Chapter 17

Disclaimer: I DON'T HAVE A JOB THAT MEANS I DON'T HAVE A CENT!

~*~*~

After the lights had dimmed and Megumi had disappeared off the stage, Sano felt it necessary to go and get himself a stiff drink. Kenshin sat a little stunned at what just happened. Aoshi had disappeared and everyone was pretty sure that Soujirou had run to the bathroom to tend to his nose.

Megumi gave a sigh of relief as she stepped out from the drawn curtain of the dressing room

"Much, much better." She smiled, the look on Sano's face was payment enough for wearing that dress, she swore she would never wear it again. But the strange thing about the performance that really got to Megumi was the fact that her fingers still tingled after tracing Sano's jaw. She rubbed them together, the pads of fingers still remembering the soft peach fuzz of his unshaven face. Even stranger than that was the fact that not once had Sano's eyes flickered off of hers. Not even when she was nearly shoving her cleavage into his face. His eyes always stayed focused on hers. The deep of his chocolate eyes still earned a shiver to rack Megumi's bones. She quickly shook her head in denial.

Megumi might not have known how she felt about Sano, but she did know one thing, she needed a stiff drink. The other girls had evacuated the tiny storage room /makeshift dressing room, most likely to find their respective partners. Megumi sighed heavily, and exited the room. Her destination, go find Sano and tease him to the brink of sanity, but before Megumi could even make her way out into the club a strong hand clamped her shoulder. Immediately Megumi felt someone walk over her grave.

"Megumi" The all to familiar stranger said softly to her ear. Megumi's blood ran cold as she could feel the panic rise in her throat. She spun around to view her visitor and to her absolute terror confirmed her fears. Her voice went weak but she managed to whisper the man's name,

"Kanryuu"

~*~*~

Sano slammed back another coloured liquor to calm his rattled nerves. Yet the drinks didn't offer the usual calm. His bones kept screaming at him that something was wrong. Sano eyes scanned the bouncing dance floor, his eyes traveled to the DJ booth where Kai swayed to the rhythm, then to a dancing Kaoru and an apprehensive Kenshin. Sano had to admit the man had moves, must have been from all the martial arts training as a kid. Then his eyes roamed to Misao and her wallflower icicle, who she was begging to dance with, but after a full search of the club Sano had yet again lost sight of Megumi. This made his senses flare with more unease. He didn't know why but Sano knew something was wrong.

So he stood up from his niche at the bar and weaved through the crowd with purpose, avoiding and brushing off all the lovely ladies pleading for him to let them give him his "birthday present".

Finally Sano made it to the back of the club slipping through the curtains. The view he came upon in the abandoned hall was not a pleasant one. Megumi's lovely eyes were laced with tears as a man menaced above her pressing her against the wall, neither had yet to realize Sano's presence.

" Kanryuu, please, your not supposed to be even five hundred feet near me, I'll have you arrested." Megumi's soft voice quivered. The man let out an arrogant laugh that made Sano's blood boil.

"Now, now Megumi. Why would you want to do something terrible like that?" He said his long spidery fingers caressing her face.

"Because maybe you're a possessive lunatic who doesn't know when a relationship is over even when I slap a restraining order on his sorry ass." Megumi bit back tears although now they were flowing freely down her face, her eyes were glowing with defiant strength.

"WHY YOU LITTLE WHORE!" The assaulter's hand extended to slap her as punishment for her arrogance when the massive hand of Sano circled around his arm. Both Megumi and the asshole Kanryuu looked up in shock.

"I think you should let go of the lady, and get the hell out of my club before I ruin your sorry ass for harassing my employee and good friend." Sano said sternly knuckles tingling with that same tingle he used to get before a street fight.

The slime instantaneously released Megumi slinking away, hands up and an innocent smile on his face.

" Now, now, she and I were just talking. No need to be getting hostile Zanza. We wouldn't want you beating me to an inch of my life like that one boy you fought." Sano's fist tightened, this Kanryuu was definitely playing with fire.

