As promised, RuroBatt Chapter 2, Pt. 2…. Sorry for the delay!
Back to Chapter 2, Part 1.
1) Still need suggestions for a good title….
2) All dialogue and actions in this part are entirely original.
3) This part contains both an explanation for why Kenshin (in this story) has stayed at the dojo; and also, for those who care about such things, the beginnings of a theme that will continue throughout the story (can you guess what? If not, more indications in Pt. 3…).
4) Please note that anyone who provides constructive criticism will get credited as a gamma-reader….
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 2: Contemplations
Kenshin glanced around warily as he slipped out of the dojo compound. For the past three days, ever since the encounter with Saitō and Ōkubo, he hadn’t been left alone once. If it wasn’t Kaoru dragging him everywhere with her, it was Yahiko bothering him for advice, or Sanosuke hanging around and trying to convince him to go gambling again. Not to mention the fact that Megumi had come over to cook dinner for them all three nights. And they all wanted to speak to him about going to Kyoto; or rather, make sure that he didn’t go to Kyoto. It was becoming more than a bit annoying, not to mention it kept distracting him from the thinking he had to do.
He understood why they were doing all of this, but it didn’t make the confinement any easier to bear; nor did it change the fact that the decision was not theirs to make. They were his friends, yes, and he knew that whatever decision was made would have an impact on them because of that; however, in the end, the decision was his and his alone.
My friends, Kenshin thought ruefully. They are all my friends; and yet Saitō – who before this was always my enemy – knows me better than they do.
He’d never actually intended to stay in Tokyo – not when it was the centre of government and so contained many who might recognize him. In fact, he had been simply passing through when Kaoru had found him that night three months ago. The fact that someone was using the name Battōsai to commit murder and damage the reputation of the Kamiya dojo had persuaded him to stay and solve the matter, but even then, he’d still meant to leave as soon as he’d taken care of the Hiruma brothers.
And then Kaoru had said, with absolute honesty, that she didn’t care that he had been Hitokiri Battōsai – and Kenshin had found himself agreeing to stay. No one had ever, once they learned who he was, been willing to simply accept him; no one until Kaoru… and then Yahiko, Sanosuke, and Megumi, along with Gensai-sensei, had soon followed. For Kenshin, it had been an entirely unexpected and unlooked for gift, and so he’d started to make a place for himself with them. And for a little while, the fact that the rurouni who had an absolute refusal to kill was merely a disguise hadn’t mattered; he’d still had no need to kill anyone, even those who threatened them. Defeating them was enough.
Kenshin strongly suspected that it wouldn’t be enough to deal with Shishio Makoto. As he’d told Sanosuke and the others, he’d never met Shishio, but he did know the other’s reputation – and that reputation was, as Ōkubo had stated, as formidable as his own; which meant that should he choose to go, he most likely would have to kill the other hitokiri. Certainly it was unlike Saitō to make mistakes in evaluating an enemy’s strength, whether underestimating or overestimating them, and he thought that Kenshin was going to have to kill Shishio.
Kenshin sighed heavily as he wandered into the marketplace, which was still empty at this hour – the sun had not yet breached the horizon. He always felt more comfortable in the darkness and the shadows, a legacy of the Bakumatsu that he usually tried to ignore; but right now, he needed that additional element of comfort. The decision he had to make was a difficult one.
There was no denying that Shishio was a threat; Ōkubo had been very clear, and very honest, about that. The question was whether or not Kenshin was the best one to deal with the threat that he presented.
Both Saitō and Ōkubo obviously felt so – he didn’t count Kawaji as that evening in the dojo three days ago had been the first time they had met – and he had a great respect for both their opinions; but Kenshin really did not want to kill for the government again. And he definitely did not want the government to learn that the ‘rurouni who refuses to kill’ was merely a mask.
Kenshin had been fully aware, even during his first year as hitokiri, that the Chōshū Ishin Shishi, and after that the Meiji government that followed it, would deal with any perceived threat by terminating that threat – after all, he’d been responsible for occasionally handling those ‘terminations’; and ‘Hitokiri Battōsai’ was in many ways a major threat to the Meiji government. He knew too much, and he was a fully trained assassin, one that not even the Shinsengumi had been able to stop. If he had the desire, he could decapitate the Meiji government within days – and they knew that.
