Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin, Samurai X, or any OVA movies or characters.
Note to readers: If you're expecting the goofy Kenshin from the Rurouni Kenshin series, then you're in the wrong place. This story is a continuation of the Samurai X Trust and Betrayal movies, and focuses on the years between those movies and the TV series. Kenshin is no longer the Battousai, but is still in the service of Katsura Kogoro of the Choshu Clan, working as a bodyguard and a common soldier. If you don't know why Kenshin quit being an assassin, watch the Samurai X movies. Like this story, they are about a dark period in Kenshin's life.
Warning: SPOILERS GALORE – Don't read this if you haven't seen the Samurai X Trust and Betrayal movies.
May 4, 1865. On a dirt road, Kenshin Himura walked slowly past the practice field on the outskirts of Yamaguchi Castletown.
For months the men of Choshu province had been drilling in preparation for war. Six months earlier the Tokugawa sent a punitive expedition against Choshu led by Saigo of Satsuma. It wasn't a coincidence that the Shogun had allowed a man from Choshu's hated rival province to lead the military forces sent to punish them for their armed attempt to get back into the Emperor's palace and his good graces earlier that year. Satsuma men had fought them off at the gates of the palace, ensuring that Satsuma would control the palace, and the Emperor inside it. Choshu was left out in the cold.
Unaccountably, on his arrival, Saigo had offered terms of propitiation to Choshu. Short on arms and troops, Choshu had accepted, and war was averted, but everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the Shogun again sent forces to destroy the province controlled by a government loyal to the Emperor, not to him.
The men out on the practice field knew it too. Kenshin paused to watch them. Merchants' sons, samurai, even sons of peasants all marched across the field, carrying their muskets. Unified by self-preservation, representatives from all classes of Choshu society strode by in unison.
At the edge of the field nearest Kenshin were bales of hay with targets pinned to them. A group of soldiers stood in a row, firing at them.
"Argh! What do you think you're doing?"
A tall man, dressed in black hakama trousers, and an angry expression, marched over to one of the soldiers and ripped the musket from out of his hands.
"I…I'm sorry sir." babbled the soldier.
The man waved the musket at him. "You're supposed to fire it, not just point it, you potato-headed farmer!"
The soldier threw himself to the ground and hunched over, bowing abjectly. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I tried to fire it, but the trigger is stuck."
"What?" The man in black gripped the gun, expertly brought it to his shoulder, sighted along the barrel and attempted to fire.
The man lowered the musket and held it out to glare at it. "What am I supposed to do with a piece of junk like this?!" He threw it at his feet.
The gun bounced and struck the bowing soldier in the side before landing in the dirt.
Kenshin's eyes narrowed as the man in black strode over to the soldier on the ground. He drew back his leg and kicked, missing the soldier, but connecting with the defective musket, sending it flying three feet away. Then he turned and glared down at the soldier.
"Get up! Lying on the ground won't help you when the Bakufu's forces come." He yelled, using the common term for the Tokugawa Shogunate's army. Spitting into the dirt near the soldier, he wheeled and stalked away.
The soldier pushed himself to his feet, staring after him.
Kenshin watched another moment, unconsciously gripping his arm to his hip, to feel the reassuring weight of his sword, secured at his side by his obi, the long sash wrapped around his waist under his hakama, the long pleated trousers worn by swordsmen. Swords didn't misfire or get stuck.
"Murata's good, but ill-tempered."
Kenshin glanced up at Shunme, who'd appeared next to him on the road. Of average height and a stocky build, Shunme was dressed in black and white striped Hakama and a grey Haori jacket, of a rich material. His slightly roundish face sported his habitual grin.
Kenshin looked at him questioningly.
Shunme nodded at the practice field where the man in black was now shouting at another group of new soldiers. "That's Murata. He's the expert on Western military matters, but he's not exactly someone you'd want to invite for a night out of drinking."
Shunme grinned wider. "Can you imagine it?" He lowered his voice in an imitation of Murata's practice field shout. "Everyone! Pour the sake! ONE! Now raise your cups. TWO! Prepare to drink! THREE! Drink! FOUR! You there! Keep in step! Now repeat this 600 times!" Shunme laughed, the 'ho ho ho' emerging from deep within his belly and pealing out.
