Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and all characters therein belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki.
Note: This is a gift fic for the very lovely Ravyn, set to the "college" storyline/universe that's been a reoccurring theme in her "100 situation" drabbles on LJ. If you haven't had a chance to read through them, I suggest you pop over there and take a look. Some of her drabbles are longer than others, but all of them are grand fun. This particular gift-fic takes place a little bit later in the scheme of things, although I have no doubt she will quickly catch up.
Kaoru absently dragged her lower lip between her teeth. Unaware of the way she'd folded her arms across her chest and shifted to bring most of her weight onto the balls of her feet. She could hear voices around her, men and women supporting their favorite student or just their school's team in general. But that had faded into background noise under the familiar crack of wood against wood mixed with called shots and wordless shouts of exertion. Feet shuffled across the floor in rhythmic patterns, sometimes giving away a strike well before the owner made their swing.
She tried to keep her attention moving between the different matches playing out, but regardless of how often she told herself not to, her eyes were drawn right back in front of her. And just like every other time, she couldn't find it in herself to look away. So hypnotized by the fluid ease of his form and the leashed strength that practically vibrated through every strike, she nearly jumped out of her skin when the referee's flag lifted to indicate the match point.
Kaoru privately, reluctantly admitted to herself that she hadn't enjoyed watching a match that much in quite some time. As Kenshin bowed to his opponent, she exhaled heavily and tried to ignore the envious twitch of muscles in her arms.
He was good.
The moment Kenshin stepped away from the boundaries, he suddenly turned. The eyes that unerringly found hers through the shielding mask of his headgear were strangely bright, holding her captive even as his lips spread in a brilliant, delighted smile. When he waved, Kaoru felt her cheeks heat up, but she still couldn't bring herself to ignore him the way she'd intended. Not even when the weight of several curious stares turned to find who had Kenshin's affectionate attention.
Worse, when she heard a few of the boys from kendo team call out her name as recognition set in.
Kaoru's eyes narrowed slightly when she thought she saw Kenshin's smile take on a decidedly smug edge, but from this distance and with his mask, she couldn't say for sure. Especially not when he turned away so quickly to move down the lines and start preparing for his next match.
"Oi, Kaoru-chan, you finally came!" Chou leaned down over the railing above her, drawing even more attention to her position. "C'mon up and sit with us! Kenshin'll have fits if he thinks we made you stay down here."
"I get a better view of the matches from here," Kaoru protested, gritting her teeth when even some of the boys waiting for their turn snuck glances in her direction. "Kenshin knows I'm here, and you're all right there. I'll be fine."
Chou frowned slightly and glanced back at the rest of the guys cheering on their team. "But-"
Kaoru felt a helpless laugh try to bubble up out of her at the forlorn expression on his face, biting down on the side of her tongue to hold it in. Holding up both hands, she assured him, "I was about to go get a drink. How about I come sit with everybody after that?"
Chou instantly brightened, nodding in vigorous agreement. "That'd be great! You should make it back before Kenshin's next match, so don't take too long."
She made a vague sound of agreement, slipping away from him to blend with the students and spectators before he could offer to tag along. Satisfied when Chou had gone back to his seat, she unhurriedly made her around to the little refreshment stands the other clubs had put together for the event. She hung back, tilting her head as she read over the hand-written lists and trying to decide what she wanted.
Startled, Kaoru's head snapped up and around until she found a young man in a uniform for one of the other university's kendo teams looking at her. Her brow furrowed in confusion as something about his face nagged at the back of her mind. Something oddly familiar about the curious, brown eyes set in a boyishly handsome face that made her aware she'd seen him somewhere before. Before she could question him, his face lit up with recognition and he grinned so wide she was sure she could see every one of his teeth. It wasn't until he straightened his spine and settled back into a casually ready stance that belated realization struck.
"Ah! It is you!" He bowed quickly before relaxing and reaching up to rub the back of his head in a nervous gesture. "Do you remember me, sensei? Fujiyama Yuuta."
