Katsu and Saitoh deserve some action, dammit! Here's my response to the low air time that the two coolest "bad guys" of the series received. Katsu and Saitoh supporters unite!*looks over reviews* Oh my, if the worst you have to give me is "taking too long to update", then I must be better off than I thought! *laughs* Thank you for being so incredibly nice, your reviews really are making me update faster =)
The Handcuff Chronicles--
"Ahou. What kind of trouble has that idiot gotten himself into now?" Saitoh Hajime casually followed Yahiko through the streets of Tokyo, sliding into the shadows when needed or when the boy would suspect something amiss.
Che. Battousai needs to train you more, brat.
Even a lesser swordsman would detect something like that. Or... he smirked and stepped on his cigarette. "Maybe I'm just that good." Yahiko barreled into the home of Tsukioka Katsuhiro and slammed open the shoji. Saitoh tilted his head to try to hear what the boy was saying. Through their silhouettes shining onto the dirt street, he could recognize exactly what they were talking about.
No doubt the kid saw something pertaining to Takani and that idiot.
It had to be that. In fact, Saitoh had just gone to check on the two in the clinic but they had departed. There were no lights on inside and no one sleeping within. Saitoh had quietly snuck into the house and left just the same way when he realized the two were gone. It would amaze people to know that Saitoh Hajime was watching them this way without their knowledge.
He stepped out of the darkness and assumed his position, back against a wall of a house, eyes downcast, and trademark cigarette dangling out of his mouth. Just a split second later the artist and the boy slid the door open. "Where are you going, Tsukioka?"
"What the hell are you doing here?" Yahiko pointed his bokken at Saitoh.
He puffed on his cigarette. "Nice to see you too, kid."
Katsu's eyes glimmered and he started to walk down the wooden stairs descending from his house to the street below. "You're supposed to be watching them, Captain. It disappoints me to know you're not doing your job."
Saitoh smugly threw his cigarette to the ground and crushed it beneath his polished leather shoes. "It disappoints me that I had to get more people involved in this case, namely a brat and an artist." He glared at Katsu. "Or should I say, bomb specialist and anti-government newspaper editorialist?"
"Who you calling brat, you dumb old cop!"
Katsu gave Saitoh a smirk worthy of... well, Saitoh. "So it's nice to know that you at least do your research."
"Why did you inform this man instead of Battousai?"
Yahiko shrugged. "I knew he lived close by. I didn't want to take the whole evening to get back to Kenshin, and I also thought that since he knew underground stuff, it might be handy to have him. I'm going back now to tell Kenshi—" A hand quicker than light shot out and grabbed Yahiko by the collar of his gi. Saitoh lifted the hapless boy into the air as he thrashed wildly. "Put me down!! What... what are you doing?!"
Katsu and Saitoh nodded at each other, assuming some unspoken communication. Katsu slid the door open to his apartment again and stepped out of the way. Saitoh spoke soothingly as he could while dragging Yahiko up the stairs. "Nothing against you, kid, but I can't have you in this operation. Telling Battousai would interfere with our plans. Now be a good boy and hold still." Yahiko swung his bokken like a madman and managed to get repeated hits to the Saitoh's face all while shouting furiously. However, the ex-captain of the Shinsengumi was just annoyed even more. Saitoh dropped the boy to the ground and gave him a swift knee in the stomach. Yahiko collapsed to the ground, unmoving.
Katsu closed the door and gave one last look over his shoulder. "Are you sure you didn't hurt him?"
Saitoh took another cigarette out of his pocket and tried to find a light. He shrugged, "Nah, he shouldn't be hurt too much. It will at least render him immobile until morning."
"You just didn't want Himura Kenshin to become involved." Katsu reached into his sleeves and pulled out a match for Saitoh. He struck it in between two fingers and held it out for Saitoh to take. "Battousai would only slow us down; is that your reasoning?"
Saitoh shook his head and smiled ever so slightly. "I don't want him to become involved because he is not needed. Besides... two versus a houseful of guards and an assassin is better odds than two with one decrepit, deteriorating hitokiri."
He's... he's not dead!
