AUTHOR'S NOTES: Apologies for the extremely long delay! Lots of things had been going on since the last time I updated and I was so focused onto them that it sucked the life out of me (plus, writer's block doesn't help . ). But here is the next chapter!
-Rurouni Kenshin: True Love-
Chapter Six: Return to Society
Saitou Hajime regarded the woman before him more closely. His instinct told him that she was hiding something, but if it concerned the man he was looking for he wasn't sure. Everyone in Rakuninmura hid something and it made it much harder for him to find the current outstanding fugitive. It also didn't help that the woman before him kept her guard up extremely well with the exception of the small lapse when he and Kuroundo began their questioning.
All that the former Shinsengumi captain could do now was to return Yumiko's smile.
"I see," Saitou said in response to her explanation. "I apologize for intruding, Nagasaki-san. Thank you for answering our questions."
Yumiko nodded. "I wish you luck on your case, Lieutenant Fujita-san."
I hope you never find him.
Both men bowed and she returned the action, Yumiko continuing to watch them exit from her home at the makeshift gate.
When they were out of hearing distance, the young man next to Saitou finally spoke. "I think she might be the victim from last night."
Saitou didn't quite reply to Kuroundo's comment, but he did keep the thought in mind. It was very feasible, after all.
"Tell me why you think so, Kuroundo?"
The younger man was quiet for a moment before phrasing his answer. "She looked as if she was hesitating to reply to your initial question regarding the incident. And.."
"She might be hiding the man we are looking for based on what we have heard about from some of the locals outside of Rakuninmura," Saitou finished. "However, we don't quite have enough evidence to prove that."
Kuroundo remained silent as Saitou took out a cigarette and held it between his lips, lighting the stick with a match. It might be a difficult to complete this task in such a community as Rakuninmura, but it was important to find Yukishiro Enishi for the safety of Japan if Fukihara Youji's plans were initiated.
"Keep a close of an eye on her as you can for the week."
Yumiko watched them go, letting out a sigh of relief as soon as she thought they were far enough from home. However, it still didn't ease her worries. They would be back, and they would watch her. For once, she was grateful for her injury which kept her confined at home for most of the day. Yet if Enishi were to come out…
She shook her head at the thought as she turned around and began to hobble back to the home. She needed to tell Enishi about the police, and she knew that he would somehow keep himself hidden even if it meant that he needed to hide away from them, from her.
Yumiko felt a slight tug on her heart as she sighed, her lips forming into a thin line. She knew that this was going to happen eventually; Enishi had told her, warned her that there was going to be a time when he had to leave even when he didn't want to because of his status as fugitive. How dangerous of a fugitive was he, she had no idea, but she did know that he would do whatever possible to keep her, her children, and their friends out of the troubles he carried with him.
But for some odd reason, Yumiko didn't want Enishi to carry that burden on his own. He had done so much for her that she had not realized until now. It was only right for her to return the favor and keep him away from the eyes of the government.
The sounds of her children's chatter and the smell of food from the room that served as their eating area drew her back from her thoughts. She slid the door open to find her children and Enishi sitting at the table and eating. All heads turned at her entrance, and her children like always greeted her in cheerful fashion.
"Ohayou, kaasan!" Rin chirped with a smile on her face.
"When did you all return?" Yumiko asked as she entered the room. Enishi stood up and helped her in.
"We went to Ruri's home to get breakfast that was left behind and went through the back," Enishi explained to her.
His eyes met hers as they sat down on the floor, assuring her that he had not been discovered. It was a brief glimpse, but it lifted one small worry off her mind.
"'Tousan's food is really good!" Rin piped up once again, diverting their attention back to he matter at hand which was eating a late breakfast.
"Really?" Yumiko asked as she grabbed the only empty bowl and began to help herself to some rice. "Is it better than 'kaasan's?"
A small silence followed as the eating continued before Ran, who had remained quiet the entire time, said:
"'Kaasan's cooking is better."
(later that evening)
He was sitting on the porch again, watching the night sky. She had left him temporarily to put the children to bed despite her condition. Yumiko insisted that she could not be sitting around all day and let him do all the work. She felt guilty that he had to stay at home with her, she explained. Enishi finally relented after realizing that he hadn't put any child to sleep before, letting the twins tire themselves out and fall asleep on their own. And Yumiko was their mother, after all.
