And now, Pt. 3 of Chapter 2 of RuroBatt…. (Minor edit made Sat. Aug. 06/05.)
Back to Chapter 2, Part 2.
1) Still need suggestions for a good title – particularly as I’m planning to start posting to FFNet soon. Series title (because this really does look like it could be a series) is Dragon and Wolf (for obvious reasons). Titles that have been suggested are:
- Concealed Blades (from Vathara)
- Vow’s Edge (from Vathara)
- Journey’s Balance (from Loui)
- Edge of the Blade (possibly mine, possibly someone else’s suggestion – added 15:35 hrs.)
*sigh* I think I had another one or two from someone, but can’t find them right now…. Other ideas?
2) And the continuing theme is…. Guesses? *g*
3) Please note that anyone who provides constructive criticism will get credited as a gamma-reader….
4) (Minor Note) I know that the sub-titled anime says the building where Kenshin and Saitō meet Kawaji is the Tokyo Metropolitan PD Headquarters, but it worked better in here as the Department of Internal Affairs.
Rurouni Kenshin is © Nobuhiro Watsuki. A lot of the dialogue in this chapter was taken from Acts 54-57 of the Rurouni Kenshin manga, written by the noble Watsuki-san, some of it modified slightly by bits from the anime, some of it modified by the requirements of the story. This story is fanfiction, and is not intended as infringement on that copyright.
CHAPTER TWO: Ōkubo Toshimichi – May 14th, 11th Year of Meiji
Part 3: Disruption
Kenshin woke up quite early on Tuesday morning – the Western ‘May 14th’, when he was to give Ōkubo his answer concerning the situation with Shishio. He’d already made his mind up on how he was going to do that: Saitō had sent a messenger yesterday with the details of Ōkubo’s schedule today – and having seen how busy the Chief of Meiji Internal Affairs was going to be, Kenshin had decided that he would go to Ōkubo, rather than force him to return to the dojo. The fact that it would also give him a chance to tell Ōkubo that he would go to Kyoto without his friends around was, admittedly, something of a bonus.
A part of his early awakening was apprehension about how his friends would take his decision to go to Kyoto… but most of it was a certain eagerness to be on the road again, in spite of what had brought him to that point.
Saitō’s comments about his friends and the habits of ten years had hit harder than Kenshin suspected the Miburō had actually intended. After all, for ten years being a wanderer, a rurouni, had not only been his penance, but his safety. The truth was, he’d already begun to feel edgy in Tokyo, even before Saitō’s appearance.
He’d learned as a young boy with the slavers that being unnoticed was a good thing. That lesson had only been reinforced as a teenager, when he’d become hitokiri; and at the same time, he’d also learned that staying in one place for too long was hazardous, and that danger could come when and from those least expected. Those lessons, learned young and reinforced by years of experience, would always be strong in him – so strong as to be instinctive now. And those instincts had started nagging at him to leave as far back as when Yamagata had shown up; had only become stronger when Jin-e had appeared; and had begun shouting at him after he had faced Shinomori Aoshi.
Kenshin had managed to ignore them surprisingly well, all things considered, thanks to the friends he’d made… but now that the opportunity to leave had come up, he felt almost compelled to take it. The only thing that had really been holding him back from having told Ōkubo ‘yes’ immediately, aside from the presence of his friends, was the concern over what the government would do, and when Saitō had provided a solution for that issue – with the unwanted addition of his quite blunt and cynical opinion on Kenshin’s friendships – his agreement had become a forgone conclusion.
Of course, under ordinary circumstances, the first thing he would have done would be to place as much of a distance as possible between himself and any more official notice; but Shishio’s plans changed things. He’d fought in one war; he never wanted to have to deal with another, and was determined that he would do whatever he could to prevent it from happening.
Shaking his head absently as he pushed the thoughts of Shishio away – there was still some time before he would have to leave to meet Ōkubo – Kenshin glanced around the dojo courtyard. He’d already made breakfast, and it was next to the small stove, keeping warm, but there was probably something else he could do to keep himself occupied….
