Sorry it took so long. Special thanks to Yume Mikage and silent canary for encouraging me even after it seemed I had given up on it completely. This chapter is for you. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: The town, forest, and kingdom are mine, as well as some of the people, but none of the RK.

x

"It's a thief in the night to come and grab you.

It can creep up inside you and consume you.

A disease of the mind it can control you.

I. Feel. Like. A. Monster."

Disturbia - Rihanna

x

Chapter 6: Fulton

Groaning, Kaoru stretched her arms high above her head, tweaking each muscle with satisfying determination. Scrunching her nose, she yawned and scratched absently at the hair above her ears. While the pain had not lessened, she was used to the constant headaches, and was finding herself instead distracted by the persistent itching of her scalp. Now, she caught herself trying to dig at the area with a frightening single-minded obsession. Her mother scolded that she would tear into skin if she didn't stop the habit soon.

Curling her fists and sighing, she dropped her arms to her lap and onto the book she was studying. It was full of notations that were hard to decipher, but with another journal open and carrying her own scribbled notes she would not have to struggle with them more than once. They were well worth the effort, as she was learning more than what Erthel would preach to her at lessons, and as a plus they would sometimes explain to her what Erthel had tried and failed to. After the passed few weeks, her improvement had increased dramatically. Though she constantly thought of Yahiko's round-a-bout warning not to raise any suspicions by showing them her true powers.

If only to honor his wish for secrecy she would do as he asked. He was her little brother, and she found no harm in keeping her second education from her mother. Even if she were to learn of it, she doubted it would be that much of a problem. She was developing her skills, and that was, in fact, what her mother wanted from her, wasn't it? To help her become strong enough to destroy this horde of angry followers that took her father's ideas to heart. To save the countryside from their warmongering and stop their destruction of innocent people and lands. Surely there was no harm in bettering herself even more than what was originally wished.

Plopping her chin in one hand and bracing her elbow on her knee, Kaoru looked across to Yahiko's bent form crouched on one of the pillows in his secret room. He was much cleaner than he had been when she had first laid eyes on him. After convincing him of taking a bath, and scrubbing him herself until his skin was red and raw, he was no longer covered in years of grime. It was astonishing how handsome of a little boy he was. His skin was naturally darker than hers, his now trimmed hair still course and spiky, and with clean, well-fitted clothes he had an air of nobility that slightly startled his older sister at times. As if he had the right to look down on others. As if he were many years older than what he seemed.

Pursing her lips, Kaoru raised an eyebrow. She still wasn't quite sure how old he really was, but she had to assume he wasn't much older than possibly ten. A few years older than what she had originally guessed, but after she had taken it upon herself to watch over his well-being, he was beginning to lose the scrawniness she had mistaken for his age.

Dark irises, still intense and searching, still slightly wary of everything around him, looked up to catch her own; blinking as he silently questioned her scrutiny. Smiling, she shrugged and gestured at the pile of books and papers scattered around her sitting figure.

"My skull feels like it's going to crack." His lips twitched and her smile widened. "Want me to get us some food?"

His features turned thoughtful, crossing between doubt and unwillingness. Relaxing after a moment, he sighed, nodded, then held up one hand to stall her. Flashing a few hand gestures, he relayed his wish for a couple more minutes. Shrugging her shoulders again, she began carefully picking up after herself. Making sure she would be able to find her markings later.

Spending almost everyday with one another had intensified their bond as siblings, and while it was difficult at times to communicate, Kaoru had suggested using an alternate system to convey his wishes. It was still very much rudimentary for now, but basic needs and wants were easy enough to articulate with expressions and short hand signs. In the future she was hoping to work out a method that would allow him to speak to her fully with his hands alone.

Standing, she stretched again, popping her back and pointing her toes to work at indolent calf muscles. Walking over to where he was intently bent over what he had been working on all evening, she braced her hands on her knees, unwilling to sit back down now that she was up, and peeked around his bowed head. "Whatcha workin' on, little brother?"

