Chapter Six: Insecurity
The darkness stretched out above him, the artificial light of the city swallowing the stars whole. The seemingly lone sliver of the moon looked down upon him as the cool evening air whispered through the long, white shirt he wore.
The city unraveled underneath him, the blinking streetlights and the neon signs pulsing from below. The buildings stood in the shadows like giants of concrete and steel, but there was still life still stirred under the veil of darkness. The night was young, as they say.
Tomorrow would be Sunday. It had almost been two weeks since he had been staying with Kaoru. However, he had already gotten so used to being here that it was like he had been living with her his whole life. He would always listen to her cute little grumbles when her alarm clock went off, and she would take her shower and find him up in the living room waiting for her. He would listen while she prepared breakfast and talked about her work or her neighbors. As much as she complained about grading papers and instructing a bunch of adolescents who weren't even half-alive in the morning, he felt that Kaoru enjoyed being a teacher.
She had such a content life here in Tokyo. A small, but cozy apartment, friends who protected her like guard dogs, and a job that she loved. Kaoru had obviously been able to take care of herself all this time.
...does that mean she didn't need him?
He turned around to see the young woman, a robe thrown over her light blue pajamas. Enishi gave her a small smile as she approached him and sat next to him.
The evening breeze whispering through the leaves and sleeping flowers of her small garden was all that was heard. He continued to look at the city in silence, until he heard her voice.
"You all right?"
"I'm fine," he turned to her. "Why do you ask?"
"You just got quiet all of a sudden after dinner and left. You've been doing that every night now."
Kaoru was right. She had often found Enishi brooding on the rooftop. He wasn't surprised that she had noticed; Kaoru was the kind of person who would notice little things that no one else would even give a second thought about.
"I just like it up here."
"Because..." he settled his back onto the ground and folded his arms behind his head. "It's a place for me to think."
"You don't have a place like that at home?"
Enishi scoffed. "Kyoto isn't my home. At least it hasn't been for a while."
Her eyes never left his form as she listened, wanting him to go on. "My house in Kyoto isn't like a home at all. It's more like a prison."
"Since I was young, decisions were always being made for me. No one seemed to care what I thought or wanted, and my interests were never taken into consideration. I had food, clothes, a roof over my head, but I never had a choice."
His eyes traveled the vapor trail left by an airplane, his silver white hair softly rustled by the breeze.
"Like I said...a prison."
There were no more words. He didn't expect Kaoru to answer. How could she respond? He couldn't blame her; she didn't know what he had to endure all those years in that mansion that he was fated to call 'home'.
"You didn't have anyone to talk to?"
He was quiet for a moment, but went on. "There was my sister, but now that I look back on it, nothing changed. As much as she cared about me, there wasn't anything she could have done to help."
He sighed, forcing back unpleasant memories that he didn't wish to surface. "No, she couldn't do anything. My father's word was law."
Silence answered him, but he could still feel those blue eyes of her focused on him. Enishi allowed himself a small glance, and what he saw nearly ripped him apart.
She looked concerned. For HIM.
"That sounds like a terribly lonely life."
"...do you still feel that way?"
Turquoise eyes regarded the young woman before him, her raven brow knitted together in worry and her lovely features etched with the compassion he had known her to have.
"Do you still feel alone now?"
There was no use denying it. There was something about Kaoru's presence that was soothing, and he felt that the more he was around her, the harder it was to keep anything from her. He wanted to share everything he felt with her. He wanted to share his memories with her, no matter how unpleasant they were. As long as she was listening, that was all that counted.
A smile tugged the corners of his lips, and his gaze held hers.
"I don't. Not anymore."
The words washed away the look of anxiety on her face, a brilliant smile taking its place.
"I'm glad, then."
"Blech! You call this food?"
"What's wrong with it, Yahiko-chan?"
Yahiko pounded a fist on the table, trying not to choke on the food he chewed. "Don't call me that!"
"Then don't insult my cooking!" Kaoru shot back, grabbing a few empty plates and heading toward the kitchen. "Honestly, you'd starve without me."
The boy pouted and forced himself to eat what was left on his plate as his brother and the weird guy ate silently. Yahiko didn't have to ask Sano what he felt about Kaoru's cooking: they both have had better. Food that was left on the stove for too long or meat that was cooked so long that it was charred weren't exactly meals that were edible.
Yahiko looked at Kaoru's white-haired guest. He was silent, eating at an easy pace and actually swallowing the food as well. How he could chew food that busu had cooked without even a grimace...either he didn't have any taste buds or he was just plain crazy.
And Yahiko considered the latter to be a possibility. Especially seeing how intense the look in the weirdo's eyes was as he looked at Kaoru.
