"A Good Conversation"
The Last Samurai/Rurouni Kenshin
By Amos Whirly
Thanksgiving Day, 1880
Tokyo was busy today. He walked quietly down the dirt street, watching the vendors sell their wares to passers-by. More people around Japan had begun wearing Western clothing, though seemingly in this quiet suburb the vast majority of people continued in the old styles. Hakama. Gi. Kimonos. Tabi. Geta. No swords, though, and no top knots.
Life was different after all.
He had come four years previous to train an army of Japanese conscripts to fight like Americans all for the sake of destroying a man, a samurai named Katsumoto who was loyal only to the Emperor Meiji. He had come, a man haunted by his past, revered by the present, and broken by the future and what it lay in store. Katsumoto had captured him and had spared his life, and in the proceeding year through multiple conversations and patient teaching, Katsumoto had shown him the true meaning of honor. He was reborn, a new man, no longer Captain Nathan Algren. Now he was Algren-san, the white friend of Katsumoto, the house guest of Taka, the widow of a man he had killed in battle.
Four years had passed since all of that. He and Taka had married shortly after he returned to Nobutada's village. Since then, he had lived life in every breath, just as Katsumoto had taught him.
Peace had slowly descended over the country. The wild, raging revolutions quietly faded into history.
It was November now. He quietly remembered that in years long past he would have been celebrating Thanksgiving with a bottle of whiskey and the memories of the Indians he had killed. The Japanese did not celebrate Thanksgiving, for they were thankful every day.
Taka was visiting a friend of hers in Tokyo, and Algren, not wanting to intrude, had decided to wander the streets of the city. They had left the boys in Nobutada's village. Higen was old enough now to care for his little brother in their absence.
He stopped in front of a restaurant, the Akabeko. Something smelled delicious inside, but he resolved to pass by instead of stopping to eat. Taka would no doubt want to eat something more conservative.
As he continued to walk, he eventually left the marketplace area and began wandering down the wide streets that led into individual homes. He frowned at the unfamiliar signs. He still had trouble reading the language, although he could speak it with no difficulty. It was an impossible language to read.
He did pass a building that he recognized, though. A small clinic rested on the street corner. Algen's eyes narrowed slightly as he spotted a small man with long, red hair standing outside.
He carried a sword.
A sword, Algren thought to himself. Doesn't he know the law?
Curious, Algren approached him.
"A fine day today, that it is," the red-haired swordsman remarked as he came within speaking distance.
"It is. You seem to be waiting for something."
The man turned to him, and Algren tried not to stare at the jagged cross-shaped scar in the man's left cheek.
"My son," he said, "Kenji. He had a rather nasty fall today, that he did." The man smiled broadly. "He is as curious as his mother, that he is."
"That often happens," Algren turned his eyes to the clinic. Inside he could see a woman with long dark hair wrapping a bandage around a tiny brown-haired boy's arm.
"You are a visitor here," the red-haired man commented.
"I'm from a village beyond Yokohama."
"You are not Japanese."
Algren smiled slightly. "No. I'm American."
"I see," the man nodded. "American. I haven't met many of those, that I haven't. Englishmen, Germans, Frenchmen, but few Americans."
"Can I ask you something?"
"Yes, I know the law."
Algren glanced at the man, still smiling broadly.
"The police commissioner is not faulty in his duties either, if you are wondering," the man patted the sword on his belt. "I have permission to carry this sakabatou, that I do."
"A reverse-blade sword."
"What good is a sword with the blade on the wrong side?' Algren wondered. "That won't kill anyone."
"That, my friend, is the point," the man laughed.
There was something infectious in the man's laugh, and before he knew it, Algren was laughing with him.
The clinic door opened, and the little brown-haired boy rushed out.
"Otousan!" he cried and flung himself into the red-haired swordsman's arms.
"Hello, little Kenji," the man greeted him with a warm hug.
Algren observed with surprise. This was obviously not a family that held to the stoic traditions of the past.
"All wrapped and cleaned," said one of the two women who emerged from the clinic, the one who Algren had seen bandaging the boy's arm.