He cast her a quick glance, before seemingly ignoring her, a quiet scratching sound reaching her ears as it had for the last few hours. She didn't question him when he did things on his own. Yahiko was a very independent young man, and she knew and respected the amount of time he had spent taking care of himself. Besides, everyone needed time to themselves, and as another syren she also knew the irritation that would come when that time was intruded upon.

A few more minutes passed, Kaoru's feet taking her around the room as she waited for him to finish, fingering the piles of books they still had yet to file through. Turning when a soft ruffling announced his movement, she smiled in return to his, quick stepping to see what he was holding out to show her.

Small and delicate, the sculpture in his hand glowed softly in the candlelight, and as Kaoru came closer she could make out the highlight of green that spoke of its origin. Leaning closer, her eyes wide in awe, she took in first the shape he had chosen; a perfectly depicted sea turtle. A second look showed the detail he had placed into the shell and head; the way its mouth opened slightly as if holding the small round link he had incorporated into its making; the tiny tail that curled, and the large front legs that would push against the water and propel it across the sea.

"It's so beautiful, Yahiko." Tilting her head, she glanced up to see pride light his face. "I didn't know you were so talented with this kind of stuff." Becoming embarrassed, he looked away and shrugged, closing his fingers before dropping his hand back to his side. "Well? Have you done many other of these? Where do you keep them? I want to see." Wondering if he had any secret hiding places, Kaoru darted her eyes around the enclosure.

Taking in a deep breath, Yahiko recaptured her attention, his fingers tapping his chest emphatically. "I don't understand." Repeating the action, he frowned, held up the piece of jewelry again, then spread his hand wide over his heart.

x

Relief briefly reflected a glancing shot of light onto the turmoil of Kenshin's soul as the trees around them finally parted. Across a large clearing, the field lined with growing vegetables and fenced areas for the small collection of livestock, was the only town, besides Winthrop, to plant itself so close to the forest. Fulton was small because of this, but not nearly as small as the village they had come from. As the only standing population of people this side of the Lockwood, it was a great place for travelers, and a haven for merchants. Imperial guards were rarely seen here, so it was also void of most fees and taxes normally had in the larger cities closer to the capital.

"Thanks be to the gods, we're free." Stretching her arms high above her head as if she had been made to crawl through the woods, Misao groaned in pleasure. "I thought we'd never get out of there."

Saitou lifted a brow, his lip sneering in a very disdainful way. "How convenient, if you ask me."

"Well nobody was." Sticking her tongue out at him in a childish move, she hunched her shoulders and continued on.

"Though he does have a point." Irritation pressed itself over the light, squashing the sensation into dust. "I will not tolerate any more delays. We have been counting on you to guide us, and what took me only days to cross on foot before has taken us three months."

"It's not my fault the place has a mind of its own!" Losing a grip on her already shortened patience, Misao yelled at the tense redhead. "You knew that before we tried to traverse the cursed trees, so you will not blame this on me!"

"Yes, and it seemed more than content to let us pass, but only after you finally allowed that one to join us." Glancing over his shoulder at the tall syren now walking a mere three paces back, Saitou gave him a cold once over.

"And I'm sure it would have been just as happy to let us go if he'd went away like I told him to in the first place." Tossing her own hard glare over a shoulder, Misao wished her gaze alone would set him on fire. "So if it is anyone's fault it is yours, Lord Aoshi."

"And yet if I were not here… neither, little mistress, would you be." His voice was cool and soft, grinding on her nerves even more with his careless attitude. As if the idiot was not following her around like a starving mutt chasing tail.

"I would have been just fine without your interference, My Lord, so if you are going to pretend it is my safety you are concerned for you may leave now."

"Mistress, if you are smart enough to recognize such pretenses, then please do not act ignorant of my answer to such a suggestion."

"Enough." Irritation becoming dominant within his mind, their incessant squabbling trying his nerves, Kenshin snapped. "If you, Lord Aoshi, are planning on traveling with us, then I will have to politely ask that you resolve this issue as soon as possible. If Lady Misao is distracted in even the least it may mean a delay that I will not find acceptable."

