Disclaimer: I… well I think envy is a sin. And if it doesn't belong to me and I want it anyway…

Chapter 11: Wandering Thoughts

Waking with the smell of jasmine lodged in his nose was probably the most enjoyable experience of Kenshin's life. Or so his dazed mind told him as he lay in perfect contentment with its sweet aroma wafting around him. As other separate sensations plagued his body, however, he began to remember just why the smell came in a sharp second on his most enjoyable scale. With soft skin touching him from toe to hip to the side of his head, there was no doubt that some things were just much more important than scent.

Like the taste of salty jasmine skin.

Grinning foolishly, his muscles so incredibly relaxed and more than exhausted from a wonderful night's workout, he let his half-parted lashes fall completely closed once again. A part of him worried about his weight, as she was lying half underneath him, but with the smooth slope of her back pillowing his head and his fingers weaved and curled loosely with hers he didn't truly want to move. Of course if I do try I would probably wake her, so best not to. Another lopsided grin and he agreed readily with his logic. Anything, if he just didn't have to leave the comfort of his position. He liked the way her body pressed against him and her legs tangled with his.

Floating back into the world of dreams, his brain a mush of delight, his brow twitched on a frown as a loud shrilling ring interrupted his mind's reenactment of many favorable moments. Cursing the noise angrily, his lips murmuring ghosts of heated words, the sound stopped and he sighed happily. Seconds later it returned, louder and more insistent, and it pulled a reaction from the woman beneath him.

Thoughts snapping together in an imitation of his son's toy train tracks, Kenshin pushed himself up and snatched the phone off the side table before it fully rose into that screeching octave a third time. Holding it out at arms length, he focused his eyes and attention on the beautiful angel now sheltered under the curve of his body. Sleepily she shifted, a cute sound of denial for the real world rubbing innocently against her throat, and she brought her hand to press under her chin as she smiled. Sighing in relief as she did not fully rouse, Kenshin adjusted his weight to his elbow so he could leave several small kisses down the bare length of her shoulder.

Lost in a few precious moments of worship, Kenshin blinked as he realized the phone he still held at arms length was buzzing and squawking in a bid to grab his attention. Rather bemused with his own actions, he reluctantly rolled away from the woman in his bed and fitted the speaker to his ear.

"H-…" Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Hello?"

"About damn time! Did you knock the phone across the room?"

Smiling crookedly, Kenshin glanced sideways at the naked backside in his peripheral vision. It was too appealing with the sheet barely a tangle of cloth at her legs. "No, but that was probably a better idea, Father."

Hiko lifted a brow. It had been years since his son had called him father. "Hmph, so you were purposely ignoring me."

"Well, that's what happens when you call someone at…" Blinking and yawning, Kenshin stretched to find the alarm clock, his downy violet eyes widening as the red numbers came into focus. "Good Kami-sama. What the hell are you calling me at six-thirty in the morning for?"

"Wake-up call." Voice dry, Hiko made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a growl. "It's business. Why the hell else? So get up and get dressed and meet Shinomori-san downstairs in thirty minutes."

Rubbing a hand over his face, Kenshin groaned. "I thought we were going to have the day off. It's New Year for Kami sake. Who in their right mind is going to want to talk business?"

"Don't test me, boy. Just do as I say."

The dial tone droned in his ear and Kenshin sighed. No rest for the wicked. Hitting the off button, Kenshin laid the phone down and rolled to the side, staring for as long as he dared at the figure of long limbs, firm muscles, and silky hair lying next to him. He wanted nothing more then to curl back around her and fall into the same sweet bubble of ecstasy that she was drowning in. Running a calloused finger carefully down her spine, he leaned forward to follow the trail with his lips. I promise when we return home, koishii, that I will dedicate a full weekend to you. Though I'm sure there will be many throughout the rest of our lives.

Content with the thought, Kenshin sat up to slide off the other side of the bed.

Party clothes lay in forgotten piles on the floor, forcing his lips to twitch as he could clearly see how they had gotten there. Locating his underwear, he quickly slipped them on and took a couple minutes just picking up after their mess. Lovingly hanging her kimono over the back of a chair he let the silk slide through his fingers, remembering how easily it had slithered off her skin. Feeling his gut clench, Kenshin smiled wryly and turned away. If he wasn't careful he was going to make the day longer than it was already going to seem.

Tip-toeing to her side of the bed he brushed a finger over her bangs to uncover her thick lashes. Smiling affectionately, he dropped his hands to the tousled blankets and situated them gently over her naked body. With his absence he was afraid she would get cold. Sighing in regret that he would not be there when she woke, Kenshin twisted to walk toward the bathroom. Hiko had not given him much time.

After a quick shower Kenshin dressed in the bathroom as well, since he didn't rust himself to stay away from the little tiger in his bed. Not with the way she had repositioned herself while he had been away. Pulling out a casual suit as he had studied the way her arm outstretched across the area he had vacated, a small frown tugging on her lips as she was quite unable to find what she was looking for, was not making leaving any easier.

Instead he let himself out through his son's room. Needing to check on him anyway, he was quite happy to find him still sleeping peacefully, his little body sprawled in comfortable contentment. Kenshin only hoped his dreams had been kind.

Halfway through a quick cup of coffee Kenshin lifted a brow when someone knocked on the door. Looking at the clock he was a little peeved to notice he still had five minutes. Stalking over to wrench it open, he sucked in an irritated breath and froze. With the small woman nestled in his arms Aoshi looked incredibly ruffled and as ill-tempered as he felt.

