A/N: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin. I DO own the entire series on DVD and assorted Kenshin paraphernalia, so please don't sue, I'm a loyal merchandise customer.
The Ninja and the Samurai
(A Soujiro/Misao Romance)
Soujiro looked around for the third time. There it was again, a fleeting sense of someone following him. He'd felt it first as soon as he left the last village he'd come to. Now the feeling lingered for a moment longer than it had the previous two times.
Soujiro turned to continue walking along the road. He decided it was time to find out who this stalker was. After all, if they wanted to catch up to him that badly he could at least oblige them and if the situation was something he couldn't handle he'd simply run away.
It was amazing. He had never used his running ability to run away from a conflict before meeting Himura. Now he used it to avoid conflicts that would have required him to kill again. He hadn't made any vows like Himura had; he still wasn't convinced that killing was totally unnecessary in all situations. It was just that killing someone, as a last resort, hadn't actually presented itself in any of his conflicts. There was usually another way.
Soujiro felt the presence once more, it was in front of him now and it was coming fast. He looked around desperately for some sign of an attacker before finally looking up just as a flash of blue collided with his chest sending him sprawling to the ground.
He suddenly couldn't breathe very well. That was when he noticed that someone had a hold on his wrists and they were straddling his chest pinning him down. He had managed to draw his sword, but it was laying a few centimeters from his fingertips. Soujiro looked up into the face of his attacker and into the most stunning set of emerald eyes he had ever seen. He lay there stunned for a moment, not from any injury, but from the realization that there was a beautiful green-eyed girl on top of him. Oddly, she looked familiar.
"Ah ha! I've got you now Tenken!" she said staring down at him with an almost evil glee in her voice.
"Oh, really?" Soujiro said with his usual smile on his face. "I was just curious then how you're planning on killing me or tying me up without letting go of my hands."
The young girl looked at Soujiro's sword and was obviously not prepared for such a dilemma. This gave Soujiro a moment to think. He could easily curl his legs up and kick her off of him, but that would mean hurting her. He normally didn't care about whether or not he hurt people who attacked him, not even Himura was that bad. However this girl didn't radiate malevolence of any kind, and well, hurting pretty girls just wasn't equated with his new way of looking at things.
The girl still hadn't made up her mind as to what to do then, so Soujiro opted to try overpowering her. With a sudden rush of strength, he grabbed her wrists pushing them around her sides until he had them pinned behind her back with each of his arms curled around her. He rolled and tried to sit up as well as the girl struggled against him. After a few moments they managed to stand, her with her arms still pinned behind her. It was then that Soujiro realized he had managed to pull her body against his and their lips were now in VERY close proximity. The things one thinks about when attacked by pretty women.
"I'm sorry about this miss…" Soujiro started.
"Misao. Misao Makimachi." The young woman glared at him a moment as the two of them stood there. Soujiro realized this was the closest he'd ever been to a girl. It made him very nervous.
Misao apparently had misread the nervousness. "So, realized who you were dealing with?" She said smugly. "Or are you just coming to realize that now YOU can't go anywhere without releasing me."
Soujiro stopped and thought for a moment. She was right. If memory served this was the girl that had accompanied Himura the first time they'd fought and she was reported to be a pretty good aim with those kunai of hers. There didn't seem to be a really good way out of this situation. Not that he was complaining about the current situation mind you.
Soujiro's thoughts were interrupted as he heard a cart coming up the road they were standing on. Acting quickly he kicked his sword off into the grass and lifted Misao. "You pervert!" she yelled at him as he picked her up and ran behind a tree. It wasn't until he put her down with her back to the tree that he realized his head had been resting against her bosom. "Sorry." He said lamely.
The two of them stood there for a few minutes as the cart came rolling into view from behind the tree. An old man guided an ox that pulled the cart, which was apparently full of rice barrels; it just HAD to be rice barrels. The old man stopped and stared at the two of them before shaking his head.
"You kids need to find some other place to go and do your business. This is a public road after all!" The old man said disdainfully.
Soujiro was blushing furiously. Looking down he noticed that Misao was as well. Without thinking he quickly let go of her arms and stepped back scratching the back of his head. "Uh, sorry sir." He flashed a smile at him hoping to placate the old man and shuffled his feet a little.
The old man snorted and started his cart moving again. Soujiro and Misao waited until the old man was well out of sight. Soujiro looked at Misao, who was still blushing, and thought for a moment. "Why didn't you cry out for help?"
Misao looked at Soujiro as if noticing him for the first time. "He was only and old man. He couldn't have done anything about it anyway and I'm not about to involve somebody in one of my battles especially against a murderer."
Soujiro bent over and picked up his sword. Without looking he buried it into the wood next to Misao's head as she reached for her kunai. It had the desired result as she stopped dead still. She looked a little startled as she said, "Are you going to kill me now?"
"I've gotten out of the habit of killing pretty young girls." Soujiro said bluntly. "What are you doing following me anyway?"
Misao was blushing again but managed to regain her composure. "I was sent to find you."
"By who, I didn't think Aoshi wanted me dead that badly."
"He doesn't." Misao said hotly. "My Aoshi doesn't hire out the Oniwaban group as assassins! I was sent to find you and bring you back!"
"Sorry Misao, the end result is the same whether it's by an assassin's blade or a firing squad, I still end up dead." Soujiro said bluntly.
"No, no. Nothing like that." Misao said exasperatedly. "A short while back someone came to the Aoiya looking for you. It was that freaky guy Kamatari. He said that he had been to see Anji and that Cho thought he could get him out by bribing the right people. Normally, I don't agree with bribing government officials, but Anji was an OK guy. Anyway, Kamatari said that he was looking for Shishio's hidden stash of money to get the money necessary to spring Anji. The only problem was that the only people who might have known where it was happened to be either dead or wandering; namely, Yumi or you. So, Aoshi-sama sent me to find you since we had reports that you were somewhere near Tokyo."
"She." Soujiro said distracted.
"What was that?"
"She. Kamatari prefers to be thought of as a woman."
Soujiro tuned out the rest of the conversation as she went on about how easily she had found him, how great her Aoshi-sama was, and how he was now her prisoner and would be coming back with her to Kyoto. Shishio-sama's fortune. Now THAT was something he hadn't expected. Everybody thought that Shishio had spent nearly all of the money he had on buying the Purgatory. Soujiro smiled about that. Actually, the money had originally been Himura's. One of Shishio's ironic plots on revenge. He and Himura both had earned a great deal of money killing during the Bakumatsu. Himura had refused the money when he had become a wanderer. Shishio however had accepted his and Himura's both. He didn't have the heart to tell Himura that it had been HIS money that had funded Shishio's rebellion.
"Hey are you listening to me!" Misao had moved in front of him holding a kunai up to his throat. "I said you're my prisoner! So get moving!"
"OK, this way then." Soujiro turned, sheathing his sword and started walking.
"Kyoto's this way you JERK!"
"I know. We have to get the money first though. That, and I have to ask someone's permission before I use it." It was only fair after all. Since the money wasn't really his to give away, he would give what was left to Himura-san. It was only fitting since Shishio had taken his money.
Misao ran to catch up to Soujiro. She settled into step beside him as the two started out for Tokyo.
"This isn't good." Soujiro said looking at the policemen standing around the temple near the Kamiya dojo. He moved back from the edge of the bushes to crouch next to Misao. "There are police everywhere. I can't get to where I buried the money."
"What do we do now?" Misao whispered.
"Let's get out of here for now and find out what's going on. We can try to dig it up after the police are gone." Soujiro said as they moved further into the bushes.
The two of them slipped past the sentries standing at the stairs and froze there in the shadows. In the torchlight they watched as a carriage stopped in front of the temple. The door opened and out stepped Hajime Saitoh. "Saitoh! What's he doing back from Kyoto so soon?" Misao gasped as she ducked down next to Soujiro. There wasn't much room to hide so she found herself pressed closely to Sou's back as they lay on their stomachs in the underbrush.
Misao watched as Cho came walking down the steps carrying something and stopped in front of Saitoh. It was pitch black so Misao fumbled around to get close to Soujiro's ear so they wouldn't be heard whispering. She cupped one hand over his ear on the opposite side of his head to cover any background noise and leaned close to whisper as softly as she could. She could just feel the skin of Soujiro's ear against her lips as she whispered trying to make it so faint no one would hear. "We have to get closer to Saitoh to hear what they're saying."
She felt Soujiro nod under her hand and the two of them moved close enough to hear Cho's conversation.
"Yeah, seems like somebody must have had it in for all these guys. We found most of them cut to ribbons behind the main building." Cho was saying to his enigmatic boss.
"Were there any tracks anywhere?" Saitoh said taking a long draw off of his cigarette.
"No, but the boys found this on one of them." Cho reported tossing something to Saitoh.
"Hmmm. I'm willing to bet the Battousi has something to do with this."
"Frankly chief, I know the Battousi is a good swordsman and all, but I don't think he really has the stomach to chop up these guys like that." Cho snorted.
Misao was shocked to hear Saitoh chuckle in spite of himself. "The Battousi can surprise you sometimes. During the revolution, such scenes were his trademarks." He said almost admiringly. "But in this case I know this area a little better than you do. Believe me, if there's anything strange going on around here you can believe that Kenshin Himura knows something about it. Besides, he practically lives next door to this place. If he didn't hear anything then he's slipped worse than I'd hoped."
Saitoh looked over in Misao's direction and she could swear he smiled directly at her. Nonchalantly, he flipped his cigarette over into the bushes near Misao. Soujiro gasped and Misao clapped her hand quietly over his mouth. Soujiro started to squirm a little and Misao moved to whisper in his ear again. This time she was practically nibbling his ear lobe. "Do you want to get us caught? Be still!"
Saitoh and Cho began speaking about Kyoto. They mentioned Aoshi and Kamatari for a few moments and then started discussing other things. Misao could feel something wet falling over her hand clamped over Soujiro's mouth and she started to smell something. Was it smoke?
Misao looked around to see a small curl of smoke coming from the cigarette. It was sitting dead center of Soujiro's back. Misao quickly reached over and flicked it off into the weeds and leaned close to Soujiro. "I am soooo sorry, Soujiro. I'll make it up to you."
Saitoh and Cho were winding up their conversation. "So did you see any sign of the Tenken?" Cho asked conversationally.
"No, he is particularly elusive. I imagine it will be quite some time before we're able to catch him." Saitoh said.
"Kamatari seems to think he knows where Shishio's treasure is hidden." Cho said as well. "I hope she's right. That would be a great help to the government if it were found. I'm sure if I were able to bring that in to the government that they'd give me a really big promotion, and then maybe I could help Anji get out of prison."
Misao began to feel just a little bit uncomfortable. Something smelled funny, and it wasn't Soujiro's burnt gi. Saitoh just looked at Cho for a few long moments and then shook his head. Misao could swear she heard Cho snicker as he got into the carriage. Saitoh stayed in the street.
"Yes, getting that money back should be our first priority. We can track Soujiro down later. I'm going to stop off at Himura's dojo and make sure he knows I'm back in Tokyo before I go back to the station. I'll only be a few minutes."
The carriage pulled away and Misao watched as Saitoh turned to walk down to the dojo. She could have been mistaken, but she could have sworn she heard him say something like 'morons' before he disappeared from sight.
Soujiro and Misao slipped away from the temple. They followed Saitoh to the door of the dojo and then went to climb a tree and wait until he left.
