"Karen!" Kenshin's voice could be heard in the hall. Karen and Saitou parted their lips and casually stood apart as Kenshin and the others burst in.

 "Aw, the fun's all over?" Sanosuke sounded disappointed.

 "In more ways than one," Saitou muttered under his breath. Karen glared at him sharply.

 Kenshin's eyes riveted to the wardrobe. The doors were hanging open and broken. He nodded shortly. "That's what I thought."

 "It took awhile, didn't it? You're growing soft, Battousai," Saitou took out yet another cigarette and shot a glance at Karen as if daring her to slap it away again. Karen shrugged. "Everything's over, at least, and now we have proof of who's behind this."

 Just then a soldier walked in. He gaped at the mess and the bodies. "What is it?" Saitou said lazily.

 "Uh, sir, that is, uh, Lord Malberry is here to see Officer Yamagata. . ."

 "Show him in," he nodded.

 "Uh, sir . . ."

 Saitou tossed a glance at the soldier. "Any questions, soldier?"

 "No sir!" the young man saluted and quickly went out.

 "What are you thinking of?" Karen hissed. "You want him to see all this?"

 "His timing is perfect," Kenshin remarked. "Right at the time Yamagata-san should be lying in his office, dead."

 Kaoru shivered. "I thought he was a man with no greed for our land."

 "He didn't drool over it, but looks are deceiving." Karen fell silent as a stout man escorted by Smith walked in. His eyes widened at the mess. Behind him, Smith also gaped.

 "What is the meaning of this! Where's Officer Yamagata?" Malberry demanded in English.

 "Safe, unfortunately," Saitou took a drag.

 "We know all about it, Lord Malberry," Karen replied in the same language. "You may as well give up and return to your own country before the police find out. Especially about this." She waved a hand at the wardrobe.

 "What are you talking about, young lady! I -"

 He suddenly stopped in mid-sentence. His eyes bulged, and his mouth opened once or twice. Then he fell forward.

 ". . .!!!!!" Everyone stared at the body lying in a pool of blood.

 And at Smith holding a blood-covered dagger behind him.

 ". . .You?!" Karen found her voice. "You were the one who. . .?"

 Smith sighed and looked at Malberry sadly. "Such an idiot. I didn't know it would come to this." With ease he pulled out a gun and aimed it at the group.

 "You can't kill us all, Smith." Saitou was still puffing away at his cigarette, although his eyes were wary. "And even if you do, everyone will know."

 "Will they?" Smith grinned. "Believe me, I'm not stupid."

 "No, you're a moron," Karen retorted. "There are three people in here with swords, and all three are fast enough to stop you."

 "Ah, but I know something you don't know," Smith shook his head. "And I only need to kill one of you. I don't have any bullets to waste. But you'll all die anyhow."

 Smith very smoothly moved the gun towards Saitou, aimed it, and fired. The movements were so smooth and so fast that no one could move until it was too late.

 The sickening sound of metal ripping into flesh reached Kaoru's ears, and she widened her eyes in horror as she looked Saitou's way. Kenshin stared, his face white, while Sanosuke passed his hand over his eyes as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Yahiko stood, his mouth half open in shock. Karen looked into Saitou's eyes and smiled. "You dropped your cigarette, you fool."

 Saitou caught her as she fell.

 Karen's long blue-black hair tumbled and fell past her waist, and behind the silky curtain her pale kimono was dyed a dark red, slowly spreading over her back, seeping through Saitou's hands and dripping silently onto the carpet. Her eyes fluttered, then closed.

 Smith seemed annoyed. "I said you're all going to die anyway, so why mess up a perfect plan?" He shot several shots into the wardrobe.


 Kaoru found herself thrown against the opposite wall by the explosion. Sanosuke and Kenshin were both dazed on the ground, while Yahiko had been knocked senseless. Obviously the wardrobe had been rigged with some sort of explosives. Saitou was kneeling, his body shielding Karen from the wardrobe, which had burst into flame.

 "So long, and have a nice day," Smith said genially as he started to shut the door.

 In a heartbeat Kenshin had drawn his sakabatou and stood up. With a cry he leapt and thrust his blade so the door wouldn't close. He hacked the door in two, and without a pause turned to Smith and slammed his sheath into his face. Smith barely had time to look surprised before he was on the ground, his face covered in blood. Kenshin's eyes were burning as he sheathed his blade.

 "We have to get out of here now!" he shouted. Sanosuke slung a protesting Yahiko over his shoulder and ran out, followed by Kaoru and Kenshin. Saitou scooped Karen in his arms and followed behind them. The walls of the room crumbled behind them.

 The building was full of screaming people trying to get out of building. Many were jumping out the windows. The small group fought their way through panicking people and falling pieces of plaster and made their way down the stairs. The next explosion threw them down the stairs, knocking into everyone in front of them and leaving them a tangle of bodies at the foot.

 "Damn you all!" Sanosuke shouted at the top of his lungs as he stumbled up with Yahiko under his arm. A stream of blood trickled down his face. "Kenshin! Saitou!"

 "Shut up," Saitou said shortly, holding Karen tightly as he kicked an unfortunate person blocking his way.

 "Go! Go!" Kenshin was helping Kaoru up. "Come on!"

 Again the friends started to race towards the entrance. Kaoru grit her teeth as tears jerked out of her eyes. She had felt pangs of jealousy ever since Karen had appeared at the dojo - the graceful, mature woman who had a tie with Kenshin that not even she could intrude on. The night she had found them outside together... and right after that Kenshin has started to call Karen by her name, She had been tortured by her feelings - her growing affection for the older woman, and her envy of what she had thought as romance between the two. Now, looking at Karen's still body, she almost wished her suspicions had been true. Karen didn't love Kenshin - not in the way Kaoru had feared, anyway. Karen-san, Karen-san . . . did you love him so much? Why? Why?!

 "Damn!" Sanosuke cursed as the ground started to shake. He staggered for a minute as another violent tremor shook the ground.

 "Kyaaa!!!" Kaoru screamed as the ceiling started to crumble. One large piece grazed her shoulder, and she looked up in fear as the entire second floor started to cave in.

 "Kaoru!!" Kenshin knocked her to the floor and covered her with his body, forgetting his usual -dono in the midst of turmoil.

 "Kenshin..!" Kaoru choked. Kenshin's hair was covering her face, and his rough breathing was hot on her ear. She grabbed his sleeve as she felt something hit her hard. Then all was nothingness . . .