Chapter 3

"Wake up, boy."

Yahiko snored and turned over, ignoring the throaty voice.

"Last chance, kid. Wake up, or else."

Yahiko slept on, oblivious to any danger.

"Oh, well, kid. I warned you."

Suddenly, the blankets were torn off of the sleeping boy, rolled up, and
tossed into his face.

"Huh, what!?" Yahiko snorted, tearing at the bundle of cloth to get it off.
Once he succeeded, he opened his eyes and stared up at the person standing
over him in surprise. "Saitoh!"

"Get up, boy, and meet me downstairs in ten minutes for training."

"Training?" Yahiko said, still too sleepy to understand what was going on.

"You heard me- with the sensei of this dojo unavailable, my services as
your instructor are required. And I don't tolerate laziness, so you've got
ten minutes to get dressed and ready for training. If you're not ready in
that time, I'll have some disciplinary exercises for for. Now get up."

With that, Saitoh turned and left.

Yahiko blinked. What in the hell was Saitoh up to?

* * * * *

"Kenshin?" Kaoru finally asked. She didn't want to talk to him any more
than she had to- she no longer felt as if she deserved him, which made
talking to him painful- but her curiousity was overwhelming her.

"Yes, Kaoru?" he said, still not using the 'dono.' They had just made it
out of the city, and were now walking down one of the main roads out of
Tokyo.

"Where are we going?"

"Well, we'll start with a trip to Kyoto. There's... something I want to
show you there," Kenshin said hesitantly. "After that, well... we'll see.
We won't stay in Kyoto very long, however- I don't want to be recognized."
He paused. "Misao and our friends will probably know I'm there, but we
won't be meeting with them unless they seek us out."

Kaoru nodded. Her curiousity sated, she went quiet again, continuing to
follow him at a distance. Suddenly, he put his hand to the hilt of his
sword and darted to the side of the road.

"Kenshin?!" she cried out in surprise.

"Relax!" He emerged from the bushes. "I saw movement and couldn't quite
tell what it was at first- it turned out to just be a squirrel running
through the trees. We can't take any chances- I've heard that there have
been a number of murders and robberies along this road, and I don't want to
be surprised by them."

Kaoru relaxed, and resumed her silent mood. Kenshin sighed.

"For a second there, Kaoru," he said plaintively. "I thought I almost saw
the old you- when you were startled and let your guard down, you looked
alive again." He sighed again, staring deeply into her eyes. "Why did you
change?"

Kaoru looked back at him, and was startled at so what she saw. In his
eyes, niether the amber of the Rurouni nor the violet of the Battousai were
dominant. Instead, it almost looked like his eyes were shining with
alternate amber and violet stripes arranged in a circle. It was as if both
forms of himself were asking the question.

And she didn't have an answer for him. Not one that she felt either side
of him would accept, at any rate. Just saying that she didn't feel
'worthy' of being what she once was didn't seem to be enough. After a few
moments, she closed her own eyes so that she wouldn't have to look at him.
To her surprise, a small tear was squeezed out by that action. She started
to shake her head to let him know he couldn't answer her, but before she
could complete even the first motion she felt his hands on her cheek,
wiping the tear away. She opened her eyes to see him looking at her
fiercely, and her eyes watered even more. She just couldn't stand to see
him looking at her any more- she felt so dirty, so unworthy of him... so
much like a filthy murderer.

Kenshin couldn't stand to see her like that. He wanted to grab his sword,
turn it around, find whatever enemy it was who was making Kaoru cry, and
turn them into a shishkabob... but he knew that there was no enemy who he
could fight to help her. No amount of swordfighting would end her
suffering.

Just trying to stop her tears, he grabbed her and wrapped her up in his
arms. She attempted to struggle out of them briefly, but he refused to let
go of his fierce embrace. Slowly, she stopped fighting him and started
crying on his shoulder. She so wanted to do this before, but now it felt
so wrong to be comforted by him, and that only made her want to cry harder.
Soon, she was sobbing, not able to control herself any more. All that
Kenshin did was tighten the hug, which made her want to escape even more-
to not further stain his hands with her touch. He just wouldn't let go,
however, and so there was little she could do but continue to sob.

