Kaoru's shoes scraped as she walked slowly across the property floor. It was a big empty space, like a warehouse, just what she was looking for. The electrics looked questionable, but the room was lit by light coming in through high, dirty windows for the time being. It was a fixer-upper, but that was fine. That just meant she could get it exactly the way she wanted it.
"There are smaller rooms in the back, and upstairs," said the real-estate agent hopefully.
Kaoru nodded and looked over her shoulder. "Kenshin, what do you think?"
The redhead was hanging back, obviously feeling out of place, but Kaoru wanted him to be a part of this.
"It looks good to me," he said.
After everything that had happened with Kanryuu, it had taken Kaoru this long to prepare herself for what she was hoping to do. Her relationship with Enishi was over, which meant that for the first time in her life, she was free to be her own person, to do what she wanted and nothing else. She had been very close to her father, a General, but he had been stern, and had had very precise ideas of who he wanted his daughter to be. It was after he died that she met Enishi.
Now, however, she suddenly found herself in control of her own destiny. True, Enishi hadn't wanted to let his cash-cow go without a fight, and had attempted to sue her a couple of weeks after they broke up. He claimed that he deserved a portion of her estate, since he had technically been supporting her for two of the three years they had been together, but Megumi had her money back by that point and had unleashed the full hell of her much bigger and better lawyers on him. Kaoru hadn't heard from him since.
So now that she was free, she'd decided that what she really wanted to do, was to go back to work. Or rather, she wanted to open her own dojo. She'd taught martial arts and self-defence classes before, and she couldn't think of anything else she'd rather be doing with her life, so after organising her funds, she'd started looking at properties.
Something else she'd done in the meantime, was ask Kenshin if he wanted to be her partner in the enterprise. His kenjutsu background would come in handy, and even if he did have physical limitations because of his leg, he could still teach the basics, and she would need help with administration. Opening her own dojo was too big of a task to embark on by herself, and she wanted to maintain her friendship with the man. That, and she couldn't leave him as a stripper when she had this perfect opportunity for him.
Needless to say, Kenshin had been shocked when she had first mentioned her proposal. He had protested modestly, arguing that he wouldn't be much use with his leg, and that he really didn't know anything about running a dojo, but Kaoru wasn't hearing it. So while she spent her trust fund on turning empty inner city lots into her dream, he tried to wrap his head around actually having a respectable profession.
For a few weeks, there had been the unspoken question growing between them, now that Kaoru was single, of where they stood. They cared for each other, and were undeniably attracted to each other, but Kaoru knew that she shouldn't start a relationship with him. Not yet, anyway. She'd never been without a man in her life, and she wanted to take this opportunity to grow as a person, to find herself. She'd just got out of an abusive long-term relationship. The last thing she wanted to do was replace Enishi. That wasn't to say that she didn't think Kenshin would treat her better, but just that she wasn't ready to be thinking about another person just yet. She needed to make herself her priority.
She had subtly communicated this to Kenshin, and he seemed to have accepted it with the same good nature he brought to everything else. For the time being, they would remain friends and business partners. But maybe some time in the future, that would change. She knew she would look to him before she considered anyone else as a boyfriend when she felt ready.
"You can't buy this place!" called a voice loudly, echoing in the large empty room. Kaoru and Kenshin turned to the front door in surprise, and she heard the estate agent sigh in frustration. Standing in the doorway was a prepubescent boy, with a furious, and somewhat desperate, look on his face. He was silhouetted against the outside world, having flung the door open wide, and he looked ready for a fight. His clothes were more than a little scruffy, he looked dirty and messy, but his hands were balled into fists at his side and his eyes were fierce.
"Yahiko…" The estate agent sighed again, kinder this time. "We've been over this…"
"I don't care what the lawyers say, this place is mine!" the kid cried.
The estate agent saw Kaoru looking startled and turned to her to explain. "Yahiko's father was the previous owner of this building, but it was seized to pay debts after he died."
