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A Rurouni For Your Thoughts (part 9)

“Left in the dark..”

Saitoh smiled mockingly at the group as they exited the room. But, looking at the girl in front of him, he found nothing to smile about. It was more than evident that she had had a rough time recently.

“I guess they got to you,” he asked rhetorically.

“Yes,” Kaoru replied awkwardly.

“They were supposed to have been caught before any more damage could have been done.”

“Well…” Kaoru didn’t know how she should reply, so she didn’t.

“What do you want from me Saitoh-san?” He looked at her and answered.

“ You know exactly what I want...”

*******

Sanosuke felt himself getting angrier by the second. The thought that his Jo-chan kicked him out to talk privately to Saitoh…he punched another hole in the floor.

“You know you’ll have to fix that later.” Sano glared at Yahiko, drove his fist once more into the wooden floor and cursed loudly as a splinter got between his knuckles.

*******

Saitoh was trying to put his questions as delicately as was possible for a former Mibu wolf, but he was losing his patience fast. So far, he had learned nothing new to help him find his prey.

“Focus on details, like how many they were, what they looked like-”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you with that” Kaoru interrupted. “It was dark and I was blindfolded…”

(Flashback)

Thug #1: “Here you are, tramp. You’ll wish you still couldn’t see” *unties the blindfold, to reveal a very dark room. (end)

“What did they say? About the war, why they were targeting those certain members? The reason for their grudge against your father?”

(Flashback)

Thug #2: “Kamiya’s bitch! Your father was a traitor, a hypocrite!” *Slaps Kaoru hard across the face. She tries to fight back but is being held firmly from behind. * (end)

“No, they didn’t say anything about that.”

“Did they mention a name? A boss or a leader?

(flashback)

Thug #3: *Kicks in the stomach. Thug #1 finally loosens his grip and throws Kaoru down. She sprawls on the floor, coughing, trying to breathe. Several shadows loom over her * “Yeah, why not? Moryo said that as long as we bring her in to the boss alive, we do whatever we want with her. And I plan to take him up on his offer.”

Thug #2: *Laughs evilly * If he wants the pleasure of killing you himself, then we won’t rob him of that.”

Thug #1: “At least we get you first…”

(end)

“No, they didn’t mention a leader.” Saitoh glares at her impatiently.

“Listen, I’m a very busy man so I’ll be very clear. I came here for answers. If you continue to waste my time, I’ll be forced to use whatever means I see necessary to find these people, even if it means endangering you. He looks carefully at Kaoru who sits in silence.

“Well?”

*******

 

“Would you stop that! You’re driving me crazy!” Sano ignored Megumi and continued to pace loudly around the porch. Megumi leaned back against the wall in defeat, her eyes following Sano’s movement. His anger had a certain appeal to it. It showed a side of him that she never noticed before. He’s acting like a worried older brother. Sano finally stopped and turned to Kenshin.

“Well, how come you’re not angry” he demanded.

“I still can’t believe what is happening,” he answered quietly. “Kaoru-donno was in trouble, and she would rather tell her Saitoh what happened than to us.”

“You mean she’d rather tell him than tell you.” Sano accessed, walking over to them and stopping in front of Kenshin. “That’s what you really mean.” Kenshin was about to answer Sano, but thought better of it when he saw that nothing he could say would change Sano’s mind that and the fact that Sano is right. He had barely finished the thought when Saitoh appeared on the porch. Making his way out of the dojo, he spared Kenshin an odd look, followed by an even odder statement.

“Sayonara Battou-sai. I hope we do not meet any time soon.” Kenshin silently pondered the statement while he followed him to the dojo gates, wanting to make sure that he left.

 

Finally! He’s leaving. Sano’s tense shoulders relaxed the moment Saitoh was out of sight. He glanced at Kaoru, standing in the doorway. She looked at everyone and forced a smile.

"Saitoh will take care of everything. The matter is settled.” She turned her head towards the sky. It had been a very long night and the sun was now rising in the horizon.