Kenshin's heart ached. All he wanted to do was keep her from crying, and
all she was doing was crying even more. He just didn't know what to do.

'It looks,' he thought, adjusting his hands to allow himself to pat her on
the back, 'Like I'll have to come up with something to do for her before we
get to Kyoto. I just wish I could think of what.'

* * * * *

Yahiko was grumbling under his breath as he continued his exercises. So
far, Saitoh hadn't instructed him in anything he couldn't have done on his
own- just told him to 'perform a thousand repetitions of each of the basic
motions.' No new katas, no special moves, no sparring, nothing.
Furthermore, the policeman had yet to explain WHY he was 'training' Yahiko,
and wouldn't allow him any time to ask questions.

"997... 998... 999... 1000! Done!" Yahiko cried as he completed his
practice. He turned to face Saitoh and raised his eyes arrogantly to meet
the other mans. "Okay, I've finished my repetitions. Now will you tell me
why you decided to train me all of a sudden? Or at least actually start
TRAINING me, instead of just telling me to do what I was planning to do,
anyway!"

Saitoh grunted noncommitally. He had to admit, the boy did know his
basics. He couldn't really judge him on kata, either, since he wasn't
exactly familiar with the Kamiya school's variances. Sparring would be,
well... useless, at that point. Yahiko was starting to learn a few pretty
good moves- some of them just by watching others fight- but he was still
nowhere NEAR Saitoh's level. The boy was just at that awkward stage where
he was good enough that Saitoh wouldn't be able to limit himself in a
sparring competition and still be effective, but not good enough to present
even the slightest of challenges. And as far as special moves went...
well, Saitoh wasn't about to teach the Gatotsu to a mere child.

"Hey, are you listening to me?!" Yahiko growled.

"Shut up, brat. The Battousai told me to train you... I'm just trying to
figure out what I CAN teach you."

"How about fixing my Gatotsu?" Yahiko asked. "I've been working on
developing one from what I've seen of you using it, but I'm not sure I've
got it right, yet."

Saitoh raised an eyebrow. "You've been developing your own version of the
Gatotsu based on what you've seen of me?" He sniffed arrogantly. "I doubt
you got it right at all. Probably just some patheticly weak attack that
wouldn't work in a real fight."

Yahiko was starting to get frustrated with the conceited way Saitoh was
downplaying his abilities. "Then why don't you try me?" he said, getting
down into his version of the Gatotsu stance.

Saitoh snorted. From what he could see, a simple block would disarm the
boy if he were to try and attack from that stance. "I can see problems
already- you aren't holding the sword properly, for one thing."

Yahiko nodded. "Yeah, it's not exactly like yours- I had to modify it to
fit me, but it works. There may be some things you can help me fix, but it
works."

"Yeah, whatever. If you were to attack me with it, you'd do nothing more
than embarass yourself."

Yahiko glared at him. "Like I said- try me."

Saitoh rolled his eyes. "That rooster-head's been too strong an influence
on you- he insisted on fighting me, as well, and I had to beat him up
because of it. I won't do that to a kid."

"Then you'll just LET me attack you?"

"Look, Kenshin made me swear to make certain you kept up your training and
that you were well protected if any of his enemies showed up and tried to
harm you to get to him. I don't think fending off your attacks were part
of the bargain, though."

"This is part of the training- you said yourself you were having trouble
thinking of what to do. So let's spar!"

Saitoh finally gave up, sighing. "Fine- one pass where you can try that
silly caricature of the Gatotsu on me. But don't start crying when I show
you how pathetic an imitation it is."

Yahiko nodded, focusing his attention on his stance. "One pass. Got it."

Saitoh picked out a shinai to match Yahiko with, not wanting to be told he
had an 'unfair advantage' for using his katana against the much lighter
bamboo sword the boy wielded. He got down into a defensive stance, and
waited. "Ready," he said.

Yahiko didn't waste time. He charged in, striking just as he got in sword
range. Saitoh casually blocked the blow...

Or at least he THOUGHT he'd blocked it. His eyes widened as the sword he
was using to block with was easily cut through and the Gatotsu wasn't even
slightly deflected. The blow struck hard, knocking him half-way across the
dojo and onto the floor.

