My apologies for the delay in posting this… I’ve been a bit distracted of late.
Back to Chapter 3, Part 1.
1) Please note that this is the only part I’m writing concerning the journeys of any of the Kenshin-gumi to Kyoto, because there are no differences between their trips in manga canon and in this story. The differences for them begin in Kyoto, when they meet back up with Kenshin. I’m including this bit, however, because Saitō had a few things to say about Sanosuke and Aoshi.
2) I’m basing Saitō and Aoshi’s meeting more on the anime than the manga, mainly because I can’t imagine that Aoshi, being the Okashira, has no idea of who “Fujita Gorō” really is.
3) Just a reminder that anyone who provides constructive criticism will get credited as a gamma-reader….
Rurouni Kenshin is © Nobuhiro Watsuki. A lot of the dialogue – but definitely not all – in this chapter was taken from Acts 58, 59, and 61-70 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 THREE: Makimachi Misao – Tōkaidō and Shingetsu
Part 2: Assorted Nuisances – Morons and Okashira
Saitō Hajime had been in a bad mood Tuesday night. By Thursday, that ‘bad mood’ had been elevated to a towering fury. He had hoped to be on his way to Shingetsu village by yesterday afternoon at the latest, but the police force was still in a state of confusion in the aftermath of Ōkubo’s assassination.
It was ridiculous.
There were very few members of the police force – only himself and about two or three others – who had looked directly to Ōkubo-kyo for instructions. As Superintendent-General, Kawaji commanded the rest, and despite his own uncertainty over how to react to the situation, Kawaji was doing a more than adequate job. However, that didn’t seem to matter to everyone else.
And to make matters worse, Kawaji had decided that since Battōsai had agreed to deal with Shishio, they were obligated to keep their end of the bargain, and take care of his friends. Not that Saitō objected to that on principle – in fact, he was pleased that Kawaji was keeping the bargain they’d offered the hitokiri – but the Superintendent-General had decided to assign him to keep an eye on the group today, since things still hadn’t been settled enough to allow him to leave for Kyoto.
It really was no wonder he was in the mood to kill someone; preferably Shishio, though some of his men would do for now….
…Or, as Shishio’s men seem to be currently unavailable, Saitō thought, darkly amused by the direction of his own thoughts, as he trailed a quite furious-looking Myōjin Yahiko through some of the poorer areas of Tokyo, then perhaps the opportunity to deal with Sagara might do almost as much for my mood….
The brat had stormed out of the Kamiya dojo almost half an hour ago, and after following him to the Akabeko, a beef-pot restaurant that Battōsai and his friends tended to frequent, Saitō had discovered that the Kamiya girl was being an idiot, and Myōjin was looking for Sagara – presumably to try to get some sense beaten into her.
Myōjin finally came to a stop in front of a house with the name ‘Tsukioka’ on the door – Sagara’s fellow Sekihō-tai survivor, Saitō recalled, leaning against the wall of one of the houses on the opposite side of the street and crossing his arms. The brat hadn’t even realized he’d been followed; hard to believe he had been working for a yakuza before Battōsai had taken him in.
The door of Tsukioka’s house slid open, and Sagara started out, only to bump right into Myōjin, who’d been getting ready to walk in. Saitō’s eyes narrowed as he noticed the pack slung over Sagara’s shoulder.
So… the moron plans to go to Kyoto, does he? It was the obvious destination, of course, Saitō mused, as the two youngsters shouted at each other; but Sagara’s presence in Kyoto would only be a nuisance, and a distraction to Battōsai. A distraction that could result in their failure.
Abruptly Sagara’s ki flared with hostility, and Saitō hid a dark smile as the moron finally realized….
“Yahiko, you… you’ve been followed.”
Time to see if the moron has learned his lesson. “Where do you plan on going?” Saitō asked coldly.
“To Kyoto, of course,” Sagara responded, his tone brash. “Got a problem?”
Of course. Idiot. Didn’t he learn anything from the battles Battōsai has fought since arriving here? “Yes. It worries me, having a weakling involved.”
“What?” Sagara blurted.
