We meet again. I know most of you thought I had dropped of the edge of the world but really my classes had just started back up again at college. After writer's block and burn out from writing one mind numbing paper after another (honestly how many ways can you dissect some long dead existentialist writer anyway) I am finally bringing to you chapter 7. A few things before we begin.
I have chapter 8 started but no promises. I will not even be turning on this computer for anything
other than essays and papers through the middle of May as this is crunch time for school. Right
now all my profs seem to be of the mind that more papers are good papers.
Also the lemon scene is on hold indefinitely. It's just to hard at the moment to get that out.
Eventually I'll write it and post it and the angels will sing and so forth. Until then use your
imagination because last chapter was my lime scene.
Ok so enjoy and leave me some reviews. It only took seven months but here we go.
(This chapter has been revised for grammar and spelling. I hadn't realized that my computer
didn't save the edited version. Sorry but all errors should be fixed.)
The ground was soft beneath his feet, seeming to groan and bow beneath his weight. The rain had started just after sunset, though the sky had long ago lost it's luster. Now even the feeble moonlight was lost behind the veil of angry clouds that clung so fiercely to the evening sky. Lightening, jagged and broken, flashed threateningly across the sky, forcing fleeting glimpses of a field littered with bodies.
Water tinted red from battle swirled absently around his feet as he trudged on, past the outflung arms and twisted faces of the dead. Amber eyes, bright with bloodlust, shone eerily in the rainy darkness. A snarl revealed briefly on a face twisted with rage and then darkness again and only those eyes remained, staring through through you. Sweat and rain mingled on his skin, his hands slick as he skirted those who had fallen. He never glanced at their faces, instead stalked ever forward. He knew battle, it had been in his blood too long not to know that some of the fallen were those he knew, others strangers. And yet he could give them no pity, no grief for his soul was numb to them. The scent of battle was too strong now and everything else was simply pushed away into a darkened background.
He heard someone cry hoarsly behind him, a sword through the stomache he thought. A harsh death, painful and slow. But he never stopped. He was looking for him, ever looking. And then he saw him. The slick of lightening off metal, the curse of men as bodies and swords collided. A feral grin spread across his face as he adjusted his grip.
Finally, he breathed, finally.
* * *
He jerked awake suddenly, his muscles tense even as he reached for his sword. The blade lay beside the bed, abandoned but not forgotten in passion. It was then he felt the shift of the body lying next to him. Kaoru was held firmly against his body, her head resting trustingly against his chest, her raven hair billowing around him like sable. Almost reverently he reached down and ran hands that had, for so long, only known a sword through that black silk. Interlacing his fingers he stared at the strange contrast that stared back at him. Coarse against softness, brutal against gentle. He cursed silently and crushed her hair in his fist, strength against weakness.
The night still lingered on the edge of dawn, the air still and silent.The world lay silent as the first fingers of dawn slid across the sky. Black tinged slowly to blues and violets. Fires, long abandoned, lay as smoldering coals while the burr of summer insects hissing through the air lay as a quiet background to it all. It was times like these, the early mornings that usually haunted him, when the past flooded back, drowning him The quiet, the peace that seemed to hang over the world always sat oddly with him. He had never understood peace nor the lingering need people felt for it. His life was wrapped irrevocably in battle, in the conquest of the fight.
Absently he ran his fingers across the smooth skin of his lover's shoulder. She lay beside in him in a sprawled tangle of limbs and hair, a worn blanket wrapped loosely about her. She sleeps like the dead, he mused. No, like an innocent, a voice in his mind shot back. Someone who did not have the echos of screams to wake them nor the feel of steel to chill them. No, Kaoru was an innocent but how long would she remain so if she were to stay with him? He had acquired many enemies in his life. It had never troubled him overly much before but now- now he had her.
So fierce, his Kaoru, so ready to take on a world she knew so little about. She never questioned what might lie in the shadows, or lurk just beyond sight. He was not granted that sweet ignorance. Too long he had been that dreaded thing that brought fear to the eyes and death on a quick breath. He had stood, blade drawn and stared into eyes that grew dark with fear and then blind in death.
