Kaoru dreamed that she was standing in a dark room filled with lit scented candles. She was wearing a red silk kimono which caressed her body each time she moved. She was alone. The heady atmosphere went straight to her head, consuming her with an overpowering sense of langour and anticipation. She sighed deeply.
The softly-voiced question made her start. She turned slowly and gasped in delight when she saw Kenshin, his hair flowing about his shoulders, walking towards her, arms outstretched. She ran to him joyously and smiled in contentment when she felt him embrace her tightly. She clutched him to her, basking in his warmth, and shivered when she felt his breath on her ear. Kenshin moved away from her slightly and smiled at her with a tender light in his beautiful violet eyes. Kaoru fervently wished that she could stretch the moment to forever. She closed her eyes when Kenshin brushed her cheek with a gentle finger. Wonderful.
His fingers traced a tantalizing trail to her mouth, "I just want to say..."
She felt his breath on her mouth and she arched her face closer to his, waiting...waiting...
"...that you are so..." he murmured huskily, his voice catching at the last word. Kaoru smiled. Beautiful? Sexy? Alluring? Intelligent?
Kaoru's eyes flew open. What the hell--?
"Yo, old hag! It's mooooorrniiinngggg!!!!!!!"
Welcome to reality.
"Shut up," she groaned and buried her face in her pillows, hoping to transport herself back to dreamland. "I wanna sleep..." She screamed when her feet were yanked roughly and she was suddenly sliding down her futon at an alarming speed. She hit the floor with a hard thud. "Yahiko!!!"
Yahiko grinned at her evilly, "Aw, come on, Kaoru. This is just a little game. I'm the farmer and you're the plow, ne?" He walked towards the door, dragging her behind him. He chuckled when she ranted and raved at him. "Now, oneechan, is that any way for a lady to speak? Owww!!!" He howled in pain when she twisted her feet out of his hands and landed them solidly on his butt.
Kaoru scrambled up to a sitting position and glared at him. "Serves you right, you brat," she muttered furiously as Yahiko rubbed his sore behind, moaning all the while.
Yahiko stuck his tounge out at her. "Duh to you too, busu-sama." He ducked as a slipper sailed past him. "Besides," he grinned suggestively, "I had to wake you. You were getting carried away."
Kaoru stared at him, "What are you talking about?!"
"Well, for starters," he drawled. "You were hugging me like there's no tomorrow and gasping--" Yahiko fluttered his eyelashes at her. "Kenshin! Kenshin!" he trilled in a high-pitched whiny voice as he danced around the room, rolling his hips this way and that.
Kaoru felt her face turn beet red. "I was what?!"
Yahiko shook his head, "Kaoru, you've really got no style, you know that?"
"What do you mean?" Kaoru growled dangerously.
Yahiko nattered on, totally unaware that he was practically digging his grave, "For starters, Kenshin would never get together with a girl like you."
Kaoru cracked her knuckles, "And why is that?"
Yahiko sighed impatiently. "One," he ticked off the points with his fingers, "you practically dress in battle gear everyday (I mean, sure, you're a kenjutsu instructor but ya don't have to take it to heart so much). Two, you yell all the time (jeez, we're not deaf). Third, you have a hand of iron (Sano keeps telling me that that's a good thing 'coz we get to boast about our indestructibility but what does rooster-head know, huh? I don't want to look like wasabi at ten years old!). In short," Yahiko said, his voice rising in pitch, making Kaoru wince.
"In short," he repeated as he walked up to her and poked her on the forehead, "you are a walking war machine. And no decent self-respecting absolutely cool guy like Kenshin would prefer Oda Nobunaga reincarnated as a wiiffee--OOOWWW!!!!!"
Kaoru watched him sail through the door and grinned when she heard a very audible thump followed by an ear-splitting screech of rage. Breathing heavily, she slid the door shut and collapsed on the floor, rubbing her sore wrist. "Ouch," she muttered. "When is that kid ever gonna learn? Oda Nobunaga, huh?"
"More like Genghis Khan!"
Swiftly, she opened the door, grabbed the remaining slipper, and threw it out of the room. "Shut up!" she yelled.
