I am reposting these chapters as I am able to. Some with just grammar revisions, while others may have a few additions or subtractions to a bit of the content. The story is still very much the same, but I wanted to flesh it out a bit more where I could. For anyone reading this story for the first time, I have portrayed Tomoe in a different light than you may be used to. I just thought it might be nice not to kill her off, plus it makes things interesting when you don't use the same antagonist every time. This story is mainly happy-go-lucky, and is nice when you want something sweet. Please enjoy.

Disclaimer: Not mine… never will be… maybe someday I'll get over it… maybe… sometime soon… like a couple… years?

Chapter 1: Meetings

Kenshin sat in his spacious kitchen, lost in thought as he sipped at his tea. The meeting he had attended in a neighboring town had ended early, leaving him with a few hours of free time. Since he had nothing better to do with his time, he had gone home. The house around him was large, well kept and mostly clean except for that morning's dishes still in the sink and the small scatter of toys and crayons in the play room. In another couple of hours he would go and bring his son home from the day care center. Sadly, this would not bring much more life to the quiet house as Kenji was not an open or playful child. Still, he had liked to demand the attention of his father when he was present. That is, until the year before.

At the time he had only been three years old, and there was no thought in his young mind that only having a father was anything but right. Kenji had no idea what a mother was and never questioned why he didn't have one. Until he found himself mesmerized by a boy his age being coddled and loved by his mother. Without any clue as to what he was asking he promptly questioned who she was. The other boy had told him that she was his "mommy." In which case the small red-head hadn't understood and the other had to explain to him the only way he knew how.

"She plays with me and reads to me and gives me baths and sings me to sleep, and …" The list went on and on.

Only knowing the love of a father, Kenji had promptly replied, "No, that's what a father is."

The other boy had laughed.

"Only a mommy can love you like that stupid, fathers just go to work. Mommies are all the time."

The other boy of course, did not have a very good relationship with his own father and thereby clung to his mother in retaliation. Kenji, being an only child and having a single parent couldn't have understood this and accepted his explanation as the norm. Meaning his father was hiding his mommy somewhere away from him.

Kenshin would never forget the frightfully serious argument he had had with his three year-old son. Even after swearing he wasn't keeping his mother from him and that father's were all the time parents as well (secretly wishing to find and beat some sense into the father who thought otherwise) Kenji had suddenly become distant. The only consolation he had felt after that was he had not only distanced himself from his father but everyone in general. The boy was no longer sociable with the others his age and usually played alone. Kenshin couldn't imagine the effect this would have when he was old enough to go to school.

A simple enough solution, he realized, was to find someone to be a motherly figure to the boy. The only problem was Kenshin was not interested in anyone. He doubted he would be ever again, after what his wife had done to him.

Ex-wife, he mentally corrected. The divorce had just been finalized and approved the year before, after three years of waiting. His lawyer had informed him when he had filed that since they had no idea where his wife was they had to wait and give her enough time to decide if she wanted to come back or not.

Kenshin had mixed feelings about that thought; he wished for, hoped against, was afraid, and desperately ached that she would show back up. At first. He knew, though, that she never would. The heartless bitch had left him the moment the baby was born and she could leave the hospital. Left him because his business was failing and he was almost bankrupt. A small, humorless chuckle erupted from his throat. Bet she was thinking twice about it now.

Not a few months after Kenji was born, Kenshin finally pulled himself out of the bottle and back into the driver's seat of his life. Thanks to his old master, and now adopted father, who seemed determined to keep him alive and torture him with the life he had made his own. "Deal with it!" He'd told him forcefully. "Life sucks, she wasn't good enough, but she still gave you something in that boy of yours. If you can't live for yourself, live for him." So even though his heart was still sore from the abandonment of his wife, he knew that he had an even more important person to take care of now. One that he'd left in the care of some strange nurse that he didn't even remember hiring. His beautiful son, whom he realized with relief, looked nothing like his mother.

Shortly after he took over the control of his business again, which was just barely making it because of another good friend of his. A couple months later sales skyrocketed and he was now one of the richest men in Japan.

"Take that, Tomoe, you back-stabbing, money hungry, two-faced lying…"

He let his voice trail off as a stab of pain tightened his chest muscles. All of that she may have been, but he had loved her, or at least loved who she had pretended to be. Now, he realized, that the only thing that had been real about her that he still loved was the son he was now late for picking up.


