A young woman wearing a Western maid's uniform had been cornered in an alley by three large thugs.
"Please let me pass. I'm on an errand," she asked.
"Don't say that. Come with us," said one.
"Yeah. We just wanna have a friendly chat with the Akabeko's showgirl," teased another.
"But..." stammered Sanjo Tsubame.
"Tsubame isn't the social type who enjoys chatting with goons. But I'd be happy to chat with you guys," came a voice from behind them.
"Eh? What the hell's your problem?!" barked one of them, drawing a concealed blade from his back and swinging it down.
Instead of cutting into someone's body, the blade was caught in the raised right hand of a young man with spiky black hair. On the back of his blue and white striped gi was a tiny Aku, his homage to an absent friend.
"What?!" they cried.
"Yahiko-kun!" said Tsubame.
"Yahiko..." the guy echoed. "The assistant master of Kamiya Kasshin, Myojin Yahiko, the catcher of 1,000 blades?!!!"
"Guess I don't need to introduce myself. So... what would you like to CHAT about?" asked Yahiko, fixing a smoldering glare on the thugs.
"YEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!" the thugs turned and fled in fear.
"Wow! Just your name and a glare was enough to get rid of them. I guess it's true when they say you're one of the top five swordsmen of East Japan," observed Tsubame.
"What? Who the hell said that?" asked Yahiko in derision.
"Who? That's the word on the street," answered Tsubame.
"Well, they're wrong! My skills are second in Japan," snorted Yahiko. "Kenshin's the best, of course."
"Well, self-confidence is a good thing," smiled Tsubame.
"By the way, look at yourself! When you walk around dressed like that, you're asking for trouble," chided Yahiko, pointing at Tsubame's rather revealing uniform.
"But this is the Akabeko's new uniform. It's the selling point this summer," protested Tsubame, looking down at her innocent apron.
"That place is really going south," said Yahiko, eyes narrowing.
"I agree," said Tsubame. "But thanks for helping me. How about I treat you to lunch at the Akabeko to say thanks?"
"I'd love to, but right now, I'm headed to the dojo. How about after?" replied Yahiko.
"Oh, alright. Is it for the usual training?" asked Tsubame.
"I don't know. Kenshin called me in today," said Yahiko with a smile.
The strong wooden gates of the Kamiya Dojo kept watch over the road before them. The place had been completely made over four years ago and now looked as beautiful and prosperous as an estate.
Yahiko slid the front gate open and entered.
"Assistant master Myojin Yahiko is in the building," he said, looking around for Kenshin or Kaoru, but finding no one.
"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!!" an earsplitting wail told Yahiko that someone was indeed there.
Yahiko's gaze traveled up to the roof of the gate, on which sat a very small, very cute child that looked like someone had reduced Kenshin's age by about 30 years. The little boy was Kenshin except that his hair was more the color of a shiny new penny than of blood. Said little boy sat on the roof, wailing his lungs out.
"What, Kenji? Did you climb up and get too scared to come down again?" asked Yahiko disdainfully. "Jeez..."
Yahiko raised his bokken, caught Kenji by the collar of his little blue kimono and lifted him off the roof. He looked the dangling child over, shaking his head.
"You may look like a little Kenshin, but you're really a little idiot," he complained. "Man, if this is the heir to the Kamiya Dojo..."
A flying projectile made vicious communication with Yahiko's skull, causing the young man to see stars just as a very irate Kaoru came out, followed by Kenshin, who smiled dumbly as if it disavow anyone of the notion that he could control his bullheaded wife.
"YOU'RE PICKING ON MY BABY AGAIN! YOU'RE GONNA PISS ME OFF!" bellowed the mother bear.
"Who was picking on who?! Look closer! I saved him!" snarled Yahiko, swinging his bokken, from which Kenji still hung, toward Kaoru.
Laughing, Kenji held out his wee hands for his mother to pick him up.
