Dedicated to: chibigreen (all fixed now ^_^), KitKat (was this soon enough for you?), g3ozLizh (nope, no update from Arashi yet. And I've taken your suggestion to heart and condensed what I wanted to say. There is nothing but Sanosuke/Megumi from here on out. Thanks!), Firefury (I go overboard on Kaoru because I don't like her, so that's why. Bad excuse, yeah -_-;;; And I'll work on the Soujirou context), Calger459 (Wow, thanks for the amazing compliment. I do take the time to proof my stories at least once, but I didn't know this was noticeable. Your review inspired me to do the final chapter quickly. Thank you so much), Jason (a very, very hard place ^_^ And I've chosen to not expand on the Kenshin/Kaoru issue because it'd make this unduly long), Skittles (*blush* I'm almost done!), Leila (I love Tokio. The more I write her, the more amazing she becomes), Vesca (sure you can wait. Here it is. *wink*), Xara (will you marry me? :p), Sai (no, never read Fires of Amber. I make it a point to stay away from KxK fics, LOL), M.Kasshoku (the love for Kenshin came back with a vengeance this time _), Morgan (I actually was going to use that, but it felt too clichéd. So I made Tokio an even bigger part of the story. You'll see), Kayama (Eiji is just secondary. Sano-chan's the real star. Tee hee), Saturn Son (I want to give the goober a huge hug myself), Chibi (yes, I know. But this is Meiji era), and C.M. Aeris (I will continue, and here it is).
This is the second to last chapter. If you want to be mentioned in the last, don't forget to leave some criticism. Enjoy.
Say Cameras Are Only Good For Pictures... 17
by: Karina Kineshi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To say that Tokio was nervous was an understatement. Her hands shook as she set the table for dinner, occasionally throwing worried glances over her shoulder for Saitoh coming up the lane, cigarette bobbing up and down in the darkness. She had even dropped a tea cup onto the table, making a fine clatter that set her nerves even more on edge. Thankfully it did not break, but Eiji noticed and gave her a concerned look.
"Are you worried about the man? I mean..." he bit his lip. "He's handcuffed to the bathhouse and I did my best to make sure he'd be uncomfortable, and the on—"
"You did what?"
Eiji averted his eyes to the floor, not wanting to see the look on Tokio's face. If it matched her tone, he was sure it wasn't good. "I'm just saying, I did both of his hands behind his back so he doesn't have strength to rip it off. And... well..."
"That was a very mean thing to do, Eiji."
The boy lifted his eyebrows. Did she forget that the strange man almost killed her?
"Yes, Eiji, that was a very mean thing to do."
Tokio whirled around, losing her characteristic calm and spilling her tea on the table. "Hajime!" She coughed once and closed her eyes. "And it's also quite rude to be sneaking up on others like that."
Saitoh smiled faintly. "I'd think that by now you'd be able to tell."
"Yes." Her eyes darted to the door behind her husband. "Dinner?"
"No. I'm not hungry. Instead..." Saitoh hung his hat on a peg in the wall and turned to face the two. "Instead I'd like to know why a man is cuffed to our bathhouse."
"Yes... yes. Tell me what happened."
Eiji spoke before she could open her mouth. "He tried to attack mother."
The temperature in the room dropped several degrees. Tokio shivered. "Is that so?" Saitoh asked.
Eiji cast a look at his mother. Finding no emotion in her face, he slowly nodded.
"I see." The man turned towards the wall, methodically lifted his sword off the peg, and wound it around his waist. Without another word, he slid the door open and stepped outside. "I'll be back in about eleven seconds. Five to walk there, five to walk back."
Tokio rose to her feet. Dishes clattered. "Don't!"
But he was already gone.
She ran, not even bothering to slip on her sandals. Eiji quickly followed. Her husband had always been protective, and she knew very well that anyone who dared to hurt her wound up dead.
"No, don't kill him!"
Breathless, she caught up to Saitoh, who was prodding the head of the body with one foot, sword unsheathed. There was no movement.
When Saitoh didn't answer, she grabbed his shoulders for support. Physical exertion of this sort hadn't been used since she had fallen ill. He extended a hand and put his arm under hers. "Don't worry. I couldn't kill this guy."