Saitō pushed himself away from the wall and took a step forward, projecting a menace that should help engrave his words on Sagara’s mind. “The essence of combat is to strike at the vulnerabilities of one’s opponent,” he explained calmly. “If you go to Kyoto, Battōsai will feel he has to protect you. You will give Shishio a place to strike.” He took another step forward. “Why do you think he went alone?” Raising one hand, he pointed directly at the two of them, Sagara and Myōjin.
“To Battōsai, your existence is nothing but a vulnerability. I took on the role of Jin-e and attacked you in order to drive that point home. Go to Kyoto, and it was for nothing.” Saitō glared at them. “Don’t ruin this by following. Stay put in Tokyo.”
Myōjin looked upset, but Saitō couldn’t care less. Better to have the brat be upset than provide the means for Shishio to triumph over Battōsai.
“I see,” Sagara muttered slowly. “To Kenshin, I’m a liability… and that’s why he left on his own.”
Abruptly, he exploded. “Good to know!” he yelled, ki radiating fury. “Now I’m really going to belt him!” He stalked forward. “Move, Saitō! If you don’t move, I’ll make you!”
Moron. “No,” Saitō said calmly. It was definitely time to teach this idiot the lesson he’d obviously refused to learn from their first encounter. “You will not.”
He wasn’t in the least bit surprised when Sagara drew back his fist for a punch, both the movement and his ki telegraphing exactly what he was going to do before he did it. Saitō simply moved out of the way – and then, while Sagara’s arm was still extended and he was vulnerable, the Shinsengumi grabbed his sleeve, keeping him in that position.
He’d been right – the moron hadn’t the slightest idea of how to defend himself, only attack.
With a contemptuous snort, Saitō threw a punch of his own – hitting Sagara on the shoulder, just underneath where he’d struck with Gatotsu a week and a half ago.
“No fair!” the Myōjin boy protested loudly. “His wound hasn’t healed yet!”
Saitō ignored the yell, as he lifted Sagara into the air and flung him back down on the ground. Then, to finish getting his point across, he stepped forward, and dug the heel of his boot into the same place he’d just punched.
Ignoring the spurt of blood that followed, he turned to look at Myōjin. “I told you,” he said coldly. “The essence of combat is to strike the vulnerabilities of one’s opponent. There is no ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’.” He took a step forward. “Kenshin,” he continued, pointedly using the name Myōjin had told him to call Battōsai last week, “doesn’t go to a dojo duel in Kyoto. He goes to a death match. This is not for you. Stay here in Tokyo.”
“Never!” the brat yelled, grabbing his shinai.
This was even more ridiculous than the current situation among the police. Did the boy really think he could do anything to harm Saitō? Well, a punch or two would take care of that. Battōsai would undoubtedly be quite irritated with him, but Saitō didn’t think he’d protest too much, considering how much trouble he’d gone to in order to make sure they remained safe.
Then a sense of movement behind him was followed by Sagara’s voice saying, “No pain here.”
Turning to look, Saitō was momentarily surprised to see the moron on his feet, before he remembered the resilience Sagara had demonstrated last time.
“Pain takes time,” Sagara continued, his voice harsh. “This wound might hurt,” his hand clenched into a fist, and Saitō felt the hostility in his ki rise again, “but that pain’s nothing compared to knowing that Kenshin thinks of me as weak!” He struck.
It was quite a powerful punch – more powerful, despite his wounded shoulder, than the one he’d attacked Saitō with at the dojo, pushing him backward. Nonetheless, it did no damage, thanks to the fact that it had been easily blocked.
“So, outta my way, Saitō!” Sagara continued. “I’m going to Kyoto! I’ll show Kenshin what a ‘weakness’ I am…. I’ll show him with my fists!”
He’s worse than the most foolish student at the university, Saitō thought in irritation, rubbing his wrist where Sagara’s fist had impacted. Not listening to any advice, just blindly following his rage, no matter where it takes him, or what danger it places everyone else in. Time to get truly serious.
“Then you seal his fate.” He faced Sagara across the narrow alley, expression cold and contemptuous. “‘Show him with your fists’, did you say?” As if Battōsai will simply let you hit him….
“You heard me!” Sagara yelled.
“You live in dreams.” Saitō let the contempt in his expression leak into his voice. “Remember how easily I beat you?”
