Kenshin eyed the man behind the front desk critically, his normally extended amount of patience wearing extremely thin. For the ninth time he managed to repeat his request as simply as he could.
"I just want to go back and speak with him."
"I'm sorry sir." The man behind the desk sighed once more, wondering if the red-headed man before him just didn't understand. "You HAVE to have an appointment. I can't just let anyone back there. Unless you have some verification papers about you're identity, you aren't allowed in! Rules are rules. He set those rules himself, you know. If you knew him at all, you'd realize you HAVE to have an appointment. He's a busy man."
"I KNOW that." Kenshin replied through gritted teeth. Kami-Sama, this officer was a pain in his ass. "It's very important, though."
"I'm sorry." The man answered. "What did you say your name was again? I can make a memo, and perhaps he can see you within a few days..."
"I don't have a few days." Kenshin snarled. He had half a mind to just scare the young man before him by saying he was the former hitokiri Battousai. That would get him where he wanted to go in an instant. But, he wasn't wearing a sword, and he knew he didn't look like a manslayer - so it really would just end up getting him in MORE of a mess, on second thought. "My name is Himura Kenshin. If you just go back there RIGHT now and tell him that, he'll let me in."
"I wouldn't dare disturb him." The man stated truthfully. "I don't want to lose my job, sir."
"Lose your job?" A sarcastic voice sneered from behind Kenshin. "What makes you think you'd lose your job by delivering me a memo?"
The man behind the desk instantly jumped up and saluted. "Fujita-San! I... This man has been bothering me for a few minutes now. He claims to know you - and wished to speak with you. But I held him here, since you told us not to let anyone back to visit you without authorization! Should I escort him out, sir?"
"Moron. Do you even know who he is?" Saitoh narrowed his golden eyes.
"There's no need to get mad at him." Kenshin glared at the officer with smug satisfaction, even though he really did NOT like Saitoh. "And there's no reason to tell him -"
"That you're the hitokiri Battousai?" Saitoh grinned and walked towards the door that led into his office, happy with the reaction he KNEW he'd get from the idiot secretary.
And the man behind the desk paled, just as Saitoh had predicted he would. "He's... who?!"
"Saitoh, that name means nothing to me now." Kenshin frowned. "I'd appreciate it if you not call me that."
"Whatever." Saitoh shrugged and motioned Kenshin into his office. "You obviously have something on your mind, that must be pretty important, if you came to see ME."
"Hai." Kenshin sighed. He cringed as he walked into his former enemy's office, glaring at the secretary before the door shut.
Saitoh moved behind his desk and sat down, regarding Kenshin with a cool, cynical look. "So, why are you here, Battousai?"
"This doesn't have to do with me; it's matter that concerns the police." Kenshin narrowed his eyes.
"Oh?" Saitoh took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one, taking a long drag. He arched an eyebrow and waited for Kenshin to continue.
"There's been a young girl kidnapped. Her name is Tsubame, and she works at the Akabeko. She's a close friend of my family's, and I'd like to find her at any cost." He refrained from saying, 'for Yahiko's sake'.
Saitoh's eyes were competely unreadable. They remained an impassive gold color. Kenshin twitched.
"Saitoh, we need your help in the matter." He bowed stiffly, hating to give Saitoh the satisfaction. But he didn't have much choice. He knew the former Shinsengumi leader would be an excellent help - especially if he paired up with Shinomori Aoshi. Those two seemed to just naturally work together. And it was true; Kenshin thought of Tsubame as a member of his extended 'family'. Especially since she and Yahiko were so close.
There was a long, unnerving pause before Saitoh spoke again.
"Tsubame... isn't that the Kamiya brat's girlfriend?"
Kenshin visibly tensed in anger. "What does that matter? I put the facts before you, and I politely asked for your help." he snapped.
"I was just curious."
"Alright, yes, she is." Kenshin scowled.
Saitoh went silent again, tapping the cigarette he held between two fingers. He turned his gaze out the window as he debated. "Fine."
"What does THAT mean?"
"It means I'll help you look. As if I didn't have BETTER things to do. And it's the best answer you're going to get - so don't ask for an elborate one." Saitoh closed his eyes and wrinkled his nose at the thought of helping the former Battousai. But, he had a duty as an officer - and that was more important then old battles.
"My wife has contacted Aoshi as well. You see, the circumstances are a little strange. Tsubame was here one day, and simply gone the next... Kaoru thought that since Aoshi is an Oniwaban Okishira, he would know exactly where to begin looking. I understand her rational, but I knew that if you were helping Aoshi find the girl, it would get done a lot faster. Yahiko, Sanosuke and myself have already searched and asked around the city, and nothing has come of it." Kenshin took a deep breath.