"Hm. You're right," admitted Kaoru as she plucked Kenji from Yahiko's bokken.
Kaoru smiled down at the tiny Kenshin that now snuggled in her arms, laughing.
"You must have been scared. I'm sorry," she apologized sweetly to the smiling toddler.
"Hey! Where's my apology?" sulked Yahiko.
"Sorry for calling you out in all this heat, Yahiko," apologized Kenshin.
"Kenshin?" said Yahiko.
Kenshin smiled warmly at his protege, gazing at him with soft, dark violet eyes. Kenshin's appearance had changed but little, save that his cruciform scar seemed to have shrunk to about half its original size.
Yahiko and the Himura family ducked inside the dojo to escape the oppressive heat of the sun. The dojo's plaque wall was now filled with nameplates, including Master Himura Kaoru, Assistant Masters, Myojin Yahiko and Tsukayama Yutaro.... students, Shinichi Kosaburo and Higashidani Outa as well as many others.
"It's alright. So what's going on today? If it's more outside training, I can't do anymore on my own," began Yahiko.
Presently, he was distracted by the sound of Kenshin walking to the other end of the training hall.
"Get ready, Yahiko," said the rurouni. "One hit round. OK?"
Yahiko blinked, dumbfounded. He and Kenshin sparred all the time, but Kenshin had never requested a formal duel before!
"Yahiko, have you forgotten what today is? It's your 15th birthday. Didn't you know that in the past, samurai were recognized as grown men at age 15?" said Kaoru.
Yahiko suddenly remembered something Sanosuke had told him years ago.
"The comin'of-age ceremony. If you're aimin' to be a swordsman, remember it."
'Oh yeah. I get it. Kenshin wants to test me to see if I've grown up. But... his presence, his stance. Even though he can't use Hiten Mitsurugi anymore, he's still the greatest swordsman there is, a living legend!' Yahiko thought as he looked across the room at the swordsman who stood gazing steadily at him, kenki emanating from his being like heat rippling up from the ground on a very hot day.
Despite his training and resolve, Yahiko found himself shaking as he stared into the terrible eyes of the man he admired.
"Don't be afraid," said Kenshin, sensing Yahiko's apprehension. "From the time you first chose to walk the path of the swordsman, remember all the battles you've experienced. The battles you saw with your eyes, the battles you heard about with your ears and the battles you fought yourself. Remember everything that you felt in all these battles, put it in a sword strike and unleash it."
It broke like water over a crumbling dam. The faces of all the enemies they had fought together, all the allies they had gained, the battles fought in Tokyo, Kyoto and during the Revenge, everything they had been through that had made them who they were today. Yahiko felt it from his head to his toes, sending electricity down his spine, energizing him. Chestnut eyes blazed up like twin flames as his own kenki flared up in his heart.
"Alright!" he said, holding his bokken before him.
"That's good. Kaoru," said Kenshin.
With Kenji looking on from the safety of her left arm, Kaoru raised her right arm over her head. In an instant she dropped it while saying:
Yahiko and Kenshin charged at each other, Yahiko swinging his bokken down with all his might and Kenshin performing a fine battoujutsu. Their blades met with a resounding crash and then pushed past each other, both men feeling the pressure of each other's strike.
From his mother's arms, Kenji saw the silhouettes of his big brother and father as they struck each other. Ya'ko-nii's sword rested on Daddy's shoulder. Daddy's Sak'batou had struck Ya'ko-nii in the side.
"A double hit?" said an amazed Kaoru.
Yahiko dropped to his knees, clutching his side, his bokken clattering aside on the wooden floor. Kenshin still stood over him, holding the sakabatou.
"Heh. I can't beat you," chuckled Yahiko.
"Perhaps. But that was a great strike," said Kenshin. "Can you stand?"
"I think so," said Yahiko as got slowly back to his feet.
His side would smart for several days.
Kaoru looked to Kenshin, who glanced back at her with a smile and a nod. Kenshin held out the Sakabatou to Yahiko.
