Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin (C) characters belong to Watsuki Nobuhiro (All Hail), Shueisha, Sony Entertainment and perhaps some others but most definitely not to me. I am borrowing characters without asking permission and I am not making any money out of this. However this story and any characters I create do belong to me. I hope anyone who takes the time to read this will enjoy it.

***

Text Conventions
:: :: Non spoken conversation

***

Kokoro - Heart, Mind and Soul
Part 18
By Jade Tatsu

***

Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu Dojo

***

Kenshin looked up at the ribbon of stars. They hadn't changed. He /knew/ they hadn't changed but in the day that had past he felt they had changed. He'd watched them last night after he had checked on his angel and they had seemed warm somehow. Their light had been gentle, a soft gift from above. But tonight, after one day they seemed chill, their light harsh and focused, coldly watching. The night air was different too. It had held the promise of summer yesterday, the faint hot scent of grass had wafted just below his senses but tonight the chill of wind borne ice was carried.

With a sigh he turned his eyes away from the stars looking back to the familiar shadows of the dojo. To his senses the place was almost humming with contained energy. Everyone was a brilliant sparkle of colour toned by their current thoughts and activities. Kaoru, Yahiko and Misao were asleep, their glitter was soft. Aoshi was meditating, his focus turned almost wholly inwards although he did remain aware of his surroundings. His presence was bright, sharp lines of light. Shinichi and Masujiro were making their final preparations for rest but they to had been meditating and their light was softening with fatigue. And Hiko was... Hiko was walking along the roof towards him.

Kenshin blinked, focusing his eyes back to the corporeal world and turned towards his master as the large man settled himself beside him.

"When you feel that way about a woman, it's traditional to marry her. Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu has no rules about celibacy."

Kenshin was spluttering before Hiko had even finished the sentence. It didn't even catch him by surprise, it was so unexpected it went far beyond that. Hiko grinned at his deshi. The reaction was so right for him and proved that he was back to normal.

"Shishou..." Kenshin eventually managed to get out but he was unsure of how he could continue with what Hiko had insinuated.

"Well... What's stopping you?" His master asked looking up at the sky.

"With every thing that's happened..."

"That's no excuse. The actions of others are preventing you from being happy. That is all that excuse says."

Kenshin looked over at Hiko. The man was as always insufferably smug and if he hadn't of respected him so much he would have quite happily taken a swing at him for his implications but he was speaking the truth. "I can't." He said simply, the true answer to what Hiko was asking. "Even if she accepts it, I do not."

"Humph!" Hiko almost disdainfully dismissed his deshi's words. "When it finally comes down to it, once and for all, I've seen her, she's not going to give you a choice. It will only go on your terms if you approach her." He paused turning towards Kenshin. "But that is not what you really wish to discuss."

"Aa..." Kenshin agreed quietly, bowing his head. "Shinichi, Masujiro, Niijima, Battousai," the names rolled off his lips like a litany. "I don't know where to begin really."

"Let's start with the last."

"That one I really don't know," Kenshin admitted with an uncharacteristic display of uncertainty. "I know why but it shouldn't have been possible. The Ougi... I learnt that..." he searched for the word. ".../properly/, didn't I?" That was the only reason he could think of, the only way he knew for the Battousai to be able to dominate him again. Not that at the time he hadn't thought it inappropriate, it was just that that being was meant to be dormant, never again to awaken.

Hiko looked at him with narrowed eyes, assessing his deshi. He had his suspicions about the Battousai but only Kenshin would know for sure. "Aa, it was perfect. The final test is designed that way, it's either perfection or nothing but as usual you show your amazing ineptness by failing it once and forcing me to administer it to you again."

"Shishou!" Kenshin exclaimed before he turned to face his master, doing his best to get into a formal apology position, although that was difficult on the apex of the roof. "Gomennasai," he said softly, once again bowing his head. "I did not mean for you to get involved."

"Sit up, Baka! I always knew you couldn't handle your problems alone and this time you didn't get me involved, Shinichi did."

Curiosity flickered across Kenshin's features as he sat back up again but he remained silent knowing that his master would speak... eventually.

"On the day you fought Niijima, he and Masujiro came to see me. They told me pretty much the same things they said to your earlier and then they formally asked for my help, one Ryuu to another. After that we collected Aoshi and then came straight here."

"You had no problems?"

"Niijima did hire some yakuza to attack us in Kyoto but they weren't a problem and he's had underlings watching ever since. I don't think he wants to meet his master."

"No, he does," Kenshin disagreed, remembering what he had felt when Niijima had been with him. "He just wants it to be on his terms but that is all I understand of him." Kenshin paused considering the feelings he knew his master had to be told about. "It was strange. It was not painful but at the same time it was infinitely painful, violating but I remained inviolate, confronting but he did it /so/ easily. It was so much a paradox but Shinichi was right, Niijima is now a master of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu."

"And you did it for her and can not make a move on her." Hiko snorted the addition. "I did believe Shinichi about that though," he added before Kenshin could react to his jibe.

Purple eyes closed for an instant but there was no other reaction forthcoming. "There is /something,/" Kenshin sighed. "I don't know if it's something Shinichi hasn't said, or something Niijima left but there is something I know I'm overlooking. Some reason, some action but I do not know what I can do to find out what it is. It's..."

"It makes your skin itch," Hiko said suddenly. "I know. Baka deshi," Hiko used the term both with a note of affection and a serious edge. "I believe Shinichi but at the same time I have only one side of the picture. You have a bit more of an angle on the other and you must make your decision for yourself. I will help Shinichi because pottery was getting boring but you must decide what to do for yourself. I would suggest though that you talk further with Shinichi about Niijima and this time, at least consult the woman. I don't want her barging into my house again."

