Author's Notes (4-6-05): Sorry for the wait. Here's chapter 19! Things are going to start getting a bit hectic around the workplace, so it might take me a while to update again. Don't forget to review! 8D

Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Ok, that's a lie. I've got a really cool sword! Yay swords! If anyone tries to find me and shave off my eyebrows, they'll probably be really sorry.

Juunishi Part 19

"Get your girly, manicured hands off my man." Misao raised a fistful of kunai.

Green-eyes grinned and brandished his slim dagger. "Take one step and your man is a goner." He dangled the limp Aoshi-snake tauntingly. "Besides, how can you really call him yours? I've got a sneaking suspicion that you've never even kissed him."

Misao's jaw dropped. "H-How did you…?" She sputtered but caught herself before she accidentally admitted the truth. She brushed her hair out of her face, trying to act cool and casual. "I mean. No, you're totally wrong. I've kissed him lots of times."

"Yeah." Green-eyes mocked. "In your dreams."

Misao bristled. "So what if I haven't kissed him? That doesn't mean anything."

"It means that he isn't interested in you." Green-eyes stated arrogantly. "And judging by the desperation I was sensing from him when we kissed, he's been looking for the right person to satisfy him."

"Desperation?" Misao asked. "The only desperation you were sensing was his desperation to get out of your hands and into mine!"

"You're not his type." Green-eyes continued, merciless in his verbal assault. "Why would a perfect man like him care about some dirty little ninja-wannabe? You're immature, noisy, and annoying. You've probably been following him around for years and yet somehow you've never stopped to question why he's never returned your advances? Get a clue, you mentally deficient tomboy!"

His words were like daggers. Misao felt them cut to the core of her being. It hurt. A lot. And there was nothing she could say in her defense.

"He doesn't care about you!" Green-eyes laughed as he pressed the dagger against Aoshi's scaly underbelly.


The sexy, disembodied voice caused Misao to perk up just in time to witness Green-eyes' downfall.

With speed that defied reason, Aoshi lashed out with his serpent tail, knocking the dagger from his captor's grip. He twisted free and disappeared so fast that Misao was sure he must have broken the ninja speed limit. He reappeared, wrapped securely around Green-eyes' neck. The man flailed and tried to wrench him free, but Aoshi would not relinquish his hold.

Misao watched in satisfaction as Green-eyes finally crumpled to the ground, unconscious with his green eyes swirling.

She rushed over to her defeated enemy, looking for the man of her dreams. Unfortunately, Aoshi wasn't quite the man of her dreams at that moment. He was still trapped inside his scaly, slimy, crawly, nasty little snake body.

Aoshi knew exactly what she thought of him in snake-form. He slithered under his trench coat and curled into an embarrassed coil, hiding his head in shame.

But Misao felt somewhat sobered by the night's events. She pulled the coat away from her man, and smiled down at him, showing not even the slightest hint of disgust. "Nice job Aoshi." She unconsciously dropped the "sama." "You kicked his ass, but good."

Aoshi glanced up cautiously. "Thanks."

"I thought you were all weak and helpless in this cold room." Misao commented as she squatted down next to the scary serpent, showing no fear at their close proximity.

"I am. But I had to do something to shut him up."

"Yeah." Misao shot their enemy a dirty look. "He sure is an annoying bastard."

"It's not just that." Aoshi raised his head tentatively. He watched his okashira for any sign of terror in her eyes. She was deathly afraid of snakes and yet somehow she was keeping her phobia in check. Aoshi didn't want to do anything to drive her away.

In fact, he never wanted to be parted from her again.

"What is it, Aoshi?" Misao asked, her voice warm. She could sense that there was something else he wanted to say.

"I couldn't let him say all those things about you… and me… and… our relationship. I could see how it was hurting you."

Misao tried to play it off casually. "Nah. It's not a big deal."

"It is." Aoshi said. "Because everything he said was wrong. I do care. I just don't know how to show it sometimes."

It was practically a declaration of love, considering the source.

Misao could feel a cheesy rainbow of happiness bursting in her heart. Without flinching, she scooped up her beloved serpent, holding him close. "You looked really cold." The weasel girl explained, incase Aoshi resisted.

Not that he was going to. Aoshi wasn't sure if he'd ever felt happier.

"Um, guys?"

Misao blinked as naked Soujirou came running up to her.

