Chapter 5: Payback time

The main reception room of the residence was already filled with conversations and laughter. It was illuminated with dozens of lamps, and the warmth of the night allowing all the shoji to stay opened, it lit the closer part of the backyard, the waters of the first pond glittering in deep greens, the shaped trees looking like natural statues, attracting the attention of the spectator like the scene of a theater, before night took its rights on human creations again, plunging the rest of the garden in a darkness only punctuated by a few stone lamps, creating an eerie background for the main show. The effect, probably intentional, was stressed by the absence of light on the engawa on each side aisle. The rest of the residence seemed to be empty, the reception room a little island of life, the sounds echoing outside, yet dissolving quickly in the silent stillness of the night.

Inside the room, a procession of dutiful maids was bringing endlessly dishes elaborated with as much care as the garden had been, for the pleasure of the eye as much as of the mouth, and Matudaira's best sake, from Niigata or Aizu, regions famous for the taste and quality of their rice, and hence their alcohol.

Unmoved by the sophistication and the atmosphere, Saitoh accepted another cup of sake, nodding to Kojima Miyu. He had quite a good resistance to alcohol, and was way below the level needed to lose control of his reactions. He was pretending to listen to the boring conversations at his table, observing without being noticed the reactions of the people around. He was with Kawashita, Imada, Fujiki and Kojima, their daughters, Imada and Fujiki's sons, three other officials from Kyoto, and Nagakura. Of course, it wasn't innocent: he knew that Matsudaira had placed him there because the Aizu men were the most likely choices for the traitor. He wasn't so sure: it was too evident. Daughters weren't sons, they were expendable, and including his own daughter on the list was a certain way for the Choshu mole to elude suspicions, if he was from Aizu, which wasn't sure, either. Moreover, Saitoh considered even the sons as reliabilities. If Imada's seemed to know one thing or two about sword fighting, subject he was presently discussing with the second captain, he didn't have much of a brain. That was still more than Fujiki's. He could only consider that a father would be relieved to get rid of such a pitiful excuse for an offspring.

In the center of the room, was the Daimyo's table, where Kondo, Matsumori, Niwada, and Matsudaira Michiko, along with the most eminent Kyoto officials, sat. Saitoh wasn't surprised that Takagi was at another table, on the other side of the room, with Hijikata, Okita, and the four other fathers of the third unit's new daily chore. Takagi was doing the talking, which had to be the result of the diplomacy line that they had decided. Considering that himself was stuck with the reluctant party, they were persuading the most likely to accept first. He met Okita's gaze, and the smile that his friend sent him showed clearly that things were going pretty well there.

Turning to the Daimyo's table, after having acknowledged with a vague nod whatever gossip Imada was discussing now, Saitoh witnessed coincidentally a change of behavior in Niwada Torimi. She addressed Matsumori Aiko, and she was nice. Saitoh wouldn't have paid attention, if not for the surprised reaction of the Matsumori girl, and the look in the eyes of the harpy: a dirty, mean look, contradicting her false demure expression, a look which changed to furious when she glanced into another direction.

Of course, it had to have something to do with her, thought Saitoh, as he followed Niwada's stare, only to get Takagi Tokio in his field of view. He noticed then that Fujiki was also fixing her. The official's eyes, blurred by a heavy ingestion of sake, didn't hide the least what kind of thoughts she inspired him. She was easily the most beautiful woman in the room, and she received admiring looks, yet, Fujiki's expression was going farther than did two of the young Kyoto officials' at her table. Even from where he was, Saitoh could see that they were trying to attract her attention, like two roosters competing in a farmyard.

Imada, as he didn't get an answer from his colleague, realized their center of interest, and began, on a nostalgic tone, to blabber about the defunct mother of the girl. His attitude switched to pompously satisfied, when it appeared to get the total attention of the people around him, thanks to a ton of anecdotes, a good part of which were unknown to the others. Takagi Ryoko had been "the" famous beauty of the court for almost 20 years, and her sudden death, while she was still quite young, had added to her "legend". Everybody seemed eager to talk about her, and to agree on the fact that Tokio was the spitting image of her mother. Imada also alluded to the question on who would become the lucky man, as Takagi Kojuuro had been. Yet, as it was obviously the ambition of one or two fathers around, and installed a climate of uneasiness, he directed again his tales on the past.