"You've got anything planned for today?" his older brother asked.
"You mean after I vomit?"
His comment earned a deadly glare from the white-haired man that sat across from him, but Yahiko didn't shrink back. He didn't like this guy, and he wasn't going to be afraid over one of Kaoru's obsessive childhood friends.
Noticing the tension between his kid brother and the other man, Sano spoke up again. "Don't you have practice today?"
Crap, he did have soccer practice. Coach would kill him if he skipped another one.
But if Yahiko left, then Sano would go visit a friend downtown after he dropped him off. Leaving the weirdo alone with Kaoru.
"I can skip it."
"No, you can't," Sano replied sternly, picking at some dried out fish. "I'm tired of your coach calling our house for every practice that you don't go to. You've missed out all week."
"You're going, kid. That's final."
Yahiko scowled at Sano, and suddenly the stranger stood up from the table and brought along his empty bowl and cup with him. His eyes followed the weirdo as he went down the small hallway and into the kitchen, where Kaoru was washing the dishes.
He found her standing over the sink and thoroughly rinsing dishes. Enishi smirked when he heard her angry grumbling as she worked.
"Ungrateful, little...just see if I care if he doesn't have anything to eat!"
The funny part of it all was that despite the fact she was fuming, Enishi knew that Kaoru could never stay angry at a person for too long. She had too much love in her heart to never forgive someone.
During her ranting, he approached her and set his empty bowl and chopsticks beside her. Startled by the sudden presence, Kaoru lifted her eyes to meet Enishi.
She nodded, and pointed to the towel next to the drying rack. "You can dry if you want."
Enishi didn't hesitate and began to do as she told him, rubbing the cloth unhurriedly against the empty bowls.
"He's such a little brat sometimes!" Kaoru suddenly blurted out. She was too agitated to keep her thoughts to herself, but Enishi didn't mind listening.
And he couldn't help but agree with her as well.
"Always calling me 'busu' and telling me that I can't cook to save my life!"
He was quick to retrieve the bowl from her hand, lest her anger caused her to be careless and drop it onto the floor.
"At least I know how to cook! I like to see him or Sano handle a stove! If they don't like my cooking, they don't have to eat it! It's not like I'm forcing them to!"
She then looked to Enishi, who caught the anxious expression on her face.
"...do you think my cooking's decent? You don't feel that you're being forced to eat it, do you?"
His heart nearly broke at the dejected look in her eyes, ignoring the sound of the running water. He didn't know how sensitive she was about her culinary skills. Enishi was unaware how hurtful the kid's words were until now.
"Don't let the brat get to you."
She still appeared crestfallen, pulling at the strings of his heart even tighter.
"I know I'm not the best cook, but what if Yahiko's right? What if I really am as terrible as he says?"
Enishi sighed, turning off the faucet as he did.
"I don't mind eating your cooking," he began quickly before she could interrupt with more remarks of insecurity. "Just because some little brat constantly complains is no reason for you to beat yourself up about it."
He brushed a stray lock of hair away from her eyes, immediately catching her crystal gaze when she had felt his touch. She blushed under his intense stare, but she didn't move.
"I mean it, Kaoru-chan. Don't worry so much about it."
A few moments passed until Kaoru broke into a grateful smile, bringing a feeling of relief and comfort to him.
Yahiko watched the sickening display while holding back the overwhelming urge to throw up. He nearly snarled when he saw the white- haired man's hand sweeping away some hair from her eyes.
It was gross, watching him touch her hair and witnessing Kaoru actually letting him! Yahiko saw the faint blush on her cheeks, and he almost gagged.
Such affection...it was almost too much for the adolescent to bear! The way the freak looked at her, and the way she smiled at him...it was like they were dating or something.
'No way!' he thought. 'He's been here for two weeks! She can't be falling for him!'
He was about to walk in, until something pulled him back. Yahiko scowled at the sight of his brother, who was also watching the couple intently.
"Quiet," Sano answered, staring inside the kitchen.
"I said be quiet."
Yahiko grumbled but did as his brother told him to. He watched Sano's brown eyes studying Kaoru and her obsessive friend with a solemnity that Yahiko didn't know the Rooster-head was capable of having.
'What is he thinking about?'
'I've never seen Jou-chan like that with a guy before.' Sano thought as he looked at Kaoru and Enishi.
Kaoru had always been an easygoing person, but when she was with a member of the opposite sex, she tended to shy away from him. Kenshin was a marvelous example: just two weeks ago she had dropped a mug in front of him.
But when she was around with Enishi, it was different. Everything about her was different. She was still Jou-chan, but there was something else.
Kaoru smiled a lot when she was with the white-haired freak. Her coyness was still there, but it seemed like she was comfortable with him.