After taking the two back to the mansion, he removed the handcuff from the woman doctor and set her temporarily on the ground beside where he stood. He was ready to take Zanza once more over his shoulder to bury him until he saw something that made him gasp. In disbelief, Raimi saw the ghostlike pallor of Zanza's skin slowly turn pinker with each passing moment by the candlelight. He noted the steady rise and fall of his breathing and instantly felt hatred.
That's why I did not smell death...
Maybe it was being born in Africa, but nearly all of his people had a special enhanced sense. Normally, it was smell. After all, scent was the thing that bonded the people together. Young and old, they all knew the smell of death just as they knew the smell of food or of the women's rivers. It was this incredible heightened sense that allowed him to be such a good hunter. He could smell just exactly what the animal was thinking and what its emotions were by the slight pheromones it gave off. It gave Raimi a valuable insight into what their next actions were.
Zanza wasn't moving. He may have been alive and breathing, but it didn't look like he was going to wake up. Third Sister always called this phenomenon "The Black Sleep". 'It was a nightmare from which the dreamer would never awake,' said Third Sister. He had only seen it in animals, but just from the way Zanza breathed Raimi knew at once that humans can suffer from it too.
I should kill him right now.
He turned his head to look over at his prize on the floor. Unlike Zanza, Megumi was shivering in her clothing, her damp hair splayed over the cobblestone floor like a black mesh.
She could die too.
Without thinking, Raimi bent over and hoisted the woman over one shoulder. Her icy kimono against his neck made him shiver as well. He chose to let Zanza live: if he had seen correctly with all those animals, they died within so long anyways. Besides, if Megumi would not cooperate, there would always be that threatening factor. He could use the gangster as bait.
After sawing through Megumi's part of handcuff, he took her to the only room with a fireplace perpetually burning and gently set her down on a couch. Dragging that piece of furniture so that it was in front of the warmth took some effort across the carpet, but Raimi had his mind on more important matters. When he had cut off the handcuff on her right wrist, the back and forth motion made the saw almost impossible to control. Megumi escaped unharmed except for a thin vertical slash on the inside of her palm. It wasn't bleeding much, but it was still enough to call attention to. Raimi also discerned a red ring encircling her wrist, no doubt from the chafing of the cumbersome manacle.
Must help her...
Throwing open a cupboard door, he fumbled for all the needed supplies. He came up with a heavy white sheet he could use to change her clothing into, a huge bear skin rug to cover her, and some medical supplies. Her breathing was becoming shallow and her skin was even paler than the hair on top of his head. The only thing that showed color was the red paint on her lips, and Raimi wondered if the skin underneath was blue.
A knock at the door startled him from his pathway of thoughts. Raimi chose to ignore it for the time being and unraveled a bandage. He waited for a couple more minutes, hoping the intruder would just go away. A second knock came, this time louder and more insistent. And then, an annoyed voice. "Washimoto sent me. Open the door now."
He ran to the door and flung it open. The voice asked, "You have Takani Megumi?" He was a courier sent by Washimoto Hoshino in Aizu to check up on Raimi's progress. Every week, it was someone totally different. This man was small and quirky; a weird habit he had was he would blink frequently after every sentence. Raimi found this man's mannerisms absolutely annoying, but didn't want to say anything.
Raimi nodded, but did not meet the man's eyes. He did not want to look over his shoulder for fear of giving the man her position. "... yes... I have... doctor woman." The two were standing outside the door where Megumi was held. Raimi looked to either side of him. There was not another soul in sight...
They call themselves guards...
The man fluttered his eyelids and grinned. "Good, I'll tell Washimoto-san at once. He shall be very pleased to—"
A sharp hit to the back of his head served the purpose of rendering the man unconscious. Raimi flexed his wrist in pain; it was so much easier to knock them out using his buig plak. This man could not return back to Aizu. That meant that Takani's Megumi's time would be over before it would even start. He certainly couldn't hide him... For the love of the woman, there was only one other option: death. Why did it seem that he could not kill as freely as he used to? Had his heart grown soft? He could not kill Zanza, even though he had adequate reasons to. Now he couldn't bring himself to kill this man.
Raimi reasoned that no one would miss such an irritating little character, dead or alive. However, the people in Aizu would probably come to Tokyo themselves. They kept remarkable tabs on all their personnel, regardless of annoyance factor. Washimoto himself would come to Tokyo to pick up the doctor anyways...
