Into the devil's den…
She had always hated hospitals. Megumi had interned at one every summer since high school, and she insisted on dragging her younger sisters with her to the ward to show off. The middle schooler had barely passed the revolving doors before an overwhelming surge of nausea threatened to choke her.
She had never gone back.
Now, as she gazed sightlessly at the sterile walls, even that familiar sense of panic would have been welcome. Anything but this sense of helplessness.
At least in this life,it has not touched you. Yet.
Was this what that….what she had meant?
"Misao? Are you all right? Do you want something to eat?"
She turned and looked into Megumi's worried cinnamon eyes and tried to smile. It was rare to see the eldest Hajime so shaken.
"Don't fuss over me, Meg. It's weird."
The taller girl tried on a shaky smile and settled herself down
"Soujiro's here. Outside."
Megumi laughed softly, and brushed a pale hand over her younger sister's forehead. She frowned at the heat.
"He's probably pacing outside with Sou. Where's Kaoru?"
Misao shifted, and her eyes were bright with fear.
"I don't know."
"Kaoru, I've been waiting for you."
She turned from the door and nervously clasped and unclasped her hands.
"Here I am."
He moved silently so that she jumped when his arms came around her waist. His breath ghosted over the shell of her ear and she stiffened.
"I missed you."
She felt a calloused hand on the skin left bare by the dress, and couldn't quite control her shudder.
"Kaoru?" He lightly traced circles on her throat. "Are you all right?"
She grabbed his hand, violent thoughts swirling in her head because really, enough was enough. Then she saw the bandage. Shocked at the deep gashes on his knuckles, she gasped and stepped back. Something crunched under her heel and she glanced down, distracted. Glass. She followed the trail of shards to a shattered wall mirror.
Was that blood?
"What are you stupid?" she exploded. His eyebrow kinked, but she was too wired to care. "What did you do? What if there's a glass shard in there, you idiot?" She cradled his hand in her own, her fingers shaking uncontrollably. "Here, move into the light so I can see."
He smiled, and for a moment his eyes were that of a little boy. "Are you…worried about me?"
She shrugged. "Hasn't anyone ever fussed over you before?"
His eyes darkened with a sort of terrifying rage and his shoulder jerked as if to ward of an unpleasant memory. He handed her the roll of bandages. "I have no one."
You're all I have.
She gave a hum of thanks, and satisfied that there was no glass in the cut, measured and ripped a length of gauze. "You have to be careful. Luckily, I don't think these are deep enough to need stitches, but still…"
"You came to me."
She paused, a heartbeat, and then wrapped the bandage. "You said that you had answers."
"So I did. What are your questions?"
Her eyes flashed silver briefly. "I didn't come to play."
"Before I knew you, you knew me, didn't you?" Irritation laced her voice, but her hands never ceased to be gentle.
"I would have known you anywhere." His voice was gentle. "No matter what form you take, no matter what time we meet. I would always know you, Kaoru."
She slowly slipped her hand out of his slack grip, her face pale with confusion. "Enishi, I don't understand."
"You were once a peasant named Sophia. Then a priestess named Hestia. In one life, you were a king's wife, ruler of a nation. Do you remember?" He reached for her, and she shrank back.
"In one life? What are you talking about?" Her voice shook, and she swallowed unease.
"Kaoru." He smiled then, and it was wild. His hand came to cradle her cold cheek. "We're meant to be together, you and me. We're soulmates."
Misao tugged miserably at her hospital gown as Tokio fussed around her. Her mother's chatter was falsely bright, her slim hands restless.
"Are you hungry, darling? Your father went out to get you some edible food. The doctor should be back by four. Then we'll see if we can take you home."
Misao said nothing as her mother's voice shook, but pushed the food on her plate around with her fork. A sound made both turn to the door. Megumi offered a shaky smile as she entered.
"Hi, baby." She whispered, her eyes tired. "I think Kaoru's here. She'll probably get yelled at by Okita, but she'll be right in. I talked to the doctor, and I think you're going to be okay."
Misao nodded, and closed her eyes, wondering why everyone around her seemed to have to lie.
"What the hell happened to you? Why are you still wearing last night's dress?" Okita rushed to his sister, taking in her pale face. Her gaze was unfocused, and when he took her shoulders, he was shocked to feel them shake. "Kaoru?"
She jumped, and seemed to come back into herself. "Hey. Where's Mi?"
"She's in her room. I don't know what's going on—the doctors won't tell us anything, but Meg's freaking out." Okita ran an unsteady hand through his hair. "Where have you been? I've been going out of my mind!"
