Rurouni Kenshin Fan Fiction ❯ The Lost Hatchling ❯ Hatchlings ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The Lost Hatchling
(stand-alone sequel to Sapphire Scales)
A Rurouni Kenshin fanfic by Raberba girl

This fic is dedicated to NightingaleLost, for such enthusiastic encouragement and support. :)

A/N: Rated because some of the violence in chapter 2 involves young children.

Chapter 1 - Hatchlings

The little girl should have been dead, but she wasn't. Kenji stopped in his tracks when he saw why - he had made the last turn just in time to see her shake herself a little and fold a pair of dragon wings back into her skin. She was facing him, so he did not see any blood, though it was obvious that the back of her dress was in tatters.

"Suzume!" A second little girl ran up and hugged her anxiously. "Suzume, are you okay?"

"I'm all right, Neechan," the younger girl assured her, perfectly cheerfully.

Kenji slowly descended the last of the stairs, almost afraid of these deceptively normal-looking creatures. At the sound of his footsteps echoing in the deserted alley, the girls jumped and stared at him fearfully. Kenji stopped and swallowed. "Hi," he said in a voice that cracked.

They clutched each other, their eyes fixed on him, and said nothing. He did not like their expressions...he knew how it felt to be frightened like that.

He licked his dry lips and spoke again. "Does your back hurt much?"

"No," said the girl named Suzume in a small voice, looking a little puzzled.

She had to be lying. "Really? 'Cause mine does, when...when I try to do what you just did."

"I didn't do anything," she said in a shrill voice. "Go away!"

Kenji became very uncomfortable with the fact that he was the only person to have seen one of them fall off a roof. It made him feel somehow in charge of them. He was supposed to make sure they were okay, right? "Um...where are your parents?"

They did not answer, but the guilty looks on their faces said enough.

Kenji grinned, since he also knew what it was like to not do what he was told. "You want to stay with me for a while?"

"We're not supposed to go with strangers," the older girl said primly.

"Well, then I have to call your parents," Kenji challenged, trying to goad them into trusting him. Children with dragon wings were not safe on their own.

"396--" Suzume began to recite obediently, but then her older sister elbowed her. "Ow!"

"Don't tell him that, Suzume." The older girl looked warily at Kenji. "We can call them ourselves. Okay? Thank you." She bowed meaningfully, and Kenji shrugged.

"All right. Bye." He walked out of the alley and hid himself, watching for them to come out.

They never did. Instead, after a few minutes, he heard a blood-curdling scream - from above. Startled, Kenji stumbled out of his hiding place and looked up to find both girls falling toward him. Suzume's wings were spread as she followed her sister, calling after her hysterically. The older girl's wings were limp, and she was the one screaming - even as Kenji stared, her blood splattered over his face. He had only an instant to take in the scene; already his arms were coming up instinctively to catch her.

She was heavy, falling into his arms at that speed. Kenji crashed to the ground, twisting to keep her protected. He cried out as the impact jolted though his hip.

"Neechan!" Suzume cried as she landed and ran to them. "Neechan! Neechan! Neechan!" Her sister was still making the panicked, heart-rending shrieks of a child in pain.

Kenji felt almost too scared to breathe. He struggled to his feet, the injured girl clutched in his arms so that he was unable to grab Suzume's hand like he wanted to. "Come on," he croaked at her, and they ran.

They ran because, as Kenji had looked up to see the winged girl falling at him, he had glimpsed the face of the man who had cut her: gaunt-featured, with neatly tied back hair and a predatory grin beneath a decorated silk blindfold.

'They've come for me, just like I knew they would,' a voice whispered in Kenji's mind. 'Megumi...you did your best. I probably should have told you more. My fault. It's always my fault. I wish I had the chance to say good-bye.'

It hurt to run, his bruised hip throbbed every time his foot hit the ground. They were not going to get far at his limping pace. "Please," Suzume begged, clinging to his shirt-tail. "Please, Niisan, please help my sister."

The injured girl was clinging to him also, staring up at him, her eyes huge and wet with terror and pain.

