Almost from the time he could crawl across the floor, Kenji wanted nothing to do with his father. Day after day, Kaoru would watch sadly as Kenji continued to reject his father's affections. The toddler wouldn't allow Kenshin to pick him up, feed him, or even attempt to play with him. If Kenshin came too near, Kenji would throw his toys at him or let out a scream so loud, it could be heard in Shanghai. Once Kenji learned to walk, he would flee at his father's approach.
Kaoru could never understand why this was so. Kenshin was a good father. Even at Kenji's naughtiest, Kenshin never raised his voice to the boy and certainly never struck him. Kaoru herself wanted to box Kenji's ears once or twice when he was a bit too mean to Kenshin.
Kenji generally behaved himself somewhat better around his father in Kaoru's presence because he knew Kaoru would punish him if he acted up. However, some days there was just no way to deal with the boy.
From the moment Kenji woke up on a cloudy morning, it was destined to be one of those days. The toddler was fit to be tied as Kaoru practically wrestled him out of his yukata. He jumped away when she approached him with his little loin cloth and sky-blue kimono. What was supposed to be a routine morning ritual turned into a game of tag as Kaoru chased and attempted to corner the naked toddler.
Just when Kaoru thought she had Kenji cornered, the toddler suddenly feinted to his right and dodged out from under her left arm and out through the fusuma, which Kaoru had errantly left open.
Free of his constricting clothes, room and mother, a giggling Kenji streaked his way down the hall toward the dining area. Just as he was about to make it to the door, Kenji found himself lifted from the floor and into the arms of his least favorite person.
"Oh, no you don't," smiled Kenshin, snatching up the streaking toddler before he could make it out of the hallway.
"Noooooooooo!!!! Pumme dooooooown!!!!!!" screamed Kenji, reflexively reaching for Kenshn's fringes to yank them.
With practiced ease, Kenshin flipped the boy so that he was able to tuck him under his arm and immobilize the child's arms.
As this was happening, Kaoru came rushing out and found them thus.
"Thanks, Kenshin," she said as she took the now screaming toddler out of his father's arms.
"Puuuummeeee doooooooooooown!!!!!!!" howled Kenji.
"I'll put you down once you're dressed and ready to behave like a nice boy!" scolded Kaoru, carrying the howling child back to his room.
In the room, Kaoru was forced to resort to holding Kenji down and forcing his legs into his little loin cloth and his arms into his kimono sleeves. The onerous task completed, Kaoru grabbed Kenji by the shoulders and forced the child to face her.
"Now, are you going to be a nice boy and eat at the table, or do you want to eat in your room?" she questioned firmly.
Realizing his mother had won this round, Kenji gave up his struggles and lowered his head.
"Table," he said softly.
"OK," said Kaoru, taking Kenji's hand and leading him out to the dining area where Kenshin had finished setting out the miso, rice and fish for breakfast.
Kaoru and Kenji sat down on their respective cushions as Kenshin brought out the last of the food. Upon laying eyes on the jerk who had thwarted his escape attempt, Kenji's anger boiled back up.
"No! No Daddy!" he cried as the Kenshin sat down to eat.
Kaoru saw the light fade from Kenshin's eyes as he lowered his head to avoid the toddler's glare.
"Kenji, that's not nice. The whole family eats here and that includes Daddy," said Kaoru firmly.
"NO!" shouted the toddler, picking up a large chunk of his fish and chucking it at Kenshin's head.
"Oro..." responded Kenshin when it hit him, never looking up.
"Alright, Kenji, looks like you're in your room after all," said Kaoru, picking up the toddler.
"NOOOOOOOOO!" cried Kenji as Kaoru carried him back to his room.
Kenshin sat immobile, blinking back the tears in his eyes. He didn't want anyone to know that his son's continued rejection could make him cry. Kaoru knew, though she was good enough not to bring it up. He stared down at his bowl of cooling miso as Kaoru returned and carried Kenji's tray of food back to the little boy's room. He sighed inwardly when he heard Kaoru's harsh voice instructing the wailing toddler that he was to stay in his room until she came to let him out. He finally looked up when she returned and sat down.
"Alright, let's eat," Kaoru said softly.
Kenshin nodded as they mumbled the blessing and dug in, though all the spirit was gone from the meal, Kenji’s ululations easily heard from behind the closed screen.
Kenshin crouched outside, washing the dishes in the wooden basin. As he absently scrubbed them, his violet eyes kept trailing over to the room where Kenji was "imprisoned" for his outburst. Although Kenji had been naughty today, Kenshin couldn't help but blame himself for the little boy being removed from the table.
'I should have known he would be really unhappy with me for having caught him. What was I supposed to do though? I couldn't just let him run around naked!' Kenshin thought miserably.
After he had finished scrubbing and drying the last dish, Kenshin stacked them and carried them back into the kitchen to put them away. As Kenshin began putting the dishes in the cupboards, his eyes wandered over to the pantry in whose top shelf a delicious plate of mochi cakes he had made yesterday reposed, covered by a cloth to keep flies off of it.
'I probably shouldn't. Kaoru would kill me if she found out. But maybe if I just smooth things over a bit,' Kenshin thought.
Kenshin took a fresh plate and went into the pantry. There on the top shelf, out of the reach of wee hands, was the plate. Kenshin removed the cloth and put six cakes on the plate. After replacing the cloth, Kenshin left the pantry, closing the door behind him.
Kenshin approached the door to Kenji's room with much trepidation in his heart. Would he be greeted by a spin-top or wooden block to the head when he opened the door? Cautiously, he slid the fusuma open and peeked inside. Kenshin's heart softened at the sight.
Kenji was curled up on his futon with Sano the rooster tucked in his arms. His little face was flushed from crying. With his old hitokiri stealth, Kenshin stole into the room, set the mochi cakes down by Kenji's futon and made a beeline for the door.
Just as he was about to slid the door shut, Kenshin heard movement behind him. He turned and saw Kenji sitting up in the futon, regarding the mochi cakes whose smell had awakened him. The boy then turned to Kenshin with questioning blue eyes.
"May I eat with you at midday dinner?" Kenshin asked in his softest voice.
Kenji hesitated for a second, then nodded his consent before tearing into the cakes. Kenshin sighed and left the room. At least he had been able to call a truce with his son, for now.
Someday, hopefully, the truce could give way to something more.