A/N – This idea was spawned by a plot for a mad action movie in Athelgar's story 'Superstar'. It's quite obviously AU; in this, Kenshin never met Tomoe, or left the Ishin Shishi. I've also made Katsura a fair bit older.
Disclaimer – I don't own. Don't sue.
The Last Honourable Man
Lieutenant Saito Hajime sat with his feet comfortably propped up on his desk, chain-smoking, while the newest member of his elite task force stood nervously before him, unconsciously fidgeting.
"Well?" he drawled. "What do you want?"
The girl – she was only a girl, barely out of college – started, her blue eyes widening nervously. Inwardly, Saito snorted – this was what they were sending him these days. Accountants, statisticians and psychologists: soft, white-collar investigators who spent their lives in comfortable, safe offices and had never been anywhere near the streets. This girl – this Kamiya – wouldn't last five minutes out in the real world.
"Sir," the girl began nervously. Saito despised nervous, fearful people who could not look him in the eye. "The Commissioner has assigned me to your task force, sir."
"Oh?" The wolf raised an eyebrow, allowed smoke to trickle out skeptically from his nostrils. "And what qualifications do you have for catching yakuza, Kamiya? Have you spent twenty years pounding the streets, tracking them down through bars, illegal casinos, dingy strip clubs and brothels and gaming dens?"
She stiffened. "No, sir," she admitted.
"Have you spent years coming this close to victory, only to be thwarted by bought judges and bureaucrats on the take?"
"No, sir," she said again.
"Have you seen your partner, your wife and your two children blown away in a yakuza hit because you wouldn't give up, wouldn't play their game?"
She swallowed, her face paling. "No, sir."
"Then tell me why I should accept you on this task force, Kamiya," he sneered. "Tell me what experience and qualifications you can contribute to our group."
If she pulled rank and reminded him of the Commissioner's orders he would throw her straight out on her ass.
"Well sir," she swallowed again, straightened herself, and looked him in the eye. "I wrote my PhD on the philosophy of organized crime, sir. I believe that I can contribute valuable insight into the minds of the leaders and the common foot soldiers both."
He grunted. "Do you?" He stared at her a bit longer, holding her gaze, nothing with some amusement that she had to force herself to keep meeting his eyes. "These men wrote their own PhDs in violence, terror and extortion. They're stone cold killers who won't hesitate to chop off their own fingers as signs of their extreme loyalty to their boss. I don't want to understand them, Kamiya; I want to destroy them."
She went white, and her hands clenched into tight, bloodless fists. But, watching her, he knew that she would not beg –
Good. The first sign of strength he'd seen in her.
"Can you defend yourself, Kamiya?"
"I have received the standard weapons training, sir."
"That was not what I asked," he snapped.
"I am a fair shot, sir. I also have some skill in kenpo, and advanced kendo training."
He raised his brow again. "Kendo?"
"My family owns a dojo, sir. Before his death, my father trained me in our traditional style, the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu."
For the first time, she surprised him. Kenpo he dismissed – she wasn't tall, or heavy, or strong enough for her skills to be anything but self-defense. She didn't have a killer's eyes, and he suspected that it would take something extraordinary to force her to pull the trigger. But kendo…
That was not something often seen, these days.
"Tell me something, Kamiya. Do you train with real steel, or with bokken?"
"I train with a bokken, sir," she said stiffly. "There is too much potential for accidents, otherwise. And the aim of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu is not to injure others, but to bring out our own potential."
Saito shook his head. Uncrossing his legs, he brought them down off the desk and sat up straight in his chair, opening a drawer and withdrawing a thick, battered manila file. He tucked it under his arm, and then stood up, startling the girl.
"Come on," he said abruptly. "Let's go." He strode over to the door, jerked it open, not waiting for her to precede him.
"Wh- what? Sir?"
"Get a move on, Kamiya. If you want to hunt yakuza, you should see what they're truly like first."
Bewildered, she followed him out into the police station, and then down into the garage.
