An old man took a fatherly interest in Kenshin as he lay in despair in Rakuninmura. Was it just coincidence that brought the two together? MAJOR SPOILER WARNING: This story is based on the manga and OAV versions of the Tomoe story, and on the manga version of the Jinchuu arc. It begins in early October 1868.

Disclaimer: All hail Watsuki-sama--he (and all the media conglomerates) own the RK characters. I won't make a dime off this.





Chapter 1

It was a beautiful day in Edo--cool and crisp, the fall leaves brilliant in their display of color-the kind of day that made you truly appreciate being alive. It could have been hot, muggy, and gloomy, though, as far as Yukishiro Takuo was concerned. For the past four years, life for him had just been an undifferentiated cycle of waking, eating, working, sleeping. Seasons probably did come and go, but he didn't notice, didn't care. He had had a family once--a loving wife, a beautiful and devoted daughter, and a son who, well, perhaps the less said the better, but a son nonetheless. His wife had died giving birth to that son, but his daughter, Tomoe, had taken to caring for this baby like a true mother, and little Enishi looked up to her like a mother. Come to think of it, only Tomoe seemed to have the ability to handle the child, who seemed to have an angry, violent streak in him.

That warm home life had disappeared quite suddenly four years ago. The Bakumatsu had come to their doorstep when Tomoe's fiancé Kiyosato, her childhood sweetheart, was killed in Kyoto by the Hitokiri Battousai. Tomoe, always so quiet and secretive, then left without warning, leaving only a note saying that she was going to Kyoto to avenge her fiance's murder. Enishi, never an easy child, became even more difficult as his anger over Tomoe's departure grew; he took off for Kyoto not long afterward to find Tomoe.

Takuo's world was shattered. Yes, he still had his job with the Bakufu government, just as his father had before him, and his father's father before him. Truth be told, he hated the job and hated the system that had decreed that he must follow in his father's footsteps into that job. It had only been his family that had made his life bearable, and now that was gone, ripped away by the revolution that had quickly devoured all of Japan. Then he had heard the rumor, that Tomoe had been killed by that same Hitokiri Battousai. As for Enishi, no one knew if the child was alive or dead.

It had been too much to bear. Not caring if he lived or died, he wandered the city until he came to Rakuninmura, the place for lost souls. They called him Oibore there--"old fool"--a name he thought was fairly apt and the name he now used all the time. It was this place that became his refuge until he finally felt strong enough to enter the world again. He couldn't bear the thought of returning to his drudge of a job--teaching was more to his liking--and so he had become a sort of wandering teacher. It didn't pay much, but it brought some warmth to his heart to work with the young students. The pain of loss, however, never went away.

"Another day, just like the rest," he sighed that autumn morning as he picked at his meager breakfast of soup and rice. He could remember happier days, when his table would have been surrounded by smiling little faces and happy chatter.

A knock at the door broke his reverie. The nature of the knocker, however, broke his composure--it was a soldier wearing the crest of the Chousu clan. The country was still in a state of chaos, that was true, but the Shogunate had already fallen after the recent battle of Toba Fushimi. What could the Ishin Shishi possibly want with a former low-level Bakufu functionary like himself? He found himself shaking like a leaf.

"You are Yukishiro Takuo?" the soldier inquired. "My lord, Katsura Kogoro, wishes to meet with you. He's in the carriage outside. May he come in?"

Katsura Kogoro? Head of the Chousu clan and leader of the Ishin Shishi? Here? To say that he was astonished would have been an understatement.

"I... I... Have I done something to offend the Ishin Shishi? Have I done something wrong?" sputtered Oibore. "I assure you that... "

"Yukishiro-san," the soldier cut in, "it's nothing like that. My lord has come to pay his respects and only wishes to have a private talk."

Oibore was dumbstruck--pay his respects? to me?---but he managed to nod his assent. Moments later, Katsura Kogoro himself stood in his doorway.

"Katsura-sama," Oibore managed to say as he bowed low, despite a wave of butterflies in his stomach. "I'm sure I don't deserve the honor of your visit--I am just a traveling teacher--but welcome to my small home. I have nothing to offer you, though, except some tea and rice..."

"Please, Yukishiro-san, don't put yourself out on my account," the Chousu leader said gently. "It's a personal matter I have come about. I bring you news of your daughter, Yukishiro Tomoe. Or perhaps I should say Himura Tomoe." He paused, then said, "Your daughter died three years ago trying to save the man she loved."

