ADDITIONAL NOTES 7/12/02Boy, I feel stupider than Iwanbo answering a Jeapordy Daily Double. Thanks to Nim in the reviews for pointing this out to me. This is a Prologue, not an Epilogue as I had stated it to be earlier. Hopefully all is fixed now (I had to correct that as soon as I realized it). Gomen minna!
Disclaimer: I blew out my humor-fuse trying to write this fic, so I have no witty way of saying "I don't own Rurouni Kenshin." So...
I don't own Rurouni Kenshin. Plain and simple.
Important Notes: For those who know me, you're probably wondering, "What about your other fic?!" So let me assure you right now that A Rurouni's Guide to Idiocy is NOT being tossed away. It is, however, going on a short hiatus.
You see, I've kind burned myself down on that one, and I need to take a break from it. This was going to be my next story, and I've decided that while I may put this aside to go back to "A Rurouni's Guide" later, I wanted to give everybody a little teaser of what's to come afterwards.
...Okay, so the "little teaser" is a 6-page prologue, but what the heck, ne? Enjoy!
The atmosphere at the dojo was so thick with tension, Yahiko could have sworn it was slowing down his swings. Sanosuke watched him from the porch, looking more on edge than his "bumming standards" normally allowed.
"There's a bad smell on the wind," he mumbled, sounding oddly philosophical. Yahiko paused from his practice to nod in agreement.
"Awful things are in store for us."
Seeing their internal plight and sensing the same forbidding air himself, Kenshin still knew that each of them were helpless to stop what was coming. The only thing to do now was to sit and wait, preparing themselves for the worst. But maybe a little reassurance would help set them all at ease… Anything at this point might help.
To this effect, the rurouni smiled aimlessly at them. "I think you two are letting your imaginations get the better of you de gozaru."
"I think it's more of past experience getting the better of me," Sano grumbled with the young boy in full agreement.
So much for that pep talk.
Kenshin sighed. "Sanosuke. Yahiko…"
Both males turned to look at the cross-scarred swordsman, noting the wise gaze he was using-the one that he saved only for when he was about to say something deep, meaningful, and profound. It was that very soulful stare that always managed to quiet Yahiko and Sano, making them lean forward in wait for his ageless words.
"…Kaoru-dono's cooking isn't that bad."
After having leaned forward so far, his companions hit the ground face first.
Then, as if his statement had been a challenge to some cosmic being, the three heard a familiar voice ring out through the yard.
"Minna! Lunch is ready!"
Kenshin wasn't sure if he thought it, breathed it, or if Sano actually muttered it, but one phrase echoed in him.
Time to swallow your own words, Rurouni.
Thirty minutes later the group was walking up to the Akabeko.
"Divine intervention comes when it is least expected and most needed," Sano recited poetically.
"What's with you sounding like a monk, Sano?" Yahiko asked. "I think you stayed at that visit to your buddah friend that's in jail a little too much last week."
"Heh. Maybe. But you gotta admit, it almost was like an act of God."
"Nah, it was only a matter of time before Busu nearly burned down the kitchen with her cooking."
"Will you two stop talking like I'm not here?!" Kaoru yelled, blood vessels ready to burst. "And my cooking had nothing to do with that fire! It was just an accident! It's not like I want to burn down my family dojo, you know."
"Maa maa," Kenshin soothed to no avail. "It was only a small grease fire, Yahiko. It happens to everybody."
"Not when you're making rice," Sano chuckled. "Jo-chan, you're the only one I can think of that could get that much oil out of a starch."
"Well you weren't any help in putting it out, Sanosuke!" she shot back.
"Hey, how was I supposed to know water would spread it?! I'm not a housewife like Kenshin!"
"Sessha does not appreciate that remark, de gozaru," the redhead sulked.
"It's not my fault that that's the reputation you've built for yourself."
"Aw let's just forget about it already," Yahiko said as they ducked under the entrance flaps and stepped inside the restaurant. "Listening to you guys bicker is annoying. I'm just glad we can always count on Tae-san's cheer to make up for it."
"Irasshaimase," the afore mentioned waitress greeted, her afore mentioned cheer sounding forced. "Table for three?"
"Hey, there are four of us," Sano pointed out.
Suddenly, and very surprisingly, Tae struck him with a piercing stare that, if possible, looked more intimidating than a rampaging, shinai-swinging tanuki girl. "Oh really?" she asked, her voice taking on the characteristic of a snake coiling up for the strike. "Can I assume that means you have money to pay this time, Sanosuke-san? I'm not tolerating any freeloading today."
