Author's Notes Okay, it's official, I'm doing the Kenshin-goes-to-college story. God help me, I must be nuts.
For those of you who haven't been following along, this is a crossover 'verse between Highlander and RuroKen and Kenshin is (in this story) a 160+ year old Immortal. (It's set 2014.) However, you do not need to be familiar with Highlander to read this -- all you need to know is that Kenshin is Immortal until somebody chops off his head. And people frequently try.
I am also going to try to make this story reasonably accessible for folks who haven't read Swordsmen, Walk Not Alone, and the unfinished A Life Lived. I recommend reading Swordsmen, A Life Lived through the end of the Chiyoko Arc (which is a good place to stop until I can finish it) and WNA, but it's not absolutely necessary. This story just has spoilers for WNA and Swordsmen in it that may affect your enjoyment of reading those stories.
And I said I wouldn't have a chapter done today but I had a bout of insomnia last night and this was mostly done anyway, it was just a matter of stitching the bits together. So surprise!
And as usual, I'll note that I have a livejournal -- ljmouse. I often post chapters there before putting them on and sometimes I'll put out-of-timeline scenes and extras on the lj too.
Edit Thanks to Ceylonna for pointing out a few errors. Fixed 'em.
Kenshin pulled into the college parking lot, and promptly nearly hit a college kid driving a Corvette who zipped out of a space in front of him. The kid looked didn't look any older than seventeen or eighteen -- by the standards of this modern world, a child.
A child who was piloting several thousand pounds of deadly steel with irresponsible carelessness.
Kenshin shook his head, making his pony tail swish across his back, as he claimed the spot the kid had just vacated. I can't think of them as children, he scolded himself. I'm supposed to be one of them.
He glanced at the stack of books on the passenger side seat, which had been purchased at an off-campus bookstore. His transcript from Himura Aki High School For International Business Studies in Tokyo was tucked into the top book -- an English 101 text book. Beneath it there was a list of his college classes and other assorted papers that he'd picked up at the registration office this morning; he was not going to go for a business degree but rather one in Film Studies.
He had ties -- rather odd ties -- to the Himura Aki school. The principle was actually his descendent, via the adoption of Himura Aki in the 1800's, and knew full well what he was. Michiko also fully understood his need to reinvent himself every decade or so, and she had helped him enroll in the high school as a senior, for what was supposed to be his "last year" of school -- officially, he had been a transfer student from England.
In truth, he was nothing of the kind. Still, he had managed to pass the last year of high school and his abilities at track and field as well as reasonably decent grades had gotten him into Seacouver U as an incoming freshman. Having a verifiable record of attending High School had made life much easier.
He was a freshman who was over a hundred and sixty years old, but who was counting?
Kenshin dropped the truck's keys into his computer bag, and clambered out of the truck. It was an old four by four with several inches of lift; he'd had fun with it over the summer, enjoying a bit of travel in remote areas of the US and Canada. That brief respite from the surprisingly hard work of school was over, however, and Kenshin fully empathized with the groans and complaints of his much younger classmates.
He had one duffel bag of clothing in the truck's back seat. He pulled it out, slung it over his shoulder by the straps, hung the computer bag off his other shoulder, and then, after a wary look about for observers, he extracted his sword from under the seat and hooked it to his belt. It disappeared from view, carefully concealed with a bit of psychic illusion. He then picked up the stack of books. Thus heavily laden he headed towards the dorms.
Among the papers tucked into the English text was one telling him that his dorm was number 207. He had been to an orientation earlier; had sat through a lecture about dorm rules, and had met the 'dorm mother' as well as some of his teachers and the dean. He liked the dorm mother; she was a forty-something woman, no-nonsense but not, he thought, inclined to be unfair. Since the dorm was co-ed, they needed someone fairly tough to keep trouble to a minimum.
The lobby doors required a pass card to get in; he was attempting to juggle books and his bags to fish the card out of his pocket when someone reached around him to swipe their card. "Thanks," Kenshin said, glancing back. He'd known someone was approaching, but they had felt relatively nonthreatening.
