Slave to the 4/4 – A Rurouni Kenshin Fanfic

By Rikkitsune

Hi everyone! Don't kill me for not putting something new on Goldtipped Arrow. I need to move on and concentrate on other stuff every once in a while, otherwise my creativity dies. I'm sure you all understand exactly what that is like.

This particular idea has been banging around in my head ever since I started writing fanfiction. Additionally, I have about four other fics all on the back burner, waiting to be written. Don't worry, Goldtipped Arrow WILL be finished eventually and it'll be archived at my website Wish. Most of my other work will eventually be archived there in its entirety, just to make sure I don't get into trouble with FFN again!

Many thanks to my beta reader Ice-Cool, who ruthlessly picks holes in all my plotlines. Where would I be without you? Thanks are also due to my writing community of Smoke and Mirrors (see my profile for more information) for their invaluable feedback. Special hugs and love are presented to Dragonsdaughter, Ravyn and Jane Drew for patiently reading my ramblings and discussing the plot with me.

WARNINGS: Rated M for language and some adult themes in this chapter. Nothing too spicy, never fear.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin and its characters, nor do I own the premises of Strictly Ballroom, Dirty Dancing, Centre Stage, Shall We Dance? or any other movies based on dancing. The costume designs used later on in this fic belong to Randall Designs, not to me.


Kamiya Kaoru loved to dance.

She had been dancing for as long as she could possibly remember. The passion had begun in preschool with the inaugural hokey-pokey and had continued from there. It was hard to describe exactly why she loved to dance; it was simpler to just say that she never felt as happy and carefree as she did when she was moving to the music.

Kaoru blinked up at her bedroom ceiling, currently shrouded in shadows that were slowly lightening from deepest indigo to soft navy. She wasn't sure what time it was but she was pretty sure it was some ungodly hour of the morning. She was much too warm and comfortable to be bothered turning over to look at her clock. She quite often awoke while it was still dark, no doubt because of the years she spent in high school, getting up at five thirty in the morning. She'd had to commute to school then, catching two buses and a train.

Kaoru usually found that if she let her thoughts wander, she eventually fell back asleep. Early morning was often the time Kaoru experienced her epiphanies, but it was also when she had some truly crazy ideas.

It seemed that this particular morning, Kaoru's thoughts were straying towards her own little universe of dancing. Smiling slightly, she went with the flow of her imagination, going back over the internal philosophy she had created over the years to provide a foundation for her dancing psyche. Kaoru had always found it incredibly easy to forget her troubles when she was dancing and disappear into her own, joyous world that consisted of three elements: the 4/4, herself and her heartbeat.

The 4/4 itself was everything: it determined both the movements of the dance and the speed at which they were supposed to be made. As a concept, the 4/4 was a little more complex and in-depth than the other two elements. In order to grasp it, one had to backtrack to where the 4/4 would always begin: in music.

The fundamental rhythm in most pieces of music consists of eight beats, or a count of eight. Most dance choreography is broken down into numerous segments that time their start and finish to these eight beats. When most students learn a new routine, it's fairly common practice for the instructor to demonstrate the rhythm vocally without the music, that way the music doesn't interfere until all the students know what they're doing. Kaoru, for her part, remembered her first ever dance class in vivid detail; she had stumbled through unfamiliar steps to a voice leading in lieu of music: "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!"

When Kaoru was younger, she had often pondered the special emphasis that seemed to be placed on the fifth count and wondered what it meant. Eventually, she had realised that, while there were ultimately eight counts, they were split into two parts of four counts each. The first lot of four beats was the beginning of the routine segment while the second lot was the conclusion. But, if they were really two separate parts, why refer to them as one?

Kaoru smiled wryly to herself in the dark, remembering her bewilderment. Later, Kaoru had heard one of her dance teachers referring to this mysterious phenomenon as a '4/4 count' and everything had suddenly made sense. From that day onward, she had always called an eight beat a '4/4'.

The speed of the eight beats varied greatly—it depended on the style of the music being played. However, once you had been taught to recognise the beat, you could find it almost anywhere without even trying. It was possible to dance without a beat, but the precision and vitality of movement would undoubtedly suffer. Music brought a richer, fuller dimension to dancing and, in Kaoru's belief, was a vital element.

Kaoru was the centre of this special internal world she had created; her body served as the vessel that held all of the dancing energy. This energy manifested in her mind's eye as a ball of burning white light. Kaoru used the ball of light to create movement—it was almost like opening a chakra while meditating. She would focus on the light, shaping it and sending it to her limbs. It was almost as if it existed solely to be used while she was dancing, since Kaoru always found it difficult to draw on the same method when the music wasn't playing.

Kaoru's heartbeat was the cadence and underlying rhythm of her movement, the fuel for the energy she needed to keep moving. The faster the heartbeat became, the brighter the white light burned. If Kaoru ever danced without music and lost her rhythm, she relied on her heartbeat to lead her back into her routine.

Kaoru's thoughts drifted away from her dancing philosophy and curled around her two closest childhood friends, Takani Megumi and Makimachi Misao. Both of them shared Kaoru's great love of dancing and the three of them had been studying various styles together since primary school.

Misao was the shortest of the three women at 5'6", a fact that caused her to complain incessantly. She had a delicate, heart shaped face with large turquoise eyes and a million watt smile that never failed to charm even complete strangers. Kaoru had always been slightly envious that her friend seemed to win people over just by smiling and making innocuous conversation. Misao had long, shiny black hair that fell to her backside. She liked to wear half of it cut short in the front in a shaggy bob while the other half was pulled into a tight braid that trailed down her back. Her height, frame and appearance all combined to make Misao look considerably younger than her years—she was always being asked for ID whenever they went out.

Kaoru grinned as she remembered the night the three of them hadgone out for Misao's twenty first birthday. They'd gone to one of the most popular nightclubs in Tokyo, intending to get unabashedly drunk and dance the night away. Kaoru and Megumi had gotten past the bouncers without a problem, but Misao had been stopped, as usual. When she proudly showed them her proof of age card, the morons had insisted that it was a fake ID and had refused to let her into the club.

Misao had argued with the bouncers for about ten minutes, then everything had somehow dissolved into an Incident, involving Misao's knee high spike heeled boots and Megumi's handbag being bashed over the jerk's heads repeatedly by an enraged Itachi.

Needless to say, they hadn't been back to that club since.

It was no secret that Misao hated being so short, petite and young-looking compared to her friends, since people often neglected to take her seriously. Being written off as an annoying brat or a hyperactive teenager by the people around her never failed to make Misao furious and deeply depressed all at the same time. However, Misao's insecurities regarding her appearance were always very carefully hidden in public. To the outsider, Misao possessed confidence in bucket-loads and was extremely carefree and outgoing. Megumi liked to point out often with her own sarcastic flare that Misao was also often loud, rambunctious and annoying.

"You're just jealous Kitsune," was Misao's trademark syrupy response to Megumi's acidic remarks. "At least I don't look like I have a mouthful of lemon juice!"

Megumi was the tallest of the trio at 5'11". Her face was oval shaped with cinnamon brown eyes and a small but shapely mouth. Megumi was relatively fussy and overly critical about her physical appearance, a fact which never ceased to amaze Kaoru. The woman believed with absolute conviction that she was ugly and never left the house without wearing eye shadow and deep red lipstick to 'fix' what she termed as a 'cat's bum mouth' and 'piggy little eyes'. While Kaoru thought that Megumi was in fact extremely attractive, she did concede that Megumi's mouth was more likely to be pursed in thought than stretched into a smile.

