(Note: This story is told from the points of view of the three main characters, Kenshin, Tokio, and Saitoh. Each describes the same events from their own point of view.)

A JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES

Date: Sunday, February 5
Time: Late Afternoon
Place: New Meiji lower district, the Sunshine Cafe
Characters: Kenshin, Tokio, Saitoh

Kenshin

The espresso cup shook, clattering against the table as an earthquake rumbled through the ground. The plastic suns affixed to the ceiling swung in the chaos and a child started crying nearby. Kenshin stilled his cup with one hand and absently looked for the source of the crying- imagining it must be that harried looking older woman three booths down, though the seat was too high for him to tell of there was a child there.

As soon as it started, however, the earthquake stopped. 4.5 maybe. Not bad. His phone buzzed and he flipped it open, light sliding across the magenta surface. Another delivery lined up. That made it ten today, to various parts of the lower district, all due before twelve, maybe one considering everyone would be on their lunch break. It was only nine now. He had plenty of time. He confirmed his availability and once the message sent, he was moved back to his contact list.

There were two people on it, work and Shishou.

Kenshin took a sip of espresso, staring Shishou's number. He hadn't contacted him in four years. No point in starting now. He flipped the phone shut and stared outside, watching workers clear shards of glittering glass off a street where a store front window had shattered.

Tokio

As soon as she felt the motion, Tokio held her breath, the cup of green tea that she was holding frozen halfway between the table top and her lips. Without thinking she slammed the drink to the table's smooth, but sticky surface, sloshing lukewarm tea over her fingers and wrist. Drat. At least she hadn't worn a long-sleeved blouse, or she'd be sporting tea-colored cuffs for the rest of day. She was glad she had the day off. Good thing it was Sunday, she wasn't due in court today, either.

How could she have been more careful with her drink when she didn't know whether this one would keep escalating or not? The shaking reached its peak, rattling everything in 'New Meiji's Best Greasy Spoon' as Tokio referred to the place, but not sending anything crashing to the floor. This one was a small one. It had to be less than 5.0. And anything under 5.0 was not a big quake, and really nothing to worry about unless it was a very shallow quake and you were in a place that had been built on fill dirt. In that case, there may have been a cracked window, or a glass or two that had jumped to the floor.

As the motion slowed and then came to an abrupt halt, she thought of the last 6.9 that she'd experienced, shuddering at the memory of the intensity of that one, and remembering how the sandy ground below the building she was in caused the sensation of a gentle rocking for minutes after the actual shaking stopped.

Glancing out the window, she noticed with surprise that a window in a building across the street had shattered. Must have been old glass with some hairline cracks in it for that to happen, or maybe the soil across the street under that building was sand, which was always unstable in a quake, especially when it was wet. Soil liquefaction…that though made Tokio shudder.

Lost in her thoughts she was vaguely aware of a crying child. Poor thing. There weren't too many people in here this morning. The before work breakfast rush was over, so was lunch, and it was a bittoo early for dinner. Tokio rose in her booth. Where was that waitress? She would need some extra napkins to mop up the tea that now covered the table in front of her and dripped off her fingers.

Kenshin

Ah, it seems it wasn't a middle aged woman at all, but a young woman who Kenshin had been staring at. Relatively young anyway. 27, 28. Some kind of professional by the looks of her clothes and now a tea stained professional. He watched the tea drip from her fingertips for a moment (like sheathes of skin, seared off by fire).

He closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them there was tea, not blood, puddled on the floor underneath her booth. He then realized with a guilty start what she must be after.

"Ah, excuse me," he said, sliding out of his own booth and straightening his apron. He was technically off shift but he couldn't look away from a lady in need.

"It seems you've had some trouble. I'm sorry about that." He bowed slightly. "Would you like to clean up?" The Sunshine Cafe didn't have a public restroom and though he technically wasn't allowed to offer but what harm could it do?

Tokio

The spilled tea had reached the edge of the table and now trickled over the side, making a small puddle on the floor. What Tokio wouldn't have given for a stack of napkins. She could have prevented most of this mess, if only she'd asked for a couple of extras when she placed her order. She usually needed more than one napkin. It wasn't as though she was that messy, but at eateries things just seem to happen. Like today.

Giving a start, she looked up and around the diner. Someone was staring at her. She could feel it.

A red-haired guy with an apron was sliding out from a nearby booth. Hm. He looked like an employee, although she'd not seen him there before, and she considered herself a 'regular' at this joint. He must be new.

"Would you like to clean up?"

"Oh, thank you, but all I need is a few napkins to wipe my hands and a rag to catch the drips on the table and mop this puddle," she replied with a friendly smile.

Kenshin

"Oh never mind cleaning up. That's my job," Kenshin said with a smile. He was glad to know she was a conscientious customer at least. Those were few and far between. However, if she didn't wish to go the back room...

"Please, wait here." Then, quickly, he ducked into the back and got a moist towelette and a soft clean towel for her hands before coming back out and flipping the towel over his wrist until she needed it, while handing out the packet.

"We're getting quite a lot of earthquakes these days, aren't we?" he offered, small talk always helped calmed the nerves. (Though whose were really on edge here?)

"I can't help but be a little shaken up." It was a bad joke but it wasn't as if he knew any good ones. Though there was one about a penguin that Shishou had made him promise never to say again. Whether because it was so bad or so good, Kenshin had never been able to tell.

Tokio

"Oh never mind cleaning up. That's my job..."

So he did work here, Tokio thought. The name tag she just noticed pinned to his shirt even confirmed it. Otherwise, there was no way that he'd offer to clean-up for her. Guys just never did that sort of thing...unless they got paid for it. But the way he smiled before he raced way made Tokio want to believe, that employee or not, he still would have helped her.

She was usually the skeptical type, needing more than one piece of evidence before deciding what to believe.

He was back in a flash. "Thank you Ken," she replied as she took the packet he offered and ripped it open with a little twisting motion.

"It certainly does seem like we are getting more than our fair share of them lately." There was no way she could stifle the light laugh that erupted in response to his pun.

"I do believe that even the tea in my cup was shaken this time." It was obvious to Tokio that the red-haired man was making pleasant small talk. No doubt to distract her mind from her klutzy behavior. Honestly, she shouldn't have slammed that cup down on the table, just because of a little earth shaking.

"Have you worked here long?" Well, maybe asking him that was prying, but she was sure that he would recognize it as her feeble attempt to continue their conversation.

She then wadded up the little moist towelette and stuffed it back in its packet.

Kenshin

"Aa, long enough," Kenshin said absently, taken aback by the way she said his name. He wondered- but then remembered. The name tag. Such a strange custom though many businesses of this kind seemed to frequent them. It was so easy to fake a name, to pick any identity out of a hat and no one looked close enough. (Easy enough when you have no official identity to begin with.) He noticed the woman was done with the towelette and took the trash from her, offering the towel in its place with a little bow.

"The earth is restless, she is." A man passing by outside caught his attention for a brief moment. Long enough for Kenshin to note that he was rough in appearance if not person. "Do you come here often?"

On the street outside the Sunshine Cafe

"Name" Saitoh growled, in no mood whatsoever to deal with morons of the second magnitude.

"Officer, I can explain," the young man whined, prompting the police officer to sneer and add an additional 50 points to the citation. Had the fool burst into tears, he would have tacked on 75.

"Name," Saitoh ordered, glancing up from the LED tablet that he was typing on. "At this point, I would say explanations are unnecessary." He'd caught the idiot trying to snag a satellite system from a car whose windows had been broken in the tremor. The would be looter, who obviously was dropped on his head during infancy, had been too busy trying to splice fibernet cables that he'd failed to notice that a police officer was leaning on the hood of the car, waiting for him to finish.

"Look, Man, I can hook you up," no stranger to the legal system, the young man knew that this was part of any shakedown and that a bribe would go a long, long way towards him avoiding a formal hearing.

Saitoh snorted as he added another 200 points to the citation, thereby guaranteeing that the asshat would be required to attend a hearing. "Oh really? What do you have, other than some slightly dull cable snips that I could possibly be interested in? Hmm?"

"Money, Women, You name it, I can get it," Not knowing how deep a hole he was digging, the thief went for broke, "Hell, I can even snag you some AMP if you're looking for a real fun time."

"Do you have coffee?" Saitoh drawled as he quickly typed in a request for a mobile unit to come pick up the thief. Scan results had just downloaded to his tablet. There were two outstanding warrants out on the imbecile, one for a similar crime and the other for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. (Another hack for the syndicate…why am I not surprised)

"Coffee?" the thief looked perplexed for a second, then shook his head (What sort of crazy cop am I dealing with?) "No."

"Too bad," Saitoh pulled out some electric restraints, locked the man's wrists and secured him to a street light pole that had seen much better days, not unlike the rest of New Meiji. "You are under arrest." Ignoring the further protestations of the soon to be arrested thief, he read the man his rights, what few rights remained to the citizenry, and then left the man trussed up against the street light until the mobile unit picked him up for processing.

Blinking to try and keep his eyes open, Saitoh wandered down the street, making a beeline towards the only decent thing left in the city. As he approached the café, his sharp nose picked up a welcome scent and he picked up his pace. There were very few things in the world that Saitoh was willing to hustle for, this was one of them.

As he entered the café, one of the few places that he actually felt almost comfortable in, he noticed two things that put a damper on his already shitty mood. The first was that there was a new employee (Oh joy…) a scrawny little redhead… Saitoh glanced at his nametag, named "KEN". "KEN" was a new person in Saitoh's territory and that meant that "KEN" was an unknown variable and therefore merited more attention than Saitoh currently wanted to give.

