Rurouni Kenshin Fan Fiction ❯ The Lost Hatchling ❯ Family ( Chapter 10 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The Lost Hatchling, a Rurouni Kenshin fanfic by Raberba girl
Chapter 9 - Family

Something was...off.  Kenji couldn't quite put his finger on what it was, but it was making him nervous - particularly since even Megumi seemed to be in on it.  "You're the only one I can trust, little guy," he told Katana.  Katana panted at him happily.

Kenji thought about it as they walked along, the dog rushing this way and that to investigate things, the boy deep in thought.  (He always had to sneak out when he wanted to be alone - his family liked to throw fits whenever he tried to step out of the house without an escort.)  His mother, the "real" one, was the one he couldn't figure out the most...yeah, he understood that she wanted to be with him, that the anxiety he always sensed in her was because she wanted to smother him but was, in a very nice way (now that he thought about it), trying to hold back for his sake.  It's just that he didn't...know her, didn't know how to read or understand her words and her actions very well, wasn't able to predict her like he was with Megumi and Sano and even the girls.

Which was fine.  Of course it was going to be like that at first.  It's just that...he hated it, those times when he seemed to catch her plotting, with one or more of the others; speaking together in hushed voices, falling abruptly silent when he came in.  It made him feel edgy, like he wanted to bolt.  He would bolt, if she ever gave him the slightest reason to.  It also hurt, that Megumi and especially Sano would keep secrets from him.  It was beginning to feel like the entire world was against him, and the only ally he could depend on was his dumb dog.

"Get out of there, Katana, geez!"  Kenji had to grab Katana's collar and forcibly drag him away from the insect-infested bird corpse.  "No doggy kisses tonight," he said firmly, "unless you wanna mouthful of soap first."

"Bark!" Katana reported obliviously, almost managing to slop a kiss up his master's face.

Shaking his head, Kenji dragged Katana along and didn't let go until the dog found something else to engage his attention.  Maybe he should have brought a leash after all...if nothing else, someone was gonna pass by in a minute and see him and yell at him for wandering around with an unleashed dog.  It always amused Kenji how neighbors whose names he had started to learn could talk to him like he was just a normal kid, and have no idea that he was anyone of particular note.  'If they knew, they'd run screaming.'  It was a nice thought, that maybe he hadn't become completely pathetic yet.

Anyway.  "Mother's" plotting.  If she even was plotting, which he couldn't be sure of; but it certainly freaking looked that way.

Of course, it might just be something to do with dear old Daddy.

"I swear, I'm not going to be there when you get home," Kenji mumbled.  "I'm not going to be there...I don't want to see you...."  Not like it would make much difference.  Kenji had nowhere else to go, couldn't run away from home unless he was absolutely desperate.  He wouldn't be able to put it off forever, having to look Himura Kenshin in the face and...and take whatever he found there.  "Katanaaaaa," he whined, as if his dog could save him.

"Bark!  BARK, BARK!"

"Ugh, it's just a squirrel, dummy."
"BARK!  BARK!"

"I'm leaving you behind," Kenji threatened playfully, passing straight on without looking back.

Katana menaced the squirrel for a little longer until he finally noticed, incredulously, that his master was getting farther and farther away.  "Bark!  Bark!"  Master wasn't coming back.  Did Master not realize how important this was?!  "Bark!"  Torn, Katana whined for a minute, twisted up to look at the squirrel again, then away to look at Kenji.  Squirrel, Kenji; squirrel, squirrel, "Bark!" Kenji, "Bark!  Bark!"

"Hi," Kenji greeted as his dog came hurtling up, dancing in circles around him.  "You ready to head back now, buddy?"

Kaoru was in the back yard with the girls when he got home, running them through their kata.  She gave Kenji a Look that actually made him squirm, but she said nothing.  "Sorry," he mumbled at her anyway.  He wasn't sure if she even heard.

The lecture ended up coming from Megumi.  "Not safe blah blah blah could have recognized blah blah why don't you listen to blah di bladdi blah next time there will be consequenseblah!"

"Okay," he agreed, and kissed her, on an impulse.

