To reassure… I did not rush this just to finish it. This was how I wanted it to always end up. Three years just gave me more time to think it over and perfect their actions… though not the grammar. Sorry. XP Oh and because there was some confusion Kenshin was merely remembering the bad dream he had back in chapter 9 and that's why he was worried when Kaoru described Enishi. Because he resembled the characteristics of the man who killed her in his nightmare. He's just being paranoid and worried.

Disclaimer: They were never mine, but I'm glad you liked it anyway.

Chapter 13: Father's Devotion

The van jerked and rocked as they drove towards their destination and the constant motion was making Kenji feel sick. Feeling miserable and drained he leaned into Kaoru's side and stared at the floor. The mean lady was seated across from them, but so far she had said little that he could understand. It didn't matter, though, because Kenji knew now that he couldn't trust anything that she said. Kaoru had helped him to see the truth, and with that truth came insight. The mean lady didn't care about him. In fact, she seemed to give his presence little to no regard. Whatever she said was a lie, but Kenji was beginning to see that her intention was to hurt Kaoru, not him.

Glancing up briefly Kenji frowned at the deep creases around his mother's eyes. Whatever they were saying to each other was not making Kaoru happy. It made him wish he understood what they were saying so he could defend her, but they were speaking in English. Probably so he wouldn't understand. Clenching his little jaw he narrowed his eyes and glared across the van at the other woman. It was strange, but now that he knew that she was a liar he wasn't scared of her anymore. Even when she briefly returned his look and smirked at him he felt no fear.

Tomoe laughed. "He's a gullible little thing isn't he? He believed you so easily after I left this morning." Sighing dramatically, Tomoe shook her head. "I see he took after his father in more than just looks then."

Kaoru's reply was deadpan. "Thankfully."

One dark eyebrow lifted over an equally dark eye. "Unfortunately for the boy. He's going to spend the rest of his life being easily used by others. Poor brat. I should have put him out of his misery when I had the chance."

Something sickly turned over in Kaoru's gut at the mere thought of killing a helpless and dependent life, and she had to consciously keep her hand from protectively covering her own stomach. Instead she put that entire instinct into tightening her embrace around the boy beside her. "How can you say that so easily?"

An indifferent shrug lifted Tomoe's shoulders and she waved the gun she held in her right hand in a nonchalant gesture. "How can you be so sensitive about it? Don't you find it exhausting to care so much about someone else and their problems? Just pretending to care about a man is a pain. A child… they're just so needy." A shiver of disgust raced up her body and curled her lip. It was the ugliest expression Kaoru had seen on her face since meeting her. "I don't have enough time to worry about someone who can't carry their own weight."

"If you feel that way then why did you decide to have a baby? As a woman you would have known before anyone else."

"Yes, you're right, and I did contemplate my options. I guess you can just call it a whim. I really didn't know whose child he was anyway." A little laugh tickled Tomoe's throat as the look on Kaoru's face changed from horror to disgust to anger. "What a little prude you are. I did have two husbands at the time… and that absolutely gorgeous electrician on the side… what was his name again?" A thoughtful look briefly side-tracked her, and then she shrugged again. "Oh well, he had to be kicked out of the picture once I decided to have the baby. It was good leverage, you see. Akira, my other husband, was robbing Kenshin blind, so I needed a way to keep him under my thumb and a child has a way of doing that to certain kinds of men. Both Akira and Kenshin are that kind. If everything had worked out the way I had wanted I would have taken all the money while Akira was occupied and then dumped him with the baby. While Kenshin fought with Akira over the child, and possibly pinned him with the theft, I would have gotten away clean. Of course the brat was born with all that red hair and there was no possible way I could convince Akira that the child was his so I had to resort to other methods."

Kaoru's head was shaking and the painful crease of her brows said she couldn't possibly understand. "What is wrong with you?"

"Don't act like you're any better." Dark eyes slid down to Kaoru's stomach pointedly and then back up again. "Your motives may be slightly different from mine, but in the end it's all the same. You want something, and so you do what you must to get it." Kaoru's mouth opened to protest and Tomoe waved the gun to cut her off. "Admit it, little raccoon. I bet you didn't even try to protest the less than careful business being conducted in his bed. Or did you outright lie and tell him you had that end covered?"

Red flushed Kaoru's entire face as her anger threatened to snap, and she shook as she tried to restrain herself. If she reacted the way she wanted it would scare Kenji, and quite possibly invoke violence from their captors. "I don't know what you're talking about, but I certainly don't like being compared to you. The mere thought makes me sick."

Tomoe seemed amused that she was denying her claim, but said nothing to the contrary. Instead she sighed at the insult. "But I'm every woman's dream. I'm beautiful, intelligent, independent, and I always get what I want. I turn everything into an advantage. Even this little miscalculation I made over five years ago is paying off now. I'm finally getting the money I wanted for the thing that popped out of me."

"He is not a thing. He's a person with a name, and feelings, and dreams of his own. He's not just a tool, he's a child!"

"Yes, yes, and he's yours now, so why should I care?"

"You never cared to begin with."

"Right you are again." Another little laugh escaped her and Kaoru wanted to punch her so badly.

Two sharp knocks echoed against the metal wall separating the driver from the back, and Kenji jumped next to her. "We're almost there, sis."

"Good. It's stuffy back here."

"Remember, stay inside until I check the place out. I don't trust he's as easily manipulated as you say."

"Knock yourself out, little brother. I guarantee you won't find anything." Silence was all the answer she received, but she was smiling as if pleased.

A jerk of Kaoru's head indicated the front and Enishi. "Are you using him, too?"

"In a manner of speaking, but it's alright because he's using me. That's how our family works."

"That's sick. I suppose you'll just toss him to the side once your done."

"Don't be silly. He is my brother. We'll part ways on equal terms, with a smile. He's not the same as the rest of the men I deal with. He carries his own weight and expects nothing from me but that I carry mine."

Kenji watched as Kaoru shook her head again but did not respond to whatever the other lady had said. Silence once again reigned within the vehicle and he guessed they were finished with their conversation. Good. He didn't want that lady upsetting his mother anymore than she already had. Wrapping his arms around Kaoru's stomach, he stared up at her until she looked down and smiled. There was no anger or distress in her eyes, only sorrow, and it made him worry.

"It's almost over, little man. Just be patient for a little longer."

"I'm fine, Kaachan." Fisting his fingers into her shirt, his frown deepened. "Are you alright?"

Surprised by the inquiry, Kaoru's smile turned loving. "Of course I am, baby. How can I not be when I have the love of such a wonderful little boy?"

A snort came from Tomoe's seated figure, and Kenji turned his glare on her just in time to watch her eyes roll. "What nonsense."

"You shut up, evil old hag." Feeling particularly bold and proud of the insult he remembered hearing Kaoru speak, Kenji furrowed his brow and held her darkening gaze challengingly. A second later and his face was covered by Kaoru's hand and he could feel her laughter though her words spoke of chastisement. "Hush now, young man. You shouldn't be rude, and you should never repeat rude phrases, no matter who you hear them from."

The hand shielding his face blocked his view of the other side of the van, and so he looked up at Kaoru again. Contrite that he had done something she disapproved of, Kenji pouted a little. "Okay, Mommy." Twisting his lips he thought about it for a moment and then asked her softly. "Do I have to like her, though?"

"No, but you should always be polite." Amused, Kaoru's smile was back and he smiled in return. "I know it's hard when you don't like someone, but you should try, Kenji. It'll get easier after awhile."

"Okay."

The van came to a slow stop a few minutes later and Kenji tightened his grip on Kaoru's shirt. The front door of the van opened and closed and then the soft fall of footsteps echoed for a few steps away from them and then disappeared into the distance. Wherever the man had gone it was too far away for Kenji to tell anymore. The woman across from them yawned after awhile, apparently bored, and Kaoru shifted her weight. There was discomfort on her features and he wondered if the bruises on her face were hurting her. His shoulders were sore and he hadn't been hurt as bad as she so he knew she had to be in pain.

What felt like an eternity later the side door to the back of the van slid aside and flooded it with light. "It's all clear." The large man's deep voice was clipped, as if he were much too disciplined, and then he was holding out his hand to help his sister out. When Kaoru stood he was less generous helping her. Grabbing her by the upper arm she was yanked out of the van and Kenji was left to hurry after. Jumping from the van he kicked the large man in the shins and glared up at him when he turned his narrowed green eyes down towards him.

"Don't you hurt her again." Feeling fierce and protective Kenji stepped between Kaoru and the man who still had her by the arm. After a few tense seconds the man just laughed but released Kaoru, and Kenji glared after him as he walked away. Kaoru was not so amused.

Swinging him up into her arms Kaoru shot a look at the gun Tomoe was pointing at them and began following the man at her gesture. "Although I appreciate your help, Kenji, I want you to let me handle this, okay?" Kenji blinked at her and then frowned. "Do not provoke either of them. They could seriously hurt you, and I would rather die then see that happen."

