Ok, last short chapter! Actually, I might make it long…hmmmm. You never know, this chapter might turn out longer or shorter; I could really go either way. But if you look at the little blue thing to your right, you'll know. XD And I am not quite used to anything besides dumb papers like "How To Tie Your Shoe" and "The Best Christmas Present Ever". LOL So, I definitely would love constructive criticism!
Another thing, I have something to say about fanfiction in general. Like the movie Spirited Away, it was the little things that made it a hit. I believe fanfiction is the same way. It's not however grand your plot is. It doesn't matter. If you can't find a good way of getting there, it's no good. (And I know my fic isn't great like Spirited Away or anything like that. I just wanted to say that. ) Also, in chapter one, I didn't give credit to whom it was due! When I said, "And if you haven't noticed already, I refer to Kenshin as "Himura" when he is acting more Battousai-like and Kenshin when he isn't." I was inspired by RurouniGochan! I'm sorry RurouniGochan if you didn't want me to do that!
Disclaimer: Do I have to do this every chapter? …fine. I own nothing. Sulks in a corner
Prelude to the Impending Torture
Kenshin had quietly walked to his bedroom that night, still in a bit of a stunned state. He packed his few belongings, of course, but you could say it was a nightmare to try to fall asleep. All sorts of thoughts had onslaughted his mind that night. Such as:
How could he receive enough training to be a believable maiko in such a short time? Wasn't there a plethora of skills he would have to learn?
What those skills were, Kenshin hadn't a clue. He also didn't relish the thought of posing as a woman for so long, especially after a lifetime of being called girly. And that's not even mentioning the sick feeling of dread the poor assassin had over having someone spread that repulsive white goo all over his face. None of those things, however, were nearly as bad as the thought of having some stranger touching him. Just to have someone be too close caused him to become on guard, so how would he even begin to deal with someone applying makeup?
Kenshin sighed heavily as he walked down the stairs the next morning, quite tired of remembering the sleepless night.
'Well, at least there were no nightmares,' he thought, deciding to try looking on the bright side for once.
Yes, there were no nightmares, even though Kenshin did end up falling asleep in his typical fashion against the wall. And thank the gods he did; how horrible would it have been to drag himself to the okiya with large, black bags under his eyes?
The baka-deshi-turned-hitokiri reached the bottom of the stairs, holding a single black travel bag. Looking around the room, Kenshin noticed the commotion had died down somewhat. The men were still laying on the futons they had been on yesterday, but this time they were sleeping peacefully. Another thing to praise the gods for. No men to stare at him in fear, or for those who knew little about him, whisper. It really was annoying to walk downstairs in the morning and just be stared at. He usually ignored it, but in some cases he would give them a menacing glare over his shoulder and just walk out into the field to practice his kata. When the hitokiri was out of their view, the men would return to their boisterous ways and continue being the gluttons they were. As simple as that.
Today was very pleasant, though, the young assassin had to note. The sun's rays were splashing across the fully bloomed sakura trees, giving them a lustrous pink glow. The wind ruffled the inn's maid's hair as they steadfastly scrubbed some of the men's bloody kimono. Kenshin also noticed the scent of burning firewood floating in the air; apparently, Yamashi-san was cooking breakfast.
It was too bad he wouldn't be able to stay for breakfast. Yamashi-san was a wonderful cook and always had his meals specially brought to the small, secluded field Kenshin practiced in. He would go into to the kitchen and grab something to eat now, but Katsura-san had said that he must leave immediately in the morning to head to Gion.
'Speaking of which, where is he?'
The Ishin Shishi's leader was presently nowhere to be seen. He had ordered that Kenshin come downstairs early in the morning to get a ride to Gion. How he was to get there was anyone's guess and he wouldn't worry too much about it now. He had better (or worse, however you look at it) things to worry about. Such as how he could keep the façade of being a maiko, or just a normal girl for that matter. But he could deal with those issues another time; right now he only had to deal with one thing.
Where to look for Katsura?
Kenshin figured he might as well use a simple tactic in deducing where the Ishin's leader was. More precisely, a child's hide and seek game. All good tactics started off simple, right? True, it wasn't very professional, but since when did it matter how you completed the job as long as you actually completed it?
