Disclaimer: I don't own Kenshin or any of the fantastic songs mentioned in this chapter. Oh, how I dance to them, though...
There's a special place in my heart for aclockworKat, who is the best beta ever. THANK YOU!:) She's also a brilliant writer, so if you like HP, you should check out her work. Do it now!
I'm so thrilled with all the feedback I've gotten! Thank you so much for your support! You're all wonderful! :)
Apparently, he was kind of a big deal.
The stubborn, infuriating punk was actually someone Misao had been able to identify immediately after Kaoru had described him.
It was fabulous, truly. He'd told her his name- something she hadn't thought would be the truth, but it would have been something to go on, maybe. But Kaoru didn't even have a chance to tell Misao what his name was before the younger woman had launched herself out of her seat and pointed at Kaoru in shock.
"Himura the Battousai carjacked you!?" she shouted.
"I don't know!" Kaoru shrieked back, feeling flustered and alarmed by Misao's reaction. "He said his name was Kenshin!" She was already exhausted and severely grumpy from the previous evening. She felt like raising her voice, too, and though she knew the self-proclaimed ninja would understand, she didn't care. She was too livid to care what anyone thought of her at that moment. Kaoru knew she heard that title somewhere, and it took her a few seconds to think back to her history classes. "Battousai?" She scrunched her nose in disbelief. "He named himself after a warrior from the Bakumatsu? Please don't tell me he thinks he's some kind of invincible assassin…"
"He IS invincible! He's the best special agent in all of Japan!"
Kaoru snorted out a laugh. "Oh, come on. You can't expect me to believe that! He can't be the same guy!"
"Kaoru," Misao said seriously. "How many men do you know with long, red hair and a cross-shaped scar on their cheek?"
"Well, only him so far-"
"EXACTLY! Because he IS the only one! You were carjacked by Himura!"
"Alright, then." Kaoru pursed her lips, taking to pacing back and forth in Misao's living room. Her suitcase was in the way, though, so she had to make due by weaving around the coffee table and between the couches. "Let's pretend for a second- one second- that you're thinking of the same guy who stole my car. Why did he need to carjack anyone at all? If he's the best special agent or whatever, why didn't he already have a getaway vehicle?"
"I have no idea." Misao said. "His organization is completely separated from ours. We don't share information like that."
"Fine. But if this guy is so invincible, why was he bleeding?" Misao's confident expression faltered, which Kaoru took as a miniature victory, filing it away to dance over when she wasn't so damn pissed off.
"What do you mean, he was bleeding?"
"It was all over my dashboard. I slammed the brakes at one point and he flew forward and hit the dash, leaving his blood everywhere. At least I think it was his." She paused, turning worried eyes back to her friend. "What if it was someone else's?"
Misao looked horrified. "You brake-checked the Battousai?"
"It wasn't my fault he wasn't wearing his seat belt!"
"What did he do!?" The alarm sinking in her tone was unnerving.
"What do you mean, 'what did he do?' He told me I suck at driving!"
"Yes! That was right around when he asked to look in my wallet. But I already told you that part."
"Right," Misao groaned, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples in exhaustion. "That purse is not too girly," she added reflexively. It was a conversation they'd had several times before, and the response was automatic. "Look, something obviously went wrong last night, because Himura would never go on a mission without ensuring all his bases were covered. He'd absolutely have transportation taken care of, so the fact that he had to resort to involving civilians means that things went south at some point. Especially if he was bleeding."
"What do you mean?" Kaoru asked, her anger slipping into a feeling that bordered on being slightly hysterical. Misao seemed very confident about who Kenshin was, and every straight-faced word the petite woman said only drove that point deeper and deeper into Kaoru's awareness. Kaoru felt herself slipping into a panicked craze. "You think the people he was spying on… or whatever he could have been doing… you think they shot at him? Maybe he got all the way back to the car and that's when they ambushed him and shot the driver and flattened the tires so he was forced to run?"
"I don't know-"
"Or maybe he was set up? What if the driver was a double agent who was really working for the other guys?"