They still haunted his nigh, those nameless faces, pale and lifeless, that swam through his dreams. Their eyes always staring at him, through him, him in mute accusation. Cold lips frozen in screams that even now echoed -
"Battousai?" The sleepy question drew him from his dark thoughts. Even in sleep, he mused, she still seeks to protect. Warmth flowed through him at the thought. It had been so long since any had sought to protect him.
"Go back to sleep. It's still early yet." Her answer was to nuzzle against his side, her breath hot against his skin. A smile spread sweetly across a face so foreign to the expression one might have been forgiven for staring. "Go back to sleep," He repeated against her hair. "I kept you up most of the night and if you don't stop that you won't be getting any more rest this morning."
He felt the smile against his chest where she had sprawled herself.
"Oh really? I think I could suffer being a little sleep deprived if . . . "
"If?" One flame colored brow rose in question. My, but wasn't she just full of surprises this morning?
"If you made it worth my while." He laughed at that. A totally unconscious act that caused Kaoru's breath to catch in her throat. Amber eyes turned liquid with mirth as full, sensual lips captured Kaoru's suddenly undivided attention. It was the first time she had seen him laugh. Not smirk or mock but actually, boisterously laugh. She felt her heart freeze and then melt in her chest.
"Well then I suppose - "
Suddenly he froze. Every muscle tensing, turning his grip to steel around her. Eyes narrowed as he stared at the doorway to their small tent. Kaoru's eyes followed his but the space was empty, everything quiet.
He felt them the moment they had entered the camp. They had not made a sound, had not disturbed a single blade of grass or broken a single twig. They wrapped themselves in stealth and confidence. They were good . . . but he was better. He slipped his hand across Kaoru's mouth to silence her and slid from beneath her, naked but for the sword held casually in his hand. His fingers slid absently along the hilt, caressing the worn leather. He shrugged into faded pants that had been thrown so hastily on the floor only a few hours before. With a small gesture for Kaoru to stay put he disappeared out the small door.
And was gone.
* * *
The earth was cool beneath his feet, the grass still holding dew that would vanish beneath the punishing rays of the summer sun. But now it clung to the earth and his skin. The ground was muddy from the rain, a myriad of footprints crisscrossing through it. He moved easily around it, more a reflex than anything else. No need to give these intruders any advantage.
His breath was even as he stalked through the camp, the snores and movements of those in the tents were loud in the predawn silence. He passed the sentries with ease, their eyes trained out to the trees ringing the small encampment. His feet made no noise as he circled the encampment, tracing the intruders' path. There were four of them, traveling lightly which meant they were planning on getting in and getting out without notice. But what were they planning on doing while they were slinking around his camp? Wreck havoc on Murai's little army? Possibly. Kill him? Probably. That brought a smirk to his mouth. They wouldn't be the first or the last to attempt it.
Moving faster now he swung past a tent, its canvas walls bowing lightly in the wind, and finally caught sight of them. They clung to the fading shadows with a skill that had Battousai's eyes narrowing. These weren't mere rebels, even well trained rebels. This had the taste of money and the assassins that it could hire. Covered in black from head to toe, their swords were secured to their back in the signature black sheaths of the Onis. The Demons. They spread out across several feet and slunk forward, toward an apparently random tent. It took only a moment to realize it was no random tent though.
It was his.
* * *
Kaoru felt the chill slither down her spine. Pulling the blankets tighter around her body, she stared where Battousai had disappeared. What the hell was going on? He had just zipped out with nothing more than a stay-here-or-else look and left her sitting here naked. The ass! Angry heat replaced the cold worry that had been coursing through her. Tossing the blankets aside she grabbed her gi and dressed with quick, furtive movements. How dare he just traipse off and leave her with no explanation. Damn it, if there was a fight she had just as much right to be there as he did.
Oh how her hand itched for her bokken. The feel of strong wood beneath her fingers and the sting of impact in sparring. But even though she had longed to bring it, even secretly, with her she had known that prisoners didn't carry weapons. Even prisoners who were assuming debts of others.
Sometimes it is better to just meet a threat head on. With a determined gleam Kaoru looked around the tent for some kind of weapon. Sadly it was woefully lacking in anything that even came near, so instead she grabbed the small pan Battousai used every night for cooking. It was a pitiful thing and not likely to due much damage but it was something at least. Pan gripped tightly in her hands, she emerged from the sun-bleached canvas to an unusual sight.
