're okay?" Kenshin asks. He leans closer to peer at Kaoru, frowning at the circles under her eyes. "You haven't been eating. You didn't enjoy dinner?"
She gives him the flattest look she can under the circumstances. She's mildly impressed with herself because all she wants to do is cry about how wonderful he is. "Kenshin. Dinner was fantastic. Beyond fantastic. A marvel." It is true, too: the salmon was buttery and resplendent with thyme, the salad a crisp riot of colors, the potatoes fluffy mountains of full-throttled, and the cake a masterpiece of chocolate, studded with nuts and swathed in cream cheese icing. She had glared at that cake all throughout dinner.
"If you say so," Kenshin says dubiously. "You didn't have any cake."
"You put rum in it," she says in a flash of temper, before realization slaps her upside the head. Oh, shit. Damn hormones. Damn baby, eating all the fats in my brain.
His brows knit. "But...you love rum. It's your favorite..." Slowly, he looks down at her glass, Sprite still bubbling. "And you haven't had a drink all night, and you...you've been a bit sick lately." He looks up at her again, mouth hanging open. His eyes, wide with some emotion she can't read, bore into hers. "You're..."
Now that the moment is upon her, she is no longer scared. Why had she been, really? She smiles, setting a finger under his chin and closes his mouth gently. Kenshin loves her and would love this baby. "Yep, I'm pregnant. Surprise?"
He freezes completely. Slowly, the beginnings of joy begin to bloom in his eyes.
An ear-shattering series of bangsrip through the air. The vase behind her shoulder explodes. Kenshin dives on her, shouldering her behind the island. She snaps her head toward the source of the sound—the door slants on its hinges, and framed in it stands Kanryuu Takeda, training a gun on Kenshin.
Who has gone completely still, even more so than before. That was the stillness of shock; this is the stillness before the storm. He touches her cheek with fingers that tremble slightly; they come away bloody.
"He cut you," he breathes.
His eyes narrow, glittering a pale, tawny gold. Her stomach gives a drunken lurch.
From the corner of her eye, she sees Mr. Shinomori draw out a butt of a gun from his jacket, surreptitiously edging Misao out of the way, and Sano push Megumi behind a wall and Lt. Saitou very slowly light a cigarette.
"Thought you could put me in jail, did you?" Kanryuu warbles, the gun shaking. "Me! The great Kanryuu Takeda! I'll show you, I'll show all of you—"
"Kenshin, wait—" She makes to grab at him.
Things happen very fast, but Kaoru sees it all as though in slow motion: Kenshin has morphed into an inferno of rage—his sword, suddenly in his hands, flashes in the light—his hair, a ribbon of fire—he leaps into the air, and his sword crashes into the center of Kanryuu's skull. He isn't finished: he whirls, and the sword flashes again and again.
Suddenly, Hiko is between Kenshin and the squealing man, his own sword out. "Do you mean to kill him?"
Kenshin glares, and for one heart-stopping moment, Kaoru is afraid that he'll say yes. But Kenshin only closes his eyes and withdraws. He slides his sword, blunt edge first, along the sheath before finally slipping it home; the gesture seems to calm him. His words are clipped. "Saitou. Aoshi. Put him away. I never want to see him again. Sano, Megumi, Misao, please see my guests out with my apologies."
"I don't take orders from you," Lt. Saitou says, though he obligingly slaps a pair of handcuffs around Kanryuu's wrists. Mr. Shinomori presses a finger to his ear and darts out the door, a gun in hand. She's somewhat comforted by the fact that he's pointing it at the ground as he runs.
"You got it, bro," Sano says. Megumi nods, her face pale.
Kenshin doesn't stop to watch their progress. He gives Hiko a short, formal bow. "Thank you, Master."
"You would do well to remember lessons in restraint," Hiko says.
"Yes," Kenshin says after a long moment. "But not today."
They stare into each other's eyes, and then Hiko snorts. "Go tend to yourself. I expect breakfast in the morning."
Kenshin bows again. Then, taking Kaoru's hand in the gentlest of grips, he leads her to their room.
9: 15 PM, December 23rd, The Master Bedroom: In Which Kenshin and Kaoru Affirm Some Things
After they've closed the door behind them, Kenshin finds himself at loose ends. It's always been like this after a temper: he feels very much like a deflated balloon, all the hot air of rage gone leaking away, leaving only exhaustion in its place. He runs a hand over his face.
"No," he says, "I'm—I don't—I can't begin—" How stupid he sounds. A terrible weight settles in his stomach. "I'll—I'll go."
