Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters borrowed from Rurouni Kenshin, nor the single character borrowed from Inuyasha. In fact, I don't even own Rurouni Kenshin or Inuyasha. So there.

- Romance / Angst - Alternate Universe -

Summary: Three young women are brought into a town of assassins and soldiers, where they find life is far different than that of their sheltered home. In the midst of war and chaos, they find hope and love to stand against anything... even it not being returned.

Rating: Very "R". Sexual situations, language, violence. Yes, that's right - sex and violence. Don't like, don't read.

Things to know before reading: There is a single character brought over from Inuyasha, so yes, this is a crossover. Extremely mild one at this point, as it's only the one (Sango). I was just going to use Tokio, but I really couldn't get into using her at all, so... Also, this is Alternate Universe, so things are subject to change due to the authoress's whims. Such as the fact that this isn't Japan, and Kyoto isn't a center of government...

Pairing(s): [Battousai x Kaoru], [Aoshi x Misao], [Sango x Saitou]... Yes, I gave in to the urge to do a canon pairing fic. Isn't that evil of me? I'm so sorry for those of you who are disappointed ;_;


To Find a Dream: War Arc
Part I


Civil war tore the lands apart, both through battle and simple daily life. Market prices were high due to the self-preservation instincts of the farmers, and townspeople found themselves fearing the news, waiting for the day to come when they heard of the death of their children or that war was coming to their homes. Wives prayed every night for their husbands to return home safely. Dreams of happy times, children being married off, or the success of family businesses disappeared. Naive beliefs of love and immortality broke under the strain of battle and loneliness. Now all dreams centered on survival and the hopes that family members would return home in one piece. Tension ran high amongst the population, as each day more and more lives were torn asunder.

Kamiya Kaoru leaned against the gates of her father's dojo, a letter clasped tightly in her hands, slender fingers nervously folding and unfolding along the creases. Azure eyes were shadowed in her pale face as they searched the streets anxiously for a familiar figure, hunting for honey-streaked raven tresses. More than one surreptitious glance was cast her way from various men passing by; the Kamiya daughters were gifted with fresh beauty, despite the decay of happy lives in the land. It was, many matrons murmured, quite a shame that their father had left them destitute. With suitable dowries, they would have easily garnered matches and quite possibly would have had a child or two each by now. Instead, they worked hard to keep their dojo running despite its lack of students. It was well known that young Kaoru helped out at the Maekawa dojo in order to keep her family fed.

Then, of course, there was Sango, who was known to help anyone in need of it, with her gentle smiles and soft words. She often helped out at the Akabeko restaurant, which invariably held more male customers when she happened to be serving that day. The older of the two, she was far less volatile than her sister, though both were trained to fight. Other than their dowries, the fact that they were probably stronger than any of the men of the village was another reason for their lack of suitors. Of course, it did nothing to diminish their crowd of admirers, who were so happy setting their sights on the younger Kamiya girl as she stood there waiting. Though many had given up their fantasies of love (or, more accurately, infatuation) because of the disastrous war, they were hard-pressed to give up their thoughts and dreams considering the Kamiya women.

Blissfully unaware of the direction of nearby males' thoughts, else her temper would have ignited, Kaoru fiddled with her letter nervously. The contents of it had planted an idea into her mind, one that would not go away, no matter how hard she tried to ignore it. It was risky and preposterous, as well as potentially forever damning to their reputations, but it would so help Yahiko and Dr. Genzai, bringing about a more comfortable life for them. If Sango didn't dismiss it entirely, anyway. Of course, that was doubtful, as this might solve their problems. Or so Kaoru liked to think.

Her face brightened as a familiar voice lilted through the crowd, apologizing as the owner made her way past those walking on the street. Warm cinnamon eyes landed upon her younger sister, perfectly arched brows rising in silent inquiry of her presence outside the gates. Kaoru managed an easy shrug and undaunted smile as she stepped forth to relieve her sibling of a basket looped over her arm.

