I always love thinking of different ways for the Kenshin-gumi to find out more about Kenshin's past, so I hope you enjoy it!
P.S. I'm both a Tomoe and Kaoru fan.
"So, Okizumi-san, are you going to tell your story at the Akabeko for us tonight? A lot of people around here are excited to hear it!" Tae smiled at the old man seated in one of the booths as she poured tea for him.
"Of course, Tae! I've been preparing it for a week now. I just hope everyone enjoys it." The old man laughed as he drank his tea. "Well, now, I really should be going though so that I can get everything else prepared for tonight. I'll be back later."
"Alright. Thank you so much," Tae said, watching the man leave.
"Hurry up, Kaoru! How long does it take to get ready?" Yahiko was waiting impatiently outside the dojo.
"Geez, I'm coming, you brat! Don't rush beauty!"
Kaoru hit Yahiko on the head saying angrily, "You should show women the proper respect!"
Sano strolled shaking his head, "I can't believe you have to put up with this every day, Kenshin. How do you stand it?" Kenshin merely put his hand behind his head and laughed innocently.
"Is everyone ready now?" he asked, looking at Kaoru and Yahiko.
"Yes!" came the response in unison.
"Let's go then," said Sano as he walked out the door. "So, Jou-chan, what kind of thing is this anyway? I didn't think the Akabeko usually had story time."
"Well, Tae said that one of her father's old friends was staying in town and that he's a really good storyteller. She used to listen to his stories all the time when she was little, and I guess he wanted to help the Akabeko by doing a performance. A lot of people are going, so I think it will really help with the business."
"I wonder kind of story it'll be," Yahiko thought aloud. "It better not be one of the those boring love stories, ugh."
"You only think they're boring because you're such a blockhead," Kaoru muttered. "What about you, Kenshin?"
"What kind of story do you think it'll be, dummy?" Yahiko said.
"Mmm, I don't know. I don't think I'll really mind, whatever it is," he answered merrily.
They finally made it to the Akabeko and Kaoru said quickly, "We should get seats before it's too crowded!"
Tae saw them as they came in, "Oh, Kaoru! I'm so glad you could make it! I have seats up here for you." She motioned for them to come up closer to the front of the group. There were people filtering everywhere. "There's so many people here. I've never seen most of them. I hope it does well for the Akabeko!"
"We're all really excited to hear the story, Tae," Kaoru smiled. "Little Yahiko here is really hoping for a love story, too," she finished, tugging on his cheek. The boy merely scowled.
"Oh, there's Okizumi-san!" Tae said, clapping. The crowd started to quiet down when the old man stepped out. He was holding a small, black box, which caught everyone's attention.
"Good evening," he said cheerily. "I appreciate you all coming here tonight. As you know I have a story to tell, and I'm sure you're wondering what kind of story it is. It's a story that all of you can enjoy. It is a story about love." Yahiko groaned and the old man smiled down at him. "It is a story about tragedy. A story about lust, revenge, and betrayal. Some say it is merely a legend. Others say that it's a fact. But there's only one person who would truly know for sure." The old man looked sinisterly at the crowd; all eyes were on him. "But, of course, I can't reveal that person until the end of the story. Don't want to ruin it, you see!"
"I just want to know what's in that black box," Yahiko muttered, a little too loudly.
"Yahiko!" Kaoru said sternly.
"In time, my boy. Just be patient," the old man said kindly. "Now, it all began during the beginning of the revolution. There was a beautiful young woman who smelled of white plums…"
Kenshin's head shot up. White plums? It couldn't be…no that must have been a popular scent…just a coincidence, calm down, he told himself.
"She was in love with a nice, young man. Engaged, actually. But she so rarely showed her affection for him that he decided to go to Kyoto and show that he is worthy of her love. The young man departed and became a bodyguard for one of the Shogunate officials. But it did not last long. For there was someone with much greater skills than this young man. The someone that I am talking about was really not much older than a boy…14 years old in fact. But he already had quite a reputation in Kyoto, working for the Ishin Shishi. He was one of their assassins, quite efficient at such a young age. One night, his target happened to be the very official that the woman's love was guarding. The assassin found them walking the streets at night and said that he would be delivering, "Heaven's justice," as all Ishin Shishi assassin's say. The assassin killed one of the bodyguards and the official before turning to the young man. The man was no match for the cold-blooded assassin, but he did not die before leaving a mark on the assassin's left cheek."
