An Inn in Hokkaido
Hey everyone, this story is a response to the challenge on the RKFF mailing list, which was this: What did Kenshin do for ten years anyway? Tell us a story. So I did ^_^ This is my first solo fic (I've written a few Omake with Ranma1517730129, but it's different doing it on your own ;) but that doesn't mean be gentle with the C/C. Is it good, does it suck? Please let me know! Oh, notes on the timeline: this is kind of a mix between elements of the manga and anime. This is after Jinchuu but before Kenji is born, though I like Sano so he's still around. Some mild to major spoilers for the Kyoto and Jinchuu arcs may pop as I'm writing this thing, I'm not sure how many. You have been warned ;)
Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin, that honor belongs to Watsukei-sensei, Jump Comics and Sony in Japan. Please don't sue, arigatou!
Tokyo, Year 12 Meji
He's doing it again. Kaoru sighed mentally at her husband as he stared off into space, absently shoving rice into his mouth. It had been weeks since they'd had the extra cash to visit the Akabeko for dinner, and now that they were here it seemed Kenshin could do nothing but blank out, lost in his own thoughts.
Of course, maybe it had something to do with a little "accident" they'd had earlier in the day. Ayame had been dragging Kenshin through the market and, through the chaos of crowd movements, poor Kenshin had ended up nearly half-skewered on a knife-maker's stall. His beloved (though quite threadbare) pink gi had gotten sliced pretty badly (and Kenshin along with it) and was currently sitting in their room in the dojo awaiting repair. He'd come to dinner tonight in his equally tattered navy blue gi. Kaoru had almost not let him leave the dojo out of embarrassment for his beggar-like appearance. Poor Kenshin, maybe we should have bought you some new clothes instead of coming here. Kaoru knew better than that though; it had been hard enough for Sano and Yahiko to get the reluctant (and apparently picky) rurouni to choose a formal gi, hanten and hakama for their wedding ceremony. Kaoru couldn't even imagine trying to convince him to get a new gi for daily wear. Kenshin had his priorities in life, but as long as she'd known him his clothing had never been one of them. I mean he's probably had that hakama of his how many years? It's turned gray with age and is so patched you can hardly tell where the original fabric is. And yet he hangs onto it and keeps fixing it. Kaoru pursed her lips slightly in thought. Actually, I guess he is pretty attached to his clothes. He was upset when his gi got torn this afternoon. He hid it well enough, of course, but I could tell that it mattered to him whether that gi got thrown out or not. I wonder why?
If the rurouni's inattention or his weather-beaten appearance bothered anyone else at the table, they showed no sign of it. Sano and Yahiko were arguing as they always did, and at that moment Yahiko was attached to Sano's elbow.
"Quit chewing on me, brat!"
"What was that?"
Yahiko let go and stuck his tongue out at the streetfighter. "I said take back what you said!"
"Why? It's the truth! You've never really traveled, have you Yahiko-CHAN?"
"Shut up! I have so; I went to Kyoto too, remember?"
Sano rolled his eyes. "Oh please, like Kyoto's much different then Tokyo. A city is a city is a city after all. The truth is you've never really been anywhere."
"Cut me a break, I'm only el-" A second too late Yahiko realized what he'd just been about to admit and clapped a hand over his mouth. Lowering it again, he glared at the smirking streetfighter. "It's not like I plan to stay here forever, you know. When I'm a master swordsman I'll travel all over Japan." His eyes got a glazed look. "It'll be so cool..."
Kaoru smiled, momentarily distracted from Kenshin. "So where would you go first?"
"Huh?" Yahiko blinked then looked slightly abashed. "Er, well...I guess I would start in Yokohama then...uh..."
Sano chuckled. "Gee, brat, maybe you'd better learn a little geography before you go wandering, or you'll just wind up lost and back at the dojo again. Yokohama's practically next door!"
"Don't be stupid! When I travel I'll have a map, and I'll actually be able to follow it unlike a certain person here!"
"Hey, I found my way to Kyoto eventually! Besides it wasn't my fault..I didn't have a map."
"So you really are an idiot, then."
