Part Two

Sanosuke's vehicle was of a model and make of longer ago than he had been born, and was so dented and rusted nobody was sure what color it had originally been painted. But it moved when the gas was pressed, and it moved faster than they could run. That was all that mattered.

Sano was at the wheel, knuckles white at the ten and two o'clock positions. Aoshi made sure to be sitting in the back, letting Misao have the passenger seat, since he knew from experience that his own calm demeanor would have a negative effect on the impulsive younger man. Misao's distressed, overanxious babble and inability to sit still would be more in tune with what Sanosuke was feeling.

There was very little information; just a vague idea of where he was and the terrible sounds they'd heard through the filter of the cell phone before it had gone dead in Aoshi's ear. There were two very important things to consider: one, that Kenshin was stubbornly hard to kill, a good thing, and two, Kenshin did not have his weapon with him, most assuredly a bad thing.

"Is he okay?" Misao again, and it was starting to spill over the void of Aoshi's patience.

He didn't answer, at least not verbally; only closing his eyes a moment, and then opening them slowly to widen the gulf again of worry and calm. Kenshin's soft statement of "Aoshi, I'm in trouble." was still hanging in the air before him. Not a plea for help, but a grim sort of alert. He may as well have said, "Aoshi, I'm in trouble…so I won't be bringing any pizza home."

"Idiot," Sano said, in the same repetitive phase as Misao. That seemed to be the only word left in his vocabulary.

The ancient old car bumped along viciously, Sano driving far outside the speed limit. They were almost to the drug store near their bar.

"Did he say which way past the drug store?" Sanosuke demanded, finally remembering he knew how to speak beyond his litany of "idiot".

"No," Aoshi said, putting a little harshness into the word so he wouldn't have to hear another one of Sano's stress-induced tirades about him being too calm in these situations. He didn't want to hear it tonight when there were other things he wanted to listen for, like sirens or gunshots. "He only said a few miles past it."

"Damn," Misao said. "That means we'll just have to guess and hope we're right."

"And if we're not, we'll have wasted time," Sano said roughly, making a sharp turn. The brightly-lit drugstore was before them. "Right or left?"

"I don't know!" Misao said. "Was he headed toward home or to get pizza?"

Sano turned his car left. "He just got the call from you…so he was probably headed for home."

Logical enough, Aoshi thought. Perhaps Sanosuke wasn't wasting his time taking a few classes at school after all, in spite of the lackluster grade reports that were stacked up on his untidy dresser in his bedroom.

All eyes were pinned to the windows, looking for any signs. Kenshin. Tire skid marks. Bits of Aoshi's car littering the road. Anything.

Strange, it was, that just two years ago, Aoshi wouldn't have cared quite so much. Or rather, he might have been more concerned with the condition of his car than with the condition of a shadow-assassin turned shadow-vigilante, who still remained the stuff of nightmares in dark corners and those who kept old secrets. Kenshin had been an enemy once, one without any sort of bitterness or even hatred. Just on the other side. And his very being represented professional challenge.

But, what with one thing or another, and being living proof himself that people do change, Kenshin had made a friend of this enemy. It was a cool friendship, in contrast with the warmth and camaraderie that Kenshin shared with the others, but neatly cemented in mutual strength and trustworthiness as the two of them proved themselves to each other again and again. Even their living arrangement, which at the beginning Aoshi truly meant to be only temporary, until some old wounds were healed and some answers found, was something he hadn't been able to walk away from just yet, a belonging offered there that he wouldn't deny or embrace, but just wanted to remain near.

Aoshi had observed Kenshin made everyone feel that way in one way or another, helped them find something that they were missing… Maybe that was why it felt like if something happened to him now, the entire universe would be thrown out of balance.

Foolishness, of course. Life would flow on regardless whether any of them lived or died. It would go on regardless of Himura Kenshin.

"Faster," Misao hissed as the urgency seemed to swell out around them, even if they were already going too fast as it was.