It was said with a note of sympathy with impatience behind it. It seemed this was not the first time he had interrupted and soured the deal. Kaoru instantly felt bad for the kid though, and having already pretty much decided to buy the property, she approached him and said,
"If it's yours, then why don't I rent it off you, hmm?" As she spoke, she put her hands on her knees to bring herself closer to his level. She was thinking about something along the lines of giving the kid a few token payments, which he could then deposit somewhere where they would end up back in her pocket. They could tell him he was repaying his dad's debt.
The boy looked her up and down, askance. "Just because you're stupid doesn't mean we both are," he replied rudely, having seen through her patronising little plan.
Kaoru's face crumpled into an expression of outrage. "What did you just say to me, you little pipsqueak?!" she cried before she could stop herself. Never again would she tolerate a man insulting her.
"You heard me, Ugly!" he shouted back
"Yahiko!" cried the estate agent, appalled. "I'm so sorry, Miss Kamiya, he hasn't learned how to talk to adults yet," she bit out, giving Yahiko a pointed "Shut up" look.
They both ignored her. "Oh yeah, short-stuff? Well, how about this? I'm buying this place, and if you want it back, you're going to have to fight me for it," Kaoru challenged, looking smug.
"Pfft, fine, and I won't even have to go easy on you 'cause you're not that much of a girl," answered the boy, raising his fists awkwardly. It was clear that he did have second thoughts about getting into a physical fight with an adult woman though.
"Miss Kamiya, you really don't have to-"
"Bring it on, Pintsized."
Sano pushed back the soft sheets and slid out of the plush bed. Before he could get away, however, feminine arms wrapped around his waist, and he huffed indulgently as he was pulled back to sit on the edge of the bed. He felt his lover draw up behind him.
"Megumi…" he chastised light-heartedly as her lips brushed the nape of his neck, sending shivers over his skin.
"Mnnn?" she murmured coquettishly and he nearly lost his resolve, feeling her arms tighten and her fingers trace his sides.
"You know we told Chou we'd be there today," he reminded her, looking over his shoulder. Her face was very close, one side hidden out of his range of vision. She was wearing that same small smile she always did when she was getting ideas about him.
The minx just purred again and kissed the join of his neck and shoulder, smiling all the more. "We have time…" she coaxed.
Sano glanced at the clock, "Not really," he replied. It's not like he'd be arguing with her if they did. He caught her eye and held her gaze until she submitted.
Groaning, she removed her arms from his waist, making sure to stroke over his skin the whole way. "Fine," she grumped, pouting. "But you owe me."
Sano laughed as he stood up. "I think I paid you back last night," he said suggestively, looking at her with an eyebrow raised.
The memory of what he had done for her last night made her toes curl, so Megumi let him off on that one. She looked away, biting her smiling lips, almost blushing, and she heard his masculine, self-satisfied chuckle as he walked off to the bathroom.
As he showered, Sano couldn't help but shake his head in disbelief. What a Cinderella story. He'd come from poverty, misery and prostitution, to this. It had been just over a month since they'd taken Kanryuu down, and now he was living happily with Megumi, back in her old apartment, where the carpet was more comfortable than what he was used to sleeping on. It hadn't taken long for the police to drop all the charges against her, and for her accounts to be unfrozen and now he had more than he'd ever thought to dream about.
Her apartment was luxurious, he ate better than he was used to eating in restaurants everyday, he dressed in real quality… He even had accessories, Megumi having bought him a gold Rolex for his twenty-third birthday. Not to mention he got to wake up with a beautiful woman every morning, and the only thing she ever seemed to want from him was something he would have wanted to be doing anyway. To call it work would be blasphemy, being with Megumi was just easy. He loved it, and he loved her, and he was living in Heaven, and he didn't even have that horrible feeling that it was all going to prove to be a joke. He felt safe in his new life.
The door to the bathroom opened, and Sano looked over to see Megumi putting the lid down on the toilet for her to sit on and watch him. He just grinned and shook his head again. He knew he had a good body, he wasn't embarrassed when this woman had been all over him with every part of her. Neither of them said anything, they didn't have to. Watching him through the steamy glass door of the shower wasn't quite routine, but it was something Megumi did often enough for him to be used to it. And he didn't begrudge her anything, not when she'd made his life so sweet, and he hadn't had time to attend to her properly.
