A Quick Note,

HA! You all thought I had abandoned this little fic, didn't you?! Well, surprise! I didn't! :D Haha! Ha. Ha...

Oh, who am I kidding? You all deserved an update far sooner than this. I do have an excuse, though, at least for November! I was participating in NaNoWriMo (google it if you don't know) and managed to finish at 11:00 on the last day, but I had to write 1,667 words PER day, and, well, NOTL just kind of fell by the wayside. But I'm back, and with a nice long chapter to make up for it as well!

Just a couple things regarding this, however. There is a lot of Shakespearean involved this time around, and I apologize for any confusion it may cause - but quite honestly, it had to be in here for the chapter to make sense. The part of the play mentioned is from Act Two, Scene Two if you would like to look it up on No Fear Shakespeare. Also, I went back and drastically edited the previous chapter. Looking at all the reviews, I definitely saw what the problem was, and thanks to you all I was able to fix quite a bit of it. Just goes to show how much this community has helped me, and I appreciate you all for that! Besides, who can grow as a writer if no one will tell them what they're doing wrong? :) If you were one of the people who provided the constructive criticism, I would love it if you would be willing to re-read chapter 8 and tell me if it's better.

Thank you so much, and please leave a review if you are so inclined!

Greatest Regards,

Sardonyx Rosetta

*Update*: I officially loathe FanFiction's document system. I don't know why it managed to shove the last half of this chapter into one long disgusting paragraph, but IT WILL BE FIXED even though my annoyance is really hard to comprehend at this point. I didn't mean to scare some of you. I DO know how to write in paragraphs.

Chapter Nine: Safety First

"Next!" Hiko sighed, rubbing his forehead with his hand.

"I'm not doin' this!" Sano protested angrily as Katsu and Cho dragged him onstage. "I can't pretend to be in love with her, let alone –" he shuddered "– KISS her."

"Come on, man!" Katsu said, shoving his script into Sano's arms as Cho pushed him towards me. "You're our last hope. You've gotta try, at least."

"Fine!" Sano exclaimed, shaking out of their hands and slapping open the script to the correct page. "But I'm sure as hell not going to like it!"

"And to think, the hissy fit you threw when you didn't get a big enough part," Megumi huffed, rolling her eyes.

"I didn't know the alternative was having to suck face with this thing," he growled, jerking a thumb at me.

"Hey!" I protested, hands on my hips.

"Don't you start with me, missy," Sano shot back. "I have absolutely no desire to pretend to be your 'secret lover' with your boyfriend, my BEST freaking FRIEND, watching us."

"I don't care if my backstage slave is jealous or not," Hiko seethed from his spot in the third row of seats. "I need a new Romeo, pronto, and I am running out of options. Begin, before I end you all."

Kenshin rolled his eyes.

I climbed up onto my makeshift balcony – a paint-encrusted folding chair – and folded my arms. Sano pulled himself together, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "Well," he muttered, "here goes nothing."

"Right," I replied.

"Start from 'How camest thou hither,'" Hiko commanded. "And for God's sake Kamiya, have a little emotion!"

"Yes sir." I saluted sarcastically, turning to face Sano with an appropriately worried look on my face. "How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore? The orchard walls are high and hard to climb, and the place death, considering who thou art, if any of my kinsmen find thee here."

Sano looked at his line and his hand clenched, wrinkling his script. "With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls," he grumbled.

"I thought you were an ac-TOR, Sanosuke!" Katamari taunted from the audience. "Don't tell me you're giving up already."

A scarlet sheen spread across Sano's face, and he nearly shouted the rest of his line at me. "For stony limits cannot hold love out, and what love can do that dares love attempt! Therefore, thy KINSMEN are no LET to me!"

Oh dear lord. "If they do see thee, they will murder thee." An image of Kenshin in Capulet garb beating the shit out of Sano flashed in front of me, and I had to stifle a giggle. Juliet did not giggle when she warned her overnight lover that someone was going to knock the life right out of him if he got caught.