Okay. Reminder to self: Never use a child's game (which you have never played) as a tactic. Ever.
Kenshin felt the urge to laugh at himself. But, of course, he didn't. It would have looked pretty odd to see the infamous hitokiri Battousai laughing (by himself) over something that was presumably nothing.
…and if anyone didn't question his sanity before, they would then.
Swinging his travel bag carelessly over his shoulder, the red-headed hitokiri walked forward to begin his little unorthodox game of hide and seek.
There was Katsura Kogoro, almighty leader of the Ishin Shishi, kneeling before his breakfast table.
…munching on a pickle.
Oh yes, some poor soul would suffer a very painful death for this one.
"Katsura-san." Himura hissed, trying to restrain the venom he felt from entering his voice.
Had he just made a complete fool out of himself for no reason?
Yes, apparently he had.
Katsura swallowed his pickle and set down his chopsticks, wiping his mouth off with a blue handkerchief and turning to send the fuming hitokiri a pleasant smile.
"Ah, Himura. Just on time. I apologize for my rudeness, but dear old Yamashi-san's cooking is quite hard to resist," he said, slowly rising and brushing some crumbs off his clothing.
Katsura reached his full height, looking down at the small hitokiri. Kenshin stood at attention, anticipating a command.
"Have you had breakfast?"
Instead, he got that...
Kenshin blinked, surprised by the question.
"Uh- no, I haven't, Katsura-san."
Katsura half-smiled, walking towards the kitchen and gesturing for Kenshin to follow.
"Well then," he said, looking back over his shoulder at Kenshin, "we must pack you up with some food. It's not good to skip breakfast; and especially not such a delicious one."
Refraining from questioning those orders, Kenshin obediently followed him to the kitchen. While they were walking, Katsura spoke about trivial things such as the weather and how nicely the sakura trees were blooming. Not once did he mention Ikumatsu.
'I guess he's not going to inform me of how the Shinsengumi captured her,' Kenshin thought, not quite sure of Katsura's motives for keeping that bit of information secret.
Katsura did ask him how his injury was. Kenshin had never told him about the wound in the first place, but it was safe to assume the motherly Yamashi-san had confronted him about it after she left Kenshin's room the night she bandaged it up. Nevertheless, Kenshin had forgotten about it. The pain had slowly subsided; the only trace of it being when he moved too quickly. There was a scab where the bleeding gash had once been, but other than that, only an experienced fighter or doctor would know he had had the injury in the first place.
So when Katsura had asked him about it out of the blue, Kenshin struggled to find a reply, finally answering with a brief "fine". The rest of the short walk was in a relatively comfortable silence.
When they reached the inn's kitchen, Katsura knocked softly on the shoji and leaned in to speak.
"Yamashi-san, it's Kogoro and Himura-kun. May we come in?" he asked.
The normal racket increased ten-fold after this; pots and pans began banging incessantly as they were being moved around. You could hear hurried commands being whispered and people running about trying to follow them as quickly as humanly possible. Doing what, who knows.
"Of course! Come right in, dears!" called Yamashi-san, her voice sounding a long distance away. Hearing this, Katsura slid the door open and walked in, Kenshin following.
The kitchen seemed busier than usual, and even though breakfast was practically over, Yamashi-san and her helpers still had much work to do. Many dishes were piled in a large wooden bucket over in the corner of the room, clearly dirty.
'They must have been trying to clean up before Katsura-san and I came in. Not that it helped much.' Kenshin thought as he looked around.
Empty rice bags were strewn about, some stray clumps of rice sticking to the large brown sacks they were contained in. The fire Kenshin had smelled was out now, but the scent still lingered in the air.
It was understandable that they would have such a mess, considering the amount of men they had to take care of; hurt and unhurt. And it was also understandable that extra food was in its original container, still fresh and untouched. There was enough to make Kenshin a decent breakfast, which was exactly what Katsura had been hoping for.
Katsura turned to the inn's mistress, who was smiling at the both of them, her arms in front of her and her hands cupped together.
"Yamashi-san, would you mind putting a breakfast together for Himura-kun? He is leaving to go on a mission this morning."