As if on cue, the body jerked from underneath his boot. "You better not kill me, you big jerk."
Eiji tugged on Tokio's sleeve. "What's going on?" he whispered.
"I... I don't know."
Saitoh shook his head, but kept his sword out. "Dear. Tell me what happened."
"I'll tell you what happened! I tried—"
"Not you, you moron."
Tokio cleared her throat while the man thrashed against his handcuffs. "Well, I was taking a bath, and then I heard this man say something. He was on the porch, and... I think I panicked."
"Then I got hit on the head with a piece of wood! Is that any way to treat an old friend?"
"Didn't I tell you to shut up?"
The man turned, and in the dim sunset, Tokio could see his dirtied face. Why, the man was nothing but a boy! His face was scrunched, and he couldn't have been more than thirteen years old. Abnormally tall for his age, she thought.
"Tokio-san, Tokio... do you remember me?"
Saitoh felt his wife stiffen. "How do you know my name?"
The boy barely smiled.
"Do I... know you?"
Where have I seen you before?
"In another world, yeah."
"You had better start making sense, rooster-head. I'm this close to killing you."
This spurred the white jacketed man into action. "Tokio-san, this is going to sound crazy, but in Gehenna I saw you. You were the Divinity, and you throw lanterns at souls to get them back into their bodies. I got back into my body after Zanza was expelled and I want to help Megumi and Megumi-sensei understand that I love her and I don't know what I'm doing because Hajime told me to go here into the lion's den even though she knew Saitoh would kill me and right now..." He took a deep breath, and Tokio could see his eyes get more luminous in the moonlight. "Right now, I just want someone to hold me."
Tokio's mind reeled. What was this strange boy talking about? The Divinity? Hajime? Gehenna?
But it all sounded so... familiar.
The boy outstretched his hands as best he could, despite the handcuffs, imploring her. Asking for what? When she didn't respond, the boy lowered his head. His bandana spilled over his neck and onto his chest. "Tokio-san... don't you remember me at all?"
"Misao, please don't call me that. Just call me Aoshi."
The girl smiled. "Sorry, habit."
Shinomori and Misao walked the long road to Tokyo : one with a specific destination, the other without, content to walk. One's mind raged on whether to tell the other of their love, while the other dreaded the very thought. But one thing was for certain, both were headed in the same direction.
"Aoshi-sa--, Aoshi, is there a reason we're walking at night?"
Shinomori chuckled, to which Misao slowed down walking to. "I have to get somewhere. The fate of the world depends on it, and all that jazz."
"Never mind, it's an expression."
They walked the next two minutes in absolute silence. Shinomori found he couldn't lift his head from looking at the ground. He stepped on every fallen leaf in his path, delighting in the noise it made beneath his shoes. Once, he felt Misao's eyes on his face, but chose to ignore it, still stepping on leaves.
She must think I'm getting queer.
After a nothing but silence, and crunching, Shinomori finally lifted his eyes. He let the lantern swing by his side. Misao made not a sound.
"Are you up for playing a game, Misao-chan?"
The girl beside him stopped short. He walked a few feet before turning around. Nighttime shaded her features, so Shinomori held the lantern to see her face.
"I know it sounds ridiculous... but it's a lot better than not talking at all, right?"
Misao blinked, then pushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "I guess."
She's acting just like I used to.
Shinomori pushed the disconcerting thought out of his mind and bade her walk towards him. "Here's the game," he started, "You ask me a question, any question at all, and I'll answer it. Then we'll switch off. How does that sound?"
"Strange, Aoshi. Really... strange. But I've got a question."
"Go ahead, shoot."
"Where are we going?"
Shinomori sighed. Couldn't hide anything from her. "We're going to Saitoh Hajime's house. To pick up an old friend."
He laughed. The lantern cast dancing shadows on their path. "Only one question at a time, silly goose. But I'll answer that too. I'm helping a friend get his life back in order." He could hear her cough, but didn't see her face. "Now, my turn."
"How are you, Misao?"
Shinomori repeated the question.
