Disclaimer: This fan fiction is based on the Rurouni Kenshin manga and anime series. Rurouni Kenshin characters are the property of creator Watsuki Nobuhiro, Shueisha, Shonen Jump, Sony Entertainment, and VIZ Comics. This is a nonprofit work for entertainment purposes only. Permission was not obtained from the above parties.


Written by: Terry L. McElrath

Battousai looked ahead at the oncoming fighters, coolly counting the number of opponents and judging their strength. The first man foolishly attacked, raising his katana high over his head for a slashing downwards stroke. Battousai neatly evaded the crude slash, countering instantly with a strike to his exposed side, nearly cutting him in half. He whirled away from his first victim, charging into the midst of the remaining knot of warriors.

'Sessha does not feel that this is necessary,' commented the mild voice in the back of Battousai's mind. 'You could easily have just out-maneuvered these men, that you could.'

With a perfectly executed Ryu Sou Sen, Battousai took out five men at once. 'Shut up, you pacifist wimp!' Battousai snarled to his alter ego. 'Can't you see I'm busy here? What are you trying to do, get us killed?!' A quick Ryu Shou Sen eliminated the last man.

Battousai made sure there were no other fighters nearby before he relaxed marginally. He took a cloth from within his sleeve and wiped his blade clean, sheathing it with a decisive click. Walking away from the carnage, he frowned thoughtfully. Damn! Rurouni is becoming more of a pest every day, he thought to himself. And now he's lecturing me during a fight? It just didn't seem fair. Battousai knew of other assassins who had gone mad and went on insane killing sprees. What do I get? A weak do-gooder, who always tries to see the best in everybody, even when they're trying their damnedest to kill us. What did I do to deserve this? Battousai complained privately. Shortly after he had become the Ishin Shishi's Shadow Hitokiri, Battousai had gradually become aware of the presence of another personality deep within his mind. He wasn't sure, but he thought maybe he was part of Shinta, the child Kenshin had been before his Shishou had taken him in as his apprentice. Whoever he was, though, he was a damn nuisance. He thought of himself as a rurouni, not tied down to any one place, and would not willingly hurt anyone, if he could avoid it. He was forever trying to get him to go easy on his enemies. Yeah, right, like they would return the favor! He always tried to be scrupulously polite, even within his own mind, where no one could hear him. And the way he always called himself 'sessha!' It was enough to make Battousai feel ill.

After an uneventful walk through the back streets of Kyoto, Battousai arrived at the inn where he was staying with one of the groups of Ishin Shishi fighters. As usual, everyone became quiet when he entered the common room, some even cautiously backing away to put more space between themselves and the notorious Shadow Hitokiri. This didn't bother Battousai; in fact, sometimes he found it quite amusing.

'It isn't nice to frighten people, that it isn't,' Rurouni admonished Battousai gently. 'Perhaps, if you smiled and made more of an effort to be friendly, people would be more comfortable around us.'

Battousai considered this bit of advice, then pointedly looked at the three nearest men and smiled in what he hoped was a friendly fashion.

The men in question blanched, all but falling over themselves in their haste to get away. There would be new stories flying around the inn tonight from the men, who considered themselves lucky to have survived the encounter.

Well, that didn't work. Battousai sighed at the men's reactions, not allowing himself to roll his eyes. Kami only knows what the idiots would do if I did, it might start a stampede.

'Is that what you wanted, Rurouni? Satisfied now?' Battousai asked sarcastically. Actually, now that he thought about it, he was pleased with what had just happened. 'Although, I must admit, I hadn't realized that a smile could be used as such an effective weapon. It might come in handy sometime.'

'That was not the point!' Rurouni responded heatedly. 'You could have tried harder, that you could.'

Chuckling inwardly at having gotten a rise out of the normally placid Rurouni, Battousai went up the stairs to his room. Once there, he stripped off his bloodstained gi, casually dropping it onto the floor.

'It is not necessary to throw our clothes onto the floor, that it is not,' Rurouni pointed out.

'All right, all right!' Battousai said, this time rolling his eyes as he bent over to pick up the discarded gi. 'I was going to pick it up in a little while anyway, Okaa-san!' He quickly folded the shirt and placed it on the floor outside of the shoji for one of the inn's servants to collect.

'We should do our own laundry, that we should, rather than expect others to do it for us,' Rurouni urged.

'Absolutely not! I refuse! That's where I draw the line! There is no way that I am going to do laundry!' Battousai seethed, infuriated by the mere suggestion. He had done more than his fair share of laundry while training with his Master, and he had no intention of doing it again!

'Sessha would be happy to do the laundry,' Rurouni replied helpfully.

'Oh, no you don't! I don't think so! I'm not giving you control of the body! Uh, uh. It's not happening!' Battousai exclaimed. 'Besides, it'll still be my hands that get wrinkled from soaking in soapy water.'

Battousai grabbed a clean change of clothing and headed downstairs. A bath would feel good right about now; he needed to unwind. Sometimes it seemed like Rurouni was bound and determined to drive him nuts. After a quick wash, he relaxed in the furo, luxuriating in the warmth soaking into his tense muscles.

Katagai, Katsura Kogorou's second in command, paused as he was passing the door leading into the dining hall when he heard some of the men talking about the Battousai. Apparently there had been some kind of confrontation.

"You should have seen him! I've seen wolves smile like that, just before they tear their victims apart," one man stated dramatically.

Katagai thought for a moment, trying to remember his name. He was a new man, and had only been stationed here for a few days. Hishinuma, that was it.

"And his eyes! I've never seen him so close to a killing rampage!" Yoshida seconded.

"Yeah, he must have had a bad day, or maybe it was a good one and he just didn't get enough killing for the day," responded the third man.

Katagai recognized Tomioka's voice. He was a good fighter, but he liked to hear himself talk. Yoshida wasn't like that, though. He was pretty level-headed. Katagai decided he should talk with Yoshida to find out the details about what happened. If Himura truly had been in a killing rage, it was Katagai's responsibility to find out why and try to defuse the situation.

Later, Katagai reported his findings to Katsura. "I'm worried about Himura, he may be starting to show signs of instability. Apparently he threatened three of the men this afternoon. I talked with Yoshida and he swears they didn't do or say anything that could have angered him."

Katsura considered this unsettling news. "What did Kenshin say?"

"Well, he didn't actually say anything," Katagai replied. "Just glared at them and seemed to dare them to fight him. I know you've been concerned about how he is coping with his assignments, considering how young he is. This may indicate that he's starting to crack under the strain."

"He didn't say anything? He just glared at the men?" Katsura pressed for more information. "Perhaps he's just keyed up. I've noticed that he doesn't seem to allow himself to relax. Why don't you try to get him to join you at the Shiro Bara nomiya tonight?"

"I've asked him to join us before, but he's always refused," Katagai remarked thoughtfully. "I'll try again, though."

When Battousai entered the dining hall that evening, a tense silence descended upon the room. This was nothing unusual in itself, but tonight the men seemed edgier than normal. Everyone carefully avoided meeting Battousai's eyes, and kept their hands in plain sight and well away from their swords. For all the attention Battousai paid to the men, however, he could have been alone in the room.

"Himura-san!" Katagai called. "Will you come eat with me?"

Silently, Battousai crossed the room, well aware of the wave of tension that flowed from the fighters as he passed by. 'Well, Rurouni, trying to be friendly doesn't seem to have helped much, has it? The way they're all acting, you'd think I was going to slaughter the lot of them on the spot. Not that they would be any challenge,' he added disdainfully.

'If you insist on thinking of them that way, it is no wonder they do not like us,' Rurouni chided gently. 'They are fighters, just like you, that they are.'

That was too much. Rurouni dared to compare these common fighters to the Battousai? Earlier Rurouni had tried to tell him to avoid a fight and now he was to consider these men his equals? Battousai fairly growled his anger at the Rurouni. Meddling ahou!