"That's enough, guys," Kaoru said sternly, turning to look at her student. "Of course you'll have a map, Yahiko. But what will you do with yourself travelling around, may I ask?"
Yahiko shrugged. "Dunno, I guess I haven't thought that far ahead yet. It would be good to train someplace other than the dojo, though, have a little variety. Maybe I could go to the mountains or something..."
"Hokkaido's nice this time of year."
Everyone at the table jumped a little at the sound of Kenshin's voice. Kaoru looked over at him in surprise. He was still staring out at the restaurant, but now he had a faint smile on his face. Where did that come from? And here I thought he was thinking about his gi. Of course, Kaoru had to admit to herself that most of the time she had no idea knew what her husband was thinking about. Maybe I can change that now that he's volunteered some information...
Kaoru leaned forward over the table and tried to catch Kenshin's eye. "Hokkaido?"
Sano blinked, just as surprised as Kaoru at Kenshin's statement. "Oh, you've been that far north?"
Kenshin nodded. "Yes, several times actually." His eyes came back into focus suddenly and he glanced over at Yahiko. "In fact, I've probably been just about everywhere in Japan by now."
"Oh...right!" Yahiko smiled. "I almost forgot you wandered around for ten years. Forget the rest of these guys, I should have asked you first."
Sano yelped in protest while Kenshin just chuckled softly. "But you didn't ask, de gozaru yo."
"Well I'm asking now! So...Hokkaido?"
"Ah yes, well..." Now that the whole table's attention was fixed on him, Kenshin seemed suddenly reluctant to continue.
Kaoru scowled at him. "Don't tell me you're going to go back to brooding now!"
Kenshin looked at her with wide eyes. "Oro?"
"Don't 'oro' me, you've been staring into space this whole time like a lump on a log! You can't just start a conversation and then back out!"
Kenshin held up his hands hastily. "Maa, maa...I wasn't staring, only thinking."
"About Hokkaido," Yahiko said pointedly. It wasn't a question.
Kenshin sighed. "Not really. Your conversation just reminded me a little of the first time I went there."
Sano, already bored with conversation, had gone back to shoving rice and beef noisily into his mouth. Swallowing loudly, he interjected, "I was there once when I was little. It was damn cold. And boring. Why on earth would you go there more than once anyway?"
Kenshin shrugged. "The first time was just curiosity, the others...well let's just say that one doesn't always have a choice in his wanderings."
Yahiko settled back on his knees, all curiosity. "You mean you were forced to go there? By who?"
Kenshin hesitated, then saw the glare his wife was giving him. Ororoo...I guess I'm committed now. "It's probably not what you might be thinking Yahiko, Minna. This actually has a bit to do with what happened this afternoon."
Yahiko blinked. "What, you mean your gi getting torn? What on earth does that have to do with anything?"
Kenshin just smiled. "I've had that gi a long time. I'd almost forgotten why it's important to me."
I knew there was something to this, Kaoru thought. "You mean you got that gi when you went to Hokkaido?"
Yahiko looked at him in disbelief. "And here I thought you were gonna tell us something interesting. What's so important about a pink gi?"
"Do you want to know, or are you going to complain? If you don't want to hear this-"
"No! I mean I do, it's just-" Yahiko spluttered to a halt under Kenshin's gaze. It was so rare that Kenshin ever told them about his life, and Yahiko had to admit that he was curious to know why any guy would willingly wear pink. Okay, maybe this'll be interesting after all. There was a moment of silence as man and boy looked at each other, then Yahiko blurted out "So get on with it already!"
Kenshin smiled and patiently refilled his bowl from the pot on table. "Well, as I said, the first time I went to Hokkaido I wasn't forced. The times after that...that's a story for another day perhaps."
Hokkaido, Year 4 Meji
The rickety cart bounced and creaked in the shadow of Hokkaido's mountains as dusk fell. The two men on the cart sat in companionable silence. The driver was a middle-aged merchant, the passenger a young swordsman, in his early twenties at most. The passenger, dressed in a faded blue gi and graying hakama, looked up as the cart came to a sudden halt.
