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-Seven: Heaven and Earth

Kaoru gaped at her cousin, for once at a loss for words.

"Ah… well... you see, Megumi, what happened is…."

Fortunately, before she could dig herself any deeper, Aoshi spoke up from behind her.

"You're familiar with the deceased?"

The young doctor rolled her eyes. "The idiots in the morgue have only been trying to get me in trouble about him for the past several weeks, of course I know who that is. Was. That's Gohei Hiruma, male, mid-forties, died of assorted injuries I won't bother you with, as a result of vehicular stupidity. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, Kaoru, but this is not a recognized morgue or hospital facility, so what exactly is going on? It's not like he could just stroll in here under his own power."

"Ah… well… you see… he kind of… did… that. That is what he did," Kaoru said weakly.

"Stolled in here." Megumi said flatly, raising an eyebrow. "A weeks-old corpse just strolled in here. Kaoru, did you hit your head?"

"No… I mean, not that hard… I mean, that's not the point! Look, there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Also, I would really say that it was more 'lurched in a creepy undead fashion and with hostile intent' than "strolled."

"Missy, are you trying to say this guy was a zombie? Are you sure you weren't… imagining…." Sano seemed to suddenly register Kenshin's presence as he trailed off and then swallowed hard. Kaoru wasn't sure if his reaction was due to the presence of a former zombie, a current demon, or a long-overdue explanation to his very annoyed and extremely practical fiancée.

"Okay," Kaoru said, "Megumi, I realize that this sounds nuts, but… take a look at the body. I mean, does that look like a corpse that is several weeks old?"

Megumi glared at her, but went over to examine Gohei's remains. Meanwhile, Saitoh raised an eyebrow at Aoshi, who shrugged and said, "She's been looking for that specific individual, and she knows what he looks like. Concealments won't really work in the face of both of those facts."

Kaoru took a deep breath and went over to where her cousin was kneeling by the body and frowning as she poked at the back of one of Gohei's hands.

"This doesn't make sense," Megumi muttered, "and I don't even want to know what that black goo is."

"Zombie blood. Or whatever passes for blood in a zombie," Kaoru supplied helpfully.

"Actually, it's probably got very little human blood left," Aoshi remarked, "There are various alchemical compounds that…." He trailed off as Megumi and Kaoru both looked at him with near-identical expressions.

Breaking the silence, Kaoru said, "Megumi… I know that this sounds crazy. Trust me; I know. But Gohei was a zombie; he probably staggered out of the morgue under his own lurchy zombie power, which is why nobody could find the corpse. And… he attacked Dad. You know his name because he was your accident victim; I know him from years ago, when Dad broke his right hand to keep him from hurting any of the other students. He came back here tonight with a bunch of other zombies that seemed to have some kind of connection to him because he wanted to destroy the dojo."

"Other zombies," Megumi repeated, raising an eyebrow as she looked around.

"Which brings me to my second point, actually," Kaoru continued sheepishly. "Specifically, Kenshin."

"Kaoru Kamiya, if you are trying to tell me that your boyfriend is a zombie…."

"He is not… not a zombie. Um. What I mean is, Kenshin is the one who actually killed Gohei and everybody else. It's actually kind of his job, dealing with supernatural threats, which zombies definitely count as, even if they aren't threatening to set stuff on fire, and I know that this sounds completely crazy, but you have to believe me, because we seem to be having a lot of supernatural threats recently, and, well…."

"Kenshin's a demon." Sano broke in, "One who deals with supernatural threats, not one who is a supernatural threat."

Megumi looked from Kaoru to Sano and back as if trying to figure out which of them she should book a padded room for first.

"Yeah…" Sano said. "So, Meg? There's something I've been meaning to talk to you about…."

Kaoru looked across the room to where her cousin was having an animated discussion with her fiancé.

"How is it going?" Kenshin asked as he came up to stand beside her.

"One Valentine's Day, Sano decided that homemade beef jerky would be an appropriately romantic present," she said absently. "I think this might be worse."

"Homemade beef jerky?" Kenshin repeated.

"They both got food poisoning. It was not a good weekend." Kaoru winced. "Oooo, that's gonna leave a mark."

"I think he can handle it," Kenshin said dryly.

"As long as they don't do more damage to the training hall, I think it will be okay. I mean, we're already going to have to fix up the floors and repair everything else. Frankly, anything that makes Sano feel like he should help out without copious promises of beer and pizza is a good thing."

