Challenge 1: "Why did you say I have to take my top off again?"

Title: A Debt Discharged
Author: Arysta
Challenge: Challenge #1 – "Why did you say I have to take my top off again?"
Comments: Well, this is my first-ever Rurouni Kenshin fanfiction. It was begun in response to one of Princess Destiny's One Hour Challenges – meaning the first part was written in just around an hour. Please let me know what you think.


A DEBT DISCHARGED
By ARYSTA

PART ONE


"Please, Kaoru-dono, tell me -- why did you say I have to take my top off again?" Kenshin stared at the midnight-haired adjunct master of Kamiya Kassin Ryu, incredulous.

Kaoru heaved a sigh, the training gi she wore rising and falling with the force of her inhalation. Her hands were fisted around the panels of fabric, clutching it to her throat. "Kenshin no baka," she hissed in a furious whisper while looking around frantically to see if they had been detected, "You can't wear that gi into there!"

"She's right, Kenshin, you wear that girly-color into *this* bar and you'll be mobbed – and not in a nice way."

"Thank you, Sano, de gozaro yo," Kenshin said meekly, hanging his head. "But sessha's gi is not that bad."

Silence surrounded him. Crickets sang in the late afternoon sunlight.

Defeated, Kenshin slowly untied his gi, silently removing his sakaba sword from the waist and laying it in Kaoru's waiting palms. He handed the old, frayed magenta gi to Kaoru, sighing as she took the fabric.

"I promise I'll be careful with it," Kaoru whispered to him, handing him his sword. "Now turn around."

"Oro?"

Red-color rose in Kaoru's face. "So I can change," she said shortly.

"Oh!" Embarrassed at his gaffe, Kenshin whirled to face the plain wooden wall.

"Sano!"

"I'm turning, I'm turning." The tall spiky-haired man was soon facing the wall too.

Kenshin clearly heard the rustling sounds as Kaoru rearranged her clothing.

"Aren't you going to peek?" Sano asked in what, for him, was a conspiratorial tone.

"I heard that!"

"No, Sano-san, sessha will not peek."

The rustling continued. In an effort to ignore the intimate pictures that sprang immediately to mind, Kenshin focused on the faint chatter that emanated from the crowded bar.

"Okay."

Sano and Kenshin glanced at each other, then quietly turned around. Kaoru was pulling her long ponytail from the neck of Kenshin's gi. It was overlarge on her, but she had been able to belt it tightly enough that it looked all right.

Kenshin had to force his pulse to a semblance of normality. It would not do for Kaoru-dono to see the effect that she had on him, but having her cuddled so sweetly into his worn, familiar gi was almost as good as having her snuggled into his arms.

Well, maybe not.

Why don't you, his darker half prompted. What could she do if you took her in your arms and held her?

Images of painful recompense flashed through his brain.

She wants you to love her. Battousai sounded very sure of himself tonight, Kenshin-the-rurouni noted.

"Here. Put these on." From Kaoru's hand draped strings of bandages, and her own white gi.

"They will be too small, de gozaro yo," Kenshin said with a smile.

"That's why I gave you the bandages," Kaoru said with a faint smile.

The rurouni pasted a smile on his face while inside he fought back a wave of love. Kaoru-dono still tried to protect him, even having seen his strength.

"Jou-chan, does that mean…." Sano trailed off as a heavy wooden bokken landed on his head, making remarkably little noise. "Oi! That hurt!"

Kaoru, face flushed even in the deepening gloom, turned from Sano. "Good."

Kenshin took care not to stare at the now-prominent peaks of Kaoru's breasts through the thin material of his gi, instead taking up the mass of bandages that she had given him. He sorted out the strips, many long ones wrapped together and slightly grey from sweat and washings. He started to reach around his back and coil the bandages around him – thus presenting at least a semi-respectable appearance for their trip back through the bar. It was impossible.

"Here," Kaoru-dono said, "let me help you."

Shame nagged him – she must have noticed his incompetence.

Then her delicate fingers were lifting the bandages from his hands and coiling them with practiced ease. "Turn," she commanded, and he obeyed. Her fingers brushed the skin of his back as she began to run the bandages across.

She moved swiftly, her arm wrapped around him and her hair falling over his face and shoulder when she leaned forward to grasp the end. "Hold this," she said, and he did, his fingers touching hers in passing. She faltered – it was almost unnoticeable – and then continued.

In moments she was tying off the bandages and helping him into her own white gi. The shoulders were tight, which was to be expected, but the gi managed to close over his chest. "Is it alright?"

"Hai," Kaoru said, nodding her head once for emphasis.

"Sano?"

Sanosuke cocked his head. "Hai, that will work. Good idea, jou-chan."

"Are we ready to go?" Kaoru asked.

Kenshin nodded, Sano did as well.

"Let's go," she said, squaring her shoulders. She couldn't hide her trembling fingers.

Kenshin stood up first. "Please stay behind me, Kaoru-dono," he said, slipping the sheathed sakaba sword into the waist of his hakama.

Sanosuke followed Kaoru, and they moved slowly through the back door of the bar.

Chaos greeted them, though it was at least somewhat controlled. The sound of masculine laughter mixed with the low murmur of female voices. Most of the patrons of the bar were dressed in uniforms and wore weapons at their waist.

Kenshin slowed his stride, and assigned part of his mind to keep concentrating on Kaoru's ki. Her breath slid against the nape of his neck, she was so close. He could feel the fear that rolled off of her, and wished that he could take the time to calm her.

Their movement was noted by the waitress, who nodded cheerfully at them. Kenshin expanded his senses to their limits, feeling the pulsing auras of fighting men surrounding them.

They moved a few more feet, weaving past tables. A man grumbled and looked up when they moved by, then did a pronounced double-take. Kenshin felt his heart sink.

"Ahh… hello there, girl!" He reached out a hand, pulling Kaoru from behind Kenshin. Sano grabbed at her as she was pulled, but the man had already wrapped her in his arms.

"Let her go," Kenshin said, fighting to keep his voice steady. His hand clenched into a fist, though he kept his fingers from touching the smooth handle of his sakaba. The Battousai clamored in the back of his brain, screaming for him to take action immediately.

The man smiled drunkenly showing yellow and blackened teeth interspersed with gaping holes. "Make me!"

END PART 1