The Rurouni's New Clothes
A Rurouni Kenshin fanfiction by Heather Logan
(Disclaimer: This was written for fun, not profit. Rurouni Kenshin belongs to Nobuhiro Watsuki.)
"Kenshin? Are you coming in or not?"
Kenshin looked apprehensively up at the storefront where Kaoru was waiting. He really didn't want to do this. But it was something that he could no longer avoid.
It had been yesterday that the final blow had fallen. He'd taken advantage of a break in the weather to make some repairs to the fence in front of the dojo. A late-autumn storm had torn loose a number of boards, and on inspection Kenshin had seen that that whole stretch of fence hadn't been all that well constructed in the first place. This must have been one of the sections that Sanosuke had repaired late last summer after the business with Enishi. He'd done it one-handed, too. Kenshin was impressed that it had lasted this long.
In any case, he had decided that it was time to fix the fence properly, and so he'd spent the day sawing and nailing and carrying wood. Towards the end of the job the shoulder of his favorite magenta gi had caught on a protruding nail. That ripping sound had been the herald of his downfall.
Kaoru had stitched up the tear that evening, but she had not been happy. She had looked at him sternly and declared that they were going to the tailor's the very next day.
Kenshin sighed and stepped up onto the stair, leaving his zori behind. He'd had this gi for such a long time, it was almost like an old friend. They'd been through a lot together: days under the hot sun, nights upon the cold ground, the rare sunset on the road when its color was almost matched by that of the sky. For a moment he was intensely aware of the feel of the familiar fabric: the way it draped over his shoulders, the way it lay soft as a feather across his back, the way it brushed gently against his chest when he breathed. And it wasn't only the softness of the fabric that made this gi his favorite. It was the color, too. He had not chosen the color, but he had quickly come to love it. It was so bright, so cheerful, so gaudy. Such a color would never be worn by a hitokiri.
He climbed the stairs one by one and crossed the engawa that fronted the tailor's shop. He closed his eyes briefly as he lifted his right foot to step across the raised track that held the shoji partitions, thrown wide to let in the sunlight.
"Come on," Kaoru prompted, taking him by the arm and steering him in between the racks of cloth.
Kenshin let himself be led. It had been inevitable, he told himself. It had always been only a matter of time before this gi gave out. It had been repaired so many times that it was hardly more than a collection of mendings at this point. He'd hoped unrealistically that the process could go on indefinitely, but Kaoru had pointed out last night that there was hardly anything left to stitch together. It wasn't a matter of sewing up tears any more. The fabric was so threadbare that it was starting to disintegrate.
And so here they were, at the tailor's, shopping for clothes. Kenshin had always hated shopping for clothes.
"What about this?" Kaoru was saying, holding out a length of charcoal gray fabric for his inspection. "It's nice and thick; it should last a long time."
Kenshin frowned worriedly. "It's a little dull, that it is..." he started.
"Or how about this black? It won't show stains, and black goes with everything."
"Black is a little..."
"Here's another gray; what do you think of this one?" She looked over at him, her blue eyes expectant.
Kenshin clutched his hands together in front of him. "Maybe there are some brighter colors...?" he began hopefully.
"Oh!" Kaoru exclaimed, catching sight of something on a rack in the next row. She hurried over and held out a length of brilliant grassy green. "You want bright, how about this! Ooh, I would love a kimono in this color..."
Kenshin cringed. "It... might look a little funny with my hair, that it might."
Kaoru cocked an eyebrow. "And pink doesn't?"
"It isn't pink, Kaoru love," Kenshin said a little defensively, hugging his gi-clad arms to himself. "It's magenta, that it is."
"What about this blue, then? It's nice and dark; it won't clash with your hair. You can't go wrong with blue." She looked at him hopefully.
Kenshin winced. "That blue..."
"What's wrong with it?"
Kenshin took a breath and averted his eyes. "The Ishin Shishi uniforms were that color," he said, very softly.
