Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin was created by Watsuki Nobuhiro,
published by Shueisha in "Jump," and produced by Sony
Entertainment. All rights are theirs. I have no money to speak
of, so suing me will not make you rich.

AN: Koinobori are carp-shaped streamers traditionally flown
on Boy's Day (fifth day of the fifth month), and they can be up
to fifteen feet in length. On Boy's Day, a carp is flown for
each male child of a house, the largest for the eldest and smaller
ones for each younger son. Today, "Boy's Day" has been
renamed "Children's Day," and some families fly koinobori for
their daughters as well. The name is pronounced:
koh-ee-noh-boh-lee

--------------------------------------------------

Koinobori
A short story of Boy's Day from Yahiko's POV

As soon as I stepped out onto the porch, I knew summer had
arrived. The heat hung tangibly in the air, dripping from the trees and
settling around my head and shoulders; I could already feel the sweat
glistening on my forehead.

"Yo, Kenshin, have you seen Kaoru anywhere?" He was in his
usual position out in the yard, hands submerged deep in the washing
tub. Why he agreed to do such a horrible chore was beyond my
understanding -- but then again, there were many things about Kenshin
I didn't really understand.

"She left to go shopping, that she did." Pausing in his scrubbing,
he glanced up, eyes warm but expression unreadable. "She should be
back soon. Do you need anything?"

I always felt guilty when he offered his assistance, for he gave so
freely of himself and his time... "Uh, no thanks" ...but not guilty enough
to begin polishing the floors as I knew Kaoru would tell me to do when
she returned. That was the main problem with 'free lodging'. Nothing
in life was every truly free.

"Why don't you take advantage of the peace and quiet then?
Your magazine's inside on the table..." Kenshin suggested with a flash
of his characteristically quiet smile before he turned his attention back
to the washing.

Damn. I'd been meaning to clean my room... well, for the past
few days, but he'd beaten me to it. But, at least I could trust him not
to inform Kaoru of my negligence. "Thanks..." I muttered as stood
on the porch and contemplated retreating back inside to where it was
(marginally) cooler.

The rays of the midmorning sun easily penetrated the lush
green canopy overhead, and they reflected brightly off of the soapy
washing water as if drawn to Kenshin by some imperceptible force.
It was always like that. Where ever he went, he seemed to attract both
friends and enemies alike. They gravitated toward him, singling him out
in crowds and cornering him in the streets. But even if trouble followed
him like a dark shadow he couldn't outrun, at least he was noticed.
At least he was someone.

'Be stronger, Yahiko...' As I watched his hands move rhythmically
in graceful scrubbing motions, the words bounced around in my mind,
ricocheting off of every dusty corner. I barely remembered a time when
I was truly special to anyone, a time when my existence in this world of
suffering had meaning for someone else.

"Do you know what day it is?" His question surprised me, jolted
me from my thoughts. I shook my head in negation, forgetting that he
was facing the opposite direction. Somehow he understood anyway.
"It's the fifth day of the fifth month, Boy's Day," he continued.

"Oh." I was familiar with the holiday, of course, but I couldn't
recall the color of the last koinobori that had been hung in my name,
for I hadn't had one since the passing of my mother. "That's today?"

He didn't answer my question (as it was clearly rhetorical) but let
the clean white undergarment he was holding fall back into the water.
It sank, disappearing within expanding rings of ripples. "Yahiko, do
you know why people fly carp on Boy's Day?" Drying his hands on
his hamaka, he drifted over to my side.

"Of all the fish, the carp is one of the most courageous, for although
it hatches in quiet ponds and streams, after it has lived its life, it will return
to the place of its birth to lay its eggs, even swimming up waterfalls if it has
to. And if caught by fishermen, the carp will submit to its fate upon the
carving board without flinching. On Boy's Day we honor these qualities
of strength and bravery in our sons."

I nodded, following his explanation but not really seeing where he
was heading. It wasn't the first time I'd heard about the carp's reputation,
but I'd forgotten it, as it wasn't often on my mind.

He smiled, possibly ignorant of my confusion or (more likely,
knowing Kenshin) choosing to selectively ignore it. So we stood side by
side under the shade of the roof, both staring out over the yard and
listening to the others' breathing. Then the loud creaking of the gate
opening ended our brief moment of reflection.

"Hello, I'm home!" Kaoru announced cheerfully as she redistributed
her packages after closing the gate behind her. She grinned up at us as
she crossed the yard, seemingly undisturbed by the enveloping heat. "Oh,
it's such a nice day, isn't it?"

"Yeah, nice if you want to cook in your own sweat," I replied
without thinking, automatically falling into the habit of disagreeing with
anything she said. In fact, I regretted the words the moment they'd passed
my lips. Why did I never think before I spoke?

