|Trading Places A Night At the Akabeko
Author: Shirou Shinjin PM
When her friends come over to the Akabeko for dinner, Tae can't help but feel that there's something... odd about them. Continuation of Trading Places.Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor - Words: 2,873 - Reviews: 16 - Favs: 19 - Follows: 2 - Published: 05-11-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3533385
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Trading Places – A Night At the Akabeko
By Shirou Shinjin
Disclaimer: I have not, do not, and most likely will never own Rurouni Kenshin, or its characters. They belong to various evil corporations, and the wonderful Watsuki-sama. I'm just going to borrow them for a bit, k?
That was why she was currently worried. For the past week or so, she'd been getting the distinct impression that her friends were up to something. Yahiko had been particularly cheerful lately, which was never a good sign. On Tuesday, she'd caught Sano chuckling to himself when he thought she wasn't looking. Even the look on Kaoru's face when she'd seen her yesterday had screamed scheming, never mind that Kenshin had a strange smirk on his face for a split second before he'd hid it.
Oh they were up to something, alright; frankly, they were a lousy bunch of liars. Trouble was, she hadn't been able to figure out what they were planning.
Thankfully, she didn't have time to dwell on it at the moment. She was presently putting the finishing touches on some decorations for the Akabeko; apparently, tonight was some sort of gaijin holiday celebrating... something. She didn't really understand the details—she really only knew two things about it:
1. she had to get a bunch of "pumpkins," carve out scary faces, and stick candles in them and that she should
2. expect people to dress funny.
The "pamupukinsu" had been a problem until she'd managed to source some from one of her fruit suppliers. Carving them had also presented a problem until she discovered that Tsubame had an artistic streak. She was now placing a few outside the entrance, with the rest strategically positioned inside for maximum... well, whatever they were for. She offhandedly wondered whether Tsubame smiling happily and humming to herself as she carved hideous, rictus grins out of fruit with a sharp knife was a bad sign or not.
Honestly, the whole thing was really quite confusing. She knew the gaijins had some strange ideas, but couldn't work out how they'd come up with a holiday involving mangled orange fruit and putting on a costume.
Sighing, she went back inside and starting setting up one of the larger tables. Kaoru and her extended family would be here soon for dinner. If they were going to try something, she would just have to roll with the blows. After all, she had a reputation to protect! She prided herself on being unflappable; always calm and in control in any situation. She intended to keep it that way.
Setting out some tea cups, she heard a faint "oro!" on the wind and stood up to greet her friends.
"Tae-san!" Kaoru beamed as she walked over to give her friend a hug.
"Good to see you, Kaoru-chan," she replied, returning the hug.
"Tae-dono," Kenshin said, inclining his head forward.
"Ken-san; a pleasure as always. Please, sit down." She guided them to the table and... it suddenly occurred to her that something wasn't quite right. As she watched them walk towards their table, she noticed that for some inexplicable reason Kaoru was taller than Kenshin by about a hands-breadth. Usually, it was Ken-san who was taller...
As they sat down, she noticed something else, too. It was their eyes. One of Kaoru's defining physical attributes were her deep blue eyes, which usually played counter to the rurouni's own unusual violet eyes.
And they still did, except they were the wrong way around. A potential explanation jumped unbidden into her head:
"Oro! Kaoru-dono, this unworthy one seems to have accidentally put in your eyeballs this morning!"
"Why, so you have! How silly of us not to notice."
"We also seem to have put the wrong set of legs on; should this one swap them out before we go?"
"That's alright, Kenshin. We are already late for dinner; I doubt anyone will notice."
She shook her head, and offered to go get some tea. As she walked away, she began taking careful notice of their happily chattering voices. They seemed about right... maybe Kenshin was a might higher than usual, and Kaoru a bit lower. But that could just be her imagination, right? Right?
Coming back in with a pot of steaming tea and a quick order to Tsubame to bring out some appetisers, she caught "Kenshin" oro-ing about something, but it seemed somewhat forced. She set the tea down on the table, before seating herself opposite her friends.
As her mind went into auto-pilot, directing a bit of meaningless banter with Kaoru, she carefully studied their faces. Now that she looked, Kenshin's "scar" looked suspiciously like it had been painted on, not to mention the almost invisible pink lines on the same spot on Kaoru's face.
She briefly considered that things couldn't possibly get much stranger.
Until, that is, a certain freeloader and employee of hers walked in.
Sano, it seemed, had been on a diet since yesterday. A very effective diet as he seemed to have shrunk several feet straight down. Yahiko, by contrast, appeared to have eaten whatever Sanosuke had abstained from, and had shot straight up several feet.
Other than that, they were perfectly normal. Sano had his red bandanna and usual "aku" jacket on, Yahiko with his shinai and yellow kimono. She briefly wondered why their clothes had also changes sizes.