"I hate to interrupt, but do you think I could get a hand?"

A snowball came sailing out of nowhere and smacked the Tenken in the face.

Soujirou sighed. "The blonde kid hid my sword and my clothes somewhere and he won't tell me where they are. Plus, I'm getting kind of cold." He shivered once, emphasizing the point.

Misao grinned and got to her feet, cradling Aoshi in her arms. "No worries, Soujirou. Makimachi Misao is on the job!"

"Ken… shin?" Kaoru's mind had grown numb with shock and disbelief.

She'd killed him.

She'd drawn him into a loving embrace, and "Poof", he'd simply ceased to exist. She'd felt his body melt against hers and then a he'd disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

It was like some kind of ninja magic.

Except Kenshin had never been a ninja. Not even once.

And ninjas didn't usually leave their clothes behind when they did a disappearing trick. At least, Kaoru didn't think they did. She was pretty sure, anyway. Everything she knew about ninjas, she'd learned from the Oniwabanshu. And Aoshi and Misao had never disappeared, leaving nothing but their clothes behind.

Kenshin's familiar hakama and gi were lying at her feet, crumpled together and looking extremely lonely now that their owner had vanished. The sakabatou stood upright, lodged in the ground at the place where the greatest swordsman of the Meiji Era had met his doom at his wife's hands.

She wanted to follow her sweet husband into nothingness. He'd promised her that he would never again go wandering off without her, but apparently he'd broken that promise.

She slowly collapsed to her knees, drawing the still-warm fabric into her hands as she tried to comprehend the incomprehensible.

What had happened?

Where had Kenshin truly gone?

Was it some kind of Souma Clan Ninja Trick? Had they stolen Kenshin away from her? Or had Hanzo poisoned the daggers with some kind of magical substance that dissolved people? Kaoru had no way of solving the mysterious and cruel riddle.

She just wanted Kenshin to come back!

And then, he was at her side. She was too busy staring down at Kenshin's clothes to look up at the man beside her, but she felt his presence as clearly as rays of sunshine.

It was like being bundled up in a warm blanket.

She'd never felt that way next to anyone before, except for Kenshin. The man next to her loved her and would protect her no matter what. For a startled moment she'd thought that Kenshin had come back to her.

She glanced up quickly, expecting to see her husband's smiling face.

But it wasn't Kenshin.

Enishi dropped to one knee, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. He lowered his Chinese sword on the ground and began quickly searching through Kenshin's clothing.

Kaoru wasn't sure what he was doing, but when he smiled at her, she knew that things were going to be alright. If her brain hadn't been so muddled, she might have stopped to consider how strange it was to feel glad that Enishi was at her side.

"This may be difficult for you to understand," he began. "But I'm afraid that each one of us was cursed by the Souma Clan when we fought them earlier."

"Cursed?" Kaoru unconsciously glanced at Hanzo's prone form. He still wasn't moving. She sent another searching glance after Ryoshi, and finally noticed the Souma man getting to his feet. Enishi had dealt him a serious blow, but the tiger striped warrior was far from defeated.

She turned back to Enishi as the man carefully removed something from Kenshin's magenta gi.

"They've cursed us to transform into animals from the Chinese Zodiac. Your husband isn't dead. He's right here."

She looked on, confusion giving way to just the slightest hint of horror as she finally noticed the creature in Enishi's grasp.

"Ken… shin…?"

"Kaoru…" The response was quiet and weak, but it was enough to dispel doubt. Kaoru felt her mind start to wrap around the situation.

She blinked once as the wheels in her head kicked into overdrive. "Wait a minute." She raised an eyebrow. "There's no seahorse in the Chinese Zodiac."

"Oro." An embarrassed bead of sweat seeped from the tiny creature as Enishi coughed once to keep from smiling or laughing.

Of all the questions that she should have had floating around in her brain, the one of least consequence had won out. Enishi kind of admired the way she'd seemingly taken everything in stride.

It was just another one of her amazing strengths.

"Yeah, we don't really understand it either." Enishi commented.

She held out her hand and gently took Kenshin. "Is he going to be ok?" She asked Enishi.

Neither one of them had noticed Hanzo get to his feet. "He'll be dead in about three minutes."

Enishi jumped to his feet, sword instantly in hand. "Not if I can help it." He growled menacingly.

