February 5, 1880
Kenshin saw Kaoru standing under the cherry tree. She was wearing only a white yukata and her black hair was loose, cascading in ebony torrents down her back. His heart leapt in his chest and he felt a smile play across his features as he watched her. Kaoru turned to him, smiled and held out her hand. As Kenshin walked toward her, he felt her ki, strong and spirited, as that of a kendo practitioner should be. As he approached her, he sensed a second ki, much stronger and much more spirited.
In confusion, he looked about but didn't see anyone else approaching them. Indeed the second ki was coming from inside of Kaoru! He came to her and took her hand in his own, kissing and nuzzling it. Kaoru ran her fingers through his fiery hair, her presence comforting him. Again, Kenshin felt the flash of strong ki from inside her. He went down on his knees and put his hands on her stomach. The ki flashed again and was now so strong, it knocked him over backwards.
"Oro!" Kenshin snapped awake, his heart pounding. He was amazed to see that his hands were on Kaoru's stomach and she was giving him the funniest look.
"Kenshin? Are you alright?" she asked, looking at him as if he had gone insane.
"Yes," he said softly, pulling his hands from her stomach.
What was going on here?
The couple fell asleep again and slept through the night. In the morning, Kenshin woke up and went out to start breakfast. As the miso heated up and the scent wafted into the bedroom, it brought Kaoru to wakefulness. Usually the scent of breakfast was a welcome one, but today it made Kaoru feel ill. She jumped up, threw open the door to the outside and ran to the outhouse where she disgorged the previous night's dinner.
As Kaoru emerged from the outhouse and headed back into their room, the world began spinning. As she felt her legs give out from under her, she summoned all her strength and called out for her husband.
"Kenshin?" she managed to call out as she collapsed.
Kaoru was only dimly aware of the gust of wind and the strong arms that held her, stopping her from hitting the floor. She could faintly hear her name being called. She tried to respond, but couldn't. She felt herself being moved around and laid out in the futon. She was then left alone. A few minutes later, Kaoru felt her head being propped up and warm liquid being offered. As she drank, she became more aware of things and was able to see better.
"Did I pass out?" she asked confusedly.
Kenshin nodded and helped Kaoru to sit up slowly, supporting her with his left hand on her back. As he ran his right hand through her hair, Kenshin looked at her with eyes full of worry. Kaoru's heart felt heavy, seeing the worry in her husband's eyes. She hated to be the cause of any distress for him and felt very silly for collapsing.
"How do you feel?" asked Kenshin.
"A little better. I don't know if I can stand up though," answered Kaoru.
"I'm taking you to the clinic," said Kenshin.
"I don't need to go to the clinic. I just had a dizzy spell," Kaoru responded.
"Having a dizzy spell and collapsing are not the same thing. I'm..." Kenshin's words were cut off as he again felt the powerful blast of ki from Kaoru's stomach.
Again he put his hand on her stomach and stared at it. There was something inside her, a life, an intelligence. Could it be?
"Kenshin!" said Kaoru, bopping him on the head with her fist when he didn't respond quickly enough.
"Oro?!" went Kenshin, startled at the touch.
"I really don't need to see the doctor," said Kaoru.
"Yes, you do. I need my suspicions confirmed," said Kenshin as he wrapped a heavy, wool blanket around Kaoru's shoulders, bundling her up like a baby before he lifted her into his arms.
"What suspicions?" asked Kaoru.
"That you may well be eating for two," said Kenshin as he slid the door open, stepped out into the virgin snow and took off for the Oguni Clinic at full speed.
Asakusa, Oguni Clinic
Kenshin sat in the waiting area while Oguni-sensei looked at Kaoru in the back room. He was 99% certain of what it was: Kaoru was carrying their child inside her! He was going to be the last thing he'd ever pictured himself being, a father. Just then, the door opened and Oguni-sensei stepped out. Kenshin rose and approached the doctor, carefully schooling his features to hide his nervousness.
"Step back in, Himura-kun. Your wife has some news for you," said Oguni-sensei, as he stepped out to leave them alone.
Kenshin approached Kaoru as she emerged from behind the privacy screen, wearing the clothes he'd retrieved for her from home while Oguni-sensei was looking at her. She looked at Kenshin and smiled at him.
"You were right. I'm eating for two," she said softly.
Kenshin approached her and laid his hands on her stomach. For a few moments, he didn't dare speak.
"How far along are you?" he asked in a husky voice.
"Oguni-sensei thinks I'm three months along and that the baby will come some time in late summer," answered Kaoru.
Kenshin nodded, smile breaking across his face and violet eyes lighting like rising suns. He continued to worship the new life Kaoru carried within her.
That night as they lay together in bed, Kenshin reflected on his impending fatherhood and what it meant. As always, when Kenshin thought, he started to worry. Would this baby be a boy or a girl? Would he/she be healthy? Would Kaoru survive the delivery? Would he be a good or bad father? Would his child grow up loving him or hating him? Would the child grow up to be a good person or a homicidal maniac? Would he eventually have to tell the child about his past as Hitokiri Battousai?
"Kenshin, you're worrying again," reprimanded Kaoru, sliding her hand onto his bare chest.