From their perch they could see the porch of the dojo. Kenshin and Kaoru were sitting there with Yahiko and Sanosuke as Saitoh entered the gate.
"What are you doing here Saitoh," Kenshin hissed. "I thought you weren't due back from Kyoto for another two weeks."
Saitoh's eye twitched imperceptibly. "The investigation into the whereabouts of Seta Soujiro stalled. We though we had him, but it turned out to be a false lead."
"Then what does that have to do with us?" Kenshin asked impatiently.
"Nothing, I was coming in reference to the incident up on the hill. You know, the one you can see quite clearly from here. It appears someone carved up some street thugs behind the temple." Saitoh actually sounded hopeful.
"I heard about it." Kenshin nodded. "We were on our way back from the Akabeko when the police went storming into the temple."
"So, you were at the Akabeko during the attack?" Saitoh asked.
"I don't know." Kenshin said plainly. "I don't know when the attack occurred. We left this morning to go shopping and then we ate lunch at the Akabeko. If it happened today, we could have been anywhere."
Saitoh snorted with disgust before continuing. "It was done today, and not many hours ago. One of the men apparently bled to death from his wounds and was still warm. Some of them were armed, and didn't even have time to draw their weapons. That doesn't leave many people in Tokyo that could have done it."
Saitoh turned and started for the gate. "Oh, by the way, Battousi. You may want to be careful. The fugitive Soujiro has been seen in the area. He is reported as having been seen in the company of that weasel-girl Misao. He's nothing but trouble so you might want to tell her that it wouldn't be smart taking up with the likes of him."
Soujiro had heard the majority of the conversation. It had been his turn to cover Misao's mouth at the comments Saitoh had made about her being a weasel. It had been all he could do to grab her arms before the kunai started flying. He was fairly certain Saitoh had known they were there, but had kept up the charade for the sake of his men. He wanted Shishio's treasure and was willing to let them run free if it meant getting it.
His back still smarted like crazy so he was glad when Saitoh finally disappeared. He hopped down with Misao and walked into the dojo behind her.
"Hello everybody!" Misao cried running over to hug the girl that Soujiro remembered being described as Kaoru, Himura's woman. He recognized Segara as well, but the boy was a mystery. Did Himura have a son? He stayed at the edge of the light for a moment before he heard Kenshin's voice. "I thought we might be seeing you shortly Misao," Kenshin said to the girl, "I am glad to see you as well Soujiro-san, I was sorry I did not have the chance to speak with you before you left Kyoto."
Soujiro planted his trademark smile firmly on his face. "It seemed the more prudent course of action." Soujiro said happily. He was a little amazed at the gathering of people around the dojo. Himura was undoubtedly the oldest, but the rest of them were all fairly close to his age with the exception of the young boy.
"Soujiro's my prisoner!" Misao cried happily. "I'm taking him back to Kyoto with me as soon as we find his treasure!"
"Treasure?" Everyone said in unison turning to Soujiro with questioning eyes.
"Actually it isn't my treasure. It was what was left of Shishio-sama's money after the Kyoto project fell through." Soujiro said politely.
"Anyway," Misao continued, "Lord Aoshi sent me to find Soujiro so I could bring him back to Kyoto with the treasure. Aoshi-sama will be so happy when I bring him back."
"You mean Aoshi actually let a weasel girl like you out of his sight to go chasing after one of the most deadly assassins in all of Japan?" The young boy said snorting. "If I remember right you're the only one of the Oniwaban group other than Aoshi himself who actually knows what Soujiro looks like!"
Before he could stop her, the kunai went flying and the kid was pinned by his sleeves to the wall of the dojo. "Yahiko, you jerk!" Soujiro was surprised to see no one else seemed to notice the attack, except for Yahiko of course.
"Please come in Soujiro, Misao. We'll have some more tea before bed. I think I may need a little bit more than tea the way this day has been turning out." Kaoru said in exasperation.
"I think I'll pass little missy," Sano said as he pulled the kunai pinning Yahiko to the wall out and tossed them back to Misao, "I'll take the squirt and head back to my place for the night. It looks like you're going to have your hands full of guests."
The young boy immediately latched onto Sano's head and started biting into his spiked hair. Soujiro watched stupefied as Sano merely started walking carrying the young boy off with him.
Soujiro went inside and had a seat next to Misao. He smiled at Kaoru as she served him tea like he was a normal guest. It was quite disturbing. The silence filled the room for a moment before Kenshin finally spoke. "Soujiro, how long have you been in Tokyo?"
"Not very long at all. As soon as Misao and I got here, we went to the temple to get something I left there and found the police all over the place. I promise you, I had nothing to do with the slaughter that happened up there."
"I believe you, but Saitoh is right. There aren't many swordsmen in Tokyo that could have killed a large number of men before they could draw their weapons. Misao, could you get word from Okina to find out if there are any other swordsmen in Tokyo right now that could have done it?"
"I'll be sure to pass that along to him and our leader." Misao said seriously. "I'm going to send him an intelligence report tomorrow of everything that's going on in Tokyo. I'll be certain to include it. Aoshi may even wish to come here himself to secure Shishio's treasure."
"I thought YOU were the new leader Misao," Kaoru said looking at Misao suddenly.
Misao actually blushed. "I was, but Okina said that it might get Aoshi out of his depression and get him out of that stupid temple if he had some real work to do. I stepped down, and now Aoshi is leading us again." Misao said brightly.
"How are things between you two then?" Kaoru said hopefully. Soujiro was amazed at the speed at which Misao's mood shifted. HE definitely couldn't move that fast. Misao began sobbing uncontrollably. "Oh Kaoru, it's even worse now! Now he actually has business to do that keeps him away from me. Before it was just his stupid meditation and I at least I could serve him tea. Now he doesn't even have time for that of a morning. It's almost like he's avoiding me."
Kenshin nodded sadly and then turned to Soujiro while Misao composed herself. "So you are looking for Shishio's treasure?"
Soujiro looked at Misao worriedly before turning to Himura. "Actually, Himura-san, by rights it's YOUR treasure." Soujiro was quietly pleased that this time everyone turned to look at Kenshin in surprise.
"Ma… My treasure?" Kenshin said in disbelief.
"Yes, Himura-san. I had quite forgotten about it after Kyoto. Nearly everything was lost when the Purgatory sank. Nearly all of what Shishio-sama had was used to purchase that battleship on the black market. Then it was gone." Soujiro said still wearing a smile; after all, it hadn't been HIS money.
"But not all of his money?"
"Actually, when you left Kyoto after the revolution they didn't know what to do with your fortune so master Shishio claimed it and added it to his own. He used your money and his to finance the Grand Fire Project." Soujiro hated to do this to Himura, but honesty was also becoming part of his new life philosophy.
All things considered Kenshin took it quite well. He looked down at his tea and his eyes grew distant. Soujiro decided it was best to get this over and done with quickly. "Master Shishio had only one thing left to do with the money he had left. He sent me here with it when, ahem, we first met. I was supposed to frame you for the assassination."
Kenshin didn't look like he was hearing a word that Soujiro was saying until after he stopped. Finally he looked up. "Why didn't you?"
"I couldn't. You left Tokyo too quickly, and I was forced to leave the money behind in order to get back to master Shishio ahead of you." Soujiro removed the smile from his face.
"Now Kamatari has shown up enlisting the aid of the Oniwaban group to find the money to supposedly pay for getting monk Anji out of prison for his role in the uprising. Misao and I also heard Cho and Saitoh mention the fact that they were looking for the money as well. I thought that the most proper thing to do would be, since it isn't my money, to give the money back to you, since Shishio-sama had stolen it from you in the first place, and to ask you if we could use the money to free monk Anji." Soujiro didn't like speaking so much, but he preferred laying all the cards out on the table for Himura.
Kenshin thought for a long time before he answered. "I have no desire to possess the blood money the government tried to give me for the killing I did during the Bakumatsu. I didn't want it then, and I still don't. If it will help get monk Anji out of jail, then use the money any way you want. It is the least I can do for him since he saved Misao in Kyoto and to help atone for the money I left behind being used to finance the uprising."
"Thank you, Himura-dono." Soujiro said respectfully. From what he knew of Himura it was the reaction he had expected. He bowed deeply to him nearly touching his head to the floor when he heard Misao gasp.
"Soujiro, your back! I didn't realize the burn was that bad!" Soujiro had actually forgotten about it. His back still stung whenever he moved too much. "Ms. Kaoru," Misao said seriously, "do you have a room I can have for the night. I'm not letting Soujiro out of my sight. He's my prisoner, and besides I need to tend his wounds."
Kaoru smiled. "Certainly, Misao. We can put you Yahiko's room." Soujiro realized why Himura had stopped wandering. Frankly, the more he thought about it, he was surprised he left Tokyo to go fight Shishio. The lady was beautiful, her deep eyes and dark hair made her smile seem even more attractive. Soujiro thought he was in trouble for staring too long when he heard Kenshin clear his throat. Fortunately, he hadn't noticed.
"One of them can take my room Kaoru-dono. I'll sleep out on the porch in front of your room, in light of the things that have happened tonight." Soujiro caught Kenshin glancing in the direction of the temple before continuing. "Soujiro, I need to know one last thing. Where is this money that you left in Tokyo?"
Soujiro nearly fell backwards, he'd almost forgotten. "That's a problem actually. I buried it."
"That's OK, we can get Sano to help us tomorrow and we'll go dig it up."
"I don't think so Himura-san," Soujiro said almost wincing. "It seems I buried it behind that temple where all those men were killed."
Soujiro watched the display. Kenshin slapped his forehead, Misao fell backwards, and even Kaoru looked perplexed. He was totally lost. "Well, at least Lord Aoshi will have time to get here before we get to the treasure." Misao said hopefully.
After that, Soujiro and Misao were taken to Kenshin's room. Kenshin laid out a second futon for Soujiro since Misao wouldn't let him out of her sight, and took his things outside, promising to discuss it more in the morning so that they could come up with a plan. Misao asked Kaoru if she had any burn medicine. Kaoru brought the medicine to Misao who thanked her.
Soujiro sighed in relief as he finally peeled out of his burnt gi. It still throbbed a little and he had no idea how badly he was burned. Pretty badly if Misao was to be believed. "It's a good thing that Kaoru-dono had some salve for the burn." Soujiro said trying to take it from Misao.
"Oh no you don't. You can't even reach the place on your back. I promised to make it up to you and I meant it. Take your shirt off and lay on your stomach. Anyway, Kaoru probably got it from Megumi when she and Kenshin were training in the kitchen."
"Is Kenshin really that bad a cook?"
"No, Kaoru is. HE was trying to teach HER."
Soujiro stared at Misao in disbelief for a moment. Surely she couldn't be serious.
"Are you going to lay down or what?"
Soujiro lay down on his stomach. "Yes ma'am. I'll try not to make my jailer too angry with me." Soujiro winced as Misao poked his burn.
Misao looked down at Soujiro's back. She tried not to stammer as she looked at him. She had never seen this much of Aoshi's chest and back but she hoped it was half as toned and muscular. Soujiro really was a beautiful young man. What was most remarkable was the fact that he was perfect. Except for the burn on his back, which wasn't that bad now that the burned gi had been removed. It was totally unblemished. Nobody's ever been able to hit him before. She thought to herself. This actually scared her a little. That would explain the butterflies in her stomach. Even Aoshi and the other late members of her beloved Oniwaban group had some sort of battle scars. They even bragged about them. Soujiro was perfect.
