Backstory: Kaoru is basically my favorite character in RuroKen besides Kenshin himself, and it always bugged me that she never got to show off her badassery quite as much as the rest of the gang. I wrote this little one-shot story to fulfill both my Kaoru and fluff needs, so if you like that kind of stuff, go for it. Please review, if you would be so inclined!

Summary: Kaoru is fed up with being protected by Kenshin and Sano every time she's in trouble, so when another opponent smashes through the walls of the Kamiya dojo and the two strongest men in Japan are off running errands, she is more than delighted at the opportunity to prove she isn't a weakling – but is Kenshin?

Rating: T for a few naughty words and a mildly intricate fight scene.

Disclaimer: I don't own the wonderful Nobuhiro Watsuki's Rurouni Kenshin, unfortunately.

A loud bang shuddered through the Kamiya dojo, and Yahiko gaped at me with wide eyes.

"What the hell was that?!" Yahiko whispered, trying the suppress the trembling in his small limbs.

"Whatever it is, it better not intend to rip up my dojo," I muttered, darting out of the room at top speed (still not as fast as Kenshin, but fast enough for me). Yahiko followed close at my heels, our bare feet slapping against the smooth wooden floor as we raced towards the gate.

Skidding to a halt in the courtyard, my eyes immediately narrowed. To my dismay, someone had blown an enormous hole in the wall of my property, and that someone was standing in front of his handiwork with a proud sneer on his face.

"Who are you, and what do you want from us?" I demanded, holding my bokken out in front of me for defense.

Yahiko tugged at my sleeve. "Kaoru, do you really think it's a good idea to challenge this guy?" he whispered in my ear.

My eyes remained locked on the intruder's cold brown eyes, taking in his scruffy, strong jaw and his scraggly black hair, shining with grease. "Shut up, Yahiko," I growled.

"But Kenshin isn't-"

"My name is Mishitaka Makoto, and I've come to challenge the Hitokiri Battousai!" the imposing man cried triumphantly, fist raised in the air like the cliché that he was

I rolled my eyes. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me."

"Whether you believe it or not, little girl, it is true." Mishitaka sighed condescendingly. "Now, where is he? I want him to come out and face me like a man!"

"Running errands," I said dryly, readjusting my slim fingers on the hilt of my well-used bokken. "I don't know why you're here, because you'd know, if any of you idiots did some goddamn research, that Kenshin doesn't fight people anymore. At least not in the way that you'd want him to."

"That doesn't matter to me." Mishitaka sneered. "Although I'm sure his fury would increase tenfold if I took you … into my custody," he said, a suggestive look on his putrid face.

"Oh no you don't," I snarled. Yahiko backed up a step, vaguely concerned that I was going to rip his head off.

"Do you want me to go find… Kenshi-"

"I don't care, Yahiko. Frankly, I'm sick of being protected by Kenshin and Sano ALL THE FREAKING TIME! I'm not a baby, I can take care of myself."

"You can't suggest you plan to fight me?" Mishitaka chuckled. "You're a girl, and a weak one at that. You have no chance."

"I won't let you pull a Jin-ee on me on me, you little twerp. Not now, not ever. I'm one of the top Kendo masters in the country, and the head of my family sword fighting style. Try to kidnap me, and I guarantee you'll dread the name Kamiya Kaoru for the rest of your life."


"Go, Yahiko. I can fend for myself. Find Kenshin and Sanosuke." In my peripheral vision, I saw Yahiko bite his lip anxiously, then turn and run. Before I could flinch, a large chunk of rubble from the broken wall nailed Yahiko on the back of the head. I could tell from Mishitaka's upraised foot that he was at fault. "Yahiko!" I cried, rushing over to him with one eye on the brute who had so rudely broken my home's walls.

"He's just knocked out," Mishitaka sneered as I examined Yahiko's limp form. He was breathing, but the tender flesh under his dark locks seemed to be throbbing. "He'll be fine. We need someone to tell Battousai what's happened to you."

I glared up at his lascivious grin, fire in my eyes as I gently lowered Yahiko's head to the courtyard ground. Climbing to my feet, I fixed my hateful gaze on the vile brute defiling my courtyard with his mere presence. "You can insult me," I hissed, stepping forward. "You can beat me senseless. You can cut me until my veins run dry." I raised my bokken, my blue eyes narrowed beneath my ink-black bangs. "But don't you ever, ever hurt my friends. Especially. My. Student."

Mishitaka laughed. "Prepare yourself, little girl."