"But you said our family protects what's important, and you're important, Mommy, so I'm going to protect you."

"I did say that, baby, and there may be a time when it will be your turn to protect what's important, but right now it's my time."

Kenji stayed quiet to think over her words as they were led into a large empty room. There was a big door on the far side that was cracked only far enough to allow a single person entrance and the light from outside cast shadows along large barrels and other debris scattered along the walls. A small office-looking room was situated near the large door with crates and boxes stacked around it and blocking its small, regular sized door. Turning his head Kenji swept his eyes over the empty section between them and the large door to where Enishi was busy sitting up his computer. There were several wires already tangled together on the desk he sat his laptop on, and once he plugged in the portable computer the screen flickered. Behind them was the door they had entered through that led back to the van.

"Sit here and be quiet." Kaoru was abruptly shoved toward a stack of crates, and Kenji tightened his grip on her shoulders to keep his perch in her arms. She caught her weight easily before sitting them both down one top of one of the crates. It moved underneath her, threatening to collapse, but steadied after a moment as it became used to her weight. Kaoru's face twisted once again in discomfort, but Kenji didn't say anything. He wanted this to be over with so they could go back home to the dojo and be with his father.

Time went by slowly as Kenji had nothing to do but watch the others around him. Kaoru quietly sat with him in her arms and said nothing. A look showed that her eyes were closed, but she was not asleep because every time the other woman would come near to them her eyes would open to follow her progress suspiciously. Tomoe was pacing slowly from where her brother was to where they were, and then out into the empty space in a wide semi-circle. She alternated her attention between playing with the gun when she came near to them, and checking her fingernails. Enishi was the most interesting to watch. He was playing with his laptop and every once in awhile Kenji could catch glimpses of what was on the screen. Sometimes it just looked like line after line of numbers and formulas that he didn't understand. Other times, though, there were several frames of video feed that showed different areas of the room they were in as well as other places he didn't recognize. Some showed people going about their business on a street, and in one of them he thought he even saw Kaoru and him sitting on the crate with Tomoe nearby.

Awhile later the woman disappeared and came back with something for them to eat again. This time she actually brought them some water to drink, which Kaoru seemed to be grateful for because she sucked hers down eagerly. The meal was again a cheap packaged pork bun from a convenience store, but Kenji thanked the lady none-the-less and was proud when Kaoru smiled at him lovingly.

As they finished up their small meal Kenji noticed that the lady and man appeared to be getting increasingly agitated as time went by. Tomoe kept looking at her watch and tapping the gun against her thigh while Enishi stopped looking at the number screens altogether and focused on one particular video shot that showed the street and the few people passing by. It was as Kenji was staring at the laptop screen that he recognized his father. Straining his neck excitedly he tapped his hand against his mother's shoulder to get her attention. "It's Daddy! I saw Daddy!" His whispered announcement was drowned out by the man's loud declaration that Himura was on the way.

The loud hurried clicks of the woman's heels brought Tomoe over to them where she signaled for Kaoru to stand. Enishi pulled a gun out of the back of his pants and stepped away from the desk and to where Tomoe had forced them to go. Kaoru kept Kenji in her arms, but she switched him to her other side and he didn't understand why she pressed the injured side of her face into his hair as if she were hiding it. A few tense minutes later Kenji watched his dad walk through the crack in the large door across the room. In reaction Tomoe pressed the barrel of her gun into Kaoru's temple. For some strange reason Kaoru only sighed.

Once Kenshin was far enough into the room Enishi ordered him to stop, and obediently Kenshin did. Dark golden eyes were staring menacingly across at them, and when those amber depths looked Kaoru and Kenji over Kenji couldn't help but shift uncomfortably. He had never seen his father look so angry, and the anger on his features was only deepening as the moments passed by. Trembling in his mother's arms he felt tears push against his eyes and his chin ducked into his chest. In reaction to his movement, however, his father's eyes locked onto him and at the sight of his fear his features softened. The tension in Kenji's body instantly relaxed.

Kenshin fought the irrational rage that wished to take him over and focused his attention back on Tomoe and the other man he now knew by Enishi. He was not someone to be taken lightly, or so he had learned from the report he had been given. That report had been censored, of course, and that only made Kenshin worry more. Whatever he had not been told was what frightened him, but he could not let his ignorance affect his actions. He would be wary and ready, but after he had what he came for neither of the siblings would be his problem any longer. Clenching his teeth against a harsh smirk, Kenshin averted his attention to Tomoe and let his lip curl in disgust instead.

"I'm here so let's get this over with."

"Of course, anata." Tomoe spoke the word sarcastically, but when Kenshin didn't react to the jab she frowned. Kaoru only shifted her weight again. "Hmph. Did you bring what you were supposed to?"

Kenshin reached in his pants pocket and pulled out a small, hard case. "Right here. You'll get it when I get what you took from me."

"Ah, ah, anata, that's not how you do business. I thought you were better at making deals than this. Where's the guarantee that we will be getting what we want?"

Kenshin growled impatiently. "It's all in here. A certain amount of trust is needed in any business deal."

"Of course, which is why I'm willing to give you your son right now." Pressing the gun into Kaoru's head a little more firmly Tomoe smiled at Kaoru's frown. Tomoe was much too willing to let the boy go. "Put the boy down, that's good. Now, Kenji-chan, you are free to go. Aren't you excited?"

Kenji looked up at the two women undecidedly. "But… what about Mommy?"

"Don't worry about me sweetheart. Go to your father." Still hesitant he stepped back a couple paces, but turned when Kenshin spoke to him.

"Come here son." Kenshin was kneeling and Kenji couldn't help the sudden onslaught of relief that came from the fear he felt at being kidnapped at all. Kaoru had promised to get him out of the situation, and his father was that exit. Sprinting across the distance he threw himself into his father's arms and then tried to steady his breathing.

"You have to get Mommy, too. You have to save her, Daddy. They hurt her. They hurt her and it was my fault. She was only protecting me and that man hurt her."

Kenshin's chest tightened and the return of his anger killed his relief that he once more had his son safe and in his possession. Snapping golden eyes open to stare at Kaoru over Kenji's small shoulder he saw the marks on her face that only moments ago had been hidden by Kenji's small body. They spoke of what Kenji was telling him and the pain this situation had put her through. Pushing against Kenji's small shoulders he locked his gaze back on his son and spoke in what he hoped was a calm voice. As hard as he was trying to keep his anger under control it was still darkening his vision and soaking his heart and mind. When Kenji began trembling again he knew he was not pulling off the façade.

"I'm going to get her back." The short statement was all he could muster, but Kenji seemed to understand because he nodded. "I need you to do something for me, Kenji. Do you see those large barrels behind me?" Kenji leaned to one side to look around his shoulder and then nodded again. "Good, I need you to run over to them and hide. Don't come out until I tell you so, is that clear?" Again he nodded, and Kenshin kissed him quickly on the side of his head, hugged him, and then pushed him in that direction. Without questioning or hesitating Kenji took off running again and slipped behind a far barrel and disappeared.

Slowly Kenshin stood to his feet. Tomoe was frowning, but the sudden disappearance of Kenji did not seem to have much of an effect on their plan because they didn't react as if dismayed. Without waiting to be asked Kenshin whipped his arm and tossed the hard case across the room where it bounced once on the floor and slid to a stop at Enishi's feet. Bending slowly to retrieve it Enishi backed away until he was sure Kenshin wasn't going to try anything before turning to his laptop.

"You have what you wanted now release Kaoru."

"Don't be so impatient, anata. First my brother needs to make sure it's really what you say it is. Once we have proof that the money's really on there you'll get your little woman. Why don't we just all stay calm and have a nice little chat while we wait."

"I have nothing to say to you."

"Oh, sure you do, anata. How about we reminisce a little? In fact I was just thinking yesterday about that one time in Fiji when we rented out that entire island and swam naked everyday. The water was so nice and warm and when we weren't swimming we were making love, do you remember?" Kenshin's face turned to stone and next to her Kaoru shifted to cross her arms. Tomoe's smile widened. "No? How about Paris or Italy? I suppose we didn't actually make it out of our hotel room in Paris so there isn't much to remember, but I know you remember Italy. You proposed to me there. That ring was so beautiful, too. I was almost sad when I sold it. Although I did get a hefty amount out of it so of course I wasn't that sad."

The stone look on Kenshin's face melted into a frown and one of his eyebrows lifted. "You and I remember Fiji and Paris differently. We weren't alone on that island and I don't ever remember swimming naked, and I had to go to Paris for business. If you never made it out of the hotel room it wasn't because of me."