"I do not want her staying by herself."

Knowing he was thinking about the situation from last night, Kenshin nodded and stepped back. "Of course." Shutting the door after them, Kenshin squinted as something bright and prism-like flashed in his retinas. Dazed for a second, he followed the taller man into the main receiving space and quirked a grin when he turned just enough to show the small, feminine hand tangled in his shirt. I guess I'm not the only one who had a good night.

Clearing his throat softly as Aoshi bent to settle her on the couch, Kenshin pointed toward the room off to his left. "You can put her in Kaoru's room if you want. She did not sleep there." Trying to be as nonchalant as possible, Kenshin ground his teeth at the ridiculous urge to grin stupidly. He was not a teenager and he was definitely not about to kiss and tell.

Hefting her without comment, Aoshi crossed to the room and disappeared inside. Within seconds he was back out and ready to leave.

Finishing his coffee quickly Kenshin grabbed his jacket and followed, shutting the door tightly and making sure it locked behind them. With as precious as the room's contents were, it was nearly too hard to walk away. Sighing as they entered the elevator, Kenshin smiled and leaned into the railing.

The new year was perfect. It was all perfect. Kenji was now content, having finally found someone to call mother; a woman that had no qualms stepping in where another had been found lacking. She was compassionate, funny, loving, and strong; perfect in every way, and completely innocent to boot. At least, she was…

Letting his eyes fall shut as he thought of everything she had given him, his smile wavered with the strength of his happiness. Admitting that he had been surprised was an understatement. Though it was probably insulting to think she would be anything but innocent. He was merely glad that he had been able to restrain himself enough not to hurt her unintentionally. It had been quite awhile for him and all the self-control in the world wouldn't have been enough to keep his hands from shaking when he touched her.

The elevator doors dinged to announce their arrival on the bottom floor and Kenshin sighed as he stepped out. Knowing Kaoru had never done anything as intimate as what had occurred during those hours of night made leaving all that much harder. He wanted to be there for her, to watch her wake up, to see how she greeted him, to know if she was in any type of pain and then pamper her all day to make her forget it. Though maybe it will be better for Kenji if he has her all day to himself. Knowing how selfish he could be, Kenshin was afraid he might monopolize the woman and make his son angry.

I will endure. Though I only hope Kaoru doesn't take it the wrong way.

Frowning, Kenshin made a detour to the front desk and exchanged a few quick words with the receptionist. Smiling when the man complied readily enough, he took the card that was handed to him, penned a few smooth symbols on its white surface and handed it back. Feeling a little lighter, Kenshin returned to Aoshi's waiting figure. The other man said nothing, but then Kenshin had been around him long enough to interpret the meanings of silence. Cracking a grin, he stepped in front of him to walk outside to the waiting limo.

x

They met Sano and Hiko at a restaurant where they exchanged greetings before sitting around the private table. Feeling thankful that they had already ordered coffee, Kenshin filled his own cup and sipped at it gratefully. Fatigue was wearing on him, and with as little sleep as he had gotten he needed the extra energy to survive the day. Especially since his father saw fit to start it so incredibly early.

"So what is this all about, Hiko-sama?" Replacing his mug on the table, Kenshin rolled his shoulders and sighed.

"Unfortunately today is not going to be a day of relaxation. After last night there are many issues we need to smooth over and take care of." Lifting a stack of files for reference, his face contorted angrily. "That escapade with your ex-wife has left quite the impression on many of our business contacts. Not to mention the papers. Luckily I was able to convince most of the important ones that the situation was a harmless misunderstanding that included a great quantity of alcohol."

Frowning, Kenshin sat his cup down. "This will not reflect badly on Kaoru though." The statement was no less than a demand and Hiko quirked a grin.

"No. In fact, even without much help she has won over everyone's loyalty. Quite a few of the people I have talked to were more than interested in her ferocity in getting Kenji back. So you can relax, it is not the girl you need to worry about."

"Then what is?"

"Reputation, as always, is a main part of business relations. It would not look good for anyone to be trading, selling, or buying from a business that cannot handle their own internal affairs."

Sitting back in his chair Kenshin played with the lip of his coffee mug, his features thoughtful. "If last night's fumble has not reflected badly on any of this because of your guidance, Hiko-sama, then I will assume you have found out more about Tomoe's contact."

"I have." Nodding his head he flopped open the manila folder, slipping a picture off the top to hold up. "This man's name is Kiyosato Akira. Tomoe's date to the party last night." Kenshin frowned, his eyes narrowing. "Do you recognize him?"

"Vaguely." Shaking his head, he drained the rest of his coffee and leaned forward to take the photo in hand. "It's been awhile, but I think I remember him working for me in the main branch."

"Quite." Flipping through the rest of the file, Hiko pulled out a pair of reading glasses from his jacket pocket and donned them to read the fine print. "I pulled his entire record and it is actually very impressive. He's been with the company since nearly the beginning. Worked right under you, in fact, as an intern fresh out of college. Went straight into desk work after his internship was up. Real good with numbers. In fact too good."

"Is there something else that is bothering you?" Aoshi spoke up quietly, his hands folded neatly over the table.

"Yeah. The man's a high-end con artist." Sano's tired voice spoke of an all-nighter, his eyes tinged slightly red as he leaned forward and sucked down an entire cup of coffee himself. "Never would've noticed either, until he screwed up with this little venture."

"I have my theories on that, though, Sanosuke-san."