Battousai stood alone, his eyes narrowed toward the lingering shadows of night. His face was like stone, expression melted from its hard surface. Until he saw her. She never knew if she made some sound, a gasp perhaps, or if he had just felt her, but suddenly she had the full intensity of that amber gaze on her. Icy calculation slipped away when he saw her. Fear slithered across gold. Fear? In all the time she had known him, she had never seen fear in those eyes. What could bring fear to Battousai?
And then she knew.
She felt the metal slide silently against the fragile skin of her throat, as silently as the feet that had approached her. Her gaze slid to the side to view the black clad face that now rested beside hers. She could not even see his eyes for they were trained only on Battousai.
Battousai stared on, anger raging through his blood. He ignored the fear filling him at the sight of that sword held so casually at Kaoru's throat. He knew the threat the assassin was making. Move and Kaoru was dead. Battousai never doubted that sword would be drawn across her throat if he took a single step forward. These men did not make idle threats, nor did they consider their own deaths too high a price to pay.
They circled him now, their swords at the ready should he attempt to attack. They knew his identity and were taking no chances. Their precautions were justified but even Battousai had his limits. He could not take down so many well-trained fighters, not if he expected to find Kaoru alive at the end of it. Frustration welled within him and his hands tightened around his sword. He saw the Onis tense and watch him closely. Though they held Kaoru, they knew he could always ignore her life and simply kill them. Anxiety thickened the air as each man weighed their options.
It was a strange sight, two fighters so exquisitely trained, so steeped in death staring silently at each other in the weak light of first dawn. Strange perhaps but there they stood, each unwilling to break away, to back down and concede defeat. To those of their ranks to surrender was unthinkable, better an honorable death than an ignoble life. Kaoru could feel the blood pounding in her veins, her body was taut as her gaze darted from one man to the other. Well hell, this just wasn't going to end well.
She felt a husky breath slither across her cheek. A laugh, she supposed, from the shadowy man behind her. He pulled the sword just enough for a thin sliver of blood to slide down her throat and then he shifted as if reaching for something. Kaoru noticed this all absently though for she was watching, entranced as Battousai eyes met hers for the first time since this silent war had begun. She was powerless to look away from that stare, those amber eyes filled with so many things. Anger, fear, and something so primitive it made the breath freeze in her throat.
And then a flash of red sped past her and landed skillfully at Battousai's feet. Mud slurped at the impacts and clung to the polished metal.
Battousai regarded the dagger lodged in the earth at his feet dispassionately. Secured to the hilt was a sliver of red silk rope that curled around a small piece of parchment. Slowly, deliberately he leaned down and plucked the weapon from the ground. The weight of metal felt foreign to his hand for the first time in him life. Even as his mind raged against the situation, he forced himself to examine the blade. The dagger was exquisite, even now he knew a valuable weapon when he saw one. The detailed metal work etched along the short hilt and even along the thin blade bespoke of countless hours of labor. This was not some random knife meant to intimidate, this particular weapon had been chosen with care. His eyes narrowed as he saw that the random curving lines blended into a single stylized dragon that swam its way from hilt to blade as it spewed fire toward the silver tip.
His eyes flew to the man who dared to hold Kaoru and slid involuntarily down to the thin line of blood even now soaking the top of her simple blue kimono. His hands tightened until they turned white from the strain but he made no further move but to stare coldly at the swordsman.
"A gift from an admirer."
He merely nodded and then slowly slide the paper from its coil of rope. The parchment was heavy and thick between fingers that were uncommonly steady. A single name stared back at him written in a bold, black script.
"Three days." The words echoed sourly. Then they were gone, Kaoru with them. Between one breath and the next they had taken the one thing that had ever mattered to him.
The paper crumbled slowly in his fist and then fell lifelessly to the hot summer wind. Dawn was breaking as he turned and walked away, he would gather his thing and then he would seek the one thing he knew far too much about. Vengeance.
There on the ground sat a tattered square of paper with only a few letters scattered across it. A single name that seemed so innocent.