Katagai watched impassively as Himura approached. He seemed calm enough. At least he wasn't showing any more emotion than usual, which was to say, none. Perhaps the men had exaggerated the incident. Halfway down the room, Himura's amber eyes suddenly flared with a burning intensity that startled Katagai. Then again, maybe not. Something seems to have set him off tonight. I would hate to be the person that upset Himura like this.

Katagai kept a close eye on Himura, noticing that he seemed more withdrawn than usual. He definitely needs some time off. "There's nothing planned for the next couple of days, Himura-san, no assignments. Why don't you take tomorrow off?" Himura considered this briefly, before nodding without bothering to speak, and Katagai sighed. Dinner passed by slowly, with Himura responding to Katagai's attempts at conversation with monosyllabic answers. Himura certainly seems to be preoccupied this evening, thought Katagai. Might as well ask him now. "Himura-san? Would you care to join me at the Shiro Bara tonight?"

Before Battousai could frame a polite refusal, Rurouni spoke up. 'Do we have to go? You know what those places are like, that you do.'

Battousai hesitated. That's right, Rurouni doesn't like to go to sake bars. "Yes, Katagai-san, I will join you this evening," Battousai agreed softly, enjoying the dismay he felt emanating from Rurouni. Try to tell me what to do, will you?

Katagai blinked, Himura's acceptance of his offer having taken him by surprise. "Good, good. I'm glad you're coming, Himura-san. I need to do something before we can leave. It should only take me a few minutes, if you wouldn't mind waiting."

"It's all right, I'll be here. Take your time," Battousai said graciously.

Katagai rose and left the room, heading to the infirmary at the back of the inn. An idea had come to him earlier, but he hadn't really expected to be able to put it into action. Now that he knew just how high-strung and stressed Himura was, however, he felt it was important that he do everything he could to make the hitokiri relax, before a tragedy occurred. Once in the infirmary, Katagai began ransacking the cupboards, looking for one particular small bottle. Ah, there it is! He opened the bottle, sniffing it and dipping his finger into the colorless liquid. Good, no odor and no taste. After checking to see if there was enough of the medication, he corked the bottle and put it into his pocket. One of the innkeeper's daughters had suffered from nervous hysterics and the doctor had prescribed a particularly effective Chinese formula. It had worked wonders, calming the young woman down remarkably. This should help Himura relax, he thought. Maybe after a good night's sleep he would be more open to talking about what was bothering him.

Katagai rejoined Himura in the dining hall, nodding to indicate that he was ready to leave. It was only a short walk and the night was pleasant. Soon they entered the warmly lit nomiya, Himura automatically pausing to check out the occupants. Noting that most of the patrons were Ishin Shishi, he relaxed. They crossed the room to take a low table in the back, where they had a view of the entire room. Katagai ordered several flasks of the finest dry sake, knowing that it was Himura's preferred brand. Young as he was, he had a connoisseur's appreciation for fine sake. Although he did not indulge on a regular basis, he could hold his drink better than just about any man Katagai had ever met. In fact, he had once seen Himura fight like a demon with no signs of the effects of having been drinking most of the night.

The waitress delivered their order, setting the tray in front of Katagai, since he had been the one to make the order. Katagai palmed the small bottle, ready to pour the drug into one of the flasks as soon as he could distract Himura. His opportunity arrived sooner than he expected, as the waitress stumbled when she turned away from their table. Himura was on his feet instantly, steadying the young woman until she had regained her balance. As soon as he could, however, he released her, looking extremely uncomfortable. She immediately began bowing, murmuring "thank you very much" repeatedly.

While Himura was occupied, Katagai poured some of the clear fluid into a flask. Then remembering Himura's high tolerance for sake, he emptied the rest of the contents of the bottle as well. By the time Himura was once again kneeling at the table, Katagai was ready and held the flask out to him, pouring his first drink. Himura accepted the cup with a soft "thank you" and took an appreciative sip. Katagai lifted his own cup to his lips, watching him without seeming to. When Himura had finished his first cup and poured a second, Katagai smiled slightly and prepared to enjoy the evening.

Battousai normally did not like drinking with others, but he was definitely enjoying irritating Rurouni. The soft voice in the back of his mind had been uncharacteristically silent, which was almost reason enough to spend the time with Katagai. But add in the feelings of annoyance he was sensing from Rurouni, and it was shaping up to be a fine evening, indeed. Of course, that couldn't last.

Having emptied a third flask of sake, Battousai was lifting his cup to his lips when he sensed something flying towards the back of his head. Leaning slightly to the left, he felt his hair stir in the breeze caused by the object that passed by harmlessly. There was the sound of a sake bottle shattering against the wall, and the room fell silent. Battousai slowly turned, raising his amber eyes to meet the terrified brown ones of the unfortunate man who had tossed the sake bottle.

I'm going to die! I know it! It - it was an accident! the man thought frantically, unable to make his voice work to form an apology.

Katagai broke the uncomfortable silence. "The baka's not worth letting good sake get cold, Himura-san."

The assassin's cold glare held the fool pinned in place, sweat trickling down the back of his neck. After a long pause, during which everyone seemed to hold their collective breath, Battousai turned back – his manner clearly dismissing the man as not worth his time – and resumed drinking his sake. Seeing that Battousai wasn't going to kill anyone at this time, the tension in the room broke and everybody resumed what they were doing before, albeit a little more cautiously. All except for one trembling man, however, who made a quick exit.

Katagai was pleased to see that the medication had taken effect, since the high-strung hitokiri had been content with merely glaring at the man, instead of seeking a more permanent form of satisfaction.

After only five flasks of sake, Battousai was feeling pleasantly relaxed. Perhaps I have been a little uptight lately, he thought comfortably. Rurouni has been getting on my nerves a bit more than usual. "Excuse me, Katagai-san, but I believe I am ready to return to the inn."

"That's probably a good idea. I should get back, too," Katagai replied. "I've got to get up early tomorrow. Thank you for joining me, Himura-san. It is not good to drink alone." He discreetly watched the redhead as he motioned for the waitress to come over and paid for their drinks. They walked back to the inn together.

Katagai was very satisfied with the way the evening had worked out. "Good night, Himura-san. Sleep well. I'll see you in the morning."

"Good night, Katagai-san," Battousai replied politely at the foot of the stairs, before walking up to his room. Quickly removing and folding his uniform, he changed into a yukata. Yawning, he settled himself in the corner, leaning his katana against his left shoulder, and was asleep within moments.

Early the next morning Rurouni woke up, surprised to find that Battousai was still soundly asleep. Now that's unusual, Rurouni thought, he's usually the first to wake.

'Battousai?' he called softly. There was no response.

Cautiously, Rurouni came forward in their mind, opening their eyes and looking around. He expected Battousai to react to his movements at any moment and was concerned when he didn't. Rurouni frowned. He's always aware of what's going on. Something's wrong. He was all right when we returned from that bar last night. Remembering the evening spent with Katagai made Rurouni shake his head. There had been an incident, just as he had expected. Fortunately, Battousai had been in a good mood and hadn't done anything to the poor baka. Hmmm . . . come to think of it, Battousai was feeling really good when we arrived back at the inn. Could the sake have relaxed him enough that he's not in control right now? Tentatively, Rurouni sat up, leaning his katana against the wall. He carefully watched Battousai, but he never stirred.

Excited at having control of their body, Rurouni jumped up, smiling broadly. It had been quite a while since he had been able to enjoy the freedom to actually do things. What to do first? he mused. Getting dressed was obvious, so he quickly changed. Instead of putting on Battousai's Ishin Shishi uniform, though, Rurouni found a green gi and white hakama that hadn't been worn in a long time. He took a little more time than usual brushing his thick red hair, until it lay in shining waves down to his waist. In one smooth movement, he gathered up his hair into a high ponytail, securing it with a leather hair tie. Before leaving his room, Rurouni slipped his katana and wakizashi through the obi of his hakama. After taking a moment to check on Battousai, who was still sleeping, he slid open the shoji and walked out into the hall.

