And its finished! I hope everyone enjoys this conclusion to the Twisted Series. Now my attentions can go back towards Amber and Trade Winds (I hope) and get something from one of those up and going soon. However, I have a three part story called Crimson Stain that is almost completely written that will be coming out soon so expect that.
Hope everyone enjoyes.
Thanks to Stephani for looking things over for me.
Disclaimer: I do not own.
Kaoru was drowsily enjoying the luxury of sleeping in. It didn't happen often, with her four-year-old son running around and sticking his perfect little nose into everything. Kenji might have been showing signs as being as brilliant as his father, but Kaoru was starting to understand why Hiko had fled to a mountain top.
However, she was warm and as comfortable as her protruding stomach and lying flat on her back would allow. She missed the warmth and comfort of Kenshin's body, but she could hear the sounds of him talking to Kenji as he cooked breakfast. Kenji was asking all sorts of questions and not really giving his father time to answer, but Kenshin never seemed to mind. He always seemed too fascinated with Kenji's little speech and the way he skipped words and phrases, carefully correcting his son only if someone was watching.
Kaoru knew he wanted the baby speech to last as long as possible. Or at least until this one was born and he had someone else to spoil into talking. Kenji had learned fast that talking got his father's attention much faster than tears.
Slipping into the content stage between waking and sleeping, she hovered until little fingers, faintly sticky, patted her cheeks. Kenji had used to wake her by his 'Iten Rugi Ru fwing weap!' but once she had gotten pregnant a second time Kenshin had coaxed his son out of the habit and now little fingers patted her cheeks. "So not to hurt the baby." Kenji was always very serious about the baby.
"Kaa-san, up! Tou-chan has breafast done. Up, up, up!" His fingers patted her cheeks lightly, insistently, but she kept her eyes firmly closed in an attempt not to laugh. Kenji sighed in exasperation. He heard the sound of Kenshin's footsteps about the same time she did. "Tou-chan, Kaa-chan isn't up! Breafast cold!"
A warm hand, calloused and familiar, brushed her bangs. "I think she is being stubborn this morning, Kenji. What shall we do?"
Kenji frowned with great dignity as he watched his father, his blue-eyes bright. "We can't hurt the baby." His high voice was scolding and she peeked from her lashes and her body shook with laughter.
It shouldn't have surprised her that Kenji noticed.
"Cheat!" Kenji declared, sticking his nose close to his mothers. "Breafast is ready!" He tore his eyes away from his mother and stared at her six-month-tummy. With careful hands under his father's watchful eyes he patted her stomach lightly. "Morning, baby!"
Kaoru grinned and reached out and tugged on her son's bangs. "I heard you, Kenji-chan. How about you go and make sure it's still warm?"
Kenji grinned his cheesy little smile and shot out of the room, slipping on the wooden floor in his Tabi with giggles.
"Cheat," Kenshin murmured against her cheek teasingly. Kaoru sighed at him.
"Well it was either attempt to get out of bed and fail or wait for you to get in here and assist your pregnant wife." Kaoru informed him tartly, even as her eyes watched him with drowsy affection. "Now help me up you loaf, before you son has an apoplexy about the food getting cold."
Kenji took that moment to bellow. "Tou-chan! No kissy-faces! Breafast cold soon!"
Kenshin chuckled and helped Kaoru maneuver her heavy frame upwards and steadied her for a moment, enjoying the way she leaned into him and her face pressed against his throat. "We had better hurry, or your son will decide to serve himself breakfast. The last time he did that he almost burned himself and took the kitchen with him." Kaoru reminded him as she moved to stand up.
Kenshin raised a brow. "I find it amusing, Kaoru, that you always refer to him as 'my son' when he attempts to burn things down."
Kaoru swatted him on principle. And then she swatted him again because of the twinkle in his eyes. "No morning kissy-face for you, sir!" Kaoru told him waspishly as she waddled down the hallway. Kenshin laughed behind her and helped her settle on the floor, admiring the way her hair clung to her rounded face with adoration.
"Tou-chaaaaan!" Kenji wailed. "Hungry! Hurry!"
