- Chapter 4 -
By the next morning, the pair was fast approaching kobe port, and so Kenshin pulled his mount to a halt, Sano doing so as well, the expression on his face one of extreme relief. Kenshin dismounted and tied his horse's reigns to the low-hanging branch of a nearby tree, making sure the animal had enough leeway to reach the tender grass at the base of the trunk.
Sano followed Kenshin's example, although his dismount was nowhere near as graceful as his red haired friend's. After the horses were taken care of, Kenshin and Sano continued on foot until their destination was in sight.
"Now Sano, we need be extremely cautious, that we do." Kenshin began lowly, not wanting to alert anyone who might be nearby to their presence.
Sanosuke nodded in agreement and the two continued their approach, keeping a careful eye out for anything that might have been construed as suspicious or a threat. Strangely, there seemed to be nobody about at all, and finally heaving a sigh, Kenshin and Sano turned to leave. Perhaps Saitou's informants weren't as reliable as they had thought...
Slowly Kenshin came to a stop and remained very still, his eyes narrowing slightly and flashing amber. Upon hearing Kenshin's steps halt Sano turned around as well. "What's the matter Kenshin?"
Kenshin slowly turned around and glanced in the northeast direction, "Someone's approaching."
Sano's brow furrowed in a questioning look and turned in the direction Kenshin had. Soon, sure enough, the black shadow of an approaching figure appeared not too far off. Sano's eyes widened considerably and he turned to look at Kenshin, " How in the hell did you know that?! They were at least ten yards away!" Catching the silencing glance Kenshin threw him in response, he stayed quiet and continued to watch the figure move...
The approaching shadow grew larger until the form of a man emerged from behind one of the small buildings not far from where Kenshin and Sanosuke crouched in order to remain out of sight. The man seemed to be out of place, for his hair wasn't the inky black of the populace of Japan. No, his was so light; it was clearly obvious that he was not from around here. The foreigner continued to walk until he came to one of the buildings at the far end of the dock, and raising a hand, began to knock upon the door in a distinct rhythm: one sharp rap, followed by three soft ones, then two sharp and another soft.
There was a silent pause in which Sano and Kenshin glanced at one another with identical looks of suspicion in their eyes. The sound of the door opening brought their attention back to the man however, and they saw that another man stood just inside the doorway. This man was of Asian decent, his sharp features giving him a menacing expression despite his short stature.
"What is the softest and most warming thing in the entire world?" The man who had opened the door asked.
The foreigner did not even blink, instead he simply replied, "The softest and warmest thing is a woman. One that can arouse the best of men and corrupt the mind into a state of unimaginable lust and desire."
The guard nodded, smiling in a way that suggested he was pleased by the answer he received. Stepping away from the door, he allowed the foreigner to enter the shed before the door firmly closed behind them.
Kenshin and Sano rose from their hiding place, the rurouni's violet gaze burning a hole through the door the two men had just went through. He had a strong feeling that he would indeed find Misao if he gained entrance. Without a glance in Sanosuke's direction, Kenshin strode purposefully to the door.
"Hey, Kenshin, wait up!" Sano called after him, scrambling to follow his red headed friend as he approached the door.
"Are you sure about this, Kenshin?" He said when they stood before the door. He cocked an eyebrow in suspicion. "It all seems fishy to me."
"Indeed it does, Sano. But regardless, I am sure that if we gain entrance past this door, we will be able to find Misao-dono, that we will."
"If you say so..." Sano replied, not sounding too convinced.
Raising a hand, Kenshin knocked on the door in the precise rhythm that they had heard the foreigner knock. A moment of tense silence later and the same man from before came to open the door. His beady eyes stared at them as if sizing them up before cocking his head to the side and spoke.
"What is the softest and most warming thing in the entire world?"
"The softest and warmest thing is a woman. One that can arouse the best of men and corrupt the mind into a state of unimaginable lust and desire." Kenshin spoke the answer with a false air of confidence, which seemed to fool the man because as before, he stepped back with a nod to allow them entrance.
The interior of the shed was not what the two friends had been expecting. It was devoid of any crates or shipping equipment of any kind. Just a barren, deserted structure. Where had the foreigner gone? Kenshin and Sano exchanged subtle looks of confusion before the guard joined them and motioned for them to follow him. He led them to the back of the shed, pausing in a certain spot and allowed his heel to thump the ground in a distinct rhythm, much like the previous coded knock. Before their eyes, the floor seemed to rise up, revealing a small space large enough for a normal size man to stand in. The man once again motioned to Sano and Kenshin, who stepped onto the platform. The man joined them, his hand rising to grasp a lever protruding from the side. Once the lever had been released, the platform began to lower itself back into the floor.
'So, this is how they've done it,' Sano thought to himself, 'They work underground.' He risked a glance over at the red head beside him. Kenshin's jaw was tightened in a stoic nature, giving nothing away, but the ex-street fighter was sure that the rurouni had come to the same conclusion.
