Hello again everyone! I was so happy with every ones helpful comments on my last fic. Especially to the nice person on the RKFF who gave me the name of Kaoru's father!!!! I owe you one! I promised a few more Aoiya fics. This isn't really a second chapter...Really...It isn't...I swear...Because this one has nothing to do with Kaoru : ) Right...That's a good reason. Ummmm, spoilers to the Kyoto arc. I am kind of applying hints to the Jinchuu arc with a sledgehammer too. Here's to Yahiko the strongest ten-year-old to ever grace the world. Don't you just love shonen? I am going to take this time out to say that RK isn't mine. I'm still poor...oh well on with the fic.

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Kyoto: The Present:

Yahiko ran through the streets of Kyoto toward the Shirobeko. It was coming up on the lunch rush soon. Sae had made him promise to be on time the night before and Yahiko couldn't help but try. She reminded him so much of Tae. Well, they were twins after all, but something in the chipper souls of the resteraunteurs always made Yahiko want to do his best. He wouldn't ever admit that to busu, she might get mad. She would take it the wrong way...She always did. Yahiko couldn't help thinking of Kaoru as a sister. It dropped her out of the woman category for some reason. Well, ok the sister thing wasn't the only reason that she didn't seem quite as feminine; she couldn't cook, wore men's clothes, and swung a sword better than most men he'd met. Of course that didn't mean that Yahiko didn't take her seriously, it just meant that he didn't have to really impress her. She would love him no matter what. Yahiko stopped running and stared dumbly through sightless eyes. "She really is my like my sister...Busu...She's my family..."

Yahiko had run the rest of the way to the Shirobeko in relative mental silence. This epiphany scared the ten-year-old in a way that nothing else could. Yahiko could always train harder to become stronger. He could always learn more to protect himself. But if something were to happen to Kaoru... Yahiko knew that he would die inside. His father had died in the Bakumatsu as a member of the Shogitai, an honored samurai until his last breath. His mother...She had done her best. Yahiko knew that. She did what she could to keep them both alive. When she had died, Yahiko had begun to feel the bitterness that can only come about when life and society fail a young child. Unfortunately Yahiko really didn't have the time to ponder the death of his family for long. The Yakuza had come to collect the debts his mother had supposedly accrued during her sickness for medicine. Yahiko began to learn the fine art of pickpocketing. He had no skills the Yakuza could use otherwise and the Boss said he could always use a good urchin... "Bastard." It was of course the first word he had spoken aloud in some time, and of course he had just entered the very busy Shirobeko.

"Oh, my, Yahiko-kun...Ahahaha..." Sea's hand had covered his mouth and she made little placating waves with the empty hand as she headed toward the kitchen with Yahiko in tow.

"Sorry..." Yahiko was staring at his sandals through his spiky bangs and wishing he had been paying attention. "I didn't realize I said that out loud." He offered a lame smile to the young proprietress. Who was, Yahiko was surprised to see, also still smiling?

"It's ok Yahiko-kun, you have been a marvelous help...Even if you are a little rough around the edges."

Yahiko felt his face turning red and he almost didn't notice the frilly apron go over his head. Almost. "Hey...C'mon...I really, really hate this thing." Yahiko felt himself being gelded by the frilly pink creation and somewhere deep inside his soul his machismo huddled in a corner and cried.

"It's only for a few hours Yahiko-kun...Then I will put you on dish detail to relieve your friend." She was smiling pleasantly.

He couldn't remember if Tae smiled that way when she wanted him to do something or not...He had always had his mind on a certain young striking waitress...and... "Hey wait...What friend???" His mind was reeling. Behind Sae, there he was, snickering and making waving motions. "Sano..." He would die right there...Die of embarrassment now or suffer the indignity later. Yahiko shot the gangster a warning look and grabbed his tray from Sae none too politely. "I'm gonna' go work."

It had been almost four and one-half hours since Yahiko had last sat down. It seemed business was booming for Sae and he could see why. She had the place running like a well-oiled machine with the two extra hands about. Sano looked slightly weary to Yahiko's trained eye. He knew that Sano was still recovering from his injuries, but he couldn't help himself. "You getting old or is this too much honest work for a gangster?"

"Don't know. But I definitely think we should let you have a few of Weasel Girl's kimono for tomorrow. You sure do look cute in pink Yahiko-chan...Who knows, maybe we can take this little drag show of yours on the road."

