OF WINE AND WATER by: P.P.V.V.

Disclaimer: The Standard Disclaim applies…


AN: Welcome to the last chapter! Thanks for stopping by. If you've gotten this far, it must have meant you liked what you've read previously. I know it's been nothing but darkness and angst for the last couple of segments, but I hope this final tidbit will make up for it.

Happy reading.


Epilogue

- This Most Important Lesson –

His eyes were round, a shade of dark azure blue, reflecting hints of gray depending on the lighting. They were wide and innocent, filled with the same trepidation that Hiko remembered so clearly in a set of amethyst ones so long ago. The child was so strikingly similar – even his hair was red! - that he felt as though he had taken a step back into the past.

Unwillingly, the swordsman reflected that emotion back to the boy with whom he had been given temporary custody. This child was younger than the other that he had once mentored, free of the knowledge of death and despair. It was that innocence that took his breath away.

A silence hung between them, as awkward and clumsy as any first meeting between two strangers and Hiko sighed inwardly. Why did he always get himself stuck in situations like these?

The eyes turned away, looking out over the well-maintained gardens, toward the gate just beyond it. The sliding door had been left slightly ajar, and Hiko had to wonder whether it had been left that way accidentally or in careless confidence. Whatever the case, he was not appreciative of the gesture and made a mental note to prepare a scolding for the owners of the house.

Strung just to the side of the dojo, were lines full of freshly laundered clothes flapping in the breeze. A small vegetable patch was nestled in the corner of the yard, and from the green shrubs, Hiko could make out the fact that they would be ready for harvesting in the next week or two.

The child sniffed, gaining the man's full attention. He'd learned that situations with crying children were the most problematic and he desperately did not want to have to succumb to his soft side again.

He couldn't help it, though as he gazed down at the boy who was no taller than his knee. In time, this boy would grow, such as another little boy had. "What's wrong, Kenji?"

"I…I want my papa…" he whimpered, with another sniff.

Hiko rolled his eyes at the boy's plaintive whine and looked at the gate, again. Trust his apprentice to ask such a favor from him during his first visit - his first encounter with the kid. He was surprised that Kenji hadn't burst into tears the moment Kenshin left.

Actually…the boy was precariously close to doing so…

He hurriedly said, "Don't cry, kid."

Kenji absently reached out to grasp Hiko's mantel, tugging it in much the same way his father had, so long ago. "Will he be back?"

Hiko contemplated the question, the same one he'd been asked so many times by the townspeople years ago when Kenshin had decided to join that ridiculous revolution. Back then, he'd been unable to respond, dreading the worst and uncertain how.

This time, however…

"Yes, my boy…he'll definitely be back."

He could say it with confidence, now. After all, Kenshin had done it before and Hiko doubted anything would keep his stupid apprentice away from his family.

Kenji sniffed again, and, realizing belatedly that he did not know this stranger very well at all, let go of the man's cloak as though it burned him.

Hiko snatched his hand up before it could retreat fully, encasing it in his own in the same way he had done to the child's father. The first step toward trust, yet again. It made those blue eyes snap upward in question. With a small tug, the Master turned to lead them back into the house and, bewildered, the little boy followed, his bare feet slapping against the floorboards in a clumsy manner.

So began his lecture, the first and most important principle he'd ever had to teach. "Kenji, hands are very important…"

END


Word Count: 629


AN: Thank you once again for coming along on this journey with me. For your encouragement, your reviews and your never ending enthusiasm, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thanks also to those who have favorited/followed this story, and have allowed me to play in this wonderful fandom! I had the most fun writing. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

(Where did Kenshin go, in this chapter? I didn't write it out – didn't feel the need to - so I'll let you speculate and see how close you were to my original thoughts.)

Do me the favor of letting me know your thoughts, one last time! Maybe in the future, I'll come back to play in this fandom again. Thanks for reading,

-P.P.V.V.