They had not talked about what happened earlier that day.
Enishi understood that they both kept quiet about the matter on behalf of the children, but it left him wondering what to do. He couldn't leave them, nor could he allow them to be involved in the sins he committed in the past. He looked down at his hands, hands that had been long stained with blood and were now worn with the burden he put on himself. A small flashback of his sister's image blurred his vision until the sounds of her footsteps drew him back to reality.
Yumiko was getting used to the crutches she was given, having hobbled around with them all day. He noticed how fluidly she moved across the wood, creating a sequence of her movements. Both crutches forward, shift the weight to the left side of her body, and pull. It was simple yet mesmerizing to watch at the same time.
As she came closer, Enishi stood up and walked over to help her even though he knew she would fuss about it. An odd thought crossed his mind. They had only been together for six months yet they were both beginning to pick up what lie on the surface. They were small things, really – nit-picky habits that made the other aware of their presence, their personality. It was these things that allowed them to be comfortable with one another and allowed them to let themselves dig a little further beneath the surface.
"Really, Enishi, you don't have to help me down," Yumiko complained with a tint of annoyance locked in her soft voice. "I can do it myself."
A small smile appeared on his lips as he felt her steady some of her weight on his shoulders. "I can't help but be helpful."
"Ha ha, very funny," she replied and they both sat on the edge of the porch. Her arm still had not left his shoulder and lingered there for a moment. That Enishi didn't really mind too much, but it was her following action that caught him off guard.
Her hand reached for his eyes, hesitantly brushing away a white lock that fell in front of his face. He tensed for a moment before he relaxed his muscles and allowed her to push the lock of hair back. He turned to look at her eyes, but she seemed to be more preoccupied with something else.
"Your hair's getting long," she commented as she moved her hand back to her lap. "Do you want me to cut it?"
He blinked. The information had yet to process in his head. "Huh?"
She smiled, her eyes greeting his now. "Do you want me to cut your hair? It looks like it's bothering you."
"Oh." Feeling stupid and a bit embarrassed, he brushed back his unruly hair and thanked the night for covering the shade of his face.
When was the last time he cut his hair? He honestly couldn't remember, but perhaps it was a long time ago. The unruly white hair now fell just above his shoulders, though he had most of it tied back in a short ponytail.
"It doesn't bother me too much," he replied, looking away for a brief moment before turning back to her again who was chuckling on his behalf.
"Are you afraid that I'm going to cut it too short or something?" she asked him with a smile which he couldn't help but share. "I have scissors, unless you're the type who actually uses a knife to cut your hair."
He couldn't help but laugh at her humor and the image of himself using a blade to cut his hair. He had actually never done it that way before; the only people who ever cut his hair were the barbers affiliated with the syndicate he worked in and the one he ran and…
"No, I think it's all right," he said has his laughter died down, looking back at the sky. "It's better this way."
He wanted to add that he didn't want to go back to who he was before. One side of him chided that it was an inane response, yet the other side of him understood his way of thinking at the moment. Once again he fell back into the bind he found himself in – leaving and lose his sense of normalcy or staying and possibly lose the people he wished to protect.
She didn't reply to his answer and in a way he was glad. Yet something inside him said that the answer wasn't enough.
"You don't have to force yourself," she interrupted him. "If you don't feel comfortable in talking about it, then you don't have to force yourself to. I can wait."
He paused, contemplating on her words and touched by them. Yet the need to tell her at least something and not just the vague details he provided when he first arrived was too great.
"That man that talked to you today," he began. "He asked if you knew me, didn't he?"
He noted the light tension in her body. "His real name is not Fujita Goro. He is a former captain of the Shinsengumi – Saitou Hajime. Right now he is a special assignments officer and is quite good at his job." He let a bitter smile fall on his lips as he continued. "It wouldn't take him too long to discover that I have been staying with you."
His smile faded as he focused on the events that led him here with a small, contemplating frown on his face. She had just told him like the previous times before that she was fine waiting, allowing him the chance to feel comfortable and confident enough to choose the right time to delve back into his blood-ridden, painful past. However, it didn't sit well with him – especially when she revealed a part that haunted her constantly and she had yet to know the full details of his. Yet he knew that Yumiko was someone who didn't care what kind of person he was then; all that mattered was now.
