Ties of Loyalty

By The Unseen Watcher

Disclaimer: It's still not mine. Weren't you paying attention?

Epilogue

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The wiry man looked up from his desk, his yellow eyes showing his annoyance. The man before him, dressed in scarlet and sporting the world's strangest haircut, resisted the urge to shuffle his feet. He'd just been reporting to his superior the latest cases, and had brought up a rather small crime regarding burglary. His boss didn't look pleased by what was seen as a waste of his time.

"I have already read the reports on that matter. Reviewing it again will make it no less trivial. The local authorities can take it care of it. I'll speak with whoever took it upon themselves to put it back on my desk later. Saitoh said coolly, his lips pressing together in irritation.

Cho grinned crookedly. Some poor fool had filed that report in the wrong place, and would soon be regretting he ever thought up law enforcement as a career. It would be a good show. He scratched the side of his spiky- haired head and looked over the next item on his list.

"Oh yeah. There's also a report of a couple 'a foreigners found just outside the Kyoto police headquarters. Two were tied up, and the bodies of two more were found dumped practically in the lap of some local yakuza boss, along with a whole bunch of his own cronies."

Saitoh looked up, his rare interest piqued. "Ah, that incident. The report said that all four were sporting injuries caused by a sword."

Cho nodded. "Yep, the medical report says that they all showed signs of blunt trauma. The living ones have several broken bones. A raid into the boss's lair showed several of his lackeys with similar injuries. 'Specially the hands. Not a one of them will be holding anything very steady for some time, I reckon."

Saitoh's eyes narrowed, as he took a long draw from his ever-present cigarette. "Hmm. Blunt trauma and broken hands."

"Yep, so it says. Sound familiar to you, boss?" Cho asked curiously, noting the older man's slightly distracted expression.

Saitoh waved it off. "Continue." He commanded.

Cho looked uncertain. "Are you sure this is somethin' you should be concerned about, sir?" He asked hesitantly. "Seems mainly like a case of lethal assault to me. Them foreigners musta had a fight with a local gang and failed."

Saitoh looked at him coolly, one eyebrow raised derisively. "If that were true, they would all be dead from knife wounds and we'd have found them floating in the river, not at our doorstep Ahou." He paused, his eyes glowing thoughtfully. "From the description they appeared to have been take out by one, maybe two swordsman. The medical report, if you'd bother to read it more closely, verifies that. Two-" he drew out his own copy "- The background checks of all 4 revealed them to be professionals in their fields. Two were former Special Forces soldiers in their respective countries. The others were skilled hunters. I'm having people look into just how they got their weapons past the custom check now."

Cho whistled. "You sure are ahead of me in this game, boss. It must have been some fighter that did them in."

Saitoh propped his elbows on his desk, holding the papers between thumb and forefinger. "I took the liberty of examining the bodies of both living and dead myself, having heard about this several hours ago-." He gave Cho a look and the swordcollector grinned sheepishly. "-I have come to the conclusion that there is only one style of swordsmanship that could possibly have caused those injuries." He paused. "The fatal stokes were caused by a one strike attack by a katana, a fairly long one at that. The angle shows the user to be rather taller than usual. The men who survived were beaten by a fighter that either used the back of his sword-"

"-Or one that was using a reversed blade."

Cho's eyes widened. "You mean it was-!" he blurted.

Saitoh nodded, eyes speculative. "Yes, I believe it was him. He plucked up another slip of paper, waving it idly in the other's general direction. "I have here a report from the Tokyo office, concerning the sudden disappearance of one Himura Kenshin." His mouth twisted sardonically. "Apparently, the Kamiya girl and her cohorts have been badgering the local police there for about a week now." His expression showed his disdain for what he viewed as useless inaction.

"The question now is what could have been able to provoke the Battousai so much that he would cease to hold back as much as he has in recent years."

Cho looked puzzled. "Holdin' back? Beggin' you pardon, sir, but what do ya mean by that?"

