The day was dark
The next few days Kaoru did little other then sleep and eat. A couple times she attempted to venture downstairs to eat meals with the rest of the squad. The venturing downstairs took four times longer than it had when she was healthy, leaning against the wall for balance and support and maneuvering her way down the single set of stairs without tumbling head over heels… tottering into the kitchen and sitting down with some semblance of dignity…
The little effort it took left her shaking and light headed. Through sheer stubbornness she would have persisted in doing so but all her strength was used up keeping what was left of her shields intact and foreign thoughts out.
Megumi watched her like a hawk the entire time and after one particularly disastrous attempt at coming downstairs unaided declared that she would be staying in her room until she was better. No ifs, ands, or buts.
So she stayed in her room and choked down what food Kenshin or Megumi brought her. Soups and small sandwiches, stuff that was easy to eat and light on the stomach. Kaoru considered herself lucky that they hadn't started putting food in a blender and feeding her mush like the invalid she felt like. They did however cut her food into tiny little pieces that made her feel like she was a child just learning to feed herself. Her room was kept dark and it was quiet. At first Kaoru found it comforting, soothing almost.
It soon started to feel stifling and oppressive.
The days passed and she stayed in her room. With each passing day Kaoru found herself growing more and more restless. She wanted out of the room. But at the same time she didn't want an audience to watch her fall on her face or tumble down staircases. Or worse have Megumi catch her…
So she waited until there was no one around. Waiting for no one to be around was not an easy thing. There was always someone in the compound; Kaoru could hear the echo of their thoughts against her shields at every hour of the day.
And then finally about three days later, Kaoru found herself alone in the compound at last. Megumi was off to one of the clinics in the city to help with surgery on another officer from a different team who had been injured in a gunfight, Sano vanished under the pretense of seeing some old friends.
Everyone knew what happened when Sano went to see old friends – he'd end up in some smoky gambling den and loose a month's pay. Takasugi went with him presumably to keep him out of trouble. Uno went wherever Takasugi went. Kenshin had left before all of them to buy groceries. Had he still been there when everyone else was leaving Kaoru doubted he would have left. But now she was alone in the compound... all by herself.
When it came to Kenshin, Kaoru didn't know what to think. Her head and arm still ached at intervals, cutting through her thoughts and it kept her from thinking too long on any subject. So when it came to Kenshin, Kaoru decided not to think about him. He was something she would puzzle over another day.
When she felt better.
When she wasn't hopped up on so many drugs.
She got out of bed. That was no big deal; her vision swam a bit and her knees shook as she got to her feet but otherwise it was bearable. It only took a moment before her vision cleared. See, no big deal. Opening the door and walking down the hallway was fairly easy as well. The stairs were another matter however and Kaoru spent a good length of time maneuvering herself carefully down them, a white-knuckled grip on the banister as she did so.
It occurred to Kaoru then that she had never really explored the compound before. She had never really had any need to do so in the past. The compound to her had consisted entirely of her room, the dojo on the floor above her, and the kitchen.
Also, Megumi's office where she had been patched up…
Kaoru shut that thought out of her mind.
She passed the kitchen and followed the hall that led out of it. She had been through that hall of course, in and out and through it going on various missions but she hadn't really paid attention to anything else, the doors and the hallway that branched off of it.
Kaoru followed that hallway pausing for a few moments to catch her breath.
It led to another hallway this one slightly smaller. Narrower and the ceiling was lower. After a few feet Kaoru came to the end of the passage with two French doors in front of her. They opened soundlessly and she peered inside.
It appeared she had found the media room of the compound. A large TV dominated the room flanked with shelves that were packed with vid-disks. Judging by the pictures they all looked like action movies and she strongly suspected that the majority of them were Sano's under the pretense of them belonging to Takasugi. She didn't want to know how much they had cost. Vid-disks went for big money on the black market and they were a luxury most people in the City couldn't afford. It appeared Sano was blowing his money on things other than his various gambling activities…
No wonder he was stashing them here, his team would kill him if they knew just how much money he was spending.
In front of the TV was a sagging green couch, the color faded in some places. It looked worn and comfortable and unexpectedly a lump formed in Kaoru's throat. She gave a quick shake of the head to dispel the memories that suddenly rose to the surface.
She was getting sentimental.
With a sigh Kaoru flopped onto the couch, it was very old and worn, the fabric molding to the shape of her body. The remote control lay on the arm nearest to her head and she reached over with her good arm to grab it.
