Disclaimer: This is a completed yaoi lemon which means boys named Aoshi and Kenshin kiss and fondle eachother completely therein. Poetic liscense gives me, Nobu whatshisface, and all of you the right to spread lies about archaic Japanese custom and the correct spelling of Aoshi's name. If some of the events here seem off and historically incorrect to you, then they most definitely are.

We're Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
We hope you will enjoy the show
We're Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sit back and let the evening go



It was said among the common that the heartbeat of a flea was easier to detect than a Hitokiri who did not wish to reveal himself. The rumor pleased Himura Kenshin for no intelligent reason. Silence ever followed the Hitokiri, bloodshed a precarious enough affair. Swift movements, effortless as breathing, sent the lean figure from one tile to the next in a mute flurry of scarlet hair and robes.
     Edo would sleep ignorant of the phantom dancing on her rooftops. Such was as it should be.

He landed a small thud on the pavement, eyes scanning the silent cluster of establishments looming side by side. The night rain had left the streets deserted, the rooftops slick and dangerous.

I had better meet some justification for this moon jaunt. The sun was barely risen, premature rays outlining the city in misty traces of light, turning the air soft and hazy. It was a time he agreed with. Reaching into a fold of his gi, he removed the tiny roll of cloth hidden against his chest. Unraveling it, he read aloud the ink character slashed at the bottom.

The name left his lips in one short exhale. Aoshi. Pale Death. A name well suited. He couldn't imagine why lady Misao scoured the country so desperately for the chance to be near him. An attractive face? Surely that could not be enough. The lady was young yet, vulnerable to the foolishness of beauty. But Aoshi remained cold as a sliver of ice to the bright-eyed girl who loved him. Could it be his silence that attracted? Whatever it was, Kenshin did not see it. All the better, for Aoshi was actually requesting his presence. He did not ask the same of others.

The invitation was silk, delivered in the hands of a young boy. Aoshi's messenger was not the sun-darkened dwarf Yahiko was, though they were both more or less of an age.
     He was slender, his skin fair from no work in the fields, flaxen hair kept long and tied back with foreign fabric. The boy placed the delicately folded square in his palm ceremoniously, saying only that it bore a message from his master. Confused but nevertheless courteous, Kenshin had accepted.
The boy hadn't left immediately, lingering in the courtyard with inquisitive admiration on his curved his lips. Though accustomed to recognition, the boy's gawking had made his hair bristle, the pointless smile disconcerting. Aoshi's lackey bowed upon receiving the dismissing coin and Kenshin was glad to be rid of him.
     The night oil burned in the Dojo long after Yahiko took to bed. Kenshin sat a great while in thought, rubbing the silk between contemplative fingers. He would, of course, be certain Yahiko was not made aware. The youth would act rashly whether the matter concerned him or not. In all good intention, he would bring disaster and there had been enough of that.
     He'd frowned long. Since when did Aoshi keep boys in his service? The lad hadn't looked like one of the Oniwabanshu. He kept the same complexion as his master, though. Like the belly of a fish, not once graced by the sun. He hadn't thought Aoshi one to covet beautiful things, useless objects.      And what of this request? The Alley and Aoshi. He did not trust either. A challenge, perhaps? A grim possibility. Kenshin suspected something of the sort though Aoshi had not made a threat of himself of late. Whatever his intention, it was clear Aoshi demanded something of him. He decided he must find out what.

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He stopped on a narrow street, reading the name scrawled in tar beside the gate.