"Yeah, the woman. She nearly got his ass caught once before already. Makes you wonder why he even listens to that conniving cu…"

"What is going on?" Becoming impatient, Kenshin cut off Sano's input, reaching across the table to snap up the folder himself.

"Kiyosato Akira worked in your financing department, Kenshin, until about five years ago when he moved to America."

Fingers dropping to his lap as the numbers spread out before him started forming a pattern, Kenshin felt something dark clench at his gut. "Five years ago, when the business almost went under."

Leaning over to slide the information close enough to study, Aoshi's features tightened. "It would have been child's play for him to strip a couple of the lower departments of their funding and direct it elsewhere." The slight form of irritation on his face turned to outright rage after a brief couple seconds and Aoshi shoved the folder away from him.

"I checked all of the numbers myself. Multiple times. These deposits were not in our records." Cold blue irises swung to Sano. "Where did you find these?"

Yawning Sano shrugged, a hand ruffling through his hair. "In the weirdest backup document. It was labeled something strange, and I wouldn't have looked at it except I'd never heard of it. And it was buried under all this insignificant data. Of course, parts of it were corroded as well, as if he tried to erase it and couldn't."

"So he hid it instead."

"I suppose he figured he didn't need to worry about it being found as long as he was out of the country by then."

"And when we didn't find it he showed back up looking for employment here." Hiko's deep voice was bordering weary but Kenshin could see the anger in his eyes. "I'm the one that hired him, since he already had experience with the company. Something we needed after our opening here. He was intellectual and completed his work on time, so I never gave him a second thought. Though it seems he has perfected his thieving." Pulling off his glasses he rubbed two fingers over the bridge of his nose. "His gleaned more than just a couple grand, son, and while the company's not exactly hurting, we have had to break off and decline deals I would have much rather kept or taken."

Pulling in a steady breath, trying to remain calm, Kenshin pictured what Kaoru would do in this situation. A small smile tugged on his lips, her temper always quick to ignite, and he lowered his jaw as he let a long breath out his nose. "For now let's concentrate on what needs to be done. The money can't be replaced, but we can solve the issue before it becomes an even larger liability." Signaling for more coffee, Kenshin once again pulled the folder closer to study. "Tell me everything you know."

x

Misao stirred sleepily, her body quite exhausted and heavy as she tried to blink open blue irises to sluggishly take in her surroundings. Startled at how alien her setting was she darted bolt upright in the bed, her head whipping around in search of Aoshi. Momentarily apprehensive, her heartbeat quickening in anxiety, it took several seconds for her half-asleep brain to remember mute details from very early that morning.

"Wake up, my love." A soft hand brushing over her cheek. "There is an emergency at work… Himura-san will need me." Protesting, she snuggled into his chest, her arms wrapping tightly around his torso. Amused laughter filled her ears and she was lifted off the bed. "Very well, little one… but I will not leave you in here alone."

Sighing, her body flopping back onto the bed and she grinned foolishly. Aoshi-sama was the best man she had ever met and she was glad that he was all hers. Stretching her arms above her to the ceiling, her eyes caught as stayed on her left hand and her grin wavered as she bit her lip. Mine, forever.

Well, soon enough, anyway.

Dropping her arms, she studied her surroundings with little interest. It didn't take long for her to recognize the interior of Kaoru's room and Misao pursed her lips. Kenji must have been entirely too upset to sleep by himself if she were occupying her best friend's bed. Lip trembling Misao rolled to her side and balled her fists into her chest, suddenly sobered. Whatever Kaoru and Aoshi said to the contrary, she knew it was all her fault. Knew that Hiko and Himura probably would not be able to forgive her for it, either. It hurt to think that young Kenji would never be entrusted to her to watch ever again; more painful knowing that she had somehow lost respect from her peers. She was completely infatuated with the boy, and enjoyed getting to watch him. He already felt like a little nephew she needed to protect and spoil.

Groaning as her thoughts turned depressive, Misao rolled out of bed. Might as well get up if I'm not going to get anymore sleep. Besides, I'm sure I'll get to spend time with the boy… as long as Aoshi-sama is there, and that won't be too bad. Stretching her arms high above her head, Misao purred as her back popped. It felt nice to get to sleep in, and as her eyes slid over the alarm clock she knew it wasn't just a couple of stolen minutes, either.

Padding out into the living area of the suite, uncaring of her pajama clad body since she knew Himura wouldn't be there anyway, she made her way across the open floor and to the coffee maker. Thankful that someone had reset the timer, she poured herself a cup and sipped at it happily. Though sleeping in until eleven had done her body some good that didn't mean she was brimming with as much energy as usual. Someone had been more than zealous the night before with his idea of bringing in the new year, and Misao was pretty sure she was going to be feeling the aftereffects all day. Not that she minded.

Glancing once more to the hand wrapped around the coffee cup, she grinned, her eyes closing as she sighed. Everything that happened last night was last year. This is this year and I'm going to enjoy it. Besides, your supposed to learn from the past, not live in it. Giggling, her eyes still closed, she nearly jumped out of her skin when something tugged on her pant leg.

Hot coffee spewed over the lip of her mug, burning her fingers and she hissed out a breath instinctively. Ducking her head through her outstretched arms, her hand throbbing as the liquid cooled, she looked for the perpetrator. With small fingers still fisted into her pants, Kenji tilted his head up to stare back, his eyelids heavy as he yawned.

"Oh… hey little guy…" Twisting carefully so as not to upset his grip, she sat down the mug and reached for a towel. "What's up?"

"Nuthin." Yawning wider, his hand dropped to rub at his eyes. "Hungry."

