Disclaimer: Not mine, but I do have a kick arse recipe for drop jam cookies that I would trade you for it? Pwetty please?

A/N I cannot entirely express my love for all my beautiful reviewers and readers. I honestly thought to shelve this story but coming back and reading through all the wonderfully positive thing you guys have written to me kept me tapping away at that keyboard.

This one goes out to ya'll ever patient people out there. Thank you for waiting so patiently for a lazy arse author stuck under RL to remember the beauty and joy of fanfiction.

The Insanity of Us

Chapter 13: Stronger Broken

As I watched that twitching hand flop its way down the blood-wet ground, my senses reeled. The smell of metal and gore of the bodies scattered on the ground, the sticky wet feeling of fresh blood drying between my fingers but worst was the vibrant red that streaked from the twitching remains of Tamaki's right hand. I was mistaken, Lee didn't cut the hand entirely off. But whatever he did to it left it flopping uselessly on his wrist and bleeding.

Lee wrenched the gushing limb and lifted it high up over Tamaki's thrashing head, slowing the blood. The man's brown pupils were wide behind his skewed glasses, his skinny body hardly causing a shift in Lee's grip as he flailed in pain. His lips flapped but I heard nothing but the damnable ringing from the explosion.

But I had little time for his sufferings; my attention was pulled to the prone figure of Aoshi lying in the mud. Misao was bent over him, her hands nervous butterflies over the twitching brittle arch of bone and blood that was his chest. He was beyond help. The blood gushing out, the spikes of white bone, the thick blood seeping past his pale, pale lips were clue enough. The silver tears down her face were of desperation.

Death, in Kenshin's human in face stood as a vulture beside the two. I wanted to scream a warning, but my body had no will to move. All I could do was watch like the audience of a Kabuki tragedy.

The one thing they don't tell you about death is the reality of its swiftness. Aoshi didn't have time to conveniently ease everyone's conscience before he left. He gasped, and arched with what little muscle he had left and then dropped to back to the ground, unmoving. His eyes were still wide open. His kodachi still clenched in his hand.

No, last words. No dramatic posturing.

Just a man shot dead from the back.

A man that I chose not to save.

As I watched, Misao seemed lost, her hands shaking Aoshi's shoulders as though to wake him. I could nearly see the first tendrils of terrible, terrible guilt already gauging its way into her skin; or perhaps that skin was mine? I watched her delicate hands against that stained shirt, I felt for the first time in my life a sort of compartment in my head open up. It made my vision a little fuzzy, it dulled all sound and it softened the edges of the broken shards of emotion in my chest.

It was like a soft silk cradle in my mind that promised to take everything away.

I suddenly felt so cold. My entire body shivered and I had to clench my jaw to stop the chatter of my teeth. The edges of my vision wavered lightly.

This...was not good.

Kenshin stepped forward then. His back straight and his golden eyes as hard as steel. My heart nearly stopped dead when those gold flecked eyes drew themselves over Misao.


It couldn't have been my voice, that raspy broken thing. But all eyes turned to me. Misao's shoulders tensed and then she looked up at me with such bone breaking hatred.

The shuddering bits of my shattered heart dropped straight to the pit of my stomach. Misao knew, she knew my sin. Ugly terrible thing that it was.

"Sensei!" The voice was whisper soft, barely slipping through the ringing, but when I heard it, it woke me.

A large calloused hand clamped itself on my shoulder. "Sensei, are you alright? Did you get hurt? Oh god, Sensei. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. It's all my fault!" Take's hand was shaking, but his fingers gripped hard enough to bruise. He skidded down onto the ground next to me and tried desperately to get my attention. The sight of his wide frantic eyes and face I still remember with the curves of youth snapped that little compartment in my head shut immediately.

No. I had no regret. And if what I had done was a sin. Then it was a sin I would choose to bear over again.

I turned back to Misao and tried with all my heart to say with my eyes what my mouth couldn't speak. I would grieve for Aoshi, probably for the rest of my life. But when it came down to it, I couldn't regret my decision. I couldn't regret Take.

Absently I gripped Takes outstretched hand.

Seeming to grab a hold of some greater event happening around him, Take looked up and searched through few still warring bodies to catch sight of Misao and what exactly had me on the knife edge of shock.

