There's really no excuses I can give that's valid and acceptable, nothing I can say in my own defense for not uploading new chapters. I accept all the charges and plead guilty………

Having 'The Mirror' removed from was quite a huge blow to me. I mean, it was up for almost 2, 3 years and then to have it removed because of 'explicit content' simply doesn't make sense. Actually it wouldn't have such a big effect on me had it not been for the fact that my computer crashed and I lost all my fanfiction. I thought 'The Mirror' was lost for good and I was very upset. Not only that, but all the lovely and encouraging reviews were gone too! Luckily the fic was archived on another website and someone found it for me. But my reviews will never come back. I'm very sad about that………

If there's anybody out there who's still interested in 'The Mirror', I'll edit it and post it again. But the original version with the lemon will have to stay at the other website.

Chapter 14

It was right in the middle of the afternoon. Although it was late spring, the air still carried the bite of winter chill. Even the piercing rays of the sun could not drive it away.

Tendrils of smoke gathered and dissipated. Saitoh Hajime drew another deep puff before withdrawing the cigarette.

"The case that we found was not a recent one. It happened 24 years ago in Japan, Okinawa," Saitoh focused his intense stare on the group in the room. He paused, seemingly collecting his thoughts before continuing in a detached tone, "His name was Mutou Ensuke, 36. According to the reports, he was an instructor in a local dojo. His wife, Mutou Takako, 32 was employed at a nursery. They had a two year old son. From all accounts, they were a loving couple. The police could not find any motive at all for Mutou to kill his wife and then to commit suicide………" His voice trailed off.

"Wait, that's it?" Sanosuke called out in surprise. "How………what happened?"

Surprisingly, Saitoh did not answer with a terse 'ahou'.

"It happened exactly as the verse described. He stabbed his wife and killed himself. There were traces of blood in the sink which suggested that he did indeed wash up in the bathroom after killing Mutou Takako. There were no hints of infidelity on either party or any financial difficulties. It remained a mystery why he destroyed his own family."

"Is that all?" Kaoru asked. A cold feeling had settled in her guts. She knew that there had to be more. There must be a connection.

"The police did not spend much time on this case. It was pretty much cut and dried. A case of family violence. Although the detective in charge of the case had doubts about closing it, there really weren't much that he could do. The Mutous did not have any family members to question and probe and there was nothing to investigate. However, when I looked into their background, I discovered that they did not exist beyond the five years that they lived in Okinawa."

Everyone was listening so intently that nobody noticed the faint movement from the bed until they heard a hoarse whisper.

"That's the greatest number of words I've ever heard coming from you, Saitoh."

In the next instance, Kenshin found himself surrounded by a circle of concerned faces.

"Kenshin! Are you alright now? You fool! You scared years off my life!" Sanosuke was the first to reach the bed and his voice rang out loud in his anxiety.

"You must be weaker than I thought to be laid up in bed just because of that minor graze," drawled Saitoh as he sauntered near.

Unexpectedly, another person spoke up. "Bloodshed on a wedding does not bode well." Aoshi left unspoken whether it was ill boding for the marriage or the future.

Kaoru had stilled her face and said nothing. Only her tight grip on Kenshin's hand betrayed her relief.

"Kenshin, why………" demanded Sanosuke.

To stall further comments and questioning, Kenshin raised his free hand weakly from the bed, "Before you go on, just pass me a glass of water first."

After taking a sip of water, Kenshin looked up and locked his gaze with Saitoh. "Have you discovered anything new since the last time we talked?"

"Hn………If you had not interrupted with your dramatic recovery, I'd have finished the report." No one could tell if Saitoh meant any sarcasm with his dry tone. "What I have will be new to you too. I'd appreciate if there aren't any more unnecessary comments. Save the questions for later."

"Mutou Ensuke's real name was Yukishiro Shinobu. He was a key member of Kurokaze, a very prominent yakuza group in the 1970s and 80s. Other then being the nephew of the head of Kurokaze, he was also one of the important leaders of Kurokaze's martial arm. But at the heights of his 'career', he disappeared from Kurokaze. He was then 31. The actual reason for his leaving was hushed up."

"When he died as Mutou Ensuke, the police in Okinawa did not link him with Yukishiro who had disappeared five years ago or else, they might have discovered more before the trail became cold. He took pains to hide his more salient features and that threw them off."

Saitoh stopped here and reached into his pocket. "There was a picture of him in the files." Saitoh walked over and placed the picture on the table beside Kenshin. The rest of them gathered close. The picture was grainy and not well taken. The background was very dark and it seemed to be taken at the gate of a mansion. A car was parked outside the gate and a man was bending over, opening the door. They could not make out his features but one thing stood out very clearly in the picture. He had a shock of white blond hair.