Saitoh set down the report, steepling his fingers before his face, and cast a condescending look his sword-happy subordinate's way. "Ahou. You don't realize it, even now? When you fought him you hadn't the slightest idea what you were playing with. Had it been his intent to kill you, you wouldn't have lasted more than a few heartbeats. In the revolution he was known to take out opponents by the dozen with a single sword stroke. He faced swordsmen far wilier than you nightly. Rejoice in the fact that you were lucky enough to face him AFTER he decided to try to be a pacifist."

Cho blinked, unnerved by his superior's blunt appraisal of his chances of survival. Shaking his head, he decided not to think about it just yet and get back to the matter at hand. His brow furrowed in puzzlement. "Then why now?" He asked.

Saitoh snorted. "Obviously it has something to do with the second swordsman. The one who delivered the fatal blows."

Cho's forehead wrinkled even more in worry. "There's another guy like Himura out there waving around his sword technique? Why haven't we heard of him before now?"

Saitoh took another draw from his cigarette. "There were rumors, even during the revolution, of a master swordsman who lived on as small mountain just outside Kyoto. Most avoided the place, fearing that it was haunted. The Shinsengumi had no business there, so I never ventured near enough to confirm or deny local gossip. He was reported to be very much the recluse, and never openly participated in the fighting."

He paused, his eyes reflective. "Rumor also had it, that that was where the Battousai learned his style."

Cho whistled. "So, yer sayin' that Himura learned his art from this guy. Looks like he don't have the same reservations 'bout killin' like he does."

"It appears not." Saitoh answered, his tone heavy with irony.

"So who exactly is this guy anyway?" Cho asked curiously. Saitoh shrugged. "Little is known other than that he exists. I've been told that the man is quite unsociable, almost impossible to approach. I've also heard, however, that he cuts a rather distinctive figure."

Cho thought about it, his forehead wrinkling under his broom-shaped hair. Then his face brightened and he nodded. "I think I heard somethin' about him. Overheard Himura's friends talkin' about him once. Says he was . . . a sheesh-show or somethin' like that."

Saitoh's reaction was something to see. His eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline for a moment, his expression almost showing surprise, before returning to its normal mask. "Interesting." Was all he said.

Cho was confused. It was a constant state around his boss. "What is?" He asked, now completely lost.

Saitoh glanced at him then spoke, his eyes glinting thoughtfully in the dim light. "Shishou is an old term for master or sensei. Very few use it now. It was used more in swordsmanship than the hand-to-hand styles."

Saitoh's eyes turned thoughtful. "What makes it distinct is that it was used primarily in those styles that pass only from one master to one student. Such styles were always few and far between, as they tend to die out if something unexpected happens to either of the two. It proves that the Hiten Mitusurugi Ryu is rare indeed."

Cho nodded, wondering silently what the big deal was. "So, should we send some men to pick up the guy for questioning?" He asked.

Saitoh thought about it, but then shook his head firmly in denial. "It would be a waste of manpower. I get the feeling that the man wouldn't hurt the officers too much, but one such as he would require my personal attention to be safe."

Abruptly Saitoh looked up, his sharp eyes narrowing as he used his keen vision in an attempt to pierce through the shadows in the corners of his office. Not taking his eyes away from their gloom, he spoke to Cho. "You are dismissed for now. Leave."

His eccentric subordinate looked around, wondering what could have caught such attention from his boss. He saw nothing, but didn't protest as he left. Saitoh didn't like to repeat his orders.

After he had left, Saitoh sat back in his chair, arms resting casually by his sides. "I wondered when you would show up." He remarked to the room around him.

There was a flicker of movement, and a shadow detached itself from the walls. Little could be seen of it but the general outline and the shine of eyes.

Saitoh blew out a stream of smoke, eyeing the man opposite him. "I'm glad to see that you haven't lost your touch in Some of your skills." He remarked casually, seeming totally at ease.