Yokocho. The alley. Teahouses were no longer given antiquated Chinese nomers like "Jade Palace of Heaven" and "Eternal Meadow's Rest". With foreigners in every port from Hokkaido to Kyushu, it was safe to say the age of overbearing aesthetics was fading. Teahouses were practical establishments, best suited for indigenous names. Kenshin kicked off his sandals and gently pushed aside the transparent shoji door.
     "Gomen," he said, vaguely thinking his entrance would be noted. None came. The structure itself was failing, his very breath seeming to start the wood protesting. The dining room was unlit and empty, the bar cloaked in shadow, scattered with leftover cups from the previous night's drinking. Hand tight on the hilt, he addressed his unseen host.
     "Welcome." Kenshin's eyes narrowed on a partition in the darkness, unsure of who had spoken. The quiet familiarity of the response was disconcerting. Warrior's instinct made him particularly wary when obscured rooms called forth. Kenshin felt his heart accelerate.
     The Okashira of the Oniwabanshu was a forward and skilled young man, he had no taste for ambush. Besides, if this was indeed an ambush then Aoshi had chosen a poor spot for one. Kenshin's hand remained clenched on the hilt, his advance slow and secret. Past the bar, past the empty chairs and tables, he brushed aside the curtain covering the frame.
     The ceremonious precision of the figure halted him. An apparition of ghastly skin and gossamer robes. No warrior knelt there but a woman. And not a slackened farmwife or plain servant, she. This woman was an art; a lady to be revered.
     A courtesan, garbed in silk that suggested breeding. Her complexion was pale bright as the moon, making her easily detectable in the near darkness. Lips painted deep and red as a wet plum stood out, as did the dark green eyes rimmed black and purple, gleaming against the stark white mask of her face.