He cursed for not thinking the matter thoroughly before went ahead and hurt the man. Maybe it was a sign of protectiveness; he did not want the spoils of his war to be taken from him before he had the chance to know her. Maybe he thought that he had time. In fact, time was against him. He did not know for what purpose his master wanted this woman, but it certainly couldn't have been good. Washimoto's seeming urgency set off warning bells inside Raimi's head.
I'm a traitor.
He refused to think about such matters further. Without another thought, he slung the body of the courier over his shoulders and opened the window in the hallway. He hopped on top of the ledge and peered below. A couple of men were roaming the premises, watching for intruders. Raimi rolled his eyes; how anyone could call those men guards was beyond him. They were just young men who didn't know the first thing about protecting a house.
Raimi seriously doubted that they even knew he had gone missing during the night.
Sighing at the ineptitude of the men that Washimoto had sent to "guard" Raimi, he stepped off the ledge of the second story floor window. The man groaned slightly when Raimi made contact with the ground, but he wasn't afraid of being caught. Even though this man was technically their comrade, he was not one of the guards, and therefore would not be found until morning rounds. Once that happened, they would know by the little eagle lapel pin on his jacket sleeve and alert the people in Aizu...
Skipping across the yard and staying as low to the ground as he could, Raimi then jumped over the high stone wall. Without missing a beat, he landed on the other side and glanced around him. No one had seen anything. He shook his head again and slung the man off his shoulder. The man groaned louder this time, but a swift kick to the head stopped that. Raimi propped him up against a large oak tree and made it look as if he was merely sleeping on the job. He wouldn't arouse suspicion until morning when the guards saw blood on the side of the man's head.
It was far better to keep this man out in the open and center blame on everyone else but Raimi instead of making himself look suspicious. If the people in Aizu so much as suspected foul play and a disappearance, they would be in Tokyo in less than two days. This way, they wouldn't look at it as more than a simple beating this unfortunate fellow received at the hands of a madman. They would still come, but the latter could take upwards of two weeks. Especially since Raimi refused to deliver the promised package of the woman doctor, he wanted to take as much time as possible.
For her sake.
A fortnight. Two weeks. The waxing and waning of the new moon back to new moon again. That's all the time Raimi could buy Takani Megumi. He deftly sprang across the yard with the agility of a jungle cat and shimmied up to the second story window. He closed the giant library door behind him and proceeded to wrap up the woman doctor's hand more.
I have only done this with animals... never a human...
When Katsu and Saitoh had made it to their destination, it was already morning. "Hey, are you sure this is the place?"
Katsu shrugged, stretched a hand out, and touched the iron gates. "This would be the only place that makes sense. Besides, I hear that at nighttime there are guards roaming around. Why would guards watch a dilapidated mansion for no apparent reason?"
"Good point." Saitoh leaned against the gate and peered inside. There was no one in sight, but Katsu didn't know that. "How do you know there aren't guards waiting on the other side of this wall?"
The artist grinned. "I don't. I only have a hunch that they only guard at night..."
Instead of getting a reaction typical of Saitoh --which was nothing--, his hand shot to his katana by his side. He was glaring at something directly behind Katsu. "Your hunch might be wrong, Tsukioka..." Katsu reached into his sleeves and whirled around, holding the fuse of a sakuretsu bomb between two fingers. He at once saw what Saitoh was looking at.
A guard. Hiding on the ground behind a large tree.
Katsu prepared to light the bomb but nearly dropped it in surprise when cold metal flashed in front of his face. Thankfully, the cold metal belonged to Saitoh. "Don't do anything rash. Look at him."
A closer look at the guard said that he wasn't a guard at all. Saitoh stepped closer and examined the man. The man did not make any movement whatsoever. Instead of doing his job, he appeared to be taking a morning snooze.
Saitoh looked down at the man. "No, unconscious," he answered while examining the side of the man's head. "Probably some unlucky bastard who got too close to house at night and got the hell beaten out of him." He disdainfully wiped off his immaculate white gloves as if flecks of dead skin only he could see made it less white.
He turned to walk away, but Katsu lingered a moment longer. "He has a pin."
