September 9, 1878
As soon as Enishi had been taken up the gangplank in handcuffs, Kenshin's legs buckled underneath him and he dropped, or would have if Sanosuke hadn't promptly caught him and scooped him into his strong arms.
"Sano, put me down!" cried the rurouni indignantly.
"So ya can fall face-first in the sand? Don't be stupid," was Sano's answer as they all boarded the ship for the journey home.
Kenshin was in dire need of medical attention. Now that the battle was over and the adrenaline had worn off, he was getting weak at an alarming rate with the loss of blood, dehydration and the fact that he had eaten next to nothing during the last three weeks. Megumi decided that now was the best time to act if she wanted to save his life. At a nod from the lady doctor, Sano carried Kenshin straight to Megumi's cabin, Kaoru following close behind.
In her cabin, Megumi had laid out the equipment needed to look after Kenshin properly. Sano laid Kenshin down on the bed and stepped out, closing the door behind him. The first thing Megumi did was force a sedative down Kenshin’s throat, which seemed to start working right away. Violet eyes dulled, eyelids flickered, then fell shut.
Kaoru and Megumi undressed Kenshin, revealing a horrible litany of open and festering wounds on his slim torso. Megumi examined Kenshin from head to toe, checking for internal injuries and any external ones that might not be readily visible. Using antiseptic, warm water and a sponge, Megumi meticulously removed the dirt from all the wounds, especially the very deep gash that Enishi had stabbed into his lower right abdomen, not far from the scar left by Shishio's Mugenjin three months prior. Once the wounds were clean and dry, Megumi began stitching them up. Kaoru watched in equal parts fascination and horror as the silver needle pulled the black thread through Kenshin's red wounds, sewing the edges of his pink skin back together.
Megumi spread the Takani ointment on each wound before she wrapped it in sterile gauze. Now that the biggest wounds had been tended to, it was time to see to Kenshin's right shoulder. Kaoru rolled Kenshin over on his left side and held him in position while Megumi dug into the wound with sterile tweezers to fish out the bullet. With morbid fascination, she watched every turn of the tweezers in Kenshin's wound. Finally, Megumi was able to fish the bullet out. She then flooded the wound with antiseptic. Once it had drained out, she stitched the flesh together, applied the ointment and then bandaged it. Kenshin's right arm was put into a sling to prevent him from tearing the stitches.
Megumi went to the door and called Sano back into the room. He picked Kenshin up and carried him back to the cabin with Kaoru following right behind them.
Megumi felt as though she had aged five years.
Sano took Kenshin back into the cabin and set him down gently on the futon. Without a word, he picked Yahiko up by the collar of his gi and carried him off to Megumi's room for his round of treatments, earning himself a string of expletives that would make most sailors blush. Kaoru giggled at the sound of Yahiko's fading protests. She turned her attention to the sedated swordsman, who was now wrapped in bandages and lying under the blanket on the bed.
"It's all over now," Kaoru whispered in Kenshin's ear. "We're going home."
Still under the heavy influence of the sedative, Kenshin was barely able to pry his eyelids open, gazing up at Kaoru without true focus.
"Home," he whispered.
No one could understand what that word meant to him. He hadn't had a real home where he had felt welcome and loved since he had lost his parents to cholera at age nine. Hiko had given him a roof over his head, food to eat, education and of course, kenjutsu training, but he was no substitute for a loving and understanding parent. The Kohagiya Inn in Kyoto was an Isshin Shishi hideout where Kenshin had stayed for five years of his life, but it was the furthest thing from his idea of home. Kenshin had stayed in various houses, cottages, inns, caves, etc. during his ten-year journey. None of those places had been permanent, welcoming or loving. Sure, some people had been very kindly and friendly to him, but many of them, upon finding out that he had been Battousai, had turned against him and sent him packing. Others had been well-meaning but faced threats against their safety for harboring him, forcing him in the end to leave, rather than put another innocent life in peril.
The Kamiya Dojo, with its fiery tempered kendo instructor who didn't care about Kenshin's past even though she knew he had been Battousai, was the first place he had actually felt at home at in over 20 years. He was welcomed there with open arms despite his past, despite the fact that he had slaughtered legions of people. Kenshin had been afraid of losing the friendship of those closest to him when he had finally told them about his days as a hitokiri. Instead of turning against him, they had rallied around him and supported him, something he had never encountered before. No one who hadn't lived through the kind of sorrow Kenshin had lived through could understand the full impact of that simple, one-syllable word on his lacerated heart: Home!
Kenshin let the tears fall freely as Kaoru's presence next to him soothed his aching heart. He hadn't cried in front of another since he could remember anything. Certainly, he had cried; he was human after all. But he had always waited till he was alone before releasing his emotions. With Kaoru lying next to him after he had believed her dead, it was asking too much of him in his current condition to be stoic. So he cried and Kaoru kept her arms around him and comforted him with her presence rather than her words.
