It was early the next morning when Aoshi and Kenshin walked into the police station. Yahiko had once again gotten up early and left the dojo by himself. Misao and Kaoru stayed behind to keep an eye out in case anyone dropped by.
The secretary at the station instantly jumped up and bowed to Kenshin when the man walked inside. "I apologize for yesterday, Himura-San..." he fumbled. "I had no idea that you were the former -"
Kenshin held a hand up. "Don't worry about it." he sighed. "But I need to go back and see Fujita again." Saying Saitoh's psuedo-name was strange to Kenshin. It sounded odd and he hoped the secretary didn't pick up on the stumbling tone in his voice. But, he realized that the man hardly even heard him, and was quickly hurrying Kenshin and Aoshi down the hall.
"Who is this gentleman?" he asked, stopping in front of Saitoh's door. "So that I may announce you both?"
"Shinomori Aoshi." Kenshin replied. "Fujita will be expecting him as well."
The secretary nodded and then knocked on the door. A muffled 'come in' was heard, and he cracked the door open and peeked inside. "Fujita-San... Himura and Shinomori-San are both here to see you this morning..."
"Bright and early." Saitoh rose from his desk and motioned for the man to escort the other two in. Aoshi and Kenshin brushed past into the room, and the door shut once more.
"We might have a lead, Saitoh." Kenshin sat down in an uncomfortable chair in front of the desk.
"Oh?" Saitoh arched an eyebrow. "That's nice to hear. My men found nothing yesterday. I have to admit - it's one of the strangest cases I've seen."
"Yesterday afternoon Sano got in a fight with some of the local yukuza." Kenshin explained. "He was beaten up pretty bad, and the guys accused him of calling the police into a 'matter' at hand... They must have meant Tsubame's disappearance."
"Sagara said the gang symbol on one man's hand appeared to start with the letters S-H-U." Aoshi stated quietly. "I'm sure you keep close records of all the gangs and syndicates in the surrounding area?" His icy eyes locked onto Saitoh, who slowly smiled. Aoshi continued. "If I may have a look at those records to see which groups begin with an 'S', I'm sure I might could find out some more information."
Saitoh's hand dropped and opened a desk draw. He casually tossed a small stack of files on top of his desk towards Aoshi. "See for yourself, then."
Aoshi sat down on the corner of the desk and started flipping through the files. Saitoh said nothing, but like Kenshin he watched with interest. Aoshi finally stopped and began reading, intent on the information.
"Shuei and Shuneu are the only two in here that might be a possibility." Aoshi finally mumbled, still scanning the papers.
"Provided that the moron's information is correct." Saitoh rolled his eyes and snatched the file back, shoving it once more into it's place. Aoshi glared at him.
Kenshin decided to intervene. "I doubt Sano's information is incorrect. He was once a street thug - and he's aware of the gangs in the area."
"Well, if you're ready, Battousai, shall we go?" Aoshi stood up and shoved his hands into his trenchcoat pockets.
"Where?" Saitoh frowned.
Aoshi shrugged. "I want to find out where these syndicates are. And get some information. The police obviously haven't uncovered much."
"I should warn you." Saitoh stood up, his frown deepening. "The Shuei Syndicate has grown over the past couple of years. The police have been monitoring them for a while. They seemed to have gained some new members and we believe they're a lot stronger then they once were."
"Shuei?" Kenshin's eyes suddenly widened.
"What's wrong?" Aoshi asked.
"Shuei... that's where I've heard it before..." Kenshin murmured to himself. He looked up, his eyes narrowed. "Yahiko was once a part of that syndicate."
"NANI?" Aoshi's eyes widened, indicating that for once, he'd actually been caught off guard.
"Eight years ago, the Shuei Syndicate forced Yahiko to work for them. They told him he had a debt to make up for his parents... and he was only a child so he believed them. Kaoru and I got him out of the gang and that's when he started living at the dojo. But the old boss that was running the Syndicate let him go after I shoved one of his men through the roof." Kenshin shook his head. "I don't understand why they would try to kidnap Tsubame though... Yahiko's had nothing to do with them for eight years... I would have thought they'd forgotten about him by now."
