Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and all characters therein belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki.
A/N: Unless you're dramatically removed from reality, you have to have heard about the absolute tragedy Japan is dealing with right now. This is going to seem really weird for an author's note, but I really do urge everyone to try and help in some way. Even if it seems tiny and inconsequential, they need all the help they can get. There are a lot of reputable organizations like Japan's Red Cross or JEARS accepting donations, but please do your research and avoid ones that seem a bit shady. Like Unicef. Seriously, don't ever, EVER donate to them. They're one of THE most corrupt out there and it amazes me they haven't been prosecuted yet.
Anyhow, to briefly talk about this update: This chapter was barely outlined, but I had a flash of inspiration and a little free time, thus… I have a new drabble offering to go with my soapbox-ing. Thank you guys for all your great responses, really really. It's a lot of fun to write in this "universe" when I have the chance and it's really awesome to see that it's something other people enjoy too!
Just A Little Fly On The Wall
"I'm terribly sorry to interrupt."
Kaoru and Kamatari looked up in surprise at the apologetic greeting so close to them and found the source to be an unfamiliar waiter standing a few paces away from their table. He was much shorter than their waiter and smiling in a strangely benign way as he reached forward to refill their coffee mugs. They were entirely unaware of the way their brows rose in perfect synchrony with the silent question or the way that automatic reaction caused the slightest hint of pensiveness to chase across the man's face for a fraction of a second.
As he poured fresh coffee into Kaoru's mug, he finally offered an explanation of his appearance, "There's been a small incident in the kitchen and your waiter is assisting. I've been asked to cover your table for him until he becomes available again."
"Oh!" Kaoru's posture visibly relaxed and she turned toward the soft-spoken replacement with a concerned frown. "Is everything all right?"
"Oh yes, please don't be concerned," he assured her as he smoothly set her coffee back in front of her. "It's a simple matter involving some cooking oil and hand towels. It should be corrected shortly by our excellent kitchen staff."
Kaoru still looked a bit worried but nodded her acceptance. She automatically stacked her dirty plate with Kamatari's and passed both into the man's waiting grasp. He accepted them with a faint bow and balanced them in one hand before asking, "Is there anything else you'd like for the moment?"
Kaoru shook her head and smiled back politely. "No, thank you. We're just about finished here."
Kamatari tsked and leaned over to point demandingly at the waiter. "One caramel flan and a vanilla bean shortcake."
"Of course. I'll return with your selections promptly." He bowed almost formally and headed back into the café without so much as batting an eyelash at Kamatari's borderline rude demands.
As soon as the doors closed and restored their privacy on the patio, Kaoru reached over and smacked Kamatari on the head. "There's absolutely no reason for you to act like an ass."
Kamatari pouted and rubbed his head before carefully smoothing his hair back into place. "I'm not acting like an ass," he pouted and reached for the cream. "A waiter's job is to cater to my every whim and desire. You know, the same way you're supposed to?"
"There are more than enough people who would faint with joy if you started giving them demands," Kaoru clucked her tongue in disapproval. "You need at least one person who can tell you exactly where to stick it."
"Aww, you always were such a flirt." He leaned over and pressed a loudly exaggerated kiss to her cheek. When she absently swatted at him, he laughingly dodged and picked up a sugar cube to drop in her coffee. "Oh come now. You can't tell me that you've overcome that sweet-tooth of yours. Since they don't have my mother's home-baked cookies for you to moon over, you'll have to settle for shortbread and flan."
"You ordered those because that's what you want to try." Kaoru swatted his hand when he tried to put another sugar cube in her coffee. "You have your own coffee, put it in there."
"I don't like sugar in my coffee, I just like watching the cubes dissolve," Kamatari snorted and gave her a patently disapproving look for acting as though she wasn't fully aware of that fact. "Since you do take your coffee with sugar, win-win!"
Kaoru rolled her eyes at his rationalization but let him throw in one more before she pointedly moved her cup to the side of her place setting farthest from him. With her coffee safely out of range, she rested her elbow on the table and set her chin heavily in her hand to turn a more serious look at her dearest friend. "What am I going to do, Kamatari?"
Kamatari stirred the cream into his cup and set the spoon aside before turning toward her and crossing his legs. "I still have a hard time believing one little report in the paper will make any difference. Our pictures are all over the place and a lot of them a lot more 'scandalous' than that one. It's never caused problems for you before."
"Before I wasn't working for such a prestigious company," Kaoru pointed out and reached for her coffee to take a calming sip. "Himura-san's reputation is incredibly important and impeccable. You have no idea how these people will see it to find out I used to be a model."