"I'm not sure, but-"
"It could have even been-"
"Kaoru!" Misao said loudly, intercepting her friend's anxious march back and forth across her carpet. "Calm down, alright? I don't know what happened, but I'd put a mountain of money on something going wrong with his ride and even his backup. He'd never involve civilians unless it was crucial. It had to be his last resort."
"Oh," Kaoru breathed, pulling away from Misao's grasp only to plop backward onto the couch behind her.
"I mean, if he could have gotten away in a cab or on foot, he would have. But you said that he chose you because you had a fast car. That means he thought he was being followed."
Kaoru felt herself nodding. What her friend was saying made a lot of sense. That's why Misao was in her field in the first place; she could analyze anything and pry out all the important facts.
"And even the fact that he had a mask but wasn't wearing it says a lot, since he'd expect you to report him. He's not in any kind of database, but his features aren't exactly subtle. The few who are connected well-enough would know exactly who you're talking about. Like I did."
"So what does that mean? He trusts me? Or is he just that sure that those who would recognize him won't do anything?"
"I don't know. Sounds like he didn't want to scare you more than he had to. And from what you said, he seemed like he was in a good enough mood. I mean… I would be kinda pissed if my mission had been compromised and I was bleeding. You said he was laughing and smiling, though. Not to mention the fact that he could have had you drop him off anywhere and contacted his associates then. He might have really been telling the truth about wanting to make sure you got home safely. If he thought he was being tailed, he wouldn't let you drive off alone, since they'd go after you and kill you."
"Yeah," she continued evenly. "So by making you drive home, he was making sure that no one went after you last night. He probably waited around for a while to make sure you weren't followed." She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and ran a hand along her braid. "Well- that's what it sounds like to me, at least."
Kenshin had said that he was among the safest people she could have run into. When he said it, the idea sounded absurd, but what Misao was saying somehow seemed to validate his statement. It acted as a reinforcement. Had he really been telling the truth?
"Look," Misao said, rubbing her temples delicately. "I'd like to know what happened, too, but that's intel that has already been covered up and will very likely never see the light of day, even with my careful searching." This seemed to vex the shorter woman, but she seemed to accept it. For now. "I need to talk with Aoshi and figure out what to do. Himura's not dangerous- not to the citizens, anyway. He fights to protect the innocent, you know." She rolled her eyes as Kaoru flung an incredulous stare in her direction. "Alright. I guess you wouldn't have known that. Still, he knows where you live and has all of your information, so you're going to stay here for now. Just until we sort some stuff out."
"Sort what out? Can you find out what his number is and just call and ask him not to come near me anymore?"
"Of course not," she snorted. "What I mean is that we can try to find out what happened last night and if you're in danger at all. Who knows- maybe we can even convince him to give your car back? Although, it sounds like the only reason he stole your car in the first place was because he bled all over it. There's no way he would leave evidence like that. I'm surprised that he replaced it with such a nice-" She cleared her throat once she saw the hateful glare Kaoru was shooting her.
Kaoru grumbled incoherently, though several words sounded suspiciously like curses, and she rubbed her exhausted face in annoyance. "I might as well go take a shower."
Misao looked her over, scrunching her nose slightly. Kaoru saw it, and narrowed her eyes at her friend questioningly. The ninja evaded the topic, instead cleverly declaring that she would grab some breakfast for the two of them.
Kicking her suitcase in a surge of frustration, Kaoru fished out fresh clothing and her shampoo before heading to the bathroom.
"Horrible, red-haired baka," she muttered, locking the door behind herself.
For the first time in days, Kaoru's frustration was drastically decreasing. She felt it first in her shoulders as she pulled on her sneakers, and as she ran through her routine warm-up, the tension muscles in her arms and back slowly eased away. It felt wonderful, and she closed her eyes for a moment, relishing each carefully executed stretch.
Heaving out a delighted breath, she grabbed her earbuds, cellphone, and a water bottle. "I'll be back in a couple of hours, Misao!" she called over her shoulder as she unraveled the tangled cord. How did it always get so knotted?
The petite woman stuck her head around the corner from her bedroom. "Thank god you're finally getting out again," she said. Kaoru paused, her earbuds forgotten. "Oh, don't look at me like that," Misao chided lightly. "You've been holed up in here for too long. You need fresh air."
"You make it sound like I've been in here for weeks!"