"Hey, Tae, aren'tcha gonna to say 'hi'?" Sano asked.
"Tae-san, are you alright? You're looking a bit pale," Yahiko remarked.
"Uh..." she had to think about this one. "I'm fine. Really. Just... a bit busy, that's all. Please, come sit down." She led them to the table where they sat down opposite the chatting rurouni and shihandai...
...who did not react in the slightest. They were acting like this was all perfectly normal. Yahiko called Kaoru "busu"; Kaoru bopped him over the head. Sano laughed. Kenshin sipped his tea.
This was them... at least, they acted like them. But they couldn't... they wouldn't have.
For some reason that she just couldn't fathom, they'd dressed up as each other.
Tae felt like she needed to lie down. She spied Tsubame coming in with some onigiri; maybe she could just quickly confirm that Tae wasn't hallucinating...
"Tae!" an elegant, feminine voice called from the doorway. Megumi! Thank goodness; she'd sort this lot of pranksters out. She felt bad about abandoning Tsubame, but Tae felt a very strong need to see the good doctor. She motioned Tsubame over to the table, and turned to make her way to the entrance. All she had to do was...
Meanwhile, Tsubame was carefully putting the tray of onigiri on the table, when Sano decided to speak up.
"Hey, Yahiko-chan, aren't you going to thank her?" he said, his deep voice identifying the speaker as her eyes couldn't. Tsubame kept her head tilted forward to hide her sudden irrational blush.
Yahiko growled. "Don't call me chan, tori-atama!" It sounded like a fight was brewing. She lifted her head up to try to calm Yahiko when she got a good look at them.
Tsubame didn't have a complicated mind like Tae did. Tsubame's mind worked with very straight lines: Point A to Point B. In this case, Point A involved her squeaking quietly to herself, whilst Point B was back in the kitchen where she could work out where all the knots in her thoughts had suddenly come from.
Yahiko laughed, pleased with his newly-discovered "ventriloquism" skills. Sano couldn't seem to work whether he was more angry or upset. Kaoru's gaze spoke of pain and suffering for confusing the poor girl. Kenshin sipped his tea. Again.
Back out at the entrance, Tae was currently marvelling at Megumi's current appearance. Apparently, she had been on the same diet Sano had been. She was now several feet shorter. Same kimono, same hair, same exact brand of lipstick that she absolutely refused to change... just... much shorter.
Megumi turned to Tae as if this was utterly routine, looked up at her with oddly wide blue eyes and said, "Hello, Tae. I hope those rowdy friends of mine haven't been causing you trouble, o-ho-ho!" She placed her hand over her mouth and she "laughed."
"N.. not at all. They're, uh... inside. At a table."
Tae led her back to the table, her mind spinning. Megumi wouldn't do this to her. Megumi was too... prim... to refined to do this. But that meant that this was all real and Tae was just going crazy. She really couldn't decide which was worse. No, wait; if they were dressing up as each other, than this wasn't Megumi, it was someone else. But then, Kaoru was already accounted for, so who...
A distantly familiar, hyperactive voice called her attention back to the entrance. Who now?
Through the door walked... Makimachi Misao? Yes, that was her name, she thought. Much taller than she remembered. Also, her eyes had changed colour to... brown. Of course. That was one mystery solved.
"Hi! Hope we're not late; I had trouble getting Aoshi-samas away from their work," she said, dragging a tall man with her. Ah, now Tae remembered Shinomori-san. He was not the sort of person who made an impression. And he looked exactly as she'd rememb... wait a second.
"Aoshi... samas?" she asked plaintively.
"Of course!" Misao exclaimed as a second Shinomori-san, exactly the same as the first walked in after them.
A few moments later, Tae was taking stock of the table's occupants. There were Sano-han and Yahiko-chan doing brilliant impressions of each other, Makimachi-san and Megumi had clearly switched roles, two Shinomori-sans with one seated beside both the real and assumed Misaos and Ken-san and Kaoru-chan who, frankly, were disturbing her the most by far. Their impersonations were absolutely perfect.
So this is what they'd been planning. They were trying to confuse her; make her lose her cool. It wouldn't work. They weren't going to make her snap. Resolutely, she smiled at the group, and asked what they wanted to eat. She went around the table, taking each person's order (noting wryly that the Aoshis ordered different things), before calmly turning to leave.
"Before you go, Tae-dono," "Kenshin" interjected, "could we trouble you for two more cups? The Fujitas should be here presently to join us."
Tokio in a police suit. Goro in a kimono. Something very hard, and very strong inside Tae's mind went "ping" under the stress.
A look of abject horror came over her face. Doing a spot-on impersonation of Tsubame five minutes ago, she silently padded out the back to place the orders, and perhaps have a lie down.