The whole thing had started in high school. Megumi had had a terrible crush on one of the most popular boys in their grade, Shinji. He was your average Golden Boy stereotype: smart, athletic and handsome. All of the girls wanted to be with him and all of the boys wanted to be him. The prom was approaching and Megumi was trying to work up the courage to ask Shinji to be her date. Kaoru had serious misgivings about the whole affair; she had always thought Shinji was an arrogant horse's ass. Misao, on the other hand, was absolutely certain that Shinji was Megumi's perfect man.

When poor Megumi finally approached the guy to ask, he had simply laughed at her, all of his jock buddies joining in.

"Why would I go to the prom with a plain old science geek like you when I could have a cheerleader or one of the choir girls?" he'd said.

Megumi had never fully recovered from the humiliation. Even now, she was overly cautious and wary around members of the opposite sex. Her smiles after thatbecame relatively rare and were only bestowed on people who she felt truly deserved them. As such, Kaoru and Misao were the only people who saw them regularly.

Megumi's hair was every bit as black as Misao's, but a fair bit shorter, only reaching her shoulder blades. She liked to wear it loose, with a couple of strands pulled over her shoulders to rest against her chest. Megumi was quite serious and prickly by nature, she also had a sarcastic streak a mile wide and her style of wit was dryer than bones. There was nobody quite as talented at verbal annihilation as Megumi, which often came in handy at pubs and nightclubs. She was a master of observation and often used the talent unfairly to her advantage. Her omnipresent deadpan facial expression and the cutting wit were both factors that made Megumi appear to others as quite an intimidating woman. However, Misao and Kaoru had been friends with Megumi long enough to know that beneath the sardonic exterior there lay an extremely generous, caring and faithful woman. Kaoru snorted quietly. In fact, Megumi was a big softie.

Kaoru stood between Megumi and Misao at 5'8", a height which, although higher than normal, made her feel blessedly average when she was out with her friends. Her face was more rounded than Megumi's and Misao's, with a slightly pointed chin. Her eyes were a vivid ocean blue, lacking the greenish cast of Misao's. Her hair was long and black as well, falling just past her shoulders. Kaoru preferred to wear it pulled into a high ponytail and secured with a hair tie and a ribbon. She abhorred having her hair dangling in her face, obscuring her vision.

Kaoru thought herself to be confident, cheerful and outgoing; less manic than Misao, but more approachable than Megumi. Kaoru often reflected that, ironically, she seemed to represent the middle ground between Misao's overwhelming friendliness and Megumi's razor-sharp tongue. On the downside, Kaoru knew that she was surprisingly impatient and had a somewhat explosive temper. Her two best friends were aware of the majority of her triggers and had become quite adept over the years at defusing her temper tantrums. Or causing them…

Kaoru loved both Megumi and Misao dearly, they had been her only family since both of her parents had been killed in a car accident when she was only 15. Megumi and Misao's parents had been the only constant in the chaotic aftermath, pulling her straight into their families and raising her between them. Kaoru had moved in with Misao's family ultimately, but Megumi's house had been her second home.

Now, the three of them shared a spacious but inexpensive apartment in Shibuya. At the age of 23, they had all reached the advanced levels in jazz ballet, highland dancing, belly dancing, tap, flamenco, line dancing and Irish dancing. As a result, all three women were extremely fit, toned and healthy. All three of them attended the University of Tokyo, but their families were back in Sapporo. They went back to Hokkaido to see their families during semester holidays. They'd been living together for two years without problems and it was fair to say that the three of them were extremely close and worked well together, knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses intimately. Their household ran smoothly on a system tried and true: Kaoru did the laundry and the dishes, Megumi did the cooking and Misao did the cleaning. It was understood that Kaoru was not to cook, Megumi wasn't allowed to clean and Misao had to stay away from the laundry and the dishes.

Kaoru stifled a giggle at that thought. The first and last time she had attempted to cook had been a disaster. The spaghetti had somehow ended up on the ceiling and the sauce left unattended on the stove had caught fire while she had been trying to clean up the mess. While she had been mortified at the time, looking back and seeing Misao and Megumi's expressions of horror and disbelief always made her laugh. Living details, however, were actually inconsequential in the end; their entire worlds revolved around dancing.

All three women were happy and content with their current lifestyle and planned to carry on in the same manner until they graduated. The only real problem that the trio faced was their never-ending restlessness when it came to dancing. Once all the hard work was done in learning the fundamentals of a particular style, the heady thrill disappeared like evaporating steam. If there was one thing that the three young women loved more than dancing, it was the challenge that learning to dance posed. There was nothing quite like the feeling that mastering a particularly complicated step or a seemingly impossible sequence brought. Kaoru thrived on working through the difficulties and she knew that Megumi and Misao felt the same way. But once they had all learnt enough to perform at the same standard as their teachers, it felt like the end of it all.

That wasn't to say that they loved each discipline any less. Kaoru, Megumi and Misao continued to practice in each of the seven styles, but had all agreed that it was time to move on to the next test of their skill. Despite the fact that all three of them were leading insanely busy lives—studying at university full time, working part time and studying martial arts on top of their current dancing commitments—they all felt the need for something to satisfy their craving for more dancing. It didn't matter that none of them had a social life. It didn't matter that none of them had a boyfriend. It didn't even matter that none of them had money for expensive clothes and regular nights out on the town. They had their health, they had each other and they had their dancing.

So, the hunt was on for the next discipline. It had been unanimously decided that ballroom dancing was the way to go, now it was just a matter of finding the right school. Megumi was in charge of the first round of investigations. It was important to find the very best school in their area, nothing less would do. When it came to learning a new style of dance, no expense was spared. If Megumi wasn't able to turn anything up within a week, the task would be handed over to Misao for the secondary round of investigations and then to Kaoru for the third and final round. Generally, Megumi was able to find something within a few days but there had been a few occasions where Misao had been called upon. Kaoru was thankful that she had never had to step up to the plate. Honestly, administrative matters like that were better left to the experts.

Kaoru blinked in surprise at the faint, rose tinted sunlight streaming in through her bedroom window. It seemed that her thoughts were too involved to simply let her drift back into unconsciousness. She sat up, knowing that there was no chance of falling back asleep now that the sun had risen.

"Oh well," she said to herself with a yawn. "I might as well go and do some ironing before everyone wakes up." With that decided she clambered out of bed, threw some clothes on and padded out to the laundry.

"Kao-chan, breakfast is ready."

Kaoru glanced up in relief from her mountain of ironing to see Megumi standing in the doorway, wiping her hands on her purple apron.

"The usual?" she asked as she followed Megumi to the kitchen. At her friend's nod she took her seat at the kitchen table and sniffed appreciatively when her breakfast was put in front of her. "It smells great, as always."

"It sure does!" Misao all but bounced into the kitchen, a bright pink bandanna tied over her hair. It matched the fetching rubber gloves she was currently yanking off her hands.

"Were you cleaning the bathroom this early in the morning?" Kaoru asked as Megumi served Misao's food.

"Yeah, I was awake at 5am and I thought that I'd rather scrub the toilet than study," Misao answered, as she washed her hands at the kitchen sink. Taking her seat, she picked up a large piece of tomagoyaki with her chopsticks and popped it into her mouth. "So I did!" she continued brightly with her mouth full.

"Sao-chan, you look like a cement mixer," Megumi commented dryly as she joined them at the table. She sipped delicately at her bowl of miso, looking elegant and composed. Kaoru stifled a giggle at the affronted expression on Misao's face and concentrated on her fish.

"I meant to tell you both, I think I've found the perfect ballroom dancing place," Megumi said after a long pause, filled only with the sounds of chewing and swallowing.

