By The Unseen Watcher

Disclaimer: Neither the Rurouni Kenshin nor the Samurai X series belongs to me. None of the characters belong to me. Hiko doesn't *sob * belong to. . .

A man walked swiftly through the dense forest, his wide-brimmed straw hat pulled low over his eyes, obscuring his features. Though somewhat dirty from travel, under the thin film of dust his clothing could be seen as being of fine quality. His raven-black hair was pulled back in a smooth samurai's topknot, and a pair of swords swung at his waist.

He should never have tried to take a shortcut over this mountain. The locals had warned him against going there, saying that it was guarded by angry spirits. But he had felt pursuit close at hand, and decided to risk a few folk tales in order to obscure his trail.

Stopping suddenly, his dark eyes peered around him as his ears strained for any sound in the forest's stillness. Frowning slightly, he started to walk again, at a faster clip.

Without warning a swordsman stepped out of the brush, swinging at him at neck level. He ducked underneath, his movements smooth and practiced. His hand strayed to the hilt of his own katana, hesitated, and then clenched and dropped as he faced his opponent barehanded. An almost inaudible rustling around him told him, without looking, that he was surrounded.

"Who sent you? Shinsengumi? Some Shogunate lapdog?" He demanded quietly, his voice firm and unafraid, his head up and proud as he faced certain death. He would not lift his sword against them, as he had promised, but he would show them how a samurai from an ancient and honorable house could die.

The men encircling him didn't answer, faceless predators hiding behind their masks. Only the soft sound of weapons leaving their sheaths could be heard. They shifted into ready positions and the man tensed for the coming attack.

"Two dozen against one. Isn't that rather boring?" A deep voice rang out, shattering the silence. The gathered men, attackers and victim alike, turned to see the speaker.

A man stood behind them on the forest trail, seeming to appear from nowhere. The would-be kill was visibly startled, showing more emotion in that moment than he usually allowed himself. He had not sensed the man's presence at all. Even now, aware of him only a few feet from him, it was hard to separate his ki from the rest of the forest. Just looking at him, he certainly appeared to be a man that was hard to miss.

The newcomer towered over all assembled, sharp dark eyes assessing them over what could only be called an arrogant smirk. Long, wild green-black hair hung over his shoulders and swept down his back, held in check only by a ribbon tied low on his neck. His broad shoulders and well-muscled chest and limbs spoke of the power he held in check. The whole effect was completed by a long, flowing white mantle with a red collar.

The man stood there, arms crossed, a sake jug dangling carelessly from one hand, gazing around him with a strange mixture of amusement and irritation.

The tall man grunted, the sound clearly one of dismissal of the lot of them as his gaze strayed away, his expression now bored. "You're no bandits, so this must be about the little war that's going on. It seems I can't step out for a little sake any more without tripping over soldiers. Whatever little grudge you have can be taken elsewhere; off my mountain." He cocked his head to the side. "Leave now and you'll thank yourselves in the morning."

No one moved, all still staring at him, the young nobleman in some shock and growing curiosity, while whatever reaction his assailants might have had was hidden behind their facemasks. Who was this man who so arrogantly ordered around several armed and veteran swordsmen like a powerful noble?

The white mantled man narrowed his eyes at the inaction of his audience. Amusement was gone, replaced completely by irritation. "Well? I can't wait around all day waiting for your brains to fire up."

To his left the now nearly forgotten victim noticed a movement among his attackers, a slight shifting of weight. In a sudden rush, two dark swordsmen closed in on the arrogant speaker. Their former target could only watch, his curiosity turning to alarm as they closed in and the tall man made no move to defend himself. Then he saw the smirk.

The man reached for his side and in a move none was able to follow he unsheathed a sword that had been hidden in the folds of his mantle, drew it out of its sheath and cut down both swordsman in a single motion. Casually flicking the blood off his blade as his attackers fell before him, he shifted to a ready stance, one eyebrow now raised in a way that practically screamed 'I dare you.'

The men took the unspoken challenge, springing for him all at once. The larger swordsman's form wavered and vanished, only to reappear beside one attacker, spinning to slash at the back of his neck. He was three opponents away before the body hit the ground, his sword moving seemingly without hindrance through flesh and bone like air, leaving swift death in its wake.

The dark-haired young samurai could only stand there, eyes wide with astonished realization. He knew this technique. He had seen it a few times, and had had it described to him several more. True, the movements and style were somewhat different. As impossible as it seemed they were even more sure and deadly than those of the young boy he had first seen use the incredible technique. But that could be explained by the vast differences in height and weight-and experience.