The seated lady nodded once and Kenshin's cheeks burned.
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     The room was permeated with a lady's scent, elegant and alluring. The coy gestures and honeyed voice of the geisha were not bestowed by nature to all women. Their distinct mannerisms were acquired only through training, seasoned until worthy enough to entertain rich lords or pompous diplomats. The young man had done masterfully with his appearance but the cold decorum lingered, giving a sharp edge to the soft candlelit smile.
     The customary accessories were all present. A china tray of steaming wine at his right, a silk fan and a chrysanthemum to the left. As tradition demanded, Aoshi had forsaken the short blade. Still, to Kenshin's knowledge, courtesans were not apt to hold private discourse in secluded teahouses. Everything about it reeked of incredulity. He did not approve.
     "I am honored that you responded to my invitation with such haste." Each word left Aoshi's lips clear as a raindrop. He kept his head bowed respectfully, sending rivulets of laughter through the tiny silver ornaments twined in his hair. Candles on either side burned steadily in their oil bowls, Aoshi's still form dancing on the wall behind him. Kenshin let the partition fall with a faint sigh.
     "I am not used to communicating through messengers," he said. "I came to speak with you directly and in all sincerity, if that is your wish." The red lips pursed slightly in amusement.
     "There must be some misunderstanding." Aoshi lowered jewel-lit eyes. "I can hardly be expected to converse with so fine a gentleman." Kenshin let his breath go audibly. Aoshi, like many members of the upper classes, would not likely come to the point anytime soon.      "I have no time for pleasantries, Aoshi." He stepped forward, stopping abruptly when he noticed his hand still gripping the sword. He was not permitted to seat himself before removing the weapon. Ignoring his open candor, Aoshi gestured with a simple nod.
Knowing Aoshi did not intend to be brief, Kenshin obeyed, sliding the blade outside the partition.
     "This is a facade, is it not?" He asked, gesturing to the finery adorning the musty storeroom. Aoshi did not reply. With practiced grace he poured the clear, fragrant sake.
     "You must think me headstrong and frivolous for having addressed you without warning." He spoke angelically, avoiding the question. How like a courtesan! Aoshi offered him the cup as if it were a pearl.
     "But I assure you my intent is nothing artful."
     Kenshin accepted, but did not drink. Wine poured by an enemy was never to be trusted and Aoshi had not yet revealed his intent. The Okashira was receptive to his reluctance, tilting his head innocently.
     "Is the wine not to your liking?" The eerie smile did not falter.
     "I did not come to drink." Kenshin answered evenly, without anger. "I came to learn your purpose."
A change passed over Aoshi's porcelain features, the thin smile trembling a moment. Kenshin thought it strange to see him thus. He had not thought Aoshi capable of equivocation. He tried again.
     "Your servant had no information. Before I drink your wine I must know your meaning."
Aoshi's smile softened with his sigh. He averted his eyes, placing slim, pale hands on the floor in front of him.
     "Death is the shadow that mars brilliant light," he said with rehearsed melancholy. "So have you been dimmed." Kenshin frowned, immediately suspicious.
Aoshi paused, glancing up almost timidly.
     "I have heard the tragic story, and wonder if I might offer myself as a substitute for your late companion."
Kenshin tensed at these words, his heart quickening. The sake steaming in the tiny cup burned fiercely in his hand.
     "Aoshi..." he warned, his body stiffening.
     "Please accept my humblest apologies for my ineptitude." The mock lady bowed deeper, so low his white forehead nearly met the floor. "I knew the girl."
He raised himself slightly, meeting Kenshin's eyes with bright, magically-produced tears cutting through the film of rice powder. A thin, crystal streak painted his cheek but his voice did not falter, only softened like the petal of a flower.
     "I was very young when I lost those dearest to me. All the years of my life, I have had many feelings of aimlessness and futility." A sigh stirred the candlelight.
     "The Oniwabanshu filled that void for a time..." He hesitated, blinking to send pale droplets scattering to the floor. "...though they were unfit." Kenshin listened, stunned, wondering if Aoshi were not truly touched. This was a man who had devoted his life to the group of misshapen warriors; the Oniwabanshu his pride. Elaborate words and lies, candlelight and wine. None of these things seemed as fitting with Aoshi as cold blood and steel. Kenshin's thoughts were in disarray as Aoshi spoke again.
     "It was you who took them. You were the only one worthy," His breathing had become rapid, unbefitting the poised exterior. Kenshin felt his own composure waver. Confusion turned rage smoldered in his chest but he could not voice it.
     "I will not be bound to weak impermanence." Aoshi extended a hand, palm facing up, his gaze holding him with famous intensity. "You are also undeserving of such futility."
Kenshin stared dumbly at the hand before him, silently groping for a reaction. When he found his tongue again, he was surprised by his tone.
     "Aoshi, why do you say this?" His eyes narrowed. "You speak of impermanence, but we are all impermanent. It has naught to do with futility."
     "It does." Aoshi's red lip curled in a delicate sneer. "Females in particular. Your lady was murdered, was she not?"
     Kenshin paled. His fist hardened to iron in his lap. Futile, was she? His own sweet girl?
     "They are not meant to become truly ours, the weak. We may grow a..." he paused, as if disgusted by the word. "...fondness, but they never do outlast us," he sighed.
Kenshin listened to Aoshi's soft poison in a daze as bile threatened his throat, nauseating him. Never had he witnessed such a delicately-crafted mangling. In that provocative guise, with his theatrics and wine, did Aoshi intend to woo? Kenshin frowned.
     Absurd as it was, he found it irresistable pondering the notion. He had never not had one to protect, a weaker person to contain and make sharp his purpose. Aoshi was neither innocent like his Lady or pitiable like his wife--Aoshi needed no guard, could borrow no strength from him. He could offer only permanence.

     In this match, Kenshin realized he was utterly undefined.
     "We share the same fate. I wonder if we might not be companions in it?" Kenshin was startled by the question.
     "I have no desire." He began then caught himself. "I...do not suffer as you." Kenshin realized he was shaking when a warm liquid drop fell from the cup in his palm. Aoshi retracted his hand, pressing it firmly to his throat.

