Kenshin awoke as a light weight settled on his chest, and felt gentle fingers come to pat his face scant seconds later. Little fingers. Persistent fingers. "Otouchan!" The voice in his ear was breathy and impatient, only vaguely aware that whispers were supposed to be quiet.
Opening one eye, he looked up into a smaller pair the same soft shade as his own. "Oro?"
Leaning down until they were nose to nose, the little hands immediately clamped over his mouth. "Shhhhhh! You'll wake okaachan!"
Nestled close beside him, he felt Kaoru shake in silent laughter at this admonishment, the childish voice no softer than his own had been. Eyes smiling, he pried the shushing fingers away from his lips, but before he could speak the little one was off again.
"Otouchan! It'smorningit'smorningit'smorning!" She pressed her face against his excitedly, smushing his nose flat with hers, "Can we go now? Can we? Can we?"
He blinked, trying to focus both thoughts and eyes. "Oro? Go? Go where?"
"Otoouuuchaannnn!" her voice was stricken, horrified that he seemed to have forgotten. "You promised we would go shopping for okaachan's birthday present today!" Snuggling her head into the crook of his neck she repeated insistently, "You promised! You promised! You did! You promised!"
Struggling not to laugh as her whispering tickled his ear, Kenshin conceded, "Maa, maa... so I did, so I did... but do we have to go right now?"
"Yeeesss!!" the little arms tightened around his neck, tugging at him, "Now! Now!"
Kaoru's shoulders shook again, and a sidelong glance found her blue eyes open, sparkling with laughter as she watched them. "Now?" he repeated, feigning puzzlement.
"Yessss!" She mashed her face against his again for emphasis, whispering still, "Now!! Please? Pleeeease?!"
"What a lot of noise!" Kaoru laughed, propping herself up on one elbow, "Ohayou, Kiriko-chan."
"Okaachan, ohayou!" Kiriko crowed, sitting up on Kenshin's chest, beaming brightly at her mother. Otouchan wasn't cooperating with her, but maybe he would listen to okaachan. "Please, tell otouchan that it's morning! He said we would go shopping today. He did! He promised! He did, he did!"
"He did, did he?" Kaoru gave Kenshin a mock-stern look, noting how his lips twitched with the effort not to smile. Kiriko was only three, but she was an observant three. "Well, if he promised, I expect he will, ne? Otouchan always keeps his promises, doesn't he?"
"Otouchan always keeps his promises," Kenshin agreed, reaching out to tug teasingly at Kiriko's braid, smiling as she giggled.
"Wai! Wai!" she bounced up and down on his chest, "Now? Can we go now?"
"Mou, whatever has you so excited, Kiriko-chan?" Kaoru asked, pushing the covers back and rising to her feet.
"Can't tell," Kiriko confided, looking up at her mother, "otouchan says it's a sur... a sur..."
"Surprise," Kenshin supplied, tugging on her braid again as he raised his eyes to Kaoru's, "it's a surprise."
"Ahh," Kaoru smiled, nodding knowingly, "then it's sure to be something very special. But... no one goes anywhere until you've been dressed and fed." Her tone was gentle -- not reproving, merely firm.
"Yes, okaachan." Holding her arms out, she waited for Kaoru to pick her up, then wrapped them snugly around her mother's neck. Kenshin watched them go, the two dark heads close together as they talked, his beloved and his child. His family.
"Both of you!" Kaoru called over her shoulder, her voice punctuated by Kiriko's, "Hurry, otouchan!" and he laughed, willingly trading the warm comfort of the futon for the warmth of their company.
"Don't teach her that," Kaoru scolded as Yahiko wiped his face on his sleeve, encouraging Kiriko to do the same.
"Awww... Kaoru, half the fun of having her around is teaching her stuff that you don't want her to do." He grinned as he said it, and Kiriko giggled, violet eyes bright over the rim of her bowl.
"Besides, she already knows better, don't you midget?"
"Hai!" the little head bobbed up and down, "Yahiko-oniichan is always in trouble," she observed seriously.
"Oi! I wouldn't say 'always'!" Yahiko protested..
"Mmmm. Always," Kiriko insisted, her eyes widening at Kaoru's laughter, "Okaachan?"
"Nevermind," Kenshin told her, gently overriding the bickering in the background, "just finish your breakfast."
"Ne, Kenshin?" Kaoru asked, her laughter subsiding, "can you get some tofu while you're in town? It'll save Yahiko a trip."
Yahiko opened his mouth to protest, thought about it, and snapped it shut again. Kenshin chuckled, noting the young man's reluctance to lose another argument. "I don't mind. Kiriko-chan can help me remember." He smiled as she nodded her head vigorously, her cheeks glowing with pride at the importance of this task.
"Gochisousama!" the exclamation was triumphant, as if having to wait through breakfast had been a trial. Returning her bowl to the table, she looked expectantly at her father.
"I think that means she's ready to go," Kaoru translated, her eyes crinkling at the corners with fond amusement.
