She should have been working on her math test, but the back of Kenshin's head was so much more interesting. She knew that failing this test would be a very bad idea, but his long, red ponytail moved slightly and she was transfixed. It was stupid to swoon over him, the one person she had no chance with, but there it was.

It was the first day of kindergarten, and she'd seen him walking down the street by the playground. None of the other kids would play with her, so she watched him carry a bag as big as he was with apparent ease.

After a week of watching, she approached him. Somehow, despite his cool demeanor and unwillingness to talk, she'd made friends with him. They'd been close ever since- even though he was being home schooled and she was in elementary. They'd formed a bond, and it got stronger, not weaker as the years went by. Kenshin finally went into public school in sixth grade. Kaoru finally stopped needing glasses in seventh. She got her braces off in fifth.

He was overprotective and possessive and slightly weird, but he treated her like she was more important than anyone else. He'd shoved a sword through the mailbox of the first guy who'd dumped her, had beaten off so many bullies that he frightened even her with his skill, but he'd never turned his rage on her. When Kaoru was surrounded by people who didn't want her around, Kenshin had stayed with her, had chosen being ostracized over being popular.

And he made high school all the easier. No one dared pick on her-Kenshin had stopped that in seventh grade. He always brought huge lunches to share with her and helped her with all her homework. While her father got drunk and smashed things, she stayed at his house. Only a few months ago, she'd moved in with him at his insistence.

He colored her whole life, and she felt lost without him. Misao and Megumi were wonderful, and she loved them dearly, but Kenshin was closest friend she'd ever had.

It seemed inevitable that she fall in love with him. And fall in love with him she did.


He'd finished the homework, and was bored. And Kenshin knew from long experience that if he was bored, his mind would return to the one subject he never tired of. Kaoru, his best friend.

He could hear her pencil scratching on the math test she was making up in the silent study hall behind him. He'd studied with her for weeks to help her prepare, only to have her fall sick. She'd made him leave her and go to school, but he'd snuck off during lunch and no amount of scolding could quell the relief at knowing she was safe.

Raised by a sadistic and slightly insane swordsman who forced to train until he turned fifteen and mastered the style Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu, after which he'd moved into his own place, she was his only friend. When he'd been alone, she'd reached out to him.

And he was determined from that day forward never to lose her, no matter what the cost.

She was his Kaoru, and he'd be damned if he shared her with anyone.


"Oh, Himura. Didn't know they let kids in here."

"Didn't know they let idiots in, either, but there you have it." Kenshin gave his rival and nemesis, Shinji, a cold, frightening smile. Kaoru referred to it as the I-will-eat-your-soul look, but then again, he never turned it on her. She could make fun if she liked.

He and his kendo team were hanging out after a long day of school and practice. Kaoru was at a slumber party with Misao and Megumi, so the four guys had felt free to come to this shady gambling house. Unfortunately, their rival team was there as well.

Shinji was blonde, brown-eyed, cocky, and Kaoru's most persistent suitor. In short, he was Kenshin's worst nightmare. Kenshin, in turn, guarded Kaoru so well that Shinji had had no chance at getting Kaoru to do anything with him. Or even come near him.

Sano, the manager of the kendo team, went off with Soujiro to gamble. Aoshi retreated to a dark corner to brood, as usual. And Kenshin sat down next to Shinji at his table, letting his anger cool.

"Still a clingy bastard?"

"Still trying to get your hands on her?"

Shinji laughed. "You're so insecure, Himura."

"Maybe." Kenshin mused. "Doesn't mean I'm wrong. You're not good for her."

"You think so. Maybe if you weren't around, she wouldn't."

"Keep wishing. I'm not going anywhere."

"Wanna bet?"

"On what?"

"Oh, I don't know...the upcoming kendo tournament. If you win, I'll leave Kaoru alone. But if I win, you get out of my way."

"If my school wins or if I win in a one-on-one match?"

"One-on-one match." Shinji waited and hoped he'd baited the other teen enough to get him to agree. With Kenshin, you could never know what he was thinking, or so he felt. Kaoru always seemed to read him like a book.

"" The redhead gave him an amused look. "I won't gamble with Kaoru's happiness. At least, not without her here."

"Coward. What, you don't think you can take me?"