Laughing softly, she patted him on the head. "Yeah, me too." Chewing on her lip, knowing he was still half-asleep, Misao knelt in front of him and took a deep breath. "Hey, you know… your Aunt Misao's really sorry about last night." Slowly his eyes blinked at her, and she wasn't quite sure he understood what she was trying to say but she wanted him to know anyway. "I should have been more careful with you and I wasn't. I hope you're not mad at me."

A small smile pulled at his lip and he shook his head. "Not mad. You're fun, Aunt Misao."

"You mean… you're not mad at me at all for what happened last night? Even after that mean lady took you away for awhile."

Shaking his head harder, sleep lifting from his eyes, his smile turned to a grin. "Nope, Mommy saved me. She promised she would protect me and she did."

Chuckling as tears pulled at her eyelashes, Misao stood. "She sure did, didn't she? So," Clapping her hands together, she turned and made for Kenji's bedroom. "let's get her lazy butt outta bed and order some breakfast. Whaddya say?" Pushing open the already ajar door, Misao was halfway into the room before Kenji's small voice called out suddenly.

"But Mommy's not in there."

Blinking rapidly at the empty bed, Misao frowned incomprehensively. "But…" Shoulders slumping, she whipped around and stared at Kenji's small form still standing next to the countertop. Finally wide eyes swung to the only other door in the suite not open, the corner of her mouth slowly stabbing upwards in realization. Holy sh…

Throwing a brief smirk at Kenji, Misao quick stepped to the door of Himura's room, hearing Kenji's little feet scamper up behind her as he became curious. Careful to peek her head inside first to make sure nothing indecent would scare the kid, she let him through only after finding the blankets securely covering naked skin.

"Mommy slept in Daddy's bed?"

Go Kaoru!

Thought slightly sardonic, Misao shrugged a shoulder and watched the boy skip into the room and climb up onto the mattress next to Kaoru's happily snoozing form.

"Maybe she just needed some company."

Pensively Kenji nodded his head, and Misao was glad he accepted the explanation. She only hoped he didn't ask why she was naked. "Well, we did all sleep together before when me and Daddy had bad dreams. Maybe Mommy had a bad dream, too, and needed Daddy." Scrunching his face up as another thought occurred to him, he looked to Misao quizzically. "Aren't Mommies and Daddies supposed to sleep in the same bed all the time?"

Liking this insight into the situation, Misao nodded quickly. "Yeah, I think you're right. It's pretty normal for them to share a bed, since Kaoru's your Mommy and all."

Muffled voices drifted through the barrier of warmth that surrounded Kaoru's conscious and teased her back into reality. Humming softly in the back of her throat, her muscles protesting the movements as she adjusted her body even in the slightest, she blinked open languid sapphire irises to stare at the curious gaze of her son.

"Good-morning, Kaachan."

The smile on her face widened as he greeted her cheerfully, and her contentment deepened. "Good-morning, Kenji-chan." Lifting a hand, she brushed stray hairs from his face. "How are you feeling, baby?"

"Good."

"That's wonderful." Smiling affectionately, she propped herself up on an elbow and kissed him softly on the forehead. As her eyes focused past his red hair Kaoru blinked at a smirking Misao, one eyebrow cocked in question and infuriating amusement. Unsure how to respond, she felt confidence in their relationship and made a face, smiling when the smaller girl burst into laughter. Kenji pulled back to study their expressions curiously.

Still laughing breathlessly, Misao held out a hand and encouraged Kenji with a wave. "Come on, little guy. Let's order some breakfast while we let Mom take a shower."

The door clicked shut, their now muted voices discussing what to order up for their breakfast at nearly mid-day. Sighing, Kaoru flopped back into the pile of silken pillows and sheets, stealing a moment of time to think of nothing but the sweet trappings of love she had been introduced to. Biting her lip at the wonderfully needful tone she could recall in her new lover's voice, her heart fluttered and she suppressed the desire to giggle like a schoolgirl. Pressing her face into the mattress and pulling up a fistful of bedclothes to hide under, her mind halted at the familiar scent of Kenshin's soap and the unfamiliar scent of post-love sweat.

Though it had all been beautiful and life-changing in a way she would never be able to describe, she couldn't help but wrinkle her nose at the latter fragrance's strong output. Moving to sit up, her bare legs sliding sensually across the sheets, her frown deepened when they came into contact with one another. They were sticky and sore, slightly raw where her thighs rubbed together, and the splendor of the evening began to peal away with the dawning of reality. Quirking a grin, Kaoru shifted to slide off the bed. It was like enjoying a night of alcohol and then dealing with the hangover.

Though sore muscles and sweaty skin are pretty minor details. And I would rather sleep with Kenshin then get drunk any day.

Pursing her lips, Kaoru grimaced as her feet connected with the floor. She really hoped the morning after wouldn't be like this every time, though. Surely it couldn't since Misao had never complained, and she knew better than to think her best friend would be able to keep something so irritating to herself. I'm just not used to it, is all. It's just like swinging a bokken for the first time. My muscles aren't used to the exercise. All I need is a little… practice. Snorting out a laugh, Kaoru rolled her eyes, halfway glad that Kenshin wasn't anywhere around. He'd either tease her to no end, or feel guilty about it. Neither outcome sounded very appealing.

Wondering where he was and feeling slightly put out that he had left her alone in bed after such an intimate night, even if she didn't feel like facing him just yet, she made her way to the bathroom. At that moment she didn't really want to face anything until she took a shower. And just maybe scalding hot water would do her legs some good.