Happy about the upcoming day, Rurouni went downstairs toward the kitchen, smiling cheerfully at everyone he met along the way. He didn't notice the startled looks he received in return, or pay attention to the man who walked into a doorframe, nearly falling in the process. Rurouni walked into the kitchen, calling out a sunny "good morning" to the surprised innkeeper.

Okami collected herself quickly, though. "Good morning, Himura-san. What can I do for you this morning?"

"Sessha would like to help, that he would," Rurouni replied, still smiling.

Okami blinked. 'Sessha?' Why is he calling himself sessha? "You want to help, Himura-san? While I appreciate your thoughtfulness, you are a busy man and shouldn't be doing chores on top of everything else."

"Sessha has the day off, Okami-dono, that he does."

"I see," Okami said. He's in an odd mood today. Maybe he's tired of his usual routine and just wants a change of pace. "Of course. I can always use help. What would you like to do?"

"Anything that needs doing, Okami-dono, and just call me Rur– . . . uh, Kenshin, please." Rurouni nearly heaved a sigh of relief, having caught himself before he made the mistake of telling her he was the Rurouni. She wouldn't understand and, since he wouldn't have control of the body for more than today, there was no point in announcing his presence.

"All right, Kenshin, thank you," Okami agreed. "Let's see. Well, there are vegetables that need to be prepared for breakfast. One of my girls is sick today, so I'm a bit shorthanded. You couldn't have picked a better day to offer to help. But only for today, you understand?"

"Yes, Okami-dono," Rurouni agreed happily. Within moments he was standing at the counter, peeling vegetables for the soup. Humming an old melody, Rurouni was thoroughly enjoying himself, as he began his day of freedom.

Okami watched him thoughtfully. It had been quite a while since she had seen the young man so relaxed. He seemed more like the polite youth he had been when he first arrived, before he became a hitokiri. Watching him change into a cold, silent man had saddened her. She was pleased to see that he was still able to take pleasure in simple activities.

Battousai slowly became aware that someone was humming loudly. Mildly irritated that the thoughtless ahou had disturbed him, he tried to go back to sleep. He was having no such luck, though. After three repetitions of the same song, Battousai was ready to silence the fool permanently. Opening his eyes, he was startled to find himself standing in the kitchen. Peeling vegetables?!

'What the hell is going on?!' Battousai yelped.

'Good morning!' Rurouni greeted him cheerfully, not pausing in his task. 'Did you sleep well?'

Battousai was incredulous. 'Rurouni? What do you think you're doing? Who gave you control of the body?!'

Rurouni laughed merrily. 'Well, you didn't want to wake up, so this one thought it would be fun to get out for a while. You have the day off. Remember?'

Battousai thought about that for a moment. Yes, Katagai did say there were no assignments for today.

'Just because I've got the day free doesn't mean you automatically get to take over, Rurouni!'

'It has been a long time since sessha has been allowed to do anything,' Rurouni answered patiently. 'Sessha saw no harm in being in control today. You will not be working, so this one will not be interfering. Just for today, Battousai? Sessha promises to give back control tonight.'

Battousai hesitated, considering the request. There really was no reason why Rurouni couldn't be allowed control for one day. And he had promised to give back control. If there was one thing Rurouni did, it was keep a promise. 'All right, you can stay for today. But only for today! And you have to give back control immediately if an emergency comes up!'

Rurouni agreed at once. 'It's only for today and, of course, this one will give control back in an emergency. Thank you very much, Battousai,' he said gratefully. Having finished peeling the vegetables, Rurouni began dicing them into neat mounds.

'Why are you doing this?' Battousai wanted to know. 'Why can't we go for a walk in the country, like the last time you were in charge?' Rurouni's reply didn't please Battousai.

'Well, there really wasn't very much else to do the last time. Okami-dono is shorthanded today and needs this one's help. Besides, sessha enjoys being useful, that he does.'

Battousai expressed his opinion about that sentiment with a snort.

Katagai got up early, wanting to finish some reports before his meeting with Katsura later. He decided to check up on Himura first, however, to see if he was in a better frame of mind today. Knocking on the shoji to his room brought no response, so Katagai quietly slid the door open a couple of inches, not wanting to wake him if he was still sleeping. The room was empty. Apparently, Himura had gotten up even earlier than usual. Katagai went downstairs to ask Okami if she had seen him this morning. Entering the kitchen, Katagai stopped when he beheld Himura, sleeves of his gi tied back, chopping vegetables. "Himura-san?!" Katagai exclaimed, amazed by the sight of the hitokiri doing chores.

"Good morning, Katagai-san!" Rurouni responded, looking over his shoulder and smiling. "How are you this morning?"

Katagai was stunned. Himura was helping in the kitchen, smiling and cheerful? Was that drug still in effect? It had to be, there could be no other explanation for his inexplicable behavior.

Rurouni's smile faded as Katagai just stood there staring. "Katagai-san? Is something wrong?"

Katagai shook his head. "No! No, Himura-san, there's nothing wrong. Do you feel all right?"

Now Rurouni frowned. Why would Katagai ask him if he felt all right? "Ses–"

'NO!' screamed Battousai. 'No 'sessha!' I am NOT unworthy!'

Rurouni shook his head, his ears ringing. "Uh, I am fine, Katagai-san. Why do you ask?"

"No reason, Himura-san," Katagai answered quickly. "So, you're helping Okami-san?" This could be serious. The medication was only supposed to relax Himura, not change his personality! Himura hadn't been this friendly since he became a hitokiri. There was something else different about Himura, too, but Katagai couldn't quite put his finger on it.

"Himura-san generously offered to help when he found out that I am shorthanded today because one of my girls is sick," Okami explained.

Katagai walked over to where Himura was working, watching as he cut the vegetables into precise cubes. Himura stopped and looked at Katagai curiously, and that's when Katagai figured it out. His eyes! They're violet, not amber! His eyes hadn't been that color since he first joined the Ishin Shishi. This is not good! What did that medicine do to him? I'm going to have to talk to Katsura as soon as he arrives, he decided dolefully, well aware that the Choshu leader would not be happy. "Himura-san, it is good of you to help Okami-san." Worried, Katagai turned and left the kitchen. He had to make sure that everything was prepared when Katsura arrived.

The meal was soon ready, so Rurouni untied the cord that held his sleeves back and went to the dining hall. Word about his strange behavior earlier had already started to spread and the men were gathered together in groups, waiting for him to make an appearance.

Rurouni walked into the room smiling brightly, and offered a cheerful "good morning" to everyone in general, before sitting down next to Katagai. The silence in the room was deafening.

Battousai groaned. 'Can't you act more like me, Rurouni? Besides, it's not working. They don't like you any more than they like me.'

'They're just not used to sessha yet. Give it time,' Rurouni replied confidently.

Before Battousai could come up with a sarcastic retort, one of the men timidly said, "Good morning, Battousai."

Rurouni's smile brightened even more, if that was possible. "Good morning, Kaneda-san! Please, call me Kenshin."

Kenshin?! Battousai sighed. Great, just great.

Kaneda's eyes bulged slightly. "Okay, K-Kenshin."

Luckily, as far as Battousai was concerned, breakfast was served before anything else could be said. Okay, maybe Rurouni had made his point. Apparently it was possible to smile and not frighten everyone, but he didn't think he could pull it off. The rest of the meal went off without a hitch, so Battousai was able to relax and just observe the men. Everyone watched the Rurouni's every move, listening as he talked with Katagai, smiling frequently. The men seemed to be fascinated with this new Battousai, but every time he looked at someone, that person would immediately drop his eyes. Battousai could tell this saddened Rurouni, but there was nothing he could do about it.

After breakfast, Rurouni went back to the kitchen, looking for Okami. "Okami-dono? Do you have any laundry that needs to be done?"

'LAUNDRY?!' Battousai yelled. 'Not laundry! No way! I'm not doing laundry!'

"Why, yes, there is clothing that needs to be washed, but you don't have to do that! You've already helped enough, Kenshin," Okami protested.