Misao's eyes narrowed pointedly. "With your paranoia, it's felt like weeks."
"Ugh… whatever. Are you still free tonight? I was thinking we could have a girl's night." Kaoru snorted as Misao's expression lit up like a kid being offered a mountain of candy.
She floated out from around the wall, practically skipping into the middle of the living room. "WE CAN GO TO THAT NEW CLUB!"
"Oh, jeez…" Kaoru muttered, rolling her eyes. Not exactly what she'd had in mind, but she knew she needed to get out. At least it would take her mind off things, and she'd be able to let loose. "Fine. But I didn't bring any nice dresses with me, so we'll have to stop by my place."
Misao waved the comment off flippantly, but then she thought of something, and she began to tremble in excitement. "I CAN WEAR THAT NEW SUPER SEXY DRESS I GOT TWO WEEKS AGO! OHMYGOD, I CAN'T WAIT!" she squealed.
Kaoru's hand rose to massage her temple. "It's gonna be a long night…"
When the younger woman began dancing absurdly, Kaoru grabbed the water she'd put down and announced that she was leaving, but only received a flippant wave for a reply. Misao was far too thrilled, and as she spun in circles, Kaoru slipped out of the apartment and closed the door behind herself.
Misao's apartment was in a really nice part of the city. There were tons of great restaurants nearby, three famous museums, and several historical landmarks. People often referred to the area as a cultural hub, and it was always brimming with energy.
No wonder the bubbly girl had chosen to move there…
The best part, in Kaoru's opinion, was the fact that it was fairly close to the massive city park that stretched a few dozen blocks in each direction. That park was exactly where Kaoru was headed, and as she chose an upbeat song to listen to, she strapped her phone into the case around her bicep and headed to the north.
It took less than ten minutes to weave through the crowded streets and cross the chaotic intersections, and Kaoru grinned as she stepped up to the park's entrance. The cast iron gate was painted black, and the hundreds of ivy vines that wove around the metal gave it an old, rustic feel that Kaoru always felt giddy about. That, coupled with the cover of massive trees and winding paths that laced the park together, made it a runner's heaven. Shade, tranquility, and nature. And all within minutes of seven different coffee shops. Who could dream of a more perfect place to go?
She had once explained it to Misao, who had just rolled her eyes as if she were insane. Like Kaoru was the insane one…
Then again, the younger woman had a well of energy deep enough that she was even more productive without coffee than Kaoru was after her third cup. Come to think of it, did Misao ever need coffee to function?
Feeling marginally jealous, Kaoru stretched her calves one more time, inhaled the fresh air, and ran.
The paths had been paved, so they were perfectly smooth, and Kaoru's sneakers kissed the ground, creating a soft puff of sound with each step. It was something she couldn't hear over the music streaming out of her earbuds, but every time the song faded away and bounced into a new one, she caught the sound of rubber hitting pavement for a brief second and smiled.
The path was lined with emerald grass that circled around each of the maple trees, enticing those walking by to sprawl out on the fresh turf. Kaoru had fallen prey to the siren's call several times, and she felt like a giddy child every time she reclined on it. There was something about the soft green blades folding around her body automatically and tickling her bare calves and arms that made her feel like a nuzzling cat.
The trees themselves stood tall and proud, like mighty giants born many decades ago. The maple leaves were beginning to change color, which gave the canopy above the park a beautiful jade and ginger hue. The leaves hadn't begun falling yet, but it was only a matter of time, and Kaoru just barely suppressed the giddy squeal at the thought of autumn approaching.
Turning down one of the lesser-used paths, Kaoru could see one of the ponds come into view. Most people just kept going straight, since that road still afforded them a beautiful view of the lake and the wooden bridge that crossed it. Veering off also created a longer trip for explorers, which was not ideal for most people. Kaoru, on the other hand, always looked forward to going that way. All the more time to soak in the beauty of the tranquil waters and lily pads and ducks splashing around happily.
The bridge that stretched across the lake was one of Kaoru's favorite things in the park.
Alright… she had a lot of favorite things in the park. Maybe 'favorite' was too strong of a word to use.
