title: the Wanderer's Road
fandom: Kenshin
characters/pairings: Kenshin, Soujirou, others
rating: G
warnings: none
summary: Kenshin gets lost, but finds someone.
notes: for flonnebonne, for correctly guessing one of my blind_go fics. ^_~ Kenshin-speak is hard, and i failed at it. meep. please try to ignore...

He had woken up on one side of the mountain, and he would sleep that night on the other side of the mountain. He should have been thinking of home, of the people he left behind, his loved ones... his friends. He knew that. But when he tried to think of them, his mind went blank. Perhaps it was the time of year; it was easier to remember people and feelings from the distant past than it was from the present.

The major concern that was occupying his thoughts, however, was where he was going to sleep. This probably was not the mountain he had intended to cross. The road he was supposed to take should have had people in the environs, but all the way up and all the way back down again, he hadn't seen the slightest indication of human occupation. Of course, if one was wandering, one could hardly expect one road to be right, and another road to be wrong, but.

His wandering days were supposed to be over, were they not?

He could hear the flow of water, so he headed in that direction, until he found a small stream. The light was beginning to fade, but he continued to follow the water, hoping to find a more open space to set up camp. He watched the rapidly moving water, looking for signs of perhaps a fish or two that might become his meal. As he was looking, though, what he found was the ground, slamming up to meet him in the face. Spitting out some mud, he looked back to see just what had happened.

"Eh?? Mister!" A young girl jumped down from a tree. "You messed up my fishing line!"

Kenshin rolled around, seeing that, yes, his leg was caught up in a line. He chuckled nervously, and rubbed the back of his head. "I'm very sorry, oro. I didn't see it there."

The girl looked dubiously at the line. "You must be pretty clumsy, Mister."

Kenshin sighed.

Just then, the line went taut, and Kenshin felt it pulling at his leg. Of course. The girl squealed, and looked heartbroken at the line. "Oh, no, my fish!"

Kenshin took a deep breath, and sat up. "Get ready. This one will pull it in!" She quickly went back to get her bucket, and Kenshin slowly started to draw the line in, making sure not to pull so hard that the hook would just go through the fish's mouth, but not too soft that the fish could work its way free. He couldn't get a good purchase on the line because of the weird contortions he had to put his body into, being wrapped up in the line, and the girl kept yelling instructions at him, but somehow, they got the fish in close enough for her to scoop it up.

"We did it!" she cheered, and slapped Kenshin so hard on the shoulder that he fell back into the mud.

This all seemed so familiar to him...

"Mako!" a woman chastised the girl, her hands on her hips. Her kimono was stained and tied up for labor, and her hair was wrapped up in a kerchief, but her face was younger than her voice would suggest, and she had very full lips. Kenshin tried to stand up to greet her properly, but he ended up falling down on his face again. The girl, Mako, started to laugh, but the woman just put her hand over her mouth, at least trying to be polite. "Oh, my. Stranger. You seem to have gotten caught along with the fish."

"Can we keep him, Mommy?" Mako giggled.

"Let's untie him, first," her mother sighed. She kneeled down, and deftly unwound the line from around his leg in just a few quick motions.

Kenshin sat up, and breathed a sigh of relief. He bowed his head to the woman, and smiled. "Please accept this one's apologies, ma'am. I am quite grateful for your help."

She shook her head, and offered him a hand up. "Don't mention it, traveler. I suppose we're just grateful we still got the fish. Mako just refuses to eat unless she can help with the work like the boys her age." She patted Mako on the head roughly, but with a wink. Mako giggled, and swiped her mother's hand away.

"Well, from what this one can see, she's a very good fisherman. Even if she sometimes catches things that are too big, oro." He cocked his head to the side, and laughed nervously. "May I ask, if you don't mind, do you two live here on the mountain?"

"We're travelers like you, but we have a camp set up. We're minstrels. You... are you a samurai?" she looked at his sword, apprehensive.

Mako laughed out loud. "Mommy, don't be silly! He's a clown! A clown! Did you see him pratfall? It was so good! Hey, hey, Mister, you should join our troupe! We're going to go to town and make it big and maybe even perform before the emperor!" She picked up his hand and twirled herself, and then fell against him, laughing.

He looked from Mako to her mother. Her mother didn't seem as sure that he was just a clown, and she didn't seem happy to see that he was carrying a sword. "This one's name is Kenshin, by the way. I'm not talented enough to be a clown, I'm afraid, but I..." He could tell them that he worked in a dojo. But. He had no students. He had a wife and a son, and yet... "This one is just a traveler, nothing more."

The mother's expression softened. "Well, it's bold of you, traveler, to carry that sword, but as long as you aren't from the military..." She looked him over, and determined, apparently, that he couldn't be. "My name is Miho. This is my daughter, obviously, Mako. And, if you would like, you're welcome to join our troupe for dinner and the night. I should warn you, though, you'll likely be dragged into a rehearsal. Our boss is an... enthusiastic man."