"Here we are at last, Furano." The driver twisted around in his seat to look at the young man sitting behind him. "Sorry I couldn't take you farther, but my home is here."
Kenshin waved agreeably and stood with a yawn, sparing the town only a brief glance. It looked the same as every other rural community he'd been to over the last few years: small, poor, and generally unexciting. Hopping to the ground, he bowed slightly to the driver. "It's no problem for me. Thank you for the use of your cart."
The driver smiled and waved him away. "It was no trouble. There are a couple of inns right up the street; don't worry there's always room."
Kenshin smiled. "Thank you. I'm sure you're eager to be home."
The driver nodded. He'd grown rather fond of the young swordsman, who'd only given the name "Rurouni", over the two days they'd been travelling to Furano. He had at first been a little suspicious of this man who, despite his young age and delicate appearance, wore his sword with easy familiarity and already sported the scars of battle. However, his gentle manner and obvious need (the poor kid looked like he didn't have a mon on him) had convinced him to give the rurouni a ride. He was almost sorry to see him go, he'd been excellent company, but he had family waiting for him. "I do need to be going; good luck to you." He hesitated slightly as the swordsman turned to leave. "Wait. I don't suppose I could know your real name before you go."
The driver was shocked by the eyes the young man turned to him. They were pools of crystal violet, deep as canyons and full of the kind of sorrow that should never touch one so young. Who is he...?
"I'm afraid not," Kenshin said with a slight bow. "Please understand it's nothing against you...but..."
"You have many secrets." He'd guessed as much from their journey. The rurouni had talked easily enough, but had always kept the conversation non-personal, avoiding any mention of his past or where he'd been before they'd met. "That's why you're wandering."
A pause. Then, "Aa."
The two men regarded each other for a moment, then silently Kenshin turned and walked up the street. Red hair and a cross-shaped scar on his cheek. I heard many things during the Bakumatsu but... it can't be. He seems so gentle. The driver frowned, then started his horse with a sigh. Those were just stories anyway, rumors. The war is over now. And it's none of my business.
Kenshin paused at the door to the first inn and felt around in his gi for his wallet. He was slightly alarmed when the little bag turned up nearly empty. Only a few mon. He grimaced slightly and stared at the closed door. It was getting late, and the silence of the street told him that the cart driver was long gone. I really can't afford an inn, but...
He hated to admit it even to himself, but as much as he had despised being a hitokiri for the Choshu clan, they had at least kept him fed, clothed and housed. It was times such as these that he missed having what amounted to a regular salary.
In fact, no matter how many hardships he'd gone through in his life, he'd always had someone to care for him and a home to return to. His parents had been the first, followed by the slavers and his shishou. Then years later the Kieh-tai and finally the Choshu clan. The first year on his own after the war had been the hardest; he'd had to teach himself how to survive all over again. He'd quickly come to understand that his skills as a swordsman could only get him so far in the new Meji era. Since he refused to kill, there were few options open to him beyond domestic chores: washing dishes at restaurants in exchange for food, doing an inn's laundry for a few night's room and board, even working in labor gangs for some actual money. It had been a hard few years, and already the lack of any real purpose in his life was beginning to wear on him. What am I doing in Hokkaido anyway? It's almost winter again, and the mountains are so cold...
Because you were curious to see it, a cold, somewhat bored voice whispered in the back of his mind, and because this is about as far from Kyoto as you can get.
"Oh quiet," he muttered. It's not like I have any pride left anyway. Enough doubts; I need a place to sleep. Gathering himself and putting on his most polite Rurouni air, he knocked on the door.
It opened almost immediately, and Kenshin smiled slightly at the old woman that answered. She looks like Okami-san. The old woman scanned him up and down for a moment then raised an eyebrow at him expectantly. "Welcome," she said stiffly, "what can I do for you?"
The young swordsman bowed respectfully. "Forgive this unworthy one, I require a room for the night but have no money pay you. Is there a service I could perform in exchange for your kindness this night?"
The woman blinked in surprise. "My, aren't you polite! A bit too polite to be groveling if you ask me."
