Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin or any related characters, concepts or ideas.
The air hummed with an expectant energy the next morning.
Kenji was even bouncier than usual, almost managing to wriggle out of his otou-san's hold while his hair was brushed and styled.
"Kenji wanta make brefist! Ne, ne, wha' we gonna make for brefist, Otou-san? Ah! Usagi! Can we make usagi?"
Calmly, Kenshin ran the brush through his squirming toddler's hair. "We'll make breakfast together when we've gotten dressed and ready for the day."
"Hai! Ne, ne, we make usagi?"
A smile curved the corners of Kenshin's mouth as he answered. "I thought we might have steamed rice, misoshiru, pickled daikon, and grilled salmon, since I went shopping yesterday."
Kenji's excited nod almost dislodged the hairbrush. "Kay kay! Kenji like daikon n' sa'mon! Ne, Otou-san, issit easy?"
"I suppose. Rice isn't difficult, and misoshiru is just soup... and since I set the daikon out to pickle last night, that won't be hard, either."
"Can Kenji do it all alone?"
"No," Kenshin said flatly.
"Mou," Kenji sulked, crossing his arms and pouting.
Kenji tried to turn around at the strangled choking sound that came from behind him, but a sharp tug on his tiny ponytail kept his head facing forward.
"L-let's go make br-breakfast then, shall we?" Kenshin stuttered, making a valiant effort not to laugh at the almost mirror-image of his wife reflected in his chubby four-year-old son.
"Alright, Kenji. These are all the things we need to make misoshiru."
Kenji looked at the spread of vegetables and ingredients laid on the counter.
"Ah! Onion! Issa onion!" Kenji exclaimed, pointing at the scallions.
"Mhmm. And the other ingredients are dashi, tofu, and miso. See?" Kenshin gestured to the items as he named them.
"Dashi, tofu, miso, onion. Izzat all?"
Kenshin nodded. "Yes. It's not too difficult, see? First we put all the dashi into the miso pot..."
With round eyes, Kenji watched his otou-san begin the breakfast ritual.
"Kenji wanna help! What next?"
Smiling, Kenshin said, "Next, we have to cut the tofu into blocks and put them into the soup. Here, let's do it together."
Carefully placing his son's hands onto the knife and covering them with his own, Kenshin sliced into the block of tofu.
"And then we move the knife over and cut again... and again... and then when we finish this way, we cut the strips into cubes. See?"
Kenji giggled enthusiastically, slicing through the block of tofu with gusto. "Fun! Otou-san, this's fun!"
Removing his hands from their protective stance, Kenshin reached for the rice. "Otou-san is going to start the rice now, okay, Kenji? That way the rice and the misoshiru can be cooking at the same time."
"Mmm," Kenji hummed noncommittally, dicing the tofu intently.
By the time Kenshin had set the rice to cook, the block of tofu had been beaten into a paste.
"…Thank you, Kenji. I think it's small enough now."
Kenji beamed at him. "Kay kay! What next?"
Taking a moment to think through the various dishes he wanted to prepare, Kenshin drummed his fingers against the counter.
"The salmon. We should grill the salmon next, while we wait for the misoshiru to finish boiling so we can put in the tofu," he decided.
"Kay kay! How we grill sa'mon?" Kenji's eyes were shining with anticipation.
"Well, it's not very difficult in theory... here. Let's do it together," Kenshin said, placing the fermented salmon on the counter.
"First, we cut the salmon into servings. See?" In a few practiced slices, Kenshin cut the salmon into perfectly sized filets.
"Can Kenji try, too?" the child asked, reaching for the knife.
"No, Otou-san already cut them all. But you can help me with the next part, okay?" Kenshin offered, setting the knife out of Kenji's reach.
"Hai, hai! What next?"
Kenshin quickly oiled the grill as he spoke, "Now we put the salmon onto the grill and cook it until it looks solid. Here, take a piece of salmon... there you go!"
Grinning, Kenji arranged the three pieces of salmon on the grill to his satisfaction. "See? Issit good?"
"It's perfect, Kenji," Kenshin affirmed, smiling.
"What next?" Kenji asked excitedly.
"Now... we put the tofu into the misoshiru," Kenshin said, a concerned wrinkle between his eyebrows as he glanced at the bubbling stock.
It took a joint effort to get all the mushed lumps of tofu into the pot. Even then, there were still bits and pieces strewn across the counter.
"Mmm," Kenshin agreed.
Half an hour later, the rice was stuck to the bottom of the rice cooker, the misoshiru had been boiled (and one never boils miso), the salmon was charred, and the pickled daikon had been squeezed so hard it was crushed.
Kenshin could think of only one way to salvage the breakfast.
"Oi, Kenshin! How's breakfast coming?"
Kenshin greeted his friend with a smile. "Ah, Sanosuke. Kenji and I were just about to eat."
Sano stepped into the kitchen and settled himself at his usual seat. "Well, I'm starving. What are we having?"
"Rice, misoshiru, pickled daikon, and grilled salmon."
"Sounds great! Itadakimasu!"
If Sano had been less absorbed in the food, he might have noticed the identical Cheshire grins sported by the father and son, or Kenji's stifled giggles. Unfortunately for him, he wasn't.
