Yukishiro Enishi slipped from the between the pillars and entered the drawing room. He threw a watchful look back. He had been delayed in his task because the Mitsue girl had recognized him—even tried to follow him. He frowned to himself. Next time, Saitou would do well to listen that it would be better not to be out in the open in familiar gatherings like this.
He slipped out of his coat and dressed in his dark uniform, but left wearing his mask for later. There wasn't a second to lose. Their subject, Murasaki been approached by an unidentified man and had left the ballroom, heading towards the gardens. He had to reach his partner and intercept Murasaki in the gardens before anything happened. He grabbed his watou from where he had concealed it under the oak furniture, and turned—
To feel twin blades touching both sides of his neck.
He raised his eyes to find ice blue eyes burning into his.
"Drop the sword." The man ordered, his voice hard.
Enishi narrowed his eyes, recognizing the man in the dim moonlight. "Shinomori." The Oniwabanshuu Okashira, one of those who had come to his island to claim Kamiya Kaoru. The irony struck him.
"Yukishiro." Shinomori addressed him, "What are you doing here?"
The mission. Kuso." I find myself asking the same question. What are you doing here?"
There was no perceptible change to Shinomori's expression. "I won't repeat myself, Yukishiro." He pressed his blades further. "You're still armed."
He raised his brow, but refused to move. "This is nothing that concerns you."
"I find," Shinomori cut in coolly, "that discovering a wanted criminal in a gathering such as this should be my," he paused, "concern."
"I'm not here to threaten, blackmail, kidnap, or murder anyone." This is absurd. Enishi bit back a sigh, exasperated. "I'm now a free man—or have you not heard?" His records had been cleared because of his cooperation with the Japanese government in Kowloon.
Shinomori, apparently, didn't take official records at face value. Enishi would have found such astuteness commendable, were he not in this situation. "Freedom makes you all the more dangerous."
He found his patience wearing thin, "You have my word, Shinomori. I am not here to cause anyone harm. I have business to attend to. And regardless of what you do, I will accomplish it." His voice lowered. "Do not stand in my way."
Shinomori merely moved his blades further, "I do not care for your threats."
"I do not care for your swords, either." This time, coldly.
Shinomori's eyes narrowed. Enishi smirked.
He'd had enough.
This would not be an easy battle, he assessed, his muscles tensing with anticipation. He knew how this man fought. Kodachi Nitou Ryuu—such a graceful and deadly art could not possibly be unknown to him. Calculating, strong and gifted with incredible speed, Shinomori was not one to go down without a fight. Shinomori Aoshi, therefore, was a formidable opponent; a worthwhile challenge. And his blades were mere millimetres from Enishi's death.
Damn enjoyable, he thought haughtily, was he not so pressed for time. He could not afford to do this right now. His partner would scream at him to death.
Shinomori readied himself to move.
He snorted to himself. Feh. What's one battle?
The familiar heavenly strength rushed to empower his limbs. He moved his sword and made to evade the blades—
"Drop the swords. Now."
Shinomori stilled; swords motionless in the air
Enishi looked up to see him kept in place by a small blade pointed to his neck from behind. He recognized the person holding it immediately. Ah, just in time. His lips quirked up in amusement when he spotted her worried—and furious—blue-green eyes. Once again, the irony struck him.
"I should have known," She began accusingly, "that you would find a way to get yourself killed again."
Enishi grinned. He couldn't help it. "Took you long enough, Itachi."
Shinomori's swords fell.
He could feel the cool blade pressing ever so softly into his blood.
He could feel his blood singing into his veins. Pounding maddeningly, willing him to do, to be, to see, to feel. To reclaim.
It wasn't her.
It had merely been her name that Izikawa mentioned; only a vague image of her that Mitsue Himeko reminded him of.
But the voice…
This shouldn't be happening: this betrayal of his soul, this creation of his shadows, the loss of control, and this deception of his being—this memory incarnate that violated. He'd once endured her haunting ghosts, the constant reminders of her being, but he would not tolerate this whisper of her presence. He shut his eyes.
He felt it; he felt her. The sweat on his brow, the sudden stillness in the air, the prickling of skin behind his neck, and the warmth—that most traitorous warmth—that touched him from wherever she was. The damned sense of awareness, the cursed need to hide and to bare himself whole at the same time—they were there, alive again, after all these years.
No. He clenched his jaw. No.
A betrayer, such was memory.
(Okina's eyes, dark, "You were not the only one who had to leave, Aoshi.")
"I just couldn't wait for you anymore. I knew something had to be wrong. I'm only glad that I arrived in time."
His eyes flew open.
Before him, Enishi snorted in response. "Baka. You know how well-loved I am by so many people. Don't count your blessings yet."
Enishi, he reminded himself. She had been addressing Enishi.
He clenched his jaw.
This was not her. He had played deception's fool once. He would never, again.
"I know that!" Her voice came from behind him, stung. "I just can't help remembering the last time—that happened." From before him, Enishi hesitated, taken aback. He heard her take a deep breath. "I didn't want to be too late again."
…But there was that catch in her voice, as familiar as the day he left. ("You know me so well." A brilliant smile, half-hearted though it was.)
"I know." Enishi finally answered, his voice low.
When she spoke again, her voice was steadier. "The subject is already visible. We have no time." She sighed. "You could have done away with this altogether."
…And he could recognize everything with such startling clarity; the disappointment in her voice; the lilt of her words, the underlying tone that made her feelings resonate like a taut string. (Light and water in her eyes. "Aoshi-sama, don't you already know?")
Enishi's eyes hardened as he returned his gaze to Aoshi. "Not so easily this time, Itachi. Not so easily."
And she shifted cautiously from behind him to regard him more thoroughly. "We apologize for the trouble, sir, but we mean no harm."
Her voice, to him; her gaze met his back.
And his skin prickled in recognition. His lungs felt tight. He was on fire. (She always watched him. And he let her. For all it was worth, he let her.)
No. He released a shuddering breath. No.
She gasped. And he heard her.
He opened his eyes
She stumbled away from him.
And so he finally knew.
Aoshi started to turn, fast as lightning.
"Itachi-Musume!" Enishi was yelling. "Don't waste time. Vanish. Now."
Everything spun around him, and his heart pounded viciously. The world slipped from his fingers. He turned, the sound that would give name, form and reality to her memory escaping fleetingly from his lips.