AN: A tiny idea that came at work. Had to get it typed up to get it out of my head.
Warnings: K&K fluff, ridiculous costumes, lack of proof-reading by anyone other than myself, and shameless, cheesy romance.
The air was crisp and cool on her skin as she opened the balcony door of her apartment. The leaves were starting to turn, and in the sunset they glittered like fireflies. She smiled as she set out her things, draping them over the small table she had beside her patio chair. The warm smell of pumpkin spice drifted out from inside her house where the candles burned, and overall it gave her this wonderfully peaceful, serene sensation. She really did enjoy autumn. She settled down in her chair, drawing her legs up and tucking them under her. Her over-sized sweater kept her warm and snug from the cool air, and her socks were appropriately themed with little pumpkins stitched into the fabric.
Like every year, Misao was throwing a Halloween party, and much like every year, Kaoru was invited. Each time the enthusiastic girl tried to outdo her previous party, and Kaoru was wondering if and when she would run out of ideas. This year, Misao had themed her party a masquerade—to the point of renting a huge house that had a ballroom floor and demanding a policy of "no costume, no entry." No problem for Kaoru, she absolutely loved making costumes. It was a fun hobby, and made up for the fact that she could not even make ramen without it tasting weird. Besides, Misao always threw a costume contest, and this year Kaoru was determined to give it her best shot. She had been planning since Misao had told her about the party, and now she had the majority of her materials. It was all a matter of making it come together.
And who was she to work inside when it felt so nice out? That, and well...
She tucked a strand of loose hair behind her head and glanced to the building across from hers. It sat almost caddy shack to hers, a pattern seen across the complex, likely done to work with the landscape. The lights were on and she could see in through the open windows. A figure moved past, and she found herself pausing in what she was doing, momentarily capturing a glimpse of red hair.
She would have felt bad if she had not convinced herself there was nothing wrong with just looking. And truly, there was not. She was not a nefarious person by any means, and simply enjoyed entertaining her mind. His name was Kenshin, and she could admit to herself she was very attracted to him. Smiling at this thought she picked up her needle and thread and pulled the piece of fabric she had been working on over to her. It was not hard to like him. She did not know him very well, but he was incredibly polite and considerate. Many times he had helped her carry things to her door, offer an umbrella in the rain, or even walked with her when it was dark out and she was on her way back from the gym. She never asked for such things, and had originally politely declined but he had insisted. Any thoughts of him just being sleazy were stamped out pretty quickly. He was nothing but the perfect gentleman.
She lifted her eyes to see another figure in the building and watched her embrace the redhead.
The perfect taken gentleman.
Really, honestly, Kaoru was not bitter about it. There was no real reason to be. It was not like he had been stolen from her, and truthfully Tomoe was an absolute sweetheart. Just as polite as Kenshin, albeit a little more reserved. Kaoru really did like the girl. It was a shame she worked so much because Kaoru was certain if she had more time they would likely be good friends. She supposed it was better this way. If she spent too much time around Tomoe it might make her attraction to her boyfriend even worse, and Kaoru really did not want to be that person.
And so she had kept a very polite distance away. She always waved and greeted either of them when she ran into them and still accepted Kenshin's help (though she made a point of protesting! It was almost a game at this point). But anything beyond that just did not feel right to her. At least, not at this point. They had some mutual friends, but Kaoru refused to use anyone just to get closer to them.
This was just better this way. Eventually she would get over it and move on, and not make a fool of herself.
That said, her evening ritual was certainly not helping. Kenshin was a fairly habitual person, and Kaoru had discovered spending her evenings on her balcony doing whatever she needed to do (whether it be work on her laptop, reading, or anything else) usually resulted in her getting to see him. They kept their curtains pulled open in their living room, and Kaoru told herself it was not spying or stalking if they were so open about it.
She paused in her work, reaching over to turn on her docking station. The music was soft and pleasant, and allowed her to focus on her work. She smiled to herself and continued to string some beads together, making sure to keep the pattern the way she wanted it. Movement out of the corner of her eye made her lift her head, and she was surprised to see Kenshin walk out onto the balcony. She was even more surprised to see him lean on the rail and smile at her. "Miss Kaoru," He called, voice carrying easily across the small distance. "Are you not cold?"
She grinned back, pushing back her hair. She had opted to leave it down this evening. "Not at all; it feels great! How are you?"
He shrugged a little, giving a lopsided grin that Kaoru thought was utterly adorable. "Not too bad. We have some cider brewing; that's about it."
"Ooh, I love cider. Now I'm jealous. I'll have to get some when I'm in town next," Kaoru laughed. "Tell Tomoe 'hi' for me."