Survival instincts kicking in, Sano sought refuge behind the nearest object that could withstand a possibly random fit of violence. I.E. he ducked behind Kenshin. Pointing to the very same rurouni he stammered, "E-easy Tae-san. Kenshin's picking up the tab this time."
Turing her new frightening gaze on the swordsman, Kenshin sweated bullets under her analyzing irises. "Is this true, Ken-san?"
"Ha-hai, Tae-dono. And sessha has enough money for everyone's meal, de gozaru yo."
Suddenly the room seemed to brighten again (when had it gotten dark?) as Tae relaxed and smiled harmlessly. "In that case, please follow me minna."
They did so in silence and without making any sudden movements. They didn't wish to invoke any similar reactions like that out of the head waitress again.
Tae made a brief sweep of their booth before letting them sit down in it. Using this momentary distraction, all three men shot their eyes over to Kaoru with a look that encouraged/expected/commanded her of the same thing. Basically, to ask Tae what was up with the hissy-fit back there.
Why me? her annoyed glare shot back. Separate answers met her.
Because you're her closest friend de gozaru.
Because you're a girl!
'Cuz there's no way I'm gonna risk getting my head bit off again!
Blowing her bangs up in a huff, Kaoru allowed themselves to be seated before turning towards their server with her best caring and empathetic smile.
"Hai, Kaoru-chan? What is it you'd like to order?"
"Eh? Oh, um… Just the usual will be fine."
Tae's left eye seemed to twitch, consequently startling the others. "And you'd expect me to remember what 'the usual' is because…?"
"Anou… Because we come here often enough?"
"…Because you like to memorize your friends' usual orders?"
Twitch, twitch. "Strike two."
Kaoru began to sweat. "…We'd just like a beef hot-pot, please."
"Coming right up!" Tae beamed with all the pleasantries of a ticking time bomb. The others watched her leave with half the idea to duck and cover.
"What's up with Tae today?" Sano whispered, even though the woman was now well out of earshot. "She's never looked that bloodthirsty at me before, no matter how high my tab's been."
"I know," Kaoru replied, her strange blend of curiosity and worry lining her voice. "It's obvious that she's only acting cheerful right now out of her obligation as a hostess."
"Something must be bothering Tae-dono an awful lot to have her get upset at Kaoru-dono's naïve assumptions."
"Yeah, she… Hey, what do you mean 'naïve assumptions?'"
"Oro? Sessha just meant that you didn't mean any harm," Kenshin clarified, waving his hands in surrender and thus saving him from becoming one of Kaoru's practice dummies.
"Anyway," Sano continued. "We should figure out what's wrong with Tae soon and help her out! As her friends it's our duty to ease her pain!"
"You just want her in good spirits so you can continue mooching off free food," Yahiko said, shattering Sano's good-will disillusion.
"You should speak less and shut up more, brat," the ex-gangster muttered.
"Sano's right," Kaoru said without specifying the statement she was agreeing to. Reaching out, she plucked the Akabeko's youngest waitress by the apron strings just as she walked by. "Tsubame-chan," the kenjutsu master said once the girl had calmed down after being so suddenly handled. "Do you know if anything's been bothering Tae lately?"
"Well…" the young brunette began hesitantly.
"Please tell us, Tsubame-dono," Kenshin kindly stated. "We'd like to help you in any way we can."
"Is there something wrong at her home?" Kaoru gently prodded. "Is anyone or anything unusual bothering her?"
"YOU'D BETTER TELL ME WHAT'S GOING ON NOW YOU LITTLE WENCH OR I'LL BEAT YOUR BRAINS OUT!!!"
"SANO NO BAKA!! You're scaring her!!"
"Well asking nicely wasn't helping so I just thought I'd try another approach," Sanosuke grumbled, tending the bump his skull was now sporting.
"Please, Tsubame," Yahiko stepped in, gazing at the small waitress tenderly even as she hyperventilated. "Tell us how we can help."
No one there could quite understand how the pleas of a loud-mouthed show-off like Yahiko could melt the resolve of such a demure young lady, but it did. With a sigh, Tsubame clutched her serving tray to her chest and broke any resolve to secrecy.
"Our cook quit last week and Tae-san hasn't been able to find a replacement yet, so she's been doing most of the cooking herself. And because we've had trouble finding willing helpers for the serving area ever since the last restaurant was destroyed, she's been handling that too. But the longer it takes for the food to get to our customers, the slower our business has dropped down to. I think Tae-san is worried that we won't have enough money to get a new chef." She timidly glanced up Sanosuke. "She's very determined not to let you freeload anymore Sanosuke-san, and if things don't get better, she's said that calling in your debts could tide us over for a long time." Sagara audibly gulped. "I think it's just the stress though. She's been working too hard on her own to keep this business running smoothly."