“How about breakfast everyone?” she asked, but she didn’t move, or take her eyes away from the sky. Sanosuke, Yahiko, and Megumi all looked at her in concern, trying to decide if she was out of her mind or if she really meant what she said. Kenshin lost himself, gazing at Kaoru. Despite the early suns golden rays stretching into the sky, he felt a chill. The matter was far from being settled. What he found out about Kaoru’s father that night was so different from anything he had ever had in mind. Feeling absolute sorrow well up inside him, he wondered if things will ever go back the way they were, and if she ever will.

 

********

 

Two days later, Kenshin still couldn’t bring himself to talk to Kaoru. Not that she had been very conversational with him either. But, she seemed to be making an effort for getting some of her everyday routine back. Except for one thing. She couldn’t get Yahiko to practice with her. He would train under her supervision, and practice as much as she told him without complaint, but he adamantly refused to practice with her. Since she wasn’t exactly feeling her best, she didn’t press him. Sano kept a watchful eye on the dojo and noticed all of this. What bothered him most was that Kaoru was opening up a little to everyone, except Kenshin. Sano was willing to admit to himself that Kenshin deserved the cold shoulder but that didn’t make him any happier. He wanted those two together. He was sitting at his place, thinking of a plan when Yahiko walked in, looking depressed.

“Hey, what’s up Yahiko?” The boy came in and sat beside him.

“Can I stay at your place for a while?”

“Why, did something happen?” Sano asked alarmed. Yahiko shook his head. “Then what?”

“It’s just too depressing to stay with them. Kenshin is so quiet, even more than usual I mean,” he added when he saw Sano’s doubtful look. “And Kaoru, although she doesn’t say much either, whenever she sees me watching her, she smiles at me. Like she’s trying to make everything the way it was before. But, but….” He stopped, unwilling to say the words out loud.

“But things aren’t the same are they?” Sano stated. Yahiko turned to him with sad troubled eyes. That expression should never belong to a ten year old thought Sano.

“Sanosuke, Kaoru and Kenshin don’t even talk to each other. I miss the way we all used to be, …like a family.”

“So that’s why you don’t want to stay there. Because seeing the way Kaoru is now makes you miss who she was before.” Yahiko stopped to think. Before, his was feeling so jumbled up he didn’t really know why he didn’t want to be at the dojo. But, Sano’s words made sense. But that’s not the only reason… He wanted to tell someone about how he hit Kaoru. How he had wanted to hurt her. But, he was so ashamed of what he did. He swallowed down a sob and answered Sano.

“Yes.”

Sano could understand how Yahiko felt. Heck, he felt like that to and he didn’t even live with them at the dojo. Poor kid.

“Tell ya what. How about we go have lunch at the Akabeko? You can help me decide how I’m gonna get Kenshin and Jo-chan together. How bout that?” It was working, a small smile showed up on Yahiko’s face. Sano added casually, “Plus, you’ll get to see Tsubame. You haven’t seen her for a while have you?” Yahiko shook his head no. Sano, unable to resist continued, “Careful buddy, or someone will take her away from you.” This remark got Yahiko biting on his head, something he hadn’t done in a while. Sano smiled, glad that he was able to make the runt feel better. When he finally got Yahiko off his hair, they headed towards the Akabeko in companionable silence. Yahiko was feeling happier than he had in a long time.

***********

Megumi was losing her mind with worry. She hadn’t been at the dojo since their, or rather Kaoru’s meeting with Saitoh. The clinic was overflowing with patients. It was ironic how now, when she needed the free time, she didn’t hit. What was worse was that she hadn’t seen Sano either. She had hoped he would stop by and give her the latest news on the dojo. She wished she could ask Genzai-sensei for a break but she knew he couldn’t possibly handle the patients on his own. To make matters worse, he kept asking her about Kaoru and why she hadn’t visited him recently. He seemed hurt and Megumi suspected he felt forgotten because he was used to seeing Kaoru almost every day. He wanted to visit the dojo but Megumi quickly intervened saying that Kaoru was too busy spring-cleaning and teaching at another dojo. She told him everything but the truth. Ayume-chan and Suzume-chan also missed Kaoru but they were easier to appease. Instead of their going over to the dojo, Genzai-sensei had been sending them over to the Akabeko where Tae-san or Tsubame would watch them. They were used to going over there for lunch the days that there wasn’t any time to cook and were familiar with all the workers there. They especially liked Tsubame. They said that she was nice and told them stories. She would also play with them when she had time. Megumi planned to go to thank both Tae and Tsubame for looking after the girls. It doesn’t seem like I’ll have the chance any time soon though… she thought ruefully, looking at the long line of patient waiting to be diagnosed.