Kaoru held in a wince, glancing around to make sure no one from her university was close enough to overhear Yuuta. The last thing she needed was this getting back to Kenshin, or worse, to the rest of the kendo boys after she'd gone out of her way to keep her home life separate from her college life. There was no telling how they'd react, but if her luck with them was holding out, it'd turn out to be something that aggravated her to no end.
"Are you competing?" Yuuta gestured back toward the matches. "I didn't see your name on the roster."
Kaoru shook her head, stepping back away from the stands to get a little more privacy. "I haven't had time to join the kendo club myself. My classes and all-"
"I understand, I understand," he groaned in eager commiseration and made a face of exaggerated misery. "University is so difficult!" Just as quickly his expression brightened back to that sunny smile. "But maybe now my school can win today."
She couldn't help but laugh at the hopeful note in his voice, shaking her head at his theatrics. "I think you remember me being much better than I am. Lots of the participants are very good at this competition, Yuuta-kun."
Yuuta blushed, toying with the sleeve of his gi. "You think so?"
"Absolutely." Kaoru nodded out to the mats, automatically scanning the pairs until she caught a flash of familiar movement. Kenshin's up again.
"Ah… are you cheering for anyone in particular?" Yuuta's question cut through the odd trance Kenshin's movement seemed to be putting her under. Bringing her gaze back around to him just in time to miss the head turning her way. "I mean… I saw you talking with a boy across the way?"
Kaoru tilted her head curiously at the tentative way he asked the question, but the thought of her own first impression of Chou had a sympathetic smile tugging at her mouth. "They've been trying to get me to make it out to cheer for the team for a while, but exams have never been timed well enough for me to make it. It's been a nice change of pace to see it from this end."
Yuuta bit his lip, glancing back over his shoulder before he puffed up his chest and offered, "You could come and meet my team if you'd like. I'm vice-captain this year and I'm sure they'd love it even if you're from our biggest rival."
"I'd hate to distract you from your matches in the middle of a tournament." Kaoru stuck her hands down in her pockets, trying not to sound too much like a flat out rejection. "And really, you've got your hands full if you're vice-captain."
Yuuta's smile dimmed just a little. "That's true. I forget you've probably done this a lot more than I have."
"It's not bad to be enthusiastic," Kaoru soothed quickly, reaching out to give him a comforting pat on the arm and get his spirits back up for his performance. "I'm sure your teammates appreciate it."
"How about afterwards?" Yuuta amended, gesturing back behind him. "Or I could buy you something to drink? We could catch up."
Kaoru blinked, slightly taken aback by the forward offer. "Ah, that's-" she trailed off, at a loss for what to say without full out claiming Kenshin was her boyfriend to a former student. Running a hand through her bangs, she rocked back on her heels and quickly folded her hands behind her back to put a little more instructor into her stance in hopes that would put a stop to the discussion. "That might not-"
Lean arms settled around her shoulders, dragging her back into a solid chest with a thump that knocked the air out of her lungs momentarily. She took one look at Yuuta's startled expression, and turned to find Kamatari resting his chin on her shoulder. Her stomach clenched with an odd sort of trepidation as her mind registered that if he was here, then that meant…
"Hey, there!" Chou set a hand on Kaoru's head, flashing an edged smile down on the shorter boy. "I see you've had a chance to meet Himura's girlfriend!"
Kaoru could feel the muscle in her cheek twitch at the sudden strain she put it under.
Kamatari discreetly pulled her back a step to widen the space between her and this encroaching, starry-eyed rival. "Did you see Kenshin's last point, Kaoru-chan? It was positively brutal!"
Chou made a sound of agreement, tapping a finger on her forehead pointedly. "I wonder what could have gotten him so worked up for a preliminary?"
Yuuta's eyes widened slightly, looking from one boy to another and finally settling on the safest face in that trio. "You're involved with Himura, sensei?"
