Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and all characters therein belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki.
A/N: It seems I've been struggling a lot lately with whether or not to post drabbles individually or lump them together when they're in a common "universe." This one wasn't any different, but the deciding factor was pretty much the argument that this drabble would fit in a variety of pieces. So I'm going to let it stand alone, and you can decide which storyline it fits into best in your own mind.
Soft moonlight filtered in through the window as the staccato rhythm of rain hitting the roof gradually faded into a softer, lulling pattern. Kenshin absently glanced out at the night sky, some distant part of his mind noting the patches of the midnight sky that finally peeked out through the dense clouds. However, the observation had barely registered when it was just as easily and rapidly banished under the weight of infinitely more important thoughts.
His hands had long since stopped trembling, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't bring himself to shake the odd, lingering hesitation. Even now, his fingers hovered uncertainly over the smooth curve of cheek and the faint pout drawing the rosy lips down in sleep. When he finally gave in, just barely skimming across the pale flesh, his skin felt so rough that he lifted it away again, fearing it would leave some sign. Some trace marking where he'd been unable to resist touching.
Kenji grunted, wrinkling his nose and squirming before he settled back to peaceful sleep.
Kenshin silently let out the breath he was holding and curved the hand supporting Kenji's head with painstaking care until he could cradle the newborn against his chest. Slowly, watching Kenji's face for any signs of discomfort or waking, Kenshin rocked them forward and back.
It might have been the space of a few minutes or an hour, Kenshin honestly couldn't say. Time was completely and utterly meaningless as he stared down at the head resting on his forearm, unaware of the way his shoulders rolled forward in subconscious protection. He brought his free hand back up to his son's face, heart racing as he used his knuckles to brush the soft skin just below one closed eye.
Kenji squirmed again, arching his back and yawning with a nearly inaudible squeak. His feet pressed against Kenshin's stomach, thoughtlessly shoving with all his strength while his arms rose up over his head in a stretch that made him look more like a cat than a baby. Kenshin couldn't have stopped himself from smiling anymore than he could stop the rain coming down, but it froze on his face when both those little hands grabbed his finger.
Pale gold eyes traced over each tiny finger against his skin, letting Kenji tug his hand down until he could sleepily gum at Kenshin's knuckle.
As he watched with unblinking intensity, he couldn't help but think his plans seemed so laughable now. All the thoughts and imaginings he'd ever had when he pictured what it would be like to hold a baby- his baby. It was the most humbling experience in his entire life. Everything he thought and expected it would be paled so completely in the face of reality that he felt like every kind of fool for thinking he was ready.
For the very first time, he felt huge and awkward.
Sitting here in the dark, not five feet away from the bed where he crept out to let Kaoru continue sleeping half-sprawled across his pillow. The hand that had so lovingly stroked her cheek while he whispered in her ear now just as adoringly supported their son's head. A perfect little head so small it fit into his palm while the rest of Kenji's body was barely the length of his forearm. And those hands could only just wrap around one of his fingers...
Kenji made an unhappy grunt, trying to bite down on the knuckle in his mouth in a way that made Kenshin chuckle softly. He gently maneuvered his hold to lift Kenji up to his face, pressing a kiss between his closed eyes before whispering, "You're going to need your mother for that."
This time, his grunt was less sleepy, and the hands trying to tug at his hand were more insistent. Lips quirking in rueful amusement, Kenshin tucked his son up against his throat and stood. Rubbing slow, soothing circles over the warm back of his increasingly fidgety son, he made his way back to the bed and silently knelt at Kaoru's side.
Kenshin bit his lip, indecisively looking from Kaoru's sleeping face to the baby in his arms.
"That's sweet, but he's not going to care."
He jumped guiltily at her voice, both hands wrapping protectively around Kenji at his own sudden movement while his eyes instantly found hers in the dark. He could feel the blood rush to his cheeks and ducked his head in uncharacteristic self-consciousness while he murmured, "I didn't want to wake you."
Kaoru's lips curved in that sublime sort of smile she only ever graced him with in those moments sleep still heavily muddled her thoughts. Her gaze never left his while her arms slid down closer to her body in a whisper-soft glide across the blankets before the lines of muscle in her arms flexed to lift her torso. There was a glow in her eyes that held him utterly enraptured while the thick tousled hair she'd forgotten to braid that night fell over her shoulders in glossy waves. And when she finally sat up and held out her arms, Kenshin swallowed hard, caught up in the surreal picture his wife presented.
Right until Kenji decided a louder protest was in order to convince his father to stop dawdling.
Kaoru tried to hide her giggle at the instant transformation to guilt in Kenshin's expression and brushed the back of her hand against his cheek to silently assure him that everything was okay. Kenshin watched her through half-lowered lashes when she took Kenji from him, her hands only slightly more confident than his own as she settled the baby high enough to rest his chin on her shoulder.
Kenshin automatically reached out to rest his hand on Kenji's back for balance while Kaoru awkwardly tugged the more convenient neckline of her yukata open as best she could. When that progress didn't happen as quickly as he wanted, Kenji's fingers curled tight in her hair and tugged, making a noise of frustrated protest at still not being where he should be.
"He's impatient like you," Kaoru accused, finally shrugging off the sleeve and wrapping her bare arm around Kenji to ease him down her chest.
