Author Notes: It seems like when I start writing I write a lot, and when I stop I stop for a long time. I don't mean to, I just get distracted. Anyways, tell me what you think!
Disclaimer: The Rurouni Kenshin world and all characters depicted are a creation of mangaka, Watsuki Nobuhiro.
Sugar and Spice
Kaoru frowned as she turned over the empty bag of sugar. She could have sworn she still had a quarter of its contents left. Sighing, she crumpled up the bag and tossed it into the trash. Misao "sugar happy" Makimachi had obviously gone through the last of it to ultra saturate her coffee or tea. Kaoru made the note to herself to hide the next stash.
She considered the current mess in her kitchen and the pouring rain that showed no signs of letting up outside her window. Halfway through Megumi's "idiot proof" -aka "Kaoru proof"- cookie recipe and she was shy a cup and a half of sugar. The grocery store was a good twelve blocks away and she wasn't about to go trekking through the downpour for sugar. With her luck, the sugar would get wet from the rain and she would end up with syrup by the time she got back.
Digging through her pantry for a possible substitute, Kaoru wondered why she ever promised her office workers that she would bring cookies for the potluck. They didn't trust her enough with an entrée, but after a few casually tossed comments about her lack of cooking ability she for some reason claimed she was a baking genius. Kaoru sighed as she considered the iodized salt. She was no baking genius; but she didn't need to be to know that although similar in texture, salt was the worst possible substitute for sugar. She also had the sneaking suspicion that a rogue sweet and low packet just wasn't going to cut it.
Her attention was momentarily distracted by the groaning of old water pipes. Ah, the enigmatic neighbor had just finished his shower. It wasn't that she was keeping tabs on the guy -she had yet to actually meet him after all- but this was one of those rare occasions when he was home. From what her nosey downstairs neighbor Mrs. Petrakis told her in the elevator, he was possibly a higher up in an international company and it required him to go on many business trips. Kaoru doubted it. Although the apartment building wasn't rundown, it wasn't exactly where a corporate executive lived. It was an apartment where the rent was cheap and landlord was lazy. It was modest and definitely not a lap of luxury.
Bringing her attention back to her sugarless chocolate chip cookies, she huffed. Megumi's "idiot proof" baking instructions should have come with the ingredients. She stared at her measuring cup, hoping for the allotted amount of sugar to appear and she could merrily continue on. She had foolishly thought she was going to show off her baking abilities tomorrow; however the possibility of buying two dozen pastries at dunkin' donuts on the way to work was slowly becoming an inevitability. She would never hear the end of it from her coworkers.
She considered her kitchen wall. Beyond it lived her neighbor. Her enigmatic, and possibly nomadic, neighbor. She steadied her resolve and grabbed her glass measuring cup. On the off chance that he had a stocked kitchen, she was going to take a gamble and ask for a cup of sugar. If not for mooching baking supplies, what were neighbors for?
Standing before apartment door 4A she lightly knocked on the door. There was a long pause, some scuffling, and then silence. Kaoru furrowed her brows, was he avoiding her? She at least deserved a first impression before evasion on anyone's part. Huffing she turned away. If her weird neighbor wanted to be a recluse, she wasn't going to put in any more effort than he does. If she was lucky, Mrs. Petrakis could spare a cup -but that would require for her to stop by her apartment and grab her wallet. That stingy old lady would definitely charge her for it.
As she headed back to her apartment she heard the quiet creak of a door. A smooth timber of a voice swept over her, "Can I help you?"
Stopping in her step and tilted her head toward the voice, Kaoru couldn't help her reaction. Her neighbor may have been weird and a recluse, but he was also gorgeous. He was quite short, but she wasn't about to hold that against him -he more than made up for it in every other way. His slim form did not fill the door frame, but his presence did. His skin was lightly tanned and lined with quietly defined muscles. He had long blood-red hair that clung to his damp shoulders, back and chest. Her eye followed a particular lock of hair that traced along his right clavicle. Her speculative blue gaze swept up his throat to a cross-shaped scar on his left cheek, and then to his amber eyes. Eyes that looked confused and a bit smug from the attention he was receiving.
Kaoru raised a brow at his look. She came to ask for sugar, not to boost his male ego. Then again, he probably received a good many looks from women throughout the day.
"Hi, I'm your neighbor. 4-"
"4B. Kaoru Kamiya."
She was taken aback a bit and considered him a bit further, then commented, "You don't have a shirt on."
"I just got out of the shower."
She nodded, "I know." Seeing the look that he was now giving her she rolled her eyes, "The old pipes in this building are a dead giveaway."
"So you're here to make sure I didn't crack my head open by slipping in my tub?"
She gestured to the measuring cup by bringing it forward. "I was hoping to borrow some sugar."
He looked her over a bit further and glanced back into his apartment as if to check on something. After a pensive moment he turned and signaled for her to follow. Kaoru shrugged as she closed the door behind her. She wasn't exactly expecting to be let into his place, just a quick disappearance on his part into the kitchen and back with an appropriate amount of sugar.