Yet Aoshi silently agreed. Faster.

Kenshin's primary thoughts were of Kaoru. Once in a while, in the swirling thoughts and bursts of pain, Tomoe floated into his mind, whom he accepted more easily than he once would have, with a lessening of guilt that lined the memories of her and the days of his youth. But mostly it was the thought of Kaoru he clung to, Kaoru who was still alive, still warm, who could still touch him and be touched in return, whose cheek was warm against his in their embraces, mouth still so sweet when touching his. Kaoru, who would be the one to cry if he didn't come back…

Then, Yahiko. Yahiko wanted to talk to him in the morning. He had to be there for him.

Kid picked his pocket in the bar. Kaoru tackled him. Before they all met Sanosuke…

Sano's voice. "What the hell does 'ubiquitous' mean?"

"Everywhere. That's what it means. Everywhere all at once. Omnipresent."

"So a ubiquitous rumba is dance that's everywhere?"

"Why not? To some, that's all life is. A dance that's everywhere."

The present, gasping, cold air, hot pain, and warm, sticky blood, rushed back to him with a suddenness that left him all the more bewildered. He was hanging upside-down now, the seatbelt alternately saving his life and endangering it as it kept him strapped in place.

There was gunfire then, shattering the last of the intact windows of Aoshi's car and darkness closed in as the street lights close by were shot out. His thoughts swam out again, a saying chiefly involving the fate of ducks who sit... He had to get out of the damn car!

Into fire unprotected, yes, but he didn't think he could take another hit from the truck. His hands felt numb as he felt for the buckle again.

"Hello? Are you still alive in there?"

Kenshin's thumbs pressed hard into the belt release, but it was still stuck.

The sound of a fist knocking hard on the side of the destroyed car made his head begin to throb. "I said, are you still alive in there?"

He twisted as quietly as he could, trying to pull the shoulder strap behind him so that he might wriggle out of the one around his waist. He raised his hands against the ceiling, pressed his feet to the floorboard. Jolts of white pain shot from one ankle directly into his brain. He removed weight from that limb and used the other to push.

A click, very familiar, very close to his ear. "Don't move."

Kenshin stilled his body, but turned his head. Saw the simple, but effective .45 pointed at his face through the driver side window, and beyond it, a youthful face, blond-dyed hair flaring out black at the roots, hazel eyes with muddy-red flecks… It took a moment to place him, but Kenshin did; remembered he was the young man with that dog pack, the one who had unplugged the juke box at the bar.

"Still kicking," he murmured, finger twitching a little on the trigger. "That's all right. I wanted to talk to you first, anyway. After all." His lips twitched slightly. "Mother always told me that punishment's no good unless you know why you're being punished."

Hands still pressed to the hood, Kenshin blinked sweat out of his eyes. This boy was not quite sane, that much was true, but it was also entirely possible Kenshin had done something to offend him… At the bar, when he combed through the shadows on the streets and alleyways at night--

The punk jabbed the gun closer. "Do you have any idea where I just spent the last two years?" he spat, punctuating the end of his sentence with foul gutter-talk that, in spite of lurking in those gutters sometimes, Kenshin didn't quite understand.

Not the literal meaning, anyway. The idea, he got. So, it was like that. This young man must have recognized him at the bar from an encounter of before, and encouraged his fellows to leave so they could follow him in that big truck. The scrape of motorcycle boots on the asphalt outside meant the rest of them were waiting for a piece of revenge for what happened at the bar. After this one. Either he was the leader--a little rare for one so young, but not unheard of--of this dog pack, or they found his personal revenge a little more righteous that their own and were willing to wait their turn, or just to see what would happen.

But those were details. A different detail, a somewhat more important one, was that Kenshin didn't remember this young man at all. That didn't mean much. Strangely, he thought he remembered the faces of everyone he'd ever killed, but the punks and thugs and murderers and rapists he thumped off the streets were ever more numerous. He just didn't remember all of them.