Mako started to giggle and laugh so hard, she bent over double. "He's a weirdo! But he's really funny!"

Kenshin smiled, too. Well, actually, this was lucky. A traveling troupe of minstrels! At least he'd have the chance to eat and sleep well. Meet people. A peaceful night was worth something.

He followed them back to their camp, surprised to see that there were so many of them. They had a large fire going, but the area was a bit foggy, which was probably why he hadn't noticed them. There were eight large tents, and they had carts and horses and a small stage set up for practice. Miho and Mako took him to a woman in the center of everything, wearing the most outrageous kimono he'd ever seen. It was half hanging off her shoulder, and her wig was badly in need of a good brushing, but she was very tall and slender, and everyone was jumping at her commands. Quite literally, in some cases, as the acrobats were falling all around them.

"Hey, boss, we caught something," Miho said, and the woman turned.

Not a woman. At least, not as long as his beard was still so thick. He looked Kenshin over and smirked. "Ooh, nice work, girls. This one's a live one. And a samurai!"

"He's a clown," Mako insisted.

"Well, we'll make him one," the boss winked. "Honey, get me Soujirou. Maybe we can work up a bit here. Drunk samurai fighting over the last bottle, oooh, the Master and Student, oh, it'll be gorgeous!"

Mako ran off to get 'Soujirou,' and Miho winked at Kenshin and took the fish toward the fire. Kenshin wanted to say something, tell the boss that he was just a traveler, and he couldn't stay with them for long, but that name... it was one he had not heard in a long while, and it stilled his tongue.

It was only a few moments later that Mako came trotting back, leading a tall young man with hair falling over his eyes behind her. He was good-looking, neatly dressed, in the same style that he wore when he was a boy, and his smile was still there, but Kenshin could sense a glow of emotions from that smile now. He beamed, and waited for Soujirou to approach. Mako presented him, bowing low.

"Clown, meet Samurai!" she laughed.

"Himura-san," Soujirou said politely, pushing his bangs back. "It's an honor and a pleasure." He bowed down low, in an extremely formal gesture.

"Soujirou-kun, you embarrass me," Kenshin replied, chuckling. "It's very good for this one to see you looking so well."

"Eh?" The boss groaned. "You know each other? Don't tell me he really is your Master, Sou-chan?"

Soujirou just laughed. "Well. It's safe to say that I've learned a lot from Himura-san."

"His name is Kenshin," Mako corrected Soujirou, tugging on his pants. "And he's a clown."

Soujirou patted her on the head, and then winked at Kenshin. "Boss, do you mind if I have a few words with Himura-san now?"

"Oh, all right," the boss said, rolling his eyes. He turned his attention back to the acrobats. "Dinner is soon, though, and after that, I expect you both to work."

"Of course," Soujirou said cheerfully. He pulled away from Mako, and walked confidently off to the west end of camp. Kenshin followed, taking careful note of the calm way that Soujirou walked with his hands behind his back. Actually, he hadn't changed much since the last time they'd met, and yet.

He imagined their fight would go much differently this time, were they to fight again. It wasn't clear to him, just from what he was seeing, how it would go. He was much older, and Soujirou was at the peak of his strength, but Soujirou's training might be nonexistent.

"It's hard, isn't it?" Soujirou asked, looking over his shoulder. "Swordsmen greet each other with opening parries. If you don't even unsheathe your blade, it's hard to get the proper measure. We're left without our language of discourse."

Kenshin sped up his stride, walking aside Soujirou. "Then we should abandon the swordsman, and greet each other as clown and minstrel."

Soujirou laughed. "I suppose so. Though. I can't really think of you as a clown."

"And I have a hard time picturing you as a minstrel," Kenshin returned.

Soujirou sobered, and slowed down. They approached an area with a treefall, and he stopped to lean against a tree. "It was odd, I admit. Doing tricks with my sword at the end of the act... and then people throw coins for me. Shishio-sama would be very angry. But. I suspect he's no longer alive."

Kenshin looked away. "No, he's not."

"Did he die by your blade?" Soujirou asked.

Kenshin sat down, and sighed heavily. "Our match went on for... a long time."

"I see," Soujirou sighed. "Well. It was a good end for him, then, I suppose."

"And you?" Kenshin looked up at him. "Have you found a good end?"

"Mm, I wonder. But, I've been traveling for seven years now," he replied, winking. "And I've already learned a great deal. In three more years, I might even know something worth sharing."

"That would be a very good thing, it would." Kenshin smiled.

"What about you, Himura-san?" Soujirou asked. "How have you been?"

"I am..." Kenshin began. He wasn't sure how he should finish, though. He was not unchanged, but Soujirou could see that himself as easily as Kenshin could say it. He was leading a different life, and yet, he still left his home to fight, once more. And he might certainly do it again, if it was required. "I am well," he finished, covering any uncertainty behind a foolish expression.

"I see," Soujirou said, smiling. "I'm glad."

