Disclaimer: I do not own the Kenshingumi; all you lawyers, please don't sue me. And all you readers please take note: I don't own anything I quote.
General Notes: Hmm... we seem to have gotten a spiffy new ratings system. I will accept the assigned rating for now (it seems to be the new PG-13), but might have some individual chapters that get rated higher for things.
Other notes: AU, which means that OOCness will jump up and down and wave its arms on occasion (although I'm trying to keep it minimal). Also, there are going to be spoilers, in the sense of riffs on or references to things in the anime and manga.
Chapter Thirty-Six: All You Zombies
The beating of her heart seemed unnaturally loud in Kaoru's ears, echoing into the stillness of the moonlit room. She automatically shifted into a defensive stance, hands tightening on her bokken, focusing on the positions of her opponents, even as her mind raced.
'They're dead... they're all dead, and... Dad was attacked by zombies? On Halloween? Ok, now, seriously, how cliché can you possibly...'
It took the noise of shuffling feet, the sound of something that would have been laughter if living throats had produced it, to snap her sharply back to the present.
Gohei stood in front of her, holding a sheathed katana in his hands. His sunken eyes reflected dull red, and he gave a grin that showed far too many dull and yellowed teeth, contrasting with gray skin marked with dark lines of what Kaoru really hoped was dried blood from scratches across his skin.
"Actually," the thing in front of her said, "I should be very grateful to your Daddy... after all, if it weren't for that idiot, I wouldn't have gotten the chance to get this kind of strength."
As he took a step forward, Kaoru narrowed her eyes and tried to analyze the movement.
'I can believe that he's strong, but I'll bet that he's slow... I mean, just the sheer size and muscle mass he's got to move, not to mention the fact that he's... um... dead and lurchy. Ok... bigger, stronger opponent; that's nothing new. Focus on that, Kaoru, not the zombie aspect. This is the son-of-a-bitch who put your father into a coma; you have to beat him so that he can't hurt any more of your family!'
Gohei continued his rant, his mouth stretched into a gaping parody of a cheerful grin, "I've been through the bowels of Hell, and now I finally have the chance to send the Kamiya Kasshin style into the abyss where it belongs. You think a weak little girl like you can stop me?"
Kaoru didn't dignify that comment with a response; instead, she lept forward and swung, aiming for the ribcage. Her attack was swift and precise, with all of her strength behind it.
With a smirk, Gohei intercepted the blow with his right hand, and Kaoru felt the shock of the impact all the way up her arms as he caught her bokken and held it. Laughing, he tossed her carelessly backwards, so that she hit the wall, hard. It took grim determination not to drop to the floor, but she managed, bracing herself and holding onto her weapon with both hands.
"See? That didn't hurt at all!" he boasted, addressing both her and the rest of the room's occupants, who were watching the scene with blank dead eyes.
'Good thing they're just standing there, not lurching around with their arms out and muttering, "Braaaaaaiiiiiiinsssss," like a bad horror film,' Kaoru thought as she brought her bokken up into a defensive position, 'Gohei seems to be the ringleader, and what he wants is to prove that he can beat me. I don't think they'll interfere unless he tells them to... so if I just focus on beating him... I need to concentrate on hitting his weakpoints...'
This time, she ducked low and aimed for his knee, hearing the sickening crack as her bokken struck. As that leg gave out, she spun and landed another solid blow on the back of his neck.
Unfortunately, she'd been focusing so much on her opponent that she had forgotten the presence of the others in the room. Claw-like hands reached for her as the zombies snarled, teeth bared. This close, she could see more of their faces than she cared to, the cuts and other injuries distorting their features, the ripped and stained clothing, with grave dirt clinging to fabric and skin in rough clots. Striking out with her bokken, she managed to keep those reaching hands away from her, hearing fingerbones snap as she struck. Dancing back as she struck again and left one gangly figure with a shattered jaw, she frantically started going over her options if the entire group of them decided to press their advantage.
When they stopped after taking only a few steps forward, Kaoru took several deep, panting breaths, doing her best to ignore the stink of rotting flesh and fabric. She really didn't want to turn around, but she could hear the way that Gohei was getting to his feet again behind her.
