A Rurouni Kenshin Fanfiction

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

AN: The END! At last! Hallelujah! Your overwhelming support has brought me so much joy. Bless you all! Thank you for supporting this, my very first fanfiction. Thank you also to the proofreading talents of katyclismic, Ravyn, JadeLightning-Wolf, and ElleyFaery on this chapter.

Hakama Dake

By Indygodusk

Chapter 16: Tumbling Kaoru

Kenshin came into the kitchen with the last load of dirty breakfast dishes. In a testament to everyone's hunger, not even a grain of rice remained in the bowls, despite the rice's crunchy consistency. Although Kaoru's food usually came out tasting strange, the men in the house had all at some miserable point in their lives eaten worse. That or experienced the pangs of not having anything to eat at all. As far as he knew, Kaoru had never known the desolation of crippling hunger. And she never will as long as I draw breath.

Shaking off such grim thoughts, Kenshin put down the dishes and fetched the buckets of water by the doorway that Yahiko had filled the night before. He made quick work of preparing the soapy water. Then he dipped the first cup into the bucket with a swish-plop and began scrubbing with a dishrag. The vortex of white bubbles caused by his movements tickled the skin along the back of his wrists and made him involuntarily smile.

Rubbing his thumb along the rim of the smooth pottery, he identified the teacup as the one Kaoru had been using. He recognized the slight chip on the rim from when he'd been staring at her lips while she sipped. Letting an almost predatory half-smile grace his mouth, he moved the teacup to the clean rinse water and then dried it carefully. His fingers couldn't help but caress the rounded curve of the cup as he put it away. If only it was flesh and not clay beneath my fingers, he thought whimsically. Ah Kaoru, what am I to do with you?

Unable to answer that question easily, Kenshin returned to the pile of dirty dishes. Methodically he washed, rinsed, and dried the bowls and serving plates. The act of cleansing had always soothed him. It wasn't hard to fall into the usual rhythm.

Yet today the motions didn't have the desired side-effect. Despite his best efforts, his mind just wouldn't settle down. Thoughts of Sano's disapproval, Kaoru's innocence, and his own possessive actions advanced and retreated across his mind like waves on a storm-tossed beach, shifting his sandy foundation with each splash.

As his hands reached for the last forlorn cup, accompanied only by the pile of abandoned chopsticks, he suddenly felt strange. Looking up, he tried to identify what was wrong. It wasn't danger or menace – he was all too used to those feeling. No, it was something smaller and simpler than an attack.

Anxiously extending his senses, water dripped slowly from his fingers into the bucket below. Plop… plop-plop. Otherwise it was silent. No other sounds echoed through the dojo. Nothing but the faint breeze stirred the air. Kenshin licked his dry lips and tilted his head to the side. Blinking, he whispered the answer into the air, "…Empty."

The house was empty. Yahiko had finished his strokes while Kenshin had gathered up the dishes. The boy had probably run off into town to avoid more chores or teasing, because the energetic noises he made while cleaning and practicing were missing. Meanwhile, Kaoru must have finished changing from her kimono into her hakama. If she didn't have classes, she'd be practicing in the dojo this morning. When she was in the house, he could usually hear the intermittent shuffle of her tabi on the tatami. Concentrating, he could feel her in the distance moving through the courtyard where there seemed to be a napping Sanosuke. Outside the kitchen window, Kenshin could faintly make out Sano's foot on the far side of the courtyard beneath the shade of a pine.

Although not as scorching as yesterday, the sun was quickly warming the morning air in preparation for another steaming hot afternoon. A few drifting clouds provided fitful shade. Thankfully a small breeze came in through the open windows and stirred the air soothingly. It brought the scent of sun-kissed grasses, moistened earth, and pine resin.

Frowning to himself, Kenshin wondered why he felt so bizarre. The house often emptied while he cleaned up. Today was no different. Despite his reassurances to himself, the muscles along his shoulders tightened. His fists unconsciously clenched. Finger by finger he relaxed his hands. Picking up the dishrag in one hand, he grabbed the last teacup with the other. Perhaps he scrubbed a bit more ferociously than the tea remnants warranted, but that had nothing to do with the fact that he was alone. It also had nothing to do with everyone moving on with the business of the day and leaving him behind.

Kenshin sighed at his thoughts. Nothing was different about this morning from any other. The only change was his relationship with Kaoru.

Of course, the exact nature of that relationship had him twisted up inside. Kenshin didn't want to push for too much too soon, but at the same time he refused to go back to avoiding his feelings for Kaoru. If he had thought about it yesterday, he would have told himself to move slowly in exploring this new dimension to his and Kaoru's relationship. Working out a strategy, he would have figured out how to savor each new touch and discovery without pushing the limits of honor and propriety.

But he hadn't thought about that yesterday. Instead he had acted and reacted. Now he feared it was too late to go slowly and secretly. Having touched and tasted, he now could not slow down and abstain from Kaoru's lips. And having been seen by Sano, and nearly by Yahiko, he didn't think it could be kept a secret, despite his wishes.

He needed to define their relationship. Kaoru, and even Sano in his efforts to be a big brother figure, needed him to define it. Yet he wasn't sure exactly what Kaoru really wanted. Did she even desire marriage? What if Kaoru wanted to explore the feasibility of their relationship before acknowledging it openly? Considering her innocence and ignorance, he might have pushed her further physically than she was comfortable going. Yet did she want to take their relationship slowly? Or could she be as impatient as he to have them sink into each other body and soul, never to part? The right choice hovered mockingly out of reach.

If he made the wrong choice and acted too precipitously, he feared that it would shatter everything. Shattered things were sharp and painful and all too often irreparable. Shattered things were frequently abandoned or lost. How would he survive if she ended up abandoning him? If he lost his Kaoru?

Kenshin knew that he loved Kaoru and wanted her with him forever, through this life and into the next. That she loved him, for now, was also not in doubt. His conundrum rested on what actions to take next to keep her love and honor intact. He knew what actions he wanted to take. However, whether those were the right actions, and if so when he could honorably take them, were answers that eluded him.

