Kaoru walked back into Yahiko's room, holding a not-to-well-made rice ball. She beamed happily as she held it out. "Here you are, Yahiko!"
There wasn't an answer.
Kaoru did a double take and realized there was only one person in the room besides herself.
Yahiko jogged down the street, testing his ankle. Kenshin had wrapped it tightly. He was glad for that. It would be easier to fight if he didn't have to think about the pain, and he was sure he would have to fight.
He narrowed his eyes. It was foggy out this morning. *Good. It'll be easier for me to get further from the dojo before Kenshin catches on. Please Kenji... stall them just a LITTLE longer...*
"Kenji?" Kaoru's voice had a 'motherly warning' sound to it. "Where's Yahiko?"
Kenji tilted his head and tried to look as innocent as possible - which wasn't too innocent. "Oro?" he mumbled.
Kaoru felt her patience draining, and fast. "This isn't the time for games, Kenji-Chan. Tell me where he is."
Kenji bit his lip. "I dunno..."
"Kenji, you have to tell me." Kaoru frowned. "Did he leave?"
Kenji fidgeted. "Um... He told me not to say." he answered truthfully.
"Oh Kami-Sama." Kaoru muttered. "That little -"
"Koishii?" Kenshin appeared behind her. "Is everything alright?" He stopped and stared at the empty room. "OH SHI-"
"Go after him!" Kaoru cried, turning to face Kenshin. "He can't possibly win alone with that ankle being sprained!"
"AOSHI!" Kenshin turned and darted down the hall - his voice indicating urgency.
Yahiko had broken into a light run, his face set with determination. *Hang on, Tsubame. I'm coming.* He suddenly skidded to a stop. Someone, or some people, were approaching. His eyes narrowed as a few men came into view. *Damn it.*
They smiled evilly at him.
"So," one laughed, "you figured it out? Gasuke-Sama sent us to... greet you." He cracked his knuckles. "You won't ever see that pretty girl again."
Yahiko felt himself grin back. "I don't have time for idiots like you." He pulled the sword from its sheath. "Either get out of my way, or else.
Aoshi stumbled into the hall, half-awake and half-dressed. He wore a thin pair of pants, and his chest was bare. "Wha...?" He brushed his bangs from his eyes, forcing himself to wake up. "What's going on?" he muttered, scanning the hall.
"Yahiko took off without us." Kenshin yelled from his own room, grabbing his clothes.
"SHIT." Aoshi ignored the look Kaoru shot him for cursing in front of her son. He dodged back into his room and grabbed his ninja outfit, stripping his pants off and throwing the clothes on. Misao sat up groggily, rubbing her eyes.
"Aoshi, what's wrong?" she yawned.
"The brat took off. He's going to fight the Shuei without us." Aoshi's eyes narrowed dangerously as he tucked his shirt in.
"NANI?!" Misao's eyes widened.
Aoshi ignored her and fastened his belt. She jumped up and ran for her own ninja outfit, intent on accompaning him.
"No." Aoshi frowned, taking hold of her arm.
"But... Aoshi..." Misao stared at him.
"Stay here. That's an order, from your okishira..." he sighed. He didn't want her to get involved. He didn't know if he could handle it if she got hurt during this incident. "I want you to protect the dojo with Kaoru-San in case they come here."
Misao blinked. Her disappoint was apparent, and her head dropped. "Hai..." she mumbled. But she still slid into her own ninja outfit, just in case something did happen.
"Aoshi!" Kenshin's voice shouted from somewhere down the hall. "I'm heading over to the police station to find Saitoh! Meet me there!" A door banged shut. Aoshi nodded, mostly to himself, and threw his shoes on.
"Here, Aoshi." Misao sighed. She held his trenchcoat and his twin kodochi sheath out.
"Arigrato, Misao-Chan..." Aoshi took both and darted out the door, hardly glancing at her in his haste.
"Be careful!" Kaoru yelled after him. She turned around, and faced Misao. Kenji clutched her yukata tightly, his face downcast.
"Kenji, why did you let Yahiko go like that?" Kaoru whispered.