His eyes fell on the laundry bins, and he frowned slightly. No, he hadn’t done the laundry for a few days – which meant it was definitely time for that.
He walked silently back into the building and began collecting all the dirty clothes – which had somehow come to include a few things of Sanosuke’s, he noticed wryly – in preparation.
Kenshin sighed silently as he started scrubbing the second-last piece of clothing left to be washed. Kaoru had been giving him confused looks ever since he’d started doing the laundry right after breakfast, and he didn’t need to be able to read ki to know what she was thinking. Yahiko didn’t seem to see anything strange about it, luckily… he’d become accustomed to Kenshin’s habit of doing chores even during the tensest times. But, Kenshin thought, as he sensed Sanosuke’s ki approaching, I do have to wonder what Sano’s reaction will be….
He didn’t have to wait long to find out. He heard Sano come around the building, and a moment later felt a foot nudge him sharply in the side as Sano shouted, “Hey!”
Kenshin looked up to see Sanosuke staring at him in disbelief.
“This is no time to be doing laundry!” the street-fighter exclaimed, sounding mildly disgusted. Kenshin gave him a questioning look.
“What are you gonna say?
“I know you probably won’t,” Sanosuke continued, in a somewhat less strident tone, “but I’m still afraid you’re going to listen to Ōkubo. Don’t do it. Something smells bad. If the government itself stinks, don’t expect the man at the top to smell of flowers.”
So cynical, Sano…. Ōkubo is perhaps the best person for the job because he doesn’t ‘stink’, as you put it. “Sano, you hate the Meiji government from the bottom of your heart, don’t you,” Kenshin started. He didn’t care that much for the government himself, but Ōkubo Toshimichi, at least, didn’t deserve Sanosuke’s distrust. It was unlikely that Sano would ever like Ōkubo, particularly after Kenshin left, but hopefully he might be able to convince his friend that there was at least one person in the government who did still care about the people of Japan.
“Shouldn’t I? I’m Sekihō-tai, remember?” Sanosuke said, glaring at him.
“‘Course,” Kenshin murmured, as Kaoru came out to join them, holding a towel. He reached for the last piece of clothing and began scrubbing it. “But if Ōkubo-kyo was just another corrupt revolutionary, living for wealth or fame, wouldn’t Saitō have already slain him?”
He could feel both Kaoru and Sano staring at him in disbelief, but ignored their looks to concentrate on finishing the laundry. He was going to have to leave soon if he was going to catch Ōkubo between appointments… the laundry had taken more time than he had anticipated when he’d started it, thanks mostly to the addition of Sano’s clothes, which had left him running later than expected.
“That crazy cop?” Yahiko questioned from the yard, where he’d been doing his morning exercises. “He’s just a government dog.”
Sano seems to have had a definite effect on Yahiko’s vocabulary, Kenshin noted absently, feeling a hint of amusement ease the seriousness of his mood.
Now… how could he best explain to them that Saitō was anything but that?
“Aku. Soku. Zan.” Saitō’s words from before the fight in the dojo echoed in his memory.
“No…. Before we fought, Saitō spoke of justice,” Kenshin started slowly. “No dog would dare to use such words. That man is still a Wolf of Mibu….” In the best sense of the term, that is – Miburō as Kondo, Hijikata, Okita, and Saitō himself made them, rather than Serizawa and Niimi…. “…And even in the darkness, his fangs glow with ‘Swift Death to Evil’.” He finished the rinsing and put the last piece of clothing it the bucket to be hung up, then picked up his sakabatō and stood up, slipping it into his obi. He could sense Megumi approaching the dojo, and knew he was going to have to act decisively if he was going to avoid having them delay him too long.
“So, then…” he said, picking up the bucket and handing it to Yahiko, “the hanging-up’s left to you, Yahiko.”
