A/N: Last chapter and denoument. Saitoh is about to face the music.
Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin characters or plot.
"Kondo-san and Hijikata-san want to see you. They asked you to bring the girl with you." Okita said, sending a reassuring smile at the girl sitting on Saitoh's futon.
It didn't work. Saitoh noticed that she paled and clutched tighter to the neckline of her gi. He could see her neck muscles tighten in fear.
"Get up." Saitoh told her abruptly, and shrugged his own gi and haori coat more firmly about his shoulders, straightening the lapel area with a flick of his fingers.
The girl obeyed, rising slowly to stand with her head bowed, hands down at her side, eyes glancing wildly about the room like a trapped animal desperate for escape.
Okita nodded at Saitoh and backed out of the doorway. Saitoh paused to let the girl precede him, until he realized that she hadn't noticed. He stepped up to her and placed his hand flat against the middle of her back, shoving gently and forcing her to take a step forward.
It broke her out of the spell of fear that kept her frozen in place, and she flashed him a brief look of gratitude before moving out of the room.
Now it was Saitoh's turn to be struck immobile.
Did the silly girl not realize that Saitoh was her enemy? Whoever let that girl out of the house without a keeper ought to be taken out and beheaded. Saitoh took a long step forward and made it out the door quickly so Okita wouldn't realize he'd paused. He could only hope that the observant young samurai hadn't seen that look the girl had flashed him, or he'd never hear the end of it.
But Okita didn't say a word as he led them up the porch and around the corner of the temple building to the front entrance. Saitoh groaned silently to himself. So Kondo and Hijikata were going to face him in the temple's grandiose main audience hall. They only did that when they wanted to intimidate or impress on their prey the gravity of the situation.
Okita paused by the temple's main doors. They were thick wood, studded with metal starbursts. Saitoh gritted his teeth and stepped forward, but Okita turned and leaned his back against the doors, smiling gently. "I'll just go tell them you're here," he said, turning back around to pull one of the doors open. "Oh and you're to wait here, Saitoh. They said they wanted to question the girl first." he threw the words over his shoulder as he disappeared into the gloom beyond the doors.
Saitoh's eyes narrowed dangerously. Exactly what had the boy told Hijikata and Kondo to make them want to interview the girl separately? It was times like these that he really hated the fact that Kondo, Hijikata, and Okita had all trained under the same tennin rishi master and were friends long before Saitoh joined the Shinsengumi.
The girl was staring at the closed temple doors rather like a mouse into the eyes of a snake about to strike. She was trembling.
Saitoh found it irritating.
"Don't tell Hijikata that you thought he was Serizawa." he growled suddenly.
The girl jumped and looked at him. "What?"
Saitoh crossed his arms and stared at her, debating what to say next. It wasn't as if she couldn't keep a secret if she wanted. He decided to give her one of the Shinsengumi's most closely guarded secrets since it did, after all, affect her.
"Hijikata is the one who gave the order to have Serizawa killed for breaking the honor code. He won't appreciate being mistaken for him."
A look of wonder crossed her face. "He gave the order…? Then who killed him?"
Saitoh smiled his most wolfish grin. "Aku Soku Zan."
The wonder on the girl's face turned into shining adoration. "I knew it," she breathed.
The door opened and Okita came out. "They're ready for you." He said to the girl, and pushed the door open wider. She swallowed, lifted her chin, and walked calmly over the threshold.
Saitoh smirked to himself. At least the girl looked better with a little fire in her eyes than white-faced and trembling. Take that, Kondo-san!
Minutes passed as Saitoh glared at the closed wooden doors. More minutes passed. Then Okita stepped out, pulling the door softly shut behind him, and came to stand in front of Saitoh.
"Well, aren't you going to ask how its going?" he asked, gazing up at the taller captain, boyish mischief in his eyes.
"No." growled Saitoh.
Okita leaned back against the door. "I'll tell you anyway," he offered.
Saitoh snorted. Of course he would. It was, after all, the sole reason Okita came outside. Saitoh had already guessed what was going on inside.
