The Scent of Jasmine

"I'll get you for that!" Yahiko yelled and jumped at Sano in an attempt to topple him to the floor. The attempt was futile. Sano grabbed him by the front of his gi and slammed him to the ground. He pinned the younger boy's arm to his back and tried to get a hold of Yahiko's flailing legs.

"Oof!" Sano grunted as a kick landed solidly on his thigh. "You'll have to do better than that, you little runt."

"Aaaaaaarg! Get offa me you big ox!" Yahiko screamed in frustration.

"Not until you say it," Sano grinned wickedly.

"Over my dead body!"

"Well then, we'll just have to wait 'til that happens," Sano said nonchalantly and sat on Yahiko.

"Sa-NO! Grrrrr you'll make me late and Tae-san'll kill me!" Yahiko flailed his arms uselessly, hoping to get in one good punch.

"You'll get there on time if you say it, Yahiko."

"NO!"

"Say it!"

"I said no!"

"Say what?"

Kaoru's entrance startled them enough so that Sano loosened his grip on Yahiko's arm, giving him the advantage to angle his body so that he could bite Sano's hand. Sano yelled and let go of Yahiko. The younger boy used all his strength to topple Sano from his back. He ran, but when he reached the doorway he turned and stuck his tongue out at Sano.

"What was that about?" Kaoru asked Yahiko.

Yahiko glared at Sano, "Stupid Rooster-head was trying to make me say I love Tsu- ," Yahiko's eyes opened wide and he clapped his hands over his mouth. "Grrr! I'll get you for that! Just wait until I get back from the Akabeko!" Yahiko clenched his fists at Sano in a promise of future pain, turned, and ran out of the dojo.

Kaoru watched his retreating figure, then looked down at the rumpled Rooster-head at her feet. "Well, I guess that just leaves you. Get up. You're coming with me."

"Huh? Me?" Sano stood up and retied his bandanna. Once he got his unruly hair out of his eyes he looked Kaoru up and down. She was wearing a sky blue kimono with pink sakura blossoms at the hem and sleeves. It was one of the older kimonos that she wore only when she did errands. "Where's Kenshin? Why doesn't he accompany you?"

"Because he's in town buying our food you lazy bum. If he was here I would have asked him and spared myself your company."

Sano made a face at her. "Where are you going? Is it far?"

Kaoru sighed. "To the river."

"The river? That's like miles away!"

"It is not! You'd hardly even break into a sweat!"

"Aw Jou-chan ooOW!" Sano's protest was cut off by Kaoru grabbing his ear and twisting it.

"Mou! Who would've believed you walked all the way to Kyoto?! You better come with me or you can forget about eating here tonight!"

"Okay, okay! Just LET GO OF ME!"


The day was late and the earth drank in the last rays of sunlight before darkness fell. The sun, low in the sky, was a golden, fiery orb resting on a nest of trees. Everything had a soft, golden sheen to it. The wind blew gently across the river, guiding the flowers and plants in a swaying dance. A small fish jumped out of the river, silver scales glinting, wanting to taste the sweet tranquility in the air if only for a moment. It landed with a splash – a small exclamation point of delight.

Sano smiled at the sight, glad Kaoru dragged him along. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, filling himself with the smells that the wind carried. Earth. Grass. Fish. Water. A faint scent of jasmine. He turned his face towards Kaoru. Yes, the jasmine was her scent. But it was stronger here, like a taste at the back of his tongue, coming not just from her but from all around him. He opened his eyes and looked at Kaoru. She was humming happily, swinging the basket she held at her side. Her blue eyes were cheerful and content and her lips were curved in a small smile.

"What are you so happy about?" Sano asked her, wondering what secret put her in such a pleasant mood.

Kaoru blushed slightly and looked down at her feet, "Um…ano…I'm just so happy that we are all together. You, me, Yahiko, Kenshin, Ayame and Suzume, Dr. Genzai, Megumi."

Sano did not miss the special way her lips caressed the name Kenshin. He knew she was happy that despite everything that had happened, he still chose to return to the Kamiya Dojo. He chose to come home to them. To Kaoru.

"It feels good to have a family to come home to," she finished softly. Then she lifted her face to him and smiled brightly, his own little sunshine. Sano smiled back. He didn't have to say anything for her to know that he felt the same way.

Kaoru led him into a small clearing not far from the river. The scent of jasmine was stronger than ever. It slowly stirred his senses as the return of a long forgotten memory would, awakening hazy impressions of tranquil afternoons from the past. Kaoru went up to a jasmine plant and started gathering flowers.

"What's that for?" Sano asked as he made himself comfortable on the ground.