Misao gulped involuntarily. If he had wanted to, he could have easily killed her when she had attacked him. Aoshi had told her only to find him, but she had determined to bring Soujiro in trussed up like a goose to impress her Aoshi. Misao changed her opinion of Soujiro. He was friendly, and kind from what she had seen so far. It just didn't add up.
"There. You deserved that." Misao said impishly. "You know you don't act like a cold-blooded assassin. It's almost unbelievable to hear you talk about it with Himura." Misao took out some water in a bowl and some cloth and started cleaning Soujiro's wound tenderly. Soujiro had to admit it made it feel a LOT better.
"Don't be deceived. Everything you've heard is probably true and more."
"You don't seem so bad though, Sou-chan." Misao said dipping the cloth and returning to cleaning. Soujiro didn't think the wound had been that big, but then he hadn't seen it either.
"Sou-chan?" Soujiro asked stupidly.
"Well it sounds better than Soujiro-san." Misao said plaintively. "I'm sorry you got burned. You didn't even move after I grabbed your mouth."
"I didn't want to get caught. I learned to distance my self from all kinds of pain a long time ago." Soujiro tried to make his voice his usual cheery self, but somehow this time he failed. Misao stopped washing his back for a moment. "What kinds of pain?" She said softly as she went back to washing his back.
Soujiro tried to hold it in but found he couldn't. He'd never really talked about it with anyone. He wasn't comfortable talking about it with anyone. For a long time he shut it out completely while he had become the emotionless assassin for Shishio. It had become increasingly hard since meeting Himura to hold it in, now with this gentle woman touching him tenderly and speaking to him softly it burned within his chest to come out. "You really don't want to know Misao. Someone like you doesn't need to be stained by the presence of people like me."
"Sou-chan no baka!" Misao said poking his side. Soujiro jumped in spite of himself. He'd never realized he was ticklish; no one had ever dared try. "You and Kenshin are two of a kind, you know that. Kaoru keeps trying to get him to open up to her and he keeps telling her pretty much the same thing. Well, I'm here to tell you buster, I'm not Kaoru!" She started again with the side poking. "Finding out information is what I do best so you better 'fess up." Misao voice actually dropped back down to a soft and gentle whisper again almost instantly. It amazed Soujiro how she did that. "I only want to help."
Soujiro lay there for a few moments more before he spoke. "I learned early to block out all kinds of pain; emotional, physical, and mental. My mother was a courtesan and I was the illegitimate son of a rice merchant." Soujiro felt Misao go back to washing him. The water felt like it was soothing more than his burn. "When my mother grew tired of me she took me to my father's house. You can guess how my new 'mother' greeted a bastard child. I was shunned until my father died when I was about five. After that I became a slave to my father's real sons who were grown men. I worked every day carrying rice barrels. I wasn't allowed to stop until I had done all the work they had given me to do. It usually took me all day and most of the night as well."
Misao had stopped washing and now started patting his back dry with a towel as Soujiro continued. "I was beaten, exhausted, and hurting. I started smiling so that they would get tired of beating me and leave me alone. I would hurt so bad I finally started shutting it all away. The physical pain, my heart's anguish, all of it. That was when master Shishio found me. He spared my life in exchange for sanctuary from the police. I helped him and he was taken aback by the fact that I always smiled at him. That was when he gave me his wakisashi. I think he expected me to kill myself, or maybe he pitied me. Regardless, he told me that the strong survive and the weak die. He then waited to see which one I was. I hid the sword, and finally had resolved to give it back to him, but by that time my family learned of what I had been doing and they tried to kill me. I ran at first, but when they caught up with me I had nothing but master Shishio's sword." Soujiro felt the tears rolling down his face. He sobbed a little as he went on. "I killed them. I killed my entire family. The pain was so much that I couldn't bear it; I was only eight years old. So I did the only thing I could do. I shoved the pain away like I had for so many years already and tried to forget about it. That was what Shishio taught me. I killed anyone Shishio asked in order to pave the way for his new order because I believed in what he told me 'The strong survive, and the weak die'." Soujiro felt Misao's gentle arm on his shoulder and felt her towel wipe away his tears as he closed his eyes.
"It's alright Sou-chan. I'm here. What do you believe now?"
"I still don't know." Soujiro managed as he regained his composure. Misao moved back to his burn. He felt the cool touch of the salve as she poured it onto his back and began to spread it over the wound. "I had hoped to wander until I discovered the answers that Kenshin found. From what I understand he has similar problems. I just wish I could get a grip on life like he has." That was the best way Soujiro could put it. What he wanted to say was, I think Kenshin wandered until he found Kaoru and she was his answer. Soujiro felt Misao's gentle hands caressing his back. He had never felt anything like it, unless you counted the flirtatious passes Kamatari was always lavishing him with. This was different though. He remembered the feel of Misao's lips against his ear at the temple, and the feel of her hand on the nape of his neck as she pulled his head close. He had thought then that the pain of the burn had been almost worth it, now he knew for sure.
Soujiro groaned contentedly as tension he never knew was there left his body. It was then that he realized something. He hadn't burned his shoulders and Misao was straddling his backside. "Uh, Misao? I didn't burn my shoulders."
"Shut up silly. I told you I would make it up to you and I am. Just relax and be quiet." Misao scolded him but the gentleness in her voice betrayed her.
Soujiro wondered about it. Was this what it had been like for Kenshin? This girl whom he had known for but one day had managed to pry more of his secrets out of him than he had ever shared with anyone. Her gentle touch and voice had been a balm to his aching soul even as the salve had been a balm to his burn. Did Kaoru give this to Kenshin? Redemption. Someone who could look at the darkness in his soul and still find it in them to say 'It's all right. I'm here.'
Soujiro had never been this close to a woman before, emotionally or physically, and he drank in the experience gladly. Still something had been left behind by what Misao had done. There was a new burning in its place. He didn't know enough about emotions yet to put a name to it… but he could definitely call it… curiosity. Why was Misao like this for him? What made her so special, that she could do this to him within a day of meeting him? He tried to think of a way to find out and finally chose the only common subject he could think of.
"Misao, what is Aoshi like?"
Soujiro nearly cursed himself as her gentle massage suddenly stopped. He didn't draw an easy breath again until she started again. "Why do you ask?"
Soujiro couldn't really think straight so he defaulted back to what he already knew of Aoshi. "Well, I didn't get to know him at all when he came to join up with Shishio. I met him and all, but I really didn't get a feel for what he was really like."
Misao seemed to relax a bit before she continued. "He's strong, quiet, and so calm he's icy. I've known him all my life, and I know I love him, it's just…"
"Just what?" Soujiro asked, honestly curious.
"He never seems to pay attention to me. He's always pushing me away. He's always protected me, like a big brother, but he won't look at me like I'm a woman."
"Oh, that." Soujiro said absently. He added 'needs glasses' to his mental list of traits about Aoshi.
"What do you mean 'Oh, that'. You don't know anything about Aoshi and me do you?" Misao sounded almost pleading.
"No, no, no, it's not that." Soujiro said quickly. "I was just curious about something."
"Like what?" Misao said suspiciously. She had stopped rubbing Soujiro's back and lay down next to him so she could look into his face.
"Well, I kind of thought Aoshi was well, you know, gay." Soujiro said. The response from Misao was electric and immediate.
"What!" Misao squeaked as she managed to flip Soujiro over and land on top of him. One of her kunai flashed angrily under Soujiro's chin. "You better explain yourself."
Soujiro swallowed slightly and waited for Misao to calm down. When she finally slowed down her breathing Soujiro tried to explain. "It was when Aoshi was with us in the Juppon Gatana. Nobody really gave him the time of day except for Kamatari."
Misao's eyes were threatening to escape from her head so Soujiro pressed on. "Kamatari likes to flirt with men. Honestly, I think she might prefer women to men, but no one in the Juppon Gatana REALLY wanted to get close enough to ask that question. Anyway, Kamatari liked playing flirting games with all the men to unsettle them. Even I was uneasy when Kamatari decided to play with people. She would rub up against the rest of us and say things I won't repeat. She even did it to Aoshi when he got there."
Misao sat up. She looked extremely dangerous in that moment. Soujiro looked at her sitting on top of him and tried to stay focused on the story. He had to admit thinking of Kamatari helped quell such thoughts. "The thing that caught my attention was that Aoshi didn't flinch. He didn't run, he didn't shrink away; he even talked to Kamatari about things within the Juppon Gatana. The rest of us thought that he must have enjoyed it not to run for cover when he saw Kamatari coming."
Misao didn't respond for a little while. Finally she shrugged. "Lord Aoshi is icy. He ignores everybody it seems. Nothing can faze my Aoshi."
Finally, Misao slid off to the side of Soujiro and lay there looking up. "I guess we had better get some sleep, huh?" Soujiro said finally.
"Yeah, I guess." Misao said dejectedly.
The two of them lay there for a long while until sleep finally took them. Soujiro slept better than he ever had in his life, with dreams of deep green eyes and dark braided hair comforting him where once his nightmares lingered.
The morning was warm and sunny, even for an autumn day and Kenshin had managed to finish the laundry early, so he sat on the porch and considered the latest problem that had invaded his life. It was possible that these men had simply run across one of his enemies at the wrong time. The hill where they had been killed did overlook the dojo. It would be the perfect place to spy on someone's daily activities.
The problem was it could be anyone. He had made some pretty powerful enemies in his past. It could be anyone from old rivals from the Bakumatsu all the way up to the more recent remnants of Shishio's army looking for revenge. Kenshin leaned against the wall. Soujiro had also been numbered among Shishio's men but he couldn't really hold the boy responsible for his actions. He had killed because that madman Shishio had warped his sense of self and reality. He only hoped that Soujiro found the answers he was looking for. Kenshin felt Soujiro getting closer. He and Misao had gone out early to the Oniwaban agent here in Tokyo to have a message sent to Aoshi. Kenshin actually smiled. Soujiro was the only 'prisoner' he'd ever heard of that was allowed to carry his sword.
Soujiro and Misao came in through the gate walking towards the dojo with Megumi bringing Dr. Genzai's granddaughters. Kaoru was keeping them today because the good doctor had an operation to perform. All of them were smiling, talking and laughing. I guess a man can be taken prisoner by more than just chains.
Kenshin looked at Kaoru who was playing with the little girls. He was definitely her prisoner. He didn't think after everything they'd been through together he could leave her again if he wanted to.
"Uncle Kenny!" the girls cried as they raced over to tackle Kenshin. Kenshin felt happier than he had before. Concern tended to melt away in the embrace of happy toddlers. Kenshin's smile faded slightly as he looked at Soujiro. The young man looked serious and his smile was only barely visible. He was looking back at the gate before he met Kenshin's eyes.
"We're going to the Akabeko, Uncle Kenny!" Ayame was squealing. "Oh?" Kenshin said looking up to the others.
Kaoru was wearing her usual happy expression. "Dr. Genzai gave me some money for taking care of the girls. I promised them we'd take them to see Yahiko at the Akabeko today."
"YAAAAAY! We get to see Yahiko!" They both cried in unison.
Megumi looked around. "We'll probably run into that rooster on the way. I swear that man can smell a free meal in the next prefecture."
