Yahiko hadn't slept well at all, so when he woke up at five o'clock the next morning, he simply decided there was no sense in trying to go back to sleep. He wearily stood up and got dressed, wincing as his ankle throbbed - reminding him of just how much he'd walked the day before. Throwing on a clean dark gray hakama and a deep brown gi, he stumbled outside.
The yard was still fairly dark, and the morning sun was began to paint wisps of pale light on the tips of trees. Yahiko sighed heavily, knowing it would probably be another long day. There was nothing to do until Kenshin woke up, so he sat down on the porch and watched the sun rise.
He gazed out as colors of bright oranges, golds, reds and pinks washed over the landscape. He soaked the light in, hoping it would give his body the strength he needed for the day. Finally, the initial brilliance of the morning was over, and the sun began to climb steadily into the sky. The dojo door slid open, and Yahiko glanced over as Kenshin stepped out.
The older man's red hair was almost painful to look at in the bright golden light, while at the same time it was intriguing. Kenshin took in the morning around him for a moment before turning to Yahiko.
"It's a fine morning." he commented. "That's good. At least it's not raining - it'll make our day easier since we'll be searching..." his voice trailed off as he noticed that Yahiko looked away. Kenshin sighed deeply. "I'll fix breakfast." he stated quietly, going back inside.
Yahiko struggled back off the ground and followed Kenshin. Inside the main room, he sat down on a mat. "Gomen nasai, Kenshin. I didn't mean to ignore you..."
"That's okay." Kenshin replied.
The door from the hall slid open and Kenji bounced in, oblivious to everything that had happened the day before. "Yahiko!" he pounced on the boy he thought of as an older brother.
"Get off, Kenji." Yahiko grumbled.
Kenji pouted, but crawled off of Yahiko and sat down beside him instead. Kaoru appeared a moment later, dressed in her practice outfit. Kenshin smiled at her. "Training today?"
She nodded. "The younger students come in today. Kenji, would you like to visit with Aunt Megumi for the morning while mommy teaches class?"
Kenji shrugged. It was obvious he could care less. Kaoru took his shrug to be a positive answer before she looked up at her husband. "Kenshin, I had an idea last night."
"Hmmm?" Kenshin handed her a plate of rice balls.
"Why don't we contact Shinomori-San?"
"Aoshi?" Kenshin blinked. "Why?"
"As the ex-okashira of the Oniwabanshu, I'm sure he could help in this matter." Kaoru took a rice ball and handed the plate to Yahiko.
"I hate to bother Aoshi when I'm sure Tsubame is right in the city." Kenshin forced a rurouni smile. "After all, Kyoto is a good ways from here."
"Kenshin no baka!" Kaoru frowned. "You've sworn never to kill again, or even hold a sword again, and yet you think you can handle this by yourself?"
"I can handle it." Yahiko said gruffily.
"Oh, and you - Mr. Man all of a sudden! Yesterday you were a little child with a sprained ankle!" Kaoru snapped. "No, I'm contacting Aoshi. I'm sure he'd be a big help in this situation. He hasn't made a vow not to kill and he's not using a reverse blade. If Tsubame is in a lot of trouble, Aoshi's kodochi attacks might come in handy. I doubt there are many people who can avoid his style of martial arts in a battle."
"I agree that Aoshi would be helpful in this case, but Koishi, think about it. If Aoshi comes to Tokyo, you KNOW Misao-Dono will come along as well."
Yahiko gagged. "We don't need HER in this mess. She'll just screw things up even more!"
Kaoru lightly hit his shoulder. "She's also an Oniwaban Ninja! Misao isn't helpless, you know!"
Kenshin sighed. There was no way to win an arguement once Kaoru had set her mind on it. He loved his wife more then anything - but he had to admit she was stubborn sometimes. He knew Aoshi would probably be a big help, but he wasn't sure if a battle was in order.
"I'll write them a telegram this afternoon." she stated, ending the discussion. "Are you two going out after breakfast?"
"What do you think?" Yahiko glared.
"Don't get mad at me." she scowled. "I'm only trying to HELP you, Yahiko!"
Yahiko stuffed the rest of the riceball in his mouth and stood up, taking hold of his sword and strapping it to his back. "Kenshin, are you ready?" he asked irritably, trying to ignore Kaoru.
"Oro?" Kenshin still held part of his own rice ball. "Hai, I guess..."
"Take Kenji by Megumi's on your way." Kaoru reminded, as Kenshin stood up and straightened his gi out. "Oh, and maybe you should take a sword with you..."
"Now Kaoru - I'll be fine. There's no reason to take a sword along. Yahiko has one." Kenshin smiled. "Come on Kenji!" The boy jumped up and Kenshin lifted him to his shoulders, letting him sit there. "We'll be back later today, Koishi!" he called.
Yahiko had already headed outside, and Kenshin caught up. Kaoru waved from the porch as her family disappeared out of the gate.
