Bakufu : the Tokugawa government
Miko : shrine maiden, usually the head priest's daughter or granddaughter
Nan-nan-san-ku-do : Shinto wedding ceremony involving ceremonial sake drinking of three cups three times
Tokaido : the major walking road connecting Edo and Kyoto
Satsuma and Choshu : the two allied domains that formed the Ishin Shishi
Ochazuke : green tea poured over hot rice. A popular breakfast or snack
Daisho : the sword set carried by samurai (and Kenshin), consisting of a long sword (katana) and short sword (wakizashi)

"Stay with me. I don't know how long I can be with you, but I don't want it just for appearances. I want you with me until death parts us."

Founding year of Genji
(8 July 1864)

In the middle of the night, they found a shrine - small, out of the way, unaffected by the great fire that had swept through Kyoto - and tapped against the door of the sleeping quarters. Softly, but persistently, until the door slid open with a bang and a disgruntled-looking miko in a rumpled sleeping yukata glared at them.

"What?" She looked them up and down, her eyes narrowing. "What could you possibly want at this time of night?"

For it was very late.

Not only had they been slowed down by the heavy, persistent downpour (which at least put out any smoldering embers lingering in the ruins), but Bakufu soldiers still roamed the streets, looking to pick off any remaining Shishi loyalists. Or maybe just looking for a fight, looking to savor their victory.

Kenshin shoved the thought aside and instead said, "Can you marry us?"

Next to him, drenched and shivering and clutching her journal, Tomoe said nothing.

"Right now?" The miko looked back and forth between the both of them. "You realize half of Kyoto burned to the ground yesterday?"


"And you want to get married now?"


Her expression settled into a smirk. "Expecting a little present in the next few months, are you?"

Confused, Kenshin glanced at Tomoe. Her face was as calm as ever, but her cheeks had gone slightly pink.



"No, no." He resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose or slap his forehead. "We just-"

"Please." Tomoe said quietly. Insistently.

For whatever reason, that did the trick, though it didn't stop the miko from sighing dramatically.

"Fine. I'll wake my father. But," and she held up a finger, "you're both filthy. You can't be married in such filth. The world may be ending, Kyoto may have burned to the ground, but we still have our standards."


They were shown to guest quarters, given clean yukata to change into, and directed to the bath. They would have an hour to get ready.

"But no longer," the miko warned them. "Some of us want to get back to sleep. And you'll both be having sleepless nights soon enough." She slid the shoji shut behind her.

"You should go first," Kenshin said, pretending not to notice how pink Tomoe's cheeks had once again turned.

He stood outside the bathhouse while Tomoe bathed, pacing the covered walkway back and forth, back and forth.

"You should go to Otsu. I've prepared a farmhouse for you."

Tomorrow morning, then. Or perhaps in the evening, when it was safer to travel. They would go to Otsu, as Katsura-san had commanded. They would lie low and live as a married couple.

They would be a married couple.

What was he doing?

He stood in the washroom and dumped a bucket of water over his head, then another, and yet another, though it did nothing to clarify his thoughts.

Tomoe had gone back to the room - their room, at least for the evening - wrapped in a clean yukata and looking very pretty, and Kyoto had burned to the ground, and they were on the run, and what the hell was he doing?

He washed thoroughly, sloughing the soot and the grime and the dried blood - always dried blood - off his body, and he took his hair down and washed that just as carefully, and he had only just reached his fifteenth summer, and they were fugitives, and they were about to get married, the world was burning down and they would go to Otsu, and what the hell were either of them doing?

He put a hand against the wall and took a deep breath.


They stood under the covered walkway of the main sanctuary, both of them wrapped in clean yukata, waiting for the priest and the miko to invite them inside.

The rain continued to hammer the ground.

Tomoe gave a short laugh that was both breathless and humorless. He turned his head questioningly toward her.

"I don't know your name." She looked at him for a moment, then her eyes flickered to the ground. "I only know you as Himura Battousai."

