-Rurouni Kenshin: True Love-
Chapter Four - Memory
The familiar scent of dawn flooded his mind. Sunlight filtered through the paper thin doors, announcing its arrival to the sleeping world with the birds as its first audience. All these his body recognized, and he would have continued to sleep had it not been for the faint scent of lavender filling his sense of smell and the warm, steady breath that tickled his skin. Enishi opened his eyes, wondering to himself what the blurred image in front of him was before he jolted awake. He sat straight back up in the chair he sat on and then glanced around the unfamiliar room to see if anyone was there, witnessing.
It came back to him why he was here and why Yumiko, still sleeping peacefully, was on the bed next to him. It also explained why he woke up to the odd things not normally registered to his head when he usually woke up. The lavender he smelled was her perfume; the warm breath was hers. The unfamiliar room he woke to was one of Ruri's spare rooms, and his close proximity to Yumiko was only because he stayed with her, watching. He guessed, tired as he was, he set his head on the bed without realizing that he would awaken this close to her. During his sleep, his upper body had subconsciously shifted closer to her, which was why - now fully awake - he quickly pulled back.
Enishi released a breath of air that he hadn't realized he had been holding as he watched her, mesmerized by her steady breathing, her peaceful face. Hesitantly, he reached out to her face before he pulled back and looked away as if she was something that shouldn't be touched by him. He didn't know what to do; he didn't know what to feel, say or think.
He was not the former Yukishiro Enishi that he understood.
There's no need to be afraid of change, Enishi.
The man snapped out of his stupor and looked around. There was no one else in the room but Yumiko and himself. Enishi stole another glance back at Yumiko before falling back to his thoughts. He thought back to the hours before…and to her story.
[A few hours earlier...]
"So that's what happened," Gen murmured, setting his cup of tea down on the table.
Enishi didn't comment, merely nodded as he stared down at the drink he had in his hands. They were sitting in the main room of Ruri and Gen's home which also served as Ruri's clinic. Ruri shooed them off earlier so that she could begin her work. They could hear both women's voices - Yumiko's soft, apologetic one and Ruri's firm, berating one - through the walls but could make no words out of them. Enishi finished telling the doctor's brother a short summary of the events with the unknown attackers, leaving out choice sections out of necessity.
Now they were waiting for Ruri to come out with some news.
The silence among the two men continued on for a bit longer before Gen decided to break it with a sigh as he rubbed the back of his head.
"Then it's a good thing that you went to look for her when you did," he said. "It might have been a repeat of what happened four years ago if you hadn't come."
A flash of his sister's ghost along the wall, saying silent words to him, and Yumiko holding onto him tightly after he arrived, holding as if he was her only lifeline left, came across his mind. The memories provoked him back to his earlier assumption as his emerald eyes stared back at the older man curiously.
He saw Gen's eyes widen for a second, a slight hint of surprise overcoming his face. "You mean…Yumiko didn't tell you?"
Enishi was about to reply when the familiar steps of Ruri's feet attacked his hearing and he turned his head as she entered.
"She's fine now," the doctor announced to them. "But it'll be a while before she can walk normally again. I'd guess it would take about a month."
"She was hit that hard?" Gen asked.
Ruri folded her arms, closing her eyes. To Enishi, she didn't look too thrilled to explain to them how the human body worked as it was late.
"I don't know how projectiles work," she explained, "but when you get hit at the angle where the knee conjoins the two bones of your leg with a great force, it's bound to overstretch or tear the soft tissue in between there. Whoever attacked Yumi-chan must have known that weak point. However, she didn't dislocate her knee as she thought she did. If she did, she wouldn't be able to straighten her leg as much as she did."
"And you do realize that I didn't understand a word that you said?"
Ruri entered further into the room, glaring at her brother. "Of course, baka. I'm not the one who decided to send his sister to Europe to learn more about Western medicine."
She set a hand on Enishi's shoulder, looking at him with a genuine smile on her face. "You can go see her now."
He stopped in front of the door, hesitating to knock as he began to rethink of his options. A part of him quietly pieced together the puzzle of a part to Yumiko's past and understood while another part of him wondered why she didn't tell him. Then again, with a stabbing sense of guilt, she didn't know who he really was. He mentioned his sister quite often to her, but to actually tell her what kind of man he was before it all happened to shatter into pieces frightened him.