"Welcome home," she greeted cheerfully, all but pushing the older girl through the gates and into the safety of their home. Many sighs were expelled as the two beauties disappeared, and the crowd was quick to disperse now that their object of thought was no longer there.

"How was your day?" Sango dropped her second burden, a bowl of tofu, onto the dojo steps as she sat down, feeling too tired to move any further. She had bad news, but didn't want to share it just yet. At Kaoru's noncommittal answer of "Fine", she huffed out a sigh. Such lukewarm sentiments were unnatural coming from her. "What is it?" she asked suspiciously. The last time she'd said the day had been 'fine', Yahiko had broken one of their mother's vases.

The younger woman squirmed under her companion's intense scrutiny. Her carefully planned words deserted her as she thrust the much-abused letter into her sister's hands. Sango glanced it over, disinterested. More accurately, interested but not understanding the fuss. "It's a letter from Misao-chan. So?"

"Haven't you paid any attention to what she's been writing?" Kaoru asked, exasperated. "She's making enough money to keep her family out of debt with this new job of hers, and she's only been gone a month!" Ignoring the faintly lecturing look on her sister's face, she rushed on, "I went to the man who hired her today and asked about vacancies, and he said yes. We could both go, and make enough money to keep everyone on their feet, maybe even buy us time until the war ends so that students will come back to the dojo!" Her enthusiasm was tinged with pleading, softening the older girl's initial refusal. "And Yahiko won't have to keep worrying about the next leak that's bound to appear. We can hire people to refinish the building after we come back. And Dr. Genzai won't have to worry about us as much, or keep spotting us money for our next meal." The last sentence seemed to deflate much of Sango's resistance. Bolstered by this, Kaoru tried for her most hopeful expression as she dropped to her knees before her. "Please, can we at least think about it?"

She bit her lip, furrowing her brow as she looked over the untidy scrawl of their childhood friend. The idea was a good one, she had to admit, but there was something nagging at the back of her mind, warning her to take a step back and think everything over before committing herself. "Kaoru-chan," she began slowly, carefully refolding the letter, "I know that it sounds good, but realistically..." she trailed off at the pained frustration shimmering in the depths of her sister's cobalt eyes. They all felt that way lately, really. Sango fiddled with the paper and avoided her sibling's gaze, turning her own to the tofu instead. I need to cook dinner; Yahiko will be home soon with Dr. Genzai and his granddaughters. She bit back a sigh, knowing that she was trying to avoid the issue. "Help me with dinner," she murmured finally, pushing herself painfully to her feet. It had been a long, long day. "We'll talk in the kitchen."

She knew Kaoru wanted to protest, and could only feel relieved when the younger woman grabbed the bowl of tofu and followed her into the small, sectioned-off portion of their father's dojo. It wasn't long before her tentative words began. "Is it because I'm still not that great at cooking? I'm getting better! And until I can make something edible without help, I can just do the laundry. I'm sure they won't mind that for a little while. Soldiers are always getting things dirty." She sounded so vulnerable that Sango had to fight the urge to walk over and hug her close.

"It's not that," she was quick to reassure, gracefully scooping out careful amounts of rice into her palm and dumping it into a large bowl. "We've just never been around soldiers before. These are people from the army. And if I'm reading correctly, they're special units. There has to be more to this town than she's letting on." She hesitated, before voicing the doubt that continued to nudge her mind. "Their jobs might be... two-fold."

Kaoru frowned as she poured a small amount of water onto the powdery kernels. "Two-fold?"

A faint blush stained her elder sister's cheeks as she vigorously began to wash the rice, watching with satisfaction as the once-clear liquid became milky with the coating of the grain. "It might not just be cleaning and cooking and doing laundry, but you may have to do other... favors... for the men." A quick glance showed her that her sibling still didn't understand. She let out an embarrassed little sigh and explained, "We might be used for... indecent things."

Navy eyes widened. "You mean... Misao-chan is...?"