"I--" he stammered, "I don't--"

People had been staring at the frantic high schooler, limping along with a bleeding child in his arms and another wailing at his heels, but now this was worse. Men in strange clothing were stepping out of the crowd, their expressions neither amazed, suspicious, nor concerned. They were grinning knowingly. Their eyes were strange, the irises looking like fractured glass. It was the same as the girls' eyes - and as the eyes Kenji saw every time he looked into a mirror.

Dragons.

"And we thought we'd scored big with the little girls," one of the men drawled. Both his startlingly blonde hair and his clothes were designed to imitate flame. Grinning, he raised a finger and traced an X in the air. "Slash up the kid's face and he'd look a mighty lot like someone we know, eh?"

"Get away from us," Kenji snarled. A chorus of laughter rose up from his antagonists.

"Look at those eyes, would ya?"

"Blue to gold, just like Battousai...."

"Heheh, it's him all right."

All the passersby had prudently moved to the other side of the street. Some of them were anxiously watching with cell phones glued to their ears, but Kenji knew that any help from that quarter would not arrive in time - it might not even be enough.

Growling, Kenji shifted the child so that he supported her with only one arm, which freed his other hand to flick out the pocket knife that Megumi would kill him for having if she ever found out. Rather to his dismay, the men burst into jeering laughter. "Look at the little sword, just like his old man's!"

"No, haha, he forgot to reverse the blade!" For some reason they seemed genuinely amused by this, though no less dangerous.

Both girls were sobbing now, and Kenji was not sure he would have been able to pry away their terrified fingers even if he tried. 'What am I gonna do what am I gonna do what am I--'

He had been awkwardly circling, trying and failing to keep them all in his sight at once, and now one of them struck from behind. The pain was sharp but small; Kenji stumbled to face his attacker and found himself snarling like an animal.

The man grinned and lowered the strange-looking gun he had apparently just fired. "That should hold you 'til we get you to Shishio-sama, kid."

Kenji unleashed a hoarse shout and flung the knife. He had been practicing, but even he was surprised when the blade thudded into his enemy's chest with a sick slurching sound. The man's mouth dropped open - then contorted with fury. Kenji only had time to turn his body aside to protect the child he was holding. Pain tore through his shoulder, and he yelled as he felt something like sharp spines piercing deep into his flesh.

The flame-haired man cursed and strode up to them. Kenji, barely able to move his arms because of the girl in one and the pain in the other, shouted at Suzume to run. Instead she sobbed and clung to his leg as if she would die if she let go of him.

"Get off him, fool!" The flame-haired man moved to strike. Kenji flinched, and his hand convulsed painfully in a failed attempt to protect himself, but the blow from the sword-hilt landed instead on the creature savaging his shoulder. The man - if it even was a man anymore; Kenji was afraid to look - fell back with a cry of pain, and Kenji stumbled to his knees. A sudden dark fatigue was blotting out his thoughts, so that all he was aware of for a second was his desperation to protect the girls and the pain in his injured shoulder.

"N...Niisan...." Her desperate whisper stabbed through his heart.

'They're counting on me, I can NOT give in,' he told himself savagely, and forced himself to his feet again despite the strong sleepiness dragging down at him. If he gave in to it, he would be caught again. If he gave in, the girls would suffer....

"You've damaged him, moron," the flame-haired man was growling. "How're you gonna explain that to Shishio-sama, eh? Just leave 'im alone, the tranquilizer will take him down in a few...." His voice trailed off as he saw Kenji, glaring fiercely, clutching the terrified girls, swaying a little but on his feet despite it all. "Hit him with another one," the flame-haired man ordered tonelessly.

Sirens had begun to wail in the distance, but the car that swerved up in that moment was only a little civilian vehicle. Kenji blinked hazily as the car screeched to a stop, and watched the flame-haired man slam into a nearby brick wall. He had never seen anyone get hit by a car before. It wasn't as bloody as he would have expected.

The sound of gunshots tore the air and Kenji ducked, pulling the children under his body without even pausing to think. Then he had to work very hard to stay crouched protectively over them, rather than keeling over on top of them.

"Kenji-san." The voice was female, calm and commanding.

He looked up in confusion. Lifting his head was difficult...heavy.

"Please get into the car, before Sawagejô-san revives."

