At the End of the Chaos
Summary: Saitou is Shinsengumi, Tokio is Ishin Shishi, and this is not a sappy, Romeo and Juliet-esque tale (I hope). Details how Saitou and his future wife meet and fall in love and how Saitou transitions from a loyal Shinsengumi to a member of Meiji's police force.
Background: This takes place (tentatively) in the last year of the bakumatsu/opening of the Meiji, some ten years before the Rurouni Kenshin manga takes place in (about the time Kenshin was hitokiri). Since I don't really know anything about what the bakumatsu was like, I'm making a lot of stuff up. Do not trust any of my information.
Author's Note: I primarily read the Rurouni Kenshin manga, but I'm only up to book 17. Therefore, my information is limited to that time frame. If I've made obvious, stupid mistakes that are later contradicted by the subsequent manga/anime, please excuse me.
Chapter One: Incident at Meiji's First
The Meiji's First was the most luxurious restaurant in Osaka, or so it was said. According to the localities, the Emperor himself had once dined there: his magnificent gold-lined carriage with flags running and a host of body guards had entered the streets, while ordinary people stopped and stared. With its thick brick walls and secret rooms, it was considered one of the safest places in the city, as well as the most beautiful. The front opened to a garden, fragrant with blooming cherry and plum, a little lake with a bridge over it, and delicate flowers, lovingly cultivated, and all arranged in perfect harmony; the building itself was long, with beautifully arched doors and gilded windows and an elegantly sloping, sea green roof. Naturally, it was exorbitantly expensive, but quite worth the price for its comforts, its security, and its sheer luxury. But there was one major and very obvious problem with it.
"The Meiji's First is an Ishin Shishi Establishment," Saitou Hajime pointed out.
His companion, Shinsengumi First Unit Captain Okita Soushi, just smiled. He was a thin, young-looking man, with thick hair, large eyes, and a boyishly cute face. "Surprised, Saitou-kun?" he said. "You should have guessed by the name."
"I expected you were joking when you said we were coming here."
"I never joke about matters of business," said Okita, still smiling, as he opened the gate and walked in.
After a pause, Saitou followed. He trusted Okita's judgment, but the reasoning behind it was not clear. True, the Shinsengumi had won Osaka not two nights ago; naturally, all Ishin Shishi samurai, soldiers, and politicians had long since fled or fallen and the only people in the restaurant would be frightened civilian sympathizers. So, unless the restaurant's staff poisoned them, they would be safe. But what was the point in coming to such a fancy establishment anyway? They were coming here to meet with spies and informants. Why come to a place riddled with hostile people, just waiting to overhear them and drop information to their enemies?
Okita just shrugged when Saitou asked him about it. "Oh, it's a beautiful, prestigious restaurant. Our spies specifically requested it. Besides, I know some people here I'd like to catch up with."
"How do you know people from an Ishin Shishi establishment?"
"I met them two years ago, during the seven month campaign, when you were chasing Hitokiri Battousai all over Kyoto," said Okita, gazing reflectively off into the distance. He shook his head. "It's a long story; I'll have to tell you some other time."
They went inside. Immediately, a thin woman in a red kimono greeted them with a low bow. She was tall, with an oval face and green eyes, and she wore many intricate hair ornaments, the most prominent being sprays of white flowers which seemed very much like snow.
"Welcome to the Meiji's First," she said in a pleasant voice. "How may I serve you—oh, Okita-sama!"
"Yuki-chan. It's been a while."
While they commenced with pleasantries, Saitou took the opportunity to scan the room. The main room was large enough to house a dance floor and a band (apparently modeled after Western restaurants), but now it was mostly empty, except for a few old, old men, their wives, and the restaurant staff. Beyond that, hidden by ink painted screens, were smaller, quieter rooms.
"We should probably sit in the back," said Saitou.
"Oh, of course," said Yuki. "I will seat you and get one of our waitresses to bring tea. Oh, and sir—there's no swords allowed."
"If it's all right, we prefer to keep mine," said Saitou, smiling and bowing. "What are the Wolves of Mibu without their teeth?"
"Of course," said Yuki, smiling and swallowing. "I will show you to your seats."
