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October, 1884

Asakusa

Seventeen-year-old Myojin Yahiko made a shopping run into town, as he was running low on food yet again. He didn't see how the food could disappear so fast since he was living alone and certainly not sharing it with Sano. Yet disappear it did. Yahiko figured he must have a bigger appetite than he thought.

As he headed toward the shops, Yahiko bumped into Kenshin who was also on a shopping run. He had the yoke slung over his shoulders because Kaoru had sent him to pick up rice, salt, miso and soy sauce. Having a young son and an active wife to feed meant buying four times as much as a normal person. Yahiko didn't envy Kenshin that!

"They got you shopping again? Isn't this the second time in one week?" joked Yahiko.

"At the rate they eat, it's a wonder I'm not going every day," replied Kenshin with a smile.

"That settles it. I'm never marrying," said Yahiko, which they both knew was a joke, since he and Tsubame were courting now.

"Don't let Tsubame-dono hear you say that," warned Kenshin with a smile.

The men entered the marketplace and started perusing the shops. Yahiko shook his head at the astronomical prices and Kenshin nodded in agreement. It was a wonder anyone could afford to buy food anymore!

Yahiko and Kenshin separated a bit, each going for the stuff they wanted. Yahiko moved through the square. He picked up some rice, tempura batter, tofu and sake. Kenshin picked up the copious amounts of food his active family required. The two met up after they had paid for their purchases.

After leaving the square, the two men walked along in companionable silence out of the chaos that was Asakusa and back toward the more sparsely populated areas that would lead the road that branched off toward the bridge that led to the dojo and the road back to Ruffian Row.

Suddenly, they heard the sound of a scuffle. Looking over to the right, they saw a man with a cane sword beating the hell out of a dirty-faced kid. Yahiko's eyes widened, immediately recognizing the man: Gasuke of Tanishi's yakuza!

Gasuke hadn't changed a bit: Same bangs swept out from his forehead, ending at a point, same evil face, same cane sword and same nasty disposition.

"Wuddya mean you couldn't get anything? You're the worst pickpocket ever! Fucking incompetent little runt!" sneered Gasuke.

"I'm s-sorry, Gasuke-san," choked the boy. "There just weren't a lot of people out with money today."

WHACK!

"I don't wanna hear your shit!" said Gasuke, raising the cane sword for yet another blow.

The blow never connected because Gasuke found the sword was missing from his hand. He turned around and stared straight into the smoldering chestnut eyes of a tall young swordsman, who was holding his cane sword. Gasuke's eyes widened. Where did he know this guy from?

Effortlessly, the young swordsman snapped the cane sword over his knee and continued to glare at Gasuke. Then he spoke.

"Hi there. Remember me?" he said.

"Y-Yahiko?" said Gasuke, sweat forming on his brow.

"You have a great memory. I'm impressed. That my replacement?" he said, looking down at the boy, who was being helped to his feet by Kenshin.

"This is nothing to do with you! He and his slut mother are Tanishi's property!" shouted Gasuke, trying to hide his fear.

"Property? Well, that's funny because I was under the mistaken impression that slavery was outlawed under the Meiji government," said Yahiko, his eyes boring into Gasuke's beady ones.

Enraged and frightened, Gasuke drew out a suntetsu and launched himself at Yahiko. Yahiko saw his lunge, sidestepped and simply plucked the dagger from Gasuke's grasp. Unable to stop his forward momentum, Gasuke faceplanted.

Yahiko knelt down and cut the bag of money off Gasuke's belt with the dagger.

"What's this from, prostitution, drug dealing?" he asked.

Gasuke grunted. Yahiko pushed the butt of the Sakabatou into the back of Gasuke's neck.

"Sorry, I didn't quite catch that," he said, letting the venom into his voice.

"B-both," said Gasuke, choking back a sob.

Was Myojin going to kill him for revenge?

"Thought so," said Yahiko getting up.

He went over to the wide-eyed boy, who was cowering at Kenshin's side, and held the bag out to him.

"Here. Take this and use it to get out of the yakuza and start a new life for you and your mom," said Yahiko.

The boy's hands shook a bit as he accepted the bag, looking up at Yahiko with huge green eyes.

"Thanks, Mister!" said the boy before turning and dashing off.

"Gasuke, I have a message I'd like you to deliver to Tanishi: If I ever see any of his thugs using women and children like this again, there'll be Hell to pay. Remember, I know where you slime live and if you've moved, I can find you again easily," said Yahiko in Gasuke's ear. "Now get outta my sight cuz looking at you's killing my appetite."

Without another word, Yahiko turned away from the still prone Gasuke and joined Kenshin. After picking their stuff up, the two headed off and continued on, neither saying a word. When they got to the road, they faced each other.

"I'm off. Spar tomorrow?" offered Yahiko.

"Certainly. I'll see you tomorrow," smiled Kenshin.

The two men walked their separate ways.

~Owari~

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