I am a monster.

Perhaps I've always known it. Perhaps. Everyone else knew what was happening - Shinsaku, Ikumatsu... That boy - God, that boy haunts me, dogging my every step. He's gone, now, dead, maybe, for all I know... My intelligence on him is limited. He's a hard man to track, always has been. But, good Lord, I know some part of his soul is tied to mine, and always will be.

Here, among these foreigners, I know it is true. Justice disguised as insanity. None of these men around me could ever understand it. But I'm not even sure I understand, anymore.

My master will have to forgive me... But everything that seemed so clear cut in those days no longer makes sense. Insanity. That much I know. Justice - what is that? How can I claim to understand such a finite concept? How can I, when my own government, the one whose foundation I built with my own hands, has brought me to Britain, to the West, whose influence we sought to destroy.

There is no justice in this world. Everything I believed in will eventually be comprimised. Already the seams are falling apart. I can see it before my very eyes... The disintigration of Meiji Japan seems inevitable. Like trees pushed by a heavy wind, our resolve will, eventually, span. I only pray that I don't live long enough to see it disappear entirely.

Progress is slow, or so it is said. There is little support for a violent upheaval. One step forward, two steps back... Perhaps they will make it, some day, in this slow way. But progress is slow. I, and my Isshin Shishi, was only the beginning. Other men will carry on after me...

But they will do it differently. Already my ideals are dissolving. Japan will be entirely open to foreign influence. The Emperor is on the throne, but the hand of the Tokugawa-jidai is still tightly wrapped around our throats.

Justice disguised as insanity.

Is this worth what I have sacraficed?

My own blood has seldom been shed - No, that isn't what I've lost. I am a married man, a simple man. I have a wife. I have not killed since Shinsaku forbade me from doing so. The stains on my swords are older, more like rust than wet blood. But they still weigh on me.

Heavier, still, are the lives of others. Shinsaku dead, his Kiheitai a loss... Most of all, the tragedy of Himura haunts me. The boy, a killer in my place, so said Shinsaku. The woman, his sheath, so said Ikumatsu. Both dead... Oh, but Himura lives on... Himura lives, and the Battosai is a ghost to him like he is to me. That boy's pain, that is my burden.

God, the weather here is miserable. I don't know how these people stand it. The clouds are like a weight, so close, pressing down on me. The rain - insufferable. Ah, but Iwakura enjoys this. He enjoys the West. He enjoys learning these new things. He is a good man...

Everyone is essentially good... I can't hate these foreigners. It burns within me, the desire to blame them for so much suffering. Which of these men walking past me, with their suits and walking sticks and fair hair, had a hand in the Shimonseki Incident...? Which of them is a soldier, which one a diplomat...? Which of these men knows nothing at all about Japan, about Shimonseki... Regardless, they're only human... Not demons, only men, although sometimes I wonder whether there's a difference at all...

We pass an alleyway, and the smell of thick smoke fills my nostrils. Ah, there are some things that never change, no matter where you are. The smell of smoke brings back so many memories.

Kyoto was a living flame... Beautiful, terrifying, never anything but impressive... And what could I do, but lead my men into that fire? They trusted me implicitly, then. Himura... walked through that fire daily, willing to do anything I asked.

Justice disguised as insanity. Did you believe in that, Himura? Is that why you accepted my orders without a question? Is that why you fought, why you let yourself be burned by the heat of the Bakumatsu?

Looking back, it all seems so thin... Shinsaku knew what would happen... Ikumatsu knows, I'm sure. I wonder why I didn't see it... I wonder how Himura managed to ignore it. Am I a man so easily blinded? But if so, how do I see it now? Why not in the afterlife, when the pain of watching it crumble wouldn't be so great?

This is my penance, perhaps. Building this government that is little more than a paper lantern. Inside, a flame burns bright, waiting to shine its light on my beloved country... This government, which should magnify the flame, inscrease its brightness, only serves to dim the dim the light a little. Eventually, the fire will catch, and burn away the lantern. Someone else will see that, I'm sure, and take advantage of it, for better of for worse. I hope I never know.