She was just beginning to feel the blossoming of hurt at Kenshin's absence when she exited his bedroom, wrapped in a bath robe since she had nothing else to wear out of the shower. Misao and Kenji were flipping through TV stations, Misao looking as exhausted as she felt. The smell of coffee directed Kaoru's feet towards the small countertop, and as she poured herself a cup she cleared the emotion from her throat before she spoke up.

"So… uh, where'd Kenshin and Shinomori-san go? They said they wouldn't have to work today."

Careful to keep her back to Misao in case she didn't like the answer, she frowned when her friend sounded rather bored with the question. "Oh, I don't know, something important came up."

"And? Did they say it would take long, or what?"

"Dunno. I wasn't really awake when they left." A knock on the door forced their conversation in the background as Misao gave a cry of delight and ran to open it. A well-dressed gentleman came in with a cart full of food, a newspaper balanced beside the dishes, and had no more than parked the thing halfway into the room before he was walking back to the door for something else. By this time Kenji had joined the smaller woman, both unloading the cart instead of waiting, and Kaoru shook her head.

"These are for you, miss." Stepping back instinctively as something large and bright was shoved at her, she gasped in surprise and was slow to comprehend. Patiently the man held out the large vase of flowers, intent that she take them from him, and she hesitantly obeyed at his knowing smile. "Mr. Himura requested them special for you."

"T-thank you." Feeling the hurt that had slowly grown disappear in one smooth sweep, she bit her lip and sniffed the lovely irises happily.

"Ah… there is a note as well." Pointing to a small plastic flower fork shoved inside the bouquet, he smiled again and backed out to leave. Skipping over to Kaoru as she sat the vase down, Misao badgered her excitedly.

"So what's it say?" The door clicked closed after the man exited with the cart, and Kaoru fished out the note.

"Give me a second and I'll find out." Sticking her tongue out again at her friend, Kaoru opened the envelope and removed the thick card. Only about the size of her palm, she was surprised to see the large kanji neatly printed into the very middle. It was a sincere symbol of regret and sorrow. Frowning, unsure of its meaning, Kaoru looked up and watched the confusion on her face melt Misao's excitement.

"What?" Nearly sharp, the smaller woman snapped the card out of her hand and looked it over herself. "He's sorry? Sorry for what? For making you happy?" Completely indignant and becoming angry at the distress rising on her best friend's features, Misao flipped the card irritably and caught sight of the rest of the message on the back. "Oh, well…" Blushing as she read a few words in, she quickly handed the card back. "he's real sorry alright."

Heart jumping in renewed excitement, Kaoru hurriedly read over the other half of the letter and bit her lip to hold down her grin. "I'm sorry… for not being there when you woke, and missing the chance to relive every wonderful moment." It was signed with love, and Kaoru's eyes closed as Misao giggled.

"What's it say?" Wanting to know too, Kenji tugged on her elbow, demanding she let him look at the note as well.

Blushing, Kaoru stuttered a couple uncertainties before tucking the note into the pocket of her bathrobe and bending at the waist. "He says he's sorry he had to leave this morning and that'll he'll make it up to both of us later."

"Yeeaaah." Sarcasm laced every syllable and Kaoru glared at Misao's input. The impish girl grinned widely.

They made short work of the food, clearing away any debris in front of the TV so they could watch the news as they ate. Kenji was slightly upset that he had missed the fireworks, but as they got to see a recap of most of them on the large screen, he was able to content himself with the substitute.

"Don't worry, little man. We'll see what we can do about making it up to you." Winking, Misao rubbed his hair, and as sunlight shined through the opened windows Kaoru caught a glimpse of the shiny stone planted on her third finger. Blinking in astonishment, she sat up from her sprawled position on the floor and made a grab for her best friend's hand.

"Misao… is this?" A full spread grin was growing across Misao's features and she nodded happily.

"Took you long enough to notice." Breathless with her joy and impatience, she cradled the hand to her chest. "He asked me last night. Or rather this morning." Smiling down at the beautiful combination of gold and diamonds, she closed her eyes and squealed, her normal personality taking back over. "I'm so excited, Kaoru. He was just so sweet and nervous, and it was all just so perfect that I couldn't contain myself and I'm afraid that I didn't even let him fully finish but I couldn't wait one more second and…" A flush burned her cheeks and neck and she stuttered to a stop, glancing down at Kenji's curious face. "And well… we haven't had much, uh, time to talk about any of the details just yet, but… I really want a spring wedding, so that means we only have a few months or we'll have to wait until next year." She spoke this with such a sour look on her face that Kaoru laughed. "You don't think he'll make me wait that long do you?"

"Oh, Mi-love, I doubt he could deny you anything." Her smile returned and Kaoru held out her hand to get a better look at the engagement ring. "And don't worry, I plan on helping you out with whatever you need."

"Really? I was so hoping you would because I'm afraid I'm going to be rather scatterbrained until, oh next decade, and I won't get anything accomplished."

"I know, that's what I'm here for."

"So…" Stacking the plates and standing, Misao carted them to the counter. "What about you and Himura? I'm actually kinda surprised he didn't get you a ring first."

"We… haven't talked about marriage, Misao."

"I doubt it's too far in the future, though."

"What's marriage?" Following the conversation with more interest as Kaoru and his father were introduced into the context, Kenji sat up and looked at Kaoru inquiringly.

