Chapter 5

The Reckoning

Written by: Sherrie

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It was almost noon before the Sagara gate swung open and Moriko stepped onto the road. She brushed her bangs from her face as she scanned the neighborhood. Faint laughter was coming from the Himura home, and she could hear Kaoru yelling at Yahiko, even three houses away. Their street was definitely the most active and energetic in Tokyo, she decided. But her idle thoughts halted when her son spoke.

"Mama? You won't be gone very long, will you?" Kiyoshi tugged at his mother's sleeve. "It's your week off!"

Moriko turned and smiled. "I won't be gone for long, Kiyoshi. I just have to check in, that's all. There's a superior officer in town, and I should make some sort of appearance so I don't lose my job." She laughed a little as she ruffled his hair. "You wouldn't want that to happen, would you?"

"No." he pouted. "But it's still your week off, so don't stay down there."

"I'll be back for lunch." she promised, squeezing his hand a bit for emphasis.

They walked together up the street to the Kamiya dojo. Kaoru had been insistent that if Moriko were called in to work, that she drop Kiyoshi off at either the dojo or with Kenshin and Yuki. Since Kiyoshi loved watching the advanced students train, Moriko figured she'd let him stay there while she was out. And she was grateful when Kaoru happily agreed to let her son stay while she went to the Tokyo Police Station for an hour.

With Kiyoshi in safe hands, Moriko headed into town. Despite the fact that most of the crowd ignored her, there were a few people who smiled and said hello, or asked how her son was doing. She answered them cheerfully as she walked, waving to a couple people whom she knew fairly well.

But as she neared the Tokyo Police Station, she could feel her heart rate increase, and she had to remind herself to wipe the growing smile off her face. There was no reason to get excited over Saitoh being in town, particularly when they hadn't seen each other in three years. With only a few missions hand-written specifically for her, Moriko had no idea how he would react when she entered his office unexpectedly. A sudden rush of fear engulfed her body, and she prayed he wouldn't be irritated at her for dropping by.

She walked inside the main room, feeling a blast of cooler air different from the warmth outside tingle against her. She let the door shut behind her without thought, and scanned the room nervously. The police chief smiled at her as he stood from behind his desk. "Sagara-san! I know this is your week of, but I thought you might be stopping by to see Fujita-san, since he's your superior. I was actually expecting you to drop in today."

"Yes, I thought it might be in my best interest." Moriko replied, trying to keep her voice level. "I doubt he has any work for me, but I should report in just the same."

"I understand! If you'll follow me -"

She cut him off, "No, I'd rather go back alone. I hate distracting you from your work, and I'm sure I can find his temporary office. I really just need to check in and be polite, that's all."

He smiled. "Of course. Directly down the hall and to the right, Sagara-san."

"Arigatou." She bowed her head and pushed past the doors into the hall, taking a deep breath. The corridor was empty, and she took a step forward with increasing nervousness. Three years had been a long time. She dreaded the thought that he might not care for her any longer, but if she didn't see him, it would only make things more muddled.

The door to his office was closed, and Moriko closed her eyes and inhaled sharply as she brought her knuckles against the wood twice.

An annoyed yet pleasant "It's open" was muffled from inside, and she figured Saitoh thought the chief was standing on the other side of the door. She wasn't very fond of his Goro Fujita persona - only because she had known of his real identity for so long. She slowly opened the door and slipped inside.

Saitoh's back was to her, and he was leaning against his desk with his arms crossed. She waited for a moment, saying nothing, and allowed her eyes to scan his frame; tall, broad - the same as it always was. But something about him seemed different, as if he had something on his mind that was bothering him. She assumed it was work, for there were papers scattered all across his desk in a most un-orderly fashion. Normally he kept everything filed precise and neat.

"Well, what is it?" He finally asked, keeping up the pleasant persona with a hint of extreme annoyance behind it.

"I stopped by to see if Yuki's case had been cleared." she managed to say without her voice shaking.

His entire aura changed within less then a second, and he half turned in surprise, golden eyes narrowed, upon hearing her voice. "Moriko..."