"I don't mind, that I don't. I enjoy washing clothes," Rurouni stated, and in short order was filling a tub with warm water and soap.

By this time Battousai was practically begging. 'You wouldn't do this to me, Rurouni, would you? You know I hate doing laundry! Come on, give me a break!'

Rurouni tied back his sleeves and placed the first garments into the soapy water. He picked up a yukata and began scrubbing away, happily humming the same song as before.


Half an hour later, Battousai was beside himself. His hands were getting wrinkled, his knees were sore, his back was beginning to ache and, to make matters worse, he had sensed a number of men watching him. He was certain he had heard something that sounded suspiciously like laughter coming from the general direction of the kitchen.

'I'll never be able to live this down, Rurouni. I'm going to have to kill somebody because of this, I just know it. AND WILL YOU STOP THAT INFERNAL RACKET! You've been humming the same damn song ever since you started this stupid job! Don't you know any other songs?'

'Sessha likes this song, that he does,' Rurouni gaily replied. 'It goes well with washing clothes.'

'I hate you,' Battousai snarled.

Finally, the loathsome task was finished. Battousai had been sulking for a while, but cheered up when Rurouni hung the last piece of clothing on the bamboo rack. Cheered up, that is, until Rurouni picked up a broom and offered to begin cleaning the rooms.

'WHAT?! You want to sweep the bedrooms? What do I look like, a maid?! I'm not going to do it! Doing laundry was bad enough, but I'm not going to clean up after those pigs! You can't make me! I'll take back control of the body before I let you do that to me!'

Rurouni stopped in the hallway. 'You said sessha could have control for the day. The entire day, unless there was an emergency. Are you going to go back on your word?'

After a long pause, Battousai growled, 'No.' He had never thought he would pray for the Shinsengumi to attack.

Fortunately, Rurouni was able to clean almost all of the rooms with no one the wiser. He was working in the next to last room when the shoji slid open and three men started to walk in. Yoshida, Hishinuma and Tomioka froze when they saw the Battousai was sweeping Yoshida's room. Battousai immediately recognized them as the three men he had smiled at the previous day and groaned. Not them again!

Before they could speak, Rurouni smiled and said, "I'm almost done, that I am. I should only be a few more minutes."

"That's okay, Battousai . . . uh, I mean, Kenshin. Take your time. No problem," Yoshida stammered. This was just too strange, seeing the Battousai pushing a broom. Not that he was going to complain, mind you. He had a strong desire to live to see the rest of the day.

By the time Rurouni finished the last room, Battousai was convinced that his day from hell would never end. 'I'll never get any respect after this! How many am I going to have to kill because of your perverted idea of 'fun?' How could you do that to me, Rurouni?! I've got a reputation to maintain, after all!' He was afraid to ask what Rurouni planned to do next. Whatever it would be, though, he was sure he would hate it. He hadn't thought Rurouni could be so vindictive.


Rurouni turned upon hearing his name called. "Yes, Okami-dono?"

"I wonder if I might ask a favor of you," she queried.

"Of course, Okami-dono. I would be happy to be of help," Rurouni responded courteously. "What may I do for you?"

Battousai held his breath, figuratively speaking of course.

"Well, you know how shorthanded I am today. I need someone to deliver a list of groceries for me, we are running low on some supplies. Would you mind?"

Rurouni smiled gently. "Of course not, Okami-dono. Where do you want me to go?"

"Thank you, Kenshin! You have no idea how much I appreciate your assistance today." She took a piece of paper out of the sleeve of her kimono. "Here's the list. Just give it to Yoshimatsu-san and tell him to have the items delivered this afternoon. His shop is the third one on the left side of the marketplace."

"Yes, Okami-dono," Rurouni replied, taking the list. Bowing slightly, he turned and started to leave the inn.

'Wait!' Battousai commanded. 'We need a hat. You know I don't go out during the day without a hat.'

'Right,' Rurouni murmured sheepishly. 'Sessha forgot.'

Before long, Rurouni was walking down the street, enjoying the sights with childlike pleasure. Going shopping isn't so bad, Battousai thought, beginning to enjoy the outing, too. It didn't take long to find the grocery shop. Rurouni gave the list to Yoshimatsu-san and spent some time chatting about inconsequential things, to which Battousai paid no attention. He didn't understand how people could spend so much time talking about nothing in particular. He couldn't quite get the hang of polite conversation, although Rurouni didn't seem to have any problem with it. By the time they were ready to leave, Battousai was fidgeting with impatience.

'What's wrong?' Rurouni inquired.

'Nothing,' Battousai answered. 'I was beginning to think you were going to spend the rest of the day talking to that baka.'

'Yoshimatsu-san is a nice man. He is giving Okami-dono a very good discount on her order,' Rurouni chided disapprovingly. 'There is no need for you to be insulting.'

'It's not like he can hear me,' Battousai returned caustically.

Rurouni chose to ignore Battousai's remark.

Rurouni wandered around the marketplace, indulging in one of his favorite pastimes, people watching. Seeing ordinary people going about their everyday lives always fascinated Rurouni. Children ran around, laughing for no apparent reason other than the simple joy of being alive on such a fine day. Sometimes they would tug at their parent's hand, trying to get their attention. "Look at that! Can I have one?" Rurouni smiled, amazed that there could be such happiness during the bloodshed of the Bakumatsu.

After wandering through yet another shop, Battousai was becoming bored. Not that he would say anything. Oh, no. This was a much preferable way to spend the day, rather than doing chores at the inn.

Rurouni spotted a clothing shop and thought of Battousai's decidedly limited wardrobe. Perhaps a new gi was in order. Walking into the shop, he paused as he looked around. A clerk immediately came up, saying, "May I help you, sir?"

"I'm looking for a new gi," Rurouni answered pleasantly.

'A new gi? What do we need a new gi for?' Battousai questioned.

'We have very few clothes,' Rurouni explained.

'We've got my uniforms, plus a couple of changes. What more do we need?' Battousai didn't understand; clothing had never been a priority with him.

The clerk led them over to a rack with a large selection, in a wide variety of colors. "Thank you," Rurouni said, "I'll call you if I need help." Bowing, the clerk left to help another customer. Rurouni started looking for ones in his size. Finding some, he began sorting through them, slipping the hangers across the rack. His eyes lit up when he saw one gi in particular. Taking it off the rack, he looked at it delightedly.

Battousai couldn't believe what he was seeing. 'What the. . .? Are you kidding? A pink gi?! You're joking, right?'

'Sessha likes bright colors, that he does,' Rurouni responded happily.

'Bright is okay, but NOT pink, for crying out loud!' Battousai was adamant.

Rurouni began humming contentedly.

Battousai groaned. 'Not that stupid song again! Look, Rurouni, I'm putting my foot down here. NO pink gi, do you hear me?!'

Rurouni held the gi up to himself.

Battousai started shouting, 'You're not listening to me! There is no way I'm going to wear pink! If you buy that gi, I swear I'll kill you the first chance I get!'

'That might be rather difficult,' Rurouni murmured absently. 'Besides, what is wrong with pink? It's a very nice color, that it is.'

'WHAT'S WRONG WITH IT?!' Battousai screamed.

Rurouni winced. 'You don't have to yell. Sessha can hear you just fine, that he can.'

Battousai tried to calm down, speaking somewhat more quietly. 'What's wrong with it? I'll tell you what's wrong with it. If we wear that pink gi, everyone is going to think we're a pansy. That's what's wrong with it!'

Rurouni laughed. 'Oh, sessha thinks you are overreacting.'

'You know that we've already gotten enough comments about our 'girly' appearance and YOU WANT TO WEAR PINK?!' Battousai's voice had been getting louder and louder, until he was screaming again.

'Sessha didn't think that you were bothered by such comments,' Rurouni remarked, thoughtfully fingering the gi's soft fabric. 'Do you feel threatened by them?'