A couple of years ago, this one might have been young enough to go into one of the juvenile systems. Maybe. The laws were a little tougher nowadays. In any case, the young man looked like this had been stewing inside him for a while.

Since nothing he could say could do him any earthly good, Kenshin remained silent, looking past the gun as if it didn't exist into the young, angry face.

"Do you have any idea how many times I imagined this?"

Another rhetorical question Kenshin didn't seem expected to answer. Inopportunely, blood dribbled from the wound on his forehead into his eye. He went to move a hand to wipe it away, but the gun thrust closer.

"I said don't move!"

He stilled, closing his eye in defense and tilting his head to one side so that gravity would direct the flow away from the other.

"Bastard," the gunman said, as if it was Kenshin's fault for the interruption.

"What do you want to do now?" a voice from beyond the upturned tires murmured. "We need to get out of here before the cops show up."

"Yeah," Blondie murmured. Abruptly, the gun withdrew and he stood up. "Get him out. Watch out, he might have a sword."

Two more punkish faces replaced his, big hands forcing the banged-up door open, reached inside for him. Something ripped and tore, a good deal of it the flesh around his waist as opposed to the seatbelt, as he was yanked and dragged out of his restraints.

They held him still, not entirely a bad thing. His ankle hurt. It hurt a lot, maybe very badly sprained, more likely fractured. The feel of blood running down his jeans was very unpleasant. He was tired…he should have been in bed by now. The others were going to have a fit. His thoughts were swimming out again, little tangles of silly regret (is this how I'm going to spend my time off?) before he forced himself to the present, to pay attention.

"You don't look so good, Red. Not sleeping well?"

Everyone was so concerned with his sleeping habits lately. In spite of it all, he smiled, unnerving some of them with the expression of genuine amusement. "Not tonight, anyway."

The quip was reward with a blow in the gut. More blood ran down his pants as he tried to regain his breath, the shallow breathing of Blondie not so different from his own.

"I can fix that for you! I know what that's like. You know what it is to try to get a good night's sleep in juvie?"

Kenshin straightened, locked eyes again with the younger man. "I don't," he said, voice gentle and without a trace of mockery. "What did you do to get there?"

Kenshin watched his mouth drop open, his face turning mottled pasty-white and red with the ugly mixing of disbelief and anger. "You aren't telling me you don't remember."

The words were threatening, a fact never more cold and deadly that the only thing worse than carrying around a grudge was a grudge that the other party didn't bother to remember. Kenshin had wanted to avoid at least this, the stripping of this young man's anger of its significance, unrighteous as it was, especially in front of his followers. But it looked like it wasn't to be avoided. If he could keep him talking for as long as possible…

More than likely a very painful long as possible, from the rage he saw building right before his eyes. His ankle throbbed along with his heartbeat. He braced himself carefully on the good one.

There was a little brushfire of snickering that was quickly stamped out among the other hoodlums, more, he had a feeling, so they could hear what would be said next than out of respect for Blondie. But Kenshin winced inwardly--the brief laughter was too much stoking to an already raging fire. This boy's chosen path was violence. He highly doubted he would be able to talk his way out of this.

"What did you do?" he repeated anyway since, aside of the need to buy every minute he could, he genuinely wanted to know.

There was a ghostly moment that passed then, a pale and fragile one where the other rough boys stopped existing, even if for only the heartbeats where Kenshin's assaulter seemed suddenly very young and very lost-seeming. Enough for a sliver of pity to grow, if it hadn't existed already. Enough to know that the truth was, what this young man did probably mattered far, far less than Kenshin's memory of stopping him. Probably something deeply unimportant, maybe even laughable by the standards of his companions. Kenshin had dozens of hundreds of memories of catching and stopping kids and young men Blondie's age from snatching purses and wallets and other items, pulling underage drinkers or the lusting off the innocent and defenseless. That the need for revenge against Kenshin couldn't be built up by simple verbal reminder seemed to crumble the last ounce of control in this situation.