"Oh dear, I suppose that is true. I guess I'm caught." Her free hand covered her mouth as she laughed. "You still proposed to me, though, so all that practice I got must have been pleasing for you. What about you, little raccoon? What's your ring look like? Oh, you're not wearing one, are you?" A condescending giggle escaped Tomoe's throat. "You haven't quite mastered the basics have you? Poor little prude. I could point you in the direction of a few men who could help you learn, if you want. All it takes is a couple little tricks and he'll propose to you in no time."

Kaoru sighed and this time it was just a bit impatient. "You're so pitiful I actually feel sorry for you." Tomoe's laughter seized and the loose grip she had on the gun tightened.

"What did you say?"

"I said I feel sorry for you." The statement was louder this time, and Kaoru's eyes opened to look at Tomoe. "You have no idea how lucky you were. You could have had such a wonderful life. Instead you just threw it all away because your selfish and greedy. You don't even know what love is so how can you claim you know how to make it?"

Briefly Tomoe's features contorted into anger, but she battled it back with a smirk. "You think you two make love, do you?" Glancing across the room at Kenshin Tomoe leaned closer and whispered so that he couldn't hear. "When he closes his eyes do you think he pretends you're me?" Kenshin's frown deepened now that he had no clue what was being said, but both he and Tomoe were caught off guard when Kaoru started to giggle.

Amused sapphire eyes looked him over and he thought he heard her say something like fine, I'll play before she leaned closer to Tomoe to reply in a return whisper. "He keeps his eyes open." Kaoru's small grin twitched wider when Tomoe's features dropped. "He likes to watch me." Covering her smile with a surprised look, she blinked her falsely concerned eyes and pouted. "Did he close his eyes with you, Tomoe? How sad." Dropping her façade Kaoru's voice hardened as she leaned back. "Perhaps he pretended you were someone like me, bitch."

Tomoe's face was completely red with anger now, which worried Kenshin, but before she could let her temper rage Enishi was standing from the laptop. "It's all there, Sis. Let's get the hell out of here."

Kenshin took a step forward, but Tomoe grabbed Kaoru's arm with her free hand and dug the barrel of the gun just a touch harder into her skull. "Not so fast, we're not quite done here."

Enishi frowned behind her as he pocketed the small chip. "What are you talking about? We've got the money. Give him the fucking woman and let's go."

"But this exchange wasn't a fair one, isn't that right, raccoon?" Kaoru jerked which caused Kenshin to take another step forward, but the threat of the gun kept them both in place.

"What are you talking about?" Knowing his sister wouldn't just make something like that up, especially when it came to money, Enishi stopped arguing.

"We only got enough money for two hostages. My sweet husband thought he could get away with not paying us for the third."

"Third?"

Kenshin frowned, confused, and switched his attention between Kaoru and Tomoe. "What third hostage?"

"Oh, he doesn't know!" Tomoe laughed in amused derision. "Shame on you little raccoon for keeping secrets." Kaoru ground her teeth and her features twitched, but she kept quiet which only amused the other woman more.

"What third hostage? What the hell are you talking about?!" Kenshin was becoming agitated, but his outrage was only making Tomoe giddy with elation.

"Why, the one growing in the little raccoon's belly, of course."

Something inside Kenshin snapped and he was suddenly caught between explosive anger and terror. Every fearful thought and outcome came to mind, attacking him at once to battle with his rage and reasoning. As he tried to calm his breathing one important thought swam to the top and his entire being focused on being accusatory. "You greedy bitch, you haven't been truthful to me once the entire time I've know you. Why the hell should I believe you now? If you're after more money you'll have to find someone else! You've taken everything I have!"

"That may be true, but I'm willing to wait for you to make some more. I'll just keep the little raccoon until she has the baby. I may even send her back to you if she stays on good behavior. As to whether I'm lying or not, well, why don't you just ask her."

Kenshin's golden eyes locked abruptly on Kaoru, but she had already dodged his attention. "Kaoru." The voice of her lover was so hard and angry, but underneath it was fear and hurt. Unable to help her natural impulse to react she looked up, met his eyes briefly, and then looked down at the questioning she found. She couldn't bring herself to say it aloud in their current situation, but she couldn't lie to him either. It wasn't exactly how she had pictured telling him. Across the room Kenshin's eyes widened and Tomoe laughed again.

"Can't lie to him like you've been trying to lie to me? Weak little woman. You should learn how to lie better or it wouldn't have turned out like this." When Kaoru still refused to talk Tomoe shrugged. "Oh well, if you won't tell him why don't we just show him." The gun next to her temple disappeared and Tomoe's arm swung out before changing direction to ram the butt of the gun straight into Kaoru's stomach. Instinctively Kaoru caught Tomoe around the wrist to stall her attack, but instead of noticing her sudden dilemma Tomoe grinned as if triumphant.

"You see, she's such a good little mother isn't she?"

A low growl dropped the smirk from Tomoe's lips and she shot her attention back to Kaoru. Realizing her mistake too late Tomoe jerked her arm, but Kaoru refused to let go. "I promised myself this morning, Tomoe, that if you ever threatened to harm either of my babies again I was going break your arm." Fear finally touched Tomoe's perfect face and Kaoru smiled sweetly with a shrug. "And possibly three of your ribs."

Amber eyes shot to Enishi when Kenshin caught movement from him out of the corner of his eye. His green irises were angry and he was ready to intervene with whatever Kaoru had planned. Without a moment of hesitation Kenshin tensed the muscles in his legs and utilized the speed and agility he had needed to learn the sword style his father had taught to him. A loud bang from a gun going off was heard only a second before Kenshin slammed into Enishi's chest.

A quick twist and push tore a cry of pain from Tomoe's lips and then she was thrown to the ground. Instinctively her hand clenched on the gun and pulled the trigger, but the gunshot missed Kaoru by quite a bit. The ricochet of the bullet was lost in the large room and as Kaoru threw a kick into her ribs Tomoe tried to fire again. Still holding Tomoe's arm by the wrist with it twisted up behind her Kaoru tried to take the gun from her, but had to jerk her arm to the side when she fired the damn gun again. A lucky wrench pulled Tomoe's arm free, and Kaoru jumped after her when Tomoe scrambled to get away.

Another gunshot and Kenshin was only kept from looking by the man he was fighting. He required all of his attention, and his skill and discipline were dangerously honed. Who the hell is this guy? Grunting, Kenshin slipped his leg around the taller man's and shifted his weight so that it brought them both down. Thankfully he had dropped the gun upon the initial impact and it was now lost among the debris and shadows. Dammit Saitou! Where the hell are you!

Straddling her hips Kaoru had Tomoe's gun arm pinned above her head with both of her own while Tomoe's free hand pulled her hair. Crying out in anger, Kaoru jerked on Tomoe's arm and slammed it down hard on the concrete. Having reached the limit of her tolerance for abuse the gun dropped from her fingers and Kaoru was able to shift her attention to subduing her completely. One hard punch in the face forced Tomoe to release her hair in favor of stalling the flow of blood from her nose, and with a quick twist of her body Kaoru had Tomoe's other arm locked in her legs.

"Stop moving or I'll really break your arm!"

"You broke my nose! You fucking bitch, you broke my nose!"

Tomoe continued to struggle and kick and Kaoru finally grew tired of it. "Have it your way!" With one wrenching force of pressure and a loud crack the bone broke and the pain became too much. Dark eyes rolled back into her head and Tomoe passed out. Releasing her arm with a careless toss Kaoru sat up and ran a hand through her hair where the woman had tore at it. "At least I didn't break your ribs."

Sharp footsteps forced Kaoru to look up suddenly and she found herself staring at a woman and a man. Both were dressed in dark clothes, bullet-proof vests, a large belt with extra pouches for ammo and whatever else they needed, and each had a gun. "Special forces, ma'am." Kaoru blinked. "Are you hurt?" Shaking her head dumbly she stared as the man extended his hand to help her up. "We're here to subdue and arrest the terrorists."

"You're a little late, don't you think?" Taking his hand she stood and thanked him, but cut off midway to turn sharply. "Kenshin!" There were already three men with him. One was tightening what looked like a zip-tie around Enishi's wrists, the second was holding a gun to his head to make sure he didn't move, while the third was talking Kenshin down. Seeing that he was safe her next thought jumped straight for Kenji.

Another quick turn found him being led by another woman who was trying to be gentle with his tear stained demeanor, but her training probably didn't allow for much gentleness. When Kenji saw that Kaoru was looking he ran for her and she bent down to meet him with a hug. "Mommy you're okay!" Kaoru sighed in relief as the adrenaline left her body reluctantly, and she rested her head lightly on his shoulder. "Daddy said he would get you back. He said so, and now you're okay." Kissing his hair she smiled and stood with him in her arms.

"I'm just fine, baby. Let's go make sure Daddy's okay, too."