If he did kill Shishio for them, they would also know that he was willing to kill – and that would turn him from the potential but unlikely threat he posed as the rurouni, into a definite threat. Not something he wanted to have happen….
Abruptly, he felt the approach of a guarded, familiar ki.
“I thought I might find you here, Battōsai,” Saitō commented coolly, stepping out of the alley just ahead, where he’d evidently been waiting, to face Kenshin. “We need to talk.”
“What is it that you want, Saitō?” Kenshin demanded. He’d wanted to be alone; aside from Kaoru or Sanosuke, Saitō was the last person he’d wanted to meet here.
“I told you, we need to talk. Privately, where we cannot be overheard,” Saitō added, glancing around the marketplace with a touch of disdain.
A flicker of irritation crossed Saitō’s face. “Shishio, of course,” he replied. “As well as few things I don’t believe you wish to have spread about.”
It didn’t take a genius to recognize Saitō’s veiled reference to his knowledge of the truth, nor the threat of what he would do if Kenshin didn’t cooperate. “Very well,” Kenshin agreed reluctantly. “Where?”
“Follow me,” Saitō ordered curtly, and started down the alley he had been waiting in.
Kenshin definitely didn’t care for Saitō’s tone – the Shinsengumi had no business giving him orders; police officer or not, Kenshin was not under his command – but followed nonetheless. I suspect Kaoru and Sanosuke, at least, would be busy calling me an idiot right now, he reflected ruefully. I know Sano would be telling me not to trust Saitō at all, much less follow him somewhere I don’t know. Kenshin shook his head at the thought. I don’t like Saitō, but in this case, I do know that he’s trustworthy. And he’s also proven he’s willing to keep my secret, even from Ōkubo. Much as I hate to admit it, I do owe him for that.
They walked in silence for almost ten minutes, until they entered an area of Tokyo Kenshin hadn’t visited very often. He knew his way around, of course – he’d quartered Tokyo quite thoroughly during the week he’d spent trying to locate Hiruma Gohei, and had done an even more thorough job of scouting and memorizing the city once he’d decided to stay; learning the lay of the land had become as much of an instinct for him as hiding in the shadows and guarding his ki.
Finally Saitō came to a stop in front of a small restaurant whose sign indicated it remained open all night. “In here,” he said, sliding the door open.
Kenshin frowned. “Somewhere we can’t be overheard, you said,” he murmured, giving Saitō a dubious glance as he followed the Shinsengumi in.
“And we won’t be, here,” Saitō returned, a sweep of one hand encompassing the whole, empty room, well-lit by lamps suspended from the ceiling. “It closed two hours ago.”
“Then how is it you were able to open the door?” Kenshin countered. “And why does it claim to be open all night if it is not?”
“Usually it is,” Saitō declared, leading him toward a corner booth at the back. “But this restaurant is owned by an… acquaintance of mine, one who owes me a favour. He was pleased enough that I simply requested he close early tonight as my payment.” The Shinsengumi knelt down at the table with his back to the far wall.
Rather than ask how Saitō had guessed that today would be the day he got fed up with his friends’ smothering actions, Kenshin simply sat down next to Saitō – so that his back was to the side wall of the restaurant – leaned his sakabatō against his shoulder, and waited for Saitō to open their discussion. After all, Saitō did know him quite well – and if all else had failed, he was sure the Shinsengumi would have simply ‘requested’ that his acquaintance continue closing the restaurant early until he had shown up.
However, the Shinsengumi didn’t start talking immediately. Instead, he snapped his fingers, the sound echoing loudly in the empty room. A moment later, a shoji on the opposite side of the room opened, and an older man came in, carrying a tray with two delicate cups and a pot of tea. Kenshin gave Saitō a curious look as the man came over to the table, bowed to the both of them, then placed the tray down and returned to whatever he’d been doing when Saitō had summoned him, all without a word.
“I suspect we will be here for a while,” Saitō replied calmly, pouring the hot liquid into both cups. “We have a great deal to discuss, and it’s best to do it all here and now.”