"Tomoe-nee!" both girls were shrieking in frantic relief. Their piercing voices hurt.

Kenji dragged himself to his feet and fumbled at the back passenger door, grateful that Suzume had already tugged open the front one and was scrambling inside. He caught a glimpse of the driver who had spoken through the rolled-down window. She had long dark hair and the most frighteningly breathtaking face he had ever seen. She was calmly reaching over to help the child inside even as her other hand on the steering wheel still held a gun.

No time to think about that now. He could hear angry groans behind him - at least some of the dragons were still alive. Kenji set the girl as gently as he could on the far seat, wondering vaguely if the mysterious beauty would mind all the blood that was already staining her car. Then he dragged himself inside and collapsed, too groggy and hurt to remember to close the door after him.

The car peeled off anyway, and the last thing he heard before he allowed himself to lose consciousness was Suzume's tearful, shaky voice. "Tomoe-nee, I'm so sorry, we came to find you but we didn't tell Mommy and Daddy, and Neechan got hurt, and that big boy got hurt, and I'm sorry, please don't tell Mommy and Daddy, please can you fix it before Mommy and Daddy find out, I'm so sorry--"

"Hush, child." The comforting murmur bathed Kenji's ears, as if releasing him to sleep. "Hush. It will be all right."

o.o.o.o.o

The first thing Kenji was aware of when he woke was that his mouth tasted really gross. Swallowing painfully, he cracked his eyes open and found himself lying on a bed in a dark room. It was neat but sparsely furnished, though a vase of flowers sat on a table in one corner and there was a small mirror hanging on the wall.

Blinking eyes that felt gritty, he moved his head and saw that a bottle of water had been placed invitingly on the bedside table. The seal had already been broken, as if whoever had left it for him had known that he would be too weak to open it himself. Even so, he was wary of drinking the water. He knew only too well what sort of things it could have been spiked with. 'How did you know my name, 'Sis'?' he thought suspiciously at the mysterious beauty.

He swallowed again. His throat felt clogged, but he could live with that. The alternatives could be so much worse...though most of those scenarios involved him being naked and strapped to a brightly-lit operating table, rather than resting in someone's guest bedroom.

The door creaked open, and Kenji silently cursed himself. He should have gotten up while he had the chance, tested the door to see if it was locked, find out if the window would open and how far it was from the ground, looked for hiding places. Too late now. The best thing to do was feign sleep.

He did so, his sense of hearing fully focused on the soft footsteps approaching his bed. They came near and stopped, and he trembled as he sensed whoever it was watching him closely. He wondered if he dared slit his eyes open to look.

Before he could decide, a tiny, anxious whisper came out of the darkness. "Niisan?"

Kenji gasped and opened his eyes, completely not expecting that this visitor was one of the children. Similarly startled, Suzume gasped and backed away. "N-Niisan? You're awake?"

He bit back the automatic response, 'Well of course I am, don't you have eyes?' "Yeah." Wincing, he dragged himself upright, doing his best not to move his bandaged shoulder. "How's...um, how's your sister?" he asked uncomfortably, unable to shake the idea that it was somehow his fault she had gotten hurt, that he had failed them.

"Her leg hurts," the girl said dolefully, "but she says she's okay." Her eyes glimmered strangely in the light from a street lamp outside. Kenji was horrified to realize that she was about to cry. "Niisan...are you okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," he said quickly, and reached to give her an awkward pat on the head. "Someone patched me up, so I'm good now."

To his consternation, she suddenly flung her arms around him and burst into tears. "Tomoe-nee says you really are our big brother, for real," she sobbed, or at least that's what it sounded like; her words were difficult to make out. "Niisan, there was so much blood, and then you wouldn't wake up...."

"I'm okay. Really," he tried to assure her, his face burning. "Don't cry, okay?" ''Cause it's freaking me out.'

She sniffed and nodded, pulling away a little to look intently at what she could see of his face. He managed to smile, then gingerly swung himself off the bed and stepped uncertainly toward the half-open doorway. There was light outside, and he could hear the lady's soft voice murmuring to someone.

"Tomoe-nee made cookies," Suzume said with a wobbly little smile. "Do you want some too, Niisan?"

