Conventions: *...* is emphasis, //...// is thoughts
If I could sum this fic up in one phrase it would be...well, a psyche fic. Kenshin's to be exact. I've been fascinated with the rather odd structure of our favorite rurouni's mind for some time now and I really wanted to write a fic exploring it, in a way different than other fics have done. The problem was getting the various sides of Kenshin to interact outside of a dreamscape...so I came up with a pretty wacky (and Watsuki-style implausible) situation to make my idea work, I hope you can all forgive me and suspend your disbelief, I'll do my best to make it work convincingly. My general goal is a plot-driven character study; this fic is of a larger scope than my previous ones, it may crash and burn (I have faith in my beta-reader though, so that shouldn't happen ^_^ ) but I'll do my best. R/R is not only appreciated but also necessary; please let me know how I'm doing! Oh yes, spoilers for the Revenge arc in this chapter, if you're reading this I assume you're well-grounded in RK lore and the events following the Kyoto arc, it also really helps to have read my previous fic "An Inn in Hokkaido", since this story functions as a sequel to it and reuses a specific character from that story.
Disclaimer: Don't own RK, never will, I just like Kenshin a whoooooole bunch and I can't stay away from him *glances fondly at OVA Kenshin animation cel hanging framed on her bedroom wall and sighs happily*; enough with that, enjoy the fic!
Sano couldn't help it. He laughed right in the rurouni's face.
Kenshin scowled in what he hoped was a fearsome manner; to Sano though, he just ended up looking even sillier. The young ex-streetfighter was now laughing so hard he looked like he was about to roll right off the porch. "Oh that's a good one, Kenshin! Hahahaha!"
"It's not funny, Sano! You-" Kenshin's jaws worked, but nothing more came out.
Sano grinned. "You can be so ridiculous sometimes, you know that? She just wants to buy you a shirt, man! You act like the world's ending or something."
Kenshin frowned and scuffed the dirt with his shoe. "She shouldn't have to," he muttered.
Impossibly, Sano's grin got even wider. "Are you actually *pouting*? Oh this is good! You only have the one gi since your other one got skewered, right? I say go for it."
Kenshin tried to picture himself doing laundry and gardening in a brand-new and possibly expensive gi (which Kaoru would expect him to wear) and felt his despair increase. "But I'll ruin it!"
Sano rolled his eyes. "What are you, two? Whining about a shirt, of all things..."
Both men jumped as Kaoru's impatient voice rang across the yard. "You're not getting out of this one, rurouni! Let's go before the good ones are taken."
"Like that would happen," Kenshin muttered; Sano gave him a not-so-gentle shove in the back.
"C'mon man, she's getting pissed, besides she's your wife now."
Kenshin glanced back over his shoulder. "So?"
Sano sighed. "Forget it, if you have to ask then there's no point. Good luck."
Resigned to his fate, Kenshin managed a small smile. "Thanks."
An impatient rustle of cloth attracted the rurouni's attention. His eyes came to rest on the bobbing obi bow on the other end of the room.
"Hmm...maybe a green one?" Kaoru sorted impatiently through the men's gi in the
rack, obviously disappointed in the selection. "Purple would set off your eyes...but maybe blue would be better." She pondered that for a moment, then shook her head again. "They don't have the right *shade* of blue though! This one's far too light, and this one's almost black..." Kaoru glanced critically at her husband, who stood shifting nervously from foot to foot in the cramped clothing store. "Black isn't right, is it?"
Kenshin stared helplessly back at her. "No?"
Kaoru sighed in exasperation, turning back to the kimono. "Honestly Kenshin, you're no help at all! This is *your* outfit we're discussing here."
//This wasn't exactly my idea...// "The color really doesn't matter all that much to me, koishii. Any will do." Kenshin was really starting to regret letting Kaoru talk him into this. Now grocery shopping, that he could handle. After all tofu, eggplant, fish; those were simple concrete things, you just plucked them off the vendor's cart and you were done. You never had to wonder if the color of the fish matched your eyes...
"Nonsense, the color of one's clothes is very important, and yours should be just right." Kaoru passed one by, then paused and headed back, pulling the gi out into the light for better inspection. "Emerald green...yes I like that. Come over here, Kenshin."
Wanting nothing more than to run from this torture Kenshin obediently edged closer, allowing his wife to hold the cloth up to his face. "This sets off your hair so nicely! It's a little too dark for your skin though. You're already so pale; you'd look like a ghost in this. Hmm..."
