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Practicing for Breakfast





Even though he had come home and gone to bed rather late the night before Yahiko managed to crawl out of bed at his customary time the next morning. After getting dressed and taking care of the usual necessities he stopped off at the kitchen to talk to Kenshin for a few minutes.

Only he wasn’t there.

Yahiko sighed. He always enjoyed the few moments he got to talk to the redheaded samurai each morning. Even though Kenshin was always busy with some chore he would still give his attention to the young boy, listening to his hopes and fears and giving advice when asked. It was usually the only chance Yahiko had to talk man to man with someone during the day without Kaoru or some other woman butting in.

And of course the fact that Kenshin wasn’t making breakfast meant something even worse.

It meant Kaoru would cook.

“Good morning Yahiko,” a sleepy female voice said behind him. Kaoru yawned and continued. “Good morning Kensh...” She stopped abruptly when she realized he wasn’t there.

Yahiko cringed slightly before turning to look at his teacher and surrogate sister. It seemed as if his thoughts were about to become reality.

“Kenshin’s not up yet?” She asked him.

“Guess not.”

Yahiko backed away from her as her eyes lit up with an awful sort of glee. He turned and was out the door before she’d grabbed up the first cooking implement.

There were a lot of things that Yahiko would and could face down but being in the same kitchen while Kaoru cooked was not one of them. There was something almost maniacal about the way she destroyed good food. He had actually come to believe that the act of touching a pot or a cutting knife caused her to be possessed by the spirit of the mischievous tanuki that she got her nickname from.

Yahiko sought safety out in the yard, checking to see if Kenshin had forgone making breakfast to get an early start on the laundry. That thought withered quickly at the sight of an empty wash tub and bare drying poles.

Maybe he really was asleep.

Yahiko shrugged and headed over to the dojo to get in a few swings before he would have to attempt to choke down Kaoru’s breakfast. As he slid the door to the practice hall aside his mouth fell open just before his entire body froze in shocked amazement.

Kenshin was practicing.

While Yahiko had seen the older samurai fight any number of times he had never managed to catch him when he was just practicing.

He was amazing.

Kenshin fought off a hoard of invisible opponents, his body flowing with the moves as if he were able to shift from a solid to a fluid then back again. As his back was to Yahiko the boy continued to stare in opened mouthed admiration of the rurouni’s abilities. However as the young man followed each hit an uneasy feeling started to gnaw at the edges of his mind. For a practice session Kenshin seemed to be in deadly earnest, even more so then when he fought against someone. In fact the closest thing Yahiko could compare it to was the time he had seen the former hitokiri fight Saitou.

Yahiko snapped out of his thoughts at the sound of Kenshin sheathing his blade, his back still turned to the young man. An uneasy silence stretched out between them for a few seconds before Kenshin broke it.

“Yahiko.”

Yahiko swallowed hard. Kenshin’s voice was piercingly cold and the boy quickly searched his memory for any transgressions that he might have committed. Unable to come up with anything he answered the other man.

“Good morning Kenshin. Anou...” He broke off, uncertain of what he should say for a moment then thought he would go the safest route and settled with, “Kaoru’s making breakfast, it will probably be ready in a few minutes.”

The man in front of him stiffened at the news and Yahiko wondered if he’d said the wrong thing after all before Kenshin nodded and said, “I will be there shortly.”

“Ok,” Yahiko said and turned to head back to the kitchen. He made himself walk at his normal pace even though he felt an overwhelming need to race back to the kitchen and warn Kaoru that something was wrong. Assuming something actually was wrong and he wasn’t just imagining that Kenshin was different.

That was it. Yahiko whole body relaxed as he realised that he had just imagined the wrongness. At the most Kenshin had been a little put off at being interrupted while he was practicing and Yahiko’s mind had blown up a little early morning testiness into something dire. His steps lighter he fairly bounced into the kitchen to face Kaoru‘s breakfast.

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

Kaoru frowned as she poked with a chopstick at the large white glob of something that was supposed to be rice.

Maybe she’d put too much water in it when she cooked it?

While rice should be sticky enough to hold together while eating it she suspected that it shouldn’t look and act like household glue. She gave it another poke and after a brief struggle left the stick in the rice when it refused to let the thing go. She shrugged; it would probably taste the same even if it didn’t look very good. Ignoring it she turned to check the miso soup and was busy scorching it when Yahiko came back into the kitchen.

“Oh Yahiko could you go wake up Kenshin, breakfast should be ready in a few minutes.”

“Anou,” Yahiko said, throwing a look outside towards the dojo, “he’s already awake.”

Kaoru gave a little smile at the thought of Kenshin back to normal and already hard at work doing the morning chores.

“So he’s doing the laundry?” She asked, not really expecting to get any other answer.

“No, actually he was practicing.” Kaoru looked at him confusion. “You know, with his sword?”

CLANG

Yahiko jumped back to avoid the splatters of superheated miso soup when Kaoru suddenly dropped the ladle she had just pulled out of the liquid.

“Ahhhh, watch what you’re doing busu,” Yahiko yelled at Kaoru. “Kaoru?” He asked when, instead of reacting to his insult as usual, she just stared off into space. “Hey busu snap out of it.”

“Huh?” Kaoru shook off her brief worry about Kenshin and bent down to pick up the ladle. Yahiko snorted and had turned towards the eating area when the ladle slammed into the top of his head making his eyes bug out to three times their usual size. “That’s for calling me busu, Yahiko chan.”

“DON‘T CALL ME CHAN.”