The second dampener in the diner was a woman. He'd seen this one before at the courthouse, scurrying about like an underfoot cat. Saitoh frowned slightly, making a mental note to verify her position at the building. She looked too young to be an attorney, too smart for an office jockey and too wholesome to be hanging around in this part of the city, in this dive of a diner and trying to force a conversation with "KEN".

"Coffee," he said briskly, scanning the building for anyone else before sauntering up to the counter. The diner was empty and so were his energy reserves.

Kenshin

Someone had come in behind him. Someone that sent a jolt down Kenshin's spine and pricks over his skin. He continued to smile at the woman because there was no menace in that presence. Just something strong. What was it? Shishou would know. (Shishou knew everything.) Kenshin shifted his weight to the side, watching the man go past him, barking out an order that sent a wave of irritation through him. He was a cop. That much was obvious. But not one of the bastards. (Or at least not one of the bastards he had to run through. How could you have forgotten?)

Technically since he was off duty he could tell the man to take a coffee cup and shove it where he sat. Unfortunately, that would be rude to this shaken woman and then Susanoo-san would have to deal with him and the fact that she was not out at the counter meant that she was probably devouring a pack and a half of cigarettes.

"Just one moment, please," he said pleasantly. Even if he couldn't deny the man, he could make him wait. "Is there anything else you needed, Miss?" he asked with an even pleasanter smile. "Another cup of tea?" A complicated meal that would take him half an hour to make, and oh, you wanted coffee, policeman-san? Be a little nicer next time.

Tokio

"Do you come here often?"

Tokio was about to reply to the red-head's question when she heard the door creak open several feet behind her. Glancing over her shoulder she noticed a man, a cop if she was reading his clothing correctly.

Gads, why did this guy look so familiar? Had he been in the courthouse this week? She'd only been working at the New Meiji branch of the Justice Department since last Monday. But cops did frequent the place. Oh, well. It didn't matter.

She winced a bit when he barked out the word, coffee, and swaggered up to the counter.

Tokio gave Ken a sympathetic look, and whispered, "Guess you'd better 'feed' him before he bites someone. And, if you wouldn't mind, could you please bring me a new cup of tea when you are finished with him?"

Tokio hesitated for a moment before adding, "And if you have time to sit a bit, I'll answer your question."

Kenshin

Kenshin would like to feed him to a paper shredder and felt betrayed somehow that the woman hadn't taken the hint. Perhaps she was just being polite and he couldn't fault her for that. He couldn't exactly fault the cop either, he knew it logically, but decided to keep on doing it just for the hell of it.

"I'll have to brew a fresh pot," Kenshin said with a smile in his voice as he slipped around the counter to make it. "Try not to fall asleep on my counter, okay?" It was only training that kept him from meeting the man's amber eyes. Though in some other time, some other place, he wouldn't have hesitated.

And since that was brewing he went ahead and made the woman's tea, deliberately turning his back to the sleep deprived cop and trying to ignore the way his neck tightened. There wasn't a threat. So why did he feel like there might be?

Saitoh

Saitoh's eyes narrowed fractionally, as "KEN" announced that a new pot of coffee was in order. Apparently the little bantam rooster was fluffing his feathers. Saitoh would have been almost amused, except for the fact he'd been awake for nearly 36 hours.

Nodding slightly, he waited for "KEN" to turn his back on him, which was unwise at the best of times, and downright foolish when coffee was on the line, then reached over the counter with his long arm, grabbed the nearly empty pot that wasn't being used had been simmering on the warmer for hours, and had liquid with the consistency of an oil slick, which suited Saitoh just fine.

"I'll wait for that coffee, and finish this off for you, so it doesn't go to waste," Saitoh said with a smile that didn't even come close to meeting his eyes. "You're new here or work a different shift than I frequent. (Thank God for small blessings) Did you replace Susanoo-san or are you covering for her this afternoon?"

Saitoh actually liked Susanoo-san. She smoked the same brand as he did, gave him a pot of coffee without being snippy and was a huge fan of the New Meiji Samurai's. During the playoffs he'd often stop by and they'd watch part of the game during the slower afternoon shift. Unlike "KEN" the older waitress was not "NEW" and had, after years of putting up with his constant demands for a refill, become someone that Saitoh would be willing to fall asleep around, unlike the current company.

There was something off about "KEN" that he couldn't put his coffee cup on. For one thing, the man was too cheery, he smiled too much. Generally speaking, Saitoh detested optimists as he believed they were indulging in false hopes and fanciful ideals rather than facing the all too harsh light of reality.

"KEN" however did not strike him as your run of the mill wide eyed optimist. There was an edge to him; problem was that Saitoh couldn't tell if it was the edge of a slightly bent butter knife or something else.

The woman on the other hand was a bit easier to get a bead on.

While Saitoh didn't give a dead rat's ass what she thought about him, he was intrigued about her whispered inference that he was not quite tame. (Lady, you have no idea…) Perhaps she was a better judge of character than he'd initially assumed.

Saitoh glanced at her as he took his sludge and a cup and sat down at a booth, his back to the wall. Inhaling the nearly burnt, acrid liquid, he poured himself a cup and started drinking.

Tokio

Tokio couldn't help but see what the cop was doing. My, my...been having a bad day, have we? He must have been to grab the almost empty glass pot and take it with him, a bit possessively actually, to a nearby booth. Most of the time you could see some light through coffee in a glass pot, but not this stuff. It looked as thick and black as that famous Mississippi mud back in the states. Not only that, but she could smell it, too, and the word strong and acid-like didn't begin to describe the smell, even from where she was sitting. What kind of a man did you have to be to enjoy drinking *that*. Well, she'd rather not think about it, not today.

So maybe he had a bad day. What exactly would that mean for her and her 9 other assistant prosecutor co-workers. Did he screw up an arrest? Was she or someone else going to have to save his sorry butt from a lawsuit? She hoped not. She'd seen too many morons dressed in Meiji blue already, and she'd only been on the job at this location for a week.

And he glanced at her, too. She was almost tempted to give him a scowl back, but something stopped her. So she just smiled at him faintly, but genuinely. After all, he might be one of the good ones who was actually out there protecting the streets and the ordinary people who walked them from all the thuggery that this fine world of New Meiji had to offer.

No, for some reason she felt like she should give him a break, and not automatically think that he was on the 'take' like so many others that she and her brother, Morinosuke were trying to take down.

Kenshin

Kenshin heard the shifting of cloth as the cop started to move. If he was on a high he would have heard the pull of his muscle, the thud of his heartbeat. It had been a long time since he'd gotten that bad. (you miss it, don't you?). Still, it's with only a mild annoyance that he sees that long arm reaching for the sludge coffee. In one cut, Kenshin could have severed the artery in the juncture of his elbow. In another he could pressed through the muscle and nerve. All before the cop had pulled the pot back to himself.

"Susanoo-san was in the back counting stock," he said, carefully pouring water into the woman's teacup, precisely, accurately, focusing on that single act until he could think of something else. "She's probably smoking at the back door. Or maybe went to check on her mother." That was probably more likely. The old woman lived just down the block and Susanoo-san seemed devoted to her in that annoyed push and pull way of families. (He never did find that bucket...)

The cop's looming presence went to loom somewhere else and Kenshin was glad of it, able to relax as he took the tea carefully and went to deliver it. She'd moved closer to the cop (of course she had) but Kenshin was able to keep a smile on his face...

Until Salamander tattoo man passed by the window. Damn and double damn. Of all the days why did Salamander have to pick the day when the yellow eyed cop was here. The cop would be curious, try to interfere, and Kenshin couldn't do anything without arousing suspicion from either end. Tch.

He realized he was still holding the teacup and went to deliver it, setting it down with a faint smile as Salamander came into the diner and sat at his favorite booth right near the door. The man was after an easy escape, he was.

Saitoh

Saitoh didn't have the luxury of closing his eyes. Not here, not yet. He did however have some battery acid posing as ten hour old coffee that helped take the edge off his weariness. There was the other edge, the razor sharp one that nothing except time, patience and the firm abidance of a promise made to an old friend could ever hope to dull.

Determined not to think about friends who were gone and personal demons that never would be, he resolutely drained his cup and forced himself to think of other things, of the here and the now, where he actually could be of use and perhaps even sway what at times seemed an inevitable slide into anarchy.

Speaking of anarchy….

Saitoh realized that he needed to call his sister and arrange a time to pick up the boys. They'd been with her for four days and it was high time to go pick them up. He made a mental note to call Katsu when he was someplace secure and see when she wanted him to stop by.

Saitoh nodded when "KEN" explained where his preferred source of all things java might be. Saitoh appreciated stability and was pleased to think that he wouldn't have to go looking for another diner to menace. While a good cup of Joe was hard to come by, decent human being were damn near impossible to keep around.

Speaking of decency…

Saitoh returned the woman's courtesy; a facial gesture that he suspected might actually be sincere, with a measure of his own. He didn't do anything as ridiculous as smile (as his smiles generally caused the recipient to be very ill at ease since it usually meant they were about to have their ass terminally handed to them) but nodded at the woman respectfully, meeting her gaze directly for a moment as he tried to recall some other place that he'd seen her.

The moment passed when another patron came into the diner. Saitoh glanced over at the newest customer, then over to "KEN" who was carefully serving tea, and was still smiling, and then back to the woman, before his police tablet silently vibrated, indicating that several files transfers had been initiated.

(Here comes the damn paperwork…) Saitoh ground his teeth together, wishing that smoking was still allowed in restaurants. He loved his job, as dearly as he loved anything in the world but there were times (and this was one of those times) when he seriously wished that he lived in a simpler age, when any report he laid a finger on wasn't cross referenced, ID checked and quad encrypted before it could be refilled with the data management teams at the precinct.

