The Master's Niece

Part Four

Written by: Kat

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An hour later, dazed, Mikiko was walking back down the moutain beside Kei with her entire immediate future settled, at least in theory. She wasn't exactly sure how Hikaru had done it, but she'd found herself agreeing that she needed a house in Kyoto, and Kei had been given the assignment of finding one for her, preferably in the same area where the Fujitas lived. Mikiko's interest in the new and fascinating world of the Westerners, to which she'd been exposed in a limited way in her travels, was revealed despite her reluctance, and Kei consulted about whether she could find work with the English in Kyoto. He began to answer, stopped, frowned, then said, "The Westerners are funny. They like it here, but they're homesick. They want their own culture around them. I suppose we would be the same, if we were in the West. But it would help if she could speak their language and make them more comfortable with her."

Then he and Hikaru looked at each other and said, "Dai!" at the same time. So, while Mikiko was still wondering what they were even talking about, it was settled that she would be tutored by Daisuke in English and, if she had any aptitude, in Dutch as well. When she protested she didn't want to trouble Daisuke, Kei said, "It will be good practice for him."

So that was settled, too, and while she was still blinking over it, Kei was already suggesting she try in Tokyo, where there were more opportunities, and Hikaru was saying firmly that was out of the question because she was Seijuro's niece so of course would live near them in Kyoto. Mikiko snuck a glance at her uncle when that was said, but he was drinking sake with no expression except a faintly amused tolerance. However, it was he who pointed out a few minutes later that, if Mikiko was to seek employment, she should have better clothes to wear. While Mikiko blushed, this time in shame, Hikaru told her husband severely, "I was getting to that," and a shopping trip was arranged, with Kei being told to invite his mother, sister, and Hanako. Mikiko's protest at taking Hikaru's money was dealt with ruthlessly by Hiko, who told her simply, "Shut up, Mikiko. That issue has already been settled between us."

So, in one hour, Mikiko had gone from being a penniless vagabond to being part of a family. She simply couldn't take it all in. But it was real. She could still feel Kiyoshi's casual hug and Hanako's kiss on her cheek when the two of them were told.

Ahead of them, Kiyoshi and Hanako now walked side by side, with Ki still playing with Koneko. Kei remarked, "He is going to spoil that child rotten."

"She's not spoiled. She's a happy child."

"She will be in a few years, if he keeps this up. You'd think no other baby had ever been born in Japan," he smiled.

This isn't just a conversation, she thought suddenly. This matters to me. I'm part of this family now. Koneko is like my niece. "Oh. Oh, my."

Kei smiled. "It's all sinking in now, huh?"

"Yes. It's too much, Kei. I can't understand it at all!"

"You haven't even met everyone. You still get to meet Ki's mother, and then there's Dai's family, although with any luck we can avoid that as long as possible. And Hanako's family, of course. They're much more pleasant. And Kimiyama Ceramics. I'm sure Hikaru will give you a financial interest in the shop."

"No!"

Kei said seriously, "Get used to it. This is what we mean when we say the word family. All of us, even Seijuro."

"I didn't think he had the least idea of what a family was, at first," she admitted.

"He does. He just doesn't like to be bothered with it."

"My parents and my grandmother were more like him than like you." She sighed. "I'm not going to know how to act. I don't want to seem ungrateful, but…"

He cut her off. "There's no reason for you to be grateful. That's not the point."

"But I have to do something to make up for what all of you are giving me!"

"Sure you do. You have to be part of the family."

She stared at him, slowly beginning to comprehend what he meant. Then she felt a smile growing. She liked to help people, and here was Kei, telling her she had a huge family who would all gladly accept her help. "I can do that!"

"There you are, then. And you can't say you didn't earn your place, at least as far as Seijuro goes."

"Kei! Why didn't you warn me about him?"

"I tried to."

"You made him sound eccentric!"

"Well, he is."

"He's also cruel, arrogant, rude, conceited, and a bully!"

Kei broke into laughter. "Tell that to my mother. It will make her day. Are you sorry he's your uncle?"

She had to think about that for a moment. Then she grinned. "No. At least he's interesting." She scowled at him. "And telling me he isn't tactful did not warn me that he was going to pick me up and carry me off like that!"

"I've never seen him do that before," Kei said, grinning.

"Why didn't you stop him?"

"Because he's bigger than I am?" Kei offered. She made a fist at him, and he held up a hand defensively and said, "Because he said it was family business. Seijuro doesn't use words lightly. He meant it. So I thought you'd be better off going with him."

"I'd rather have walked than be carried!"

"That's another thing you'll have to get used to. You usually don't get a choice with Seijuro, when and if he bothers with you at all. You got his approval, anyway."

She bit her lip, not wanting to ask the next question that came into her mind. But her session with her uncle had made her consider the truth as something more valuable than she had before. "If I hadn't gotten it, would I still have… I mean…" It was too much to presume. She shut up, blushing.

Kei put an arm around her and gave her a quick, reassuring hug. "Would you still be a part of the family? Sure. Seijuro's opinion isn't the most important one."

"It isn't?"

"Hikaru's is. And my father's, since Hikaru listens to him."

She shook her head. She couldn't see her uncle's strong will bending to people as gentle as Hikaru and Mr. Himura. "I don't get it."

"You will, in time," Kei promised.

And I have the time, she thought, still wondering. As if to prove it, Hanako turned then, waved at them, snatched Koneko from her husband, and stopped to wait for Kei and Mikiko to catch up with them.

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