"You can't." Hanzo smiled smugly. "Battousai will suffocate before either of you can find him water."

Kaoru looked at the little seahorse, feeling suddenly frantic. She'd barely begun to accept the fact that her husband had transformed into the tiny, frail looking creature. She definitely hadn't had time to consider the full implications.

"Water?" She asked, feeling a bit stupid.

"He needs it to breathe." Enishi confirmed. His voice was strained, like he was mentally kicking himself for forgetting. "And I'm betting there's no water anywhere near us."

"You're correct." Hanzo said as he picked up both of his swords. "Not that you're going to have a chance to go searching."

Without preamble, Ryoshi came rushing toward Enishi. He jumped and brought his sword-breaker crashing against the Chinese style blade. Enishi deflected the attack and pushed Ryoshi back away from himself and Kaoru.

He hadn't noticed Hanzo coming up on his flank.

"Enishi!" Kaoru shouted a warning but realized that her protector wouldn't be able to keep both attackers at bay.

Without regard for her own safety, she grasped the hilt of her husband's sakabatou and freed it from its wooden prison.

Souma Rekuno smiled maliciously. "The Room of Eternal Torment has never been defeated."

Megumi sat in silence, watching the doorway expectantly.

She strained her ears, listening for the familiar padding noise of Sanosuke's Chinese style shoes. He'd be coming for her, any minute. There was no way that he'd be killed by a room full of booby traps.

How lame would that be?

There was one thing that kept her from feeling absolutely confident, however. When he'd first stepped into the Room of Eternal Annoyance, Megumi had been shocked by his physical appearance.

She hadn't seen that much blood on his white gi since he'd returned from the fight against Shishio. And back then, most of the blood had been Kenshin's.

She really hoped that none of his injuries were too serious. If something bad happened to him, she didn't know if she'd be able to handle it. It had been a long time coming, but her feelings for the adorable ex-gangster had blossomed into the kind of love that knew no boundaries.

She didn't care that he wasn't the smartest man in the world. She didn't worry about the kind of life that he could provide her. She didn't even bother wondering if the two of them could actually be happy together. Her feelings transcended the mundane concerns of the "real world".

And even though he'd been acting supremely immature the last few hours, she'd found it in her heart to forgive him. After all, wasn't he here now, trying to rescue her against all odds?

She loved him, and that was that. She only hoped that she would have a chance to tell him.

And while she was pretty sure that the dumb room wouldn't kill him, she wasn't so sure about the man standing next to her.

She glanced towards Rekuno; trying to asses his fighting potential. She'd witnessed enough battles to have a fairly good eye for spotting a true warrior. Men who spent their lives fighting had a certain air about them. They radiated confidence, stood with excellent posture, and were generally rippling with muscles.

She mentally put a check in each of those boxes. Rekuno certainly looked and acted like a professional fighter.

He was a little bit shorter than Sano, but that didn't really mean anything. The shortest man she knew also happened to be the most powerful man she knew.

Rekuno felt her sizing him up and he turned to face her. "You're wondering if I can beat him, aren't you?"

He'd practically read her mind. It was a little creepy, but she hid her surprise well. "No. I don't have any doubts about that." She lied easily. "I was just wondering how long the fight between you two will last. If Sanosuke takes more than 2 minutes to defeat you, I'll be shocked."

"He's not even going to make it out of the room, so I wouldn't waste time thinking about it."

The floor rumbled threateningly and Megumi glanced toward the doorway that led down into the Room of Eternal Torment. There was a long pause and then the unmistakable sound of something being blown to pieces.

"I think that was the sound of your lover's death." Rekuno grinned. A second later there was a muffled crash and a heavy thud. Rekuno's evil grin deepened. "That was probably his corpse falling into a pit of meter long spikes."

An angry fire roared, dispelling the doorway's darkness for a brief moment.

"He was just barbequed." Rekuno smiled smugly. "Have you ever smelled burning flesh? I'm sure it would make your stomach churn."

Megumi narrowed her eyes and glared at her sadistic captor. "I'm a doctor. I don't get squeamish."

Metal screeched and the ground shook under their feet.

Rekuno smiled triumphantly and laughed. "That was the giant swinging blade! He's been bisected for sure! It's over!" He laughed again, confident in his assessment.