Megumi blinked.  "Oh."  For just one second, she looked pleased.  Then she sort of glanced uneasily at Kaoru (whose attention now seemed firmly fixed on the girls), and Kenji's heart sank.  Megumi started to speak, but he gently laid his hand over her mouth and then began trudging over to Kaoru.

It took him a full minute to reach her, ambling and stalling; when he finally drew near, she could not pretend to be preoccupied any more and was actually waiting for him, with her arms crossed.  It had seemed like a disapproving gesture at first, but now it suddenly struck Kenji that it also looked a little self-protective.  For some reason that made it slightly easier to move in close and kiss her as well.  "I love you," he added for good measure.  "Mom."

She hugged him silently.  He let her, standing there waiting for her to finish.  With his eyes peering over her shoulder, the only thing to look at was Ayame and Suzume, who were staring at him intently.  For a long time they locked gazes, and then Ayame giggled.

"What're you lookin' at?" he growled.

Kaoru shifted and pull back, glancing at him questioningly.  "What did you say?"

"Nothing," he mumbled.  "I'm gonna go...take a bath or something."

He turned to go, but her hand lingered in his hair and caught a little when he tried to pull away.  "Kenji."

He stiffened.

"We're bringing Kenshin home tomorrow."

He paused, trying to pick something to say.  There were a lot of things to choose from, rushing through his mind and making his heart pound.  But it was taking too long, and he didn't know which one was what he really wanted to say, so finally he just tugged free and stalked back to the house without looking back.

o.o.o.o.o

Kaoru went alone to the hospital, since the girls whined so much about not wanting to go.  Kenji found this odd, until he noticed that he could not get away from them.

They trailed him the entire morning, insisting that he play with them or talk to them or even, when they got desperate, train or study with them.  It was not until Kenji caught sight of Megumi's knowing smile that he realized he was under guard.  The girls had known!  Somehow, they had sensed that he would run away if they let him out of their sight, and now Kenji wanted to slap them.

"Ken-nii, look at my picture of Katana!"

"It sucks," Kenji told her.  Ayame hit him (which hurt, because of the colored pencil in her hand) and demanded that he tell her she was the best drawer in the world.  Suzume went shrieking to Megumi that "Ken-nii said a bad word!"

"I'm going for a walk," Kenji announced sourly.

The girls were good.  He had underestimated them - or else they just had excellent luck.  Both of them managed to catch him just when he was in the middle of rising, and at the most off-balance; they hurled themselves at his legs to knock him back to the ground and then sat on his back and pulled on his hair, screaming "Tickle fight!!!!"

Kenji wanted to tear the heads off their dolls and then slap them.

About fifteen minutes later, Kenji heard the sound of a car pulling up outside, and he froze.  He did not resist when Ayame seized the opportunity to squirm out of his grip and fling herself over his back; he grunted, but did not otherwise respond.  He wanted to tell the girls to shut up and let him listen, but it didn't matter - he knew what was coming.

Ayame and Suzume finally picked up on the fact that their parents had arrived once they heard the commotion at the front door.  They perked up alertly to listen, but even then they did not leave their post.  It was only when Megumi came into the living room that they scampered joyfully away to greet their father.

Kenji immediately got to his feet and headed for the guest room where Megumi had been staying.  She followed him, slipping inside just before he shut the door.  He stood there for a little while, breathing hard.  Then he turned around to face her and said through gritted teeth, "I'm not going out there."

Megumi had sat down on his bed and was gazing at him.  "Kenji.  He's your father.  You wouldn't go near him at the hospital, you sent him there in the first place.  Haven't you done enough?"

His head came up, eyes flashing, and the two of them glared at each other.

"I hate him," he finally murmured.

"That's a lie," she responded immediately.

He reacted as if she had slapped him, slumping against the door and covering his face with his hands.  "I'm afraid of him," he whispered.  He would have admitted it only to Megumi, only in a moment like this.

Megumi's face softened, and she came forward to gently pull his hands away from his face.  "That's not true either," she said softly.