"Shit!" Some strange sort of calculations seemed to pass between his ears and whatever the result was, it equalled to Take throwing his arms around me and squeezing me tight. "I'm sorry sensei. So sorry. Oh god. It could have been you." The shake that was in his hand evolved into a full body shudder.

Something flickered in Misao's eyes, hardening into a burning fire before fading out a little. She turned with a glare, one hand already gripping the serrated blade strapped to her ribs.

From the edges of my vision, I saw Kenshin's sombre figure nod with a strange sort of smile. As Misao stalked her way to where Lee held Tamaki's bleeding body Kenshin made his way to Aoshi.

Kenshin knelt over the body, his back towards me. I had a hazy impression as though he was plucking something, harvesting fruit nearly. And when his stood, he held in his arms a small bundle. Like a crystal orb it flashed from shadow to light in an unfathomable rhythm.

He smiled at me. "I cannot speak for my shell entirely. As you know I am not your Kenshin. But if he were here, I have no doubt he would be very proud of you Kaoru-dono. Never regret that which you had to do." He gave me another fleeting smile before his face carved into and impassive slab of rock.

"It was an honour to be in your presence Kamiaya Kaoru, Wife of Himura Kenshin, Mother of Himura Kenji and agent of Yukishiro Tomoe." Kenshin bowed, stiff and with great ceremony. I could taste goodbye, it steamed off him in thick wafts.

He then melted, it is the only way I can think to describe it. His body seeping into the ground like a puddle of ink. It was final and was like watching Kenshin die all over again. I knew that it wasn't really Kenshin, I knew the same way that I knew Aoshi's death was not entirely my fault.

But the heart and mind are not one and the same. And my heart at this point stuttered to a stop and in my head, that soft velvet place enveloped me.

Things, for me get a little confusing after that. I don't remember clearly what happened next. The bits that float around in my head might be true memories or things I made up from the stories that were told to me in the aftermath. But both images are equally jagged, broken things.

There is an image of Misao next to Tamaki, yelling at him in some unfathomable language made up of swears and acrid curses with a dagger pressed delicately against his face. Just as her blade curls its way to just under his temple, right next to his left eye, a large figure stepped itself into my line of sight, blocking the view entirely.

I know I remember his screaming.

They tell me that I began crying then. Looking up to the looming sky and seeing Enishi, one eye shut against the leaking blood from a small head wound, I had broking into wrenching sobs that even Take's hold couldn't suppress. Nothing could be done to stop it, I was hysterical. Normal procedure would have involved a slap to the face. Enishi was lividly against that, claiming the hand of anything that dared strike me. Romantic I know, but highly impractical.

What I got instead, was a nerve pinch that slid me into unconsciousness with the echoing cries of a man having both his eyes and tongue carved out of his face.

"She isn't some sack of rice you can claim like that!"

"She made me the promise. Anything I desire for my return. If I choose to take her it will be well within my rights to do so."

"That doesn't include kidnapping!"

"It was not conditional."

"Charming as usual Yukishiro. Tell me, is that how you get all your women? Or just the ones who arn't smart enough to run away?" There was a long, drawn out sigh and then the faintest scent of burning tobacco.

"But aside from the fact that she has been the pain of the Tokyo police department for one reason or another over the past 16 years, I don't actually give a flying damn about what happens to Kamiaya Kaoru. My job here is the 'fix this mess' as the dunderheads upstairs put it, and that needs you Yukishiro to get the fuck out of my precinct. I'm willing to offer you a safe one way trip out of Tokyo, but anything more than that will see you and this whole ragtag bunch of baboons hanging from the gallows. "

"I will not leave without her."

"You won't leave with her!" Take answered.

And then the argument started around again.

The men were trying to be quiet, in the ineffective way that only men could achieve. But even seated around the corner from my room, their words were only slightly muffled.

I knew I should have told them I was awake. But I didn't want to deal with the strange looping argument at the moment. And knowing Take as I did, he would pounce on me the second he knew I was back to consciousness and hang on like a leach.

Enishi...I wasn't so sure about.

And Torao Kane (or Saito junior as I liked to call him in my head), the distinctive third voice out there...well the less said about him the better.