Without waiting for a response, Okita continued. "She's not telling them anything." Okita sounded almost proud of her. "Oh, she's very polite, and she keeps apologizing, but she won't tell them her name, or even the name of her great-grandfather or the Han he came from."
Saitoh concentrating on keeping his expression forbidding, fighting the urge to smile. At least she was consistent.
There was a commotion at the gate.
Saitoh tensed and saw that Okita had also turned to look.
An old man stood squarely in the center of the open gateway, glaring at the young guards confronting him on either side. His hair was a mix of black threaded with iron grey. He wore faded brown hakama and a gi with small white and blue stripes. The hilt of a sword stuck out of the obi circling his waist. He stood feet apart, arms crossed, staring straight ahead.
When he spoke to answer the guards, he kept his gaze forward on the temple. Saitoh had the curious notion that the man was staring at him. The guards' voices and gestures became increasingly frustrated.
The old man raised his voice suddenly. "I demand to speak to the person in charge."
The words rang out across the temple grounds.
Okita bounded lightly down the steps and made his way to the gate.
Saitoh watched as Okita spoke to the trio for a moment, then deftly extricated the old man from the guards and led him up the steps of the temple, stopping in front of Saitoh.
The boy bowed to the old gentleman, then politely addressed Saitoh in a carefully bland tone of voice.
"This gentleman wishes to report that his granddaughter is missing. It seems she was last seen by a neighbor boy loitering in front of our headquarters a few days ago."
Saitoh managed to keep a wolfish grin from appearing on his face as Okita continued. "Perhaps we could ask Bureau Chief Kondo what to do?" he asked, eyes dancing mischievously in contrast to his steady, politely indifferent tone.
Saitoh's eyes lit up. At last, a way to redeem himself in front of Kondo. The missing information in his report on the girl's break-in was standing right in front of him, staring challengingly out of old, but clearly intelligent brown eyes, so like the girl's.
He nodded curtly at Okita. "Agreed."
Sometimes the boy surprised him. He didn't know what Okita's motives were for helping him, but at this point he really didn't care. He'd grasp the opportunity and worry about motives later.
"Please come this way." Saitoh said, bowing smartly to the girl's grandfather, before turning and pushing open the temple doors. He stepped through and held the door for the older man, who gave him a hard, appraising look before stepping across the threshold.
"Thank you." said the old man, his tone a mix of suspicion and brusque acknowledgement of polite conventions.
Eyes already scanning the temple hall as he'd entered, Saitoh was gratified to see the girl's back stiffen at the sound of the old man's voice. She was sitting demurely, legs tucked under her, on the tatami mat in front of Kondo and Hijikata. Both of them were seated on a low dais in front of the temple's grand alter, which rose majestically behind them in a cloud of incense generated from the incense sticks burning on either side.
Saitoh smirked briefly at the obvious state management. The alter behind the Shinsengumi's leaders was supposed to imply divine authority backing up their judgment. The elevated dais was to remind the poor supplicant of Kondo and Hijikata's elevated position. Even the men's body language, arms crossed, backs stiff like disapproving parents, only served to make whoever had been called on the mat feel like a recalcitrant child.
As Saitoh walked forward into the audience hall, the girl threw her upper body onto the floor into a low bow. Saitoh was surprised he didn't hear her forehead crash into the tatami mat, so quickly did she duck down. She stayed that way, immobile, face pressed against the mat as Saitoh led the old man past her and they both knelt in front of her, before the dais. Saitoh noticed that the old man barely registered her presence, his attention solely on Hijikata and Kondo, the obvious leaders of the Shinsengumi.
"Saitoh. What is the meaning of this?" Kondo asked.
Bowing in mock obeisance, Saitoh straightened and replied, "I believe this gentleman has a report vital to the matter at hand." He met Kondo's sharp, searching gaze impassively.
At last Kondo's eyes slipped from him to the old man, and the bureau chief gestured to the man, giving him permission to speak.
"My name is Tsutomu Takagi." The old man's voice was gravelly with age, yet strong and determined. "I wish to report my granddaughter's disappearance."
