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Author's notes: Hymns of praise and gratitude are due my prereaders: Jenn, Megitsune Sky, Ashfae, and The RCK. They helped me to say what I really meant! Thanks also to my husband Kevin for both pre-reading and enduring hours of babbling about RK.

This story is the lemon interlude in a much longer planned piece. When I finally finish it, you'll find out exactly what Kaoru said to Kenshin to start this whole mess... and why. For now, enjoy the smut. (Unless you're underage. Then go away until you're legal, please.)

All feedback is welcomed. 

Heart of the Sword
by
Amy the Evitable

She sat on her futon, shoulders pulled forward tight, legs curled beneath her, and tore the comb through the shimmering length of her hair as if with it, she could tear the thoughts from her mind. The quiet sound as the comb slid from her scalp to the tips of her waist-length tresses formed a counterpoint to her tear-roughened voice: "Baka." Shuff. "Baka." Shuff. "Baka."

He couldn't see her face from the doorway, but he knew her eyes would be red, her cheeks damp from tears. This was not acceptable. As he watched her grief and anger manifest, he refined a strategy to take down this intangible opponent. Her breath caught in her throat as the comb caught in a tangle. Roughly, impatiently, she tried to force the comb through the tangle, yanking, hissing in pain.

Iie. He would not tolerate such treatment of his beloved from anyone -- not even from herself. Very well -- it is time to make that clear. All of it.

"Kaoru. Stop."

He'd startled her. Her body twitched as she recognized his voice and suppressed the urge to jump. Then, as the meaning and the form of his words struck her, she grew utterly still. She was frightened, then. Of me? Her movements deliberate, careful, she set the comb down beside her. Her hand trembled a little, but her body did not pull further into a protective position. So. Not afraid of me, but for me. For us.

"Is there..." She took a deep breath which was not quite a sniffle, but still did not turn to face him. "Is there more trouble in town? Did someone... do..."

"Iie. No trouble in town." He'd let his voice slip down to his natural register, lower than the rurouni's friendly pitch. Now it began to settle into a croon, not quite sing-song, almost hypnotic in effect, and he saw how the fine hairs upon her arms rose at the sound, and something within his blood hummed in satisfaction.

He stepped forward, and slid the shoji shut, deliberately creating an audible snap. Kaoru's skin shivered at the sound, as her courage and her faith in him fought the urge to jump to her feet and fight -- or flee. Still so uncertain, koibito? For all your brave words earlier, do you truly not know where you stand in my heart? He circled around to face her, each stride bringing him closer as she tried to read his mood from beneath her lashes. Ah, I see. You know I won't hurt you. But you are not at all certain of what I intend to do, are you? Amusement flickered like moonlight in golden eyes. That's not an entirely bad thing, now, but you're close to the edge, love. I can fix that, if you'll let me.

"Ano... about earlier," and she squeezed her eyes closed tightly, trying to hide the hurt. "I... what I said... gomen nasai. I had no right..."

"Shhh. Don't worry so, Kaoru." He turned the final syllable of her name into a soft puff of air against her cheek as he sank gracefully down behind her. "Let me comb your hair for you, Kaoru."

"Demo..."

"Shhhh. Let me." She subsided, and he pulled back the wayward locks that hid her face, brushing his fingertips ever so lightly against her temples as he did so. He gathered the heavy mass, gently twisted it around his palm, let it fall to rest against her yukata. Trust me. Let me show you what I am, what I can be... He briefly ran his fingers along the edge of her hairline behind her ear, then lifted a section of hair. He slid the comb slowly, smoothly through her hair, once and then again. And once more, the gentlest tugging of the comb, and then the careful laying of the hair to hang in front of her shoulder. Silently, he worked his way through her tresses, enjoying what the scent and feel of her did to his body. He enjoyed even more the way Kaoru's breathing began to deepen and slow, the way her shoulders began to fall back and loosen, the way her head began to slowly tip the slightest bit forward.

At last, Kenshin found the tangle that Kaoru had been struggling with; setting the comb aside, he began to carefully pick apart the knot strand by strand. The hair was twisted tightly around itself. He loosened the knot, and found the rest of the task much easier.

