Author's note: I know I haven't finished "A Bright Future" yet but this just whipped out of my imagination. It's my first attempt at A/U, a genre that I'm not as familiar with but after reading some excellent A/U's recently, I decided to try it. I'm using elements from my own freshman and sophomore years in college with some things that happened to me written in so this is an intensely personal piece for me. So please be kind in your reviews. The chapters are named from the separate steps in the planning and completion of a painting. As usual, I don't own Rurouni Kenshin or its characters, it is owned by Sony TV, Jump and created by the ingenious Watsuki Nobuhiro.
PORTRAIT IN BLUE
The pale winter sunlight shone weakly through the thin layer of high clouds, giving the sky a milky look and the air for January was unseasonably warm with a stiff breeze. The barren trees that dotted the deserted campus were waving as they stood in silhouette, their branches appearing like lace in stark contrast. The rest of the area was covered in a blanket of white from the last snowstorm, with puddles of water on the concrete walks, which were the first sign of the thaw that was taking place the week before the spring semester was to begin.
A 1979 silver Toyota Celica hatchback, loaded to the ceiling pulled into the parking lot that flanked the Campus Union building, not far from the soccer field and slid into a space as its motor quieted. Inside the car, a raven-haired girl, who sat behind the wheel turned to her passenger seat and grabbed a camera case from on top of a black leather portfolio as she opened the door to exit. She was a pretty thing, of petite stature and delicate features, wearing a powder blue down parka with white faux fur trim and she walked over to the front of her car, laying down the case on the hood.
Kamiya Kaoru opened her camera case and drew out her new camera, an Olympus OM-1 35 mm with auto adjust and lifted it to her practiced eye as she took several shots of the bleak winter landscape. She turned and shot the line of bare trees standing sentinel at the rear of the soccer field as the breeze whipped her midnight ponytail in the way of the viewfinder.
"K'so!" Kaoru expostulated in annoyance as she tossed the offending tresses back but to no avail as the wind blew them back. Sighing, she gave up and faced into the breeze to shoot the wide empty area near the CU, the snow covered picnic tables creating an interesting conflict of light and shadow from the hazy sun.
Her eyes spotted an interesting subject, a growth of shrubbery that was casting an elongated shadow on the snow, causing a pattern of crisscross that resembled a loose weave and appealed to her aesthetic taste. She mused on how it may make an intriguing watercolor after she developed the film and saw what the camera did and took several shots, finishing her roll of Tri-X film. She made a mental note to check in at the darkroom at the Photography department to see if it was open yet. After about an hour of taking photographs, Kaoru packed up her camera and headed back to the car. She climbed behind the wheel, started the engine and then drove out to head to a sprawling redwood building with white trim and shutters flanking the windows. She pulled into the parking lot and drove to an empty visitor space in front of a unit numbered D-5.
Almost immediately, the apartment door flew open and a gamin figure with intense teal eyes and an ebony braid came bounding over before Kaoru could even open her door. Makimachi Misao was bubbling in enthusiasm as she yanked the car door open to greet her best friend.
"Well, it's about time you got here!" she said in mock annoyance as she pulled Kaoru out of the Celica, and instantly engulfed her in a bear hug.
Kaoru laughed as she returned the greeting. "What were you doing, waiting at the window since I called this morning?"
Misao pulled back and favored her with a shrug and a grin. "Yeah, why not? I got nothing else to do since classes don't start till Monday. What took you so long anyway, did your old man hassle you again?"
"Uh-huh," Kaoru said shortly as she deftly changed the subject. "C'mon and help me with my stuff, okay?"
Misao looked at her with sympathy as she nodded vigorously. "You got it." And she followed Kaoru to the rear of the car and waited as she opened the hatchback.
She gaped at the load of art supplies, photography equipment, luggage and more and commented, "Boy, you sure accumulated a lot of stuff from the last semester. You pick out your major yet?"
Kaoru leaned in and began to unload her oil paint box, canvases, and easel. "Uh-uh. I haven't really decided yet but I know I want to either go into photography or illustration. I'd like to actually do both."
Misao bent down and picked up a milk crate full of paints and developing chemicals and stated, "Well, with your abilities and talents I imagine you could do both."
