Matchmaking-gone-bad AK challenge by BelleDayNight
Kaoru scrubbed with all her might determined to get the stain out of her new shirt. Of course Kenshin wasn't there when his skills were really needed. He was off on one of those government missions—again. At least Sanosuke was with him so she could think of two perks to that: not having a free-loader and Kenshin might be kept from loneliness.
"Hey Ugly!" Yahiko called walking towards her waving an envelop in his hand. "You got mail from the Weasel."
With an annoyed sigh Kaoru dropped the shirt in the water bucket to let it soak some more since the scrubbing wasn't helping. "Really Yahiko, you have to learn some manners. What girl would be interested in an insulting mouth like yours? Surely not Tsubame."
She was rewarded by the fierce blush across his cheeks. "Whatever," he huffed holding out the letter for her. Kaoru wiped her hands on her pants and took it.
"What's it say?"
"Why do you care?" she asked.
Yahiko shrugged. "I don't really, just was bored is all."
Rolling her eyes at his weak disclaimer Kaoru answered, "It's a request. Misao's trying to get Aoshi to see her."
"He sees just fine. He's got the eyes of a ninja. Stupid Weasel," Yahiko interrupted.
Kaoru shook her head with a small laugh. "She wants him to see her as a potential wife."
Yahiko burst out laughing, falling onto his back and rolling on the ground in the process.
She cleared her throat. "So she had Okina talk with Aoshi about the fact that he needs to start considering the next phase of his life, namely marriage and fatherhood. And Okina suggested that he knew some great women to suggest. And Aoshi said that he wanted me to find him a suitable choice."
Yahiko stopped laughing. "What?"
Kaoru was about to answer that she didn't understand either when the sound of horses drew both of their attention. Both exchanged a nervous glance with one another before they set off together for the front yard. Kaoru wished she'd grabbed her boken, but it was in the dojo, at least Yahiko had his.
The carriage stopped outside the dojo's gates and off stepped one Aoshi Shinomori, dressed in a dark Western-style suit and tie. He said something to the driver and then approached the gate. The carriage moved further down the road and then pulled to the side and waited.
Aoshi approached the two dumbfounded dojo-residents. "You received the letter," Aoshi said eyes flickering to the paper currently crumpled in Kaoru's hand.
"Yes," Kaoru answered, she looked over at Yahiko who merely shrugged.
"Is Himura here?"
"Have you decided to borrow my vocabulary?" Aoshi asked with a hint of a smile.
Kaoru and Yahiko's jaws both grew slackened at the humor in the normally stoic ninja.
Aoshi cleared his throat after a few awkward moments passed in silence.
"Yes, I have Misao's letter. And I'd be glad to help you find a suitable wife!" Kaoru enthused with a large false grin.
"I will require your accompaniment," Aoshi explained. He gestured towards the carriage. "I have a dress for you that is of the Western-style."
"Why does it matter what I'm wearing?"
"Yeah, why should Ugly's wardrobe matter?"
"Kamiya-san, I took the liberty of enlisting the resources of a well-reputed match-maker. She has set up a multitude of meetings for me to make this afternoon with some possible matches. On such meetings one is expected to have a chaperon, either family or a close friend in which to consult with on the decision of possible matches."
"I liked it better when he didn't say anything. At least then I knew what he was talking about," Yahiko grumbled. "Have fun, Ugly—"there was a dangerous glare from Aoshi. "Kaoru," he corrected. "I'll be at the Akabeko. And don't worry about the shirt, I'll see if Tsubame can take care of it."
"Thanks," Kaoru said absently. Did Misao have any idea that Aoshi was seeking professional help that didn't involve thoughts at all of a certain ninja-girl?
The carriage was nice, very spacious, and a smooth ride. The dress Aoshi provided her fit strangely compared to the kimonos that she'd worn on previous occasions of dressing up, but she was a friend and friends do what other friends ask.
She might have felt self-conscious about the way that the front-laced style of the dress caused her boobs to be pressed up so that she was afraid they'd pop out at any moment. She really missed her bindings at times like this.
"I appreciate you're doing this," Aoshi said, breaking the silence.
"It's no problem. With Kenshin and Sano gone Yahiko and I were about to go stir-crazy. Even Megumi's been away for a few months too doing a medical internship. So, where are we going to first?"