"You should be more careful, Kaoru. You can't force the tangles free; you have to coax them. Be gentle. Pay close attention to each strand, understand what knots them, and they will yield to you. You need not force them." His voice was soft and lulling. The knot freed, he loosed his grip and watched as one lock, then another, and another slid from his fingers to glide across the back of her neck, a cool silky avalanche of caresses across her nape. She shivered, and the back of her neck was tinged with pink. With just the slightest pressure, scarcely even touching, his fingernail traced a wandering path down from her nape to the edge of her yukata. Something between a purr and a moan came from her throat; he doubted she was even aware that she was making the noise, and the knowledge that he caused her to do this aroused him even more than the glimpse of her uncovered thigh as she sagged forward bonelessly.

He turned her towards him then and cupped her face between his palms. Her face was flushed, her pupils huge, and her gaze rose as slowly as if she had been drugged.

"Look at me." He crooned the command, needing her to acknowledge what she would see in his eyes, what she had known since his first words had made her start. She knew who he was, but he needed her to acknowledge it. This was the woman who had overcome Jineh, who had faced the Battousai himself down in the heat of battle, who had followed him to Kyoto, and that courage did not fail her now. She met his golden eyes without fear; only hints of wonderment and of curiosity danced in the narrow rings of blue surrounding twin black pools. It was her joy and her capacity to forgive that drew the rurouni to her, but it was her courage and her fierce protectiveness that had ensnared the Battousai.

"Kaoru." He lowered his head until his lips hovered only fingers-breadths from hers. "You issued a challenge earlier today. You challenged me to throw away fear and guilt, and to live for what was in my heart and in yours. The answer you received was the claim that guilt and self-hatred were stronger than love. But your accusation was right. Those were the words of a coward. The restraints were not duty or penance, but fear.

"I have never walked away from a challenge because of fear, and I will not do so now. I will answer your challenge -- but on my terms. I want Kaoru. But is Kaoru willing to meet the Battousai's challenge for her hearts desire?" The gentle croon had yielded to a stern, almost cold, tone; but his palms cradled her soft, warm cheeks as though he feared he might break them with incautious handling.

Her eyes brightened and widened, and her lips trembled. "Nani...?" she breathed in a husky voice that nearly unleashed the dragons within him. No, snarled mind to body, Not until she -- unless she -- meets my challenge.

"I would answer your challenge, Kaoru. The Battousai. But I cannot take it up if it was made to someone other than me." Tilting her face up to his, he brushed his lips against her forehead, against her temples and, when he saw her eyelashes flutter closed, against her reddened eyelids. He pulled back again, his voice melting into the croon. "Look at me, Kaoru."

Slowly, trembling, she opened her eyes again, fear and desire both easily read in her dark, unfocused gaze.

"Show me that your challenge was made to me as well. Trust me. Let me touch you. Let me show you what you can feel. Let me take you outside of your own mastery of your body, your control over your heart."

*********************************************

Never before had she seen the Battousai outside of the dance of steel and blood. In those icy shattered days after Kenshin had left for Kyoto, when she had wondered if both the man and his love had been nothing more than an illusion, she had come to the thought that perhaps the Battousai was only a madness brought on by the fever-heat of battle. She had heard of men with such a madness -- berserkers, they were called, and in their madness they gained a strength and speed beyond mortal men, were transported beyond pain and fatigue, and could not distinguish friend from foe at the end of a sword. Battousai was cold and controlled as no berserker she had heard of, but surely Kenshin's strength of will was such that he might direct his madness, ride it to his purpose?

Now she knew she had been wrong.

A new understanding of the Battousai was slowly piecing itself together within her mind. But it was so hard to think -- hard to hold anything in her head but the warm softness of her muscles, the soothing, regular rise and fall of his voice, the gentle tugs and twists of her hair that loosened her knotted muscles
as well as her tangled locks. Relief that he had come to her, whatever color his eyes might be, had banished the self-recrimination and fear that had gnawed at her chest and pounded in her skull. His touch had erased all traces of her pain, leaving overwhelming, sleepy contentment in its wake, until that soft touch upon her neck had trilled through her awareness and had echoed through every nerve in her body. Something within her was awakening, and while each movement she made was still as slow and sensual as if she moved through silk, she was no longer sleepy at all.