Kenshin snorted, his eyes sparkling with amusement and lips quirking up. "Impatient like me?"
Kaoru turned up her nose, but the haughty air she was going for was ruined the instant she winced.
Kenshin shifted around behind her with practiced ease and urged her back between his spread legs so she could relax, supported comfortably against his chest. Gently, he moved her hair up and over her opposite shoulder both to save it from Kenji's wandering fingers and to give himself a clear view down to the baby's content face.
He was reluctant to break the silence. But at the same time, he couldn't help but stroke Kaoru's hip and ask, "Still hurts?"
"I'm not sure it won't not hurt," Kaoru answered, but her voice held nothing but warm -if slightly exasperated- affection. Brushing her fingers through Kenji's sleep-mussed hair, she shook her head and added, "It's worse when he's late."
Kenshin sighed and wrapped one arm around her waist while the other lifted to curiously touch the little fist pressing against her swollen breast. "I'm sorry. I wanted you to have a chance to get a little more sleep."
"I'm not angry," Kaoru chuckled and tilted her head, bumping his chin with her forehead to prevent any more unnecessary apologies. "Why were you awake? Couldn't sleep?"
His shoulders barely lifted with his shrug, trying not to jostle either of them with the gesture. "Just a little restless, I guess. It's the first time it's rained."
Since Kenji was born.
He might not have said the words, but Kaoru's smile deepened with understanding even as warmth curled through her chest. She tucked her head under his chin briefly, closing her eyes and savoring the steady beat of his heart against her back. "He doesn't seem too upset," she teased softly.
"He's resilient. Like you," Kenshin countered, mimicking the tone of her earlier accusation.
Kaoru snorted, "He was hungry, that doesn't count as resilience."
Kenshin shook his head to deny that. "He wasn't hungry until he woke up."
Kaoru struggled to keep her laughter quiet enough not to disturb Kenji before he was finished. He'd proven cranky the other times that had happened, and as much as she knew Kenshin wouldn't mind staying up as long as it took to calm him back down, he needed to get some sleep. Even if she had to put Kenji down in their bed just to keep her anxious, wandering husband where that would actually have a chance of happening.
"I'll walk him after," Kenshin promised, sliding his hands through Kaoru's hair to smooth out the tangles. "So you can get back to sleep."
Kaoru rolled her eyes at the predictable response, sighing as she thumped her head back on his shoulder, this time in chiding. "I have slept all day."
"It's all right," Kenshin cut her off. "I don't-"
Kaoru turned her head to give him a flat look that had him immediately closing his mouth. Huffing in satisfaction at his obedient silence, Kaoru turned all her attention back down to her nursing son. "He's not going to disappear if you go to sleep, Kenshin."
Kenshin remained silent a moment more before admitting against her ear, "But I might miss something."
Breathing out a deeper sigh at the emotion in those simple words, Kaoru gently scolded, "You'll miss more if you're too sleep-deprived to do anything. And if I find you passed out on the floor in the kitchen, I'm not waking you up."
The rhythm of his hands turned placating and chagrined as he bartered, "What if I promise to come to bed just as soon as I get Kenji to sleep?"
"You're going to be stubborn about this, aren't you?" Kaoru muttered absently, tilting her head to encourage her hair to slide away from her chest. Her eyes trained down on Kenji as she carefully timed the switch from one side to the other, not giving him the chance to gear up for a noisy complaint at the brief loss.
"I'll remind you about all the times you told me I had to make up for your nine months being pregnant." Kenshin agreed with a decisive nod even as he reached over beside the bed for the soft cloth Kaoru used to wipe any milk Kenji missed. He slid her forgotten sleeve back up her arm and reached across her to move the other side of the yukata farther out of Kenji's way. At her raised eyebrow, he protested, "You still look tired, Kaoru. Let me handle it tonight."
Kaoru waited for initial, painful jolt of Kenji's mouth to settle down into the more bearable ache before grudgingly acquiescing. "In the sake of all of us getting to sleep before dawn, I'm going to let you have your way. Just this once."
Kenshin clenched his teeth hard to keep the triumphant smile off his face when she glanced over her shoulder again, this time with warning clear in her deep blue eyes. Dipping his head, he reassured her quickly, "I promise I'll go to sleep."
"In bed," Kenshin repeated and gave her a comforting squeeze.
Kaoru watched him suspiciously, her eyes narrowing and searching his face for any hint of deception before she blew out yet another heavy sigh and nodded. "All right. But I mean it, Kenshin, it's just this once. Tomorrow we're going back to trading."
"Of course, honey." He pulled her tighter against his chest and brushed a kiss over the nape of her neck. The tension across her shoulders steadily relaxed at his attentions, but it wasn't until she rested her head against his cheek that his eyes drifted back down to Kenji.
An errant chill made Kaoru shiver, and Kenshin awkwardly squirmed to bring the tangled blankets high enough to grab without having to upset their position. Smiling in satisfaction when he finally managed, he pulled the covers up higher around her waist to block as much as he could before wrapping his arms around her again.
He'd barely dropped his chin to her shoulder, settling in to continue watching Kenji when his son's blue-violet eyes peeked up at him.
Eyes he secretly hoped would stay blue.
"Just this once."