Kenshin paused, as if considering something, before smiling again. "I'll do that. Enjoy your night, and don't stay out too late. You might catch cold."
Kaoru waved a hand at him and returned to her work as he moved back inside, the balcony door shutting behind him. He must have just stepped out to talk to her. There seemed to be no other reason for him to do so. It pleased her a little bit, and she happily hummed along to her music. The beads glittered even with the limited light around her, and she could not wait to see how they looked at the party. So caught up in her musings she almost dropped her beads when her doorbell rang. Putting a hand to her chest, she paused before laughing at her own silliness and stood. "Coming!" She knew Megumi was going to be stopping by at some point to borrow a pair of shoes that Kaoru offered to lend her, but that was supposed to be tomorrow. Still, she padded over to the door and opened it. Her lips were parted to greet the other woman, but surprise fell across her features to see Kenshin standing in front of her instead.
He smiled warmly, and she noticed that in his hands was a ceramic mug. "Sorry for the intrusion, Miss Kaoru, but with such a declaration I felt it rude to not offer you some cider."
She was certain he could see the embarrassed blush on her face, even in the dim light. "Gah! That is not what I meant. I was not hinting for you to bring me cider, Kenshin!"
He laughed, and the sound made her skin tingle. It was a very pleasant thing to hear, and she bit on her bottom lip. "I know you were not. But I made plenty, so please. Just bring the mug back whenever you have some free time." He held out the ceramic for her to take. The rich smell of apples and spice hit her nose and she found herself inhaling deeply. With a small smile she reached out and took the mug from his hands, her fingertips touching his only briefly. She tried not to focus on that fact too much, and instead gave him a sheepish, but sincere grin.
"Thank you," She murmured, pulling the mug to her lips. She closed her eyes, breathing in the scent as she took a sip. The taste was absolutely amazing, and the hot liquid was warm all the way down to her belly. She wished she was good in the kitchen because she would so be begging him for the recipe. Opening her eyes, she glanced up at him, but was not quite sure about the look on his face. It was intent upon her, and she wondered if he was waiting on an assessment. She smiled, still holding the mug to her lips. "This is perhaps the best cider I have had, Kenshin. Thank you."
He blinked before shaking his head and grinning, glancing down almost sheepishly. "I'm very glad you like it, Miss Kaoru." Reaching up, he pushed some of his bangs out of his eyes. "Anyway, I'll see you around."
She bade him farewell and watched him leave before closing the door behind her. As soon as it clicked shut she exhaled deeply, slouching against the door. What in the world was that? Some part of her was grinning like an idiot at the whole thing. The louder, more logical part was telling her he was trying to be a good neighbor, and maybe a friend.
'Still, though...' She took another sip of the cider, letting the taste of spiced apples dance across her taste buds, 'I'll take what I can get.'
Why did he have to be such a great guy?
"I really can't thank you enough for giving me a hand." She tugged at some of the nylon, trying to arrange it to where she needed it. A few pins later and it was holding the way she wanted it, and she paused to glance up to her friend. "Just let me know when you decide what you want on your mask and I'll make it."
Tae smiled down at her friend, standing still as Kaoru made her adjustments. They had similar body types, and Kaoru found it to be much easier to work on her costume when it was on someone else as opposed to herself, especially where sizing was concerned. "It's not a problem, Kaoru! Besides, like you said. I'm getting an awesome mask out of it. Sounds like I'm getting the better end of the deal!"
Kaoru chuckled, a couple of pins sticking out of her mouth as she surveyed her work. "I dunno. Standing there and holding still takes a lot of patience. Me, I'd be moving all over the place."
"Yes, you're not known for your ability to stand still for very long," Tae agreed, amused. She lowered her eyes to some of the work. "So...what sort of theme are you going with?"
Kaoru shrugged a little, moving to adjust one of the hems on the skirt. "Hmm. Not quite sure how to describe it, honestly." She paused and leaned back. "Besides, it isn't like you can't see it."
"Yeah, but sometimes I like to hear what you're thinking when you come up with these ideas." Tae laughed softly, trying not to move too much. She settled down to let Kaoru work, eyes skimming over the kitchen she was facing. They fell to rest on a ceramic mug sitting on the counter that Tae had not seen before. It was a cute design and she idly commented, "That's a cute mug. Where did you get it from?"
Kaoru blinked and looked up and over. "Oh, that's not mine." She laughed a little, moving to stand behind Tae and work on the back of the dress. "It's a neighbor's."
A slight smirk pulled at Tae's lips. "Oh?" She inquired innocently. "Which neighbor?" She was not oblivious to Kaoru's fixation on a certain redhead.