"Sure," he muttered. "Um...hey...could you maybe not call me that?"

Her brow furrowed in confusion. "Huh?"

"'Niisan,'" he repeated uncomfortably. "I don't really like it. Just call me Kenji, okay?"

"Okay, Ken-nii," she agreed uncertainly.

He rolled his eyes, but decided not to press the issue. He approached the door cautiously, peeking around it to see what was outside. There was a warmly-lit kitchen, where the Tomoe lady was pacing slowly, talking into a cordless phone. Further on was a living room, where he could see the back of Suzume's sister's head as she lay and watched TV.

"...Kenshin-san, please calm down. I have treated the injury, and it should heal well; it might not even leave a scar. She is watching television now, and you have just spoken to her, so you know she is fine. Suzume-chan is perfectly all right, just a little shaken. It is nothing she will not recover from once she is back home."

Tomoe paused, then said, "Kenshin-san...you are bringing Kaoru-san with you, right? ... I know, I was simply making sure. Kenshin-san, both of you need to be prepared." She turned her eyes to Kenji and watched him as she continued speaking. "There is something else important that you need to know, but I do not wish to tell you over the phone. Please understand that your two daughters are not the only ones you should be thinking about. I will see you soon."

Still gazing at Kenji, she lowered the phone and ended the call without waiting for a response from the person on the other end. It startled Kenji when she addressed him directly. "How do you feel, Kenji-san?"

"Fine," he said guardedly. "Who are you?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Suzume glance up at him in puzzlement at the note of hostility in his voice.

"I am Kiyosato Tomoe," she told him calmly. She picked up a plate of cookies and held it out to him. "Would you like one?"

Kenji opened his mouth to vehemently decline, despite his aching stomach, but then he remembered that Suzume was watching him anxiously. Finally he swallowed. "How do you know me?"

Still looking at him, Tomoe took a cookie for herself and set the plate back down, taking a small bite as she studied him thoughtfully. "I suppose we never did meet properly, did we. I did not learn who you were and what you had suffered until it was too late to help you." She nodded a little when she saw his eyes narrow. "You are fourteen years old now. Tell me, Kenji-san - how much do you remember from before you came into the care of Takani Megumi-san?"

Kenji felt his teeth grinding together. "You...you leave Megumi alone, you hear me?"

"Takani-san is as safe as she can be under the circumstances," Tomoe assured him, though he was not convinced. "Whatever danger might come to her, I assume she is more prepared for it than you are. It depends on how much you know of the Dragon Project."

Kenji closed his eyes, repressing a shudder. For so long he had pretended that that name meant nothing to him, that everything from before his rescue had become a blank in his mind. He had not told even Megumi the truth about the nightmares that he knew were really memories.

"Takani Kenji, do you honestly expect me to believe that you woke up screaming because you thought I had forced you to go to school in a pink dress?"

"Pink is
evil, Megumi! So are dresses! All of them should be burned - though with the girls taken out of them first. Hey, I had a dream about that, too; you wanna hear?"

"Nice try, Kenji."

He asked tightly, "Why are they after me? I...I know they had me before...but I can't - remember what I did...."

Startled, he moved back nervously when Tomoe approached him, but her hands were gentle when they cupped his face. "Kenji-san," she said softly, though her eyes were hard. "Do not ever believe that you deserved what was done to you."

He could feel himself trembling, so he pulled away and looked around for a distraction. Suzume had wandered over to her sister, and the two of them were watching him and Tomoe with sad, anxious eyes. He tried to smile. "Hey, guys. What's on?"

The older girl glanced disinterestedly at the TV, then fixed her gaze back on him. "Powerpuff Girls," she answered. "Niisan...don't you want a cookie?"

"It's 'Ken-nii,'" Suzume corrected her. "Don't call him 'Niisan' anymore, Neechan. He doesn't like it."

Self-consciously, Kenji picked a cookie off the plate but avoided eating it as he went over to the girls. "Hey, I never found out your name," he said awkwardly. "It's Suzume and...?"

"Ayame," she answered in a low voice.

