"Soon now." I murmured to myself as I heard the distant train whistle from down at the Tokyo station. I was sitting alone at a kotatsu table in the empty house, enjoying the breeze from the gardens as I quietly sipped my tea. Hitomi and Kenshin had left just a little while ago to have their own chat and Keitaro had gone early, as he did every morning, to do his meditation at the shrine. However, this day I had asked him if he would mind dropping by Kaoru's dojo to help out for awhile this afternoon. He never got in the way, but it wasn't his attention that I was thinking about holding on to. Better if I were alone. It was rare these days that I was the only one home, but today I welcomed the silence to sit calmly and collect my thoughts. My task had to be done for Hitomi and Daisuke's sake, but that did not make it any easier. Maybe it made it harder. I knew that I would do what I always did and say what I had to immediately to get it out of the way. I had found that was usually the easiest way for both myself and whomever I was talking to and it accomplished things much faster than beating around the bush or playing guessing games.
I glanced at the clock. Just twenty minutes had passed since I had heard the whistle. Knowing the boy and his curiosity, he would make his entrance any moment with all the subtlety of an enthusiastic puppy. I smiled indulgently to myself and took another sip of my tea. Hitomi had chosen a very appropriate nickname for him.
As if on cue, I heard our heavy main gate bang closed and the sound of quickly moving footsteps coming around the side of the house. I gingerly set my tea down before getting to my feet and brushing off my dark blue hakama pants. Tossing my braid over my shoulder, I walked through the open rice screen doors onto the outside walkway just as he came shambling around the corner of the house. I was unable to cover a smile as his eyes settled on me and he did his very best to wave, despite the fact that both of his hands were full. The very small traveling case undoubtedly held what most people would call practical things - like clothes. The contents of the larger one were made obvious by the square shapes pushing against the brown fabric. The boy had only come to visit us here in Tokyo a few times before, but he had brought what I called his library every time. I wondered if he worried that they would not be there when he returned, and so, to be safe, he just brought them with him. Probably not a bad idea, considering his father's general attitude about him and his affiliation with us. He made his way across the garden towards me and I marveled for about the 20th time that a son could be so unlike his father. Oh, the resemblance was there, but that was all. Instead of a cold, merciless stare, those yellow eyes danced with pleasure at seeing me again. His father and I did not like each other, but I believed it was impossible not to be fond of Daisuke Fujita - provided that you were not a Fujita yourself, apparently.
I stepped lightly down from the walkway as he came up to it and smiled up at him. "Hello, Daisuke." I said, folding my hands in front of me and inclining my head slightly.
He dropped his bags and bowed to me, "Hello, Lady Himura! Sorry, for barging in, but -"
"But, I said you could, so there is no need to apologize for it. And, I know I've told you that simply calling me Yuki is fine. I'm not crazy about formalities. They make me sound like more than I am."
"Oh! Sure, sorry, La.. er, Yuki-san." He replied, fidgeting a bit. He was wearing his usual broad grin, but I had lived more than long enough with someone adept at hiding what he was really feeling to notice that something was amiss with the boy. I was certain that I knew what it was.
Making my smile even warmer to try to ease his discomfort, I asked, "So, how was your train ride here?"
"Great! Except, I don't think that they consider that some of us just might have longer legs than average! They really need to put more room between the seats. I feel like I've been folded up like a rice screen!" He replied, making a face.
"It looks like you survived."
"Barely." He moaned theatrically before brightening, "But, it was worth it if it means being a member of what Hitomi calls the Kenshingumi for a few days. Hey, where is Hitomi?"
I had to chuckle. He was almost as obvious about his feelings as my daughter was - and about as unaware of it as well. "She is out with her father right now. They're discussing something."
His smile faded, "Oh… I guess the train was early."
I shook my head, "No, it was right on time."
He blinked, "Oh, okay. Why did you send for me? Not that I mind! I would much rather be here than home. But…" He paused and I was certain of a distressed look flickering across his usually happy-go-lucky features. "I thought my father was going to take the house down when he found out that I was coming here again. Especially when he read the letter Sir Himura wrote specifically inviting me."
"He had no right to read your letter." I replied, narrowing my eyes. "You're a grown man, not a child."
He shrugged, "You try telling him that and he'd probably laugh in your face."
