Little Birds

A Rurouni Kenshin fanfiction by Diane Long

Chapter One

Blood.

It was everywhere: Red splatters on the rice papered screens; slow moving rivulets seeping into the tatami; even the low ceiling was adorned with crimson droplets. For a flash of a moment, she wasn't sure how it had gotten there.

Out in the hall her red footprints were smeared along the rare hardwood flooring. That, for some reason, caught her dazed attention. She looked at the footprints, then back down at her tabi socks. A short while ago, they had been a brilliant white, now they were a wet vermillion except for the area between her toes that flashed like snow when she flexed her feet.

Everything was cold and disconnected. Her head felt like it might float away from her body at any moment. She couldn't be sure that it wasn't already happening. She was looking through her eyes, but she wasn't herself. Why was there blood everywhere?

She shivered as a cold wind nipped at her exposed throat. The candle on her dressing table flickered casting strange shadows over her room. She moved her face to the source of the breeze, noting the open sliding doors that lead out to the garden. Keeping her gaze high, the first thing she saw was the deep blue of the sky and the crisp edges of the wintry sickle moon. Then she let her eyes drop to the shadows of the two bodies out on the engawa. One's head was missing and the other hung half-way off the porch, missing a shoe on one foot.

She looked back inside, searching for the missing sandal. Instead she saw three more still men, their gashes and bloody punctures quite clear by the light of her candles and lamps. They looked as if they should be in considerable pain.

They looked stiff.

They looked … dead.

Her father's katana slipped from her hands and she crouched down in her ruined yellow kimono, her elaborately tied blue obi half-undone and trailing behind her in the gore. What had she done? Unable to answer even herself, she watched her feet.

Flex: White.

Flex: Red.

Flex: White.

She couldn't really think anymore. There wasn't room in her mind. All that seemed to matter was finding that small patch of white. The part that wasn't stained.

"Ms. Kaoru!"

Her head snapped up at her name. "Mmm?" she murmured faintly as a white and pink blur sped past her line of vision.

His body tense and shaking, Kenshin stood with his back to her, his sakabattou drawn and ready as his ice-blue eyes searched the room for trouble. "What happened here?" he demanded harshly, his voice sounding cruel and gritty.

She stared at the brightness of his hair, entranced by it. Kenshin. Kenshin was here! The clouds obscuring her thoughts started to part with his presence.

His sword lowering, but still at the ready, he looked back over his shoulder at her, his eye quirking menacingly. "Tell me what happened," he demanded.

Kaoru titled her head away from that fierce gaze, looking back to her drenched socks and chewing on her bottom lip.

He stared hard at her for a moment, then blinked obviously making an effort to calm down. His eyes slowly clearing back into a rich purple, Kenshin's shoulders relaxed as he took a deep breath. He cast a final look about the room before sheathing his sword and carefully turning to face Kaoru. He went to his knees, one hand supporting him on the floor and the other ready on the hilt of his sword. "Ms. Kaoru?" he whispered in a soft voice closer to his usual kind tones.

Kaoru turned her head to look at him fully, her deep blue irises almost consumed by her pupils. She could feel something sticky on her face, but couldn't quite remember what it was. She fought the urge to wipe it away. Why was he staring like that?

He never looked at her so directly or with such emotion. What was wrong? Was it the way she looked?

Her hands fluttered about her head as she tried to straighten her hair. It seemed to have fallen from the up-style she had been experimenting with that evening. She averted her eyes from him coyly as she tried to pat the loose strands back in place. It wasn't working. Her hair seemed to keep slipping from the bun.

"Please Ms. Kaoru, answer me?" Kenshin pleaded, his wide eyes watching her with disbelief and horror vying for control of his features.

She gave up on her hair, letting her hands fall slack into her lap. "Ne, Kenshin?" Something she was trying not to think about was breaking through… it almost had her attention.

"Are you hurt?" he asked, his eyes focusing on the blood on her face as he reached a tentative hand towards her.



She looked down and stared at the red rings around her cuticles. "No." It was coming back to her… she had… she had….

Very, very, slowly, he laid his hand upon her shoulder as if he feared to spook her. "What – what has happened here?" he whispered fearfully.

"I don't…" her breath hitched. "I d-don't…" again her throat seized upon her words. "Ken – shi – n," she hiccupped as tears found their way into her mouth and choked her. Blood everywhere… a head flying free from its shoulders….

He leaned forward on his knees and gathered her back to his chest holding her tightly, the full sleeves of his faded red gi enveloping her. "Are you really alright?" he whispered fiercely. "Truly?"

She just shook, frightened by the way he sounded, by what she was remembering, by what she had done. She drew in several short, raspy breathes, reaching up to grip his arms. "I… I… I…." Death…slaughter….

"You're safe, now," he whispered as he rocked her slowly back and forth. "Safe with me."

She bent her head and pressed her mouth to the forearms that wrapped around her chest, muffling the whimper that curled out of her throat.

"Safe," he reaffirmed, easing one arm free and clutching her head to him, lacing his long fingers through her ruined hair.

She heaved in a breath and let it out as a loud sob, covering her eyes as her shoulders shook. The harder she pressed against her eyelids the sharper the visions became.

Looking about himself helplessly for a moment, Kenshin eyed the wreck of a room. All of Kaoru's possessions were either trampled or bloody. It was all ruined. He tightened his hold on Kaoru as her cries shook her body.

"Shit!" came a loud voice from outside the room.

Kenshin craned his head to look back out into the hall. "Sano!"

The tall gangster ran into the room, splashing through the blood, paying no heed as the darkening red drops stained the wrappings on his shins. He looked at Kenshin's armful with dread. "Kaoru!"