Megumi's expression, which had gone from skeptical to outraged then back to skeptical by way of a detour through tightly-contained amusement, settled somewhere around resigned as she turned and headed back towards Kaoru, ignoring Sano's frantic gesticulations behind her.

"By the way, kitten, I'm very pleased to hear that you think of me as 'not a zombie.'" Kenshin's lips ghosted across her neck as he moved away before she had a chance to respond.

Kaoru was spared having to decide how to respond by the fact that her cousin had reached her and was standing in front of her, arms crossed.

"I have decided, after careful consideration, that I am not going to kill my idiot fiancé," Megumi declared. "Don't look too relieved; I don't want him to think he's getting off easy on this one. Now it's your turn."

"Will you settle for a short version now, as long as I provide you with a longer version later where there's coffee and chocolate? Or possibly fancy drinks, made someplace more upscale than Blue Mooney's?"

"I accept your bribes. Now talk."

Kaoru bit her lip, trying to decide where to start. "Okay, I take it that Sano filled you in on the part where Kenshin's been working in high schools, trying to deal with students who've been playing around with the forces of evil?" At Megumi's nod, she continued. "Right, well, at some point after he rescued Sano from… yeah. At some point after that, he turned up at our high school, conspicuously hanging out with the jocks and cheerleaders. He interrupted them when they were trying to do some kind of demon-summoning ritual or demonic-power ritual or….or something, and then I interrupted him when he was still doing clean-up, and, well, stabbed him a lot, set the building on fire, and hid his sword under my bed, because I wasn't exactly going to leave it in place."

"I think that you and Yahiko watched too many fantasy Kung Fu movies as children," Megumi said, looking slightly pale. "I mean, I'm not saying it turned out to be a bad thing, but I'm seeing definite influence."

"Yes, thank you, Dr. Freud. As you can see, Kenshin recovered, he came back a couple of months ago, proved that he was not actually evil, and here we are. Oh, and he got his sword back. Because I kind of got kidnapped by an actually evil demon. And, um, there have been assorted other supernatural things going on that seem to be related, plus the zombie attack, which seems to be about the dojo. And Aoshi's also a demon. As is my supervisor." In an attempt to lighten the mood, Kaoru made a dramatic hand gesture and declared, "Together, they fight crime!"

More seriously, she continued, "And if you have any suggestions for how to tell Yahiko, I would really love to hear them. I mean, he already thinks that Kenshin being a demon is amazing, so it's not like he's going to run screaming from a demonic teacher, but I really don't want him hanging around staring at Mr. Fujita… Mr. Saitoh… my boss… waiting for something supernatural to happen."

"You owe me so many drinks right now, Kamiya."

"Yeah…. I kind of figured I would," Kaoru sighed. "I may or may not owe Misao drinks; I mean, she knows about Aoshi, but I don't think he's told her about Kenshin."

"In that case, Aoshi owes her drinks. Or dinner. Probably dinner."

"Thank you for not freaking out too much."

"I'm a doctor, you idiot, not a Victorian angel in the house. Trust me; after med school and hospital work, the 'freaking out' bar is set pretty high."

"Fair enough. In that case, thank you for not being too angry that Sano and I couldn't figure out a good way to explain the whole 'demons and sacrifices and zombies, oh my' aspect of our lives."

"Have I mentioned the fact that you owe me soooo many drinks? And chocolate?"


Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, Hajime Saitoh was looking with thinly-veiled contempt at the corpse and contemplating whether he had time to go outside and have a cigarette.

By his calculations, Dr. Takani's conversation with Ms Kamiya would take another ten minutes. Given that the doctor clearly had important information- information without which he doubted they could make much progress towards figuring how the late, unlamented Gohei Hiruma had managed to come back from the dead- that ten minutes was unlikely to be particularly productive.

Before he could actually head outside, Shinomori approached him and said, "I've contacted Hannya. I think that having him here to listen to what Dr. Takani can tell us will save time. I think that we should start to formulate a plan for once we have more information. For starters, we need to figure out exactly what Gohei was doing that made him an authority for a gang of kids half his age."

Reluctantly, Saitoh recognized that he was not going to be able to have that cigarette after all.

"That would be more efficient," he agreed, "especially since Ms Kamiya and Dr. Takani are going to need to return home soon. I don't know what the good doctor's schedule looks like, but tomorrow is a school day, and Ms Kamiya needs to be on time."

Shinomori's raised eyebrow indicated that he hadn't considered that aspect of things, but he didn't say anything to disagree with it. He gestured at Himura, who was talking with the doctor's rooster-headed fiancé, and both men came over.