"I'm sorry." She took his hand in his, warming it. "I'm here now. Who's in with Mi? Where's Dad?"
"Meg and Mom are in there with Misao, probably driving her nuts with their nagging." Okita barked out a harsh laugh. "Dad went out to get some food for her—she's not eating the hospital junk."
"I'll go in and see her."
"She's been asking for you. Better go in now."
She nodded and squeezed her twin's hand before slipping into the room.
A second of silence.
"AND DON'T FOR ONE SECOND THINK THAT I DON'T KNOW YOU DIDN'T ANSWER ME, MISSY!"
Tokio and Megumi turned to the younger girl, their eyes relieved and angry. She offered a sheepish smile in return, nervously fidgeting by the door.
Misao smiled weakly and patted a space beside her on the bed. "Hey, Kao."
Tokio rose gracefully and placed a kiss on her youngest daughter's forehead. "We'll just leave you two alone. I'll be back with good food, so you had best work up an appetite."
The door shut softly behind Megumi. Misao could hear them murmuring with Okita out in the hall.
"How are you feeling?" Kaoru was quiet as she climbed up on the bed. She stretched out next to her younger sister and grasped her smaller hand in hers. "Mi?"
"I'm scared," she whispered. "I feel like I'm losing my mind."
"Hey. What are you talking about?"
"I saw something, before Okita came in. It looked exactly like me. And it spoke to me. I'm going insane, aren't I? That's why I'm in here. Oh, God."
"Shhhh." Kaoru pressed a kiss to her sister's hair, her eyes worried. "You're not going crazy. You're not losing your mind. Trust me, okay?"
"Then what's happening to me?" Misao's voice rose, and it was tinged with panic. "I don't understand."
"Do you think that maybe that thing you saw—"
"What if it was real?"
"Oh, my God, Kaoru, don't tell me that you've hopped on board the loony bin. Because I really think that there's only room enough for one of us."
"No, really. Enishi said—"
"Yukishiro?" Misao repeated, incredulous. "Have you lost your mind? He's insane. Was that where you were? You went to go and see him?"
Kaoru lifted a finger to her lips. "Are you crazy? If Okita heard you, he'd go and grab Daddy's sword and filet him!"
"Am I crazy? I wasn't the one who was out all night with Yukishiro, creepy stalker person extraordinaire! Don't you remember when he was behind our car with that rose?"
"He says that we're soulmates."
Misao made a strangled, shocked noise. "Oh, well. Huh. That explains everything."
"Don't you get it?" Kaoru sat up abruptly, her hands gesturing in agitation. "He says that we've had past lives. Reincarnation. Old Souls. The works."
"What does me being an old soul have to do with anything?"
Kaoru stared at her for a second, and her eyes filled. "I don't know," she sobbed. "I don't understand anything."
Misao was shaken. Kaoru rarely cried in front of her, she was supposed to be the strong one. "Kaoru, it's okay. I'm sorry I called you crazy."
Kaoru laughed through her tears, and hiccupped. "Misao, I don't know what to do. Are you all right? Do you need anything?"
"Can you," she bit her lip and tried not to let the burning in her eyes overwhelm her. She didn't want to cry. "Can you just sit with me for a little while? I'm kind of scared. Please."
Her sister snorted, and reached for the box of tissues by the bed. "Don't be stupid."
Misao smiled and hugged her sister to her. "Don't cry, Kao. I'm feeling better already. Everything will work out. Just watch."
Kaoru's smile stopped short of her eyes, but she pressed a soft kiss to her sister's cool forehead. "Of course, Mi."
"Soulmates?" Kaoru's eyes widened in disbelief.
Enishi pressed her shaking hand to his chest and she fought down a sense of panic at the contact. Something felt wrong.
"When you were Hestia, I was a shepherd boy. When you were Sophia, I was a Duke. Don't you see? I have always been near you."
She tugged at her hand, hysteria threatening to choke her as she found she couldn't move him. "Wait. Enishi."
He ignored her. "I've done so much for you." His grip grew painful as he continued. "Everything. Only for you."
"You know that he never wanted you the way I did. Needed you the way I do." His grin grew manic, and she stiffened. "He just brings you pain. I always save you from him, you know."
"But she wouldn't understand." Something shuttered over the turquoise. "She won't understand and she'll keep us apart, I have to deal with her. Just like I dealt with the me from this time."
