A/N: The bath scene in the previous chapter is not an accurate representation of the conditions of a Japanese bath-house. While they do tend to be communal prior to soaking one already has cleaned themselves. Enjoy!
Absolution: Chapter Five
She stifled the urge to cry out in pain at the bruising pressure of Aoshi's hand upon her elbow. Something had obviously spooked the stoic man and not for the first time she questioned her relationship with him. Aside from being pretty sure that she wasn't his pregnant wife—she'd know if she were pregnant, right?
"Where are we going?"
He looked down at her, his green-blue eyes somewhat frightening in their intensity. "I'm bringing you to my former home. I've received word that your traveling companion, Yahiko, is there and worried for your safety."
When did he receive such a word? She'd been with him practically every moment! Yahiko? She remembered the name from an earlier conversation with Aoshi but she couldn't place a face. There was a sense of annoyance though. "I don't see why he would worry if he knew I was with you."
Again with those piercing eyes. Aoshi said nothing, however, his bruising grip did ease up. She let him lead the way and kept her attention on the passerbys on the streets. "Do you know where he is?"
"He is with Misao, no doubt," he answered.
"And she is?"
His eyes closed briefly as if he were struggling for patience. "You don't know her."
"Ah, so at least the amnesia can't be blamed." A stabbing feeling in her gut caused her to mis-step. Aoshi's eyes snapped down to her and for a moment there seemed a flash of concern across his blank face. "It's nothing," she said waving her free hand dismissively.
"It's not nothing," he said quietly reaching down and plucking a dart from her side.
"When did that happen?" she asked, mind working through a fog. The sidewalk seemed uneven and she stumbled again only to have Aoshi catch her in his strong arms. His blank face was now a mask of rage and that was the last thing she remembered seeing before everything went dark.
Aoshi scooped the unconscious woman into his arms angry with himself for allowing her to be attacked. He sniffed the tip of the dart and was pleased to discover the familiar bitter scent of a tranquilizer he himself had used various times. It was nothing fatal, but given Kaoru's size she'd be unconscious for at least three or four hours.
He noticed a man with batlike wings perched on top of a building from the direction the dart fired. The man waved before lifting the dart gun to his lips again. Aoshi caught the projectile inches from his face and tossed it toward the shadows on his right.
"He's quite rude, isn't he?" Soujiro asked sword raised and the remains of the dart falling to the ground. "I'll send him home now and make sure he has no supper."
"There was no need to drug the girl," Aoshi growled. "I said we would meet this afternoon."
The young man smiled. "Sure you did, Shinomori-san. We just thought it would make things easier if you didn't have your little burden."
Aoshi hefted her higher positioned her head against his shoulder "I don't see how my having to carry her unconscious form makes my load lighter."
Soujiro's smile grew. "Now your decision to take her to your clan's inn will be easier to make." He sheathed his sword and held out his arms. "I could take her if you want?"
Aoshi turned his body slightly to block the young man's intrusion. He stepped past him and Soujiro stayed put. "Well then, I'll see you in about an hour, Shinomori-san!"
The distance didn't take long to cross and Aoshi found himself staring at his clan's home. So many happy years had been spent there, but it was too few. He was forced into the role of leader at such a young age due to the war and now what remained of his life would be turmoil. He kept to the shadows and kept his presence masked as he approached the dining area. It looked like almost everyone was in attendance—including Misao and Yahiko. The only one absent was Okina and Aoshi had a good idea where he might find the old man.
While they were distracted he'd deposit Kaoru in Misao's room. It was one of the easier rooms to break into—which until now he'd been annoyed that her room was so unsecured. He'd use it to his advantage now.
He stepped carefully into the room and carefully over the stashes of clutter littering the floor. Misao's room was a complete hazard. Perhaps that was the defense against intruders?
Aoshi lay Kaoru gently on Misao's futon. He brushed back her bangs and lifted open her eyelids—both were fully dilated. He let her eyelids close and shifted his fingers to her neck feeling the strong pulse of her artery. She'd be all right, but he hated abandoning her unconscious.
He stood abruptly and went to a desk in Misao's room. There was a leaf of paper and pen. He scribbled a quick note and placed it inside Kaoru's kimono. For now, he needed to speak with Okina. If anyone knew the Battousai's whereabouts it was that old ninja.
Was she having a seizure? Her upper body seemed to be convulsing and yet she couldn't open her eyes.
"Kaoru! Ugly! Wake up!"
"If you don't stop shaking me, I'm going to be sick," she said through gritted teeth. The shaking stopped and she felt a pair of thin arms wrap around her torso. She managed to open her eyes a slit and saw a head of unruly dark hair in her face.
"How did you get here? I've been so worried!" the young man pulled back and his face was mottled red, his eyes were watery, but his smile was joyous. "I thought you'd drown, Ugly!"
"You must be Yahiko," Kaoru said returning the boy's embrace even though his name-calling was really annoying. "If you call me by that name again I'm going to kill you though." She looked past the young man and noticed several others lurking in the doorway, as well as a young girl with a long dark braid sitting on her other side with a letter in her hand.
"I suppose you're Misao?"
"Yes! Where's Aoshi-sama?"
Kaoru blinked. Aoshi's a lord? He didn't act like royalty. "I don't know."
Misao waved the letter. "This is Aoshi-sama's handwriting. It's addressed to you." She shoved it in Kaoru's face. "What does it say?"
Gingerly, Kaoru sat up and opened the letter. Yahiko was grinning ear to ear and hugged her again. He might have been annoying, and she didn't quite remember him other than what Aoshi said to her, but she knew he was important to her.
Aoshi had great penmanship. She scanned the letters contents and tried not to hide the letter from Misao's prying eyes. "He had a meeting and thought I'd be safer here. I was shot with a dart with powers to temporarily sedate. The side-effects should be short lived."
Yahiko's eyes grew wide. "You've been with Shinomori all this time? He's a psychopath, Ugly!"
Kaoru bopped him upside the head the same time Misao did. The action felt surprisingly familiar. "Don't call me, Ugly!"
"Don't call Aoshi-sama psychopath!" Misao yelled.
Kaoru read the letter again. It was extremely vague, but it at least answered the mystery of the pain in her side. "Why would someone sedate me?"
"Why were you with Shinomori?" Yahiko asked rubbing his bruised skull.
"He pulled me out of the sea." Kaoru shook her head trying to clear her thoughts. "Why did we come to Kyoto, Yahiko? We're from Tokyo, right?"
"We came for Kenshin," Yahiko said softly. "Don't you remember?"
A feeling of sadness and thoughts of fireflies flashed through Kaoru's mind.
"Right, the Battousai. Why would we come after him?"
Yahiko started sputtering and Misao's mouth dropped open in shock. The other inhabitants seemed to find that time the perfect one to leave.
"You don't remember," Yahiko said softly.
Kaoru tried to smile for him, but it came out shaky. "Sorry, I don't remember a lot. I've lost about a year and a half of memories according to Aoshi."