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Warrior's Spirit
Part 7
Protecter




It took Yahiko roughly ten minutes to defeat the Shuei members that attacked him initially at the gate. Most of them didn't have swords, but daggers or knives instead. The ones WITH swords had no idea how to use them - not in Yahiko's mind, at any rate. He found that knocking them to the ground was satisfing, but something inside him was still seeking revenge for what had happened. The entire time, he found his mind drifting back to various things people had taught him over the years.

*Defeat is not an option for the sword that protects.* Kenshin's words rang in his mind more then anyone else's. But he knew that even without Kenshin's words, had his mentor never said them, he would not allow himself to be defeated this day. Tsubame meant far too much to him to walk away like a stray dog, whimpering in defeat.

He was surprised during the first part of his battle against the Shuei that another man's words echoed in his mind. Man...woman - no. Kamatari had been someone in the middle, but Yahiko remembered him just the same. *Don't you see? I just CAN'T let myself lose! Being as useful to Lord Shishio means EVERYTHING to me!!* Yahiko almost smiled. He finally understood how the cross-dresser felt - for he himself could not let himself lose this battle. Tsubame was everything to him. He almost laughed when he realized he was on equal ground with a man who had once been a member of the Juppongattona.

Kaoru's words during his training years also echoed in his mind. He could practically hear her yelling at him to make sure his stance was correct. He dearly hoped he would make her proud today. When he jumped up on the porch of the building and glanced behind him, and saw a yard of fallen men - he knew she would be. He glared forward. One part down - and he wasn't sure how many more he'd have to defeat to reach Tsubame. He slid his sword back into the sheath and angrily kicked the doors in.

He realized there weren't quite so many members in the outer room of the building, but they were more armed then the ones who had first 'greeted' him. However, he decided not to use his sword until he found whoever it was that had captured Tsubame in the first place. *I know it couldn't have been the entire syndicate... it must be the boss of this gang... He's the one I have to fight.*

Tsubame stood still in between two Shuei members. They held her arms tightly, though she was small and didn't need two guards. Her frown was evident as she glared at their fingers on her arms, and occasionally towards the door. She could hear noise outside. Loud bumps and yells, every once in a while a loud crash. It had only been about fifteen minutes since she'd found out Yahiko had come, but she was sure he was winning his fight. Something inside told her he was.

She turned her angry gaze towards Gasuke, who only smirked at her. "Just you wait. The second he comes in that door, I'll kill him."

She considered calling him a bastard again, but he seemed pleased whenever she did - so she held her tongue and swore she wouldn't give him the sastifaction of cursing at him.

*I know you can do this, Yahiko. I trust you...I love you.*

~*~

Kenshin, Aoshi, Saitoh, and Sanosuke all skidded to a sudden stop in the street. The three once-manslayers all glared around them, feeling an evil presence. Sanosuke snorted.

"What is it?"

"Shuei members." Aoshi stated dryly. He drew his kodochis out. "Himura-San, what will you do without a sword?"

"Stand back and watch." Kenshin answered, his rurouni voice far gone for the day. He ducked behind Sanosuke.

"Oy, Kenshin. Hiding?" Sano grinned.

"Unless you want me to be vunerable."

"That's what you GET for not carrying a sword." Saitoh snapped.

"Shut up, Saitoh." Kenshin snarled back.

"Here the come." Aoshi announced, rolling his eyes. "Stop arguing, AGAIN."

A few Shuei members, all carrying swords, appeared from the shadows. One of them laughed. "We knew the cops were getting involved. Gasuke- Sama sent us to stop you, while he takes care of Yahiko Myojin."

Aoshi's kodochis lowered, and he stared. "That's it? That's all of you?" he asked quietly. "Fifteen men?"

"What?" The man's sarcastic smile faded into an angry look. "It's fifteen against four, I think that's fair."

"It's more then fair." Saitoh smirked. "It's perfect if you ask me." He fell into a Gatousu stance. "Morons. One of us alone could defeat you all in a minute. Three of us can do it in thirty seconds. And if the Battousai had a sword, it would take less time then that."

"Why you!" the man twitched angrily, drawing his own sword. "My skills are far better then some police inspector's!" He ran for Saitoh - and never made it past the infamous Wolf of Mibu. Saitoh smiled from his after-attack position.