Aoshi pulled out a slip of paper from the inner pocket of his suit jacket. "To meet Fuu Teshou."
Aoshi stared stonily at the animated woman sitting across from him and Kaoru. Animated was a nice way of describing her mania. Not only had she stuffed herself at the restaurant they'd met at—a bad sign showing that it was a certainty she'd wind up obese after her first child—and she also spoke with her mouth full of food. The matchmaker had said Fuu came from a noble family. Her grandfather had been a famous samurai, but it seemed the honor of her grandfather had not been inherited in the form of manners.
Her chaperon was a deaf and mostly blind old hag. Apparently the wife of the famous samurai.
He cleared his throat and gave Kaoru's hand a subtle squeeze under the tabletop—the emergency signal agreed upon on the carriage ride.
"It was a pleasure to meet you Fuu-chan and Teshou-san, but I'm afraid that Shinomori-san and I have other matters to attend. If you'll excuse us."
"What she say?" the old woman asked. She rose to her feet. "Oi! You can't eat and run! Thieves! How dare you!"
Aoshi rose to his feet and helped Kaoru stand. He would have offered the pair across from him a polite bow but he just wanted to leave. The restaurant manager was approaching. Aoshi left sufficient funds on the table and hurried out dragging Kaoru alongside him. She seemed to have trouble with the American high-heeled boots she wore.
"So I guess you don't need me to tell you that you can NOT marry that slob, right?"
"I did come to that same conclusion," Aoshi said. He listened in silent amusement as Kaoru continued to list all the faults in the candidate. She still had no clue as to the reasoning she was the one chosen to help him in the search for a wife. Much less did she realize who was really being tested.
"So, where do we meet the next candidate?" Kaoru asked.
"With the premature ending of the last meeting we have some free time. Why don't we enjoy some time under the cherry blossoms?"
"Oh! The place where we all had that picnic last spring when you and Misao came to visit?"
"That is a sufficient choice," Aoshi agreed. The restaurant was approximately a half-hour walk from the location of the picnic area. The walk was going slowly until halfway through Kaoru growled.
"Is something troubling you?" Aoshi asked quietly turning to his companion as she began to hop on one foot and made attempts to pull off her boot. Aoshi saw the impending disaster before she realized it was happening.
The right boot was off, but the effort caused her balance to be lost. Kaoru's eyes grew wide as she began to topple over head first, but she had the ninja progeny Aoshi Shinomori at her side and he caught her in his arms.
"It would have been wise to have sat down to take off the boots," Aoshi pointed out.
"Well that's what happens when you give me some crazy thing to try and walk on!"
"Would you prefer I carry you?" Aoshi asked.
Kaoru huffed and still using Aoshi's support yanked off her other boot. "No, I'll walk barefoot." She pushed herself out of his arms and started walking at a brisk pace holding the boots in her left hand with her right in a tight fist at her side.
Aoshi walked at her side until they reached the cherry blossom trees. Kaoru reached out absently to catch a few blossoms as they fluttered to the earth.
"How long will Himura be gone?"
"He didn't say," Kaoru said quietly leaning against the tree trunk and closing her eyes.
"I thought he lived with you."
"We share the same home, he doesn't tell me what he's really up to. He just says when he'll be gone, but never gives a time-frame. So I'm always left waiting. But it's okay, I know he'll return."
Interesting. Aoshi had thought their relationship was like that ever since the picnic last spring, but he had feared it might have changed. Surely living in such close proximity would be too tempting for Himura. But then he constantly had Misao trying to make sure he was fully aware of her feelings for him.
Aoshi toyed with the cuff of his jacket's sleeve. There was a string that made his impeccable suit imperfect. He gave a fierce yank and the insulting string was no more and his suit was once more perfect.
"How are things with you and Misao?"
"Same as always."
Kaoru's eyes opened and she looked over at him. "You do know she loves you. This must be very painful for her to see you using a Matchmaker when she would happily be your wife."
"I do not see Misao that way. I helped raise her and I am simply not attracted to her in that way. I care for Misao deeply, but it would be unfair to commit to her if I could never truly love her. I want her to find true love and happiness. She will not find that with me."
"It will hurt her deeply to see you marry a stranger. For you to choose a stranger instead of someone you've known for so long, it will be very painful."