"...Oh." Kaoru put back the blue, and moved on down the rack.
Kenshin closed his eyes and sighed before following her. He had always hated shopping for clothes. He'd been more grateful than he'd let on when Kaoru had gone out with Tae three months ago to pick out the new hakama and wedding haori for him. The hakama had been a safe, familiar off-white, and he'd only needed to wear the wedding haori once.
"Kaoru..." he began as she leafed through the selection of checkered prints. "I can probably wear this for another few months, that I can..."
"No," she said firmly, moving on to the polka-dots. "We've waited long enough and we are getting you a new gi today."
"But Kaoru, a gi is a bit expensive, that it is, and we haven't saved up--"
"WE CAN AFFORD IT!" she shouted.
Kenshin winced and shot a glance at the seamstress on the other side of the shop. She was engrossed with the contents of the small wicker basket in front of her and didn't seem to have heard.
"I have saved up, Kenshin," Kaoru was saying, her voice gentle. "I always set money aside for this kind of thing. You've needed a new gi ever since we met, and if I hadn't had to buy those new sandals for Yahiko back in September we could've gotten you one even sooner. Now let's just pick something and we'll be done!"
Kenshin followed his wife's gaze to the boldly striped fabrics on the last rack and suppressed a shudder of horror.
"These are kind of nice," Kaoru began thoughtfully.
Kenshin opened his mouth to protest, but was interrupted by the plummy voice of the seamstress who had taken the opportunity to materialize behind them.
"Are you finding everything all right?" the older woman cooed. "Maybe I can take your measurements now, eh, Himura-san?"
Abe Hiroko the seamstress had supplied the Kamiya family with clothing for years now: gi and hakama for Kaoru's father, kimono for the girl herself, training gear for the pair of them and for an occasional student. She'd been tickled pink to finally sew a wedding kimono for Kaoru, together with the corresponding outfit for the girl's new husband.
"Let's just see here..." she burbled as she stretched out the measuring tape across the back of Kenshin's shoulders. Kaoru had greeted her cheerfully when she'd come into the shop -- the girl hadn't bought much clothing in the year since her father had died, although she dropped by to look at the fabrics often enough that Hiroko felt she knew her reasonably well -- but Kaoru's new husband had been almost morosely quiet. No surprise there, she thought as she noted the measurement and reoriented the tape, holding one end at the base of Kenshin's neck and bending down to stretch the other to the waist-band of his hakama. Few men really enjoyed clothes-shopping anyhow.
"Okay," she said, "could you just hold your arms out to the sides now, Himura-san?" He obeyed in silence and she measured his arms, pursing her lips as it occurred to her that the wedding haori she'd made for him had probably been a bit too large. Oh well, she thought with a sigh. He would only have needed to wear it once.
"There we go!" She rolled up the measuring tape and dropped it into her basket on the table beside them, giving her two customers a sunny grin. She'd done the easy part. This next bit was going to be the hard part.
"Now," she continued, "did you have some idea about the fabric, Himura-san?"
Kenshin shot a desperate glance at his wife. "Well--"
"Something of this weight, you think?" Hiroko cut in, catching hold of Kenshin's sleeve and smoothing the fabric between her fingers. It had been a thick weave, soft but durable. She nodded approvingly. It would have been a good value. He must've been wearing it for years, considering how the shoulder seams were worn almost all the way through.
"That would be nice, that it would, Hiroko-dono," Kenshin said meekly.
She tilted her head to one side, noticing how he'd made a slight motion to hug the gi against his body again, and smiled to herself. She had followed the couple's progress through her fabric displays. The last customer who had protested so much at the prospect of choosing new clothes had been an eight-year-old.
Still, she had to ask this question. Hiroko steeled herself. "And," she said, "the color?"
"It... it doesn't really matter, that it doesn't," Kenshin mumbled, avoiding her eyes.
