Chapter 1: A Quiet Life Disrupted
Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin belongs to Watsuki-sensei, whom I admire deeply. Please do not sue me – I am making no profit from this!
Flaming Policy: The Hitokiri Battousai lives at my house. 'Nuff said.
* * *
"Kenji! Come here and help me with the onions."
Kenji Himura, the 15-year-old son of Kenshin and Kaoru Himura, stepped into the kitchen of the Kamiya dojo and wiped his greasy hands on a rag. His mother, calmly grating garlic at the table, turned around and jumped for a moment. "Kenshin – oh, Kenji," she sighed, putting a hand to her heart.
Kaoru was a beautiful woman and a 37-year-old mother of three children. Her hair was still pure raven, and her eyes bright and full of life, but the toll of caring for a family showed in the fine lines around her mouth and eyes. She smiled gently at her eldest son. "Kenji-chan, have I ever told you that you are the spitting image of your father?"
Kenji sighed, rolling his eyes as he kneeled next to his mother at the low table. "Yes, Okaa-chan," he confirmed. "Many times."
"Well, it's true," his mother reasserted.
Indeed, Kenji looked a great deal like his father Kenshin. His hair was a fiery red hue, bushy like his father's hair, and worn just past his shoulders so he had to pull it back into a ponytail. His eyes were a violet-blue – a bizarre cross between his father and mother's eye colors. However, the most convincing similarity between Kenji and his father was his build. Kenji was fine-boned, short, and slender. Although every inch of him was well muscled (he had his kenjutsu practice to thank for that), he still drowned in his baggy gi and hakama, and from the back he could easily be mistaken for a girl. All of this annoyed Kenji no end, but his mother seemed to find it irresistibly cute.
Kaoru put down the grater and pushed a pile of uncut young onions towards Kenji. "These need to be diced. I'm serving –"
"Miso soup, of course," Kenji filled in for her, smiling at Kaoru.
Kaoru smiled fondly again, once again grating the garlic. "You'd make a fine cook if you'd only practice," she sighed wistfully.
"I get plenty of practice, Okaa-chan," Kenji asserted cheekily as he began to dice the onion shoots. "Between you and Otou-san burning the noodles and over-soaking the rice, I save meals more often than not."
"Stop it, Kenji," Kaoru swatted at him. Kenji leaned out of her range easily without breaking the rhythm of his chopping knife. "You shouldn't insult your mother so!"
It was a familiar routine. Kenji helped his mother with dinner nearly every day now. He also helped her take care of Kaori and Shinta, Kenji's little brother and sister. Kaori was nine and every inch the strong spirit of her mother, attempting to help with every household chore and struggling through the first forms of the Kasshin – Hiten Mitsurugi School of kenjutsu. Shinta, the seven-year-old, was of a gentler bent and as of yet showed no inclination to study kenjutsu at all. Rather, he imitated his father.
Kenshin was 47, and the age toll on him was greater than that on his wife. Since giving up the sword 14 years before, he had lived a quiet life mostly absorbed by household chores and fishing. Shinta followed him around relentlessly, and Kenshin seemed to take quiet comfort in the presence of his youngest son. He still loved Kaoru dearly, of course; he showed it with his gentle smiles and occasional gifts. Kaoru loved him back. Their romance after 18 years of marriage was still almost childish, but it held them together more tightly than their frequent embraces.
Kenji's relationship with Kenshin was strained. Although Kenji did not recall it, his parents told him that he had hated his father's embrace as a young child. He had never loved household chores like his father, and early on he had shown a certain tendency towards the more violent aspects of male nature, getting involved in fistfights with his peers often. Kenji had then fallen into a sort of rapture of his father when he was eight years old, enthralled by Kaoru and Sano-jii-san's tales of Kenshin's incredible battles with Jin-e, Aoshi, Saitou, Shishio, and Enishi. He aspired to be a great fighter like his father – but Kenshin refused to teach his son about kenjutsu, or even talk about his own battles.
In desperation, Kenji turned to Yahiko. Yahiko, the successor of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu, had redeveloped the school into a cross of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu, Kaoru's school, and Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, Kenshin's school. Yahiko had gladly taken on Kenji as a student, and demonstrating the same amazing talent for kenjutsu as his parents, Kenji had quickly learned the art of sword fighting.
