Summary: When Kenshin hears about Shishio's betrayal at the hands of the Ishin Shishi, he is determined to find the truth about his former comrade's death. His quest for vengeance leads him to several top members of the former revolutionary outfit, but when someone starts beating him to the kill, Kenshin realizes that there is more to the story than what meets the eye. BKK.
Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin is the property of Watsuki Nobuhiro. The situations in this story however, do belong to me.
Rating: T. This chapter has very slight references to torture.
Please not that the section in italics refers to the past. It is a flashback.
The Battousai's Return
He looked at his reflection. His eyes seemed tired. The skin under his eyes was dark as well. He shivered. The Battousai was free; he longer had any hold on him. If he knew where Kenshin was hiding, then his troubles would be over. It would not be difficult to imprison him and persuade him once more. No matter how strong the man, the drug always won. The deadly poison he had once unleashed in the Battousai's mind could work again, yes, it could work again.
"Is this the drug?"
"Yes Katsura-sama. But…but it's very potent. Please be careful with it,"
"But of course. We shall use it very sparingly."
"A few drops taken at mealtimes will render the patient incapable of remembering whatever transpired in the hours preceding."
"That's exactly what I need. The work of an assassin can be so brutal. I do not want to torture them by letting them remember what they had to do for the sake of revolution. Its better that they forget. Killing can be so strenuous."
"And Katsura-sama! A word of caution, do not let them get accustomed to this drug. It could have severe side-effects."
"What kind of side-effects?"
"Painful seizures, the patient could go mad. There is no guarantee that the memory loss is permanent, when they see what they have done, they might not be able to take it. The physical pain alone could render them useless."
"I shall remember that."
A knock on the door pulled Katsura out from his reminiscence. He turned. His butler stood at the door.
"You guests have arrived, Sir."
Katsura nodded, and returned to his reflection. The dark circles had not yet disappeared but the mere memory of the years when the drug had turned Kenshin into a soulless killing machine had warmed his heart. He dipped a small sponge into a vial of foundation and smeared it under his eyes before smoothing it over his cheeks. The artificial colour blended into his skin and removed the telltale marks of fear and tiredness.
He put the foundation away. Then carefully, he lifted the top of his lacquered dressing table. It revealed a false bottom. Katsura slid a piece of board aside. Nestled inside a small hole was the vial of the drug he'd used on Kenshin years ago.
He stroked the vial gently with his fingers and picked it up. Holding it up to the light of the lamp, he purred with pleasure. The crystalline liquid was beautiful.
"He must be found."
End of Recap
Long, delicate flutes of crystal clinked softly as the triumvirate of the nation raised a toast to their success and the success of the formula that had kept the country on a steady path to wealth, development and prosperity. His fellow founders were pleased with the way certain policies had been inducted and implemented.
He bent his head, accepting the generous praise they showered on him.
Drinks were followed by a fabulous eight course dinner. Slender waiters in elegant fitted black pants and white silk shirts glided in and out of the room bearing huge platters piled with food. The conversation concentrated on the origins and merits of different wines. The authenticity of French wines was questioned with some temerity following news reports reporting entire vineyards being lost in fire and arson.
In his many years of being at the centre of public life, Katsura had mastered the art of being in two places at once. He remained seated with his comrades discussing the superiority of the 1864 vintages as opposed to others but his mind was busy thinking of ways in which he could trap the Battousai into service once more.
He twirled the empty flute between two fingers. There was no information regarding the Battousai. All the spies he had employed had returned with different accounts of his death; not one had the sense to check the stories; they simply took it for granted that Kenshin was dead. Nobody believed that he was alive. "The Hitokiri Battousai was killed in the final battle of the revolution" - was the standard reply they all brought back, even after years of searching. Fools! He gripped the stalk of his glass.