"Incoming freshman?" The guy guessed, holding the door open. "I swear they're younger every year."
"I'm nineteen," Kenshin lied -- it was the age on his forged paperwork. "We graduate from high school a year later in Japan. And my name's Himura Kenshin. And thanks."
"Shannon," the guy was average height, but a very muscular build. "I thought you were a girl, from behind."
Kenshin wasn't entirely sure how to answer that, but the guy didn't give him a chance. "Better watch out; that hair of yours, and that pretty face, are going to cause you trouble. People might take you entirely the wrong way."
Kenshin recognized an insult when he heard one. Wearily he said, "And how would that be?"
"They might think you're gay or something."
"And this would be a problem ... why?" Kenshin knew he was baiting the man. Well, the man's words had irritated him. A lifetime of mistaken assumptions concerning his sexuality -- he was cheerfully heterosexual, thank you very much -- had taught him patience, most of the time. But a complete stranger picking on him out of the blue was simply beyond the pale.
The man recoiled almost comically. "You are gay!"
Oh, good grief. Kenshin sighed. "My last three girlfriends ..." who I married, "... might beg to differ. And all three of them assured me that they found long hair on a guy sexy."
Shannon didn't look convinced.
Kenshin added, with a good bit of snark, "One might assume the same thing about your name that you are assuming about my hair and my height."
The man's eyes narrowed. Kenshin caught a flare of very angry ki, and was surprised by how focused it was. The guy would make a good swordsman, he thought absently. Shannon snarled, "It's a man's name."
"Ah, I know. It's Irish." Kenshin smiled at Shannon. "But do you see my point?"
Shannon continued to glare at Kenshin. Kenshin held his hands up. "I don't want trouble, Shannon. Let's start this over. I'm Kenny Myojin, from Tokyo. I'm pleased to meet you ..."
"You don't look Japanese."
"This one has been told this before."
"You speak funny."
"This one has also been told this. Do you have difficulty understanding me? If you do, I can find another way to say things." Kenshin gave Shannon his broadest rurouni smile; the one that said, I'm a happy village idiot, won't you love me? "English isn't my first language, that it isn't."
"People are going to pick on you," Shannon predicted, hands in his pockets, staring down at Kenshin.
Kenshin continued to smile. "This has happened before. I think I'll survive. And if you'll excuse me, I want to find my dorm."
Room 207 was at the top of the stairs, and directly over the lobby, within sensing distance of any other Immortals who might enter the building. Nobody was going to get on the second floor without him knowing about it. Carrie's room was past his, four doors down.
And that was the real reason he was here: Carrie.
Or -- at least a good part of the truth, anyway. He was looking forward to getting a degree; he'd been many things in his life, but college educated wasn't one of them. He didn't actually need to work, as long as he was relatively frugal, but he enjoyed keeping his hands and mind busy. And he'd loved the cinema since he'd seen his first silent movie almost a century before. He hoped the degree in Film Studies would open a few doors to interesting jobs.
Not that anyone would believe him as an actor -- he was under five foot tall, his face was scarred, and he had a voice that sounded like it belonged to a woman. MacLeod, however -- when he got done snickering about Kenshin's college plans -- had suggested that he might find work as a stuntman in the industry.
Stunt work would certainly be practical -- with Kenshin's slight build and athletic abilities, not to mention his near indestructibility, stunt work for female actors was possible. And it sounded like a great deal of fun.
However, the degree was definitely secondary to the primary reason he was here, which was Carrie Seta.
He found and swiped his pass key at his door and the lock buzzed open. Balancing his books in one hand, Kenshin slipped through the doorway and then flipped on the light.
It had been Carrie Seta, Soujiro's adopted pre-Immortal daughter, who had been the impetus to get him to go to school. He was her bodyguard -- her father had been unwilling for her to go to away to college because of safety concerns until Kenshin had stepped in. Soujiro's concerns were legitimate, Kenshin knew, but he also believed that Carrie deserved a chance for a real life. And she had done brilliantly at a local college for three years, completing a four year degree early. She also had earned the right to attend any college she wanted, as far as Kenshin was concerned.