"I was prepared the moment you broke down my wall," I growled.

Mishitaka drew a quarter-staff from behind his back. "Might as well use this old thing. Don't want to accidentally cut your head off or anything. You're much more valuable … alive."

"Like hell!" I screamed, launching myself at him.

Mishitaka's smile grew, revealing his gruesome teeth – or lack thereof.

I struck at his right shoulder, and he blocked easily. The polished wood made a resounding crack, and I could feel his power surging through my bokken. The bottom end of his staff swung around, pushing away my practice sword and whistling towards my head. I dodged in the nick of time, stepping back and aiming for his leg. A leg that was suddenly not there anymore. I sensed his ki behind me, and with a sharp battle cry I turned and blocked his attack.

"Faster than I thought," Mishitaka hissed.

"And your breath stinks!" I yelled back, rolling out of his line of fire and back onto my feet.

"Shut up, brat," he snapped, launching himself towards my side. I moved to block it, but I forgot about the other end of his quarter-staff – which promptly smashed into my shoulder.

"Aah!" I cried, falling back and clutching my shoulder. A searing pain spread through the tensed flesh, and I cringed.

"Not as infallible as you thought you were, huh?" Mishitaka laughed, standing over me. His strong, weathered hand grabbed his weapon, a thin shadow cast from the heavy wooden quarter-staff as he raised it far above my torso. He brought it down with all the force he had in him onto my stomach – or where my stomach would have been if I hadn't moved. Instead, my bokken slammed into the back of his left knee.

His legs buckled, his face contorting in pain. "You- You bitch!" He staggered to his feet, limping. I held my throbbing shoulder with a firm hand, my heart beating like crazy. I wasn't going to let him win.

Mishitaka's staff swung towards my injured shoulder, and I tried to block it with my bokken. Instead, my practice sword flew across the courtyard and the wooden pole crashed right into my injury. I fell to the ground in a heap, gasping as white-hot pain flashed through my upper arm. A swift kick to my side sent me sprawling. I groaned, fighting to stand. Mishitaka dug his fingers into my scalp, pulling me up by the hair and throwing me into the side of the dojo. I heard my head crack against the solid wood, and the shock ran through my body like a tidal wave of pain. Through my veil of injury, I felt a small, solid, wooden object brush against my thumb.

Mishitaka Makoto stomped up onto the dojo's front porch, laughing heartily with a sneer on his face. My stomach sank as I realized I had no chance. I was done.

"You've caused me a lot of trouble, little girl. But no matter."

I glared up at him in defiance.

"You're coming with me now. I'm sure Battousai will become even more enraged. He'll be so much fun to kill then. And just so you don't cause any trouble …"

Mishitaka brought his staff far over his head and send it flying towards my skull. He didn't even see me grab the bokken that rested next to me and hold it up to block his next attack, both hands resting firmly on my practice sword. With a strength I didn't know I had in me, I rose up off the ground. Mishitaka watched my cold eyes with shock as I threw well-placed attacks at him left and right, with surprising precision for an injured 19-year-old girl.

"I'm not going anywhere with you," I seethed, hatred boiling in my veins. "I'm not going to be another weakness to my friends! I – thwack – can – thwack – handle – thwack – MYSELF! I am not a weak little girl!"

"Kaoru-dono!" an unmistakable voice cried out, but I ignored it.

"I'm sick of people protecting me," I hissed, continuing my onslaught as Mishitaka's resolve began to weaken. "I'm sick of people doubting my abilities just because I'm a 'little' girl who's always being protected by the two strongest men in Japan. I am the master of Kamiya Kasshin-ryu!" I screamed, my sword clashing against his staff and holding it there with an almost unearthly force. "Do I look like an incompetent little girl to you now, Makoto Mishitaka?"

His once cold eyes now shone with fear and acknowledgement, but he remained silent. With one last fervent battle cry, I forced his staff out of the way, ducked to the side, and nailed him on the back of the neck with the hilt of my bokken. He dropped like a stone, out cold.

It took me a moment to register how fast my heart was beating, and how loud my heavy breathing sounded in the silent courtyard. Turning away from Mishitaka's limp form, I face the small crowd of people that had congregated while I had been fighting. Sanosuke stood next to Yahiko, who leaned heavily on the taller man. Hand clasped to his head in pain, Yahiko grinned at me with a look that told me he was proud of his instructor. Sano had the most dumbfounded of expressions on his face, like this was the first time he had seen me fight. He ran a hand through his short brown hair, rather stunned.