After two hours, the ship pulled into Tokyo Bay.
When Saitou went down to the brig with the other cops to collect their prisoners to take to the police station, he discovered that somewhere over the sea, Yukishiro Enishi had escaped.
"You men take the other prisoners to the police station. I will launch a search for Yukishiro," he ordered.
“Yessir!” came the chorus.
As Saitou exited the ship, he saw the Kenshingumi heading to a stage coach that the police had arranged to have waiting for them when they got back. He saw the small redhead lying limply in the moron's arms and sighed inwardly. Again and again, Battousai had refused to kill.
'A hitokiri is a hitokiri until he dies, isn't he?' Saitou thought grimly as he turned away from the departing Kenshingumi to focus his attention on the search for Yukishiro.
Sano held the sleeping Kenshin in his arms as the group got into the waiting carriage. As soon as the last person piled in, they were off to home.
Once back in the dojo, everyone settled in to where they would stay for the next few days. Aoshi and Misao would have to sleep in the training hall since the living quarters were full. Misao helped Yahiko to his room since the youngster wasn't in much better shape than Kenshin.
Sano took Kenshin to his bedroom and set the sleeping warrior down on his futon, after which Kaoru thanked him for all his help. She then tucked Kenshin under a thin blanket. Just then, Megumi came into the room with some medicines.
"I'm going to give Ken-san these three medicines. They'll help knock out the pain and help him to sleep as well. He needs a lot of rest and quiet right now, Kaoru-chan," said Megumi.
Kaoru nodded and Megumi went to work, pouring the liquid into Kenshin's mouth. Kenshin swallowed it instinctively, coughing on some of it.
Megumi prepared that night's dinner, since Kaoru's "cooking" wasn't something Kenshin and Yahiko would be able to endure in their current state. Megumi decided that since Kenshin had eaten next to nothing for almost a month, it would be best to start him out on a bland miso soup and see how well he handled that.
To say that Kaoru was shocked by Kenshin's current state would have been an understatement. She was appalled. The wounds from his first encounter with Enishi should have been well-healed by now. Instead, they were still fresh to go along with the new round of wounds he'd received fighting Enishi on the Island.
Not only that, but Kenshin looked like a living skeleton. Every rib could be counted (at least those that weren't hidden beneath the bandages Megumi had applied). Every knob of his spine was visible. His skin, always naturally pale, was now almost deathly-looking. His cheeks were hollow and his normally warm violet eyes were clouded over with pain.
Kaoru brought in a cup of cold water. It was very important to get liquid into his dehydrated body. Kaoru gently shook Kenshin awake until his violet eyes opened and looked up at her with a glazed-over gaze. Kaoru supported Kenshin's head with her right hand while she held the bamboo cup to his lips with her left. Kenshin drank it a bit too quickly at first and coughed some of it up. Kaoru pulled the cup away and sat him up a bit to make sure he didn't inhale any water. Kenshin's whole body shook as he coughed, his face flushed and painful. Kaoru rubbed his back and held him till the coughing fit subsided.
"Here now. Drink it slowly," she said gently, again holding the cup to his lips. With Kaoru still cradling him, Kenshin drank the water more slowly this time, never taking his eyes off her face. When he finished, Kaoru gently laid him back down on the futon. She got up to leave, but was stopped by a weak grip on her hand. She looked down and saw Kenshin staring up at her with heartsick eyes.
"Don't go," he said hoarsely, clinging to her with all his feeble strength.
Kaoru couldn't deny the appeal of that look. She sat back down and held Kenshin's hand in both of hers, stroking it softly to lull him back to sleep. Only when his eyes closed and his breathing switched over to the steady rhythm of sleep did Kaoru pick up the cup and exit the room.
"Megumi-san, what happened to him? He has old wounds that look like they should've healed long ago. The look in his eyes, it's like he's afraid I'll disappear. He's never been like that before. Why does he look like he hasn't eaten in a month?! Please, tell me what happened while Enishi had me," said Kaoru, entering the kitchen where the doctor was finishing up cooking that night's dinner of bland miso for Kenshin and gyudon for the others.
Megumi sighed and looked Kaoru directly in the eyes. How to tell Kaoru that they had all believed her dead.
"Sit down and listen well," she instructed solemnly.
At the tone in Megumi’s voice, Kaoru sank to her cushion and fixed her eyes on the older woman.
“There are certain things that are for Ken-san himself to tell you. However, you should know the basics of what happened so you can better help him. Enishi’s Revenge was an elaborate plot, the goal of which, as you obviously know, was to take you,” Megumi began.
“To hurt Kenshin,” Kaoru interjected.