Saitoh shrugged, thinking inwardly that he wouldn't call the man who would marry the little witch lucky, but irremediably doomed. He looked around, quickly tired of the sugary stories of Imada, and vaguely pissed off. These morons couldn't have cared less about the political gossips the man had been providing, yet they were all ears for these. And people wondered why the Bakufu was in trouble. He frowned slightly, thinking that he might refuse the next sake cup. His tolerance to imbeciles was way lower than his alcohol one, and testing both at the same time might be a bad idea right now.

He wasn't the only one to get the first effects of inebriety, obviously. Sake was still flowing from flasks to cups, male faces were showing new colors, from pink to deep red, and the guests had started to leave their assigned seats, to mingle, or wander outside the room. He noticed Okita and Hijikata leaving their table, and joining the Daimyo's, to report, certainly. Kondo had gone, a moment earlier, Saitoh knew that he was checking on the Shinsengumi sentinels himself. Takagi and the other Aizu officials there were conversing in an extremely cordial way, the news was hence good, and their daughters' giggling, though it stopped quickly as they noticed the disapproving, hawkish glance that Matsudaira Michiko was sending to them, was a proof that the atmosphere had greatly relaxed. Except for the two admirers of Takagi Tokio, both completely drunk, who were furiously arguing, and finished by getting the attention of the people around, when one punched the other. Some elder immediately stood up and fetched them, almost dragging them outside. Young idiots, Saitoh reflected scornfully, giving a last glance at the table.

What he saw made him narrow his eyes. The little witch was reaching for a flask of sake. He couldn't see her eyes, hidden below her thick eyelashes, as her face was bent down, but she was smiling. A little triumphing, satisfied smile, the same she had had on the first day of the trip, when she had obtained from him the delay she had wanted. It lasted a mere second: the next one, she had turned to her father, her lips curved sweetly now, her gray orbs full of innocence, in a flawless portrayal of the proper young lady. She even managed to seem slightly flustered, hinting that the scene had shocked her.

She had provoked it. No doubt possible, he had figured out her well in that respect.

Her maneuver wasn't without consequences: the Kyoto men next to him were now commenting on a local political problem, which they had just heard to be the object of the brawl, and the tension had grown a bit at the other tables, too. It faded, with the arrival of the last course, and more alcohol, but Saitoh's instincts were awoken.

He had first thought that she had used her charms to pit the two morons against each other, women and their shallow, narcissist tempers seemed to enjoy having men fighting over them, but if it was about politics, it was different. The subject in disagreement might be common knowledge, yet women usually couldn't understand, nor were interested enough in politics to use it. Less accurately, and considering that even Imada and Fujiki's sons at his table, were highly uninformed, he couldn't attribute it to a regional trend in Aizu's families. He might keep an eye on her..

And she wasn't there anymore. While he had focused on his direct surroundings, Okita and Hijikata had been back, but she and her father were gone. He turned to the Daimyo's group: Takagi was indeed there, discussing with Matsudaira, but she wasn't, and Matsudaira Michiko's lips were pinched tightly, her severe gaze fixed on the place where the girl should have been.

Kojima Miyu proposed him more sake, which he refused, unlike Fujiki, who took advantage of it to touch the girls' hand, as if by accident. If the others were too caught in the conversation to pay any attention to such details, it didn't escape the father's eyes, and they were clearly showing his disapproval. The girl, for her part, had tightened her hold on the bottle, knuckles white..angry. Saitoh felt the second public fight of the evening coming, and if it hadn't been a possible obstacle to the Daimyo's plans, he would have wondered with bemusement which one, of the parent or offspring, would deck the drunken moron first. Nagakura saved the situation: pretending to want a private conversation with Fujiki, he settled between the girl and the idiot. Saitoh decided to retain the detail to tease the placid man on his gentleman qualities later, and to use the very thankful look that both the family members sent him, too. That would be interesting to see if something would finally unnerve that guy. He started to think that the second captain was training for zazen in secret. Annoying most of the others was so easy, and especially Harada, that it wasn't even funny. Having a new distraction could be fine.