When Yahiko started to protest, Kenshin explained, “This one is going to Ōkubo-kyo’s mansion.”
Again, Kaoru and Sanosuke gave him stares of surprised disbelief.
“But why?” Kaoru asked. “He said he’d come here.”
“Ōkubo-kyo is a very busy person,” Kenshin pointed out calmly. “It will be faster to go, than to wait. Besides–”
“There you are!” Megumi called, interrupting as she rounded the corner. “Good morning, Ken-san!”
“If it isn’t the vixen,” Sanosuke remarked, giving her a cool look. “And what’re you after, so early in the morning?”
Kenshin blinked in surprise. He would have thought it obvious: she was here for the same reason she’d been over to cook dinner every night for the past week; for the same reason everyone else was acting so tense. She wanted to stop him from agreeing to go to Kyoto.
Megumi crossed her arms over her chest and gave an indignant snort. “You do realize you’re speaking to the person who saved your life?!”
He ignored them as they began to squabble, concentrating on drying his hands with the towel Kaoru handed him. He didn’t have either the time or the inclination to referee between them at the moment.
He didn’t look over until Kaoru’s voice added itself to the tumult.
“What do you want?”
Megumi turned to look at Kenshin with a bright, mischievious smile on her face, and he felt a sudden touch of wariness. She has something up her sleeve….
“Today’s the day for your reply, right?” Megumi said, speaking directly to him rather than answering Kaoru. “I brought something to help you decide….”
Yes, she’s up to something…. “Oro?” Kenshin said out loud, letting his eyes widen innocently.
Megumi’s smile grew larger as she pulled something out of her kimono….
…A collar and leash.
Kenshin was not amused, though Yahiko and Sanosuke definitely were, however much Sano tried to hid it. Kaoru, on the other hand, got quite offended on his behalf, and started yelling at Megumi.
Of all the things…. Why are they treating this as a joke now? He shook his head in exasperation. If he didn’t watch out, this would delay him too long. “Enough,” Kenshin said firmly, interrupting the burgeoning argument. “This one is going.”
“Do you even know where his mansion is?” Kaoru questioned, immediately re-directing her attention back to him.
Kenshin shrugged. “No. But word has him in Akasaka today.” Well, Saitō’s message did, at least. “If the route is by way of Kioizaka, intercepting him is likely.” And if he waited much longer, he would miss Ōkubo’s carriage.
“Then we’ll go with you!” Kaoru exclaimed brightly.
Kenshin hid a flinch. That was very definitely the last thing he needed…. “No,” he replied quietly. He would have to tell them that he was leaving soon enough, but the longer he could put that off, the better. And he didn’t want to tell them in Ōkubo’s – or Saitō’s – presence. “It will be a complicated conversation,” he continued, starting toward the dojo’s side gate. “It’s better to be alone.”
Kaoru’s ki flared with hurt at that, and Kenshin winced as he finished turning away. He hadn’t meant his words to sound quite as harsh as they had… but it was too late to rephrase it now. And… in a sense, it was true… at least for him.
He carefully didn’t look back as he went out the small side gate.
Kenshin frowned as he walked up the slope of Kioizaka. He’d thought that he would meet Ōkubo’s carriage below, but had so far seen no sign of it–
Abruptly the murmuring of many voices impinged on his senses, and Kenshin came around a corner to find a huge crowd gathered at the side of the road, with police officers keeping them away from the road itself. He could smell the thick, coppery scent of freshly-spilled blood, and felt a surge of alarm. What had happened here?
There were times when his slight frame was a benefit, and this was one of them. He was able to slip easily through the crowd to the edge of the road to see what had caught so much attention.
Lying on the road itself, surrounded by police officers, were two blanket-covered bodies, blood spread out across the surface of the road under them. Kenshin found his eyes widening in shock as he recognized Ōkubo’s hair under the blanket closest to him, the one with the most police officers surrounding it. “Ōkubo-kyo…” he murmured. What could have–
“If you don’t yet wish to die,” said a quiet voice from his right, “I would suggest not going against Shishio-san.”