"Of course." A light sense of humor laced the words, and Aoshi gave a partial bow in acknowledgement. "That is exactly my intention, Master Himura. Perhaps you would like to appeal on my behalf?"

Amber irises almost burned at the underlying insult, holding his gaze long enough to see a touch of doubt shift the syren's eyes. Turning abruptly to Misao, her stance half-ducking away from him, Kenshin stated tensely. "If you do not come to a conclusion soon… I will make this decision for you."

"I-I understand."

Chuckling under his breath as the small red-head walked rigidly ahead, Saitou lit a cigarette. "His patience has grown even thinner."

Studying the man with more interest, Aoshi spoke half to himself and half to the other syren beside him. "Is he truly only human?"

"I've been wondering the same thing for three months." Muttering a grudging agreement, Misao stepped quickly away as if ashamed she had even spoken with him.

They garnered many stares as they entered the town, but were left mostly alone. There were not many travelers that came from The Lockwood, and even though the two syrens would appear human to any ignorant eye, their group had a suspicious air about them. Nothing they carried with them suggested intention of trade, and the short red-head that led the party down the main street was dressed strangely. Worse, his amber irises glared at anyone caught staring.

Having survived off of the bounty of the forest for so long, they took the time to restock their supplies as needed. As Kenshin wasn't in the mood to linger longer than necessary, the shopping was quick, and more than tense. Many of the vendors had second thoughts about selling to them, but money was money, and they were more than happy to jack up the prices higher than was normal.

By the time they made their way to an inn for the evening, Saitou was grumbling under his breath. He did not appreciate the way the people of Fulton were taking advantage of their location, and seemed to think a restriction needed to be placed upon their goods.

Uncaring of such domestic problems, Kenshin turned on Misao to interrupt his growling. "Do you sense her anywhere?"

Misao looked startled for a moment, then cast her eyes to the left and right, directing her senses in all directions to search for any clue. There were many smells around them, but much of them were small and insignificant and did not contain that sweet essence of syren magic. There was a faint aroma of gnome, but it could have very well come from the fields outside of town. Looking back to Kenshin, she shook her head, almost afraid of his reaction. He merely nodded, however, and disappeared inside the building before them.

It was late in the day as they were led to their separate rooms and allowed to relax and refresh themselves before finding their way back down to the bar area for dinner. Kenshin was not in a mood to socialize and soon disappeared upstairs after eating. Saitou left shortly afterward, marching his way outdoors to smoke and do what he had been trained to do best. Which left Misao in a very awkward situation she did not appreciate.

As night set fully in, the dining area turned into a place of entertainment and drinking, the boarders either gone to bed or staying up to celebrate for one reason or another. Local farmers and merchants joined in as the evening progressed, and soon the quiet inn became a raucous party with singing, dancing, and plenty of gambling. Though the festive atmosphere was pleasant for Misao, and on any other night she would have enjoyed it with abandon, the discomfort that was working on her would not be ignored. Not with the way the man sitting across the table from her was attracting so much attention from the barmaids.

Aoshi was everything a male syren should be. Beautifully handsome, elegant, even slightly delicate in his features, but strong and confident, mysterious in his aloof attitude. His jet black hair contrasted with his pale skin, the cool blue of his irises at once captivating and piercing, his stature tall and though not slim or bulky, he gave an air of power. He stood out among the plain and ordinary people around them, and every woman in the inn was noticing.

Not, Misao assured herself, that she cared one lick what he was bound to do with any one, or even all, of the flirting little hussies. It was merely nauseating to watch their simpering and how they would sigh at every one of his movements. One or two even threw a challenging look her way, their eyes shooting daggers at her proximity to the object of their desire. Rolling her eyes, and crossing her arms back behind her head, Misao leaned back in her chair, her body stretching to show off her lithe form and the curvature of her modest breasts. Though not much to compare to the more voluptuous figures of the barmaids, with their dresses loosened and their cleavage in plain view, Misao knew from experience that the move would catch attention.

