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Disclaimer:

Rurouni Kenshin© is a product of the imaginative genius of Nobuhiro Watsuki and all rights belong to him, Shueisha, Fuji Telecast, SPE Visual Works, Sony Music Entertainment, and associated parties. The characters (and or the RK story concept – in part or whole) are used unofficially as an expression of fan appreciation for the non-profit purpose of entertainment only and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint or opinions of the above listed entities. Original portions of this story are the copyright of the author. This is a fictional story and any similarity with person(s) living or dead is entirely coincidental.

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4/10/02

5/12/02 - revised

Chapter 1

Animal Husbandry and a Girl of Good Breeding: Hajime meets Tokio

Spring 1864 - Kyoto, Nijo Castle

Hajime leaned against a tree in the garden as the young woman seated beneath it chattered ceaselessly. He had been at Nijo Castle for two days and he tired of it. Toshizou Hijikata, the Shinsengumi vice-commander, was meeting with Katamori Matsudaira, the Daimyo of Aizu. Toshizou had insisted he come along with him so here he was.

Dai Okakami was a beautiful woman and she knew it, but for whatever reason that didn't seem to be enough to keep the attention of the young samurai at her side. He was an extremely tall man but with features too fierce to be considered handsome. Still, he was samurai and well placed at that. Hajime Saitou was the Shinsengumi 3rd Squad captain. He was held in high regard by his superiors, and also by the Daimyo of Aizu. Dai had made sure to find these things out. It would not do to make an alliance that wasn't advantageous to her future. Saitou did not put himself forward but his star was on the rise. An ambitious wife could see that it rose even higher. Indications from Matsudaira were that Hajime Saitou required a wife, but he certainly wasn't acting like a potential groom.

There were other groups of people also enjoying the blooming gardens and the spring afternoon sunshine. One small group was Katamori Matsudaira and Toshizou Hijikata, who had just been joined by another older man, a young woman stood behind him. They were too far away for Hajime to identify any family crest. The young woman wore a furisode and was therefore probably not the man's wife. What he found interesting was that although the older man's kimono was very elaborate, the young woman's by contrast was exceedingly simple in design, as was her obi knot, and the sleeves of her furisode ended about her knees rather than trailing almost to the ground.

 "What is your opinion Captain Saitou?" Dai asked in dulcet tones. "Captain?"

 "My apologies, you were saying?" Hajime forced his attention back to her conversation. He couldn't help but briefly compare the two women. Dai Okakami wore a rich bright kimono robe of pinks and oranges, and tied with an elaborately decorated Obi knot, matched by equally elaborate ornaments in her hair. She must have been of the opinion that if one was good, then a dozen must be better.

Dai felt her anger rise as she took in his bored countenance. She was seldom ignored, however even with her beauty men sometimes got carried away in their discussions of warfare and business. She allowed a little pout to show on her flawless face. This was always guaranteed to be enough of a reprimand for an inattentive suitor.

 "I was wondering what you thought of the chances for rain on the Hanami festival next week?"

 "I have no idea" Hajime saw her manipulative pout and it irritated him. Perhaps she expected him to sit like a dog and be attentive but he hadn't wanted to come out to the garden with her in the first place. She had persisted, and for some reason Toshizou had insisted he play escort. It would serve her right if he ignored everything she said.

 "I was just wondering because I haven't decided yet if I'm going to attend. With all the violent attacks by the Ishin Shishi I wouldn't feel safe going… unless I had a strong escort," she risked a sideways glance in his direction to judge his reaction. This was his cue to puff out his chest and declare that he would escort her.

"Then I would suggest staying close to home." Hajime knew what she was hinting at. Let her find a lap dog, this wolf wasn't interested. At that moment Hijikata gestured for Saitou to join him. Hajime breathed deeply at the reprieve.

 "Excuse me, my commander calls. I'll have to leave you with your chaperone." He gave her a small bow, which after standing she returned.

 "Perhaps we will see each other again before you leave," she said.

 "Perhaps," he said, "but not if I have any say in the matter", he thought.

He moved away with purpose, free of the cloying perfume that woman wore. He took a deep cleansing breath of cool spring air as he crossed the garden to the far side where his Captain stood. He bowed to the men.

Toshizou gestured to Hajime, "Daimyo," he nodded to Matsudaira, "I believe you know Captain Saitou. Takagi," he turned to the other man, "may I present Hajime Saitou, 3rd Squad Captain of the Shinsengumi," then indicating the older man, "Hajime this is Kojuurou Takagi, the tonya of Aizu Han, and his daughter Tokio Takagi."

Hajime made his bow to his superiors, and Kojuurou made his bow, which Hajime acknowledged. "A rich shomin merchant, then," he thought, and then looking at the wakizashi tucked into his obi, "a very rich merchant indeed."

The girl also bowed, gracefully, never raising her eyes to see if she was acknowledged, and returning to stand as still as a statue. Hajime had seen many young women just like her. These women were the jewels of their family, porcelain dolls that could break at the merest touch, beautiful to look at and otherwise useless.

For the moment his mind seemed to be skipping over the other obvious application; political tool. So he was uncharacteristically slow on the uptake when Hijikata said, "Takagi, I would be pleased if you and your daughter would join us for an informal dinner this evening at the Nabetake Tearoom."