The woman was obviously irritated. "What do you mean, 'what?' I have plenty of employees young man, they take care of all the work around here. What I require is money to run my inn, and getting money doesn't involve giving charity to strangers."
I'll just have to try the next inn, I guess, Kenshin thought with a sinking feeling. "I'm sorry to have bothered you then. Good night." He turned to continue up the street but was stopped by a sudden tug on the sleeve of his gi.
"Good gods, how long have you had this gi? It's practically falling off you!" The old woman eyed him critically and Kenshin couldn't help feeling his cheeks burn a little at the state of his clothes. He supposed he did look a bit ragged... "Hmm...yes I think that color would look good on you actually. Can you sew?"
"Oro?" Kenshin blinked in shock, not quite sure what to make of the woman's sudden change in attitude. "Well, I...yes."
She nodded sagely. "I thought so, from the stitching I see here." Her eyes went to his sword, then back up to his face. "How odd, I would never have thought that a swordsman..." She trailed off then smiled. "I'll tell you what, young man. I've recently decided that my employees need some kind of uniform, you know, to make my inn distinctive. In my old age though I can't really manage sewing and I really can't afford to order uniforms. If you need a place to stay that badly, I'll let you make my uniforms for me. How's that?"
Kenshin just stared at her in disbelief. "S-sew de gozaru ka...as in whole outfits?! Sessha..."
"Relax, I'll show you how. It's not that hard really. As I said, I would do it myself but I'm a busy woman and my eyes are simply not what they were. Besides, you seem like a nice enough fellow." She winked at him.
If the past three years had taught the young swordsman anything, it was to accept opportunities when they arose and ask questions later. "Very well then. I appreciate your kindness."
She bowed smartly and waved him into the inn, a strange little smile on her face. Heh, "kind" he says. He hasn't seen the fabric yet...
Tokyo, Year 12 Meji
"Sewing," Sano said flatly. "Good lord, you aren't serious!"
Kenshin raised a delicate eyebrow at him. "Would I lie? Besides, I really didn't have much choice. I would have had to beg to do chores no matter which inn I picked."
"There's nothing wrong with a night out under the stars, you know."
Yahiko snorted. "Sure, if you don't mind all the bugs and no food to eat. I'm with Kenshin on this one, Chicken-head. An inn is definitely better than roughing it, especially when you don't have to."
"Don't call me that! Man you're spoiled. Maybe we should drag you out the woods for some survival training..."
Kenshin sighed. "Maa, maa...can I continue please?"
Hokkaido, Year 4 Meji
The sun woke him early as it always did, the warm rays catching his bright hair and burning red through his eyelids. He tried very hard not to think of what that color reminded him of. For the first time in weeks I'm on a nice futon in a clean room, I will be happy today, dammit. Kenshin got up and dressed. The inn was so quiet around him...he could sense the ki of everyone in the building, but none were awake. With quick efficiency he folded his futon and tucked his sakabatou through his belt. Even after all this time he still moved with the silence and grace of the hitokiri; no one stirred as he padded down the stairs to the first floor.
Kenshin wandered out to the backyard to gather water from the well. He had done chores like this for inns countless times, and he moved easily through the familiar routine.
"You know, that's Yan's job you're doing. I pay him for a reason, and I'm sure he won't be happy to see this and think someone's replaced him."
Kenshin turned and smiled disarmingly. "Ohayoo gozaimasu, Okaachan. Gomen, but Sessha certainly didn't mean to offend you."
The old woman sighed. "Oh forget it, just let Yan get the water from now on. I'll introduce you to everyone later. Come with me."
Kenshin followed her obediently inside and through the hallways to a small back room, which was laid out with all manner of sewing supplies. He frowned slightly at the dreadful mess. I'll definitely need to organize this later...
"Here." The old woman turned to him. "This will be your workroom. Now, we never actually introduced ourselves last night. I'm Yuuna Sakura, proprietress of this inn. And you are?"