While the young lord across from her was a prime male of their species, Misao herself was just as much a syren, and just as desirable. Her outfit was not as pleasing as some others she owned, and was more than just practical, but it was fitting, hugging her in places that were suggestive. With a pixy-like bone structure and large warm eyes she exuded an otherworldly beauty; a charm that placed her in a league above the simple women that performed their jobs day after day. Such a woman was not seen in parts such as these, and it was that untouchable quality that made everyone want her. To have something incapable of being had. Men were always wishing to conquer that which they envied.

One of the more bold servers plopped herself down in Aoshi's lap, feigning surprise at the fall and wrapping her arms around his neck as if to brace herself. She giggled coyly, her mouth pressing against his ear and Misao felt something deep within her twist hideously at the imagined words of invitation. Aoshi's face stayed passive, no matter what the action around him, and even as the woman's hand smoothed down his shirt and to his stomach his downcast eyes did not move. A solid lump slid up into Misao's throat, a rage beginning to burn within her, but before she could realize the strength of her own reaction she was saved from herself with the appearance of another.

Obviously of merchant origin, as he did not have the smell of earth and sweat about him, the man slipped a hip up onto the table beside her, blocking her view of the affair on the other side. His smile was confident, if not a little arrogant, and Misao decided he must be from a different town, probably the capital with that kind of attitude. He was handsome, his scent a little nauseating, but much more pleasing than stale alcohol and tobacco smoke, and though he was slightly scrawny he held himself with poise and grace. Misao smiled back… he was the type that enjoyed getting his way. You might just be getting more than you bargained for tonight.

"You seem to be out of place in this rustic town, Lady. I feel it only fair to warn you… you make the other woman jealous with your refined beauty."

Misao settled her chair back on all four legs, standing to her full height slowly as she lightly leaned into him. Shorter than most, she came only to his chest, but it only gave her more reason to place a small hand against his ribs. "Perhaps you want to even the score and make the men in the room jealous as well?"

Self-assured green eyes widened at her straightforwardness, stunned that his conquest was so easily won. Misao giggled at his hesitance, turning her head to the side to hide her amusement, before lifting her chin and pouting out a full bottom lip in mock annoyance. "If you're uninterested in pleasing me, then don't waste my time. There are others I can try." His lips opened and closed, stammering as he tried to untie his tongue. Sliding her hand up to his neck, she played with the shoulder length strands of his blonde hair. "An unfortunate decision. I was sure when I saw you that you were schooled in the art of flesh. I was eager to find out just how you would touch me." As she moved to pull away, her wrist was caught in his and she smothered a laugh of triumph.

"I have secured the best room in the house, my lady. Perhaps you would like to enjoy its comforts first hand?"

"Oh, more than anything."

Following her companion to the stairs, Misao cast a quick look over her shoulder, content to find those ice blue eyes finally lifted from their lifeless stare.

Perhaps it had been his intention to seduce her with wine and pretty words of adoration, but Misao was in no mood to play the game. There was something burning hot and prickly in her stomach and she needed a way to ease the discomfort and aggravation. A fast-paced and demanding romp between the sheets seemed like just the solution… even if they didn't truly make it to the bed. And perhaps, in the back of her mind, she wished to show the smug syren downstairs that he wasn't the only one that could gain pleasure from others. He wasn't the only one playing this game any longer.

A pleased, lucid smile showed teeth as the stranger proved her theory and illustrated his familiarity with the act. There was a pleasant buzz already building in her mind, washing away the painful thoughts she did not want to face. The ache in her groin was building as well with the falling away of reality, and she dug her fingers into his hair to encourage the drugging atmosphere. It was, she would admit, not quite as overwhelming as other times, but it would do. Sex with humans was so much safer.

Not seconds into the room, and she was already mostly out of her top, his hands grasping at her, his mouth tasting whatever skin was available. In a way she knew she was being manipulative, a low hum thrumming the back of her throat heightening his arousal, making his desire to have her nearly unbearable, but she was a syren. Such acts were not alien to them, and it had quickly squashed any of his romantic notions. Misao didn't care about being wooed. She wanted only an escape.

