This chapter actually just wrote itself. I swear to god. It was the easiest chapter that I've written since chapter one. Giving Yahiko a voice always makes me smile, and writing action makes my fingers fly like little birds. Seriously. Anyway, this one is full of a real fight. No simple duel for this chapter. Nope this is a knock down drag out fight, and that means that I'm going to start to earn my rating. Not too much though because the character pulls out of the fight...whoever they may be. WinkI hope you like it. Hummm...by the way...I don't own Kenshin. Sad. True. I'll write a haiku. But not this time.

"The Long Road Home"

A "Rurouni Kenshin" fanfiction

Chapter: 4

Things Fly Apart

By: Ranma151773012

"So, let me get this straight...Kenshin is afraid of my ugly teacher?" Yahiko blinked at the cloaked man as they walked through the gates to the Kamiya Dojo with what Yahiko considered to be a sizable amount of sake. Hiko had decided that they would put off the rest of the places he had to visit and instead they went to a sake shop in town and bought everything that they could carry. It looked as if they were planning a party.

"Yes, and no. Kenshin's always been a real human conflict. He's the simplest individual I've ever met. It's why I taught him Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu in the first place. On the other hand he's very complex. Too much so for his own good. He likes to overanalyze things." Yahiko listened to the older man but felt his lack of understanding start to show on his face, so he decided to make it even more clear by squinting at Hiko's revelation. He caught the hint. "Okay, I'll be more plain. Kenshin is a simpleton who thinks too much."

Yahiko got indignant. "Kenshin isn't stupid!" They reached the storeroom and began to unload the jugs of sake as well as the other supplies. "He's brave, and quick, and he can think his way out of anything. Kenshin has talked his way out of a lot of fighting just using his mind."

"I guess he can, but it took him two years and a dead woman to even realize that he was being foolish during the revolution. Two years is a long time to take to realize that you have a choice. That's an awfully important lesson with an awfully steep price. He waded in a sea of blood, all of his own making, for the sake of his ideals but didn't stop to think of what those ideals should include." Yahiko was angry and interested all at the same time. He had never heard Hiko talk about Kenshin before beyond the odd insult. The idea that this man had been there far before any one of them had even known Kenshin himself was beginning to intrigue him. I wonder if it isn't that Kenshin's "stupid", but that Hiko is just really critical.the Tokyo Samurai couldn't help but wonder to himself.

Yahiko hadn't gotten to know Hiko very well when they'd met him in Kyoto. Sure he learned that Hiko was an awesome fighter right away, but their conversation was taking them further than that. The two other times they had met, Kaoru's only student had gotten the distinct feeling that Hiko had an ego bigger than the mountain he lived on and that he was a bit of a perfectionist. Yahiko looked up and Hiko had a very far off look on his face. "I'm very proud of him." The boy whipped his head around and stared blatantly at the master of his idol. "Don't tell him I said that. He won't try as hard to please me." An eyebrow went up into Yahiko's hair at that comment. "I was afraid when he left for the war that he would use Hiten Mitsurugi to misbalance the scales between the two sides and that is the deepest truth; the one that I told Kenshin that morning in the snow before he left. However it was my own underlying doubt, and even my worry, that dominated my thoughts back then. The idea that Kenshin would go out there into the maw of the world and it would swallow him whole was the only thought that I got up in the morning and went to bed at night with. I followed him very closely, although he doesn't know it. He didn't know a lot of things back then. I had him watched. Followed. It didn't help my psyche at all when he became a hitokiri, and it became worse as the lists of names began to come in. I have them all in my head...and I am certain that I did not learn them all because my friends could not be everywhere. It worried me then, and it worries me still because if I have learned their names Kenshin has learned their faces. He's that type of man." Yahiko tried to swallow past the lump in his throat and shuddered slightly thinking about everything Kenshin had endured. Since the supplies were now up Yahiko decided that he should call after the other occupants of the dojo.