"Uh, one step at a time, Misao." Shooting her a quick look, she took a breath before trying to explain.

x

Kenshin yawned again, his hand lifting to cover his mouth when he was unable to stale the action. Earning another glare from dark irises, he ignored the meaning and slumped further into his chair. Already mid-afternoon and he was in imminent danger of falling asleep after his caffeine crash. Loosening his tie and working at the top button of his shirt, his jacket already discarded, he leaned into the chair arm and rubbed at his burning eyes.

A soft click lifted his attention to the desk in front of him and he smiled a thanks at Sano's secretary, reaching automatically for the full cup of coffee. As silence momentarily stilled the conversation, he knew everyone was similarly grateful and taking the opportunity to empty their mugs as quickly as possible. Wondering how awful he was going to feel later, Kenshin ran a hand back through his bangs and tried to sit a little straighter. From across the room Sano began to curse, as if the coffee had roused his anger back to life.

"Dammit! I can't believe this shit!" Glancing at the reproachful expression on his secretary's face as she walked out, he whispered a grudging apology. As soon as the door closed his voice rose again. "To think that scheming little…" Hiko gave him a glare this time and he clenched his jaw irritably. "It's not like it matters. It's just the four of us. Do you think we're going to get fired because we're using foul language?" Demeanor turning more and more sour as the hours rolled by, he threw out an arm, his voice deep in sarcasm. "I just can't believe…she was able to pull off such a stunt."

Kenshin sighed, his thumb pressing harshly at the ache between his brows. After studying the numbers over, checking the dates and times and passage of each order, more information had been gleaned about the man, Kiyosato. More money had been discovered lost as well as too many coincidences to be considered accidental. Kenshin had begun to suspect the entire situation that morning but had said nothing. A part of him revolted against the idea that he had been used even more than he had imagined; that he had fallen prey to a worse situation than the simple abuse of his love and adoration. His suspicion had been proven correct, however, and he felt even worse because of his failure to take notice of it earlier.

From the very beginning he had been used by Tomoe. There was no longer any doubt in his mind that she had never loved him and had only used him to get whatever she wanted. Now he understood how small that abuse of him had been in the grand scheme of things. Tomoe's act was only a cover for the bigger operation, a distraction to keep him from noticing the true design she was after. Which was where Kiyosato Akira came in. This man was actually her legal husband. He, however, was only another player in her web of lies and deceit, because she had used him too and dumped him just as quickly.

Tomoe and Akira had been married for over ten years, which was three years prior to Kenshin's own wedding with her. It seemed rather surreal to think that they had never been a legal couple and that his son was technically a bastard child. Not that Kenji would ever know such a thing, and all of the papers stating otherwise would be burned as soon as he had their use out of them. No one else would ever know it either. Eventually he planned to talk to Kaoru, and if she agreed, he would name her Kenji's legal mother on all of his papers.

"We should have given her to the police while we had the chance." An uncharacteristic pull of contempt marred Aoshi's features and Kenshin switched his attention to him. Aoshi saw this as a personal insult as well. Not because he had had any relationship with the woman but because he was in direct charge of making sure the company was stable. Like Kenshin himself, his life was invested into this company, and having another come in and nearly bring it to its knees in such a short time was shameful. Especially since they had been unable to discover why until now.

"You're too soft, Kenshin. Even your woman was ready to beat the life out of her."

Kenshin frowned at Sano's remark and Hiko shook his head warningly at red-rimmed, brown eyes. "Do not speak of Kamiya-san in such a fashion. It is disrespectful."

"Well something should have been done and I'm telling you your Kaoru-san was more than willing to do it. Now that jackal has her money and is probably long gone."

"Then let her be gone, Sano." Weary, and more than willing to let Tomoe go as long as she never came back, Kenshin dropped his head back onto the cushion of the chair and stared up at the ceiling. He no longer wanted to discuss any of this. He wanted to go back to the hotel, curl himself around Kaoru, and sleep for the next week.

"Sure, but what if she comes back? What if she tries something else?"

"I doubt she will be foolish enough to try another stunt, Sanosuke." Hiko played with his coffee mug, his expression just as drained and sour as the rest of them. "Not now that we are fully aware of her games."

"You can't be sure of that."

Kenshin sighed. Once Sano was worked up it was hard to wind him down. His instincts urged him to make sure every issue was completely finished without one chance of it ever coming up again.

"What I can be sure of is the new attentiveness of everyone in this room!" Voice snapping, Hiko jerked his hand from his cup and smacked the table. The man's own patience was wearing thin and he had never truly like to be talked back to. Outside the room Kenshin was suddenly aware of the silence. There weren't many people there, but a few had come in to help with the issue, and their boss's temper was not to be trifled with. Smooth, Tousan. They'll all think we're falling apart. Glancing around the room once again, violet eyes closed. I almost think we are. "Not one of us will ever let this situation occur again. Unless I am mistaking your loyalty, Sanosuke."

"Of course not." Indignant, Sano scowled.

"Good. Now shut up and listen." Glancing up briefly as his own secretary peeked her head into the room, Hiko flicked his hand irritably in a dismissive gesture. The woman frowned and ducked back out. Vaguely Kenshin wondered at the two secretaries. It took some guts to put up with Hiko and Sano. "I've already called the police and informed them of some trouble. Not the entire situation, but enough insinuation for them to pick up either Akira Kiyosato or Tomoe and hold them until we can press charges. I suggest you do the same when you get back to Japan." Looking to Kenshin and Aoshi, they nodded. "There isn't much we can do until either of them is caught. If they are caught. Hopefully if they are not found the warrant out on them may be enough to deter them from trying anything else. It will also make it difficult for Kiyosato to find a job. In the United States anyway. Nothing that will pay more than minimum wage anyway and I doubt he would stoop so low."