And ... well, she was the reincarnation of Kaoru. She wasn't a carbon copy of his late wife; she had been raised in the modern world, America, in a time of peace and prosperity. Still, Kenshin felt ferociously protective of her. He simply couldn't help it.
The dorm room was small: two beds, two desks, two dressers under a window, and a tiny fridge and sink.
Kenshin slung his duffel onto the right-hand bed. He regarded the room with a somewhat disappointed frown, noting that the square footage was greater than his tiny seventh-floor Tokyo apartment but it wasn't very well laid out. It lacked a kitchen, it shared a bathroom with the dorm next door, and the two twin beds took up all sorts of useable space.
He contemplated replacing his bed with a futon. However, the bed was attached to the wall. Short of dismantling it, he couldn't get rid of it. Space was going to be tight, even by his standards ... He had considered renting an apartment to share with Carrie but she had wanted to stay in a dorm "for the experience" and he wanted to be as close to her as possible so he could keep an eye on her.
Well, he though philosophically, he'd slept in far worse places. 'Worse places' included the undersides of bridges, and on muddy battlefields, and in the middle of the woods when it was raining, and in vermin-infested huts, and in an amazing assortment of inexpensive hotels around the world.
The place was clean ... he watched in dismay as a roach scuttled under the bed.
Cautiously, he pried up the mattress on his bed. More roaches scurried away from the light.
He poked in the crevices of the bed frame -- experience had taught him caution when sleeping in strange accommodations. However, he found no sign of bedbugs, lice, or fleas; the room's vermin seemed to be limited to roaches and, likely, mice. He was unhappy about the roaches and rodents, but it was an old building and perhaps they were inevitable. He would scrub the room as soon as he could get his hands on a bucket and some soap, and buy traps for the rodents tomorrow. There were mouse turds along the wall.
Kenshin was standing with his hands on his hips and a scowl on his face when the door behind him opened. A tall boy, burdened by several suitcases, stumbled through, tripped over his own feet, and went sprawling in Kenshin's direction. Kenshin, boy, and suitcases, all hit the floor together. Kenshin could have dodged, but he'd elected not to -- better he crack his head on the floor than the kid.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!" The teenager scrambled backwards and lurched to his feet. "Are you okay?"
Kenshin had, indeed, hit his skull on the linoleum. Gingerly, he probed his skull with his fingers and said, "Aa, I'll live. I'm Kenny Myojin."
"Umm. Sandy. Alexander, actually, but everybody calls me Sandy. Thomas." The kid sat down on the left-hand bed. "They said I had a Japanese guy for a roommate. Did they change my assignment?"
"No, that's me," Kenshin offered Sandy-Alexander-actually his hand to shake. The boy had paws like catcher's mitts; Kenshin's hand was completely swallowed up by Sandy's fingers. It appeared that the boy had a bit of growing left to do, if one judged by his rawboned, lanky frame.
"Wow, you're short. Oh, sorry!" Sandy clapped one hand over his mouth, and shook Kenshin's hand with the other. "There I go, my mouth leading my brain again ..."
"I'm four foot eleven," Kenshin replied, dryly. At least his roommate appeared to be much nicer than the jock he'd met earlier. "I've heard it before. And yes, I'm Japanese."
"Oh. Good. I mean, good that you speak good English. I was worried you wouldn't. I don't care if you're Japanese or not." Sandy tilted his head, and with disarming curiosity said, "You must bleach your hair, then."
"No, I'm just a freak of nature," Kenshin said, with a smile. "It's real. So are the eyes, before you ask."
"Maybe." Kenshin sat down on his bed and unzipped his duffel. Immortals were found, not born, so he wasn't sure if genetic traits actually applied in his case. "I've never had a good explanation why my hair's red. Most albinos don't see as well as I do, though. And I do tan a little."
"Oh." Sandy paused, then said, "Incomplete expression of a gene, then."
Kenshin glanced at him and observed, "One might guess that you're here for the medical program."
Sandy ducked his head, a curious gesture, and said, "Yeah. And I'm a bit of a nerd. Sorry if I'm being nerd-y and rude."
