A/N – A peak intoone busy night during the Bakumatsu: An assassination, a run-in with the Shinsengumi, and a contentious political meeting.Kenshin and Katsura-WAFF, such as it is.

Disclaimer – I don't own Ruroken. Katsura-san is long dead. Don't sue.

One Night

Matsumoto Shinichiro walked confidently through the dark, shadowed streets, unaware that flat, killer's eyes followed his every move. Small circles of light preceded the proud, stubborn merchant –

"He will not be intimidated into withdrawing his business from the government. You must make an example of him."

Four bodyguards, the best money could buy, stood firm when he emerged from the shadows. He allowed them to draw their swords before attacking. The first fell to Battoujutsu, swift and deadly. The second, dead before the first collapsed. The third and fourth, shouting, disposed of in two short strokes –

Tenchuu struck down Matsumoto.

"Yo, Himura," Iizuka said casually, leaning against the doorframe, watching without much interest as Battousai washed and dried his hands. It was almost a ritual, now, this post-assassination cleansing. "Katsura-san wants to see you."

The young killer looked up, but there was no curiosity in those eyes, no spark of interest or life. Iizuka found it unnerving, sometimes. "Aa," the boy said flatly. "I will be there."

And then he turned his attention back to his eternal hand-washing. Exasperated, Iizuka stayed and watched a little while longer, but nothing more was volunteered – the conversation, it seemed, was at an end.

The screen slid back and someone entered unannounced, but Katsura knew exactly who it was. Silent footsteps, perfectly balanced, stopped just behind him, and Himura knelt and placed his swords by his side.

"Katsura-san," the child-killer acknowledged.

"Himura. How did it go?"

"He is dead."

Other men spoke overlong and said nothing; Himura spoke only when pertinent.

"I must be in Shimabara later tonight. Will you accompany me?" Normally when he attended meetings, Katsura had other bodyguards by his side, but tonight he felt uneasy –

"You think it dangerous?"

"It may be."

There was a small pause. "I will come."

Katsura, who controlled hitokiri Battousai, feared assassination in turn. All his senses engaged, walking warily, Kenshin knew Katsura was right – the moon was dark, and death trembled in the air. In the distance they could hear shouts and skirmishing –

"Shinsengumi?" Katsura asked.

Kenshin listened closely, drew Katsura into the shadowy alley mouth, and doused the light. Moments later, the night erupted – a ragged group, stumbling, blue-coated warriors in pursuit. Kenshin's hand tightened on his sword, but Katsura restrained and steadied him:

"You cannot save everyone," said cold, hard-won experience.

Before their eyes, the Shinsengumi, merciless and implacable, killed them all.

Himura could have saved the rebels, Katsura knew. He could have slaughtered the entire troop of Shinsengumi – but it would have drawn attention to their presence in the alley, negating years of patient work. Kyoto was no place for idealists, not when competing, ambitious leaders used men as blades, expecting – needing – them to be hard, tempered steel.

Sometimes he forgot how young Himura truly was.

Before reality taught hard-earned lessons, all boys believed that swords, honour, and passion could change the world. Some fortunate men believed it lifelong. Katsura, however, knew that it took sacrifice, compromise, and heartless, political expedience…

Look at him, Miyabe thought. With a killer like that at his side, still he holds back…

Between them, Katsura and Takasugi had forged a powerful alliance. Yet, while Takasugi actively built up his army with Western money and arms, Katsura played at assassination, spinning useless intrigues at a decadent, powerless court. Why didn't he do something? Why not take the Emperor now, and force the Shogun to acknowledge them?

"No," Katsura said implacably, his crimson shadow a silent warning. "We cannot act precipitously. Wait…"

"They are dangerous men," Kenshin said, after the meeting.

"Yes," Katsura agreed. "Hot-headed, heavy-handed fools..."

They headed back to the inn in the pre-dawn darkness. Kyoto was stirring, shadows and shadow killers giving way to farmers and workers, the first rays of light falling with equal indifference on Matsumoto and his bodyguards and the slaughtered rebels.

Katsura stopped in the market and bought onigiri, sharing with Himura as they heard the latest rumours. Did you hear, the vendor asked, and Katsura shook his head gravely, aware of Himura's increasing unease in the growing light.

"Katsura-san," the hitokiri murmured, shifting restlessly.

"Aa," he answered, thanking the vendor. "I'm coming."

Together, they faded back into the shadows.