Yahiko could feel his temper flare out of control. The pink apron soared through the air into Sano's face as a distraction. While he struggled with the material Yahiko launched himself at Sano's head and began to bite furiously at his unruly hair. "So much for impressing Sae with my maturity." Yahiko thought while he tried to gnaw off Sanosuke's scalp.

And as if on cue..."Ok...That's enough!" Sae folded her arms in front of her and glared at the street fighter and the young hooligan. "If you wreck my kitchen I will personally kill the both of you." It was then that her smile returned. "Misao is here to collect the two of you anyway. Apparently you are needed for construction." Yahiko was about to volunteer to stay behind and help but Sae was still two steps ahead. "My night workers will be in shortly anyway."

"Oi...You mean Jo-chan is going to be helping at a restaurant? For the love of god...Keep her away from the kitchen."

"I HEARD THAT!" Kaoru walked through the door to the back room and glared at Sanosuke as if he were the devil himself. It was of course to her surprise when Sano launched the frilly pink apron at Kaoru and headed toward freedom with a smile on his face. "Megumi said she expected you three hours ago for a check-up...She seemed...Frustrated." Yahiko watched as Sano was held frozen for a second by Kaoru's statement.

"CHE!" Sano began to move again, and he quickened his already long strides before running smack into Misao.

"Ouch! Geez Rooster-Head...Watch where you're going." Misao was trying to look annoyed but she had seemed pre-occupied to Yahiko lately. In fact Misao had been almost withdrawn for the last few days. "Aoshi..." He guessed. Her heart wasn't in the fight, and Sanosuke's eyes narrowed at the usually chipper weasel girl. "He must have picked up on her mood." Yahiko thought. Sano went no further into banter; it seemed to Yahiko that he had decided to let it go for once.

Yahiko tried not to smile at the antics of his friends but to a ten year old this stuff was, well, classic. So he laughed. "Hey Sano...Did Megumi Sensei put her collar on you now?" Everyone was laughing now. Everyone, including Misao and Yahiko felt like he had won a small victory.

"Ah, shut up kid! You just don't know what it's like to be on the fox-lady's bad side." Sano's frown turned into a smile and a wave as he exited the room.

Yahiko was now walking toward the exit of the kitchen as well when Kaoru stopped him. She leaned down and whispered in his ear.

"Make sure you don't work too hard Yahiko. I don't want to see you or Sano get hurt...Don't let him do too much! For me...Ok?" Her eyes were smiling but also filled with concern.

Yahiko couldn't even force himself to smile back, so he grunted and stared at the floor as he began to walk forward again. He just couldn't do it...His mind rewound to the thoughts he'd had on the way to the Shirobeko. "See ya later..." It was half hearted and grumbled at best.

Yahiko was a little more than surprised to find Sanosuke leaned against the building waiting for him. He walked by Sano and the taller man kicked off the wall with his foot to fall into step with the ten-year-old. They walked in a companionable silence until the Shirobeko fell out of site. That was when Yahiko looked up at Sanosuke and asked the question that he had waited almost a block to voice. "WHAT!?!"

"Hey kid! Look, I'm not waiting around for my own health here you know. The fox lady is going to have my hide as it is..." He was casting a sidelong view at Yahiko and slowed his pace even more. "What's going on in your head? You haven't been yourself today. I was going to let it go, but then I saw the Weasel and I decided that one person moping around was more than enough. Besides that...I'm already three hours late...What's a few more right?"

Yahiko looked up at the street fighter and decided that he could probably tell him to back off. It wouldn't be the first time. He would let it go if he asked him to...But right now, more than anything Yahiko wanted to talk to someone, and Sano would do just fine. He had no reason not to trust him...But wasn't he part of the problem? Maybe...He would have to see. "Look, don't tell anybody ok? I don't want any pity, or anyone to look at me like I'm nuts or anything." Sano turned toward what looked to be an alley and Yahiko followed. He was about to tell him the story when Sanosuke's bandaged hand cut him off. They proceeded to walk in silence and Yahiko began to wonder if Sano had changed his mind about wanting to hear the story. They walked though the darkening streets until they came to a bridge, but instead of mounting the wooden planks Sano walked down and around until they were under the bridge. He sat down and made himself comfortable lying down in the grass and looking up at the slats between the wood. Yahiko watched his ever-present fish bone go into his mouth.

