This fan fiction is based on the Rurouni Kenshin manga. Rurouni Kenshin characters are the property of creator Nobohiro Watsuke, Shueisha, Shonen Jump, Sony Entertainment, and VIZ Comics. This is a non-profit work for entertainment purposes only. Permission was not obtained from the above parties.
Okita Soushi, the central figure of this story, appears only briefly in 'Rurouni Kenshin.' He is the young Shinsen Gumi captain Kenshin is first fighting when he flashes back to fighting Saitou during the Bakumatsu, and he also appears (also briefly) in the OVA. Like Saitou Hajime, he was a real person, a founding member of the Shinsen Gumi. A child prodigy, he was considered by many in his day to be the best swordsman in Japan. He died of tuberculosis in 1868, at the age of 25. The "Ikeda-ya incident" referred to in this story was the 1865 assassination of a number of prominent Ishin Shishi leaders by the Shinsen Gumi at the Ikeda-ya inn in Kyoto; this event is depicted toward the beginning of the OVA. Legend, although perhaps not truth, has it that Okita suffered a debilitating attack following this event, where he coughed a great deal of blood and fainted. Knowing this may or may not help this story make some sense.
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Chance Meeting

by Koumori ::: 03.Apr.2001

Kyoto, June 1865

"Himura-san." Okita smiled. "Your Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu improves every time we meet."

The Battousai said nothing. Okita had never heard him say more than a few words, and yet he knew Himura Kenshin well, as the red-haired youth knew him. They knew one another's names, their allegiances, their habits in battle, their every skill and weakness. Himura silently sheathed his sword and dropped into the kamae for a battou jutsu, the devastating slashing attack that had earned him his name.

Himura, Okita thought as he adopted a defensive posture, took no joy in his fighting. That he could fight the way a bird could fly - effortless, instinctive, miraculous - did not seem to affect him at all. Okita himself, though he stood still waiting for the attack, felt momentum tugging at him, total readiness, knowing he could strike without even thinking. Life and death and a thin piece of steel between them. How could he keep a smile from his lips? And how could Himura narrow his eyes and stare with such venom, if he felt it even a little bit?

The battou jutsu would have killed him, had he not been a captain of the Shinsen Gumi. The move was so swift that Okita never even saw it; his response was pure instinct and adrenalin, and he saw that he had caught the blade with his own, stopping it with his tsuba. He was hilt to hilt and eye to eye with Himura, could hear the younger man's breath and smell sweat and blood on his clothing. They were matched evenly in size, strength and speed, but neither could attack from so close, and Okita strained as he fought to keep his feet under the Battousai's pressure. He'd never gotten such a good look at the Ishin Shishi, and it was almost enough to distract him.

Almost. They screamed at the same time, each shoving the other back and into striking range. Himura kept close, too close to allow Okita the room to unleash his deadly three-pointed sandantsuki. But that was also too close for the battou jutsu, and Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu was not at its best at close range. The assassin's empty eyes gave nothing away, and Okita found once again that it was difficult to predict his movements. He felt his chest growing tighter as he grew more tired, and began to look for an opportunity to end it quickly; he loved fighting, and fighting with Himura was more like a dance, but Okita felt his breath growing shorter. Himura took advantage of Okita's tiredness with a slashing stroke that Okita barely blocked, and that cut his wrist. The pain focused his mind, suddenly; made Okita smile, and made him seek an opening in earnest.

Running footsteps then, and somebody shouting for Okita. Himura's eyes darted to the glow of lantern light approaching down the alley; Okita counted four sets of footsteps, perhaps more. No good, no good at all; the Battousai could easily face a crowd, but he wouldn't if he didn't have to. Himura fell back quickly, looking to the street behind him for retreat. Without thinking, as soon as he had the space, even as Himura turned toward the street, Okita struck for his throat.

He was fast, but the Battousai's reflex was instantaneous, his blade throwing a pale gleam of reflected light across his scarred face as he caught Okita's sword. A thin ribbon of blood opened up at the curve of Himura's neck: both a triumph and a sign of opportunity missed. The Battousai's parry had not been completely effective, but it had stopped Okita's blade from slashing his throat. He thought he saw Himura's mouth curve in a blank little smile, and then the hitokiri was gone.

The entire fight could not have lasted more than a few minutes. Okita turned toward the light, bringing one hand up to his mouth to cover his cough. His hand came away flecked with blood; he frowned at it quietly and sheathed his sword, turning his attention to the four Shinsen Gumi who came running between the buildings, their swords ready. "Okita-san! Are you all right?"

"Daijobu," Okita replied with a smile, crossing the street to meet his men. "Himura turned up, but he's gone now. I wouldn't bother chasing after him. All went well for you?"

"Yes, sir. There were only the two of them, as you said."

