Author's Note: With any luck not everyone has abandoned me because of my sloth slow updates. I'm really hoping you guys think the wait is worth it, though. Thanks for reading, and I sincerely hope for you to enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin.
White Tides of Dazzled Dreams
"Tides of Preparation"
The thick cover of ominous rain clouds blanketed the sky, covering the city like a dark, wet shroud. The rain fell from the clouds' stifling embrace in steady sheet with a forceful heaviness that hit the sidewalk with a thunderous staccato beat. Peering dismally through the clear glass of the dojo's front door, Kaoru let out a solemn sigh, heavy with resignation. Laying her fingers against the cool glass, she lowered her head and gritted her teeth.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," she muttered, her bangs shadowing her eyes. "Of all the days…," she trailed off, lowered her hand from the window and pursing her lips. She stepped away from the door, her feet carrying her to her office in the back of the small hallway. Grabbing her thin blazer from the chair, she shrugged into the jacket. Reaching down slowly, she grasped the strap of her purse, slinging the small bag over her shoulder. She stepped over to her desk and picked up her key ring, holding the keys tightly in her palm. Her steps were slow and collected as she walked back to the front door, her mouth drawn into a thin line of irritation. Her fingers itched for the comforting feel of a helpful umbrella handle, but sadly she would be able to use no such contraption.
Despite Sano's annoying nagging previously that morning, Kaoru had set out without the trusty shield, the thought of rain disrupting the beautifully glorious day that had reigned earlier the farthest thing from her mind. Now as she stood at the front door of her dojo, Kaoru mentally berated herself for the rash and ignorant decision she'd made that morning.
"Well," she started, her voice full of agitated displeasure, "here I go."
Pulling the top of her jacket up to help cover her head, Kaoru pushed open the door and stepped out into the falling flood. She quickly locked the dojo door steady fingers and then turned to take in the roaring applause of the sky.
It was hard to see in front of her, the encompassing rain was falling so profusely. Kaoru's footsteps were hurried with a rising impatience as she made her way down the sidewalk. There were a small handful of fellow pedestrians braving the fierce weather, passing Kaoru as they hurried to their destinations. By the time she had reached the first intersection which she needed to cross, her hair was plastered to her head, and her jeans soaked through. The cool water from the growing puddles leaked through the soft cloth material of her flimsy sneakers. Lowering the top of her jacket from her head, Kaoru sucked in a deep breath as she wiped away some of the rain falling inconveniently onto her face. As she waited, shifting her weight from foot to foot, it seemed like she had been standing at the edge of that concrete curb for an hour, though in actuality she had been there less than a minute. Ducking her head, Kaoru reflected on the weather, and the transformation that nature had wrought on the city in the matter of a few hours.
It seemed a lot like her life – how it had been beautifully brilliant right before the seams holding her existence together had come loose, sagging and leaving gaping holes that scraped her aching soul. She had learned to focus her mind and separate herself from the deep pain, slowly dampening the fever of sorrow that enshrouded her, suffocating her. With the help of her brother and her friends, she began to center the majority of her energy on the baby. Her unborn baby became the sole meaning of her life, the steady rock that she concentrated all her energy and all her thoughts on.
Standing there in the rain, Kaoru felt a small, secret smile curve her lips. Though her life was turning out not at all like she had expected, this unknown future suited her. It suited her rather well.
She was startled out of her reverie when a solid surface covered her head, deflecting the rain from her. The pitter-patter of the rain as it slapped against the thin material of the umbrella above her head caused her lift her gaze and peer curiously at the person shielding her from the downpour falling from the heavy clouds.
Her wary blue eyes met a soft amethyst pair, staring down at her with a curious protectiveness. His red hair was damp and loose in its ponytail, his jacket coated with a thin layer of moisture. He held the bottom of the red umbrella in his right hand while in his left hand he held a small plastic bag, which, Kaoru guessed, contained some sort of food. A soothing warmth spread through her chest as she looked into his unblinking stare.
"Hi," she said softly, breaking the silence.
He sighed. "Hello."
The other people standing on the curb surged forward as the "walk" sign lit up across the street and started to count down from twenty. Kaoru broke eye contact with Kenshin and watched as the others crossed the slick street. When she started forward to follow them, he was a step behind her, keeping the small shelter of the umbrella above her head. His footsteps matched her balanced pace as he followed her down the sodden sidewalk. The rest of the way back to their apartment building was spent in silence, though Kaoru felt comfortable with it, even welcomed the wordless walk. She felt like she almost got to know him a little better, got to know more of his character on the short walk, despite the fact he didn't speak. He was just there. And funny enough…that was sufficient. And what she thought was a dreary day turned into to something else…something more meaningful.