"Well... I'm okay, I guess. A little hungry, a little cold, and a lot tired. But I can hold out as long as you can." Misao paused. "Why do you want to know?"
"Because I love you."
The girl stopped dead in her tracks. Suddenly, it was feasible to run all the way back to Kyoto . Anywhere, anywhere but here. Not with Aoshi. Anyone but...
"I mean it, Misao. I love you. But... do you understand that this will never work between us?"
She looked up at her elder. The moonlight silhouetted his sharp features. He stared straight ahead. Her eyes returned to the ground. "Yes, I understand. I've always understood... but I suppose I've never really given it much thought."
"Why did you say you love me?"
"Because, Misao-chan, I do. Ever since... you were placed under my care, I've always felt a certain affection for you." Deciding to become bold, Shinomori tentatively placed an arm around her shoulders. She didn't draw away. "What can I say, you're a pretty cute girl. Pretty, smart, athletic... you'll make someone a good wife someday, you know?"
The back of her neck got hot. "Yes, if you say so. And?"
Misao's shoulders rose and fell. "But I can never be your wife, can I, Aoshi-sama?"
Shinomori stared at the stars, letting the silence be his answer.
"I guess I should've known. You know, Jiya always told me that some men weren't meant to be married. You're one of them."
"What else has Jiya told you?"
Due to her natural gait, his arm fell off her shoulders. She caught it behind her, and wrapped it around her waist, pressing her body to his side. "He said I was in love with love."
He chuckled. "That what I would've said."
A legion of crickets made their presence known, at first quietly, then growing louder and louder. But the two humans made not a sound, somehow understanding the other's intentions.
"Don't worry, Aoshi. I get it."
She turned her face to his, and even in the dim light Shinomori could see her brilliant eyes. "I get it now. You've been like a brother to me, and I let my childish crush on you blind my sight. You won't have to worry about that anymore."
Shinomori hugged her closer. "Say it, Misao. You won't be content until you do. And... I may not understand after now."
Tell me before I have to leave.
"I love you too, Aoshi-sama."
And they walked, arms intertwined. One understanding the other.
"I drew the line at you telling me how to boil water, Shinta."
You should have thought about that before you invaded my body, de gozaru.
Battousai glared at the pot on the hearth, wishing that Shinta would just go away and leave him alone. There already was an assortment of fine dishes bubbling away and giving off their delicious aroma, ready to be served. He sighed, and instantly his face softened. "You do know I do this for your own good, right?" he addressed Shinta.
Why are you doing this? the other soul asked.
"I can't tell you, because if I do... well, you might remember it when you come back."
"This crazy adventure, of course."
Suddenly, a great weight felt lifted from his head. Shinta was gone. Battousai breathed a prayer of thanks to God, then continued watching the hearth. Cooking really wasn't that hard to do, it was the prep work that was difficult. He stared into a pot of boiling water, letting the steam rise up and cover his face with a fine layer of water. Amber eyes stared back.
Battousai, do you hear me?
His head snapped up. "Yes, Hiko. I hear you."
The plan will be set in motion tomorrow at dawn. Tonight, you are to contact Takani Megumi and bring her to a designated location, which will be provided you later.
Battousai's eyebrows raised. "Why the urgency, Hiko?"
There was a pause. Because, here in Gehenna, there is an uproar.
"Uproar?" he repeated.
Yes. Hajime and I are doing everything to keep the other egos from destroying Zanza. We finally had to lock him up in Limbo before the other egos could exact justice.
He took a pot off the hearth and set it to the side. "Shinomori isn't there."
No, she answered. This is why they are rioting.
"Have you tried contacting him?"
Yes. He is currently walking with Makimachi Misao to pick up Sano-chan. Her voice got lower. I fear the worst, Battousai. Really.
"Don't worry. This will work."
No, you don't understand... the other egos have demanded a trial immediately. Unless you and Shinomori hurry, by sunrise... Zanza will not exist.
A windchime tinkled in the breeze. "It's sunset now. That only gives us night, Hiko!" Battousai made it a point to never raise his voice, however, the situation couldn't help but impose itself on his vocal cords.
Only one night? One night to convince Takani Megumi to love Sagara Sanosuke? Without divine intervention? With angry souls clamoring for Zanza's blood?