Megumi sighed. If only it were that simple.
“More than hurt. Enishi engineered your abduction in a way that left us all believing that he had killed you,” Megumi continued.
“What?!” yelped Kaoru, eyes widening in horror.
“That’s why it took so long for us to come for you. It… it killed him inside, Kaoru. Ken-san’s mind shut down. He retreated to a slum and just sat there with the Sakabatou bound in chains, without moving. When we found him there, he told us that he was too tired and asked us to let him rest in peace,” Megumi concluded.
“And you just left him there alone?!” cried Kaoru incredulously.
“You need to understand, Kaoru. Yes, we could’ve forced him out of there. I could’ve drugged him and bound his wounds, force-fed, him. But in the end, it would make no difference. Ken-san would’ve been just as catatonic at the clinic or here as he was in the slum. This was a battle that Ken-san had to fight alone,” explained Megumi.
“But he did. He came to the island, fought Enishi and won. We all heard what he said about how he’ll keep on fighting for those he loves, to make us smile,” said Kaoru.
“Indeed, he did win that battle. But Kaoru, even battles won can leave deep scars,” said Megumi.
‘After all, I was the same way when Kenshin left for Kyoto. I had to make up my mind to overcome my weakness and be strong so I could see Kenshin again. Now, he’s the one who’s been hurt and needs support.’
"What can I do to help him?" she asked.
"Be there for him," answered Megumi.
Kaoru steeled herself.
"I'll do it," she said, eyes shining with determination.
"Good," said Megumi as the women stood up. "Well I'm done here for today, so I'll head back to the clinic. Just leave the food to keep warm on the stove for a few hours. Good night and… welcome home, Kaoru-chan."
"Thanks for everything, Megumi-san," said Kaoru with a bow.
Kaoru slid open the fusuma and walked into Kenshin's room. The swordsman had been sleeping for the past four hours. She loathed waking him up, but Megumi was right and he needed to eat to regain his strength.
Kaoru set the bowl of miso down and gently shook Kenshin's shoulder.
"Kenshin, wake up. I brought food," she said coaxingly.
Violet eyes fluttered open and looked up at Kaoru, who smiled at him. Kenshin just stared back at her, always that haunted look in his eyes.
"It's miso soup. Megumi-san made it, so you needn't worry about being poisoned by my cooking," Kaoru joked, trying to lessen the tension in the atmosphere.
Kenshin still only stared at her.
"Here, I'll help you sit up," Kaoru said at last, giving up on her attempt at levity.
Kenshin was very groggy from Megumi’s sedatives and it was asking too much for him to sit up on his own just now. Kaoru sat down on the floor behind him and leaned against the wall, then gently pushed him into a sitting position and had him lean his weight against her. Kaoru picked up the bowl in both her hands and held it to Kenshin's lips. If Kenshin felt awkward eating in this fashion, he didn't say so. He permitted Kaoru to feed him the soup. The soup didn't have too much solid food in it because Megumi didn't think his system could handle a lot of solids at this point, as he had eaten so little in the weeks since Kaoru's "death" and would have to work his strength up gradually.
Kenshin was able to finish the soup and keep it down, which was a good sign in and of itself. When he finished, Kaoru cradled his head and laid him back down on the futon as if he were an infant. Slipping her hand under the folds of his yukata, she began a slow and gentle massage of Kenshin's belly to help him digest the food. The light touch felt very good to the ailing warrior. Kenshin's eyelids grew heavier moment by moment.
Before his eyes closed, he said one thing: "Thank you..."
Then he was asleep.
In the thick haze of smoke, he couldn't see anything, his senses thrown badly askew. All he could smell was the scent of white plum.
"Kaoru-dono! Kaoru-dono, where are you?" he called, coughing as the white plum assaulted him.
Gripping the hilt of the Sakabatou, Kenshin fumbled around, trying to find his way to the training hall.
Kenshin made his way into the dojo. The haze seemed to lift, revealing a human form. What he saw was forever burned into his mind. Kaoru sat with Enishi's watou staked through her heart, pinning her against the wall. A cruciform scar was carved onto her left cheek. Her blue eyes were wide-open and stared unseeingly at the swordsman who collapsed to his knees before her, curling himself up into a little ball. An inhuman scream erupted from deep within him as his will to live dissolved into nothing.
Kenshin jerked awake, his body covered in sweat and his eyes wild with terror. The sound of the fusuma sliding open caused him to look up. Kaoru came running into the bedroom, her eyes filled with worry for the redheaded swordsman. She was alive! She was safe! It had just been the nightmare, the same nightmare that had relentlessly plagued his sleep during the time he had rotted in Rakuninmura.
"Kenshin, are you alright?" asked Kaoru, kneeling by the swordsman's bedside and gripping his shoulders.
