Disclaimer: I own 0 of Rurouni Kenshin. But I write anyway.

So I doubt anyone still reads this story and I doubt that you care that I'm updating…I'd apologize for not updating in so long, but really, it took so much effort to just write this chapter, and I can't even promise that another one will be up…ever. I'll try. But it may not happen. Just to warn you. So in case this doesn't happen, and just in case anyone reads this: its been fun writing this story, and thanks for paying attention to it!

Anyway, without any further ado, here it is: the long awaited chapter 17 of The Maiden.

All around me are familiar faces

Worn out places, worn out faces

Bright and early for the daily races

Going nowhere, going nowhere.

Their tears are filling up their glasses,

No expression, no expression.

Hide my head; I want to drown my sorrow,

No tomorrow, no tomorrow.

Tsubame had never felt more insulted in her life.

"What is this?" Neko held up a bottle with a worn label. Tsubame bit her lip to keep from screaming and took the bottle from her, examining it.

"Type AB blood mixed exposed to gamma radiation," she muttered, handing it back. "Nothing we can use for the antidote. Lets keep looking." Neko nodded, her face as still as stone, and turned back to the shelves filled with chemicals.

What had Kenshin been thinking when he agreed to go along with Neko's obviously foolish plan? Didn't he trust her enough to find the antidote herself? She even had a good lead when Sano walked in with Neko in tow! True, it was a lead that would have taken her hours to follow, but still, anything was better than trusting Neko, right? If you asked her, this whole idea stank of lies. Hadn't they already made the mistake of trusting Neko before? Why were they shooting themselves in the foot now?

"Tsubame," Neko called, a large container in her hand. "This is the last ingredient. We can start to prepare the antidote. You have a burner?"

"Of course," Tsubame told her softly. But in her head she was thinking something quite less polite. What kind of lab would we be if we didn't have the basics? And we can start preparing the antidote. Oh boy. I'm thrilled. Why doesn't she just go kill herself like Sano said she wanted to do and leave the rest of us in peace?

Sano could read the testy look on Tsubame's face. She was struggling with the situation, obviously, but right now that didn't matter. No matter what anyone said, Tsubame was young and she didn't understand how vital it was that Neko worked with her. She didn't get the fact that they were quickly running out of time, and this was the last solution.

"As you probably know, The Maiden's blood is quite different from the blood of you or me," Neko explained as she poured two chemicals into a small pan and heated it over the burner.

"Yes," Tsubame nodded, mixing three powders together in a bowl. Duh. Soujiro figured that out a long time ago.

"Her blood contains strange chemical compounds, and is missing some of the normal attributes that all the blood types contain. This is vital in the antidote. To make an incredibly complicated procedure easier to understand, we're basically mixing together a solution that will take away the bad compounds that cause her blood to react to the Elixir, and add in the good compounds that would normally fight against it. But throughout all the stages the bad compounds are too many and too strong for this antidote to work. The only time when it will fully cleanse her blood is when many of the bad compounds have been used to force her to write the Passage. But if we wait too long after stage four…she dies, obviously." Tsubame was silent, the shock visible on her face. Soujiro had never found anything like this, in all his years of researching! Neko had to be lying.

"Hand me that bowl, Tsubame." The young girl obediently handed over the dry ingredients she had been mixing. Neko added them in small pinches, stirring between each dose. "And hand me that bottle over there." Tsubame did as she was told, although being ordered around by such a traitor irritated her to no end. Neko poured the contents into the pan, instantly took it off of the burner, and put it into a refrigerated cell.

"Once its cooled to 50 degrees we take it out and add the rest of the ingredients in. Then it will be ready." Sano and Tsubame nodded. The sooner the better, Sano thought grimly. I don't even know what stage Kaoru's on. She could be halfway through with writing the Passage for all we know, locked up in Soujiro's lab. While Tsubame was struggling with the idea of working under Neko, Sano was having trouble just sitting around in the lab, surrounded by things he knew nothing about. How could he help here? What could he possibly do that would be of use to Kaoru?

Tsubame had something on her mind. Something serious. Something she had to know, and she had to know now. She gathered up all her courage (which wasn't much), and looked Neko in the eye.