Sano hoped that he didn't look as queasy as he had felt when he'd started talking to Megumi. Even though he'd been positive- well, pretty sure, anyway- that she wouldn't actually throw his ring back in his face and storm out, he had been braced for disbelief and possibly violence. Fortunately, as Megumi had pointed out, the fact that Sano's story made him look ridiculous rather than heroic actually worked in his favor.

Plus, of course, the presence of a zombie in the middle of the floor helped make it clear that he and Kaoru weren't just making stuff up.

"Hey, Aoshi," he said, nodding, "Hey… Kaoru's boss. Um. Mr. Fujita, right?"

"Close enough."

Before Sano could do more than look slightly puzzled at Saitoh's response, Kenshin said, "Aoshi, what's the best way to get Hiruma's corpse back to the hospital morgue? Preferably one that doesn't leave it leaking black ooze or showing anything else that might raise suspicions."

"Such as the fatal sword injuries?" Saitoh inquired laconically.

Kenshin's jaw tightened slightly, but his tone remained even. "I think that we can all agree that we need to arrange things so that Megumi doesn't have to deal with any further annoyances from the morgue, or anybody at the administration. After all, what happened clearly wasn't her fault."

"How about annoyances for those morgue guys?" Sano asked "That Allen lady, she was threatening to get her called up before the hospital board, tell them that Megumi must have faked the dates on her paperwork."

"The best plan is the one that leaves the fewest ripples," Aoshi replied. "I'll purify the corpse and then we'll make sure it ends up at a different hospital's morgue, with an identification tag that's reasonably close to the one on Hiruma's original paperwork. Simple error; nobody to blame, no repercussions. No reason for anybody to look more closely."

"You think that somebody might be looking?" Kenshin asked slowly.

"I think," Aoshi said as he pulled a stick of chalk from his pocket, "that Hiruma obviously had help. I think that until we know exactly what kind of help he had, we have to assume that they might not be done with him."

He bent over the corpse and began to make a series of complex markings across the front that luminesced slightly before dissolving. "And I think that it would behoove all of us to think twice about leaving anything behind that might look like personal interest. Avoiding an administrative inquiry altogether makes strategic sense; ensuring an administrative inquiry into somebody who has a demonstrated grudge makes it look like you're trying to punish them for holding a grudge."

"Which makes folks ask why you're protecting the person they went after," Sano finished. "Is this something we need to be worried about?"

"Not at present."

Before Sano could press Aoshi any further, there was the sound of a throat clearing.

"Captain? You requested my assistance?"

"Yes, Hannya; thank you."


Everybody in the room, including Kaoru and Megumi, turned to where Sano was pale and pointing one shaking finger towards the figure wearing a horned kabuki mask.

"Guys, guys, he doesn't have any feet!"

Kaoru wasn't sure if she was gaping at Sano or at the newcomer. Aoshi looked slightly peeved at the outburst, while Kenshin was clearly struggling not to laugh. Saitoh's expression, familiar from many days in the classroom, clearly said he was wishing he could go have a cigarette.

"I'm perfectly capable of materializing feet if necessary," Hannya said, sounding slightly offended. "It is generally not necessary."

"This is my chief lieutanant, Hannya. As you noticed, Sagara, yes, he is a ghost. There's absolutely nothing unusual about that; his noncorporeal state is one of the many things that make him an extremely valuable comrade."

Sano, looking slightly green, looked like he wanted to debate what actually counted as "nothing unusual."

"It's very nice to meet you," Kaoru interjected, trying to get the conversation back on track.

"Thank you, Ms Kamiya. I'm glad that you are well."

"Yes. Thank you. It's been a very strange evening. Again."

"Hannya, this is Dr. Takani. She was familiar with the circumstances of the late Mr. Hiruma's death, and may be able to shed some light on the circumstances of his undeath."

The masked ghost bowed politely to Megumi, who nodded back. Kaoru wondered absently if a polite, footless ghost was higher on the 'freaking out' bar than a recent zombie.

Taking a deep breath, Megumi said in her best professional tone, "I don't have any experience with undeath, but I can tell you about the circumstances of his death the first time around. Gohei Hiruma was driving a van full of drunken idiots and yelling on his cell phone. He ran a red light and slammed straight into a restaurant delivery truck in the middle of the intersection a couple of blocks from here, at which point the van behind him ran into his van and then went sideways into a telephone pole. The police said that the second driver was drunk, as were his passengers. There was another car involved, too; I think the driver tried to stop before taking the turn into the intersection but didn't manage."

