A Rurouni Kenshin Fanfiction

Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and its characters do not belong to me. Alas!

Hakama Dake

By Indygodusk

Chapter 1: Liquid Heat

Blowing sweat-spiked bangs out of her face, Kaoru sneaked another peak at the front gate from the corner of her eye.

Still nothing.

Not that there was anyone around to see her turning yet again toward the gate, but if there were someone there to see, she wouldn't want them to get any funny ideas - like she was lonely. Because she wasn't, she was just fine. Right, so no need to go over there again and leave this nice cool… er nice not-hot shade, she thought, trying to convince herself from her position leaning limply against the dojo wall.

From its scant grey shade, Kaoru watched the heat radiating from the ground in liquid waves. With her eyes squinted slightly, she could almost imagine herself standing on the stone bridge of a water garden instead of the wooden porch of a dojo. From the corner of her eye, she might faintly see the dark red hair of the man molding his firmly muscled chest against her back, moist breath whispering past her ear as his elegant fingers pointed out the beauty of the koi swimming below. Momentarily mesmerized by her thoughts, Kaoru stared dreamily until the prosaic feeling of sweat trickling into her ear recalled her to the solitary present and the feel of the firm wall, not man, at her back. Jolted back to the present, she once again contemplated the gate.

"One more look can't hurt, right?" she sighed to herself. After all I wouldn't want to be rude and resume my practice right before they got here, because then they might have to interrupt me, and then they'd feel bad and I'd feel bad and it would be… bad. Right, so one more look just to be polite. Pleased with her justification, Kaoru stepped off the porch.

Mincing quickly over the scorching ground to the miniscule shade of the gate, she held a sword-calloused hand above her squinting eyes in the hope she'd see something different from the last five times and last five excuses she'd used to peer down the hazy dirt road leading into central Tokyo.


The flat metallic blue sky seemed to mock her efforts, though how an empty sky could mock she couldn't quite explain. But she'd swear it did!

Staring cross-eyed at a bead of sweat perched on her nose, Kaoru swore at the relentless heat. It was a word a lady shouldn't know, much less use. She'd learned it from Sano, of course.

For three weeks they had all been forced to endure the worst heat wave to hit the town EVER, at least in Kaoru's expert opinion. Even old Hanaike-san selling wilted flowers in the market, who was so wilted herself this summer that Kaoru feared she might not live to see the next, agreed that she could barely remember another summer as hot.

Of course Ishida-san, the surly vegetable seller in the next booth, had to disagree. He swore that we were both weak females unable to take a mild summer. Mild my foot! If it was so mild, why did all of his produce look so limp and pasty? And weak females! Kaoru wanted to roll up her sleeves and show him how to make mochi with his face. Only her self-control on remembering that the money saved on his cheap produce made it possible to buy enough food to feed everyone at her dojo kept him safe, that and Hanaike-san's hands clutching at her arm. Well, okay, so it had mostly been the restraining hands on her arm. Still, she hadn't bashed him, and that was the important thing.

On the opposite horizon a few clouds massed like a distant beach beckoning to shipwrecked sailors. Of course, sailors wanted to escape the water, whereas she desperately hoped the clouds would bring in barrels of it as rain and relief from the fierce summer sun.

"Come on clouds, you know you want to come over here," Kaoru wheedled. "I'll even make you dinner if you bring us some rain." Not noticing any discernable movement, she crossed her arms and pouted, "Mou, alright, I'll have Kenshin make you dinner." At that moment she felt it, a wisp of breeze ruffling through her bangs and tickling her cheeks.

"Yes! You've got yourself a deal," she shouted with a bounce and raised fist. Caroling Kenshin's name she turned towards the house, lifted her foot, paused, and then set it back down.

Oh, right, they're still in town. At Megumi's.

She lovely the feisty doctor, she really did. But hadn't she heard that people are more likely to be killed by family or friends than by strangers? Because Kaoru privately thought that Megumi should worry less about the dangers of walking home alone late at night, and more about being nice to a certain kenjutsu instructor. One of these days that Fox was going to go too far in her teasing and flirting, and Kaoru wouldn't be able to restrain herself.

