Rurouni Kenshin is the property of Nobuhiro Watsuki.
A Year for Growth
Kenshin was behind the main house gathering the debris of branches that had blown down during the winter. A fire crackled and spat on the opposite side of the yard from where he was working. According to Kaoru, this winter had been the worst snow Tokyo had experienced in a number of years, but it was the high winds that did the most damage. Now that the snow had receded, the town was busy with repairs. Roofs needed to be patched where shingles had been torn away and many had entire trees down on their property. Around Kenshin, the frigid early spring air hummed with the sounds of hammers and saw blades. Tokyo had woken like a bear after hibernation – hungry and alive.
To Kenshin, when he looked beyond the environmental conditions of snow and biting wind, it had been a fantastic season. He had wed Kaoru in autumn, and thus had a beautiful wife to gather into his arms at night. With love for Kaoru in his heart, he could abide to look at the snow-frosted landscape without imagining it spotted in blood. When the season still brought nightmares, he would wake with less fear than before; his love would be curled against him with her small hand folded over his heart.
Even though the winter had brought many welcome changes to his life, Kenshin felt prepared for spring to come. His collecting and burning of the fallen rubbish was one of the last tasks on their list of seasonal maintenance. Earlier in the week he had patched and repaired the roof of his new home, cleaned the oven of its growing collection of ash, and split wood to replenish the supply they had burned in the dark months. With Kaoru scrubbing and airing out the inside of their house, they were quickly erasing all the tell-tale signs of a long winter.
As he added his newly gathered assortment of damp branches to the fire, it hissed and popped from the moisture. It was not even midday, and Kenshin had already finished the yard work. Resting near the fire, he warmed his hands and considered his options. He could start checking the tall fence around their land for damage, but his gaze lingered toward the back of the property where a small grouping of trees grew through thick underbrush. Though the clearing of this swatch of land was not on their list, it would be done eventually, and now seemed like a great time to start.
It was only once the overgrown brambles were cut away did the former rurouni realize that they were fruit trees. Wandering through the countryside required learning a certain skill set to eat, and the survivalist in him knew from the bark alone that this collection of trees was once a miniscule orchard. For some unclear reason, this pleased him.
Kenshin added the overgrowth to the fire and analyzed the branches of each tree. It appeared that once they had been well cared for and trimmed, but now the fruit trees had a plethora of new growth. Out of the hazy smoke of his memories came a rural proverb once said by his father: a tree cannot produce large fruit if it spends all of its energy growing new branches. He looked down at the blade in his right hand and sighed. Kenshin had not thought of his father in years, and could no longer conjure an image of him. Pushing away thoughts of his family, he turned his knife to the thinnest branches reaching for the sun and instead thought of eating cherries in the summer.
They lay in bed that evening aching and exhausted. Kaoru smelled faintly of the wax she spent the day rubbing into the wooden floors; Kenshin's right hand was swollen and sore from holding the hard handle of the unfamiliar knife. They were stuck in the age-old stalemate of wondering if the other wanted to make love, but each was too tired to make the first move. Eventually, Kaoru's head burrowed into his arm as she nuzzled against him. With his free hand, Kenshin stroked the exposed skin of the limb his wife has draped over his torso. Even though he felt physically drained, he was happy.
A mumble from Kaoru roused him from his contemplation.
"I'm sorry, Kaoru. What did you say?"
His wife let out a soft laugh, because anything more than a chuckle took effort, and she was already half asleep. "Why are the trees butchered?" She repeated. "You know, the ones near the fence."
Kenshin opened his eyes and turned to his right side to face her. Her description of the trees being 'butchered' made him unease, especially when he was the one to cut them with a blade. However, he kissed her gently before answering. "They are plum and cherry trees. I thought if I trimmed them, they may bear fruit this year."
Kaoru briefly smiled at him with half open eyes before her smile became a yawn. "I didn't know that we are farmers." Her reply was peppered with sarcasm.