Kenshin asked, "Were the two vans traveling together?"

"The police thought that they were. As far as I know, they were basing it on the fact that it was two vanloads of drunk guys who were traveling next to each other and passing around the same cheap beer. They assumed it was some kind of sports team; one of the police mentioned something about equipment, but he didn't say what kind."

"Given his subsequent actions," Saitoh mused, "I would say the odds are in favor of martial arts equipment."

"Captain, I believe one of my discoveries might be relevant here," Hannya offered. "Gohei Hiruma ran a dojo on the outskirts of…"

"He what? Excuse me?" Kaoru burst in. "Listen, I don't know what he might have claimed he was doing, but there is no way that guy was running any kind of legitimate dojo anywhere. After what he did here when I was a kid, the local martial arts community would have run him out of town."

Hannya's mask remained expressionless, but he seemed nonplussed as Kaoru continued.

"And not everybody is as nice as Dad- Hiruma would have been lucky to just get his hand broken again." She glared at the corpse for good measure, narrowing her eyes as if daring it to get up and try anything.

After a moment of silence, Aoshi asked, "You're saying that he couldn't have started a legitimate dojo- what about one that was, say, less than legal?"

Kaoru took a deep breath and exhaled, clearly getting her temper under control.

"It happens," she admitted. "Not often, but McDojos definitely pop up. You get some idiot who took a couple of lessons, or who thinks he'll be able to make a lot of money if he comes up with a fancy-sounding name for punching people. We try to keep an eye out for that, though- it doesn't do the real schools any good, not to mention those guys usually teach terrible techniques. But they're…," she gestured, clearly looking for a word, "…. like Cobra Kai, all bluster and bragging."

At their blank expressions she said, "Cobra Kai? From The Karate Kid? Okay, never mind. What I mean is, they're noisy. Neon flyers in the laundromats, advertisements in the local paper… showy stuff, so that whoever is running them can gull as many people and make as much money as possible before the real fighters either get them to shut down or beat them in…. oh, hell."

"Kaoru? What are you thinking?" Megumi asked.

"I think I know why Gohei wasn't making any noise about his so-called "dojo," Kaoru said slowly. "I mean, I don't know where he recruited his band of merry morons, but I don't think he wanted money. We know that he wanted revenge against Dad, against the Kamiya Kasshin style. The best way to do that would be, well, to defeat Dad and his students. Probably wreck the dojo, steal the sign; make a big public statement. If that's what he wanted, he would have had to stay under the radar until he felt ready to make his big move."

"Megumi, you said that the accident was close by?" Kenshin inquired.

She nodded. "A couple of blocks. I don't know what direction they were going, but I could find out."

"I don't believe that's necessary," Aoshi said. "Given that Hiruma's obsession carried over into death, it's more than likely that he died while trying to carry it out."

"So, being obsessed with destroying our school… brought him back from the dead?" Kaoru asked hesitantly.

"That wouldn't have been enough on its own, no. But this does answer one question. The rest of the zombies were all Hiruma's students when they were alive- and he probably spent a lot of their training time setting up the Kamiya Kasshin dojo as the nemesis of his own school. However he came back, the teacher-student connection, and the pathological focus on this dojo, would have been enough to bring them back. At least enough to be a problem here; it would have been interesting to see if he could have used them anyplace else." Catching everybody else's expressions, Aoshi clarified, "In a strictly hypothetical sense, of course."

Saitoh frowned. "While I'm glad that we can explain the rest of the zombies, this still leaves the most important questions unanswered."

"You mean, who reanimated Gohei in the first place?"

When her question was met with resounding silence, Kaoru blinked, then narrowed her eyes when neither Kenshin nor Aoshi nor Saitoh quite met her eye.

"Wait… why isn't that one of the most important questions?"

"We have a guess," Kenshin admitted. "We don't know for sure, but it's somebody who would have had the power to create zombies- and Hiruma did say he'd heard of me by name."

"Is it somebody who would also have been able to teach a left-handed sword style? Because Gohei had to get his new school from someplace, and I don't think he picked it up between dying and coming back here bragging about how strong he'd gotten."

Saitoh scowled and looked even more like he needed a cigarette break. "Teach it? No. There are… some complications. But arrange for Gohei to have a teacher, absolutely. The problem is that Gohei would have needed to pay for his lessons- and that would not have been cheap. More than that; he would have needed to make a compelling case as to why he deserved to have those lessons, let alone be brought back after death to complete his vengeance. No offense to your family, Ms Kamiya, but the Kamiya Kasshin school isn't exactly of international importance."