Kenshin felt his eyes going pure amber as he whipped his head around, searching for whomever had just spoken. He caught a glimpse of a figure about his height in white and blue before it disappeared into the crowd, but he couldn’t sense anyone.
Well, no matter. Whoever it had been, they were certain to encounter each other again.
He glanced once more toward the bodies on the road, and then turned and slipped back out of the crowd, one thought uppermost in his mind. Shishio Makoto….
Saitō looked up as he sensed a familiar, tightly-leashed ki approaching the building of the Department of Internal Affairs. Uncrossing his arms, he pushed himself away from the outside wall where he’d been leaning, and caught sight of Battōsai walking up the path to the gate.
The hitokiri’s smooth stride and hard amber eyes caught his attention, and Saitō knew he didn’t have to ask if Battōsai had heard the news; everything about him, from his stance to the current fury surging through his ki, shouted that he knew what had happened.
“It’s been claimed by a group of seven samurai from Ishikawa Prefecture,” the Shinsengumi stated, as Battōsai drew even with him. “However–”
“It was one of Shishio’s men.” Battōsai’s voice was quiet and cold, his tone matter-of-fact, recalling countless bloody nights in Kyoto. “He was still at the scene when I got there, and obviously recognized me – he warned me not to go after Shishio unless I was prepared to die.”
Foolish of him, Saitō thought darkly. Battōsai had put his life on the line during the Bakumatsu, fighting for his beliefs; what made them think this would be different? It was clear as day that Ōkubo’s assassination – and perhaps even the threat itself – had only served to intensify Battōsai’s determination to deal with Shishio.
And on that topic…. “Kawaji wants to see us,” he stated, starting toward the building; Battōsai followed him, still moving with the iron control that made it clear the rurouni mask had been firmly put away. Saitō shrugged, mildly irritated – but at the same time, understanding precisely why Kawaji was insisting – as he continued, “He needs to hear from you that you have agreed to help deal with Shishio.”
Battōsai gave him a single, sharp nod as they strode into the building and along the hall that led to Kawaji’s office.
Neither of them spoke as they walked, but the silence that surrounded them was not an easy one; rather than a calm silence that respected the atmosphere of grief that permeated the building, theirs was a killer’s silence, full of sharp teeth. A silence that lasted until they reached the door to Kawaji’s office.
Saitō knocked on the doorframe, waited until he heard Kawaji’s voice say, “Come in,” and then gestured for Battōsai to enter before closing the door behind them both.
Kawaji looked up from the files on his desk, his expression drawn and shadowed. “Saitō. Did you find–”
Battōsai took a step forward, and Kawaji started in surprise as he suddenly saw the redhead.
It had always amazed Saitō how easily the hitokiri could remain unnoticed, considering his very distinctive appearance. Even ki-projection could only do so much…. But this was neither the time nor the place to concern himself about that.
“Himura-san,” the Superintendent-General acknowledged, standing up and coming out from behind his desk; he looked a great deal more tired than he had when Saitō had reported in for work a few hours ago. “I… assume you’ve heard… about–”
“I was planning to meet Ōkubo-san’s carriage on Kioizaka to discuss my decision with him,” Battōsai said simply.
Kawaji gave a tired nod, and then turned back to face Saitō, who had taken up his usual position leaning against the wall next to the window. “Is there anything new on those samurai?”
Saitō shook his head in disgust. “No; they’re all still insisting that they are the ones responsible. They sent the notice to the papers before Ōkubo would have left his meeting with Yamayoshi-san; they are most likely simply trying to save face.”
Kawaji had turned around and thumped his fists on his desk in a mixture of rage, frustration, and grief. “These are the methods of Shishio!” he exclaimed furiously. “He plants spies throughout the nation and uses their discoveries to commit crimes. Never revealing himself…. Chiseling away at the Meiji government until the day they revolt….” He bowed his head. “Ōkubo-kyo….”