Tokio

Cop-san nodded to Tokio and their gazes met briefly. It didn't hurt Tokio to be polite to this unknown man in blue. Who knew? Someday she might need him to testify in a case she was trying. There was no sense looking for trouble. And if the man was on the shady side of the law, then being polite would be a better move anyway. If he was a dishonest cop, and he didn't feel she was a threat, then she might have an easier time getting the goods on him.

Hm. Tokio eyed the newcomer warily. She'd been briefed last week on all the two bit thugs and dealers. This one reminded her of one of those mug shots she'd poured over until her eyes crossed. Let's see, was it Sal, Salvador, Mandy...ah...yes. This one was known by the moniker, Salamander. Two bit dealer, rich boy. Daddy always baled him. Daddy had to know someone up the ladder. That's the way these kids got away with things. The more they got away with, the more they tried until they really became a problem. But she couldn't remember whether there was a current warrant for him. She'd looked at so many computer files that she could barely keep them straight; it was a wonder that she remembered this perp.

She looked at the cop to see if the new comer rang any bells for him. Nope. Didn't seem like it did. Cop-san just gave the guy a brief look before glancing at Tokio again before focusing his attention on his tablet. It almost made her scowl when she thought of how much time the men who should be walking a beat were beating on those tablets of theirs. If cops could spend more time doing their jobs rather than filling out paperwork, Tokio was certain that the city would be safer.

Perhaps the cop was checking the records center with his tablet to see if the guy had a current warrant. Tokio could only hope. A fleeting thought crossed her mind, that maybe she should saunter on over to the cop's table to ask him to check it out, if he hadn't thought of it already. But she didn't know him. She didn't know if he was one of the good ones. She needed to be careful. She couldn't let anyone know why her brother had agreed to transfer her to the Justice Department's New Meiji office.

Her thoughts were cut short when Ken arrived at the table with the steaming tea. "Thanks," she told him, returning his smile.

Kenshin

Kenshin smiled briefly at the woman, noticing even she had noticed Salamander. There was a certain look to her face. Distaste. Like she knew him or at least knew what he was capable of. But she obviously had no idea since there was no anxiety in the lines of her body.

"French Toast and coffee sometime today, please!" Salamander bellowed.

Kenshin forced the faint smile at the man, if only so he wouldn't lose him again but it became more genuine as he looked at the woman.

"You should take your time, you should. Enjoy your tea. If I can get you anything else, please let me know." And don't go wandering out there where somehow Salamander kidnapped young vulnerable women in broad daylight.

The coffee pot chimed helpfully and Kenshin went over to it. He noticed the cop bent over his tablet, poking at it and scowling. He was supposed to be there to help the people. To notice things like this. To know people like Salamander. But of course if you trusted the police force in New Meiji for anything other than petty crime and parking tickets, you might as well just go ahead and stick your hand in a dog's cage, it would be safer.

He filled two cups of coffee. Delivering the first to Salamander who didn't even thank him and whose fingers were already starting the minute tremble that would mean he would need another hit before the day was out... and then went over to the cop-putting his coffee down a bit too hard.

"Are you too tied to your ipad to take in anything around you?" Kenshin said in a tight low voice. It should bother him. This cop wasn't any different than a million other cops. (Except he was) How could anyone protect anyone if they couldn't take the time to trust something other than a data stream?

Saitoh

TXT MSG: ENCRYPTED
START MSG: HSAITOH to KWATANABE; SQD3
SUSPECT ARRIVED EARLY / ALONE. CALL OFF DECOY. NEW TARGET ACQUIRED. STANDBY FOR ORDERS.
END TXT MSG:

Saitoh continued to tap away like some meter maid on AMP, allowing his fingernails to click on the LED screen, making as much noise as possible while he waited. Patience was a virtue in matters of vice and Saitoh had learned to be very, very patient when it was necessary.

Lifting up his tablet, he squinted a little as if he was having trouble reading a file that hadn't downloaded correctly. The action allowed him to get another look at Salamander, then at the other occupants of the diner.

(Interesting…) Saitoh thought as put the tablet down, the vibration
signaling he'd received a message back from his second in command. (Both of them know at least to some extent the appetites of the man who just ordered breakfast) While the woman having information on a man whose tastes certainly ran into more deviant territory than French Toast was not a huge surprise, as he had seen her flitting around the court and it was therefore possible that she was somehow receiving the same DOJ briefings, to his knowledge "KEN" was not privy to this information, which begged the question where he was getting his intel source.

Still pretending to type, he pressed his thumb on a bio scanner that recognized his genetic signature and opened up the encrypted message that was waiting.

TXT MSG: ENCRYPTED
START MSG: KWATANABE; SQD3 to HSAITOH;
ORDERS RCVD. IDENTIFY TARGET.
END TXT MSG:
START MSG: HSAITOH to KWATANABE; SQD3
TARGET: ASAIN FEMALE 25-30.5'8"110-120 EYES. BLACK HAIR – MID BACK LENGTH. NAME UNKNOWN. POT. DEPT OF J EMPLOYEE. VERIFY. SEND ALL FEMALE EMPLOYEE FILE PHOTOS OF LIKE DESC STAT.
STANDBY FOR ORDERS.
END TXT MSG:

Saitoh took a swig of his now cold coffee, making enough noise so that he could slowly ease his sidearm out of his hip holster and turn on the laser sight with a nearly silent switch of his thumb.

The tablet buzzed again and with one hand above the booth, he tapped and fussed and scowled, while the other hand gripped the fully automatic RK-RB12, his trigger finger sliding poised to shoot if necessary.

TXT MSG: ENCRYPTED
START MSG: KWATANABE; SQD3 to HSAITOH;
ORDERS RCVD. SEE DOJ ID ATTACHMENT.
END TXT MSG:

Saitoh quickly scanned through several dozen photos of female employees, then stopped, verified that the woman in the picture was in fact the woman sitting a few booths away and started reading.

EMPLOYEE ID: TAKAGI TOKIO / HIRE DATE: 04010260 / POSITION: ASST PROC ATTRNY. NEW MEIJI DOJ

Saitoh's eyes narrowed as "KEN" went over to the suspect's booth, unsure whether the men were in league, operating separately, or something else entirely. His scowl was also due to the fact that he knew and had actually rather respected the Assistant Prosecuting Attorney that Takagi had apparently replaced. The man and his entire family, including a six year old daughter had been assassinated a few weeks prior.

START MSG: HSAITOH to KWATANABE; SQD3
TARGET IDENTIFIED: EMPLOYEE ID: TAKAGI TOKIO / HIRE DATE: 04010260 / POSITION: ASST PROC ATTRNY. NEW MEIJI DOJ
SET UP TAIL / SECURITY FOR TARGET. ASAP.
SET UP TAIL FOR EMPLOYEE SUNSHINE CAFÉ. NAME:UNKNOWN / ALIAS: KEN / OBTAIN EMPLOYMENT RECORDS VIA SUBPOENA ASAP. DETERMINE IF SUSPECT AND EMPLOYEE ARE COLLAB. USE CAUTION.
STANDBY FOR ORDERS.

Saitoh send the encrypted message and then turned the tablet over as "KEN" moved over to his table. Still unsure if this man was truly a Diner Employee with some pretty dirty intel or something worse, he tracked the man's motions under the booth with his firearm, ready to blow the little bastard into next week.

CLINK –

"Are you too tied to your ipad to take in anything around you?" Saitoh looked up carefully at the waiter, forcing a bland expression on as he tightened his grip on his handgun.

"I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention. What did you say?"

Tokio

Tokio slowly brought the teacup to her lips. There was no way she was going to scald her mouth by taking a gulp of the hot liquid. It was just a diversion, anyway. If she brought the cup up for just a sip, she could look over the rim of it to perhaps see why Cop-san was whacking away on his tablet screen with such vengeance and why he was now making such a racket drinking his coffee. Didn't the man know the meaning of the words quiet and polite? Unless…unless he was trying to create some sort of distraction.

As she gazed over the cup's rim, she caught a glimpse of a red light as it briefly reflected off the shiny surface of the center post that supported the table where he sat. Damn. She knew what that meant. She was trained. All prosecutors these days had to be.

But her small side arm was at home in her purse, since she'd decided to travel light today, only slipping her wallet into the front pocket of her slacks. Her brother Moninosuke's words were ringing in her ears, reminding her that he wanted her to get a camisole with tough nylon holster sewn into the side of it, so all she needed to do was slip her hand under her blouse to retrieve her small piece. She hadn't really forgotten what he told her. She was going to do it, but she hadn't had the time, not with moving and starting the new job. Hopefully, if things got tense today, she would not live to regret not taking his advice in a timely manner.

There must be a current warrant for that Sally character, and Cop-san was expecting trouble if the laser light she had seen briefly was a correct indicator. Well, if there was trouble, she was here to witness it, and to make sure that the resulting aftermath was handled correctly. The last thing she wanted was for a suspect to be caught only to be let loose hours later due to improperly observing his legal rights while making the arrest.

She had no desire to be caught in any crossfire, either. Although she was tall, about 5' 8", she was on the thin side for her height, so it wouldn't be too difficult for her to lie down on the booth's bench to try to get out of harm's way. Duck and cover. Good advice for both e-quakes and shoot outs, not that Tokio had been in many of either. Yokohama was dangerous, but far more controlled than New Meiji, and there had only been a couple of times when she'd needed to dodge bullets.