Kenshin snapped out of his reverie with a bit of a start and turned on his side, the light in his eyes quenched by the worrisome thoughts and his face solemn.
"What's going on in that red head of yours now?" asked Kaoru. "And don't you dare say 'nothing'."
What kind of father will I be? So many things could go wrong," mourned Kenshin.
"Kenshin you dummy. Only you can take something as wonderful as fatherhood and turn it into a worry fest. Stop worrying about what may be only and concentrate on what will be," upbraided Kaoru.
"But..." started Kenshin.
"No 'buts'. I know for a fact that you are going to be a great father. You're good with Yahiko, and my other young students love you as well. Please, let's just enjoy this moment and leave the future for then. And don't forget, we're raising this child together. I'll help you and you'll help me. I think between the two of us, we'll be able to pull this off," said Kaoru, tracing her finger over the cruciform scar.
Kaoru watched as relief dawned on Kenshin's face as he realized that she was indeed right. This wasn't something he had to face alone. He and Kaoru were partners in this new venture. Each would play an equally vital role in this child's upbringing. There would undoubtedly be hardships, but they would support each other and their child through them. And of course there were their good friends such as Yahiko, Tsubame, Tae-san, Oguni-sensei, Aoshi, Misao, Megumi and Sano, wherever he might be.
"Thank you, my Kaoru. I won't be afraid anymore," whispered Kenshin.
The next day, Kenshin went out shopping for food, leaving Kaoru alone at the dojo. Yahiko came over for his morning training. Kaoru decided to tell him the wonderful news.
"Before we start training, I have something to tell you," she said.
"What is it, crone?" snorted Yahiko, anxious to get into the warm training hall.
Swallowing the urge to whack him with a bokken, Kaoru began.
"In about six months, the Himura family will be increased by one," said Kaoru, holding up her finger.
Yahiko thought for a second, then his eyes lit.
"You mean you're..." he started.
Kaoru smiled and nodded.
"You got it," she said happily.
"Way to go, Kaoru. I knew you and Kenshin had it in you. I only hope the kid looks like him," said Yahiko, shouldering his shinai and heading into the dojo.
Kaoru's hormones kicked in, tears welled in her eyes and she launched herself at Yahiko, bokken first.
When Kenshin got back, he found Kaoru trying to revive Yahiko, who had a large lump sticking out of his head. He smiled and shook his head. No way a child growing up in this household would ever be normal.
The next day, winter weather hit Tokyo with a vengeance, bringing with it a great snowfall. The snow was softly and slowly falling from the sky, blanketing the earth in white. Because it was so cold, Yahiko had retreated into the dojo to do his training. He had just finished going through his kata when Kenshin entered the dojo and approached him.
"Yahiko, could I have a moment please?" he asked softly.
"Sure," said Yahiko, shouldering his shinai.
"You know that Kaoru is carrying our child now. The next few months are going to be a huge change for her. She will need all of our support. On that, I am asking that you behave like the man you always say you are, and show my wife the love and respect that I know you have in your heart," said Kenshin, looking the young man solemnly in the eye.
"You mean you don't want me to call her names anymore, eh?" asked Yahiko.
"OK. No more insults while she's pregnant," assented Yahiko.
"Promise between men?" Kenshin asked.
"Promise between men. You can count on me, Kenshin," said the Tokyo Samurai.
"Thank you," said Kenshin with a smile, giving Yahiko a pat on the shoulder.
"I WANT CHOCOLATE, DAIKON AND RAMUNE!!!" roared the voice of a very pregnant and very hungry Himura Kaoru.
"We still have some daikon, but we're out of chocolate and Ramune," explained Kenshin softly, trying to placate his emotional wife.
"WHY ARE WE OUT OF CHOCOLATE AND RAMUNE?!!! YOU JUST BOUGHT IT TWO DAYS AGO!!!!" screamed Kaoru.
"I know, but you ate half of it the first day and the other half the next day," said poor Kenshin.
"ARE YOU SAYING THIS IS MY FAULT?!!!!! WAAAAAAAH, YOU DON'T LOVE ME!!!!!!" cried Kaoru, bursting into tears.
"Now now, of course it's not your fault," said Kenshin, holding his hands up. "I'll go to Yokohama and get some more first thing."
"You better," snarled Kaoru, face still wet with tears.
With a sigh of exasperation, Kenshin tucked the Sakabatou into his belt and slipped on his sandals as he headed out. He didn't know how they were actually going to afford more chocolate, daikon and Ramune. Of the three, chocolate was the worst; imported foods were so expensive. But, if he didn't want to spend the next six months sleeping in his old room, he would have to indulge his wife's tastes and endure her mood swings.
Kenshin returned from Yokohama with the chocolate and Ramune in the buckets. He set it to keep cool in the well. Kenshin was tired and more than a little irritated with Kaoru, though he hid it well. It wasn't his fault her appetite was out of control, yet she blamed him, yelled at him and threatened to kick him out of their room if he didn't buy the exotic fare her pregnant stomach desired. He entered the house, stepping out of his sandals before stepping up from the genkan. Kenshin cast out his senses to locate his wife. She was in the main room. He went in and slid the door open quietly.