Kaoru pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, noting Tae's tone for what it was. "It's Kenshin's." She grumbled out between the pins in her mouth, and she did not need to look up to know Tae was grinning.
"Oh really. Now what's the story behind that?"
The other woman rolled her eyes, gathering up some fabric to pin in place. "He was making cider and brought me a mug. Simple as that."
"I'll bet it was that simple," Tae replied wryly. "He's totally interested in you."
"Tae, he's taken," Kaoru exasperated. "I'm not even going there. He was being nice, and that was it."
Tae chuckled, "And yet you still enjoyed it, didn't you."
Kaoru said nothing, which was all the confirmation she needed. Poor girl needed a distraction from her attractive neighbor. Maybe she would find some cute guy to hook up with at the party. "Oh hey. I know what I want on my mask."
Kaoru adjusted the table in front of her, lips pursed in thought as she examined the colors of her paints. She was making a point to get Tae's mask done before she finished her own costume, as it seemed only right. The girl had described in good detail what she wanted, but left a fair amount of the design up to Kaoru. The mask was venetian, and designed to cover the woman's face in its entirety. Sequins and feathers lay out in a box beside her, and she dipped her brush into a rich blue, pondering the hue.
Her eyes drifted across the way to the other balcony. She had returned the mug that morning, and had been surprised that Tomoe was the one who answered the door. The woman had smiled and greeted her quietly, but seemed a little surprise to the nature of the visit. Kaoru had made sure to explain in the most friendly way possible that did not make her sound like a creeper. Tomoe seemed to not have minded, gratefully taking the mug and asking her to wait. Kaoru had been surprised to the young woman returning with a small jug of the cider Kenshin had made and offered it to her. Apparently, he had made a lot.
The interaction had been somewhat strange, but Kaoru had no idea why. She blamed it on the fact that she felt guilty crushing on Tomoe's boyfriend. She was pretty sure the woman was oblivious to the attraction Kaoru had, but she did not want to take any chances, either. She respected both of them too much for that.
Sighing softly, she turned up the music on her docking station and lost herself in the swirl of colors she was painting across the mask. Blues, purples and black mixed together, forming a beautiful base for the other accessories to adorn the piece. Tae wanted to use peacock feathers and turquoise beads, along with black sequins. Kaoru had seen some of the girl's costume, and had to admit it was very pretty. While Tae was not someone who made her pieces from scratch like Kaoru did, she did enjoy putting together a costume from already completed parts as opposed to simply buying it already complete. Kaoru appreciated that, and it was part of why they got along so well.
Now that the mask had a base, she pulled some glitter out and pinched some between her fingers. It took a steady hand to not get it all over the mask (or all over herself!) but she managed to sprinkle it on the wet paint in the manner that she wanted. Smiling, she set the mask to the side to dry and focused on the feathers Tae had given her. They were of varying lengths and needed to be cut appropriately. She began to sort through them, arranging them in such a way as she envisioned how they would look on the mask. She bit her lip thoughtfully as she scrutinized her own work, making sure each feather was rotated correctly and that there were no flaws.
So intent on the plumage that she did not notice the person watching her across the way. He said nothing for quite some time, watching his neighbor mess with the feathers. He was not close enough to make out a lot of the details, but he could tell she was focused on her work. She was animated in the things she did, and this was no exception.
Finally, she glanced up and took notice of him, and even as far away as he was, he could see the surprise on her face.
"Oh!" Kaoru could feel her cheeks flaring up. How long had he been standing there watching her from his balcony? "Good morning!"
Kenshin smiled, a mug of coffee in his hands. "Good morning, Miss Kaoru." He paused, head tilted as he regarded her, before adding, "You have been quite diligent with that costume."
"Halloween does not wait for anyone!" She grinned, looking down at the feathers in her hands. "Though to be fair, this part is for a friend."
He watched her, a slight smile on his face. "It is a fun time of the year, that it is." He paused, looking back over his shoulder inside his place. His hair fell over his shoulder, the red a stark contrast to the gray of his button-down shirt. "Ah, please excuse me. There are some things I must attend to. I look forward to seeing the results of your work, Miss Kaoru!"
He waved at her and stepped back inside, sliding door swishing shut behind him. Kaoru smiled, before she realized the implications of his words. He wanted to see her costume when it was done? It made her giddy, and she felt bad afterward. Why did he have to be so damn nice? Making a face, she snipped the ends of the feathers off and continued with her work.
The light rain was more chilling than she had expected. She sighed, pulling a compact umbrella out of her purse. It never hurt to be prepared, especially for situations like these. Naturally, she had wanted to walk back from the store. Curse her and her desire to stay in shape! Maybe she should just give in and get a tub of ice cream while she was at it.