Kenshin ruffled his son's hair but obligingly brought out the food and everyone gave the morning thanks. Kenji responded with such gusto that he almost fell over, and Kenshin served the meal. Kaoru had attempted to keep up with the food serving but had almost overbalanced herself one to many times for Kenshin to let her keep it up.
Kaoru sighed in bliss as she brought the warm rice and miso into her mouth, the hot tea soothing down her throat. The grilled fish, Kenshin must have gone early to the market for, was perfect and she and Kenshin both kept an eye on thier hungry son. He ate like a bird, his little mouth opening wide for an oversized bite of rice and they had to scold him several times for almost choking.
"Let Tou-chan help," Kaoru scowled, as Kenshin was the closest. "Remember, Kenji-chan, big bites don't mean you will get full faster."
Kenji nodded frantically as his father put a smaller bit of rice on his chopstick and Kenji opened his mouth greedily.
"I see I arrived just in time for breakfast. Lucky me."
Kenji's mouth was full, and Kaoru attempted to stress table manners, so he just jumped up and down, waving his hands so frantically that Kenshin had to move to keep from getting swatted. Once he had swallowed he spoke.
"Kaa-chan's food! Has to eat for baby! No eat Yahiko-nii!" Kenji warned, his little face scrunching up.
Kaoru almost lost it and choked on her tea and Kenshin had to pat her back several times.
"I should hope your mother wouldn't eat me," Yahiko teased, sitting down next to Kaoru and making faces at the little dragon across the table from him. He deliberately misunderstood her son's speech and Kenji's eyes narrowed with temper. Kenshin settled a hand on his sons head, amusement visible only in the crinkle around his eyes.
"It's alright Kenji, I made enough for Yahiko. He is going to be teaching classes today." Kenshin reminded his fiercely protective son.
"Pratice!" Kenji sulkily agreed and then turned to his father. His eyes were hopeful. "Pratice?"
Yahiko grinned around a mouthful of rice. "That's your son, Kaoru."
Kaoru would have hit him, except she had been making an attempt to keep from striking out in violence now that Kenji was around. Instead she shoved another mouthful of rice into her mouth and gave him the look. Apparently it had been developed around the time Kenji started walking, but she nodded in satisfaction that it seemed to have the same effect on Yahiko that it had on her son.
He was instantly sheepish. While he didn't go as far as apologize like Kenji did, his little baby face forcefully admitting how sorry he was, Yahiko did drop his eyes and concentrate on his miso.
Kenji, however, had ignored all the by play and was watching his father with an expression she did recognize. She was almost positive it was the same expression she had worn when she begged her own Tou-chan for lessons.
"Please, Tou-chan," Kenji asked, bouncing a little bit in his seat, his red-bangs flying everywhere. "I wanna play with sword today. Watch Tou-chan practice!"
Kenshin calmly took another bit of his fish and that prompted Kenji to do the same. "We will see." He told his son with amused eyes. "Do you remember what we went over last time?"
Kenji's little brow tucked together as he thought; he was still at the age where long term memory wasn't something he bothered with. Frowning he hesitated before nodding a little. "Yes…Kenji remember! You showed Kenji how to hold sword!" His eyes swung to his fathers for approval and Kenshin nodded in agreement, reaching out to ruffle his already wild hair.
"Very good. You can watch me practice, but I have to help your mother out around the house today. If you help too, then perhaps we can play outside."
Kenji would have attempted to shovel his rice down his throat if Kenshin hadn't caught his chopsticks and softly instructed him to slow down. Kenji nodded so eagerly that his hair bounced again, but did as he was told. Breakfast finished in a timely manner and Kenji even helped to clear the table so his Kaa-chan could rest.
Yahiko helped Kaoru to her feet and lead her out to the porch where Kenshin had set her up a permanent place to rest, including pillows that only came in when the weather or washing demanded. Kaoru sank down with a sigh and smiled when she saw Yahiko disappear to bring out the rest of the breakfast tea.
"You three spoil me rotten," Kaoru scolded even as she accepted the small cup. "I swear, if Megumi hadn't demanded that I take a walk to the river once a day during my last pregnancy, I would never leave the dojo with this one."
Yahiko shrugged unrepentant. "This might be true. But Kaoru…are you…worried?" His tone was hesitant.