Katsu made a sound of contempt. "What does the eagle mean?" This man spoke too often in riddles for his taste. Certainly an odd man, this Saitoh Hajime. Very stubborn. People were rarely like that in Japan anymore; so willing to fight for their beliefs even if it led to their undoing.
As if to confirm Katsu's opinion of him, he answered simply. "Washimoto Hoshino. You should know that by now, Tsukioka." He flicked a cigarette onto the ground and peered around him. "Why aren't there any people around here? There are no passersby."
"No one would ever dare come this close during the day. I mean, look around Saitoh." Indeed, he was right. Although it was already midmorning, the mansion was secluded enough away from the rest of Tokyo so that no one for miles would ever come this way. And who would want to? There was nothing to see except a crumbling house. "You should know that by now, Saitoh."
"Whatever. We must watch for guards. Surprises like that one could be deadly."
"Deadly?" Katsu echoed with a grin. "I thought you could handle this."
Saitoh smirked. "I meant deadly for them."
Katsu reached into his sleeves again and pulled out a shiny round ball. His eyes shone. "Just in case there are guards..." he threw it up into the air. The bomb sailed over the wall and disappeared from sight. "You might want to move," Katsu suggested.
Saitoh heedlessly strode over to where Katsu was standing. Almost immediately, the section of the wall behind Saitoh exploded in a mess of dirt of rocks. Katsu nodded. "There's a back entrance to the mansion. We should be able to find Sanosuke and his woman friend inside." The two bolted all the way around the perimeter of the wall and effortlessly scaled the back wall. The artist displayed amazing, unexpected skill and cleared the wall in one jump. Saitoh, realizing that one jump was too much work for someone of his "class"; he jumped once, unsheathed his katana and drove it into the wall underneath his feet all in the same instant. He then used the blade as a springboard and it catapulted him up on top of the wall beside Katsu. The katana, purposely not driven in too well by Saitoh, recoiled and sprang forth from the wall. It flew into the air above the two heads. While having enough time to take a drag from his cigarette, the blade whizzed back down to earth as the man neatly caught it in its sheath.
The artist merely rolled his eyes at the impressive display. Sure, he was impressed, but damned as hell if he would show it. "Not bad."
Saitoh opened one eye. "Same can be said for you." Faraway shouts and footsteps could be heard and Katsu gladly saw that his little distraction worked. At least twenty guards had run outside and were busily inspecting the damage. A few others were spreading out into the plains area beside the road to look for the perpetrators. One thought to look behind the house, but unfortunately, but the time he got around on the outside, Saitoh and Katsu were already inside.
When Megumi finally woke up, she found herself unbearably cold. Some sort of incredibly heavy sheet was pressed over the top of her, trapping her in suffocating black space. The last thing she remembered was... staring straight into the face of her killer. Now trapped with only the sound of her own breathing and unbearable sweat making her feel sticky all over, she did what any normal person would do: panic.
I'm dead! Oh God, I'm dead!!
Genzai-sensei told her that he imagined death to be ensnared with no way out. Judging by her current situation and the feeling of being unable to move any of her limbs, his words on death became a frightening reality.
Don't panic! Don't give in, Megumi!
Still panting heavily from fear, against every instinct in her body, she ignored the rushing blood in her ears obeyed the voice. Her well-tuned medical reasoning took over, even if it was just a small foothold, it was the only thing she could do to keep her sanity.
If I am truly dead, I can't feel anything.
She turned her head to look at her left hand that was lying across her stomach. Slowly, the fingers curled and uncurled. Megumi realized that she wasn't dead at all, but under some sort of fur blanket. It had to be fur because the underside felt leathery. That accounted for how heavy it felt. What she believed to be the "vestments of otherworldly beings" just happened to be a white sheet, wrapped around her and pinned up at one shoulder, leaving the other shoulder bare in the manner of ancient Grecians.
Megumi nearly laughed at herself for overreacting. She reached up and tentatively poked her head out of her fleecy prison. Overhead, the first thing she saw was the incredible amount of detail on the high vaulted ceiling. There was no line where the walls met the ceiling; it tapered off into a circular rotunda above. Gold vines and arabesque frescoes lined a giant painting of cherubim surrounding a tree that Megumi had never seen before.