Kamiya Kaoru eyed the dour, sardonic lieutenant warily. She had expected him to be intimidating, but had not been prepared for outright hostility – or for the extreme vehemence of his hatred for the yakuza.
Have you seen your partner, your wife and your two children blown away in a yakuza hit…?
They came to an old, battered standard police issue, and Saito motioned for her to get in.
"Where exactly are we going, sir?" she asked, once they were underway.
"I told you. You're going to get a good idea of what these killers are capable of. Gain some practical experience, to complement your theoretical knowledge." His tone was anything but complimentary. The ever-present cigarette glowed evilly, reflected in the feral yellow of his eyes. "We're going to Showgirls, a downtown strip club. You're lucky, Kamiya; we got the call just before you walked into my office."
Kaoru wasn't so sure. She'd heard stories of what the yakuza did to businesses that didn't pay, had even seen some pictures – and she knew, personally, the horror of coming home to see a beloved mother and father dead, the kills marked to flaunt the killers' loyalties. But she didn't like the look in the lieutenant's eyes, and so she held her peace.
Showgirls turned out to be exactly the kind of dark, dingy strip joint she had imagined from the lieutenant's description. There were patrol cars everywhere, and cops milling about all over the place – but they all made way for Saito, with Kaoru trailing in his wake, trying to look inconspicuous. Inside, she found devastation – smashed chairs and tables, shattered glass and ripped carpets, upholstery and curtains. There were bodies everywhere, sprawled awkwardly on the floor, slumped against the wall, floating facedown in the bubbling, still foaming spa.
One of the detectives on scene, a stone-faced man in a trench coat, saw Saito and moved over to meet him.
"Shinomori Aoshi," Saito said curtly, gesturing to the detective, and then to Kaoru, "Kamiya Kaoru. What's the situation?"
Shinomori looked about him, at the carnage, the blood, the bodies, and the destruction. "The proprietor of this place, a Yamazuki-san, refused to pay his protection money to the Ishin Shishi. I'd say old man Katsura was offended by the refusal."
Saito snorted. "You would, would you? I doubt it hurt the old bastard's feelings." He crouched down to examine one of the corpses, a middle-aged man, horribly slashed. "This isn't Battousai's work."
"No?" Shinomori crouched down beside him. "I wouldn't know."
"When you've been chasing a killer for nearly fifteen years, Shinomori, you get to know their work. And this is not his."
"What are you saying, that Katsura suddenly has two sword-wielding assassins in his employ?"
Kaoru, still dazed by the sight, smell, and shock of so much death and destruction in such an enclosed place, heard little of the detectives' conversation. Her attention was fixed desperately on the wall as she willed herself not to throw up.
Sword-wielding assassins? She bent down to take a closer look at one of the bodies, lying in a pool of dark crimson blood, examining the wounds that had killed him – and they were most definitely not gunshot wounds. Someone had killed this man – had killed everyone in the building, probably – with a sword. Surely, in this day and age, the idea was ridiculous.
But the dead men and women sprawled awkwardly on the floor were not laughing, and nor were the two detectives so calmly discussing expert techniques and perfect style.
"It's too messy, Shinomori. Battousai's work is neater than this; he's almost surgical in his skill. This is…" Saito's mouth twisted. "This is a slaughter. It doesn't fit. Are you sure that the owner owed money to Katsura?"
"He was definitely paying the Ishin Shishi for protection."
"Hnn. If I didn't know better…" He trailed off.
Across the city, an old man sat, meditating, in a sparse, traditional style room. He heard the soft pad of footsteps in the corridor, and then heard the shoji screen slide open behind him, and then close.
"Himura," he said, acknowledging the new arrival.
"Katsura-san," the hitokiri said, kneeling down behind him, placing his swords by his side.
"Yamazuki refused to pay his dues. You know there can be no exceptions."
There was a small silence behind him. Himura's silences were always eloquent.
"Shishio acted without your permission. It was a slaughter."
"He is stirring. There are more important things to worry about."