With that Hiko rose and in a fluid motion jumped down from the roof. A smile twitched around the corners of Kenshin's mouth. //I will, Shishou. She wouldn't let me back into this one if I don't.//

Hiko stepped into a deep shadow and closed his eyes. Kenshin had changed his reactions were the same but he /felt/ different. He was still worthy of the Ougi, he wouldn't have survived the afternoon if he wasn't but something inside had changed. Hiko shook his head slightly. Was it Niijima's doing? Or was this change inevitable? What ever it was though he had done his best to give his deshi the weapons he would need to fight if that is what he chose to do. The time had come when he could only advise, he would live by the decision his deshi made.

Kenshin leant back looking up once again at the ribbon of stars over head. There /was/ something he was missing and it wasn't something Shinichi or Niijima had said or done. It was something he had felt. Something...

::You can discover that in your own time.::

Kenshin closed his eyes at the voice as the familiar presence surfaced inside him. It wasn't unexpected. He knew why this presence had come to him in the past few days, he just didn't know why the Ougi had failed to contain it again.

::We need to talk.:: The voice as paper dry and almost seemed to begrudge speaking the words.

He could feel his eyes change but he damped down the ki change. It would not do to alert everyone. The Battousai had come to him quietly and seemed to be interested in keeping this low key. He opened his eyes, not seeing the stars. "You shouldn't be here," he whispered softly, almost mouthing the words.

A scornful silence meet his words. A silence that said quite clearly that he should know better.

"What do you want?" Kenshin's lips moved, forming the words though this time he didn't bother to exhale to make it even a whisper. There was no point in trying to out wait the other or in trying to avoid what they had come for.

::To talk.::

"About what?"

::A number of things::

It was Kenshin's turn to be silent. He knew the other would talk in their own time but he still wondered how they were circumventing the Ama Kakeryuu no Hirameki

::You're wondering how I can be here.::

"Aa."

Kenshin caught a flickering impression of a smile. A cold smile that barely moved the lips and showed itself more in the amber lights of his eyes but one that was amused never the less. ::I will always be here,:: his answer came in predictably riddled words.

"The Ougi..." Kenshin began but was met with a harsh bark of laughter.

::The Ougi," the Battousai's presence began in the silence. ::Oh, the Ougi was successful,:: he admitted.

"Then how?" Kenshin gasped, trying to understand what was being implied. He wasn't stupid but this was unprecedented and while he didn't like fumbling in the dark, his other self had the answers and for the moment wasn't willing to share his knowledge.

::How can it not hold me?:: There was almost mockery in that tone. Almost but not quite, the Battousai not willing to mock himself. ::The Ougi no longer has any power over me.::

Kenshin blinked eyes that stared unseeing at the stars while below him Hiko stirred from his shadow, casting one eyes upon his deshi and the presence he knew was there even if he could not feel them. He nodded to himself before turning and walking away. This was not his time now.

"What do you mean?"

::You know what I mean.:: Something close to exasperation tinged the Battousai's tone. He didn't like repeating himself, not even to himself.

"How?" Kenshin had to admit to himself, he /did/ know what the Battousai meant.

::A better question. I changed and now I am free to come as I like.::

Kenshin felt himself stiffen at the words. He could fight the Battousai but he didn't know how long he would be able to if he could be never be sure of when the strike would come.

::I am not stupid, you know.:: His other self berated him in a strangely gentle manner. ::While I may be free, I am still you and I will only emerge when required. I do know what this world is like and I do know that I will seldom be a part of it.::

"How?" Kenshin questioned again, as he relaxed slightly. He shouldn't be this tense. He had accepted the Battousai a long time ago as another facet of himself but while he was still him, he didn't wish to be ruled by that part of himself. And if the Battousai was free to emerge, but would only emerge when needed he had to know what had changed before he could decide if he would fight or not.

::How?... I already told you.::

"What has changed?" Kenshin altered his question.

The Battousai nodded, understanding now the motivation behind the question. ::Desire.:: The answer was that simple.

"You wish to live?" Kenshin was almost afraid to ask.

::Aa.:: Nothing else was forthcoming, the Battousai holding back from saying the words as if to speak them was somehow a form of defeat.

"That's not all."

::No... If Niijima had demanded my life I would have given it but taken his in return but I would have paid that price for her despite my desire. But because of it, your ougi, my ougi cannot hold me.::

"Arigatou," Kenshin said the word with heartfelt sentiment.

::Did you think I would lie? I have always been honest.::

"Iie, but you did not have to answer."

::I do not wish to fight you.:: The Battousai paused before continuing. ::But I came for more than this discussion. I have changed but the sword has not.::

"I know, I felt it too."

::He does not control it yet, or rather he did not control it then but it may go to him. It may see in him what I am not.::

"Kouken might allow that," Kenshin agreed.

::It will allow it but to do so would be wrong.::

"I do not think the technique cares. Also, he might believe he can control it, believe he is able to slip between one and the other."

::And for a time he might be able to but in the end we know it cannot be done. The choice has to be made and I do not believe he will make the right choice.::

"And the sword will go to him."

::Aa.::

Kenshin closed his eyes and breathed deeply. The sword will go to him. The sword of a master assassin. "The sword would argue that it would be just."

::Death without remorse. Killing without mercy. Those are perhaps just if the situation is right. But killing without memory, without feeling emotion, that will /never/ be just. The sword cannot be just or unjust. The decision is made by its wielder.::

"He still has emotion. The desire for revenge was within him, as was remorse for his actions."

