Teaser: After his battle with Usui, why didn't Saito finish the job left undone by
Kenshin? Aku Soku Zan…Soujirou?!! A Saito/Soujirou/Okita fic.

Warnings: Okay, I admit it. I like this idea, even though I've done something like it
before in Darkness of the Day. My first true attempt at writing Saito as a major character
in a serious fic, so please be kind. All respective rights belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki-
sama. I own nothing but a hand drawn hentai picture of Soujirou, so it's not really worth
suing me (Soujirou in the background: "Nani?!!"). Spoiler warning up to Episode 56.
Breathe.

***

Potential
By April-san

It had been an exhausting day. Truly draining, both mentally and physically for all
participants. Yet, there was much more to come. The events which began this day only
would lead to the ultimate climax at day's end.

Even though his body ached, Saito Hajime's thoughts were only of the up-coming fight
with the current threat to the stability of the country. All he had to do was reach the end
of this passage and once again his skills would be put to the test. Shishio Makoto waited
to test the strength of the last of the Mibu Wolves.

Saito paused at one turn in the seemingly endless dark and dank hallway, his gaze falling
to his injuries. Not for the first time that day, Saito silently swore at his misjudgment.
How did he allow such a second-rate swordsman such as Usui to inflict such damage?
One hand fell to his thigh, checking the stability of the bandages. The bleeding had
stopped, yet the damage was already done. Such injuries would definitely hinder any of
his attacks and slow his movements. The miscalculation may cost him his life in the up-
coming battle.

An unconscious feeling skittered across his awareness, making his eyes snap up and his
hand tightly grip his sword.

What now?

As he carefully searched for clues to his current location, he thought back to the map he
had given Shinomori. The map which detailed the inside of this fortress. The map which
gave them a chance at a surprise attack and, perhaps, a way to escape afterwards. A map
which described each room. A map he had memorized down to the smallest detail.

The boy…

Saito's frown deepened as he thought back to the first meeting with the man called
Shishio Makoto. He was within swords reach from the man, yet he did nothing but
watch. There was nothing more he could do as long at that person stood by his side.
That boy physically looked as dangerous as a young girl, fragile, smaller than Battousai,
a confused smile on his face. Yet, from years of practical experience, Saito could tell the
boy was much more behind that innocent smile.

Behind that smile was the heart of a killer.

A killer without conscious. A killer without regret. A killer without emotion.

Saito mutely cursed as he realized where he stood, outside the room of Tenken no
Soujirou. And, he knew from these feelings he had, Battousai had allowed the little killer
to live. He again silently swore as he took another step, every fiber of his being at the
ready. A soft peculiar noise touched his senses.

What was that…?

As carefully and silently as he possibly could, he stepped to the slightly opened shoji,
closer to the foreign noise coming from inside the room. His hand gripped his hilt as his
eyes searched the room: floor shredded and beams shattered, blood splattered the floor,
shards of a broken sword scattered. However, what he finally saw across the room
shocked him to his very core.

The boy, the murderer, the young man without emotions, Tenken no Soujirou was
hunched over his knees, crying.

Saito only paused a moment before his hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. His heart
began to pound and he could taste blood in his mouth. It was the same reaction as he
fought Usi. The blind swordsman mistakenly thought of Saito's physical response as
anxiety over his fallen comrades. Saito smirked at the memory. There was only one
reason Saito was ever anxious: the chance to exact Aku Soku Zan. The chance to
slaughter anyone he believed as evil determined by his own heart.

His heart had already decided. He would attack the boy while he was vulnerable, using
Gatotsu standard stance. That would give the Tenken a quick and painless death. It was
far more than the little assassin deserved.

Saito took a deep breath, already set in his most destructive attack stance.

Yet, the sword would not rise from the sheath.

His eyes lowered and found a transparent hand over the pummel of his sword. His gaze
slowly followed the arm to a pair of familiar brown eyes and a soft smile. A memorable
light blue haori was worn proudly on the small shoulders. The face was one of perfect
health. The figure before Saito had not changed in twelve long years.

There was a good reason for that. The young man who stood before him had died of
tuberculosis not six years ago.

"Okita…" His stance relaxed.

The smile slightly deepened on the Shinsengumi Squad One Leader's sheer face.

Saito's scowl intensified "What are you doing here?"

Brown eyes glanced to the devastated room.

Golden eyes followed the other's gaze. "Do you know how many that boy has killed?"

-How many have you killed, Saito-san? How many times has your sword tasted blood? I
lost count of mine long ago.-

He grunted in response. "What can you call that boy other than evil?"