His eyes widened at that.

How had they managed… how could she not…?

He pinched the bridge of his nose, scrunched his eyes shut, and took a breath. It wasn't funny. It really wasn't funny at all.

It was absurd.

"Kenshin." He looked at her. "My name is Kenshin."

Her eyes slid back up to his, and he was both surprised and pleased to see a hint of humor in them.

"Kenshin?" she repeated. "'Sword-hearted'? It suits you."

"I…" He shook his head. "I didn't come into the world with that name."

The door to the sanctuary slid open, revealing the miko, now clad in red and white ceremonial attire. "We're ready for you."


The marriage ceremony was very short and mostly a blur. Sake was exchanged three times between them - nan-nan-san-ku-do, he thought - and the priest purified the altar and said a few words and the miko smirked through the entire thing.


Three cups of sake. Three times. And then they were married.

The miko brought rice and pickles and miso soup to their room, which was more than Kenshin had expected at all, warned them not to keep the whole shrine awake, and took her leave. Probably she went right back to bed.

Someone had laid out two futon, side by side, in their absence.

Kenshin cleared his throat. Looked at Tomoe and gestured to one of the futon. "You should sleep. Long day tomorrow."

"It looks like it will be long days for a long time." Tomoe's eyes were wide and solemn. She fell silent again, moving to sit down beside the food and positioning his tray before reaching for hers.

Her hands trembled slightly.

He turned away, still on his feet, and slid the shoji open slightly. The rain hadn't let up, not even a bit.


Still, he didn't turn back. Not yet. "Maybe it will be easier in Otsu. A simple life, for however long it lasts."

And yet…

"Do…" There was a definite hitch in Tomoe's voice. Or had it been just the clack of her bowl against the tray? "Do you want a simple life?" She paused for a handful of heartbeats before continuing in a softer voice. "In Otsu?"

"I've never had one." He closed his eyes for a moment. Steadied himself. "A simple life might be a nice change of pace, for however long it can last." He hesitated, then, "In Otsu."

"At this point, I don't know how long anything will last." Her breathing had quickened. "I don't know if anyone knows how long anything will last."


Finally he turned to look at her. She looked very small suddenly, pale and wide eyed, chopsticks trembling between her fingers. Not at all her usual image of composure.

He swallowed. "I don't think we should go to Otsu."

Her eyes immediately snapped onto his. She was silent for so long that he was on the point of saying something - he wasn't sure what - when she finally spoke.

"Neither do I." She took a deep breath and let it out shakily, her eyes dropping for a moment before refocusing on his. "I have a terrible feeling."

"So do I." His mouth worked itself into a frown. "We still don't know who the traitor is, or if he's dead or alive, and we'll be isolated in Otsu and-"

He cut himself off. There was only so much he needed to worry her with. Whatever happened, he would take care of them both.

"I don't think we should go to Otsu," he repeated.

"Then…" She hesitated again, her eyes never leaving his, her pupils huge and dark in the dim light. "Where can we go? Kyoto is destroyed."

His frown deepened. "The Shinsengumi will be watching the roads. And so will any remaining soldiers."

"We can't go to Edo." She shook her head. "It would be suicide even if we didn't use the Tokaido."

"The smaller villages will all be flooded with people fleeing from Kyoto." He bit back a frustrated sigh. "We'd risk being recognized."

"Where, then?" Tomoe's voice seemed small. "Where will we be safe?"

"I don't know." The moment the words were out of his mouth, one possibility drifted into his mind unbidden.



"I'll think of something." He realized he'd said it through gritted teeth.

Tomoe's eyebrow lifted in a silent question at the obvious tension in his response.

"I'll think of something," he repeated, then turned away and committed himself to staring moodily at the rain.

The rain didn't provide any better options.

Damn it.

Gently he rested his head against the wooden frame of the shoji and closed his eyes. Kyoto was out. Edo was out. The smaller villages ringed around Kyoto were out. Even the Tokaido was out.

