"You need to work," the muffled voice pulled him from the haze of his mind. He slowly opened his eyes to look into hers, and cringed. Their coldness belied the warmth of her voice.
"Work?" He mumbled, rolling over to face her fully and pull her to him, "With you it seems like no effort at all," he buried his face in her neck feeling the cool hair curtain around him. He wasn't sure if he closed that distance to be closer to her or to escape her gaze, he had started to hate it so very much. Free from her cruel scrutiny, his hands strayed over her body, wandering and lost.
She pulled herself free from him and rolled off the bed. Her naked form came clearly into focus, and Kenshin smiled at the shape of her. "Unfortunately, that is not what I meant. You have actual work to do, can't you feel it?"
Kenshin paused, and sure as she had said it, there was a distinct itching in the back of his mind, a feeling that something lay unfinished somewhere, that someone needed him. He nodded, "How did you know?"
She sat back down on the bed to face him, "Because we're a part of each other, I feel the need for you as well. I'll go with you this time, but just to watch, I won't interfere. You need to do this on your own, it's how you gain power."
He blinked at her, "Why do I need power?"
"For everything, from the things you can do to building your own palace, your own army, all of it is contingent upon your doing your job well. Besides, this is why you chose this path. Come on, get up and get bathed. You will see what you are capable of."
He complied, still a little confused. He went after her again in the bath, which was a massive roman affair that initially made Kenshin feel very self conscious. Soon, though, he thought of it as a very over-decorated hot spring, with its tree trunk columns, the branches reaching to form pointed arches over their heads. She evaded him, and the two chased each other around the bath for what seemed like too long, until the need became urgent and real. It pulled at his heart and he stopped chasing her.
She ran away from him for a few more feet before she realized that he wasn't chasing her anymore, and she turned to look at him. The look of urgency in his eyes spoke volumes, and she reached out to him mentally to get a sense of what was ahead for him. His mind was racing with thoughts that were gone before he could speak them, but they all spoke of the need to move now. He was out of the bath in a spray of water and it was all Hikari could do to stay on his heels. He dressed quickly, wishing he could just wave his hand like her and have what he needed. Why not? He thought of his Sakabatou, the Sword of Mercy, and he almost dropped it when it appeared in his hand.
"Never tried it before?" she asked, tightening the buckles of her bracer.
"Nnn mm" he replied, as he shook his head and tucked the sword into his obi. "Should we go?"
She shook some stray droplets of water from her wings, and tucked them back, "I'm read when you are. I'll follow you to the portal garden."
He made a dash for the front door, trying to get up enough speed for a takeoff when his back screamed in protest. Pain and weakness shot through him and he stumbled. Hikari was dead behind him, and he felt her catch him as she came by, pulling him to her as her wings unfurled to catch them both. She leapt over the side of the cliff, and snapped her wings out to catch air. "I suppose," she said into his hair, "That following was a bit optimistic."
"Not time?" he asked, curling his neck around so that her lips pressed into his ear.
"Don't know," she said. Suddenly, she let go of him, and he watched her move forward and away from him for an instant before he fell. He shrieked in surprise and could only think about not falling.
He forgot that he had wings, he could only think about the ground rushing to meet him. And rushing it certainly was, at tear-jerking speed. He splayed his arms out, hoping to slow himself down, and that seemed to work. He looked up and ahead at Hikari, who was swooping in circles, watching him. The distance closed between them, and he flapped his wings to move faster. He looked back in surprise at his wings, which were splayed out behind him, and working.
She stopped circling and started a slow fall as she applauded, "Told you!"
He laughed and flapped faster, blowing past her in a streak of fiery dawn. She winged over and caught up to him easily. He was almost dismayed, except that he had to remember that she had been at this a lot longer than he had. "I can lead the way now!" he had to shout at her now.
She nodded and dropped back a little to give him the lead. His flight was slow and wobbly, but any flight where you didn't plummet into the ground was a success. When the portal garden came into view below them, she caught up to Kenshin and grabbed him around the waist before she started the dive toward the ground. He twisted in her grasp and looked at her, the question on the surface of his mind.
"You don't know how to land yet," she replied, and did so, with a careful drop to the ground to ensure that she didn't jar him or hurt herself.