"No! No, no, I never said that," Sango said hastily, carefully pouring the water into waiting soil. "But it could happen to us if we went there." While her sister absorbed the information, she quickly dumped more water into the bowl and began the second rinsing of the rice. Didn't I buy radishes last week that I haven't finished? Now, where did I put them? She nodded faintly as a sliver of white caught at the corner of her eye; next to the stove.

"Don't you have to be willing for them to do that, though?" Kaoru asked hesitantly. The older girl frowned slightly as she motioned for her to wash and cut the radish.

"I'm really not certain. Though I could be wrong," she admitted. "After all, there are plenty of that kind of women around, and they will certainly go to the town in order to, ah, have customers." Her cheeks were still flushed pink over the topic of discussion. "The best way to find out is to probably ask the man in charge of finding women to fill the position."

Kaoru grimaced slightly at the thought of asking the balding old man such a question. She shuddered. "I think Misao-chan would have told us if things like that happened with her," she persisted, causing Sango to pause thoughtfully. "So it must be safe, since she doesn't say a word." Unspoken was the fact that their friend loved to talk about anything, and so such a detail would never be left out of her letters.

"True," she agreed reluctantly, watching with a careful eye as Kaoru grabbed a knife and began to slice circular pieces of radish. "Not too much," she cautioned. "I'm making soup tonight." Her head tilted slightly as she heard the gate doors come to a resounding close, and a familiar step ran past. "Yahiko?" she called out, already knowing that it was he.

"Hey!" A familiar, sun-browned face showed up at the kitchen door, a wide grin splitting the dear face of their little brother. "Makin' dinner?"

"Indeed." Sango calmly reached for a bucket and tossed it toward him. "We need more water."

His smile faltered as he caught the instrument of doom. He hated fetching water from the well. "But sis," he whined, only to be pinned by two flat stares. Though the coloring of their eyes were completely different, both of his older sisters had identical glares - it was a wholly unnerving experience. "All right, all right, I'll get it," he sighed. "Dr. Genzai wanted you to know that he'll be a little late. This guy came in with a big gash on his leg," he recalled with great relish. "It was bleeding all over the floors though his friends had all this stuff wrapped around it to sop up all the blood, and--"

"Yahiko!" Kaoru reproved sharply.

He stopped his too-detailed recollection immediately, offering a sheepish grin. "Gettin' the water," he said cheerfully, quickly backing out with his bucket and disappearing from sight.

The two girls shared a look of suffering before they quietly began preparations for dinner once again, by silent consent tucking their conversation away until they were once again alone. Yahiko would not like the idea of his sisters going away for a long period of time, and Dr. Genzai would be horrified over them leaving for such a dangerous area. But still, they both knew that something had to be done. They needed the money, and...

"Oh!" Sango stared at the diced vegetables before her blankly as she remembered the news she'd forgotten to give her sister. "Kaoru-chan..." She paused as thudding steps heralded their brother's arrival, catching the younger girl's eyes as though to say we'll talk in a minute. "Thank you, Yahiko," she said smoothly as the boy reappeared in the doorway, complete with brimming bucket. "I need you to clean the floors of the dojo before dinner's ready, too."

"Clean the - aw, all right," he grumbled, storming away with choice phrases of slave-driving older sisters. Sango smiled fondly at his retreating back.

"Sango?" Kaoru prodded.

"Hmm? Oh." The older girl blew out a little sigh as she began to gather all the ingredients into one of the larger pots. "I was talking with Tae-san earlier today," she offered weakly. "It looks like her family's not doing as well as they should with the restaurant, since no one can really afford to eat out anymore..."

"Oh, no." Her sister straightened immediately, knowing full well the implications. Sango continued as though she hadn't interrupted.

"So it looks like I need to find another job to bring in money." She frowned at the beginnings of their soup absently as she lit the fire. "I was thinking of helping you out at Maekawa-sensei's..."