Kaoru gritted her teeth even harder, lips spreading in a tight, overly radiant smile as she struggled with the urge to let loose a string of curses that would make Sano blush. Her hands curled into fists at her sides, blunt nails biting into her palms at the heavy silence from her self-appointed bodyguards. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Kaoru called up every ounce of willpower she had to keep her voice mild and even.
"We've gone on a few dates," Kaoru admitted. When she felt her smile starting to slip, she hurried out, "Would you excuse us please, Yuuta-kun?"
Kamatari and Chou held her in place when she tried to back away, both turning their most harmless smiles on the boy who had just become a target for vastly different reasons. "How long have you known our Kaoru-chan? Yuuta, was it?" Kamatari poured every last ounce of charm into his voice to set the suddenly skittish boy at ease.
Yuuta blinked at the abrupt turnaround, that faintly nervous hesitation back in his voice as he explained the familiarity. "I took instruction at Kamiya-sensei's dojo up through high school."
"Did you?" Kamatari's tone was just shy of patronizing, and Kaoru brought her elbow back into his stomach. He quickly looped his arm through hers to prevent a repeat and asked with all sincerity, "How did you like it?"
Yuuta laughed softly and brought his hand right back up to rub at his neck with a hint of a blush touching his cheeks. "Well, it was embarrassing to get beaten by a girl so much at first, but I don't think I'd have been able to perform at this level without Kamiya-sensei's lessons."
"She's great, isn't she?" Chou stepped in before Kaoru could try to cut Yuuta off again.
"The best!" Yuuta insisted enthusiastically, much more at ease with the blatant praise. "I'm surprised she's not competing, but it makes sense to focus on classes when-"
"Yuuta-kun!" Kaoru interrupted before his mouth ran away with what was left of her private life. "Your teammates are trying to get your attention!"
"Oh?" Yuuta twisted around, making a sound of distress when he saw that she was right. Bowing quickly to Kaoru, he waved and hurried back to his section, "Wish me luck, Kamiya-sensei! I'll look for you after the tournament!"
Kaoru breathed a nearly silent curse, but still waved to him as he darted away. Once he was out of sight, she let her hand drop and let out a resigned sigh. "I don't suppose you two would be willing to take a bribe to keep your mouths shut?"
"Wouldn't that be dishonest, sensei?" Kamatari drawled out the title, turning with Chou to get her pointed right back to where the rest of the kendo team was eagerly awaiting their return.
Chou slung an arm across Kaoru's shoulders while Kamatari let his drop down around her waist while they ignored her attempts to dig in her heels. "Shouldn't you be more focused on enriching our integrity?"
Kaoru shot him a warning glare. "Don't push your luck."
Chou grinned down at her, undaunted by the threat. "Yes, sensei!"
"Stop that!" Kaoru hissed at him when the students around them started to look familiar. "It was taken out of context!"
Kamatari gave a vague sort of hum that somehow portrayed his disbelief as well as if he'd voiced it. Slanting her a sly look through his long lashes, his lips quirked up and he gave her a nudge with his hip. "So, you're not from a dojo family?"
Kaoru reached up and rubbed at her temples in aggravation. Insinuating and omission was one thing, lying in the face of a direct question was something completely different. Something she wasn't prepared to do, even if she could feel her carefully constructed peace tumbling down around her ears. "I never said that."
Chou stroked his chin, making a show of thinking over what she'd said. "Come to think of it, Kenshin told us you don't really talk about your family."
"There are more interesting things to talk about than that," Kaoru muttered stubbornly. "We have classes, free-time, Kenshin's weird ideas that I'm his girlfriend-"
"You are his girlfriend," both boys corrected in unison.
"I could just kill you both," Kaoru observed dryly, talking more to herself than to either of them. "If you're dead and hidden in a locker then I could save myself the headache I'm pretty sure you're going to cause me."
Chou laughed loudly enough for more than one student on the mats to turn and frown at him, and Kaoru kicked him in the ankle with a hiss to be more respectful to the other teams. The kick didn't do much for his amusement, but he did make more of an effort to keep his laughter down to a more bearable level. Although they nearly wound up disrupting the waiting teams all over again when Chou gave Kaoru a squeeze and chirped out, "You might be my favorite sensei ever, Kaoru-chan!"
