Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and all characters therein belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki.
A/N: Thanks again to everyone who's left reviews for my little drabbles, and here's hoping I can continue to entertain!
"I still say it's proof that he's spawning," Sano muttered under his breath.
Kaoru paused in searching through the baby bag to half-heartedly shove her elbow into his stomach for that one. At his grunt of discomfort, she slanted him a look over her shoulder before refocusing on her search. "Kenshin wanted them to have black hair."
"You see? That just proves it was some sort of demonic power he used to impregnate you," Sano defended his position stubbornly. "Can't get your hair when he's using his freaky vibes to clone a little army of himself."
Kaoru stopped, blinking for a moment as she tried to decide if Sano had really said what she heard, and finally turning to face him. "What has gotten into the big empty void you call a head?"
Sano started to open his mouth to answer when a two foot blur of red darted into the room and latched onto Kaoru's legs. "Dragon King says time for school to make the Master Ninja proud!" Reaching both arms up, he hopped up and down until Kaoru obligingly swept him up high enough to reach her cheek for a loud, enthusiastic kiss.
His objective accomplished, Kenji tilted his chin down to regally present his forehead, and Kaoru couldn't stop herself from laughing softly as she dutifully pressed the "requested" kiss right below his hairline. Kenji beamed and puffed up his chest smugly at the show of affection before squirming to be set down.
Kaoru knelt with him to stay on his level, ruffling his hair and straightening his little uniform jacket. "Study hard and be good for your teachers, Kenji-love."
Kenji nodded obediently, giving her another good squeeze before he hurried over to the baby carriers sitting on the low cabinets that lined the wall behind Sano's desk. Putting on his most stern expression, he held up a finger and instructed with utmost seriousness, "I am entrusting Mama to you. All Ninja Dragons must protect the Master Ninja. Especially from the evil, horned mountain giants."
"HEY!" Sano started, only to have Kaoru shush him in favor of watching the interaction.
"Make Aniki proud, babies!" Orders given to his satisfaction, Kenji turned around to give Kaoru's legs one more affectionate squeeze and scurried off to get his ride to school. Kaoru stood up again, absently resting her hands on her hips while she waited for the sound of his footsteps to fade away before she turned back to Sano.
Sano mulishly pointed in the direction Kenji had gone.
"Stop that, he hasn't hit you for a whole month, and you encouraged him," Kaoru snorted and waved off the accusing gesture.
"I did not!" Sano protested.
"Who told Kenji he was the biggest, strongest giant in the world?" Kaoru demanded archly.
"That didn't mean smack a stick across my shins and yell 'Victory' when I fell over," Sano grumbled, reaching up to rub the back of his neck to cover his embarrassment.
"You told him you couldn't be defeated by Ninja Dragons, Sano." Kaoru's lips twitched at the memories of what Misao had termed "The Great Feud." She turned back to her bag before she lost control of her laughter, but didn't bother hiding her amused smile now that he couldn't see her face. "Even Megumi says you brought that on yourself."
Kaoru snickered, finally uncovering the little box that Kenshin used to hold the bottle tops for the twins. She set it in front of Sano before taking the two coinciding bottles of milk from the insulated pocket and putting them beside it. "This should tide them over until I'm out of the meeting. You can give it to them now, or a little later. Just screw the nipple tops onto the bottles and tilt their carriers back for them so they can lean while they're eating. They've gotten strong enough to hold them by themselves, but it's still best to keep an eye out just in case."
"Do you really have to say nipple tops?" Sano poked the box as though afraid some poisonous creature was going to come launching out at his throat.
"You're going to have to get used to a lot worse when your own comes along," Kaoru warned with a taunting click of her tongue. "Remember to burp them when they finish, and you still remember how to change diapers, right?"
Sano's cheeks turned faintly pink, "Yeah, yeah. I got it."
"And no muttering about them being demon spawn," Kaoru ordered firmly, pressing the tip of her finger to his chest to make sure he understood she was serious. "If they hear you, or gods-forbid, Kenshin heard you and I wake up naked, painted with occult symbols and candle wax, I'm blaming you."
Sano blanched at the description. "Aw, Hell, Jou-chan, don't say shit like that to me!"
Kaoru rose up on her toes to smack him upside the head. "And no cursing."
Sano quickly held up both hands, trying to give her his most earnest expression when he assured her, "No cursing."