The TV flickered on to what seemed to be the middle of a newscast. The cover story was about a gunfight involving police and Psychics. Kaoru presumed it was the same one that Megumi had been called in to help with doctoring. As usual they painted a black picture of Psychics.
Kaoru repressed a sigh and fought the urge to change the channel. She felt out of touch enough with the world, it would be good to find out what was going on outside of the walls of the compound. She presumed it would be the same things as always: pain, people suffering, Psychics dying at the hands of the police. The city was a dark one and darker still for Psychics.
"And now for a change of topic."
The scene flickered to one that almost seemed too familiar. Kaoru's breath caught in her throat. A reporter in a neat white suit stood in front of a building that made Kaoru's gut tighten.
"As you know there are many orphans in the city," The reporter was saying. It looked wrong for her to be smiling brightly, to be so cheery. But that was television, Kaoru assumed. The entire city could be burning and yet there would be smiling, cheerful faced reporters telling blithely of the events going on.
"Yet for these orphans, many without relatives or family friends to rely on, who often find themselves on the street prey for Psychics and drug dealers and other unsavory people, there is hope."
As the camera panned away from the reporter and to the orphanage behind her Kaoru let out a breath. No it wasn't the same. It wasn't the same orphanage. But the familiarity set her teeth on edge. She wondered if all the orphanages in the city looked the same. It wouldn't have surprised her.
The segment went on for a few more minutes and then changed to something else. Kaoru was no longer paying attention by that point. Her eyelids felt heavy and a wave of tiredness crashed over her. She was drained, her shields were flickering and she let them drop to the barest minimum.
There was no one around anyway…
The couch was comfortable and Kaoru's eyes slipped close. She'd only sleep for a little bit, just long enough to get some energy back and stumble back upstairs and collapse onto her bed in her room…
Kaoru barely finished the thought before she was asleep.
Kenshin let the door close behind him. The compound was silent and he frowned. Too quiet, almost as if no one was even there… Had everyone left? He set the grocery bags down and headed up the stairs to Kaoru's room without even realizing it.
She wasn't in her room.
For a brief second the thought that something had happened to her, another seizure or worse crossed his mind. He shook his head. No, Megumi would have called had such a thing happened.
Everyone else had apparently left the compound and Kaoru had decided to leave her room. When she had been told explicitly not to.
Now just to find out where she was. It wasn't the kitchen; Kenshin had passed that on his up the stairs. She had apparently not even been in the kitchen anyway if the lack of fire damage was any indication. So she was somewhere else in the compound.
Kenshin's eyes drifted upward. The dojo? He dismissed the thought; Kaoru wasn't foolish enough to attempt anything too physical with the state she was in. Kenshin decided to backtrack. He headed out of Kaoru's room and back downstairs.
Had she gone into some other area of the compound?
Kenshin headed down the branching hallway and kept straight ignoring the doors on either side. It seemed logical to assume that Kaoru would continue going in a straight line if she was indeed moving about the compound. He just hoped Kaoru was being logical – wandering around the compound with no one else around (getting out of bed no less when she had been told to stay in it) counted as an extremely illogical thing to do in his book.
Finally he came to the end of the hallway. The French doors were slightly ajar. Pushing them open he stepped inside the room.
Kaoru was curled up on the couch in front of the TV fast asleep. The TV was on showing a news segment. Kenshin paid it no attention.
"Idiot," he muttered fighting the urge to shake her awake and ask what she had been thinking to go wandering around the compound by herself.
"Kaoru," he reached out and prodded her good shoulder, intent on asking her what she was doing, why she had left her room.
Or at least that had been the intent.
As his hand touched her shoulder the world around him dissolved.
The street was dark. Kenshin glanced upward. The sky above the dome of the city was covered in thick grey colored clouds. The clouds alone weren't responsible for the darkness. This part of the city had a grimy dirty feel to it. The lights on some of the lampposts were smashed and what light there was threw odd shadows across the street.
He turned and came face to face with an old brick building. The sign was lopsided and so old and weathered he could barely make out the name of the place. St. Dymphna's Orphanage For Girls.
So this was where Kaoru had grown up… His jaw tightened as he took in the orphanage again. The feeling this place gave off… it was no place for a child to grow up… It didn't feel right...
Where was Kaoru? He wondered. This was her dream.