::For now... I'm not saying it will happen. It is only a possibility but if the sword goes to him, it will not be good.::

Kenshin nodded. "Thank you for the warning."

::I will kill him because he dared to take her away from me,:: the Battousai smiled, devoid of warmth or amusement but full of dark anticipation, one canine catching on his lower lip. ::However, it will be easier if the sword doesn't go to him and I would prefer to kill a human rather than a monster.::

Kenshin said nothing as the Battousai's presence faded. //I will kill him...// The words echoed through his mind, spoken with his voice but it was not his voice. //I made that vow,// Kenshin reminded himself. //But the Battousai made no such vow.// The reminder was forced upon him as he closed his eyes wearily.

He had vowed not to kill, not even his most hated enemy but when the time came, would he have a choice? In this, did he want to fight the other side of him?

***

"Kamiya-san, arigatou gozaimasu." Both Shinichi and Masujiro bowed towards Kaoru.

She smiled at them and continued to place the dishes on the tray. "Gomen, I couldn't ask earlier," - breakfast had been rather a noisy affair with five extra house guests and a nearly limitless amount of energy gathered around the table - "but did you sleep well?"

"Aa, very well thank you. Your house has a peace that it gives to it's guests," Shinichi smiled gently.

"Misao!" Kaoru called, seeing the girls familiar shadow against the rice paper. "It isn't nice to eaves drop."

"Only if you get caught," Misao said somewhat sheepishly as she rounded the corner. "Actually I wasn't eaves dropping, Kaoru-san, Aoshi-sama sent me to collect the dishes."

"Aa," Kaoru nodded, handing Misao the tray. "But you don't have to do this."

"Don't be silly. How else can we pay you back?" Misao replied as she took the tray and disappeared back around the corner at speeds most wouldn't dare while carrying a tray of ceramics.

"She's been practising," Kaoru noted absently before she turned back to her guests.

"I think she may have been helping out at the Aoiya," Masujiro said.

"The Akabeko will want her to work for them," Kaoru murmured softly. "But this is convenient for you," she added looking up with no trace of a smile.

"It is." Shinichi replied, his eyes hardening as he became anything but a kindly old man.

Kenshin paused sensing the change in the room he was about to enter. Silently he lowered his foot and stepped back prepared to wait. Kaoru was not in any danger, Shinichi only wanted to talk to her and she may say something to him, a stranger that she couldn't say to her friends. He was going to hunt Niijima and make him pay for all of Kaoru's suffering but he couldn't do that if he didn't know it all.

"Kamiya-san, I do not wish to distress you so you do not have to answer my questions. I wish to know because whether you are aware of it or not, you meet Niijima so even what little you can recall could help us. I haven't seen Niijima for many years myself, I have only vaguely felt him and that is not enough to comprehend what he is trying to do."

"I don't... I don't remember much." Kaoru began. "They kept me drugged most of the time. I remember a woman, Megumi-san telling me to drink, but I know she wasn't Megumi-san but she was there nearly all of the time. Niijima..." Kaoru coughed on the word and Kenshin's fists clenched, hearing the pain in her voice.

"You don't have to speak, Kamiya-san. Do not distress yourself."

"Daijoubu," she said. "Niijima wasn't there for most of the time. Except for the last day I really don't remember seeing him at all. And on that last day he was focused on fighting Kenshin. In the morning there was anticipation though he still waited calmly for Kenshin to come but there was also expectation. I don't... I don't know what he was expecting but he was... happy somehow before he fought and after that there is nothing. He never hurt me, never raised his voice, never raised a hand. He was protective but I don't know why."

"He never would have hurt you Kamiya-san," Masujiro reassured her.

"I know... He told me that. He told me he wouldn't let anyone touch me and I believed him. He was gentle in a way, polite..."

"But that doesn't mean he should be forgiven." Shinichi finished the sentence for her. "I know." He paused. "Kamiya-san, I have one more question for you. It may sound strange but it is important."

"Hai."

"Did he touch you, Kamiya-san? I do not mean physically, did he ever reach to touch you in a different way?"

"I don't understand," Kaoru said hesitantly, shaking her head. "I do not understand what you are saying."

::She may not, Master, not unless we show her.::

::I don't want to do that, Masujiro-kun. It might be more that she can bear.::

::We have to find out one way or another, Master. Now would be the best time.::

::You mean before anything else comes up. Or before we rely on her when we do not know what Niijima may have done.::

::A bit of both, Master. If we find anything now, we can fix it before it has too long to develop.::

Shinichi sighed mentally. ::Sense around you, Masujiro-kun. I don't want to upset them.::

Masujiro blinked as several presence's made themselves known to him. He should have sensed them earlier. Hiko-san was standing in deep shadows, in earshot but completely out of sight and the Battousai - No, that's Himura-san, he reminded himself, the contrast between the two men was still startling to him - was standing quietly on the balcony, in a position where he would be more than able to strike them should anything seem amiss.

::I see what you mean, Master but we still need to find out. If you make it clear that you are not going to hurt her and that nothing will be wrong, I think they should be all right with it.::

::I will make the offer. If it is her choice they should abide,:: Shinichi replied looking back towards Kamiya.

"I'm sorry," he began. "The question itself is not clear since it has to do with the foundations of our Ryuu. I do not wish to disturb you but the question may best be answered if I may demonstrate to you what I mean."

"Demonstrate?"

"I will reach out and touch you in the way that I am asking if he touched you. I will not /do/ anything, I will merely brush against you, if you will permit it."