It was in such a precarious position, with her breasts fully exposed, her legs wrapped around his waist and her pleasure throbbing through her veins, that the door slammed abruptly open. The noise startled her ardent lover, jolting him against her as he braced her into the wall, his head swiveling to the door in sudden anger at the interruption. One look at their intruder, however, froze the words momentarily in his throat.

Whether it was the light illuminating him from the hallway, darkening his outline so that nothing but the shining depths of his cold, blue irises could be seen; or perhaps it was the slight hiss of warning that seemed to permeate the air, raising the small hairs on the back of his neck. Whatever it was, there was something ominous about the presence standing in the doorway of his room.

As the tall man took a step inward, the spell was abruptly broken and the blonde merchant's anger reignited. Lifting the small woman by the waist, he sat her down in one rough motion before rounding on the trespasser. "Just who the hell do you think you are? This is a private room and I should have you thrown in prison for barging in here uninvited. Can't you see we're busy?" It had been his intention to shoo the stranger back out, bar the door and then return to the vixen to finish his business, her magic still at work within his mind and blurring his reasoning powers. However, the man seemed unconcerned with him, as if his presence and what it meant mattered little.

Aoshi marched swiftly past the insignificant human and rounded on her, his hand once again fisting into the loose folds of her disheveled shirt and lifting her from the floor. An enraged grunt tore at her throat, and she glared daggers at the other syren.

"You would dare let this piece of scum touch you?" His voice was low, indignant, scolding her for her lack prudence. It was that same tone of chastisement she'd heard as a child when she'd done something wrong. Such a thing from him was more infuriating than his disinterest.

"I'll let whoever I wish touch me, dominus. And what right do you have to scold me anyway?"

"I thought I already made my intentions clear, amor. I do not plan on backing down."

"But it's fine for you to sleep with whomever you please?" Feet kicking, she struggled in his hold, her nails clawing at the one handed grip he had on her gaping shirt. "I've told you my decision, carus. I could never feel love for you." His hold finally loosened, and she dropped smoothly to her feet. The man she'd sought to sleep with, seeing an opening, stepped up beside them and shoved a hand into Aoshi's chest.

"It seems you have been denied by the lady once already." A snobbish sniff pulled at his nostrils and he proceeded to try and push him towards the door. "You would do well to learn how to handle a refusal more gracefully. You only make a fool of yourself with such pitiable actions."

A soft ring filled the dark room, a flash of moonlight splashing across bright metal, and the merchant stopped with a sharp gasp at the short sword pressed into his throat. "Then enlighten me, ferox corruptus, in what way should I handle the loss of the woman I have come to love more than my own life?" The man stepped back, tripping in his haste to be away from the sudden appearance of the beast before him. Biting blue eyes neared black, looking for all the world as if the reaper himself had come to claim him, and he followed his retreat like a predator stalking his prey. "Should I turn a blind eye to this scelus, this sin, as she defiles herself with a nameless creature of savagery?" The wall came up fast behind him, and he began to panic as the blade once more appeared at his throat in an increasingly desperate threat to sever his head. "Do you think I should leave so very quietly while you stay and touch what you have no right to touch? She belongs to me."

"I belong to no one!" Misao raged indignantly, her voice snapping through the air with a shock of power.

Aoshi's attention shifted, to the relief of the merchant, and stared down the petite woman in challenge. "No one but me."

"Do you truly think after everything you did that we would ever be together again?" Slim arms crossed over her chest, closing the v-ed opening of her shirt. "I loved the man that looked at me and only me, before I found out about the string of affairs he'd left behind. My eyes have been disillusioned, dominus. They will no longer look at you in adoration." The emotions within her deflated, her being sickened by the turn of events. No longer in the mood for companionship, she ducked her head and made to retreat out the door.

It seemed almost fateful for his hand to detain her, and she huffed petulantly, jerking on her arm in a futile attempt to be free. "You never gave me one chance to right the wrong done to you. It is unfair to speak with such conviction."

"Do not speak to me about what is fair and unfair." The slam of the door momentarily distracted her and she realized quickly that the man had left. With the loosened hold on the sword at his neck, he had taken advantage of a diversion and fled. For a moment, Misao worried for the consequences.