Kenji sat quietly on a bench in the park, watching the blossoms of the cherry trees rustle with the wind. The five other children he was with were only a few feet away, playing in the sand and slipping down the slide. The matron who watched over them was an older lady with graying hair and spectacles. The eyes behind them were kind and at times serious, but everyone liked her. This included Kenji, of course, but he just wasn't interested in playing or talking. He didn't feel he was able to because he was an outcast, someone unlike the others. Kenji was motherless.

A small, unchild-like sigh escaped the boy's lips and his young body slumped dejectedly. Where was his mother and why wasn't she with him? Didn't she love him? If not, what had he done wrong? Was he bad? Did he cause her pain? Did his daddy not want her around? Was he jealous that Kenji would no longer want to be around him? He shook his head. No, his daddy was kind and he loved him a bunch, and he believed in his dad. Which meant it was his fault that his mommy wasn't around. Kenji felt tears prick at the back of his eyes and forcefully blinked them away. He would not cry in front of the others. He would not let them know that their taunting hurt him so much.

Kenji felt the bench move with the weight of someone else sitting next to him, but didn't look up. He didn't want to talk to anybody, especially if they were going to tease him about his red hair. When the person spoke to him, though, he was not expecting the sweet yet mysterious voice of a woman to meet his ears.

"What's wrong, little one? You look too old for your age."

Kenji looked up into a pair of bright sapphire eyes that held a world of worry and love and laughter and sorrow. Through all this she smiled softly down at him and her pale face seemed to be heightened by the deep black hair falling over her shoulder and framing her face. At his continued scrutiny her smile widened.

"Is there something on my face?"

The lady screwed up her eyes and made a show of trying to look for some imaginary speck of dirt. Kenji smiled at her but didn't laugh, he hadn't laughed in a long time. She finally stopped trying, but didn't seem discouraged by the less than enthusiastic response from the four year-old. Smiling again she bowed her head slightly to him.

"My name is Kaoru."

Still the boy didn't respond, just kept staring intently. The lady, Kaoru, tilted her head to the side and bit her bottom lip through her smile.

"And I bet you're not supposed to talk to strangers. What a very smart boy you are. I'll leave you alone then so you won't get into trouble."

Kaoru stood up and winked conspiratorially at the upraised face before walking away. Five feet from the bench Kenji snapped out of his reverie and jumped up to run after her. A strange feeling in his chest told him not to let her go. Slamming into her suddenly, he wrapped his arms tightly around her leg before bursting out at her startled, yet pleased face.

"Kenji, my name is Kenji."

"Kenji." Kaoru let her hand drop onto the top of his head to smooth down the thick, silky locks. "What a strong name you have." She smiled down at him again.

"Would you push me on the swing Kaoru-san?"

The smile widened.

"If your lovely matron would approve."

Kenji looked over his shoulder to find the onna-san staring curiously at the pair in front of her. For a few moments she said nothing as she closely inspected the suddenly enthusiastic and anxious face of the small boy. Finally a small smile tilted her lips and she nodded.

"I think that would be just fine."

Kenji grinned widely and instantly began pulling Kaoru over to the swings nearest the other five children. For the most part they were ignored, the others thinking there would be no fun in playing with an adult. For Kenji, though, he enjoyed himself to the point of actually laughing out loud for the first time in months. Kaoru pushed him on the swing, dug with him in the sand, drew chalk pictures on the sidewalk, and spent the remainder of the day letting the red head lead her around.

For Kaoru, she was enamored with the small child whose hair stood out like a beacon. Immediately she had wished to touch it, but what had finally drawn her to him was the look of immense abandonment about him. It was a sentiment she was familiar with. He looked like he needed to be cheered up and that instantly had her sensitive heart aching to cuddle him and make him smile. Motherly instincts kicking in for the sweet mannered boy, she acted like any woman with a heart would towards a hurt child; she loved him.

When it came time for the children to leave for the center to wait for their parents, Kenji did not want to go. Clinging onto the loose pants of the small woman, he made her promise to come back and play with him again. Kaoru smiled and promised that she would look for him every day that week. As a reward for this much needed statement, the boy promptly pulled on her shirt so she would lean over and he gave her a kiss. Startled for a second, Kaoru looked slightly stunned before hugging the child and kissing him back, then gently pushed him after the others. Kaoru waved as they disappeared and continued to stare long after they were gone.


Kenshin showed up twenty minutes late and apologized profusely to the kind lady that watched his precious son. She merely laughed it off and told him not to worry about it.