Kaoru's eyes widened at the suggestion and she shook her head slightly but not in distress. "I'm sorry, I do not understand."

"It is difficult to explain, Kamiya-san," Shinichi said understandingly. "There is nothing to be sorry about. It is the foundation of our school and so I tend to be naturally vague about it. With your permission, I would reach out to touch your being, but instead of reaching out with my hand I will reach out with my mind. It will not be painful, if anything it will tickle you." Shinichi paused, looking at his host. She did not seem convinced but he couldn't blame her. What he was proposing could be very invasive if he so desired and it may awaken memories she may not be ready to accept, especially if Niijima had touched her in this way.

"I understand your reluctance, Kamiya-san," he began. "I would be very hesitant myself but I assure you it is important."

"It /is/ important, Kamiya-san," Masujiro took over his lines. "My master will not do anything to you and if it will make you feel better we can call Himura-san or Hiko-san for you. The reason we ask this is because while my master will not do anything, we cannot be sure that Niijima has not done anything. By showing you what the sensation is like, what it feels like to be touched like that, we hope that you will remember if he touched you in that way. If he did we will have to proceed from there but rest assured," Masujiro smiled at her, " we do not believe that he has. It is merely a precaution."

Kaoru nodded slightly. "No, it's all right," she said quietly turning towards Shinichi. "I still do not fully understand, I doubt that I ever will fully but I trust you. You feel different from him. I do not know where the feeling is coming from but you are different. I believe you so please begin," she looked into his eyes, making sure he understood that she knew what she was allowing. "It would be best to get this done now, before anything else happens."

"Arigatou, Kamiya-san," Shinichi and Masujiro both said the words, bowing low, although they kept their senses turned towards the balcony.

Shinichi took a deep breath as he gathered himself. He raised one hand slightly but apart from that made no gesture. "This will not hurt Kamiya-san. It just may feel a bit tingly."

She nodded but made no other move.

Shinichi blinked, blurring his vision as he focused his other senses. His eyes darkened as he extended his other senses. He reached out gently, brushing up against the brilliance that was another person. //Beautiful...// The word came to him immediately. She had a beautiful physical presence but now that he had ceased to block her out, Shinichi could feel how beautiful her other presence was. It was a brilliant blue, bright and full of life. He smiled softly. She was adorable in the way only one other woman had ever been to him and while he knew love was an individual emotion he could see now exactly what Himura-san was attracted to.

He tickled along the edges of her mind and was happy as she smiled in pleasure, his presence not causing her distress but he did use the opportunity to look inside her being for Niijima's influence. He did not intrude upon her, as a man looks upon a woman in appreciation without touching, without moving to hinder her, so did he examine her mental form. His eyes narrowed slightly. She was beautiful, her inner presence almost blindingly brilliant but while there was nothing amiss he couldn't shake the intangible feeling that something was wrong. She was almost too beautiful. Perhaps that was the problem, that perfection which had him worried. A woman like this, who appealed to him would certainly have appealed to Niijima but he could sense nothing of Akihisa. He had apparently kept his word completely. If there was something there, he could not see it. //But then, Niijima could always achieve perfection if he desired.//

The whole procedure was over quickly and as he released his gathered breath his eyes returned to their soft brown. "There," he said. "Do you remember anything like that?" He asked the question with the unthreatening smile of an old man seeking to reassure her.

Kaoru returned his soft smile. "No, I'm sorry, Segawa-san, but he never did anything like that."

Masujiro smiled a faint relief filling him at her tone and his master's actions although he hadn't missed the vague trace of suspicion within his master. "That is good," he murmured. "We did not think he would. We meant what we said about him not hurting you. Niijima would have had no desire to anger Himura-san, it would not have been compatible with his objectives."

A tired sigh escaped from Shinichi. "What I think Masujiro-kun is trying to say is that while we know Niijima's actions are wrong, it does not sit well with us that someone who is capable of doing such things is also capable of keeping of his word. It just does not seem right that he can be so dishonourable but honourable at the same time." He said the words both for Kaoru's benefit to reassure her that Niijima had been honest with her and for the other listeners who's very presence's were radiating curiosity about his actions.

"Thank you," Kaoru said.

"Hmm?"

"For being so honest," she added rising. "Please, from your words yesterday you will be here for several days, so make yourselves at home. I will fetch some tea."

"Doomo."

***

Kenshin glided away from the room silently as Kaoru offered to fetch tea. He had stayed to ensure she remained safe. While Kaoru was right about the feel of Shinichi his concern for her would not be so easily swayed. But there had been something in what she had said... The feeling that had tugged on his conscious when the Battousai had visited was back.

He closed his eyes, tilting his head back letting the feelings come to him although he knew almost immediately he wouldn't find the answers this time. But he would get closer. The illusive feeling would reveal something to him now, something he could use to get closer to the truth.

'...I remember a woman...' Kaoru's voice ghosted around him.

"A woman..?" The watcher... Kenshin nodded to himself. The watcher had been female and several times when he had felt Niijima's servant the impression had been of a woman. 'I know she wasn't Megumi-san but she was there nearly all of the time.' A woman... A woman who impersonated Megumi-san... Not necessarily the one he had felt but the words were enough. The one he had felt, he knew... He'd seen them, he'd met them elsewhere so their feeling was familiar but not an enemy.

Kenshin breathed deeply. That was all, for the moment, that was all he would learn, he knew from long experience. The rest would come in time. A word, a gesture, something would trigger the memory, something would give him the knowledge he needed to join all the pieces and when he found the woman, he would find Niijima. And then no matter the decision he reached within himself there would be a reckoning.