"Aa." Kiriko seemed to have an endless supply of energy and excitement, making it almost exhausting just to watch her. "Kiriko-chan, go get the tofu-oke from the kitchen," he told her, "and then we can go." He watched her skip down the hall, only to return a few moments later at a run, holding the requested container on her head with both hands. "Oro?" Kenshin blinked as she raised her arms, obviously expecting to ride on his shoulders. Something about her playful face peeping out from beneath the wooden bucket tugged at him, telling him to remember, and he stared at her for a long moment.
"Otouchan?" the little voice was worried, the arms starting to sag, snapping him out of his daze.
"It's alright," he reassured her, reaching out to take the oke off of her head. "Shoes, koneko," he reminded her, "you need your shoes."
"Ah!" She looked down at her feet, warm in their tabi, and then craned her head around to look at her mother.
"On the steps leading into the dojo yard." Kenshin was already there, stepping into his sandals, and Kiriko scrambled to catch up, putting hers on the wrong feet in her haste. Propping her elbow against the table, resting her chin in her palm, Kaoru watched Kenshin patiently correct the little one before settling her on his shoulders. The onetime rurouni needed someone to care for the way other people needed water or air; and Kiriko gave him that -- someone to love and protect without fear of hurting her pride or her independence. Her lips twitched. Kami-sama help us when she gets older...
"We're leaving!" Kiriko called, waving with one hand, the other fisted tightly in her father's red hair.
"Take care!" Kaoru replied, breaking out of her reverie. The gate creaked gently closed behind them, and she turned to Yahiko. "Ready for today's round of classes?"
"Otouchan?" Kiriko's chin rested on the top of Kenshin's head, her hands clasped together under his jaw.
"What do you think we should get okaachan?"
Unseen, her father's eyes softened, and his voice was soft with memory when he spoke. "Flowers. Okaachan always gets flowers on her birthday."
"Really?" She leaned sideways, trying to see his face, and he reached a steadying hand to support her. "Why?"
"Flowers were the first present I ever gave her," he answered, his tone turning rueful, "but... I was over a month late, and I had hurt her feelings..."
"Otouchan!" Kiriko shook her head, surprised to hear he could ever have been so careless. Hurt okaachan's feelings? Otouchan?
Kenshin smiled at her gentle scolding, "Aa. I know. That's why okaachan gets flowers for her birthday." So I can tell her I'm sorry, and that I would've gotten it right if only I knew. Kiriko was quiet, and he could tell she was thinking. A moment later he felt something warm and wet land in his hair, followed by another, and another. He stopped in the middle of the street, startled and worried. What? "Kiriko-chan? What's wrong?"
Kiriko gulped, trying not to cry. Okaachan deserves flowers, ne? Ne? But... otouchan said Kiriko-chan could get okaachan a present. He said we would pick something together!
When she didn't answer Kenshin knelt, lifting her down from his shoulders to face him. The little one's violet eyes were wide and distressed, and her lower lip trembled. "Koneko?" he asked, using his pet name for her.
"I... I..." she sniffled, before throwing her arms around his neck, wailing piteously about "okaachan" and "present".
Kenshin smiled down at the dark head, so like her mother's, buried in his shoulder. "Oh, koneko... of course you can. Otouchan promised, didn't he?" She nodded, rubbing at her tears with one little hand. Gently wiping them away with the edge of his sleeve, he kissed her on the forehead, and teasingly ruffled her hair. "What do you think okaachan would like?" he coaxed, holding her against him as he continued down the street. "A new ribbon? Perfume?" By the time they reached the center of town, she was laughing and smiling again.
He willingly let her tow him from shop window to shop window, store to store, looking for just the right present. They finally decided on a new handbag in soft shades of blue and purple, decorated with cherry blossoms. "It looks like okaachan," Kiriko whispered when she saw it, and Kenshin had to agree. Kaoru had always been fond of sakura... and blue and purple were her favorite colors, her eyes and his.
Standing beside him, one hand fisted in his hakama, Kiriko watched the customers while the shopkeeper packaged their purchase. It wasn't long before her attention was caught by a display of multi-colored ribbon, and letting go of his pant leg she scampered over for a closer look. Kenshin turned his head slightly to watch her, always aware of where she was and what she was doing, and smiled as she began chattering amiably at a man standing by the display.
"Okaachan would like that one," Kiriko confided, pointing at a blue and purple striped spool, "it matches the present we're buying for her birthday."
Looking down to find the source of this unsolicited information, Keiichi was startled to discover a strikingly adorable child standing beside him. She was tiny -- not more than three years of age, and small even for that -- with midnight hair and wide, trusting eyes. Violet eyes. Not blue, but a most unusual shade of purple. I've only seen eyes that color once before... He must have said something aloud because she answered with great pride, "I have otouchan's eyes."
And turning, she pointed at a man with red hair, crossed scars on his cheek.
Index of Japanese terms:(1) Otouchan - daddy (or father or dad or whatever you prefer)
(2) Okaachan - mommy (or mother or mom or whatever you prefer)
(3) Maa maa - now, now
(4) Ohayou - good morning
(5) Kiriko - written with the kanji for "rejoice" "benefit" and "child"
(6) Mou - goodness, "geez!"
(7) Gochisousama - the meal was delicious; signals that one is done with the meal
(8) Koneko - kitten
(9) Kami-sama - God
(10) Tabi - those split-toed socks everyone wears