"I know where you sleep," Kaoru growled at him, rounding on Kamatari when she heard a poorly muffled snicker. "That goes for you too. And where are we going?" Kaoru demanded when the steered her away from the stairs and continued around to the hallway leading back to their locker room.
"We have a break coming up," Chou informed her as though that made all the sense in the world. "Everybody's going to be here as soon as they're dismissed."
"I'm not on the kendo team," Kaoru reminded him, making a face when she saw the door. "Or a boy. I'm not supposed to be back here today."
"We don't mind," Kamatari assured her helpfully and patted her on the side. "Besides, Kenshin's probably worried about you. He'll want to see for himself that you're okay, and we're nice enough to give you guys privacy."
"If you were nice, you'd forget you ever heard Yuuta talking to me." Kaoru wasn't surprised when the finally stopped "subtly" guiding her as soon as the door closed behind them. Smacking Kamatari in the chest with the back of her hand and throwing off Chou's arm, she stomped away from the both and sat on one of the benches.
"Well, we weren't planning to tell Kenshin he was trying to ask you out." Chou grabbed a chair and dragged it around to settle in for a comfortable weight. Folding his arms behind his head, he leaned back until he was balanced against the lockers. "You have to give us points for that."
"He wasn't asking me out," Kaoru denied, but refused to look at either of them. "I've known Yuuta since he was in junior high and his family moved close to our dojo. I just haven't seen him for a while and he wants to brag about making vice-captain of his team."
"That couldn't have anything to do with his sensei also being a cute girl and a university student." Kamatari clucked his tongue scoldingly.
"At the moment, I'm just a student," Kaoru protested the emphasis they were insisting on giving on her instructor status. "This is stupid."
Chou cocked his head to one side, smile widening when he heard the noise in the corridor outside getting louder. Sharing a look with Kamatari, he let the legs of the chair hit the floor and stood up just in time for the door to open. Unsurprisingly, Kenshin was the first one through, eyes searching rapidly around the locker room until they settled on Kaoru. His shoulders lowered just enough to show he'd been holding them taut, and the tension in his expression melted into relief.
"I thought you might have left." Kenshin smiled and tried not to look like he was hurrying too much to get close enough to drag her into his arms.
Kaoru ducked her head to hide the way her eyes closed, savoring the warmth of his body and the enticing, unique smell that permeated everything Kenshin owned. Before she could get too carried away, the laughter and catcalls brought her out of her pleasant moment. She started to pull out of his embrace, but Kenshin's hands laced together at the small of her back to hold her up against his chest.
"Kenshin," Kaoru made his name a threat on its own, but Kenshin's only response was to drop a kiss on her forehead.
"I'm glad you came." He gave her another squeeze before he reluctantly let her go in favor of tugging at the laces of his chest piece with one hand. "What do you think? Are you having fun?"
"You're going to catch your hair, you idiot," Kaoru ignored the questions in favor of taking away the maskand setting it aside carefully before helping him with the rest of his gear. "Why did you let it down before you got here?"
"It came loose on its own after I took off my mask." Kenshin offered her a rueful smile, but obediently followed the directions of her hands. As soon as his back was to her, his expression changed to a sort of wistful pleasure. When her fingers skimmed across the nape of his neck to brush his thick ponytail out of the way, his eyes slipped closed.
"Maybe next time you should braid it before you pin it up," Kaoru suggested absently, briefly studying his hair tie with skepticism.
Kenshin made a noise that might have been agreement, but admittedly he was more focused on the fingers brushing his spine than what to do with his hair.
"That's right." Chou leaned back and motioned for the freshman by the door to make sure it was closed. "Can't look sloppy when there's an instructor out there watching us."
Kaoru pinned him with an absolutely deadly look as she maneuvered Kenshin out of the chest piece. But it had already roused Kenshin from his private fantasy of perfect matches topped off with the two of them enjoying complete privacy in a spacious furo, and he blinked at his teammate curiously. "What?"