Saitou noticed glares as they walked across the room. It was obvious they were Shinsengumi: Saitou and Okita wore their light blue, stripped jackets, their hair bound up in a warrior-fashion. Had they carried their red flag with the symbol of truth on it, it could not have been more obvious. Saitou met their frowns with a smirk. These people, for all their dark looks, were frightened of them.
An old man let out a whisper. Okita let out a sneeze. "Achoo. Achoo.
"I don't think I'm very popular," he said, pleasantly.
Once Yuki moved the screen aside, they found themselves in a small room, without any great adornment. "This is the meeting room," she said. "It's hard for anyone to listen to you from here."
"Thank you," said Okita. "This is perfect."
"I'm glad," said Yuki. "But if you'll excuse me, I have to go back and act scared out of my mind and verbally abuse you. We'll lose our reputation if people think we're actually hospitable to Ishin Shishi." She bowed. "I'll send Tokio to you with tea and sake."
"Thank you, Yuki-chan."
"You have good connections," said Saitou to Okita after she left.
He shrugged. "Save someone's life..."
After a few minutes of waiting—and sneezing—the waitress came with a pot of tea and a bottle of sake. "Compliments of Yuki-chan." She looked at Okita and smiled widely. "Hello, Okita-sama."
Tokio was a short, petite young woman with brown eyes and black hair piled elegantly in an old-fashioned style. She had a round face and a warm smile; in terms of both face and voice she was "cute." But what Saitou noticed most about her was the fact that she wore a badge with the Meiji characters on the front of her kimono. He lifted his eyebrows. None of the rest of the restaurant staff wore such an obvious symbol of their Ishin Shishi support, although they were all, undoubtedly, loyal patriots.
Saitou watched her pour tea and ask Okita about his family. He noticed, disturbingly, that Okita became relaxed and started gushing about his mother and his sister and her little son, his nephew, who turned three next month. Now, Okita had always been friendly to civilians, especially women, but not to the extent that he would speak so personally about his life. And to an Ishin Shishi. Disturbing, indeed.
Tokio turned to Saitou and smiled. "I see you've brought a friend," she said to Okita.
"Yes. This is Saitou Hajime, third unit Captain."
She bowed low. "It's an honor to meet you. I am Fujita Tokio."
"A pleasure," said Saitou, pouring himself a glass of sake. "May I ask you a question?"
"Are you really Ishin Shishi?"
She smiled. "Yes," she said. "Isn't it obvious?"
"Not really," said Saitou, taking a sip. "I've never seen a real Ishin Shishi speak so freely with Shinsengumi."
"Why shouldn't I speak with Shinsengumi? You're people, same as Ishin Shishi. I've heard tales of the Shinsengumi being barbarians, but I don't believe it. What makes the Shogun-supporters different from the Meiji supporters, beside the fact that they hold different political views?"
He shook his head. "Naive little girl."
"Not entirely. But I don't think that it justifies speaking with the enemy. These are dangerous times, and we are dangerous men."
"You don't believe me?" he asked. He slouched back in his seat, so she could see the hilt of his katana and calmly rested his hand on it.
She was not intimidated. "I've no doubt you are dangerous," she said gently. "But I've also no doubt that you are not here to kill or cause a ruckus. I trust Okita-san enough in that. And, so long as you're here to have a peaceful lunch, why should I fear to speak to you? If I didn't speak to you, how would I take your order?"
"Plain soba, please."
"That's it?" He nodded. "Very well. And Okita-san?"
"Thank you. I'll be back, soon."
When she left, Saitou shook his head. "She's a strange girl. Another one you saved?"
"No, not exactly."
"You're giving us too light a reputation. She acts as though we're a couple of friendly housecats. She has no notion, it seems, that we are Shinsengumi."
Okita, lifting his tea to drink, paused. "Sometimes," he said soberly, "it's nice to be talked to like an ordinary person, instead of being feared."
Saitou took another sip of his sake. Yes, it was nice to be spoken to as a person; it was a luxury, the same as this restaurant was a luxury, and too much luxury made soldiers lax, faltering in battle. He had no intention of falling into that trap.