She held his gaze a moment longer to be sure Sano understood the seriousness of her last command, and finally sighed, dropping her gaze to her watch. Muttering a few choice words under her breath, Kaoru smoothed a hand over her hair before checking her suit to be sure nothing was out of place.
Once she was sure her clothes were up to par for meeting clients, she leaned over to give each of the twins a kiss on the forehead. The boys giggled at the attention, reaching up to grab at her hair in their efforts to keep her close for more. Kaoru smiled warmly even as she expertly captured little grasping hands and reluctantly straightened. Turning back on Sano, she pointed at him in a way that gave him a pretty good idea where Kenji had picked up one of his favorite stances. "Take care of my boys, and send someone to get me if anything happens."
Sano couldn't help but smile, looping his arm comfortingly around her shoulders and guiding her to the door. "Everything is going to be fine, Jou-chan. If I can handle Tiny-Kenshin, these two won't be any trouble. They ain't even walking yet."
Kaoru's lips quirked in a rueful smile and she admitted, "I know, I know. I just wasn't expecting to have to do this until they were a little older."
"That's business." Sano shrugged and gave her a comforting pat on the shoulder. "Go on before Kenshin gets antsy and decides to take it out on the Kaname group."
"I'm not sure Aoshi would be terribly upset by that," Kaoru snorted, giving the twins one last look and a wave that they both enthusiastically mimicked before she finally, reluctantly, headed to the conference room.
Sano raked a hand through his hair, quietly closing the door and turning back to look at the blue-eyed boys. Exhaling heavily, he turned around and jerked slightly at finding that with the absence of their mother, the identical little faces were watching his every move with a strange sort of alertness he was absolutely certain came from Kenshin.
Clearing his throat to shake the morbid turn his imagination was trying to take, Sano slowly inched his way back to the bottles Kaoru had packed. The boys blinked in unison, sitting up straighter in their carriers the closer his hand came to the bottles. And as soon as Sano's hand experimentally closed around one, four hands reached out toward him and broke the silence with high-pitched, unintelligible noises and giggles.
The one on the left opened his mouth and made a sound that was likely meant to encourage Sano to bring the bottle the rest of the way to him rather than dragging his feet and hoarding it for himself. Sano tilted his head, confusion furrowing his brow as he struggled to remember which boy Kaoru said was in which seat. He was almost sure that was Ryosei. Unless it was Shinji...
Sano reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose, swallowing the instinctive curse on the tip of his tongue. I should have paid more attention when Jou-chan was telling me which one was which.
This time the half-cry was definitely impatient.
"Ah!" Sano snapped out of his thoughts, feeling color rise a little in his cheeks at the unintentional hesitation. Muttering under his breath at his own behavior, he opened the box with the nipple tops and switched them out with the sealed caps. He turned the bottles upside-down one at a time to shake them over his hand and make sure there wouldn't be any problems with leaking before dutifully carrying them to the twins.
"It's a good thing no one's here to see this," Sano grumbled while he adjusted the seats to recline a little more and passed bottles into increasingly eager hands. "Just keep it in mind who's feeding you when your mom's busy. And put in a good word for me when your father finishes creating his evil army and turns all us humans into slaves."
The one he thought was Ryosei gurgled at him, offering a smile until he worked the nipple into his mouth and moved on to the much more important task of eating.
Smiling helplessly, Sano ruffled the boy's scarlet hair, and quickly did the same to his brother just in case they were old enough to get jealous over unbalanced attention. Once he was sure both were settled and content, he stepped back to his desk and frowned at the stacked files still waiting for his attention.
He already spent a week trying to untangle the ridiculous snarl of books, files, and invoices Aoshi had forced the Kaname group to send from their failing branch. Then again, if the paperwork was any indication of their intelligence or organizational skills, Sano was amazed they'd held the business as long as they had. Let alone that they had the gall to come scraping to Kenshin for investment support, forcing not only his early return for the "requested" conference, but Kaoru's as well.
Sano had his suspicions that Aoshi had gotten annoyed with the daily calls and purposefully arranged to have the meeting timed in a way guaranteed to have Kaoru on edge and fidgety. Just to ensure the Kaname executives got the full force of Kenshin's resulting short-temper.
Not that he could blame him.
Or prove it, for that matter.