"Kenshin!!!! Kaoru!!!!" Yahiko walked toward his room that he shared with Kaoru and found her curled up and sleeping.

"I don't think Kenshin has been here yet." Hiko looked around the dojo and frowned. "Perhaps he was distracted? I think we should therefore leave and come back later ourselves." Hiko wandered back into the storeroom and the Tokyo Samurai followed him.

Stillness passed between them until Hiko grabbed a fishing pole and a small folding chair and indicated that Yahiko should follow. "You see, Kenshin has always done everything with his whole heart. He became my student and he did it with his whole heart. He believed in the revolution...and he did it with his whole heart. I didn't want to see him embrace the heart of a killer, because I knew Kenshin, and he's always been quiet and gentle, two things that a killer can't afford to be. So I thought that once all of this was begun I would lose Kenshin beyond reaching. He was always a meticulous student. He had skill and ability, and he's very talented. What he lacks in strength and size he always made up for with speed and intelligence. Kenshin is a better fighter than I am." Yahiko gaped.

"Hiko-san. You always seemed to be the better swordsman when I saw you fight this morning. You're always tagging Kenshin before he tags you right?"

"That's because he lacks confidence. He sees me as the Master of his school and the man who has taught him since he was a boy. He expects me to win, and so I do. Besides, his arm is in terrible condition from his fight with that psychotic brother-in-law of his. I advise you to look very closely at Kenshin's life and be aware of the repercussions of your own actions every time you make a decision. If Kenshin decided it was a good idea...it probably isn't. I'm proud of him, but I still think he's an absolute moron."

"I don't get it." Yahiko said as they finally reached the bank of the river and sat down.

"You go fishing, you catch fish, you eat fish, you drink sake." He smiled benignly; obviously more amused with his joke than Yahiko.

"No. I mean, I don't get you, or Kenshin." He cast his own line into the river. "You always call him names and act all mean to him but here you are saying you're proud of him. It sounds like...what did you call it? A human conflict?" Yahiko tried to sneak a look over at Hiko but the man was already looking at him so he turned his whole head.

"Do you hate Kaoru?"

"WHAT?"

"Do you hate Kaoru?"

"No! I lo ...really like Kaoru. She's been like a sister. She's a great teacher." Was he going to start talking about Kaoru now? Kenshin is one thing but Kaoru is mine to make fun of.

"So even though you say mean things and are disrespectful you still care?" Yahiko nodded. "It is how you communicate. Kenshin and I are able to function better, when we aren't sparring physically that is, when we play our roles. You and Kenshin aren't so different." Yahiko puffed up at this. "That wasn't a compliment." Yahiko deflated and then got immediately indignant.

"I'll take it as one anyway!" It took Yahiko a few seconds before he realized who he was talking to and became immediately sheepish.

"See! Kenshin takes everything personally too." Hiko recast his line. "Then, after he tells you, he feels all sorry for what he felt, as if it's wrong to feel things and let people know. Now I admit there is a time and place for everything but that is something you learn. Kenshin will continue to get better at that as he gets older.

Oh, I get it! He did that to get that reaction and I did exactly what Kenshin would? But Kenshin is always so...servant-ish. He's never obstinate or rude. No, that's not right. I've seen him be kind of mocking when he doesn't think his opponents will notice. Always polite...but not. And just recently watching Kenshin and Hiko spar this morning it might be easier to believe that Kenshin does, in fact, have a "disrespectful" side.The realization must have been on his face rather plainly because Hiko nodded.

"He respects me, but he says rude things and is disrespectful and he can be quite emotional with me, which I'm told is very unusual for Kenshin." Hiko began to tug his fishing pole and a flopping shimmering fish sailed into the open air on the other end of the line. The master of Hiten Mitsurugi caught it easily and placed it quickly into the basket while also re-baiting his hook.

"How did you meet?" Yahiko felt braver speaking to Hiko now, at least braver than he had been.