“What?!” Sagara shouted, the fury that radiated from him increasing.
Saitō unbuckled the strap that held his katana to his belt, turned, and placed the sword safely against the wall. Then he turned back to Sagara. “I won’t let you use the choice of weapons as an excuse this time,” he informed the moron coolly. “This time, we’ll fight your way… with fists.”
“Don’t trust him, Sanosuke!” the Myōjin brat yelled. “He’s so dirty, he’ll probably start kicking you!”
“Hmph,” Saitō snorted, looking down at the brat. “You really don’t like me, do you.” Not that I’m terribly impressed by him, either….
“You have my word,” the Shinsengumi stated, tugging his gloves straight. “Fists only. No matter how stupid this chicken-head may be, if he’s crushed at his own style of combat, eventually he’ll accept his own worth…” he smiled coldly, “…or lack of it.”
“Then try it!” Sagara snapped, clearly confident that he would win. “Here!” He lunged forward with a yell, drawing his fist back.
“A full swing after lunging,” Saitō commented, unimpressed, as he waited. “A fool’s only trick.” Bringing his arm up, he blocked the blow; then felt a flicker of surprise as Sagara followed up with a further series of punches. Perhaps….
“We’ll just see who’s the fool, here!” Sagara snapped, as his punches sped up.
Not bad, Saitō reflected, …for a hatchling.
“With a sword, you can parry and go straight to the attack,” Sagara continued confidently, “but you can’t do anything when you block a fist! If I attack constantly, you can’t counter… and if you can’t counter, eventually I beat you down!”
Well, his blows aren’t bad, Saitō thought, continuing to block the attacks easily. His boasting, however – that is simply ridiculous.
“Though I’ve gotta admit, just throwing out the odd punch is kinda embarrassing,” the moron muttered, as he finished his attack – clearly expecting Saitō to fall.
“Huh,” Saitō snorted, as he glanced at his arms. He was going to have to get a new uniform jacket – the power Sagara had put behind his blows had managed to shred the sleeves when he blocked. However…. He smirked as he looked back at the moron and their audience. “And if you never land a blow?” Time to teach the moron his lesson…. Stepping forward, he raised his arms again. “You are amusing,” he commented tauntingly… and then launched his own flurry of blows.
However, just as he’d expected, Sagara had no idea how to defend himself from the attack. It was ridiculously easy, no challenge at all – rather disappointing, in fact, Saitō reflected, as he flung a final punch at Sagara’s chin, raising him up in the air and tossing him across the street.
“You get it now?” he questioned coldly, stepping forward to stand over the moron. “You cannot approach either me or Battōsai in ability or experience. You are a hatchling – lively and laughable.”
“Shut up!” Sagara snapped. “I don’t care!”
Saitō’s eyes narrowed as the younger man stood up.
“I’m going to Kyoto, no matter who tells me not to.”
Imbecile, Saitō thought scornfully, as he watched Sagara wobble. You are determined to endanger us all simply because you cannot bear the fact that you are weaker than us…. “That blow to your chin seems to have affected your brain,” he said, his tone still cold, and slid into his Gatotsu stance. Nothing else seemed to have impacted the moron’s stubbornness; with luck, this would. “You will not go to Kyoto.”
“Hey!” the Myōjin boy shouted abruptly – he obviously recognized the stance. “Dodge it, Sanosuke! That’ll take you down!”
Well, perhaps the brat wasn’t as idiotic as Sagara after all. Not quite as idiotic, at least…. “He can’t. He’s barely standing as it is. No matter how hard you fight,” Saitō commented coolly, as he began to move, “you’re still a hatchling.
“Nothing more!” he added, as he brought his arm forward to punch Sagara’s face.
However, Sagara managed to surprise him, stopping Saitō’s fist just before it hit his face. “Your point being?” the moron demanded, as he held Saitō’s arm with his fists on either side.
“How’s that?” he continued, obviously proud of himself. “Looks like even a hatchling can still break an arm, huh?”
He thinks he’s broken my arm? The belief Saitō had felt, that Sagara had finally learned the lesson, disappeared immediately. “You–”
“You keep calling me ‘hatchling’,” Sagara interrupted him. “So what are you? I don’t care how much experience you have. Neither you nor Kenshin was this strong to start with.”
