Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin is owned and copyrighted by its respective owners which does not include me.
Himura Kenshin normally had excellent concentration to the point of blocking almost everything out except whatever he was studying. Therefore, it was no surprise that Sano had to elbow him rather hard to get his attention.
"Kenshin? Are you listening to me? Kenshin!"
After a particularly strong jab in the ribs, Kenshin oofed in pain and looked up from the documents he was reading while trying to look like he had been paying attention. "Yes, Sano?" he asked, trying not to look too guilty.
Apparently he failed because the taller man scowled at him before pointing to the middle of the large gym they were at. "Yahiko is up next. Put those papers away before I rip them to shreds."
Kenshin frowned at the threat but silently stuck them back into his briefcase. Sano knew how important his job was to him but he didn't want to take the risk of testing him just in case his friend wasn't joking. Sometimes, he couldn't tell with Sano. "So who is Yahiko's opponent?" he asked, trying to muster up the enthusiasm shared by everyone else in the gym. The large cluster of people sharing the bleachers with them suddenly rose to their feet, roaring with approval as a youth ran out onto the mat. He was dressed in protectors, the guard mask dangling in his left hand and a shinai in his right.
"His name is Fujita Tatsuo. He has two younger brothers and they're all into the competition scene," Sano said absently, his eyes glued onto Yahiko. "Between the three Fujita brothers, I'd say they're pretty dominant in the junior kendo leagues."
"Wow. It sounds like Yahiko has a tough fight ahead of him," Kenshin said, craning his neck as the crowd roared again. Another figure clad in the same protective pads joined the first. Both boys strapped on their face masks and met in the middle where a referee stepped up between them. They bowed to each other and then to the referee.
"Third Round of the Elimination Match. Myojin Yahiko versus Fujita Tatsuo. The first to score three points on his opponent will move on to the Regional Tournament. Fight honorably!"
Kenshin watched as on some unspoken signal, the two fighters began what seemed to be a choreographed dance, weaving in and out of every attack made. He frowned as one of them – he couldn't tell who was who anymore since they were both dressed so similarly – yelled as he simultaneously struck the upper arm with his weapon in a quick, clean blow.
"One point to Fujita Tatsuo!"
Beside Kenshin, Sano groaned. "Come on, Yahiko, get your guard up! Don't let him score such easy hits on you!"
The red-head frowned even harder as they retreated back to the center and began the fight again. "Yahiko hit Fujita twice on the ribs and arm but the referee didn't give him a point."
Sano nodded, not bothering to glance at his friend. "Yeah. In kendo, it's not enough to just hit your opponent. You have to show that your mind, body, and soul are as one to score a point. It's emphasized by the yell that the kid did … Aww, come on, Yahiko!" he groaned. Around them, parts of the crowd also vocalized their disappointment as Tatsuo was awarded another point.
Kenshin glanced around them, wondering what was so exciting about watching two boys smack each other around. How could this be fun? "So is Yahiko losing?" he asked Sano when the stands had quieted somewhat.
"Yeah. If Fujita scores one more point, Yahiko will be out of the competition . I wonder why he's doing so badly. Normally he gives as good as he receives."
Sighing as his friend went back to yelling advice at the youth, Kenshin restrained the urge to inform Sano that Yahiko couldn't possibly hear him over the crowd. Instead, he slumped down on the bleachers. He glanced longingly at his briefcase but didn't dare take his work out again. Sano was getting so worked up about this fight that he didn't know what would happen if the taller man saw he was ignoring the competition going on.
Sure he knew this was important to Yahiko and Kaoru and Sano but he didn't understand why it was so great. Kenshin had never really bothered learning all the rules and he didn't know how he ended up coming to the competition in the first place.
He pictured Kaoru's smiling eyes looking just at him and remembered. Right. Kaoru had asked him if he wanted to come, and of course he said yes since he was a slave to her every request. Plus, he really did want to show his support to Yahiko.
But did it have to be so boring?
Sano suddenly shot up to his feet, arm pumping in excitement. "Atta boy, Yahiko! Show him who the better swordsman is!" Other people surged to their feet, chattering gleefully as Yahiko was awarded a point. Kenshin clapped his hands politely and wondered how much longer this was going to last.
"Yeah. Not too shabby, Myojin."
Yahiko glanced up and grinned at Kenshin and Sano as they approached him after the match, slapping the latter a high-five. "Yeah, I was pretty impressed with myself, too," he boasted.