I didn't want to deal with whatever was going on beyond that door. My head was full to bursting already, and whatever involved the three of those heads put together wouldn't fix me right now.

When I had first returned to consciousness, reality did not have the decency to give me a few moments of oblivion. It was waiting for me right beyond my closed eyelids. The sight of Aoshi's mangled body, that robed tattooed man who died by my hand, the flailing body of Tamaki as he bled, they were all lurking patiently till I came back.

My hands still tingled with the echoing ring of metal against bone and the sensation made my stomach tie into knots. Beyond the battle grit still clinging to my skin, I felt filthy; stained in a way that I could never wash off. I kept my hands carefully under the covers, terrified to see that the bloodstains would have seeped into my skin and left a permanent scar as proof of my kill.

Part of me wanted a bath, preferably in a white hot fire.

The rest of me wanted to curl up into a little ball and just stop. I had had enough of being strong. There is only so much you can ask of someone before they give up. I could taste the very precipice of oblivion on the tip of my tongue.

All my life I've had things demanded of me simply because I was the last left behind. Left behind by my father, by Kenshin, Sano, Yahiko, even by Kenji. It is a woman's lot in life to hold fort while the men are away. But I was not fully woman in that way. I fought battles, and now I've claimed lives and yet, yet the other half of my burden was not lessened. Not fully woman, not enough man and yet carrying the weight of both.

Was it too much to wish to be selfish, just this once?

But I knew the answer even without active thought. I knew it because these were the questions I asked myself years and years ago as I lay in this same bed, freshly widowed.

I couldn't stop. Too many people relied on me for me to halt. I would rest when I was dead.

I just like that, I settled back into the groove that I carved in my head after Kenshin died. Cut your day down into small pieces, small tasks that you tackle one at a time and somehow the day passes by faster. Every task done with all your attention, every day given a neglecting thought.

With each small victory, somehow you can live.

The first thing on my list was a bath. After that, came dealing with whatever it was he men were quarrelling about. After...no. I stopped my thinking there. It did no good to get too far ahead.

Getting to a bath involved getting up. Getting up involved pushing away the covers. Which in turn involved moving. So I moved.

In this way, I picked up my necessities and made my way to the bath as quietly as I could. I didn't want to be disturbed, not yet. Not before I looked composed and rational. It was another trick of Kenshin's that I picked up. If you look perfectly reasonable, you are more likely to act perfectly reasonable, or so people thought.

The bath was only just beginning to cool and the floor still damp with water when I arrived. An idle part of my mind wondered if the previous occupant was Enishi or Take, or perhaps both? The idea of both men sitting together in a bath was comical enough for me to let out a light, nearly hysterical giggle.

I bathed, scrubbing hard till I was certain that nothing remained from the battle, paying particular attention to my hands, which were to my surprise when I finally looked at them, pristine. They were thoroughly wiped down while I was unconscious, not even the small lines of mud remained under my fingernails. Again my thoughts weighed between Enishi and Take being the culprit.

My gut was strangely inclined towards the former.

I didn't give myself time to soak and by extension time to think, just a quick rinse with the—by then— nearly icy water and I felt whole enough to get out of it and get dressed in a light yukata. Braced by my grooming, I pushed open the door and came face to face with the waiting world.


Right by the doorway, leaning back like a petulant teenager was Enishi. The damp curls of his hair and clothes pegged him as a—if not the—previous bather.

He looked up, moonlight obscuring his eyes behind his glasses, but I had the impression that he stared me down from the roots of my loose damp hair to the naked toes of my feet and memorised every detail between.

"Are you well?" It wasn't his normal silk smooth tone. He must have swallowed gravel, or some other assortment of small stones while I was unconscious.

I couldn't see it, but instinct told me that behind that thin pane of glass, his eyes were as dark as the midnight sky.

This wasn't Enishi, I was in audience with the white tiger of China.

I nodded, not trusting my words. His eyes seemed caught up with the damp, loose waves of my hair. It was likely his first time seeing me with my hair free. I wondered if he approved.

The silence hung heavy between us. The dark, ghostly, taste of sandalwood bloomed on my tongue and throat sealing me in the memory of his kiss. I licked my suddenly dry lips, a move in fuelled in part by unease and a sudden need to taste him over again.