Kaoru walked down the hallway, holding her backpack loosely in one hand. It trailed along the floor as she stopped outside the gym, listening to the sounds of practice going on inside.

Kendo practice had been over an hour ago, but Kenshin was still here. She had told him she'd get a ride with Misao, but she was worried. Why was he working so hard? He was easily the best of them. He practiced outside of school, trained with his master once a month, and she'd never seen anyone outside of their team even give him a sweat.

Slipping in through the open door, she walked towards him. He was facing the other way, sparring with an imaginary opponent. She hesitated, than spoke. "Kenshin?"

Within a second his blade was touching the side of her neck. If he even twitched, he could decapitate her. Eyes wide at his skill at stopping a hair's breadth from her skin and his reaction time, Kaoru slowly raised her hands in surrender.

"Hello to you, too."


He was frozen with horror at actually coming close to hurting Kaoru. If he had been a little slower in stopping...the rational part of his mind, the part that knew exactly what his capabilities were, pointed out that there was no way in hell he could accidentally hurt Kaoru. His reaction time was too good. But he wasn't all that interested in reason in this one moment.

"Kaoru..." He sheathed his blade, hands shaking, and caught her shoulders. She didn't seem afraid, more like startled. She reached up and yanked on his hair, making him jump.

"I'm fine, you moron. Like you would have hit me? I'm sorry I surprised you, but you've been here for an hour and I was a little worried."

"I...I wanted some extra practice." He lied.

"Right. What's bothering you?" She grabbed his hands when he started to let go of her shoulders, hanging on to him tightly. "Kenshin..."

"Nothing." He said, feeling guilty for lying but not wanting her to know he'd lost his temper with Shinji. "Let's go."

She sighed, knowing he wouldn't tell her anything. "Let's go, then." She agreed sadly.


"Uh...Sano?" Soujiro said slowly. "This is the car you rented for the twelve-hour drive to the tournament?"

'We are so screwed...'

"Yeah, why?" Sano asked. He admired the bright red van. Aoshi spoke up, unafraid of Sano's raging temper.

"It's an eight seater, and there are nine of us." He pointed out. "We won't all fit."

'If only Sano could count...'

"So the two girls will sit on someone's lap. Who cares? It's all we could afford."

"Does Kaoru know you're forcing her to sit in someone's lap?" Soujiro asked timidly. Kaoru's temper was much scarier then Sano's.

"No...But, hey, she has Kenshin!"

'Who probably won't mind having Kaoru on his lap...right?'

"Who is going to kill us all because he's the one who has to drive?" Soujiro pointed out. "Remember? Aoshi drives too fast, Kaoru's not eighteen, I'm not eighteen, and no one trusts you!"


"Why am I in the hate sandwich again?" A distressed voice asked the passengers of the cramped red van.

Sano, Soujiro, and Aoshi, shoved in the back, just glared. Ben and Dan, twins, and Hanna, a blue-haired, green-nailed female who was staring into her compact, ignored her. Finally Soujiro spoke.

"Sandwich of hate?"

"Two people who hate each other and poor me in between. Why me?"

"Because you can keep Kenshin from murdering us all." Sano replied. 'Especially me.'

"He's not going to murder us all." She scoffed. 'Just you.'

"No, he'll kill us. You'll be fine, he likes you." Sano explained.

"Shut up, you, I'm trying to drive." Kenshin snapped.

By trying to drive, Kenshin meant he was breaking every speed limit in the vicinity. Other cars honked their horns and made obscene hand signals as he passed them. Kaoru was clinging helplessly to the edge of her seat, trying not to hold on to Shinji, who had managed to climb in the front seat with her.

"If we all die in a tragic car accident, Shinji, it will be your fault."

"How so, Kaoru?" He asked, draping an arm around her. She scowled but couldn't do anything about it, wedged into the tiny seat. So Kenshin took a sharp turn and slammed Shinji into the window. The innocent passengers screamed in horror.

"Kenshin's driving gets worse if he's pissed off, and you have that effect on him." She explained tightly. "Kenshin, for the love of god, obey the speed limits."

"Relax, Kaoru. We're nearly there."

"It's been six hours!"

"And I'm doing twice the speed limit- you do the math."

"That's it! Sano is driving on the way back!"


"Who the hell," Ben panted as he dragged his suitcase up the stairs. "designed this freaking hotel?"

