Chapter 1: Fujita Tokio
"Damn, it's hot," Sanosuke muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets as he trudged down the street behind Kenshin and Kaoru. "We should have stayed in Kyoto until at least September. It's too hot here."
"It'd be just as hot there," Kaoru retorted knowingly. "Stop complaining. Or do you not want to get fed?"
He snorted. "Yeah, yeah."
Kenshin chuckled at their argument. "You had better be nice to Kaoru-dono," he advised, "because she has all the money."
Sanosuke muttered a curse under his breath. "Damn girl."
"Let us see what Yahiko is up to," Kenshin suggested, unable to hide a smile. Ever since returning from Kyoto he'd been unspeakably happy, admiring every aspect of the regained calm in all their lives. Finally he found himself truly appreciating the simple activities of each day, and the presence of his friends. It was an amazing feeling to see them all celebrating his return even two weeks after the incident.
"Yahiko's working at Akabeko today," said Kaoru.
"We were headed there anyway," Sanosuke muttered back. "For my lunch."
The trio took a seat in one of the Akabeko's booths, and immediately Tae spotted them. "Oh, back again," she greeted happily. "Another party for Himura-san?"
"Yeah," piped up Sanosuke, "so get us plenty of saké!"
Kaoru elbowed him roughly. "No saké today. I'm tired of taking care of drunks. We're just here for lunch, Tae-san."
"Of course." She giggled and took their orders.
"So what are we going to do today?"
Kenshin paused, his attention drawn by the voice that had spoken from the booth behind him. It was a boy, and is sounded familiar.
"Father's off duty for the next couple days," another boy answered, this one non-recognizable to him. "Today we're going to stay in town."
"Kenshin?" Kaoru gazed at him curiously. "Is something wrong?"
He blinked rapidly, drawn back from his pondering. "Oro?"
"You look distracted."
"Oh, nothing. Only…"
Yahiko brought them their food, and received many jeers from Sanosuke and Kaoru. "Shut up," he demanded, struggling to keep his other food trays balanced. "At least I'm making money, you slackers."
Sanosuke shrugged. "So?"
"Yahiko," Kenshin interrupted before an argument could ensue, "who is in the booth behind me?"
Yahiko peeked suspiciously. "Just two kids," he said. "Why?"
"Just a moment, everyone." He stood and moved to see for himself. As Yahiko had said, there were two boys, both a bit older than Yahiko himself. One was tall with thin features and short black hair. The other was the familiar figure of Mishima Eiji.
Eiji glanced up curiously, and his eyes widened in surprise. "Himura! But, what are you doing here?"
Kenshin smiled, unnoticing that the other boy was watching him very closely. "Hello, Eiji-dono. It is good to see you."
The boy nodded. "You too, Himura. Do you live in Tokyo?" Another thought crossed his mind. "And Shishio Makoto--"
"No need to worry. That matter has been resolved."
Kaoru and Sanosuke joined him. "Kenshin, who is this guy? The latter asked boredly. "You know him?"
"Yes. We met while I was on my way to Kyoto: Mishima Eiji-dono." He looked to the boy's companion. "And this is…"
The dark-haired boy stood, his height proving to be a match for Kenshin's own. "Fujita Tsuyoshi," he said stiffly, still watching the red-hared samurai with suspicion. His face looked oddly familiar. "And you're Himura Kenshin, aren't you?"
"How'd you know that?" Yahiko interrogated.
Tsuyoshi's harsh gaze turned on this new boy, and Yahiko returned it defiantly. For a moment they only glared. Then the boy gave a short bark of laughter. "Huh. Just a little brat."
"Eiji, we don't have time for these fools. Let's go find my mother."
Sanosuke frowned. There was something grudgingly familiar about the way he'd said that…
"Sure." He pulled some money out and gave it to Yahiko. "Thanks, shrimp."
"Thanks again, Himura!" Eiji and the other boy turned and hurried out of the restaurant, snickering to each other.
"Shit. Kenshin," Yahiko complained, "what the hell was that all about?"
Kenshin was still smiling with a bit of ruefulness, recalling everything that had happened. "His hometown was being controlled by Shishio. I was able to save the town. And then I left him with…" Suddenly Kenshin's face went blank and pale.
Kaoru poked his shoulder. "Hey, Kenshin. What's wrong?"
"Fujita…" Kenshin shook his head violently to dispel his confusion and started toward the door. "Just a moment. I have to see." He ventured out into the street, Kaoru, Yahiko, and Sanosuke close behind. They slipped through the crowd, quickly catching sight of the pair. "When Eiji-dono's family was killed," Kenshin explained secretly as they went, "Saitou volunteered to take him to Tokio."
"Tokio?" his friends echoed.
All three stopped dead, shocked beyond words and thrown into such a stupor that Kenshin had to drag them along in order to keep up with their quarry. Sanosuke recovered first. "What the hell?!? That bastard's married?"
