Here is the last part of the first chapter of Rurouni Battōsai, for your reading pleasure….
1) This part has been the hardest to write so far – this is the section that required me to go back and re-write bits of the prologue. All dialogue in this part is taken from Acts 51-53 of the manga, with only a slight change to one sentence that is more grammatical than anything else, although the thoughts that accompany that dialogue are very different. That’s the main reason for the difficulty with this part – I wanted to keep the dialogue and actions, but still make them fit in with the concept behind Rurouni Battōsai. Please, please let me know what you think?
2) Rurouni Battōsai is simply the working title. Still need suggestions for a better title….
Rurouni Kenshin is © Nobuhiro Watsuki. A lot of the dialogue in this chapter was taken from Acts 48-53 of the Rurouni Kenshin manga, written by the noble Watsuki-san, some of it modified slightly by bits from the anime. This story is fanfiction, and is not intended as infringement on that copyright.
CHAPTER ONE: Saitō Hajime – Mibu’s Wolf
Part 4: Face-to-Face
The sun was starting to set as Kenshin walked down the street leading to the Kamiya dojo. He had used the hour or so it had taken to walk from the site of his battle against Akamatsu to push the emotions stirred by the confrontation back down far enough to let him slip into the role of the rurouni again. Kaoru, Yahiko, and Megumi were already worried enough about both himself and Sanosuke; he had no desire to add to their concerns. He hadn’t bothered to speculate any further on Saitō’s actions or motivations – Akamatsu’s knowledge had been limited to what Saitō had let him see, and added nothing to what Kenshin already knew or had guessed save the identity of the man who had hired them for the assassinations.
As he got closer to the dojo’s gate, Kenshin was surprised to see Kaoru waiting just outside on the street with a lantern. As she saw him and called his name, he quickly hid his hands – both of which bore the marks of Akamatsu’s concealed chains – in his sleeves.
“Kaoru-dono,” he said calmly, still determined not to worry her. He had taken care of Akamatsu, and knew who hired him; if there were any more threats from that quarter, he should be able to deal with them without involving his friends.
All the same, she did look more worried than she had before he’d left…. “Is something wrong?”
“I was worried about you,” Kaoru replied, giving him a hesitant smile.
I can see that – but why? All I told Yahiko was that I had an errand….
“Your life’s in danger,” she continued, sliding the gate open. “We shouldn’t go out for a while.”
Kenshin came to an abrupt stop just outside the gate. What? How could she– “Where did you hear that, Kaoru-dono?” he asked, keeping his voice even. Who could possibly have told her about that?
“From the police,” Kaoru explained, waiting impatiently for him to enter. She slid the gate shut behind them as soon as he did so. “The chief has sent us one of his men.”
One of Chief Uramura’s men? But how could he know? Kenshin wondered, puzzled – and beginning to worry. Would Saitō have reported the assassination job to him? I would have thought not – it’s very unlikely that Uramura is the one Saitō reports to, and in any case, it’s far more his way to inform only those people he believes need to know….
He found himself tensing as they neared the dojo. There was something just teasing at the edge of his senses…. Something he hadn’t felt – at least, not consciously – in a very long time…. Something that whispered of danger.
“He’s a swordsman,” Kaoru continued, sliding open the dojo’s door. “Lieutenant Fujita Gorō.”
The clouded ki he was sensing suddenly flared bright and familiar – very familiar – for just a moment before being shielded again, and Kenshin’s eyes widened as he stared at the man kneeling in front of the dojo’s shrine, with Yahiko standing just next to him. I didn’t expect this…. What is he doing here?
“Well, it seems you had some trouble with Akamatsu.” Saitō turned his head to look at them, his expression cool. His voice was rich with a subtle, biting irony as he continued, “You’re not what you were, are you.”
Kenshin’s eyes narrowed – though he still kept his emotions behind their barriers, not letting their current violet colour be overwhelmed by blue just yet – and his hands clenched into fists as he studied Saitō carefully, putting together the fact of his presence here and now with the clues he’d managed to accumulate thus far. Added to his words, and that tone of voice….
