Final Chess Piece by Hitokiri-san

A/N: Hi folks! This is my first attempt at a high school AU fic, written partly to break the writer's block in my other story, Past and Future. Anyway, this story is made to be dark and angsty, bending to the Action/Adventure genre. High school fic as it is, do not expect too many "normal" school problems - love triangles, late homework submissions, detentions etc. As I've said, this is a dark fic. Okay...on with the story!

Is it that hard trying to be a normal student for once? Is it that hard trying to convince them that I'm not plotting evil plots, or conspiring wicked conspiracies, behind their backs?

I, Himura Kenshin, just want to be a normal high school student; to get a feel of what normal life is like.

Ch1 Pretense

Tsutoki High, Kyoto, Japan.

"Stand up, Himura."

Kenshin could hear Saitou's deep, slightly menacing voice across the gymnasium - taunting him, daring him to retaliate, to fight back against the vicious assaults.

Daring him to show what he really was.

Yet, he would do no such thing - it was taking all his discipline not to dodge or block his teacher's repeated blows, but he kept the impulses in check; concentrating, instead, on keeping up his pretense, to remain the fragile, defenseless high school pupil he had convinced himself to be.

Himura Kenshin has neither skill nor talent in kenjutsu.

"Hai, Fujita-sensei." The redhead got unsteadily to his feet, swaying visibly. To anyone, he seemed as if he were on the verge of collapse - features bruised, hair in complete disarray, shoulders hunched in defeat. Saitou, however, was not going to let it pass that easily. He hefted his shinai onto his shoulder, smirking down on the minute redhead in front of him, who was gasping for precious breath.

"If you couldn't lay a blow on me in the next round, Himura, I'm giving you a zero in P.E."

Saitou Hajime watched in satisfaction as the student gritted his teeth, a venomous, almost lethal look crossing his features before his face reverted to the mild, fearful look he had always worn. So, he had struck a nerve. Kenshin, being a top student in his class, had always got through his exams with flying colors. Wouldn't it be...ah...a little embarrassing if he actually got a zero in sports? Not a failure, mind you, but a zero. Well, that could be fun.

Kenshin wanted to kill him.

Of all the time he'd spent on keeping his grades up, he was going to get a zero in sports because of this bastard. The thing that irked him most was that he could easily have beaten the bastard senseless and salvaged his grade with a mere flick of his bokken; and here he was, trying to act as if he didn't know anything about swords. The bokken wasn't his favourite weapon, but still...he could have murdered someone with it. Especially when that someone was Saitou.

He took a deep breath, trying desperately to calm his raging emotions. "Fujita-sensei, I really don't know how to fight!" he objected, feigning mild indignity. Himura Kenshin is a mild, weak-willed character, he reminded himself.

"Sou ka. If that is so..." Saitou ignored his protest, whirling around to retrieve something perched on a stand. A real katana. Unsheathing it - and tossing his shinai away carelessly, he pointed it at Kenshin, who flinched in real earnest - acting was no longer required. "I'll have to give you an extra lesson. A boy needs to know how to defend himself, ne?" he added helpfully, then smirked.

Kenshin only had half a second to mentally curse his sensei before Saitou came lunging at him, katana in hand.

A thrust at his heart, a horizontal slash to his throat, a swipe at the mid-section. The redheaded student shouted in horror; scrambling clumsily away from each attack, failing miserably at his attempts. Saitou withdrew his blade only at the last moments; the sword always touching his student's skin, but never harming the flesh within.

The youth saw each attack coming, and would have deflected each with his bokken, had he not understood what Saitou was trying to do. The man was forcing him to recognize the fatal danger, to instinctively protect himself with the bokken. Kenshin felt a flutter of fear each time he felt the katana contacting with his bare skin ?fearing that Saitou had finally discovered who he was, and was killing him for it.

Despite all this, he never raised the bokken once. He continued backing away, betting that the lanky teacher would not kill him for earnest.

"Always remember, baka deishi. Never let anyone know of your skills with the katana. Never use a sword in the school area. Protect yourself only in the direst of circumstances. Even so, you'll have to kill whoever saw you fight.

Never let anyone know you're the former Battousai, if you really want to live a normal life."

His shishou had told that to him seriously, his dark eyes deprived of the usual arrogance and teasing note. And shishou had always planned for his sake. He knew what the consequence would be if his identity was discovered, way before he enrolled into the school ?and he had enrolled anyway. The desire to lead a normal life of a school kid had motivated him, blocking out the fear of all possible hazards.

He would even die for a normal life. And now, it seemed, he was literally dying for a normal life.

A solid structure behind him informed the young redhead that he had backed into the gymnasium wall. His amethyst eyes darted to Saitou ?who widened his smirk, and promptly sank into a Gatotsu stance.