Idiot,' she thought, 'You should have focused on getting out of the enclosed space full of creepy undead guys with bad hair rather than getting caught up in revenge against the one making the most noise. Although the plus side to somebody in here being caught up in revenge, I guess, is that Gohei seems to want all the credit. The rest of these idiots are just here to block me in. Which, admittedly, is better than all of them actively swarming, but not by much. So, new plan- get the hell out of Dodge.'
She turned back around at the sound of Gohei drawing his sword and tossing the sheath carelessly to one side. It landed with a discordant clatter between two of the other figures lurking in the shadows. The fact that she really couldn't have done anything about getting semi-surrounded when she was so outnumbered didn't make Kaoru feel any less annoyed with herself.
'Ok. Tthey won't let me out, but if I can beat their leader, maybe they'll be disoriented enough that I can make a break for it...' With that thought in mind, she sprang into action again, rushing forward and striking, then letting her momentum carry her past her target so that she could pivot and assume an attack position again.
In her adrenalized state, it took several seconds for the pain in her upper arm to register, and she looked down and winced at the blood spreading on her sleeve.
'Dammit!' she thought, refusing to allow herself to be distracted by her injury, by the mocking, hollow laughter that echoed throughout the room. Narrowing her eyes, Kaoru immediately lept back in towards her opponent, striking fiercely.
This time, the slash of Gohei's katana caught her bokken, and she stumbled with the change in weight as it was slashed in two, the top half spinning uselessly across the floor. Before Kaoru could recover, a large hand had grabbed the collar of her shirt, and she was being held up in the air, feet dangling helplessly, wincing away from the expression of savage triumph in her attacker's dead eyes.
"I told you that this was a useless style," he mocked, shaking her so that her teeth rattled. "I'm going to enjoy killing you slowly, and burning down this dojo." Then he lifted her up higher, like a ragdoll, and turned her so that she could see the slavering expressions on the faces of his followers, "But first...who else wants a taste of this chickadee's flesh?"
The hunger in their responses, the way their eyes lit up, almost paralyzed her, and she whimpered faintly in the back of her throat. Then, as she felt Gohei moving her towards those reaching, rotting, hands, she yelled and shoved the sharp remains of her bokken hard into his shoulder as she kicked whatever part of him she could reach.
He dropped her, swearing violently, and she scambled out of reach as fast as she could, until she hit the wall, hissing at the impact. As he bellowed and dug at the wood, Kaoru bolted for the remains of the weapons rack, grabbing what she hoped was a reasonably whole bokken and swinging as she stood up. The shambling figure closest to her fell heavily sideways as she took out its knees and knocked it into the splintered wood.
Gohei's frothing rage seemed to be affecting the zombies, who were no longer merely standing in place. Unfortunately, the main result seemed to be that they were no longer standing back and allowing him to have first shot. Or else her movement was attracting their attention; she couldn't exactly ask.
Her arm hurt, but she gritted her teeth and swung again, aiming a rapid strike upwards at the jaw of a zombie whose face had enough piercings to set off an airport metal detector, and then spinning down to hit a third solidly on the head, grimacing at the dent she left in its skull.
'Not exactly regulation kendo. . . . thank goodness Dad made sure that Kamiya Kasshin included a healthy dose of what to do in non-regulation situations… or, as Sano puts it, bokkens for bar brawls and back alleys… of course, I don't think fighting the undead was what either of them had in mind…'
'Now, if I can just manage to circle around and get out…'
An inarticulate bellow and a spray of foul, black liquid across the floor told her that Gohei had managed to dig out the bokken piece. His right arm hung down at his side, but his katana was still firmly clenched in his left hand as he ran forward, snarling and frothing at the mouth.
Kaoru clenched her jaw, watching his muscles tense, readying herself to duck out of the way of his swing, praying that she could be fast enough to get around him and towards the doorway.
Then, as he moved to begin the swing, just as she was tensing her muscles to leap, there was a sudden jarring sensation of cold, and, before she could do more than gasp, she found herself scooped up and moved so fast it left her breathless and blinking on the other side of the training hall.
Looking up, she saw a familiar jaw, long red hair, and burningly furious amber eyes that were directed with narrowed concentration at the hulking zombie who was turning to stare at his intended prey.
"K... Kenshin?" Kaoru ventured, her heart still pounding from the fight. Or perhaps that was Kenshin's heartbeat, echoing through her. The only sign that he had heard her was a slight tightening of his jaw as he held her.
"Who the hell are you?" Gohei demanded, "Another weakling student of this damn school?"
