What happened to Kenshin during his wandering years to change him from the cold, efficient killer that was Battousai into the somewhat bumbling wanderer that characterizes him as the rurouni? He must have learned that from somewhere! Here's my take on how the transformation came about.

This is probably the place to say, 'Thank you, Viz, for putting out the English translation of the Rurouni Kenshin manga!' They, as well as Jump, Sony, and other evil empires, own all the copyrights. My deepest bows, however, go to the ultimate copyright holder, Watsuki Nobuhiro. May you earn millions from this, because we sure aren't!

An Unexpected Lesson



Chapter 1

(Somewhere in the mountains of the former Satsuma domain, Fall 1871)

The road was dusty and winding. Not many people seemed to be traveling this mountain road today, though it connected several villages and towns to each other. 'Maybe it's because it's so twisty,' mused the lone traveler, 'or maybe it's all the ruts in it.' Whatever the reason, this particular traveler found the road to be perfect for his purposes. Alone by choice as much as by necessity, he tried to stay away from crowds whenever possible to avoid the inevitable whispers. "Red hair, cross-shaped scar," they'd say. "Isn't that the description of the Hitokiri Battousai?"

Hitokiri Battousai. He had always loathed that name. "Himura," he used to tell his comrades. "My name is Himura Kenshin," but they never seemed to listen. Now, three years after he had walked away from the battlefield at Toba Fushimi, he still couldn't get away from that hated name—or the fear and hatred that name usually engendered. He smiled ruefully to himself. He was just a rurouni now, an aimless wanderer who had sworn never to kill again, and he hadn't. He had left his killing swords behind on that last battlefield. Now he carried only a sakabatou, and still there were revenge-seekers out to take his life. If he didn't know any better, he'd swear there must be a sign on his back saying 'Get your revenge here!'

Leaving his life behind had been difficult. Until he became a rurouni, he hadn't realized how addicted he had become to the rush of adrenaline that came from constant battle. When he cut himself off from the chaos of fighting, it took his body weeks to figure out it didn't need to be on constant alert. The resulting jumpiness had almost driven him mad. Then there was the deep despair that came from knowing that for every victim of his blade, there were even more families wailing in grief because of his actions. His despair became so overwhelming, in fact, that he had even contemplated ending his own life, but then he'd remember Tomoe's last words, that he should live, so he did.

Eventually, though, as time went on, he realized that he was starting to atone for what he had done. There was the fatherless family he had helped to bring in the rice harvest, for instance. They had been most kind to him—until a traveler recognized him and stirred up the village. Still, if he hadn't helped them with the harvest, they never would have made it through the winter.

And there was the village he happened upon that had burned to the ground after a particularly intense lightening storm. He had pitched in and helped them rebuild their homes and stores. They, in turn, had been so grateful that they offered him a small piece of land to farm, but as always, someone recognized him. This time it was a band of local samurai who had taken to extorting "taxes" from the farmers to make up for the income they had lost when the new government did away with their fiefs. When the farmers refused to pay and the samurai started killing in retaliation, Kenshin felt compelled to step in. It only took a few minutes to put the samurai out of commission, but it was enough for someone to put two and two together and figure out that the red-haired stranger was the feared Hitokiri Battousai.

But now, after three years, he had come to terms with his lot in life. It was enough, he figured, that he could wander. If he could be of help to someone along the way, so much the better. It was pretty much the life Hiko led, he realized, and that couldn't be all bad. And now, as fall was settling in, he found himself heading south for the winter on this rather mountainous road in Satsuma. He was just going over yet another rise when he heard shouting from around the bend. He cast out his senses for danger, but felt none. Still, the voices were loud and anguished. As he turned the bend, he saw why—a large wagon had overturned, pinning a man's leg underneath it. Several men, women, and children were trying to lift the wagon off him, but the wagon must have been heavy, for they couldn't seem to do it. The man was screaming in pain.

"Altogether, now, on the count of three!" he heard one of the men shouting.

"Hurry, please!" yelled a frantic woman, who was kneeling next to the trapped man. "He can't take much more of this!"