Kondo's eyes touched briefly on a spot behind Saitoh where the girl sat like a stone. From the lack of movement, Saitoh figured that her face was still pressed into the mat, though he didn't turn to look.
It was a momentary glance, then Kondo focused his considerable attention on Tsutomu again. "Why not go to the magistrate or to the city police patrols? Why come to us?"
"You're supposed to protect Kyoto, aren't you?" growled Tsutomu.
"You sound as though you have reason to doubt our protection." observed Hijikata.
Saitoh smirked. Oh yes, Okita had definitely told Hijikata and Kondo everything they knew of the girl. How like Hijikata to use the information to pretend he could read the old man's thoughts from his voice alone.
To his credit, Tsutomu didn't seem fazed by Hijikata's comment at all.
"I should. Your ex-captain Serizawa Kamo stole all my money and some very valuable ink drawings from my family."
Hijikata and Kondo exchanged a look, then Kondo spoke. "I ask you again, why come to us, especially knowing that?"
Tsutomu gave a harsh laugh. "I heard recently that Serizawa died."
There was a faint scratching noise from behind Saitoh, as if the girl's hands were clenched against the tatami mat. The old man, not noticing, went on.
"I figured the Shinsengumi might actually start protecting the people of Kyoto instead of terrorizing them now that Serizawa is gone. Besides," the old man's voice grew hard. "My granddaughter was last seen near here, in the street outside your headquarters. My neighbor's boy saw her. She's obsessed with those missing drawings of her father's. Keeps asking me what they looked like. I figured she'd struck up her courage and come here asking after them. So. Was she here or not?"
Kondo's eyes narrowed. "These drawings, what did they look like?"
Tsutomu harrumphed, clearly seeing the question as a distraction, but answered it anyway. "They were the last four panels of a twelve panel set that the daimyo of Kii was having made for the shogun. My son already made a similar six panel set for the emperor."
The old man's voice unconsciously softened with pride. "The daimyo saw them and sought out my son to ask him to make a set of panels to use as a gift. He planned to give them to the shogun over time, so my son sold the pieces in sets of four. Kii already presented the first two sets to the shogun, and he would have given a lot of money to be able to complete the gift set."
"What was the subject of the pictures?" asked Kondo softly.
"Yoritomo Minomoto's life. We found the pictures after my son died, and decided to keep them." Tsutomu answered impatiently. "The daimyo never knew my son finished them. If he did he'd have insisted on buying them."
Again Kondo and Hijikata exchanged a glance, then Hijikata spoke. "I have seen such pictures. Serizawa had them in his possession, but he sold them shortly before he died."
Yes, in order to buy a silk kimono for his mistress, O-ume. Saitoh remembered the incident. If all Serizawa got out of it was one silk kimono, he obviously didn't have a clue what the pictures were really worth. Greedy fool.
Tsutomu snorted. "I do not care about the paintings," he reminded them icily. "I'm here about my granddaughter. Now have you seen her?" He bit out the words of the last sentence harshly, like bullets from the French rifles the shogunate army was beginning to use.
"I believe we can help you with that." Kondo said after a pause.
The old man lifted his chin and waited expectantly.
Kondo uncrossed his arms and raised a pointed finger dramatically at the girl seated behind the old man on the tatami mat.
Already anticipating Kondo's response, Saitoh was watching the girl and saw her raise her upper body from the mat slowly and place her hands on her knees. "Hello grandfather." she said sheepishly.
The old man twisted around to look behind him. His eyes lit up with joy.
"Granddaughter!" he cried, then coughed to hide his emotion. His voice grew stern. "Where have you been?"
"Here." She gestured vaguely around the temple.
Tsutomu stared at her, and she blanched and began to squirm.
Tsutomu Takagi turned back to look at Kondo and Hijikata, his voice thick with outrage. "Do you mean to tell me that my granddaughter was kept in a compound full of men, dressed in those clothes, without a female chaperone for two nights?"