Kenshin's eyes widened, I don't believe this. Th-this story. It's about me, but I can't leave now or Kaoru will know…I have to sit here and bear it. Kenshin felt Kaoru's eyes on him and immediately masked his face and smiled at her. "Do you know who he's talking about?" she whispered.
"It's just a story, that it is," he smiled assuredly.
"Yes, right, okay!" she smiled, feeling confident that the "assassin" could not be her Kenshin. After all, if Kenshin said it was just a story, then it must be! She had no more doubts from then on. It was only Kenshin who was being torn up inside.
Okizumi continued, "When the young woman heard of the news of her fiance's death, she was devastated. A man came to her and told her the identity of the killer, and she was determined to seek out revenge. The man told her that if found the killer's weakness, then they would see to it that he was exterminated. So she left for Kyoto. One night in Kyoto, she walked into a bar and saw the boy who had killed her lover. Her mind suddenly was in turmoil.
He is not the idea of a coldhearted killer. He is so young; he barely looks older than my younger brother, and he is at least three years younger than me. How could this boy be capable of killing my love? When she had come into the bar, the boy had not even looked up at her. He simply sat in a corner, staring at his sake.
Suddenly, two drunken men came over to her. One of them said, "Hey, pretty woman, why don't you come with us tonight?"
The young woman ignored them with the hopes that they would then leave her alone, but her plan backfired. The second man slammed his hand on the table and exclaimed, "Hey! We're high-ranking leaders for the Ishin Shishi from Aizu. You owe us!"
"Aizu's on the Bakufu side, idiots." The young woman turned around at the voice. It was icy but took the attention from the drunks away from her for a moment. "Who was that?" one of the men shouted angrily.
Upon seeing no one stand up, the other man said loudly, "That was a close one for somebody."
"It certainly was" came the cold voice again. But this time the speaker was standing up and glaring at the men with glowing amber eyes. "If you had drawn that sword, you would have been fighting me. Kyoto is no place for hypocrites, so go back to the country." The men were terrified at seeing his dangerous eyes and hearing such a cold voice coming from such a young boy, so they fled immediately. The boy turned to the owner of the bar, tossed some coins, and said, "Sorry for the disturbance," before walking out.
The young woman stared after him. He never even looked at me. That boy, he's so young, but his eyes are so cold. His voice is so cold but calm. How did he look at my love when he killed him? Shortly after the boy left, she followed him out into the night. Soon she heard the sound of metal. She heard a low voice say, "I have been waiting for you." It was not the voice of the boy's but another man.
She couldn't really see the fight, except for the parts that were shone in the moonlight. The man had jumped up onto the roof of one of the buildings and threw one of his swords, attached to a chain, around the young assassin. The man jumped down to attack the boy, but the boy managed to grab the sword and swung it up with all his might, slicing the man in two. The man's blood splattered all over the young woman standing behind the boy. He knew she was there and said quietly, "White plum." She was shocked that he could smell her perfume amidst all the blood.
She said quietly, "Blood falls so much here in this city, and you are the one who makes it rain." The boy's eyes widened and he dropped the sword, staring at her as she fainted into his arms. After battling in his mind whether or not to kill the woman because she was a witness, he decided to take her back to the inn at which he was staying with the rest of the Ishin Shishi."
Kenshin was staring at the ground, trying his best to control his emotion. The story was almost exactly how he remembered it so far, but he was grateful that the old man neglected to use any names…so far.
Suddenly, the old man stood up and said with a jolly voice, "Well! I think we should have an intermission now shouldn't we?" Everyone remained silent for a minute before gossiping loudly about the story.
"I can't believe she went all the way to Kyoto to take revenge and is having second thoughts!" Kaoru said. "I couldn't imagine an assassin being so coldhearted at such a young age!"
The Kenshin-gumi could hear comments everywhere, mostly discussing the young boy:
"Gold eyes! That's frightening!"
"How could he be so coldhearted?!"
"Such a young boy shouldn't be so efficient at killing…he must've been a demon!"
"Well it is just a story, isn't it?" Yahiko interrupted. Everyone nodded in agreement.
