Shiori sighed and reached out to caress the young man's forehead. She brushed away the glistening trail of tears that made their way down his scarred cheek even as he slept. She got up and readied herself to face the mess that awaited her in the kitchen.
"'KAASAN! 'KAASAN! WHERE ARE YOU?" Her son's anxious voice reverbrated through the house. Shuuichi almost collided with Shiori as she stepped out of the room.
"'Kaasan!" Shuuichi looked relieved. His delicate brows furrowed when he noticed the pallor in Shiori's cheeks. "'Kaasan... What happened? The kitchen..."
Shiori's voice trembled as she spoke, "Gomenasai Shuuichi. Dinner's not ready yet."
Shuuichi gently led his mother to the sofa in the hall and sat down beside her. He took both her hands into his and placed them on her lap. Outwardly, he appeared calm and collected, playing the role of a filial son down to pat. Inwardly, he was seething. Whoever caused his 'Kaasan so much grief would pay. Dearly. Youko Kurama would see to that.
Wracking sobs shook her frail frame as she recalled the events in the past couple of hours. "When I saw...w-when I saw him, I thought he was you, Shuuichi. His hair...all that blood..."
"It's alright, 'Kaasan. I'm here. I won't let anyone or anything hurt you."
Eventually, Shuuichi managed to gather enough information from his distraught mother to piece together a coherent picture of what went on earlier that evening.
When Shiori returned from grocery shopping, she found an intruder in the kitchen. He was lying on the ground, in a pool of his blood, his back towards Shiori. When Shiori saw his red hair, she immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was Shuuichi and mistakenly believed it to be so till circumstances proved otherwise. Worry caught her up in its vice-like grip, it wasn't until she was almost out of air that she realised she had stopped breathing.
With great effort, she had composed herself and went over to the limp form. She knelt beside him, his blood staining her clothes a deep red as she did so. She reached out to touch him gently.
Pushing the pain back to the darkest recesses of his mind, the stranger forced himself to get up on his feet. He stood panting, his long red hair falling over his shoulders in wet locks. Crimson liquid dripped incessantly from his numerous wounds but he seemed oblivious to that fact.
He was not Shuuichi.
The stranger was dressed in a hakama and gi which reminded Shiori of the kind of clothes people used to wear in feudal Japan. His left cheek was marred by a freshly made X-shaped scar. His deep purple eyes bore into her, flickers of gold licked the edges of his irises, lending him a feral look.
He appeared glazed and confused, as if he could not see clearly. He was waiting, frowning, as if straining to hear something that was dancing just slightly out of reach of his hearing.
Suddenly, his grip on his katana tightened, he let out a wordless cry of primal rage as he lashed out. His katana cut the dining table cleanly into half, spilling its contents on the floor. Shiori screamed as the edge of the blade narrowly missed her. He halted at once, shock written all over his face. His katana clattered nosily onto the hard tiled floor and he touched the scar on his left cheek. All traces of gold left his eyes. As he reached out towards Shiori, the barest hint of a whisper escaped his lips, "...Tomoe..." He pitched forward and collapsed.
For a few stunned moments, all Shiori could do was watch dumbfounded as she came to terms with how close she had been to meeting Enma Daiou. Then, instinct took control of her actions. She dragged the intruder into Shuuichi's room and tended to his wounds. She had just finished with him and was about to set to work on the kitchen when Shuuichi returned.
Mother and son worked quietly, clearing up the mess in the kitchen before preparing a simple dinner to quiet their stomachs.
"You mean the intruder is still here?" Shuuichi asked softly over dinner. A deep frown creased his forehead.
"Hai. He's sleeping in your room. I hope you don't mind."
Shuuichi shook his head, then continued, "You bathed his wounds..."
"That means you'd have to remove..."
Shiori cut him short. "Shuuichi! I've been taking care of you for the past 15 years. I have seen everything there is to see of the male anatomy. Besides, he's just a boy, about your age, I think." Shuuichi blushed hotly at his mother's words.
"'Kaasan, shouldn't we contact the authorities about the break-in?"
"NO!" Shuuichi was, to say the least, shocked by the force that backed his mother's words. "They'll just throw him in prison for wrecking my dining table."
"No, Shuuichi. We're not calling in the police." Shiori stated firmly. Her expression softened when she saw Shuuichi's dismayed look. "If you could see him then. You'd understand why I feel the way I do about him." Shiori's eyes misted over and she said in a whisper, "I was so glad it wasn't you, Shuuichi. There's something different about him. He reminds me of you. Who would want to hurt someone that young and innocent? It's no wonder he struck out at me. He must have been so frightened..."
"Of course. Anyone wielding a sword and wearing feudal Japanese costumes... can be anything but normal. Perhaps, he's a really good actor who got lost." Shuuichi's musical laughter hung in the air.
"Don't joke, Shuuichi."
"Hai, 'Kaasan." Shuuichi smothered his giggles. "You're too kind."
"I guess I'm just a softie for red-heads." Shiori smiled wanely.
"Is there a need for me to feel jealous? I think I'd better just pop in to see who's better looking..." Shuuichi winked and vanished in a blur of red.
End of Part 1