"Ok kid. I got all night. What's eating you?" Sano was rough sometimes, but Yahiko knew that it was his way of saying: I care. Right now care and trust were more important than anything...But it was also the reason for Yahiko's current predicament.

"Well. First off I'm not mad at anybody...I guess I have been a little rude to Busu...But I got my reasons..." Yahiko stared at his feet and sat down next to Sano. "It's a long story...but I guess it started about...Two years ago..."

Two years ago: Tokyo:

Myojin, Yahiko stood on the bank of a river overlooking the setting sun. Tears were still streaming down his face and he couldn't stop the endless flow. "Okaa-san..." She hadn't even been dead for more than a week before the Yakuza had descended upon him. A tall man with a strange hair-cut named Hitokiri Gasuke had approched him and under no uncertain terms told him that his life belonged to them until he could pay off his mother's sick debt. Yahiko had no choice so he allowed them to take him to see the Boss. Tanishi was a short stout man that reminded Yahiko of an ugly rat he'd seen once in the alleyways beside the row houses. He spared no time in telling Yahiko that he was too young to be of any worth...That he would kill him so that at least in death his family could find honor. Then, for no reason, he changed his mind and told Yahiko that he would see him on the front steps of the Yakuza's building in the early morning. That had been earlier that afternoon. He wasn't sure what to do anymore. Maybe if he left...If he ran as fast and as far as he could he would escape. "NO!" He almost screamed it as the dying rays of the sun reflected purple and red. It almost seemed as if the water was on fire. It felt as if the world were reflecting his angry soul for the world to see. "I can't run from them...My family would lose all of its honor." Yahiko sat on his haunches and pondered his decision. Finally his eight-year-old brain short- circuited after the long time in thought and he curled up shivering but finally finding sleep.

It was a little before sunrise and Yahiko was awake again. His feet took him to the water's edge and he splashed the cold water all over his face and rubbed at his hands. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a long warm bath...It really didn't matter. Yahiko had lost all hope when his mother had died; this was the first ray of hope he'd seen. He didn't want to be part of the Yakuza. Even he knew that the group was bad news. They hurt, they exploited, they destroyed, and no one ever seemed to be able to stop them. Then again, he had no where else to go and no where else to turn. He Myojin, Yahiko was the last of his line; he had no relatives that would take him in. He had no choice he would go see the boss. Perhaps he would take pity...Perhaps he would realize that Yahiko was just a boy and he would just let him be. To die in the streets like a dog. He felt the emptiness in his stomach and wondered how long it would take to die of starvation as he began the trek toward the home of the Yakuza Boss Tanishi.

"Good morning...Are you Myojin Yahiko?"

He wasn't expecting a woman to greet him. She was a beautiful girl with her hair tied high on her head. Three pins stood out of her hair drawing attention to the curve of her jaw and Yahiko could have sworn that she was some sort of vision.

"I have been instructed to help you get used to your new life here...I have food and a hot bath waiting for you inside...You have but to take my hand to accept. If you don't...the boss said that I should kill you."

"Her eyes should be cold." He thought as she reached out her hand to him. He felt his own hand going up to meet hers even as he played with the notion of running...But food, a hot bath, things that he had once taken for granted, he now wanted more than anything to have them all. His hand closed around the woman's and she led him up the stairs into the house. He was now one of them...

The present: Yahiko and Sanosuke:

"I know what it's like you know..." Sanosuke looked at Yahiko with serious eyes. "I don't talk about the past much...But I will tell you that I would have done the same thing kid. Sometimes you just have to take what life gives you. You're never a slave unless you let them make you into one right?"

Yahiko cringed at that. "But I was their slave...For a long time. She taught me everything about the fine art of pickpocketing. Her name was Yuka. I never thought about it much but I guess she'd be about Kaoru's age...Though she was nothing like Kaoru.

"Was she cute?" Sano now had a piqued interest.

"I don't know...I guess so. I never really thought about it at the time. She was really beautiful to me, she was all I had, but it was only about a half a year ago that I realized just how important she was."

Tokyo: Two weeks before the Kamiya Dojo:

"Yahiko-chan?" She tapped her foot intensely at him and tried not to hit him.

"I didn't do it I swear!" Yahiko put on his most innocent face but it wouldn't work...She had taught him everything about looking innocent in the first place. It was easy to pick out guilty innocence when you knew what you were looking for.