For a long while, nobody spoke a word. They stared at the picture and tried to digest al the information that they had been given. The implication of that unique hair color could not be ignored.

"Ah………is that Yukishiro's natural hair color? I mean, he didn't dye it that color, did he? But isn't it terribly obvious? He's like, wanted by the law, right? So………," Sanosuke's ramblings trailed off. He could not seem to form a coherent sentence with his eyes still fixed on that picture. Shaking his head, he decided to go straight to the point.

"Is he," Sanosuke paused. By asking straight out, he would be voicing everyone's suspicions and in strange way, confirming it. But they had to know. "………related to Enishi? Is he Enishi's father?"

Saitoh did not keep them in suspense. "The circumstantial evidence points to that. The age of Yukishiro's son and Enishi's matched. Other then the distinctive hair color, which is natural by the way, there is a resemblance between your friend and Yukishiro in the other pictures that we found. Of course, when he became Mutou Ensuke, he dyed his hair black." Saitoh removed two more pictures from his pocket and laid them on the table.

One was a simple head shot of the kind used for passports. It showed a man who was gazing straight into the camera, his light brown eyes flat. He was an attractive man with strong features and tan complexion. Beneath sharp cheekbones were slight hollows that lent him the air of an artist. His hair was black in this picture. Even so, the resemblance was uncanny.

The other picture threw them off balance. It was a wedding picture. The groom was Yukishiro Shinobu. He stood behind his bride with his arms encircling her, his hands covering hers as she held a bouquet of lilies. He was not smiling but there was no mistaking the possessiveness and warmth in his eyes when he looked at his petite bride. She was looking up at him, her eyes shining. She was not beautiful but the gentle curve of her cheeks and the sweetness of her expression lent her an entrancing charm.

Looking at this picture again and knowing of the tragedy that would follow years later, Saitoh told himself that he would solve this mystery. A man like Yukishiro should know how to protect his own woman. Yet he killed her. Saitoh had an idea that he did not do it knowingly. But it was all speculation at this stage. When he found out what really happened, he would clear Yukishiro's name. And punish the one who played God with others' lives.

Kaoru sat down carefully on the bed. She was afraid that if she loosened the tight control that she was holding over herself, she would break down. Maybe start screaming. Or burst out with questions. Or tears. She felt as if she was Alice, fallen down a rabbit hole where nothing make sense but everything came together with an undeniable logic. At this moment, she would not be surprised if Saitoh told her she was Shishio Makoto's illegitimate daughter or that Kenshin was her brother. Wait a minute. That would faze her. She could feel horrified laughter trying to escape from her throat and worked to stifle it. Looking around hurriedly, she saw Kenshin's glass of water still in his hands, half full. She snatched the glass and gulped down the water.

Her actions did not go unnoticed. Kenshin gently disengaged her fingers from the death grip she had on the empty glass and held on to her hand. Aoshi looked away when he saw that Kaoru had regained control. He thought he knew all there was to know about them, this group of orphans who had survived such hardships but now, Saitoh overturned his presumptions.

Unlike Kaoru, Kenshin and Sanosuke, he had not gone through what they had but no matter what, he was involved and had been since the very beginning. Involved, more personally then any of them can guess. He had investigated more deeply than Kaoru has bided him but had never discovered the method of Shishio's control. Although he could not have guessed what Shishio had done, he cursed himself for having overlooked the report on their lost memory.

"So, somehow, after the Yukishiros' death, Shishio took Enishi away and managed to install some kind of mind control over him."

"Isn't that obvious?" Sanosuke muttered irritably at Aoshi's calm tone. "What's more worrying is that we are also under his control. That damn poem………"

"Do not forget," added Megumi quietly, her eyes on the wedding photo, "How he got hold of Enishi and also his parents' death. On the surface, Yukishiro just lost it one day and killed his wife. But I do not believe that. There are too many questions. Why did he leave Kurokaze? Why did he assume a new identity and why did he kill his wife?" she turned to Saitoh and asked, "You said he used to be a member of Kurokaze. Is Kurokaze still in operation? Maybe we can find out more from that lead."

"I have already thought of that but my men have not found anything yet. It may take some time."

"Then the poem? Why did Shishio use that poem? We understand the significance of the poem to Enishi. But the poem itself………I'm no frigging Lit or psych major but it seems that he made up the poem and used it to control Enishi and he did it to show something!" Sanosuke's voice was tight with barely controlled temper. He knew the rightful target for his anger was not there and tried to check himself. " 'Shadow lying in wait', 'mask falling off'………He did something to Yukishiro Shinobu. And he's taunting Enishi with it! I could kill him."