Kaoru grabbed another crate as she tailed Misao climbing up the short staircase to the apartment and she said, "I just don't know if I can split my time between the two curriculums. I'm living here but you know I'll have to go home every Friday afternoon right after class."
"Yeah." Misao said grudgingly knowing of Kaoru's difficult home situation.
Both girls entered the apartment and laid everything down in the first room. It was the living room which was the typical set up for off campus student housing, with second hand furniture like a beige convertible sofa, a royal blue overstuffed easy chair, a rattan rocker, a TV and stereo CD player, and a large red beanbag chair. The wicker coffee table was loaded with Misao's textbooks and notebooks with pens and highlighter markers. They deposited their loads on the sofa and headed out for more. In about a half an hour, all of Kaoru's belongings were piled on the sofa and easy chair and her folded drafting table and stool were against the wall. Both girls were taking a breather before moving everything in the rear bedroom, which would be hers.
"Whew!" Misao huffed as she surveyed the stacked crates, boxes, luggage and furniture. "I can't believe you fit all of that in the back of your car."
"Yeah," Kaoru agreed. "It wasn't easy but I managed. My father likes things organized and he drilled it into me about efficient use of space."
"So how'd he take you moving out?" Misao asked as she looked into Kaoru's eyes.
Kaoru sighed deeply as she said, "Not well. He was still trying to get me to change my mind as I left and it had me in tears."
She recalled the way her father, already quite into his daily drunk with a jug of sake in his hand pleaded with her to stay and when she refused, he switched to his customary cold indifference, turning away and slamming himself in his room. She could still vividly picture the way his eyes held no warmth like an icy lake in the dead of winter and it sent a chill down her spine, making her feelings of being unwanted intensify. She cursed herself as her sapphire eyes welled up at the memory.
Misao saw her friend trying to hide her desolation and looped an arm about her. "C'mon Kaoru-chan. Let's get you settled and then we'll send out for pizza to celebrate you moving in. My treat."
Kaoru smiled tremulously as she returned the embrace. "Arigatou, Misao-chan."
They both reached for a box and headed through the kitchen to the rear bedroom. Like the typical dorm room, the bedroom was furnished with a full size bed, a dresser and desk. Kaoru and Misao set the boxes they were carrying down while the former took a look at her new inner sanctum.
Misao saw how Kaoru was gradually going through the room and she remarked, "Already planning where you'll put things huh?"
Kaoru scanned the room making mental notes as to how she was going to set up her easel and drafting table and then without a word she headed back out to get another box of belongings. Misao shrugged and followed to assist. In twenty minutes time all of Kaoru's things were moved in and she began the arduous task of unpacking and settling in.
Misao brought in the last of Kaoru's luggage and placing it on the bed, she heaved a sigh of relief. "Whew, that's the last of it!"
Kaoru was setting up her drafting table and she gave her friend a look of gratitude as she walked over to her friend. "Arigatou, Misao-chan. For everything."
Misao grinned and patted Kaoru on the back. "Well, what are friends for?" So are you hungry?"
"So let's order the pizza." She went to the wall phone in the kitchen, by the refrigerator and as she got there to lift the receiver it rang so she answered it while Kaoru continued to diligently labor at settling in. . . .
"Hello? Oh hi, Himura. Aa, I'm here a week early so I can get geared up for classes next week. . . Aa, my vacation was good, how was yours? …. Uh-huh, Okina was okay but he did get a little carried away when a local geisha started to come to the Aoiya to have lunch, he was drooling so much I thought I would have to wipe his mouth, the hentai….Uh-huh…..Nothing much, my friend Kaoru just moved in….We were just going to order pizza….Really, Tomoe gave you the night off?……Same to you, Himura no baka!"
Kaoru was listening without intending to and with a knowing smile, she surmised that Misao was probably talking to one of her many guy friends. Misao was the type of girl that guys were drawn to, her pretty face was one obvious element, but her bubbly enthusiasm was what really attracted the men. Besides that she could guzzle beer and shoot pool with the best of them, she was an unbelievable fighter, and held a black belt in several of the martial arts.