Sano and Kenshin continued to follow the man down a long, darkened hallway. All the way to the end until they stood before a single door. Their guide eyed Kenshin's sword warily, but oddly, said nothing as he opened the door and stepped back, allowing the two men to enter.
"The security in this place majorly sucks." Sano murmured to the rurouni after the door was shut behind them.
Kenshin remained quiet, only nodding his agreement. His eyes were fixed straight ahead at the sight which lay before them. They had been lead into an underground warehouse it seemed. A very large and very full warehouse. There were men of all age and size milling about, some conversing, some enjoying a beverage of some sort, most likely sake. Some's eyes were trained on one of three raised daises that were positioned in a triangle pattern around the large room, where a scantily clad young woman swayed hypnotically to foreign music was playing from somewhere unseen. The sound blended and distored the multitude of male voices that all seemed to be talking at once.
"What you wanna bet that she's one of those kidnapped girls." Sanosuke whispered as he watched the young woman who was being ogled by a crowd of men around the stage. He didn't receive an answer from his companion and so broke his gaze away from the tempting sight to look over at the rurouni.
"Hey Kenshin, you alright buddy?" Sanosuke asked as he noticed his red headed friend's lack of interest in what he had just said.
As much as he wanted to, Sanosuke stifled the urge to wave his hand in front of the rurouni's face in an attempt to capture his attention. Instead, he settled on following Kenshin's slack-jawed gaze. Immediately his eyes widened as he saw just what had caught Kenshin's attention.
Kenshin couldn't help it. He just couldn't believe what he was seeing, but.... he knew for a fact that this was no dream. He'd finally found her, but all he could do was stare at the young girl walking out onto the stage in the center of the room. Her hair was unbound from its normal long braid. Instead it flowed around her in a wave of silken onyx, parting with her movements to reveal her scantily clad form. She was dressed in a kimono that could not really be called a kimono at all. It left barely anything to the imaginations as she began to sway slightly to the music that had begun playing. Caressing her hands up and down along her breasts, stomach and hips, the girl raised her head so that the long black locks that had been concealing her features like a curtain parted. Her eyes, a normally intense green, seemed distant, almost as if she were in a trance. Men cat called and remarked with shameless gestures as the girl danced suggestively. Sanosuke couldn't stop the smirk that drifted to his lips...and still Kenshin stared.
"It's Misao," He said quietly, almost a whisper.
Sanosuke nodded, taking in the sight of Misao's scantily clad body as she writhed sensuously onstage and couldn't help but wonder how his little Jou-chan would look dressed like that. "Yeah.... but what on earth is the weasel girl doin' up there?" He asked rhetorically.
Kenshin couldn't answer, his attention directed only at Misao. Sano glanced around the cluttered room, taking in the crowd. They had searched for her, hoping, praying that they would find her alive and safe. Well...she was alive all right. But by the hungry looks she was receiving from her all male audience, her safety was most definitely in question. Kenshin was still trying to get a handle on his emotions, which were swiftly shifting from shock to confusion before finally settling on.... excitement.
As if she had heard Kenshin whisper her name, the young ninja turned to him and smiled seductively. Sanosuke cocked an eyebrow and watched as she slowly climbed off of the stage and made her way toward them, the whole time still swaying sensuously to the beat. When she was halfway, she gestured for Kenshin to come forward with a crook of her finger. Almost unconsciously, he obeyed. Her entire body called to him, as if she were a drug that had somehow taken control of his actions. The crowd of overexcited men watched as the red headed stranger approached the beautiful siren. Once he stood before her, she slowly took his left hand in hers.
"Misao-do -- "
"Shhh." She interrupted, placing a delicate finger to Kenshin's lips, silencing him. "Don't speak...." She whispered huskily, "...just feel..."
With that she guided the rurouni's hand with her own up to her left breast, cupping it securely through the nearly nonexistent material. Instinctively, Kenshin's fingers tightened lightly around the soft mound, coaxing a moan from Misao's lips. Drawing closer so she could whisper into his ear, she said, "Make me yours...."
Trailing her lips from his ear, Misao nibbled a path down the awe-struck rurouni's jaw, bringing her lips within a hair's breath from his. Of course, this was the exact time that Sano felt he should speak up.
"Uhh, Kenshin?" Sano spoke to his friend, hoping it would be enough to divert Kenshin from his dangerous tailspin into trouble.
It wasn't. The two were still staring smolderingly into each other's eyes. Sano felt his eyebrow begin to twitch.
"Hey, Kenshin!?" His voice began to show signs of irritation. "Kenshin!" Finally giving up, Sanosuke took the only option left open to him. Taking a fistful of the mesmerized rurouni's red hair, he gave a firm yank, pulling him from Misao's grasp.
"Oro?" Himura's violet eyes seemed to clear from their glazed expression of only a moment before and focused on the frustrated Sano. "Sano?"