"I have night's cloak to hide me from their sight; and but thou love me, let them find me here: My life were better ended by their hate than death prorogued, w-wanting of thy love." By the way his eye was twitching, the current Romeo would rather run away with his tail between his legs than stay and be sacrificed for his newfound one true love.

I couldn't help it – my eyes narrowed with annoyance. The boy wasn't even trying. "By whose direction found'st thou out this place?"

He was back to stuttering again. "B-b-by love, who f-first did prompt me to inqu- DAMN IT HIKO I CAN'T DO THIS SHIT! It's just too weird!" He jumped off the stage and back into the audience, stalking past a mildly amused Kenshin as he stomped off to sulk in the back row.

I was really beginning to wonder why Kenshin seemed unconcerned about it all. Maybe it was because if the show was canceled due to a lack of Romeo, he wouldn't have to be the backstage manager. Worse yet, maybe he didn't want another guy making moves on his girl even if it was just acting. If that's even what I was to him in the first place. I slid down to sit on my glorious balcony, leaning exasperatingly against the back of the folding chair.

Hiko was in a similar position, except his forehead rested quite heavily against the row of seats in front of him. Everyone sat motionless, waiting for him to do something, and the minutes seemed to stretch on. "This is looking pretty dismal, isn't it?" Megumi sighed, setting her perfect little chin in her palm as her elbow rested on her knees.

"At this rate we might as well have señor Ice Block over there be Romeo," said Shisho, nodding his head over towards Aoshi. "At least then instead of the two sticking their tongues out at one another one of them wouldn't even have emotions.

"I resent that," Aoshi muttered under his breath.

"Why not have Kenshin be Romeo, then?" Katsu laughed, clapping Sano on the back as he giggled. "Not only is he emotionless, he also isn't playing anybody else."

"Fine," Hiko muttered at last.

The cast froze.

"What?" Katsu asked, breaking the confused silence.

"I said," Hiko growled, raising his head to reveal a reddish streak displayed proudly on his forehead from the chair back, "Fine."

"As in … ?" Yumi asked, her tone sarcastic.

Hiko shoved his script into Kenshin's fumbling hands and gave him a good shove. My heart fell immediately. Was he really going to make him do this? I was fully aware Kenshin was a terrible actor, and this would only confirm it for the entire cast. Hiko knew that … so why was Kenshin still making his way up to the stage?

Our eyes connected, and I knew my expression just screamed pity and terror, because a smile spread across his face.

"You're serious," Sano said, dumbfounded. "Well I'll be."

"At this point anything is better than nothing," Katamari said, examining his nails as he rolled his eyes.

"You guys are so cruel," Megumi snapped, folding her arms. "Give him a chance at least!"

Kenshin pulled himself up onto the stage with an agility that sang of his time in the dojo, and I had to admire the way he moved so gracefully towards such a dismal fate. I recalled the morning I had drafted him into helping me with my lines and shuddered, then pasted a weak smile on my face as he approached. "You don't have to do this," I whispered to him.

His lips curved upwards into an amused look. "I do too," he replied, "but thanks for the offer."

Hiko let out a large, heavy, exasperated sigh, running a hand through his messy bangs. "Start from where you and Rooster-head left off."

I bit my lip and climbed back onto the chair, then turned towards Kenshin. It took me a moment to remember I had to look down a bit – Sano's height had allowed me to look him nearly in the eyes, but Kenshin was another story. I had been tempted to call him 'shorty' a time or two in my life, but then I realized he still had another inch or two on me. I took a deep breath and began, trying to think like a normal human being even while gazing into those gorgeous pools of violet …

"By whose direction found'st thou out this place?" I asked, my actions inquisitive. My stomach knotted as his lips opened to reply.