He was interrupted by a knocking at the door, and Saitō noticed Battōsai’s eyes fade back to blue as the hitokiri turned to look at the man who had just walked in.
“Yamayoshi-dono, the prefectural governor of Fukushima,” Kawaji identified the newcomer, without turning around. He straightened up slightly. “The last person to exchange words with Ōkubo-kyo.”
“We’d finished discussing the plans for Tokyo,” Governor Yamayoshi explained. Saitō pretended disinterest, but was in reality listening closely. “I visited him this morning to say goodbye. I never expected anything like this to happen….”
Kenshin listened to Governor Yamayoshi’s story, and felt an additional surge of sorrow for what had been lost with Ōkubo’s death. Not only a good, honest man, but someone who had high ideals for Japan, and – just as importantly, if not more so – both a plan and the power to bring them about.
“A nation state,” Saitō commented from his position against the wall, once Yamayoshi had finished telling his story, “in which the citizens choose their own paths, free of the oligarchy of Edo… or of Meiji, so far.” His voice seemed almost neutral – but Kenshin heard a hint of something that sounded very much like admiration buried in it. “A distant dream.”
“But it was a conceivable dream,” the Superintendent-General said, the strain in his voice obvious, “as long as Ōkubo-kyo was with us.”
Kenshin glanced at Saitō, who met his gaze with a grim look that said that he was also aware of Kawaji’s tone.
“I was curious about one thing,” Yamayoshi continued, and Kenshin had the feeling this was the main reason the governor had come to see Kawaji. “Ōkubo-kyo, who was usually of few words, was unusually talkative this morning. I don’t think he was expecting his death… but he did believe that today, somehow, was an important day for the future of Japan.”
Because today was the day I was to give him my answer? Kenshin wondered. Or for some other reason?
Now, of course, it would be important because of Ōkubo’s assassination. A very far cry from what he had wanted.
“Thank you, Yamayoshi-dono,” Kawaji said quietly, turning around to face the governor and giving him a low bow. “I appreciate you coming to tell me this.”
“You are welcome, Kawaji-san,” the governor replied, clearly realizing that Kawaji had no intentions of giving him any details of the matter. He bowed in return, and then let himself out, closing the door again behind him.
“Himura-san,” Kawaji said, as soon as the door was completely closed, “I understand that you have agreed to go to Kyoto?”
“Yes,” Kenshin replied simply.
“Thank you. Saitō, please see to it that Himura-san is given what assistance he needs to make the trip.”
“Of course, Kawaji-san,” Saitō said evenly, and then gestured for Kenshin to follow him back out.
“Kawaji-san was quite shaken,” Kenshin remarked quietly, as they walked through the halls back to the entrance. The completely empty halls… it appeared that everyone was either working, or had left for the day, shocked by the news.
“He was originally discovered by Ōkubo-kyo,” Saitō commented easily. His tone then turned serious. “But Kawaji isn’t the only one shaken. Now, the last of the three greatest revolutionaries is gone. The government has been left in the hands of third-rate bureaucrats and drones.” The Miburō gave Kenshin a sidelong glance. “Now, surely, chaos will engulf Japan – and Shishio will not let this opportunity go.”
Kenshin nodded in agreement.
“Which means we will have to move swiftly,” Saitō continued. “Have you made arrangements to leave yet?”
“No,” Kenshin admitted after a moment. “I came here… directly from Kioizaka.”
“Then you’d best go handle them now.” Saitō opened the door at the end of the hall to let them out. “I’ll meet you at the train station at nine o’clock.”
“All right,” Kenshin agreed. “I’ll meet you there.” He turned away from the Miburō and headed down the stairs to the courtyard; it was finally time to figure out how he was going to say goodbye to his friends.
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[Edited Tues. Sept. 13/05] Go to Chapter 2, Part 4 (Departure).