A spiral of red-flame hair fluttered in the wind, catching my eye. Off to the side was Kenshin, his lips set in a thin line as worry lurked in his violet eyes

The pain from my injured shoulder suddenly became too much, and I was forced to drop my bokken as a hiss of pain escaped my lips.




I grabbed my upper arm to alleviate some of the pain. "I'm fine," I insisted, shaking the ribbon out of my hair and letting the midnight strands frame my face. I bent to pick it up, but Kenshin was already there.

"You should have waited for this one," Kenshin chided gently, handing my indigo ribbon back to me. "It isn't safe to challenge intruders, that it is not."

"With all due respect, Kenshin, this imbecile wanted to kidnap me and have his way with me, then force you to fight him in order to save me. I had no idea when you and Sano would be back. What was I supposed to do, just let him take me?"

The courtyard was silent.

"I see, Kaoru-dono," Kenshin murmured belatedly.

"We need to get Yahiko to a doctor," I said, walking towards the small man and ignoring the throbbing pain in my head. "I'm sure you've got a nasty bruise back there – maybe even a concussion."

"I'm fine, Kaoru," Yahiko said, pushing away from Sano to stand on his own. "You should be worrying about yourself! That guy looked pretty powerful. He threw you around like a rag doll for a while there. I woke up when he kicked you in the stomach-"

"It's nothing, Yahiko." I smiled complacently through my pain. "I'm a big girl. You're my student; I'm supposed to worry about you."

"This one will be bringing both of you to the doctor, most definitely. Sano will take care of this man … Mishitaka Makoto, you said, yes?" Kenshin turned to me, and I nodded begrudgingly.

"Go ahead, Kenshin. I've got this," said Sano, toeing the limp idiot laying in my destroyed yard.

Kenshin led the way to the clinic, watching Yahiko and I out of the corner of his eyes in case either of us passed out on the way there. I inspected the hole in my outer wall sadly.

"My poor house," I murmured.

"This one and Sano shall patch it up, Kaoru-dono. No worries." Kenshin smiled back at me, his expression not quite reaching his eyes.

"I just don't understand what villains have against gates and doors. Why walls?"

Yahiko chuckled under his breath.

"That, Kaoru-dono, I do not know the answer to. That I do not."

"My, Kaoru-san. These injuries are … impressive. I don't know how you managed to walk here." Dr. Gensai sighed, examining the large purple blotch forming on my side. I had kicked Kenshin out of the room so Dr. Gensai could have a look at my injuries without having my face turn bright red. While I had imagined being in the same room as Kenshin with less clothing, the doctor's office wasn't exactly the environment I had hoped for. "You definitely have a bruised rib. Does it hurt to breathe?"

"A bit. Not too terribly."

"Alright. Best to keep your arm in that sling for at least a week – no sword-swinging in the meantime." Dr. Gensai continued covering my various cuts and scrapes with salve and bandages.

"Thank you, Doctor."

"In fact, I'd prefer it if you didn't do much of anything for this week. It's important to heal up after instances like this. Make sure you change those bandages tonight, and once a day from then on. Have Himura-san help you, if need be."

"I understand." I nodded, wincing as I pulled my sleeve back up and tucked my arm back into my sleeve with Dr. Gensai's help. "Thank you, again. I really do mean it."

"No problem, Kaoru-san. Feel better, now."

I walked back out into the hallway and towards the waiting room, where Kenshin and Yahiko sat amongst the sick and injured.

"Better, Kaoru-dono?" Kenshin asked, eyeing my bandages and the sling.

"It's better than it looks, at least," I said dismissively.

"She isn't to practice Kendo for a week, Himura-san," Dr. Gensai said from behind me, and I bit back a curse. Oh man. And here I was, thinking I could get away with telling him I was fine. "I suggest bed rest for the remainder of the evening, and as much sleep as possible." He leaned in, speaking softly as though I couldn't hear. "She's a bit stubborn, so do what you must to help her heal." To me, he said, "Goodbye, dear. Feel better soon. Remember to change those bandages tonight.''

And with that, the three of us headed back to the dojo.

"Should you really be walking, Kaoru-dono?" Kenshin asked softly as we exited the office. "This one can fetch a carriage, if you would like."

"I'm okay, I promise." I smiled. "Besides, we don't have the money for a carriage at the moment, with a hole in the courtyard wall." I tried to take a deep breath, and I winced. Bad idea. Maybe it would be best to refrain from breathing for a while...

"It would be a good idea to hold onto this one's arm then, that it would," Kenshin murmured, offering me the appendage. "The last thing you need right now is to fall over, Kaoru-dono."

"But-" I tried to protest.

"Oh, just take it Kaoru. You're only going to hurt yourself if you don't," Yahiko said, walking on ahead.

I bit my lip, reluctantly taking Kenshin's arm. "Thanks."

"No worries, Kaoru-dono." Kenshin's arm was warm, the worn navy fabric of his gi rubbing against my calloused hands. As much as I hated depending on my friends, sometimes it had its benefits. As a large gust of wind swept through the nearly-empty street, the scent of sandalwood and pine drifted past my nose. Leaves whirled under the soft afternoon sun, stirring up the gray-brown dust. Tendrils of Kenshin's fiery locks landed on my shoulder, and in turn, my ink-black hair wove its way into his. It was peaceful, the complete opposite of how my morning had gone down. And, honestly, I didn't mind it.

"Go on and rest, Kaoru-dono," Kenshin instructed me gently as we entered the dojo's front gate. "I shall go and prepare dinner, that I will."

I only nodded, finding my way back to my room in a slight daze as Yahiko led me in the right direction. I was tired, that much was certain. Shutting the thin sliding door behind me, I took one look at my sleeping yukata and knew that with my shoulder in the condition that it was, I was better off just sleeping in my practice clothes for the night. Avoiding provoking my injuries, I slid into my futon and pulled up the covers. Everything hurt, it seemed. My shoulder, my rib, my head, my feet … I closed my eyes and tried to relax, blocking out the pain and meditating.

"Kaoru-dono," a voice called softly, and I grumbled. My limbs still felt heavy with sleep. A light hand touched my uninjured shoulder, and I peeled my tired eyes open.

"Kaoru-dono, this one has brought you dinner." My blurry sight focused in on Kenshin's face, his violet eyes bright.

I tried to prop myself up, but my shoulder decided it had other plans for me. Calloused, nimble hands caught me before my head could hit the ground. "Thanks," I murmured, as Kenshin gently pulled me upright.

"Sorry to wake you, Kaoru-dono, but the others have just finished eating. Cold food is not enjoyable to eat, that it is not."

"That's alright, Kenshin." I smiled, ignoring the pain seeping back into my limbs as the numbing mentality of sleep drifted away. "I think I can handle it from here."

"This one will sit with you, Kaoru-dono, if you do not mind." The corner of his mouth turned up in an amused smirk, carefully setting the steaming tray on my lap. "Eating alone is not fun, that it is not."

"If you're sure," I murmured, picking up my chopsticks with my left hand – the one not attached to my injured shoulder. "Too bad I'm not ambidextrous."

"This one can help you, if the need arises. I am partly responsible for your injuries, after all."

"I'm okay, really. And my injuries aren't your fault. You weren't even there to see them happen." I struggled to grab a grain of rice, my eyes narrowing in concentration.

"My apologies, Kaoru-dono."

"You shouldn't apologize, Kenshin. Honestly, if I'm injured, it's my own fault for not being strong enough." Using the chopsticks as a scoop, I finally managed to consume my dinner at a timely pace.


"As much as I'd love company, I think I'd rather eat in peace," I said quietly, not meeting his eyes.

He was silent for a moment. "Alright," Kenshin said, standing. "Just call this one if you need something." And then he was gone.

Sighing, I looked down at my tray. Nothing looked appealing anymore. I didn't get why Kenshin was always like this whenever I got hurt, blaming himself for it. The last time I sprained my wrist, he felt terrible he wasn't there to stop me from getting hurt. It was like he was trying to take the fault for me so I didn't feel as bad about it

But I didn't want that. They were my mistakes – why should Kenshin suffer for them? He was stealing my right to suffer out from under my nose, and as strange as it sounded, I wanted to pay for my own decisions. I didn't need to be protected from myself. Regardless, my injuries were visible proof of my triumph. I had won. I had defeated the threats that had faced me, and they had crumbled in the face of my determination. I should have been feeling pride and exultation, but instead my head was plagued by guilt.

I pushed my tray off my lap, anger burning through my veins. I didn't care if I had barely touched my dinner. Laying back down on my futon, I tried to take a deep breath. My bruised rib decided it didn't like that and sent a sharp pain coursing throughout my torso. A low hiss escaped my mouth as I tried not to groan in pain lest I attract more attention. This sucked. I had been slacking off on my practice lately, and my battle today had made it glaringly obvious. I needed to spar less with Yahiko and more with the people at the dojos that I visited weekly.