Now it was Kondo and Hijikata's turn to squirm. "I assure you, no liberties were taken with your granddaughter. I mean to say, she was not touched in any…er."
Saitoh watched in amazement as Kondo began to blush, and he a married man too! Hijikata took a sudden interest in the temple's architecture and studied the side wall as if examining it for structural damage.
"Where," asked Tsutomu in a dangerously soft voice, "Did my granddaughter sleep at night?"
Kondo's mouth opened and closed like a fish. He glanced over at Hijikata, who met his gaze and shrugged.
"I can answer that." came Okita's voice from the doorway of the temple. He walked inside past the girl and bowed quickly, straightening and standing at attention. "She slept in Saitoh-san's room." he said with a smile.
All eyes turned to Saitoh.
This was NOT happening. Saitoh narrowed his eyes and glared at Okita, who simply gave his usual sunny grin. Why was it that women and brats never seemed to develop a proper fear of him?
"Is this true?" asked Kondo.
"Yes." growled Saitoh, then shut his lips in a thin line, refusing to elaborate or defend himself.
"Alone?" asked Kondo, incredulity warring with hope in his tone.
Saitoh glared again at Okita, remembering how the boy had walked in that morning and seen the girl asleep in Saitoh's arms.
Not that anything had happened, but Saitoh knew that the snippy young puppy would happily make it sound that something had if he thought it would make his day more entertaining. Saitoh refused to demean himself by giving anything other than the bare truth.
"No." he told Kondo. "I was there too."
He felt, rather than heard the girl's indrawn breath and saw her grandfather glance behind Saitoh at the girl, then back at Saitoh again. Then he ignored Saitoh completely and allowed his gaze to linger on his granddaughter.
Saitoh hoped to Buddha and all the gods in the Shinto pantheon that the girl didn't have that asinine look of hero worship on her face again. Kami help her, she probably thought his honesty was honorable, and not a necessity resulting from Okita's presence in the room.
A disturbingly calculating expression crossed the old man's face as he turned back around to face Kondo.
"My granddaughter's honorable reputation has been damaged beyond repair. She has been alone with a man under your roof. What do you intend to do about it?"
A look passed between Tsutomu and Kondo. It was a look that made Saitoh incredibly nervous, especially when the sides of Kondo's mouth twitched up for a second in a faint smile.
"I understand the problem," said Kondo gravely, "But please understand our position as well. Your granddaughter broke into our headquarters to look for her father's drawings, but in doing so, she went through some highly secret Shinsengumi documents. We will have to keep her under close watch to be sure she does not accidentally pass the information on to our enemies. To that end, I must assign a Shinsengumi member to guard her. Her reputation and our secrets must both be protected."
"And do you have a solution to this problem?" asked Tsutomu, with both a challenge and a smile in his voice.
"Of course." Kondo inclined his head and stuck his hands in his sleeves, resting them across his chest. "It is the same solution I would expect, no, demand, if it were my daughter in a similar predicament."
Saitoh felt his heart drop. No. This could not be happening. His eyes widened as he stared at Kondo. Hijikata, sitting next to the bureau chief, could barely keep himself from snickering as the words Saitoh was now expecting to hear, fell from Kondo's lips.
"Saitoh Hajime must marry your granddaughter."
Saitoh's earlier urge to bang his head against the wall returned tenfold.
"What say you, Saitoh-san?" Kondo's voice asked silkily.
All eyes on the room were once again upon Saitoh, but he found that only one set of eyes really mattered to him at that point. He twisted his upper body and looked back towards the girl he was being asked, no, ordered to marry.
Look at her, staring at him with such an expression of anxious hope. She was biting her lip. Silly girl, she looked about to draw blood.
Oh she was pretty enough, and pleasingly curved too. He remembered that from the many times he'd carried her in his arms. He remembered also the way he'd claimed her out loud when that fool of Shinpachi's tried to slice her, and the way he'd felt seeing Okita's hands on her hair. He'd never had the chance to see her other scars, and if he didn't marry her, he never would.
Yes! The scars.