The old man looked at them mysteriously and said, "Is it?" Everyone stared at him. He laughed and continued, "Well, I think it's time to start the story again, don't you think?" There was a murder of agreement, except for a certain redhead who continued to remain silent, eyes covered with his bangs. Sano glanced over at his friend and narrowed his eyes, noting the rurouni's odd behavior. He decided that he would keep an eye on his friend…just in case he has some reaction to the story.
The man continued and talked about the odd closeness that grew between the killer and the young woman. He spoke of how she watched the boy leave every night to kill several people in one night. She even began to wash his bloodied clothes for him. She also noticed that part of him, every once in a while, was still a tongue-twisted teenager. The man then talked of their time in Otsu, as a married couple. The audience was shocked to hear that she had actually married the killer of her love and was honestly falling in love with him. The man even described one of their "nights" together, which Kaoru felt the need to cover Yahiko's ear for. He, of course, angrily batted them away. Then began the betrayal. Everyone's faces were horrified when they heard that she had betrayed him, for they were beginning to fall for the young assassin as well. The audience was on the edge of their seats, hoping that the young boy would know that she wasn't trying to betray him but trying to save him. They listened intently to the battle, as he was dying in the forest, carrying her shawl the whole way. Then came the moment that Kenshin had been dreading—when he killed her. The crowd gasped and tears fell from their eyes when the man described the tragic scene.
"The boy swung with all his might, feeling the katana connect. But then he smelled white plum. He opened his eyes, and to his horror, watched as he cut through his wife and the soldier, too late to stop the swing. She fell into his arms, and her dagger fell out of her hands and grazed him on the cheek, crossing the scar that he had received from his wife's ex-lover." At this point, Kenshin glanced at Kaoru and the others, but they were all too entranced in the story to put two and two together, thank god, he thought. Although, he did not notice Sano sigh and look to the ground, knowingly.
"The boy held her in his arms, and she told him to live for her. And he promised to no longer take lives after the revolution. And so, he served the Ishin Shishi until the final battle at Toba Fushimi, where he disappeared into the darkness."
The crowd was silent, and most of them were crying. "Now," the man continued. Looking down at Yahiko, he said, "I bet you want to know what is in this black box!"
"You bet I do," Yahiko said excitedly, wiping away tears.
"Alright then." The man opened the box, and Kenshin looked up. Kaoru suddenly grasped his hand out of excitement. He was doing all that he could not to shake and give everything away. But he could a mixture of anger and sorrow rising, and he knew that he needed to only be pushed a little further before his eyes glowed amber and he lost it. His heart raced fast, what could be in that box?
The old man reached into the box and lifted up a small book. Kenshin started shaking, and Kaoru looked at him, "Kenshin! What's wrong?"
Okizumi continued, "This is the diary of the young woman. Inside it are her confessions of betrayal, hate, lust, and finally love. It was found next to her grave some years after her death. Flowers have been seen there periodically, but no one has seen the person who visits it. I am sure that by now you are all wondering who the young man is, and I can assure you that you have all heard of him. He is none other than the legendary Hitokiri Battousai the Manslayer! Who could have thought him capable of lo—."
Something inside him snapped. Kenshin stood up, fists clenched, shaking uncontrollably, and his breathing was choppy. His eyes were glowing amber, but they were wide as if he was in a state of shock. "T-Tomoe."
The crowd gasped and pointed, whispering, "Isn't that him?"
The old man stared at him and took a step back, "P-please. Don't hurt me, battousai! I-I didn't know you were here!" But then the man saw that the battousai was staring wide-eyed at the diary, and a tear fell from his golden eye. Okizumi relaxed slightly and, smiling sadly, said, "Here. This is yours," handing Kenshin the diary. The crowd stared at Kenshin, who took the diary slowly. He was pale, and he stroked the diary before clutching it tightly in his hands.
"I…," he began slowly, "haven't…heard her name…in over ten years."
Kaoru stared at Kenshin sorrowfully and then scolded herself for not connecting the dots earlier in the story. Kenshin shakily made his way to the door of the Akabeko before the man stopped him and said, "I have one more thing of hers that you might want." He held up a lavender shawl and handed it to the battousai. "People found it on a cross in a field and didn't want it to get ruined. I'm sorry if you have been looking for it, but it still smells like white plum."
Kenshin closed his golden eyes and buried his nose in it, taking a deep breath. "And blood," he said quietly. Then he turned and left.