Kenshin had been the strongest of his hitokiri and also the most influential. Such was his calibre that even the lords of the Choshu faction treated him with awe and respect. There had never been such a strong and capable swordsman in their ranks. Strength and speed were both his slaves. Izuka often said that Kenshin's skill was to be seen but not understood. Just as well, because it would be hard to understand the incredible fluidity of his movements and the speed of his technique. The speed at which he moved was phenomenal, godlike; it was inhuman.
Even though the glaring gap left by his departure had been filled by Shishio, every member of the Choshu faction felt his absence. In the beginning he had just been another Choshu hitokiri, then as the body count increased and a frenetic fear of him took a hold of the Shinsengumi, he became the Hitokiri Battousai, the only assassin of the Ishin Shishi worth knowing. His legend grew even as the self-doubt and questions in his mind began to slowly tear him asunder. Hitokiri Battousai was a demon, a monster, a man without a soul, undefeatable, indestructible, invincible.
It was ironic since the men who dubbed him thus, would often pass him by on the street and not even notice his existence. When they thought of the hitokiri Battousai, in their mind's eye they saw a giant of a man with dark, mad eyes and foam frothing at his mouth. The slender, soft-spoken and calm creature they were finally faced with broke them to pieces. It was not a monster or a demon who was responsible for so much death in Kyoto, but a man as simple and straightforward as the stream. There was no guile in his manner or arrogance in his speech. Only the steadfastness that arises from a complete and unsheltered belief in one self.
The only person who possibly had the strength and the skill to defeat him was the man who had taught him. And there was no knowing where he was now. Kenshin had left his teacher's home to join the revolution. Kenshin had never spoken about it - he was an intensely reserved and private person - but even so, he could guess that they hadn't parted on good terms.
"There seems to be a lot on your mind Katsura-san."
Katsura shook his head and smiled amiably. "Not at all. I was just reminiscing." he stood and walked across the room. The floor-to-ceiling windows showed a glittering, modern city immense with potential and promise. Katsura felt his chest swell with pride at the sight of the tangible results of his experiment with revolution. He turned to his partners.
"I was thinking about the way ahead. The long road that we have travelled together, the challenges we have faced and the triumph at the end of a long and bitter battle…these things happen for a reason." The other two founding members of the former Ishin Shishi nodded solemnly, glancing at each other.
Katsura continued. "We were not the only patriots in the clan, nor were we the only ones who had power but have you ever thought why….why was it that you and I succeeded where the others crumbled under the might of the Shogunate?"
Satsuma set his glass on an ornate wooden table with a lacquered top. He looked towards Katsura. "It was simple. We knew we had to stand by each other. The other leaders never rose above their petty squabbling. But we chose to win the revolution first and share the spoils later."
The third man present chuckled. "And most importantly Katsura-san…..we had, or rather you had the Battousai. As long as the Battousai trusted and listened to you, we knew we had no one else to fear. His trust in you and his skill as a hitokiri were our greatest weapons!"
Katsura shivered He looked out the window where millions of lights coruscated off towering mammoths of glass and steel. The Battousai was a phenomenon that happened once, only once in a lifetime. He remembered the day he had first met Kenshin like it were yesterday. He still remembered the trembling of his limbs and the cold breath escaping his mouth as he watched a boy no older than fifteen slice through a armoured log as though it were silk. It lasted for a mere fraction of a second, perhaps even less than that. The glint of his sword seemed a mere trick of light, the sweet hiss of the blade as it slid back into the sheath was a whisper on the wind. Yet what he had seen would haunt him forever.
The boy was a spectre. His pale, gaunt face belied the strength that lived in his arm and his vibrant eyes made the men around him seem like shrunken puppets of flotsam.
He didn't stop to think even for a second; he didn't need to! He had come to the country to find a hitokiri and the gods had graced him by sending an angel of death in the guise of a boy. His eyes followed the boy as he retreated to one side of the muddy field and sat down, oblivious to the crowds of swordsmen who were waiting to swing their swords next.
Takasugi's chuckle forced him to tear his eyes away from him.
"Your preference is becoming younger and younger, Katsura-san." Takasugi leant heavily against a tree.