Katsura Kogoro was only fifty-five years old. For the last ten years, since he'd crushed his rivals in a gang war that had lasted for five bloody years, he had been the most powerful yakuza leader in Japan. However, not even he was powerful enough to overcome death – six months, his doctors had told him, when he consulted them about the blinding headaches. Six months to put his affairs in order and ensure the safe succession of the Ishin Shishi's leadership…
"Five years ago, even two, you would not have allowed such stirring. You cannot countenance such disobedience. It is a challenge to your leadership."
"Katsura-san," Himura interrupted, uncharacteristically vehement. They had tiptoed over this ground before, but this was the first time that the assassin insisted on speaking. "Fifteen years I have served you willingly, wielding my blade in your service, trusting in your cause and your reasons. But Saigo-san's rebellion weakened us, and Shishio used the distraction to entrench himself further. I don't trust the new men he has brought in, or the new programs he suggests at council meetings. He speaks of people smuggling, Katsura-san, and even of heroin…"
Fifteen years ago, Katsura had been a struggling, ambitious leader of a growing syndicate, eager to topple the aging, rotting Tokugawa group. His discovery of a young, idealistic street kid willing to use his sword to instill terror in the enemy had been the turning point in the gang war – Himura's sword had brought Katsura to power, and had helped him maintain an iron grip for ten long years.
All that the assassin asked was that Katsura be a man worthy of his allegiance.
"What else should I have done with him, Himura? He was a charismatic man with powerful connections. Should I have made an enemy of him from the very beginning? Better to keep him close."
"You should have let me kill him. Even from the beginning, he had his eye on your position."
"He is useful, and I am strong enough to keep him in line."
"With respect, Katsura-san, you are strong enough. But is Okubo-san?"
Katsura stilled. Okubo Toshimichi was his second-in-command, who would take over when he died.
"How long have you known?" he asked.
Amazingly, Himura laughed, a small, huffed laugh. "I am your personal bodyguard, the head of your security. Your doctors are too terrified of me not to speak of their concerns. And Ikumatsu-san told me. I have known from the beginning."
And he had said nothing. It was characteristic of Himura's extreme discretion – only with Katsura would he speak his mind. It had led, often, to resentment and fear, as the others saw how much trust Katsura placed in his assassin – and how hitokiri Battousai would answer to Katsura, and no one else.
"Then, when I am…gone," Katsura began, "will you remain, and lend Okubo your strength?"
Was Himura's loyalty to Katsura himself, or to the Ishin Shishi? Would he walk away, believing that Shishio merely waited for an opportunity to take power?
"Is this a test, Katsura-san? Did you allow him to destroy that club, so that you could coax me into this discussion, into this very question?"
Katsura bowed his head. "And if I did?"
There was an unmistakable 'shnick' behind him, the metallic click of a sword hilt freed from the sheath, the first, miniscule threat of a drawn blade. He kept still, waiting on Himura's decision –
"I don't believe you did."
"No. But the question remains: fifteen years you have served me – will you transfer that loyalty to Okubo?"
Himura let his blade settle back into its sheath.
"Okubo-san is a good man. I will support him against Shishio, but once that is over –" Himura trailed off, and for the first time, seemed uncertain. "I will be thirty years old, soon."
"Very well. Thank you."
Behind him, he could hear the assassin stand up with quiet, deadly grace. In his mind, he could see Himura Kenshin as he had been at fourteen years old, young and idealistic, his eyes already aware of loss and death, but willing to create more to see his vision fulfilled.
Thirty years old, soon.
"Himura," he said impulsively, standing himself, turning so that he could face the man who had laid and upheld the foundation of his power. Their eyes met – his, tired and weary and old, and Himura's, intelligent, but flat and hard, killer's eyes. "Do you regret…?"
Slowly, almost shyly, hitokiri Battousai's rare, fugitive smile grew, warming his eyes and giving life and animation to that dangerous, scarred face. "No, Katsura-san. No, I don't regret my service under you."
He bowed, and Katsura, slowly, returned it. Then, silently, he turned and left.
A/N - Feedback is greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading!