-Rurouni Kenshin: True Love-
Chapter Two - A Small Change of Pace
"Tousan!" Enishi paused in his work as he caught a glimpse of a young girl running towards him. She was the spitting image of her mother, her dark hair tied up in pigtails. Enishi didn't particularly like children, but he had grown attached to Yumiko's twins within the short period of time he began to stay at her home. It had only been a month so far, but Enishi felt as if he had been with them for a long time.
And he liked the calm he experienced when he was with them.
Enishi caught the girl, smiling as she giggled in his arms. Yumiko had fraternal twins, one boy and one girl, yet both looked very like siblings and the mirror image of their mother. Yumiko's daughter, Rin, was the more energetic and talkative of the two although she still acquired the soft, quiet voice her mother possessed. Her son, Ran, reminded Enishi a little bit of himself after Tomoe left him in search of Himura Battousai. He understood all too well the independence the young boy portrayed at times and the quiet demeanor he held. The twins contradicted each other; maybe that was why Enishi was so attached to them.
Although, it was a little bit strange being called "'tousan". They had originally called him "Enishi-oniisan" until a week ago, they began to call him "'tousan" which surprised both adults in the house since he technically was not their father. Enishi never questioned Yumiko about the children's biological father because he assumed that it was none of his business to ask nor did he think he was going to stay long.
Yet that was a month ago. Now he wasn't sure if he wanted to leave or if he had to.
"What is it, Rin-chan?" he asked the girl in his arms who began to proceed to look very thoughtful as if trying to remember what she wanted to say.
"Um…" Rin bit her lower lip for a moment. Her wide eyes brightened soon afterwards. "'Kaasan wants to know if you want lunch! She's making a reeeaaaallly big ---" she spread her arms as wide as she could to emphasize her comment, "---lunch today from that, um…"
He was getting an idea of what she was talking about and decided to help. "Fish?"
"Un!" the girl nodded eagerly, her pigtails bouncing along as she did so. "That really big fish you caught yesterday! 'Kaasan's making something reaaaallllly big out of it."
Enishi laughed at her exaggerations. "Mmmm, that sounds good. Where's your brother?"
"Mmmm….oniisan's helping 'kaasan because she needs help."
He arched an eyebrow. "Then why are you not helping your mom, too?"
"Because she accidentally mentioned that she'll go call ''tousan'," Yumiko appeared in the doorway with a wooden spoon in one hand and wearing an apron over her kimono. "And then Rin-chan wanted to get him and left, leaving her and her brother out all alone."
She finished with a small pout, which automatically made Rin feel guilty and the girl vigorously shook her head in Enishi's arms.
"I'm sorry, okaasan…"
Enishi tried as hard as he could to keep a straight face as he continued to act as the odd person out. He knew that Yumiko was only teasing her daughter, but he only wanted to laugh at the honesty Rin was openly expressing.
"Well, if you give your mommy a big hug and kiss, I think I'll feel all better," Yumiko told her with a smile.
Enishi quickly set Rin down and continued to watch the scene unfold before him. The girl ran as fast as she could towards her mother who had squatted down to her height and accepted the conditions of apology. It was only when Yumiko shooed her daughter off to clean up that Enishi finally released the laughter that had been building up inside the entire time.
When his laughter died down and he began to approach Yumiko, he noticed the soft smile on her face.
"I think that's the first time I've heard you laugh," she said as he came within hearing distance.
"Hm?" Her comment confused him a little.
A soft chuckle filtered through Yumiko's throat as she shook her head.
"I don't think that a month ago, you would have been able to even smile," she reiterated her comment a bit differently than the last. "You had so many things to filter through your mind back then that I thought that there would never be a chance for you to smile."
"Oh…" Enishi scratched the back of his head. He had been doing this a lot lately. Back then, before he initiated Jinchuu and before he fell blind to his mistakes, he wouldn't have even though of expressing embarrassment.
"I guess…" he trailed off, pulling the fragments together on what to say. "I guess it's your children. They're very…carefree."
"Aren't children always like that though?" Yumiko asked. "Especially in this day and age."
"Hmm…I wouldn't know," Enishi replied. "I never really had one."
Yumiko looked at him strangely for a split second before she smiled once again. He had told her some small parts of the reasons why he was here during the month of his stay, although not all of it. Yet she didn't seem to mind whatever he had told her and he appreciated it. In return, he didn't inquire much about her past although bits and pieces of his scattered memory began to wonder if he had met her before in the past.
"Maybe you're making up your childhood with the children," she murmured, though Enishi didn't catch all of it.