Kenshin hesitated. Since leaving Kyoto he'd tried to keep a fairly low profile, only giving his full name when absolutely necessary. The Hitokiri Battousai still had many enemies, and the last thing he wanted was to bring trouble to innocent people. However, looking at the fierce little woman before him he knew that she would settle for nothing less than his real name. Still...
"You do have a name, don't you?" She interrupted his musings.
"Aa. However, Sessha usually does not give it."
Here goes nothing... "I do not wish to bring trouble to either you or your inn, Yuuna-dono. If you must call me something, Rurouni will do."
For a long moment Sakura just stared at him. "I have many customers come through my inn who are or who have recently been in trouble, but all have given me their names freely. I expect the same from you. I don't care what you've done. Your name, now, or I will send you on your way. Understand?"
The rurouni immediately bowed in apology. It was worth a try, anyway. "Please forgive my rudeness, Yuuna-dono. Himura Kenshin."
"Oh please call me Sakura, Himura-san. And relax, whatever it is you're running from, no one will find you out here. Come on in."
Kenshin followed her the rest of the way into the sewing room, still a little on edge. Even if he was out in the middle of nowhere, he didn't have a good feeling about giving his full name. He was about to be shocked again though, when Sakura turned from the worktable and presented him with a bolt of fabric. "Oh, this color will look good on you!"
The rurouni gaped at the fabric, momentarily speechless. Alternate emotions of surprise, horror, and finally panic flashed through his brain in succession. Panic won. "P-pink de gozaru ka!"
The bolt of fabric in her hands was indeed a garishly bright magenta color. Sakura positively beamed as she hugged the cloth to her chest. "Oh yes, isn't it lovely? I had to wait months to get this color special ordered, but it was worth the wait! Don't you think?" She seemed oblivious to the rurouni's horror as she held the cloth up to his face. "No offense Himura-san, but of all my workers I think you're just pretty enough to pull this color off!"
Sakura chuckled at the sound. "What an adorable noise! You are just full of surprises aren't you? Now, I will need ten yukata made of this fabric. I won't have much time today, but tomorrow I'll show you how to get started, then I expect them to be done in two weeks for my Special Event." She winked and grinned. "Oh this is so exciting!"
The rurouni's brain was running around in circles of panic, which amused Battousai highly. Heh, good thing we picked this inn. I was beginning to get bored. Now while I lounge here in handsome midnight blue I can laugh at you in pink! Serves you right. That put an end to Kenshin's panic immediately. As strange as his inner monologue could be at times, he had to admit that the Battousai half of him had a point. I may be short and, err, "pretty", but I'm still a man. Men don't wear pink. Even I have my limits.
"Gomen Sakura-dono, but I don't think I can wear...pink. I may not be up to this after all." Inwardly, Battousai sighed. That was pretty lame, Himura. So much for being assertive.
Sakura just gave a superior snort. "Don't be ridiculous. There's no law that says a man can't wear a nice color like this. Roses are my favorite flowers, so that's the color I've chosen. I won't hear anything else." She peered intently at him. "If it's that much of a struggle for you, I'm sure you'll enjoy sleeping out under the stars in the cold. I know the other inn owners around here, and believe me they don't take kindly to groveling, freeloading swordsman. It's me or nothing, I'm afraid."
Kenshin inwardly bristled at being called "freeloading". He never expected anything for free. He always worked for his keep. And he certainly didn't grovel! "Sessha does not freeload, Sakura-dono. If you recall, the first words I said to you were to offer help in exchange for a place to sleep. If you do not want me to stay, just say so and I'll leave. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself, de gozaru yo."
A tense moment of silence filled the room as they stared each other down. The moment was broken by Sakura's quiet laughter. "I'll say this for you Himura-san, you have spirit!" She grinned at him. "Makes me wonder why you use 'sessha' when you obviously have so much confidence in yourself. Congratulations, you've passed the test."
Kenshin blinked stupidly at her. "Test? What test?"
"Why, to see if you can take my insulting attitude, of course. What else? Most men would have cursed me out or tried to hit me for insulting them like that, especially when there is no basis for it. I refuse to work with men who don't respect me. I'm sure you can relate to that."
Battousai bristled in the back of Kenshin's brain, and for once he let the hitokiri speak his mind. "Meaning what, exactly?"