"Our floor is through there." Shinji replied, blinking sweat out of his eyes. The door was in sight.

They just climbed thirty flights of stairs in the hot summer heat. Only Kaoru was relatively cool, primarily because Kenshin had taken her suitcase. Despite her best attempts, he had insisted she let him hold on to it. Unfortunately, it meant everyone glared evilly at her.

"Must be nice to have your own personal slave." Sano muttered.

"I tried, I failed, and I'm not going to start a stupid fight." She replied. 'Plus I don't really want to carry my suitcase...sorry, Kenshin, but it's the truth!'

"Bet Kenshin wishes he'd let you carry your own luggage now." The rooster-head muttered.

"Actually, I don't mind. It weighs less then my suitcase does." Kenshin said dryly from above Sano. "We're here."

Inside the air conditioned hallway, they set down their suitcases and sighed. And then found another problem when the woman in charge gave them their room assignments.

"Team West Cedar is in 1504. Team East Maple is in 1506. Right down the hall."

Opening their floor plans, they discovered there was a problem. While WC had two bunk beds in their room, EM found themselves with a suite with a double bed in each room.

"Who sleeps where?" Aoshi asked finally after they'd all stood there blankly.

"Kenshin can stay in with me." Kaoru offered tentatively. Noticing the looks she was getting, she flushed. "What?"

"What happened to 'we're just friends'?" Dan asked smugly.

"Are you two...?" Soujiro asked incredulously, a whirlwind of images spinning through his mind. '...having sex?'

"No! How-how could you even think that I'd ever-" Kaoru covered her face with her hands. "I trust him!" 'Sort of...not that it wouldn't be okay if he tried anything...'

"What about the rest of us? Three of us can't sleep on one bed!" Sano protested.

"Sleep on the floor, you perverts." She snapped. Grabbing Kenshin's arm, she hauled him to their room and shut the door loudly, leaving her team in shock and her rivals laughing.

"I call the bed!" Soujiro yelled, running at top speed towards their room. Aoshi and Sano gave chase, not wanting to sleep on the floor after a long car ride in discomfort.


"Afraid you're going to lose?" Shinji asked.

"What, to you?"

"Why else would you be down here at five in the morning?"

"I could ask you the same question."

The two practiced solo in silence, as the dawn sun came in through the window. The room they were using was a closed workout room, and there were huge windows on every wall. The polished hardwood floor and high ceiling was similar enough to Kaoru's dojo for Kenshin to feel comfortable. He made a note to go outside later and practice Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu later.

The door opened, and both of them turned to see who the newcomer was.

Kaoru was here, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Her tiredness was obvious, since her ponytail was lopsided on her head and her shoulders were slumped. But that wasn't why Shinji and Kenshin were staring at her like she was the harbinger of the apocalypse.

It was because she was wearing shorts, shorts that barely came two inches down her thighs, and a tank top that stopped a good three inches about the waistband of said shorts. She yawned, stretching, and both teen's eyes went to her flat stomach as she leaned back.

"I didn't even know she wore stuff like that outside of bed..." Kenshin muttered, awed.

"There is no way you two are just friends if you know stuff like that." Shinji said absently.

Kaoru had finally noticed that both of them were gaping like fish at her, and she took a hesitant step forward.

"Uh...shouldn't we be practicing?"

"If you haven't figured out why we're not practicing, then you definitely need me to protect you." Kenshin told her.

She looked down at her outfit as though seeing it for the first time, and then blinked. "It's not that big of a deal, is it?" 'Dammit, I knew there was a reason I hated this outfit...'

"I've never, ever seen you wear shorts like that in public, and I've known you since you needed help tying your shoelaces."

"Not that I mind- you look hot." Shinji assured her.

"Misao does it all the time." She said defensively, and then yawned again. "I'm so tired..."

"Why'd you get up?" The red-head asked. 'Why are you tormenting me?'

"You left me alone. I got cold and decided it wasn't worth it. Ugh...stand still so I can sleep on you."

Kaoru walked over to him and proceed to lean on him, her eyes fluttering closed. Within seconds, however, her eyes opened again.

"Are you looking down my shirt?" She demanded suspiciously. 'He is, wait, he probably is. What is it about the sight of me in anything even a little showy that makes him into a perv?'