"Sanosuke is checking on something for me with his reporter friend, Ms. Megumi." Kenshin said innocently. "I'm sure I could go find him if you wanted me to." Megumi's reaction was her typical nonchalant shrug. Kenshin flashed his own smile he liked to call 'stupid innocence'. He used it when he wanted to taunt people without offending them. They simply thought him too simple to be mocking them.
Soujiro had recovered from his bout of seriousness and was smiling as well. He had the innocence part down pretty well, always had, but he was still lacking somewhat in stupidity. Contrary to popular belief, it was a fine art that required about ten years of serious practice.
"Well I've finished the laundry, so why don't we go there now." Kenshin suggested. The girls squealed and ran off towards the gate with Megumi, Misao, and Kaoru in hot pursuit. Kenshin fell back to walk beside Soujiro as the young women skipped on ahead with the girls.
"Something's bothering you Soujiro, what is it." Kenshin said as he fell into step with the younger swordsman.
"Someone followed me and Misao to the dojo this morning. I started not to return with her, but I didn't want to leave her alone and she would have tried to catch whoever it was if I had told her." Soujiro said. The two of them suddenly stiffened almost in unison. The presence was back and it was following them.
"I'm sorry I brought you into this Himura-san," Soujiro said as he started to turn away. Kenshin grabbed the boy's arm and pulled him back into step. "What makes you think that you're the one that brought this on?"
"Ever since Kyoto all the enemies I made while working for Shishio have been coming around trying to find me since I wasn't captured or killed. Add that to all the people who want to make a name for themselves by bringing down the 'Tenken' and it pretty much sums up how I've had to live for the past few months." Soujiro tried to turn again, but Kenshin put a fatherly arm around him and inconspicuously pulled him back.
"It may not be your enemies Soujiro. After all, you forget, my past comes back occasionally too." Kenshin said seriously while pretending to point out something to the young man.
"I would have thought that you'd have gotten rid of all your enemies one way or another by now." Soujiro said seriously.
"Don't underestimate the amount of blood I have on my hands. I'll probably be dead and gone and still have men showing up at my grave to fight." Kenshin said with a little note of sadness in his voice.
"Then why did you do it?" Soujiro said stopping for a moment to face the man. "I mean, why have you stayed with Kaoru all this time when it just gives your enemies some place to find you. I mean, when I went to find you at Shishio's orders it was simple for anyone who knew who they were looking for to find you."
Kenshin smiled as he answered the question he'd asked himself many times before. "No matter where I go, or how hard I try to hide, I'll always have someone trying to kill me. It doesn't matter if I stay or go; it will always be the case. I have always needed a purpose. I thought that purpose was to change Japan at one time, but now I see that a man's reason to fight has to be something more important to him than simple political change. It has to be something he feels worth fighting for. I found that here. Whether it's because of my enemies or because of something else I have friends worth dying for here and I will not leave them again. As long as I am alive I will do everything in my power to protect her, that I will."
Soujiro continued walking beside the man and looked distracted. "You said 'her'. It's more than just that isn't it?"
Kenshin smiled and nodded to himself. Soujiro didn't miss the smallest slip. "Yes, I think it would kill both of us if I were to leave again. If someone like Shishio shows up again he may very well be facing me with her following along behind."
"Doesn't that put her in danger too?" Soujiro asked.
"Yes." Kenshin said seriously. "She is a good fighter in her own right and it helps to know she isn't defenseless. She tends to get angry if I try to protect her too much. I'll never stop worrying about her, but I guess all men worry about the women in their lives. Wouldn't you agree?"
"What do you mean?" Soujiro said perplexed.
"Why haven't you left before now, with Saitoh looking for you and now someone following us. You could have left the moment you found out about him instead of coming back to the dojo. Misao knows where the money is, and Aoshi should be coming soon to get it." Kenshin said seriously.
"I told you I didn't want to leave her alone." Soujiro said suddenly finding the ground in front of them very interesting. "I didn't want her to get hurt trying to stop one of my enemies."
"Misao can take care of herself pretty well, that she can." Kenshin said casually. "She's traveled alone all across Japan and done things most girls her age would've never even considered. For what's its worth though, you'll never stop worrying about her. Just like I never stop worrying about Kaoru."
THAT got Soujiro's attention. His head snapped up and he actually blushed. "Am I THAT obvious?" He said trying to cover his embarrassment.
"Only to me. I can read your emotions now, where I couldn't before Kyoto." Kenshin said quietly.
"Anyway, it doesn't really matter. She only cares about Aoshi." Soujiro said sadly.
"Maybe." Kenshin said. He felt like a parent giving advice to his own teenage son. The ages were nearly right, and Kenshin did feel responsible for the boys development now that he was beginning to take on a life that he himself had in part, inspired. "I've spoken to Aoshi about it before too. He's doesn't seem to be returning Misao's feelings, at least not to the extent that she was hoping for. It might be better for her if she moved on and found someone closer to her own age."
"Misao deserves better than to get someone stained with so much blood." Soujiro said stubbornly.
"Where have I heard that one before?" Kenshin said to no one in particular. "Soujiro, I'm going to make a guess here. You like Misao not only because you find her attractive, but she also makes you feel better about yourself. You can't understand why she can still stand to be around you knowing about your past much less how she says things like 'It's O.K. I'm here'. Is that correct."
Soujiro looked at Kenshin sharply. "Were you spying on us?"
"Well, yes, a little, but that's beside the point. I didn't like the idea of you two staying in the same room, and the fact that you used to be an assassin had nothing to do with it. Two teenagers left alone can get into plenty of mischief without either of them being capable of fighting. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that this is one way you and I need to be different. Let Misao decide what she does or doesn't need in her life."
The two of them finished talking as they neared the women who were already standing in front of the Akabeko. As they approached, Kenshin could feel the presence following them abruptly cease. Apparently they were no longer interested.
True to Megumi's suspicions, Sanosuke came walking up the street as Kenshin and Soujiro joined the women in front of the restaurant.
"Hey Kenshin, I thought I might run into you guys." Sanosuke said with a grin.
"Hello Sano," Kenshin smiled. Megumi already looked uncomfortable. "Ms. Megumi said you might be joining us."
"Yeah, Dr. Genzai said she told him to let me know you guys would be here." Sanosuke said while looking around.
Kenshin stared at Megumi for a moment, who pretended not to notice the conversation. She was obviously avoiding the situation. There was another couple that needed advice. Kenshin however decided to leave that one alone. Sanosuke wasn't much older than Soujiro, but he had a more bull headed approach to taking advice.
The group entered and immediately saw Yahiko bustling about helping Tsubame. How Tae managed to get him into that apron was anybody's guess. Tae was of course tending her customers and looked over at the group as they entered.
"My, my, back again today?" Tae said as they all came in. "And with a cute new addition to the family I see." Soujiro was doing his best to turn redder than a radish as Tae ran a finger through his hair. Kenshin glanced at Misao to see steam practically rolling out of her ears. Kenshin decided the only part of 'my prisoner' he believed was the part that involved 'mine'.
Thankfully no one else seemed to notice as Tae escorted them to a back room for large dining parties. Eight people were quite a stretch for the normal booths, and that was if Yahiko didn't join them.
Soujiro was in seventh heaven. He had never had an opportunity like this one before. He was actually sitting down to a meal with people. When he had been with Shishio, meals were lonely affairs. He often ate alone or on the few occasions he had eaten with Shishio and Yumi, they seldom talked about anything that didn't involve somebody dying. Here it seemed that there was an entirely different aura about the place.
Yahiko had joined them with a young girl and the two of them were apparently taking a break from working here. The entire table was engrossed between two or three different conversations. Soujiro looked around and the only people not engrossed were himself and Kenshin. Kenshin ate quietly, but Soujiro could tell he was enjoying the conversations as much as the people talking and laughing.
Everything seemed to be going great. Soujiro was beginning to relax when he saw Kenshin stiffen. Then he felt the presence too. It wasn't the same one from before, but with all the different spiritual energies of so many people close together it was hard to read it until it was practically on top of them.
Soujiro heard the owner in the next room. "They're right in here Mr. Fujita!" Tae was saying to someone who had apparently just entered the restaurant.
Kenshin was up in a flash and pulled Soujiro into the kitchen. He had just regained his seat to the amazement of everyone there when Saitoh entered the room. "I thought I might find you here." He said around the cigarette he held in his lips.
Kenshin nodded and smiled at Tae as she left letting her know it was OK. Soujiro moved out of sight and bent close to listen. "You could have waited until I got back to the dojo Saitoh." Kenshin said with an air of annoyance.
"I wasn't referring to you Battousi." Saitoh said smugly. "I was referring to the weasel girl." Soujiro wished he could reach in and grab Misao, but she was able to keep her temper in check for once.
"You're looking for me?" Misao said innocently.
"Yes, the Oniwaban agent here in Tokyo is a paid police informant. It's my way of doing business with Aoshi. He told me you had been there this morning inquiring about swordsmen who might be in the Tokyo area, information I am also interested in purchasing. However, he apparently is unwilling to sell me the information unless he is given permission from you. Is that correct?" Saitoh said bluntly.
"The Oniwaban don't sell internal information." Misao said shortly. "If I requested it first, it means you'll have to deal with me to get it."
"I see. Well then I hope to hear from you as soon as you get word, understand?" Saitoh said.
"What makes you think I'm going to sell you the information you want?" Misao said hotly.
"Not sell. Give. Another informant told me you had come in this morning in the company of a young man matching the description of Seta Soujiro. You said something about him being your prisoner I believe. If you do have Soujiro in custody you will surrender him to the police at once, or you will be arrested as well as one of his accomplices." Saitoh hammered the words into Misao with each syllable.
"If Aoshi wants him for some other reason it isn't my concern, he's a wanted man. If, however, you co-operate and give me the information I want then I won't have to assume that it was Soujiro that killed all those men and I can pursue the other leads you give me." Soujiro could practically hear Saitoh's smile.
Misao let out an explosive breath and Soujiro nearly cried for the trouble he was causing her. "Alright, I'll bring you the information if you want it that badly."
Saitoh was apparently getting ready to leave when he turned to say something else. "Oh yeah, weasel girl, if you want to carry your boyfriend around everywhere claiming he's a prisoner you really should take his sword away. He attracts too much attention with it."
Soujiro did hear Misao go for him then. He closed his eyes and hoped she wouldn't get hurt and prayed that Kenshin would protect her. Apparently Kenshin had stopped her. "Saitoh, that is enough! I think you need to go now, but before you do I have question."
"What is it?" Saitoh said impatiently. He sounded closer to the door where Soujiro was standing than before.
"Have you or any of your men been following us today?" Kenshin asked seriously.
"No we haven't." Saitoh said after a long pause. "I figured if I did I'd have to bust the weasel girl's new boyfriend and then I wouldn't find out where Shishio's treasure is hidden. Soujiro strikes me as a man that would be somewhat, difficult, to interrogate."
Soujiro was ready to step into the room and stomp some serious manners into that cop when Tae stepped up behind him. She gently put her hand on his arm and pulled him away from the door. She carried Soujiro upstairs as Saitoh walked out through the kitchen into the back alley. She then brought him back in to the rest of the dinner party.
"I'm sorry Misao." Soujiro said miserably. "I really should go. You have everything you need to get the treasure. I'm just causing you problems now."
"What are you talking about? I'm not about to let that over grown wolf in cop's clothing get away with this. We're going to find out who's doing this and then we're going to catch them!" Misao said excitedly.
