Rurouni Kenshin Week
Day 06 | Birth
, Death, Kenshin’s or Kaoru’s Birthday
It is not uncommon for a woman to die in childbirth. That line, unknowingly picked up one summer’s day while he was wandering somewhere in Hokkaido, ran through his head incessantly. It had been eight years since he had heard that, why was it running through his head now?
Kenshin stood outside the room he shared with Kaoru, shoulders tensed and fists clenched by his side. He had been in the room when Dr. Gensai and the midwife arrived, his hand in Kaoru’s. But then the midwife told him to get some hot water and towels, and after he had delivered them she shooed him out and firmly shut the door behind him. He trusted them—no, he trusted Dr. Gensai, but was there really nothing he could do? Distantly he realized his fingernails were cutting into his palms, and he forced himself to relax.
Another scream cut through the air, sharp and piercing. The screams were the worst. The only thing that came close were the cries he had sometimes heard from his victims as he cut them down.
But this was a battle—was it even a battle?—he couldn’t fight. Because while he knew the human anatomy well, he only knew it in terms of death—a pierce under the chin and up the skull can guarantee a quick death, a horizontal strike past the belly means a long tortuous death, if you strike at any of the nine points hard enough you can kill a man, or at least incapacitate him long enough that he’ll bleed to death. But in terms of life? Kenshin knew nothing about childbirth, had shied away from it all his wandering years, convinced that his mere presence would immediately taint the purity and innocence of the moment.
But this was his child, and that was his wife, and if there was one thing Kaoru had drilled into him the past two years it was that she didn’t believe in those sorts of taints. Kenshin, I’m sorry, but that’s really dumb. Guilty presences, past mistakes—those things don’t taint other people, they only taint the person himself. Words, actions, thoughts made tangible—those things taint people. But how can a word or an action that stems from a sincere and kind thought ever corrupt innocence?
Kaoru screamed again, her voice already hoarse. Kenshin moved towards the door instinctively, but stopped when he heard Dr. Gensai’s low murmurs of encouragement. She was okay. They were okay. Then suddenly, in his head: It is not uncommon for a woman to die in childbirth.
But Kaoru was not common. Kaoru was a strong woman, the strongest woman he had ever met. She had a will to live that was a million times stronger than his own, and he was sure this iron will of hers was tripled now that she had a child to look forward to. But Kaoru was also physically small, and wasn’t the toll childbirth took on the body extremely high? What if it wasn’t a matter of will, but of body? What if it was also chance? He had heard of complications in childbirth that killed otherwise strong and healthy mothers. A false move by the midwife, something accidentally taken during pregnancy, a symptom that they hadn’t detected earlier…
It is not uncommon for a woman to die in childbirth.
No. Not again. How many times could he break before he couldn’t be put back together again? He had been broken so many times and had been saved an equal number of times, had been patched up slowly but surely, had a smile, a promise, a scar, a vow to hold on to as strong hands determinedly tried to piece him back together. But if it happened again—
He didn’t think he would survive. He would regret not staying in that room, regret not being with her as it happened, regret not doing anything and everything possible, if it only meant she would live and his son would be healthy and they could both smile again someday. And that regret would turn into guilt and he would drown, he would drown like those other times only now there wouldn’t be a warm hand to pull him back out—
No. Never again.
“Now, Kaoru-chan, you know it’s not—”
“I want my husband!”
Kaoru wanted him. Kaoru needed him. Kenshin straightened his back and slid the door open.
“Himura-san, you can’t be here!” The midwife cried.
He knew nothing about childbirth. He knew only death. He was guilty, stained, unworthy, and yet—
How can a word or an action that stems from a sincere and kind thought ever corrupt innocence?
Kaoru took him in. Kaoru gave him her hair ribbon, her smile, her kindness, her ferocity. Kaoru gave him a family and a home, and now she was giving him a child. His child. The least he could do was to stay with her while she fought a battle he could never fight. It was a selfish thought, a thought he decided all on his own, but if it was not kind at least it came from the depths of his heart and was something he yearned for with his entire being, and wasn’t that enough?
“Just let him in already, Tanaka-san. They’re obviously not going to listen to you anyway.”
Kenshin side-stepped the scandalized midwife with ease. The only thing he could see was Kaoru. Her hair haphazardly splayed across her cheeks, her mouth open as she gasped in short breaths, her eyes fever-bright with pain. She turned to him the moment he walked into the room and, with the most radiant smile he had yet seen, raised a trembling hand toward him.
He went to her. Slowly, he settled himself between her and the cushions that supported her back, bracing her against him. He clutched her hand. She squeezed back. They shared a brief, stubborn smile before the next wave of pain hit and Kaoru was screaming again. But this time he was there right behind her, and he hoped it lessened the pain for her as much as it did for him.
Five hours later, Kenshin sat next to his exhaustedwife and cradled the small, fragile, untainted form of his son.
“Thank you,” he whispered—to the doctor, to the gods, to Kaoru, to his son, he wasn’t sure which, maybe it was all four— “Thank you.”
Rurouni Kenshin Week
Day 01 | Lesson
This is so late but a quick drabble for yesterday! I’ll post today’s later today!
The first and most important thing Kaoru learnt from her father was optimism.
“People who are optimistic can survive,” he had said as he held her in his lap the day her mother died.
Optimism saved her father from wasting away with grief, but it didn’t save him in the end. A sword cut him down, and that was that. How could fragile optimism fend against sharp steel? When she received the letter from the local police informing her that he had died on the battlefront, optimism didn’t help her either. Because she had hoped, because she had remained optimistic that he would come back unscathed, this letter hurt her more than if she had prepared for the worst.
But because the first and most important thing Kaoru learnt from her father was optimism, she clung to it feverishly and desperately. She let herself cry the entire night and the next morning she woke up and prepared her own breakfast, eyes swollen and nose red. It was a terrible meal and she felt the familiar choking sensation in her throat as tears gathered in her eyes, but she swallowed both down and tried to smile. It’ll be better tomorrow. I’ll cook better. I’ll be better.
Then months passed and the hurt lessened and she threw herself into teaching and occasionally got free meals from Tae. It was better. There were unwanted suitors and even more unwanted tax collectors. Some of the townspeople shunned her for continuing to practice the sword. She lost several students. An angry parent spat at her. It would get better.
Kenshin came and it did get better. He was irredeemably pessimistic but he gave her some reason for optimism. Because he looked at her with kind eyes and didn’t mind her roughhousing and never ordered her around. Because he respected her and smiled at her. Because he stayed, even if it was just for a while. But as the days passed Kenshin said, far too often, that he was merely a wanderer passing through, and her optimism wavered. There was nothing to stop him from leaving. She certainly couldn’t. And despite the kind eyes and the smiles and the respect he would go away too, and things would go back to how it was before, only now she would have no students and the dojo would truly be empty. She redoubled her efforts and then gave up pleading with her old students to return. She stopped going to the dojo to practice her katas. She ate less. Could it get better?
The first and most important thing Kaoru learnt from her father was optimism, but she forgot that for a while.
Then a month passed and Yahiko came along, a brilliant ball of youth and vigor: “I’m Yahiko Myojin, son of a Tokyo Samurai!”
Me too, Kaoru realized. I’m the daughter of a Tokyo Samurai too.
And in Yahiko’s eyes she saw courage and hurt and apprehension and the future and fear but overriding all that, optimism—and she remembered what her father told her and thought, this was how he survived. This is how Yahiko survived.
This is how I will survive.