Hiroko tilted her head. Some people just didn't like change, did they. She looked questioningly at Kaoru, and the girl sighed in exasperation.
"Anything, Hiroko-san," Kaoru said. "Whatever you've got in that weight."
To Hiroko's surprise, Kenshin actually seemed to relax a little. Well, she thought, sometimes it was the decision-making that was the hardest part. "Really?" she asked. "Anything?"
"Whatever you think will look good on him," Kaoru replied. "Not that dark blue over there," she added after a pause.
"We... should be getting a new shipment of fabrics in, actually," Hiroko said slowly. "Some time in the next couple of days. I'll see if I can pick something out, all right, Kaoru-san?"
"Fine," Kaoru said. "Thanks."
Hiroko watched the couple as they prepared to leave. Kaoru had said something softly to her new husband, and he had nodded wearily. He still looked terribly dejected. Not exactly a tailor's ideal customer, she reflected. Nevertheless...
Hiroko's husband had told her about a certain incident that he had witnessed a few streets over, early last spring when the police's new sword corps had still been causing trouble. Some petty thief had been caught stealing a hand-towel from the general store, and the police had overreacted. It could have turned bloody, had a passerby not stepped in. Her husband had been a little vague on the details, but the outcome had been no deaths, no serious injuries, and a unit of the sword corps somehow singlehandedly beaten by one passerby. A passerby with red hair and a cross-shaped scar on his left cheek, who carried a sword in spite of the ban.
Hiroko looked again at the bright and cheery magenta of Kaoru's husband's old gi. Maybe there are some brighter colors, he had said.
"Really anything?" she asked again.
"Anything," Kaoru replied. "Whatever you think he'd like."
"All right then. Bye, Kaoru-san, Himura-san," she called after them as they stepped back out onto the engawa.
"Bye, Hiroko-san," Kaoru called back.
Abe Hiroko the seamstress watched her customers go, nodding thoughtfully to herself.
"Hey, Kenshin? Is something wrong?"
"Oro?" Kenshin blinked and looked up. He'd been aware that Yahiko had been practicing in the yard when he'd returned home, but he'd been too preoccupied to acknowledge the boy.
A week had passed since the visit to the tailor. Kaoru had joined him this morning in his usual grocery trip -- nothing strange about that; she often came with him to the shops when her new students weren't around -- but he'd had an odd suspicion that she'd been up to something. And indeed she had. While he'd been haggling over the daikon she'd disappeared, and when he'd found her again one street on she'd had a triumphant grin on her face and a soft paper-wrapped parcel in her arms.
He'd known immediately what it was.
"Hello Yahiko," he said, forcing a smile. "No, nothing's the matter, that it isn't."
Yahiko looked at him, eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"I'd better put these groceries away, that I should," Kenshin added defensively, and hurried up the steps into the house.
Kaoru had sent him back by himself. She'd said she wanted to stop by the Akabeko and have a word with Tae, but she'd also told him that she'd be expecting to see him in his new gi by the time she got home.
His new gi. Kenshin put away the sack of rice and looked anxiously back over his shoulder at the paper parcel, lurking by itself near the kitchen door. He had to force himself to turn away again and arrange their newly-purchased vegetables on the counter.
He supposed it was considerate of Kaoru to send him back home to try the thing on without any witnesses. Or maybe she just hadn't wanted to watch him suffer.
Well then, Kenshin thought as he put away the salt and set the ceramic jar of soy sauce into its customary spot in the cupboard. He'd finished with the groceries, and that meant that he'd put it off as long as he could. Kaoru would be back soon, and that meant he had to do it.
Kenshin eyed the paper-wrapped parcel. It wouldn't be so bad, he told himself. It wasn't as if this was the first time he'd ever gotten a new gi, and Kaoru had been right, his favorite magenta one was really on its last legs. He hugged himself, running his hands over the soft fabric of the sleeves one last time. Then he picked up the paper-wrapped parcel and carried it into their bedroom, sliding the shoji closed behind him.
