A Rurouni Kenshin fanfic by Jan Story

Characters and situations © Nobuhiro Watsuki, Shueisha, Sony etc. You can't get blood from a turnip and you can't get money from me (got none!)

1 Gion, First Month... (by the old lunar calendar; actually early in 1864, probably February)

"Oi, Himura-kun! There's nothing going on tonight, so we thought we'd go look at the city lights. Want to come?"
"No thank you, Iidzuka-san," the boy replied, trying very hard not to look embarrassed. "Come on, you're not working tonight either," Iidzuka urged. He stepped closer to the boy and murmured in his ear "All work and no play makes Battousai a dull Hitokiri." The boy's face turned almost as red as his hair. "That's nothing to joke about, Iidzuka!" he exploded. Iidzuka backed away, laughing and waving his hands in a placating gesture. "Whoa, he dropped the polite speech! Sorry, sorry."
"Aw, don't tease the kid, Iidzuka," Katagai growled. "If he doesn't want to go, he doesn't want to go." He turned back to the boy. "Iidzuka's got a point, though, Himura-kun. If you don't blow off a little steam now and then, you'll explode." Himura's tense posture relaxed a little, and the hard amber glints in his eyes faded. He smiled. "Thank you anyway, but I want to finish the book that Katsura-san lent me before he returns."
"Aa. Still improving yourself. Well, give it your best, and come out with us another time, eh?"
"Sure. Later." The boy went upstairs, and the men continued out into the street.

A little later, the second man spoke. "Hey Iidzuka, didn't Himura say he was fourteen when he joined up?"
"Aa." Light dawned on Iidzuka's sly face, and on the faces of the other men in the group. "Are we gonna let this go by?"
"No way!" "Let's go set it up, then we'll come back and get him!" The men trooped off to the pleasure quarter.

"Mencius said, 'the Three Dynasties won the Empire through benevolence and lost it through cruelty. This is true of the rise and fall, survival and collapse, of states as well.'" Himura scowled at the passage he had managed to decipher. /*I wonder what the Three Dynasties were. It sounds kind of like what Shishou told me about the Sengoku, when Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu started... only now, with the gaijin... if the gaijin gain power here, they'll slice us up and eat us like fish. We'll be like slaves in our own country, like Takasugi-san said the Chinese were in Shanghai. And yet...*/ /*So much blood. So much killing. When I first joined Shishou, he said he killed and killed bandits like flies, but there were always more of them. It's the same with these Bakufu officials. I kill them and kill them, but there are always more to take their place. Am I really protecting the people's happiness? Are we really building a new era? Or are we just... killing? And if we don't have benevolence... can we succeed?*/ He didn't register the sounds outside his door until it was nearly too late. The door slid open and a tangle of figures half-fell into the room. He was on his feet, his blade half out of the saya, before he realized the intruders weren't Shinsengumi attackers, but were only Iidzuka and his cronies.

"You're back early," he growled, annoyed with himself at being caught off guard, and with the others for walking in on him. "There was something we had to do," Iidzuka grinned. "That's right," Katagai joined in. "We forgot something."
"All right, what is it? I'm trying to get some reading done here."
"No you're not," Iidzuka said. "You've forgotten something too."
/*What could I have forgotten?*/ "Oro?"
"He's doing it again," Katagai groaned. "Talking like he's got mud on his feet." Himura's hand went to his hilt. "Kono yarou...!"
"Maa, maa," Iidzuka waved his hands in a placating gesture. "We've got traditions to keep up here. Didn't you say you were fourteen when you joined us?"
"Yes, but..."
"So New Year's over and done, and our Himura-kun is officially a man! Now put that book down, it's getting too dark to read anyway. You're not backing out of your own celebration!" There wasn't any way to avoid this, not without fighting. He was sure he'd win if he fought them, but... /*they're my own people. They're all I've really got. And maybe he's right, maybe I do need to let go a little bit. How bad can it be?*/

Himura allowed his comrades to lead him away. Himura absently took another sip of sake. /*This is really stupid,*/ he thought. In the center of the room, Iidzuka and Katagai had joined one of the girls in a bawdy dance. As the other girls laughed and clapped out a rhythm, the three of them imitated fording a river, lifting their clothing higher and higher to keep it dry. With comical gestures and expressions, they imitated a traveler's discomfort as cold water contacted increasingly sensitive places. He supposed it was meant to be funny... but to him they looked like a pair of drunken idiots. /*Look at them. If the Shinsengumi struck here we'd all be wiped out.*/

"Don't you like games?"
"Oro?" The speaker was one of the girls, he hadn't caught her name. She wore a green-and-pink kimono, and her obi stood out in an enormous bow. She looked like a spring flower with a butterfly perched on it. She giggled, like water splashing onto rocks. "Oro yourself. You talk funny. But you're so gloomy! Your eyes were really scary a minute ago - they're better now."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…"
"It's all right." She knelt beside him and refilled his sake cup with artless grace. She smelled like the first hint of spring, a faint suggestion of – plum? Under its paint, her face seemed young and fresh. "Maybe you'd like to be somewhere... quieter?" Her smile was hopeful, inviting. He couldn't help smiling in response. "I… I think I'd like that."

