A/N - If you've read Daedal Lives before, STOP HERE and go back to the beginning. I did a giganticly fantastic rewrite so this chapter will no longer make any sense.
Disclaimer - I don't own Rurouni Kenshin.
9 -- The First They Heard
The next morning, a light knock sounded at her bedroom door. "Come in," Kaoru called from where she sat at her desk.
Kenshin walked in. "Are you going anywhere today?"
Kaoru turned around on her swivel chair to face him as he sat down at the foot of her bed. "Not until tonight. This last final kind of scares me, so I'm just going to study today."
He nodded. "I think you're safest here."
"What do you mean?"
"No one will try anything because there's always a witness around to see them coming and going."
Kaoru nodded. "So I guess the perpetual party guests are good for something."
"And the little kids," Kenshin added.
"Oh my gosh, I totally forgot!" Kaoru exclaimed. "Where'd I put it?"
"What?" Kenshin asked.
Kaoru swiveled back around to her desk. "I think I used it as a bookmark." She leafed through her papers, adding to the chaos, but there hadn't been much order there in the first place. She finally found it in a workbook and swiveled triumphantly back around to find Kenshin staring at her as if she'd gone crazy.
"When you were gone Tomoe came by," Kaoru explained, handing Kenshin the piece of paper with her number on it. "She was talking to one of the little girls when I opened the door – that's why I remembered when you mentioned little kids. Sorry I didn't tell you before. It slipped my mind."
Kenshin's faintly amused look faded as he looked down at the piece of paper. "Did she say why she was here?"
Kaoru shrugged, trying not to look too interested in his reactions. "She just said she wanted to see you, but she was leaving Baltimore. She'll be back for three months after the holidays are over."
"Thanks." Kenshin shoved the piece of paper in his pocket.
"I don't think you can put that in your pocket and forget about her," Kaoru observed idly. "This is the second time she came over. Aren't you going to call her?"
He shook his head. "I might go to see her work at the gallery, but I'm not going to call her."
"She's an artist?"
Kenshin nodded. "She got her bachelors a year ahead of me and went to art school in Europe. We grew apart, but I get the emails she sends out to friends sometimes."
Kaoru stood up and moved to sit next to him on the bed. "So she picked art over you, but now she's coming back a success with her work in a gallery. I bet she's going to try and get you back."
Kenshin frowned. "I doubt it."
"Well I'm the one who talked to her, and I think I'm right." From the tense look on his face, she knew she'd hit a cord he hadn't wanted her too. It was time to stop teasing him about Tomoe.
Kenshin stood up from the bed. "I'm going to Sano's. Stay here, okay?"
He was upset. Maybe not with her, but either way she'd been the cause. "Wait a minute, Kenshin." Kaoru stepped towards him and threw her arms around his neck.
"What are you doing?" he spluttered.
Kaoru hugged him as tightly as she could. "I never thanked you for coming back."
"Well don't do it by trying to crush me," he said a little harshly, which meant he wasn't upset anymore.
Kaoru loosened her hold and leaned her forehead on his shoulder. She felt him relax a little. "I shouldn't have teased you about Tomoe. I'm sorry, Kenshin."
He finally slid an arm around her waist and ran a hand through her hair. "You can tease me about anything you want, Kaoru."
Kaoru spoke into his shoulder. "If you'd walked out first they'd have shot you."
When he didn't say anything else, Kaoru sighed. She couldn't accept it as easily has he could, but then that was Kenshin. He seemed to be able to adapt to any situation life threw at him. "Now I know why you're family hated you bounty hunting before."
He laughed a little and she felt it against her body.
"Soujiro thought it was cool."
"Soujiro's crazy." Kaoru smiled into his shirt. "Sano didn't like it either, did he?"
"I don't want you to risk your life for me again, Kenshin. If I'd known what you were doing, I wouldn't have let you go."
Kenshin tilted her head back from his shoulder and forced her to meet his eyes. "If you really mean that, I won't tell you if I have to do it again."
Kaoru wished she could yell at him, and well, she could, but that wouldn't change anything. And she wanted him to tell her everything. She didn't want secrets, but she didn't want his life on her hands either. Could he possibly know what he was asking of her? But in the end it was nothing. Nothing but what she would do for her father or for Yahiko. Nothing but what he would do for his family or for Sano, or apparently, for her.
"I want to know," she said, deciding, "what you do for me."
He smiled, and she realized that he was relieved. "Then I'll tell you everything you want to know."