But he had stated his challenge, and she had to bring this new understanding of the Battousai into focus to give it answer. This was no madness, no demon possession, no stranger in the rurouni´s skin. This was Kenshin's unique intensity, unencumbered by guilt, by his self-doubt, by any law or morality outside of the singular imperative driving him. During the Bakumatsu, his imperative was bringing the Ishin Shishi to power; as he and Saitoh had battled in the dojo, his imperative had been to finally bring an end to this conflict so long unresolved; and against Jineh, his imperative had been her life. Now, she was again his imperative, although he strove with his heart and not his sword.

No matter the imperative which focused his intensity, she knew that he would never hurt her, knew it with more certainty than she knew her own name. The question of trust did not lie in her treatment at his hands.

The intensity itself was... frightening. Civilizations survived because men and women laid down that intensity, sacrificed that total surety of self to the needs and wisdom of culture, tradition, and authority. When it was reclaimed, the path of the world could be changed, led to new greatness or total destruction. To be loved with that intensity would be both terrifying and exhilarating. Could she possibly be worthy of it? She would have to find a matching intensity within herself, throw everything of herself without reservation into this love. She could hold nothing back for her own protection. It was almost a kind of madness, staking everything on her faith in their love.

Can I match that intensity? He would make her -- no, them -- his imperative, would do the impossible for them -- and he would draw that same intensity from her. But was it truly so unfamiliar? It was there in the rurouni's crusade to protect the world one person at a time; hobbled by a vow not to kill, and by respect for the government he had brought to power, but the intensity was still lurking underneath. Also... had she not known shades of that intensity before the rurouni had crossed her path, in the man who chose to put aside killing and create the possibility of a sword that
protected life in a world where steel was power and blood and death? And perhaps -- just perhaps -- there was an echo of it in his daughter, who still kept that possibility alive in spite of her gender.

Well then, she could overcome her fear and accept that intensity. Perhaps she could even match it.
Demo -- do I want to?

And the answer to that took no effort at all; just a gathering of courage before a leap across a bottomless abyss. Blue eyes fixed upon gold, she tilted her chin, raised her head, and met his lips with hers.

She had expected, perhaps even desired, the kiss to become wild and brutal -- for him to pull her closer with the hands that had not yet relinquished their hold upon her face. For mouth to meet mouth in a bruising intensity, for his tongue to plunder her mouth, and his teeth to tug upon her lower lip. But he did not. His lips rubbed against hers, opening and closing ever so slightly. His grip upon her was so light that she could turn her head to move the kiss in little circles, against one corner of his mouth and then another, and then catching his bottom lip between hers. As mouths opened and explored, it was slow and careful and gentle.

Then his hands fell from her face, and a corner of his mouth turned up in pleasure as he simply said, "Good." But there was a fire in his eyes when they met hers that belied the softness of his voice.

The intensity of his gaze held her trapped. Both hands took hold of the strip of cloth that bound her yukata and with a convulsive movement, tore it open. He threw the sash over his shoulder. Both forefingers rose to brush her lower lip, then were drawn down her chin in the lightest caress. At the cleft, his fingers parted ways, sweeping down the edges of her jaw, brushing her earlobes, and slowly trailing down her neck to meet again in the notch between her collarbones. His message was clear; for her, even down to the tangles in her hair, he had all the patience in the world. For anything else...

She was trembling; the warm relaxation that had spread through her body as he tended her hair still lay deep in her muscles, but her skin was shivering, awakening, the nerves leaping to attention at his touch. The contrast between the two sensations was overwhelming and devoured her concentration. She scarcely realized that the progress of his fingers down her collarbones to the outer edge of her shoulders had caused her yukata to slip from them.

His caresses stopped for a moment. One of his hands enfolded one of hers, and pulled her arm out towards his body, straightening it and supporting its weight. The tips of the nails of his other hand began a journey around her shoulder, down to the short dark curls, down the inside of her upper arm, spiraling patterns over her inner elbow, her forearm, the underside of her wrist, slowly pushing the sleeve off her arm. He slid her hand free, then brought the wrist to his mouth; his kiss was warm, so very warm, as he delicately nibbled the blue-veined skin. He gently laid that hand to rest beside her thigh, and lifted the other for the same treatment.

