Author's Note: Yep, my fic got dumped from FF. Why? My bad. I got spammed on my review page and reported it. So FF dumped my story and froze my account for a week. No, Hell has not frozen over, so they haven't responded to my pleading emails. Live and Learn. I will be posting one chapter a day until I get back to square one.
To my wonderful readers and reviewers, thanks for reading. The worst part of the whole damn mess was losing your reviews.
Watsuki owns them
I just borrow for a while
No harm intended
Dreams I Dreamt Instead
Chapter 1: Letter from a Friend
Fall of the 16th year of the Meiji Era -------
Kenshin opened the letter as soon as it was delivered. Kaoru was still in the dojo giving lessons, Yahiko was at the Akebeko, and his lessons for today were finished. Kenshin knew Kaoru and Yahiko wouldn't mind if he opened the letter immediately, even though it was addressed to all of them. It was another letter from Sano, the first they had received since their picnic in the spring under the cherry blossoms at Mount Ueno.
"Hey, how's everybody? All still alive? It's been too long, huh?
I've had too much fun here in Mongolia, so I'm coming back to Japan.
Get that delicious bowl of white rice and miso soup ready for me, OK?"
"See ya - my ship docks in Yokohama on the 28th of September! I'll come to Tokyo right away."
Kenshin smiled and sighed.
He wanted to go to Yokohama to meet Sano, but he knew that Kaoru and Kenji, couldn't go - Kaoru had just added several more students and she and Yahiko were very busy with classes. She would never let Kenji go to Yokohama without her, and he wouldn't go with Kenshin if his mom wasn't within his sight in any case. Yahiko wouldn't be happy about missing welcoming Sano home, but he could barely stand to be away from the Akebeko long enough to teach his classes, he was becoming so attached to Tsubame.
He knew Kaoru would wish to go with him, but would not object to him going to Yokohama to meet Sano's ship. If he took the train, the fare would be reasonably cheap and he would only be gone for 2 days. He and Sano could stay in Yokohama for the night, and walk back to Tokyo the next day. The walk would be a pleasant one, so he wouldn't ask Kaoru to spend the money for both of them to return by train.
Sano was coming back. Kenshin's smile spread over his entire face at the thought of it. He didn't have that many friends, and Sano was the best friend he had ever had. He missed having him around to talk to, to fight along side him, to make trouble and to worry over. Sano was bigger than life and so full of life, he had known that Tokyo would not hold him forever. Now Sano was coming home. Had he traveled enough to be willing to stay? Or was this just a temporary stopover?
And, of course, there were the legal ramifications. If Sano did want to stay in Japan, could the difficulties that had forced him to leave in the first place be cleared up so that he could live in Japan in peace? Or would he be forced to become a fugitive? Kenshin knew all too well about life on the road. He believed Sano was capable of it - but it would not suit him. Unless, of course, his sense of direction had improved during his world travels. After all, it was Sanoske who had become hopelessly lost on the Meiji Toukai Way. Come to think of it, Sano had become hopelessly lost in Kyoto, too. Well, Kenshin would meet him at the docks and walk back to Tokyo with him, which would keep him from straying too far too soon.
Kenshin set aside his plans for his trip to Yokohama and reminiscences about Sano while he prepared dinner for Kaoru and Kenji. Kenji had taken a long nap while Kaoru was teaching, thank goodness. He awoke just as his Mom finished, so he welcomed her with his usual hugs and kisses. He had no such affection for Kenshin. Kenshin didn't understand it, and Kaoru couldn't explain it either, but Kenji had always preferred his Mom and made no secret of that preference. Kenshin figured that eventually his son would get used to him, maybe when he was a little older and not so dependent on his Mom. At least he hoped so, he tried not to show it, but Kenji's distaste for his presence and his attentions was hard to take. He loved his son and had hoped that the time he spent with him would be fun and pleasant. Instead, Kenji was whiny and difficult. He behaved abominably whenever his Mom was out of sight and earshot. When Kaoru was within earshot, he was the perfect angel - all smiles and sunshine. With Kenshin, he was the devil child from Hell.