Then the cold moment ended and the young man's voice was hoarse and mean. "Anybody for payback for what happened at the bar? Kill him. Kill the bastard."

Still self-absorbed and yet remorseless. Talk seemed over, and it also seemed no amount of discussion would ever make this one see past his own emotions and to the pain he inflicted on others. Pitiful indeed.

Kenshin had time to smile at the irony right before the first punch aimed for his mouth.

He saw it coming from a long time off, by a man with a bandaged face. The man whose nose Yahiko had bloodied at the bar. In the time it took the broken-nosed man to draw back and exert his fist, Kenshin, with only the vaguest of seconds to feel regret for what pain it would bring to the injured limb, hooked his bad foot around the ankle of the man next to him. The twist necessary to trip him up and nearly made his vision go white--he'd really hurt himself this time. If these guys didn't kill him, he had had a whole handful of people at home who would. And they'd never let him drive to see Kaoru like this…

Damn! The flash of anger tapered off into amusement as the captor he tripped fell, allowing him to shove himself back against the other who still held him, sending them both sprawling against the side of the upturned car. But the punch that continued on to where Kenshin was once standing also slammed into the car. The man with the broken nose howled much like he had at the bar. Possibly with broken fingers this time.

Kenshin moved, jumping free of the circle of toughs before they could react, and dashed around the car.

Running hurt. So much. And there was a horrible, frightening grinding in the bones of the ankle, a risk of injury beyond even the stubborn skill of Megumi. But not moving was death, he knew, especially when Blondie's furious shouts were accompanied by a hail of bullets.

On the other side of the car, he crashed onto one knee on the asphalt, gaspingly desperate to get off the ankle if only for a few seconds. But it wasn't a wasted few seconds as he fell onto his stomach, thrusting his arm through the passenger-side window.

There was very little that was helpful inside Aoshi's car. He had always meticulously taken care of his vehicle, a stipulation of his personality rather than affection for the car itself. But there was the bag with the thermos Megumi had sent him, and Aoshi's cell phone, which had miraculously remained in the car instead of flying out the shattered windshield or open windows.

He reached for the thermos, still in its back, and knocked the cell phone toward himself. He slipped it in his pocket. No time to call for help right now, and, on the besides, all the help that would do him any good was probably on its way.

He curled the back with the heavy thermos to his chest, brought himself up, taking too long, taking too long, he knew from the pounding of boots on asphalt. The streetlights were shot out, shadows spreading thick. With no time to get his bearings, he got up and ran toward those shadows.

They saw--fire opened behind him again. He misjudged where an alley might be, but this probably only saved his life as he slapped his hand against hard brick wall and bounced himself into a sharp turn along the side of it.

The phone rang.

He almost laughed. His breathing came in short, forced bursts, wheezing in his chest with every agonizing step he took on that one, swelling ankle, and he wasn't certain he had air for answering a telephone even if he had time right now.

The alley opened back into the street, and he stumbled back into light. He held himself back to avoid being hit by a completely oblivious sedan. He ran across behind it, pain-tears stinging at his eyes, ducked into another alleyway, this one with a big metal trash receptacle. He dropped to his knees beside it.

His hands were shaking, fingertips tingling. He was so tired he was nauseous, and there were tiny white spots combusting over and over in his vision. They were coming still, he could feel them, hear them.

The phone was still ringing too. Quickly, he fished it out, received the call so its rings wouldn't give him away just yet.

Sanosuke swore viciously, slamming a fist into the already dented door of Aoshi's totaled car. "Answer the phone, Kenshin!"

Misao twisted the front of her t-shirt in her hands as she peered inside the busted windows. "There's not blood everywhere," she said under her breath, but hopefully. It irritated Sano, but he ignored her, concentrated on the rings. Three…four…

As Aoshi circled the car, and the large truck that was halfway spun around with its lights still shining out in the opposite direction of where the upended car lay, Sano was within another ring or two of throwing down his phone in frustration when the rings ceased.