It wasn't until he tossed the yukata aside that Kaoru realized he had stripped her. The sudden awareness of her own body was like stepping into a cold bath. He will see me! No! He will think my belly is too round, and my thighs too thickened by muscle, or my breasts too small and flat. She lifted her arms to curl around herself, seeking what shelter they might offer, and hid her face in her hair.

"Ie." He tilted her face so that her eyes rested upon him, and all her insecurities were lost in the tightening of his shoulders, the reddening of his face, the gold of his eyes nearly lost in the pupil. His body could not lie to her as it spoke of desire, and what protruded beneath the hakama spoke more than poetry in praise of her body. Her hands dropped to her sides; she lifted her chin and set her shoulders back and was
rewarded by the quickening of his breathing, by the jump of the flickering pulse in his neck.

He shrugged out of his gi, then took hold of her beneath her arms and pulled her towards him. Lifting her slightly, supporting her weight, he began a trail of nibbling kisses down her shoulder, over the curve of her breast, down into her cleavage, and back up to the opposite shoulder. As he pulled his mouth away, he slowly licked his lips, savoring the flavor lingering there.

"Now lie down, Kaoru. On your side." Without apparent effort, he eased her down, pulling the arm beneath her up straight to serve as a pillow for her head. He carefully laid the other along her body, hands deft and sure as he guided her into the position he desired.

She became a little angry, then -- did he think her a doll, to lift and pose? "Mou!" she protested, but fell silent as he ran his eyes down her body. So intense was his gaze that she could almost feel a feathery touch along her skin where it passed. She took the chance to look back at him -- at the arches and shadows of the whipcord muscle along his arm, his smooth flat belly, the breadth of his chest and the small dark nipples which stood erect. She wondered if they were as sensitive as her own, and brushed a finger against one.

His sharp gasp suggested that they were, but before she could experiment further, his hand imprisoned her wrist, his fingers wrapping around the delicate bones with a firm grip. He stretched her out, and her wrist was joined in captivity by the other, both held above her head. She made a wordless noise of protest, even as a shiver of anxious delight curled up her spine. She was Kamiya Kaoru, Shihondai of Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu, and she did not admit defeat -- yet inside of her, something found it terribly exciting to be held by the Battousai, pinioned, at his mercy.

"Later," her captor reassured her. "Later you may do a thousand things to me, and I will enjoy them all. But this is my challenge, now. Will you trust me, Kaoru? Will you let me pin you, hold you, so you could not resist me even if you desired?"

The flush that surged through her body felt almost unbearably hot. Her muscles sagged in sensual, trembling weakness, but the Battousai waited until she nodded, not trusting her voice to convey her consent. He adjusted his grip on her wrists -- not tight, but unbreakably firm -- and twined his legs through hers, entrapping her.

Between her hips there was a heated heaviness, as though muscles and organs were melting into pools of warm oil, puddling against each other. The touch of his nails teased along her thighs, and they slipped apart as he lazily decorated the soft skin with invisible arcs and spirals. His fingers brushed against the curls between her legs, and she almost jumped at the pulse of warmth that radiated from her hidden folds. But he held her against the twitch, and murmured, "That was interesting. I wonder, can I make you do it again?"

He could. His stroking of her curls and tracing of the lines where leg met hips made her try to twist, to direct his hands between her legs, where hidden nerves were thrumming with pleasure and promising more, much more, if only they were touched. But she could not lift that warm wetness to his hand, as he responded to her efforts by pulling her wrists higher above her head, stretching her further beneath his touch. She whimpered when his hand wandered away from her hips, back to her breasts and shoulders.

"Someday," and his voice was liquid silk, "I will give all this the attention it deserves. I will mark all this as mine with touch and tongue and teeth, and you will know what kind of pleasures I can give every inch of your body. I can touch you anywhere, koibito, anywhere, and make you melt and tremble and need. And I will, koibito, I will." He ran his teeth over the edge of her ear, tugging at the lobe. "Do you doubt me?"