Kaoru threw a towel at him. "Don't be so conceited. You barely won, Yahiko," she said sternly. But even she couldn't hide a smile, exulting at her student's surprise victory.
The boy peeled the cloth off his face and wiped his forehead with it before wrapping the terry around his neck. "Not true. I had everything under control," he said confidently. "I was just waiting for him to let his guard down."
Sano rolled his eyes at Kaoru. "Yeah, sure, kid. And you just 'let' him score two points in a row on you, right?"
"All part of my strategy!" Yahiko insisted.
"Nice job, Myojin." The new voice caused all four to turn around and see Fujita Tatsuo approaching them, followed by a tall, lean wolfish-looking man. He had already stripped himself of his protective armor and was now clad in the standard kendo hakama and gi which was half-soaked in sweat. "I thought for sure I was going to win. It's a good lesson for me to learn not that I shouldn't get too confident in a victory."
Yahiko glanced at his teacher who was smiling at Tatsuo. Sano looked mildly amused at the conversation and Kenshin was frowning at the tall man. Raising his eyebrows in bemusement, the youth turned his attention back to his former opponent. "Yeah, it was a good fight," he said. "The match was really close."
The man put a hand on Tatsuo's shoulder. "We should be getting back, Tatsuo. Your mother and brothers are waiting."
"Right, Father." Tatsuo stuck his hand out to Yahiko and grinned. "I'll get you for sure next time."
Yahiko looked at his hand before his own smile dawned on his lips. He grasped the offered hand and nodded. "Right. We'll definitely have a rematch next year."
Tatsuo waved before trotting off after his father. Kaoru sighed in satisfaction and turned to her student. "Now that's what real sportsmanship is about! Remember, Yahiko, it's not about who wins or loses the match, it's how well you handle yourself. Fujita Tatsuo is an exemplary kendo student who knows the true meaning of the way of the sword."
Yahiko frowned at Kaoru. "So you'd rather I lose to show I can be gracious?"
"What? Are you kidding? You kicked his butt and we're going to the Regionals!" Kaoru exclaimed.
Sano winked at Yahiko. "Yeah, that sounds more like the Missy I know. Come on, Kenshin's going to treat us to a victory dinner. Right, Kenshin?" He slapped his friend on the back heartily.
Kenshin winced under the heavy slam, stumbling forward with a mumbled, "Oro?" Clearing his throat, he smiled weakly at the expectant kendo enthusiasts. "Um, of course! Wherever you want to go, Yahiko and Kaoru."
"The Akabeko!" student and teacher said in unison. "Beef pot!" Yahiko added, practically drooling at the thought of the fresh, spicy meal.
Sano grinned. "Excellent. Hurry and pack up your stuff, guys. It's time to celebrate!"
With the end of the city tournament, Kenshin figured everything would go back to normal. Sano would continue his freeloading schemes and Yahiko would complain about practice being either too light or too hard. And he and Kaoru would finally spend some time together. She had been so busy preparing her students for the competition and he had been wrapped up with an important client that they had barely seen one another in weeks, even at home.
"So, Kaoru, since I've finished that big project, I'm free tomorrow evening. How about we go out for dinner? We haven't gone on an actual date in a while," Kenshin said with a smile. He was watching her pack for another round of lessons.
Kaoru returned the smile even as she continued to stuff towels into her equipment bag. "I'd love to, Kenshin, but there's a competition tomorrow. I thought I told you about it."
He blinked. Another competition? Didn't they just compete in one a couple of days ago? "No, I don't think so," he said slowly. "Which competition is this?"
"It's actually more like an informal meet until the Regionals next month," Kaoru explained, scurrying around to pick up bandages, athlete tapes, and other first aid articles. "We're going to be sparring at the Tansho Dojo with six other schools whose students qualified to the next round. It'll be good practice for them to get a feel for one another."
There must have been something in his voice because Kaoru looked up from her bag. She seemed to soften and walked over to kiss him on the nose. "I know we haven't seen each other for a while and I'm sorry but with Yahiko's win, it's going to get even busier. As soon as the Regionals are over, we'll spend some time alone together, all right?"
Kenshin forced himself to smile. "Of course, koi. You're taking your duties as the assistant master very seriously and I admire you for that. Don't mind me, I'll just stay home and eat takeout or something." He hoped he didn't sound as pathetic as he did.
Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - Kaoru didn't notice as she returned to her packing. "You should do that, Kenshin. You work so hard you deserve a break now and again." She braced her hands on her hips and looked around. "Have you seen the elbow pads?"
"In the linen closet down the hall," he said automatically. Kenshin watched as Kaoru found the desired objects. She finished packing and hoisted the shoulder strap. He was amazed how his delicate Kaoru could be so strong as to pick up such a heavy bag without any effort at all.
"All right, I'm heading out for a practice session. Since I have to drop the kids off at home afterwards, I won't be back until later. Don't stay up for me, all right?" She pressed another kiss on his forehead and hurried out.
Kenshin stared at the closed door for a long moment before he stumbled for the couch. Once found, he sat down on the cushions heavily, inhaling the light jasmine scent that always reminded him of Kaoru. He stared into the air as the same thought kept running and running through his head.
He was losing his girlfriend. And it wasn't to another man.
No, it was to kendo.
Kenshin heaved a sigh at the pathetic thought. Sure he knew Kaoru was very dedicated to the sport, but he didn't know she was going to turn into an obsessive sensei like her father. Had he known that, he would have stayed far, far away from the Kamiya Dojo in the first place.
Well, perhaps not, he conceded. After all, the bank had assigned him to work on the Kamiya account and so he did. Because of it, Kenshin had interacted daily with Kaoru. Every time he met her, she seemed more and more like the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
He just didn't realize he would have to share his Kaoru with kendo. A sport that promoted whacking each other silly with bamboo sticks, no less.
Kenshin wanted to bang his head on something hard but past experience had taught him it would do nothing but give him a huge headache the next morning. Not to mention the bruises. But he had the sudden urge to strike out at something. At anything. Perhaps even the concept of kendo itself which was stealing his girlfriend away from him.
But what he could do? Kenshin would rather cut off his arm than to 'prohibit' Kaoru from following her dreams. He knew how important it was to her and how much she loved teaching her students. It would be selfish of him to demand she give it up just to spend time with him. But he didn't intend to let the sport rule his life. No, he wouldn't give her up without a fight!
But how could he compete? Every time he tried to talk to her, she was too busy running off and going to meets and competitions and spars with other dojos. He could perhaps follow her to every place she went but he'd still be a spectator, staring while she was directing her students or watching matches. How could he turn her attention onto him, short of throwing himself in the middle of the shiai-jo?
Unless, of course, he was the one fighting, haha.
"Himura, you are a total baka," he told himself out loud. He couldn't believe the thoughts that crossed his mind. And all to be closer to his girlfriend!
But isn't Kaoru worth it? the part that came up with the suggestion asked. If he wanted to spend more time with Kaoru, why not give kendo a try?
Because, the terrified part of him said, kendo is physical. It hurts when you are whacked in the head or leg or arm with a shinai. It's better to stick with running. Much safer that way.
Coward, the brash part said.
And loving it, the scared part replied.
Fine, then. Lose Kaoru. Just don't come crying to me when you grow into a bitter, old, lonely man.
You are me. We'll be alone together.
Kenshin couldn't believe he was having this conversation – with himself, no less. He really needed help.
The last straw came when, a week later, Kenshin decided to visit Kaoru at the dojo. He had barely seen her at their apartment since she always left at dawn and came in late, long after he had fallen asleep. To surprise her, he left work early (his co-workers thought someone had died when he announced his early departure and offered many condolences) and picked up Kaoru's favorite lunch: assorted sashimi, miso soup, and onigiri shaped into mice.
Stepping through the front gate, Kenshin gazed up at the old-fashioned dojo, smiling as he remembered his first impression of the dojo, its owner, and the owner's daughter. He had stared wide-eyed at the building until Kamiya Koshijirou came out and demanded that he state his business.
He had been, at first, nervous in meeting the much larger and stronger man but Kenshin had quickly found out the man had a very gentle nature. When Koshijirou discovered he was from the bank to discuss the financial future of the dojo, he had made the younger man feel welcome. But while Koshijirou was an excellent swordsman, he had a terrible head for business. Instead, Kaoru ended up taking care of all the money matters. Kenshin had spent the next two weeks in her presence and found her to be not only attractive but also intelligent, sharp, quick-witted, and caring. He had seen her teach a class as she had attained the rank of assistant master and he was impressed with the patience and love she openly displayed to her students.
