Disclaimer: Himura Kenshin and all his friends (and various enemies) belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki, who was wise and kind enough to create such an enjoyable series. Other original characters invented in this fic belong to me. But I'm still not getting any money out of this, so please don't sue.
Future Interlude 1: Explanation
15th year of Meiji
Mid-Summer 1882 - Tokyo
"...and...that's how he ended up with me." Kenshin finished his halting narrative with a faintly hopeful expression, his eyes tracing constantly to his near-catatonic young wife. The tale had come out with the swordsman varying between sheepish optimism and hopeful apology, with hints here and there of wistfulness and memory.
Himura Kaoru, on the other hand, had gone from distraught shouting to abject shock, punctuated early on by disbelief but now silent with numb acceptance. Her eyes were faintly glassy with a rim of unshed tears and her face was as white as the sheets her husband cleaned, but her hands were clenched tight in her lap and she trembled faintly.
Poor Kenshin wasn't sure if she was about to explode, or shatter. Either way, she would end up in pieces.
Beside Kaoru sat Myojin Yahiko--intended for support, but by now he was also stuck in surprise and disbelief, so he wasn't much help. At least he wasn't ghost-pale and near to either fainting or screaming.
And there sat Himura Kenshin, once the feared assassin of legend, offering them all a silly, apologetic smile and feeling most absurdly as though he were tied up before a firing squad. Standing atop the hangman's trapdoor. Waiting for the guillotine to fall.
And fall it did.
"...Kenshin..." The fear and uncertainty in Kaoru's soft quaver cut him like the executioner's blade. "You're telling me...Kenji...my baby...is..."
"Hai de gozaru." Swallowing hard, he nodded once. "Gomen. I don't know how, but...that's what happened."
"Whoa..." Yahiko, though quite the young man now, still had the look of a bewildered kid as he blinked wide eyes. "So this isn't a joke? The squirt is really gone? Dropped into the past somehow?"
"Everything I've told you is as I remember," Kenshin replied, still watching his wife carefully. "I know where and when he is, and that he is safe. The only thing I don't know is when he will be back."
Kaoru was still staring at him, and though he was glad to see the spark growing in the depths of her pupils, he dreaded what it would grow into. "But...our Kenji...he's stuck in the middle of a war," she said, her voice still small but gaining strength. "And...you just say he's safe? Something could happen--there was so much killing then, what if he--? Oh Kami-sama, the Shinsengumi too--how can he be safe? Kenshin, he's with--with..."
His eyes fixed on her, deep and full of love and sorrows. "With me, Kaoru," he finished quietly. "He is--or was--with me."
"Kenshin...I don't mean..."
He saw her flinch, saw the contrition and indecision in her eyes, read it easily in her ki; she loved him, she trusted him, she would lay her life in his hands as she had many times before--as she trusted him with their son, as she knew he loved their child more than his own life.
And yet, at the same time, there was that same old hurdle--suddenly, shockingly, brought to screaming life, and made a reality.
There was the Hitokiri. The man he had been, and in some ways--many ways, he admitted--still was, inescapably. Kaoru trusted him as he was now, knew him, accepted him, loved him, but there was a part of him that she'd never quite been able to come around to. A part of him she'd never really known or understood, and because that part frightened her so he had long since made the decision to keep that part far from her sight and wear the face of the Rurouni she adored so.
It rattled through her ki like an earthquake, and he knew what terrified her so--the thought of her beloved child not only lost in the bloody Bakumatsu, but in the keeping of Hitokiri Battousai himself.
"Honest, Kenshin," Kaoru tried again, at his silence. "I wasn't saying that--"
"I know," he replied gently. "I understand, Kaoru."
As much as she loved, trusted, and accepted him as he was now, she feared the man he had once been. She feared the legend, the blood, and the amber-eyed monster she had seen in the dark. As if she believed that the Battousai who terrified her and the Kenshin who loved her were two different people, separated only by the thin veil of ten years wandering--as if the things that Kenshin loved meant nothing to the Hitokiri.
Because she'd heard the stories and the tales; because she'd seen the hard side, the violent side, the man he could be when his fury was aroused. She'd seen that very same temper--fiery as his hair--that his Shishou had tried to beat out of him, that the Bakumatsu had helped enflame, that he spent ten years attempting to tame and his entire marriage trying to hide...
Hitokiri or not, Kenshin recalled half-ruefully, amber eyes or not--he had not changed all that much. A decade ago he was a boy carving his place in the world, looking for purpose; today he was a man who had learned much of that world and found his purpose and his center.
And his Kaoru didn't realize that even back then, just as now, Battousai was as much Kenshin as Kenshin was Battousai.
"Kaoru, love," he said softly, evenly--startling them all, for Kenshin was not given to endearments in the hearing of others--reaching out to touch her tightly folded hands. "Our son is safe. Do you think I would let an innocent child come to harm?"
He felt her hands twitch, but she shook her head slowly. "No...Kenshin, I know you. And...I-I'm sorry...this is just..." She shook her head again, more forcefully this time. "Mou...this is just so unbelievable! And my poor Kenji--!"
"Then what happened, Kenshin?" Yahiko demanded, sitting up straighter. "I mean, with the squirt and your old boss and all."
"Yes, do tell," Kaoru seconded, some of the old tanuki gleaming in her eyes; a mother's worry made her even more dangerous. "And you'd better say he made it home alright, Kenshin no baka, or I'll have your head."
"Heh, now Busu's on a warpath," Yahiko chuckled, managing not to giggle at the expression on the red-haired swordsman's face. "So tell us, Kenshin! The squirt stayed the night with you, and then what? Did he go back? Did you find him a babysitter? What?"
"Maa, maa..." Kenshin went for his best Rurouni-apologetic-smile as he raised his hands placatingly. "Quiet down de gozaru yo, and I'll tell you about it."
"Yosh'." Immediately, Yahiko settled in for the tale.
"Kenshin," Kaoru interrupted, desperately earnest for a single moment. "Just...tell me he'll make it home okay. Please. Before you tell us anything else, just..."
His eyes met hers, and he smiled--a sad, honest smile, equal parts shadow and light. "Hai, Kaoru. That I can promise. Kenji will come back to you--I made sure of that."
She smiled in response and let out a breath of relief. "Alright. Arigato, anata..."
"So tell us already!" Yahiko demanded, all but vibrating in anticipation.
"Hai...yare yare..." Kenshin resettled himself and began another tale, his newly reassured audience once again hanging on every word. "Let me see...after the first evening, the night passed without incident. However, the very next morning..."
To be continued...