Soujiro looked at her as if she'd gone mad. "What are YOU talking about? Didn't you hear Saitoh? If he catches me around you he'll arrest both of us just for giggles, if he ever giggles mind you."
"That doesn't matter. If we can find out who's doing this and you bring them in to the police, I'm sure that we can get the authorities to forgive your past and then you can do whatever you want to do without being hunted all the time." Misao smiled as if she had everything already planned. Soujiro suddenly got a sinking feeling in his stomach. Why did he suddenly feel like he didn't have a vote in this matter?
They all ate and returned to the dojo. Soujiro was still worried about Misao getting hurt and Himura's words weren't helping. You'll never stop worrying about her.
It would just be so much simpler if he just slipped away and out of this girl's life forever. Just because Himura thought she'd be better off being with someone her own age didn't mean that it had to be him.
Of course, that would mean that she'd have to find someone else and for some reason that stung Soujiro nearly as badly as remembering his family. He had been looking for answers since he left Kyoto and now the possibility of finding some rested on the slim shoulders of a green eyed girl named Misao Makimachi.
He was sitting on the dojo porch watching Kenshin play with the children when Misao came and sat down next to him. "I need you to stay here Sou-chan. I'm going into town for a little while with Kaoru."
Soujiro looked at her worriedly, but she continued without letting him say anything. "It'll be alright I just need to get a few things. We're going to have to find this guy, and I got some money from our agent here in Tokyo."
Soujiro nodded. He finally couldn't contain his curiosity. "Misao, why are you doing this?"
Misao didn't say anything for few moments and Soujiro thought she must not have been listening, it wouldn't have been the first time, when she finally spoke. "I've seen you these past couple of days and I know no matter what kind of person you where back then that you're someone different now. I can't stand to see you have to run away all your life or to wander around lost. It's partially my fault you're in this mess anyway. If I hadn't dragged you here and showed you off around town you wouldn't be in this mess. It's my way of making it up to you."
Soujiro remembered how she'd made up to him when he got burned. This caused him to blush slightly, but fortunately Misao wasn't looking. "You don't have to Misao."
"Yes I do, you idiot." She said with harshness that didn't reach her voice. "If I were to just let you go away without trying to help, I'd be just like Saitoh. He doesn't care about what you've been through. All he cares about is getting his job done and taking you in."
Soujiro thought about it for a moment. "Weren't you doing the same thing when you captured me to take me to Aoshi?"
Misao looked down at the ground. "At first, but now that I've gotten to know you these past couple of days I realized I couldn't turn you in."
"Why not?" Soujiro asked softly.
Their conversation was interrupted as Kaoru came out of the door behind them. It wasn't until he leaned back from Misao that he had realized he'd been leaning closer and closer towards her. Kaoru came out with Megumi and Sanosuke and the three of them stepped out into the yard as the girls came running up.
"Are you ready Misao?" Kaoru said sweetly.
"Yeah, I was just talking to Soujiro." Misao said quickly. She gave Soujiro a look that told him that the conversation wasn't over.
Sanosuke picked up the two girls and swung them up on each shoulder. "Are you two little ones ready to go home?"
The two girls giggled as Sano bounced them around. I'll walk you ladies to the market while I'm escorting the fox home with the girls." Sanosuke said amiably.
Soujiro felt relief wash over him knowing Sanosuke would be near if anything happened. He cringed when he heard Kaoru. "That's alright Sanosuke. We'll be all right; it'll be out of your way. Misao and I are just going…" Soujiro noticed Kaoru glance in his direction, "…shopping."
The young women and Sanosuke headed for the gate as Kenshin came to sit next to Soujiro. "Would you like to help me prepare dinner, Soujiro?"
Soujiro looked up at Kenshin. "Aren't you worried about Kaoru with everything that's been going on?"
Kenshin actually smiled. "Of course. You never stop worrying. That's why I'm going to sneak out to go check on them later. For now though I need to do something to take my mind off of it, and you look like you need the same distraction."
Soujiro smiled and got up to follow him to the kitchen. "You really are an evil man, you know that?"
"Old habits die hard…" Kenshin replied enigmatically.
Misao could hardly contain herself until Sanosuke and the others left down the street that would carry them back to the clinic. It was late afternoon, and she and Kaoru were in a hurry to get what they needed before dark. That was only part of the reason she wanted to come with Kaoru though. She needed advice.
The girls around the Aoiya tended to be a little, well, overt in her opinion. Even when she was most desperate for Aoshi's attention she wouldn't have done HALF the things Omasu did on a regular basis. Strategically picking up things and leaving ones clothing slightly open for any man to see down her shirt was out of the question. No wonder Okina was such a dirty old man.
No, she needed the advice of someone more like herself. A woman who was not only able to fight and be feminine, but was able to do so without throwing herself at men like her friends at the Aoiya. She still remembered Hiko's visit there when Shishio's men had attacked. It had been absolutely dreadful. Ochika and Omasu had been running around nearly half dressed trying to catch his attention, with the only person really noticing being Okina.
Finally she and Kaoru were at the shop they had been headed for and Misao had her chance. "Uh Kaoru, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure Misao, what is it?" Kaoru said as she looked through the list they had made of things to buy.
"How did you know when you were in love with Kenshin?" Misao asked bluntly.
Kaoru nearly fell backwards before getting her composure. "Why that question, Misao?"
"I'm starting to wonder if I'm really in love with Aoshi." Misao said sadly.
"I think it was the second time he saved me from Gohei." Kaoru said getting a distant look in her eyes. "I think I was probably about to be killed or worse by Gohei and his men. Remembering it still makes me shudder. Then all of a sudden, Kenshin was there. He stopped Gohei and his men, and then he stayed with me there at the dojo. That entire time he was a perfect gentleman, and never tried to take advantage of me. Knowing how powerful he is, he could have done anything he wanted to me at anytime and no one could have stopped him, but he never did. He's saved me from harm, protected me, cared for me, and even taken beatings from me when I got angry. I can't imagine what my life would be like without him anymore."
Kaoru shook herself out of her daydream and picked out a few of the things they were looking for before they went to the next stall at the market. "Why are you starting to doubt your feelings for Aoshi, is it Soujiro."
Misao tried unsuccessfully to hide her blush. "It's just that all this time, I've never gotten any indication that Aoshi actually returns my feelings. I know he cares for me, because he helped raise me and taught me to fight, but I don't know if he loves me. Now Soujiro has wandered into my life and I keep looking around to find him there. He's kind, and he's always so considerate. I know what type of past he's had, but it all seems like it was a different person."
Kaoru smiled as she took the package they had purchased from the vendor and walked over to sit down on a bench under a tree. "I know. Kenshin is the same way. Wanderers have a way of coming into a girl's life when they least expect it. I guess no one could possibly become as strong as they do without having some sort of past. It actually makes me love Kenshin all that much more knowing that I'm safe even though I live with potentially one of he most deadly men in Japan."
Misao sighed as she looked around. The market had cleared out and everyone was hurrying home as the sun was setting. Kaoru stood up and turned to Misao. "I'm sorry if that doesn't help you much Misao. You'll just have to make your own decision. We better get home before much later or Kenshin will start to worry and will probably come looking for us."
The two women started for the dojo as shadows began to deepen on the streets. They had not gone far when Kaoru stopped and Misao looked up to see a dark figure standing in the roadway. He didn't move as Misao and Kaoru slowly started to walk towards him and tried to go around. It was after the other shadows started detaching themselves from the alleyways and the street behind them that Misao started to get worried.
"Pleased to meet you young ladies." The first dark figured said as he stepped forward from the rest of them. Misao couldn't read his features, but she knew the sound of a malevolent voice when she heard it. Kaoru was getting out her wooden sword and Misao pulled out some of her kunai.
"Who are you?" Kaoru asked without any fear in her voice. Misao envied her that.
"You really should know better than to ask silly questions like that. Let's just say that I'm someone who knows that you're Kenshin Himura's woman, and that this girl is Seta Soujiro's. I have no intention of having them interfere with my plans, so I'm taking out an insurance policy." The dark figure stepped forward again and Misao had to fight an urge to run like crazy. There were at least thirty, maybe even as many as fifty men.
Misao looked toward Kaoru and Kaoru nodded. The two of them readied their weapons. They may be out numbered, but at least a few of these thugs wouldn't be in any shape to bother two young women again for some time.
The first of the men attacked and Misao tucked away her knives for use later. It wouldn't make sense to waste ammunition on street thugs. She jumped into the center of three of them and threw a few kicks around to open a circle up as Kaoru charged in behind her. Kaoru ducked and wove in and out of the attackers spinning that wooden sword of hers around liberally handing out concussions. Misao punched and kicked, jumping out of reach of the ones with swords. Kaoru kept up behind her cracking the would-be swordsmen over the head as she passed. She and Kaoru had fought side by side before, so few words were needed as they fought their way towards an alley the offered their only avenue of escape.
Misao was nearly crushed by a press of about ten men as they rushed her all at once. Still there wasn't any sign of the dark swordsman. Misao narrowly avoided the men as they were swinging their swords for her head and she darted for the alley. There's too many of them! She thought as she turned to look back for Kaoru. She couldn't see her anywhere and stopping nearly cost her life, as she ducked under a swing meant to take her head off.
Misao ran for a short distance down the alley before she realized it was a dead end. This guy thought of everything. She thought as she looked around. Men were charging down the alleyway after her and a huge stack of barrels blocked the only way out.
Misao looked around for some other route of escape, when she heard the scream.
At first her heart leapt up to her throat as she remembered Kaoru back in the street, but then she realized it was a man screaming. The men running after her stopped just a few feet in front of her and looked back to the mouth of the alley.
Misao could just make out Soujiro standing at the street. He wasn't smiling, either. "Let her go."
The men around Misao started towards her again trying to grab her as the alley came alive. Dirt billowed into the air and it seemed as if pieces of debris were flying everywhere.
Then suddenly Soujiro was there, standing in the center of the cloud of dust. His arms swinging faster than Misao could follow. His sword was a blur of activity as he danced among the men attacking her. These weren't ordinary thugs either. Most of them had swords and were fighting back.
Misao looked up as suddenly one of them grabbed her while she was watching Soujiro. He held her up by the neck and was turning back towards Soujiro when something Misao couldn't see happened. He suddenly started thrashing around as if trying to defend himself from blows he couldn't see. He staggered, and Misao felt herself being caught and set down gently on the ground. She caught only the briefest glimpse of Soujiro as he set her down and turned to face the remaining men.
Misao looked to the other end of the alley and saw Kenshin at the other side working his way towards them with his own sword beating rather than carving a path towards them and Kaoru was with him. Misao stood transfixed as she watched the two wanderers start beating the survivors to a bloody pulp. Misao almost felt excited when the dark figure appeared next to her.
He was clad in black and his face was covered, but his voice she'd remember for the rest of her life. "This isn't over yet girl. Give my regards to Shishio."
Misao stood there gaping as the man drew his sword and slashed through two of the barrels behind her before leaping onto one of the buildings. She stood there transfixed as she looked up at her death, as it was about to fall on her. Somewhere behind her she could hear Kaoru scream and Kenshin swear.
In the end it had to have been Soujiro. No one else could have moved fast enough. She felt herself grabbed just as the barrels filled her entire vision and some one was throwing her. She blinked as she crashed into somebody, while the roar of falling barrels and breaking wood filled her ears.