"By love, who first did prompt me to inquire." His tone was sultry and almost mischievous, and he leaned towards the horribly abused folding chair. "He lent me counsel and I lent him eyes. I am no pilot; yet, wert thou as far as that vast shore wash'd with the farthest sea, I would adventure for such merchandise." Somehow he had managed to sputter out the words, and the fact that he hadn't stuttered was enthralling to me.

I took a deep breath and began my monologue. "Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face, else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek … " I rattled on in Shakespearean about how I loved him and how I prayed he loved me to, doing my best to act lovesick even though everyone was really watching Kenshin, waiting for him to mess up and fulfill the cast's expectations. And yet, it wasn't a challenge for me. Acting with Enishi had truly been acting; I had to fake how much I adored him, lie about how my love for him was boundless, and pretend my every thought was of him. But with Kenshin as my Romeo, suddenly the words came easier, the movements more fluid. "Therefore pardon me," I ended, gazing down at him as if it was the simplest thing in the world, "And not impute this yielding to light love, Which the dark night hath so discovered." Kenshin glanced down at the script, smiled, and then took my hand gently in his. "Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear," he beamed, excitement in his voice, "that tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops-"

I interrupted him then, clutching the hand that held mine. "O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon that monthly changes in her circled orb, lest that thy love prove likewise variable."

He cocked his head to the side, a curious expression gracing his features. "What shall I swear by?"

I turned my face away from him. "Do not swear at all; Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self, which is the god of my idolatry – " our eyes met once more " – and I'll believe thee."

Romeo tried to interject once more. "If my heart's dear love – "

My words overpowered his once more, and I lectured him on his stupidity, for swearing his supposed undying love on undeserving objects. When I had finished, he stood with a faint smile on his face that implied his disappointment.

A small step forward left him inches from my body, our hands still tightly clenched.

"O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?" he murmured.

His sudden nearness caught me off guard, and I almost stumbled over the words as I spoke. "What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?"

Romeo grinned, as if he could tell how flustered I was. "The exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine."

I let Juliet take over, her heart filling with joy at her lover's words. He wanted to marry her, as soon as possible.

I gave thee mine before thou didst request it!" I exclaimed happily. "And yet I would it were to give again."

He looked worried. "Wouldst thou withdraw it? for what purpose, love?"

I laughed softly. "But to be frank, and give it thee again. And yet I wish but for the thing I have: My bounty is as boundless as the sea," I murmured, brushing his bangs out of his eyes, "my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite."

We paused for a moment, gazing at each other longingly. "Megumi," I hissed after a moment.

She said nothing.

"Megumi, it's your cue." Finally, I broke Kenshin's gaze to look out into the audience. Every single person was looking up at us in shock. Sano's eyes were comparable to dinner plates, and Megumi's perfect little mouth was stretched into a little 'o.' Even Soijiro and Shishio look surprised.

After a long beat of silence, Hiko shot to his feet. "You little shit!" he cried, pointing an accusatory finger at Kenshin. "Why didn't you tell me you could act like that?!"

Kenshin squeezed my hand and dropped it, turning to face his father as he crossed his arms. "Take a guess."

"No freaking clue," Katamari murmured in awe. "But... But... BRAVO!" He stood and clapped enthusiastically, but when no one joined in with him, he lowered himself back into his chair with a small pout. Kenshin turned his attention back to Hiko.

"What makes you think I would ever, ever want to spend multiple weeks constantly submitting myself to your torture?" Sano let out a little bark of laughter, and Katsu joined in, the two of them chuckling to the point where I worried if they had even considered breathing. Tae looked on with worried eyes, wondering if she should tell them to be quiet, but Megumi took care of it with a quick, hard slap to her boyfriend's arm. He glared at her and rubbed his bicep, and she just turned up her nose at him.

"And yet you hide this from me?!" Hiko growled. "You stupid, selfish boy!"