"Kaoru..." Kenshin choked on his words.
His throat tightened and his face contorted as the dream and the time in Rakuninmura washed over him, flooding his eyes with tears. It was too much, he couldn't fight the wave of emotion that flooded over him and started sobbing brokenly.
"Kenshin..." whispered Kaoru as she witnessed the unusual display of emotion from the swordsman.
'You thought I was dead...’'
Wanting to be as close to her redhead as possible and offer comfort, Kaoru took Kenshin into her arms and rocked him, rubbing his back soothingly. It was the only thing she could think of to do.
"There, it's alright now. We're all home, safe and sound," she said.
Kaoru held Kenshin close to her till he had cried himself out. Gently she laid him back down on the futon.
"Do you think you can get back to sleep?" she whispered, not wanting to leave him alone in this state.
"Please stay," Kenshin whispered.
Kaoru was afraid now that if she went back to bed, Kenshin would have more nightmares, keeping both of them up that night. Sleep was what his body needed most right now. It seemed that the only way for him to get that was if she stayed with him to ward off the nightmares. She decided what she would do.
"Kenshin, I'm going to my room quickly to get something. I'll be right back, OK?" she asked, still holding his left hand.
Kaoru left his room and flew back to hers. On her way to her room, she ran into Yahiko, who had also been roused by Kenshin's screams.
"What are you doing out of bed?" she asked him in a whisper.
"Wuddya think, ya crone? I heard Kenshin screaming. He was having a nightmare, huh?" said Yahiko, guessing at what it was.
"Yes he was, but he's awake now. You need to go back to bed and let me worry about Kenshin," said Kaoru, gripping the boy's shoulders and nudging him back to his own room.
"Yeah whatever, hag," said Yahiko as he limped back to his room.
'That kid,' thought Kaoru as she headed quickly to her room before Kenshin got upset again.
She quickly rolled up her futon and carried it back into Kenshin's room. After sliding the fusuma shut, she unrolled her futon next to his and eased herself in. Kenshin's eyes widened.
"Kaoru-dono, what are you..." he asked.
"Sleep, Kenshin. I'll be here in the morning," Kaoru said, squeezing his hand.
Violet eyes gazed into blue as Kaoru began slowly stroking Kenshin’s hand. The soft, gentle motion took the edge off Kenshin’s nerves and finally lulled him back into slumber.
Kaoru sat there for a long while after Kenshin had dropped off, watching his chest rise and fall as he slept.
Finally, sleep claimed her too.
The second day began much like the first. Megumi came over bright and early and made breakfast for everyone. While Megumi cared for Yahiko, Kaoru tended to Kenshin, then helped Megumi change his bandages. Kenshin spent the rest of the day asleep. He seemed the tiniest bit better today, seeming to not be in as much pain as yesterday. He was able to keep his food down, which certainly was helping him to regain strength.
Kaoru kept a silent vigil over Kenshin's futon as he slept deeply, just as she had in Kyoto after his grave injuries from his battle with Shishio. Kenshin was perfectly still save for the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed evenly and deeply. In Kyoto, his sleep had been fitful and his breathing shallow. So even though it was hard to see Kenshin injured again so soon after recovering from the Shishio ordeal, this wasn't anywhere nearly as nerve wracking. Kenshin would be fine if he would just be allowed sufficient time to recover before the next adversary dropped by to turn their lives upside down.
Kaoru was startled from her reverie by movement from the futon and a low cry. Kenshin was beginning to thrash, his face contorted as another nightmare began to take root in his mind. She reached out and softly touched Kenshin's brow, gently smoothing back his thick bangs. This seemed to help a bit; Kenshin stopped thrashing. He did however continue to moan. Kaoru added low humming to the stroking. The combination of her touch and her voice did the trick. Kenshin's body relaxed and his features became more peaceful as he retreated back into deep sleep. Kaoru gradually stopped stroking his bangs and humming and then slowly pulled back a bit, regarding the beautiful sleeper before her.
Kaoru walking along the engawa, on her way back to Kenshin’s room from the outhouse.
Kaoru looked up and saw Tae and Tsubame running toward her. Forgetting herself, Kaoru jumped down from the engawa in her stocking feet and ran over to the two waitresses.
“Welcome, back Kaoru-chan!”
“We missed you, Kaoru-san!”
“Sorry for worrying all of you. I’m back and I have no intentions of leaving ever again!” cried Kaoru as the three exchanged tearful embraces.
“Sae?! What are you doing in Tokyo?!” came Misao’s voice as the kunoichi came around the corner.
“Eh?” said Tae, looking at the Oniwaban girl in confusion. “I’m Tae.”
Tsubame began giggling at this.
“Tae-san, this is Makimachi Misao-san who helped Yahiko-kun find where Kaoru-san was being held. Misao-san, this is Tae-san,” Tsubame explained.