"Enshi, what are you--"
He suddenly cupped her cheek in his palm, his touch tender and his gaze crazed. He drew her into an embrace.
Oh, Enishi, something inside of her sighed in pity. Always alone.
"We have to get rid of her, Kaoru. For us to be together. You understand, don't you?"
She stepped back, spooked. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't you want the voice in your head to stop?"
She didn't answer, but it was in her eyes. He smiled, and it was feral. "We could be together, Kaoru. I—"
The phone rang, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. Her mind was whirling. Soulmates? Other lives? Had everything gone crazy?
Underneath all of the buzzing questions was the strong pulse of denial. This was wrong. He was wrong.
Don't be a fool.
She just wanted everything to stop.
When Enishi came into the room, the door to his apartment was swinging dejectedly by the door. He smiled dejectedly.
She was gone.
Everything would be all right, Kaoru thought, her eyes straying to the IV embedded in her sister's pale arm. It had to be.
Sano paused, his fist raised and ready to knock. Should he? Shouldn't he? Did he have the right to know anymore? The door swung open, deciding for him.
"Oi! You almost broke my nose!" Sano complained. He took in the sight before him, and let out a low whistle. "You look awful."
"Your observational skills are still intact, I see, Sagara."
"Are you going to invite me in?"
The man wordlessly shifted to allow the brunette access. Sano looked around him. The sparse apartment should have been cold. But the blank walls and minimal furniture still managed to give off a homey vibe. The warm scent of tea saturated the air.
"I'm assuming you have a reason for being here?" Aoshi's voice betrayed no interest, but his eyes were questioning as he poured some of the sweet smelling liquid into a cup.
Sano accepted it gratefully. He hated tea, but it helped to have something in his hand to play with. "I'm not really sure why I'm here, or why I feel like I have to tell you this. Or why you're supposed to know. Or--"
"Sagara." Aoshi's voice was curt. "I'm really trying to understand you and not just shake it out of you. Appreciate my restraint."
"Misao's in the hospital." Sano's grin faded, and he set the cup on the kitchen counter with a sharp clink. Aoshi's color was scaring him. "Are you okay? Yo, Aoshi."
"I don't understand. What? I…I need to see her." His voice shook, unnerving Sanosuke even more. Aoshi's voice never shook. "Where…where is she? I need to see her."
Sanosuke nodded in understanding. "Put on your coat. I'll drive."
Kenshin felt like an idiot. Or, being on the receiving end of Okita's infamous glowers, he felt like an idiot with a death wish. The cell phone felt like a lead weight in his grip. When he had heard Okita say that they were at the hospital, a wave of terror had paralyzed him, and he had rushed to the nearest hospital without thinking. The fact that it t wasn't Kaoru, but Misao in the white paper gown brought him little relief. The dread at meeting Okita's scowl crushed that relief to the ground.
"And you have my sister's phone why exactly?"
"Ah…she was a bit…under the weather last night and Sanosuke--" Kenshin trailed off, horrified. Sanosuke was so dead.
"I'm going to kill that freakin' rooster head."
Kenshin thought that maybe looking stupidly sheepish would work on this twin.
From the glare that the boy sent his way, he figured that it wasn't working. Like sister like brother.
Okita was always able to see through any bull—
"Oh, shut up," he muttered, rolling his eyes.
The following pregnant pause did nothing for his nerves.
"Did you just tell me to shut up?"
"Oh, oh, no—I didn't mean to say that out loud, just to think it." Shoot. He winced. The nerve currently throbbing in Okita's forehead didn't look to be healthy. How much more would Kaoru hate him if he gave her brother a heart attack?
How much more could she hate you already?
Kenshin sighed dejectedly. That was true. After his performance this morning....
"What performance this morning?"
Kenshin's head snapped up; horrified. Did he say that out loud? Again? Okita seemed to swell with righteous fury.
"You. What. Did. You. Do." Okita's mouth settled in a grim line. "Did you do something to my sister? Is that why she's so upset?"
Kaoru was upset?
"Oh, no, I'm not…I mean to say," Kenshin stammered. He felt like he should be ashamed of himself. If all things were to be believed, he was the reincarnation of the most dangerous assassin in Japanese history, for goodness sake. Could he not handle one man?
Of course, said man was also Kaoru's brother. And both seemed to have inherited a rather dangerous temper.
"Spit it OUT, you imbecile!"
And the same lack of patience.
Kenshin straightened his spine and lifted his chin in what he hoped was a confident gesture. "I did nothing to your sister. And let me make perfectly clear that I would never—"
"You would never what?"