Where was the line between doing right and being selfish? What did he have to offer except the sweat of his brow and the adoration in his heart? Would that be enough to overcome the lack of a house, reliable income, and honorable name? Didn't Kaoru deserve better than that? But how long would that better take? He didn't want to wait, yet what did honor demand? The morning sunlight puddled on the kitchen counters and banished shadows from usually darkened corners. Yet it served only to illuminate more questions in his mind instead of bringing him any sort of clarity of thought.

With exaggerated care he put the now thoroughly cleaned teacup into the bucket of rinse water. The sopping dishrag in his other hand released rivulets of soapy water down his forearm. Turning to the pile of chopsticks, he noticed through the window that the Sano-shaped lump under the pine was now gone. Only flattened yellow grass remained. It only took a split second for Kenshin to determine that Sano and Kaoru were both now together by the gate. Most likely… talking.

The dishrag in his hand squeaked from the force of his grip, releasing violent splatters of water across his chest and the kitchen walls. Engrossed in his whirling thoughts and in cleaning the dishes, he'd missed the chance to speak to Sano about Kaoru and the scene in the kitchen. Now it was too late. What would Sano say?

Kenshin knew that Sano had the best of intentions. However, Sano wasn't known for his delicate speaking. Add that bluntness to the fact that Sano was also a man and had to suspect what kind of thoughts Kenshin was having about Kaoru, thoughts that Sano had already warned Kenshin not to act upon, and that equaled trouble. What would Sano say in his attempt to help them? And how would Kaoru react? Would it make her change her mind about them? Or confuse her into thinking that he only wanted to kiss her in dark corners and rain-cloaked dojo? His heart ached at the thought of Kaoru retreating from the brush of his fingers with distrust in her eyes.

He would have to talk to her. Things with Sano needed to be cleared up too, but that would have to happen later. Kaoru came first. Kenshin couldn't have Kaoru misunderstanding things. If he could just get her alone, he would explain. He would make things right.

Releasing a heartfelt sigh that ruffled his bangs and the soapy film of bubbles skimming the bucket, Kenshin returned to cleaning the remaining chopsticks. It was too late to interrupt them now. He would let Sano say what he needed to say. For the conversation to come, Kenshin didn't want anyone there but himself and Kaoru. What he had to say was private. At least, it would be private, once he figured out what he wanted to say. Rinsing the last chopstick, Kenshin had a disturbing vision of his future.

If he didn't figure out the right thing to say to Kaoru, he would end up alone. Alone without even a kitchen to clean or call his own, much less a tempestuous shihandai to caress and cuddle. He'd already hurt Kaoru by his lack of action and mixed signals in the past. She deserved better than that and would not for long accept less than the full measure of what he had to give.

Kenshin was tired of holding back. He was so sick and tired of restraining his impulses around this most precious person in his life. Picking up the dry towel, he rubbed the beads of moisture off of each chopstick intently. Yesterday in the dojo he'd acknowledged and forced himself to accept that being with Kaoru would put her in danger. It had been his main stumbling block in deciding for so long not to pursue her – or so he'd always told himself.

Strange that in all of those revolutions of sun and moon spent agonizing over his Kaoru-dono, he'd never put into words what having her so close would do to him. Part of it had been not wanting to torture himself with something he thought he'd never have. It didn't take more than a hazy daydream to realize that loving and being loved by Kaoru would be glorious.

But what he'd really been unwilling to face directly before yesterday was what lurked behind that glory: the intangible, emotional dangers that making himself vulnerable by openly loving Kaoru would bring to him. Inside his mind, far down beneath the rurouni mask, an inky abyss seethed and churned. That shadowed pit wasn't evil, though it could be in the wrong circumstances. From that place came the darker edges to his feelings of lust and possession. Those ebony emotions flavored his fights and spiced his fear. Even now, Kenshin still hadn't completely accepted that part of himself. If he couldn't fully accept it, how would Kaoru?

Despite these dangers, he could not help but love her with his whole heart. He didn't know how to reserve a part of his heart for himself, separate and able to survive if the rest should die. He hated even thinking about losing her, yet his mind delighted in torturing him with the innumerable possibilities. It terrified him. Yesterday he'd hinted at his fear in their conversation in the dojo. Nevertheless, hand-in-hand with that fear now came exhilaration. A glorious future hovered before him, begging him to leap forward and grasp it.

Unfocused eyes gazed at the two buckets of used dish water. Kenshin felt caught in a snare of ominous what ifs. The ropes and wires of the self-made trap bound his thoughts in tangles and kept him from lifting himself up to see past the weeds of his doubts and fears.

Yet was he not a master of the blade? Didn't he have the tools and training to cut through snares? He had spent his entire life honing not only his body, but his mind. All for the purpose of accomplishing whatever goals he set himself.

Kenshin knew success. He knew fear and he knew, more rarely and bitterly, failure. Making decisions and carrying them through to the very end had long ago become a familiar task. He had never been an indecisive man. Now was not the time to change that. Indecision was a paralyzing force that would only cause him and those he loved unhappiness. So the question, here and now, was what to do now that he'd told Kaoru he loved her.

Walking away was impossible. Could he keep their relationship quiet? Should he? Would it be possible to secretly court her, romancing her in private while keeping a public distance? Was it wrong to want most things to stay the same? Acknowledging to himself that he'd come to dislike change made Kenshin feel like an old man: gray haired, toothless, and inflexible. It wasn't a flattering picture. Putting away the last of the dishes, Kenshin realized that he had to face his fears in order to banish them. This, then, was a fear of losing the happiness he had now by grabbing for more.

Shaking his head in frustration, Kenshin realized that his opposing fears and desires were trying to paralyze him. On the one hand, he wanted marriage and complete possession of Kaoru now, but worried that he didn't have enough to offer in return. On the other hand, he didn't want to move too fast for fear of overwhelming Kaoru and ultimately scaring her away. Beneath that lurked a fear of exposing too much of his soul and being rejected and abandoned. A small, bitter smile twisted his lips.