"Kenji-chan has been an angel." She laughed again. "Not that he isn't every day, but he's been in a particularly good mood this afternoon."

"Really?" Kenshin perked up slightly. Maybe, just maybe, the boy would let him get away with cuddling and pampering him the way he hadn't been able to do for the past year.

"Yes, you'll see what I mean. Kenji-chan!" The matron raised her voice slightly to yell at the boy. "Pack your things, your father's here."

There was an immediate scamper of small feet and before Kenshin could react he found himself with a handful of red hair and short limbs. Kenji looked back at him with happy and content deep blue-violet eyes. Kenshin stared in shock when he laughed.

"Daddy! Guess what!"

Kenshin smiled widely, pulling himself out of his shock.

"What's that, Kenji?"

"I made a friend today! She's fun! She pushed me on the swing, and played in the sand with me, and…"

The boy went off into an elaborate detail of the day's events. Kenshin listened intently, locking unfairly onto the fact that it was a girl. Looking to the matron curiously, needing an explanation, she laughed before indulging him.

"A nice young lady stopped by the park today, and the boy just latched onto her."

Kenshin's face fell instantly.

"You let a stranger near my child?" His voice hardened slightly at the thought of the easy prey his son would make. Especially in his sullen mood, but now, he looked at the happy boy, it would be even easier if they made friends first and gained his trust.

"Himura-san, she was extremely sweet and gentle with the boy. She even asked my permission before she played with him."

"How do you know she's not planning on earning your trust first? Do you even know this girl's name? How old she is? Anything?"

The lady stared at Kenshin in shock. You'd think the man was actually angry that his forever sullen son was finally smiling and laughing.

At the small hand smacking Kenshin in the face, both the adults turned surprised eyes on the boy. The look on his face said he was hurt and angry, and the fierce little eyes were directed at Kenshin.

"Her name's Kaoru and she's my friend. You're just jealous because she likes me and I like her back."

"Kenji, that's not…"

"No! I hate you! You don't want me to have a mommy! You want me all to yourself! You're afraid she'll take me away! You're afraid she'll love me and not you! I hate you!"

Kenshin was slightly baffled by the string of accusations, but the hurt and unshed tears overrode his curiosity and all he could comprehend was the loathing his son felt for him.

"Kenji, yes I'm afraid she'll take you away, but not like that. I would never deny you a mother's love."

"Then where's my mother?!"

Kenshin's jaw snapped shut and the muscles tightened in fury at the mention of her. Never. He would never let that woman anywhere near his child.

"Not here." Was the only response he could bite out before bowing stiffly to the matron and walking out the door, his son once again sullen and un-talkative. Some part of him knew it was unfair to yell at the boy when he couldn't understand why he didn't have a mother like everyone else. Still, it hurt and confused him to try and talk about it. What could he say to him? That she had left him there because she didn't want to have anything to do with him. That would break the poor boy's heart.

Looking over his shoulder at the boy staring miserably out the window of the car, Kenshin realized just how nice it was to see him laugh again. Though he was utterly against his son associating with strangers, he had to admit there had to have been something about this girl that made Kenji instantly attracted to her. Maybe he should meet with her and her parents and decide if she would be an appropriate playmate for him.


Kaoru wiped absently at the sweat dripping off her hair and down into her face. Today had been a good training day. The ten students she had all worked hard for her, which made her feel good. So in return she had worked equally as hard for them, even if she was slightly distracted.

It had been five days since she had met the little red-headed Kenji, and she already could admit to herself that he had stolen her heart. There was such an air of loneliness about him and a need to be loved. Something she could not deny she felt and dealt with everyday since her father had died four years before. Seeing her own need for affection in another was probably what drew her to him.

Sadly, though, she had only had the chance to play with him that one day. The two after she had religiously shown up at the same park like she had promised, but they never came. At the time she had shrugged it off, thinking of millions of reasons why they would not be able to come. Kaoru was never able to stay long herself anyway, as she had a job she had taken at a restaurant to help with the dojo's bills. On the third day, however, she did not have to work and she went to the park after training in high hopes that the boy would be there.

Upon arriving she had found her wish granted. The five other children were happily playing tag while the little red-head sat dejectedly on the same bench, their matron not far away. Only steps away from the boy she watched him look up and the bright smile that lit his face echoed onto hers.

"Kaoru!" Kenji shouted the name gleefully, jumping off the bench and running into her leg, squeezing tightly.