"My daughter? Himura Tomoe?" Oibore's mind was racing a mile a minute. "I don't understand. She disappeared four years ago in Kyoto. Her fiance was killed by that monster, Hitokiri Battousai, and I heard he killed her, too. And.Himura? Who's that? I don't understand!"

"The Battousai, that 'monster,' as you call him, has a name. It's Himura-- Himura Kenshin."

"Himura Kenshin? My daughter...she married the assassin?" The incomprehension and astonishment were clearly written on the old man's face.

Katsura smiled sadly, shaking his head in affirmation. "The reason I've come to tell you all this is because I was the one who created what Himura Kenshin became. I discovered Himura five years ago among Takasugi Shinsaku's army, the Kiheitai. He was just a boy--only 14--but already he had skills with a sword that surpassed any man, including myself. The Chousu needed a shadow assassin. It was as if the gods themselves had delivered to us a gift that went beyond our wildest dreams. The boy told me he wanted to wield his sword to help bring an era of peace and justice to the people he saw suffering all around him, but I know he didn't realize what we were asking of him. Takasugi warned me that asking a 14-year-old to do the work of an assassin would destroy his soul, but I was selfish. I saw our victory in that boy--nothing else seemed to matter.

"Over the months, though, I could see that Takasugi was right. The light that used to shine in the boy's eyes slowly faded. He was shy to begin with, but the other men avoided him because of what he was, leaving him even more alone. Where I once saw idealism and hope, I now saw despair and hopelessness. And yet, he never once flinched at the work he had pledged to do."

He stopped to let the obviously mystified Oibore digest this information, before continuing on.

"Your daughter, Tomoe, did come to Kyoto, and she did find the Battousai. It was an evening, and he was under attack by a Bakufu hitokiri. He told me it was a hard-won fight, and when it was over, he saw your daughter, who had witnessed everything. He had always been told to kill any witnesses, but she was not a soldier. And she had fainted, from too much sake or from the gore of what she saw we don't know. At any rate, Himura picked her up in his arms and carried her back to the inn that served as our headquarters."

Oibore's eyes widened as thoughts of what likely happened next raced through his mind; the thoughts were not pleasant.

"He asked our innkeeper to look after Tomoe," Katsura continued, sensing Oibore's fears, "and she did, not only that night, but also afterwards by giving her a job as a waitress. For Kenshin's part, he always remained totally honorable in his relations with Tomoe.

"As for your daughter, she discovered for herself that the 'monster' who had killed her fiance was no monster, but only a boy, now all of 15 years old. She and I had a long talk after she had been at the inn for some weeks. She told me of his despair, that all he saw for himself was death in the near future. She told me how, every time he would receive instructions for an assassination, a little piece of his soul seemed to die. She told me how he would come back after every job and wash his hands over and over, trying to wash the blood from his soul. She told us of his genuine astonishment at her small acts of kindness--covering him with a blanket when he was napping, cleaning his room, waiting for his return at night. No one had ever done that for him before in his entire life, she said. None of us knew that at some point she had contacted the Bakufu forces, offering to help kill the Hitokiri Battousai in revenge. What I do know is that whatever hate may have been in her heart, it melted, and slowly her kindnesses toward Himura brought him back from the edge of despair.

"Then the Ikedaya affair happened--a vital group of Ishin Shishi were slain by the Shinsengumi--and we all had to scatter and hide. I sent Himura to a farm in Otsu and suggested that Tomoe go with him so they could pretend to be a married couple. They were to live there until it was safe to return to Kyoto. It was during those few months that they truly fell in love and truly became married.

"But they were betrayed. There was a spy among the Chousu who told the Shogun's troops where to find them. When Tomoe learned of the plan, she left the farm to try to stop them. When Himura learned what was happening, he took off after her to bring her back. This was part of the enemy's plan, however, and Himura was attacked three separate times on his way. He won each fight, but he was severely wounded by the time he finally reached the leader himself. Still, he tried to defeat his adversary. When Tomoe saw what was happening and that Himura would be killed, she ran out to try to save him. She lunged between the two men, trying to kill the soldier with her tanto. But Himura had already started a last, desperate swing of his sword. He couldn't stop it in time. It hit Tomoe before going on to kill his enemy. She died in Himura's arms."

He stopped his story as he saw tears starting to form in Oibore's eyes. When the old man had calmed, he continued.