She was the same as she'd always been as well - her long black hair hung straight against her back and the red bandana was tied across her forehead. She was dressed in a Chinese-styled outfit, and Saitoh figured it was because it she could move easier in it then in kendo pants. Her sword hung through her belt, and her wrist rested over the hilt casually. Her eyes watched him carefully as he stared at her.

"Her case is in the process of being dropped." he finally growled slightly, his surprise changing to anger, and he flung his hand across some of the stacks and scattered the papers more. "Though it took a good deal of...agreement to get that arranged."

He'd spent the past three hours going over stacks of files regarding Yukiyo Sasaki's criminal report. Getting her father to drop the charges would only take a bit of intimidation and direct ordering, but Saitoh had even considered burning some of the more important files to make sure the incident did not come back to haunt him in particular. He was still trying to decide what to do about the okiya, but at the moment, his nerves were too burnt out to think of anything other then a boy with golden flecks in his eyes. Especially with that boy's mother standing directly before him.

"Yuki's father didn't seem like the type of man to agree to much of anything, according to the way she portrayed him." She answered darkly.

Saitoh scowled. Obviously Moriko had no idea that her friend betrayed her only three hours earlier. But she wasn't an idiot either, and she knew something was wrong. He lit a cigarette, knowing he'd need something to help him through this conversation.

"He didn't agree to anything. Lady Himura and I worked things out. With much difficulty!" He stated Yuki's society title with sarcasm as he stalked around the desk towards the window, leaning his forearm against the panes and glaring out. He wondering how Moriko would handle what he knew he would have to tell her.

"What's wrong with you?" she frowned. "I'm used to your coldness, but it's more then usual this morning. What happened, Hajime?"

Saitoh's face softened a bit, and he decided to go ahead and tell her. She would have to know, or she'd eventually find out. Moriko was a spy after all, and if he didn't tell her, she'd only go looking through the paperwork later and ask more questions then. And if that happened, she'd get mad at him for not telling her in the first place. "Himura placed a few facts on the table, so to speak. I had no choice but to drop her charges and release her."

"Her charges? What charges? Her father struck her! He was the one in the wrong. Yuki shouldn't have had any charges to deal with."

"Do you know nothing of her past?" he asked. His eyes still gazed out the window away from her, but he could hear the tenseness in her voice - and it told him she was nervous.

She paused before answering. "Look, I only came down to find out what went on this morning. And to see you. I haven't seen you in three years. And no, I don't know much of Yuki's past. We rarely talk of the past anymore, you know. You're being very vague about this. I can just leave and find out from Yuki if you don't want to tell me."

Saitoh turned and caught her eyes with his. "Don't leave." he ordered it a little more gruff then he wished to, but she remained where she was standing and glared back at him. Walking back to the desk, he ground the cigarette into the ashtray. "Facts, Moriko. Himura had a lot of incriminating ordeals throughout the Revolution."

"Most people did. Is that so uncommon?" she answered sharply.

"No, but Himura's were of a particular kind. Though it doesn't really matter now." Saitoh replied disgustedly. "All of those charges have been dropped. For one single reason."

"If she had incriminating charges, why didn't one of you come get me to help out? I would have testified for her to keep her out of jail - you weren't going to put her in jail, were you?"

For a moment, their eyes met, narrowed at each other. He could hear the darkness in her voice; a cold, demanding tone he hadn't heard too often. "Yes, I was." Saitoh finally snapped. "Because she stole money and ran away from an okiya, and both the okiya and her father wanted her in jail. I have to follow the law, Moriko. You, of all people, know that."

"An okiya?" She stared at him in surprise.

"Yes, an okiya." Saitoh glared. "I suppose she never told you about that, did she? I have to admit, I was a bit surprised when I found out myself, but it's the truth. I've got the paperwork on it, plus the word of her okiya mother. Obviously she didn't trust you with her secrets. But, there's no need for you to worry about your friend Himura, you know." his voice was dripping with sarcasm. "She ruthlessly slipped out of jail. I told you I had no choice but to drop all her charges and let her go."

"I don't understand...What are you talking about? You still could have called me down to help!"