"Oh no, I wouldn't beat you to an inch of your life, I would make sure I finish the job and kill you," He warned grabbing the little scum's collar, "If I ever, EVER find you in my club or near Megumi again, you will truly find out why I was called the fiercest street fighter in Japan. Now get the hell out my sight." Sano hissed throwing Kanryuu to the floor.

"I'll be back." Kanryuu jeered, dusting himself off and heading for the back doors.

"I'm planning on it." Sano whispered, his fists so tight that his nails were now drawing blood.

Sano let out a loud yell and punched the wall with all his might, causing a crack to crawl up and down the abused plaster. Sano took a deep breath to calm himself. Then he turned his attention to Megumi who was sliding to the floor head in her hands, her body was wracked with sobs. Sano crouched beside her wrapping his arms around her and began to stroke her hair. Megumi looked up, her face of mess of black eyeliner and smeared red lipstick.

"Sano.I.I.-" Sano put a gentle finger against her lips to silence her.

"Shhhh, You don't need to say anything. Come on lets get you home." He said softly, guiding Megumi's weak body up and towards the door.

"Thank you," She whispered so softly Sano could barely hear her, continuing on she rested her head on his shoulder.

~*~*~

"Kenshin, you stay put I'm just going to get some water. All of this dancing has made me sooo dehydrated!" Kaoru laughed breathily, hair wild and loose from her rapid movements. Kenshin nodded dumbly enraptured by the image of Kaoru he was seeing at the moment. Eyes sparkling, sweat glistening, smile wide, she was beyond beautiful in all of the simplest ways.

Kenshin took a seat at one the empty round tables enclosing the dance floor and scanned the room like Sano had done. Kai was yelling over the thumping music to Soujirou to pass her another LP, Sano had rather hurriedly slipped off to the back and Kaoru was standing at the bar talking to Hiko.

'Wait! Kaoru-dono standing at the bar talking to my Shishou?!?!?!' Kenshin was beyond panic at this moment. Hiko Seijirou had the nasty habit of telling all Kenshin childhood stories to any girl he was seeing. Of course now there had only been two so far, and Kenshin hadn't really asked Kaoru out on date or anything but they did always end up together and had a mutual attraction to each other and that was enough to get Hiko up and blabbing. He saw Kaoru's smile brighten and she laughed at what Hiko just said. 'Oh no please not the bed wetting story anything but that!' Kenshin's mind begged to the powers above. With his godlike speed Kenshin zoomed over to the bar to commence damage control. When enclosing upon the scene he over heard the horrific conversation.

"I can't believe Kenshin was terrified of Clowns! I mean they're just so happy-" Kaoru giggled disbelievingly, Kenshin could merely shudder at the image of those white faced menaces who plagued his dreams as a child.

" But of course he was!" Hiko replied in confidence slamming back another saucer of sake, " Why he whenever he had a nightmare about one of them he would always we-" Before the words could escape his lips Kenshin with his godlike speed abruptly interrupted the conversation.

"Ah Kaoru-dono I see you have met my Shishou," Kenshin said eyes always locked on Hiko's which twinkled in amusement. Kaoru was completely unaware of the power struggle that was taking place.

"Oh not formally no." She laughed.

"Hiko Seijirou, this is Kamiya Kaoru-dono assistant master of the Kamiya dojo, Kamiya Kaoru-dono this is Hiko Seijirou my Shishou." Kenshin made his introductions very tight lipped. The two smiled and bowed. Kenshin, in this gap of silence, made his move to get Kaoru as far away from his Shishou as possible,

"Ah Kaoru-dono why don't we head out and get some tea?"

"Oh that would be great!" She replied still giddy from all the dancing and laughing and fun she had been having. They were about to leave when Hiko grabbed onto Kenshin wrist in order to halt him,

"You go ahead Kamiya-san, my baka-deshi and I have some business to discuss." Kaoru nodded dumbly knowing full well by the icy glare Kenshin was giving his teacher that she best not be involved with this disbute and quickly scuttled out of the club.