"Try 'smart,'" Kenshin interjected, eyes flashing hazel. It always amazed me that no matter how calm and collected he was normally, Kenshin flew off handle with Hiko.

I let it all sink in, trying but failing to compare his monotone line-reading to what had just happened. "You can act," I murmured, looking down at him in a daze. "Why can you act?"

"I've always been able to." He shrugged. I just didn't want him to know that." Kenshin nodded his head sharply at Hiko.

"But why didn't you tell me?!" I asked, placing my hands on my hips as a glared down at him.

"Because I know you," he said sweetly, "and I know you would have made me audition if you knew I could do it."

"I would not!" I exclaimed.

"Don't start this up, Kamiya," Hiko sighed. "What's done is done. And since my own offspring decided to deceive me, it's time for a little retribution." His eyes flashed. "Kenshin, you'll play Romeo. Think of it as punishment for lying to me."

"I don't know if I would consider it that much of a punishment," Kenshin said, a small smile crossing his lips as he glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. At least I had the decency to blush.

"Oh, gross," Sano hacked, pretending to puke.

"Shut up, Sanosuke," Megumi hissed. "Have a little tact." He just fake-puked again, and Katsu giggled. Honestly, those two were the least mature college students I had ever met.

"Wonderful," Hiko sighed, his hand slowly unclenching from his messy black hair. "Now that that's all settled, back to rehearsal. We've only got a week and a half until opening night, and this play is absolute shit. I refuse to let your crappy acting reflect badly on my image, so let's get down to business."

Practice lasted for another two hours, and by the time Hiko dismissed us the sky was dark and the cold had set in once more. "Are you sure you don't want a ride home?" Kenshin asked for the third time as we stood in the entryway to the west hall.

I zipped up my jacket, giving him a small smile. "I'm sure. Besides, it's out of your way. I don't want you to waste gas on me."

"It's cold," he said. "And I don't mind."

"I'm not going to freeze. It's a ten minute walk."

"I know," he murmured, biting his lip. "Promise you'll be safe?"

"Is that what this is about?" I asked, nearly laughing. His concern was touching, but ultimately pointless. "I can handle myself. You fight me nearly every day, and you're fully aware of just how dangerous I can be. There's nothing to worry about."

"You're not the strongest person out there," he replied, peering at me through a screen of scarlet locks. "Just promise."

Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I said, "I'll text you when I get home. See you later, okay?" He surprised me then, leaning in and kissing me on the forehead. "Okay," he murmured.

"What a wimpy kiss," I huffed, grabbing his cheeks and yanking him towards me. I pressed my lips to his long and hard, and then pulled back with a satisfied grin on my face. "Much better." I turned on my heel and left, trying so very hard not to giggle at his astonished face as I pushed open the door to the outside. It was apparent, though, just how funny he thought it was, as laughter burst forth from inside the building.

It was dark, and I stuck to the sidewalk as I walked from lamp post to lamp post with my hands in my pockets. A brisk gust of wind blew dead leaves across my path, skittering this way and that before my feet caught up to them and crushed them under the soles of my shoes. I smiled faintly, imagining Kenshin walking along with me with our hands clasped together in the faint flickering streetlights. It was pleasantly unfamiliar, thinking of him as my boyfriend. All those months of dancing uncertainly around one another, afraid to trust our friends' confidence in our compatibility, seemed so silly to me now. And to think, he was going to be Romeo now... I could almost blush. It was like a shojo manga come to life. The situation was all too perfect.

"Kaoru," a low voice growled, and I stumbled to a halt, my head whipping towards the origin of the sound. Ice blue met brilliant azure.

"Enishi," I murmured, a pang of terror tightening my vocal cords. All of my limbs froze at once.

"I made one mistake." He stepped forward, his large form now better defined as the shadows appeared to draw back to reveal him. "One. And you take it and use it to screw me over completely."

"I didn't do anything," I replied, trying not to let myself tremble. "Really."

