Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and all characters therein belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki.
A/N: I would like to thank everyone for their great reviews and for reading. And say that in light of several requests and suggestions, I've decided to make a separate post for random drabbles of varying size, shape, and color that involve the pre-relationship side of High Maintenance. It won't be a "story" in that sense, but anything here will all be within the same alternate universe in no particular order. Any cohesive arcs will likely be coincidental and entirely unplanned. But we'll see.
Kenshin checked his watch again, frowning in concern at the time staring back at him from its elegantly crafted face. His brows furrowed and he raised his head to scan the quiet lobby from one side to the other again, searching again for any sign he might have somehow missed his standing appointment. Before he'd realized it, his cell phone was in his hand, thumb poised over the number five. Reason reasserted itself just before he actually pressed it, and he abruptly close the phone with a snap.
It was only twenty minutes.
There was no reason to bother Aoshi.
It was probably nothing, and he was the first person to admit that things had a way of coming up unexpectedly. But the longer he thought about it, the more indecision crept insidiously through his mind. Kaoru was one of the most punctual people he'd ever had the pleasure of knowing, and his imagination rapidly flashed over just how many different things could happen in a mere twenty minutes.
Cursing his own mind, Kenshin flipped open the phone and stared down at the faintly lit keypad. Once again his thumb hovered over the button for a long moment before he breathed a quiet curse and closed it again.
Kenshin anxiously rocked back on his heels to resist the urge to pace and stared down at the phone in his hand indecisively. Unless Aoshi knows something I don't… What if she's sick? Is she going to the doctor? Did she call-
The security lock on the side door let out a sharp click, instantly snapping Kenshin's attention around and setting his heart to racing in poorly concealed hope. As soon as the door started to swing open, Kenshin straightened his spine and quickly stuffed the phone back into his pocket. He smoothed his hand absently down the front of his suit coat and quickly brushed his hair back over his shoulder before he grabbed the handle to pull the door completely open.
The startled look on the young woman's face shifted instantly into recognition and finally annoyance as she shook her head. "Unless I'm mistaken, you have a meeting you're supposed to be in right now, Himura-san."
"Kenshin," he automatically corrected, flashing her a dazzling smile as relief washed over him so quickly it nearly left him lightheaded. "You're running late."
"I am not." Kaoru brushed off the accusation and expertly twisted her briefcase to prevent Kenshin from "helping" her carry it. "Shinomori-san assured me that it wouldn't be a problem, and you are supposed to be working."
"My office manager was missing," Kenshin excused as he fell in step beside her. "How am I supposed to have a board meeting when an important part of my board isn't present?"
Kaoru shot him an exasperated look. "You had plenty of board meetings without your office manager before I came to work for you."
"He wasn't competent in handling all the department heads the way you are," Kenshin complimented with a disarming smile. "And I need you to take my notes. You have the best penmanship."
"I'm hiring a personal assistant for you," Kaoru returned flatly.
Kenshin frowned down at her and shook his head. "What would I do with a personal assistant? I already have a secretary, and you handle the rest."
Kaoru rolled her eyes, smiling at security as she passed their station, and pointedly ignoring their amused murmurs as she and Kenshin passed. Tapping the call button for the elevator with the back of her hand, she turned to regard her restless boss. "You do realize that it's not in my job description to substitute for you in that professional capacity?"
Kenshin nodded in agreement and made an expansive gesture toward the main doors. "That's why you're paid better than any other office manager in the city. And if you don't believe me, ask Aoshi. He compliments you all the time."
Kaoru's eyebrow kicked up in suspicion.
Kenshin shrugged, reaching up to rub the back of his neck with a rueful smile. "He suggested your holiday bonus, it's the same thing."
Kaoru made a vague, noncommittal sound in the back of her throat, but the corner of her mouth twitched at the translation of Aoshi's actions. Shaking her head again, she turned to face the elevator and tapped one foot in distracted impatience. Rather than push the issue, she settled instead for asking, "Am I supposed to reschedule the meeting when we get upstairs, or have you filled up your appointment book when I'm not looking again?"
Kenshin hummed thoughtfully and worried at the inside of his lower lip with his teeth. At her averted gaze, he couldn't stop himself from taking advantage of the opportunity to admire the lines and curves of her body beneath the tailored, knee-length jacket. The hem of her skirt barely peeked out from beneath it, and his eyes traced the contrast of navy blue material against pale stockings. Moving on reluctantly, he lingered over the smooth curve of her calves down to the simple, classy heels molding her feet into a most interesting arch. His head tilted to one side, and his eyelids lowered in sultry appreciation of the muscles flexing and twitched under her smooth skin.
The tinny ping of the elevator snapped him out of his silent perusal, jerking him to attention just in time to smile innocently when Kaoru glanced at him.
Kaoru habitually dodged his renewed attempt to take her briefcase, switching hands as she entered the elevator to put it closer to the wall and out of his reach. "You didn't answer my question, Himura-san."
Kenshin slipped his hands into his pockets to resist the urge to brush her bangs away from her face. Holding her gaze with both brows raised expectantly, he waited with calm patience.
She exhaled heavily, gritting her teeth and amending, "Kenshin."