"Hai, see you in a bit…..Bai bai." She hung up and called out to Kaoru, "So what do you want on your pizza?"
Kaoru got up from sorting clothes on the floor and came into the kitchen. "Any kind of veggies but no meat. So who's this guy Himura, a new boyfriend?"
Misao snorted, "Hardly. He's just a good friend. I invited him to come over and bum some pizza off of us. He's a good guy." She dialed the pizza place to make their order. "Mushrooms and olives okay?"
"Uh-huh." Kaoru grunted as she pondered about this friend Himura of Misao's. She tried to picture him, knowing full well the types of guys she was friends with. Most of them were buff wannabe suitors who settled for friendship just to stay in the petite dynamo's life. Kaoru speculated idly about the relationship between Misao and this Himura as her hands completed the task of folding and putting away her clothes. But the suspense was killing her so she rose to her feet to investigate further, going into the kitchen to pump Misao for information. She was still ordering the pizza when Kaoru joined her.
Her curiosity getting the better of her Kaoru waited until she was done and began the third degree. "Okay Misao, so tell me more. You're acting too cool, there has to be something going on so fess up."
Misao reached into the cabinet and brought down three paper plates and three glasses. She replied, "Actually, there's nothing going on. He and I met on campus and went on maybe two dates then decided to be just friends. He's a sweetheart but not my type." She set the kitchen table and added, "Besides, he's in love. He's seeing a girl he just met before the semester ended."
Kaoru said incredulously, "And he's in love already?"
Misao snickered, "Probably the great sex has him in la la land. You know how men are. Anyway, it's all hot and heavy with him and Tomoe and because we're both only children, he comes over here to talk about her with me. It can get to be a drag sometimes."
"Umm," Kaoru nodded noncommittally, not really interested anymore. She changed the subject. "So who's the one that is your type?"
Misao's teal orbs glowed like jewels. "Shinomori Aoshi. He's the bomb!" She gazed dreamily off into the distance.
Kaoru giggled at her friend's love-struck expression. "So he's the new 'magnificent obsession', huh?"
Misao nodded with a soft smile. "He was in my poly sci class last term. He's the most gorgeous male I ever laid my eyes on. Tall and trim and his eyes, oh Kaoru, his eyes are the most beautiful shade of blue green."
"Aqua," Kaoru corrected as she grinned at her gushing friend.
"Whatever. Anyway, he sat next to me in class all semester and the last class before finals, I finally got up the nerve to say hi. I was so nervous and he's the strong and silent type. Anyway, he agreed to have coffee with me after class and he asked me out. We've been seeing each other since."
"Oh? Why didn't you tell me sooner?" Kaoru asked.
Misao sighed and went to get some napkins in the cabinet. She set them with the plates and answered reluctantly, "Because I thought you wouldn't want to hear about it. Especially since you've sworn off men."
Kaoru blushed as she retorted, "I did not swear off men. I just don't want to get all involved and serious with some guy right off the bat. Besides, I want to concentrate on school now that I've moved out of the house." She turned and headed toward the living room and sat in the easy chair, staring out the window and clutching her shoulders, erecting her wall again.
A bit shamed by her statement, Misao followed Kaoru to the living room and plopped down on the beanbag chair beside her. She reached out a hand in a placating manner.
"Gomen, Kaoru-chan. I was thoughtless when I said that, forgive me?"
Kaoru flashed a melancholy smile as she said, "You're forgiven. I just have to get over what happened and move on." Her beautiful sapphire orbs clouded as she remembered the last time a well-meaning friend tried to fix her up.