The shadow smiled humorously, a flash of white in the darkness, causing Saitoh to arch an eyebrow in slight surprise. Stepping out a bit further into the light, red hair glinted in the faint illumination of the office.

"How did you detect my presence?" Himura asked calmly. His voice was lowered to its normal range, and there was nothing subservient or guileless about it. Saitoh's eyes narrowed speculatively at his use of the normal male pronoun. His own attitude changed accordingly, and he straightened in his chair.

"There was a flicker in your emotional control when I mentioned getting involved personally. Other than that, I had no idea." He admitted honestly, the usual contempt gone from his tone as he addressed a fellow warrior.

He continued. "I would like to know details about certain event regarding foreigners and yakuza." he said, changing the subject and fixing the other with a businesslike stare.

Again that tight smile. "Some foreign thrill seekers, four in all, tried to have some fun by seeking out a worthy target for their little hunting expedition, hiring some local thugs as guides and muscle. They thought that they could take on a master of the Art. They were wrong, and now they've been taught differently. Some of the lessons were terminal." He recited, his tone matter of fact.

"The fatalities are a result of self-defense and the defense of others. Namely myself."

Saitoh listened, his eyes gleaming with interest though his face remained impassive. "So you're saying that they took on a master swordsman and lost?" He snorted. "Good riddance to idiots then."

Himura paused, studying the police inspector intently. "Then you will not pursue this?" He asked. Saitoh met his gaze, his expression almost bored. "What is there to investigate? It's apparent that a few foreigners, slipping highly illegal weapons into the county, assaulted Japanese citizens. I doubt that any embassy in the world will want to claim such obvious incompetents as citizens, much less make any protests about their deaths. It would be most embarrassing to do so."

"As for the yakuza, they're like rats. No one will miss a few and they'll multiply quickly enough."

Himura looked at him. "Then that means no?" He pressed. Saitoh rolled his eyes in irritation. "No, I will not pursue this further." He stated clearly, biting out each word.

The redhead nodded, his shoulders relaxing slightly. Saitoh had given his word; his master would be left alone. His mission done, he stepped back into the shadows, intent on leaving.

"Battousai." Saitoh called, stopping the shadow's exit.

Saitoh stubbed out his cigarette, his face showing just the faintest hint of curiosity. "You don't seem that concerned that he killed several men before and after you arrived." He was guessing on the timetable, but his instincts told him that he was right.

He was answered only by silence for a moment, then "You don't feel guilt over the death of those who die of natural causes. I admit to some regret, but I am slowly beginning to accept that I cannot be responsible for the decisions of others. They thought that they could mess with my Shishou. They were wrong. Suicidal idiots are to be pitied, not mourned." He stated bluntly, his voice low and without emotion.

Saitoh raised one sardonic eyebrow, reaching for a new cigarette. "That good, is he? I wonder how I would fare against your master, Battousai." He mused, his eyes speculative as he lit up. They narrowed as he heard a humorless chuckle from the corner.

"You would barely warm him up, Saitoh Hajime." The voice whispered. Then the presence was gone. Most likely back to his little make-believe world at that Dojo.

Still, the one now calling himself Himura Kenshin was still a man whose opinion he respected. He would not have said what he did not believe to be true, and his voice had held absolute conviction. Eyes narrowing further, the former Shinsengumi captain sat in thought.

Leaning back in his office chair, he murmured a belated farewell. "So long, Himura the Battousai. It was good to see you again, if only for a brief moment in time. I find it interesting that this particular incident would so thoroughly shake your peaceful fa├žade. What else would, I wonder?"

Allowing himself a dark smile of his own, Goro Fujita resumed reading reports.

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No, that final part wasn't a promissory note for future fics. It was just something that I thought he might do. However, if it inspires others to write fics about it, I'd be more than happy to see them come out. More power to you all. I hope you enjoyed this story, despite the delays and snags. See you.