"Hey you little firecracker." Kaoru rubbed a hand over his hair affectionately, taking joy in the face he made at the weird endearment.


"Yep, you remind me of one."

"Because of my hair?" Kenji's face fell suddenly, thinking she was going to tease him.

"No." Kaoru shook her head. "Firecrackers can be many colors, but all of them are full of energy, and bursts of life. They are fiery, and strong. Beautiful too."

"Oh." The boy screwed up his face, trying to digest her words. Kaoru waited patiently for his assessment.

"So you like me." It was a statement, not a question.


His face lit up again. "Ok, I like it."

Kaoru giggled, and then turned to the matron who had walked up to silently watching their affectionate embrace and conversation. Kaoru smiled brightly at the older woman, but her return smile was more than a little sad.

"Kaoru-san, may I talk to you alone please?"

"Sure." Kaoru answered back in confusion which only deepened at the somberness of the child when he walked away to the bench.

"What's wrong?"

"First let me say that if only for the mere fact that you have made Kenji-chan smile and laugh again I approve of your presence."

"But?" Kaoru felt that she would not like what she was about to hear.

"Kenji-chan's father, Himura-san, doesn't approve of strangers near his son. Therefore…"

"You would like for me to leave." Kaoru's face fell slightly and she glanced over at the sad boy.

"Yes, he was very adamant about this."

"I see."

"So, Himura-san would like to meet with you first before he will allow you to play with his son."

Kaoru's eyes widened in surprise, she had not been expecting that.


"He said that he would not deny his son a playmate but will not allow it until he approves."

Playmate? Approval? Kaoru's mind laughed a little hysterically. Did he think she was a child? If so, was he seriously thinking about putting a "child" through an interview just so that "child" could play with his? Her father had been protective but this went a little beyond that to almost possessive.

"Kaoru-san? Are you alright?"

Kaoru shook her head to clear it. "Yeah. Uh, when did he say he wanted to meet?"

The woman sighed, almost in exasperation. "He didn't, but he always picks up Kenji at the same time everyday. Are you available tonight?"

"Tonight? Well, I couldn't possibly meet him like this." Kaoru made a gesture at the holey jeans and comfortable t-shirt she had on. "I think I'd want to at least try to impress him a little, not scare him off by looking like a bum."

The woman silently agreed, thinking the stubborn man would probably jump on her clothes as an excuse to refuse his son near her.

"You're probably right. What about tomorrow?"

Kaoru sighed. "I have to work the next three days; there would be no way I could stay late enough."

"Himura-san works close to ten hour days himself. So there would be no way he could stop by earlier." The woman thought for a little while. "I'll talk to him."

Kaoru looked at her sheepishly, not really looking forward to meeting this man. "I don't suppose his wife would be able to meet with me instead?" Kaoru thought that since Kenji was in a day care center, Himura-san's wife obviously worked during the day as well.

"Oh." The woman's eyes went wide a little. "Himura-san is not married, and no one else is allowed to collect Kenji from me."

"Oh!" Kaoru almost bit her tongue. "I guess that's a no then." She bit her lip in a fit of nervousness. "You wouldn't know why not would you?"

"No, he doesn't talk about it. All I know is that Kenji-chan's never known a mother, that's probably why he likes you so much."

"Oh." That meant she was probably dead. There was no way that any woman would be able to leave behind their child. Especially one so adorable and eager to please as this one.

"Well, ok, umm, how about I give you a number to call to get a hold of me when you find out."

"That would be great." The old matron took out a sheet of paper and a pencil from her purse, handing both to Kaoru. "I really appreciate that you are going through so much trouble just to spend time with Kenji-chan. The boy really needs it."

Kaoru looked up from the paper in surprise, and then smiled at her brightly. "There's no need for thanks, something just draws me to him." Kaoru looked over her shoulder at the small red-head kicking at the dirt with his shoe. "I think we need each other." When Kaoru turned back the older woman was smiling.

That had been two days ago, and Kaoru hadn't heard anything from the lady. Kenji had almost cried when she had left after giving her phone number to the matron. It had almost broken her heart to see him that way, but there wasn't much help for it. She could not have stayed, and if she did his father could have easily called the cops on her.

Walking into the house, Kaoru sighed heavily and directed her feet towards the bathroom for a quick shower. With one foot halfway in, Kaoru heard the phone ring, making her heart jump and her body freeze. When it rang a second time she threw a towel around herself and took off down the hall to answer, slightly breathless.