Tokio didn't dare move her head; she only moved her eyes to track the movements of the red-haired man. She felt tension rise in the room as she heard the exchange between the cop and the waiter. Why was the red-head baiting Cop-san, and why did Cop-san pretend not to hear? At least that is what Tokio thought, since she could clearly hear what Ken said, and she was two booths away.

Kenshin

I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention. What did you say?"

The cop was trying to piss him off. Kenshin knew he was. He had to be. There was no way he could be so damn blind. And as he glared into those unflinching amber eyes he realized with a sickening twitch of his gut that the cop did see. Saw too much. (Just like always) And he'd walked right the hell into it. Even an old wolf had teeth, and this one did too, probably having something to do with the hand under the table.

There was no backing out of it now, though. About the only thing he could do was to throw the scalding coffee into the cop's face and hope he didn't get too shot in the process. But then the cop would know what he looked like and Kenshin would have to move from this district and scrounge up another lead.

"Hey!" Salamander snapped. "Stop making out over there and get me my damn food!"

Kenshin glanced at him without thinking to change his expression. Salamander jerked back and then seemed to notice that there was a cop in the room which made him even more of an idiot than Kenshin was. Salamander, pale and sweating, started to rise. No. Kenshin was not going to lose him. He was not going to spend another three months searching.

"Sit down," Kenshin said, not bothering to sound polite. Salamander hesitated, continued to rise. He needed a threat and since Kenshin had pretty much screwed himself over anyway, shifted slowly to face him.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Salamander said. Kenshin said the first name that came to his mind.

"Saitou Hajime. New Meiji PD. We have you surrounded and we know about Rat."

Kenshin felt the shift in the life force, the utter stone cold terror of a dead man walking. So Salamander was connected. The sense of triumph took a sharp downturn as the man pulled two semi-automatics from behind him, pointing one at Kenshin and the other at the woman.

Saitoh

(Get your damn sidearm activated!) Saitoh mentally ordered, wondering why in the hell Takagi hadn't taken the hint. Turning on his laser light had been risky; the activation beam emitted a low buzzing sound until the weapon had fully warmed up, but other than winking (perish the thought) or simply announcing (not unlike "KEN" had just done) that there was bigger trouble in this diner than an empty pot of coffee, a bright red pin point of a sighting laser reflecting off the underside of a booth was the best he could do with the time he'd been given.

The black hairs on the back of Saitoh's neck bristled at the sudden change in the waiter's tone of voice and body language. An invisible, yet almost palpable note of menace and anger emerged from the slender man who was glaring at him, and then at the suspect that Saitoh had been trailing for nearly five months.

The man was sweating, a tiny bead of sweaty film forming on his upper lip and nose as he started to rise.

(Yes, get the hell out of here…) Saitoh thought, wondering sourly if his powers of mental suggestion might work better on this prick than on Takagi, who was sitting as still as a stone. (We'll pick you up later, when there are not innocent people nearby).

"Sit down,"

Saitoh sighed and silently turned over his tablet. This time when he typed, no sound came from his rapidly moving fingers.

TXT MSG: ENCRYPTED
START MSG: HSAITOH to KWATANABE; SQD3
BACKUP REQUESTED. HAUL YOUR ASSES.
END TXT MSG:

Takagi wasn't armed. At all. Saitoh glanced again quickly, noting with displeasure that there was no hint of body armor beneath her delicately tailored blouse. (Damn fool….she's not going to last a week if she keeps this up) One of the first rules he hammered into the men and women who joined Squadron 3 was to never leave home without a side arm, a spare and body armor. While annualized attrition rates due to homicide within the police force was at an all-time low (down to 28% from 43% five years before) too many good people were lost because of carelessness.

Saitoh knew all about carelessness. He'd been careless once and that was enough to last several lifetimes.

Saitoh exhaled quietly, pushing down thoughts that would only hinder him at this moment, then twisted slightly, slowly in his seat, so he was in the best possible position to move and move quickly away from the bench. He moved his hand away from the tablet and slid it off the table. Never taking his eyes off of Salamander and "KEN", still unsure of where the greater menace lay, he reached into his jacket, and initiated the start sequence on his other gun. This time, there was no laser light signal.

"Who the hell do you think you are?"

Saitoh's eyes, which were definitely on the narrow and slightly beady side of the optical spectrum went wide at the most unlikely of responses.

"Saitou Hajime. New Meiji PD. We have you surrounded and we know about Rat."

(Who the fuck are you?) This was one of many questions that Saitoh intended to ask the Sunshine Diner's newest employee. Unfortunately, this question would have to wait.

(There!) Saitoh exhaled sharply when Salamander's arms began to move (Too Fast. He's a user!) and move quickly towards what he knew were going to be weapons. He saw a holster appear (Semi-Automatics) and reached up and hit the activation switch on his body armor, then crouched, hefted up his RK-RB12 and started pressing the trigger, aiming right for the middle of his prime suspect's head.

"Oi, what's going on out here?" Saitoh cursed at the sound of someone pushing open the door that led to the diner's kitchen. It was one of the busboys, a gawky kid with serious headgear who was midway through Senior High School.

"GET DOWN!" He ordered, his deep voice ringing with authority, unable to dare turning his head, as he felt a strong electromagnetic current move through the Poly-Kevlar armor, creating a faint blue-white energy field beneath his uniform. While the inactivated armor was somewhat effective a stabbing or other slow moving melee weapon, high velocity and energy rounds required something more.

The next one and a half seconds were, as usual, a blur. He felt the air displacement before he heard the whine and pop of a semi –automatic weapon being discharged, the first bullet missing "KEN's red head by less than two inches. Saitoh returned fire a millisecond later, but with AMP a millisecond was an eternity. Salamander blurred, his body moving so fast Saitoh could barely track him. He'd tried to anticipate this, but was only human (which in this day and time was becoming a liability) and was able to compensate only enough to ensure that Salamander was shot in the upper shoulder rather than through the forehead.

In the space of a half a heartbeat, the suspect had fired off six rounds. Faux leather booth cushions exploded, wood splintered, and behind him a boy screamed for an instant, then became horribly silent. The booth where Takagi had been sitting was shredded, the hollow point shells tearing into hardwood with awful efficiency. Saitoh caught her crouching down on the floor out of the corner of his eye, but she was covered in debris and in danger.

The bell on the front diner door dinged the same moment that another employee ran out of the kitchen entrance. It was the cook, an old grizzled war veteran, who was armed with a 10 gauge shotgun, standard weaponry for business people in this part of town. The old man fired, not at the blur that was Salamander, but towards five men, all armed, two with military grade automatic rifles. The blast took one down, his face dissolving beneath the force of buckshot traveling at over 400 miles a second.

Saitoh shot one through the chest, and was aiming for the third, when a round from what he assumed was Salamander ricocheted against his hip, sending him slamming backwards into the booth across from where Takagi was hiding. His armor sparked, the heavy electromagnetic field absorbing enough kinetic energy not to let the bullet pass through to this body, but not nearly enough not to not hurt. Another shot and he could tell by the sound of the body impact that the diner cook had been shot through the head and was either dead, or would be in a minute as the back of his shattered skull bled out over the dingy diner floor.

One of the men with an illegal rifle, one that Saitoh doubted his armor could protect against took aim. Saitoh shouted a warning to "KEN" to get his spindly ass behind something solid and, moving as fast as he could, yanked Takagi out from where she was hiding and shoved her behind him as he emptied the rest of his chamber at the group of intruders. Another man went down, his throat torn apart by the force of the impact. Saitoh took the second he was given, reloaded, retreated quickly toward the back of the diner, trying to keep himself between those who were innocent and might be innocent and those who were most certainly were not.

(Why aren't they shooting?)

He glanced back and to his immense displeasure saw that in the fracas, that the surviving intruders had just tossed epi pens and now had AMP or something even worse coursing through their systems.

Tokio

All Tokio could do was sit still, listen and be ready to dive under the table at a moment's notice if things went as far south as she currently thought they would, now that the red-haired man and Sally were getting into an intense verbal altercation. Cop-san must have felt it, too, if he'd switched on his gun. Had he been trying to warn her that things would get bad? Maybe. But why would he warn her? He had no clue that she worked for the DOJ. Maybe he was just one of the good guys in blue, who really did want to keep the ordinary Jill or Jack safe from harm.

"Saitou Hajime. New Meiji PD. We have you surrounded and we know about Rat."

She couldn't believe her ears. The red-headed Ken was Saitoh Hajime? *The* squeaky clean Saitoh Hajime that she had heard so much about, even during her first week working in the prosecutor's office. The man who was beyond the reach of all corrupting forces; the man who had fiercely loyal troops? But wasn't he supposed to be tall? Didn't her 'mind's eye' have a completely different picture of Saitoh-san? She sure didn't see him as a thin, short, red-haired man. Seemed like Saitoh Hajime should have a top knot, katana, and wear an haori which was the pale blue color of asagi with white triangles on the sleeve. She wondered where *that* insane, random thought came from.

Shifting her gaze, but not her body, she spotted the item in Sally's hand that was currently pointed in her direction. She now knew for sure that she might not even live to regret not taking Morinosuke's advice to get that special camisole, the one that not only had a holster sewn into it, but also doubled as body armor. Her breathing shifted, she couldn't help the short, shallow breaths she was now taking. Tokio knew she needed to stay calm. Breathing in deeply, she then let the air out of her lungs slowly, trying to keep a grip on her emotions. Falling apart was not an option.

Cop-san had looked at her again. She heard the creak of hinges from a door. She heard the words spoken in Cop-san's deep voice, "GET DOWN"and she did. She obeyed him immediately, reflexively as if it were the most natural thing for her to do. She was thin enough to get under the table, folding her body into the best emulation of a ball that she could manage.