As Kaoru turned back towards Kenshin she wondered at what she would find. Although he had been separated from Enishi by these new people she didn't know what kind of damage he had already inflicted on the man and on himself. All she could remember was the angry visage of her lover as he had attacked the mugger that night at the opera. His anger had threatened to take him over then, and that had only been because of a man talking about hurting someone he cared for. What kind of anger had he experienced this time when another had already hurt two people he loved?

When her eyes met his, however, she relaxed. The only thing visible in his fading amber irises was concern and relief. Enishi was being drug away and he looked no worse for wear. In fact Tomoe seemed to be in worse shape and Kaoru was chagrined for a moment. Who lost their temper this time? Meeting him halfway as he quickstepped to get to them she gratefully relaxed against him as his arms encircled them both.

"Mommy's fine Daddy. She beat that mean lady up and protected me just like she said."

"Yeah?" Briefly his hand slid down the back of her head, ran over her spine, touched the small of her back, and then lifted to tighten around her shoulders. "And you, Kenji? Are you okay?" Kenji nodded and the action was felt by both of them. When Kenshin finally pulled back Kaoru nervously looked away at the probing intensity in his gaze.

"The special forces, Kenshin? Was that really necessary?"

"Yes." His serious answer drug her eyes back to his, and he finally sighed after a moment. "I called in a favor, and it ended up being beneficial to us both. Enishi is wanted as a terrorist in seven different countries, including Japan. On top of that the Chinese mafia is after him, and that's only what they could inform me of. Apparently Tomoe has been an accomplice for more than a few of his operations. I don't think we'll have to worry about either of them again."

"That's understating it, Himura." The tall man she had seen earlier trying to talk Kenshin down strode up to stand beside them. A cigarette was hanging out of his mouth and his harsh yellow eyes looked her over briefly before darting back to Kenshin. "With all the information your virus obtained from his laptop we've got enough to put them away for life. The woman, too, though she'll have to be secured in the military hospital for a little while thanks to this one." His thumb jerked at Kaoru and she bristled just a bit, but he just laughed. "At least you called in your favor on something worth my time. We're even now, you understand. I don't ever want to see your number on my phone again."

Kenshin smiled. "How is Tokio-san, by the way?"

The yellow-eyed man grunted and turned away sharply. "Worry about your own business and don't let something like this ever happen again. I won't be around next time to bail you out."

"Bail me out? We did all the work! You just showed up and took the credit!" Kenshin grumbled low in his throat as Saitou walked away but he was distracted from his irritation when Kaoru placed a hand on his shoulder to steady herself. "Kaoru? Hey!" Catching her as she swayed, he pulled Kenji from her arms and braced her weight with a hand at her waist. "Saitou! I need an ambulance! Kaoru. Hey, talk to me. Are you alright?"

Kaoru smiled up at him from her position near his chest but there were tears in her eyes. "I'm fine Kenshin. I'm just… really hungry." The sorrowful declaration was so unexpected that he laughed, and his tensed muscles relaxed.

"Is that all?"

"That mean lady didn't feed Mommy last night and she didn't give us enough today." Kenji tried to explain in a serious voice and he didn't seem to see the hilarity in the situation like Kenshin did. As his brain caught up with him Kenshin's mirth died. Of course it wasn't good for her to be skipping meals because Kaoru was…

One of the other men was back beside them, and his arm offered to help Kaoru outside. "We called an ambulance earlier, Himura-san. They should be here any moment. Why don't we go outside and wait for it there?"

The ambulance arrived only a few minutes later and then they were all on their way to the hospital. Inside the ambulance they checked Kenji over first at Kaoru's insistence but they found nothing wrong with him. Once at the hospital, however, they promised his worried mother that they would perform some more in depth tests just to be sure.

Megumi met them personally at the entrance, and though she said nothing there was a telling crease in the middle of her brow. Once again Kaoru insisted that Kenji be checked, but Megumi had better reason to worry more for Kaoru than Kenji. "I will have him checked immediately by one of my best nurses, though in my opinion there is nothing wrong with him. I'm going to check you now."

Kenshin stood quietly by the wall as he watched a nurse check over his son and the head doctor start probing on Kaoru. There was an emotion he couldn't quit explain churning in his stomach. All he could register within the maelstrom was a strange touch of fear. "I know you just found out yesterday, but you should be more conscious of yourself now." Megumi was scolding her patient just like the last time Kaoru had been in the hospital. "You're baby depends on you taking care of yourself."

The fear in his gut tightened as the doctor confirmed the pregnancy and his eyes shot to Kaoru just in time to see her face crunch slightly before her hands blocked his view. "I know." The fear he felt mixed with anxiety and he was plagued by questions and doubts. Was she upset that she was pregnant? Of course he should have been more careful, and he knew she didn't have any experience in the matter so it was all his fault. Had she not thought about the consequences at all though? Kenshin winced. He obviously hadn't. But would their relationship turn into something just like the last time? Kenshin's eyes shot to Kenji. Tomoe had hated being pregnant and then abandoned her child afterwards.

A small frown tugged on his lips. Kaoru had protected Kenji from that past and the mother that had despised them both. Kaoru loved Kenji and she loved being called Mother. In the process she had been hurt, but… what if that caused her to lose the baby? New fear as well as a touch of anger gripped his heart. He had only just found out about the baby, he hadn't been given enough time to get used to the idea. What would he do if it was gone already? Why had Kaoru done that? Why had she put herself in danger? Did she not think about the baby they had created? Did she not care?

Kenshin's eyes clenched shut. He knew Kaoru had only been thinking about saving Kenji, and he loved her so much for risking everything just to make sure he was safe. It was not so simple, though. Tomoe had only wanted Kenji to begin with. By interfering Kaoru could have been killed. He was so angry with her for doing what she had… but he was also so very thankful.

"He's just fine, Takani-sensei."

Kenji smiled at the nurse as she patted his head and then left him seated on the bed next to Kaoru's. The taller lady doctor nodded and graced him with a small grin before she turned back to his mother. Kaoru was still laying down but her hands were no longer covering her face and she seemed in control of her emotions again as she smiled comfortingly back at him. "I'm so glad, baby." Her hand reached out for him and he hoped down from the bed so he could get closer. Grabbing her hand in his he hopped up on the chair next to her and stood by her head while the doctor worked.

"What's she doing, Mommy?"

Kaoru bit her lip. "She's just making sure I'm okay."

"Are you okay? You said so, but they really hurt you Mommy."

The look in Kaoru's eyes softened and she pulled his head down to touch their foreheads together. "I'm just a little dizzy and hungry. Nothing to worry about, firecracker."

"You're mom's going to be just fine, buddy." Megumi pulled a long needle out of Kaoru's arm then handed off two vials of blood samples to another nurse. "Her blood sugar's a little low and she's a bit dehydrated, but I'm here to make sure she's going to be fine." Covering Kaoru with a blanket Megumi signaled for another nurse to come in and turned her attention to Kaoru. "While we wait for your blood tests I want to get you upstairs so we can do an ultrasound. You're not having any pains and that's good, but I would like to be 100% sure and I know you would appreciate that as well."

"Yes, thank you."

"What about you, bud, you want to see some cool pictures?"

Kenji blinked and nodded hesitantly. He didn't know what they were talking about, but if they were moving his mom anywhere he was going with her. As Kaoru's bed was wheeled out the door he took his father's hand and they both followed after. When Kenji looked up at his father, though, he seemed preoccupied and had that worried look on his face he sometimes wore when Kenji fell down or got hurt.

An elevator ride later and they were all crammed into a dark room. Some cold gel was smeared all over Kaoru's stomach and then a nurse put some strange looking piece of machinery on top of the gel. The tall doctor was messing with a television screen and then Kenji heard a strange noise. It was similar to the sound of Kaoru's heartbeat when she hugged him tight to her chest only quicker. Glancing up at his dad he found his eyes were glued to the dark flickering screen and so he followed his lead and looked as well.

"There it is." There was a smile in Megumi's voice as she pointed with a finger. "And everything looks just fine." Megumi's dark eyes looked first at Kaoru then shifted to Kenshin. The look on his face was one she had seen on many fathers. There was wonder and awe as well as a touch of fear and anxiety. Returning her attention to Kaoru her smile widened. This was her first baby and the look on her face was normal as well. "I know we talked about waiting, but since we're all here now do you want me to explain what you're looking at?" Kaoru bit her lip and then nodded slowly.

"You're nine weeks along already so the baby has most of the essential organs developed and as you can hear its heart is working just fine. Here's the head, and right here you can just see an ear and the mouth and nose and eyelids. There's its little hands and feet and the umbilical cord. We won't be able to tell what gender it is for awhile yet, but here's where that will be. The baby's just about the size of a grape right now, but it'll start putting on weight after this. That flat stomach of yours isn't going to stay that way for very much longer." Kaoru briefly smiled but her eyes were glued to the screen. After another second the nurse froze the picture and pulled the ultrasound away from her stomach.

