The Way to a Man's Heart

A Rurouni Kenshin fanfic written for Tomoe-rehabilitation purposes only.^_^ Rurouni Kenshin characters are the property of Nobuhiro Watsuki.

Tomoe fanned the rice absently, breathing in its fragrance. It was not as fine as the rice she had grown up eating, but her husband always ate it without noticing its inferior quality. He never complained to her about anything, always accepted whatever she did for him, and yet... She looked sadly down at the bowl, not really seeing its contents. It was as if he had no idea how normal people behaved, or what normal expectations were. Others felt the deprivations of war. She experienced them every day, but Kenshin seemed immune to such concerns, as if he expected life to be nothing but hardship.

She fanned the rice harder, a vague feeling of guilt stealing over her. Maybe her memories caused her nothing but pain, but at least that was because she had known something better than this. Father, mother, brother. Her beloved... Tomoe gasped. She had imagined them all as she thought of them, but the face that had entered her mind at the thought of her beloved... She shook her head. He was a dangerous, unprincipled boy with no culture, no taste, no skill except killing. Tomoe threw the rice paddle down, burying her face in her hand. She didn't even know why she was cooking for him. It would be so much better to poison than to nourish him.

A scream brought her head up sharply. Tomoe raced to the door and looked out, frantically searching for the source of the cry. Kenshin was swinging the boy around, the child's delighted screams filling the evening air. As Tomoe watched them play, she realized her sudden feeling of relief was not for the child alone. She noticed a faint smile on her husband's lips, the first she had seen in days. He set the boy carefully on the ground and turned to her, as if he could sense her watching him. His smile faded, and the eyes that met hers were somber, hooded. Tomoe tried to smile, to move time back one instant, but it was impossible. She turned and went inside.

Absently, she scooped up some of the rice and began to shape it. Her mother always told her that a wife could show her feelings by how she cooked for her husband. Tomoe smiled thinly. What would her feelings for Kenshin create? A sword made out of rice? A lifeless body drenched in soy sauce blood? She laughed a little. She began to shape the rice in her hand into the form of her true feelings, her head bent low in concentration.

* * *

Kenshin sat down beside the children, waiting for Tomoe to bring them their dinner. He was just starting to notice things again. The sky, for example, had been very blue that afternoon. He didn't expect blue of that shade, didn't ask for it. And yet it had been that way. And last night, Tomoe's food seemed good to him. He assumed it was always good, but he really didn't know. What was home-cooking supposed to taste like, anyway?

Tomoe was like that perfect, blue sky: a gift. Life had never given him a present before, and he wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Who do you thank? What do you do with something precious you don't deserve? It was too strange, too good to be true. If she were to smile at him more often, he might almost believe in her. But there was always something in her eyes that begged him to keep his distance. He could believe in the children. There was nothing hidden behind their smiles. They were laughing now, pointing at something, and Tomoe was speaking to him. He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, to understand what she was saying to him. "I made something special for our dinner tonight," she said softly. He looked down at the platter in front of him. Tomoe had shaped the rice into small animals: rabbits, foxes, tanuki. Tiny pieces of daikon formed the eyes, and their whiskers were thin strips of green onion.

He gazed at them in wonder. "Am I supposed to eat this?" She misunderstood his tone. "Not if you don't want to, of course. I can fix something else..." her voice trailed away sadly. "No. No, I want to. I just... have never seen anything like this before. It's amazing." He picked a rabbit up and stared at it. "You haven't made these for me before, have you?" Tomoe smiled a little. "No," she reassured him, "this is the first time. My mother used to make these for me when I was a little girl. Children love them, as you can see." She gestured towards the boy and girl, who were busily stuffing themselves. "I don't think I could ever make anything like this." He bit into the rabbit, chewing slowly. "You even seasoned the rice." His statements, so flat and matter-of-fact, nevertheless filled her heart with a strange joy. Maybe they could be re-born, too, if the world would leave them in peace. Tomoe lifted the tray, presenting her heart to her husband. "Please," she said, "have another."