"Ie." Kaoru struggled for words, "Don't even need to... ahhh... touch. Just your voice."

"Sou da ne?" he replied in a satisfied tone. His hand continued tracing paths from the notch between her collarbones down to the slight roundness of her belly, then exploring the curve of her hip, and the exquisitely sensitive nerves of her buttocks. His touch remained almost unbearably light, sensitizing her skin so that he left a tingling trail marking where he had been; the anticipation of never knowing where his fingers would chose to skim next kept her trembling. "But I enjoy touching..." and his hand rested above her breast, a hairs-breadth away from the imploring nipple "...and almost-touching so much."

Her nipple was so sensitized by his near-caress that she could feel the warmth of his hand, and she arched her back and writhed, trying to ease an almost-painful need with just the lightest brush against his palm. But he smiled, and as much as she strained against his grip and the weight of his legs, she could not quite reach, could not quiet the heat with a touch. She moaned her frustration and looked pleadingly into his eyes. She fell silent as he pulled her into the gold-rimmed blackness which swallowed her, capturing her as surely as his hands.

"Ask me, Kaoru. You have only to ask me, for anything." The growl under the croon was now evident, and it only added to Kaoru's desire to know that she -- she! -- was pushing the limits of the Battousai's control. He was the man legendary throughout Japan for his self-mastery, for his ability to push his body into obedience. If she could do that to him without a touch -- then... And the realization that he was hers, as much as she was his, was a burning elation that redoubled the melting heat low in her belly.

"Ask me, koibito."

Something about the emphasis -- the way he said 'me' -- sparked a revelation. Not from her head, but from the wilder knowledge within her bones and skin
and blood, and she knew what the Battousai needed, knew what it would take to fully unleash the wild intensity within him, to fully meet his challenge. And by unleashing him, she would...

"Touch me," and there was a roughness in her voice that answered the growl within his, "Love me. Please." And she looked into the golden eyes of the Battousai, and claimed him as her own, part of what she burned for, with the name that had long since come to mean 'aishiteru' in her heart:

"Kenshin... show me. Please."

With a sound that was a sigh and a moan and a desperately longed-for homecoming all at once, he rolled her onto her back and knelt between her legs, bracing himself with his free hand next to her head. His control -- the last binding of the rurouni upon him -- shattered at her admission that this fierceness was welcomed, part of the man she loved, and he brought his lips to her breast like it was sweet water offered to a man lost for weeks at sea. Suckling, he coaxed her nipple taller, harder, and explored the crinkled geometry with the edge of his teeth. His tongue flicked once, twice, and it was like a spark set to the warm oil his earlier teasing had pooled low in her belly and between her thighs.

An inferno swept through her body, flushing her skin, and its center lay between her thighs, a point that throbbed with the rhythm of her rushing heart. The wave of pleasure in that point crested and receded, crested and receded, and with each crest, it demanded to be touched. Unable and unwilling to resist the primal instincts of her body, Kaoru bent her knees, braced her feet on the floor and thrust her hips up to meet her lover.

With a gasp, he thrust back to meet her, and with a bitten-off curse, reached down with one hand. She heard the sound of fabric tearing -- only later, when she found the strings on the floor, would Kaoru realize the Battousai had simply ripped the ties off his hakama -- and with a sinuous twist of his hips, Kenshin was sliding smooth hot skin and coarse hair against her slickness. Something long and hard was pressing against the flashpoint between her legs, and rubbing along the length of the soft, damp, and utterly responsive edges of the gateway to her center. It was good, so good, and Kaoru was only dimly aware that with each stroke she exhaled a sobbing moan. Her focus was on the peaking sensations between her legs and on the sense of something tightening inside her, deep down below her belly. It would tighten, and tighten, and then -- She didn't know what would happen, but she knew she craved it.

Her craving could be satisfied -- would be satisfied, soon -- if they continued, but there was something else she wanted... something... and remembering tales whispered from girl to girl about the mysterious ways of men with women, she looked up at Kenshin and moaned, all plea and all demand, "Inside me!"