He put his face on her shoulder, still holding her hands, feeling like a five-year-old wanting comfort.  She let him stay there for a minute, but then sighed and pulled away, laughing a little at his accusing expression.  "Kenji," she said affectionately, "please be brave.  I know you can do this."

He ground his teeth uncertainly, searching her face.  "He'll be mad at me," he tried.

"Now you're just whining," she said briskly.  "You know I've never had patience for your excuses, kiddo."

He found himself grinning sheepishly against his will, and whined some more in protest when she opened the door and physically pushed him out.

No longer in private, their smiles died at once.  Kenji started to withdraw sullenly behind his bangs, but then paused.

The house was in a complete bustle.  Sanosuke seemed to be back from wherever he had disappeared to this morning, his arms full of what seemed to be shopping bags as he talked loudly to Kaoru and Kenshin.  Kaoru, also armed with shopping bags, was unloading them in the kitchen and dining room, and the girls were gushing happily to their father as he settled into a comfortable chair.  Kenshin was smiling as he responded to his daughters good-humoredly.

No one seemed to take notice of Kenji at first.  Kenshin did not even turn his head or make any other acknowledgement of his son's presence - even though a man of his capabilities had to have sensed him.  Kenji breathed in and out, again and again, waiting, waiting, then slowly relaxed as he finally realized that he was being let off the hook, at least for now.  In a way, it also made him just the tiniest bit sad, though he was much more relieved than sad.  'Thank you,' he found himself thinking.  That, and the sudden grateful tears in his eyes, angered him; he turned away abruptly.

It was then that Sanosuke and Kaoru seemed to notice him, but only to give brisk orders.  "Kenji, will you please set the table?"

"Oi, get the rest of the stuff from the car."

"Which one first?" Kenji mumbled, trying to sound irritable.

"Well, I suppose you can get the rest of the party things...."

"Ah, go help your mom."  Sanosuke and Kaoru looked at each other in exasperation.

Kenji had finally caught sight of the cake.  "Party?"  Slowly, he went over to look at it.  Instantly, Ayame and Suzume were barging up beside him, announcing importantly that it was HIS cake (and Daddy's), and they were gonna have a party, and they were REALLY GOOD GIRLS because they had kept it a secret, see, Mommy? I told you so, Mr. Bird Head! and it was Ken-nii's birthday party and Daddy's Whack 'Em Home party, it's Welcome Home, Suzume! and Daddy said we can have the first piece of cake, but only if YOU say so, Ken-nii, can we have the first piece of cake, please please please?!

"Oh yeah," Kenji said slowly, ignoring them.  "I've been fifteen for...weeks now."  He didn't feel like he was fifteen years old...he felt more like forty.  And seven.  At the same time.

Both Megumi and Kaoru kissed him.  He squirmed away from the stifling clump of females and shuffled out to the car, ignoring Kenshin as hard as he could, and thinking.

'It was the party,' he realized, feeling strange.  'They were talking about a party.  Hiding it from me.'  They had been hiding a party.  'They're not bad.'  It didn't feel true, even though he knew it was, so he tried to tell himself more firmly.  'They're not bad, they're not bad, they're not bad.'  He wouldn't have to run away.  Even though he wanted to, with that man there in the house.  'I don't want to go in there again!'

Katana's excited barking caught his attention, and it occurred to Kenji that he couldn't just run off and leave his dog there in the house.  He wouldn't ever be able to leave Katana again.  Reluctantly, he gathered up the remaining shopping bags and lugged them all inside.

Luckily, it was very busy the rest of the afternoon.  Kenji hung around his mothers so that they would give him tasks to do, and he encouraged his sisters in their chatter so that it would make it hard to think.  Every once in a while he would unexpectedly find himself near his father, accidentally brushing against him in the crowded kitchen or in danger of meeting his eyes, so he would whirl away and was always sent into a flurry of suspense and relief when Kenshin never said a word to him.

In a way, it was good.  Here was Himura Kenshin in the same house as him, and Kenji still didn't have to face him.  In another way, it was awful.  It was like the longer Kenji managed to delay, the worse he knew it would be in the end.  Over and over, when he couldn't get the others to drown out his thoughts for him, he kept trying to figure out how he could run away and survive on his own.  It was hard to come up with a plan.