***

Shinichi sat, his eyes closed and his face tilted towards the sun. Although the night had been cold the afternoon sun was comfortably warm and relaxing. It gave him the opportunity to think and to reinforce his barriers against the roar of he city around him. //You want this around you all the time, Niijima-kun?// he thought with a soft sigh, reviewing the man's actions.

Perhaps Masujiro was right. Perhaps Niijima did believe he could control the noise of so many people being continuously around him if he achieved the perfect technique. It might be possible. "But what of the cost to achieve that perfection?" He whispered shaking his head slightly. It was too late now to berate himself for not moving sooner. What had been done was done, now all he could do was act to stop him.

Shinichi pulled his thoughts into focus. Ever since he had touched Kaoru, seen her perfect form that Niijima had left untouched he had had a hazy impression of disaster. It wasn't a personal feeling, he would /not/ fail but it was more general as if some great evil was preparing itself to strike but had not yet found a reason to and so would hold itself back. The feeling had started when he had touched Kaoru. It was based around her and through her to Niijima and to Himura.

::Master..?:: The inquiry came almost hesitantly from where Masujiro was giving Misao and Yahiko some basic instruction on technique. He cast an eye towards his master when he received no answer. ::You seem pensive,:: he added, dismissing his 'students'.

::I am.::

::The waiting?::

::No, there is something else.::

::It's about Kamiya-san.:: Masujiro came to the conclusion as he sat beside his master, falling into a position of meditation.

::You read me too well.::

::In this case, it's not that difficult. There was something, wasn't there, when you touched her?::

::No, there wasn't,:: Shinichi replied simply but his mental voice carried a tone of sadness.

Masujiro nodded. ::You do not believe he would leave her untouched?::

::Aa.::

::Perhaps he did touch her then, but only in a specific way. As much as I hate to suggest this, he may have taken her desire for revenge against him so that if Himura-san attempts to find him, she will go against him.::

::And that would be enough to make Himura-san stop.:: Shinichi nodded in understanding. ::That may be it but I think there is something more.:: He paused, gathering himself and the words to explain his feeling. ::She was perfect, Masujiro-kun. Her presence is a brilliance seldom encountered in this world and it is that perfection I find it difficult to believe that he would let go unmarked, with every intention of never returning.::

::...I do not know, Master. But Niijima has always been one of contradictions. As you said before he is dishonourable but at the same time honourable. It could be that contradiction that has you worried.::

::I cannot help but think that it is something deeper...::

"That I will agree with."

Two sets of eyes snapped open and turned swiftly towards the voice that had intruded upon them, hands unconsciously reaching for swords and minds sweeping out to survey the surroundings.

The man looked at them with an amused smile from where he was leaning against a column. He stood upright and while holding his hands in view approached them. "Relax, gentlemen, I am not here to fight you." He looked closely at Shinichi, tilting his head slightly as he examined the man. "Segawa Shinichi the Twenty-third," he sighed. "We have felt you and I always wondered what you were like."

"Who?" Masujiro began imposing himself between this newcomer and his master but he stilled as the man turned towards him.

"And Ryusake Masujiro, the second heir to the Kouken Sokuuchi Ryuu. You're like him, you know," the man said as he settled himself beside them. "In many ways you are exactly the same as Niijima Akihisa, you just have your master's blessings. Heh but I am not here to judge," he paused, flicking hair over his shoulder. "You know, you really should try to extend your senses to find out who I am. I'm surprised you haven't done it yet, considering your Ryuu."

"We do not do that lightly," Shinichi said forcefully.

"How quaint but then allow me to introduce myself. I am Yasutake Ryuichi the Fifteenth. You were looking for me I believe," he finished with a grin.

"You?"

"I've been busy so I couldn't come at the summons of your Ryuu, senior though it might be, Senpai."

"You don't care about your student's fate?" Masujiro was inexplicably angry at the complete unconcern this man was showing even though by his words he understood the situation completely.

"I am aware of Seir's predicament. Niijima will not break him. Tamashii Hitokken is not so weak."

"It is not a question of whether your Ryuu is weak or strong, Yasutaki-san, it is merely a question of what can be done. Hiten Mitsurugi cannot be defined as weak in any way but Niijima now is a master of that Ryuu," Shinichi placed a placating hand on Masujiro's shoulder, silently urging him to calm. "I do not doubt your student's strength but I do know Niijima's method's of persuasion."

"I know but that is not the matter here since Seir is no longer with Niijima." Yasutake smiled at their surprise. "You have not sensed that? I'm surprised, if I knew and my speciality is not that then I thought that you would have to know. Seir might be here soon, but he might not, he is being pursued."

"And you do not move to help him?"

"I consider it a test of his abilities to determine if he is truly worthy of my mantle." Arrogant pride dripped from Yasutake's voice. It seemed he was well aware that his technique was superior to most others and safe in this knowledge he was determined that everyone else know that. He turned serious when he continued, his tone almost losing it's arrogance. Almost but not not quite. "But whether Seir passes or fails, I will come with you to defeat Niijima Akihisa. He challenged Tamashii Hitokken and he will learn the price of that."

"Arigatou," Shinichi said, always polite no matter how irritating the person before him was. "Before though, you said you would agree that there is something deeper in Kamiya-san. Do you know what it is?"

"No. If Niijima has done something he has hidden it well. To my Tamashii senses there is nothing wrong but then your Ryuu does not have the power to meddle there. He may not have done anything. He may just wish us to think that he has done something. From what I have seen of him, he is that type of man. I will tell you if I sense something but for the moment there is nothing."