"If I had known you were going to take a bath I would have had your water heated."

From the past a faint echo of a ghostly voice crept up in my memory.

"You should have told this unworthy one you were going to bathe, this unworthy one would have kept the bath warm for you Kaoru-dono."

I clenched my eyes shut. Perhaps that groove of habit I carved in myself has grown brittle with time. The emotions I shoved past it seemed to leak at the edges and I felt on the verge of breaking. It was such a small thing, to have someone who cared that you didn't have warm bathwater. But it was one of those iconic cornerstones of comfort and family that I had missed terribly.

I desperately wanted to have someone to cling to, to have that one person to carry at least some of the weight that I seemed to constantly bear. But I didn't know if I could risk it with Enishi, or even if it was something he wished for. My heart too raw, my skin too thin to take much more of a beating from such temptation.

Against my will, I felt my eyes prickle.

No. Not yet. I could cry. I gave myself every permission to cry; But not here, and definitely not now. Later, when I was alone. After had made all the hard decisions; I could grieve then. It worked back then, and it bloody well should work now.

I swallowed down the emotion. Imagining a large dark chest in my head, I carefully placed the feelings within it and sealed it shut. When my eyes opened again, I was calm.

"I didn't want to disturb anyone." My voice was beautifully composed. Had I the capacity, I would have been proud of myself.

Enshi didn't budge but I got the impression that he hardened, turning from old wood to cold marble.

"Torao Kane is waiting to speak to you. He arrived not long ago."

I nodded. "I'll speak to him in a minute. I need to know what happened after I passed out. Where is Misao?"

Enishi tilted his head, contemplative. "Misao has left Tokyo with Lee. She wanted to have Shinimori buried with his comrades."—I winced, flinching at the flash of memory of Aoshi's body. "She will be returning as soon as she has dismantled the Oniwabanshu, or as much of it that is still under her control. "

"Dismantle it? But she's free now. She can stay in Kyoto again. The Oniwabanshu is centuries old, you can't just up and dismantle it."

He shook his head, the moonlight carving fingers though his hair. "Today is merely the tip of the iceberg. The government has been using more and more force to get full access to the Oniwabanshu. Tamaki may have been acting alone, but most of the officials in the area knew what he was up to, and they didn't stop him. Misao would rather be dead than give them that power. " His lips suddenly curled into a dark smirk.

"Their reaction towards me today, proved their interests to be very...short-sighted."

He didn't need to explain that the Government of Japan might need to be looking out for some new allies to trade arms with. Either that or they need to look out for a certain kind of midnight visitor that leaves you dead by morning.

I swallowed down the discomfort. After what we went through today I couldn't carry blind faith with regards to the government anymore. When I reach hell, I'll thank Tamaki for that. After what I had to sacrifice, all in the name of some idiots' greed, I was more than willing to not take action against something that would prevent it from ever happening again. Even if it amounted to an assassination."

"Shortly after Misao was done with Tamaki, Torao arrived at the docks. He was...displeased." Enishi shot off a dark smirk, giving me a good idea as to what exactly 'displeased' entailed. "Apparently the favours that I had called in were tragically unable to arrive on time but they were more than willing to assist me, conditionally of course."

"Of Course." I parroted, my mind already getting an inkling about what was going to come out of Enishi's mouth.

"In exchange for my safe departure, the protection of your school's reputation and the general hassle free lives of all other parties involved, I have to leave the country. Quietly. And presumably, never return."

Someone dropped a pan in the kitchen. Or perhaps all the pans in Tokyo dropped at once. That was the kind of shock that struck me.

"L-LEAVE Tokyo? But why? They were the incompetent idiots!"

Enishi shrugged. "They are the incompetent idiots in power. It's meant to serve as part of the cover for the carnage at the docks. The story they will leak out is that some members of an 'independent task force' managed to locate and subdue me in the area. Uncertain of my identity, they summoned a well known previous victim of mine, namely you. Explaining away your very public track towards the docks. When you arrived there I got loose with the help of some of my...local associates and managed to escape."

"They are blaming this whole thing on you! How can you agree to this?"

He chuckled then. Dark and gravely the sound grated to my ears and made me shiver. "I am not a hero Kaoru. I am a well known criminal with a long history of violence, kidnapping and illegal trade. Not the stuff of heroes at all. It is easier to build on a vile foundation than redeem it."