"You can't," Kaoru interrupted, with a sound suspiciously like a whimper. "He can't afford to keep letting me come over either, because most of the boys are wanting to go off and fight the war." She stared blindly at the stove, blinking back what felt suspiciously like tears. I can't cry. I need to be strong right now. We need to be strong right now. "That's why I checked up on that idea."

"I see." Sango stirred the pot slowly, shoulders slumping. "And none of us have been able to find any other place to work, I gather."


She sighed, pushing to her feet and rubbing the small of her back. "This is the only thing that's showed up at all for any sort of job?"

"Yes." Kaoru looked up at her older sister with a worried expression. "I don't think we have much of a choice. We can barely afford to keep the dojo as it is, and we're eating the same thing day after day. Now that neither of us can work for money, it's only going to get worse."

Her prophetic words brought them both more than enough headaches in the next two days. Absolutely no one was willing to hire them, no matter for how small a shift, because they couldn't afford more hired help. Sango tried at various inns, restaurants, and even homes, offering her services as cook and housekeeper. Kaoru made her way through various homes asking if anyone needed private lessons, gathering either denials or sickening propositions that she refused. Then Yahiko fell ill, along with the majority of the town, exhibiting flu-like symptoms that brought a grave light to Dr. Genzai's eyes. All the money they'd saved had disappeared rapidly. Then someone broke into the dojo, leaving with nothing of value, though they'd broken a few doors and made a complete mess of the training hall. It had taken an entire evening to get the place habitable again, and they couldn't afford any repairs for a while yet.

In the afternoon of the second day, both girls had taken a brief interview with the same man Kaoru had talked to the day she'd received Misao's letter. They'd been assured of a place in Kyoto if they left within a day, much to the shocked disbelief and anger of their little brother.

"I don't care how much we need the money!" he shouted at them both, so angry that tears filled his eyes. "You don't need to go so far away! You can find jobs here! I'll help, too! What's the point of you leaving for jobs when you won't be here with us?"

Despite both girls' attempts at soothing him, he'd run and barricaded himself in his room, flatly refusing to come out despite their broken pleas. Eventually they'd had to pack while he sulked, already having given their word to leave.

It's for the best, Kaoru thought, blinking away her own tears. You'll understand when you're older, Yahiko. Sometimes the best thing isn't always nice or fun. Sometimes it'll hurt. But it still has to be done. She managed a tight-lipped smile when both she and Sango managed to pack the barest of necessities in three bags. "Well, at least we won't embarrass ourselves with an overabundance of luggage," she quipped, her voice strained.

"True," Sango agreed, though her eyes strayed to the firmly closed door their brother hid behind. She sighed. "I can't believe we have to leave tomorrow."

"Me neither." Unable to stop her hands from shaking, Kaoru linked her fingers together. For a crazy moment she wished desperately that they were still children, and that their father was still alive to take care of them. It was a bitter feeling, being unable to tell him goodbye. They didn't even have his body in the plot they'd squared off for him in the cemetery. Going there to talk to him had soothed her a bit earlier, but it still wasn't the same.

"We'll be going by carriage, and it's a three-day journey." The older girl tore her gaze away from her brother's room to smile slightly at her sister. "You want to get in some practice before we're stuck on the road?"

"Ye - wait. We can't." Kaoru pinched the bridge of her nose with a frustrated sigh. "Whoever came in here yesterday broke all the weapons." Worries, stress, and frustration lined her forehead, showing in the tense lines of her body. Sango leaned over to tug on a silky strand of hair, laughing softly. The sound was forced, but still went a way in making her sister relax somewhat.

"Kaoru, you of all people should know that the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu doesn't need a sword!" The snorted words whipped two heads around as Yahiko appeared in his doorway, still appearing somewhat sullen but obviously having come to a hard decision. He rolled up his sleeves, looking over his sisters with a broad smirk. "I can take you both down, I bet."

You're going to regret that, Kaoru thought with a grin.