 "It would be my honor, and that of my daughter's, to join you both this evening. Would it not Tokio?" The girl said nothing but bowed deeply again. This seemed to displease her father for some reason, judging by the slight narrowing of his eyes. Hajime didn't think that anyone else had noticed.

They finished making arrangements and Kojuurou took his leave of them, his daughter falling in silently behind.

After they had gone Hajime allowed a raised eyebrow to question his commander. Who in turn ignored him.

 "A lovely woman," commented Katamori.

 "Just so," agreed Toshizou. Personally he thought her a bit plain but well formed. The Okakami girl looked more the type to keep a man's interest and his bed warm.

 "Takagi is eager to marry her into the samurai class," Katamori continued, "and I am eager to secure his financial support to the Emperor. As Takagi is the tonya of the Aizu region, and then some, he is in a very good position to financially back some of our military efforts. Likewise the Okakami family is also looking for a groom for their daughter Dai. They've been loyally providing information on traitorous activities and I must find a way to reward them," he looked at Hajime, "An advantageous marriage closer to Aizu would be beneficial to either family and to the Emperor."

 "Yes, I can see how that would be the case," said Toshizou, "The Ishin Shishi have gained even more support from the shomin. A merchant of Takagi's wealth and influence could easily cancel out quite a bit of that support."

 "What do you think Hajime?" Katamori put the question to the younger samurai.

Hajime looked at both men in turn while trying to assess their level of play. "The man foolish enough to marry Dai Okakami deserves everything coming to him," he said truthfully.

Toshizou Hijikata gave a small sigh of relief. That wasn't too bad. He was never quite sure what Hajime might say. He was intelligent but at turns dangerously blunt. It made being his commander both a privilege and challenge.

 "And the Takagi girl?" Katamori prompted.

 "Not enough of her person fell outside her father's shadow to tell," Hajime replied without inflection.

 "Well," said Toshizou, "we'll just have to see how well you can draw her out this evening."

 "Commander, I'm not quite sure how this…honor…fell to me but perhaps you would like to rethink this course of action." Hajime was started to feel a bit like a trapped animal. If his Daimyo insisted that he take a wife he wouldn't have much of a choice.

 "I must meet with the Kyoto machi-bugyo shortly," said Katamori. "I'll leave you two to discuss this. Toshizou, one way or another we must bind Takagi to our side."

The other two men made their obeisance and the Daimyo strode away.

Hajime lost no time in pinning his commander with his forceful query. "What is going on?"

 "You heard him. He needs an acceptable groom, and you need a wife." Toshizou's delivery of this bombshell was ruthlessly prosaic. Hajime didn't talk much, but Toshizou could never remember him being caught speechless. It was a clarifying moment.

It took Hajime a minute to gather his thoughts and bring his anger under control. He started, "I don't need a wife and I find myself at a loss on how you could come to that conclusion. I'm young enough that I can wait for some time, certainly until the current political situation is more stable, before taking a wife," the last part coming out in a quiet tone just shy of murderous.

Toshizou felt that if he weren't Hajime's commander he would have already been sliced at. "Hajime, I came to that conclusion because you are like a beast on the prowl. You snarl - more than usual – at everyone, and that's saying quite a bit.

 "You need a woman. Every man needs a woman, and a young man needs a woman even more than most. Now, you can go buy a woman or you can marry one, or preferably both. Unfortunately you seem unwilling to engage the services of the yujos. Rather too fastidious, I think," he stated blandly.

 "I know your family isn't preparing an omiai so you have no reason not to take the Daimyo up on his very generous offer." And on those last three words Toshizou sounded very serious indeed. "The Daimyo is willing to cover all expenses of the wedding that are the groom's responsibility, as well as adding a generous wedding present to sweeten the pot."

Hajime said nothing, he just glared. There was nothing more to say. "Good," thought Toshizou, "he can just resign himself to this quickly."

Trying to bring Hajime back into a better mood, before he looks at the girl like that this evening and stops her heart cold, Toshizou said, "Look, just go this evening and relax. Give the idea, and this young woman, a chance. If she is as objectionable as the other you so clearly distaste, I won't force your hand."

Hajime's impenetrable mask was back in place.

Toshizou ran a hand over his forehead, "You act like I'm sending you into battle alone."

 "I didn't know there was a better alternative," replied Hajime dryly.

 "There isn't," said Toshizou shortly

 "Very well. If you'll excuse me I'll see you later this evening," and Hajime made the briefest of bows and marched off.

Toshizou hadn't quite realized he'd been holding his breath until he let it out. "That went much better than I anticipated," smiling, he too went to his given room. He had a feeling he could use some meditation before this evening.

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Arid – Fog –fanfic

2 AM extremes collide

Anti-histamines

Author's notes for The Wolf's Woman:

Taking artistic license, I've put made the following adjustments for storyline and plot;

Saitou joins the Shinsengumi in 1863 (instead of 1866) at the age of 21.

He meets Tokio a year later (instead of 1873). She is 19.

Additionally, although Tokio was the daughter of Kojuurou Takagi, a highly placed Aizu official, in this story I have instead chosen to make her the daughter of a very rich merchant, the tonya (wholesaler) for Aizu Han.

Also, I have written names left to right (given/family) *did that make sense?*. If you really feel strongly about it I'll register your vote, but don't get hung up about it and forget to review the story in general.