Kaoru smiled at him, putting her cup down so she could reach out and ruffle his bangs. Yahiko scowled at her, but she ignored it. "Not at all. Just because I had difficulties the first time around, doesn't mean I will this time as well. Megumi said that the second pregnancy is always easier. And, you have to admit, this little one is being much nicer than Kenji ever was."
Yahiko nodded in agreement. "Which is why I think it's a girl."
Kaoru laughed, "I don't think that really matters one way or another. Kenji has all the temper of both Kenshin and I, and it showed even when I was carrying him. I never heard a baby scream in complaint so much as when you took his favorite chew-toy."
Yahiko grinned in agreement. "Now he just chases me around and hits me in the shins with the da—darn stick that Kenshin cut him." He made a face. Both he and Kaoru had made a point not to swear around the baby, but it still slipped into their speech occasionally.
Karou's hand was still resting on Yahiko's shoulder when Kenji came in. He made a noise and raced over, latching onto his mother as close as he could with her protruding tummy. He gave Yahiko a furious little look and Kaoru noticed, not for the first time, that he had inherited another part of his father as well. Small sparks of gold flickered around his irises. "My Kaa-chan," Kenji scolded Yahiko. "Mine!"
Kaoru refused to look at Kenshin, knowing the expression that would be on her husbands face. "Kenji," Kaoru asked him gently and he turned to look up at her, his eyes wide. "Remember what we talked about?"
Kenji nodded. "I share! I share! You said share with…with…baby!" His face lit up in triumph when he found the word he was looking for. "You never said share with Yahiko-nii!"
Kenshin scoped Kenji up as the first of the dojos students filtered in. There were only a dozen or so at the time, since Harvest was fast approaching, but once fall settled in, they would have a good fifteen or more. Ever since Yahiko had started taking over some of the classes the numbers had grown, and while Kaoru couldn't have been more than happy for her first student, she was slightly wistful that it had taken a male teacher to bring the dojo back to life.
She couldn't honestly complain though. With Yahiko teaching all but the most advanced classes, even during her pregnancies, it opened up her time to play with Kenji or to teach somewhere else. The dojo was doing good and things were settling into a rhythm again. She offered Yahiko a soft smile and he grinned back, understanding exactly what she meant.
Yahiko and Tsubame were set to be married at the end of Harvest, and Tae was both tearful and excited and making all sorts of plans. Yahiko had a small home between the Akebeko and the Dojo and had been working hard to fix it up with the earnings he split with Kaoru.
Kenshin hardly ever spoke about it, but he was always lending a hand with things, to this day, and so there were times when she would go and count the sen and yen and blink in an attempt to figure out where it had all come from. Five years ago she would never have thought it possible to have so much.
Sometime she would look around and expect to see shadows of the past. Sano leaning against the wall with his Sake jug, or Kenshin leaning against one of the beams, trying not to watch the road.
Then her husband would walk in and kiss her breathless for no reason and she would remember that she was happy now.
"What are you thinking about?" Kenshin asked as he settled his arms around her, sitting so she could lean back against his chest. Kenji came shooting around him, and jumped into Yahiko's knees so that he had to pick him up and put him on his shoulders while he greeted the students trickling in.
"You know me," Kaoru told him quietly, leaning against his shoulder and sighing blissfully. "Just thinking about the past."
Kenshin nibble on her ear, using the angle of her body to shield his movements. "What have I told you about that?"
Kaoru grinned at him. "Probably the same thing I have told you about doing things like that when people are around!" She scolded him, but her breath caught as he flicked his tongue against the sensitive skin under her ear. "Kenshin!"
He laughed and settled her closer against him. "I will behave if you do," he chastised her in turn and she pouted at him.
"Kaa-chan, letters! Person brought letters!" Kenji called out, waving two of the three envelops in his grungy fingers. "See! Kenji has!" His little face was beaming with pride and Yahiko put him down and let him run across the lawn towards his parents.
Kaoru accepted the letters from Kenji and thanked him gratefully and he beamed and looked at his father for approval. He handed his mother the letters and jumped onto his father's leg so he could watch his mother open and read her mail.
"Who from? Who from?" Kenji asked excitedly.
"This is from Misao-nii, you probably don't remember her, Kenji-love, because I haven't seen her in a few years. But she was there for your birth." Kaoru told him softly and he stared at her with wide eyes. "She has two boys, twins, that are a year or so younger than you."