At least the walk was not too far, perks of living in the city limits. She moved down the walkway, noting no one else wanted to be out in this kind of weather. She certainly could not blame them. The raindrops on her legs were making her shiver, and she wondered just what possessed her to wear a skirt today. Foiled by fashion once again!
A streak of red caught her attention and she glanced over into the park area in the middle of the complex. She could recognize that head of hair without even trying, which was probably not a good thing. She frowned, just wondering why he would be sitting on the wood swing out in the rain? He did not even look dressed for the weather. Detouring from the main sidewalk, she approached him, not really trying to hide her presence, but not announcing it either. He seemed to not notice, lost in his thoughts, until he realized the rain was no longer hitting his head. Blinking out of his daze, the young man looked up, surprised violet eyes meeting her own. She peered at him curiously, concern on her face, but said nothing for a long moment, simply holding her umbrella over her head. She wanted to ask him why he was out here, but could not find it in her to do so. Instead, she offered him a wry smile, "It's about time I get to offer you my umbrella."
He blinked rapidly, before a smile touched his lips and he glanced down at the gravel. "Aha. You are too kind, Miss Kaoru, but you should not stand out here in the cold like this."
"If you're going to lecture me, then you need to follow your own advice first," She replied, putting a hand on her hip. "You're not even wearing a jacket."
"No... I suppose I am not." He agreed distantly, eyes staring off across the landscaping. Kaoru frowned, but said nothing, content to hold her umbrella over his head. The man would give himself pneumonia at this rate, and she would not just let him sit there cold. After several long moments of him lost in his thoughts, she sighed audibly, a touch of exasperation in the noise. He blinked and looked up at her as she put the umbrella down, confusion written across his features. "Miss Kaoru...-oro!"
The noise he made when she threw her coat over his shoulders was absolutely adorable. She managed to not smile as he glanced down at the fleece-lined fabric now settled over his slight form and looked up at her. The stern look she gave him made him sit up straighter, almost nervously so. "If you are going to sit out here in the rain, then I will not stop you. But I will not let it sit on my guilty conscious that I let you be so silly as to do so without at least a coat on." She gave him a wry grin. "So you can return the jacket once you have cheered up."
Picking up her umbrella, she shook the rain off of it and shivered as a gust of wind picked up. Kenshin opened his mouth to say something, but she held up a finger in a signal for him to hush. He did so obediently. "Whatever it is that is bothering you is not my business. But please do be more mindful about your health while doing so. I'm sure Tomoe would be upset if you got sick, and I must admit I would not be happy either."
She smiled at him, and he could not return the expression, still staring at her with a shocked look on his face as she turned and walked off to her own building. Once her back was to him, she gulped. She had not meant to be so bold! Hopefully he would not be mad at her!
He watched her go, almost dazed, before the tension left his posture and he relaxed. The smell of jasmine hit his nose and he could not help the smile that touched his lips.
She only had a few days left to finish her costume, and the pressure to get it completely done before the party was becoming noticeable. She shut the door to her apartment behind her, begrudged that she had gotten in so late. At least she worked from home, but still. The evening she was going to spend on her costume was almost over with. She glanced at the clock. It was after eleven. Sighing, she slipped her shoes off and placed her things down on the bar. Her boots had come in at least, which was a part of the costume she had been worried about getting in on time, especially since it was a custom order. But now all that remained were finishing touches and accessories. That made her feel a bit better about it all.
Her coat went to the closet, and she pondered on the fact Kenshin had the other one still. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she debated on actually trying to do any work on the costume for the night. After all, it was very late. Padding over to the array of costume pieces scattered out on her coffee table, she pondered on them, and glanced up to look out the window. Her brow furrowed at what she saw. The light was on in Kenshin and Tomoe's apartment, which in and of itself was not odd, but she could see them both sitting down on the sofa in each others arms. The sight bothered her much more than she would have otherwise thought and she glanced away. It was a very real reminder of the fact he was not available, and she was getting far too infatuated with him. With that thought, she decided sleep was the better option, blew out her newly lit candles, and retired for the night.
She sat on the balcony, putting the finishing touches on her boots. The overcast morning reflected her depressive mood, which was unfortunately not very conducive to creativity. Last night had been an unpleasant wake-up call, and this morning only escalated it. Her normal route had been greatly disturbed by the fact her view was no long there. All the windows of Kenshin and Tomoe's apartment had their curtains pulled to for the first time in months. She swallowed, wondering just what the implications behind that were. Was it because of her? Was it not? So many mixed feelings and worries ran through her. She was far too caught up in her emotions regarding the red-haired man, and she felt horrible about it—horrible that she felt that way, horrible that he was not available, horrible that she was having such a hard time getting over him.
