Disclaimer- Gosho Aoyama, Nobuhiro Watsuki, not me. We clear? Right. This short is rated G by the Motion Picture Association, and is in my "Wanderers" universe. (Takagi raised by Kenshin and Kaoru.) Kenshin's basic background shamelessly stolen *with permission* from Vathara's "Urban Legend" stuff.


The rest of the department doesn't understand. He knows that, and he's used to it; it's been that way all his life. He hears them whisper sometimes, wondering what it is she sees in him. There are times he still wonders that himself.

He knows why he loves her, of course. Not because she's beautiful, although she is, certainly. Her features are strong without being hard, delicate without being weak. She's graceful and poised, a physical ideal.

But that's not why he loves her, even though he does appreciate it. It's her strength he finds irresistible, like the blade of an ancient sword. A work of art, all the more beautiful for its durability and deadliness.

She reminds him most of Kaoru-obasan, he thinks, when he thinks of it. Though he fervently hopes she's a better cook; she shouldn't have to eat in restaurants all the time. But she has the same brilliant smile and steel backbone, and the same flash of temper that he remembers from when the school bullies once made the mistake of chasing him home to the dojo. The same courage that Ken-ojisan had told him stories of, that once led her to face a man she believed to be a legendary assassin. The fact that she'd been right only made the situation funnier, this many years gone.

Sometimes her smile is fox-playful. Then it reminds him of Megumi-san, conjuring up memories of the woman who patched up his skinned knees and elbows, who taught him how to hold his head up high among his tormentors, and taught him it was all right to be loved, no matter what you thought was wrong with you.

And sometimes her smile is sheer joy, and he remembers Misao-neesan, who despite her age was always a sister to him. Misao-neesan, who taught him the joy of well-placed revenge, even if Ken-ojisan didn't approve. Or at least pretended not to. Who taught him never to give up on what he wanted, no matter how impossible the rest of the world thought it might be.

He'd been surprised, when he got older, to realize that those three weren't typical of women. The shyer, more delicate girls he'd met in middle and high school had come as a bit of a shock.

Yes, he knows why he loves her. He loves her for her smile, and how it makes her Satou-san, who is everything he always thought a woman should be.

He's still not always sure why she loves him. But he thinks he might have a clue.

One day in elementary school, he'd run home crying again, as he often did, the harsh words of the bullies still ringing in his ears. Freak. Outcast. Orphan. They hated him because he was different, because he lived with a family with a different name, because his obasan owned the dojo and his ojisan did the laundry, because his ojisan had red, red hair and still dressed like something out of an old movie. And so he ran, before the taunts could turn to blows, as they had in the past, and they didn't chase him, not since they'd met up with the sharp side of Kaoru-obaasan's tongue. Then again, they didn't have to. Their words did it for them.

He'd sobbed out his troubles to Ken-ojisan, who'd listened patiently, as he always did. And that day, he'd told him a secret.

"There will always be people who fear what is different, 'Taru-kun," the man had told him, eyes kind. "And there will always be those who can only feel powerful when they hurt those who cannot fight back. And fighting back with fists or blade will only make their fear and anger grow. But there is another weapon I can give you."

"Will it make them leave me alone?" he'd asked, drying his eyes.

"Some, it will. Some of them, seeing their words do no hurt, will drift away. Others will continue to try, but even they will leave in time, borne away by the winds of the world. And you will make a shield for those around you, to hold onto in the storms, and it will be easier in the end for all to bear it."

So he'd asked. And Ken-ojisan had told him, and Takagi had held to that weapon every day of his life. When the bullies teased him, when the other students ignored him, when his co-workers shot him odd looks and grumbled about his closeness to Satou-san... When the press of deaths got to be too much, and he wondered if he could possibly go another day watching grade-schoolers tripping over bodies...

He smiled. And for her, it seemed to be enough.