"Used to be, my tight gorgeous ass," Kamatari muttered with a sour frown and pointed at her sternly. "Say what you want about being an executive manager for your 'Himura-san' and his precious 'prestigious' company, Kaoru, but you know damn well you are still the best damn print model in the game. Which is exactly why you're going to agree to be my lead for my newest collection and why you're going with me to Paris in July to reshoot our Trance ad."
"Wait, what?" Kaoru sputtered momentarily as surprise caused an automatic inhale right in the middle of swallowing. She quickly set her cup down hard on the table and massaged her throat with one hand until it cleared for her to speak. "What did you just say?"
Kamatari blinked at her in surprise and whined in clear disapproval at her confusion, "Honey, we already talked about this! More than once! You're going to be my lead in my new spring collection and-"
"Not that!" She cut him off and shifted her chair closer to him to show him she wanted this discussion kept quiet and private. "What did you say about Paris?"
His finely sculpted brows shot up. "What about it?"
Kaoru gave him a purely exasperated glare. "When did you hear from the Transe d'Amour group? Are Étienne and Josette in town again? Why on earth didn't they call?" She leaned towards him and just barely stopped herself from grabbing him and shaking him when no answers were forthcoming. "What do you mean they want to reshoot that ad? For gods'sakes, Kamatari, that was almost ten years a-"
Understanding abruptly snapped into place the moment those words left her mouth and she sat up straighter in her chair to pin him with an intimidating, blatantly accusing look. "That's it, isn't it? It's the tenth anniversary of the line first launching here and someone got the idea to redo their first ad to celebrate it."
"It's a good idea!" Kamatari protested. "They took a chance on a pair of mostly unknown kids and thanks to them we were able to get the best education we could possibly dream up. Now look at us! I'm a famous designer and you're a famous model in denial."
"Sweetheart! That's so boring though!" He whined and mimicked her earlier pose by propping his elbow on the table and resting his chin heavily in his upturned hand. Although true to form, Kamatari somehow still managed to make his petulance look elegant. "You could still be earning ten times what you're making doing this busy work."
"It's highly intellectually demanding which is a lot more than I can say for pretending to be a three-dimensional hanger for a few hours." She turned away from him and let her gaze wander out to the pedestrians to watch the strangers walk by. Pretending to be engrossed in people watching was a great deal easier than allowing her far-too shrewd friend to draw her into another long-winded debate about her career choice.
A shrewd gleam entered Kamatari's dark eyes and a taunting smile spread across his lips before he nudged his knee against hers under the table. "It's that boss, isn't it?"
"Excuse me?" Kaoru snapped around to face him despite her best efforts to keep her attention elsewhere.
Kamatari chuckled softly and leaned even closer to whisper in her ear, "You don't really think I'd let my girl go to work somewhere without me doing some research of my own, do you? I have access to all kinds of sources and information, and I was particularly meticulous about checking up on these people you would be surrounding yourself with daily for so many hours."
Kaoru reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose and sighed. "If I go into your office, how many files on me and the places I've ever worked am I going to find?"
"Don't ask me silly questions," Kamatari brushed that aside with a grand gesture and leaned back to rest his arm along the back of his chair. "Now tell me about this delicious looking, multi-billionaire redhead you work for."
"Delici-Kamatari! When did you get pictures of Himura-san?" Kaoru demanded through gritted teeth and desperately struggled to keep her voice down as her temper clamored to get out.
Kamatari clucked his tongue at the suspicion in her voice and folded his arms across his chest with an air of superiority. "I'll have you know that your delicious boss has appeared in more than one business magazine for formal interviews and yes, they included pictures, so stop looking at me like that."
"It wouldn't be the first time you hired someone to go take pictures," Kaoru pointed out unapologetically.
"That's true, but I always had good reason!" He shrugged his shoulders and added, "Plus, even if I did, with those looks of his, more than a few of the tabloids like to snap off a shot or two when he's at some function or another." His chin tilted up and his eyes took on a faraway quality as a thought occurred to him. "You know, now that I think of it, he looks pretty comfortable being in front of the camera. Think you could convince him to pick up a little work on the side? I could do some wonderful things with all that-"
Kaoru practically launched forward to clap her hand over his mouth, rattling the table and nearly sloshing their coffee onto the pristine white tablecloth in her haste to stop the rest of that thought from coming out of his mouth. "I absolutely forbid you from fantasizing about Himura-san."