He watched her shake her head and his eyes became mesmerized by the way her hair moved. It was these little things about Yumiko that made his heart pound, yet Enishi mustered the will to suppress the strange feeling he had inside. It was during these small moments that he wondered to himself if this odd feeling was what his sister felt when she stayed with Battousai for that short time.
And it was during these small moments that Enishi's heart sealed itself away again, afraid of what would happen if this calming presence before him would calm him no longer.
"Well, lunch is ready," Yumiko's voice drew him out of his thoughts as if her voice itself had the power to bring all of the darkness away from his heart. "Are you hungry yet?"
A small growl from the pit of his stomach answered her question and Enishi chuckled. "Yes, very."
[Five months later…]
He watched her sit on the edge of the porch, swinging her legs back and forth like a child and blow a breath of exhaustion away from her hair. Enishi quietly sat down next to her, watching the children play a game of tag together.
"Thank you for taking care of the children while I was away," she said to him. "I don't know if I would be able to watch them while working there at the Akabeko."
Enishi smiled, taking a quick glance at her profile. "It's all right. Rin and Ran are very good helpers when it comes to keeping the money in one place." While she was away, Enishi had taken the children to a local store to do some minor shopping in order to keep them preoccupied. "You look exhausted, though."
"Hm, we were short-handed," she replied, rubbing her temples in a circular motion to ease the oncoming headache she was beginning to feel. "Tsubame-chan was sick and we had more customers than the usual. You would think that there would be other places to eat other than sukiyaki." She turned to look at him, catching him off-guard. "What did Ruri say about your ears?"
About two months after he began staying with Yumiko, Enishi had finally begun to feel the effects of having the nerves near his eardrums pop from Battousai's strange attack. It was at first a small, dull ache that he easily ignored, but the pain had suddenly increased one day to the point where he could no longer stand straight without wondering if things were right-side up or down. Yumiko literally ordered him to see Ruri, the Rakuninmura's local low profile doctor and one of Yumiko's closest friends. Despite working in such a rundown area, Ruri proved to be quite the expert in the filed of medicine. She was also the kind of doctor who never pried for money or facts and for that many of the poor and defectors often went to her for aid rather than the local doctor in their own towns.
Enishi's hand automatically went to his right ear, the one that had been causing him the most problems with his sense of balance.
"Thanks to the medicine, Ruri said that they will be fine in about a week," he reassured her. "I just have to be careful about my workload."
Yumiko leaned back, closing her eyes and smiled in relief. "That's good."
Enishi returned the smile before he began to think back to his conversation with the feisty doctor.
"Hmm…you seem a little bit better," Ruri, a young woman around Enishi's age with brown hair and eyes, said as she blew out the candle and proceeded to open the windows to let the light in again. "Your eyes don't have that distorted look like the last time. I'm guessing that in about a week they'll be fully healed as long as you don't make a racket with your ears."
Enishi blinked away the light, temporarily blinded as his eyes began to readjust. Because she didn't have the proper instruments, the doctor had to resort to some rather unconventional techniques on certain medical problems. His was no exception.
"I'll tell Gen that you can come back to work next week," he heard her say as she rummaged through her packets of herbs. "That way he can stop pestering me for the day you can return to help him out."
Enishi stifled a chuckle, though he was quite expecting her remark. Gen was Ruri's older half brother by two years, just about a year older than Enishi himself. He was known for being the local handyman, always on call to help on simple things such as getting an old woman's cat off the roof to the more complicated and time-consuming jobs such as repairing the roof on someone's home. Feeling guilty for staying at Yumiko's home freely, Enishi decided to put some of his skills as a swordsman to use since he really couldn't do anything else without notifying the government of his whereabouts. It wasn't a tedious job or one that Enishi actually wanted, but it was interesting nonetheless. The two had been wary of one another at first, mainly due to the fact that Gen was worried about Yumiko and her children's well beings, but they became good friends over time.
"I'm sorry for giving you trouble, Ruri-sa---" he stopped short from completing the formal ending, knowing that she had wanted to rid of the formalities since day one. "Ruri."
"This is my job," she told him, taking out whatever she was looking for and dabbed a pen into the inkwell. He guessed she was writing out instructions to take the medicine for him. "There's no need to apologize."
She finished writing and handed him the paper while the ink was still wet. "Just follow what it says on here and you'll be fine."
Enishi glanced down at the paper, remarking, "Ruri, chicken scratch is even better than this."
"Then find a new doctor to go to," she retorted easily enough and handed him a small packet wrapped with herbs. "That way you can be in a place where they really treat you well."