Kenshin took off at a run to see if he could help. Nobody even noticed him as he quickly dropped his traveling bag and bedroll, and put his shoulder to the wagon as well. After what seemed like an eternity, the wagon finally lifted just enough for the woman to pull the man free. Now a white-haired man, who appeared to be the group's leader, and a swordsman rushed to inspect the man's injuries. Kenshin fell back from the crowd to watch, but even from where he was standing, he could see that there was a very broken leg. As the leader yelled for bandages and water, the swordsman set about trying to remove a large iron hook that had become lodged in the man's thigh; the action caused massive bleeding.

"Damn!" the swordsman exclaimed. "Hurry with those bandages! I can't get this bleeding to stop!"

The victim was now crying out in even more pain and writhing as he did so, making it difficult to staunch the bleeding. Kenshin had not wanted to intrude, but now he reached for his bag and grabbed a small packet of powder. Turning to one of the older children standing nearby, he said, "Quick—go get a cup of water and bring it here!"

The astonished child stared open-mouthed at the stranger, then took off to do as he was told; he returned moments later and shyly handed the cup to Kenshin. Kenshin now stirred the powder into the cup and approached the woman, who was crying softly as she cradled the injured man's head in her lap.

"Onna-dono," Kenshin said to her urgently, "this is a pain-killer. It might help ease your friend's pain…."

The woman looked up, startled. "Who are you?" she asked through her tears. At her words, everyone else looked up, too.

"Just a rurouni, onna-dono," Kenshin said quickly, "but I was a druggist once, and I know a little something of medicine…."

The woman looked questioningly at the leader, who looked long and hard at Kenshin. Then he took the cup from Kenshin and gave it to the injured man.

"If you know anything else about doctoring, stranger, we'd sure appreciate your help," the swordsman said as he tried to stop the bleeding. "I'm not having much success here."

Now Kenshin moved over to inspect the injured leg. The shinbone had a clean break, which in itself would not be too difficult to deal with, but the wound from the large iron hook was causing the blood to flow in torrents. The main blood vessel appeared to be nicked. He quickly poured water over the wound to try to flush any dirt from it and then started ripping strips of bandages into small pieces. Next, he pulled the wound open with his fingers and started packing wads of bandage into the wound. The man, despite the painkiller, screamed even louder.

"Hold him down!" Kenshin yelled as the man's other leg nearly hit him in the face.

Within a minute, the wound was packed and the bleeding stopped. Now the man lay still again, allowing Kenshin to set the leg, which he bound to a halved log that someone had covered with cloth.

"Your friend should be okay now," Kenshin told the group as he finished. "He's lost a bit of blood, but as long as the wound doesn't become infected, he should recover from that. And the leg should heal nicely, too, if he stays off it. Sessha only has a little of the pain-killer left, but it should be enough to tide you over until you reach the next town and a real doctor." And with that, he bowed low and went to pick up his bag and bedroll.

"Wait—don't leave!" the woman cried out. "Can't you stay to help my husband? None of us knows how to deal with something like this!" Turning to the group's leader, she said, "Father-in-Law, please, ask him to stay!"

The leader looked at the injured man, who now lay calm, though pale and moaning. "Rurouni-san," the elderly man, Daisuke, said, "would you be willing to…."

"Father, no!" one of the men broke in. "We don't know anything about this boy! He could be a thief, a rapist, anything!"

Again everyone stared at Kenshin. Kenshin wasn't sure what to do, so he just continued to pick up his things, then stood with his head bowed as he awaited their decision.

"Orinosuke's got a point," Daisuke, admitted. Then, turning to the swordsman, he said, "Baiko-san, you're our security guard. What do you think?"

Kenshin now masked his ki as he sensed the swordsman sizing him up. From the feel of it, Baiko was not a master swordsman, but he was confident and competent—probably a former soldier. Kenshin waited for what seemed like an eternity while the man continued to look him over. Finally Baiko said, "I think he is what he says he is. I don't get the feeling he's dangerous. Anyway, while he was tending Ennosuke-san, I took a look in his bag—just a few crumbs of food and some personal items. I'd say he's no threat."