She was lying on a settee with no back, but her head was raised so she could see on all sides of her. To her left, dim rays of light were streaming in through a burgundy draped window that stretched from floor to ceiling. Whether it was early morning or late afternoon, she didn't know. A fire in a brick hearth blazed to the right of her, but it was nearly all burnt out.
How long have I been sleeping?
She didn't have time to contemplate this thought as her attention was drawn to the vast universe of books that lined the walls. Black books, small books, old books, books of every shape, size and color were everywhere, so much so that the color of the walls could only be seen in between the shelves. It was awe-inspiring; Megumi had never seen so many books in her lifetime, let alone at one time.
Where is Sanosuke?
Her breathing almost stopped when she realized that she wasn't the only one breathing. And not only that, but the sound was coming from very close to her right ear, on the same side as the fireplace. It was to her right, so she expected to wake up and see Sanosuke's face. It all had to be a horrible, horrible dream. She couldn't have lived that night; it wasn't possible. Sanosuke was lying right beside her, just as he should be. Megumi turned her head to see an unruly mop of curly white hair.
She sat up, making sure that she did not disturb the mysterious person. She trusted her instinct, if it had been dangerous, she would have felt it by now. Instead, what she saw stunned her beyond words.
He's... he's just a boy!
A pile of bandages and one pair of opened scissors lay in his lap, scattered in disarray. He was wearing a skirt of some kind, but it wasn't at all feminine. It appeared to be made of some sort of burlap, like the kind on flour bags. He was using the edge of the settee as a sort of prop against while he slept. His legs were both together and perfectly in line with the rest of his body, he faced the fire and was hunched over with his chin almost touching his chest. Megumi caught the faint sparkle of some sort of jewel on his bandana.
That wasn't the oddest thing about him, however. While her father always said that white hair meant a person of supernatural stature, but it was his skin that intrigued her. She had always been perplexed by something different, and this was different. His skin was a dark, deep brown color. Africa, he father said, was where you find people with black skin.
He must be African. What is he doing here?
Judging from his looks, she estimated his age to be roughly seventeen years of age, and well muscled for his thin frame.
He must be a slave.
She momentarily forgot about Sanosuke and thought for a few seconds. If she were to just get up and look for him, it would arouse suspicion. Since this boy obviously wasn't her kidnapper, she reasoned, he was kidnapped along with her. Seeing absolutely no reason to do what she was going to do, she cautiously placed a hand on his shoulder. In an instant, he was on his feet, bandages and scissors tumbling onto the carpet from his lap. The whole movement took Megumi by surprise.
"Are you..." she started to speak, but stopped when she realized that the boy blinked twice at her. At first, he looked scared, and then something in his eyes softened. He curiously tilted his head to the side and blinked again. Megumi didn't know what to say to him. It seemed like he was at a loss for words as well.
What can I say? He probably doesn't speak Japanese.
The boy looked embarrassed. He bent over and picked up all the strewn supplies over the floor, his face to the ground with his hair covering it. He fumbled with all of them, but a bandage roll kept slipping out of his reach. Once he picked it up, it would always fall out of his grasp. Megumi made a move to help him, but this only made things worse. He timidly dropped everything in his arms and backed up against the fireplace, still watching her.
Always watching her.
She watched his line of sight. It went directly to her right arm. Now Megumi saw what the bandages and scissors were for, the boy had wrapped up her right hand and wrist. It wasn't the best job in the world, but the way he tied the knot on her wrist was well done. The handcuff was gone.
Where is Sanosuke?!
She imploringly reached her bandaged arm towards him and asked gently, "Are you a slave too?"
The boy stared at her for a moment longer and nodded slowly. She smiled a little, and his shoulders relaxed. He smiled back. "Please, where is Sanosuke?" The boy took his left hand and made a circle around his right wrist. He was using some sort of body language, and that must mean handcuff, she thought. "Yes, yes that's it... where is he?" Something flashed across his eyes and he shook his head at her. He knelt to his knees and started to pick up the bandages again.
"Can you speak my language? Do you..." He looked up at her, and Megumi momentarily stopped. The boy looked sad. "Can you understand what I'm saying?"