The first stop - much to Yahiko's aggravation - was Megumi's, where Kenji was dropped of at. Megumi only smiled and readily took the boy inside, then frowned over Yahiko's ankle. While she ordered the young boy to take care of his injury, Kenshin managed to talk Sanosuke into helping for the day.
The former street thug of Tokyo really didn't need much presauding; he was always ready to head for the Rough'n Row to visit his old buddies, despite Megumi's detest. The three men headed into the city around 8:00 in the morning. They decided to part ways and search, and meet back at the Akabeko around 1:00. Sanosuke headed for the rougher side of town, while Kenshin looked on the upper part. Yahiko was to search downtown again. They hurried off in their separate directions, hopeful on finding any information.
The room was dimly lit. It seemed to fade in and out, and she realized it was because her eyes couldn't focus well. Blinking a few times, she managed to make out human male forms, sitting against a far wall. They were laughing, but their voices seemed distant to her. She could barely make out a sake cup in one man's hand, and the swords that leaned against the wall behind him. She opened her mouth, but shut it quickly in fear. She wasn't sure how long she'd been asleep or unconcious, but she had a feeling it'd been quite some time. She also had no idea where she was.
"Hey boss! She's waking up!"
Tsubame quickly shut her eyes and watched through her lashes as the man with the sake cup stood up slowly and ambled her way. He had hair that stuck up, and a threatening smile. He stopped in front of her. "Are you awake yet, Tsubame-Chan?"
She winced quietly.
"Good. I suppose you want to know why you're here."
She managed to nod, deciding that keeping quiet would still be for the best.
"You probably don't know who I am, but at the moment that doesn't matter. You do remember the gang from when you were little though? A man your father once served, maybe?"
Tsubame's eyes flew open, widening at the thought. She lifted her gaze to stare at the man towering over her. "What...does he have to do with this?!" she whispered quietly. "That man... the one my family served. HE'S involved?"
The man only smirked. "He wasn't too happy you betrayed him, or that Myojin Yahiko defeated him. He ended up with us - the Kanto Shuei Syndicate. He's my second in command. I should at least introduce myself though. My name is Gaskei the Manslayer, and I'm the leader of the Shuei. I took over after our old boss died."
"Shuei?" Tsubame blinked. Yahiko had only mentioned his past once before to her - and at that he'd only briefly stated he'd once been involved in a syndicate because he was tricked into believing his dead parents had a debt he had to pay off. But she knew nothing more. And on top of it, the former gang she'd been forced to work for had joined with the this syndicate as well. "I still don't understand..." she whispered.
"You will eventually." Gaskei grinned. "Say, are you hungry though? Even though you're still a hostage, I supposed we'd better feed you."
She nodded and managed to sit up. Though she didn't feel good, she was certain she had no broken bones or major bruises on her. A couple of men gave her some rice and water, and she took it gratefully. As she ate, she noticed that Gaskei watched her closely, his eyes narrowed. There was some sort of anger in them, but Tsubame didn't know why.
She finally met his gaze questionably. "May I ask why I've been taken as a hostage?"
Gaskei's smile returned with a hint of smugness. "To lure Yahiko here, of course."
"Yahiko?" Her face paled.
Gaskei turned his back to her and headed towards a side room. "Keep an eye on her. Don't let her out of your sight. I'll be taking care of some business." The door slid shut, and Tsubame shrank back in fear of the few men left around her. He'd only made more questions rise in her mind with his single answer - he hadn't really answered anything. And everyone in the room looked rough and smug, just like he had.
"Don't worry about us." One of them cackled. "We've got strict orders not to touch you. Gaskei's already called dibs on you." They laughed at this, and Tsubame tilted her head down, letting her long brown hair fall into her face to hide her pain and tears. She bit her lip to keep from crying.
*Yahiko... Please come find me... I don't understand what's going on. I'm scared...*
"So you haven't seen her." Sano leaned against the wall of Katsu's shack. A few men stood around him, all his old friends - including his former comrade of the Sekihoutai. "Damn. Well, she's got to be around here someplace." he muttered.
"Sano, have you tried this entire area?" Katsu frowned.
"Yea, I've asked all morning. No one has seen the girl."
"It's unusual that they'd kidnap just one girl. And one who works at the Akabeko around so many other people." Katsu shook his head. "It doesn't make sense."
"I was hanging out at the crossroads towards Osaka yesterday." One man spoke up. "I didn't see any girl by your discription go out of the city."
"I'm sure she's probably still in Tokyo." Sano stated. "There are plenty of places to hide a 17-year-old girl here, you know."
"That's true." Katsu frowned gravely.
"Well, keep your ears and eyes open." Sano instructed. "If you see anything guys, let me know." The other men nodded and watched as Sano strode off, hands in his pockets, and his bandana fluttering behind him in the wind.