"Rurouni-san," Daisuke said, turning to Kenshin, "please forgive us for our caution—we've had problems with thieves over the past few weeks. Would you be willing to stay with us for a day or two until we reach a doctor? If nothing else, we could at least show our gratitude for saving my son by giving you some dinner."

Kenshin looked around the group. He had to admit he was rather hungry, and aside from the one untrusting man, everyone else seemed friendly enough. "Arigatou," he finally said. "Sessha will stay until you reach the next town."

Kenshin once again set down his bag and bedroll and followed Daisuke, Orinosuke, Baiko, and the third man, Ryosuke, over to the wagon, which was still lying on its side, in order to help right it.

"Keep an eye on him, will you?" Daisuke said softly to the swordsman Baiko as they went to unhitch the horse. "Just in case."

The wagon was at least the size of a traveling merchant's wagon, but much more ornately decorated. While Kenshin had been tending to Ennosuke's wounds, the women and children had been busy emptying the wagon, and Kenshin now saw that the wagon's contents included two huge trunks of rich-looking clothes, a chest that looked like it was made for swords and other armaments, a huge box of what looked like human hair, and a strange assortment of furniture and pottery, all of which looked like they were of antique design but none of which looked especially old. Kenshin had never seen such an odd assortment of belongings before, but he pushed his questions to the back of his mind as he joined the other men in putting his shoulder to the wagon and pushing with all his might. It took three attempts before the wagon was finally back on all four wheels.

"Father," said an obviously annoyed Orinosuke, "you needed to get rid of this goddamned wagon years ago! They use a different-sized wheel-base here in the south. I've told you that a hundred times, and now look where it's gotten us! Damned thing can't stay out of the ruts, and it's nearly killed Youngest Brother!"

"This wagon has served us since our days in Kyoto, and it will continue to do so," Daisuke said sternly to his son. "I don't want to hear about it again!"

"Kyoto? We left there seven years ago! Only a fool would keep this wagon, for heaven's sake…"

His words were cut off by a sharp slap to the face from an elderly woman. "You watch your mouth, young man," the woman growled. "He is your father, your elder, and your sensei, and don't you forget it!"

Orinosuke glowered with anger. "Even my mother conspires against me," he muttered under his breath as he glared at the older woman.

"Well," said Ryosuke, in an attempt to lighten the mood, "that's sure worked up my appetite. Let's see if there's anything to eat!"

Kenshin could feel four sets of eyes discretely dissecting him as he walked with the men towards the campfire the women were creating in preparation for cooking. He kept his own eyes lowered. He knew from experience that despite his best efforts, he had yet to master the art of looking harmless, and he had no wish to alarm anyone. It was the constantly wary look in his eyes, he had once been told, that tended to set people on edge. However, after what he had seen of the wagon's contents, there would be a good reason for looking wary. What kind of people traveled with a box of hair, not to mention a whole chest of armaments? Had he misjudged this group? He needed to know right away, so as they neared the fire, Kenshin pulled the swordsman aside.

"If sessha could ask," Kenshin said softly, "what kind of people are these? Some of the things in that wagon—the weapons, the human hair…."

"Human hair?" Baiko repeated, looking somewhat confused by the question. "Oh, you mean the hair in that one box?" He started laughing. "Rurouni-san, these folks are traveling kabuki actors! That's not human hair—those are wigs!" And he continued to laugh, much to Kenshin's embarassment, for now all the women and children were staring at him.

"Oh," Kenshin said quietly. He sat himself somewhat behind everyone, where he could nurse his embarassment in privacy. Now he saw Baiko whispering through his laughter to Daisuke, who started laughing as well.

"Ah, Rurouni-san," the elder said through his laughter, "forgive me for not introducing us sooner." His voice suddenly became as deep and powerful as thunder during a violent storm, and the man rose to his feet. "I am Kawayama Daisuke VI, inheritor of the name of the great kabuki actor Daisuke I," he said with a grand flourish. "You have surely heard of us?"

"Um…," Kenshin muttered. "Actually, sessha doesn't know anything about kabuki."

"Come off it, Father, it's not like you're a Danjuro!" laughed Ryosuke, referring to one of the great names of kabuki theater.