"I can see how that would be a problem," Kenshin agreed quietly. "Tae-dono can't possibly keep the Akabeko running at its normal pace without her usual help for long. A week is already too much for one person to handle."
"But she seems to be doing pretty well for herself," Yahiko intervened. "I mean, she still looks pretty friendly except for that freaky twitch thing her eye keeps doing…"
"That's been there for a couple of days now," Tsubame informed.
"Which means it won't be long before she snaps," Sano concluded.
Kaoru instantly became more upset at this. "Snaps? What do you mean? Snaps like how?"
"Sumimasen!" Tae called, walking their way with a steaming pot of their order. "I know your orders usually get here faster but we've had a little trouble in the kitchen lately."
"Tae-san..." Kaoru began but was interrupted by the men sitting in the booth across theirs.
"Oi, lady!" one of them cried. "We were here before them but haven't gotten our order yet! Get that butt of yours in gear and tell your lousy chef to hustle it up!"
Lines like this one are usually followed up by a long, unnerving silence as everyone is awed by the rudeness and paralyzed by the thick tension. Tae, however, was not silenced and certainly not paralyzed as she never once broke her stride but instead changed its direction so that she was soon standing in front of the offending customers.
"I'm sorry for ignoring your order gentlemen but as I said we've been having a little trouble in the kitchen. If you'll excuse me this once, I'll just serve those nice people over there and then work on getting your order ready."
"You'll serve us now," the man nearest to her said. "It's not our fault your service is poor. We shouldn't suffer for it."
Sano expected Tae to pull that rattlesnake impression as she had before, but instead, she remain perfectly calm. She was still smiling, never faltering, eye twitching…
"Of course," Tae said. "You're absolutely right. Well, the only way for me to serve you right now is to give you their order. Does that sound alright?"
"Huh?" the same man blinked. "What're you talking about? We don't want what they ordered, we want whaaAAAAAAH!! HOT, HOT, HOT!! STOP POURING, IT BURNS!!! LADY IT BURNS!! AAAAHHH!!! OH KAMI, IT BURNS BAD!!!"
With terrified transfixion, Kenshin and the others watched as Tae proceeded to pour every last steaming drop of beef hot pot onto the poor man's lap. Kaoru gasped in horror, covering her eyes with spread fingers, muttering how sorry she felt for the man. Her male company winced in agreement, thinking how especially sorry they were for the man's lap.
Tae merely tsked at his wailings and wagged her finger at him the way a mother would when scolding her child. "You're supposed to say, 'itadakimasu' when someone gives you something to eat," she chided, and then smiled in forgiveness. The twitch had gone as though it were sated by this punishment.
"Snaps like that, Jo-chan," Sanosuke finally uttered. "Something like that."
Kenshin could tell it was shaping up to be one of those "interesting" days. In less than the course of an hour, he and his friends had not only been denied their meal twice, but each time had experienced some cataclysmic event which prevented it. He wouldn't be too surprised if Shishio himself appeared before them now just for the sake of getting between him and a riceball.
"Ara!" Tae proclaimed in her soft serene way. "Is the lunch hour done already? My, that certainly went by fast!"
No one decided to tell her that after her "demonstration" of what happens to impatient customers it didn't take very long at all for the crowd to make themselves scarce. Only the normal residences of the Kamiya Dojo stayed behind to have Kenshin talk to her.
This would have been completely natural had Kenshin decided it. Consequently however, he had no choice in the situation.
Normally the swordsman, being the kind-hearted person that he was, would have gladly taken the time to talk to her of his own free will. However, the group had immediately done a unanimous (and by unanimous that means 'whatever Kaoru says') vote after the incident to use Kenshin as the spokesman before he could even come to his own resolve.
It was the most reasonable and logical thing to do, of course. Out of their entire group, Kenshin was the one with the most experience in counseling psychotic cases back to stability. And although the man himself wasn't sure he appreciated everyone thinking he had a degree in the matter, he accepted the responsibility. Naturally he approached the issue how any wise man would.
Praying for his life.
"Is everything… alright? You said earlier you've had problems in the kitchen."
She tittered briefly and would have looked very normal and feminine if the muscle under her left eye hadn't started spasming again. "Why everything is absolutely fine, Ken-san! Oh, maybe our cook quit last week and I myself have had to do nearly all of the work, but I'm fine! I mean, I'm perfectly fine doing all of the cooking, cleaning, sweeping, Serving, Chopping, Washing! Shopping! Greeting! And Smiling, ALWAYS SMILING!!"