He'd marry her if only to prove himself right, that a real man wouldn't care about her being scarred. Besides, he was absolutely sure that his scars were still more numerous and impressive than hers. This was a perfect chance to prove it to her once and for all.
There was only one piece of information missing before he'd give them what they wanted. He turned his gaze sharply to her grandfather, who stared back hard, without giving an inch. He was a tough old bird, challenging the Mibu wolves in their den single-handedly. The girl obviously came from sound stock.
Saitoh kept his voice low, and gratingly polite. "May I at least know the name of the woman I'm to marry?" he asked, and had the satisfaction of watching the old man's jaw slacken in shock. A smirk crossed Saitoh's lips. So the old man hadn't realized that she'd refused to tell them her name. Her own grandfather had underestimated her. Saitoh snorted to himself. That was one mistake he'd never make about his bride to be.
She thought she would die of embarrassment when Saitoh led her grandfather into the temple's audience hall. Her first instinct was to hide, so she'd plonked her hands on the mat by her knees and bowed low over them, twitching her head so her ponytail, which Okita had unthinkingly tied high on the crown of her head like a samurai's topknot, fell over the side of her face facing her grandfather.
She kept her face pressed against the mat for so long that she wondered if the tatami would leave a pattern in the flesh of her forehead. She wondered if they'd notice if she started crawling for the door, then dismissed the thought.
Saitoh was sitting in front of her. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he'd sense any move she made almost before she made it. He was perceptive that way, perceptive, and honorable, and he'd avenged her mother's death for her. He was strong, and brave and everything she wished that she could be.
Saitoh would never try to burrow into a tatami mat to hide from trouble, so when the inevitably discovery happened, she lifted her body up and greeted her grandfather as normally as she could.
She couldn't help but blush when her grandfather brought up the fact that she'd been un-chaperoned while in the custody of the Shinsengumi. She wanted to tell her grandfather that she hadn't been hurt or scared, but honesty compelled her to realize that she had been, but she'd gotten over it when she realized the sort of man Saitoh was.
He was honorable, not evil. His method could be uncomfortable and scary, but she trusted him more than anyone on the planet besides her grandfather.
When he answered his bureau chief's question honestly, she'd gasped in admiration. The truth made him look bad, and he allowed it, even though Saitoh was the opposite of bad.
Later when she realized Saitoh was being forced into marrying her, her heart skipped a beat.
Yes. This is what she wanted, a man who told her that the ugly scars on her body didn't matter, someone who didn't mind holding her in his arms as she cried, someone exactly like Saitoh.
But did he want her back? She bit her lip as she waited for his answer.
"May I at least know the name of the woman I'm to marry?"
She blinked as his words penetrated her brain and entered her consciousness. Did he actually say 'woman he was to marry'? He WAS going to marry her!
"Tokio." She said shyly, before her grandfather could answer. "My name is Tokio."
"Tokio." He repeated. "It is a good name." His eyes gleamed with a hint of a smile that he'd surprised her grandfather with his question.
She felt her mouth bend in an answering smile. That was when she knew that despite their strange, two-day courtship, this was a marriage that would last.
A/N: For all youhistorians out there – yes, I realize Tokio Takagi was actually the daughter of a daimyo, not a paper merchant. I also realize that Saitoh was not part of the Shinsengumi squad who were sent to kill Serizawa Kamo, though he did kill Takeda Kanryuu for violating the code. I take full responsibility for bendingthe facts to fit the story instead of vice-versa.
Note to reviewers:
Redskin – Glad you liked the scar scene – it was fun to write!
Miburo Kid – Panic? Saitoh? Just because he was caught in a compromising situation? Perish the thought! The Mibu Wolf knows exactly what he should do, he just needs a slight…SHOVE…in the right direction, courtesy of Okita. Thanks for all your comments, I've enjoyed them!
Jecir – I don't know about my story being brilliant, but I know I had a lot of fun writing it. I'm just glad you liked it!
Swirly – You're right, Souji is completely kawaii. I think deep down Saitoh views him as a friend rather than a persistent brat, but admit that out loud? Never!