"Second Son, your cruelty pierces my heart," said Daisuke with mock sorrow. "No, our family is not as well known as that of Danjuro, but in Kyoto for a hundred years we were well-known and respected, with our own theater even, although now we're based in Satsuma—Kagoshima, to be exact. Moved there during the Bakumatsu, when Kyoto got too dangerous."

Kenshin flinched imperceptibly.

"The daimyo himself invited us," Daisuke was saying. "And these are my sons—my eldest Orinosuke V, my second son Ryosuke III, and my youngest son Ennosuke II over there with the broken leg. Each has achieved enough greatness as an actor to inherit the name of an illustrious ancestor. And you might be…?"

"Ah," Kenshin said, caught off-guard by the question. "Just a rurouni, Kawayama-dono." He never liked to offer more information than that, if he could help it.

"Daisuke-san will do," Daisuke corrected him, "but Rurouni-san will not. You do have a name, I presume?"

Kenshin had no choice. In a soft voice, he answered, "Himura. Himura Kenshin." He noticed the swordsman's eyes flash briefly at the name, but he sensed no hostility or fear. A strange group all around, he decided, which did not make him feel comfortable.

"Well, Himura-san, we are honored to have you join us for dinner," Daisuke continued heartily. "Baiko-san, our guest will bunk with you. Why don't you show him where to put his things?"

Kenshin smiled to himself. Despite Daisuke's welcoming demeanor, the man was obviously going to have the swordsman keep a discreet watch on him. Kabuki actors were no fools, apparently. He bowed low to Daisuke and the others, then retrieved his bag and bedroll and followed Baiko to the edge of the encampment, where the horse had been tethered.

As he walked, he heard the group start whispering to each other. He caught the words "hair" and "odd," and he could feel their eyes on him. His hair—it had been the bane of his existence since the day he was born. In a society that prided itself on conformity, he had always stuck out like a sore thumb. If there could be any humor at all in his former role as a shadow assassin, it was that someone who stuck out so much could hide so well.

"I sleep out here, to keep an eye out for horse thieves," Baiko said as they reached the edge of the clearing. "If you want, I can put up the tent, though I don't think it'll rain tonight or get very cold."

"No, no, sessha is used to sleeping in the open," Kenshin demurred. Then, sensing that Baiko was a friendly sort, he said, "This family, they are actors from Kagoshima, but we're at least a hundred miles from there, and I doubt there are any theaters around here. Are they fugitives?"

Baiko chuckled. "Yeah, I wondered about that, too, when they hired me. You can't be too careful these days, you know? But they're on the up and up. Seems they don't like the hot Kagoshima summers, so they close up their theater in summer and travel in the mountains until about mid-October, when things cool down. They stop along the way and give performances in town squares, shrines, wherever. It's sort of funny to sit out in a forest and watch a bunch of actors practicing, but that's what they do in between stops."

"And you always travel with them?"

"Hell, no—I'm a soldier, or at least I was. I was up in Aizu with the army until recently—the Boshin War, you know—but once the fighting was over, I decided to leave. I was on my way home to Kagoshima anyway when they asked me to be their security guard, so this works out great for me. And I gotta say I won't mind having a master swordsman like you helping me out."

"What makes you think sessha is a master swordsman?" Kenshin asked warily. His eyes narrowed slightly as his hand edged towards his sakabatou.

"Well, you're the Hitokiri Battousai, aren't you?" Baiko replied nonchalantly.

Kenshin tensed but said nothing.

"I think we have an acquaintance in common," Baiko continued, "a guy named Matsuo Hideoki."

"Matsuo?" Kenshin repeated in surprise. "Matsuo from Chousu?" He remembered Matsuo from his first turbulent year in Kyoto.

"That's him. Like I said, I'm just back from the Boshin War, and he was my squad leader. One night, when one of the guys was entertaining us with tall tales about the Hitokiri Battousai, Matsuo stood up and cut him off a look that could kill. 'His name's Himura, not Battousai,' he told us in this really angry voice. 'He was my friend and a good man,' Then he just stalked out. He was so adamant about it, it sort of stuck in my mind."