Damn it.

He had been told not to come back. And yet…

And yet…

"There might be a place," he finally said unwillingly. Grudgingly.

The silence from behind him seemed to shout Tomoe's obvious question.

He dragged the words out of his reluctant mouth. "Mount Atago is a possibility." He slid the shoji shut, turned and looked at her. "If we avoid the main roads, we can get there in a day. Maybe a day and a half."

"Mount Atago?" Her eyebrows knit. "I… don't understand. What is there on Mount Atago?"

The words seemed to stick on his tongue.

He had been told, in no uncertain terms, not to come back. They had mutually ended their arrangement. He would hardly be a welcome guest, and he'd be bringing company besides.

And yet...

He sighed. "My shishou."

Tomoe's eyes widened perceptibly. "Another one like you?" she asked after a long moment.

"What?" He felt oddly defensive suddenly, though he couldn't explain why. "I wasn't born knowing how to wield a sword, you know."

She looked at him with an unreadable expression for a long moment before speaking again. "Will we be safe?"

"Physically." He couldn't help but mutter, "Not spiritually." Off her raised eyebrow, he added, "Yes, we will be safe."

"All right," she replied after another long pause. "We should go to Mount Atago, then."

There was nothing to say to that, so instead he said, "You should get some sleep. It's a long walk."

He spent the night by the shoji, sitting against the wall with his sword at hand, listening to the endless downpour. Sleep came in jagged fits and hastily interrupted starts.

Judging by the way Tomoe tossed and turned on the futon, she didn't sleep very well either.

They would go to Mount Atago. To a place he swore he'd never return, that he was told never to return to. And yet, if it meant keeping her safe…


His wife.

They would go to Mount Atago.



The sun was setting behind him as he sat on a tree stump outside his front door and watched the darkness gather in the east.

Two days before, he had stood here in the approaching dusk and seen the great fire spreading through Kyoto. He had seen the great plume of grey-black smoke that marked the destruction, and even now that the rain had quenched the flames, the wind still whipped the smell of burning wood and flesh past his face.

But he had only been able to imagine the number of deaths.

He knew better than to pour himself a saucer of sake just then; it would taste of bitter and burnt ashes. It would serve only to remind him that in spite of all the great power he wielded, he could not save the human race from itself. That the world had decayed even more than he could have imagined even since that day many years ago, when he had come upon the bandits massacring the slave caravan…

No. He would not think about that.

He would not think about him.

Sighing, he closed his eyes and let the sound of the steady drizzle fill his ears. The trees offered enough shelter that only the odd drip ever fell on him, and the rain was comforting in its own fashion. The rain had doused the fires in Kyoto, it would wash the scent of smoke from the air, and it would soak the ashes into the soil so that new crops could grow.

If only a true rain might one day fall, he reflected with fresh bitterness, it might wash the filth and corruption of mankind from the face of the earth.

He heard the approach of footsteps long before he would have seen anyone, even if he had opened his eyes. After so many years living on Mount Atago, he was attuned enough to his surroundings that he knew the footfalls of every animal in the forest. He could distinguish a deer from a man by sound alone, and this was no deer that was making its way toward his house.

There were two sets of footsteps, one of which was short of stride and rather clumsy of step. The other, by contrast, was as surefooted as a mountain deer. And, to his annoyance, he found he recognized it.

"It's been a long time." He did not open his eyes. "What are you doing here, boy?"

When no response came, he opened his eyes to glare at his idiot apprentice - and found himself shocked.

The boy had gotten taller in the year since he had turned his back on his apprenticeship, though he was still as lean as ever. His face, however, was barely recognizable. Hollow-eyed, with a long scar extending from his left cheekbone nearly to his chin, it was the face of a boy who had walked into a war of his own accord and been thoroughly unprepared for what he would see.

What he would be a part of.