"Hello. Kamiya residence."

"May I speak to the head of the house?" The voice was male, and nobody she recognized, yet it was familiar almost. He sounded very straightforward and there was something underneath that was dark and brooding that screamed of mystery. Definitely sexy, she decided.

"You're speaking with her."

"Kamiya-san, my name is Himura Kenshin," Kaoru jumped in surprise, not expecting him to call personally. "I've heard much about Kaoru from my son, Kenji." Kaoru's eyebrow lifted, and a bud of amusement burst in her chest, pushing aside her surprise. "It seems they wish to spend time together but I'm afraid I do not feel comfortable with the idea without first meeting with you and the girl." Biting her lip hard, Kaoru fought her laughter. It was quickly becoming obvious that the man probably thought this "Kaoru" was fourteen. "Kenji has been going through a rough time, and I do not wish for him to get hurt."

Amusement fading, Kaoru remembered what had drawn her to the boy in the first place. He was a lonely child that was in desperate need of companionship. Playing along without thinking about how amusing it still was, Kaoru cleared her throat and hoped she sounded normal "I understand, Himura-san. Did you have a particular time to meet in mind?"

"Since today is Saturday and I'm not required to be in the office, I thought sometime this afternoon or evening, if that is agreeable with you."

"Oh," Kaoru bit her bottom lip worriedly,. "I do have to be at work in a of couple hours. How about tomorrow?"

"That would be fine. Since the park is a familiar setting for Kaoru and my son, how about we meet there?"

"Ok. Time?"

"One o'clock."

"Alright. I shall see you then, Himura-san."

"Good-bye, Kamiya-san."

Kaoru hung up the phone, a little surprised, a little amused, but also a bit dizzy and confused. Himura's voice was definitely exciting but his manner of speaking with her was withdrawn and distant, almost as if he really wanted nothing to do with her. Well, that was fine; she only wanted to spend time with Kenji anyway, not his father. All she needed to do was convince the man to let her around his son and nothing more.

Running back to the bathroom she jumped into the shower and quickly washed off her sweaty body and hair. Walking back to her room, clean and content, she caught a glimpse of the clock and squeaked in dismay. She only had an hour before she had to be at the Akabeko for her shift. Training had definitely run over today.

Rushing into her room she hurriedly brushed her long hair and began coaxing it up into a complicated knot at the back of her head. Jerking her head experimentally, she deemed it worthy and then grabbed the waiting kimono. Cursing colorfully, in a way that would have either made her father blush or laugh, she complained about the uniform her boss, Tae, required all the employees to wear. They looked good, but they were so hard to move freely in, and tying the obi in a way that kept it out of the way was tiring and difficult.

Sighing at the last tug, she ran back out to the front door, sliding on a pair of sandals, and then took off to the front gate. Kaoru really hoped she wasn't late again.


Kenshin sighed after hanging up the phone, slumping back into his chair as he watched Kenji uninterestedly piling up the pillows on the couch. The woman on the phone had sounded young. Certainly not old enough to have a teenage daughter. Of course, all he had gotten out of her were two word sentences, so it was a little hard to tell much of anything about her. Perhaps she was an older sister and because of family circumstances she was taking care of her sister by herself. She was working late shifts, so she was most likely struggling to keep them both feed, clothed and sheltered. This he could find impressive. He wondered if the girl, Kaoru, worked as well. That would mean she was at least a teenager. He still couldn't quite figure out what a teenager would want out of entertaining a four year old? A sudden thought came into his mind that made him slightly angry. What if this was some stupid plot by his ex to win over or steal his son away from him just to get his money? The money did not bother him; it was the fact that his son would be the one injured in all of it.

Just as the anger started to get that best of him, his son piped up happily from behind the wall of cushions.

"Are we going to see Kaoru-san today?"

His voice sounded so hopeful and the shining eyes that poked over the edge of his soft fortress were too much for Kenshin to take. Smiling back at the sudden interest on Kenji's face, he felt a small pang that he would not be able to let him have what he wanted. Throwing the bad thoughts of this girl from his mind, he reminded himself that he had not even met her yet or her guardian, and therefore had no right to judge her so quickly.

"Kamiya-san is busy today, Kenji." The boy's face began to fall, and he swiftly continued. "But she promised to meet with us tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" The boy's face became thoughtful. "Ok!" Jumping forward suddenly, he knocked over all the pillows, throwing himself into a fit of giggles. The sound made Kenshin smile, he was so glad the boy had finally come out of his shell.