"Really? Where abouts?" Misao asked, taking care to swallow her mouthful before speaking.

"It's called the Ishin Shishi Dance Academy and it's in Shinjuku," Megumi answered.

"That's nice and close," Kaoru commented. "We could catch a bus, or even walk. When did you find out about this place?"

"Yesterday," Megumi replied. She took another sip of miso. "I found it in the phone book. Their ad was fairly large, which is usually a good sign. I called and made the usual enquiries and the receptionist was very helpful."

"Well?" Misao prompted, chopsticks poised at her mouth.

"They run beginner's classes on Monday nights from 8 till 9.30 pm. It's 1000 yen a class or 10,500 yen for a twelve week term. Tonight is the first lesson of the term."

"Wow that's cheap!" Misao interjected with a mouth full of rice.

"Yeah, surprisingly cheap," Kaoru agreed. "Are you sure it's a good school?"

"Well, we get a discount because we're students," Megumi explained. "And yes I'm sure. The receptionist told me that all their instructors are international standard and have been teaching for a couple of years now."

"Well, if you're sure Meg, then that's fine," Kaoru acquiesced. "When did you want to start going?"

"Well, it's Monday today!" Misao said brightly. "Why don't we start tonight? It is the first lesson of the term, after all. We don't want to miss anything!"

"You're keen aren't you?" Kaoru laughed. "I guess I don't mind going tonight. I finish at 6 today, so that gives me enough time to get home and get organised. What do you think Meg?"

"I finish at 4, so I'll be able to get home and get dinner on," Megumi mused. "But we should only eat something light, we don't know how vigorous the class is going to be. Yes, I suppose that will work. I don't have any objections to going."

"Excellent!" Misao chirped. "I'm done at 6 as well, so I'll meet you in the usual place Kao-chan."

"Okay," Kaoru agreed. They finished the rest of their breakfast at high speed, then dispersed to get to class, bagging Megumi's carefully prepared bento lunches on the way out the door.

After catching the bus home, having a quick shower and a hasty dinner of gyouza, Megumi, Misao and Kaoru set off on foot to the Ishin Shishi Dance Academy. Megumi had printed directions to the place off the Internet along with a map and Kaoru understood why she'd never come across the place before. It was in the most congested part of Shinjuku, where the streets were like rabbit warrens and it was all too easy to get lost.

The three of them were clothed almost identically, in their old reliable dance practice outfits of black leggings and tight-fitting black t-shirts. Misao wore her hair in the usual braid with the front pinned back while Megumi and Kaoru wore their hair in simple ponytails. They each carried their practice bags containing their wallets, keys and phones, towels, water bottles, jiffies and their well-worn, high-heeled shoes with straps that they used for flamenco dancing practice. They would wait and see whether this school was worth staying at, then they would invest in proper ballroom dancing shoes. The three of them walked together silently, enjoying the cool dusk breeze.

"So, I was reading this magazine today." The companionable silence was suddenly shattered by Misao.

"This isn't one of those magazines is it?" Kaoru asked with heavy emphasis.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Misao answered innocently.

"You know, those magazines we found in your room about how to masturbate more effectively," Megumi supplied. "And how to give better oral sex."

Kaoru spluttered while Misao grinned, completely unabashed. "Ah, you mean those magazines! No. I was reading a different one, more along the lines of 'what kind of dress you should wear to enhance your bust line'."

There was a simultaneous groan from her two companions.

"Those magazines are absolutely full of crap," Megumi announced firmly. Kaoru nodded her agreement.

"She's right. I wouldn't even use them for toilet paper, no matter how smooth and glossy the pages were."

"Glossy pages wouldn't be very absorbent you know, Kao-chan."

"Well, you've got a point there…"

"Hear me out!" Misao ploughed on, giggling a little. "I found this really interesting article about different body types."

"Body types, huh?" Megumi sounded sceptical.

"Yeah! Anyway, I was reading it and it had all the different body types and how to identify them. I, for example, have an 'ectomorph' body type."

"What the hell does that mean?" Kaoru wanted to know.

"Well, it means that my body type is slender; I have a 'slight, pear-shaped frame and small bones'," Misao answered, wiggling her fingers to indicate that she was quoting from the article.

"Well I suppose that's pretty accurate," Megumi conceded, looking Misao up and down briefly. "What other body types are there?"

"I would say that you have an 'endomorph' body type Meg," Misao answered, picking up on the other woman's silent question. "You have a slightly rounded, more voluptuous hourglass figure with longer limbs."

"Rounded? Voluptuous?" Megumi looked highly insulted.

"Hey! Don't get mad at me!" Misao protested, waving her hands. "It's what the magazine said!"

"Shows how much they know!"

"What about me Misao?" Kaoru interrupted.

"You have a 'mesomorph' body type: athletic and strong with wide shoulders and narrow hips."

"You leave my man-shoulders out of this," Kaoru warned playfully. Her shoulders always had been a little bit broader than she would have liked. She had been studying kenjutsu since childhood and the years of working with a bokken had built up the muscles in her arms and shoulders. She tended to develop muscle more easily than her two friends, a detail she bemoaned. She was already quite a tom-boy; she didn't need to be all muscled up like a man on top of it all!

Megumi hit Kaoru on the arm. "You do not have man shoulders," she said with finality. Kaoru just grinned at her. They all had certain qualities that they hated about themselves: Misao hated her stature, Megumi hated her hips and Kaoru hated her shoulders. Despite years of intensive exercise, nothing had made a difference and so the three of them knew they were stuck with themselves as they were, faults and all.

Religiously following Megumi's print-out, the three women eventually found the place. It looked reasonable, a large, modern, two storey studio with windows around three sides of the building to allow for plenty of natural light. Now that it was dark however, the large windows were ablaze with electric light from within. Kaoru could see that there were quite a large number of people inside already and it was only a quarter to eight. 'Ishin Shishi Dance Academy' was written in illuminated blue kanji on a large sign over the main entrance, confirming that they were at the right place. With matching contented sighs, the trio made their way through the front door where they came across a large reception desk with a high bench for customers to lean against.

"Good evening! How may I help you?" A short woman popped up from behind the desk. She had an attractive, friendly face with brown eyes, framed by light brown hair pulled into a low ponytail. Kaoru glanced at her name-badge and saw that it read 'Sekihara Tae'.

"Good evening Sekihara-san," Kaoru answered, approaching the desk with her friends in tow. "We were hoping to enrol in the ballroom dancing class starting at 8 o'clock?"

"Certainly!" the woman sat back down, grabbing a pen and flipping open one of the many ledgers that littered her desk space. "Are you enrolling for a term?"

"We just thought we'd try out the class tonight and see how we went," Megumi answered smoothly before Kaoru could open her mouth. "You never know, we might be hopeless! If we enjoy the class, we will be sure to enrol for the term next week."

Tae glanced up with a smile. "I'm sure you won't be hopeless!" she reassured Megumi. "But I'll just put you down for tonight and you can decide what to do at the end of the class. How does that sound?"

"Thank you very much Sekihara-san," Megumi answered with a polite smile.

"Not at all," the cheerful brunette answered. "Now, may I have your names please?"

By the time the obligatory details and fees had been taken care of, there was a small line behind them. Tae pointed the three women in the direction of the stairs.

"Just head on up, the class will be starting shortly. Good luck!"

The studio was even larger than it had appeared on the outside. It was spacious and airy with a hard, polished dark wood floor and a high ceiling. One wall was completely covered in mirrors that spanned from floor to ceiling. There were large fans mounted on the walls in each corner of the room and there were also air conditioning vents in the ceiling. The studio had a faint smell of sweat and wood polish and Kaoru felt instantly at home.

