Clearing Skies

by Calger459

Chapter 8: Challenge

Here we go, the beginning of the end! On with the fic!

Dry wood. Mold. The sour smell of oil and metal. Kenji struggled to wake up. Something bad had happened, he knew that, but he couldn't recall exactly what. Muddled images and impressions flickered through his mind's eye, behind lids that refused to open. He felt so heavy, so tired. Waking up was so hard. His head felt thick and heavy; a dull pain throbbed behind his eyes, spreading across the back of his head and down into his neck. He was hurt, he didn't know how badly. He tried harder to open his eyes; his body fought him.

Stay asleep, a familiar voice suddenly whispered, its tone soothing and cool. The danger isn't past yet, stay asleep.

Father? He thought blearily in recognition. A shadow flitted through his mind's eye, swift and sure. A glint of metal in the shadows that was both threatening and comforting. What danger? He asked the shadow.

But there was no answer, and then all was darkness again.

Some hours later, Kenji's awareness stirred again and his eyes finally opened. He sucked in a quick breath at the pain that stabbed behind his eyes, leaving a pounding ache in its wake. Doing his best to ignore the pain he forced himself to concentrate on his surroundings. Wherever he was, it was very dark and cramped. He felt hard wood beneath his left shoulder, and he tried to focus his bleary eyes as he twisted his head to look around. He seemed to be tucked back into a corner of a shed, which was full of crates and boxes.

It took him a moment to realize the slight warmth he felt against his back was another body, presumably also tightly bound. A shifting noise as the body stirred, and the sleepy murmur of a very familiar voice. Kenji's eyes widened. "Taro?" he whispered. They took both of us? "You awake?"

A long pause. The other's breath quickened. Kenji could feel him twisting around, no doubt also trying to get his bearings in the dark space. "Yeah."

Kenji sagged in relief. "We're alive," he breathed, suddenly almost giddy. "You okay?"

"Not really, no," Taro said dully. "My head hurts like hell."

Kenji sighed. "Mine too, guess they hit both of us to knock us out."

An awkward pause. "Did…they say what happened to my family?"

Guilt stabbed at him. He should never have gotten his friend involved in this. "No," Kenji said quietly. "But they didn't come out of the house even with all the noise we made. Maybe your father's just a heavy sleeper?" He tried to inject some levity into his voice, but it sounded false even to his own ears.

Taro didn't say anything immediately. Kenji could feel him working his wrists around in the ropes binding them. After a moment, he seemed to give up. "I really hope you have a plan get us out of this, oh great son-of-Battousai."

Kenji stilled at the accusatory tone in his friend's voice, feeling even more wretched. "I…I'm really sorry I got you into this Taro. It's my fault."

Taro was silent, but he seemed to relax, leaning a little more against Kenji's back. "Yeah, well…what should we do?"

On this Kenji drew a complete blank. He honestly had no idea what to do now. Escape seemed the obvious answer, but then it would all start all over again. The running and the lying and the constant fear, and honestly he was tired of it. "I think…I just need to face these people. This can't keep going the way it's been. I just can't do it anymore."

Taro flexed himself awkwardly into a half-sitting position, using the crates as support. He looked down at Kenji. "You really waited this long to tell anyone these guys were after you? Why? That was so stupid, you should have asked for help! I'm sure Himura-san could have done something about it."

Kenji didn't look at his friend, instead staring fixedly at the crate in front of him, feeling that defiant anger inside him again and hating it, hating his own stupidity. "Yeah, Taro…he could have, but you know what? Knowing him and what he's done before in situations like this, he would have turned himself over to them just to find out what these guys want, and then they would have ripped him apart."

"He's Battousai isn't he? I think he could take care of himself," Taro reasoned evenly, still staring down at him. "It's nice that you wanted to protect your father, Kenji, but really…we're just kids, you know?"

Kenji scowled. Just a kid…yes, he really was. Moreover, had he really wanted to protect his father from his enemies, or had his mother been right? Was he really doing it just for himself? As Kenji lay there, bound and defeated, he realized that he truly didn't know, that in fact he had never known, and his own arrogant actions could possibly now cost Taro his life. His friend had nothing to do with this, and Kenji regretted the moment he'd made the decision to leap over his garden wall. However, it couldn't be helped now.