Sometimes I look at Kaoru and worry that she's too idealistic. Instead, I should worry that I'm too cynical. When I first met Kaoru I decided to pause in my travels to watch her practice the sword that protects without killing, even though I still didn't completely believe in such an ideal.

I've always admired Kaoru's capacity to believe the best of people and situations. She doesn't let fear hold her back. I want to have that fearlessness.

Looking into his mind, deep past the clutter and chatter of a thousand moments and musings, Kenshin found his peace. In that peace, he sliced away his fears. He realized that he already had the answers to most of his questions. Without the fears blinding him he understood what to do. More important than what he thought Kaoru needed was what she thought she needed. Of course, that didn't preclude spoiling and surprises.

It was now obvious how honor and happiness could be served. In that place of tranquility he knew what he had to do. Coming back to himself in Kamiya Kaoru's kitchen, Kenshin knew what he wanted to do. He could visualize his hoped for end, that glorious end, and he would pursue it with every drop of blood and cunning he possessed.

Kenshin knew what he wanted, he'd acknowledged his fears, and he would accept that he wasn't perfect. Mistakes would be made, but they were strong and would overcome them together. He was going to seize that beautifully imperfect life with Kaoru.

Resolved, he reached forward to pick up the buckets of used dish water. The sooner he finished with the kitchen the sooner he could talk to Kaoru. As he moved, the damp fabric of his gi clung annoyingly to his chest. When he'd squeezed the dishrag so hard earlier, it had liberally soaked his front. Standing back up, he tossed his head back to flip the wet strands behind his shoulders where they wouldn't tickle his skin or get in the way. Then he took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling the renewal of his next breath. At the door he paused, slipped on his sandals, and walked outside to dump the water out of the buckets.

Upending first one and then the other bucket, Kenshin glanced towards the gate. Kaoru stood there slim and straight in her new dark blue hakama. Her body was limned by a patch of golden sunlight bordered by cloud-shaped shade, and Kenshin had to squint at her white-edged brilliance before his eyes adjusted.

Sano stood in front of her with one hand resting on his hip comfortably. The street fighter smiled down into her cornflower blue eyes. Whatever he said next made her laugh.

They're standing too close, Kenshin thought with a small surge of jealousy. Kaoru grinned slyly and murmured something too low for Kenshin to hear clearly.

Whatever it was sent Sano into a frenzy of denial and Kaoru into giggles.

"Just remember what I said, the first part," Sano said cryptically after she calmed down. Then he reached out and tweaked her nose.

Again her full-bodied laugh rang out across the courtyard as she swatted Sano's shoulder in affectionate exasperation. Chuckling, Sano dodged around her next blow and jogged off towards town. "See ya later, Jou-chan."

Frustrated, Kenshin realized he should have come out earlier to overhear what Sano had to say. At least Kaoru didn't seem too upset. Of course, she hadn't seen him yet. Shaking her head, Kaoru made her way from the sun drenched courtyard into the shadows of the dojo.

After returning the buckets to the kitchen doorway, Kenshin released the cord that had held his sleeves up and out of his way while he cleaned. Musingly he rubbed the damp cloth of his gi front between his finger and thumb. Perhaps I should change into something nicer and… drier?

But he only owned one nice gi and Kaoru would become suspicious as soon as she saw him wearing it. He didn't want to give her that sort of forewarning about the talk to come. Not that this was going to be a battle, but he wanted every advantage he could get when it came time to persuade her. If he had to retreat unsatisfied, he could always change into his nice gi later and come back to Kaoru after thinking of another argument.

Besides which, he didn't want to waste the time it would take to change. He wanted to see Kaoru now. Hopefully the heat of the day would dry it quickly. If not, he would soon be too busy to notice a little thing like a damp gi. Running his fingers back through his bangs in a last-ditch attempt to straighten them, he strode off towards the dojo and his practicing shihandai.

Finishing the last bokken slash of her warm-up kata, Kaoru saw something red flick in and out of the corner of her eye. Without turning around she couldn't see what was causing it. Curious, she completed her form before lowering her bokken and pivoting around on her left foot.

"Kenshin!" she exclaimed in nervous surprise. He stood between two open shoji. The bright sunlight reflecting off the yellow dirt and pale grass in the yard outside made the contrast of his dark gi and still form look slightly menacing and otherworldly, like the guardian statues found outside of Buddhist temples. The bright highlights cast by the sun in his hair could have been streaks of faded gold paint.

After her talk with Sano, Kaoru knew what she had to do. I had just hoped to have a little more time to think up a plan of attack. That or time to figure out something a little more feminine and less violent than an attack.

She wondered if Kenshin stood there silhouetted in a bid to catch her attention, or if he merely waited for his eyes to adjust to the darker dojo. If the latter, it would be the perfect opportunity to catch him off guard. After all, hadn't he told her this morning that she could jump him anytime?

Suppressing a wicked smirk, Kaoru decided to take some of Sano's advice, albeit in a way he probably hadn't intended. Time for step one in her plan to try and get Kenshin to fall in line.

"Are you here for your private lesson? I've been waiting," she invited, consciously repeating her words from the day before. Her palms had started to sweat, but she couldn't wipe them off because she didn't want Kenshin to notice. Megumi always made flirting seem so effortless. What if Kenshin didn't respond? Confidence wavering, Kaoru suddenly flashed back to the delightful kisses and caresses Kenshin had given her recently. The memories filled her with self-assurance. Not to mention tingles, she thought impishly.

Sano said to be direct with Kenshin. If Kenshin happens to be so distracted by my kisses that he momentarily forgets all about his guilt and misgivings over potentially putting me in danger, and if that forgetfulness happens to somehow lead to a proposal of marriage… well, that's my business. What Sano doesn't know ahead of time can't hurt him.

The fact that Kaoru had no idea how to cause memory loss with kisses instead of blunt objects was no reason to panic. She'd figure it out. After all, wasn't she a quick learner?