Kamatari nodded, folding his arms across his chest. "We found out that our team drew some attention from a family style."
"And one of the instructors came out just to see us win," Chou finished off smugly.
Kenshin absently wrapped his arm around Kaoru's shoulders, tucking her up into him when he felt the telltale buzz of her temper rising. Confused at why the thought of an instructor coming to see them would be irritating her so much, he kissed her temple and murmured softly in her ear, "It's all right."
"No it's not," Kaoru grumbled back.
"It's a good thing to get attention." Kenshin stroked his hand down her back, trying to soothe away the strain making her body so stiff. "Especially from a family style. We might even be able to arrange a demonstration or if we're lucky, get a little friendly competition between our team and their dojo. It would add something to change up our practices and draw more attention for both sides."
"It's a good idea," Kamatari agreed readily.
Chou hooked his thumbs in the front pockets of his jeans and leaned toward Kaoru with a patently innocent smile. "Isn't it, Kamiya-sensei?"
Absolutely silence descended on the locker room while all the connotation of that charged statement sunk in. Kenshin's arm went slack in his surprise, but the instant Kaoru tried to slip out from under him, he practically flattened her to his chest. Grunting slightly at the abrupt motion, she pressed a hand on his chest and shoved to put more distance between them. His response was to catch her around the waist, cupping his hand over her hip to make it more difficult for her to slip loose.
Kenshin looked down at her, the dazed expression on his face making him look much younger than he already did. "Sensei?"
"That nice boy said Kaoru-chan beat him all the time when he was her student," Kamatari added, intending to both give Kenshin time to get over his little shock and to fill him in on everything they'd found out. "He was surprised she wasn't competing, but then, classes are-"
"I'm a business student, Kamatari," Kaoru interrupted him in exasperation.
"Who teaches kendo," he corrected with a wink.
Kaoru subconsciously leaned into Kenshin more as she reached up to rub at the ache starting behind her temples. But her hand dropped in surprise when she was tugged forward. "Kenshin?"
"I think we have a few things to discuss in private," he explained softly to her, but his gaze was flatly warning the rest of the curious boys to clear his path to the door and keep quiet. Obediently, the team split apart to let him guide her to out to the dubious privacy of the hallway.
Only waiting long enough for the door to click shut before scrabbling for positions around it. Piling up and tumbling on top of each other, trying to shut everyone up well enough to catch as much of the coming discussion as humanly possible.
Kaoru cast a sour look at the door when it shook with the weight of at least one body knocking up against it. "Subtle."
Kenshin said nothing, steering her away from the door until the sounds of hisses for silence and minor scuffles could no longer be heard. Satisfied that they were far enough away to keep important things private, but still close enough for more casual things to reach his team's straining ears.
"Were you laughing at me?"
The soft question sent all thoughts of their potential audience straight out of Kaoru's head. No longer resisting his direction, she stared up at his face and found her attention stuck on his eyes. Those soft violet eyes she secretly adored so much had turned guarded in a way she'd never seen, threaded through with hints of gold the longer she watched him.
"What?" It wasn't until she'd actually spoken, hearing the disbelief in her less than eloquent response that her brain caught up with the rest of her. She managed something slightly better on the second try, but still not by much. "What are you talking about?"
Kenshin swallowed hard, struggling with the embarrassment and hurt burning at the back of his throat. "Kendo is a big part of my life, and I-" he trailed off, taking a deep breath and collecting his thoughts before he continued. "When I brought you around the dojo and asked you to come to the practices, I thought that if I could show you why I loved it that maybe you would get interested. You avoided the events…"
"Kenshin, I really was busy," Kaoru insisted, reaching out instinctively to rest a palm on his chest.
"Were you laughing?" He caught her hand and brought her around to face him. "Letting me ramble on thinking you didn't know anything about kendo? Hearing how 'the amateurs' play?"
Kaoru couldn't even begin to guess at the expression on her face, but her confusion was reaching levels she hadn't thought existed. "You were?"
