Title: Ikedaya
Rating: pg-13
Author: Mir
Email: tomodachi at gmail dot com

disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin was created by Watsuki Nobuhiro, published by Shueisha in "Jump," and produced by Sony Entertainment. All rights are theirs.

AN: This piece is based on actual events, but for various reasons (the largest one being that Himura Kenshin is a fiction character), a good deal of fiction has been woven into fact, and a bunch is just pure imagination. In the OAV's Kenshin and Tomoe do come to the Inn near the end of the action -- but I'm rearranging events around to make things a little more interesting. This is by no means an accurate factual account of the events leading up to the incident and the incident itself. It is merely a work of fanfiction.

AN2: This piece is actually one my favorites that I wrote… back in the years when I actually had time for writing and such. I'd like to go back and edit it (smooth out the rough places). Is it worth the effort?

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part 1

"Take care Sir, and be sure to tell your wife that the next shipment of coal will be in by Tuesday!" The merchant leaned against the doorway of his shop, arms folded casually across his chest and dark eyes squinting into the low afternoon sun. His words, uttered with that thick, unmistakable Kyoto accent, sliced through the damp summer heat, and he wiped a sleeve across his brow as he retreated back inside. Above his head hung a weather-beaten wooden sign: "Kiemon's Masuya Shop -- utensils, gadgets, and other paraphernalia." Above the empty street, the characters faded into fuzzy shadows as the daylight gradually disappeared.

The merchant known as Kiemon passed silently through the public area of the shop to the back and into his small kitchen. An unassuming man, mild-mannered and physically unremarkable, he'd lived by himself, running the shop day in and day out for as long as any of his neighbors could remember. They knew of no family, no close friends, no significant other in his life, but he seemed content with his solitary existence, and it wasn't polite to press him for details. After all, if a man wants to keep to himself, there's not harm in that as long as he doesn't disturb public order.

The evening air was heavy with humidity, and the merchant yawned as he sat down to his modest dinner of miso soup, rice, fish, and pickled vegetables. He reached tiredly for his chopsticks and resolved to go to bed early.

"Kotaka Shuntaro, come out! We know you're in there!" Fists banged heavily on the building's wooden frame, and the merchant's chopsticks froze midway between the bowl and his mouth. Emotion flashed rapidly across his face, first terror, then anger and determination. With uncharacteristic resolve he rose to his feet and crept toward the front of the shop, but he hadn't gone more than five or six paces when the ripping of paper and the crashing of merchandise signaled that the intruders had entered. "Find the Choushuu bastard and bring him here... alive."

There was no mistaking the undertone of disgust and distain in the command, and the merchant's heart skipped a beat whien he recognized the speaker to be the ruthless wolf of Miburo, Saitou Hajime, the leader of the third squad of the Shinsengumi. There was no place to hide in the darkened room -- not that he would have if there had been, for even merchants have their pride and dignity, but the only weapons at his disposal were his bare fists, and he knew that, with the shop surrounded by Shinsengumi, there was no hope of escape.

"There he is -- it's the Choushuu spy!" Two men burst into the room, and if the merchant had harbored any doubt, the blue striped haori and naked swords held before them were evidence enough of their intentions. Barely pausing a moment at the threshold, they rushed forward toward their unmoving target.

When they were within range, the merchant viscously lashed out with fists and feet, landing a firm kick to one man's side but swinging wide of his other opponent's head

He ducked just in time as a sword sliced through the air above him. Then, without missing a beat, he used the swordsman's momentum to his advantage and landed a punch that sent the man sprawling to the floor and his sword crashing to the ground beside him. The stench of sweat assailed his senses in the semi-darkness as he struggled to catch his breath.

"You've been a damned nuisance, Kotaka, but this is the end for you and the rest of your Choushuu Imperialist dogs." Saitou's voice echoed low and cold into the stillness a moment before his tall frame appeared in the doorway, his hand resting comfortably on the hilt of his sword. His long shadow stretched along the floor before him, cast downward by the flickering of lanterns as his back.

"Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will not win." Kotaka, alias Kiemon, a ronin samurai and long-time Choushuu spy, had known the moment he'd heard his true name that his luck had run out. To his credit, though, his only regret as he stood unarmed before the Shinsengumi captain was that he wouldn't have the satisfaction of taking down a whole unit of worthless blue-coated thugs with him. "You Shinsengumi are nothing but Bakufu pawns and Aizu lackeys." The rational part of his mind took note of Saitou's distinctive gatotsu stance, but even knowing the technique, he had nothing with which to parry the powerful horizontal thrust. His world went black, and he welcomed death as an escape from the relentless struggle of life. After all, as was understood through the code of Bushido, the most noble thing a warrior could do was die.

