The Journey Home

Friends or Foes??

Chapter Six

Kenshin opened his eyes to a vaguely familiar ceiling; in the background, he could hear voices speaking in hushed tones. Straining his ears, he thought he heard his name said a few times, and none of the tones were in an affectionate manner. However, that was expected, since he didn't leave on such good terms with his friends, well, except Megumi, but he wasn't sure she would be ready to welcome him back. He shifted his head to toward the door, when he heard a shout only to encounter wide violet eyes regarding him solemnly.

Visibly startled Kenshin sat up to gaze at his young mirror image fully. He thought it had been a hallucination, when he hit his head on the boxes. He remembered seeing a young version of himself hugging Yahiko around the neck, but he clearly didn't pay it any attention preferring to drift back to his dark abyss. Kenshin roamed his eyes over the little boy noting the red-hair and wide violet eyes. If there were a scar on his left cheek, the little boy would be an exact replica of himself. "Kon'nichiwa," he said finally to his miniature mirror.

Tamashii let out a sweet shy smile. "Kon'nichiwa."

Melting at the smile on the young boy's face Kenshin felt an immediate affection for the unknown child. He watched the young boy glance back to where the voices rose once more only to lower again. "Are you the boy I helped?" he asked already knowing the answer, but wanting to hear the boy's voice again.

Tamashii glanced back and gave an affirmative nod. Before he whispered: "Gomen nasai."

"Nan de gozaru ka," replied Kenshin slightly confused.

Tamashii pointed to his own head. "You got hurt, trying to help me and the cat."

Kenshin rubbed the back of his head, an insignificant throb remained, but it was nothing he couldn't manage for the moment. He didn't know why it knocked him out, as the Hitokiri Battousai he had sustained much more serious wounds then a simple knock to the head. "Daijoubu de gozaru. Don't worry."

Tamashii grinned impishly at the red-haired man. "You have hard head. Sanosuke-ojisan has a hard head too."

Kenshin laughed. Well, I guess I do have a hard head. "Sanosuke-ojisan?"

"Hai," said the boy cocking his head to the side before he reached forward and patted Kenshin's left cheek. "Hurt?"

Kenshin reached up and traced his scar smiling at the boy. "No, it's an old scar. I've had it many years."

"You should have Okasan kiss it," he volunteered eagerly. "She makes hurts disappear."

"Oh," questioned Kenshin barely restraining his laughter. "Don't you think I should know her name first before she kisses me?"

Tamashii shrugged. He didn't know what the man was laughing at, his mother kisses always made the hurt feel better for him. "Okasan's name is..." he scrunched up his face trying to remember what his uncles and aunt called his mother. "...Okasan," he finally offered.

Kenshin grinned at the boy. "Maybe if you tell me your name, I might know your Okasan."

"Kamiya Tamashii," he promptly answered.

The smile slowly drifted off Kenshin's face when he heard the quick reply from the young boy. He was on his way of firmly believing their strong resemblance was purely coincidental. There could be many Japanese people who had red hair; of course, he personally never met anyone else with his unusual hair color. But still...Kenshin looked down at the boy trying to confirm what his head was telling him, but his heart was rejecting. She wouldn't? Would she? "Tamashii-chan" he called quietly, "is your mother Kamiya Kaoru, shihondai of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu dojo?"

He nodded. "Okasan is really good. Better than Yahiko-ojisan. She's the best."

Kenshin cleared his throat refusing to answer that declaration. "Who's your Otousan, Tamashii-chan."?

Tamashii violet eyes saddened. "Everybody."

"Everybody de gozaru ka," asked Kenshin confused.

"Okasan says I'm lucky," he repeated. "I have everyone to be my daddy."

Kenshin nodded his head, but clinched his hand into a tight fist. He knew without asking the boy how old he was, Tamashii was without a doubt his son. Kaoru must have discovered she was pregnant after he left. Kami! I have a son! With a fatherly eye Kenshin looked over his son, and swiftly decided Tamashii was the most beautiful child he'd ever seen. But he could hardly find any of Kaoru's features in his son. He gazed into Tamashii's eyes; maybe they are a tad bit darker than mine are. Kenshin felt like grabbing the boy into a fierce hug proclaiming to all his newly discovered paternity. But how would Kaoru feel, whispered the dark melancholic voice living in the back of his mind. She didn't even tell Tamashii who his father is. Kenshin frowned at the thought. "Tamashii-chan," he said turning the boy's attention back to him. "Do you know who I am?"

Tamashii shook his head no. "But you know Okasan. How?" He cocked his head to the side studying his rescuer.

Kenshin gaped at the little boy shocked an unsettling feeling gathered in the pit of his stomach. "I'm an old friend of your mother. My name is Himura Kenshin." He waited for some recognition to come into his son's face upon hearing his name. None came forth. "I saved your mother's life once a long time ago, and she saved mine."

"Like you saved me from the horse," questioned Tamashii.

Kenshin nodded his head slowly. "Kind of the same thing. Has your mother ever mentioned me?" He delved further.

"No," said Tamashii as he began to wonder why the man wanted to know about his mother. His protective instincts took over; he didn't like the sudden interest this man had in his mother. He wasn't going to let anyone make his mother cry anymore. He glared at his rescuer an amber glint flashing in his eyes.

Kenshin rapidly blinked as he saw the quick change from solemn smiling little boy to guard. "Sessha is really a friend of your mother's," he tried to calm the boy who facial expression refused to change at his friendly tone. "Would you like to hear the story of how I met your mother?"

Tamashii kept glaring at him, but shook his head yes.

"Well, it began..." started Kenshin deciding the condensed version would be better.

