"They were shouting at each other again in the Kamiya dojo yesterday," commented old Granny Umeko as she sipped her tea thoughtfully. Auntie Ren nodded, and popped a rice ball into her mouth with two nimble fingers. She smiled briefly, savoring the taste, and the two old women sat in silence for a moment, enjoying each other's company. They were sitting inside Granny Umeko's house, which just happened to be behind an old dojo… A dojo that just happened to be owned by a young girl named Kamiya Kaoru.

Auntie Ren wiped her lips with a clean napkin and drank a little of her tea, nodding in satisfaction.

"You know," she said suddenly, with a slightly conspiratorial gleam in her eyes. Granny Umeko leaned forwards slightly, eagerly anticipating whatever juicy gossip Auntie Ren had in store for her. "The other day I was at the markets, shopping for a present for my niece Tokiko… you know the little girl who had the terrible cough a few weeks back? I bought her a lovely silk ribbon embroidered with flowers… I must show it to you later… Anyway, who else did I see but the redhead Himura Kenshin and his friend… you know, the tall, lanky one?"

"That uncouth looking fellow?" Granny Umeko frowned in distaste, recalling vaguely the young man that Auntie Ren was talking about. She remembered his rough looking bandaged hands and that silly kanji that he wore on his back and shook her head slightly. "Honestly, I don't know why the Kamiya girl allows him to visit all the time. He's a bad influence on them, especially on the young boy."

"Yes, well…" Auntie Ren waved away Umeko's concerns with a little hand motion. "They were coming out of the Akabeko…"

"The place that serves the good hot-pot?"

"Yes, that's the place… run by a girl called Tae… lovely young lady, she is… Anyway, they were coming out of that restaurant when I saw them. Of course, they don't really know me, so I wasn't going to say hello to them or anything like that, but just as I was about to walk past, I stopped, because three unsavory looking characters - young hoodlums, really – appeared suddenly in the middle of the street!" Ren's astonishment at this still seemed to echo in her voice, which had risen an octave. Granny Umeko arched her eyebrows as she delicately poured herself another cup of tea.

"Yakuza thugs, I'll bet," she commented, as her wise old black eyes narrowed slightly. "They think they own this town, but they're nothing but a bunch of derelicts and criminals! If only my Yoshimitsu were still here, he'd show them a thing or two about respect…" 

"I'm sure he would…" Auntie Ren brushed something off the sleeve of her kimono and straightened her aching back. "Well so there was Himura and his tall friend, just walking out of the restaurant, and these three awful men suddenly appear out of nowhere. One of them, he must have been their leader or something like that… he pulls out this funny looking knife… it was very long, for a knife, but then again, it wasn't quite a sword either, because I have seen a few of those, and they are much, much longer."

Granny Umeko sniffed. "Perhaps it was just a wakizashi or something like that… Riff-raff will use any weapon that they can get their hands on, even if they don't know what they're doing. Young people these days have no respect for the proper techniques and traditions." The old woman frowned a little at this, but Auntie Ren failed to notice, or perhaps simply didn't want to. Ignoring the faint sound of voices that filtered to her ears from outside, as she had Granny Umeko's dark expression, she resumed speaking.

"And then," she continued, still caught in the grip of her own story. "He turns to poor Himura and says something like; 'I know who you are, Battousai, and you can't hide from us any longer! Prepare to die!'" Auntie Ren shook her head slightly. There was a scandalized expression on her wide face. "Of course, there was a lot more dirty language involved in what he actually said, but I don't really want to repeat it. Imagine that! That foolish hoodlum actually thought that the Kamiya girl's silly little redhead was Hitokiri Battousai!"

Auntie Ren's disbelief however, was not reflected in Granny Umeko's doubtful expression. "I don't know…" she said slowly, and took another, thoughtful sip of tea. "There have been rumours…"

"Like what?" scoffed Auntie Ren, chuckling in her deep, hearty voice. "That he was the hitokiri by whom all hitokiri measure themselves? That he was a terror during the Bakumatsu, killing hundreds as easily as one might slice through tofu? Don't be absurd, Umeko-san. You can't believe all the silly gossip of the townsfolk. They tend to exaggerate; to make fact out of fiction. Besides, you've seen Himura Kenshin for yourself. He's tiny, especially for a man!"

But Granny Umeko was not convinced. After all, she had been living behind the dojo ever since the strange little rurouni had decided to move in. She had seen some of the extraordinary things that had occurred there.

"How then," she began, "does that explain all of the fighting that goes on at the Kamiya dojo? They get attacked by criminals all the time; by gangs, madmen, thugs… And it's not the girl that they're after. It's always Himura."

"Are you sure?" Auntie Ren's tone of voice was slightly condescending, and this caused Granny Umeko to feel just a little indignant.

"I'm not deaf and dumb yet, Ren," she replied, setting her empty tea-cup down a little harder than was necessary. "I know what I saw, and what I heard. And what I see and hear most of the time is people going to that dojo and challenging that little red-haired man to fight them. Of course, he always wins, with that strange reversed sword of his. Never kills them, but I've seen a few carried out of there with bruises and broken bones and injuries bad enough to make them think twice about fighting ever again."

Auntie Ren nodded a little distractedly. She still didn't believe that the man was Hitokiri Battousai – after all, she wasn't the type to place much stead in silly rumors and superstitions, however Granny Umeko had brought up an interesting point.

