"Together on Tanabata" ~ Part 2

Kenshin woke up the next morning and went to splash some water in his face. The sun was up and it looked like it was going to be clear all day. ‘Perfect for Tanabata…’ he thought, stretching. He paused to notice that Kaoru was already up, dressed in her dojo clothes, hauling a bag of dirty clothes, “Ohayou Kaoru-dono… you’re awake early this morning.”

“Ohayou, Kenshin! Just wanted to get some work done.” she said, going to the well and pulling up a bucket, then going to fill the laundry basin. Wiping away some sweat, she knelt down and opened the bag, “There’s some breakfast made if you want some…”

“Eto… the laundry is my responsibility.” he uttered as she tied her sleeves back, “You don’t have to…”

“Mou, who said anything about it being your job. I felt like doing it so…”

“Demo, Kaoru-dono…!”

“Why don’t you go eat breakfast already?!” she sneered at him.

“Hai de gozaru!!” he cried, running towards the kitchen.

Unbeknownst to them, there was a quartet of girls watching them from behind the trees. The black-haired girl with maroon eyes spoke first, “That guy… is that him…?”

“Himura Kenshin.” the girl in shrine clothes replied, “Alias Hitokiri Battousai. Fought in the Bakumatsu with the Ishin Shishi. Now carries a sakabatou, vowing never again to kill. He uses the technique Hiten Mitsurugi. He’s defeated many strong adversaries, including the Oniwabanshuu, Shishio Makoto, Yukishirou Enishi… and he used to be married, but his wife died some fifteen years ago.”

A short blonde girl glopped onto her arm. “Sugoi!! Shena-chan, your readings are always on the dot! And so accurate! So, what’s Himura-sama’s favorite color, his favorite food!? This is so fun~!”

“Someone give Stacey a muzzle.” Shena’s friend dressed in black muttered, “Her genki-ness is going to kill me.”

“Ne, Keiko-chan! You’re as moody as ever! Cheer up! It’s going to be a nice day!!” Stacey chimed.

Keiko rolled off one black glove. “Iya. The weather will take a turn for the worse, I’m sure of it. Don’t get your hopes up or anything.” She turned to their leader, the black-haired girl with maroon eyes, “So what about this guy? He isn’t the one we’re looking for.”

“I know…” she replied, “But I’ve always wanted to confront Himura.”

Stacey cried, “WOW! Are you going to fight him, oh brave leader?!”

The leader glared at her. “Don’t call me that…”

“I’ll cheer you on! GO KIMI-CHAN!!”

“Don’t call that either…”

Shena nudged at them. “Ne, let’s keep it down. We’ll get caught.” she whispered, “Let’s get out of here, before we actually do. It’s too early to start anything. Come on!”

By the time Kenshin came out of the kitchen, he saw that Yahiko was up. He dropped a pile of fly-infested laundry in front of Kaoru. “I figured I’d give ya some more, Busu. Have fun!”

She slowly picked up a brown sock, plugging her nose. Kenshin realized that she was also washing his load. “Ano… Kaoru-dono…” he uttered, walking up to her, “Is there something you want me to do? Since you’ve already started the laundry de gozaru.”

“Iie.” she replied, going back to scrubbing, her hands deep in the soapy water.

Kenshin swatted down and watched her. He felt there was something surely wrong, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to tell him. “Kaoru-dono,” he said softly, “Happy Tanabata.”

She lifted her head and turned towards him, staring at his cute smile, “A- Arigatou.” she replied, blushing.

“Megumi-dono said there’s a festival today…” he started.

Kaoru’s eyes fell. He was going to invite her along. He either felt obligated to or was absolutely oblivious when Megumi asked him out. Either way, this would make Megumi mad if she were to come. Somehow, the blame would fall all on her. She didn’t want Kenshin’s pity or the guilt. She gripped the shirt tightly, Kenshin’s words running right through her.

“Maa, so she said to meet her by 3 o’clock at the clinic.”

Yahiko walked over. “So you’ve got plans too, Kenshin?” he asked, with a slight grin, “Me and Tsubame are gonna go to the festival too! I asked her last week!” Kaoru flinched; Tsubame didn’t mention this at all to her, “Eheheh! Maybe when if it’s a clear night, we can watch the stars together on the roof or something.”

Kenshin smiled. “Watching the stars sounds like a lot of fun, na Kaoru-dono?”

She nodded quietly, concentrating on his happy face. He really had no idea what she was going through. He really couldn’t understand what she was going through. She felt the tears stinging in the back of her eyes. Before he could see her, she quickly lifted up a shirt to cover her face. “Aa… Masshirou!!”

Kenshin blinked at the cloth separating them. “ORO?”

Yahiko sighed, “I think she’s been watching you too long… the tanuki is having an identity crisis.”

“Yare yare, shessa hopes not de gozaru.” he uttered, lowering to the cloth to look into her face. It was a strained look, trying to smile. Despite the usual feeling, he thought, ‘Don’t change ever.’

* * *
Sanosuke stumbled out of the Akabeko, his hands in his pockets. “Kuso!! Stingy broard!” he grumbled, the place hadn’t even been open yet. He had asked Tae to lend him money, and as usual, she declined. Now strolling down the street, Sanosuke racked his brain on where to get some extra cash. “Yakuso!!”