Regardless, every time her curious eyes soaked in the now-familiar swirling patterns of the wooden grain, Kaoru felt herself falling into a deeply-relaxed state of mind. The small incline in the middle of the bridge, the foundation composed of large rocks, the trees that draped their reaching branches across the bridge's railings- everything came together so gracefully that it was like a work of art presented directly from nature.
Kaoru was getting closer to it. She only had to round a small section of the lake before the path would turn onto the bridge, but something caught her eye and she slowed her pace. Someone was standing in the middle of the bridge, leaning his forearms, which were resting against the wooden handrail. He was staring out at the water, seemingly deep in thought.
For several seconds, Kaoru couldn't place what was so wrong about the man, so she narrowed her eyes, trying to think of where she'd seen him before. She was perhaps a thousand paces away from where the path veered to the left and onto the bridge, when she saw it.
In a light breeze, a wave of crimson appeared from around the man's back, and a small tuft of it fell down across his shoulder.
Kaoru's eyes widened and she skid to a stop in horror. Heart thundering in her chest and her lungs pounding against her ribcage, she didn't even realize that her jaw had fallen open. The sound of something falling right beside her startled her out of the momentary paralysis and she looked down, only to find that she'd dropped her water bottle.
Scrambling to pick it up, she looked up again, only to see that the man had turned his gaze in her direction.
Her thoughts were set ablaze, a thousand different curses screeching across her consciousness as she tried to will movement back into her legs. It felt like she'd stepped in a mud pit, though, and she felt her calves trembling with the extra effort she was making to move. Finally, after an eternity, her legs began to cooperate, and she felt her sneakers hit the pavement and increasing their rhythm with each sickening heartbeat.
It wasn't until she was face-to-face with an oncoming couple, that she realized she'd started running away from the lake. Blinking the world back into focus, she veered around the couple and picked up the pace as she ripped her earbuds out.
No, it wasn't her most courageous moment. She'd wondered several times over the past few days what she would do if she ever saw the carjacker again. She'd devised half a dozen various scenarios of how things could play out, but in none of them did she imagine herself tucking tail so quickly.
Whatever. She'd worry about that and reprimand herself later. She'd thought she was braver than this, but all that mattered at that moment was the screaming need to get away. Now.
"Miss Kamiya!" the man called from behind her, causing her skin to ignite in consuming panic. He had seen her. Had recognized her. Was pursuing her! His voice sounded like it was coming from much closer than the bridge, but she dared not look back. She'd have a damn heart attack. "Miss Kamiya, please wait!" He was getting closer!
She didn't know where the extra boost of speed came from, but she realized that she was running faster than ever before. There was no way he'd be able to keep up.
… But as she listened, she realized that although his footfalls were quiet, they were gaining on her. She had maybe ten seconds before he'd catch up entirely and then he'd trap her. He'd throw her to the ground or against a tree and restrain her and kill her for telling Misao and Aoshi about him. She'd ratted him out, told special agents that he'd had blood all over him and that he may have injured someone-
He appeared beside her, easily keeping her pace and causing her to nearly explode in terror. She braced herself for the tackle she knew was coming. Any second, she'd feel her right shoulder hit the pavement and she'd get all scraped up as he would roll her into a position where he could lean over her and tell her that he'd made a mistake in letting her live.
"If you have a stitch in your side, it may help to slow down a bit," he said, his voice sounding… concerned?
Kaoru bit her lip and cautiously looked to her left and into his deep violet eyes. Violet eyes filled with worry that deceptively matched his tone.
Oh. She'd probably been flinching in anticipation of his attack, and he must have mistaken the look on her face for pain she already felt.
It was useless, she realized. Running from him was silly. Obviously he was keeping up with ease, and he looked like he had no intention of leaving her alone. He'd keep running beside her until… until she didn't know what. Why hadn't he tackled her yet? Didn't he have some kind of hidden weapon that he could knock her unconscious with? He could have swept his feet into the backs of her knees to make her fall. Even his fist would have worked. Open palm- anything. He seemed resourceful enough to take her down a dozen ways in the blink of an eye.
Before she knew what had happened, she'd stopped entirely. Her legs were moving entirely of their own accord, so the only reason she knew she'd stopped at all was because suddenly he was several paces in front of her and her legs burned painfully, quivering from stopping so suddenly.