There were approximately 20 other people milling around them, waiting for the class to start. Kaoru deduced that about 15 of them were female and the 5 males present looked less than enthusiastic. They'd obviously been dragged along by their wives, girlfriends or partners. On reflection, Kaoru noticed that there were only a couple of older women in the class, every other woman looked about the same age as she was. Odd. They all seemed to be clustered in one spot at the back of the studio, with their backs to Misao, Megumi and herself. What were they looking at?

"This place looks pretty decent," Misao commented in a low voice. "It's clean and well-maintained. Suggests that the cash-flow is healthy."

"I told you this place was decent," Megumi answered. "I wouldn't take us somewhere that was second-rate."

"I wonder what all those people are looking at?" Kaoru wondered out loud. She crossed the room to find out, Misao and Megumi trailing after her. As she wiggled her way through the crowd, she discovered that they'd all been examining a trophy case. A trophy case that happened to be crammed full of nice, shiny trophies. Kaoru moved her face close to the glass to read the inscription on one.

2002 World Latin Championship – Blackpool, United Kingdom

First Place: Himura Kenshin and Komogata Yumi

"Hello everyone and welcome to the Ishin Shishi Dance Academy!" Everyone spun around at the sound of a voice and discovered a young man behind them with his hands spread in a gesture of welcome. He wasn't very tall; Kaoru supposed he was about 5'10", with long, glossy, crimson coloured hair that he was wearing in a high ponytail. He had large, gentle eyes that were caught in a shade somewhere between indigo and deep violet, currently lit up with the bright smile curving his mouth. Despite his shorter than average height, he was quite long-limbed and muscular, an effect which was set off nicely by the black drawstring pants and matching singlet he was wearing. Kaoru took a closer look and saw the academy's logo embroidered in white on the chest. Oh, so he was one of the instructors then.

Misao buried her elbow in Kaoru's ribs. It was fortunate that she was so accustomed to having Misao's bony little elbows impaling her solar plexus, otherwise she probably would have gasped and/or doubled over. "Oh my gawd!" Misao hissed in her ear. "Is he sexy or what!"

"Not bad, not bad at all," Megumi whispered in Kaoru's other ear. "And just your type, if I am not mistaken?"

"Yeah, he's pretty hot," Kaoru grinned, thankful that they were at the rear of the crowd. She was sure that this guy wouldn't appreciate being drooled over when he was trying to get a class started. "I just love his hair. I wonder if it's natural?"

"I doubt it," Megumi answered, her eyes narrowed at the instructor. "He looks Japanese."

"My name is Himura Kenshin," the red head continued. "I am the principal instructor at the Academy. For those of you who are new to the world of ballroom dancing, I specialise in Latin ballroom style—that is the samba, salsa, jive and paso doble. I also was fortunate enough to win the world championship for Latin ballroom in 2000, 2001 and 2002. So, hopefully you'll find me qualified to teach you some of the Latin dances ne?" There was a ripple of excited titters among the female students and the three women at the back rolled their eyes. Apparently they weren't the only ones admiring Himura-san. Suddenly the abundance of young females in the room made perfect sense. Seriously, when women carried on in such an obvious fashion, Kaoru was embarrassed to be female.

"I run this Academy in partnership with my two colleagues," Himura-san was saying. "Guys? If you want to come on out and say hello?"

Kaoru watched as two very tall, very attractive, very built men entered the room and came to stand beside Himura-san. Both of them dwarfed the red head at well over six feet. Like Himura-san, they were both dressed in black drawstring pants and singlets with the academy logo embroidered on the chest.

"My name is Shinomori Aoshi," the one on Himura-san's left began. His voice was deep, even and sexy. He was the tallest of the trio; Kaoru placed him at around 6'2". He had jet black hair, cut short at the back and left to hang across his face in long strands at the front. He glanced around the studio almost mechanically. When his eyes fell upon them, Kaoru noted that they were a hard and icy shade of blue. She glanced sideways sharply upon hearing Misao's quiet inhalation of breath. She was staring at him, utterly thunderstruck. "I specialise in straight ballroom: waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. I won the world championship for straight ballroom in 2001 and 2002." More murmuring from the female students.

"My name is Sagara Sanosuke," the other man continued. His voice was slightly higher in pitch than Shinomori-san's, but no less sexy. "But you hot young things can just call me Sano-sama." He winked at the class and coy giggles erupted on all sides. "I specialise in rhythm ballroom and all the fun stuff—cha cha, rumba, east coast swing, west coast swing and the lindy hop—and I won the world championship for rhythm ballroom in 2000 and 2001."

Megumi studied the tall, spiky-haired instructor. She supposed he was about 6'1". He was a good sort, her sort, that was for sure. She was practically salivating already. But, his whole demeanour was way too cocky. He looked as though he knew he was appealing to the opposite sex and used it to his advantage. The last thing she wanted—or needed—was a player. Not to mention he was an instructor as well. Oh well. With a tiny smile, Megumi mentally wrote him off as unstable material.

"Wow," Misao whispered. "Meg, did you knew they were world champions?"

"Of course!" Megumi whispered back. "I just didn't think they'd be young and gorgeous as well. Bonus!"

"I'll say!" Kaoru agreed. "Now we have something to look at during practice other than each other's backsides!"

"You were checking out my backside?" Misao asked. "How's it looking?"

"Okay everyone!" Himura-san clapped his hands to quieten the murmuring from the students. "We might start with a bit of a warm up. It's important to get your joints and muscles warm and limber so you don't injure yourselves. So, get into lines facing the mirror and I'll lead you in a basic aerobic routine with some dance steps thrown in. Shinomori-san and Sagara-san will move around the room helping anyone who gets stuck."

Grinning excitedly at each other, Kaoru, Megumi and Misao quickly changed into their jiffies and moved forward until they were in the first row. With years and years of experience, they had found that being right behind the instructor was the best possible way to learn. It was also an opportunity to perve, but that was an unlooked for benefit.

They stood an even distance apart, swivelling their wrists, rolling their shoulders and absently moving their feet through the five ballet positions. Predictably, most of the other people in the room fought to be right at the back, their fear of looking stupid overcoming the desire to learn.

Himura-san came to stand a couple of metres in front of them, facing the floor to ceiling mirror. Kaoru tried very hard not to stare at his ass. It really was a work of art. She had no trouble believing that this man was a Latin champion, despite the fact that he was only a few inches taller than her. If she wasn't careful, she was going to develop a nasty crush on this guy. It was just as well that he seemed too… well… pretty. With all that glossy hair, immaculate grooming and effortless grace. Kaoru had seen it in the way he walked: he moved like a professional dancer. Kaoru suddenly grinned. Of course! It was so obvious! He must be gay! Well, in that case, all bets were off. Now, she could relax and possibly even flirt with this guy, there would be no nasty consequences. Gay guys loved to flirt! Kaoru's grin widened as she stretched her driver muscles, making sure to keep her head down.

Ever so casually, Kenshin caught the eyes of Sano and Aoshi in the mirror and cocked an eyebrow slightly at their almost imperceptible nods. Ah, so they'd noticed it as well. The three black-haired women standing behind him were obviously experienced dancers, if their preliminary warm-ups said anything. This class might work out to be quite enjoyable. The three of them had been expecting absolute beginners, since the majority of their students had no dancing history. There was nothing at all wrong with teaching people from scratch, but it was refreshing to have a dancer as a student once in a while.

Sano switched on the stereo and soon the upbeat rock/dance sound of the Rogue Traders was filling the studio.