Shaking her head, Kaoru stood up, brushing her hair from her face as she did so. It was still quite early, she noted darkly. And she was having such a wonderful dream... Kaoru paused as Yahiko's words came back to her. With a sigh, she trudged over to the wooden chest she kept near her futon, yanked it open, rummaged inside, and grabbed the hand mirror which her mother had given her long ago and which she had always treasured. She stared at her face intently as she assessed her good and bad points. Her skin was smooth, flawless even. Her eyes were of a pretty decent color (well, OK, modesty aside, she had to admit that her eyes were of the most smashing sexiest blue ever ::grin::), and surrounded by a bounty of dark lashes to boot. Her eyebrows were nicely shaped. That's a plus. Her nose was small and pert. Kaoru wrinkled it experimentally. Well, it was hell of a lot better than flaring nostrils and high bridges, anyway. And her lips... she pursed them into an "o" and then watched the effect when she smiled widely. She had always wished that her lower lip was a bit, well, fuller, but it wasn't as if she had a gargantuan mouth. In fact you could say that her lips were, um, kissable.
'Yeah? And so why hasn't Kenshin kissed you?' a small voice inside her taunted. She thrust the thought away ruthlessly as she focused on her hair. She flipped it over her shoulders with a gentle hand. Her hair was her one vanity-- dark, glossy, luxurious. Maybe Kenshin was turned off by brunettes? Then she'd dye it blonde. Or even red, if he'd so prefer. Kaoru tried to picture herself with red hair. She grimaced. Nah. Kenshin would probably look prettier, and that she certainly couldn't handle.
Having satisfied herself that she absolutely bore no physical resemblance to Oda Nobunaga (or Genghis Khan, she shuddered) whatsoever, Kaoru carefully placed the mirror back into its resting place. How dared that Yahiko call her a 'war machine?' Kaoru clenched her fists angrily. It wasn't as if she looked like a gung-ho samurai. In fact, she told herself consolingly, she was a young, feminine, attractive girl who just happened to think that the world didn't revolve around men and that-- Kaoru froze as a sudden realization struck her. Yahiko never said that she looked like Oda Nobunaga or that she was the physical manifestation of a war ship or cannon or whatever. He only said that she acted like...
Was she that-- violent? Was she that-- boyish? Shoot. Forget about Kenshin being prettier. He was even more-- refined and-- and -- Kaoru swallowed -- lady-like than she was! She paced around the room restlessly. She had thought that since she wasn't a slouch in the looks department, seducing Kenshin ::blush:: would be an easy task. But -- horrors! -- what if the reason why her, uh, schemes (OK, they were amateurish. OK, they were kinda pathetic. But any normal red-blooded male should have been taken in by now ^^) didn't work was because she was an absolute failure in the manners section?! And if Kenshin preferred girls who acted like girls... No, no, Kaoru thought furiously. There were a lot of 'em in town. So why hasn't he courted any of them yet? Or even showed the slightest interest? He was certainly good-looking enough (what an understatement! ^^) and he was charming, pleasant, intelligent, courteous, an absolute gentleman. Yeah, that's it. It would take a lot of prodding before Kenshin made moves on a girl. He'd have to think about it first, weigh his options, be absolutely sure. Well, the fact that he was a bit, um, shy, helped, of course. Kaoru breathed a sigh of relief as she thanked the gods that Kenshin was no Prince Genji-- uh-oh. Kaoru choked as she remembered.
Kaoru felt totally sickened. She had been so sure that once the potion had taken effect, Kenshin would be drawn to her like Sano was to the gambling-table. But what if Kenshin didn't really like her, after all? What if, instead of proclaiming his love and undying devotion to her, he'll go off and-- and consort with those other women? He wouldn't dare! Kaoru screamed internally. 'But could you blame him if he did?' the annoying small voice slyly said. Kaoru collapsed on her futon with a sigh. 'Never presume, never assume, Kamiya,' she seethed as she stared at the ceiling. However, there was no time for self-blame now. She had to think of something fast, before Kenshin saw her.
She had to see Megumi, Kaoru acknowledged with dread. And ask her for advice. Maybe she had better see Tae, too, while she was at it. She certainly couldn't go to Genzai-sensei. He'll just laugh and wave the whole thing off and when he gets a hold of just what it was she planned to do, he'll probably be scandalized to death. Kaoru blew her bangs off her forehead. Yep. There was no getting around to it. She needed to be the personification of a true "Kaoru-DONO"-- and fast.