Kaoru had fallen asleep leaning against the wall while waiting for him. Kenshin's heart softened at the sight of her thus. He retreated to their bedroom and unfolded the futon, after which he returned to the main room. Moving slowly and carefully, Kenshin knelt down and scooped Kaoru up in his arms. She was a bit heavier than he was used to, but certainly nothing he couldn't carry. Kenshin carried her to their bedroom and laid her down on the futon, putting the blanket over her.
Quickly and silently, he undressed, slipped under the covers and pulled Kaoru into his arms. Irritation completely forgotten, Kenshin rested his chin on the crown of Kaoru's head. Yes, it was annoying to be yelled at. Yes, it was tiring to have to go to Yokohama every few days to restock on chocolate, but when he saw how vulnerable she was, he just couldn't remain annoyed.
A/N: Ramune is a carbonated lemonade that was first sold in Japan in 1876 and is still available today!
Kaoru was as big as a balloon. She couldn't see her feet when she looked down anymore. She could feel the baby moving and kicking inside her. The baby had a habit of kicking very hard right after she'd eaten, thus relieving her of her food. Because she was getting larger, Kenshin had to let out some of her kimono for her.
It was hard for Kaoru to maneuver without bumping into something. She couldn't stay on her feet for more than ten minutes without feeling tired. Kenshin, the perpetual worrier, wouldn't let her spar with the students in the training hall anymore. Kaoru was stuck watching from the sidelines while Yahiko taught the classes, as he was of age to begin taking on the duties of an instructor.
Kenshin stuck to Kaoru like glue, following her everywhere and waiting on her hand and foot. Her mood swings became more and more extreme. Kenshin often found himself with a lump welling up from his head when he tried to do something for her that she thought she should do for herself. Then when he was hesitant to help her do something else, she would explode at him for being lazy. The poor redhead just couldn't win either way.
During the day, Kenshin was plagued by Kaoru's mood swings. At night, he was plagued by nightmares.
"I'm so sorry, Himura-kun. We did everything we could, but we lost Kaoru and the baby," said Oguni-sensei sadly.
Kenshin was too stricken to even speak. He went through the door and beheld Kaoru lying on a bed covered in a white sheet, marking her as deceased. Tears fell from his eyes as he reached to pull the blanket back from Kaoru's face. Instead of her face, he saw a skull, staring up at him with dark, empty sockets. Kenshin jumped back and hit the wall.
Kenshin woke up in a cold sweat, gasping for breath. He turned immediately to his side and saw Kaoru sleeping peacefully beside him. Kenshin snuggled up beside her and closed his eyes, trying to erase the horrible tableau from his memory. Sleep was a long time coming.
Spring had sprung. The April showers had passed and now the May flowers were in their full beauty. The cherry trees were producing their beautiful pink petals, which fell to earth in a lustrous torrent. Kenshin and Kaoru sat on the engawa in the backyard, watching the pretty pink petals fall from their large tree in the corner. Kaoru loved that tree. It had been there before she was born and she had grown up playing under its branches. She was looking forward to their baby doing the same.
"Do you think we'll have a boy or a girl?" asked Kaoru suddenly.
"A girl," said Kenshin dreamily, permitting himself visions of a chibi Kaoru, dancing around the backyard in a pretty pink kimono with a large blue ribbon in her hair to match her pretty eyes.
"I hope it's a boy," said Kaoru, permitting herself visions of a chibi Kenshin with red hair and violet eyes just like his daddy's. She smiled at the thought of Chibi Kenshin wielding a lilliputian Sakabatou and couldn't help but laugh.
"What's so funny?" asked Kenshin, gazing at her out of the side of his eye.
"Oh, nothing," replied Kaoru as she snuggled up against him.
Privately, Kenshin dreaded the thought of having a son. If he had a son, the boy would naturally expect to follow in his footsteps and want to learn Hiten Mitsurugi, which he was determined to take to his grave with him. Boys were also known for being headstrong and disobedient. After all, he had been so to Hiko. Why would a son of his be any different?
A girl on the other hand, would be sweet, loving, patient, mild and someone he could teach how to cook, do laundry, tea ceremony and flower arranging. Yes, a pretty little girl who looked exactly like Kaoru would be a very nice addition to the household. Kenshin's lips curled up in a smile as he started thinking of possible names for the daughter he desired.
That night as they lay together in bed, Kenshin put his hand on Kaoru's stomach and felt the baby kicking. It was a good, strong kick.
"We have a night-owl," he said, laughter in his voice.
"Yeah. First thing we'll have to do is get him on a schedule," agreed Kaoru.
"Don't worry. I'll stay up with her if need be," said Kenshin.
"Kenshin, only I am equipped to feed a baby," said Kaoru, gesturing to her swollen breasts.
"And beautiful equipment it is," said Kenshin, massaging the engorged globes.
Kaoru rolled her eyes.
Kaoru and Kenshin sat on the bench watching as Yahiko and Yutaro (who had returned from Prussia the previous month) instructed the class of ten young students. Yutaro, though quite adept at the sword, was rather lax in training his five charges. He merely gave them basic instructions, then left them to their own devices. Yahiko on the other hand, was merciless in his drilling of the students in his charge, rather reminding Kenshin of his days with Hiko.