He knelt down next to her, frowning. "Hey, Ayame...-chan, what's wrong?" Her injured leg was stretched out, neatly bandaged like his shoulder, but the look on her face made him think that that was not the real problem.

"Niisan-- I mean Ken-nii," she whispered. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he said quickly. "Really, I am. Look, I can kind of move my arm now." It was painful to raise it, but he did so anyway, pretending that his hand was a creature greedily eating the cookie he was afraid to put in his own mouth. To his relief, the girls laughed and eagerly asked him for more tricks, a request with which he awkwardly attempted to comply.

From time to time he glanced over at Tomoe, who had sat down in the apartment's little dining room and was watching them. She made him uneasy, but at the same time her presence was oddly comforting. She had talked almost as if she was one of the enemy...but she had also rescued them and given them shelter (and cookies), and then for her to say something like that to him - it made him confused. He supposed he should be glad that so far she had shown no sign of tranquilizing him and shoving him in a cage to be shipped off to another hidden lab, but even so, he intended to escape as soon as he saw the opportunity. He had not yet decided if he would try to take the girls with him. If he was in danger, then so were they, with their little dragon wings - but they acted like they knew her and trusted her. Should he trust her, too?

It would help if he knew where he was, so he asked her as soon as the girls had fallen asleep. He figured that she would not lie about that unless she was an enemy, and if she was, he was screwed anyway, so it probably didn't matter.

"Good," he sighed in relief. He was not too terribly far from home, an hour on the subway should do it.

"Kenji-san," she said seriously. "I need to talk to you."

He eyed her warily. "About what?"

"About your parents," was the quiet reply.

Kenji froze.

No one outside the Dragon Project knew who his parents were. No one. Even Megumi did not know, and she had been the most involved of his rescuers. "What about my parents," he said harshly. He was reeling inside, not knowing what to think or how to react. Had they abandoned him? Had they given him up to the enemy? Were they dead? Were they looking for him? Did they even care he existed? Had they ever--?

"Your family's name," Tomoe said quietly, "is Himura."

Kenji sucked in a breath as the almost-familiar name stirred something in the depths of his mind...but it was too far away to grasp, and he had neither the time nor the state of mind to explore this further.

"Your parents lost you a very long time ago, before you were...born. You were hidden, first by chance and then by your parents' enemies. By the time I discovered your identity, I no longer had access to you, and your rescuers knew nothing of the family that has been searching for you. Takani-san is a good woman, and we are grateful that she has cared so well for you...but she knows little of the truth. In fact, at this moment, I alone know the whole story. Your parents are coming here for their daughters, but they do not yet know they will find a son as well. Kenji-san, I need you to be prepared."

Kenji found himself shaking. He laced his fingers together and clamped them over his knees, trying to force his body to be still. "Why didn't you tell them?" he finally managed to growl. "They'll come and they'll see me and they'll think I'm - they'll think I'm a freak. And you know what, they'll be right, because I am a freak!"

Tomoe looked at him quietly for a minute. "Kenji-san...is it possible that you think you are what you are because of what was done to you?"

"Of course!" he shouted at her. "No one gets freakin' born as a dragon!" So many times he had seen perfectly normal human beings emerging as monsters....

"On the contrary, Kenji-san," she said softly. "You were the first true dragon-child." She nodded at the bedroom where the girls were sleeping. "Your brothers and sisters were the next." Then she smiled sadly. "If anyone here is what you say, then it is myself." She rose slowly and moved to the center of the living room, turning her back to him. To Kenji's shock, she slipped off her blouse, but before he could have a crisis over that, something happened that made his jaw drop. The flesh of her back rippled, and then, carefully, harmoniously, as if designed to do so, delicate bony frameworks rose up like sprites from her shoulder blades, extending and thickening even as he watched in amazement, until Kiyosato Tomoe stood with two wings that could not fully unfurl in the suddenly cramped little room.

There was not even a trace of blood.

For a long moment they stood, Tomoe patiently, Kenji with his mouth open and his eyes huge, feeling like he was about to throw up. Then she gave a long sigh and curled her wings in again. They paled and thinned and descended gracefully back into her flesh, so that when she put her blouse back on, not a trace of them was detectable to the eye.

Then she turned to face him.