"Very good," said Okita, and turned away to cough again. "Let's go home and have some supper, then."

Okita did not eat supper with his men that evening. Instead, once they returned to the dojo, he made a laughing excuse and retreated to his room, sitting quietly against the wall with his eyes closed, struggling for breath. His chest felt tight and hot, as if someone were standing on it, and though he tried to keep it down, the coughing erupted out of the depths of his chest, harsh and painful. It was always like this when he fought now, even worse sometimes than it had been that humiliating time at the Ikeda-ya. Okita doubled over, coughing fiercely into his hands, trying to clear his choked lungs and knowing that the effort would only hurt him more. And that the attack would pass, it would pass, he told himself again and again; and, finally, it did, leaving him gasping for breath, his chest tight and aching.

The hardest thing had been parting with Ayako. She had been understanding, in her quiet way. She didn't weep, which made him glad, and proud of her. Sometimes she still came to see him, though he would not let her touch him; she would bring him food, or flowers she had picked. He could tell she knew that he was trying to protect her, and that it hurt her nonetheless. It was at moments like this, when his lungs hurt inside him and his mouth tasted of the iron tang of his own blood, that he most longed to be able to hide in her arms. He took his hair down and began slowly to comb it, closing his eyes, trying to lose himself in the small gestures of a normal life.

His door slid open without warning, and Okita instinctively tensed; his sword was in his hand before he knew he had reached for it. He relaxed only slightly at the sight of Saitou Hajime standing in the doorway, his hand still on the screen. The tall man did not look pleased. "Saitou-san," Okita said, hating the roughness of his voice. "Will you come in?" He nodded toward a set of dice in a small bowl on the floor. "Care for a game? I'm always playing against myself, and I'm always winning. It's getting predictable."

Saitou entered the room before Okita had finished speaking. "Okita-kun. You ran into Himura Battousai tonight?"

"Yes. We killed two Ishin Shishi, and we stopped Red from getting any blood tonight."

"Except yours," Saitou said with disapproval.

Okita smiled. "Only a scratch."

"You were too slow," Saitou said tartly. "If you hadn't been so stubborn about getting in the sandantsuki, you could have had him instead of wasting time trying to make him give you the space."

"You were watching?" Okita smiled to cover a wince. Saitou was right; he'd wanted too badly to have a perfect kill, when having a kill at all would have been more than enough.

Saitou grunted. "You can't beat him, you know."

Okita smiled again. "Maybe not," he said, "but I can still take him to a draw, and that's enough."

"Enough for most. For the Hitokiri Battousai, perhaps not."

"I haven't seen you defeat Himura-san yet," the younger man observed mildly.

Saitou's mouth narrowed. "I still have plenty of chances. I don't think you do. Don't bother fighting him again. The next time you do, you're going to die."

"Are you trying to say he's better than me? Because he isn't."

"Maybe. He's as good as you, now. And so it will come down to who can last the longest."

"Don't be so dramatic, Saitou-san. If I encounter him again, I'll act according to my duty. As you would do," Okita added, his smile belying the slight pointed edge to his voice.

"How long have you been ill?" Saitou said curtly. "You were sick even before that Ikeda-ya business. Are you getting any better? Soon you'll be too weak to hold your own. Do you want Himura seeing something and going back to his people and telling them how sick you are?"

Okita paused. He'd borne it well, he'd thought. But he could not hide the weight he had lost, and sometimes the coughing came on him at exactly the wrong moment, and when he was tired, it was harder to pretend that he was not. And Saitou was an observant man; and Himura was too. Okita's smile became small and fierce. "Stop telling me how sick I am. I won't just cough my life away warm and safe by a fire."

He could have contracted this disease anywhere. An inn, a woman, on the street perhaps. It irritated him, more than anything else, to think that a simple illness was going to bring him down when no man alive could. He had to stay away from women now for fear of passing it along to them; and trying to keep it a secret from the world at large, and the severity of it a secret from his men, was beginning to take its toll on him. Medicines helped the cough, and they helped the fevers when they came, but Okita knew well that treating the symptoms would not cure the disease. Nothing would.

Saitou made a derogatory little sound. "There's nobody else who can lead the first division right now. They're hopeless."

"Maa, Saitou-san," Okita chided. "Those are my men you're talking about." Okita could make a joke out of just about anything, but the reputation of the first division was something he took seriously. After a moment, he added thoughtfully, "Nagakura-san could do it, I think."

"Nagakura-san's busy enough. Just don't take any more chances."

"Hai, hai," Okita said dismissively. "Have them save me something to eat; I'll be down shortly."

