Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin
Notes: I am currently hooked on The Rocky Horror Show. (The play, not the movie.) "Time Warp" has been running through my head since last Friday.
Okay, real notes—this chapter is much shorter than what you're used to, the reason being the leap in time that will take place between this chapter and the next. And if you're looking for an excuse for why I took so long to update… I really have none. It was a lapse, a loss of interest, a case of "My Life" writer's block, whatever you may call it. So many apologies, and here's to hoping you all haven't forgotten about me.
Warnings: Sap. A ton of sap. In fact, it's so sappy that you might just get stuck in it.
Things settled into a more comfortable routine. Everyone went back to their own place of residence when classes started again. I was still in the dorm, sharing with Chou, but for some reason it did not bother me as much. Kaoru was back in her apartment with Misao and Omasu. I discovered they had found a fourth roommate. Apparently, she was one of Omasu's friends, and while she was not a student at the university, she worked nearby and needed a cheap place to live until she was financially stable. It was just as well that they had another girl to share the place with.
Sano was glad to have Megumi back. I was glad she was back just because he got so restless when she was not within easy reach. Like any guy, he was content to be with the boys for so long before the desire to see his girl kicked in, and he got shifty. He tried to hide it, but I could see it in the way he was up early in the mornings and complaining of boredom before afternoon, even though Yahiko and I were there and willing to engage in mind-numbing activities to keep ourselves occupied as well.
Kamatari went back to Harvard after an emotional farewell. That is, he sobbed on my shoulder for awhile, hugged Chou mercilessly, and even kissed Kaoru's cheek before he left for his boarding gate. Kaoru was not really his friend, and it looked like she was uncomfortable with the attention. Of course, the only reason she was there was because she was taking me to her family's dojo that afternoon.
That was another thing that worked nicely. I picked up kenjutsu* again, training under Mr. Kamiya--Sensei as he had me call him in class--regularly. My shoulder healed to the point where I could use it as I always had. Mr. Kamiya assured me that the practice would strengthen my shoulder and arm muscles as well, which was nice. I made it a point to ask him to teach me to take multiple opponents, which had been my downfall before. He agreed, but promptly disappointed me by telling me I would have to advance beyond my present level of skill before he could. I could not win them all.
As if I did not have enough to do, I got myself a job. I still had my job at the copy center, but one of the aids in the Writing Center stopped me one afternoon while I was doing some research and put an application in my hand. Usually being a tutor in the any of the study help centers was reserved for seniors, but apparently they would allow a few juniors into the fold. I guess it paid to make yourself known. I was in the Writing Center all the time, only with the tutor job I got paid for it. For a couple hours three times a week I would go down there and sit around until someone showed up asking for help. It was dull at times, but I liked the job. It got me to thinking about some things.
(I hate to insert notes in the middle of the story, but that last line won't make sense otherwise. Don't take the next line literally. It's a new time, new place, but on the same line of thinking, so therefore not warranting the ^_^ break. Okay, onward once more.)
My advisor thought it was a great idea. My counselor was more cautious. I went with my college advisor's suggestion and signed up for teaching courses over the summer. To hell with the counselor anyway. If after all this I still can't handle life, then maybe I should have died before. Because hiding in a hole never made me happy.
I told Kaoru what I was planning one Friday evening. We both had Fridays open, so we made it 'our day.' Whether it be dinner and a movie or playing cards with Misao and Aoshi in their apartment, we would always be doing something. That night we were grocery shopping, of all things. There was a small store two blocks from Kaoru's apartment, and we walked rather than drove.
"A teacher? Seriously?" Kaoru blurted when I told her.
"I know the market for it isn't that great," I shrugged uneasily. "But it feels right, you know?"
"No, I think it's great!" Kaoru giggled and tossed me a box of macaroni which then went into the cart. "You and a bunch of little kids!"
"I don't know about little kids," I objected immediately. "Maybe middle school. Or high school. Hell, I could get a Ph.D. and teach at a university."