"Yeah." Kenshin replied. "If you moved to the right and leaned a little further back I could probably look down your shorts, too."

Burying her face in her hands, and blocking Kenshin's view, she sighed. "Why is it that every time I wear anything above the knee you start harassing me?"

"You could go change and I'd stop." He offered.

"Or you could practice in that and assert your authority." Shinji added. 'Feminism has never seemed so good...'

She glared at both of them. "I am not going to change just because you are an overprotective...thingy. And if either of you try anything...I will hurt you so bad..."

Satisfied that she would be left alone, she picked up her shinai and started warming up.


"Kaoru, if you pace the whole night, you'll be too tired to fight tomorrow morning."

She looked up from the carpet, silhouetted against the moonlit window. "I'm nervous."

"I realize that, but it won't do you any good to worry about it." Kenshin said, climbing out of bed and stretching. He realized how futile it was, trying to sleep peacefully while Kaoru was worried. He was too attuned to her emotions to not be affected by them.

"Sorry I'm keeping you up, Kenshin. You have to fight tomorrow too."

He wrapped an arm comfortingly around her. "I don't mind." He said quietly. He frowned as he registered the feel of bare skin under his fingers. "Are you still in that indecent outfit?" 'Great, now I have to sleep next to that...well, there goes my plan of actually sleeping.'

"It's not indecent, and it's comfy." She mumbled into his shoulder.

"Come on, let's go to bed." Before you drive me crazy, he added silently.

Yawning, Kaoru nodded.


Breakfast was more of a battle than a meal. The day of the tournament had arrived, and he two rival teams were eating, face-to-face, trying to stare each other down. And WC was getting creamed. Sano, Aoshi, Soujiro, and Kenshin were experts at glaring due to a long history of a) lots of fighting, b) lots of childhood trauma, c) lots of overprotectiveness with their "friends", and d) too much time spent listening to Sano's, or worse, Aoshi's, drunken singing. Kaoru, despite her best effort, couldn't compete with them and settled for stuffing her face instead.

The three guys, Shinji, Ben, and Dan, were doing their utmost best, but they were reasonably good fighters who considered this a sport, not a lifelong obsession and skill. Plus they had all been spared the extreme trauma of their rivals. Hanna filed and painted and refiled her nails compulsively, trying not to look at the scary match going on in front of her. WC was too busy glaring to eat; EM was too used to constant glaring to lose a meal over it.

It was their empty stomachs that forced WC to back down, stop glaring, blink, and eat before they had to leave. Smirking victoriously, EM continued eating.

"Weirdoes." Shinji muttered under his breath. "Don't they need to blink?"

"Weaklings." Sano replied. "Man, I'm not even on the team and I still beat you. Hey, Kaoru, don't eat all the eggs!"

"I'm hungry!" She snapped. "Stop begging like a dog for food!"

Kenshin wordlessly tipped his eggs into Kaoru's plate and dug into his pancakes. Surprised, she ate them without complaint. The WC team watched with confusion; so far the words "we're just friends" seemed to be contradictory to everything the two "friends" did.

Finished, Kenshin started to get up when Soujiro grabbed onto his arm. "You are not driving us there."

"Why not?"

"Because your driving frightens me." Kaoru said. "Sano can drive."

"Yes!" Sano crowed.

"No!" Soujiro said in horror. "Never again!" Scenes of the last time Sano had driven him anywhere flashed before his eyes.


"I'll drive." Shinji offered. "Seeing as you guys brought us up there."

Shrugging, they agreed. What was the harm?


Kaoru wondered if she was cursed to travel in the hate sandwich forever.

Shinji's harmless offer to drive had apparently been interpreted as a nefarious plot to get Kaoru alone, without Kenshin to protect her, in the front. How he was going to do anything while driving was anyone's guess, but Kenshin had climbed in front with her anyways. She could feel the hate emanating from them like hot air of pavement in the summer.

On the other hand, she was in Kenshin's lap, which was more comfortable then them both squishing in.

Kenshin didn't have the disadvantage of the hate sandwich, since he was too far away for Shinji to try anything. He'd just wanted to sit with Kaoru and keep Shinji from hitting on her.

He wished that he'd sat next to her instead of seating her on his lap; it was very distracting. The smell of her hair, the way she was holding his hand without really thinking about was moments like these that reminded him how much he loved this girl.

