Author's Note: For Ruroken Week 2016, I wrote seven different AUs. Depending on the responses/reviews, I'll decide which ones to continue and prioritize. (This does not mean I'll abandon the rest, just that they'll be tackled later.) Thanks in advance for reading!
He arrived in Tokyo with only his clothes and a shadow where his left arm used to be. An unexpected explosion on the battlefield had resulted in that loss, and the infection had landed him in the hospital. The doctors assumed he wouldn't survive, but he proved them wrong. He fought back death, knowing that he had to return to his dojo, to his students, and most of all, to his daughter.
Because the last thing he wanted was to draw attention to himself, he took the back roads just before dawn. Each step closer to home became achingly familiar, and in a perfectly timed moment, the sun rose above his house's roof. Light cast over the courtyard and…who was that?
There was a man, draping a blanket over the clothesline, and his red hair glinted in the weak sunshine. In fact, his hair almost matched the very familiar gi he wore.
Koshijiro tensed. Who was this stranger, wearing his clothes? And where was Kaoru?
His second question was promptly answered. The door slid back, and Kaoru stepped out in her kenjutsu uniform. Thankfully, she had not changed at all, and that was some comfort until she spoke. "Kenshin, I said you didn't have to do the laundry."
"Well, this one feels he has to do something to earn his keep." The man's voice was soft and even.
"You've only been here for a week. And I'm not even charging you rent!"
The stranger was living in the house? With Kaoru? And they were on a given-name basis?
He felt lost, as if the world he knew was suddenly replaced with a different one. What had happened while he was gone? He loudly cleared his throat, and they both turned to face him. His daughter immediately paled. "Otou-san?"
"I'm back, Kaoru." He answered, even if he didn't feel like it. He partly expected her to run to him or respond with 'welcome home', but to his surprise, she fell to her knees in clear shock.
"…you thought I was dead?"
This was definitely not what he expected.
He pointedly glared at the fidgeting redhead across the table, as Kaoru poured tea for all three of them. There were leftovers from breakfast, which looked presentable. He tried a bite and was pleased; his daughter must have improved in her cooking. At least, this change was welcome. "The rice is good." Not dry or soggy, and definitely not burned.
"Kenshin made it." Kaoru informed.
He had to swallow to keep from choking.
"And will you tell me what happened? The war, the letter about your death, but most importantly, your arm." She reached over to touch his limp sleeve and whispered. "They really cut it off?"
"I was unconscious when they did, and I woke up with nothing below my shoulder." At the sight of her stricken face, he added. "There are phantom pains now and then, but I survived a nasty fever. I'm alright now, and I'm home at last." When she was little, he patted her head to comfort her, and he felt a twinge in his shoulder. His body remembered the motion, even though it could no longer carry it out. "So what's this about a letter?"
She blinked. "Oh, that's right. I got a letter from your commanding officer, saying that you…didn't make it. They said they would send the body, which they didn't because there wasn't a body to begin with!" Her voice had steadily increased in volume. "How could they send a false notice like that?"
"They moved on without me, so most likely, they didn't realize I survived the blast that took my arm. They must have thought I was good as dead and sent it anyway."
"But still, we had a funeral for you and everything! Then, the rumors started and the students left. I…I thought I was alone."
He shifted uncomfortably. "I'm sorry for worrying you. I didn't realize what everyone else would have thought; if I had, I would have tried to recover faster. But it looks like you weren't alone after all." He turned towards the stranger, who nervously inclined his head.
"This one is Himura Kenshin. It's an honor to meet you."
"Kenshin helped me out, when the dojo was in trouble. He doesn't have a home, so I offered him a place to stay. He's just a boarder, we've had them before."
She had never referred to the other boarders by their given name. "I see you've made yourself at home, Himura-san."
"Oro, this one didn't mean to intrude. Or wear your clothes, but this one will return them." He tugged at the front of the red gi.
"Keep them, my daughter can make her own choices. If she gave them to you, so be it; I won't spoil her kindness."
"Indeed, she has been very kind to this one." He beamed at her, and to Koshijiro's shock, she blushed. Like a girl. Like a girl in love.
"Like I said, you were the one who helped me, and you do the housework too. All I've done is given you a roof over your head and a place at the table."
"And a warm futon. That's what this one has missed the most, so this one is especially thankful for that."
"W-well, of course."
At this, Koshijiro's thoughts went down an extremely slippery slope, and anger flooded him. While Kaoru could decide things on her own, she was still young. How dare this man, good cook or not, take advantage of her like that?!
The table clattered as he stood up, and his daughter called out his name just before he swung a right hook at Himura. The man dodged the blow, rolling away into the wall with a loud thump, as Koshijiro stumbled from throwing off his balance.