"Taro," he said quietly, "those guys are going to come for us pretty soon probably. I want you to pretend you don't know anything, all right? I was just hiding at your place for a few minutes, you don't know anything else."

"Well I sort of know who Battousai is now, don't I, since they said it in front of both of us?"

"Doesn't matter," Kenji countered. "I just want to make sure you stay safe, all right?"

Taro frowned down at him. "Kenji…"

Bright sunlight suddenly washed over them from an outside door being thrown open, and boxes were shoved noisily aside. Kenji gasped, instinctively shutting his eyes against the painful light.

"Hey kids," Ryozo greeted. "Sleep well?" Kenji glared hatefully at the man as two of the other swordsmen came into the shed. One focused on Taro, tightening his bindings even further and gagging him. Taro's eyes widened fearfully. "Relax boy," Ryozo said, "keep quiet back here and nothing will happen to you. It's your friend we need." He waved a hand and the second swordsman yanked Kenji to his feet. The teen gasped, head spinning with the sudden movement, and he fought down a wave of nausea from the increased pounding in his skull.

Kenji felt Taro's eyes on him as he was marched to the door. He risked a slight glance back, attempting to look reassuring. Given the way his heart was pounding, it was probably not very effective. The door was shut behind him, cutting off his view of Taro, and he looked forward again. Maybe he could end this peacefully somehow. At the very least, he could convince them to let Taro go.

He was led around a few small outbuildings and across the interior courtyard of a large house. It was probably private, an estate. Kenji wasn't surprised; anyone hired to capture his father would demand high payment. "So who is this guy you're all working for?" he asked, trying to keep his voice casual. "Is this his house?"

"You think we would tell you?" Ryozo snapped, giving him a menacing glare.

"I'm going to tell him the same thing I told you," Kenji said evenly, a strange calm stealing over him now as they stepped up on the raised porch on the far side of the courtyard. If I can't fight you, I'll outwit you instead. "What makes you think this is going to work? You can't possibly hope to pass me off as Battousai."

Ryozo just laughed at this. This response filled the teen with a bit of dread; his captors seemed quite confident their ploy would work. Why?

Several winding corridors later and they reached an ornate door, which the thug on Kenji's left side swiftly slid open. "Hayakawa-sama," Ryozo said solemnly, leading Kenji forward by the arm. "We've brought you the hitokiri, my apologies for the delay."

Kenji wasn't sure exactly what he'd been expecting from the mastermind of all this. A big, burly crime boss perhaps or some dignified old rich man. He wasn't quite prepared to see a hopelessly scrawny-looking man with thinning, lank hair sitting on a futon, dressed only in a rumpled yukata, as if he'd just woken up. Kenji stared at him incredulously, for a moment too stunned to speak. Hayakawa had looked up and was peering at Kenji intently; the boy noted how dull his eyes were. One was lazy and seemed to be looking off into a corner of the room. The other was trained on him but was rather unfocused, as if the man couldn't see him clearly.

Kenji continued to stare at the man in silence as he slowly stood up, gathering his loose robe around him. Instead of tying it more securely he merely held it around him and shuffled forward on long, bony feet. The boy recoiled as the man came close, giving off an overwhelming stench of sickness and sweat. "Greetings, Battousai," he breathed, voice strangely high-pitched.

Kenji glanced at Ryozo, who merely stood there, still keeping a firm grip on Kenji's arm. He looked rather smug.

Hayakawa was peering at him almost hungrily, slowly turning his head from side to side, as if trying to get a better view of him. "Well," he said finally. "Have you nothing to say, Battousai? You don't even recognize my name, do you?"

Kenji stared at the man, thinking quickly. This Hayakawa wanted his father…for what reasons exactly he didn't know, though they probably weren't friendly. If he insisted on the truth, that he wasn't Battousai, and this man believed him…then he might kill him and go after his father. In that case, he had no doubt they would kill Taro too. However, if he played along he might be able to find a way to resolve this. What would Father do?

Kenji looked again at Ryozo, who was carefully looking elsewhere. "No," Kenji said finally, and truthfully. "I don't remember you. Would you mind telling me why you've brought me here, and by force? You could simply have asked me to come, and I would have."

Kenji now had every person in the room's full attention. Ryozo's men were looking at him in astonishment, shooting furtive, slightly confused looks between themselves and their boss.

