Break out the noisemakers and sake! It's the one-year anniversary of this fic not-being-updated! Wait... this is an update... so... well crap. No party for us. Hopefully a chapter will suffice as a reward for sticking with this story for an entire inactive year.

Disclaimer: The fact that I didn't update for a year should probably tell you something about whether I own RK or not.

.::Chapter 8::.

"Himura, I'm starting to think that you like being stuck in a scrap yard."

Kenshin's expression was caustic.

"It's not a scrap yard, Makimachi-san."

A very suspiciously snort-like sound was his answer.

"Himura, half of the practice hall is on the other side of the koi pond, and the rest of it is barely standing."

"That doesn't make it a scrap yard."

"Whatever! Don't change the subject!"

"Hn."

Misao rocked backwards on her heels, hands clasped behind her back.

"The point is that you seem to have a dojo fetish."

It was the fire-spirit's turn to sputter.

"I do not have a dojo fetish. If anything, the dojo has a spirit fetish."

"Now that's just nasty."

"You were the one who brought up the subject of fetishes."

"Who's got a fetish?"

Kenshin and Misao paled and blushed respectively, turning to face the third occupant of the dojo.

"Ahaha, no one, Kaoru-san," Misao giggled timidly, a suspiciously wide smile stretching her face.

Kaoru didn't look particularly convinced, but graciously let the subject drop.

"Uh-huh. Hey, Kenshin, how goes the roof on the kitchen?" she inquired, craning her neck upwards to try to catch a glimpse of the work done so far.

"It is progressing well. I expect to have it finished by the end of the day," Kenshin replied, a tinge of satisfaction in his voice.

Kaoru smiled brightly, eyes glittering. "That's fantastic! At this rate, you'll have the dojo repaired in no time!" she said happily, clapping her hands together.

"Say, Himura, where did you learn to fix roofs, anyway?" Misao asked.

Grimacing, he gave a critical glance at the roof. "Shishou wasn't the most careful of spirits. He tended to set things on fire when he drank too much sake," he explained.

"…Ah. That would do it, I suppose," Misao conceded.

Kaoru coughed discreetly.

"Er, Kenshin, I made lunch."

"Ooh, you can cook? Let me at it! I haven't eaten human food in ages!" Misao tittered, completely oblivious to Kenshin's horrified expression.

As Misao scurried inside the building, Kaoru lagged behind and cast a devious look in the fire-spirit's direction.

Misao was in for a treat.


Shishio was indeed very interested in his news.

So interested, in fact, that he had set whatever was closest to him at the moment on fire and then burned the ashes.

Maybe 'interested' wasn't quite the right word.

Irrationally irritated? Inexplicably inconsolable?

And, incidentally, ignitable?

Shishio-sama, Soujirou discovered, was the master of spontaneous combustion.

Well, at least he had clear orders now. Orders he liked.

'I hope Kanryuu has aired out his spare rooms.'


Several bowls of blackened rice, spicy miso shiru, and undercooked fish later, Misao decided that she was never, ever eating again.

Unless Kenshin was cooking.

Moaning slightly, the wind-spirit hid her face in her hands and willed her stomach to settle. It would do her no good to regurgitate all the food that Kaoru-san had so… lovingly prepared. Not only would it make her feel worse, it would insult Kaoru-san. And she needed to be on the girl's good side.

It was bad enough that Himura was making her job difficult at every turn. If they both ganged up on her, it would take her weeks - no, months - to free Himura. And she couldn't see Aoshi-sama until Himura was free. Katsura-san had been very clear on that point.

'Extortion,' she thought vehemently.

She couldn't help but be suspicious of the way Himura was purposely diverting her attention from her job at every turn. It was almost as though he liked it here.

Which was preposterous.

…Wasn't it?

Misao cast a surreptitious glance at the fire-spirit, who was casting a surreptitious glance at the water-spirit, who was casting a surreptitious glance at the wind-spirit.

Oh, goodie.

Himura didn't have a dojo fetish, and the dojo didn't even have a Himura fetish. Himura had a water-spirit fetish.

Misao grinned.


"So, Himura," Misao crooned.