He inwardly frowned at the remark but didn't show it on his face. The white-haired man hadn't mentioned to anyone except Yumiko about the most legitimate reason why he was here, but he had a feeling that the doctor dealt with most people who were fugitives like himself and so he dealt with her remark as he did with any other that he received during the past few months - like it was nothing out of the ordinary.
"Ha, ha, very funny."
Ruri grinned for a moment at his reply before it faded and was replaced by a face that held all teasing and joking aside.
"Enishi, I have a question to ask you."
"Hm?" He glanced up from vainly trying to decipher the words she had scribbled down for him.
Ruri leaned back a little in her chair, folding her arms across her chest. "How long are you going to stay with Yumi-chan?"
Enishi stared at her with faint surprise though he really wasn't surprised at all by her question. He, too, asked himself when he was going to leave countless of times before, but whenever the thought arrived he unconsciously tucked it away in the back of his head as if somewhere inside him he didn't want to go.
Enishi looked away from Ruri then as he felt the familiar feeling of uncertainty rise in him.
"To be honest…" he trailed off, trying to find the right words. "I don't know."
Silence fell among them and the only sound that reached Enishi's hearing were the noises of everyday life in Rakuninmura. Ruri broke it after a few minutes passed with a sigh.
"I don't mean to sound rude in any way," she explained. "You get along really well with the children and…I haven't seen Yumi-chan laugh and smile so much in a long time."
That got his attention. "Laugh and smile?"
"A true laugh and smile," she told him. "I know that Yumi-chan usually does act very cheerful but…sometimes she does that so that others don't have to worry about her. Especially Rin and Ran."
Enishi contemplated on her words and about the prospect of ever leaving their side.
"Plus, you don't act so much like a stick in the mud like the first time we met."
He frowned at her comment. "Since when was I a stick in the mud?"
Ruri laughed at his reaction. "Oh, you wouldn't even imagine…"
"Enishi," she leaned forward, folding her hands together in her lap. "I'm asking you this as a friend - both Yumi-chan's and yours." She grinned at him to break the tension that had been building up. "And because that little voice in me won't shut up until it's satisfied. I know that Yumi-chan won't bring up the subject because that's just the way she is, so I'm asking you. Do you think you can bring yourself to leave or stay with them forever?"
He hadn't realized that he had strayed so long in his thoughts, though Enishi easily concealed his bewilderment from her as he turned his attention from the children back to her.
"Are you all right?" Yumiko asked. "You seem a bit distracted."
Enishi smiled back at her and shook his head, brushing back the white locks of hair away from his eyes. He made a mental note to himself that he needed to cut his hair. He hadn't bothered to since the day he arrived and it was now beginning to annoy him when he worked since it now fell just above his shoulders.
"Just…" he trailed off, trying to piece the right words together. "Thinking."
Yumiko left it at that as she leaned back once again and watched Rin and Ran together. It was one of the many traits that he liked about Yumiko. She never pressed on an issue unless it was something important. However, Ruri's words continued to linger in his mind and he agreed on one point she mentioned: the subject had to be brought up by him.
He knew she had turned her head yet if he decided to look into her eyes, the resolve in him would ebb. So he opted to look down at his folded hands.
"It's been six months since I've come here," he began. "I appreciate for what you've done for me…and Rin and Ran as well." He let out a light laugh as a stray thought came to mind. "I don't think I've ever been this…calm since the day my family fell apart. "He looked up again although only to the children playing tag. "I'm just wondering though…" He finally managed the will to turn and look at her after a few moments. "How long do you want me to stay?"
Seeing the blank expression on her face, he turned away again, brushing back his hair. "I'm sorry if it's a bothering question. It's just…I mean, I can leave if you want me to."
He didn't have the slightest idea where to go if he had to leave, but if it made her life easier then he could. Enishi froze at the thought. Since when did he concern himself over someone's feelings? His old self would have laughed at the idea and ignored the concept all together, but the man he was no had allowed someone to imbed themselves deep into the grooves of his shredded heart, mending it, and giving a feeling that was alien to him.
He had heard her sigh and he felt her soft touch around his hand, drawing his attention back to her. She was looking at their intertwined hands and not at him, the stray locks of her ebony hair falling out of its hold in the pin.
"I don't mind you staying here," she replied to him in a voice that was barely above a whisper. "I don't mind at all."
It was all Enishi needed to hear and his beating heart began to slow to its normal pace. He knew she wanted to say more and waited as they shared a few moments of mutual silence.