"Kenshin, what the hell is up with you?" Sano asked. Glancing down, he quickly added, "never mind, don't answer that."
"O-o-oro?" The rattled rurouni replied, thoroughly confused and a bit unsure of what had just occurred.
One moment he was listening to Sano ramble on and on about the wonders of good sake and a good woman, when it felt as if his eyes had been drawn toward the raised stage that was positioned in the middle of the crowded room. Suddenly his eyes widened as he remembered. Misao! Quickly leaning so he could look around Sano's body, his eyes landed on that which he sought. She stood a few feet from them, amidst a throng of drooling male admirers, her eyes fixed solely on him. It took only a moment for him to understand what had happened.
"Sano," Kenshin said, never taking his eyes off of Misao. "Do me a favor. When I give the signal, I want you to make for the nearest exit."
Sanosuke looked puzzled for a moment, then realization dawned as he figured out what the former hitokiri had in mind. Nodding, Sano tensed, ready to bolt on the signal from Kenshin.
Kenshin made his way back to Misao, who watched through what he now recognized as a drug induced gaze. When he reached her side, Kenshin reached out and drew her willing body into his arms once more. The crowd of onlookers drew back, some groaning in disappointment that the little temptress seemed to be spoken for. Others simply returned to their seats to better enjoy the show. Even as he enfolded Misao into his embrace to rest her head against his chest, Kenshin's eyes darted around the room, assuring himself that he had a clear path to the double doors that lead to the outside. Misao took this time to snuggle deeper into Kenshin's strong embrace. Stealthily maneuvering his and Misao's bodies so that he was facing Sano, Kenshin locked eyes with the tori atama in a look that said "Get out of here now".
In that second, Kenshin easily scooped Misao up into his arms and he and Sano made a mad dash for the doors. Too late. Before they could reach the safety zone of the outside, four burly and dangerous looking men suddenly appeared in front of the exit. They stood, side by side, making a seemingly impenetrable wall, effectively blocking the escape route.
"Kuso!" Sano exclaimed, instantly moving into a defensive stance as he automatically raised his fists.
"This is not good, that it is not." Kenshin replied as he lowered Misao back to her feet, positioning her so that he was between her and the four thugs at the door.
"And just where do you think you're going with the boss' little prize there?" One of the men guarding the door spat. "It wouldn't do to let you go running off with the merchandise without paying for it first."
The rurouni's normally violet eyes flashed angrily with hints of amber as he stared down the man who had spoken. "Misao-dono is no one's prize, nor is she merchandise, that she is not." came the calm but cold reply.
The man scoffed. "Listen here, mister, I'm not letting you out of this place with that girl. She's the boss' favorite, and it'd be my hide if I let her get taken without being paid for."
Throughout this exchange, Misao's befuddled mind began to regain some ration of thought. She could hear a cold, calm voice that sounded familiar, and random death threats from another familar voice. She could feel strong, yet gentle arms pull her closer. She was in Kenshin's arms, but the drug refused to allow her to fully acknowledge that fact. A slightly seductive smile inched its way to her lips and she lightly placed her hand to Kenshin's scarred cheek.
"That's right, I'm yours to play with." She said teasingly.
Kenshin looked down at her. It was...well, Misao, but at the same time, not. He could make out the faint childish features in her face, but that did not stop his heart from quickening in its pace. He knew he should not allow her to distract him. They were in too tedious of a situation, but he couldn't help but take a moment to bask in the undiluted affection she was now showing him. For a scant moment, blazing amber met pale blue in a look that would have melted the strongest iron. Shaking his head to clear it, the Battousai came to his senses again. This was not Misao's true personality. This was drug induced, of that he was sure. He could also see the effects it had on her, causing her to behave as a whole other woman. A wanton woman wanting only to physically please men.
"Misao, snap out of it!" Battousai's tone was demanding, with a pleading hint of the rurouni.
"Look here-" One of the men cut in, withdrawing a dagger from somewhere within his haori as he moved forward to yankMisao from Battousai's arms.
Reacting immediately, Battousai shoved Misao behind him as he drew his sakabatou and used the reversed edge to deflect the man's attack. With a shove, he sent the man tumbling to the floor. The other three men started forward to help their comrade, but froze when Sano stepped forward.
"I'm taking her back," the former hitokiri growled.
From his side, Misao started groggily. There was the feeling of a shroud being lifted, revealing to her senses and thoughts that had been, until that moment, smothered back. She knew this. She remembered. That voice.... those arms.... that scent. This man.
"Kenshin?" she breathed.
Eyes of amber-tinged violet widened at the sound of his name being murmured in that familiar voice. He turned his head, seeking out the jade colored eyes that were now staring at him in glazed recognition for the first time. Before he could open his mouth to speak, the remaining "bouncers" swarmed forward to take the red headed samurai off guard...
...and the battle was on.