Sano tapped his pencil irritably against the open ledger, glancing from the column of numbers to the tally displayed on his computer screen. His frown deepened at the discrepancy in those numbers and he sorted through the folders until he found the expense forms he needed for comparison. Moving it to the top of the pile, he thumbed through the receipts and pages and marked each matching expense.
Picking up the next invoice in the stack, Sano started to skim the information and stopped at the date. Blinking, he scanned the rest of the page just to be sure, and ground his teeth hard at the verification of what he was looking at.
The invoice was two years old.
Sano slapped a hand down hard on the paper, scowling darkly at the page listing the matching information from that old invoice for this year. "Can any of those idiots even read?!" Sano vented furiously, tossing his pencil across the desk and ignoring when it tumbled to the floor. He'd found no less than twelve similar instances for the past two years, and if he found one more, the Kaname paperwork was going to have an unfortunate accident with the nearest incinerator.
Raking a hand through his hair again, Sano propped his elbows on his desk and covered his eyes with one hand. "Goddammit."
Sano felt the color leech out of his face as a frigid chill raced down his spine and settled heavily in his gut. Forcing his hand away from his eyes, Sano turned with agonizingly slow reluctance and stared wide-eyed at the twins. Every muscle in his body felt locked up, cold sweat beading on his forehead the longer he watched the two boys continue innocently sucking on their bottles.
Okay, Sano exhaled shakily and struggled to bring his racing heartbeat under control. It was nothing. It was your imagination. They're both still eating, everything's fine.
Ryosei took the bottle out of his mouth and gave Sano his brightest smile.
Sano's jaw clenched at the sudden foreboding that chased across his senses.
Ryosei lifted the bottle, seeming to contemplate putting it back in his mouth before he let it lower again. Tilting his head, he giggled and smacked one hand down on the flat tray of his carrier. "Goddammit!"
Sano's elbow slipped off the edge of his desk.
Unfortunately, with as much weight as that elbow had been supporting, the loss of support sent him off the edge of his chair and straight to the floor.
Ryosei giggled and stuck his bottle back in his mouth.
Sano shot up, promptly cracking the back of his head painfully on the underside of his desk. Lifting both hands to the spot in an instinctive, protective gesture, Sano hissed and eased back until he was sure he'd cleared the heavy wood. He rubbed his head with a wince, glaring at his desk until the shock of pain wore off and brought the cause of his mishap right back to the forefront of his mind.
"Oh no. No, no, no, no, no..." Scrambling over to the carriers, Sano indecisively raised and lowered his hands as he tried figure out where to put them to properly convey the severity of the situation. His panicked gaze went from the door to the twins and back repeatedly until Sano settled on holding both hands up in front of chest. "You have to forget you heard that, baby."
Ryosei watched him curiously, content to leisurely suck on his bottle while Sano fidgeted and pleaded in front of them.
Shoving both hands into his hair and curling them into fists, Sano absently yanked on the captive strands in his struggle to quell the ever-rising sense of impending doom. The ticking of the clock on the wall seemed to echo through his head as his imagination replaced the usually innocent sound with something much more ominous. A signal of the precious few seconds remaining in his life ticking away...
Sano covered his eyes with his hands, scrubbing them up and down in a futile attempt to erase his mistake. Peering down at the unchanged sight of the twins gazing up at him with those big, blue-violet eyes, he sunk down to his knees and wearily set his clasped hands between the carriers. "Your mother is going to kill me."
Ryosei smiled around his bottle and glanced over at his brother. Sano could swear the two of them were involved in some creepy mental discussion, especially with the almost mischievous gleam that lit their eyes when they looked at him again.
Suddenly, Kenji's daily stealth assaults didn't seem so bad.
Sano winced at the cheerful expletive, dropping his head onto his forearms with a frustrated whine. "Shit." Eyes snapping wide at the sound of his own reflexive curse, he rocked back on his heels and reached out toward the boys desperately. "No, don't-!"
Sano's expression crumbled at the delighted smile on Shinji's face, helplessly looking from one boy to the other. "Please don't do this to me, babies. I'll get you whatever you want when you grow up! Candy, beer, anything you want if you just be good and pretend you never talked!"
Looking at the twins again, Sano's shoulders slumped in defeat and he muttered, "You don't have any idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
Shinji held his bottle out toward Sano helpfully.
Sighing heavily, Sano reached out and ruffled the little boy's bright red hair before gently pushing the bottle back toward Shinji's mouth. "That's not going to help me much, little man, but thanks anyway."