Before talking to Sano, Kaoru had been worried about pushing Kenshin into a commitment he might not want to make just yet. Sure he'd said, "I love you" and "forever" yesterday, but he'd also confided his fear of getting too close. Just because he said he was willing to take that risk in the heat of the moment didn't mean that his heart and mind had had time to fully accept it. Besides which, her rurouni, no, her man was too used to worrying and disparaging himself. He probably needed time to get used to the idea of her love and devotion, though how he could ever have doubted it is beyond me, and the idea of becoming a settled family man.

Kaoru had been willing to give him that time. She still was. But what Sano had said when they had talked together earlier by the front gate also made sense. Asking for a more concrete commitment and giving him time didn't have to be mutually exclusive. They could have a long engagement, after all, and then Kaoru could feel more comfortable about kissing him in private. She just had to figure out how to get Kenshin to agree.

At least Sano had confidence in her. His words earlier that day by the gate had meant a lot to her.

"Kaoru," Sano had said in an awkward yet earnest voice that she'd rarely heard from her rough-and-tumble friend, "don't settle."

"What do you mean?" she'd questioned with a confused wrinkle to her brow. "Settle for what?"

"Your relationship with Kenshin," he ignored her squeak of surprise beyond an amused twitch of his lips. "Don't settle for what you think you can get. Compromise on the little things, yes, that's the nature of a relationship, but for the things that truly matter to you, the things that will make a difference in how you regard yourself and your honor… don't settle. You know your worth." Grinning wryly, he added, "And so does Kenshin when he isn't thinking with, well," he gave her a sideways glance before snickering and finishing his sentence, "something that boys think with too often."

Kaoru hadn't been sure exactly why Kenshin would be thinking with his stomach, if indeed that was what Sano was implying, but she got the gist of it. After all, she spent more time with men than with other women. She knew how stupid guys could be.

"Besides, Jou-chan," he paused for a moment as if gathering his thoughts before continuing. "Kaoru, you're strong and smart. I know you can figure out how to keep Kenshin in line. You just have to be direct and tell him what you want. It may surprise you," he lowered his voice as if confiding a dirty secret, "but most men don't understand the way a woman thinks."

"I'm shocked," Kaoru replied in a dry voice, turning to sarcasm to mask her embarrassment at his praise. Sano laughed.

"Now sometimes, Kenshin is as dense as a rock." This revelation wasn't breaking news to Kaoru. Impatiently she waited for Sano to get to the point instead of just standing there trying to look wise. "And sometimes, he's pretending to be dense to make a situation play out the way he wants it to or to give himself time to think of a better strategy. I know, or I assume," he stressed the last word, "that the kissing is a recent development."

Kaoru blushed, but Sano seemed to be waiting with folded arms for some kind of reply. Despite his annoyingly smug look, Kaoru found herself grudgingly answering his implied question. "Er, yesterday," she mumbled.

"Ha, I thought so," he smirked. Kaoru's blush faded as she let out a growl at his teasing tone. "Simmer down, Jou-chan. I just want you to know that, that if, that you, that-" the smirk disappeared from Sano's face as he became red and stumbled over his words. Sucking in breath until his puffed out cheeks made him look like a blowfish, Sano turned to stare up at the sky as if asking for divine aid, finally blowing out his breath in one long exhale.

"I just want you to remember that it's your body and you get to decide how far you'll go, and if- if," sweat began dripping down Sano's beet red cheeks and off his nose, "if you have any questions about, well, how it, uh, works, or what's too far or, um, if Kenshin does something that makes you uncomfortable, or is acting dense about a problem, you can, ah, come to me." He finished in a gruff voice, "No matter what it is," he looked down and into her wide eyes, "you can tell me. I promise."

Cheeks at least as dark, if not darker, than Sano's she replied, "Thanks." Smiling embarrassedly into his concerned eyes, she whispered, "I really appreciate it."

Resuming his usual cocky attitude he answered, "No problem." Then he shook his finger at her and added with a grin, "Don't forget – be direct and don't settle!"

"I know, I'll remember," she promised.

"Good. And don't forget that the man adores you. Use that to your advantage." Kaoru couldn't help but laugh at his assertion and advice.

Looking at him from the corner of her eyes she asked slyly, "Is that what Megumi does with you?"

Sano started sputtering incoherent denials while she giggled. Finally giving up, he folded his arms and scowled at her until she stopped laughing. "Just remember what I said." When her lips twitched again he added hastily, "The first part." Then he reached out and tweaked her nose.

Laughing as he dodged her second retaliatory swat and ducked out of reach, Kaoru waved him away towards town and headed towards the dojo. She planned to use her warm-up kata to clear her thoughts.

After her workout she was going to figure out what to do about Kenshin, but he'd shown up before she had the chance. Hopefully the flirting plan would work out. Megumi did it all the time. How hard could it really be?

Huffing out a nearly inaudible laugh at her invitation for a 'private lesson,' Kenshin stepped into the dojo, sans sandals of course. I can't believe the taking off of his sandals didn't tip me off yesterday. I agree with Sano that Kenshin is dense, but if Sano ever finds out about me mistaking Kenshin for a fantasy, I'll never hear the end of it. He might try to give me the title of densest dojo resident instead!

Striding over to the weapons rack, red hair and white hakama swishing quietly, Kenshin picked out a bokken. Then he moved on silent feet until he stood in front of Kaoru's confused form in a ready stance. "We never did finish our lesson, did we?" Waving his other hand in an invitation to advance, he smiled enigmatically. "Shihandai?"

It wasn't quite the type of practicing she'd intended. Licking a bead of salty sweat off the corner of her mouth nervously, Kaoru tried figure out his actions. With a quirk of his lips, Kenshin had seized control of the situation and sent her off balance. Had he somehow deduced her plan? After all, Kenshin didn't spar with her or with any of the dojo residents. Period. Then again, before yesterday Kenshin also didn't nibble on her lower lip or secretly trace romantic words on her back during dinner either.