Misao's birth of twins had been a complete surprise, one tinged by sadness. Misao had been so tiny and the boys were bigger than her frame could handle. Megumi had done all she could but it was doubtful that Misao would ever have another child. She didn't complain, but sometimes Kaoru caught a wistful tone of her letters and wondered how she really was.
"She wants to come down this winter and spend a few weeks. Aoshi has agreed to bring her if it's alright with us. You will like the twins," Kaoru assured her son. "They will be fun to play with. I bet they even know how to play swords."
Kenji's face lit up. "Other paper!" The idea of playmates was good and fine and all but someone else had written them, and he wanted to know what they said!
Kaoru quickly scanned it. "It's from Megumi," she told Kenshin softly. "She says there is quite an outbreak of Influenza and that it looks like it's only going to get worse as winter approaches. She says she might not be able to break away to deliver the baby."
Kenshin dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "Dr. Gensai is quite capable of delivering our daughter," he assured her softly and Kaoru shot him a glare.
"I know that!" she grumbled. "And it could be another boy." She declared.
Kenshin shook his head. "You have your boy, I want my girl."
Kenji looked back and forth. "No kissy-face!" He warned, pouting. "Kenji just wants someone to play with!"
Kenshin tickled him playfully and Kenji squealed.
Yahiko stared at the letter in his hand and decided to read it when there wasn't a chance of someone seeing him open it. He had snagged it from Kenji just in time. If Kaoru had seen this particular name she would have wanted to read it, and he had the gut feeling that it would only have upset her.
Tucking it into his Gi, he gave Kenshin a meaningful glance that Kaoru missed as she dealt with a giggling Kenji. However, she must have caught something off Kenshin and she turned with a worried look on her face. Her dear face that had rounded out with her pregnancy; and he wondered faintly if Tsubame would look similar with her future pregnancies. That gave him a moment of goofy excitement and he shook himself out of his stupor when Kaoru called out.
"What is it Yahiko-chan? Bad news?" She always fell back into calling him chan when she was worried. He would let her get away with it this once.
"No," He returned lightly, making sure the letter was tightly tucked against his chest. "It's just a bill that I thought I had paid. I will take care of it." He assured her and Kenshin's head snapped in his direction, his eyes thoughtful.
Kaoru paid the bills.
Granted, Yahiko could claim it was something for the house he had been furnishing for Tsubame, but Kenshin wouldn't believe him. Kaoru, one the other hand, seemed perfectly content in her ignorance. He smiled fondly as he watched Kenji pester his mother for attention, dancing back and forth and back and forth holding the ribbon he had snatched from her hair.
Yahiko moved into the dojo to start teaching his classes, an amused smile on his face.
"Up and down Kenji, not like you're attempting to take someone's head off," Kaoru scolded him softly from where she was reading her book with one eye and watching Kenji with the other. Kenshin was cleaning his blade, and Kenji was doing everything he could to get his fathers attention. It had become almost ritualistic now. When Yahiko taught the advanced classes, Kenshin would practice in the yard, shielded from the dojo by the home. Kenji would watch with rapt fascination, and when Kenshin sat about to polish his sword, more of habit than anything, Kenji would demand his attention while he mimicked moves.
"Like this Tou-chan? Kenji holds right? Like this?" He asked, practicing the movement he had watched Yahiko teach the younger students, his little face turning a faint pink from the sun. He was panting, after chasing around a frog he had found, and several grasshoppers. Kaoru had put her foot down when he attempted to bring her a large beetle and insisted that his father would want to see that instead.
Kenshin had done that morning's laundry, since Yahiko was teaching and Kaoru wasn't allowed to do anything like that since she had almost accidentally ruined several of her Kimono. Kenshin had learned that his wife was excellent at being a taskmaster but she was not so good at either at laundry or cooking. Granted, she had learned how to make a few simple dishes to feed herself and Kenji when Kenshin was gone for a night to help Saitoh with a case, but beyond that required the careful supervision of her husband.