"Okay everyone, let's start with a grapevine!" Himura-san called out, falling into a rapid, back and forth sideways walk for eight counts.

Telling herself that she was only watching his well-muscled back so intently for the purposes of keeping up, Kaoru followed easily. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Megumi and Misao moving effortlessly on either side of her.

"I like the music," Megumi commented casually, as if they were relaxing with coffee rather than in the middle of a warm up.

"Yeah, the band's Australian, I believe, fairly new," Kaoru replied, keeping her eyes fixed to the front. "This is their latest track."

"Take me downtown, it's where I wanna go!" Misao sang brightly, in English. "Everyone I know is goin' to my show!" The three women were practically fluent in English, a skill that came in handy when they were listening to Western music.

"People would be crazy to go to your show Itachi," Megumi said dryly. "At least, not without taking a heavy sedative beforehand."

"Focus, Kitsune," Misao returned sweetly. "You wouldn't want to fall out of step now, would you?"

Kenshin watched the three women behind him, who looked as though they could do a grapevine in their sleep. In fact, they seemed to be having some sort of quiet conversation, even though their eyes never strayed from his back. He kept up the right to left movement for three more counts of eight, until he could see the students at the back of the room following without difficulty. "Okay, now I want you to pivot on your right foot over your left shoulder as you head right on the next count of four. So, you'll end up facing the back wall. Continue the grapevine from there!"

Kaoru swung into the pivot easily, turning sharply towards the back wall and resuming the grapevine step to the right. The whole class moved together jerkily, a bobbing mass of ponytails and baggy shirts.

"Too easy," she muttered.

"Now, now," Megumi chided her playfully. "We're here to learn, not to compete." She didn't add that she had personally found the step ridiculously easy, but Kaoru knew what she thought anyway. She had known Megumi long enough to catch her sub-texts.

"Besides," Misao broke in cheerfully, "The other people here are beginners! You have to start somewhere!"

Now that they were facing the opposite direction, the three girls had a clear view of the other two instructors. Sagara-san was standing in the middle of one row about halfway through the crowd of students, while Shinomori-san was right at the front. That meant Himura-san was directly behind them. Kaoru ruthlessly squashed down against the slight prickling feeling of being watched and concentrated on the steps.

"Would you look at that ass!" Misao said in a stage whisper.

"Which one?" Kaoru giggled. "I see many." She heard a snort from her left and knew that Megumi had appreciated the comment.

"Shinomori-san's," Misao said dryly.

"He looks like he has a stick up there somewhere," Megumi observed, noting the man's overly tense posture. Kaoru bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.

"He's just poised," Misao insisted.




"I wish!"

"Misao!" Kaoru squeaked. Honestly, the girl was incorrigible.

"Okay! Now let's try doing a chasse!" Himura-san told the class. "Sagara-san and Shinomori-san will show you what to do." The music was shut off abruptly and everyone stopped moving to watch.

"It's a simple right-left-right-left step to a count of four," Sagara-san explained. He stepped forward with his right leg for one count—the movement lifting his right hip—then shifted his weight to his left foot—which hadn't moved—on the next count. Shinomori-san mimicked the movements simultaneously, a look of frigid disinterest on his face. "It's really the right foot that does all the work," Sagara-san continued, "The left foot pretty much just stays where it is. So now, you step behind with the right foot—" his left hip lifted "—and shift your weight back to the left foot." He then repeated the move fluidly to a count of four, his narrow hips rolling smoothly as he moved.

"It's like a Turkish belly dance step with hip lifts," Megumi said quietly. "Piece of cake." They perfected the chasse in one attempt, watching with a mixture of sympathy and good-natured amusement as a couple of girls in their row stumbled over the step.

"It's harder than it looks!" one of them, a short brunette with blonde streaks, complained. She grinned at Megumi, Misao and Kaoru. "You three are obviously dancers," she said.

"Yep!" Misao agreed, with a grin. "But don't worry, you'll pick it up!"

"Now, we want you to have a go splitting every grapevine up with two chasses," Sagara-san was saying. "If you want to be fancy," here, he winked unmistakably in Megumi's direction, "Why don't you add a pivot over your left shoulder on the second count of eight?"

"A challenge," Megumi said in a low voice, unsuccessfully hiding her slight blush.

"Indeed," Kaoru agreed. "I believe we have been spotted."

"Well, why don't we show the boys a trick or two?" Misao suggested. "I mean, if they're giving us free reign to be fancy, we may as well be fancy!"

"No showing off," Megumi said sternly, as the music was switched back on. "We'll only take it as far as they want us to."

"I second that," Kaoru said. "We don't want to look like pretentious prima donnas in the first lesson!"

They slid easily back into the routine, Kaoru unconsciously swinging her leg out, jazz-ballet style, as she turned, giving her the appearance of a jewel-box ballerina. She got a momentary shock when she realised that Himura-san was actually still facing them.

"Fancy," he said in a slightly raised voice and flashed her a smile that was entirely too white, gleaming and attractive.

"Fancy is what we do, Himura-sensei!" Misao bragged loudly as they moved in opposite directions. Kaoru restrained herself from kicking her friend in the ass. She had a mouth that was far too big.

"Is that so?" the gleaming smile widened and then Kaoru spun back to face Sagara-san. I am not intimidated by that smile, she told herself firmly. That smile is not disarming in the least!

"I see you, watching me, watching you!" Misao bellowed out the chorus as they chassed. "And now you see, just where you gotta be!"

All too soon, they spun back to face Himura-san, who still had a smile curving his lips. "It's always an honour to have dancers from other disciplines as students," he said, his eyes on Kaoru.

"Ignore my friend," Kaoru answered him flatly. "She has a predisposition for the theatrical."

"I do not!" Misao protested as they pivoted back around. "So, what was it that you were you so aghast over before?" she continued innocently, picking up where their earlier conversation had stopped.

"Your rabid libido," Megumi answered, deadpan.

"So I'm a red-blooded female. Sue me."

"Okay! Now let's add an arrowhead step after the chasse!" Himura-san called. "Step forward wide for two counts, then step back narrow for the other two counts." The class followed his direction, the forward step causing a swift ripple as each student moved into a semi-squat—legs bent at the knee—at different times.

"I think it would be more prudent to worry about Shinomori-san suing you," Kaoru said, grateful for an extra four beats before they had to turn to face Himura-san again. "For sexual harassment," she added.

"Meh," Kaoru saw Misao's hand wave in her peripheral vision. "I know all that. You all know I take dancing way too seriously to fool around with the teacher. He's just nice to look at, is all."

"Yeah," Megumi agreed, her eyes raking over Sagara-san's shoulders and back. Nice to look at. That was all.

"Besides," Kaoru said, laughter bubbling up in her voice, "They're obviously all gay anyway!"

"Probably," Megumi acquiesced. "I mean, statistics alone…"

"Shinomori-san can't be gay!" Misao wailed.

"Seriously, they are! Look at Himura-san, for example," Kaoru continued. "Long, glossy red hair, teeth that are too white, immaculate grooming. Not to mention a Latin ballroom dancing champion! He has to be gay!"

"Come to think of it, gay men are outrageous flirts," Megumi added, feeling as though she suddenly understood Sagara-san's attitude. "Maybe Sagara-san hasn't come out of the closet, or he's covering to save his career!" Somewhere in the back of her mind however, Megumi wasn't totally convinced. Oh shut up, she snapped at the niggling little doubt. It's easier for me this way.

"Shinomori-san is not gay."

