Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and all characters therein belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki.

:Tradition:

Sano glared balefully down at the dessert resting so innocently on the table in front of him. The brightly colored lines of butter-cream frosting arranged in beautifully crafted kanji to form his name stared back.

Mocking him.

He would never be able to look at red frosting again. Not without seeing this table and this kitchen. His own damn kitchen…

Sano paused in his thoughts, frowning sourly as his conscience twinged under that complaint. He bit the inside of his cheek, impatiently trying to banish the pesky nagging. But after a long, tense moment, his shoulders slumped and he reluctantly acknowledged the truth.

So it was only half his kitchen; Kenshin still should have known better.

There was a system worked out for today, a tradition that had gone on uninterrupted for exactly seventeen years. Kenshin himself had seen it come and go just the way it had always been in each of the six years they'd known each other. Not once had he ever messed with Sano's favorite, precious tradition.

Until today.

Sano's scowl intensified.

As the blissfully memory of past years faded back to present, he willed the obnoxiously flawless creation in front of him to dissolve into nothing, burst into flames, grow legs and escape to blissful freedom, something. Maybe then he could pretend this was a dream. When he woke up, he'd come into the empty kitchen and waiting there on his old, battered table would be his special box.

His perfect, special, professionally labeled, custom box.

Sano closed his eyes, trying again to will the switch with every fiber of his being. But when he tentatively peeked down at the table, that cheerfully decorated, innocent thing was still right there.

Right there laughing at him.

Slouching down in his chair, Sano bit down hard on the side of his tongue to stop himself from letting loose a particularly harsh string of curses. With perfect clarity, he could recall that moment he'd come around the corner and found himself staring into the kitchen.

Confusion keeping him silent as his attention had been automatically drawn to a red line of frosting streaked across Kaoru's pale cheek. Just as quickly, Kenshin stepped into his line of sight. He grinned down at Kaoru before he looped his flour-covered hand around her waist and dragged her against his hip. The redhead had said something to her that had been too low for Sano to hear, even if his other senses hadn't immediately shut down in utter shock at finding this scene playing out before his eyes. But whatever it was, it had wiped the smile off Kaoru's face instantly.

Sano hunched his shoulders defensively, uncomfortable with the way his thoughts continued to betray him. Fighting down a blush as his uncooperative mind replayed the look in her eyes, the bemusement drawing her brows together. Finally muttering a quiet curse when his mind failed to gloss over what had come next.

Kenshin leaning down and covering the frosting on her cheek with his mouth for much, much longer than Sano thought necessary while Kaoru remained still as a statue. His roommate finally pulled away, but not before he brushed a light, almost hesitant kiss directly against the skin he'd just licked clean.

The light, bubbly atmosphere that had drawn Sano toward the kitchen vanished under the abrupt, oppressively thick tension that sprang up between the silent pair in that instant. Kenshin stayed close, giving every indication he was prepared to keep her against him while his eyes intently searched her face. When Kaoru had done nothing but stare up at him with a vaguely questioning look, Kenshin slowly bent his head and pressed his lips to hers.

Instead of pushing him away, Kaoru just barely opened her mouth and tentatively brought one hand up to rest on Kenshin's cheek. With that single move, Kenshin seemed to throw all pretense of innocence out the window. Dropping whatever had been in his other hand, he dragged Kaoru up against his chest. Sinking his other hand into her hair to change the angle of their mouths, he captured her in a kiss that Sano had been embarrassed to witness.

Even if it hadn't already felt like he had walked in on his little sister.

Self-preservation goaded Sano to make himself known when Kenshin's hand started creeping lower. Appearing for all the world that the quiet, "polite" man was planning to cop a feel.

Kaoru had stopped immediately, blushing and just as guilty and embarrassed at being caught as Sano felt for catching them. Kenshin, on the other hand…

Sano gritted his teeth hard, remembering that lazy, golden-eyed stare that had pierced him from over Kaoru's head. Kenshin hadn't wanted to let go, and he'd made damn certain that Sano had known that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

They were going to have words as soon as everyone else was gone.

Kaoru, bless her heart, had tried to diffuse the whole mess or at the very least distract herself from her own embarrassment. Bringing him to the problem currently staring him in the face.

His birthday cake.

Instead of his favorite specialty cake from his favorite bakery, Kaoru excitedly told him that given her tragic lack of culinary skills, Kenshin had sweetly offered to cancel his morning plans just to help her make one from scratch. Giving what would have been a perfectly good, perfectly innocent reason for Kaoru to be alone with Kenshin in the kitchen. It would have been a perfectly good, perfectly innocent reason as Kaoru believed had it not been for what he now suspected were the ulterior motives behind his sneaky, unscrupulous roommate's offer.

He couldn't prove it yet, but he would.

Sano was bound and determined to defend Kaoru's honor against the untrustworthy, amoral designs of experienced predators masquerading as harmless college men. And his formerly perfectly acceptable friend had now proven he belonged in that top slot of that category.

He'd seen how Kenshin watched her whenever she came to visit, known that his roommate was harboring what Sano had thought was just silly little crush. Maybe something that would turn affectionate, but nothing that would ever overstep the bounds of a strictly platonic friendship. Now that Kenshin had made his intentions to cross that line known, he would have to watch the crafty bastard much more closely to make sure he didn't pull anything funny with Kaoru.

But first…

Sano scowled even more violently at the cake and reached for the knife beside his plate.

First he was going to show Kenshin that he wasn't going to let him ruin his birthday.

Sano was going to eat the every scrap of the cake if it killed him.