"No," Kenshin replied, voice low and deadly calm, "But I will be your opponent in this fight."
Never allowing his eyes to leave Gohei's, Kenshin put Kaoru down with infinite care, not removing his arms until he was sure she had found her footing. Then he moved to stand in front of her, his posture tense and prepared, one hand holding his sword by the sheath and the other poised to draw it and attack.
When Kaoru tried to move next to him, Kenshin's arm stopped her almost at once and he said to her in a low, almost growling tone, "Stay there. Don't move. Don't get involved in this."
Before Kaoru could do more than open her mouth to protest, he blurred into action, sword flashing silver as he drew it. The first group of zombies was hitting the floor before they even had the chance to register a threat. Kenshin struck too quickly for her to see, taking the head off of one shambling form while leaping up, then hitting two more as he headed back down and landed. The blade of his sword was glowing to match his eyes, throwing off faint sparks. Watching the fight, Kaoru wondered if she was imagining the faint trails of amber fire left within the wounds he was inflicting.
She braced herself, ready to start beating anything that began crawling towards herself or Kenshin, but it looked like the zombies were being affected by Kenshin's sword the way that normal humans would have reacted to a normal blade. Well, except for a lack of blood, for which she was profoundly grateful.
'He said that his sword was made specially for him, that it made his job easier... is this the sort of thing that he was talking about, that he doesn't have to worry about, say, bits and pieces of zombie being able to crawl around and attack, like in those horror films where there's always some random leftover arm that creeps around and leaps out to throttle people or press inconvenient buttons? Or maybe real zombies are just different...I can't believe I'm having to seriously think about the difference between real and fake zombies…'
All things considered, Kaoru thought that it was probably the first option, that Kenshin's sword was doing what it had been designed for.
Her reverie was broken by a horrible cauterwaling as several of the zombies, arms outstretched, jaws wide, attempted to head in her direction.
None of them even completed their first step before Kenshin was there between her and her would-be attackers, dispatching them with disdainful ease. Then he was nothing but a blur of crimson and amber and silver again, moving with deadly efficiency until only the hulking form of Gohei Hiruma remained, slack-jawed, attempting to process what had just happened, why his followers were now sprawled across the floor, leaving him alone.
"Red hair..." the larger man said, brow furrowed as he tried to think, "Cross-shaped scar... you... you're Battousai! I've heard of you."
Kenshin narrowed blazing eyes, "Have you? And who, pray tell, has been talking about me to something like you?"
Gohei let out a barking laugh. "It doesn't matter. He told me all about you, Battousai. You may have taken care of those imbeciles, but I've been perfecting my sword style for years! After I defeat you, I'll take my time killing that bitch before burning this place to the ground!"
The red-haired demon didn't even dignify his boast with a response.
And the last thing the zombie saw was a flash of crimson and amber fire, the silver of a sword blade, bearing down on him from above. As the ties binding him to his reanimated body were sliced and he fell into death, he heard one final, deadly whisper, echoing into the icy stillness...
'You. Won't. Touch. Her.'
Kaoru swallowed, and felt like the noise echoed into the sudden stillness.
"Ken… shin?" she ventured hesitantly, watching him as he stood over Gohei's still form. She wasn't sure if he was finished, or if there was something else he had to do to make sure Gohei would never come back to trouble them again. Thinking back to her own recent demon-related research, she tried to remember if there was any garlic in the house.
Kenshin re-sheathed his sword in a single fluid movement and turned to face her. There was something in his eyes, in the tense set of his jaw as he walked towards her with deliberate slowness that almost made her quail as she swallowed again.
"Now, Kaoru," he said, his voice low and angry, "please explain what exactly the hell you were thinking, coming back here by yourself after dark?"
"I wasn't!" she declared, fighting the urge to shrink back against the wall, "I mean... I didn't come over here after dark; I came over here this afternoon, because I needed to call the students and let them know about the temporary schedule, and clean out the fridge and... and pack up things for Yahiko! It just... it took longer than I expected it would."
He had reached the wall where she stood, and put one hand against it, above her shoulder. "And this relates to your being in the training hall rather than in the house how, exactly?"