Although confused, Kaoru decided to follow his lead for now. So maybe flirtatious words weren't being direct direct, but there were other ways to be direct and get Kenshin to do what she wanted. Maybe while he wiped the floor with her using his battoujutsu skills she'd think of one. Or even better, maybe he'd slip up and she'd manage to wallop him a good one and then run away.

Actually, in a perfect world she'd be able to wallop him and then sit on him. Trapped by her fierce martial skills and dazzling beauty, he would gaze worshipfully up into her eyes. She would condescend to ask his hand in marriage, in good times and bad, to keep her house clean and to prepare edible meals, and, joyously consenting, he would sweep her up in his manly arms and run them both to the nearest shrine to be married on the spot. Followed shortly thereafter by a trip to an exclusive teashop with a private room where she could indulge her fetish to sip tea off of his body to her heart's content.

"Kaoru?" Kenshin's voice broke through her daydream.

Looking at his concerned face, she forgot for a moment why he was standing across from her holding a bokken instead of his sakabatou. Or why he wasn't holding the money for the priest in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.

"Eh?" she replied. Kenshin's brow crinkled, forcing Kaoru to shove her fantasies to the side for the moment. "Oh, right, our lesson." Clearing her throat, Kaoru moved into an open stance with her bokken held above her head that could be used for either attack or defense.

Then she added in a voice that sounded, she proudly noted, quite sultry, "Our private lesson, ne Kenshin?" The heat kindling in Kenshin's eyes made the effort more than worth it. It was stunning how his face could turn from polite concern to simmering hunger with just a few words. Kaoru was tempted to see what other words would affect him, but the predatory cast to his eyes warned her that there would be consequences. Repressing the shivers, and the impulse to drop her bokken and attack him with her lips instead, Kaoru reluctantly decided to forego the pleasure.

Right now, she was too curious to see how long she could last against him in a match. Kenshin rarely watched her practice. The few times she had noticed him watching her with lazy, heavy-lidded eyes, back when he had first moved in, had made her stomach go tight and her heart race. It was an expression she hadn't understood then. After yesterday though, she had a better idea of what it might have meant. Firming her resolve, Kaoru ordered herself to fight her best, no matter how distracting his eyes became.

Dust shimmered in the columns of sunlight standing between the two warriors. Leaves sighed on the trees outside the open shoji where the breezes blew, but inside the dojo quiet and stillness reigned. Both swordsmen waited for the other to move first. As his elbow bent slightly, Kaoru's focus sharpened. When he didn't move any farther, she waited. Drops of gold bubbled up into Kenshin's mutable irises and a faint smile crept onto his lips. Yet still he didn't advance.

In the space of a heartbeat, Kaoru committed to attacking first and swung her bokken at his head. Effortlessly, Kenshin's wooden sword blocked hers with a resounding crack. Kaoru disengaged their swords and sliced at his side. Bending like a reed, he evaded her attack.

The next second he launched one of his own. Quicker than a heartbeat, faster than sound, his sword was suddenly only a breath from her throat. Without thinking she twisted away from the strike, instinctively swiping at his vulnerable side. He easily avoided her attack, along with the follow-up thrust, by bringing his sword up and to the right. Several chops at his head and shoulders forced Kenshin to take a step back. This distracted him from her real objective. Spinning into a crouch, she cut lightning-quick at his hamstrings.

It had been ages since Kaoru had been so challenged. No one she practiced with necessitated such speed. Although she still wasn't at Kenshin's level, she was determined to push herself as fast as her body could possibly go.

Leaping over her slash, Kenshin rolled across the dojo floor and then flipped back to his feet next to the wall. Charging him, hopefully before he could raise his sword, Kaoru felt an exhilarated grin tightening her cheeks. She hadn't had this much fun in ages.

The dark wood of her bokken whistled towards his chest. His sword hung down on the opposite side of his body. Yet Kenshin was nothing if not fast. He met her attacks effortlessly, bringing his bokken around in a blink. Kenshin put up an intricate defense just barely beyond her level of skill. Each swing of his sword was fast enough to challenge her but not so fast that she couldn't respond.

All the same, before she knew it Kaoru found herself retreating. Dodging a sudden reversal of his bokken's direction, Kaoru discovered that she was back in the center of the dojo.

Suddenly their swords locked at the hilt. Kaoru pushed against him with all of her strength in an attempt to knock him over or send him off balance. He didn't budge.

Kaoru had forgotten how much strength his lithe body held. She knew what an amazing fighter Kenshin was, yet somehow he'd managed to hold himself back. In fact, she had been so focused on the advance and retreat of their bout that she'd forgotten just how low her chances of winning were. Of course, that doesn't mean that it's impossible. Firming her lips and straining every muscle in her body to push Kenshin left only shifted his sword a hair's width. Not impossible, just really really difficult.

Abruptly Kenshin twisted his wrist and flicked his bokken. Kaoru found herself stumbling backwards. Catching herself with a grunt on one knee, she glared up into his face. That was a mistake. His eyes were liquid flame, smoldering orange, red, and gold around dilated black pupils that shouted his hunger and desire. Kaoru felt her breath catch and her sword start to slip out of weakened fingers. That look should be illegal! Shaking her head, she firmed her grip.

With effort she stepped forward and attacked again. Crack-crack bam sang their wooden swords. It became increasingly difficult to ignore the grace of his limbs and the intense passion igniting his face. Although she'd like to blame her lack of breath on the fight, she knew more than the clashing of their swords was to blame. Her next attack attempted to strike at his shoulder, back, and side. Again he blocked her offensive combination.

While sweeping her arm behind her back for leverage to strike, Kaoru began to get a strange feeling. Kenshin dodged her thrust and forced her to pivot to the side. Suddenly she realized why. Somewhere in the middle of their fight, Kenshin had maneuvered her into reproducing the moves from the kata she'd perfected yesterday.