"Katana is staying."

"Kenji!  You've seen that dog around food!  You need to put him out before--"  Megumi suddenly noticed the boy's intense grip on the dog's collar, the anxiousness in Katana's eyes.  "...The instant I see him scarf anything down, he's going."

"Fine."

They ate an early supper before the cake, much to the girls' disappointment.  That was when Kenshin finally spoke to Kenji.

"Oro?"

"Ah!"

"Daddy, your chopsticks broke!"

"I'll get you another set," Kaoru said, starting to get up, but then abruptly plopped back down into her seat.

Kenshin was looking directly into his son's eyes for the first time since he had entered the house.  "Will you?" he asked quietly.

It took a moment for the request to sink in - Kenji was sitting there, frozen in that gaze.  Then he abruptly jerked his chair back, stomped over to get another set of chopsticks, turned back around, and hesitated.

The conversation had died down, and now everyone was looking at him.

'Shut up, shut up, shut UP,' he thought fiercely at them, even though no one was speaking.  'I--!  I--!'  He was just about to whirl toward the door when Katana suddenly barreled into his legs.

"Bark!"

Kenji put a hand against the dog's fur to steady himself.  Ayame and Suzume were laughing now, and saying something about the dog; the others were responding, distracted again.  Only Kenshin continued to look steadily at him, and Kenji edged around the table, one hand still on Katana, holding out the chopsticks at arm's length.  "Here."

Kenshin reached out to take them.  He smiled.  "Thank you."

It was such a little thing.  Yet somehow it struck Kenji to the heart and made him want to cry; he was just barely able to hold back a joyful sob.  "Here," he snarled again, jerking the chopsticks out of his father's grasping fingers and flinging them down onto Kenshin's plate, splattering drops of sauce on the tablecloth.  Then he stormed back to his seat and buried his attention in his own plate, shoveling food into his mouth, his thoughts so scattered that everyone else's conversation was meaningless background noise in his ears for quite a while.

Finally Kaoru got up to clear the table, trying to enlist the girls' help.  Kenji instantly rose to gather up dirty plates, even before realizing that the girls were too wound up to do the job properly.  He had just wanted something to occupy his hands with, but he had forgotten that if he was picking up plates, he would have to get Kenshin's, too.

Kenji quickly headed back for the kitchen, hoping that someone else would get Kenshin's plate by the time he got back.  No such luck - it was still sitting there, with Kenshin laughing obliviously above it at something Suzume was saying.  Gritting his teeth, Kenji crept out a hand and touched the edge of the plate; Kenshin suddenly turned and smiled at him again.

Kenji froze.

After a second, Kenshin picked up his plate and put it gently into Kenji's hand.  "Thank you," he said again.  "I appreciate the way you are helping your mother."

Without a word, Kenji slammed the plate on top of the pile in his other arm and stalked off to the kitchen, where he skulked until Megumi dragged him out again for the cake.

The candles had already been lit, and Ayame and Suzume were practically jumping up and down with impatience as their brother returned.

"Ken-nii, sit here!"

"We're gonna sing you a birthday song, Ken-nii!"

"Don't bother."

"Whaaaat?!"

"But we practiced!"

He endured being sung to.  Then both girls immediately crowded in front of him to blow out the candles themselves, until their mother stopped them.  It had given Kenji an idea, though.  "No - Ayame, Suzume, you guys blow out the candles.  It can be your cake.  This is your birthday party now."

"Really?!"  Their eyes were shining.  "We get to share Ken-nii's party!"

"It's Daddy's Welcome Home party too, remember?  Daddy, can we share your party, too?"

Kenji noticed Megumi and Sanosuke rolling their eyes at him, and he hid a smile.  He didn't care if they saw through him, as long as he didn't have to be the center of attention in this stupid little gathering.

"Quick, Ken-nii, make a wish so we can blow out the candles!"

"I'm wishing for a puppy!"

"Don't tell anyone, Suzume, then it won't come true!"