Now you know exactly why I'm panicking.
Wiping his hands off on the counter rag, he strode towards the kitchen door. "Then we can't waste any time. I'm leaving now."
He didn't expect an answer. Nor did he bother to remove the remaining pots from the heat. Battousai thought wryly that they'd still be more palatable than Kamiya Kaoru's cooking when he returned. Then quite quickly, the voice returned.
Hey. Bring the woman doctor to the wood near Saitoh's house. Woodlands make it easier for this to happen. And it's out of public sight.
"You sure about this, Hajime?"
You got any better ideas?
"Fine, fine. Have you even contacted Shinomori yet?"
We're working on it, dammit.
He sighed. The blind leading the blind. At least the question of "where" was settled. But one remained, how would he convince Takani Megumi to come with him?
Hiko will help, don't worry.
"Oh, I'm worried. Lie to me, Hajime. Tell me you have everything under control."
Hajime gulped. Battousai, everything is... under control.
"I suppose it really is stupid for me to worry like this.
There I go again, caring about others before myself. Some people might say that a woman of my nature would be hysterical upon finding out the man she loved betrayed her, but now... I really feel nothing. Somehow, all my emotions were locked away inside of me into a tight box and thrown into a river.
That said, do you know how horrible it is to lose your emotion? To stare at the ceiling and feel nothing stirring inside?
I stayed awake tonight because I just couldn't sleep. I ran over the day's events in detail and recalled fixing a broken leg and wrapping a burned foot. And no matter how much I tried to conjure up Sanosuke's image and associate hate with it, I find that I just can't. This makes me angry, but then that fury is dissipated by something inside me, gently reminding me of the good times over the bad.
Genzai-sensei didn't suspect a thing; he even commented on how diligently I was working. Amazing how an intuitive man like himself wouldn't guess that there was something seriously wrong with me. At least, in my mind.
Look at what I've been reduced to. Staring at this band of cloth around my finger, then looking up in hopes of seeing his familiar gait down the lane. Watching the folds of his white jacket softly blowing to the left due to the easterly wind with a smile that speaks volumes about his character. I miss it. Where is he?
Ah Megumi, being wistful again. Didn't I know that it was over as soon as I ran away? Whatever friendship or love Sanosuke and I had shattered as soon as our trust was broken. As much as I don't want it to be over... there was one emotion that I knew I had left.
The one of finality. We're finished.
As I unwrap this cloth from my finger, I spy the solitary burning candle in the room. It flickers at me, inviting me to end this bond between us in the only way bonds can be both made and severed: fire. Not really knowing what I'm doing, I hold the ring just out of the flame's reach and watch tiny threads glow red before falling into gray ash.
Before the flame ignites the whole ring, I put it out by squeezing it. Sad to see how pathetic the ring now looked. Not only was it smelly and faded, but now sooty and covered with ash.
And you know what the saddest thing of all was?
My mind was wiped clean of emotion. My burned forefinger and thumb was the only thing that hurt..."
Megumi read over what she wrote, letting her hand rest.
"Very nice, Takani Megumi."
She froze. The voice came from right behind her.
"The clinic is closed now, but if you need help, I'll be more than happy..."
"You're right, I need your help."
Megumi dared herself to turn around and face whoever it was. "Ken-san! Just what is the big idea, sneaking up on me—" She put a hand over her chest to still her hammering heart. "You scared me," she finished quietly.
Battousai leaned against the screen door, hands folded over one another, legs crossed. "I know what happened, Megumi."
"What do you mean?"
He stepped out of the shadows. She could clearly see his eyes. "I know. And we're going to fix that."
"Ken-san, I don't know what you're talking about."
"Takani Megumi, I've read everything you've written. I know what has happened, I know how you feel, about Sanosuke, about your engagement, and about the rape." The woman visibly cringed at the last word, but Battousai continued. "You crave closure. Retribution." He eyed her closely. "Revenge."
Megumi stayed silent.
"If you'll come with me, you will get all those things."
She whispered something about a dream.