"It has been over thirty years."

"And the images still haunt me!" A brief curl of his brows questioned, replaced by mounting surprise as she explained. "Every night that I dream I see you, looking at them, whispering sweet words I had thought meant for me. Every night I am reminded, watching with no choice of looking away. I saw you, Lord Aoshi. How do you think I knew which women to kill?"

"Do you not think I am haunted by images as well?" Slackly the arm holding his sword dropped, his other lifting to touch her face. "You… dulcis, insons, aureus…"

"That girl is no more. The woman before you is aware of the world, and needs no one to protect her."

Abruptly the hand touching her fisted, his voice hardening, rising in volume. "Would you give that pain back to me, then? Would you torment me so?"

"You torment yourself! I do not want or need you here!"

"But I need to be here!" Rough fingers were back, curving around the base of her skull to yank her closer. "Every moment you were absent from my sight felt like daggers in my skin! My need for you has been made painfully obvious, more so after you left! We will not be separated again!"

"More so? Do you wish me to believe you needed me before?"

In the dark of the room it was hard to see detail, but now and for the last few minutes, Aoshi seemed to be trembling. At first a reaction she thought to his rage, a new horrific insight began to fester in her mind. The scent of his magic was beginning to change, warping within his soul and seething from his pores. It was a scent not unlike the one she'd caught from Katsu. A scent that carried the metallic tang of blood.

"Then, now…aeternus…"

He was falling more and more into speaking the old language, a bad omen that sent cold chills down her spine.

"Te solus cupio." Suddenly flattened against him, the sword still clutched in his fingers brushing her back, his nose buried itself in her hair. "You will not be taken from me… never again."

"Again?" Cautious, halfway fearful, Misao let her tone fall until it was a mere whisper. "But… I left, before."

"And yet it was your own grandfather that ordered me away from you." The air around her was unexpectedly hard to breathe, the rage projected into his words nearly tangible. "He did not know we were lovers… but he understood our mutual affection. He didn't want you to become attached. He wanted you to be free, to stay free and innocent. You were only sixteen, still a child, and he wanted nothing to chain you. It was my own fault for letting him… my fault for thinking he may have been right."

"Dominus…" Misao leaned back, her eyes slowly tracing his form upwards. Part of her was angry, part of her confused… but a more primitive part shivered in fright; afraid of what she might find.

"You were mine and only mine. I should not have given you up simply because he wished it. What right did he have to take you away?" Dark aquamarine irises finally met his, her features dropping into disbelief. "What right did anyone have?"

"Aoshi…?"

"I may have let myself drown in those other women, but every moment I looked at them I saw only you. That I could no longer have you… the torment was nearly unbearable."

At first look the blue of his eyes had not changed, but there would be no relief as Misao stared; knowing with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach why the whites of his eyes appeared to be black. No trail of blood yet marred his pale skin, but it was slowly diffusing into the grain of his iris, seeping into the core of his being. He had been denied her once… he would not be denied again.

"No, please… don't do this." Instead of anger, instead of disgust at such a pathetic show of weakness, Misao felt only desperation. "Not for me."

"Only for you." Her back hit the wall, his larger frame caging her, blocking her escape. "Only for you would I do what has been done. You, my sweet little mistress, think your soul now stained, tainted beyond repair because of those lives you took. I have bathed in blood for you, the least of which was your grandfather's."

Tight lungs heaved, her hands curling into his shirt. "Grandfather? You killed…?"

"His blood is on my hands, domina, for you…"

The tense muscles in her back loosened enough to shake, the rage that had diminished returning with vengeful power. Baring teeth in primal fury, Misao hissed a demanding challenge. "You bastard!" A harsh shriek ripped from her throat, her small figure bounding into his chest to knock him backwards. "How dare you come to me like this! How dare you!"