Saitoh look turned to anger. "No, I couldn't have. Himura had another plan for you. She didn't want your help. She used you in another way."

"What are you saying?"

"In so many words or less," Saitoh snarled, "she told me that if I didn't drop her charges, she would blackmail me."

"Blackmail you? What sort of blackmail does Yuki have against you?" He noticed her body froze as she asked. The way she suddenly went rigid before him was surprising - he'd never seen her tense up quite this way before. She was always fluid, cat-like, graceful in a strange way. Not cornered or scared. He took a deep breath, preparing himself to tell her, and for her reaction.

"Don't you know?" His voice softened, and he stared at her with a mixture of love and pain hidden in his face. "She mentioned your son, this morning. How he had the most beautiful golden flecks in his eyes..." He watched her mouth drop, and he could almost hear her breath catch in her lungs.

"What?!"

"Yuki broke whatever promise you trust her with." Saitoh cut her off before she could say anything further. "She basically threatened that if I were to lock in her jail away from her family, she would have me arrested for an illegitimate child named Kiyoshi Sagara. I had no grounds to argue against her, Moriko. Adultery is a crime just as worthy of punishment as stealing or running away is, as she so vividly pointed out. I had no choice but to meet Himura's demands and release her."

There was a long silence following his statement. Saitoh waited for Moriko to break something in the room. Truthfully, she was violent enough to do so. Her manslayer side wasn't buried like the Battousai's apparently was. But nothing happened. He warily glanced at her, and then he took a double take and stared.

Moriko was only standing before him, as she had been the entire time. Her face looked as though she'd been slapped as hard as possible, and her eyes were glazed over with fear and hurt. The moment Saitoh looked at her, her lower lip trembled slightly and she suddenly sank to her knees, her hands over her face, and burst into tears.

He could only watch. He'd only seen Moriko cry once before in the entire time he'd known her, and if his calculations were correct, she had been eighteen at the time. One of her hands dropped to the rough floor and she balled her fist there, angrily, as she cried.

"I told her she would ruin your happiness to save her own." Saitoh finally managed to say quietly.

"I trusted her..." she whispered between sobs. "I... damn it! I trusted her!"

Saitoh sighed and walked around the desk, intent on pulling her off the floor to hold her until she calmed down. But the moment she realized he was walking towards her, instinct kicked in, and Moriko was on her feet. Her eyes burned angrily back at him through the dampness of tears, and she snatched her sword and sheath from her belt and held both in front of her as if they were some sort of shield.

He smirked in his normal manner at this reaction. "I was only going to try and help."

She glared at him, and her right hand gripped the hilt of her katana tightly. "Don't you think you're half the problem? I should know by now that I can't trust anyone!"

Saitoh's eyes narrowed. "Don't go making irrational decisions."

"Irrational decisions?!" Her anger snapped this time, and she lost any ability to think clearly.

"I know you. You act before you think half the time, unless it's a governmental job I assign you."

The door slammed before he realized she'd turned and left. Saitoh stared. She'd practically run out and hardly said a word about the severity of the situation. He had to admit, she didn't take it the way he assumed she would. Not at all. She was definitely mad - furious even. His mind shuddered as he wondered what she would do next. Obviously not what he could imagine, since she hadn't acted the way he thought she would at the information. Eventually her temper would calm down though, because that was how she acted... but until then, all hell could easily break loose, and he knew it.

Sighing, Saitoh leaned back against his desk. He would wait a day or so before making sure she was alright. Until then, being patient would threaten to drive him crazy. He had come to Tokyo to see her, not to get involved with Yukiyo Himura's affairs. His golden eyes flickered as he thought of something else too - his son.

Kiyoshi Sagara had golden flecks in his eyes. And Hajime Saitoh was the boy's father. It made him proud in a way - until he remembered Yuki's accusations. The smile that had etched over his face faded instantly, and he hoped Moriko would be alright through the ordeal.

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Moriko ran through the streets of Tokyo, anger building in her with every second. She completely ignored the people who called a friendly 'hello' after her. Her body automatically dodged obstacles in her way - whether they were carts, vendors or the crowds walking along the road. She ran like a cat, bent just enough to move quickly. Her left hand gripped her sword hilt at an angle, ready to pull the weapon from its sheath in an instant. It was the only thing she had to protect herself.