* * *
Kaoru was never quite sure what happened. She only remembered the world going dark though she was conscious. She could be thankful for that she supposed. She had been knocked out enough times and kidnaped in her time with Battousai that he might think she considered this a pleasant past time. In truth it took her a few moments to realize that she had been blindfolded and seated on a horse. At least she was upright this time, though the uneven gait of the beast made riding less than a pleasurable affair.
Tentatively she touched her tongue against the gag that had been so quickly stuffed in her mouth. With this too, she felt she had had more than her share of intimate dealings with. Her hands were tied before her to the front of the saddle and forced her to lean forward slightly or have her arms wrenched from their sockets. This kept her constantly off balance which she was sure was her captors purpose in tying her in such a way. Someone who had to concentrate on keeping from falling head first off a horse is hardly in a position to cause trouble or try to escape. It was deceptively simple. Damn them.
After what seemed like hours on the stupid horse, Kaoru was hauled none too gently from her perch and trust into some kind of enclosure for she no longer felt the hot wind upon her face. She was covered in sweat and dirt, her kimono was slick with perspiration in several places. She knew she must look awful and she could personally attest she smelled that way. So it could be forgiven if her mood was not the best when she was slammed down into a hard wooden chair and grunted out to stay put. Neither her blindfold nor gag were removed. For added effect her hands were bound behind her back to make resting against the back of the chair impossible.
"Well, well always a pleasure to be graced by such beauty." The voice was smooth as a demon's and Kaoru froze in her struggles against her bonds. Two cool hands efficiently removed her gag and blindfold though she kept her eyes tightly shut as if to ward off the reality of that voice.
"Hoshi." The name was a mere croak against her dry lips but it carried all the dread that had welled up within her at the sound of his voice.
"I'm flattered you remember me." A mocking smile slid across full lips that seemed to always carry a cruel slant. "Because you made quite an impression on me. It's not everyday one is invaded by a tempting little captive spitting fire." Cold eyes gazed appreciatively at the form revealed by her now clinging kimono and Kaoru felt a chill snake through her.
"What have you done?"
"Done? Why what I always do. That which serves my goals best." At her confused expression Lord Hoshi merely laughed softly and drew the back of his finger softly across her cheek. "You, my lovely little hellcat, will be the rope that I use to tie Battousai to my will."
He moved away from her then to a small table in the corner and poured a glass of wine from a leather pouch laying beside a cup of beaten silver. The smell of rich red wine filled the small room and Kaoru felt her mouth go dry. She had had no water since being taken and the piece of cloth so unceremoniously stuffed in her mouth had resulted in her mouth feeling like cotton. To see Hoshi sip delicately at the fragrant brew was torture but she would die of thirst before she would ask for one drop from that bastard.
He walked back to her and paced before her, the cup held carelessly in his fingers.
"You see Battousai is not a man who's true loyalty can be bought. Oh he is faithful enough, to a point. Gathering information and dispatching a few key individuals who stood in my way but always he has refused to eliminate certain groups. This strains my patience considerably as I find these wars tedious. How many seasons must I tread across farmers' fields and siege keep after keep? A few shadowy visits and these infernal wars would end and I could take my rightful place." Hoshis's face was flushed red in anger and his hand now clutched his goblet tightly.
"My rightful place." Kaoru didn't think he was even aware she was there anymore. This was obviously something that had driven Hoshi for years and she doubted any words she could offer would affect him. So she remained silent and listened with a sense of morbid curiosity as he continued to pace.
"But he would never bend to my wishes. There was always the fear that at any moment he could walk away and never look back. He cannot be bought so maybe he can be threatened." He stopped abruptly and turned to her then. "That's where you come in. You see I sent him a little ultimatum. Follow one simple order or forfeit your life."
"One simple order?" She forced the words out past a throat gone tight with fear.
"Yes he just has to rid me of a single person." Kaoru waited for him to tell her who but he merely took a leisurely sip of wine and regarded her with amusement.
"Who?" He smiled at her question, clearly anticipating and enjoying her fear.
"Sagara, Sagara Sanosuke."
Kaoru felt the world narrow around her as Hoshi's word echoed dully in her ears. A scream welled within her as she stared at him in horror. Did he know what he was asking? That Battousai kill his own brother. Gods, she was going to die.