“Ohayo Tori Atama!” a voice from behind stopped him. He turned and saw Megumi, bright and cheerful, despite the fact she just came from an early emergency that almost ended in tragedy. “Aren’t we up a bit early today??”

“It’s Tanabata.” he replied, gnawing on his fish bone, “Gotta get some money to spend for tonight. By the way, Fox, could you…”

“Abosolutely no!” she replied, holding her hand to his face, “I have to save up for the romantic evening I have planned for me and my Ken-san.”

“Oh?” he uttered, lifting his head, “How the hell did you pull this off??”

“Let’s just say I’m capable of doing anything.”

“I’ll believe that.” he muttered, “Sneaky vixen…” At this, she glared at him. He simply chuckled, “But you’re not the only one with a hot date for Tanabata. I met this interesting girl in the woods the other day. Strangely, she knew everything about me.”

Megumi crossed her arms, looking away. “Oh? Like I care. So, was this girl like totally desperate or something? I mean, why else would she ask someone like you out?”

“CH!! TEME!!” he growled, clenching his fists and waving them in the air.

“Ohohohoho!! Well, have a good time!” she said, turning to leave, “I know I will with Ken-san. Ohohohoho!!”

“Yeah, like f--king happy Tanabata to you too! Damn Fox!” he angrily yelled after her. He turned to leave, but ran right into a person, “TEME! Watch where ya going!!”

“S-Sumimasen!” the boy cried, bowing his head, “It’s just you appeared out of nowhere and…” He stopped and blinked at him, “Eto… did you happen to have seen this girl?” he asked, holding out a picture.

Sanosuke squinted at the sketch. “Nope! Haven’t seen her.”

“Sou na… “ the boy sighed, swatting down on the ground, tears pouring out, “I’ve been looking for her for already three days in a row… every since I got off the boat… oh, I’ll never find her!”

“Eheheh…” Sanosuke uttered nervously, as the wailing boy was attracting a crowd. “I hope ya find her… I’m getting the hell outta here! Ja!” He said, running off. ‘What a strange little kid…’

Meanwhile, two identical girls were watching the spectacle. “Ano… Nee-san, isn’t that??”

“Yeah! That’s him alright!” her sister gasped, “What’s he doing here?”

“I don’t know. Let’s head back to headquarters and tell Kimi.”

* * *
Sanosuke went back to his apartment and did something. He then came up with a great plan. Not much later, he arrived at the dojo, a cheerful smile on his face. “Is Jou-chan around? Gotta talk to her! Really important!!” he chimed, patting the nice big bottle of sake under his arm.

Kenshin sighed, “Sano, are you going to try to bribe her for money with the sake you won from that raffle three weeks ago?”

“Sure am! I’ve been saving this baby to bribe Jou-chan for something good since!” he laughed, “After all, we know how she’s such an alcoholic!”

“Oro… she’s not…”

All of a sudden, Yahiko popped up, walloping Sanosuke on the head with his bokken. “Oi! You can’t ask Kaoru for money! I was gonna do it!”

“Teme! Why’d you hit me for?!” Sanosuke yelled, grabbing Yahiko over by the collar, “And I thought you were working extra hours at the Akabeko!? Don’t you have money of your own?!”

“It’s not enough.” the boy sighed, “If I want to give Tsubame a good time, I’m just going to need a little bit more.” He then smacked Sanosuke again, “So that’s why you can’t ask Busu!!”

“Yakuso!! I got a hot date too you know!!! Jou-chan should give me all the money!!”

“Fat chance, Tori Atama!! I’m getting it all!”

Kenshin tried to break it up, but found that it was a bit out of hand, so he stepped aside and decided to let them settle it on their owns. However, where was Kaoru? He looked around, but she wasn’t by the laundry basin anymore, all the clothing washed and hung.

“Oro? Kaoru-dono! Doko de gozaru ka?!” He went and peered into the dojo. She was sipping her tea and facing the manuscript on the wall. “Kaoru-dono, there you are…” he said, going up to her, “Aren’t you going to get ready? Megumi-dono said about 3 o’clock de gozaru yo.”

“Hm? No, I’ll have to pass.” she said, rubbing her head and putting her cup down on the floor. “You see… I have lots of stuff to do today.”

“Stuff? What stuff de gozaru?”

“Oh, you know… organize the dojo records, test out the wood on the shinai and throw out the faulty ones, calculate my budget, clean my room…”

Kenshin held up his hands. “Maa maa. Sorry I asked de gozaru. Sounds like you’re really busy.” She nodded, going for her tea again. “Demo… It’s Tanabata.”

“So?” she muttered, “It’s the same as any other day. Its just people tend to want to go out and enjoy themselves on days like this, but not me! I’ve got better things to do!”

“Sou ka.” he noted, tapping his chin, then snapping his fingers, “Shessa will stay behind to help.”

“Eh?” she gasped, lifting her head, “Iie! You can’t!” she cried. He stopped and blinked at her. “Kenshin, you can’t just cancel on Megumi-san… she’s expecting you. If you don’t show up, she’ll be very upset.”

