Chapter 1

A Beautiful Day

Written by: Sherrie

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Authors' Note: Since this story was written by two of us instead of one, there will be some changes in style, point of view, and tense depending on how each of us finds it easiest to write or what worked best for a particular scene.

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Moriko's Home

It was a beautiful June morning. The type of day when the sun is warm and soaks through everything, and most people just want to sit on their porches to watch the world drift by, enjoying life. It was the type of day I felt I'd fought for during the Revolution, actually. A peaceful existence without fighting or problems.

I had nothing to do that day; it was my week off and there wasn't much to do around the house in terms of cleaning or laundry. I didn't feel like going into town. Kiyoshi was sprawled on the porch near me with paper, ink and brushes, practicing kanji...for some reason. I figured he'd want to run over to the Himura estate, as I called it, to play with Kei and Hitomi later on.

I'd been insistent that he go to school. I hadn't had any formal education - what I knew I'd learned from my brother and my master, and at that it was only reading, writing and a few basic numbers. I did know a good bit of history, but only from experience. I wanted Kiyoshi to have more then that. But I'd never expected him to freely do homework on such a beautiful day, either. Yet he'd told me he wanted to practice writing his name, and I made no objection. Exactly how do you object to a 6-year-old that wants to do his homework? It was beyond me. Occasionally he'd ask me how to spell something, or what a certain kanji meant.

"What does my name mean, mama?" he asked shortly after he'd flopped down on the polished wooden porch.

I smiled at him. "It means 'quiet'."

He grinned a bit. "Am I quiet, mama?"

"Most of the time!" I admitted, laughing a little. He was a good child, that was the truth. Most of the time, he really was quiet - an introspective boy who loved nature and already enjoyed the thought of learning swordsmanship, though I hadn't started his official training yet. I had named him for the reason that, once he entered my life, I knew I would find a quiet peace I had never had before.

A moment passed as he etched his name into the paper. He paused for a second to dip his brush back in the ink, before looking to me again.

"What does 'Kenshin' mean, mama?"

I glanced over. "Are you writing everyone's names?"

"Hai." He smiled. "I want to learn to write them all."

"It means 'heart of sword'." I answered slowly, making sure he'd heard correctly as he began to paint the kanji for Kenshin's name.

"That fits Uncle Kenshin really well, doesn't it?"

"Hai, it does." I nodded in agreement.

"What does Aunt Yuki's name mean?"

"Snow."

He thought for a minute, as if to try and connect Yuki's name with a meaning or an aspect of her, but being too little to know much about her he shrugged the thought off. "What about Miss Kaoru's name, mama?"

"Kaoru means 'fragrance'." I answered.

Kiyoshi made a face - wrinkling his lip a little and creasing his forehead. "Why did her parents name her Kaoru, then?"

"I don't know, Kiyoshi. Kaoru's parents died a long time before I knew her."

He shook his head before looking his paper over again. "And what does Hikaru-san's name mean?"

I smiled. "Brightly shining."

Kiyoshi's face lit up. "That really fits Hikuru-san. She's always out in the gardens!"

I laughed. "Yes, she is." I had a feeling that was where Kiyoshi got his own love of nature. Hikaru had planted the seeds of loving flowers, trees and plants into his heart when he was still a baby, and it had only grown as he got older.

My son resumed his task, slowly writing out both Kenshin and Yuki's names on his paper. I on the other hand, glanced up when I felt someone approaching the gate. It had to be Kenshin - his presence was far too familiar since I'd been around him for almost seven years now. I stood up and stretched before casually stepping off the porch and walking towards the gate to let him in. He knocked before I got there - a hurried, almost panicked knock.

I clicked the gate open, not having locked it that morning, and smiled. "Hi, Kenshin."

"Miss Moriko, could you watch Keitaro for a while?" he asked quickly. I frowned a bit at the slight fear in his eyes.

"Sure. Is something wrong?" I asked.

Those violet eyes of his flashed. "Yuki's in trouble. I have to get to the market right away, that I do."

"What?" I stared back at him, feeling a coldness run through me that I hated. My left hand instantly reached for my side, but there wasn't anything there. I cursed inwardly realizing I'd left my sword in my room for the day, beside my futon. There were very few days I went without it - and I'd originally thought today would be far too perfect for a weapon, especially since I was only going to stay home all day. I had a feeling I was wrong. "I'll go with you." I said hastily. "Let me get my sword!"