Her lungs were burning for air, but she refused to stop and catch her breath. As the crowds thinned out and she entered the neighborhood, a new sensation of fury and hurt swept through her body. Forcing the stinging tears in her eyes back, Moriko slowed down to a stalking pace to regain her breath. She would need it for something more important then running in a few moments. She passed the Kamiya Dojo, ignoring the sounds of the students practicing and Kaoru yelling. She lightly ran past her own home, closing her eyes from inner pain.

And she opened them again, blinking back tears, as she stalked towards the Himura residence. Just seeing Yuki's gate and knowing she was on the other side of the heavy wooden door made Moriko even angrier. Her mind couldn't seem to process the thought that a friend had betrayed her so coldly and without feeling. Even Saitoh wasn't that bad. She'd never thought Yuki to be so cruel, but her mind was insisting in her anger that Yuki didn't care about her - and Moriko was only a tool to keep Yuki's past buried. As if they all didn't have a past they wished to keep buried.

She didn't bother knocking. She simply slammed the gate open as hard as possible, letting it bang against its hinges loudly as she stalked into the front courtyard. Her dark eyes settled on the one person that she'd come to find - Yukiyo Himura.

Yuki had been practicing, obviously - and alone. Her sword was lowered in front of her, and she was staring at Moriko and the entrance the younger woman had made. Her face changed from strict concentration to surprise, and Moriko noticed Yuki's expression set grimly, as if she were bracing herself for what was about to come.

"How could you?!" Moriko shouted. "Damn it Yuki, how could you do this to me?!"

Yuki didn't answer at first. After a moment, she met Moriko's gaze without hesitation or flinching. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry?!" Moriko's anger rose again. "After what you did, all you can say is you're 'sorry'?!"

Yuki bowed her head at this, but said nothing.

Moriko's next reaction was a subconscious one. She yanked her sword out with a fierce snatch, letting the steel grate against the sheath. "I trusted you!!" She could feel tears against her cheeks now, and Yuki was still staring at the ground, avoiding her eyes.

Moriko's body was shaking. "I suppose you think it's great that you've saved your family! But mine doesn't matter, is that it?! I've worked just as hard as you have, Yuki! I love my son as much as you love your children! But you don't care at all, do you? All you can do is just stand there and tell me your sorry, but you can't possibly mean it!"

Suddenly Moriko's entire attitude changed. She felt deathly cold and calm, despite the fact that her voice was still raised. "I get it. You tell me your sorry, but the second I leave, you'll rejoice that you saved your family and kept yourself out of jail. And I've got to continue to live in fear for my life, as well as keeping my son safe. I don't have what you have, Yuki. I don't have husband to care for me. Did that ever occur to you? That I can't ever have that? No, of course not. You'll always have Kenshin. I'll never have the man I love to myself."

Yuki finally raised her eyes meet Moriko's again. "I could not let myself be ripped away from my family." She said it quietly, but her voice was level and calm.

"So it's okay to ruin my life? I hate you. I should never have trusted you." She paused and raised the sword in front of her, leveling it out straight. "Do you have any idea what I'm feeling? How would you have liked it I did that to you, Yuki? I never would have. Never. I will settle this with you."

Her eyes flashed red. "I thought you were my friend. If you were an enemy...this would be over in a matter of seconds. I'd have already used this sword against you in a true fight - a fight without back-stabbing!"

Yuki's gaze didn't waver, "If that will make you feel better, you have only to name the place and I will be there."

A sudden silence fell across the front yard. Moriko lowered her sword and inhaled sharply as she met Yuki's calm gaze. Fighting was the only thing she knew. She was so angry right now, all she wanted to do was fight. To take the aggression she felt out on something else.

"Tomorrow night." her voice stated coldly. "Outside of town. There's a large field not far from here. I can't let anyone - not even someone I once trusted - to hurt me like this."

The gate slammed shut again, and Yuki watched it sadly. But she didn't flinch at the loud bang that echoed half way down the street. She was left alone in her front yard, and Moriko was gone.