"It's quite alright. As reactions to my appearance go, that's minor. You're not going, 'demon demon kill the demon!' so we're good, that we are." Kenshin claimed the right-hand dresser and started putting his clothes away. He had not brought much -- there were just a couple changes of jeans and t-shirts, which he neatly put away, plus boxers, socks, and a few yukata for working out.
"People really do that to you, then?"
"Not recently." One of the best things about the modern era was its lack of superstitious peasants.
"Is that all you brought?" Sandy was watching him in fascination as he folded up the duffel bag and put it away in the bottom dresser drawer. That left Kenshin's laptop bag -- he took the laptop out, and set it to charge on one of the desks.
"I'm going to go shopping, later. I've been wandering a bit, for the summer. I like to travel light."
"Me, a truck, and the road." Kenshin confirmed. He missed the freedom of his travels already.
"Sounds way cool." Sandy blinked. He tilted his head sideways, birdlike, then said, "If you don't mind me asking, how old are you?"
"Nineteen," Kenshin glanced over his shoulder at Sandy, then turned the desk chair around to face him. "High schools in Japan run a year later than they do here."
"You don't look it!"
"Heh. Tell me about it."
"I just turned seventeen." Sandy hunched again. "I'm a nerd. I graduated from high school early." A pause, and then another question, "What are you going to school for?"
"Film studies." Just as he said that there was a knock on their dorm room door. Kenshin stood up, recognizing the faint buzz of a pre-Immortal, and answered the knock.
Carrie was twenty now, and a transfer student into the medical school. Kenshin hadn't seen her in seven years; in his head, Carrie was still a gawky teenager with a multicolored dye job in her hair and a fairly typical amount of teenage angst. Now ...
"Carrie-dono," Kenshin breathed, holding a hand out to shake. She looked fantastic.
She grabbed his hand and promptly pulled him into a hug. "You! God, you haven't changed a bit!"
He let himself be hugged; really, he didn't like to be touched by most people, but this was Carrie, and he knew he could trust her. Except he didn't realize until she tightened her arms around him that there was also the problem that she wasn't kid-Carrie anymore, she was all grown up, and he found himself blushing ferociously because his nose was at a rather uncomfortable level. When had she gotten so tall? And so, ah, well endowed?
After a moment, cheeks flaming, Kenshin managed to extricate himself from the hug. He was reasonably sure it had been completely innocent, but ... damnit, he'd been expecting her to still be a child, even though he knew academically she wasn't!
"It's so good to see you!" She crowed, "I can't believe we're going to the same school. It's just too weird!"
"Aa, it's a bit weird, but I'm very glad to see you face to face again." Kenshin forced himself to think of things other than the soft, pillowy body parts his cheek had just been shoved against. They were quite ample body parts. Nicely formed. Perky. The very male part of his soul appreciated those body parts very much.
Face to face, Kenshin no baka! He forced himself to meet her eyes and not stare at her, ah, headlights. Thank God he wasn't actually nineteen, or ...
Ack! He sat down on the bed and casually pulled his computer bag into his lap. "So, Carrie," he said, cheeks still flaming and praying she didn't notice, "When did you get in?"
"Last night. You?" She sounded bright and happy and very casual; he was a hundred percent certain that his hormonal interested was not shared by the woman in front of him, which made it all the worse. Likely, she saw him just as family. He wanted to crawl under the bed and die of embarrassment.
"An hour ago." He was somewhat surprised he wasn't squeaking when he talked.
"And you're already unpacked." She smirked. "I've got a bet with my mother that you didn't bring more than one bag."
"Whoever bet 'one bag' won," Kenshin replied, unsurprised to be the subject of a bet, "if you're not counting my computer. I'm going shopping later, however, if you want to come."
"Umm," Kenshin's forgotten roommate spoke up, "I'm Sandy."
Carrie glanced at him, and smiled. "Hi, Sandy."
Sandy blushed. Kenshin would have bet five bucks that Sandy was blushing simply because a Real Girl was Talking To Him, and that it wouldn't matter if the girl looked like a horse, he still would have reacted the same way.
