Author's notes: This is a very long story that is still in progress. I am aware there are some cultural errors, grammatical mistakes, and assorted booboos. I would like to note that I generally work without a beta reader due to time constraints and -- like many people -- I'm awful at spotting my own errors. I am currently going through this story and slowly fixing things now that I've had a few years of distance between the writing of the story and the current editing of the early chapters.
This also started out as a couple of drabbles. It's somewhat grown. This is the story that I work on when I'm tired, stressed, sick, or generally need an escape
Swordsmen is a crossover with Highlander. Most of my Swordsmen stories are set in the modern day; this is the back story, dealing with Kenshin's history as an Immortal. What would it be like, I wondered, to realize you will never grow old and you will never die except by freak accident or deliberate malice? Now, what if that Immortal were a good, decent man who loves his family very much and who cannot stomach the rules of the Immortal game?
Kenshin works perfectly in that role. He's already skilled with a sword, and his canonical beliefs mesh nicely with the desire I had to tell a story from an Immortal who refused to play the Game from the very beginning.
"Sanosuke!" Kaoru's bellow -- it could be described as nothing other than a bellow -- reverberated through the dojo. Kenshin winced as her voice rose even higher in strident outrage. "Sanosuke, get in here right now!"
Sano, half asleep on the steps in a warm patch of sunlight, fish bones hanging from his mouth, jolted upright in surprise. Kenshin was up to his elbows in laundry and watched with fervent relief that he was not the target of her rage, as Sanosuke leaped to his feet and attempted to sneak out of the yard.
He suspected Sano wasn't going to make it to the gate.
He was right.
Kaoru burst out of the kitchen, took aim, and fired an empty tofu bucket at Sanosuke. Sano ducked, but Kaoru had taken that into account, and the bucket collided with his shoulders with a thunk that Kenshin could hear clear across the yard.
"You promised to get the tofu!" Kaoru snapped at him. "Now lunch is going to be late. And I'm hungry!"
"But ..." Sanosuke visibly bit back several responses, at least one of which had to be a snide comment on the bad things Kaoru could do with tofu and how it might be kinder for all concerned if he didn't provide her the materials for her cooking, uh, experiments.
"Kenshin," Kaoru glanced at him, her blue eyes softening a bit. "Kenshin is going to cook lunch when you return, not me, so quit with the stalling. I have a class to teach, and with some actual students."
"That's right," Kenshin said, giving Sanosuke a cheerful smile. It wouldn't hurt Sano to contribute, given the amount of time he spent eating at their home. Kaoru was being far more direct about it than Kenshin ever was, but then, she always was. He concurred with Kaoru, "It sounds like it's your turn to buy the tofu."
"Jou-chan ..." Sano started to make a token protest.
"Don't Jou-chan me. Get!" Kaoru pointed at the gate.
Sanosuke got -- if he'd had a tail, it would have been between his legs. Kenshin swallowed a laugh, and said mildly to Kaoru, "Does he actually have money to buy the tofu?"
Kaoru had her arms folded. "He won pretty good at dice last night. I heard that from Yahiko, who heard from Tae, who heard from ..."
Kenshin held a hand up, stopping Kaoru. He chuckled. "Then it will do him good to contribute around here, for once, that it will."
"Quite." Kaoru fell silent, and smiled faintly at him. It was an odd half-smile, not quite reaching her eyes.
Kenshin met her gaze and smiled uncertainly back, then returned to his work. Her expression had softened more and grown wistful, as she'd looked at him. He tried not to acknowledge that expression, but he'd seen.
"It's nothing, I guess." She turned around, then, and walked back inside.
He paused from scrubbing bedding against the washboard to watch her cross the yard. Almost, he called her back, but he just couldn't find the words. He knew 'nothing' wasn't nothing at all, it was something, and he had a good idea just what that 'something' was. He'd seen the look in her eyes.
So wrapped up was he in watching her walk away that he didn't hear Yahiko behind him. When the boy said, "See something you like, Kenshin-san?" Kenshin nearly bit his tongue, and did jump in surprise, dropping the bedding back in the water and reaching for the hilt of the sword he didn't wear here in the safe confines of the dojo's walls.
"Yahiko-kun, do not do that to this one," Kenshin said, reprovingly, after he surpressed a hysterical urge to giggle. Then the boy's words registered and he realized his thoughts -- essentially, She's so beautiful -- must have been very obviously written in the expression on his face. He schooled his expression to careful neutrality.
"Didn't know it was possible to 'do that' to you," Yahiko said, with a snicker lurking in among his words. "You really didn't hear me coming?" Merriment lurked in the boy's dark brown eyes -- he'd scored on Kenshin and he knew it and in all truth this was a rare thing. Nobody ever snuck up on Kenshin and made him jump. Yahiko had tried before.
Kenshin rocked back on his heels and regard Yahiko levelly for a moment from his position crouched next to the laundry tub. In the last month or two, Yahiko had started sprouting like a weed; he'd be taller than Kenshin within a few more months. He'd never be a tall man, but it didn't take much to beat Kenshin in the height department.
He's growing up, Kenshin realized. He is thirteen years old. Have I really lived here three years?
After Enishi, he'd returned here and settled into a comfortable life. It had felt good to have friends, and a place to call home. He was shocked, suddenly, by the realization that more than a couple of years had flown by without his barest acknowledgement.
"So?" Yahiko nodded in Kaoru's direction. His words were teasing and highly amused. "See something you like?"
"I was just distracted, was all," Kenshin said, mildly, turning his attention back to the laundry.
"Uh-huh." Yahiko said, sounding suddenly annoyed. "I don't get you, Kenshin."
"I just don't. Kaoru's not going to wait forever for you to take some initiative, you know -- and if she does wait until she's old and grey for you, then she deserves better than that!" Yahiko snorted with all the wisdom of a thirteen year old boy. "You're hurting her, Kenshin. And I'm sick of it."
Coming from the boy who called Kaoru busu more often than not when speaking to her even now, that statement stung. Kenshin refused to rise to the bait, however, and said, quietly, "She may find someone else, this is true."
"Kenshin?" Yahiko seemed to find this almost funny. "When you thought she was dead? You spent weeks propped up against a wall and staring into space until you damn near starved to death. Are you really going to stand by and let another man have her? C'mon, Kenshin. You're being stupid."
Only Yahiko, Kenshin reflected, after the kid had stalked off, would have had the temerity to speak so frankly to him. He's thirteen, Kenshin thought, wryly. I remember thirteen. Lack of tact seems to go with the territory ... not that Yahiko-kun has ever been the most tactful of children.
Still, I seem to remember saying a few rude things to Shishou when I was the same age he is ... At least he's just hassling me about Kaoru and not running off to war. Yahiko has more sense than I did at that age.
None of that calm rationalization was doing anything for the fact that Yahiko's apparently impulsive words had smarted, and badly.
Kenshin hung the laundry up to dry, glancing a couple of times towards the house.
He loved her. He knew that.
So why couldn't he act? Why couldn't he find voice for his feelings? Why did he let the years slide by?
He truly didn't have an answer to that question.