Kenshin, however, disapproved of his son's new passion. Perversely, Kenji decided to persevere in the face of his father's wishes, determined to prove that he was just as strong as the greatest swordfighter of the Bakumatsu. It had paid off; only a week ago, Yahiko had confessed after an afternoon of sparring that Kenji was faster than him, and possibly just as strong. Kenji had proudly reported this fact to Kenshin. Kenshin had merely sighed.
Kenji was offended by his father's response. "Otou-san! Why don't you care about my passions? You were a swordsman too, once - the greatest swordsman ever! Aren't you happy for me?"
Kenshin had looked up at his son with wise eyes and risen to his feet to look at his near-mirror-image. "Kenji," he said quietly. "Kenji, I have no love for kenjutsu. I did, once; it brought me nothing but grief." He laid his hand on Kenji's shoulder and bowed his head for a moment. "I am glad that you are so strong, son, but kenjutsu cannot be anything more than a hobby, or perhaps a vocation, in this era of peace. You must remember that."
"I know," Kenji had said irritably. "I know that, Otou-san. I just … I just want you to approve of me!"
"Then don't let kenjutsu absorb your life! Don't let it define you," Kenshin had urged, his grip tightening on Kenji's shoulder. Kenji could feel the concealed strength there; despite his father's age, he was still in remarkable shape. Then his father had smiled that familiar, gentle smile he wore around Kenji's mother so often. "Kenji, it does not matter if you are the strongest or the weakest; I still love you. I will always love you, just because you are my son." And with that, he had hugged Kenji fiercely to him. Kenji hugged his father back, more gently, feeling old scars through the thin material of his faded gi.
And he had felt that, no matter what his father said, they would never truly connect. His father still fought with demons of unspeakable horror – demons that drove him away from the one thing he truly excelled at. Kenji had never suffered; Kenji did not know what it was like to lose everything. And because he did not know, he could not understand.
"Kenji! Don't dice them until they are invisible!" Kaoru's voice cut into Kenji's reverie.
"Ah! Sorry, Okaa-chan," Kenji apologized, pushing the slightly over-diced onion shoots back to his mother. "I'm a little preoccupied. May I be excused?"
Kaoru looked at Kenji closely. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Yes, Okaa-chan," Kenji said with a bit of exasperation. "I'm just thinking."
Kenji looked up at her. "How did you know?"
"I'm your mother. I know everything," she answered, smirking just a little. "What's on your mind?"
Kenji looked at his lap. "Nothing important."
"Of course it's important."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Tough." Kaoru tilted up Kenji's chin. Kenji read his mother's ki for just a moment, and her spirit was as strong as a young bird's. No wonder Otou-san fell for her …
"Well, I –"
"Kaoru-chan!" The delighted cry came from the threshold of the house. "It's Tae-san! I just stopped by to deliver some goodies and talk a bit – if I'm not imposing," the aging restaurant owner called.
Kaoru sighed, but a smile flitted across her face. Kenji was well aware that Tae was probably his mother's best friend. Megumi-baa-san was a mentor to Kenji's mother; Kenshin was her supportive husband. But Tae was simply a good friend. "Of course not, Tae-san! Come in, come in; we can talk and perhaps you can stay for dinner, if Kenshin doesn't object."
Kenshin would never object if Kaoru wished to have Tae stay for dinner; besides, he was at the river fishing along with Shinta. Kenji doubted that his mother would even bother to ask.
"Kenji, do you mind making dinner? I planned to serve miso soup, rice, and salmon – you know your father caught a beautiful specimen yesterday," Kaoru asked as she rose to her feet and began to remove her apron. Kenji stood and helped her undo the knot, which was tied in the small of her back.
"Of course I don't mind," Kenji smiled and nodded as his mother turned around to face him again. "Have a nice visit with Tae-san."
Kaoru smiled at Kenji and cupped his face in her hands – a gesture that was common, but never failed to make Kenji blush with embarrassment. "Kenji, you are a delightful son – you know that, don't you?"
"Thank you, Okaa-chan," Kenji pulled out of his mother's hands, face flaming. "If Kaori comes back from the dojo after today's class, I'll have her help me, okay?"
"I would love that, Kenji." Kaoru straightened her kimono, tightened her hair ribbon, and hurried out to greet her guest. Kenji sank back down on the tatami mat, collected the ingredients for the miso soup and the salmon spices, and walked outside to the cooking tent to start the boiling water.