Angry tears pricked at the corners of her eyes as she gripped the paint brush tightly between her fingers. This was so stupid! Why was she so obsessed over this man?! Never mind the fact she knew why, and the question was rhetorical. She needed to focus. The party was just around the corner and, by god, she was going to enjoy it! She would need the pick-me-up.
Standing, she gathered her things and moved inside. Sitting out on the balcony this morning was simply unbearable.
The last few days leading up to the party were not privy to the internal frustrations Kaoru was having. She had not ventured out onto the balcony, had not wanted to even look over at the other apartment. The weather helped at least, being somewhat dreary the majority of the time. She had half expected it to rain the morning of the party, and woke up to find sunlight filtering into her bedroom. She draped a hand across her forehead and stared at the bright leaves that she could see out her window. They reminded her of a head full of red hair, and she sighed while dragging her hand over her face. She needed coffee.
Much to her chagrin, she had cider instead. She wished it did not warm her like it did.
The day was spent helping Misao with a few decorations and preparations for the party. Most of the work had already been done, but Kaoru had felt inclined to help do some of the finishing touches. That said, the kitchen was not on her list of places to be in, and so she made a point of avoiding trying to step in there. Someone else could burn all the food. She opted to instead set up tall, spooky candelabras around the main floor.
It was erring close to the hour of the party when Misao glanced down at her watch. "Well, that's about it. We should go get our costumes on."
Kaoru paused, noting the time. "Oh, crap. I'm going to be late!" She scrambled for her things while Misao laughed at her, knowing how long it would probably take the other woman to get ready. "I'll be back!"
The door clicked shut behind her and Misao could only grin.
It was not as cool as she had been expecting, and for that she was grateful, especially since the sheer black duster that billowed behind her as she walked only provided a minimal layer of protection from the elements. She stepped up to the front porch of the house, lips tugging upward at who greeted her at the door. Sanosuke stood at least a foot over her, and that was half the reason she recognized him for who he was. The brown hair sticking out in all directions behind his demon-like mask also gave him away.
His eyes drifted over her form, lingering on the intricate bodice of her dress that showed off her neckline and shoulders underneath the sheer material draped over it. She tilted her head, amused and knowing he did not recognize her. She would have been embarrassed by his appraising look had she not known just how he was going to react once he got a clue.
Clearing her throat and clicking her shepherd's crook down on the floor, the old lantern hanging from it swinging side to side, she inquired, "Going to gawk all day or allow me entry, creature?"
She did not miss the jerk Sanosuke gave when he recognized her voice, "Holy crap, Missy!" His voice broke into an octave she had not heard him reach before and she could not help the laugh that escaped her. She had no doubt he was blushing. "Jeez, Kaoru, you're going to give every man a heart attack in there."
She chuckled and shook her head. "Whatever, Sano. Gonna let me in?"
He gave her an over-exaggerated bow, pulling the door open as he did. "I could not say no to an outfit like that. Say, let Megumi borrow that when you're done, will ya?"
"Sano!" She tried to sound appalled but she was pretty sure it came off amused instead. That man had no shame.
The party had already acquired a right few many guests, and immediately she started critiquing costumes in her head. She could not help it, and had some measure of pride in her own. She spotted Tae almost immediately, appreciating the beautiful trinity of blues, greens, and purples that made up her costume. She noticed Kaoru, having helped her with the fitting, and hurried over. "Wow! That looks amazing. You weren't joking about those beads—oh my god I love your shoes!" The woman gasped and pointed to the open-toed boots Kaoru had made. They showed off the acrylic nails that had been designed into black claws, the tips threatening to touch the floor over the sole of the shoe.
Painted lips pulled back into a visible grin, as her masked only covered the upper part of her face. "Glad you like it. Where is Misao?"
"Oh, you'll figure out which one is her eventually," Was Tae's enigmatic reply.
Sure enough, it did not take long for Kaoru to narrow down which person was Misao. The first give away should have been the petite costumed individual standing beside an extraordinary tall one, but what really gave it away was the fact the girl's costume was apparently lined with LED lights. Kaoru almost gawked at the way the fabric was glowing in color, and wondered if it was being powered by her limitless enthusiasm. It had the potential to be a nightmare, and yet somehow the girl had managed to make it look... interesting. That was the only way Kaoru could describe it. Interesting. She grinned and shook her head as the young woman threw a fist in the air, the glove lined with swirly patterns of lights. Beside her, Aoshi looked far less amused in his serpentine themed attire.