Kaoru kept meaning to think up a mantra in for those situations when Megumi's behavior tempted her to snap, some sort of perfect meditation technique. But before she could get past, "Megumi is a good person. I should not maim Megumi," images of the Fox running her hands up the seam of Kenshin's magenta gi while cooing something seductive would flash through Kaoru's mind. And then instead of thinking peaceful Zen-like thoughts, her mind would dwell on ripping out hair, snapping fingers, and smashing ruby red lips into mud-caked streets. With this heat wave that wasn't possible now, of course, mud being a thing of the happy wet past, but given the opportunity, Kaoru felt confident she could come up with an appropriate substitute.

Turning away from the road, Kaoru finally conceded that her boys had probably decided to eat lunch in town. Be honest Kaoru, it only made sense since, who would want to walk out of their way to the edge of town in this hellish heat if they didn't have to? Especially since they would have to turn around and walk back to the clinic after eating. Plus they would probably have to make the food themselves, since no one really likes your cooking.

There are a few dishes I've mastered though, she refuted to herself.


Well, mastered was perhaps a strong word, but not everything I make tastes terrible… just most things, she conceded to herself with a sigh.

Yes, they probably ate at the clinic with Megumi, whom I bet never argues with herself.

We don't know that, she has had a hard life. Just because she doesn't talk to herself out loud like you do….

"Oh shut up," Kaoru yelled at herself.

She had hoped that Kenshin at least might think, might want to come back and eat with her. She would have walked into town to eat with him, if he'd asked. If he asked it, she'd walk anywhere. Not that he had asked anything of her, or that she had asked him to come back for lunch, but she'd hoped, hoped that he cared enough to think of her.

"Kaoru-baka, you know he cares for you… like a little sister," she snorted at herself in disgust. Sometimes he would say or do something so sweet, that she would let herself hope. She could almost swear that she had caught a look in his eye a time or two, the kind of look a man gives a woman he wants, a woman he desires as more than just a landlady and friend. But before she could even catch her breath in surprise, the look would vanish, leaving only her mild-mannered, amethyst-eyed rurouni.

A misunderstanding last week combined with a chance meeting had been the last straw. It was a small thing, involving Kenshin picking up a supposed present in the market that turned out to really be a paper wrapped fish she'd prepaid for earlier in the week and forgotten. It had been silly to believe Tae's remarks about the package she said she saw him holding.

Tae had made a teasing remark about seeing Kenshin with a courting gift and Kaoru had fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. When the two met up to walk back home, she had blushed and acted so silly until in confusion he'd let out an "Oro," and changed the subject to the dinner menu - fish. Only then did she make the connection between the conversation, the fishy smell, and the package in his arms. Continuing to talk about the rising price of food, she prayed that he stayed clueless about her stupid assumption.

A few minutes after this embarrassment, they had been hailed by a heavily pregnant young woman and her beaming husband Masuhiro, a former neighbor of the Kamiya Dojo. The two were visiting his parents. Masuhiro's wife was pregnant with her third child, despite being only a year younger than Kaoru herself.

After a short conversation, both couples moved on. But Kaoru noted to herself that only one of the couples walking away actually was a couple. Kenshin must have noticed her silence on the walk home, her awkward distress that that had grown larger ever since they met up outside the market, but thankfully he hadn't commented on it beyond a few searching looks.

Back home, Yahiko returned from working at the Akabeko as the orange sun quenched itself in the bamboo-foamed hills. With Megumi and Sano in tow, he was just in time to help set the table for dinner. Usually Kaoru loved dinners where all of her friends showed up. Usually, but since Tae owned the Akabeko, she had gossiped with Yahiko that day about her suspicions. He of course told the others and had to ask about the supposed present.