"Takasugi, that boy…."
"Oh him. The angel of death." He pulled the corners of his mouth to form an uneasy grin.
"He is the one I want. He will become the next hitokiri of the Ishin Shishi." he gripped the handle of his umbrella tightly.
Takasugi looked grave. A dragonfly fluttered close to his face. He swatted it away unceremoniously. He jerked his head towards a house perched atop the hill that overlooked the fields.
"Come inside." He led the way into his house. It was a rambling, old house that held an air of abandonment and neglect even as men and boys passed through its gates every few minutes. It was a camp, a shelter for those who had nowhere else to go. Some were led there by bloodlust, some by patriotism, others still with the promise of being taken to Kyoto if they were good enough. It was a means to get somewhere, to be somebody. For dozens of aspiring swordsmen and amateur swords-for-hire, the house stood at the crossroads of destiny. They came from all four directions, searching for work and glory. But for all the awe it inspired in neighbouring prefectures and beyond, it remained merely a place to stop, never a destination.
Takasugi waited at the door for his eager guest. He led Katsura to a small, unassuming room used for strategic meetings when the Choshu rebels ventured out on missions in the provinces. He sat and gestured Katsura to do the same.
"That boy is special Katsura-san."
Katsura leaned forward impatiently. "I know. I can see that. That is precisely why you must give him to me."
"You will turn him into a hitokiri." Takasugi stared at him with hard eyes.
"Well of course! What else is there to be done? With him at our side, can you imagine? The Shinsengumi will be reduced to tears, and even the Shogunate will cease to be a threat. If this boy joins us, we can counter the Shisengumi on equal terms! We will no longer need to run and hide from them. The flames of the revolution will spread and reach the sky!"
Takasugi sighed. "I am not too eager to send a child into that hellhole."
Katsura pursed his lips together, making his displeasure apparent. "That hellhole is Kyoto. The heart of Japan and the heart of this revolution, hellhole or not, that is where he must come eventually."
Takasugi looked at him. The fiery determination in Katsura's eyes worried him. But, there was little he could do if Katsura had made up his mind, except….there was one promise he could extract from him.
"Takasugi…what are you thinking about?"
"He is not ready. Katsura-san, he hasn't yet completed his training."
"Whatever he has finished will serve him well enough. I have never, in my entire existence seen a battojutsu executed as fast and cleanly as he demonstrated today. What more training does he need?"
"Katsura-san, he is still a child. Would you ask a child to kill another human?"
"It's been done before. He would not be here if he didn't know what he was getting into. Takasugi, do not try to dissuade me. His skill speaks for his emotional balance, but just to assure you, I will speak to him, frankly, and if he is ready to become an hitokiri, I shall take him to Kyoto with me."
Takasugi exhaled slowly. "Very well. You will have the boy if you must but, in return I must ask for a promise."
Katsura was a little surprised. This was most unexpected. "What sort of promise?"
Takasugi pressed the palm of his hand flat into the floor and spoke. "A deal may be considered legitimate only when it maintains a fine equilibrium. When you take this boy and turn him into an assassin for your cause, you will be responsible for what he becomes. In order to gain the advantage of his sword in this struggle, you must give up your own."
Katsura seemed confused. "What do you want of me, Takasugi? Speak plainly, don't meander about the point like this."
Takasugi raised his eyes. "You must promise that you will never draw your sword again, not to fight, not even to save your life. Your days as a samurai end as of today. You are forbidden to use your sword. That is the only promise I will accept if I am to send the boy with you."
Katsura blinked. He did not respond at once, but when he collected his thoughts once again, he replied. "So be it. I give you my word. I will never draw my sword again, even if it means giving up my life."
Takasugi nodded gravely. His eyes were hard and unrelenting. "I will hold you to that promise Katsura-san."
Katsura flared in anger. "Do you doubt my word?"
Takasugi bent his head, as if in defeat. "I only pray I never have to."