“Demo…” he sighed, “Shessa can’t leave you by yourself in the house.”

“Daijoubu!” she said with a smile, “I’ll be fine. Go on without me. You’ll have lots of fun.”

Kenshin’s frown slowly lifted when he saw that she was going to be all right. Still, he felt uneasy. She suddenly got up and walked towards him, taking his hand. “Oro? Kaoru-dono?”

She turned his palm over and took out her purse, pouring out some money. “Here, you’re going to need something to spend at the festival.”

“Demo…” he gasped as the hard cash in his hand, “Shessa can’t accept this!”

“Kenshin, please take it. I want you to enjoy Tanabata.” she uttered. He hesitated, nodded his head, finally putting the money away in his sleeve. “Yoshi!” she said, “I hope you have a great time!”

Just then, Yahiko and Sanosuke poked their heads into the dojo. “J-Jotto!! Could you lend me some cash?!” Kaoru simply poured out the remaining money onto the floor. The two guys dove down and started fighting over the smallest coin. Kaoru and Kenshin both sighed and left them behind.

* * *
In the woods, Keiko and Shena cleaned outside the Benten Shrine. All of a sudden, Stacey fell out of a tree above them and landed on Keiko. “Erk! Get the hell off me!” Keiko growled, throwing the girl aside and taking out her guns.

Stacey laughed and waved her hands, “Eheheh! Gomen, Keiko-chan! I was trying to hang up all the teruterubozu I made! I really want it to be nice tonight so we can see the stars!”

“When I’m done with you, you’ll see stars…”

Shena stepped in between them. “Ne, Kei, Stacey-chan apologized, so there isn’t any reason to get all upset.” She noted, patting the kid on the head, “Besides, now’s not the time to be waving those around in daylight. Someone might see you.” Keiko grumbled and put the revolvers back into her coat.

Stacey picked up the teruterubozu she had dropped. “I’m gonna go give this to Mi-chan!” she chimed, running into the shrine. Inside, she kicked off her shoes and smelled some burning incense. She sneezed. “Yuck, it stinks. Hey, Mi-chan!”

A girl with curly brown hair turned towards her, wearing a western suit and a long skirt. “Aa! Stacey-chan, how’s it going? Why do you have grass stains all over?”

“Hora!” she said, handing her the white paper ghost, “Happy Tanabata!”

“Arigatou, demo we should keep it down,” she uttered. Stacey gave her a blank stare. “Minako is seriously meditating.”

“Mina-chan?” Stacey looked over to the girl, kneeling in front of the statue, her eyes closed and hands folded. “…Serious?”

Kimi appeared behind them. “She’s been like that since last night. I wonder what’s up. It isn’t like her to go into these kind of strange spells of… seriousness. What do you think, Mikawa?”

The girl with curly hair shrugged. “I think it’s weird too. Maybe it’s because it’s Tanabata. You know how she is…” Stacey and Kimi both nodded, their eyes mere dots. “Well, someone has to get her to stop.”

Stacey gladly volunteered and ran over to the meditating girl. “Ne, Mina-chan,” she uttered, leaning towards her. “Mina-chan!! MINA-CHAN!!!!” MI NA CHA A AN!!!” The girl didn’t even flinch. “EH?!” Stacey then poked her on the shoulder. Minako fell over like a stone statue, Kimi and Mikawa running over as Stacey burst into tears, “I… I killed her!!!”

Kimi shook her head, “Matte – kitte kudesai.” They all stopped to hear snoring.

Mikawa laughed, “She’s asleep?”

Stacey wiped her eyes, “I’m so glad!” she sighed as Kimi and Mikawa dragged her out of the room.

Outside, the identical twins were talking with Keiko and Shena. Kimi crossed her arms, “What’s the report? Did you learn anything, Lili, Mimi?”

Lili yawned and tapped her sister on the shoulder. “Sure did, Kimi-san!” Mimi chimed, “It’s definitely happening tonight… at the festival. We have until 9 o’clock. Otherwise…”

Everyone became quiet and stared at the ground. Tension thick in the air. Lili suddenly said, “By the way, we also saw Yuri.”

Stacey lifted her head, “Honto?! You saw my brother!! You mean he’s back from England!?” she cried happily, grabbing onto Lili, “Did you talk to him? Did he say anything?!” Lili shook her head, prying away from the excited girl.

Kimi’s face was stern. “So Yuri’s back… Does she know…?”

Mikawa stared back towards the shrine. “No, I don’t think so. Should we tell her?” Everyone became quiet again.

Keiko tucked her hands into her pockets, “Maybe not. It’ll just become a distraction. We all know how she gets when she’s distracted. And we need her to be serious tonight.”

Shena shook her head. “Demo she deserves to know, don’t you think?” she uttered, “I mean, we’ve missed him too. It’s been four years since we all last saw each other…”

Stacey pouted, “Yeah! I want to see my brother too! Can’t we, Kimi-chan??” Kimi frowned at her title, and then patted her on the head, “DATTE!!”

“Gomen, Stac, we can’t. We have a mission.”

On to Part 3