Yes, Yukishiro Enishi was afraid. He wanted to tell her, yet he didn't know what her reaction might be. He, a man who had carefully planned an act of revenge for nearly a decade, a man who didn't used to care of what others thought of him except for his dead sister and himself, was afraid of what one woman who had manage to salvage a part of his sanity and lived with for the past six months would react. If anyone would have known his thoughts, they would say that he had grown soft, but Enishi stubbornly refused to believe that. He told his mind that it was impossible for anybody to understand him, but his heart told him otherwise.
After all…he was human.
Enishi lightly knocked on the door and then slid it open.
She stared down at her hands, welcoming the silence after her friend's lecture and treatment of her wound. Ruri knew that she had to tell him. If she trusted him, she had to tell him.
Yumiko smiled sadly at the thought, wondering to herself if she was ready to fully trust another man again. It had taken her a year to feel completely comfortable in Gen's presence. It had taken her longer to be familiar with the other men of the world she now lived in. Yet to put faith into someone she had only known for months was something different. She admitted to herself that Enishi was different from the others she brought in. He never looked at her in the way the other men did. He never questioned unless he felt it necessary. Her children looked to him as a father and he returned their affection in his own way. And most importantly, he gave her back a sense of normalcy.
But was that enough?
A knock on the door startled her out of her thoughts and she looked up to see Enishi enter, though he looked a bit nervous. She smiled, both at his almost childlike nervousness and curiosity, although he quickly regained his usual complacent expression. His eyes met hers after glancing at the splint around her right leg and the pack of ice on top of it and he pulled a nearby chair closer to the bed.
"How are you?" he asked, never once taking his eyes off hers as he sat down.
Yumiko wondered to herself how Enishi would react if she told him that the intensity of his eyes affected how she thought.
She managed to tear herself away from his gaze to briefly look down at the splint on her leg. "Well, it was painful to straighten it, but now I'm fine."
She took in his silence, but she didn't want to look back at him because if she did… "Did you…kill those men?"
She heard him shift in his chair, his shadow moving in the dimming candlelight.
"…Aa," he replied after a while. "Does that…bother you?"
She shook her head, smiling softly to herself. "No…you're hiding from the government after all."
It was time.
"Do you know a man named Fukihara Youji?"
She finally looked up, meeting his eyes once more.
Enishi watched her movements, how she fiddled with the fabric of her kimono and then lightly brush the fabric of the ice pack and the splint that held her leg in place. Her actions reminded him of an embarrassed child, but his mind told him otherwise as his eyes strayed to her exposed leg and then…elsewhere.
Her voice took him out of those thoughts and the act of staring; he mentally berated himself for falling into the trap of desire.
"Did you…kill those men?"
Despite how soft she spoke, Enishi could hear the slight fear in her voice. He had often wondered how she would have reacted if she knew how dangerous of a man he was, but he never prepared himself to confront it so soon with her. He shifted uncomfortably in the chair he sat on, frantically thinking of a solution to the matter at hand.
Yet despite how many excuses he could think up, it only seemed right to tell her the truth.
"Aa…" he murmured, finally looking back at her. "Does that…bother you?"
It confused and relieved him at the same time when he saw her shake her head and smile like he had seen her done so many times before.
"No…you're hiding from the government after all."
Another heavy weight that lifted off his shoulders was immediately replaced with hesitation. Her voice sounded too calm for comfort.
"Do you know a man named Fukihara Youji?"
His mind froze at the name. He knew the man very well; Fukihara Youji had been the one to recommend him to join the largest syndicate in Shanghai - the only other Japanese man in the syndicate besides him before they both branched off to make their own syndicates. He was Enishi's only rival there. If Enishi was cruel and ruthless in his acts, Youji was always two steps ahead.
Enishi masked his surprise well although he wondered to himself why and how Yumiko knew him. "No…why?"
Then he remembered why Yumiko looked so familiar to him when he first met her.
She looked away again, back down to her hands and the fabric of her kimono. She held a half-smile on her lips now, gazing sadly at her hands. "He is Rin and Ran's father."
His eyes widened slightly at her words as he let her continue, yet with each word she said, it began to further ignite the dark anger that burned inside him.
[Back to the present]
Enishi couldn't help but chuckle at the irony of the situation that he was in now. He would have never imagined that he would fall into a predicament like this - to meet one of his formal rival's women and to stay with her....protect her.
A thought came to him: if he met Yumiko, actually met her when they were both still in Shanghai, what would have he done? Surely not what he wanted to do now - to ensure her safety and comfort both physically and emotionally. Or would he even with his plans of Jinchuu coming to reality then?