"This girl," he said. "She wears the badge of Ishin Shishi, but speaks in a way to make you forget it. If she is not a fool, then I'd say she could be very dangerous, especially to you, Okita-kun."
"Maybe, but I trust her with my life."
Saitou shrugged and took another sip.
"A little early to be drinking, isn't it?" said Okita, pointedly.
He chuckled. Doubtlessly, Okita was thinking of sake's tendency to make him kill people. "Don't worry; I have more control than that. Sake or no sake, I don't kill women. Your waitress friend is safe."
"Hmm," said Okita
"If you'll excuse me," Saitou said, after a while. "I'm going to see what's taking our spies so long." He stood and, opening the screen, walked into the main room.
It was an unusually busy day, considering the Shinsengumi had entered the town just two days ago. Two men entered the room, and Yuki ran to greet them. They were not...they were not the usual type of customers. They both wore expensive clothes, but they were rumpled and dirty—clothes and men. The first was thin and lean with leering eyes and shiny hair; the other was crudely muscular and silent. Both had red eyes, and a glazed look on their faces, as though they had spent all night drinking, gotten hung over, and began drinking again to ease the pain. They looked at the restaurant and gawked.
Yuki bowed politely. "Welcome to the Meiji's First."
The first one, the thin one, laughed and whipped his arm forward, shoving her down. "Ishin Shishi trash."
Yuki, sprawled on the floor, was stunned. The thin one crouched down to her level, and, giving her a bleary grin, he continued, "I don't suppose you've seen two Shinsengumi: a short, happy one and a tall one with squinty eyes?" He stretched out his sheathed katana and pressed the tip to her chest.
"They're—they're in the back," she gasped. "Tokio is serving them."
The two shot each other evil looks. "Fujita Tokio?"
"Y-yes." A drop of sweat slid down Yuki's face. The way he said her name—they knew it was an alias! Yuki had to warn her.
Just then, Tokio came with a tray of soba and shrimp tempura.
"Tokio, these men—" Yuki began.
"Are here to see Okita Soushi and Saitou Hajime," said the thin one.
"Oh?" She glanced at Yuki, at their swords and plastered on a fake, but convincing smile. "I'll show you to your seats."
Yuki meant to warn her, when the large man clamped his hand on her shoulder. Yuki jumped. This man smiled and shook his sword at her, in a chiding no, no, no sort of way. He walked behind his companion and Tokio.
Yuki was shaking. She wanted to say something, but she was frozen.
She could only watch what happened next.
Tokio didn't trust the drunken men with swords. But there wasn't much she could do. The thin one walked with her, chatting about the prominent Ishin Shishi, as though he was a patriot himself, and the heavy one followed behind. She smiled and nodded, but was wary. When the thin one clapped his arm around her shoulder in a too-familiar way, her stomach dropped and her smile frosted by several degrees. She would have untangled herself if she wasn't holding her tray. All she could do was say, "Sir, please let go of me."
"Sure the Hitokiri Battousai was the greatest warrior, never met him myself, but you know, I don't know the samurai very well," he chatted on, as though he hadn't heard her. But his gripped around her tightened, pressing her to him in a way that was very obnoxious and painful. Tokio gritted her teeth, glad she was nearly at the other room.
The man suddenly stopped walking. He held her so tightly, she was forced to stop walking herself. He bent down and whispered oily in her ear.
"Myself, I'm more familiar with the Ishin Shishi politicians as I'm sure you are, Yamagata Tokio."
She froze, her throat suddenly dry and her palms sweaty, but before she could react, the man grabbed her and spun her around. She dropped the tray and tried to run, but found his grip on her had changed. His left hand clamped around her arms and waist and his right hand grabbed her hair and yanked up—she couldn't move. Her heart beat quicker and she felt sick with fear.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the Meiji's First," said the thin man, spinning her around, "what you see before you is a disgusting example of an Ishin Shishi." He tore off her Meiji badge and threw it to the floor. She tried to squirm away while his grip was weakened, stomping hard on his foot, but it had no effect, and he put his right arm roughly across her throat, gripping her tightly to him, so she couldn't breathe.