Kenshin cringed. He knew that tone of voice. It usually preceded embarrassment.

"Yes, Makimachi-san?"

"How long have you been dating her?"

Cue the embarrassment.

"Oro!"

Misao's innocent grin informed him that she was not nearly done with him yet.

"Oh, you're so cute! Don't bother denying it. It's so obvious that you two are smitten with each other."

Kenshin paled.

"O-obvious, de gozaru?"

"…De gozaru? Since when do you use that form of 'desu'?"

"I… I don't know."

"…A-HAH! It was a distraction! See, you can't outsmart the mighty Makimachi Misao!"

"One can only hope."

Misao's lower lip stuck out in a pout as her eyes turned liquid and glassy. "Himuuuura! Stop being mean to me!"

"Only when you give me the same service," Kenshin said moodily, resuming his work on the roof. It was so close to being done…!

"Touché."

Silence.

"So, how long have you been dating her?"

Kenshin's frustrated sigh was heard throughout the dojo.


Kanryuu had not aired out his spare rooms. He rectified this egregious error immediately.

It was never a good idea to be on the bad side of Shishio-sama and his lackeys. Never mind that he was one of the aforementioned lackeys. The members of the contingent that had just moved into his mansion for no particular reason with no set time frame attached to them were the kind of lackeys that posed imminent threats. Kanryuu was more of the bribe-someone-else-to-stab-you-in-your-sleep type.

Not that he was without power of his own. It was just so pitiable in comparison with Shishio's elite forces that he might as well have none at all.

Maybe he should hire more muscle to guard his rooms. One could never be too careful when the Juppongatana lived under your roof.

Well, unless you were Shishio-sama. Shishio-sama got away with anything he wanted to because, quite simply, he could kill any of them with a word and they'd never know what hit them. He could also cut off their supplies of pre-packaged death and they'd disappear in a lingering, painful fashion which was much worse than instant death.

Kanryuu knew all of this. He himself was the one who packaged the pre-packaged death.

Or, rather, his pet was.

His uncooperative pet. His rebellious, uncooperative pet who had gone on a hunger strike a month ago and showed no signs of letting up.

"Megumi, Megumi, Megumi. When are you going to cease this fruitless behavior?"

The transparent spirit, barely visible no matter how you looked at her, glared at him cuttingly with hollow eyes set in a gaunt face. Starvation did not agree with her.

"You know you can't disappear. As long as you are anchored to this world, you cannot leave it. So why do you refuse to take in energy in any form?"

She wouldn't answer. She didn't have the strength to. He knew that.

It was always a good idea to sow self-doubt, though.

With one last condescending smile, he left the barely-there spirit and returned to his study. Yes, he would hire on more help. The Juppongatana in his home… what was Shishio-sama plotting? And how could he benefit from it?

Lost amidst his planning, he failed to notice the intimidating aura scant feet in front of him.

"Kanyruu-san."

Jerking his eyes upwards, Kanryuu squinted at the smiling water spirit. "Soujirou-san! What a pleasant surprise," Kanryuu truckled obsequiously. Soujirou's smile never wavered.

"Yes, isn't it? Shishio-sama sent me along with his troops on vacation!"

A drop of sweat rolled down the back of Kanryuu's neck. "Ah, did he now? What a kind master Shishio-sama is!"

"Quite so!" Soujirou continued, seemingly unaware of Kanryuu's discomfort, "Shishio-sama would be delighted to know you thought so well of him!"

Kanryuu nodded emphatically. "Oh, yes, I would do anything to please Shishio-sama," he insisted, fervently hoping the water spirit would leave.

Soujirou simply smiled. "Then you will have no qualms in allowing Megumi-san to be used in his latest endeavors, ne?"

Through sheer force of will, Kanryuu managed to keep his outraged tirade completely internal. "Of course not, Soujirou-san. If it is permitted, though, I would like to know for what purpose Shishio-sama requires her?"

"I'm afraid I'm not allowed to divulge that information, Kanryuu-san. However, Shishio-sama has instructed me to tell you that upon his receipt of Megumi-san, you are to be promoted!"

Kanryuu's discomfort magically disappeared.

"Ah – am I allowed to inquire as to what sort of a raise I will be able to expect?"