Saitō got to his feet with an ease that told him the Shinsengumi captain was still as dangerous as he had ever been. “The last time we fought was on the battlegrounds of Toba Fushimi. So… that makes it about ten years.”
“Kenshin, do you know Fujita-san?” Kaoru asked from beside him, surprise clear in both her voice and her ki.
Kenshin didn’t look at her as he answered, preferring to keep his eyes on Saitō. He had the feeling he was beginning to understand why Sanosuke had been attacked the way he had, and if he was right, the situation was going to deteriorate very quickly – and very deliberately. “‘Fujita Gorō’. The new name, hm?” Kaoru’s surprise mingled with confusion, and he added in explanation, “Leader of the Third Shinsengumi Unit… Saitō Hajime.”
Both Kaoru and Yahiko were shocked at the sudden revelation, but Kenshin ignored their surprised exclamations, keeping his focus on Saitō. There are only three questions left: what is he going to do to provoke me; what will I do in response; and, most important, why does he want – or need? – Battōsai?
“Ten years,” Saitō continued evenly, studying Himura carefully as he did so. This was the first time they had actually come face-to-face since Toba Fushimi (not to mention the first time truly during daylight) – he’d been very careful to avoid that since he’d arrived in Tokyo – and he found himself not entirely certain what to make of the man in front of him.
The cross-shaped scar was familiar – though it had faded slightly over time – as were the short height, the slight build, and the deceptively youthful features. The red hair he was used to seeing up in a topknot was now tied at the base of Himura’s neck, and hung both looser and longer than it had in Kyoto. But it was Himura’s posture, and his eyes, that showed the greatest change.
Battōsai had stood and moved with the poised tension of a hunting cat; Himura still had a cat’s grace, but his movements and posture were more relaxed, almost – though not quite – languid. Battōsai’s amber eyes had glowed in the shadows and darkness of the night, adding fuel to the beliefs he was a demon; Himura’s eyes were a mild, dim violet that reflected gentleness and innocent sorrow….
…And that hid secrets in their depths.
“When said, it’s only two words. But to live it is a quite a while,” Saitō finished, satisfied. He’d been right. Himura’s eyes might have changed colour; but they were still the eyes of Hitokiri Battōsai – Saitō recognized the steely determination and the knowledge of necessity he saw buried under the appearance of innocence.
“…Yes,” Battōsai replied simply. He returned Saitō’s gaze and narrowed his eyes. “It seems long enough to make a man rot.”
Saitō waited. Battōsai clearly had a point to make, and he preferred to find out what it was before responding.
“Udō Jin-e was crazy to begin with… but that wasn’t you,” the hitokiri continued, his eyes still a narrowed violet. “There were twists to you that couldn’t be fathomed; but in battle you were honourable and came straight at your opponent.
“Hurting your enemy by hurting his friend. Using another warrior as bait. Taking hostages. You never used tricks like these. The Saitō Hajime of the past… he was a man.”
He started chuckling, and then threw back his head and laughed in genuine amusement at the outrage in Battōsai’s voice. Upset about the damage I did to Sagara, are you, Battōsai? Have you figured out my reasons yet?
“What are you laughing at?” the Myōjin boy demanded angrily.
Saitō smirked. “After words such as those, how could I not laugh, boy?” he replied, stepping forward. His smirk widened at the hint of wariness that escaped Battōsai’s control of his ki. You have an idea of what’s coming, don’t you. I do believe I’m going to enjoy this…. “I figured his sword had gone dull… but I never expected that his head had!”
The Kamiya girl looked outraged, and started to object, but Saitō ignored her. “Akamatsu – as ‘bait’?” he continued, letting his contempt for the assassin flavour his voice. “Don’t be stupid. A worm would have made better bait.”
Agreement flickered in Battōsai’s eyes and ki, merely confirming what Saitō already knew. Whatever his reasons for starting it – and Saitō suspected it was most likely for protection from those he’d served during the Bakumatsu – the ‘peaceful rurouni’ was only an act that served to hide the hitokiri. So… to let Battōsai know that he knew….
“We, the Shinsengumi, who fought the Hitokiri Battōsai… we know his strength more than others.”
