July, 1881

Kamiya Dojo

It was a beautiful mid-summer day. Under the cherry tree in the Himura family's backyard, two-year-old Kenji was sitting watching his parents coaxing him to walk. Both of them had their hands out, gesturing to him. Kenji looked first at Daddy, then at Mommy. Kenji didn't really like Daddy very much. Daddy was just some idiot who spent the whole day doing housework and then stole Mommy's attention at the end of the day. Kenji decided he would walk to Mommy.

Holding onto the tree trunk for support, Kenji pulled himself to his feet. Gingerly, he let go of the tree and stood on shaky legs. Unlike the previous times he'd tried this, his legs bore his weight. Kenji started walking toward Mommy. Both parents continued to gesture for him.

"C'mon Kenji. Come to Daddy. That's a boy," said Kenshin, holding out his arms.

"Come to Mommy," called Kaoru, holding out her arms.

Kenji's eyes lit up when he saw Mommy's arms open. There was no place in the world he liked better than Mommy's arms. The little boy sped up just a bit, moving with more certainty with each step he took.

Kenji got to Kaoru's arms and wrapped his arms around her neck as she picked him up. Kaoru twirled around in a circle laughing with pride at her child's first steps.

Kenji laughed. He knew in his own way that Mommy was proud of him for standing and walking.

Kaoru looked over and saw the wistful expression on Kenshin's face. Much to the toddler's dismay, Mommy set him down on the ground.

"Walk to Daddy now," she encouraged.

Kenshin knelt down and held out his arms, hopeful that his son would come to him voluntarily. Kenji looked at his father, then wrinkled his face and turned to Kaoru, clutching at her kimono.

"Kenji, go to Daddy," Kaoru encouraged again.

Kenji gave his father a dirty look and clung to Kaoru's kimono.

"That's not nice. Go hug Daddy," ordered Kaoru.

Kenji stuck out his tongue at his dad, then broke away from Kaoru's kimono and tottered to the other side of the backyard to tease a stray cat that had just wandered in under the fence. Kenshin lowered his arms and stood up.

"It's alright, Kaoru. Let's not force him," he said with a sad smile.

Kaoru frowned. Though Kenshin was smiling, she could see the hurt in his eyes. She walked over to him and gently touched his left cheek, offering a smile.

"Don't worry. He'll warm up to you one of these days. Who wouldn't?" she said.

Kenshin's smile reached his eyes this time as he returned the gesture of affection. Both turned and watched their little boy, who was now having fun chasing the poor cat around the backyard.

Kenshin hoped "one of these days" would come sooner rather than later.