"About that sword," she said, for it was a sword, despite the fact that the sharp edge was on the other side... Auntie Ren knew all about the sword, for there was never talk of Himura without it. "It's a little strange, isn't it? That he's allowed to carry a sword around in public when no-one else can… I suppose that he's a good enough swordsman, but…"

"You've never seen him fight, have you?" Demanded Granny Umeko, interrupting Auntie Ren quite suddenly. "It would be a waste… for him to not have a sword at his side. And besides, I heard tell that he's done a few special favors for the police now and again. In return, he's allowed to possess the sword without getting into trouble with the law."

"Hmm…" Ren looked thoughtful as she chewed another mouthful of sweet rice. With her fat cheeks full of food and the serious expression upon her face, she almost looked comical. Granny Umeko resisted the urge to chuckle. "Come to think of it," Auntie Ren licked her lips, "I have seen him talking to that policeman… the one in charge… his name is Goro, I think. I have seen them speaking to each other, and it wasn't like they were friends… actually they are definitely not friends, but it looked like they had an odd kind of respect for one another… almost like…"

"I think you read too much into things sometimes, Ren." Granny Umeko looked a little distracted as she glanced out the window. There were those voices again, drifting to them on the wind; faint, distant voices. It sounded like they were coming from the dojo. "Oh but speaking of that policeman… did you know that he is married?"

"Goro? Surely not!" Auntie Ren looked at Umeko in shock, a slight smile touching the corners of her mouth. Now here was a juicy piece of gossip. "What kind of woman would have a man like that? I know that I couldn't put up with such a fellow… he's so… cold; so official and all that… not bad looking though…"

"Says you," retorted Granny Umeko. "I always preferred my men a little shorter, in my day," she snorted. "A bit like Himura, I suppose. When I first married Yoshimitsu, the other girls would laugh behind our backs because I was taller than him, but we didn't care. We were happy together." Granny Umeko's gaze became distant for a moment, and she began to tune in to the distant voices being carried to her on the wind. Auntie Ren also became quiet, clasping her hands for lack of anything to do. Finally however, the silence seemed to get to her, and she broke it by picking up some of the lost pieces of their earlier conversation.

"Anyway, it was the strangest thing that happened after that thug pulled a knife on Himura."

"Eh?" Granny Umeko's eyes snapped back towards Auntie Ren as she was dragged away from her thoughts. "What thug?"

"The man who confronted Himura in the street, calling him 'Battousai'…"

"Ah yes. So what did Himura do? Beat him up with his reverse-bladed sword?"

"Actually no," Ren leaned forwards, and Umeko did the same, her interest having been caught again. "And this is the strange thing… Well actually, first I think the tall fellow - that gangster or whatever he is - was spoiling for a fight, because he stepped forwards with his fists ready and said something filthy, but Himura pulled him back suddenly, and I was expecting him to pull the sword out and whack the man one or something, but instead, Himura simply looked at him… I suppose was a little tired at the time, for he just sighed. Then he said 'I don't know who you are, or what I've done to you, but if I have ever caused you grief, then I am truly sorry…'"

Granny Umeko's eyes widened in bafflement, for this was indeed a very strange thing to say to a person who dared to attack you.

"And then, he seemed a little sad for some reason, as he told him, 'I really do not want to fight you, but I will if I must. And if you want to fight me, then you will look me in the eyes properly and tell me why.' And the silly man who had challenged Himura must have had a little sense in him, because then he stared the little red-head directly in the eyes for the first time and said, 'I want to fight you…' but as he gazed into Himura's eyes, he must have seen something that he didn't expect, for he simply stood there for a while, as if in shock. Then he faltered suddenly and looked away, lowering the knife as he did so."

"How strange," murmured Granny Umeko. She was now hanging on Auntie Ren's every word; the story had taken a sudden turn for the intriguing.

"And then he simply turned around and said 'I must have been mistaken,' just like that. 'You're obviously not the man that I'm looking for.' And then he gathered his men and left, just like that! When I turned to look at Himura's face, I noticed that he was smiling a little. It was the strangest thing that I've ever seen!" Auntie Ren huffed slightly, pleased with herself. "And that has to prove to you that he's not Hitokiri Battousai," she said, raising her finger at Granny Umeko, "because otherwise they would have fought."

"Perhaps…" the old lady still wasn't quite convinced. She had seen enough of people in her lifetime to know that sometimes things weren't as they appeared. Once again, the sound of voices reached her ears, and she imagined that she could make out what they were saying.

Busu…Howdareyou…ahIKO! Oro...

"Your odd neighbours seem to be arguing again," commented Auntie Ren, a little superciliously.

"Yes, they do that a lot," replied Granny Umeko, still thinking about what Ren had said. It was true, she supposed. How on earth could someone like the Hitokiri Battousai live in a place like that, with such a loud assistant master and such a naughty little boy? She could almost imagine the deadly assassin's blade flying out to silence the loud screeching voices and…

No; the silly little rurouni was no hitokiri, that was for sure. Swordsman, maybe. Possibly even a samurai, but not a hitokiri.

"By the way," interrupted Auntie Ren, as she helped herself to more tea. "You'll never guess what I heard about that woman doctor the other day…"


A/N: Okay, what was that? A bit random and disjointed, but ahh I felt like writing tonight.(Instead of studying, as good little me should…) I guess it was an idea that dropped into my head because I was thinking of a little part from Akai Kitsune's 'Kendo no Go' which was something along the lines of "what will the neighbours think??" Anyway, if you haven't read that fic, you must, because it is bloody marvelous.