Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin.

AN: This is my first foray into Rurouni Kenshin fanfiction. It was written in response to a challenge from a friend: 500 words, incorporate a clock and fingertips.

Kenshin could hear the faint ticking of the western clock echo through the dojo. The clock was a "gift" from one of the more wealthy patrons he had protected in the past year. He had been convinced that the clock was some sort of intricate revenge for his decision to not join the man as his permanent bodyguard. Who could sleep with such a constant din?

But tonight he was grateful for it. The noise had made him aware of the shower of stars outside the dojo, only growing thicker as the evening went on. Each tic pressed the awareness of the time on him, and as he stepped into the kitchen to check the clock for what seemed like the thousandth time, Kenshin saw that he did not have to wait much longer.

He would not wait much longer.

He moved with sure steps to a familiar doorway. Sliding it open he saw Kaoru asleep on her back, tangled in the sheets with one arm flung up above her head.

Kenshin was aware that he was moving, but he hardly thought to why. In an instant he was crouching by her bedside.

Lightly, ever so lightly, he brushed his fingertips over her face. The caress was as soft as a sigh, and at the teasing trace of his hand across her skin he realized that he would never be satisfied with this. He would never be satisfied with just a trace, with just a brush of her soul against his. He wanted, more than practically anything in the world he wanted to wake her, to cup her cheek in his hand, tilt up her face, and as her eyes opened in surprise and lit with warm welcome he would finally see if he could make good on the promise they held when she thought he wasn't watching.

But it was more important to keep her safe.

Kenshin studied the features he had long ago memorized and withdrew his hand. He would keep her safe. That was the most important thing. It didn't matter what he…what either of them wanted. Because no matter how much he wanted her, he wanted her safe more.

He crept from Kaoru's room as silent as the shadow he cast and slid shoji closed. Kenshin leaned his forearm on the doorframe and placed his head in the crook of his elbow.

The clock in the kitchen struck twelve muted bells. He would keep her safe. But that didn't mean they couldn't share a few stolen moments.

Kenshin took a moment to deliberately compose himself. Even though he suspected that Kaoru had long since seen hints of who he was beneath his mask, he had every intention of keeping it firmly in place—especially if he was ever to allow himself a night like this again.

Opening the shoji with just the determined amount of hushed noise, Kenshin took one nearly muffled step into the doorframe. He stood angled away from her bed, presenting his back and a shade of his profile to her as he stared at the wall.

Kaoru stirred on her futon.

"Miss Kaoru. Wake up."


He felt his lungs tighten. What this woman could do to him with just a few sounds…

"What are you doing here?"

"It is your birthday, Miss Kaoru, that it is." If his voice was a little more husky than normal, he blamed it on the fact that he dare not swallow. He was no callow child to broadcast his emotions in such a form.

"It's the middle of the night!"

The sheets shifted and he imagined her sitting up and pulling the sheets up around her chest.

"I apologize for disturbing you, that I do. And Yahiko will be quite upset when he learns that his plans to wake you at dawn will be spoiled. But," he shifted to face her, sitting up in bed with the sheets clutched around her just as he imagined, "I wanted to be the first one to greet you on your birthday. That I did."

He saw her breath catch and cursed himself for every kind of low fool while exalting in the fact that she responded to him. His fingertips tingled where he had touched her. She was right there, looking at him in sleepy-eyed wonder with her mouth parted ever-so-slightly…

Before he could no longer restrain himself from doing something he would regret, he tore his gaze away from her and the tumble of her loose black hair upon her white bed sheets.

"I have something that I wanted to show you, if you would come with me."

The rustle of material behind him indicated that she had stood; trusting that he would not turn around or tempting him to do so he was not sure.

"I will go with you," she said.

His throat was tight. "I will meet you at the door in the kitchen."

He left.

That night they would watch the stars fall.

- fin-