"Matsuo was kind to me," Kenshin said softly. "Not many were."

"Well, when I heard you tell Daisuke-san that your name was Himura, what with the red hair and all, I realized who you were. Although I have to admit I thought you'd be older—and a lot taller."

Kenshin stared down at his hands. "You'll be telling your employer, then…."

"What for?" Baiko said. "Matsuo's the most honest guy that ever walked the face of the earth. If he says you were his friend and a good man, then I believe him. Anyway, you helped save a man's life today. So why tell Daisuke-san something he doesn't need to know?"

Kenshin looked up in surprise. He had seen all sorts of reactions to the news of his true identity, but this was a new one. In fact, it was rather hard to believe, but the man seemed sincere.

"Arigatou, Baiko-san," Kenshin said, "for your trust."

"Don't mention it. Oh, and just so you know—I'm a pretty light sleeper, and I've got pretty quick reflexes, even in my sleep."

Kenshin chuckled softly. "As do I, Baiko-san, as do I."

The two now returned to the campfire, where the women were passing around bowls of miso soup and rice balls. Kenshin ate slowly, savoring every bite, for it had been days since he had had such a substantial meal. As he ate, he contemplated the group he was now traveling with. He had never met any actors before. He knew that the most famous actors were supposedly so believable in their plays that the audience sometimes thought the plays were real. Were actors, then, able to hide their own ki and take on another's? He cast his senses out towards their ki and was relieved to find they hid nothing at all. Daisuke, although obviously not a warrior, gave off the same aura of supreme confidence that one might expect of a master swordsman. Ryosuke, too, seemed to exude a kind of self-confidence. Orinosuke, however, was a different story. There was an aura about him that was unsettled and angry—not dangerous, but not benign, either. Kenshin decided to keep an eye on that one.

"How are we going to make it back to Kagoshima?" Ryosuke was asking his father as Kenshin once again started listening to the conversation around the fire. "Without Ennosuke, we're sunk."

"The next town's too small for a performance anyway," answered Daisuke, "so we can make do for now by putting on a juggling and acrobatic display and earn some money that way. He'll only be laid up for two or three weeks, right Himura-san?"

Kenshin had only been half-listening and hadn't expected to be involved in this conversation. Before he could take a breath, Orinosuke cut in, saying, "What would he know? He's just a rurouni, and a teenager at that."

"Um, actually, sessha is twenty-two…," Kenshin bristled.

"You're twenty-two?" Orinosuke laughed harshly. "Then I'm the emperor's son!"

"…and it will probably be five or six weeks before your brother's leg is completely healed," Kenshin finished.

"Five or six weeks? Ryosuke's right—we have a problem," Orinosuke growled. Turning to his father he said angrily, "Why you insist on leaving the city every summer I don't know. None of this would have happened if we'd just stayed put…."

"That's enough!" Daisuke commanded. "You know we're due to perform near Miyazaki in a few days, no matter what. We may not be rich, but we'll have more than enough money to make it back to Kagoshima whether we perform anywhere else or not. And you know damned well it's too hot for audiences to come to the theater during the summer. However, I see no reason why we can't rewrite some of the plays to just three characters, and we won't do anything with women in them anymore. Most folks around here won't know the difference anyway."

Kenshin turned to Baiko and whispered, "What's wrong with the women?"

"Nothing's wrong with them," he whispered back. "It's the fact that Ennosuke-san—the one with the broken leg—is their onnagata."

"Onnagata?" Now Kenshin was really confused.

"Women aren't allowed to perform on stage, so male actors dress up like women and play their roles," Baiko explained as he noted Kenshin's confusion.

"Oh." This was indeed a strange world he had entered!

Kenshin slept well that night, better than he had in days—a full stomach certainly made a difference. Still, he awoke with the sun. As everyone, including Baiko, still seemed to be asleep, he got up as quietly as he could and started heading for the trees.

"Where you going', rurouni?"

Kenshin slowly turned around to see a sleepy Baiko, one eye open, looking blearily at him. He was, indeed, a light sleeper.

"To relieve myself, Baiko-san," Kenshin answered.