Something inside him nagged at the possibility that she might be afraid.
"Black market weapons trade and organized crime," he said after some time. "That's what…I did before coming back here to settle…personal matters."
"A syndicate?" Yumiko knew enough that on the first day they met, his clothing was not native in origin.
"Leading one, yes," he answered. "I had…sold something to a man that wanted to overthrow the current government and instill chaos into the country. I suppose that's why they want to find me."
Yumiko contemplated on his words, realizing how ironic his and that man's lives were similar. She was not afraid then – when she was still with her family and desperate to escape tradition – and she certainly wasn't afraid now when she had nothing else but the small circle of people around her.
They were all she needed.
She placed a hand over his, wondering to herself just how long his hands had been rough and calloused over the years. How long did his hands fight to stay alive?
What were the personal matters left here that led him back to Japan?
"Let's go to my mother's house."
"Huh?" He was a bit surprised at the suggestion, slightly distracted by the warmth and comfort of her hand over his, her fingers providing the same feathery touch his shoulder received earlier.
"My younger sister, Ayeka, came to find me," she explained. "She…my mother and my younger brother were looking for me…they wanted me to come back."
A soft, melancholic smile curled on her lips. "My parents aren't together anymore, so there isn't any opposition. We can stay there for a while."
"Yumiko – "
"The person you were then doesn't mean that you are that same person now," she told him, her hand holding his tightly. "I won't leave you."
She looked up and met his eyes in the moonlit darkness.
"I'm not afraid. I'm not going to be repulsed by your past." She shook her head as if to emphasize the importance of her words to him. "Even though the past creates how you are, it shouldn't mold you into the kind of person that it dictates you to be. And…we learn from our mistakes."
She paused, looking away from him for a split second. "I…don't want to lose you."
The last words she said were so soft that Enishi barely caught them. Mixed feelings rose in him. He was touched by her words and surprised by them at the same time. The stubbornness that kept her from accepting too much help from her injury showed on her face as well as sincerity. She meant what she said.
Their bodies had inched closer to one another as she talked; their faces were only as far as noses apart. And without thinking, Enishi let himself indulge in the moment where nothing could interrupt them in this darkness. As he leaned closer, she closed her eyes. It only let the temptation he kept inside that much greater. Just this once he could…
But his conscious kicked in, and he gave her a chaste, lingering kiss at the corner of her lips.
"Arigatou," he whispered as he opened his eyes. "Is it all right if we leave before dawn?"
Yumiko let out a breath that she hadn't realized she was holding until he whispered against her cheek, his warm breath tickling her skin. She took a moment to compose herself and nodded, opening her eyes.
"That's fine…" she agreed.
He quickly got up lest the emotions get the best of him again. "I'll go pack. You don't have to worry about getting up."
And he left her there sitting on the porch as they both began to sort through their thoughts, each wondering at how much had changed between them.
When dawn came, they were no longer there.
The man gave just enough of a glance to acknowledge the other man kneeling in respect behind him. It was nearly dawn now and another day was about to arrive. He had inwardly hoped that this would be another day of progress.
"What is it?" he asked his subordinate.
"One of our informants in the Tokyo area have given us some good news," the other man continued, not daring to look up from the ground. He was glad that Ganboro Tsuke was his superior and not their true master, who proved to have a more of a volatile temper than the man before him now. However, he was not going to push his luck too far.
"Yukishiro Enishi has been found."
Tsuke turned away from the window, glaring down at the man. "Are you certain?"
"Yes. One of our informants had seen him within the Rakuninmura Prefecture, walking in the streets."
"Rakuninmura huh?" Tsuke searched through his mind about what he knew about the area and was surprised that he hadn't thought of searching that area earlier. "Is there an exact location yet?"
"Our man spotted him within the south-eastern area…however, he couldn't go any further."
"I see." Of course. Yukishiro Enishi was a very skilled swordsman; it wouldn't take very long for someone of his caliber to sense someone following him.
"Two children were accompanying him as well," the subordinate added.
"Hai. He was apparently taking care of them."