Now, time for you to drop the act, Battōsai. “But to know that you struggled against Akamatsu…. This rurouni refusal to kill… clearly, it’s made you weak.”
Battōsai’s eyes narrowed again, a hint of blue shading the violet darker; no doubt he recognized Saitō’s intentions, if not his motives. “Saitō, think whatever you wish,” the hitokiri replied. “It’s enough to have a rurouni’s strength to protect those who require it. A hitokiri’s strength to kill isn’t needed.”
Saitō frowned slightly at that statement. “‘A rurouni’s strength’, eh?” he questioned, undoing the collar of his uniform jacket. “If that’s so, you’re a failure, even as a rurouni.”
Battōsai looked startled by that, although Saitō couldn’t tell whether or not that reaction was an act. His ki was completely shielded again.
Either way, it’s too late for you to continue playing the role – the fact is that we need the hitokiri, and that’s what you’re going to have to give us, Battōsai. If you don’t drop the act willingly, I’ll simply have to force it. “While you were falling into my trap and struggling against Akamatsu, I was here the whole time.” Not that Saitō thought it had taken Battōsai that long to defeat the buffoon – he suspected there had been some questions the hitokiri had wanted answers to. Nonetheless, the fact remained that Battōsai had been gone for over four hours, which meant his confrontation with Akamatsu had taken about two hours – quite a long interrogation of someone who knew so little. “Because I am a policeman, these people didn’t suspect a thing. So, if I’d wanted to kill them, I could have done it at any time.”
Battōsai’s eyes flared cold blue and Saitō sensed a touch of anger from his ki for just a moment, before both faded again.
“This isn’t the first time, either,” he continued. “The incident with Jin-e, the other with Kanryū…. You’ve had those you would ‘protect’ – that’s your word – taken by the enemy. And you’ve let scum like Raijūta cause a wound that will last a lifetime.” Saitō felt a touch of his own anger coming through in the last words, and forced it back under control. Now was not the time for that – he had to concentrate on Battōsai’s reactions. “Unused strength is the same as none. Your hypocrisy only fills my belly with disgust.”
“Shut up!” Myōjin shouted, his ki burning with fury. He was starting to become an irritation, Saitō reflected, and wondered how Battōsai managed to tolerate the sort of conflicts he’d walked in on between the boy and Kamiya. Among the upper echelons of those who had been Ishin Shishi, the hitokiri had held a reputation for not tolerating fools gladly. Then again… he’d been acting the fool for the last ten years; perhaps his tolerance for such had increased. “Nobody died any of those times because Kenshin was there!”
“But what guarantee it will stay that way?” Saitō countered, calm again. He gave Battōsai a pointed look. “I thought Battōsai would see this, so I sent Akamatsu. But, as you put it, ten years is long enough to make a man rot.” Do you know what I see when I look at your rurouni act, Battōsai? Let me tell you…. “Drowning in self-satisfaction and phony righteousness…. How can Hitokiri Battōsai protect people without killing?”
Well, he appeared to be succeeding in at least part of his goal – Battōsai was definitely getting angry. Now, to hopefully make his point.
“Aku. Soku. Zan. ‘Swift Death to Evil.’ That was the code of justice common to both the Shinsengumi and to the Hitokiri.” His eyes narrowed. “I can’t stand seeing you like this – not any more.” As I said – it’s time to drop the act of the rurouni.
Battōsai met his gaze calmly, and the shield he held around his ki went down long enough for Saitō to sense his understanding – and his resistance. “No matter what you say,” the hitokiri stated, the emphasis very deliberate, “this one refuses to take more life.”
So, you want to know what’s going on, do you? Not until everyone in this room sees the hitokiri, Battōsai. I have no desire to speak to the ‘rurouni’ any longer. “Is that so?” he demanded – and sank into the stance for Gatotsu. “Then come.” Show us the truth, Battōsai. Push the mask you wear for these fools away. “I will deny everything that you are.”
Kenshin glared as Saitō’s eyes narrowed, the golden gleam recalling the alleys of Kyoto. Why are you doing this, Saitō? he demanded silently, knowing the Shinsengumi could read him well enough to understand the question. You have a reason for all this – what is it?