A small strand of hair strayed off from its current position curved on her face, catching his attention. Hesitantly, he reached out and brushed it back and was once again mesmerized by her sleeping form. His fingers lightly caressed the smoothness of her cheek and they unconsciously trailed down the frame of her face. It made sense to him now as to why she was used. Fukihara Youji was not someone who liked to keep the same "pet" every few months. And with Yumiko's beauty, it wasn't hard for him to take her in.
What surprised Enishi was that Yumiko herself was determined to give birth to Rin and Ran.
"I at first contemplated on getting rid of any evidence of being pregnant when I found out…but I realized that it really wasn't the children's fault for having such a ruthless man as their father. If anything, I wanted to give them a chance, just for them.It wasn't their fault that put me in this place."
"'Neesan, if you're out there somewhere, what should I do?" he whispered to himself before reluctantly pulling away from her cheekbone.
He stood up from the chair and stretched his limbs before quietly leaving the room. He needed some fresh air and some time alone to think.
[Some hours later, late morning]
Yumiko frowned at the two familiar voices and tried to shift her position on the bed only to wince at the effort. She opened her eyes to greet the sunlight that peeked high through the paper thin windows and peered down to what had caused her pain to move - her leg.
The memories of the night before rushed back to her and she sat straight up in bed, looking around the room. She remembered that Enishi stayed with her as she fell asleep, but he was no where to be found in the room now.
However, she could hear two pairs of footsteps approaching closer to her room and soon afterwards the door slid open to reveal her two children smiling brightly back at her.
"Ohayou, okaasan!" they excitedly announced.
She was still exhausted from the night before, but she still smiled cheerfully.
"Ohayou, my little ones," she greeted as they ran towards her. She wrapped her arms around them as soon as they got on the bed. Her hair cascaded over her face and they laughed as it tickled their faces.
Her smile widened as she watched them laugh. No matter how many times she felt down, they always seemed to cheer her up. If her children were happy, then she was happy.
"What are you two doing here?" Yumiko asked them as they scooted closer to her and she took the melted ice off of her bag.
They were careful to not sit near her leg. She guessed that Ruri, Gen, or Enishi told them that she hurt her leg.
"Otousan is making breakfast," Ran answered. "And he told us to wake you up."
Enishi can cook? was Yumiko's initial thought. He only helped her out in the kitchen once in a while but they were mainly simple tasks like carrying the vegetables over or some minor task like that. But she guessed that since he did live alone before they met, he probably did know how to work in a kitchen.
"So what is otousan making?" she asked.
Her children looked at one another before looking back at her.
Ran shrugged and replied. "We don't know."
"Otousan said that it was a SE-CR-ET," Rin added.
"But Auntie Ruri was trying to tell otousan what to do," Ran said with a worried look on his face.
Yumiko caught onto her son's words and looked around for anything to lean her weight on. Luckily enough, whether her friend was testing her to obey her instructions of rest or not, there were a pair of crutches in the corner of the room.
"Ne, can you two get those two sticks for okaasan?" she gestured to the crutches.
Ever the energetic one, Rin hopped off the bed and ran to the crutches while her brother slowly made his way down and over. Yumiko inwardly smiled at the vast differences between her two children. Ran definitely obtained his quiet demeanor from her, but Rin she assumed got her cheerful and bubbly personality from her grandmother - her own mother. Yumiko's lips curled into a sad smile at the thought.
She wondered to herself how her estranged family was doing now.
Man, this place is filthy.
The young man continued to walk down the dirt road, ignoring the stares he was receiving. Sure, he had to admit that he looked out of place. Decked out in Chinese attire made from the highest quality, he looked much brighter than the shabby, dim clothes of the locals. Rakuninmura didn't look as bad as some of the streets in Hong Kong and Shanghai, though.
Yet he couldn't believe that his older sister was actually living here.
The young man approached what looked like a gate and, compared to the other houses in Rakuninmura, a well-kept home behind it. It had to be the right place - he noticed some of the slight touches of his older sister that perhaps only those who knew her really well could see - but it looked empty.
"If you're looking for the people who live there," an old voice said behind him, "they're not home. They haven't been back since last night."
The man turned around to face what looked like an old man, wearing the same shabby clothing as the other locals except that he had an outrageously long gray beard and wore a straw hat and sandals. Nothing was in his hands, so to the young man he didn't look like a threat to his safety.
The man wondered to himself what did the old man mean by "they". He at first hesitated to reply, worried that his voice would give away his true identity, but he decided that the old man might be able to help him to track his sister down.
"Um…do you know by any chance where they went?" he asked, his voice soft-spoken.