And the boy was not alone, either. Coming up behind him was the owner of the second set of footsteps, and it was clear immediately why those footsteps had been so clumsy: it was a young woman. A girl, really; older than the boy but not by much, who wore an elegant silk kimono and lacquered wooden zori. The height of fashion in Kyoto, perhaps, but thoroughly useless for hiking up the side of a mountain in the rain.

The both of them were filthy and bedraggled, the girl's sophisticated clothing soaked with rain and spattered with mud. The boy had fared no better, and there was blood mingled with the mud on his garments.

"It has been some time," the boy finally said. Standing a little ways behind him, the girl said nothing, though she managed to convey her misery quite clearly.

"I take it the war isn't going as well as you planned," he said with a hint of acidity. Not expecting a response - or bothering to pause for one - he gestured at the girl. "Who is she?"

"My wife." The boy gestured, and the girl took a hesitant step forward. "Tomoe."

The girl - Tomoe - executed a perfect bow despite her soaked and shivering state, and the boy continued.

"Tomoe, this is my…" He hesitated a beat too long. "Former shishou, Hiko Seijuro." Another pause. "The Thirteenth."

Hiko glared ominously at the boy - there was still the matter of his having abandoned his apprenticeship to be discussed - but he chose to attempt some sort of politeness towards the girl.

"Wife?" He raised an eyebrow at her. "And how long ago did this happen?"

They actually exchanged a glance with each other, and he caught a brief look of mental calculation flitting across both their faces.

The boy just barely shrugged, and the girl offered, "Three days ago."

"Oh, good." Hiko allowed himself a small smile. "Then there's still enough time for you to think better of marrying my idiot apprentice."

He turned his eyes to the boy, who was glowering predictably. "I asked you why you came here, Kenshin. Have you finally understood what it means to involve yourself in a war?"

"Nearly half of Kyoto burned to the ground the other night," Kenshin said flatly. "Or hadn't you noticed?"

"I had." Hiko's eyes narrowed. "And whose idea was that? Your friends in the Satsuma and the Choshu? Or the Shinsengumi?" He shook his head in disgust. "Or was it simply collateral damage? Was it an acceptable price to pay for one side's victory, for so many to be left dead or homeless?"

The girl - Tomoe - shivered visibly, and he shook his head again. As much as he might have to discuss with his idiot apprentice, the girl did not deserve to fall ill from damp chills while they argued.

"Come inside." He rose to his feet and beckoned to them. "Kenshin, go and light the fire for the bath. I'll have dinner ready when the both of you are clean and dry."

Kenshin said nothing, but he did turn and head toward the bath. If the girl was expecting something like she might find in Kyoto, she'd be sorely disappointed. The bath was a repurposed rain barrel situated in a small shed, with a cramped space inside for washing up.

Still, it would be warm.

Tomoe followed Hiko into the hut and stood wordlessly on the dirt floor of the kitchen space, dripping wet and shivering. After a moment, she seemed to collect herself and offered another bow, deeper this time.

"Thank you," she murmured, "for your hospitality."

He turned to her for a moment, then bent down to search for a saucer and uncork his sake jug. "You're drenched and cold," he offered by way of response as he poured the sake for her and held the saucer out. "This will help."

She took the saucer with both hands, lifted it to her lips, and drained the whole thing. "Again, thank you. Though it might go right to my head." She looked down at the empty saucer. "We ran out of food the other day."

Hiko sighed as he poured water into the tea kettle and hung it over the hearth on the raised wooden floor to boil, then moved back into the kitchen space. "If it goes to your head, then at least you'll have a decent night's sleep. I can't imagine you've had that for the past several days either."

He refilled her saucer nonetheless.

"My idiot apprentice didn't want to come here, did he?" He brought out the jar of pickled vegetables and filled a pair of bowls. "Is that why it took so long for you to get here?"

"The main roads were being patrolled by both Shinsengumi and Bakufu soldiers." She sat on the edge of the raised wooden floor that made up the rest of the hut, cradling the saucer in both hands. "And the smaller roads were washed out."