Kenshin watched him, unmoved. "What are you doing here, Shunme?"
Shunme stopped laughing, noticing that Kenshin hadn't joined in. A disappointed expression crossed his face. "One of these days, Himura, one of my jokes will hit the mark and I'll see you laughing."
Keeping his eyes on Shunme's face, Kenshin waited. It was the most effective way of getting Shunme to stop clowning around and get to the point.
Shunme sighed. "Looking for you, of course." he answered. "I thought I'd find you out here. How did practice go?"
"How did you know…" Kenshin began slowly.
"That you practice swordplay every morning before dawn out in the fields?" Shunme broke in. He laughed again. "What else would you be doing before dawn? You don't practice in the inn's courtyard with the others, yet Katsura says you're one of the best swordsmen he's ever seen. You don't gamble, you rarely drink, and I've never seen you with a woman so…"
"What do you want?" Since Shunme had interrupted him earlier, Kenshin didn't hesitate to do the same to him. Shunme's comment cut deeper than Kenshin wanted, reminding him of Tomoe. She'd been everything, and now she was gone. He didn't want Shunme's casual banter reminding him of it.
Shunme cocked his head quizzically. "Katsura is going to the Choshu Administration Office earlier than usual this morning. It looks like you and I are on guard detail again, since that lazy Nakamura has the day off."
"He's a good swordsmen." Kenshin rebuked Shunme, and began walking down the road toward Yamaguchi Castletown.
"I don't know why you defend him." His fellow bodyguard sighed as he kept in step alongside Kenshin. "He's nothing but rude to you, and just because you weren't born a samurai." Shunme walked on, chuckling. "Nakamura's so stuck up I bet he thinks he pees liquid gold and poops out silver ore!"
With the ease of long practice, Kenshin blocked out Shunme's words and continued walking. He'd returned to Katsura's service after Tomoe died. He'd been the Battousai, Katsura's pet assassin, until the incident at the Ikedaya Inn when the Shinsengumi, a police squad loyal to the Tokugawa Shogun, had decimated the ranks of the Choshu loyalists in Kyoto.
Katsura had sent him, along with Tomoe, out of the city to pose as a married peasant couple. All of the Choshu loyalists went into hiding then. Months had passed. Winter had come, and with it, love. Like winter, that had ended, and now Kenshin served Katsura again, this time in Choshu province where the loyalists under Takasugi, Katsura's friend and the loyalist who'd brought Kenshin into the movement, had seized control of the provincial government.
Kenshin and Shunme entered the outskirts of Yamaguchi and made their way to the house where Katsura was staying. It was nearly 7:00 in the morning and shops were beginning to open. The smell of rice and miso soup permeated the streets. They arrived at Katsura's house and waited.
In a while, Katsura came out with Nakamura, who'd been on guard duty that night. Katsura's eyes lighted in recognition as he saw Kenshin and Shunme waiting for him. In his early thirties, Katsura had the assurance of a much older man. He kept his hair in a topknot folded over the top of his head. His face was smooth skinned, with small dark eyes, a nose too long to give his features symmetry, and a determined mouth.
He gave a few last minute instructions to Nakamura, a tall, angular featured samurai who pointedly ignored everyone but Katsura. That done, Katsura nodded briefly to Shunme and Kenshin, then set off down the street, talking to another Choshu official as he walked. Kenshin and Shunme, mercifully silent now that he was on the job, followed.
As was customary, Shunme followed Katsura into the Choshu Administration building while Kenshin patrolled outside. Shunme had been born into a samurai family. He was accepted where Kenshin, despite the current atmosphere of everyone needing to work together to defeat the Tokugawa Shogunate, was not.
At dusk, Katsura left the building alone, Kenshin and Shunme following respectfully. They parted from him at the door, leaving him in Nakamura's care, and made their way back to the inn where they, and several other soldiers and bodyguards, were staying.
"Kenshin!" Shunme burst out as soon as they were away from the house. "You'll never guess what I heard today!"
"What?" Kenshin asked, resigning himself. Shunme loved to talk. Kenshin didn't. He often wondered why he so often ended up on duty with him.
"We're going to Shimonoseki in a few days' time."