"Kenshin, or shall I say Shinta..." Shinta?"was in over his head as usual. I pulled his ass out of the fire...as usual." Shinta?

"Wait. I'm still stuck on Shinta..." Yahiko had dropped his fishing pole and was staring at the man in the mantle like he'd grown an extra head.

"Yes, I re-named Kenshin when he became my pupil as all students are re-named in the Hiten Mitsurugi school...However his name was quite the improvement. Shinta sounds awfully wrong for a swordsman. Not very manly." Yahiko nearly started to laugh but swallowed the chuckles under a few muffled coughs and picked up the fishing rod once more.

"So, Hiko isn't your name, and is "Kenshin" just like Hiko?A student name? Is he Himura Kenshin the Thirteenth?"

"I wish..." Yahiko barely heard the mutter but laughed when he saw the man roll his eyes.

"What?"

"Nothing...Let's just say that my master had a wicked sense of humor. Which by the way is probably the best explanation that I have for my sterling people skills." Yahiko nodded and laughed but decided that he should rekindle the other thread of the conversation and leave humiliation for a later date.

"So, Shinta?" He didn't mind knowing more about Hiko, certainly the more the better considering he was Kenshin's master, however the insight into Kenshin was invaluable to the youngest member of the Kenshin-gumi.

Hiko narrowed his eyes and spoke, "Kenshin was sold into slavery after his parents died of cholera. The slavers were attacked by a group of bandits and they went on to kill everyone except Kenshin. I would never have even met the boy had I not been going for supplies that day."

"Out of sake?" Yahiko asked dryly while picking his ear with his pinkie finger.

"Completely." Yahiko couldn't lift the mood after what Hiko said though, and he nodded for the man to continue.

"I left the boy and went on my way. Three days later I went to attend to the dead and ask after the boy in the next village."

"You left him there!" He shouted. Yahiko was waving his pole in the air and gesticulating wildly. He realized that he was going to put someone's eye out and promptly stopped. "With the dead people?"

"What could I do for him?" The words were quiet and he cast his line out again. "The world is a horrible place. As a practitioner of Hiten Mitsurugi I can't be expected to wander around and fix the lives of others. As I said before...What could I do for him?" The irony of Hiko's statement was not lost on Yahiko.

"Ummm, what you actually did for him?" Yahiko rolled his eyes. "You ended up taking him in anyway."

"It is very unusual for a master to take a student as quickly as I did. You usually want to spend a bit of time...alone...after you master the art. I had spent almost a year in quiet contemplation about mortality and how fragile life is. Even though it is a part of the training to do so before you master the art, I couldn't help but have many questions to ponder while recovering from the ordeal of becoming Hiko."

"It sounds pretty boring..." Yahiko thought aloud. "I mean...well. Aoshi makes it look boring..." He found that he couldn't save the first comment. "I never really found my exercises in quiet contemplation helpful. Meditation is my least favorite part of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. I always feel like I could be learning something instead of just sitting there waiting for inspiration."

"You sound like me. I think that year I spent was making up for all of the times that I really thought about dinner or studied the cracks in the walls. I suddenly found I had a lot to think about. It was at the height of this that I met Kenshin. I walked back through the village that I had directed Kenshin to and found that they hadn't seen him. I thought the boy may have committed suicide because he lost his family and had no where to go. It sent my mind reeling thinking that one so young would decide that death was better than this world in which we live. I arrived back at the scene of the fight and realized that the killing field had become a graveyard. The boy had buried them all with his own hands by the time I'd returned. That was when he told me the truth about the slavers, the slaves, and the men that I had killed;they were all equal in his sight. He was honest and simple and he had such a spirit inside of him that I could see the dragon coiled around his soul. I knew that fate or whatever it is that governs our lives had brought my pupil. I admit that he was a little disappointing at first in that he was so depressingly small. I figured he would grow. Imagine my disappointment when he didn't. It must have been the cholera or a lack of nourishment when he was smaller. Kenshin said his parents were farmers. I don't know much about them to be honest. He didn't speak of them. When Kenshin is sad or depressed he has the annoying tendency to keep silent, even when he was eight. I bet it's worse now that he's going on twenty-eight. He has a lot more to be silent about." Yahiko couldn't help but agree with that.

