A board creaked, and Kenshin blinked, his mind working its way to a state of semi-awareness. Warmth, a comfortable spot on the futon, Tomoe still asleep. Early morning, calm and still, no one up yet. Blessed quiet ...

Noise? What?

When no repetition came, he silently sighed, settling down. No need to get up yet, no work today.

A giggle, and the sound of sliding shoji.

Oh, unfair ...

Kenshin blinked, coming fully awake. It was far too early to find out what creeping little children were doing. It was nice and warm and cozy, cuddled with Tomoe, and he was supposed to be recovering! Was sleep so much to ask for?

Nothing answered him, and the children were making no further sound. Maybe someone was getting water? They were more likely to dump it on each other than drink it, yes, but there was no indignant screaming, so maybe he could go back to sleep?

He held out hope for a moment, until he heard the shoji again, and several pairs of small feet pattered by their room, headed for the yard. His brow furrowed in puzzlement. What were they doing?

Now they were shouting? Something that sounded like "Harada Sanosuke" and "Shogunate scum." Kenshin moved to sit up.

And a chase was on, complete with the clashing of shinai. Sounded like an adult was out there, too, judging from the footfalls.

'Oh, that had better not be -'

With all the noise, Tomoe started to stir. Kenshin immediately froze. They'd been awake so late cleaning up the remains of that disastrous dinner, and she deserved the chance to sleep late. What idiot had incited his children to war games barely after sunrise?

Just then his brother-in-law hollered, startling Tomoe to full consciousness. The children shrieked with laughter as they charged around outside, apparently running from the still screaming Enishi.

"Oh my God," Kenshin muttered, thoroughly disgusted.

Merciful Dreams
Epilogue Soundtrack: Better Days - Goo Goo Dolls

Throwing back the covers, Kenshin rose, exiting their room. He stalked down the hall to the doorway, where he stood, all disheveled hair and wrinkled yukata. He surveyed the chaotic yard, an expression of annoyance on his features.

"Just what," he demanded with sleep-scratchy voice, "are you doing?"

The three children skidded to stop - rather they attempted it; Airisu managed to keep her feet but Yahiko tripped and sent Sasuke flying into their sister. They tumbled to the ground in a pile of dusty little bodies, shinai flying, protests and arguments going quiet as they noticed his ire.

"Do you know what time it is?" This was directed more at the smirking Enishi leaning against the fence, but the children were giving him their full attention. "Get back to bed! Now!"

Untangling, the three picked up their shinai and trooped back inside, to their futons if they knew what was good for them. They passed Kenshin, heads down and trailing dust into the house. Too tired to deal with low-spirited children just yet, he dropped his face to his hands.

"Argh," he muttered.

He heard a snicker.

Lowering his hands, Kenshin glared at Enishi, internally lamenting his spoiled morning. "If the neighbors don't band together and kill you, I will," Kenshin declared crankily, stomping inside.

Returning to bed, he reassured Tomoe that everything was fine. But while she easily fell back asleep, he remained wide awake, his injured shoulder twinging occasionally. Eventually giving up rest as a lost cause, he rose and dressed in his casual gi and hakama, then headed to the kitchen to start breakfast.

There he found Enishi sprawled out in a corner, napping, his gi askew. Kenshin woke him by dropping a broom on his stomach, and ordered him to sweep up the dust in the hall. Enishi's grumbling as he complied was easy to tune out; Kenshin was far too used to hearing it after all these years. Kenshin retrieved a carrot and, wrinkling his nose at the dreaded thing, fetched a knife to begin chopping.

Halfway through the food preparations, movement caught his eye, and he turned to see Sasuke poking his head in. His youngest had a pleading puppy-dog look on his face, and Kenshin's ill humor melted away at the adorable expression. Sighing, he nodded, and with a loud whoop of joy Sasuke was off to dress and drag his siblings out to play.