And Imada was blabbering again.

I figured you out, you can shut up, he thought disdainfully.

Kojima stood up, and left after a last look at his daughter. That was an excellent occasion to get away from the insufferable gossiping morons, and Kojima was precisely the only one whose temper was still a relative enigma. Saitoh would also try to find where the Takagi girl had been gone. He doubted that she was plotting.but one never knew, as Okita often said.

Saitoh was welcomed on the engawa by sounds of regurgitation. He spotted one or two drunks throwing their guts out, and others lying pitifully on the floor, half passed out and drooling. Morons. Politicians.

Kojima had turned his head at his arrival, and nodded in recognition.

"I know that Takagi has already thanked you, but I would like to," he said, putting tobacco into a pipe, and proposing a match to the captain, who already had a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

Saitoh protested that he had merely accomplished his duty, and accepted the match with the required humility. He didn't like having to respect the etiquette, though it was only a consequence of respecting order, but a part of him didn't mind it when fooling his investigation subjects. Kojima had given him the impression of a simple man, so far, in the good sense of the term. He hadn't been interested in Imada's gossip as much as the others, and his political views had been expressing loyalty, and not personal interest, unlike Fujiki, who was glaringly following his financial purposes. He was nevertheless more intelligent than Kawashita, whose remarks had been plainly idiotic. That didn't fit. Why would an otherwise obedient man refuse the idea of a public declaration of support? That could be discretion..that could be the kind of details that would betray the traitor. The man was a bit drunk, too, and might cross himself more.

"No, I insist. With these rebels attacking our interests.I don't trust them to stop there..they won't," went on the older man.

"Traitors never stop," Saitoh approved of. That was a very mild way to put his thoughts.

"No, they don't. That's why I wasn't very happy with that trip..and that I'm grateful to the Shinsengumi.."

Saitoh just nodded.

"They can burn my rice fields, but I don't want my daughter to be attacked..She's the only child whom I have left.."he finished, to sink into a deep, thoughtful silence.

Saitoh made a mental note to lead Imada on the subject, in Kojima's absence, just to check if there could be another direction to follow there, but he had now the reason of his reluctance: prudence.

After uttering a few banalities, he finished smoking his cigarette, and excusing himself, wandered in search for his other center of interest.

Kondo wasn't surprised to find Tokio waiting for him, in the dark, sitting on the wooden stairs of the left aisle entrance. He couldn't suppress an indulgent smile. She knew that he always used to have a word with his sentinels, whenever he was invited here or at Tsuruga-jo.

"Michiko-sama won't be very happy about your sneaking out," he nevertheless scolded, sitting next to her. He lacked of conviction, and was aware of it. "And it might be dangerous for you to wander alone. I thought that you would know it."

She shrugged off his words, with a charming expression. "But I wanted to talk to you, Kondo-sama."

The wooden face lit with a nostalgic smile, and he forgot his intention of lecturing her. It reminded him of all the times he had discussed with her, when she was little. She was always waiting for him at the barn of the Takagi residence, the days of his arrival, to be the first to welcome him, she said. He was considering her as a daughter; even now that he had one on his own. She had always been seeking for his advice, and he remembered how responsible it had made him feel, not as a kenjutsu teacher, but as a person, and how flattered he had been by the devotion of the little girl. He had found it funny at first, considering how loving her parents were. and she had been an only child for so long. A chibi Ryoko..No wonder he was so attached to her, too.

"I knew that you would want to, after the discussion I had with your father before dinner. Yet, she must already be unsatisfied by your attitude of the other day."