Shinji obligingly chewed on the nipple top and offered Sano a smile so wide his eyes almost completely closed.
Sano sunk down on his heels in a picture of abject misery. Somehow, I always imagined pure evil would look a little more obvious. Like have scales, or horns, or hooves or something. Blinking at that last thought, Sano looked speculatively at the little shoes hiding the boys' feet. Then again-
Sano's hand went right back to his temples, trying in vain to rub away the ache creeping up behind his eyes. He absently glanced at the clock, only to snap back to it and stare in disbelief as his cheeks paled. That much time couldn't possibly have passed since Kaoru left him the twins. That didn't leave anywhere near enough time for him to come up with a viable escape plan before Kaoru discovered his mistake.
But double checking not only the clock on his computer, but his wrist-watch as well revealed that the wall clock was most unfortunately accurate.
"I could put in for a transfer," he idly muttered as his mind still raced to come up with a solution in the very short time remaining in his life. "It only takes an hour to get to the airport... I could empty my accounts and reinvent myself as an oyster farmer in Nagasaki."
"What about Nagasaki?"
Sano shot up so quickly that he half expected to find his skin left lying in a heap on the floor around him. As it was, he barely managed to avoid biting his own tongue in the instinctive snap toward the voice, but couldn't catch the half-desperate words spilling out oh him. "What are you doing here?!"
Kenshin blinked, both brows rising in confusion at his unexpected reaction. "Kaoru wasn't feeling well, so we finished early." Brushing aside that bit of info as unimportant, he absently glanced back to check if Kaoru had caught up before pushing the door open wider to step into Sano's office. "Are you all right?"
"Oh, I'm great!" Sano rushed to assure him, forcing a smile as he reflexively reached up to rub the back of his neck. "Just great! Just- ah, just got so caught up, you know... Lost track of time and all." He swallowed around the lump of panic with difficulty, ignoring how his heart raced while his eyes strained to see if Kaoru was anywhere close to coming through his door. It was even harder not to sound too hopeful when he asked, "You and Jou-chan heading out already?"
Kenshin's eyes clearly warned that he didn't buy his excuses, but with a sigh and a shrug, he obliged the not-so-subtle topic change. "Not just yet. Kaoru still wants me to go over that summary Aoshi put together before we go to lunch."
"Yeah, well." Sano discreetly edged away from the baby seats, gauging the distance to the door out of the corner of his eye. "That's Kaoru. Always thinking."
Kenshin's brows furrowed with growing suspicion, but as soon as he opened his mouth to question the odd behavior, he'd come far enough into the room for the twins to catch sight of him.
When the sudden, matching squeals instantly diverted their father's attention, Sano discreetly let out his anxiously held breath. Shoving his hands into his pockets to hide how the untimely rush of adrenaline was making them shake, he pivoted to keep his gaze on Kenshin and the boys while he made his way silently toward the door.
The muscles down his spine fairly tingled at the freedom just out of reach, and the back of his heel brushed the seam of the doorway carpet-
"Did they fall asleep?"
Sano's muscles spasmed and tensed at the same time as he instinctively twisted to face what his subconscious clearly felt was the greatest threat to his continuing health. But the force of the spin sent him farther than he'd intended, and Sano frantically made a grab for the door frame to stop himself. His fingers barely brushed the wood when he somehow caught one foot against the other and pitched himself straight to the floor at Kaoru's feet.
In the stunned quiet that followed, the twins burst into delighted giggles and let their bottles down just to clap their approval of Sano's "trick."
Kaoru blinked down at the normally agile man, tilting her head as she waited for Sano to collect himself enough to roll over and meet her gaze. The boys quite obviously weren't sleeping, but with the way Sano had been sneaking to the door...
Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly at the potential reasons behind that, and she slowly brought her hands to her hips. "And just what was that about?"
Sano vaguely wondered if Kaoru was even aware of how much more daunting her disapproval sounded since she'd had children, but one look at her expression warned him that it wasn't the best time to bring that up. His apprehensive gaze darted back to the babies, struggling not to flinch at the matching stares he found focused directly on his face. It was nearly impossible to break away from that before Kaoru could get more suspicious, but with a few silent prayers, he carefully eased himself back to his feet.
Somehow though, not even regaining his considerable height advantage over her made the cold lump of fear steadily growing in his stomach go away.