"It's you who has been the pawn—a pawn to foolishness and idiocy." Saitou coolly extracted his sword from the unmoving heap, flicked the blood off, and resheathed it without further comment. If Kotaka had been conscious, he would have appreciated the efficiency of motion and the calm assurance of his opponent's demeanor, but he was, of course, in no position to do so.

"Captain, sir--" The excited call dispelled the stillness, and the young swordsman, barely out of his teens, who appeared in the doorway was breathless and flushed with excitement. "-- we've found documents, papers outlining the rebels' plans, but what's more, we've found a stash of guns and ammunition in the basement!" His eager grin was perhaps more fitting for a country farmboy than for a young samurai, but he failed to notice the gleam of disapproval in his superiors' eyes or the trace of impatience in his movements.

Nodding curtly in acknowledgement, Saitou swept past his two fallen comrades out into the humid night. "Take the moron over there back to headquarters. I've some questions to ask him." And as the darkness enveloped the famed wolf of Miburo, his lip curled upward into a cool grin, part-sneer part-smile. Their informant had been correct, and the night's activities had proved useful, yes very useful indeed.

- - - - - - - - - -

"The prisoner's ready, Captain." The young man, clad in faded gray, emerged from the interior room. Known by his friends for his persistent frown and monotone voice, his demeanor was, if possible, even more dour than usual. "He's just coming 'round." He wiped his hands down the sides of his hakama, leaving moist sweaty trails across the rough fabric. "I'll leave you with him. He shouldn't give you any trouble."

The small square room, constructed with solid wooden walls instead of paper shouji, was dark save for the soft glow of lanterns which cast isolated pools of light onto the bare floor. The air was still, the heat sweltering. Hung suspended in the air by thick ropes was the merchant, his head a good distance from the floor and his feet raised above him, knees tied to his chest.

"Kotaka." At the noise the man stirred slightly, a soft moan escaping his lips. And as he opened his eyes, the blurred patches of light and dark coalesced into the tall form of Saitou Hajime still wearing his blue-striped haori, both swords at his side. The wolf emerged from the shadows, his footsteps soundless and movements effortless, nothing betraying the weariness brought about by the night's lack of sleep. "Tell me about the guns and artillery." The merchant's eyes widened slightly, but he said nothing. "We searched your basement and found everything: papers, weapons, ammunition." Saitou stood within two paces of his prisoner's head, his arms folded across his chest, his gaze cold, penetrating, unforgiving.

"If you knew everything, I'd already be dead." The merchant spat as blood dripped from the corner of his mouth, aiming for Saitou's feet but missing.

The Shinsengumi captain remained unmoving where he stood. He waited tacitly in the semi-darkness, waited like a man who had all the time in the world.

"You've lived a worthless life, Kotaka, and you'll die a worthless death regardless of anything you say or don't. How could it be any different for a man who laid aside his pride to live as a merchant spy for the most corrupt and despicable of the Ishinshishi? What else can you expect after sinking so deep into filth and corruption?" With a soft rustle of fabric he turned away from the prisoner, his gaze drifting across the wooden walls to the ceiling two stories up. "If you talk you'll die swiftly by the sword. Otherwise, you can rot for weeks in here for all I care."

Kotaka shook his head slightly, lips pressed together in both pain and stubbornness. His death was assured regardless of his future actions, and he would not betray his comrades; their work was too important. Nonetheless, at the sound of a sword being slid from its sheath, his heart skipped a beat in his chest, and adrenalin shot through his veins. His hands clenched into fists, and he inhaled sharply. Instincts once learned are difficult to discard.

- - - - - - - - - -

A smudge of darkness underneath the pale light of dawn, the wolf emerged into daylight. His footsteps were heavy, but as he walked with head held high, a trace of smug satisfaction flickered across his features. The guard snoring softly at the door didn't wake as his captain passed by, but there was little need for his services at the present hour anyway. The spy formerly known as Kotaka lay crumpled in a bloody heap on the floor, his body still warm, his vacant eyes starting blankly into darkness.

- - - - - - - - - -

Under the unforgiving afternoon sun, the Choushuu headquarters in Kyoto was as stiflingly hot as any other building in the ancient capital. The guards at the entrance shifted restlessly from foot to foot, their hands on their nervously swords and sweat dripping into their eyes. Inside, Katsura Kogoro, one of the highest-ranking officials in the Choushuu government, knelt across from Miyabe Teizo, his hands resting formally on his thighs.

Miyabe, a Kumamoto loyalist and a ronin, stared beseechingly at his younger companion, anguish contorting his heavyset features. "We have to rescue Kotaka. The torture that the Shinsengumi are capable of..." His eyes widened as his imagination began to supply a vivid gallery of possible atrocities. "...and, and if he talks, our plans are ruined." The stress of recent times had prematurely streaked his hair with gray, and the lines around his eyes and lips were caused more by worry than by age.