A dream of her past…
No sooner had he thought the question than he had his answer. The door of the orphanage was thrown open and two black robed nuns appeared. There was the sound of muffled cursing and they seemed to be struggling with something… with someone…
They held a young girl between themselves. She was pulling against them and fighting for all she was worth to get away as they descended the steps. She yelped as they suddenly jerked her off her feet, her legs scraping against the concrete steps as they dragged her bodily down the stairs.
Their faces were set into hard lines and in a smooth almost practiced motion they threw her away from them. She landed in a heap at Kenshin's feet, but didn't appear to notice him at all.
"Why?" She asked softly, her voice was tear-choked but there were no tears in her eyes or on her face. "Why?" She asked again her voice somewhat steadier.
Kenshin went still as he saw her face. Recognized who she was.
This was Kaoru…
A very young Kaoru…
Her hair was tangled and pulled into a messy braid. The clothes she wore hung off her thin frame several sizes to large. Hand-me-downs or donations to the orphanage he assumed. Use and years of washing had turned them an odd grey color though he thought that at one point the shirt might have been green or blue. The pants were shapeless and drawstring, tied tightly around her middle. The shoes on her feet looked worn and barely serviceable.
Her eyes looked too big for her thin face. An orphanage was supposed to feed its inhabitants. Three meals a day. The prospect of food was often one of the reasons children were given to the orphanage in the first place by their parents., left on the doorstep with the hope that they would at least have food. Food and a roof over their heads. Kenshin wondered if Kaoru had ever been fed decently in her entire life.
"Why?" She asked again. "Please tell me why?"
"Why?" The taller of the two nun's voice was hard. It matched her face, there were lines around her eyes and at the corner of her mouth that hinted at age rather than laughter though her face was still relatively young looking and she could have been any age between thirty five and fifty.
"Why?" The smaller of the two echoed. She was stocky and the dark habit she wore did nothing to hide and if anything accentuated the fact. "You know why."
Kaoru's already huge eyes widened and she flinched as if slapped. "Your thoughts…" Her voice was whisper-soft. "I… I hear them." She raised a hand to her temple and flinched again. Her hand fell away and her head bowed, eyes sliding shut. "I… can't… not hear them…"
The taller nun's lip curled. "And so you know why you must leave."
"We cannot have an atrocity like you here." The shorter nun said. "Psychic." She splat the word.
"I haven't done anything!" Kaoru cried, her head rising to look at them. Kenshin saw her start. They weren't looking at her. They were looking above her. They refused to make eye contact. They refused to acknowledge her. She already did not exist to them.
"I haven't done anything," Kaoru repeated, softer this time. "I have done nothing to you. Absolutely nothing…" her voice died away with the last word.
They didn't respond. Together they turned, the hems of their skirts swishing with the motion. Together, they ascended the stairs. The door closed behind them. It closed softly with barely a sound.
Still Kaoru did not cry. She lay where she had landed in the street with her head bowed and eyes closed once more. Kenshin saw her hands fist tightly, her knuckles turning white with the tension. Then slowly she uncurled her hands.
"Psychic…" She murmured. "Psychic…" She spat the word from her mouth. Her fists came down hard on the street once, twice, and then a third time. She opened her eyes and lifted her hands. The skin had split across her knuckles and was bleeding. She inspected her hands silently in an almost detached manner. She raised her eyes to the orphanage and forcibly shook her head.
"Not home…" She murmured. The orphanage was no longer her home.
She rose to her feet wincing slightly. When they had thrown her she had landed hard and she knew there would be bruises later. She had best go before they came out to check that she had indeed left. She didn't not want to know what would happen if the nuns found her still there.
"Goodbye," Kaoru said. "I… don't think I will miss you."
Her head raised and back ramrod straight, she turned away from the orphanage and started walking down the street. She made it a few strides before she broke into a dead run and disappeared down the street.
Kenshin watched her go before turning back to look at the orphanage. At the back of his mind he wondered if it was still in operation. But that would be tended to later; the dream was already shifting around him and fading away.
When the world came back into focus he found himself in the center of a street. It was the middle of the night and seemed darker still. A few lampposts lined the street. Most like the ones near the orphanage had their lights smashed and the few that did have lights gave it off in weak flickering attempts that did little to illuminate the street.
Where was Kaoru? Kenshin turned around in a full circle and found that the street was deserted. There was no one around and no Kaoru.