"Just you wait until winter arrives, Yahiko, then you'll be on your
hands and knees begging me to bring back these warm summer days."
Her tone was light, joking, and I almost sighed in relief. I hadn't ruined
the mood once again with my big mouth. She was directly before us
now, and she dropped her packages onto the porch and sighed.
"Whew, there were so many people in the streets today!"

"Would you like me to take the groceries inside, Kaoru-dono?"
For a brief moment she and Kenshin shared a knowing look, a split
second of something passing between them, and I clenched my teeth
together in frustration. Why did everything always seem to happen
over my head?

"Thanks Kenshin, that would be a great help." She lifted the
packages into his waiting arms, pausing momentarily as he readjusted
his grip on a particularly heavy one, then carefully stacked the rest
on top.

And so as we sat on the porch together, just the two of us, I
didn't realize that she still had something in her lap until she began to
unwrap it.

"Yahiko --" She was concentrating on her hands as she spoke,
fingers fumbling with the knot in the fabric wrapping. "-- I... I bought
this today... because, well... you know what day it is, right?" Just
before the wrapping fell away, she glanced up, meeting my eyes and
holding them. "Well... um, here."

"Koinobori." It was red and blue, as long as I could spread my
hands apart, and even as it lay limply on her lap a small gust of wind
swept across its length, tickling it 'scales'. Wow.

"I never had any brothers, so my father never bought one," she
explained, stroking its body gently. "But now that you're here, I though
-- well, you and Kenshin and me, we're all kind of like family --" The
corners of her mouth lifted, and she crinkled her nose as she smiled,
"-- yeah, like family, right?"

"Uh, right... " I didn't quite know how to respond. Family. It'd
been so long since I'd had a real one that I hardly remembered what
it was like to have a mother and a father... or was family merely the
people with which you lived and whom you cared about? If so, then
perhaps we were family, the three of us.

"We don't have to put it up if you don't want to -- " She was
worried, I could tell, worried that she'd somehow offended me, and I
struggled with words in my mind. I needed to tell her that she hadn't,
not at all.

"No, it's wonderful. Of course we'll put it up!" But at the same
time, I couldn't let her know how much I looked up to her... she'd never
let me live it down. When her father had died she'd continued his
teaching. When I'd been left alone I'd... become a pickpocket. She'd
gathered together the pieces of her life and continued on whereas I...

"Hey, are you okay?" As I sat in silence, she leaned toward me,
concern in her eyes. "You're awfully thoughtful today. You're not
coming down with anything, are you?

I ducked as her hand came up to feel my forehead. It was one
thing if she wanted to play nursemaid to Kenshin -- it was another
when she tried to turn all sweet and maternal on me. "Hey, I feel fine!"
Then, deciding that I needed to prove myself, I leaped up, grabbing the
head of the koinobori as I catapulted off the porch and ran across the
yard with the red and blue streamers in the air trailing behind me.

"Why don't you go make yourself useful and climb up to the roof
with that thing!" She called as I disappeared around the corner, but I
laughed, pretending not to hear. The ground was warm beneath my
feet, but as I ran, the wind that sang in my ears was cool, and for once,
my head was clear. Kaoru was right. We were family, if not in the
literal sense of the word, at least in every way that really mattered.

I stopped back at the porch after my second circuit, hot and out
of breath. Kenshin had returned (I thought I'd caught a glimpse of
something pink... and he was the only thing of that particular hue in the
entire dojo), and he smiled as he stood besides Kaoru, hands pulled into
his gi. I handed him the carp. "Kenshin, can you..." And he nodded,
knowing what I was asking.

So we stood there, all three of us together, looking at the
koinobori hanging from the roof, each lost in individual thoughts. I could
only guess what Kenshin and Kaoru were thinking... but I knew that
in my head, I was thanking them, thanking them for taking me in, and
thanking them for teaching me how to live again. In another moment
we'd all start fighting again -- but just for a second, everything was calm.
Everything was perfect.

end of koinobori

--------------------------------------------------

Ah, I told you it would be short, didn't I? And it's kind of
WAFFy too. Is the ending too cute? I'm not altogether
certain about how accurate Yahiko's POV is here... mostly
I've written from Kenshin's POV, and I tried hard make
Yahiko's different -- but anyhow, let me know what you
think! The next part of Hanafubuki's on its way, in case
anyone's interested. This was just a little interlude that I
managed to squeeze out between long bouts of writer's block.

The introduction was adapted from "Discover Japan, vol 1:
words, customs, concepts," a book published in 1982 by
Kodansha International LTD.

Mir (11.08.01).