The small room was quiet once more after Sanosuke's outburst. Kenshin held on to Kaoru's hand and stroked it absently. He had heard some of that from Saitoh previously and had come to his own conclusions and speculations. They were all connected in some ways to each other and it all linked back to Shishio. All of a sudden, Kenshin had an intense curiosity about the 'key' that Shishio used to control him. Would it reveal anything of his past? Would it relate the truth of his parents' death as it did for Enishi? His hands tightened on Kaoru's.

"As things stand now, I'm sure no one would object if we bug all the phones in this house as well as the mobile phones that you are using?" Aoshi directed his question at Kaoru, Kenshin and Sanosuke. "The three of you are now at risk of being targeted next. We'll have to be prepared for that. Megumi, you have experience in medical field. Find out more about hypnotism so we know what to expect when Enishi wakes up. Saitoh," Aoshi looked steadily at the man whom he acknowledged privately as his equal in intelligence gathering, "I'll work with you on Yukishiro Shinobu and Kurokaze. They are our only lead at the moment."

Saitoh gave a terse nod. He could do with Aoshi's expertise in this area.

"We mustn't forget, Soujiro is still with Shishio in Hong Kong. Maybe he suspected something and is holding Soujiro as hostage. I'll make a call back later to check on things there." Kenshin spoke up. "I don't think he knows that I've been keeping tabs on him but we must be careful. Sanosuke," He found Sanosuke standing at the end of his bed, "Don't be rash."

"I know. I'll help Megumi with her research. I'm not stupid."

"All right then, let's get to work." He started to get up from his bed.

"Stay where you are. Aoshi and the rest will take care of things. I have some things I need to discuss with you." Kaoru narrowed her eyes at Kenshin.

On hearing the warning tone in Kaoru's voice, the rest of them filed out of the room, leaving the two of them alone.

When they were inside, the room seemed too small to contain them. Their forceful personalities filled the room even when they tried to conceal it. Now that they had left, the room seemed strangely empty. And too quiet for Kenshin's comfort.

"Ah………Kaoru?" Kenshin began tentatively.

"Why have you been keeping all these from me? You knew that Enishi would attack you in the church yet you gave me no warning. Why? If I don't have an acceptable reason from you, you can forget about the wedding." Kaoru had pulled herself together and found a focus for her turbulent emotions. Kenshin's deliberate omission of his knowledge of Shishio's actions.

Kenshin knew that it was not the time to remind her that they had already signed their marriage certificate. He would have to assuage her anger and do it fast. But his reasons for not telling her didn't seem so valid now. Nevertheless, he had to try.

"Well, the main thing was, I didn't really believe that Enishi would attack me. Intellectually, I could accept that he was being manipulated but emotionally, it just wouldn't register. I only got to know about it not too long ago. This information was too important to relate over the phone so Saitoh came personally to inform me. And ah………I don't want to worry you?" He added the last bit uncertainly.

Frankly speaking, it just never crossed his mind to include either her or Sanosuke in his plan. He was too used to working alone when it came to dealing with Shishio. It was like that with Soujiro because Soujiro trusted Shishio too much. He had only Saitoh to make his plans with and it did not occur to him that Sanosuke and Kaoru could help too.

"Not too long ago? So how long ago was that?" Kaoru ignored the last insulting part about not wanting to worry her.

"Ah………last week." Kenshin squirmed uncomfortably. He was hoping that she would not ask.

Kaoru looked at him shifting his legs from side to side and peering at her to gauge her temper. He cares for her. There's no doubt about that. She could kick a big fuss about this and teach him a lesson for underestimating her. They are going to live out the rest of their lives together so he had better be educated now. But that would be so ………shrewish. She made up her mind.

"Kenshin," Kaoru smiled sweetly.

"Yes?" He did not trust that smile. It raised the hackles at the back of his neck.

"You do know that I'm not a helpless, wilting flower, right?" She asked with a calm voice.

"There's no woman I know who's more capable of taking care of herself." He reassured her hurriedly.

"Good." She sat down next to him and reached for his head. Brushing his hair aside, she touched the place where the bullet grazed him. "I do not like being the last to know about things especially when it comes to matter concerning your safety." She leaned over and placed a kiss on his wound. "This will not happen again or," She sat back and looked into his eyes, "There will be hell to pay." All these were said in the most reasonable tone ever.

Kenshin swallowed hard and nodded his head. Got it.

"All right then. That's settled. Now, about Soujiro………" The discussion they had next took them all the way till nightfall. But at the end of it, they had decided the next step they would be taking.

No cliffhangers this time. Too tired to talk much. Hope I'll gather the strength of will and fortitude to start the next chapter soon. Hey after 3 years, someone read 'Sleeping with the wolf' and wrote me a new review. Wow………I think my next chapter will be for that story. It's connected to this one but it happened after the end of this story. It's all in my mind anyway. I'll think seriously about it. Goodnight.

11th April'05 1am