"I haven't used a Gatousu in a while. It's a good thing I haven't gotten rusty on it." He slung the blood from his sword in his usual, uncaring style.

The other men stared in fear as their leader lay dead on the ground. Kenshin rolled his eyes and muttered something about 'unnecessary violence early in the morning'. Sano shook his head.

Aoshi raised his kodochis. "Perhaps you men would enjoy seeing MY personal attack." he said expressionlessly. He disappeared, and the Shuei suddenly found ten Aoshis floating around them, and twenty kodochis posed in mid-air. They began screaming. Saitoh did his best not to laugh. Messing with a bunch of idiots, he decided, was almost fun. And definitely entertaining. It *almost* made up for not having his morning cigeratte. Almost.

~*~

Yahiko delivered a solid punch to the last man left standing in the outer room, his fist connecting with the thug's lower jaw. The man slammed into a set of doors leading to the inner room, broke them both, and fell into Gasuke's quarters unconcious. Yahiko glared past the now-opened passage, and stalked inside, stepping over the man he'd just knocked out. He stopped when he saw Gasuke sitting before him.

"Gasuke..." His eyes never betrayed any other emotion the sheer hate.

"I see you're skills are pretty good if you've made it this far." Gasuke smirked, crossing his arms.

"Yahiko!" Tsubame cried out. A man grabbed her wrist and twisted it, causing her to yell out in pain.

"Just answer me one question before we get started." Yahiko said coldly. "Why?"

"Why?" Gasuke laughed. "Brat. You were supposed to work for this syndicate until the day you died. And we've had to work extra hard since you left. We didn't have many pick-pockets as good as you. So, I decided you needed to die for leaving us, and treating us the way you did. You never appreciated what we did for you. I don't like that."

"So you kidnapped an innocent girl?" Yahiko's voice dripped with venom.

"She's your girl, isn't she? We thought that would be a good way to bring you back here. So I could kill you." Gasuke smiled wickedly.

There was a long pause. Gasuke watched Yahiko carefully, but no one spoke. After a moment, he finally stood up.

"You're...angry." He grinned.

"Angry?" Yahiko's voice maintained a low, constant level. He narrowed his eyes at the man who was now in charge of the Shuei. "Angry?" He repeated the word, as if he didn't understand it. "No."

His fingers wrapped around Kenshin's old sword, sliding it from the sheath once more. It was sword meant to protect - he was a master of a style meant to protect. His eyes burned with inner fire. "I'm not angry. I FAR past that. I'm so furious that it's taking every ounce of self-control I have to keep myself from killing you right here."

"Unless you kill me, then you'll be killed. Then I'll have your pretty little bitch all to myself."

Tsubame strained against the grips on her arms. "Yahiko!"

He didn't look at her. He knew he would lose his will power and instantly kill Gasuke and the other two men. Kenshin had practically forbid him to become that angry again - and he knew that his mentor's words were the truth in the matter. He was better then that. His hands weren't stained with blood; nor did they need to be. He was a decent, honest man - that was how Kaoru and Kenshin had raised him. His sword glinted in the light as he slowly raised in in front of his face.

"Don't you DARE call her that." he ordered hatefully. "She's NOT that type of girl!"

"She will be after today - when I can have her." Gasuke's eyes danced evilly. He suddenly drew his own sword and sprang forward. Yahiko watched the man's moves. They were fast. He dodged easily however, confident in his own skills.

"Can you defeat me? Gasuke the Manslayer?" Gasuke yelled loudly as he darted to attack again.

Yahiko practically vanished into thin air. His speed was something he had acquired as he'd trained in his later years. "Manslayer?" he yelled it back almost in laughter. "You don't know what that word means! I know three of the best manslayers in Japan - and NONE of them are like you!!" he brought his sword against Gasuke's, and the two clashed angrily. "Even Saitoh isn't like you!" he shouted, darting back and untangling his sword from Gasuke's. "Saitoh wouldn't kidnap a girl to lure someone in! Nor would he hurt a woman! He might be cold and he's definitely a bastard, but he's not like YOU!" Yahiko could feel his anger building each time his sword connected with Gasuke's. He could hear the other man laughing at him, he could hear Tsubame crying out for him to win the fight, he could hear Kenshin's words ringing in his ears.

*Defeat isn't an option... I'm 18 years old... I can NOT lose this fight!*

~*~

Misao found herself running down the alleys of Tokyo, determined to find her friends. She was sure she'd heard sword steel clashing, and men screaming.