"Oof!" Saitoh coughed. He felt that his ribs were cracked by the blow- if
it had been a real sword, he would be very dead... or if the blow had been
delivered slightly stronger. "Okay... maybe you were able to get it right,
after all," he admitted, stunned. Determined not to show any weakness,
however, he stood up and ignored the pain in his ribs, trying to figure out
how the boy's technique had been able to fool him. "Set up some practice
dummies. I want to see you do that again, this time from a different
direction. Actually, set up enough practice dummies so you can demonstrate
all of your special techniques- I'm interested in seeing how far you've
really gotten in your studies."

He looked at the damaged shinai he was holding. It appeared to have been
split as if a saw had ripped through it. He wasn't certain, but he felt
that if he'd touched the edge of Yahiko's shinai during the Gatotsu, he'd
no longer have that part of the body.

In fact, he was surprised he was still alive. Yahiko must have pulled the
blow... though he certainly hadn't pulled it much. Someone would have to
teach him better control, and soon, or else the boy would wind up killing
someone without intending to.

Well, there were some options. Mentally, he started to make a list. He
had some things to work out, and some people to talk to. This was going to
get difficult... he knew he shouldn't have made that promise to Kenshin.

* * * * *

Sanosuke blinked his eyes open to see a pair of cute, five-year-old faces
peering at him intently. As he watched, their faces brightened up and the
two children ran off out of his range of vision.

"Megumi-saaan!" Ayame and Suzame called out simultaneously. "He's awake!
He's awake, Megumi-san!"

Sanosuke sat up, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs out of it. Why was
he at the clinic, again? He certainly didn't remember having done anything
which would require medical treatment....

Oh, right. Megumi had wanted to 'talk,' and didn't want him going home
until they had. Why he bothered to listen to her, he didn't know, but
somehow he found himself spending the night on one of the spare beds in her
and Dr. Genzai's clinic. Apparently, Megumi had left an alarm system to
let her know when he awoke, and that alarm system was doing everything they
could to let her know it had worked.

Breaking her way into his musings, the female doctor entered the room,
following the enthusiastic girls. Each of the children were carrying a
bundle, as was Megumi, and as soon as they set their loads down they
scampered out of the room. "Well, I see you've finally decided to arise
from the dead, today," she commented cheekily.

"I won't feel much like talking until after I've eaten and changed,
Fox-lady," Sanosuke snapped back.

Megumi nodded, unphased. "Of course. Here's a change of clothes, and
Ayame and Suzame brought in your breakfast and tea. I'll be waiting in my
office when you're ready."

Sanosuke glared at her suspiciously. "Why the guards if you aren't going
to begin your interrogation immediately?"

Megumi scoffed at that. "Interrogation? Who said anything about an
interrogation? I just wanted to know why you were doing everything you
could to make Kaoru's departure even more difficult on her, yesterday!"

The one-time gangster went ashen. "That was NOT what I was trying to do,"
he mumbled fiercely.

Megumi looked at him intently, examining his expression. Finally she
snorted in exasperation. "Not you, too!"

"What?!" he replied, bewildered by her outburst.

She sighed. "Look, Sanosuke... I don't know WHY in the world you feel
guilty over this, but drop it. The only person who is to blame is the guy
who died- he's the one who attacked Kenshin, after all."

Sanosuke grimaced. "I'm not exactly guilty over that... it's just... well,
I shouldn't have been out drinking and gambling! Not while I knew Kenshin
wasn't himself- he'd just gotten back from that last conflict, and what did
I do? Leave him, unprotected, just so I could indulge in a little fun."

"Sounds like guilt to me," Megumi said, amused. "Though if it keeps you
from drinking and gambling, maybe a little guilt is a good thing. But
don't use that guilt as an excuse to stay away from your friends when they
needs you- instead, think of it as a learning experience. Kaoru thought
you were... shunning her... for having killed that man, for gods' sake!"

He winced. "That was... not what I meant to do."

"You said that already."

"Look, Fox-lady, don't try me," Sanosuke warned. "I'll make it up to her
when she gets back. Now, can I go?"

Megumi shook her head. "Oh, no. See, since Kenshin and Kaoru have both
left, I think we need to add on to your responsibilities a bit. Starting
with helping Yahiko keep the dojo in business...."

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