"It's for tea," she replied.

Sano raised his eyebrows and bit back the comments that were threatening to burst from his mouth. Kaoru hasn't the least idea of how to put together a tea bag. It was Kenshin who took care of the tea, as well as all other kitchen matters. He stifled a laugh as Kaoru began gathering jasmine leaves as well to fit her lie.

He leaned back, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting the sweet scent roll in his head, down his throat. That was Kaoru's scent. It was such a refined, womanly smell, so unlike the bristling Raccoon Girl. With his eyes closed and the taste of jasmine in his mouth, he wondered at this spark of womanliness in Kaoru. He knew what the jasmine was for. He had seen her, early one evening, arranging flowers in a tiny vase, scattering petals upon Kenshin's pillow. Hidden by the door, he had quietly watched as she filled the room with her sweetness, listened as she sang about dreams where soulmates found one another.

She was humming the same song, now. Sano contemplated her, chewing on his blade of grass. Seldom did he see this quiet side of Kaoru. She was usually angry or screaming or beating his face into the ground. But then she was always different whenever it came to Kenshin.

When she had gathered enough, she stood, smoothed out her kimono, and stretched, her flowers dangerously close to spilling out of her basket. "Thanks for coming with me. I didn't want to walk home alone in the dark. It's not that I'm afraid," she added quickly, her fingers slightly tightening their grip on the basket.

"Oh no. That never crossed my mind," Sano said lightly. Although she didn't care to admit it – and would die a thousand deaths before she did – Kaoru did not like being alone in the dark ever since she had been taken by Enishi. She did not avoid the darkness, but tried to keep the warmth and light of others with her whenever she had to venture into it. And even then she would sometimes shiver at a sudden sound, or her eyes would look ahead nervously. Sano's fists clenched as anger surged through him. All of a sudden, Kaoru looked so small and fragile. Never mind the fact that she was a Master of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. Above all, she was Jou-chan, and the gods damn him to hell, he wasn't going to let anything hurt her again. "It's just that Kenshin might turn battousai on me if he found out I let you go off alone."

Kaoru blushed, pleased and frustrated that Kenshin would be so concerned. "He knows well enough that I don't NEED anyone to follow me around as if I was Suzume-chan. Besides," Kaoru looked him up and down, for all the world like he was a piece of meat, "you really needed the extra exercise. Your butt is getting fat from all that loafing around."

"What?!" Sano exclaimed, indignant. He twisted himself around, trying to get a glimpse of his rump. "My ass is as sexy as ever!" he huffed.

Kaoru waved a hand in dismissal, "Hmm…fat ass, Sano."

Sano turned his back to Kaoru and wiggled his behind, "Excuse me, that is not fat. That is lean, prime meat. And at least I've got a sexy ass, unlike some red-haired rurounis I know."

Kaoru's mouth opened in protest, but instead of the outburst he expected, she covered her mouth with her hand and burst into giggles. The wind lifted and blew around them, making the trees shake their leaves in chorus to her delight. Strands of hair escaped from her loosely tied ribbon, framing her face. "He really doesn't, does he?"

Sano struck a pose, "He may be the greatest swordsman in Japan, but there are some things he just can't do." Sano began to sing one of the bawdy songs he picked up in the gambling hall. He gave Kaoru his sexiest smile. She arched her eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest. That was all the challenge Sano needed. He danced slowly towards Kaoru. He knew he could be damn sexy when he wanted to be.

To his surprise, Kaoru laughed even harder. She couldn't even speak. Sano shrugged and continued his song and dance. He grabbed her arm and twirled her around. "So I take it you're not picking flowers for him because of his cute little behind?" Sano raised his eyebrow and looked at her knowingly.

"Sano! Stop it!" she shrieked, eyes growing wide as her feet flew above the ground. Her ribbon came undone as she spun. The wind lifted her hair and it spread around her like ink spilled from a bottle. Jasmine petals dotted her hair like stars do the night sky. Kaoru lifted her hand in an effort to snatch her ribbon from the wind, the ribbon's blueness a patch of morning. She gasped as it slipped from her fingers. Sano reached out, plucked it from the air and turned to her.

She was beautiful.

The world seemed to stop as Sano gazed at her, bewitched. How could I not have seen this before? And in the next moment, This is the same girl who pounds your head into the ground everyday, every chance she gets. That seemed to break the spell…a little bit. Say…anything!

"Has Kenshin…seen you…like this?" …beautiful…

Kaoru tilted her head to the side, puzzled. "Seen me like this? What do you mean?"