More people had turned out than she thought. Close to a hundred people, she imagined. Misao never did plan small, and now Kaoru could see why she had rented a house of this size. There was a long line of prepared food and drinks, and Kaoru would have been lying if she said she had no intentions of sampling each and every dish. Twice.
She received many compliments and questions about her costume, which made her inwardly thrilled. The distraction was proving to greatly cheer her up, at least until she wandered over to the refreshments. Just as she approached a rather large punch bowl, the wonderful rich smell of spiced cider hit her nostrils. It was wonderful and painful at the same time, and she sighed wistfully, politely turning down an offer of some from the server.
She was interrupted from her dismal thoughts when a hand came into view. "Might I steal you away for a dance?"
She blinked, recognizing the voice and looked over. Sure enough, the smiling mask was a good indicator as any. "Soujiro," She greeted warmly and placed her hand in his, the black clawed nails a stark contrast to his white gloves. "I thought you would not be able to make it. Misao had said you would be out of town."
"Got back earlier," He replied cheerfully, pulling her onto the dance floor. There were a fair amount of other couples dancing in various ways. For all of Misao's attempts at a masquerade, not everyone knew enough about dancing to be very synchronized. Most were trying, however.
"How'd you know it was me?" She prompted once they were on the floor and moving with the music. He gave a half shrug, and she could picture his grin even if she could not see it.
"Oh, well, I was not completely sure, but I had a hunch. There is a way that you move that oozes confidence. Not many women could mimic that." He twirled her.
She laughed, the sound rolling with the music, her feet moving across the floor with his. "Oozes confidence? You're ridiculous."
The sound of his voice told her he was grinning, "Must be all that kendo you take."
"Riiiight. I think you're just a suck-up."
"Me? Never." He laughed.
She ended up switching partners a few times, and dancing with various people—some she knew, some she did not. It was mid-way through the party that Misao could not take it anymore and declared they had to do the costume contest then. Her excuse was that some people would have to leave early. Kaoru knew for a fact that Misao was just impatient. It was in the way she practically vibrated in place from excitement. Anyone who wanted to enter the contest was to line up and the crowd would be the judge. And Kaoru knew that even if she had doubts about competing, Misao would force her up there. And if not Misao... Tae would.
So here she was, standing in line. She had retrieved her staff, as it was definitely part of her costume and watched as other people stood up on the make-shift stage to show off their design. Some of them were very good, and Kaoru was quite impressed. Some, not so much. When it got to be her turn, she took a deep breath and schooled her expression. Part of it was all about presentation after all. If you did not have composure and confidence in yourself, neither would the crowd. She took the first step onto the stage, which drew the skirt up on her leg, the slit on the side exposing a creamy thigh, which stood out against the dark material of her costume. She stepped up onto the stage, the fabric swishing and beads clinking gently. She stood tall and proud, chin angled up and lips curling slightly in what she hoped was a confident smirk. Feet braced apart by a foot, she drove the end of her staff into the floor, making a sharp crack in the ballroom. The lantern swung gently, skull-shaped beads clacking against it. Putting a claw-tipped finger to her bottom lip, she pondered for a moment before speaking, "The Ferryman." While she did not like putting a name to her costume, it was somewhat fitting. A guide to the souls of the dead into the next realm. The lantern gave her the idea.
The crowd broke the silence at that point, clapping and cheering appropriately. She could not help but think this was the loudest they had been and with a deep, sweeping bow that sent various strands of beads and ribbons from her hair bouncing over her shoulders she descended back into the crowd. Misao came up and wrapped her arms around her tightly, her bright lights looking quite strange against Kaoru's black costume. "AWESOME." It was all the girl could say.
And sure enough by the end of it, the crowd had agreed. Kaoru was pulled back to the stage along with two others, the three finalists for the costume contest. One on her left was dressed in white and gold, appearing very angelic. The one to her right was outlandish in its...ingenuity. If Misao's had been bad, this one was worse. If she had to describe it, she would by saying it was a carnival worker who had the eighties throw up on it. So distracted by the visual onslaught of color she almost missed Misao call out the winners.
"Second place goes to the Angel!" Kaoru clapped with the crowd, and the girl took a delicate bow. "Annnnnnd first place goes to..." Kaoru was nervous, only because she would feel really insulted if the ridiculous person next to her placed first. "The Ferryman!"
Relief swelled through her as she grinned and waved, taking another bow. "Way to go, Kaoru!" Misao cheered, tossing her microphone up in the air and ignoring the screeching protest through the speakers. "Now, back to dancing everyone!"