"YOU CALL THAT A DOWN SWING?! IF YOU WERE IN A REAL FIGHT, YOU'D BE DEAD!" he barked at an eight-year-old girl, who burst into tears.
"Nice one, Porcupine," said Yutaro. "Here now, little one. Don't listen to him. He's just a big idiot. Just put more strength into your down swing and you'll do fine."
"OK, sensei," the little girl with a return of confidence from Yutaro's kinder approach.
"Hey! Why don't you actually try teaching your own students instead of interfering with mine?" growled Yahiko, feeling his territory threatened.
"Students? Don't you mean slaves," said Yutaro, with that annoying rich-kid smirk that Yahiko longed to wipe off his face.
"It's called di-sci-pline, idiot," fumed Yahiko. "You could learn a thing or two from me and maybe your students would actually have a chance against mine!"
"Discipline's overrated, kinda like your teaching method," smiled Yutaro.
"You wanna have another duel?!" Yahiko flashed, steam rising from his head.
"Any time, shorty," said Yutaro. "Let's finish up with these kids for now."
"I can't wait to finish you up," growled Yahiko, turning back to his students.
To Yutaro's credit though, Yahiko didn't shout at his pupils again.
Kenshin winced in sympathy toward Yahiko's students. All too often, Yahiko reminded Kenshin of Hiko when the Master would bark out corrections at little Kenshin, call him scrawny and generally fling every insult in the book toward his tiny pupil. Of course Kenshin now understood that all of that abuse had been to toughen him up. Still, he never thought back on those days without a bit of a chill running up his spine.
"Yahiko is way too harsh," Kenshin said softly.
"And Yutaro's way too lax," said Kaoru.
'They're just like parents,' Kaoru thought to herself.
When her both her parents had been alive, Kaoru's mother was laxer with her and her father was stricter. As a little girl, she had thought he didn't love her, but her mother explained that his strictness was his way of showing love. After her mother died when she was eight, Koshijiro continued to be strict, but was more affectionate to his daughter and taught her to be strong through defensive swordsmanship.
'It's not good to be too strict, or like Yahiko, one can hurt a child. But it's also not good to be too lax like Yutaro, or the child won't respect you,' Kaoru continued her mental soliloquy.
Kaoru, Kenshin, Yahiko and Yutaro were eating out at the Akabeko as was their Friday night custom. Kaoru was drinking tea along with her beef hot pot. Just then, she felt the sudden urge to urinate. With a brief excusal, she jumped up and ran to the outhouse behind the restaurant. Finished, she returned and continued to eat. Ten minutes later found her heading out again.
This went on for the rest of the meal. Every ten minutes, Kaoru had to jump up and run to the outhouse. Yahiko and Yutaro exchanged amused glances, neither of them wanting to voice their amusement for fear of being on the receiving end of Kaoru's wrath.
After they returned to the dojo and turned in for the night, it continued. Every ten minutes, Kenshin would be brought back to wakefulness by Kaoru jumping up and running to the outhouse. When she returned the fifth time, he spoke up.
"Why don't you just keep a bucket in the room and..."
"Good night, Kenshin," said Kaoru acidically.
"Good night, dearest," whimpered Kenshin, rubbing the lump now growing out of the back of his head.
Everything in the pregnancy had been going well until a few days ago, when Kaoru started feeling very odd. When she experienced vaginal bleeding, Kenshin panicked and took her to Oguni-sensei, who confined her to strict bed rest at the clinic. Kaoru of course hated this, but there was no other choice.
Worried about his patient, Oguni-sensei contacted Megumi in Aizu to tell her what was going on. Upon hearing about the precarious pregnancy, Megumi left the clinic in her brother's care and went down to Tokyo to help look after Kaoru.
Kaoru looked up as Megumi entered the private room she'd been given. She didn't know if she could abide Megumi's presence for long. Although she and Megumi got along better than they used to, Kaoru still felt insecure around her, especially now that she was fat, sweaty and stuck in bed. Megumi was as thin and beautiful as ever.
"It's good to see you again, Megumi-san," Kaoru said softly.
"Good to see you too, Kaoru-chan," said Megumi, sitting down by the bed. "Don't worry. I promise to do everything I can for you and the baby."
"Thanks," said Kaoru, feeling somewhat better now.
This was Megumi-sensei speaking. She was here to care for Kaoru and her unborn, not to torment her or flirt with Kenshin.
Nights were the hardest on the couple. Kaoru hated sleeping apart from Kenshin. They didn't even have two full years as husband and wife, but to her it seemed they'd never been apart. She found she couldn't fall asleep right away. Back at the dojo, Kenshin was equally miserable, tossing and turning on the futon till exhaustion claimed him.
After the first three days, Kenshin was so pale and tragic-looking when he entered the clinic to visit Kaoru that Megumi practically yanked him into one of the back rooms, made him shrug off his kimono and examined him sharply, looking in his eyes, listening to his heart and checking blood pressure. She noticed ribs just beginning to protrude under the skin of his bare torso. Just like Kaoru, he wasn't eating or sleeping properly.