Kenshin studied the three women in front of him. They were obviously friends, or relatives, or something. He had to admit, he preferred the one in the middle. He let his eyes travel over her slender neck, square shoulders, slim hips and long legs. Shorter than him, which was always a bonus. Yes, she definitely was a looker. Shoving that thought away brutally, he forced his thoughts to focus on their dancing skill.

The boast from the short one had piqued his interest. Just how good were they? Maybe it would be fun to find out… Sano and Aoshi were taking care of the beginners, after all. He could afford to spend a little time testing them out.

Grinning, he waited until the three of them turned to face him, then held up a hand. "Stay with me," he instructed them, turning to face the mirror. By this time, all the beginners had caught onto the turning step after the grapevine. "And do try to keep up," he tossed over his shoulder, the words coming out more cheekily than he had meant them to.

The three girls looked at each other in amazement. Had he just said…?

"Keep up?" Megumi laughed. "Sure, we'll keep up!"

"But can you keep up with us?" Misao asked. Discreetly, they moved into a tribal belly dancing formation, Kaoru in front, Misao slightly behind her to the right and Megumi to the rear at the left. This was their most effective method of reading each other's non-verbal cues, so they would all be dancing the same step at the same time.

Kenshin started with an elaborate, Latin chasse, bringing his curved arms up over his head in a short, sharp movement reminiscent of a Spanish bull fighter. He caught sight of their faces in the mirror, eyes trained on his body. He was pleased to see that they were only half a beat behind him, copying the chasse with little difficulty.

Then, to his surprise, they lowered their arms horizontally to shoulder height and performed a variation of his move. They rotated their hands at the wrist gracefully, stepping completely across their bodies with their right feet and twisting their hips sharply when they fell back onto the left. It was a graceful, sensual undulation, like seaweed rippling underwater. Not to be outdone, Kenshin mimicked the movement, which brought a smile to their faces.

Kaoru completed her Arabic with a twist step and watched intently as Himura-san moved into a deep lunge step, rising out of it with two hip twists. She copied the move perfectly and answered the step by walking forwards four beats and back four beats, layering a three quarter shimmy on each footfall. It was one of the more complicated steps, with the dancer shaking her hips rapidly and enticingly as she moved.

Kaoru was immensely pleased to see Himura-san raise an eyebrow at the impressive looking manoeuvre, but he followed it as if he'd been shimmying since the day he was born.

"How can he know belly dancing steps?" she heard Misao mutter.

"He's a Latin champion," Megumi answered her. "He's down with the whole hip thing."

Kenshin watched the women jump into action as he led them sideways at a rapid pace, cramming four full turns into eight beats.

Four turns in eight counts? Geez… Kaoru thought. Only their years of learning to spot properly while executing continuous turns saved them from losing their balance.

"Dizzy?" Kenshin asked them.

"I don't know what you're talking about!" the short one laughed. They went straight into a high speed spin, moving their right legs upwards—parallel to the floor—and raising their arms gracefully above their heads. Looks like they've done a bit of ballet, Kenshin mused as he followed them into the spin. Although I'd say their other moves were probably from belly dancing.

After carrying on in this manner for quite some time, Kenshin realised that not only had the music stopped, the rest of the class seemed to have stopped as well. He stilled his movements, grinning sheepishly at the amused expression on Sano's face and at the slightly cooler than freezing countenance of Aoshi, who was trying his best to not look interested. The three women, noticing that he had stopped, came to a halt.

"And that," Sano told the class, smiling widely, "Is how we punish students that give us attitude." A ripple of laughter moved through the gathering, punctuated by a sharp snort from the front of the studio. Looking across the room, Sano decided that it must have come from the tall one. She was currently staring at him defiantly, red lips pursed and arms folded. He would have to tell her she looked extremely cute when she did that. Ah well, they still had an hour left of the class, that was plenty of time!

"We might start out today by getting into the beginnings of the foxtrot," Kenshin announced. He was surprised and pleased to find that he had broken a sweat and his chest was heaving ever so slightly. A quick glance at the three women showed him tendrils of their long dark hair stuck to their necks and temples with sweat. Satisfied, he continued. "The foxtrot is a nice, slow dance and is relatively easy to learn. If you would all get into pairs, Shinomori-san will begin to take you through it."

Kaoru, Megumi and Misao looked at each other wryly, listening to the awkward shuffling and murmuring going on around them. "So, who's gonna pair up and who's gonna be left out?" Kaoru asked.

"Why don't you two pair up?" Misao offered. "I don't mind snagging myself some poor, helpless victim."

"As it so happens," a male voice interrupted, making them all jump, "I need a partner for the demonstration and I would prefer a female. So, I suppose I could be your 'helpless victim'."

The three of them stared openly at Shinomori-san for a few moments before regaining their composure. They hadn't even heard him coming!

"I would be delighted to snag you as my helpless victim, Shinomori-sensei," Misao responded with a winning smile. She followed him to the middle of the studio, throwing a look to Megumi and Kaoru over her shoulder that plainly said: score!

"The foxtrot is executed in a closed-hold," Aoshi began blandly, once the noise had died down. He didn't know what had possessed him to go over there and ask this woman to be his partner. He had watched her dancing with Kenshin and her two friends with more interest than he had given anything in a long time. She seemed to have a vitality and spark that flowed into her movements. She had obviously been dancing for years. Surreptitiously, he glanced down at her face and decided that she was quite pretty as well, although that fact was completely irrelevant. Completely.

"To move into closed hold position, face your partner and stand close together," he instructed. "Body contact should be the right side of the male's front to the right side of the female's front."

Misao suppressed a squeak when Shinomori-san stepped in smoothly, his upper body just touching hers. "You should be touching each other starting at the upper thighs and continuing to the middle of the torso," he continued, obviously thinking nothing of being pressed up against a stranger. Misao forced herself to calm down. "Gentlemen, to make sure you are maintaining correct body contact, ensure that the lady is slightly offset to your right." Taking the hint, Misao shifted slightly to her left. Just being this close to the guy was making her horrifyingly nervous and she didn't want to do anything stupid.

"Who's gonna be the lady here?" Kaoru whispered to Megumi, trying not to giggle.

"You be the lady," Megumi answered, nudging her sideways into the proper position. "You're shorter."

"Misao looks as though she's died and gone to heaven!"

"Let us pray she doesn't turn into an ice cube. That guy is frosty."

Kaoru glanced around the room and spotted Himura-san and Sagara-san paired up with a couple of tittering young females.

"Hey, it could be worse," she joked. "We could be paired up with the other two!"

"Clasp the lady's right hand in your left, like this," Aoshi continued. He reached out and took his partner's hand, resting his palm against hers and closing his fingers and thumb around it. "Make sure that you are holding each other's hand palm to palm, with your fingers on the outside, not linked."

Shinomori-san had surprisingly warm hands for someone with such a glacial persona. Misao hoped fervently that her hand wasn't clammy and cold with nerves. She doubted that he would be very impressed if she kept withdrawing her hand and wiping it on her pants every five minutes.

"Gentlemen, place your right hand on the lady's left shoulder blade, making sure that your wrist comes into contact at the point under her shoulder where the arm meets the body." Aoshi carefully placed his hand on the woman's back, making sure to keep his touch light.

"Makimachi Misao."

"Pardon?" Aoshi looked down at his partner.

"My name," she elaborated, with a friendly smile, "Is Makimachi Misao. I thought I should tell you, just in case you need to yell at me in future."

Aoshi ruthlessly fought the impulse to smile. "I cannot see any possible need to raise my voice at you, Makimachi-san."

Her smile became impish. "Please, call me Misao. I've always been on first name terms with my teachers. And don't count your chickens before they're hatched, Shinomori-sensei. I can be quite a handful, so I've been told."