Kaoru was obviously enjoying this, and Kenshin figured that was why he'd put up with it for the past four hours (and three previous clothing shops). After all fashion, as far as he was concerned, was such a *useless* endeavor. As long as the outfit kept you warm and somewhat protected from the elements, what did it matter what it looked like? He had to admit though that when Kaoru on occasion dressed up "just so" in one of her mother's silk kimono it sent his heart racing. He cast a fond glance at his wife.
"Oh goodness, we'll just have to try another store, Kenshin. Surely someplace in this city has something for you."
Kenshin's heart sank. More? Even *more* time spent in this agonizingly boring pursuit? He tried and failed to suppress a groan. "Kaoru, wouldn't you rather take a nice walk by the river or go to the Akabeko or...something else? This really isn't that important...ow!"
Kenshin winced as Kaoru's shoe ground sharply onto his toes. "Anata, let's get something straight here, *this* gi-" she tugged at the collar of his kimono, "-has long since passed it's prime." She cast an annoyed glance at the heavily patched garment, which was faded by the sun and stained with the-gods-only-knew what. "I refuse to let *my* husband wander around looking like some penniless ronin! You can't just own one shirt anyway; it's absurd!"
"It can't help it if it's well loved de gozaru," Kenshin whimpered, trying unsuccessfully to pull his sleeve from Kaoru's iron grip. "I never had the money for new clothes!"
"Which is why we're not wasting this rare opportunity!" Kaoru grinned sweetly at him and started to lead him out of the shop. "I refuse to give up before we've looked at all our options, come on!"
As if by magic, the shopkeeper suddenly appeared from the storeroom. "Oh Kaoru-san, no! I think I may have just the thing for him if you'll wait a moment and allow me to take a few measurements..." Kaoru considered, then nodded.
"Ororoo..." Kenshin sighed and stood miserably with arms outstretched as the shopkeeper went to work. He knew that any gi chosen for him would be far too large and would have to be altered. Behind him he could hear Kaoru still thumbing through the kimono rack.
The old woman circled Kenshin quickly, expertly taking measurements. "I think a patterned gi of more than one color would suit you best, Himura-san, to compliment your hair. Such a lovely and rare color should not go to waste."
Karou spun around with a clap of her hands, face beaming. "My thoughts exactly! Green and white...do you have any of that?"
The shopkeeper marked a list of numbers down on a small strip of paper. "Of course, let me go select some for you." She flashed an admiring grin at Kenshin. "I think I know just the one for this handsome lad here!"
Kenshin blushed and lowered his arms. //Please, just let's finish this and go home! // He was far too polite to say such things however, so he simply smiled at his wife as she took his hand. "This is so exciting Kenshin, can't you just wait until the others see you? You'll be like a new man!"
Sano's laughter echoed through his memory, amused beyond words that a man of his age had to be shopped for and dressed like a child. He seriously doubted Sano's opinion would change for anything. "How?"
Kaoru blinked. "How what?"
Kenshin frowned. "How would having a new gi make me someone or something else? It's just cloth; nothing more."
She raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Oh really? I suppose that's why you kept wearing that horrid pink gi for so many years then, because "it was just cloth" and didn't mean anything to you. Honestly!"
Kenshin gave her a funny look. "Kaoru," he said seriously, "was it really *that* horrible?"
Kaoru blinked rapidly; she hadn't expected a counter-question. "Well...um..."
"You know, one of you could have said something." He shook his head with a smile. "I must admit though that I was a bit...attached to it." He cast a brief glance at her recently acquired magenta hair ribbon, the only thing left of his old gi. "But in the end it was still just a shirt."
Kaoru sighed and leaned her forehead on his shoulder. "It was only a joke, Kenshin."
"Gomen," he murmured into her hair, breathing in its sweet jasmine scent. He did tend to take things too seriously sometimes, and he was grateful to have such an understanding woman as his wife. She always had a calming effect on him, bringing him back to reality when his worries and silly fears got the best of him. The tender moment was quickly interrupted by the return of the shopkeeper. Though he was annoyed by the intrusion, Kenshin had to admit she had good taste.
"Oooh," Kaoru breathed, "it's lovely!"
The kimono the elderly woman held in her hands was a deep forest green with a white triangle pattern on the collar and sleeves. Kaoru could also see that it was not cotton but silk; her hopes suddenly dimmed. Silk was not only expensive, but it was too nice for daily wear; her active housekeeper of a husband would run it into the ground within a week, of that she was sure.