Katsura twitched his nose in disgust. "Pathetic. This disease has hollowed you inside out. You are no longer the Takasugi I remember. You've become a snivelling, petrified shell."
Takasugi ignored his words. He stood. "I will take you to Kenshin now."
"You must kill, for me. Do you understand? I will ask you to take the lives of certain people for our cause. Are you willing to do this?"
The boy stared back at him . His cheeks seemed to shrink and his eyes seemed to grow to twice their size. He bent his head and nodded slowly.
He replied, in a voice as gentle as a summer breeze. "I understand."
Katsura beamed. "Good. You won't regret this decision."
Katsura bent his head back until he heard a distinctive cracking sound from his neck. He looked out the window once more. His guests had left. Thankfully, they suspected nothing. But, they had always taken everything he told them at face value. Somewhere, amongst the millions of people living in the city of Tokyo, Kenshin was hidden away. His most effective hitokiri was a free man, and this, more than anything else terrified him. Kenshin, in his senses, thinking and acting deliberately against him….it was a horrifying prospect, and one situation he had never imagined himself in. He was no coward, but the mere mention of Kenshin's name now was enough to make him tremble with fear.
He pulled the silken cravat free from his neck. Well, he couldn't blame Kenshin for hating him, especially after he'd found out about the drug. That incident that served as a catalyst for his disappearance.
The trouble with assassins is that sooner or later, they sprout a sense of curiosity. And start thinking. Kenshin was no different. After two years of killing targets and taking care of several potential problems, he began to show signs of dissent. He never protested. No! That would be too obvious; and Kenshin was never obvious. He made his opinion clear in a very subtle way. If you weren't paying attention, you would miss the quiet traces of dissatisfaction and unrest emanating from him. Katsura never made that mistake. He had discovered long ago that a general should keep a close eye on his enemies and a closer eye on the men he entrusted to do his dirty work.
Any lapse in observation and comprehension could mean betrayal or even death.
Kenshin was slowly beginning to break underneath the calm, cold exterior he had built as the Battousai. His hand never shook as he cut down his opponents, but he was spending too much time staring at their dead bodies, watching the blood seep into the ground. He would then return to the meeting house and sit in a corner without a word. It occurred to him, that his chief hitokiri was perhaps lonely, very lonely.
He spoke to Izuka about it, however it probably made matters worse since Izuka's idea of "cheering" Kenshin up consisted of tricking Kenshin into accompanying him on a visit to the whore houses of east Kyoto. Kenshin put an end to it the first night itself by hanging Izuka upside down in a large oak outside the pleasure house before walking away in a huff.
Lust and the lure of a warm, soft bed was not enough to draw Kenshin out. He sought something that was beyond anyone's power to give. Kenshin wanted solace and peace of mind. He wanted to know that the life he was leading was not without purpose, that the lives he was taking away in the name of revolution were going to be someday honoured by the righteousness and justice of the cause. But, little by little, Kenshin was beginning to understand, that a cause propped up with the blood of innocents would rot. His soul cringed and shied away from the killing brought about with every sunset.
And although he didn't know it, it was only the drug that kept him going. The drug made him forget the killing, the screams, the glassy stare of corpses and the macabre dance of death surrounding him. But it did not help in countering the pallor of self-doubt and anguish in his soul. The forgetfulness that came with the drug confused him even further. He did not remember the killing but the guilt remained in his heart. Kenshin was perplexed, stupefied at his emotions. What was happening? What was he doing wrong that he felt like a sinner? He found no answers…..anywhere.
Then, one day….the dam broke.
He would never know whether it was deliberate eavesdropping on Kenshin's part or not. But the fact remained, that the Hitokiri Battousai found out what was the purpose of the daily gift of sake given to him by the leader of the revolution. As the slumber of the drug wore away, Kenshin realized that he'd been played like a puppet.
Katsura closed his eyes.
"Stop! You cannot enter! Katsura-sama does not wish to be disturbed!"