Kaoru shook her head and closed her eyes. She didn't want him to sugarcoat anything. She needed to be an equal partner in this, for Okita, until it was over. "Just tell me everything, okay?"
She felt his fingers tilt her chin and then soft lips press against hers. She would have jerked back in surprise if he hadn't tilted his head at an angle so perfect that she was kissing him back before she knew it.
She pulled away for air and felt her cheeks heating already.
"I shouldn't have done that," Kenshin said, stepping back from her. "I should go to Sano's now. I'm late already."
Kaoru nodded, embarrassed. Her face felt like it was on fire. "Fine."
He opened his mouth. Closed it. Turned and left.
Kaoru sat back down on her bed and closed her eyes as she listened to the sound of his receding footsteps. She'd considered Kenshin a friend for a while now, but that word had never fully captured their relationship, and now she had no clue what they were, but she was positive that things between them were going to be awkward in the near future.
She liked him. Maybe she'd even wanted him to kiss her, but she'd never thought it would actually happen. Kaoru lay back on her bed. It was too much, especially on top of Okita, the scene in the cemetery, Kenshin almost getting shot just yesterday, and her last final.
She was beginning to think meeting Finn's mystery man tonight wouldn't solve anything. With their luck, it might only create more questions. Kenshin thought he had everything under control, but after last night he didn't dare contact Saitou. And Finn was shot, in custody, and no longer a good information source. If she hadn't seen someone in an unmarked cop car shooting at her, she would have convinced Kenshin to go to the cops long before now. If things didn't work out tonight, they'd have to go to Sano's cousin. Then there'd be no other person affiliated with the police department that they could trust. And then there was the fact that Kenshin had kissed her.
Kaoru sighed and sat up. When this final was over, maybe she'd be able to think clearly.
"It's so nice to see you, Kaoru," Tae said sweetly. "You should come around more often."
"It's good to see you too, Mrs. Hiko," Kaoru replied. "And Kenshin told me you're the one who taught him how to cook. Thank you."
Tae smiled and shot Kenshin a satisfied look. Kenshin fought the urge to groan. He should have known his aunt would assume Kaoru was his girlfriend. Neither he nor Soujiro had ever brought a girl to the restaurant before. His aunt was probably doing cartwheels inside. She was going to be confused when the guy Finn had called showed up.
"Kenshin is an excellent chef," Tae said to Kaoru. "He's also very organized, very clean, and very smart, as you've no doubt noticed."
Kaoru smiled at Tae. "I have." Kenshin only shook his head. The ride back to the apartment from the Akabeko in Federal Hill was going to be more awkward than the ride here. He still couldn't believe he'd messed up like that and kissed her.
"Well I've got to get back up front now, you two," Tae said, "Stop by before you leave."
"We will," Kenshin said as she left and they sat down again.
"I haven't been here since that party in the beginning of the year," Kaoru said. He thanked her internally for not mentioning his aunt's behavior. "It's a gorgeous restaurant, Kenshin."
He shrugged. "My aunt and uncle work hard on it. I'm just glad Soujiro's going to be taking over its management and not me."
"Are they planning on retiring soon?"
Kenshin shook his head and kept an eye on the door, of which he had a perfect view from his seat. "Not Aunt Tae, she loves it, but my uncle only does it for her. Soujiro is going to take over Uncle Hiko's duties when he gets his accounting degree. That's why he's going to night school."
"So does that mean Soujiro's here now?" Kaoru asked, taking a sip from her water glass.
Kenshin shook his head. "Yahiko's not the only one with a girlfriend. Don't tell Aunt Tae, but he's been dating the same girl for two years now. I think she's your age. Soujiro's always gone for older women."
"I'm not an older woman, Kenshin. And why can't I tell your aunt?"
Kenshin made a mental note never to use the words 'old' and 'Kaoru' in the same sentence. "He's never brought her to meet the parents. Aunt Tae's going to be pissed when she finds out, and I don't want Soujiro to blame me. He holds grudges."
"Good reason. Have you met her?"
"Yeah. She's alright. And I think we're both about to meet Finn's guy."
To give Kaoru credit, she didn't turn to look until the man sat down next to her.
"Himura," he said. "Your reputation precedes you."
"And you are?" Kenshin asked. The stranger was about five ten, with black hair, brown eyes, thin facial features, and a deep tan. Kenshin had never seen the man before in his life.
"My name is Shishio."
Kenshin took a closer look at the man. He'd heard of him years ago. Nothing specific, only that he was too ambitious. He doubted Shishio was more than a business partner of Finn's. Finn didn't care for ambition in others.
