The night was still dark and rainy by the time Takeru finished cleaning Hideki's wound and began stitching the red, swollen flesh back together. Hideki was lucky, the doctor had said. Besides small cuts and hard bruising here and there, the samurai's most serious injury was the large gash across the back of his knee. "It's a miracle you didn't bleed out everywhere," Takeru commented as he gently weaved a needle in and out of Hideki's leg, "they almost got a major artery."
Hideki chuckled, his voice muffled by the pillow as he turned his head. "As long as I'm not dead on the side of the road, I'm content," he replied.
"What happened?" Sayuri asked, a curios cock to her arched brow.
"It's… a bit of a long story. I'll keep it short," Hideki started with a grunt as he hoisted himself up on his elbows. "The Shinsengumi began to disband after the Ikedaya fire incident, though a group stayed within Kyoto for safety measures. I was on my way home with Keisuke when some runaways from the Ishin Shish attacked us. My friend was dragged away, and, as you can see, I barely made it out alive. I have no idea if Keisuke is alive or not."
Youjirou raised his head slightly, his eyes slowly tearing up. "Keisuke… you mean Hina-san's husband," he muttered.
"Yes," Hideki replied with downcast eyes. "Poor Hina… to become a widow at such a young age… I can only imagine the look on her face when I tell her."
"I'll be imagining the look on your face when you see Hina," Takeru grunted. "It appears that misfortune can strike someone more than once."
Hideki laughed nervously, his brow furrowed and lips turned up into an uncertain smile. "What do you mean? Do you even know Hina and her husband?"
Sayuri sighed, her smooth face contorted with anxiety. "Hideki-san, your village was attacked by the Ishin Shishi a few days ago. Hina's face has been badly disfigured."
At first, the expression on Hideki's young face was one of confusion, but then his features sharpened with anger as pain rose up inside his chest. "Shit!" he shouted, pounding his fist into the ground. "Then… that means… Miku…" He turned to Youjirou, his eyes wide. "Miku… is dead?"
Youjirou didn't have to answer; the sadness in his blue eyes told his father everything. Hideki lowered his head to the pillow, hiding his face as he ran his long fingers apprehensively through his hair. "How long were you planning on waiting to tell me?"
"We didn't mean to keep it a secret," Sayuri said quickly, her hand soft on Hideki's shoulder.
"If… if only I had gotten home in time…" Youjirou heard his father mutter into the pillow.
"She got sick after you left," Youjirou said stiffly. "She was dying even before the village was attacked."
The room fell silent, save for the hard gasps between Hideki's sobs. Sayuri motioned to Takeru, who raised his bushy brow quizzically. "What?" the doctor asked once the geisha had pulled him to his feet.
"Sayuri-san?" Youjirou asked when he saw the woman lean over him.
"Stay here with your father," the geisha murmured, "he needs you to help him get back up on his feet."
"Datte…" Youjirou began, but already Sayuri and Takeru had disappeared behind the sliding screen. For a long while, he sat silently, staring blankly to his father's weeping form. He didn't know what to say, nor how to reconcile with the father he hadn't seen for over a year. Had Hideki not left, the Okaasan wouldn't have gotten sick with grief; had Hideki made it home in time before the Ishin Shishi, then maybe Okaasan would still be alive, even if she was barely clinging to life. Still, had Hideki just been there, none of this would have happened.
When Hideki finally sat up again, his eyes were red with tears, and his black hair was disheveled about his shoulders. He caught his son's hard stare, but he didn't get upset or offended; he seemed to understand what Youjirou was thinking. "You blame me for her death, don't you?" he asked shakily. "I won't blame you if you do. I wasn't there for Miku when she needed me, and I wasn't much of a father to you. Gomen."
The boy didn't answer, but instead looked away quickly, his blue eyes gazing upon his father's katana. "Did you have to kill anyone's mother?" he asked suddenly.
Hideki was slightly startled by his son's question. "No," he answered, "I've never killed a woman.
"Then why did Okaasan die? Why did you have to kill her?"
"Had I known she would have gotten sick, I wouldn't have gone! I left for my country, Youjirou. When you're older, you'll understand," Hideki stated.
Youjirou's nose wrinkled as a scowl formed on his face. "Why am I without a mother?! Out of all the people you've killed, why am I the one who has to hurt?!"
Hideki lurched forward suddenly, gripping Youjirou's shoulders tightly. The boy was frightened at first, but he saw in his father's eyes only sadness, not anger. "Youjirou, listen to me. I… I just lost my wife, my home, and my friends. My son doesn't have faith in me. I go to sleep every night in fear that the Ishin Shishi will kill me. I didn't know this would happen when I left; if I did, I wouldn't have gone."
Youjirou was silent, his eyes wide and lower lip trembling. He sniffled, pulling away from his father to wipe away the tears that had begun to fall down his face. "Okaasan gave up nearly six months ago," he began slowly. "She sent letters to you; why didn't you come then?"
The samurai sighed. "I kept every letter Miku sent me; I must have read them all a dozen times each. I tried to come back; I begged my leader, thought of ways to steal away from the Shinsengumi… but I couldn't… I tried, Youjirou. Trust me." Then he pulled Youjirou closer, setting his son on his lap and tightly embracing him. "Please, just have a little faith in me."
At first, Youjirou felt awkward with his father's arms wrapped unyieldingly around him, but he soon remembered the times over the years that he sat in Hideki's lap. It was comforting. "Otoosan…" he sniffled, leaning his head against his father's chest. Hideki's heart beat was so strong against his ear, the hard thumping slowly lulling the boy to sleep.
Hideki smiled weakly, closing his eyes and tightening his embrace around his son. "Arigatou, Youjirou. Arigatou."
"Otoosan… do you still sing?"
"A little, though not as well as your mother," came the soft reply.
"Do… do you remember the song she used to sing?"
A quiet chuckle escaped Hideki's lips. "Of course I do." He leaned back, stretching out his stitched-up leg and rocking slightly as his tenor voice filled the small room with the sweet melody:
"Hitotsu, higure ni gan kakete
Futatsu, fudasho ni tsukimisou
Mittsu, misora ga akeru koro
Yottsu, yonaki no ko wo oute
Itsutsu, itsumade tsukeba yoi
Muttsu, mukae ni konu haha ni
Nanatsu, naisho de uramigoto
Yattsu, yamanba konu uchi ni
Kokonotsu, ko wo sute yama koete
Too de onigo ni narimashita"
The last few words Hideki sang were shaky, almost choked up. When Youjirou looked up to his father's face with tired eyes, he thought he saw a few tears glisten as they lined Hideki's face.