Some of the intensity dimmed from Kenshin's eyes at that, and he countered bluntly, "You didn't notice?"
Kaoru shrugged, chewing on her lip for a moment before admitting, "I thought you were just explaining how university teams worked. All my free-time was eaten up in my father's dojo, so I never belonged to a school club. It's different from what I'm used to, the preparation and the training I mean. The tournaments are still a lot alike."
Kenshin nearly felt light-headed under the sudden flood of relief trying to overwhelm his earlier feelings, but he held it stubbornly at bay. He had to be absolutely certain, or… or he'd cross that bridge if it came to that. "You were really listening?"
"Well, it was obviously important to you, and you were always excited to talk to me about the team and what you were doing." Kaoru tried to pass that off as casual, but the way his hand squeezed hers warned her that she hadn't been entirely successful. "It was nice, especially when I was feeling a little homesick."
Kenshin stared at her for so long she started feeling self-conscious, flexing her fingers in a silent hint for him to let go of her hand. Rather than do as she "asked," he slid his hand down to lace their fingers together. Staring down at their joined hands, Kenshin took a deep, shaky breath as the painful tightness in his chest finally began to fade.
It had been familiar enough to make her comfortable, and foreign enough to catch her curiosity...
In a way, his plan had been working beautifully. He just hadn't known it because Kaoru hadn't seen fit to tell anyone that she had an extensive history in kendo. His brow furrowed as that particular detail nagged at him until he bluntly demanded, "Why didn't you tell me?"
Kaoru reached up and raked a hand through her bangs, staring off down the hall and fighting the urge to blush. "No offense, Kenshin, but I've grown up being the girl who does kendo. And after I'm done with college and I go home, I'll go right back to being the girl who does kendo."
Kenshin waited patiently for her to continue, sliding his thumb back and forth across her knuckles.
With a sigh, she leaned back against the wall, unsurprised when he stepped forward to follow her. "I was planning to mostly avoid the kendo scene while I was here. Have a few years where I'm not dealing with people who think they should get in good with me because I'm inheriting the dojo. Most everyone I grew up with figures I'm one step shy of being a boy."
Kenshin's face went blank at his mind came to a stuttering halt.
Oblivious, Kaoru kept right on venting, finding it hard to stop now that she'd started. "Or they thought sex would automatically be kinky because I can knock them on their ass."
Kenshin blinked, abruptly scowling as the connotations in that complaint registered.
"After we started going out, I really didn't want to bring it up." Kaoru gestured distractedly at him. "It would have come out all wrong. Not that it ended up coming out any better this way," she muttered, shoulders slumping in weary aggravation.
"Why would it have come out wrong?" Kenshin urged curiously.
Kaoru wrinkled her nose in distaste. "It would have come out too much like all those pick-ups I hated. 'Conveniently' being into kendo after I started dating the best student on the team."
Kenshin's lips twitched. "The best?"
"Don't give me that, you know you're good." Kaoru jabbed him in the chest with her finger. "You have excellent control and form, you're fast, and you have a lot more strength behind your hits than you want people to see. Any idiot with half a brain can see that."
"Or an instructor?"
"I don't have to be an instructor to be able to tell that." Kaoru shot him an unappreciative frown.
Kenshin finally chuckled softly, wrapping his arm around her waist and dragging her forward into a loose embrace. He pressed a lingering kiss to her forehead and murmured teasingly, "You might be feeding my ego just because you want to lure me into kinky sex."
Kaoru reared back and swatted him upside the head. "You aren't going to have to worry about your matches because I'm going to kill you right here!"
Ducking the next swing, Kenshin finally let go of her other hand in favor of lifting her up off her feet. He grinned at the way those blue eyes glittered with her anger, tightening his arms around her hips to settle her against him at eye-level. Her hands automatically came down on his shoulders with every intention of squirming free, but a quick bit of maneuvering had her slipping until Kenshin had her balance completely dependant on his hold.