THEN… ALL…HELL…BROKE…LOOSE.

The pop of semi automatic fire, multiple rounds. The weight of what had to be parts of the booth settle over her body. If she was injured she couldn't tell. Her heart was beating so fast that she thought it would explode in her chest. Everything was happening so fast she could barely think.

Another shot…a heavy gauge blast this time. More shots and Cop-san shouted again before she was yanked from underneath the debris. Her first instinct was to fight with as much fervor as she could muster, but she startled when she realized that the sensation of the hand on her body actually felt familiar. Surprise and confusion filled her, as she was pushed behind none other than Cop-san.

The floor was a maze of crimson trails. More shots fired. This time she knew they were from Cop-san's gun, as he now had his back to her and was pressing her towards the rear of the diner as he moved backward himself. Instinctively, she reached for the fabric of his shirt. She didn't know why. Maybe it was to steady herself as she allowed him to direct her closer to the café's rear wall.

As soon as her hands rested lightly on his lower back she felt something akin to static electricity, except there was no jolt to make her jump away. Maybe it was the electric field emitted by a flak jacket. He was surely wearing one. Most officers did. No. It was more than that. She just knew somehow that there was more to it than an electric impulse from body armor. In spite of the surrounding chaos, a calming sensation settled over her. It was as though it didn't matter what happened in here right now. Everything would be okay. Instinctively she knew it, she felt it. But here, in this situation, these feelings were ridiculous; in her head she knew that.

She had no idea why she felt a compulsion to reach out and touch the man. She had *no idea* why she *had* reached out and touched him. It was as though she was compelled to do it, as though she had lost control of the movement of her own hands, and they were moving of their own accord. It was nuts; it was crazy and she knew it.

Kenshin

Salamander's eyes flicked between him and the woman.

Salamander was 5'9". Had to aim low. Grip still awkward on the guns and sweating, so not quite used to it. Aim would be off by an inch, maybe two, unless Salamander got lucky. Would shoot the nearest threat. Kill shot obviously but head or heart?

"Oi, what's going on out here?"Kenshin gritted his teeth at the sound of Jiro coming out from the kitchen. Of all the times for him to take his break. Kenshin heard the hum of body armor. Salamander's eyes twitched over to Jiro and Kenshin shifted his foot quickly to grab Salamander's attention at the same time Saitou bellowed:

"GET DOWN!"

Salamander's eyes widened.

Fear

Headshot.

Kenshin jerked himself back a moment before Salamander pulled the trigger. The sound roared in his ears and he felt fine dust of drywall against his face. He groped at his side.

Nothing there.
Sakaba- no he needed Kitetsu He needed his katana. Salamander had eight in his gang and never went alone.

Where had he put it? Susanoo-san's office.

Of course.

Don't die, he thought at the cop before darting forward, shots snapping through the room. He grabbed Jiro by the collar, who shrieked as Kenshin dragged him behind the counter and shoved him under it.

"Stay down and keep quiet."

He took half a second to shake an epi pen from his sleeve and press it into the soft bend of his arm as he rushed into the kitchen. Doro-san was coming out. A shotgun in his big hands. No! No! People needed to stop getting in the damn way! The office door was swinging shut.

"Don't!" Kenshin said.

"Move it, kid," Doro-san said. "Go hide."

Kenshin was about to tell him to stop when he heard the office lock click. Damnit! Doro-san had made it out. There was a shot.

One

Single

shot.

Doro-san had been a good person. And there were more good people in danger. Teeth clenched, Kenshin bolted for the office door. He grabbed a frying pan and swung it for the glass pane as hard as he could. The glass shattered and he slammed into the door, standing on the balls of his feet to push through the gap toothed window and unlock the door.

In a heartbeat he was inside. There was Kitetsu, resting in its black cloth bag, propped up against the shelf. He reached for it and the hit kicked in the moment his fingers wrapped around the sheath. Kenshin closed his eyes and a shuddered. Liquid energy was flashing through him, coating his veins like silk and gold. It pulled through him. Heated him. Energy pricked at the underside of his skin until he could feel it pulsing in the very air around him.

He pulled the katana from its bag. He felt like he could see again. A limb had been given back. The sheath settled against his palm, cool and welcoming, and for a moment he was Kitetsu, inside and out, the hard wood of the sheath, the worn cloth of the hilt, the blade inside, sharp and waiting.

A shot boomed and rolled like thunder.

A blink Kenshin was in the kitchen, a blink he was out of it.

Survey of the diner.

Jiro. Safe. Shaking. Could taste his fear.

Saitou and woman, safe, against the wall. Fear but confidence. Concern. (Gotten weaker? No. Just human. Unlike you.) Kenshin ignored that thought and jumped lightly onto the counter to shield them. He could see more here.

Doro-san. Dead.

Three of Salamander's gang. Also dead.

Two alive. No fear. Nothing.

Three unaccounted for.

Salamander. Slight fear. Hiding behind his cronies. AMP starting to wear off under his sweat.

Two more stumbled in, jamming epi pens against their skin.

"You really think that's going to help you?" Kenshin said, voice flat and sharp as Kitetsu's blade as rage snagged through him, clutching heated claws just under his ribs, pulling at his throat. AMP meant that they were done shooting. They were going to play now. With knives. Baiting those left alive and enjoying the feeling of fear that ran over their skin as they were slowly tortured to death.

"You better be asking what's going to help you," Salamander said, still behind his cronies. "Do you know who you're d—"

"Normally I would give you the opportunity to repent." Kenshin shifted into a battoujutsu stance. "But you've taken an innocent life and I can't forgive that."

"Stop your yammering," Salamander said. "Fuji! Get him!"

"Yes, boss!" And Fuji pulled a long knife from his back and came at him. Fast.

But not fast enough.

Ryuu Tsui Sen! Kenshin lept from the counter, unsheathing Kitetsu in a hiss of metal. He twisted in the air, pushed against the roof and hammered down toward Fuji, one hand on the hilt. The other on the dull side to help push the blade diagonal through the skin, muscle, bone, heart.

Landed.

Skidded on the blood. Hand out to brace himself.

Then
forward

Cross cut. Guts spilling like worms. Warm blood on his hands.

Two down. Two left.

Laser light. Dropped into a crouch. Bullet roaring in the space above his head, twisting his body and kicking out his leg to hook his foot around the other man's, bringing him down hard.

Another flash of red. This one a spot dancing on the cop's forehead.

Sniper!

"SAITOU, MOVE!" Kenshin screamed. Heard a shot from behind and was slammed forward as it buried into his shoulder.

Saitoh

Crouching down in front of Takagi, using his body and a badly stained, stainless steel coffee counter as cover, Saitoh's heart clenched like a tightening fist, then began beating hard, almost of its own accord, Adrenaline, as pure and cold as Aizu in the dead of winter, advanced militarily through his bloodstream the instant he heard the hard and yet utterly beautiful metallic hiss of a katana sliding out of its sheath.

(I know this sound…) Memories, firing faster than bullets ever could, blew through his mind, split second fragments blue, white, steel, crimson, screams. (I know this man) "KEN" was gone, erased by a half-remembered other name, a malediction that was drenched in the blood of many slain men.
These primal, broken apart memories screamed for him to shoot, to kill and utterly destroy the red haired demon masquerading as a man. An abstract, bloodthirsty part of him watched as men fell in halves and fourths beneath a blade, and wanted nothing more than to rise up and engage in like-minded carnage.

Saitoh blinked and nearly staggered to his knees, wondering for a horrible half second if he was going insane again. He'd nearly fallen to madness, barely avoided tumbling into the hellish, lonely abyss that was uncontrollable grief and guilt and anger, when his wife had bled out in his arms. Three years ago, it had been Okita's determination to keep him from self-destructing and the duty that he owed to his children and the woman who had died to keep them safe that had spared him an inglorious death by alcohol poisoning.

He blinked again when he felt a hand, her hand on his back, steadying him. The bloodlust, the urge to rend and tear and destroy abated, leaving behind an equally ferocious desire to protect. Calmness, stillness, even in the middle of this bloody mess, called to him, comforted him as nothing else…as no one else in this lifetime had.

(I know HER…)

A breath, a sigh, an acknowledgement passed from him to her, and time returned to him, picking up from where it had left, less than three seconds before. Shots were being fired. Returning fire, Saitoh tracked a line of laser light sliding across the floor like a snake, then heard the man (who could not, after this, be "KEN") cry out in warning.

Pivoting hard, he threw himself down to the floor, covering the newest prosecuting attorney with his body as a glowing energy round blew through the space that his head had been a second before. The round shredded through the diner's plaster wall, into the neighboring store and by the explosion that came a split second after, tore through a gas line.

The diner lights flared, then failed entirely, leaving only firelight and what afternoon sun was able to stream through the broken front and side windows of the building. Engulfed in smoke from the fire, Saitoh moved then, pushing Takagi beneath the relative safety of the counter, praying that the blast would give him a few extra moments. The waiter had been shot, but was still alive. (He won't be for long…)

Salamander and his remaining thugs were cheering, behaving as morons drunk on their own supposed power were wont to do. Saitoh had seen too many photos, and had watched stone faced as what was left of the bodies of three young women who had been seen last in the company of these cowards were removed from gory crime scenes to suppose that the katana wielding waiter would be spared such a fate.

(I will not permit that to happen) He looked down at the grey eyed woman crouching beside him (to either of them)

"Takagi, give me your hand," he said quietly as he pulled out his smaller fully automatic sidearm. Turning the gun over, he pressed his thumb onto a small black LED display on the bottom of the butt of the weapon. The LED turned red, blinked once, then twice, then turned green.