Darting around a corner, she leaned against a wall to catch her breath, and glancing up, she noticed a sign. Misao frowned as she stepped back to read it. "Kanto Shuei territory?" she tilted her head and slowly grinned. "Guess I made it!"

"HEY!" a man suddenly appeared behind her. Misao closed her eyes and shook her head, her smile still plastered on her face. Twisting in a heartbeat, she brought her foot against his head, slamming him across the alley.

"Idiot." she laughed. "Hang on Yahiko..." Taking a small pre-step, she jumped over the wall and landed on the other side. "I won't let you fight all alone."

~*~

Yahiko and Gasuke's fight had gotten so intense within only a few minutes that they'd practically destroyed the inner quarter. Tumbling in a fray of flesh and steel, they landed in the outer room again, tripping over already unconcious men from Yahiko's previous fight.

Gasuke laughed and slung his sword towards his enemy. "Do you think you can win, after already having fought off my entire syndicate? Aren't you tired?"

"I haven't even gotten started!" Yahiko yelled back. He decided that Kamiya Kasshin wasn't going to cut this battle - so he reverted to another tactic. "Hiten Mitsurugi... Do Ryu Sen!" A slash of debris flew across the room from the blast and nailed Gasuke into a wall.

Darting through the dust left over from the battles, he kicked the man back towards the doors and slammed into him with another attack, sending him out into the yard - unconscious.

~*~

Saitoh stared across the yard of the Shuei Syndicate, a little surprised at the sight. Men were littered across the entire area, but not dead. "Looks like that kid did a pretty good job so far..."

"Yes, but he could be in trouble." Kenshin frowned. "He was up against a lot of men, that he was... Come on."

"WAIT." Sanosuke stepped in front of Kenshin, holding his arms out. He frowned. "I think we should stay out here."

"Sano!" Kenshin stared at his friend. "You can't be serious!"

"Do you remember when Yahiko first saved Tsubame eight years ago?" Sano asked quietly. "It was at the Akabeko one morning. Jou-Chan was going to get involved and help him, but you held both her AND me back and said that if we always went to Yahiko's rescue, he'd never learn."

"This isn't like that time!" Kenshin persisted. "He's injuried! And he hasn't learned - because I TOLD him we would help him!"

"How many battles did YOU fight injuried?" Sanosuke turned the question on Kenshin. "And how many battles did you fight by yourself, Kenshin? No - you've all got to let Yahiko fight this battle alone! He's determined to do just that. He doesn't want to lose, and he won't lose because defeat isn't an option for him! He's too proud to lose! He won't let Tsubame down like that either! I know you all think I'm just a stupid street thug, but for once - listen to me! I may not be as smart as you guys are, but I'm right about this! Don't interfere with his fight!"

A sudden shout caught all of them off guard, however. The wall of the building gave way, and a man flew across the yard towards Saitoh, landing some ten feet in front of the tall officer. His eyes had rolled back indicating that he had lost the battle - but Saitoh noticed there wasn't a drop of blood on the man. He looked back up towards the building, confused.

~*~

Yahiko stood in the outer room, breathing heavily. He was bruised, cut, and dirty. His body ached with having to put up such a fight - for almost thirty minutes. He quickly turned back around though, knowing his injuries would have to wait a little longer. Running into the inner room, he jogged to a stop and stared at Tsubame. The men who had been holding her had run off in fear. She stood there trembling, her whole body shaking. He could see tears in her eyes, and they slowly began to stream down her face.

In a sudden rush, he collasped against her, holding her to his chest, his own tears threatening to fall again. "Tsubame..." his voice murmured her name over and over, and he gripped her to him, thankful she wasn't dead - or that Gasuke had won.

"Yahiko! I was so scared..." she burying her face into his neck, breathing in his scent. Despite the fact that he was both dirty and sweaty, she couldn't get close enough to him. "I knew you'd come though... he said you wouldn't. But... I never believed him." she met his eyes, and he could read the joy written in hers. "I knew you'd come for me..."

He smiled wearily. "I looked for you for almost four days... I'm sorry it took me so long... I didn't have anything to go on..."

"It's alright..." she leaned back against him, hugging herself to his body.

"Come on... let's go home." he gently wrapped an arm around her waist, keeping her close at his side. They two of them walked back through the outer room and onto the porch.