"He didn't say anything about his whole past to us until this autumn. We knew who he was but nothing else. Of course...that leaves a lot more to the imagination. There are far too many stories that I think must be a bunch of ridiculous nonsense." Yahiko saw the man's eyes shoot open, but in an instant it was over and Yahiko thought he might have imagined it. Yahiko was about to comment on it when there was a tug on his own line. Another fish was added to the basket.

"Yahiko...If Kenshin doesn't marry your "sister", I will." Yahiko could hear that Hiko wasn't completely serious but that his respect for Kaoru was showing. "Not many people would follow someone halfway across Japan on blind faith. Your shihondai as well as yourself should be commended. You are a true friend Yahiko, to both my stupid pupil and your teacher. Your parents must be proud of their honorable son. I know that Kaoru-san is very proud of her student." Yahiko blushed to the roots of his hair at the praise that Hiko had given him.

"WAIT! Kaoru is proud of me?" It was Yahiko's turn to be shocked. "She said that?"

"Well, it was surrounded by a healthy amount of "sisterly love" and cursing, but yes, she is amazed by your skill." Another fish was drawn out of his watery home and Hiko got up off of the river bank. "Now that we have the proper amount of fish and I've spoken more than I even had to put up with when Kenshin was playing detective today we should probably return. Do you have a lot of blasting around here?" Yahiko noticed a muted explosion but decided that it could be just about anything.

"No..." he answered offhandedly. There is still so much I don't know. It's really strange that it feels easier to ask Hiko personal questions than Kenshin. I was hard on both Kaoru and Kenshin today. Maybe I should apologize.They were coming toward the dojo at last but Yahiko stared in mute horror as a column of smoke rose from the dojo.

"Yahhhhh!" A female voice carried over Yahiko's thoughts.

"KAORU!" Yahiko panicked when he heard her cry out. Hiko jammed everything into Yahiko's arms. "What's going on?" He yelled. Who could possibly be after Kaoru?

"Find Kenshin! Now!" Hiko began to turn back toward the dojo.

"But...we don't know...He might have returned..."

"It might be the ones who took Akari. I knew that they would come if we started asking too many questions, but I had hoped that they would target me. Aparently Kenshin is drawing too much attention to himself as usual. Go, Yahiko! Get Kenshin!" The Thirteenth Master of Hiten Mitsurugi left for the dojo at godlike speed as Yahiko ran the other way trying to match Hiko for every step. But Yahiko turned as he heard a second explosion, and his eyes traveled up the column of smoke. If he knew Kenshin as well as he thought he did...he would already be on his way if he saw that. The fish as well as both of the lines went falling to the ground as he started to run in earnest wondering how he would find Kenshin.

"Katsu!" Kenshin found him at last under a bridge watching the water and blowing on a grass reed.

"Ah! Himura-san! How are you? It's been a long time. Have you received word from Sano now that he's on vacation?" Katsu's eyebrows raised and he smiled devilishly.

"I have in fact heard from him, and he seems to be having an interesting time. Although I hope that he doesn't get himself into further trouble with his "adventurous" spirit." Katsu laughed at that and Kenshin found himself joining in.

"Sano will get into trouble whether he's here or there. I've never known him to stay quiet. I'll not waste my hopes on the idea that Sano won't get in trouble. I'm going to turn my hopes to Sano not getting himself killed." Katsu smiled and then he turned directly toward Kenshin and dropped his grass leaf as he stood. "You didn't come to me to talk about Sano though, so let's get some tea and discuss what you have really come about. I've been looking forward to another one of your little adventures."

"I would be better off if the "little adventures" would stop presenting themselves." Kenshin walked with Katsu up the bank of the little fast moving river.