"Then why am I no longer Romeo, huh?" he asked, glowering with his hands still in his pockets. "Go on. Tell me you had nothing to do that."

"I didn't!" I insisted, my breathing quickening. "It was all Hiko!"

"And who told Hiko?" Enishi's eyes narrowed.

My fingernails dug into my palms as I spoke. "He nearly forced it out of me!"

"It was one measly kiss, Kaoru," he snarled, stepping forward. "You didn't have to get your panties in a twist about it."

"How much alcohol did you drink?!" I exclaimed, panic sneaking into my tone. "You had your hands all over me, and your mouth too!"

"You puked on me." He was seething now, and a large part of me was nearly beyond caring.

"You slapped me and kicked me!" I retorted, throwing back my shoulders and looking him straight in the eyes. "That kind of mistake doesn't warrant a second chance!"

His large white hand grabbed me by the front of my jacket, fisting in the sleek material and drawing it closer to him with a sharp tug. "I made a mistake," he hissed, fury tightening every muscle in his position. "We all do. And now what are you all going to do for a Romeo, huh? Who made the mistake now?"

"Kenshin," I spat back. "Kenshin's going to be Romeo, and a damn good one at that."

His white eyebrows disappeared behind his bangs. "That puny little shit is going to replace me?" he growled. "Like hell."

I glared at Enishi, unabashed even with his hand still clenching my jacket. "He's more than capable of it."

"He's going down," the man raged.

"I hardly doubt that," I scoffed. "No one can beat Kenshin."

"There are other ways besides a direct assault, Miss Kamiya," Enishi replied, his voice eerily calm as he cocked his head to the side. "As strong as you'd like to think you are, your abilities cannot compared to my background in martial arts. Using you to get rid of Kenshin will be easier than breathing." I could swear a flash of insanity crossed his face as he glowered down at me. "So go ahead, be on your merry way. I'll let you look forward to the day I get to use this – " he shook me " – to eliminate the little upstart who thought he could replace me."

In one last desperate act I pressed my hands against his tall form and pushed, hard. He released me then, a grin spreading across his face as he watched me dash off down the street. "Go ahead, run, Kamiya!" he called after me, laughing. "Just know, I win every game I start!"

I was home in minutes, flying through the front door and locking it behind me. My brain was racing a million miles a second, screaming at me to call Kenshin and warn him that he was in danger. I dropped my backpack on the ground, leaving the lights off as I fumbled for my cell phone. Clumsy fingers misdialed twice, but then the call went through. "Kaoru?" a content voice echoed in my ear.

"Kenshin," I answered breathlessly.

"I take it you're home safe?" he asked. "You didn't have to call, silly. A text would have been fine."

I blinked once. Twice. "But I-"

"It's okay," he interrupted, almost laughing. "Really. Actually, it's nice to hear your voice." He paused for a moment. "Is everything alright over there?" Kenshin asked. "You sound like you're breathing pretty hard."

"I – yeah," I said, my hand tightening on the phone. "I just, uh, ran back to the apartment?"

"Why?" he asked, a touch of concern in his voice. My words caught in my throat. The moment I told him, he would be out the door, looking for Enishi. Ready to beat him senseless for threatening me. All to willing to defend me from something that had never happened … If it happened at all. How plausible was it, that Enishi would try and hurt me to get at Kenshin? Rough me up a bit so Kenshin would feel guilty? I could feel my terror and panic dwindling in my veins. "Kaoru?" Kenshin asked, wondering.

"I was getting cold," I replied. "And I needed the exercise. But I've got to go, okay? I have to get up early tomorrow."

"Sure," he said, sounding the slightest bit disoriented. "But are you sure you – "

"Good night, Kenshin," I said, pressing the end button and resting against the wall. Slowly, gravity dragged my body down, and I rested with head on my knees. Enishi wouldn't come anywhere near me. There was no reason to worry. He all empty threats anyways.

Wasn't he?