The room she led him to overlooked a secluded little garden. Lantern-light picked out the rounded shapes of artistically-arranged stones, the scarlet of berries still clinging to a bare branch. In summer there would have been crickets, or the sound of water. Now all was near-silence. The sounds of revelry were distant, unimportant. "It's very peaceful," he said.
"Do you like it?"
He nodded.
"I'm glad." She moved closer. Was it the sake that made him dizzy, or was it her perfume? Or was it his emotions, apprehension tangling with anticipation? He allowed her to draw him down onto the futon, and her slender, graceful hands slid the haori from his shoulders.

It was nearly dawn when the party left the teahouse. Katagai and Iidzuka started singing a bawdy song, their voices raucous, off-key, and extremely loud. Himura barely noticed. His mind was a fog of sake and remembered sensation. Her voice. Her hands. Her skin, perfumed silk against his. He didn't even notice the short, slender youth in the mountain-patterned haori of the Shinsengumi, who gave him a startled, curious glance before moving on. Back at the inn, he flung himself onto his futon without bothering to undress, and moments later was asleep.

It was late in the afternoon when he woke. His head throbbed and his stomach felt queasy. He stumbled downstairs, went into the courtyard behind the kitchen, and dumped a bucket of water over his head. It helped some. Not much. Maybe a bath… but Iidzuka and Katagai were in there. Singing. Again. His head couldn't take it. He didn't really want to face Iidzuka's teasing anyway. He went back to his room, perched in the window-seat, and picked up Mencius. "To dislike death yet revel in cruelty is no different from drinking beyond your capacity despite your dislike of drunkenness." He repeated the words over and over to himself. They seemed aimed directly at him, at his roiling stomach and aching head. /*Is that what we're doing? Reveling in cruelty? All I wanted was to use Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu to help create a new era where ordinary people could live their lives. When Katsura-san asked if I could kill, I thought he meant fighting the Bakufu's swordsmen. I didn't know I'd be assassinating fat officials and so-called samurai who barely know one end of a sword from the other. How can any happiness come out of all this killing? Is it ever going to end, or is it just going to be more and more death until the whole country stinks of blood? */

There was a knock outside. "What?!" he snapped, then winced at the loudness of his voice in his own ears. "What do you want?" he growled as Iidzuka slid the fusuma open and entered carrying a small table. "Strong tea and umeboshi," the older man announced cheerfully. "Good for your hangover. Oh, and Katsura-san's back. He'd like you to take care of this." He left. In addition to the tea, rice, and pickled plums, there was a black envelope on the table. When Iidzuka was gone, Himura opened the envelope. /*Kyoto administrator Jubei Shigekura. Another death. More than one, if he has retainers with him. Is it ever going to end?*/ /*'To dislike death yet revel in cruelty is no different from drinking beyond your capacity despite your dislike of drunkenness.'*/ He stared unseeing out the window, turning the sage's words over and over again in his mind, until sunset. Then, as darkness cloaked the city in shadow, the young man known as Battousai went out to once again shower blood on the streets of the City of Flowers.


This comes from a discussion of lemons and plausibility I saw in the list archives last winter. Somebody mentioned teahouses and I was off and running with this idea. At about the same time I discovered a really great book, "The Revolutionary Origins of Modern Japan". Finding out about the Shouka Sonjuku gave me the answer to one of my burning questions: the books littering Kenshin's room. It seems plausible to me that Katsura would be lending him texts he had himself used – of which I only have Sun Tzu and Mencius on hand. Mencius supplied the perfect quote...
Seinen means coming of age. "Looking at city lights" is an idiom from the manga. According to the translation I got it from, it means going out drinking and visiting prostitutes. Sengoku: era of civil wars, a breakdown of central authority between the collapse of the Ashikaga shogunate and the rise of Oda Nobunaga. Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu started during this period. One of the things I got out of Revolutionary Origins was that Takasugi had been to Shanghai and was appalled by the way the Western powers treated the Chinese. Desire to avoid a similar fate was behind a great deal of the expel-the-barbarians rhetoric.
I assume that Katsura knows Kenshin's true origins, but nobody else does. I would imagine there to have been a certain risk in Kenshin's playing the role of a samurai. I'm also assuming that the characteristic "rurouni" speech pattern is something from the village where he grew up, don't know why I assume this but I do. Anyway, there's a sort of Battousai-in-reverse thing going on here, when he's off guard (or as off guard as he ever gets) he kind of forgets to talk like a samurai.
I forget where I ran into the dance, though I'm pretty sure it's authentic. I had no luck with my inquiry on teahouse party-games and had to make something up. I see the Kenshin of this period as a shy, serious boy who can't understand why anyone would voluntarily make fools of themselves. I found on an Urusei Yatsura website the folk belief that umeboshi help sober up drunks. (That's why it was funny when Lum got drunk from eating them.) I took the liberty of making them a hangover cure.