Kaoru hurriedly sat up and padded barefooted to where she kept her clothes. As she fumbled for a clean kimono, she prayed that Kenshin was still asleep. Time, she needed more time. She dressed quickly, pulled her hair back into its usual ponytail, grabbed her walking slippers, and tiptoed out of the room.
She looked around the hallway, hoping that Yahiko wouldn't see her. That kid had rattled her self-confidence enough as it is. He didn't need more proof of his omnipotence. Satisfied that the coast was clear, she scurried to the kitchen, intent on getting out through the back door. The kitchen was empty. Good. It meant that Kenshin wasn't up yet. She slid the door open and promptly teetered on her feet as a gust of cold wind blasted her face. She should have brought an overcoat or something. Kaoru frowned. She hoped that Megumi was awake already. If she wasn't-- Kaoru nearly screamed when she felt a large hand on her shoulder. Instinctively, she swung her slippers backward, heard it connect with something solid, followed by a muttered oath of pain. As the hand left her shoulder, Kaoru turned to face her attacker and saw--
"Jou-chan, that hurt," Sano muttered, rubbing his forehead with a bandaged hand.
"Sano," Kaoru sighed. "I'm sorry. I thought you were a burglar or something..."
"Yeah, right," Sano scowled. "As if." A bump was beginning to make its presence felt on his forehead. Kaoru fought the urge to burst out laughing when she saw that he was wrapped with enough bandages to be a dead-ringer for Shishio. Megumi really gave him a work-out last night. Sano glared at her.
Kaoru instantly sobered. "I'm sorry, Sano," she said contritely. "Really." A giggle began to work its way up to her throat. Oooppss... No can do. She averted her face, clapped a hand to her mouth, and broke out into a wide grin (she couldn't help it!).
Sano stared at her suspiciously. "Jou-chan, are you laughing at me?"
"No, ah, no, of course not," Kaoru said, trying to keep a straight face. "It was just that you're, um," she gestured at him, "you look like--" Her lips twitched into a smile.
"Whatever," Sano said disgustedly.
Kaoru nodded vigorously, "Sure. Whatever." She decided to change the subject. Sano seemed positively grouchy. "What're you doing up so early?" she asked him. "I thought you told us once that you rise with the afternoon sun because mornings bore you?"
Sano gave her an evil look.
"Well, you did!" she protested weakly.
"And why are you up so early?" Sano countered. "I thought there was a burglar because I heard someone rustling in the kitchen. And then--" he pointed at his forehead, "this is what I get for my trouble."
"Hey, you manhandled me," Kaoru muttered.
"Jou-chan," Sano said with as much patience as he can muster. "You looked like you were gonna be blown all the way to Yokohama. What was I supposed to do, wave goodbye?"
Kaoru scowled at him.
Sano shook his head. He gestured to her outfit. "Don't tell me you're going to market this early," he said. "Or maybe you have a date?" He grinned teasingly. "And Kenshin didn't know? Why, Jou-chan, you bad girl, you..."
"It's none of your business--" she burst out hotly when the word 'Kenshin' hit her over her head like a ton of bricks. Oh, just great. She let her slippers clatter noisily to the floor, slid her feet into them hurriedly, turned to a startled Sano and said haughtily, "I am going to see Megumi."
"The fox lady?" Sano asked, surprised. "You have a sumo match or something?"
Kaoru rolled her eyes at him before taking off at top speed. "Tell Kenshin I won't be in for breakfast!" she called out over her shoulder.
"Give my love to Fox-sensei!" he retorted. Kaoru stuck her tongue out at him before disappearing through the entranceway.
Now what was that girl up to? he mused. She'll probably be gone 'til lunch. Sano shrugged. Oh well. It meant that the dojo will be quiet for a while. He turned to go back inside when he realized that no Kaoru means-- He pounded his palm with a closed fist. Yatta. Why didn't he think of it before?
Grinning, Sano made his way to Kenshin's room.
Kenshin dreamed that he was lying in a garden of jasmine flowers. It was so soft and the scent was intoxicating. He thought wistfully of Kaoru when he heard his name being called softly, "Kenshin..."