She stared into the saucer, her expression unreadable.

The tea kettle hissed over the fire and Hiko busied himself making ochazuke. There was still enough rice in the pot for two bowls' worth, even though he had planned on using it for his breakfast the following morning.

"Here." He held out a bowl of pickled vegetables and a bowl of tea-soaked rice to her. "Eat. I'll go and look in the storage shed for something for you to wear."

Perhaps she could wear some of his idiot apprentice's old things, he thought as he walked off. Heaven only knew why he had kept them, but at least they could serve a purpose now.

She was eating hungrily when he returned with an old cotton kimono for her and a battered training gi and hakama for Kenshin. He'd shaken and slapped the dust from them, and they were likely enough to be comfortable, being as well-worn as they were. In any case, they were dry.

"So how did you happen to meet my idiot apprentice, anyway?" He looked at her mostly-empty bowl and wondered whether he ought to put more rice on to cook. "From what I gathered, he was too busy misusing the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu I taught him to do anything remotely social."

She looked at him, her face a mask of inscrutable calm. "I had too much to drink and I passed out in the street. He brought me to the Kohagiya, which turned out to be one of the headquarters of the Choshu Ishin Shishi." She stared into the remains of her rice bowl. "Gone now."

Hiko sighed deeply.

It was just like Kenshin to display that sort of compassion. That was the main reason that the boy's departure and subsequent descent to the disgraceful level of political assassination had bothered him so much: his compassionate nature would lead him to any lengths. He would rescue an injured animal, or bring a drunken woman back to his inn, or throw himself recklessly into a war that he had no business fighting, if he could convince himself that it was the compassionate thing to do.

"Along with the rest of the city," he added gruffly, deciding at last to cook another pot of rice. They would all need it for breakfast the next morning, after all. "And what was he doing when he found you in the street?"

She said nothing.

Hiko nodded grimly as he poured water and rice into the pot and set it on the stove to cook. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. He was employed as a hitokiri, after all. It's not unreasonable to imagine that you'd see him at it." He arched an eyebrow. "Were you frightened?"

She looked up at him. "Should I have been?"

He looked at her impassively. "Those are two separate questions."

"Yes." She didn't elaborate.

"Yes to both?"

"The bath is ready." Kenshin was in the doorway suddenly. His gaze flitted between Hiko and Tomoe. An expression of… was it distrust? unease? crossed his face but didn't land, and he settled his gaze on Tomoe. "Come. I'll show you."

Wordlessly, she set the rice bowl aside, picked up the well-worn kimono, and followed Kenshin out the door, bowing briefly as she passed Hiko.

A few minutes later, Kenshin was back in the doorway, and this time his expression was decidedly unpleasant.

"And what are you looking so put out over, boy?" Hiko gestured at the bowls of ochazuke and pickled vegetables he had set aside for Kenshin. "Eat your dinner, and then perhaps you can tell me whether you've thought better of your career choices lately."

"So it's going to be that kind of conversation, is it?"

Kenshin crossed the kitchen in a few steps, eased his katana - apparently he needed a set of daisho now - out of his belt, and set it down on the raised wooden floor before accepting the bowls of food.

He did mutter a "thank you" before he sat down on the edge of the raised floor and began eating, so there was that.

"Your wife." Hiko poured himself a saucer of sake and set down the jug close at hand. "She's not the most forthcoming of women, is she?"

"No," Kenshin said through a mouthful of rice. He barely paused between bites, eating until the bowl was empty, before starting on the pickles.

"Slow down before you choke." Hiko checked the new pot of rice, saw that it needed more time, and drank his sake. "If it hadn't taken you so long to get here, you might not be so hungry. Your wife tells me that the roads were washed out. Is that the only reason it took you three days to get from Kyoto to the mountain?"

