Sasuke really was quite hungry. He hadn't eaten a decent meal in longer than he could remember. Walking past a restaurant – he read the sign "The Akabeko" – he smelt the tantalizing fragrance of cooking meat and his stomach rumbled again. Hot food – oh how he wanted it, but the problem was that he had no money!
As he was passing, he noticed an old man waiting on the corner, leaning heavily on his cane. He was short, even for an old man, and his hair was the colour of a faded sunset streaked through with white. Sasuke saw that in one hand the old man clasped a small money pouch. All of a sudden, he was tempted.
Slivers of guilt began to stab his conscience, and Sasuke grimaced, feeling bad about stealing from an old, defenseless man, but he was so, so hungry, and it wasn't like the fellow was starving or anything… was he? Although he did look a little undernourished... scrawny, one would call it.
Sasuke took a deep breath, and then began to run, darting and weaving through passers-by until he reached the old man. With one deft turn of the wrist, he swiftly plucked the purse out of the old man's hand before he had a chance to react, and then turned and ducked into the nearest alleyway. When he had run far enough, he stopped for a moment to catch his breath. Strangely, he heard no commotion or any shouts of outrage.
Usually, if Sasuke stole something, the victim would take a while to realize what was missing, and then they would create a great ruckus. By that time however, Sasuke had learnt that it was normally prudent to be 'long gone'.
Why was the old man not saying anything? Perhaps he was too senile to have realized that anything was missing… surely not… Sasuke shrugged his shoulders. It wasn't his problem anymore anyway. He had the money, and that was all that mattered. He turned to leave, and then stopped short at what stood in front of him.
The alleyway; it was a dead end. For a moment, Sasuke blinked at the sight of the hard brick wall in front of him. He was trapped. What could he do? He couldn't go back out the way he had come; that would mean certain capture. No, the only way to go, he decided, was up. Sasuke tucked the money pouch safely into the pocket of his pants and then looked skywards. There was a thin, flimsy looking drainpipe leading up to the roof of the Akabeko. Sasuke dragged a nearby crate over to the pipe, and then stood on it and began to shinny up the pipe, at first slowly and nervously, and then faster, as he got the hang of it. Finally, his hands grasped the dry clay tiles of the roof, and he hauled himself up, breathing heavily. A few of the tiles broke loose as he scrambled around, trying to gain his footing, but Sasuke finally steadied himself, and looked around, admiring the rooftop view.
He could only see a few streets ahead, but still, it was a strange feeling, to be able to look down upon people and not be noticed. Sasuke felt oddly exultant. Grinning, and with heavy pockets, he made his way towards the back of the building, in order to find some way down.
However, when Sasuke looked down from the roof of the Akabeko into the street behind it, all that he could see was the dusty, hard ground many metres below. He began to feel a little queasy. Behind the building, there were no pipes, no crates, no windows. It was just a sheer straight wall all the way down, and Sasuke was a little nervous about making the jump. Shaking his head, he decided to make his way back to the front of the Akabeko. Perhaps the old man would be gone by now.
Sasuke dropped to his knees and crawled down to the edge of the rooftop, taking care to catch any tiles that might have otherwise slid down and dropped into the street below. He peered down, and to his disappointment, he saw that the old man was still there, waiting patiently. But what was he waiting for?
Sasuke got his answer presently when a tall, thin man approached the shorter fellow. The newcomer appeared to be in his sixties or seventies, perhaps. He had close-cropped grey hair, and was smoking a cigarette.
"Saitou," said the shorter man, nodding a brief welcome.
"Himura." Saitou was equally curt. "Why are you waiting outside?"
"Aa." The man called 'Himura' smiled a small smile that Sasuke couldn't quite see, from his vantage point up on the roof. He heard the amusement in the man's voice, though. "I was about to enter, however it seems that my money has been stolen, de gozaru yo."
A laugh escaped the lips of the taller man, but to Sasuke, it seemed like a scary laugh, since it was short and harsh and mostly humourless. "You've become softer than ever, Himura," snorted Saitou, as he dropped his cigarette and crushed it under the heel of his shoe. "Twenty years ago you wouldn't have let a thing like that pass you by."
Sasuke's eyes widened as the red-haired man shrugged nonchalantly. "Perhaps he needed the money more than we did," he said, in a calm tone of voice. He wasn't going to let the taller man rile him; that was for sure.
Saitou shook his head in disagreement. "Whoever took your wallet broke the law. You shouldn't let criminals get away so easily." His voice was as cold as steel, and it made Sasuke feel a bit nervous, even though he was up on the roof, out of sight. Himura paused for a moment, and then seemed to smile, although Sasuke couldn't really be sure of his expression.