"What gozaru yo?" Kenshin demanded as rudely as he could manage. Hiko paid no heed to this but stated eyes firm and serious,

" She's a nice girl, she'll be good for you. But you can't manage to do what you did with Tomoe with her, she's not like that. She's got spunk and spirit. I like that, but if you lead her on for to long, and knowing you baka deshi you will, you'll only condemn her to heartache."

"I'd never want to hurt Kaoru-dono."

"That's the problem baka-deshi. You're always so damn worried about hurting someone like you did Tomoe that you won't give them or yourself a chance." Hiko said with a heavy sigh, "You like her baka-deshi, so be honest and don't screw up."

"Hai Shishou."

~*~*~

As long as Aoshi could remember he had avoided the club scene like it was the bubonic plague and now he found himself in the middle of it and it was all for one woman. 'Wait' Aoshi corrected himself, 'Girl, Misao is a girl'. His frown grew at the thought, for the line between the definition of girl and woman were beginning to blur far too often when it came to Misao. Even at that very moment as she childishly tugged on his hand, pouting at his refusal to dance, Aoshi couldn't help but feel pride that Misao had grown up into a wonderful wo- girl. But of course not all men were in denile about Misao's womanliness like Aoshi. Many quite blatantly enjoyed all of it's curves and figures. The ever roving eyes on Misao's innocent form was not going over well with Aoshi, and Misao's rather revealing ensemble was not helping things. Even Aoshi himself found his eyes doing the same as the slobbering nincompoops of the club. This made Aoshi more irked than he already was.

So all around the stoic young man was feeling awkward and out of place, surrounded by loud techno music, strobbing lights, overly friendly women and lecherous men, all of which were trying Aoshi's patience.

"Say, you wanna get out of here?" A voice piped up interrupting all of Aoshi's inner griping. He looked in the direction of the voice and saw it belonged to Misao, who was smiling simply. Aoshi was a little surprised to say the least. He knew Misao was a girl who would never give up on a party and yet here she was offering him an exit.

And of course Aoshi was smart enough to use it.

"Aa" Was his extensive reply, he even gave her a little nod.

Misao smiled at the statement and linked with his arm as they headed out onto the quiet street. It was a starless night and the clouds swelled as if they were about to rain but neither of them paid any heed to this warning. They walked a few blocks in complete silence. Yet again Misao had managed to surprise Aoshi with her actions. He was expecting for her to talk his ear off and yet nothing. The silence was not an awkward one but one of comfort and familiarity. Aoshi couldn't help but ponder if something was trouble. For probably the first time Shinomori Aoshi's life he was the first to break the silence.

"Misao?" He prodded gently.

"Hai Aoshi-sama?" She replied looking at him, her face struck him as so much older. He searched for some hint of his childhood ward but only found a small likeness, as if the Misao he knew some years ago was the daughter of this woman who shared the same name.

"Are you feeling alright?" He asked, now unsure if he should of enquired in the first place. But Misao merely gave a warm, glowing smile.

"I'm wonderful," She said wearing her smile like a ray of the sun. Aoshi was instantly hypnotized. It was like he was watching himself out of his body as he framed her face with his massive hands. Misao had no idea what he was doing but she was so stunned that she was acting like a deer stuck in headlights. Aoshi had moved in so close that their noses were nearly touching. He knew it was wrong but he couldn't help himself.

"Aa, You are wonderful," He whispered, Misao sucked in a deep breath and Aoshi moved in for the kill. A kiss.