"I think I speak for the entire family when I say that we're perfectly happy not to be the focus of evil supernatural forces, thank you."

Kaoru decided not to mention that she had been half afraid that Saitoh or Aoshi was going to start spouting ancient prophecies about one of the Kamiya siblings being destined to rule the world- or, even worse, destined to have a magical world-conquering child. Although she supposed being the aunt to a conqueror could have its perks.

"Very few people anticipate being brought back after death," Hannya remarked. "It's more likely that the original contract between Gohei and the other party made promises about ensuring that Gohei would have his guaranteed chance at vengeance and accidental death was just something that the magic had to work around."

"Megumi, what was Gohei's job? I mean, what was he listed as in the hospital paperwork? He couldn't have been listed as a dojo instructor, or the police wouldn't have just said something about sports- and they probably would have talked to us and to the other schools after the accident to see if his, um, 'school' was in some kind of competition. And he must have been doing something to earn money, especially if his special lessons were that pricey."

Megumi bit her lip, thinking. "Um… he… hang on… he had a business, it's on the tip of my tongue…. Wing Kong Exchange. His business card said it was a wholesale import-export company."

"Isn't that that big warehouse down near the docks?" Sano asked. "The one that supplies tacky souvenirs to all the cheap tourist places? I think we almost got some of the bar decorations from them one year. That place is a dump; Katsu took one look at it and practically went through the wall to get back outside again. Spent the drive home muttering about gimcrack imports and factory conditions in third-world countries."

"Import… export…." Aoshi said slowly.

"We've been looking at this the wrong way," Kenshin realized. "What if Gohei wasn't the one who made the first move? What if somebody found out what he wanted most in life and offered it to him?"

"You're saying that the sword lessons were the payment, and Gohei provided something else in return? Like that winter when Dad gave everybody at the Akebeko basic self-defense lessons in exchange for soup every weekend?"

She wasn't entirely certain she wanted to know what the mysterious other party had gotten from Gohei. Kaoru was pretty sure that whoever they were, they didn't normally go around giving a two-bit hoodlum what he wanted most in life. Not unless they were getting something they wanted just as badly.

"So, smuggling, right?" Sano asked. When everybody turned to look at him he said, "What? Boxes and boxes of plastic junk, nobody's got time to inspect all of it, there's always some customs guy who'll look the other way if you just promise him a bottle of whatever's being brought in… or so I've heard. On the television." He reddened slightly. "I'm a bar owner, okay? I have a professional interest in the history of Prohibition. Also, classic gangsters are cool."

"I'm fairly certain Gohei Hiruma was not being deployed as a modern-day bootlegger," Saitoh said disparagingly. "And we already know what arrangements were made to bring the Mugenjin into the country. But that doesn't mean there weren't other artifacts that didn't need to be brought here once this location had been decided on and everything had been set in motion."

"Indeed. And now that we have a location, Hannya should be able to investigate more thoroughly."

"Yes, Captain. I will report back once I've completed an examination of the warehouse and its contents."

Hannya bowed gracefully and turned to walk into the shadowed corner of the training hall, fading into the darkness as he went.

"The Mu-gin-what?" Sano asked.

"Who exactly was hiring Gohei?" Megumi demanded at the same moment.

Before anybody could attempt to answer either question- or, more likely, could attempt to avoid either question- Kaoru held up her hand.

"Time out!" she said. "First, it is getting late, and some of us have work tomorrow morning. And some of us have work tonight, Sano, unless you're planning on making Katsu work a double shift and then close the bar down. Second, it's going to make a lot more sense if we have Hannya's information before we talk about anything else, right? I mean, at the moment, you're making educated guesses about Gohei getting sword lessons in exchange for unspecified smuggling services, and ending up as a zombie because his contract had some kind of "in case of accident, break the bonds of death" clause. But there isn't any comfirmation yet, which means that we don't actually know whether that's what happened. Third, and I can't believe I'm saying this….I think Yahiko needs to be around for the rest of the discussion. And Misao, actually. And I'm not just saying that because otherwise they're more likely to run off on their own and get into trouble. They're involved; they deserve to hear first-hand."

"She's right," Saitoh remarked with something like a sigh. "We need more information to reach any definite conclusions- even any speculative conclusions. And the other two deserve to know- although, Ms Kamiya, I need hardly add that your brother's academic performance had better not be affected."