Kaoru and Kenji chatted and played while he finished the dinner preparations. He was filled with joy just to be in the same room with them. They were his family and this was his favorite time of day - even if Kenji showed his affections only to his Mom.
Kenshin shared the letter with Kaoru, and discussed with her the possibility of going to Yokohama.
"Oh Kenshin, I want to see Sano, too, but you know I cannot leave my new students. They are too new and need a lot of attention and encouragement during this early part of their training. And Yahiko is already working as many classes as he can. I just can't ask him to take on any more just now. Would you mind terribly if Kenji and I stayed here in Tokyo? You could go meet Sano in Yokohama. I'd like you to take the train, so you'll be back sooner. Could you be back in a couple of days?"
"It would be more fun to go together. Are you sure you can manage Kenji and your classes without any help? I do not want to make things harder for you. We could all wait until Sano arrives here, that we could."
Kenji was listening attentively to his parent's discussion. He did not participate, yet he made his feelings clear at every turn. When Kaoru talked about Kenshin leaving, he smiled broadly. When Kenshin talked about staying home to take care of Kenji, he looked nearly ready to cry. He was happy again as Kaoru encouraged Kenshin to go to Yokohama.
"Kenshin, please go to Yokohama without us. It's only a short trip. And I know how much you would like to meet Sano there and accompany him back to Tokyo, so don't stay here when you know we will manage without you. Just don't stay away too long."
"If I take the train there, Sano and I can walk back and I will still only be gone two days, unless the ship is late. Will that do?"
"I would prefer that both of you took the train back, too, Kenshin. I don't think you should use your energy that way when we can manage the train fare."
"But Sano and I would enjoy the walk back, Kaoru. And it would not be too tiring."
"Please, Kenshin, humor me and take the train. You and Sano can talk on the train, just as we did when we came back from Kyoto, remember?"
Kenshin and Kaoru exchanged warm smiles as they recalled their trip back from Kyoto after his defeat of Shishio. Now, years later, the memory of that trip back to Tokyo was one of their favorites. They held hands over the table. The gaze the couple exchanged pledged that Kenshin's return from Yokohama this time would be just as meaningful to them. It was a sweet sentimental moment, broken only by the sound of Kenji hollering for his Mother's attention. His parent's gaze changed to smiles and murmured promises.
"Later," they both agreed. Kaoru briefly touched her husband's cheek before turning her full attention to Kenji, and taking him off to get him ready for bed.
Kenshin cleared the table and cleaned up the kitchen for the night, making his nightly rounds to close up the dojo before going to bed. He would be leaving in two days, so he and Kaoru could spend some time together before he left. He smiled and hoped that one day Sano would have the peace and happiness he had found here at the Kamiya Kasshin School dojo.
Two days later, Kenshin left from Shinbashi station on the early train to Yokohama. He was traveling light, but taking the time to enjoy the trip. He was not a wanderer anymore, so his perspective had changed. He was so entrenched at the Tokyo dojo, that he never really planned to leave for any reason. Sometimes reasons just seemed to find him. And this one was a very good and pleasant reason. He was looking forward to greeting an old friend, welcoming him back to Japan, and helping him resolve whatever legal difficulties would be necessary to allow him to stay.
It was still early when he reached his destination. Sano's ship was scheduled to arrive around noon. Schedules were very approximate, however, so Kenshin expected to be spending a lot of time around the docks today and perhaps even for the next few days if the ship was late. He enjoyed looking at the water. It was a calming pastime and reminded him of the insignificance of his own life in the vast ocean of time and human experience. The value he placed on human life, including his own was not diminished by the realization that the universe was vast. His own regrets and remorse were somewhat lessened as he contemplated the ocean. He had made his peace with his past in Rakuninmura, and he would continue to fight for those he saw in distress as part of his atonement.
