A Child's game
Saitou Hajime walked slowly through the streets of Tokyo, thinking about the past and steeling himself for the encounter that was about to take place. More than ten years after he had seen the last of the other man, more than ten years since the last night they met, amidst the fire of battle and hatred filled glares. So little time, so many years.
Ten years might seem like a long time for something, and for some other it was just like a whisper in the breeze, gone before you have the chance to acknowledge it.
As his steps dragged his reluctant feet to his destination, his mind wandered for paths not used in a long time, the paths of memory.
It was night in Kyoto when Saitou arrived, thinking that maybe he should go to an inn and sleep, he dragged his tired body for streets less and less inhabited, almost lost in his own thoughts.
What was the reason he was there now? He wondered again. Just a rumour about a strong man, about an invincible samurai that roamed the streets of that accursed city. He should have never left his unit, he shouldn't have moved from the place they were, but his curiosity got the best of him; and he went to investigate alone about that man everyone talked about.
The Battousai, a shadow assassin that had the whole Shinshengumi talking about him. Who could that man be? And was it possible that he was as skilled as everyone seemed to think he was? He wanted to know, he wanted to fight the man and discover first hand if the rumours were true.
Saitou was curious whether that particular rumour was true or not, not many skilled men were around before the war, and in the middle of the fight, some of them met their death. There were less and less great swordsmen, and he wanted to know if there was someone in the other side worth fighting.
He was startled out of his thoughts by a sudden presence by his side, he must have been more tired than he thought as he didn't hear footsteps approaching. Or maybe he had found the man he was looking for.
As his eyes scanned the dark alley surrounding him, he tensed, it was most unwise not to be on his guard in that place.
He saw her then, sitting against a wall was a young girl. Relaxing his grip on his sword, but not entirely releasing it, he approached the girl.
"This is not the place for a little girl to be resting." he said in a tone slightly less cold than his usual one. She seemed to be crying, and he didn't want to scare her. Maybe she was lost, or had been attacked.
"I'm not a girl." A sweet voice answered him, and Saitou took another look at the figure.
That was no woman for what he could see, long red hair falling freely over her shoulders, pale soft skin and big amber eyes. He thought that she could be pretty, but still far from being a woman. And then she stood, and Saitou could see that she was dressed like a man. A dark haori over a blue gi and a hakama. Between the folds of the cloth he could hint a bare plain chest. No girl there.
"Is not a place for a little boy either." He said moving closer.
"I needed to think," the boy answered, sliding to the ground again "and here no one will disturb me."
"Why do you need a place like this to think?" he asked the boy, not sure why he didn't leave him there and continued his way. "Don't you know that this city is dangerous? That we are in the middle of a war?"
"I know that too well, but nothing will happen to me." He answered confidently.
"Do you live here?" the boy nodded, and Saitou took a sit by his side, still wondering his reasons to do so. "Haven't you heard about that assassin that roams the streets of this city?"
A wry laugh was all the answer he got from the boy, and he dared another look at him.
He was young, not older than fourteen years, but his eyes held intensity strange for such an age, and the grim expression of his face spoke about experience beyond his years.
"Battousai," the boy whispered, laughing again "there's nothing he can do to me, nothing worse than what he had already done."
A sudden fury took hold of Saitou, thinking about what that mysterious man could have done to the little boy; and what that little boy could have done to deserve it. They were in the middle of a war, that was true. But kids shouldn't fight wars, and that was a kid.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here?" the boy asked, turning to look at Saitou for the first time.
Before he could answer, Saitou saw for the first time the boy's whole face. On his left cheek was a scar, it was still bleeding, blood trickling down his pale flesh. Saitou saw red for a moment, so that was what he had done to the boy, scar his beautiful face for life. He could understand why he wanted to think, if he had just survived an encounter with Battousai he might be pretty shaken. Though he was lucky to have kept his life.
"Did he do this to you?" he asked lifting his hand to touch the scar, the boy flinched at the contact, but didn't try to stop him.
"In a way of speaking."
"I'm going to kill him." Saitou surprised himself with those words, getting another humourless laugh for them.
"Because of this?" the boy asked smiling to him for the first time, "only because of a boy you just met?"
"No, I was going to kill him anyway" Saitou said truthfully, that was his intention since the moment he heard about him "But now I have another reason."
The boy lifted his own hand to his cheek, covering Saitou's hand, still resting against his face.
"Who are you?" he whispered, locking his amber gaze with Saitou's.
"Saitou Hajime." Something flickered in the boy's eyes for a second, to be replaced by nothingness in the second after, as if nothing had passed. Such control over his emotions, such ability to hide his thoughts. Saitou was amazed. "And you?"
"Himura Kenshin." the boy replied.
"Himura…" Saitou repeated, the name suited the boy, soft but with an eerie strength behind those words.
He was surprised of the force of his reaction to this boy, he had met lots of boys in his life, some of them even fought by his side; but nothing like that delicate boy. He was no man who fooled himself, the boy was beautiful, and his tastes ran in that exact direction, even though he had a wife to return to after the war. So the reason he was still here, his hand covering the bleeding cut in the boy's cheek, was that the boy's beauty and innocence attracted him.
"Why are you here, Saitou-san?" the boy asked.
"I came here to know about that man," he said simply "I wanted to know if he really exists, and if he is as ruthless and skilled as they say."
"He exists" was the answer "and yes, he's skilled. Ruthless… we are in the middle of a war, Saitou-san, it's necessary to be ruthless to survive."
"Why are you defending him now?" he was annoyed at the boy's words, and a thought crept into his mind. "Are you part of this war?"
"Yes, everyone is part of this war, even the one's who are not fighting."
The boy lowered his eyes, and Saitou knew he was not finished, there was more he wanted to say.
"But if you are asking me in which side am I" he continued "I'll tell you that I'm your enemy, Captain of the Shinshengumi third unit, Saitou Hajime."
"You don't look like an enemy, Himura Kenshin" he was still a boy after all, and he had no weapons with him. So it was hard to see him as an enemy.
"Appearances can be deceiving."
They stayed like that, in silence for a while, looking at each other in the eyes. Until Saitou finally let his hand drop and stood to go, there was nothing he wanted to do more than stay with the boy, with Kenshin, but he had to go.
"I hope we see each other again" Saitou said turning to leave.
"I hope not," Kenshin replied, startling him "I don't want to meet you at the end of a sword."
And with those words they parted ways.
Saitou could see the run down dojo from the shadows where he was hiding, there was no sign of life there, his inhabitants out of the place for a while. And that suited him, suited him well enough, he needed still a bit more of time to get a hold of his thoughts and emotions.
Footsteps approaching alerted him of the presence of someone nearby, and he saw a dark haired young man stepping inside the dojo and calling for the people there.
Kenshin! That name, all over again his memories threatened to engulf him, to swallow him whole and never let him face his destiny.
