Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and all characters therein belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki.
A/N: I really need to thank everyone again for the reviews I've gotten. It's a lot of fun to hear that the drabbles are being enjoyed even when there isn't much rhyme or reason to them.
On that same note, this one sort of came out of nowhere in the same general fashion. It's still in the High Maintenance setting, but I really debated on posting it because it's so much farther ahead that the others. Then again, it was pointed out to me that I haven't exactly paid much attention to chronologic order in the other drabble sets before, so... here it is.
The Dragon King and The Master Ninja
Kenji wrapped his hand tighter around his father's fingers and enthusiastically tugged him down the hallway. When Kenshin didn't follow fast enough to suit him, he glanced up with a frustrated huff and pulled harder. His smile returned just as quickly as soon as his father obediently lengthened his stride.
Kenshin looked up curiously as Kenji took a turn into the living room, and automatically smiled at finding Kaoru waiting on the couch. He raised his brows in question and tilted his head down to Kenji in silent indication, but Kaoru only shrugged in equal confusion.
Oblivious to their byplay, Kenji kept pulling his father determinedly to the couch and pushed on his knees to make him sit next to Kaoru. She quickly hid her smile behind her hand at Kenji's serious expression and absently leaned forward as Kenshin followed the direction, habitually wrapping his arm around her waist. Sighing in contentment at not only the warmth of his body but how easily he fit her against his side, she held out her hands to Kenji.
The direct approach still worked best in trying to figure out if their son was putting out an elaborate demand for affection. Yet, instead of his usual dash into his favorite spot at her invitation, Kenji shook his head and patted his mother's hands. "You sit here with Tou-san."
Kenshin squeezed her hip and struggled not to laugh at Kenji's stern instruction, pressing his face against her hair to conceal his smile. Kaoru didn't bother looking back at him as she straightened her spine and pointedly folded her hands in her lap. She stared down her son and arched one eyebrow, waiting for him to crack in the face of her disapproval.
Kenji hunched slightly, fidgeting and folded his hands behind his back anxiously before he amended, "Please?"
Kaoru smiled and leaned down to brush Kenji's bangs away from his face and press a kiss to his forehead. She gave him one more pat on the head to assure him all was forgiven before she relaxed against Kenshin's chest.
With a delighted grin at having regained his mother's approval, Kenji hurried over to the kotatsu and picked up the sketchbook Aoshi had given him for his birthday. Bracing one corner on the table, he maneuvered the book carefully to hold it just right and proudly squared his shoulders.
Kenji pulled open the book and turned the pages until he found the first picture he wanted them to see. After adjusting his grip to keep any of the other pages from blocking his art, he cleared his throat, turned up his nose, and pointed to the picture. "This is the story of 'The Dragon King and The Master Ninja.'"
Kaoru bit down hard on her lip, but still couldn't keep the smile off her face at the dragon, carefully drawn in scarlet pencil, looming over a purple ninja with blue eyes. Kenshin's embrace tightened with his own rising amusement until she felt him shaking behind her with the effort to keep his laughter contained.
Kenji puffed up his chest even more proudly at their rapt attention and turned to the next page. This time showing off the dragon sitting up on its hind legs and surrounded by clouds that looked an awful lot like the ones on his favorite scroll paintings in Kenshin's office.
Pointing at the new picture, he started his story, "Once there was a very old and powerful king of the dragons."
Kaoru's hand moved to Kenshin's thigh, digging her nails into the muscle in silent taunt as Kenji turned the page again.
Kenshin grinned widely at the drawing of the ninja and reached up to tug on the end of Kaoru's ponytail to tease her about the obvious source of inspiration. He dipped his head to nuzzle behind her ear affectionately, only to be brought up short when Kenji loudly cleared his throat again.
"Tou-san, I'm telling the story!" Kenji complained.
Kenshin quickly straightened and held up both hands contritely at the two accusing stares turned his direction. Reaching up to rub the back of his neck, he nodded toward the sketchbook to redirect his son's focus. "I'm sorry, Kenji, you're right. Is this the Master Ninja?"
Kenji's annoyance switched right back to a proud grin at the correct "guess," and he nodded enthusiastically. "This is the beautiful and sneaky Master Ninja!"