And how much she didn't.

"We should go out." Shinji said suddenly.

"You're not my type." Kenshin replied dryly. "I'm straight, remember?"

"I was talking to Kaoru."

"Suicidal and gay. Not a good combination."

"Do you ever speak for yourself?" Shinji asked. "Or do you just do whatever Kenshin says?"

"I speak for myself. I just get tired of rejecting you." Kaoru said snarkily.

"You only reject me because he tells you to." Shinji said. He smiled. "So you don't speak for yourself, do you?"

"Why should I have to when Kenshin does it for me?"


When they announced the shinai/bokken part of the tournament was over, and the katana section would begin after lunch, the two teams met in the lobby. Normally they would avoid each other like the plague, but since they were sharing a car, they would be forced to lunch together. When everyone but Kaoru was there, however, the others got worried.

"Where is she?" Kenshin demanded.

"What, you weren't watching her every move today?" Ben sniped. "She's probably off lost."

"Quiet." Aoshi said. His flat, icy vice shut the WC team up effectively. They still remembered the staring contest from that morning. "Look- there."

Sure enough, Kaoru was making her way towards them through the crowd. She was smiling, but there were telltale streaks on her cheeks and her eyes were red.

"Sorry, I had to use the bathroom." 'Please let him not notice anything...'

"Why were you crying? Does your arm still hurt?" Kenshin asked, concerned.

"I wasn't crying..." 'I swear he has Kaoru-senses or something...'

"You took a pretty hard hit. We should get it looked at." Soujiro chimed in.

"I'm fine, aren't you listening?"

"Here, let me take your gear." Kenshin took her bag from her hand. She scowled and smacked his hand away violently.

"I tell you I'm fine!" She hugged her bag tightly.

"If you were fine, would you have gone into the bathroom to cry?" Kenshin asked, raising an eyebrow. 'How stupid does she think I am?'

"I wasn't crying!"

"Don't worry about it. There's no competition in our division. If we lose, it won't be your fault. And no more sneaking off to cry." He told her, linking her arm with his. "Now, where should we go for lunch?"

The blue-eyed girl's jaw dropped. "Are you psychic, or are you stalking me?" She finally managed.

"I'm stalking you. But in a good way." He assured her. 'If there is such a thing.'


"You should admit defeat now while you still have some dignity." Shinji remarked quietly. The two had been sent out to get the car while he others waited inside.

"Why should I admit defeat when you're the one who's going down?" Kenshin replied.

"You've used up your three losses with Kaoru. If even one of you loses a match..."

"Than I guess we're going to have to win, won't we?"

"You can't win every match. Someone out there has to be better than you."

"There are- and they're all on my team."

"Sure about that?"

"Yeah, I'm sure."


She was bleeding, tiny stains on her sleeve.

As the matches had gone on, she'd bitten her nails as far down as she could. When she ran out of nail, she started in on her fingers.

Watching Aoshi and Soujiro was nerve wracking enough as it was. But Kenshin-she couldn't help but obsess over his every move. It took three fingers and three matches before she realized every near miss and sudden dodge was faked.

He was purposely playing with each opponent, making it look like he was barely winning when he could have ended it in one move. He was enjoying it. Once she realized this, she calmed down. Sort of. She was still biting at the bleeding finger absently.

The closer they got to the final match, the more the fluttering feeling in her stomach increased. What if her mess-up in the earlier rounds made them lose? What if one of them got hurt? Every time Kenshin dodged, she sighed, even though she knew he was way too fast to get hurt. Hanna standing behind her, bored, observed her silently.

"Why do you get so worked up over him? It's not like he could die or something."

"I know." She murmured. "I know...but I still worry..."

"The final match!" The announcer called. She gripped the railing with one hand, mindlessly biting at the other hand in fear. Hanna sighed and yanked her hand back down. Kaoru wasn't even paying attention. The sight of Kenshin and Shinji preparing for their match was too distracting. Nerves finally getting to her, she turned and ducked her head, not wanting to watch the carnage unfold.

And blinked as cheers broke out. What had just happened?

"My god." Hanna said next to her. "In just one move..."

"What, what? Who won?" She asked excitedly.

"You guys did. Your boyfriend's fast."