She had been staying with her good friend Tae and the plan for the semester was to room with her. But then she was at Tae's dorm room for the long weekend just before the semester was to begin and Tae was insistent, begging Kaoru to attend a huge party at one of the wildest frat houses on campus which happened to be the building right next door. She kept saying that it was going to be a great party, and that her boyfriend Okitsugu and his friend was going to the party with her so they could make it a foursome but thanking Tae for including her, she had refused. Kaoru cringed because she knew the buddy visiting from home, Tobei, who had taken an immediate liking to her when she met him and was persistent in his pursuit of her was pushing hard, hoping she would change her mind. But her dislike of the overly aggressive Tobei prompted her to insist that she had some work to do for school, so she had begged off and stayed at the dorm. An hour later as she was busy working on a painting, a loud pounding at the door startled her. When she went to answer it, she was surprised to see an annoyed Tobei standing there, leaning against the jamb so she could not close the door. He pushed his way in and demanded to know why she refused to go to the party with him. She had continued to try to convince him that it was because she was busy but he did not buy it. She tried desperately to get him to leave but he stated that he knew she had no boyfriend so she had no reason not to go with him. His attitude became more arrogant as she continued to refuse.
The conversation ended with Tobei being quite adamant to the point of taking her by the arm to force her to accompany him and when she wrenched it free he became angry and slapped her. He then tried to tackle her as she eluded him and grabbing a broom that was propped against the wall, she used a move from her kakari-geiko kendo exercises from her father's classes and struck him hard on the shoulders, knocking him face down. Because it was unexpected, she succeeded in stunning Tobei and so terrified she ran out of the dorm room and across the way to where the party was in full swing to try to disappear in the throng. She fled and never looked back, losing her way through the crowd of drunken partygoers.
Making her way through the crowd Kaoru ran behind the dorm and hid herself by the garbage dumpsters, her heart pounding as her fear at what nearly happened caused her to shiver. She was hoping that Tobei was gone and trying to figure out a way to get back to Tae's when she was further frightened by two people were approaching and so startled she made a noise, causing her hiding place to be revealed. Her heart stopped until she saw that it was a classmate Tsubame and her boyfriend Yahiko who asked her what was wrong. Relieved that she was still safe, she fell apart and told them everything. The couple then took her to Tsubame's dorm to spend the night while Yahiko went back to the dorm room to deal with Tobei. He came back and told Kaoru that the guy was gone so exhausted by her ordeal, Kaoru collapsed. She ended up spending the night.
The next day, a worried Tae came to Tsubame's and found Kaoru asleep on the sofa so she woke her and asked what happened as Tobei had left Okitsugu's without any word. When she heard what had happened, she apologized in tears for leaving her friend in such danger. But Kaoru decided to move back home the next day and so commuted from home to classes for the rest of the semester.
Kaoru shivered involuntarily as the memory brought back the horror of that night and so she vowed to have nothing to do with guys until she finished school. Plus, her father's ongoing bout with alcoholism made it hard to go on dates or pursue a relationship, her shame at the constant drinking being an apt deterrent to any blooming friendship with the opposite sex.
Misao watched the emotions flicker across her friend's delicate features and knew right away that Kaoru was reliving the ordeal at the dorm and was deep in the well of her remembered pain.
"I'm sorry, Kaoru-chan. I know you're thinking about what happened that night."
"Yeah, sometimes I can't help but think about it," Kaoru admitted ruefully as she shook her head.
Misao said softly, "Did you ever report it to campus security? Or the cops?"
She shook her head again. "Iie. He didn't rape me and I got away so what's the point?"
Misao's teal eyes sparked as she said indignantly, "That doesn't matter! He forced himself on you and assaulted you. You should've pressed charges." She was outraged and wanted vengeance for her friend.
Kaoru sighed, "I didn't want all the hassle. He was Tae's boyfriend's friend and I didn't want her to get in the middle. Besides since then the two of them have been so guilty about it that they've completely avoided me."
Misao huffed, "They should be! They guy was a slug and they should be doing everything they can to gain your forgiveness."
Kaoru shrugged and brushed a warm rivulet from her lashes as she replied, "Don't worry about it, Misao-chan. It's water under the bridge. It's my problem and I gotta find a way to deal."
Misao reached over and squeezed her hand in support as the doorbell rang. "That's the pizza." She stood up and reached in her jeans for a bill then went to the door to open it, speaking to the delivery boy in an irritated voice.
"Sheesh, we thought you got lost. What took so long?" she groused but the figure at the door responded in a soft tenor apologetically.
"I got here as fast as I could, Misao-dono but the road from my place was busy with traffic." A short but muscular young man with unruly red hair in a jeans jacket and tan dockers stood there smiling.