Kaoru tried to pass the truth off with a chuckle and quickly change the subject, without success. Yahiko and Megumi kept laughing and taunting her about her mistake, while Sano chewed on his fishbone and smirked, teasing everyone equally until the conversation finally moved on. Kaoru had yelled back and waved her shinai threateningly as usual, but her heart wasn't fully in it.

Right after Yahiko's question, Kenshin's face had looked startled and a bit odd. For a moment, it held an expression she'd never seen before. Most likely he was feeling guilty and embarrassed that she would expect a courting gift from him. That it wasn't the first time she'd made such a mistake made it even worse.

That night she couldn't seem to fall asleep. Even darkness didn't offer a complete break from the moist heat. Combined with her turbulent thoughts, Kaoru found sleep impossible. At least on the porch she could sometimes catch a slight breeze that would otherwise miss her lying inside on her futon. That humid night, sitting outside staring musingly at an opal-hued crescent moon, Kaoru felt something inside herself shift.

She loved Kenshin. He drove her crazy sometimes, but she really and truly loved him. She loved his kindness and laughter, his integrity and fierce protectiveness. Even his darkness, the part of his past that was Battousai, when he had given himself passionately to an ideal and nearly destroyed himself in the process.

Kaoru had rarely seen that intense piece of his personality. It scared her a little, the great destruction he was capable of. Yet almost from the start, she had trusted him. Learning of his past had not changed that. She tried to accept people for who they were trying to be now, not who they had been.

She trusted Kenshin to contain his capacity for violence, to not allow it to escape arbitrarily. Hadn't his actions so far against enemies like Jineh, Aoshi, Soujirou, Shishio, and Enishi proved his control? Things had gotten close a few times, but in the end he had kept to his vow of not using his sword to kill (She'd decided Shishio didn't count. In her mind, his death was self-inflicted immolation with a little help, and good riddance).

Sometimes, when she woke up in the shadowy hours before dawn's pale illumination, Kaoru would wonder how it would feel to have Battousai's passion and intensity focused on her. Imagining those golden eyes devouring her own, his calloused fingers tracing the planes of her face, she would shiver and feel her body hum, throbbing and aching in secret places.

Despite these thoughts, Kaoru knew that not all hopes and dreams came true. As a young girl running around with skinned knees, bringing injured birds to her mother, watching her father gently smile at them both, Kaoru had imagined herself at this age. That vision had included a loving husband, children and a bustling dojo inhabited by proud parents. Her younger self never could have imagined such a situation as she now found herself in. She may not have any of the things she once wanted, but she did have her adopted family. They drove away the loneliness and took care of each other. She would die for them. 'If she didn't kill one of them first, that is,' she'd thought at the time with a smirk.

Deep down, where she never even mentioned it aloud, she desperately yearned for a husband and child. She tried not to let the others know of the jealousy, the aching arms she felt when seeing someone like Masuhiro's pregnant wife. It was one of the dreams she had hoped Kenshin would help her fill. Looking at the moon, Kaoru told herself that she still had time for this dream. She had time, but she couldn't continue wasting it. If she wanted a child, she would have to find someone besides Kenshin to be her husband, no matter how much that thought hurt.

Kaoru was going to stop trying to make Kenshin love her. She would move on for real this time and settle for the friendship he was willing to give. It wasn't fair for her to make him feel guilty for being unable to give her what she needed. As long as he was happy, she would be able to go on, and perhaps one day find happiness for herself.

Kaoru hated being idle. It gave her too much time to think depressing thoughts. She had expected to be busy this morning helping teach classes at Tomoaki-Sensei's dojo. And consequently earning next month's food money. Instead, classes had been cancelled. The students were all involved in digging a new well on the other end of town in hope of creating another source of water closer than the river. Looking at the clouds blowing their way, she wondered if they would finish the well if it rained, or abandon it until the next dry spell. She wished them luck, but mourned the loss of income.

Without many students at the dojo, Kaoru's new family had teetered on the edge of starvation several times, although Kaoru had successfully hidden it. Borrowing leftovers from Tae and begging for work from rival dojo had been some of the most degrading experiences of her life, but it was worth it to see Kenshin, Yahiko, Sano, and even Megumi happily eating at the dinner table. Of course, then Yahiko had to go and call her busu, making her wonder why she even tried to keep the brat around.