"But you didn't do anything to cause this. If anything you were here to make sure that things like this didn't happen anymore." My stomach was a mass of knots. Enishi leaving? Would he do it? And if he did, what of us? Would he demand I go with him? Could I even go with him? Would I want to?

The other half of me was still reeling from his words. A vile foundation. I wondered if the two lives I had claimed today qualified as vile enough. Perhaps if I took into account the fact that I had a death by illness and an infant death hanging over my head, it would tip the scale?

Was it unforgivable?

I trembled. My fingers shook so hard that I could nearly hear their rattling. The locked chest in my head trembled with me.

The sudden scent of sandalwood creped in for real; prickling my senses. I stubbornly clenched my eyes shut, begging a few more moments to get myself under control. A calloused finger tapped my chin and tilted my head and on instinct my eyes opened.

The gash over his eyebrow had sealed over and had a shiny coating that could only be the leavings of a healing salve. His face was hard, lips pressed thin and jaw clenched. Were I a weaker woman, I would have been terrified. But as I met his gaze, the raw edges of my heart burned. His dark eyes were frantic, desperate. Seeking in my own something he was terrified to find.

I should have been afraid. Any other sane person in the world would be afraid. But sanity was one thing I proved to be in short supply of.

"Do not hide from me little dragon. I will take your anger, I will even take your hate. But do not give me your disregard."

"I don-" the finger that tipped my chin, moved to cover my lips.

"You are hiding. Anything you say otherwise is a lie. I have fought every day of my life to become the kind of person who cannot be pushed aside for anything. To this day only one human being has ever done so. I was too young to stop her then. I will not let you do it to me now."

He slid his free hand to my waist where it pulled me close till my forehead pressed tight against his shoulder and his breath teased strands of my hair.

If that inner cage of mine shook before, it was positively buckling now. In his arms, surrounded by him, by his strength I could believe that he would take on the world. That he would champion any cause I give him to his very death.

But could I ask him to bear my redemption for me? I was too old to start from scratch. Too weary to pick up the mantle of fighter, healer, caregiver again. I couldn't give anything to Enishi anymore. Not with blood on my hands.

He wasn't asking me to hold his fort. He wanted to hold mine.

"I-I can't. Not yet. If I let go, I will go to pieces. I-I have things I must do. And you said Torao-san is waiting."

His free hand curled into my hair, fingers shaping to cradle my scull. "There is nothing in the world right now that you have to face if you don't want to. Trust me to take care of the details. I can handle that man. But you have to ask, and you need to have faith. The world seeing me as a violent, unscrupulous bastard, I can live with. But I need to know, for certain that you carry no part of that with you."


He tilted my head up, forcing my gaze to meet his intense ones. "Trust me Kaoru."

Like releasing a weight from around my neck I invoked the ghost that haunted me still.

"I killed two men today. I removed two men from their families, from their homes and took away their futures." The words trembled in the very air and steamed with red hot condemnation.

I looked up at Enishi with watery eyes, searching for damnation in his eyes, waiting for the die of judgement to be cast. He came to me all that time ago seeking a teacher to remove him from that path. And now I failed him as I failed all my other pupils.

There was no hate in him, not even the faintest flickers of it. Instead I found sorrow and just a flash of what could possibly be guilt.

He leaned forward till our noses were nearly touching. "You have never been a murderer Kaoru, you couldn't be one even if you tried. If those men fell by your hand, they fell because you had to protect something greater. They wouldn't have fallen if you had been given any other choice. And if you cannot forgive yourself of acts you had to do to protect those you love, then you have damned me beyond all redemption as well."

And just like that the chest in my head shattered.

My little bath bucket fell to the ground as I clung to Enishi's shoulders and wept. He wrapped both his arms around me, tucking his chin over my. I was in a body blanket of Enishi, wrapped up in a way I haven't been since I was a very young child. It was both humbling and the most beautiful feeling in the world.

As my knees weakened, he held me up. As my breath gasped, he rubbed my back. As I wept, in fear, in guilt, in anger and in terrible, terrible, sorrow, he whispered smooth comforting words in my ear.