It was 1:00 - and Yahiko was pacing outside the Akabeko. Kenshin was sitting down on a bench, and he wished Yahiko would as well. But no matter how many times he told Yahiko to sit, the boy just wouldn't do it. Neither of them had found anything out. No one had seen Tsubame.
Sanosuke ambled up a few minutes later. He frowned. "Guess you guys didn't find any clues either, huh?"
"No." Kenshin sighed.
"I asked around the Rough'n Row, but no one there's seen her. They'll keep a look-out though. They're good guys." Sano vouched for his other friends with a trademark thumbs-up.
Tae appeared in the doorway. "Did you three find ANYTHING?" she asked.
"No." The boys muttered.
"Oh dear..." Tae shook her head. "Maybe you should take this to the police..."
"No." Yahiko stated angrily. "I'll FIND her."
"Kaoru sent for Aoshi Shinomori of the Oniwabanshu." Kenshin replied, ignoring Yahiko.
"Oh, so the ice-man cometh." Sanosuke grinned.
"Sano..." Kenshin groaned. "Aoshi may not be the most friendly guy in Japan, but at least he knows what he's doing."
"I know what I'M doing." Yahiko glared, aggravated that Kenshin would think he didn't know what he was doing. "I'm trying to find Tsubame!"
"Kenshin, are you sure it's okay for the brat to have a sword?" Sano frowned. "How many Hiten Mitsurugi moves does he know?"
"Four or five... six... how should I know? I didn't teach him, he just picked some up by watching me!" Kenshin protested. "And what does THAT have to do with finding Tsubame?!"
Sano shrugged and grinned. "I just don't want him to go Battousai on us."
Kenshin sweatdropped. "SANO..."
"I'M NOT GOING TO GO BATTOUSAI!" Yahiko yelled, causing a few people near them to stop and stare. Tae groaned and muttered something about losing business because of Yahiko's remark.
"That's nice to know." Sano stated matter-of-factly. "I don't think you'd look good with golden eyes."
"Stop it, right now. Both of you." Tae snapped, breaking in before Yahiko could lunge at Sanosuke.
"Tae-San's right. Fighting with each other isn't going to help the matter." Kenshin scowled.
"Kenshin!" Kaoru's voice came from somewhere in the crowd, and the group in front of the Akabeko stopped and looked for her. She appeared in front of them after dodging a few people in the street. "I sent Aoshi and Misao a telegram. They've already sent one back." She handed Kenshin a piece of paper.
He scanned over it. "Good." he stated. "They're coming to Tokyo right away. They should be here by tomorrow afternoon, it says."
"I'm hoping to find Tsubame by tomorrow." Yahiko replied angrily. He turned and started walking.
"Where are you going?" Sano stared after the boy.
"I'm going to look some more!" Yahiko yelled back, exasperated. He disappeared into the crowd again. Kenshin's eyes saddened.
"Yahiko's very upset about this, that he is."
Kaoru rolled her eyes. "He should stop blaming himself and find her already."
"Without any clues, Koishi, it's hard to find her." Kenshin sighed. "Next to impossible, really."
"That's why Aoshi's coming."
"Even Aoshi will have trouble without clues."
Kaoru frowned. "Kenshin... You're thinking something... I can tell... You've got that distant look on your face..."
Kenshin tucked his hands into his gi, his face concerned but thoughtful. "I just had an idea, that's all. We don't have any clues, nor are we finding any... then perhaps, we should go to someone who knows HOW to find such obscure clues..."
"Who the hell do you mean?" Sano narrowed his eyes.
Kenshin said nothing for a moment. "I'll be back later this afternoon, Kaoru." He started walking off, leaving his wife, Sanosuke, and Tae dumbfounded.
"What DID he mean?" Tae blinked.
Kaoru shook her head. "I don't know... someone who can find obscure clues?"
Sanosuke's eyes narrowed even more as he acidly thought over Kenshin's words. There was only one person his friend could possibly mean. Only one person who was just THAT good at finding little hidden clues in a situation... And Sano hated the mere thought of having THAT person help them. "Kenshin's crazy." he stated, his voice hinting hate.
"Sanosuke?" Kaoru stared at him. "What did you say?"
Sano dug his hands into his pocket. "I'm going back to look some more too. Tsubame's in this city; I know she is. I don't need the help of that... asshole." he spat the words out with hatefulness.
"HEY!" Kaoru's patience snapped. "Don't you DARE talk about Kenshin like that!"
Sano smiled back at her. "I didn't mean Kenshin, Jou-Chan. I meant the person he's going to find to 'help' us out." With that, Sano headed off down the street.
"I'm lost." Tae stated with a sigh.
"Me too." Kaoru replied dryly. "But, I've learned to trust Kenshin with my life. If he knows of someone who can help us aside from Aoshi-San, then I'm sure he konws exactly what he's doing."