Suzume began to wail.  As she was soothed, Kenji looked into the candle flames and wondered what exactly it was that he wished for.  'I wish I'd never been born.'  That was all he could think of by the time Suzume had recovered.  Ayame distracted him by tugging insistently on his sleeve.

"We're ALL gonna blow together, Ken-nii!  I'll count!  One, two, three!"

Kenji didn't even bother.  He simply watched as his sisters sucked in deep breaths and then exhaled forcefully.

It was a good thing that no one was sitting at the foot of the table, because what came out of Suzume's suddenly glistening mouth was a jet of fire that incinerated the top of the cake and almost everything else in its path.  Sanosuke and Megumi jerked back, shouting.  Even Kenshin and Kaoru looked startled, and Ayame started yelling at her sister.  "You're supposed to blow air Suzume!  You ruined it!"

Suzume burst into tears again, and could not understand why her big brother had reacted to her humiliation by laughing so hard that he literally fell out of his chair.  The adults all gathered around the sobbing child, trying to soothe her (except Sanosuke, who was making up creative PG-rated swear words in the background).  Ayame crouched down and shook her brother's shoulder, insisting that he stop laughing.  "Suzume ruined your cake, Ken-nii!"  Katana seized the opportunity to slobber on his master's face.  Kenji found it all he could do to roll over and press his face into the carpet in self-defense; his sides were starting to ache from laughing so hard.

"I didn't mean it!" Suzume wailed.  "I didn't mean it!"

"She was looking at the candle flames and got mixed up," Kaoru explained to the room at large, stroking Suzume's hair soothingly.  Her husband was using a napkin to carefully wipe the protective excretion from the girl's lips.  "You were just a little too excited, Suzume-chan.  It's all right, baby."

"Mommy, Ken-nii's laughing!" Ayame insisted, perplexed.

Kenji managed to crawl over to Suzume, still grinning.  "Suzume.  Oi, Suzume.  Stop crying.  Seriously, you just totally made my day."  He got up and ruffled her hair, hoping she would shut up, but her crying had only marginally decreased.  Finally he bent down to murmur, "Be happy, Suzume-chan," and nipped her ear lightly with his teeth.

She stopped mid-sob and stared at him in surprise, for it had been a dragonish gesture.  "Am I in trouble?" she asked dolefully.

"No way.  You totally cracked me up.  Look, I'll even buy you another cake."

She sniffled and then smiled hesitantly, reaching out for him.  "Okay, Ken-nii."

By the time another cake had been procured and everyone had had their fill, it was nearly too late for the girls to still be up.  They still insisted that Kenji open his gifts, which he didn't want to do with everyone else watching.  So he told his sisters that since they were sharing his birthday party, they would get to share his presents, too, and they were quite happy to open all his gifts for him, though they were a little disappointed at the contents.

"It's a math book."

"Ken-nii, Mommy's gonna make you learn math now instead of play video games all day."

"She can just try," Kenji muttered under his breath.  He didn't see the next present until it was too late.

"Oh!"

"Haha!"

"What the--?!"  Kenji quickly snatched the package of underwear out of the girls' hands before they could comment on it, and shoved it under the table.  "Whose idea was that?" he said indignantly, catching Megumi's and Kaoru's mischievous grins too late, and wishing he hadn't seen Sanosuke's snicker.

The girls were already tearing into the next gift.  "Ah!"

"Mommy, this is a bad game!"

"There's blood on the cover!"

Megumi smacked Sanosuke on the shoulder.  "What are you giving him shooter games for?"

"Yeah, seriously," Kenji said, grinning at Sano before inspecting the video game with interest.  "You couldn't find the latest Samurai Chronicles?"

Megumi rolled her eyes and pulled the video game out of Kenji's hands, replacing it with another wrapped gift, which he promptly handed to the girls to open.

"Ooh!"

"What is it?"

"Gloves."

"They're not gloves," Kenji mumbled.  He stared at the arm guards for too long, wondered idly how to pretend not to like them, accidentally glanced at his father, immediately tore his eyes away, and quickly placed them back in the box.