I decided right then that I would love this man. This wonderful, broken, terrifying man. Because, If nothing else, as he held me up, he proved without a doubt that he was already in love with me.

Blind faith was such a small thing to ask for in return.

I decided to meet up with Torao anyway. Enishi offered to take up the weight I carried, and I accepted his offer. But that didn't mean I didn't need to know exactly what he was bearing up on my behalf. I could trust the man as far as my wellbeing was concerned, in relation to anyone else—I was not so sure.

Forget that, the man was ruthless, and he knew it.

So without words we made our way towards my receiving room that was seeing far more action in the last week that it had seen in the year previous combined.

Torao Kane was a broad man with hair slicked back with what looked like my entire stock of cooking oil. He started off life as an administrative underling until he was 'found'—more likely exhumed—by Saito, and carved into a block more or less in his own image.

"I have to say Kamiaya san, not everyone gets the pleasure of keeping the head of the Tokyo metropolitan police department waiting. I have absolutely nothing else of more important to do this evening than to be at your leisure." He tipped up a tiny dish of sake in my direction with a nod. "Your alcohol, as well, is of substandard quality."

Across from him Take was nearly vibrating with temper. Torao drove Take around the bend on the best of days. Today he was liable to have furniture fling at his head for his rudeness.

"You were free to leave at any time Torao-san. No one would have even dreamed of halting your swift exit. And for such bad sake, you have gone through quite a bit of it." There were about five or six little jars around him alone, which I think should have finished up the large bottle of sake in my kitchen quite nicely.

"Quantity to make up for quality."

"Do you always drink so while on duty?"

His dark gaze passed across from me and rested on the looming figure of Enishi. "Only when the company warrants it."

Take growled in disgust. "Oh drop it you slimy thug. Between you and him, I'll take the evil creep any day. At least he picks a side and sticks with it. Right now I'd trust him to do your own job, and keep the fucking peace. Which you fail to do, repeatedly."

Torao shrugged. "It's not my fault that your school seems to draw every unsavoury character in the district of Tokyo and then expect me to 'fix it' when things don't go your way. I suspect that the reason why you keep winning the regional's is because you have your...associates rig the games."

Take slammed his fist on the table and rose to his knees. "You take that back! I could kick your ass three ways from tomorrow with one hand behind my back and still win the finals right after. We don't need to cheat. You're the one who can't seem to do anything, unless someone else is doing it for you!"

Torao cocked his head and curled his lip in a smirk that was a blank copy of Saito's "Try me."


The room fluttered to an immediate silence. If the whole evil overlord thing didn't work out for him, Enishi had good prospects of becoming a teacher. He had to voice for it.

"You wanted to speak to her, she is here. Speak your piece and then leave. Your presence here is not wanted neither will your behaviour be tolerated. "

Torao arched a suspicious brow and flicked his gaze from Enishi to me repeatedly, coming no doubt to all sorts of perverse conclusions that were wrong but not entirely incorrect. "If you say so Yukishiro."

"I do."

With a gentle hand to my back, Enishi led me to a table and knelt down beside me. I didn't know if I should be unnerved or pleased. He was taking the protector title to its fullest extent.

"Speak, and be brief." Enishi was all lovely, lovely steel and brimstone. In this mood he might have made Saito himself wary, let alone this pale doppelganger of his.

Torao's brows crept up his forehead with the slightest touch of wariness. I might have intervened if Torao had been a nicer man or If I had more energy. I found that I liked not needing to defend myself, at least not in this verbal venomous arena in which I was ill equipped for anyway.

Point one to Enishi.

"I'll give you the short version then." Torao said.

"Yukishiro is going to have to leave, at dawn the latest and he will not be welcomed back on pain of death. In return for his departure, your school will be publicly applauded for assisting the police department for the identification of a dangerous criminal and for the...excellent way you and your student held yourself in a dangerous situation. "He paused and let his incredulity hang in the air.

"You will not mention what really went on today and you will not attempt to harbour or contact Yukishiro Enishi or Mikamichi Misao at any point after this date. You will abide by these rules or your school will have its licence and ranking revoked."

"Am I clear?"

I already knew what he was going to say. Enishi had prepared me for it just a few minutes ago. But It suddenly felt so formal, so inevitable. Just as my lips parted to reject the offer, for no other reason than because it was unfair, I felt a long fingered hand place itself at the curve of my lower back.