I sighed. He was right, of course. There was no reasoning with that damned wolf. I doubted even his wife or Moriko would be able to, particularly when it came to this matter. "Well, at least you were still able to come."
He rubbed the back of his head and looked at me guiltily, "That's because I snuck out. He forbid me to come and I'm probably really in for it when I get back. I don't care, it's still worth it to be here! Besides, I just don't understand why he has such a big problem with me coming here! He usually doesn't care what I do since I'm such a big disappointment. Geez, he acts like it was something personal or something."
I was surprised to see him kick at the dirt with one dusty zori sandal. Daisuke usually let everything roll off his back and kept smiling, even his dealings with his impossible family. He really must have had it out with Saitoh. Yes, it was most definitely far past time for the conversation we were going to have this afternoon. I took a breath and said quietly, "It is something personal, Daisuke. In fact, that's why Kenshin and I decided to ask you here. We think you need to hear the truth about something that will make your father's attitude crystal clear." I reached down and picked up the smaller of his two bags from where it had been deposited, "Come, let's put your things in the guest house and then we'll go for a walk to discuss these things. I suspect your rice screen legs would appreciate it!" I said wryly.
"Oh! I can get that, Yuki-san. Really, I can." He insisted and tried to take the bag out of my hand.
I snatched it away, "No, I will. You're a guest and I'm carrying it."
The grin returned to his face, "You are most definitely Hitomi's mother!"
I laughed, "Yes, there's never been any doubt of that from anyone." Then I began walking, leading the way around back to where the guest house was.
He trotted a few steps to catch up and said, "I was just joking about it being personal, you know."
"I wasn't." I answered smoothly.
He blinked at me, "You're serious. Dad really has a reason for being more difficult than usual about this? How about that, miracles do happen."
"I didn't say it was a good reason, though I know he considers it to be of the utmost importance. He's held onto it much longer than a normal person would." I replied as we stepped onto the rough-hewn stepping stone path leading the to the small house. "I won't call him names to your face, but any you have in mind he probably deserves." I finished dryly.
"Yep, that's Dad. He never lets anything go." Daisuke answered as we stopped in front of the two-room building.
"No, he doesn't…" I murmured. Then I shook myself when I saw his expression and forced my smile to return, "Now, go on inside and settle your things before we go." I said as I pulled open the shoji door with my free hand.
He hesitated for a long moment before looking at me and saying something completely unexpected, "Yuki-san, would you mind horribly if I hugged you?"
I blinked in surprise and my warm expression grew broader, "Well, of course I wouldn't. You're a.. good friend of Hitomi's, after all." I said. I wasn't really an openly affectionate person, but I had gotten used to it over the years I had spent surrounded by the most loving family - and extended family imaginable. I also had the feeling that this boy badly needed it. After all, when Saitoh was one's father, I imagined that one would collect as many outside hugs as one could possibly get!
"Thanks!" He answered, and, setting the bag of books down, he gave me a quick hug exactly like the ones Keitaro always gave me. He backed away sheepishly, "It's just so nice to have someone to have a real conversation with again." Then he quickly ducked inside the cottage.
I allowed myself a pleased smile as I waited for him. A wolfling he may be, but I didn't think my daughter could have chosen a nicer young man to become attached to. I looked up at the clear blue spring sky and prayed silently that today's revelations would not change the way I knew that they felt.
Fifteen minutes later we were walking side by side down the cherry blossom shaded lane towards the river road. Daisuke was chatting happily about all sorts of things and I was doing my very best to understand and be interested. Normally, I wouldn't have had to act, but today I was preoccupied with the task at hand, so much so that I couldn't even enjoy the pink blossoms floating down all around us. Finally, we crossed a bridge and turned onto the quiet, tranquil little road that wound around the city of Tokyo beside the river. It was Kenshin's favorite place to walk and my feet led me there almost without having to think about it. It was a good place to discuss complicated matters, the peaceful atmosphere making such conversations easier. I knew that Kenshin and Hitomi had gone to the left to have their talk, so I steered Daisuke to the right. He continued to chat about the book he was currently reading, pretty well oblivious to the surroundings. I reached out and laid a hand lightly on his arm to silence him. "It sounds fascinating, Daisuke, really. It makes me almost consider learning English! But, now to matters at hand."
