"Whew!" Yahiko stretched and let out a breath. "What a day. My legs feel like rubber."

 "There sure were a lot of customers today," Tsubame agreed. "It's been like that lately."

 "You did a good job, both of you." Tae gave them both a smile. "Tsubame, will you do me a favor and please follow Yahiko to the dojo? I've packed a few leftovers for Kaoru but there are two bundles. I think you should stay the night, since it's getting dark."

 "OK, Tae-san." Tsubame nodded.

 "Good night, Tae-san." Yahiko shifted a bundle on his shoulder and marched out, Tsubame behind him.

 "Is there really a lady samurai at the dojo, Yahiko-kun?" Tsubame asked with wide eyes.

 "I don't know if she's a samurai, but she's a kenkaku at least," Yahiko shrugged. "I've never seen her fight, though, so I don't know."

 "Someone said her sword is too fast to see!" Tsubame told him.

 "Then it would have to be as fast as Kenshin's sword, and that's pretty impossible," Yahiko said with confidence.

 "Yes, that's-"


 Yahiko suddenly stopped and listened. In an alley nearby, two men were talking in low voices. He could've sworn he'd heard the words, "Kamia Dojo."

 "... were all defeated by Kamia Kaoru and that rurouni," one of them was mumbling.

 "Tonight," hissed the other. "Get everyone gathered tonight. And meet at the dojo by midnight."

 "It'll be a hot time in the old town tonight," snickered the first. Yahiko paled. So did Tsubame. "Yahiko-kun ..."

 "Tsubame, turn around and go - " he stopped. If she went alone ...

 "We don't have a choice. Hurry up, we have to get to the dojo quickly!"


 "Karen-san! Karen-san!"

 "hm?" Karen looked back to see Kaoru gasping for breath.

 "Karen-san, don't we, have to, report, the bodies?" Kaoru tried to speak normally.

 "Bodies?" Karen said vaguely. "Oh, those guys. Don't worry about it - their friends will take care of them. We have to get to the dojo as quick as possible."

 They will be nervous now that there has been an open attack. They might even try something big and put a complete end to this. What will they try, with someone like Himura at the dojo? I'm sure he's noticed something by this time.

 Half walking, half running, the two girls made it to the dojo in time to meet Yahiko and Tsubame coming the other way.

 "Hello, everyone. Did you have a good day?" Kenshin asked cheerfully.

 "...^^;" All four of them stared.

 "Oro?" Kenshin blinked. Yahiko spoke first.

 "This is no time to be saying 'oro'!" he scowled. "I heard some guys talking on our way here ... I couldn't hear very well, but they said something about Kaoru and a rurouni defeating someone, and to gather tonight in front of the dojo. And the last one said, 'It'll be a hot time in the old town tonight'. What does that mean? What's going on?"

 "That's what I'd like to ask." Sanosuke was leaning against the wooden doors. "Something's going on, and she has something to do with it. Don't you think it's about time we knew?" he glared at Karen.

 "I've been feeling something around us for awhile now, but it was too unclear to be sure of anything. And it still is. Karen-dono, do you know anything about this?" Kenshin looked at her.

 "I saw her last night talking with someone outside of the dojo," Sanosuke said accusingly. "Who was it, Karen-san? Did you hire the yakuza to burn us down? I have a feeling you know more about us than we know about you."

 "Stop it, Sano!" Kaoru suddenly found her voice. "Karen-san ... Karen-san saved my life today! I trust her. Everyone has a past they don't like to talk about. Don't you?"

 "That's all right Kaoru-san." Karen was as cool as ice. "I'm used to such accusations. But I wish you would save such words until the morning. If Yahiko-kun heard aright, the dojo will be set on fire around midnight tonight. We must hurry if we are to stop it."

 "Karen-dono is right," Kenshin drew his eyebrows together as he spoke. "We must set up a plan ..."

 "I already have one," Karen twirled a stick in her fingers and scratched a line in the dirt. "But to follow it, you must trust me. Absolutely. In the case I am with the enemy, this plan will give me the perfect chance to do away with all of you." Her face was expressionless. "And if I am the enemy, believe me, I will do so without thinking twice."

 "..." Everyone was silent. Kaoru met Kenshin's eyes. Kenshin looked straight at her, and she could almost hear him.
You trusted a rurouni you knew nothing about once ... a rurouni who had a past drenched in blood.

 ...Can I do it again?

 Without hesitation, Kaoru put her hand over Karen's. "Karen-san... Kenshin was a rurouni once. He had a past stained with the blood of others. But he saved me, and he helped me stand up again when I was down. So I trusted him. I don't know anything about you, Karen-san. We've only known each other for two days. But you risked your life for me today."

 "That doesn't mean it is safe for you to trust me," Karen shrugged.

 "I know," Kaoru nodded. "But your eyes ... your eyes are like Kenshin's ..." She blushed a little.

 Kenshin and Karen both looked surprised. Then Kenshin smiled and turned to Karen. "Karen-dono, if you were our enemy, you would've done everything you could to make us trust you. But you aren't. You're pushing us away. You are not our enemy, Karen-dono. You are our friend."

 "I have no idea what the hell you guys are talking about," Yahiko cut in. "But if Kenshin and Kaoru trust you, Karen-san, then so do I." Tsubame timidly nodded her head behind him. Kenshin glanced at Sanosuke.

 "Hmph! You guys sure are turning me into a big bad wolf," Sanosuke shook his head. "All right! I guess I'll be an idiot like you guys and trust this lady."

 Karen's eyes widened as the group smiled at her. She bent her head for a second, and her hair covered her face. "... Thank you, everyone." Then she looked up and briefly smiled. "Thank you. Now, listen carefully ..."