"He is not my boyfriend, but yeah, he's pretty fast...We won! Yes! YES!"


The bartender, with dark brown hair and a smile, leaned over. "Can I get you all something?"

" think Kaoru would be upset if I drank vodka?"

"Probably." Sano said idly. "You know how she gets."

"Water, then."

While Kaoru got ready for the after party, the guys had arrived and taken up their seats. Sano was drinking beer, and Kenshin was drinking water and Aoshi...well, he had vanished at some point and no one knew where he was. As for Soujiro, he was unconscious due to some spiked punch.

The rival WC team was sitting at a table across the club, all drinking the punch. They seemed to have better tolerance for the drugs, since they were, in fact, conscious and reasonably lucid. Around them, the rest of the tournament participants danced, lounged, and drank to their hearts' content. It was their party, before the formal ball held tomorrow. Soon, everyone would be loose enough to act stupid and the real fun (for the sober people) would begin.

Outside, Kaoru climbed out of a taxi and walked towards the door, her purse over her arm. She didn't know why she'd bothered with the purse- Kenshin would insist on paying for her drinks despite any argument she could make-but she still nursed a futile hope that he'd get distracted and she could pay for something herself.

Spotting red hair among a sea of blondes, brunettes, and black-haired heads, she headed towards the bar on one side of the wall.

"Hey." She greeted them. They looked at her outfit- a close-fitted purple top with ruffles and a collar that wrapped around her neck, tucked into pants that looked like they'd been painted on. Kenshin gave a mental sigh, glad that she wasn't wearing anything short or low-cut.

Kaoru smiled and turned around, presumably to look for Aoshi.

Sano dropped his glass loudly.

Her top was backless- bare from the back of her neck to just above her waistband, where a small purple bow resided. Her white skin glowed in the dim lighting, dashing Kenshin's hopes that she wouldn't attract any male attention.

"...I say we go back to our room and make out for the rest of the night."

She turned a lovely shade of red and refused to meet his eyes. "What?, I don't're not serious? Are you?" 'So glad I didn't wear the other top Misao and I bought...he might have dragged me back to our room instead of asking nicely.'

"Of course I'm serious."

"Um...I No. Thanks, you enjoying this?"

"You're cute when you get all red like that. Sit down before some idiot tries to hit on you." 'I want to admire you instead of fight with losers.'

Sano picked up his glass form the bar and sighed when he saw a crack. "There is no way you two aren't doing something behind everyone's back."

"Shh, Sano, don't tell anyone." Kenshin replied, standing up and forcing Kaoru into his seat, where she buried her head in her hands in humiliation.

"Ignore him, he's evil." She murmured, praying that no one else was listening to this conversation.

As if her prayers had been heard by a god with a twisted sense of humor, Shinji came over from his hiding place behind a pillar.

"Nice top, Kaoru. You can come make out with me, if you want."

"No, you can't." Kenshin said calmly.

"Funny, I would have thought you'd be dying to make me honor our bet." Shinji said. Kaoru looked up in surprise.

"Bet?" Her eyes narrowed at Shinji. "What bet, pray tell, Kenshin?"

He didn't answer, knowing she was going to murder him in a painful fashion once she found out. A gleeful Shinji was delighted to fill in the blanks.

"If I lost our match, I have to leave you alone. But if I won, I got free rein."

"And you didn't tell me this because..." She glared pointedly at her friend.

"I'm sorry." He said quietly. "I shouldn't have let my tempter get ahead of me like that."

She sighed and looked at him. Part of her wanted to flounce off and let him suffer for a bit, but another part wanted to hug him at the sight of his morose expression.

The hugging part of her won out, and Shinji gaped as the two embraced fondly.

"You could have told me, you know, it's not like you could have lost." She mumbled into his shirt. "Is that why you were practicing so much?"

"See, this proves my point. You can't even feel mad at him! You're like his slave!" Shinji protested.

His loud voice carried, and the people around them stopped and looked p with interest.

"What do you care?" Kaoru asked. "It's nothing to do with you."

"Maybe I think it's an unhealthy relationship." The blonde teen said angrily. "Maybe you need some normal friends."

"Maybe I should have accepted Kenshin's offer to go make out." Kaoru replied. "It would have been more fun than listening to you whine." 'Wait...why did I say that?'