Saitou never knew why he was in the same place the night after, what made him think that he would see Kenshin again. In his mind he started to call the boy by his given name, not even the formality of using his family name there. He couldn't call him boy anymore, as the thoughts that plagued him were of a mature nature. Nothing he would admit he wanted to do with a boy. But Kenshin was no kid, his eyes showed wisdom beyond his age, and his words spoke of maturity. That was his excuse for wanting the young red head. No more than that, and he was aware about that. He stopped wondering about his desires a long time ago, he had enough self control to be able not to follow his impulses. So, even if he wanted Kenshin, he had enough control over his impulses not act about them. That was a little consolation for him.
He walked around the area where he encountered him the first time, knowing that the odds of meeting him there again were against him, but doing it nonetheless.
After an hour of aimless wandering he snorted softly to himself, regaining his momentarily lost calmness, and turned to go back to the inn. He had another business in town than pursuing a young man.
"Saitou-san?" the soft voice startled him, and he turned again to face the pretty face of the same young man that plagued his thoughts since the night before. Kenshin stepped out of the shadows, where he must have been watching him for some time. Again Saitou wondered what kind of boy he was, how was it possible that he didn't sense him at all? "I thought it was you."
He nodded, speechless again at the sight of Kenshin's beauty. He could observe him fully now, the long crimson hair, now tied on a high ponytail; the same he wore too. So he was a samurai after all, too young to have mastered any style of fighting, but probably training. The expressive amber eyes, guarded and cautious. The pale skin, marred by the dried blood of the scar on his cheek. The lithe body, lean and firm. Definitely strong under the deceiving impression of frailness.
"Himura-kun," he said "I told you we would meet again."
"Hai," he smiled sadly "you were right, we are fated to meet again and again."
The meaning behind those words slipped past him, he didn't think that Kenshin was thinking along the same lines he was.
"Did you find information about your mysterious man?" Kenshin asked, something strange glinting in the deepness of his eyes.
"No, no more than what I already knew." He said, and then he realized something.
Kenshin would be able to give him the information he needed, if he had met Battousai he would be able to tell him how the man looked like, what was his style of fighting. "But I wanted to speak with you about it, you know more than anyone who had fought him, as you are the only one I know who survived." That was a good reason for looking for him, he told himself, that reason was good enough to be worth the time lost seeking him.
"I never told you I fought him" Kenshin said, shaking his head. "And I already told you we are enemies, why would I reveal the identity of Battousai to a Shinshengumi?"
"So, you didn't fight him?" Saitou asked, he thought that the scar was the result of a fight, but maybe he was mistaken.
"I fight him everyday, but no, I never said I fought him." Was the enigmatic answer.
"But you know who he is."
"Yes, I know."
Saitou smirked, thinking that Kenshin knew certainly how to talk in circles.
"I could make you tell, if I wanted I could make you." He said, knowing full well that the threat was empty. He didn't want to hurt Kenshin.
"No, you won't."
"Sooner or later you'll tell me." Saitou insisted.
"No, I won't." the red head was stubborn. "For both our sakes, I won't."
Saitou decided change of topic, the conversation wasn't going anywhere, anyway, so it would be safer to speak of other things.
"Tell me Himura-kun, are you a samurai?" he asked curious, in his mind he already knew the answer to that question.
"No, I'm the son of a farmer," he said, surprising Saitou again, "my parents died long ago, and I was taken by slave traders."
Saitou suppressed a shudder at the mention of that, he knew full well what that would have meant for Kenshin, if he really was sold as a slave, a beauty like his would have made him stand among the rest. The experience those amber eyes showed, the years of hardness had now an explanation.
"What happened? How did you end here?"
"I was saved by a swordsman who took me and taught me the way of the sword."
So he was a swordsman, after all. Not a samurai, but a fighter. Different code of honour than he held, but honour after all. He nodded, not knowing what else he could say. Asking questions about that boy seemed to leave him with more riddles, so he decided just to keep silent.
"Why did you come back, Saitou-san?" Kenshin asked when he realized that there would be no more questioning for Saitou's part. "Just to find information about the Hitokiri?"
There was a slight hint of something in Kenshin's voice, it might be hurt, but Saitou wasn't sure. He couldn't read him, and that irked him. It wasn't the first time he encountered someone unreadable for him, but he wasn't used to someone so young with that level of skill.
"No, not just for that," he found himself answering. "But you are far too young and too innocent to understand it"
Kenshin smiled ruefully at him.
"I may be young, but I'm not innocent by any means." He dropped his gaze to his hands, as if he were seeing something there no one else could see.
After just a few seconds in silence, Kenshin moved. He walked slowly to the same wall he was sitting against the night before, and gracefully sank besides it. He's back resting against it. Saitou followed him, still thinking about the unreality of the whole situation.
"You know, Saitou-san," Kenshin rose his head and stared into space, as if he was thinking aloud instead of talking to the other man. "I thought about you last night, I knew I shouldn't, but I did it anyway. You are an enemy, if we were to meet each other in battle I would be forced to kill you, or die at your hands."
A dry laugh escaped Saitou's lips, that statement was too true, if only wasn't Kenshin the one uttering it. There was no way they would meet in battle, not being Kenshin just a boy in the middle of his training. But he said nothing. If Kenshin was foolish enough to think they would meet in battle, then he was right about something. He would die at Saitou's hands.
He looked up sharply when he felt a hand on his face, and turned to look at the young man. Kenshin had rested his palm against Saitou's cheek, in the same way he did the night before.
"You shouldn't have come back," Kenshin said "and I shouldn't either. I knew that there was a chance that I meet you here tonight, that's the reason I came."
"Why do you say that?"
"I don't know what's so different about you," Kenshin continued, as if Saitou hadn't said a word. "But I felt it last night, and I feel it now. Here." He pointed to his chest, "and here." He took his hand lower.
Saitou exhaled sharply, Kenshin's words and actions proved him that what he felt the night before was more than his imagination.
"And I shouldn't be doing this now" he continued leaning closed to Saitou, "you think I'm just a kid, but I've lived more than most people. And I know everything about desires."
Before he realized what he was doing, Saitou leaned back, increasing the little distance that separated their faces. Kenshin stopped, looking at him before sighing and dropping his head.
"Maybe I don't know as much as I think." He whispered.
Saitou was too stunned to react, that wasn't his usual reaction. Not that he wasn't used to the advances of young men and women, and older too. But it was the first time someone tried to seduce him so blatantly, and the feeling of not being in control wasn't something he liked. He scolded himself for spurning Kenshin's advances, but part of him was glad he did; he was still in control of his mind and his body. Something that might have changed if the young man insisted in seducing him.
"Why are you doing this, Kenshin?" he said, calling him by his first name for the first time.
