Another triumph Sano appeared to be taking pleasure in that Hajime didn’t feel like thwarting was that this time they’d called ahead before showing up at Kaoru’s apartment. It didn’t really relate to not having done so the last time, nor make Hajime regret that circumstance, but Sano seemed to think it did.
When she opened the door to them — today without hesitation — Hajime noted that Kaoru looked every bit as weary as she had two days ago, but that in her dark-ringed eyes there was also the faintest trace of hope. He hadn’t told her that her husband was, as far as he knew, already here, but he had mentioned that he and Sano brought news as good as anything that could be expected out of this situation.
“Come in,” she said at once. “Sit down.”
The apartment was sparsely furnished and decorated, and Hajime speculated that Kaoru had lacked the energy or desire, when she’d moved, to set up all the things she’d brought from the house she’d shared with her husband. Additionally, the current state of cleanliness was not the best — Hajime, whose own housekeeping was more or less impeccable, couldn’t help but notice — and, once again, absence of will and energy in disaster’s wake was probably to blame. He wondered whether she was struggling financially as well; he remembered her saying she worked from home, but had she been in any fit mental state for that since Kenshin’s death?
Two other people were present in the small, drab living room: the red-haired child they’d seen from afar the other day at the park, and that child’s red-haired, undead father. Not that the redness of Kenshin’s hair was visible in his current state, but it was easy to imagine. He had apparently been watching his son play with a couple of tiny police cars beside the couch, but now they both looked over at Hajime and Sano. Up close, Hajime thought he could see a resemblance to both parents in the child’s face.
“Hey, Kenji,” Kaoru said, with a decent facade of joviality over the dullness in her voice, “I’m going to move you into your room to keep playing, OK?” And with impressive ease she scooped up both the three-year-old and his toys and carried them out of the room.
Hajime, as had been suggested, found a seat in the chair beside the sofa, but Sano had approached Kenshin with obvious interest. “Hey!” he was saying. “Good to finally see you at last!” He made a face at the redundancy of his statement, but did not amend it.
“Yes, it is,” agreed Kenshin warmly. “I would shake your hand, but…” Instead, he bowed in the Japanese style. “Ageku yoroshiku.” And once Sano had repeated that last word with a grin, Kenshin went on, “Now I can apologize for all the trouble I have given you in particular.”
Sano, who unsurprisingly didn’t appear to need to expend much effort to understand everything Kenshin said, started to lift his right hand, winced, and made his dismissive wave with the left instead. “Don’t worry about it.”
“And I can thank you for all your hard work.”
The lop-sided grin on Sano’s face said pretty clearly (to Hajime, at least), “You don’t have any idea how much trouble and hard work it’s actually been.” What he said aloud was, “No problem.” So apparently he did have some understanding of professionalism.
“I wanted to wait for you to wake up yesterday,” Kenshin said next, apologetically, “but I was too impatient to come back here.”
“I was a little loopy whenever I did wake up, so it’s probably better you didn’t.” Sano added at a mutter, “I’m not exactly super awake right now, actually…” Which was true: all earlier interaction with Hajime and apparent energy notwithstanding, Sano had been dozing in the car on the way over. How much he’d taken in of Hajime relating what Kenshin had told him last night could not be guessed.
Politely Kenshin said, “I hope you are feeling all right, though,” with a brief glance at the exorcist. Hajime had eventually been required to explain to the ghost what he’d been forced to do to Sano, and Kenshin had never seemed quite approving. Not that it was any of his business.
“Yeah… except for the one little thing–” and here Sano too threw a glance at Hajime, though his accusation was far more facetious than Kenshin’s– “I’m actually better than before. No offense, but I’m looking forward to getting back to school without taking you with me.”
Kenshin had a very gentle smile that was probably a manifestation of the kindness Kaoru had always liked so much about her husband, but that Hajime couldn’t help considering irritatingly wishy-washy.
Now Kaoru herself reappeared in the doorway, and seemed a little confused when she saw Sano standing in the middle of the living room with the manner of one involved in conversation but turned half away from the only other person she could see. When she realized what this must mean, her eyes flew to Kenshin (or, from her perspective, the empty air where she assumed he must be), and her hands flew simultaneously to her mouth.
“Could you let her know I’m here?” Kenshin requested quietly.
Resisting the urge to point out that Kaoru had clearly already realized this, Hajime let Sano do the honors.
“Yeah, he’s here,” the young man said, turning toward the woman. “And we can talk to him now. The shade’s all gone.”
Kaoru’s breathing abruptly became unsteady, as if she was fighting off sobs. Continuing to stare toward her husband, she finally let her hands sink from before her face, though they clasped and remained just in front of her neck in a classic dramatic pose. Hesitantly and with evident difficulty she began, “Kenshin, I… I don’t…” Then glancing at Sano she asked, “Can he hear me?”
Moving in his wife’s direction, Kenshin said her name in a pitying tone.
Hajime answered before Sano could. “He can. And I know there are things you need to say to each other, but I think it would be better if we told you what we’ve learned before you two become too emotional.”