"Yahiko. This is a gift for your coming of age. Take it," Kenshin instructed.
Yahiko almost fell back to the floor.
"What? Wait a minute! I can't take that! In case you didn't notice, I lost!" he protested.
"I wasn't looking at who won or who lost. I only wanted to see if you put all your strength into your strike. When I saw that you did, I decided. Take it," said Kenshin as he gently deposited his old sword into Yahiko's outstretched hand.
'It's heavy,' Yahiko thought as he felt the weight of the sword in his inexperienced hand.
"For a while, it will seem heavy and hard to use. But if you train yourself to use it to your full strength in the way you see fit, one day you'll surpass me with it," said Kenshin as Yahiko admired the sheathed sword he now held.
Yahiko looked up from the Sakabatou and locked gazes with his father figure, a smile spreading across his features.
"I will," he said.
Kenshin, Kaoru and Kenji watched as Yahiko dashed out of the dojo gate toward Asakusa, probably to go show off to Tsubame.
"So that wraps that up," said Kaoru.
"Yes," agreed Kenshin.
"You carried that sword for 15 years. Are you sad to give it up?" asked Kaoru.
"A little, but I'm so happy with how everything turned out that I feel better than I thought I would," answered Kenshin, reaching for Kenji.
Kenji's countenance fell as he was handed over to his father.
"Kenji, let's work hard so you can have the sakabatou after Yahiko," said Kenshin as the glaring toddler grabbed one of his bangs and yanked for all he was worth. "Oh, dear. I do hope you'll learn to like me someday..."
With a smile, Kaoru gently touched the fading scar on Kenshin's left cheek.
"The last time we visited Megumi in Aizu, she told me that sword scars that come with strong feelings don't fade until the feelings fade. Your scar is so much lighter than it used to be," she said happily.
Kenshin smiled at Kaoru.
"Yes, although it will probably never disappear completely. I can't use Hiten Mitsurugi anymore and I've passed on the sakabatou. But that doesn't mean I'll never fight again," he said as he passed a laughing Kenji back to Kaoru's arms. "The life of the warrior isn't over yet. I will fight on with my beliefs and my non-killing vow."
"Yes, of course," said Kaoru. "But, Kenshin..."
"For now, rest," said Kaoru as she patted Kenshin's shoulder with Kenji's hand.
Kenshin closed his eyes and grinned.
As he pounded down the street into Asakusa, Myojin Yahiko reflected on all that had just transpired. His one-hit match with Kenshin had been over in the blink of an eye and he had been on the floor, clutching his right side. Despite that, Kenshin had deemed him a worthy successor and had passed on the sakabatou to him.
As a child, Yahiko had dreamed of owning one someday and had at one point been saving up his Akabeko wages to buy one. Never in his wildest dreams would he have thought of Kenshin passing it on to him.
The sakabatou shinuchi was a heavy sword, in more ways than one. Yahiko understood that as the inheritor of the sakabatou, he also inherited many of the burdens Kenshin had carried as a rurouni. It would now be Yahiko's job to protect those he saw suffering before him and occasionally those he did not see. He had already been protecting people with his bokken, but the sakabatou took it to a whole other level. This day was as solemn as it was joyful.
Yahiko straightened the sword in his obi and slowed down to a swaggering walk as he headed to the Akabeko to meet Tsubame for lunch. Tsubame, who had returned from her errand and was now sweeping up, met Yahiko in the back of the restaurant.
"Kenshin-san's sakabatou... Was that what he called you to the dojo about?" asked Tsubame when she saw the sword at his waist.
"Yeah," said Yahiko with a smile. "I can't believe it myself."
"Congratulations, Yahiko-kun. I know how much you've wanted one," said Tsubame.
"Wha? I never said I wanted one!" huffed Yahiko.
Was he that easy to read?
"You didn't have to," smiled Tsubame.
Yahiko sweatdropped. He was.