Kaoru flushed. She had to admit that he had a point about that part. "I came in here to look for the older student lists," she explained, "I've been wracking my brains since I found Dad; since you and the police asked about previous students with grudges, and the fact that whoever attacked Dad was left-handed ... and.. well, I remembered Gohei—that—that—um... the big guy. He was a student here when I was little, but he was never happy with just kendo; he attacked one of his classmates with a katana, and Dad had to stop him. I... I wanted to be able to tell the police about him, and so I came out here to look up his name." She looked down at the floor, unable to meet his eyes. "I'm sorry... I should have been thinking about how late it had gotten; I know that, it's just... I was so excited that I could actually do something, that I could help find who was responsible, and prove that it wasn't just teenagers playing a Halloween prank."
Raising her eyes to meet his, she bit her lip at his expression. "I'm sorry," Kaoru said again.
"Why didn't you have somebody come with you?" Kenshin demanded, his tone less angry, but still tense.
"I... aside from not thinking it would take as long as it did, I didn't want to drag anybody away from work." Anticipating his next statement, she rushed to continue, "And I knew that you were working on finding out what had happened, so I really didn't want to drag you away from that. Although I recognize that, in retrospect, that part... um... well, I should have suggested that we kill two birds... or, um, zombies, with one stone by having me be bait for..."
Kenshin's other hand hit the wall and he practically snarled, "No! You are not to ever, even think about being "bait," Kaoru; that is..."
Then he paused, eyes widening, his breathing suddenly heavy. Taking a step back, he looked down to the blood staining the sleeve of her shirt.
Kaoru tried to follow the angle of his gaze, and realized that she'd forgotten the wound she'd received from Gohei's sword. She opened her mouth to say something about it, but before she could, Kenshin made a noise that was like nothing else she'd heard from him before.
"Ke...?" she tried, and then let out a yelp as he reached out one hand, grasped the collar of her shirt, and yanked, hard, tearing the fabric so that the pieces fluttered to the floor.
She felt color rush to her cheeks, and reflexively went to move her arms, torn between hitting him and covering herself. However, Kenshin's hands were quite firmly locked around her lower arms, holding her in place as he bent down and...
Kaoru yelped again and tried to jerk backwards as she felt Kenshin's mouth against the sword cut.
'What... what... he's... WHAT?'
Her breathing was slightly panicked as she felt the rasp of his tongue on her skin. After several long seconds, he pulled back and exhaled deeply. Still trying to parse everything that had just taken place, Kaoru could only stare at him with wide, shocked eyes as he pulled her roughly forward, wrapping his arms around her and breathing against her hair. Then, without saying a word or giving her a chance to protest, he scooped her up into his arms again, carefully tucking her head against his chest as he carried her back into the house and set her down on the couch. He picked up an afghan and wrapped it around her, then left her briefly.
When he came back, carrying the family first aid kit, Kaoru had recovered enough to sit up and say, "Kenshin! What do you think you're..."
"I need to bandage that... sword cuts can be deep, kitten; you're lucky that it only grazed you." Kenshin said, his normal unflappable calm returning as he poured disinfectant onto a cotton pad. "This might sting..."
"That's not the... ow, ow, ow, darn it, ow... Kenshin! What were you thinking, doing... doing… that?
When his only response was to start unrolling the gauze, she yanked at his bangs, hard. Looking up to meet her gaze, he sighed and paused. "I needed to... I needed to see what kind of wound it was, Kaoru. That was the quickest way. Now hold still; I need to wrap this."
"What kind of... but Gohei was the only one in the room with a sword, what other kind of..." Then, remembering the movies she'd seen, Kaoru said slowly, "You thought... you thought I got bitten? Um... but… Kenshin, if I'd gotten bitten, wouldn't my shirt... have... been... KENSHIN! You... you... ripped off my..." She smacked his shoulder with her good hand and tried to get up off the couch, but he held her still as he started bandaging her upper arm.
"If you insist, you can take care of that after I'm finished, kitten," Kenshin said, "Then we're going back to the apartment."
Then he leaned back in, close enough so that his long hair was falling against her skin and the scent of ginger teased her. As he worked, he murmured something under his breath that he couldn't hear, a low, rhythmic cadence. She wasn't entirely certain there wasn't a faint glow in the air surrounding them as he spoke, a warmth that tingled along her nerves.
When he leaned back after finishing the bandages, he said softly, "Is that alright, Kaoru?"
"Um… yes; thank you, that's fine," she replied, trying to keep her heart from racing at the amber sparks in his now-violet eyes. "I... I need to get dressed now, and get the bags I packed for Yahiko... did... is your car here?"