He waited a moment and then felt a slight tug in the direction down the street. The dream was directing him and he followed the tug to see where it led.
The lights grew steadily brighter the further he walked but that feeling of 'not rightness' lingered.
If anything it intensified.
Silhouetted under the faint light of one of the lampposts was a woman, the scant amount of clothes she wore and the suggestive posture marked her instantly as a prostitute. Kenshin felt a brief moment of relief when he realized it wasn't Kaoru. At the same time he wondered what she was doing here.
He passed the prostitute who like everyone else in the dream did not appear to notice him. Kenshin fought the urge to run. Where was Kaoru? This was her dream… her memory after all…
At last he found her.
Some time seemed to have passed since she had been forced from the orphanage. The clothes she was wearing were different but they still didn't fit. If anything she looked thinner and her hair was pulled into a messy bun that hinted that it hadn't been brushed properly for days.
She was seated on the step of what looked to be a restaurant. In her hands she held half a sandwich and was eating with the deliberate slowness that told him she was starving and was just barely restraining herself from devouring it down in a few quick bites. She took a few more tiny bites of the sandwich then hunger seemed to overwhelm her and she finished it off with two larger quick bites.
Kenshin could hear her stomach grumble from where he stood.
"I know!" Kaoru snapped and poked her stomach. "I know… I know… starving… hungry…" The lilt to her voice made the hairs on the back of Kenshin's neck raise. It was eerily familiar to the time when…
Kaoru shook her head and got to her feet. "Maybe if I keep looking I can find more food," she talked out loud to herself and nodded in agreement. "Sounds like a plan." An almost too cheery smile flitted across her face and she turned and headed down the alleyway.
The alley was nearly pitch-black and it was difficult to see. Another sense of unease rolled over Kenshin. He stepped carefully after Kaoru who seemed oblivious to it all. She was walking with an almost skipping step to her stride.
As they came out of the alley she froze and went still. Almost too still. He followed the line of her sight and stiffened.
The man in front of them screamed predator and bad things. The light from the lamppost behind him cast his face in shadow. He seemed to regard them silently for a moment and then slowly and deliberately advanced toward Kaoru.
Kaoru stood there frozen as he approached. She raised her hand and pressed her fingers against her temple and flinched, automatically taking a step back.
"What are you doing here girly?"
Kaoru shuddered. "Noth-nothing…" She said softly. She seemed unable to move and watched him come closer with wide-eyes. "Stop…"
"Stop what?" The man finally did come to a stop a few feet in front of Kaoru. Close enough to grab her…
"Stop… thinking…" Kaoru shuddered. "Stoppit!"
Kenshin could almost sense the man putting two and two together.
"Psychic…" His voice was gleeful.
Kaoru shuddered again, she looked sick.
The man reached out and grabbed her. At his touch Kaoru screamed as if he had burned her. If she had been thinking of fleeing or running away all of that was gone now. She looked like she was just doing her best not to get sick and throw up.
"Psychic… Psychic… Psychic…" The man crooned as he dragged her from the alley and into the thin ring of light cast by the lamppost. Kenshin reached to grab Kaoru and watched as she passed through his hands as corporeal as a ghost.
There was nothing he could do here.
All he could do was stand and watch.
This was a memory. This had already happened. He could do nothing to prevent it.
"Stoppitstoppitstoppit!" Kaoru cried.
"Baby Psychic," the man murmured as he got his first look at Kaoru. "You're still just a kid." He dragged her over to where the lamppost was and pressed her up against it, he grabbed her hands and twisted them behind her effectively pinning her.
Kaoru's only response was a whimper.
She was young, she had no shields. She had nothing to protect herself with and no notion of how to. Kenshin could only imagine what kind of thoughts the man was having. Kaoru shuddered convulsively her face drained of color in the light cast by the lamps overhead.
"You'll fetch a nice price," the man murmured. "A Psychic… one as young as you…" He smiled as Kaoru shrieked softly, the sound catching in her throat. "Mind-reader are you? All the better…"
"Stop…" Kaoru begged.
"You'll fetch a good price. More if you're untouched… but that doesn't mean I can't have some fun with you." He fumbled for his zipper with one hand and his eyes closed.
Kaoru stiffened; her eyes were wide and unseeing. Her voice had fallen silent except for nearly inaudible whimpers. "Sto-stop… Stop… Stop… Please… NO!" The last word tore itself from her throat and seemed to hang in the air.