Shocked, Kenshin turned. Kaoru stood, her arms crossed purposefully across her chest and one slim eyebrow raised in question.
"You would never what?"
Kaoru rubbed her temples, agitated. The headache that was drumming behind her eyes was threatening to overwhelm her. Misao slept on by her side, oblivious.
"Am I going crazy?" she asked her sleeping sister. "I really don't know who to believe anymore."
She pressed a soft kiss to her sister's pale cheek and shifted slowly, careful not to wake her. The bite or two of pancake she had at Kenshin's felt like lead in her stomach.
She opened the door, bracing herself for her brother's wrath.
Instead she saw a flash of red. Inexplicable rage bloomed in her stomach. Would he just not leave? Why was he here?
He was arguing with Okita in rising tones, and she rolled her eyes, preparing to break it up, when…
"I did nothing to your sister. And let me make perfectly clear that I would never—"
She was so tired of feeling hurt.
He would never. He has never. No matter how I feel, he would never want me…Not the way I wasted my time wanting him.
The words echoed in her head, and more irritation lurked behind her eyes. It colored her voice as she spoke.
"You would never what?"
Both men stiffened before turning her way. She repeated her question, looking straight at the red head and his panic filled expression.
"Karou-dono!" He snapped out of his daze first. "I…your…I mean…."
"The idiot brought your phone," Okita translated, irate. "What I would like to know is why he has it in the first place."
She shrugged. "I don't know." She steeled herself and walked over to the taller boy to hold out her hand. "Thank you for bringing it by."
"I was hoping that I could talk to you. Alone. Somewhere. Alone."
Okita opened his mouth, already delighting in whatever wit he was going to share. Kaoru stepped on his foot and watched his mouth clamp shut.
"Lead the way."
Kenshin ducked inside an empty room and cleared his throat, eyes flitting across the room, careful not to land on anything. Okita's squawking rang in the hallways before Megumi's annoyed voice told him none too gently to shut up. He would have laughed…
But she was looking at him with an unreadable expression on her face. It belied his humor. Even now, he couldn't tell what she was thinking, and it frustrated him.
"About this morning…
"Do you know Yukishiro?"
He stopped, startled. What possessed her to ask that? Did she forget the night of the party?
"I'm not talking about the little snarling matches you've been getting into lately," she waved that off impatiently. "I'm asking if you know Enishi."
Anger sparked in his chest at even the name coming from her lips. "We don't run in the same circles."
"I see." She seemed contemplative.
"Kaoru-dono, I don't think that you should—"
"My name is Kaoru."
He stopped, startled again. "I know what your name is."
What a joke, I love you. Of course I know what your name is.
She laughed softly and ran a hand over her pale face. "You act as if I'm your—your landlady or something! Is it so hard to simply say my name?"
"Kaoru, I don't think that you should associate with Enishi."
Her smile, which has blossomed at her name sans the honorific, slipped. "Associate?"
She bowed her head and murmured something he didn't catch.
She looked up, eyes unsure. "I said that he knows me. Knew me."
"He says that we're meant to be together."
Kenshin threw back his head and roared with laughter He could feel her stiffen in embarrassment, but couldn't help himself.
Of all the stunts Enishi had pulled throughout the ages…
He was laughing at her.
She was shaking, her fists clenched at her sides.
"I'm thrilled that you find this all so amusing."
He continued to howl, and she threw her hands up in the air and started for the door.
"Wait." His voice was still choked. "Wait. Please."
She stilled, expectant.
"Surely you cannot believe that."
"Surely I don't know what to believe."
"He's lying, obviously. You cannot be meant for each other, it's ludicrous."
She ignored the reluctant whisper of agreement. "I'm sure that if it were ridiculous, we would know, wouldn't we."
"He cannot be made for you. He is not."
Her eyes widened in rage at his arrogance, and she stalked towards him until they were nose to nose. "And how the hell would you know?"
"You're meant for me."
She fell back a little, her skin growing even colder. "What?"
"You and I are soul mates, Kaoru." His amber eyes were hypnotic.
Amber? And…Did Himura's voice sound different? She shook her head in confusion. What was going on?
"I guess there's a lot of that going on."
"I'm sorry, you're only the second to have told me that today. Goodness, pick up lines are getting rather clever."
He growled in annoyance. "That little son of a b—"
She cleared her throat before the oath completed itself.
"As it may be, I think that maybe both of you should stay away from each other."
"What did he tell you?"