"Kenji, would you like to go to the zoo today?" He still felt he needed to make it up to him, even if he was content to wait until tomorrow.

Kenji jumped up off the pillows, his eyes lighting up. "Now?"

"Yes now." Kenshin laughed at his enthusiasm.

"Yeah!" Running off through the door, Kenshin heard him dart up the stairs to his room. He shook his head and hoped he put on a decent set of clothes, instead of the mismatched outfit like the last time he had dressed himself.

Getting up as well, he walked quietly to his own room, thinking he might take Kenji to a restaurant a friend of his had told him about that week. Something about it being traditional and quiet. Kenji might enjoy something new, or better yet old, for a change.


Kaoru's feet hurt. After six hours of running around from customer to customer and from there to the kitchens she felt like her feet were about to wear off. Walking back into the kitchen she sighed and let the fake smile slip off of her face, rolling her eyes at her friend as she walked out. Misao giggled at the look and patted her arm comfortingly.

"Two more hours, Hun. You can make it."

"Yeah, hopefully before my feet crumple."

Misao laughed again and swept out. Or really bounced. Where she came up with the energy, Kaoru would never know. Shaking her head, Kaoru grabbed her next order and walked quickly back out to the fat, ugly man who kept trying to sneak a feel. Hurrying past, she saw Tae signal her to another table where she had just seated someone. Nodding her understanding, she smiled brightly at the fat guy, neatly dodged his wandering hand (trying hard not to grimace) sat down his dessert and hurried away.

Pulling out a pad from her long apron, she walked up on the new customers, intent on taking their orders, and then froze at the shock of red hair. Letting her eyes wander down to the face she found two amethyst eyes staring fondly at the person sitting directly in front of him. This must be Himura-san, a fuzzy part of her brain told her. Nobody else could have such red hair and shocking resemblances to Kenji. Although they were sharpened and much more defined in his face than the boys. Attractive, her insistent mind told her. Shaking her head she tried to concentrate on the voice coming from the other person she couldn't see.

"…the tigers had red hair like us. Kaoru said she likes my red hair, do you think she'll like yours too?"

"I don't know. What do you think?" The question was innocently asked with as much amusement in the tone as wariness that reflected in his eyes.

"Yeah, I think so." Was the thoughtful reply.

That was when Kaoru realized she was just standing, rooted to the spot. A little help came from Misao bumping into her playfully, before leaning in to whisper, "Don't stare too long, he might disappear."

"Huh?" Kaoru turned questioning eyes on her.

"Come on, Kaoru-chan, it's obvious the guy's hot, but you can't just stand here gawking all day. Go take his order." Misao said this a little suggestively, producing a blush on the older waitress. "Come on, you're blocking the road."

"Oh!" Kaoru turned quickly to find the red-head looking at her curiously. Blushing again, this time in shame at her nervousness, she determinedly walked the rest of the distance to the booth. She really wished he would look away from her though; those eyes of his were making her mouth dry up.

Coming up to the table she found Kenji still yakking on about animals, she could only guess they had gone to a zoo, and her smile suddenly came back. Only this time it was real.

"Hello, my name is Kaoru and I'll be taking care of you tonight."

Kaoru's smile widened when the boy's eyes shot from his father to her and lit up excitedly.

"Kaoru!" Jumping up from his seat, he barreled into the kimono clad woman, locking his arms around her legs.

"Hey, you little firecracker." She spoke gently, stroking the soft, red hair out of his face so she could see his eyes. They lit up happily with his grin.

Kenshin sat quietly, surveying the exchange in a small state of shocked surprise. This woman was not the young girl he had suspected her to be, and her voice… He recognized her voice. She was the woman he had spoken with on the phone, and although she was young, she was…for lack of a better word, beautiful. The smile that spread across her face when she had seen Kenji had lit up her eyes and made them sparkle. Kenshin was surprised to find that he wanted her to smile at him like that. Then she laughed and the sound washed over him, lightening his mood even more. No wonder Kenji was drawn to her, she's like a bright light in the darkness of the world.

"Are you eating with us?"

"No, Kenji-chan, I'm your waitress. I'm the one who will be bringing you your food, ok?"

"But you are staying?" Kenji's face lost a little of its brightness.

"I'll be around, don't worry."


"Is this your friend, Kenji?"

Kenji let go of Kaoru only long enough to whirl around and face his father.