Kenshin looped his arm around Kaoru's waist again, but kept his most interested expression fixed on Kenji when his son gave him a suspicious look. Satisfied he had his father's full attention, he turned the page to show them the next set of pictures.
Kaoru had to lift her hand to cover her mouth, her eyes dancing with suppressed laughter at the almost comic-style paneling of more simple sketches. The first section had the dragon peering at the ninja over what looked suspiciously like their couch. While the next panel switched to a "close-up" of the ground in front of the ninja to show off a pit covered with a blanket. And finally, the ninja safely away from the trap, sticking out her tongue at the unhappy dragon.
Kenji pointed to each in turn as he continued to tell his story, "When the Dragon King saw the Master Ninja, he fell in love and tried to catch her. But the Master Ninja was too sneaky and escaped."
Kenji turned to page to the dragon wearing Kenshin's favorite apron and holding a plate of cookies. "So the Dragon King made cookies."
Kenshin nearly choked, holding it in through sheer will alone so as not to disturb Kenji's narration a second time. He brought his hand down to cover Kaoru's on his thigh and laced his fingers through hers as he tucked her closer against his side. He bit down on the side of his tongue, struggling even more to hold in his laughter while trying to help Kaoru do the same.
The next page showed the ninja at the plate of cookies, completely covered by a net.
"When the Master Ninja came close to take the cookies, the Dragon King dropped a magic net on her so she couldn't escape," Kenji continued, pointing to the little lines he'd drawn around the net to illustrate its "magic" before he turned to the next picture.
Kenshin's cheeks ached with how wide his smile spread at the drawing of the dragon wrapped around the ninja in a rather serpentine fashion while she cuddled a little baby with red hair and a dragon's tail.
Kenji pointed to the baby, looking back and forth between them to make sure they were looking where they were supposed to. "Then the Dragon King married the Master Ninja and they had a special baby. A Ninja Dragon baby."
He turned the page one last time to show off the self-portrait of him chasing a horned man with hair very much like Sano's with the dragon and ninja smiling in the background. Rocking himself up on his toes, Kenji curled his fingers over the top of his book to keep hold and spread his arms wide. "And the Ninja Dragon was the strongest and most awesome of all. The end!"
Kaoru finally pulled her hand away from her mouth, lips twitching as she fought to sound normal. "Kenji-love, that was the best story I've ever heard."
Visibly preening at the compliment, Kenji turned expectantly to his father for his reaction.
Kenshin shook his head with a wide, blatantly adoring smile and let go of Kaoru's hand to hold out his arm. This time Kenji beamed and clambered up onto their laps eagerly, holding his sketchbook protectively while he returned his father's hug with one arm. Once Kenji had settled to his satisfaction, Kenshin kissed his son on the crown of his head and honestly praised, "That's my new favorite story."
Kenji leaned back, looking from his mother to his father again. "Really?"
"Really." Kaoru nodded in agreement and held out her hand for the sketchbook, making sure to take extra care with the pages when Kenji passed it to her. He practically flattened himself against her once she raised her arm to make it easier for him to sandwich himself down between them.
He excitedly turned those big, expressive eyes that were so much like his father's up on her before he helped her flip back to the first page. And when she made all the appropriately impressed sounds as he pointed out important details like the dragon's watch, he added a dazzlingly bright smile.
Kaoru smiled and rested her chin on Kenji's head, tracing her finger around the dragon and murmuring, "It's so pretty, sweetie. How long have you been working on this?"
"Tou-san said you were suspicious of his cookies because Dragon Kings have to be smart to catch a Master Ninja," Kenji explained, flipping through the page to the cookies again and pointing to the plate. "Even old and powerful Dragon Kings."
Kaoru looked at Kenshin's overly innocent expression over their son's head. "Is that so?"
Kenji nodded enthusiastically, leaning back and looking up at her. "Do you want to hear it again?"
Kaoru stroked her hand over his hair and smiled. "I would love to, Kenji."
Kenji took the sketchbook and flipped back to the first picture. Fidgeting slightly, he tried not to sound too worried and asked, "Do you think Aoshi-nii would want to hear it?"
Kenshin slipped his hands under Kenji's arm and sat him on Kaoru's lap before lifting both of them onto his lap together. Sinking comfortably back into the corner of the couch, he wrapped his arms around Kaoru and clasped his hands on top of Kenji's. He rested his chin on Kaoru's shoulder and winked conspiratorially at Kenji when his son looked up. "Maybe if you're good, the Master Ninja will bring you to the office tomorrow so you can tell it to him personally and find out."