"What are you doing?!" Kaoru shouted, running over. No, wait, not to him, to Himura. "Kenshin, are you alright?"
"This one is fine, Kaoru-dono."
"Kaoru-dono?" Koshijiro repeated, in disbelief. "You refer to her so formally, even after…"
"After what?" His daughter demanded. "Y-you don't think, that Kenshin and I…Otou-san!"
And that was when he received an earful.
"Where did I go wrong, Kyoko?" He muttered in front of the altar. His late wife's visage, portrayed in a few strokes of ink, stared solemnly back at him. "I left her alone for six months, and she's gone and fallen in love with a passing stranger."
Kaoru had retold last week's encounter, red-faced and scowling by the end of it, before stomping off. The dojo was threatened by defaming rumors, when she met Himura. He was only passing by, but he came back to fight off the men. Out of gratitude, she offered him a room, and there had been no futon-sharing or anything of the sort, so don't even think of kicking him out, Otou-san.
Still, it didn't stop his suspicions about her affection towards this 'rurouni'. He hadn't forgotten how she ran to the redhead first, rather than her own father.
He sighed. "What should I do? You know I was never good at this kind of thing." If Kyoko was alive, she would have knowingly laughed. She was more in touch with her emotions and could have communicated to Kaoru better. But she wasn't here, and he had to decipher his daughter's behavior on his own. Quietly, he bowed to Kyoko's makeshift memorial before walking into the dojo.
He frowned. There were traces of the fight on the scuffed floor and the scratches on the wall. He glanced up, his frown deepening. Neither of them had told him about the hole in the ceiling! Someone, probably Kaoru, had tried to patch it up with cloth, but he mentally made a note to fix it. Or rather, hire a laborer to fix it.
Not having both arms was irritating.
"Oro, Kamiya-dono, this one didn't know you were in here. Ah, this one would fix the ceiling, but this one isn't very good at construction work. Kaoru-dono has already contacted someone to repair it." He turned his attention to Himura, who approached closer.
"It's fine." He said gruffly. "And thank you for telling me. So you protected my daughter with that sword?" He jerked his chin towards the man's sakabato. "I approve of it; it didn't shed blood here."
Himura looked down, nodding. "This one heard that you founded Kamiya Kasshin after fighting in the Bakumatsu."
"Yes. It's not a time I like to remember, but in order to never let it happen again, I have to. I remember war every time I step into this dojo, every time I strike with bamboo, and every time I teach. Luckily, it isn't hard to forget."
"You sound like you know what I'm talking about, but you can't imagine how horrible it was."
"This one can, because this one fought in the Bakumatsu, for the Ishin-shishi. Three, four years under the command of Katsura Kogoro. That is why this one carries a sakabato, for this one has also sworn to never take life again." His hand fell to the hilt of his sword.
He narrowed his eyes. "How old are you?"
"This one is twenty-eight."
"…do you have a way to confirm that?"
"Never mind, I believe you." He paused. "Have you told Kaoru?"
"This one has."
"And she invited you in, knowing that anyway?"
"She did. Despite how unworthy this one is, Kaoru-dono accepted this one."
"Then, she really is my daughter." At this, Himura smiled, but Koshijiro wasn't finished. "However, that doesn't mean I'll accept how lax she's been." His hand balled into a fist and he held it in front of him, parallel to his shoulder. "Do you see my arm?"
Himura nodded once, tense and apprehensive.
"Good. This distance is how far you have to stay away from Kaoru. Any closer than that is unacceptable. Understood?"
"…yes?" It sounded like a question.
"Otou-san, what's going on?!" Kaoru had returned, standing in the doorway. "You're not going to punch him again, are you?"
He lowered his arm. "I'm only telling him his boundaries, if he wants to stay here. I have a young daughter and a grown man under the same roof; someone has to act as chaperone."
"Geez, it's not like anything will happen!"
His mouth twisted. When he was younger, he had studied under a swordsman to gain experience. That swordsman had a daughter, and that was Kyoko. So, he knew about this firsthand, and in fact, it was the very reason he started this discussion! Just as he was about to voice this, Himura spoke.
"This one can obey that."
"This one is only a rurouni, an outsider." He shrugged. "This one is happy enough to stay, that is all. With that said, this one has to prepare lunch. Kaoru-dono, will you help this one? It has been a while since Kamiya-dono has eaten at home."
She looked between the two of them, before throwing her hands up. "No more fighting, that's the only thing I ask. Otou-san, you have to relax, so just wait until we're finished cooking. Come on, Kenshin." She pivoted to head inside, and Himura followed.
"Arm's length." Koshijiro warned, remembering the close proximity of the kitchen. With these two, he would have to be vigilant.
"We got it, Otou-san!" Kaoru grumbled. At her side, Himura only gave an ambiguous smile.
Extremely, extremely vigilant.