Misao's irked expression changed to a warm grin as she embraced the man. "Hi Himura, you're just in time, the pizza's not even here yet." She opened the door and let him in then gesturing at Kaoru performed the introductions.
"Himura, this is my very best friend Kamiya Kaoru. Kaoru, this is my good friend Himura Kenshin."
Kenshin smiled warmly as he bowed and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Kaoru just stared at what she perceived was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. He had a classically sculptured face with even features and shoulder length sunset red hair, which made him especially unusual in Japan. She rose slowly and returned the bow her eyes rising and looking into the most intensely riveting violet eyes that were placid and completely guileless.
"Likewise," she murmured, her heart pounding, much to her chagrin.
Kenshin smiled slowly, admiring the shiny raven tresses that framed the visage of a porcelain doll. The atmosphere between them became electric as Misao observed the silent but apparent sparks flying between them.
She opened her mouth to say something to break the spell when the doorbell rang again, heralding the arrival of the pizza. Misao opened the door, paid the delivery boy, and took the flat boxes over to the kitchen table as she grinned and gestured to her two friends.
"C'mon guys. It's chow time."
"Great, I'm starved," Kenshin said cheerfully as he shucked out of his jacket and tossed it on the sofa. He glanced over and said, "Coming, Kaoru-dono?"
"Huh? Oh yeah, sure." Kaoru lowered her head and followed as Kenshin and Misao both sat down and reached for the boxes. She took the last seat, at Kenshin's right and noticing that he and Misao had both began to get ready to eat, followed suit.
"What kind did you get?" Kenshin asked as he peered in the boxes.
Misao replied, "One mushrooms and olives 'cause Kaoru doesn't eat meat. The other's pepperoni."
Kenshin grinned at Kaoru and said, "Mushroom and olives sounds great."
Kaoru returned the smile shyly.
Oblivious, Misao took a bite from a slice of pepperoni and remarked, her mouth full, "Well, you two knock yourselves out then and I'll just enjoy the pepperoni."
Kaoru giggled as she said, "Go right ahead, Misao-chan." She took a bite out of her own slice and sneaked surreptitious glances at Kenshin through lowered lashes. . . .
After they ate, the trio headed into the living room and Kaoru and Kenshin sat down, she in the blue easy chair and he on the sofa as Misao knelt by the stereo rifling through the CDs. Finding one that she liked, she held the jewel case up for approval.
"How about some Neil Young?" They were all fans of classic rock and Kaoru and Kenshin nodded their approval. She put the disk in and the strains of "Cinnamon Girl" wafted through the speakers. She got up and belly flopped on the beanbag to start conversation and end the uncomfortable silence that had ensued.
"So Himura, how's everything going with your radio show?" Misao inquired as she gazed up at Kenshin who was sprawled on the sofa eyes closed, his legs stretched out and feet propped up on the coffee table.
He yawned and opened his eyes. "Okay I guess. I went down to the station this afternoon to update my play list and check with my advisor before classes start Monday. I also had to meet with the station manager to get my schedule for the next two weeks."
"Hmm. Did ya get anyone to cover for you this weekend when you and Tomoe are going away to ski?"
Kenshin grinned as he answered, "Oh yeah! My buddy Sanosuke said he'd cover for me if I cover for him next week when he and Megumi head out to her place in Aizu."
Misao explained to Kaoru, "Himura is a communications major. He loves talking on the radio but with his looks he could definitely make it on the TV."
Kaoru smiled as Kenshin blushed and said self-depreciatingly, "Misao-dono, you're too much."
Undaunted, Misao plowed on. "And you should see him swing a sword. He's top level champ in kendo here at the university. By the way, Kaoru's dad is the sensei at one of the top dojos here in Tokyo."
"Is that so?" Kenshin said as he again sent his warm gaze in the general direction of the blue easy chair where Kaoru was perched and the girl blushed as she nodded.
"Yeah, my dad's the master of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. He calls it katsujin-ken "the sword that protects."
Bringing his feet down Kenshin leaned toward her, interested. "Tell me more about it."