Kenji took no delight in cooking. He was better at it than both his father and mother, but he didn't really like to do it. Kenshin, of course, had learned out of necessity; whether or not it was a joy to him, Kenji was not quite certain. Kaoru, on the other hand, had perfected the art simply because she felt that any good wife was also a good cook. Sano-jii-san had informed Kenji that Kaoru's cooking had been horrible until she and Kenshin married.
As Kenji prepared the rice for the meal, he couldn't help overhearing Tae and Kaoru's conversation. "—They're causing ruckus, of course, but I expect the police will get a handle on them soon enough," Kaoru was saying.
Kenji's ear was caught at the world 'ruckus'. Even though he knew better than to eavesdrop, he tuned his ears to their conversation.
"No, I think it's far more severe than that," Tae said eagerly, although her voice was a bit strained. "I've heard that someone has died already."
"That's just gossip," Kaoru's voice strove to dismiss the evidence of violence. "A group of thugs like them can't possibly be any real menace."
"Even the rumor of a death would normally be enough to bring the police out in full force," Tae pointed out. "But this time they're ignoring the pleas of the common people. Worthless shoe-lickers, I say. They only bow to power and money. I'll bet the police have been bought."
"They would never …" Kaoru began.
"Don't be so sure," Tae answered smugly. "Nothing has really changed in this new era except for the name of the leadership." There was a pause. "Just watch out for yourself and your family, Kaoru-san. They may only be street thugs, but if the police cannot stop them, they can wreak havoc."
At that moment the water nearly boiled over, and Kenji was forced to return his attention to the meal.
* * *
"Kenji-san, this is amazing! No one can make salmon taste this good except you," Tae enthused as she joined the family for dinner.
Kenji blushed and scratched the back of his head; Kaoru admonished him, "What do you say, Kenji?" making Kenji turn an even brighter shade of red and mumble, "Thank you."
I know that! Okaa-chan, you don't have to embarrass me!
Kaori emulated Kaoru, right down to her posture and tone. In fact, since she looked so much like her mother, Kaori looked like a mini-Kaoru. "Kenji-nii-chan, it's rude not to say 'thank you' for a compliment!"
Kenji glared at her. "I know that, i-mou-to-chan," he answered, reminding Kaori that she was his little sister. Tae giggled; Kaoru smiled tolerantly, and Kenshin ignored the exchange altogether.
"Kenji, Tae-dono is right. This is very good cooking." Kenshin smiled at his son. Kenji opened himself to his father's ki for a moment, and sensed the silent urging: Cooking would make a good living. Why not do it?
Kenji shook his head almost imperceptibly. He hadn't decided what he wanted to do with his life. All he knew was that he wanted to be strong – like his father.
Shinta was a lot like Kenshin in personality (and eye color), but his bushy hair was black and he already showed evidence of being of a larger build than either Kenshin or Kenji. Kenji almost resented him for it. Now, however, Shinta beamed at his older brother and held out his empty rice bowl. "More, please, 'nii-chan," he asked. Kenji smiled at him and packed more rice into his bowl.
Kaoru beamed at everyone sitting at the table. "Kenji is an incredible cook," she announced. "It's too bad Yahiko-chan and Tsubame-chan are not here to enjoy it."
Yahiko and Tsubame had recently moved off of the Kamiya dojo property – the moment Yahiko had raked together enough money to buy a small house. They had been married for seven years now, and had a two-year-old daughter after the disaster of a miscarriage. Not even Megumi-baa-san's impressive medical skills had saved the baby.
"I'm so glad that Yahiko-chan and Tsubame-chan are living on their own property now," Tae admitted, sighing happily. "Their life is so much like a fairy tale."
"Fairy tales aren't real," said Kaori matter-of-factly.
Shinta frowned at her from across the table. "Are so real! 'Kaa-chan and 'Tou-chan are a fairy tale!"
"Kaori, Shinta, stop that this instant!" Kaoru ordered. Shinta looked sheepishly at his father; Kenshin nodded sternly, and both of the children apologized. Kenji inwardly agreed with Shinta. His father and mother were like a fairy tale; their story was nearly impossible, but it had happened anyway.