Her young neighbor started opening cupboards in search of the ingredient in question. Kaoru hopped onto a kitchen stool and glanced around his apartment. It was sparsely decorated. Correction, it wasn't decorated at all. There was a black couch, a glass coffee table, and a floor lamp. Not a picture frame, rug, plant, or television in sight. His kitchen looked like it hadn't been used as of late. Although from the looks of things, he had a full set of dishes and a well stocked pantry.
As another cupboard was opened and closed, she got the sneaking suspicion that he had no idea where anything was. Probably a girlfriend who bought and organized everything for him. She was pulled out of her musings when he spoke up, "What do you need the sugar for?"
Either he was trying to fill the silence, or he genuinely wanted to know. She figured it was the former. "I'm baking cookies. I'll even bring you some if they turn out okay."
He stopped in his movements and spared her an incredulous glance. "You're cooking?"
She frowned, "What's that supposed to mean?"
His lips tilted into a coy smile, "I can hear you panicking at least twice a week while in your kitchen. It also helps that I can smell something burnt from the direction of your apartment."
"Well, this is baking, not cooking. It's more of a science than an art. I had amazing grades in chemistry in high school, this can't be any different."
Nodding, he continued on with his search.
Kaoru watched on as he moved objects around. She sighed, "You know, you should really have your girlfriend tell you where everything is."
Without turning away from the search he answered, "What do you mean?"
"She's the one stocking your kitchen isn't it? You obviously aren't doing it yourself." She paused then poked playfully, "Unless your mother does it for you or you have a terrible memory."
A husky chuckle escaped, "Wrong on all parts. I actually have a very good memory. I'm an orphan. And I'm also single."
She was surprised by his confession of being parentless, but her attention was grabbed more by his declaration of being single.
He continued on, "I have a service bring and put away my groceries. I don't exactly have the time to shop."
"I always wondered about that. Do you have a job that requires a lot of traveling?"
"You could say that." He replied vaguely.
"You're more often not here than you are..." She frowned, "Forget your job. I just realized, I don't even know your name. But you somehow know mine."
"I have my sources." With a triumphant grin he pulled out a new bag of sugar from the pantry, "Here it is. A cup of sugar coming right up."
She rolled her eyes, "I'll take your name to go with that."
As he poured the white substance into the measuring cup he answered, "Kenshin."
"Does it come with something else or are you just Kenshin? Like Madonna, Cher, or Bono?"
He laughed, "I'm not a musician for one, and I'll eventually tell you my last name."
Kaoru let out an exasperated breath, "I know you like being the mysterious guy in this building but giving me your last name won't kill you."
"Are you sure?"
His tone was slightly serious, but mostly joking. She was starting to think this man with the barely furnished apartment and no last name was a regular international man of mystery. Kaoru mentally shook her head. This wasn't a movie, spies aren't next door neighbors.
She decided to change the subject. "Earlier, I thought you weren't going to answer the door. You took a while to open it."
"After you get used to living alone, you stop taking a change of clothes into the bathroom."
She laughed, "Tell me about it. I'm usually naked from my bathroom until I get to my closet down the hall."
She rolled her eyes, "Get whatever image you have in your head out of there. Also, I'm probably nowhere near as well endowed as you're probably fantasizing."
He answered with a smile and handed her the measuring cup.
She narrowed her eyes at him then looked down at the cup. "Oh, sorry, I need a cup and a half."
Kenshin took the cup back and considered it for a moment. "An extra half a cup is going to cost you."
Furrowed brows, and a sigh later she grumbled, "God, you're just like Mrs. Petrakis. How much do you want for it? Four dollars? Five?"
Laughing he patted the bag of sugar. "I'll give you the whole bag if you give me your phone number."
She was the one to laugh this time, "My number is worth more than sugar. That's going to cost you a dinner and a movie."
"Done and done."
She was taken aback by his quick response. "I came for sugar, not a date."
"Are you saying no then?"
Her response was slow and precarious, "No..."
"So that's a yes. Are you going to tell me your number then?"
Looking him over, she figured she could do a lot worse than striking redheaded neighbors. "After the movie."
"When are you free?"
"How's Friday? At seven?"
He grinned, "I'll knock on your door at six fifty-five then."
"Better make that seven fifteen. I always take longer than I expect to get ready."
He slid the bag and cup of sugar toward her, "Am I going to get to taste one of these cookies?"
She tilted her head and smirked as he came closer, "If you're lucky."
Her eyes widened and all thoughts of double-entendre thrown out the window. "I left the oven on!" She grabbed the sugar and raced out the door, barely tossing a farewell back at him.
With the last wisps of her dark hair disappearing behind the door, Kenshin laughed. If he had known what his neighbor was like, he would have approached her months ago.
The sudden vibrating of his cell phone in his pocket caught his attention. Seeing the blocked caller ID he flipped the phone open.
"Hey Aoshi." He listened to the man on the other line and smirked at his question, "Oh, her? She just wanted some sugar."
Kenshin laughed, "Yeah, just like in the movies."
"So what did you want?" He caught the details attentively and smirked, "So should I bring my sword or my gun? Or should I bring both?"