No, but that does not change the fact that we had the sense to know how to defend ourselves, Saitō thought, the contempt he’d felt for Sagara earlier coming back full force.
“Ten years ago, you were just a killer yourself,” the moron continued. “Now you’re powerful enough to influence the direction of the government. Even a ‘hatchling’ can get in a peck or two.”
Saitō gave a snort of contempt, and then used his right hand to punch Sagara across the face. This was getting them nowhere; it was obvious that the moron had no intentions of listening at all. If Sagara wanted to get killed by Shishio’s men, he was more than welcome to it. Saitō certainly had better things to do with his time than pursue an effort that was already proven useless; he had to make arrangements for his own journey to Kyoto, after all.
“You–” Sagara started, as he recovered from the blow.
“Enough,” Saitō said, turning his back and starting away. He’d attempt once more to make Sagara understand, out of the respect he owed Battōsai, but that would be all. “I can’t waste my time with a fool who can’t hear the truth, even after all this. If you want to go to Kyoto, go ahead.
“Go, hurry up and get killed.”
“Hey!” Sagara protested loudly from behind him.
Saitō turned his head slightly to look at the group of three sidelong. You will owe me for this, Battōsai…. “A fool who relies so much on his own toughness that he learns nothing of defense,” Saitō said pointedly, “also has nothing to rely on.”
With that, he returned his attention to the road ahead of him and continued forward. He was going to make certain that things were in order now, so that he could leave by tonight. Mishima Ei’ichirō had been on his own for three days, and Saitō had a rather unpleasant feeling about that situation; he wanted to get to Shingetsu as quickly as possible.
It was the middle of the afternoon when someone walked, without knocking, straight into the office assigned to Fujita Gorō. Saitō looked up from the papers he’d been going through, ready to express his displeasure at the rudeness… but stopped himself as soon as he saw who it was.
Watanabe Hoshiro was one of the agents he’d set to keeping an eye out for the Oniwabanshū okashira Shinomori Aoshi. Saitō’s eyes narrowed in anticipation. “Shinomori has surfaced?”
“Yes, Fujita-san,” Watanabe replied, closing the door behind him. “He was spotted heading for the Kamiya dojo.”
Saitō felt a dark smile cross his face. “Excellent. Thank you, Watanabe.” So, Shinomori was still obsessed with the thought of defeating Battōsai, was he?
Not that the idea of defeating Battōsai was an unpleasant one, Saitō admitted to himself as he stood up; after all, it was something of a dream of his as well… but he had never made it an obsession, and never intended to. During the Bakumatsu, that would have got him killed; and even now, when Battōsai went to great lengths to avoid killing, it was still a dangerous conceit. Besides, defeating Battōsai would be wonderful… but the main enjoyment for him had always been the challenge that the hitokiri presented to his own sword skill, rather than the actual anticipation of winning.
Luckily, Kamiya and Myōjin had left shortly before noon (though he still wasn’t pleased about the fact that they all seemed to be going to Kyoto – it was going to make dealing with Shishio a great deal more problematic for Battōsai), so there should be no one at the dojo at the moment. Better he had the chance to speak to Shinomori with no one there to witness their conversation.
Standing up, he walked out of his office, followed by Watanabe. After informing the assistant Kawaji had assigned him that he would be gone for no more than about two hours, he headed out of the building.
Saitō stopped just outside the gate and instructed Watanabe to go and get some dinner, then relieve Mamoto, who was keeping an eye on the Ogura Clinic. Then he turned and started toward the Kamiya dojo.
The main gate of the dojo was unlocked and open, something that seemed rather out of character for a man as careful as Shinomori Aoshi. And as Saitō reached the gate, he could hear the sound of voices talking.
“Where is Battōsai?” came a cool male voice – undoubtedly Shinomori. “Answer me.”
There was no threat in his tone, Saitō thought, as he walked in through the gate, but that didn’t mean the threat wasn’t there. Battōsai’s tone had never been directly threatening in Kyoto, but no one who had faced him had ever thought that he was anything but deadly.
