I don't even know how long it's been. My thanks to anyone who even remembers the existence of this thing… Hopefully I can get it back on the road. So please make sure to review!
For the heck of it I added a little glossary at the end, for those of you who aren't in with my crazy Japanese limbo.
Standard disclaimers apply.
M I R A C L E S
Kyoto, Japan - June, Meiji 15 (1882)
Shinomori Aoshi cracked an eyelid, roused from his meditation by the ecstatic shouts of the inn's lively teenage resident. This was often the case here at the Aoi-ya; Misao would come tearing down the hallways to show something to him—be it to view anything from the contents of weaponry catalogues to a joke or snatch of gossip she had just recalled—often times so that she could use it as an excuse to tag around for the remainder of the day.
"Aoshi-sama!! Guess what, guess what!!"
He could hear her pounding down the stairs now in a familiar rhythm. Her footsteps rounded the corner of stairs and grew steadily closer. The screen was thrown wide and Misao padded over the tatami to his side, brandishing a folded letter.
"From Tokyo! And Himura and Kaoru-san are ON THEIR WAY!" She whopped, spinning around the room.
Aoshi watched in vague amusement, reasoning that, after all, it had been a long year—no, two years, now—of only contact by letters. Himura had a son now, who would be almost two years of age. A boy with odd, bright hair like the former Battousai's. Misao had read all of Kaoru's letters aloud to Aoshi and the Aoi-ya's staff, punctuated by exclamations of surprise or disbelief.
"Misao," said Aoshi quietly, and the girl silenced immediately, "When are they arriving?"
Having not noticed this trifling information in her joy at the main article, she inspected the letter with new fervor. Her mouth formed a small 'O'.
"Aoshi-sama!" She said, startling Aoshi just slightly by the mischievous glint in her big, blue eyes. "Change out of your yukata. We're going to the station now."
They made it in the nick of time.
White smoke from the train dispersed amongst the dark crowds of disembarquees, punctuated by bright flashes of children's clothing, laughter and the prevailing, zawa-zawa chatter. Misao scanned the crowd on tiptoe for a pair of brilliant blue eyes or a shock of orange hair—but it was two carrot-tops that she and Aoshi were greeted with, after a few minutes search.
Even morose Aoshi was forced to smile a little at the picture the little Kamiya-Himura family made. Kaoru, beaming and hefting two suitcases like the man of the family, and Kenshin following a few steps behind with what could have been a sleepy version of him in miniature.
"Kaoru-san! Himura! KENJI!" Kaoru barely had time to set down her bags before she was overtaken by the joyful girl, who grabbed her as if it had been decades since she had last set eyes on her comrade.
"Misao-chan!" The older woman managed through Misao's rib-cracking embrace, "How you've grown!" She teased, and exhaled happily as the younger girl stepped back for a moment to look her up and down. As she had written Kaoru, Misao was now attending a girl's school in Kyoto and wore the uniform of highly worn hakama—all the rage with young girls now—though she still kept her hair in its characteristic braid. She was a little (a lot!—she herself would say) taller now, still ruler-thin and bursting with energy, and a little more filled out, all flushed cheeks and bright eyes. Now twenty, Kaoru realized, Misao had grown to be quite pretty. It was easy to forget they were the same age.
Kaoru herself had changed in the nearly three years since she had seen Misao at her wedding, if more so in physique than mindset. Marriage by tradition in this old country, and sheer practicality, demanded a quieter lifestyle as a mother, even if Kamiya dojo was somewhat of a radical place. Now there was less innocence and more grace. Kaoru's face was less that of a girl's and more that of a woman's without a candy-colored ribbon framing it, though she still kept her hair pulled up in a single tail, and her face looked just as bright and youthful as ever. Short-sleeved, married-woman's kosode were easier to manage than long-sleeved furisode anyway, she would say. Kaoru crossed her arms. "Misao, is that a tear I see?"
Out of the house, Aoshi was now wearing a grey, Western-style business suit, black hat and white gloves and all. With its high collar and thin stripes it made him seem even taller and more sharp-featured than he already was, dwarfing Kenshin with his peacock red hair and blue summer gi.
"Iyaa, Aoshi-san," Kenshin said, cradling his son and smiling as only he could, "It's been a while, hasn't it…"
Aoshi tipped his hat in a recent habit, nodding curtly. "It has been a while, Himura-san." He'd be damned; the older (if smaller) man hadn't changed at all. If nothing he looked happier, all a husband and father and family man now. Thinking this, Aoshi felt unexpectedly deflated, feeling the strain of his back and the unseen path wrinkles were just beginning to blaze across his face. Kenshin might still look sprightly, but the years were taking their toll on the old Okashira as he took on the new and branching tasks of a slowly rejuvenating Oniwaban-shu. But, damn it—Kenshin had survived far more grievous injuries than even Aoshi had, and the ambitious Hiten Mitsurugi-ryuu style was, as they all now knew, not suited for a small physique. He must be feeling the pain too, these days, even if he was unnervingly adept at hiding it.
It was a terribly hard thing to admit, but Aoshi was beginning to feel old.
"Sugoi, Himura! That kid looks just like you!"
"Misao-dono… Kenji-chan has such blue eyes, just like Kao—ah!" Kenshin carefully removed one of Kenji's chubby hands from his hair. It was no longer long enough to pull into a pony-tail, but still within his son's reach. "And his hair is darker, no?"