Although he knew she did not want revenge, Battousai had to say something to entice her to follow him. "No, this isn't a dream. I am Himura Kenshin. You are Takani Megumi, in Oguni Clinic, about to come with me. Because I have what you desire."
As if in a daze, she rose from her chair and stared at him. Her eyes were lifeless. Then, he saw with a shock the shining threads attached to her limbs, like that of a marionette. Hovering in the air above Megumi's head where the young, youthful hands of Hiko, pulling each string upwards.
So this is her true power!
The power of controlling reflex and instinct. Of controlling the id.
There were three parts to a persona each human being had: the id, ego, and superego. The egos and superegos resided in Gehenna... however, the ids were merely unspoken desires. Fragments of souls. Just as many threads make up a dream, many ids make up a soul. Hiko was the dreamweaver: one who manipulates these ids, these desires, and makes one act on them.
So, Takani Megumi still desired Sanosuke. At least, on the revenge level.
So, there was still hope. At least there was still desire.
Megumi spoke. "Take me to Sanosuke, please. I need... I just need to talk with him."
"I... I know you do. Let's go."
She began walking out the door before Battousai could even show her where to go.
"Don't worry," she answered his unspoken thought, "I know where to find him."
Hiko controls intuition. Yes, of course Megumi would know.
Battousai closed the door to the now silent clinic, and the two began the long journey to the wood. The moon hung high amidst stars blanketing the night sky.
Three hours until dawn.
Sano-chan could no longer feel his limbs.
Saitoh left him chained to the bathhouse like an animal, without food, water, or warmth. Saitoh refused to let Tokio bring him a blanket. Nights were so unbearably cold. He had nothing to do but curl up and depend on his own body for heat as he stared at the moon. Oddly enough, however, he couldn't focus on the physical, because his emotions easily overrode them.
"I don't even know if Megumi loves me, so why am I doing this?" he asked aloud.
Sagara-taichou always said that futility is in the eye of the beholder, but only now did Sano-chan truly understand that point. If he willed it, would Megumi love him back? If one desires something with all their heart, would it be granted to them?
Now, Sano-chan wasn't so sure.
All the wishing in the world couldn't make her love him.
But then he thought of her face. Her face when she accepted the ring Zanza gave her. Her face when she smiled at him. Her face when she cried.
She's so beautiful, even with tears in her eyes.
Straining at his handcuffs one more time, he yanked until his arms hurt. "Goddammit, I need to get to Megumi!" His wrists scraped against the metal until it chafed red, but it didn't give. Dejected, he slumped to the ground.
"Hajime! Hajime!" Sano-chan glared at the trees around him. "Where are you, Hajime?"
I haven't left your mind, you dolt. Now listen, we've got sort of a plan going right now...
"As if you couldn't already tell, I'm currently in a bit of a mess, Hajime. Thanks to you."
Me? Me? Hajime's voice rose. This is a blessing in disguise, Sano-chan. We—
Another voice came out of the darkness, interrupting Hajime. "Thanks to me? What on earth are you talking about, rooster-head?"
Sano-chan growled. "Saitoh. Let me go right now. I mean it."
"No, I won't. First, you will tell me why you tried to kill my wife." The end of his cigarette outlined the movement of his lips in the pitch blackness.
A pause. Then suddenly, cold steel against his neck.
Oh shit! Sano-chan could feel Hajime's curse ringing in his ears. Shit shit shit!
"You're telling me. Why can't you get inside Saitoh's body, Hajime? This'd make this so much easier—"
"What are you muttering about, rooster? Speak a little louder." Saitoh's eyes narrowed enough to scare Sano-chan. He really did bear a resemblance to a wolf. "The only reason I didn't kill you earlier tonight was because my wife was there. I will not hesitate to do so now."
Stall, Sano-chan. Fuck! We need Shinomori!
The boy swallowed. "First off, I didn't try to kill her. Why would I do something stupid like that?"
"I don't know, you are pretty stupid." The tension of the blade against his skin didn't lessen.
Where was help?
Got him! Holy fuck, I've got him. Keep him talking for about... what, five minutes? Stupid mortal bodies! Sano-chan, Shinomori will be there in five minutes!
"I might not be here in five minutes, Hajime," Sano-chan hissed through clenched teeth.