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

Even though he was busy worrying about how Kaoru would react to the fact that he, rather that the rurouni was still here, Battousai still managed to notice the sounds of a fight coming from the kitchen and stop. He waited, knowing better than to get between Yahiko and Kaoru this early in the morning (or at any other time for that matter). While the rurouni found a certain delight in watching the two of them fight like brother and sister the hitokiri had long wanted to separate them and send them off to separate corners to cool down. Since he suspected that it wouldn’t work and would only lose him his temper he gave the brawl the few moments it needed to end before stepping into the kitchen for breakfast.

Kaoru, her ire at Yahiko forgotten with Kenshin‘s presence, turned towards him. At the sight of him her cheerful expression fell way to surprise, fear and then hit bottom and bounced; quickly building up to a full out anger.

Battousai wondered briefly what the world would think of the most feared manslayer in all of Japan having to fight the impulse to back away from a small slip of a girl. Mentally he shook his head, he’d thought the rurouni was the only one who would react that way when Kaoru was angry. It was, he thought, another one of those annoying moments when he realized that his two natures weren’t as separated as he’d always thought.

********

Kaoru was very angry. It wouldn’t have been going too far to say that she was in fact royally pissed off. She feed the anger, carefully stoking it to a pure rage.

He had lied to her.

If she had thought about it for a moment she would have realized that most of her anger was merely a cover for the flash of fear she’d felt for Kenshin when she saw Battousai standing there. Fear that would have eaten her alive in a few seconds if the anger hadn’t come to her rescue.

Luckily, as she was casting about for a suitable weapon common sense made an unusually prompt appearance and stopped her. She didn’t have a hope of fighting against him and she couldn’t trust that he would forgive an attack the way he had with the rice tub last night. She reined in her desire to bokken him into the next era and slid her anger down to a frosty disapproval.

********

“Good Morning Kenshin,” Kaoru’s simple greeting seemed to hang icicle like in the air and Yahiko could have sworn that the originally warm kitchen had dropped about five degrees with those three words. Wondering what had set his teacher off he looked at Kenshin for an answer.

Oh crap.

The eyes, the stance, everything about him screamed warrior, samurai, death barely contained. Yahiko gulped as his earlier sense of discomfort around Kenshin came back full force. This was who he had watched practicing this morning, this was who he had talked with and he realized with a flash of knee weakening certainty; this was who Kaoru had just been within a hair’s breadth of attacking.

“Good Morning Kaoru,” Battousai replied, his voice was cold but failed to match the icy depths of Kaoru’s. He moved past the two of them and sitting down at the table, waited for her to serve him breakfast. Yahiko, moving slowly and mentally preparing to bolt from both adults if need be, carefully took his normal seat, one that would unfortunately place him between Kenshin and Kaoru.

Why, he wondered, didn’t they ever have a normal breakfast?

********

Kaoru served them in a frozen silence that Battousai noticed even the boisterous Yahiko was unwilling to break. They all, Kaoru included, would have eaten as quickly as possible but the rice, if that was what it was, proved difficult to get out of the bowl much less chew and swallow.

That Yahiko refrained from complaining about the poor food was something of a miracle. That Battousai also failed to mention it just proved that he was neither as crazy nor as suicidal as people often believed him to be.

********

Choking down the last mouthful of rice Kenshin rose from the table and without so much as a thank you for the meal left the room, heading back out to the dojo’s compound.

Kaoru clenched her fists, the knuckles turning white from the pressure and went after him, yelling at Yahiko to wash the dishes on her way out. Normally this would have sent the young samurai off on an angry triad but instead he simply started to collect the dirty dishware glad to be inside alone rather than outside between an enraged Kaoru and a scary Kenshin.

********

Kenshin was nowhere to be seen by the time that Kaoru made it out into the yard. Growling through her teeth and looking for something to hurt she stalked over to the laundry area of the compound and kicked the wash tub. This induced some hopping up and down and the rubbing of her stubbed toe and was quickly followed by the decision that what she really wanted to hurt wasn’t herself.

No, what she really wanted to do was seriously impair Kenshin’s ability to lie to her again. Too bad she didn’t have any way of doing that.

With a little sigh and a slight limp Kaoru headed over to the dojo proper. She didn’t know where Kenshin had taken off to but if she wanted to face him without losing her temper it would be best to work out some of her frustration in a practice session before he came back. With this thought in mind she slid open the door to the practice area, coming upon a sight that left her mirroring Yahiko’s earlier moment of shock and surprise in the same doorway.

Kenshin stood facing her in the middle of the hall. His head was slightly bowed and his overgrown hair spilled down over his eyes, hiding them. Neither his presence nor his stance were what had her alarmed, however. Instead it was the two wooden practice swords that he held casually in both hands that had her worried.

Kaoru opened her mouth to yell at him or perhaps just talk to him but found her throat had seized up and nothing would come out. He looked up at her then, both eyes a heated gold and she snapped her mouth closed and waited. He looked down at the wooden swords then held one out to her.

“Kenshin?” Kaoru managed, grateful that his name came out in a normal tone rather then the high pitched squeak she had expected.

“Practice with me,” Kenshin said, his voice brooking no argument.

“Practice?” Kaoru winced as that word did come out in a squeak. Kenshin had never let her practice with him and she had never known if it was because he was afraid he would hurt her or if he felt that he was so much better then her that she wouldn’t be able to keep up with him.

She smiled suddenly, if evilly at that last thought. This would let her show him just how much she could take and maybe, if she were very lucky, she would get to follow through on her earlier desire to whack him upside the head for scaring her the way he had.

“I would love to practice with you Kenshin,” she said sweetly as she stepped forward to claim the offered sword. He released it to her with an unreadable expression that caused her to wonder just how smart (or perhaps stupid) this latest move of hers was. As she took up the first position across from him her common sense managed to make a second appearance that morning and quietly suggested to her that she just back away from the practice session now.

“Begin!”

Of course Kaoru’s common sense rarely had good timing.