She must have been running for almost an hour already. She was in the middle of the park, very far from Misao's. Very far from the main streets. Far enough from anyone else on the trail. No one was in sight, aside from the man standing before her and assessing her with the same worried look.
She heaved for breath and felt beads of sweat slide down her rosy face. A picture of beauty, huh? And yet, he seemed to not notice, since his eyes never left hers.
"Are you alright, Miss Kamiya?" he asked, taking a step closer.
She instinctively backed up several paces, and the motion effectively stopped him in his tracks. "What do you want?" she panted.
"Ah," he breathed. Regret flashed across his face, but something else settled in his eyes, pulling his lips downward. Something cold and distant. Something that looked a lot like guilt, but that couldn't have been right, either. "You were running from me," he realized.
The fact that his hurt expression made Kaoru's gaze soften, severely alarmed her. She wasn't feeling sorry for him, was she? Why should she feel anything for him at all?
"Why were you following me?" she finally choked out, feeling more and more uncomfortable by the tense silence.
"I saw you back there by the lake," he said, as if it were obvious. "I just wanted to make sure you were alright, and I wanted to apologize." She felt her expression fall into incredulity, and again realization dawned on him. "You thought… you thought I was going to harm you just now?" Her lack of denial must have confirmed his suspicion. "Why would you think that?"
Kaoru gaped at him. "Why? Are you kidding? You carjacked me and held a gun to my head and then stole my car after breaking into my house!"
He looked confused, as if not understanding her. "Yes, but why would you think I'd harm you? I made sure you got home safely, and I even replaced your car with a newer model. It even has new tires, which are much safer than the ones you had. Your old tires were really worn down. They could have blown at any moment."
Kaoru didn't realize that she was holding her breath until her lungs started to protest. What on earth was he talking about?! She took a breath, wiping her sweaty forehead with the back of her hand. "You're seriously trying to justify stealing my car with the fact that I had bad tires that needed to be replaced? I don't even… I don't even know what to say to that!"
"I truly meant you no harm, Miss Kamiya," he said gently. "Remember when I promised that I wouldn't hurt you? I wasn't lying, and I'm truly sorry to have frightened you."
"Frightened me?' she repeated. "I haven't been home in days! How could you possibly expect me to go through that and just shrug it off in the morning? How could you expect me to sleep in a house that you could have so easily made key copies for? Not like you'd need the keys, anyway, since it was easy enough to pick the lock of my car in the span of like 30 seconds!" She felt her fingers clench around the water bottle, and the sound of crunching plastic reigned in her panic. "That's not the point. The point is that I have to find a new place to move so you can't just strut up and break in whenever you please!"
He lowered his head, causing his long bangs to fall across his eyes like a shield. His tone sounded like she'd wounded him, which only served to confuse her all the more. "What reason would I have to break into your home?"
Kaoru stammered for a moment. "When you realize that the-" she stopped herself quickly. "Nothing."
His eyes slowly rose to meet hers again, effectively cutting her breath short. "When I realize what?"
Damn it! She was an idiot for opening her mouth! She considered half a dozen different cover ups within the span of two seconds, but realized that he would find out soon enough. Lying would be pointless. "That… that the Oniwaban are investigating what happened," she said in a small voice. There. Now he knew and he could properly kill her for telling them about him. Just get it over with.
To her utter shock, a chuckle tumbled from his lips. "So you're the reason they've been on my tail? I had no idea you even knew who the Oniwaban were. They're a supremely secretive group. The only way you could know about them is if you know one of them personally. And you'd have to be very close friends with them for them to even mention anything about who they are."
Kaoru's heart spluttered uncomfortably, her eyes wide.
"I can't imagine how you could be connected with Shinomori. The same can be said for any of his subordinates- Han'nya… Beshimi..." He paused suddenly. "It's the Makimachi girl, isn't it?" Kaoru tried to wipe the horror from her expression. Tried desperately to hide the fear in her eyes, but he was too observant. "Yes, that's it. You're close friends with her." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "She lives close to this park, too. You've been staying with her, haven't you?"
