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Warrior's Spirit

"Yahiko didn't stop by today." Tae gently pulled the curtain over the front entrance to the Akabeko and slid the door shut, locking it. "I have to admit, I'm a little surprised, Tsubame. And he's not here to pick you up either, and it's already dark outside."

"He's not coming today." Tsubame answered, her gentle nature completely intact. She smiled at her employer. "He sent one of the students by late this afternoon with a note."

Tae turned and walked back down the main aisle towards Tsubame, untying her apron. "What did the note say? It's just so unusual for him not to come by after we close to walk you home."

Tsubame pulled the note from inside her kimono and unfolded it. "He pulled a muscle during training this morning. And Kaoru-San insisted he go to Megumi-San's so she could make sure it wasn't anything serious."

"That's unlike Yahiko as well." Tae remarked. "I don't think I've ever known him to get hurt in training, even if it's just a stained muscle! I wonder what on earth happened..."

"Today was advanced training." Tsubame explained, perfectly aware of the Kamiya Kasshin training schedule. "He was probably getting aggravated at a student who wasn't learning right." she giggled. "I'll drop by there tomorrow before I come into work to see if he's feeling any better. He's probably not in a good mood right now."

"But still..." Tae's brow creased together in slight worry. "Are you going to be alright walking back home this evening? It's late and it's dark. I don't know if I like you walking back home by yourself."

Tsubame shook her head and smiled. "I'll be fine, Tae-San. It's not too far, and Yahiko only walks me home to be polite."

Tae laughed. "To be polite? Really, Tsubame-Chan!"

Tsubame blushed. "But...he does!"

"He cares much more for you then just that." Tae replied, reassuringly.

"If he didn't, he wouldn't come up here everyday at lunch to see you, and he wouldn't walk you home at night, and he wouldn't take you to the festivals every year."

"I know... And I care a lot about Yahiko too..." Tsubame turned and pulled her arpon off, hanging it on a nail in the back of the room. She smiled to herself as his image flashed in her mind. "He's always so nice to me..."

Tae opened the back door and let Tsubame walk out. She shut the door and locked it behind her. "Well, do be careful tonight. And tell Yahiko when you see him tomorrow that I hope he feels better."

Tsubame nodded. "I will. Arigrato, Tae-San!" she waved and headed off in the opposite direction, disappearing into the dark streets of Toyko.

Tsubame wasn't sure how long Yahiko had been walking her home each evening, but it had been for quite some time. She figured it had started when he was around 13 or 14 years old. He would drop by in the evenings and help her and Tae close the Akabeko - then he would walk her back towards her home. By the time he was 16, he was walking her home every night, and never failed to appear to take her home. Tonight was the first night in several years he hadn't come, but Tsubame wasn't very concerned about it. She knew he had good reason not to come; and she was perfectly sure his note wasn't a lie. The student who had dropped it off explained to her that Yahiko had indeed pulled a muscle during practice that morning. She smiled. She would definitely drop by the next day and make sure he was feeling better.

Though it was already very dark within the city, she showed no real outward fear of walking alone. She saw no one out, but that was typical this late in the evening. Besides, she thought, she was 17 years old, and was perfectly capable of walking to her house - even though Yahiko's company and presence beside her would have been nice.

Her sandels clicked against the road, creating the only sound minus the light breeze and the cicadas. But when a bumping noise from the shadows broke the rythmn of her walk, she stopped in surprise and turned, her eyes wideneing.

"Who's there?" she asked, glancing around. Nothing happened. Taking a deep breath, she shrugged the noise off and assumed it had only been a cat or a dog, knocking something over.

That's when someone grabbed her wrist from behind her, and twisted her around. Tsubame screamed slightly, trying to break free from the harsh grip, but it only tightened. Her eyes opened to see a rough man grinning at her, his shaggy hair framing his face.

"Who are you?" she demanded as bravely as possible - but her voice still hinted her fear.

"My name isn't important." he replied with a cackling laugh that made her shiver. "However, you ARE Tsubame, right?"

"How do you know my name?" Her eyes widened even more.

"You work at the Akabeko... and before that, you were in forced to work for a gang."

She instantly tried to pull away again. "Let me go! Please!" The grip twisted her arm behind her, and she found she couldn't move. The pain of the hold shot up her arm and through her body, and she forced her tears back. "What do you want?"

"I'm not at liberty to say." The man answered with a shrug. "But our boss wanted me to come get you. It's a perfect night for it too; since that Kamiya brat isn't walking you home this evening! You're probably wondering how I know all that. Well, I still can't say, but the boss might tell you if you're good and if you keep quiet!" He started pulling her through the alleys.

"Who's this boss of yours?" Tsubame yanked back again, trying to break free. "And why does he want me?"

"I told you, keep quiet, and you'll get your answers later!" the man answered angrily. "I'm tired of you trying to break away!" his hand came down against her face hard, and she winced. Suddenly her head felt dizzy, and everything around her went dark.

The man paused as she went limp against his arm. He snorted and lifted her to his shoulder, wrapping one arm around her legs. "She gave out fast." he muttered, stepping through the shadows. "I can't see what that damn Yahiko sees in her. But, if this plan works out right, both bosses with have their revenge." He smiled evilly and disappeared into the night...