Kenshin smiled brightly at her capitulation and reached over to press the button for their floor. "I decided it would be more effective to give everyone the morning to get the details of their reports in order. We can call for delivery and have the meeting over lunch."
"Because Sano is so eloquent when you put food in front of him." Kaoru clucked her tongue, wishing she could think of a viable reason to challenge his logic. Lunch was precious time to restore her sanity, and losing the option of leaving the building to clear her head had the potential to throw off her mood for the rest of the day.
Not that Kenshin was unpleasant company… It was just that he was such an overwhelming presence, especially when he turned the energy and intensity of his entire focus on her.
Sighing, she slanted a look behind her bangs to discreetly take in the attractive features of her boss. In the thoughtful silence, his eyes stayed fixed forward, and a serene smile played across his lips as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. And like every other day, he was standing close enough for her to feel the heat radiating off his frame mixed in with that unmistakable hum of his just being there.
Kenshin turned toward her unexpectedly, and quickly bit the side of his tongue to resist mentioning that guilty flush his move brought to her cheeks. Forcing a polite smile, he tilted his head and questioned, "Is everything all right? At home, I mean. Do you need time off?"
Kaoru stared at him blankly before what he was asking clicked, and she ducked her head to hide her embarrassment. "No, no. Everything's fine. It was just a little thing."
She could feel him staring at her, stubbornly keeping her gaze averted until he sighed and brought his hand up to squeeze her shoulder. "If there's anything I can do, you can come to me, you know."
The concern in his voice was sincere enough to send a curl of warmth through her, and bring a smile to her face as she finally looked up to meet his eyes. "Thank you, but it's really not anything serious. I might have to use up some vacation time to go home for a few days eventually, but Shinomori-san said that wouldn't be a problem."
Kenshin gritted his teeth against the urge to offer to escort her home just to make sure she made it safely. Quietly, he took a deep, bracing breath and compromised with his desires for a more direct, personal inquiry by hopefully urging, "Are you sure it's not serious, Kaoru?"
If she recognized the breach in office etiquette, she didn't give any indication. Her lips quirked up in a warm half-smile for his concern, and she repeated, "It's really nothing like that. It would just mean a lot to Yahiko if I'm there to see him test, and I'm trying to think of how I could get ahead of my work here so I can be home long enough without causing too much trouble."
"If that's all that's bothering you, I'm sure Aoshi could set up something with your laptop for remote access," Kenshin offered.
"He already took it to get my connections and clearance set up just in case," Kaoru admitted, reaching up to nervously tug at her hair under his searching gaze. She glanced at the number changing on the digital display, and tightened her grip on her briefcase. Reminding herself that it wouldn't be a good idea to bolt the second the doors opened wide enough, no matter how appealing that option sounded in her head.
Despite Kenshin's incredibly hands-on approach to running his company, it was Shinomori who was responsible for maintaining the details in all the divisions. She'd followed procedure to the letter, and there was no reason whatsoever to feel guilty regardless of the disappointment sneaking into Kenshin's expressive eyes.
But even telling herself that, she still felt a shiver very nearly like an adrenaline rush twitch through her legs when the chime signaled their floor. Hiding out in her office seemed the neatest, easiest course of action before she did something stupid, like give in to the irrational need to apologize for apparently hurting his feelings. Or worse, gave in to that pleading look and actually unloaded her personal problems on her boss.
But before she'd taken a step, Kenshin's hand gently covered her forearm and ruined her hope for escape.
"It sounds like you've worked everything through with Aoshi," Kenshin murmured as he led her out of the elevator. Determinedly, he kept his hold firm and his pace slow and casual while he escorted her down the hall. Fighting to keep the placid expression on his face despite the way his blood seemed to itch with the need to take her to his office and find out what was going on.
Kaoru smiled vaguely to cover the warmth that spread through her from the light touch of his hand. A warmth that was much too tempting for her to resist regardless of how much it felt like crossing the fine, unspoken line of impropriety. As much for herself as for Kenshin, she reiterated, "I don't like my personal life to interfere with my job. And Shinomori-san has been a big help with that."
"You know you can come to me if you need to talk about anything." Kenshin pulled her to a stop outside her door, urging her around to face him so he could catch and hold her gaze directly. "Even if it has nothing to do with work."
This time her smile was more genuine, but she still shook her head to reject his offer. "You're busy enough. There's no reason for me to be bothering you about silly things."
"How about you let me decide what's a bother and what's not?" Kenshin chided and clasped her free hand in both of his. After a moment's hesitation, he gave in to the desire to lift one hand away and brush his knuckles under her chin. Hiding the affection behind the gesture under a playful smile, he teased lightly, "You're the one who tells me I'm not busy enough after all."
Kaoru laughed at the reminder, tugging her hand out of his to push her bangs away from her face in a nervous habit. "I reserve that for when you're hovering. And wandering the halls pretending to be busy."
"So next time you should take pity on me and make me feel useful." Kenshin held up a finger to forestall her excuses. "If nothing else, I can take whatever you need to Aoshi so you don't have to stop in the middle of a project."
"That's what interns are for," Kaoru reminded him.