"Trust me Kaoru."

His words from earlier still hung between us, his request still heavy on my shoulders. This would be the first test of my resolve. Trust him to know what he is doing. Trust him to fight on my behalf. Trust him to fight in his own way, at his own time.

"Fine. I accept your terms."

Take sputtered, turning an angry shade of reddish-purple. "Sen-Sensei what? You're agreeing to this? Its blackmail!"

Against my back Enishi's thumb did a quick congratulatory rub before moving away.

"No Take, its coercion. There's a difference. Blackmail implies we did something wrong. Coercion means we are threatened to protect the interests of someone else in the wrong." I didn't look away from Torao as I spoke. Let him feel my disgust.

I don't know how but I was sure that I could feel the waves of amusement radiate from Enishi even though his face was a regular brick.

Torao once again passed his gaze from me back to Enishi. "You understand that this is permanent. There is no way to change the terms of this agreement. No way to appeal the punishment. At the first sign of your failure to stick to the terms you will be executed, without trial."

"Yes. You were very clear about that Torao-san. I understand the terms of the agreement."

Suddenly Torao's face broke into the most demented smile I have ever seen on a human face since meeting Enishi. "Excellent. My work here is done." He stood up, knees creaking slightly. "No need to show me out Kamiaya-san, I know the way-"

"Oh hell no," Take cut in between gritted teeth. "I insist. We wouldn't want to be seen as impolite, or anything. And I wouldn't trust you unsupervised in a bucket, let alone the dojo property. You'd probably set us on fire."

"If you say so."

As Torao made his way to the door, he paused for a moment and glanced backward. "Whatever you're up to Kamiaya-san, I wish you all the best. Give those idiots a run for their money. Just do me a favour and don't make me catch you. The paperwork alone would ruin my day."

And with a jaunty little wave he walked off escorted by a steaming Take.

"I'm willing to trust you so far Enishi. But don't expect me to sit down quietly and watch you hang yourself with this game you're playing with them. That's where I draw the line."

He let out a short chuckle. "I have no intention at all of letting them even come close to touching me. They never have before, and they never will again."

"So what are you going to do?"

"Follow their instructions."

"So you're leaving."


I threw my hands up in the air in frustration and stood up. "Excellent. Wonderful. I'll just go to my room then and get ready to go back to good old life as usual then. Come talk to me when you decide to start making SENSE!"

"Kaoru." His hand flashed out and grabbed my forearm before I could actually move away. Then with liquid grace he stood, towering over me again.

"Kaoru, you can't lie worth a damn. You never had the talent for subterfuge, and I will not have you start now on my behalf. The less you know, the safer I can keep you."

"But," trust, I reminded myself, I had to learn to trust. "But what if you can't come back. What if they hunt you down wherever you are and kill you? What then? "

He moved up behind me, resting his chin on the top of my head. "These men couldn't find foreheads without written instruction. Hiding from them would take no effort. I will come for you Kaoru don't doubt that. You owe me a debt after all. And when that time comes I want you of your own free will. You will regret it if I force your hand now."

He was right. To up and leave my dojo, my legacy with no one to inherit it would tear what little honour I had left in two. If I took that path, I would grow to resent Enishi, I knew my nature well enough.

He was giving me time to tie my loose ends.

"When did you become so chivalrous?" I joked, making light of all that came to pass between us.

Enishi bent slightly, placing his lips right by my ear as his free hand caught on to a lock of hair and began to run his fingers through it. "It's easy enough. I just have to do the exact opposite of every burning instinct in my body.

"Exact opposite?" I parroted, half lost in the smooth rich scent of him already.

" You forget, giving someone options isn't a natural inclination of mine. I am no less a beast than ever I was. Right now it's taking all I have merely to hold you. My monster wants to take you. It wants to steal you away from all your other students, from all your other demands, from all your lingering ghosts. And when It finally has you to itself, it wants to own you. It wants to burn itself into your skin so far that everything you touch from then on will remind you of nothing but me; Will make you want nothing but me. It wants to infect you with some small measure of how you have marked me."

I gasped, my knees buckling under me under the heat of his words. His voice was pure gravel and like a kindling to his words, I burned.