The rhythm of the waterfront was interesting and vibrant. Ships were arriving and departing from exotic foreign places in this Meiji Era. Foreign commerce was growing and the docks were busy with loading up goods for sales far over the sea. Exotic goods from foreign lands, particularly the West, were being unloaded to entice the Japanese people. Kenshin watched the workers shift and balance the heavy cargo with practiced ease. The passengers were just as interesting to watch. He observed the restrained good-byes as loved ones went away and the smiling welcomes for those returning.
Gradually, his thoughts turned to Sano. He had been such a good friend. How would his travels have changed him? Would he be satisfied to settle down in Japan now? Or would the lure of foreign places continue to call him off to explore the world?
Kenshin moved to the slip designated for Sano's arriving vessel. The large steamship was arriving right on time. Kenshin wondered if Sano was traveling on this ship as a paying passenger or a stow-away. He would need to wait until all the cargo had been unloaded and the ship looked deserted if Sano didn't appear with the passengers. He settled into a convenient vantage point to watch both the activities on the ship and the harbor beyond. If the local authorities were watching for Sano, he did not want to give them any assistance. He had spent lots of time watching ships in just this manner to cover his activities, just in case. He did not sense any surveillance of himself or this ship, and was once again grateful that his intuitive sense of ki had not diminished with his ability to execute Hiten Mitsurugi moves.
Sano was not among the passengers, so Kenshin settled in for a long wait. If he was in hiding, Kenshin might be here until long past sundown. After another two hours, all of the cargo had been unloaded and there was still no sign of Sano. Then the stevedores and other workers on the boat began to depart. Kenshin's surprise was great indeed when he saw his wild haired, bearded friend leaving with the other workers. They were laughing and joking together with the familiarity of co-workers. Sano had a job?
He waited until the group reached the edge of the gangplank before he made his presence known. Sano wasn't expecting him, but was jubilant at the sight of him.
Sano grabbed Kenshin by the arms and lifted his smaller friend in a huge bear hug.
Sano released his "oro-ing" friend and the old friends clasped hands and took stock of each other.
"Great to see you, buddy! How ya doing?"
"I'm fine, Sano, and I can see that you are doing fine, as well." Kenshin was all smiles. Sano's ki was exuberant as always, and he could feel Sano's pleasure at seeing him and returning to Japan. He had missed this vibrant ki, and his most valued friend.
"Hey, I didn't expect to see you until I reached Tokyo - did Jo-chan and the kid come, too? What about Yahiko?"
"No, they are all still in Tokyo, and are all anxious to see you. The Kamiya Kasshin School is very busy these days, and both Kaoru and Yahiko had too many classes to come. We are all glad you are back, Sano."
"So, ya wanna go with my buddies to get a drink, Kenshin? We can catch up with them easily."
"If you wish, Sano. But I thought we could get some dinner and stay overnight here in Yokohama. I am anxious to get back to Tokyo tomorrow. Kaoru wants us to take the train back."
"Hey, dinner sounds great, let's go. I haven't had a decent meal since I left Mongolia. The food on this barge was the worst - if I hadn't known better, I would have thought Jo-chan was in the galley."
Amon had arranged for his brother and nephew to keep his shop open and take care of his customers. It was an unusual request, but they were happy to oblige him. They knew only something very important would make him ask for their help.
Amon had been a shopkeeper in Yokohama since the beginning of the Meiji Era. He was very happy in Yokohama, and had built up a good business through his hard work. He was a happy family man, too. His cherished calm and centered life was a blessing. And he knew none of it would have come about without the training and assistance of the Oniwabanshuu. Only the encouragement of the Okashira had made him leave his active status in the group and rebuild his life outside of their clan. He had expected that the Oniwabanshuu would slowly dissolve in the Meiji Era, but the small group had stubbornly held on. His only current role was with his carrier pigeons. He loved to care for the birds and enjoyed the regular rotating the secretive caretakers continued to keep the birds ready to deliver any message the Oniwabanshuu needed in a hurry.
Messages were few and far between. And today he had received two. One from Kyoto, one from Tokyo. Both marked with the sign of the Okashira. Both for the same man. His instructions were clear, if unusual, and he followed them to the letter. 'Deliver to Himura Kenshin (red hair, slight, pink gi), on the docks at noon, today. Wear your uniform.'