I closed my eyes, snuggling deeper under the covers as I tried to block out the throbbing in my limbs.

The shoji door slid open. "Kaoru …" a young voice murmured. "You should have eaten more of your dinner. Kenshin's going to worry."

"He'll worry anyways," I growled.

"Kaoru …" Yahiko let out a long sigh. "Don't get me wrong. I'm proud of you, especially as my teacher. You gave Mishitaka the beating of his life, and it was amazing. You showed me so much, just in that one fight. You're so strong." He paused, hesitating. "But … you have to understand how Kenshin feels. He wasn't there to protect you today, and it tears him apart. More than anything, he wants to be able to protect the people he cares about. That's just part of who he is. Is that so hard to understand?"

I bit my lip, turning away from Yahiko to hide my expression. I didn't want him to see how effective his words had been. He was just a little kid to me. It's not like he had any idea how things worked, or why I felt the way I did. Maybe he could comprehend Kenshin's take on the situation, but not mine.

"Fine," he whispered, turning and slamming the shoji shut behind him. I squeezed my eyes shut with a strength I didn't know I possessed, holding back the tears that threatened to break loose.

I woke to the sound of cicadas chirping, the light that once shone through the thin rice paper screen now gone. I tried to close my eyes again but my stomach protested. I wanted food, and fast.

Sighing, I rose cautiously to my feet. My injuries were feeling better already, and I was sick of staying in bed. With my good arm I grabbed a lukewarm onigiri and stepped out onto the porch. My bare feet slid against the polished wood, making their way to the edge. I sat down, careful to make no noise, and took in the view as I munched on my meager snack. The courtyard was dark, the moon high overhead. I could see that the courtyard wall had been hastily patched up, a flimsy barrier against whatever was lurking out on the street. The pile of rubble was gone as well, the worn grass clear of plaster and chunks of wood. A soft wind blew across the small, open area, bringing with it the scent of a nearby bonfire. It was peacefully quiet, the hum of the cicadas soothing my frazzled nerves.

"You should not be up, Kaoru-dono, that you should not," a velvety voice chided, and I jumped. I should have known Kenshin would wake up as soon as I did.

"I feel better, honestly," I muttered as he joined me on the edge of the walkway, still wearing his sleeping yukata and missing his sakabato.

"Dr. Gensai did say that you were to be on bed rest until tomorrow," Kenshin reminded me gently.

"I couldn't sleep," I admitted. "Besides, judging from how late it is, it's probably tomorrow already." I finished off my onigiri, and we sat in silence. I could think of nothing to say, and for a while, the quiet night seemed deafening. "I should probably change my bandages," I said at last, attempting to get up. A soft hand on my good shoulder stopped me. The heat from his palm was soothing, and my muscles began to relax.

"Let this one help you, Kaoru-dono."

My face flushed. "But-" and I bit my lip.

"But what?"

"But … It's embarassing.

He paused for a moment. "Is it embarrassing when a doctor binds you wounds?" Kenshin asked, violet eyes catching my gaze. Slowly, I shook my head no. He smiled. "Think of me as a doctor, then, if nothing else."

He returned moments later with a small lamp and some bandages. He started with my face, carefully peeling off the small strips of linen on the side of my cheek and my temple. His touch was gentle and cautious, reapplying gauze with precision. He moved onto my shoulder then, re-bandaging the tender skin and slipping my arm back into its sling. With a sharp tug, the right side of my training gi slid down my upper arm. I felt my face heat up as my chest wrappings were revealed, but Kenshin didn't even pause. Instead, his gaze slid down to the large bruise on my rib cage.

"How did this happen, Kaoru-dono?" he murmured, his calloused thumb tracing the edge of the ugly purple blotch in an intimate touch I thought beyond him. My torso burned with anticipation.

"He kicked me," I whispered, gazing at the floorboards.

Silence. "How did it all happen?"

And I told him. I spared no details, no matter how graphic. With each injury I described, he touched the afflicted area with a hand so gentle I thought I might melt. His face hosted a myriad of expressions, from intrigue to worry to pain.

"This one is sorry he was not there for you when he should have been," Kenshin said softly, gazing up at me through his crimson bangs. "All of these injuries could have been prevented, that they could have been."

"No, Kenshin." I cut him off. "Please, stop trying to push the blame on yourself. These scrapes and bruises are my own doing, simply because I wasn't strong enough to stop them from happening. I don't need you to try to carry the weight of my mistakes on your shoulders. I can't understand why no one's happy I fought off my assailant and won, without anyone's help. I'm capable. I'm strong. I can defend myself. So what if I bruise a rib now and then? It means I'm gaining experience, preparing myself for the next battle. Why is so undeniably hard to comprehend the fact that I feel weak when I'm always hiding in your shadow, as well as Sano's?"