'These two can't even be apart for a few days without going to pieces. I can't have them like this when the baby's due any time,' she thought to herself as she removed the blood pressure cuff from around Kenshin's arm.
Megumi decided then and there to have Kenshin stay at the clinic with Kaoru so they could both get a decent night's sleep and stop being so miserable.
"Thank you, Megumi-dono," said Kenshin upon hearing the news.
"Only for you and Kaoru-chan," said Megumi.
Kaoru looked up from her bed when she heard the door swing open. In came Megumi and Oguni-sensei, pushing one of the other beds, followed by a sheepish-looking Kenshin, clad in a hospital robe. He smiled one of his silly "rurouni" smiles at her and lay down on the bed after Megumi and Oguni-sensei had positioned it next to her own.
"Kenshin?" asked Kaoru.
"Megumi-dono thought it best for both of us if I were admitted too," said Kenshin softly.
"Let me guess. You've been worrying yourself to death?" said Kaoru.
Kenshin looked sheepish again and nodded. Kaoru rolled her eyes for what seemed like the umpteen billionth time since they'd learned of her pregnancy.
'I wonder which one will need more care, the baby or Kenshin,' she thought in exasperation.
For the rest of the hospitalization, Kenshin and Kaoru slept in the same room in side-by-side beds. Kenshin didn't leave Kaoru's side, having left the dojo to Yahiko and Yutaro's tender mercies. Neither had any more trouble eating or falling asleep.
The big day
Kenshin and Yahiko were nervous wrecks. Both sat in the waiting area, wanting this nightmare to be over with. Kaoru had been in labor for the past six hours and things weren't going well because she wasn't dilating quickly enough. Kenshin's heart raced, all his nightmares coming back to haunt him. Though he wanted the baby, in his heart of hearts, he knew it would hurt far worse to lose Kaoru than the baby. This was something he would never share with a soul though.
The delivery room
"Push, Kaoru push!" said Megumi as she oversaw the delivery.
"What the hell do you think I'm doing?!" roared Kaoru.
"I know it hurts. Keep trying," said Megumi.
"Just get this kid outta me!" Kaoru screeched.
"You're doing fine," said Oguni-sensei as he held Kaoru's hand.
Kaoru cried out as another wave of pain went through her. She was finally starting to dilate after what seemed like an eternity. She pushed with all her might. From her vantage point, Megumi could see the crown of the baby's head starting to appear.
"Keep pushing. I see the head," she said.
Kaoru gritted her teeth and pushed some more. Inch by inch, the baby came forward. Finally after 30 minutes, the baby's head was all the way through. Something was wrong! The baby's skin wasn't the normal pink color, but was very pallid, bordering almost on blue. As the baby came farther out, Megumi saw why: The umbilical cord was wrapped around its neck, choking off the airway.
'Shit!' thought Megumi.
Retrieving a pair of sheers, she cut the umbilical cord from around the baby's neck as it continued to slide out. Megumi could tell immediately that the baby was in trouble. Because the cord had been wrapped around its neck, it wasn't able to breathe. Now that the cord was severed, it would die if it didn't get air quickly.
As soon as the baby was out, Megumi went to work, not wasting time with the pleasantries of announcing the gender or even cleaning it. She rubbed the baby's chest, trying to stimulate its little heart to beat and breathed into its mouth.
"Megumi-san, what's happening? Is the baby alright?" Kaoru asked weakly while Oguni-sensei tried to reassure her.
"Don't worry, Kaoru-chan. Megumi-kun is doing everything she can," he said.
'C'mon dammit. Live!' thought Megumi as she worked to resuscitate the still child.
Just as she was about to give up hope, the baby suddenly sucked in a breath and let out a howl that would wake the dead. Megumi was overjoyed and now began cleaning the baby up. The baby didn't stop its earsplitting howls till it was laid in its mother's arms.
"Here is your son, Kaoru," said Megumi as she laid the baby in Kaoru's arms.
Kaoru, relieved that her son had survived, burst into tears of joy. Megumi and Oguni-sensei exited the room to tell Kenshin that he was a father. The exhausted Kaoru looked down at the baby and could swear she already saw tiny tufts of coppery red hair on his head.
'He's perfect. He's alive and that's what counts. That he looks like Kenshin is just the icing on the cake,' she thought as she held the warm, squirming bundle close to her.
"It's alright now, little one. You're okay," she murmured to the babe.
At the same time as the baby was being delivered...
Out in the waiting room, Kenshin could stand no more. He jumped up and started for the door to demand to know what was going on with his wife and potential child. Yahiko jumped up and interposed himself between Kenshin and the door.
"Easy, Kenshin. Everything'll be okay," said the young man reassuringly.
"Then what's taking so long?" asked Kenshin, voice cracking.
"I don't know, but barging in there isn't gonna help anything. Megumi and Oguni-sensei know what they're doing," replied Yahiko, meeting Kenshin's flashing eyes squarely.
Just as Kenshin was trying to make up his mind whether to force his way past Yahiko or sit down and wait, the sound of an infant's wail filled the air. Yahiko spun around and looked at the door along with Kenshin. A minute later, the door swung open and a tired-looking Oguni-sensei stuck his head out.