Ever bouncing from one idea to another, Misao was already pulling Aoshi back to the dance floor, and Kaoru could see some manner of reluctance in his posture. Her lips curved upward at the scene. That girl had the poor man wrapped around her finger. The music started up again and Kaoru realized she should probably get off the stage. Moving to the stairs, she lifted her skirt to step down when someone offered her a hand. She blinked and looked up and her breath caught. The man was dressed in a white dress shirt rolled up to the elbows, with a sleek black waistcoat and matching slacks. His mask was simple and white, covering only his eyes and nose. But what really had her attention was the long red hair tied back at the base of his head. She swallowed nervously, heart hammering in her chest as she almost shyly put her hand in his. He grasped it and gently helped her down the steps of the stage, but did not let go. Tinting his head and gesturing out to the crowd, he invited in a voice all too familiar, "Might I invite the Ferryman for a dance?"
She was certain if she had any less self control she would be shaking. Not trusting herself to speak she simply nodded, and he smiled and led her onto the floor, but not before taking her staff and handing it off to Sano who passed by. Kaoru could have sworn she heard him say something about using it to beat Yahiko over the head and she craned her neck around to scold him but he was out of earshot.
Her suspicions about Sanosuke's intents died when a firm tug brought her into the warm embrace of another. Her chest bumped against his and a cherry red flush crawled across her skin. His lips curled up slightly as he led them into a dance, moving with grace she did not know he had, but was nonetheless impressed by. Just the feel of his hand on her waist had her body tingling and her pulse throbbing, and she wondered if she would pass out in shock and confusion.
She could barely hear him when he spoke, and the tilt of her head indicated such. That said, she did not expect him to lean closer in until his breath washed over her neck, but this time his words reached her ears. "Your costume is lovely, Miss Kaoru. I am very impressed. But I also saw how much work you put into it, too."
She smiled, ducking her head just a little, if only because his breath tickled her skin. "Thank you," She murmured softly, not sure what else to say. This was so nice; so wonderful, but of course reality had to come at some point. He was taken. He was taken. And he was here, dancing with her-intimately so. Nervously, she swallowed, and while she did not have the courage to outright ask, she gently prompted in the general direction, "I did not know you knew Misao."
He smiled again, glancing in the direction of the brightly lit girl and her boyfriend. "It would be more accurate to say I know Aoshi. Sanosuke is also a friend of mine."
"Oh, I see." She replied, glancing over as well. "Then... you should have told me you were coming."
He was quiet for a moment, and she could almost imagine his expression as thoughtful. It took a twirl and dip before he did speak, and she had to wonder if it was because he wanted to leave her breathless first. Her chest heaved softly and he finally replied, "I... had been distracted. And, honestly," His lips pulled into a smile, "This was more fun."
What did he mean by that? Kaoru stared at him through her mask, and then realized he had maneuvered them towards the set of double doors that led outside. She had not even realized he had done that. Stepping back, he offered her his elbow. "Walk with me?"
Wordlessly she took the offered appendage and let him lead her out onto the covered porch. There were one or two people around the area, but for the most part it was quiet and private. He moved them to the corner that overlooked the small garden, gently lit by pumpkin-shaped lights and glow in the dark spiders that Misao had no doubt insisted upon. Kaoru found that she was nervous. Not because she was alone with Kenshin. But because she was alone with Kenshin. This was not right. As much as she was flattered, and flustered, and really, really wanted this... it was not right. He was taken. He was... "Where's Tomoe?" The words were blurted out before she could even stop, and she inwardly groaned. She should have at least had alcohol first so she could have a viable excuse for her stupidity and crassness.
Kenshin was quiet, staring out at the garden. Kaoru gently removed her arm from his and gathered her hands in front of her uneasily. She was mentally berating herself, kicking herself for being so stupid, when his words broke her mantra of self-depreciation and left her stunned.
"She moved out two nights ago."
Kaoru's mouth went dry, filled with the cottony texture of dread. His voice was soft, too soft, and she wanted nothing more than to sink through the floor. Instead, she weakly found herself saying, "What?"
He sighed and braced his hands on the rail of the porch, rolling his shoulders. "Tomoe moved out two nights ago. We..." He trailed off, before he smiled, although it was bittersweet. "We had been steadily growing apart for months now. She is never home because of family issues and work. We also have lost a lot of our common interests, too. We virtually share nothing in common anymore. It finally came to my attention that I did not feel the same way for her that I used to. When I finally approached her about it, she confessed she felt the same way." He looked up over at Kaoru. "She also pointed out I had been heavily distracted by other things around me."
Kaoru's heart started speeding up again as she met his eyes through their masks. "I asked her if she was bitter. She told me she could not be, because she wanted me to be happy. Even if she did not love me like that anymore, she still cared deeply for me. I still care deeply for her." He paused, before adding, "Platonically."