"I'm going to find this Syndicate." Aoshi said quickly. "Himura-San, why don't you stay here. I'll be back late this afternoon." The door slammed behind him.
Saitoh frowned. "An interesting turn of events."
"Yes..." Kenshin shook his head. "I don't want Yahiko to know just yet, however."
"He's very attached to Tsubame. If he were to find out his old syndicate had kidnapped her - and probably on purpose to lure him in - he would simply rush in there and attack them without thinking." Kenshin frowned.
"And he'd get killed." Saitoh stated matter-of-factly. "I see your point."
"I don't know if he'd get killed." Kenshin glared at the older man. "But he wouldn't come out unhurt. And Tsubame might get hurt as well. That's what I'm worried about."
"We don't know for sure if she's not already hurt." Saitoh mused, mostly to annoy Kenshin.
"That's true." Kenshin sighed, gazing out the window. He hoped she was alright.
Tsubame was lying on a mat in Gasuke's quarters. He'd ordered her to be put near him, but so far she'd hardly seen the man. Only other syndicate members came in to bring her food and water. She was curled into a ball, her eyes shimmering in the dim light. No one had told her anything more then what she already knew. They only snickered whenever they saw her.
She wasn't sure what time it was. There wasn't a clock nearby, and unless the side doors were open, she couldn't see the sunlight. Only a small candle lit the room. She hadn't heard the other members talking like usual either. Tightening her arms around her chest, she sat up and looked at the door that led into the main room. An uncontrollable urge flowed through her, and she silently stood up and padded to the door. Not daring to open it, she placed her hands against it and listened.
Hushed voices that she couldn't hear from the make-shift futon greeted her. She bit her lip as she strained to listen.
"...and he beat up nine men yesterday. Pretty bad, too."
"Kami-Sama. Did HE contact the cops about this?"
"Who knows? But they're involved, and that's not a good thing. Boss, what are we going to do? If the cops show up, the whole plan is shot to hell!"
There was a long silence. Tsubame's eyes widened when she heard Gasuke speak next.
"I have a feeling the cops won't find anything out. They don't know we're involved. Even if that thug told them anything, he wouldn't know what gang this is."
"It's not just the cops, boss." A door slid shut, and Tsubame guessed that someone must have just walked in. "There's a member of the Oniwabanshu snooping around the alleys."
"The Oniwabanshu?" a few voices murmured nervously. "The legendary ninjas from Kyoto?"
Tsubame frowned. Yahiko did know the Oniwabanshu. Even she had met Misao-Chan and Aoshi-Sama before, when they'd visited Tokyo in the past and when they helped find Kaoru five years earlier. Obviously, Kenshin must have contacted them, she thought.
"Go take care of the ninja then." Gasuke's voice snapped. "If several of you go it shouldn't be a problem to get him out of the way... for good."
"Yes sir." The door slid open once more and Tsubame heard feet running out. There was a long moment of silence.
"Yahiko's been looking around too, you know. He still hasn't caught on. He's so wrapped up in trying to find the girl that he's started to get this dazed, depressed look on his face!" the man laughed, and Tsubame's face paled. "Hey boss, some of the guys are sparring outside in the yard. What to see?" Another voice called. Gasuke's footsteps were heard as he crossed the outer room. "Sure." The door slid shut and everything went quiet.
"Yahiko..." she mouthed softly. A tear slowly fell down her face and she slipped back across the room to the futon, dropping onto her knees. Her long hair fell forward, creating a curtain around her as she sank onto the dirty blankets. The tears began to flow across her face freely. "You ARE trying to find me..." Her voice was barely audible, but she felt the need to hear herself in order to maintain reality. "Aishiteru..." she hugged herself tightly. "Kami-Sama... Aishiteru, Yahiko... I never told you that before because I couldn't find the words... I didn't know what you would say to me... I'm so shy... Please find me... Oh, please..." she whispered, letting the silent sobs take her over. "So I can at least tell you that..."