"Afraid so. Now hurry--I want to see her."
"Huh?" Kaoru slowly regained her wits as well. "Why?"
"Me too," spoke up Yahiko. "She's gotta be a total psycho to marry that ugly bastard."
Kaoru sighed and followed, and was the first to realize. She stopped walking. "If Eiji is living with Saitou," she said in a weak voice, "then that boy must be…" She made a disgusted face. "…his son."
By the time everyone had recovered from their astonishment, the two boys had escaped from view. "Damn, got away," muttered Sanosuke. "But if that brat is Saitou's kid, it means the bastard's still alive." He growled. "Damn that ass. I'm gonna beat the crap out of him someday."
"Well, we missed out chance," Kenshin said, disappointed. Meeting Saitou's family would have at least proven to be interesting; secretly, he was relieved to know that the man was still alive. "Let us return to Akabeko. We still have a meal to finish."
The others nodded, and they marched back to the restaurant in defeat.
"Good; they stopped following us," Tsuyoshi muttered, and he grinned. "So that's the Battousai, huh?"
"Himura's not a murderer," Eiji objected. "He saved my home and defeated the man that killed my family. Saved my life."
The tall boy snorted much like his father. "He's living in a fantasy. I can see what my father was talking about now. Come on."
They approached a cart that was selling artwork, and looking over the drawings there stood a tall woman in a kimono of deep red. Her black hair had been securely tied in a tight fashion above her head, and her eyes were bright, startling emeralds. Her face was formed of sharply pronounced features, dangerously beautiful, so that the sight of her captivated the attention of all the men around her. She carried herself with great dignity and infinite grace.
"Are there any you would like to buy today?" the street peddler asked.
Fujita Tokio hummed thoughtfully to herself, touching the tips of her fingertips to her lips in a gesture that displayed the depth of her contemplation. "None of them seem good enough now that Tsukioka Tsunan isn't working anymore," she mused. She smiled as the boys joined her. "There you are. What do you think, Tsuyoshi?"
Tsuyoshi made a face. "They're all the same, Mother."
"You simply can't see the skill," she said, plucking two of the drawings off the stand. She removed her purse from her kimono. "You and your father may like sword arts, but I prefer this."
A hand came down on her shoulder suddenly, and Tokio started, dropping the purse. Tsuyoshi caught it immediately. A low chuckled filled her ears. "You're jumpy today," the voice remarked.
She regained her dignity quickly. "I only allow my husband to touch me," she retorted, raising her chin. "And having been abandoned by him for nearly three months, it's quite a struggle becoming accustomed to his company again."
Saitou snorted in good humor. "It's fortunate that I'm here now to save you from wasting my hard-earned money."
Tokio retrieved her purse from her son. "All the money you make we share," she reminded him, handing the amount to the peddler, who accepted and then quickly distanced himself from their domestic dispute. "Your bonus is greatly appreciated, now that we have another mouth to feed." She patted Eiji's shoulder. "Not that I blame you, Eiji. Tsuyoshi's is glad to have sensible company."
Her husband muttered something under his breath, but he was still grinning. "Are you finished, then?"
She internally celebrated her victory in yet another of their verbal battles. Since their first meeting over twelve years ago the pair had strive to beat each other through their wits, constantly preparing their tongues for each new opportunity that arose. If there was one of Tokio's traits that Saitou admired more than her beauty, it was her cunning and shrewd intelligence. A wolf and a cat-the most obvious of nature's antagonists, yet for the past decade husband and wife.
"Father, there's something I need to tell you," Tsuyoshi said as they started back to the inn they were staying in during Saitou's vacation period. "I saw Battousai today."
Saitou appeared surprised, then settled with a bored look. "Is that so?"
"Yes; at the restaurant."
"Hmm. And what did you tell him?"
Tokio poked him in the ribs. "He's your son, not your captive. Stop interrogating him."
"Oh yes you were." She shoved her parcels into his arms, and when she pulled away he was forced to carry them least they fall into the street. "You'll do anything to spy on that man, won't you? I'm tired of hearing about Battousai."
Tsuyoshi crossed his arms. "Me too. He didn't look all that impressive."
"Not all samurai are as scary-looking as your dad," Eiji countered, feeling the need to some to Kenshin's defense.
The married couple exchanged glances, sharing a chuckle. "He may be right," Tokio said with a grin.
Saitou was about to add his own comment when the sounds of an argument drew his attention. He glanced to the far side of the street, where three police officers were arguing with a young man and woman. The cause seemed to be the kodachi sheaths they both appeared to be wearing. He smirked. Fools. Parading around town like that is the best way to get arrested quickly. But there was something about the boy that was familiar to him. The boy looked to be about twenty-or-so, his coarse hair cut short and dyed rusty-colored like a fox's. He was also unusually skinny for his age and of a small stature, which might have been mistaken for youth by an untrained eye. The girl beside him was of a similar stature, with wide brown eyes and short hair of her own. The likeness in their features suggested some family bond, one that caused Saitou to pause. He'd never seen these two, but….