The farmer's orphan in him felt somewhat hurt by her comment. He paused for a few moments, unsure of how to respond. "I was a farmer's son a long time ago. I see nothing shameful in raising one's own food."
Kaoru woke fully at his words and slowly sat up; Kenshin had never spoken of his family to her. The end of her long braid tickled his chest as her eyes searched his. "Is that true?"
"Yes. Let's go to sleep now, Kaoru. I am much too tired for a long story tonight." His hands eased her back down to the bed and held her. But Kaoru lay awake for another hour afterward.
The next morning, Kenshin awoke to an empty house and a note on the kitchen counter. His initial panic had subsided as he read that she had simply gone into town to shop and visit Megumi and that she would be back before noon. After a light breakfast and a cup of hot tea, he took a hammer and a box nails from the storage shed and set out to check the fence. If he finished the fence today, then his half of the list would be complete.
As promised, Kaoru returned before midday, laden from her morning shopping. Kenshin greeted her at the gate and took the larger parcels from her arms as they walked back to the house and the meal he had prepared.
Kaoru was smiling as she ate, and Kenshin was intimately familiar with that smile. It was the grin of his wife withholding a secret. He calmly put down his chopsticks and met her eyes. "What are you thinking of, Kaoru?" He asked.
His wife's face broke into a stunning grin as she reached behind her and produced a cluster of small fabric bags. He accepted them from her and set the miniature sacks on the table in front of him. "What are these for?" He questioned as he opened one to reveal a handful of seeds.
Kaoru's hand reached across the table to lay over his. "I thought if we're going to grow fruit, we may as well grow a garden. Especially because..." Her smile faltered and the look on her face grew apprehensive. She swallowed and met his eyes with a sudden burst of the confidence he loved her for. "Especially because I am expecting."
The seeds in Kenshin's hand spilled to the floor as he rounded the table to embrace her.
Gardening and the growing of plants brought the former man slayer a new-found peace. To have something develop under his care, rather than die, made him feel purposeful and reposed. As Kenshin was weeding the furrows of the vegetable garden, his visibly pregnant wife was nearby watering the melons in the far corner of the plot. She had become irritable since the Lady Doctor demanded she cease strenuous activity.
"Kaoru!" He called. "If you give the watermelons too much water while they ripen, they won't be as sweet!" His tease earned him a glare from his hormonal wife, who had spent the last few weeks hungrily watching the melons swell. Only a month ago, she had divested the garden of all the horenso spinach and wept when it was gone. Kenshin felt the watermelons shared the same fate.
In his brief distraction, he accidentally pulled a half developed onion from the ground instead of the weed he was targeting. He scooped away the soil of the furrow and reburied it before he compacted the dirt above the bulb. The former rurouni did not reach for another weed, but instead stared at the earth below his hand as the hair on his arms stood on end. Suddenly lost in memory, he could hear a woman's voice.
'Shinta, that is not a weed.' His mother patiently told him. A hand took the small plant from him and pointed to a thick root on the end. 'This will grow to be a carrot. Replant it, and when we harvest in the fall it will be big enough to eat.'
After the sun went down, they sat on the porch enjoying the breeze. His hand rubbed Kaoru's steadily rounding lower abdomen as she ate part of a watermelon he had picked for her. His wife's eyes were closed in delight as she savored the ripest melon he could find.
Kenshin kissed the temple of her head and broke the contented silence. "When I was born, my parents were farmers…"
Kenji was born during the Frost-Moon in late October, soon after their first harvest. Kaoru told their friends that their son came into the world kicking and screaming, but Kenshin claimed that it was Kaoru that did the kicking and screaming. Regardless, he was happy and relieved at the health of both his wife and child. It had been a very successful year for growth.
In the shortening daylight, the sleep deprived pair lounged in front of the fire and ate dried cherries, while their son slept nearby. Kenshin laughed quietly when Kaoru joked about them raising chickens in the following spring.
He paused and then quirked an eyebrow at his wife. "That might not be a terrible idea."
Kaoru shoved a handful of dried cherries into his mouth to prevent him from speaking. "I draw the line at chickens."