"Neko…I want to ask you something."

Neko already knew what the girl wanted. "Yes?" Tsubame took a deep breath.

"Why did you kill Soujiro?"

Sano was surprised. He hadn't told Tsubame who had killed Soujiro, just that he was dead. Maybe Tsubame was more mature than he thought…

Neko's eyes were cold and hard. "I was given orders to dispose of him. I don't disobey the orders of Sobo." Tsubame bit her lip, anger burning in her chest.

"Who is Sobo?"

"A high ranking member of The Plebeians. She saved me when I was lost and confused, and promised to bring my sister back to life. Sobo is dead now. Battousai killed her."

"I'm sorry," Tsubame told her, genuinely so. The anger began to cool, leaving a cold, empty sadness. "I'm sure you miss her." Neko tensed, her black eyes burning into Tsubame's.

"Don't talk about my sister and don't talk about me, you ignorant child. I betrayed you. Now you act as though you feel for me?" Neko backed away, a snarl on her normally blank face, making her look like a cornered animal. "You really are naïve." Sano sat up with interest. Tsubame shook her head, wringing her hands anxiously.

"I know that's what everyone thinks, even if they pretend they don't." Sano blushed; he remembered thinking that very thing five minutes ago.

"But I understand more than you think. What this Sobo did for you…Soujiro did for me. I've told so many people here at Sin the story of how I became Soujiro's assistant…but only Soujiro knew the entire truth." She paused, letting her hands fall to her sides.

"My parents…died in a car accident when I was six. I had no other living relatives, so a man who I thought was a friend of my father's, and his wife, took me in. But really, my father had owed this man a great deal of money, so once my father died, he took me as a repayment, and nothing more. He thought I could take over his company when I came of age, become a cold hearted businessman like he was." Tsubame stopped for a moment, her voice trembling dangerously. Neko's eyes never left Tsubame; she was so still it seemed as if she weren't breathing. Sano clenched his fists.

"What did they do to you?" He asked, his voice quiet. Tears balanced precariously on the edge of Tsubame's eyelids, threatening to spill over.

"They ignored me…" she whispered, then let out a small sob as the tears fell down her cheeks. "They pretended I wasn't there. They locked me up in a room with the newest technology, and only let me leave to go to school. They were disgusted by me. They couldn't love me…couldn't love anything about me. I was just a tool to them."

The room was silent, silent and still. It wasn't beating, it wasn't abused. It was a lonely little girl who only wanted to be loved, and got everything else.

"When Sano took me in to Soujiro, we talked. He told me I could either stay and work as his assistant, or I would be killed. And I cried with happiness, hugged him when he said I could never see my family again." Tsubame wiped her eyes. "What Sobo did for you, Neko, Soujiro did for me. He helped me when I was lost and confused. I'm sure you miss Sobo, because I know I miss Soujiro."

As Tsubame lifted her eyes to meet Neko's, she expected to see understanding and comfort. But her eyes widened in confusion and fear when she saw nothing but cold, numbing disgust.

"You know nothing about me." Her words were cold, calculated, and controlled. "You know nothing about me, you stupid little girl." She turned away, retrieving the antidote from the cell.

"Its time to add the last ingredients."

Kenshin stared at the girl before him, going through another seizure. After a moment he turned away, unable to watch.

Kaoru…she trusted him. Trusted him with all her heart. Even loved him. Had he betrayed her yet again? How much more could she take?

"Its done, Kenshin," Megumi whispered, her eyes soft and full of something deeper than hurt. "I think that's the last one. You can look now."

Kenshin turned back to Kaoru, and almost wished he hadn't. She was pale and sweating; her muscles still quivering from the intense seizure. She was trying to get as much air through her nose, since her mouth was paralyzed, but he could tell it wasn't enough. He slowly began to walk over to Kaoru's side.

"Kenshin, wait. You probably shouldn't get near her. Kenshin-" Megumi stopped, staring at her leader in amazement. He gently opened her mouth with his fingers, letting her breathe through her mouth and get more air to her lungs.