-Innocent. Naïve. A victim…-

"He deserves to die."

-How many who deserve to die, live? How many who deserve to live, die?-

Such as yourself? Saito lowered his head. "Okita…"

-Saito-san, it sounds like you have killed too many men, recently.-

"Only men who deserved to die," he growled. "That boy in there is nothing more than
another hitokiri."

-He has known no other life than at the side of Shishio Makoto.-

"Then, they should die together."

Okita blinked, the smile gone. -Recite the fifth article of the Shinsengumi.- His voice
was not of Okita Soushi but of the Shinsengumi Squad Leader One.

"Okita-"

-Do it!- The rare demanding tone in the young man's voice left no room for negotiation.

"The Shinsengumi will not engage in private fights. This has nothing to do with-"

-If not, then why are you doing this?-

Saito found himself grinding his teeth. "The boy has killed in the past! He will kill again
in the future! You cannot change what he is!"

-What is he?-

"A hitokiri! An assassin! He would sooner kill me if he caught me off guard than not!
Battousai should never have let him live!"

-Calm down, Saito-san.-

"How can I calm down when you-!" He shook his head and almost unconsciously
reached for his cigarette tin inside his jacket. Saito stopped himself as he touched the
cold metal and jerked his hand away. He took a deep breath, held it for a long moment,
then let it escape with a soft sigh as he turned to frown at the young man, calmness
reflected on his features.

-Jigoku gokuraku wa kokoro ni ari...- A smile touched Okita's lips.

Hell and Heaven are in the hearts of men? "I don't understand."

-Even though he has killed thoughtlessly, he has the potential to do great good.-

Saito grunted. "Potential," he repeated with venom.

-Potential. Such as another young man, friendless, uncertain of his abilities, who, I saw,
had the potential to become the Shinsengumi Squad Three Leader and a good friend.-

"I was never uncertain." He shook his head. "The boy also has the potential to become
worse than Shishio Makoto."

-Nothing is ever definite. But, look at him. Sincerely look at him. Look at those tears.
Do you truly believe he is capable of becoming that, Saito-san?-

"Yes."

Okita shook his head and smiled. His voice softened, as if explaining a complicated
instruction to one of his denser students. -Saito-san, sometimes you see right and wrong
too distinctly. Is Battousai evil just because he fought against us, the Shinsengumi and
the Shogunate? He risked his life to fight for what he believed in. In his eyes, that would
make us evil because we fought against him. Yet, you fought at his side today. Is he still
evil? Then, if he is, why didn't you slay him? Why didn't you finish Battousai when he
was vulnerable inside that dojo Why didn't you finish Anji, the monk?- The grin spread
across his face and into his eyes. -Why do you not finish the young man with the kanji
Aku on his back? The one who looks so much like Harada. You have had multiple
chances, yet he still lives. What stays your hand in those instances? Perhaps he is not as
evil as he claims. Or, is it something else?-

"Okita, sometimes you talk too much." Saito shook his head and his scowl deepened as
he heard another soft chuckle. "What?"

-Do you think Shishio even capable of crying?- A mischievous sparkle appeared in those
transparent brown eyes.

He grunted. "Are you going to stay my hand when I kill Shishio Makoto? Are you going
to say he also has potential? Perhaps as a philosopher or as a heating source?"

The smaller man barked a laugh at the joke, making Saito's heart ache remembering how
things were only twelve short years ago. -Saito-san, Aku Soku Zan. That one is truly
evil. We both agree on that.-

As Saito turned from his former companion, he could almost once again taste blood in his
mouth. "Why do I have to be haunted by you?"

A soft chuckle was heard and Okita sheepishly scratched the back of his head. -Saito-
san, thank you for the flowers. They are always so beautiful. And, if you could bring
your sons next time. They are growing so quickly and I love to see them.-

"I-"

A sharp gasp suddenly caught at their attention. Saito's hand flew to his sword's hilt
instinctively even before he turned.

Soujirou stood at the edge of the shoji, his dominant hand holding his left side, eyes wide,
the paths of his tears still visible on his cheeks. There was no smile on that face.
"Ss…Saito-san…" His voice shook.

"Boy." Saito glanced behind him at a still smiling Okita before glaring at Soujirou. Dear
God, they look so much alike.

Soujirou took a hesitant step back, but then stopped, his head lowered so his bangs
covered his eyes. "I…I have no weapon," he whispered.