Kenshin nodded slowly, picking up the cup nearest him and taking a small sip; it was quite good tea. He had a fairly good idea he knew what at least one of the things – aside from the situation with Shishio – that Saitō wanted to discuss was. The Shinsengumi’s comments and actions at the dojo had made it clear that he knew the truth of the ‘rurouni-mask’, and Saitō was not the type to let that pass without comment.
“I must admit, Battōsai – I was somewhat surprised to find you here in Tokyo,” Saitō began easily. “From all I’ve heard of your… wanderings… over the past ten years, you seem to have avoided the larger cities, as well as any possible contact with the higher levels of the Meiji government. And yet here you are, in the new capital, and you’ve been here for three months, which appears to be the longest time you’ve spent anywhere since Toba Fushimi. Not to mention that during this time, you managed to attract the attention of both General Yamagata and the Tokyo police.”
Well, he’s certainly not pulling his punches, Kenshin reflected ruefully. “And why would that matter?” he countered. “Where I go – and what I do, as long as I avoid causing trouble – is my concern alone.”
Saitō smiled coolly, taking a sip from his own cup of tea. “Ah, but we are going to be working together to deal with Shishio, Battōsai. I find myself curious about this sudden breaking of a pattern you have held to for ten years, and have been wondering why you would choose now, and here in Tokyo, to do that breaking.”
Kenshin chose not to dispute the assumption that he would be helping deal with Shishio – not yet, at least. Instead, after a moment’s thought, he said simply, “I have friends here.”
“Friends?” Saitō repeated, his tone sceptical.
Kenshin’s mouth tightened. “Yes, Saitō, friends. It’s a very simple concept.”
Both Saitō’s expression and ki flickered with dark amusement. “Friends,” he repeated again. “Friends who have no true idea who you are.”
“They know my past,” Kenshin declared curtly. He had the uncomfortable feeling he knew exactly where Saitō was going with this, but just at the moment, he couldn’t see any way out of it. In an effort to maintain control of his temper, he took another sip of tea.
“They may know of your past, but it’s quite clear they don’t know your present – Battōsai,” Saitō taunted him. “And while they know your past, it’s also clear that they don’t understand it.”
The last comment was unexpected enough to cut through the anger Kenshin felt at Saitō’s mocking tone. What does he mean by that – and why does he think it will affect me? The last thing I want Kaoru, Yahiko, Sanosuke, and Megumi to understand is what it means to be a killer…. “And what is that supposed to mean?”
Saitō smirked at him. “Have you heard the stories that have been passed around about you, Battōsai?”
He didn’t have to have a mirror in front of him to know his eyes had just shifted to cold blue.
Yes, Kenshin was perfectly well aware of the stories and tales that existed about Hitokiri Battōsai. A number of them had been told even among the Chōshū Ishin Shishi, and he would have had to be both blind and deaf not to be aware of their content.
Battōsai was a bloodthirsty killer.
Battōsai laughed as he killed.
Battōsai bathed in the blood of his enemies.
Battōsai was a demon – the demon of Kyoto.
Those and others, all of them similar in content, had given him a reputation even more terrible than the truth already was.
“What about them, Saitō?” he asked coldly.
Saitō’s smirk widened. “I simply find it interesting that those very ‘friends’ you claim to hold dear – dear enough to break the habits of a decade for – are thoroughly convinced of the truth of those stories.”
A sudden flare of rage turned his eyes amber. “What are you talking about?” Kenshin hissed, his tone venomous.
Saitō was not at all put off by his furious glare – not that Kenshin had ever expected that; the two of them were too well matched, in both skill and certain aspects of temperament, for the Shinsengumi to fear him.
“As I’m certain you were able to guess,” Saitō said calmly, taking a sip of his tea, “I’ve been watching you, and those friends of yours, for a while now – after all, we had to have a good idea of how to convince you to help against Shishio. Through agents for several weeks, and then personally since your fight with Isurugi Raijūta.