Two minutes later, Enishi had returned the broom, and before long the chaos in the yard had fully resumed. Several minutes more, and Tomoe was up, offering to finish the cooking if he wanted to keep an eye on the children. He agreed, and after kissing her cheek he wandered to the doorway to watch them.

Yahiko was practicing a strike, with Enishi's help; the boy had taken to kendo quite well, easily catching up to his adopted brother and sister after he joined the household. Airisu and Sasuke were not in sight, but he could hear them around the house. And they were getting louder ...

Sasuke burst around the corner, brown eyes bright and red hair sticking up every which way. He was yelling over his shoulder, and turned just in time to see the wide eyed pair getting out of his way. Frantically, arms scrambling for balance, he made a perfect skidding halt. He had only a second to look surprised at his good fortune, as Airisu followed him around the corner. Observing the three standing in the yard she lunged forward, tagging Sasuke; and then, in a display of unfathomable Airisu logic, pivoted to the side and pounced on Enishi. The boys quickly followed suit.

Kenshin leaned against the door frame, observing his brother-in-law being assailed. Only a stray elbow, a foot and his amusingly distinctive two-color hair was easily visible under the tangle of children.

After the ninja attack in Otsu, a patch of hair at the front of Enishi's head had gone white from fear. Enishi liked to say it made him look dashing.

Saito said it made him look like a flying squirrel. Kenshin was inclined to agree.

He grinned at the memories. Enishi (trying to extract himself from the the bottom of the pile) happened to catch the look, and correctly interpreting the amusement at his expense, scowled. Kenshin only grinned brighter, and stuck out his tongue when the children weren't looking.

It was turning out to be a beautiful morning after all.

Stopping only to slip on shoes, Kenshin went outside, off to play 'hero' and announcing his intended rescue of the 'beleaguered man-squirrel.' The children giggled and Enishi's scowling returned with a vengeance.

The game resumed, ending only when Tomoe called them in to eat. Kenshin pointedly dusted off the children (plus Enishi of course, just to annoy him) and himself before allowing anyone to go in.

Once inside, the children swarmed the table, barely able to wait for their repast. As soon as Kenshin sat, the air filled with "Itadakimasu!" and eating began.

As Kenshin accepted a bowl of rice, he caught sight of a small dark spot on the tatami. Frowning as he started eating, he resolved to pull Sasuke aside after breakfast and discuss who was considered acceptable as a guest and who most definitely was not. Perhaps they should speak in the study? The other children probably wouldn't wander in ...

Thinking of the study reminded him of the message waiting within it, and Kenshin winced. He'd been given three weeks to heal from his wounds; he was not supposed to be running back to Kyoto to help flush out Shishio's information network. How to get out of this?

Enishi 'accidentally' elbowed him, and Kenshin shot a glare in reply, concerns set aside for later.

After the meal Kenshin tapped Sasuke on the shoulder, and raised an eyebrow. Being a perceptive child, Sasuke knew well what was wanted, and followed Kenshin down the hall without protest. Enishi and Yahiko could still be heard talking loudly as Kenshin slid the shoji shut, then turned to sit across from his son. Taking a deep breath to relax, he started the topic.

"We have always welcomed guests, Sasuke. But perhaps some are more suited to long visits than others."

His son tried not to wince, then started to speak.

Kenshin stopped the protest in its tracks. "Your mother and I were awake until midnight, cleaning the spilled food."

"I didn't know that was going to happen! Misao-san needed a place to stay! I didn't know you knew the person she wants back!"

"Next time you should ask before bringing home guests that get into explosive debates." Kenshin considered momentarily. "In fact you are not allowed to invite any ninja to dinner."

"But Misao-sama-!" Sasuke fidgeted. "-San. Misao-san." He mumbled.

Kenshin stared at his son; his son stared at the floor.

"No weasel-like ninja," Kenshin said finally. "Ever."

"No weasel ninja," Sasuke agreed, looking devastated.

Kenshin quickly rose, crossing to the shoji to slide it open. His daughter blinked up at him from where she'd flattened herself to the floor.