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Kaoru threw up her hands in disgust as she waved away any objections from Yahiko and Sanosuke. "Megumi makes a point," she said finally reigning in her temper. "He did save Tamashii-chan from the rampaging carriage and horse. We'll make sure he gets well, and then shove him off to continue on his journey."

"Fine," said Yahiko. "I'll agree to this plan, but where is he going to stay until he's well enough to find out how big Japan is for the millionth time?"

Megumi let out an exasperated breath. She knew trouble was coming her way when she came out of her bedroom this morning to find a dead rat waiting for her. Then after her exhausting rounds she came back to the clinic to find Yahiko holding a badly shaken Tamashii, and Sanosuke carrying an unconscious Himura Kenshin. "I say he stays at the dojo to rest, since it has more room."

"What," burst out Yahiko. "Why can't he stay his ass at the clinic?"

"Because he won't be hurt all the time, Yahiko," snapped Megumi getting tired of their argument over what to do with Kenshin. "The clinic is for sick or injured people."

"He's injured," snarled Yahiko his young face full of rage he did not like the fact that he was losing ground on this debate as to where they were going to dump the traitorous rurouni. "I say he stays his ass here."

"Well he's not going to," yelled Megumi forgetting to remain composed. "Ken-san isn't seriously injured. The fall shouldn't have knocked him out like it did." She turned to Kaoru and Sanosuke who were both silent. "He is exhausted physically. Ken-san needs a few days rest. It doesn't have to be long, just for a few days, and then you can kick him out of the dojo."

"Fine," said Sanosuke shoving his fist further into his pockets. He wanted to badly pound Kenshin into a fine red powder. If it wasn't for Tamashii's concerned face, he would have walked away from the accident sans remorse. "How about we do this, Kenshin can have my apartment to recuperate and I'll stay at the dojo."

"Works for me," replied Yahiko. "As long as I don't have to be around him." He slumped against the wall. Kenshin was once his hero, someone he aspired to be like and then be better than, however, now Kenshin was nothing but rurouni trash to him. He left him. Kenshin walked away from his family. There was no way in hell he was getting an admission ticket back in to it.

Megumi rolled her eyes as she pushed back her raven hair. "It's not really quiet in your neighborhood, Sanosuke. And I don't want my patient attacked while trying to get to his apartment." She interrupted his protest; "I have no doubt Sagara Sanosuke that you will have every person of an antagonist nature attack Kenshin before he reached the apartment." She hushed him again with a dark look. "I told you he's physically tired, his body has been pushing itself, I also had to treat him for a mild case of dehydration. He needs rest."

"I'm not arguing the rest part," said Yahiko. "But does he have to do it at the dojo?"

"Yes," said Kaoru finally adding her voice to the explosive foray. "It's the least we can do Yahiko. He was once our friend and he did save Tamashii from the horse."

"What the hell do you mean: yes," demanded Yahiko jumping up from the ground. "Don't you remember what he did to us? How he left us! I don't want him back in our home."

Kaoru gave a sad smile as she glanced down at her wrist. "I remember Yahiko." The ugly pink scars in an 'X' pattern was forever carved on her wrist. "I don't think I'll ever forget."

Yahiko glanced away from her wrist, of all of them Kaoru was the only one to carry visible scars detailing the anguish she went through when Kenshin decided to bow out from their family. "Fine, do what you want, I'll take Tamashii home and--" he looked around. "Where's Tamashii?"

Megumi and Sanosuke looked around startled they hadn't noticed that the slight boy had disappeared from view during the argument. "I'll go check with Dr. Gensai," said Megumi heading for the door.

"You don't need to," replied Kaoru stopping the young doctor from starting her search. "Tamashii went inside to see about our curious visitor."

"How do you know that?" asked Sanosuke. "I didn't see the curtain move at all."

Kaoru smiled. "You're not a mother."

Sanosuke chuckled. "I should hope not, all the fun is in being the father." He winked at Megumi making her blush a pretty red color as Yahiko rolled his eyes.

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Kenshin looked up from his story to see the curtain slide open to reveal his friends. He allowed his eyes to roam over each of them. Yahiko, when he left was just short hothead junior swordsman, now he had the air and confidence about him he was once lacking. Sanosuke looked older, but he seemed to be more restrained than when he first met him. Kenshin shifted his eyes to Megumi, who looked the same to him except she too had an air of more confidence in her abilities then when he first met her, she no longer seemed like she was seeking approval all the time. Saving Kaoru for last Kenshin finally looked in her direction. She was as beautiful as the day he met her. Her face and form he had memorized several times and he noticed the difference in her right away. She walked with more grace leaving behind her childish prance, her ebony hair she'd let grow out, her pony-tail was now mid-waist maybe even longer when let down. Kaoru still had the most prettiest blues eyes he'd ever seen, but looking into them he found they were not the innocent blues eyes he left behind, they too had matured with the rest of her. "Kon'nichiwa," he said breaking the standoff.

"Kon'nichiwa," responded Megumi feeling she should be the first one to speak, not knowing whether the others would start the conversation. "How are you feeling, Kenshin?" She dropped her pet name for him uncomfortable with using it around him after such a period of no contact.

"Just fine, thank you," Kenshin replied politely. "My head--I've been told--is hard." He turned grinning at Tamashii.

Yahiko noticed the smile directed towards Tamashii. He clinched his fist to stop it from shooting out and smashing Kenshin's face in. "I hope Tamashii didn't wake you up." The evil rurouni wasn't about to sweet-talk his way into Tamashii's heart like he did with him, and then decide one day without much provocation to leave. His nephew wasn't going to feel that pain. He wasn't going to allow it. He'd kill the legendary Battousai himself first!

Hearing the barely restrained anger in Yahiko's voice Kenshin shook his head.

