The whole night snow had been falling on the dojo and on the surrounding countryside...As usual Kenshin was the first to awaken. Although the sun was shining bright now, discovering the dojo's yard snowed under didn't make a great impression on him; rather than that it awakens dark memories, and flashes of Tomoe were starting to cloud his eyes. The nightmares were abruptly interrupted by a loud 'SUUUUGGGGEEEEEI' coming from a running Kenji still in his yukata. Kenshin was startled and stayed there still for a couple of seconds amazed by the little boy who kept jumping around with his eyes wide open, when he suddenly realized he was actually barefoot! "KENJI!" "GO BACK TO THE DOJO IMMEDIATELY AND" ... - with a decreasing voice - "put something on your feet..." - to end in a whisper "before your mother sees you..." when his eyes met Kaoru's who was standing at the dojo's door. "Hai, hai" he replied not frightened a tiny little bit by his seemingly upset father. Kaoru summoned her son and managed to have him wear at least a pair of slippers. While the boy was nervously waiting for the moment he could go free again Kenji kept making plans for the day. "Can we go sledding today ? We'll DO a snowman, right? I'm sure there's enough snow for at least three of them. Or we'll build an igloo! "An igloo? what's that ? " Kaoru interrogated her non-stop talking son. "Well it's a house build of snow and ice like they have in the Far North". "What you are talking about ? This is nonsense". "No" protested Kenji "Sanosuke told me so the last time he visited us". "An igloo ?" repeated Kenshin to himself. "Sano, you're definetely teaching weird things to my boy" he thought.
"Maaa, maaa". "If you want to build an iced dojo, you'd better eat something first" said Kenshin with a slightly more cheerful voice. The warm miso soup and rice filled easily the empty stomach of the boy whose gaze didn't leave the outside. Kaoru however was concerned about her husband. She knew that snow wasn't the kind of amusement Kenshin appreciated, but she was determined to make the best out of this day and even maybe have him smile before sunset. Kenshin had been eating silently, not paying too much attention to the company,when ... "Kenshin, are you feeling all right ?" said Kaoru softly. "Yes, Kaoru-dono. I'm sorry I had you worry again". The sudden use of the honorific made Kaoru frown a bit, but she decided not to raise the subject. "Kenshin, what do you say if we pay a visit to Yahiko and Tsubame-chan at the Akabeko today ?" On the way we have to cross a little bit of countryside, and I'm sure Kenji-chan will be more than delighted if we bring the sled along. He'll be so excited. Kenshin answered with a smile : "if it makes you smile...". "Yosh!" shouted Kenji spilling a bit of miso on the table. For some reason Kenji had already noticed that his father's mood wasn't at best on snowy days, and he was more than pleased to hear that for once they would spend this day together. Kaoru and Kenshin had always agreed that some day they would reveal Kenshin's past to their son, but would only do so when they both thought that the proper time had come, and ... that hadn't happen yet.
Kenshin undressed the breakfast table and finished doing the dishes while Kaoru was properly preparing Kenji to face the cold.
The family headed warmly dressed to the outside with Kenji taking the lead while pulling the sled. Kenshin calmly followed his son while Kaoru closed the dojo's main door. She ran a few steps to catch up with her husband and take his hand.
On their way Kaoru's sweetness had managed to keep Kenshin in a rather calm state of mind. She hadn't let go of his hand. She sensed that although his grip was tensed at the beginning, Kenshin was starting to hold her hand more firmly now.
Near Mount Ueno they came to a slight but long slope surrounded by scattered trees.
Kenji was already making his way to the top. "Wait for us here, will you ?" "From here you'll see him come down to you". Kaoru was of the opinion that seeing the joyful face of his son coming down the slope on his sled would surely cheer her husband up.
Kenshin watched them both climbing up the hill. Kenji quickly sat on the sled while Kaoru prepared to give him the little but necessary push.
Kenshin watched his son beginning to slide down the slope. Although the slope wasn't steep it was quite long, and the sled's speed was increasing dangerously. Although Kenji had realised that the sled was getting out of control his "YAAAAAAYUUUUUUUU" could still be heard from quite a distance. But in an attempt to control the sled Kenji lowered one of his feet to the ground, which had the effect of having the sled make a harsh 90°-turn. The sled's course ended abrupty against a tree, and Kenji's nose started to bleed. Kenshin who had first rushed to his son, stopped upon seeing the blood pouring out of his son's nose. Kaoru came of course running down the hill to tend to Kenji. She noticed Kenshin's sudden change of stance from above, but for the moment she was more worried about Kenji. Kaoru's worries quickly faded away however when she heard the loud laughs coming from the tree!