The man convulsed suddenly and dropped to the ground. There was blood pouring from his nose and ears. His eyes were open and sightless; in the light cast by the lamps overhead they looked as drained as color as he was drained of life.
He was dead.
Kaoru stared at the dead man at her feet.
She jerked suddenly and stepped back. Her back hit the lamppost and she froze unable to decide where to run. Carefully she stepped around the body, loathe to touch it. Then she turned and ran as fast as her feet would take her.
Kenshin followed after her.
Kaoru ran and ran. She didn't seem to care where she was going. As long as she was far away. As long as she couldn't be touched. She ran.
At last she collapsed onto her hands and knees. Kaoru threw up. Her body shook and she sobbed. She threw up until there was nothing left. Finally done, Kaoru struggled to her feet. She managed to stagger a few feet and then collapsed pulling herself into a tight ball, crying.
The dream faded out to the sound of her sobbing, the scene already breaking up and shifting around him.
It was dark. Why was it always dark? Did Kaoru's memories have no light in them at all?
Kenshin's eyes took a moment to adjust; when they finally did he made out a small huddled shape.
He was striding toward her before he even realized it
Kaoru was curled tightly into a ball, her arms wrapped around her legs and knees drawn up under her chin as she lay on her side on the ground. Not too far from her was a small pill bottle.
Where had she gotten Wunder? How had she gotten Wunder?
The first thought set his teeth on edge. A needy Psychic kid such as Kaoru mixing with an unethical Wunder dealer…
Kaoru whimpered and the sound cut through him.
Her eyes were closed tightly; her limbs were spasming ever so slightly. Kenshin stepped toward her and reached out to touch her. As before his head passed through her as if she was nothing more than a ghost. But he saw how she had gotten her Wunder.
From a girl named Keelie.
Keelie was in her mid-teens if that. In Kaoru's mind she was pretty. It was a child's mind and a child's view of things, but Kenshin agreed with her. Keelie had long curly brown hair that framed a fine boned face with high cheekbones and soft brown eyes lined too thickly with mascara in what was a supposed to be a sultry look. She was small and slender.
She was also a prostitute.
And a Psychic.
The first Psychic Kaoru had met since being thrown out of the orphanage.
Keelie lived in a small apartment. If you could even call it that. It was one room total with a closet sized bathroom that barely fit the tub and toilet inside of it. A stove that looked as if it never got used was off to the side pushed into a corner. A bed took up the entirety of one wall covered in patchwork blankets dominated the room.
"You can stay for the night." She was saying.
Kenshin started. She was talking to him. Or rather to Kaoru as he was it through her eyes.
"Why are you doing this?" Kaoru asked.
"I dunno," Keelie shrugged. "I know what it's like I guess. To live on the streets." Her nose wrinkled. "It's not fun."
"No," Kaoru agreed softly. She jumped as one of the blankets suddenly levitated off of the bed and came down to rest upon her shoulders.
"I can move things just as you can hear thoughts." Keelie told her, a smile flitting across her face. "Get some sleep. Hope you don't mind sleeping on the floor, I kinda need the bed. It's better than the street anyway."
"Yeah," Kaoru gulped and shuddered slightly.
Keelie ruffled her hair slightly. It was still slightly wet from her bath. The first thing Keelie had done when they had arrived at her apartment was toss her into the bath and not let her out until she was sufficiently clean. The clothes she wore were her own and still dirty but at least 'she' was clean.
"Go to sleep okay?"
Kaoru nodded and curled up on the floor pulling the blanket around her. Her eyes slid shut and she was instantly asleep.
Pain woke her.
Her head felt like it was splitting a part. Images rushed through her mind, some too quick to see properly. Others she saw all too clearly. She saw as Keelie did. All the men, every single one of them. Keelie remembered them all.
Kaoru saw and saw and saw…
As if from far away she realized she was screaming. She felt disconnected from her body.
Pain flared across her cheek once and then once again. The slaps helped her come back to herself slightly. It gave her something to concentrate on even as her power flared and whipped around, pulling the thoughts and memories from Keelie's mind and flooding Kaoru's mind with them.
She could hear Keelie cursing, her name figured in most of it.
"Dammit!" Keelie swore and slapped Kaoru again. "Dammit!" She cursed again.