Hearing this, Yamashi-san's face fell, upset that Kenshin would be departing. She really enjoyed the boy's company; even if he wasn't excellent conversation. It was sad to hear that she wouldn't be seeing the young red-head she had become so accustomed to for a while. None the less, she put a smile back on her face, ever the optimist.
"Why of course! I would be positively delighted to make Himura-kun something!" she exclaimed, turning to give a glowing smile to the hitokiri.
"Himura-kun, come along and we'll find something delicious for you! Oh my, I do hope you'll enjoy it!" she said with her usual energy. She latched onto the assassin's arm and softly pulled him over to a few laid-out meals, pointing excitedly at each one and searching Kenshin's face for his approval.
Katsura's lips fell into a grim line when he saw Kenshin and Yamashi-san were not looking. He had seen the barely noticeable flinch Kenshin gave when Yamashi-san had grabbed him. Since he had practically seen the boy grow through his teen years, it was quite obvious to Katsura when something was bothering him. The rest of the redhead's emotions…he wasn't too sure of anymore. The once idealistic youth had a naïve innocence about him, even with all the blood he had shed weighing heavily on his heart. The Ishin's leader knew it was his fault for making Kenshin into the renowned hitokiri he was now. He knew as soon as he recruited the redhead that he had ruined his life.
He had stained an innocent boy with the blood of men.
He had stained this boy to the point of no return. Katsura knew the hitokiri would never return to his old self no matter what he tried to do. He could never heal the pain, could never erase the sights the boy had seen from his memory. What was done was done; he could never heal the heart of the broken hitokiri, could never wash away the blood on his hands. It would stay for the rest of his life, constantly reminding him of all he had done in his days as a hitokiri. Blood was not something that could be taken away with one washing. It would never truly fade; it would become a distant memory in the future, but never something that could be forgotten. A hitokiri was a hitokiri until death.
And all Katsura could do was watch.
Yamashi-san had packed the poor kid with so much food it would be a miracle if he could consume it all in his whole lifetime. She had insisted on giving him a portion of everything she had cooked this morning, not letting him argue over one small dish. It was very kind of her, but as Kenshin walked briskly out to meet Katsura in the inn's garden, he began to think otherwise.
At the moment, the poor hitokiri had so many dishes piled up on top of one another resting on a large tray on his outstretched arms that he couldn't see where he was going.
'That's it!' he inwardly growled, about ready to throw the food into a large pond that sat stupidly in front of him.
"Himura," a strong voice broke in, "before you hurt yourself, let me take those."
After those simple words the great burden was easily lifted off his sore arms, and Kenshin came face to face with Katsura. Yes, face to face. Katsura was tall enough that even when he was holding all of those dishes, he could still see clearly over them. But no, when Kenshin held them, he could barely even see the top of the stack.
'The gods must be out for revenge as well,' he thought, looking up a Katsura with a comically reproachful expression.
Katsura sighed. "Himura, I need to discuss some things with you before you leave. Care to follow me?" he asked, giving Kenshin a look to come with him once again. Kenshin smoothly walked a few feet behind him, staring at the back of his haori and saying nothing.
They walked in complete silence over to the garden's large, withered old fountain. It was modestly designed, with a large basin in the middle to contain a good portion of sparkling blue water. A few colorful koi swum nonchalantly in their little oasis, boldly swimming up to the edge and staring at Kenshin's reflection as he reached their makeshift home.
The young hitokiri simply gazed back at the koi, watching as Katsura set down the food on the grass out of the corner of his eye. Seeing Katsura sit down on the ridge of the old fountain, he did the same. The two of them sat there in a peaceful silence for a while, the only disturbances being Katsura handing Kenshin a bowl of white rice and some chopsticks and the faint sound of birds chirping in the distance. But all peace had to be disturbed at some point, so Katsura decided it was time to break the silence and speak up.
"I need to inform you of a few things that I left out before," he said, looking over at Kenshin, who was merely gazing at him with an expectant expression as he ate his breakfast, "so I would like you to listen very carefully."
At this, Kenshin set his bowl and chopsticks down and gave Katsura his full attention.
"Do you know anything at all about maiko? Anything about their customs or routines?"