Yet now, instead of an imagined opponent, she faced Kenshin's wooden sword. Through the clash of their blades, Kaoru noticed his golden eyes devouring her panting lips. It distracted her again and almost threw off her next attack.

If he didn't kiss her when this was over, she would have to hit him. Then again, she should hit him anyway for distracting her so much. As he dodged her next two strikes, Kaoru growled and decided that the reasons didn't matter. She just wanted to hit him. Landing one blow on the Hitokiri Battousai wasn't too much to ask, right? Of course, all of the other times she'd hit him he hadn't had a sword in his hand. And he'd never really tried to dodge. But still!

Kenshin's next few attacks sent her into the defensive section of her kata. Just how long had he been watching her yesterday before he'd said anything? Was he really recreating the entire kata after only watching it once?

By this point Kaoru knew what moves to perform next. Once she'd recognized the kata, Kenshin had noticed her familiarity and accordingly increased the speed of his attacks. Their blades blurred and hissed through the air, clacking together almost too fast to see. Thankfully her lifetime of practice was paying off. When her thoughts lagged, her muscles independently remembered how to move. Kaoru met him stroke for stroke.

Suddenly, Kaoru had an idea. Near the end of her kata was the move she'd needed Tomoaki-sensei's help to perfect. Coming off of that attack combination, she always had a lot of excess speed. The kata called for a dodge to the right, but if she attacked to the left instead mid-spin, the extra speed and unexpected change might give her the chance to tap Kenshin on the shoulder.

Such an attack had a much better chance of success than her other idea – distracting him mid-battle with seduction. A plan like that was almost certainly doomed to failure. Nevertheless, she was sorely tempted to send him a few scorching looks of her own, and maybe even lick her bottom lip while staring lustily into his eyes.

However, that sort of calculated flirtation was tough. It took planning and energy and skills she was only just learning how to use. Plus, for all she knew such a scheme would only serve to distract her with thoughts of his talented lips and hands while he remained unmoved. If it did work, it would probably be because he became distracted by her strange face. She could easily picture Kenshin asking if she had indigestion because her eyes were crossing and her face looked peculiar. I will definitely have to practice the seductive look later. Maybe in a mirror?

But for now, she would try to trick him using only her martial skills. If that didn't work, she'd add other tricks in for round two. Kaoru focused on Kenshin's sword and the placement of his body. She had to time her attack perfectly.

As for Kenshin, Kaoru noticed that he didn't seem to be focusing on her sword at all. His attention seemed more centered on the gaping v of her gi above her breast bindings. What did he think he was looking at! She was trying to have a serious practice bout here. Seduction had already been ruled out. She wasn't even batting her eyelashes, so he better start paying attention to her sword skills. Not so much attention that he blocked her sneak attack, of course, but enough that she could claim she hit him fair and square!

Kaoru took a big breath to yell at Kenshin for being perverted, but that simple action focused his eyes to her chest even more. He growled predatorily. Then he looked up at her through his spiked eyelashes and licked his lips. The sound of his growl reverberated across her skin. That, combined with the lusty glint in his eyes, silenced her protest. It also crumbled her intentions to avoid part two of her plan.

If he wanted to get distracted without any seduction effort on her part, fine. Distracted meant that she could hit him to the ground, pounce on top of him, and lick those lips all the sooner. She just had to hit him first.

As Kaoru went into her final combination attack, their bokken stuck together so quickly that it sounded like falling hail. In the midst of that storm of sound, she waited impatiently for the right moment. And… now! Pushing muscles as fast as they could go, Kaoru came out of her spin. Surprise widened Kenshin's eyes. Complacently he'd already moved his bokken to where she was supposed to be dodging on the right. But her sword was on the left.

Exultation filled Kaoru as her bokken neared Kenshin's unprotected shoulder. The dark wood brushed against the fabric of his gi. Then, in a move that Kaoru would swear was anatomically impossible, Kenshin's body flowed around her sword.

Before she'd even had time to register disappointment, she found herself violently flung across the dojo. Hitting the floor hard, she finally rolled to a stop against the fall wall. "Ung," Kaoru groaned as she pushed herself to her knees with one hand on the wall. At least I didn't loose my sword in the fall, she thought proudly as she tried to catch her breath. I really need to plant my feet better if he's going to block like that.

"Kaoru!" Kenshin's face was white as chalk. He'd sprinted to her side barely an instant after she'd landed. Too late to catch her, but not so late that she could pretend the fall hadn't hurt, darn it. "Kaoru, are you alright? I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," he chanted as his frantic hands ran over her limbs, checking for injury. "I shouldn't have- I just reacted- I'm so sorry. I'll never spar with you again, I promi-"

Whatever other apologies he intended to make were cut off when Kaoru brought the hilt of her bokken down on Kenshin's head, snapping his jaw shut. Kaoru finally had her breath back and she intended to use it. "You better be promising that you are going to spar with me again, Himura Kenshin, because I don't want to hear anything else. I'm fine." Kenshin opened his mouth to protest again, but Kaoru smashed her palm over his lips. "I've taken worse tumbles than that before. All I have are a few bruises."

Kenshin flinched and worriedly mumbled around her hand, "Where?" Prying her fingers away from his mouth, his hands began tugging at her clothes. "Let me see, sweetheart."

The endearment earned him points, but not that many. "Kenshin, you are NOT taking off my clothes." Attempting to catch his nimble fingers with hers she growled, "Stop it!"

Finally desisting, Kenshin looked up at her with agonized eyes and whispered, "I just need to make sure you're not hurt."

Sighing, Kaoru brought her hand up to tenderly cup his cheek. "Kenshin, I probably have more marks on my body from your kisses yesterday than I do from this little tumble, and you don't see me complaining about that, do you?" The worry lessened in his eyes.

Kaoru smiled up at him teasingly. "I think the real reason you don't want to spar with me again is that I almost had you." Kaoru patted his cheek condescendingly. "I know that male egos are fragile, but there's no shame in getting beaten by a woman. It's okay to be scared," Kenshin's lips twitched in almost a smile. "Next time, I'll fling you across the dojo and then we'll be even. Please note that I managed to hold onto my bokken despite the tumble. I'll be testing to see if you can do as well. Deal?"