Although his nose was bleeding - probably simply from the shock - Kenji was laughing out loud stating "that's the best slope ever !, can I do it again mom ?" Although the answer would quite obviously be a "No" for the moment, Kaoru couldn't suppress a large smile seeing him so cheerful. When she turned to Kenshin however, he hadn't moved a tiny bit. "Kenshin... Kenshin ... KENSHIN! Snap out of it! HE's ALL RIGHT!". But Kenshin wouldn't come out of his trance state, and Kaoru was definetely getting worried now. Kenji quickly jumped out the sled, running to his father, right after Kaoru had managed to wipe out his nose a little bit. "Dad, dad" said Kenji pulling his father's hakama's sleeve. "Dad, dad, please have a go with me, just for once!" The sudden traction pulled Kenshin out of his trance. Kenji didn't pay attention to his father's worried face and pulled him to the top of the slope. "But you were ... And there was... blood..." said Kenshin interrupting his son's enthousiasm. "What blood ? See I'm all right, I was just having fun dad. Come on, do it with me..."
"No! I don't want to!" replied Kenshin harshly while stopping the run. "I thought you were ... injured" he said, probably thinking of something more serious. At that moment Kaoru really thought that this would surely spoil the day. But Kenji was determined not to be intimidated by his father's sudden harsh tone. "Dad" he continued with a very soft voice. "I want you to teach me to control the sled properly. I'm really sorry I had you worried. I didn't get hurt and my cloth didn't get stained by the blood". Kenshin smiled at this last remark; although he had always taken care of the laundry at the dojo the blood stains on the clothes was surely the least of his concerns, and he was sure Kenji was aware of that. But he appreciated his son's effort to cheer him up. "Dad". "Teach me, and I'll teach YOU to like snow for sure.". Kenshin looked at his son, and recognized Kaoru's eyes when she had looked at him full of hopes before he went to fight Shishio about 7 years ago. Kenji had his mother's look, and it's that look that had Kenshin come back from his worst battle in the past. Now for the happiness of his family he had to fight another enemy: himself and his bad memories. He had to learn to live with his past without it darkening his present. Kenji became more insistent: "Dad...". A silence, then "OK". A spontaneous "Yeah !" came out of Kenji's mouth.
When first coming down the slope Kenshin simply tried to have the sled keep a straight path. Kenji gently pulled him up to the top of the slope again, a second, then a third time. Kenji was getting more confident, and so was Kenshin. Kaoru was observing from a distance, quite happy that her son was doing a pretty good job with the sled and... the father! By the end of the afternoon Kenshin didn't need to be pulled to the top of the hill anymore, and he was really starting to enjoy these father-son moments. "Guys, we're gonna be late at the Akabekoooo!" shouted Kaoru seeing the sun starting to set. "Once last run ?" they both said simultaneously looking at each other. "All right", agreed Kenshin. They came down the slope one last time, laughing all the way down, and landing a few feet away from Kaoru. Kaoru happily kissed them both. They took a few moment to catch their breath before standing from the sled and leaving the place.
Half an hour late they arrive at the Akabeko. Kenshin was carrying a heavily sleeping Kenji on his back when Yahiko opened the door. "Wa hey! Had fun with the sled Kaoru ?" "Yes, we did" she replied softly. Then looking at Kenshin: "it was nice of you to accompany them while they were having fun". "I didn't accompany them, I had fun too" said Kenshin whithout looking back and entering the restaurant with Kenji still on his back. "Well, I mean while you were LOOKING at them having fun with the sled". "I didn't look at them I had fun with the sled too" he continued with the same calm tone.
Yahiko turned to Kaoru with a questioned look. He was quite sure this was not the kind of things Kenshin would do. But Kaoru answered a "Yes" while pulling her fist down in front of her face as a sign of victory.
"You're kidding" said Yahiko to himself, watching the back of the whole Himura family entering the restaurant.
Author's remark: 1)I swear you can run down a slope with a sled and land on a tree, have a nose bleed and still laugh. Believe me, I did it! So there!
2)Kenji is supposed to be about 6 years old here. So that explains Shishio's battle being 7 years ago.