"Shinsengumi. Bakufu soldiers." He ate until the pickles were gone and set the bowl down. "Didn't want any unnecessary confrontations. And…" His gaze strayed to the doorway, and when his wife failed to suddenly appear, he finished with, "She was not best prepared to travel."

"I'd noticed." Hiko poured a saucer of sake and held it out to Kenshin, who shook his head in refusal. He shrugged and drained it off himself. "But I don't imagine you had very much in the way of warning before you had to flee, did you?"


"No." Hiko eyed his suddenly tight-lipped apprentice. "Except for the fact that you were fighting a war. And the fact that just because your new friends were incapable of defeating the Bakufu does not mean that the reverse was true."

He looked at Kenshin for a long moment, then shook his head and poured himself another saucer of sake. "You were never meant for war. No practitioner of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu ever is, but I think you are uniquely ill-suited."

"This argument again?" Again, Kenshin's gaze flitted to the doorway. Still no wife.

"Not again." Hiko didn't bother waiting for Kenshin's eyes to return to him. "Still."

Kenshin said nothing.

Hiko glowered at him. "Did you spend the past year trying desperately to convince yourself that you were still right in your convictions? That you hadn't made the worst mistake of your life in leaving this mountain - leaving your training - to go and fight the wars of lesser men?"

"Lesser men?" Kenshin snorted, his disgust a palpable thing. "Because better men look the other way when people are suffering?"

"Because better men would devote the time and effort it takes to learn these skills themselves rather than merely employing others to do their killing for them." Hiko's eyes blazed. "The practitioner of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu is the only one who may ever judge who deserves to die by Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu. Otherwise, he would be nothing more than a weapon to be wielded, rather than the man he must be."

Abruptly Kenshin picked up his sword and stalked toward the door. "I'm not having this conversation again. I'm going to check on my wife."

"I heard the stories, you know." Hiko watched his idiot apprentice pause at the door. "The rumors of the hitokiri they called Battousai. The demon with flaming red hair whose targets always fell on the first stroke of his sword."

The boy seemed to wince at that.

"I always found it difficult to believe those stories," Hiko went on.

The act of forming the words was difficult in itself, but he was seized with the sudden certainty that they were of utmost importance.

"Not because I doubted there could be a man of such skill. I knew exactly what I had taught you to do." He shook his head. "But because I could never connect that cold-blooded murderer with the boy who lived under my roof for seven years."

He drained his sake and stared hard at Kenshin's back. "I tried to tell you what would happen if you abandoned your training. You thought you knew better than I did, and now look at you."

Kenshin was silent for a very long moment. Too long, and Hiko was about to speak again when the boy abruptly said:

"I've taken no pleasure in it. Any of it." He didn't turn around. "But if it means helping to bring in a new era, one free of the pointless suffering that I see all around me, then I'll continue to do what has to be done. No matter the cost to myself."

And then he was gone.


Welp, I was going to wait until the new movies came out, but as they've been pushed back to May 2021, I figure I'll just fling this out into the world and see what happens.


So... uh... I'm an old school Ruroken fan who had been out of the fandom (and anime in general) for a long damn time. Then last summer, I discovered the 3 awesome live action movies, and because the MCU and I are on a long break right now, my inner-Ruroken fan came screaming back to life.

This is a story that I've thought about off and on for a long time, and now seems like the time to finally put it out in the world. I'll try to update once a week, but we'll see how that goes.


My favorite conspirator and ace beta reader, who also introduced to me to the concept of HOT! DATEABLE! BISHOUNEN! SHINSENGUMI CAPTAINS! (no seriously this is apparently a game), is an_earl, who has certainly helped stoked the fire of my new (old) obsession.


Comments, feedback, bookmarks, and just saying what up are all warmly welcomed, hoped for, and appreciated. Feedback is the bread of a fanfic writer's life. You can also come say hi to me on tumblr frostyemma.

All the rest of my fanfic (MCU, Star Wars, random bullshit) can be found on ao3 frostyemma, but this seems like the place for Ruroken fic.