Kaoru demurred, "It's not that interesting. Basically, it's a series of kiri-kaeshi, waza-geiko, kakari-geiko, and chodan katas that are designed not to kill but to protect. My father is a swordsman of great skill and he designed the style."
Kenshin's intense interest in this new information was displayed in the brilliance of his eyes as his admiration for the lovely Kaoru grew. He said, "My stepfather taught me the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, an ancient sword style that is based on the defense of one against many. It too is designed to protect."
Misao piped up, "Himura learned all his skills from his stepfather, Hiko Seijiro. Like me, he's from Kyoto but from the mountains so we didn't know each other till we met here.
Kenshin nodded, "I lived with Hiko since I was eight. After my folks died, he took me in and he taught me the sword style that was handed down for generations."
Kaoru's beautiful sapphire eyes were soft with sympathy for the redhead's sad childhood and she voiced her concern. "And he takes care of you still."
"Unless Tomoe takes over for him," Misao pointed out with a wink.
Kenshin nodded, strangely warmed by Kaoru's statement as he felt drawn by those ultramarine orbs. Yet at the mention of Tomoe he became bemused as he felt the twinge of guilt at his attraction to Kaoru and he hastened to reply.
"It's still a bit early for that," Kenshin said, rubbing the back of his head blushing. "But I wouldn't mind if she did. I know I'd like to take care of her. I want to protect her happiness."
Kaoru was surprised to feel a pang go through her as she watched Kenshin's eyes become soft as he spoke of Tomoe. She asked quietly, "Is Tomoe your steady girlfriend?"
Kenshin looked at Kaoru and then quickly looked away as he replied, "Yeah."
Misao jumped up announcing, "Okay that's it for me." She gathered up her books and pens and said, "Himura, you can gush about Tomoe all you want to Kaoru. I'm bailing."
He got up with a questioning look as he frowned and asked, "How come?"
Misao headed over to her room and tossed over her shoulder. ""Cause I've heard it all before. Besides, I want to take a serious look at my abnormal psychology textbook. It's my first class on Monday morning and the professor's a real bear. See ya." She went inside and closed the door leaving Kenshin and Kaoru alone in the living room watching her exit.
Kenshin sat back down and threw a somewhat sheepish grin at Kaoru. "I guess I should split too." He rose and reached for his jacket but Kaoru got up and laid a hand on his hand to detain him. For some unexplainable reason at least to her, she did not want him to leave.
"Kenshin, if you want to talk about your girlfriend, I don't mind listening." She flashed him a warm smile as she reiterated, "Really, I don't."
He smiled as he shook his head and said, "I just met you. I don't want to bore you."
She turned and headed in the direction of her bedroom. "You won't. I've got to get my bed made and my clothes in the closet before I can go to bed and would love the company. So c'mon." She walked into the bedroom, leaving the door open.
Kenshin's even features bore a look of puzzlement as he mentally debated the wisdom of talking about the woman with which he believed he was in love with a woman he felt an immediate attraction to but he shrugged and followed Kaoru into her room.
He came in and found her kneeling by the dresser, putting her slacks and jeans away so he perched on the edge of her bed and just watched.
"So," Kaoru said as she continued to fold and store her clothes. "Tell me all about her…"
About three hours later, it was 1:30 AM and Kaoru was walking him to the door. Kenshin donned his jacket and turned to Kaoru to take and squeeze her hand.
"Arigatou Kaoru-dono," he whispered as they entered the darkened living room, which indicated that Misao had already turned in.
She smiled as she squeezed his hand in response. "No problem. Talk to me anytime you need to."
Kenshin's eyes glowed as he saw a face before him that bore no trace of phoniness or put on, a face that was classically beautiful, radiating with the sense of being completely real. He found a part of himself regretting that his heart was promised to another. He sighed and opened the door to exit.
"Well, I'll see you around school then. Oyasuminasai." he said a tad reluctantly as he turned to head down the stairs.
"Oyasuminasai Kenshin," Kaoru said as she watched him land on the walk and stride over to his car. She continued to watch as he got into his blue 1975 Datsun 210 and started the motor, then shifted gears to pull out of the parking lot.NEXT…..CHAPTER 1…SKETCH - KENSHIN