When they reached to stoop of their building, Kenshin closed the umbrella and tried to shake some of the moisture off. Kaoru held open the lobby door for him as he then quickly hurried inside. Passing through the cheery lobby, they made their way together to the small staircase. They climbed slowly up the carpet-shrouded staircase, a hushed pair. In the small hallway, Kaoru turned to him as they walked, her eyes clear and friendly on his.
"Thank you. I was really getting soaked back there," she said as they came to a stop in front of her apartment door. "Sano told me to bring an umbrella with me, but I chose not to listen."
Kenshin smiled in return as he nodded his head with a slight motion. "You're welcome. I'm glad I could help."
He turned and moved to go into his apartment when Kaoru laid her hand down on the cool metal doorknob of her door and blurted out, "Wait, Kenshin. I really feel I ought to give you more than just a 'thank you' so why don't you come over Saturday around 7:00. My brother is cooking dinner and I would really like for you to join the two of us." Kaoru cocked her head to the side and sent him a slightly pleading glance.
He stood there for a long moment, his eyes trained on hers. He turned the doorknob of his apartment and opened the door.
"I would like that," he replied with a small smile.
With a final glance, he disappeared into his apartment and softly closed the door.
It had been a quiet, steady day at the office. Those who had scheduled appointments arrived on time, and there was even enough time left over for a few walk-ins to be allowed near the end of the day. At the small receptionist desk in the navy blue waiting room, Misao read over the names she had highlighted, signaling that they had already met with Aoshi. Only one name remained unhiglighted on Aoshi's checklist. Sticking a pencil behind her ear, she flipped through some loose paperwork and started to organize it into designated stacks. One man sat in one of the soft chairs in the corner of the waiting room, waiting patiently to be called back so he could talk with Aoshi. His eyes were glued to the muted television on the adjacent wall. A newscaster was reporting the occurrences of the day in her serious monotone voice.
Squinting, Misao read over a cryptic note she had made to herself earlier. It hadn't taken long for her inner secretary to immerge. The busy, frazzled waitress she had been was no more. In her place was a sophisticated young woman with a polite smile and very tidy repertoire of secretarial abilities. Chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully, she picked up the small pile of the day's mail from the corner of her desk and sorted through it, placing Aoshi and Kenshin's letters into their assigned boxes behind her desk attached to the wall, which already held other important documents for them to read.
She had been so busy throughout the week, she had barely any time to breathe, let alone relax fully. Megumi had been surprised by her job change, but she hadn't said anything. Although Megumi did love to torment her sister, she had decided to let the subject die a swift death, allowing Misao to adjust to her new employment without the customary harassment bestowed on her. Throughout the past month and half that Misao had been working here, she had actually only seen Aoshi a handful of times, and those had been unremarkable to say the least. Sighing, Misao slipped her glasses off and set them on the top of her desk as she massaged the bridge of her nose with tired fingers.
A door down the hall opened and a disheveled woman stepped out, a tissue clutched in her hand. She dabbed her runny mascara with it and let out a watery sigh. Misao couldn't catch much of what the woman's departing words were, but she did hear: "Thank you, Mr. Himura."
Kenshin's muted response was too soft for her hear. The woman shuffled down the hall and past Misao, a bright smile pasted on her lips as she sauntered to the door. She wiped the sodden tissue under her eyes once more as she opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. As Kenshin came to a stop beside Misao's desk, she hastily put her glasses back on and lifted her gaze to meet his with a weak smile.
"Need anything?" she asked.
Kenshin looked down at the clipboard to the left on her table, which held the names of people waiting to see him. For the first time that day, there were no more new names on the list.
"No, it appears like I don't," he replied in a distracted tone, as he raised his arm to peer at his watch. He sighed deeply, and looked up, flashing a friendly smile. "I better get going. I hate to leave when Aoshi still has more people to talk to, but I believe I'm already late the way it is."
Misao waved him off with smile and shook her head. "Don't worry about that. I'm sure Aoshi won't mind. Go do whatever you need to do. We can hold up the fort."
Nodding, Kenshin stepped away from her desk and headed back to his office to collect his things.