If the old man gave any sort of reaction to his voice, he didn't show it.
"Well, I do have an idea where they could have gone, but may I ask why you are looking for them?" he asked. "And which of 'them' are you looking for? Even though this is a very neglected part of town, we like to protect our own kind, if you know what I mean."
The young man nodded in understanding, brushing back his silk black air in an attempt to hide his embarrassment. For some odd reason, he couldn't help but trust this man.
"My name is Nagasaki Ayeka," she replied. "I'm Nagasaki Yumiko's sister."
This place has not changed one bit…
The government may have switched hands, the cities may be beginning to be filled with the presence of foreigners and the power of the technology they had that many areas of this side of the world didn't, but to him the country of Japan still remained stagnant, helpless. The man turned his eyes away from the approaching Tokyo Harbor, reliving old memories as he turned to his second-in-command.
This was going to be too much of an easy prey to catch.
"So how are our men progressing here, Tsuke?" he asked the slightly shorter, muscled man in black next to him.
"The deal with the merchant went smoothly," Tsuke automatically replied, careful with his words in case someone overheard them. "We should be able to obtain the package within the week."
The man nodded, absorbing the information quickly. He folded his arms behind his back, careful to hide the tattoo of his origin on his arm beneath the Western clothes he wore.
After a moment of silence, the man added, "And him?"
Tsuke hesitated to reply immediately for he knew how his leader reacted to poor progress.
"Since his disappearance six months ago," he began, "there hasn't been a trace of Yukishiro Enishi. Of course, we still have yet to check all the areas of Tokyo and the surrounding countryside. The government has since stopped searching for him."
Tsuke's leader uttered a low chuckle. "Have they? He was beaten down that horribly by Battousai that there is no need for the Meiji government to hunt him down?"
Tsuke didn't answer; he assumed that his leader was voicing his thoughts out loud.
"Make sure you find him soon, Tsuke," the man replied as the ship they stood on docked at the harbor. "If not, then our entire ring in Shanghai will crumble as well as our plans."
Tsuke merely nodded. "Of course, Youji-sama."
"You know, that's really an odd way to cut radish."
Enishi's jaw tightened, trying his best to not snap at the doctor who was doing her best at annoying him.
Maybe volunteering to cook wasn't a good idea after all, he thought.
"I'm sure that you can cut radish better than I can, Ruri," he replied as nonchalantly as possible.
He honestly wanted to be alone, which was why he told Rin and Ran to wake up their mother. However, since Ruri had no customers yet and since she loved being the "expert" at everything, she decided to try her hand at instructing Enishi what to do after Gen had gone off for the day's work.
Well, it was more like commanding.
He was doing all the things he had learned over the years, whether it was by memory or mimicking, while trying to patiently ignore Ruri's commentary. It had been a while since he actually used such a kitchen like this, but the memories were coming back to him - memories of the happier times when he had somewhat of a decent childhood, before his father and then his sister left.
He had just finished dumping in a bit of the radish he cut into the miso when her voice brought him back to the reality of the present.
"Is everything okay in here?" Yumiko's voice filtered in the room.
Both occupants turned around to see her standing in the entryway to the kitchen on a pair of crutches, still leaning heavily against her left leg. Ran and Rin were hiding behind her. Ruri immediately forgot about Enishi and headed over to the injured woman, all the while scolding her. She merely laughed and gave some sort of reply when she looked up.
Theirs eyes met.
But the contact was broken when a voice outside called, "Excuse me!"
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Much apologies for being a little bit late on this release of the chapter! To be honest, I was wondering how to continue on without giving too much information away as well as introducing some new characters. I thank those who have reviewed (as well as those who have read and didn't review, too!). I'm actually quite happy how this is beginning to turn out -- it's much different from the old version in more ways than one, but in my head it's still the same plot. And now since school has started, it might take me a bit longer to finish each chapter, but I'll still make an effort to get each chapter done within about a month. And to be honest, it's good to be back in the RK fanfiction business (smiles).
GLOSSARY OF UNKNOWN WORDS
baka - stupid/idiot/etc
aa - something equivalent to "yeah"...it's a bit hard to describe this completely
Jinchuu - Earth's justice; in the manga, this is to contradict what "Tenchu" (Heaven's justice) was for those who went against the Shogunate during the Bakamatsu -- translations of this term vary
ohayou - short for "ohayou gozaimasu"; means "good morning"
(name)-sama - an honorific of the highest degree...it can be translated as "lord" or "lady"