The almost desperate fun they'd had that day still warmed a corner of her heart as the two girls made their way into Kyoto, their first glances stolen from the windows of the carriage. The village was more of a garrison, which really shouldn't have surprised her. It was basically a town to house special forces in the war, after all. Training was done here. Goosebumps shivered their way down her arms as she caught the hungry looks in more than one pair of eyes. Sango obviously noticed them as well, by the tightening of her features and the foreboding expression flickering in the depths of her cinnamon-warm eyes.

Kaoru fumbled for her sister's hand, squeezing it tightly as the conveyance rolled and bumped its way to the main building. Her palms were sweaty with anxiety - they had to be able to make it here. They had to. Yahiko and Dr. Genzai and Suzume and Ayame, the sweet little grandchildren of Dr. Genzai, were depending on her. They needed the money this job would bring. Even if it means I have to occasionally deal with lusty drunkards, I will do it, she vowed silently, knowing that the same words were probably in Sango's mind. They'd made their decision and would stand by it.

She felt herself trembling when they finally came to a stop, and berated herself sharply for the weakness. Yes, she was frightened, but more of the possibility that this wouldn't work than anything else. They needed this. They needed the money. Anything will be worth it, she thought grimly, thinking of her brother's tanned, laughing face. If it means he will have a comfortable life, then I can do anything. From the faint pressure of her sister's hand clutching hers, she knew that they were thinking exactly the same thing as they descended the carriage to stare, unnerved, at the stone monstrosity before them.

"It's certainly big," Sango murmured softly, feeling deflated over the look of the building. It was very... very efficient. Certainly came straight from the mind of a soldier, with its defense-friendly lines. Indeed, it was more of a castle than anything else, though on a smaller scale than the grandiose ones she'd heard and read about.

"Indeed," Kaoru agreed, moving with a vague feeling of foreboding through the gates and to the main doors. She eyed the heavy oak and wondered if she would even be able to open them; they certainly looked too big and thick to be moved. That concern was lifted from her shoulders when she realized that someone else was already opening them, allowing both girls to step into the cool interior.

She gaped at the wide, arching structures, almost airy in their beauty. Despite the off-putting exterior, the interior was beautiful, made by master architects. Well, it could use a few more windows, but somehow they'd managed to make it seem almost light and cheery. Perhaps a woman's touch? she thought, glancing at Sango with faintly arched brows. Her sister seemed to be wholly absorbed in taking in the graceful arches and tastefully placed tapestries.

The other two women who had shared the carriage with them for the last two days of the journey didn't seem completely floored, and chatted quietly with each other as they were led through the hall by a young woman, who didn't meet any of their eyes. It didn't take Kaoru long to realize that it was slightly curved, to give the illusion of walking farther than they truly had. Whoever had designed this had wanted everything to be grandiose, to perhaps intimidate any visitors. Curious - it didn't seem to be a building for any sort of soldier. In fact, it reminded her more of the ego-boosting mannerisms of various aristocrats in Tokyo. Which was surprising, as the nobility were on the side of the shogunate, and Kyoto was in the power of the Choshou Clan, who fought for the equality of all classes.

Too much thinking, she quickly decided. The war never failed to confuse her - she understood what both sides were fighting for, but war itself was so confusing. How it affected everyday people, ones who would never had bothered thinking about the struggle if it hadn't thrust itself into their lives. There was so much gray in the world, so many things past the borders of simplicity. And none of it ever really made sense.

She hesitated as they came to a stop before a second pair of double doors. Their guide opened them easily and bowed all four women through.

A bathing house? Kaoru frowned. "I don't--"

The door was closed in her face. Well, that was rude. She shared an apprehensive glance with Sango as they noted the four towels and four robes hanging neatly. The other women were already shedding their garments to slip into the steaming water. "What is all of this?"