Kenji frowned. He was fairly certain he had just heard the word baby used more than once and they were pointing at the weird screen while saying it. He couldn't make out anything on that screen let alone what he knew a baby looked like. As the tall doctor started pointing out particular features, however, the picture began to clear. When they froze it he could see what they were talking about, and though it still did not look like the babies he had seen he did recognize the shape. Releasing his father's hand he walked slowly up to the side of Kaoru's bed and gripped the thin mattress with both hands so that he could raise up on his tiptoes and see the screen better.

"Mommy… what is that?" Sapphire eyes pulled away from the screen to look down at him and the smile she gave him was a little uncertain. After a moment her hand stroked the back of his head and encouraged him to come closer to the head of the bed.

"Do you remember what we were talking about this morning, baby? Do you remember telling me how you wanted a baby brother?" Kenji nodded dumbly. "Do you also remember how I said that if I did have another baby that it wouldn't mean I would love you any less?" Kenji nodded again, this time with a little more surety. "Good." She pulled him forward and kissed him warmly on the forehead. "That right there is a picture of your baby brother or sister. Right now he or she is still growing and it will be several months before you will get to meet him or her. Until then this will be the only way we get to see the new baby."

Kenji's wide eyes darted between the screen and Kaoru's stomach. "Where is he now? In there?" His finger pointed at her stomach. "Is my baby brother in there?" He turned his attention back to Kaoru for her answer.

"That's right, sweetheart. For the first part of his life I have to carry him and help him grow. Then, when he's ready, he'll come out to meet his wonderful big brother. Of course, it could be a girl, too." Pushing red hair behind his ears Kaoru smiled at him happily. It only took Kenji a couple of seconds of thought before his face crumbled and he started to cry. "Oh, Kenji, it's alright." Sitting up Kaoru hugged him tightly. "You don't have to worry. Your father and I love you so much. That won't stop just because…"

"I'm a bad big brother!" Kaoru froze and blinked as he tearfully announced the true origin of his sorrow. When he continued her eyes shot up to Kenshin who was still just observing everything from the other side of the room. "I'm supposed to… to protect my little brother and… hic… all I did was, was… put him in danger. You had to protect me and you got hurt and if you get hurt then he gets hurt, right? I wanted to be a good big brother but I failed!"

"Come here, Kenji." Kenshin pulled him gently out of Kaoru's arms and tucked him against his shoulder. "Let's go talk outside." Squeezing Kaoru's hand warmly Kenshin placed it gently back on the bed then turned his attention to Megumi. "Will you keep her here or move her?" Megumi informed him of the room number they would move her to next and Kenshin nodded before walking out.

"He… he didn't say anything." Kaoru pulled her distressed eyes from the doorway and directed them on Megumi. "He didn't say anything about our baby and Kenji was…"

"Calm down, Kaoru-san. Your just feeling a little over-emotional. It's completely natural."

Outside in the hallway Kenshin rocked Kenji gently as he walked through the quiet corridors. As Kenji's tears became less he found a bathroom and sat him on the countertop to help him blow his nose. They stared at each other for a moment and Kenshin could see how his son's features were becoming more and more like his own. It seemed he was also developing some of his personality traits as well. He liked to blame too much on himself.

"It doesn't matter what happened, Kenji." Kenshin wiped at his tear stained cheeks while he tried to make him understand. "It doesn't matter why or how, all that matters is what happens now and what happens after this."

Sniffing, Kenji rubbed at his itchy eyes. "What do you mean? It was my fault. It does matter. Mommy told me that her family protects what's important and she and my baby brother are important so I should have protected them. I didn't so I failed."

"You misunderstood, Kenji."

"But she's my mommy and that means she's family and so her family's my family, too, right?"

"Yes, Kenji, that's right, but you misunderstood what she meant. Her words are not about success or failure in the past. What you need to focus on is what you can do from now on. It doesn't matter what happened before this, you have to focus on what happens after this. I failed to protect both of you, Kenji." Kenshin's eyes briefly closed. "No, I failed to protect all three of you, but I can't focus on my failure. If I am to do better next time, if I am to not fail, I have to get better at protecting what is important to me. It's going to be harder from now on, though. I… won't be able to do this on my own."

Kenji blinked. The hitch in his father's voice had made him sound so vulnerable. "Dad?"

"Will you help me, Kenji? I'll take care of all the big things, but we shouldn't overlook the small things either. If you help me I know we can protect them both."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

Kenji nodded enthusiastically. "I wanna help, Daddy. I wanna protect Mommy and my baby brother, just like Mommy protected me."

"That kind of protection will be my job, Kenji, but there are other things that we'll need to look out for." Picking him up off the counter Kenshin turned for the door. "It's going to be a full time job, but I already feel so much better just knowing you want to help."

Kenji smiled brightly. He never thought about his dad needing help, and just knowing that he wanted help from him made him feel special. "Oh, what about your surprise, Dad? I've kept it a secret just like you wanted, but I think Mom would really like it."

"Good job, little man. We're going to have to set another date, but for now you just keep that secret like you have."

"Yes, sir." Kenji giggled.

"Also, why don't you keep your baby brother a secret for a little while, too. No telling Yahiko-kun or anyone else, okay? At least until after our surprise."

"Okay." They were quiet as they walked back down the hallway, and everything seemed to be worked out when Kenshin turned toward the elevators. As they stepped onto the elevator to find Kaoru's floor, however, Kenji's little features turned thoughtful. "How did my baby brother get in Mommy's belly anyway?"

Kenshin froze and glanced at his son out of the corner of his eye. He was waiting patiently for an answer and Kenshin's mind was suddenly blank. "He uh… was put there… by God."

"Oh… wow, that's cool."

X

Kaoru softly brushed Kenji's red hair out of his eyes and watched him sleep for another couple of minutes. They had just finished their bath an hour before and after Kaoru had helped him to dry his hair and change into his pajamas she had put him to bed. As promised he was safely tucked away in her bed where he would sleep happily between his mother and father. Kaoru sighed. Kenshin was taking his bath now and so she had a few minutes to herself to think. With nothing to focus on, though, the reality of everything was starting to press down on her.

To distract herself she walked to her outer shoji and slipped out onto the veranda. The stars were out and since her dojo was nearer to the outskirts of Tokyo she could just barely see them. It was warmer tonight than the night before and she was thankful even as she pulled her house robe closer around her body. She didn't want to catch a chill and get sick. She did have more than herself to think about now.

Everything had checked out fine at the hospital and they even fed her before they let her leave. Back home she found Misao and Aoshi waiting at her dojo, and to her surprise Misao had cleaned everything up and even cooked them supper. So Kaoru actually got fed twice. Unfortunately she threw most of up an hour later. Misao had expressed concern that she was still upset over the incident, but Kaoru knew better. For now though she didn't want to tell her best friend because…

Kenshin still hadn't said anything to her about their baby. It scared her. Was he upset? Was he afraid? Did he want another baby or did he only want a mother for his five year old child? Kaoru hadn't really thought about having a baby, but now that she knew she was pregnant she wanted her baby. When she had set up a doctor's appointment she had thought she had a bad bug or something. Her period wasn't all that regular so she had thought nothing of just spotting for a few days or about how late it was in coming. When Megumi had patiently explained what the real problem was Kaoru had been in shock. But after the shock had come joy. Of course she wanted their baby! No she had no thoughts of getting rid of it! When she had picked Kenji up from school she had been so high up on cloud nine that she had completely lost track of her surroundings. The entire kidnapping was all her fault.

Shaking that from her brain Kaoru leaned against one of the engawa posts. She had been so sure Kenshin would be happy, too. She expected shock, but after that happiness, just like her. Had she misread him? Had she missed something important? After thinking on it she had realized that they hadn't exactly been very careful about their love making and so she had thought he was open to the possibility. Was she supposed to be responsible for that? Was it the woman's job to make sure she didn't get pregnant? Kaoru didn't really know, but she felt that there should be some kind of equality about it. Wasn't he just as responsible as she?

I don't know what I'll do if he tells me he doesn't want another baby. What if he makes me chose between Kenji and my baby? I can't do that! I love Kenji so much and I can't give him up, but… I can't give up my baby either. Maybe… he'll let me visit Kenji still. If he doesn't want another baby I'll raise this one on my own. I won't need anything from him, but… it will really be sad. I wanted my baby to have a father, too.

Dark lashes fell quickly but two tears escaped to slip down her cheeks. She didn't really believe Kenshin would do that to her, but it was so hard not to think of the possibilities. It would be even worse if he felt obligated to stay with her now. Maybe… he felt like she was trapping him just like Tomoe had. Maybe he thought she had purposely conceived a child just to force him into staying with her. Kaoru's head shook. She didn't want to do that. If he did feel that way she would never make him stay. She would tell him to go back to his own house. She would handle everything herself without ever asking anything from him.