Deep down she knew she wouldn't trade any of her adopted strays for anything.

But sometimes she really wished there was a bottom to those pits Sano and Yahiko called stomachs. Or maybe she wished they'd be just a bit better at reading the things she didn't say.

Many things she had no trouble telling them, at the top of her lungs no less. But asking for help with something like money was different. This family she had drawn to herself had come at her invitation. As the owner of the dojo, she felt that it was her responsibility to feed and clothe them as best she could. She just sometimes wished that one of them would take the initiative to bring in some extra food or income for the household themselves. Well, not Kenshin, he worked and worried hard enough already. If he thought himself a burden, he might leave, and that was the last thing she wanted.

None of them were rich, and she tried not to begrudge the others the little they managed to claim for themselves. Though sometimes, when Sano wasted all of his money on gambling or sake, and then came over to bum a meal, she would get so frustrated that she would want to scream and pound him with her shinai. Which often happened, come to think of it? Usually though, it felt good just knowing she successfully took care of everyone. She would put up with just about anything to keep her new family together.

Yahiko had started growing so quickly lately that almost before she knew it, she found herself spending most of her small household savings on a new hakama and kimono to contain his sprouting limbs. The brat needed new clothing more than she needed a new kimono. By covering the worn out spots of her faded kimono with fabric from a slightly less worn obi, she had managed to put off necessity for a little while longer.

The first time she had shown up to breakfast wearing her creation, Kenshin had asked why she hadn't allowed him to alter it for her. Unstated was that besides being a better cook, Kenshin could also sew better than Kaoru. Unstated, that is, until Yahiko opened his big fat mouth. Yet behind the teasing, Kaoru had caught a flash of uncertainty in Yahiko's eyes as he fingered the sleeve of his new kimono. So, after a few loving taps with a soup ladle, she declared that she couldn't bear to part with the kimono yet, and that she didn't want to hear another word about her sewing skills. While the seams weren't perfect, at least they were mostly straight, mou! Her explanation and beating seemed to drive the worry from Yahiko's eyes, so Kaoru was content. She just hoped it sidetracked Kenshin too.

Shaking off her musings, Kaoru went back into the dojo. If she was going to be alone, she'd continue to use the time to work on her perfecting her art, hopefully shutting down her fretting mind in the process.

Kaoru opened up all of the shoji to try and catch some hint of a cool breeze while she practiced. For years she had struggled with an advanced kata only poorly remembered. The uninitiated might think it complete, but she could feel the missing pieces when she practiced. Her father had died before he finished polishing her moves. Both of them had expected to have more time. Wiping the sweat from her face and neck one last time before she started, Kaoru picked up her bokken and moved to the center of the wooden floor.

An old student of her father's named Tomoaki had married into another dojo years ago and given up Kamiya Kasshin Ryu at the insistence of his new father-in-law. As a child, she had idealized Tomoaki-senpai. Full of patience, he would let her follow him around asking questions, and would correct her strokes and stance. Sometimes she would peak through the open shoji to watch and sigh over his private lessons with her father, and the dimple in his left cheek. Probablymy first crush, Kaoru thought with a wistful smile as she shifted into the first stance.

When he married, she had cried and moped for days. As he became busy with his new family and responsibilities, especially learning the new style he would be teaching at his father-in-law's dojo, their families gradually lost contact. Kaoru became resigned, even if she did think the father-in-law was a mean ugly tyrant to forbid Tomoaki the Kamiya Dojo, and that if she ever met his new family she would throw mud at them. At the time of her father's funeral, she hadn't seen him for several years.

Then a couple of months ago, she'd run into him (literally) at Megumi's clinic. He had been bringing in an injured student, she had been chasing after a cackling Yahiko who was trying to hide behind a placating Kenshin. Perhaps it was the brandished bokken or the enraged tanuki eyes, but he had immediately recognized her. For a moment, seeing that dimple, she had felt ten years old again and dazzled.