"The same goes for you. No ninja. And no more eavesdropping."

Entirely without remorse, Airisu stood, smiling brightly as she shoved her dark hair over her shoulder. "Father, about my going to Maekawa dojo -"

"Airisu, we will discuss it later." Placing a hand on her shoulder, Kenshin guided her out of the way; then turning back slightly, he gestured to the hall. "Go get your things before you're late."

Sasuke hurried out to fetch his supplies. Airisu began to follow, but stopped when Kenshin firmed his grip.

Shifting his hand, Kenshin grabbed the shoulder of her school uniform and tugged it straight. "Now go."

With a bright smile she ran off. Kenshin veered for the kitchen, to figure out the day's shopping. A task simpler than composing a reply to the office, or thinking of how much they owed Tae for taking in such a spirited new waitress/ninja at such a late hour.

He would likely be groveling in apology later. Kenshin grimaced; it was not going to be pleasant, the next time they saw Tae, unless a miracle had occurred and the young kunoichi had behaved herself.

Stepping into the kitchen, Kenshin crossed to the storage chests. It was clear they needed miso, salt and soy sauce; they were also low on rice and vinegar, but those could wait a day, it was going to be uncomfortable enough carrying the first heavy items.

Soft padding in the hall alerted him to his wife's approach. Slipping into the room, she joined him in surveying the food.

"Perhaps the rice can wait until tomorrow," she said, understanding his dilemma.

"Alright." Faintly, he smiled. "Airisu still wants to attend lessons at Maekawa dojo, she brought it up again this morning."

Tomoe shook her head. "She still would not have enough time for her studies." Kenshin aimed a puppy-dog look at Tomoe, and she sighed. Kenshin hid his smile as she continued.

"It is too much until she finishes her schooling; until then she must content herself with only Kamiya Kasshin Ryu."

"Mm." Kenshin agreed. "Though if she keeps up her studies, we might ask Kamiya-sensei if Airisu could occasionally accompany her on her visits to Maekawa dojo." He tried another puppy look, but Tomoe only reached out to flick his uninjured shoulder.

"We will see." She smiled at him, a teasing gleam in her eyes. "One might think you wanted to go with her, you are so anxious about visiting."

Kenshin sighed, breathy and dramatic. "Alas, the perils of law enforcement! Keeping the cruel, heartless criminals away from the innocent town folk is a never-ending endeavor. Indeed one does not even have time to exercise."

Tomoe poked his not-at-all flabby stomach. "Takani-sensei will let you resume kata in a week or two. Stop complaining." She leaned against him, briefly resting her head on his shoulder. "Shall we?"

"Yes." He nodded, and as she went to fetch her bag he reached for several empty buckets. Back into the hall, slipping their shoes on and out the gate, and they were on their way.

The day was fine, sunny and bright with a few clouds drifting in. Walking into town took twenty minutes, but felt like no time at all as they talked and enjoyed the scenery. Soon enough they were nearing their favorite grocer's.

"... Then Enishi offered to take the children to the dojo after school, he ..."

Kenshin sensed someone coming towards them, and prayed fervently that he was wrong as to who.

"... seems to admire Toki-sensei -"

"Ah! Himura-san!" Kenshin felt a tug of his hair, and turned around, Tomoe following suit. Kenshin had prayed in vain.

The smiling young policeman laughed a bit, tilting his cap in a greeting to them both.

"Soujiro-san," Kenshin greeted neutrally, having a fair idea of the upcoming topic.

"I was hoping to see you today, though I had expected to stop by your house." Soujiro raised a hand to the back of his head. "Kawaji wants to know when you can leave for Kyoto."

Kenshin managed to stop his wince, and Tomoe looked at him, concerned.

"I hadn't found the right words to reply, yet."

"Kawaji is very impatient ..."