“And aside from the fact that your little pretense of being the rurouni who will not kill again is quite convincing – I will admit that I wasn’t absolutely certain it was an act until we were face-to-face – I noticed one important thing. Those friends of yours – all of them, including that street thug – believe those stories. They seem to be convinced that those ridiculous tales tell the truth of who ‘Hitokiri Battōsai’ is; which is part of the reason they are so terrified of what happens every time you get into a real fight.”
For a long moment, all Kenshin could do was stare at the Shinsengumi, stunned by his words.
“No answer for that, Battōsai?”
Kenshin took a slow breath. “What are you trying to do, Saitō?” he demanded quietly. Unlike Megumi, he knew the man he was facing now would definitely recognize his current tone – it was the only one he’d ever heard from Battōsai in Kyoto.
“I’m simply attempting to point out a few things to you, Battōsai,” Saitō replied, still calm. “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. Knowing is not accepting, much less understanding. And the only thing they accept about you is the mask you show them.”
Kenshin flinched at Saitō’s all-too-blunt analysis of the situation with his friends. Yes, he is definitely not pulling his punches. He had just started to open his mouth to snap out a reply when he heard steps approaching from behind the shoji on the opposite wall. Glancing over, he saw it slide open, and the old man who had brought in the tea came in again, this time with a tray containing two bowls of what his nose told him was soba.
He cast a questioning glance at Saitō, but the Shinsengumi appeared to be as puzzled as he was by the man’s sudden appearance.
“Here you go, Fujita-san,” the man said quietly, putting the tray down on the table next to the pot of tea. “I hope that you and your colleague enjoy the meal.” Turning around, he left again, sliding the shoji shut behind him, apparently unaware of the puzzled stares he was getting from Kenshin and Saitō.
Then Kenshin gave Saitō another look. “‘Colleague’?” he repeated.
Saitō shrugged. “The description is appropriate enough, as far as it goes, since I’m not about to tell him who you really are,” the Shinsengumi stated. “It’s also a term I tend to use for certain agents who either don’t wish to or can’t afford to have any official connection with the police. I’ve had occasion to meet them here as well; as I stated originally, this is an excellent place to avoid being overheard. It’s certainly better than the Kamiya dojo.”
Kenshin was quick to seize the chance to change the subject. He had no desire to continue discussing the problems with his friends with Saitō. “Speaking of which, I assume that Akamatsu and Shibumi were… dealt with.”
“There’s no point in mincing words, Battōsai,” Saitō commented evenly; and Kenshin, relieved to realize that he was going along with the change of subject, let the amber fade from his eyes. “They’re dead. I was not about to take the risk that they could pass any information back to Shishio that he doesn’t already have.”
That surprised him. “Shishio?” he asked, frowning. “They were involved with Shishio?” The impression he’d received from questioning Akamatsu had been that Shibumi had been in charge….
“Not directly,” Saitō answered, putting his tea to one side and lifting one of the bowls of soba. “However, I suspect – as do Ōkubo and Kawaji – that the ultimate authority behind the assassinations that Jin-e and Akamatsu have been involved in over the past ten years has been Shishio. Certainly a number of the ones over the past six years have cleared several of Shishio’s potential opponents from the field.”
Kenshin’s frown deepened as he focused his complete attention on the current situation with Shishio Makoto. He’d consider what Saitō had said about his friends later. “So he has most likely been at least six years in the planning of whatever it is he intends, which means he’s been moving slowly – and obviously carefully, since his actions are not common knowledge, even in the higher levels of government. According to what Ōkubo said, he has both an army and access to weapons….”
Saitō nodded in agreement. “Yes – he has, at the very least, an army of over a thousand men, and contacts with two of the biggest black market weapons dealers in Japan,” he said soberly. When Kenshin gave him a curious look, he added, “We had an agent close to Shishio’s inner circle, who was unfortunately found out and killed over two months ago. He was only able to obtain a limited amount of information for us, but he did manage to discover that Shishio had a group of assassins on his payroll. That was what led us to investigate Jin-e, after Uramura submitted his report on what you told him.”
Kenshin sighed. “Trying to cut the head off a snake, while it’s coiled around you and tightening,” he commented, shaking his head. “What makes you and Ōkubo think that I’m the proper one to deal with Shishio?”