He didn't bother to acknowledge, the need in him was eating away at his heart. He ran to the torii arch and bolted through, not sure how he knew he was going to Japan.
He came out on the other side, and followed the winding gravel path to the temple. Police had formed a barricade across the path, and were watching the shrine uneasily. Kenshin moved past them unnoticed and into the shrine, past the money well and the drum, through the sand garden, careful to not leave footprints behind him. In the back, beside the shrine proper, he saw a man huddled, his eyes bright and wide with terror, blood soaked through his clothes and staining his hands and face. One drop of blood hung near the corner of his eye, like a tear.
Kenshin knelt across from him and said, "My name is Kenshin, what's yours?"
The man almost jumped out of his skin, he scrambled backward into the wall and saw stuttered, "W-w-who, h-h-how did y-y-ou get in h-h-ere?"
Kenshin made sure his wings were hidden, and tried to think of the right answer. He felt Hikari in his mind and smiled, "I have always been here, in a way. You see me because you need to see me." He was beginning to understand where Hikari's oddness came from. Her answers, while enigmatic, were always honest, and usually the best answers one could think of at stressful moments.
The man wasn't terribly old, no older than Kenshin had been when his time had come. But he moved quickly, and Kenshin barely sidestepped the blade of the knife as it came at his face. Actually it was more of a lean, but his reflexes had his feet under him in a flash.
"Go away!" the man cried, calling the attention of the police who were waiting outside. It would be sacrilege to shed blood in the shrine, and so they dared not approach, to avoid the need.
Kenshin shook his head and closed his fingers over the extended wrist of the man who struck at him. "This isn't necessary."
"I can't be arrested!" The man wailed, trying to pull his arm free. Kenshin held him as gently as he could, "My children!"
Kenshin plucked the knife from his fingers, "I might be able to help you."
"I am beyond help!" he lamented.
They always are, he heard Hikari say in his mind.
He shushed her mentally and turned back to the man, "Why don't you tell me your name, and what the problem is, exactly, and let me decide if you are beyond help."
The man shook his head, and recoiled against the wall, "I can't let them get me."
"Why?" Kenshin asked.
"They will kill my family. I didn't have children when I started working with them, but when I had children, they blackmailed me into doing more horrible things." He shook his head, not wanting to continue.
Kenshin tilted his head in reply, "You don't have to tell me all about it now. But you do need to tell me where your family is. If you will turn yourself in, I will personally see to their safety."
The man looked at him incredulous, "What could you possibly do?"
Kenshin started to answer, but not before the man's eyes grew wide and he scurried back further against the wall, "Kannon-sama!" he gasped. Kenshin looked over his shoulder and saw only Hikari perched in the same corner where she was a few minutes ago, half listening, and half picking at her fingernails. He got her attention and mouthed "Can he see you?"
She shook her head and then pointed skyward, where sunlight had streamed in through the courtyard, giving everything a warm golden glow. She grinned sheepishly and shrugged at him.
When Kenshin turned back around, he saw hope in the man's eyes, "If you really do serve Kannon-sama, I will trust you."
Kenshin started to correct him, before Hikari's reprimand halted his words, Don't mess with the system. Man established this system and lives by it. What did you think was managing things while you were alive?
He nodded one to show her that he understood, "Tell me your name now?"
"Nobu," the man said, "Notsugara Nobu." He went on to tell Kenshin where his family was being held, and Kenshin felt the whiff of air that was Hikari's moving to go hand out a little justice.
"You remember the deal, Nobu-san," Kenshin said, "You turn yourself in to the police, tell them what you know, and I will take care of you. You don't have to live in crime all of your life." Kenshin stood up then, and turned away, dropping the knife the man had been carrying. It shattered like glass and ran off in droplets of water between the boards.
He left the man then, who was getting to his own feet to go outside to the police. He saw Saitoh pacing back and forth outside, debating the benefits of raiding a shrine versus waiting for him to come out. Kenshin concentrated on just making himself heard and not seen and moved beside Saitoh, "He's going to come out and turn himself in. Go easy on him, he has a family, and information you need."
Saitoh whipped around to face the voice, but there was no one there. It didn't sound like Justice. It had sounded male. He frowned in the general direction of the voice, "Don't think I'm going to listen to you. I don't listen to her either."