"And I have more than a week left to recuperate; I should not be working again so soon." Kenshin sighed, aggravated. Then a thought occurred. "Please tell Kawaji-san that I would not be able to recuperate and work unless I had my family with me. If he needs me in Kyoto so badly, he must procure tickets and lodging for us all."

Soujiro's hand dropped, and his eyebrows raised. "I'll tell him that, and then I think I'll run away; I like my ears when they are not deafened by yelling." Soujiro laughed, and tilted his hat.

"Good day, Himura-san, Tomoe-san." And with that parting note Soujiro left, strolling down the street. Kenshin frowned at the retreating figure, until Tomoe slipped a hand around his elbow and pulled him into the shop.

Before long they had made their purchases, and walking slowly they made the return journey.

At their return Tomoe placed the now-full sauce bucket in the kitchen, then left to put her bag away. Kenshin put down their miso and salt, and lightly rubbed the muscles of his left shoulder. After stretching his arm, he opened a storage chest, tucking the salt inside. As he stacked the miso in, Tomoe returned, ready to wash the morning's dishes and start on their lunch.

Not wanting to be in the way, Kenshin shuffled off to clean the children's rooms, grabbing the broom from where Enishi had stashed it earlier that morning.

He'd gotten through Airisu's room and was about to start on Yahiko and Sasuke's when Tomoe called him for lunch. By the time lunch had ended, his shoulder was outright aching, so Kenshin's cleaning plan was derailed in favor of Takani-sensei's ointment. Kenshin rubbed it into his shoulder and mentally cursed Shishio for taking a chunk out of his flesh.

That done, Kenshin forced himself to lie down and rest, but as it was nearing midday he couldn't stand staring at the ceiling past thirty minutes. With a sigh he rose and headed for the yard, where he sensed Tomoe. Setting himself on the engawa, he leaned against a post and watched as she scrubbed the laundry.

It really was a beautiful day, but he was never one to constantly keep still, and staring at dirty clothes and kunai holes in their tree quickly became boring.

"I never thought I'd miss my paperwork," Kenshin suddenly observed.

Tomoe smiled slightly. "Is my company that heinous?" She teased.

"You know that wasn't what I meant," Kenshin muttered, shifting where he sat.

Tomoe's smile grew. "I must be better than your usual company while doing paperwork."

Kenshin scowled and plotted ways to foist more of his paperwork onto Saito. The annoying jerk was ahead in their competition of who could finish their daily paperwork and get to leave first, and such a state of affairs could not be borne. Thankfully time taken off for recovery didn't count toward their challenge, or Kenshin would never be able to regain the lead.

Distracted by his plotting and cozily warm in the spring weather, Kenshin was finally able to doze off.

Some time later, he jolted awake at a sharp snapping sound. Tomoe was shaking out the last of the laundry and hanging it out to dry. Kenshin rubbed his eyes, noticed that the wash tub was still full, and stood to empty it; but before he could take more than a step, Tomoe turned to Look at him and suggest he go inside.

Disgruntled all over again, Kenshin obeyed and went in; she was right, after all, it probably was too much heavy lifting after the shopping and she'd always managed by herself, anyway. Stretching carefully, he decided there was enough time to sweep the boys' room before they returned home from the dojo.

Kenshin had finished the sweeping and moved on to cleaning his swords by the time the clamor of returning children reached his ears.


And there was Airisu, leading the charge inside. Kenshin heard the gentle murmur of Tomoe welcoming them home as he finished oiling his second blade; he calmly slid it back in its sheath, as several pairs of feet hurried down the hall. He'd just managed to put away the cleaning kit by the time Yahiko was at the door.

"Dad? We ran into Yukishiro-san on the way home, can he stay for dinner?"

Noticing that 'we' contained Enishi, Kenshin wondered why his brother-in-law couldn't stay away for even one day. "Yes, of course. It will be good to visit with him." Kenshin thought for a moment, "Did this long way home include a stop at the Akabeko to see Tsubame-chan?"