"Congratulations, Himura-kun. You have a son. You can see him as soon as Megumi-kun cleans and dresses him," said Oguni-sensei.
'A son... I have a son!' Kenshin thought to himself.
"What of my wife?" was all he could articulate.
"She's fine, tired of course..." said Oguni-sensei.
"Of course. Thank you, Oguni-sensei," said Kenshin as he felt his legs give out under him.
Yahiko caught Kenshin and helped him to a chair. The young man fanned Kenshin off while Oguni-sensei brought the redhead water. Kenshin drank the water slowly and tried to get his mind back into focus. Kaoru was alive and he had a son.
'I thought I'd dread having a son, but now I don't care. As long as they're both healthy and alive, I don't care what the baby's gender is. There may be problems down the road, but as Kaoru said, I'll leave the future to itself and live in the present,' he thought.
"Are you alright, Himura-kun?" asked Oguni-sensei.
"Yes. I'm fine now. Thank you," said Kenshin, relieved that the room wasn't spinning anymore.
After what seemed like an eternity, the door opened again and a totally exhausted-looking Megumi stuck her head out. Kenshin looked up, violet eyes lit with anticipation.
"Ken-san, come meet your son," she said.
Kenshin stood up slowly, still a bit shaky but able to move. Megumi stepped out into the waiting area with Yahiko and Oguni-sensei to give the family their privacy. Kenshin nodded his thanks as he passed the lady doctor and closed the door behind him.
Kaoru looked up from the tiny, redhaired boy as she saw the form of her husband enter her field of vision.
"Looks who's here. It's Daddy," she said softly to the infant nestled in her arms.
Kenshin sat down on the stool by the bed and got his first look at his son. The baby's color was now a healthy shade of pink. Little tufts of red hair stuck up from the crown of his head and the sides, making him look like he had male-pattern baldness. His eyes were closed because he was sleeping.
"Are you alright?" asked Kenshin, looking into Kaoru's eyes.
"I'm fine, just as I said I'd be," said Kaoru, trying to reassure him. "It's time for you two to be introduced."
Kenshin reached out a trembling hand and felt how downy soft the little boy's hair was. The infant squirmed and snuggled deeper into Kaoru's embrace, not wanting to be disturbed from his sleep. Tears of joy spilled from Kenshin's eyes. Never had he imagined that he would see a little being with hair exactly like his.
"He's perfect," Kenshin whispered.
"Like his Daddy," said Kaoru.
Kenshin ducked his head to hide the smile.
"Want to hold him?" asked Kaoru.
"I don't know how. I don't want to break him," said Kenshin.
"He's a baby, not a vase," said Kaoru with mock annoyance in her voice as she carefully handed the infant over to Kenshin.
Kenshin's arms shook as he took his son for the first time. The baby's eyes opened, revealing two pools of sky blue, his inheritance from his mother. A second later, the eyes squeezed shut and the infant started crying.
"Kaoru!" yelped the frightened Kenshin.
"It's fine, Kenshin. He's just upset about being woken up," said Kaoru. "Just rock him and talk softly."
"What do I say?" asked Kenshin.
"He's a newborn. You can talk about the stock market and he won't care," said Kaoru.
"Hi there. I'm your father. This is my first time at this, so I'm a bit nervous. I promise to do my best for you and always be there for you and your mother, my son," Kenshin said softly as he cradled the baby.
As Kenshin continued to rock the baby, he felt more comfortable with the tiny creature in his arms, thus relaxing. As he relaxed, so did the baby. When the infant's cries ceased and he slipped back into sleep, Kenshin looked up at Kaoru as a relieved smile washed over his features.
"See?" she said softly.
Kenshin nodded and looked back down at the tiny boy nestled in his arms.
"What should we call him?" he asked softly.
"I'd like to name him after you since he looks so much like you," said Kaoru.
Kenshin shook his head vigorously.
"No. I don't want any child to bear my name," he said in a tone that would allow for no argument.
Kaoru sighed. Kenshin could be so unyieldingly stubborn about what she thought were the minutest things.
"OK, how about a compromise? The first kanji of your name with something else on the end," she offered.
"I can live with that," Kenshin agreed after a moment's thought.
"Since he'll be learning kendo rather than kenjutsu, why not call him Ken-ji, 'Sword Path?'" suggested Kaoru.
"Kenji... that sounds good," said Kenshin, looking down at the little boy. "Hello, Kenji."
As if in response, the baby sneezed without even waking up. Kenshin and Kaoru both laughed quietly.
After Kaoru and Kenji had fallen asleep, Kenshin left the room and was approached by Megumi, who wordlessly held out the baby's dried up umbilical cord which she had wrapped in a cloth and placed in a small wooden box.
With a smile of thanks, Kenshin took the heso no o to keep forever as his wish for Kaoru and Kenji to have a strong relationship as the boy grew.
'Ken-san, you will never know how close that cord came to ending your son's life rather than nourishing it,' Megumi thought somberly as she watched Kenshin walk off, holding the wooden box close to his heart. She and Kaoru had agreed it was best that Kenshin never know just how close he had come to losing his son.
