Chapter One:

The Ever-Ambiguous Ace of Spades

Stupid Kenshin! thought Kaoru, twisting around and viciously hitting the practice dummy with her bokken. It had only been two days ago. Two days. It seemed like forever.

A couple nights before, Kaoru had woken up to find a note on the table and both Kenshin and Yahiko gone. They had left without her to take care of yet another psychopath who had popped up and had taken Sanosuke with them, and they wouldn't be back for another two weeks. At first, she'd considered following them, but then realized that they didn't leave any contact details. She had been so angry that she'd boarded herself up in her room. That had lasted until she realized how pathetic she was being. Her commitment to recreational pain was one of her better skills, and she was going to be practical about things.

So Kaoru was practicing. To say it was "intent" would have been under exaggerating. To say that she was "beating the living crap out of the poor, poor inanimate object" would have been more appropriate. Just as she was about to practice the steps leading up to the succession technique, there was a loud knock at the gate. Slamming the bokken down, Kaoru straightened out her clothes and calmed down as best she could under the trying circumstances.

Hurling the gate opened, she clipped a polite "Yes?" from between her lips.

"Why, hello there, Tanuki." said Saitou, cigarette dangling almost comically from his mouth.

"YOU!" she cried, backing up a few paces. Even as she pulled herself into a fighting position, Kaoru realized she had no chance against this Ghost of the Bakumatsu. He seemed to realize this, too, and smirked in that infuriating way of his. "Yes, tanuki, me."

"Well, what do you want?" she snarled up at him. Saitou was unperturbed. "What? Why are you so tense?" he asked, with a twisted version of "innocence".

"I'm not about to invite you in for a spot of tea, my good man, so why don't you just leave?" Kaoru suggested sharply, still glaring.

"At least you're more alert this time," he said, grinning nastily. "You actually invited me into your home when we met, as I recall."

Her face burned with humiliation; the first time she'd met him, Kaoru had willing let Saitou into the dojo. "Shut your mouth! What do you want with me, anyway? Kenshin isn't here! In fact, I don't know where he is, so I wouldn't be able to help you – not that I would."

"Battousai isn't the one I'd be worried about, if I were you," said Saitou, vague as ever. "There's more going on in safe little Tokyo than he'd like to admit."

"What are you talking about?" demanded Kaoru through narrow eyes.

"Oh, nothing. Nothing at all," he said with deepest sarcasm. "That's why I said it, of course."

Fuming, she shut the door at his retreating back, cursing under her breath. Thank you for one thing, Sanosuke, she thought with grim satisfaction. My creative vocabulary.




Saitou smirked into his bowl of soba noodles, courtesy of the Akabeko. Hitokiri Battousai really couldn't have left at a better time.