Kenshin joined his fuming adoptive son, and the two of them went back along the hall to greet Kenshin's father-in-law.

Settled on the engawa with a cup of tea and then later behind a bowl of rice, Grandfather Yukishiro regaled the children with tales about the sailors and merchants in Yokohama. Keeping an ear open, Kenshin listened as well – grandfather's tales when he returned from his trips were always interesting.

As the current story wound to a close, Tomoe changed the subject. "Father, how did your business go? Did the paintings sell well?"

Grandfather laughed, light glinting off his glasses as he straightened. "Of course, of course! Those foreign merchants sure paid well for those artful scribbles. They're taking them to England," here the children's eyes went wide, "and some might even make it to America."

Airisu and Sasuke fell to speculating what those places might be like, and Yahiko took the opportunity to snatch an extra pickle from Sasuke's bowl. Tomoe noticed, and threw a tiny, wry smile his direction as grandfather and Enishi began discussing their current business records. Kenshin grinned to himself, and hurried to finish his food; if Sasuke noticed the missing pickle there'd be trouble, and Kenshin wanted to get all the food he could before then.

After dinner was cleared, Yahiko helped wash the dishes as Airisu and Sasuke dragged their school books outside to the tree to enjoy the remaining daylight as they read. Shortly after Yahiko joined them, and Airisu began reading aloud. Sasuke ran inside to fetch some paper and the needed supplies, then diligently set to copying a phrase from his book, his tongue poking out the corner of his mouth.

Within an hour, as the sun began to set, the children set aside their work to fetch shinai and demonstrate several just-learned strikes for their grandfather; he proved an enthusiastic audience, happily cheering and applauding where he stood under the tree's branches.

Before the demonstration could proceed further, Tomoe intervened, pointing out the late hour. Airisu picked up their books and paper, Sasuke the ink and brushes, and with Yahiko trailing carrying the shinai they entered the house as Tomoe spoke quietly with her father for a few moments.

Kenshin was abruptly pulled from enjoying the evening view as Enishi brushed past him into the yard; Airisu followed, running to her grandfather for a hug as Enishi spoke to Tomoe. Kenshin stepped into his shoes and crossed the yard as Yahiko and Sasuke stopped for their own sandals.

Then everyone was giving their farewells as grandfather and Enishi left – Sasuke hanging out the gate to wave at the pair disappearing down the street. Chuckling, Kenshin pulled his youngest in, and locked the gate.

Turning back to his family, he shooed the children inside to get ready for bed. Looking to Tomoe, he saw her small smile, and reached out to hold her hand as they started in.

The happiness from this moment alone was more than enough to last a lifetime, and after all they'd been through they now had a lifetime in front of them to enjoy even more moments.

Kenshin lifted his face to the dusky sky, and smiled.

So. Wow, it's done. This was a lot of fun to write overall; the times I spent an hour staring at my computer screen willing the words to come totally don't count at all. Really. Hm ... don't forget to read the last two side stories!

Interesting things I have come across while writing this:
How to preserve carrots: http www . thriftyfun tf528586 . tip . html
Katana first aid tips: http ejmas tin / tinart_fowler_0402 . htm
Meiji schoolhouse: http search . japantimes . co . jp / cgi-bin / ek20040115ag . html

This story was brought to you by the song #1 Crush, the idea of Tomoe surviving the ninja attack, a rabid KxT fangirl and the uber-awesome beta sueb262. And I had a lot more to say at this point, once upon a time, but I've forgotten all of it. Sorry it took so long, but life and medical problems and moving and deaths and injury and family arguments happen, y'know?

Thanks for reading! And enjoy the next bit - I know I do :)

The little redhead dashed through the thinning crowd, ducking around corners and under outstretched arms. He'd only stopped to look at the candy display for a second - okay, maybe it was a bit longer - and when he'd turned around Airisu and Yahiko were gone!

'Well fine,' he'd thought sourly. 'If they're going back to the inn without me, then I'm going to get back first!' And thus his race had begun.