He looked up sharply, his gaze narrowing; and for a brief moment Saitou was able to read something in him. He possessed a strong ki, his aura was almost overwhelming when he was angry. And it seemed that that sentence did it.
"I thought it was what you wanted." He said proudly. "I seem to be mistaken, it won't happen again, Saitou-san." Kenshin stood to leave, and Saitou just watched him. "The next time we meet, it will be in battle."
"Why are you doing this?" Saitou repeated at the retreating back, loud enough for the young man to hear him. "Why are you throwing yourself to me? An enemy, a man older than you?"
He sensed something wrong in Kenshin, and watched with narrowed eyes as he spun violently at his words, his hand reaching to his sash, where his sword should have been. But he wasn't wearing swords with him.
From despair to fury in just two seconds, Saitou realized that there was something deeper inside that boy than what he thought at the beginning. Knowing that sometimes it was the only way to get a reaction, Saitou decided to add more fuel to the fire.
"A little boy like you shouldn't be playing with swords, or grown up people."
"I'm. Not. A. Little. Boy." Kenshin grounded through gritted teeth, fire shinning in his eyes in a way Saitou didn't think possible before. He smirked. "What do you want from me, Saitou-san? Information? I won't give you that."
"But you will give me your body if I ask you to?" Saitou added coldly, though the mere thought of what Kenshin offered made his heart beat faster.
"Is the only thing I posses to give." Was the answer, and Saitou's blood froze in his veins. All thoughts of passion and desire gone at those words.
"Would you give me your soul, if I asked for it too?" he aimed his coldest glare at the frozen figure in front of him, measuring him as best as he could.
"My soul I gave to the Ishin, it's not mine anymore." Kenshin said shaking his head. "We seem to have started with the wrong foot today, Saitou-san. I thought I felt something yesterday, maybe it was just wistful thinking."
"Maybe," Saitou said "but I felt something too. I'm not proud to say that a little boy could make me feel that, but I felt it."
"Why did you come back?"
"I had your blood on my hands, it seemed the right thing to do."
Kenshin looked up at him, shocked; and then he smiled.
"So, you don't know either why you came back." He said, reading easily, too easily the other man's mind.
"No, I don't know either." Saitou admitted.
They stood like that for a while, both silently measuring the other, until in the end, Kenshin sat back with a sigh.
"I'm not feeling like myself today," he said "I don't know why, but this is not the way I react with people."
Saitou dared a look at Kenshin, who was looking at his hands as if ashamed of having said that out loud.
"This isn't the way I usually act around people either, so don't worry about it." The silence stretched again around them, but this time it wasn't uncomfortable.
After some time, Saitou got up to leave. It was late, and he needed to return to his unit. His short trip to Kyoto had been unsuccessful about finding the Battousai, but he couldn't say he wasn't glad he went.
Following an impulse he offered his hand to Kenshin, and helped him stand. The boy was short, and doubted he would grow up much more.
"I have to go, but I hope to see you again."
"Are you returning to your pack, Saitou-san?"
"Yes, I have to. We still have to fight this war."
"Goodbye then." Kenshin said, taking his hand from Saitou's grasp.
"Goodbye." And before he could think twice about what he was doing he bent his head, and kissed Kenshin softly in the lips. Nothing like he used to do, this was just a way to say goodbye without starting something he wouldn't be able to finish. If there was a next time… there was always time for that the next time.
He left without looking back after parting lips, leaving behind a stunned Kenshin.
Himura Kenshin, not a young boy anymore by any standards, was lost in his own memories too. Not being aware than the one his thoughts were returning to after so many years wasn't far from him. Saitou Hajime, it wasn't the first time he found himself thinking about the man. First the man he met in a fateful night, and then the ruthless enemy he fought without results.
Why now? Why, after so much time did he find himself thinking about the man? He thought he had left all of that behind, that after taking the way of peace, and turning the blade of his sword, he would never be confronted with that man again.
And in his heart he knew that something was about to happen, that the reason he could see the last time they met in battle so clearly in his mind, meant that something would happen soon.
His thoughts drifted back in time, to a time when hating the man was something he couldn't even conceive. Before everything was shot to hell.
The black envelope again, someone was going to die that night. Kenshin looked at the accursed paper in his hands. The name of his next victim. Why, why did he think that fighting for his ideals would be easy? That taking part in a war would be something different than taking lives? Tenchuu, a word that couldn't even begin to express the darkness behind the act.
Sighing he rubbed his cheek absentmindedly, thinking that he could still feel another man's touch, another hand over his skin. Almost a month had passed since that day, and he had heard that the Wolfs of Mibu would return to the city soon. He didn't know if he should feel dread or hope at that prospect. Someday, someday Saitou and he would have to face one another in battle, and there was no way the other man wouldn't find out who he really was.
Not revealing his identity was a gamble in the dark, a choice made in the hope that he would never meet Saitou again. But he knew better now, that after both of them returned to that place the next day, he couldn't say anything. They were enemies, and they would try to kill one another as soon as the truth was out. That was war, after all.
He had played with other people preconceptions before, that the fact the Hitokiri was a kid, something nobody ever thought about, gave him advantage over them. And not telling Saitou Battousai and he were one and the same, was a one second decision. One he didn't regret, as they would have been forced to fight.
His fingers moved from his cheek to rest over his lips. Saitou kissed him, he could remember the gentle touch, nothing like he imagined the kiss would be. What a mysterious and annoying man Saitou was! First he rejected him, then he insulted him, and in the end he kissed him. He couldn't imagine what the other man's intentions were.
Kenshin may be young, but he was no innocent, not in blood and not in the desires of flesh. He had learnt long ago that there was some measure of peace in the pleasures of the body, and he willingly gave his body from time to time. The offer he made Saitou at that time was just that, find pleasure in the middle of darkness and destruction. But after the other man's reaction he wasn't so sure. Was it bad to seek pleasure, only to forget is inner darkness? Maybe, and maybe were the terms of the offer what were bad. Not just mindless sex, they felt some strange sort of connection, and the prospect of sharing his body with the Wolf made him shiver in anticipation. So maybe there was more than sex there.
But all of that happened a month ago, and after that night he hadn't heard about Saitou. Only that now the wolves were returning to Kyoto. Was he daring enough to seek the man? Maybe, but before that he had work to do.
Kenshin scowled to himself, and took his weapons. Death would come first, and then he would have all the night to think about the rest.
The stench of blood didn't come off easily those days, it seemed to follow him wherever he went, like the shadow of his darkness. It didn't matter if he scrubbed himself until his skin was raw and red, he could still smell it, on his hands, over his clothes, on the steel of his katana. Maybe it was just that he was losing his mind.
The words of his master came to haunt him, knowing that he had been right all along, but that it was too late now to turn back. He had been foolish, just a little kid putting all his soul behind his ideals. The strength he offered to the Ishin, his sword and skill, all of that was way too powerful to let it be controlled by anyone. They had created the monster, the shadow assassin that put the seed of fear in the enemy. And in himself, for he was that shadow, he was that same fear. He had never wanted to be that, he had never wanted to take the lives of anyone. But wars weren't fought without bloodshed.