"That's good he usually not so considerate with sleeping people," said Kaoru breaking in and stopping any biting comment Yahiko would undoubtedly say. Her son in question ran to her and grabbed hold of her hand, pulling to be picked up. "Nani?" She adjusted him on her waist.

Tamashii pointed to Kenshin, "Okasan, he knows you," he childishly tried to whisper, but everyone ended up hearing him. "He even said that he saved you like he did me."

Kaoru smiled in spite of the tense disposition in the recovery room. "Yes, he's an old friend of mine." She smirked as saw the visible wince on Kenshin's face when she referred to him as old. She shifted Tamashii's weight to one side speaking to both Kenshin and him. "How would you like it if he came to stay with us at the dojo until he got better?"

Tamashii looked backed at Kenshin considering. "Would I have to share my room?

Kaoru chuckled. "No, he can have a room of his own."

"Okay, he can come," Tamashii wiggled to get down, he ran over to Kenshin. "You can stay with us," he said candidly acting, as Kenshin didn't even hear the conversation that took place, while he was in his mother's arms.

"So, I heard," said Kenshin as he looked at violet eyes that mirrored his own. "When I first met your mother she offered me a place to stay at the dojo."

Tamashii nodded along, stopping to scrunch up his tiny face in thought. He continued to silently regard the red hair man. "Why did you leave?" His eyes never wavered, although he heard the gasp from his mother, aunt, and uncles. "Why?"

Shaking herself out of her daze, Kaoru strode forward and picked up her son. She did not like the way the question was phrased. It sounded like her son was asking Kenshin why he left his family and not why he left the dojo. "Tamashii," she scolded. "We do not ask people personal questions. It is very rude. Himura-san was once a good friend of mine, but the dojo wasn't his home."

"Oh," said the little boy on a yawn. Not particularly satisfied with his mother's answer, but he was willing to wait until him and Himura-san were alone again before he could ask any more questions. He laid his small head down on his mother's shoulder rubbing at one eye.

Kaoru smiled. "I think it's time for someone to get some sleep." She patted his back again as he let out another yawn.

"Here Kaoru," said Yahiko moving away from the door. "I'll go take Tama-chan home and you can finish your arrangements with Kenshin." He held out his arms, but the little boy shook his head, wrapping his arms tighter around his mother's neck. Yahiko tried to beckon the boy to him, but Tamashii refused to move. He watched as the violet eyes drooped and his excuse from escaping Kenshin's presence fell asleep.

"It's okay, Yahiko," said Kaoru as her body began to sway in calming motion. She turned her attention to the redhead rurouni settled in the bed. His attention intensely focused on her son. "Kenshin," she said quietly. "If you would like to stay anywhere else until you are able to continue on your wanderings, I'll be happy to arrange you the transportation. If not, like I said earlier, you are more than welcome to stay at the dojo again."

Stay somewhere else and be separated from his son again. No, he wasn't going to voluntarily leave his son, not after discovering him. He was absolutely sure Tamashii was his son other than the extreme resemblance; he knew Kaoru wouldn't betray their memory to some tawdry affair. "Arigatou de gozaimas, Kaoru-dono, I appreciate your kindness."

"It is I who is grateful, Kenshin," responded Kaoru her throat thickened with tears hearing him call her 'dono' after so many years of not hearing it attached to her name. She couldn't believe that most of her strength and resolve was melting just from the affect of hearing him say her name. "If you had not rescued my son from the rampaging horse and carriage, he could have been seriously hurt or worse."

"Well, it's getting late," interjected Megumi not allowing Kenshin a chance to reply. She wasn't stupid she recognized the look that came into Kenshin's eyes as he gazed at Kaoru rocking Tamashii-chan to sleep. Kenshin wasn't a fool; he knew Tamashii was his son. "I'll keep you here for now, Ken-san and then tomorrow we can transfer your belongings over to the dojo." She nodded at him, before looking at Kaoru. "Kaoru-san, it's late and I think my nephew needs to be lying down. I'll bring Ken-san over tomorrow afternoon. Okay."

Kaoru inclined her head and turned back to Kenshin. "Good night." She turned back around without waiting for an answer from him. "Come on Yahiko, it's getting late. I don't want Tamashii out in this cold air for long."

Yahiko moved from off the back wall ignoring Kenshin as he followed Kaoru and Tamashii out the door. He had plans to make tonight and he wasn't about to let Tamashii or Kenshin get too attached to each other. He would rather die first before he welcomed Kenshin back into his family.

Sanosuke gazed at the determined gleam that shone brightly in Yahiko's eyes. He knew what the boy was thinking and he was right with him. He never wanted to see the broken Jou-chan he came across when Kenshin left her, and he would do every thing in his power to make sure that Jou-chan nor Tamashii suffered the ill effects of having Kenshin among their group once more. If he had to, he would make a contract with a devil, before he would let anyone harm his friends. "Fox," called Sanosuke as he watched her check Kenshin's bruises. "I'm going home, too. I'll see you tomorrow." He looked at Kenshin. "Good night." Sano walked away not even waiting for a reply from Megumi or Kenshin.

Megumi looked up into Kenshin's violet eyes. "Don't worry, Ken-san," she said rubbing more cream on one of his bigger bruises. "Everything will be fine." She closed the lid on the small tin and stood. "It's nothing that cannot be healed."

Kenshin nodded his head her words, smiled, and whispered goodnight to her. It was obvious Yahiko and Sanosuke still blamed him for leaving, it was also apparent they rather eat hot coals before letting him come back to the dojo. Kaoru, however, didn't seem to hold any animosity toward him, except of course not to contact him about his son. Then there was Megumi, he could tell that she was somewhat angry with him, but then again what had her words meant. "It's nothing that cannot be healed." He leaned back thinking about her words. Was she referring to his bruises or to his relationship with his friends? Kenshin rolled over and shut his eyes hoping to figure out the meaning in his sleep.