Hayakawa's sallow face suddenly broke into a wide, manic grin, exposing several missing teeth. The grin however was malicious rather than pleased. "Shinsengumi," he hissed. "I am Hayakawa Tomo. My older brother Shuichi had just joined them, and you killed him, only a year after we were both orphaned in a fire set by your Choshu clan! That fire damaged my sight, but not my memory or mind! I've been waiting years to bring you here. You will answer for destroying my family!"

He's blind? Sudden understanding washed over him. No, not totally blind, he corrected himself. The man could clearly see him, just not well enough to tell that Kenji was far too young to be hitokiri Battousai, among other myriad details. He shot a glare at Ryozo, who was still looking off into another corner of the room. However, his expression was bemused. His unspoken thought was clear: What will you do now, boy?

Kenji turned back to his captor. "I was part of a war, and many lives were lost on both sides," he said, trying with all his might to channel his father's calm, reasoning tone that seemed able to quell any temper, no matter how fierce. It certainly worked on his mother. "I regret the loss of your brother, and that you suffered because of it. What exactly do you want from me?" I have to lie, he realized as he took in Hayakawa's crazed expression. He really thinks I'm Battousai; if I denied it that would just make Father look even worse.

"You regret?" Haywakawa murmured disbelievingly. "A man like you cannot regret! You'll answer for my brother's life with yours!"

"So you'll kill me yourself then?" Kenji asked with a calm he did not feel. Regardless, he has absolutely no intention of dying in his father's stead. "Surely there's some other way to resolve this, Hayakawa-san."

"No apologies, no money, and definitely no duel!" Hayakawa spat. "Do I look capable of fighting?"

"Do I?" Kenji countered lightly. "I'm far past my prime as a swordsman, Hayakawa-san. Is that why you waited so long to bring me here? So I would be easier to kill? Hardly honorable actions." Go ahead and try to fight, you little jerk, Kenji thought viciously, already tiring of this whole absurd situation. I'll kick your pathetic ass, these thugs can get their cash, and then everyone will be happy. Kenji blinked in sudden realization and he shot a sharp look toward Ryozo. This might be easier than I thought.

"Miserable hitoriki scum," Hayakawa ranted, shaking on his feet and looking like he was about to collapse. "Fujiwara!" Ryozo lifted his head at his name, looking toward his boss expectantly. "Secure the hitokiri. I need to prepare."

"Yes, Hayakawa-sama," Ryozo replied lowly, moving forward to take Kenji's arm again. "Come along, Battousai."

Kenji allowed himself to be led away. It was all he could do to keep silent until they were again outside and striding across the courtyard. He noted with dismay that they weren't taking him back to Taro, but to another part of the complex altogether. He was taken to another small storage shed on the other side of the house and led inside. He expected to be left there, but instead Ryozo shut the door behind him, leaving the two of them alone in the shed. Turning to face his captor, Kenji glared at him suspiciously.

"Well," Ryozo said conversationally, seating himself on a crate, left hand resting casually on the hilt of his katana. "That went rather well, don't you think? I noticed that you decided to play along after all. You're a smart kid."

"That shouldn't surprise you," Kenji stated coolly, staring down at bounty hunter. "You apparently researched me well enough before starting all this."

"What makes you think that?" Ryozo asked pleasantly, clearly amused.

"Everything about this from the start," Kenji said slowly, suddenly feeling abominably foolish. "You knew that I hadn't told my father…would not tell him."

Ryozo tilted his head. "Not really, though I must admit that was helpful. I had plans in place in case you blabbed to your parents. It's true though, what I had observed of you before told me that I really didn't have too much to worry about. You seem to have way too much pride for that, even if your skill leaves a little bit to be desired."

Kenji bristled slightly at that, but chose to ignore the jibe. "You never bothered to mention that the reason Hayakawa believed you all along was because he was blind."

"Only half-blind. He can see well enough to get around."

"Lucky for you," the boy said pointedly, unable to hide his disgust any longer. "I suppose the plan then is to somehow wrap this up before my father has a chance to know about it, you get paid and my friend and I go free?"

Ryozo raised a slightly surprised eyebrow at him. "Now kid, for a moment you had me believing you were smart. No one said anything about freedom. You heard the boss, he plans to kill you. In fact we don't get paid until that happens, as for your friend…well that remains to be seen."

