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Chapter Eight: Interlude

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And now, to review, in song:

A man is a man, unless he's a poof
And 'no bleaching' is now the Stainmaster's truth.
Into the hideout of evil we go
To battle the stains, like a game show!

Misao fell on the scythe-wielder so queer
Yahiko met grease pits without any fear,
Chou's hair was singed, and that's a fact.
Shishio and Aoshi made a strange pact.

There are puppies and puppets and possibly pies.
Hiko plays cards and is (of course) wise.
Tacos and evil and more tacos, yes please.
Shishio compares beautiful Yumi to cheese.

Stainmaster Kenshin, what will you do?
Without bleaching...the laundry is blue
Just like your nemesis, the big silly smurf!
Watch out! Watch out! This is his turf!

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Chapter Eight: I Like Pie

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Soujirou and the Yumi puppet pushed open the door, completely ignoring the half-dead Miroku. (Please have no fear. No lecherous monks were seriously harmed in the making of this fanfic.)

The gentle smell of pie flooded the hallway, and the nostrils of the Kenshingumi.

(The Kenshingumi is not to be confused with the Scrubbygumi, or the forces of Shishio's mighty "Cleany Tori". We should also probably mention the formidable Gummygumi, which is not present in this time, but should be contacted if you need to get gum out of anything. Hair. Carpet. Small or large ninjas. An elephant's ear. Iizuka's regrettable excuse for a moustache. Miami. Anything. DO NOT attempt to remove gum on your own. It is a sticky affair which is best left to the professionals.)

(And who -puts- gum in things, anyway? That's right, the Hitokiri Bubblesai. He is -not- the focus of this epic, but 'Hitokiri Bubblesai' does rhyme with 'delicious pie', and I think we can all agree that -pie- is quite delicious.)

"Why does it smell of pie in here?" Kaoru tilted her face upwards to sniff at the air. "Pumpkin pie."

"Ah yes. That would be Anji-san." Soujirou did a graceful pirouette across the candle-lit room, leaped, spun, shook, twirled, wriggled, hopped, shimmied, twisted, convulsed, writhed, jumped forward, jumped backward, put his right foot in, put his right foot out, he did the Hokey Pokey, and he shook it all about. And he shook the Yumi Puppet, too, which made certain parts of the doll's anatomy bounce rather lewdly.

Sano gawked at the Yumi Puppet.

Kaoru looked at Kenshin.

Kenshin looked at the ceiling.

Misao looked down her own shirt and sighed.

And Saitou shifted his weight uncomfortably, due to the fact that a certain puppy was licking his navel.

"Who is Anji-san, Seta-san?" Kenshin finally asked, "And why does he smell like pie?"

"Anji-san is your next opponent. And, all monks smell like pie, Himura-san."

"That's just ridiculous," Saitou declared as he finally managed to get Okita-chan to fall asleep by quietly asserting that it was completely untrue that Harada-san had been reincarnated as a rooster-headed streetfighter.

"Yes. I mean," Kaoru pursed her lips, "Shouldn't they smell like incense or something?"

"No, no." Soujirou waved the Yumi Puppet's arms around to emphasize his point. "The incense is to -cover- the smell of pie. Monks constantly worry about being eaten by a Grue."

"A...grue?" Kenshin asked.

"Terrible creatures that crave pie. They live in the dark. That's why monks are forever lighting candles."

"How awful," Kaoru murmured.

And then, into the view of the Kenshin-crew came the man with no hairdo. He was tall, he was wide, and he never ever lied. Anji! Three cheers for Anji!

Sanosuke was astounded! "Hey, I know that guy!"

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(Some weeks earlier.)

(At a pie stand.)

(Outside of Tokyo.)

(Way outside.)

(Like Albuquerque.)

(Albuquerque, Japan. Not Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sanosuke was lost, but not -that- lost.)

(What do you mean that you don't believe there is an Albuquerque in Japan? It's right here on the map, see?)

(So what if someone wrote it on the map in crayon? Look, are you going to let us finish this flashback, or what?)

(Hey! What's wrong with you? Why are you pouring water on the map?)

(What do you mean you're trying to put the Ajax Superscrubber Ryu into action? This is no time for foolishness! Don't you know anything about flashbacks? They are serious business. And, inevitably, something really tragic happens, like lots of orphans get killed, or some nutjob of a little boy takes a sword and slaughters his family, or someone reveals the utterly heart-wrenching reason why they just -have- to destroy Japan.)

(Damn right, you're sorry. Let's begin again.)

(Some weeks earlier, at a pie stand...)

Sanosuke walked up to a pie stand. He liked pie.