     "Is this so?" Slim fingers tugged gently on the folds at his collar. For the first time he was direct, breaking the geisha's tongue.
     "Tell me then, when was your last joining?" The deep blue, near-black shoulder of the kimono slid to his elbow, baring his skin to the candle's glow. Kenshin regretted the schooling he gave his face before replying.
     "Was this your intent?" If the flint to his words affected Aoshi, he gave no sign. The white shoulder rose and fell visibly with his breath.
     "Answer!" Kenshin demanded, his eyes losing their usual roundness, bright fury in his gaze. "A proposition?" He spat the word. "If you bore me any love--"
Aoshi interrupted him bluntly.
     "Love is but an option, Himura." He tilted his head. " Have you a taste for it?"
     "Yes." Kenshin replied without hesitation. Aoshi smiled, a slow wicked smile. He leaned forward, so close that Kenshin could scent jasmine on his breath. The geisha returned for a spell.
     "Love, like the fermented liquor, has the ability to cloud the mind, sweeten the eye and soften the heart. Only one causes the sharper pang when the haze passes." He raised an eyebrow. "Do you love me?"
Aoshi lifted the flask.
     "Then, drink."
     It seemed ages since he could remember why he'd obeyed. He could have left this scene and gone home to bed. However, the first sip of sake was wonderful and he felt this convoluted game should be played to its end. Touched or not, Aoshi had put some considerable effort into his charade.
     The wine burned, mellow and sweet in his mouth. Kenshin lowered his head, cup still in hand, waiting for Aoshi to retrieve it. He did, refilling it with composed poise though his shoulders were bare.
     Kenshin breathed out slowly, feeling the liquor rumble with a gentle heat in his stomach, casting a warm haze over his face. The effects of alcohol were agreeable, making everything comfortable. Even the shabby surroundings seemed inviting.
     He sipped more of the spirits, liking the sting of it on his tongue. It made him want to forget that Aoshi was not truly his ally. If he entertained the illusion just enough, Aoshi was the raven-haired beauty, not a madman. The dark green eyes and delicate slashes of hair framing his face suddenly became things he might yearn for in someone else. He mused to himself.      Not all enemies were unpleasant to look upon.
     Aoshi's porcelain doll demeanor slackened noticeably after the sixth cup or so, though he had not taken any. It seemed he no longer felt the need to govern himself, graceful back tilted, knees spread generously to support the shift in posture, one hand on the floor behind him. Kenshin noted with growing interest the open robe falling from his shoulders.
     More glowing flesh, his arms no darker than the stark white of his face. Kenshin watched Aoshi brush absently at his throat, an itch perhaps? The whisper of muscle under the silk was engaging and Aoshi seemed quite aware. Kenshin bit his lip a little, lowering his eyes to Aoshi's smile, refusing to see the intended subtlety in the gesture.
     The geisha was gazing intently at him, rubbing a finger gently along the pale indentation beneath his collar; the flat, smooth area that shielded the heart. He was abominably desirable. He cleared his throat.
     "The sun will rise within the hour," he began.
     "Must you go with it?" Aoshi sighed, head tilted coquettishly. Silent once more, he shifted to the balls of his feet with a nimble movement, the silk opening at his chest falling indecently as he did so.
     His knees were drawn up and parted in Kenshin's direction, squatting rather than kneeling as he had been before. One hand rested lax on his thigh, dipping slightly into the crevice, his other arm a pillar behind him. Kenshin swallowed.
     Geisha, tho artists, were not known to wear undergarments.
Unintentionally, his eyes traveled to the semi-obscured realm between Aoshi's thighs. Something pale flashed briefly in the dark space, partially cloaked by the robe. Aoshi's sex beckoned with the barely perceptible sway of his body.