“What makes you think you are not, Battōsai?” Saitō countered. “If nothing else, you are both hitokiri, which means you are likely to have an insight into the way he thinks that the rest of us do not.”
He has a point there, Kenshin reflected, as he picked up his own bowl of soba and took a mouthful. Saitō did the same, apparently willing to wait while Kenshin thought about it, and the two of them ate in silence for a few minutes. I, of all people, know that a soldier’s or a leader’s mindset is very different from that of a hitokiri. Some among the Shinsengumi – including Okita and Hijikata – came close, but even they did not have the full sense of what it means, to be hitokiri. Saitō comes very close – that much is obvious by how well he understands me – but not the whole way.
Still… the other problems remain.
“You are quite likely right about my being able to read the way he thinks,” Kenshin admitted finally, “but I’m still not convinced that I am the best one to deal with him face-to-face. You believe that Shishio will need to be killed to end the threat he poses, and while I am not disagreeing with you, do you really believe that I can do that?”
Saitō snorted in response. “What do you think the purpose of that fight in the Kamiya dojo was?”
“Other than another excuse to fight me?” Kenshin asked, keeping his tone mild, enjoying the chance to give Saitō back at least a bit of the taunting he’d taken from him so far this morning.
Saitō put his bowl down to one side and met Kenshin’s eyes, his own glittering gold in the subdued lighting. “Don’t play the idiot, Battōsai – it doesn’t suit you, despite what those ‘friends’ of yours may think. We’ve established that we both know you are still as much the hitokiri as you ever were, no matter what they may believe. You proved that three nights ago.”
“I’m not denying that,” Kenshin stated calmly. “I’m simply wondering whether you’re correct about me being the right person to face Shishio. Hitokiri or not, I have no desire to kill again.”
“However, you will kill if you believe you need to,” Saitō countered, equally calm. Then his eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he studied Kenshin. “It’s not really the idea of killing Shishio itself that’s the problem, is it, Battōsai; you know the threat he poses must be dealt with. So… what is it that’s keeping you from agreeing to this right now?” Lifting his cup, he took a sip of tea and then placed it back down, all without looking away from Kenshin.
Kenshin’s mouth tightened at the question. “There are reasons, Saitō. Reasons that I’m trying to figure out a way to deal with, because I agree with you and Ōkubo that Shishio definitely poses a dangerous threat.”
Saitō’s expression grew intent. “That group that call themselves your friends, Battōsai, though they have no true knowledge of you?”
It took a bit of an effort, but Kenshin managed to keep himself from rising to the bait. He had no desire to repeat this discussion with Saitō, not after they’d just finished it.
“No…” Saitō continued slowly, still intent on him. “They wouldn’t be in Kyoto to see us deal with Shishio, and I’m sure you can convince them that you didn’t kill him, considering how easily you’ve led them to believe that your little act is the truth of who you really are. So it’s something else, then.” He took another sip of his tea, then placed the empty cup next to his bowl.
“It may interest you to know that the only people other than the two of us and your ‘friends’ who know that Ōkubo intended to approach you about Shishio, much less that he did so, are Ōkubo himself, and Kawaji. Perhaps Shishio and some of his people – they do know where you live, and I have little doubt they have been watching you…. But there is no one else in either the government or the police force who has been informed you are involved, not even Chief Uramura. No one.”
Yes, Kenshin thought, slightly stunned – and more than slightly relieved – by the information, Saitō does know me very well.
Saitō watched with no little amusement as Battōsai stared at him, obviously – well, it was obvious to him, at least – stunned, either by the details of what he’d just said, or the fact that he had actually come right out and told the hitokiri. And just as obviously relieved, which meant that he had been right about what Battōsai’s main concern was.
Not that the latter surprised him. Saitō had made a point of studying Battōsai whenever they’d encountered each other during the Bakumatsu, and had effectively become the Shinsengumi’s expert on the redheaded hitokiri. Not that it had helped them defeat Battōsai at the time – Chōshū’s premier hitokiri had simply been too good at what he did – but it had been another reason Ōkubo had requested that he be the one to evaluate Battōsai. And the past three and a half weeks of direct observation had simply served to increase his knowledge.