Soujirou's smile grew.

"Generous."


He wound his way through the iridescent Trees, sake jug tucked under his arm. He passed Tree after Tree, in search of something special.

In search of a soul to form for himself.

The Trees he passed were all fairly normal essences- this one was studious and eager to please, but weak, that one was strong but unmanageable, the one over there would've been nice except it was female, and so on.

He wanted something extraordinary.

A few moments later, he came upon a clearing in the Soul Forest, a single Tree in the center of it. Curious, he approached the Tree, cape billowing out behind him in the open space.

Cautiously, he tested the essence of the Tree.

Male, hard-working. So far, so good. He delved deeper.

Idealistic. Fiercely loyal. Obedient, to a point.

'Shinta.'

He smirked.

Opening the jug of sake, he poured a portion of it onto the Forest floor.

"Shinta's no name for a swordsman. From now on, your name is Kenshin," he said to the air, eyes fixated on the wet spot on the ground.

A wisp of ki curled around the spilled sake. Tested. Tasted.

And accepted.

He teased the wisp of ki, fed it with his own and with sake until it was a steady burning flame, reddish-orange and strong.

"Come, Kenshin."

And the flame followed Hiko Seijuro out of the Soul Forest.


"To the left. Lower. Lower. Just a hair to the right – There. Hnnnn…"

Kaoru smirked to herself as she kneaded Kenshin's back with kendo-worn hands. "Thank you for fixing the kitchen roof, Kenshin."

"It was my duty, Kamiya-san."

"I know… but, still, thank you. It can't have been easy," she reasoned.

"Compared with training sessions with Shishou, fixing a roof is child's play," he murmured, relaxing as she worked the knots of tension from his tired muscles.

"How did he teach you?" Kaoru asked, curious.

"In ways that I will never teach you," Kenshin stated flatly.

"…Oh."

Kaoru finished the impromptu massage and sat next to Kenshin on the engawa.

"Do you miss him?" she asked at length.

Kenshin turned his head to look at her inquisitively. "Hn?"

"Your shishou. Do you miss him?" she repeated.

Sighing, Kenshin tilted his head backwards and gazed at the stars.

"…Somewhat. He was my father, I suppose. In a way."

Kaoru hummed in agreement, mimicking Kenshin's posture.

"I miss my parents sometimes, too."

The flickering of his eyes in her direction was her only indication that he had heard her.

"Mother died when I was very young... she had been sickly for most of my life, always seeming like a ghost of herself. I suppose it was because she wasn't part of the Realm anymore. When she finally disappeared, Father was... very angry. He cursed the Kami for taking her from him, and he too was stricken down a few years later. For his impudence, I guess."

Something was tickling at the back of Kenshin's mind.

"It's not so bad, though. I have Gensai-san, who is like a grandfather. He's been around all my life."

The pieces were all there, just in the wrong orientations...

"And now I have you, teaching me about my heritage. It makes me feel closer to my parents."

The pieces snapped into place.

"Kaoru."

Her head whipped towards him, eyes wide in shock.

Kenshin's eyes fairly glowed in the evening shadows. "I remember."

--

Glossary:

Dojo- A school for training in Japanese arts of self-defense. In this fic, kenjutsu

Shishou- Honorable title for a master

Miso- A paste made of fermented soybeans or grains

Shiru - Soup

Oro- Kenshin's ever-popular non-word, used in situations where he's either confused, surprised, or indignant. Kind of like a squeak. xD

De gozaru- An archaic form of "desu". Basically, it means that Kenshin is being super-polite

Juppongatana - "ten swords;" An elite group of 10 men who have their own unique abilities and fight under Shishio

Ne- An affirmative ending to sentences, kind of like "right?"

Sake - rice wine

Ki- One's life energy, or aura

Kami- God, spirit, deity

Engawa- A veranda, or porch

--

AN: Hooooly crap, I updated.

I'm kind of having a hate/hate relationship with this story right now, in case you didn't know.

I'll try to finish it, just for the sake of the people who have been waiting for an update for a year.

Or else I could just tell you all of my story notes in the next update and be done with it... though I somehow doubt that would satisfy.