"What was that?"
"I said... I'll tell you why I'm here." The boy coughed, then shifted his position so he sat up. Totally on impulse, he grinned. "But I am awfully hungry, do you mind bringing something for me to eat? Or drink?"
"You're such an impetuous fool."
Not that kind of stalling, you moron!
"I know, Saitoh," he said softly. "I know I'm a fool sometimes." His eyes burned as he looked up defiantly. "But I know more than just that. If I told you how I knew your wife's name, you wouldn't believe me and think I'm crazy."
"Tokio-san has had an illness, hasn't she? One that immobilized her... one that kept her in bed for up to twenty hours a day."
"How do you know that?" Saitoh's grip on his sword got tighter.
Sano-chan felt hot blood trickle down his neck. "I also know that you love her dearly, enough to feed her, to take care of her. She truly loves you... and I feel so stupid for saying this... but I am truly jealous of you."
Sano-chan! Hajime gasped.
Her alter ego looked like he got run over by a train, wolfish eyes wide open in the darkness. Sano-chan continued. "I love Megumi the way you love your wife, unconditionally. But at least... at least your wife loves you back. Have you ever... ever had that before, Saitoh? Ever wondered about how she felt?"
"Well, you shouldn't have. It's so easy to tell. Do you remember when she woke up about two days ago, Saitoh? She said... she loved you."
"That's enough! Start answering my questions before I kill you."
Sano-chan's slumped in defeat. "Go ahead, do it, Saitoh. Imagine a life without love from the one whom you love. It isn't a life at all."
Sano-chan... no, please don't give up... we're so close...
"Then. I'll put you out of your misery, rooster." The blade withdrew from his throat. He turned to the side, seeing only Saitoh's shadow on the ground, sword held high above his head. "Not only have you been annoying, but also, you've been stalking my wife. That, I can't forgive."
Saitoh raised the sword. Sano-chan closed his eyes.
Out of the darkness, two figures cloaked in black ran full speed towards Saitoh. One carried a lantern. Shinomori threw the light towards Saitoh, sword frozen in midair by Hajime wrapping her ribbons around the hilt. He caught it with one hand. A stunned look appeared on his face, illuminating his features before the womanish figure above him disappeared in a flash.
Something clattered to the ground. When the boy opened his eyes again, he saw the sword. Following up the shadow, towards the light, he saw Saitoh, grinning broadly.
Only, not Saitoh.
The first thing the fate of the present did once she got control of the body was to give Sano-chan a slap in the face. "You stupid idiot!" she yelled. "We're doing everything we can to help you, and suddenly you give up on us? What the fuck?!"
Through Hajime shaking his collar, Sano-chan gave her a grin of his own. "Did a pretty good job at stalling, right?"
She sputtered. "Well, yeah... I guess so..."
Shinomori came into view of the lantern. "Did'ya miss me?"
"I could throttle you, Shinomori."
"Oh, I know," he giggled.
"What exactly is going on, Aoshi?"
"What? What's weasel girl doing here?"
Misao stepped out from behind Shinomori, fuming. "Don't call me a weasel!"
Hajime reached into her pocket, extracted a key, and bent down to unlock Sano-chan's restraints. "No worries little girl, we're going to make sure you don't remember a damn thing tomorrow."
¿Que, es una fiesta?
Shinomori stared into the trees. "No, Soujirou, this isn't a party. What is the update?" Before Shinomori could breathe, a spasm attacked him. He fell to the ground, convulsing in front of three shocked onlookers.
Sano-chan grabbed the girl's sleeve. "Don't touch him, Misao!"
No podría salvarlo.
"What do you mean, you couldn't save him, Soujirou?" Hajime could do nothing but watch as the Divinity thrashed on the ground. As she listened to the report, her eyes grew wide. "She's saying... the souls have become too much for Gehenna. And too much for Shinomori to ignore."
Los egos quieren la vida de Zanza.
"The trial begins." Hajime stared at Sano-chan. "They want to kill Zanza now."
"As do I."
Three pairs of eyes turned to see none other than...
Fujita Tokio, the former Divinity.
"Let the trial commence," she said.
Day had just broken.