Saitoh stood and moved towards his window, leaning a forearm on the seal at the top of the frame. "Well, getting that moron Sanosuke to help was your first mistake." he snickered.
"This isn't a time to be joking." Kenshin's eyes flickered. "That girl has done nothing wrong, and she's small for her age. I'm concerned that something terrible may have happened and -"
"You always over-react." Saitoh rolled his eyes. "However... sit down and we'll go over the facts slowly. I can't start working on a case without any lead-way."
"We don't have much." Kenshin sighed. He sat down. It would be a long afternoon - he knew it.
The next day, Saitoh ordered some of his more experienced men to go on an in-depth search of the city with what little information he had to go by. Kenshin stayed at the dojo with Kaoru and helped her clean up for Aoshi, and to keep an eye on Kenji. Yahiko wearily trudged back out into the city again, his eyes half-dazed. He had gotten to the point where he said nothing to his friends, despite the fact that he really was grateful for their help.
It was late in the evening when Aoshi and Misao both knocked on the gate of the dojo. Kaoru answered, and immediately noticed the grave looks on her friends' faces.
"Shinomori-San... Misao... Arigrato for coming from Kyoto to help us." She bowed politely, but before she got half-way into the bow, Misao reached out and grabbed her arm.
"Kaoru, don't." she shook her head. "You're our friend, after all. We don't need any fancy bows and junk."
"I'm sure you're both tired." Kaoru forced a smile. "Please come in. Kenshin was a little skeptical about me telegramming you... but..."
"Himura-San has given up his sword." Aoshi broke in quietly. He looked down at Kaoru. "And if one of your friends is in danger, then as Misao stated - we are more then willing to assist you. After all, we of the Oniwabanshu are trained for situations like these as well as we are trained to fight."
Kaoru nodded. "Ar-arigrato, Shinomori-San." she murmured. Turning around, she motioned for her guests to follow her. "Kenshin is just inside."
The two ninjas followed Kaoru into the house. In the main room, they found Kenshin sitting on the floor, playing with Kenji. But the man's smile faded when he saw Aoshi and Misao. "Kenji," he said quietly, "Why don't you go straighten your futon? It was a little messy earlier and I'm sure your mother told you to make it up..."
Kenji pouted. "But..."
"Kenji." Kenshin smiled slightly. "Please."
The boy paused, glanced at the new people in his home, and then nodded without a word more. He disappeared into the hall, sliding the door shut again.
Kenshin stood up and bowed. "Aoshi. And Misao-Dono... we're both happy to have you here."
"We're glad to help." Misao beamed. "So, what do you know about the case, Himura?"
Kenshin closed his eyes and warded off a headache. He half-wished Kaoru had not called the ninjas - Aoshi would have been one thing but Misao was always so ready for action. "Not much, I'm afraid. However, I do have Saitoh helping in the case. He's been in Tokyo the past few months anyways, and he has a few policemen assigned as a search party."
"The Wolf of Mibu is not one to be fooled easily. If he has yet to turn up any evidence of this matter, then our chances are slim." Aoshi frowned. "But, we will certainly try our best. Himura-San, there is one favor I ask of you. Will you come with us into Tokyo tomorrow when we began to search ourselves?"
"Of course Aoshi..." Kenshin arched an eyebrow. "But I'm not sure what help I can be right now. Three days have passed since Tsubame was last seen... I'm afraid I'm starting to lose hope..."
"Himura!" Misao gasped. "Don't say that! I'm sure she's fine..." Her eyes drifted to Kaoru as she remembered when the other girl had been captured. Despite thinking she was dead, everyone had continued searching for any clues. And that's exactly what Misao planned to do this time as well.
"I'm glad for one thing." Kenshin met Misao's startled gaze. "That you and Aoshi have fresh strength and hope in this matter."
"How is Yahiko?" Misao frowned.
Kenshin and Kaoru exchanged glances. Kenshin spoke first. "Kaoru, why don't you tell them? I'm sure Aoshi and Misao are hungry... I'll go find some food for them in the kitchen."
Kaoru nodded and waited for her husband to leave the room before she turned to the guests. "Yahiko..." she murmured softly. "He's taking this so hard. I really believe he loves Tsubame." She stared at her hands, which started fidgeting. "Just to see him get up everyday and leave here, intent on finding her... he doesn't want to stop searching. Kenshin has to practically force him into bed at night so he can keep his strength up. The day before she disappeared, he sprained his ankle and he wasn't able to walk her home that night as he usually does. And because of that he blames himself for the entire thing."