"You can always change your mind." Kenshin offered hopefully.

"...let's get out of here." 'It's not like we're actually going to make out...are we?'

"With pleasure." He picked her up without warning, and she laughed in surprise as they walked out the door. Behind them, Shinji stared in shock.

"Guess your plan didn't work out so well, eh?" Sano commented.

"Weirdoes." The fuming teen answered. "They just randomly decide to make out?"

"Yeah, well, 'they're just friends', so it's okay if they make out, right?"


"Do you really think they're doing something in there? It's awfully quiet."

"They're not."

"If you two are so smart, how come you're here listening at the door with me? Huh?"


Kenshin shifted slightly in bed, careful not to wake Kaoru. Soujiro, Aoshi, and Sano were crouching on their side of the suite, trying to pick up some clue as to what exactly he and the blue-eyed girl had been doing all night while they partied. He knew from long experience that in exactly three minutes; Sano would deem it safe to enter the room. Sliding very slowly out of the bed, giving Kaoru his pillow so she'd let go of his arm, he moved to stand before the door.

Sano opened it.

"...I told you they weren't doing anything!" Soujiro hissed.

"Go away." Kenshin said slowly, enunciating clearly. He shut the door, locked it, wedged in a chair so Aoshi couldn't pick the lock, and turned to go back to sleep. Only to find Kaoru sitting up, looking adorably sleepy as she rubbed her eyes and pushed her wayward hair out of her face.

"Good morning."

"Hi." She yawned. "You know, when you said you wanted to make out, I didn't think you were really serious. You scared me." Another wide yawn, and she dragged herself to her suitcase. "Can I use the shower first?"

"Save me some hot water." He replied, trying not to stare at her.


The formal ball held every year after the tournament was a big affair. So big, in fact that Megumi and Misao took the train in to attend and help Kaoru dress herself. This was all fine and good, or would have been if Kenshin hadn't also been staying in with her.

"The eyeliner should be..."

"And the lip gloss..."


"No, it should be more like..."

"Uh, guys? Maybe we should let Kenshin get ready first?" Kaoru offered, watching him hide on the other side of the room where he was safe from the invasion of the girls.

"Oh, he'll be fine. Himura, go away. We need to make Kaoru worthy of your salivating after her."

"Right. I'll leave." He ducked out the door and took refuge in the lobby downstairs.

Free to attack their raccoon-ish friend without fear, Megumi and Misao closed in for the kill.

"Take a look at your dress, Kaoru!" Misao held up the offending garment.

Blue eyes widened in horror. "No! We agreed I would wear the other one!"

"We lied!" Megumi grabbed her arms and held her still. "Quick, Misao!"


The ballroom, rented and decorated hours beforehand, was beautiful. Marble floors, crystal chandeliers, red velvet curtains along the huge windows. Two grand staircases, curving towards each other, where fine carpets covered the ground. It was a fancy affair, definitely, and that was what made Kaoru feel so out of place. She didn't see herself as the kind of girl who went to these kinds of parties. Misao, in contrast, managed to look good, while Megumi was in her element, classy and elegant.

Kenshin, like Kaoru, didn't particularly like formal events, but he didn't feel uncomfortable there. And he always looked forward to seeing his Kaoru, all dressed up.

The dress that had been the source of so much trouble was golden, with full, foamy skirts that opened to show an underskirt of navy blue. It was surprisingly modest considering Misao had bought it, but the bright color and shine of the fabric made her stand out among the crowd. She would rather have worn a plain white dress, or a plain anything dress, really. The only upside was the way Kenshin would steal looks at her, in admiration, when he thought she was distracted.

"You look pretty." He said, jerking her out of her thoughts. She glanced over at him, al in black, as usual, and smiled uncertainly.

"You look good, too." She turned to wave at Misao across the room and stumbled. Kenshin caught her, but it was too late. Her heel had snapped off of her shoe. "Aw, dammit."

"Over here." He dragged her over to a chair and set her down so she could take her shoes off.

"What am I going to do?" She asked. "I can hardly dance like this. And I refuse to go barefoot; it's unsanitary."

"I'll stay with you." He pulled out a chair for himself, settling in. She shook her head.

"No, go ahead. I'll wait for you."

"Don't be stupid. What kind of friend would leave you alone?"

"A smart one, maybe."