He sat up quickly and smiled widely when he saw Kaoru making her way to him through a cloud of white jasmine. Her sheer blue eyes were focused intently on him and he thought for a minute, dazed, that he was in heaven, surrounded as he was by bursts of white, gold, and blue. He suddenly felt too lethargic to move. Instead, he waited, in a state of bemused longing, as she approached him gracefully. When she stopped right in front of him, he tilted his head up to look at her. She smiled at him gently, her beautiful lips curving sweetly. He watched, fascinated, as she mouthed his name in a husky whisper, "Kenshin..."
"Kaoru," he returned hoarsely. Somehow, it felt right to call her that. One slim white hand reached out to him. As if in a trance, he took it in his and gently pulled her down to lie next to him. Now he was in heaven, he thought as soft curves cuddled against his supine body. He closed his eyes as he felt her fingers toy with his hair. Bliss. Sheer bliss.
"Kenshin?" she whispered.
"Hmmm?" he murmured lazily.
"Kenshin?" this time, the fingers tugging at his hair were more insistent.
He smiled at her playfulness, "What is it, Kaoru," he paused before whispering, "darling?" A thrill coursed through him as he said the word.
Suddenly, he felt a tearing pain on his scalp as his hair was nearly torn from his head. Kenshin's eyes shot open. "What the--?"
"Kenshin..." When did Kaoru's voice sound so-- gravelly?
Kenshin sighed in resignation as reality came crashing down on him. Painfully. "Sano," he muttered. "Please let go of my hair."
"What?" Sano grinned at him. "And pass up the chance to hear you call me 'darling'? I didn't know you had it in you. And you were in such a state of denial last night..."
Kenshin yanked his head out of grabbing range, "Shut up."
"Hopeless, Kenshin," Sano said. "You are hopeless."
Kenshin glared at him, "Right. And I suppose you woke me up just so you could tell me that amazing fact."
"No," Sano countered. "I woke you because--"
Kenshin widened his eyes. "Oro. I forgot," he moaned.
"That?" Sano asked slowly.
"Breakfast!" Kenshin got up quickly. "I have to make breakfast! I can't believe I overslept!"
"Man, Kenshin," Sano muttered but Kenshin was already on his way to the door. He reached out and grabbed the hem of Kenshin's hakama and yanked it forcefully. Sano smiled as Kenshin crashed on the floor, yelling "Orooo!!!!" all the while.
"Gods, Kenshin," Sano said as he doubled over in laughter. "It's a wonder no one has ever discovered that technique or you'd have tripped to your death a long time ago!"
"Sanosuke..." Kenshin began menacingly.
Sano held up his hands. "Hey, I was just joking."
Kenshin sat back, slightly mollified. "Look, Sano, I don't know what's up with you but I--" he frowned as a stinging pain came from his stomach. Ouch. Because of that late-night tea? But whoever heard of indigestion from drinking tea?
"Yo, Kenshin!" Sano called out, waving his hand in front of Kenshin's face. "Do I have to wake you again?"
Kenshin swatted his hand away impatiently. "No, thank you." He stood up. "Now, I've really got to go. And--" he glared at Sano, "--with no interruptions."
Sano stood up, too. "Kenshin, I already made breakfast," he said casually.
Kenshin choked. "NANI?!"
Sano rolled his eyes, "The problem with you is that you think you're the only guy who can cook in the entire world. If you can let Kaoru loose in the kitchen, why not me?"
Kenshin backed away from him slowly, "Yeah... Are you sure you're OK, Sano?"
Sano shook his head disdainfully. "Kenshin, don't be ridiculous. Of course I'm fine." He grabbed Kenshin's rucksack, pulled out a bundled piece of cloth, and threw it at his friend.
Kenshin caught it deftly. He frowned when he saw that it was a clean gi. One which he usually wore on special occasions only. "Sano..."
Sano made his way to the door, "I'll wait for you in the main room. Five minutes tops or I'm gonna drag you all the way to town."
"What are you talking about?" Kenshin stared at him.
"Kenshin," Sano said gravely, "You should know by now that I take my responsibilities seriously."
"And I expect you to do the same."
Sano turned to face him in the doorway and grinned, "You and I, Battousai, are going, " he paused for effect, "shopping."
Kenshin was absolutely floored.
END OF PART FOUR
Whee! Finally got this part done! ^_^ Now for some major explaining...
That's about it. If you guys have more comments, please e-mail me, OK? ^_^ Next part: Kenshin and Sano go on a shopping expedition. And Megumi has a ideas of her own... ^_^ Arigato!