I just wanted to clear something up about the chapter names… they're after poker terms. Just so we're clear. If anyone was confused, ya know. Chapter one: Ace of Spades – obviously, that's a card in a deck. Chapter two: Half-faced Jack – again, referring to a card and also Saitou's unknown intentions. Chapter three: Alligator blood – refers to having to keep a level head in a card game; and I'd daresay keeping a level head is good when you're being attacked in the dead of night. Chapter four: Between hands – just referencing a transitional chapter.
Who Dealt This Garbage?
He scowled at a tiny violet flower, blossoming in the cool conditions. The brightly shining sun seemed to mock him with its cheerfulness. A bird twittered happily in the treetops. Despite the fact that it was late December, the weather was balmy and comfortable.
Kenshin was frustrated.
The situation was growing more and more complicated by the day, here. The incident that was supposed to have taken a mere two weeks had grown more and more complex, the conflict escalating into a mini-war between two antagonistic clans. Aoshi, Misao, and a few other Oniwabanshuu ninjas had joined them, but even with the added brainpower, no one seemed to be capable of compromise.
I want to go home! His mind screamed at him.
Home. A word he was finally able to associate with one particular place, rather than the road. More like a person. 'Home' was Kaoru, and he wanted to be there. Not only that, but he didn't quite like her being alone, after the Enishi business. Not to mention that mess with Saitou…
How was she faring on her own? Was she making enough to support herself while he, Sanosuke, and Yahiko were gone? Were Megumi, Tae, and Dr. Genzai helping her cope during their absence? Most importantly, was anyone making it worse for her? Because if that was the case, he'd have to hurry and clean this mess up.
Kaoru cursed colorfully under her breath.
I hate pirates.
She was currently being held hostage by a group of rather stupid buccaneers and the experience was quite unpleasant.
"So what's a pretty boy like you doing traveling all alone? Doncha know that your mummy ain't here?" said a large, bulky man with a sneer. Kaoru wrinkled her nose as his smell wafted under his nose. As glad as she was that her disguise was holding up, being called a man was never at the top of her to-do list.
You, my pungent friend, could use a bath. Or ten. "I'm just the poor s-son of f-farmer, sir," Kaoru stuttered out quietly. "Not a y-yen to my n-name."
His companion spat on the ground next to her. "Wrong answer, pretty boy!"
"I think you are mistaken."
"Eh? Who goes?"
The person, probably female (Kaoru had had way too many mix-ups in the past to give the voice a definite gender – Kamatari came to mind), was shadowed by the lamp light on the moored ship eerily. Her voice was low and commanding and very familiar.
"It couldn't be clearer that this person… is a woman."
"Wha – ?!"
He couldn't manage anymore before the butt of the woman's staff came crashing down on his head. His comrades soon followed. Kaoru kept her head bowed as the person walked over to where she was sitting bound.
"Hello again, Kamiya." Kaoru looked up with unwavering eyes and gasped.
I LOVE pirates!
It had been over a month since Ken-san had departed, taking Yahiko and Sanosuke with him. Next to go had been the good old doctor; but the most surprising of all the abandon her was Kaoru. Her private tutoring of the Saitou children had taken up most of her time. After two weeks of lessons, Saitou had started recruiting Kaoru for missions outside of town usually reserved for the police force, for reasons unknown to the woman physician. These missions usually lasted about a week and were very much clandestine.
Jun'ko was still selling whatever she could, well, rip-off from the gullible merchants around the port. Consequently, she was gone most of the day and taking the girls with her.
Suzume was supposed to start school this week; but Megumi stalled, knowing that the money was tight and that more than anything, Kaoru wanted to help in determining the young girl's future. Besides, she could already read and write well, thanks to Genzai's educated influence. Ayame had already been pulled from school because of financial reasons and Kaoru had quickly set her upon some old books she had in the shed. Yet she had insisted Suzume get her basic schooling from an actual instructor.
"If she can get the basics in school, we can build off all of that on our own, if need be. Both of them are smart for their age, Megumi. You shouldn't worry so much."
If I don't worry, who will? Megumi wiped the sweat off her brow.
That was the third delivery this week… I hate being the only doctor around. Yet Megumi knew that some people were simply avoiding coming to her because she was a woman. She wasn't sure what was worse – having to work such exhausting hours, or knowing that some rejected her skills simply because of her gender.
"Takani-sensei, thank you so much for your help today," wheezed the petite woman, exhausted. Her husband nodded seriously.
"Yes, we couldn't have done it without you. After Genzai-sensei passed…"
There was an awkward silence.
"It was no trouble at all, Makato-san," she replied politely. "The best of luck with little Higuchi. If you experience any problems with him health-wise, feel free to come and see me."
"Thank you, Takani-sensei."
They left a few moments later. Megumi cleaned her hands and tools and removed her stained smock, hating the echo her footsteps made in the empty dojo. But it wasn't empty for long. An older woman hobbled up to the gate, complaining of gout.
