The two-horse open coach made its way rapidly over the cobblestone street. Inside it were two occupants, a man with stiff bangs that looked like antennae and feral golden eyes and a boy with shorn hair and pinned, haunted eyes. The boy's gaze was squarely on his brother’s sword, which rested in his lap. The man's gaze was nowhere in particular as he nursed what seemed to be his tenth cigarette in a row.
Saitou Hajime was impatient to get to his home, drop this boy off and then return to Kyoto quickly to oversee Battousai's handling of the ensuing battle with Shishio Makoto and the Juppongatana. The fate of Japan rested in his and Battousai's hands, and here he was babysitting this orphaned whelp that Battousai had wasted valuable mission time in helping!
Saitou gazed at the stiff, silent boy for a moment. Since saying that he would hope for the best for his village, Mishima Eiji had fallen silent. He had obeyed orders mechanically as Saitou had taken him to the police station to fetch a carriage for the long journey back to Kanto. Saitou hoped his wife would be able to do something for the kid, as he had neither the time, nor the patience.
At long last, the familiar streets of their neighborhood started sweeping by the coach's windows. They were nearly there. Soon, the coach came to a stop in front of a modest, but neat looking house. Saitou got to his feet.
"Here we are," he said coolly.
Startled from his stupor, Eiji looked up and out the window at the house. It looked inviting enough and quite spacious after his little hovel in Shingetsu Village.
"C'mon, boy! I haven't got all day!" glowered Saitou.
Moving mechanically, Eiji got to his feet and stepped out of the coach, promptly going to fetch his one bag. This done, he stood before Saitou, who promptly turned and started walking toward the front gate. Without being bid, Eiji fell in behind him. They were met at the gate by a servant.
"Fujita-san!" Emi said in a startled voice, clearly not expecting his sudden appearance.
"Is the mistress home?" Saitou asked curtly.
"Yes, sir! I'll call for her..." started Emi.
"No need. It will be faster to do this myself. Eiji!" said Saitou.
Eiji followed dispiritedly behind Saitou as the servant shut the gate behind them.
As soon as they had stepped out of their shoes and inside the house proper, Saitou called out.
Immediately, a beautiful woman with long black hair gathered in a bun at the nape of her neck entered the room, almost dropping the flower arrangement she was just going to put in the window. She gathered herself just enough to set it down on the table.
"Hajime. We didn't expect you back so soon. Is it over?" asked Tokio.
"It hasn't begun yet. I got a bit... sidetracked," explained Saitou, stepping aside to reveal Eiji.
Tokio's eyes widened at the sight of the stiff, silent child who stood before her.
"This is Mishima Eiji. He was orphaned in connection with my current case. He is unwelcome in his village and has no surviving relatives," said Saitou simply.
Tokio looked the boy's rigid form over. His shoulders were square and stiff and he stared at the floor, no doubt traumatized.
"Welcome to our home, Eiji," she said simply, holding out a hand.
Startled, Eiji looked up into Tokio's kind eyes. She smiled warmly at the boy to show her sincerity. Slowly and haltingly, Eiji's hand came up and rested in Tokio's.
Saitou nodded his approval. He then turned to head outside for a smoke, a practice which Tokio strictly prohibited in the home.
"I'll stay for supper tonight, then be off to Kyoto first thing in the morning," he said as he left.
"Very well," was Tokio's answer. "Eiji, would you like some of the mochi cakes I just made?"
Eiji wasn't really hungry, but didn't want to be rude by declining his hostess' offer.
"Thank you, ma'am," he said simply.
"Call me Tokio," said Tokio, leading Eiji out back.
Eiji was about to reply when he heard a strange sound of running footsteps and a very high pitched battle cry.
"Oh dear," said Tokio, bustling ahead of Eiji, who followed out of curiosity.
Before his eyes was the most bizarre thing he had ever seen: a teeny tiny little boy with Saitou's antenna bangs and wolfish golden eyes holding a splintered shinai in his left hand and wearing a decidedly guilty look on his small face. The orange tree he stood beside had a deep gash in its trunk and looked as if it would fall over with a breath of wind.
Tokio put her hands on her hips and leveled a withering glare at the little boy.
"Fujita Tsutomo, what have I told you about practicing your gatotsu on my orange trees?" she asked severely.
"Not to," admitted Tsutomo, scuffing his little zori-clad foot in the dirt.
"I would like to know why you disobeyed me," demanded Tokio.
"Tomu-chan gotta pwactice. Wanna make Papa pwoud," answered Tsutomo, looking up at Mama with his big golden eyes.
Tokio sighed. Who could win in the face of such disarming cuteness?
"After your father finishes his current mission, I'll ask him to install training posts for you to practice on. In the mean time, no more practicing gatotsu on my orange trees, or I'll have to confiscate your shinai," she warned.
Tsutomu's eyes widened. He certainly didn't want to lose his shinai! He bowed from the waist.
"Yes, Mama. Tomu-chan'll be good," he said softly.
Through this whole exchange, Eiji had watched quietly, his eyes twitching every now and then. A mini-Saitou practicing charging at trees with a shinai was a disturbing thing indeed.
'A wolf pup!'
Presently, Tokio motioned him over.