~*~*~

The lights to the apartment flickered on and Sano escorted a distraught Megumi towards her room. Her sobs had subsided once she came into the warm and protective embrace of Sagara Sanosuke. Her head was resting peacefully on his shoulder, his arms wrapped around her shoulder and her arm wrapped around his waist. If anyone would walk upon them in this position they would think of nothing but sweet young love. Megumi never knew Sano could be this caring, sure she knew under that rough and tough exterior there was a sweet little boy, but she didn't know there was a sweet, thoughtful man under there too.

"Here we are," He said softly setting her down the bed.

"Thanks," She whispered sudden feeling so cold without his hug. She looked down at her hands. They were still shaking and still the colour of her lab coat.

She felt his strong hand reach under her chin and tipped her face to him. His eyes revealed so many emotions to her. Concern, Fear, Anger, and did she dare even say Love? The way he looked at her made butterflies flutter in her stomach like before at the performance. No man had ever looked at her like he did. And so in her moment of emotional turbulence Megumi, reached for comfort from Sano, in the form of a kiss.

~*~*~

Sano didn't think his eyes could open any wider as Megumi's lips met his. This was completely and utterly unexpected to him. Here was Megumi a woman who insulted him and called him a chicken head was now kissing him was rather shocking as pleasant as it was. It started out with a simple kiss on the lips but it made his entire spine tingle. Soon he found Megumi demanding more from him and himself even more willing to give it to her. But Sano knew in his gut that this was spinning out of control and with Megumi in the state she was in he doubted she would tell him to stop.

Sano had to admit that he was attracted to Megumi and even more to her fiery spirit, but this was wrong. So before Sano could lose all self- control he pulled away.

"I'm sorry Megumi, but this just isn't right." He couldn't really bring himself to look at her.

"Why not?" She demanded, voice rasping in her throat.

"It's just Megumi . I. I should go." Sano didn't know what to do, his libido was telling him to take this chance while his heart was telling him to bring her down easy. Neither he did, he opted to run out with his rooster tail between his legs.

But the moment he closed that door a sinking feeling began to creep around him and he could help saying to himself,

"Tori atama you are the biggest screw up!"

~*~*~

As the door closed behind Sano, Megumi felt anxiety and shame rise within her. She couldn't help put her head in her hands and mutter to herself,

"Kitsune onna you are the biggest screw up!"

~*~*~

They sat quietly sipping tea, while sneaking looks at one another. It was an awkward situation neither would break the silence. Kaoru was starting to get frustrated. She liked Kenshin, a lot. Normally she never went gaga when it came to guys, but being with him felt, well, right! But, Kenshin seemed to always keep her at arms length. Kaoru was in a word confused.

"Kenshin, what are we to each other?" She asked out of the blue. If he didn't have the balls to start this discussion then she would. Even if it meant the end of the unspoken relationship they had. Kenshin of course tried to avoid an answer with his trademark,

"Oro?" Kaoru was in no mood for games.

"Please, Kenshin just answer the question." She pleaded, she wanted to figure out his intentions before she got so entangled with him and found out his weren't the same as hers.

"Well, Kaoru-dono, we are neighbours and friends." He said. This was not what Kaoru wanted to hear.

"Just friends, I see. To be honest I was hoping for something more." She had only known Kenshin for a month and she could feel the tears beginning to well up her eyes. She felt like such a silly little girl. Where had the strong Kendo instructor gone? She felt Kenshin's warm and calloused hands wrap around hers. Kaoru looked up, and felt even more like a child as his eyes were full of compassion.

"I would like that too," Kaoru felt a but coming on, "But." there it was, " We've only known each other for a little while, and there are things about me and my past that I know you will not like-"

"Can't you let me decide for myself?" Kaoru piped in. Kenshin looked down at his tea. He sighed, he needed to be honest,

"Kaoru-dono, I've been married. I just got divorced a year and a half ago." Kaoru could feel her heart stop.

" Kami-sama, I feel so stupid. I mean this explains, so much. I would've expect a guy like you to snatched up by other girls right away, but since you're not over her yet-"

"Kaoru-dono."