By law, any military grade automatic weapon over a certain caliber had to be registered thusly, ensuring that dangerous weapons could only be fired by the individual whose DNA was registered in the software of the weapon. It was a safeguard…and a serious pain in the ass. Covering Takagi's hand with his own, while the gun silently registered her genetic signature in place of his, he found to his satisfaction that the woman's hands were calm and steady and that there were calluses, though not as hard as his, on her trigger finger and palm, indicating that the woman was at least no stranger to shooting.

"There will be police backup here soon," he removed his hand from hers when the LED was no longer red, indicating that this gun would only fire by her will. "I expect you to stay alive to assist them." Saitoh ordered as he adjusted the settings in on his body armor, pushing the mag field past the manufacturer limits, causing the armor to crackle menacingly and give off a blue-white glow seen even under his uniform. (I've got five minutes before the circuitry melts)

Saitoh was off, not looking back. His gun had ejected five casings by the time he was past the counter. Three shots had found the sniper, blowing off the man's arm at the shoulder, sending arterial sprays of hot blood arcing across the diner mirrors and ceiling. Saitoh did what he could to shield the injured waiter and allow him a measure of time to recover, still unsure whether the man's other, older name still applied, but unwilling to let someone who spared an innocent woman's life to be cut down needlessly.

"You never brought me that pot of coffee, you asshole," Saitoh muttered as he pivoted out of the way of a velocity round, sweating as the radiant heat of his armor began increasing. Salamander's aim was worsening, he realized with no small amount of satisfaction. (Ahh, we're back to being human again…) The dealer of things far worse than drugs, was cowering behind a taller, muscle bound wreck of human being.

Saitoh took two shots, both of which hit the criminal in the chest. A familiar crackle erupted from beneath the man's coat, and Saitoh immediately adjusted his aim, knowing that body armor wouldn't do much for a head with an exit wound the size of a dinner plate in it. The man vanished the second the gun went off and then reappeared inches of where Saitoh was standing, wielding a long knife.

He lunged, the knife curving in an impossibly fast arc. Saitoh shifted to the side and caught the man at the juncture of his meaty arm and elbow, then with a roar, using his attacker's momentum and his years of teaching police officers kempo, twisted up, then down hard, shattering the larger man's elbow in the process.

A well placed front kick sent the screaming man back, careening into what was left of a dining booth.

Gasping from the now nearly painful heat of his body armor, Saitoh turned to face Salamander. The glow from his armor was bright as the circuitry began to overheat, illuminating the officer in light. Saitoh staggered and fell to his knees, then reached down and clamped a hand over a knife deep cut in his thigh that went all the way to the femur bone. Blood that flowed heavy and hard in horribly perfect time with the beat of his heart ran down his leg, pooling beneath him.

His armor began to smoke and he felt blisters begin to form on his back and chest as he summoned up the strength to stand up shakily and try to get as close as he could to Salamander , intending to take the bastard out right along with him. "That fucking thing's gonna blow!" The dealer screamed as Saitoh advanced on him, his AMP-less body shaking violently.

And it did, though not in the way Saitoh had hoped. Despite having a broken elbow, Salamander's thug was able to heft up the military rifle with one hand, and before anyone could stop him, fire a round directly at the cops glowing chest. Saitoh felt heat, and then as the energy round collided with the white hot body armor, he registered that he was airborne and that his uniform was on fire.

His smoking body landed fifteen feet away, careening off the coffee counter, coming to a rest face down next to a broken pot off freshly brewed coffee.

Tokio

Tokio huddled behind the broad shouldered police officer, certain that he would keep her safe. At this point she didn't know why she had these thoughts about him. She didn't really care why she did, either. She just knew he would keep her safe; just as she knew that the sun would rise each morning. Being a good attorney, she was normally not a person who believed anything without sufficient, credible evidence. To put her trust in this man, a complete stranger, was a real stretch for her, and a moronic one at that.

Crouched down behind him she couldn't see what was going on. Just as well, as she really didn't want to see it. But she heard it…all of it…every sickening sound of it. Still, she kept a light contact on his back with one of her hands, as if he were her life line and to lose that contact would mean a certain death. Another idiotic notion, she told herself as she waited, trying to keep her breathing calm and steady, listening intently to the activity she couldn't see.

A breath, a sigh, an acknowledgement passed between them. Had he felt something, too?

"Saitoh?"

Was Ken now calling the man who was shielding her, Saitoh? On one hand it made sense, but on the other it caused Tokio to feel even more confusion, and her actions…toward Cop-san… were causing her confusion enough. Since when had she been so familiar with a strange man? Since never, and she didn't need anything else to muddy her mind, like the red-headed Saitoh, who now wasn't Saitoh, calling this man in front of her by that name.

Cop-san pivoted and before she knew it, her body was protectively covered with his. A glowing force ripped overhead, inches above the officer's back. An explosion rocked the diner, the lights dimming before they snapped out.

Why did being in *this position* with him feel so familiar? It was the same sure familiarity that had overwhelmed her the first time he had touched her to yank her from beneath the rubble to safety. Tokio was sure that the heart hammering in her chest would surely burst, and not only because of the danger of dying in this fire fight. Most of it had to do with the man, himself, his proximity to her. Closing her eyes briefly she took in a slow, steady breath. A flicker of memory, only an instant long, being embraced by strong arms, imposed itself in her mind before fading away as quickly as it had come.

He pushed her under a counter, still shielding her. Her mind was on overload. This gun battle was bad enough, but the internal turmoil welling up inside her, caused by this man, was almost worse.

The sound of laugher and cheering reached her ears. With disgust she knew that, most likely, only someone on AMP would have that reaction to what was going on in here. Their brutality now made more sense to her. They were high on designer drugs made to give an individual super human strength, a strength that no one should ever possess.

"Takagi, give me your hand," he said quietly.

Astounded that he knew her name, she glanced at him, right into his amber eyes. Again, she obeyed automatically. Not questioning his intention, not asking him what he was doing. She trusted him, and had no clue why. Placing the small firearm in her palm, he covered her hand with his own, while the gun silently registered her genetic signature in place of his. Now she knew what he expected from her. His hands were warm, strong, and comforting. His touch was again strangely familiar. So she hadn't imagined this feeling, when he yanked her from under the table.

"There will be police backup here soon…I expect you to stay alive to assist them."

Tokio felt an instant pang of loss. Maybe it was because he removed his hand from hers. Maybe it was because of what he said. Either way, it was still crazy for her to have these thoughts of familiarity about a complete stranger. 'But *you* will be here to assist, won't you?' she almost let out before realizing in horror what could happen to a flak jacket turned to full power. She wanted to tell him to stop. That he didn't have to do this, that he shouldn't do this. But she kept silent; she had no right to make demands of him, especially knowing –somehow- that he would fulfill his duty regardless of the cost.

She had never made demands of him before, so she had no reason to do so now. 'Before when?' her confused mind asked itself. Shaking off the insane thought, she tightened her grip on the gun in her hand.

In a flash he was gone, firing into the chaos as he went. Peaking around from where she was hiding, she hoped to get some sense of where the targets were located. More blood and body parts…everywhere. She knew she only had the rounds in his weapon. She would make them count, all of them.

Things were happening so fast she could barely keep focused on the action. She saw the blade plunge into the officer's thigh. His overheating body armor glowed brightly. Tokio gasped as he staggered and fell to his knees, bleeding heavily. Not good. He wouldn't last long without help.

Then she noticed one of the obviously wounded thugs –one that HE had kempo kicked across the room a only few moments before- heft up a military rifle with one hand. Tokio raised the officer's gun, held it out from her body, steadying it with both her hands, aiming right for the man's head. Slowly, deliberately she squeezed the trigger. The round left the chamber with a sharp report, reaching its destination in the middle of the man's forehead, throwing him backwards, but not before he had fired a round at Cop-san's glowing chest, sending the officer flying across the room, his uniform on fire.

Tokio jumped to her feet, racing to the downed officer, knowing she had to respond –now. Something in her gut wrenched at that very moment, it was like the monthly cramp from hell. Then she screamed a name, "Hajime," not knowing where the word came from.

She was by his side. Seeing blood flowing freely from his thigh, she acted immediately, tearing off her blouse so she could use it as a tourniquet . She was wearing a sports bra underneath, and it revealed far less than what most women wore to the beach. She really didn't care if she were naked underneath. It didn't matter. The only thing that did matter was taking care of HIM. Once the cloth of her blouse was firmly wrapped around his bloody thigh, and she was satisfied that it would stem the flow of red liquid, she turned her attention to his torso, and his hot, smoldering body armor.

There was almost nothing left of his outer shirt. She tenderly began to remove his steaming flak jacket, ignoring what the heat was doing to her own hands. To get it off completely she needed to roll him on his side. It wasn't an easy task but somehow she managed. She startled when she encountered bare skin under his burnt body armor, resisting the impulse to skim her finger tips across his back. Fortunately, none of his damaged skin had stuck to his flak jacket, but it was red and close to blistering. Thankfully, none of it was charred. Since she had no clean towels or cold water, there was nothing more she could do now, except pray that police back-up would bring a medic unit along with them.

His face was a mess, too, covered with small lacerations, wet with hot coffee, shards from a broken coffee pot scattered on the floor beside him. Reaching into the front pocket of her slacks, she removed a clean handkerchief and began to gently clean his face, being careful to watch for shards of glass that might be imbedded in his skin.

Tears welled in her eyes at the sight of him, his back, his face. Unspoken words, 'Oh, Hajime don't leave me, now that I've found you again.' raced through her mind. It was surreal. She had NO connection to him. She did NOT KNOW HIM. Was she going mad? That was the only answer.