Slowly, Misao looked up to see Kenshin, but he wasn't looking down at her. He was looking up the alley. Misao looked back to where she had been standing and all she could see was the dust settling and Soujiro's arm sticking out from underneath the pile of broken barrels. "SOUJIRO, NO!" she screamed.
"He's lucky to be alive." Megumi said as she finished her examination. "He took a bad blow to the head, he probably has a concussion, and he's bruised a few ribs, but other than that he should survive."
Misao sat with Soujiro's head in her lap. They had called for Megumi as soon as they got Soujiro back to the dojo. Kenshin was off explaining things to Saitoh, a version that didn't include Soujiro. Megumi put her things away and stood up. I'll come back tomorrow to take a better look. Someone needs to stay with him tonight and watch over him.
Misao nodded numbly. He had been hurt saving her. If she hadn't spaced out looking up at those barrels he wouldn't be hurt like this. I'll make it up to you somehow Sou.
Megumi left and Misao was alone with Soujiro. They had taken off his clothes and he was now in bed with nothing but his loincloth on. Megumi had checked everywhere for broken bones. Soujiro never stirred the entire time. Now all Misao could do was pull her mat over to his and wait until he woke up. She gently laid his head down and covered him with a blanket, before she lay down next to him. Most of the bruises were on his back, and she looked at him while he slept.
Quietly and softly Misao reached over and kissed his cheek before she put her hand on his shoulder and cried herself to sleep.
The young man woke in the dark and was hurting all over. The worst part was he couldn't remember anything. His chest ached, and he was vaguely aware that he was undressed. He looked around, which caused new waves of pain to wash through him. He looked to his side and saw a beautiful young girl sleeping next to him in the moonlight. All things considered it would have been a nice vision to wake up to if it hadn't been for the pain.
He tried to get comfortable and tried to sleep again. Well apparently SHE knows me. I'll ask her who I am in the morning. With that he fell back to sleep with visions of the beautiful young woman next to him filling his emptied mind.
Misao sat on the porch outside the Yahiko's room and waited not-so-patiently for Megumi to get there. What's taking so long? The sun's been up, what, ten minutes? She sat there thinking about Soujiro. She had awoken to find him snoring softly next to her. She took that as a good sign.
She also awoke to find herself draped across him. Apparently she had gotten cold in the night and had somehow found her way from her blanket to his. She had been lying there with her head on his shoulder, her arm around his waist, and her leg draped over his. The scary part about was how good it had felt to wake up with someone warm next to her she genuinely cared about.
That was the part that had her up at dawn sitting on the porch. She had, for as long as she could remember, dreamed about Aoshi. Last night, all she could think about were the barrels coming down to kill her and being pulled aside by Soujiro only to have him take her place. She did care about Soujiro, at the very least as a friend, but last night she couldn't get him out of her thoughts even after she started dreaming.
She dreamt of him awakening to find her there and him telling her all the things she had always wanted to hear from Aoshi. The only difference had been that she didn't have to imagine what Soujiro's smile would look like. She still felt warm thinking about it even after she had left Soujiro's side.
Misao was still lost in thought when Sanosuke arrived. "Hey weasel, Kenshin up yet?" Sanosuke said with his usual friendly obnoxiousness.
Misao barely noticed his presence as she waved towards the kitchen. Sano was probably there to mooch breakfast anyway.
"Man, you're pretty out of it. I heard there was some sort of street fight that went on last night. You have anything to do with it?" Sano said seriously.
Misao looked at Sano for a moment before looking back out at the garden. "Yeah some guys attacked us as we were on our way back home. We would have been goners if Kenshin and Soujiro hadn't shown up. There were nearly fifty of them."
Sano grinned for a moment. "Forty eight, or so I hear."
Misao looked at Sano as if for the first time. "You know something about it?"
"Yeah Dr. Genzai got called out early this morning to the jail to tend to what has come to be called the "Battousi Syndrome"; large numbers of men beaten to a bloody pulp lying in the streets. Let's hope it isn't catching. Megumi said something about being by later once she's done helping Dr. Genzai." Sano said off-handedly. "They went down pretty hard, so what's eating you?"
"Soujiro was hurt last night trying to save me. There was one more guy, their ringleader, who tried to kill me as he left. He tried to bury me under a bunch of barrels and Soujiro pulled me out of the way. But then the barrels landed on him instead. I was with him all night making sure he'd be all right. He still hasn't awakened though." Misao said as she went back to moping.
Sano whistled around the fishbone he had stuck in his teeth. "Well, Misao I guess your boyfriend must really love you to stick his neck out for you like that."
Misao was already on her feet to give Sanosuke a few lessons in keeping his mouth shut when the shoji opened behind her and she heard a faint voice. "Uh, Misao?"
The young man woke up alone. Not exactly what he was hoping for after seeing the young woman next to him last night, but he noticed that her blanket and things were still in the room. What was she doing here? Was he married?
He slowly tried to sit up despite the pain lancing through his chest. He was nearly naked, and his clothes were nowhere in sight. He could hear voices outside and one of them sounded female. Time to get some answers.
He slowly stood up and wrapped his blanket around him. He'd find out where his clothes were and get to the bottom of this.
As he neared the door he started making out the conversation.
"Soujiro was hurt last night trying to save me. There was one more guy, their ringleader, who tried to kill me as he left. He tried to bury me under a bunch of barrels and Soujiro pulled me out of the way. But then the barrels landed on him instead. I was with him all night making sure he'd be all right. He still hasn't awakened though." It was the girl who was talking. Since he was definitely hurting, she was probably talking about him. That meant his name was Soujiro.
The male voice made some sort of whistling noise. "Well, Misao I guess your boyfriend must really love you to stick his neck out for you like that."
Soujiro's head snapped up, painfully. Boyfriend? Soujiro looked back at the two mats side by side. That would definitely explain a lot of things. He had been hurt protecting his girlfriend from street thugs more than likely. Her name was apparently Misao. Well, he had better find out what she had done with his clothes.
Soujiro opened the door to look at the two people outside. One was a scruffy looking street fighter, and the other was the beautiful young woman he had slept with last night. His girlfriend. Just looking at her stirred up emotions within him. Yeah, that would explain a lot of things.
"Uh, Misao?" Soujiro said as he leaned against the door.
"Sou-chan! You shouldn't be up and moving just yet." Misao raced to his side and tucked her head under his arm and gingerly put her arm around his waist to help support him without hurting his ribs. She failed, but he didn't really want her to move.
"Way to go there, buddy! Way to make the save last night, Misao would've been in pretty big trouble if you hadn't saved her." The big man was saying appreciatively.
"You be quiet Sano, Soujiro nearly got killed." Misao was saying next to him.
"Uh, Misao. Where are my clothes?" Soujiro tried to get in.
Misao gasped as she looked down and realized he was standing there wearing nothing but a blanket and his loincloth. "I almost forgot about them! Try not to move, I'll be right back!"
Misao darted off before Soujiro could speak another word. She went running into another part of this place, wherever it was, screaming "KAORU!"
Soujiro shook his head, slowly mind you, and looked up at the big man across from him. "Can you tell me exactly who you are and where I am?" Soujiro said politely.
The big man looked at him for a moment, as his eyes got nearly as big as the knot Soujiro could feel on the back of his head. "You mean you don't remember anything?"
"Nothing. I wouldn't have known my name or Misao's if you hadn't mentioned them when I opened the door." Soujiro said honestly. The young man took a step back nearly falling off the porch. He then recovered and started running for a different section of the house.
"KENSHIN! WE'VE GOT A PROBLEM! WE'VE GOT A BIG PROBLEM!"
Misao came walking back up to Soujiro as the large man with "bad" on his back went running into a different part of the house. "I wonder what got him so worked up. Anyway, here are you some new clothes that Kaoru and I bought you yesterday. It's what we were doing when we were attacked."
Misao pushed him back into what was apparently their room and shut the door. Soujiro moved out of her way as she knelt down away from him to open a large package with some clothes in it. He dropped the blanket, no sense in being shy apparently he was living with this woman, and started to move closer when she spoke.
"I just wanted to tell you how glad I am you're all right Sou-chan. If anything had happened to you I don't know what I would have done." Misao began to softly cry a little.
Soujiro felt his heart melting. No wonder they were together, he obviously felt deeply about her. He felt deeply enough to risk his life for her apparently. Soujiro smiled and knelt down behind Misao. He gently placed his hands on her shoulder and then felt something more was in order. She was upset, and she loved him, he should be more affectionate.
Misao cried a little thinking of how close Soujiro had come to dying for her. If he hadn't been there she didn't have any idea what would be happening to her right now and she didn't really want to think about it.
She felt Soujiro touch her shoulders. It was just like him, concerned about her when he was the one that was hurt. Misao was totally unprepared for what happened next.
Misao was stunned as she felt herself lifted up and pulled back into Soujiro's lap. His arms circled around her waist and his warm hands rubbed her stomach as he brushed aside her braid and kissed her softly on the back of her neck.
Misao's heart was going faster than Soujiro had been the night before as he kissed her softly and held her close. She knew she needed to move, but somehow her limbs weren't responding. All she could do was sit there stunned as he held her close.
"I'm just glad you're safe. That's all that's important to me. As long as I live, I'll never let anyone hurt you, Misao. I love you." Soujiro whispered to her.
Misao sat there stunned for a moment taking in the situation. How long had she waited to hear those words from Aoshi, only to be disappointed time and again? Now she was with Soujiro, being held, no, being loved and told all the things she'd ever hoped for.
Misao began to cry again, but not from fear or pain. She moved her hand behind her to caress Soujiro's cheek. It was just like her dream. She was waking up to him and feeling his warmth near her. Misao finally snapped out of her trance remembering where the rest of that dream had lead to and blushed. She wasn't that kind of girl.
Misao gently got up turned to face Soujiro. "Here, you better put these on." Soujiro started to say something, but Misao covered Soujiro's mouth and then kissed him softly on the cheek. "We can talk more about it later." She said winking to him. "I've got to go get the report from our field agent here in Tokyo. The news from Okina should have arrived this morning by carrier pigeon." Misao got up and left him to dress as she practically floated out the door. It was going to be a great day.
Kenshin and Sanosuke stopped in front of the door of the room Misao shared with Soujiro as he stepped out in the new clothes that the girls had bought for him the night before. It was a stately deep green outfit that looked like it had been bought at one of the best stalls in the market.
Soujiro was humming to himself and his smile was unusually broad as he stepped out to face the two men.
"Oh my god!" Sanosuke said. "You jumped her didn't you!"
"Now Sano, we don't know that for sure, that we do not." Kenshin said testily. "Soujiro, Sano tells me you can't remember anything."
Soujiro looked from one to the other perplexed. "No, I can't remember anything sir, and what I do with Misao is my own business."
Kenshin looked at Soujiro with a horrified expression. "What do you mean, 'it's your own business'."
"Well when I came out this morning this guy said that I was her boyfriend, and apparently we spent the night together last night. Not to mention she bought me these clothes and I was apparently injured while defending her life. I'd say that means we must have a pretty intimate relationship." Soujiro said defensively, but his reaction seemed to waiver. "We DO have a pretty GOOD relationship don't we?"
Sano slapped his forehead and looked ready to pass out. "I was joking with her. She supposedly 'captured' you a couple of days ago and was going to turn you in to her REAL boyfriend Aoshi." Sano said desperately.