I will protect what's important no matter the cost. But that cost had almost been too high this last time. Kaoru's mind jumped back to the night before and her sorrow was joined by the fear she had felt. Seeing that man hurt Kenji like he had and then taking the full brunt of his anger herself… she had been so afraid! Kaoru had always thought she would make the right decision no matter what, but sometimes it was not so easy. Instinctively she had jumped in to protect Kenji from harm, but afterwards she had been forced to decide whether she should keep protecting Kenji or protect herself and the baby growing inside of her. Such a decision was nearly impossible to make. Kenji could not be replaced, and so she knew she should not let him get hurt, but if she were to allow her baby to die that too would break her heart. It would go against everything she had ever been taught, but more than that it would forever scar the maternal part of her that Kenji had awakened.

Without noticing Kaoru's silent tears had turned into sobs and she was clutching the post like an anchor when Kenshin touched her shoulder. Jumping at the sudden contact Kaoru threw him a look but his presence only clenched the muscles around her heart harder. She didn't reach for him because she didn't know if he wanted her to, but when his gentle hands tugged her away from the post she clung to him instead. Soothingly his hands stroked up and down her back, and she cried and cried and cried to relieve herself of all the fears, doubts, and stress that was plaguing her.

"It's alright now, koishii. I have you."

It was still hard to breathe, but Kaoru found herself trying to speak anyway. She wanted to explain her sorrow to him, she wanted him to make it go away, but everything came out disjointed and she found it impossible to tell him her fears about him and their baby.

"He shook him so hard, Kenshin. That man had Kenji by the shoulders and he… he shook him so hard and I was so scared for him. I had to do something. I had to make him stop but then he turned on me and Kenji and he tried to hurt us both and I was so scared he would…" Kaoru dissolved into sobs once more, and the rest came out watery and nearly unintelligible. "I knew if I fought back it would only make it worse but I couldn't let him hurt my babies. I couldn't let him…"

Kenshin's jaw clenched and the gentle arms around her back tightened to crush her against him. Hearing what they had gone through after seeing the marks on her body only made it even more real. He's anger was pointless now, though, since there was nothing left he could take it out on but her. All she had done was protect what she loved and he had no right to be angry. But that did not stop the feeling. He wanted to yell at her, but what good would that do? The woman was already a mess in his arms and hurting her any more would only hurt him and probably push her away. He never wanted to let her go.

The arms around his neck clung harder in retaliation to his actions and he loosened his grip only enough to adjust his arms to a more comforting position. "Everything's fine now, koishii. You don't need to worry anymore."

Kaoru's tears were becoming less, but her hiccups were still present. A shaky deep breath pulled into her lungs than rushed out against his neck and she sniffed before she nodded. "I know it's just… my hormones are all over the place! It's awful!" Fresh tears jerked at her eyes and throat and when Kenshin pulled back she let go to cover her face. "I'm sorry! I'm trying to stop!"

"Don't hide from me." Gently his hands tugged on her wrists to free her face and then he was pushing back the hair sticking to her cheeks. "I want to see you."

"But I must look awful!" Trying to push away his probing fingers so she could once again hide, he caught her hands in his and lowered them between them.

"No. You always look so beautiful." Slowly he closed the distance between them and touched his lips gently to hers. The contact was reassuring and it erased her doubts momentarily to focus her entire being on him and the press of his mouth. Naturally she answered his seeking motions and her lips parted to allow further intrusion. It was so instinctive to follow where the resulting sensations lead with her now that by the time Kenshin realized what he had done his knee was slipped between hers and she was pressed up against the outer wall.

Gradually lessening the contact they shared Kenshin pulled back and closed his eyes to steady his desire. When his eyes opened again he could see that her tears were finally drying and the shine in her sapphire eyes was no longer from sorrow. A few seconds of study later and she clenched her eyes shut and dropped her head back against the outer wall of her home. "I told you my hormones were all out of whack."

Kenshin smiled and chuckled softy. "I'm fairly certain that wasn't all your fault." Stepping back he encouraged her to follow and carefully lead her back towards her bedroom. "And I'm sure you're just tired, Kaoru. After everything that's happened you just need to sleep." They stepped back through the open door and Kenshin slid it shut after them. Gently he pulled her house robe from her shoulders and then tucked her into the bed next to Kenji. A tender kiss was left on her temple before he circled the bed and climbed in himself.

Comfortably Kaoru hugged Kenji to her chest and he shifted once but she was glad when he didn't wake up. With her eyes adjusted to the darkness she could see that Kenshin was watching them. She hadn't lied when she had told Tomoe that Kenshin liked to watch, but it wasn't only when they were making love. Kaoru was always catching Kenshin watching both her and Kenji. A part of her knew it was because he didn't want to miss anything. He wanted to see and witness everything that had not been there before Kaoru had stumbled into their lives. Nothing was taken for granted between them. There was no reason for her to fear how their baby would affect their relationship.

"Go to sleep, koishii. I promise you're both safe now. I promise I will protect our family."

For a moment Kaoru chewed her lip. "All of us, Kenshin?" There was no reason to fear, but fear was not always rational. She could not say exactly what she feared, but she was hoping he would alleviate it with his answer.

The calloused but tender touch of his fingers caressed the ugly bruise on her cheek. "All four of us."

Kaoru's fear subsided.

X

Two weeks later Kenshin found himself nervously checking his inside jacket pocket for the twelfth time. Kaoru raised an eyebrow at him in the mirror of her vanity and he tried to smile in an inconspicuous way but she merely shook her head. Putting the finishing touches on the makeup covering the healing bruise on her cheek she questioned him about his crazy fidgeting. "Is your shirt itching you or something?"

"It's nothing, koishii." Stepping up behind her he placed his hands on her shoulders and leaned down so he was level with her face in the mirror. "Should I be jealous that you're getting this dressed up for Shinomori and Misao's early wedding party?" Briefly his eyes roamed over her reflection in the mirror and then dropped to look down the v-neck of the black dress she was wearing. It wasn't the same black dress from their first date, but it put him in mind of that dress and that night. Perhaps he could talk her into retiring early from the party.

"Eyes up top Himura. You do realize since we're hosting the party in my training hall that we have to stay the entire time, don't you?"

Kenshin pursed his lips. "Fine. But we'll have to put Kenji to bed at some point."

Kaoru sighed and stood from her chair to dig through her closet for a light jacket. "You are absolutely hopeless." There was no point in finding any shoes since she couldn't wear any so she had bought some cute knee high socks to wear with her dress instead. They were straight black but they had some pretty designs woven into the threads. When Kaoru turned his hand was in his pocket again and she crossed her arms. "Alright what's going on?"

"Going on? W-what do you mean?" Kenshin pulled an innocent look but Kaoru started tapping her toes impatiently so he knew he had to come up with something quick. "Alright, Sano planned this prank for Shinomori and he's forced me to play along."

Shaking her head Kaoru moved back to her vanity to dig up some jewelry to wear. "Boys. Just don't make a mess in my training hall that won't come up."

"Yes, ma'am." Pleased that she had accepted his answer, Kenshin watched as she pinned two diamond studs to her ears and then clipped the matching necklace around her neck. He had bought them for her too and they looked beautiful on her. Of course Kaoru looked beautiful in anything, although he didn't quit understand it but she had looked even more beautiful the past couple of weeks. He'd heard people talk about what pregnancy could do to a woman, but he had never quit believed it. He remembered thinking that he had never seen Tomoe look more upset and revolted than when she was pregnant. Kaoru practically glowed, and he wondered if it had everything to do with being truly happy.

She wasn't showing yet, but he could tell where her waist was thicker than before and her breasts were fuller. She was really sensitive, too, and their lovemaking had become almost unbearably gratifying. They hadn't spoken much yet about the pregnancy, but every once in awhile she would let him know what was and was not allowed. "Because I'm pregnant, Kenshin." And he would nod and then they would go on with whatever it was they were doing with her amendment in place. It wasn't that he was necessarily scared anymore, but there was still that anger and fear lingering in the back of his mind that he couldn't tell her about. He had other things he wanted to do first before they completely talked about their baby. Perhaps he was just old-fashioned or perhaps he needed to have too much order in his world, but he believed that there were steps to things like this and they had skipped a very important one he could not ignore. Though that had a lot to do with bad timing and unwanted interferences and less with finding out that she was pregnant.

"Hey, I've been meaning to ask you. What kind of favor did you do for that special forces guy that he owed you?" Kaoru brushed back a few stray hairs from her face and she glanced at him in the mirror.

Kenshin grinned. "Well, you'll never believe it but we went to college together and Saitou found that there was a girl he couldn't talk to. Of course she had to be the one girl he was actually interested in, so I introduced them."

"So you were friends with her, too?"

"Not really, but we had a class together and she saved my butt a couple of times by letting me copy her notes. Saitou wasn't exactly happy about asking for my help, but he was pretty desperate. I never told him, but I knew she was interested, too, so he didn't really have anything to worry about."