Battousai would have been tearing his hair out if he had control of his hands. 'Look, if you force me to wear that obscene color, I will have to kill every man, woman and child who looks at us in THAT way. Do you want to be responsible for their deaths?'

'You wouldn't do that,' Rurouni said uncertainly.

Battousai was becoming desperate, since he knew he wouldn't be able to convince Rurouni that he could actually slaughter people like that. In a last-ditch effort, Battousai tried again. 'Besides, wearing that gi would attract too much attention to us. How many men do you see running around Kyoto wearing pink? How long do you think it will take people to notice our red hair and scar and put two and two together? How many red-haired assassins are there?'

Rurouni hesitated. 'Well . . . you do have a point.'

Battousai pushed his advantage. 'Damn right I've got a point! Being anonymous is what keeps us alive and we're going to stick out like a sore thumb in that color. If you want to commit suicide, fine! But don't try to take me with you!'

'Sessha supposes you're right, that he does,' Rurouni agreed sadly, looking longingly at the lovely gi before putting it back. 'Someday, though. . .'

Battousai felt an incredible sense of reprieve as Rurouni left the shop. Arriving back at the inn late in the afternoon, Battousai breathed a sigh of relief. After his close brush with the hideous pink gi, maybe doing chores wasn't such a bad thing, after all.

Making his way to the kitchen, Rurouni reported to Okami to see if there was anything else he could do to help her. He found her busily putting away the groceries, which had already been delivered.

"Oh, Kenshin! Thank you for delivering the list for me! Yoshimatsu-san brought the order himself and told me how much he enjoyed talking with you. 'Such a polite young man,' he said." Okami laughed at the memory.

"It was nothing, Okami-dono," Rurouni replied softly. "Is there anything else you would like me to do?"

"No, Kenshin. You've done more than enough for one day. I am very grateful for everything you did today. Now go and enjoy the rest of your day off."

Rurouni walked slowly down the hallway thinking about what he wanted to do before dinner. He was passing the innkeeper's office when he heard Katsura's voice.

"So, you think you know what is wrong with Kenshin?"

Rurouni stopped, arrested by the question. 'Katsura-san thinks something is wrong with us?' he wondered.

'I wouldn't be surprised, considering what you've been doing today,' Battousai complained. 'Everybody probably thinks I've gone insane.'

Neither Rurouni nor Battousai were prepared for what they heard next, though.

Katagai answered Katsura's question. "Yes, I think Himura had a bad reaction to the relaxant drug I gave him last night."

'What?!' was Rurouni's first thought, while Battousai roared, 'HE DRUGGED ME?!'

"You did what to Kenshin last night?!" Katsura demanded, outraged. "You drugged him?! Without talking to me first?"

'I'LL KILL HIM!' Battousai was furious.

"Yes. After Himura threatened those three men yesterday, I observed him during dinner and saw for myself how dangerously he was acting. The men have been very nervous around him lately." Katagai paused, collecting his thoughts.

'What does he mean, I threatened those three idiots yesterday?' Battousai demanded angrily. 'I didn't threaten anybody yesterday! All I did was smile at those morons! If he thinks I was dangerous last night–'

'Quiet!' Rurouni interrupted him. 'Sessha wants to hear what he has to say.'

Katagai had started talking again, continuing his report. "So I thought that if I could get Himura to relax, he would become less unstable. I took the relaxant formula the doctor prescribed for the innkeeper's daughter and slipped it into Himura's sake. It seemed to work, too, because he handled a bad situation last night at the nomiya very well. Although, given how he's been acting today, maybe I gave him too much. In fact, I'm worried that the drug has caused him to regress. I'm afraid he may have lost his focus as a hitokiri."

Battousai was so enraged, they were shaking. Rurouni desperately tried to pacify him. 'Please, Battousai! Calm down! The drug didn't do anything to us!'

But Battousai would not be calmed. 'How could Katsura do this to us!' he raged.

'Katsura-san didn't have anything to do with this, Battousai!' Rurouni insisted. 'Didn't you hear him? He didn't know anything about it!' Rurouni was afraid Battousai would take back control of the body and do something they would regret. He began taking slow, deep breaths, hoping that relaxing their body would help calm Battousai.

Katsura was very upset by Katagai's revelation and took a moment to control his voice before speaking again. "Katagai, you seriously overstepped your authority last night. You are not a doctor. You had no business drugging Kenshin! That was a serious breech of his trust, Katagai. Now I must talk to him as soon as possible and try to explain what happened. You had better hope that he will forgive you."

Rurouni was pleased when Battousai began to relax somewhat after hearing Katsura dressing down Katagai. 'Battousai? Don't you think we should leave before someone discovers us eavesdropping outside of the office?' Rurouni asked cautiously, worried about upsetting him further and wanting to get away before Battousai did something violent.

'I think that eavesdropping is justified this time,' Battousai snapped bitingly. 'Besides, Katsura wants to talk to us and I wouldn't want to be rude.'

'Are you sure that is a good idea, Battousai?' Rurouni asked anxiously. 'Perhaps we should think about this before–'

'Open the damn door!' Battousai snarled, cutting him off.

Before Katagai could reply to Katsura's comments, a soft knock was heard at the shoji. The door slid open before either man could speak, revealing Himura standing in the doorway.

"I believe you wanted to talk to me, Katsura-san," Rurouni said, his voice carefully neutral.

If Katsura was startled by his sudden appearance, he did not show it. "Please come in, Kenshin," he invited quietly. "I take it you heard everything?"

"I heard enough, Katsura-san." Rurouni looked at Katagai, his violet eyes showing flecks of amber. "Is it true that you drugged me last night, Katagai?"

The fact that Himura failed to use an honorific with Katagai's name was not lost on either Katsura or Katagai.

"Yes, Himura-san," Katagai answered nervously.

To give Katagai his due, he did not try to avoid Himura's penetrating look. Right now Himura did not look like the same man who had been cheerful and smiling all day. He stood relaxed, his left hand resting on the hilt of his katana, his face expressionless. Even though his eyes were not the glowing amber associated with the Battousai, they were still very formidable and it took all of Katagai's willpower to steadily meet them.

"You did this because you felt I was dangerous?" Rurouni asked quietly.

'Ask him about those men I supposedly threatened yesterday!' Battousai demanded, his anger increasing again.

"Yes, Himura-san," Katagai repeated.

"You reported to Katsura-san that I threatened three men yesterday?"

"Yes, Himura-san," Katagai said for the third time, swallowing fearfully. He didn't like the way Himura kept his hand on his katana while he was watching him so intently.

"What did they say I did, Katagai?" Rurouni was becoming worried about Battousai again, as he felt his rage growing.

"They said you glared at them and. . ." Katagai faltered.

"And?" Rurouni prompted.

'If he lies. . .' Battousai didn't finish his threat.

"And smiled, Himura-san," Katagai finished lamely.

"And that makes me dangerous." Rurouni made it a statement, not a question.

"No, Himura-san," Katagai admitted, beginning to sweat under Himura's piercing stare.

"Have you seen or heard of me acting violently towards any of the men? To your knowledge, have I ever even spoken rudely to anyone?"

"No, Himura-san." Katagai was beginning to feel like a fool.

"No," Rurouni repeated. "Yet you did not give me the courtesy of trying to talk to me about your concerns before you took it upon yourself to drug me. Are you that afraid of me?"

"No, Himura-san," Katagai answered, becoming pale.

"I am dangerous, Katagai," Rurouni confirmed softly, his eyes reinforcing the warning. "I am extremely dangerous to any enemy of the Ishin Shishi. Don't ever forget that."

Katagai gulped audibly before nodding. "Yes, Himura-san." Perhaps Himura was not planning on demanding satisfaction for the dishonor shown to him, and would be satisfied with the warning. Katagai had no intention of ever testing it. He knew his life was forfeit if Himura decided that he was an enemy.

Katsura was watching closely as Kenshin questioned Katagai. He had not interfered, since he was very interested in how Kenshin was handling the situation. If Kenshin was indeed as unstable as Katagai believed, then he was concealing it well. "Kenshin," Katsura said, finally deciding to step into the conversation.