Kaoru, glancing again at where Kenshin had been before he’d come closer to her, took a deep breath and nodded. Then, with reluctant movements, she walked over to the sofa and sat down; her husband went to hover by her elbow. This left the other half of the couch unoccupied, but Sano opted to mirror Kenshin and come stand near Hajime’s chair. The exorcist considered offering to trade places with him, to let Sano sit and rest while they talked, but, doubting Sano would really appreciate being treated like an invalid and thinking there wasn’t really time to waste right now annoying him deliberately, decided against it.
Kaoru was watching them both closely — not, Hajime thought, because she was the least bit interested in anything either of them might do for its own sake, but because she wanted to follow their gazes to determine where Kenshin was.
“Mrs. Himura,” Hajime began. “I spent a lot of time talking to your husband yesterday, but it was mostly about subjects that are professionally interesting to me. I saved the information Sano and I learned to tell you both at the same time.” When Kaoru nodded again, he went on. “The anger that was keeping us from talking to him, and that affected you so unpleasantly in January and February, was not your husband’s at all.”
“Did you think it was?” asked the startled Kenshin.
“Yeah,” Sano provided. “For a while we thought you were just really mad at her.”
Briefly everything became incoherent as Kaoru first wondered what Sano meant, then realized he’d been answering a question she hadn’t heard, then started crying about how it was only natural for Kenshin to be mad at her — and Kenshin, all the while, tried futilely to reassure her that he wasn’t and never had been angry. He kept trying to touch her, obviously with no great success.
Hajime eventually cut them both off by stating loudly, “We’ll get to all that in a minute. The person who actually left behind the angry shade when he died was Enishi Yukishiro.”
The name, rather than Hajime’s volume, was what really silenced the Himuras. Kenshin went stiff and wordless in an instant, clearly extremely startled; Kaoru looked blank.
“Since you obviously don’t know,” Hajime addressed Kaoru alone, “Enishi was the brother of Kenshin’s first wife.”
Kaoru blinked once, twice, then simply stared; the blankness hadn’t really gone. Kenshin’s eyes, on the other hand, slowly closed as he bowed his head in a movement that was almost a nod of understanding and had a touch of resignation to it as well. Under other circumstances, Hajime might have given Kenshin this news separately and confirmed how much he wanted shared with others before telling anyone else; but in this case, Hajime felt Kaoru had a right to the information regardless of Kenshin’s feelings on the subject.
“Enishi…” Kenshin murmured. “Enishi. I never thought I would hear from him again.”
“Kenshin’s…” Kaoru spoke in the tone of someone trying her hardest to remain completely rational and neutral, and she managed fairly well. “Kenshin’s first wife.”
“He never could forgive me for–” the ghost was recalling, but cut himself short in order to say regretfully, “I would have told you; I would have told you.”
Again Hajime jumped in before this could go any farther. “Kenshin’s first wife died ten years ago in a car accident, and her brother blamed Kenshin for it.”
“No reason to try to exonerate me,” said Kenshin quietly. “It was my fault. Enishi had an unhealthy obsession with his sister, yes, but his belief that I killed her was completely accurate.”
Hajime paused for a moment before, deciding this was relevant enough to transmit, he said, “Kenshin wants it understood that he agrees it was his fault.”
“Oh, Kenshin.” Kaoru was crying again, and Hajime thought it had something to do with the discovery that she wasn’t the only one in this marriage to have committed (or at least to consider herself guilty of) mariticide.
In conjunction with what he’d already known, Hajime relayed what he’d just found out: “Enishi was obsessed with his sister, and never could forgive Kenshin for her death. He was the one who organized the events that led to Kenshin’s death, and when Enishi himself died, it was his leftover anger that surrounded Kenshin and made him impossible to communicate with.”
“How did Enishi die?” Kenshin wondered.
“So the…” Kaoru said at the same moment. “The man who threatened my son… and made me murder my husband… is dead?”
“He was killed by another member of his criminal organization,” Hajime nodded.
Kaoru started to sob. She probably felt as if she was in the center of a web of murder and intrigue, and no better than anyone else tangled in it.
“I need to talk to her,” Kenshin said somewhat desperately. “Face to face. Sano, I think I can see how I might be able to, if you would do me this one last favor…”
What Hajime wanted to say, accusingly, was, “You didn’t mention yesterday that you’d figured out how to possess people.” But somehow what came out of his mouth instead, concernedly, was, “Sano’s in no condition to try that.” Which was odd, because he usually didn’t have that kind of intention/delivery mismatch.
It didn’t matter anyway; one look at Sano’s face told him that. The stubborn, reckless young man had even remarked once (well, thought loudly) that it would be cool to be able to say he’d been possessed. Now he stepped forward with, “Yeah, sure.”
“I am afraid,” Kenshin said levelly, glancing at Hajime as he responded to his protest, “that it would not work with you.”
So at least Hajime knew he’d been right in thinking that he and Kenshin, only barely acquainted though they were, didn’t really like each other. How much it would mean if this procedure ended in disaster he didn’t know, but at least he had that slight consolation to bolster him.