Tsuke contemplated on the possibilities. It struck him as odd that Enishi would care for children, but the possibility wasn't unimaginable. Many orphans would wander into the government-abandoned prefecture, turning into prime targets for yakuza hire if they survived long enough.
"Someone must be harboring him there," he concluded. "Continue to follow him as closely as possible until you find out who that person is. We can't let the government get to him first."
His subordinate lowered his head even further. "Understood."
Tsuke turned back to the window as the other man left, pondering about the information. It would be best to inform his leader of this new information, but something in the back of his mind kept nagging at him as if he was forgetting something. He heard not long ago that someone linked to his leader was staying there, but his mind could not dig up who.
It wasn't typical of him to wake up this early, but he had mistakenly promised Tae that he would work earlier today to help her out with something going on with the restaurant. An anniversary of sorts, he recalled.
And so, Myojin Yahiko dragged himself awake at the crack of dawn to get ready for the event. The only other person awake at this time was Kenshin, and the boy could hear the ex-hitokiri humming in the kitchen. His stomach couldn't help but growl as the smells of the morning's breakfast wafted from the windows.
"Oh, ohayou, Yahiko," the red head greeted him as he peeked through the doorway. "You're up early this morning de gozaru."
"Uh…yeah, Tae-san asked if I could help her the whole day," he explained to the man, scratching the back of his head out of habit. "Something about a ten year anniversary or something like that."
"Is that so? Then there's going to be a lot of people then de gozaru."
The boy's heart plunged at the thought of having to move, carry, and wash all those dishes from the day's customers. Not that he really cared…much.
"Um…yeah," he paused for a moment, lost in train of thought before he said: "So tell Kaoru that I won't be able to practice today and probably won't be back until nighttime."
Kenshin gave the boy his usual smile and nodded. "All right."
Yahiko gave Kenshin a wave before he made a quick dash to the gate and left.
As he walked through the familiar streets that led him to the Akabeko, he wondered to himself what had happened to Yumiko-san the night she left later than usual. He remembered that the following day, Tae left the restaurant to another friend of hers to watch as she went to the police station to see if she could get someone to check on the other woman's whereabouts. It was the news of a murdered man not far from the way that Yumiko usually took to get home that prompted the Akabeko owner to go.
Yumiko came to assist Tae on more than a few occasions at the restaurant, so Yahiko had come to know her as well as he could. She was like a second sister to him and like Tae, he was also worried.
I wonder where she lives…she never really talked about where she lived in.
For some odd reason, Yahiko decided to actually look where he was going instead of letting his body take him where to go from habit. Despite being so early, people were already mingling out in the streets and shop owners opening their stores, sweeping away any debris that managed to lay in front of their steps. The number of people out weren't nearly as much as compared to late morning, early afternoon; but it was enough to show anybody that the city was ready to begin a new day.
He could spot the familiar shop owners and keepers easily, but when his eyes turned in a different direction, his entire body froze.
Yumiko's outline wasn't very hard to miss nor her trademark bun that was held up by the same dagger-like pin she always wore. The older woman had explained to him that it was a gift that her mother had given to her, but she didn't elaborate when.
However, that wasn't the reason why the boy's blood turned cold. It was the person walking next to her, carrying a satchel over his shoulder with one arm and a girl in the other. His hair was longer, but it was the unmistakable white that had been ingrained into the boy's mind from that incident not too long ago. He wore different clothes, but the way the man walked did not change.
And Yahiko merely continued to watch as the couple walked together, nearly side by side had it not been for the boy walking in between them. His brain couldn't register what he was seeing made sense or if he was imagining things. But the way his own body could not will itself to move proved to be more convincing. He knew it was possible, but he didn't think of seeing the man again as a reality.
Yukishiro Enishi was still here.
WORDS NOT UNDERSTOOD (perhaps)
wakarimashita – in this sense, it just means "I understand"
ohayou – short for "ohayou gozaimasu", which means "good morning"
arigatou – once again short for "arigatou gozaimasu" which means "thank you"
(name)-sama – an honorific ending, higher than (name)-san
hai -- in the context used, it's just to be affirmative
de gozaru – something that Kenshin always says at the end of his sentences….not exactly sure what it means, though…