As he walked back to the inn he felt his sanity slipping, it was time to find something else to think about. It was time for him to give his mind something else to focus.
He took the time just to change his clothes and leave his swords, he never took them with him in the nights he went there. Those nights he wanted to be just Kenshin, nothing that reminded him of his other nature was welcome.
He took the well known path, his thoughts drifting in the darkness, that night he wanted to forget what he had just done, the expression in the eyes of the man he killed. Some of them were harder to forget than other, though all of them stayed in his conscience. Like the one who scarred him, fighting for his life as if he had something worth living for. And to forget about that he always gave himself to strangers, a habit his master would have regarded with contempt. A real samurai would have never stooped as low as he, a real samurai would have been worth the touch of his master, and a real samurai would have never left his master before his training was complete. But he wasn't a real samurai.
Kenshin didn't ever accept the money for that nights, he was no whore, only someone who wanted sex without attachments; and he never, ever saw again any of his partners. That was a rule he never broke, no matter how handsome, strong or experienced they were.
He was looking for someone when he saw him. And they stared at each other surprised in the distance, before the other man narrowed his eyes in anger and stalked towards him.
"What are you doing here, Kenshin?" Saitou said coolly, glaring at him as if he had done something wrong.
Kenshin shrugged, trying to hide the sudden feeling of shame that being caught arouse in him. He knew why Saitou was acting like that, since the moment he arrived to the district he had been looking for someone, rejecting several proposals as he didn't like the men who asked for him.
"Parading yourself like a whore, are you?" Saitou continued, regarding him with disgust, as if he was seeing him for the first time. "Is that what you are, Kenshin?"
"No, I'm not a whore," he whispered "but sometimes I wish I was…" that would be easier to deal with, he thought, than being an assassin.
"What are you doing here, then?" Saitou asked again.
Kenshin didn't know what to say, so he just lowered his gaze and stared to his hands. Why the opinion of that man, who he hardly knew, mattered to him? Why did he felt dirty of doing that now? It was the first time he had ever felt ashamed of that, those were his secret nights, where no one knew him, where the people he knew never went, because they were used by the enemy.
"Are you going to answer me?" annoyed at the silence, Saitou closed the distance between them and grabbed Kenshin by the arm, dragging him out of the crowded street.
That snapped Kenshin into movement, snatching his arm from Saitou's grasp violently.
"What I am doing here is not your business." he retorted, glaring at the other man.
"So I am right, you are a whore, after all."
That answer incensed him, and he took a step back, to put as much distance possible between the two of them. He had thought about meeting the other man again; but he had never thought that it would be under those circumstances. And now, facing the violent reaction of Saitou, he wondered if the man he knew was real at all. He remembered a gentle touch, an almost tender kiss. The anger he could sense emanating from him, the coldness of his eyes, all of that he hadn't seen before.
"Not so hastily," Saitou held him in place when he tried to leave "I want an answer."
"It doesn't matter what you want, Saitou-san. I'm not what you think, and what I'm doing here is my business alone." He said with as much coldness as he could.
"You fooled me the last time we met, I thought you were just a boy. I see I was mistaken, so there's no reason to restrain myself anymore."
And he found himself pinned against a wall, Saitou's body forcefully pressed against his, taking away all his chances of escape. He was prepared when Saitou took his lips in a violent kiss, this time he knew what was going to happen, and he let himself enjoy the touch for a brief moment, before he struggled to get free. Saitou was stronger than he, but as usually people did, he underestimated him. He was way stronger than he seemed. After just a few seconds he managed to push the man away from him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"You don't want to follow this path, Saitou-san," he surprised himself with the calmness in his voice "it would be most unwise to do so."
"Talking in circles, like I remember you." Saitou said smirking "this reminds me more of the Kenshin I met a month ago. But you don't know what I want."
"Neither do you."
"Maybe, but I know that I've thought about you during this month. Seeing you here surprised me, and confirmed the worst suspicions I had about you." Saitou shook his head, as if clearing his mind. "What is it about you that make me act so differently as my usual self?"
Kenshin just shrugged, he didn't know the answer of that question, nor he thought it was intended to him.
"Why are you here, what are you looking for?" Saitou asked again.
"Peace, oblivion, pleasure," Kenshin answered truthfully, "It doesn't matter."
"And you find it here?"
"Is a place as good as any other, nobody knows me here, and nobody asks questions. They just take what they want and give me what I want."
Saitou looked at him for a moment, and finally he seemed to reach a decision.
"I'll give you all of that, come with me."
Kenshin's heart skipped a beat, but he schooled his features into impassiveness, and shook his head.
"No, Saitou-san, you can't give me that."
Saitou's glare pinned him, and he could feel again the fury his rejection provoked. Not really sure why, he decided to elaborate his answer.
"I've thought of you too, and it would be different. Not mindless sex, not just a fuck. At least for me. This is not the place, not the moment for that. We're in the middle of a war, I can't give more than my body. You'd take more than that."
"I understand what you mean." He knew that too, giving more than what he offered was dangerous for both of them. "Go then, find your pleasure anywhere else, because if I find you here again it's going to happen. Whether you like it or not."
Kenshin nodded and took his leave, not looking back just in case his resolve crumpled.
Kenshin looked up startled, and realized he must have dozed off at some point of his remembrance. Not that anyone had notice; but he felt like his past was coming back again, as if it was a beast that followed him, ready to strike when he left his guard down.
Those memories, that feeling of shame he hadn't felt for a long time. That was the last time he ever went to the district, not even after Tomoe's death he felt the need of seeking that again. And all because Saitou's disdain that night made him feel dirty, worthless.
He smiled dryly to himself, at that time that man's opinion really mattered to him. And look where things had led after that… he should have known better than to act so against his character, he should have known better than to seek that man again.
But he did.
It was shortly after the night in the district, that frustrating night where he didn't find anything but shame. He left the district that night for good, to never set a foot again there, feeling pathetically stupid and more like a child than ever. The mere memory of Saitou's eyes made him shudder, and he wanted the ground to open beneath him and swallow him whole. And so short after that night he encountered Saitou again.
Kyoto was a city big enough not to find someone, but as it seemed he was fated to face Saitou Hajime again and again, as he had predicted one night long ago. Or maybe it was that they were seeking each other.
That night he didn't have to work, fortunately no black envelope was waiting for him at the inn. But he wanted to go outside, the endless nights of loneliness at the inn, the incessant planning and strategizing of the other members of the Ishin there, the fear he could see in their eyes when they looked at him; all of that overwhelmed him from time to time, and he needed to take a little break from them. So, that night he was wandering Kyoto's streets again, walking aimlessly lost in his thoughts.