One of the officers finally became annoyed with the continuing argument, and he reached for the girl's arm. She recoiled, and a moment later her brother elbowed the man in his gut. In the commotion the pair managed to slip away into the crowd.
Saitou touched his wife's shoulder, and upon catching he attention forced the parcel's on her. "Hey," she protested, struggling to keep them in her arms, "aren't you going to be a sophisticated Meiji gentlemen?"
"In a moment, Dear." He left her side and followed the two, weaving his way through the crowds. It was a simple matter for him as an investigator; the boy's hair color was an added convenience. They're heading for the edge of town he thought to himself, moving faster. I'll catch them before that. He didn't intend to turn them in--maybe frighten them a bit, and find why they were bold enough to carry weapons in the daylight where everyone could see. And then there was that strange familiarity he felt from them….
Saitou had just about reached them when a man intercepted him, and a silent force impacted against his sense. Sword ki? But what… He stared at the man who'd stopped him, and instantly he understood. The long hair, the wide face…he knew him.
"It's been a while," this new man said, smiling grimly. "Still chasing after the rookies?"
"Maeda," Saitou grunted, taken aback by the sudden appearance of this man. "You're--"
"Still alive, apparently. As are you." Maeda Gou nodded barely. "When we lost you in Aizu, we feared the worst."
"And what would that be?" He sighed as the pair he'd been pursuing disappeared around a street corner. The surprise and almost relief he felt from having discovered Maeda, however, dwarfed his disappointment.
"Why, your death, of course." Maeda's expression became warm. "But with you, Saitou-san, even that might not have stopped you."
The police officers that had been speaking with the young duo finally caught up, and snapped to attention as they saw Saitou. "Sir Fujita."
"Calm down," he replied, annoyed with their time-wasting formalities. He could sense a pair of eyes on him: Maeda's, he assumed. "They're gone now. What was their crime?"
"We're sorry to have disturbed you during your vacation," the leader said first. "We were going to arrest them for breaking the sword code."
Maeda's sharp eyes darted from Saitou to the men. "You work for them?" he asked in a low voice that was devoid of emotion.
He would never understand. "I'm their superior, actually," Saitou said, still not looking at him directly. "Now, you three file a report. Those kids won't do anything. Nest time be more careful."
"Yes, sir Fujita."
The three officers bowed and then scurried away, leaving Saitou with his past comrade. Maeda Gou had been one of his fighters in the third group of the Shinsengumi; not the best, but he was a respectable and trustworthy man, completely loyal. That he could survive the ten turbulent years since the war was testimony enough to his endurance. Saitou was also inwardly pleased that one of his own had survived, as he thought most of them to have been killed in the third Boshin war.
But Maeda's face showed no such pleasure. He was staring at Saitou now in shock. "Saitou-san," he said with deliberate slowness, "you're…a member of the police?"
"Yes. It's good work." He kept his voice light-the last thing he needed was for this samurai to get the wrong idea about him. "I have been for a while."
"How long?" Maeda persisted. "Since Aizu?" Exasperation and betrayal splashed across his face. "You have, haven't you? You betrayed us?"
"Now just a minute," Saitou interrupted gruffly, unnoticing that Tokio and the two boys had come up behind him. "I fought till the end during that time. After that I had no choice, with a wife and child to consider. The Shinsengumi vanished, but there is still work to be done in the new era. I'm continuing the work of the Miburo."
Maeda didn't look convinced. The disgust and shock was clear in his face and eyes. Saitou knew he couldn't blame the man for his reactions. After all, he had abandoned his entire life and all his comrades long before the battles had ended. He'd even fought against them in the wars that followed the third Boshin and the Seinan. They were right to call him a traitor.
"Excuse me," Tokio intervened at last. "My name is Fujita Tokio. Would you like to come with us? If you have some business with my husband--"
"I have no business with him," he interrupted curtly, glancing between the two. "Thank you, Fujita-san, but there are other things I must attend to." He bowed, though by the way he hesitated Saitou could tell the man thought he was lowering his eyes from an enemy. "Please excuse me." He straightened and then moved swiftly away.
Saitou watched him go, allowing the memories to come back to him. "That was Maeda Gou," he said aloud, his voice dull. His golden eyes narrowed. "A member of my group in the Miburo. We fought at Tobafushimi together, and in Aizu. After that…."
Tokio took his hand, and it was then that he realized that he'd formed fists. He forced himself to relax, and allowed his wife to lead him and the boys back toward the inn. Tokio understands me he thought, closing his hand around hers and not caring if anyone saw. She knows. She knows better than anyone does, and that's all that matters.