When the ground shook a second time, Megumi couldn't help but smile. "So, let me get this straight. First, he got exploded and fell into a pit of lethal spikes. Then he got roasted to death by fire. And to finish him off he's been bisected?"

Rekuno nodded. "Tragic, isn't it?"

"The only tragedy here is your stupidity."

Rekuno snarled. "You're going to have to face reality soon enough." He grabbed her by the wrist and started toward the open doorway. "Let's go see if we can find a few scraps of his remains."

"Sanosuke was born to break things." Megumi allowed herself to be dragged to the top of the stairs that led down into the Room of Eternal Torment. She was pretty sure that someone would be waiting for her in the lower room. "Destruction is undeniably his greatest talent."

"Actually Fox," A familiar voice floated up lazily. "I've got a few other special talents that I've been meaning to show you."

Sanosuke stood at the foot of the staircase with a tantalizing grin plastered on his ruggedly handsome face. He was bruised, bleeding, singed, and shirtless. Megumi wondered if she'd ever seen him look quite so irresistible.

Enishi could only watch in amazement as Kaoru deflected each one of Hanzo's furious attacks.

She fought one-handed, clutching her tiny transformed husband in her left. Her eyes flashed with determination and bravery. Her movements were fluid and sure, like she spent all her time secretly practicing with her husband's sakabatou. Enishi had known that she was adept with a weapon, but he'd never actually seen her fighting for her life and the lives of others.

In the midst of combat, she was even more beautiful.

Her protective instincts were unparalleled. And Enishi was a little bit shocked when he realized that she wasn't just fighting to protect herself and her helpless husband, but she was fighting to keep him safe as well.

He had never seen this side of the young kendo instructor. He could feel himself falling in love with her, all over again.

"Put the sword down and I won't hurt you." Hanzo ordered. He was tired of playing games with the fiery young woman.

"I think that's my line." She retorted.

Hanzo scoffed. He'd obviously been too gentle with her. If she actually believed that she stood a chance against him, he'd have to show her once and for all who had the upper hand.

"I warned you to stay out of this. You've left me no choice." He slid into his Dragon Stance.

When he rushed toward her, Kaoru didn't even have a chance to react. She'd forgotten how fast the armored warrior could move.

As bright red blood sprayed, she waited for her life to flash before her eyes. She would have enjoyed watching it again. Well, most of it anyway. The last few hours had been pretty damn annoying.

It took her three whole seconds to realize that she wasn't the one who was injured.

"You fool." Hanzo pulled his sword out of Enishi's shoulder.

Kaoru wished she'd been paying more attention. It looked like Enishi had jumped in front of her at the last moment. He'd managed to deflect one of Hanzo's blades, but the second one had gotten through his defenses.

The white-haired man grimaced as he watched the trail of blood seep down his right arm.

"You're hurt." Her mind whirled. "You got hurt to protect me."

Enishi didn't reply. He simply placed himself protectively in front of her. Ryoshi and Hanzo gave each other a brief nod and then commenced a combined attack.

Enishi pushed Kaoru back, out of the way, as the two Souma warriors came in swinging. He ducked under Hanzo's double blades while slashing at Ryoshi's legs. The tattooed warrior somersaulted over his attack and slammed his sword-breaker against Enishi's injured shoulder.

Enishi grunted in pain and fell, landing on his butt. He rolled back just in time to avoid having his legs impaled by Hanzo. He pushed himself onto his feet and squared off against his two opponents.

Kaoru had almost forgotten that she had Kenshin and his sword in her hands. She rushed to Enishi's side as Hanzo and Ryoshi attacked him simultaneously.

Hanzo saw her coming and swung both swords with all his considerable might, aiming for the sakabatou. There was no way that she could keep her one-handed grip on the weapon. It flew out of her grasp and twirled off into the far reaches of the huge room.

Enishi pushed her back again, a little bit more forcefully than before. "Stay back!" He said, his voice deep and serious. "They won't hurt you if you stop fighting!"

Kaoru knew that it was true, but she couldn't just stand there and watch him fight a losing battle. And to make matters worse, Kenshin was running out of time. "I can help you!"

"Just stay out of the way." Enishi said angrily as he blocked a series of attacks from Ryoshi. "If I want your help I'll ask for it."