"I visited the farmhouse as soon as I heard the terrible news. He told me that Tomoe had brought him the only happiness he had ever known, that she had shown him what life should really be like, and that he had promised her that once the war was over, he would never kill again. Yukishiro-san, your daughter not only loved this man, but she also saved him twice--she saved his life and she saved his soul."

Oibore could no longer hold back his tears. Emotions that he had kept tightly bound for four years now came flowing out in huge waves. Katsura rose and, much to Oibore's surprise, went to the kitchen to boil water and make some tea. When it was ready, he gently offered some to the weeping man.

"Yukishiro-san," Katsura continued, "now you can understand why I myself have come to tell you this. It was my creation of the hitokiri that nearly destroyed a boy's soul. It was my creation of the hitokiri that shattered your family's happiness not just once, but twice. It is a burden that I will have to bear to the end of my days. Now I come to beg your forgiveness."

Oibore didn't know what to say. He was overwhelmed by conflicting emotions--happiness that his daughter had finally found contentment and love, overwhelming sadness at the tragedy that had befallen her and her chosen one, and puzzlement at the cruel twist of fate that decreed that her love should be the same man who had killed her fiance.

"Katsura-sama, you have been so kind to tell me this," he finally said, in a voice laden with grief. "None of us is without something we wish to atone for. How can I deny you forgiveness? At least now I know for sure what happened to my daughter..." And with that, he began to cry once again.

After regaining his composure, he said, "Himura, then, is my son-in-law, the man my daughter loved. Where is he now, so I can meet him and thank him for giving her happiness?"

"I don't know," Katsura replied truthfully. "After our victory at Toba Fushimi last January, he knew that the Shogunate had been defeated, so he asked for his release from service, which I gave. But he didn't say where he was going. Nobody knows where he is--he's disappeared."

Oibore's disappointment with this news was written clearly on his face.

"Yukishiro-san," Katsura said, "There is a diary..."

"A diary?" Oibore was suddenly quiet.

"After the tragedy in Otsu, I helped Himura arrange for Tomoe's burial at a monastery in Kyoto. Tomoe had kept a diary all those months. Himura left it in the care of the monks, with instructions to keep it safe for him."

"Does it say anything about my son, Enishi? He followed Tomoe to Kyoto, and I've never heard from him again."

"I don't know about that," Katsura responded, "but I remember Himura telling me that Tomoe's little brother once came to visit them-a surprise, I think, because no one was supposed to know where they were living. He said Tomoe told the boy to return to you in Edo."

"A diary!" For the first time, Oibore felt a light turn on in his heart. "Where can I find this monastery? Oh, Katsura-sama, you have given me my first ray of happiness in four years!"

Katsura quickly wrote down the directions and a letter of introduction for the monks, then handed it to the old man. "Thank you, Yukishiro-san, for allowing me to unburden myself to you. I wish you peace and happiness in this new Meiji era."

"No, I should be thanking you," responded Oibore, smiling for the first time since he couldn't remember when. "You've given me a way to be near my daughter, who was the light of my life. It's a priceless gift for which I can never repay you."

As soon as Katsura had left, Oibore began making plans to leave Edo. He doubted he would return-his daughter was in Kyoto, and that was where he now wanted to be. His decision to become a wandering teacher turned out to have been a good one, he realized, for it made a move such as this all the more possible. 'No lack of students in need of a teacher in Kyoto, I expect,' he thought to himself. By week's end, he was on the Tokaido Road, heading for Kyoto.



Author's Note: For all you history buffs out there, Edo's name was not changed to Tokyo until late October 1868; this chapter takes place in early October 1868. If you're interested in RK-related Japanese history, check www.sakabatouzanbatou.com/history.html.

I tend to follow the manga more than the OAV (Maigo-chan deserves major honors for the translations!); there are some differences in the timeline between the two. And, yes, I made up a first name for Tomoe's father-- Watsuki-sama didn't give him one.

From Co-Conspirator: Wow! That was pretty spiffy, ne? If you thought so too, then let us know! If you didn't like it, get consoling and read it again! ^_^ I'm kidding, even if you thought it wasn't too great, let us know, but be warned that flames will only be used to make s'mores. Keep an eye out for the next chapter, it will be out before you know it!!

Japanese terms: Bakamatsu: The civil war between the pro- and anti-Shogun factions Bakufu: Shogunate government Chousu Clan: One of the two major anti-Shogun clans in the civil war Ishin Shishi: Nickname for anti-Shogun factions Tanto: a short dagger