He had been moved by her show of loyalty, the day before. He didn't care about people's despise for his origins. He was used to it, and all that counted was that he could serve his Daimyo and his country faithfully. Nevertheless, he had appreciated it.

The gray eyes hardened slightly. "Matsudaira-sama would never have let her talk to you like that."

She then looked at him, apologetically. She didn't expect to be thanked or to have her behavior acknowledged. She seemed now bothered at the idea that she might have offended his pride by stepping in. He shook his head slightly, to tell her that he wasn't.

After a relieved smile, she stayed silent a minute.

"So, Father told you?" she finally whispered.

"Yes. I can imagine that you aren't very enthusiastic."

"Kondo-sama, I can't marry now. And never a man like him. I can't believe that they want me to," she exclaimed.

He stared at her, surprised at her vehemence. Oh, he could understand her. Her mother had had the same reaction, so many years ago, in spite of her feelings. He had nevertheless always thought that Tokio had a very different temper than Ryoko, and could accept the situation. But thinking about it, after losing part of her family, her reaction was only natural. It wasn't only an understandable one, but he knew her enough to realize what she had been trying to do, since Ryoko's death. She just had to be aware that it would lead her nowhere.

He hence nodded, with comprehension. He had been the one to explain to her the why of so many situations, he would make her understand this one. He would not be indulgent, if she refused to listen. He owed it to Kojuuro, to whom he had promised his help. But, in the memory of Ryoko, he would also help her daughter to have a sheltered life, as she wanted.

There she was.

Saitoh heard the little witch's voice resounding in the dark, outside the deserted entrance of the left aisle, and walked carefully towards the end of the engawa. She was conversing, and he was curious to know with whom. He couldn't find a logical reason for her being part of the conspiracy, especially with her name on top of the killing list, yet, her behavior was weird.

Maybe his chase for the traitor would be shorter than he...He sighed silently, almost disappointed as he recognized Kondo's voice. Definitely, she wasn't plotting. He was still curious, yet decided to leave, not wanting to be surprised while spying on his superior, when very pleasant words hit his ears.

"Your attitude has been absolutely irresponsible, Tokio-san..."

He would have still wondered why she talked with Kondo, and alone, though the friendship Okita had talked about could explain a certain familiarity, but now, he got it all. Somebody was finally giving her the scolding that she deserved, and he leaned on the wall, to enjoy a tad more of that music to his ears. He had been the first victim of her foolishness, after all. He had hidden her involvement in the attack to everybody, as he was supposed to protect her and her reputation, unfortunately, but he still had to explain everything to Kondo. If there was a thing that he hated, it was to admit committing a mistake, and though his leader had obviously appreciated his discretion about the girl, which he understood now, he had been scolded for his "arrogance". He deserved it, fine, but he still didn't like it. And it was her fault. He hence deserved also a little payback. He would have preferred to do it himself, and personally, he would have liked to hear the tone of voice Kondo used with his men, instead of this sensible, too nice one, yet, he wasn't going to be cheated on this little satisfaction.

Loud laughs resounded in the backyard, preventing him from seizing the flow of the conversation any more. Damn drunkards. He assured that nobody was coming his way, and thought that he might finally leave, when the cries stopped as suddenly as they had started, and he could understand very clearly the girl's voice.though her words made him doubt on his hearing.

"..he might not have told you, but Saitoh's carelessness could have cost me my life..and his, if it matters in any way. He blatantly ignored what I indicated him, reason why I had to intervene, and I got hurt."

"Tokio-san, the only thing that might have cost you your life, is your indiscipline. And Saitoh told me all about this incident. I judged better not to reveal the extend of your actions, to spare your father and your reputation.."

"He told you?" Her voice betrayed her amazement.

"Of course he did. You seem to forget that my men must not hide anything from me. Are you doubting about my authority?"

"No, but.."

Saitoh didn't listen further, and compelled himself to walk calmly in the garden's direction, trying to contain a wave of cold furor. The little, wicked witch DARED. He couldn't care less, at the moment, that her tactics had backfired, neither that Kondo had been frankly angry, nor her tone contrite afterwards. Neither he minded more that her surprise had been insulting his honor, which would have been enough in usual circumstances for him to ask for her head.