Saitou responded only with a grunt, and left the room, closing the door behind him. Okita cast an affectionate smile after him, and, the attack over, put his hair up again and went down to dinner. Perhaps a drink - no, definitely a drink afterwards. The place with the pretty sisters, a few streets over. Nagakura promised to meet him there a little bit later, while Saitou declined in a way that made Okita think he was hoping for a chance to speak with Miss Tokio that evening. He certainly didn't begrudge the man that; he promised to buy Nagakura's first round, and went out into the summer night, humming softly to himself as he made his way through the street. The sake would taste good tonight.

He was not more than halfway there when from the corner of his eye he noticed a man standing by a low wall, half-lit by the lanterns hanging outside adjacent buildings. He had to look twice, to make sure his eyes had not deceived him. Though the man's back was turned, there was no mistaking him; hair that color was not common in Kyoto. Okita paused a respectful distance away. Once again he found a smile rise to his lips, the familiar thrill of anticipation. "Konban wa, Himura-san," he said softly.

Himura glanced back over his shoulder, then turned, unhurried. "Okita Soushi."

Okita made a small bow. "I didn't expect to see you twice in one night, but it is always a pleasure."

"Shinsen Gumi travel in packs," Himura said without inflection. "You're not on business." His voice was husky and boyish; no wonder he didn't talk much.

"And you never show your face in the street unless you are on business."

In response, Himura took one step to the side, and Okita regretted his remark. Himura had been visiting a small, narrow and crowded cemetery. The tablets were lit by a few small flickering lanterns, shadows jittering softly across the names. It was impossible to tell which one Himura had been looking at; his face was expressionless now as he watched Okita and waited.

Okita drew his katana and moved without even thinking about it into jodan, raising his sword up above his head and waiting. It was a risky stance to take against Himura's technique, but if he had the opportunity to strike first, it would be devastating. Himura just looked at him for a moment and lifted his hand to his sword without drawing it. "What do you want?" he said.

"The usual," Okita smiled. "If you would be so kind as to draw your sword, Himura-san."

"I decline."

Okita tilted his head slightly, birdlike. "You decline? That isn't an option."

"Our fight of this afternoon is over. It ended in a draw. We have nothing new to fight for tonight."

Okita didn't waver. "Does it matter?" he smiled. "You know how badly the Shogunate wants you dead."

Himura said flatly "It matters. Whatever you're looking for, it has nothing to do with me, Okita-san. I'll fight you as an Ishin Shishi, but I have no business with you tonight."

"Then fight me as a Shinsen Gumi."

Himura dropped his hands away from his weapon, all but announcing that he did not consider Okita a threat. "We have no business together tonight," he said again. "Go and have a drink," he added coldly. "You'll feel better."

"You don't believe that I'll kill you."

"No." The Battousai always seemed to take his invulnerability for granted. But Okita himself had made him bleed. He wasn't invincible. Himura narrowed his eyes for a moment and continued, "You're not well, Okita-san."

Was there no one in Kyoto who didn't know that? "And so?"

"If you truly wish to die, I'll oblige you. But I don't think that's what you want."

Okita did not waver, watching for any sign that Himura intended to draw again. Everybody seemed to know what was best for him tonight. "I'll be the judge of that."

Himura regarded him coolly. "I cut you down here, and that will be the end of it. But if you die here, you don't die for your cause; you die because you're a fool. That would only sully my blade."

Okita slowly lowered his sword, angling the blade so that Himura could not rush in close. "High words from a lackey of the Choshu. Are you afraid of a sick man, Himura-san?" he smiled. "Haven't you seen already tonight that I am still your equal?"

"As you always were." Himura still made no move toward his sword. "I'll fight you for my cause. I won't fight you here, on the street, because I happened to meet you here. That would be a disservice to the things we both fight for, Okita-san. And I do not wish to rob the Shinsen Gumi of its taichou simply because he was ill and acted recklessly. There's no honor in that for either one of us."

Okita hesitated, staring at Himura, looking for any sign that the man meant to attack him; but there was none that he could see. He searched the young assassin's face; nothing but calm sincerity there. He did not like the way Himura's words resonated with him. He couldn't help but smile, though, as he said "Do you think you can talk me to death?"

He thought he saw something like a smile pull at Himura's mouth. "Perhaps just unconscious."

Okita laughed softly and sheathed his blade, giving Himura a small bow. "When I meet you next, I won't be so willing to listen."

"When I meet you next, I won't be so willing to speak. But, if you aren't killed by the time this is all over, you may yet have something to do with whatever time you have. I don't care to destroy that."

Okita bowed again; this time Himura returned the gesture, a bit stiffly. "Perhaps," Okita said. Then, softening a little, he added, "Let's hope you're right."

"Goodnight, Okita-san." Himura turned his back and walked away up the street, until he disappeared into shadow and the sound of his feet on the earth faded into silence.

Okita watched him go. Then he looked up to the star-flecked sky with a little sigh and a little smile to himself; he thought perhaps he would take a piece of Himura's advice after all. He needed a drink.

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