"Thank you, Miss Megumi," the swordsman bowed his head.
"We will watch him far more closely next time," the other woman beside Megumi spoke with a bow as well.
Algren eyed her carefully. She was tiny, smaller even than Taka. Her black hair was pulled into a bun at the back of her head in a style that denoted marriage, but she could not have been much older than 20, if she were even that old. Her big blue eyes sparkled with laughter as she approached the red-haired swordsman.
She stopped, though, when she saw Algren.
"Kenshin," she turned to the red-haired swordsman, "who is this?"
"A visitor from a village beyond Yokohoma," the swordsman answered. "I apologize," he bowed his head, "we had not come to a point of introduction as of yet. I am Kenshin Himura. This is my wife Kaoru, and this is my son Kenji."
"Pleased to meet you, Algren-san," Kenshin smiled again. He seemed to do that a lot. "Oh, and this is Megumi Takani," he nodded toward the first woman. "She is our family doctor, and a good one at that, she is."
"You flatter me, Sir Ken," she bowed. "I am pleased to meet you. But if you would excuse me, I have more patients to attend to."
"Come by the dojo any time, Miss Megumi," Kaoru bowed. "You are always welcome."
"Thank you, Kaoru-san."
As Megumi returned to the clinic, Kenshin turned to Algren, "Where are you headed?"
Algren glanced at the sun. "Judging by the time, I should head back into the city. I'm meeting my wife at her friend's house."
"I see," Kenshin nodded. "Who is your wife's friend? Perhaps we know her."
Kenshin and Kaoru exchanged a silent glance, and Kenshin smiled again. "Of course, we know right where she lives, that we do. We have to return to the city as well, since we are meeting some friends at the Akabeko for lunch. We would be most honored to walk with you."
"I would be honored."
The four of them set out for the city together.
"How do you know Toki-san?" Algren asked curiously.
"She was the sister of Gentatsu Takatsuki, a manslayer during the revolution," Kenshin said, though his smile this time was less cheerful and more sad. "She is member of the Aizu Clan."
"I see," Algren nodded, not comprehending the sadness of Kenshin's words.
"When her brother was killed in the revolution," Kaoru suddenly jumped into the conversation, "she became the ward of Takimi Shigure. He has recently died."
"Yes, within the past few years," Algren nodded. "That is why we are visiting."
"It is good to know that Miss Toki has good friends," Kenshin remarked softly.
The rest of the distance they covered in silence until they reached Toki's house.
"Thank you for accompanying me," he bowed.
"I fear we were not very talkative," Kenshin chuckled. "The distance was not all that great, I suppose."
"You introduced yourself, and I introduced myself," Algren answered with a grin that Kenshin did not understand.
Algren bid them farewell with a bow and mounted the steps. He watched the small family, though, as they continued on toward the Akabeko.
The shoji screen door opened, and Taka came out, greeting him with a smile. Toki was right behind her, slender and graceful, her black hair styled high on her head.
"Algren-san," she bowed to him, "did you enjoy your walk?"
"Yes, Toki-san. I did. I returned with a kind family."
Toki looked over his shoulder and started slightly before she smiled at him. "It is fitting that you would walk with Kenshin Himura."
"He seemed like a good man to me," Algren commented, "though why is it fitting that we should walk together?"
"As you are a hero in your country, Algren-san," Toki said, "Kenshin Himura is a hero here. He was known once as Hitokiri Battousai, the bloodiest warrior of the revolution."
"That soft-spoken man?"
"Yes. But after the revolution ended, he vowed never to kill again."
"The sword that can't kill."
"Yes," Toki nodded. "He is a good man indeed."
Toki bowed again and returned to the house. Taka stood beside Algren, still staring in the direction that the young family had gone.
"What did you speak of, you and this hero?" she asked him with a smile.
"Nothing much," he responded. "We simply had a good conversation."
A/N: I've had this at the back of my mind for months. I'm not sure if I got the dates right. I tried. So if they're wrong, just imagine anyway!