On the way home, the Kenshin-gumi was silent. How would they greet Kenshin when they returned to the dojo? What do you say to that? They had just learned a lot more about him that they knew he wasn't ready to have them know yet.
"So…," Kaoru began. "What now?"
Megumi looked at her, "I feel so sorry for Ken-san."
"How do you deal with something like that," Yahiko said. "I mean, how can you forgive yourself for killing your own wife?"
Megumi suddenly stopped walking. "What's wrong, Megumi?" Kaoru asked.
The doctor looked at the ground and said, "I just realized something." Everyone stared at her. "In…Kyoto. After Ken-san told us about the whole thing with Shishio and his mistress Yumi, I asked him angrily what kind of monster could kill his own lover? I-I always wondered why he had such a horrified look on his face when I said that." She was silent.
"Megumi, you couldn't have known," Kaoru said coaxingly, reaching for her to comfort the doctor.
Megumi batted her away. "Later I found him visiting a grave of 'a woman he knew during the revolution who passed away.' I asked him who she was and all he said was that he knew her husband well. All this time he was trying to tell me who she was but I missed the signs!" Megumi was frustrated with herself, tears streaming down her face. "I'm such an idiot!"
Kaoru reached further for the doctor, but this time Megumi didn't move. Kaoru hugged her friend and said, "Megumi, it's okay. There's no way you could've figured it out. We need to be strong. Be strong for Kenshin." Megumi nodded. Sano remained silent, hands in his pockets. He wasn't one for comforting, and he couldn't stop thinking about the amber eyes.
Finally Yahiko spoke as they continued walking, "I know it's not my place, but how many guys do you think Kenshin killed? Do you have any idea, Sanoske?"
Sano thought for a moment before answering. "Think of it this way, Yahiko. As the battousai, he was given at least one black envelope, one name, every day. But those people…a lot of them had bodyguards. So it probably ranged from 1 to 10 people a night." They all gasped. "As an assassin, he couldn't leave anyone alive as a witness. But then after the whole thing with, you know, Tomoe, he was a body guard and worked at the front lines, which meant even more people."
"So what? Hundreds?"
Sano looked down at Yahiko, "At least. Several hundred at least, I'd say. If you think about it, if Kenshin was using a real katana right now, how many would he have killed since being here? At least a hundred. He gets several guys with one swing. He wouldn't have so much trouble fighting guys like Saito, Aoshi, Jine. They all get cocky because he doesn't beat them right away, but they all had real swords against his sakabatou. Saito, for example, would have been dead as soon as Kenshin hit him in the back of the neck. I'm sure you can guess how exactly that would have ended—a beheading. And, of course, I…I would have been dead with his first attack." Sano grew silent.
Yahiko stared in terror at Sano. "So…Kenshin's moves are still that of a hitokiri?"
"Yeah," Sano said. "Whenever I see him fight, sometimes I imagine his blade as a katana and the thought is just filled with blood. I'm sure Kenshin sees the same thing with every slash of his blade. After killing so many people, it's probably hard for him to do the same attacks, even with the dull side of his blade, and not imagine how the outcome would have been if it had been a katana. Frightening isn't it? I'd hate to be in his mind, even for a day."
The group remained silent as they continued towards the dojo. They found Kenshin with the shawl wrapped around him, staring at the diary. When they walked in he looked up and greeted them normally, "Hello." But there was a pained tone in his voice.
"K-Kenshin!" Kaoru breathed, running up to him.
Megumi came up and said calmly, tears still in her eyes, "Ken-san, we'll be here for you, no matter what. If you need anything, please let me know."
"Th-thank you, Megumi-dono," he said thankfully. He turned his back to them before continuing, "It's been fifteen years since that day, but after all this time, it still feels as if it was yesterday. Thank you, though, for your support." Turning around he smiled, "If it weren't for friends all these years, I wouldn't be alive anymore. They don't let you take your own life." The last phrase hit the group hard. Kenshin was the one who never let anyone commit suicide. It was difficult to hear that he had tried numerous times in the past to do that very thing. When he spoke of living for repentance, it truly came from the heart.
"Kenshin," Kaoru said quietly. "We'll be here for you…forever."
He smiled, tears in his eyes. But this time, they were tears of joy. Joy that he had such close friends who cared for him despite all of his past sins. "And for that," he said, "I thank you."