He really does love her, doesn't he? Megumi thought sadly, a slight smile on her lips. And they would be so adorable together…

Kenshin looked down at the innocent figure before him. She was gasping, taking air greedily in through her mouth for as long as she could. She felt so weak against his fingers; like the slightest amount of pressure could crush her beneath him. Kenshin studied her face. She was so beautiful…but that was the way of The Maiden, wasn't it? An aura that would drive men mad?

Kenshin wondered when he had stopped thinking of her as his captive; when he had stopped caring so much about the legacy of The Maiden and began to care more about Kaoru as a person, Kaoru as a girl. When had the task that he had been obsessed with for so many years been replaced by the task of protecting Kaoru from those that wanted to harm her? When had he become so concerned with saving her life?

Could he still go through with the awakening?

Of course, Kenshin told himself. Things have changed, but not that much. I didn't kidnap Kaoru so I could keep her in Sin for the rest of her life. I kidnapped her for that aura…wherever it is inside of her.

Besides, a life in Sin is no life for someone like her.

Kenshin felt something move against his fingers. With a jolt, he realized that she had closed her mouth. She was stirring.

"Megumi!" Kenshin shouted, taking a step away from Kaoru. "Look at her!"

Kaoru's eyes slowly slipped open. But instead of the clear blue, innocent eyes that usually peered up beneath her long black bangs, harsh, crimson eyes stared narrowly at the Sinners before her.

It wasn't Kaoru. It was something so different from Kaoru…something much colder, much crueler…

"I am The Maiden."

Megumi gasped, looking to Kenshin. Could it be? Had Kaoru awakened…during the Elixir?

The Maiden in front of them seemed to read her mind. "I have not awakened yet. I still only lie dormant in the pitiful body of this girl. I have woken temporarily to receive what is required for me to write The Passage."

"What do you need?" Megumi asked hesitantly, unsure of how to speak to the otherworldly being.

"Parchment and quill," The Maiden replied simply. "I assume you are The Plebeians?"

Megumi looked over at Kenshin, but he simply stared at the figure before him, an unreadable look on his face. She answered for him, "No…we're part of a crime circuit, a gang of thieves and assassins. We call ourselves Sin."

"Where are The Plebeians?" The voice of The Maiden was thin, emotionless, and inhuman. She spoke as if she already knew everything there was to know of the world.

"Most of them are…dead," Megumi confessed, looking frantically over at Kenshin, wondering why he refused to speak.

The Maiden frowned. "Without The Plebeians, the Passage will not make sense. The Plebeians are reincarnations of those villagers who betrayed me so many years ago. They have led cursed lives ever since…the Passage is meant to tell them how they can atone for their sins and live in everlasting peace. Do you still wish for me to relay the Passage through this girl's body?"

Megumi nodded quickly. If Kaoru didn't write the Passage, they couldn't give her the antidote. "Please, write the Passage anyway. There are a few Plebeians still living…we plan to transfer the Passage over to those remaining Plebeians." Megumi doubted this information, but said it anyway.

"Very well." Megumi could see the crimson color begin to fade away. "Parchment and quill are required. May the Passage bring peace to your lives." The eyes began to drift shut.

"Megumi! Get paper and a pen," Kenshin snapped, looking over at her. "Hurry!"

"Now he decides to talk…" Megumi growled, throwing the items over to Kenshin as he carefully placed them before Kaoru. Her arm began to twitch slightly.

"What's going to happen?" Megumi whispered, staring at Kenshin. "How is she going to write it?"

"Just watch," he answered simply. In a horrific, drunken motion, Kaoru's hand, containing the pen, slammed down against the paper, and began scribbling in long, loopy cursive. It was not Kaoru's handwriting.

"What does it say?" Megumi was appalled by the strange, jerky motions of Kaoru as she slammed each letter, each word out onto the paper.

Kenshin studied the paper as Kaoru's arm twitched, producing another word. "Its written in an ancient language. I doubt if The Plebeians could have even translated it—it looks like no language I've ever seen before."

Megumi looked up at Kenshin. "The language of the gods?"

Kenshin's jaw tightened. "Perhaps."