"Out of my way." Kenshin flung the delicate rice paper door aside and strode in. His face showed signs of carefully, painstakingly controlled fury. He tossed a vial on the floor. It rolled towards Katsura and stopped at his feet.
"Does this seem familiar, Katsura-san?"
Katsura watched him warily. He put down his sake cup, and gestured the lady playing chess with him to leave. She stood and glided out of the room.
"What's the matter Kenshin? You seem upset."
"Why did you do it? Something so disgusting, so low. Why?"
Katsura sighed. There was no use lying to him now. He already knew everything it seemed.
"I was just trying to help you. I couldn't bear seeing you in such distress. I wanted to do something for you. I thought it would help."
"A drug…that makes me forget the people I killed….how on earth was that going to help me?"
"You must be disturbed by them, aren't you?"
"They were not meant to be forgotten. They gave their lives for something they believe in. I took their lives for something I believe in. They had honour in their deaths."
"Kenshin, I didn't know you thought that way."
"No, you did not. You had no right to treat me this way." He turned. "I can no longer trust you, or your motives. I am beginning to wonder if even half of those people you've asked me to kill had anything to do with the revolution."
"I am leaving."
"What? No! Wait Kenshin! Do not leave like us, not when we are so close to our goals. You may doubt my motives now but you must remember that we are both fighting the same war, fighting for the oppressed!"
"Are we? I wonder if we are."
"Kenshin, have you forgotten the villages emptied by the Shogunate? The taxes in deep winter…no clothes, no food, just taxes, taxes, taxes! Do not punish the innocent people who are depending on us to deliver them from the Shogunate's oppression."
"I am not so important, Katsura-san….and neither are you. The revolution will not die if I leave."
"But it will die in Kyoto. You are the most powerful entity in this fight Kenshin. We will win if you stay, and lose if you go."
He glanced at him but Kenshin was silent, as though he were in another world. The words of his former master echoed in his ears as he realized the mistake he had made in choosing a side in the war.
He bent his head. Katsura waited eagerly.
"I will stay….till Toba Fushimi. After that, I will leave. And you will not look for me."
"Leave….but where will you go."
"Wherever the road takes me."
Kaoru sat silently in the backseat of the car. The former chief assassin of the Ishin Shishi sat in front next to Misao, who was driving.
"He's late Himura. I smell a rat."
"Patience. He'll be here soon."
"But he's late!"
"That's an old habit of his. Katsura-san believes that being late makes him seem important. He hasn't changed much."
"I don't know how you can act so calm, as though nothing has happened." Kaoru spoke in annoyance.
Kenshin looked at her through the rear-view mirror. "Is there any reason why I shouldn't be calm?"
Kaoru felt her eyebrows shoot upwards. "Oh nothing. Just the fact that the most powerful man in this country is coming to see you and he's not going to be very pleased since you've kidnapped his niece….but that shouldn't bother you, right?" She replied sarcastically.
Kenshin merely smiled. Misao nudged him. A car entered the one-way street and parked a little distance away. A second car appeared but did not enter; it hovered at the entrance and then drove off.
Misao clicked her tongue against her teeth. "There's too many cars about Himura. Something's not right."
Kenshin nodded. "Keep your eyes peeled Misao."
"Sano, are you asleep?"
Megumi leaned across the bed. She pressed his shoulder lightly. Sanosuke mumbled something unintelligible and wriggled away. Megumi pursed her lips together and tried once more. She sat up in bed and stared at his back. Her eyes fell on a scar on his lower back. It was a ugly, whitish bit of skin that didn't fit with the rest of his smooth, toned back. She remembered how he'd got that scar. When one of Kaoru's ex-boyfriends decided to get rough with her, Sanosuke beat the living daylights out of him.
She had been so angry. She understood friendship and the need to stand up for your friends but beating a man within an inch of life because of a sexual advance was a little too much in her book. Besides, Kaoru really needed to start looking after herself and choosing better guys to date for starters. The incident didn't end there. The guy returned with two of the meanest, burliest men she'd ever seen in her life. They were waiting for Sanosuke when he came to pick her up from work. It was terrifying. Sanosuke wasn't worried but her heart was in her mouth. It was the longest fifteen minutes of her life, she'd stood glued to a wall, praying that he'd be alright.