"No, we'll just take yours," Kenshin said, standing up and offerring her a hand to pull her easily into a standing position. "I'll get the bags for Yahiko. And I'm driving; you're in no condition to be behind the wheel of a car right now."
"I didn't hit my head that hard!" Kaoru retorted, and then, at the way Kenshin's eyes widened, she closed her mouth again, quickly.
'Oops... he wasn't there for that part, was he... I really just need to not talk about this anymore.'
Rather than risking further conversation, Kaoru headed upstairs, trying to ignore the way that Kenshin was now hovering at her elbow. Fortunatly, he didn't try to go into her room with her, although, she had to admit, since she was already wandering around in just her bra, he would only have gotten a chance to see her putting on clothing rather than removing it.
She was slightly surprised that she wasn't more embarassed about it, but decided that that was largely due to Kenshin himself ignoring her state of undress.
Pulling on the first t-shirt she found, Kaoru headed back out of her room, only to find Kenshin holding the duffle bags and waiting for her. He stopped in the kitchen to pick up the bag of things she'd taken out of the fridge, and grabbed her keys off of the counter. When Kaoru opened her mouth to declare that she could help him carry things, Kenshin raised one eyebrow at her, clearly ready to disagree.
Their stand-off was interrupted by the noise of the door swinging forcefully open.
Kaoru spun around, eyes wide, while Kenshin sighed as Kaoru's supervisor strode into the kitchen looking like he'd just caught a pair of his advanced chemistry students trying to see how close homemade nitroglycerin came to the real thing.
"Himura, what the hell is going on; you were supposed to…"
"Saitoh, this is NOT part of your regular patrol area, what do you think you're…"
They both started speaking at once, glaring at each other as they angrily bit the words out. Worried that the two men were going to start circling each other again, or something that would be even more detrimental to the furniture, Kaoru jumped into the conversation, saying brightly, "Well! Hi! It's a surprise to see you here, sir, but, um, thank you for coming; I don't think we'll need to look at the family swords, but your information about a left-handed attacker was actually….very…helpful?"
She trailed off as both men turned to face her, their expressions somewhere between anger and bafflement. Well, Kenshin looked slighly baffled; the other man's expression had settled somewhere closer to resigned. Taking a deep breath, he finally said, "Yes, Ms Kamiya, I would say that we've gotten past the point of looking at any additional swords. However, that doesn't answer my original question of what exactly happened."
"Umm…. Well, I came over this afternoon to make some phone calls and pick up some things, and then I connected the dots about a potential former student who would have needed to learn to fight with his left hand, except I hadn't realized how dark it was getting, so by the time I tracked down his name in the records, surprise zombie attack." Wincing slightly, she admitted, "And I shouldn't have come over here to the scene of the crime alone in the first place, especially after lecturing Yahiko about not doing anything stupid like running around alone trying to track down whoever attacked Dad…. Oh, ye gods and little fishes, my little brother is going to hold this over my head until the end of time."
"Zombies?" the taller man queried, turning back to face Kenshin.
Kenshin nodded shortly. "Not quite enough for a horde, but enough to be a matter of concern if they started wandering around. Luckily they all seemed attached to- what was his name again?"
"Gohei. Gohei Hiruma. He was one of the students here years ago, but he was more interested in hurting people than in actually learning kendo. I wasn't that old, but I remember him bringing a katana here and using it to attack some of his fellow students- then he tried to attack Dad, and Dad took him down. Went straight for his right hand- -his sword hand at the time- to make sure Gohei wouldn't be able to hurt anybody else. From what he said, I guess Gohei started looking for a left-handed sword style after that, specifically to come after Dad and the Kamiya Kasshin school. I mean, he went after Dad the other night- from some of the things he said this time, I think he mainly came back to destroy the school itself, not because I was here."
She didn't feel the need to add that Gohei had developed plans for her pretty quickly once he'd found her in the dojo.
"But he was also dead," Kenshin interjected. "There wasn't anything living in that group, Saitoh. It explains why we had such trouble tracking them down."
"Well, we're not going to get any answers standing around here- I'm going to need to look at the bodies."
The word "moron" hung unspoken as he turned sharply and started striding back towards the door. Kenshin looked like he wanted to say something, but gritted his teech and follwed along.
Kaoru, of course, took a deep breath, exhaled, and ran to catch up.
"Wait, what did he call you?" Kaoru asked her supervisor as they crossed the flagstones towards the training hall.
"Different times call for different names," he replied. "I've been Goro Fujita for almost as long as I've known Battousai- and even longer than he's been Kenshin Himura."
"Do you… have a preference? I mean, should I start calling you Mr. Saitoh, or keep one name for school and one for your other job?"
"It really doesn't matter. Whichever name I'm using, I always know who I am."
While Kenshin and Saitoh examined the bodies, Kaoru focused on making mental notes on what would need to be fixed. Fortunately, the floor could be salvaged, although getting the bloodstains out would take time and effort. Not to mention an afternoon with a drum sander.
Kenshin walked over to where Saitoh was kneeling next to one of the corpses- well, part of a corpse, anyway.
"I take it the blunt force trauma is from Ms Kamiya's efforts," Saitoh murmured. "Her technique is admirable. Not really made for melee fighting, but very few styles are nowadays. Your work is obvious, of course, Battousai."
His tone implied that "obvious" was not synonymous with "admirable."
Fighting the urge to respond in kind, Kenshin said, "Except for Gohei, the entire group was all males, early to mid-twenties, varying ethnic groups. Significant facial piercings, the kind you get when somebody's trying to look daring and doesn't care that they'll look ridiculous in five years, and, based on what I've seen, a lot of very badly-done cheap tattoos."
"None of them look familiar," Kaoru observed from over his shoulder. Her knuckles were slightly white from where she was clenching her fists, but other than that she was giving no sign of being disturbed by the bodies. "I mean, even putting aside the, the, personal decorations and the hair choices, I don't think any of them are local." Looking over at the two men, she elaborated, "Dad does a lot of neighborhood outreach programs- I mean, a lot of neighborhood outreach programs. Even kids who never take any actual lessons come by at some point to check the place out."
Standing up, Saitoh asked, "And you got the feeling that they were- how did you put it, 'attached' to Hiruma?"
"Well, they all came in together, but then the rest of them stopped moving forwards while Gohei was practicing Villainous Monologuing for Dummies. Then I think they weren't really doing anything, other than standing around in a circle- except when I got too close, they started reaching out." Kaoru said, with a slight shudder. "They only started attacking when I stabbed Gohei in the shoulder and he was trying to get the bokken piece out."
Saitoh looked thoughtful at this. "Loss of control over them?" he mused.
"Or they were just reacting to his emotions," Kenshin suggested. "It seems more likely than assuming that somebody could be constantly keeping a group of hungry zombies in check for several days. Remember, there have only been two attacks."
"A skilled necromancer wouldn't have any trouble…"
"The emphasis there, I think, is on 'skilled'- and, lest we forget, Gohei was also a zombie."
"Not the best state to start learning how to control the dead," Saitoh agreed, pulling out a cigarette. "I don't suppose there's a convenient amulet around his neck or something like that?"
Kaoru took a bokken off of the floor and poked gingerly at Gohei's collar, then his cuffs. "No; nothing. No amulet, no bracelet, no zombie-mind-control earrings. He's clean."
"There's never a convenient amulet," Saitoh muttered under his breath.
"Actually," Kaoru said, frowning, "he really is kind of clean. Not, you know, freshly-showered clean, but… everybody else has actual dirt on them. Look at their hands."
"Clawed their way out of their graves, most likely," Kenshin remarked. "Except for the one in charge. Who was also the most vocal. None of the others were giving long speeches."
"Since when have you ever given them time to?" Saitoh asked, taking a drag on his cigarette.
"They weren't exactly chatty when it was just me, either," Kaoru reminded him before Kenshin could say anything else. "So, you think Gohei was some kind of… I don't know, upgraded zombie, and everybody else was more of a drone?"
"Yes, but who would upgrade a zombie?"
"Given that Gohei claimed to have heard of me," Kenshin said slowly, "I can think of at least one candidate. Although that still doesn't explain why- or how Gohei ended up with a gang of zombies following him."
"We need to bring in Shinomori; dealing with the dead is more his field than anybody's. In the meantime, I think that we can probably dispense with the rest of the remains."
Kaoru, who had been having visions of her new car getting loaded up with zombie parts and long drives to find convenient alligator ponds, was relieved when Kenshin asked her to go load up her car with the bags she'd packed up earlier while he and Saitoh handled the disposal problem.
