A/N: Back in the earliest days of photography, cameras had painfully long exposure times, during which the subject had to remain stock still or the picture would be blurred and ruined.
The Himura family made their way into the building where the itinerant photographer had set up his makeshift studio. Today only, he would be taking photographs by appointment. Having always wanted a family photo, Kaoru had persuaded Kenshin to make the appointment a week in advance. And as fate would have it, their darling toddler had picked today of all days to be fractious.
The little boy squirmed around and mewled unhappily in his mother's arms as they made their way to the studio. It was a bitterly cold November day with wind blowing from the north, making it feel more like a December day. Even wrapped in their warmest clothes, all three Himuras felt the effect of that icy wind. Kenji whimpered again, burying his face in Mommy's hanten.
Kenshin and Kaoru were thankful when they stepped into the studio from out of the cold. Though the building wasn't that warm, the walls at least cut off the wind. The photographer, a Westerner, came out from the back room.
"Go stand over there," he instructed in imperfect Japanese, indicating to the spot. "Once I squeeze the bulb, you have to hold perfectly still or the picture will be ruined."
"Understood. Thank you," said Kenshin with a bright smile as he ushered his wife and child to the indicated area.
Kenshin and Kaoru stood side by side, Kaoru on the left of the portrait, Kenshin on the right. In Kaoru's arms, Kenji's mewling had now grown to whinging and was fast on its way to a full blown tantrum.
"Ready. Shoot," said the photographer as he opened the lens.
"No, Kenji. Just a few more minutes," soothed Kaoru, bouncing the toddler slightly in her arms.
She could already tell it was not to be as Kenji's face contorted and his cheeks turned red.
"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!" the copper-haired baby let out a shriek so loud that Kaoru was sure it could be heard from mainland China.
"Kenji, Kenji. It's alright," Kenshin reached over to the toddler to try to soothe him.
Seeing his least favorite person reaching for him only worsened Kenji's already foul demeanor. Tiny hands suddenly shot out and latched into crimson locks and yanked hard.
"Oro!" yelped Kenshin as he struggled to extract himself from Kenji's grip without hurting the baby.
Kenshin, swearing his hair was coming out by the roots, finally reached up and gently pried Kenji's wee fingers from his hair.
The photographer glared at his subjects, to whom he had made it abundantly clear that they must hold still. Kenshin smiled back apologetically.
"If ya want a retake, it'll cost you extra," he said bluntly.
Kenshin sighed sadly. Unfortunately, they had no extra money for a retake.
"No, thank you. I'm certain this picture will turn out well enough," he said softly.
"Turn out well enough? It's wrecked," mourned Kaoru.
"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!" was Kenji's commentary.
Two weeks later, Kenshin returned to the dojo with the developed picture in its envelope. Silently, he handed it to Kaoru, who tore it open. The downcast look on her face said it all: The picture was a disaster.
Kenshin's heart softened as he watched the play of sadness and disappointment on Kaoru's face as she looked over the picture. Her own face expressed her helpless consternation with Kenji for choosing that moment to start fussing. Kenji's face was frozen in a howl that made him look as though he were being tortured. Kenshin's entire head was a blur as he tried to extract himself from Kenji's iron grip. Tears welled in her eyes and her jaw trembled.
"I wanted us to have a nice family photograph," she said with a shudder in her voice.
Kenshin wrapped his arms around Kaoru's shoulders and gave her a squeeze as he looked the photo over.
"Oh, I don't think it's so bad," he offered.
"How can you not? It's ruined," cried Kaoru, flashing a glare at the redhead.
"Well, Kaoru, to my mind, a photograph is supposed to capture the essence of who people are. True, this photograph isn't what a professional would call perfect, but it shows us, with all our little quirks and faults. To be honest, I think I like this better than a perfect picture of all of us staring at the camera and smiling blankly," said Kenshin, tapping his finger lightly on the print. "This is who we really are, not some image that doesn't truly exist."
Kaoru snorted and turned to look at her husband.
"Only you could find the positive among all the negative," she said before turning back to the picture and giving a bitter laugh. "I suppose it does catch us in a spontaneous moment."
"Yes, and years from now, long after we've forgotten the disappointment of this day, this picture will make us laugh," said Kenshin, giving his wife another squeeze.
After Kenshin went outside to do the laundry, Kaoru scowled at the picture again before shutting it away in the bottom drawer. They would simply have to get another photo taken next month when they had some extra money again. This time, Kenji would behave properly if she could do anything.
As she was putting things into place, Kaoru opened the bottom drawer, and immediately her eyes fell on something: The first family photo the Himuras had ever taken together. Kaoru pulled the old picture out of the drawer and looked it over. There was little Kenji screaming, Kenshin's blurry head and her look of consternation.
The next thing Kaoru knew, her sides were shaking and her lips were twitching up. This picture was so off the wall and spontaneous that it was indeed funny. The Himuras had had many beautiful family photos taken since that one, all of which were displayed in their tokonoma.
"Kaoru, what's so funny?" asked Kenshin as he came into the room with a fresh basket of laundry in his hands.
"Remember this?" asked Kaoru, standing up and showing him the picture.
Tucking the basket under one arm, Kenshin took the photo from his wife's hands and looked it over. A grin spread across his features as the memory was triggered from deep within him.
"You were right," admitted Kaoru.
"You said that years later, I'd look at the picture and laugh," Kaoru reminded him.
"Oh, yes," said Kenshin.
Kaoru took the photo again and walked over to the tokonoma where many framed photos the family had taken in the years since that first disastrous one reposed and looked them over. Suddenly, she reached up to one of the photos and pulled it from its frame.
"Kaoru?" asked Kenshin.
Kaoru stuffed the old photo into the frame and placed it among all the perfect ones, in the place of honor.