It was a lazy summer afternoon in Tokyo, and the Akabeko was as busy as ever. People talked loudly as they ate and shouted for more. Tsubame and Yahiko were out of breath running to and fro, taking orders and serving tables and listening to impatient customers yell complaints.
 "Come in!" Tae cheerfully greeted her next customers. "Hello everyone!"
  Kaoru, Kenshin and Sanosuke greeted her. "Konichiwa, Tae-san! You sure do look busy today," Kaoru commented as they took their seats.

  "As you can see," Tae smiled. "Wait a few minutes, and I'll get Tsubame to wait on you."

  "Take your time, Tae-san," Kenshin reassured her. "We can wait."

  "We can?" Sanosuke talked around the piece of grass he was chewing on. "I can't."

  "Keep your mouth shut, Sano, especially if you're not paying for this," Kaoru said pointedly.

  "...^^; All right, all right," Sanosuke waved his hands in defeat. Kenshin smiled.

 "Have you heard?" Tae's voice took on a lower tone as she served them water. The groups had to lean forward to hear her. "Someone is trying to buy up half of the land around here."

 Kaoru nearly spit out the water she was drinking. "Who?"

 "I don't know. It's just a rumor." Tae shook her head. "A college professor who comes here every now and then told me that land rates have rose around here, and foreigners especially are eager to buy a piece of it."

 "They're not getting one bit from me!" Kaoru scowled fiercely.

 "Is the government protecting the rights of the citizens?" Kenshin asked.

 Tae shrugged. "Some people say they're encouraging the foreigners."

 "Dirty dogs," was Sanosuke's comment.

 "Welcome!" Tae called out as another person entered. Kaoru glanced up, then blinked. "Kenshin, look!"

 "Mm?" Kenshin turned. So did Sanosuke. So did everyone in the room. For a split second there was a lull as a girl who looked a little older than Kaoru walked in. Her black hair was pinned up, framing her oval face that was slightly tanned but nevertheless quite attractive. Her sapphire eyes were lowered as if to hide something. She wore a dark red kimono, and carried herself gracefully as she sat down at an empty table.

 The noise started up again, but it was now a murmur. Kaoru cast a glance over her shoulder. "Who is she?"

 "I don't know, but she sure is pretty," Sanosuke drawled. "Now that's what I call a girl. Unlike some people around here..."

 "What is that supposed to mean, Sano?" Kaoru demanded.

 Kenshin, oblivious to Kaoru's and Sano's bickering, was observing the girl through thoughtfully narrowed eyes. " ..."

 "Just some sake, please," the girl requested.

 "Whew ~" Sano whistled. "Sake ... in the middle of the day. What a woman."

 "Will you cut it out!" Kaoru snapped.

 "Hey lady!" a gruff voice made them turn. "Wanna join us?"

 Standing over the girl was a burly man, leering at her, as she calmly looked him over. When she spoke, her voice was low and melodious. "I am not a geisha, but if you ask politely, I will condescend to pour you and your friends' drinks."

  "...!" Kaoru was holding her breath as she watched. The burly man laughed in the girl's face.

  "You should be
honored that a man has asked you to join him!" he bellowed. The girl's eyes flashed dangerously.

  "If you please, I would like to be left alone," she said quietly.

  "You bitch!!!" The man raised his hand to slap her. Kaoru tensed, and Kenshin and Sanosuke half stood. But the girl was fast. She jerked back as the meaty hand came crashing down on the table, shattering a vase.

  "This is a public place," she stood up. "Please do not disturb the meals of others."
  " ..!!!" The man pulled out a sword. "
I'm going to teach you some manners!!"

  "Outside, then." The girl smiled sweetly and vanished through the door. The man lunged after her.

   "Let's go!" Kaoru was on her feet, Kenshin and Sanosuke right behind her. Behind them followed a group of curious customers who had lost their appetite.

  The girl was standing underneath a tree, where she had left a small bag ... and a katana. Everyone gasped as she unsheathed it and took a fighting stance.

  "Ha! You think you can fight me? ME?!" the man snarled, surrounded by his gang. "Get her!"

  "You cheats!!" Kaoru shouted as they attacked. "Ten against one..!!"

   Kenshin was already in the air, and so was Sanosuke. But Kaoru hardly saw them. Her eyes were fixed on the girl. One moment she was there, the next she couldn't be seen as she whipped through the men like lightening. The girl calmly sheathed her sword as Kenshin and Sanosuke made short work of the rest. Which, to be sure, wasn't much.

  "Arigato," she bowed to them. Then she walked over to Tae.
  "I apologize for the disturbance." She pressed some money into her hand.

 "Wait, there's no need for -" Tae started to protest, but the girl smiled and bowed and started to walk away.
 "Wait!" Kaoru ran and caught her sleeve. "Where are you from? Do you live around here?"

 " ... Kamia ..?" she said suddenly, studying her. "Kamia Kaoru?"

 "...!" Kaoru started. "Yes, that's me. How do you..?"

 "I've heard about you." She bowed. "My name is Karen. Fujita Karen."

 Kaoru returned the bow, then turned to Kenshin and Sanosuke. "Karen-san, this is Himura -"

 " - Kenshin and Sagara Sanosuke." Karen greeted them. They bowed back.

 "That is quite some skill you have there," Sanosuke commented. Karen shrugged and smiled. "Arigato."

 "Are you visiting Tokyo?" Kenshin asked.

 " ... I'm a rurouni, so I don't think you could call it a visit." Karen lifted her small bag and laughed. "But I think I should move on... tarrying any longer in this neighborhood does not seem very wise after this afternoon...."

 "Would you ... would you like to stay at our dojo?" Kaoru said impulsively. "Just for awhile?"

 "Yeah, and cook while you stay!" Sanosuke added. Kaoru glared at him.

 "Well .... If it wouldn't be too much trouble to you .." Karen, for some reason, looked a little bit embarrassed. But Kaoru took her arm warmly.

 "Of course not!" she smiled. "Come, this way."