The silence rang out in the courtyard, the wind stilled for the time being. Only the faint whisper of cicadas could be heard, far off in the distance.

"Kaoru-dono," Kenshin said at last, raising his head so that he could look directly into my cerulean eyes. "That man came into the dojo with one thing on his mind – killing me. The entire reason you are hurt is because Mishitaka Makoto was after this one. He is my adversary, and therefore, he is my responsibility." Amber flecks began to show themselves in his violet irises. "This one knows that you are strong. And you are right; it is this one and Sano that make you appear so inferior. You have no idea how proud you make me at times. No ordinary girl can defend themselves as you can. The power this one saw in you today was indescribable. But as much as this one knows you are strong – " Kenshin paused, smoothing down the bandages on my forearm. " – because he is this one's opponent, it is this one's duty to protect you. That is why this one fights so hard."

"Is that …" I hesitated, gingerly pulling my training gi back up. "Is that the only reason why? Duty?"

The wind picked up again, swirling the small patches of wildflowers that were scattered across the small courtyard.

"No," he said decisively. "This one – I – " Kenshin corrected himself. "I care for you immensely. Kaoru."

I looked up from the floorboards in shock. No "-dono"? My gaze fell to him, and I could see his flawless lips had curved upwards ever so slightly.

When I found myself able to move again, my hand glided across the smooth floorboards and into his. Kenshin's fingers weaved their way in between mine, and his smile grew. The anxious feeling in my stomach evolved into a confusing medley of exhilaration and warmth. I drew in a deep breath and winced.

Kenshin's eyes flashed with concern, and I shook my head. I was sick of pretending I was perfectly fine. I wasn't, and I was damn tired of acting like it just so my friends wouldn't look down on me. Kenshin knew I could handle myself, regardless of how much he wanted to protect me, so why put up a front?

I lowered my head onto his shoulder, leaning on him as much as I dared. My ink-black hair spilled down his navy blue gi in waves, glistening in the soft moonlight. He pressed his cheek against the crown of my head and let out a slow breath.

"I care for you too, Kenshin," I whispered. "More than anyone."

He squeezed my hand tightly, the calloused pads of his fingers chafing against mine.

I breathed in the powerful scent of sandalwood and pine, careful not to excite my bruised rib. His body was warm against mine, his muscles firm beneath his heated skin. Kenshin felt so strong, so safe. It was an amazing feeling, knowing that he knew I could take care of myself – but also that it was okay to let this man, this man I cared so dearly for, protect me too. Our lips touched for the faintest second as cicadas hummed blissfully in the background, darkness covering us like a warm blanket, and I knew. I was not a weak little girl. I was powerful. I was confident. I was happy. I was loved.

My eyes slipped shut as the minutes passed, my brain finally shutting down after an overwhelming day of emotions running rampant. Sleep had all but pulled me into its lulling grasp when I felt myself shift, my whole body hoisted up into a pair of firm arms. Head resting against his warm chest, I felt like I was being held in a gently woven cocoon of bliss. The rustle of clothing seemed loud in the stillness, as did the sound of my shoji sliding open. He laid me back in my futon, pulling the covers up to encompass my lithe form. Soft lips pressed against my temple in a chaste kiss, and careful, whispered words drifted into my ear: "Good night, Kaoru-dono.'

Unconsciously, my slender hand grabbed the worn fabric of his yukata. "Don't go, Kenshin." I could feel him pause. "Please?" I mumbled, a quiver making its way into my sleepy vocal cords. His hesitance was evident, tired as I was, and my reluctant hand released his sleeve. I was a big girl, anyways. I didn't need –

And suddenly his toned body had slid under the covers next to me, wrapping me in crimson locks and a set of heated arms. My aches and worried dissipated instantly, and I eased into him as elation flowed through my veins. "Good night, Kaoru," he repeated, losing the honorific I had come to dread as he kissed the soft skin of my neck in a move entirely more provocative than his earlier peck on the forehead. Had I not been so tired I would have let him consume me then and there, and I internally cursed this morning's intruder for robbing me of that energy.

Instead I settled for a soft, promising whisper. "G'night, Ken... shi..." Tired lips could not form the correct words, and I drifted off hoping that when I woke he would still be by my side.

No, not hoping. Knowing.