But she had tried to use him to avoid her punishment for her foolish behavior, and, considering how poisonously satisfied her voice had been when denouncing him, she had tried to create problems for him with his superior, for a childish need of revenge. The spoilt "lady" had not swallowed their face off in the woods. Well, he wouldn't digest that one. Her manipulations were stupid and dangerous. And she couldn't ignore that samurai could be ordered to commit seppuku for less than dissimulating a fact from their superior.

He stopped near the secondary pond in the backyard, taking a long, steady breath. She needed more than a scolding. She needed a lesson.

He imagined handing her to the Choshu clan, with a red line on her neck so that even this incapable fighter of Katsura will know where he should apply his sword..The pleasant perspective helped him to calm down, just as he saw Kondo coming back to the main room by the engawa of the left aisle.

He was pondering whether to join the girl for a little discussion, when he spotted a feminine figure getting out of the right aisle, to wander in the garden. His anger finished to vanish, and a wicked smirk crossed his features. Oh, that was even better than anything he could have come up with.

"Michiko-sama," he bowed politely, when the newcomer was near enough.

She answered distantly, looking around. She wasn't hiding her contrariety, and Saitoh knew what she was looking for. Who she was looking for, more exactly.

"May I help you?" he asked, using his most obsequious attitude.

She considered him a second. The fact that he was a samurai's son was surely weighting in her decision to continue the conversation. "Have you been here for a long time?"

"A little while, yes. Can it be of any use?"

His deference seemed to win over her, and she relaxed a bit. "I wondered if you saw.a young lady around here, maybe sick, and going back to her room?"

He pretended to hesitate, too. She didn't care much for commoners, but she was obviously very careful of her little protégés' reputation. He felt almost sympathetic to her, for having to deal with the witch's childish behavior on a daily basis.

"Oh. Indeed, I think that I saw..but I wouldn't want to embarrass anyone.."

"Of course," she approved, her brown eyes now appreciative.

"I have the recollection of a young lady, in a red kimono, walking out of the left company of a man, though I couldn't say who it was."

The deep frown of Michiko announced nothing good for Takagi Tokio, and Saitoh enjoyed the success of his maneuver.

"Of course, being inebriated, I surely made a mistake," he added, as a final touch.

She glanced at him with definite sympathy, this time. "Thank you, Captain Saitoh. The lady in question is a source of trouble, though she has excuses..I am a failure for not completing my duty of looking after her. I apologize if her behavior shocked you."

Definitely, Saitoh was sharing her good dispositions. The woman was uptight and arrogant, but she was only thinking of accomplishing her task, which was certainly not easy, and ready to take her responsibilities even in front of him, who was still inferior to her on the social scale..Not unlike he would do with his underlings in front of Kondo or Hijikata. Their tacit understanding allowed him a remark on it.

"I am sure that all the sensible ladies appreciate greatly your guidance, Michiko-sama."

He thought that she might have been offended by the liberty that he took to comment, yet she was pleased with the compliment. "I think so, and this one will also..even if it means being harsh on her, for her own good. Discipline has to lead our lives, and particularly, a dutiful woman's."

He couldn't agree more. He wasn't surprised anymore at the girl's dislike for that sensible and intelligent governess. After an extremely polite bow, they parted way, and he finally let his smirk reappear. Takagi Tokio would be taken care of. Matsudaira Michiko wouldn't be easy on her.

And it would be the last time that, for a few minutes, his reactions to her would make him forget momentarily his missions, he decided, realizing that he should already be back in the reception room, and get information on Kojima from Imada. He had no time to waste on her, and had no excuses for it. But that would never happen again.

Tokio stayed on the stairs for a second after Kondo's departure, but she was so dismayed that she needed to go walking in the garden to calm her nerves. She was going to take the engawa's way, when she spotted Michiko getting out of her room, and stepped quickly into the garden. The annoying woman was already looking for her. She wasn't the only one who had left the reception, though.