Kenshin grabbed my arm before I could turn and run back for the house. "Miss Moriko!" he forced a small smile despite the situation. "Someone has to watch Keitaro and Kiyoshi, that they do. I can handle this, I'm sure. Though I do appreciate your consideration and friendship in the matter."

"But, Kenshin..." I suddenly felt helpless. I knew Yuki was his wife, but she was my friend too - even IF we didn't agree on everything.

"Please?" He smiled at me and handed Keitaro over. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

I nodded worriedly and watched as Kenshin hurried off down the road. Placing Keitaro down beside me, I told him that Kiyoshi was inside the yard, and he should go find him. The little boy nodded and ran inside the gate, while I remained until Kenshin disappeared around the corner.

Then I locked the gate behind me when I walked back towards the house. Probably out of paranoia. I doubted I would ever get over the fear that someone, anyone in the world, would always be out to get you - especially if you were a former manslayer.

Keitaro was kneeling beside Kiyoshi on the porch, watching him write on the paper. I brushed past them into the house, and returned outside a few moments later with my sword in hand. I simply sat down on the porch near them and placed the katana on the polished wood beside me.

My senses remained perfectly alert to everything surrounding me, but my mind mulled over the issue at hand. What on earth could have happened to Yuki? Lately, the shadows of the past had not been haunting Kenshin, and men wanting to carve names for themselves from the Battousai's death hadn't been lurking about. Unless someone wanted to attack Kenshin through Yuki, I didn't understand why she'd gotten in trouble.

A sickening thought hit me when I realized Hitomi was with her. I had never been a motherly person until I'd had my own son, but I had always liked children. I sympathized with those who had survived the horror of the Revolution, and those who struggled for a life on the streets - only because I knew what both situations were like. I wanted Hitomi, Keitaro and Kiyoshi to have safe lives without the nightmares of the past. I prayed to the gods Kenshin and Yuki's oldest child hadn't been hurt in whatever situation was going on.

The other thing that bothered me greatly was the fact that I knew Yuki was a talented martial artist and could use a katana better then most people. Even if she might not have taken a sword with her today, she still had a lot of training and a past in the Revolution. And I had known Yuki long enough to believe without doubt that she would, if cornered, fight her way out of a situation. Particularly if Hitomi were involved. Yuki would fight like hell to save her children from a potential danger, just like I would for Kiyoshi - until he was strong enough to fight for himself. For someone to trap Yuki and for her to freeze, and not retaliate at all... it was a frightening thought to me. A person who could catch Yuki off guard was either a demon that even a manslayer would have trouble with, or a total bastard that deserved death.

About five minutes later, Kiyoshi finished his task and jumped up to show me his paper. Thrusting it into my hands, he eagerly pointed out the names. I tried to focus on my son's work for a moment instead of my friends and whatever danger was outside the gates.

"See, that's my name," Kiyoshi beamed proudly, "And Uncle Kenshin's, Aunt Yuki's, Hikaru-san's, and Keitaro's name! That one is Miss Kaoru's, and the last one is Yahiko's!"

I really was amazed at the boy's calligraphy. It was impeccably neat for a six-year-old. My handwriting wasn't too bad, but Saitoh's was atrocious. So jagged and rough that I had considered putting 'kanji deciphering' on my résumé should I ever change jobs. Not that I saw Saitoh often - I actually hadn't seen the man in three years - but he did occasionally send me a written order or request.

"That's very nice, Kiyoshi." I smiled as best I could.

"I'm going to finish the other names later." he chattered. "Can Kei and I play, mama?"

I nodded. "Just stay in the front yard where I can see you, at least until Kenshin gets back."

"Okay!" Both boys jumped off the porch and happily tumbled across the yard in the sunlight. They goofed off for a while before finally deciding to play a game of 'toss-the-stone'; an accuracy game of sorts that involved lightly tossing small pebbles on a dirt-drawn playing area. The one closest to the line would win. I wasn't too surprised to find Kei and Kiyoshi evenly matched, but I did remind my son to only use small pebbles since Kei was still only three years old.

Minutes passed. An hour later, I was beginning to wonder what had happened.

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Chapter 2 - Past Imperfect

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