Distantly, she admitted that Misao had been right about this man being one of the top special agents in Japan. She'd have to confess to her friend that she'd been right all along, and then she'd have to uproot Misao and help her find a new place to live, too, because if this man knew where she lived, that meant she was in danger-
Kenshin was getting farther and farther from her, and it took Kaoru a few heartbeats to realize that she'd begun retreating again. Once she realized, she forced herself to stop in her tracks. This time, Kenshin took careful steps toward her warily, as if he was approaching a frightened animal, but this time he didn't stop until he was standing right before her.
He reached out with his left hand, gently grazing her cheek with his thumb. "Please listen to me, Kaoru." She felt herself shiver against his touch and she looked into his pleading eyes. It was the first time he'd ever said her given name, and she took the change to mean that he was serious. "I'm sorry for frightening you that night. I have absolutely no intention of harming or endangering you or your friends. They are not my enemies, and they know I'm not theirs. I will contact them tonight and clarify everything that happened, alright? There's no need for anyone to pack up their homes and move."
She felt herself withering. And for some bizarre reason, she somehow knew that he was telling the truth.
"I didn't make copies of your keys," he continued, "and I have no reason to ever break into your home. In fact, the only reason I'd go back to your place at all was if I was feeling particularly courageous and wanted to ask you to dinner."
"I… What?" Her cheeks darkened, and it was only then that either of them realized his palm was still on her cheek. He pulled his hand away, stuffing it deep into his pocket as if punishing it for having a mind of its own.
"Forget it," he said, and then turned on his heel and began to walk away.
His name bubbled to her lips, and she very nearly spoke it aloud, but she bit her tongue forcefully. All she could do was stare at him, unable to comprehend what had happened.
She was alive. He hadn't threatened her or Misao- or anyone at all, for that matter. He hadn't harmed her, his eyes never once glowed in hate or malice or deceit. Only the look of a regretful man had met her gaze, and even now, as he walked away, his shoulders were slightly slumped, as if he were mentally berating himself. It was the walk of a man who felt guilty for ever approaching her in the first place.
Not some killer. Not an assassin. Not a horrible man who disregarded others…
The words made him slow, and he turned around as he stopped. His eyes were hooded again, kept hidden by his long, scarlet bangs. "Yes, Miss Kamiya?"
What had she been about to say? His name had tumbled off her lips, unbidden. She had no idea why she'd called out to him, aside from the sudden need to cheer him up. His demeanor was hollow now because of her, and in the back of her mind, she knew that he didn't deserve that.
He'd been telling the truth. All he had needed was a getaway vehicle. He'd only needed safe passage away from whatever he'd done earlier that night, and once she'd delivered him to safety, he'd left her alone, just like he'd promised.
Though stealing her baby had royally pissed her off, she could see that he hadn't been lying about the replacement car being safer. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had her tires changed, to be honest. He could very well have been telling the truth about her old tires being unreliable.
The point was that she'd been hiding away at Misao's, frightened of a horrible killer who never even existed.
Misao was right. She could see it in his eyes, as they peered cautiously around his bangs. Those were not the eyes of someone who would ever hurt an innocent person.
"I… I guess you were right," she finally said. Curious, his head rose a bit more. "I am really stubborn. In your note you said I was stubborn. I… I'm sorry."
A small smile raised the corners of his lips. It was a only slight change, but it seemed to illuminate his entire being, and she realized that as pathetic as her words were, she'd apparently chosen the right thing to stutter out. "I'm sorry, too," he said, his eyes boring into hers until she felt his sincerity within her bones. "I'm sorry for everything. I hope you can forgive me one day." He bowed low, and then he started walking again until Kaoru could no longer see him around the curve of the trail.
Only once he'd disappeared from sight did Kaoru snap out of her trance. Blearily, she looked around, and saw that there was a bench not too far away. Her muscles hurt as she hobbled over to it, and she plopped down onto the wood heavily. She threw her head back, resting her neck against the backrest and stared up at the colorful canopy that shone light sporadically though the leaves that were woven together.
It would be ok, she realized. She believed when he told her that he had no intention of breaking into her house. She believed that Misao wasn't in danger, and that he would explain everything to the Oniwaban.
Everything was going to be ok.