For a moment Kaoru thought that Kenshin was going to continue arguing. His mouth opened slightly and his eyes frowned. Holding her breath, Kaoru turned pleading eyes on his face and bit her lip. After a slight pause he closed his mouth. Softening eyes gazed ruefully down into hers. "I'll have to remember to avoid that look in the future," he murmured. "Deal."

Grinning victoriously, Kaoru pulled his chin forward and gave him a quick kiss. Then she leaned back. Kenshin threaded his hands into the hair at the nape of her neck and pulled her forward again. "That's not how you seal a deal," he breathed against her lips before his mouth came down on hers. Slanting his lips over hers, he coaxed her mouth open for his tongue to plunder. It stroked along her bottom lip before slipping inside.

Each time Kaoru tasted his lips, she felt a zing of pleasure. She loved the softness of his mouth and the ardency of his hands. Smoothing her palm down to rest against his collar, she rubbed her fingers up and down the cords of his neck. Languorously their tongues rubbed together. She could feel his hum of pleasure through the pads of her fingers. Her other arm, still clutching her bokken, wrapped around his waist. Having the hilt pressed against his spine like that couldn't be comfortable, Kaoru distantly realized, but it was difficult to wrench her attention away from the delightful events taking place in her mouth.

After a few more drugging kisses, Kenshin pulled away from Kaoru and smiled. Letting out a happy sigh, she unwrapped her arm from his waist and put the bokken down by her side. "Kaoru," he said as he threaded their fingers together, "are you sure you're alright?" His eyes peeked up at her contritely.

"Mou, Kenshin!" Kaoru exclaimed with exasperation. "After kissing me like that you should know that I'm alright! For goodness sakes, I said I was fine!" If my hands were free you can bet you'd be sporting a lump right now, she thought with angry frustration as she turned her head turned to glare outside the open shoji.

"Hai hai, don't be mad," he said with a meekness that she found highly suspect.

Looking at his well-loved face out of the corner of her eye, Kaoru said, "I had a lot of fun sparring, Kenshin. It made me happy to be able to finally share this part of my life with you." She turned her head to look him full in the face. "Thank you." His fingers squeezed her hands affectionately.

"I had fun too. At least until I blocked too hard and hurt yo-" Kenshin's words were cut off by Kaoru's fierce growl and crippling grip on his fingers.

"We're not going to speak or worry about that anymore, deshi. Understand?"

Kenshin looked up at her with confusion. "Deshi?"

"In this dojo I am the shihandai and you are acting like a, what did Hiko-san call you? A baka-deshi? I can't believe I'm actually agreeing with him," the perplexed look on Kenshin's face shouted that he couldn't believe it either. "But if you mention that insignificant fall one more time, I will have to punish you."

A devilish gleam entered Kenshin's eyes. "That might be fun."

"Kenshin!" Kaoru squeaked and blushed. Kenshin chuckled.

They were sitting face to face with their threaded fingers held firmly in Kenshin's lap. His thumbs caressed up and down the edges of her hands. "Kaoru, I need to ask you something."

"Yes?" she answered cautiously. If this had anything to do with her fall, she was going to kick him in the head. Of course, he was so hard-headed she'd probably break her foot.

"Kamiya Kaoru, will you marry me?"

With her thoughts consumed with the best way to render him unconscious, it took her a moment to process what he had just said. She must have misheard him. "What?" she asked blankly.

The skin around his mouth tightened. His golden eyes dulled to brass. In a controlled voice that failed to completely hide his desperation he asked again, "Kaoru, my love, will you marry me?"

Ripping her hands free from his grasp, Kaoru launched herself into his lap. "YES! Yes, yes, a hundred thousand times YES!" Grabbing his cheeks with both hands, she showered Kenshin's face with ecstatic kisses. She was laughing, she was crying, she was in love and she was going to get married! Her heart was bursting with happiness. Finally her lips fused with Kenshin's in a long, luscious, loving kiss.

When they finally broke apart, Kaoru noticed that tears stood out in Kenshin's eyes. "I love you," he fiercely declared. "If you want, we can keep this to ourselves for a little while and just explore our relationship. We don't have to get married right away. But know that some day soon, I will be taking you to the shrine. When I said forever yesterday, I meant it. For the rest of my days and nights, dawns and dusks, I want to be by your side."

Sunlight streamed over the waterfall of Kenshin's red hair, highlighting each strand. A small brown freckle stood out on his right cheek. His eyes were liquid honey, gazing at her with love and devotion. Every detail of his image engraved itself in Kaoru's memory. I will never forget this moment. Never.

Their next kiss was slow and full of promise. Kenshin smiled sweetly into her eyes. "I want to marry you in the shrine, then come home to the dojo filled with all of our friends and have them wish you good luck and tell me how lucky I am to have a woman like you. We can even invite Hiko and ask him to make a hundred vases for all of the flowers you are going to receive. Of course, I'm sure a few bottles of good sake will slip in too, which will ensure Sano's attendance if nothing else."

Kaoru laughed through her happy tears, "That sounds wonderful." She kissed him on the nose and then leaned back. Gazing adoringly down into his golden eyes, she locked her hands behind his head and whispered lovingly, "my fiancé. Absolutely wonderful." At her words, a goofy grin spread across Kenshin's face.

Standing up, Kaoru picked up her bokken and moved to replace it on the rack. "We should go to the Akabeko for lunch to celebrate. I'd at least like to let our friends know." Glancing at him from the corner of her eye where he was retrieving his own bokken, she added, "Sano especially. Otherwise, I think the stress of the situation might give him a heart attack."

"Yes," Kenshin smiled and replaced his own practice sword. "I'd like him to stop glaring at me as well."

Kaoru gaped at him, "You mean-?"

"Don't worry. I deserved it," he added wryly.