Telling himself that he was not slightly flustered, Aoshi continued with his instructions. "Ladies, your left arm should be resting lightly on your partner's right arm." He watched Makimachi-san's slender arm move upwards and rest on top of his own, her small hand curled gently around his bicep.

Ordinarily, if something like that happened, he would have told his partner to flatten her hand in a cool voice. It was an incredibly small thing, but Aoshi had always been a stickler for rules and professional distance. He had never let any of his partners venture outside the rigidity of the closed hold requirements, but for some reason, he didn't particularly mind this partner doing it. He decided to let it slide. She was new to ballroom, after all.

"They look surprisingly good together," Megumi observed. "Although, Misao seems to be on the verge of a panic attack."

"Yes, she does look a little nervy," Kaoru agreed. "But then again, we've never danced with partners in this sort of environment before."

"True," Megumi nodded. "We've only ever really had to rely on our own skill before, not someone else's."

"Gentlemen, your feet should be positioned so that your right foot can step in between your partner's feet. Ladies, likewise," Aoshi said. He watched Makimachi-san glance downward and quickly adjust her feet. She was a quick study and didn't seem to want to ask many questions or fish for affirmation, which pleased him. "Now, the basic foxtrot tempo is slow, slow, quick, quick. The gentleman starts with his left foot forward, while the lady starts with her right foot back. That's the first slow. Then, the gentleman steps forward with his right foot, while the lady steps back with her left foot. That's the second slow. So it goes, slow, slow. Let's try that shall we?"

There was much scuffing and shuffling as the assembled couples went over the first two steps. Misao thanked the heavens that she seemed to know what she was doing so far.

"That wasn't too hard," Kaoru said as she moved backwards.

"We've only just started," Megumi retorted. "Don't forget that Himura-san said this was the easy dance."

"Now," Aoshi continued, "The quick, quick, is a sideways close step. Gentlemen step to the left with the left foot, while the ladies step right with the right foot. That's the first quick. Then, the gentleman's right foot closes to the left foot, while the lady's left foot closes to her right foot. Makimachi-san and I will demonstrate."

Misao jerked slightly at hearing her name mentioned and quickly followed Shinomori-san's movements. "Very good," he praised her quietly. Misao beamed up at him.

Suppressing another smile, Aoshi turned his attention back to the class. He could see that Kenshin and Sano were busy already; briskly sorting out couples that were standing incorrectly and others that seemed to have confused their left and right. Relinquishing his hold on Makimachi-san, he crossed the studio to where the stereo was sitting, along with the filing cabinet containing all of their music. As he passed, students broke out of closed hold, obviously embarrassed to be standing so close to one another, especially the girl couples.

Opening the drawer marked 'Ice-man' in Sano's untidy scrawl, he flicked through the extensive music collection until he came to the section marked 'Foxtrot'. Selecting a CD, he shut the drawer and turned around.

"Foxtrot is very versatile and can be danced to many different styles and tempos," he explained. "However, a 4/4 big band is best, at around 30 measures per minute." Ignoring the blank looks from the majority of the class, he put the CD into the player and the opening notes of Eva Cassidy's 'Fever' filled the air. "This is a good example."

"I love this song," Megumi murmured.

"You've always had a thing for listening to big band music," Kaoru replied. "Looks like we've finally found somewhere you can dance to it as well!"

"I want everyone, now, to practice that step continuously to the music," Shinomori-san announced, rejoining her. Misao supposed she would eventually get used to the way he so effortlessly invaded her personal space. He wasn't even in closed hold with her yet and he was standing extremely close. It was taking all her self control to keep from either stepping backwards or pressing herself along his very nicely sculpted front.

Get with it Makimachi! She scolded herself. He's just showing the other students a good partners' distance. This is how it is done, so this is the way you will do it. Not only that, you will be good at it too!

"So, we're just doing the slow, slow, quick, quick rhythm for the entire song?" she asked, trying to sound casual.

"Until everyone has the hang of it," Shinomori-san answered. "Once you have all mastered the basic movement, we can work on some variations." He took her right hand with his left and placed his right hand on her shoulder blade, nudging her closer ever so gently. Misao stepped in quickly, bringing her left arm up to rest on top of his. She glanced down to make sure her feet were in the right position and when she raised her eyes, Shinomori-san was watching her carefully.

"Are you ready?" he asked her.

"Yes," she answered, trying not to stare too hard at the thoroughly attractive line of his shoulders.

"Good," he said. "Try to follow my lead, Makimachi-san." Raising his voice, he counted the other students in, then he started to move, making his steps longer and wider than the first practice, so that they were moving determinedly to Misao's right.

Determined not to falter, Misao lifted her chin and looked over Shinomori-san's shoulder, trusting the rhythm of the music and the movements he had taught her. She knew it wasn't hard, but she also knew that she would not allow herself to take the easy way out by looking down at her feet.

"Look at her go!" Megumi giggled as she watched Misao and Shinomori-san. "She's a natural!" Kaoru twisted her head to look over her shoulder.

"You're right," she agreed. "She caught onto that step almost instantly. She's not looking at her feet either."

"I think someone's out to impress her ice sculpture of an instructor."

"Will you quit it with the ice?" Kaoru scolded Megumi, trying not to laugh. "Besides, we caught on as quickly as she did and we're not looking at our feet either."

"How terribly clever of you both!" an amused male voice interrupted from beside them, causing the two friends to fumble a step and come to a halt.

"If you don't mind, Sagara-sensei," Megumi said after a beat of silence, her tone somehow cancelling out any respect that may have been implied by her use of the honorific, "We are trying to learn the foxtrot." They resumed the basic foxtrot step as soon as the 4/4 beat ended.

Sagara-san laughed and moved along with them easily, not intimidated in the least. "Well ladies, if you're trying to learn how to dance, I think I might be able to help you out. It so happens that I am one of the instructors here." He jabbed his thumb at the logo on his singlet.

Kaoru silently wished that Megumi would put the verbal knives away. It was obvious the guy was only curious about them. Sometimes she was too acidic for her own good.

"I thought we were doing all right, Sagara-sensei," she said, before Megumi could answer.

"Oh, you're doing fine," he reassured her. "I just thought I'd mosey on over and get your names!"

"Kamiya Kaoru," Kaoru answered. When Megumi remained stubbornly silent, she added, "This is my friend, Takani Megumi."

"Takani-san," Sagara-san muttered. Then he grinned. "Well, it's a pleasure to meet you both, Kamiya-san, Takani-san."

"Enchanted," Megumi said sweetly, her tone belied by the dangerous look on her face. Kaoru swatted her on the arm. Sagara-san chuckled.

"Don't worry," he told them "The only one who's anal about student-teacher respect around here is Shinomori," he indicated the other instructor with a jerk of his head in Misao's direction. "Kenshin and I are more… relaxed." He winked playfully at Megumi and sauntered off to talk to some of the other students.

"If I wasn't positive he was gay…"

"I'd say he liked you," Kaoru tittered. "I guess you're just lucky he is gay huh?"

After a couple of minutes, the music was shut off and Aoshi called for everyone's attention once more. He was pleased but not altogether surprised that Makimachi-san had kept up with him admirably the whole time.

"That is the fundamental foxtrot step," he said tonelessly. "There are a few other basic steps to learn before we finish up tonight, then we'll work on putting in some variations during next week's lesson."

"Well, that's the first class over with!" Misao remarked in an upbeat tone as they waited for the stampede of students to clear from the corner of the studio where the bags were kept.