*****************************************

Kenshin lifted up a hand toward the opening of the carriage to help Megumi down the steps. The carriage ride was a nice relief from the constant walking he'd been doing, since he'd left Kyoto. He smiled ruefully as he remembered Kaoru's barb from yesterday about how he was an old friend. Indeed, he was old and he'd been feeling his ancient thirty-three years more often than not. He reached down and picked up his few belongings from beside him.

He sighed as he looked up at the dojo. It had been four years since he seen the place he thought to call home forever. It had changed. From his critical eye, he could tell a new roof had been placed on and the walls had been whitewashed. The place was still inviting and warm. Kenshin shuffled his feet, if only he could say the same thing about the people who dwelled within the newly painted walls.

Megumi watched Kenshin gaze at the dojo, even she had to admit it looked better now, than it did when she had been first offered a place to stay. The new roof and paint did wonders for the modest size dojo. "Come Ken-san," she said snapping him out of his own musings. "The others are waiting for us." She walked around to the door using her spare key to let them both inside the courtyard.

Inside the courtyard was the sound of giggling laughter drifted from the back. Kenshin grinned widely; he knew that laughter anywhere it was the sweet sound of Ayame-chan and Suzume-chan and from what he would guess Tamashii-chan. He hastened his gait at the thought of seeing his son again. It had been only yesterday since he had first laid eyes on his son, but he had instantly loved him. His son was a precious gift he thought he would never be able to have, especially with his nomadic lifestyle and with the constant people who came after him wanting to defeat the Legendary Hitokiri Battousai. However, Kaoru had now gifted him with one of his dreams.

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"Now, you throw the ball," instructed Tamashii to Yahiko who had been roped into playing with the children much to his chagrin. "Don't forget to call out a number."

"All right," he muttered as he lobed the wooden ball toward Ayame as he shouted four. He watched as the girl did four quick turns before she caught the ball expertly in her arms. He half-heard and saw her say something to Suzume. "How do I did I let myself get conned into playing this game?" Yahiko continued to grumble forgetting to pay attention to the game in progress, until he heard Tamashii's warning shout. Turning swiftly, he only felt the impact never seeing the ball that accosted him. "Crap."

"Are you okay?" asked Ayame and Suzume-chan as they ran toward Yahiko who was sitting up in the dirt rubbing his red cheek.

Tamashii stomped past his uncle to pick up the yellow and pink ball they were playing with, "Uncle Yahiko, you're supposed to watch the game," instructed the young boy indignant that his uncle had cost them another point in the game. "How are we going to win now?"

"Ma, ma," cried Yahiko as he gazed up at the angry redhead boy. "I'm the one who's injured. Besides isn't it your nap time." He turned to the girls. "And don't you two have to practice your kanji for tomorrow's test?"

All three children pouted as Yahiko began to change into the responsible grown-up that Kaoru and Megumi had been training him to become for the future. "Yes," they groaned in unison.

Megumi and Kenshin stood in the courtyard watching the scene unfold before them. Gradually smiles spread across both their faces as they heard Yahiko present the children with his hidden adult self.

Megumi let out a laugh startling the foursome. "Poor, Yahiko-kun, have you been overrun with children?"

Tamashii let out a squeal, throwing down the ball. He scampered across the yard on his short legs. "Megumi-obasan," he shouted wrapping his arms around her legs. He looked up at her giving her a toothy smile. "Have you come to see me?"

"Sadly this time Tama-chan, no," she replied picking up the young boy in her arms. Megumi kissed his cheek. "I came to pick-up the girls we have some things to do this afternoon." She pointed in Kenshin's direction. "I brought someone with me. Do you remember who he is?"

"Hai," said Tamashii as he glanced in Kenshin's direction. "That is Okasan's old friend, Himura Kenshin-san. He's come to stay at the dojo."

Kenshin bowed to the small boy aching to hold him in his own arms.

"Yes, he has," chuckled Megumi at his frankness.

Tamashii put his hands on her cheeks moving her head to back to him. "Could you please stay with me? If you stay with me, Okasan won't make me take a nap." He swiveled his head glaring at Yahiko. "We can play ball, I bet you're way better than Yahiko-ojisan."

"Hey!" said Yahiko. "I only missed two balls."

"Which is disgraceful in his eyes," said a new softer voice from the porch. "You know he takes his ball playing seriously Yahiko."

Yahiko stood up still holding a hand to his cheek. "Yeah, it's from spending too much time with that rooster-head gambler."

Kaoru inclined her head. "Perhaps. Good afternoon, Megumi, Kenshin. Are you feeling better Kenshin?" She gracefully glided forward reaching her arms out for her son.

"Hai de gozaru." Kenshin's mouth dried up as Kaoru appeared as a mini female deity. Her unbound hair cascaded down her back in a dark rich waterfall well past her waist. The pink kimono she wore was tightly molded to her petite body. Her skin a nice healthy glow. Kaoru was currently laughing at something Megumi or Yahiko had said. He wasn't sure. His mind would only focus on her musical laugh, how he missed her laugh. A siren's laugh. Engaging. Enticing. Kenshin nearly moaned aloud with frustration when Kaoru flashed her smile at Yahiko. She was the epitome of a sunny goddess.

Kaoru turned with Tamashii in her arms vividly aware of Kenshin's rapt observation of her, since she entered the courtyard. She had purposely worn her hair down knowing the length and healthy shine always drew men and women's attention. After she gave birth to her son, her hair had thickened and grew tremendously, while her skin had taken on a healthier glow. "Kenshin," she called pulling him from his own perusal. "If you want, you can follow me, while I put Tamashii down for his nap, then I can take you to the room you'll be using for your stay."