Kenji decided to introduce another topic of conversation. "Who are these thugs that are causing trouble in the streets, Tae-san?" He saw his father narrow his eyes for just an instant and felt a brush of suspicion; at the same time, his mother spiked with curiosity. Tae, on the other hand, launched enthusiastically into the story.
"There is a group of hoodlums running around the commercial district of late," she began. "They are extorting shop owners and stealing from the weak. I've heard," she added conspiratorially, "that they've killed a man, too – just a beggar, but still, that's a murder. And the police do nothing! They must have been bought off."
"Mou, Tae-san! Most of that is just rumor," Kaoru protested.
"Rumor that springs from truth," Tae answered brightly. The two women were quickly engaged in a verbal war over the merit of gossip, and Kenji realized he wasn't going to get any more information.
Abruptly Kenji was aware of his father's gaze. He turned to face Kenshin; the older man was looking at him with questioning eyes. Why did you ask about that?
Kenji turned away from the silent question. I don't know … I just don't know.
* * *
Kenji was sitting on the roof; he looked down when he heard his father's voice. "Otou-san?"
A moment later Kenshin had jumped up onto the roof and was sitting next to him. "The roof doesn't provide much solitude when half of the house's inhabitants can join you up here," his father pointed out.
"Yeah, but Okaa-chan doesn't jump up here any more," Kenji answered with a little smile. "I hope I get to be the one to teach Kaori how to jump up here. She'll enjoy that."
"She will," Kenshin agreed.
For a moment the two men sat side-by-side in a neutral silence, looking at the stars. Kenji couldn't help wondering what they looked like – after all, Kenji was merely a younger version of his father.
It was Kenshin that broke the silence. "Why did you ask Tae-dono about the street gang?"
Kenji shrugged. "I was curious."
A certain urgency entered Kenshin's voice. "Kenji, the street gang is the concern of the police. You do not have to get involved."
"You mean, you don't want me to get involved," Kenji filled in, an accusing edge entering his own voice. "What if I want to help? You heard Tae-san; the police aren't doing anything."
"Uncorrupt officers will replace the corrupt ones. Of course, if they attack our family we will defend ourselves, but Kenji, this is what the police in this peaceful era are for – the protection of the people."
"But they're failing at their job," Kenji protested. He turned to his father, frowning at him. "Otou-san, isn't this what the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu is supposed to do – protect people? And isn't that the purpose of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu as well? I've learned these schools of kenjutsu; can't I use them, too?"
"You're twisting the creed of the Kasshin – Hiten Mitsurugi School," Kenshin said quietly. "It is designed to protect your loved ones. Didn't I tell you last week that kenjutsu shouldn't be anything more than a hobby in the Meiji Era? No matter what the creed of a school is, swords are still made to kill, and only the pure Kamiya Kasshin Ryu is a non-killing art. Kenji, I urge you – do not use get involved in this public matter. It is the police's job to handle it."
"You used your sword to protect people you didn't even know," Kenji accused his father.
"Things were different back then," Kenshin answered, his voice still calm and collected.
"It was still the Meiji Era," Kenji replied.
"It was before the authorities had been established," Kenshin said with a final tone. "Kenji, I know that I cannot stop you. You are stronger than me now; you may even be faster than I ever was. However, I made the mistake you are about to make when I was your age; I meddled in affairs that were not meant for a strong sword, and I became a murderer. Don't do that, Kenji. Don't let your strength drag you into murder."
Kenji pulled his legs up to his chest and rested his chin on his knees. "Otou-san, I can't just watch this sort of thing happen when I know I can do something about it."
"I know; that is why I say that I can't stop you," Kenshin said, a trace of warmth entering his soft tenor voice. "I have given you my advice; it is up to you how you behave." His father rose to his feet and gauged the distance to the ground from the roof before turning back to smile at his eldest son. "I'm treating you like the adult you have become. However … there is no substitute for experience. I love you, Kenji, my son." He leapt down from the roof.
Kenji stared at the stars for several more hours before returning to his own room.
* * *
Author's Notes: I have finally named my muse! She is the Shinigami – a mini-Duo – and a real pain in the ass, smacking me with this story idea. This is only my third real developed plotline, but it could have waited until I wasn't in trouble any more …
This is only my view of Kenji's personality; Kaori and Shinta are my own creations. Perhaps someday I'll draw them. Until then … I'll just write this story. Bye until then!