Summary: Katsura summons his chief hitokiri, who still answers to his call. For now.
Disclaimer: I don't own Ruroken, any of the canon characters, situations or settings. No money was made in the writing of this fic.

Katsura Kogoro, Minister of the Interior and one of the three most powerful men in Japan, kept a small, cramped office in the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. Though the centre of power and the Ministry's central office had long since shifted to Tokyo, Katsura had to keep up his ties to the Imperial Court; it was to this humble office that he had – for lack of a better word – summoned his premier hitokiri.

Katsura watched the CCTV feed as Himura walked with slow, quiet confidence past the black-suited bodyguards, unchallenged; Katsura allowed him absolute access to his presence no matter the time or place. Had he been in any way like Shishio, whose ambition had turned him into a mad dog Katsura had been forced to destroy, the Minister would never have dreamed of such potential exposure. But Himura did not play games, even if Katsura sometimes did, and there was not an ounce of ambition in him. They had both seen what ambition did to hitokiri, and knew what lay at the end: a rain of bullets, and an unmarked grave.

Soon enough there was a discreet tap on the door. "Enter," Katsura called, and it slid open to reveal Himura Battousai, small, slender and innocuous.

Himura bowed as he entered, fluid and graceful, and sat down in the seat across from Katsura's desk.

"Himura-san," Katsura said, in his quiet, deliberately cultivated manner. "Thank you for coming."

Himura bowed again, raised his head so that his eerie golden-brown eyes met Katsura's with perfect steadiness. During the revolution those eyes had been cold, blank, utterly fanatical. In the ten years since then, they had become increasingly veiled and disillusioned, but what had not changed was the calm, steady potential for violence. Five days ago, Katsura would have called him the most loyal, trusted man he had. But that had been before Jin-ei's death.

"Let us be blunt," Katsura said. "We have known each other long enough for that, I think." There had always been complete honesty between them, from the very beginning. Himura was too dangerous for anything less.

Himura did not bow a third time. "Thank you for saying so, Katsura-san."

"And being blunt, you will not mind if I ask you, straight out, why you have abandoned the barracks for a run-down dojo in downtown Tokyo."

Other, lesser men, seeking to unnerve and intimidate, would have circled around the issue, taunting Himura with facts, photographs, files. They would have issued veiled threats and challenges. But Katsura had known this man too long; he knew his loyalty, knew his finely balanced sense of morality and honour, knew, too, that this most dangerous of hitokiri was both his greatest strength and, should it come to it, the blade that would turn in his hand.

Nothing less than the truth. That was what he had promised, all those years ago.

"Katsura-san," Himura said carefully, "I have not abandoned my post. I have simply found another place of residence."

Other men had often strayed from the barracks for days or weeks, dallying with a girl – or a boy – and returning when their interest waned. But not Himura.

"You wish to stay at this…Kamiya dojo…while still undertaking your duties."

"I…yes," Himura said, frowning a little. "Kaoru-dono has invited me to stay with her. It is a good place."

A good place, yes, it did have that reputation. Kamiya Kaoru – Himura's Kaoru-dono – was an outspoken believer in martial arts for self-improvement and self-defence, not lethal offence. She was also – and this was what truly convinced Katsura it was not a passing fling, and that Himura was determined to remain and protect his Kaoru-dono further – barely eighteen years old, alone save for her brother, and struggling financially in her first year of university.

"Kenshin," Katsura said, seeing Himura's eyes flick startled to his, "tell me this, honestly, for the sake of all that we have shared – can you continue to act as one of my hitokiri if you stay with this girl?"

Himura's eyes blanked, his face became an unreadable mask – and Katsura had his answer even before the other man replied. But those eyes, blanked as they were, remained steady, and there was nothing but honesty in Himura's voice as he spoke. "I don't know, Katsura-san," he said.

Katsura felt his heart gripped by an icy chill. "Well," he said, leaning back, not breaking eye contact for a second, "if it ever comes to it, let me know."

Himura bowed deeply, veiling his eyes and his expression, and left.

When he was gone, out of the foyer and long out of earshot, Katsura swept everything off the surface of his desk, throwing it all to the ground with a grinding, deeply satisfying crash. He stood panting, breathing harshly, his hands clenched white-knuckled on the edge of the desk, tempted to overturn it, too – but moment by moment, his composure returned, and soon he felt vaguely ashamed and disturbed by the uncharacteristic outburst.

Slowly, with great deliberation, he replaced every single item exactly as it had been before he upended it all.

And then he sat down, and began to make contingency plans.