Kaoru sat on the bench for a long time. Long enough for her forehead to stop sweating and for her breathing to even out. Then she pushed herself off the bench and stretched her limbs before heading back toward Misao's.
It had been a week since Kaoru had moved back into her place. It felt so remarkably nice to not live out of a suitcase and to be able to do her laundry at her own pace and to cook her own ramen and to lay in her own bed.
It was home again. Not some house she was terrified of stepping into, but actually a home. Somewhere she felt safe and happy and free and completely unconcerned of a maniac diving through her window at any given moment.
She'd returned the day after she'd seen the car thief again, believing that he'd been telling the truth and that he wouldn't bother her anymore. The stupid car had still been parked in her driveway, still untouched from when he'd first left it there. But the morning after she'd returned home, she walked outside to go for a morning run, only to behold her car. Her precious little car, all cleaned up spotlessly. Not a speck of blood could be seen anywhere. One thing was different, though. The tires were new, and she'd smiled stupidly as she'd walked back inside.
No, that man wasn't evil, after all, Kaoru mused to herself, listening to the music that was streaming out of the speakers on either side of her television. One of the greatest perks of living in a place with distance between neighbors was the ability to listen to things very loudly, and it was precisely for that reason her cleaning playlist was blasting through the small house.
The dishes had been cleaned, dried, and stored away. The two loads of laundry had already gone through their cycles and were hung up in the closet. The floors had been swept and mopped, the carpeted areas were vacuumed, the bookshelves and cabinets were dusted, and the trash had been taken out.
Kaoru had been working for hours, but she was still flailing just as wildly around her house, singing and dancing as she blew out the last of the cinnamon-scented candles. The only thing she had left to do was get the mail, and then she'd have everything crossed off her mental checklist.
She was just in time for dinner, which was perfect because she was famished from working so hard all day. She still had some leftovers from the night before, but she'd already eaten it fresh then and heated it up again for lunch. If she had pasta for a third time, she'd lose her mind. And possibly her stomach. The damn thing would rebel against her and protest anything noodle-y until the end of time.
Her mind floated to various takeout options, considering all the places nearby. Curry. Pizza. Burgers. Salad. Seafood…
OH! Beef stew!
She felt herself already salivating at the thought of small, tender cuts of beef soaked in juicy spices. Images of vegetables floating around a heavenly broth danced along the forefront of Kaoru's thoughts, and she distantly wondered if she'd ever been so excited about food.
Dancing her way to the front door, she swayed her hips dramatically with each step and moved her arms enthusiastically as she sang along, feeling every part like she was in some epic music video. It had taken the better part of a year to hit the notes to this particular song just right, but she was confident in her voice now, and she made sure to sing as loudly as her vocal cords would allow her.
She paused dramatically several times, curling her arms close to her chest as she belted out the part that led into the chorus. Feeling more invigorated than ever, Kaoru tossed her head back and sang along with gritty, soulful passion as the words soared to a climax. The chorus followed immediately after, and she didn't skip a beat, jumping energetically back into motion and closing the distance to the front door.
Her hand wrapped around the handle and she twisted, pulling the door wide open.
The words died on her lips and her eyes widened in mortification.
There, standing on her doorstep, was a very familiar man with scarlet hair. His torso and arms were covered with a gray button-down shirt and jeans hugged his legs so perfectly that she nearly forgot what she was doing in the first place. In one hand was a small bouquet of white and yellow daisies. The fingers of his other hand were pressed firmly against his lips in a very clear attempt to stifle his laughter.
The music snapped Kaoru back into action quickly enough, and she flung herself onto her doorstep, dragging the door shut quickly. The volume was immediately muffled, but she was very aware that the words could still be heard clearly through the door. And from the way Kenshin's eyes were glimmering in mirth, Kaoru knew that he'd heard her singing just as well.
It looked like it took him an extreme level of restraint, but he managed to swallow the laugh that had been trying to force its way out. He pulled his hand away slowly, as if ready to cover his mouth again, but he was biting down on his lip forcefully enough to keep himself from howling out. Finally confident enough, he released his lip and grinned at her. "Well, it's not quite half past ten, but it does look a bit like it might rain."
"Oh my god…" Kaoru breathed. "This isn't happening."