     "We will not need an hour."
White skin drenched in dust and firelight, and it was being offered. Playful gestures, clever wit, refined skill and liquor were not the lady's only assets. It was the geisha's duty to make her client feel special; unique and unlike himself. He knew what Aoshi wanted.
     The small room was cooled by night but he felt flushed and aroused. Such stirrings he had dealt with before. The old days had made indulgence a taboo, a burning distraction in the line of duty. He had been younger then and considerably harder to control. The heads of the Ishinshi-shi had been wise not to neglect such matters.
     Aggressive sexual activity was not unheard of, especially among the younger Hitokiri. But they were extremely dangerous in attracting attention. The Batthousai was no exception. Were he to give in to the desperation in his blood, the results would be disastrous. Thus, he was offered by his superiors many outlets through which to appease the urging. Expensive gaishou, mostly young and some skilled, had been led quaking to his chambers.
     Flesh molded, fingered and battered by the nobility that afforded it. Even young boys, reared to perfection by elite masters, had been acquired when the girls became dull and less enticing. It had been the women who taught him, amused at first by his lack of experience and later left shuddering on the floor when it was through, occasionally bruised by his clumsiness.
     He'd learned to ease the natural ache of want through contact, finding release in the soft skin of the young men, their whimpers like music in his ears. Need was beauty, helplessness and vulnerability all at his command.      The Hitokiri Batthousai had not been renounced on weak ground. As the ruroni, exquisite displays of power were no longer his to indulge. He was just a wanderer in rags. Subdued, degraded and repentant.
     He realized he knew little of Aoshi's method when it came to joining but he was accustomed to the presentation. Sophisticated but not pure; prim and full of want. He saw Aoshi's lips were working, anxious and brilliantly colored, reminding him of blood on snow. Their fidgeting made him want to feel their texture on his skin, have that scarlet grease smeared over his shoulders...
     "Very well," he set down the empty cup, a slow change to his calm voice. "But if this is deceit, I will not need a blade to make you regret it."      Aoshi's nod sealed his silent promise. Kenshin let the gi fall to his waist with a shrug, muscles tense in the soft light. The stale coolness of the storeroom met his skin in a rush, barely cutting the warmth spreading rapidly over his shoulders and chest. Perhaps the perfume was to blame? A poorly suppressed sound came from Aoshi, waiting before him.
     "You are wondrous...!"
Kenshin's lip twitched a half smile, the wine-flush in his cheeks deepening down his throat.
     "Flattery is the sweetest invitation to the bedchamber, Aoshi. I know not why, but I accept."
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Keeping a dull blade had kept the peace. Guarding an innocent girl had kept him sane, projecting upon her all of his good--no, noble intentions. But nothing compared to joining. As the ruronin, such a display would have resulted in reproach.
     With the lady, a fool played his part, charm and vulnerability both his assets. She would have demanded courting, a soft prelude to the biting teeth and devouring hands. But the alley had little use for ceremony. Aoshi's facade had quickly turned farce.
     Aoshi urged forward, meeting his desire on his knees, eager and suddenly arresting. Kenshin felt himself recoil with a short gasp as Aoshi's fingers played up the length of his arm, his mouth closing over his. He had experienced sex often enough, the violent art of it, but he had never tried the exotic practice of touching mouths that had been brought to Japan by the barbarians. The slippery wetness of Aoshi's lips repelled him, warm and malleable in his mouth.