"They're already ruined," Katsura replied in a low voice, his back straightening as he spoke. "If the Shinsengumi knew enough to arrest him. And if they don't know more already... they soon will." His face was emotionless, but the tension in his shoulders and back betrayed his anxiety. His reached for the paper fan folded by his side and held it tightly with calloused fingers.

Across from him, Miyabe wiped a white handkerchief across his forehead and stared unabashedly into Katsura's eyes. "They'll torture it out of him, torture him then kill him."

Katsura broke eye contact, gaze falling to the tatami mats beneath him. Having lived in Kyoto, he was no stranger to the acts that the Shinsengumi were capable of, no stranger to its inflexible code and demand for absolute loyalty of its members. Although the troops were in actuality apolitical, the conduct of Shinsengumi was ruled by the iron fist of its leaders who did not question the virtues of the Bakufu. Their banner was emblazoned with the Chinese character for "sincerity," and they lived the traditional way of the warrior, Bushido -- while receiving monthly stipends from the government.

"We have to act quickly. We have to move tonight before the Shinsengumi have time to respond to the information they now have." Miyabe leaned forward, intent on promoting his cause. He had brought the news of Kotaka's arrest to Katsura in the hope that the Choushuu leader would organize the spy's rescue, but as he realized it was futile to continue to press his original cause, he once again turned his attention to the plans concerning the storming of the Imperial palace and the kidnapping of the Emperor.

"I'm very sorry Miyabe-san, but I can't risk the lives of my men to attempt to save someone who is most likely already dead." His words, although cool and rational, were tempered by the honest regret in his tone, and he paused for a moment before continuing. "As for the attack on the palace, how can we fight thousands of Bakufu troops with only twenty or thirty men? We must return to our domains, raise Imperialist armies, and then return to Kyoto. There is nothing we can do now."

Having been recently convinced by the Tosa ronin, Sakamoto Ryoma, of the futility of an attack on the palace, Katsura declined to mention to Miyabe that as the highest ranking Choushuu official in Kyoto he could not have anything to do with a countercoup that would undoubtedly fail -- because the very rashness of the act would weaken his credibility as Choushuu's diplomat to Kyoto.

Miyabe knew that he would have no success in persuading Katsura to immediate action, but nonetheless he continued to press for commitment. "But the meeting at the Ikedaya Inn tonight, you'll be there? They confiscated all the weapons at the shop, and we have to decide whether or not to carry out the plan at a later date." Except for the sounds of the two men's breathing, the room was silent as the heavy afternoon sunlight streamed through the shouji upon them.

Katsura unfolded and refolded the fan, his jaw tightening in agitation. He knew Miyabe's plan to be reckless, but he had to somehow appease the radicals because he could not afford to lose their support. He waved the fan before his face, and hoped that the movement was enough the disguise his distaste. "I'll be there with some of my men," he promised tersely.

And Miyabe smiled, confident that even Katsura, the headstrong leader of the Ishinshishi in Kyoto, could be convinced of the importance of Kotaka's rescue and of the plans for attacking the palace. "I knew I could count on you. We'll meet at the hour of the dog." His expression was one of victory as he paid his host the appropriate formulaic compliments and departed without further mention of upcoming meetings or plans.

After the other man had left, Katsura remained seated in the empty room, fan once more folded neatly on the ground beside him, eyes closed against the sunlight. His breathing was deep and regular, but the young man who slipped soundlessly in through the open doorway knew the Choushuu leader too well to think that he was sleeping.

"And I will accompany you tonight?" In contrast to the confidence of his step and the fluidity of his movements, the speaker's voice was soft and boyish, his tone dull and flat but his eyes piercingly sharp.

Not surprised by the other's presence, Katsura hesitated only a moment before shaking his head in negation. "Nothing must happen tonight. The radicals must be convinced that any action would be premature." The words were simple, rational but the warning held undertones of grave consequences. "Stay here. I will go to the Ikedaya alone."

end of part 1

- - - - - - - - - -

After writing this, I went back and rewatched the first OVA tape... and realized that indeed the Ikedaya Inn incident is documented on it. In the following part(s) I will combine historical fact, the OVA, and my own ideas about how the events of the night could have passed. Thus, this piece will not be true to either history (of course, because Kenshin didn't really exist) or the OVA (because the OVA is not true to history, and there are some aspects of the history that I'd like to stick to) -- and also because Tomoe stops Kenshin from going into the Inn in the movie... So, to make a long story short, this is my own take on the incident . It's fiction, and I'm having a good time with it.

- Mir (02.08.02)

Note: (12/06) I'm editing this story for writing style and clarity, not content per se. Maybe if I feel inclined I'll add some more details here and there… I just want to make the writing a little better.