"Mishima Eiji, this is Fujita's and my son, Tsutomu. Tsutomu, this is Mishima Eiji who will be staying with us for a while. I want you to be kind to him," said Tokio.
Tsutomu and Eiji bowed to each other. Tsutomo pulled up and smiled at Eiji.
"Wanna pway swords?" he offered happily. "Tomu-chan got wotsa shinai!"
Eiji turned to Tokio, who nodded.
"Maybe if Tomu-chan has someone to spar with, my orange trees will survive," she said with a smile. "I'll go fetch those mochi cakes."
"OK," said Eiji, smiling for the first time since his arrival.
After eating Tokio's delicious mochi cakes, the boys thanked the lady of the house for the delicious food, then grabbed shinai and faced off in the courtyard to work off their calories and sugar high. Eiji wasn't sure what fighting Tsutomu would be like. Normally, he would dismiss a small child, but a small child that could perform a thrust powerful enough to gore a tree was a different beast altogether.
Much to his consternation, Eiji who had no formal sword training, found himself on the defensive as Tsutomu kept attacking and landing blows on him. He was just thankful that the toddler hadn't yet executed his gatotsu on him.
'Maybe I'm so easy he doesn't need to bother with his gatotsu!' thought Eiji as Tsutomu got past his shinai again and whacked him in the ribs for what seemed like the billionth time that day.
Presently, Tsutomu pulled back and regarded Eiji thoughtfully.
"Eiji don't know swords," he declared.
"You got me, Tomu-chan. I've never trained in swordsmanship," admitted Eiji, wincing as he thought of the only time he had wielded a sword seriously with the desire to kill that bastard Senkaku as revenge for his family's murder.
"Tomu-chan teach Eiji!" Tsutomu declared, throwing up his hands in childish delight.
"Uh, OK," said Eiji.
'I guess I could learn a thing or two from him.'
Tsutomu got in basic kenjutsu position, gripping his shinai with his right hand just below the handguard and his left hand at the base of the hilt. Eiji copied his stance. Tsutomu took a few basic practice swings, which Eiji mimicked. Tsutomu smiled and nodded, then continued.
Tokio peeked at the boys through the slatted window and smiled as she saw Tsutomu leading Eiji in sword swings. As long as he wielded a shinai, Eiji seemed to be able to put the heartbreak he had so recently suffered out of of his mind. It wasn't much, but it was an important first step forward.
That evening at supper as they all sat around the low table, Eiji found himself getting to know this family that he had come to stay with on an even deeper level than he might have liked.
Tsutomu attempted to pick up a large sushi roll in his chopsticks, only to have the damn thing slip from between them back onto the tray. Scowling, the little boy attempted to pick it up again, only to meet with the same result. Finally giving into frustration, Tsutomu stabbed the points of his chopsticks into the sushi roll and shoved it into his mouth.
"If it's too much for you to pick up in your chopsticks, pick it up in your hand. Never let me catch you stabbing your chopsticks into your food again," reprimanded Tokio, her voice sounding like a mild growl.
Tsutomu hastily gulped down the sushi roll and lowered his head, antenna bangs concealing his eyes.
"Sowwy, Mommy," he apologized softly.
'The mama wolf reprimands the naughty pup,' thought a sweatdropping Eiji.
"Is the food not to your liking, Eiji?" the boy heard Saitou's voice growl at him.
Eiji started, realizing that Saitou had been wise to his observation of Tokio's exchange with Tsutomu all the while.
"No, sir! Your wife's cooking is beyond excellent!" Eiji quickly assured his benefactors.
'Hate to admit it, but Tokio-san's cooking is even better than... my mom's," Eiji thought sadly, quickly pushing aside all memories of his family, as he had no wish to break down at the table.
"Thank you, Eiji-kun," said Tokio warmly. "It's good to know that someone appreciates my cooking."
A glare was leveled toward Saitou.
Was Eiji imagining things, or had Saitou just broken a sweat?
"If I didn't appreciate your cooking, I wouldn't come home between missions," Saitou harumphed, quickly recovering his composure.
"Thank you, Hajime," said Tokio with a cool smile.
'Who's the alpha wolf, Saitou-san or Tokio-san?' Eiji wondered to himself.
Soon, dinner was finished. As the two servants cleared the trays and dishes away, Tokio turned to the two boys.
"It's bed time," she said, kindly but firmly.
"Aaw," groaned Tsutomu.
"None of that!" growled Saitou.
The wolf pup fell silent, then smiled up at Eiji.
"Can Eiji sweep in Tomu-chan's woom?" he asked, looking up at the Mama Wolf with his big golden eyes.
Tokio looked at Eiji, who nodded happily, as the thought of sleeping alone in a strange place held no appeal for him.
"Very well. Bring an extra futon for Eiji," Tokio instructed one of the servants.
After snuggling into their futons, Eiji and Tsutomu lay quietly in the dark.
"Wanna do swords t'mowow?" Tsutomu whispered to Eiji.
"Sure," replied Eiji. "Night, Tomu-chan."
"Night, Eiji-nii," yawned Tsutomu, eyelids closing as the tot drifted off.
'Eiji-nii? That sounds good," Eiji thought happily as he shut his eyes and let sleep claim him.