Kenshin

Kenshin jerked himself upright, a ragged sound escaping through his teeth as his shoulder wrenched. Damnit. He heard popping of the cop's gun, the clatter of the bullet casings as they fell to the ground. He stood, grinding his teeth and clutching his right shoulder where pain seared through him. He could feel the bullet lodged in his shoulder, almost against the bone, the pulse of blood washing down his back. If only it had gone through.

Saitou moving to protect him made him snort. Kenshin leaned against the wall, letting Saitou take care of it. A wolf had his honor and Kenshin would let him keep it. A strange twist of something like déjà vu made a cold chill run down his back.

"You never brought me that pot of coffee, you asshole,"the cop said making Kenshin feel irritated and amused at the same time.

"You didn't ask politely, you bastard," Kenshin said, voice still flat, though he didn't think the cop had heard him. He watched electricity snap off of Salamander's thug's body armor and then the thug came toward him, swinging a knife so slowly and in such an obvious arc that even a child could block it. Saitou didn't. The knife sunk into flesh and muscle and the smell of hot blood snicked through the air. Kenshin jerked off the wall, gripping his sword only to nearly drop it as pain retched through his arm, making spots dance in front of his vision. Not high enough a dosage not to feel pain and already wearing off.

He clutched at his shoulder, starting forward to help the cop and then jerking back as the thug went sailing into a booth, crashing into the table. He could smell burning now, a high pitched whine. What the hell was it? Where was it coming from? It didn't matter as Saitou was going forward to attack Salamander who was screaming it was going to blow.

"Don't!" Kenshin said and he saw the woman come up to the counter with a gun pointed right at the thug who had jerked upright. A shot like a bomb blast and the cop was sailing across the room in a violent streak of light. Another and there was a perfect hole in the center of his forehead, blood spattering on the window.

Salamander stared at Kenshin. Ready to bolt. Kenshin returned the stare, ready to eviscerate him. Salamander would not be allowed to escape from this alive. Too long had he been able to run from the crimes he'd committed. And all the bloodshed here. He would die with his men. Kenshin promised that with his eyes.

A thin film of sweat streaked down Salamander's face. Kenshin twisted Kitetsu.

"Hajime!"the woman screamed and Kenshin startled, winced. Salamander bolted. Hammering toward the door. Kenshin jerked after him, waves of ice cold pain wringing his arm, he pushed it away, pushed it all away, saw nothing but the retreating back of Salamander. The dealer bolted across the street. Reached toward a car.

Oh no you don't

"Dou Ryuu Sen!" Kenshin slammed Kitetsu into the ground, sending a wave of energy ripping through his arm (ripping up his arm. Tearing at his shoulder). The asphalt split in a straight line and Salamander caught the tail end of the energy, sailing into the car and smashing against the door, the passenger side window shattering with the force of his head.
Kenshin covered the space in two steps.

Salamander recovered enough to look at him.

Scream.

Silence.

His head fell into the passenger seat. Body slumped on the ground. Kenshin looked down at him. Chest heaving. Tasting blood in his mouth.

You… a distant voice said, a soft ghost of an echoing sigh in his head. Cold twisted his gut and his hand trembled as the wave of sickness washed over him. Darkness all around him and something…Someone…

The bleeding wail of police sirens jerked him back to the bright cold February day. His breath thinned white in the air. Kenshin blinked the sweat from his eyes, flicked the blood off Kitetsu with his left hand and knelt to rummage through Salamander's pockets. Car keys. Tic Tacs. A wallet. ID. ID Chip. Some cash. Kenshin pocketed the cash, tossed the wallet and searched until had found a slim grey phone. This he jammed into his pocket and went back into the diner, his shoulder stiff. The blood was already drying on the floor. The dead were already past any state of having lived once.

He saw the woman tending to…to the cop. He could see her back. Bare and vulnerable as she wrapped her shirt around his wound. Kenshin hurried into the back room. Startling Jiro who was hiding there, shaking, tears running down his face. He let out a short yelp and pressed himself into the corner. Kenshin wanted to reassure him but there were no words. The worst wasn't over. The worst couldn't be over. Not in New Meiji.

He grabbed his coat and his messenger bag which he gingerly slipped over his opposite shoulder. His arm twinged and he firmly told himself he would hurt later. Later when there was time. He took a moment to retrieve Kitetsu's bag from Susanoo-san's office and realized there was no sheath for the bright blade. No wonder Jiro had been frightened. Kenshin sighed and moved back into the diner, picking up the sword's red sheath and sliding it home before putting it in the back and leaning it against the counter. Then he took his jacket and laid it across the woman's shoulders, looking at the cop who was still breathing after being a complete and utter idiot.

"It will be okay, it will, miss," Kenshin said softly and squeezed her shoulders. The sirens were closer. They sure had taken their time. He started to leave when he noticed the cop's tablet gleaming on the table. There would be a lot of information in there. He licked his lower lip, wincing at the coppery taste of blood, and approached it. It was probably DNA locked, though. Kenshin pressed his fingers to the glossy surface and then saw that it was. He cursed under his breath…and looked to where the cop was lying.

"Better keep pressure on that leg," Kenshin told the woman as he came closer. He knelt, gingerly took the cop's hand and pressed it to the LED screen until it flicked green, gave the woman an apologetic smile and bolted out the back way, hearing cop cars pull to a screeching halt outside. They would take care of her.

As he darted out into the open air, he realized it was chillier than before and then recognized it as blood loss. Well—it couldn't be helped. He had to run. If they caught him he would be taken back.

And he would rather die first.

Saitoh

It was the scent of fresh coffee and the warmth of his wife's hands on his body that roused Saitoh from dark, dreamless sleep. Eyes closed, lying oddly on his side, wakefulness returned to him in disjointed stages. A deep relieved sigh, the type of exhalation a worn-out traveler might make after seeing the first glimpses of home after a long, dangerous and lonely journey, was drawn from him with his soft, tentative brush of her fingers on his face.

Relief flooded through him at the familiar contact, the sense of reprieve so sharp that the second breath he took was more of a shudder, than anything else. (She's alive…) Not quite awake, Saitoh reached out instinctively, capturing his wife's hand with his, fingers threading naturally. (…I'm not alone) A crooked half smile formed on his face as he brought her hand close, brushed a kiss on her knuckles, even half asleep with his eyes closed, her could catch the faintest trace of the clean, wholesome scent of her skin against his mouth and found himself to be, as he lay beside the woman he esteemed above all others, indescribably at peace.

He shuddered again, as other sensations began to register, feelings of being impossibly cold, followed by the sensation of being hot…being burned on his arms and back. Pain. Smoke from a fire. The coppery scent of dried blood and spilt entrails overwhelmed the sweet smell of a woman's soft skin. A spasm of unbelievably agony rolled through him as the welcome sense of being whole again, of having his heart returned back to where it had been torn away three years before, was brutally rescinded and as the terrified shriek of a man, a man whose life must certainly be measured in seconds sounded in his ringing ears.

Saitoh opened his eyes, his training causing him to turn towards the sound of the scream. He blinked, trying to focus his blurry vision and watched through a broken glass diner door as a katana wielding waiter moved faster than any human should and took the life of an evil man. In shock, and still not fully aware of his surroundings, Saitoh watched as a severed head arced away from a shuddering body, as a crimson sheet of blood hit the side of a white vehicle, creating a ghastly Rorschach image on the driver side door.

(A Shinsengumi is a Shinsengumi... A wolf is a wolf... And a Manslayer is a Manslayer... Right Battousai?)

An old, old memory made its way into his pain soaked thought processes, followed by equally old and stern resolve to see that justice be finally done and Saitoh wondered at the madness that this afternoon had wrought on everyone who was still drawing breath in the Sunshine Diner.

Speaking of madness….

He looked up at her then, his pain filled countenance completely open and unguarded, at a woman he didn't know, but had been unable to ever forget, and saw in her beautiful grey eyes an answering echo of the confusion, sorrow and raw longing that he was experiencing. Leaning over him, her long hair was a black curtain that afforded two stunned souls a temporary measure of privacy. Still holding her hand against his aching heart, Saitoh drank in the blessedly familiar features of a complete stranger for a full three seconds, before duty beckoned, prompting him to try and rise.

Pain slammed into him as he sat up too quickly, centering on his back, chest and upper leg and with a barely stifled groan he almost collapsed back against the slender woman, leaning heavily against her as the room spun round him and he tried to catch his breath. She bore the burden without compliant, as he somehow knew she'd done many times before, wrapping her arms…her bare arms around him in a protective gesture. His sense of peace returned, as did his confusion, but there were more pressing matters at hand.

"Be still," he hissed when the manslayer came back into the diner. Drenched from head to toe in blood, the little harbinger of death strode past them, sparing the woman a glance before he disappeared into the back of the diner. Gritting his teeth against the pain of broken ribs and the knowledge that his sidearm was out of reach, he shifted his body so that Takagi could use him as a shield (as much good as that would do against a katana) "do not engage that man, not unless you absolutely have to," Saitoh warned as the diner door opened and the man emerged, carrying a jacket and a satchel. He swallowed as a wave of blood-loss induced nausea rolled over him.

Forcing himself to be still, Saitoh closed his eyes till they were thin amber slits and watched beneath his lashes as the man took off his jacket, as if he was some sort of gentleman and put the garment on Takagi's bare back, barely stifling a protective growl, when the murderous moron squeezed her slender shoulders. He heard the man walk away and then became tense when the footsteps turned back.