"Hmmm?" Kamatari's eyebrow kicked up as a wicked sparkle lit his eyes. She could feel his lips spread in a wide grin before he clasped her wrist and pulled her hand down. "Aww, has my little Kaoru-chan staked a claim on this one?"
Color flushed Kaoru's cheeks as she scowled darkly at his insinuation. She made a sound of extreme irritation and folded her arms over her chest. "He's my boss."
"Ethics, Kamatari, remember those?"
"Meh." He made a dismissive gesture with one hand. "Something as pesky as that shouldn't get in the way if you want to take a test drive on that beautiful piece of manflesh. Is his hair really that ultra fabulous red in real life or did they enhance that with the computer?"
"No, that's all real," Kaoru started before she caught herself and frowned even harder. "Stop that! His hair isn't important!"
"Maybe not technically, but it sure looks fantastic," he purred and set his elbow on the table. He cupped his chin in his hand and gave her a sly look. "I bet it'd look fantastic all spread out on white sheets, or wild and sticking to him when-"
"STOP that!" The color in Kaoru's cheeks darkened dramatically and sent Kamatari off into a delighted bout of laughter. She reached out and swatted him upside the head. "It's not funny!"
"Says you," he leaned back before she could smack him again. "Come on, Kaoru! Personally, I think if you're really worried about losing your job, you should at least tap that once. You could get a pretty baby and we could raise it together to be the most fabulous, lovely badass of any country we happen to be in."
Kaoru stared at him in complete disbelief for several minutes. "You did not just suggest I intentionally have sex with my boss to get pregnant so you can have a baby to dress up."
"So we can have a baby and not just dress up!" Kamatari scolded and pointed at her sternly. "You will teach it kendo so it grows up just as beautiful and perfectly formed as its parents."
"You do realize you wouldn't be its real father, so your own genetics will have nothing to do with it," she pointed out dryly.
"Which is why you should pick someone I approve, like your boss." Kamatari shrugged nonchalantly. "Beyond that, blood doesn't mean anything. Besides! Why can't I be the mom? You'd make a much better father figure."
"Not helping your argument or yourself," Kaoru muttered irritably.
"What? It's a well documented fact that you're a much better disciplinarian that I am and probably ever will be," he reminded her with a cheeky grin. "You had all that practice with Yahiko after all! And all those little brats you taught back home! So clearly you should let me be the sweet, indulgent parent who spoils our kids rotten and you can be the big awful meanie who doesn't let us do all the fun things we want to do."
Kaoru blinked once, staring at the dreamy look on his face, then shook her head in self-disgust. "There are many, many times in my life that I wonder what kind of malfunction is going on in my brain that makes me love you and keep you around."
"Aw, don't be like that, darling!" Kamatari pouted and scooted his chair so closed to hers the arms touched. "We've talked about having a nice big family, courtesy of your lovely feminine reproductive abilities and my faith in your body being too amazing to be ruined by such a little thing. I just don't see the reason why we shouldn't get a nice head start now since you have such a prime prospective donor right under your fingertips."
"This is absolutely NOT the reason we're having this discussion right now." Kaoru pinned him with a warning look to drop it or suffer more than a swat to the head. "In case you forgot, I'm having a more substantial problem than your ticking proxy-biological clock."
Kamatari obediently held up both hands and ducked his head contritely. "All right, Kaoru, all right. We'll hold off and plan out how you'll get pregnant after we've finished shooting for my new collection. Oh, hey! I have a charity event in Australia next month. If you're still working, you should put in for vacation so you can be my date and show off my clothes properly."
"I still haven't agreed to do the shoot for you," Kaoru reminded him and picked up her coffee to take another drink before it went cold.
"KAO~RU~!" Kamatari flung his arms up in the air with exasperation. "You have to do it! You're my girl!"
"You really are forgetting I'min the middle of something of a personal crisis here, Kamatari," she sighed heavily and reached up to massage her forehead. "Remember? Newspaper article? My picture? Potential huge scandal?"
Kamatari blinked in surprise. "We already hammered that out. You just seduce your boss and get pregnant, leave your boring job, and come back to the glamorous life with me! I have more than enough paperwork for you to muddle through since you seem to crave it so much."
"You already have a business director." Kaoru smiled in helpless affection at Kamatari's ridiculous plan and shook her head again.
"Psh, fired." Kamatari flicked his hand away repeatedly in a shooing gesture. "You don't actually think that ass is more important to me than you, do you? I'd fire everyone in my main office if that's what it took to find you a position you like."