Heavy breaths followed by a strained, "H-hello?"

"Kenshin!" Sano burst out, not noticing the other two spin toward him. He hadn't really expected Kenshin to still have Aoshi's phone or to be able to answer it, but… "Are you all right?"


The answer was so simple and calm, in spite of him being out of breath, that Sano was put off saying anything else for a couple of heartbeats. "What's wrong, where are you? We found the car, but you're not--"

"A dog pack…at the bar," Kenshin puffed. "Um…one recognized me from…from the streets." He exhaled loudly, took in another deep breath. "I'm sorry, Sano. I'm usually so careful--"

"Where are you?" Sano broke in before his friend could dig himself yet another huge, insurmountable hole of guilt. "Are you hurt?"

"Yeah. I, ah…I don't think I can run anymore."

"They're chasing you." It wasn't a question. Sano swore again, saw out of the corner of his eye Aoshi tighten his fist on the long sheath where his weapons rested. "Where. Are. You?"

Kenshin blew out a frustrated breath. "I don't know, Sano. If you're at the car, I'm not far from--"

He broke off, and Sano heard shouts through the phone, close by to Kenshin.


"They're here. Sano, I… I think you might have to follow the sound of the gunshots."

"Kenshin!" Panic flooded through Sanosuke's veins like ice water.

"What's going on?" Misao burst out, her eyes faced twisting to mirror his.

"Sano, I need you to tell Kaoru--"

"Oh, no. Hell, no, you jerk! I'm not telling her anything! Whatever it is, you're telling it yourself."

"Please, Sano. Please. Tell her that…tell her that I meant it."

Then there was the sound of the gunshot Kenshin predicted. It was in the air, cracking faint and sharp at the same time, and eerily out of sync through the filter of the cell phone by a full second.

Then Sano found himself running. The sound wasn't from far away. He heard the others, feet pounding on the street and on the sidewalk.

He cut through the buildings, hesitated when he came back into lamplight. He clenched the cell phone still in his hand, hard enough that he heard the plastic crack.

Aoshi ran past him, Misao on his heels. "This way," he said, too calmly, too damn calmly, but for a single, redeeming drop of sweat Sano had time to see run down his face just beside his ear.

Aoshi found them. This "dog pack", well described by Kenshin for the assortment of mutts, twelve or fifteen heads, all of them scrambling against each other at one point beside the garbage like animals tearing at a single piece of meat.

Sano was on them first, sprinting past Aoshi. He grabbed the first two by greasy jackets, drove one head first into the sidewalk, flung the other back into the street. Misao was suddenly at his side, side-kicking another dog into the trash bin, where his connection made a satisfying ringing sound, and he crumpled.

By the time Aoshi waded in, Sano had caught sight of Kenshin. The redhead, bleeding from his nose and flat on his back, was straddled by a dyed-blond guy, both of them grappling for a pistol. Blood was slowly pooling beneath Kenshin.

Sano pushed through and filled in the space between them, catching Blondie in the jaw with real muscle behind his punch, and knocking the gun away from the four hands clutching at it. Blondie crumpled, collapsing on top of Kenshin. Sano gripped his jacket and flung him aside.

"Kenshin. Kenshin, are you all right?"

Kenshin was breathing hard, mouth open, eyes shut in the concentration that it was taking simply to breathe. His hands were wet and sticky when Sano touched them, pressing lightly over the gunshot at his waist.

"God," Sano said, hoping it just looked worse that it really was.

Misao was at his side then, dropping to her knees, face twisted in many emotions, anger and worry the forerunners of all. Aoshi moved in close, too, knelt and gently pulled Kenshin's hands away from the wound.

"Misao. Ambulance," he said tersely, jerking off his light jacket. He rolled it into a ball and pressed it gently onto the cheerfully bleeding injury, slowly applying pressure.