"I apologize, Sandy," Kenshin said, remembering his manners. "This is Carrie Seta -- we've been friends for a long time through the internet. Carrie, this is Sandy Thomas."
This was true, of course, and was the cover story they'd agreed on in advance. It just wasn't anywhere close to the whole story. Even Carrie herself didn't know the whole story.
Kenshin had kept in fairly close touch with Carrie for the last several years. Above and beyond the fact that she was Kaoru's reincarnation he liked her just for herself. They'd traded e-mails, and chatted on ICQ, and he had spoken to both her and her parents by phone every few months. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, he had not been to see the Setas for several years. He hadn't actually seen her since Atsuko's funeral in Japan.
And that had been a farce he wanted to forget.
"Hi," Sandy blinked at her, looking flustered. He stammered, "I-I should probably say something witty now."
Carrie laughed. She sounded amused by Sandy's reaction. "I think you just did. -- Ken, I was going out to get something to eat. Want to join me? We can catch up over lunch."
"Sure," he said. "Give me a second to change, though."
Actually, he still wasn't sure he could stand up without embarrassing himself with a tent in his trousers. But it sounded like a plausible excuse and it would give him some time to, ah, collect his thoughts. She grinned, apparently accepting his stalling tactic at face value, and said, "Okay. I'll meet you downstairs in the lobby."
After she was gone, Sandy breathed in awe, "That's a girl."
"Yes," Kenshin said. Although he knew what Sandy meant, he couldn't help but tease the kid a bit. He observed, "It is a co-ed dorm."
"But she's hot. Dude, and she likes you!"
"Yes, she is very attractive," Kenshin agreed. He was also astonished by his reaction to her beauty. At over a hundred and sixty years of age he'd seen his share of women; he had been married three times; he'd deflected the interest of a multitude of women who were eying him as a potential mate, and he had turned down a few hundred offers for casual sex, as well, over the years.
On the other hand, Carrie was Kaoru's reincarnation. And his heart knew it.
On the third hand, Tammy -- Tomoe's reincarnation -- didn't interest him much at all except as a friend.
Sandy sounded far too enthusiastic when he said, "Kenny, you might score with her. And she's hot. Just tell me to get out if you need the dorm to yourself ... with the girl!"
Kenshin turned blazing angry eyes on Sandy, irritated despite himself -- because it was Carrie, and his statement implied a slur on Carrie's integrity. "I do not 'score' with women, Alexander. She is a friend, that she is. Nothing more."
"Riiiiight. And why do you have your backpack in your lap again?"
Kenshin threw a pillow at Sandy as his cheeks flamed scarlet. "Oro!" He groaned, flopping backwards onto the bed. In Japanese, he muttered, "This is going to be interesting ..."
Carrie was waiting in the lobby with a friend when Kenshin descended the stairs. The friend was taller than Carrie by a couple of inches -- which made her very tall for a woman, perhaps five ten or five eleven -- and, Kenshin noted mostly academically, she was pretty.
He thought she might be Native American, or perhaps Polynesian -- or some ethnic mix, perhaps. She had long, straight dark hair, flawless olive skin, and a very mischievous smile. And he knew she was Megumi reborn the moment he saw her, which made the, 'Hey she's pretty,' observation purely platonic in nature.
"Hi," she said, with interest, as he walked up.
"Meg, this is Kenny Myojin. Kenny, Margaret Yazzi's my best friend." Carrie indicated him with a wave.
"... This is your pen-pal?" Meg said, grinning. Obviously, Carrie had fed her the story that he was an internet friend. And oh, he knew that grin. She was every bit the fox-lady this time around too -- that expression was evilly playful. He found himself unconsciously responding with a smile of his own. And sure enough, she turned to Carrie and said, "He's adorable."
"Oro!" Kenshin protested, obediently laughing and playing the clown.
"Meg, don't!" Carrie scowled at her, sounding annoyed.
"Don't what?" Kenshin asked, with real curiosity. Oh -- he knew what Megumi was doing. The minx was flirting just to make Carrie jealous because she thought he was a long-distance 'friend' which, in her mind, meant boyfriend material.