The night was silent and dreamy, and the sky was clear without the lofty sprinkle of disrupting clouds. The cool breeze of a placid wind blew softly through the open window, teasing the smooth yellow curtains. Muted sounds of the city weakly slipped through the air, creating an intriguing blend of voices, traffic, and activity. With a content sigh, Kaoru brushed her obscuring bangs from her eyes and felt a small smile curl her lips as the refreshing breeze tickled her clear face. Sliding her gaze to the side away from the revealing view of the window, she listened silently as behind her, her brother muttered incoherent complaints of heightened irritation. Kaoru dipped her head as a muted laugh escaped her lips when he slammed down what he was working on and shouted out an angry, "I'm done!"
Turning, she peered at her brother, trying the wipe her amusement from her features, her head cocked to the side quizzically as he glared up at her, his eyes flashing.
"Done? Already?" she asked, knowing full well what he meant.
His eyes narrowed, "No. I want nothing more to do with this crap. The instructions are crap, the materials they gave us are crap, and none of the pieces fit together in a semblance of a baby crib. Why, on earth, did you pick this cursed thing out to begin with?" Before she could get a word in edgewise, he continued with animated flair, "You should have bought one that was already put together! You know I hate this kind of stuff."
Defending her choice of the crib she had picked out, Kaoru replied, "I liked this one the best. It had the safest construction and it wasn't too expensive. And…they didn't have any already assembled, Sano."
"Well, get down here and help me figure his out, then. Maybe you can tell me what these instructions mean."
With a hand pressed firmly to the small of her back, Kaoru grabbed Sano's upraised hand with her other as he helped her sit carefully on the wooden floor. Taking the instruction booklet from him, she opened it to the first page.
"Here," she started. "The pieces are all labeled with stickers from A-K. Each page," she said as she flipped through the booklet, "describes in detail with nail and bolt to use with each piece, and it says which pieces are attached to each other." Raising an eyebrow, she gave Sano an exasperated look. "I do happen to know for a fact that you can read, so what is the problem?"
Grabbing a barred stretch of wood, Sano flipped it over in his hands and let out a heavy sigh. "Oh...that's what those are for."
"You haven't done this in a long time, have you?" she asked amused.
Sano sent her an aggravated glare before turning away. "Not since freshman year in college."
"Oh, well. Doesn't matter. Let's just get started."
He humped in agreement, though his features remained stern.
Twenty long minutes later, Sano was still in a foul mood, though his anger had receded noticeably. Screwing a nail into the wood as Kaoru held the pieces together, he mumbled something unintelligible under his breath as screwdriver slipped…again.
"This baby better love me when it's born," he muttered disagreeably.
Smiling, Kaoru ruffled his hair affectionately with her free hand. "Don't be a pain."
He grunted in response and finished screwing in the nail. Shifting the piece, he reached for the next as he set down the screwdriver. As Sano started to turn the piece to fit with the others, he was interrupted by a knock on the front door. Lifting her head from what she was working on, Kaoru patted his shoulder.
"Get that will you. I have trouble getting up and down," she told him.
With a sigh, Sano stood up and left the room, leaving her alone. As Kaoru piddled with the nails left, she tuned out the muted noise seeming to come from the small living area leading to the front door. Her short-lived concentration was broken when a slight tap on the doorjamb of the door leading to the room caused her to look up. A pleasantly pleased smile graced her lips as she watched the slim red-haired man return her smile uncertainty. Setting down the part of the crib she held, Kaoru waved him over with happy animation. Kenshin stepped into the room, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his jeans, his hair pulled back in the long ponytail she'd come to associate with him in the short time that they had been neighbors. His face was shadowed, though a genial glint shone in his eyes.
"I was starting to think that you weren't going to show up," she started, tilting her head to the side, silently questioning him.
"I was unfortunately delayed by a pressing matter at work," he explained as he came closer to her, stooping a little so he was more at her eye-level. "But it's been all sorted out." He paused for a moment, seeming to weigh what he wanted to say next. "Your brother told me he had to finish cooking the dinner, and that you were in need of help constructing…this," he finished with a slight dip of uncertainty in his tone.
"It's a baby crib," she explained happily as she patted the empty spot on the floor next her with friendly invitation. Nodding the sprawling mass of parts and bits, she continued, "I just picked it up yesterday when I went shopping with a friend. I have the materials we need and the instructions, which definitely come in handy. All that's left is the actual construction."
