"Kai - kaitou?"
"That's right," the voice answered in the darkness.
Tsubame shivered. Was it from the cool night air or from fright? She pushed the thought from her mind and stood as tall as she could. It was better if he didn't know she was scared....
"Go away," she instructed. "Leave me alone."
The girl took a few steps further down the road to pass the form blocking her way.
Kaitou.... Tsubame knew the word. A mysterious thief. She didn't have anything on her worth stealing, but of course he didn't know it.
"Wait a sec," the kaitou told her. "I wasn't done introducing myself!"
The figure held out an outstretched arm towards her and launched into his speech. It had taken days of writing and memorizing. He wasn't going to let her leave now when he finally had the nerve to try it out.
"I am a kaitou," he began dramatically. "I've been watching you for a long time. Tonight I have come to tell you that I am not an ordinary thief. My name, Kaitou, refers to the fact that I will steal your heart."
Tsubame started at this and her fear intensified. This person was a lunatic. She had to get out of this situation!
"I'll be seeing you again tomorrow," the kaitou continued, feeling that his intro was being well-received, seeing as the girl wasn't walking away.
"I just wanted to tell you that I...." Here he got a bit nervous. "A.... ano.... I like you a lot." He felt his face flush. "Ano.... ja ne."
The kaitou ran of into the night.
Tsubame hurried to the Akabeko.
"That was very disturbing," she decided.
"Kai - kaitou?!"
Tsubame nodded, embarrassed.
Yahiko snorted. "That's ridiculous."
The black-haired woman put down her tea cup. "I have to agree with Yahiko for once. This is totally strange. And that was a dorky speech too. I think you shouldn't go out alone from now on. Whoever this guy is, he has a major problem."
"What did you say?!" Yahiko demanded.
"That this guy has a major problem; why?" Kaoru returned defensively.
"Well, before that.... about agreeing with me! I'm the one that's always right, not you, Ugly!"
Kaoru picked up a piece of wood and threw it at Yahiko.
Tsubame looked up at Tae, trying to ignore the fight going on beside them. "What do you think about it?"
The young woman ran a hand through her smooth brown hair. "Well, that's a very interesting story. As for what you should do about it, I think the answer is just to keep watch for this said kaitou. If you'd like you can just stay with me and he might not turn up again. Yahiko-kun can go on the errands and things. I'm sure he wouldn't mind if it'd help you feel better."
"What?" Yahiko sputtered. "I already do a lot of work!"
"Help them out!" Kaoru yelled. "Don't be so selfish. You're one of the laziest - hey!"
Tae stopped Kaoru from picking up the table to toss it in Yahiko's direction.
Tsubame looked over her shoulder. Was an insane maniac peering at her through the window?
"Yahiko, I'm scared," Tsubame confided later that night.
The two young people were finishing up cleaning the Akabeko.
"It's okay," the spikey-haired boy replied. "I can protect you from anything. Nothing'll happen anyways."
Tsubame wished he'd be more concerned. He sounded pretty laid-back.
"I've gotta get back to the dojo now. Tae will be here in a few minutes. You'll be okay, right?"
Tsubame sighed and sat down. Yahiko gave her a silly smile and was gone.
The girl looked down at her feet. She didn't like being alone. She wondered why Yahiko wasn't being very understanding. This was a serious matter! Even if the kaitou wasn't as terrible as suspected, Yahiko should be more caring....
Tsubame closed her eyes to get a bit of rest.
"Tsubame, I'm glad we've met again," a familiar voice called from the doorway.
"Yahiko!" she yelped. "You scared me. Oh!"
The person standing before her wasn't Yahiko. It was the kaitou.
He was dressed entirely in black and standing in shadows. Tsubame couldn't see his face.
Where was Tae-san? Why wasn't she here? Tsubame wondered how long she'd been dozing.
"What've you been doing today?" the kaitou asked casually.
"It isn't your business what I do," Tsubame replied. "Please leave. You're strange, and you need help."
"I do not. I just like you. That's no big sin, is it?"
"Say, do you like that Myoujin Yahiko?"
"I don't need to answer that!"
"Hm. Just wanted to know if I've got a chance with competition like that."
"No, you don't! Please, go away."
"I'll take that as a maybe, alright?"
"No, I said -"
"Aw, come on. Don't burst my bubble, Tsubame. Okay, I'm off."
Tsubame watched as he disappeared.
"A very weird guy is stalking me!"
"Yahiko-kun!" Tae was reprimanding. "How could you forget that I wasn't returning until midnight? You left Tsubame-chan all alone for an hour, and now look at what's happened."
"But Tae-san, I didn't remember either. It's not completely his fault."
"If you say so, Tsubame-chan. But you both must be more careful in the future. This kaitou is a thief. A person who steals! It's unlawful. He may be armed and dangerous."
"You don't know for sure that it's a he. It could be a girl," Yahiko commented.
"I'm sure it was a boy," Tsubame managed to reply.
"If you say so. With all the bishounens these days it's getting hard to tell...."
"This is my third visit already. Why won't you talk to me yet? I'm trying to break the ice but you aren't helping."
Tsubame sighed. This kaitou was quite persistent, she had to give him that. But she asked herself why she ended up alone so often when they were all trying so much to keep him away....
"Tsubame, please talk to me. I just wanna be friends."