He took a deep breath, steeled himself, and unwrapped the packaging.
Kenshin blinked. His eyes went wide. And then a smile spread slowly across his face.
Yahiko's sword practice was interrupted by the sound of joyful humming. He turned to see Kenshin coming out of the house, a happy smile on his face and a basket of dirty laundry in his hands.
Yahiko frowned, looking intently at Kenshin. He'd definitely been upset about something earlier -- actually, now that Yahiko thought about it, he'd been brooding about something all week -- but whatever it was seemed to have resolved itself now.
"Hello Yahiko," Kenshin said brightly. "When Kaoru gets home, could you please tell her that I'm in the back doing the laundry?"
"Yeah. Sure." Yahiko watched as Kenshin made his way around the side of the house, still humming his happy tune. There had been something subtly different about him. Something about the way he looked, that Yahiko couldn't quite put his finger on.
Yahiko shook his head. It probably wasn't important anyway, and Kenshin seemed happy enough. He raised the shinai and launched himself back into his exercises.
"I'm back!" Kaoru called across the yard as she shut the gate behind her. "Kenshin?" She started toward the house, not bothering to wait for a reply. "Oh, Yahiko, Tsubame-chan sent these for you," she added, holding up a small paper parcel.
Yahiko had paused his shinai practice when she'd entered, looking across at her disinterestedly, but now his eyes went wide and he rushed over, greedily snatching the little parcel out of her waiting hand.
"Is it cakes?" he blurted.
"How should I know? Tsubame-chan's not my girlfriend."
She smirked as Yahiko's ears went scarlet.
"Now where's Kenshin?" she added, then yelled out across the yard again. "Kenshin?"
"He's doing laundry," Yahiko replied briefly. He was gently squashing the package with the pads of his fingers, trying to figure out what was inside.
"Don't smash those," Kaoru chided. "So what did you think?"
"Think about what?" Yahiko was still engrossed in his package.
"About Kenshin, you idiot." She whapped him on the side of the head.
Yahiko glared up at her. "What was that for, ugly!"
Kaoru bristled dangerously.
"And what about Kenshin?" Yahiko added hurriedly, before she could hit him again.
Kaoru blinked. "What, didn't you notice...?"
Yahiko was looking at her with a kind of surly cluelessness. But if he hadn't noticed anything...
Either Yahiko must be a lot more obtuse than she'd thought, or Kenshin hadn't put on the new gi. Kaoru frowned darkly. If he refused to wear it...
"Get back to work on that kata," she told Yahiko distractedly, already heading toward the corner of the house. She turned back briefly to point a finger at the package in his hands. "And don't eat those until after dinner!"
Kaoru caught the sound of her husband's happy if tuneless humming a moment before she came around the corner of the house. He had, indeed, been doing laundry. He'd just finished hanging it up on their bamboo drying rack and was tugging on the sides of a bedsheet, straightening it out so it would dry without wrinkles.
He was still wearing his familiar magenta gi.
"Kenshin," she began, and then stopped. He was wearing his familiar magenta gi. But hanging on the drying rack was...
...his familiar magenta gi.
Kaoru opened her mouth, and then shut it again.
"Welcome back, Kaoru," Kenshin said, reaching down to snatch up the now-empty laundry basket and then giving her a cheery smile. He looked happier than he had for a week.
"Uh..." Kaoru started, pointing at the gi on the drying rack, then pointing at the gi on him.
"You have my apologies, that you do, Kaoru love," Kenshin was saying. "I'm sorry for complaining so much about the gi." He winced a little, tilting his eyebrows. "It's very nice, that it is, and I like it very much."
"It..." she added, still looking back and forth between the two gi. They were not, in fact, identical. In fact, the one Kenshin was wearing looked brand new.
"It's pink," Kaoru finally managed.
"Magenta," Kenshin corrected. And he scrunched up his eyes and gave her his best rurouni smile.
-- The End --