After she had gone, Kaoru turned to Kenshin, and gave him a half-hearted slap on the shoulder. "Kenshin! That was horrible," she said with a laugh in her voice. "You know Saito isn't coming!"
"Yes, Kaoru-dono," he replied with an absolutely straight face as he carefully hid his mischievous grin. "But this unworthy one simply could not pass up the opportunity."
"That was brilliant," "Yahiko" said with a cocky grin. "I still can't believe you two managed to convince her you were dressed up as each other!"
"It's amazing what a few blocks of wood glued to some geta and ninja-disguise skills can do!" "Megumi" beamed. "Though I have to admit, Kaoru-san, I wouldn't have thought to 'paint' Himura's scar to make it look fake if you hadn't given me the idea."
"Well, you did think to put a faint one on me; otherwise Tae would have wondered where it had disappeared to," Kaoru countered.
"How'd ya do the eyes, but?" "Sano" wondered out loud, trying to keep the irritating bandanna out of his eyes.
"It's called a 'contact lens'," the Aoshi closest to "Megumi" replied. "Quite new; very useful for impersonation and infiltration," the other added.
"Yeah, and what's up with that whole double thing," "Misao" asked, looking worriedly askance to the other Aoshi seated next to her.
"Ryusui no Ugoki," Aoshi #1 answered plainly. "Well, mostly," Aoshi #2 offered with a somewhat embarrassed cough.
"I'm still amazed at the stitching job you and Takani-san did, Himura!" "Megumi" exclaimed.
"I still can't get over that Kenshin can sew!" "Sano" said, his world view clearly shaken to its very foundations.
"I'm just grateful he got the shoulders right this time," "Yahiko" provided. Almost all at the table turned a confused stare at him. "Yahiko" provided them no answers. "Sano" sniggered. "Misao" suppressed a wry smile.
Kenshin sipped his tea, as he was wont to do. This gaijin holiday was turning out much better than the last one had. For one thing, there were no rings involved. He felt a little sorry for Tae, but knew she'd get over it.
Idly, he wondered what Saito and his wife were actually doing tonight.
"Oh come on. It will be fun!"
"Not for me."
"Oh, that's because you're sulking again."
"I am not sulking. I do not sulk."
"Oh really? Then what are you doing right now?"
"I am refusing to come out dressed like that emotionally confused, colour-blind..."
"Are you saying he is more manly than you?"
"In case you haven't been paying attention, I'm saying the exact opposite, woman."
"But he doesn't have a problem walking down the street in broad daylight like that every day. I imagine he must be quite secure in his masculinity to do that..."
There was a very pronounced silence from behind the screen.
"Come out here right now, or I'll hide your cigarettes again. You know you won't find them if I do."
There was a brief stream of muffled curses before Saito Hajime, former captain of the third squad of the Shinsengumi came out dressed in a gharish off-pink gi and white hakama, with a very convincing red wig.
Tokio, of course, was overjoyed. "You look so realistic!"
Saito, having finally gotten to see his wife's costume, was nearly comatose. "Tokio... what..."
"Do you like it? Do I remind you of anyone Saito-san?"
"Tokio..." She was dressed in a light blue haori, dark hakama and white tasuki. She had somehow managed to fold her hair up to look like she had a short, almost boyish haircut.
"I rather think, Saito-san, that going out on the town to confuse the poor townsfolk would be just the sort of thing I'd be inclined to do, ne?"
For a few moments, Saito didn't move. Then an expression he hadn't worn in over a decade crossed his features as he found himself agreeing with his wife. He grinned. "Hai, Okita-dono."
You know, I was reading through my old story reviews, and realised how lucky I was to have such nice readers. Then I got to Trading Places, and sifted through the various requests for sequels, extra chapters, etc.
I never really thought that Trading Places could be extended in any meaningful way. Of course, sunbune proved me wrong on that account, with her wonderfully written "Kaoru no Sakabatou."
I was just sitting there, thinking about it when, well, the above hit me. It just seemed so perfect... a way to get the others involved that actually made some kind of twisted sense.
Oh, and for those who didn't know: October 31st, 1878 (aka: Meiji 11) was a Thursday. Is that one hell of a coincidence or what? For those paying attention, that makes three fics I've written that are explicitly set on a Thursday—I hope Douglas Adams would approve.
And yes, I realise that corneal contact lenses wouldn't become practical until the 1950s (the first actual contact lens was created and fitted in 1887, nine years later,) but let's face it, we're dealing with ninjas here. And Aoshi did say they were "very new"...
I've also realised that it was two years ago to the day that I wrote Trading Places. My how the time flies.
So this is for all those people who reviewed Trading Places and my stories after that, for encouraging me to write and share. Thanks, all.
12th May, 2007