Misao looked from Tsubame and Tae to Kaoru.
“Sae and Tae are twins,” Kaoru explained patiently.
“Ooooh. For a second, I thought I was losing my mind,” laughed Misao, clutching the back of her neck in embarrassment.
The first thing Kenshin became of aware of was that his head was resting on someone's lap. He felt someone's hands tenderly stroking his long hair as he slept. Kenshin opened his eyes and looked up into Kaoru's smiling face. A shy smile graced his features.
"Good morning, sleepyhead," said Kaoru softly.
She looked Kenshin over to see how he was. His eyes were clear and free of the pain that had clouded them for the last few days.
"Good morning, Kaoru,” said Kenshin softly.
Kaoru's heart skipped a beat in her chest. In the time they had known each other, Kenshin had never called her by name without tacking on the hopelessly archaic honorific.
A smile broke out on her features, which was promptly reflected on his as well.
With Kaoru still cradling his head in her lap, Kenshin watched as Megumi checked him over. She had anticipated a much longer recovery time, but this man was amazing her. She looked into Kenshin's violet eyes and noted how clear they were. Kenshin regarded her steadily as she looked him over.
"How do you feel Ken-san?" she asked as she prepared her stethoscope.
"Tired, but alright otherwise," answered Kenshin, voice stronger now, though still a bit raspy.
Megumi listened to Kenshin's heartbeat with her stethoscope, then checked his pulse. "Your heart and pulse seem good. If you keep healing at this pace, you'll be out of bed in one week instead of two. You're quite a man, Ken-san. I'll step out so Kaoru-chan can look after you."
"Thank you, Megumi-dono," said Kenshin.
Kenshin's bandages needed to be changed, and as he hadn't had a bath since Megumi had tended him on the ship, he was getting rather rank. After covering his futon with a sheet, Kaoru carefully removed the bandages from the healing wounds, pouring warm water when necessary to remove the noisome ones that decided to stick to his flesh. This done, Kaoru wetted a cloth and began gently sponging Kenshin's torso, being careful to keep the soapy water out of the still-healing wounds.
Kenshin blushed six shades of red as Kaoru ran the cloth over his smooth skin. His pride disliked being babied in this way, but it felt good to his body. Kaoru's hands were as light and gentle as a doctor's and the warm water felt good against his itchy skin and soothed sore, overtired muscles. Kenshin closed his eyes and let his mind float as Kaoru washed his upper body and arms. After she finished soaping him, Kaoru used another cloth from a second bowl of warm water to rinse away the soapy water. This done, she patted him dry.
Kaoru then went to work cleaning the wounds and putting Megumi's ointment on them before dressing them in new, clean bandages. Finished with Kenshin's torso and arms, Kaoru covered his upper body with a light blanket and went to work washing off his legs, which was easier because there were no wounds to avoid. When she finished, she moved Kenshin back to the futon. Kaoru covered him up with the blanket. They stared into each other's eyes for a while. Kaoru was very happy that the pain was no longer wracking her beloved and that he didn't need to be sedated anymore. It seemed that slowly, but steadily strength was returning to his body. Kaoru took his left hand in both of hers and kissed it. Kenshin smiled up at her as he closed his eyes and let the oblivion that is sleep claim him once again.
Kaoru watched as Kenshin slept. His angelic face was tranquil and free of pain. She stroked the flame-colored locks with the soft touch that she didn't know she possessed. A small smile crept across Kenshin's face, though the eyes remained shut. Even in sleep, he knew she was there and appreciated her gentle touch. Kaoru smiled to herself. A dearer and more lovable man had never trodden the soil of Japan, she decided then and there.
As much as she enjoyed watching Kenshin sleep, Kaoru did find herself growing bored after two hours. Silently she rose and left his room, returning with some books that she had purchased, but never had the chance to read before Enishi had kidnapped her. Kaoru sat back against the wall and began reading silently.
She'd been reading for about two hours when she heard Kenshin stir to wakefulness. He stretched out to get the kinks out of his joints, then turned his head and looked up at Kaoru with that wistful expression of his. Kaoru smiled at him, causing that shy, sweet smile to spread across the rurouni's face.
"Hey, you," said Kaoru softly, stroking Kenshin's hair.
Kenshin's smile broadened.
"Kaoru," he said, never removing his eyes from her face.
Then he noticed the book. "Is that a new book? I don't remember it."
"Yeah. I just brought these so I'd have something to do while you sleep. Watching you sleep gets a little boring after a while," teased Kaoru.
"Anyway, this is a swordsman adventure book. When I was little, the boys would tell me I should read romance novels and not adventure stories because I was a girl. I hate romance novels because they're boring," said Kaoru. "I'd ever so much rather read a Feudal Era story. Would you like me to read it to you?"