Not knowing what else to do as Misao hastily dialed the numbers to call for help on her phone, Sano leaned over Kenshin, pulled up his jacket sleeve over his hand as he carefully wiped away the blood from Kenshin's face. "Buddy, talk to me."

Kenshin opened his eyes, focused on Sano's. "Sorry," was the first thing he said.

"Apologize again and I'll crack your jaws for you," Sano said, but the weak grin on his face ruined the threat. "Idiot. It's not like it's your fault."

"No…I mean, for your stomach. The cake. I'm sorry I left it there. I didn't mean to make you sick."

Sano gawked at him, and to his further surprise, Aoshi chuckled. A very short sound, only a syllable of air expelled with a closed mouth, but when Sano looked at him, his face was deadly serious as always.

He looked back at Kenshin, though, saw the twinkle of laughter in his large violet eyes, and realized he was being teased.

Then the smile slid away from the redhead's face. "Will you tell her?" he asked.

"I told you to tell her yourself."

"I meant it. I really did."

Meant what? "Yeah. Yeah, you meant it. Now just rest, okay? The paramedics'll be here soon. You can tell Kaoru you meant whatever later."

"Sorry I didn't get the pizza too…"

Sano ran a hand down his face. "Kenshin…" he warned.

Kenshin smiled, eyes focusing on something beyond Sano's face. The icy feeling in his blood again, Sano grasped his shoulder. "Don't you dare--"

The eyes were back on his face. "Please tell her."

"Fine. Fine. I'll tell her."

"Thank you."

Kaoru didn't have much experience with hospitals. In fact, she couldn't remember ever being in one since very early childhood, and didn't quite recall how much worse they smelled than Megumi's familiar old clinic where many an injury between her and her friends had been patched.

She was aware she was probably breaking rules by running through the hospital. It was too slow a run as it was, in her opinion, but she was reading the numbers by the sides of the doors, skidding to the halt when she found the one she was looking for.

Everyone else was already there. Megumi, Sano, Misao, Aoshi, and Yahiko, sensing their danger, quickly parted in the tiny room to allow her to throw herself at the bed.

At the bed, but not quite on top of the man lying in it.

He was okay. Very pale, dark circles underneath his eyes, but the smile was there, the arms reaching for her warm with life.

She cradled his head and shoulders against her for long moments that absolutely no one interrupted before she began calling him names. She pulled away from him just a little, slapped him, very, very lightly, on his scarred cheek, not even listening to half the things she was saying, and yet watching him nod like he was either making promises or agreeing with denouncements of his intelligence. Or both.

She barely noticed the others leaving to give them time along together, though she would remember to thank them for it later. "Are you all right?"

He nodded, grinning. "Megumi is very upset with me. I used her favorite thermos to deflect the bullet away from my vitals. She says they don't make them like that anymore."

Kaoru laughed, resting her forehead against his. "Idiot," she said affectionately. "Hey, guess what I heard?"


"Well, when Sanosuke called to tell me what happened, he said you insisted he tell me you said you 'meant it'."

He licked his lips, a little nervously. "Yes. I did."

"Still mean it?"


"Good." She leaned in to kiss his eyes closed. "You're tired. Sleep, okay?"


It was a little later, when she was certain he was sleeping, that she slipped from his room and nearly bumped into Aoshi, who was leaning against the outer wall like he was standing guard duty. Which may indeed have been exactly what he was doing. Kaoru decided not to remark on it, but she met his eyes in silent thanks for whatever he was thinking. They did not, after all, catch every one of those hoodlums who'd attacked Kenshin. Most of them, but not all.



"What did he mean?"


Aoshi's eyes flicked to the slightly ajar door of Kenshin's room. "He kept saying 'I meant it'. What did he mean?"