He was still quick in the shower though, since he'd never been able to be lax with warm water before, and as he slid the door open, Megumi reached out between them and snatched the towel off the rack. It was childish, and she knew it, smirking at him as she gripped it tightly in her lap. Sano cocked his head and held out his hand for it. Megumi just smiled wider.
Honestly, he barely felt the age difference.
Sano approached her, his body dripping, his hair wet and messy. He knew just how to get her to give up the towel. Tipping her head back, he gave her one of those kisses that he knew just killed her, and just as he predicted, she moaned and one hand floated up to rest on his abs. He lowered one of his own onto the towel. He felt her let go with her other hand, but he was enjoying himself a bit too much. Only when he felt her comparatively cool fingers brush his manhood did he react. He hadn't expected her to go for such a direct approach, though knowing her, he should have. As soon as he felt it, his body electrified, and he knew they were dangerously close to being late after all, so he snatched the towel between them like a magician revealing what he's just made disappear, wrapping it around his hips.
"Yoink!" he called smugly, marching out of the bathroom, glimpsing her dumbfounded expression in his peripheral vision as he went. He heard her huffing and choking as she tried to think of something to say to him through her disappointment.
Taking pity on her, since he was the victor and could afford to, he stuck his head back in. "It was close though," he said, and vanished again.
From the bedroom, he heard her call him a tease and various other curses as he dried himself off and got dressed, his spirit light, as it usually was those days.
Kaoru won hands down. Her lifetime of martial arts training meant that the poor kid didn't land one hit, and all she had to do was wait for an opening in his weak defences then give him a single solid push to stick him on his ass. To his credit, it took a while for him to give up. He kept coming back for more for at least ten minutes, only to end up planted on the floor again. So while he fumed and got his breath back, Kaoru finalised the transaction, much to the estate agent's surprise and relief.
"I'll get you back for this, Ugly," panted Yahiko. "I'll beat you one day,"
Kaoru snorted. "Maybe, when I'm old and grey, but by that point I'll have retired and might as well just give it to you," she replied. "In the meantime, how would you like me to teach you how to fight properly? I'm turning this place into a dojo, you know."
Yahiko gave her a dirty look but he didn't say no.
"Good. If you keep coming 'round every once in a while, I'll enrol you in classes once I get set up," she said, then she smiled genuinely. Her first student.
Kenshin came up behind her. "We should leave soon if we want to make it to the hospital on time," he said.
By the time they pulled up to the hospital, Megumi had forgiven him, of course. The elevator doors pinged and they chatted as they made their way to Chou's room, not even having to look up to find it, having been there many times in the past. The door was open and they walked straight in, knowing they were expected. Kaoru and Kenshin were already there, standing by the window, talking to Chou. After he was shot right in front of them, they all felt a need to check up on him, and the regular visits meant that they had all become friends, though Chou was still closest to Sano. His new life with Megumi hadn't got in the way of that, since Chou had been staying in hospital until then, and it didn't seem likely that Saitoh was about to let him go back to the streets.
"Alright, Mop-head?" Sano saluted jovially.
"Fuck off, Rooster," came the surly reply. After being shot, Chou had had to have all kinds of surgeries on his abdomen, which meant it hurt too much to get his arms over his head to do his hair, so it now hung long and straight to tickle his shoulders, hence the new nickname.
However, he was being discharged today, and everyone had come to help out and see him off. He looked better than he had in a while, with colour in his face. He was animated again. Though he didn't seem happy to be being released. He had been in a bad mood ever since he was shot, understandably. Chou was never one who could stand being cooped up, so he didn't enjoy being bedridden in hospital with nothing to do. He'd lost a lot of weight on a month's worth of hospital food and zero exercise. He hadn't even had it in him to enjoy the cute male nurse who kept offering to give him a sponge bath.