Kaoru laughed. "Awful man."

Shrugging, Kenshin stuffed his hands in his pants pockets and looked unabashed. "I guess I was already a business man back then and I figured it would be good if he owed me a favor." His features became more serious. "I'm glad he did."

Preoccupied, Kaoru missed his change in attitude. "Well it was really nice of you anyway, Kenshin. Are you ready?" Kaoru was looking at the clock and then turned to him with a smile. Kenshin shook his head and his mood shifted quickly as he tried to suppress a grin. He had been ready for the past half-hour but she had insisted that he stay in there with her. If he didn't know any better he would think she was trying to delay him. "Everything should be ready by now."

Kenshin took her hand in his and they exited out onto the engawa. "So why haven't I been allowed in the training hall again this whole time? I don't really buy all this about me being unable to keep it a secret from Shinomori."

"Oh really, Kenshin. You know women are better at planning these kinds of things anyway. You would have just been bored watching us decorate."

"I could have helped cook though. You didn't let me do anything and I owe Shinomori a lot. I didn't even get to buy the food you had catered from the restaurant." Kenshin frowned. "Where did you get all this money anyway?"

"Oh, I found a couple of good sponsors." Kaoru waved her hand nonchalantly and then opened the door to the training hall with grin. Once they stepped inside Kenshin found out the real reason for his exclusion and he froze in place as several faces he had not expected shouted their congratulations. There were people from work, such as Ishijima and Kimiko and her fiancé. Hiko and Sano had both flown over from America without him knowing about it. Yahiko was standing next to Kenji, Aoshi was next to Misao who was grinning like an idiot for being part of the plan that tricked him, and even Megumi was there from the hospital. There were many others and he blinked as his attention was drawn next to the decorations and food.

Several tables were set up on tatami mats to protect the floor and they were covered with food and beverages and at the end was a large cake with waiting candles. Along the back wall was a huge banner and he recognized his son's handiwork in the design and drawings. It was nothing he had ever expected. Nothing he had ever been given before. Inside his heart he hoped he was always loved like this.

Darting his eyes back to Kaoru he must have looked completely dumbstruck because she giggled before leaning up to kiss him on the cheek. "Happy Birthday, Kenshin. I know it's a day early, but I thought you could spend tonight with your friends and tomorrow with your family." Snaking his arm around her waist he hugged her to him briefly to whisper his love and appreciation.

"See, idiot. I didn't get dressed up for anyone but you." She stuck her tongue out at him then pulled away to lead him into the room and start the party.

An hour later Kenshin found himself standing with Sano and Aoshi while they watched Hiko and the girls sing along with the karaoke machine they had rented. "Damn, look at that fox! I think I want one." Sano took another swig out of his drink then laughed. "You know she's shot me down twice already, but she keeps talking so I think she's just playing hard to get."

Kenshin lifted an eyebrow and glanced across at the tall doctor Sano had joking nicknamed the "Fox." Apparently it was because she was not only damn attractive but witty and hard to get as well. When her cinnamon eyes glanced their way Kenshin was surprised to find that Sano wasn't just hopelessly wishing he was right. Megumi was interested, too. Well that will be an interesting pair. For as long as it lasts anyway. Sano had apparently noticed the look as well.

"Yep, it's certain. I want her."

"Good luck with that." Kenshin tried to hide his grin when Sano took his words at face value and thanked him. A moment later and the mood shifted.

"So did everything work out with that code I created for you?"

Kenshin nodded and took a sip of his own drink. "Yes it did, and thanks. Apparently Saitou was able to dig up more than they had hoped for with it. Both Tomoe and her brother are being held in maximum security while they figure out what they're going to do with them. I'm not sure I really want to know. If it's too bad it will upset Kaoru."

Sano grunted but agreed. "Yeah, she's feisty and mean as hell when you piss her off but she's too sweet. So, did Enishi believe that the money was really on there?"

"Luckily he did. I was prepared for him to call me on that one, but he didn't check it as thoroughly as he thought he did apparently. It was a good thing because Saitou took his sweet ass time getting there."

"Bullshit, he just didn't realize he was messing with the top dogs around here. He thought he was a genius. Psh. The real genius is right here, buddy!" Sano jerked a thumb at himself and Kenshin couldn't help but laugh. The man was getting drunker by the minute. Though he was right. Kenshin couldn't have pulled any of it off without both Sano or Aoshi, even if Aoshi's part was just a little more subtle.

"Geniuses, Sano. You didn't do all the work on that chip, you know."

"Yeah, yeah." Refilling his glass he lifted it and shouted at the top of his lungs. "Here's to the three smartest men in the world!" Then he gave a loud whoop and downed his drink. The room went quiet except for the music still playing form the karaoke machine and Hiko cleared his throat loudly into the microphone. "Yep, sorry, old man. Four smartest guys." Megumi lifted an eyebrow but Misao and Kaoru started giggling so it only encouraged Sano to grin like an idiot.

A little later Aoshi had to take Sano outside to clear his head for awhile and Kenshin was able to get away long enough to find Kenji who was chatting animatedly away with Yahiko. Poor Yahiko looked like he was trying to stay interested, but his eyes kept pulling away from Kenji to watch one of the servers that had been hired to work the food tables from the restaurant. She was a cute little girl, about Yahiko's age, and she blushed scarlet every time she noticed Yahiko looking.

"Hey, Kenji, do you mind if I talk to you?" Kenji looked up and over at his dad.

"I was just telling Yahiko-nii about school."

"Really? I'm sure he won't mind listening to more of that later, right, Yahiko-kun?"

"Huh, oh, yeah sure. Whenever your ready, Kenji-chan. I'll just… be over by the food." Kenshin grinned as Yahiko walked over to the far end of one of the tables then tried to casually saunter his way closer to the girl.

"Do you like the banner, Dad? I made it myself. Mom told me I could and she even let me pick out everything I needed. I spent a lot of time on it and I made it just for you."

"I like it very much. It's awesome, Kenji." Kenji was starting to get to that age where awesome and cool was taking over words that were too girly like pretty and beautiful. "I've got something I want to show you, though. Are you ready to help with Mom's surprise?" Kenji grinned and nodded enthusiastically.

As Misao's attention was distracted from her Kaoru finally was able to step back and breathe. It was getting close to time to cut Kenshin's cake. In about forty-five minutes the firework display she had been able to set up would start and she wanted to make sure everyone had a good very from the back porch. Looking around for Kenshin she smiled when she found him ducked down in a corner talking to Kenji. Kenji looked like he was excited about something and his joy made her heart light. Her other baby was making her queasy however so she took a sip of her water and prayed for her stomach to settle. The nausea had started to lessen but the wide variety of smells in the air was a bit too much just yet. Megumi had promised it would go away soon and she would be eating like a horse again.

Great, I'll probably look like one too. Sitting down her glass she smiled as Kenji started walking towards her. When he reached her she ruffled his hair and asked him if he was having fun, but instead of answering he tugged on her hand until she was out in the middle of the floor.

"What's wrong baby?"

"I have something I want to ask you."

"Okay, what is it?"

Looking quit nervous but trying to be brave he stepped to one side and pulled a bell out of his pocket. Three sharp rings of it grabbed everyone's attention and his face turned red as all sets of eyes turned on him. "I… I would like everyone's a-attention please." Kenji swallowed and turned back to Kaoru and his wide little eyes worried her. She was about to bend down so they were level when he held up his hand to stop her. With his other hand he stuffed the bell back into his pocket and pulled something else out. Kaoru's eyes widened as she recognized the shape of the box.

Small fingers fumbled a moment with the opening and then he was holding it up for her to see. "Kaoru, will you be my mommy forever?" A unison noise of awe droned in the background but Kaoru couldn't quite figure out what was going on yet. Her eyes were glued to the ring carefully tucked away amongst the velvet within the box. The band was white gold and there were only four pure stones set on top of it. The centerpiece was a good sized ruby that was offset with the band so that it leaned to one side more than the other. Trailing away from it to the left was three smaller diamonds whose settings curled back towards the band and ended with an elegant swirl. It was beautiful and no doubt much more expensive than just a mere gift warranted. And then her brain kicked back in and she actually heard what he had just said. This was something she would wear forever.

Sapphire eyes slid away from the ring to stare down at Kenji and his dear, sweet, nervous little face. No one had said a word yet and she found she couldn't either. This was so perfect. This was so wonderful. This was so… Kenshin.

Another small box appeared next to Kenji's and Kaoru turned her attention to Kenshin as he knelt down behind Kenji and offered her his ring. He swallowed first and she could tell he was nervous too, but he was hiding it better than Kenji. "Kamiya Kaoru, will you marry me?" Kaoru's eyes widened further and she stared at the ring he was holding. It was the exact twin of Kenji's ring except that the centerpiece stone was a diamond and the three small stones were rubies. It's shape was the same as well, but as she studied them both she saw why they were so lopsided. These rings were meant to be worn together.