"I can see that." His gaze scrutinized the figure standing before him. I can also see how
injured you are, boy. How terrified you are, not only of me, but of what you are about to
face if you survive this moment. When we defeat Shishio, you will be free. Is Okita
correct? Have you known any other past than with that madman? Are you prepared for
this future? Is that why you are so afraid? I can tell you would choose death over this
unknown path, if you could. Yet…

-Saito-san, if you do this, I will make certain there are two haunting you instead of just
one.-

Okita is right, he finally admitted to himself. The boy that stands before me now is no
longer Teknen no Soujirou, the hitokiri.

Saito turned his head and laughed into his hands.

"Saito…san…?" Soujirou took another cautious step back.

When Saito turned back to the young man, there was nothing remaining of his previous
amusement evident on his face. "Get out of here." The words were spoken even before
Saito realized it. "It's not safe for you here, boy."

Soujirou's head snapped up to the other's face, a new moist pattern on his cheeks,
surprise unhidden in his eyes. He swallowed before he spoke. "It…it never was safe for
me here."

Saito nodded in silent understanding, finally comprehending Okita's words. "Go.
Quickly." If we do not win…if we somehow fail…not only will we loose our lives, this
boy will be hunted down and killed, the fate of any failure inside this place. And, the
country will suffer the same.

"Arigatoo…Saito-san…" Still holding his side, Soujirou limped down the corridor from
where Saito had just come.

No. We cannot fail…

-See. That wasn't so hard, now was it? It's nice to see you do have some compassion
once in a while.- The glare Saito shot Okita only made the young man laugh.

The golden eyes hesitantly touched the growing shadows in the adjoining room. "I also
must go." His eyes flickered to the young man, questioning.

Okita's playful look changed to one of caring. -You know I will be at your side during
this battle, Saito-san. I will do what I can to help.-

Saito let out a small grunt. "Great. Three men, one Ahou, and a spirit to face Shishio."

-I'll bring you good luck.- The smile was suddenly gone, replaced by a deadly serious
expression. –You must hurry, Saito-san. The final battle is about to start.-

Saito hesitated.

-Go. Now. They need you.-

Without another word spoken, Saito started to run, his steps echoing down the quiet
corridor. His weariness fell away like a cloak. The final conflict was only steps away
and he would finally face Shishio Makoto to determine the future of Japan. And, to
determine the fate of a young man who held both destruction and salvation in his heart.

***

Brown eyes watched the retreating figure dash away. Okita slowly shook his head, his
heart yearning to join them in this battle. –Good luck, Saito-san…-

The spirit of Okita then turned to the devastated room and sadly looked at the carnage.
For a moment, his gaze touched the splattered crimson on the floor. Okita winced and
shook his head, almost regretting his words to Saito. Almost. He then methodically
moved to the center of the room.

Okita sighed and stooped next to the shattered sword, running his hand over the broken
blade. -You protected him well, old friend.- Okita suddenly grasped the hilt and drew a
translucent sword from the remains. He smiled at the intact blade, once again the
familiar weight of his favorite sword rested in his hands. -Kikuichimonji Norimune, are
you ready to continue our fight in the afterworld?- He closed his eyes. -I thought so. At
least Soujirou kept good care of you.-

With a small bounce in his step, Okita bounded away, another true smile on his face,
anxious to confront the next threat which would appear. A shiver ran down his back,
much like a child's barely contained anticipation in opening a gift. –Hurry, Saito-san,
Himura-san. Let me face Shishio here and I will show him the true difference between
heaven and hell.-

The End



Author notes:
I thought I would put this down here: Soujirou and Okita are mine! Mine!! All mine!!
Mwa ha ha ha!! I am the strongest! I will rule the world! The strong live, the weak-
*The Author is Gatotsued* Urk!
*Sigh* Oh, well.
I hope this wasn't too weird for anyone. I love writing "Okita saves Soujirou" fics! I had
so much fun writing the arguments between Okita and Saito, trying to figure out how
they would fight. I finally decided on an older/younger brother cat fight.
This story lead to Team Spirits, which is a bit on the crazy humorous side, where Okita
actually watches the fight with some 'friends'.
Thank you Chiki-san for inspiring me to finish this fic. Thank you Mir-san for your
support (and your spelling corrections). I hate Romanji (especially when I'm trying to
learn Japanese the 'correct' kanji way). And, thank you Jenna-chan and Linda-san for
beta reading even though you have absolutely no idea what RK is. =P
Thanks Mara for the spelling corrections. I did fix them but I uploaded the wrong copy.
I hate Romanji!! =)