Series disclaimer for this and all subsequent chapters.: Rurouni Kenshin is the work of Nobuhiro Watsuki. I am only using these characters for entertainment purposes. If you enjoy this, you will probably enjoy Nobuhiro Wtsuki's work even more. Go buy it. You'll enjoy it.
AN: To my readers of my other fic I am working diligently on Psyche! I just realized I was dragging my feet since I didn't know what I would do without it, so to get myself over that problem, I started this.
Terms of Engagement
Chapter One: Know Thy Enemy
A very wise man said to know thy enemy as one of the tenets of achieving victory over enemies. However, what to do when the information you get about your enemy has so little hope in it?
Toki sighed and set the letter down on the table before her and lifted her tea cup to take a sip, letting the delicate flavor soothe her. So far all she had received on her enemy pointed out a formidable foe. One that she wasn't entirely sure she could achieve victory over. This was not entirely bad news. She did love a challenge, but not now, not when the stakes were so high.
She flipped one handedly through an accumulated stack of letters and reviewed her findings that she had carefully gleaned from the wives, sisters, mothers, courtesans and other female, at least to male eyes, thus non-important people.
Saitou Hajime (aka: The Wolf of Mibu),
Oh be still my romantic heart, Toki rolled her eyes as a voice that sounded suspiciously like her aunt Ayaa commented in the back of her head. Aunt Ayaa had died an old spinster with a wickedly sharp sense of humor, and a naughty gleam in her old eyes.
Wake one hour before dawn
Which makes him either dedicated, a troubled sleeper, strange, or all of the previous.
Sword practice- exercise
Dedicated? Or psychotic? Both? Neither? Nice muscles probably…
Breakfast-Favorite food: soba, brown rice tea, and liche fruit
Definitely simple food to cook
Briefing with his superiors
Knows how to take orders? Or is he a condescending ass?
Not pleasant…most I ever get is that he is doing his duty. Which translates into he goes out and uses some of that sword practice on pedestrians…
Lunch- Often eaten at stands. Pays for food. Is courteous but not friendly.
That is nice. Most of the Shinsengumi don't bother paying…
Return to report to superiors
Are they checking up on him because they don't trust him? Or is the information he gathers that important?
More soba- I wonder if it is just bad cooking on the part of the company's cook?
Even more patrol
Must patrol every inch of Kyoto twice a day. I'm surprised I haven't seen him rummaging through my laundry.
Return to headquarters
Doesn't join his fellows in drinking after patrol? Hmmm…antisocial?
And it starts again…
Bathes once a day, sometimes twice
Considering what he does on patrol, I'm not surprised… Otherwise he'd look like he stepped out of a butcher shop.
He even eats it at the stands…Touchy stomach? Nerves? Stress? Has no taste in food?
Starting to smoke western cigarettes.
He's fighting against the Westerners, but takes up their habits? Odd… and smelly
Visits a geisha house once a week. Visits the same woman- Mei
In love? Disease possible. Lovely what the West has given us…
Ever. Need more information about this… not that I'm complaining
When talking, he doesn't address women except lower class women, then only to give orders. Higher class women are ignored.
Typical… Womanstupid, thus not worth talking to. Still need more information before making final judgment.
Specializes in gatotsu sword style.
Never heard of it…Need more information. Still, he does specialize in something, which shows dedication and discipline.
Takes care of his appearance- Clothes clean, pressed, hair always neat, all…accessories… cleaned and well cared for.
Does he do it, or the servants?
Judgmental- calls his men, servants, and others derogatory names. Has limited tolerance for idiocy- his own judgment on himself.
A rather big fault. And a dangerous one to have. This I could work with.
Intelligent- there were numerous reports that brought this conclusion to her attention. Analytical. Methodical. Able to take different disparate bits of information and put them together into a coherent whole.
That was not good. The man is no fool…except…maybe…
Toki flipped to a description of his woman, Mei. Apparently she was a delicate, classical beauty with porcelain skin, tiny bone structure, a soft oval face, dark eyes, a low cultured voice, and elaborately decorated silky black hair. Mei would generally greet him in the main room, take Saitou back to her own quarters, formally serve tea- brown rice tea- then…
Toki twitched uncomfortably.
Then a pretty standard –apparently- coupling with Mei submissively receiving Saitou's attentions. The only oddity was that Saitou liked Western style kissing. How…disgusting. After the coupling, Saitou would leave. No lingering goodbyes. No presents. No sweet words. No conversation. Just redressing and returning to headquarters to bathe and sleep.