"He asked me not to say anything." Kenji's eyes widened. "I didn't want him mad at me for telling!"
Kaoru nodded and rubbed her temple, not sure whether she wanted to jump Yahiko's case about getting Kenji involved, or getting mad at Kenji for offering to help. She noticed Misao's depressed look. "What's wrong, Misao?"
"Something is telling me... that I should go too." Misao mumbled, her eyes staring at the floor. "I can't explain it. But Aoshi told me to stay."
Kaoru brushed past her into the guest room and grabbed the girl's kunai. "Trust your feelings, Misao." she smiled.
"But!" Misao stared in shock. "I can't disobey! Aoshi told me I couldn't leave - he gave me a direct order, and as an Oniwaban ninja under him, I can't possibly -"
"Weren't you once an okishira too?" Kaoru's grin widened as she held the weapons towards the younger girl.
Misao paused. "Well, yes..."
"Then go. I can stay here. I'll be fine." Megumi will probably drop by later, to check on Yahiko... she needs to find SOMEONE here so she can rant about his ankle and how he isn't staying off of it." Kaoru giggled.
Misao took her knives and tucked them away under her sash. "RIGHT!" she whirled around, her long braid snapping behind her. "I promise I'll take care of myself! But I just have this feeling I've got to go-"
"I understand!" Kaoru laughed, waving as the girl sprinted across the yard, turning to give Kaoru a wave. The gate slammed shut again.
"Well, Kenji-Chan... ready for breakfast?" Kaoru's smile faded as she thought of her husband, Aoshi, and Yahiko all out on the streets, probably getting into a fight - or at least about to start one.
"Kill the brat." One of the men snarled. A couple of guys ran for Yahiko, but he easily dodged them.
His sword fell down in a swift move, and Yahiko ran for the other few guys, knocking them over without even breaking a sweat.
"Oy, punk. That's not how you fight on the streets." A familiar voice laughed. Yahiko skidded to a stop, and the Shuei members turned in anger. The voice continued. "You have to at least put up a bit of a fight. Get a little dirty. Swinging a sword around is the easy way!"
"It's that damn street thug!" One yelled.
"Sanosuke?!" Yahiko fumed. "This is MY fight! Don't you dare tell me how I should handle it!"
"Yea, yea." Sano ignored the irritated look on the boy's face.
"What the hell are you doing?" Yahiko demanded, his sword still posed for another attack.
"Megumi sent me out of rice this morning." Sano replied. "And what do you know - I run across you fighting off the Shuei. Guess you figured it out, huh?"
"No thanks to you guys." Yahiko muttered.
"Well, you've got more important things to worry about right now, instead of dealing with stupid idiots like these." Sano replied. "They're just pawns."
The Shuei members snarled. One of them cracked his knuckles at Sano. "Say that to my face, street thug!"
"Go find Tsubame." Sano grinned. "I'll be MORE then happy to take care of THESE assholes."
Yahiko blinked. "You mean..."
"No sense making her wait when she shouldn't have to." Sano shrugged. "Besides, I'd like to finish these guys off. I don't appreciate being called a street thug anymore, not when I'm a married man."
"Thanks Sano!" Yahiko grinned and sprinted past the Shuei members. "I owe you one!"
A man growled and started after Yahiko. "HEY! Come back, you little -" He gulped suddenly and felt his feet lift off the ground.
"I'm the one you're fighting now." Sano's wicked smile only grew larger. "I don't wear my 'Aku' symbol for nothing, you know."
Kenshin burst into the police station with eyes narrowed. He noticed the secretary behind the desk, sorting files and humming a cheerful tune.
"Oh! Himura-San! You're very early today!" He said brightly.
Kenshin cringed at the extra-happy tone in the man's voice, and seriously wondered how anyone could be THAT happy at 6:00 in the morning. He could only imagine how irritated Saitoh got at the man. "Do you come in this early everyday?" he frowned.
The man nodded. "To get a head start on paperwork."
Kenshin rolled his eyes and passed the desk. "I'm here for one reason. I'll just excuse myself and walk on back, since I'm sure you'll understand."