Oh, Himura... I've betrayed you... You, my killer. All your losses for little more than nothing. But perhaps you will still make a difference - perhaps you can do what I can't... You are a stronger man than I - Shinsaku saw that years ago, and I can only see it now...

Sometimes we suffer for others. Sometimes others suffer for us... Sometimes that suffering is worth waiting through for the sake of the greater good. Sometimes - the end result seems like nothing more than ashes.

(Historical) Notes:
Katsura Kogoro was one of the three most influential Imperialists during the Bakumatsu, at least according to Watsuki. (So he says in episode... Uh, shit... One of the ones before Kenshin leaves Tokyo, when he has that meeting with that guy... Fuck. Rei-chan! Gimme my fuckin' DVDs back so I can look it up! ::Grunt.:: Anyway.)
Anyhow. Katsura was one of the Isshin Shishi, the Hitokiri Battosai's boss, et cetera, et cetera. You probably know all that. What you probably didn't know - Hell, I didn't know it until I did a bunch of research, and, even now, my knowledge of Katsura's personal history is highly cursory - is that he was a Meiji government official until he resigned in 1874. From 1872 (some sources say 1871, I'm not sure) - 1873, he accompanied Iwakura Tomomi, another government official and also a noble, to the US and Britain. Yeah, you know, I really find it amazing. For a man who ascribed to the sonno joi mentality, he certainly spent a lot of time in the West. (Sonno joi, by the way, was one of the Isshin Shishi's slogans - Restore the Emperor and expel the barbarians.)
Katsura died in the Satsuma Rebellion, which occured in 1877, so this is obviusly set before then... In fact, it's set, in case you couldn't tell, during Katsura's time in the West.
The Shimonseki Indicent was this: In 1864, Takasugi Shinsaku (Katsura's right hand man, the guy with the shamisen) made an attempt to dispell foreigners from the Shimonseki Strait. In relatiation, there was a massive response from all over the West - Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the US all had a hand in the destruction of all the Choshu forts along the Strait. After that, Takasugi was enlisted to create a new, Western-style army...
One of the main things that amazed me about the Bakumatsu - and the Meiji government - is how quickly the Imperialists gave up their anti-Western beliefs. Takasugi was only one of the many who changed their opinions of foreign influence. I can imagine that Katsura, who was so adamant in his beliefs, would be a little bitter about this change of ideals. Hell, I would be, too.
Random fun - http://warai.yi-web.ne.jp/japan-people4.htm This here's a link to some photos from the Meiji-jidai. Scroll down far enough and you'll find not only a photograph of Katsura-san, but of Katsura's wife - who I've always known as Ikumatsu. Yes, Ikumatsu is the geisha in the OAV. Katsura wound up marrying her after the Bakumatsu. I suppose might hane been her real name. I don't know. Also in this run of photos: Sakamoto Ryoma, who was a friend of Katsura's later on (and who also has absolutely no role in Rurouni Kenshin), and Kondo Isami, the founder and leader of the Shinsen Gumi. Yay! I like the Shinsen Gumi, even if they are the bad guys in RK. Nyeheh.
I also like Japanese history, in case you couldn't tell. It's become a minor obsession of mine, I guess. I like writing RK fanfics that have some element of the political/historical tension in them - or, even simply RK fics that are as historically accurate as possible. I guess it makes this sort of incomprehensible to the casual fanfic reader,' but, Hell, I've never been one to write for an audience, really. (Shit. That explains some things...) And, in a lot of ways, I'm probably a hypocrit on that score, but it's all good.
Lastly - This fic was influenced by Cold Missouri Waters, a song written by James Keelaghan. It's about... the first fire fighter to create an oasis within a forest fire by deliberately scorching a circle around himself. That's a quote from the liner notes of Cry, Cry, Cry's self-titled album... Or something. Anyway. It's Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell performing a whole bunch of (mostly) cover songs. It's really lovely. So. That's sorta how I see Katsura's Justice disguised as insanity. It leads you into the heat, but that's the safest place. Or so he thought. ::Groan.:: I'm such a doink. I should source all this information, but I'm not gonna, cause I'm lazy. Mou. Anyway, I'm done now. Fuck, these notes are far too long!

That's all, folks!