Aoshi's left hand gripped his sheath with a deadly vice, ready to pull his kodochis out in a moment's notice. The part of town he was currently in was NOT his favorite, especially since he wasn't familiar with Tokyo nearly as well as his own city. His icy eyes watched shady characters move by him in the shadows. Something was different in this alley... though he wasn't able to put his finger on it.
Sanosuke darted around the corner into another side street. He'd left Megumi at the clinic after he'd had his wounds treated (not without a lecture from his wife, however) and gone back out to try and find any information. In the process, he'd noticed some gang members and tried to speak with them. The result was not too pretty - and one of the men pulled a gun on him. It was taking all his strength to stay out of the bullet fire. And somewhere in between, he'd heard something about his previous fight and that he should die for beating up nine men - and after they killed HIM, they'd go after a member of the Oniwabanshu. He gritted his teeth and skidded around another corner. They must have meant Aoshi.
Aoshi could hear someone coming from another alley over. The footsteps were pounding as if someone was running away from something. He narrowed his eyes, and tried to sense any kis around him. He felt a familiar one, and several others that seemed threatening. But before he could turn the corner, someone ran straight into him.
Aoshi regained his balance in an instance and gripped his sheath with both hands as he came face to face with none other then Sanosuke.
Sano managed to catch his breath. "Aoshi! These guys... They're after me... they've got a gun..."
"Part of the Shuei?" Aoshi frowned.
"The Shu... The SHUEI?" Sano stared in confusion. "You figured out the gang symbol?"
"Get behind me. I can dodge a bullet, but I'm sure you can't, since you're practically out of breath." Aoshi ordered quietly. Sano did as he was told without arguing. Just in time as well - for the Shuei syndicate members that had been chasing him appeared around the corner.
"How convient." One man laughed evilly. "The Oniwaban Ninja AND the street thug. We can get rid of them both and get back to Gasuke-Sama before dinner!"
Aoshi's eyes flashed. "Oh really?" The coldness in his voice stopped the laughter. "Do you think you can get rid of me THAT easily?" He demanded with a chilling air of sarcasm.
The gun raised up, but Aoshi only looked at the barrel with a cool confidence. And with that, he vanished completely into thin air. Sano stared as the kodochi sheath dropped to the ground where Aoshi had been standing only seconds earlier. "Shit." he muttered.
The Shuei members who had been standing in front of him suddenly began screaming, and Sanosuke watched as each one fell to the ground, blood seeping around their bodies. Aoshi reappeared facing Sano, his kodochi blades raised in an after-attack position. He straightened up, his eyes still impassive and expressionless.
"Let's go, Sagara." he replied. "I should report this to Saitoh. Do you know where the Shuei Syndicate is located?"
"Sure..." Sano mumbled, blinking at the dead men before him. "But it's a dangerous place. No one goes there unless they're sure of their fighting skills, or unless they just want to die at the hands of the Shuei. Those guys have gotten stronger in the past year or so."
"Then I'm sure Saitoh will want to join me in this fight." Aoshi stated with a shrug. He picked the sheath up. Sano only shook his head and followed the ninja back into town.
Aoshi, Sanosuke and Kenshin all stood in Saitoh's office roughly an hour later. Saitoh regarded each man invidivually for a moment during a long bit of silence.
Kenshin still looked the same as he had that morning - though his face seemed a little more worried.
Aoshi's ki had risen, but Saitoh could tell the Okishira's adrenaline was falling back to a normal, low level. He must have gotten in some sort of fight, he decided.
And Sagara was bandaged up, breathing hard, and trying to ignore the imfamous Wolf of Mibu.
"Well." Saitoh finally stated factually. "What do we know about the situation?"
"It's the Shuei Syndicate." Kenshin sighed.
"And I killed six of their men." Aoshi replied dryly.
"And they tried to kill me!" Sano whined.
Another long silence followed. Saitoh groaned and sat down. "Battousai, are you going to tell the kid?"
"No. Not yet." Kenshin frowned. "We discussed that this morning."