"That is good but I think it's time we introduced you to the rest of the people here."

"I know some of them by name. Kamiya-san did come as a surprise. I never expected anything to come of... Never mind, that is my past and it isn't the question here. I thank you for your offer."

***

Akihisa's Base

***

"Kaoru-san..?" The voice was tentative but the black haired woman recognized it.

//Kita...// Kaoru struggled with further thoughts about the child. The girl had been told to take care of her and that's what she was doing. It was not Kita-chan's fault that Kaoru was kidnapped. In fact the child didn't know anything about that but it was difficult to be polite to the child who served the man who had taken her away from Kenshin. //The man...// Kaoru sighed as she turned towards Kita. She didn't even know his name although she assumed it was he who had visited her yesterday.

//I /don't/ know his name.// She confirmed to herself, searching her memories but she had recognized him. His green eyes and black hair had been familiar to her. She /knew/ him, recognized him in the same instinctual way she recognized Kenshin. That shouldn't have been possible and it was that fact that she had been thinking on this morning. She knew what had happened now. She couldn't remember it all but she could remember some of what had happened. The man, the one with green eyes, he was the one responsible. He had taken her away from Kenshin, forced her to travel for days and now was the one preventing her from leaving. No matter how polite he had been last night, how concerned he had seemed, it was he who had caused her pain. //I /don't/ know his name.// The thought would not leave her alone. She had at least known Enishi's name, known why he had taken her, known what he had sought from Kenshin. She knew nothing about this one and it was causing her fear, a slight fear but one that ran under all her thoughts. If she didn't know what he wanted then she wouldn't know how to strike out against him, she wouldn't know when her best chance to run was. //I will /not/ be a pawn in another man's game.//

"Kaoru-san..?" The tentative question came again.

Kaoru blinked dragging her attention away from the sunlit garden she had been staring at but not seeing.

"Aa, Kita-chan?"

Kita stood by the door, unwilling to impose any further. "Your presence is requested."

//My presence is requested..?// Did the green eyed man now wish to parade her around like a trophy?

"Niijima-sama hopes that you will take this opportunity to stretch your legs and to take some fresh air."

//Niijima... Is that his name?// Kaoru filed the name away, feeling a strange sort of serenity come to her at the name, a faint fear left her. What had been unknown had just become known and that was comforting in itself. And the opportunity to walk around... /That/ would serve her well. //I will not be used against him.// The thought was firm and attached to the plans she was forming but Kaoru still allowed a slight smile to cross her features as she rose, bowing slightly to Kita. "That would be nice," Kaoru said as she walked towards the door.

Kita stood to the side as Kaoru made her way through the door, giving the guards a brief measuring stare. "This way please, Kaoru-san," Kita indicated a direction leading the way down the corridor. The two guards fell into position several paces behind Kaoru as she followed.

The corridors... She remembered them and they were only slightly less confusing this time. Their electic mix of western and traditional design was functional and beautiful but the interlaced plaster and rice paper walls did not lend themselves to someone wishing to memorize their layout simply by passing through them once. The ornaments helped a bit and Kaoru was careful to note the location of several exquisite pieces so that she would have some reference in the future.

There wasn't anything else to go by because the house was eerily quiet. Apart from the tread of her guards behind her and the soft whisper of fabric from her and Kita's kimono's there was silence. There was no whispers, no calls, no conversation in the house around her. It was dead so when the clash of steel against steel came to her Kaoru jumped slightly but was grateful as the unconscious tension that had been building in her body was released.

She blinked as they emerged into what seemed blindingly bright sunlight. They came out into a courtyard. It was like the entrance courtyard but this one lacked any ornamental features. It was designed for strict functionality. A wooden balcony ran around the edges with doors leading off to each point of the compass. They emerged from one door and Kaoru could see that the door opposite them opened on to a large store room that contained everything one might need for kenpo arranged neatly - wooden bokken hung on the wall, tumbling mats folded and stacked neatly and various other devises stowed against the walls. The courtyard itself was covered with sand but a formal practice circle and lines were defined with soft twisted rope that was almost completely buried so that the combatants could not trip.

The combatants... Two figures were practising in the circle but they weren't using bokken. The dull gleam of steel was reflected towards her and it's chime had come to her earlier. Neither of them was outfitted for actual combat and the only gesture towards safety was in the fine mesh helmets they wore. Kaoru could see though, that one of the men was Niijima. Even if she couldn't see his features she remembered his wavy hair. It was gathered now at the nape of his neck, tied securely with a leather strap. His opponent was smaller than him but still fully grown, his straight black hair tied in a high pony tail although wisps were flapping gently in the slight wind. He appeared to have the edge over Niijima but to Kaoru's trained eyes that edge was fleeting and could vanish with the slightest shift of weight. He seemed to sense that too because he did not press his attack but rather drew back and waited for Niijima to continue the bout.

Kaoru watched, eager to see what Niijima would do. His actions now could be revealing but he did nothing. Instead he nodded towards his opponent before he turned to face them, pulling off his helmet. She gasped as green eyes raked her figure before rising to meet her gaze. Kaoru narrowed her eyes, glaring back at him, not bothering to hide her anger, much as she had done with Enishi but deep inside she was measuring her actions. Enishi had never looked at her like that, never looked at her with hunger and something was telling her that this man wouldn't simply shrug off her anger. He wouldn't hurt her but there would be consequences she would regret if she angered him.

