This is the only chapter with Kenshin's POV.
Disclaimer: I apologize for my willfulness, and hope only that it entertained.
Chapter 33: Penitent
Kenji squealed in delight as he raced up the steep slope of the mountain. Putting distance between himself and his parents he stopped only when his father called for him to slow down.
"Kenji, stay within sight. I told you we would be going slower."
"Hai!" Calling back down to their figures, he squatted where he was and studied a small frog while he waited for them to catch up.
Smiling in amusement, Kaoru looked to her husband and giggled lightly. "Must be nice to be so full of energy."
"You never seem to lack any, koishii."
Pursing her lips, Kaoru frowned over her blush. "If you're going to tease, you can just keep your hands to yourself."
Innocently he blinked back, a knowing light in his eyes. "I meant it as a compliment." Lifting a hand to brace between her shoulder blades, he let his other hand slip over her belly. "Especially now."
"Hmph." Elbowing him in the gut, she walked on, her careful stride interrupted only minimally by the small bump of her lower stomach. "Just because I'm pregnant does not mean I'm suddenly fragile and inadequate. I thought we already went over that with Kenji."
Rubbing a hand over his rib, Kenshin reassumed his position next to her, his arm wrapping around her shoulders this time instead. "I know, little bird." Surprised by the soft quality of his voice, Kaoru looked up. "But I cannot help feeling overprotective." That small twitch of his face, so reminiscent of those first days they had spent together, made her smile.
"Don't worry, anata. I feel much better this time around." Giggling, she reached out a hand to Kenji as they passed, squeezing gently when he took hold. "I haven't had any morning sickness, and there hasn't been a smell yet that's made me queasy."
A slightly triumphant smile pulled at his features and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She knew what that look meant and she didn't really feel like getting into that argument again. Kenshin could claim all he wanted, this baby was not going to be a girl. Though there were many differences between this pregnancy and her first, there were quite a few similarities as well, and she was carrying the baby in almost the exact same way. And since her mother had helped many women with their pregnancies when she was a child, and she herself had experience with others during her life in that village, she knew a thing or two about them. No, Kenshin would just have to content himself with another boy. But I guess there's always next time.
Shrugging her shoulders, smiling when she earned herself a strange look for this, she leaned briefly into his side. "Anata, I'm more worried about you today. Are you sure you're going to be ok?"
Slowly his features fell back into seriousness and he looked to the ground. "It is something that needs to be done." Dodging the question entirely, he reaffirmed only what he believed.
Though it was originally Kaoru's idea to come, it had only taken a few days of tense conversation for her husband to agree it was necessary for their lives to continue. Kaoru only wanted Kenshin to be happy, and this was a main part of that happiness. She only hoped everything went smoothly. Not only for Kenshin's sake, but Kenji's and her own as well. Not to mention the baby. Hand sliding over her growing child, she jumped when Kenshin froze.
They were in a clearing, the trees making way only for the small house that stood solidly beneath their branches. It was quiet, and indescribably peaceful, the warm autumn sun defused by the thick foliage and shooting quick glints of light upon the outer wooden walls. It was amazingly different than what Kaoru had imagined it would be like, and inside her heart she was glad of the chance Kenshin had been given to live there, even for a short time.
Taking a tentative step forward, Kenji's hand still held in hers, she paused only to watch Kenshin drop slowly to his knees and bow low. His posture humble and apologetic. Smiling at Kenji when he tugged on her hand, she reassured him quietly and bent to pick up the pack Kenshin had sit down. Continuing forward, she stepped confidently to the front door of the house.
Carefully and meaningfully, she sat down the pack, opened the top and dug out a large jug. Lifting it, she held it out so it could be seen clearly and settled it with a soft clink on the front step. Halfway through the motion, though, the door in front of her unexpectedly jerked open, startling her son. Chancing only an instinctive glance upwards, she had only enough time to marvel at the man's height before she bowed as low as her stomach would allow.