She set all the letters aside, and sat holding her now empty tea cup and looking out the window at the tiny garden in the back of the house she lived in. The neighbors on the other side of the fence had thrown some trash over again, this time crushing a small chrysanthemum plant. She made a mental note to have the plant replaced and to have someone return their trash to them, as she weighed the information before her.
Could Mei be the weak point to strike at? Mei was chosen from a rather large population of public women. Which could indicate that Mei was his preferred type of woman. Traditional, small, submissive, delicate, an old fashion beauty. With Saitou's apparent distain of women, that could give her, if she was careful, a weapon to use against him.
Toki got up and walked over to a nearby arrangement of flowers that sat in a wide bowl of water. Peering in she could make out her own features. She pursed her lips as she critically examined what she had to work with. She was small. Her face was oval, but slightly more sharp featured than classical beauties depicted in art, with a narrower chin and higher cheekbones. Her eyes were a rare blue color and large. Her teeth small and strait. Her brows were delicately arched, her skin smooth and, thanks to the dangers of stepping out into public with a civil war going on, pale. Quite adequate for most daily interactions… but maybe… she narrowed her eyes, not the look she wanted for the upcoming… battle.
With a small smile, she called for her serving woman. It was almost time for her to meet her enemy in combat. They would need ammunition and there wasn't much time. This was one time she needed to be at her very best. She couldn't afford to lose. It was time to put on her armor and prepare her weapons..
The sheer amount of mindless babble that he was forced to put up with on a daily basis was truly incredible. Usually, he could escape by patrolling, practicing, or merely growling menacingly at the idiots that surrounded him. However, the head idiot was immune to the growling, insisted on practicing with him, and refused to leave him alone.
"Come on Saitou," the head idiot, also known as his best friend Okita, called. "Don't you want a glimpse? They should be here soon."
They. The women. The major complication that his superiors, in their divine wisdom, decided to inflict on their officers. Which meant him. Great. Lovely. Just what he needed to make his existence complete. They were in the middle of a bloody, violent, war, with their enemies sniffing for even a tiny weakness, so of course he needed a wife. Some weak piece of fluff he'd have to protect, provide for, and spend even more of his limited time dealing with. How nice of them to think of it.
"There they are." One of his men yelled excitedly.
Perfect. Wonderful. Sepuku was looking good. It would at least be restful. He was starting to forget what sleep was like. He could vaguely recall something about closing his eyes and relaxing. Two activities he hadn't had the luxury of doing for… he started worrying when he couldn't remember when he last indulged in those activities. Sleep was after all a physical necessity.
"Too bad it's raining." Another idiot commented. "I can't see them with their hoods."
"Wow. They're actually here." Okito elbowed his way out of the crowd around the window that had gathered to watch the women arrive.
Yay. Spoken like someone who wasn't supposed to get married shortly, and was trying to cudgel his mind into coming up with some sort of plan to escape that fate. Not that he had much choice, or chance of avoiding the match, considering the wording of the order, not to mention the glares from his superiors.
He could hear the group come into the courtyard below them; soft tap of feet, the quiet murmurs of female voices, the rap on the door as one of the women's chaperones knocked. He shook himself free of his personal cloud of doom, as Okita slapped him on the shoulder.
"Lucky man! Bet she's a beauty." His best friend, who he was presently considering practicing gatotsu on, laughed.
He grunted and stood up. The ladies were making their way up the stairs in a rush of silks, slippered feet, and perfume to make his life hell. He glanced around at the other men who would be blessed today and found them cowering together in a far corner looking like mice who just noticed a cat was watching them. He would have liked to make a comment, but he had a suspicion that he was looking a bit cornered too.
His commander, Serizawa, probably to make sure there would be no sudden rushes for freedom on either side, escorted the girls in and looked pointedly around at his men. The chaperones bustled in next to their charges, urging them to take off their coats, and demanding tea to warm their ladies up.
As the hoods came off, Saitou was semi-relieved to see that his commander had at least chosen women that were beautiful, elegant, with gentle, cultured manners. Each one was perfect for respected officers, who would one day command positions of respect in the Tokagawa government. Which of course was the whole point of this. Thanks to a few fools, the Shinsengumi was getting a reputation as a group of thugs. To show the people, and more importantly the government, that they were upstanding citizens honorably serving their country, the commanders had chosen to make the officers more respectable. In other words, make them married men with doting wives and happy children.
Some of the mice from the corner ventured closer as the commander started introducing the women and pairing them, with their attendants in tow, with their assigned betrothed to get acquainted. Saitou was the last to be called, apparently his lady –his lady… What were the gods thinking?- was still struggling with her cloak.
"Can't wait can you?" Okita whispered excitedly in his ear.
He drove his elbow back, catching his friend sharply in the side.