"Don't worry," he repeated. Looking over at her, a flirtatious grin pulled at his lips. "I'm surprised you aren't wearing your present from Yahiko."

"I am," Kaoru answered, confused by his comment as she looked down at her new blue hakama.

"No," he said mournfully, though his eyes glittered with repressed laughter, "you're not. Since it's going to be hot again today, I was hoping to find you wearing what Yahiko gave you – hakama dake." Kenshin smiled wickedly.

Unsure whether to laugh or hit, Kaoru decided to do both. Chuckles spilled from her lips as she swung her balled fist at his head. Dodging her blow, Kenshin grabbed her wrist and pulled her into his arms. Their smiling mouths met in a tender kiss. Melting into his embrace, Kaoru's last coherent thought was a delicious picture of married life with Kenshin. Together, they could sneak away to the dojo and practice their art… where both of them would be wearing hakama dake.

The End! Owari! Finis! Tsuzukunai!


Hakama- The skirt or baggy pants that some jujitsu practitioners wear, and were common male attire in Meiji. (Prior to Meiji they were only worn by the samurai class.) 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. (Thanks for the clarification from Kathryn Angelle.)

Dake- Only, just

Shihandai- Assistant instructor, Kaoru's title

Rurouni- Wanderer (Kenshin)

Hitokiri Battousai- Kenshin's title when he worked as an assassin during the Bakumatsu

Jou-chan- Little Missy or Little Lady, Sano's nickname for Kaoru

Tabi- Split-toed socks for wearing with sandals

Tatami- Japanese woven straw floor coverings

Shoji- Sliding paper door

Bokken- Wooden sword

Sakabatou- Kenshin's reverse blade sword

Kata- Stylized form or marital arts with a set of choreographed moves

Mou- Kaoru's expression of exasperation or annoyance

Hai- Yes

Deshi- Student/apprentice/pupil

Baka-deshi- Stupid student/apprentice/pupil

Owari- The end

Tsuzukunai- Not continuing

Author Note: I LOVE YOU ALL! Thank you for your patience and support.

So you don't forget what this was about, here is a bad romance novel blurb of the story written by katyclismic.

On the front cover:

Hakama Dake


1000 reviews in print!

A partially-dressed, improbably endowed brunette is gazing up in bewilderment, ruby lips slightly parted, at a redheaded man trapping her against the wall, who, against all internal description, is apparently six feet tall, square-jawed and rippling with bronzed muscles, as you can see through his half-off shirt. There's undoubtedly wind-blown hair and shiny skin somewhere in there, too.

On the back:

"The Battousai Kenshin has a violent past, and it's not one he's willing to inflict on tempestuous Kaoru Kamiya, no matter how seductive she is! A raven-haired beauty with a kind heart, Kaoru's own search for love and acceptance is hindered by her confusion at Kenshin's dark mystery! Can their love break through the wall of silence they've created? The two find their hearts on a hot summer's day, where the only possible way to bear the heat is in


POLL Results: Favorite flavor of chocolate

Milk (14), peppermint (4), Turkish delight, hazelnut, dark mint, Peanut Butter (2), Dark/Black (6), milk chocolate with Amaretto, Milk chocolate dabbled in caramel covered cashews, white (4), Belgian, Swiss (2), German, Milka Chocolate from Germany, caramello koala, Orange (2), almond covered chocolate, raspberry (2), strawberry, Chocolate covered cherries, coffee-spiked chocolate, chocolate covered pretzels (2).

The author is 24. Ages of readers who'll admit it:

14 (4), 15 (6), 16 (6), 17 (4), 19 (2), 20 (3), 21, 22, 23 (2), 25, 33

New/Final POLL: Literary Men that Make You Melt or become Strangely Obsessed, i.e. the ones that you can't forget and come back to time and time again. NOT Manga, Anime, Movie, Comic (I bet my choices reveal odd things about my character.) I'll post the results on my profile page in a few days, since this story is officially over. +Bursts into tears+

Daemon Sadi(ablo) from The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop

Ilya(koria) Bakhtiian from Jaran by Kate Elliot

Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jean-Claude from the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton

Cat from The Windflower by Laura London

(I'll stop myself there before I become catatonic and short out my computer with the drool. They're just so delicious!)

Poll Results as of June2006: Literary Men that Make You Melt or Become Strangely Obsessed

Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - By far the winner in our reader poll
Daemon Sadi(ablo) from The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop
Ilya(koria) Bakhtiian from Jaran by Kate Elliot
Jean-Claude and Asher from the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
Cat from The Windflower by Laura London
Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Bevier and Sir Martel from The Elenium by David Eddings
Rath Royben Rye from Tithe by Holly Black
Zane Cobriana from Hawksong by Amelia-Atwater Rhodes
Aubrey from Demon in my View also by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Erik from The Phantom of the Opera
Eric from The Dead Series by Charlaine Harris
Ethan from Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde
Mordred from The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vande Velde
Jesse from The Mediator Series by Meg Cabot
Okumichi Genji and Matthew Stark from Cloud of Sparrows by Takashi Matsuoka
Jean Prouvaire (Jehan) (and Enjolras, Montparnasse, and Combeferre) from Les Miserables
Vidanric Rensleaus from Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
Remus Lupin and Ron from Harry Potter
Nicholas Sayre, Sameth, and Touchstone from the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix
Dr. Neil MacNeil from Christy by Catherine Marshall
Jonathan of Conte and George Cooper from the Song of the Lioness Series
Marcus from Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
F'nor from the Dragonrider series by Anne McCaffrey
Zakath from The Mallorean by David Eddings
Legolas, Haldir, Faramir from The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Afra from The Tower and The Hive series by Anne McCaffrey
Alex and the blind assassin from The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Dan Nguyen from The Tapestries by Kien Nguyen
Ethan from V Campanions of the night
Edward Cullen(best), Jasper Hales, and Emmett Cullen from Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Armand, Lestat, and Luis from Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice
Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Please Review and tell me what you thought now that it's over. Thank you!