And now, his dilemma was that he should have arrived at the inn quite a while ago. His stomach growled, and his face screwed up in a scowl. It was almost time for dinner and he was starving. And certainly they were back by now.

Glancing over his shoulder, he considered his latest choice of route.

'Maybe I was supposed to go the other way at the big building and that tree ...'

Not watching his way, he ran into a solid block of muscle emerging from a store. Bouncing backward, he stumbled, one hand automatically straightening his shinai strap, the other coming up to hold his sore nose as he glared up ... and up ... and up.

The man in front of him was tall, with long hair and an even longer ugly white cape. He also carried a sword, a fact Sasuke set aside for later contemplation when he saw the man's face. It had the most peculiar expression, a touch of shock and disbelief that quickly vanished into a stuck-up look.

"It's considered proper to apologize for running into someone," said The Big Man With The Ugly Cape, adjusting a sack of groceries slung over his shoulder.

"It's 'considered proper' to apologize for hurting someone's nose," Sasuke snapped back. With a sullen pout, he began to poke at his nose, trying to assess the injury.

The man cocked an eyebrow at the poking. "I don't think it requires amputation," he remarked dryly. Sasuke spared a moment to glare at Ugly Cape - but he abandoned the glare when the man knelt in front of him. Setting down his groceries, the man took him by the shoulders and studied him intensely. Sasuke tried to shy away, but was held fast.

The man's eyes darted over him - examining his hair, his face, noting his shinai and scanning the street behind him before finally returning to Sasuke. Brow furrowing, the man asked, "How old are you, boy?"

Sasuke thought the man really wanted to ask something else, but answered anyway. "Eight."

"Bit short, aren't you," the man said absently, staring at the shinai.

Sasuke bristled. "I'll grow!"

The man focused on him, smirking. "I'm sure you will." Sasuke saw red. Before he could start yelling, the man nodded to his shinai. "What do you practice?"

Anger derailed by surprise, Sasuke blinked. "Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. And ... Father teaches us too, when he has time."

The man's hands tightened, making Sasuke wince. The man immediately removed a hand, the other keeping a loose hold that belied his harsh tone. "And what style does your Father teach, boy?"

Remembering past admonishments about things best left secret, Sasuke mumbled, "Just - a small style, you wouldn't know it." He shuffled a foot. "He mostly teaches us to help people. He's a policeman." Eyes went wide as a question occurred to him. "You have a sword. Are you a policeman too?"

The man snorted, looking mildly disgusted. "No. I refuse to pander to bureaucracy and make myself useless."

Sasuke didn't know what 'pander' meant, but he'd heard Father speak of 'bureaucracy' in the same tone, so it had to be bad. And Father definitely wasn't useless!

"Father isn't useless! He helps lots of people!" Sasuke yelled. "If you met him you wouldn't say that!"

The man's eyes were narrowed. "You might be surprised, boy."

"And my name isn't 'boy'!" Sasuke continued, drawing attention from the few people still out, "IT'S SASUKE!"

He then noticed the stares and blushed, as the man smirked at him again.

"I doubt your father -" Sasuke turned away, something catching his attention, and the man stopped talking.

"-asuke!" Came the repeat of the faint call, and Sasuke flared his ki a small bit, just like Father had taught them all.

"HERE!" He hollered, then turned to smile at the man, triumphant. "Now you'll get to meet Father, and you'll see, he's the best!"

The man's expression went curiously blank, a stern look in his eyes as he stood. He stared over Sasuke's shoulder, down the street, and Sasuke turned to see what he was looking at just as Father turned the corner.

"FATHER!" Sasuke ran over to him, throwing his little arms around grey uniform-clad legs. Father sighed.

"Sasuk-" He broke off, suddenly, and Sasuke looked up.

Was Father feeling ill? He looked so strange, like someone had hit him ...

Sasuke tugged his Father's pant leg, and finally Father spoke.