"You're one of the very few people whom I've helped who haven't done anything to me or the children that might make us feel uncomfortable," she continued on and looked towards her children. "And I haven't seen Rin and Ran act this well-behaved. They might not seem like it, especially Rin since she's very energetic, but they don't warm up to strangers very quickly. They really like you and seeing them this happy lets me be at peace."
He watched her smile sadly, eyes giving off a distant gaze. "As you can see, they don't have a father."
She looked away from the children and whispered, "I'd rather not have them know who he is."
Enishi wanted to question more as the curiosity that began the first few days he began to stay reignited, but he knew it was better to wait until she felt more comfortable about speaking her own past just as she did with him.
Yet he couldn't help but remember her say one time to him that the reason she was in this rundown place was that she had been disowned by her father.
"Was that why your father threw you out?" he asked.
A faint smile appeared on her lips. She still hadn't let go of his hand, but he didn't really mind. The feeling was all too new to him yet it was still familiar and comforting at the same time.
"Hmm…perhaps," she hummed. "When he found out that I was pregnant with Rin and Ran, he pushed me out of the house and locked the door. My father is a very selfish man. He wanted to give me away to a wealthier family, but if anyone found out that I was carrying someone else's child then there was no use for me."
She rested her head on his shoulder then with her face turned into it in order to hide her emotions from the children. Enishi immediately stiffened at the action, having not realized how close they had been sitting together, only to relax and begin to understand the odd and unfamiliar emotions that stirred within him. And a faint understanding of what Battousai might have felt when he was with that woman…or his sister.
Funny how the man that Enishi swore for revenge before was now becoming someone that he was beginning to look at for some sort of comparison. The ex-hitokiri now brought no more malice whenever the thought would come by. It was now a rather dull feeling, no more than something that Enishi would lightly reflect on and mentally correct. Staying with Yumiko and her children was giving him an idea of what it really meant to protect someone dear to the heart. He was new to the process, but he didn't want to repeat the same mistakes he made as a child when Tomoe left in search for her revenge.
The tears that trickled down his arm brought him back to the present. "Yumiko…"
"If I had met you earlier," she whispered, "would things still be like this? Sitting here together, watching the children play, finally feeling a sense of normality and not tricked into thinking that the only way out of a traditional and burdening household was to become someone's plaything."
He wanted to wrap his free arm around her petite frame and let her cry silently into his chest. There was no need for words between them; he understood the underlying meaning beneath her spoken words and yet somewhere deep inside him he wished he had the courage to speak them out.
Their first, real intimate moment was interrupted by two pairs of footsteps scurrying towards them. Yumiko quickly sat up, wiping away what little tears she shed with the back of her hand. If it wasn't for the wet streaks on her cheeks and the hair hiding her eyes, Enishi wouldn't have believed that she shared a portion of her hardship to him.
"Okaasan, someone's here to see you," Rin announced, pointing behind her. She didn't seem to notice her mother's slightly damp cheeks, yet Enishi noticed the glimpse of worry in Ran's eyes as he quickly glanced between him and his mother. It was so slight that it wouldn't have been noticed by someone who wasn't as observant. Enishi inwardly smiled to himself; the boy was far smarter than he looked.
The two adults looked at Rin's direction to a young girl of around fourteen standing against the front gate (at least what resembled the gate), fidgeting with the apron around her kimono. Yumiko gave Enishi a soft smile before she stood and approached the girl at the gate, leaving him to the assault of questions.
"Ne, 'tousan," Rin asked as she and her brother crawled onto the porch to sit next to him. "Why was 'kaasan crying?"
Scratch that, Enishi thought, the both of them were more observant and smarter than they looked.
Enishi thought for a moment for the right words to explain. "Okaasan was just a little sad, that's all."
"Sad??" Rin repeated. "Why?"
"Are you leaving?" Ran added in a quiet voice.
Enishi looked at them - their mother's sea-green eyes staring back at him. Rin's was slowly welling into tears and Ran's showed a mixture of sadness and fear. He looked forward to Yumiko who was walking back, their guest still waiting at the gate. Then he smiled, ruffling their hair affectionately.
"No," he told them and to himself. "Not for a long time."
GLOSSARY OF UNKNOWN WORDS:
'tousan - short for "otousan" which means father; a more common form to say
oniisan - older brother or a guy who's still young yet older than you
'kaasan - short for "okaasan" which means mother; a more common form to say
sukiyaki - beef hot pot; just like the explanation suggests
-chan - informal ending to use in names; typically used with children and close friends…still really depends on the person, though