"Oh." Kaoru smiled evenly, raised a hand to rub at a stress-induced ache in the back of her neck. "He told me once, when we were arguing about me going to school, that if it ever became clear that he wasn't right about everything we were talking about, that he'd stop being so insistent and that we'd do what I thought was best for a while. He said, 'I mean it,' then, too. But he was so sure he was right." She shrugged.

Aoshi looked thoughtfully at her for a moment before asking, "What do you think is best?"

She shrugged. "I'll have to think about it, but one thing I'm definitely going to do is move back home. He'll probably put up a fuss about that, but…"

"He'll get over it," Aoshi said.

"Yes. He'll get over it."

The blond punk frowned as he was set down at a table across from a girl with very bright, very blazing cobalt eyes. His hands were cuffed before him, but that was all. The guard left, which surprised him further. Leave the big, bad criminal completely alone in the room with a girl?

The chief of police poked his head into the room, looked directly at the girl. "Are you certain you're all right, Kamiya-san?"

"Oh, yes, Chief, thank you," the girl said.

He ducked back out. The punk blinked at the closed door twice before he turned his attention back to his visitor.

She sat quietly for another moment before she sat back in the chair slightly. "Why were you locked up before?"


"The chief said it was larceny and assault," she prompted, resting her chin on her fist. "But specifically, what did you do? Besides stealing that truck you tried to use to run over my boyfriend?"

"Your…what?" He began to get nervous, straining his handcuffs a little.

She stood up then, her chair making a soft scraping sound as it moved back. "The chief said you stole somebody's TV," she reminded him. "You were sixteen, but the lady was still in her house. You thought she was out, but she was still there. So you knocked her down and took her TV."

He narrowed his eyes, trying to wrestle with the ungodly feeling that he was losing all control of his situation. "What are you--"

"You deserved prison for that," she said, raising her voice over his. "You did something wrong, and you paid for it. You brought it on yourself."

Oh, so she was one of those people. He sneered, his fear receding.

"Only if that scar-faced freak hadn't gotten me caught," he said.

He realized it was the wrong thing to say. Her eyes flashed, and she seemed to grow larger as heat began to build in the room.

"You hit my boyfriend with a truck," she said through locked teeth. "You made him break his ankle, chased him partway down the block on it, beat him up, and shot him because he caused you to get caught for hurting and stealing from someone?"

That pretty much summed it up. He shrank back in his seat and, for the first time in his life, he began to realize what it was to push someone too far.

Chief Uramura stood with his back to the visitor's room door when the first screams began.

"Ahhhh! Help! Help! Guard!" the punk shrieked. There was a splintering sound, and the chief adjusted his glasses wearily, knowing he was soon going to have to get a new chair for the room.

He glanced up and down the hallway, making certain they were still cleared as he ordered, then relaxed again at his post, a faint smile on his face. He was delighted to hear that Himura-san was going to make a full recovery. And, in the meantime, his aggressor had visiting time limited to ten minutes. And he was, of course, entitled to every minute.

Author's note:

And, completed.

Just thought I'd mention, the part at the end. First, the police chief is the same nice man with the mustache and glasses from the canon. The very same chief who has always aided or looked the other way for Kenshin and company lots of times. For example, Megumi's opium-making. No need to go into a long discussion on that, but, my cousin and I argued for a long time about the event in the end. The chief letting Kaoru "talk" to the young man aside, I wondered if Kaoru should have allowed herself to give in to the temptation.

My cousin won the argument by three points: First and foremost, I, the author, was writing the story for her, and as long as I couldn't deny that it didn't stray far from character and that it was indeed something that could happen, it had to go in because it's what she wanted. Second, everyone probably felt like knocking the little punk around themselves by the end, so it would be very satisfying. And third, she reminded me that I did say I liked the idea of some of the chief's appreciation and distant friendship for Kenshin showing by letting a little revenge be taken for his sake.

Which made me yet again regret saying aloud any philosophical observations I've made about the characters within her hearing. This never leads to anything but trouble.