Another A/U fic, but what if this time Kenshin and Kaoru were two high school best friends? And what if Kenshin was in love with Tomoe?
I found you again, hidden in the shelter of these cherry trees that you love. I tried waiting for you after your class but Tomoe-san said that you didn't come in at all after lunch period. In that short walk from the high school to your sanctuary, I wondered what had happened this time, enough to push you into another of your mood swings.
"Kenshin?" I asked tentatively as I came nearer.
You turned to me with your heart in those purple eyes. "Kaoru-dono," you acknowledged, still using that outdated honorific that you've been calling me since we were children, when I bopped you on the head for ignoring me. Since then it has sounded more like an endearment instead of a term of respect, and I didn't want it any other way. "You should go on home," you said.
I sat down next to you, and you moved a little to make room for me. It's funny how you did that so instinctively, when we had an entire expanse of grass to sit on. But that's how you always were. You made room for me in your bentou because you knew I'd poison myself with my own cooking. You made room for me in your busy life, picking me up before we went to school and bringing me home even if it meant being late for kendo practice. You took me in without question, without complaint.
"Was it Tomoe-san?" Even before the question was out of my lips, I already knew your answer.
"Sano told me that she got back together with Kiyosato-kun," you told me.
"Oh." There wasn't anything else I could say, was there? If I said, 'Don't worry,' that would be a lie. It was in your nature to worry about things, to worry about someone you cared about. If I said 'I understand,' that would be an even bigger lie, because I didn't. At least you had her once, held her in your arms during those fleeting weeks that she thought she was over Kiyosato.
I never had you.
So I did the only thing that I could. I reached out and placed my arm around your shoulders. You buried your face in the base of my neck like a little child.
But you did not cry.
You walked me home after that. In the crowded streets of Tokyo, I huddled in the comfort of your silence.
You needed me because you needed motherly affection, someone to come home to. I was a far cry from the stereotype, but I gave you what you wanted because that was all you seemed to ask of me.
"I'll see you tomorrow morning, ne?" I asked, carefully keeping the light tone in my voice.
You remained silent for a few heartbeats. "Hai," you finally answered, before heading down the street and out of my sight. Your hair is the horizon on fire, burning into my mind.
Could we have been any more different? I was stubborn where she was patient. I was rough and awkward where she was all cool grace. Yet with every day you walked me home, I walked towards a remote hope that one day, the choice would be obvious to you.
A year ago, when you first told me that you thought you were falling in love, I did not even want to know her name. I could not begin to explain to you why. I was, after all, your best friend -- entitled to every heartbreaking detail of your love life. So I listened and smiled and made sympathetic noises on cue.
Her name came easily to me now, after months of practice. Yukishiro Tomoe.
You told me that she was a classmate, a goddess I could never dream to compete against. Because of you, I found out how her eyes lit up her face, how her smile is your heaven on earth. I also found out how far it was from your house to hers, why she loved the scent of white plums, how she was a closet kendo fan. Those were details I did not need to be bothered with, but still I bothered. Because I was your friend, and because you wanted me to. There was nothing pleasant about those conversations, only perhaps the wistful tone that softened your voice, or perhaps the gentle way you dragged out the syllables of each word. Once I imagined it was because you were talking to me, but of course I knew better. It was too painful to go on thinking that it was my company you sought, that it was my voice that made you smile through the phone. All the time I kept remembering that she was a goddess, and I was only mortal.
The late evenings found me like that, listening to you long into the night, wondering if your stories have the power to transform me into what you wanted. I hung on to each word, to each wonderful word, each long sigh. Often you said something that made my heart leap, a veiled promise or a tender nickname that caught me in the middle of a heartbeat. I lived for these moments, when I thought to myself, maybe there was still hope, maybe you will realize that I am the one you really loved. But those were just moments -- transient, ephemeral.
I tried to win you over with everything I had – my little girl act, my constant mothering, my feminine charms, my one-of-the-boys routine. Sometimes I remembered to be myself, and I was, knowing that my self is so much like your self, and perhaps that was enough. But nothing worked; I should know that by now. I resigned myself to just being your friend. At least I knew that I was the one you went to when you were broken, that I was the one who picked up pieces of you and held them together.
But then she broke up with Kiyosato, and you moved in.
Do you remember how happy you were when you first went out? You were also very nervous then, turning red every time she looked your way. I knew because I was there. I dragged Sano and followed you around the new arcade, the park, the road to her house. And then you went out with her again and again and again that it was a wonder how you ever made the time to still walk me home every day. I never followed you again after that first date.
I broke too, after all.
Because I was only mortal.
And I was only your friend.
"Kaoru-chan," Grandfather called, just as I was washing the dishes in the kitchen. "He's here."
I rinsed the rest as quickly as I could then stepped outside. "Thank you, Grandfather." You were waiting by the garden, my bookbag already slung on one shoulder along with his. Your eyes crinkled at the corners as you smiled at me. You seemed so different from the devastated boy who laid his head on my shoulder yesterday.
"Daijobou?" I asked you softly.
You bobbed your head. "I'm fine, Kaoru-dono. Let's go?" You phrased it like a question, politely hesitant. Yet you still took the lead, and I followed.
I would have followed you anywhere.
We were a few blocks away from school when we ran into Sano. His eyes were too wide for this early morning, and we instantly sensed that something was wrong. It didn't help when he opened his mouth. "Hey, you guys, want to hang out here for a while?"
"The bell's about to ring, Sano," I pointed out, a little irritated. I shot you a look. You were studying him carefully, measuring him.
"We won't be late," Sano assured us. But his eyes darted nervously to one side, back to the road that led straight to school.
You caught that movement. "What is it, Sano?" you asked. Your tone was light, but the words were firm, decisive. You didn't want to be messed around with. As Sano stuttered for an answer, you grabbed my hand and pulled me on our way.
We should have listened to Sano.
Not fifteen steps away were Kiyosato and Tomoe, wrapped in a loving embrace. I felt you stiffen beside me. It must have hurt to see the one you love that way.
"Let's go, Kenshin," I whispered. We walked on. You tightened your grip on my arm, but I tried not to mind as we walked past them. I was proud of you then, so proud.
But the look in your eyes said that you still loved her.
That day, I died a little again.
To be continued
Author's Notes:My other series 'Without Words' was intended to be romance-oriented, but as the story progresses, the action/mystery part just keeps slipping back in and any attempt to keep them away will only result in a poorly written story. So to keep my own mushy side happy, I came up with this. It may not be pure WAFF, but it's still unadulterated teenage romance angst. Hope you enjoyed it, though. :)