"She is unhurt," Kenshin soothed, caressing the top of her head.

Sano blinked as he took in the blood and the bodies the white of his clothing seeming extra bright in the setting. "Shit, man, what did you do?" He looked at Kenshin in shocked disbelief. "I was only a few minutes behind you on the road. How could this happen so fast?"

Kenshin motioned downwards with his head. "It… it wasn't me, Sanosuke."

Sano's jaw dropped and he ran a hand through his bushy brown hair. "Not the Little Missy?"

Kenshin bit his lip and looked between the shattered girl in his arms and his best friend. "I'm not sure… but…." He looked pointedly to the bloodied steel near Kaoru's feet.

Sano's eyes narrowed. "So where's the kid?"

Kenshin's back straightened at that. He ran a soft finger down Kaoru's cheek to get her attention. "Ms. Kaoru," he whispered urgently, "where is Yahiko?"

Kaoru moaned, and lowered her hands her fingers digging into Kenshin's arm. "My Yahiko," she said brokenly, trying to catch enough breath to speak. "My little Yahiko."

"Where is he?" Kenshin repeated.

Kaoru sniffed and pulled her head up to look balefully at Kenshin as her breathing calmed. "He's in the dojo." Her eyes were red and her cheeks glistened with tears.

"Hey Yahiko, get your ass in here!" Sano bellowed. He tilted his head and threw Kenshin a wild look. "I can't believe that kid, hiding at a time like this. Not when Kaoru needs his help!"

Rubbing her tears away, Kaoru graced Kenshin with a strange smile. "He won't answer."

"Is he hurt?" Kenshin asked with deep concern.

Her smile fading, Kaoru pulled away from Kenshin and pushed her self to her feet using his shoulders for support. She swayed a bit as she let go, but found her balance again as she left the room, holding her kimono closed when the obi fell off completely.

"Shock," Sano said briefly as looked to Kenshin. "I don't think she's killed before."

"Of course she hasn't!" Kenshin snapped, rising to his feet.

"Easy, easy!" Sanosuke said holding up his hands. "I'm just saying…."

"Then try not to speak," Kenshin sighed. "Now is not the time." He hurried after Kaoru.

Taking tiny, lady-like steps she padded gracefully through the hallway as the men followed her with hard eyes that watched the shadows. She turned the corner and ghosted through the training hall's massive doorway into the darkened room.

Before her in a pool of deeper shadow, Yahiko laid spread eagle, a dark gash cut through his stomach. By his open hand lay his shinai, its tip cracked and bent. Kaoru stopped short of the body and watched as Kenshin and Sano shot past her.

"Gods!" Sano shouted, dropping to his knees and grabbing at Yahiko's hand. He started chaffing it furiously. "This isn't happening!"

"Yahiko?" Kenshin questioned softly. He squatted near the boy and reached a trembling hand out to check his pulse.

"He's dead," Kaoru announced, her voice ringing through the quiet darkness of the large room.

Kenshin drew his hand back and straightened, looking to her with wide, wide eyes. "Ms. Kaoru?"

Kaoru swayed where she stood. "He jumped in front of me."

Kenshin hurried towards her as her knees seemed to buckle.

"The blow was for me," she choked, losing control of her legs. She felt Kenshin's strong arms close around her and save her knees from a sharp impact with the floor.

Kenshin lowered her gently and met Sano's dilated eyes with his own, arching an eyebrow in question before he gave Kaoru his full attention.

Sano shrugged and looked back down on the boy they had all come to love. He smoothed his large hand down the small face and closed Yahiko's coldly staring eyes. His shoulders drooping with sorrow, the tall man stood guard over the body while Kenshin attended to Kaoru.

"I was trying to get to the shomen," Kaoru was saying, her entire body beginning to convulse. "I was trying to get to father's sword… they had cut my bokken in half. They cornered me… they were going to k-kill me… but little Yahiko…" The rest of her story was lost to the sudden onset of hyperventilation.

Kenshin shushed her with low sounds, resting his head on top of hers. "Don't try to speak. Just take deep breaths." By taking exaggeratedly deep and slow breaths he set the rhythm for her to follow. "Just like that. Breathe in and out," he encouraged.

"She killed five men all by herself? That fucking blows me away," Sano murmured from his place at Yahiko's side.

"Sano," Kenshin warned in a low voice as he felt Kaoru lose the rhythm of her breathing at the remark.

" 'The sword that protects'," Kaoru whispered bitterly. "I failed, you father. I failed."

Kenshin scooped Kaoru into his arms and slowly rose to his feet. "I thank your father that you are still alive," he murmured into her hair. "Sanosuke, please go get Megumi and help her take care of Yahiko. I'm going to help Miss Kaoru get cleaned up."

"You sure I should leave you?" Sano gripped his hands into tight fists. "This is clearly far from over."

"Clearly," Kenshin agreed dryly. "However, I think we have seen the last of this evil for tonight.

"Yeah?"

"Whoever is behind this didn't expect Kaoru to be able to defend herself. It will take at least a day for them to realize why their men didn't return."

Sano slowly got to his feet. "What if she didn't get them all Kenshin? I don't want to leave you open for a trap." He cracked his knuckles and stretched his neck. "I don't like it."

"The fact that Miss Kaoru is alive tells us that she got them all. Once this type of violence starts it isn't over until either the target or the attacker is dead." He looked Sano straight in the eye. "You know that."

A/N: I hope you all liked that! After writing 13 Tenchi Muyo stories and 13 Daria stories I needed a break from fanfiction. These characters are harder to get a handle on but I am enjoying it. Does anyone want more of this fic? Please review and let me know! Smooooch! Di