It was just after the girls had brushed their teeth and right before they were going to change for bed that Kenji had a sudden idea.  He couldn't believe he was even considering it, but for some reason it seemed right.  He was finally ready.  "Ayame.  Suzume.  I have something for you."

"You do?"

"What is it, what is it!"

Kenji went to the guest room.  Megumi had been sleeping there, but she had also been making him bring his things over from her house to put in there as well.  He did not want to think about what that meant.  He didn't think of it now; he simply went to a box and pulled out a certain item.  He looked at it a long time, with emotions roiling in his chest that seemed somehow different, even darker, than what he usually felt when looking at this thing.  Then he shook his head and took it out to the girls.

"Here."  He held out the dragon toy he had gotten a long time ago from a fast food restaurant.

"Um...thank you, Ken-nii," Ayame said uncertainly.

"It's ugly," Suzume commented.

"Suzume, don't say that!" her sister scolded.

The toy was very battered - one wing had snapped off entirely, the other was heavily chipped, as was the tail; the eyes had been scratched out, and the whole thing was scuffed up and covered with what looked like a dog's bite marks.

"It is ugly," Kenji agreed.  "You guys wanna burn it?"

Ayame looked up at him, confused; Suzume narrowed her eyes in suspicion.  "I burned your cake," Suzume said warily.

"Yeah.  That was awesome.  You can burn my Enishi toy, too."

The girls stared at him.

"I mean...what's-her-name, Malicent or Malificence or whatever.  You can burn my Malicent toy."  When they still looked dubious, he grinned and tossed the toy in his hand.  "Bet you 500 yen you can't completely melt it in five seconds."

"I can melt it in five seconds!" Ayame insisted.  "Are you really gonna give us 500 yen?"

The three of them went out to the back, trailed by their slightly bemused parents.  Megumi stood watching intently, her arms tightly crossed.

"All right," Kenji said.  He eyed the girls expectantly as he tossed the toy up and down a few times in preparation.  "All together, okay?  One, two...."

Fire arced across the yard, blazing vividly against the darkness.  Katana barked frantically and shot into the house with his tail between his legs.  The girls ran out to look around in the grass for any remnants, but all they found were a few drops of melted plastic.

Kenji stood and watched them, trying and failing to figure out how he felt.  He felt a light touch on his shoulder.  Startled, he jerked away, then realized that it was Megumi.  He saw, as she gripped his shoulder more tightly, that there were tears in her eyes.  He tried to smile at her, but felt his expression dissolving; quickly he hid his face against her, and she held him for a long time.  "I'm proud of you," she whispered.

o.o.o.o.o

An hour or two later, everyone had either gone to bed or were getting ready to.  Kenji wandered into the kitchen for a drink.  As he was pouring chocolate powder into his milk, he sensed someone come in behind him, and he stiffened.  Only one other person in the house could move so silently.  He stood frozen, then finally turned his head just enough to confirm that it was indeed his father who was now moving among the counters, tidying up the last of the mess and getting out a cup from a cabinet.

The last time the two of them had been alone in this room together, Kenji had run a sword through him.

The thought sent a shiver through him, and then he couldn't seem to stop trembling, no matter hard he willed it.  Finally he said gruffly, without turning around, "Sorry."  His shoulders tensed, waiting.

Kenshin came up and lightly put an arm around him.  "Forgiven," he murmured warmly.

Kenji gritted his teeth.  He suddenly whirled away to storm out of the room.  He only caught a brief glimpse of his father's face, but there was no mistaking - there had been a smile on it.

To be continued....

Author's Notes:  Once again, everything is new except for the part where Megumi's trying to get Kenji to quit hiding in his room and go meet Kenshin.  The revisions for this story are so in-depth that it's now changed the tone of stuff I already wrote.  Even though the plot events are mostly the same, I keep having to add in more scenes for transition and to re-balance the flow, as well as re-doing a lot of already-written scenes so that they match with previous material.

I wish it had occurred to me that dragons would probably need some protective coating around their mouths when they breathe fire, but I actually first saw that idea in Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven.  Makes a lot of sense.