48. Epilogue: ordinary world

January 1, 2006
(Heisei era, 18th year)

"Yoko! Yoko love!" Her husband's happy shout sent Maekawa Yoko running up the stairs from the kitchen.

"Is it--?" She burst into the upstairs study, pausing breathless in the doorway, a whirl of excitement and anxiety in her stomach.

Takeshi half-swiveled the office chair to face her. His hazel eyes were shining with happiness. "You're a grandmother," he said.

Yoko stepped forward into the room, her eyes on the flat-screen monitor on the desk beside him. "Oh my god," she breathed.

Yuriko was smiling out of the image on the screen, her eyes tired but her face glowing with joy, the blanket-wrapped newborn cradled in her arms. Kenshin was sitting beside the bed just to her right, looking drawn and exhausted but every bit as happy as Yuriko.

Yoko slid onto the other chair at the computer desk and Takeshi clicked through to the second photo. It was a close-up of the baby's face, red and wrinkled and framed by the blanket and part of Yuriko's arm.

"It's a girl," he said softly.

"Oh my god," Yoko said again. It was overwhelming, like an enormous mass of emotion suspended just above her, about to come pouring down. She was suddenly remembering Yuriko herself as a baby, remembering what it had felt like to become a mother.

"And they went with that name," Takeshi continued. "Himura Tokiko."

Yoko nodded slowly.

Yuriko had mentioned that name last week, when Yoko had been up to their small apartment in Nakano for a visit. They hadn't known then whether the baby would be a boy or a girl, but they'd known it would come within a few days of the new year. Yoko had commented that if it was a boy they could call it Hajime, for the start of the year. Kenshin had looked uncomfortable at that -- horrified, really -- and muttered something about finding a different option.

"Are they writing it with the kanji for 'time'?" Yoko asked.

"I don't know. It's just in hiragana on here." He waved a finger at the text below the photo.

"Mmm." Yoko smiled at the picture of her newborn grand-daughter. "Go back to the other one?"

Takeshi clicked back, and they sat side-by-side for a while, looking at the still image on the screen.

"Who took the photos? Ozaki-san?"

Takeshi nodded. "Must be. It's Ozaki-san's Flickr account, see?" He pointed to the user-name on the screen. "She must've uploaded them straight from her phone."

Yoko had thought she'd heard it wrong when Yuriko had telephoned one day in the fall a year and a bit ago to tell her that she was starting a kenjutsu dojo. Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu, she'd called it. Takeshi had gotten a faraway look in his eyes when Yoko had repeated the name, and she'd found him that evening looking through his grandmother's old photo albums again. Ozaki Motoko had been Yuriko's first student, and was now her assistant instructor and one of her closest friends. Acting instructor, these days, with Yuriko on maternity leave.

Yoko nodded, gazing again at her daughter and her son-in-law and her brand new grandchild. She sobbed, abruptly, surprising herself. Takeshi wrapped an arm around her back.

"It's so," she started, through tears, "it's so wonderful."

Takeshi squeezed her.

"They're ours," she whispered.

She felt her husband nod, and glanced back to see that his eyes were shining as well.

Yoko cleared her throat and sniffled, wiping at the tears. "So when are they going home?"

"Tonight." Takeshi let go of her to tab into another window. "Yuriko e-mailed." He clicked on the message. 'Going home tonight,' it read tersely. 'Everyone fine. Here are pics. -Yuriko', followed by the Flickr link.

"She must be tired," Yoko said. "I'll take the two o'clock train. I want to get everything ready before they get back." She'd been planning for this for the past week, preparing a travel bag with diapers and blankets and a couple of tiny flannel baby-suits, preparing to go up to Tokyo and stay with them for a few days to help once the baby came. The other Himuras had been a great help up to now, but Mayumi had her own children to look after.

"Kenshin-kun looks tired too," she added.

"Heh," Takeshi laughed. "He looks almost as tired as she does."

Yoko smiled. "Could've been worse," she said. "I'm glad you had that talk with him." She paused, re-reading the brief text on the screen below the photo. "What did you tell him, anyway?"

Takeshi took a long breath, considering. "Just the truth," he replied softly.


It had been the first weekend of December that they'd finally taken action. They'd been up to Tokyo for their regular visit, looking after Yuriko, helping out with a bit of grocery shopping, dropping off a few baby-related accessories that had been eagerly contributed by some of Yoko's friends. It had been clear from the start that Kenshin was anxious about the pregnancy, but by four weeks out from Yuriko's due-date it had gotten well out of hand. He wasn't eating, he wasn't sleeping; he tried to hide it from Yuriko but he was worrying her sick.

By the end of November Yoko had had enough, and so that weekend she'd sent Takeshi to have a talk with him. Takeshi had been an expectant father before, she'd reasoned. He could tell Kenshin that he needn't worry quite so much.

And so Takeshi had gone to find his son-in-law -- up on the roof of the apartment building, as it happened, looking out over the gray city with the laundry flapping in the cold late-autumn wind behind him -- and he'd told him.

He'd told him the truth. About antibiotics, and handwashing, and the germ theory of disease. About fetal heart monitors, and Caesarean sections, and the methods used to stop postpartum bleeding.

And then he'd handed him the sheet of notes he'd prepared the night before, sitting up late in front of the computer after Yoko had gone to bed: maternal death rates per hundred thousand live births, for the year 2000, for 1980, for 1960. And estimates for the 1880s.

"I can't tell you what's going to happen," he'd said into the silence. "But I can tell you the odds. Things are different now than they were, Kenshin."

Kenshin had looked up then, had met Takeshi's eyes, had held them for a long moment. Surprise on his face, the start of realization, and a question.

A question that would never be asked. A question that would never be answered. Because...

Because Takeshi had remembered. It had been the night before Yuriko's wedding that the memory had come to him, lying in bed half asleep beside his wife.

He couldn't have been more than six; first or second grade it must have been, the first and only time he'd been teased at school about his orange hair. He'd come home near tears and told the first person he'd found: Grandma Harumi. She'd told him it wouldn't happen again. She'd told him his hair was something to be proud of. And she'd taken him upstairs to show him something. To show him where his red hair had come from.

"Mine was auburn when I was a young woman," Harumi had said. "My father's was brown. But my grandfather's was red." She'd held the bamboo-framed photograph like it was an ancient treasure, squatting down beside him so he could see. "I never knew him. But my grandmother told me stories."

He'd gazed at the black-and-white smiles, trying to imagine that Grandma Harumi hadn't always been old, that she had once had a grandmother of her own, that his grandmother's grandmother could once have been this bright-eyed girl.

"Grandmother Kaoru was the strongest person in the world, and she loved him more than anything. She always said, 'I will see him again.'"

He'd remembered this, lying in bed that night. He'd remembered Yuriko's joke about the photo, that evening after Kenshin had saved her life. He'd remembered how Kenshin still called her Kaoru. And the next morning he'd gone to the temple to watch his daughter marry the man she loved.

Takeshi had cleared his throat, looked away across the roofs of Nakano, lifted a hand to awkwardly rub the back of his head. "Yes. Right. Um," he'd said. "Let's go down and see how the ladies are getting on."

Kenshin had nodded slowly, had trailed him all the way down the stairs to the fourth floor walkway before speaking.

"Thank you," he'd said at last. "Takeshi."



"Hmm?" He glanced up at Yoko, away from the new family smiling in digital color from the screen.

"I said, we never did work out exactly how he's related to us."

Takeshi hesitated for a moment. Then he smiled.

"That's easy," he said. "He's our daughter's husband."

-- The End --