Kenji shot to his feet, breathing hard, searching wildly for an escape. He could not deal with this, his head was pounding like it was going to explode, his back ached as if bracing itself for familiar pain....

"My other form, unlike yours, is unnatural," Tomoe said quietly. "It resulted from an encounter with your father, though the fault lay not with him, but with myself and my husband. The restoration of my sanity is thanks to you...but everything I have gained, I would give away a thousand times over if it meant I could have spared you such pain."

"What are you talking about?" he sobbed dryly. "I thought...I thought...."

They both jumped when the doorbell rang. Tomoe looked over and frowned, speaking quietly as if to herself. "So quickly, even if they flew...." Then she went to open the door.

Kenji's back was prickling, and such a strong sense of terror was shooting through him that for a minute he could not move or speak. It was...a smell, almost...a horrifying, dangerous smell that hit his nose like acid. "Don't open the door!" he shouted.

It was too late. Tomoe's greeting died on her lips when she saw the man who was carefully wiping his feet on the doormat. Lithe and handsome, he looked up and smiled at her, reaching almost shyly to touch her face. "Hello, Sis," he said pleasantly. "What's the matter? You look almost - horrified."

"Enishi," she whispered. "How...?"

With a swift, graceful movement, he propelled her backward so that he could step inside and shut the door. Then he wrapped her in his arms and laid his face tenderly against her hair. She stood stiffly, unresponsive.

"How did I get out of prison, you mean?" he murmured lovingly. "Oh Neesan, you know it wasn't meant to be forever." He pulled back a little and smiled at her. "After all, a couple of my little pets were never caught. Disgusting as they are, I suppose dragons have their uses." His eyes slid at last to Kenji, who had backed up against the wall with a kitchen knife clutched in his fist.

"Enishi," Tomoe begged, "please. I will give you money, I will hide you or help you leave the country, but please don't--"

"Don't what?" he said softly, his burning eyes fixed on the boy. "Don't reclaim what's mine?"

"Himura Kenji is not yours," Tomoe told him strongly. "Please, Enishi. Do not do this. Not when his parents are so close--"

"To finding him?" Enishi smirked, and Kenji felt his throat vibrating with a growl in response. "But Sis, that's the perfect time to take him back, to snatch him right out from under their scaly noses. It all worked out so beautifully - Battousai gets a phone call, dashes off to rescue his precious spawn, he arrives breathlessly at the apartment of a trusted friend...only to find that the little hatchlings are gone. All of them."

"You planned it this way," Tomoe whispered.

He laughed. "You give me too much credit, Sis...though I do admit that I had your phone line bugged. It was very amusing to hear Battousai raging helplessly at the news that his little girl nearly got sliced in half by Usui. Not to mention my delight at such sheer good luck, the Himura brats falling right into my hands."

Tomoe's face seemed drained of all color. "Enishi...please. Not this. Go after Kenshin-san himself if you must, but not his children, Enishi, I beg you."

"Oh, if it's retaliation from him you're worried about, please don't," he assured her. "That's the reason I came. You're coming with us, of course - just like old times."

"Never," she said flatly. "I will die before I return with you."

"I won't let you die," he said coldly, the mockingly sweet act finally dropped. "That would make all my efforts a waste. Everything I've worked so hard for, for so long, it's all been for you. I still love you, Neesan. You don't believe me, but it's true. Even though I've lost you, even if you don't love me anymore, I'll always love you. So I'll be really sad if you don't do what I want...and you'll be really sad, too."

Her hands clenched into fists.

"Where's Akira, anyway?" he suddenly wondered. "Late home from work, is he?"

"What did you do to him?" Tomoe whispered.

He grinned again. "Oh, don't worry, he's fine. So far, anyway." He reached out to caress her face. "You know I would never, ever hurt you, Neesan," he said lovingly.

Tomoe closed her eyes in defeat.

Kenji had almost made it to the bedroom door when Enishi's eyes suddenly pinned him again - though Kenji somehow knew that the man's attention had been fixed on him the entire time. Instinctively, Kenji snarled and raised the knife.

"Oh, how cute," Enishi chuckled. "You think you can hold me off with that thing long enough for...what? For you all to jump out the window to safety or something?"