Kaoru took the oblivious child out of her husband's arms, and he eagerly wrapped himself around his mother. Midsummer Kyoto was a boiler, so all the screens in the Aoi-ya's common room were thrown wide, hoping for passing breezes, and mugicha, cold buckwheat tea, was offered all around. "When he was born, it was almost gold-colored!" said Kaoru, fanning herself and Kenji, "But it's much darker now. Maybe he'll settle for brown."
"Well, he has spunk like his mother!" Wheezed Okina, fanning himself like mad and exchanging a beaming grin for Kaoru's scowl. The old man really hadn't changed. He coughed and sat up straighter, then, getting the attention of the lazy conversation. "Well, are we going to sit around all day, or what? Himura-san, how long will you and your family be in Kyoto?"
"We aren't planning anything specific," Said Kenshin, setting his tea down, "But now Kenji is old enough to travel, we thought we'd visit the Oniwaban-shu for a while, see my Shishou," Kenshin sighed a little resignedly, noted Kaoru, in private foresight of the verbal bruising he was likely to be dished out upon arrival, "Go to a few temples, wrap up some loose ends…" He and Kaoru shared another glance, both in the understanding that Tomoe's grave was also in need of a visit.
Okina brightened, raising a finger. "If you don't have anything planned, then—!"
"Pops," Interrupted Misao before extravagant plans for touring Kyoto could form in his mind, "They've been on the train all day, why don't we just take it easy until tomorrow?"
The old man opened his mouth in protest before noticing Kenji, sleeping like a stone in Kaoru's lap. He let out a theatrical sigh and let them all know that plans would resume at the breakfast table tomorrow.
"Oh, she's doing quite well. Stirring up quite a following in Aizu."
"Yeah, I'd imagine so…"
Kaoru and Misao strolled through the afternoon streets of the quiet, residential area of Kyoto. They had left Kenshin with Aoshi, to continue with their tradition of drinking tea together and look after Kenji, who had been fast asleep when they left.
"And Yahiko? And Tsubame-chan?"
"Those two are doing very well indeed." Kaoru couldn't help but smile a secret little grin. Misao raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment.
"How's Aoshi-san doing? He…" Kaoru paused, watching as Misao's expression changed at the mention of his name. "Seems a little tired." Well, Aoshi-san was getting on in years, she supposed—but no, that couldn't be right; he was younger than Kenshin!
"Yeah," Answered the smaller girl vaguely, "He has a lot to deal with now, working so hard in business." She laughed, but it was humorless. "Always in a suit and hat, these days."
"Misao, did something happen?" Kaoru prodded, gently. The younger girl shrugged, watching her toes in quite an uncharacteristic matter.
"Yeah, well… At the New Year, we were having a party…" Misao said, biting her lip. "Have you ever noticed, Aoshi-sama never drinks alcohol, right? He says he has no tolerance."
"Well… it's true, actually. I don't know why he was drinking, but…" She blanched suddenly, waving her arms in denial. "But nothing happened! Don't get any ideas!"
Misao's exclamation promptly halted any insidious thoughts Kaoru may have had. "Who do you think I am, some fox we know?" She said, and Misao had to fight a grin at the idea of Kaoru giggling behind her hand at Kenshin like someone they knew so well.
Misao spotted a bench—they had made their way near a park now—and plopped down on it, Kaoru following. "But what happened? What do you mean 'he has no tolerance'?" She couldn't deny her curiosity.
"Well, he just talked… a lot, about things. I mean, besides the business stress… I think he's still really upset about Hannya and the others…"
She plunged on. "He cried."
I thought this chapter was getting longish, so I split it in two like the first installment about Tsubame. Nice cliff-hanger, too, if I may say so. Please look forward to what Kenshin has to say to Aoshi next chapter! A lot of people just don't see Misao and Aoshi happening… but I have my fingers crossed for their future…!
It seemed like half my paragraphs started with Misao yelling something in this chapter. She still hasn't quieted down (…but it's impossible to imagine that girl any way else…).
What is this with 'face-like-dad, eyes-like-mum' genetics that are so popular? But then—with a wink to any Harry Potter fans out there—it could come in handy if Kenji ever runs into any Snape-like characters.
**Glossary** Some of you will need it.
"-Sama" translates as "lord", which Misao calls Aoshi by habit from his days as the Oniwaban ninja's leader (Okashira). "-San" is a respectful suffix attached to the name of someone older or of higher status than you. "-Chan" is used to address one younger than you, or children. And "-dono" is an archaic suffix used pretty much only by Kenshin, roughly meaning "sir" or "lady". Kenshin also has a habit of saying "de gozaru" in various forms, which has no real English equivalent but is translated as "that it is" in the dub.
Tatami is the grass-mat flooring used in traditional Japanese homes. "Zawa-zawa", as I mentioned before, is Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of crowds talking, or wind through leaves (I think). Sugoi is "wow!".
Yukata are casual, cotton summer kimono, furisode are the long-sleeved, elaborate girls' kimono Kaoru wears during the anime, and kosode are the more subdued, short-sleeved kimono worn by married women. A gi is the short kimono top that Kenshin wears—bright magenta in the anime—with his white hakama, the pleated pants everyone mistakes for a skirt. Hakama are also worn by young women, in this era.
Cookies if you found the "hisashiburi" in the greetings. I decided most of you wouldn't get it, and left the Japanese out.
I really went all-out with the Japanese in this story. Dear reviewers, should I lay off next time?
Sorry for the atrociously long A/N. And finally, finally, thank you, thank you ever so much for reading. A third thanks in advance for reviews if you give them, o negai shimasu!