While he’d been musing, Battōsai had regained full control over his expression, and was now glaring angrily at Saitō, though his eyes held only flecks of amber within the blue. “I’m glad you find all this so amusing,” the hitokiri said bitingly.
“Did you expect otherwise?” Saitō returned easily, not bothering to hide the fact that the response had amused him just as much as the hitokiri’s expression had. “You are so rarely taken off-guard, Battōsai, and I must get my amusement where I can.”
Then he returned to the more serious subject of what Battōsai was going to do. “So, now that you are aware that no one other than the four of us will know how you handle Shishio, what is your decision?”
Battōsai frowned, picking his cup up and taking a sip of tea – which was most likely almost cold by now. Saitō raised the teapot in a silent question, and the hitokiri shrugged and extended his cup to be re-filled. “I’m supposed to meet Ōkubo on Tuesday to give him my answer,” he said evasively.
“Yes, I’m aware of that. So what are you intending to tell him?” Saitō questioned, taking the opportunity to fill his own cup.
Battōsai hesitated for a moment. “Only the four of us will know how I handle Shishio, you said. What if others become involved?”
“Unless they’re present for the actual confrontation, we can just as easily have the record show that Shishio was killed by Lieutenant Fujita,” Saitō replied.
“In that case, my answer will most likely be ‘yes’,” Battōsai stated. “Even if Ōkubo is only partially right about what Shishio intends, it’s the common people – the ones I fought for, who enjoy the peace we’ve managed to achieve – who will be the ones to suffer the most.”
Saitō nodded in agreement. “I will arrange for the file of information we’ve managed to collect on the details of Shishio’s activities to be available for you when you meet him,” he said, and Battōsai inclined his head in thanks.
“Now, since this is a place safe from eavesdropping, I suggest we discuss our preliminary plans for getting to Kyoto….”
Sanosuke narrowed his eyes as he glanced at the sun, which had only just risen over the nearest roof. It was still quite early in the morning – earlier than he liked to be up – but ever since Ōkubo Toshimichi had approached Kenshin about becoming hitokiri again three nights – four days – ago, he’d been… uneasy.
He wasn’t entirely sure why – after all, Kenshin had made it clear a number of times that he had no interest in killing anyone ever again – but there was something, some niggling little feeling, that told him not to be too certain that the rurouni wouldn’t go to Kyoto. So he’d been making a point of arriving at the dojo at about the time Kenshin woke up each morning, to make sure he was still there.
Opening the gate, Sanosuke wandered into the yard, and looked around. There didn’t seem to be anyone out here, so he headed up to the door, wincing slightly as he took in the hole in the wall where that bastard had thrown him, which hadn’t yet been repaired. Got to speak to Kaoru about that… I hate coming in to face that as a reminder! Or better yet, maybe I should mention it to Kenshin – remind him of another reason not to go with squinty-eyes.
Walking in, he heard a bit of noise coming from the direction of the kitchen, so headed over there, hoping that it wasn’t Kaoru cooking. He’d developed the ability during his time with the Sekihō-tai – and immediately after – to eat anything that could be eaten, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.
“You’re early, Sano, that you are,” Kenshin commented, looking over his shoulder as Sanosuke entered the kitchen. “This one has not yet finished making breakfast, so you will have to wait to eat.”
More relieved than he was willing to admit to see Kenshin still there, Sanosuke shrugged carelessly. “That’s fine. I’m willing to wait for your cooking… it’s just Kaoru’s that I can’t stand.”
Kenshin appeared to be trying to hide a grin. “You ought to be more courteous to your hostess, Sano,” he commented, looking over Sanosuke’s shoulder.
With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Sanosuke turned just in time to duck a thrown pillow, courtesy of Kaoru – who was standing right behind him, still in her sleeping yukata, and looking absolutely furious. Uh oh… he thought in dismay, before breaking into a run as she raised the bokken in her other hand threateningly.
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[Edited Fri. Jul. 29/05] Go to Chapter 2, Part 3 (Disruption).
[Minor edit Thurs. May 18/06.]