"WAIT!" the man cried, practically jumping over the desk for Kenshin. "You can't go back there this early! I know Fujita-San gave you special permission to come in anytime you wanted, but THIS early?!"
"It can't wait." Kenshin stated sharply as he continued down the hall towards Saitoh's office.
"Please, Himura-San! Fujita-San sleeps in there when he doesn't go home at nights! And I know he stayed late yesterday... He's probably still asleep if he spent half the night on paperwork! Do you have ANY idea what he'll do if you dare disturb him?! I know I'll lose my job!"
*As if I care.* Kenshin thought acidly, half-hoping Saitoh would fire the moron.
"PLEASE! He'll be absolutely furious Himura-San!" The secretary cried.
"I don't care." Kenshin replied sternly. "I've seen him angry before - it won't be a big surprise." His fist slammed against the door twice, and hard.
There was a long pause. Kenshin narrowed his eyes. The secretary was groaning incoherently a few feet away about the wrath of Fujita, should he be woken up for ANY reason at 6:00 in the morning. Then they both heard heavy footsteps crossing the inner office. Kenshin inwardly braced himself. The door slammed open. Saitoh stood tall, angry, and half-awake before them. He was wearing his police pants and a black short-sleeved shirt that was wrinkled from sleep. His boots were off as well.
"WHAT?" Saitoh glared down at Kenshin, then paused. "Battousai? What the hell...? This had better be damn important, if you have ANY idea of what time it is!"
"We've got a problem." Kenshin replied, meeting Saitoh's threatening look without much care. "Yahiko took off for the Shuei - alone."
"That little BRAT." Saitoh turned and darted back into his office, cursing under his breath.
The secretary cracked an eye - which he'd closed expecting his superior to hit the cieling the second Kenshin had knocked. There were a couple of thumps, and Saitoh re-appeared. He'd thrown his boots on, but hadn't laced them. His sword was attached to his belt, and he'd simply left his uniform jacket off without thinking.
"Come on, Battousai." he muttered, tripping down the hall. "Sergent! I want the first squadron down on the east side of Tokyo as soon as you can get them in! Down near the Shuei Syndicate!" he ordered.
The secretary stared in shock. "Hai, Fujita-San..." He raced back to the desk and began pulling files in order to contact them men needed.
Saitoh and Kenshin hurried onto the street and looked around. Aoshi was jogging towards them, his trenchcoat lop-sided as if he hadn't had much chance to straighten it yet. Saitoh groaned.
"Guess we all just got out of bed, didn't we?"
"Sorry for waking you, Saitoh." Kenshin grumbled. "Yahiko took off about thirty minutes ago. Aoshi and I got dressed as fast as we could."
"That's going to cut it close." Saitoh snapped. "Suppose we don't catch up before that idiot reaches the Syndicate?"
"That's why we have to hurry." Kenshin stated dryly.
Aoshi stopped in front of them, and Saitoh motioned for both men to follow him. They started running down the street as a haphazzard team. Aoshi tried to straighten his coat in the process of running, while Saitoh alternated tying his boot laces and keeping up at the same time. It was one of those sights that made people who were just getting up stare out of their windows and wonder what sort of day was in store.
"This is insane." Aoshi snapped. "I haven't even had breakfast." He slung his kodochi sheath underneath his coat, gripping the handle.
"Who CARES about breakfast?" Saitoh muttered. "I haven't even had my morning cigarette!"
Kenshin's worn patience snapped at this point. "Oh, you and that DAMN nicotine addiction!" he yelled, skidding to a stop a few feet in front of his former enemy. "I swear, I don't think you even do your work, you just sit around and chain smoke all day! For once can you actually do your JOB and forget about the friggin' CIGARETTES?!"
Saitoh's face went from mildly irritated to sheer fury. "Why you... I swear - I'll kill you this time." His sword slid out. "Aku, Soku -"
Aoshi rushed between them. "STOP IT." he ordered angrily. "Himura-San doesn't have a sword."
Saitoh snarled. "Out of my way, Shinomori. I don't give a damn whether he has a sword or not!"