Kenshin shook his head. How would anyone think that he would know anything about maiko? He was an assassin, for Kami's sake, and he didn't exactly have to have any knowledge about these sorts of things! And Katsura knew that he lived on a mountain as a hermit's apprentice for practically his whole life, so why even ask?
'Must be trying to make conversation.'
After only a few weeks with Kenshin as his hitokiri, Katsura had learned it was a rare instance when he got any sort of verbal response. So out of experience, he just kept on speaking.
"They have this tradition where after years of training, a girl is assigned an 'older sister'. This sister works with her for five or so years after she has become a maiko, and even a while before that. She helps her with getting more clients and with improving all of her skills. Usually, the younger girl has no choice of who her older sister will be, but you will."
"I'm no female."
Katsura hunched forward and set his elbows on his knees, resting his chin on the knuckles of his sword-calloused hand and looking at Kenshin.
"Himura, I do believe we have already established that you are not a girl. And that is beside the point. I wanted to discuss the plan of action." he said, feeling stiff in his current position and sitting back up.
"Yes. When you arrive at the okiya, an older woman will greet you. She is the mother of the okiya. You are to refer to her for all things. I have already briefed her on the situation, so no need to fret over giving out extra information," he said, giving Kenshin a calming smile.
"Katsura-san, about this….'older sister'. Who will be mine?" Kenshin asked, genuinely curious. If he was to spend this whole mission guided by one girl, it would be helpful to at least know her name.
"Oh yes, about her. Her name is Matsuhiro Yukako, I believe. She knows about you as well, but only the fact that you are a boy who is undercover for a mission for the Ishin Shishi. She knows nothing of you being our hitokiri. But from what I heard of her, I don't think she would care much. And you may confide in her as well. She is apparently a very…strong…personality."
Well, that was helpful. As of now, Kenshin only knew his older sister's name and that she had a strong personality.
"What does she look like?"
Katsura very simply lifted one eyebrow and gave the redhead a knowing look.
"Interested, are you?"
Insert eye-widening and flaming red blush.
"Katsura-san! You know very well that is not the case! I need some way of identifying her!" Kenshin sputtered, clearly embarrassed, if the blush was any sort of indication.
"I know that. I wanted to lighten the mood," he said, handing Kenshin some more food and ushering him to eat, "and I also need to explain how this whole plan will be carried out."
Kenshin gratefully accepted the food, even though he was much more eager to hear the plan than to slurp up some now cold miso soup.
"You will ride to Gion by an old rice wagon. When you arrive, you will slip in through the back door. And don't worry, the driver will show you where that is." Katsura said, noticing the slightly confused look on the boy's face but completely missing the look when he said "old rice wagon".
"And from there, you will change into a more fitting attire and meet with the mother of the okiya. There she will explain all of the processes that are required to make you a convincing maiko."
Kenshin stifled the urge to ask him what that "more fitting attire" was. And it seemed that he didn't need to voice any of his questions to Katsura, since they would be answered by this "mother" of the okiya. But all joking aside, there were two questions that he had to ask.
"What is the old woman's name, and what is my name going to be?"
"Her name is Matsuhiro Kiritsu. And yours can be whatever you wish, since it will be changed when you become a maiko anyway. But I have to say, you do look like a Kodoku."
Kodoku? Katsurathinks he looked like a "solitude"? He would swear everyone had it in for him, they really did. Not only the Shinsengumi, but his own boss too. Unfortunately, death by sword was much more preferable than death by humiliation. Alas, he never got his way. Death by humiliation was just the kind of death he would have to endure until this mission was over.
"Himura-kun! Now that is not nearly enough for you!" chastised Yamashi-san, quickly snatching the bento out of a dumbfounded Kenshin's hands.
She may have been sweet, but this woman sure was a monster when it came to food.
After Kenshin and Katsura had finished their discussion, they had walked over to the kitchen to put away the dishes and empty the uneaten food into the garbage. But just as they were about to, the old woman came in drying a tea kettle with a beige handkerchief. When she saw the "atrocity" they were about to commit, she nearly dropped the poor kettle in shock. You should never throw away uneaten food!
Not wanting to see her motherly rage, Katsura had quietly dismissed himself from the room with a little bow and left Kenshin to his doom. And as expected, she began to try to stuff an unreasonable amount of food into a basket when the frightened hitokiri suggested a bento.