She stepped carefully into the smallest stony road. Maybe she could manage to reintegrate her seat without being found, while Michiko was playing the righteous shepherd. She'd have time to make up an excuse, and if not taken on the spot, Michiko would have to swallow her scolding.

She turned around, feeling a presence, but after starring at the dark surroundings for a few seconds, she concluded that her mind was playing tricks on her.


She walked a little more, to check on the secondary pond's side, watching from behind a big maple tree.

The sight of him discussing civilly with Michiko made her stomach churn. He had a creepy smile, and she was very glaringly pleased at his show of..disgusting, obsequious politeness.

Since her talk with Kondo, she had been in somewhat of a shock, realizing that she had been fooling herself. The revelation that Saitoh had told the naked truth to his leader had also bewildered her, making her wondering whether she had been wrong on him. Maybe he didn't try to escape to his duties, and to his responsibilities, for the sake of his influence in the Shinsengumi. She had been so ready to believe it, that she had apologized to Kondo for her attitude. He still had been angry towards her, and at that moment, she had thought that he was righteously so. Of course, she had known that he wouldn't ask for Saitoh to commit seppuku, after all, he didn't hide all of her participation, and anyway he deserved a scolding for his incompetence.or maybe a few degrading chores, that had been a very entertaining perspective. But wrongly accusing an honest man had never been in her intentions. She really thought that he had shut up because he was a self-centered coward. And then that he might be an honorable man, after all.

But seeing him behaving like he was now with Michiko, she realized that she had been right from the beginning. The governess was leaving the place, and his attitude changed completely. He was smirking cruelly. Tokio didn't know what they had talked about, yet she was sure that he had been using Michiko for something. Seduce her and enter the circle of Matsudaira? Possible, the woman was an idiot, ready to fall in the bed of the first man passing around, and a sick bastard shouldn't repulse her too much.

Tokio shook her head, trying to contain her anger, and walked again to appease it, taking the sideway, to avoid meeting Saitoh. One thing was for sure: he was whom she had thought, an obsequious coward, obsessed by his promotion in the Shinsengumi. If he had told the truth, it was because he had been a step ahead of her. It was a strategy. She had been stupid enough not to hide her dislike, and it was only obvious that she would tell Kondo- sama. And he had been mad at her, by this vile manipulator's fault, when she was right.

Now, if she couldn't find a way out of that wedding, she would rather die..or better, she thought, her bitterness changing into determination, yes, better, she would find a way that he did. The Shinsengumi didn't need that kind of Captain, anyway, hence it would be no love lost. Cowards running after honors and wealth could only stab Kondo-sama in the back, sooner or later.

She was arriving by the bushes separating the rest of the garden from the first pond's scenery, when she bolted in surprise, hearing noises on her right. What was that?

Approaching a massive of azalea, next to the sakura tree, she noticed a little furry thing getting out of it. A kitten!

She loved kitten.

It stopped neat on its tracks, mewling in a desperate complaint. She kneeled, and extended her hand, puzzled to see it hiss furiously. She smiled friendly, encouragingly, and finally the little thing calmed down and trotted to her. It wasn't long before she could hold it, and had it purring of contentment. It had been trembling, how weird.

She frowned, feeling a presence around. What an idiot she was, she should have hurried back to the reception room, instead of staying there stupidly. If it were Michiko, she would be in trouble.

A figure exited the little way on her left, and she wasn't very relieved to realize that it wasn't the stupid woman.

Because it was Saitoh Hajime.

Was bad luck ever going to give him a break?

Saitoh had been on his way back to the reception room, focusing again on his duty, and repressed a curse when he stumbled, again, upon Takagi Tokio.

She had been coming by the other way around the garden, obviously. She was holding a kitten, and, as soon as she recognized him, she took a haughty, cold composure. He thought that it was because she had been scolded by Matsudaira Michiko, but realized that she didn't have the time to. The little witch had escaped again a well deserved punition...