"- I should have realized that you were just being polite to me. I should never lead myself to believe, that you and me," The world began to glaze over in Kaoru's eyes, " I-I should get going now. I've got some classes to teach in the morning. Thank you for being honest Kenshin." She had to get out of there before she made more of a mockery of herself.

"Kaoru please-" But she could not hear his plea, she was out the door so fast he doubted even he could catch her.

"You're are such a baka, Himura." He whispered into the rim of his teacup as the jingling of the door bells ceased and the rain began to fall.

~*~*~

Kaoru raced down the street back to the club. Hopefully she could catch a ride home with Kai. The tears kept falling and Kaoru kept saying,

"You're are such a baka, Kamiya."

~*~*~

In one moment all of Misao's childhood, adolescent and adult fantasies had come true. Aoshi-sama had kissed her! On his own accord even!

'Kami-sama domo arigatou!' Sure boys had kissed her, although she imagined them all to be Aoshi-sama. She had even been saving her first kiss for Aoshi-sma until that worm Ben Yukishima stole if from her in the ninth grade. But now it was the real deal. And most definitely better than she had ever imagined. Even better then the one she dreamed of with her as the swashbuckling captain and he as the first mate! Of course this was realized all after the initial shock wore off. His hands were surprisingly warm on her face, the kiss very tender. Misao was so engaged by the action that she didn't realize that the sky had started to down pour.

Then as quickly as it happened, it ended. Aoshi had abruptly pulled away from her and Misao found herself confused for the second time in the past minute. Sure the kiss was beyond fabulous but what had brought about it and what had ended it?

"I'm sorry Misao," Aoshi said over the rain, " that shouldn't have happened." Misao felt like she had been hit, hard.

"Well if it happened then it was supposed to happen!" Misao retorted, she wouldn't let it end like this, Aoshi-sama was not going to retreat back into his shell and pretend that nothing happened between them, not this time!

"Please Misao -"

"No! It's not fair! Just as we're finally getting somewhere this always happens and you go away! I won't go through it again! I WON'T!" The tears were beginning to mingle with the rain dripping down her face.

"Misao, I don't want to hurt you-" His voice was very calm and even.

"But don't you see Aoshi-sama! You are hurting me!" Aoshi was silent for a moment,

"Come on Misao, I'll drive you home."

"NO! Aoshi-sama, I'd rather walk until you figure what the hell you want!" And Misao did the only she could do. She ran. Just like the two poor unfortunate souls before her. She ran all the way home haunted by the words from the nasty part of her mind that kept saying,

"Misao, you've ruined everything!"

~*~*~

Aoshi was lost. Should he run after her or let her be? He was so confused, he always was when it came to Misao, and even more so that he was constantly in her presence not to mention he just kissed her.

"Aoshi, you've ruined everything." He muttered to himself as he walked through the rain.

~*~*~

It was a gray morning after. The large windows of the loft let no warm light through and the lively apartment seemed surprisingly docile. In consideration of last night's events it was to be expected though. Slowly but surely the inhabitants of the apartment came out.

It was a strange day indeed. Three normally jovial women walked from their dark dens, puffy red eyes and bags pulled down by their frowns. None had a good sleep.

And even a stranger sight to behold was that of the only un-heartbroken tenant, Kai, who was at the moment very occupied with yelling on the phone.

Kaoru, Misao and Megumi all slumped on the stools surrounding the kitchen counter watching this odd display from their beyond good humoured friend.

"Your insufferable! Absolutely insufferable! When will you finally grow up and get it through your head that the universe is not centered around you?- "

It was disturbingly amusing to watch and lightened the spirits of the three troubled girls.

"Do you have any idea who she's talking to?" Kaoru whispered into Misao's ear. Misao looked as stunned as Megumi and Kaoru.

"No idea!" She said in a hushed voice trying not to hint to Kai that they were eavesdropping.

"Ooo, you have some nerve saying that to me! I rather have my head gnawed on for all eternity in the seventh ring of hell then, team up with you again!"