"Hey, don't be like that." Okita gasped, rubbing his abused ribs. "Look at the others, she's going to be… Oh."
His intended finally got her robe off and turned to give him a shy smile. He shivered. Okita standing next to him seemed to be choking on his own breath. The men who had been grinning like fools before, had all collectively blinked, and their smiles were faltering into snickers.
He of course would get the exception. She looked… well… his horse seemed to resemble her. Mind you Kaze was a fine animal, that he was rather proud of in a teenagerly way. But it didn't mean he wanted to marry the animal, or anyone that seemed to have a family resemblance to said animal.
While the others had been willowy, and elegant, his beloved seemed…study. Her skin was not just fair, it surpassed even fashionably pale, it was pasty. Probably due to her trying to hide the fair amount of acne eruptions that spread in lumps over her face, neck, and if he wasn't mistaken, shoulders. The teeth she flashed him were large, crooked, and… sorry Kaze… horse like. Her hair was caught up into an overly elaborate style with some of the most… ornate combs he'd ever seen, much less seen all at once stuck into almost military rows in hair that looked…sorry again Kaze… like it had all the softness and luster of a horse's tail. Her eyes were heavily kholed and squinty but in the dim light of the room seemed to be bluish. Her hands were good, covered in a multitude of gaudy rings, but small and smooth.
Serizawa winced, then facing Saitou, put on a stern look, "Here is the… lovely… Tokio. Why don't you two go over…" he looked around the room where the other men, looking both shocked and relieved at their near escape, sat with their flower-like future wives. He finally pointed to the corner the men had been huddled in before. "there and get to know each other."
Translation: Too bad. Now fling yourself on the blade of matrimony and face your fate like a man. Saitou bowed, and took a step back to let Tokio step past him. Okita looked worried as the stout lady minced coyly by, heading for the table. A cloud of overused, perfume wafted off her and attacked their noses.
"You're next, you know." Saitou snarled as he followed his fate obediently. "The next round of marriages is next month."
Okita gulped, but was mercifully silent as Saitou trudged after his soon to be blushing bride. Tokio had settled, or rather thumped her meaty back end down on a chair and was now gawking around the room.
"Oh, isn't that cute. They have games." Her voice had all the melodic quality of….a cow lowing in a pasture. There, Kaze, I spared you…
She pointed at a row of names and numbers that were posted on a wall with colored pins next to some of the names. Saitou winced and wondered what genius had left the assassination list posted like that for all to read.
"It's so nice that they think of things like that. War must be so dull." She laughed a laugh that would have made a lesser man wince.
Saitou, trained to endure pain stoically merely nodded. Why me? My kids are all going to be morons. "You can't imagine. But they seem to find ways to keep us busy." Curse them. Damn them. May they all rot in hell. "May I get you some tea?"
She brayed another laugh that had the happy couple a few tables over glancing over in pity and disgust. "Oh, I do love tea. Mind you, I like it extra, extra strong." She flashed him a smile that showed him that not only were her teeth large and crooked, but yellow as well. Probably from all that extra, extra strong tea.
Saitou bowed and walked calmly to the kitchen, hoping it didn't look too much like an escape. The cooks were already preparing a meal sure to impress the ladies. He eyed the feast tiredly. He'd have to chomp through all that with her. Worse, it was only the first of many such happy meals. He eyed the kitchen knives speculatively. They all looked decently sharp and more than adequate for gutting himself.
"Tea. Extra, extra strong." He grumbled to an assistant cook.
The assistant looked puzzled. "Extra, extra?"
"Just pour some water in a pot then add a few spoonfuls of tea. Four or five should do." Saitou was nothing if not attentive to his future wife's needs.
The cook picked up one of the dainty tea pots that they had purchased just for this occasion and went to destroy perfectly good water. When he came back and handed the now steaming pot over, Saitou trudged back to the table.
"Oh, there you are." His darling grinned, absently picking at one of the lumpy eruptions on her neck. "I was feeling deserted."
Desertion. Now there is a concept. He glanced around to find Serizawa standing guard at the door. Not that he would actually do so, but… He glanced over to his bride to be watching as she poured herself a cup of tea and gulped the horridly bitter mixture down with a pleased smack of her lips.
He cleared his throat that seemed to be closing up on him. "So tell me about yourself. What do you like to do?"
As she thunked her elbows down on the table with a pleased smile, he wondered if he could find the Battousai and get into a life or death battle tomorrow. The man could be infuriatingly elusive, but he had incentive. Lots of incentive. Unfortunately, it was incentive to let the Battousai carve him into fillets, then thank the manslayer for putting him out of his misery, but it was either that or …marriage.