The fight ended with one of them managing to slash Sano's back. They ran away, whooping and laughing with insane joy. That was almost a year ago, and now she was back at that wall, praying for Sano's safety, beating the tears and fear back. The fear that something might happen to him, that she may lose him to a knife or bullet he couldn't dodge. She drew her knees up to her chest.
Her eyes burned and a lump formed in her throat. The sound of her erratic sobbing woke Sanosuke. He turned in bed and blinked at the sight of Megumi sitting there, crying as though her heart would break. He sat up and pulled her into his arms. He'd ask questions later. Right now, she needed comforting.
He rubbed her back slowly, drawing her deeper into his embrace. Megumi curled her arms around his neck and pulled him closer. His skin felt cool. Sano held her face in his hands and wiped her tears away with his fingers.
"Alright Fox, what's up? Where'd the rain come from?"
Megumi shook her head and murmured something. Sanosuke grinned. He cocked his head to a side and said, "Sorry, I don't speak Crying Female."
Megumi snapped her head up and threw a light punch at him. "Sano!"
He laughed. "That's more like it. That's the girl that drives me wild, not this weird snivelling one." He tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. "What's bothering you?"
Megumi looked at him. Her eyes were still swollen from crying, and her nose was red. "Sano….I love you."
Sanosuke smiled. "Oh baby, I love you too."
"No Sano…I mean…I really love you and I can't….I can't do anything without you so….please tell me you're not doing anything dangerous."
Sano bit his lip. "Megumi, what's gotten into you? What is all this about, just come out and tell me."
Megumi breathed deeply. Sano looked at her expectantly. "Sano….I know you're worried about Kaoru, and I heard you tell Katsu about what happened at the police station."
Sano stopped smiling. "Alright."
"So I want to know…are you still looking for Kaoru?"
Sanosuke leaned back into the pillows. "Of course I am. I wouldn't let her down when she needed me."
"Looking for her is the police's job, Sano."
"Yeah, right. The police," he scoffed. "The police want me to believe that Kaoru took off with some guy she knew for ten minutes and went on some romantic getaway with him."
"Megumi, they're not taking it seriously. Kaoru could be in serious danger."
"What if she isn't? Sano….Kaoru is not a kid anymore. She's going to be eighteen in a few days. She can take care of herself."
"I know she's not a kid anymore. I'm not treating her like one. But she hasn't called for days, hasn't been to her apartment, or her classes. None of her neighbours have seen her….she's disappeared! I need to find her before it's too late!"
Megumi pursed her lips. "And us? What about us, Sano?"
Sano frowned. "What about us?"
"You've been looking for her for the past four days. This is the first time I've had a chance to talk to you. You don't answer my calls, or when you do, you tell me you'll call back and never do. It's just Kaoru this, Kaoru that. Is there anything else on your mind?"
"Megumi, don't start this. I'm worried about her. I need time."
"And me? Don't I need your time? Or am I just something to fill the days by?"
"Megumi…..why are you being so difficult about this? Why is it so hard to understand?"
"Sano, compared to Kaoru, our relationship has no meaning for you!"
"That's bullshit Megumi and you know it. Kaoru is my friend and that's it. You're the one that I love but honestly, right now, you're behaving like a brat."
Sano turned and went to sleep again. Megumi buried her head in her hands.
A black car turned into the street. It stopped ten metres in. A man stepped out and held the passenger door open. Kenshin held his breath. Katsura stepped out. He was wearing a long black coat that reached his shins. The collar was turned up and he wore large sunglasses. Anyone who didn't know Katsura personally would mistake him for someone else. He said something to the man holding the door. The man nodded, and got back inside the car. Katsura began to walk forward. The car reversed and wheeled out of the street.