"Please ma'am, right this way…"
Kaoru was currently wrapped in a warm blanket in a seaside inn. She twiddled her fingers nervously around her teacup. Though she and the lady pirate weren't exactly enemies, they definitely weren't good friends. However, they shared a certain, unnatural rapport. Kaoru had already decided she liked her. Because it had been mostly Kenshin dealing with her before, she had never really gotten the chance to know the pirate.
"So, um, how's life treating you?"
"Well," replied Shura with a slight smile. "And yourself?"
"Busy. Very busy." Between the Saitou kids' (three sons) private lessons and the missions Saitou assigned her on the side, she had almost no time simply to sit and reflect like she was keen to do nowadays. It was good, in a way; whenever she sat still for too long, her thoughts could get a little too dark to be healthy.
"How is Himura?"
"On a trip. One that has been expanded indefinitely."
"You seem a little upset, yet here you are, far away from your little dojo."
"Well, when the men are away, I've got to occupy myself somehow, eh?"
"Sorry – if I had known, I would have brought some needlework along." They shared a smirk.
Kaoru felt her sudden kinship with Shura jump slightly. Both were women who could through a punch (or five), fighting for people to respect them constantly. Nothing was ever easy for a woman in a man's world.
"I'm headed that way myself. Funny coincidence."
"Oh? Why are you going?"
"To meet my fiancée. I've been away for – business quite awhile."
"That's great! What's he like?"
"Please tell me you're joking. Please."
The man smiled brightly at her. "It's great to finally meet you Kamiya-san. You must be the one Himura-san mentioned."
Shura looked back and forth between her fiancée and Kaoru. "Do you two know each other?"
Kaoru looked at Seta Soujirou. He was still smiling. She felt lightheaded.
They spent the remainder of the day at tea shop, explaining exactly how they knew each other. Shura, who had known that Soujirou's past was shady, had no idea that he'd known Kenshin and vice versa – he hadn't know that she'd known him. Kaoru smiled faintly as they embraced their newfound knowledge of the each other with gusto.
They really care about each other… And it was made possible because of Kenshin…
"Sou-chaaaaan! I'm back!"
What?! Tell me he's not, tell me he's not –
Kamatari stood in the doorway, looking as unfairly feminine as ever.
You've got to be kidding me!
"And who is this little ragamuffin?"
Kaoru turned around with a wry smile. "Good to see you, too."
"Kamiya?" The distaste on Kamatari's face grew. "Why is she here, Shura?"
"She's on a mission assigned by your favorite."
"Saitou?" He grimaced. "I thought you had more taste than that, honey."
"Yeah, well, so did I. But, desperate times…"
"You must've been pretty damn desperate."
"Tell me about it."
"What are you doing in Kyoto, anyway?"
"Saitou sent me to retrieve something. A package he was being sent by an informant."
"And why, pray tell, isn't he using another, more replaceable lapdog to do his dirty work?"
"Wish I knew!" Kaoru said cheerfully. "Well, I'd better get going if I want to make it back to Tokyo in the next few days."
"Wait." Shura grabbed her arm. "We want to come with you."
"Back to Tokyo," said Soujirou to clarify. "That's where we want to live. For awhile, at least."
"That's where we want to get married. And you were born and raised there! You could help us, right?"
"I guess – I mean, I could, but I don't exactly have the best reputation right now. Something to do with being a woman my age and not married."
Shura rolled her eyes. "You act like I've never been prejudiced against before. I'm a female pirate, for gods' sakes."
"Well… if you don't mind being stared at in public… or cursed out… or possibly assaulted… then you should be fine."
Shura's eyes glinted dangerously.
"Don't worry… we are perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves."
"Believe me," was Kaoru's weak reply. "I know. All too well."
Kamatari smirked. "You know, tanuki-chan, I think I may be beginning to like you. We should have a rematch sometime."
Seijuro Hiko did not come down to the city proper very often. So whenever he did, people pointed and whispered, and nobody dared to approach him. And usually, when he actually came down from his little cottage in the woods, it was to pick up more saké, which he loved like any normal man loved his wife.
But today he bypassed his favorite shop for picking up the alcoholic beverage, walking straight on by, much to the gaping surprise of those shopkeepers. Everybody knew that he caught all his own food up in his forest, and had no need to shop in their marketplace; the last time he had come down to town not to buy sake was to defeat that giant man. Most people cared to block that memory out of their minds, though.
Today, Hiko was walking toward a certain seaside inn where a few certain people resided, mysteriously minus his baka-deshi. They were taking him for a fool if they thought he couldn't feel their ki signatures.
As much as it pained him to do so, he would leave his mountainous abode to make sure that the Kamiya girl was safe, since his baka-deshi was obviously too stupid to do it himself. He paused his thoughts as a familiar voice reached his ears.
"Yeah, I'll just head down to the Shirobeko quickly to talk to Sae-san, and then go from there. I'll be back in an hour or so."
He saw the girl cross the courtyard, unaware of his presence, as a tall, dark-haired woman nodded from the doorway of the inn.
She jumped almost a foot and gasped, turning on her heel abruptly. "Seijuro-san!"
Wow. Haven't updated this story in a while… and this chapter is abysmally short. Sorry! I've sort of switched to the Dark Side (ie, Naruto fandom), but I don't like leaving a story unfinished. So I will not give up!