"So, still nothing about him." A voice startled him out of his thoughts, he knew that voice.
Taking in his surrounding he realized he was outside the places he usually went through; he was in an area at the outskirts of the city, the streets dimly lit, if ever, and the people there looked dangerous. He cursed, not for the first time, his habit of leaving his sword when he took his walks.
"No, we have no information about Battousai, Saitou-sama," another voice answered, and Kenshin stopped dead in his tracks. He hid in the shadows, trying to conceal his presence as most as possible.
"I can't understand your obsession with that man, Saitou-san," a young voice joined the conversation "we're not even sure he exists."
"Battousai exists." Saitou said, and the other man laughed.
"So sure about it, Saitou-san. How can you know it for sure? Maybe it's just another tale of the Ishinshishi to put fear in us, nobody had ever seen him, and nobody knows about him."
"I know someone who knows him, Okita-kun."
Kenshin paled at that, he must be talking about him. Had he revealed something about him to his comrades? What had he told them?
"Yes, your mysterious boy." The humour was clear in that voice, as if he was teasing Saitou. "I find hard to believe that someone like you described exists either, he would draw too much attention to him. Is impossible that he goes unnoticed in this city, yet no one knows about this red head friend of yours."
Friend? Kenshin didn't consider himself Saitou's friend, their few encounters had been too surrealist for him to catalogue them; but he was sure they weren't friends. There was something there, an attraction Kenshin hadn't feel before. But no friendship. Saitou echoed his thoughts.
"We're not friends."
"What are you then?" Okita asked.
"I don't know. But I'd like to…" he stopped then, and when he spoke again his tone was tense "There's someone here."
Kenshin knew he had been discovered then, and in a second decided against fleeing, he could disappear before they found him, but that conversation unsettled him. He wanted to face Saitou.
Kenshin stepped out of the shadows, and walked to the two men ahead of him. There were more men around, but he wasn't interested in them.
Saitou's back was to him, and he could see he was tense and with his hand already on the hilt of his sword. The other man was ready to fight too, he was younger, and shorter. His dark hair framed a pretty face, and when he saw Kenshin his eyes widened briefly, before an amused expression took hold of his face.
"I'll take my leave now Saitou-san, it seems there's no danger here."
Kenshin watched Saitou turn, as if in slow motion, and his expression of surprise changed to one of suspicion. Well, he might be wondering what Kenshin was doing there, and maybe if he was on his way to the district.
"I'll see you later, Okita-kun" Saitou said to the retreating back of the other man, before turning all his attention to Kenshin. "What are you doing here Kenshin? I would think you've been following me."
What was he doing there? That was a good question, he must have continued his walk, and not stopping to hear the conversation, as soon as he realized it was Saitou. But, as usual, he followed his instinct without thinking first.
"I was just walking around, Saitou-san" he replied sincerely "I needed some fresh air."
"You have a really bad habit of walking in the night, and for some dangerous places too." Saitou relaxed his grip on his sword, and took a step closer to him "this side of town is not safe for someone who declares to be an enemy."
"It wasn't intentional, Saitou-san. I wasn't thinking about anything, and it seems I took a wrong turn somewhere."
"Or a right turn," Saitou smirked "since it took you here. Remember what I told you last time?" his eyes had now a predatory glint, and Kenshin shivered.
"We're not there." He protested, but his body reacted to the insinuation.
"It doesn't matter," Saitou closed the distance between the two of them, and Kenshin could feel the heat emanating from his body. "You keep showing up in front of me, and there's only so much restrain I possess. You proved to me you were no innocent boy last time, now I'm going to have what I've wanted since we met."
His mouth was over Kenshin's before he had the chance to say anything, and this time it wasn't like any of the previous one's. It wasn't the gentle caress or the violent attack, it was fierce, and demanding. The assault of his mouth, lips and tongue, everything at once, making him shiver, respond and return the kiss with the same amount of desire. He had wanted that too, since the first time their eyes locked he had wanted the other man.
The kiss seemed to go on forever, until the demand of their lungs made them part with a frustrated groan, Kenshin was panting and flushed; it had never felt like that, it had never been like he wanted to be consumed in the fire taking hold of his body. He wanted it to go on forever, and to end at once. Breathing deeply he stood on tiptoe, and circling his arms around Saitou's neck, bent the other's man head to resume the wonderful sensations.
Saitou looked at him smirking before he took his mouth again, demanding entrance to his tongue immediately, and pressing their bodies together.
When they parted again they were moaning, aroused and panting heavily.
"We have to move, I'm not stopping now." Saitou said, his voice hoarse.
Kenshin just nodded, not trusting his voice at all. So, that was the reason why they couldn't act normally around one another, that attraction like nothing Kenshin had ever felt before. He followed Saitou to and empty place, it looked like and abandoned warehouse, but it would be prefect for what they were going to do. Not a second after they had crossed the door, and closed it behind them, Saitou was all over him again. This time his hands tore at his clothes impatiently while his mouth devoured him, Kenshin returned the favour with passion, and soon both of them were naked amidst scattered clothes.
Kenshin stepped back to take in the sight of Saitou, naked and wanting him. The man wasn't beautiful, but it was the most attractive thing Kenshin had ever seen. His lean body, muscled in the right places, tall and powerful, those feral eyes looking intently at him, the thin lips, swollen and slightly parted, and the dark long hair. Everything together made the most compelling site Kenshin had ever behold. Saitou was looking at him too, appreciatively letting his eyes roam through the impossibly pale skin, the slim strong body, and those expressive amber eyes, darkened now with desire.
They closed the gap together, hungrily touching everywhere they could, savouring skin against skin, devouring one another.
"Kenshin, are you alright?"
Kenshin looked up flushed, his mind had strayed to the first night they spent together, and now his body was betraying him again. Even after all those years, he still remembered that with a kind of fuzzy desire.
"Hai, Kaoru-dono, I'm fine"
But he wasn't, far from fine. Why did his mind insist in returning to those days? Why couldn't he just vanish the man from his mind and heart even after all that happened?
Sighing tiredly, Kenshin looked at the lesson that was just finished. He stood to leave, following Kaoru and Yahiko back to the dojo, while his mind wandered again.
Back at the dojo Saitou was leaving, he hadn't expected to find any resistance from the boy, and leaving him there as a present hadn't been his original plan. But as his mind insisted in going back in time, he took a decision. He was going to leave a message to Battousai, one he wasn't likely to misread. He was just supposed to test him, and recruit him for the fight. But maybe, maybe it was time they settle once for all something that had been between them for too much time.
Back at the dojo Saitou was leaving, he hadn't expected to find any resistance from the boy, and leaving him there as a present hadn't been his original plan. But as his mind insisted in going back in time, he took a decision. He was going to leave a message to Battousai, one he wasn't likely to misread. He was just supposed to test him, and recruit him for the fight. But maybe, maybe it was time they settle once for all something that had been between them for too much time.