"Ah, yes. But just as I don't waste my hopes on Sano not getting into trouble, I don't waste my time imagining your life will ever be quiet and wait to help where I can." Kenshin looked down at the ground with a smile on his face at Katsu's statement.

"I try."

Kaoru pulled her hair into the usual topknot and frowned into the tiny mirror on the stand of her mother's old table. I have to stop blaming myself. What Enishi did to us was horrible. Keeping me from hearing what happened is wrong...but I understand it. What would anyone benefit from reliving it? Especially Kenshin who thought I was dead.She felt a small bite in the air and closed her eyes to let herself feel it without the distraction of her eyes. She slid the hanten jacket over her shoulders and just as she had started to secure it she felt the eyes upon her. "Who's there? Yahiko...Hiko...Kenshin?" She looked around the corner of the screen into the darkening hallway. Dusk was falling and the house felt unusually sinister.

Suddenly a great blast of sound shattered the silence. The explosion was from the direction of the outer wall of the Kamiya compound. Kaoru ran the direction the sound had come from with her bokken gripped in her hand, her hanten jacket flared out behind her and her hair bobbing up and down in its ponytail. As she stepped into the dimming light and saw the smoking remains of her exterior wall a pair of large hands grabbed her from behind. "YAAAHHHHHHH" Kaoru kicked and flailed. "Let go! Now!" She switched her bokken backward with a quick swipe, and the arms fell away. A second later another explosion rocked the dojo, but this time from the area of the house and Kaoru was thrown from the porch and away from her burning building.

"Noooooo! I just had that damn building fixed!" She screamed at the sky, and she thought to punish the only person that she knew was there...and he was gone. "Come out here and fight me you cowards!" She looked around and saw no one. "Fight me!" Suddenly, a small army of men was filing out of her storage building. They were like a legion of shadows in the smoke and dust from the fire licking the dojo and the debris from the wall still floating in the air. The gathering darkness coming over the earth only making them more intimidating.

One of the shadows began to speak. "Please, Kamiya-san. I fully intended to come out and kill you, but I wanted to wait and see that all of our little signal flares went up first." Kaoru bit her tongue against the tide of uncomplimentary words struggling to leave her mouth. "Now, I'm prepared to kill you. I need to leave a sort of message to your friends, and you were chosen as a worthy target for our warning..." Kaoru only had a second to spare before the first shadow came tearing out of the mist of debris and toward her, sword flashing. He was taller than Kenshin but only by two inches or so. A long braid with a strange weight on the end swung out behind him like a banner.

"How dare you underestimate me! I'll show you what the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu is all about!" Kaoru screamed back at him and she tried not to let the anger cloud her judgment. Truth be told, he is very attractive, if not for the obvious evil personality thing.His sword swung around and she blocked it easily and he jumped back as if to gauge his opponent.

"Who are you?" The words were grated out through clenched teeth as the bokken caught his sword again. "What gives you the right to disturb my home!" It wasn't a question. She threw the man back and followed up by giving him a smart smack on his side. He tried to slide in under her arm but failed. He's weak!At the second failed attempt he sprung backward and made a motion with his hand.

"Pardon me my lady! I had no idea, we'll just go then." A few of the men in the smoke laughed. "If you can defeat all of us, I'll give you your freedom." Now there was real laughter. "A little girl wants to pretend to be a man? Where is your naginata, princess?" Kaoru felt irritation slip into her confidence.

The men were now surrounding her completely. In the light from the burning dojo they looked like demons. One of them spoke. "Are you going to dishonor your sword fighting her? Boss?"

"Her blood will be just as red. Now that she's shown herself to be proficient in the sword...Maybe you can give us all a lesson little shihondai. You have a beautiful face; my men will enjoy being taught by you." There were sniggers coming from the closing circle and Kaoru felt hope sliding from her. Just the same she settled her hips and got ready to move.

"I wouldn't. She'll embarrass you." A voice from the roof made every person in the circle and Kaoru look up.