"So?" Katsura had friends in the wealthy merchant city nestled on the coast of the Shimonoseki Straits, the channel of water that separated Choshu from the Kokura clan's territory on Kyushu Island. Kenshin had accompanied Katsura there many times before.
Eyes dancing with excitement, Shunme answered. "I heard that Katsura is meeting with Sakamoto Ryoma." He paused, waiting for Kenshin to reply.
Shunme sighed dramatically. "Don't you know who that is? The Shinsengumi would give their sword arms to capture him, but they can't."
"So he's a loyalist?" asked Kenshin desultorily.
"Yes, but not just any loyalist. He's a real maverick. He started a naval academy and he's determined to build Japan into a military power the other nations will respect. Even Katsu Kaishu, the shogun's top naval official gave his blessing to Ryoma's academy and…."
"The shogun?" Kenshin broke in, giving Shunme a weird look. "Ryoma's with the Bakufu?"
"No! Not really. Katsu is, but he's not a bad sort. They say Katsu's the only good official in the Bakufu."
Kenshin stared at the ground. "I hate all of them. Everyone who works for the Bakufu."
Shunme paused a moment. "Yeah. I know, but someday this war's going to be over and we'll have to live with them."
Irritated, Kenshin wheeled down a side street, leaving Shunme staring after him, open-mouthed. "Kenshin! The inn is THAT way!" he called out.
Ignoring him, Kenshin walked the long way to the inn, lost in his thoughts. Live with the Bakufu officials? The dirty Bakufu who used anything and anyone to get their way, even an innocent girl? It was a month to the day that the Shogun's dogs, the Shinsengumi, had raided the Ikedaya Inn and killed many of the men Kenshin had called comrades. June 4, in the midst of the Gion festival, loyalist blood had washed the floor of the Ikedaya Inn.
The Shinsengumi had tortured a man to find the location of the inn. Kenshin wouldn't forgive them for that. Or for Tomoe. Just for a moment, as he strode through the darkened streets of Yamaguchi, he thought he smelled her favorite scent, white plums.
He stopped and looked up at the sky between the rooftops. It had been much clearer, and more beautiful back at the house he'd shared with Tomoe, but it was the same night sky, with the same stars shining down on him. He could remember her looking out their doorway, gazing at those same stars, with that far-away, unreadable expression on her face. Tomoe. He remembered her so clearly, the pretend wife whom he'd grown to love. The stars were still there, but she was gone.
He lifted his chin, and felt the evening breeze on his face, then drew a deep breath and walked on.
END CHAPTER ONE
A/N Please review and let me know if this is worth continuing. The story is a lot darker (despite Shunme's clowning around) than what I usually write, but then again, the Samurai X movies are terribly angst ridden too.
Oh, and in case the political history is a bit confusing, you should know that prior to the Meiji Restoration there were two sources of power in Japan - the Emperor who everybody revered but who had almost zero real political power, and the Tokugawa Shogun who ruled with an iron hand "in the name of the emperor".
My story begins after Takasugi (the guy who trained Kenshin as a loyalist after Kenshin left Hiko's house. He was Katsura's good friend and assigned Kenshin to him. Takasugi was the one who coughed a lot and fell off his horse at the end of 'Samurai X – Betrayal') has kicked all the pro-Tokugawa Shogun/Bakufu conservatives out of the government in Choshu province. He and Katsura pretty much run Choshu and hate the Satsuma clan almost as much as they hate the Shogun because the Satsuma clan had earlier kicked Choshu out of the Emperor's court.
Choshu sees itself as the hero, trying to restore the Emperor, kick out those nasty barbarians who want to trade with Japan, and get rid of the shogun. Satsuma won't let them anywhere near the Emperor, who they now control – well, as much as anyone can control a cantankerous xenophobe like Komei– and actually fought them off when they tried to get back in the Emperor's palace by force at the battle of the Forbidden Gate.
That whole Ikedaya Inn massacre where the Shinsengumi attacked Choshu loyalists in Kyoto because Choshu loyalist leader Miyabe planned to kidnap the emperor and take him to Choshu after setting Kyoto on fire, actually happened pretty much as it did in the Samurai X movies. (That was the part where Katsura sends Kenshin and Tomoe to the country to pose as a married peasant couple) I could go on and on, but then I'd never get around to writing chapter two!