She shrugged, anger ghosting across her face. "What does it matter? You seem to think its nonsense anyway."
Kenshin struggled with his impatience. "What did he say?"
She struggled with something, before sighing. "He said that I've past lives. I was a priestess before. Then a servant girl or something."
"Did he tell you anything else?"
"No." She looked away, unsure. "Just that he's always been with me. That we're meant."
Rage blinded him, and made his words curt. "And you believe him." How dare Enishi defile memories with his falsities.
"I don't know what to believe. I'm blacking out." Her voice shook slightly, and she suddenly looked very young. "I'm blacking out. Chunks of time where I don't know what happened or how I got where I am or what I said. I hear a voice that sounds like me but isn't. I'm going insane. Do you understand what that feels like?"
He stared at her, his amber eyes filled with ancient sadness. "I would spare you this, if I could. You must know that I would never wish you harm."
Her eyebrow kinked, and he watched silently as the silver flooded the blue.
"That's amusing, coming from you."
"You know. You know what he said were lies. And yet you let her believe?"
"She wants a life without the past dodging her every footstep. I'm trying to give that to her."
"He's dangerous. You know that."
"He's alone, Kenshin. But that isn't the point. The point is that I'm trying to give her—to give me a second chance. Without the commentary. Without the coaching." Her lip curled, mocking. "We all know how successful that has been in the past."
A flash of memory, and Kenshin shook his head to rid his nose of the stench of blood.
"You push her away from us. How is that not interfering?"
She walked closer, and her hand reached out for his. His skin singed at the contact, and the desire to hold her closer welled up within his chest.
"Don't you wonder? Don't you wonder if you only chase me for duty?"
"I don't understand."
"Kenshin, you've always had a problem with guilt. Do you ever think that you think you love me because of the mistakes you've made?"
She pulled away, and rubbed her arms as if to ward off a chill. "I would not tell her of what happened when she was Hestia. Or when she was Anne, and wed to the King. Would you?"
He wouldn't. "Still. You make it as if you would run from me."
"I want my happiness, Kenshin. I want yours. I want to break this cycle before it kills me."
"What of Misao."
The silver grew dull. "I will find a way. I have no quarrel with Shinomori. Perhaps he can help her."
"You said you want my happiness."
"You hate me."
She sighed, and closed her eyes. "I would never hate you. I don't think I ever could, and that kills me. But I can't let this happen again. I won't be with you. Not when you're acting out of something you should have left behind a long time ago."
"I don't understand."
"You never did." When he opened his eyes to argue, she noted dimly the swirls of amethyst in the amber. "Do you love me?"
He was speechless. His mouth opened and closed like a fish. She would have laughed, if she had the heart to. Instead she focused on keeping the tears at bay.
"All this time, and you still don't know?"
He stopped, startled when he met her blue gaze.
"I…I think I was saying something, but I can't—" She was shaking now, her eyes huge in an impossibly pale face. "I think that you should just leave me alone. I don't want…I don't know…"
He made as if to touch her, and she flinched away. His hand dropped to his side.
"I do. You know I do."
She looked at him, and he fancied seeing a flash of something sad behind her eyes. "I…I don't…"
She turned again and rushed out of the room. Her hair streamed out behind her like a dark blanket of silk.
He stared after her long after the door slammed shut.
She sat on the bench, wiping the infernal tears. A hand settled on her shoulder, and she whirled.
"Kenshin, I said that I—"
Instead, she was met by sympathetic brown eyes.
"Yahiko, right?" She shot him a bemused smile, struggling to shrug off her black mood. "What are you doing here?"
"Sano told me that Misao was sick. I wanted to see if there was anything I could do."
She stared at him as a wave of gratitude washed over her. "Thank you. That means a lot."
He shrugged, trying to hide the flush of pink. "It isn't like it's much help or anything."
She stared off into space, but clasped his darker hand in hers. "I don't know if there is much we can do right now—they're still not sure what's really the problem. All we can do is pray."
He tried to stamp down on the emotion welling up in him. "Of course."
It wasn't fair. Why did the bad things always seem to follow them?
He basked in the bitter sweetness. It was his Kaoru. His sister. His mom. She was right next to him!
Her eyes were sadder. Harder. His old heart ached a little for her.
Why did the bad things always follow?
"It doesn't suit you, you know." He whispered, kicking his legs like the little boy she had always teased him of being.
"What doesn't?" Kaoru has turned to him, and her eyes were curious.
Yahiko shrugged, his eyes gazing at a long lost memory.
Where I go, the shadows follow.