Invocation to the Lawyers: I don't own any of the characters from "Rurouni Kenshin," or any of the songs written by Stephen Sondheim.

And Instructions to the Audience: This is a set of one-shot songfics, pretty much in chronological order, using various songs by Stephen Sondheim. Oddly, it really isn't going to use anything from "Pacifc Overtures," the Sondheim musical that is actually set in late nineteenth-century Japan. Well, maybe one thing.

All along the road to Otsu, Katsura's words rang in his head. Husband and wife. The young woman who walked behind him was silent, and he had no way of knowing if her own thoughts were similar, if she was surprised or disturbed or confused by the sudden change in their circumstances.

It was one thing for him; he had long accustomed himself to following Katsura's orders without hesitation, without question, without doubt. For Tomoe, however... true, she had calmly told the flower vendor that Kenshin was her husband, but what did she really think about what was happening to them? About the fact that they were about to be living together in a small village, keeping up the appearance of a normal, happy young couple?

Did she understand how dangerous this could be for her? He glanced back at her, graceful and demure, looking as if she had never stood stood in an alley reeking of blood, her kimono and face spattered with it, as if she had never seen him cut down a group of Shinsengumi swordsmen in mere seconds.

'She should not have to be exposed to things that smell of blood,' he thought to himself. Now that the two of them were going to be together, it was his responsibility to make sure that Tomoe did not have to face situations like that again.

Nothing's gonna harm you
Not while I'm around
Nothing's gonna harm you
No sir, not while I'm around

He still didn't understand the circumstances which had brought her into his life, a stray cat wandering the dangerous streets of Kyoto late at night on feet made unsteady by sake. Ironically, if she had never wandered onto that particular street, where an Ishin Shishi hitokiri was battling a ninja sent to kill him, she could have gotten herself into serious trouble. His jaw clenched slightly as he thought of the many dangers facing a young woman walking alone in the city after dark.

Demons are prowling everywhere
Nowadays

They were dangers that he had become very familiar with over the course of his first year as a hitokiri. Those who would hesitate to attack a young man who moved like a shadow and carried his swords as if born with them, or those who quickly discovered that they should have left him alone... they would not hesitate to see someone like her as a target.

And that was something he would not allow.


I'll send 'em howling; I don't care
I've got ways.

His mind was suddenly full of memories: three rough stones sitting together in a field full of wooden crosses; three women who had pulled him back and protected him, who had thrown themselves in front of the bandits' swords in order to save a small boy's life; the heavy weight of their bodies as he had strained to lift them and drag them to the graves he had managed to dig.

'It will not happen again. I'm strong enough now; I can protect her!' Kenshin's thoughts were fierce, and he looked down in surprise to see that his hand was clasped tightly around the hilt of his katana.

No one's gonna hurt you
No one's gonna dare
Others can desert you
Not to worry, whistle, I'll be there.

When had it started, this desire to protect her? When he had brought her to the inn, he had not thought past that night, past the fact that he could not leave an unconscious woman in a blood-soaked alley with a corpse. But he had certainly never thought that she would stay, had been shocked and dismayed to hear that she had requested a job as a worker at the inn. Her presence had bothered him; he had not wanted to see her, walking calmly through the halls of the building he was living in.

The other Ishin Shishi, however.... Kenshin felt himself becoming angry again as he remembered Iizuka's crass comments that first morning. 'It would have served him right if I had knocked him through a wall! He had no right to insinuate that.. that I had.. that we were....' His anger shifted into embarassment and he ducked his head to be absolutely certain that Tomoe could not see the faint blush that rose to his face. After that, the rest of the men staying in the inn had at least had the sense not to flirt with her openly, at least not in his presence. And Iizuka himself, who had a reputation for being anything but scrupulous where other men's women were concerned, had shown a remarkable degree of restraint, never even slightly flirting with Tomoe.

Demons'll charm you with a smile, for a while
But in time, nothing can harm you
Not while I'm around...

The day was wearing on; he should probably start thinking about stopping and getting them both something to eat. Or maybe she needed to rest for a while? Her unhurried pace had remained the same all morning, and he didn't have any idea if she was tired, or hungry.

"Tomoe?" he inquired, turning to face her, "Are you hungry? Do... do you want to stop and rest?"

He knew from her faint smile that she had heard the undertones of shyness and uncertainty in his voice, but her own was gentle and kind as she softly replied, "No, I don't need to rest. It's a full day's walk to Otsu, and we should try to get there before dark. Perhaps if we could find something to eat along the way?"

He nodded and turned back to the road, now actively searching for a roadside stand or someplace else where they could purchase lunch. 'Not the usual mission of a hitokiri!' he thought to himself, with a touch of wry humor. But he didn't mind; he was glad of the chance to make sure that he could take care of her, even in something as minor as this.

Being close and being clever, ain't like being true
I don't need to - I would never hide a thing from you
Like some...

He wanted her to be happy with this, with him. At the very least, he wanted her not to hate him for the path her life was now taking because of who he was.

Most of all, he wanted her to be safe. He trusted Katsura, and whoever he had used to arrange the house in Otsu. 'Probably Iizuka,' Kenshin reflected. The only ones outside of the Ishin Shishi who had seen him with Tomoe were the Shinsengumi who the couple had encountered as Kenshin had tried to find Katsura. And Kenshin had ensured that none of them had lived to tell anybody else that the Ishin Shishi's flame-haired hitokiri had been accompanied by a woman smelling of white plums, whose pale hands had reached for him as she had declared that she wanted to know what it was like when he fought.

He didn't know what he would have chosen to do if any of those men had run away while he was fighting the others. Chase them down, forgetting his responsibility towards Katsura? Leave them alive, knowing that Tomoe could be in terrible danger due to her association with him? No. Never. He could never have endangered her like that.

No one's gonna hurt you
No one's gonna dare
Others can desert you
Not to worry, whistle, I'll be there

Leaving Kyoto was as much for her safety as for his. But what would it be like, in Otsu? Would they be accepted by their fellow inhabitants as what they appeared to be? He tried to picture the two of them together, living quietly, and found that he couldn't form any kind of image in his mind. He hadn't lived in a small village for such a long time that the memories were faint and blurry.

'I hope... I hope that it is peaceful there, that the chaos engulfing Kyoto has not spread that far. I hope that Katsura sends Iizuka soon, with news, with what he plans to do next...'

Demons'll charm you with a smile, for a while

Kenshin's musings were interrupted by his realization that there was a small stand ahead, where he could purchase lunch for himself and Tomoe. He exhaled slightly in relief. If he had been alone, he probably would have just kept walking all the way to Otsu, but the thought of Tomoe having to do that had worried him. It was his responsibility to make sure that she didn't have to.

He had no idea how to be a husband, even a pretend one, thought Kenshin to himself. But he could learn.

But in time, nothin' can harm you
Not while I'm around.


Authors Note: This song is from Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd," with this particular version taken from Barbara Streisand's "The Broadway Album" (another thing which I do not own).

Japanese terms used here:

Hitokiri: Assassin/Manslayer. Kenshin's job with the Ishin Shishi

Ishin Shishi: "Imperialists" or "Patriots"—the faction that Kenshin fought with in the Revolution, the ones who wanted to topple the Shogunate and restore the Emperor to power.