Misao swallowed and licked her lips. Kenshin turned to Kaoru. "Miss Kaoru, it's time to go."
Kaoru was surprised. "What? Already?"
Kenshin stepped out and held his hand up so Katsura would notice him. It worked. Katsura raised his hand in response. Kenshin opened the door of the passenger seat and held his hand out to Kaoru.
Kaoru took his hand without a word. As she swung her legs out, Misao turned. "Kaoru!"
Kaoru stopped and looked at her. "What?"
Kaoru simply stared at her. Kenshin tapped her on the shoulder. He pulled he out of the car. Misao put the car in gear and drove back a few paces. Kenshin held Kaoru's elbow gently and led her forward.
They stopped when the reached the middle of the street where Katsura was waiting for them. He smiled at Kaoru and nodded his head in acknowledgement to Kenshin.
"Kenshin, it is good to see you again."
"Speak for yourself."
"We were friends once. We trusted each other."
"You broke that trust. Anyway, I didn't come here to talk about this. I came to ask you about Shishio."
"Yes, I know."
"Your lovely niece wants to be home soon. You don't want to disappoint her, right?"
Katsura smiled at Kaoru once more. Kaoru frowned. His smile seemed fake and cloying. He hadn't even noticed her until Kenshin pointed her out. It was as though he didn't care if she were standing there, frightened out of her wits, wondering what was going on, what they were talking about among other things.
Katsura held a hand out. Kaoru looked at Kenshin. He nudged her forward.
Inexplicable as it was, she turned to look at him again. A weird sensation in the pit of her stomach told her something was going to go wrong. She swept her eyes over his face, memorizing every detail to heart. His eyes, the tilt of his sardonic smile, the quiet that engulfed him.
"Goodbye Miss Kaoru." He whispered. He seemed troubled and gave the impression that he was keeping himself in check.
Katsura latched on to her hand and pulled her back. "Now my dear, don't worry about a thing. Just wait." He gestured and the black car pulled back into the street. The driver stepped out again, this time he ushered Kaoru inside. Kaoru craned her neck to gain a glimpse of the assassin. She spotted Misao sitting behind the wheel in the car parked further in.
"Time to start talking Katsura." The cold antagonism returned to his voice. Kaoru strained her ears to hear. She fumbled for the power button to roll the window down. There was none. All the controls were at the driver's side. She glanced forward scrumptiously. The driver bent slightly and nonchalantly threw a small ball towards Katsura and his former assassin. He swiftly reversed the car and pulled out of the street. Kaoru watched him suspiciously.
It was very strange. Why did he throw that ball? What was it?
The driver bent and pulled an electronic gadget out of his pocket. It seemed like a tape recorder. Kaoru leaned forward. He adjusted the frequency. Suddenly, the voices of Katsura and Kenshin filled the car. He was eavesdropping! Kaoru opened her eyes wide. She had no more time to think about what was going on. The ensuing conversation was too interesting to think about anything else.
"You are still a man of your word." Katsura said. "You said you wouldn't hurt her and you kept your word. Thank you."
"I'm not in the habit of venting my frustration where it doesn't belong."
"You never were." Katsura sighed. "After you left, I realised I hadn't treated you as well I should have. I never found a replacement for you." Kenshin gave him a mocking glance.
Katsura smiled. "Oh I don't mean assassins. Assassins come and go, but a true follower of the cause is rare to find. Even today….I never found anyone who believed in the principle of our struggle as strongly as you did."
"I'm a very rare type of fool."
"Fool? You were never a fool Kenshin."
Kenshin laughed. "You haven't changed one bit Katsura. Still trying to recruit me?"
Katsura looked at him eagerly. "I can give you anything, anything you want. Power, money…..anything. You can take charge anyway you want. Change things, make rules, break rules, do things your way….anything you want."
Kenshin yawned. He flipped his coat aside to reveal a katana strapped to his waist.