A very strange expression, somewhere between revulsion and bewilderment, crossed Sano's face before he spewed his mouthful back into the bowl of misoshiru.
"What- the hell! Kenshin, I thought Jou-chan was in Kyoto!" he spluttered, spitting out pieces of inedible breakfast.
"Ah, Kenji has inherited Kaoru's cooking capabilities."
The look on Sano's face as the meaning of that statement sank in was more than worth the ruined breakfast.
As breakfast had been a disaster, the three of them ate at the Akabeko instead. Kenji spent most of the meal picking various things out of his food and asking what they were and if he could try to make them next time.
Kenshin somehow managed to both keep his son happy and not commit himself to any more cooking lessons.
Sano made a mental note to hug Tae later. Or maybe pay off some of his tab.
"Otou-san?" Kenji questioned from his perch on Kenshin's shoulder.
"Di' you ever cook bad?"
Kenshin chuckled softly, running his fingers through his son's silky hair.
"Yes, I did, once upon a time. Otou-san's teacher believed strongly in the value of trial and error."
"Wha's trial an' err?" Kenji slurred, snuggling into his otou-san's shoulder.
"It's... it's where you try to do something one way, and if it doesn't work, you try again, and again, and again, until it does work."
"Nnn," he mumbled, nudging Kenshin's shoulder with his nose, "Story."
The day is bright and clear, but these are the only good things about it.
A twelve-year-old boy scampers through the woods, running over the ground and over the list of items must find.
Wild onions, mushrooms, fish, ginger, herbs. A four-course meal of seasoned fish, fried mushrooms, onigiri, and misoshiru.
His master has not been so sadistic as to require him to make the tofu, dashi, and miso from scratch, or find wild rice of his own. The other items, however, he must find, forage, and prepare into a palatable meal by sundown.
At least the day is bright and clear.
There, a stream to set traps for fish at. Fortune smiles today! Near the stream, there is a large ginger root. The boy tucks the root into his gi and resumes his search of the woods.
In a dank part of the wood, there are mushrooms and dill. He returns to the stream and discovers a fish in his trap, and wild onions growing at the riverside.
Perhaps there is more to be thankful for than just the weather.
The afternoon is bright and clear, but these are the only good things about it.
The ingredients were found and foraged faster than he had anticipated, but the recipes have been hidden. He could search out his master and beg for them, but he would sooner move a stone with a feather.
So he improvises.
The night is bright and clear, but these are the only good things about it.
The meal was a disaster. Too much ginger in the fish, too few herbs in the batter for the mushrooms, too much miso in the shiru and not enough dashi. Now he sleeps under the stars, his stomach empty and his spirit crushed.
The door to the house opens, and the master steps into the bright, clear night.
Waiting, holding his breath, the boy lies still, hoping his master will not approach and rail at him for his failure.
Footsteps come closer, closer, closer, stopping at his side.
Something lands on his chest.
The footsteps retreat, returning to the house.
And there is a bowl of fried mushrooms in his lap.
He smiles slowly, knowing that they are not his by the texture of the batter.
The boy bites into one.
And spews it back out again, choking on the horrid taste left in his mouth.
Still, he glances toward the house with humor in his eyes, knowing the true meaning of the gift.
Even the master cannot cook fried mushrooms.
Perhaps there is more to be thankful for than just the weather.
Kenji rested against his otou-san's shoulder, pondering on the story.
"Otou-san no like mush'ooms."
And Kenshin smiled as he decided he was glad his son had people to teach him and would not have to fail as often as he could succeed.
The air hummed with contentment as the pair walked into the dojo, ready to face the day together.
Glossary of words new to this fic:
Akabeko - The restaurant owned by Tae, at which Sanosuke often eats and seldom pays.
Daikon - A sort of Japanese radish. A really big one.
Dashi - A stock base for misoshiru, which can be made of anything from sardines to shiitake mushrooms.
Gi - Basically, a samurai shirt. Sort of.
Mou - A word of discontent, often used by Kaoru
AN: This has been sitting on my computer for almost a year. Egads.
I would have posted it a year ago, but my beta, misaoshiru, pointed out that the salmon would have gone bad if Kenshin had bought it the day before. So I resolved to replace it with an egg dish, which Kenji and Kenshin would cook together.
I never got around to writing it.
Today, I tried my hand at writing about them cooking tamagoyaki. Holy crap, that's complicated. It ended up munching through nigh 500 words and I wasn't nearly done yet. And besides, I liked the interplay between father and son in the salmon section.
So, I decided to see if it would have been possible for Kenshin to have bought some sort of preserved fish in the Meiji period.
Turns out, fish were mostly eaten fermented back then anyway, or else fresh caught, because there weren't any refrigerators until about half-way through Meiji.
Japanese people are weird. They fermented, like, everything. And they ate it. I really can't wrap my mind around fermented soy beans. Natto sounds positively disgusting to me.
But, I digress. With the addition of a single word I was able to save my story and spare you all the 500 words about cooking eggs.
What a deal.
I hope to finish this story off before 2009. Keep an eye out for the remaining two chapters of Kenshin/Kenji bonding!