Smoothly, his hand wrapped around my waist, carrying most of my weight. "So you see, I have to be an absolute gentlemen; because if I don't try to leash myself down, you will find yourself in the arms of a monster."

My thighs trembled, but not from fear. Not from fear at all. Partially against my will, my hand rose. My knuckles rubbed against his hard shoulder before reaching up to claw through the thick white strands of his hair and tug his head lower, pulling his ear beside my lips.

"Do I need to remind you about what happened in the dojo the last time you tried to tell me that you knew better?"

He growled, the echoing rumble from his chest shaking me down to the core. I recognised the sound of a smarting pride. "Do not tempt me Kaoru. I might just take you up on it."

Powered by some greater need, some greater fire beyond my body, I grasped a hold of his weight bearing arm and pulled myself free, only enough to turn around and face him woman to man.

"Why not?"

He raised a querying brow.

I grabbed him by the shoulders, locking my eyes to those dark, dark blue ones of his. My words were not thought out, they were fed from that hunger in me that he awaked. That hunger in me that for some strange and terrible reason tempted me to do away with propriety, that tempted me to do away with caution.

I wanted him. I've wanted him for some time. I was woman enough to admit it. And he was leaving at dawn. What did I have to lose?

"Tonight, before you go. You have been all talk so far. Give me something to remember you by."

"Kao-" he began but I sealed his lips with a finger.

"I am not a blushing virgin Enishi. You don't need to be so coy. I know exactly what I'm offering you. And I know exactly what you can give. I am not asking for anything more than that, not for tonight. All I ask is that you leave me something beautiful to hold on to while you're away."

I watched it shatter, whatever it was that he used to chain down the parts of himself that was made up of steel, fire and a burning unending hunger fractured right before my eyes.

I felt the teeth against my throat before I fully realised he moved. His teeth nipped, hard and fast against my throat. Leaving welts that burned. His hand, bolder than ever before, curved upward to cup my breast with only the thin cloth of my yutaka as a barrier. His thumb played a calloused metronome, drawing out the physical sign of my arousal, the grip nearly too tight.

But I liked it. I didn't want gentle. I wanted Enishi. All the while, the man let off a low, long growl.

The moment was irreparably shattered by the untimely arrival of Takemoto's voice.


Enishi hissed against my shoulder what could conceivably be a selection of choice swear words. "I'll kill him. I'll fucking kill him and then have Lee hide his body."

I panted . More sensation than human being and more than willing to say hell to the world and have Enishi finish whatever he started with that touch of his.


Driven mad by desperation I clenched a fist in his collar and pulled it tight. "If you can get me out of here before he comes back, I give you free reign to do whatever the hell that comes across your mind."

Enishi didn't need any more encouragement. He picked me up like I was nothing more than a tiny pitcher of water. Instinctively I curled my legs around his hip, my robe parting unbecomingly. I didn't notice a damned thing though because with the shift in his grip I found myself pressed hard against his stomach and a bulge that expressed more than anything his intent.

"Oh God Enishi." Taking it as permission, he finally moved.

Take might have seen us, or he might not have, I was in no state to care pressed up against the wall as Enishi curved one hand past the collar of my robe to grasp at my naked breast and his other hand fumbled with the door of what I could only vaguely recognise as my room.

My fingers were reigning havoc with his shirt fasteners before giving up and just tearing the cloth between two hungry hands. Enishi might have moaned, I don't recall. But I do remember the feel of his hard flesh against my palms. I remember the feel of cloth against my back when he threw me down to the still rumpled futon in my room. I remember the thick taste of sandalwood from his skin as it perfumed the air around me.

I remember calling out to him. Begging for him. I remember his growl every time he revealed new stretches of skin from cloth, every time he heard me whimper his name. I was no spring youth, but under his hand, under his gaze, I was the greatest treasure in the whole of Japan.

I remember the feel of his wondering tongue across the plain of my skin, halting for nothing, not even for my desperate pleas as he sunk down inevitably between my thighs, all teeth, tongue and unrelenting heat. As my mind splintered into a thousand brittle pieces, I only vaguely recalled the harsh growl of his voice as Enishi promised me that he was only just beginning.

And he proved himself right in every, terrible, wonderful way he could.