Sano swallowed. Raccoon girl think raccoon girl. "Well you know, with your hair blowing in the wind like that and the light just so…you really do look like a raccoon! And not just any raccoon, an oni raccoon! Hahaha! "

He immediately regretted it. His laughter sounded hollow, and there was nothing witty in what he said. He expected her to lash out and yell. He waited for her eyes to turn red and for her to charge at him. He deserved it, and for once he wished for it. But instead of turning red, her eyes deepened, and in a moment of panic he thought that she was about to cry. He lost himself and moved towards her. "Oh Jou-chan, I didn't mean it. You don't look anything like a raccoon in fact you're…you're beautiful…just don't cry dammit you know I can't –"

"Haha! Got it!" Kaoru triumphantly waved her ribbon in the air. In one smooth motion she picked up her basket of flowers, hitched up her kimono, turned and ran. She looked over her shoulder and laughed, "Let's see if the Rooster can catch this Raccoon."

Sano did not run after her immediately. He watched her run, this woman-child whom Kenshin loved with all his being. Her light and laughter added color to the world, and for the first time he felt that he was seeing Kaoru through Kenshin's eyes. He was aware of everything about her, from the sweet scent of jasmine that clung to her hair and skin, the softness of her hair, the slender fingers callused by sword and broom. She was –

THUD!

-- flat on her face.

For a moment Sano was puzzled. Then he burst out laughing. "BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Oh! Oh that was funny! gAAasp "

Kaoru, no longer blushing prettily but burning like fire, peeled her face from the ground and yelled, "I TRIPPED! SO WHAT?! YOU TRY RUNNING IN A KIMONO YOU &$!!!"

"Oh Sano, catch me catch me! Hahahaha – OOF! Aaaaah! HELP! – hahaha – STOP KICKING ME! OUCH –hahaha…"


Sano limped back to the Kamiya Dojo next to a haughty Kaoru. He snuck a look at the prissy girl next to him, baffled. How could that enchanting woman be one and the same as this violent raccoon girl? He tenderly fingered a bruise and winced. Damn. He caught Kaoru looking at him out of the corner of her eye. "What?" he growled a growl that caused lesser beings to tremble to their toes.

Kaoru giggled. Sano rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to hurl one of his usual cheap shot insults at her.

"I had a fun time."

He choked on the half-formed epithet, causing Kaoru to laugh at him some more. "Obviously at my expense," Sano drawled when he recovered. He stopped mid-stride when he felt Kaoru's hand tug lightly on his sleeve.

"Thank you for…for saying that. That I'm beautiful," she smiled shyly, inexplicably making his heart flutter.

"I meant it," he said softly.

Sano knew that he was staring at her but he couldn't stop. A part of him wanted to stay in this moment that seemed outside of time, outside of the everyday. He pushed aside words that attempted to shatter the moment by naming it, aware that far too much of his life was ruined in a similar way. He reached out a hand and, after a moment's hesitation, fingered the trailing ends of her blue ribbon. The slight movement released a whiff of jasmine from her hair. He inhaled deeply.

"Next time, take Kenshin with you. The sight of you by the riverside…he will never forget it." I will never forget it…

Kaoru's cheeks flushed. He could see that already she was thinking of her rouroni. Her face turned towards home, releasing him from the spell that lay between them. Sano tugged at her basket, pulling her in the direction her heart wished to go.

"Just try not to fall flat on your face next time," he couldn't resist adding, pushing them back into the familiar territory of Rooster versus Raccoon.

"Sa-NO!"

"You know you love me, Jou-chan," Sano winked.

Kaoru opened her mouth to protest, but then her expression softened and she said, "I do, Rooster-head. I do."

End.

Author's Notes.

I began this story a long time ago in response to an alternative-pairings challenge on one of the RK fanfiction egroups. Needless to say, I didn't complete it in time for the deadline. This is an attempt at opening something more between Sano and Kaoru, but I left it at the 'what if?' stage because - and I'm sure you'll all agree with me - nothing should come between Kaoru and Kenshin. I was curious if I could make Sano see Kaoru through Kenshin's eyes and in that way give him more depth, but I didn't want to completely change their funny and fun relationship. I hope I succeeded. :)

Addendum 3-07-08. Hello! Thanks to Harm Marie, animebdoll, JMai, RoseCrystal, Faeroen, KaoruXxKenshin and all the rest who took the time to comment on one of my first attempts at fanfiction :) I made some corrections and so had to delete and re-post the story, sadly losing their reviews.

I would like to hear what you readers think so that I can improve on my writing. Do you think the story would end stronger if I removed the last part or should I leave it as is? I'm beginning to think it might be a bit too mushy. Please let me know what you think. Thanks for the help :)