"Yep! This is Kaoru. Kaoru this is Dad."

Kaoru laughed in good-nature at the child's introduction, and Kenshin couldn't help but smile in reply to the infectious noise. Quieting finally, Kaoru bowed respectfully towards Kenshin, her hands on Kenji's shoulders.

"Kamiya Kaoru, and I assume you are Himura Kenshin. There's really no mistaking you as Kenji's father." Rubbing a hand up over the boy's hair she smiled mischievously at him. "I apologize for not making myself clear on the phone. I'm afraid I found it rather amusing that you didn't realize you were speaking with the 'girl.'"

"My fault entirely." He chuckled in good-nature at his own mistake, making goose-bumps jump up on her flesh. He has a nice laugh, she decided. "Well, I hadn't really planned on bumping into you until tomorrow. I hope you don't mind our intrusion."

Kaoru smiled brightly at him, making his breath catch in his throat. "Of course not, though I'm afraid we won't get much time to talk. I do have other customers to attend to."

Kenshin gave a start of guilt at realizing they were taking up a lot of her time. "I'm sorry, we should really order and let you go, shouldn't we?"

Kaoru just smiled and hugged the boy once before helping him back into his seat. Taking her pad back out again, she asked, "Ok, what can I get for you?"

Kenshin quickly told her their choices for drinks, and then watched her make a couple notes on her pad before slipping it back into a pocket at her hip. The bright smile on her face never left as she helped his son back into the booth-like seats a second time, this time showing him how to sit correctly on the cushions. A small smile tugged at Kenshin's lips, it wouldn't last long; Kenji would be sprawled out soon if he knew anything about his son.

Kaoru brushed his hair back once more before telling him she would be right back, and then disappeared around the corner. Kenshin found he could not help but watch her leave. There was something about her movements that fascinated him. She screamed of a graceful discipline that was more than just natural feminine aptitude. Very attractive, his mind informed him. Shaking his head wonderingly, he forced the thought out. Kenji was talking again and he could not just ignore him now that he finally wanted his attention.

When Kaoru came back with their drinks, Kenji was talking about the pandas and how they got so big just by eating leaves. Once again Kaoru distracted him with just her presence, and he jumped into questions about when they would get to play together again.

"Well, little one, I think we have a date tomorrow at one." At this she turned to Kenshin with a quizzical look, asking without words if that was still correct. Kenshin nodded once, trying not to let her wording bother him.

Kenji's face lit up. "You and Daddy both going to play with me?"

Kaoru shot Kenshin an uncertain look.

"That's right, Kenji."

Kaoru's eyes widened at bit in uncertainty as he replied without hesitation, but Kenshin only smiled disarmingly while Kenji made noises to express his delight.

"Yay! You'll push us both in the swings?" Kenji's question was directed at Kaoru, bringing forth a mental image of both the red-heads in a swing set unbidden to her mind. Abruptly Kaoru began to giggle, holding up a hand to cover her mouth. Kenshin himself looked extremely amused.

"No, Kenji, just you." Kenshin spoke to the boy, seeing as the woman wouldn't be able to if she didn't breathe sometime soon. Surprisingly Kenji's face fell faintly before he turned to Kaoru again.

"You don't like my daddy?"

Kaoru's brows came together at the question, asked innocently enough, but it was apparent that it was a sore subject for the child. Sitting down on the edge next to him, Kaoru placed an arm around his shoulders.

"That's not it, Kenji-chan." She leaned closer to mock whisper in his ear. "I just think he'd be too big for the swing, and a little too heavy for me to push."

Kenji giggled happily while Kenshin pretended to be offended by the comment.

"I beg your pardon, but I am not that much bigger than yourself and I don't think I would have a problem pushing you. Then again, I can see how a woman would." Kenshin only meant it as a joke, but the look that flashed across her face said she took it otherwise.

Kaoru's eyes went flat, narrowing in anger as she leveled a glare across the table. The reaction was almost instinctive now, as she had a lot of similar comments thrown at her when she had taken over the teaching and management of her father's dojo. Taking a deep breath she reminded herself just exactly where she was and why she couldn't punch him in the head. Instantly her scowl was replaced by a sweet smile.

"I think, sir, that you underestimate me. I assure you that you would have many problems trying to handle me, size and gender aside. Now if you are not ready to order, I have others to attend to." Her voice was falsely cheery with an undertone of venom and hurt. That she dropped back into calling him "sir" like any other customer told him she was angry, but he hadn't meant to hurt her feelings. Kenshin felt slightly ashamed of himself, but he found he was more upset that he had destroyed the lightly teasing atmosphere.