"Yahiko I need my formal kimono and obi...NOW!" She was glaring at him and she would have seethed if it weren't for the fact that Yahiko had let one crystal tear roll down his cheek. "For Kami-sama's sake...What now?"

"I just don't have a good feeling about tonight." Yahiko looked up at his surrogate mother with concerned eyes that simply plead with her not to go.

"You say that almost every night Yahiko-chan." She threw her arms around him and smiled. "I promise...This is the last time, I will have saved enough to buy both of our freedoms by tonight. The Boss will have to let us go. We will be together forever...Just one more night and we can leave here." He hugged her tightly enough to make her grunt a little and she patted him on the head.

"Fine...They are in my closet under my books..."He looked up at her sheepishly as she turned three shades of red.

"YOU WRINKLED MY FORMAL KIMONO!!!" Yuka was fuming and Yahiko recovered the wrinkled silk fabric from their shared closet.

"Oh Kami...The Boss is just gonna' kill me." Regardless she hung her kimono up and began applying white powder to her face.

Yahiko watched as she sat in front of the mirror. There were make-ups, and perfumes spread all over the table. Her hands deftly applied each layer of what Yahiko had called her mask. The white cream was next. Sometimes Yahiko wondered why all of this was necessary. It seemed to him that girls were a lot prettier without it. She was white as a sheet before Yahiko realized that his mind had wandered. "Hey I think you missed a spot..." He pointed to her neck where there was a "W" of skin left untouched.

"Nope...It's always like that...Don't you pay any attention?" She was shaking her head at him and Yahiko shrugged his shoulders. "It's a reminder to the gentleman we visit with..."

"I don't think they need to be reminded that you're a girl. They sure as heck didn't need my Mom to tell them..." He hung his head and traced circles on the floor with his finger. "At least I don't think they really care...They are willing to do whatever with whoever from what I remember." He frowned intensely at the woman before him. He could hardly recognize her as it was. She hadn't even applied the lip paint yet, and already he could hardly make out the woman he knew from the woman before him.

"Don't worry Yahiko I promise that I won't let anyone take advantage of me...Ok?" Yahiko nodded his ascent as she turned back about.

A pot filled with red paint was opened next and with each tiny stroke a small articulate mouth was painted on. The two tiny lines made her face look even stranger. She blotted the paint onto a towel and touched up the area of both white and red paint. Yahiko wanted to stop her again. Each new thing she did brought them further apart. She was no longer the surrogate mother, but a stranger in his room. It wasn't long before she had finished doing her makeup and then a man was called in to help her dress. To Yahiko's relief he held out a new Kimono to Yuka.

"You will wear this tonight in honor of our guest." He was helping her to dress and Yahiko always wanted to slap his hands away. Often he would touch Yuka in compromising places and laugh obviously forced apologies. Her obi was large and reminded Yahiko of some kind of origami monster.

"Who is our guest tonight?" Yuka asked the disgusting little man. Yahiko could have sworn that even her voice was different, but that was impossible. She was looking at him through eyes of purple, white, emerald, and kohl. Green was an odd color for eyes in a Japanese girl, at least in Yahiko's mind, but it just made Yuka even more special. Being different couldn't be at all bad if it meant you were like Yuka.

The little man was adjusting Yuka's sleeves and pulled her slim arms up in front of her to inspect if the length was perfect. He made a little grunt to signify his happiness and then went about answering her question. "He is one of the boss's oldest friends in Tokyo, if you make him happy...I just know that the boss will be one-hundred percent pleased."

"YAHIKO!" Gasuke was looking for him again...He would have to talk to Yuka later, for now he would have to go about his work for the day. Usually he felt terrible about picking the pockets of innocent shoppers in the market, but today nothing could make him feel guilt. He would leave this life forever tonight. Never again to prey on the unsuspecting public and he couldn't have been more proud. His Yuka, the woman that had worked all of her life in the Yakuza, would be free and so would he. They would begin a normal life with no strings. Maybe raise a garden, she had always loved flowers. He guessed that if it was true what they said about reincarnation, Yuka had been a flower once. Maybe a Morning Flower. Yahiko couldn't imagine a day when Yuka didn't make the sun rise with her smile. She had a smile like his mother's. It dawned on Yahiko three weeks after he had joined the Yakuza that Yuka had a smile like his mother's. She would wake with the sun in the morning and smile, and he had always woken up before she did just to see it ever since. There was just something so special and perfect about her.