Kaoru's smile widened and she leaned over to press a kiss to his cheek. "Sometimes I remember why you're the best, most fashionable man in the whole world."
"Exactly!" His chin kicked up arrogantly, but just as quickly, the affected look melted into a serious expression of both concern and reassurance. "I do mean it, Kaoru-love. If finding out you're my singularly irreplaceable model gets you fired, they don't deserve you and never did. You and I have more than enough money and talent to have long, successful careers the likes of which stuffed up bastards like that only dream of having. Now cheer up and eat your shortcake. It has big fat strawberries and fresh whipped cream."
Kaoru sat up and turned around to find their replacement waiter standing there with his placid, cheerful smile and the desserts Kamatari ordered easily balanced on one arm while he carried the coffee carafe in his other hand. "Oh! I'm so sorry, I didn't notice you were back!"
"It's quite all right," he assured her and stepped forward to place the shortbread neatly and precisely in front of her. He refilled her coffee cup and stepped around her to do the same with the flan for Kamatari. "You and your husband appeared to be deep in your discussion and I didn't want to interrupt."
Kaoru laughed and quickly waved both her hands. "Oh, no, no! He's not my husband."
"No? I'm terribly sorry, you appeared to be so close I just assumed," he apologized with a deep bow.
Kamatari reached across the space and wrapped his arms around Kaoru to pull her into the best embrace he could manage with the separate chairs impeding him. "No need to apologize, Kaoru-chan and I have practically been married since we were five. It's easy enough to mistake, she just hasn't found me a ring I approve on and gotten down on her knees to beg me properly."
Kaoru rolled her eyes and jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow. "Not in this lifetime."
"Aww, don't be like that," Kamatari whined dramatically and leaned his head on her shoulder. "You promised me a lavish wedding on a black sand beach at sunset! I've been designing our dresses since I was twelve!"
She sighed and looked up at the waiter with a rueful smile. "Thank you and don't mind him. Thank you for serving us so patiently and quickly while our waiter was needed elsewhere."
"You're quite welcome," he answered and shook his head with a quiet chuckle to halt any more apologies. "And it was no trouble. Please, enjoy your dessert and coffee and don't hesitate to call if you need something else. Your regular waiter should be returning to his duties shortly."
"Thank you for taking care of us in his absence," Kaoru said again and reached up to pull Kamatari's hair when he made a few impolite remarks under his breath at her insistence on being so overly polite to the "help."
The waiter bowed once more and retreated back into the restaurant.
"I can't believe you," Kaoru muttered and gave Kamatari a shove when the doors closed behind the slight man.
"They're paid to do it, you know," Kamatari protested irritably. "You don't have to be so polite when you're paying their salary."
Kaoru picked up one of the strawberries and dipped it in the cream with a sideways glare for her friend. "Do you want my help or not?"
Kamatari frowned and picked up his spoon with a huff. "No need to get snippy about it. Nice to him and cruel to the man you adore more than any other living creature, honestly."
"Pouting gives you wrinkles," Kaoru teased and burst into giggles when Kamatari let out a loud, offended gasp.
"Kaoru! How could you!" Kamatari wailed with dismay and dropped his spoon to clap both hands to his cheeks.
Kaoru smirked and bit into her strawberry.
"Oh hush, you big drama queen," she snickered and gave his ankle a light kick. "You spend more money than god on your anti-aging products. I'm sure at least one of them is effective enough to keep that baby face frozen in time."
"Or there's always plastic surgery."
"How is the quality?"
"Ch! Since Shinomori-san developed this particular bug, you already knew there was no chance it wouldn't turn out, Soujirou," Anji snorted and pulled the headphones off to hold them out to the shorter man. "We get the louder clicks from the cup hitting the saucer like you'd expect with it being so close to the mic, but it's not so loud that we can't hear everything they say." Anji spun around in his chair and asked suspiciously, "You did tell Katsu to keep the fire small, right? Or should I have the fire department on standby?"
Soujirou ignored the mostly sarcastic questions as he meticulously folded and set aside his "borrowed" apron. He twisted one of the earpieces around and pressed it tightly over his ear to listen and judge the sound clarity for himself. True to Anji's reassurance, the two distinct voices of their targets bantering about surgery and beauty products came through clean and loud.
Soujirou smiled wider in satisfaction and gave a crisp nod of his head before passing the headset back to Anji. "Excellent. Notify Shinomori-san where the audio file is recording to the servers so he can pull it onto his computers and begin his research for Himura-san immediately."