When she took too long to answer, Kenshin stuttered on a little more quietly. "You don't have to say yes to both of us. If you want to say yes to Kenji you don't have to say yes to me, too."

Kaoru barely registered his anxiety, she was too wrapped up in her moment to notice. This was better than any trip to Italy. What did she know or care about Italy or any other foreign country for that matter? This was home, this was special, this was her family. Kaoru was so happy she couldn't speak, and as Kenshin's worried expression melted into a smile she could tell he knew. This was all she needed. He would always take care of his family; Kenji, her, and their baby.

Wait. What did he just say? Kaoru's joy dimmed just a bit. Did he not really want her to say yes? Did he only feel obligated to ask?

The smile on Kenshin's face dropped as Kaoru's happiness abruptly disappeared and he lowered his hand when she leaned forward. The whisper of her voice was so soft only he could hear it in the quiet room. "Are you only asking me because I'm pregnant?"

"What?" Surprised and distraught by her assumption Kenshin shook his head desperately. "No. I had planned to ask you… that night at dinner, two weeks ago." The expression on her face softened and he ducked his head as he confessed further. "Actually these have been in my safe at work since New York. I just wanted to make sure you really wanted us."

When Kaoru leaned back the beautiful smile was back on her face and the tension in the room released in one long breath. Kneeling down with them she cupped a hand around Kenji's cheek and kissed him first. "Yes, Kenji. I will gladly be your mother forever." Kenji bounced and wrapped his arms around her happily. Kaoru's other hand was already soft against Kenshin's neck and jaw and she switched her attention to him to kiss his cheek as well. "And yes, I'll marry you, Kenshin. I'd be so happy to."

Kenshin's arms came around them both and he held them tight against him as loud applause filled the room and general shouts of congratulations. Hiding his face against her neck for a moment he tried to steady himself before he released them. It was suddenly hard to breathe, however, and though his brain was functioning it was difficult to get his body to cooperate. Trying to help Kenji remove the rings from the boxes and fit them together he noticed in frustration that his fingers were shaking. As they finally clicked together, however, and he was able to slip the ring onto her finger he looked up and his being steadied. Kaoru was his now. No, she was theirs now. Everything in his world was suddenly and irrevocably right.

Everyone came around to congratulate them personally and Kenshin was feeling more and more sure of his situation by the moment. Perhaps he was feeling a little too proud, but it was his birthday party and everyone would just have to forgive him. Kaoru was beaming and showing off her ring when asked, but her hand would not let go of his and when he squeezed her fingers she squeezed back. Everything was going so wonderfully until Kenshin heard Sano question Kenji.

"So are you excited, bud, about the three of you officially being a family?"

Just as the question registered Kenshin knew Kenji's answer would be bad. Before he could intervene, however, Kenji's thoughtful little features turned excited and his hand shot up with four fingers held high.

"There's four of us, Uncle Sano! And I'm real excited!"

"Four of you?" Sano was confused at first, but it was Hiko who Kenshin was standing beside who caught on the quickest.

"Four, boy?" There was a tone of displeasure in his voice and Kenshin couldn't help but duck as the room went silent again.

Kaoru merely sighed. "Kenji, I thought we had talked about keeping that a secret for now." Kenji's face dropped and his hand slapped over his mouth, but Kaoru just smiled and shook her head.

"Kaoru you're pregnant!?" Misao's voice carried and Kaoru winced as her best-friend took up residence next to her and started bouncing. Whether she was angry or happy, Kaoru couldn't tell. "Why didn't you tell me! Oh my god! Are you going to fit into your dress? Is that why you've been drinking water all night? Have you been nauseous? Can I get you anything? I'll have to organize a baby shower now. Is it a boy or a girl? When are you due?"

Kaoru shook her head and shot a side look at Kenshin but he was too preoccupied with trying to apologize to Hiko who was looking like he was ready to whip his adopted son. When Hiko noticed Kaoru looking, though, he winked and grinned briefly. What a crazy family of friends we have.

The cake was cut and served and everyone stepped outside just in time for the fireworks to start. Kenji cried in delight every time they burst and boomed in the sky, and he thought he finally understood the nickname Kaoru had given to him. Sano was still trying to sweet talk Megumi, and though Megumi hadn't said anything, Kaoru knew she was already planning a trip to New York for her family hospital. Perhaps their relationship would work. Aoshi and Misao cuddled together and for the first time she let the children be children and watched in silence instead.

With a happy sigh and a brief rub of her hand across her settling stomach, Kaoru leaned against Kenshin and stared at the sparks of life burst and fade. The ring on her hand was unfamiliar still, but its heavy weight was a welcome reminder of a moment she would never forget. Comfortable and surer than ever before she wrapped her arm around Kenshin's neck and spoke what she hadn't been able to for the last couple of weeks.

"I'm pregnant, Kenshin… and you haven't really told me how you feel about it yet." The hand that was wrapped loosely around her waist tightened and his muscles stiffened under her touch but he still didn't say anything. "If you're upset or unhappy about it, you can tell me. Whatever you feel I want to know. Please just… explain to me why you haven't said anything."

"I'm…"

"Yes?"

"I'm just so… angry, Kaoru." Her heart clenched, but she nodded to encourage him to continue.

"About what, Kenshin?"

"So many things. I should have been more careful. I feel like I took your choice away from you. You were afraid I was only asking you to marry me because you're pregnant, but I was afraid you would only say yes because I got you pregnant."

"Oh."

"Mostly, though, I'm angry with you for putting yourself in danger like that." Pushing space between them his low voice hissed but was drowned out by the booms of the fireworks. "What were you thinking? It's bad enough they were going to take Kenji, but you and my baby as well? Why would you do that? It frightened me when I heard. I have never been so scared in my life, and then she taunted me with our child. It was like she ripped my heart out of my chest and laughed while I slowly died."

Kaoru bit her lip. "I couldn't let them take Kenji all by himself. You understand that, right?"

"I know." His body trembled and his head dropped onto her shoulder again. "And I'm so very grateful. I love you so much for protecting Kenji. You really are… his true mother." A happy glow loosened the clenched muscles around her heart and she smiled over his shoulder. "I didn't know how I felt at first Kaoru, because I was still so angry about what you had done. Angry and grateful and terrified. If everything had worked out the way it was supposed to and you had told me that night at dinner I think I would have been shocked and then ashamed at first for not being careful, and then happy. I'm so very happy. How can I not be when our baby will always have you for its mother?"

"And you for a father." A deep breath pulled into his lungs and his tight grasp released her. "Are you feeling better now that you've told me?"

"Yes, but…"

"Is there something else?"

His forehead leaned against hers. "Will you promise that you'll let me be a part of it?"

"Of what? The pregnancy?" He nodded and Kaoru's surprise disappeared as she remembered him talking about the events that had led up to Kenji's birth. Tomoe had wanted nothing to do with him, which meant Kenshin had been allowed little to do with his own son's pregnancy and birth. Kaoru blinked, swallowed, then pulled back to jab her hands on her hips and frown at him seriously. "Now you listen hear, buddy. You helped do this to me so don't think you're going to get away with doing nothing during the entire thing. I expect you to be there whenever I need your help. That means rubbing my feet and tying my shoes and maybe even shaving my legs when I can't see them anymore. Is that clear?"

A slow smile crept across Kenshin's lips and he chuckled as he nodded. "Yes ma'am. I will be the perfect, dutiful husband while my wife is carrying my child… and also when she's not."

Kaoru grinned and her arms dropped before she snuggled into his chest. "I thought the first thing we could do is decide on a few names."

"Do I get to help?" Kaoru and Kenshin looked down to find Kenji standing beside them.

"Well of course you do, firecracker. I'm going to need your help with a lot of things. Being a big brother is an important job." Kaoru's hand came down to stroke his cheek and he grinned as the ring on her finger glowed and sparkled in the sporadic lights. Their family was finally whole and bound together by ties that were stronger than any other. Kaoru had reached out to Kenji that day almost a year before and his father had found a way to keep her with them. Many things had happened, some bad, others good, but none that were meaningless. Kenji knew he would never forget the past year but he also knew that he would never again wonder what it was like to know the love of a mother.

The End

A/N: Yay! It's done! I don't think I've been this excited about finishing a story. Probably because this one has taken me so long to finish. Also probably because I finished it a long time ago in my head and then just blew it off and got interested in other stories. I hope that you like how it ended. I tried not to rush anything, but I was working really hard to finish it. I don't know what else to say except it was fun and sweet and good for a happy read. Please leave a review and read it many more times if you like.

On a different note, I have a new story that I'm going to begin posting on. I hope everyone will please join me in it when it begins. Thank you so much for sticking around this long! Bye-bye.