It was like Kaoru was happy when Enishi was with her.
If that was the case, Sano wondered if she was aware of how much she smiled or blushed whenever she was around her friend. He doubt it and would take every opportunity to tease her about it, but not now. Sano wasn't sure of Kaoru's feelings entirely, and even mentioning the possibility that she had a relationship with the strange man would put Yahiko on edge.
Deciding to step in, Sano let go of his brother and went into the kitchen with his empty bowl. "Hey Jou-chan, what are your plans today?"
She turned her attention to Sano, a tickle of pink still on her cheeks.
"I have to head to the grocery store today. And I was thinking about stopping by Tae's and saying hi."
"She'd like that," Sano answered, "she's been wanting to see you for a while."
"Yeah, I know. I'll go to her place before I go to the grocery store."
Kaoru began washing Sano and Yahiko's bowls, and the tall man took this moment to observe the damp towel in Enishi's hand.
Funny, it was usually Kenshin's job to help Kaoru with the dishes. The white-haired man didn't exactly hit him as a housekeeper.
But the redhead had wandered off into Tokyo again, which would often leave Kaoru to do her house chores alone. However, the fact of the matter was that she wasn't alone.
He was constantly at her side, and for an inexplicable reason, Sano felt that he didn't have a reason to be afraid for Kaoru when Enishi was with her.
"Well, gotta go," Sano said, pulling a reluctant Yahiko out of the kitchen by the back of his collar. "Oh, I'm out of milk. Buy some okay, Jou- chan?"
Kaoru answered by throwing a wet sponge at his face.
"Tae's a close friend of mine and Sano," Kaoru explained as she walked with Enishi on the crowded sidewalk. "She owns a popular restaurant here in Tokyo."
Enishi was silent afterwards as he followed Kaoru, careful not to lose her in the throngs of people. He wasn't particularly interested in this 'Tae' woman, but he could tell that Kaoru had thought a lot of her. The young teacher persuaded him to go shopping with her, arguing that she wanted him to get out of the apartment. Kaoru mentioned feeling guilty for not showing him around Tokyo in the two weeks he had stayed here, and she wanted him to meet her friend.
And being himself, he couldn't say 'no' to her.
Kaoru led him into a large, one-floor building, and they stepped into a noisy atmosphere filled with the clinking of drinks and the laughter of people. The aroma of food wafted thickly in the air, with the occasional hint of cigarette smoke.
"I don't believe it!" a female voice shouted above the noise, and a brown-haired woman in her late twenties appeared. "Kaoru!"
"Hi, Tae," Kaoru managed to say before the older woman pulled her into a hug. The bright eyes then fell to Enishi, and the questions spilled forth.
"And who is this?" Tae asked curiously, grinning mischievously at Kaoru. "Your boyfriend?"
"No!" Kaoru immediately denied. "Enishi's a friend of mine—"
"So this is the one Sano's been telling me about!" Tae exclaimed. "My, isn't he handsome? You sure know how to pick 'em, Kaoru."
"He's not my boyfriend!" a red-faced Kaoru cried.
"Sure, sure," Tae said, turning to Enishi with a friendly smile. "If Kaoru-chan hasn't told you yet, I'm Sekihara Tae."
"Yukishiro Enishi," he replied, politely bowing.
Tae merely clapped her hands and laughed heartily. "So charming, too! Kaoru, you're such a lucky girl!"
"QUIT IT, TAE!!!"
"Okay, okay," the businesswoman placated her exasperated friend. "I've had my fun. But it's really nice to see you again, Kaoru." she took her gently by the hand. "How 'bout something to eat? My treat!"
Kaoru smiled at the thought of a snack as Enishi soundlessly followed her.
"Were you really that offended?" he asked her.
"Huh?" Kaoru looked up from the neatly arranged piles of vegetables to Enishi.
"When she said that I was your boyfriend," he continued. "Was the idea that appalling to you?"
"Enishi, what are you..."
Her voice was caught when she noticed the dejected expression on his face. The way he looked now was uncharacteristic of his usually confident mannerisms, and Kaoru was felt a strong twinge of guilt ripping through her conscience.
"It's not that it was appalling to me, Enishi," Kaoru began. "It's just that Tae is always teasing me whenever I come into the restaurant with a guy she's never seen before."
"And does that happen often?"
His rapid-fire question and anxiety-filled voice roused her curiosity, but Kaoru didn't comment on either.
"No. But when it does, she always has something to say," Kaoru said, taking a daikon radish into her hands and examining it. "I guess since she wants me to get a husband so badly, she thinks she could tease me into getting married."
"Why is she so insistent that you get married?"