* * *
The small room smelled of sweat and stale liquor. It wasn't particularly large nor clean but he supposed it served its purpose. The blade felt heavy in his hand as he approached the prone figure lying so quietly on the small futon. Absently his fingers traced the elaborate designs on the metal beneath his fingers but his hand remained steady, determined.
Battousai moved forward on silent feet, his breath soft in the cramped room. A flair of red appeared above the threadbare blanket that covered his brother's form. His lips quirked faintly at the sight of two cumbersome feet hanging off the edge of the futon. A tall man had quite a time finding a suitable place in Japan but this was not why he had come. His face turned hard as he stood over his brother, taking in the slow rise and fall of his chest. The soft hiss of his breathing even as he held the dagger above him, suspended but the tips of his fingers.
And then he let it drop.
Sanosuke woke with a start at the sharp crack that sang through the air. He was met by the sight of a fierce blade only inches away, the moonlight sliding across the deadly metal.
"Well hello to you too, Battousai." The dry voice rang with annoyance as Sanosuke shifted to stare at Battousai. "Dramatic as always I see."
"Only around you Sanosuke."
"So glad I bring out the better qualities in you. I always knew - What happened?" Sano stared intently at the ravaged face only half revealed before him. Battousai seemed to flow from one shadow to the next as he stalked about the room, his feet silent even now.
"He took her."
"He." Battousai growled back. He felt the now familiar rage boil through him.
"Ah. Hoshi. Will he kill her?" That question had been racing through Battousai's mind for the past 19 hours. The exact amount of time it had taken him to retrace Sanosuke's steps and find him here. He felt cold now, as though ice were crawling through his veins.
"Yes." The word hung heavy in the stale air. Yes, Hoshi would kill her without a second thought, without remorse or regret. He would flick his wrist and the one thing Battousai had even valued, had ever truly wanted to protect, would be taken away from him.
Sanosuke did not miss the clenching of Battousai's fists. This from a man who never showed emotion, who would never think to give that advantage to another. It gave him an idea of just how much he had come to care for Kaoru.
"Demands?" Sano knew enough about Hoshi and men like him to know he planned out his every action, every move meticulously. He would not have risked Battousai's wrath for some trifle thing.
"Just one." Suddenly Battousai's breath was upon his face, his eyes staring intently into Sano's own and a certain dagger place squarely at his neck. But he merely smiled.
"Ahh, my death. How completely unoriginal." Battousai growled at his easy manner before dropping the dagger into Sano's lap. "He is testing you."
"I know that!" He hissed as he whipped away and began pacing again.
"He knows we are brothers."
"Fine, he knows that we are HALF-brothers."
"Obviously." Sanosuke smiled wryly at his brother's dry reply.
"So," Sano asked as he absently twirled the knife, "you going to end my 'miserable, wasted, useless and so on' life?"
"I might if I thought he would let her go. Hoshi isn't an idealistic or foolish man, he knows that once I have Kaoru back, I'm going to kill him. He's testing my limits. If I kill you, he will just throw another name, another person before me. Always holding Kaoru as the bait."
"A shitty situation all around." Battousai merely raised one eyebrow in disdain at his brother who was now avidly watching the dagger twirl about. Battousai snatched it away from him and buried it in the wall. Sano gave a pained look. "Damn it Battousai! That hag at the front is going to charge me for that. She already watches me like I am going to make off with anything not nailed down."
"Hey, that was one time. And that vase would have brought a nice price."
"It was an urn if I recall and it had the patron's mother's ashes." Sano grimaced.
"Well I obviously did know THAT at the time."
"Would it have stopped you?"
"Well- hey I thought we were trying to figure out what to do about Kaoru. You just can't leave her with Hoshi." Battousai moved to stand before the small window, pushing the rickety shutters open. Rain pelted down, splashing along the muddy ground.
"No. He'll kill her." The words were laden with the frustration and anger running through him. He would not let Hoshi have her.
"So what are we going to do?" Sanosuke asked as he slipped from the warmth of his bed and began to look for his clothes. They had to be around there somewhere.
"We're going to do the only thing we can."
"Oh really?" Sano's voice was muffled as he burrowed under various blankets in such of his gi. "What's that?"
"Go to the one man who can equal Hoshi." A muffled curse was heard from Sano as he pulled his gi from beneath his futon (how exactly it had gotten there he wasn't sure) and stared at Battousai.