"Cigarette Smoke Enveloped Balcony"
When they met for the very first time, Kenshin was still in his last year of studying the law and Kaoru was about to graduate from high school.
At the time, Kenshin was renting a small flat along with his friend Sanosuke. Kaoru was visiting her older brother during the weekend. That brother just happened to be the same Sanosuke, nicknamed by his sister and most of his friends as a 'rooster head' or simply Sano.
The young woman's only acquaintance in the whole city was her older brother, hence by default she ended up staying in Kenshin and Sano's shared apartment. However, at the time of her visit, the red-haired man was completely oblivious to the alien presence, as he was too preoccupied with cramming.
During his cramming sessions, Kenshin would rarely leave his room – having stocked up on food days prior to it. The only thing which would force him to leave the space, which by the time would always become a cave filled with what seemed random papers, books and just plain out trash, was the need to relieve himself. And, well, that time, of course, was no exception.
During one of his outings to the bathroom was when he noticed the smoke enveloped figure standing on the balcony, which was far too petite for it to be Sano. Though the law student's first thought was that he overworked himself, Kenshin still decided to check it out. Just in case the silhouette wasn't a very vivid hallucination.
The door to the balcony had been slightly open, letting the stench of cigarette smoke get inside the living room. Peeking through the said gap, Kenshin saw that a young woman with long midnight black hair, which gleamed in the early morning sunlight while loosely hanging over her shoulder, was standing there.
Her attire was funny, at the least, really. The young woman was wearing a baby blue pyjamas and over it, a fluffy pale yellow bathrobe with colourful rubber ducks printed on it. These ducks all had different facial expressions and if Kenshin hadn't been so concentrated on a green duck, which had a particularly interesting expression on its face, he would have probably noticed the dark haired girl turning around and bearing her piercing blue eyes into him.
"Jesus, you scared the shit out of me!" Kaoru yelled the moment she saw the red haired man looming over the doorstep.
She had been feeling a presence behind her for a while already but had decided to ignore it until it truly started to bother her. The sight which greeted her was a man, only slightly taller than herself, staring at her back, while completely unmoving. Between his long fire red hair, completely black clothing and the blue-black bags hanging under his violet eyes, the man seemed to be some kind of mythical creature, which made its way to the surface with the one and only purpose of dragging her down to whatever hellhole he crawled out of along with him.
Remembering her brother talking something about having a roommate Kaoru came to the most logical conclusion which could be drawn from the situation and introduced herself.
"I'm Kaoru, the rooster head living here is my older brother. His roommate, I presume?"
The young woman put out what was left of her cigarette on the glass candle holder, which she was using as an ashtray in the absence of the appropriate item.
Kenshin opened the door completely and stepped out into the balcony. He remembered Sano mentioning having a younger sibling few times, though he had never said anything specific.
"Yes." The man cleared his throat, preparing to return the favour. "Nice to meet you, I'm Kenshin."
"From the intensity of your stare I was almost sure that Sano had walked in on me taking a drag." Kaoru smiled at the red-haired man standing before her. "Please don't tell him that you caught me smoking, though. No matter how much of a rebel my brother is, that rooster head would have my head if he found out that I smoked."
"I promise not to utter a single word. And anyway, I doubt that he will notice the smell." A slight smile formed on Kenshin's lips. "The man himself smokes like a chimney."
"I noticed that and borrowed a few. He won't mind if he doesn't find out." The smile grew bigger on the girl's face, as she pointed her finger at the cigarette buds in the candle holder placed on the steeling railing of the balcony. "Couldn't really find an ashtray though." She borderline complained.
"Ashtrays aren't really Sano's style. He prefers to use half-drunken beer cans." The man winked playfully, causing both of them to laugh.
"Oh, I can imagine that." The dark haired female continued to laugh. "By the way, do you know if my brother has a girlfriend? Awfully strange to find a candle holder among his rubbish. You see, those aren't really Sano's style, just like ashtrays."
"As far as I know, he doesn't have a girlfriend at the moment. But this mystery can be solved very easily, either way." Kenshin pointed at the candle holder. "It's mine."
"Fuck!" The red-haired man laughed at Kaoru's unexpected outburst. A shade of red, indicating embarrassment, washed over the young woman's face as she continued to talk. "Sorry. I'll clean it out right away."
"There's no need for that." Kenshin still managed to say before his roommate's younger sister scurried past him. Though he wasn't completely sure that Kaoru heard him, as she seemed to be busy muttering something about a womanly touch, which he supposedly had. This caused the law student to laugh even harder, though if he was completely honest, the man felt a bit bad for her too.
... ∽ ∾ ● ∾ ∼ ...
The second time they met was during Kaoru's spring break of the same year. This time she wasn't alone, however.
She and her friend Misao were set on finding an apartment of their own during their few day stay, as their first choice schools just happened to be in that area. Though, of course, they didn't want to waste their break only on that, hence they decided to do some sightseeing while they were there as well.
Despite how Sano seemed at a first glance, he turned out to be quite an overprotective brother. Due to this slight quirk of his personality, the rooster head refused to let the two young women wander around the unfamiliar city alone. Instead, he decided to keep them company and, without a doubt, drag the law student with him.
The dinner the four of them shared at the end of their tour wasn't anything fancy.
"We're struggling university students, what did you expect, missy?" Sano jokingly asked his sister as they sat around a family sized delivery pizza, with plastic cups filled with boxed red wine in their hands, at the very edge of the park.