The fight was over in a matter of moments, the white mantled man standing unharmed amidst the carnage as the dust settled. He looked around him disdainfully. It hadn't even been a decent workout. Brow furrowed in annoyance, he turned to the samurai, the last one standing. The single, solitary person that so many had taken the trouble to ambush.

The rescued man smiled and bowed politely, mouth opening to thank him when "Are you as much of a blockhead as the rest of this garbage?! I distinctly remember telling you to leave." His rescuer snapped irritably, cleaning and sheathing his blade. Catching a glimpse of the wooden scabbard and the revealed hilt, the survivor was interested to note that the master swordsman before him used not a regular katana, but a Shirasaya Nihontou. He was taken aback by the other's abruptness, but nevertheless remained civil.

"I simply wished to thank you for helping me. These men have been after me for a while, and I appreciate your coming to my aid. Might I at least know your name?"

The larger man surveyed him, as if debating something, but then shrugged. "Hiko Seijuro the 13th, master of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu." He stated bluntly.

The man brightened. He had been right. Those moves, the techniques, all had spoken of the same sword style used by only one person he knew of: the young man that was starting to be known by his assassin name; Battousai.

So, THIS was the reticent young recruit's teacher. From his title and age, it was clear he was the boy's senior and superior in the art. Young Kenshin was impressive, almost awe inspiring at times. But compared to this man he was a raw beginner. If they could get him to join the ranks of the IshinShishi . . .

Hiko casually strode past him, but the young imperialist quickly turned, calling for him to stop, requesting that he hear him out. The swordmaster looked irritated, an expression the first was beginning to suspect was the norm for him, but halted anyway.

"I was wondering. . ." He asked, some inner caution and the recent display compelling him to address the other as an equal "would you consider lending your sword in the fight against the oppression of the current government?"

The taller man looked surprised, then amused. He snorted, turning his back on him, and started to walk away again. "I have absolutely no desire to become involved in your little political quarrels." He tossed over his shoulder, the disdain clear in his voice.

The shorter man couldn't help but scowl. Something about this man's attitude scraped raw across his normally unflappable nature. The sheer arrogance he exuded would get on anyone's nerves, he reflected sourly. Still, maybe he didn't understand. He decided to follow at a respectable distance

"But Hiko-san, surely you see the results of the tyranny of the current regime? We are fighting to bring a new era to Japan. One that will benefit all the people. . ."

"Hai, hai." Hiko interrupted impatiently, looking back over his shoulder to eye the other. "You want to build a new and better world, where everyone can be free from hardship and oppression. Where we'll all get along and everything will be springtime and flowers." He turned. "Do you have any idea how many times I've heard that crap? You're talking to the wrong man. I been around far too long and seen enough not to believe that bull."

"Unlike some I could name." He muttered this last darkly.

The other's eyebrows rose at that, but he felt his temper stir at the man's callous attitude and opinion toward a subject he had dedicated his life to. He frowned disapprovingly. "You quickly condemn a cause you do not even try to understand."

Hiko snorted again, stopping and turning slightly toward his inquisitor, his arms folded over his broad chest. "I understand perfectly. You're trying to change the world by forcing a new one to take its place. I have seen far too many battles and struggles between foes who each believe that they're doing 'the right thing' to believe that. Bloodshed only leads to more bloodshed. You cannot succeed in your goal of a better era if its foundation is a pile of corpses." He said, his dark eyes now hard, what patience he had left wearing thin. He once again turned, striding away. "The art of Hiten Mitsurugi is for people, not would-be governments. Now get off my mountain."

"Kenshin doesn't believe that." The man replied softly. Despite the fact that it was almost inaudible, even to himself, that one sentence stopped Hiko in his tracks. He didn't turn, but the other could hear the steel in his voice when he spoke. "I don't know anyone by that name. I don't consider a baka too blind to listen to his own master a student of mine. What he believes is out of ignorance and the stubbornness of his youth. I know differently."

The samurai gave up. It was like talking to a stone. An arrogant one at that. He was immovable and impossible to argue with. He thought with some amusement that he might be able to out last some clan heads he knew in a stubbornness contest. A new note in the master swordsman's voice interrupted his train of thought. He found himself tensing up in defense at its dark tone.

"But how would a low-level recruiter know of my baka former student?" He asked, contradicting his earlier denial but not seeming to care. "Few enough know of his existence, much less know him by name." Suddenly he was no longer several feet away but barely inches from him, having crossed the distance with such speed that the young imperialist's eyes hadn't even registered the movement. The smaller samurai found himself rocking back on his heels, hand instinctively reaching for his sword.