The Otaku Kitty – You've got plushies of all the cute bishounen guys? I'm jealous! Thanks for all your nice reviews!
Senaca – To answer your question about Okita either wanting to pick a fight with Saitoh or admit Tokio has gotten under his skin, I'd have to say that he just wants Saitoh to at long last fall in love. That way Okita will have even more opportunities to tease him. Okita thinks Saitoh is too serious for his own good.
Finick01 – Sorry to end the story right after you found it! You're too kind, and I hope you like the way it ended.
Larie-chan – Yep, that's our over-protective Wolf of Mibu! He barely scratched her, but he manages to feel guilty about it, which translates into irritation. As for Tokio, the real Tokio bore the real Saitoh Hajime sons. My Tokio just thinks she's too ugly because of her scars to ever get married. Have your muses send some cookies my way once they get them back from the Girl Scouts! I'm chocolate deprived!
WolfDaughter – Okita is definitely enjoying making trouble for Saitoh, and I can just imagine his comments once Saitoh is a newlywed!
Wyrd – Glad you liked the hair-brushing scene! You're welcome for the plug for your story – everyone should read it! Let me know when you post again (I don't have a FictionPress account so I can't get "Author Alerts" from it). As for who you should write about next, I vote for Libra! I'd love to see a cute romance develop between her and Sagittarius – he deserves someone kind and sweet after enduring Klaus's tormenting!
Conspirator – I've had loads of fun cracking Saitoh's icy exterior. Thanks for reading my silly story, I'm honored! Hope the ending didn't disappoint – I stink at endings!
Random baka – You're right, Saitoh is completely jealous, he just can't admit it! I decided to end the story at chapter five, so no more sword fights – sorry! Though your idea about a confrontation between the Ishin Shishi and Shinsengumi and Tokio having to nurse him back to health was intriguing! If I ever do a sequel I'll have to use it, or better yet, why don't you write it? I'm sure you'd do it better justice than I ever could!
Lolo popoki – I've had fun pushing and shoving Saitoh into a situation where he HAS to marry Tokio since the silly man is just too darned stubborn to come right out and admit he cares for her. As for what Okita was thinking when he interrupted their conversation…I'll leave that to your imagination!
Misaoshiru – Don't worry about not reviewing chapter 3, I'm just glad to hear from you! I too sometimes read stories and forget to review. Sorry, no Kenshin in this one, I think I hurt my brain when I did all that research for "The Choshu Chronicles" so the thought of researching any more makes me want to whimper and run away. Maybe someday I'll continue where "The Choshu Chronicles" left off…
Keirin-sama – I posted again! I hope it was quickly enough! I had fun writing the part about Saitoh wanting to curse Serizawa – the real Serizawa certainly deserved it!
Ladywater2010 – You're so sweet to say that! Hope you liked the ending – I have a tough time writing them!
AyukaRyou – I hope you finish your story someday! Thanks for reviewing, and I hope Kondo and Hijikata's reaction pleased you!
Lady Rhiyana – Glad you liked the terseness in "The Choshu Chronicles" – it seemed to fit the angst-driven storyline. I'm finding humor is a lot harder than I thought it would be, but it's much less emotionally taxing. To answer your question, I wasn't thinking about the Crocodile Dundee movie when I wrote the part about the scars, I actually was thinking of one of the Mel Gibson "Lethal Weapon" movies where Mel's character has a 'who has the most scars' competition with his female co-star. I figured Saitoh wouldn't know how to comfort Tokio – sensitivity may be part of his emotional makeup, but showing it in the usual way would go against the grain – so he'd try to get her mind off it by getting competitive. I'm just glad it worked. Thanks for your insightful and encouraging reviews!
Fearna – I love Saitoh too! There used to be a really good website/shrine on him called 'Mibu no Ookami' but it appears to be gone now. If you liked my story, you might like "Falling" by L.Sith as well, it's really funny!
Child of Draco - Nice to hear from you! I've updated as you requested. Hope you like the ending.