"Who are you and what is it you want, girl? Everyone around here knows that I don't accept visitors."
Brushing aside his gruff attitude, Kaoru stood straight, her neck craning to look him in the eye. Briefly his eyebrow raised, his brow furrowing, and she could imagine he was surprised by her strange eye color. "My name is Kaoru, Himura Kaoru, and I want only for you to accept our offering."
Gesturing at the jug of sake, she knew the action was wasted as soon as his eyes widened in astonishment with her introduction. Quickly his dark irises darted past her, staring now at the figure flattened in the grass several meters away. He studied him for only a few, brief seconds, before his attention returned to her. Only to move over her face and then down to the hand held lovingly over the small bulge of her stomach. Black lashes blinked, then averted to his right as Kenji became curious and peeked his head around the side of his mother's leg.
Stern features became unreadable, staring as if spellbound at the blue irises of the boy as he too stared back. Then a small huff of laughter pulled at his chest, and he stepped back into the house, one large arm swiping up the jug of sake, as well as the heavy pack.
"You two may come in and rest. I'm sure you are weary from climbing the mountain."
"Thank you very much."
"What about Daddy?" Tugging on her kimono, Kenji looked up at her, his little features anxious.
Glancing once more at the large man, Kaoru stalled for time as she bent at the waist so that she was closer to Kenji's form. "Well, Kenji… he…"
"Has not earned himself an invitation." Blue-violet eyes switched to the other as he spoke. "He will not be welcome until I say so."
"As owner of this house I have the right to refuse whoever I wish."
"You don't want him here?"
A half-cocked grin pulled at the master's face, and even Kaoru giggled at her son's audacity. "Kenji, this matter is not so simple. Your father is apologizing for something that happened a long time ago."
"Can I help?"
"Can you help him apologize?" Proud of his giving nature, she laughed breathily. "No, Kenji. That is something only he can do, and besides, you didn't do anything that you need to feel sorry for."
"But he's my daddy."
"Yes, baby, and I know he would appreciate how much you want to help, but…"
"Come inside and tell me about your father. That will help."
"Really?" Slightly skeptical, Kenji frowned.
"Sure. If you're convincing enough, I might just let him come in a few days early."
Kaoru's lips pursed, feeling a similar amusement from this master as she did from Kenshin at times. I can see where he picked it up, I guess.
Kenshin pulled in a steady breath through his nose, exhaling the sweet scent of grass and the electric tang of moisture in the air. Soon it would begin to rain and he was grateful that his master had allowed Kaoru and his son to enter the house. Both were too precious to succumb to any kind of illness. More so with each passing day.
The fierce attachment he felt for his son was more natural than anything he had ever experienced before in his life. Without a conscious thought he would react to any whim the child wanted or needed. It was confusing, however, for the man who once had nothing, when he contemplated the emotions that drove him to such soft-hearted extremes. With the boy snoozing trustingly in his lap, his small hands fisted in his clothing, he had time to dissect the painful surge of vulnerability, and he wasn't quite sure, still, where it came from. Only knew that he would die before he let the child be hurt in any fashion.
With Kaoru it was no less confusing, and he still did not think he truly understood what it was that Nagoyaka had spoken of. Sometimes, however, he felt he was aware of something greater. Love was a human emotion, a human term, and he did not think he would ever feel it the way others did, nor did he truly think he wanted to. It was already defined, and limited, by those who spoke of it. What he knew of in his heart, what beat inside his chest with powerful sway, was a drive to protect and possess; to take shelter and share warmth; to enjoy and honor with all of his being until the afterlife claimed him.
And even then he would spend eternity seeking her out to defy the gods and keep her as his own. Often she would tell him their relationship was a gift. Was not a gift meant to be cherished? Did that not mean they were given to one another by those same gods he thought had shunned him? So, in turn, did that not mean she was his to care for no matter the situation or consequence?