Of course, Kenshin being the shy introvert that he was, he could barely bring himself to ask her out. In the end, he had stuttered horribly and Kaoru looked rather confused. Luckily, Yahiko had been listening (some might have called it eavesdropping) the whole time and bounded in, informing Kaoru that Kenshin had been trying to ask her out to dinner.
Much to Kenshin's surprise, she had said yes.
Kenshin couldn't help remembering it as he stood outside the dojo, bento boxes neatly wrapped up in a cloth for easier carrying. Shaking his head free of fond memories, he smiled to himself and stepped up to the engawa, discarding his shoes there to pad inside the dojo.
It was there that he received the shock of a life. Kaoru was at the other side of the room, standing between an open shoji and a tall, dark haired man. They were discussing something intently, from the look on their expressions. Neither noticed Kenshin stopping to stare at them.
Kenshin had never seen the man before. He studied him critically, noting the stranger was dressed in the traditional hakama and gi, colored so black he seemed like a big, black blob. The man had dark hair cropped short though several locks of hair fell in front of his eyes. The dark clothing and hair emphasized the flawless skin of his face, revealing handsome if not stern features. He was lean and trim and was barefoot, as Kaoru was.
Okay, fine, the man was pretty good looking. Kenshin scowled; did he have to stand so close to Kaoru? How could she breathe without practically inhaling him first?
He decided to ignore the clawing green monster at the pit of his stomach. He trusted Kaoru completely.
Suddenly, the tall man stepped even closer to Kaoru until they were nearly nose and chest. Kaoru's petite form was nearly dwarfed by the extremely tall stranger and Kenshin had the sudden impression she was going to be engulfed just by his sheer height. Kenshin took a step forward to protect her.
And the man had the nerve – the actual gall! – to put his hands on Kaoru's waist!
"Get your hands off of her!"
Kenshin was surprised at the loud tone of voice that seemed to rip from him. He hadn't raised his voice in so long it was startling to hear. But once he realized where it was coming from, he decided it was right; how dare that giant of a man touch his koi?
Surprised, both Kaoru and the man broke apart as they turned in his direction. "Kenshin? What are you doing here?" Kaoru asked in surprise. There was no guilt in her voice or anything to indicate that she had willingly allowed the skinny beanpole to put his arms around her.
Kenshin stomped over to the couple and stepped in between them, glaring at the stranger. "I came to drop lunch off for you," he said, without looking at her. He would defend his girlfriend's honor to the end!
"How sweet. Thank you. But Kenshin, I'm over here, not there." Kaoru took a hold of his chin and forcibly turned him to look at her. Kenshin tried to resist but she was much stronger than him. After a few moments of struggling, he finally pretended that he wanted to look at her. "Why are you glaring at Aoshi like that?"
So the tall freak of nature was called Aoshi, was he? Kenshin would show him not to touch what was his! "Because. He laid his hands on you." That's right, Kaoru, go get him now!
Kaoru blinked twice. "And?"
"And he's not allowed to!"
The kendo instructor rolled her eyes as she finally understood his anger. "Kenshin, give it a rest. Aoshi was just showing me some kempo moves."
"Who is he? He can't be a student." Kenshin looked back to glare at Aoshi. Unfortunately, the taller man looked faintly amused, if one could go by the slight tilt of his mouth.
"Kamiya-sensei and my guardian have been good friends forever. I have recently moved to Tokyo and it was suggested I introduce myself to him again, especially since I plan on teaching classes here."
"You're teaching here?" Kenshin repeated. He then looked at Kaoru. "He's teaching here?"
Kaoru's hand twitched with the effort to hold back from whacking her jealous boyfriend on the head. "Yes, he is. Dad wants to expand the dojo to offer different types of classes. Aoshi moving here was a stroke of luck. He started today and with Yahiko entering the competition, I completely forgot about it. Otherwise, I would have told you." She shot him a pointed look.
Kenshin didn't feel much better. After all, he really did trust Kaoru. He just didn't trust 6'2" handsome men who were as interested in the martial arts as Kaoru was.
Evidently, Aoshi seemed to take pity on him because he said more gently, "I have heard you were a banker at one of the local branches nearby. Kamiya-sensei recommended you highly. My wife and I are interested in opening an account with you."
How nice. The Black Giant and his no doubt equally giant wife wanted to give him business. His boss would be pleased, at least.