She wanted to ask. The question was right on the tip of her tongue. But, she could not. It was not right. He seemed to sense her confliction, and so he offered, "Do you know what has distracted me so, Miss Kaoru?"
She swallowed, unable to tear her eyes away. Her voice sounded a little too throaty as she whispered, "I have a guess..."
He smiled at that, pushing away from the rail and turning to her. Reaching up, he pulled the mask off of his face, tossing it on the bench beside him. Stepping up to her, he reached up, fingers hooking underneath the band that held her own mask in place. She closed her eyes as he pulled it off, and with more respect, set the piece down next to his. She opened her eyes to look at him, worrying at her bottom lip. He smiled at her, and his fingers reached up to gently touch her cheek. "You are an amazing woman, Miss Kaoru. I would be greatly pleased if you allowed me to get to know you better than I do now."
The grin that broke out on her face was shy, and she ducked her head in response to his words. She could not believe this was happening. She wanted to feel bad for him, for Tomoe, for their relationship. But when his fingers caught her chin and lifted her face to look at him... she knew she could not feel anything but happiness.
He moved in, closing the distance between them and dipped his head in, capturing her lips against his. He was not shy about it, knowing exactly what he wanted from her, and so she was forced to meet his pace head on. She did so with that confidence Soujiro accused her of having, and her arms came up to wrap around his shoulders. He approved of the notion, arms sliding around her waist and holding her tight. They were interrupted by the flash of a camera.
Kaoru jerked back from Kenshin, although he refused to release her from his grip. Both of them turned their heads over to the brightly lit girl holding her camera and grinning like an absolute maniac. "Oh, don't mind me," She purred evilly. "I'm just getting pictures of the party. Carry on! Candid shots are the best!"
Kaoru glared at her menacingly, but Kenshin merely laughed, squeezing her close to him. "Aoshi, she is quite devious."
Aoshi nodded. "You have no idea."
Misao ignored them both. "C'mon, c'mon! Another one for the camera!"
"Misao, I am going to—eep!"
The awkward squeal that left her only made Misao explode into laughter as Kenshin suddenly shifted and dipped Kaoru low to the ground. Her fingers gripped is shoulders tightly, and he leaned over her, his hair spilling over a shoulder and tickling her neck. "Make it look natural, Kaoru." His voice was a sweet purr that made Kaoru practically turn to putty in his hands as he leaned in and kissed her again, ignoring the flash of the camera as he did so.
She woke up to sunlight filtering in through the window. It was deceptive considering how cold it was outside. It must have been early afternoon, and a quick glance to the clock confirmed it. She made no move to get up though, not wishing to disturb the body draped atop hers. Kenshin dozed quietly, his head pillowed against her stomach, stretched out on the sofa. They must have both fallen asleep to the television. Smiling, she let her fingers drift up to his hair, running through the red strands and gently massaging his scalp. The man stirred, making a soft, contented noise as she continued, gently drawing him from the dreamworld with steady fingers on his head. After several long moments, Kenshin sighed happily and lifted his head up to look at her, sleepy violet meeting amused blue. "You are entirely too comfortable, Kaoru," He murmured, though it was hardly a complaint.
She chuckled, brushing his hair away from his face as he took a moment to get his bearings. "That isn't a bad thing."
"No, it certain is not," He agreed, finally forcing himself to sit up. He stretched and yawned, and Kaoru took the time to lean forward and turn off the T.V. As soon as the controller had been put back down she found her back against the sofa's pillows and she made a startled noise as he pinned her, a mischievous look about him. She laughed, playfully squirming under him as he leaned in and nibbled along her neck and ear, earning a squeal from her in response. He chuckled, and she pushed against his chest, laughing. Nose bumping hers and hair curtaining around her, he inquired, "Want anything from the kitchen?"
She smiled up at him, fingers ghosting along his jaw. "Mmm... I would love some hot apple cider."
The corners of his eyes crinkled as he smiled back at her. "Gladly."
AN: I love, love, love autumn and Halloween. And venetian masks, and costume parties. And cider and pumpkins. And I also love Kaoru and Kenshin. And I was hit with a small burst of creativity to combine as much those as I could into a one-shot. And here you are. Kaoru's costume is loosely based on my Halloween costume from last year, because I am unoriginal like that. I am also so unoriginal that I'll be reusing the idea again this year with some adjustments. Go me!
Anyway, this was a nice break from Sortiarius because it was not plot-driven and simply relaxing to write. No worries, I have every intention of continuing the other piece, but sometimes we all need a break!
Reviews are appreciated. Maybe I'll get really creative and sketch out Kaoru's costume. Heh. We'll see.