"Oh. Yeah. Sorry. Well, go ahead," Baiko said with a huge yawn. "Say, and bring back some water, will you?"

Kenshin quietly picked up the buckets that sat nearby and went off. When he returned, he was not surprised to see Baiko sitting up wide awake and watching for him. Baiko may have believed Matsuo that Kenshin was a good man, but he apparently wasn't leaving anything to chance. Kenshin smiled inwardly. He would have done the same thing if he had been in Baiko's place. He nodded briefly as he took the buckets further into the camp.

By now, the rest of the camp was starting to wake up, and he watched in amusement as barely awake mothers scooted after their energetic children, trying to get them to dress instead of play hide and seek in the woods. Eventually, the wife of the injured Ennosuke came out and waved him over, leading him inside their small tent. Ennosuke was weak but awake.

"Anata, this is the man who helped you," she said quietly as she squeezed her husband's hand.

Ennosuke looked up at Kenshin and smiled, an effort that looked like it took all the strength he had at the moment. "I owe you my life," Ennosuke whispered. "How can I ever repay you?"

Kenshin knelt down next to Ennosuke's futon. "No need to worry about that," Kenshin said as he started to unwrap the previous day's bandages, "but you will not be happy to hear that I will have to repack your wounds. It will be quite painful, I'm afraid."

He knew from his own experience how much it hurt to have packing removed and reinserted into a fresh wound, so he excused himself and went to get some water in order to mix up more of his pain-killer. The other men were just settling around the campfire and as he walked past them, he felt them staring at him. If it weren't for the fact that he would be leaving them shortly, he would have worried about the feeling that they weren't just idly watching him. In fact, he felt like they were sizing him up, though for what purpose he couldn't tell. He put it out of his mind, however, as he gave Ennosuke the cup of medicine and proceeded to change the packings. As predicted, despite the painkiller, the procedure hurt terribly, causing the man to cry out more than once. Kenshin finished as quickly as he could, then waited until Ennosuke managed to drift off to sleep once again. Then he returned to the campfire to have some breakfast, only to find that Daisuke and his two other sons were pointing animatedly at him. He stopped, his bearing changing imperceptibly from relaxed to tense and wary.

"Don't you see?" Ryosuke was saying. "Look at his size, the grace of his movements! He'd be perfect!"

"Don't be ridiculous," Orinosuke replied. "He knows nothing about it—he'd make fools of us all."

"He wouldn't have to talk—we could do that for him," Ryosuke countered. "All he'd have to do is move." Turning to his father, he said, "Father, don't you see, the solution to our problem is standing right here before us! He's just about Ennosuke's size—a little shorter, maybe—and he's got the face for it, if you ignore the scar…."

Kenshin tensed even further. What about his scar?

"He could fill in for Ennosuke as an actor until his leg has healed!"

Kenshin's jaw dropped. Now Ryosuke hurried up to him and started leading him forward by the elbow. The surprise on Kenshin's face was evident.

"But… but… sessha doesn't know anything about acting!" Kenshin sputtered as he was led unwillingly toward the campfire.

"Oh, but we can teach you!" Ryosuke said excitedly as he handed Kenshin some food. "Of course, we couldn't give you any speaking roles and you wouldn't be able to handle the dramas, but you could do the comedies. All you'd have to do is pantomime—we could do the rest!"

Orinosuke now stood and walked completely around Kenshin, eyeing him in a very discomforting way. "He is the right size," he admitted, "and he does have the face for it…"

"But, sessha's not…." Kenshin searched frantically for the right words to express what he wanted to say. "I mean, Ennosuke-san is an onnagata!"

"So, is there a problem with that?" Orinosuke asked with a rather unpleasant edge to his voice.


"Then it's settled!" exulted Daisuke before Kenshin could say another word. "We'll teach you how to play a woman, and in return we'll give you your meals and a place to sleep for the next few weeks. You don't mind heading towards Kagoshima, do you?"

Kenshin stood there, mouth moving wordlessly. He had just spent the last three years avoiding crowds, avoiding any place where he could possibly be recognized. How could he possibly agree to such an arrangement? But how to explain!