It had been years since he had dressed in the blue of the Oniwabanshuu, but he was just happy that the uniform still fit at this point. And he did not expect to run into any of his customers or friends down at the docks, so his identity as a ninja would remain secret. At least he fervently hoped so.
He rushed to the docks. The messages had arrived late in the morning, so it was just after noon when he arrived. He quickly surveyed the docking area. Fortunately, only one steamship had docked at noon, but it was in the very last slip, so he increased his pace.
Was he looking for a gaigin? Who else would have red hair? Or the bad taste to wear a pink gi, for that matter. At least the unusual attire and appearance should make him easy to spot.
Amon came to a screeching halt at the entrance to the slip. That had to be the man he was looking for. He had the red hair, the pink gi and he was certainly slight. The man beside him was huge in comparison. But there was something about this man that had Amon thinking hard as he walked toward the two men standing at the gangplank. He should know this man. There was something about him. It had to be something from the past. Maybe it was wearing his Oniwabanshuu uniform, but he knew that this man was someone he should remember. Just then, he turned and Amon got his first look at his face.
"Oh My God!" Amon stopped as he whispered in recognition. The Okashira had sent him to deliver messages to the Battousai. Years of training kicked in and Amon recovered himself quickly. He was Oniwabanshuu and he was serving the Okashira. He purposefully approached the men and waited for them to acknowledge him. The three men were alone in the slip. He could hear some of their conversation as he approached.
"Were you working on the ship Sano? I thought maybe you were stowing away…"
"Yeah, a friend of mine in Mongolia got me a job on the ship so I didn't have to pay for my passage. It wasn't too bad, and better than trying to hide from everyone during the whole voyage. I even ended up with some wages. I figured I'd need it to get to Tokyo."
"What were your duties, Sano? It's hard for me to imagine you working on a boat (or anywhere else, for that matter)."
"Hmm, I worked in the kitchen - actually, I was the cook. Hey, don't tell Jo-chan or Yahiko, will ya. I'd never live it down."
Kenshin was chuckling at the idea of Sano cooking in a ship's galley. "Don't worry, Sano. All your secrets are safe with me."
"I can tell how much you have changed, Kenshin. But you look really happy."
"I am happy, Sano. I wouldn't change a thing."
"Not even Jo-chan's cooking? Well, nobody's perfect. Geez, it's great to be back in Japan. At least I can speak the language. I didn't realize how much I had missed it…"
Kenshin and Sano had noticed the man, but waited until he approached them. It seemed unlikely that anyone would be coming to see either one of them in Yokohama, yet the man was clearly headed in their direction. He was dressed in the Oniwabanshuu blue uniform, so Kenshin and Sano were not alarmed, merely very curious. They both turned to him and he promptly executed a formal bow and a very respectful greeting.
"May I inquire if you are Himura Kenshin?"
Kenshin raised an eyebrow, but nodded. Sano crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. His stance indicated he was ready to fight. But then Sano was always ready to fight.
"I have two messages for you from the Okashira, Hirmura-san. The first arrived from Kyoto, the second from Tokyo. Both are marked urgent." He handed the brief documents to Kenshin.
Kenshin opened them in order, with Sano looking over his shoulder. The one from Kyoto said: "Aoiya. Now." He and Sano exchanged mystified glances as he opened the second message. It said: "Go. Take the Train!" Kenshin laughed, joined by Sano. Only Kaoru would send such a message. And the one from Kyoto had to be from Misao, she was still the Okashira.
Amon handed Kenshin another envelope, containing two train tickets to Kyoto on a train leaving very shortly.
"Can you please direct us to the train station? It looks like we had better hurry."
"I will take you, Himura-san. It is only a short distance from here."
Amon escorted Kenshin and Sano to the station in silence, making sure they were on the train before he left to resume his normal life in Yokohama. He had never in a million years expected to meet the legendary hitokiri.