For some time Saitou thought that after having the boy, he would be back to normal. It was always like that for him, once he got what he wanted he didn't want it anymore. But this time it was different.
After having Kenshin, after feeling him beneath him, all around him, tasting him, holding him, he knew he didn't have enough. One time wasn't enough for them, maybe never would be enough. And most unwise as it was, he knew he had to see him again.
"Ah, I see you had a good night, Saitou-san" Okita's friendly voice greeted him when he returned with his unit. His smug smile must have given him away, but he didn't care at the moment.
"So, your little friend really existed, and he was every bit what you said about him."
Saitou said nothing, he didn't want to discuss Kenshin with them, even with Okita. When he first mentioned him was a mistake, only saying that he knew something who confirmed the truth behind Battousai's rumours. But Okita insisted to know, and in the end he revealed, perhaps, more than he intended. It wasn't that he didn't trust the other man, but he didn't feel comfortable discussing his private life with anyone, even with someone he trusted with his life.
They spent the night in that place, enjoying their bodies, and their company. The times when they weren't making love they talked, and Kenshin revealed some facts about himself, some things that made Saitou see him less and less like a boy.
They agreed to meet again the next night, knowing full well that once wasn't enough for either of them. The place where they first meet, away from both of their territories. They weren't likely to forget they were still in the middle of the war, and that they were supposed to be enemies.
"Can you tell me now what you are, Saitou-san?" Okita asked teasingly, and Saitou growled, not menacingly at all. He didn't like to be teased like that, but he felt too good to be truly annoyed with Okita. Okita just laughed, and let the subject drop.
Nothing changed for some time, in the night Saitou would leave his pack to meet Kenshin, and after some time his companions didn't even bother to ask. He should have known that things never last, and good things last even less.
His feelings for the red head were strong, stronger than anything he had felt before; but he didn't intend to tell anything. Both of them were aware of the dangers of their relationship, even if Saitou didn't know yet what it was what Kenshin did for the Ishinshishi. Kenshin refused to talk about the war, or about what he did in Kyoto, and after a few unsuccessful conversations, Saitou let it rest. He had better things to do with his time with Kenshin to spend it arguing. It was clear that their ideals weren't the same.
"What are you fighting for, Hajime?" Kenshin asked him one night, he had begun to call him by his given name, and Saitou felt even more comfortable with the new intimacy.
"Aku Soku Zan"
"Ah, so that is your motto. I like it." Kenshin smiled at him "maybe one day I'll have the privilege of being slain by you."
That was one of the few things Saitou didn't like, how Kenshin talked in that mysterious way of his, as if he had some kind of secret, something that made him evil. It wasn't the first time he had mentioned something like that, but always he realized and turned the conversation. This time was different. Something must have happened that day.
"I can't see how, you're not evil by my accounts." He said tensely.
"But I am, I'm not what you think." Kenshin's voice was just a whisper, and Saitou realized he was half asleep, maybe that was the reason he didn't know what he was saying. "My hands are stained…" and the voice trailed off into sleep. His sleep was fitful and restless, plagued by nightmares. Saitou watched over him in those nights, shocked with himself for the tenderness the boy arouse in him.
He looked even younger in his sleep, his face relaxed when he wasn't fighting his nightmares, the soft lips slightly parted and the breath even. Sometimes Saitou wondered what was he doing with Kenshin, if it wasn't for the moments when he could see the darkness surrounding him, he would feel like he was corrupting an innocent.
But as Kenshin had proved several times, he was far beyond that. His body knew about sensual pleasures, and his heart knew about death and hardship. And there was something more, Saitou was afraid that Kenshin wasn't entirely sane. There was a hint of insanity behind some of his words, some deep sorrow that was rotting his soul. But there was nothing he could do about that, Kenshin refused to talk about what troubled him.
The other thing that had Saitou restless those days was Battousai, for several days the assassin had been quiet, no bodies were found, not a single word hinting he was still around. And that was suspicious. Only once he attacked, and Saitou couldn't think about that night because that day he found Kenshin upset, and the night was the worst he could remember.
Thinking about it Saitou realized he should have made the connection sooner, but it was so clear in front of his eyes he couldn't even think about it. Those few weeks were some of the memories he never visited, the best weeks and the worst weeks he could remember.
And all ended so suddenly, nothing he could have done would have changed the result.
Kenshin looked at the black envelope in his hands, not wanting to know the name of his next victim. He had a bad feeling about it, and he didn't want to do it. This time it was more than his usual reserve to take a life, even for the cause. This time there was a sense of dread gathering in his gut what hindered his hands. He didn't want to open the envelope.
"Himura," Kagara Kogoro's voice took him out of his musings. "I know that it's a dangerous assignment, but he's been investigating and he's close to find out about you. It's not honourable, but it has to be done."
Even more unsettled by his words, Kenshin just nodded and took his swords. Getting ready for his work had a soothing quality that this time didn't help at all.
Scolding himself for his weakness, Kenshin tore open the envelope and took the white sheet inside, staring wide eyed at the name written there.
"Saitou-san, there's a boy with a message for you." Okita called Saitou from outside the room, and annoyed, Saitou stepped outside and glared at them both. He was resting, the morning had been hard and long, but he was close to find about Battousai. He had met someone with connections inside the Ishinshishi, and he agreed to give him some important information.
He took the envelope and left without saying anything, leaving Okita to pay the boy if necessary.
"Don't leave your pack tonight, the shadow is after you."
That was all the message said, and he knew who had sent it. Kenshin. Why, and how did he know that Battousai was after him? It was unnerving, to say the least, but he wasn't scared of a shadow assassin that never showed his face. He wasn't scared in the least. He should have known better.
Ignoring the advice he left his unit that night, going to the same place where he met Kenshin every day.
Kenshin wasn't there, the place was dark and cold, and Kenshin wasn't there. He should have known that if Kenshin asked him not to go, he wouldn't come either. Maybe someone from the Ishin knew about them, and he didn't want to be treated as a traitor. Or maybe he didn't want to face Battousai, if he knew Saitou was his next target.
But how had Kenshin known who would the next victim be? And why had he warned him? They knew they were enemies, and that if things came to open battle they would fight.
He needed to know, so he waited there.
"I told you to stay with your unit, Hajime." Kenshin's voice startled him "why wouldn't you follow my advice even once?"
Saitou turned to look at him, but he was surrounded by darkness, and he could only hint his figure in front of him.
"I'm not scared of Battousai, you know I want to fight him."
A sad sigh, and Kenshin took one step towards him, still framed by the shadows.
"I know, I've known all along this would happen. Sooner or later this had to end. But I wanted to be just Kenshin for some more time."
"I don't know what you're talking about." He said annoyed, it wasn't the time to talk in riddles. "How do you know Battousai is after me?"