Sano reached up to rub the back of his neck, giving her a pained smile in an attempt to mollify the growing impatience in her tone. "Ah... you- You just took me by surprise!" He straightened his posture with that excuse, proud that he'd managed to string together something that sounded normal enough.
Smiling hopefully, he stepped to the side in an unspoken "request" for her to come in to his office enough to clear his escape route before his luck ran out.
Unfortunately, Kaoru didn't seem to get the hint, and he floundered for something else he could say.
"I just," he started hesitantly as his eyes shifted back to look at the twins. However, at the sight of Kenshin leaning forward to let them grab at his hair, Sano felt a moment of divine inspiration hit. Turning back to Kaoru, he offered her a lop-sided smile and lowered his voice to a more secretive murmur, "I just thought Kenshin would rather do his demonic imprinting without an audience."
Kaoru immediately swatted him upside the head and shot him a speaking glare to warn just what would happen if that came out loud enough for Kenshin to hear.
Sano grinned widely at the predictable response, rubbing the sting out of his newest injury and valiantly fighting to keep from showing his eagerness when she finally took a step forward. He could feel the muscles along his neck and shoulders gradually tighten in anticipation, ready to do whatever it took to make the mad dash to safety and freedom.
"They didn't give you any trouble, did they?" Kaoru asked while her attention visibly switched to her family, softening with warm affection as Kenshin unfastened Ryosei's safety belt.
"No, no!" Sano hurried to assure her, holding up both hands as though warding off even the possibility of that. "Just gave them the bottles and they didn't make a peep. They were so good I almost forgot they were there."
Kaoru's lips kicked up at the corners, only half listening to Sano while Kenshin hoisted the giggling Ryosei up over his head. Right on cue, Shinji forgot all about his bottle and reached both hands up to encourage Kenshin to pick him up too. Shaking her head with a widening smile, Kaoru absently brushed her bangs out of her eyes and decided to come to her husband's rescue before the boys could overpower him.
Sano discreetly shifted his weight from foot to foot, hardly daring to breathe as Kaoru took another step away from the doorway.
So close... Just a little farther...
Kaoru's shoulder brushed his elbow, and Sano's full focus zeroed in on the clearing path of his open door. Subconsciously, he leaned forward, straining to hold still when every instinct was clamoring at him to rush past Kaoru now regardless of how suspicious it might look.
Just why the Hell was Kaoru taking so long to move the three damn feet he needed?
Fate was laughing at him, watching him squirm and laughing at him.
That was the only explanation he could-
Every muscle in Sano's body went rigid.
Apparently, Fate didn't much care for disrespectful thoughts.
Tentatively, Sano forced himself to turn toward Kaoru, swallowing hard in a futile attempt to soothe his dry throat before he convinced his eyes to meet hers in the suddenly oppressive atmosphere. But even fully expecting to be subjected to the full weight of her temper, Sano still felt himself take a nervous step back from the intensity of the glare on her otherwise expressionless face.
Suddenly, he wasn't so sure the boys took after their father as much as he'd thought.
"N-now, Jou-chan," Sano's voice caught in his throat, forcing him to swallow awkwardly before he tried again. "It was an accident, I swear! It isn't as bad as it sounds!"
Kaoru pivoted to face him straight on with what could only be called predatory grace, folding her arms over her chest with exaggerated precision while one brow arched in silent demand.
Sano cast a beseeching look to Kenshin over her head, only to feel the blood drain from his cheeks when the shorter man returned it with an unsympathetic frown and a negative shake of his head. Frantically looking from Kaoru to the door and back to Kaoru, he felt his hopes for any escape rapidly drain away to nonexistence.
Sano flinched at the much too happy chirp, inwardly lamenting the sudden, deadly turn his life had taken. It just doesn't get any worse than this-
In the deafening silence following Shinji's helpful reminder not to tempt Fate so brazenly after proof She wasn't in the best of moods, Sano could only stare helplessly at the woman who had just become his own personal Angel of Death. If he had any favor with any of the various gods, maybe Kaoru would be in a generous mood. A generous, non-killing sort of mood that allowed him the chance to hide until her very tangible rage had subsided into a more manageable, not-so-lethal state of mind.
Kaoru's knuckles cracked with ominous finality.
And staring down into Kaoru's darkening eyes, all Sano could manage was a weak, "You said it, little man."