Hiko regarded him with an intense gaze that was so piercing the first man could practically feel it slicing through him. The air of arrogance had cracked, revealing the incredible focus of the mind of the deadly master swordsman before him.

After several tense seconds Hiko spoke. "Katsura Kogoro." He stated flatly.

The newly recognized Katsura nodded, his wary gaze never leaving the other's face. It was obvious to him that for some reason this man was not at all happy with him. The knowledge somehow chilled him more than the idea of a Shinsengumi raid.

Hiko's fingers twitched, his hand straying toward his sword, but then his expression quickly changed to its normal arrogance, making the young noble doubt he had seen that glimpse of boiling fury. Almost, anyway.

"So." Hiko said mildly (for him) "you are the one who recruited that baka as a hitokiri."

At this Katsura's wariness rose even higher, along with the familiar guilt that came from the knowledge of some of his harder decisions. Feeling like he had to say something in his defense, he repeated the same excuse he had told himself and the boy in question. "It was agreed to be done for the new era. A sacrifice had to be made. His service will help bring about eventual peace."

Hiko looked down at him, contempt clear in his dark eyes. "The few sacrificed for the many, you mean. That excuse is so old it's made of animal hide. What you fail to see is that even entities as large as governments are made up of individuals. You would sacrifice one boy's innocence on the altar of your ideals. What else would you be willing to do achieve your desires?" Sadness had joined the contempt, making him seem older than his young face.

Hiko spoke slowly, as if to an extremely slow and troublesome child. "Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu was made to protect the people from tyranny and fear. A practitioner wields his sword in their defense, dedicating his life to that cause. What you have done is reduce that ideal in him to a pale shard of what it was. An assassin has no goals other than the death of others. He does not discriminate between his kills. He only follows what he is told to do."

"In order to be effective and untainted, a Hiten Mitsurugi user must have no loyalties. He must fight knowing who and why he protects. He must fight for life. He must value his own. Assassins take the value of lives for granted. Especially their own."

Hiko paused in his lecture, taking a deep breath of the forest's air. Katsura found that he had stopped breathing, and carefully allowed himself to. Hiko spoke again, his voice even lower.

"I can understand your ideals and goals. I can even applaud them. I doubt most if any will actually become what you envision, but I can't fault the dream of it."

"What I disapprove of and will not excuse or forgive is the blatant use of the innocent in order to achieve those goals. Make no mistake," he said, smiling sourly "with Hiten Mitsurugi on your side, you will win. But do you know the cost of what you're doing? You are destroying the heart and soul of the best of the new generation. You seem to be able to live with that on your conscience, but can he live with it? Do YOU understand ME?"

"I understand." Katsura answered softly. Raising his chin, he looked the former guardian of the one he was helping to destroy in the eye. "I understand more than you think, but it will be worth the goal in the end."

Hiko merely looked at him for a moment. "So this is the man my baka deshi has chosen over me? I can see why you have his loyalty. You're even more of an idealistic fool than he is." He rumbled to himself, sudden sadness in his dark eyes. He shook his head, the look of disgust redoubling, his eyes now completely veiled, reflecting Katsura's face back at him like obsidian mirrors. Hiko had clearly dismissed the man before him as being beyond all hope.

"Get off my mountain. Now. The only reason you are still alive is because I don't want him to come whining to me about your demise."

"But know this. You ever set foot on this mountain again and I won't hesitate. Baka deshi or no baka deshi."

With that warning still ringing in the air, they parted. As he disappeared from sight, the swordmaster called back one final time.

"Oh, and tell him what I said about him and I'll make you regret it. Can't have the baka getting a swelled head. Better yet, don't mention me altogether. He'll be better off that way."

Then he was gone, leaving the young noble to stand and ponder events and the man he had just met and hoped never to meet again. This encounter had certainly explained some of Kenshin's attitudes. He must have had quite a childhood with that man.

Katsura Kogoro mulled over the master swordsman's words, but quickly dismissed them. History would prove which one of them was right. He had made his decision long ago. The end was all that mattered now.

I wrote this while wondering what a confrontation between the two of them would be like. I didn't think Hiko would be too thrilled about the direction Katsura had turned his student in. This is one possible scenario, I guess. I wonder what some others could be? Well, I wonder what a meeting between him and Saitoh would be like too. The sheer arrogance level would probably knock birds out of the air with the force of it. Their conversation would be sharper than their swordblades! Anyway, comments welcome, especially constructive ones. Thanks for reading.

Oh, and I believe he was an honorable man, but some things are inexcusable. If you're wondering about the name of Hiko's weapon, I suggest visiting the Hiko Shine. Man, I love that place

C&C [email protected] Reviews are nice too.