Wait a second. That wasn't his bad luck, but hers. He smirked dirtily. They were alone, hidden from the view of the guests, and the reception was extremely noisy. It was probably the moment to have that little word with her..

"Captain Saitoh," she addressed him, with a hostility not hidden by her sweet tone. "Trying to avoid your duties, hiding in the garden?"

..or better, just to put his hands around her throat and to squeeze it slowly, until she begged and apologized.

"Tokio! Were have you been? Oh, Captain Saitoh," added Takagi Kojuuro, surprised, realizing his presence.

He had arrived just in time to prevent Saitoh from executing his murderous fantasy. Her expression changed within a second, and she smiled shyly, letting the pet escape so that her father would notice it. Amazing. Dissimulation itself.

"I'm sorry, Father, I was not feeling too well, and went for a little walk, and.."she said, looking apologetically at the running animal.

The man was now looking indulgently at her, before giving a little bow to Saitoh.

"Captain Saitoh, I hope that my daughter's behavior was not offending you.."

Saitoh wanted to answer that yes, it did, for multiple reasons. Not polite. He found better.

"I already know that your daughter likes wandering alone..and that I might have better to keep an eye on her," he answered, respectful towards the father, but utterly patronizing towards her.

Her swift, furious glare made him recover his satisfied attitude. Strangling her would have been better, but he could settle on that.he wasn't as childish as she was. The very pleased reaction of Takagi surprised him, though.

"Thank you," said warmly Takagi. "Tokio-san, Matsudaira-sama is going to make his closing speech. Let's go back."

"Yes, Father," she answered demurely, and followed him, turning to send to Saitoh a last, venomous look.

He answered by lifting a mocking brow, watching them leave, before regaining the main room, too.

The small dagger was hitting the sakura tree's trunk steadily, knock after knock. She was so disappointed.

She had let go of the kitten, when she had seen the beautiful doll walking in the garden alone. Oh, she knew, it was forbidden to play with the dolls. But it had been so tempting.

Maybe no one would have noticed, after all.

So she had let the kitten go. She wanted to play with dolls. She had to. She needed to. Kittens were only fun for a while.

The woman applied more force on the weapon, her frustration growing. The mean samurai had arrived, preventing her to play her games. Mean, mean, mean..

She bit her tongue, savoring briefly the familiar taste of her own blood, filling her mouth, calming her rage. She finally smiled.

Another time, pretty doll. Another time..

To be continued..

I hopefully will approach the creation of the perfect nutcase.

There are lots of characters appearing here, but I can't have a party with two or three people (-). Just in case, following Mary-Ann's advice: Niwada is the father of Torimi (Tokio's enemy), and Matsumori the father of Aiko (Tokio's friend, the sick girl). Imada, Fujiki, Kojima (father of Tokio's friend Miyu) and Kawashita (father of Kana, Torimi's friend) are the Aizu officials reluctant to sign the declaration.

Takagi calls Tokio "san", as it is the etiquette in public. For the same reason, he apologizes to Saitoh even if he is technically a superior: it's mere politeness (and they are both samurai). And same for Michiko: she is responsible for the girls and her faults are hence hers.

Saitoh avoids Tokio a tragic destiny..too bad that he has no idea about it, though for now he would be rather disappointed (-).

Oh, I didn't precise about the wedding before, because it was quite obvious to me that the arranged marriage would show up sooner or later (-).

Tsuruga-jo was the castle of the Aizu lords. It was destroyed by the Meiji government in 1874, and re-built in the 20th century.

I have now my website! Thank you so much, Firuze, that was a great present! The link is on my profile (-). It's incomplete for now, there is just the fanfiction section opened, but I'll work on the other parts from now on. You'll find there my fics, Moonlight by Firuze, Mary-Ann's, and L.Sith's. Thank you three guys! And thank you for your help, comments and support. They are precious to me.

Next chapter: Another night, and other kind of parties..oh, and love is in the air for unexpected people. Lol.