The very first person to get tipsy was Kaoru's friend – Misao. It didn't take long before she started trying to convince Kaoru to go on a summer-long backpacking trip and even take a gap year.
"Why not!?" She inquired, slightly annoyed after her best friend refused the offer for the tenth time. "We could get on the night train, sleep there and during the day walk around tourist attractions while making fun of those miserable people waiting in huge ass queues. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
Kaoru answered only with a laugh and a question of her own. "But we would still be waiting in the same queues and wouldn't that make us the same as them?"
"Ugh! That's not the point!" Misao started getting seriously angry.
Similar conversations followed all throughout the evening, with Kenshin and Sano rarely getting to say a word. Though it wasn't like what they decided to share mattered either way. Both women seemed to be determined to flat out ignore the men's opinions.
By the time they had finished the whole pizza and were nearing the end of the second box of wine, their tiny group decided to start making their way back. At the same time, Kaoru started feeling sleepy as she was also slightly drunk.
Somehow, in the dimness of the night, the young woman helping Kenshin throw out the trash, seemed nothing like the Kaoru he had the pleasure of meeting a few months ago. Now her demeanour was a lot more mature, and frankly speaking, it was hard for the law student to believe that she was almost ten years younger than him.
Kaoru was the one to begin the conversation as the two of them slowly made their way on the narrow sidewalk. Kenshin had to admit, it was really easy talking to her and making her laugh. It reminded him of riding a bicycle. The activity only required effort to begin and to learn, but after taking those first few steps you can do it without paying no mind whatsoever.
And he enjoyed it.
A while later, he did come to the realisation, that both the air of unexpected matureness around the young woman and her delight at his terrible jokes was simply an illusion created by the wine they consumed. At the time though, such a thought didn't enter his mind.
As their small group neared the old apartment building, Kaoru and Kenshin's conversation took a more serious turn. They ended up talking about the dark haired female's future plans, and the reasons behind her so eagerly refusing her friend. Though the woman herself admitted to not being the most responsible person on the planet, she turned out to be a lot more goal-oriented than the red-haired man thought at first. Actually, miles more than he ever expected Sano's sister to be.
"After our mother died, father was simply a lot stricter with me than he was with Sano." Kaoru began while playing with the dark strands of her hair. "As a child, I would get extremely annoyed with the double standards, and it irritates me even now, but, I guess, I started to understand father a bit more."
"He probably had no idea how to raise a girl and was afraid to do anything wrong. On the other hand, he just raised Sano the very same way he was raised. Even with all father did though, he still got told by many people that I'm not very ladylike." Kaoru looked up at the law student beside her, with a nostalgic smile playing on her lips, as she pointed to the two laughing people walking in front of them. "And that's how that rooster head grew up to be such a free spirit."
"Oh. Well anyway, what are you planning to study?" The older man asked after clearing his throat. It was his way of trying to diffuse the heavy mood which had set.
The girl seemed grateful for the change of topic, and without a second thought started talking about how she always dreamed of studying the law. The man was almost hypnotised by the sound of her voice – more listening to it than the words she was saying –, however, when Kenshin heard the bright-eyed woman mention the title of his university, he stopped her.
"Wait, so that's your first choice?" He inquired.
"Yes. You know people who go there?" Kaoru gave him a puzzled look.
"I am one of those people. Believe me, that place just sucks the soul right out of you and leaves you with debts you have to pay for the rest of your life." Kenshin replied.
"But isn't that just the complete university experience?" The woman laughed loudly. "I thought it doesn't count if you don't wish death after the first month."
"Nah, I'm afraid you got that wrong." The red-haired man grinned. "In order for it to count, it has to be two weeks."
The two of them continued to joke around until they reached the apartment building, where they had to quiet down in order not to wake up the neighbours.
... ∽ ∾ ● ∾ ∼ ...
When Kenshin woke up next morning, both Misao and Kaoru were gone. And along with them, the women's things.
After having a small, but satisfying breakfast, the red-haired man made himself a second cup of coffee and went to look for his roommate. Kenshin found Sano taking a drag on the balcony. Thankfully, the man had not started drinking yet – as it was only a quarter past ten in the morning – and instead of his usual unfinished beer can, used a glass candle holder as an ashtray.
It was the same one Kaoru had used just a few months prior.
"So, you fell for her?" Sanosuke asked his friend while continuing to smoke.
Kenshin only raised a single red eyebrow in question.
"My little sister. I noticed you and Kaoru talking last night. As well as the way you looked at each other." The taller man turned around grinning like a mad man. "Hey, when you become my brother-in-law, you'll still let me crash at your place, won't you?"
"Sano!" The long haired man choked on his coffee.
"Okay, okay, okay. I'll stop teasing you no matter how fun it is." The man couldn't stop laughing at his friend's reaction.
"Where are they, anyway?" Kenshin inquired after Sano turned away to put out his cigarette.
"Oh yeah, you were still asleep when they bolted. The spring break ends in few days so they took an early train back home." The taller man leaned on the rusty railing. "Ughhh, I should go call Kaoru and make sure they got there fine."
For a few moments, they stood like that, not saying a word, enjoying the nice morning sun.
"Imma go wash this and find my phone." Sano lifted the glass candle holder in his right hand while walking back inside. "And you, enjoy your coffee."