Kaoru's hand drifted up into the air, then slammed down against the table again, frantically scratching out a few more words. Her whole body was limp except for her right arm, which moved as if it was possessed.

Megumi glanced at Kenshin. She didn't say anything, but he knew what she wanted to know. How long…?

He shook his head. He didn't know. For someone who thought he knew all there was to know about The Maiden, Kenshin was finding out that he had unknowingly messed with something darker than he ever could have imagined. Something that shouldn't have been touched.

The doors of the dining room slammed open, and Neko, Tsubame, and Sano entered in a breathless heap. Neko held a syringe in her hands, filled with a thin red liquid.

"Now you must hold up your end of the bargain, Battousai." Neko handed the needle to Kenshin, her face as empty as always. "You must inject her with it the very second she has finished the Passage."

"How will we know when she's done?" Megumi asked, her eyes wide. Neko shook her head.

"I do not know."

Sano slammed his fist against the wall. "Dammit!"

"Much help she's been," Megumi spat out venomously. "I don't know what kind of deal you've made with her, but you have the antidote, so just kill her now and forget about it! Its her fault Kaoru is like this; its her fault Soujiro is dead!"

Sano raised his fists. "I'll even do it for you, Himura!"

Kenshin glanced from the doctor to the assassin, then back to Neko, whose eyes were on her sister. Suddenly, he felt a tug on his sleeve. It was Tsubame.

"I know it is not my place, sir, but I believe you should honor your pact." Tsubame kept her eyes away from his. "I talked to Neko. She's like me."

"I am nothing like you!" Neko shouted, taking a step back. "Stop saying that!"

"I think she was lost. She was lost and she was found by the wrong person. And once she was found, she didn't know how to escape."

"I knew exactly what I was doing!" Neko's face was contorted with anger. "I joined The Plebeians because they promised me something that Sin was too ignorant to even think about!" She turned to Kenshin. "Go on, great Hitokiri Battousai! Kill me, if that's what you want! That wasn't part of the deal, was it?"

Tsubame shook her head. "Don't kill her, sir. She deserves to live."

"No, I don't!"

"She doesn't!" Megumi chimed in.

"Say the word, Himura! Say the word and she's dead!"

"Just kill her, Himura!"

"Don't do it, sir! She deserves to live!"

"I deserve to die!"


The words died on their lips. Megumi looked over to Kenshin. He was only looking at Kaoru.

"I don't care whether she lives or dies right now! We need to focus on giving Kaoru the antidote at the exact moment! So unless you want me to kill Kaoru, I want SILENCE!"

The group stopped, closing their mouths and letting their comments fade back into their mouths. Megumi looked over at Neko. She was staring at that little girl again. She sighed. Maybe a death sentence was too harsh.

"I think…" Kenshin's voice sounded strangled. "I think it might be finishing…" Sano quickly walked over to Kaoru. Her writing seemed to be slowing down, and each slam against the table was softer and less direct. He looked over at Kenshin.

"Are you ready?"

Kenshin looked at him. His face was calm, firm. "Yes."

He positioned the needle to her neck, the same spot that she had been injected with the Elixir. He remembered the fear in her face as she felt the icy liquid rushing through her veins. Never again.

"Remember, Battousai." Neko looked up from her sister. "It must be the exact moment that she ends the Passage. The exact moment, or The Maiden dies."

Kenshin nodded, half listening to her. He knew what he had to do.

The writing slowed. Kenshin watched her hand. It twitched slightly, producing two more letters. Then…

Kenshin didn't wait to see "then". He lifted the needle and plunged it into the pale skin of her neck. Megumi screamed. Sano clamped a strong hand over her mouth.

Kenshin positioned his thumb on the top of the syringe. He would get this right. He knew it.

He injected the antidote.

Well, it was kind of a short chapter. But I felt I kind of needed to end it there, ya know?

So, I'm really going to try hard to finish this series…but no promises. I don't want to get your hopes up. But I will start writing the next chapter right now.

Thanks for sticking with me, if you have. I'm only posting these because you guys are so awesome.

nessie, aka chocolatechipp, aka Shokora no Sakuhen