The faces were blurring together in Kaoru's mind. They turned into dark shadows and melded into an even darker memory, one that was recent and all her own. Her throat felt raw from screaming.
She felt something being slipped into her mouth, pushed between her teeth, Keelie was careful not to get bitten. Kaoru swallowed instinctively.
It was as if a switch had been flipped. The images faded from her mind like ghosts. The voices stilled. Dull warmth was suffusing her, her limbs were becoming heavy. The pain in her head was lessening and slowly vanished all together.
"What…?" She croaked.
"Wunder," was Keelie's grim reply. "Sleep now. It's the best thing for you."
Kaoru didn't have a choice. She slept; Wunder acted as a barrier and kept the thoughts out of her head.
Keelie woke her when she got up the next day. She forced Kaoru take yet another bath, pressed a sandwich into her hand and then made her leave with the farewell words of "For fuck's sake girl. Stay away from the whores! And never become one yourself. You wouldn't be able to handle it." She tugged affectionately on the end of Kaoru's braid. A braid she had done for her.
And image flashed across Kaoru's mind. A little round faced girl with eyes the color of Kaoru's own and ginger colored hair. With it came the knowledge: sister. Keelie's sister. Who would have been around Kaoru's age had she not died years earlier…
Kaoru gave her a hug and left.
She never saw Keelie again.
The world blurred around the edges before it dissolved once again.
When the world wavered into focus once more Kenshin found himself standing in another one of the dark streets of the City. The lamplights overhead were for the first time whole and bits and pieces of shattered class did not cover the ground around them for once. Still the light the lamps gave off was faint and flickering and did little to illuminate the street.
Kenshin's eyes adjusted and once again he felt that slight tug, the pull that would lead him to where Kaoru was. He followed it. It felt colder, the bite of winter was in air. Winter… From what he had seen of Kaoru winter would not be kind to her. His stride hurried and he picked up his pace, the tug only growing stronger.
He rounded the corner and paused, tensing at the scene before him.
Kaoru stood with her back to the wall. She was shaking slightly, her hands were trembling and balled into fists in an attempt to stop them and keep them still. Kenshin recognized the signs of an early seizure and gritted his teeth.
Kaoru was as child. And she was Wunderless. She had no control over her gift and no way of keeping out the thoughts that constantly barraged her...
Two children, a boy and a girl, who couldn't be much older than she was, were advancing on her steadily. He tensed at the threat he saw in their body language.
"You're Psychic," he heard the girl say.
"Yeah," Kaoru's voice was hard and he saw her eyes dart quickly around; she was ready to fight or flee if she needed to. "What are you going to do about it?"
"New Psychic," the boy murmured softly, he was taller by a head than the girl.
Kaoru's eyes widened suddenly. "Your thoughts… I can't… hear them…" Her face whitened as she processed this realization. After weeks of being unable to keep the thoughts from the people around her out of her head, they were gone. For once her mind was silent, free of the flood of voices and images that had haunted her since before she had been kicked out of the orphanage.
"Shields," the girl snorted. "Don't tell me you don't know how to shield?"
"Shield?" Kaoru blinked in confusion.
"You're a Psychic and you don't know how to shield?"
"No," Kaoru shook her head. "What is shielding?"
"Shielding is…" The boy shook his head. "Keeping thoughts that you don't want in out and keeping things that you don't want out in."
"You can do that?" Kaoru's voice was soft in amazement.
"Yes," the girl snorted and rolled her eyes.
"Not everyone can shield Leiko," the boy, Ricky, said quietly. "Not everyone has the need to learn."
"Teach me!" Kaoru cried. "Please!"
"Why?" the girl asked, her hand settled on her hip with the air of arrogance. "Why should we teach you?"
"Leiko…" the boy murmured.
"Shut up Ricky," she replied.
Ricky's mouth tightened and he ducked his head, but he didn't utter another word.
"So tell me," Leiko turned back to Kaoru. "Why should we teach you?"
"Because…" Kaoru started to say and then suddenly staggered, her knees buckling and almost sending her to ground. Another tremor overtook her and she lost her balance, catching herself if barely and yelping as her hands hit the ground.
"Seizure…" Leiko murmured, she watched Kaoru with only mild curiosity in her eyes.
"What is… happening…?" Kaoru's teeth were chattering and her eyes were wide and frightened.
"Seizure," Leiko said matter of factly. "Is this your first one?"