He didn't seem too dangerous at the moment.... Tsubame figured it wouldn't hurt to talk to him a little. Maybe she could convince him that he wasn't interested in her after all. Tae wouldn't be back anytime soon. It was up to her to get rid of him.
"Okay, what do you want to talk about?" She hoped her voice didn't sound as nervous to him as it did to her.
"Oh, anything. Have you ever been to a festival?"
"Hm. I guess I can't ask stuff with yes or no answers if I wanna get to know you better.... What's your favorite thing to do?"
"I don't know.... but I'm sure we don't have much in common."
"Do ya like my clothes? I put this outfit together myself."
"It's nice. Oh look, I don't know you. The idea of your being a thief scares me. Please.... go away."
"Come on. Your Yahiko friend was a pickpocket. That's a thief too."
"How do you know that?"
"I have connections. The point is, you like him, don't you? Anyways, I told you that I'm not stealing anything but your heart."
A large sweat drop appeared on Tsubame's head.
The kaitou turned super deformed. "Oh, does that sound dumb to you? Ehehe.... I thought it was a good line myself...."
The sweat drop slid down Tsubame's cheek.
The SD kaitou put a hand behind his head and looked uncomfortable. Not that Tsubame could see him well; he was in the shadows again.
"So, what's up?" he asked.
"Won't you leave me alone?" Tsubame pleaded.
"Fine, fine. For now. Ja."
Tsubame filled the wooden bucket with water. She thought about what Tae-san had said about this kaitou deal. Maybe it would be a good idea to see if she could find out who he was. It was such a scary thought, though. Tsubame didn't want to know.
The kaitou appeared again two weeks later. Tsubame was eating a plum and humming a tune when he dropped in on her. She wondered how he had gotten into the restaurant when it was locked, but she wasn't left much time to ponder this since he stepped closer to her.
"Tsubame-chan, " he addressed her, and she tensed at the suffix. He acted so familiar with her and she didn't like it. She wished Yahiko were here.
"Don't call me 'chan'," she told him.
"That's my line," the kaitou murmured to himself in amusement.
"What did you say?" Tsubame demanded, suddenly no longer afraid.
"Oh, nothing, Tsubame-chan.... Tsubame-chan?"
Tsubame had turned away from him. He watched in surprise as flames enveloped her and she began to laugh.
The kaitou was starting to get scared. This wasn't like Tsubame at all.
Tsubame whirled around and grabbed at his gi. The kaitou swallowed nervously.
"I know who you are, Kaitou," she declared, staring into his eyes, giggling. "I know it's you, Yahiko. This is the strangest thing you've ever done..... I can't wait to tell Tae-san."
The kaitou struggled to get out of her grip on him. She let go and stood smiling.
"P - please, Tsubame-cha - Tsubame, don't talk about this to anyone! I beg you!"
Tsubame blushed. The kaitou was relieved to see her back to normal.
"You.... you really.... you.... like....?"
The boy turned red and gasped. "I.... I.... yeah, but I didn't want to say so!"
Tsubame smiled shyly.
The kaitou bit his lip and looked at her, self-conscious of his unusual display of affection.
"Okay, well, this is how it is. I've liked you all this time but Sano and Ugly and Kenshin tease me about everything! So of course I couldn't tell you that because I'd never hear the end of it. So.... so.... I got this idea from a play I saw once.... obviously it was a dumb idea! I just wanted to say I liked you without anyone knowing I did!"
The kaitou felt his face redden even more as he saw the expression on her face. He suddenly realized what she'd known all along: that everyone already knew about his feelings. Tsubame was in wonderment that he hadn't known it all along too.
"I've just made a major fool of myself," the kaitou cursed.
An uncomfortable silence followed. Tsubame finally broke it hesitantly.
"Saa! Let's go to the dojo!" She put as much enthusiasm into her voice as she could.
The kaitou made a face. "Not in these clothes I'm not."
"Can't you change?"
"With you here?"
"I can go into the kitchen."
"Oh, you don't have to."
Tsubame flushed in embarrassment.
The kaitou noticed this and laughed.
"No, no, I left my clothes outside."
Tsubame didn't understand.
"Look." The kaitou pointed out the window. It was raining heavily.
"I'll just have to wait until later to go home. I'll bring my stuff inside, though, so it can start to dry off."
Tsubame sighed. Yahiko was very, very strange....
Tsubame hurried to the door. Yahiko had only gone out to get his clothes.... what had happened?
Tsubame opened it a crack and peered out. Four people under umbrellas were standing around the soaked kaitou.
"Yahiko! What are you doing in that hideous outfit out in the rain? We've been looking for you everywhere!"
"What are you fooling around the Akabeko for in the middle of the night?"
"He's probably looking for Tsubame..... the moonlight's romantic, you know."
"Don't be silly. Yahiko would never visit her in that get-up."
"What are you up to, Yahiko?"
"We're all going home right this minute. I'm freezing."
"Kenshin, I think Jou-chan needs someone to hold her and warm her up.... I'll trade umbrellas with you. Mine's smaller. It's cozier for two."
"Yahiko, I expect to hear the whole story when we get back."
"Jou-chan, give your umbrella to Yahiko."
"Why should I?!"
"Wouldn't you rather wrap your arms around Kenshin than huddle with a drenched kid?"
"Let's just go."
"I can share an umbrella with you."
"I'll share with Ken-san."
"Yahiko! We're going!"
The kaitou grimaced.
Tsubame grinned as she eased the door closed.