Anji was also at the pie stand. He was getting a pie, too.

"Well, hello there," said Sano. "Getting a pie?"

"Yes," said Anji, "I am getting a pie."

"Pie is good. Only insane people don't like pie."

Anji nodded, watched his new friend wave and walk off, and then proceeded to smash the pie stand to bits.

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"Worst. Flashback. Ever." Misao mumbled. It didn't even have any wombats. What sort of flashback didn't include wombats? Or ninjas? Or at the very least, Aoshi-sama?

"Kenshin, let me handle this guy." Sanosuke pulled his giant toothbrush out and tilted his head towards Anji. "We have a score to settle anyway. He crushed my favorite pie stand."

"You will not survive," Anji intoned quietly, "Please leave this place, and no further harm will come to you."

"Yeah! But, what about the INNOCENT PIES OF JAPAN! WHEN WILL IT END? WHEN WILL THE REIGN OF TERROR UPON ALL PIEDOM CEASE?"

Kenshin sighed slightly. When pies were involved, Sano really got worked up.

"Let the rooster fight, Stainmaster," Saitou grumbled, "I think we all need a good laugh about now, anyway."

Sano stepped forward and planted his feet firmly on the ground. Well, we mean that he was standing solidly. He didn't actually 'plant' his feet, because that would require digging, and tilling, and watering. And as any farmer knows, roosters are neither fruits nor vegetables. Roosters are are actually minerals, and have to be mined in Nagasaki stone quarries by Oompa Loompas.

Oompa Loompas, on the other hand, grow on trees.

At any rate, Sanosuke faced his opponent, his giant toothbrush 'Sugarplums' at the ready. "Name your challenge, Anji!"

Anji turned slowly and pointed at the many gigantic tapestries hanging around the monastery-like room. Then he took out a stick of incense. "Whomever cleans the most tapestries before this stick of incense burns out will be considered the winner. The loser must...stay here and meditate for one full month upon his loss."

Saitou snorted. "I'd like to see the rooster sit and meditate for one full minute."

Misao piped up. "Aoshi-sama likes to mediate!"

But, everyone ignored her.

"Tell me, Anji-san," Kenshin said, "Why do you have such hatred for pies, anyway?"

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(Long ago.)

(More than a month.)

(What do you mean, "Are we going to go through this again?")

(Forget the map to Albuquerque. The map has nothing to do with -this- flashback.)

(Stop hitting me. Look, can't we let the poor monk have a proper flashback? I mean, geez, look at the dude. He doesn't even have any hair. Actually, he looks a bit like Mr. Clean, you know? That would have been a good comparison for -someone- to work into this story.)

(Actually, I rather liked that little jingle. You know, 'Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean'. I can't remember any of the other words to it, though.)

(You know, I think every single person around here has had a flashback at one time or another. Kenshin. Kaoru. All of them. It's probably some sort of communicable disease. And, speaking of diseases, why isn't Megumi in this story? I will tell you why. It's because -she- has a -job-. Responsible people, who actually DO something for a living, don't go around chasing devious laundry thieves. I mean, what sort of nonsense is that, anyway? With a premise like that, it's no wonder that they can't get a first rate flashback going.)

(Crap job it is, anyway, introducing flashbacks. You never get to be the hero of the story. You never actually get to do anything cool just introducing flashbacks. Before I introduced flashbacks for a living, I had a dream. A real dream. All I really wanted in life...was to be...a lumberjack.)

(Leaping from tree to tree as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia! The Fir! The Larch! The Redwood! The mighty Scots Pine!)

(The plucky little Aspen! The great limping rude tree of Nigeria!)

(The smell of fresh-cut timber! The crash of mighty trees!)

(With my best gal by my side, we'd sing, SING... )

(Ohhhhhh, I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay...)

(...Why are you hitting me again?)

(What do you mean the flashback is already over?)

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Kaoru wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "My...goodness, Anji-san, that's so...so horrible."

Misao, who had already gone through several tissues during the course of Anji's tragic story, grabbed Saitou's sleeve and proceeded to use it to blow her nose.

Kenshin looked saddened by the story, but shook his head. "Nonetheless, Anji-san, your horrific past is no reason to continue your pie-destroying crimes. I was once the Hitokiri Stainmaster, and look at me now, I am a simple but happy wanderer, able to daily clean Kaoru-dono's underthings without resorting to Bleaching."

"He says that as if it's a step up," Saitou said, lighting another cigarette.