The old woman noted the look in her eyes. "You had something else in mind, didn't you?"
"Well...it's just that he needs to be able to wear this every day, and..."
Kenshin studied the gi, noting the shift in Kaoru's mood. He could tell how much she wanted to see him in that gi; this was important to her, even if he himself was puzzled by it. "We'll take it."
"Nani?!" Kaoru shot a shocked glance at her husband. "Kenshin no, it's too expensive!"
"We'll take this one and the dark blue cotton one over there-" Kenshin indicated the kimono rack with a jerk of his head. "I'll cover the extra cost, koishii."
"With *what*?" Kaoru stared at Kenshin as if he'd lost his mind.
//Damn. Think fast. // "I had an extra few yen stored away that I brought with me today," he said quickly, "this seems like a good way to use it."
The shopkeeper cast uneasy glances between them. "Forgive me Kaoru-san, I didn't mean to cause you any embarrassment. I'll go find something else."
Kenshin met his wife's startled and now slightly angry gaze and suddenly wanted to run. His decision has been spontaneous, an effort to make her happy. He'd thought it would work, but it seemed to be having the opposite effect. //Oh Kami-sama what have I done...// Kaoru's gaze turned thoughtful and she stared at him for a full minute, apparently weighing the details in her mind. Suddenly, she looked away. "No we'll take it, as he says. That is, presuming he really has the money for it." Her voice held an undeniable note of challenge.
Pasting on a neutral rurouni smile, Kenshin reached for his wallet and handed it to the shopkeeper under Kaoru's astonished nose. "That should cover it, I think. Thank you very much."
Kenshin breathed in the sweet air of spring, relieved to be out of the cramped and dusty clothing shop. They made their way back to the dojo slowly, turning down the streets and alleys that had become so familiar to him since coming to Tokyo. //I remember walking with her like this after we first met, on the day Yamagata finally tracked me down. I remember the sun was shining down on us, just like now. Has it really been a year since then? Only a year, and yet it seems like an eternity. // A year ago, walking down this street with the young woman he'd so recently saved from a vengeful swordsman, he'd still been a rurouni, wandering aimlessly with no home or family...or wife. The city had been new to him then, filled with strange sights and people. Nevertheless, even such a large and busy city wouldn't have kept him occupied for long; he would have moved on long ago and continued his wandering if it weren't for the woman by his side. Kenshin smiled to himself as he glanced over at the still furiously embarrassed Kaoru, the bundle containing his new shirts pressed tightly to her chest. Kenshin briefly wondered if he should have spent his money so blatantly. //No it's all right, she'll get over it soon...I hope. After all, she's the one that pushed for the outfit. // Kenshin studied her flushed face, which now seemed more pensive than angry. //I should apologize though...or at least explain. // "It was from Yamagata-san."
Startled from her thoughts, Kaoru blinked and looked over at him. "What was?"
"The money," he said plainly. "For Kyoto, right after we returned. He insisted that I take it, and he is not the kind of man to take no for an answer, not even from me." Kenshin smiled and was rewarded with the relief that flooded her face. "What, you thought I'd gotten it from someplace bad?"
"Oh, no!" Kaoru laughed, and the sun caught her eyes, for one moment lighting them up like blue flame. Kenshin was entranced. "Goodness Kenshin, I know you better than that! It's just that we've only had this new student for a few weeks, and I knew that money wasn't enough for silk..." she trailed off. Kenshin suddenly felt a bit guilty for his moment of extravagance; after all, there probably wasn't any more money coming, not for awhile. He was sure that if he asked Yamagata the man would gladly pay him several times that amount, but Kenshin couldn't stand the thought of being compensated for his actions as a hitokiri, no matter the circumstances.
//Stop that! // he ordered himself. // Enough brooding. That's all over with now, forever. // Yamagata had actually tracked him down on a shopping trip to give him the money, and had refused to leave the former hitokiri alone until he'd accepted it. He'd only remembered the money this morning sorting through his travel bag looking for an extra underkimono. Kenshin had no idea how the money had ended up in such an odd place, but he was glad he had found it.
"Oh!" Kaoru suddenly stopped walking. "The Akabeko, I was supposed to stop by there!"
"For what?" Kenshin asked curiously.