"Yes, please," asnwered Kenshin.
Kaoru took up the book and began reading. She read the first six chapters, which were very long. Kenshin lay on his back and listened with rapt enjoyment. Presently Kaoru's throat became dry and scratchy. She tried to clear her throat, but it was starting to hurt. Kenshin reached out for the book.
"Let me read now. You don't want to lose your voice," he offered.
Kaoru nodded gladly.
"Let me get a cup of water quickly. I'll be right back," she said.
Kenshin nodded and she hurried out. When Kaoru came back, Kenshin started reading from chapter seven while Kaoru soothed her parched throat with water.
After Kenshin finished the chapter, Kaoru indicated that her throat felt alright. She took the book and read chapter eight. Kenshin read chapter nine. The two of them spent the rest of the day reading aloud to each other, chapter by chapter, from Kaoru's books.
As they took turns reading, Kaoru observed Kenshin. He seemed to come alive as they read. His eyes lit up and his beautiful smile spread across his face. He laughed when they read the funny passages. It seemed like Kenshin was starting to become his old self once again.
Kaoru was walking through the dojo, searching for Kenshin. She could hear him crying out, calling for her, his voice filled with agony. Kaoru couldn't see him in the awful darkness. She called out for him several times, but was answered only by his pitiful cries. As Kaoru rounded the corner that led to the training hall, she saw the most horrifying sight she had ever laid eyes on.
Kenshin was lying on the middle of the floor, curled up in a fetal position. He was naked with open and festering wounds as well as fresh blood covering his whole body. He was writhing around on the floor as he screamed for her. She bolted over to the swordsman and pulled him into her arms.
"Kenshin, I'm here. You're going to be alright," she assured him.
How had he gotten like this? And worse, why wasn't he responding to her? Kenshin continued to thrash about and cry. It was as if he had no idea she was holding him.
"Kaoru! Where are you?" Kenshin screamed, his face contorting in agony.
Kaoru shook him to try and get his attention.
"I'm right here. Can't you see me?" she shouted, turning his face to look into hers.
Kenshin went still and Kaoru thought maybe she was gaining some ground. As suddenly as the stillness had descended, it disappeared as Kenshin broke into new fit of struggling and sobbing.
"Kenshin! Kenshin please. I'm with you! You don't have to suffer anymore!" Kaoru cried, tears falling freely from her eyes as she held the bloody and delirious man close to her.
Kaoru awoke with a start, her heart slamming in her chest. She looked frantically around the dark room and then held still to listen. Her ears were greeted by the sound of deep, regular breathing. She turned on her side and was very much relieved to see Kenshin still in the futon next to hers. He was not writhing around on the ground. He was not covered in blood. And he was not screaming out for her. Kaoru felt her heart slowing down to a normal pace as relief washed over her.
She lay back down on her right side so she could see her Rurouni. She was very disturbed by the dream. Sure, she had had nightmares before, but not like that. Kaoru closed her eyes and willed herself to go back to sleep, but it did no good. The normally friendly darkness of the room now seemed cold and lonely. Kaoru heard Kenshin murmur her name softly in his sleep. She wanted to be closer to him, wanted to touch him, to feel his body against hers.
Kaoru pushed the blanket off her and crawled out of her futon. Slowly she lifted Kenshin's blanket and settled herself under it, replacing it over both of them. Kaoru slowly settled down against Kenshin's warm body, pillowing her head on his left shoulder and draping her left arm across his bandaged torso.
Even in sleep, Kenshin sensed Kaoru's nearness. Kaoru felt his left arm wrap itself around her as he drew her even closer to his body. Was that a small smile she saw tugging at his lips? Kaoru closed her eyes and finally was able to find sleep next to the man she loved.
The sun greeted Tokyo with its beautiful golden rays, bathing the land in its brilliance the next morning. Kaoru blinked her eyes annoyedly at the light intruding on her sleep. Finally, she cracked her right eye open and looked into a pair of amused and curious violet eyes. Kaoru blushed six shades of red as the memory of last night returned to her.
"Good morning, dearest," said Kenshin, amusement evident in his voice.
'Dearest?!!!' Kaoru thought to herself in alarm.
In the course of two days, she had gone from being Kaoru-dono to Dearest. Part of Kaoru was thrilled, part was a bit apprehensive.
"G-good morning, Kenshin," she squeaked.
She quickly decided to lie her way out of this one. How daft would Kenshin think she was if she told him she'd climbed into bed with him because of a nightmare, like a frightened little girl?
"You're probably wondering why I'm lying in your futon. I woke up last night because I was cold and didn't want to wake you up making a fire, so I thought body heat would do the trick, and well, it worked wonders," she finished carelessly.