During the week, Kaoru and Kenji had visitors every day including Tae, Tsubame, Maekawa-sensei, Shinichi and Yutaro. Tsubame loved holding Kenji in her arms. Kenji took to the young waitress right away and never fussed when she held him.
In keeping with custom, Kaoru and Kenshin didn't share the baby's name with anyone for the first week of his life. Much to their dismay, Yahiko and Tsubame fell into the habit of calling him Oro-chan since he looked so much like Kenshin.
Kaoru and Kenji were discharged with orders that Kaoru continue her bedrest for another week, plus another two weeks homebound before mother and child were permitted to set foot off the dojo grounds. Kaoru chafed at that order, but Kenshin assured both doctors that they would comply, even if it meant locking her in the bedroom (which he didn't say aloud in front of her).
After Kenshin put Kenji in the wooden cradle that Kaoru had slept in as an infant, he returned to the futon and joined Kaoru. After spending nearly three weeks in the hospital, it was wonderful to the couple to be in their own bed again. Kaoru was already asleep when he slid under the covers, so Kenshin just took her in his arms, kissed her forehead and closed his eyes.
The fog of sleep was pierced by the far-off sound of an infant's cry. Kenshin snapped awake and realized that he wasn't dreaming at all. Kenji was crying. Kaoru came awake too.
"Kenji?" she said sleepily.
"I'll get him. You go back to sleep," said Kenhsin, rising up and putting on a yukata.
Lantern in hand, Kenshin approached the wooden cradle where the infant lay, crying for something. Kenshin was rather frightened. Having never dealt with a baby before, he didn't know what to expect. He hoped nothing was wrong with Kenji.
Kneeling down, Kenshin set the lantern on the floor and lifted the wailing baby into his arms.
"Hey little guy, what's wrong? I wish you could talk to me," he murmured softly.
Kenshin felt Kenji's forehead; no fever. Kaoru had already nursed him before Kenshin had laid him in his cradle, so he couldn't be hungry again. That left only...
'Oh, goodness, please not that...' he thought hopefully, feeling the baby's diaper.
Kenshin grimaced as he laid the baby on the floor and retrieved what he would need.
When Kenshin had everything, he undressed Kenji and undid his diaper. Instantly, a yellow stream shot out and nearly hit Kenshin in the face. Kenshin smiled at the baby boy as he began cleaning him.
"You'll have to be faster than that if you want to hit me, Kenji," he said as he put a new diaper on the infant. "Alright, little one."
Kenshin lifted the baby and carefully laid him in the cradle. Kenji looked up at his daddy, the light from the lantern reflecting in his sharp blue eyes. Kenshin smiled at the baby and stroked his cheek with the back of his finger. Kenji flinched and wrinkled his little face. Smiling, Kenshin began rocking the cradle, using a slow and gentle motion until the baby's eyes fell shut. Picking everything up, Kenshin silently exited to the outside to wash his hands before returning to bed.
Kenshin's face turned green in stark contrast to his red hair as he held the soiled cloth diaper at arm's length before him to be washed. No one had told him it would look and smell this bad. It was all he could do not to disgorge the contents of his stomach right then and there as he plunged the offending garment into the tub and started scrubbing as hard as he could, the water quickly taking on a brownish hue. Soon, Kenshin had to empty the tub out and refill it with fresh water from the well. This was repeated many times as Kenshin washed diaper after diaper. He had never been so happy to be finished with the laundry before.
Kenshin answered a knock at the gate and was mystified when he received a small package from a courier. Kenshin went and sat on the engawa. The package was addressed to him and Kaoru with all kinds of foreign postage on it. He untied the string and tore off the paper. Opening the box, he pulled out a small stuffed rooster with brown feathers, a red comb and round, rather vacant-looking glass eyes. A piece of paper was tied to its neck by a string.
Kenshin's eyes widened when he saw whom the note was from.
Guess who? I'm on the East Coast of North America right now and found this little guy in a toy shop in Boston. He was hand-made by a real nice old lady who sold him to me half-price for doing some shit around the store for her. I don't know if you and Missy have had any kids yet, but if you have, could you give them this rooster here for me?
Take care and be safe,
"Sano..." Kenshin said.
Kenshin entered the living room where Kaoru was sitting on a cushion, book in one hand, baby in the other. Kaoru looked up and her eyes widened too when she saw the plush rooster Kenshin held in his hand.
"Guess who sent this," he said.
"Not a stretch," said Kaoru.
Kneeling down, Kenshin held the rooster out to Kenji. The baby reached out and clutched at it, immediately pulling the rooster to his mouth. Kenshin and Kaoru exchanged smiles as Kenji began gumming the toy.
Later that day, Yahiko stopped by for a visit. He smirked when he saw the rooster in Kenji's arms. Already the baby refused to part with it.
"Sanosuke?" he asked, pointing at the plush fowl.
Kenshin and Kaoru nodded.
"Thought so," said Yahiko.