     "It won't hurt." Aoshi murmured, his breath warm against his lips. He tried again and Kenshin closed his eyes. Gradually, he became better accustomed to the feel. Desire overcame curiosity and he opened his mouth to admit Aoshi's gentle, probing tongue. Kenshin soon began to breathe deep into his mouth, stifling a moan.
     Who would have thought this slow, moist exchange could be so arousing? Perhaps his homeland could afford to absorb a thing or two from hairy foreigners. Yet when cold hands found his back, clutching his shoulders in earnest, Kenshin fell entirely victim to a helplessness beyond memory. His eyelids twitched, the beautiful, terrible sensation replaced by the hot reality of Aoshi's lips, tongue and teeth. He faltered, pulled away.      "Have I displeased you?" Aoshi's breath was strong but his voice came reasonably steady.
     "No." Kenshin said, touching a fingertip to his own lips. He retracted it smeared an oily pink. When he looked up, he saw that Aoshi's mouth and cheeks were smudged with the violent red, as if he had hastily drunk rich cordial. Aoshi gestured with a pale hand, one painted brow arched.
Kenshin placed both hands on the floor. Swaying slightly, he turned his back on his waiting mistress, unlacing his hakama. His fingers worked swiftly and he wondered vaguely at his haste. How many nights had passed since he'd last seen his Lady, warm and alive; breathed in her delicate scent when he'd touched her hair? Heaven knew he wanted that again, though he'd not expected to seek it in this painted devil. Or whatever Aoshi had contrived to pass himself off as.
     With a final tug the garment fluttered to a heap around his ankles, his gi also discarded. He kicked them away, turning his nakedness to Aoshi's patient gaze.
     "I am pleased," was all he said. Was there as dusting slightly darker spreading across his china face? The younger man shifted in agitation as Kenshin knelt before him, reaching inside the folds of Aoshi's robe to touch him. Aoshi's flesh was unbelievably soft, still and perfect beneath the cool fabric.
     He had always considered the kimono a masterfully contrived garment. Delicate and secretive, the intricate folds did not serve merely as covering, a simple cloth with which to hide a lady's shame. It was, rather, a work of art, exalting the body within to something finer. Like a gift bound in paper of silk and fragile thread to be opened with care...or torn away.
     "Ah -"
     He felt Aoshi inhale deeply as his fingers brushed the flat hardness of his stomach, satisfied when he felt the smooth muscles jerk in response. Aoshi reached up, grasped the long red hair in a fist, slowly pulled Kenshin's head forward to rest on his shoulder. Kenshin made a soft noise, biting gently at the powdered neck.
     The hair was dark, and soft, and tickled at Kenshin's face, scented, like a woman's - but were it a woman, there would be those soft, agitated noises. Unladylike to cry out, but feminine etiquette demanded response, audible encouragement. Hands moved slowly across smooth muscle, and arms encircled silence. No, no woman this...
     Kenshin smiled into the pearl flesh. In the erratic darkness, black hair gleamed and painted lips parted. The girl's picture fluttered in his mind: he allowed his eyes their falsehoods.
     Wine was, indeed, a marvel. It had made Shinomori Aoshi beautiful. The thought made the pulse below ache worse. Kenshin reached down, past the silk, into Aoshi's corresponding darkness.
     Aoshi's body tensed, his breath quickening as Kenshin's fingers touched the warmth there. There was something sticky on his thighs; more on his hardening sex. Kenshin was quietly surprised.
     Curious, he brought his hand to his lips. The sharp scent of Aoshi's body lingered there, perfume and desire, and blended with another fragrance. Like clover. Kenshin swiped his tongue along his index finger.
     Aoshi reached up, drawing Kenshin's hand to his own lips, tracing his tongue slowly over the sticky drops that had collected on the back of it.      Kenshin suppressed a smirk.
     "You've no good in your mind," he admonished.
     "No," Aoshi agreed softly.