Everyone immediately retreated backward when Tae's voice reached its peak and screamed. Her own outburst seemed to dawn a realization on her and she quickly covered her mouth with a delicate hand.
"Ara, did I just shout that last part aloud in an uncontrolled fit of insanity?" The others nodded cautiously. "Oh, gomen. I was hoping that was just my inside voice."
Her companions each had a large bead of sweat roll down their cheeks.
"Anou… Tae-dono," Kenshin addressed again. "Perhaps the stress is becoming a little too much for you? It is beginning to have a large effect on your behavior de gozaru."
Tae's eyes blinked which the others found a lot more reassuring than twitching. "What do you mean, Ken-san?"
Carefully (very carefully), the redhead placed a comforting hand on the waitress's shoulder. "Tae-dono, sessha wants to tell you this as gently as possible. Lately you just seem…well…"
"Like you're missing the dice in a toss," Sano supplied.
"A few students shy of a kendo school," Yahiko suggested with a snicker.
"One freak short of a Juupongatana," added Kaoru, idly penalizing Yahiko for his careless sentence.
"I'm afraid I don't understand," Tae responded.
"Tae-dono…" Kenshin, using his afore mentioned "specially reserved tone," looked purposefully into her eyes to tactfully tell her what only a true friend could. "You've cracked, de gozaru!" he blurted, sending his companions crashing to the floor. Tae merely smiled.
"Aa, I see now," she said. "You're all worried about me, aren't you?" Again they nodded. "How sweet! I'm so happy to have good friends like you three."
"There are four of us," Sano corrected.
"Oh yes, you're right. Three wonderful friends and my financial fallback plan! It's so important that I have each and every one of you in my life!"
Sagara grimaced. "That's not exactly what I meant."
"In any case," the Akabeko manager continued, "there's really no need to worry. It has been a little hectic, but it's not as bad as I probably make it seem."
"Really, Tae?" Kaoru asked hesitantly, wanting to believe her friend but doubting in case she was only trying to protect her from worry.
"Of course, Kaoru-chan," the waitress warmly grinned, no trace of lie or hidden motivation present. "I'll have a new cook soon and things will be absolutely…"
"Oh dear," Tsubame interjected, picking that moment of all moments to say something as random as, "The person who sat here didn't use a coaster."
Perhaps it was the carelessly thrown foul swearing. Perhaps it was the rattling of the walls as Tae's voice resounded off of them. Or maybe it was even the nerve sticking out of her temple that would rival Enishi's. In any case, on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being Jin-e and 10 being Soujiro) Tae was scoring an 11+. It was obvious the woman had reached her limits.
"Vacation?" Kenshin asked the others, who somehow managed to hear him despite Tae's rant.
"Vacation!!" they agreed.
NOTES THAT MIGHT HELP:
-This timeline is a popular AU used my many RK fanfic writers. Basically it's after Kyoto and after Jinchuu (the Revenge Arc) but the Kenshin-gumi have not split up and are still hanging around together. Right now it is about a month or so after the end of Enishi's threat.
-Sano's "budda friend that's in jail" that Yahiko talked about is supposed to be a reference to Anji. I figured Sano would visit the guy ever so often (i.e. maybe some every five odd years).
-Irasshaimase = I actually don't know if I spelled this right, but employees and shop owners greet their customers with this phrase. It basically means "Welcome!"
-Itadakimasu = this means something like "Thanks for the meal!" It's proper traditional to say when given food.
-Juuppongatana = this translates into "The Ten Swords." Now that you know this, perhaps Kaoru's joke made a bit more sense. ^_^
AND NOW, A WORD FROM YOUR AUTHORESS:
Everyone enjoy it? *looks around anxiously* I hope so.
This is the first story in a series of stories that I plan to be doing. The series will be mainly humor-based, although once and a while the genre will tone down and become serious. Still, I hope to keep the series as light as I can get it.
Since I don't plan on dedicating myself to the series until my other fanfic A Rurouni's Guide to Idiocy is done, this story in of itself will not be completed right away. I have already sworn with others and myself that my frist posted RK fic will be finished! So "Rurouni Guide" fans, don't worry.
I swear on the sword of my father. The fanfic will be complete.
Until then, I hope you enjoyed this intro at what's to come. And don't worry new "Akabeko Crisis" fans. I didn't put this fic up just to let it die and never see the light of day again. It may be a while until more is added, but it too will come to it's fully-written and proper end. ...Sometime in the unforeseen future.
Until then, try reading my other fic (which I have shamelessly plugged throughout all my notes), A Rurouni's Guide to Idiocy, which is written in similar fashion as this one. Thanks!