"Hiko-san!" Kaoru gasped with relief; the odds were slowly climbing in her favor.

"Have you come to fight in her place Hiko Seijuro, Thirteenth Master of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu? I don't enjoy picking on little girls." She gnashed her teeth in indignation at this, and Kaoru felt tension build in her shoulders at each scrape of her own teeth. He knows all of us? I've never even seen him before!

"Hiko-san. Please excuse me, but he," and she pointed her bokken at the man's head, "is my opponent." The shihondai of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu stood taller and she glared. "I don't know why you're here in my dojo, but I assure you that you won't be leaving the way you came in." Her eyes met with Hiko. He looked back at her with intense eyes and mouthed something in the darkness that seemed to be "Over his head". She nodded once and settled into her defensive crouch.

"My name is Hideo. And these fine men..." she glared at Hideo. "Are the Yakuza of the mighty boss Matsuhido Roshi." Kaoru saw him roll his eyes and Kaoru narrowed her own. "Now, with that out of the way..." He charged forth and the circle began to collapse toward her with the small army of twenty or so men falling forward to kill her.

Just as everything developed into chaos two things happened. First Kaoru screamed out to Hiko, "Don't kill them." Then Hiko jumped into the circle just as Kaoru jumped over Hideo's head and hopefully out of the way of the crushing bodies.

"No, I don't think so." Hideo's voice ground out angrily and something snaked around her ankle. Suddenly a strong tug ripped her backward her hand lost its grip on her bokken and she fell back into the mass of bodies, screaming and weapon-less. She watched the sky as she fell and landed hard on her hip.

"Kaoru!" Hiko's voice sounded above the clash of his sword. She couldn't answer back yet because the wind had been knocked out of her lungs. I underestimated him. Hideo isn't weak. He was testing me...to see if I was weak...Or maybe to make sure that it was me he was after. Damn.Kaoru gasped and clutched her chest as the burning began to replace itself with air. There were too many fighters in a close space and she could use this against them. Kaoru began to lash out at the men around her she kicked solidly at one of the men's knees and it broke backward as he fell to the earth. There, turn about is fair play. If he wants to keep me in here I'll just be forced to seriously hurt his men.She was able to do minor damage to one of the men in front of her as she began to take stock of her surroundings. She had lost sight of Hideo and as she stumbled to get up the chord around her ankle pulled tight and she fell back and was being drug from the crush of bodies and swords. She looked down at her ankle and she saw that the corded braid of Hideo's hair was the rope that had bound her. This moment of discovery would have been longer, however a sword dug itself straight through her shoulder.

"IIIIIIIYYAAA!" She was still being pulled back so the sword tore through her flesh before the nameless fighter let go of the traveling object. It was stuck...It had gone straight through her shoulder and up a bit. Kaoru put her hands around the katana and pulled it from her shoulder cutting her left hand as she did so, and she sat up cutting the braid from her ankle. I have to get out of here so that Hiko can fight and I don't turn into a pin cushion.She thought as she watched the men around her. "I'm free...Hiko..." She yelled out as she stumbled from the ground half-crawling and half running away from the mass of bodies. As she stumbled to her knees away from the crush she looked up into Hideo's face.

"What's the matter little girl? Feeling less manly?" He grabbed her shoulders and his fingers dug into the fresh sword wound as he pulled her from the ground. She let out a small whimper but bit her lip against the scream that wanted to come past her lips. "I personally don't care much for swords. I've always been more of a Kusari-gama type of guy. There is more sport in a ranged weapon." Kaoru stood on her own power as he put the long scythe and chain weapon under her chin. "Try to run...please...There is nothing more exhilarating than watching the chain soar through the air before the blade slices through your head like a ripe melon."

She wanted very much to vomit. She gripped the katana in her right hand and glared into Hideo's eyes. "I would rather fight you and win." Kaoru pushed the blade from under her face and jumped back away from the man in front of her.