“I… I don’t know,” came another voice, in protest – the doctor, Takani Megumi.
Well, that explained part of the reason Shinomori’s voice was calm; he had no need to make his threat obvious, given that he had been the one holding Takani captive for Takeda. She would know how dangerous he could be. Or at least have a reasonable idea.
Saitō closed quietly the gate behind him, and walked forward, spotting Takani kneeling in the doorway of the dojo. Shinomori was inside, a dim form against the darkness of the interior.
“If you don’t answer,” Shinomori continued calmly, “I will kill you.”
From what Saitō could see, Takani appeared to be frozen. Typical. However, he’d had a chance to think about things on the walk to the dojo, and there was a possibility that Shinomori’s presence in Kyoto might serve to distract Shishio; which meant it would be best to let the okashira know at least some of the details of what was occurring.
“Battōsai has gone to Kyoto,” he declared, walking forward.
Shinomori stood up, staring at him. “You are–”
“–Fujita Gorō,” Saitō replied easily. “Just a policeman, as you can see.”
“Saitō Hajime,” Shinomori countered, “captain of the Third Unit of the Shinsengumi.”
Saitō inclined his head slightly. “And you are Shinomori Aoshi, Okashira of the Oniwabanshū.”
There was a flicker of anger in Shinomori’s eyes, and Saitō couldn’t help but feel a bit smug. “Don’t look so angry,” he said coolly. “I’m about to tell you what’s been happening while you were in those mountains.”
Shinomori’s eyes narrowed, most likely at the indication that Saitō had been having him watched – successfully – and replied, “All right. Start talking.”
Saitō laid out the basics of the situation with Shishio rapidly, giving Shinomori a quick overview without focusing too heavily on the details; the okashira was an intelligent man, and would no doubt be able to work most of them out himself. Shinomori listened carefully, his expression neutral throughout the explanation.
Finally, when Saitō finished, Shinomori frowned slightly and repeated, his tone sceptical, “Shishio Makoto?”
Saitō shrugged carelessly. “To believe it or not is up to you,” he replied. “But Battōsai’s going to Kyoto is a fact.”
“I see,” Shinomori said slowly. Then, in a more decisive tone, he added, “Then I will return when Battōsai comes back,” and started walking toward the dojo gate.
“He may fall to Shishio and never come back,” Saitō pointed out calmly as the okashira passed him. Not that he truly believed that would happen – even with those idiots on their way to Kyoto, he was confident that Battōsai could deal with the renegade hitokiri – but the fact remained that all possibilities had to be considered.
“That is impossible.” Shinomori shot Saitō a glance over his shoulder. “I am the only one who can kill Battōsai.”
“Such confidence,” Saitō remarked coolly, watching the okashira walk away. His gaze fell on the unusual saya Shinomori carried, and he eyed it speculatively. “Still,” he mused out loud, his tone becoming thoughtful as he considered the possible meanings of the overly-long sheath, given that he knew Shinomori favoured the kodachi, “I would not call it over-confidence….”
“What did you tell him all that for?!” Takani yelled from behind him. “You’re going to get Ken-san killed!”
Such ingratitude, Saitō thought sardonically, looking back at her. “Now, now…. If I hadn’t told him, he would have killed you,” he pointed out. “A man doesn’t become head of the Oniwabanshū at the age of fifteen without true greatness.” Just as a boy doesn’t become an infamous hitokiri at less than fourteen without even more skill…. “I can use a man that skilled.”
Takani blinked, and then glared at him furiously.
Saitō ignored her, turning away to follow Shinomori out. He still had paperwork that needed to be finished before he could leave for Kyoto, and he was already starting to run behind on his schedule. He’d done his part in ensuring that Shinomori would have no reason to kill Takani; now it was time to make certain that he was able to leave tonight. The uneasy feeling he’d been having based on Mishima’s letter had only become worse over the past few hours, and the sooner he reached Shingetsu, the better.
For reviews, feel more than free to comment here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any type of reviews save flames are welcome (flames will be put out by the sand-kicking Plot Bunnies); constructive criticism is more than encouraged.
[Edited Tues. Dec. 27/05] Go to Chapter 3, Part 3 (Assorted Nuisances – Army and Villagers)