Kaoru was quiet as she took stock of what had just happened, arching one eyebrow when he continued to give her that harmless smile. "That was uncalled for."
"Really?" Kenshin gave her his most innocent expression, but it quickly dissolved into laughter at the unimpressed look on Kaoru's face.
"This isn't funny," Kaoru grumbled, but to his complete and utter delight, she relaxed against him.
"No, it's not," he agreed as he hoisted her up a little higher, trying to make them both more comfortable without letting her feet touch the ground. "But at the same time, it is."
Kaoru gave him a noncommittal grunt. "It's embarrassing."
"Why?" Kenshin felt safe enough that she was staying put to support her with one arm, freeing up the other to stroke her hair comfortingly.
She dropped her forehead on his shoulder and mumbled, "Because it's stupid. This never would have happened if you hadn't left your sweater where I could find it."
Kenshin silently acquiesced that it was possible, but he liked to think things would still have progressed in their natural, inevitable fashion even without the kick-start she'd given things with her brazen theft. Their roommates were involved, so it made sense that they would have been introduced sooner or later. Everything that attracted him to her would still have been present without that first impression of her almost delirious with fever and bundled up miserably in his sweater.
"Will you feel better if I tell you that I should have been able to guess?" Kenshin leaned his head against hers.
"Probably not," Kaoru admitted. "But we can try it if you want."
"Maybe later," he smiled again at that particularly grumpy note sneaking into her voice. "We'll have to see how we're feeling tonight when you come over and we talk about this more."
"If you mention kinky sex-"
Kenshin burst out laughing, sweeping her up high enough that her head was well above his. She didn't have time to do more than brace her hands on him again before he was sliding her down his chest until her mouth was practically on top of his. "How about a private demonstration instead?"
Kaoru felt warmth curl through her stomach when his voice dropped to that low, intimate timbre. Trusting him to hold her up, she slid her fingers through his hair and disrupted his ponytail even more than it had been from its earlier abuse. His mouth teased hers, insubstantial kisses and faint scrapes of teeth across her bottom lip that brought a smile to her face. "Do you know that I don't date kendo boys?"
"Is that so?" Kenshin couldn't quite keep the smug note out of his voice as he slid both hands down her back, silently urging her to wrap her legs around his waist.
"It's a rule," Kaoru explained even as she followed the tug of his hands to pull herself up and cross her ankles behind his back. "I planned to find some nice boys who didn't know a kata from kettle and have wild college experiences."
"Your boyfriend might disagree with part of that plan," Kenshin clucked his tongue in disapproval.
"Just part?" Kaoru closed her eyes blissfully when his hand wrapped around the back of his neck and those strong, calloused fingers kneaded the tension in those muscles.
Kenshin waited for her to look at him and gave her a slow, exaggerated nod. "I think he just might be able to help with that last part."
"Well, if he doesn't get too distracted by a little crush he has on this cute instructor he just met," Kenshin couldn't resist getting in that dig in.
Kaoru bit her lip, her eyes uncertain for a moment before she came to a decision and dipped her head to whisper in his ear, "Assistant Master."
Both his brow shot up so high they nearly disappeared under his bangs, and he pulled back to study her face in renewed surprise. For a moment he was caught by the oddly vulnerable look in her eyes, feeling a distinct glimmer of anger for whatever bad reactions she'd had that would make her shy away from telling him. But then she bit down on her lip again, and those thoughts took a back seat to a few of his favorite fantasies.
Kenshin stroked his thumb up and down behind her ear, leaning in to tug her lip free and slide his tongue across the little indents she'd left behind. He felt her exhale, both her small hands gripping his head and yanking him in to a kiss that shot a jolt of indescribable heat straight to his toes. Stumbling a half-step forward, he flattened her up harder against the wall and sunk his fingers into the hair at her nape to give back as good as he was getting.
It was easy to forget they were in the hallway outside the locker room, his world narrowing down to Kaoru and just how good it felt to have her wrapped around him. His hand slid down over her hip, tracing the seam on her jeans before sneaking up under the hem of her shirt to find bare skin. He traced the curve of her waist with his fingertips, lightly scraping his nails over the sensitive skin just to feel her thighs clench on his hips.