Kaoru suddenly looked uncomfortable, as if she'd accidentally given away some important secret. "Um...Tae-san said she wanted to give something to me, and that I had to pick it up today. I'll have to go back. Kenshin, do you mind going ahead and starting some rice for dinner? I'll bring Yahiko back with me, he's off work early tonight."
Kenshin never liked the idea of his wife wandering off alone, but the Akabeko wasn't far and he knew she could take care of herself, as she so often reminded him. Swallowing his protective instincts, he nodded. "Certainly, koishii. Be careful."
Kaoru sighed. That was her Kenshin, ever the worrier. "It's the Akabeko Kenshin, I'll be fine; I should be back in a half hour, no more." She handed him the bundle and waved her goodbye as she turned and hurried back up the street.
Kenshin watched her go until she disappeared around a corner. Only then was he able to rouse himself and continue on toward the dojo. It had taken an extreme effort of will to not run after her. He mentally berated himself for his worrywart nature, which had gotten even worse since Enishi's Jinchuu. In the first few months after their return he wouldn't even let her go to teach at other dojos by herself without escort. It hadn't taken her long to put him in his place about that, especially after their marriage. Things had improved since then, but at times he still felt unstable, wavering between the rurouni's reason and Battousai's fierce and violent urge to protect his beloved. He was secretly beginning to wonder if his breakdown at Rakuninmura wasn't the beginning of something more. It was a terrifying thought; he feared insanity more than any enemy he had ever faced. // I am far too dangerous a man to be given such free reign. If I ever completely lost control over the hitokiri within me... // He shuddered. He suddenly wished Kaoru were beside him; her smile and warm, honest laughter was always effective in freeing him from his own morbid company.
It wasn't until he was in sight of the gate that he sensed something odd. He looked up and saw that the dojo's door was slightly ajar. Slowing his pace, he moved forward on silent feet, senses alert for slightest noise, his mental struggle firmly silenced.
He hesitated at the door, sensing an unfamiliar ki inside. Or...was it unfamiliar? Kenshin frowned and concentrated. He had been resting the several months since their return from Enishi's island, avoiding his sword and allowing his many wounds, both physical and mental, to heal. // I hope I'm not getting rusty in my skills already. I'm probably just overreacting... // Kenshin centered himself and cast his senses inside. Yes, there he was, only a few feet inside the door. The other's ki was strangely familiar, though Kenshin couldn't recall from where. For a moment he debated on whether he should sneak in the back way and surprise the stranger. He doubted that would really help though, and besides he had no proof this person was hostile. //Even so...didn't we leave the gate locked? No wait...Sano left after us, to go gambling he said. He must have left the gate unlocked. Honestly, I'll really have to have a word with him later. // Deciding not to waste any more time, he pushed his way through the door.
The afternoon sun cast deep shadows across the dojo's courtyard, giving a strangely menacing appearance to the man standing almost casually inside the dojo grounds. He was a little taller than Kenshin, with a lanky build that was largely hidden under a loose black yukata. He glanced over his shoulder as Kenshin entered, regarding the swordsman with mild interest.
Kenshin stared at the other's face in amazement, recognition dawning on him. This was the last person he had *ever* expected to see. "Yanagi-dono..."
A/N: This is sort of a sequel to "An Inn in Hokkaido" and I decided to bring back the character of Yanagi from my earlier fic. How did he find Kenshin, and why's he at the dojo? Bwahaha, I'm about to turn poor Kenshin's life inside out...
This chapter was mostly setup, sorry not much happened, though I'm pretty fond of the clothing scene ^_^ In keeping with my previous fic I'm breaking from manga cannon and allowing both Sano and Megumi to still be in Tokyo. Megumi will probably pop up later, and I really like Sano, I just can't let him run off to Mongolia quite yet. Gomen, Ranma-chan! *beta-reader and manga purist sighs and shakes her head, but decides to humor her crazy friend*
Gi: short men's kimono, worn with hakama pants
Anata: literally "you", means "honey" or "dear" when used between a husband and wife.
De gozaru: Kenshin's outdated polite phrase, I figure that by now he would only be using it occasionally with Kaoru, especially since they're married.
Gomen: I'm sorry
Jasmine: Kaoru's perfume obviously, actually it turns out this was a fanfiction invention (generally credited to Tae-san) and that her perfume is never mentioned in the anime or manga. I like the idea of it though, so I kept it ^_^
Rurouni: wanderer or vagabond
Ronin: masterless, and often homeless, samurai