"I don't like the idea of attacking the Shuei Syndicate at night." Saitoh mused. "That part of town is dangerous, and there are too many alleys and hiding places for people to escape. I'd rather do it in daylight to make sure I hit my targets effectively."
"Saitoh, you could hit a target effectively if it were pitch black outside, and you know it." Kenshin snapped. "You must have another reason for putting it off ANOTHER night."
"No." Saitoh shrugged. "But they're probably only keeping the girl as a hostage. They'll take care of her until they can personally rub it into the brat's face. That's what they want, after all."
Kenshin pierced his lips together and forced himself not to snap back again at the man. He didn't want to get into a fight with Saitoh right now. "Fine."
The door suddenly slung open, and the four men turned to see who had dared to interrupt them.
"ORO?" Kenshin blinked.
Aoshi arched an eyebrow. Saitoh groaned loudly.
"MEGUMI?" Sano stood up. "What are you..."
"Sanosuke!" she glared at him. The secretary appeared behind her.
"I'm sorry, Fujita-San!" he wailed. "She just walked straight past me and said she was seeing you! I couldn't stop the woman!"
Megumi rolled her eyes. "Idiot." she grumbled, slamming the door. She stopped in front of the desk. "Are you all going to go find Tsubame or NOT?" she asked angrily.
"Megumi-San, what's wrong?" Kenshin asked quietly. "You're very upset, that you are. And I'm surprised to see you here."
"Yea..." Sano fidgeted. "Didn't you have to work at the clinic today?"
"I was, until Yahiko came stumbling in and practically fainted on the doorstep!" she snapped. "His ankle is still sprained because he hasn't stayed off of it, and if he keeps up at the pace he's going, the bone will break and then he won't be able to do ANYTHING. He's so worried about her that he can't even think straight anymore! He's acting entirely on instinct, and he hasn't found the first clue! Now, I'm asking you all right now - are you going to find her or not?!"
There was a long pause of silence as the four men stared at Megumi in shock. She angrily took a deep breath.
"You four are the best fighters in all Japan! Two of you are the best spies in all Japan! And you mean to tell me you have uncovered ANY clues?!"
"We have uncovered some facts, Megumi-San." Kenshin mumbled. "But we didn't want to tell Yahiko yet."
Megumi's face paled. "Don't tell me she's... she... she's...?"
"No, I don't think she's dead." Saitoh rolled his eyes. "She's a hostage with the Shuei Syndicate. They're trying to lure Yahiko in so they can get to him through her. We're going there tomorrow morning to put a stop to the entire thing."
Megumi's eyes flickered angrily as she regarded the officer behind the desk. "I'm glad to hear that. It's about time something came up in this case. Now, if you'll excuse me -"
"Megumi." Sano walked to her and slowly took her arm. "You can't tell Yahiko."
She paused. The other men nodded in agreement. Megumi slowly exhaled. "Fine. I won't say anything." she muttered. "But just make sure Tsubame isn't dead when you find her."
Yahiko was trudging home. He had almost given out that afternoon - which was how he'd ended up at Megumi's clinic for some pain medicine. However, he'd ignored her advice to stay in bed the next day. He was far too determined to continue searching. He stopped in front of the dojo gate, leaning one hand against it to rest for a moment.
His entire body felt as though it had no strength left. It was all he could do to stay standing; to take one more step forward. His heart ached so much he half-thought it would kill him. Gritting his teeth together, he swore for the thousandth time he would murder whoever had taken Tsubame from his life. Before she'd disappeared, he'd only had an inkling of what love felt like. Now his entire body was hurting painfully with love, because it wasn't until she'd been taking that he knew how much he did love her. He never dreamed it would hurt so much. But, he'd never dreamed he would lose her.
*I should know not to take things for granted... not after seeing Kenshin almost lose Kaoru...*
He shifted his wieght and reached for the sword on his back. Snapping it from the thin cords that held it in place, he put one end on the ground and gently leaned against it for support.
*Gods...* He forced the lump in his throat away and willed himself not to cry. *I just want to see her...I just want to hold her... Is that asking too much?*
He straightened up, rubbing a hand over his face to make sure the tears at the brims of his eyes didn't spill over. That was when he noticed it.
