Author's Note:
Well - Here's Chapter 9. The lemon actually comes after this, and is currently being beta'd. So, someday, it will aaaaall be up on Clarus' lovely site. Until then, here's Chapter 9.
Enjoy!

! SnM


Chapter 9


Sagara watched the world slide gracefully by. Tokyo Haven was dark through the tinted windows of the black convertible. Every time they passed a street light, Kenshin's thin reflection on the window glimmered out of existence, only to reappear a second later.

The car ran smoothly, quiet for the most part, over the pock-marked city streets. Sagara saw the bullet-riddled buildings go past, the warehouses and apartments slowly thin out, until they were driving through the dump that surrounded Tokyo Haven. This place had been suburbs once, maybe, the sort of place Sagara grew up in . . . But, like his childhood home, old Japan was little more than a memory. Old Tokyo had been decimated centuries ago - it really was so very long ago, so long that Sagara could not imagine what it had been like - when . . . something Sagara could not name had changed the face of the earth. Tokyo Haven was the shattered remains of an old city, rebuilt only in the worst and most unstable ways. What lay around the city limits was mostly dump, and, further on, wasteland, Sagara imaged, long-since abandoned.

The street lamps disappeared as they passed the check-point and its inattentive policeman, and the city's trash began to overwhelm the struggling strains of the natural world. Kenshin maintained a steady speed until they were out of the city, gunning it once they reached the open stretch of road. When the car surged forward with speed, Sagara turned to look at his driver, but Kenshin's smooth, pale face was impassive. He seemed deep in thought, beautiful and pensive. They had not spoken since Kenshin offered him a ride.

Sagara found himself unsettled by Kenshin's strange presence. As he had in the Aoi weeks earlier, he felt something in Kenshin, something that seemed to be just on the tip of his tongue, but inexpressible. Trying to pinpoint this characteristic, which lingered about the redhead like a faint perfume, was like lying in bed, between sleep and waking, trying to remember a dream. Sagara could not name it, for all that he was worth. The closest he could come was alluring,' but that was only the beginning. Beneath Kenshin's enigmatic pull was something even stronger than beauty or lust. Perhaps, although Sagara couldn't be sure, something darker than all that.

Kenshin shifted gears again and threw the car into yet another burst of speed. Sagara knew where they were going, now - a mountain called Takao, or some other old name like that . . .

You should've told me we were taking a day trip, Sagara said. I would've packed a picnic lunch.

The redhead laughed, though he didn't take his eyes off the road. We're not taking a day trip.

It's a good ways out, where we're going, isn't it? he asked.

I wanted to spend some time with you, Kenshin admitted.

So you kidnapped me. I'm not sure if that's kinda cute, or if I should be worried.

It's only about an hour's drive . . . It used to be really pretty up there, I hear . . . Before things changed.

Sagara looked out the window, at the uneven, dark terrain. Not much living around here, anymore.

Kenshin glanced at the other man out of the corner of his eye. No, that's true. He paused. The little, black convertible was making phenomenal time. Still - I bet it used to be beautiful.

Used to be trees where I grew up, Sagara said after a time. Kinda weak-lookin', little things, and wrapped in fences, surrounded by sidewalk. He had not seen a tree in years . . . It seemed like a lifetime ago.

There was a small smile on those soft, dark red lips. I can remember places with trees, Kenshin said. It's a shame, that there are so few left anymore.

For a moment, Sagara was quiet. I wonder what happened to 'em.

They died. After that, they fell silent.

After a time, Kenshin reached out and flipped on the radio. Without looking away form the road, Kenshin skipped over several stations of static, and a fractured news broadcast, before turning it off again. Radio reception around Tokyo Haven was scattered at best, as there were no public stations broadcasting on the island at all. The police had a frequency on which they communicated, and that was about it.

The road stretched on ahead of them, the dump a cratered landscape on either side of the pavement. Occasionally, Sagara could make out a tree or clump of bushes, struggling to survive.

This island, Kenshin said presently, is actually rather large. Compared to the city, itself. He paused. But it's all just wasteland. There're even some - damage sites. It was an all-purpose phrase, damage sites,' that the administration used to describe dangerous territory, destroyed by some unnamed power. Most people had no idea what could possibly cause those sites.

As time passed, the sickly lights of Tokyo Haven faded out of sight in the side mirror and Sagara felt as though he were farther away from humanity than he had been in an age . . .

. . . Time, it seemed, had gapped and stretched, and Sagara found himself soon afterwards on a dark mountain road, very high up. Off in the distance, past the frail trees and through the fog, he could see Tokyo Haven glimmering in the dark. The moon was a dull white in a cloudy sky, and the car's engine was silent. Not far beyond the hood of the car, the road dipped into a thicket of more waif-like, delicate trees and continued its upward climb around the mountain.

Don't think ve ever been so high, Sagara said quietly, a little awed. The view, though masked in smog or mist, was beautiful.

Kenshin, too, seemed reverent.

He made a soft sound. No . . . He paused, looking at the city in the distance. Don't think so.

Another moment passed in silence before Kenshin asked, Why did you agree to come here with me?

Sagara thought about it. In all honesty, he couldn't say he knew. To say he trusted Kenshin would be not only stupid, but untrue. But perhaps there was something telling in that statement, which he refused to utter. It was simple to see that he probably shouldn't trust Kenshin . . . Suspicion, he'd found, often worked more fully to his advantage. Something, however, in him - something more guttural than speech or even thought - told him that, maybe, Kenshin might be worthy of his trust. The real question was whether this instinct was valid or not.

I don't know, he said slowly. Maybe I haven't got anything better to do.

Kenshin laughed, and it was a sweet sound. Do you really think that's true?

Not sure, he replied.

What would you say, Kenshin said, sounding hopeful all of a sudden, if I told you I'd been counting on seeing you again?

Well . . . I'd say, I hope it wasn't for business.

His dark mouth spread into a closed-lipped smile that seemed like a sly gash in his pale skin. Kenshin shook his head. No, not for business. I really like you. Actually - His smile became more intimate. - Actually, my employer doesn't know I'm here right now.

Sagara smiled, as well, rather pleased to hear this news. Won't that cause problems? he asked.

Kenshin ran his palm down the smooth, black leather of his pants to rest on his knee. Not if he doesn't find out, he said, looking at Sagara. Then he reached up and tucked a bit of hair behind his ear. It doesn't bother you, I hope?

he replied without much hesitation. In this place, employers and business and roles that needed to be played seemed as distant as the city lights.

I'm glad, Kenshin said softly. Sagara's eyes were still trained on the landscape when he heard leather shifting against leather and felt a cool hand on his left cheek, urging him to turn his head. As he did, he felt a pair of glossy lips meet his own.