A/N – Yes, I know this is short. However, this is the best I've been able to come up with in months. Please read the important author's note at the bottom of the chapter.
Disclaimer – I don't own Ruroken, any of the canon characters, settings or situations. No money or profit was made in the writing of this fic. Don't sue.
Chain-smoking dourly, Saito stood in the shadows across from the Kamiya dojo, his golden eyes gleaming as he watched hitokiri Battousai hang the washing out on the line, pegs clamped between his lips like an efficient, practiced housewife. It was a pleasant, sunny day, and the deluded fool was humming, shuffling his feet to a popular song on the radio.
Look closely enough, though, and you could see that he had a perfect sense of rhythm, and that his balance was always perfectly centred – rather than an awkward, private shuffle, his steps were the perfectly balanced half steps of a kendo master, not a man unsure of his ability to sway in time.
Battousai could hide his quick, lithe agility, disguise his flat, weary eyes, and act the bumbling fool all he liked, but one killer would always recognise another – especially if the hunter was as obsessed with catching the shadow assassin as Saito had been during the Bakumatsu. He'd studied Battousai obsessively, pouring over the slightest reports and rumours, trying to piece together a picture of the assassin –
Young and impressionable, yes, given that he'd ended up in Katsura's hands; but what Saito had not expected was the genuine lack of excitement, bravado or daredevilry that he would expect from a teenage killer – the assassin was no thrill-seeking boy, in it for his own ego. Nor was he samurai, killing for duty and bushido; no, Hitokiri Battousai had been that rarest and most dangerous of creatures, a genuine idealist.
Unlike his successor, who had been an ambitious predator who saw assassination as his route to power. As he was now, this dulled Battousai would not stand a chance against Shishio's mad determination.
Kenshin could almost feel Saito's glare burning a hole between his shoulder blades.
Deliberately, he continued to hang the washing out, going about his business as if he were not under close surveillance by a man who had once done his best to kill him, and whom he had done his best to kill in turn. He knew what Saito wanted, knew that the policeman had come seeking Battousai the flat, lethal killer, not Himura the world-weary wanderer.
But he had not been an assassin for a long time, now. More than ten years had passed; he'd gotten older, and changed, and the world had changed around him. He could no more reclaim his younger self than he could turn the world back ten years and undo all that he had learned since he abandoned his edged katana.
With age and experience comes wisdom. Though he had lost some of his extraordinary speed, and his killing edge had been dulled by peace and relative complacency, he had gained other things in compensation.
He was not about to sacrifice his hard-won contentment because the government could not clean up after their own dirty work.
Hours later, after spending a fruitless day watching Battousai and the small, battered dojo he valued so highly, Saito stood to attention before Okubo's desk. It was nearly seven o'clock in the evening, long past time for most government workers to knock off, but the Minister was still hard at work. Shishio was only one of the urgent threats faced by the fledgling regime; Saigo's rebellion had left Japan reeling, and the aftershocks of the uprising were still making themselves felt.
"Well, Saito?" Okubo asked, frowning heavily as he tapped his pen against the desk. "Did you change his mind?"
"No," Saito said shortly. "He still holds to his vow."
The tall, powerful Minister made a disgusted noise. "He always was a noble fool. Well then," he continued, "what will it take to convince him?"
Slowly, Saito shook his head, his mind on the strange complexities of an idealistic assassin. "You can't buy him with money or power," he said, almost under his breath. "He simply doesn't value such things. The only way is to appeal to his idealism, and convince him that Shishio's defeat is worth dying – and even killing – for."
There was a long, thoughtful silence as Okubo considered this advice. "I did not know him," he said, "not really. I didn't understand what drove him, or what he fought and killed for. Katsura was the only one he answered to." Slowly, he trailed off, his eyes distant and unreadable. Katsura had been the only one Shishio answered to, and he had shown no hesitation in ordering his demise.
"I know him," Saito said confidently. "I know what he values – his peaceful, safe, happy little world, where he can pretend that he is no longer a killer; he will fight to protect that. If I push him, threaten him, his true nature will come to the fore…"
Okubo did not hesitate. "Go, then," he said. "Do it."
Saito saluted, his eyes burning with anticipation.
It was time to resurrect the hitokiri.
Important Announcement – Unfortunately, due to time constraints and lack of inspiration, I will not be continuing this fic, Veteran, or Gai-Jin. My thanks to all those who reviewed these three stories in the past, and apologies to any disappointed fans.