***

Bairei felt the change in his master as Kamiya-san entered. He'd been pressing his attack as he had been instructed, helping Niijima-sama to integrate Kouken and Hiten when the woman had entered. His master had relaxed and his attention had shifted when she entered and so he had stepped back knowing Niijima-sama would wish to talk to Kamiya-san before they continued.

He wasn't wrong because Niijima-sama immediately turned to look at the woman. She was dressed today in a blue kimono. It wasn't sky blue but rather a blue that complimented her eyes. It was patterned by white butterflies, interspersed with vibrant pink ones. A pink obi with white cording and a pink hair tie completed the ensemble. She was the picture of a demure well bred lady, except for her eyes, which sparked with barely controlled emotion, almost throwing out liquid blue motes. Bairei hid a smile. There was no understanding there, no forgiveness, no passion but he had seen his master tame fiercer opponents, in time Kamiya-san's eyes would reflect only her respect and love for Akihisa. Of this he was sure and unlike the woman Hasekura, the passion Kamiya showed would be returned.

"Kiree..." Niijima-sama whispered before he smiled, bowing slightly towards Kamiya-san. "You are truly a beautiful woman, Kamiya-san," he said simply, watching her for a reaction.

Kaoru started, blinking once at the words. "And you will use me to get what you want from Kenshin?" She challenged after a moment, speaking in a soft voice piled with emotion.

Niijima flashed his teeth, looking almost ferally happy. "No, I won't," he answered her, revelling in the surprise his response caused. "I will not use you against Himura Battousai."

"You won't?" Kaoru was suddenly far less sure of herself. She had been kidnapped because he wanted someone to use against Kenshin, hadn't she? Why else would she be here?

"You do not remember it, do you?" Akihisa questioned quietly, his eyes considering. "Of course not. Kamiya-san, how many days do you think it has been since you were attacked by the Tanto Phoenix's?"

"How many days?" She questioned, her face forming an adorably cute expression of confusion. "There were about three days of travel, and then a couple before then..." She began thinking a loud, tallying the numbers in her head. While she knew she had travelled far from Tokyo the thought that she had been kept in Tokyo for some time hadn't occurred to her. She couldn't remember being held in Tokyo.

"Never mind, Kamiya-san," Niijima said at her confusion, his voice happy at her presence. "It is only a question to help you clarify things but the number of days is not itself an answer. Let me show you why I will not use you against Himura Battousai. It is a far more interesting lesson."

Bairei watched Kamiya. He could almost see the anger blossom in her at his Master's words and he could certainly feel the fierce flare in her aura. Her anger was pure but it was tinged with uncertainty. No doubt she was confused that Niijima-sama would speak so bluntly to her of the things he had ordered done, even when he knew they would anger her and further fuel her hatred for him. But he knew his master. Niijima-sama did not lie and Kamiya had to accept the truth before she could accept him.

He did make one quick motion to her guards, indicating that they should be especially wary and keep a firm grip on their weapons. Kamiya-san was trained and she was angry, she may not think before she acted so it was better to prevent her from obtaining a weapon than trying to deal with the consequences. As Niijima-sama turned back to him Bairei raised his sword, nodding slightly as he felt his master's presence.

::Hai, wakarimasu,:: he responded to the silent instructions.

"Kamiya-san," Niijima spoke to her again as he donned his helmet. "Watch closely and you will see why I will not use you against Himura Battousai. I do not have any desire for revenge against the Hitokiri Battousai for his actions during the Bakumatsu. I did not know him then and I was not involved in those events. I have no desire for revenge against him for anything. I do not wish for his title of the strongest swordsman in Japan. Nor do I wish to prove that my technique is stronger than the legendary Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu. Watch closely and you will see why I have no desire and no reason to use you against the Rurouni who stopped at your Dojo."

With that Bairei could feel his master turning his attention away from Kamiya and carefully shielding her out so that he could fight properly. The shields, while not normally needed unless one was fighting in a city, were imperative in her presence. Bairei had himself increased his own because while he could not see and feel everything Niijima-sama could from Kamiya-san, he could sense enough. She was powerful but her power could burn him even without her directing it against him. She was a woman truly worthy of Niijima-sama.

::Ryuu Kan Sen then Ryuu Tsui Sen. She should know by then,:: his master repeated the instructions.

Bairei didn't pause, didn't reaffirm his confirmation but instead leapt forward, swinging his blade in a wide horizontal arc that would give Niijima-sama the perfect opportunity to step up to him and use the Ryuu Kan Sen. He swung his sword but he was tracking his masters blade with his mind. There. Niijima-sama had closed the distance between them and was now within his reach, safe from the cutting edge of Bairei's sword and for those who knew how, he was now in position to attack. Sword combat was meant to be fought in close quarters but few techniques could deal with the closeness Niijima had initiated. Bairei tracked the sword as Niijima whipped out his sword arm, still perhaps a little slow from his injuries but better than the previous days and as the sword tracked towards the unguarded nape of his neck Bairei twisted, spinning forwards as if trying to pull his own Ryuu Kan Sen on his master. If he hadn't of known the move that was to follow he might have tried diving beneath the blade but for now spinning was the best defence.

Beneath his mask, Niijima smiled in approval. Bairei was learning and his technique was getting better. Then as his sword cleaved the air Bairei had been a moment before his snapped his ankles, driving himself into the air. It was a deceptively easy move but took a great deal of strength and he was glad that he had spent the time since his betrayal honing his physical skills as well as expanding his Kouken, otherwise he would never have been able to master Hiten Mitsurugi. As he reached the apex of his leap he looked down, judging his distance from Bairei and the boys readiness to defend against him. He had spun away and while he was still recovering from that move he had moved his sword into a position of defence.