Kenshin watched him, staring through the light mental cloud of sake-haze that made the motions seem too easy, too fluid... cool hands swept the dripping silk from white shoulders, spread it in a rippling pool on the floor, pressed upon his own shoulders, pushing Kenshin down onto it.
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     As he drew closer, Kenshin spotted more signs of Aoshi's true sex. The long graceful hands which aroused him, white with the same powder that covered his face, had larger knuckles and bony wrists. His features, though delicate, lacked the softness of a woman's. His motions, deft and sure as a warrior's, were not the hesitant caresses of a lady. They sank to the floor together, Aoshi's body pressed to his with an ardor that surprised him. Green eyes, liquid and luminous, fluttered closed as Kenshin returned his gestures. Fingers played across the bare skin of his back, grasping a thigh, squeezing intimate flesh, their movements rushed and eager.

No. No woman, this.

     He took first his eye's focus, tasting the wet lips tentatively, awkwardly before parting them with his tongue. The act was wonderful in its strangeness, even daring. Aoshi was warm and sweet, something faintly spicy coating his mouth. He found he liked the taste, savoring it with the kiss, wanting more until his lungs ached.
     The attention of mouth and hand were stifling, heat and the pleasant ache usurping his senses. Perhaps this was a trap and perhaps Aoshi could not be trusted. But unless he was very much mistaken, Aoshi's sighs and arching back were not mere theatrics. He saw no cold mechanics in the way Aoshi's fingers moved across his chest, lightly grasping his sex. He was made to turn over, Aoshi's pale arms encircling his waist, deft hands still occupied between his legs. It was already too much when Aoshi's erection nudged the back of his thigh. There came a pain so exquisite he had no sound for it. Then Kenshin stopped thinking altogether.
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     They lay among the disarray a long while after breaths slowed and flushes receded. Kenshin's clothes were scattered about the floor, the overturned sake seeping into the wood, masking the stronger human scents. The cadence of Aoshi's heart mingled unevenly with his breathing, a damp, powdered cheek resting in the hollow of his throat. He awoke thinking.
     Himura Kenshin easy prey? Surely not. Seduction came easy with the aid of good wine and fair skin. Aoshi had played the part well, there could be no denying that and he had enjoyed himself. But he would not be made to pay for what was given freely.
     He traced a thoughtful finger across Aoshi's sleeping lips. He knew Aoshi was alone. A legend in a world of lesser beings. He had been raised to see things thus, reared by the elite for the elite. Such a thing was not wholly wrong. But this man who scorned innocence, mocked love even in ecstasy? He could be no part of it.

     There was no affection or regard in this proposal -- this arrangement would be merely that, an arrangement, between two who were equally and conveniently indestructible. Aoshi's beauty was hollow, made more so by his inability to recognize the hollowness. Sincere in its emptiness which was the worst thing of all. Yet he had been convincing....extremely so.

Aoshi's weight was suddenly very heavy.

He stirred beneath the sleeping body, raising himself carefully. Aoshi did not wake, sliding easily back into the silk robes spread on the floor. Voices of early sunrise echoed from outside, a cool breeze wafting over his soiled body, refreshing as pure water. He bent to pick up his crumpled gi, slinging it over his shoulder as he laced the worn hakama. The cloth smelled like a hundred years of floundering.
     He found his purse and fished out a few golden ryu. He placed them gently in Aoshi's outstretched palm, curling his fingers around the coins.      I can indulge but heretically. I choose not to be your salvation. Kenshin gave the sleeping figure a formal bow.
     "What you seek," he murmured. "Do not look for it in me."

He left.
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Gold burst against the wall in a hard glittering explosion, flung from his hand like dirty water. Aoshi watched his fee roll and scatter on the floor, breathing fast, disgust contorting his elegant features. He wrapped the used silk haphazardly around his body at the sound of footsteps and knelt.
     "Customers in. You out." The proprietress jerked her withered stump of a thumb behind her. Aoshi saw through the partition the teahouse regulars assembling themselves, his pale little messenger bent on hands and knees, scrubbing the floors with ash on his face. The proprietesses's bare brow lifted at the gold and demanded half. He thought about how little it would take to snap her twiglike neck and it calmed him. Did the sun dim at a gnat who buzzed in its rays?
She left with rough words. Alone again he rose, letting the robe fall from his shoulders. He paced, kicking aside the discarded remains of the previous night, the silk fan strewn carelessly askew, the crushed flower, the silver bells ripped from his hair.
     He knelt by a bucket in the corner, streaking a wet hand across dry lips and cheeks, like a tired lady attending her toilette. Water mixed with the powder, milky drops cutting pale lines across his throat. What he had taken pains to create, his prize had used and then abandoned. Fool! There had been a grave underestimation. After all it took arrogance, enormous arrogance, to believe he could will the destiny of another with eyes and lips.

Silently, wrathfully, Aoshi gathered his clothes.