Amber eyes seemed lit from within, and captured her gaze. Everything faded away -- the futon beneath her back, the walls of the dojo, even her own name -- and there was only his body against hers, his eyes meeting hers, and the rasp of his need-roughened voice. "Mine."

"Kami, yes. Yours," she gasped, unable to hold more than one word in her mind at a time. "Yours. Mine!"

"Aa," he agreed, "All of me," and pulled his hips back. She moaned at the loss, and then felt him pressed against her, poised. A growl, heavy with need and long denial, and then he thrust into her, smooth, strong, claiming her for his own.

Just as the languor from the hair-combing had heightened the sensation of escalating arousal, so the moment of pain as he thrust into her heightened the lightning flash of pleasure as he ground himself against her, fully sheathed within her. She wrapped her legs around him, pulled herself up to grind even harder against his curls. He pulled back only to return, the small sting of pain with each stroke blending with the pleasure inside of Kaoru as she followed the rhythm he set, pulling with her legs to meet and heighten each thrust, each stroke against that pinpoint of delight bringing a further inner tightening.

The pleasure wound tighter and tighter, and she felt his mouth descend upon hers. This time the kiss was just as fierce as she expected. His lips nearly crushed hers, his tongue thrust into her mouth, and she was not amazed to find herself pressing her mouth as hard against his. They were both panting, the powerful thrusts leaving them breathing in synchronicity. She was beginning to shudder with the heralding shockwaves of her climax when she heard his voice, low and harsh. "For me, Kaoru. Koibito."

She exploded. The tightening within her reached an unbearable tension, surged outwards, lightning striking up her spine, out through her skin, through
every hair that stood on end. Colors like fireworks flew across her vision, and she was deaf to her own keens of pleasure. Unable to move, unable to do anything but shudder with the aftershocks, she felt Kenshin grow rigid, felt pulsing pressure deep within her where he was sheathed. She saw his head thrown back, and his crimson hair like an aura of fire around his face and neck.

He remained poised, utterly still, for a few moments. Then slowly, his head fell forward to rest against her chest, still bracing his weight on his hands on either side of her head. He rested thus until his breathing slowed, and then lifted his head to stare at her with amber eyes. Whatever he saw upon her face, it was enough to elicit the first unguarded smile she had ever seen from the Battousai. Sliding out of her, he moved to lie next to her, pulling the quilt over them both. She was warmed more by the tender care of his gesture than the blanket, and her single tendril of doubt faded almost before it had appeared.

He gathered her to him wordlessly, nestling her head against his shoulder, and rocked them back and forth. She was warm, safe, and content, and it had been a very long day. All the troubles, the worries, the questions would have to wait. There was no room for them in the circle of Kenshin´s arms. There was room for nothing but this moment, and the sunset hues that penetrated the rice paper of the walls were the color of peace. The very last thing she sensed before sleep washed over her was the gentle tugging as he passed his fingers through her hair, over and over.

The End.

Japanese Glossary
Aa: 'yes', less formal than 'hai.'
Aishiteru: 'I love you'
Ano: a placeholder, something like 'um'.
Baka: a commonly used non-obscene insult. Literally,
'stupid'.
Bakumatsu: the revolution that brought the Ishin Shishi to power.
Demo: 'but'
Futon: a Japanese bed, a thin mattress sitting on the floor.
Gi: The short robe tied with a sash worn as a shirt. Kenshin's is pink.
Gomen nasai: polite form of 'I'm sorry.'
Hakama: The wide-legged flowing pants Kenshin wears.
Ie: 'no'
Ishin Shishi: The imperialist revolutionaries Kenshin fought for during the Bakumatsu.
Kami: 'god' or 'gods'
Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu: the school of martial arts founded by Kaoru's father.
Koibito: According to Jenn the super-editor's Japanese dictionary, it means 'sweetheart', but probably implied 'lover' in the Meiji era. Thanks much for suggesting it, Jenn!
Mou: Kaoru's habitual expression of annoyance.
Nani: 'what?'
Shihondai: A dojo student advanced enough to teach others. Kaoru's rank in the Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu.
Sou da ne?: 'Is that so?'
Yukata: a garment like a robe, held closed by a sash. Used, among other things, as sleepwear.

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