So he knew there was no other way to convince them to let her stay. He must apologize, he must beg favor and forgiveness from those gods that bore witness to his childish and arrogant actions towards his master and his gift of protection. Thinking of how harsh the punishment might be for his wife and child, and the one soon to be, because of his past actions and development of sour karma, did not bode well to dwell upon. Never would he allow his mistakes to darken their peace and laughter. As husband and father he would do anything to stay that possibility. Even kneel in sodden misery before the house of his master until the sun no longer rose, the world lay barren, and the stars disappeared from the night's dark blanket.
Heavy rain pounded down on the back of his neck, the hot rain of a lingering summer storm soaking his hair and robes until they weighed him down and wished to flatten him to the earth. Small puddles of water grew in the already moist ground, laughing as they shimmered from the forceful drumming of fat drops. Thunder growled overhead and he let out a soft breath, adjusting his position so that most of his weight pivoted back on his shins. It would do no good if he were to drown before he was allowed the chance to speak with his master.
Blocking out his physical discomfort, Kenshin relaxed his being, trying with everything he was to remember those moments of training from so long ago. His master had wished to teach him much, and because of his own fear more often than not he had missed those words of wisdom. The sound of his voice was ingrained on his memories, however, and even if he could not recall the actual words that were spoken, the cadence in which they were given in brought order to his world. Sitting in this position was not so bad, after meditating under the waterfall for three straight nights in a row. And his purpose now was much more important.
The storm had fully set itself in for the evening, the nerves along his back numbed from continuous exposure, when he finally realized the noise of water thwacking against his ears had disappeared. Raising his head, wondering when his thoughts had left his body, he caught sight of large sandals and instinctively ducked. Forehead buried in the muddy grass, he awaited judgment, feeling a foreign anxiety and fear that was only present around this man. Briefly he gave into panic, denying the quickness of the decision and wanting only to hold his wife and child again before his sentence. To see the face of his unborn daughter.
"You may come in." It was nothing less than a command and not an allowance, the amusement that next filled his voice speaking of the reason. "Though she has said nothing, I can tell your wife is getting worried." Looking to the house quickly, Kenshin was able to see her dark silhouette in the doorway. "And she should be stressed over nothing in her condition." Falling back into a preaching tone, as if he were still an ignorant child, his master growled down at him.
"Hai." Agreeing readily, Kenshin stood, his head bowing in deference to his master. The rain returned to pebble on his shoulders, the umbrella his master held pulling away with his dismissive footsteps, and Kenshin was left to quick step after.
Kaoru met him with a towel and that expression of worried affection he had teased her over their first few months together. With the same tender care she showed Kenji after bathing him, she lifted the piece of material, softly wiping at the rain dripping down his face and neck. Briefly leaning his forehead into hers, his eyes closing, he allowed himself to enjoy her attention before stepping back and peeling off his clothes.
His master left them at the front steps, indifferently giving them his back as he made more tea. Grateful for the privacy, knowing he would not be allowed to enter further until after he was dry, Kenshin frowned at a quiet noise of exertion from his wife. Returning his attention to her abruptly, his frown darkened and he quickly lifted their traveling bag from her hands. Glaring to relay his disapproval, she sighed and straightened, curling slender fingers around the bulge of her belly. Though he had disliked her having to carry it to the house, it had been necessary. Trying to heft its heavy weight off a platform lowered considerably below her own perch would not be allowed.
Stripped of his sopping clothing, dried, and covered by a warm yukata, Kenshin finally stepped up into the house, his eyes searching the interior intently. Kaoru smiled next to him, one slim hand reaching to rest on his elbow while her other gestured to a door further into the room. Opening it softly, he slipped halfway inside to look over the sleeping form of his son, his figure sprawled under the blanket as was his habit while in deep slumber.
Satisfied, Kenshin stepped back out and closed the shoji, catching the affection that warmed his wife's features. Lowering his eyes briefly, he took a deep breath and moved to join his master at a small table.
"He is a good looking boy, Kaoru-san." Hiko spoke lowly as he poured the tea, settling her cup in front of her as she knelt. Thanking him quietly, her hand braced on Kenshin's shoulder for support, her smile was genuine when she was finally seated. "He has his mother to thank for that."