Sakura's eyes flashed as she smiled wickedly. "Don't play dumb, Himura. You look as frail as woman with a temperament to match. I'm sure you've gotten your share of ridicule from men in your life. You certainly don't look much like a man. Hell, you'd probably even look good in kimono!"
Kenshin straightened to his full height (only a little higher than Sakura, much to his annoyance) and growled "I most certainly would not! I'm a man and I will not wear pink!"
"Good!" Sakura crowed, obviously enjoying the game. "I knew there was a temper somewhere under all that excessive politeness. I can tell that this will be an interesting working relationship to say the least. Under my roof you'll wear pink and like it, Himura. I suggest you get over it now. I'm counting on you for this, so don't disappoint me." She brushed the scowling rurouni aside and shuffled off towards the entrance. "I've got customers and employees to attend to today, so occupy yourself however you like. I would suggest cleaning that room first though. Ja!"
For a long time Kenshin stood silently in the sewing room and listened to the inn as it gradually came awake around him. It took him a little while to calm down and get over the shock of what had just occurred. I can't believe I let her get to me like that. Of course others have made fun of me before. With how I look, it's always been that way. Until now it's never bothered me. Why did those words coming from her make me so angry? He knelt on the floor and steered his thoughts away from Sakura, concentrating in the inn around him. Most of the ki were of regular people, weak and uncontrolled, easy to read. However, there were others in the inn with the strong, guarded ki of trained fighters. Swordsmen like me, perhaps? Maybe there are hundreds like me, lost in the aftermath of the Bakumatsu. They roam the countryside like bombs waiting to go off, with no outlet for their anger or abilities. Is that how Sakura has survived with her inn intact, by learning how to deal with such men?
Kenshin sighed and got to his feet. Well, I suppose it doesn't really matter. What's important is that she's sensed my nature and doesn't fear it. She will allow me to stay here for awhile. The thought of not having to move on made Kenshin smile a little. I have a home again, at least for now. He set about cleaning and organizing the sewing room, all the while trying to not look at the mound of rose-colored fabric on the worktable. Pink de gozaru...I'm really not sure if I'm up to this.
To be continued...
aa: informal "yes"
de gozarou yo: Kenshin's trademark "polite" tag he adds to the ends of sentences
rurouni: Watsuki-sensei's made up word, in the series means "wanderer"
oro: Another Kenshin trademark, his version of "huh?"
Yohkohama: port city next door to Tokyo, about a 45-minute train ride away
Hokkaido: Japan's northernmost large island, very mountainous with a climate similar to Canada
ja ne: see you later
okaachan: technically means "mother" but is "ma'am" in this case
maa, maa: "now, now..."
sessha: Literally "this unworthy one", how Kenshin refers to himself in first person
ohayoo gozaimasu: the polite version of "good morning"
gomen nasai: "I'm sorry" for those who've been living under the proverbial anime rock...
Author's notes: Yes, I know Kenshin wears a red gi in the manga (which is much more flattering than pink!) but I like the anime so I chose to stick with their continuity. Besides, what could be better story material than trying to explain one of strangest artistic decisions ever made in anime? Who on earth decided to put the greatest legendary swordsman in Japan, who already looked like a woman anyway, into a magenta gi? I honestly don't know what kami possessed the character designer to do that, but I felt that for a guy like Kenshin to willingly dress in pink there had to be some kind of story behind it. So that was my idea...it started out as a comic piece and kinda turned into a drama as I went along (hmm, much like the TV show actually...). I tried to characterize Kenshin as a slightly more crass version of the Rurouni we all know, since he is quite a bit younger (only 22). The Battousai is still pretty recent in his past, so I figured he would be polite, but not quite as polite as we're used to. Also, it's my theory that Kenshin either a) used "de gozaru" when he was a kid (maybe he had really polite parents?) and resumed the habit after the war or b) developed it as part of his Rurouni persona to help him get favors and survive (politeness is a virtue, ne?) Take whichever explanation you want. I hope you all liked it. Remember to R/R, ja ne!