"Those are some high goals, Kenshin," Kaoru winked. "Think the U will take you on your grades?"
Ouch. I had to admit she had a point. I had done well for the most part, but my GPA wasn't what it should be if I was going to apply for the master's program.
"Maybe just high school then," I allowed. "I think I would go nuts teaching a bunch of toddlers every day."
"Well I think it's great," she said again. "Who would have guessed our antisocial boy would want to be a teacher?"
"I'm not antisocial!"
"You were when we met last year," Kaoru grinned and dropped some soup cans into the cart. "Anyway, change of subject."
"I know it's barely midterms now, but it won't be long until summer hits," she started. "And with Sanosuke and Megumi getting married in May, there's still some open time."
"Not completely open," I reminded her. "I'm taking two classes."
"Right, but those don't start until June," she retorted. "Don't interrupt, you little twit."
"Sorry, sorry," I held up my hands in surrender and followed her down the aisle. "You were saying?"
"I've got a couple of ticket vouchers," she slanted a shrewd stare at me. "If you're up for a trip to the west coast."
Whoa. Granted that was not completely out of the blue. Since we had started dating again, just over two months ago, we had settled into a more comfortable relationship. I was starting to not mind getting cuddly in the evenings, and Kaoru, I discovered, was one hell of a kisser. But of course that gets into details I don't think I'll share.
"I always wanted to try my hand at surfing."
"Really?" Kaoru squealed and flung her arms around my neck, giggling madly. "Finally! I thought we'd never get to go!"
"I'm not that unreliable," I complained, but we were both grinning. She kissed my cheek and let go, grabbing the cart and shoving it down to the frozen food section.
"Only unpredictable," she retorted. "And not always in a good way."
"Hey!" That was just getting insulting. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Don't be so touchy, Kenshin," she giggled again. "You know I love you for all your faults."
"Well my faults and I are glad for it, but do you have to point them out all the time?" I grabbed some ice cream off the shelf and dropped it into her cart despite her protesting wave. I don't follow by any Atkins dieting, and for her comments, she owed me some sweet food. "They don't like the attention."
Kaoru giggled again and grabbed some chocolate syrup off the shelf.
It was one of those unplanned moments that go so much better than the ones you work out in your head. I went out with Kaoru that night—we went to the Twins opener, if that's romantic enough—and afterwards we went to have dessert in a not-so-local Baker Square. She ate half of my pie, the little pig, but I figured I could survive without eating an entire piece of French Silk pie. Being the gentleman I am, I paid for it (after all, her family paid for the Twins tickets) and left a pathetic tip on the table. I bet the wait staff hated when people came in just for dessert.
We were sitting in the car when, on the ridiculous excuse of there being some whipped cream left on her lip, I kissed Kaoru. She was smiling, apparently finding my actions amusing. Better smiling than frowning, I supposed. Being as neither of us find the car a particularly comfortable place to make out, we pulled away sooner rather than later. I didn't much care if we were kissing or not anyway. Kaoru's fingers were linked through mine, and her hand on my cheek felt pretty good.
"Just a bit of cream, Kenshin?" she teased softly.
"Next time I'll tackle you without warning and wipe it with a napkin," I said. She laughed and kissed me again.
"Goof," she whispered. "But I love you anyway."
"I love you too, Kaoru," I replied, leaning in again. But she pulled back before I could reach her. That, of course, was unexpected, so I drew back as well. Maybe she had not realized my intentions, or she had gotten caught on something—precisely the reason I hated using the car for any intimate moments.
She was staring at me, her eyes wide and unreadable. I checked myself. Was I drooling? No… my face was clean. So I had to ask.
"N-nothing!" she said too quickly. "Nothing!" She shook her head, and in the dim parking lot lights I caught sight of the wet gleam on her cheeks.
"What's wrong?" I demanded again, wiping at her face. She caught my hand and held it against her cheek, thoroughly confusing me when she smiled at me. As an afterthought, I added, "Why are you crying?"