Wait a minute. Did he say …? "Wife?" Kenshin echoed stupidly.
Kaoru rolled her eyes again, crossing her arms across her chest. "Yes, wife. Aoshi and Misao just returned from their honeymoon. Remember the wedding you missed because you had to work all weekend?"
Kenshin did vaguely remember something like that. It was while he had been tied up in that big mortgage project. "Oh," he said lamely. "Um, congratulations."
Aoshi regarded him gravely though there was a spark of laughter in his cobalt eyes. "Thank you. If you are free, Kenshin, perhaps you'd like to meet Misao? She will be teaching classes here as well."
"Sure," Kenshin mumbled, trying not to turn as red as his hair from his mistake. But how was he supposed to know the man was married and an old friend of Kamiya-sensei? What was he, a mind reader?
Still, Kaoru was not going to be happy with him or his actions. After all, he had embarrassed her in front of family friends. Kenshin had a feeling that he was going to get a lecture when they got home tonight.
Unfortunately, he was right.
"I cannot believe you thought so lowly of me that you overreacted like that!" Kaoru exclaimed the moment they arrived home. Kenshin had been completely embarrassed but stayed at the dojo for the rest of the evening. He meekly handled all the paperwork while Kaoru went off to teach her classes. He had also indeed met Aoshi's wife Misao, who turned out to be the same age as Kaoru but with ten times more energy. Aoshi would be teaching kempo while Misao would focus on armed training. Aoshi had informed Kenshin – rather proudly – that Misao was considered an expert in six different weapons.
Misao was only 5'2" but apparently she could snap Kenshin in half with just her pinky finger.
Kenshin couldn't help but remember how Misao had happily recounted her and Aoshi's first meeting together, as newlyweds usually did, with or without permission. They had met at some sort of martial arts competition and realized just how much they had in common.
The only thing that Kenshin could remember he had in common with Kaoru was that they both agreed dumplings were better hot.
He sighed heavily; thanks to his super concentration skills he didn't hear Kaoru rant on about his disrespect for her, especially in front of a fellow teacher and friend. Instead, Kenshin could only think of one thing: if Aoshi and Misao had fallen in love thanks to a mutual love of martial arts, could the same thing happen with Kaoru and some other kendo twit? After all, she was forever going to different dojos for spars and meeting new people in the competitions.
I told you you're going to lose her, his inner voice said smugly.
Oh, shut up, his other self said rudely.
"Kenshin, have you listened to anything I've said in the past five minutes?"
Kaoru's voice had risen in volume until it startled Kenshin out of his own thoughts. "Oro?" he said intelligently. Yes, he knew there was a reason why he had graduated second in his accounting class at Tokyo University.
Kaoru didn't look happy at his response. In fact, she looked downright ticked off. Kenshin had the sudden urge to hide under the bed.
Well, there was only one thing to do about it: be a man. Kenshin spoke quickly before Kaoru could use his head as a punching bag. "Teach me kendo." A man had to defend himself, after all.
Apparently, the distraction worked. Kaoru blinked several times as she lowered her fist before saying, "Pardon?"
"Teach me kendo," Kenshin repeated, looking straight into her puzzled eyes. He wanted her to know he was serious about this. He only hoped he wouldn't regret it.
"But … Kenshin, what brought this on?"
He shrugged. "I thought maybe it was time to learn what you enjoy doing so much." And keep an eye on everyone else to make sure no other jerk tries to make a move on you.
Kaoru studied his face for a long moment before a smile spread across her face. "If you're serious about this, Kenshin, then of course I will! I didn't think you'd be interested in it else I would have offered a long time ago."
He smiled, hoping it didn't look pained. "Well, koi, it must be watching everyone else work so hard that's inspired me, especially Yahiko."
She beamed at him so brightly Kenshin felt better about his decision, even if it was made hastily. "I'm so glad! I thought for a while that you would end up hating kendo because it took up so much of my time. How about we start tomorrow? I could probably squeeze in an intro between the evening classes."
"Sounds great. I'll be there." Kenshin tried to muster as much enthusiasm as possible but apparently Kaoru was so excited she wouldn't have noticed anything amiss.
"Wonderful! I'm going to call my father!" With that, she bounded off to the kitchen to inform her father of the great news. There was hope for him after all!
Kenshin inwardly groaned to himself. Somehow, he had a feeling that he might end up regretting this after all.