Kenshin looked up at his son and carefully looked at his grip. Kenji could pick up a stance easily and had already been mimicking Yahiko and his Kamiya Kasshin so Kenshin had allowed it. There were still a few years to go before he was going to teach him Hiten Mitsurugi and until then, Kamiya Kasshin would do him no harm. In fact, the defensive stances would probably help him out. Hiten Mitsurgui wasn't as good for subduing people as it was killing them. He wanted his son to have the principles of Kamiya Kasshin but he also wanted him to understand that sometimes only the sharp side of the Katana was the way to solve a situation.
The snake that was dead couldn't come back to attack the soft heels of his family.
He and Kaoru had stayed up many a nights, arguing those points. He had been stubborn and refused to give in, and she was just as stubborn. He figured he had another year or so until she saw his point. He didn't altogether mind. He was almost positive his new little one had come from one of their make-up sessions.
"Very good Kenji," He softly praised his son. Kenji's eyes lit up just like Karou's did when he brought her something special and he smiled affectionately at his son. "Can you practice that down-swing some more for me?"
Kenji nodded in his normal, frantic manner, and did as he was asked.
Kaoru sighed, "If only Yahiko had been that excited about practicing his strokes."
Kenshin put his sword down and tangled her fingers with his. "It's getting late in the day, Kaoru. If you want that walk today, we should go now."
Kaoru made a little noise and set her book down. Yahiko walked out of the dojo, a towel slung behind his neck and noticed the expression on Kaoru's face. "I'll watch him. In fact, I imagine I would love the help, Kenji-chan, if you think you would want to move practice equipment."
Kenji walked over and carefully put his little stick down next to his fathers sword and carefully ran the cloth his Tou-chan had been polishing his sword against his own. They had been teaching him to be responsible with his things and he took his sword very seriously. Kenji bit his lip in a replica of the expression his mother used when she was concentrating on something. Kaoru had to pick up her book to hide her giggles, and Kenji nodded in head in satisfaction when the sword was put next to his fathers. Then he carefully put the cloth down and scampered off to Yahiko.
"Don't start laughing, Koishii," Kenshin warned lightly as he helped her stand, playing with the ends of her hair. "He will want to know what he missed."
Kaoru shook with her silent laughter and she opened mirth filled eyes when he began to lead her down the steps towards the dojo-gate. "Do you think if we leave Yahiko in charge of dinner he will manage?" Kenshin asked mysteriously as he placed a hand in the small of her back.
Kaoru grinned at him as they slowly made there way out onto the path. "It will be good practice for him. I find it difficult to believe that he will be getting married soon. It seems just like yesterday that we were pulling him off the streets."
Kenshin slid an arm around her shoulders and nuzzled her temple. "Perhaps, but I am sure Tae is far more excited about the wedding than you are."
"Tae isn't sixth month's pregnant," Kaoru informed him crankily, her lower lip puffing out in a temper. "Besides, if I remember, correctly, and I am sure I do, Tae didn't have a lot of time to be excited about my wedding because someone dragged me to a temple and…" her words were cut off as he pulled her behind a tree on the path. It was usually empty at this time of day, but he didn't want to take the chance. His mouth met hers soundly so that when he pulled back she was breathless.
"This, I believe, is what got you into trouble the first time." He told her in an amused voice as she raised her lashes to show off her eyes. He loved that look in her eyes. All clouded and dreamy; her slightly parted lips moist, he leaned back down and took her mouth again, his hand spanning the curve of her waist where his child kicked against his hand.
"We're supposed to be walking," Kaoru told him breathlessly, but her hands were clutching his shoulders, fisted lightly in his gi.
Kenshin leaned down and rubbed her noise with his. "Your argument for leaving has several holes in it, Koi. The first being that we have a few moments with no Kenji racing around," Kaoru opened her lips to respond, her eyes glinting with laughter, but he had plans for the next few moments and he gleefully took advantage of her open mouth.
When they finally started back toward the dojo, she was still a pink faced and leaning against his shoulder. There fingers were tangled together and they were enjoying themselves.
"As soon as Kenji sees us," Kaoru told him softly, "he is going to pester us to death with questions."
Kenshin grinned. "He is your son."
Her elbow shot out and caught him in the stomach and she huffed and let go of his hand while he caught his breath. The effect would have been more dramatic if she didn't waddle a bit as she stomped and he moved to catch up with her about the same time that Kenji caught sight of them.
