At long last, Part 4 of Chapter 2 of RuroBatt. (And as for RuroSen, perhaps Chp. 1 may be posted next week….)
Back to Chapter 2, Part 3.
1) And the winner is – Edge of the Blade.
2) Just a reminder that anyone who provides constructive criticism will get credited as a gamma-reader….
3) I had some fun with the Kenshin/Kaoru farewell scene…. *EG* Those who have the manga will no doubt notice that it looks familiar… but the order of the dialogue is different. And it includes an explanation of how I see the relationship between them in this AU…. Enjoy!
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 4: Departure
Kenshin leaned against the railing of the bridge, looking over the water, as he tried to think. Behind him, he could hear a babble of confused and frightened voices as people tried to figure out what would happen, now that Ōkubo was dead.
A lot of fear, Kenshin reflected soberly, as he studied his reflection in the water. He’d heard a number of people worry about the possibility of another war while he’d been wandering around; no one wanted to experience another Bakumatsu, but that was what everyone feared would happen. Too much fear. Which is, I suspect, at least a part of the reason Shishio chose to go after Ōkubo directly.
And just standing here, brooding, is not going to help deal with him; nor will it truly help me decide how to tell Kaoru, Yahiko, Sano, and Megumi that I am leaving – and leaving alone. He shook his head silently. I’m going to have to decide the best way based on their reactions to what has happened. And the sooner I do it, the quicker it will be dealt with.
Resolutely pushing himself away from the railing, Kenshin turned and started back toward the Kamiya dojo.
Kenshin arrived at the dojo just in time to see Megumi and Sanosuke leaving, accompanied by a young boy; Megumi was muttering something that sounded like, “An emergency, tonight of all nights…!”
Well, their absence would make things a bit easier on him, at least, though he suspected that the others would feel he was taking the coward’s way out.
So be it, he thought grimly, drifting a bit closer as Sanosuke and Megumi’s voices moved out of range. I suspect that even if I did manage to convince them of the necessity of my going to Kyoto – which I don’t think would be possible with words, at least when it comes to Sanosuke – they would want to come with me. Sanosuke – and Kaoru, if the others were there – would insist upon it, I believe. Kenshin eyed the girl standing just outside the dojo’s gate thoughtfully. Yahiko was nowhere to be seen, but he could sense the boy’s ki just inside.
But I can’t afford to let that happen. Even ignoring the fact that they don’t know the truth about me, they are still my friends – despite what Saitō might think of that. And if he’s right about Shishio having spies watching me – which I suspect he is, considering that Ōkubo’s assassin knew they had requested my assistance – then Shishio will know they are my friends.
Most of his attention, from what Ōkubo and Saitō said, is already focused on Kyoto; and I suspect that when Saitō and I arrive there, he will focus all of his attention there. If Kaoru, Sano, and the others were to follow me, Shishio would simply target them in order to split my focus – as Saitō was only too happy to demonstrate last week. And he would be able to deal with them easily.
So this way – unpleasant as the revelation that he was gone would be for his friends, and as much as he dreaded the consequences to those friendships – was by far the safest option for all of them.
Kenshin had just taken another step forward when Kaoru turned and caught sight of him.
“Kenshin!” she exclaimed, sounding delighted at his appearance… and then she fell silent, staring at him.
He knew what she saw: a grim expression, and narrowed blue-violet eyes – not quite the hitokiri he was still, despite what his friends thought, but not the mask of the gentle rurouni either. His thoughts were too dark to maintain the act – had been so since he had seen Ōkubo’s body.
But for Kaoru’s sake, he forced himself to gentle his expression, and winced as he sensed her uncertain relief.
“Yahiko?” he inquired then.
“Umm… oh. He got tired of waiting and went to sleep,” she replied.
Sleep? “Ah,” he murmured. Yahiko’s ki didn’t feel as though he were asleep, but Kenshin felt it best not to argue. This was going to be difficult enough as it was – no sense in making things even harder for either of them.
“Kenshin?” Kaoru’s uncertainty had returned full force at his noncommittal answer.
He took a deep breath. “Ōkubo-kyo was killed this morning.”
“Yes, we heard,” Kaoru replied. “The papers said it was samurai from–”
Kenshin knew what to say now. “The real killers are Shishio and his men,” he interrupted her quietly. “They can’t be allowed to run loose.”
He paused for a moment, and then added, “This one’s off to Kyoto.”
The expression on her face was one of mingled shock and horror, and Kenshin lowered his face, unable to meet her eyes.
There was a long moment of silence between them, and then Kaoru’s voice broke it.
“Shishio Makoto… will you assassinate him, then?”
Kenshin had no idea how to answer that. Assassinate Shishio? The term implied killing someone who was, in essence, helpless to fight back against you – which Shishio most definitely was not. At the same time, he was fully aware of what Kaoru meant by the question: ‘Will you kill him?’
“Maybe so,” he stated finally – answering both the question asked, and the one implied. “This one will try to avoid it… but it may not be possible. Shishio must be defeated, and if the only way to do that is to kill him, then that is what this one must do.”