*********

Kenshin was hanging up the laundry when he saw movement from the corner of his eye. It was Kaoru, practicing in a far corner in the yard hidden a by a huge tree. Should she be practicing? It hasn’t been even a week since she was assaulted and here she was, practicing what looked like a hard form. Actually, Kenshin had never seen that form before. He had seen Kaoru practice a couple of times on her own, simply because the difference in her style interested him, and he had seen her train Yahiko many times but, I am sure I have never seen that form before. Intrigued, Kenshin stopped what he was doing and moved forward a bit to get a better view. All he could make out from where he was that her movements were very slow, precise.

He was reminded of Aoshi’s water flow style. Not because it was slow like the water flow style, but because watching it, he felt the same quiet deadliness that he felt watching Aoshi’s technique. And yet, it was different. No good. The tree is in the way. He moved a little closer, but as he did, Kaoru finished and headed towards the bath house. Kenshin sighed, disappointed. If things were different, he could have just walked up to Kaoru and asked her about the technique. But Kaoru didn’t want anything to do with him. It was evident in everything she did. He remembered how she had come into the room and sat directly in front of Saitoh, without even a glance at him. He might as well not have been there. He wished she would say something to him. He tried getting her to talk with him but she just gave him a small smile without saying anything. But, her eyes were anything but smiling. They had a new wild look in them, a look full of fury. Unable to bear this change, he avoided her, as she avoided him. He would dream of how warm and concerned and caring Kaoru’s eyes always were and would wonder if somehow, other than her molestation, he was the cause of this sudden change. Above all, he kept thinking about Kaoru’s father. How long had Kaoru known that her father was a hitokiri? If she had known, why didn’t she ever say anything? There was one question that, the more he tried to ignore, the more he thought about it. It ran through his head over and over as he hung up the last of the laundry. Did he ever meet Kaoru’s father? And if he did, was it under violent circumstances? The possibility of that having happened scared him as much as the thought of losing Kaoru.

*********

Kaoru lowered herself in the tub slowly, cursing in her thoughts as the hot water came into contact with the whip burns on her skin. She looked away in disgust. Not all the hits she had taken had been hard enough to break the skin. The first couple of hits had been weaker than the rest and although they didn’t go through the skin and beyond like the others, they were swollen and plasma had gathered under them. The thin layer of outer skin covering the swollen areas was very tender and tore away easily and painfully. At least they got what they wanted. They’ll leave me alone for now. Taking a deep breath, she lowered the rest of herself in. Tears of pain streamed down her face and dripped into the tub. The water started to take a slight pink hue from the dried blood that was dissolving from her wounds. Some deeper gashes started bleeding slowly but steadily. Kaoru shut her eyes against the burning of the water. She tried to think of something distracting and one thought instantly came to mind. Thank god they didn’t see all the hits Since Megumi had only checked her ribs, she had only seen most of what was around them and nothing else. Thank god…nothing else… Those were her last thoughts before the pain took her over.

********

After lunch, and after Yahiko decided he had enough of Sano teasing him about Tsubame, who wasn’t at the Akabeko, the pair left. Due to their over full bellies, their pace was not nearly as brisk as before. They dragged satisfied to the dojo.

“So Yahiko, are you okay now? I though you were gonna cry out of disappointment when they told us that Tsubame was out with Tae.”

“SANO!!!” Sano grinned as he covered his ears from the eardrum shattering, bursting reply.