Kenji's attention instantly switched to Kaoru, and she made a show of sighing before stipulating, "Only if you're good."
Kenji flung his hands up in excitement and snuggled into Kaoru's arms with the sketchbook propped up on his legs. He tilted his head all the way back to look up at his parents and asked hopefully, "Do you still want to hear it again?"
"You know..." Kenshin stroked his chin and murmured suggestively, "There just might be cookies on the counter that you could use to illustrate secret dragon trapping techniques while you tell it this time."
Kenji let out a delighted squeak, bounding up off Kaoru's lap, and turning to hold his sketchbook out to her as proudly as a samurai offering his sword to his emperor. When Kaoru accepted it with exaggerated grace, he gave her his very best formal bow before giggling and hurrying off to the kitchen.
Kaoru waited until she could hear the distinct sound of Kenji's step-stool being dragged to the counter before sending her husband a dry look over her shoulder. "Dragon King?"
Kenshin ducked down behind his shoulder until all she could see was his eyes. "It's his favorite, you know."
"Don't think I don't know where that 'Master Ninja' thing came from." Kaoru reached up and gave his bangs a scolding tug.
"How else am I supposed to explain that you always know when he's going to jump out of nowhere?" Kenshin teased and brushed a kiss across the nape of her neck.
"Or when you're going to jump out of nowhere?" Kaoru challenged.
Kenshin's smile was entirely unrepentant.
"You realize this is not going to help convince Sano to stop calling him 'Tiny-Kenshin,'" Kaoru pointed out as she stroked her fingertips down the childish drawing, smiling tenderly at Kenji's imagined love story.
Kenshin was silent a moment before he leaned up to whisper in her ear, "I wonder if it would change his mind if I told him you were the one who started role-playing all on your own and took your poor, innocent husband completely by surprise when we made Kenji."
Kaoru shot him an arch look. "Don't even think about it."
Kenshin snickered, leaning up to brush the next kiss across the corner of her mouth.
Kaoru made a disapproving noise in the back of her throat and turned her face away from him. "You keep that up and you'll find out what happens to Dragon Kings when they lose favor with their Master Ninjas."
Kenshin grinned against her hair, bringing his arms up to wrap around her shoulders. "I guess that means I should get to work on a new batch of special cookies and dig out my magic net."
"You do that."
Kenshin closed his eyes, leaning his cheek against hers as he kept an ear out for the sounds in the kitchen. Kenji might be big enough to reach the carefully placed cookies on his own, but it didn't stop him from worrying any less than Kaoru every time he was out of sight. Distractedly, he stroked his thumb along her collarbone and breathed in the smell of her skin and hair with a content sigh.
When he finally opened his eyes, his gaze was drawn to where Kaoru's fingers continued to trace Kenji's art. Watching her silently for a long moment before he whispered his promise softly behind her ear, "I'll make as many as it takes."
Kaoru's lips curled up, discreetly leaning deeper into his embrace while her fingertips lingered on the dragon. "What Master Ninja could resist that?"
Kenshin kissed her shoulder again, scraping his teeth across the slope of muscle, and sliding one hand down to rest low on her stomach. "I'm only interested in one."
Kaoru twisted again, this time slanting a much warmer look at him through half-lowered lashes. She reached up to brush the backs of her fingers down his cheek and tapped her thumb against the corner of his mouth. "I don't think the Dragon King has anything to worry about."
"He'd better not." Kenshin cupped her cheek in one hand, lightly pulling her around farther until he could catch her lips in languorous kiss. He reluctantly eased back before they could get carried away, eyes glittering with mirth as he warned, "I'd hate to have to set the Ninja Dragon on you."
Kaoru practically dissolved into giggles, closing her eyes, and resting her forehead against his. Biting her lip, she glanced at the doorway to be sure Kenji was still safely out of earshot before accusing quietly, "That is your son."
Kenshin dragged his hand caressingly down the side of her neck, winding his other arm around her waist to cuddle her closer. Resting his chin on her shoulder again, he smiled warmly and hummed in the back of his throat. "And you wouldn't have it any other way."
"Well," Kaoru drawled out, "they were very good cookies."