As only answer a black envelope landed by his feet, Saitou bent to retrieve it, and took the paper from inside. His name.
"This is how? This means you took the envelope?" Kenshin couldn't, he couldn't have exposed himself like that. And was he that close to Battousai to know the meaning of that, and to have the chance of taking it? There was something really wrong there.
"No, I never wanted this to end this way," he kept moving closer, and Saitou realized for the first time that he was carrying weapons with him. "I hoped you weren't here, I warned you to stay with your unit. But you had to come, you had to pay no heed to my advice and come. I don't want to, but I have no other choice, you understand it, don't you Hajime?"
He was beginning to feel scared, but not for himself, Kenshin's behaviour was strange, and his words even crazier than usual.
"What's wrong Kenshin? Why are you armed?" but Kenshin continued as if he hadn't spoken.
"Please, just forgive me." His voice shook, and he took a deep breath, as if steeling himself "Just let me tell you this. I love you, Hajime. I don't want to do this, but we are in the middle of a war."
Saitou felt sick at his words, he couldn't mean what he thought. No, that couldn't be, he was saying goodbye for some reason.
"Saitou Hajime, Captain of the Third unit of the Shinshengumi," Kenshin's voice changed, filled now with a coldness that his pained eyes belied. "You are an enemy of our cause; though I hold no grudge against you, I Himura Battousai of the Ishinshishi will take your life."
Kenshin knew there was something wrong as soon as he crossed the dojo's gates. His heart recognized the scene before his mind did, and thought he knew at sight who was who did it, he didn't want to acknowledge it. Rubbing his shoulder absentmindedly, he looked at Sano, unconscious and bleeding. Yes, he knew who did it, but he wasn't ready to face him. Not yet, maybe not ever.
Wasn't his mind telling him all day that this was going to happen? Wasn't that the reason he was reliving his best and worst memories?
He sat looking into nothingness, his hand on the faded scar that now mirrored Sano's.
For the first time since they met, Kenshin could read Saitou's eyes. And what he was seeing there didn't bode well. First incredulity, shock, suspicion and then hate.
Saitou shot him a hate filled glare while he unsheathed his own sword.
"What are you playing at, Kenshin?"
"This is no game, Saitou-san," he answered, reverting to call him by his surname. The man in front of him wasn't his lover, was his victim. If he could convince himself of that, maybe he would be able to do his job. "I didn't want you to find out like this, but I have orders, and I can't disobey them."
"So you've been playing all this time, is that what you're telling me?" Saitou spat, more hurt and furious than he had ever been.
Some things were clicking into place, fragments of conversations that were telling him it was true. Kenshin was Battousai, and all that time he had been keeping that information from him.
What is that you do for the Ishin?'
'Just what I have to do.'
'Did he do that to you?'
'In a way of speaking.'
'There's nothing he can do to me, nothing worse than he had already done.'
'I fight him everyday, but I never said I fought him.'
'Appearances can be deceiving.'
'I'm not what you think, my hands are stained…'
'Ruthless… we're in the middle of a war, Saitou-san, it's necessary to be ruthless to survive.'
Yes, he could see now that all that time Kenshin's insanity had been hinting that, that the secret he kept was a blood one. And why was possible that no one found information about Battousai. A boy, someone who hadn't even mastered his school. Nobody would have believed it.
"Don't make this harder Saitou-san." Kenshin, no, Battousai said "Kami knows it's hard enough as it is."
And then he attacked, and Saitou saw for the first time why he was considered almost a monster. That speed, in once second he was in front of him, looking at him with those pained amber eyes, and the next second Saitou was hard pressed to block a blow coming from above. Someone less skilled than himself would be already dead, but Saitou wasn't an ordinary swordsman either, he had the strength and determination to match Battousai's. The time to speak was over, now it was the time to fight.
Battousai retreated to the furthest corner, as if considering his next move, and Saitou saw his chance to attack. He had a strong defence, but his strength really showed in attack, and if he could stop seeing the one he was fighting as Kenshin, and begin to regard him as Battousai, he would win that fight. He had no intention to lose.
Unsheathing his sword with a surprising speed, Battousai blocked him, and Saitou had to dodge the next blow. Two step Battoujutsu, the origin of the name. He was really Battousai.
For several minutes the fight progressed in the same way, both of them trying to reach the other, and both of them failing. And it was then when Saitou realized of something. He didn't know if Battousai was conscious of that, but he was leaving an opening to attack on his left side when he performed some of his moves. A blind spot no one had seen before? It wasn't very likely.
But that was not the time to think why he had that chance, it was the time to take it.
The next attack came when he was expecting him, reading Battousai in battle was easier than reading Kenshin's moods; and Saitou was ready when the chance presented itself. That opening was there, and aiming for his heart Saitou took his Gatoutsu stance.
That was it, wasn't it? The chance of defeating the shadow he had been following. Why did it seemed so wrong then? The flicker of emotion he saw in Battousai's eyes told him the reason.
'Maybe one day I'll have the privilege of being slain by you.'
He knew about that, he was letting him win, he was letting him kill him. In one second he changed the aim, and instead to finish him, he pierced his shoulder, pinning him to the wall.
A clean wound, but Battousai was now immobilised. And when he realized what happened he struggled to break free. Saitou kicked the sword off his hand and approached him, even more furious than before.
The first blow stunned the red head into silence, and Saitou stood in front of him, growling.
"Oh, no" he said menacingly "you're not getting out of this easily, I'm not going to give you that way out."
Battousai just looked at him, silent, his eyes not showing any emotion. And then he sighed, and dropped his eyes.
"Why aren't you fighting me as you should? You think I would just kill you, that I wouldn't notice?"
Battousai just shook his head, gritting his teeth against the pain that must be coursing him. He was still pressed against the wall, Saitou's sword keeping him in place.
"If you want to die so much fight me properly, you'll die anyway." Saitou snarled, regarding the boy in front of him as if seeing him for the first time.
"I can't, I'd kill you, and I can't do that. You wanted to kill Battousai, this is your chance."
Saitou slapped him again, harder than before. A strangled whimper left Battousai's lips, the movement causing even more pain on his shoulder.
"I want to fight the real Battousai, you're just fighting to get killed."
"I am Battousai, though I've never wanted to be."
"I know who you are, but that's not what I'm saying. You're not using all your strength, leaving me an opening to kill you. Do you really think I would fall for that?"
"I can't, I can't kill you. I'd lose everything."
"Kids shouldn't play with swords," Saitou seethed "I'll make you fight me."
"There's nothing you can do to change my mind."
"Oh, but there is." Saitou smirked, and then yanked his sword free.
The sudden movement made Battousai fall to the floor, and before he could react Saitou was over him, taking his swords and tossing them aside. Realization dawned, and he struggled to get free. A hard punch to his wound made him dizzy, and those few seconds were all Saitou needed.