"This is Kaoru," Kenshin said. He watched as they nodded to each other. "Did you or Finn require that she came?"
Shishio shrugged and leaned back in his seat. "Must have been Finn."
"Are you two friends?" Kaoru asked.
Shishio laughed, a sound that was surprisingly unpleasant. "Hell no. The only thing we have in common is Sean."
"Sean?" Kaoru asked in confusion.
The smile left Shishio's face and he ignored Kenshin to stare at Kaoru. "If you don't know anything about Sean, this is a waste of my time."
"We know Sean was Finn's friend," Kenshin said quickly, taking a guess. "Finn said Sean was dead, but there's no body yet."
Shishio relaxed a little. "That's right. I've been looking. Sean's a family friend. Did Finn tell you anything else?"
"Finn left it up to you," Kenshin said slowly. It was important that Shishio thought he had every advantage possible. "He didn't even tell us Sean's last name."
Shishio smirked. "Sounds like Finn. So he gave you a copy of the credit record and left huh? Was it a copy of the original or the doctored version?"
"You mean you know what name goes in the blank?" Kaoru broke in.
"I haven't seen it," Shishio snapped. "Sean didn't tell me. He said he didn't want me to know too much. I thought it was just him being paranoid again, when he said he thought the cops were trying to kill him."
"What did he see?" Kaoru asked, eyes wide and focused on Shishio.
Shishio shook his head. "This is supposed to be a mutual relationship. I'm not giving you anymore free information. Why did Finn have both of you meet me here?"
"Because he thought the same people who killed Sean are after us," Kenshin said. "Unfortunately, Finn didn't tell me who those people are." Which he'd done on purpose, Kenshin thought, remembering watching Finn smoke and stare at him.
Shishio nodded. "Finn's the only one besides Sean who saw the original. How are you two going to help me? I can think of several uses for you, Himura, but not for the girl."
Kaoru looked indignant, but Kenshin cut her off before she could say anything. "Kaoru has cop contacts at the precinct where Okita worked."
Shishio shrugged. "Who's Okita?"
Damn. He'd thought Shishio would know Okita. Kenshin took drink of water to stall for time while he thought up something that wouldn't give away too much information to Shishio. He didn't like the man.
"He was trying to help Sean Briggs," Kaoru said slowly. "The night he was murdered he mentioned that he was working on a private case that was taking up more of his time than he'd thought. I bet it was helping Sean. He probably confronted the dirty cops that night, but they killed him."
"So he'd seen the original version," Kenshin said slowly. "Maybe he even had a copy of it."
Shishio was sitting up straight now. "So all I have to do is break into his house and find it, and then I can take care of customer number seventy-nine."
"You can't just break into Okita's house!" Kaoru hissed. "Besides, I think he had a roommate!"
Shishio stood from the table. "If you don't figure out who's trying to kill you, you're going to end up like Sean. Thank you, Himura. This has been a profitable night for me."
Kenshin leaned back in his seat and watched Shishio until he walked out of the restaurant. Then he turned his attention to Kaoru, who was glaring at him and drumming her fingers on the table.
"You let him walk away!" she accused.
Kenshin shook his head. "Come and sit next to me."
She muttered something under her breath, but walked around the side of the table to sit next to him. "Well?"
"Okita destroyed that paper."
"How do you know that for sure?"
"He was trying to save Sean Briggs, not arrest anyone. The only way to do that was to destroy the record. Even if he didn't destroy it, there's no way it's in his house. That would put his roommate in danger." Kenshin watched as Kaoru considered what he'd said. He could read the moment on her face when she decided she believed his reasoning.
"Then what are we going to do?"
"Warn Okita's roommate, do some research on Sean Briggs, and wait for Shishio to contact us again."
Kaoru nodded. "Then you think Shishio might know where another copy of the original is?"
"There's still Finn's copy," Kenshin reminded her. "We might be able to find it if it wasn't in the storage warehouse." Which was very optimistic, almost unreasonably so, but he didn't want to tell Kaoru that. Either Finn's copy no longer existed, or someone had it – someone who either hid very well, or had a lot of firepower. That had to be the reason why Shishio was so eager to find Okita's copy of the original document.
"That's a big if," Kaoru said doubtfully. "Are you sure Finn won't just tell you?"
"There's no way they'd let me in to see him. And even if I did get an audience, they'd be recording it and there's no way he'd tell me anything. They wouldn't let him live if they knew for sure that he knew the name."
Kaoru bit her lip. "You're right. It doesn't look like I'm going home for Christmas vacation, does it?"