"Yahiko you'd better get out of here before Gasuke finds you." She was smiling again and she pulled him into a gentle hug before turning him round in a quick circle and shoving him out the door. "Be careful, don't get caught. But always remember to be a gentleman." She said this to him every day. It was a routine by now but he smiled sheepishly and nodded a quick firm assent to the girl who looked very little like his mother figure and more like a creepy doll. He passed through the door to the halls and then to the street. He felt his feet take him away from the house and with each step a sick feeling crept further and further into his heart.

"Why does it have to be like this? How can anyone say this in a new and better age if people as vibrant and wonderful as Yuka are slaves?" He hadn't even realized he said it out loud. For the first time since his mother died he felt anger creep into his very being. It had been almost two years since he was drug into this horrible life, and still he felt the sting to his family name. To save his honor he felt that he was besmirching it at the same time and there had to be some sort of explanation to it all. Perhaps when he was older and he was looking back on his life he would have an answer at last. Living a normal life again appealed to Yahiko more and more everyday.

The Present: Yahiko and Sanosuke

"Were you good at it?" Sanosuke asked breaking Yahiko's mood completely.

"What?" Yahiko felt his jaw drop. "Whad-da-ya' mean?"

"What do you mean. 'What do I mean?" Sanosuke gave him an evil grin. "Where you good at what you did? I mean I didn't know you back then, I was just wondering if you were any good at picking pockets...I mean they didn't seem like they put up a huge fight to keep ya'...I was just wondering if perhaps they let you go 'cause you sucked..."

Yahiko leaned forward and looked into Sano's eyes. Sanosuke's brow knit together as Yahiko suddenly flicked him in the head.

"Hey! What the hell did you do that for?!?" He was about to flick him right back when Yahiko threw his pouch wallet back at him. He watched as Sano worked his jaw for a second.

"You shouldn't keep that there...It's the first place I would look, you know, if I were any good." Sanosuke was frowning and putting his wallet away, but by the time it was completely hidden away again a smile invaded his eyes and moved slowly to his mouth.

"Damn kid what do you wanna' be a swordsman for? It could be great! We could hit the road...Ya' know, make some money see the world. Besides that...You could be the lovely assistant since you look so good in pink." Yahiko lunged for Sano's neck but the man had his hand firmly planted on the top of his head and he only succeeded at windmilling his arms about furiously. Slowly the arms in question slowed to a slow flail and Yahiko fell to his butt next to Sanosuke again.

"Are you done?" Sanosuke was smiling devilishly. "Cause I do have this really angry fox waiting for me..."

"Just shut up and listen then...You interrupted me! Chicken-head!"


Back to the Past: Two weeks before the Kamiya Dojo:


Yahiko wove in and out of the crowds. People were so unobservant when they shopped. Maybe it was because they didn't want to part with the contents of their wallets. It was Yahiko's guess was that they just didn't know that they were being watched, especially by people like him. He had already grabbed two light purses off of two different unsuspecting out-of-towners. Yuka had taught him early in the game that you didn't go for people you saw all the time. It was a good way to get yourself caught. Plus Yahiko found that they were less likely to remember what you looked like. He had often assisted the recently relieved in "Relocating" of their wallet. It was almost funny the way they described him. Once a gaijin had said that an old man wearing green picked his pocket. They searched for the evil little old man for two hours...But he had disappeared. This was all very funny, because Yahiko was of course not old, nor was he wearing green. He had been wearing a dark blue that day. He made Yuka laugh with the story of what the man had dubbed a "Leprechaun...A wee person...A bairn of the woods" He stumbled over the foreign words, but they still rang in his head to this day.

Each day he went out he made a point to stop by the sweets stand, an older woman that had known his mother worked there from time to time. He would sometimes get a sweet or two from her during his daily routine, if she took notice of his other activities throughout the day she made no mention. There were so many vendors out on the street today. He walked in and out of the stalls taking note of trinkets here and there. He spied a Bushido novel he hadn't read and smiled genuinely. He would add it to his collection. Maybe he could sell back two or three old ones to get it. His mother had taught him to read. He had never really enjoyed it until Yuka had showed him more adventurous tomes than the newspaper and old legends his mother kept around. It was the greatest of escapes. As he read each new story he was transported away from the Yakuza and even himself. He was suddenly the character in his novel, and each new story made him into someone different. Yuka had been teaching him the fine art of brush lettering since they met.