November 10, 1880
Kenji's 100th day on earth
Kaoru and Kenshin could hardly believe their little son was already 100 days old. The first three months had flown by on the wings of the wind. Already Kenji looked so much different. He had a head full of coppery hair instead of just a few tufts and was now able to maintain eye contact. Kaoru dressed Kenji in a beautiful little forest green kimono that was a gift from Tae. The green of the kimono made the baby's copper hair shine like a new penny.
Kaoru looked up and saw Kenshin standing in the doorway, staring at her and Kenji with worry written all over his features. Today was the first time she and Kenji would be leaving home without him with them and Kenshin looked like a lost little puppy at the thought of not being by their side.
"Promise you'll be careful?" he asked mournfully.
"We'll come straight home after, I promise. Have the feast ready, OK?" said Kaoru, taking a lock of Kenshin's red tresses in her hand.
Kenshin nodded and tried to smile, but couldn't quite make it.
"We'll be fine," Kaoru whispered in his ear.
After Kaoru and Kenji were gone, Kenshin decided it would be best to busy himself with the preparations for that night's feast by means of distracting himself from worrying. Kaoru and Kenji would be perfectly fine away from him for a few hours. He couldn't shadow them all their lives after all.
Kenshin got into the kitchen and got to work preparing the food, which he had bought yesterday and had kept chilling in the well overnight. Soon Oguni-sensei, Tae, Yahiko and Tsubame arrived to wait for Kaoru and Kenji to return.
Tsubame entered the kitchen and found the harried redhead having a hard time with something that usually came so easily to him: cutting the vegetables for the soup. Instantly, she was by his side.
"Let me help you, Kenshin-san. You don't want to lose a finger," said Tsubame softly.
"Oro? Tsubame-dono, when did you get guys get here?" asked Kenshin, who had been so distracted by the idea of Kaoru and Kenji being out alone, he had never noticed the others' arrival.
"We've been here for a few minutes, Kenshin-san," said Tsubame, trying not to giggle at the look on the poor redhead's face.
"Thank you, Tsubame-dono," said Kenshin, handing her the cutting knife.
'I have to stop worrying like this. They'll be fine.'
Dressed in her finest blue kimono, Kaoru carried Kenji, who was bundled up in several layers of blankets, to the Shinto shrine for his hyakunichimairi ceremony.
At the shrine, the priest prayed over Kenji to ensure good health and long life for the red-haired child. Kaoru thanked the priest and then left the temple quickly to get back home where a worried Kenshin and their closest friends awaited them with a huge feast to celebrate Kenji's 100 days of life.
"I'm home!" Kaoru called out as she and Kenji came in after leaving her sandals outside.
"Welcome home," said Kenshin, overjoyed at seeing his wife and son home again.
If the others hadn't been there, he would have drawn them into a crushing embrace.
"I'm hungry. Let's eat," said Kaoru, upon sighting the huge feast laid out on the table and silently wishing their rooster-haired friend were there to share the meal with them, even though he probably would have eaten it all.
The first snows had come, bringing with them the bone-chilling winds that nipped at nose and toes and made one grateful for the hearth. For Kenshin, the snow as always brought bitter memories of his family and Tomoe. A great deal of the sting had disappeared from this time because he no longer had to face it alone as in his younger days, but to him this would be a time of sadness to his grave.
The sound of the wind howling outside kept Kenshin from sleep. He tossed and turned, but try as he might, he couldn't find the elusive slumber. He looked enviously at Kaoru who slept without a care in the world. The sound of Kenji's tiny voice alerted him. Reaching for the lantern and matches, he quickly lit it and walked over to the baby's cradle.
Setting down the lantern, Kenshin looked into the cradle to see a pair of huge, blue eyes staring up at him. Now that Kenji was older, he could actually focus his eyes on one thing instead of seeming to look through one. Kenji wasn't crying. He seemed to be having a bit of trouble sleeping too. Smiling to himself, Kenshin reached into the cradle and pulled the little boy out. Sitting back against the wall, Kenshin held the baby, carefully supporting his head and looked into the boy's eyes.
"You can't sleep either, huh?" he said softly. "I used to hate this time of year with all my heart."
He paused and thought for a second.
"It still hurts a bit, but not like it used to," he said softly. "As a child, I never got the chance to romp in the snow, build a snowman or have a snowball fight. When you're a little older, I want you to be able to do these things. I'll make certain that you have the happy childhood I never did. Does that sound good to you, Kenji?"
The baby cooed in response. Kenshin smiled and leaned in to plant a kiss on his son's forehead.
"Oro?" he yelped quietly as he felt a sharp yank.
Kenji's wee fingers had entwined themselves in Kenshin's hair and gave a good tug. Laughing softly, Kenshin gently extracted his hair from the baby's hands, which immediately made after it again.
"Kenji, is that the right thing to do to your own father?" asked Kenshin teasingly.
Kenji laughed again and if Kenshin didn't know any better, he thought he saw mischief in the baby's eyes.
'Can't be. He's only a baby,' he thought to himself.
Kenshin laid Kenji back in his cradle and rocked it gently until the little boy's eyes were sealed shut in sleep. He meant to just sit and watch the boy sleep for a few minutes, a pastime he found strangely soothing. He never noticed his eyelids getting heavier and heavier.
In the morning, Kaoru found Kenshin curled up next to the cradle, fast asleep.