Kenji did not like his daddy. Everyone who frequented the Kamiya Dojo knew this, though no one could fathom why. Whenever Daddy came near Mommy, Kenji would try to get between them. When Daddy picked him up, he would yell "Kenji hate Daddy" at the top of his lungs and demand to be put down.
Today Kaoru was busy teaching kendo classes until 4 o'clock. It fell to Kenshin to keep Kenji entertained until then, which was difficult considering the toddler wanted nothing to do with him.
"No no no! Want Mommy!" wailed the three-year-old as his father picked him up.
"Mommy's busy teaching classes, so you'll have to spend the day with Daddy," said Kenshin patiently.
Kenji locked his fingers into Kenshin's hair and gave a tug.
"Oro!" went Kenshin and proceeded to untangle his son's fingers from his hair, which was no easy task. Even at age three, Kenji had an inexorable grip.
"Kenji hate Daddy! Kenji hate Daddy!" screamed Kenji as Daddy tucked him under his arm and carried him away from Mommy in the dojo.
Kenshin winced, but tried not to take it personally. Kenji was just going through the terrible twos and would eventually grow out of it. Megumi had told them this in a letter after Kaoru had mentioned Kenji's distaste for his father to her. She had recommended that Kenshin work on winning the boy's affection by spending time with him and playing with him. Kenshin decided that now would be a good time to put that advice to the test.
'I hope Megumi-dono's right. I don't want all my hair pulled out by the roots,' thought Kenshin ruefully as the toddler tried to squidge his way out of his arms.
"Oh, no, you don't," laughed Kenshin, taking the boy in both arms, but holding him in a horizontal position so he couldn't reach those tempting locks.
"Want Mommy!" Kenji cried again as they got to the cherry tree in the corner of the yard, which Kenshin dearly loved because Kenji had taken his first steps under its blossoms.
"What if Daddy plays a game with you?" asked Kenshin, trying to distract the small boy from his impending tantrum.
"Daddy no fun!" pouted the toddler.
"Daddy a lot of fun," said Kenshin. "Daddy knows a lot of games. May I show you one?"
Kenji pondered for a minute.
"OK, but still like Mommy better," he said finally.
"OK," he said. "There's a big red dragon attacking a small village. Do you think you can stop the big dragon and save the people?"
"How?" asked Kenji.
Kenshin pulled a very small shinai that he'd been keeping concealed in his right sleeve and handed it to Kenji.
"With this magic sword," he said solemnly.
"Magic sword? Where's dragon?" said Kenji as he grasped the lilliputian shinai and gave it a few swings.
Kenshin smiled and then started acting like a dragon, doing a silly pantomime of flying around and breathing fire. Kenji attacked him with the little shinai, giving him a whack in the right thigh. It smarted, but didn't hurt too badly. Kenshin pretended to bite at Kenji, receiving a whack on the head for his efforts.
"Oro," he moaned.
Kenji lunged again and whacked Kenshin on the shoulders. Daddy had been right. This was a lot of fun. When Kenji took another whack, Kenshin grabbed the end of the shinai and began a game of tug-o-war.
"Foolish mortal, you can't stop the red dragon! This village is mine!" said Kenshin in his best dragon voice.
Kenji yanked the shinai free, falling down on his seat as he did so. Kenshin lunged at him, but Kenji was fast and thrust the shinai right into his stomach.
"Oro!" went Kenshin and clutched his stomach, coughing.
That really hurt!
"Gotcha! Bad old dragon!" said Kenji.
"Just a second, son," said Kenshin, still reeling from that blow to the stomach.
Kenji stopped flailing around the sword and looked at Daddy. Was he hurt?
"Daddy got an owie?" asked Kenji softly.
"Just a small one. That was quite a thrust, Kenji," said Kenshin, sitting up.
He would probably have a bruise where Kenji had connected tomorrow.
"Sorry, Daddy," said Kenji softly.
Eventhough he didn't like Daddy, Kenji didn't want to really hurt him either. After all, Daddy's food tasted better than Mommy's, especially the rice balls.
"That's alright, son," said Kenshin, giving Kenji's hair a tussle. "You've got a good sword arm there."
"Yeah?" asked Kenji.
"Yeah. Would you like to have a sword fight?" asked Kenshin with a smile.
"Yeah!" shouted Kenji.
"OK. You wait here while I go get a shinai," said Kenshin as he got up and headed back to the dojo to get a shinai.
Kenshin slipped into the training hall silently, casting a glance at Kaoru, who was sitting and observing Yahiko and Yutaro as they trained 20 students in the budo of Kamiya Kasshin. They yelled out the battle calls together in unison.
"Head head head!"
"Chest chest chest!"
Nobody noticed the small redhead as he went for the shinai. Kenshin smiled at his pretty wife sitting regally on her cushion as he took a shinai over his shoulder and discretely exited the hall.
Kenshin found Kenji swinging his little shinai around in the shade of the cherry tree, pretending to fight the dragon. He smiled fondly at the little boy, sensing a strong ki in him even at age three. One day, Kenji would be a great warrior.
"You ready?" said Kenshin.
"Ready," said Kenji.
Kenshin took his stance and Kenji mimicked him. Kenshin gingerly thrust the shinai toward Kenji who blocked it instinctively. Kenji swung his little shinai and hit Kenshin's rather harshly. Kenshin was impressed by the force. Kenshin gave his shinai a little swing and connected with Kenji, who immediately deflected it and knocked it a few inches back.
'He's good,' thought Kenshin.
Kenshin and Kenji delved into play fighting with their shinai. Kenji dodged, parried and thrust with instinctive talent. Despite his intent merely to play with Kenji, he was in fact beginning the lad's sword training, Kenshin sensed. The two spent the next half hour locked in "combat".
When Kenshin sensed his son's exhaustion, he lowered his shinai and suggested they take a break. Kenshin plopped down on the grass and sat back against the tree. To his surprise, Kenji climbed into his lap and snuggled up against him. Kenshin smiled and embraced his little boy.
"Daddy's fun," murmured Kenji as his eyelids drooped shut against his cherubic face.
"Told you," whispered Kenshin, kissing his little boy on the top of his head.
Kenshin contented himself with looking up at the clouds and letting his mind wander. What kind of man would Kenji grow up to be? He hoped he could influence his little boy to be a great warrior who used his sword to protect those who couldn't protect themselves. Kenshin permitted himself visions of an adult Kenji wielding the Sakabatou to its fullest and protecting Tokyo as he once had. He knew though, that ultimately Kenji would navigate the sea of life himself. Kenshin could only serve as a guide. The warmth of Kenji's body against his made Kenshin drowsy. He tried to keep his eyes open, but just couldn't.
When Kaoru emerged from the training hall after dismissing her class at 4 o'clock, she found father and son sleeping together under the sakura tree. She was nothing less than shocked to see Kenji sleeping peacefully in Kenshin's lap. Such a thing would've been unthinkable this morning. Next to them lay the two shinai, one father-sized and one child-sized. So that was what Kenshin had taken that shinai out of the training hall for!
Kaoru went into the house to start dinner and left father and son in peace.