"A good education can never take the place of street smarts or money. However money tends to always follow in the wake of a good education."

She had said this on a particularly rainy day six months previous. Yahiko had been lapsing in his studies and Yuka was always quick to end behavior like that. She was like a mother to Yahiko, but she was also still young, and she had very little patience for childish behavior. "I don't need to study this anymore. I think I have it all. Besides what good can this possibly do me?" Well she had given him not only a verbal answer, but she went on to trick him with word games and mind puzzles for the next three days. It had been enough to stop his rants and make him continue his "path to learning" as Yuka put it.

Yahiko continued on his trek through the shops. The next stall over was filled with jewelry and trinkets. The shop owner was staring at him wearily through a half-lidded glare that almost screamed "I know what you are and no you can't steal from me." Yahiko pulled on the bottom of his eye and stuck out his tongue whilst blowing a raspberry. The man wasn't happy and he shook his fist at Yahiko and yelled obscenities until Yahiko noticed the attention the little man was drawing. If people started to pay attention to him...They might pick up on his profession. He backed away from the stall with his hands in the air. He should have taken something from the crotchety old man just on pretense, but he didn't. Nope. Today would be perfect. It had to be. Today they would be free. He was near the fish stand when he saw Suki and Yuki. He didn't know their real names, but he had decided to call them that after long deliberation. One day the rhyming monikers had just popped into his head and from that day on...Poof!...They had names. They were the town's rumor mill. Each day he heard a new rumor. It was, he had to admit a little fun. On a few occasions he had started a rumor or two just to see if it would reach Suki and Yuki. They hadn't yet...But it didn't mean it never would. He promised himself that he would keep trying.

The Present Day: Yahiko and Sanosuke:

"Hey! You mean Asuka and Reika don't you? They are really bad girls..." Sanosuke was slightly blushing as if remembering something lewd.

"DON'T TELL ME!" Yahiko fairly yelled before Sano could continue. "Whatever it is I just don't want to know...Anyway..."

The Streets: two weeks before the Kamiya Dojo:

Suki and Yuki were talking about some scandalous girl running a dojo...Oh who cares. Women should be able to run their own dojo if they wanted to, though it was beyond Yahiko why anyone would ever take kenjutsu from a woman. When they saw him approach Suki smiled warmly at him staying as silent as the grave. Yuki on the other hand had other ideas. "I heard...That the Yakuza geisha is going to meet someone special tonight. How I came by this information I can't tell you...But I was also told that he was in a deal to purchase her off of the Boss. Of course you know this stuff can be so...Exaggerated...But I hear that she is being sold for almost 800 Mon. I can only imagine what one could buy with 800 Mon. Whyever would they waste it on a geisha?" She was smiling a sick plastered smile and Yahiko almost felt the need to beat it off of her. Not now though...Later...He had to get home. He had to stop Yuka from going out. To be sold now would set them apart for life. She would never be aloud to leave...He would never see her again. She was his mother, his only parent in this horrible world. She couldn't be sold like that. NEVER!

Each step brought him closer and closer to the place they called home, but it felt as if he were running in waist high mud. Each step was far too slow. The sun had sunk below the horizon at least ten minutes before and the landscape was darkening. If he could just get there in time she would hear what he had to say. They would sneak out together. Family honor was one thing, but protecting others was always honorable. Maybe one day he could just pay off the Yakuza anonymously. "YUKA!!!" He screamed as he ran into the building and Kentsu stopped him.

"She left hours ago. From what I hear, she won't be back for at least the rest of the night. Give your tribute to the boss and be off to bed Yahiko-chan."

"Don't call me chan you bastard!" He dropped the wallets to the ground. "Here give em' to him yourself ya' scum!"

"GO AHEAD! Run Yahiko-chan! Makes my life easier..."