She shrugged, and put the radish into the shopping cart. "Tae's insistent about everything, I suppose."
'But it's not like I could get a husband. At least not with the way I cook,' Kaoru bitterly thought. Her eyes caught sight of a small display of cooking books opposite to the produce aisle.
She never considered using one of them in her life. Kaoru always thought that her cooking was so horrible that pictures and a set of instructions couldn't possibly help her. She looked to Enishi, who was presently eyeing an arranged heap of bell peppers out of boredom.
His face lifted and looked to her instantly. "Yes?"
"...if you want to, we can eat at the Akabeko tonight."
Enishi raised a brow, but Kaoru continued, "You shouldn't have to feel inclined to eat my cooking. I know how horrible everyone says it is..."
To her surprise, Enishi chuckled softly. "Kaoru, you're still not thinking about what that brat said, are you?"
She didn't answer, but he already knew what she thought.
"I don't care if you don't have any culinary expertise," he firmly stated. "You may not believe me, but I rather have you prepare my meals."
Her blue eyes widened considerably, but something told her that he wasn't lying. Like her, Enishi had a stubborn streak that was inscrutable. Even if she refused to let him eat her cooking, he would find some way to go against her wishes and what was medically healthy for him.
Smiling, Kaoru gave in. "Okay, I'll cook. But can you do me a favor?"
"Could you get me a carton of milk before I forget? I'm almost done picking out the vegetables."
He headed toward the dairy section, and as soon as he was out of sight, Kaoru took one of the beginner cookbooks from the stand and hid it under the produce in her cart.
"Okay, add a teaspoon..."
Kaoru bit her lip, carefully measuring the ingredient and adding it into the concoction on the stove. The curry simmered, and she dipped a spoon in and brought it to her lips for a taste.
It was quite possibly the greatest dish she had ever made. Of course, it wasn't worthy of a five-star restaurant, but it was still good.
Kaoru could only hope that Enishi would like it.
Preparing two plates with rice smothered in the curry dish, she brought it out to the living room. Enishi was working on his laptop computer, looking up files that Kaoru didn't even bother to understand. Technology wasn't her high point, and she already had a hard time inputting grades into a computer at work.
"Dinner," she said. Enishi looked up from his computer screen, and his eyebrows rose at the appetizing smell.
And to his surprise, there wasn't a hint of burnt meat or singed vegetables.
He took the plate from her hand, and frowned upon seeing the small cuts on her fingers.
"What happened?" he asked while she settled down on the couch beside him and placed her dinner on the table.
She blinked, and then looked at her hands. "Oh, these. I got them when I was chopping the potatoes. They're only small cuts."
He wasn't appeased, but the anxious stare in her eyes took his thoughts away from the cuts. Enishi looked to the plate of curry, and then understood.
She wanted him to try it.
He held the plate in one hand, and began eating. As he chewed, he felt Kaoru's gaze on him.
Enishi swallowed, and to her happiness, there was no grimace or signs of choking.
"It's very good."
A wide smile spread across her lips, and Enishi was warmed by the sight.
"You tried really hard to make this, didn't you?"
She looked away and shyly nodded. "Yes." She lowered her gaze to her own plate, the steam rising lazily from the curry. "When you said that you wanted me to cook for you, I was surprised. I didn't know why you said it, but it made me really happy."
The spoon and plate were motionless in his hands as he regarded what she said. True, Kaoru was not the best chef in the world, but that didn't matter to him. The fact that a meal was prepared by her was enough reason for him to eat it. Knowing that her own hands cooked the food with as much care as she could gather was all that mattered to him.
But he didn't tell her any of this. He knew that if he did, she would still doubt herself.
The front door swung open, and her neighbors appeared, looks of disbelief and bewilderment playing on their faces.
"W-what's that smell?" the tall man asked.
"Curry," Kaoru simply responded.
"...did you make it?" the brat asked.
"Who else would have?"
"But you couldn't have made it! It actually smells good!"
She glared threateningly at the boy. "So I guess you want to eat my cooking then?"
The grumble of empty stomachs was her response. Kaoru sighed in defeat.
"Come into the kitchen and I'll get you a plate."
I guess one of the reasons why I wrote this chapter is because I felt so sorry for Kaoru. Everyone bashes on her cooking like it's poison, and I wanted to cut her a break.
As for Enishi being cliché, I really didn't mean to. I think he's quite charming, and I like how he acts that way towards Kaoru, but treats Sano and Yahiko indifferently. I mean, he can't very well say half the stuff he says to Kaoru to them, now can he?
I plan to work on this story along with my new one, Charm. Thank you all for supporting both of my works! I appreciate the time you take to review! Thanks!