"Where are you going?" He hand closes around his wrist. "You're not going anywhere, Kenshin. You will not leave me to deal with this on my own."
Only a scant few minutes ago, he would have thought leaving impossible, but how could she possibly want him now? How could he bring himself to stay and taint all the goodness here? He forces the ugly truth out. "I almost killed him. And if Hiko hadn't stepped in, I would have."
"So you did." She raises her chin, an almost military light in her eyes. "And?"
"And?" he sputters. "'And'? You don't think—you don't think that—disqualifies me?"
"What? Why? Why would you think that this—this disqualifies you?"
"Maybe you haven't heard." His temper flares. "I almost killed a man—"
"Who was firing bullets at me!" she snaps. "Bullets, Kenshin! You told me yourself ages ago about Tomoe, so why wouldn't this provoke a drastic response in you?"
"Because I wasn't thinking of Tomoe!" His throat tightens at this final, most blatant betrayal. "I could only think that hurt you. Our baby—he would hurt it, too."
"Then I've done well, I think, in choosing the father of my child." She glares at him, curling a protective hand around her still flat abdomen.
He aches desperately to be near her, to hold her, to digest the fact that they're going to be family. Oh, God. The thought staggers him, squeezing all of the air out of his lungs. He sits down on the bed heavily.
I'm going to be a father.
The thought sets him ablaze. A little person, entirely dependent on him. Small and gurgling and smelling like milk. His mother's eyes and his mouth. He already loves it, he realizes, this child, this miracle, loves it like he'd never loved before. His chest feels too large for him, somehow, too filled with light and air and the buzzing of a hundred dragonflies.
The mattress next to him dips as Kaoru settles onto if. She holds herself very still. "It's all very different, of course, if you want to leave," she says softly.
"No." The word leaves his mouth without asking him. Their hands find each other. "I don't want that. Never."
She leans against him, warm and alive. A sob catches in his throat. "Then stay. Stay with me. I don't ever, ever want you leave. I love you."
Already his decision is made. Already he can see the ways a child would transform him utterly. For it, he will arm himself with arcane knowledge of diapers and baby formula, will go to the store and buy all manner of complicated accouterments that the baby will outgrow, will learn the names of cartoons and bands and to tolerate—to welcome and to love—a new source of pain and joy and disappointment and pride. A dam breaks somewhere. Kenshin pulls Kaoru into his arms, laughing and crying. She laughs and cries with him.
1:33 AM, December 24th, the Master Bedroom: In Which Kaoru Puts Everything to Rights.
"This might be a bit redundant," Kaoru says, "but you are going to marry me, aren't you?"
"Of course," he says. "I was, ah, actually working up to asking you."
His cheeks redden slightly as he rolls off the bed and pads over to his sock drawer. "Remember last week, when you volunteered to put the laundry away? I couldn't get the basket away from me fast enough. I thought I was done for." He turns, holding a small velvet box. "Just so you know, I bought this more than a month ago."
She sits up, laughing. "You don't have to dig up the receipt for me. I believe you."
He sits next to her, his eyes intent on hers. "Do you, really? I'm here because I want to be. I've known that I wanted this—a family, a life, a lifetime—since you popped out of that cake."
"Box. It was a box." Her vision blurs again. Stupid hormones. She gropes for his hand and tangles their fingers. "Are you sure? How are we going to manage?" The logistics of the situation are beginning to dawn on her in a terrible rush. "I mean, financially, we're okay, but the house was a pretty big expense and I'd like to stay home for a couple years after the kid is born and have we given any thought at all to a college fund? Because let me tell you—"
He silences her with a kiss. "Calm down. Make a list. We'll talk about it all." He flicks the box open. Nested in a pad of blue silk is ring with not a huge, ostentatious diamond, but a small one in a simple setting. It twinkles up at her. "For now, though, let's put this one matter to rest."
"Oh." Kaoru's throat dries up. "Oh. Well, when you put it that way..." She puts out her hand, and he slides the ring on. It rests against her knuckle, warming with her skin. She feels inside not a great geyser of joy, no blazing fireworks, but a bone-deep sense of rightness—a key fitting into a lock, a hand sliding into a glove, a hot drink on a cold morning.
His eyes are tender as they taker her in, sleep-rumpled hair and mascara smears and all, and smiles like he likes what he sees. "Come here."
(1) In the spirit of full disclosure, this line and a good bit of this scene were inspired by Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie, one of my favorite books ever.
(2) Sayings lifted wholesale from The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale.
(3) This list actually exists! You can see an image of it here: post/40694268760/susan-sontag-who-wouldve-celebrated-her-80th