Strong legs took the brunt of her weight, the sword in his hand dropping to the floor as he caught her. At the same time glass from the window sprayed inward, the heat of burning flame and magic fueled fire swamping over them.

x

Wonderful aromas of all different kinds filled Kaoru's nostrils as she followed the quick shadow of her little brother. He had led her into another part of the castle she had never been near, and it amazed and confused her all at once. However, she was getting used to the way her mother thought, and it should not have been a surprise that the servant areas were not readily accessible, or visible, to the nobility of the house. And so the hidden pathway leading to the kitchen floor was cleverly concealed behind a grand tapestry and a few other trick doors.

Glancing to and fro, her stomach rumbling in happy delight as they passed pots of stew and roasts, a rotisserie slowly turning a large pig, and a pastry room overflowing with sweets and pies, she nearly pouted as she was drug away. Instead she was pulled into a side room, basins of water and piles of dirty dishes suggesting it to be a washing space. It was here that Yahiko stopped her, his hand holding up in a request to stay where she was.

There was only one young girl standing before one of the sinks, a stool on the floor under her feet to give her enough height to reach over the lip. The sleeves of her plain dress were rolled up passed her elbows, a thick apron tied around her waist and neck, and a white rag covered her hair, keeping any stray strands out of her face while she worked. She was humming softly under her breath, a happy little tune as her foot tapped along, and she seemed to be completely absorbed in her chore when Yahiko snuck up behind her.

Kaoru half expected the boy to pull her hair, or tug on her apron strings as any young kid would to grab the attention of the opposite sex. The thought did not seem to cross his mind, though, as he tiptoed his way to her side, one slight hand tentatively touching her shoulder. Afterwards Kaoru guessed he had good reason not to be so brash as the young girl jumped with a muffled yelp and nearly fell off her precarious perch.

Yahiko steadied her quickly, his dark eyes apologetic, and when soft tan eyes finally landed on him with recognition, a quiet grin tugged on a face that was at once eager and shy.

"Master Yahiko… you shouldn't sneak up on me like that." Features that were usually stubborn softened into contriteness. "Not that I mind you being here." A bright flush lit soft, pale cheeks, still partly rounded with childhood. "It's just… I got in trouble last time, and…" Her sweet voice trailed off as she noticed Kaoru standing in the doorway, a look of immediate horror rounding her lips as she realized just who she was.

"Uh, hello." Stepping forward quickly, hoping to quiet the look of terror now present in her timid eyes, Kaoru bowed her head respectfully. A gesture that took the gentle servant girl by surprise. "I'm Kaoru, Yahiko's my little brother." A furtive look between the two suggested a confusion over the announcement, however Kaoru did not catch onto the meaning. "It's lovely to meet you."

Momentarily dumbstruck, the girl stood for long moments and stared, before she suddenly remembered her manners and jumped down from the stool. Executing a clumsy curtsy, she stumbled over her own tongue. "The pleasure is mine, mistress. You do me a great honor by coming down to such a common place." Another cautious glance upwards, and she bit her lip. "I-I don't think your lady mother would be too happy about you visiting here…"

Kaoru's smile turned wider, and she winked at Yahiko still standing next to the girl. "Mother doesn't have to know. Besides, what I do with my personal time is no one else's business, right, little brother?"

Yahiko tentatively took the girl's hand in his, nodding his head slightly when she shot him another questioning glance. Subtly, she relaxed. "I didn't mean to be rude, Mistress Kaoru."

"Don't worry, and please, just Kaoru is fine." A light blush darkened her young features, and Kaoru's smile turned warm. "You didn't tell me your name."

"Oh!" Thoroughly mortified that she was being further rude, she ducked another curtsy. "Tsubame, if it please you mistress."

Kaoru laughed, and stepped forward to plop a hand on her covered head. "It pleases me just fine."

Light brown irises followed the twinkle of gold on her finger, and hesitantly reached for the pretty sparkle. "Is that your wedding ring?" A touch of sadness pulled at Kaoru's heart, but she readily let the girl inspect it. "It's very beautiful."

"Do you think so? It's just a plain gold band, but in a way I think it more precious than a cluster of diamonds."