Kaoru turned bright pink at the thought of Kenshin handling her underthings. Not quite the same pink as the Pink Gi of Atonement. No, more of a coral color, really. Although, in certain lights it might be considered 'carnation' or even 'morganite'. Perhaps with a touch of 'salmon', but you really don't want to compare a girl's cheeks to a fish lightly. Unless she's the sort of girl who looks like a fish, which Kaoru was certainly not. She was the sort of girl who looks like a tanuki.

"Look, Anji," Sano said, "I accept your challenge."

Anji nodded. He wasn't much for talking.

And then he lit the incense.

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The two men squared off in the giant room, each one unflinchingly staring at the other. Eyes narrowed. Muscles bulged. Sano smirked. Anji...did nothing. Because he's an inscrutable sort of monk, and that's the way things go with those types.

"What the heck are they waiting for?" Misao asked. "Don't they know the incense is already lit, and they are running out of time?"

With that, the two men launched into action. Sano headed for the nearest tapestry, affixed some cleaning solution to his giant toothbrush, and began to scrub.

Anji, on the other hand, walked to the tapestry nearest to him, reared back, and with one fist punched the tapestry. In an instant, all of the dust, dirt, grime, and filth immediately shook from the tapestry and fell to the floor. He had cleaned it with a single punch!

"Impossible," said Misao.

"Incredible," uttered Saitou.

"Um, Kenshin... About my underthings..." whispered Kaoru.

Kenshin, who was not paying any attention to Kaoru, said, "Sano! He's too strong. You'll never make it. Let me step in. You can get the next one."

(Soujirou was off in the corner playing with a puppy. He felt a strange, but special bond with the puppy. It was if, in another lifetime, he'd been a puppy like this. A strong puppy, one which belonged to a pack of legendary Wolves...)

"Give me that." Saitou yanked Okita-chan away from Soujirou and stuffed the dog back into his shirt.

Anji continued to punch tapestry after tapestry. Each time, the dirt on the tapestry fell away, leaving behind only clean cloth. By the time Sanosuke was finished scrubbing his first tapestry, Anji had already cleaned a dozen.

"Damnit! Damnit!" Sano increased the pace of his cleaning, but no matter what he did, there was no way he was going to be able to keep up with Anji. "I've got to use my head. I've got to...use my...head."

And that's when Sanosuke -literally- used his head. He rammed his noggin into one of the large tapestries, and sent it flying at Anji. Next, he pulled down another tapestry and hurled it at the brawny monk. Then another, and another, until Yuukyuzan Anji was covered in the tapestries.

"Now you're in a dark little maze of twisted tapestries, all alike," pronounced Sano.

A noise came from the lump of tapestries. A noise which sounded like, "Oh no. Not again. I didn't bring a candle."

And then, soon after that, there was a ferocious roar. Anji-san's left foot appeared, and then his right foot fell out. The pile quaked and shimmied, and shook all about. It did the Hokey Pokey and it turned itself around. That's what it was all about.

"My goodness, what happened here?" Kaoru asked, as she approached the steaming pile of tapestries. She pulled back layer after layer only to find that, except for his feet, Yuukyuzan Anji had completely disappeared.

Sanosuke, who had gone back to cleaning his share of the tapestries, looked over his shoulder to explain, "Soujirou said it. All I had to do was snuff out all the light around Anji. Then, he was eaten by the Grue."

"That's just awful," Misao said. She'd never resort to unleashing a Grue on her enemies. No. Wombats, maybe, but never a Grue!

"Don't worry." Sanosuke grinned and looked over at Anji's feet. "He's a monk. He'll reincarnate."

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(Many years later.)

(On a Tuesday in February.)

(Kyoto.)

(The one in Japan. Not the one in New Mexico.)

Young Yuukyuzan Anji wandered through town. He'd been considering entering the priesthood, but he wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do. Somehow, he'd long aspired to a higher calling. Something subtle, but crafty. Something which would put him close to the action, close enough to help others...

Anji peered up at the sign over the building and headed inside. He looked around for a moment at the sad, barren office, and the young man sitting behind the counter with the goofy grin on his face, looking at a large piece of paper.

Anji bowed quietly, and said, "I'm here about the job introducing flashbacks."

The man behind the counter smiled, and handed over the map.

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In Our Next Chapter: Usui! Maybe!

Author's Notes:

Grue: A monster from the legendary "Zork" game. It existed in complete darkness. See wikipedia under "grue".

"I'm a lumberjack...": Old Monty Python skit.

Albuquerque: As far as I know, there isn't one in Japan.

"A maze of twisty passages...": A line from the infamous "Colossal Cave Adventure" game. See wikipedia under "Colossal Cave Adventure".

Mr. Clean: Cleaning mascot. Bald and brawny. Though "Brawny" is a different cleaning product altogether, and generally employs a rather lumberjack looking fellow.