"Very well." Hideo snarled. "Let me tell you a secret; none of this matters to me. There is something else that I want. But I'll kill you for the fun of it."

"That's nice." She avoided the strike of the weapon and ran forward, flipping the blade on the sword. It was a truly nasty looking blade, and she knew from hours of study about other weapons that she truly would be "split like a ripe melon" if he could tag her with it. The chain gleamed in the fire and she saw clearly the small scythe and the handle with which Hideo threw it, also she could see the weight on the other side of the chain in his hand. What would Kenshin do? I have to strike hard, strike fast, and not get dead. She changed directions as he brought the scythe flying in her direction and rolled quickly under the weapon as it struck the ground where she had been headed. He was good. The roll had made her arm even more painful and she bit back the curse on her lips. It was mere seconds between the moment that she had rolled and the moment that she was running again. Hideo was already bringing the kusari-gama back into his hand and she saw a smile on his lips. He believed that he had her, and maybe his moment of vanity could be turned to her advantage. She had to guess what he was predicting. The actions were simultaneous. Hideo lashed out in an arcing circle that would have certainly struck had Kaoru been on the ground. Kaoru leapt forward into the air and in two strides reached her opponent. She struck toward his shoulder angling the blade so that the flames glinted off of it, blinding him. The blunted edge struck the shoulder with all of the force that Kaoru could create and it made a crack and a sickening pop and Kaoru allowed herself a moment of triumph. It wasn't even a second before the adjutant master moved once again, removing herself from the close range of the scythe.

Darkness had descended fully now and through the chaos she head people yelling for the police and calling about the fire. No, no...nobody fall over yourselves to help out in the small WAR going on.She heard Hiko laughing and smiled as she ducked away from Hideo's chain as it returned the weapon to his hand. He put his hand up to his arm and rubbed the now useless appendage.

"So, the lady is a tiger. Sexy. I can't wait to have you more to myself." He smiled and swung the dart end of the chain in circles around him. "I would love to stay and fight with you all night, but we're attracting a crowd. This isn't finished...woman." She moved quickly away from the dart but it still crashed into her wounded left shoulder and she was thrown from her feet in pain. "I'll see you again soon. EVERYONE...OUT." Suddenly the men were running everywhere like rats on a sinking ship only they were picking up bodies as they went and before long the courtyard was bare except for Hiko who was coming quickly toward her, Kaoru herself, and the burning building. "We'll be back, Kamiya. Next time I will finish what I started with your shoulder."

"JERK! You didn't even do that!" She pulled herself into a kneeling position and dug the katana into the ground so that she could use it as a crutch to stand. "This is awful." She said lamely as she watched flames lick around the ridgepole of her father's dojo.

"Kaoru? Are you feeling all right?" Hiko walked up next to her to watch the building burn. "I think there are people on their way to put out the fire now that the thugs are gone. They didn't fight very well." A cold wind stirred the air and the building began to burn harder. "I didn't kill anyone...I hope you don't mind maiming."

"No...maiming isn't a problem...considering my dojo. I might just go out there and maim a few of them myself." Her vision was swimming in and out of focus. Oh, god. I'm going to cry.Blood was dripping into her curled fingers and she felt a warm wet that covered most of the left side of her shoulder and down onto her chest with her right hand. As she moved the hair that had fallen out of her ponytail she felt blood smear onto her face. Kaoru looked over her shoulder just as men and women began throwing water on the building. When she looked back at the burning dojo the fire was being fought by a number of people that she knew to be her neighbors...but she couldn't think straight enough to remember their names. Time was doing funny things.

"So...are you going to pass out now?" Hiko looked at her with concern. No, my vision is all fuzzy...I'm going to cry.

"Huh? Oh, yeah...My shoulder? It's nothing." She saw the world getting unfocused and darkness filled the edges of her vision despite the fire licking every side. "I think I might cry though..." she felt her legs giving out and darkness enveloped her vision and she said no more.