"Oh no, that fault belongs to his father." Repositioning the towel she had brought with her, she reached out for the tie in his red hair. "I will claim his personality." Grinning at the side look she garnered for this, she sat aside the tie and began to carefully dry the dripping strands.
"His temper as well?" Kenshin could not help the tease, and he half grinned when her lips pursed.
"I'm afraid he has both of us to blame for that."
"Surely you do not have a temper, Kaoru-san. You seem to be much too kind for that."
Kaoru smiled at the compliment, but the man beside her huffed and looked away, a sure sign of his disbelief of the statement.
"Buddha himself would have a temper with you, boy." Kaoru giggled, Kenshin obviously trying not to look affronted by the claim.
They sipped their way through the pot of tea, Kaoru answering most of the questions posed from the master, Kenshin a quiet presence as she dried and brushed his hair. Many of the inquiries were about Kenji, leading into where they were going next. This prompted Kaoru into an explanation of her mother and where she now lived at the sanctuary, tactfully skirting around the issue of why she was there. They had planned on going to her for a yearly visit, but since a new baby was now on the way, it was agreed upon that they would stay for the birth. Kenshin was not surprisingly adamant about no one else being trusted near his wife during childbirth.
It was getting later, their voices less frequent, when Kaoru began to doze. Walking all morning with her slightly wading gait was tiring, and it took little for her to succumb to the comfort of her husband's shoulder.
It was always fascinating to watch her sleep, jabbing a sharp feeling of weakness inside his chest at the trusting way she would place her safety in his hands. No one, not one person in his entire life, had ever believed they could count on him for comfort and reassurance.
His features twitched again, his arm rolling to brace at her waist. She was no doubt uncomfortable in such an awkward position. "Come, little bird, you should not sleep here." Lifting her easily into his arms, her lips mumbling against his neck, he took her into the small side room his son was already sleeping in. Half-asleep and half-awake, she stood willingly at his coaxing, but helped little as he divested her of her kimono and bundled her softly in a yukata.
The round bulge of her lower stomach was more prominent without the covering of clothes, and he took a moment to enjoy the emotion of pride and affection the sight caused him. His wife was a beautiful woman, but she took on a softer, more elegant beauty when carrying his child. Briefly he wondered if there was a limit to the amount of feeling this one woman could bring him to.
The door slid silently shut on the two most important people in his world, and he stared across at the large frame of his master. The rain outside reasserted itself with a violent gust as he walked past the front door and he was briefly grateful he was no longer out there in it.
"I'm sure there is quite the interesting story behind your wife… but it can wait until later." A large jug, the one Kenshin recognized he himself had brought, spilled out two small saucers of sake. "First, I wonder if there is something you wish to say to me."
Something rooted his feet to the floor where he stood, halfway between retreat and advance. The tone in his master's voice rubbed at his pride, and the muscles in his back tensed, his knees locked. Next to his wife, there was not one person that would speak to him so boldly, and for it to be this man. A man who had branded him, cast him out, threw him back to the wolves without a second thought and warned him never to return or it would be his own death. For a moment his jaw ground together and he wanted nothing more than to turn and leave.
However, his thoughts went quickly back to that room behind him and he knew there was no room for retreat. He had a family now, and it was his duty to protect that family, no matter what the demand. Besides, was not this man's actions warranted for everything that had been done. There could be no room for pride in Kenshin's thoughts when he had done nothing but shame the person who had sought to teach him a better path.
Body loosening in one soft exhale, Kenshin once more resumed his posture of penitence, head bowed low to the floor. "More of a request, Master… for your forgiveness for all the dishonor I brought to you and your style of swordsmanship."