"Yeah, I had fun," Kaoru grinned. "What did you think Meg?"

"I liked it," Megumi said. "I think we're catching on quite well."

"That's good to hear."

The three of them turned to see Himura-san, Sagara-san and Shinomori-san standing a few feet behind them. It was Himura-san who had spoken. Not really knowing what to say to them, Kaoru bowed slightly and said "Thank you for a most enjoyable lesson Himura-sensei, Shinomori-sensei, Sagara-sensei." Megumi and Misao went to follow her example, but Himura-san waved a hand.

"Please, there is no need to be so formal. You can just call me Himura-san."

"Yeah, likewise," Sagara-san added. "Unless of course, you want to call me Sano-sama?"

Megumi's look said more than words ever could. Sano grinned good-naturedly. "Ah well, I'm sure you'll get used to saying it in time!"

Shinomori-san, surprisingly, remained quiet. It was obvious he preferred the formality.

"We wanted to find out your names and a little bit about you," Himura-san said, filling the potentially awkward silence. "It's obvious that you've danced before, but what styles are you learning?"

"My name is Kamiya Kaoru, the short girl on my left is Makimachi Misao and the tall girl on my right is Takani Megumi," Kaoru informed him. "We've reached the advanced levels in several different styles."

"Which are?" Aoshi asked, before he could stop himself. Damn it, he never let curiosity get the better of him like this!

"Uh… belly dancing, flamenco, jazz ballet, Irish dancing, tap, line dancing and highland dancing," Misao answered. When the three instructors looked at her in surprise, she shrugged and said "Well, we've been dancing for a long time."

Kaoru sat down on the floor and unbuckled her heels, intending to change into her trainers for the walk home.

"They're flamenco shoes, aren't they?" Kaoru looked up to see Himura-san, an expression of curiosity in his wide violet eyes.

"Yes they are," she answered, slipping one off and handing it to him so he could have a look. "We knew that we would probably need special heels for this discipline, but we weren't sure whether it was wise to rush straight out and buy ballroom dancing shoes before the first class."

"That's very sensible," Himura-san said softly, absorbed in looking at the shoe. He raised his eyes to her face again, smiling brightly and Kaoru was silently thankful that he was gay. Otherwise, she'd have a major problem. But the fascination with shoes alone was a dead giveaway…

"The warm up was fun," he told her. "I haven't enjoyed myself like that for a while."

Kaoru grinned back, feeling a bit dazzled. He was so… does 'shiny' make any sense? She wondered.

"It was fun," she agreed. "But I think Misao and Megumi were a little more into it than I was. They love a good dance off."

"Really?" his voice was amused. "I shall keep that in mind."

"Kaoru?" Megumi's voice was slightly irritated. "Are you ready to go?" Kaoru looked up, realising that all of the other students had left and that her two friends were heading towards the stairs. Sagara-san was walking beside Megumi, looking unabashedly gleeful about being ignored so thoroughly. Misao was bouncing along beside Shinomori-san, chattering away and apparently not seeing the slightly bamboozled expression on his face.

Hurriedly stuffing her feet into her trainers, Kaoru climbed to her feet and strode over to join them. Himura-san walked her to the door, a slight smile on his face.

"Thank you again," Kaoru addressed the three instructors, discreetly elbowing Misao into the stairwell. She didn't look like she was going to be stopping for a breath anytime soon and Kaoru was concerned for Shinomori-san's sanity.

"You're welcome," Sagara-san answered, winking at Megumi. She ignored him. "Will we be seeing you next week?"

"You bet!" Misao responded enthusiastically, already halfway down the stairs. "Wouldn't miss it!" She bounced the rest of the way down, Kaoru and Megumi joining her at the bottom of the stairwell.

"I'm looking forward to our next warm-up, Himura-san," Megumi called cheekily.

"Put something faster on next week," Kaoru added. "Do you have any more dance tracks or would you like us to bring some?"

Kenshin laughed. He had a feeling those three were going to be a handful. "I have plenty of dance music, thank you very much," he answered. "We'll see you next week."

The three girls moved out of sight, the sounds of their voices fading until they were out of earshot. Kenshin turned to his friends. "Well?" he asked.

"I've got dibs on Takani-san," Sano answered immediately. "She's a feisty little fox and I like it."

"I was actually asking for your opinion on their dancing skills," Kenshin told him, raising an eyebrow. "But since we're on the topic, I don't mind Kamiya-san either."

"Makimachi-san is naturally gifted," Aoshi remarked. "With rhythm, grace… and the ability to talk for five minutes without taking a breath."

"Did you just make a joke, Ice-Man?" Sano asked, smiling widely.

"I believe so," Aoshi deadpanned. "Seriously though, the three of them obviously have talent and they will be easy to teach."

"You're right," Kenshin agreed. He crossed the room, heading for the office. Sano and Aoshi trailed behind him. "Well, as fascinating as the three of them are, we have work to do. We need to go over the enrolment lists and draw up some lesson plans. Not all the students have a natural knack for dancing."

The three instructors settled in at their desks for a few hours of paperwork. Kenshin found his thoughts straying to Kamiya-san a few times throughout the course of his work. He recalled, in detail, her lithe curves and the lean muscles on her legs.

Giving himself a little mental shake, Kenshin attempted to focus on the lists in front of him. It would be extremely unprofessional to develop a… thing for a student. However, he couldn't deny that he was greatly looking forward to next week's lesson.

Kenshin decided that, when they started Latin, he was going to follow Aoshi's example.

Author's Notes

Please read and review or I won't know if I'm any good!

Next chapter: The Rules and Regulations of the Rumba. Misao has a crush. Megumi revels in her love of Big Band music. Kaoru considers asking Kenshin what brand of shampoo he uses.

You may have noticed that I made Misao considerably taller than she is in the anime and the manga. My reason is that she is ultimately partnered with Aoshi. If there was a great disparity in height, they would not have been able to dance together effectively. Can you imagine a 4'10" woman and a 6'2" man dancing straight ballroom style? Uh, no.

As far as Japanese honorifics go, I hope I've used them correctly. Where Misao, Megumi and Kaoru are concerned, Megumi and Misao call Kaoru 'Kao-chan' because it's a cute nickname more than anything else. Misao and Kaoru call Megumi 'Meg' because they know her well enough to call her by a nickname with no honorific. Megumi and Kaoru occasionally call Misao 'Sao-chan', usually to get some sort of point across. Otherwise they use full names without an honorific, or occasionally 'Itachi', 'Kitsune' or 'Tanuki'. They address people they first meet by 'surname-san', until they are invited to address the person by first name. They use the 'sensei' honorific at the end of Sano, Aoshi and Kenshin's names because they are their teachers.

Here is my list of Japanese foods for people who don't know what they are. I am proud to say that I can make most of them myself.

Miso soup is a light broth made of fermented bean paste, and fish and kelp stock (dashi). It contains cubes of silken tofu, shitake mushroom slices, strips of wakame seaweed, spring onions and whatever other variations the consumer prefers.

Tomagoyaki is a sweet omelette usually made from eggs, sugar, salt and dashi. It is cooked layer by layer in a special rectangular pan and rolled to create a squarish sort of thing that you slice up.

Gyouza is a type of fried dumpling containing minced pork and blanched cabbage.

Jiffies are soft slippers that are commonly worn by ballerinas during practice but can also be used at just about any dance practice where it is common to dance in bare feet to prevent tearing your feet up on a hard floor.

The Rogue Traders, if you haven't heard of them, are a fairly recent Australian band. There are 3 male members and a female vocalist. Their genre is dance/rock and their sound is very upbeat and funky. I LOVE them!