"Kenshin! Kenshin!" Yahiko wandered all over the market trying to find the ex-wandering samurai. "Where the hell are you?" He darted in and out of the crowds as the darkness continued to swallow the last of the daylight. "KENSHIN!" He was getting farther and farther from the dojo. It was where he wanted to be. He knew that Kaoru and Hiko were skilled fighters but he wanted to help. He saw the Akabeko come into view and he ran immediately into the building.

"Tae! Have you seen Kenshin?" He looked around at the people in the building, but the flame-haired swordsman was nowhere in sight. "Someone is burning down our dojo."

Tsubame dropped her teapot and turned around. "Yahiko-kun? Someone is burning down your house? Why are you here?"

"No. It's not just burning down...somebody is blowing it up!" He waved his hands in the air and turned around to face Tae.

"OH! No, I haven't seen him. Come on everyone. Let's go! Tsubame stay here until everyone leaves and then come join us." Tae started pushing a few people out the door and handed the key to Tsubame. "We're closed until the Kamiya Dojo is safe." Tsubame started ushering people out the door and a small army of firefighters headed in the direction of the dojo as Yahiko continued his search.

"Thanks everyone..." Yahiko called out as he ran down the street. "KENSHIN!!!" He watched the darkness fall and as the shop owners pulled out lanterns for the late night the day shops pulled their signs down. I want to go home...Kaoru could be hurt or dead. Again. I can't live through this twice. I don't want to. Maybe I can just go back. Maybe Kenshin is already there. Kaoru...don't die.Yahiko started to turn back in the direction of the dojo, and on the hill he could make out a glow from what he could only assume was the burning of one of the buildings he lived in. He thought of the tombstone and the mini-shrine for the girl who had taken him in and taught him to be strong, the one that Enishi had taken from him once before and ran faster. I'm going to run till the bridge and then I'm going to turn around. I have to get back. I can't just wander around Tokyo until I find Kenshin while my home burns to the ground.

Each step was bringing him to the rougher side of town. The ruffian row houses slipped by and finally Yahiko stopped. I can't think of anywhere else he could be. Hiko and Kenshin may have been wandering all over Tokyo this morning for all I know, what if Kenshin is with someone I don't know. He might not even be in town.He turned back toward the dojo and screamed. "KENNNNNNNSHIN!!!!!" His head dropped hopelessly as a few of the doors opened and people peeked out to see what was going on. The door next to him snapped open and Yahiko stared directly into Kenshin's purple eyes. He had a cup of tea in his hand and Sano's friend Katsu was standing behind him.

"Kenshin! Come on! Somebody blew up the dojo."

Kenshin's world lurched like he'd been hit. "What?"

"Hiko and I were fishing at the river and there were two explosions and some screaming. I don't know what happened yet because Hiko sent me to find you. Don't wait up on my account. RUN!" Yahiko was already yelling because Kenshin had begun running at the word explosions, only stopping when he heard the word screaming, but just long enough to confirm that he'd heard the word explosion. The teacup lay broken in the street.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

"Hate me Battousai!!!!" Um, yeah. Good spot for a cliffie. We already know that Kaoru is stabbed and bleeding...but Kenshin doesn't know anything except that his life is falling apart............AGAIN, and Yahiko, poor kid, wants to get home yesterday. Ah, yes. I bet you're all wondering where this is headed. Me too. Just kidding. This is one of the few stories that I really do have mapped out completely to the end. My Ranma story is more of a "This is an element that I want here," kind of story...whereas this story is more of a "And now this is where Kenshin drops the soap in the washtub causing a tornado in Texas." Ah, I love holistic detective work. On the bright side I have been feeding a steady stream of these chapters to my beta, who will be especially happy with me for writing this since she feels I've been indigent in my writings. Wheeeeee! You know it's bad when someone who lives in Japan tells you that you're behind...Wait...A ha! See Calger-chan. I'm not behind. You're just ahead. (Jessica doesn't live in Japan any more...It took a while to do all of this.)