“What’s wrong?” Saitō continued, dark amusement rising in his eyes – the same amusement Kenshin had seen when he had begun his taunts. “Will you just stand there, and let the girl be caught in the Gatotsu?”
Kenshin frowned, feeling his irritation rise and turn his eyes blue again, and started to step forward – only to stop as a hand tugged at his gi. Forcing the irritation back down with an effort and deliberately widening his eyes, he turned to see Kaoru, her head bowed, her hands gripping his sleeve, obviously frightened.
“Kaoru-dono,” he started – and couldn’t continue. Not out loud. Not when both she and Yahiko were so thoroughly convinced that the act of the rurouni he showed them was the truth of who he was.
My own fault, I know – but it’s always been too dangerous for anyone to know the real truth. Terribly ironic to be caught in my own trap like this – and Saitō knows it. The Shinsengumi was making no effort whatsoever to hide his amusement at the situation. I’m sorry, Kaoru, but I have to do this; Saitō isn’t going to tell me anything else unless we fight.
Not to mention the fact that I still owe him for what he did to Sano….
Kaoru looked up at him. “It will be fine,” she said, a bit hesitantly. “Right?”
Kenshin hid his wince. He doubted that he and Saitō would actually kill each other – Saitō needed him for some reason, and as angry as he was about what had happened to Sano, it wasn’t bad enough for him to kill over it – but Kaoru wasn’t just referring to the possibility of death. And he didn’t want to lie to her any more than he had already been forced to.
He carefully removed her hand from his sleeve. “Either way, it’s life he’s after,” Kenshin replied, not specifying exactly what he meant by ‘life’. His next words, at least, were entirely true, with no hidden meanings. “The fight cannot be avoided.”
“Still… either way….” Kaoru still sounded nervous.
Kenshin gave her a reassuring look, then walked a quarter of the way around the dojo, until he was standing in front of the list of names, and met Saitō’s eyes.
“Come,” the Shinsengumi invited him, a thin smile crossing his face.
Kenshin let his irritation and anger rise, knowing it turned his eyes cold blue, as he countered, “Aren’t you the challenger?”
“Huh….” Saitō resumed his stance. “Fair enough.” His eyes tightened slightly, his muscles tensed… and he lunged. “I’ll begin!”
Kenshin was already in the air, drawing his sword, as Saitō’s attack hit the dojo wall, putting another hole in it.
“Do you think you can dodge it like that, Battōsai?” Saitō demanded, his sword stabbing upward.
Kenshin’s eyes widened in shock. The ‘void’ Gatotsu! he recognized, as he twisted and brought his sakabatō down in a frantic attempt to deflect the blow – too late. He’d avoided the full force of the attack, but he still felt Saitō’s sword bite into his chest.
He heard both Kaoru and Yahiko call his name, but he couldn’t afford to look over at them. Have to remember… I’ve spent the last ten years trying to avoid killing. Saitō obviously hasn’t…. I need to take that… into account.
“You turned your waist to avoid the point,” Saitō declared, his tone oddly analytical. “A quicker reaction than expected. Still….”
Kenshin’s eyes widened again as he sensed a flicker of Saitō’s intent through his ki.
“…Not good enough!” Saitō jerked his sword out of the wound, and used the momentum to push himself backward, raising his foot to kick Kenshin in the chin. The force of the blow flung Kenshin into the wall.
“When you dodge the thrust, I bend instantly into a slash!” Saitō continued. “In the Hirazuki developed by the tactical master of the Shinsengumi, Hijikata Toshizō, there is no blind spot!”
He was still speaking in that analytical tone, Kenshin realized – Why? – as he tried to recover from the impact. I took some damage from the fight with Akamatsu; damage I let him inflict. It definitely isn’t helping.
“As for the Gatotsu… it’s deadlier still.” And Saitō lunged again.
Kenshin met the lunge with one of his own, using his sakabatō to intercept Saitō’s thrust; but Saitō once again turned the move into a slash, and the impact sent Kenshin crashing back into the wall.
“Useless effort!” Saitō snarled, sounding almost like one of the wolves the Shinsengumi had been called after in Kyoto. “The skills that enabled me to survive countless duels, from the Bakumatsu to the Meiji, are no longer even known today.”