Taking the instruction booklet from her outstretched hand, Kenshin settled down beside her quietly and compared the progress she and Sano had made to the instructions. Taking a large section that had already been assembled, he turned it on its side and began the tedious process that Sano had gleefully abandoned. Kaoru watched him for a moment, her eyes taking in the taunt expression filled with concentration that covered his face, and the tense line of his shoulders. His steady hands were confident in their movements and his eyes easily reflected his deliberate focus. Reaching out to grasp the smooth edge of the wood he was vigilantly trying to piece together, Kaoru cocked her head to the side, an inquisitive glint in her blue eyes.
"You told me that you were a lawyer, but I'm curious as to what kind of lawyer. Are you a prosecutor or…?" she trailed off, an inquiring tone in her voice.
Distracted, he continued screwing in the nail as his gaze flicked up to hers before falling back down to his work. "Uh, the law office that I work with is associated with a non-profit organization that points people who are low in resources and need an attorney to represent them in the right direction. We have drastically discounted rates that allow them to employ us without feeling that they're being handed pity charity." He stopped and squinted at the instructions before pointing to the tool resting beside Kaoru's leg. "Can you hand me that?"
"How long have you been doing this kind of work?" she asked, handing him the tool and watching as he utilized it.
"For about three years. I was a defense attorney on some high profile cases for the first few years that I practiced, but as my life changed, my interests did as well, and I much prefer helping people who are in need," he replied eyeing his handiwork, then proceeding to attach another section. "But that's enough about me. I'm rather boring," he quipped softly with a slight smile, his eyes catching hers. "What about you. How did you come in control of your dojo?"
Though she would have preferred talking to him about his life, the last thing she wanted was to make him uncomfortable with a rude interrogation. Brushing her ponytail off her shoulder, she leaned forward to get a better look at what he was doing. "I was a sophomore in college when my father died unexpectedly from a car accident. Sano was a junior in the same university. We were having our weekly Wednesday night dinner at his apartment when we got the call."
Kaoru stopped for moment to gather her thoughts and take a deep, much needed breath. "My father never told my brother and I whom he was going to leave the dojo to. We weren't very surprised to find out that he had left it to the both of us. But, Sano was completely wrapped in his studies, and though he never would have admitted it, he would have done anything to finish his college education. So…I came back and took over running the dojo. And I don't regret it all.
"When I was growing up, I loved the dojo…it was almost a haven from those difficult days of middle school and high school. My passion for the art was equal to my father's. Though, I do have to admit Sano loves it very much as well." Smiling at Kenshin, she sighed. "I haven't stopped teaching since now. Sano's been able to split his time between the dojo and the office with the help of Yahiko. I like to go and watch the lessons, but unfortunately can't participate." Kenshin had stopped while he was working, turning his calming gaze to hers, watching as the fleeting melancholy swirled in her gaze, slowly to be replaced by a faint shimmer of expectation. He watched as she blinked away the past swimming openly in her gaze, burying it back into the recesses of her mind.
"How long has your family owned the dojo?" Kenshin asked, turning the nicely forming crib onto its side so he could screw in a side panel.
"My grandfather started it. He -"
"Kaoru!" Sano shouted from the kitchen. "It's done. Come on in here and get some food."
Raising her eyebrows at the unexpected interruption, Kaoru sucked in a deep breath and rolled her eyes skyward in a form of exasperated annoyance.
"I guess we'll have to finish this later," she muttered to herself, looking forlornly at the jumbled mess on the floor.
Amused slightly by her obvious distress, Kenshin stood up from the floor, turning to the small black-haired woman sitting contently on the floor. Shaking her head in capitulation, she grabbed his extended hand, and rocked forward on the floor as he helped her to her feet. Rubbing a hand down her back as she soothed the cramped muscles once she was on her feet again, she blew her bangs from her eyes and motioned for Kenshin to follow her out of the room.
"Hungry?" she asked.
"Well, you're in for a treat. I can rarely coerce Sano to cook, but when he does finally relent…it's great," she replied.
When they entered the homey, softly lit kitchen, smelling of delicious and exotic spices, Kaoru ushered Kenshin over the hardwood table, which had already been set with quaint dinnerware, then moved to the stove to badger her brother. As Kenshin watched the smooth, comfortable bickering between the two siblings, he felt a burden he hadn't realize was there, lift cleanly from his shoulders.
It felt good to have friends again.
Author's Note: Though I can't promise when, I hope to update relatively soon. Thanks so much for being so patient with me. I really appreciate it. Hope everyone enjoyed the newest installment. Please leave a review and tell me your thoughts. Thanks!