A heavy thud from the locker room broke them apart with a jolt, and Kenshin turned a burning glare toward the disruption. Kaoru was breathing heavily, her heart beating hard enough that he could feel it against his chest.
For the second time, she dropped her forehead onto his shoulder, this time winding her arms around his neck. She closed her eyes, trying to focus on calming down as best she could with Kenshin still pressed against her practically from head to toe. After the frantic pace of her heartbeat started to slow down, Kenshin took a step back and finally eased her feet back to the floor. His hand slipped reluctantly out of her shirt, and he resumed stroking long, soothing strokes over her hair.
"I'm still going to worry."
For some inexplicable reason, that quiet, simple warning had Kaoru's throat tightening. She turned her face away from his, letting him tuck her up under his chin while she tried to regain her composure.
Kenshin sighed, smiling to himself as he rested his cheek on top of her head. He'd felt the way her arms tightened and her fingers curled when he spoke, but he wasn't going to push her to acknowledge it just yet.
The locker room door opened just a touch, and Chou reluctantly called out through the narrow space, "Ah… Kenshin? We're getting close to time."
"I'll be right there," Kenshin assured him, waiting for the door to close before he sighed and looked down at Kaoru. "We have bad timing."
Kaoru laughed at that, leaning back as far as his arms would let her. "You were picked to participate. You can't let your fans down halfway through."
"So long as a certain fan stays until I'm done, I think I can manage that." He gave her a pinch and chuckled at her indignant yelp, catching her wrists when she made a move to retaliate. Pulling her hands together in front of her, he lifted them up to kiss her knuckles and smiled unrepentantly at his victory.
"You're lucky you look good in that uniform." Kaoru rotated her wrists, testing his grip for weak points.
That genuinely happy voice softened her resolve, and Kaoru found herself nodding in agreement much faster than she'd planned to take to "give in." Kenshin let go of her wrists, cupping her face with both hands to bring her in for another quick, smoldering kiss.
"We can work the rest out tonight, sweetheart," Kenshin promised against her mouth. "After we're finished, we'll get takeout and go home. I'll even let you throw Sano out yourself."
Kaoru lightly brushed her fingers over the back of his hand as he reluctantly pulled away to return to the locker room. Licking her lips, she briefly fought with herself until he pulled the door open. Before she could lose her courage, she called out, "Kenshin."
Kenshin stopped, glancing back at her with both brows raised in curious inquiry.
Swallowing hard, Kaoru lightly touched the tip of her tongue to her teeth and quietly ordered. "Impress me."
Kenshin blinked in confusion. "What?"
Kaoru straightened her posture, pinning him with a challenging look that had his fingers clenching on the door in response. "Maybe you can impress that instructor into giving you the private demonstration you want."
The smile that spread across Kenshin's lips was slow in coming, but devastatingly wicked as understanding fully dawned. He leaned away from the door, giving her a bow that would have been painfully formal if not for the bright violet and gold eyes holding her captive from beginning to end.
"I'll be watching you," Kaoru promised, turning on her heel to make her way back out to the stands and pretending not to feel the heat of those eyes burning into her.
Kaoru glanced back over her shoulder, stumbling back in alarm when she found him barely an arm's length away. He reached out and grabbed her shoulders, unable to stop himself from dragging her up against his chest and kissing her again. This time forcefully enough to bend her body backwards over the arm he'd wound tight around her waist before he lifted her back up. Breaking the kiss and turning her back toward the end of the hallway.
"You won't be disappointed," he murmured his own promise directly into her ear and gave her little nudge to get her walking. She gave him one more sidelong look, but she didn't manage to duck away fast enough to stop him from catching the secretive smile on her lips. He had to force himself to breathe through the urge to chase after her again, settling for watching with unblinking intensity until she turned the corner and disappeared from his line of sight.
Tonight couldn't come fast enough.