"No, not like this." He screamed as Saitou tore his clothes.
"I'll make you want to kill me, next time you'll fight me for real." Saitou could feel his blood pounding in his temples, and soon he couldn't see anything but the pained expression on the red head's eyes.
"Don't, don't do it! Saitou!"
Saitou looked at the silent boy laying on the floor, for the last minutes he had been silent, not even trying to get free anymore; and for the first time since the fight began he saw him as Kenshin. And unwanted guilt took hold of his heart.
He stood again and rearranged his clothes, not looking at Kenshin anymore, but listening to the pained sobs that filled the room.
"I'll kill you, Saitou." The coldness and hate behind those words left no doubt that this time he meant it, and Saitou just nodded. "You couldn't leave me even that way out, even those memories. Now I don't have anything."
Saitou refused to feel bad about it, Kenshin was the one who lied to him, the one who kept the secret and then tried to force him to kill him. He wasn't the one at fault. He turned to leave.
"Next time we see each other," Kenshin called to the retreating back "one of us will die."
"So be it." Saitou crossed the door without looking back; paying no heed to the raged screams he could hear coming from inside, he went back to his unit.
It was time to go back to the dojo. Saitou was sure Battousai would have received his message, and would be ready to face him. But was he ready? Yes, he had been ready to finish their fight for more than fourteen years, the last times they fought were frustrating for their lack of conclusion; though those times it wasn't because Battousai hadn't tried to kill him.
He succeeded in making Kenshin hate him, maybe what he did was a bit extreme, but he was furious and frustrated at that time. Several times afterwards he regretted taking such extreme measures, specially the first time they met after that.
Saitou hadn't think about Battousai for months, and the rumours about him had receded. Nobody knew where the man was, and after the Ikedaya inn incident, where he had thought he might see him, only to be disappointed, most of the Ishinshishi had left Kyoto.
But now he was back, this time he had been seen in open battle, not hiding in the shadows anymore. And he knew he was about to face him again.
Spotting him in the middle of the carnage wasn't hard, his red hair flaming in the middle of the bloodshed, sword in hand and killing without mercy. He looked like a devil, or an angel. Okita, the only one who knew most of the history, alerted him of the location of his prey.
"Battousai," he called him when he was close enough "it's time."
Battousai turned, and glared at him with such hate Saitou almost recoiled at the intensity. There was something different about him, and it took him a second to realize that where he used to have his scar, now was another one crossing it.
For a second he wondered how he got that one, and the old feelings threatened to return. He squashed them, and got ready to fight him.
His technique was as flawless as the other time, no openings now. And the battle was fierce and equal. The fury behind Battousai's blows matched the one behind Saitou's, both of them thinking about their circumstances.
No conclusion was reached that time, nor it was reached any of the others; every time they met they fought, and Saitou could swear he heard Battousai muttering under his breath while they fought. 'I hate you, I hate you.'
The last time they fought Saitou found himself asking what had been bothering him all that time, not really expecting an answer.
"Who did that to you?"
Married? So much had changed in all those years, he couldn't see him as Kenshin anymore, nor could he see a boy there. But how? And why?
He didn't know he had said that out loud until Battousai growled and hit him.
"You have no right to ask me those questions. She did it before I killed her; you'd be glad to know I'm now the monster you wanted me to be. I killed the one I loved, I have no problem now killing you too."
And they resumed their fight, trying their best to kill one another. And this time, Saitou thought he heard something different coming from his lips. 'I hate you, I love you, I hate you.'
Making him revert to Battousai had been easier than he thought, but in the end they couldn't finish. As always, something happened, and this time they were stopped before they could reach that long postponed conclusion.
But it was seeing him before the fight what proved to be hard for him, seeing the peace loving Kenshin he claimed now to be, not a trace of the insanity the boy showed, nothing that reminded him of the old Kenshin. He seemed to have made peace with his past, maybe it was time for Saitou to do the same. Saitou looked at the river in front of his eyes, not really seeing it. He used to go to think to places like that, and now he had lots of things to think about.
The boy he knew, the boy he had loved died long ago. Now he realized of that, he killed him that night.
"I thought you'd be here." Battousai's voice took him out of his thoughts, and he tensed, grabbing the hilt of his sword before turning around. "No, I didn't come to fight now. It's time for us to talk."
"Why would I talk to you?" Saitou asked, glaring at the red head. It was all so wrong with him now. The way he wore his hair, more like a woman than a samurai, his wrong headed sword, even his speech was wrong.
"Because you owe me."
"I owe you nothing," Saitou looked at him, and realized for the first time of the guarded expression of his eyes, and the defensive stance. He smirked. "Tell me one thing, do you still hate me? You used to mutter that while we fought."
Battousai backed as if he had been hit, and something flashed in those violet eyes. Something like pain, Saitou thought. Suddenly he felt really tired, and he lost all desire of taunt him. Saitou turned to leave.
"Yes, I still hate you. Did you expect me to do otherwise?" that did it, Saitou turned to him and closed the space between them in two steps.
"I did what I had to do," he growled "You didn't want to kill me, what made you think it was easier for me to kill you? At least you didn't try to kill yourself anymore, at least you had something to keep going. I'll say that again, kids shouldn't fight wars. You're not a kid anymore, are you ready to fight?"
Battousai smiled grimly, and taking a step back he unsheathed his sword.
"No." he said, tossing the sword aside. "I didn't come here to fight, but to talk. As you say, I'm not a kid anymore, and I realized what you did long ago. But that doesn't change the fact that you did it." He sighed. "This has been hanging between us for too long, you asked me if I still hated you, the answer is yes. And the answer to the other question, the one you won't ask, is yes too."
Saitou just looked at him shocked, had he just told him what he thought he did? And he saw him for the first time, the boy he would have been without the existence of Battousai, serious, sincere and lonely. He dropped his sword too, and moved to sit by the river bank.
"It has been too many years for us to have this conversation now." He said.
"I know." Kenshin sat by his side, looking at the river. "But it's not too late. I'm going to Kyoto."
"I know. I'll go too."
Saitou turned to look at him, and seeing the cross shaped scar on his cheek he remembered that first time they met. Mirroring the same move he lifted his hand, and touched his face. Kenshin's hand covered his almost immediately, and they stayed like that for several heartbeats.
"Will you tell me about this?" Saitou asked, knowing that he wasn't just asking that, but setting the grounds for a new beginning.
"Yes, the road to Kyoto is long, we'll have the chance to talk."
And as he did that many years ago Saitou stood to leave, offering his hand to Kenshin. As he always suspected, he wasn't tall, their height was almost the same it was then. Saitou bent his head, and took his lips in a soft kiss. There was no hurry anymore, the road to Kyoto was long, as Kenshin said, and they had all that time to sort things out.
"Goodbye for now, Kenshin." Saitou said when they parted.