He gave a start, "Oh! My big mouth ran away with me again! Really, all you have to do is whack me when I start in like that and I promise that I'll shut up."
"Now, why on earth would I hit you? I meant what I said, it is interesting. You'll have to tell me the rest some time. But, now, we have to discuss what Kenshin and I invited you here to hear about."
He nodded solemnly and replied, "Go, ahead, Yuki-san. I'm all ears!"
I blinked at him in consternation and he waved his hand, "Oh, just a silly Western expression. It means I'm listening."
"Oh.. good!" I replied slowly and took a deep breath. This wasn't going to be easy for either of us. "Daisuke, I don't like taking the long way around in conversations, so I'm going to begin without preamble. Do you know who your father really is and what he once was?"
He jumped and faltered in his sauntering stride to whip his head around and gape at me, "You know about that?!" he finally exclaimed, "I thought it was some huge secret."
I couldn't suppress a chuckle, "It is now. I know because I knew your father when he went by no other name and was the leader of the 3rd squad of the Shinsengumi. Actually, I've always had trouble remembering his Fujita name since I knew him by his real name for so long. I still call him that when there is no one to hear." I paused, "Daisuke, dear, your mouth is hanging open."
He closed it with a snap, but still continued to stare at me incredulously. I could only imagine the hundreds of questions that were racing through his sharp mind like lightening. I wondered whether more of them were about his father, or about me and my connections with him. Finally, he fairly answered my question when he blurted out, "But, he's never even mentioned you or your husband!"
"He wouldn't have. I've seen little of him in the years since you were born and the encounters we did have were not pleasant ones for either of us. Certainly nothing he would want to mention at home. We don't get on, to put it nicely."
"I thought so!" He exclaimed. "Hitomi always skirted the topic. I figured it was because you didn't like my father. I don't blame you if he has treated you half as badly as I've seen him treat some people!"
"There is much more to it than that." I said quietly. "A very long story of unsettled duels, honor, and revenge. One day, I am sure you will hear the whole tale, but I am only going to tell you the core of it today. Daisuke, if you know who your father once was, than you undoubtedly know who his greatest rival was during that time of his life. I don't know if he would have told you himself, but I know enough of you to know that as soon as you learned the truth, you read every little bit of information you could find on the subject! Am I right?"
He nodded, "Sure. Everyone knows that Dad's rival was the legendary Hitokiri Battousai. The way the books tell the story, it sounds like some almighty duel that spanned years and was never settled. I asked Dad if that was true, and he got really annoyed. He said it would have been settled in his favor if the Battousai had not died before it could be. Then he ordered me to never mention it again or he'd take my books away. Dad doesn't make idle threats!"
I rolled my eyes inwardly. I had been telling Saitoh for years that the Battousai was dead and getting called a 'moron' for it. Leave to someone with his personality to only agree with my words when it meant saving his own pride in front of his family. Slowly, I shook my head, "No. The Battousai did not die. The name and occupation were left behind many, many years ago, but the person himself is still very much alive." I paused and he looked over at me with barely constrained curiosity. I met his gaze and said evenly, "Kenshin is the man who was once known as Battousai the Manslayer."
Daisuke froze on the road beside me, almost in mid-step, his mouth hanging open and his head slowly moving side to side in silent denial. Finally, he said in a strangled voice, "You're joking."
"No, Daisuke. I would not joke about something so serious." I replied gently, folding my hands inside my sleeves.
"He just… couldn't be!" He muttered hoarsely, still shaking his head.
"He's not anymore. That part of him has been gone for many years. But once, he most certainly was. I was there, I saw it with my own eyes. Not only was I there, but I have spent years trying to help him overcome the suffering and guilt it left him with."
"Oh, geez… Oh, god..." He muttered as his initial shock faded and things began to fall into place inside his head. He sat down hard on the dusty road, his arms out behind him to support his body.
I quickly squatted beside him and put one hand on his shoulder, "Are you all right? I know that it is a huge shock for you to hear this. More for you than for most people that have learned this truth."
He nodded dumbly, "Yeah… I just can't believe that someone so kind was once the most feared man in all of Japan. The man even my father could never defeat. Shit! No wonder Dad has been having fits about me spending time with Hitomi and your family."