"Ever taken Wunder?" Ricky asked.
"Wunder…?" Kaoru's eyes closed as she remembered Keelie. "Yes…"
"Nasty side-effect no one ever told you about I gather?" Leiko asked, she grinned humorlessly. "We need it y'know. And it kills us. Fun thing Wunder is." Her laugh was a bitter bark as lacking in humor as the grin on her face.
"Leiko!" Ricky cried, his voice was disapproving.
Leiko shrugged. "It's the truth."
"Do you… have… any?" Kaoru asked.
"Why should we give you any?" Leiko asked, the grin faded from her face and she cocked her head to the side calculatingly. "Tell me why?"
"Leiko!" Ricky sounded shocked. "She needs Wunder!"
"We need it too!" Leiko reminded him. "Why should we give any to her?"
"Please…" Kaoru whispered.
"Oh she said please!" Leiko laughed.
"Leiko stop being such a bitch," Ricky hissed, he grabbed for her arm but she danced out of reach.
"Was just having some fun," Leiko tossed her hair out of her eyes. "Fun y'know?"
"It's not funny," Ricky said. "Stop playing around please."
"Spoilsport," Leiko stuck her tongue out at him and sighed. "Fine then." She dug into her pocket and produced a small pouch. Opening it she pulled out one small pill of Wunder. "Here." She handed it to Kaoru who immediately put it in her mouth and swallowed.
"Now you have to pay us back." Leiko informed her.
"How?" Kaoru whispered softly, her eyes were closed and her face looked strained. It would take a few moments for the Wunder to take effect and while it did her body shook slightly. A full blown seizure had at least been headed off and halted.
"Hmm…" Leiko tapped her chin as she thought. "Get us food. Should be easy for you. You're a mind-reader. You can trick people and stuff."
"I don't know how…" Kaoru murmured. "I really don't know how."
Leiko snorted. "You'll have to figure it out then I guess. It shouldn't be too hard for you. I learned my powers easily enough. Just have to stay alive long enough to get a grip on them. Time is what you need mostly. Wunder will help with that. Going to have to teach you how to shield too I guess." She didn't sound happy about the prospect. "You're one of those kinds of Psychics that need to know how to do it."
"You're a Psychic too," Kaoru opened her eyes. "So what can you do?"
"I can move stuff," Leiko said cheerfully. "And if you ever piss me off I can break your neck."
Kaoru's eyes widened at that but she didn't say anything.
"So you better be good and you better do as I say. Got that?" Leiko asked.
"Yeah," Kaoru murmured. "I got that."
"Good," Leiko nodded. "Now, get up."
Kaoru got to her feet swaying slightly, Ricky moved forward and grabbed her arm, slinging it over his shoulders and helping her steady. Leiko scowled at him.
"She can barely walk Leiko." Ricky said defensively.
Leiko merely sniffed. "C'mon then," she turned on her heel and started walking away.
"Leiko's just like that," Ricky murmured to Kaoru as the two of them staggered off behind the girl. "Don't worry she's nicer once you get to know her."
"Where are we going?" Kaoru whispered softly.
"Home," Ricky replied. "We're going home."
Home, as Ricky called it was if anything smaller and dirtier than Keelie's place. It was an apartment complex in the heart of the City's poorest area. There was a lingering smell of smoke in the hallways and the walls were stained.
The apartment they lived in was on the third floor. Leiko moved quickly up the stairs and Kaoru's legs were aching, her knees shaking by the time they got there. The paint on the door was faded; once upon a time it might have been blue. There had been three numbers on the door, only one of which still remained: three. The others had long since fallen off leaving only their faint outline, lighter against the already fading colors.
Inside the walls were paper thin and through them Kaoru could hear people moving, the sharp cry of a baby.
"This is home?" Kaoru asked as she waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. There was no electricity in the building. Underfoot the floor was uneven and pitted. Had it once been tiled?
"This is home," Ricky confirmed as he maneuvered her carefully over to the sagging couch which dominated the room.
"It's nice," Kaoru said and surprisingly found she meant it.
Leiko blinked at her once in disbelief but didn't say anything.
"Is there anything to eat Leiko?" Ricky asked.
"There should be something," Leiko muttered. "We'll give you something to eat," she told Kaoru. "But after that you have to do your part. You can't eat the food we have unless you get some food for us all to share."