Silence greeted his plea, and after a few moments Kenshin peeked through his long bangs to judge his master's reaction better. Sipping at his drink, Hiko seemed almost oblivious to the announcement. "Your son speaks very highly of you." A moment of confusion touched his features, wondering why his master was jumping subjects. "He was a great source of information, as was your wife, about what you've been doing these last few years with the knowledge I've given you. You still have a long way to go, but at least, it seems, you have learned what it means to protect others and not just yourself."
"I would protect them both with my life."
"Yes… your actions alone make that abundantly clear." Hiko took another sip, leaving Kenshin still kneeling on the floor. "I am unable to comprehend why, but it seems the gods have decided to give you the chance to erase your dishonor. Since I am not one to argue with the gods, I have decided I will accept your apology, but I have a condition."
Sitting back on his feet, Kenshin nodded. "What is it that you require, Master?"
"I wish to travel with you to this sanctuary your mother-in-law lives at."
Kenshin couldn't help the lift of his brow. "If that is all you wish… but, I do not understand why."
"Perhaps I want to meet your daughter, when she is born, as well. I'm sure she will be just as beautiful as her mother."
A slight smile tugged at his mouth. "There is no doubt in my mind that she will be, though I would not say so to Kaoru."
"She is more than convinced we will be having another boy."
"Nonsense. The fluctuation in her energy is proof enough."
"True, Hiko-sama, but Kaoru is not trained to discern such things."
And with that, the tension was gone.
It was much later when Kenshin finally was able to shut himself inside the small room with his wife and child. His master had wished to talk for some time, and after a few jugs of sake and much conversation about life, Kenshin thought he had discovered the true reason why they were now going to be accompanied by his master.
For protection. Simple, caring protection against the world while they traveled to this place on foot. Though Kenshin considered himself protection enough, the older man was not convinced he could take care of both Kaoru in her continuingly growing delicacy and a young, rambunctious child. Hiko would not admit it, but it seemed he wanted only to make sure the happiness Kenshin had found would stay safe.
Staring down upon the two sleeping figures snuggled contentedly in their futons, Kenshin took a moment to be grateful. No form of pride would ever endanger them, and so he would endure his master's presence.
Tucking himself in beside his wife, her fragrance trembling his chest and the lower portion of his gut, he willingly cuddled her close as she automatically wrapped herself around him. A sigh issued from her lips, her leg curling around his, and he grinned into her shoulder before tugging at the tie of her robe. Half-asleep as she was, it took a few minutes before she fully understood his intentions.
"Anata… what are you doing?"
A smile pulled at her lips. "But what if we wake Kenji?"
"You'll just have to try and restrain yourself, little bird."
"And your master?"
"Think of it as a challenge." She giggled lightly and he smiled back, his fingers brushing over her cheek. "I just want to enjoy being happy, bluebird."
"And are you happy, Kenshin?"
"I have never been happier in my life."
A/N: Ok, so I had this picture in my head of Hiko meeting Kaoru's mom and becoming rather smitten. And since he lives up on a mountain and stuff, I've heard the air is actually better for some types of illnesses, so I let him use it as a reason to move her to his little mountain cabin. Then I can clearly see Kenshin playing with Kenji out in the yard while Kaoru and Nago sit on the porch with the new baby girl and Hiko bringing them tea and a blanket for his delicate wife. So cute. Fun thoughts, but anyway.
Last chapter of Demon… sigh… I'm kind of sad to see it go. On the bright side, I've actually finished a long story. Yay! Cheers for me! Now I can move this out of my posted folder, into my completed folder. I hope everyone liked it, and that the last chapter was good. It was fun getting to finally write from Kenshin's POV, though I did get a little of Kaoru mixed in there for a few moments, but I guess I'm allowed. After all, the rest of the story is from her point of view, so she can steal a moment or two if she wants.
I liked the idea of them arguing over what sex their baby was going to be, and making Kaoru be so sure since she's obviously got the larger experience in the area was fun. Of course, with the way I made Kenshin and later Hiko discern the difference was a little unfair, but hey… they're not about to rub it in or anything. Well, thanks again for sticking around, and please leave a review to tell me what you thought. See you all in another story.