This certainly would have to rank as one of the oddest things that ever happened to her. What kind of man would take as hostage an African boy and a doctor? Was that man the same one on the street? Details blurred together in Megumi's mind; she didn't want to remember.
She decided to take the initiative and find Sanosuke herself if this boy couldn't help her. Megumi threw her legs over the other side of the couch and started to walk towards the window. There was a heavy door to the left of it. She felt remarkably calm considering the situation she was in, and she gave herself a small bit of applause for not panicking, as she would be.
There was only one thing first and foremost in her mind. Find Sanosuke.
"Don't leave me."
Megumi turned around and looked at the young boy by the fireplace, holding an assortment of bandages in his arms. His eyes were large and expressive, and the sea green jewel on his headband added to the youthful glow on his face. "Don't leave me," he repeated.
He turned his head to the right and looked at it briefly, then met Megumi's eyes. She obeyed his silent instruction and saw what he was looking at. It was a cupboard, and her purple smock and kimono lay hanging on top. There was a puddle of water on the floor directly underneath them, and the kimono was not even done dripping.
The boy nursed her back from certain death by hypothermia. She was sure that he didn't know the word, but he understood the implications. If she was okay, then Sanosuke had to be... Something in the boy's eyes had stopped her from wanting to look for Sanosuke. It was a wild look of urgency. "Why shouldn't I go outside? I need to find someone. Do you know where Sanosuke is?"
The way Megumi reasoned, that handcuff would have been hard to get off. A night of sawing alone could take until morning. Maybe this captured slave boy had seen where they had put Sanosuke. Why had their captor insisted on separating them?
"No... outside," he answered. "Bad people out."
Megumi stared at the boy for a couple of seconds longer. As if on cue, the single giant window started to make sporadic rattling noises. It sounded like it was raining. The sky was perfectly clear though from her vantage point, not a cloud in the sky. How could it be raining? She started to walk over to get a closer look, but the boy behind her dashed to the window first. He threw open the window and peered at the ground below him. A couple of hand gestures, a few words, and an angry sigh from the boy came moments later.
He shut the window and whirled around. Megumi was caught by surprise when he was by her side in an instant and pulling on her arm. "Go. Trouble. Go!" he urged, trying to get her to respond. Feeling herself completely numb from the waist down, she did whatever was asked of her. After all, where else could she go?
Who else could she trust?
The boy started to take her towards the fireplace. On the way past, Megumi managed to get enough hold on her surroundings to snatch up her kimono and smock. If there was trouble, she certainly didn't want to leave any trace of herself. "Wait..." he ordered. She did as she was told.
Looking around both ways, he bent down and started to dust off the edges of the woodwork around the hearth. After a couple of minutes of this seemingly senseless housecleaning, Megumi felt herself get frantic again. Before she raised her voice in protestation, he had completely and swiftly yanked out the paneling.
The boy turned to her with a finger on his lips. "Kyk na. Look at." He pointed into the dark passageway revealed by the wood. "A hidden tunnel?" she whispered breathlessly. What's a tunnel doing here? And behind a wooden panel? She got down on her hands and knees and tried to see as far as the cobwebs and darkness would permit her. It looked like it led to nowhere. Of course, she did not wish to go in.
"Go. Sal. Gou maak."
Megumi felt herself torn. The musty and decaying smell of the corridor did so much to sway her decision. Even though it was a matter of great urgency as seen in the boy's gestures, she found herself thinking that dying by someone else's hand was more welcome than suffocating to death.
Especially now that Sanosuke is gone...
She closed her eyes and shivered. "No, I'm not going in. I won't."
Author's notes: Yeah, Yahiko's OOC. I have good reason for him to be though. I wouldn't want a kid to be in over his head like that. What better way to protect him than kneeing him in the stomach? Saitoh's just a loving, considerate bastard like that ^_^
I apologize for the lack of information on Raimi. It's just something I work up to in later chapters. By making his past a little shady and not dropped all at once, it lends an air of mystery. The more I think about Raimi, the more lovable he becomes. He is quickly becoming my favorite character in this Chronicle series...Once again, criticism is the key to improvement. I've been watching for missing words, and the grammar is just a bad habit of laziness I develop over time. Plot? What plot? Are you sensing a plot? I certainly hope so, or else I really suck... keep on writing!