Ryoshi punched and kicked, sliding through the motions with feline grace. Enishi deflected and blocked with his uninjured arm but the force of the onslaught was driving him backwards, toward the wall. Kaoru stood off to the side, watching helplessly.

She glanced at the sakabatou. It was well out of her reach. It would take her a few seconds to run over to it.

"Don't even think about it." Hanzo said with a growl. He took a few steps forward, placing himself between her and the weapon.

But at least he wouldn't get to tag-team Enishi if he was busy babysitting her. Kaoru smiled coldly. "The minute you turn your back on me, I'm going to take up my husband's sword and finish what he started with it."

"Good point." Hanzo said. It might have been a trick of the poor lighting, but his narrowed eyes seemed to be glowing. "Maybe I'd better just wipe your memory now and be done with it."

He stepped toward her threateningly and Kaoru wished she hadn't been foolish enough to taunt him. "What do you mean, 'wipe my memory'?" She took an involuntary step backwards. Hanzo had finally become intimidating.

"Remember what I said earlier? About you forgetting all about your husband? There is an ancient technique that I possess that allows me to alter or erase memories."

Kaoru wasn't sure she believed him, but she didn't really want him to come any closer to her regardless.

"Enishi!" She called his name without thinking. He was at her side in an instant after dropping Ryoshi with a ruthless head butt.

"Touch her, and die." Enishi slid into his patented Chinese-style sword stance. He crouched low to the ground and held his sword above his head, aiming the tip at Hanzo. He held his free hand out in front, his index and middle fingers extended, pointing toward the ceiling.

Kaoru clutched her tiny husband close. He was barely even squirming in her grasp. If they didn't find him water soon…

"We have to get out of here." Kaoru spoke softly but urgently. Enishi gave the briefest nod in response. There was nothing to do but pin all her hopes on him.

"Interesting stance." Hanzo commented. "You've combined Japanese and Chinese styles, haven't you? Impressive."

"Take one step forward and I'll show you just how impressive it is." Enishi said, his voice low and menacing.

"You can't pull off your moves with that injury." Hanzo pointed out. "Besides, if I defeat you my cousin would never forgive me." Hanzo said with a casual shrug as Ryoshi came flying out of nowhere.

Kaoru watched in awe as Enishi launched himself toward his foe. His large sword sliced through the air, heading straight for Ryoshi's head but the tiger stripped warrior had anticipated the attack.

Sword impacted with sword-breaker and a fraction of a second was all it took for Ryoshi to slide the jitte forward until Enishi's Chinese-style blade was captured in the prong. With a violent twist of his wrist, he yanked the weapon from Enishi's injury-weakened grasp.

Ryoshi flipped backwards, taking Enishi's sword with him. He landed, brandishing the long Chinese style sword in one hand and his jitte in the other. He grinned and then tossed the sword straight up into the air. It embedded itself in the ceiling, far above his head.

Enishi watched his blade reverberate in the high wooden ceiling. Kaoru's jaw dropped open in shock.

Ryoshi casually dropped his jitte. "That's more like it. No more toys. No more games." He stalked toward Enishi, looking rather badass.

Kaoru finally regained some of her composure. "Enishi, can you fight unarmed?" She had plenty of reason to be worried. Ryoshi had mad skills.

Enishi backed toward her, holding up a hand to his injured shoulder. "I can. But not with my shoulder this messed up."

"Is there something I can do? Anything to help?" It was her fault that he'd been injured in the first place. She considered making a run for the sakabatou, but a quick glance in that direction told her that it would be pointless. Hanzo stood directly in the path.

They were out of options, and Kenshin was almost out of time.

"Actually." Enishi had just had the most brilliant idea. He turned to Kaoru, grinning.

She gave him a puzzled look. What could possibly be so funny? She was afraid to ask.

"I could really use a hug." He said, holding out his arms.

Kaoru's eyes widened in surprise as the white-haired man wrapped his arms around her. Ryoshi yelped and rushed toward them, but he was too slow to stop the poof of smoke.

Kaoru stumbled back in alarm as a huge white tiger stepped out of the mysterious fog. It turned its giant kitty head to face her and if tigers can smile, it most certainly was.

"Thanks… Kaoru." The white tiger had Enishi's voice and was wearing Enishi's dark glasses.

Kaoru figured it out immediately. She smiled and gave him a thumbs-up. "Go get 'em, tiger."