Kenshin opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted with a loud wail from Tamashii, who was currently arching his back trying to make his mother let go of him, but Kaoru was gripping his small body tightly.

"I don't want a nap," wailed Tamashii as he wiggled his slight frame, his large purple eyes filling up with tears. "I'm not sleepy. I don't want a nap!"

"That's too bad Kamiya Tamashii," Kaoru replied sternly. "I happen to be your mother and I say you need a nap, besides you always take a nap at this hour." She frowned at her son's loud sobs. "Stop fighting me Tamashii just because we have company that doesn't mean your schedule will be interrupted."

Tamashii sniffed and pouted before he gave in and laid his redhead against his mother's shoulder. "You promise not to do anything fun, while I'm sleep."

Kaoru thought of all the chores she had yet to finish there was no possible way she would be having fun while her son slept. "I promise."

"Well, we better be going," said Megumi as the girls returned from the house with their belongings. "Yahiko come with me to the clinic, I got some cream you can put on your cheek."

Yahiko nodded as he followed behind the girls headed for the main gate, Kaoru stopped him for a moment asking him to return immediately as she needed him to watch Tamashii for her. "Hai," he tossed over his shoulder it would give him the added benefit of speaking with Kenshin without an eavesdropping audience.

Kenshin watched the group leave. Even the children seemed to hate him. He didn't miss the look they had given him as they walked toward the gate. He hung his head and sighed. His knew that Megumi, Sanosuke, or Yahiko did not forgive his departure, but he didn't know the children could hold a grudge, too. Does everybody hate me?

"Kenshin," called Kaoru glancing back to see him standing in the yard. "Are you coming?" She moved Tamashii to her other shoulder as his body became sleep heavy.

Kenshin quickly picked up his small satchel that held his few belongings and followed Kaoru. "Kaoru-dono," he whispered as he saw the sleeping face of his son. "Maybe you should take him to his room and lay him down. I remember the room I use to stay in."

"That's all right, Kenshin," she said moving away from him. "You have a new room. We don't use the room you had anymore." Kaoru moved gracefully up the steps rounding one corner passing Kenshin's old room, which had a thick board, nailed across it. She stopped in front another door; using one hand, she slid back the shoji and motioned Kenshin to step inside the room. "I hope you like it. You're next to Yahiko's room."

Kenshin wondered around the room, looking at the small dresser with mirror in one corner a futon and blankets were folded. It greatly resembled his old room, except it contained none of the familiar warmth of his original room. He had no memories attached to this bedroom, it was his room, but it wasn't. Kenshin sighed and wondered why his other room was no longer in use.

Kaoru patted the small back of her son as he softly snored in her left ear. "Is there something wrong with the room, Kenshin?"

The red-hair rurouni turned to her and offered up a rueful smile. "Thank you for the room. I guess..." he let out another sigh. "...I'm just tired. Maybe I should take a nap, too."

"Okay," said Kaoru flashing an enigmatic smirk toward him. "I'll leave you to your room." She turned to walk away but stopped inches from the door. "If you're still sleep when I come back I'll wake you up for dinner."

"Arigatou de gozaru," replied Kenshin nodding his head at her.

"Something's bothering you," Kaoru asked as he continued to stare at her.

Kenshin paused as he looked into Kaoru's glowing blue eyes. He desperately wanted to ask her why she hadn't informed him that he was a father. Why didn't she tell their son he had a father? Why doesn't their son even know about him? Did he hurt her so much that his shining girl was gone forever? From all her actions so far, she didn't seem to hold a fierce grudge against him. Kenshin wanted to take both Kaoru and Tamashii into his arms, reassure them he was never going away. Only he couldn't, he had to know about Kaoru's feelings. He glanced down at her obi and noticed she had a small dirty dove on it, he remembered the same dove from yesterday when she came to the clinic. "When did you start wearing a dove on your kimonos, Kaoru-dono? And why is it spotted?"

Kaoru's blue eyes were shining with a light sheen of tears. She self-consciously moved one hand over the small dove knowing exactly where it was situated on her obi. Four years. She'd had the small bird for four years and she had yet become accustomed to its presence on her clothing. Kaoru let a rueful smile touch her lips for the barest moment. "Just something I picked up when you left. A little reminder for me." She closed the door before he could say anything more to her.

Kenshin turned away from the closed rice-paper door he put his small bundle of clothing on the floor and began to make up the room. He had a son who was his carbon copy. He had a wife...a wife? When had he begun to think of Kaoru as his wife? For quite some time he could only imagine Tomoe in that esteemed position. His heart swelled. He had always imagined himself alone, but now he had Kaoru and Tamashii and he wasn't going to lose either of them. He just had to plan. Kenshin laid the futon flat, spreading his blanket over the thin mattress, stripping down he slid between the sheets shutting his weary eyes. He had a family, a son who didn't know his father, and a wife who didn't know she was married. Kenshin smiled. It was good to be home.

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Kenshin awoke instantly feeling an unfamiliar ki standing over his sleeping form. Rolling quickly he grabbed for his sakabatou in one fluid motion he had the sword unsheathed and ready to battle whomever who had come into his room. Glancing down Kenshin realized that he had his sword pointed at the head of his son.

Tamashii gulped. "Gomen nasai." His eyes began to fill up with tears as his bottom lip quivered; he wiped at the two fat tears that had escaped to roll down his cheeks.

The redhead rurouni let out an embarrassed chuckle as he sheathed his sword. "No, I should be sorry, Tama-chan. I will never do it again."

Tamashii nodded his head. His eyes drifted to the sword. "Yahiko-ojisan and Okasan are not here and I'm thirsty." He finally glanced back up to Kenshin his violet eyes a little wary. "Could you please help me get some water from the well?"

"Aa." Kenshin nodded his head he glanced down to the gray yukata he was wearing. "But, first let me get properly attired."