He was pretty miserable. He didn't enjoy being hurt, and they could tell that deep down, getting shot had unsettled him. But much more important than that, the main problem was by far his vanity. All the surgery had left plenty of deep scars on his torso, which he bitched about as being "career-ending." Today he was wearing a plain black t-shirt and pale blue jeans. Gone were the psychedelic clown-clothes he normally wore. His usual magenta and purple affair had been cut off by the doctors when he first came in, but they had been too soaked in blood to have been redeemable anyway. As self-conscious as he was about his scars, he wouldn't be wearing any more of those open shirts anyway.
Sano would sometimes catch his friend running his fingers over the incisions through his shirt, and had attempted to make him feel better by telling him they would make him look rugged and mysterious, and even jokingly flirting a little with him. Sano was surprised that Chou cared so much about them when he'd never cared about his un-opening eye, but Chou said the difference was that the eye just looked like a wink, lazy and inviting, whereas the scar made him look like he'd grown up on Elm Street.
Another thing that had ensured Chou's bad mood was that he'd been unable to "entertain" the "affections" of any men since he'd been shot. For Chou, this was almost a fate worse than death. For the first few weeks, he'd been in too much pain, but after that he decided he could handle the agony in his gut to alleviate his nymphomania. While he could probably have solicited some favours from the eager nurse, for the first time in his life, Chou was only interested in one man, which led to some interesting and dangerous situations whenever Saitoh came to visit. The police officer had refused, at first, but no one was impervious to Chou's seduction. The gang were sketchy on the details, they didn't know exactly what the doctors had walked in on, but they did know that they had attempted to ban Saitoh from visiting, which sent Chou into a sexually-frustrated fury. Threats had been made, a scene had been caused, and the doctors backed off. Chou didn't get what he wanted, and Saitoh visited less, but the blonde had been able to heal unmolested, much to his dismay.
But despite the scowl that had become engraved on his face, Chou looked good. He sat up and moved to the edge of the bed, strapping on his watch and stuffing his phone in his pocket in preparation of leaving. The small amount of belongings he had in the room were already packed into a blue shoulder bag that Kenshin currently had in his hand. There was no way Chou could carry it himself, since he was still working on walking upright.
"Let's get this over with," he groused, pushing himself off the bed with his hands to avoid using any muscles in his sore stomach.
"Mr Sawagejou!" sang a cheery voice from the door as a smiley woman in nurse's scrubs pushed a wheelchair into the room. Chou gave it the evil eye. "It's tradition," she cajoled.
Chou groaned but sat in the wheelchair anyway. "Roosterhead! Push me!" he ordered imperially, snapping his fingers and pointing forwards.
"Yes, your Majesty," replied Sano, moving forward to wheel Chou down the corridor to the elevator.
As soon as they turned a corner, Chou said, "Is she gone?"
Sano looked behind them. The nurse had stayed by the room and was out of sight. "Yeah," he said.
"Good. Stop this thing, I'm getting off." Sano stopped the wheelchair and Chou unfolded his long, lanky frame from it. "You can just leave it there. Some kids can have fun with it," he said, waving his hand at the chair contemptuously.
When they reached the lobby, they could see Saitoh leaning against his car outside, smoking. Only then did it occur to Sano that Chou must be going home with him, and that it kind of went without saying. He looked across at his friend and noticed as the scowl that had been etched onto his face for the past five weeks flickered away like a passing shadow, and something more like the Chou he knew replaced it.
The blonde let out a shaky breath and ran his hand through his long hair in a hunched movement, making Sano notice for the first time how soft it looked. Dressed as inconspicuously as he was, he was handsome in an entirely different way from the sex appeal he oozed to attract clients.
Was Chou nervous? No, never, he had always been the self-confident incubus, but now he was definitely looking a little more unsure of himself.
"You look great," Sano found himself saying, trying to reassure his friend.
Chou glanced at him, unaware that he had been so obvious. He forced a brief smile. "He's just so cool, you know?" he said quietly. "I know he doesn't want me, but… I've never been in love before."