"Yes, Katsura-san?" Rurouni shifted his attention away from Katagai, who relaxed noticeably.

"Please, Kenshin-san, accept my sincere apology for the insult done to you. I believe that Katagai had only your best interests at heart, even though his action was deplorable."

"Thank you, Katsura-san," Rurouni replied, bowing.

"I would like you to see a doctor, Kenshin," Katsura continued.

"Oro?! Why do I need to see a doctor, Katsura-san?" Rurouni asked, surprised.

'We don't need to see a doctor!' Battousai declared nervously.

Katsura knew that Kenshin had no love of doctors, but this was a unique situation and he would feel better if a doctor examined the young man. "I am concerned about possible side effects from the drug you received last night."

Rurouni blinked. "The drug? I'm sure the effects have worn off by now. I don't need to see a doctor, Katsura-san. I feel fine."

'No doctor!' Battousai insisted.

"I want to be certain that you are in the best of health before you resume your duties." Katsura hesitated when he remembered Katagai's concern about the possibility of Kenshin having lost his focus. "Do you feel capable of performing as a hitokiri, Kenshin?"

Rurouni scarcely hesitated before quietly saying, "Yes, Katsura-san." He had no choice. He had sworn his sword to the cause of the Ishin Shishi. He would use his skills to the best of his ability to protect the weak and innocent, and bring about a new world where men could live in peace. He would not go back on his oath.

Katsura was reassured by Kenshin's answer, but he had not missed the sadness reflected in his clear violet eyes, or the whispered regret in his voice.

'Tell Katsura we'll see the doctor tomorrow!' Battousai suggested, thinking they could come up with an excuse not to see him by then.

'Good idea,' Rurouni agreed, who liked doctors even less than Battousai. In his experience, doctors liked to exercise their control over their patients entirely too much. They would never accept that he knew his limits better than they did, and would interfere with his duties by trying to force him to rest for far longer than necessary.

"Katsura-san? I'm feeling fine, really. However, if you still think there's a problem tomorrow, I'll see the doctor then."

So you can come up with another excuse tomorrow? Katsura thought, hiding a smile at Kenshin's reluctance to submit to the examination. "It would be best for the doctor to see you as soon as possible, Kenshin."

"But, Katsura-san. . ." Rurouni's voice trailed off, seeing that Katsura wasn't going to give in. 'This is all HIS fault,' Rurouni growled, glaring murderously at Katagai.

Katagai stiffened, fresh sweat breaking out on his forehead, as the full weight of Himura's glare focused itself upon him. Is there more amber in his eyes than before? Oh, kami! I forgot how much Himura hates doctors, Katagai realized, seriously alarmed now, thinking he had relaxed too soon.

"Katagai, I want you to bring Fukunaga-sensei here as quickly as possible to examine Kenshin."

"Yes, Katsura," Katagai agreed, leaving hastily, grateful for a reason to leave Himura's intimidating presence.

"Would you care to join me for an early dinner, Kenshin? While we wait for Fukunaga-sensei?" Katsura asked politely, having no intention of allowing him to sneak away before the doctor could arrive.

Rurouni was going to decline, but Battousai had a different idea. 'There's no point in trying to avoid the examination, Rurouni. Katsura has made up his mind and you know as well as I do that he isn't going to let us out of his sight now.'

'But I don't want to see the doctor!' Rurouni almost wailed.

'And you think I do?' Battousai snapped. 'Be reasonable, Rurouni. Short of running away, this examination is inevitable. Besides, we didn't eat any lunch and I'm hungry.'

"Yes, Katsura-san," Rurouni muttered with poor grace.

They were almost finished eating by the time Katagai returned with Fukunaga-sensei. The meal had been shared in near silence, with Rurouni's answers to Katsura's comments kept to a barely polite minimum.

Katsura had not been offended, though. Indeed, seeing how nervous Kenshin was over the prospect of a simple examination was rather amusing. Katsura knew that he could face a fight with nearly overwhelming odds against him with complete aplomb, but tell him he had to see a doctor and he would immediately start worrying.

Fukunaga-sensei entered the room, bowing politely and murmuring a greeting to Katsura before turning to face his reluctant patient. He was well aware of Himura's dislike of doctors. Fortunately, up to now he had rarely been ill and had never received an injury. Himura knelt in the center of the room, his face set in stiff lines. He might have been waiting for his execution, instead of the upcoming exam.

'It's not fair!' Rurouni was still complaining, as he had throughout dinner. 'We're not sick!'

Battousai nearly chuckled at Rurouni's discomfiture. For once, Battousai was almost relaxed at the prospect of seeing the doctor, since he was not in control of their body. It was the first time today that he had been pleased about that.

Rurouni watched anxiously as Fukunaga-sensei opened the large bag of medical equipment and supplies he had brought with him. 'He's not going to need a sample of our blood, is he?' Rurouni asked apprehensively.

'I don't know,' Battousai replied, 'he might.'

'Oh, kami,' moaned Rurouni. 'This is all Katagai's fault! He's going to pay for this!' Rurouni shouted angrily.

"Good afternoon, Himura-san! It has been a while, hasn't it?" the doctor remarked, smiling pleasantly.

'Not long enough!' Rurouni snarled silently.

"I understand you were given a Chinese relaxant drug last night. How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine!" Rurouni retorted peevishly.

"Excellent, then this won't take long. Take your arms out of your sleeves, please." The doctor took a stethoscope from his bag and began listening to Himura's heart and lungs. When he was done with that, he carefully checked his eyes. Fukunaga-sensei reached back into his voluminous bag and brought out a long, sharp needle.

Rurouni froze.

"Himura-san, will you remove your tabi, please?" Fukunaga-sensei asked.

"Why?" Rurouni demanded.

"I need to test your reflexes," the doctor answered calmly.

Slowly, Rurouni removed his socks. Battousai was fascinated as Rurouni began a litany of all the things he was going to do to Katagai – most of which would be extremely painful – once the examination was over. Perhaps I should take notes, Battousai thought with amusement. Some of those ideas would be quite effective, should I ever have to interrogate an enemy. To be honest, Battousai hadn't realized Rurouni had such a vicious streak.

'Relax, Rurouni,' Battousai said soothingly, 'it's not that bad.'

'That's easy for you to say!' Rurouni groused.

Rurouni was so upset that he almost didn't notice as the doctor gently poked his foot with the needle – causing it to twitch . He watched with morbid fascination as Fukunaga repeated the action in several places on both feet, getting small jerks each time.

"Tell me if you can feel this, please," Fukunaga-sensei ordered, as he began touching the needle along Himura's legs. Himura said "yes" after each time, so the doctor moved on to his arms, hands and face.

'If it hadn't been for Katagai's meddling, we wouldn't have to go through this!' Rurouni grumbled, getting even more upset.

'Actually, if you had acted more like me in the first place, we wouldn't even be in this mess!' Battousai observed irritatingly. 'Wait a minute . . . Katsura and Katagai think your strange behavior is a result of the drug! If we can circulate that rumor around, my reputation will remain intact!'

'Wonderful,' Rurouni replied sarcastically. 'But I still have to be examined in the meantime!'

Battousai was no longer paying attention, though, as he began thinking about ways to spread the word as to how Katagai had drugged him.

After a couple more simple tests of his balance and coordination, Fukunaga-sensei declared the examination was over, much to Rurouni's relief.

To Katsura's satisfaction, the doctor's diagnosis was that there was nothing permanently wrong with Himura. "Congratulations, Kenshin. I'm very glad that nothing serious came of this episode," Katsura said, as Kenshin was quickly getting his clothing adjusted. It was obvious he was eager to leave and was only waiting for Katsura to give his permission. "All right, Kenshin," Katsura relented, laughing at the younger man's impatience. "You may go now."

"Thank you, Katsura-san," Rurouni responded, bowing, and all but running out of the room.