In the end it was merely his fingerprint rather than an altercation that was on the manslayer's mind. Saitoh inwardly smiled (in the not so nice way) as he felt his finger activate the access control already anticipating the disappointment that the thief of his tablet would experience when he opened up files and was graced with pages after pages after pages of bureaucratic red tape rather than anything useful. This was another aspect of security he ensured that he and his squadron always adhered to, the insistence that all mission critical data, personal information, and procedural and physical evidence be stored securely on non-portable devices. The fact that his tablet had a built in geo-tracker would only assist him in finding, questioning and, if necessary, destroying this threat to the public's safety.

Saitoh heard tires screeching, the broken glass door to the diner opening, followed by shouts and a split second later, gunfire. The fact that it lasted for more than a second or two meant that the katana wielding waiter had not been killed on the spot. Unfamiliar with being sidelined when a battle was raging, he tried to sit up again, to ask the woman if she was all right, but there was something wrong with his leg. He felt a tear reopen, more on the inside of his body than the outside, and an odd sensation of being swept away, as if on a current that he had precious little control over.

The room wouldn't stop spinning. Saitoh blinked, trying to force his senses into stillness. Unaware that his lips and face were going grey from blood loss and that a pool of ever widening blood was seeping from the damaged artery in his leg, he tried to keep his mind on the case, his thoughts on his duty, but his attention and eyes kept wandering, turning back again and again to the face of the woman in whose arms he lay. (I found you…) Despite the pain, the knowledge made him happy, an emotion that had often eluded him during his thirty three years of life.

Dizzy, he reached for her hand. It was bloody. So was his. "You did well," his voice sounded strange in his ears, hollow as he tried to explain, to reassure "…have my thanks," he swallowed, tried to speak again, "…and my…" the thought wasn't finished.

"Captain Saitoh!" he heard Lt. Watanabe shouting, felt himself being lifted by the very strong, but not very gentle arms of his squadron members up onto a med cart, away from the floor, from the woman who'd risked her life to save his.

Tokio

Tokio's mind shut out the continuing carnage, keeping her focus on the downed man beside her, who now appeared to be returning to consciousness. As Cop-san continued his path to wakefulness, he reached for her hand, an action that completely surprised and unnerved her. As shocked as she was when he threaded their fingers together and gently kissed her knuckles there was a part of her that knew it felt right, that it felt as natural and familiar as anything related to a man ever had. Tokio dated, but none of the men who had shown an interest in her felt 'right'. So she'd never encouraged them, and things had never advanced past the platonic stage with any of them.

Slowly, the wounded officer moved her hand to rest over his heart, his fingers still locked with hers. Her hand on the bare skin of his chest caused a flurry of emotions, that same feeling of familiarity, a sense of belonging, of being cherished, and a desire for more. But more of what? Was it a question she dare ask? Was she afraid of the answer?

She knew the man was severely injured; his body was under unbelievable stress. Most likely he was hallucinating that he was awaking with his 'lady' by his side. Whether the woman was wife or girlfriend, Tokio had no clue. For a second, Tokio foolishly wondered what it would be like to be this man's wife. Having such thoughts about a total stranger unnerved her, especially when a little voice echoed fleetingly in her mind, 'You already are…' At that moment a trip to mental health services to be fitted for a straight jacket seemed like a good idea to Tokio.

But she couldn't deny, no matter how hard she tried, that the gentle touch of his lips on her skin made her long for more, made her long for another time, another place. Where could these strange thoughts be coming from?

When Tokio realized that Ken and Sally seemed to be the only ones standing, another –very strange- thought skipped through her subconscious mind, 'Just let Himura handle it.' She was vaguely aware that the red-head chased his prey out the open door and onto the street. So was the officer. His eyes followed the two men, as if he wanted in on the hunt. But wasn't that his nature? How in the world would she know *that*?

Then the cop refocused his gaze on her. His eyes were full of pain…open…unguarded, as though he was letting her see his soul. The two of them shared a moment of confusion, sorrow and raw longing. Her hair brushed over him. She almost leaned down and kissed him, but he chose that moment to try to sit, only to lean back heavily against her chest. She knew he was forcing himself to get back into action. ..he always did, didn't he, regardless of how badly he was injured. The image of multiple, deep cuts on the front of his legs drifted through her mind. With only the thin fabric of her undergarment between them, she was aware of his comforting warmth. Instinctively her bare, slender arms wrapped around him, supporting him, wanting nothing more than to protect him and be by his side. She could feel him relax against her.

Ken must have taken care of Sally, because he was now returning to the diner. As the red-head brushed past them, the man she was holding, his voice laced with pain, admonished her to be still. She would be. She also knew that as crazy as it was, because it truly *was* crazy, she would always and forever do what he asked of her. For some strange, unexplainable reason she would trust this stranger with her life.

The man whom she was now clutching, as if her life depended on it, shifted in her arms with a labored breath. Her heart wrenched, knowing that the pain he suffered must be excruciating. It was a surreal feeling, because holding him felt so familiar, so right. How could she feel this way toward someone she first laid eyes on a mere half an hour ago? The hinges on the door to the diner's back room creaked, as Ken emerged.

"Do not engage that man, not unless you absolutely have to"

Tokio nodded in reply, so focused on Cop-san's ragged breathing that she was barely aware of a jacket being draped over her cold shoulders, or of the light squeeze that followed, or of the reassuring words telling her that it would be okay. Of course it would be okay, she was with…Hajime…wasn't she?

Sirens. She looked around only to see Ken approach them again with a tablet in his hand. She was too numbed by the events in the diner to think quickly, and it wasn't until the waiter slipped the tablet under the officer's hand that she realized what was happening. She tried to lunge forward to grab it from him, but the weight of Cop-san leaning against her limited her range of motion. All she could do was bark out, "Hey. Give that back!"

Tires screeching, shouts, more gunshots. Tokio winced. Then Cop-san tried to get up again, but she gently held him to her chest, whispering in his ear, "No, you have to stay still. Your leg is still bleeding." Although the blouse she wrapped around his deeply cut thigh helped stem the tide of blood, she hadn't had the strength necessary to secure it as tightly as it should have been. A cold knot formed in her stomach as she gazed over him. His face was losing color; it was ashen. It had to be from loss of blood. Panic gripped her. She could lose him. Not again. There was a memory. The last time she had to endure six long years without him before she was taken. She knew she would not survive that again.

He kept looking at her now, as if he was trying to imprint her face in his memory. Their hands clasped together again, finding comfort in the connection. It was natural. It was familiar. It was the way it was supposed to be. And above all…it was crazy…she was going crazy…she didn't care because whatever this was…she knew it was right.

He could barely speak.

"You did well…have my thanks…and my…"

'Love', her mind answered for him, tears now welling in her eyes and trailing down her cheeks.

There was a rush of activity, a woman calling to him. Men. A med cart. No. He was being lifted away from her. Their clasped hands were torn apart. She felt a sense of loss; she was no longer whole. A part of her had been ripped away, again.

It was so stupid. He needed urgent medical care or he could die. But she *didn't * want to see him go. She even wanted to climb into the med evac and go to the hospital with him. How irrational was that, she asked herself?

When they put him on the gurney, a chill coursed through her, and it wasn't from the cool air blowing over her skin through the open door, either.

After Cop-san was taken away in a med evac unit, one of the responding EMTs gently pulled her to her feet and led her over to a booth that had managed to escape the gunfire. She'd already slipped her arms into the sleeves of Ken's jacket. Good thing the guy was so small. At least it covered her well and it didn't look like she was wearing a tent. All she felt was numbness and a sense of great personal loss, except that she hadn't lost anything or anyone in this skirmish.

Her hands hurt…so…bad. But it had been worth it. For some reason, she couldn't stand the thought of that officer suffering. He surely would have, if he'd kept that melted flak jacket on, and being injured and unconscious, there was no way he could have removed it himself.

Speaking of the broad shouldered man, hadn't that older woman called him Captain Saitoh? She felt the cool composite material of the small gun against the skin of her stomach. She'd slipped it into the waistband of her slacks so she could reach it easily in case of more trouble.

Fortunately, she did live to regret not taking her brother's advice to adequately protect herself. New Meiji was a far more dangerous place than Yokohama. Tomorrow when she returned to work, she would have Oharu, her secretary, call Captain Saitoh's office to let him know she would be returning his firearm later in the afternoon. Then she would get that protective body armor with the hostler in it just as Mori, her brother, had told her to do.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the young medic attending her. "Miss, you were very lucky that these burns can be treated here on the spot. I'll put some analgesic gel on your palms before I slip on the medi-burn gloves. You can take them off late tomorrow afternoon. You might need some help, though. It usually takes two hands to get them off because they're on so snug. These burns will heal quickly. They are only surface burns, and didn't get into the second layer of your skin."

Tokio nodded, thanking the young man as she rose from the seat. With an aching back, she stiffly walked out of the place, now buzzing with law enforcement personnel. She would probably have to give a statement, but if she could slip out of here now, perhaps that could wait until tomorrow. All she wanted to do now was to go home, take a bath, and a nap.

As she walked to her car, she hoped that it was spared the gun fire she heard earlier when she was still inside the cafe. She really didn't need to have a shot-out window to deal with, not this afternoon. She'd been through too much already in her estimation.

Tokio sighed. Her car was fine. In addition to escaping with her life, that was another thing to be thankful for.


To see what Tokio Takagi did next please go to this story on our profile page: Tragedy Revealed on a New Meiji Morning

To see what Kenshindid next please go to this story on our profile page: You're Only Worth the Price You Pay

To see what newspaper man Mishima Eiji has to say about this Sunshine Café skirmish go to this story on our profile page: The News Feb 6, 2060: Sunshine Cafe

To see what Saitoh Hajime did next please go to this story on our profile page: End of Day Rituals