Kenji's heart clenched. Anger and fear fought in his chest, and he couldn't keep a soft, furious hiss escaping his clenched teeth. "That's ridiculous, you did your part! You must know where the man's money is, take what you need and let us go! We'll tell the police and have this crazy idiot arrested. Everyone wins then!"

"Hmm except the part where you've seen what we all look like, and heard my name," Ryozo said silkily. "I can't have you endangering my operations, little boy. I have no intention of letting your father find any of us."

"I won't say anything," Kenji said anxiously. "You know that! If I was going to tell I would have already done it. Help me resolve this and I won't say a word about you to anyone, not even the cops. I'll just go home, and it'll be like it never happened!"

Ryozo sighed wearily and stood up. "Kid, I'd love to believe you, I really would. But I honestly don't give a shit if you live or die at this point. Besides which, that Sagara friend of your father's saw us as well, and that complicates things a bit."

This took a moment to register with Kenji. "He…what? When was this?"

"Yesterday," Ryozo groused irritably. "I tell you what kid, I've never had a boss quite like this one. Hayakawa's an idiot through and through, he even insisted on going with us on my job. I mean seriously, who goes along with their hired men and gets themselves seen by the enemy? When you hire people like me it's so you can keep your nose clean while the work gets done for you. That's how this is supposed to work, but no, the jerk made us confront the guy minute we laid eyes on him instead of letting him be like we should have." He shook his head, clearly disgusted. Kenji just stared numbly straight ahead, not really seeing the bounty hunter before him. He remembered now how harried Sagara had seemed once he'd finally arrived at the Akabeko to meet them, clothes even more filthy and torn then they had been just a few hours earlier at the dojo. It was as if he'd just been in a fight...and of course now Kenji knew that's exactly what it had been. Sagara had known about these men. He'd known, but said nothing.

"So…" he ventured, "Sagara isn't one of your men?"

Ryozo actually laughed at this. He stood up, taking a decidedly menacing step toward Kenji. "Of course he isn't, you stupid brat. Asshole took out three of my guys and their weapons; I damn well don't trust this Sagarato keep his silence!" He loomed over Kenji now, seemingly satisfied by the naked fear he saw in the boy's eyes. "You're done, Himura Kenji. Sorry it had to be this way, but business is business. Don't even think of trying to escape here either, your buddy the archer is right outside to make sure of that, and I will kill your friend if you try anything. See ya." With one final self-satisfied grin, Ryozo sauntered to the door and let himself out, leaving Kenji standing in the windowless darkness of the shed.

The teenager slowly sank to the floor, mind blank, his insides cold.

Yahiko half-ran through the winding Tokyo streets toward his apartment, Sano jogging easily beside him. The former streetfighter ignored the lingering effects of the alcohol in his system. He figured Yahiko was doing a bit worse than him; the younger man wove slightly as he ran, face flushed, the occasionally drop of sweat flying off his spiked hair. Sano knew this was due more to his anxiety over Kenji than the sake. Inwardly he balked in amazement at what seemed to be emerging as a Himura family trait; attracting the worst sort of trouble, and then keeping all the responsibility for it firmly on one's own shoulders, if even it killed you. Stupid stupid kid, he thought sourly. At the same time though, he couldn't help feeling a little bit of guilty pleasure over the situation; this was the most action he'd seen in quite some time, and for once the threat wasn't directed at him.

Yahiko turned down another street, and then finally slowed to a panting stop. Sano looked up at the two-story apartment. "This it?" Yahiko nodded and dug out his key, unlocking the door and sliding it open. He stood by to let Sano through, leading the way up the narrow stairs to the second floor. The apartment was actually fairly spacious by Tokyo standards, with a large living and sleeping area, and Sano could see immediately why his friend needed the space: curled on tiny futons on the tatami flooring were two young children, no more than five years old. He shot Yahiko a pleasantly surprised look as he knelt carefully over what had to be the sleeping form of Tsubame. "These yours, man?"

"Yes," Yahiko hissed impatiently. "Yuusuke and Minako, don't wake them up. Tsubame-chan, I'm sorry, please wake up."

Tsubame groaned slightly and peered up at her husband, confused. "Yahiko, what…"

Sano couldn't hear the rest of the whispered exchange, but he saw Tsubame send him a shocked glance. He could barely see her in the early morning darkness, but he gave her a friendly wave anyway. "Hey there Tsubame-san, it's been a long time."