"You're right," he agreed finally, staring up at Saitou. "I can't argue with a former police officer after all. Perhaps I should find Yahiko so that he can catch this purse snatcher."
Up on the roof, Sasuke gulped. The man named Saitou had been a… police officer? Suddenly, he became aware that his breathing sounded a little loud. Sasuke tried to press his body more firmly into the roof, for he suddenly felt that they could see him, even though they hadn't looked up. Then, he shook his head, realizing how silly he was being. Of course they couldn't see him. He was up, and they were down, and there was no way that they could know he was there. He would just lie low until they left, and then make good his escape.
"Bah," snorted Saitou disdainfully. "Don't tell me that the infamous Hitokiri Battousai has gotten too old to catch pathetic criminals anymore. I'm disappointed in you, Himura."
Sasuke trembled and slipped slightly, causing one of the tiles to dislodge. Had he just said… Hitokiri Battousai? But that was just a myth, surely. He had heard the stories of course, as had every other child being taught about the Bakumatsu by his or her parents, but this old guy? He had beenthe terrifying Ishin shadow assassin? Surely not. The guy called Saitou was just joking… right?
"Be careful what you say, Saitou." The steel that Sasuke heard in the old man's voice however, caused him to have doubts. "Sessha is not yet as old and senile as you might think."
"Prove it, then."
"I don't need to prove anything to you." Himura's voice was suddenly cold, but he seemed to have lost none of his earlier composure. Sasuke wasn't sure what it was, but there was something about these two men which was making him feel increasingly nervous.
"Yet you let a common criminal get away with your money. I don't understand you, ahou."
Himura shrugged, not worried in the least. There were some things that one just had to accept. "I don't think that you ever will," he replied, shifting slightly so that he was holding his cane only in his right hand. "But if you really want to catch this pickpocket, then I suppose I could help you."
"I don't need your help," retorted the other old man, and Sasuke froze as the tall man started to look… upwards. Had they known? Did they know? Impossible. From where they were standing, they could not possibly see him.
"I know that," said Kenshin quietly, nonplussed, "however I'd be worried that you might kill him, that's all." Sasuke froze. Kill him?! What kind of men were these, to talk so casually about killing a person?
"Ahou." Saitou snorted, and then pulled a cigarette packet out from his pocket. "I wouldn't kill him… just hurt him a little."
"And how would you do that?" asked Kenshin. He put a little more weight onto his cane, to ease the pressure on his aching knees. Standing for so long – it was hard on his old, worn joints. "You gave your sword away when you retired from the force." Sasuke dared to peer over the edge of the roof again, and to his shock he realized that the shorter of the two men was smiling a little… Sasuke would have almost called his expression a smirk. Almost, but not quite.
The truth was that Kenshin was enjoying this.
"I still have my belt," replied Saitou, tongue-in-cheek. Kenshin grinned, remembering the particular incident which Saitou had subtly been referring to. It was almost frightening sometimes, how well they understood each other. Then, Saitou smiled wolfishly. "Although there is the small matter of getting onto the roof…"
This was the last straw for Sasuke. With trembling hands, he took the money purse from his pocket and dropped it over the side of the roof, so that it landed on the ground, right in front of Himura's feet. Honestly, a few coins and the promise of a hot meal… it wasn't worth getting beaten up by two vicious old men. He couldn't believe it. All this time, they had known; they had known that he was above them. But… how could that be? He had taken the greatest care to ensure that he wasn't seen… Sasuke had heard some people say that very skilled fighters were able to sense a person's life energy, but at the time he had dismissed such talk as nonsense.
He watched in frozen horror as the short man with hair the colour of a faded sunset bent down slowly and picked the purse up from the ground, dusted it off, and then tucked it into the folds of his gi. He then turned to his companion. "You didn't really give away your sword, at all, did you, Saitou?"
"I see that you didn't either, Battousai."
"…hasn't become blunt with age, de gozaru yo…" Sasuke heard only snippets of the shorter man's reply as the two walked into the restaurant. He clawed onto the tiles of the roof in panic, unsure of what to do next. Then he stopped cold, realizing exactly what had happened. He had been defeated. Not by a sword, or a skilled fighter, but by the sharp tongues and minds of two old men. Sasuke rolled onto his back and looked up to the sky in exasperation. His stomach growled angrily, and he groaned.
Beaten by two old men…
Oh, he was so hungry.