"The problem with you Katsura, is that you jump to conclusions and you talk too much. You talk and talk and talk and you get on my nerves. I have to use every ounce of control to keep from cutting you into ribbons." Kenshin spoke huskily. His eyes were dark.
"Now, start talking. What happened to Shishio?"
"Shishio…..he joined about a year after you did and as I remember you two were quite friendly."
"You're trying my patience Katsura." He replied warningly.
"well, what do you want to know?" Katsura blurted out.
"I heard an interesting story. I heard that you offered him a berth in government but somehow, a week before his instatement in office, he was killed. You launched an inquiry and found nothing. So…..what happened?"
Katsura took a deep breath. "Kenshin…you must believe me when I tell you this. I had nothing to do with it."
"Just get it over with."
"He was getting too headstrong. Kept coming up with outlandish, irresponsible schemes. He abused his power to bully and pressurise people into agreeing with him. It was getting out of hand."
"He knew too much."
"That's not it. He was getting out of control. Something had to be done! He was insane!"
"So you had him killed."
"I knew nothing about it. I would stopped them if I knew."
"It would never have come to this if only he had kept to his own affairs. But he didn't. He started snooping around, keeping tabs and….he found something. Shishio tried to blackmail us with it. Kenshin….try and understand. There are many hard decisions that have to be taken in war. We took those decisions. Decisions that seem wrong and cruel now but were necessary then. You lived through that time, you know how things went. We couldn't have done anything else!"
"They ambushed him. They had him cornered by firing squad and shot. And then….to make sure he was dead, they burned his body."
Kaoru clamped her hand over her mouth. She stared at the recorder. The voices had stopped. There was an eerie silence.
Katsura shuddered. "Kenshin, believe me. I found out too late. I would never have allowed it if I had known. But they did not tell me until it was all over. I could do nothing."
'You killed him to cover up your own black deeds. You made him a scapegoat."
"Kenshin…please understand. I had nothing against him. I would have done anything to save him but I didn't know! I can't change that."
"You could have stopped them. There's not a single step taken without you knowing Katsura, and don't try telling me otherwise." He turned and started to walk away.
Katsura panicked suddenly. "Kenshin! What are you going to do?"
Kenshin stopped. He turned. "Nothing."
"Kenshin! I've told you everything you wanted to know! Believe me! I knew nothing! I had nothing to do with it!"
Kenshin kept walking.
Kaoru fell back into the plush seat of the car. The driver shut the recorder and quickly put it away. He jumped out and held the door open for Katsura. Katsura climbed in.
Kaoru sat up immediately. She watched quietly as her uncle mopped his forehead with a large handkerchief. He didn't seem to notice her presence. He was lost in a world of his own.
She licked her lips and took a deep breath. "Uncle?"
Katsura shuddered. He looked up with a start. His face visibly relaxed at the sight of her face.
"Kaoru…child, are you alright? You….I mean….he didn't do anything….did he?"
"He kept his word." she said flatly. Whatever she had heard over the tape recorder had changed her perspective on the events of the past few days. Misao had not lied to her….about anything. She had told her the truth…about Kenshin, and about her uncle. The question was - what was she going to do about it now?
As the car drove away, Kaoru turned to catch a final glimpse of the man who had kidnapped her.
"Well you know Miss Kaoru, if our circumstances were slightly different, I have no doubts that you would have been positively my most favourite person."
"You look cute. Few women could manage that in a ruined dress and mangled hair but you still do it Miss Kaoru."
"If that is all the assurance you want, I'll make it clear to you. I will never hurt you Miss Kaoru. And I apologise for everything I've put you through in the past four months."
Kaoru pressed the palm of her hand against the window glass. She was going further and further away from him. And for some peculiar reason, it hurt. It hurt to see him walk away. It hurt to watch him fade into the distance. It hurt to know that she might never see him again.
Friends, readers, countrymen…I have finally updated something! Yayyyyy. Rejoice!
I hope this chapter lives up to the expectations and hopefully the other stories should be seeing an update soon as well. I will be posting the update to LLE soon.