I could tell the boy was shaken just by the fact that he made no effort to curb his language in front of me. I did not care, being free-tongued myself, but he had learned the hard way about being disrespectful towards his elders. I balanced on the pads of my feet beside him and answered, "Kenshin was always that kind, which is why it almost destroyed him. People have built him up to be some sort of merciless monster; even the books do it. He was nothing of the sort. He was only a boy who got trapped in a very bad situation. Just fifteen."
"Fifteen." Daisuke echoed and whistled, " Wow, years younger than I am now. Guess I shouldn't believe everything I read in books."
"No, you shouldn't." I said. I knew that he took things in stride and I could already see him beginning to recover, but I wanted to help him along. My mouth quirked a bit and I added, "Personally though, I would love to hear your father's reactions to your friendship with Hitomi and us! Anything that disturbs the Wol… your father is amusing to me."
He turned his head to look at me, gold eyes glinting in the sunlight, "But, Yuki-san, the Revolution ended over thirty years ago! Damn, only my father could hold a grudge for that long against a man like Sir Himura."
I straightened up from my squatting position and then offered him my hand. Pulling him to his feet I replied, "Like I said, I never said his reason was a good one!" I began to walk again. As he fell back into step beside me, I continued, "I don't think your father could ever get over the fact that he could not defeat Kenshin in a duel. They fought viciously in Kyoto during the Revolution, but each duel ended in a draw. After the war ended, ten years passed without us hearing so much as a whisper of his existence. We thought that perhaps your father had given up his obsession with being the strongest, but we were very wrong. He reappeared one dark night, sent by the government to test Kenshin's skills. However, as soon as he was back in a room with his rival, his orders were forgotten. All he cared about was settling their duel from ten years ago. It was terrible. He beat Kenshin into reverting back into his old self - the Battousai of the Revolution. It was terrifying for all of us to watch. They were like two rabid beasts hell bent on ripping each other apart. They surely would have killed each other that night had government officials not broken them up. I would have been killed as well, since I would not have stood by much longer and allowed it to continue. All our lives were saved, but it left the duel once again at a draw. In the months following, Kenshin changed and the last remnants of the Battousai that your father had been able to spur into action before disappeared completely. I have not seen that side of him from that day to this, thank Buddha. Your father was not so pleased. Once, Kenshin did offer to settle things with him, he felt that he owed him that much - for whatever reason. But, your dad declined and stalked out of our lives for many years. His unsettled duel was with the Hitokiri Battousai, not a peaceful man named Kenshin Himura. To his credit, he had honor enough not to settle it anyhow. But, I think it made him bitter to know that he had missed his chance and that the duel would never be settled. A blemish on that otherwise 'perfect record'. If he could just let it go, we would all be much better off." I looked over at Daisuke, who had listened to my long speech in complete silence, his eyes round as saucers, "But, he will not. And, perhaps we haven't been able to either since our discomfort was obviously much more plain that either Kenshin or I realized."
"And here I thought that it was just something wrong with me." Daisuke said, trying to laugh and failing. He was more subdued than I had ever seen him and I hoped once again that these truths were not going to destroy everything.
"Oh, no, Daisuke, it is not you at all!" I said quickly and sincerely, laying my hand on his arm, "Perhaps at first, we were a little worried. But, after we had known you for just a few minutes, we knew that you were nothing like your father. Kenshin thinks you're a wonderful young man, as well. I apologize if we made you feel at all uncomfortable. You are always welcome in our home." I paused and turned to face him, "After all, we know how Hitomi and you feel about each other."
"But, we weren't going to tell anyone about that!" He exclaimed, and then turned a bright crimson color as he realized what he had just blurted, "Oh, I mean, uh…"
Really, this was going to have to be the last shock of the day or I might kill the boy. My daughter would never forgive me. I held up my hand to stop his babbling, "Keeping anything from someone as perceptive as my husband is one hell of a feat, Daisuke. Hitomi cannot do it at all, her face is easier to read than a book, as I'm sure you know." I was relieved to see a smile spread across his face at the thought of her. I finished, "We knew possibly before you two did."