"Neither would Tomoe." Agreeing, Kenshin yanked on the collar of his shirt again, finding the room to be oppressive. He was too tired to think of what needed to be done, or what he wished to be done. The lids of his eyes were heavy, his muscles relaxed too far for movement, and if left alone for very much longer he knew he could fall asleep in the chair. It was more than comfortable, even if he was sitting up.

"That snooty little bitch has probably already found someone else to attach herself to, anyway." Sano stood as he spoke and paced the floor in front of the desk, the heat dying from his words. Good, he's finally calming down. Eyes half-closed, Kenshin tracked his movements apathetically. "After being so thoroughly shut down by Kaoru last night. Man! I wish I could've been there to see it!"

Kenshin's lips twitched as Sano chuckled, his voice rising in excitement this time as he turned his attention to Hiko and asked for another recount. Hiko shook his head. "You have already been told ten times. There is nothing left to know."

"She looked like a mother tiger." Feeling dreamlike and nearly asleep, Kenshin whispered an observation he had made the night before.

Sano laughed and joined in. "Yeah, pissed and ready to defend her baby."

"She looked like her father." Hiko's words cut in, his voice uncharacteristically soft, and Kenshin's gentle smile widened. "The same look in blue eyes that I received once…" The gentle smile dropped and Kenshin's eyes opened, interested.

"What did you do to earn a look like that?" Sano's voice was playful but Hiko's features were not.

"It was nothing less than should be expected. We were in love with the same woman." Dark eyes finally found Kenshin's and he smirked ironically. "I told you we were rivals, boy."

"Yes… but you did not say what kind."

"Shit, and you lost?" Sano spoke up as if amazed there was a single person on the planet that could beat Hiko at anything. Of course, he was a man speaking from experience.

"Trying to win the love of a woman is not a sword duel, idiot."

"Well, yeah, but…"

"It is a past issue. Let us not speak of it any further."

A sense of sympathy for the tone in his father's voice made Kenshin avert his gaze. He didn't like to think that there was anything that could upset Hiko in such an emotional way. There were things and people that he cared for, naturally, and Kenshin was aware of those sentiments even if they were not so openly acknowledged, but there was something about a woman that tore just a little deeper than anything else could. Kaoru's mother must have been a beautiful woman, body and soul, to earn the love of such a man as his father and teacher. Briefly he wondered what Hiko thought of Kenshin's own relationship with her daughter. Was there envy in those thoughts? Jealousy? Were the features he had grown to adore and cherish an echo of the same features his father had once looked upon with longing?

Sighing, Kenshin rubbed a hand at his neck, massaging at an ache he uncovered. This day was too long with too much information tied into it. He felt overloaded and was desperately in need of some down time to get his mind off of it all. It didn't help thinking about Kaoru either. Not when their first intimate night together had only just happened within the last twenty-four hours and the anticipation welling inside of him was demanding a replay; just to make sure it was real and not some precious dream. This expectancy was, at the moment, a higher priority and he couldn't truly concentrate past it.

"So, I've been meaning to say, Kenshin. You look about as shitty as I feel. Couldn't sleep?" Sano's voice was openly honest about the observation, but the fake concern that ended his question made Kenshin answer warily.

"Actually, I had no problems."

"Oh." Shrugging his shoulders, Sano paced around the room. "I just figured you were too worked up to sleep, considering how much you've been yawning. I mean, you did get to go back to your hotel earlier than any of us got to leave. Hell, I didn't even get the chance to lie down."

"What are you getting at?"

"Oh nothing. I've just been admiring that wonderful bite mark on you neck for the last half hour and I think it's pretty damn unfair of you to keep rubbing it in my face."

"He's got a point, boy. Besides, it's unprofessional to be showing it off. You should properly cover yourself while at work."

Blinking, his hand reached for the ache he had just recently noticed and recognized it for what it was. And could clearly remember just when and how he had received it. He had told himself to remember that moment so he could repeat it again later, what with the way she had reacted so wonderfully to it. Quickly slipping the knot of his tie up to shut the opened collar of his shirt he chanced a look at Aoshi, almost daring him to join in. Picking at a fingernail, he wisely said nothing.

"If you are quite done I think we should return to the business at hand. As tired as we all seem to be I think it prudent to finish this soon."

"Yes, boss. I'm sure we'd all be anxious to get back to a little woman." Winking, Sano sat back down. Closing his eyes for patience, Kenshin let out a steady breath. Well at least he's no longer angry.

x

It was still several hours later before Kenshin was able to curl himself around the blue-eyed kendo instructor. Much too long of a wait, if he wanted to understate his take on the matter. Between working out all of the details of the incident, sitting in the back of the limo as it made its way through traffic, and then entertaining an excited son, he was afraid if he did fall asleep he truly would sleep for a week. A part of him had welcomed the exhaustion, another had rebelled in childish frustration. Kaoru, though, had merely smiled warmly, led him by the hand into the bathroom, and proceeded to run a tub full of hot water. Then used those wonderfully insistent hands to relax every one of his tense muscles.

Afterwards he had found a better use for those hands.

Sighing, he leaned his head onto the back lip of the tub, his eyes closing blissfully. A light chuckle vibrated against his chest and he could feel the smile on her lips as she cuddled against him. Briefly tightening his hold on her back, he let one hand drift low to slide over her hip and rest on a thigh. Light shudders twitched under his fingers and he frowned before softly switching his grip to verify the source of the disturbance.