Tamashii nodded and left Kenshin to his room to get dressed.

********************************************

Yahiko carried the medium sized package in his arms. He opted to get a late picnic lunch for him and Tamashii. He had only meant to get enough for him and Tamashii, but Tae had heard the rumors about a red-hair man who had came to visit the Kamiya Dojo residence that greatly resembled the little boy. Tae was not stupid. She knew exactly who had come back after his four year absence, and the made the lunch out for at least four hearty people.

He pushed opened the gate to hear a shrill of laughter coming from the back of the dojo. Tamashii was awake. Yahiko hurried his steps to back toward the housing units. Whom could Tamashii be laughing with? He hoped it was Kenshin because lately Tamashii's imaginary friends have been getting him into serious trouble. The last time was when Tamashii's "friend" helped him climb a ladder left from a painting job. Tamashii nearly fell when he decided to walk around the perimeter. His nephew could have died or seriously hurt if he survived the fall.

Yahiko skidded to a stop when he saw Tamashii was indeed playing with Kenshin.

Kenshin was too busy to notice they were now being observed. Tamashii was screaming with laughter as Kenshin proceeded to tickle the little boy who had first started their tickle war. "Do you give up?"

"No," giggled Tamashii as he tried to stop Kenshin's seeking fingers away from his more sensitive areas. "You give up," he tried desperately to get his small fingers into the ticklish crevices on Kenshin's body, while defending his own.

"I don't think so, Tamashii," replied Kenshin a blossoming smile spread across his lips. His heart warmed as he listened to the innocent sound of his son's joyful laughter. After years of listening to screams echoing between his ears, a child's laughter was a much-needed respite. Moreover, the child being his son was more than enough atonement for him.

Yahiko watched the seen with at first shock but it was reduced to anger. How dare Kenshin put his hands on Tamashii. How dare Kenshin giggle and laugh with his son after the grief he put his family through, because he had a sudden urge to continue his wanderlust. Did he think he could just come back and be a part of Tamashii's life as if the last four years were not but a simple lapse in judgment? How dare Kenshin try to play away his wrong? "Tamashii," called the junior samurai.

Tamashii hands stopped as he heard his name. He moved his body right side up, to view his Uncle Yahiko. His uncle was frowning. "Ojisan?"

"It's time for lunch, we're going on a picnic," Yahiko told the boy in a harsher voice than he meant to use. It just made him so angry to think of how easily attached to Kenshin, Tamashii could become. He smiled a little, "I got you an extra dessert so hurry up."

Tamashii glanced up with a silly grin on his face and took off running toward Yahiko. "Are we going to eat by the river?"

Yahiko clasped the boy's hand tightly. "Yes, so stay away from the shoreline." He turned his head back toward Kenshin. "Come with us Kenshin," he said brusquely not waiting to see if the rurouni would follow them, Yahiko headed for the gate.

"Aa," whispered Kenshin as moved back to the porch to pick up his sakabatou. Sliding it beside his side, he watched the disappearing back of Yahiko as a heaviness descended on his heart. His day of reckoning was close. Where did the Yahiko he once knew disappear?

**********************************************

Sanosuke threw a handful of rocks into the calm lake surface. He watched as the ripples spread across the surface from small to large. He had broken off his date with Megumi citing he had personal man things to take care of today. She had smiled enigmatically as if she knew his real reason for canceling on her. He needed to speak with Himura Kenshin.

Sanosuke sighed as he bent down picking up more rocks to send scattering over the lake's surface. "Che," he muttered as he watched one of his stones smack a bird on back to send it fluttering to the sky. "I wish this was just as easy. How am I to going to get rid of Kenshin?" Sano shuffled his feet turning from the lake. "Why did he have to come back? Why couldn't he have stayed in wherever the hell he was?" He glanced up at the sky. "We didn't want him back! You hear me up there! We didn't want him back! We are doing just fine without him."

They were doing just fine without Kenshin. Sanosuke's business had taken off better than he expected allowing him to share some of the good business with the Kamiya Dojo. He found he actually enjoyed teaching students how to fight without a weapon in this new sword-less Meji era and those who wanted to learn the more traditional side of fighting with a sword were quickly ushered toward the Kamiya Dojo. For the first time in his life, he could say he wasn't bringing shame to the Sagara name. He was earning his money legitimately and paying back loans, while still maintaining his easygoing attitude. Life was good.

But now, Kenshin was back.

He sat down on the ground, plucking a long blade of grass he began to chew on the light green side. Deep down he knew he couldn't fault Kenshin for leaving. Kenshin was the sort of man whom would rather know all pain than to let his friends feel any. So, being Kenshin, he left his small impromptu family. But he forgot to take the pain with him. Sanosuke lay down among the sea of grass. Jou-chan's slashed wrist and blood soaked kimono flashed in his mind. He remembered the tears and blood-streaked face of Yahiko. He couldn't let that happen again. This time he had another person who was counting on him to keep them safe. He had Tamashii. When he held the tiny boy in his arms for the first time he made a promise. He promised that he would use everything within his power to keep the boy safe. And to keep Tamashii safe, he had to get rid of his father, Himura Kenshin.

Sanosuke sat up as he heard a child's chatter drift over him. He'd recognize that boyish giggle anywhere. Tamashii. He stood up quickly as he watched the objects of this thoughts finish crossing the bridge to the lake. "Oi, Tama-chan," he yelled smiling.

"Sano-ojisan," cried Tamashii as he ran to hug his uncle. "Are you here for the picnic? Where's Megumi-obasan?"

Sano bent down to ruffle the little boy's red hair. "She's has work and as for the picnic, since I'm here I might as well join."

Yahiko snorted as he heard the last part of the conversation. "How are you going to join this picnic without any food? I don't remember inviting you to this picnic?"

