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One evening, they were watching their son wage battles with his wooden animals.

His wife, Seienin, slipped her hand into his. "Kagetora-sama, I've been thinking: doesn't it seem like a good time to try for a second child?"

His heart gave a single, sudden clack like a shishi-odoshi [1] when it's dropped its water.

"Watch this! Watch this!" cried Doumanmaru, smashing his wolf into his horse. "Watch!"

Kagetora pulled his eyes away from his wife. "We're watching. But what about the dragon?" He plucked up the piece and flew it over.

Doumanmaru snatched it from him. "No! Like this."

"Oh, I see." He turned back to Seienin, whose smile held a slight, excited tremble. "Yes, it's a good time, isn't it?" he answered her, trembling in himself.

It was good timing. Doumanmaru would be three in a month and needed a younger sibling. After Seienin had miscarried last year, she had been weak, but now she was fully recovered. The only difficulty was the one that never vanished: begetting was a duty Kagetora did not like. Though it had become less distasteful with practice, the act still left him feeling awkward, abnormal... violent.

But he worked at it because he owed it to her, to everyone. And when, after a month and a half of effort, she told him she was pregnant, he was relieved... no, he was filled with joy, so much so that he took her in his arms and kissed her as warmly as he ever had in bed. That night, they fell asleep with their hands clasped under the blanket.

They awoke in the moonlight to the sound of the door sliding open and Doumanmaru's whine. His nurse scampered in behind him, apologizing for the disturbance, while Doumanmaru sobbed about a bad dream and ran into his mother's arms.

"Let him stay; it's all right," Kagetora told the nurse.

"What did you see in your dream?" asked Seienin.

Doumanmaru clung to her. "There was a dragon."

Kagetora stroked his hair. "Why then, it was Grandfather."

"It was chasing me."

Kagetora lifted him from Seienin's arms and set him between the two of them. "I think maybe you thought it was, but it was really Grandfather watching over you to protect you, as he watches over all of us." He lay down and wrapped an arm around his son.

"It was chasing me!" Doumanmaru sniffled.

"It's all right now; you're safe," said Seienin, rubbing his chest. "You have Father and Mother to protect you."

Doumanmaru's sniffles faded, and soon everyone was asleep but Kagetora. He lay nestled in that particular contentment he only experienced with his child in his arms. He listened to Doumanmaru's soft, quick breaths; felt the tickle of his hair and the rapid beat of his heart.

He could paint his son's features in his mind. Doumanmaru took his chin from Kagetora and his eyebrows from his mother. Kagetora could see the whole family in those eyebrows: Doumanmaru and Seienin, Kagekatsu and Father. He opened his eyes and gazed at Seienin's moon-round face, unmasked and innocent in sleep.

Father gave me this woman, and through her, he made me Uesugi. Through the child we created, I am my brother's brother. Through this child, I am Father's son. One day, Doumanmaru would lead the Uesugi. He'll perpetuate his grandfather's blood through me. Because of his life, I will always be Uesugi.

He cradled his son and thought to him, I will protect you, all through your carefree years till you stand tall and proud beside me as heir to the Dragon. I will carry the Uesugi forward for you and leave you a clan whole and strong to rule with your grandfather's greatness.

The night united the land in peace. Warm in his bed, surrounded by the life-pulse of his son and wife and the child to be, in his house, in his home in Echigo, Kagetora knew himself embraced by the sheltering wings of Kenshin. Thus upheld, he spread his own wings wide over the gentle souls whose lives lay in his keeping.