He'd invited her to dine with his family the next evening. His father-in-law had died a few years earlier, so Kaoru didn't have to worry about concealing her childish antipathy if she met him at dinner. In fact, the worst moment that first night came when she almost blurted out her curiosity about how his wife turned out so nice with such an awful man for a father. Luckily she managed to bite her tongue just in time, almost choking herself on a sip of tea in the process. After meeting his adorable wife and son, Kaoru felt the last of her resentment toward Tomoaki's new family die, replaced with a budding affection.

Later that week, she ran into him again. Instead of the once fierce flush that used to consume her face, Kaoru felt only a warm tingling, like the comfort of hot tea on a cold night. As if regaining an old friend wasn't enough to make her exuberant, Tomoaki had an offer to make - he wanted her help teaching in his dojo. It seemed that one of his best students had moved away, leaving him in need of another instructor to help with the less advanced students.

Reminiscing with him about the past between lessons, Kaoru had let slip a bit of her frustration at not having been able to completely master Kamiya Kasshin Ryu before her father's death. Those few awkward passes in the advanced kata, perhaps only noticed by her, were driving her crazy. If only she could remember!

Tomoaki's kind face had taken on such a serious cast during that conversation. Kaoru had felt shame well up after revealing to him such a fault, and the conversation had turned back to memories, as both of them remembered the great man that had been her father.

From the center of the dojo, Kaoru tried to focus her mind as she moved quickly into the whirl of the advanced kata she was determined to perfect today. She felt her toes flex on the wooden floor as she brought her bokken down and to the side in a horizontal slash that hissed through the air.

The next day, Tomoaki had stopped by the Kamiya Dojo. "For the joy I once received from your father and his dojo, I would be honored if you would allow me to help you perfect the advanced forms I once was taught," he had formally offered.

Embarrassment and astonishment had Kaoru instinctively shaking her head, but he was undeterred, "Though I no longer practice Kamiya Kasshin Ryu, and can likely no longer do my Sensei proper justice, I would not be at ease if I did not offer this. Please do me the favor of accepting."

Taking a deep breath, Kaoru had lifted her eyes from the teacup gently steaming in her trembling hands to stare out the open shoji. She couldn't let her pride and independence make her reject the chance to learn and master more of her family's art, however tempting and habitual. Her ancestors would not think less of her for needing outside help to do the dojo honor.

Unable to summon the words, she had only managed to set her teacup down, bow herself to the floor, and choke out her acceptance with one word, "Sensei."

Yesterday, he had showed her the last move that he had to teach her, the last that he could remember to smooth her form. Pivoting on her heel quickly as she brought her bokken up, Kaoru finished the kata, held herself still for a count of ten, and then launched into the form again. She could feel the difference, the rightness as all of her limbs seemed to click into place. With the touches to the kata she had struggled with for years now hers, Kaoru was determined to use this extra practice time to make her movements seamless.

Even if I have been practicing already for hours alone in the dojo without mistake, and with no one coming home for what looks like hours yet, she mused a bit gruffly. Yahiko was helping out at the Akabeko again today, and probably wouldn't be home until dusk. Megumi had some repairs she wanted done to the clinic roof, and had managed to manipulate Sano and Kenshin into coming over this morning to do it. Kaoru had only escaped since she was supposed to teach at Tomoaki's dojo.

By now it seemed as if Megumi had manipulated them into staying for the rest of the day since none of them had come back to the dojo for lunch, despite Kaoru's hopeful watch of the road. She couldn't really blame them. The Fox could cook food that even Kaoru had to admit, under her breath when she was alone, was mouthwatering. After all, they had Megumi right there, so no need for sweaty travel to see a tanuki. Kaoru found herself scowling at her thoughts, Alright, so I can blame them, the traitors.

Practice time was important, but being alone all day long reminded her of the bad times before Kenshin came and she was all alone. Swinging her bokken extra hard, Kaoru continued thinking about her friends in town. Megumi would probably keep Kenshin and Sano busy all day doing chores, despite the heat. That Fox always managed to manipulate people into doing her dirty work.