Kenshin looked away from her again. “During the time spent here, it seemed life as a normal swordsman was possible,” he murmured, speaking more to himself than to Kaoru. It had seemed that way; he’d been able to ignore the instincts that pressed him to leave, to resume wandering… to kill those he faced in battle. “But….” He took a deep breath. Was he really going to do this? Really going to tell Kaoru the truth?
Yes. In a way. Not the complete truth – not now, this is neither the time nor the place for it – but at least let her know that ‘Hitokiri Battōsai’ is still very much a part of who I am.
“After the battle with Saitō, there can be no doubt; deep in this one’s heart, the hitokiri still lives.”
“But you can turn back!” Kaoru yelled, grabbing his shoulders – and Kenshin had to forcibly restrain the urge to throw her off. Now that he was finally listening to those instincts again, they were stronger than they had been for years. “However close you get to Battōsai, Kenshin is still Kenshin!”
“Because if you believe that your ‘friends’ have truly accepted you as you are – or even as you pretend to be – you are deceiving yourself.” Saitō’s voice echoed in his memory, the words of three days ago coming back to haunt him. “Knowing is not accepting, much less understanding. And the only thing they accept about you is the mask you show them.”
Ironic, that it would be the Miburō who would see this better than I….
He couldn’t leave Kaoru like this.
“When we first met… ‘I don’t care about people’s pasts,’ you said. It was an amazing thing; this one had never felt that much acceptance before.” Kenshin offered her a faint smile. “Days were spent with peace in the heart.
“But now time has begun to flow once more, and standing still… is no longer permitted.”
Stepping forward, Kenshin pulled her into an embrace. Full acceptance and understanding or not, Kaoru was still a friend – one he loved as dearly as a little sister. She deserved to know that.
“Thank you – for everything,” he murmured, “and… sayonara.” Remembering the night in the dojo when he’d defeated Hiruma Gohei, and Kaoru had discovered who he was, his expression softened further and he gave a bittersweet smile. “This one is rurouni once again; once more, this one will drift.”
Kenshin let her go, and then turned and walked off, forcing himself to ignore her calls after him. Best to make a clean break.
This had not been a good day so far, and it didn’t look to be getting any better, Saitō thought irritably as he waited. On the surface, the coded message in his pocket appeared to be good news – or comparatively good news, at least – but with everything that had been happening lately, the Shinsengumi wasn’t certain that it would be. Yes, it gave them a potential advantage – but it would delay his arrival in Kyoto, and if Battōsai was still planning to go by the Tōkaidō….
“You appear… displeased,” came the hitokiri’s voice from behind him.
Saitō turned around, surprised that Battōsai had managed to get so close without revealing any hint of his presence, even to Saitō’s ki-sense. That was something that definitely had not happened since the Bakumatsu, and Saitō wasn’t sure whether he should consider it a good or a bad occurrence. Like so much else that had happened this afternoon.
“Battōsai,” he greeted the hitokiri. “Have you finished your farewells?”
He was surprised to see a hint of amber in the hitokiri’s eyes at the question, and wondered what had brought that on.
“Yes,” Battōsai said, his tone cold.
Understanding the warning for what it was, Saitō decided to change the subject. As long as Battōsai’s ‘friends’ didn’t threaten their mission, the hitokiri’s relationship with them was none of his affair. And Battōsai would have made certain that they wouldn’t interfere. “Are you still planning to walk to Kyoto by way of the Tōkaidō?”
Battōsai shrugged. “Unless you have a compelling reason why I should not,” he answered. “It still seems the best way to both avoid having any innocents put at risk if Shishio’s men choose to ambush me, and get a sense for what is happening in the more rural areas.
“Why?” he added.
“Something has come up that I need to deal with before leaving for Kyoto myself,” Saitō replied. “In addition to that, it will take a few days for the forces that we may need to assist us to finish getting organized – Ōkubo’s assassination has caused a great deal of confusion, and as a result, the police force will not be at their most efficient until Kawaji gets things under control.”
“So we are likely to arrive in Kyoto at the same time,” Battōsai said thoughtfully.
Saitō nodded. “As long as you don’t dawdle, that is,” he added, and despite the events of the day, found himself amused by the glare Battōsai gave him. It was an interesting game, taunting the hitokiri, and was so far proving to be quite entertaining.
But this was not a time to indulge further in his newly discovered pastime. “Shishio has spun a spider’s web of intelligence across the nation – he’ll know all that you do.” He picked up the slim bag he’d brought and handed it to the hitokiri. “A copy of the file we have on Shishio’s activities and men. Once you finish reading it, burn it.”
Battōsai inclined his head in silent acknowledgement as he accepted the bag and tucked it into his gi. “Is there anything else?”
“No,” Saitō said simply.
“Then I will see you in Kyoto,” the hitokiri returned, and before Saitō noticed, he had vanished into the shadows.
Well, I suppose it’s good he hasn’t lost any of his skills, Saitō thought, turning his own steps toward the police department. He had an urgent response to write to Mishima Ei’ichirō, and the sooner it was sent off, the better. The young agent could be too impulsive at times, and Saitō had no desire to have to rescue him from his own folly. He’ll need them, against Shishio….
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[Edited Fri. Sept. 30/05] Go to Chapter 3, Part 1 (Assorted Nuisances – Bandits and Kunoichi).