"Tou-chan! Kaa-chan, you left Kenji!" His little voice rose out and Kenshin kissed her temple and turned to catch his son who was racing for attention. "We will finish this later," he warned her.
Kenji flew at his father, and Kenshin swung him up and tossed him lightly into the air as Kaoru moved through the dojo gates.
"I helped Yahiko-nii cook!" Kenji informed his father brightly. There some sticky pieces of rice in his bangs, and flour dusted his face. Kenshin wiped at his little nose with gentle fingers and Kenji wrinkled the object with a smile.
"What did you make?" Kenshin asked lightly and Kenji frowned.
"Temp…temp…stuff with batter!" He said happily.
Kenshin carried his son forward where Kaoru was attempting to set the table, but her tummy kept getting in the way, and he moved to help her. Kenji squirmed to be put down and went racing into the Kitchen where Yahiko made a noise of alarm and if the sound of two voices sighing said anything, disaster had been avoided.
"You're awfully pink cheeked, wife," Kenshin teased as he helped her.
Kaoru glared at him. "I'm fat."
He smiled. "How about I rub your back after your furo?"
A smile started across her face. "If you give Kenji his bath as well, you have yourself a deal."
Kenji came in at that note and demanded that they eat.
Kaoru turned from where she was braiding her damp hair as Kenshin brought in their sleepy little-boy. He was rubbing his eyes and his face was tearstained. "Someone wants Kaa-chan," Kenshin said in a dry voice and Kaoru opened her arms.
"Kenji-love, what is wrong?" Kaoru crooned as she settled back and held him as best she could. She made a point to hug and love on her oldest as much as possible and Kenji sniffled a bit and put his face in her neck.
"Want Kaa-chan," Kenji whispered, his little hands wrapping around her neck to press against her braid. "Kaa-chan."
Kaoru looked at Kenshin, who shook his head to show he had no idea what was bothering his son. Kaoru smoothed her hand down Kenji's hair and simply held her baby for several long moments. "Kaa-chan wants Kenji," Kaoru told him softly, nuzzling his cheek with her nose. "Kaa-chan love Kenji."
Kenji sniffled again and looked up at her with her eyes. "Kenji love Kaa-chan." His little lip pressed out. "Kaa-chan love baby?"
Kaoru felt her heart constrict at the look on his face. "Kaa-chan loves Kenji and baby." Kaoru told him softly. "Kaa-chan will need Kenji's help though." Kaoru told him, tugging on his bangs. Kenji was excited about the baby, but she had been expecting this.
Kenji lowered his eyes and played with the collar of her yukata. "Kaa-chan wants Kenji to be nii-san to baby." Kenji whispered.
Kaoru kissed his little cheek. "You're so smart, Kenji. Baby is going to be so lucky to have someone as smart as you for a nii-san. I don't have a nii-san," she told Kenji in a conspiring whisper. "You will have to show me what is likes to be a nii-san."
Kenji looked up and the faint smile crossed his face. "Kaa-chan love Kenji?" His eyes darted towards his father. "Tou-chan love Kenji?"
Kaoru nodded and brushed a hand down his bangs. "You're my Kenji," she told him simple. "You're the only Kenji Kaa-chan has." Kenshin leaned forward to ruffle his sons hair.
"Tou-chan loves Kenji as well," Kenshin reaffirmed.
Kenji nodded and buried his face in her throat. "Kenji stays here."
"Just until you fall asleep," Kaoru warned. "Then Tou-chan will take you back to your bed."
Kenji nodded in agreement and Kaoru shifted to lie back against the futon and suddenly Kenshin's hands were there helping her recline since her arms were full with their son. Kenji snuggled against her side for a moment and then sat up.
He looked down at her tummy. "Kenji-nii love baby," he told her tummy and patted it carefully. "Night baby. Night Kaa-chan. Night Tou-chan. Kenji love." Then he turned and buried back into her. Kaoru brushed a hand through his hair until he started to snore. Kenshin careful disentangled Kenji from her body and took him back to his room. Kenji had insisted that he was a big boy, and so they moved the small futon from their room to his new big-boy room.
Kaoru was dozing off when Kenshin came back in.