"Get out," Kenji growled, the harsh deadliness of his own voice startling him.

"Look, Sis," Enishi laughed. "He thinks he's Battousai, trying to 'death glare' me into submission. Won't work, kid." He came at Kenji in a rush. Somehow the boy sensed it, and brought the knife up at exactly the right time, in exactly the right place. Unfortunately, the soft, vulnerable target was protected. Enishi's glasses clattered to the ground in pieces, and Kenji found himself pinned to the door by a man whose mere presence threatened to choke him with terror.

"Hm," Enishi said musingly, eyes traveling over Kenji's face. "Not bad...for a hatchling. 'Cause that's all you are, isn't it, you pathetic little monster."

Kenji nearly bit his tongue trying to hold back a scream, from having to face this figure from his nightmares, this creature whose expression longed to burn him until he was nothing but ash. From knowing that he had only been spared so that he could suffer all the more, under these pitiless eyes that he had desperately wished to never see again.

"Enishi, let him go!"

Keeping an arm over the struggling Kenji, Enishi turned his eyes on his sister and reached out his other hand to hold her away. "Sorry, Sis. As you can see, he's not being too cooperative." Seizing Kenji by the bandaged shoulder, he forced him to his knees and held him there, immobilizing him with the pain of his own wound. Then he drew out a knife. Tomoe cried out, and Enishi fixed her with a cold stare. "If you don't want to watch, go over to the other side of the room, Neesan. This'll be quick."

"Do not hurt him," she told Enishi fiercely. "Do not--"

Enishi held the knife against Kenji's hand, even when Kenji frantically clenched it into a protective fist. "You know what, Sis, I think I'll let you pick what kind of memento to leave for Battousai and his mate. Should it just be a lock of their son's hair, or one of his claws?"

Tomoe retreated wordlessly, though her eyes on them were still intent. Enishi smiled and pressed the edge of the blade against the base of Kenji's forefinger, so that a line of blood appeared.

"Enishi!"

"Just kidding." He put the knife down for a minute so that he could pull free the tie that bound Kenji's hair. Kenji shuddered as he felt it drifting down around his shoulders and sliding halfway over his face. "How sweet," Enishi murmured in his ear. "Even your hairstyle is just like daddy's. He'll be so proud."

"Shut up," Kenji hissed through gritted teeth, and started on a list of every foul name he could think of until he suddenly felt the blade in his hair. He froze. There was a sharp tug, and a clump of red strands dropped down into a coil on the floor.

Enishi, still gripping his injured shoulder, pulled him back up and steered him toward the front door. "Enishi," Tomoe tried one more time, but he ignored her. Thrusting the door open, he stepped out on the balcony with his captive and looked at the ground three stories below, where his men were waiting.

Two shrill, terrified voices rose into the night. When he recognized them, Kenji tried unsuccessfully to wrench away. "Let them go!" he snarled, outraged. "Let them go or I'll kill you!"

"Did you hear that?" Enishi called down gleefully. "The hatchling gave me a death threat."

There was a rumble of vicious laughter from below. Someone called up, "The other two brats tried to escape out the window. You still want 'em?"

"Of course," Enishi said evenly. "Now we'll have the whole set. Here, catch." He hoisted Kenji up and shoved him against the railing. "Fly, little dragon," he whispered, grinning. Then he pushed him over the edge.

Kenji cried out as he fell, his back exploding with pain as blood rained down through the darkness.

to be continued...

Author's Notes: Sawagejô is Chou's surname.
"Neesan" and "Niisan" respectively mean "older sister" and "older brother," though they're not always used literally.

I have mixed feelings about this fic. It's too dark for my taste; I haven't written anything like it since I was an idiot in high school. Some parts of it are not very impressive, yet there are other parts that I like a lot. If you can get past chapter 2, you'll probably be okay.

This was conceived as a sequel to Sapphire Scales: A Dragon Love Story, which was a cute, funny romance featuring only Kenshin and Kaoru. I don't know why my ideas for a sequel turned out the way they did. I wrote it as a stand-alone because I don't want the two to be associated, even though they're technically in the same universe.