"Do you ever worry that Himura will meet someone when he's away on one of his missions?"
Kaoru's shoulders slumped. "I'm terrified of the possibility," she confessed.
"What if you were to meet someone else? Do you think he worries about that?"
Kaoru straightened and laughed. "I have a feeling that's what he's counting on."
They settled into silence and watched the blossoms fall as the hours passed.
"So who's next?"
Aoshi reached into the pocket of his suit and pulled out two photographs of two beautiful women. "The first is Yuka Shou and then En Pha. Shou-san is an actress and Pha-san runs her family's flower shop."
"They're quite pretty," Kaoru said through gritted teeth.
"Both are physically beautiful," Aoshi agreed fascinated by the narrowing of Kaoru's eyes. "There is, however, one more woman in whom I traveled to Tokyo to specifically find out more about."
"Do you have a picture of her too?"
There was a fascinating clenching and un-clenching of Kaoru's fist that caught Aoshi's eye and gave him the confidence to continue to unfold his plan. "Only a picture that I carry in my heart."
"What does that mean? Does that mean you already know her?"
"I do. She's been inspirational to me. When I meditate I often picture the sincerity of her spirit and it sooths me."
"Is it Megumi? Because, that's just not right! I knew something happened between you two at Takeda's! You just acted like you barely knew each other. She's a great woman. I wish you well."
Aoshi began to laugh softly as she just revealed her feelings for him via a jealous reaction. She looked over at him curiously seemingly caught off guard by his laugh. "You truly have no sense of your worth, do you?"
"Oh? You want me to go with you to chaperon? No need, I approve of Megumi. She's definitely better than Yuku and Ena."
"Yuka and En," Aoshi corrected.
"And I doubt if she'll get fat after having your babies. She's a doctor, she knows how to eat right and stuff."
Aoshi reached out and grabbed hold of her chin and forced her to look at him. "Kaoru, I came to Tokyo because I wanted to know if you would entertain the possibility of us."
"Us?" she echoed dumbfounded.
"Yes, the possibility of there being a Kaoru Shinomori."
"You're going to name your child after me?"
He leaned close to her and pulled her face to his and kissed her gently on the lips. "No," he said centimeters from her lips, breath fanning across her face as he kissed first one cheek, then the other. He brushed back her bangs and placed another kiss softly on her forehead. "Would you approve of that possibility?"
"But what about Yuka, En, Megumi, or Misao?"
"Kaoru, I came here to ask if you might accept the heart of one Aoshi Shinomori to be yours from now until the end of days in exchange for your heart."
"But don't you want to see all your options first?"
Aoshi laughed again, this time coming from deep in his chest. He felt light-hearted, almost happy, and most certainly content. Though Kaoru might not be certain of their future he now was.
"Maybe you should kiss me again? So I can judge just what I'll be getting."
A sly smile spread across Aoshi's lips as he reached out and lifted Kaoru so that she was now sitting across his lap. He wrapped his arms around her and leaned forward to kiss her again. His lips met her eager ones and this time she responded to the kiss.
It would be the first of a many shared over many years.
"Do I have your answer?"
"What about Misao? I can't hurt her."
"It was her idea."
"She and Okina interrogated me on the subject. Eventually after days of torturous non-stop chatter on their part I confessed my feelings for you."
"So the letter?"
"An elaborate plot, I admit."
"I took the liberty of meeting with both him and Sanosuke before my trip here. Himura has no intention of marrying again. He wants to dedicate his life to making atonement for his sins. If you don't find love in another, he will marry you. He loves you, but thinks you deserve to be loved by an untainted heart."
"He could have told me that instead of leaving me hanging," she grumbled.
Aoshi's arms tightened around her. "I'm telling you. Now, are you ready to move on and try finding happiness for yourself? You provide the light for so many lost souls. Let me be your light."
"Kaoru Shinomori does have a nice ring to it."
Indeed it did, but he wasn't about to show her the diamond and sapphire ring he'd had fashioned in the Western-style to match their clothing. She didn't need to know how confident he'd been about her answer.
"Did anyone not know about this?"
"Yahiko," Aoshi said nuzzling his face against her soft neck. He took a deep breath enjoying her fresh scent. She smelt just like the cherry blossoms, he probably did too, but that was irrelevant.