Someone else from the troupe called them to dinner, so they made their way back. Mako insisted on sitting next to him, so he was a bit of a ways down from where Soujirou sat. The young man laughed along with his compatriots and even told a joke or two, but overall, he was quiet, watchful, listening.

He hadn't changed that much, but he had completely changed.

After dinner, they all cleaned up together, and then the troupe gathered in a circle to perform skits, sing, dance, do routines, anything to entertain each other. The boss sat in a mock throne, throwing things at the performers when he disliked what they were doing, or cheering loudly. As a guest, Kenshin sat near the boss. He could tell that everyone was anxious to hear his opinions, so he tried his best to cheer loudly. His role that night appeared to be that of the impartial critic.

Soujirou sat in the first row, a little bit apart from the rest of the group, but he was participating in their discussions as they talked. Kenshin watched the way his face was lit up by the firelight. He laughed honestly when the performers were funny, and he reacted appreciatively to impressive stunts. He even looked pensive during a dramatic reading.

During a juggling routine, a girl poked Soujirou, and then he and another boy got up and went into the near tent, where the performers were preparing to take the stage. When the jugglers were done with their bows, there was a large flash of light, following by smoke, and then a new stage was set.

The girl was stretched out on her side, her kimono off her shoulders entirely in an alluring, red-light district fashion. She lifted her leg to some catcalls, and then rolled over. She started to sing, and slowly, the instruments started up. Her voice was crystal-clear, and dripping with sorrow. She sang of the blood of brave men that burned brightest in the fires of war. There was another flash of smoke, and Soujirou took the stage. Kenshin recognized him right away from his posture, but he was wrapped head to toe in bandages.

Kenshin leaned forward, and narrowed his eyes.

It was a dance. He moved with a swordsman's poetic grace, wielding his blade in exaggerated motions as her song continued. A drum joined the band, punctuating his motions. Finally, the third player entered the stage, with a too large moustache, a ledger book, and big, sparkling teeth.

Her song changed moods, and spoke of dreams and ambitions. Of new nations forged from flames. But the fires got hot, she warned, and men who tried to play the role of gods got scorched in the firmament. The dance moved on, and Soujirou's motions started to appear to get out of control. He appeared to slash the throat of the man in the moustache, and a bright red scarf went flying in the wind. His blade got entangled in the scarf, and the singer began to wail, the drums pounded, and his sword moved so fast, it appeared to be double-sided, until he fell, impaling himself and the singer, whose voice stopped, and so did the music. He sunk down, hovering over her, their lips just barely apart.

A black sheath fell over them all, and the dance was done.

The rest of the troupe cheered wildly. The boss leaned down, and poked Kenshin in the back. "Well? What do you think of Soujirou's Song, Master?"

Kenshin narrowed his eyes. "It is hard for words to be sufficient in this situation. That boy. Is becoming wiser than this one."

The boss chuckled darkly. "That boy has the world in the palm of his hand, and he's not quite sure what to do with it."

Kenshin nodded, but he knew that that had always been true.

No one, naturally, followed Soujirou's part, so after that, they cleaned up and got ready to sleep for the night. To her mother's embarrassment, Mako insisted on dragging Kenshin over to where they were sleeping, so he missed talking to Soujirou again. That was probably for the best. Long after the others had fallen asleep, Kenshin stared up at the sky, and thought about Soujirou's dance, and the girl's song.

He watched the sky turn from black to navy to the color of the ocean, and then, there was a rapid succession of brilliant colors, and the sky was blue, and bright. Kenshin got up, and rolled up his bedroll, placing it neatly away where he had seen Miho get it out. He crept quietly around the perimeter of the camp, heading down the mountain again.

He hadn't known whether to expect Soujirou or not, but he was happy to see the young man. "Leaving without saying goodbye?" Soujirou teased him, keeping his voice down.

"It's the life of a wanderer," Kenshin replied.

Soujirou looked Kenshin in the eye, and then handed him a small scroll of paper.

"What's this?" Kenshin asked without unrolling it.

"It's a map, to lead you to Tokyo. The sun is rising, so you'll know east from west easily. Every wanderer must go home eventually, right? At least those who have a home," Soujirou stated plainly.

Kenshin nodded, and looked at the roll of paper. "Every child takes steps away from his parents as he grows. Even happy ones. And even the most unhappy child can make a home for himself, in good time."

"I hope your travels find a happy end, then," Soujirou said kindly. "Can you tell me, though? What did you think of my dance last night?"

"Hm," Kenshin began, and he stuffed the scroll in his shirt, and started to walk away. "This one thinks it a rare talent to make something terrible into something beautiful. That's what this one thinks.

"Come to Tokyo sometime, Soujirou. You'll be able to find me," Kenshin called back.

"Only if you find your way there first," Soujirou teased him.

But there wasn't any reason for it anymore, of course. When he got to the base of the mountain, he found the road to Tokyo easily, without Soujirou's map.