"She probably just wants to see the two of them bare-chested sweating above her," Kaoru muttered to herself mid-swing. Thinking over what she had just said, Kaoru turned bright pink and stumbled through the leg sweep she had previously executed perfectly. She wouldn't mind seeing that herself, now that she thought about it. The two of them working shirtless on the roof I mean! Not the other way around. Well, not with Sano at least.

Kenshin on the other hand… no no, bad Kaoru! You know thoughts like this will only get you hot and bothered, well, more hot and bothered than you already are in this heat, and disgruntled about your new resolution about a certain sexy red-head. Not sexy, unavailable! Unavailable red-head you mean, remember?

Kata ruined, she went over to the wall where she had placed a jug of water and a ladle. Kaoru took a large drink trying to bring herself under control, but the water was warm and not much help quenching her real thirst. Her sweat soaked gi clung to her back and chest in sticky patches, and she'd long since abandoned her sodden tabi.

If this heat didn't ease up soon, Kaoru thought she might go crazy. She'd start screaming at the sadistic sun, strip off her clothes, and try to drown herself in the river. Come on rain clouds, get here already, she complained to the sky.

A faint intermittent breeze swirled through the dojo briefly, bringing a moment's relief. Flapping the damp fabric away from her chest in an attempt to cool off, Kaoru looked down with a considering frown. If men could do it on a public roof or in a field, why couldn't she do it in the privacy of her own dojo?

After all, Megumi had offered to let the boys eat dinner as well as lunch at the clinic if the repair work ran that late (like she'd let them go before she'd sucked them dry), besides which Sano was never one to pass up Megumi's food. With Yahiko at the Akabeko, Kaoru calculated that she'd probably have the dojo all to herself for hours yet. A bit of a depressing thought, but she would use this mischief to distract herself. If she closed the dojo's shoji that faced the front gate, no one would be able to see into the dojo, and if she locked the gate, no one would be able to come in and circle around without her knowing.

Kaoru flinched as a drop of sweat trickled down to sting her eye. "Ow, that does it," she fumed, rubbing her eye while stomping toward the gate to lock it. Hesitating, she took a quick glance down both sides of the road, but could see no travelers in either direction: No Kenshin, Sano or Yahiko, no politicians or sword-bearing travelers, nobody. So she shut and latched the gate decisively, stalked back to the dojo, and slid the few shoji facing the gate closed. The shoji at the sides and back she left open to catch the breeze.

Maybe it was the heat going to her head, or maybe it was reminiscing about how she had survived alone as the only female kendo instructor in Tokyo. Whatever it was, Kaoru had decided to act on her impulse to prove that despite her failure with Kenshin, she was still that strong, unconventional woman who could fix her problems herself – starting with the hot chaffing of her sweat soaked gi.

Pulling her gi out from the hakama required a bit more effort than she expected, especially since she refused to untie the hakama first. With a final grunt of effort, she wrenched it free and peeled it down her arms. Without the bulk of the gi, her dark blue hakama slid perilously low on her hips. She barely noticed though, too enchanted by the feeling of the faint breeze trailing cooling fingers over her flushed skin. "Mmmm," she moaned, that's nice.

Only the cloth wound around her chest interrupted the sensation. Lifting her hair off her neck with one hand, she fingered the edge of her breast binding with the other. Oh, she was sorely tempted by the caress of coolness working its way across her shoulders. Should I? she mused wickedly to herself, looking down at the cream colored cloth.

But I am here to train and bouncing hurts, not that I have a lot to be bounced, unlike a certain Fox. She stopped fingering the cloth and bopped herself on the head. Bad girl, no more thinking or comparing yourself to Megumi for the rest of the day… or at least an hour. Kaoru found it important to set realistic goals for herself.

Now think something positive to cheer yourself up. Um… at least my chest isn't as small as Misao's! She felt a bit bad putting Misao down just to make herself feel better, even in her mind. Well Misao's young and could still be growing, she thought in an attempt to be positive.