"Don't ... just, don't. Ken's not like that." Carrie was practically stomping her foot in annoyance. "Meg!"
"Not like what?" Meg said, sweetly.
"Not like ... like ... like ... he's my friend, and it's not like that!" Carrie had her fists balled at he side and she sounded genuinely angry. "Meg, stop!"
"Oh, really ..." Meg purred. "In that case, Kenny, I'm looking for a date for Friday night ..."
"Sorry!" Kenshin held his hands up. "I've got plans already."
"But is it plans with me ...?" Meg tossed her hair over her shoulder and blinked innocently at him.
Oh, yeah, Megumi hadn't changed much. Worse, she had been raised a modern American, with all that implied. "Sorry," Kenshin said, gently. "I do already have plans."
Meg leaned over to Carrie and whispered in a stage whisper, "I think he's a keeper, Carrie."
"Meg, stop! You don't understand!" Carrie shoved Meg away and stomped off towards the door.
Meg giggled and said to Kenshin, who was staring after Carrie in dismay, "Girl needs to lighten up. And she must really like you; you're the only guy I know she calls a friend. She usually doesn't care much for men."
Kenshin sighed. He had a feeling he was going to have his patience tested sorely, and on a regular basis, by this modern incarnation of Megumi. "Are you coming with us for lunch?"
Meg's eyes twinkled as she said, "Nah, I'll let you kids have some time alone. Carrie and I are sharing a room; I'll see her later. Mind, I'm going to pump her for all the details ..."
"Megum ... Meg-dono ..." He stuttered to a stop, then tried again for the casual western informality that he was trying very hard to accomplish because he wanted to blend in. And he failed, because he just couldn't bring himself to call her Meg without knowing her better, and even then, it would be difficult. "Miss Yazzi, please don't hassle Carrie about her friendship with me. It really isn't like that between me and her, that it isn't, and I think it makes her really angry."
Meg's eyes widened. "Wait a second. Are you gay?"
He spluttered in shock. What was it with these people and questioning his sexual orientation? It was embarrassing and annoying. "N-n-no!"
"Oh." She sounded almost disappointed. He wondered how much worse her teasing would be if he was gay. Likely, he guessed, it would be worse by an order of magnitude -- because, then he'd be safe. He'd never been so glad to be heterosexual in his life, because Meg was scary. Then she dimpled, "You're so cute, and all the cute ones are ..."
"Oro!" He held his hands up wardingly. "I'm going after Carrie now, that I am."
Carrie was outside on the walk, arms folded, and he could practically see steam rising from the top of her curly hair -- she was genuinely pissed off. "I hate it when she does that. Everything's about boys and sex with her, and she thinks I should be like that too ... oooh!"
He touched her arm gently, and she looked down at him. He said quietly, "She does care about you, I think. And she means well."
"Oh, I know. We've been best friends since kindergarten. Just ... oooh. I've told her and told her that we're just friends, Ken-nii."
Concerned by her level of upset he rested a hand on her arm and said, "Carrie-dono? Are you okay?"
She was radiating upset; he could have sensed her half a mile away. She shook her head, "I will be. I just ... I hate it when she teases me like that. And she never listens when I tell her to stop."
"She have a boyfriend?" Kenshin asked, with sudden amusement. Oh, he could have some fun with this. He knew somebody who did need to meet Meg.
"You're not seriously thinking of ..." Carrie said, with alarm.
"Not me," Kenshin grinned, mischeviously, "I'm thinking of setting her up with a friend. Maybe if she got laid she'd leave you alone."
"Kenshin!" She squeaked, sounding completely and totally scandalized. "I can't believe you just said that."
"What?" He gave her an completely innocent look. "You're a grownup. I don't have to be G-rated around you anymore."
"But, but ..." Carrie clapped her hands over her eyes. "Please. I prefer the G-rated Kenshin."
"Oro! Okay, okay, I'll have mercy on you, that I will." He was amused by her reaction. It was so very like Kaoru, who had also been embarrassed by teasing about adult relationships.
With relief, she said, "Thank you! And on that note, let's go get lunch."