"A lie," said Kenshin simply. "Something frightened you. A nightmare perhaps?"
Kaoru was stunned silent. Was there any lying to this man? How did he always see through people? She sighed, knowing it would be useless to continue the lie.
"Yeah. I had a dream. It was a bit unsettling, and I just couldn't get back to sleep," she said, hoping that would satisfy Kenshin.
Kenshin stroked Kaoru's raven hair gently and stared at her as if he were probing her soul.
"Do you want to tell me?" he asked gently.
"Soon, Kenshin, but not just yet," she replied.
In truth, she wanted very much to tell Kenshin about her dreams, but didn't think it would be right while he was still recovering.
After the morning bandage change, Kaoru went out to the kitchen and found Megumi already there, having just finished up making steamed white rice for breakfast. She handed two trays with bowls and chopsticks on them to Kaoru.
"Since Ken-san's been able to keep the miso down, I'd like to try him on solids now. See if he can tolerate some white rice for breakfast. If he can keep it down, I'll include some other vegetables for lunch," said Megumi.
"Okay," said Kaoru, taking the trays back into the bedroom.
Kenshin was anticipating breakfast when Kaoru came in, having smelled the rice cooking. He was already sitting up against a large cushion. He smiled at Kaoru as she set up the tray.
"Do you feel up to white rice?" asked Kaoru.
"Yes. That sounds good," said Kenshin, who noticed that he was beginning to feel hungry again.
Kaoru set the tray with the bowl on Kenshin's lap, broke the chopsticks apart and handed them to him. Kenshin tried to position the chopsticks in his left hand, but couldn't. Like most others, he was right handed. He wielded his sword with his right hand and used chopsticks with his right hand. He held the chopsticks awkwardly and tried to scoop up some rice, but it spilled back into the bowl, much to his consternation.
"Here," said Kaoru softly.
She took the chopsticks, dipped them in the rice and held them up to Kenshin who frowned. She was already bathing him, changing his bandages and now he was to be fed too? He began to feel frustrated and useless. The light left his eyes and frowned weighted his handsome features down.
"Now, don't be frustrated. Megumi-san says your shoulder's healing nicely. You'll be able to use your right hand within the month. In the meantime, is it really so shameful to accept help from the woman who loves you?" asked Kaoru, guessing at what made her redhead so morose all of a sudden.
Kaoru's words brought Kenshin to his senses in an instant, making him smile again.
"No, not when you say it that way," he admitted and permitted Kaoru to feed him the rice.
When the rice was finished, Kenshin drank the green tea Kaoru had brought. Kaoru was impressed with how much better the man looked in just four days. Kenshin had no trouble keeping the rice down and was very alert having eaten, which was a good sign. Sitting next to her swordsman, Kaoru absently traced her fingers over Kenshin's torso, softly stroking his abdomen. Kenshin flinched.
'He's ticklish...' thought Kaoru.
That might be fun to explore in the future.
After Kaoru had cleared out the eating stuff, she brought out the shogi board, which hadn't been used since her father was alive. The two of them spent the next few hours locked in combat on the chessboard. Kenshin won all the games, but none of them was an easy victory. Kaoru was a foe worthy of his steel.
In the afternoon, Sano came by the dojo to see about visiting Kenshin. Yahiko wanted to get out of bed and visit him too. Megumi had wanted to wait till he was a bit stronger before he had a lot of people visiting, but Kenshin was so much stronger now that Megumi okayed visitors, but only one at a time.
"How come you get to go in first?" whined Yahiko.
"Cuz I'm older," said Sano, bopping Yahiko on the head, causing the boy to jump up and take a chomp of his hair, despite his injuries.
After prying Yahiko off his head, Sano knocked on the fusuma and waited for the quiet voice to invite him in. Sano slid the door open and slipped in, shutting it behind him. Kenshin was sitting up against the cushion wearing a yukata. He looked comfortable, but was getting a bit restive.
"Hey, Sano," he said with a smile.
It was good to see his buddy again after almost a week.
"Hey, Kenshin. You look great," said Sano.
Kenshin looked over his bandaged torso.
"Compared to what?" he asked wryly.
"My hand?" he offered, holding up his bandaged appendage.
"Sit down. How is everything?" asked the rurouni.
Sano slid down and sat next to Kenshin. He sighed and leaned his head back against the wall.
"Is something bothering you?" asked Kenshin.
"Yeah... I been meanin’ to say... I’m sorry for... y’know, poppin’ ya one in the jaw and then runnin’ off just when ya needed me most. Some right hand man I turned out to be," Sano apologized.
Kenshin shook his head, jaw set.
"No. I deserved it," he said. "My weakness was the cause of all this."
"Aw, Kenshin. Quit downin' yourself," said Sano. "Yer allowed to be sad. Yer human like the rest of us."