Niijima flipped his sword, there was no need to temp fate and put his whole weight behind his fall in the vicious downward slash that was the Ryuu Tsui Sen. The clash as their two blades meet was almost deafeningly loud in the silence. But that was a single noise that faded away and as they stilled, the sudden lack of violent movement added to the quiet.

Bairei risked a glance at Kamiya. He could almost see the waves of disbelief coming from her.

"That's not..." she began before falling silent, unsure of how to continue, of how to rationalize what she had seen.

"That's not?" Akihisa questioned as he rose and turned once again towards her.

"/What did you /do/ to him?/" She cried, her anger once again flaring. Her hands balled into fists at her side and she trembled with the effort to control herself.

Akihisa hid a smile. The question was so reminiscent of the other, the reaction the same but this was not the copy of perfection, this one could hurt unless he diffused the situation. Despite the danger Kamiya was to his senses, Akihisa was amused. He had never tolerated disobedience or the questioning of his actions but for this woman he was feeling strangely indulgent. He wanted to see her angry, he wanted to see her happy, he wanted to see the full range of her emotions and savour each one. He wanted her to be whole, for her to be everything that she was but to be them only for him.

"Do to him?" He echoed her, straining to remember the words he had spoken to the other. "I did nothing to him. What he did and what has happened, happened of his own free will." He paused stepping closer to her as he once again removed his helmet. He tossed it aside as he came to stand before her. "As you can see though, I already have what I want from him. But you are still here because I do not have what I want from you."

"He'll find me." The words were said with absolute conviction as Kaoru glared into Akihisa's emerald eyes. She wasn't afraid of him, she wasn't going to be afraid of him and she would never back away from him.

"I doubt that, Kaoru," he spoke her name daring her to strike him.

She trembled but remained composed, knowing that striking him would not get her anywhere despite how nice the feel of his face beneath her fist might be.

"Do you know what I want from you?" Akihisa began again. His voice was quiet this time, carrying the mixed notes of sadness and longing. He looked at her but Kaoru wasn't sure if he was seeing her.

Mutely she shook her head. The amusement that had coloured his tone an instant before was gone and the man before her now seemed almost broken, tired and alone. //Tired and alone and holding you against your will,// her mind reminded her, forcibly quashing any feelings of sympathy she may have felt.

"I want you to sing for me, not just with your voice but with your entire being. Sing for me, the way you sing for him." Akihisa blinked and with a soft smile focused on Kaoru, raising one hand tracing the line of her jaw. "In time, you will come to know me, you will forget him and you will love me."

Kaoru shook her head and was unable, despite her previous conviction, to prevent the step she took backwards. In the way that he touched her, there was nothing threatening but it was infinitely /hungry/. Something in his eyes called to her and the part of her that recognized him, the part that recognized Kenshin in the same instinctual way, wanted nothing more than to embrace him, to accept the offer he was making and let herself be sheltered in his arms. There was something there that said he saw more than her physical form, saw more and accepted more. She shook her head again deliberately remembering amethyst eyes and red hair, using her memories of Kenshin as a shield against Akihisa's desire.

He blinked as he looked at her, emerald eyes clouding for an instant before he stepped back. "I will not force you, Kaoru-san," he said, a soft smile creasing his lips. "I will wait and you will be willing when you come to me." He gazed once more at her fondly before turning away, motioning for her guards to escort her back to her room.

Kaoru moved quietly at the behest of her guards. She was too surprised to do anything but everything was happening too fast but no matter what, she would not give in to him. //I will not betray Kenshin. If he is to claim me, it will be unwillingly and I would rather die.// The thought broke to the surface adamantly as she entered the confusing corridors again.

Behind her, Akihisa turned back towards Bairei, refocusing his attention on the present. He could indulge his desire to be with her, he would hold her perfection, when he reflected that perfection. She would not come to him willingly yet, he had seen that within her. Her attachment to Himura Battousai was still strong and while he could have reached into her mind and shattered that attachment, her willing submission would be far sweeter. But before that could come, before he considered /himself/ worthy of her affection, he would have to possess the perfect technique, the complete integration of Kouken, Hiten and Tamashii within the one being. Time, that was all he needed.

Bairei looked at his master. Niijima-sama's stance indicated that he was thinking but before long he looked up. "Bairei," he began in that rich voice he hoped he could imitate one day. "Let us begin again but this time I will teach you some moves. I think you may need them."

Bairei nodded, lowering his sword and waiting for Niijima-sama's instructions. He would learn these new moves well so that he could continue to serve his master and the woman he had chosen as his mate. So long as she was there and as long as the other was alive, Niijima would never fail.

To be Continued

Definitions
Baka - Idiot
Gomennasai - I'm very sorry
Ryuu - School
Shishou - Master
Ougi - Final attack
Arigatou - Thank you
Iie - No
Doomo - Thank you (informal)
Daijoubou - I'm all right
Senpai - What one can call a senior, especially in school.
Kiree - Beautiful
Wakarimasu - I understand
Hai - Yes

Tamashii Hitokken Ryuu - Yasutake Ryuichi's and Murakami Seir's technique
Tamashii - Soul
Hitokken - One Sword

Kouken Sokuuchi Ryuu - Niijima Akihisa, Segawa Shinichi, and Ryusaki Masujiro's technique
Kou - Thought
Ken - Sword
Soku - Swift
Uchi - Strike

Fairly simple ne?
HUGE Thank you to Tatsuko for helping to create the names of some fighting schools.