"Interns are too nosey to handle sensitive materials like that." Kenshin waved that off. "However, I will keep anything you tell me in the very strictest confidence."
"Or skulk in doorways waiting to ambush people leaving my office with files so you can do it anyway?" Kaoru set her hand on her hip and challenged.
Kenshin's brows rose and he pressed one hand to his heart to emphasize his sincerity. "I just so happened to be walking by and offered to deliver those without any ulterior motives at all."
Kaoru snorted, smacking him in the leg with her briefcase before she turned to unlock her door. "Nosey."
Kenshin made a show of rubbing his leg, but gave up when it failed to garner sympathy. Catching her hand before she could touch the handle, he tugged her to the side enough that he could open the door for her. "It would be easier to cut out the middle-man."
"You do realize that's exactly what I'm doing in going directly to Shinomori-san?" Kaoru questioned wryly.
"I'm still Aoshi's boss," Kenshin reminded with an unrepentant smile. "I have the final say on all important company matters."
"I hardly think that whether or not I take vacation time for personal reasons counts as 'important company matters.'" Kaoru set her briefcase on her desk and stubbornly forced herself to ignore the shiver that went down her spine when his hip brushed against hers on the way inside.
This is getting ridiculous. Kaoru reached for the files stacked in her box, stacking them on her desk to distract her wayward thoughts. There was a harmless, reasonable explanation for why she was having so much difficulty keeping herself in line. Probably stress, stress and all the time she'd been spending around her fidgety, attractive boss.
That thought brought an amused smile to her face as she absently unfastened the buttons of her overcoat. Despite his position, she had to admit there was something compelling about him, something that drew the eye and strained her sense of ethics. Not to mention how bizarrely endearing it was to watch the anxious way he moved through the departments of his office looking for ways to help here and there. Even if he had his moments of unintentionally adding to her frustration some of the days his boredom led him to hovering in her office.
If he wasn't so damn appealing, his company might even have been comfortable.
Kaoru jumped when she felt Kenshin's hands on her shoulders, covering her eyes in embarrassment at how far away her mind had wandered. She could feel the hesitation in his touch, and smiled apologetically to reassure him before obligingly slipping out of her coat.
Kenshin folded it over his forearm, searching her face for a long moment before he sighed and continued, "It's important to me that you're not overstressed unnecessarily. And if doing a little legwork for you will help, then I expect you to call me."
Kaoru rolled her eyes, but smiled helplessly at the very genuine concern on his face. "If I happen to have something that needs to go to Shinomori-san when you aren't in a meeting or otherwise occupied, I'll think about calling you."
His smile was dazzling as he hung her coat on the stand with practiced grace. "Excellent!"
Folding her arms over her chest, she leaned back on against her desk and pinned him with an exasperated stare. "Now all that's left is rescheduling that meeting you were supposed to have this morning."
Kenshin rubbed the back of his head at her disapproving look. "I was worried."
She smacked the back of her hand against his chest and slipped around the side of her desk to put more space between herself and that solid chest that met her knuckles. "You're being silly. Anything I need to know I'll get from Misao or Shinomori-san later."
"I still-" Kenshin started.
"Out." Kaoru sat down, shifting her briefcase to the other side of her computer and flipping it open. "I'll call your secretary and tell her when we can fit the meeting in, but you're probably right about it being over lunch."
Kenshin barely stopped himself from reminding her that she had a direct line to his office, but with the look in her eyes, he decided it was better to let it go this time. "Once you've confirmed everyone's orders, would you let me know? I'd like to try to get the business part out of the way as quickly as possible."
Kaoru dipped her head in agreement, her eyes already moving over the open files on her computer screen as a furrow of concentration appeared between her brows. Kenshin slid his hands into his pockets, content to take a private moment to watch her attention dart around her desk as she visibly switched her focus to the work in front of her. When she looked up at him questioningly, he reached out and took her coffee cup off the corner of her desk.
Her eyes went back to her screen while the corner of her lips quirked up. "You don't have to do that, Himura-san."
"Kenshin," he corrected, waving the cup at her scoldingly on his way out. "You start your morning your way and let me start mine." Pausing at the door, he called over his shoulder matter-of-factly, "I find it very therapeutic and soothing to make coffee, and I can only drink so much myself."
"Out," Kaoru repeated with a shooing motion with her hand. But the muffled laughter following him down the hall warmed him thoroughly from the inside out.
Little by little, he was getting to her. He could see it in the way she looked at him when she thought he wouldn't notice, and the way her heart would beat just a little faster when he touched her. The attraction was there, and if he could just be patient a little longer he was confident he could convince her to overlook the small matter of their professional association.
Kenshin closed his eyes and gratefully breathed out a strained sigh as he continued down the quiet hallway to his own office. Any more mornings like this, and he wasn't sure what he was going to do. As much as the selfish side of him was more than happy to have her so close at hand, he wanted more.
It would have been so much easier if she didn't work for him…
Turning a calculating look in the direction of Kaoru's office, Kenshin allowed himself a moment to dwell on how things would change just as soon as he convinced her to give him a chance.
Someday soon, he wouldn't be leaving that office without a morning kiss.