He ran back out toward the city. Where could she be? Tokyo was huge...If she had gone by carriage she could be anywhere by now. His feet felt like lead and he felt his hope sliding from his fingertips. "It isn't fair...She wouldn't let them. Yuka wouldn't let them sell her, not when she finally had enough to set herself free." He wandered the streets and the back alleys. So many horrible things happened in the streets at night. He wished that he could say he was shocked but he wasn't. A ramshackle opium den operated three streets down from where the open-air market had been just a few hours ago. Women solicited themselves on the streets like his mother had done once so long ago. They beckoned to the men, and sometimes the women. Two streets down from that a brawl was starting in a drinking establishment. A street down from that a man sat in a ball whimpering and vomiting in turns. Hallucinating from kami-knew-what. It was then that he noticed the teahouse. It had been four hours since he started his journey, but for whatever reason he felt some small bit of confidence. Didn't she go to teahouses? He would slip inside and see for himself.

The teahouse was not a large open room, but a small receiving area and a bunch of larger rooms. Yahiko peeked into two rooms before he found the desired room. There, in the corner, his Yuka was smiling and laughing. One of the men suggested a song and two other women got up with Yuka. A shorter woman picked up a shamisen and began to play a tune, while Yuka sang a duet with the other girl. At first they stood still, but then they began to do a simple elegant dance. Yahiko wanted to burst in and tell Yuka what was really going on. Obviously she had no idea what lay in store for her. She would never dance and sing if she new the man who had been making her laugh only a few minutes before had bought her like a farm animal.

"HEY! WHO ARE YOU!?!" Yahiko stared up at an angry looking woman and felt his stomach drop out of his body. He didn't even notice her walk up to him. She held him up at arms length and then promptly threw him out of the building. "Grow up...Maybe I'll see you again sometime."

"Not likely BUSU!" He ran from the building. When he knew she definitely hadn't pursued him he turned back around. It was almost two o'clock before Yahiko got back to the teahouse and he went to the windows that looked into the rooms to the right. She would be in there. He could wait for the evening to end and he would tell her all about the sale. They would run away together. Everything would be fine. His face was set and determined when he hoisted himself up. He felt his nervous heart beating wildly in his breast, and then the world came crashing down. The room was empty! How could it possibly be empty? They had just been there. If they were gone though...That meant that she would be on her way home. She would be furious if Yahiko was out all night.

"Yep...She'll be furious." Yahiko had run most of the way home. At the end of his run though he felt each step get slower and slower. He was exhausted. It was nearly three in the morning. Yuka would have his head for breakfast. Myojin, Yahiko walked past the gate guard. He frowned at Yahiko noticeably.

"Did you see Kentsu tonight?" The guard was regarding him like a piece of bad meat.

"Yeah...Why?"

" Oh...Nothing."

Yahiko slightly shook. Somehow he had the feeling he should avoid the main entrance. Yuka would beat him senseless if the boss were angry. Yuka...For some odd reason he felt urgency now. He was so close, so close to seeing her again. A shriek escaped his lips at what he found. The tall flower stand was pulled to the center of the room and a perfect porcelain doll hung limply from the ceiling inches away. Her feet swinging too far from the ground. It was horrific. Every nightmare...Every demon clawed for his soul as he fought to breathe over the urge to vomit or cry. Another scream tore from his throat as he tried to hold the body up. She felt so heavy. Like the world was on his shoulders. He felt hot tears streaming down his face. "YUKA! YUKA! Please don't die. I can't...I Can't hold you...You have to untie it...You have to..." In the meantime every light had gone on in the den. Men ran toward the shared room. Yahiko was thrown away by some nameless face into a corner as three other men helped to get the body down. The Boss was up and cursing. He paced the floor now lit by candles and lanterns. The room glowed as brightly as if it were day. Yahiko saw only the darkness.

Tanishi found the note first. It was scrawled quickly. It was short and to the point. It held none of Yuka's love for life. She was a broken woman when she wrote the note. It read like this:

"All things return to the earth,

I think that I shall go there too. When Kentsu told me that Yahiko was dead...I knew that it was my fate, as his parent to follow. You see? You couldn't separate us! You should have just sold me...Left Yahiko alive and well. You thought you would break me by killing him, I am not so weak. Honor bids me to his side."

They had tried to trick her, to break her spirit, as they had broken so many before. Yuka had taken that from them. Yahiko knew now that he would leave them soon. He would escape...He would wait for the right time, and everything would be perfect. They would have their dream. Even if she would never live to see it Yahiko would be free and in doing so he would set her spirit free. Each day he became more and more willful. They couldn't control his anger. Two weeks later, he finally found his chance in a man with long red hair and a scar on his cheek.