Rurouni immediately went to their room and retrieved the hat they had worn earlier. He didn't want to stay at the inn and have to deal with either the other men staying there or, more importantly right now, Katagai. Rurouni wasn't comfortable with the depth of the fury he had experienced at Katagai's betrayal. Battousai had helped him to control that anger, but he didn't want to take a chance on losing control again, should Katagai say the wrong thing. Right now, Rurouni wanted to have some time away from others, so he could calm down and regain command of his emotions.

He found himself walking down to the Kamo river, a favorite place to just sit and contemplate his part in the madness of the Bakumatsu. It had been quite a while since they had gone there. Fulfilling the duties of a hitokiri had forced Battousai to become more and more detached from not only other people, but his feelings as well, and it had become difficult to achieve the peace they had before. Throughout this time, Rurouni had willingly acted as a source of nonjudgmental human contact that gave Battousai a much needed safety valve. Now Rurouni sought to regain his inner equilibrium, which had been seriously compromised by the discovery of Katagai's treachery.

Battousai watched Rurouni struggle with his anger. He could feel how much it was hurting Rurouni to face and conquer his personal demons. Battousai felt he had learned a great deal about Rurouni today. Because he presented a polite and gentle demeanor so much of the time, it was easy to assume that he did not have strong feelings, that his was a shallow personality. Battousai now knew that was a completely erroneous assumption. Rurouni had proven today that he had emotions that were just as intense as Battousai's own. He simply kept them under tight control. Also, like Battousai, Rurouni was fiercely loyal to those to whom he had given his trust, a trait that Battousai felt came from the part of them that was Shinta. To have that trust betrayed by Katagai had hurt Rurouni deeply, and caused him to experience the true depth of his emotions. That was something that hadn't happened before and it shook him badly, causing him to doubt himself on many levels.

'Battousai?' Rurouni said softly.

'Yes, Rurouni?' Battousai answered.

'Sessha wishes to apologize for what this one did to you today. My behavior today has caused problems that you will have to deal with. You tried to tell me, but I didn't listen. It is actually a good thing that Katagai has provided you with a means to explain my actions in such a way that it does not reflect upon yourself. For that, in a way, this one is grateful to Katagai. I am very sorry, Battousai. Sessha is giving back control to you now.'

When Rurouni had finished his abject apology, Battousai felt him retreat deep into their mind and become quiet. 'Rurouni? Talk to me, Rurouni!' Battousai called, but received no reply. The only thing he could feel from Rurouni was sorrow. Battousai sat beside the river and thought for a long time that evening.

Finally, he went back to the inn. It was late and no one saw him enter and go to his room. He sat in his usual corner, but the thought of sleeping never even entered his mind. Several times throughout the night he tried to contact Rurouni, with no success. Battousai remembered the joy and pleasure Rurouni had felt in doing the simple tasks and chores during the time he was in control. He also recalled the sadness and grief Rurouni felt when he told Katsura that he would be able to fulfill his duties as a hitokiri. Battousai knew that Rurouni understood – and accepted – the reasons why they had become a hitokiri. However, knowing why they did their duty did not alleviate the pain Rurouni felt each time they killed. Yes, Battousai had taken the responsibility for performing the actual assignments, but Rurouni felt an equal sense of responsibility and the guilt ate away at him from within.

Battousai regretted that the pleasure Rurouni had experienced during his day out had been replaced with sorrow because he felt guilty for damaging Battousai's reputation. Well, of course he feels that way, Battousai thought, disgusted with himself, since I told him that how many times today? I should have kept my mouth shut and let him enjoy himself. I could have dealt with the repercussions easily enough. Katagai just made it easier, that's all. But that isn't enough to pay for the damage this has done to us, not by a long shot! With that thought, Battousai spent the rest of the night considering the best way to begin giving Katagai a little payback for his dishonorable behavior.

The next morning Battousai was ready to set his plan into motion. 'Rurouni?' he called, hoping that this time he would answer.

'Yes, Battousai?' came the soft voice Battousai had been listening for.

'Are you all right?' Battousai inquired anxiously.

'Sessha will be fine, that he will. Please, don't worry about me,' Rurouni answered quietly.

'I'm sorry, Rurouni,' Battousai apologized, 'for spoiling your day yesterday.'

'That's all right–' Rurouni tried to say reassuringly, only to be interrupted.

'No, it isn't!' Battousai insisted. 'You hadn't been out for a long time and I had no right to try to tell you how to spend your day. And as for my reputation, that's my problem, not yours. I promise you can come out more often from now on, okay?'

'Thank you very much, Battousai,' Rurouni replied gratefully.

'Now then,' Battousai continued, 'would you like to hear what I've got in mind for Katagai this morning?'

'Sessha would very much like to know, please,' Rurouni responded eagerly. A few minutes later, he was laughing with delight. 'Wonderful, Battousai! I could almost feel sorry for him.'

'Thanks, Rurouni. We'll go down in a few minutes. I want to make sure everyone is there before we make our entrance.' Battousai spent the next couple of minutes rehearsing what he wanted to say.

Battousai paused outside of the dining hall, listening to the casual chatter of the men assembled inside. Breakfast had not yet been served, and would not be until he spoke to Okami again. While surprised by his request, she had readily agreed to wait until he was finished talking to Katagai.

'Ready, Rurouni?' Battousai asked, although he already knew the answer, since he could feel his excitement vibrating in the back of their mind.

'Yes. Sessha is looking forward to this!' Rurouni exclaimed.

With his head lowered slightly so that his amber eyes were concealed by his fiery bangs and having carefully schooled his features into a particularly expressionless mask, Battousai silently stepped into the dining hall, his left hand grasping his katana. He gradually increased his sword-ki until even the least sensitive man in the room could feel its menace. As the men became aware of his presence, conversations died and the silence grew until he could hear them breathing.

The room remained quiet until one fool remembered seeing the great Battousai kneeling in front of a laundry tub the day before and snickered.

Instantly, several things happened at once. Battousai's left thumb flicked out an inch of his katana with a clearly heard metallic click. His sword-ki spiked dramatically. He raised his head and nailed the snickering fool with a smoldering amber glare. The aforementioned fool stopped laughing. And every man in the room ceased breathing.

'That's perfect!' Rurouni declared, laughing.

'Thanks,' returned Battousai. 'I couldn't have planned it better. You don't think I overdid it?'

'Absolutely not!' Rurouni assured him. 'There's no doubt that the Battousai is back!'

Katagai's mouth went dry when he saw Himura enter and felt his warrior's spirit fill the room. Himura finally looked away from the ahou who had been stupid enough to laugh – allowing him to breathe again – and turned the full fury of his blazing glare upon Katagai.

Battousai stalked the length of the room, effortlessly holding Katagai's eyes, until he stood before him, staring down at him with ill-concealed rage. "I would appreciate it if you would tell the men what you did two nights ago, Katagai." Battousai made sure his voice was cold and impersonal, which made his words even more effective.

So this was to be Himura's revenge. Forcing him to admit before the troop what he had done. Katagai paled and had to swallow twice before he could speak. "I put a drug into your sake, Himura-san."

Up till now, Battousai had been pretending to be far more upset than he actually was. But hearing Katagai admit once again that he had drugged his sake caused the white-hot rage that Battousai had felt the day before to return in full force. Additionally, he felt Rurouni's own anger flare as well.

In response, Battousai's sword-ki spiked even higher, causing the more sensitive fighters to believe that the Battousai was in a full killing rage. And who could blame him? The soldiers were shocked to hear Katagai admit to actually drugging the hitokiri. No wonder he had been acting so strangely yesterday! Each man took a minute to try to recollect if he had said or done anything to the manslayer during that time that might have been construed as insulting. Their thoughts were interrupted when Battousai spoke again.

"After asking me to join you at the Shiro Bara, you drugged my sake. I guess that proves that you need to choose your companions very carefully before you allow them access to your food or drink." Battousai's voice was coldly venomous and left no doubt as to his feelings regarding the betrayal.