"Because it was given to you by someone special, right?" Tsubame's soft voice was gaining a note of confidence in her enthusiasm. "I was given these by someone special." Almost eager to share, she lifted the hem of her skirt and stuck out a leg, a light rustle of sound shimmering by her foot. Looking down curiously, Kaoru found herself staring at a rather delicate chain twisted around her ankle, almost completely loaded down with more charms than it should have rightly held.

From whales to arching dolphins; starfish and seahorses; every creature that had ever shown itself through that one window in the observatory, carved into stone and gifted to her. Blue irises lifted to her brother, his own black eyes looking at the girl. Again, for that moment, he seemed much older than his stature suggested, his gaze showing affection, joy, amusement, and even a touch of longing for this young adolescent girl. And she suddenly understood what he had meant by his gesture earlier. One hand spreading over his heart, telling her exactly where the rest of his small gems were. They were with her… his heart.

"They are very beautiful, Tsubame." Suddenly, there were tears pulling at her eyes, her lips jerking downward. "I am very happy… that you have someone so very special." One small tear dribbled from her lashes, and she squeezed them shut on a smile. "Just as I do." Smoothing the rag covering her hair again, she half-turned away. "Would you excuse me? I must be a little tired. Perhaps I can visit again another time?" Without waiting for a reply, Kaoru walked quietly out the door.

Dismayed, Tsubame turned to Yahiko, mouth opening then closing as he shook his head. Sighing, the girl dropped her skirt and stepped quickly forward to wrap him in a furtive hug. Lips at his ear, she whispered the information he had asked for, and pulled away to jump back up on her stool.

"You should be quick, Master Yahiko. I'm afraid his visits are never long."

Yahiko nodded, started to move away, before stopping, his hand opening as he remembered the newest charm he had made for her. Kneeling at her feet and carefully moving her skirt, he reached in a pocket for his pliers and fastened the small sea turtle to her anklet. She watched, tan eyes suddenly more faerie-like than before, and smiled as he stood. Bracing a hand on his shoulder, she leaned in to kiss his cheek.

"Thank you. Now hurry. I think her husband's life is in danger."

x

Latin Glossary

dominus/domina - lord/mistress

amor - love

carus - dear

ferox corruptus - corrupted savage

dulcis, insons, aureus - sweet, innocent, golden

aeternus - eternal

Te solus cupio. - I desire only you.

A/N: I think after awhile I was having just a little bit too much fun with the Latin and the scene between Aoshi and Misao. So I had to cut it back a bit. Even still, I feel like there might be too much translating going on for you guys, and I only hope you don't hate me for it. One or two are pretty well given because of content, but when I started putting more than one word together… well, it starts to get a little heavy. So I'm hoping you all did ok, and as a side note, I kind of think of that scene finally just deteriorating into complete Latin (or Syren language).

Anyway, sorry that it took me so damn long. Thanks for all the encouragement, especially to those I have named at the beginning. It's easy to get discouraged… or distracted… and then hard to get back into it. I always have this problem of writing a good ten pages or so, and then getting stuck, leaving it alone and then trying to pick it up later. Usually I just end up rereading those ten pages and then hoping it will finish itself on its own. How funny.

Well, I'm trying to develop Yahiko's character a little more. He's my favorite in this story, which is strange, because I've always had a hard time trying to incorporate him into any of my other stories. Unfortunately, he isn't the typical Yahiko character, so I kind of feel like I've overhauled him completely. I hope you guys will forgive me for that. But I have to look at him in a different light, and so if you've ever read the after story in the manga that's about Yahiko when he's fifteen… I think he's a little bit more like that. That's going to be my cover anyway.

So Misao and Aoshi are getting a little bit more strained, and I have to admit that I'm getting a kick out of flipping so much stuff around in this story. Aka… having Aoshi chase after Misao instead of the other way around. What fun. And if anyone didn't catch on, he's not taking her denial very well… in fact things might be getting a little bit scary for the party soon. Not to mention Yumi seems to be up to some tricks of her own… and magical fire? What's this? -evil laugh- Can't wait for the next chapter, and I hope this one was satisfying… even just a little.

Thanks for reading, and please leave a review.