Darn, he's coming for real.

Kenshin angled his bokken, preparing to defend at a moment's notice if the wolf was bent on taking his life. Could he make it look as if he blocked the Gatotsu by accident?

Yeah, he snorted at himself. As if Saitou Hajime's Gatotsu could be blocked by sheer accident. He stole a glance at the bokken he held in hand. Was it worth the risk?

A shocked, youthful voice, however, saved him from the dilemma.

"Saitou-sensei!" an almost hysteric tone froze both sensei and student in place. The speaker turned his head, recognizing the figure stranded against the wall. "Himura-san!"

Saitou flicked his wrist, re-sheathing the katana before turning a hard glare at the intruder. Himura was satisfied to see disappointment playing in those hazel eyes.

"What are you doing here, Seta? School ended three hours ago." Saitou's bark caused the intruder to recoil abruptly. Indeed, school had ended long ago. It was now six o'clock at night; through the gymnasium windows, one could see the darkening sky beyond.

Seta Soujiro offered a faint, nervous smile. "Excuse me, sir, I left my sports bag in the gymnasium..."

Saitou cut him off in mid-sentence. "Get it. In case you don't know, Seta, you've interrupted my make-up lesson with Himura."

"Gomen nasai, sensei!" Soujiro responded immediately, casting a sympathetic look in his fellow classmate's way. Some make-up lesson that was.

"And since this lesson is disrupted, Himura..." his piercing gaze went Kenshin's way, "you may go now. But I want to see you here at the same time tomorrow ?unless you want to get a zero in your sports." There went that insufferable smirk again.

Kenshin growled under his breath.


"Gomen ne, Himura-san!" Soujiro ceased dabbing the ointment onto his classmate's face as the redhead winced in pain. It was an evil, bluish bruise - one that would stay on his cheek for a week, maybe more.

Not to mention the numerous welts and contusions Saitou managed to inflict on him...

"Tell me, Himura-san, what have you done that Fujita-sensei wants to kill you so badly?" the younger student frowned uncharacteristically, attacking the bruise again with a wet cotton ball. "You haven't been dating Tokio-san behind his back, I hope?" He added helpfully, as an afterthought.

Kenshin rolled his eyes. That would be the quickest way to effectively rile Saitou up, he had to admit. Unfortunately, that would also be the fastest way to be defined as "Aku" by the former Miburo. Himura was sure he had no wish to be skewered by a Gatotsu at the current moment.

Because, for one reason or the other, Saitou's already suspecting that I'm the Battousai. And he's trying to get me show my skills.

"He hates me," Kenshin replied, in the simplest manner he could think of. Give nothing away, even to this cheerful, carefree boy.

"But...why would he?" his companion turned curious ebony eyes to him.

"He still thinks I dyed my hair red. I think." Kami-sama knows why.

"That's hardly a reason!" Seta cried, innocently defensive for his friend. "I think we should report this to Kondo-san. Fujita-sensei has no right to physically abuse his students!"

Uh-oh. Bad idea. The last thing I want is to arouse unnecessary attention from the former Miburo.

"You know the principal - Saitou's his pet teacher. What good will it do whining to him?" he grinned ruefully, feeling touched by Soujiro's concern for him. To have someone caring for you...that was what he craved for in a normal life.

"Demo! Your injuries..."

"I'll tell the class I fell." He rubbed the bruise on his cheek, resigning with a soft smile.

Soujiro stared, with a thoughtfulness contrasting with his usually carefree face. "Himura-san...would there be another reason for Saitou-san's hatred?"

Kenshin instantly tensed. If Soujiro knew something he should not know..."What's that supposed to mean?"

Seeing his startled expression, the charcoal-eyed schoolboy broke into laughter. "Ah, Himura-san! Sano-san is right about you - you are too serious!"

The ex-Battousai laughed along, reprimanding himself for the overreaction. Maybe he was being too jumpy. There really weren't a lot of people who would have the heart to comb the whole city for the Battousai...

...were there?

He hoped not.


Kenjutsu: the art of the sword

Sensei: a respecting title for a teacher, master etc.

Shinai: a practice sword, made in bamboo

Bokken: a wooden practice sword without hilt

Katana: Japanese long sword

Sou ka: I see (also meaning "is that so?" in a question)

Baka deishi: stupid apprentice, Hiko's affectionate tag for Kenshin

Shishou: Master

-san: a honorific; meaning Miss, Mrs., Mr. etc.

Gomen nasai: I'm sorry,

Itai: an exclamation; loosely meaning "ouch!"

Aku: evil, as in the Shinsengumi's motto, Aku Soku Zan (i.e. "Slay Evil Instantly")

Demo: But

Kami-sama: "kami" meaning god, and "sama" meaning lord.