The present: Yahiko and Sanosuke:

He felt a hand on his shoulder. "Sano." He didn't cry. He missed Yuka, but he had promised himself that in her memory he wouldn't cry. She wouldn't have wanted his sorrow. She would be his last failure. He couldn't save his mother from the sickness she had gotten whilst whoring herself out for his protection. He hadn't arrived home in time to save Yuka from herself. "I promised myself that night that I would never get too close again. I wouldn't have to bury another soul...because I would make myself unreachable. I guess it sounds...Childish...But I don't have anything else. If I get too close to Kaoru, or Kenshin, Megumi, or you. If any of you were to die, I don't know how I could take it. Then...When Kenshin came back like that it was like I felt the pain all over again."

"I remember looking at Sagara Taicho's head. It was on display for the whole world to see. The Meiji government was daring anyone to defy them. I drew into myself that day. I lost myself in the pain. For years I knew nothing but anger, pain, and frustration. I became someone else. I was Zanza...This untouchable thing, that only wanted to fight. I lashed out with my pain. It didn't help Yahiko...Of course it took me a long time to figure it out. I had help. The people we've met. Yahiko, they're so special. Each one because they were lonely, like me, like you. The past is just that. It's the past."

"You don't understand. I can't do it again! I JUST CAN'T!" He felt a tear rolling slowly down his cheek and he scrubbed at it furiously.

"Then don't!" He looked over at Yahiko and stood up. He extended his arm out to Yahiko. "Start over." He was holding his hand out and Yahiko remembered Yuka. Her warm smile reached him from across the void of time; she stood next to Sagara Sanosuke her hand wrapped delicately around the fingers of the bandaged street fighter. He reached out with his own hand and his fingers wrapped around his wrist. He felt himself hauled to his feet. "Each one of us. We promised the others that we wouldn't die in some way or another. Me, Kaoru, Kenshin, and even you. We all promised we would make it back to Tokyo. If we live up to the little goals, each day, we will go a little farther. I certainly have no reason to die just yet. Kenshin...Well Kenshin will heal eventually. Jo-chan won't let him die. That girl has enough spirit for everyone. As for Kaoru, I think that Kenshin loves her too much to let go. I don't think he'd ever admit it...But it's there." "Megumi, well she's lonely, but I think she's been coming out of her shell lately. She was so different when we first met. It's like...A flower...Which reminds me, I better get back soon."

"Hey chicken-head...You got a crush on Megumi?" Yahiko was smiling again. The first smile since the joke at the Shirobeko. "I told you that you were two of a kind..."

Sano quickly grabbed his gi and hauled him forward into the water. Yahiko sputtered angrily and he cursed at Sanosuke whilst the laughing form of Yuka faded away. The laughing form of Sanosuke however stayed solid. "That's not fair!" He launched himself out of the water and toward the shore. He chased the longer legged man up the bank and over the bridge in the direction of the Aoiya. He always stayed only one step ahead, although Yahiko knew Sanosuke could have left him behind at any time.

"That's right Yahiko! Never give up!" Sano yelled over his shoulder

That day Yahiko made a new pledge. He would love each person that came into and out of his life, and no matter what...He would never give up again.





Ok, I guess this is it huh? I had to write a fic for Yahiko. I felt bad for the kid. I hope this isn't too morose. I didn't know exactly when or how Yuka was going to die till it flowed from my fingertips. My husband says I'm evil. : ) Oh well. Just in case you were wondering, yes this is called foreshadowing with a sledgehammer. I figured that Yahiko was a little too relaxed about his surrogate sister dying, even though he never really saw anything. Poor kid. Like he hasn't been through enough without my help. I thought, ya' know, what if Yahiko had a story that ended in a pledge to keep going no matter what. It would really explain why his feelings toward Sano were so angry when he ran away from his problems again. I believe he said something like. "Come back and you'll see that I could keep it together..." Or some such comment close to that. Looks like Sano didn't keep up his side of the bargain at first huh? Poor Sano, some people just fall apart so fast people get hit by the shrapnel huh? Hope you enjoyed this. It's my second try at a RK fic of my own...If only I could get on with my Ryoga Chapter...Hmmmm. Calger and I will have another Omakae coming out this week : ) I'll see what I can do about keeping the old spelling errors to a minimum. I am not exactly the best at this. If you pick up anything at all...E-MAIL. Thanks for reading and reviewing everyone!