Having made his point, Battousai turned and left the room, leaving Katagai isolated by his own treachery.

Battousai stopped in the hallway to calm himself. Taking a deep cleansing breath, he relaxed his entire body and let the remnants of his rage drain away. After letting Okami know that it was all right to begin serving breakfast, Battousai left the inn and started walking down the street. He hadn't gone far when Rurouni spoke up.

'So, Battousai, where do you want to eat breakfast? I'm starving.'


Author's Note: I want to express my gratitude to Ms. Zeal for all of the help she gave me during the creation of The Inner Rurouni. Her ideas and inspiration made this story much stronger and more interesting. While I wrote The Inner Rurouni as a spoof of all the Rurouni-is-in-charge-and-Battousai-escapes stories so prevalent in fan fiction, I do find the internal interaction between Rurouni and Battousai to be very interesting. I was talking to Ms. Zeal last week, and we began discussing a form of 'what if' scenario. I wondered what it would be like for Kenshin, as Battousai, to have a similar interaction with the Rurouni, and thus was born this story. If you haven't had the opportunity to read Ms. Zeal's wonderful stories, I highly recommend that you do. They are wonderful stories which I am sure you will thoroughly enjoy. I apologize for any inconsistencies in the characters of Battousai and Rurouni. In case I did not make it clear, The Inner Rurouni is set prior to Kenshin meeting Tomoe. I would like to thank everybody who takes the time to read this story.

Japanese Words:

ahou - moron, idiot (in its most insulting sense)

baka - idiot, fool, moron, etc; all-purpose insult

Bakumatsu - the late Tokugawa Shogunate Era, just before the Meiji Restoration; also another name for the civil war, which went from 1862-1868, that pitted the anti emperor Shogunate forces against the pro-emperor Ishin Shishi forces

Battousai - the nickname for Himura Kenshin when he was a hitokiri, it means "master of the battoujutsu sword technique" (The act of drawing the sword out of the sheath while pressing the blade's edge against the inside of the sheath, which can increase its speed two- or three-fold. In this way, the attacker may strike the opponent before there is time to react. In other schools, this same technique is known as "iai" or "nuki.")

-dono - an honorific, even more respectful than -san, the effect in modern-day Japanese conversation would be along the lines of "Milord So-and-So;" as used by Kenshin, it indicates both respect and humility

furo - Japanese-style bath

gi - kimono shirt; a fighter's or sword practitioner's shirt

hakama - A divided or undivided skirt, rather like a very wide pair of pants, traditionally worn only by men but now worn also by women, and also worn in certain sports such as aikido or kendo. A hakama typically has pleats, and a koshiita - a stiff or padded part in the lower back of the wearer.

Himura Kenshin - The main character of the manga and anime series, Rurouni Kenshin, created by Watsuki Nobuhiro. A swordsman of legendary skills and former assassin (hitokiri) of the Ishin Shishi. Kenshin means "heart of the sword."

Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu - Flying sword to heaven philosophy. Himura Kenshin's sword technique, used more often for defense than offense. An ancient style that pits one against many, it requires exceptional speed and agility to master.

hitokiri - manslayer, assassin

Ishin Shishi - the name given to the pro-emperor forces from Choshu and Satsuma during the Bakumatsu (another name for the civil war that pitted the anti emperor Shogunate forces against the pro-emperor Ishin Shishi forces); also known as Imperialists, Revolutionaries, Patriots, and Rebels

kami - god

katana - a Japanese daito or long sword, worn blade up through an obi; the blade of a Japanese long sword is longer than two shaku (60 cm or 23.6 inches) long; most katana are about 42 inches long from tip to pommel (the end of the hilt) and the blade averages 70 cm (27.5 inches) long

Katsura Kogorou - Born in 1833; he was a leader of the Choshu clan and one of the three leaders of the Ishin Shishi (the other two are Okubo Toshimichi and Saigo Takamori). He was born Kido Takayoshi and was also known as Kido Koin. He died of natural causes in 1877. He is Himura Kenshin's "boss."

ki - A person's "aura," or his swordfighting spirit; the Asian concept of a life force or life spirit; it's used a lot in martial arts anime. "Ken-ki" is used in Rurouni Kenshin in reference to swords

nomiya - a sake bar

obi - the Japanese equivalent of a sash or belt, which is used for a kimono, yukata or hakama; obi are generally worn differently depending on the occasion, and they are usually more intricate for women

okaa-san - mother

okami - mistress, head; in this case, the innkeeper

oro - Nobuhiro Watsuki-sensei's made up word in the Rurouni Kenshin anime series, Himura Kenshin's (as Rurouni) version of "huh?"

owari - "the end"

rurouni - Nobuhiro Watsuki-sensei's made up word in the Rurouni Kenshin anime series, it means "wanderer"

Ryu Shou Sen - (Soaring Dragon Flash): a Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu technique; a strike from below to the opponent's chin or neck, the sword is held in the left hand and supported near the tip with the right hand

Ryu Sou Sen - (Dragon's Nest Strike): a Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu technique; this is a multiple strike attack, each of the swings hitting the opponent (also described as the 'wild attack' technique)

sake - a Japanese alcoholic beverage, rice wine

-san - an honorific; carries the meaning of "Mr.," "Ms.," "Miss," etc., but used more extensively in Japanese than its English equivalent (note that even an enemy may be addressed as "-san")

sensei - teacher; it's often used also as a suffix after someone's name to indicate that they are very knowledgeable in a certain area; doctors, teachers, and writers often get a "-sensei" after their name. In America "sensei" has a more limited definition as a martial arts instructor.

sessha - an archaic Japanese term, literally "this unworthy one," how Himura Kenshin in the Rurouni Kenshin anime series refers to himself in first person when he is acting as a rurouni

Shinsengumi - In 1862, in order to assure the security of Kyoto city, the Edo Shogunate formed a special police force by recruiting among masterless samurai and farmers skilled in sword technique. Serizawa Kamo, Kondo Isami, and Niimi Nishiki were the original three Captains when the Shinsengumi was formed from the Roshigumi in March 1863. Niimi Nishiki's rank was lowered to Sub-Captain, and he was subsequently forced to commit seppuku on September 8, 1863, by Hijikata Toshizo and Yamanami Keisuke. Serizawa Kamo was assassinated by Kondo Isami and Hijikata Toshizo on September 16, 1863, because of his reckless actions. Kondo Isami then became the Captain and Hijikata Toshizo and Yamanami Keisuke became the Vice Captains. They provoked terror among pro-imperial samurai with the Ikedaya incident in 1864. The Shinsengumi disappeared with the defeat of the Tokugawa regime in 1868.

Shinta - the original first name of Himura Kenshin, the main character of the anime series, Rurouni Kenshin, created by Watsuki Nobuhiro; Hiko Seijuro XIII, Kenshin's Shishou, changed Shinta's name to Kenshin when he accepted him as his apprentice

Shiro Bara - "White Rose," the name of a nomiya (sake bar) frequented by Ishin Shishi fighters in the story, The Inner Rurouni

Shishou - master teacher of swordsmanship; Himura Kenshin's (Battousai / Rurouni) master, Hiko Seijuro, the Thirteenth Master of Hiten Mitsurugi

shoji - rice paper sliding door

tabi - ankle high, divided-toe socks that are usually worn with sandals; they also come in a boot form

Tomoe - (Yukishiro Tomoe) Himura Kenshin's wife, he accidentally killed her in a fight to the death with a Shogunate samurai; The Inner Rurouni is set before Kenshin met her

wakizashi - short sword (between 12 and 24 inches long, with 20 inches being average) worn by samurai (along with the katana)

yukata - An informal unlined summer kimono usually made of cotton, linen, or hemp. Yukata are most often worn to outdoor festivals, by men and women of all ages. They are also worn at onsen (hot springs) resorts, where they are often provided for the guests in the resort's own pattern. Yukata are also worn under a kimono or gi, and for sleeping.