"If I leave you, I guarantee you will be stolen off before I know it. And then what will I do?"

"Don't be silly. I'd never leave you alone."

"And I won't leave you alone."

"Oh, all right. You win. You must be an unlucky guy, to be stuck with me all night."

"I've been lucky since I met you. The unlucky ones are the ones who haven't."


In the parking lot the morning they left, it was ninety-five degrees. The heat waves, rising off the pavement, were visible. It was the kind of heat that required air-conditioning and massive amounts of water. The sky was spitefully cloudless, affording the unlucky ones who were forced to venture outside no shade.

In this heat, Kenshin and Kaoru were waiting for the others to bring their luggage down. She was starting to wish she'd gone to help them carry tings, because when she'd gotten dressed, she had forgotten one critical fact.

The skirt she was wearing was even shorter than the shorts she'd worn to practice. It was so short that she wasn't allowed to wear it in certain parts of the city because it violated indecent exposure laws. The top wasn't much better- low-cut and spaghetti-strapped and clingy-but the skirt really took the cake. And she knew that whenever she wore this skirt, Kenshin would without fail harass her until she went insane. And by harass, she meant he kept sliding his fingers just beneath the hem of it.

"Is it that hard to keep your hands to yourself?"

"Is it that hard to wear clothes that don't show your underwear?"

"You can't see my underwear..."

"Really? I can see it just fine, especially when you sit like that." His thumb brushed her thigh, just barely under her skirt, and she stiffened. The problem with him was that she didn't know how to deal with him. Were his attentions a ploy to get her to wear more or was he actually interested in her? it was impossible to lash out the way she did with everyone else; she always felt like he was humoring her if she hit him.

Uncrossing her legs, she scowled. "I'm not going to sit in your lap if you get like this."

"I'm not going to let you sit in anyone else's lap- if I can't keep my hands to myself, no one else will."

'He's got a point there...'

"Are you going to spend the entire car ride feeling me up?"


"I cannot believe you are admitting to it- why?"

"I'm hoping you'll burn the skirt."

"If I promise not to wear it, will you stop it?"


"Thank you."


The car ride back was uneventful. Kaoru, Kenshin, Shinji and Hanna squished into the back, Sano, Aoshi, and Soujiro sat in the middle, and Ben and Dan took the front seats and switched off driving.

It was a thirteen hour drive due to traffic, and when they arrived at home they all went straight to bed to sleep.

In the morning, however, there was school, and it was evil indeed. Kaoru, not a morning person and in need of coffee, arrived at school early. She was immediately cornered by Misao and Megumi, while Kenshin went off to find Sano and stop him from doing something stupid.

The three girls hid in Mr. Fujita's empty classroom. The topic of discussion was her most avoided: her social life. And Kenshin.

"Well? Did you tell him?"

"NO! Obviously not!"

"Why? It was the perfect opportunity. You were alone, riding the thrill of victory, making out in your room..."

"What was I supposed to say, Misao? 'Oh, Kenshin, I've loved you since thud grade! Please go out with me!' How pathetic would that have sounded?"

"Not as much as you might think." Said a familiar voice from behind them.

Kenshin was standing in the doorway, looking rather shocked. "I just came to tell you Mr. Fujita's here and you might want to vacate his classroom before he catches you."

" much of our conversation did you hear?" Megumi asked nervously.

"Enough." He answered his eyes on Kaoru, who was wishing with all her hart that the floor would just swallow her up so she wouldn't have to face him.

The two less embarrassed girls left, and Kenshin moved aside for them so they could pass. Then he moved towards Kaoru.

He stepped forward. She stepped back. This continued until se hit the wall.

"Why are you pinning me to the wall?"

"I'm not, you just kept moving backwards." He hesitated. "Did you mean what you just said?"

"...yeah." She stared at the ground, its spotless floor suddenly endlessly fascinating to her.

"I'm glad. I thought I was going to have to confess first."

"Confess to wha- wait, you mean you..." She trailed off hopefully.

"Let's go out for dinner tomorrow."

"Okay." She didn't have time to say anything else, because Kenshin slipped his arms around her and kissed her.

"Himura! Kamiya! Stop making out in my classroom!"


It seems I am productive once again. Please review and tell me if it's confusing.

Thanks for reading- this is chickentyrant5.