~*~

The tall grass whipped harshly against Moriko's legs as she sprinted across the field. She was running at full speed, but the anger hadn't faded. She snatched her sword out, which she'd sheathed when she left Yuki's. Dropping to one knee, she slammed the hilt against the ground, sending a spray of debris through the air away from her. It infuriated her that Yuki had betrayed her this way, and at the moment, Moriko wasn't sure what else to do other then let some of her aggression out.

Standing back up, she watched as the dust settled and the grass caught the wind. Stalking through the aftermath of the Kinto Isukani attack, she headed for a single tree in the field and slammed her back against it before sliding down. Moriko drew her knees to her chest and placed her katana on the ground where she wouldn't be quite so tempted to use it for a few minutes. Then she tried to sort out what had happened.

She was aware that Yuki had a confrontation with her father on the street the day before, and that man was now in jail. Her eyes narrowed. Saitoh had ordered that Yuki return to the police station for questioning, which she'd obviously done this morning. But why had Yuki betrayed her? Moriko hugged her knees closer and rested her chin against them. She didn't understand why. Yuki could have come for her, and Moriko would have gladly gone with her to the station to battle against Saitoh, even if she loved him. Following the law was something that could easily be avoided, for Moriko had done this countless times, but the realization of how easy it was to avoid it was becoming a harsh reality for her to deal with. Still, she could have spoken to Saitoh for Yuki. She must have had some sort of influence over the man, because he had softened when he mentioned Kiyoshi and the entire blackmail deal.

She gritted her teeth angrily as she remembered what Yuki had done. Moriko had really tried her best to forget Saitoh and move on with her life. There was no reason for Kiyoshi to know the truth - he was too young. And she had figured that Saitoh would know all along, but telling him would only give him more of an ego about it. He would have more power over her - a power she knew she'd be unable to break as he weakened her. She'd only told Yuki, Kenshin, Hikaru and Hiko the truth in case something happened to her - then at least she knew Kiyoshi would be safe. The last thing she expected was for Yuki to use the information against her. As far as she was concerned, it wasn't supposed to be Yuki's place to tell Saitoh the truth. Moriko had been betrayed before - but never like this.

She brushed a few tears from her face with the back of her hand. Yuki must have had a reason for doing what she did, but Moriko's mind wouldn't allow her to figure it out. She could only think of her son, and the constant fear of survival. Surviving had been easy when she was alone, but it was harder with Kiyoshi. Worth every second, but much harder.

Her head tilted back and she watched the leaves swaying above her for a few moments. She'd have to get back to Kaoru's before long and get her son. Then she'd simply go home, and lock both gates. Her eyes closed and she sighed heavily. She'd also have to start practicing. Not that she particularly needed to; she practiced daily just like Yuki did, and working kept her skills sharp. Then another realization hit her.

Yuki was very good with a sword, but she wasn't a manslayer. Moriko mulled this over. Her own speed would be faster then Yuki's, and though she was furious, she wasn't sure if she could hurt Yuki. No, she couldn't hurt her. Yuki and Kenshin had a family, and Moriko wouldn't break them apart so cruelly, even if Yuki had threatened to do that to her. She winced. It was a no-win situation all around for her, that was it. She couldn't hurt Yuki because her honor wouldn't allow it. She'd never put Hitomi or Keitaro through that. At the same time, she couldn't allow herself to be hurt, but because she couldn't hurt Yuki, she'd end up having to downplay the fight and probably forfeit. Then she'd be back where she started - hurt, in fear, and alone with only her son - who was too young to understand what was going on.

Moriko started to cry again. She couldn't help it. Everything she ever wanted was so close - and yet so far out of her reach. A decent life, living without fear, friends around her, even love when she could get close to Saitoh... but a feeling deep inside her warned that after today, she might never have that again. No matter how fast she ran to get the things everyone else around her cherished, she wasn't able to take hold of them herself.

She continued to cry, her face buried in her knees. Kiyoshi could wait a little while longer for her. But right now, all she wanted was the solitude around her.

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Chapter 6 - A Matter of Conscience

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