"Brat," smiled Sanosuke as he watched Kenshin come to a stop behind Yahiko. "I was invited to this picnic by the Gods. They knew I was getting hungry, so they told me to rest in this place when a laden down ingrate friend would come with nourishment for all."

"Are these the same the same gods who you cursed when you lost fifty yen in dice last week," scoffed Yahiko as he bent to spread out the blanket Tae had packed with the food.

"No," grumbled Sanosuke. "I stopped listening to those gods and found new ones." He plopped down on the purple blanket and picked up a rice-ball wrapped in seaweed. "I'll be testing them out Tuesday after classes."

Yahiko nodded. "Fine, we'll see how good your gods are at The Den." He placed a small plate of food in front of Tamashii who was more interested in the flock of birds a few feet from them. "Eat, Tama-chan, then you can go play."

Tamashii bobbed his head in agreement and tackled his fish and rice-ball. He gulped down his lime-chamomile drink before Sanosuke or Yahiko could stop him. His little hand shot out stealing several pieces of the sliced bread before jumping up with a rushed thank you he ran over to the birds to play.

Sanosuke looked down at his full plate and the empty one of Tamashii's, his own chopsticks were poised at his mouth. He shot Yahiko a bland look. "That was new."

"Aa," agreed Yahiko as he picked up his own lime-chamomile beverage.

The three men ate in relative silence all of them preferring to watch Tamashii play scatter-the-birds than to partake in any conversation with the others. Out of the threesome Kenshin dreaded an end to the silence the most, he knew Yahiko hadn't summoned him to this picnic for reminiscing on old times nor did he think it was shear luck they had ran into Sanosuke by the lake. Finally, after an hour, Sanosuke decided to break the silence.

"I'm glad you came Kenshin," he began moving the group out of their quiet musings. "I was headed to the dojo to speak with you. And it is even better that I have this talk with you by the lake than at the dojo where little ears aren't party to what we discuss."

Yahiko raised a brow at Sanosuke's words. Seeing the slight nod his friend's head he knew Sanosuke wanted to talk with Kenshin about the same thing. He let Sanosuke continue.

"First off I want to reiterate our gratitude for saving Tamashii the other day." Sanosuke stopped and glanced back at Tamashii to make sure the boy was still focused on feeding and playing with the birds. His eyes drifted to Yahiko what he was about to say next he knew the young boy wouldn't like. "As you can see you are Tamashii's father--"

"He is not!" shouted Yahiko. "He is nothing to Tamashii!" He shot Sanosuke a killing look. "My nephew's name is Kamiya Tamashii, not Himura Tamashii."

"Tamashii is too my son," replied Kenshin gazing into Yahiko's angry black eyes. "Aside from the fact that I know Kaoru wouldn't betray our feelings. Tamashii is a carbon copy of me. The fact that we don't share the same surname does not make him any less my son."

Yahiko let out a snarl. "You are nothing to Tamashii. Nothing! If Kaoru hadn't been so stubborn, his name would have been Sagara Tamashii. How do you like that?"

Kenshin sighed. "I like it even less than Kamiya Tamashii. But, I would have understood Sagara more. You cannot deny he looks like me, Yahiko. Tamashii is my son."

"Fuck you," came Yahiko's terse reply. "I can deny any damn thing I want to deny. And right now, I deny you are the father to my nephew."

"Yahiko," said Sanosuke. "We need to be honest here, okay. I don't like it anymore than you do, but Kenshin is the father of Tamashii." He held up a hand stopping any retort. "We have something more important to discuss and Tamashii's father isn't the objective."

Yahiko snorted. "You've been hanging around Megumi too much. I will and forever deny Kenshin is the father to Tamashii. He is nothing to him. If he was the father, where was he during Tamashii's birth? Where was he during Tamashii's first word, crawl, walk, and run? Where was Tamashii's father? Where was Tamashii's father, for his fourth birthday a couple of weeks ago? Where? I'll tell you where. Nowhere. That's where Tamashii's father was during all those events."

Kenshin grimaced. "I understand what you are feeling. I intend to be part of my son's life now, Yahiko."

Sanosuke cringed as Kenshin said the worst thing he could. "Shit." This conversation was not going the way he wanted. He hadn't meant to lose control this quickly.

Yahiko let out a hysterical laugh. "You understand. You understand what I'm feeling! That's just great." He jumped up from the blanket and began to walk around in agitated circles. "I'm so glad you understand. My life is so much more enriched now that I know you understand what I'm feeling." He plopped back down on the blanket. "So, you understand how I felt when Kaoru died and when Tamashii was born. You understand don't you?"

Kenshin gritted his teeth against saying what he really wanted to say. He listened to Yahiko's condescending tirade his jaw fell open as the teenage boy mentioned the death of Kaoru. "What?" His face showing his confusion. "What death?"

"Yahiko," snapped Sanosuke appalled that young boy would bring up such a delicate topic, one that Kaoru's closest friends refused to talk about amongst themselves or others. And if it was mentioned it was only referred to as her sickness and nothing else. "Shut the hell up."

"Why should I?" asked the boy as he fought back tears. Damn, Kenshin thinking he could actually comprehend the heartache and the worry he had to go through. Yahiko wiped at his eyes furiously taking a deep breath he nodded to Sanosuke to regain control of the conversation.

"Fine," said Sanosuke he diverted his attention back toward a dumbfounded Kenshin. "Look, all I have to say is simple--"

"Wait," said Kenshin turning his purple gaze bay to the young man on his left. "What do you mean when Kaoru-dono died?"