That… hurt, Kenshin thought grimly, trying to catch his breath. I’m obviously… still… out of practice. Saitō’s not using… his full power – and he’s tossing me around… all too easily. Shishō would be… embarrassed. Really… have to remember… this is not Raijūta, or even Jin-e… this is Saitō Hajime, Shinsengumi and Miburō….
He could sense Kaoru approaching, could feel Yahiko’s worry, could – more faintly – sense Sanosuke’s awareness returning; and knew that he was going to have to end the act now and worry about the consequences to his friendships later. Saitō was still holding back; he wasn’t going to be able to defeat him while still maintaining the role of the rurouni. And Saitō knows it. Damn him to the Buddhists’ hell!
“Kenshin!” Kaoru exclaimed, as she reached him. “Ken–” She stopped abruptly, and Kenshin knew that she was seeing the hints of amber in his eyes as he focused his attention completely on the fight. Much as he hated doing so, he was going to have to treat his friends as though they were simply innocent bystanders, and ignore them.
“Move, little girl,” Saitō said from behind Kaoru, and Kenshin saw her stiffen, then turn and move between them.
“Get out of the way.”
Saitō’s voice was flat. He wouldn’t kill her. Not for this. But he was willing to hurt her if she continued to interfere, Kenshin knew.
He stood back up, pushing Kaoru out of the way as he kept his gaze fixed on Saitō, eyes narrow and amber-flecked.
They stared at each other for a long moment… but this time, Kenshin was the first to move.
He sensed a flicker of surprise from Saitō at his speed, but the Shinsengumi recovered quickly, lunging forward again – only Kenshin had already ducked down.
This time, it was Saitō’s knee that hit him.
I’ve had… just about enough of this. Kenshin stood back up, his breathing harsh as he forced himself to control the pain. You injured Sanosuke, then lured me out of here so you could present me with a threat to the others when I returned; you’ve refused to tell me why; and now you’re toying with me, trying to ‘release Battōsai’ – in front of my friends.
I really don’t like being played with.
All right, Saitō, you’re about to get what you wanted. I hope you’re ready for it.
Drawing on his reserves of energy and pushing the pain away – back behind the barriers that held his strongest emotions when he played the role of the rurouni – as he let his battle-rage rise, Kenshin calmed his breathing, stood up straight, and raised his head.
Both Saitō and Kaoru’s eyes widened, recognizing the amber glow of his eyes. Kenshin ignored Kaoru’s fear – much as he hated the necessity of it – and concentrated on the slight flickers of anticipation he could sense from Saitō.
The Shinsengumi smiled, and took a variation of his Gatotsu stance.
“This is the true Gatotsu!” he declared. “There will be no holding back!”
And none on my part either, Saitō – not now. Foolish of you to do it this way, however; you’ve just finished attacking with Gatotsu – three times. Don’t you think I’ve figured it out by now?
Once again, Saitō lunged.
Kenshin stood still, waiting, judging… and then just before Saitō’s sword reached him, he turned to one side. But rather than waiting for the side slash, he continued to turn, using the force the spin built up to propel the blade of his sakabatō against Saitō’s shoulders.
This time, it was Saitō’s turn to go through the wall.
The blow hadn’t killed him, Kenshin knew – just injured him enough to make them more equal. If Saitō wanted a real fight… well, he was now going to get one.
He walked forward, stopping just in front of the hole. “However strong Gatotsu may be, when it’s shown four times in a few minutes, any idiot can come up with a few ways to counter it.
“Get up, Saitō,” he continued curtly. “A ten-year duel can’t end this quietly.”
Saitō chuckled as he pushed himself up and stepped back through the hole. “My orders are to evaluate your strength,” he commented casually.
So that was why he sounded so analytical….
“But I don’t care about them now. I will now kill you.”
And how many times does this make it? You’ve threatened me with that so often, I’ve lost count. “Quit posing,” Kenshin returned coldly. You want a real duel, Saitō? Fine. You’ve got it. “You know I’m the one who will kill you.”
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[Edited Sun. May 01/05] Go to Chapter 2, Part 1 (Challenges).