"I don't know," her sister murmured, cautiously slipping out of her blouse and flared skirt. "But I'm going to take advantage of it. I feel so dirty after three days on the road. And they wouldn't even let us stop at any of the towns." She frowned slightly. It was as though they had been purposely taken in a roundabout way to get to Kyoto. Then again, she didn't actually know of anyone who could get here on their own power; everyone was taken by carriage. So they made some effort to hide it, though she was certain that the enemy knew where it was. Enemy? Sango shook her head slightly. Already I act as though I am of the Choshou Clan. Which wasn't far from the truth - she liked their ideas - but she'd never tried to be on any of their actual sides before. Either way, they were still hurting the people with this war. "Kaoru-chan, aren't you coming in?"

The younger girl blinked, before nodding choppily. "Oh. Right." Quickly divesting herself of her traveling clothes, she slid into the heated water with a soft hiss of appreciation. A faint smile curved her lips at the curious glances from the other two women. "Hello," she offered cordially. They hadn't spoken at all during the carriage ride, despite two days in each others' company.

"You're new, aren't you?" The sympathetic voice came from the taller of the two. Her hair reached to her waist, but was pulled and piled high on her head to keep it from getting wet.

"We were just recently hired," Kaoru murmured.

"Hired?" The second's brows arched slightly, and she laughed softly. "Well, that's one way of looking at it."

Beside her, Sango stiffened slightly. "What do you mean?"

"No one hires us. We come of our own choice, and they allow us to stay," she laughed. "It's nothing so complicated as having a boss."

Dread pooled in her stomach. Kaoru shivered slightly and ducked a little farther beneath the water, her eyes wide. "But..."

"Megumi, don't tease the poor girls." The first woman smiled impartially at them, completely relaxed. "You're new at this, aren't you?"

"New at..." Sango straightened abruptly. "You don't understand! We were hired as house-keepers. Cooking, cleaning..."

Suddenly the two women weren't laughing. Their eyes were dark with both sympathy and... pity? "Oh, I see. You're from Tokyo, aren't you? Yumi," the second woman turned to the first. "Wasn't there another girl who came recently from there?"

"Wh-What are you talking about? How do you know we're from Tokyo?" Kaoru demanded, feeling oddly chilled despite the warmth of the water. She shivered slightly.

The one named Yumi looked at them both sadly. "I suppose we should tell you. The... recruiter in Tokyo is known to tell attractive young women that there are legitimate openings here as jobs. Then they send the same women here, and they are usually stuck here. You don't have money, do you?"

She shook her head.

"That's how it works," Megumi picked up. "You can leave - if you have enough money to go anywhere. You won't find any jobs other than this one, either. And they won't let you leave if you're not in one of the carriages. They call it safety reasons."

Silence fell, an ominous feeling in the steamy warmth of the bathing house. Sango and Kaoru both stared blankly at the two women who had just given the words to seal their fates.

My stomach... it feels funny. Like I'm going to fall, but I'm just hanging, suspended, waiting. I didn't... expect this to happen. I should have known. Sango told me... but I didn't listen to her because we need the money. And now we're going to...

The water felt suddenly slimy, thick and greasy around her, holding her into a place she didn't want to be. Tears pricked at her eyes as the full force of everything pounded against her mind. They were stuck here, in Kyoto, with no way to return home. Unless... unless they gave up everything that was dear to them. Unless they did something that would forever ruin their reputations, forever change the courses of their lives.

Sango spoke as her younger sister continued to struggle with the ramifications. Unlike Kaoru, the older girl had already thought of the possibilities. It was different to be thrown into a situation where she had no choice, but she had still been ready for it - it didn't take nearly as long for her mind to process. "So we're whores for anyone with an... an itch." Her words were flat, almost emotionless, but for the faint shiver in them. It betrayed her feelings to the two women.

"Not exactly," Megumi murmured, her brows drawing together. Sympathy beat within her heart for the two sisters. They were young and innocent, with a full life ahead of them, and because of that jerk Kikuchi Taku, they had been given only one course of action. "You'll be a part of the harem. Only the favored men will be able to choose you as their companion. If you're lucky, you'll find someone who lays claim, and no one else will be able to touch you. It's... It's not so bad, really. And you'll be able to send money back home to your family..."