Misao bit her lip. "But it wasn't his fault..."
Kaoru shook her head. "That doesn't matter. We can tell him that, but he doesn't listen. He's lost in a daze now, as if he's distanced himself from us. He knows we're only trying to help him, but he's getting more worried each day. You can tell by looking at his face."
"Then tomorrow morning, we'll start our own search." Aoshi replied. "Perhaps Yahiko should stay here. He shouldn't walk on a sprained ankle that much. And if Saitoh is helping as well, then things should began to uncover."
Kenshin appeared again, carrying a tray of soup and tea. He placed it before Aoshi and Misao, and sat back down beside his wife. But before anyone could speak again, the door from the outside slid open and Sano stumbled in. He stopped and blinked, realizing he was facing Aoshi's back.
"Sagara." Aoshi replied, without looking over his shoulder.
Kenshin immediately stood up. "Sano! What happened?"
Sano slid the door shut again. "Is Yahiko around?"
"No... he's still out." Kenshin moved towards his friend. Kaoru only stared.
"Sano..." She shook her head, as if she didn't believe what she saw. "What on earth happened?" Misao and Aoshi had to turn at this point, and instead of a tall, lanky man with a lop-sided smile, found something different.
Sano's white jacket was torn and ripped in several places. His right hand was bloody, and he had a few cuts over his chest and shoulders. His face had bruises on it, and his smile was gone. Kenshin shook his head without waiting for an explanation, and grabbed some bandages from a side cabinet.
"Megumi can do that." Sano frowned.
"Until you can get back to the clinic, just shut up and let me stop the bleeding, at least." Kenshin muttered. "And we're waiting for some sort of story, you know."
"Oh yea." Sano sighed. "Well, I decided to look in a side street near the Rough'n Row. Some of the guys said they'd seen some gang members hanging out over there. So I went to check it out... And got in a little fight."
"Little?" Kaoru raised an eyebrow.
"Alright, it was nine against one." Sano smirked. "Couple of the guys were pretty big. Took a few of my futae no kiwamis to knock 'em all out..."
"Why'd they pick a fight with you?" Aoshi narrowed his blue eyes.
"Don't know." Sano shrugged, wincing as Kenshin tied off a bandage over his hand. "They said I was being too nosy. And that I should have never gotten the cops involved... As if I've even been to the police station lately." he snorted.
Everyone fell silent. Kenshin paused in wrapping Sano's hand. Misao spoke first. "A gang...? Mad that the cops are involved...?"
"What gang was it?" Kenshin asked quietly.
Sano glanced at the floor, fighting for any memory of a gang symbol or something any of the guys may have said to give any hints away. A faint thought crossed his mind. "One of them... he had a tattoo on his right hand. I noticed it when I went to punch him. It was a yukuza symbol... I think it was Shu-something-or-other... But I'm not positive. It's been awhile since I've had to remember gang codes, you know."
"It's not much to go on." Aoshi muttered. "But, it's better then nothing at all. Would Saitoh have a listing of all the gangs in Tokyo, Himura?"
"Probably." Kenshin nodded.
"We'll check there tomorrow morning. Right now though - I'm ready to get some sleep."
"I've got a room ready." Kaoru smiled. "If you follow me, Aoshi..."
Misao got up as well and announced that she was going to stay with Aoshi. Kaoru nodded and led them both into the hall. Sano stood up and stretched.
"Guess I'll head home and face Megumi's wrath. She hates it when I get into fights."
"Hmmm." Kenshin mumbled, his eyes distant and in thought. "Alright."
The door slid shut and Sano left. Kenshin continued thinking about the events that had taken place. The word "shu-" seemed to remind him of something from the past, but he was far too tired to put his finger on it. He yawned and began to gather the plates from the table. The door opened again.
"Kenshin? Why was Sano all beaten up?"
Kenshin turned quickly, coming face to face with Yahiko. "Oh... He got in a fight." The words stumbled out, and Kenshin hoped the young man wouldn't ask anything else about it.
"There aren't many people who can beat Sano up that badly." Yahiko's voice was dark.
"It wasn't just one person, Yahiko." Kenshin forced a rurouni smile. "Some guys near the Rough'n Row jumped him."
"That's strange." Yahiko headed for the hall, tripping as he went. "I think I'm going to bed... I want to get up early tomorrow..." he said quietly. Kenshin heard the choking in his voice. He winced inwardly, the mere thought of Yahiko's pain filling his mind. He hoped tomorrow would turn up more clues and answers. "Please..." he whispered to himself, his violet eyes shutting tightly. "Anything. Any answers... it's better then not knowing...and watching him suffer."