"I'm sorry," she laughed weakly, more tears hitting my hand.
"Hey!" I tried to reclaim my hand. There was a box of tissues on the floor. If she was going to keep crying, she would need those. "Hold on, I can—"
"Kenshin!" her laughter was stronger the next time, her hands pulling on my arms, dragging me away from my quest for Kleenex. "Kenshin, stop. I'm okay."
Okay? But she was crying. People cried when something was wrong with them. Maybe she was sick… but no, I would have noticed if she was running a fever. When she was smiling so brightly, there was nothing I could do but wipe at her cheeks and hope she told me the problem.
Instead, she kissed me again—once, hard against my mouth, startling me, and then again, lighter against my cheek. Then, despite the middle-seat partition between us, she wrapped her arms around my neck and hugged me.
If comfort was what she wanted, I could provide that. I cautiously held her, caught between enjoying her lips on my neck and worrying about the tears I still felt on her face. Still, she was laughing, and I wondered if I'd been had, though over what I could not possible imagine.
"Dummy," she giggled.
"What did I do?" She was very good at leaving me baffled. I had the feeling that as long as I was with Kaoru, I would spend the greater part of my life bumbling around like some fool.
She laughed yet again. "That's the first time you've ever said that to me."
"Said what?" This was making my head hurt. I tried to trace our conversation back. I was very certain I had not said anything insulting, not that she would be laughing like this over something that made her angry.
Then, my thoughts scattered as she breathed into my ear. Goosebumps rushed over my skin. Wow, did that feel good.
"That you love me."
I blinked. Ohhhhhhhhh… Oh. That was easily handled. By far, it was better than if I had done some horrible thing to insult her. I was getting very tired of apologizing to Kaoru, not that I would not be willing to do it again. She put up with enough of my crap to deserve a bit of humility from me. That did not mean I liked doing it.
"Do you mean it?"
Pulling back, I looked into her face, surprised she would even ask.
"Of course I mean it," I smiled. "I wouldn't say something like that and not mean it."
"You love me?" she asked. I was beginning to understand. She was wary of it. Truly, she did not have the most reliable boyfriend around, but at least I was getting better. After so many months of lying to everyone, it was difficult to be honest. Having all of my lies thrown into the light for the world to see was as good a way as any to achieve that. Painful, but effective. I would never look back and smile on that, but even now I could understand the importance of it. Looking into Kaoru's tear-streaked face, I knew it. Enishi never had this. Thank you, I had something he never could accomplish.
"Do you want me to say it again?" I teased.
"Always," she grinned through her tears. I was happy to oblige.
"I love you." Leaning forward, I hugged her again. "I love you."
I must have said it fifty times that night. Kaoru could not get enough, and it felt strangely nice to say it. It was one of those phrases I never made a habit of using. Not since after I turned eight. Not with my parents, and not with Tomoe. Of course, after Tomoe died I never really had a reason to use it. God forbid I should ever tell Uncle Hiko I loved him. The thought of ever speaking to him like that made me shudder. But Kaoru… for Kaoru I would spout out poorly written poems professing my everlasting adoration until her face turned blue. (It would be blue for lack of oxygen caused by laughing too hard at my idiocy.) Funny how things like that could happen to people like me.
*Okay, someone once told me how to spell this, but I forgot and am too lazy to look it up again. I hope it's right.
Notes: The sudden jump from uneasy friendship to loving boyfriend and girlfriend may seem too quick. Though you miss out on it, there are months passing between the first part and second part.
The next chapter will be awhile yet in coming. It's not finished, but it is in the works. I swear I won't disappear for months again.
Reviewers: So much time has passed that I really don't remember much of what I was thinking before, so forgive me if I don't respond. I appreciate every comment—good and bad—that I've seen. (Okay, there were a few I didn't appreciate and a few threatening emails I could have done without, but for the most part…) Thank you so very much. They help me grow as a writer so I can go and write something better. (The latest story I also think is better. Go read it… please. ^_~)