The flickering lights she could see through the dojo windows were disconcerting, but at least they weren't the right color for actual fire.
By the time she came back to let Kenshin know that the car was set and ask if he still insisted on driving, all of the corpses except one were gone. Aoshi was there, examining Gohei's hands.
"Hi, Aoshi. You know, at this point, you should just bring Misao with you; it will save so much time in explanations afterwards."
"Mmmm," he replied absent-mindedly. "Himura, did you notice any coordination between his movements and the rest of the undead in the room?"
"No," Kenshin said, "but I wasn't exactly looking for any. Or giving them time to synchronize movements."
Aoshi frowned slightly, "Not that kind of coordination- nothing on the physical plane. More like… energy strings. I was hoping you might have noticed breaking them, if nothing else."
"And since I didn't, what does that mean?"
"Well, either you were too emotional to notice, or they weren't there." He grimaced as he stood up. "Yes, I realize that doesn't exactly narrow it down. But your not noticing anything at all tips the balance slightly- very slightly- in favor of them not being there."
"So what does that mean?" Kaoru asked after Aoshi seemed disinclined to continue.
"It means that we're not dealing with anything set up post mortem; that would have been connective energy, like marionette strings that just react to being pulled. Whatever the connection was between Gohei and everybody he brought with him, it reached back to before their deaths."
"And Gohei was probably the one in charge then too," Saitoh remarked.
"It's too early to speculate," Aoshi said, "… but, yes, that would be logical. It's easier to have authority carry over into death than it is to elevate somebody who had been equal or lesser in life. That's even more true with zombies. It's not the best condition for adjusting to new mental concepts. Frankly, I don't know why anybody would bother with them- there are so many more useful forms of necromancy."
Kaoru opened her mouth to ask what he meant, and then closed it again.
"Which leaves us with a host of questions that can't be answered by a corpse," Kenshin sighed. "Aoshi, if you're done we should probably…"
Whatever he was about to say was interrupted by a loud noise from outside the training hall.
"Oi, you bastards, what the fu… Kenshin?"
Sano trailed off mid-warcry, lowering the baseball bat he was brandishing. Megumi, two steps behind him, had her phone out, fingers poised to take pictures or start dialing. Without turning around, Kaoru could hear Aoshi muttering something under his breath in an unfamiliar language.
"Hi… Sano…. What….are you doing here… after dark… very far away from where you normally are?" Kaoru asked feebly.
Looking slightly sheepish, he said, "I kind of bribed your neighbor to let me know if it looked like anything was going down over here while you were away. I know you said it wasn't teenagers, but, you know, just in case. She gave me a call to tell me she was hearing strange noises over here, so I turned the car around and headed straight over."
"Right. Excellent. Good thinking." Turning to face her cousin, Kaoru said, "Well, we should probably all just go back to the…."
She trailed off at the expression on Megumi's face.
"Kaoru Kamiya, what in the hell is my missing body doing on your dojo floor?"
Next chapter: Kaoru swears that this time neither she nor Misao was not involved in any kind of Halloween corpse-theft prank, Sano swears that he will never again fail to inform his fiancée of pesky little personal details about mutal friends, and Megumi just swears.
In this chapter, I don't own: Any zombie movies, or any of the dialogue from the English dub of the first episode of the Rurouni Kenshin anime that is weirdly appropriate for a zombie situation, or the song "All You Zombies" by the Hooters.
Notes: Yes, I did indeed resurrect a dead fic by using zombies, why do you ask?
Many thanks to all of the reviewers! I am very glad that people enjoyed the update; it really means a lot coming back to this story after so long. Aaaand, somebody guessed that Gohei would be Megumi's missing corpse…and I can't relocate who. Argh. Congratulations, nonetheless! Also, Compucles asked a very good question re: the differences between the anime and the manga in terms in terms of the Hiruma plot. . The version of the plot in the anime, where Gohei is a former student out for revenge after Kaoru's father broke his right hand, etc., fit better into this situation a lot better. There's also another aspect of Anime-Gohei that is going to come into play in the next chapter, so that version of the story just worked here where the manga version would have been really awkward to shoehorn in. Other than the brief reference to Kihei (Gohei's smarter brother in the manga, and part of the Hiruma brother's evil plan to take over the dojo and get the property) that I snuck in earlier, I don't really have any plans to do anything with him. At least… not yet, mwa ha ha ha ha!