"Although the Shinsengumi took this city not two nights ago, she openly and defiantly flaunts her 'patriotism.' We, as Shinsengumi supporters, cannot allow such defiance to go unpunished."
Tokio heard heavy footsteps on the floor. The muscular man stepped in front of her. The room had fallen silent; the patrons of the restaurants stopped in mid-eating to gasp with opened mouths. The muscular man withdrew his katana. The metal made a silver hiss as it left its sheath.
"Her sentence," the thin man declared. "Death!"
With a grin, the strong man pointed his sword toward her chest.
Tokio shut her eyes.
She felt warm blood splatter over her face.
For a few long moments as Tokio cringed, her heart beating, she waited for the pain to come, the searing sensation of her chest being ripped open... but she felt nothing. Cautiously, she opened her eyes.
The muscular man wore a gruesome expression on his face, as the tip of a katana exploded from his stomach. His katana, still stretched out towards her, trembled; his arm dropped. Tokio watched the life seeping from his eyes.
The man's body was flicked away. Tokio saw a stripped, light blue jacket. She looked up and found herself staring into the battle-hardened, amber eyes of Saitou Hajime.
Saitou's katana dripped with blood. He glanced at the girl. She was shaking.
He glanced at the man behind her. He had gone pale, his eyes wide and mouth pulled back into an expression of terror. Saitou advanced towards him.
"No!" he cried, tightening his grip on the young woman. "We're on your side! We work for the Shinsengumi!"
"Then, you dishonor our name," said Saitou, pulling his sword arm back, so his blade was parallel to the ground. "The Shinsengumi do not murder young girls on a whim." He held his other hand out toward the tip of the blade, fingers barely hovering over the metal. "Why don't you let her go, draw your sword, and face me like a man?"
"No!" the coward cried. He drew his katana and held it to her throat. "Get back, or I'll kill her."
Saitou didn't move, but his eyes flickered to the girl. She hadn't fainted, to her credit. Her face was pale but very still and expressionless, and she didn't move. Only her eyes showed fear, as she stared steadily at him.
Saitou withdrew from his stance and put his sword back in his sheath. "Bah. You aren't worth my Gatotsu," he told the man. He walked toward his room, his hand resting casually on the handle of his sword.
"You don't understand, about this girl," said the man. "It isn't just that she's Ishin Shishi. Her father is—"
Saitou whipped around, unsheathing his katana with a whistling shriek. The sword moved quickly, slicing the man's katana arm off with beautiful precision. The girl screamed. The man screamed more and writhed. Blood poured from his wound. He desperately clutched it, blood spurting everywhere. Saitou felt a couple drops fall on his face.
"I don't care about her father," said Saitou coldly. "Those who do evil, especially those claiming to be Shinsengumi, must meet a swift end. That is our code." He raised his katana. "Now either stand and accept your death with dignity, or I'll pin you like a worm."
"No!" shrieked the man.
Saitou plunged his katana down. The man let out one last, gurgling wail and died.
Saitou pulled up his katana. He plucked a cloth napkin from a nearby table and calmly wiped the blood from his blade. Once clean, he returned it to his sheath and turned to the girl. Tokio had collapsed to the floor, reeling away from the dead bodies and the quickly spreading blood. Her hair was a mess, and blood splattered all over her white skin. Her brown eyes, once so charmingly fearless, now spilled over with terror and shock and revulsion.
"Is this the first time you've seen anyone killed?" Saitou asked her.
She flinched at his voice and turned away.
"You showed no fear talking to us before," he said. "Foolish girl. Didn't you know who you were dealing with?"
His fingers moved to the edge of a table; he grasped a cloth napkin and lightly flicked it off. It fluttered down to the floor just in front of her.
"Wipe the blood off your face," he said, and walked away.
Bakumatsu: The last, chaotic days of the Tokugawa Shogunate Regime—the time Kenshin was Hitokiri Battousai.
Ishin Shishi: "Patriots"; those who fought to restore the Emperor of Japan to power—the winning side—Kenshin's side.
Shinsengumi: also known as the Wolves of Mibu, they fought to preserve the Tokugawa regime—ultimately, the losing side. Popular view is of a select group of skilled, charismatic swordsmen who, in the comic, live by the code "swift death to evil."