Pale golden irises opened, his shoulders pushing back so he could look down upon her. There was nothing but lethargic delight touching her features but the jerking of her muscles silently berated him. Idiot. She's still new to this. You've been too demanding. Gently his fingers worked at the sore muscle, holding her gaze when she glanced up. For a moment he could read her curiosity and then willingness to satisfy his desire a second time if it was his wish. The knowledge of that eagerness made his jaw grind, but his touch remained innocent and too soon her own eyes were closing as she sighed in pleasure.

They hadn't spoken much since he'd gotten back, only small, inconsequential questions and comments that were irrelevant. Kenji himself had talked the most and Kenshin was glad his son was not traumatized by the events of the night before. If anything he seemed happier and full of even more energy than normal. His voice was cheerful, and Kenshin could detect an overwhelming joy in his voice when he called Kaoru kaachan. The title had made him smile every time.

Not that, Kenshin realized, they truly needed many words. The soft glow of love in Kaoru's sapphire eyes was enough to soothe the anxiety of the day; of the questions that had been put aside and the worry over reactions and thoughts. None of it mattered now when faced with her calming presence and warm affection. The only thing that mattered was that he could hold her in his arms and reconfirm all the notions that had been born between them the night before. All of the confessions and reassurances they had traded were now wrapped as securely around them as were their arms around each other.

"I love you, Kenshin."

Heart fluttering like silk in a gentle summer breeze, his next breath was unsteady. "I love you, too, koishii."

There was a pause as she hummed deep in the back of her throat, her nose nuzzling his sternum. "The water's starting to get cold… and I can tell you're really tired. Shall we go to bed?"

"Hmm." Agreeing lazily, he pulled her close for a sloppy kiss before letting her escape.

Dry and warm in comfortable pajamas, he smiled crookedly as she climbed, without question or hesitance, into his bed. That was where he had left her that morning, he supposed she figured it would be the same place he would find her on the next. Which was his exact plan. Letting her adjust the sheets for comfort, he wrapped a firm arm around her waist when she was finished and pulled her securely into his chest. Finally in that position he had dreamed of the entire day he pressed his nose into her shoulder. Shifting for a few moments to find the best spot, he gratefully let every one of his muscles relax in euphoric relief.

"Goodnight, koi."

Already mostly gone, he only just heard her whispered reply.

x

The sound of the waves crashing against the shore was methodically soothing, the soft light of day warm still, yet dimmed by lazy clouds. Vaguely Kenshin realized he was dreaming, the sluggish motion of time common to the mind while gripped with such images. Smiling, he looked to his right, watching in delight as his son skipped through the sand and kicked the loose grains into the air with his toes. Blue-violet irises looked up happily, grinning as only his son could to convey his joy of the day.

To his left Kaoru walked gracefully, slender and delicate in a fluttery sun dress, her own bare feet digging into the warm sand as she carried her sandals. Beautiful eyes stared out over the ocean, taking in the scenery before looking back to him. Her own smile was gentle, affectionate as she squeezed his hand and leaned forward to peck a kiss on the side of his mouth. Words of love whispered from her lips, deepening the emotion spreading inside his chest.

Content, he led them onward.

All too soon there was a whistle in the wind, a chill breeze bringing the scent of heavier moisture from rain. A shiver ran down his spine, a notion in the back of his mind telling him of a similar scenario; explaining in panicked tones that he needed to get them both away. They were precious and required protection; he must not let them come to harm.

Searching frantically, he spotted an overhang of rock; a cave like hollow that would protect them from the rain. The darkness inside seemed to swallow up the light, however it would keep them from catching cold. It would serve to hide them from the outside world. The sight of it made his son whimper, his small hand pulling against him in fear of this ominous place. Picking him up impatiently, Kenshin tugged on Kaoru's hand and urged her forward.

Something inside him warned against his actions, a sure sense of deja-vu speaking of an ending he would not like. But what else was there for him to do? There was no other shelter near them, and there was no one in sight. Surely it would be safe until the storm passed. He would not let anything harm them. The closer to that cave he brought them, though, the higher his panic rose, wanting nothing to do with the darkness inside. How much of those shadows hid a danger he could not see? What would he be facing inside that cave that would tear his heart to shreds? Would it be something he could defeat? Frightened more than his trembling son, his fingers pinched desperately around the strong fingers of the woman beside him.

But then she tugged back, stopping him a mere feet or two from the entrance. As close as they were now Kenshin could see reflections within. A brightness like eyes were staring back, waiting for him to bring his most prized belongings to them so they could bring him to his knees. Staring, unable to look away no matter how much he wanted to, his eyes were glued to those creatures as if sure they were going to devour his soul. And there was nothing that he could do to stop them.

A warm hand alighted on his cheek, carefully encouraging his gaze away and guiding his sight back to her. There was so much strength in her eyes and her touch. Those blue irises that had been taught to protect and to shelter made him feel safe.

"It's alright, Kenshin. I brought an umbrella. See?"

Opening it with a light click, she brought it up to cover them, its diameter wider than it truly should have been. Only a few seconds later the rain started to fall.

"After all, anata. It's only a little rain."

Her smile widened and her hand twined through his arm, turning them around to walk back down the beach where they had come from. Distantly Kenshin could hear the noises of disappointment that echoed from out of the cave, but as his eyes slid back to the woman walking beside him, her confidence made his own smile break free. In his arms his son laughed happily, delighted that his mother had protected them from the storm.