Suddenly, the tension broke and he laughed, rubbing the back of his head, "Yeah, considering how long we've known each other and insisted that we were 'just friends', I can see that! You know, I've loved her since the day I met her, I was just too scared of her to say so!"
"And too good at putting your foot in your mouth as well, right?" I said, nudging him and his blush returned.
"My dad's right, I am a moron. I shouldn't have said that to you - you're her mother! You're just too easy to talk to, that's what it is. My mouth runs away from me more than usual when no one tells me to shut up."
"Oh, I'll have to work on that, I guess. Lucky I'm also easy-going." I said with a wink before growing serious, "We just thought that the two of you should know the whole truth before you make any further decisions." We began walking again and I added, "Hitomi's father is telling her the truth about your dad right now. They walked the other way on this same road. Each of you was missing almost the same piece of the puzzle without even knowing it. Now that you have it, it will be up to you to decide what to do with it."
He nodded, but didn't reply. After a moment, I said, "I have only two things to ask, Daisuke."
"Please don't treat Kenshin any differently than you did before today. It would upset him, though he would never show it. Also, tell no one the truth about him. I'm not really worried, you keep your father's secret after all and it is much more dangerous. I'm just telling you for my own peace of mind."
He raised one hand, "On my honor as a Fujita. Wait, I take that back, it probably isn't worth much to you! How about I just give you my word?"
I beamed, "That's plenty, Daisuke. We trust you, or we would not have told you." He gave me that adoring look that made me feel extremely uncomfortable and I waved it away, "Now, don't look at me that way, you deserve our trust!"
He shrugged, "If you think so, Yuki-san!"
We walked in silence for a moment, proof that all I had said had really overwhelmed the young man beside me. He usually talked all the time. "Does Hitomi know that I was coming?" He finally asked.
I nodded, "Yes, and I think she's going to be very happy to see you." I smiled brightly up at him.
His eyes glinted as the sun fell on them. He turned his gaze downwards. "Are you sure? After all, now she knows that my dad made some sort of sick hobby out of hunting her dad!"
"Hitomi is practical like me - it's in the past. She'll just be relieved that we don't have anything against you. She was worried."
"She was?!" He asked in an amazed tone.
"Yes, she was. Don't look so surprised, silly!" I said with a chuckle. We had turned around a ways back and the bridge would be in sight any moment. I knew that Hitomi and Kenshin would be waiting there for us. I put one hand on his shoulder, "One more thing, Daisuke." I said.
He stopped, and turned to look down at me, "Oh no, I don't think I can take any more shocks today, Yuki-san!"
I chortled, "This is a good thing, I promise." Squeezing his shoulder lightly, I said, "I just want you to know that both Kenshin and I would be very proud to have you for a son-in-law."
He blinked at me before his face broke into the biggest grin I had yet seen on him, "You mean that?"
"Of course I do, or I would not have said it."
He hesitated and then said, "Thank you, for everything. You guys are much better to me than I deserve."
"Nonsense. That's your father talking and I think we've established just how much his opinion can be worth." I said before pointing up ahead. "Ah, look, there's Hitomi and her father now." I paused to fondly watch the identical copper-colored heads coming towards us. Suddenly, the much taller one broke into a run and I grinned, "And, look at that, she's running to meet you. I told you not to worry. Now, why don't you run on ahead yourself and reassure her that your feelings have not changed either. She won't come right out and say it, but I'm sure she's as worried as you."
I watched as he hurried on ahead of me and met Hitomi half way, right in front of the bridge over the river. She hugged him enthusiastically and he swung her around in his own excitement. I shivered and hugged myself happily as a feeling of nostalgic déjà vu swept over me. Up ahead, the two linked their hands and began walking across the bridge having a very animated conversation. In a minute more, I was at the bridge myself and my own love of my life was waiting for me. Kenshin smiled, put his arm around my waist and kissed my cheek. "I don't have to ask whether your conversation went as well as mine did, that I don't."
I returned his expression, and linked my arms around his torso as we turned to watch the younger generation crossing the bridge in front of us, "No, I think with a little negotiation with the Wolf, we'll have a happily ever after on our hands."
"That we will." Kenshin replied. We watched a moment longer before turning and walking back down the river road to spend the rest of the beautiful spring day in just each other's company and give Hitomi and Daisuke their privacy.