And I also, without comparison to anyone else, have a great, um, a cute, ah, looking around and down, (she didn't think having a hard and shiny bokken counted) Kaoru noticed two things at once. One, has my hakama always been that low? and two, I have a really cute belly button, like a little tea cup! Pleased with herself, Kaoru declared her pep talk done and walked to the center of the dojo to begin. Her mind, however, had a few last comments. Why a tea cup? Do you expect someone to drink out of your belly button?

At this random and racy thought Kaoru had a sudden visual of a red tongue lapping slow circles around her stomach, coming closer and closer to her liquid filled center. When the mouth finally reached her belly button, she felt the lips nibbling and suckling softly. "Jasmine tea, my favorite," his voice huskily proclaimed before giving her stomach a sharp nip, leaving a small love-bite behind along with a few red hairs.

Letting out a gasping wheeze, she shook herself from the daydream. Letting go of her hair, she wiped her palms down the front of her hakama, and then picked up her bokken from the floor where she'd placed it before removing her gi. As she straightened, the touch of hair sliding along her shoulders and back felt almost like phantom fingernails tracing on the naked skin. Kaoru shivered. She wasn't used to the sensation, since the only times her back was uncovered was when she was changing or about to take a bath. Usually she was too distracted or tired at those times to think much of it. Focusing on the tickling right now though, she found it very … sensual. It made her feel languid and very feminine.

Going into the first stance, Kaoru bent her knees and raised the bokken above her head. This caused the slits in the sides of the hakama, from mid-thigh to waist where the ties wrapped, to gape open. She blushed at the feel of the wind whisping her thighs. Oh, I forgot about those. Feeling a moment of trepidation, she looked back at her sweat-soaked gi tossed on the ground but the coolness of the intermittent breeze won out. No one can see anyway, since I locked the gate and closed the doors facing the street. So relax.

Feeling the warm wood of the dojo floor beneath her toes, she let out a slow breath and centered herself. Pivoting slowly on the balls of her feet, she brought the bokken down, then horizontal. Each movement was controlled, precise, and flowed in the next seamlessly.

After one slow performance, Kaoru repeated it a little faster, and then faster still, until she was a blur around the dojo, hair occasionally whipping her bare forearms and thighs in stinging lines. Her lips tasted of bitter dust and salty sweat, but the air was sweet. On sharp turns sweat would fling off to splatter on the floorboards. Finally, after a last spring and slash she froze, panting audibly in the sun-flecked wooden dojo. Lowering her bokken and relaxing her stance, Kaoru turned and placed it on its designated stand.

Returning to the center of the dojo, she raised her hands above her head in a stretch. Arching her back and rising to her toes, she let out a mewl of satisfaction. During the stretch her hakama slipped a few more fingers, barely managing to stay on the swell of her hips, but she was too pleased with herself to care. Returning to her heels with a contented sigh, she heard a growl. Opening her eyes in surprise and turning towards the sound, Kaoru found herself staring straight into a pair of gleaming gold eyes.

AN: So is this just another daydream of Kaoru's, or is someone actually there? I have an idea of what's going to happen next, but if you let me know what YOU want, I might be persuaded.

AN: This chapter is slightly modified from the original version, as some grammar and word choice errors were fixed thanks to Katyclismic.

Japanese meanings:

Hakama - The skirt-like pants that some jujitsu practitioners wear. It has open slits from the waist to mid-thigh. Kaoru wears it to practice instead of her kimono, and Kenshin and Yahiko always wear them.

Dake – Only, just

Kenjutsu – Fencing

Kata – Martial arts form; a set series of standardized moves

Busu – Ugly woman, hag (Yahiko's favorite appellation for Kaoru)

I had fun with names too.

Hanaike – flower pond

Ishida – stone field

Masuhiro – broad profit

Tomoaki – Village friend

Please review my first fanfic ever posted. The button is right there+puppy dog eyes+