"Frankly, sir, I think finding out that I would be his student teacher this year was more traumatic than this will be. You don't have film from his elementary school performance in the periodic table musical extravaganza."

"Misao knows some of the story, but I will admit it would be easier if she was fully informed." Aoshi said.

"So when shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightening, or after Megumi is done with her hospital shift?"

"Very funny. Speaking of weird siblings," Megumi remarked, "doesn't yours teach tomorrow afternoon?"

Kaoru grimaced. "No, but you're right; he's working out the schedule with Jin-sensei. He should be done in time for dinner, though-or at least he will be if I ask. I can pick him up and we can meet at the apartment."

Kenshin nodded. "Aoshi, you bring Misao- and tell Hannya where we'll be meeting. Saitoh, I'm assuming that you know where it is?"

Saitoh nodded curtly. "If that's everything, Battousai, I will finish my patrol and head home. Just because this idiot is off the street doesn't mean that they all are."

With that, he turned and headed briskly outside, not looking back.

Aoshi said, "I'll try to find Gohei's supposed dojo before the meeting- there may be clues there as well. Once the rest of you have left, I'll take care of the corpse. Megumi, just so you know what to expect: it seems that Mr. Hiruma's identification tag was accidentally mis-read, and the body was sent to the teaching hospital. Fortunately, since he is not an eighty-year-old Caucasian female, the autopsy class should notice the mistake fairly quickly. You might want to practice sounding surprised and relieved when you're informed that he's been found."

"I'll be surprised if I hear about it officially before hearing about it through the hospital grapevine, so it shouldn't take much practice. Come on, Rooster-head; you've still got some explaining to do."

Ignoring Sano's protests, Megumi dragged him out to the car.

Kaoru watched them leave, amused. Then she suddenly realized what time it was and swore.

"Aoshi, thank you for… everything, and thank you on behalf of Megumi for corpse disposal, and I'll see you tomorrow; Kenshin, thank you for fighting zombies, and, and, ace detective work; now, if you'll excuse me, I promised Yahiko I would bring him fresh clothes and I'm sure he's wondering what's going on!"

With that, she dashed back to the house, trying to decide whether she should call Dr. Gensai's house. She didn't want her brother to worry; she knew he must be worried already. She also didn't want to wake up Ayame and Suzume, or make Dr. Gensai worry because she'd telephoned instead of just showing up.

'Well, I did say that I might not get there until after they were in bed… I'll have to tell Yahiko about the zombies, but I can just tell Dr. Gensai that I got caught up in dojo work and lost track of time.'

"Are you sure you don't need any help, kitten?"

Kaoru spun around, startled, barely missing Kenshin with one of the duffel bags she'd packed.

"I'm fine, it's… it's better now that I know what happened to Dad," she admitted. "I mean, now that Gohei's been stopped. Thank you."

Kenshin looked like he wanted to say something else, but wasn't quite sure where to start.

"Um, Kenshin? I have to go to Dr. Gensai's first, but… do you need a ride back to the apartments?"

He smiled at her. "I appreciate the offer, but, like Saitoh, I still have some work to do this evening."

Leaning forward, he kissed her, a brief press of his lips against hers that nonetheless sent sparks down her spine.

"I'll see you tomorrow evening," he murmured as he pulled back, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear.

Watching him leave, Kaoru was momentarily distracted. Shaking her head, she got back to the task at hand.

'Right. So, how exactly am I supposed to tell my little brother that his science teacher is a demon…

and will Yahiko find that more or less believable than Mr. Fujita being married and having children?'

Next chapter: A long-expected party. Err. Explanation (Misao would like to note that just because it's one doesn't mean it can't be the other).

In this chapter I don't own: "Hamlet," the Scottish play (or any other Shakespeare), Lo Pan's shop from "Big Trouble in Little China," Dr. Carrie Allen from "Tru Calling" (I borrowed her because I needed an annoying morgue worker), any Star Trek medical professionals, or The Karate Kid.

Note: Talking chapters are even harder to write than zombie fight scenes, I tell you.

Additional notes: The other reason that I went with the version of Gohei from the anime and not the manga, actually, was that he turns up a bit later on in the episode, "Run, Yahiko! Get the Reverse-Blade Sword Back!" and talks about how he's become a merchant and has made a lot of money (something, he notes, that he should have done before). And, of course, Sano's reaction to Hannya is a riff off of his reaction to Captain Sagara's ghost. Hannya being a ghost is at least somewhat canon- he appears to Misao in a dream and tells her that Aoshi will be coming back to the Aoiya.