"So, you're gonna be the new onnagata, eh?" Baiko chuckled as he joined the group and picked up a bowl of rice.

"Baiko-san," Kenshin said so that only Baiko could hear, "you know this can't be—if someone were to recognize me, it could endanger everyone!"

"Oh, it'll be fine," Baiko laughed. "Once they've got that heavy white makeup on you, even your own mother wouldn't recognize you!"

Kenshin wasn't so sure about that, but he did need a job, and he had been heading south anyway. He barely had time to grab a bowl of rice before he found himself being shepherded by Ryosuke and his father towards the wagon.

"So, Rurouni-san," Ryosuke was saying "it won't be hard at all to be a woman—let me tell you…"

Japanese Terms:

Onna-dono: My lady (literally, Miss Lady).

Arigatou: Thank you.

Sessha: 'this unworthy one,' considered to be an archaic form of address.

Ki: a person's 'aura.'

Bakumatsu: the civil war that pitted the Ishin Shishi against the Shogunate.

Daimyo: Japanese equivalent of a feudal lord during the Edo period.

Anata: My beloved.

Conspirator's Note: Well, as you can undoubtedly tell, this story will have a bit of humor in it, but overall it will still be a drama, with some angst thrown in for good measure. Basically, I started wondering how the incredibly efficient, but tormented, assassin turned into the swirly-eyed idiot who allows himself to be beaned rather regularly by the bokken-wielding Kaoru hate hate!—Co-C.. Of course, we all know it's only an act, but he had to learn that from somewhere, and what better place to learn it than from a bunch of kabuki actors! The onnagata bit? With all the ribbing he gets from everyone about his height and girly looks, I just couldn't resist! So, this story will combine overall drama and angst with a bit humor at Kenshin's expense.

If the name Matsuo of Chousu doesn't ring any bells, that's because he doesn't appear anywhere in the manga or anime—only in a story I wrote awhile ago called Descent into Madness. There may be a few other references back to that story in the chapters that follow, but you don't need to have read it to understand this story. It's just an author's conceit (laziness?), that's all.

A few notes about kabuki and character names. Even to this day, there are dynasties of kabuki actors that trace their roots back several hundred years, the most famous being the dynasty founded by the seventeenth-century actor Danjuro. If a member of a dynasty is deemed to have achieved great enough success as an actor, he is allowed to inherit the name of a famous forbearer. This may happen more than once in an actor's lifetime as he rises through the ranks in prominence, so an actor may end up having two or three professional names within his lifetime. I made up the Daisuke dynasty, but the naming practice conforms to what real kabuki dynasties do (Daisuke VI, Orinosuke V, etc.). But if those aren't the names the actors were born with, or even the names they might have had two years ago, what do they really call each other? I decided they'd use generic-type names, such as "First Brother" or "Youngest Son"—names that would never change, no matter what.

Some historical notes: After the fall of the Shogunate in January 1869, the domain of Aizu revolted. This started the Boshin War of 1869-1870, which eventually spread as far north as Hokkaido. The Satsuma army put down the rebellion on behalf of the new Meiji government, but for purposes of this story I've figured that experienced Chousu soldiers might have participated as well. Regarding surnames, right after the fall of the Shogunate, the government required all people, not just samurai, to have a surname, so it was still pretty new to people in 1871. And don't flame me about using the domain name Satsuma—I know the domains were abolished and renamed in 1870-71, but I'm figuring that old habits died hard and people were still using the old names in general conversation.

Co-Conspirator's Note: Kenshin as a woman—you saw it coming, but you weren't quite sure how it was going to happen. sigh Well, whatever. It occurred to me that this will be our very first wandering fic. We've had some Jinchuu, Tsuioku Hen, and even a little Tokyo arc in there, but never a wandering fic. It's kind of a nice change, although it took quite a bit of angst to get this written glares at Conspirator. I'm just kidding. Hope you like the first chapter, 'cause there's more to come! Comments, questions, and constructive criticisms are always welcome. Ja ne!

Next chapter: Kenshin gets a taste of what he's in for as an onnagata, finds himself the object of suspicion, and encounters someone who brings up unwelcome memories of his past.