Sano understood what the other man was getting at. Chou had had to fight so hard to turn Saitoh to his way of life, that he felt that he had tricked him somehow, forced it, and that Saitoh was with him because of his manipulation, not because of any affection on the officer's part. However, Sano knew that Saitoh was way too much of a hard ass to do half the stuff he did for Chou for someone he didn't cherish.
"I think he wants you," he told Chou.
"Yeah?" The poor blonde still looked unsure. It seemed that without his trademark hairstyle and colourful clothes, Chou just couldn't feel confident while looking like a normal person.
"Yeah," Sano replied.
The automatic doors slid open and the group descended on Saitoh. Out of all of them, only Chou moved around to stand beside the cop, and Sano felt that he didn't really have to worry about the two of them anymore. No greetings were exchanged, Chou knew he couldn't do anything as blatant as kiss his lover in as public a place as a hospital car park, and none of the others really felt comfortable around the intimidating Wolf. However, the blonde's eye was caught by Saitoh's cigarette, and he helped himself to it, pilfering it from between gloved fingers before taking a long drag, helping himself to an indirect kiss at the same time. Saitoh narrowed his eyes at having his cigarette stolen, but he allowed it.
Sano knew Chou wasn't a smoker, but he didn't say anything. It seemed like the sort of thing his friend would do to lift the finger to the hospital that had imprisoned him for the past month. What only Chou knew, and Saitoh suspected, was that the real reason was that, to him, cigarettes tasted like Saitoh, something he'd been missing for too long.
They made some stilted goodbyes, wishing Chou good luck and a speedy recovery, Saitoh relieving Kenshin of the bag of Chou's belongings and throwing it into the car, until eventually the couple climbed in and drove away into the sunset together.
Left alone now, the gang turned to each other. Megumi checked her watch.
"Want to get some lunch?" she said.
"Yeah, sure, I have time for lunch," answered Kaoru, falling into step beside her friend. Sano aligned himself with Kenshin behind them. Living with Megumi, he felt as if he hadn't seen the redhead in too long, and they had some catching up to do.
Author's Note: Oooooo-kay! Let's see what we have here! As far as last chapters go, this one could have been better, but I managed to fit in all the elements I wanted. I hope you all found it to your liking! All that with Kenshin and Kaoru, yeah, we don't see them get together in this, just because I thought it would be a step backwards for Kaoru if she just swapped one man for another. Not that Kenshin isn't better than Enishi, just that Kaoru needs to learn to live by herself for a bit. So she's going to open a dojo! Just like in the show! Only she'll have students (hopefully)! And I got Yahiko in after all, and we also see the emergence of the bokken-waving, shrieking Kaoru we get in the show. She's not going to be walked over anymore, so unfortunately she might have taken it a bit far in the other direction.
As for Sano and Megumi, he's finally got his dream! I know it's not very forward-thinking to portray him as some sort of kept-man or toyboy, but who knows, maybe he'll get a job eventually, find something he actually likes doing. Or get his high-school diploma. The world is his oyster. And Megumi's happy. She'd never begrudge him a cent. So a happy ending there then.
And then Chou and Saitoh. Poor Chou. He ends up looking like a normal person, sniff, only with some nice ugly scars thrown in to make him self-conscious. But his man stands by him. Saitoh whisks him off, possibly glad that his boyfriend doesn't look like a circus performer anymore. And if he didn't mind the droopy eye, and went gay for Chou, maybe he won't mind the scars either. I've really fallen in love with those two, and there really isn't anything on for them (except for a one-shot called Gloves that I found years ago, it's very cute.) So I might write their story, a sort of Size Matters 2, only running parallel to what happens in this one, rather than what happens next. I've got some good love scenes, just not an overlying plot, like Kanryuu was in this one.
Anyway, long story short, phew, I was really surprised at how many of you really seemed to love this story. That kind of thing always makes me happy. Some of you have really made me smile. Thank you so much for following the story, putting up with my long, unexplained absences. But all good things must come to an end. I never intended this story to be this long. And who knows, maybe some future story will catch your eye and it will be me again. See you there.