"Daddy?" Kenshin turned to the confused and somewhat hurt look on his son's face. "Is Kaoru-san mad at us? Does she hate us now?"

"No, Kenji. She's mad at me, not you."

"Why is she mad at you? Does she really not like you then?"

"I said something rude, Kenji. Something I shouldn't have." Apparently, he added to himself.

"Oh." His eyes looked thoughtful for a few moments. "Then you need to apologize, right?"

Kenshin smiled. "Yes, I need to apologize."

"Then she'll like you again." Kenji stated matter-of-factly, making Kenshin chuckle. Nervously he admitted that he hoped so. He was extremely intrigued by this woman who obviously was happy, sweet, and loving by nature, having taken Kenji in almost instantly. Then, with the right incentive she could be angry and rash and jump head long into defending herself against such verbal abuse without thinking or realizing that he was only teasing her. Kenshin wondered if she was that protective of other people she considered to be her friends or loved ones. At least now he could confirm that she had absolutely no clue as to who he was. Nobody dared talk back to him at work, or outside for that matter, even as sweetly as she had. He briefly toyed with the idea that she probably would have done more if they were not in the present company. Kenshin grinned in amusement.

Kaoru walked from customer to customer fuming and muttering under her breath. Bastard, making such a comment. What is it with men always falling back on gender to explain differences between people? She slammed dirty dishes down in the kitchen, receiving a few startled looks and numerous smirks from the cooks. Kamiya Kaoru's temper was almost legendary at the restaurant. They wondered who pissed her off this time, then momentarily felt sorry for the poor bastard.

Grabbing another order she stalked back out to the floor, plastering a cheerful smile on her face. Misao passed her and gave her a weird look, showing that the smile was probably not as effective as she had hoped. Grinding her teeth together, she shrugged it off, delivered the food, asked the normal questions, and then stalked back to the kitchen. All the while promising herself that she was not avoiding the red-heads, merely giving them time to look over the selections.

After slamming dishes down for the fifth time she was confronted by Misao.

"Kaoru-san…Himura-san said he was ready to order now if you are ready to help them." Curiosity was written all over the small girl's face. Why would Kaoru be mad at this man and how were they already on a name basis?

Kaoru rolled her eyes in frustration. Looks like I'll have to help them now, before Tae finds out. Thankfully the man had stopped Misao instead.

"Thank you." The reply was grit out through clenched teeth, trying for at least a false bravado, but failing utterly. Misao looked slightly worried and placed a hand on her arm.

"Do you want me to take over that table? You don't look happy with them."

The idea was tempting, but she had no wish to harm the boy by totally ignoring them. "No, Misao-chan, I think I can handle it. If the idiot doesn't make any more rude comments."

"He insulted you?" Misao's cheery smile dropped into an angry sneer at the nerve of someone attacking her friend. "Do you want me to teach him a lesson?"

Kaoru laughed; glad she had her as a friend. "No, I'll be fine." Patting Misao on the shoulder, she walked back out to the floor and straight over to the Himura's table.

Coming into view she offered the brightest smile she could muster to the violet gaze of the older red-head. Kenshin had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing at the absurdly fake look. Instead of chuckling like he wanted to, he kept his gaze somber and serious, watching her movements and expression intently. When she finally stood in front of the table, the pad already out of her apron and in her hand, he too stood and bowed politely in front of her before she had spoken more than two words.

"I apologize, Kamiya-san, for my rude comment. It was unnecessary and uncalled for. I had no intention of hurting your feelings and once again I apologize. Please forgive me."

Kaoru stared in shock at the polite (extremely polite) bowed form in front of her. Nobody had ever apologized to her before. Well, usually they did but not until after she showed them the wrong end to be on of her bokken or fist.

When Kenshin finally rose from his position, Kaoru had already overcome her shock and was smiling happily once again. Glad that his groveling had achieved the desired affect, he smiled back.

"Thank you, Himura-san. Your apology is very much appreciated." He lifted a brow at this, but decided not to comment. "But since you did hurt my feelings, I think a payment is in order." Both brows shot up this time, noticing the mischievous look now back in her eyes.

"That being?"

Kaoru's expression turned thoughtful. "I'll just have to think about it." Then she grinned. "Now, what do you two want to eat?"