Unfortunately, she only seemed to have a girl's pink bento box with little cherry blossoms adorning it.
So that leads us to where we are now: Kenshin putting a dismal amount of food into the bento box while Yamashi-san snuck in extra bits while his back was turned.
Oh wait, it seems we are at the point where Yamashi-san actually snatches the bento box out of Kenshin's hands because he isn't putting her idea of enough food in.
"You can't be putting in such a small amount or you'll starve, dear!" she said, trying to pack in a large case of sushi.
"But Yamashi-san, there is only so much room…" Kenshin cut in, steadily watching for the moment that the bento exploded.
"Yes, but you are leaving so soon, and then I won't be there to take care of you anymore! Who knows if these people will feed you decent meals! Oh heavens, they better or I'll be having a stern discussion with their mothers!" she cried, her emotions switching between a concerned rage and just plain…concerned.
Kenshin decided to just let her do as she wished. He would be stuck in an old rice wagon for a while, so the food would most likely be nice to have. The tiniest of smiles formed on his face as he watched her tie the bento box up with her favorite ribbon, tears welling up on the sides of her eyes. She handed it to Kenshin and followed him as he sauntered outside to where Katsura was standing, waiting for the rice wagon.
Seeing the red-haired boy carrying a pink bento box and the inn's weeping mistress walking towards him, Katsura smiled.
"Yamashi-san, I see you have quite a lunch packed for Himura-kun, now don't you?"
She nodded her head vigorously and clutched onto her handkerchief, crying. Kenshin's gaze, which had been focused on her, now turned to the long dirt path as he heard the sound of the rickety old rice wagon and the pitter-patter of horses' hooves approaching. Katsura turned to Kenshin, a serious look on his face.
"If this mission fails, only catastrophe can be the end result."
Himura bowed and gazed back at Katsura.
"I'm aware of that."
"Good," Katsura responded, smiling, "and don't forget to report any problems you may stumble upon."
Hearing the horses come to an abrupt halt, Himura turned to look at the rice wagon. The thing was as shabby as he had expected. It was a large wooden cart pulled by two chestnut horses, who looked as dreary as the cart itself. The wood was sturdy enough, but it gave off the impression that it was rotted. There were four simple wooden poles sticking up to hold the tarp over the large sacks of rice, flowing over the back to you couldn't see what was contained in it. The piece of junk was really a good way to get to Gion, since no one would expect the Battousai to be hiding amongst a bunch of rice bags in the rear of a shabby wagon. Even the driver was obscured from view until he poked his head from underneath the tarp.
"You comin'?" he questioned, shooting Kenshin a bored, expectant expression.
Kenshin merely nodded and walked to the back of the wagon, lifting up the tarp and shoving the bento and his travel bag between some bags of rice. Pulling himself up into the wagon, Kenshin tried to get comfortable. But when you are sitting between at least ten sacks of rice, even that can become difficult.
Kenshin hardly even had time to close the tarp when the driver whipped the horses into motion. The cart jolted on the smallest of bumps in the road, roughly throwing Kenshin around. Climbing over some sacks to try closing the tarp once again, he saw Yamashi-san frantically waving her handkerchief at him, sobbing into Katsura's shoulder. Smiling the best he could, the hitokiri reached up and yanked the tarp into place. Tying the two pieces of rope around two bits of metal jutting out the sides of the cart, Kenshin leaned back onto one of the rice bags. Surprisingly enough, he wasn't as anxious as he had expected to be. Geisha and maiko were originally men, so how hard could it possibly be?
Relaxing in his current position, Kenshin closed his eyes, satisfied he had quelled his fears. It was best for him to think that everything would be fine, since he had no idea just how wrong he was.
hitokiri: manslayer, assassin
-san: it shows respect
-sama: shows major respect
-kun: you would use this to talk to someone who is inferior or you are affectionate towards
okiya :a geisha house
geisha: person of the arts
maiko: apprentice geisha
bento box: a Japanese lunch box
Well, there is chapter three finished! I ended up making it long, even though it made me a little late submitting it! XD Oh well. And I am so excited that I got done with the boring parts! Now as Kenshin gets to the okiya, things will start to heat up (hopefully XD)!
Read and review please!