"You've been putting this off for two days, Saitoh!" Kenshin yelled. "Tsubame's life is involved in this and now Yahiko's as well! And what do you do? Complain about not having a damn cigarette!"
"I said, STOP IT!" Aoshi nearly yelled. He felt his own patience wearing very thin. "We have more important things to do right now then sit in the streets and pick up on a battle that should have ended almost twenty years ago! Can you two GIVE IT A REST?! I'm SICK of hearing the two of you argue like this every time you work together!"
Saitoh and Kenshin fumed from their positions, but Aoshi's temper was something rarely seen, so they both mutally retreated. Saitoh jammed his sword back into it's place and pushed the okishira aside.
"FINE." he snapped. "We can settle this later, Battousai."
"As always." Kenshin retorted.
At that moment, a man practically flew across the street, narrowly missing Saitoh's path. He slammed into a building on the far side, and slipped to the ground. Saitoh quirked an eyebrow and noted the man's cut face, bruised body, and bleeding lip.
"You aren't getting away." A voice laughed. "Really, running was a stupid idea."
"Oh gods." Saitoh muttered dryly. "Of ALL people I want to deal with today..."
Sanosuke stopped when he saw Saitoh, Kenshin and Aoshi. "Oy... what are you guys doing here?"
"What are YOU doing?" Aoshi asked back, his temper starting to fray once more.
"I'm beating up these guys." Sano replied truthfully.
"And exactly what was it they did to YOU, moron?" Saitoh demanded. "I don't like unnecessary civilian violence. Not this early in the morning."
"OH GODS." Kenshin groaned sarcastically. "Saitoh, you aren't one to talk about unnecessary violence!"
Sano shrugged. "It's not unnecessary. They picked the fight in the first place!"
"Not with you!" the man on the ground whined.
Sanosuke rolled his eyes. "Yea, well... Yahiko had better things to do this morning the fight off jerks like you."
"Yahiko?!" Kenshin stared. "You saw Yahiko this morning?"
"Sure." Sano slipped his hands into his pockets. "Ran by about twenty minutes ago towards that side of town. He was headed for the Shuei. A bunch of assholes showed up to stop him, so I took over the fight and let him run on."
"YOU IDIOT!" Saitoh nearly yelled.
"HEY!" Sano instantly went on defense. "Don't yell at me! I was only trying to help him out!"
"COME ON." Kenshin ran past the two of them, with Aoshi directly behind him. "We've got to hurry! Sano, forget about those guys. Come with us!"
Misao ran through side alleys across Tokyo, her long braid trailing behind her. *I don't know why I have to go... But you guys are going to need me. I can feel that, Aoshi! I can! Hang on... I'm right behind you!*
Yahiko stopped outside the tall fence that guarded the Shuei Syndicate. He took a deep breath. He hadn't been here in eight years. He could tell that things had changed drastically since he'd last seem them. This side of town had gotten rougher, and more dangerous then he remembered. He glanced up at the wall, noting that no one was visible from the outside.
*Although I'm sure they already know I'm here.* he thought bitterly.
He touched the gate handle, expecting it to be locked. He was surprised to find it open. Hesitantly, he took a deep breath - then kicked the gate in and jumped back.
Just as he'd expected, a mass of Syndicate fighters seemed to appear from nowhere. Yahiko gripped his sword and pulled it out, bracing himself for the fight he knew he had to win.
"Boss." A man stepped into Gasuke's private quarters, grinning. "Guess what."
"I'm not in a mood for guessing games." Gasuke snapped.
"Yahiko just showed up." The man replied casually. "He's in the outer yard fighting off half the Shuei!"
"He won't make it into the building." Gasuke snickered, noting that the joyous look on Tsubame's face at the mention of Yahiko's name faded when he stated his next line.
"You don't know him at all." she whispered angrily. "Yahiko WILL make it inside."
"He'll die." Gasuke's eyes darkened dangerously. "And you'll watch his death." He motioned for two guys to take hold of her. "Just keep her right there. If he makes it inside, she'll watch the entire thing. I want her to see him die at my hands." He laughed evilly.