She sat up, trying anxiously to flatten her hair, which was still cut in the same short bob he remembered from when she was a girl. He saw her shoot Yahiko an irritated look and he couldn't help but smile. No woman liked being caught unawares like this. Her expression softened immediately into one of worry though, and Yahiko quickly stepped past her and ducked in another room. He came out with the familiar Sakabatou in hand, face grim. Tsubame stood at the edge of the tatami, giving Sano an anxious look. "Please find him," she whispered, and Sano was amazed by how little her voice has changed from what he remembered.

"Don't worry, we will," he said gently. "We'll back soon."

"Yahiko, the police?" she asked uncertainly, clutching at the neck of her sleeping yukata.

Yahiko glanced at Sano. "They could be helpful, but if we do then this will definitely get back to Kenshin."

Tsubame glanced between them, expression tightening. "I would think Kenji's life is more important than keeping even more secrets."

"Even if his standing in the school is ruined forever?" Yahiko asked quietly, meeting his wife's gaze. "Besides, just the two of us would be better. I don't want these guys panicking and killing Kenji to cover their escape."

Tsubame looked stricken at this, but didn't argue further. "If I don't hear from you by this evening, I'll go to the police."

Yahiko nodded, and brushed his hand briefly across her face. "Take care, Love."

Sano followed Yahiko to the door, giving his own nod to her. "I'll keep 'em both safe."

Tsubame smiled at him, closing the door gently behind them.

Outside, Sano waited for Yahiko to secure the Sakabatou at his waist. "So how does it feel to use that thing?"

"Heavy," Yahiko said grimly. Sano blinked at the odd response, but didn't question it. He suspected Yahiko didn't mean the weight of the sword. "So, where to?"

"Gambling halls first," Sano said confidently, leading the way toward the poorer districts of Tokyo. "Tsubame didn't seem too shocked by all this. You guys seriously have plans in place if someone goes missing?"

Yahiko glanced at him from the corner of his eye. "This is Kenshin's world we exist in. You know how it is."

Sano sighed. "Yeah. Guy runs with a tough crowd, and Kenji's learning that first hand I'll bet. If none of these guys are in the gambling halls then we're gonna have to get creative."

"None of them spoke when they attacked you?" Yahiko asked disbelievingly. "Didn't let slip a name we could use?"

Sano searched his memory. "No, they really didn't. They've been pretty smart about this whole operation."

"So they must be a professional mercenary group. Bounty hunters."

Sano nodded. "Yeah, high profile too, to agree to take out Kenshin."

Yahiko frowned thoughtfully. "Guys like that don't get work without spreading their name around. They shouldn't be that hard to find."

Sano grinned. "Just have to ask the right questions. No worries, my friend."

The two men walked briskly, but it still took a good half hour to reach the more run-down districts of the city. Yahiko wasn't quite as familiar with these neighborhoods, and he trailed behind Sano as he scouted out the mostly likely places to begin. "These places are always changing around," he explained as they moved through the dark streets. It was past four in the morning now but the houses around them were still alive with noise: shouting, jeering, and the clink of glasses, broken by the occasional high-pitched laugh of a woman. Sano passed several of these dingy buildings before finally choosing one. "I used to come to this one a lot," he said quietly, "but I doubt it's being run by the same people these days. Even so, we could get lucky." He placed his hand on the door and looked over at Yahiko. "You look kinda nervous. You can hang out here if you want."

Yahiko snorted. "Don't be stupid, I've had to come here and take care of cheap thugs before."

"Really?" Sano asked, eyebrows lifting. "That standard business for a dojo master?"

"It is when the cops come to you for help all the time," Yahiko said with a sigh. "Though I'll admit it's been a while since the last time."

"Wow that's sad; the cops are even more pathetic than I remember. Glad we didn't bother calling on them." Sano rolled his eyes and slid open the door, stepping through with swaggering confidence. Yahiko followed.

The interior of the low building was dimly lit and smoky, the air thick with the smell of alcohol and unwashed bodies. Several groups of men were seated in circles on the tatami flooring, laughing and joking as they tossed dice, small piles of coins continuously changing hands.

Several heads turned as they entered. Sano gave a jovial wave and wandered over to one of the smaller groups. "Yo, mind if we join you guys?"