"Man, and I thought we had issues." Kaoru laughed joyously.

"Hai, I can't bare to show my face at the office again, but I'm not sure I would go to the seventh ring of hell to avoid it!" Misao giggled as well.

"HA! That's nothing; at least you don't play in his club, live next to him and is his would be physician!" Megumi piped up.

"Touché" The previous night or early morning, Kaoru and Misao had come home cradled in the arms of Kai, both in dismay, soaked to the bone and sobbing. The four girls huddled together on the couch wrapped in blankets and surrounded by tissue boxes. They shared their stories together and comforted each other then finally tried to catch at least 4 hours of sleep.

"Please can't you get somebody else? I'm not going just drop everything and come to your rescue. You never did that for me. Oh come on you were a spoiled brat! And from what I'm hearing you're still the same!"

"Have you ever seen Kai this hostile with someone Misao?" Megumi asked.

"No, never, not even with Ao-" Misao stopped herself and hit her head on the marble tabletop in agony.

"Fine," Kai sighed pulling a pad of paper and a pencil towards her, "You win, but only because your paying a whole lot of money and it's for your sister. Okay where," Scribble, scribble, " When," Scratch Scratch, "Dress? Optional, of course I forget whom I'm talking too. Well I'll see what they say, they may or may not want to come, if so then I'll DJ. But I swear to everything single god above and below if you hit on any single one them I will make you a eunuch. Ha! Love me too! You arrogant little Pri-" *Click* Kai finally hung up the phone and pinched her sinuses. Then she realized she had an audience.

"So who was that?" Misao demanded a little fumed that she had to ask in the first place.

"Uh. no one?" Kai tried in vain to appear innocent.

"Ohohoho! I doubt that is true! So fess who was the arrogant Pri.ss on the phone? And what did he (?) ask?" Megumi inquired in amusement.

Yep, Kai was surrounded. The only information she was willing to offer was,

"Anybody willing to go to Kyoto and play a wedding gig?" The three other girls looked at each other. Here they were with several major love problems and now given the option to run away from them instead of dealing with them. The answer was unanimous,

"Of course!"

TBC

~*~*~

Holy moley! I know I know long time no write! Sorry I thought things would get easier in the summer, but alas no. I hit a major writers block! I've been half writing this for 2 months! Ugh I'm sorry! But hey 101 review! In the words of Sally Field "You like me, You really like me!" (correct me if I'm wrong). Sorry if there are any spelling mistakes I wanted to get this out to you guys as soon as possible.

So I think so thank you's are entitled. I won't give you all separate gratitude. If you review twice or more you will get mentioned!

The following people are the only reason I didn't give up on this story when faced with the cripple that is writer's block:

Lebleuphenix, chit chat (#100!), Gemini 16, Kenni, tiggergirl, KnK 4 ever, Shin no Shibo (the writer formally known as Noa), Prudence-chan, Battousai Angel, Miyarai, Muffingirl, tenshineko, rogue solus, Kriska, dynast, Jaded, aku-chan, Kyaa Kyaff, Istoria, Kit Kat8, Willow, Ayumi1, Liika , Little Dragon5, Squeeker, Robin and last but certainly not least Ippi-chan!

(P.S If I missed anyone, I am sooooooooooooo sorry! Yell at me in a review hehehe)

So next on the menu:

KYOTO! And if u can't guess who's the wedding for then you'll just have to wait and find out MUWAHAHAHA. And it seems our males have also flocked to Kyoto to avoid their female counter parts (Oh the irony!)

Fun to be had by all! Wow I just realized how long this chapter was! I'm proud it took me a while, but u loyal readers deserve every word of it! Hopes it tides u over until the next random time I spew out another chapter. But I leave you with no promises of a quick following chapter only high hopes that may or may not be crushed. Lots of Love!

Love it, Hate it, Review it!

Til' Next Time