A note on the gate.
"Kaoru?" Yahiko limped into the kitchen, stopping just inside the doorway.
Kaoru, Misao and Kenji blinked and stared back at him.
"Yahiko..." Misao murmured. He was dusty, and he looked so tired she couldn't believe it. His eyes had no sparkle or life, but a dangerous glow underneath the dullness.
"What's wrong?" Kaoru frowned.
"What do you make of this?" He asked quietly, tossing the note in her direction. Kaoru caught it and opened it, tilting her head slightly.
"Come and get her back if you want her. Signed... KS?" Kaoru's brow creased. "Who is KS?"
"I don't know." Yahiko muttered. "I thought you might could offer some idea..."
"That's strange..." Misao shook her head.
"I'm going back out." Yahiko stated angrily. But before he could take a step, Kaoru jumped up and grabbed the back of his gi.
"Hold it." she ordered. "You're in no condition to go back out. It's far too late. Kenshin and Aoshi will be here soon, and they can look at this. Besides..." Kaoru frowned as she read the note again. "They said if you want her, you can come get her. I'm sure that after four days, if whoever has her has taken care of her, she'll be fine for another night."
"And what if she isn't fine?" his eyes flickered. "What if she's scared, or what if they've hurt her?"
"Then I'm sure tomorrow morning you can beat them all up." Kaoru snapped. "But not tonight. If you don't rest you won't be able to fight with a logical mind. Kamiya Kasshin is about regenerating your strength and fighting to protect. You won't be able to do either if you don't have any strength to regenerate!"
"Kaoru's right, Yahiko." Misao stood up, her blue eyes darker then usual. "You HAVE to rest. Searching without much time to sleep or eat is making you an empty shell of a person! Tsubame won't wish to to see that when you rescue her, will she?"
*If she's still alive...* His could feel his heart aching even more at such a thought, threatening to burst inside his chest.
The door slid open at that moment, and Kenshin stepped into the room, followed by Aoshi. Kaoru silently thanked the gods that her husband was home to force Yahiko to stay for the night.
"Kenshin..." She walked over and hugged him. He gripped her tightly for a moment, but when he saw Yahiko's look over their embrace, he immediately guessed the young man's thoughts. He didn't have someone to hold. Kenshin let Kaoru go, deciding it was best in the case.
"Look at this." she seemed unphased by his release, and offered the note to him.
Aoshi leaned over Kenshin shoulder and read along with the former assassin. Both men's eyes narrowed at the initals KS - both knowing it stood for 'Kanto Shuei'. But neither said a word. Kenshin handed the note back to Kaoru. "Where did you find it?"
"It was on the gate." Yahiko answered darkly. "I was going to go back out and find her tonight - but Kaoru's forcing me to stay here."
"Kaoru's right in this case." Kenshin replied. "You're tired, Yahiko. You need the rest, and you need a bath, and you probably need to eat."
"I'm not hungry."
"Baka." Misao snapped. "Go take a bath. And then get back in here and eat, or else!" She raised a kunai for good measure. "GO!" she ordered again. Yahiko glared at her, but stalked off down the hall.
"Kenshin, make sure he stays here tonight." Kaoru whispered. "He'll try to leave if we don't watch him. He's angry... that will only cause more problems."
"Hai, I know." Kenshin's eyes narrowed. "But, we did figure out who is behind this." Leaning down to whisper so Yahiko wouldn't hear, Kenshin told his wife.
Kaoru's eyes widened in shock. "Kenshin..."
"Don't say anything. Saitoh and Aoshi are going to handle it tomorrow morning. Yahiko shouldn't get involved since his ankle is hurt."
Kaoru nodded. "I understand." She lowered her head. "Why don't you fix him something to eat, Misao? He doesn't care for my cooking..."
Misao nodded and silently stood up. "Kenji-Chan, want to help Aunt Misao make Yahiko's dinner?"
The boy grinned and jumped up, following the young ninja out of the room. Kenshin headed for the hall. "I'll go make sure he gets a bath and stays here for the night."