********

Kaoru woke up shivering an hour later. The water had become cold and she felt chilled to the bone. Shaking, she gingerly patted herself dry, careful not to brush the wounds. She then wrapped her ribs carefully, taking slow, shallow breaths. She thought back to the ultimatum Saitoh had given her. Having refused to tell him what he wanted to know, he threatened to take her in. She knew that there was only so much interference that Kenshin can take from Saitoh and that any more would start a deadly fight between the two. She offered him an alternative. The men who had attacked her had planned on capturing her. They had failed and will therefore try again. She will agree to act as bait provided that Saitoh doesn’t tell Kenshin anything about the matter. Hearing this, Saitoh smiled at her.

“So you are afraid of getting Battou-sai involved, because if he knew he wouldn’t agree to this.”

“There is no reason why he should get involved, it has nothing to do with him.” She had defended.

“I see. And did you decide that before or after he refused you?” Kaoru had been completely taken aback. He was there?! She had thought, turning red with rage and embarrassment. Seeing her reaction, he had grinned, dismissed the matter, and agreed to her proposal.

I have to leave soon. Each day she was here, she was risking an attack on the dojo. I must leave tonight. She changed into the fresh Kimono she had brought with her, and hastily combed through her hair. Saitoh’s words echoed in her mind.

“What about Battousai?” What about Kenshin? What will I tell him? He can’t find out about this or he will try to stop me. And if he tries, I will probably give in. She imagined Kenshin, using earnest words and a worried voice to convince her not to do this. If he did try and stop her then no matter how much she tried, she won’t be able to ignore him. He had that effect on people. He had that effect on her. Her brow furrowed at the thought and her expression hardened. I won’t put myself in a situation I know I can’t control. I’ll leave without telling him. Coming to her decision had been hard. Now that she had agreed on what she would do, she should have felt better. But now, she just felt empty. She brushed through her hair so hard it threatened to tear off her scalp.

Megumi could hear Genzai-sensei talk gently to Tsubame in the other room. This was the third time in the last week. She never knew what Tsubame’s ailment was and although she meant to ask the doctor about it, she kept forgetting because of everything else that was happening. Now that the other patients finally left, she seized the opportunity and went over to Tae who was waiting outside the door.

“Tae-san, I nothat this is the third time Tsubamecame here this week. What is the matter? Is she sick?”

“Not exactly Megumi. I don’t know what is wrong with her. Several days ago, I sent her home early while I closed the restaurant.” She stopped here and sighed regretfully. “I really wish I hadn’t but there were two drunken guys fighting and I didn’t want Tsubame-chan to be there in case they became violent. Anyway, when I got home, she wasn’t there. I waited for a while, then when she didn’t show up, I went to look for her with some of my workers. We looked for her until almost dawn when I decided to go back home in case she had returned. I found her there, propped up on the doorstep fast asleep.”

“Where was she?” Megumi asked in wonder. The older woman shook her head fretfully.

“I have no idea, and neither does she. She doesn’t remember anything. That’s why I keep bringing her here. But, Genzai-sensei says that, from his experience, if she doesn’t remember soon, then it isn’t likely she ever will. It is so strange.”

That is strange. Megumi thought. Why is it that girls are disappearing one day and returning the next? Except, Kaoru was missing longer than Tsubame-chan…she was also hurt…

“Tae-san, was Tsubame hurt at all?”

“No,” she answered, surprised. “Why do you ask?”

“No reason...” at that moment, the door opened. Tsubame walked out, looking very upset and frustrated. Genzai followed, shaking his head.

“Nothing. I couldn’t help her remember anything. It seems that we may never find out. My advice is, try and forget that it ever happened. Maybe when her mind is relaxed the memories will come back on their own free will.”

Maybe… Megumi still couldn’t shake the feeling that Tsubame’s incident, her amnesia, she somehow felt that it was connected with Kaoru’s assault. She just wished she could support this feeling, otherwise, there was no reason to even consider the possibility.

*********

Kenshin had started getting worried an hour ago when Kaoru still didn’t come out of the bathhouse. Now, he felt sick to his stomach with anxiety. First, he sat down in the yard waiting for her. Then he decided to make himself useful and started sweeping. Finally, he just paced around. Now, he decided that enough was enough. He didn’t care if Kaoru was avoiding him or if she didn’t ever speak to him. He was gong in there to check up on her. He walked up the steps and knocked the door. She didn’t answer. Fearing the worst, he barged right in.

 

 

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