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May 14, 1883

Tokyo

Himura Kaoru was making her way slowly back to the dojo from the Akabeko, having spent some time visiting with Tae and Tsubame. On her shoulders rode Kenji. The little boy took in the darkening world around him in wide-eyed fascination. He was usually in his futon at this late hour and meant to take in every ounce of this strange, dark world he found himself in. Everything looked so different at night, even though he was very familiar with this road, having been up and down it more times than he could count with Mommy, Daddy, Ya'ko and Tsu-nee.

The trees looked like huge, ominous shadow monsters with long clawed arms, reaching out to snatch him from his mother's shoulders. However, Kenji harbored no fear of the shadows because he was with his mommy and had his shinai strapped to his back. Between Mommy and his shinai, he knew he could best any goblin or spook that might cross his path.

And then, a truly wonderful thing caught his sight. Kenji pointed to a mass of floating, flickering lights up ahead. Kaoru gasped in a happy breath. The first fireflies of spring! She stopped walking and turned to admire the pretty, flickering lights.

Kenji swung his left leg down and before Kaoru knew it, he had descended from her shoulders and was running toward the tiny, floating lights, wanting to see them up close. Kenji ran in amongst the lights, which slowly floated about to accommodate the curious toddler they found in their midst. In the dim light Kenji could see that the flickering lights were actually fat little insects whose rear ends winked on and off, on and off.

Kenji snapped his hands together, catching two fireflies between his palms. Approaching his mother, Kenji opened his hands a bit and Kaoru peered inside. She saw two yellow lights winking on and off. The lilliputian, luminescent beings swirled around in their closed in space, sometimes getting very close to each other, but never actually touching.

Memories of another May 14th evening in this little grove filled with fireflies entered Kaoru's mind as she gazed at the pair in Kenji's grasp. The feeling of a warm body holding her close, thick, red hair tickling her cheek and neck and that soft voice lancing her heart with each word.

On that heartbreaking night, Kaoru had believed she would never see her rurouni again. She realized she had tears in her eyes and blinked them back. When she looked up at Kenji, she saw him gazing at her with worry in his wide eyes. She quickly smiled at him and caressed his hands between her own, coaxing them apart, allowing the two fireflies trapped within to rise slowly into the night sky, their abdomens blinking and darkening by turns.

Koaru and Kenji watched the fireflies retreat until they couldn't tell them apart from all the other winking and glowing lights in the small grove.

At length, Kaoru stood up and proffered her hand to Kenji, who slipped his small hand into her grasp and began the remainder of the journey home with his mother.

~Owari~

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