Yahiko caught Sanosuke's sharp and decided not to heed the warning he was receiving. "The Kaoru you left is not the same Kaoru who is here now. The Kaoru that you knew has died." Yahiko kept going despite the warning growl emanating from the ex-gangster. "Kaoru died when you left. This new Kaoru has some reminiscent of her old self, but the one you saw yesterday and today is totally different." Yahiko shook his head. "My Kaoru died. And you killed her."

Kenshin stared into Yahiko's black eyes as he felt the wait of the young teen's words hit him. And you killed her. "Sessha...killed Kaoru-dono?" He looked into Sanosuke's eyes. "I don't understand. How?"

"Oh, but earlier you understood everything," came the sarcastic retort from Yahiko.

Sanosuke shook his head picking out another blade of grass he glanced up and noticed the sun had moved behind him. It was getting late. "Look, Kenshin there are more details than we can tell you." He glared at Yahiko who just let out an annoyed breath. "The rest is Jou-chan's story, okay."

Kenshin nodded.

"Good," said Sano. "What I've been trying to tell you is this: we don't want you around Kenshin. We want you to leave."

Kenshin shook his head. "Sumano. I cannot leave." He looked over seeing Tamashii walking back toward them. He stood up with the rest of the group as Yahiko quickly gathered the paraphernalia from their picnic. His gazed rested fondly on the little boy who was rubbing on eye obviously tired. His heart tugged. That was his son. "I have a son, I'm not going to abandon him."

"Che," muttered Sanosuke he knew this was going to hard. "Kenshin out of respect for our past friendship I'm asking you to leave. Forget about Tokyo. Don't make me have to arrange for your sudden departure."

Kenshin turned and lifted a brow at Sano's threat. "Nan de gozaru ka?"

"I've learned that pacifism gets you only so far," replied Sanosuke not taking his gaze off his nephew. His hands were fists in the pockets of his white pants as he rocked back on the balls of his heels. "So, I'm more than prepared to use any method within my grasp to make sure my family isn't harmed by you again." He swung down swooping Tamashii into his arms. He looked toward Kenshin. "I'll give you a week at the most. Make your decision." He walked away with Yahiko following.

Kenshin stared at the backs of his friends and frowned. Something, obviously other than the birth of his son happened to Kaoru when he left on his journey. Something profound enough to make Yahiko say that Kaoru had died. And you killed her. He began to follow the others back to the dojo. He slowed his pace as he tried to shift through all the information and feelings he'd been exposed to since returning. Sanosuke and Yahiko both wanted him to leave, and the feeling he was getting from Megumi was undecided. It's nothing that cannot be healed. She said that to him at the clinic. She showed anger but it also seemed like she was glad he returned. What about Kaoru? Whispered the voice in his head. Where did her beliefs and wants fit into the mess he'd unconsciously made of his life. He was receiving mixed signals from her too, she was being nice to him, but he knew that at the clinic she wasn't overjoyed at seeing him. His steps slowed as he thoughts tried to reconcile themselves that his own friends were now his enemies. Could he fight his friends? An image of a laughing Tamashii popped into his mind. Yes, he could.

Kenshin glanced up startled that they had arrived at the dojo so quickly. He watched as Yahiko shot him one last withering look before he pushed open the main gate letting them inside.

"Tadaima," called Yahiko as he set the basket down by his feet. His heart began to beat faster as he waited for Kaoru to answer him back. It had been three years since he discovered her blood soaked body, but the fear was still with him that one day he would enter the dojo and he would be too late to do anything. "Oi, Kaoru. Tadaima!" he yelled louder.

Kenshin heard the hitch in Yahiko's voice. He watched as Sanosuke put a reassuring hand on Yahiko's shoulder. He glanced at them confused, but knowing his questions wouldn't be appreciated at this time.

Kaoru came around the corner her gait hurried. "Okaeri," she answered as she greeted Yahiko and Sanosuke who both let out the breath they were holding. "Gomen, I fell asleep and didn't hear you the first time."

"Oi, Jou-chan," said Sanosuke as he shifted the weight on his should. "Take your dead weight. You don't need to feed him we sort of had a late lunch and he tired himself out running after the pigeons." He shifted the boy into her arms.

Tamashii woke up only to see whose new hands he was being shifted into, seeing his mother's face he promptly went back to sleep. Kaoru snuggled her son to her as she smiled at Kenshin. "Okaeri, Kenshin. Did you enjoy your nap?"

"Aa," whispered Kenshin unsure after his chats with Sano and Yahiko how to respond to her smiles. "It's the best I've slept in days."

A loud knock, sounded at the dojo's door behind them breaking the small silence. Yahiko opened the gate, wondering who would be calling at the dojo so late in the evening. "Kaede," gasped out the young samurai staring at the prune faced Moral Matron. "What the hell do you want?" he quickly snapped out recovering from his shock.

"Foul mouthed boy," said Kaede as she pushed Yahiko aside to march into the dojo courtyard. She quickly scanned the people gathered at the entrance, her eyes dropping on the person she came to speak. "Kaoru-chan we need to talk."

=====================================================================

End Chapter 6. Created [01/19/02] and Finished [03/05/02]. Did you honestly think the Moral Matrons were gone?! And why is Kaoru being so nice to Kenshin?? Coming next time: Accidents?! Send all questions, critiques, comments, and flames to me at: pmchivas@hotmail.com or you could leave me note. Standard disclaimers apply. Shishou M.

Your Moment Of Zen:

Did you know that if you're stuck in a slump writing, sometimes it helps to write on a different background and in a different color. That's what I did with this chapter, I wrote the entire thing in green on a lime background. It was really fun feeling Irish. ^_~

Also, for some odd reason people have been asking me my age. I don't know why, some of you have become fascinated with my age, but if you truly want to know, and can't go another day without knowing...I'm 23.

And to answer another question about this fic. I have 2 or 3 more chapters planned for the ending of this fic, I haven't decided yet.