Kaoru twitched slightly. My family... Yahiko. Dr. Genzai. When will I be able to face them again, if I... if I do this? She glanced toward Sango, whose eyes were dark with sorrow... and her face firm with determination. Can I handle this? Can she handle this?

"I see." The older girl pulled her hair down from its normal ponytail and trailed the ends through the water. "You said there was another girl recently who came from Tokyo. Was her name Makimachi Misao?"

Yumi arched a brow. "Yes, actually. A nice young girl. She... Kikuchi Taku, the man who probably recruited you, told her that she would have a job as a maid. She's... adapted." She didn't mention the two weeks of depression she'd gone through, before she'd decided to make everything work. "You know her?"

"She's a friend," Kaoru whispered, taking up the tail end of the conversation. "I... I got her letter the other day. And we thought it might be a good idea..." She struggled to find the words. "She... ah, we didn't know how everything worked. She didn't give us a single clue."

Megumi softened further. "She probably didn't want anyone to worry. And... to salvage some of her pride. I know she would have never meant for you to follow her here."

"I know." She cupped some water into her palm, before allowing it to trickle past her fingers. "There's... no way to get back without money?"

"None," both women confirmed quietly. Yumi added, "I would lend you some, but... I send all mine to my family in Osaka. The same with Megumi here. I'm so sorry."

"There's... no other options?" Please, there has to be one. Something. There has to be something that we can do.

"Not unless you want to whore down at the taverns," Megumi replied quietly. "I tried to get hired as a doctor's assistant, but they wouldn't allow me to be anything but a harem member."

"For men who fight to start a new government and new rule where all classes are equal, it's a distinctly unfair life," Yumi agreed with a soft sigh, flicking her hair absently from her face. "We just have to deal with what we can and hope everything is for the best. It's... it's not so bad, really. We have clothes, food, housing, and respect here."

But we will never have respect elsewhere, Kaoru thought with a stab of pain, glancing again toward her sister. Sango's lips were thinned, her brow furrowed slightly in concentration.

Megumi suddenly brightened. "Oh, and it's not... well, you don't have to do everything. The government assassins usually just want some companionship. All those in the harem are supposed to have good conversational skills, and need to be able to serve things prettily - tea, sake, even food. So you don't have to..." she made vague motions with her hand. "Do that with all the men. It's a much better life than other women have."

"We have no choice in the men who want our company, though, do we?" Sango asked.

"Not unless you have been claimed. You can reject claims, though." Yumi looked slightly apprehensive as she glanced toward her companion. "Megumi's rejected one three times now."

"Why?" Kaoru's eyes widened. "I would jump at the chance, if it meant I didn't... well, if it meant I..." she faltered. How was she able to say if it meant I could keep my self-respect in front of these two? They were so kind, and it would be... well, rude, to say such a thing. Luckily, they seemed to understand. Megumi snorted lightly.

"That Sagara Sanosuke! He's..." She slapped her palm against the water angrily. "He thinks he can have it all, no matter what! Thinks he's such a big hotshot." She sniffed. "He's nothing but a big lug. All he ever does is fight, and he thinks that makes him so great, just because everyone else respects him. He has no brains!" Her cheeks were flushed an angry pink, her eyes flashing. "And then he thinks just saying 'Oi, Fox, here' and giving me that stupid collar is going to make me swoon at his feet?"

Yumi hid a smile unsuccessfully behind her hand, before clearing her throat and explaining delicately, "If you're claimed, they put a collar around your neck to warn men off. If you're not, they make you wear these." She held out her wrist, pointing at the small, delicate bracelet encircling her wrist. It had a distinct pattern of roses and thorns. "Everyone here knows that it means you're part of the harem, so it makes you safe. And if someone tries anything anyway..." her brows arched. "They get punished. It's a safety measure to keep... things... from happening to us."

Sango slipped a little further into the water, tilting her head back to drench most of her hair. "It's not much use worrying over it, Kaoru-chan."

