"Kenshin?" the youth said lightly biting into a rice ball, and then making a
face. "Youād think Kaoru woulda gotten better at this by now."
"Yes, Yahiko?" Kenshin said, an eyebrow raised. He placed the white linens
on the line to dry, smiling in satisfaction. "Nice and clean."
"Nice and clean!" Suzume agreed, and her smaller sister echoed in compliance,
both girls throwing their hands up in the air.
Yahiko shrugged, throwing the rice ball to the ground. "Maybe itāll be good
to poison rats or something."
"I can hear you, you little gaki!" Kaoruās voice rose over the slight din of
the two little girls playing. And Yahiko winced. "I just sent you to fetch
Kenshin for me, but you canāt even do that right!" The slender woman stormed
after the ex-thief, wielding her bokken above her head as if she was going to
kill the boy.
Yahiko only laughed, and ran. "Stupid ugly girl couldnāt hit a tree with
Kaoru ran after him, but paused when she saw Kenshin, the beaming grin
forming on her face. "Ohh, Kenshin, there you are," she said sweetly.
"Listen, Iām ... Iām worried. First of all, Sano didnāt ask to borrow
money from me, or attempt to take any of my food with him."
"And that worries you?" Kenshin said, his eyebrow raised.
Kaoru paused. "Well, it just isnāt like that freeloading baka!" She pursed
her lips slightly. "Look, Kenshin, itāll just take a minute to find out
whatās wrong with him. You will go and check on him, wonāt you?" The way
Kaoru said it was very nearly a threat, but not quite. She doubted she could
threaten Kenshin and not get laughed off the block. It would be like
But the ex-Hitokiri paused, meeting her eyes. "If it means that much to
you," he said with his usual smile. "Though I would think that him not
asking you for money would be a good thing, that I would, Miss Kaoru."
"That and not even HEāD want to eat your food!" Yahiko shouted from behind a
tree, and then vanished.
Kaoru rolled up her sleeves in fury. "Yahi KO!!!"
The aroma of freshly made spring rolls touched his nostrils, along with the
beef stew the Akabeko was famous for. The usual flicker of a smile touched
his lips, and linen-wrapped fingers brushed through his spiky brown hair.
His head twisted, almost like a roosterās as he sat down in his usual
spot, cross-legged. None of his buddies from gambling night were there,
which was good. he still owed them for his losses from the previous night.
As the slender waitress made her way over to the table, her kind smile
greeting him, he returned the sentiment. "Hey Tae," he said with a light
grin. "Couldja get me some rice? Iām starving here."
"Only if you pay for it this time," she said sweetly, their light bit of
flirtation commonplace by now. "But you donāt look so good. Maybe you
should see Megum..."
"No," he said roughly. "Iām fine, really. Just havenāt been sleeping well
is all. Donāt wanna bother the fox-lady about anything thatās not her
"Well, I just noticed," Tae grumbled slightly, and moved to get his rice,
despite the fact that she knew he wouldnāt pay for it. An ex-fighter for
hire didnāt tend to have money just laying around. And besides, Kenshinād
broke his Zanbatou anyway, so what did it matter? He almost missed that big
chunk of metal; at least it was something to threaten with - other than his
Tae sat his food in front of him gracefully, and she gave him a kind smile,
as if she ... as if she felt bad for him. He dutifully ignored it, and
quickly devoured his rice, careful to wipe any remaining food off of his face
with the back of his hand. "Can I have sāmore?" he mumbled, almost tossing
the empty bowl to the side.
"Sure. On the house, Sano," she said, her clever little smile saying more
than her voice ever could.
"Without raising the tip?" he said, his eyebrow moving up a notch.
"Of course," she said, beaming. And then her expression changed rather
quickly. "Ohh, I just remembered! Someone was asking for you earlier.
Someone who said he knew you in the past."
"Oh?" Sano said, his eyes flicking up to meet Taeās. "Really. I donāt know
anyone around here cāept Tsunan."
"He left you a note," Tae said with innocent sweetness, and handed him a
piece of paper. Sano frowned, and read the cryptic words: Please join me for
a drink later. I know you wonāt be able to refuse - your friend wasnāt.
"Thatās funny," Sano mumbled, "I donāt know ... any..." he slowly turned
over the paper, and he recognized the caricature drawn there, of Captain
Sagara, and both he and Tsunan drawn as boys. Tsunan had drawn this, but the
corner had been ripped out - the one with Tsunanās picture. And Sanoās eyes
widened, as he slowly realized what it meant.
He leapt to his feet, and threw the small bowl of rice to the table. "Sorry
Tae, clean it up later, Iāve gotta go," he said quickly, and raced out the
He just hoped heād get there in time.