Kenshin watched the look of horror and shock wash over Soujiro's face. "I don't understand. She seemed to be pretty happy when I kissed her just a few minutes ago."
"WHAT? You kissed the weasel girl?" Sanosuke said in disbelief. "Oh man, Kenshin. Aoshi's gonna kill us."
Soujiro looked like he was getting angry. This startled Kenshin since he'd only seen the boy get angry once in his life. Soujiro was suddenly acting normal for a boy his age. That was when it struck Kenshin that the pain of his childhood had been erased. He was seeing what Soujiro would be like if the past had never happened to him. Kenshin reached up and touched his scar involuntarily. If only all scars could be wiped away as easily.
""I wouldn't count on that Sano." Kenshin said seriously. "Misao and Soujiro have been becoming quite close here of late, that they have. It is possible that Misao may be returning Soujiro's affections."
Sanosuke looked at Kenshin as if he had sprouted horns. "As long as Aoshi doesn't show up at the dojo demanding Soujiro's head on a silver platter, I'm OK with it. Whoever Misao decides to shack up with his her business."
"Hey that's my girlfriend you're talking about." Soujiro said angrily. "Could someone please tell me exactly what's going on here? Is Misao mine, or this Aoshi guy's girlfriend?"
"I guess that will be a question for Ms. Misao, that it is." Kenshin said seriously. "Anyway, we'd better get you caught up on what's going on."
Kenshin and Sanosuke escorted Soujiro into the dojo for breakfast. It was going to be a long day.
Soujiro sat there wild eyed as he listened to the story. Operas weren't this melodramatic. "So let me get this straight. I'm trying to get my hands on a lost treasure that was originally supposed to belong to you that I buried somewhere behind this temple on top of the hill. I buried it there because I didn't have time to use it to frame you for the assassination that I committed the last time I was in Tokyo. I need this money in order to rescue a friend of mine from prison who was one of my co-conspirators to overthrow the government by bribing a government official to let him go. I am currently on the run from the law, namely this guy named Saitoh, who you teamed up with along with Sanosuke here to stop our plans. You and I have fought before and I was defeated. Misao is actually working for another person who helped foil our attempt, she was raised by him, was apparently in love with him, and he sent her to track me down. She took me prisoner, but has been helping to protect me, along with the rest of you, from this Saitoh. Misao also apparently has started to have feelings for me and I for her. Is that pretty much it?"
"Basically, yes." This guy Kenshin said uneasily.
"And I'm a GUEST here?" Soujiro said in disbelief. "I can't believe I'm listening to this! That is the most ludicrous story I think I have ever heard in my life! What kind of warped and twisted mind could possibly come up with such an outlandish chain of events?"
"Truth is stranger than fiction, they say." Kenshin said enigmatically.
"Strange, yes. I'll even buy a little weird. But man, that's just down right freaky." Soujiro said finally. "I've got to question this Saitoh guy."
"You can't, you'll be captured." Sanosuke said.
"Then let's kidnap him, heck, I seem to be some sort of terrorist!" Soujiro said explosively.
"Now, now Soujiro it's not like that. Trust me, things will all become clear as your memory returns. Once you've had a chance to rest and get some of your thoughts collected you'll start to see how things have conspired to work out like I've said. There's a lot about this situation and we simply can't tell you all of it. There's too much. It will all make sense in time. In the mean time, we need to decide what to do about Misao. She thinks you've professed your undying love to her." Kenshin said desperately.
"After the story you just told me, THIS is a problem?" Soujiro said exasperated. "I don't know what I remember, I just know what I feel. Misao is beautiful and she's sweet." Not to mention her neck smells like jasmine…whoa, stay focused. "If I was already having feelings for her and she's apparently OK with it I don't see a problem."
Sanosuke snorted. "Man, you sure don't know women do you. If weasel girl finds out you've lost your memory and that you were coming on to her because you didn't know any better she'll go ballistic."
Soujiro smiled. "I'll just explain it to her. She seems like a wonderful, rational, young woman."
Kenshin and Sanosuke looked at Soujiro for a moment before breaking out into fits of laughter. "Man he really DOESN"T remember anything does he?" Sano said fighting back the tears. "Trust us on this one buddy, you need to keep this one to yourself."
"Keep what to himself?" Misao said as she entered the dojo. Soujiro watched as she came and sat down next to him. Misao leaned close and looked him over and at the new clothes he was wearing.
"My, but you look handsome in that Soujiro." Misao said blushing furiously. "So, what were you guys talking about?"
The silence in the room became oppressive. Kenshin and Sano looked ready to bolt any minute. Soujiro sighed. He couldn't lead this girl on. He had to tell her the truth no matter what the outcome. "Misao. I've lost my memory." Soujiro said quietly.
"What?" Misao said with confusion apparent in her voice. "But this morning you said…"
"Misao, when I woke up I heard you and Sanosuke talking. I thought he was being serious. I can't remember anything. I thought that you and I had an intimate relationship. I'm sorry…"
The look on Misao's face burned into Soujiro. He didn't know why, but it killed him to see that look of pain on her face.
"So you're telling me that everything you said was…" Misao said as tears started to roll down her cheeks.
"Misao I do feel as if I care about you, but…" Soujiro tried to stem the tide, but it was too late.
"SOUJIRO, YOU JERK!" Misao cried as she smacked Soujiro across the face and ran from the dojo.
"You should go after her, that you should." Kenshin said as he helped Soujiro to his feet.
"Are you kidding? She's running as hard as she can and I can't remember anything about this place. She'll lose me in no time!" Soujiro said desperately.
"Oh no, you mean you've forgotten your running technique?" Sano said desperately. "You do remember how to use a sword don't you?"
Soujiro looked at the sword that was apparently his and shook his head. He couldn't remember any of it. Everything was happening so fast, he couldn't react.
"Great, there's a maniac on the loose carving people up and Misao may be the next target and you don't remember how to handle him. Great!" Sano said exasperated.
"Sano, I'll try to catch Ms. Misao. You make sure Yahiko and Kaoru don't go anywhere today." Kenshin said as he darted out the door to try to catch up to Misao.
Misao cried as she ran out of the dojo. Everything she had ever dreamed of had been a lie. Well, not exactly a lie, but enough so that it hurt terribly. Soujiro didn't mean all the things he had said earlier. I must be the biggest idiot that ever lived. First I fall for a guy who doesn't know I exist and then I fall in love with a man who doesn't remember me.
Misao heard Kenshin calling after her but she didn't care. She just wanted to be left alone for a little while to nurse the hurt in her heart. She ran and dodged through buildings. Kenshin could probably catch her on open ground, but she was an Oniwaban ninja and catching her through alleys and rooftops was out of the question. She ran until she didn't hear anyone behind her anymore and then she went to find a tree to sit under and weep.
Misao sat there for along time listening to the wind blow through the trees until she heard someone approaching. She really didn't care anymore; whoever it was could just go away.
"Fancy meeting you here."
Misao looked up at some man she didn't recognize. He was tall and lean, and his sword was currently pointing to her throat. "I guess today is my lucky day. I'm surprised you survived the alleyway, but I guess it'll just be that much sweeter when I kill Soujiro's woman in front of him."
Misao couldn't help it as she looked down and started to cry again. Buster, if you only knew…
It was a couple of hours later when Kenshin finally arrived back at the dojo. Soujiro stood up as he walked in. He could tell as he walked in the gate that he hadn't been able to catch Misao. Kenshin looked down and shook his head and then went inside.
Soujiro sat down on the porch and felt numb all over. He wasn't in too good of a mood at the moment so he really didn't want to talk to anyone. The dojo gate swung open again and another man that Soujiro didn't recognize stepped in. Not that it came as much of a shock; Soujiro didn't recognize anybody right now.
Soujiro sat on the porch and watched as the man strolled up puffing on his cigarette. "Am I to take this as you're giving yourself up?" Soujiro looked up to notice the man was wearing a police uniform. Great, JUST great.
"You must be Saitoh." Soujiro said mirthlessly.
Saitoh stepped back and looked down at Soujiro. "Yes I am. You should know that Soujiro no Tenken. We've met before."
"So Kenshin tells me." Soujiro said dryly. "You'll have to excuse me. I just found out this morning I'm on the run from the police. I took a shot to the head last night and managed to loose the girl I didn't know I loved."
Saitoh looked down at Soujiro. Doesn't this guy's expression ever change?
Soujiro looked up at Saitoh. "So were they serious about everything?" He said seriously. "I mean it's a pretty far fetched story Kenshin and Sanosuke told me this morning. Am I really that bad of a person?"
Saitoh looked around the empty dojo yard and sighed. "If you tell the Battousi this I'll make certain you hang." Saitoh said seriously.
"Please, they think I'm delusional right now." Soujiro said, his mood not getting any better.
"If Himura tells you something, you can pretty much bet it's the truth or else he has a really good reason for lying to you. During the revolution he was one of my most bitter enemies, but we were always honest about it. If he tells you something believe it. So am I right in assuming that this bump on the head you received, it wiped out your memory?" Saitoh asked expectantly.
"Pretty effectively. I didn't even know who I was when I woke up this morning." Soujiro said.
"Then I'll tell you this. You had better get your memory back and soon. I've been turning a blind eye to your being here in Tokyo so I can find Shishio's treasure. Apparently the guy that attacked you last night is after it too. I went by Misao's agent here in Tokyo this morning and he gave me this guy's name. It's Arei Masagawa. Apparently he's been looking for this treasure and knows you and Misao are traveling together. I was hoping the name would mean something to you." Saitoh said flatly.
"I wouldn't remember if I'd ever heard it before or not. If I remember anything I'll let you know." Soujiro said seriously.
"You do that. Misao's been working hard to get your name cleared and she thinks that having you to bring in this treasure and stop this murderer will do it. Personally, I don't care what happens to you. As long as you're loose I still have a chance of finding the treasure and catching this guy. If I lock you up, he'll probably get to it first and I'll miss out on both of them." Saitoh leaned close enough for Soujiro to smell the smoke on his breath. "Do NOT disappoint me."
Soujiro watched as Saitoh turned and stepped out of the gate as quietly as he came in. He looked back towards the kitchen where Kenshin and Kaoru were preparing dinner while Sano and Yahiko were fighting.
Dinner was a very quiet event for once in the Kamiya dojo. No one really wanted to say anything. Soujiro ate in silence. He wanted to talk to Misao. He wanted to tell her that he really did mean all the things that he had said. When he said those things to her they felt right, and seeing her hurt only made him realize that he was in love with her.
Soujiro jumped as a rock came flying in through the window of the dojo. Kenshin walked over to it and pulled off a note that was attached to it. Kenshin read it silently for a few moments and then handed it to Soujiro.
My dearest Soujiro,
I must say I am intrigued that you have seen fit to side with our enemies, but no matter. I have something precious to you. Get the treasure and bring it to the place where our master and I used to train, you know the way. Come alone, or the girl dies. Be here by midnight, or else I might have to see what it is you like about this girl myself, and then she will die.
Soujiro's heart sank as he read the note. He had no idea what this guy was talking about. He couldn't remember what connection there was between them, where to meet him, or even how to get the treasure he wanted in exchange for Misao. Soujiro crumpled the note and dropped to his knees.
"We'll get started searching immediately." Kenshin said finally.