Her sister glanced at her in surprise, azure eyes wide. "What do you mean?"

"We're already stuck here. Don't dwell on it," she advised kindly. "If you do, it's just going to bother you more. Just straighten your back and take it. Even if this is... even if this is something that goes against everything Father taught us, I'm not going to cry over it. At least this will help Yahiko and Dr. Genzai and give them some happiness. That makes it all worth it."

Kaoru flushed a little at her sibling's words, staring down at her reflection, wavering in the rippling water. Don't dwell on it? That's hard. But I can at least pretend that... I can pretend it doesn't matter. She took a deep breath and nodded, smiling weakly at the two who had given them the bald truth. "It does," she agreed calmly. "Everything is worth it if it helps Yahiko."


Warm crimson fluid dotted his face, spraying wildly from the wound he'd inflicted. From right hip to left shoulder; an easy, graceful slice that had taken out the last man standing. He leaned down to wipe his blade clean on an unfortunate victim's shirt, glancing around the room to ascertain that everyone was, in fact, dead.

They were.

Battousai sheathed his katana calmly before turning to his companions. "All clear?"

Saitou Hajime nodded coldly. "All three targets have been killed. All that's left is the return to Kyoto. We should meet up with the Oniwabanshu on the road, if we take the eastern route. Since we're walking--" he gifted his partner with a fulminating look, "it should be two weeks before we are back at base."

Shinomori Aoshi glanced out the window, noting that the moon was still climbing in the sky. They had finished their mission in under an hour. "We'll cut it down by three days at least," he decided calmly. "With the three of us concentrated here, other places will be vulnerable. We need to return quickly."


CJ's Blurb: Well, I hope you all enjoy this. I really like this idea, perhaps more so than any other story I've written lately. However, it's going to be a hard one to write. It's not going to be super flufftastic or anything of the sort, though I'm really hoping I'll be able to interject some humor into it.

The little bit at the end was our first glimpse of our men! Yes, that's right. It's Battousai, Saitou, and Aoshi! Aren't they just wonderful? Anyway, you won't be seeing [very] much of the men/girls interaction for a little bit yet. After all, Sango and Kaoru have to adjust to their new lives, and Misao hasn't even made her physical appearance yet. ^_^ I'm so excited! I hope you all enjoy reading as much as I've enjoyed writing. Also, a note about "Anything For You" and "Replaced Bride" - those two fics I do intend to keep writing. However, they are tentatively in progress. The reason for this is because they just won't be my concentrated works, though I'll try to keep them updated at least once a week. I can't promise anything, though. If anything is really going to have some work done for it, it'll be this one, I think. Looking at it, I'm hoping it will be longer than Family Disaster was, though I will not be updating daily as I did with FD. As much as I wish I could and as much as I know you all wish I would, it's just too much stress! I have classes starting soon! ^_^

Revision 01/19/04: Pairings decided and listed above.

Choshou Clan: These are the people who want to build the Meiji era. Yes, Saitou and Aoshi are on their side, because it's an AU and because I said so!

Shogunate: What the Choshou Clan seeks to abolish.

Kyoto: Although I stole the name from Japan, it's not the Kyoto of Rurouni Kenshin. It's exactly how it's described; a type of garrison where a bunch of soldiers and the high assassins are gathered.

Tokyo: not the capital of this lovely... uh... country that I have yet to name, but it is a very large city all the same.

As for the common Japanese honorifics used throughout this fic: (note that I am in no way fluent in Japanese and I'm using these in the context I've seen them used in various manga/anime)

-chan: Sango refers to Kaoru as "Kaoru-chan", one because they are close and two because Kaoru is her younger sister. Misao is also referred to as -chan, because the three girls have been friends since childhood.

-sama: Honorific used for those of much higher social status (emperors, kings, princesses, priestesses...)

-dono: Polite honorific

-san: Polite way of addressing someone... and strangers...

02/09/04 -- REVISED for format.