Kaoru nodded once, "Okay." She agreed. "That sounds fair."
Leiko's eyebrow rose. "Fair you say?" She seemed to find something humorous in Kaoru's words.
The next day Leiko woke Kaoru up early.
"Time for you to go."
"Go?" Kaoru's eyes widened.
"You have to go get food," Leiko rolled her eyes at Kaoru's expression. "You can't come back until you have food to share."
"But…" Kaoru protested, "I don't know how."
"You'll learn then won't you?" Leiko retorted. "You'll figure it out. Now's the best time to go get food. The sellers are putting it out and there's a crowd of people. You won't be noticed."
"But…" Kaoru tried to protest again.
"Shut up," Leiko told her.
Kaoru's mouth snapped shut.
"What's the big deal? You've been living on the streets how have you gotten food, if you haven't stolen it?"
Kaoru muttered something that sounded like 'garbage' and Leiko made a disgusted face. "That's gross. Don't do that, I'm surprised you haven't gotten sick and died from it yet. You need to get real food, not some people's throwaways."
"Stealing in a sin," Kaoru murmured.
"Orphanage brat?" Leiko rolled her eyes. "Nuns probably threw you out the second they discovered you were a Psychic and you still want to do as they told you? They didn't do shit for you, so you can forget everything you were ever told. Got that?"
"Now go," Leiko made shooing motions. "Go get us food and don't come back until you've got us something."
Kaoru nodded once more and left.
Kenshin trailed her.
The market district of the area Kaoru was bustling with people. Kenshin saw Kaoru flinch at the assault of thoughts and voices that were no doubt invading her mind. He wondered if Leiko had decided to be especially cruel by sending Kaoru out, a mind reader, at the height of the busy hour of the morning market. He thought so. The fact that Kaoru had considered Leiko a part of her family made him grind his teeth.
Kaoru was doing her best to be inconspicuous, sticking to the shadows and sidelines and moving slowly. Her eyes were darting around watching everything carefully. She advanced slowly and carefully in the direction of a bread seller who was engaged in haggling over the price of a loaf of bread with a customer. The bread seller's head turned in Kaoru's direction and she froze. There was an odd light in Kaoru's eyes they met the bread sellers gaze. Her lips were moving soundlessly and Kenshin could almost make out the words.
'Forget me. I am not here.'
The sellers gaze slipped past her and returned back to the customer. No one seemed to notice as Kaoru reached over and snagged two loaves of bread. Clutching them to her chest, Kaoru backed away slowly and then turned, walking carefully away doing her best not to attract attention.
Her lips were still moving in that silent mantra and she waited until she was a good distance away before breaking into a run. No one seemed to notice her and her face flushed with excitement of what she had just done.
She ran all the way back to the apartment and she bounded up the stairs, blasting in. Leiko and Ricky were sitting on the floor with a pack of old and torn cards, playing some kind of game.
"I did it!" Kaoru announced.
"So I see," Leiko replied, she held out a hand. "Let me see."
Kaoru handed one of the loaves of bread to her.
Leiko tore off a chunk and popped it into her mouth. "Not bad," she said after chewing. She tore the loaf in half and tossed the other half to Ricky.
"Good job," Ricky said, taking his own bite. He patted the ground next to him. "Sit down and eat."
Kaoru grinned and sat down next to him, tearing into her own bread. "Will you teach me how to shield now?" She asked between mouthfuls.
Leiko favored her with a long look. "I suppose we'll have to."
Ricky reached over and tugged at Kaoru's hair gently. "Guess we're going to be keeping you."
Kaoru's grin widened more. "I can stay with you? Really?!"
"Yes, really," Leiko didn't sound too enthused about the prospect. "Next time see if you can get something other than bread got that?"
Kaoru nodded enthusiastically.
"Do you know how to play cards?" Ricky asked.
Kaoru shook her head.
"Guess I'll have to teach you," Ricky said. "I'll start teaching you how to shield after we play a game."
Eyes bright, Kaoru reached for the cards he had shuffled for her and listened attentively as he explained the rules.
The scene faded out after that.
Kenshin blinked and felt disorientated for a moment as Kaoru's memories faded from his mind. She was still curled up on the couch, fast asleep. She didn't make a sound as he picked her up and carried her back to her room. Kenshin closed the door behind him as he left; his mind on other things.
He had a few calls to make.
The groceries remained where he had left them, now forgotten.