Kenshin smiled quietly, "She says otherwise."
"She points out the obvious."
"So do I." He could get used to this mysterious stuff. Right about then, he remembered that there was a family at stake, and that Hikari had run off by herself. He had no doubts about her ability to defend herself, but she might make a compromise that he wouldn't want to live with. He took off after her, searching out her mind in the millions of voices that ate away at him.
He found it soon enough, and it sent a chill through him. It wasn't even a mockingly bright mood, it was utterly cold, devoid of mercy. He felt the taste of blood in her mind, and he knew she had detached from herself.
The warehouse doorway was splintered when he arrived and he leapt through the remains to see Hikari facing off with man slighter taller and much heavier than she. While he knew they were hidden, her wings were splayed back from her body to allow her the most room to swing. Both swords were in her hands, and she was prepared to kill the man in front of her.
The man was huge, by any standards, with ill-kempt hair and the edges of colorful tattoos poking from his plain brown clothes. He faced off with the woman, wielding a katana in the style of the samurai, level and in front of him, one foot slightly back to give him balance and a quicker step. He seemed conflicted, as if wondering why he should be concerned about fighting a woman. But she stood with her back straight and her chin held high, gazing down at him with eyes that seemed dead to the rest of her face.
"Put down your sword, and you will be spared," she said. Kenshin cringed, her voice was as cold as her gaze.
The man only shook his head.
She brought her sword across her body, slamming it down on the katana with frightening force. The other sword immediately followed shrieking through the air with a fierceness that the man had not been prepared for. But he rolled the blade in line with the sword that moved and deflected that blow. His fingers stung with the impact. She dropped suddenly, the lack of resistance threw the man off balance. She spun around, leading with one of her swords. She tried to come up under the katana blade, but the man twisted his wrist around just in time to deflect her again. Kenshin's breath caught in his throat. The man was experienced, and a good swordsman. The simplicity of Japanese fighting could well overwhelm Hikari's complex and rhythmless dance.
He took the next natural step, and came on the attack. Hikari staggered back, being suddenly put on the defensive. Her jaw tightened with the flex of her body, and her muscles strained. He seemed to glower over her as he attacked, her swords meeting him head on, but forcing her closer and closer to being on her knees. She came to the point where there was nowhere else to go, and the man saw her vulnerability and took advantage.
Hikari moved to correct and deflect his blow, but missed, and the blade sliced along the outside of her thigh, drawing a thin red line of blood and a hiss of pain from Hikari. But his mistake was made. Rather than move in to finish, he stopped in surprise and seemed to gloat over his impeding victory. The instant cost him. Hikari pushed against him. Her jaw was clenched as she pressed him back, "You inbred toad's boil," she growled at him, "That hurt." With a sudden burst of force, she pushed him off of her, and fell back into position.
He came at her again, and she looked up at Kenshin and winked. She sidestepped him easily, and he staggered past her. Swiftly, and silently, her sword made an arc of steely light coming down with ground shattering force on the back of the man, and slicing cleanly through, erupting in a spray of gore that glittered like gems against the white hot steel of her blade.
As the tide ebbed, Kenshin looked at Hikari in shock, "That was retributive."
She shook her head, "It was defensive."
"Of yourself," he said, taking her hand as he stepped down onto the main floor.
"Not quite," she said, leading him to a wall of rice barrels, she walked behind them and picked up a small child of about two. A young woman, a boy and an older woman stood up and looked at the pair, "I would like you to meet Notusaga Noba's family. That would be the man in the temple."
"He was coming after them," Kenshin said more than asked.
She nodded, and handed the baby back to its mother, "You'll be safe for a little while now."
Kenshin looked at the woman, "Notusaga-san, you should go to the police station and ask to see Hajime. He will help you find your husband. I can't say that he will be out of prison, he has things to pay for. But stand beside him, and he'll prove a good man."
The woman smiled politely, "Thank you, sir. I know my husband to be a good man in a bad place."
The pair helped them out of the warehouse and Kenshin looked at Hikari, "How are you?"She was favoring her wounded leg and smiled at him. One of those smiles that didn't reach her eyes. One drop hung near the corner of her eye like a tear.