"I mean, the chance of it actually raining men are pretty slim, but there's a first time for everything, right?"
"I was just… ohmygod, why?" she groaned, covering her flushed face. Her cheeks felt like they were the color of his hair. "It's cleaning day," she finally explained after she collected enough courage to look up at him again. "I have a cleaning playlist."
"So you listen to 'It's Raining Men' every time you clean?"
The song finally, thankfully ended, and Kaoru exhaled in relief. She'd left the music on shuffle, so there was a good chance for something less energetic to play next. Something with not as many loud and overpowering vocals. Something quiet, even. She crossed her fingers behind her back, childishness be damned.
Her prayers went unanswered, and she bit her lower lip, flinching slightly as a voice boomed from behind her.
Before he had a chance to formulate any theories about the song, she launched herself at him, grabbed his free hand, and started dragging him down the sidewalk to her mailbox, where there was shiny and expensive-looking car.
Only once they were far enough away did she release him, and she finally spun around to face him. The steady beat and a masculine voice could still be heard slightly, but the words were barely discernible.
"How long were you standing on my doorstep?"
If she hadn't been so embarrassed, his gorgeous smile would have unarmed her entirely. "I got here right at the end of the Eye of the Tiger."
"You've been listening to me squawking for over five minutes?!"
"First off, it wasn't squawking. You actually have a really good singing voice. Honestly," he added at her look of disbelief, and she could tell that he truly was being sincere. "I'm really impressed that you hit those notes so well. And second, I knocked right after Eye of the Tiger, but was drowned out by the sound of men raining all over your living room."
She still couldn't wipe the horrified expression from her face, which was probably why his smile softened. She reached over to her mailbox as casually as she could, but she figured if her movements looked shaky to her, he probably noticed, too. All that, and she didn't even have any mail?!
"What are you doing here, anyway?" she asked, trying to divert the topic. "And why do you have daisies?"
Had she been in a proper, non-flustered state of mind, the answer would have been obvious, and the question wouldn't have been worth asking. But her thoughts were all flavors of scattered, and it was hard to think of anything aside from how her cheeks felt like they were burning.
His smile remained cheerful, but an undeniable tint of nervousness and apprehension leaked into his eyes and the set of his shoulders. He shifted his stance slightly as he cleared his throat. Noticing the motions helped Kaoru focus, and she quickly understood that he'd been very anxious before he'd pulled up to her house.
She wondered what he would have looked like if her music hadn't been quite so loud and distracting.
"I was hoping that you would allow me to take you out for dinner tonight?"
Deep down, she'd known from the moment she saw the flowers that the question was going to come up, but still felt her heart racing as he smiled timidly. She internally mused if she could trust the man standing before her, and as she looked into his beautiful, hopeful lilac eyes, she knew the answer.
"How about the Akabeko?" she asked, and felt her lips curl upward as his entire expression lightened into an overjoyed grin.
"That sounds perfect, Miss Kamiya."
"You can call me Kaoru as long as you do me a favor. Stay here while I turn off the music, alright?"
Kaoru hurried inside, opening and closing the door as quickly as she could, and then ran to silence the music. Taking a deep breath, she returned to the door and beckoned him inside.
She changed her clothing quickly and after a quick check in the mirror, they walked back out and down the pathway.
"So," Kenshin began as he opened the passenger door of his car for her. She slid into the leather seat and peered up at him. His eyes were crinkled in a giddy smile. "Do you actually do the cha cha slide every time you clean, or it more just background noise?"
Damn it, he had heard!
Her eyes narrowed at him as he spluttered, trying again to bite back the laugh on his tongue. "Get in the car, Kenshin."
The door shut immediately, but she could still hear muffled giggles as he floated around the car. He paused two seconds too long with his fingers on the door handle, and then he finally opened the door and sat in. She was already looking over at him when he turned to her. "I promise that I will find something far more embarrassing about you, and so help you, I will never let you live it down."
His hearty laugh was so jovial that Kaoru felt her scowl lighten, and a grin fought against her frown. Within seconds, most of her embarrassment had vanished, and he put the keys in the ignition and shifted the gear into drive. "I'll look forward to it," he said cheerfully, and then they were off.
Well, that's it! I hope you enjoyed reading! :)