The gamblers looked the two of them over in silence for a minute. Sano had no doubt Yahiko's finer cut of clothes threw them slightly, though all the running about they'd been doing all night had left them somewhat dingy and rumpled. The Sakabatou wasn't a concern; nearly every one of these men has a weapon of some sort sitting next to them. One look at Sanosuke though, and they seemed reassured. Kenji's going to be grateful that I look like such a thug later. I'll make sure he knows it.

The men expanded their circle and let them sit. Sano sat casually, legs crossed in front of him. Glancing over, he saw Yahiko settling into a more formal seiza, legs tucked neatly under him. Shit, he's gonna give us away.Sighing mentally over Yahiko's obvious better upbringing, Sano nudged him, palm open. "Coins, man."

Yahiko stared at him. "Excuse me?"

"Hurry!" Sano hissed, digging his own Chinese currency out of his pockets and plunking it down in front of him. "Sorry guys," he said apologetically, "just got back in town today, haven't found a money changer yet."

"I guess your friend's pretty new at this too," one of the gamblers said dubiously.

"First-timer, yeah," Sano said cheerfully, ignoring Yahiko's irritated look. "Finally got him away from that wife of his!"

An appreciative round of laugher went around the circle at this and the ice seemed to be broken. Dice started rolling and Sano settled in comfortably, delighted to be back in one of his old haunts again. It had been far too long. "So," he said after a few rounds, "I haven't been in Tokyo for awhile, but I heard there was some good bounty business going around. You guys know anything about it?"

Yahiko tensed beside him and Sano shot him a warning look. This is my game, kiddo. Stay out of it. "Why?" one of the guys asked, considering his shrinking pile of coins. "You lookin' to off someone?"

"Hmm, not immediately. More I just need him found. Owes me some favors. You guys know how that is."

One of the other men gave a snort of agreement and tossed the dice. "Damn straight. Women, business, or money?"

"All three as it turns out," Sano said with a wicked grin. "You got anyone you can recommend?"

The man who'd tossed the dice looked over at the silent Yahiko, expression thoughtful despite the several empty shou of sake littered around him. "I'm guessing your friend here's in on this business of yours?"

"Heh, yeah, it's kinda complicated. He's the one who'll be footing this particular bill though, so I want to make sure it's quality, you know? We need some good guys."

Two of the other men exchanged looks. "Fujiwara, you think?"


"Fujiwara who?" Sano asked carefully. The dice had passed to him and he tossed them, holding any more questions until the coins had finished changing hands again. "There're a lot of Fujiwara's in this city you know."

"First name's Ryozo I think," the other guy said. "He's expensive as they get, but he's got a good group I hear."

"Where do we find them?" Yahiko asked quietly. It was the first time he'd spoken, and all movement in the circle paused for a moment. Sano hastily passed the dice.

The two men across the circle were looking slightly uneasy. "It's sensitive business, obviously," Sano said reassuringly to them. "Sorry about that, guys; my friend's just having a rough night."

Smiles spread around again, and at Sano's sidelong look Yahiko managed one of his own finally. Before long they had a location, an estate in the best neighborhoods in Tokyo, not far from the palace. Sano gave an appreciative whistle at this. "So you do just walk up to this place and knock on this guy's door or what?"

A few queries later and Sano had a roundabout means of contact with this so-called Fujiwara Ryozo, though of course he and Yahiko had no intention of using it. They continued to play dice for another hour, making casual conversation. He could feel Yahiko growing increasingly impatient at his side, though he seemed to realize that any rapid exits from this place could be disastrous. Places like these were far more deadly business than pleasure, and Sano was relieved that his younger friend was finally old enough to understand that.

At last they left, stopping on a bridge some distance away from the gambling dens. In the distance they could see the emperor's palace rising on a hill in the center of the city, gas lamps glowing brightly around it. Dawn was coming, the eastern sky growing brighter by the minute. "I don't think they would have done anything to the kid yet, Yahiko," he said, resting a hand on the swordsman's shoulder. "We'll find him and bring him home."

"Sano…thank you," Yahiko said after a long, awkward pause. "For all your help. I couldn't have gotten this information by myself."

Sano looked at him curiously. "Surely that isn't an apology I'm hearing?"

Yahiko, seemingly amused, finally looked Sano in the eye. "Of course not. Let's go."


A/N: Heh, once again the chapter started with Kenji and ended with Yahiko. Next time will be a little more…mixed, I think. 'tis grand finale time! Only two or three chapters to go :D