"You're going to sleep on me," He softly whispered, brushing her beloved face with his fingers. Kaoru opened her eyes and smoothed his bangs away from his face.
"Go talk to Yahiko," she softly whispered, "I will be fine for a little while." She smiled at him. "But hurry back, because I really have a hard time sleeping like this without you."
Kenshin brought the center of her palm to his mouth, kissing the flesh there. "You have a hard time sleeping without me period, Koi. Admit it."
Kaoru made a face at him and closed her eyes.
Kenshin walked out of the room to the back-porch where Yahiko was waiting for him.
"The letter was from Sano," Yahiko softly spoke, not once looking up. "He sent his greetings."
Kenshin sat down, his eyes a hard amber. "What did he say about the Rurouni," Kenshin asked harshly, his voice tight. If the Rurouni was back in Japan it was possible that he would stick his head in to check on his family and he couldn't let that happen. Kaoru still didn't know the truth. He doubted he would ever tell her. It would simply break her heart.
He refused to allow the Rurouni to cause her anymore pain. Even now, with Kenji and another little one on the way, even with his arms wrapped around her securely each night he was there, some days he caught the look in her eyes. It was always there when he came home from an assignment with Saitoh: the look of terrified hope. Only the fact that he enjoyed being able to provide for his family and the grudging respect between the men, curtsey of their wives, allowed him to leave her at all. Even now she wasn't sure if he would come home every night, if he would be there for his children.
His fist curled into a tight ball.
"He is dead." Yahiko said flatly, handing Kenshin the letter. "On the way home he came down with consumption and died two nights after they docked. Sano apologizes for not being able to save him and made some noise about going to see Megumi, and wandering around. He doesn't feel comfortable coming back yet." Yahiko's voice was tight. "He apologized, like that would cushion her heart if she heard the news."
Kenshin was silent as he read the letter. He felt nothing. There was nothing for him to feel. He had left Kaoru, Kenji, the new baby, would have thrown all these possibilities to the wind because of guilt. He would have forced his unwilling counterpart, locked deep inside him, to travel to China and to die.
His mouth hardened.
Yahiko turned. "I feel pity for him," he admitted. "That he never found this," he let his hand scan the grounds. "Never saw what in front of him. Never learned to live in the word he created with his blade. But they were his choices." His voice was quite. "Are you going to tell Kaoru?"
"No," Kenshin said flatly. "No, I won't. And if I have my way she will never find out. She is happy, content, but there are still shadows I am working to rid her eyes of. It's going to take many years for her to trust me completely. I will not forgive them for that." He looked Yahiko right in the face, his eyes flaring bright-gold. "If Sano comes back to Tokyo, he will attempt to say something, to give his friend the grief he believes the Rurouni deserves."
Yahiko nodded in agreement.
"I will not let that happen." Kenshin told him softly, his eyes hard. "I think of Sano as a friend, but if he ever lets it slip, or seems to make a single move to destroy her happiness, I will kill him. It is not something I wish to do, but I will never tolerate her tears." There was almost a flicker of regret in his eyes, but it moved so fast Yahiko couldn't quite catch it.
He unfolded his limbs and tossed the letter back to him. "Burn it."
Yahiko felt a moment of sadness, but as he listened to the sound of Kenji's snores, he found he couldn't blame him.
He wasn't the only one who would kill to keep them happy.
Yahiko raised his face to the moonlight.
Kenshin watched her sleep. Or, he thought in amusement, attempt to sleep. Her face was a bit disgruntled and he slipped out of his clothing, put on his soft sleeping robe and slid in next to her, sliding an arm under her head and helping her arrange her limbs as comfortably as they would go.
"You smell nice," she drowsily told him. Kenshin shushed her, one hand sliding under her robe to caress the skin of her tummy, feeling his daughter kick once before she settled.
Kaoru sighed against his shoulder and drifted off but he laid there for a long time, feeling his daughter under his hand, the way Kaoru fit against him, and the sounds of Kenji in the other room.
"I would have died for you, if you had asked it." Kenshin told her softly. "Now I just want to live for you." Kaoru was silent, but he had expected no answer. "No one will take your smile away again."
Jeez! I am so excited! My second finished chapter story! As always, chime in and let me know what you think!