"No. This guy has men with him. If he sees all of you out looking he might hurt Misao. This is something I have to do alone. I've got to remember who this guy is if I'm going to save Misao. There are still a lot of things I've got to tell her."
"Well shouldn't we at least go dig up the treasure?" Sano asked.
"How?" Kenshin asked in return. "Soujiro is the only one who knows exactly where it's buried. It would take us days to dig up the whole area behind the old temple."
Kenshin and the others looked at him with pity. Soujiro turned and walked toward the dojo gate and the uncertain night. He only had a few hours to remember.
Soujiro walked for a while after he left the dojo, hoping that something would spark his memory. Nothing worked. He was terrified of what might happen to Misao. He was more worried than he had ever been.
You never stop worrying. Soujiro looked around thinking that maybe Kenshin had followed him. No one was there. Was he remembering something Kenshin had said to him?
Confused, Soujiro walked until he reached a warehouse. All of the crates and barrels had been moved inside for the night, so he went to take a look inside through the window. You never know, I might get lucky.
Soujiro looked inside at the large crates and the rice barrels.
Rice Barrels. Great, it just HAD to be rice barrels. Soujiro sat down and looked around. Wait a minute, what's wrong with rice barrels. Soujiro sat down and thought about it, he was totally unprepared for the explosion that rocked through his mind.
The rain. He remembered the rain. He was standing there smiling as he watched the rain wash the blood off his hands. He had just killed his family. They lay around him cut to ribbons by his own hands. Pain. Indescribable pain. Emotions tore at him and he couldn't control them. Finally he had to forget them or he'd have gone insane.
Soujiro curled into a ball on the ground as the memories came flooding through his mind. My God, how could I have done that? How could Misao ever love a man like that?
The memories came flooding in faster now as Soujiro struggled to stand and to walk. He staggered about remembering the killing. He remembered every face. They were all there, hidden inside his mind. He could see their eyes as he killed them. They all looked, confused. Was it his smile, or his youth that had surprised them? Soujiro didn't think he would ever know the answer to that one.
Soujiro staggered on in a fog. He remembered Misao. He remembered seeing her the day he fought Himura for the first time. She was beautiful even then. He'd stolen glances at her while everyone was focused on Himura. He had never been around girls his own age while working for Shishio so she had been something new to him. Warmth spread through him as he remembered her.
Soujiro remembered the tree. He'd never been that close to a girl before. She was soft against him, and he had hoped that the old man was going to take forever in passing. He could feel her breath as he held her close to his chest. He could still smell the jasmine from when he had held her and told her that he loved her. Yes, he loved her. As the pain of his past ripped suddenly at his psyche, the only thing that he could do was loose himself in memories of the short time they had been together. Her braid, her deep green eyes, her laugh, her smile, it was all that helped him cling to his sanity.
Soujiro didn't realize he had passed out until he awoke looking up at the stars. Oh no, it's nearly midnight! Soujiro looked around. No time to waste, Arei was holding Misao and Soujiro had to save her. There was so much he still needed to tell her and he wasn't going to rest until he did. He didn't have much time to get to where she was being held; fortunately he remembered how to run…
Misao looked down at the water, or rather up. She was dangling feet first over the side of a ship from the mast. The latest whacko-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder was standing on the mast with his sword ready to cut the rope that would send her plunging into the cold waters below. Normally she could have gotten out of the ropes, but being dangled with weights tied around your angles tended to be a rather difficult trick. She was gagged, wrapped like a mummy, and she was hurting. Soujiro couldn't remember this guy. She was certain that from what he had said about Shishio that he must be connected to Soujiro somehow, but he doesn't remember anything.
Misao looked at the upside down panorama underneath her. A virtual horde of goons was lined up along the docks to prevent Soujiro from getting on board the ship, as if they were necessary.
"Well, I guess our guest of honor has decided not to show his treacherous face little one." Arei said from the mast. "I guess you'll be joining Master Shishio after all."
"Not so fast, Arei." Soujiro said stepping out onto the dock from the shadows. "Let Misao go."
"Ah, young Master Soujiro, I'm so glad you could join us. I trust you brought Master Shishio's treasure?" Arei said lightly.
"No Arei, it's over. The Grand Fire Project failed. That money was stolen from Himura and now we're going to use it to free Anji." Soujiro said seriously.
"Feh. I never had a use for that arrogant monk anyway, and it's not over. Not while at least one of us is still alive to carry on the designs of our master. I may not have been good enough to be one of the Juppon Gatana, but I know a few things that make up for it." Arei said smiling menacingly. "Your speed is useless up here Soujiro, and your running speed will do you no good in the water. This girl will drown before you reach her. My men will see to that, they're all trained warriors like me. You'll never be able to defeat all of them, reach me, and still save her in time."
One of the brutes on the docks snickered and pulled his sword. "C'mon guys, let's show this goody-two-shoes rurouni what happens when he messes with us!"
"I'm sorry," Soujiro said smiling as he menacingly drew out his blade with agonizing slowness, every inch of it's steel scraping against the scabbard, "you must have me confused with a different rurouni."
Misao watched as the first few men suddenly stopped in their tracks. Apparently these guys had been spoiled rotten by the idea of, Hey-Let's-Go-Fight-The-Rurouni-And-If-We-Lose-He'll-Spare-Us and were suddenly becoming acquainted with the idea of Oh-My-God-I'm-About-To-Die and I-Can't-Believe-I'm-Doing-This.
That one moment of hesitation was all Soujiro needed. As Misao watched he darted through the men flashing his sword around more as a menace for them to get out of the way rather than actually trying to kill. Arei realized this as well and went to cut Misao's rope. She felt the rope give way as she fell. She closed her eyes and waited for the water but it never came. Suddenly she was in the arms of Soujiro rocketing upwards to the mast. Soujiro landed gracefully on the mast in front of Arei, as he was getting ready to run.
"Good plan. Next time get some better minions though." Soujiro said with his usual aplomb that he used while fighting.
Misao could just barely make out the last of Arei's men as they ran for the docks as fast as their legs could carry them.
"I'll have to hire some better one's then." Arei said distractedly.
"I finally figured it out Arei." Soujiro said. "Those men you slaughtered. They were the local Yakuza weren't they? They found out you were trying to dig up the old temple where I buried the treasure and caught you in the act. You killed them and that brought the police into the picture. You never were too bright."
"I may not have been Lord Shishio's greatest ally, but I was there during the war while you were still in diapers you little twit, so show some respect." Arei hissed.
"Well I guess it comes down to this then. I don't suppose you'll surrender?" Soujiro said hopefully.
"Hardly." Arei spat.
Misao watched the upside down battle taking place just beyond her posterior. It was pretty clear that Arei wasn't as good a swordsman as Soujiro, but he didn't have to be. Soujiro couldn't use his incredible speed, Soujiro's ribs were obviously still hurting, and Arei wasn't fighting with a sixteen-year-old ninja girl thrown over one shoulder.
Things weren't looking good for either of them as Soujiro fought bravely to keep her from getting hit by one of Arei's slices. Soujiro nearly lost his head as Arei slashed for Misao and Soujiro moved to block it only to have the stroke turned towards him.
Misao decided it was time to act. Misao Makimachi was NOT an ordinary damsel in distress and she was NOT going to be carted around through this whole thing looking like an idiot in front of the man she loved.
Arei moved in for the kill, as Soujiro was unbalanced from nearly getting his head taken off when Misao attacked. She was tied, but they had both overlooked one minor detail, her legs with the weights attached were facing Arei. She doubled herself up as tightly as she could and lashed out as Soujiro parried the blade from Arei. Unable to stop both shots at once, Arei caught Misao's kick squarely in the chest. This wouldn't have done much damage had he not been balancing on the beam of the mast at the time.
Misao watched with satisfaction as Arei yelled all the way down to the deck below and made a quite satisfying THUD. He didn't move for quite a while and she could tell he wouldn't be going anywhere but to a clinic after that.
Misao felt the ropes around her being cut as Soujiro released her and sat her down on her feet. He steadied her for a moment until she could get her own balance. Misao pulled her gag off and looked at Soujiro.
"Please Misao. Let me say this before you say another word. I finally remembered. I remember everything. I remembered my past and all the pain that came with it. It nearly drove me insane, but there was only one thing that kept me from going mad and it was remembering you. This morning I said a lot of things to you and I know now why I said them. For the first time, I was actually able to tell you what was on my heart without my head getting in the way. I'm sorry I hurt you. I do love you. I love you more than anything else in this life, and I can only hope that you love me too." Soujiro said in a rush looking down in to Misao's eyes.
Misao looked up into Soujiro's eyes. The light of the full moon reflected in them. "How do I know this is the real you and that you really have remembered everything?" Misao said quietly.
"Yesterday you promised to tell me why you were risking so much to help me. We never got a chance to finish that conversation." Soujiro said smiling down at her.
Misao nearly crumpled into his arms she couldn't hold it in anymore. "It's because I love you." Misao tilted her head back as they both shared their first kiss.
The past few days had been bliss. The only part about it that Soujiro didn't like was after coming home with Misao he had been moved into the room with Yahiko and Misao was sleeping in the room with Kaoru. Both of the teens had protested loudly over that point, but Kenshin and Kaoru had been adamant. Soujiro felt like a delinquent teenage son being sent to sleep with his younger brother rather than a top-notch swordsman who had just saved the woman of his dreams. Oh yeah, and he was pretty sure he could kick Kenshin's butt to prove it to… well, maybe.
The day was getting on and Misao and Soujiro were sitting on the porch of the dojo together holding hands. Saitoh had come by earlier to announce that the treasure had been right where Soujiro had put it. Soujiro had started to protest Saitoh taking the treasure; until he found out that HE was the guy that Cho had intended to bribe to get Anji released, police retirement benefits being what they were and all.
Everything was coming up roses as the two young lovers watched Kenshin playing with the children and Yahiko training with Kaoru. Everybody was busy with something else which left the two of them to be busy with each other.
Anji would soon be released from prison with a pardon for his crimes, and Saitoh even said something about Soujiro being listed as deceased. Either that, or he said something about him being deceased if he every caught him around here again. Soujiro couldn't remember which; he had more important things to contemplate.
Soujiro looked up as the gate to the dojo opened one more time. Soujiro watched as Cho, Kamatari, and Aoshi of all people strolled inside. The three of them walked up to Misao and Soujiro. "It looks like you were able to get everything cleaned up here rather well, Misao." Aoshi said in his usual emotionless tone.
Kamatari giggled. "Yeah, Anji should be free soon. We're planning a party to celebrate!"
Cho just shook his head. "I just hope the boss decides to retire soon. Then I'll be up for that promotion."
Soujiro smiled to himself. There really was life after rebellions-gone-bad. He looked up and noticed that Aoshi seemed to be staring at something. Then he realized that he and Misao were still holding hands.
This apparently wasn't lost on Misao either as she looked up to see how Aoshi would react. Soujiro had to admit that it worried him a little too. Fighting Aoshi would be a tricky business if he took it badly.
What happened next would result in the Kamiya dojo and Misao in particular marking the day for future reference in the years to come. Aoshi smiled. "I'm glad to see you've finally found someone for your own, little sister." Aoshi said warmly.
Misao was speechless. All she could do was blush and hold onto Soujiro's arm. He felt like he was ready to take on the world. He later guessed that's why he had to go and do something stupid that would spark Misao's next great adventure and his own. He just had to ask, "Aoshi, are you gay?"The End?