The bright morning sunlight almost blinded Yahiko for a moment, and he shielded his eyes with his free hand.

"Yahiko!" Kenshin's voice called, and he squinted towards the red- headed man.

"Kenshin? What took you so long to get here?" He grinned sheepishly.

"I'm going to have a long talk with you, that I am." Kenshin said sharply. "For running off like I told you NOT to."

"Really, don't be so hard on the kid." Saitoh wrinkled his nose. "He did what he should have."

"Oh, so you agree with me?" Sano grinned.

"Moron. I didn't say THAT." Saitoh rolled his eyes.

Yahiko and Tsubame stepped off the porch and walked past Gasuke, who was still on the ground, towards their friends. Aoshi said nothing, Saitoh only looked bored at having missed a fight, but Kenshin and Sano seemed proud of Yahiko.

"You did a good job, that you did." Kenshin smiled. "Even if I'm mad at you for running off this morning."

"Thanks..." Yahiko blushed.

"Hey, Tsubame-Chan. You okay?" Sano asked.

She nodded. "I'm fine..." her voice was quiet, and she never let go of Yahiko's arm.

"Let's get back to the station." Saitoh turned, ignoring the little celebration. "I've had enough excitement for one morning. We can sort through details there."

"Hai, I agree." Aoshi turned as well, following Saitoh towards the gate of the Shuei. Sano and Kenshin nodded and smiled towards Yahiko and Tsubame, and they also began to walk towards the gate, talking about what had happened.

~*~

Misao looked out from the shadows of an alley beside the Shuei building. She watched as her friends all turned around to leave, and she smiled to herself. *Maybe you didn't need me. Oh well... At least I was here in case -* Her thought stopped sort as she noticed Gasuke move slightly on the ground. Misao felt her heart skip a beat, and her blood almost chilled. The man slowly pulled a dagger from his belt, intent on aiming it at one of her friends. She frantically looked towards Aoshi and Saitoh - but neither seemed to have felt the change in the air or noticed Gasuke. Their backs were turned and they were almost at the gate. Kenshin was too busy laughing with Sano to notice either.

Yanking her kunai out, she sprang from her hiding place, her eyes wide and angry. "LORD AOSHI!!!!!!!" she yelled as loud as possible, while slinging four of her weapons towards Gasuke. She knew damn well that yelling her leader's name would bring him to immediate attention - even though it would also earn her a nice lecture about disobeying orders when the got back to the Kamiya Dojo.

Everyone at the gate whirled around, mouths open. Aoshi jumped forward, reaching for his kodochis. "MISAO!"

"That won't work!" Gasuke blocked the first four kunai without thought, but Misao was one step faster. A second after the first set had left her hand, she had attacked with the other, sending one into Gasuke's arm, and another into his leg. He collasped on the ground, bleeding and cursing.

Saitoh brushed past Aoshi and stopped in front of Gasuke, smirking down at the man. "Some swordsman you are. You can't even defeat the weasel girl."

"HEY!" Misao fumed, reaching for another set of kunai.

"Who the hell are you?!" Gasuke demanded angrily, gripping his arm.

"Who am I?" Saitoh's mouth twitched.

"Wait - you're that idiot police inspector... Fujita! I can beat you any day!" he yelled.

A wolfish, evil grin spread over Saitoh's features. "Some people say I resemble that inspector, but I'm afraid I'm not him. *I* am Saitoh Hajime. And YOU," he added, "are under arrest for assault, kidnapping, harrassment, and attempted murder. I have a good mind to kill you right here."

"And lucky you," Kenshin added dryly, "he hasn't had his morning cigarette yet."

A few more police officers had shown up at this point, and Saitoh turned away from the former Shuei leader. "Take him away, and lock him up. I'll issue his sentence tomorrow after I file the necessary papers on his arrest."

"YAHIKO!" Tsubame's voice suddenly broke the scene, and everyone turned and watched as the young man dropped to one knee, gripping his ankle. Beads of sweat crossed his forehead, and he grunted in pain.

"Shit... I forgot about it..." he mumbled, his black hair hiding his tightly shut eyes.

"Yahiko, hang on!" Misao cried, dropping to his side. "We'll get you over to Megumi-San's right away!"

He nodded numbly. But the pain was far too great and came on so quickly, that his world went black before he realized it.