Author's note: Comments and criticisms of any type are great appreciated. Please feel free to nitpick. My thanks.

Disclaimer: RK, and all characters thereof, belong to their perspective owners. This is not for profit.


Destiny. Is that what this is? Nowhere in Saitoh's greatest planning, nor in his wildest dreams, has he anticipated this.

The biggest trap of his life. Or the most blessed blunder.

"Are you nervous Saitoh-san?" Okita asks with a boyish smile.

"Of course not."

"Really? I know I would be."

"That's 'cause you are a fool."

And to Saitoh's mild annoyance, his comment only widens the smile on Okita's face.

The door opens.

Saitoh grips the scabbard of his katana in his right hand, and without a backward glance, passes through the open doorway and walks down the aisle.

Chapter 1: Chance Meetings

Saitoh glowered at another heavily perfumed woman as she approached him. This one got the hint immediately and left him alone. Thank god, at least one female in this large and tastelessly ornate room owned a brain.

Saitoh assessed the scene - hordes of gaudily dressed females, all playing coy, encircled the Shinsengumi men. Appalling. If Takeda had wanted to visit a brothel, the moron should just 'go' instead of dragging everyone else in the Shinsengumi down to his level.

From across the room, Okita waved, distracting Saitoh momentarily from his murderous thoughts. And slowly, due to frequent greetings to the ladies, Okita inched his way across the distance of a hundred feet. Saitoh had seen snails that crawled faster.

"You should be enjoying yourself, Saitoh-san, this is suppose to be a party." Okita said.

"A party? Is that what this mating session is called."

"Maa ... it isn't that bad."

"No, not for Takeda, he is perfectly happy selling himself for copper pennies. How about you? What are you worth?"

"Whatever Commander Hijikata says." Okita gave one of his bright smiles.

Apparently, some people enjoyed being an idiot. Saitoh, personally, had had enough. "I am going outside." He exited the room and start heading towards the garden.

"But Saitoh-san," Okita called out after him. "Hijikata-sama is going to be ..."

Upset. Saitoh mentally finished Okita's sentence. The Shinsengumi badly needed the financial support. They've already tried everything short of mugging pedestrians. Well, almost everything. This was Vice Commander Hijikata's latest scheme: a marriage of Shinsengumi members to wealth. And to that end, Hijikata had invited the daughters of the richest merchants to a series of 'mixers'. Hijikata had termed this project: public relations.

The euphemism didn't even fool the fools.

Saitoh sauntered out of the main compound and into what was probably the most expensive private garden in all Kyoto. The merchant that hosted these Shinsengumi mixers certainly had money to burn. Too bad the idiot couldn't use the wealth to buy taste. The exotic flora that dotted the garden had been arranged in the worst combinations possible - even darkness of the night couldn't hide its tackiness.

Saitoh settled for the most secluded corner of the garden as his resting spot. He lit a cigarette and watched it burn.

And a simpleton chose that precise moment to intrude. But fortunately, before Saitoh even needed to snarl, the woman in the green kimono apologized profusely and scuttled around the corner. Saitoh returned his thoughts to his escape plan. Parading women around a room lost its novelty rather quickly - all cattle looked the same. Hijikata should just point to the richest female in the room, and Saitoh would be happy to marry her on the spot. And in exchange for her wealth, she would acquire his title. Could a transaction get any simpler?

Unfortunately, Hijikata enjoyed complicating matters.

Saitoh took a puff of his cigarette.

Snippets from a nearby conversation drifted uninvitingly to his ears. Normally, he would have ignored any quarrel of civilized volume, but the words of this one grew increasingly more alarming.

"... No! Stop! Don't touch me!" A feminine voice said resolutely. "Stop! Get your hands off me!"

Saitoh walked around a thicket, towards the source of the argument.

Just in time to catch Takeda trying to force himself on a woman. Some people were a disgrace to the Shinsengumi uniform.

"Ahou. For once, think with your other brain." Saitoh said.

Takeda straightened up abruptly and the color drained from his face. "Oh, hi ... hi there ... we're ... we're just having some fun ... no harm done ... right?"

Then, in an unusual display of wisdom, the moron chose not to stay and insist on his point of view. The idiot quickly made himself scarce.

Which left Saitoh standing in the garden, alone with some helpless maiden. He hoped that she wasn't going to throw herself at him in a fit of hysterics.

He turned his attention back to her. Wearing a faded green kimono and with her long hair bounded in a high ponytail, she looked the role of a servant girl. Good, no comforting words required. And from the looks of it, she needed none. Although she held her petite frame like a quarry ready for flight, her dark brown eyes flashed with intense determination.

Saitoh took a long drag of his cigarette. "Who are you?"

"Takagi Tokio."

Short, clipped, the girl certainly revealed little of herself. But from the timbre of her voice and her unblemished skin, Saitoh placed her in her late teens - certainly not too old to learn new ways of self-protection.

"Scream louder next time, Takagi Tokio."

With a small twitch of her lips, the girl asked, "Would that have stopped him?"

"No," Saitoh answered frankly, "so gouge out his eyes."

The girl's mouth dropped open.

"Want me to demonstrate?" Saitoh asked.

And she fled.

Saitoh glanced down at his navy blue hakama and chuckled. Unlike the other Shisengumi members, he wore his civvies. He wondered briefly if the woman would report him to the authorities for encouraging her to attack a Shinshengumi samurai. Even if so, it would be a small price to pay for the look on Takeda's face.

Saitoh grounded out his cigarette under his foot.

He hadn't had this much fun for a long time.