"Thanks, Sano..." whispered Kenshin, not wanting to pursue the subject any further. Sano wisely decided to let it go.
The Rooster reached into his jacket and pulled out some papers.
"Here, Kenshin. I gotcha some readin' material," he said with a wink, handing the papers to Kenshin.
Kenshin unfolded them and quickly folded them up.
"Sano! Do you know what Kaoru-dono would do if she saw these?" he cried.
"Just hide 'em," said Sano.
"Orooo," said Kenshin, wondering at his friend's crassness. However he didn't want to offend Sano, so reluctantly accepted the offering.
"Well, I better haul ass and give the punk a chance to talk with ya," said Sano.
"It was good to see you again, Sano. Stop by tomorrow if you like," he said.
"Okay, buddy. You keep gettin' better," said Sano, getting up to walk out.
"I will," said Kenshin.
A minute later Yahiko came in, after being severely warned by Kaoru and Megumi to be quiet around Kenshin. He thought they were being overprotective females, but didn't want to get a beating, so was on his best behavior. Kenshin eyed the boy's movement and smiled, guessing at what bodily harm he had been threatened with. He motioned for Yahiko to sit next to him. Yahiko slumped down against the wall.
"How are you feeling?" asked Kenshin, noting Yahiko's own set of bandages.
"I'm fine. These are nothing," said Yahiko, gesturing at the bandages. "Nothing hurts me."
Yahiko's voice trailed off and he looked down. In truth, he had been hurt. It had hurt him to see what he thought was his sensei being buried in the ground and to see the man he had come to regard as his father figure fall to pieces and shrink from the world in Rakuninmura. For three weeks, Yahiko had remained at the dojo and gone all over Tokyo with Misao, trying to find where Kaoru was being held.
Kenshin sensed the strong emotion in the young man's ki. He knew he'd let everyone down when he went insane and fled to Rakuninmura. He had been punishing himself with that thought since he had regained his senses and re-emerged. Sano told him it was alright to be human and grieve, but he felt that he'd taken it too far and hurt those dearest to him.
"It must have been very frightening for you, to have the two people you've come to see as your family, suddenly gone. One, seemingly dead. The other, rotting in a slum. In the chaos, a boy who had lost his parents was forgotten. For that, I am sorry..." said Kenshin.
"Stop it, Kenshin. Quit apologizing for everything. You couldn't help how you felt when you thought... I handled it fine, just as a samurai should," chided Yahiko.
Kenshin smiled at the boy's bravery.
"Yes and a fine one at that. You were the strongest of us. Thank you for lending your strength to me when my own had given out," he said.
"Forget it," said Yahiko. "I owed you that much for saving me from the yakuza and all. We're even now; two men."
"Two men," Kenshin agreed.
Just then the fusuma slid open. Kaoru was standing in the doorway.
"Alright, Yahiko-chan, visiting hours are over. You need to get back to bed," she said firmly.
"Hey, ya ugly crone, can't you see me and Kenshin are having a man-to-man talk?" said Yahiko.
"Really? Where's the other man?" said Kaoru.
"Look in the mirror," returned Yahiko.
"Why you little..." roared Kaoru.
Yahiko broke away from Kenshin's side and crashed through the rice paper wall to get away from Kaoru.
"YOU OWE ME A NEW WALL, YAHIKO-CHAN!!!!"
"Don't call me Chan!" was the last thing Kenshin heard Yahiko say before the inevitable WHACK.
After being scolded by Megumi for beating up Yahiko while he was injured, Kaoru came into the room to spend time with her red-head. After they'd shared a meal of rice and cooked fish, Kaoru sat against the cushion and wrapped her arms around Kenshin, who leaned against her and closed his eyes in contentment.
"Did you have fun today?" asked Kaoru.
"I know you're unhappy being cooped up like this," said Kaoru. "Maybe tomorrow you could try getting out of bed if you feel up to it."
"Only if you come out with me," murmured Kenshin, snuggling closer to her.
Kaoru stroked Kenshin's fiery mane.
"It's a date," she whispered, receiving a smile in response.
The couple fell asleep in that position.
"Kaoru, wake up," Kaoru heard a soft voice say the next morning. She woke up and looked into a pair of warm violet eyes. Kenshin smiled when he saw that she was awake.
Kenshin held out his bandaged left hand. Kaoru took it and he pulled her to her feet in one fluid move. Kaoru looked him over incredulously. He had gotten up and gotten dressed while she had still been asleep, with his right arm still in the sling! Kenshin smiled at the expression on her face.
"How did you get dressed? You didn't use your right arm, did you?" she asked in alarm.
"Can't a swordsman keep some secrets?" said Kenshin with a smile. He nodded toward the door. "Shall we?"
Kenshin led Kaoru out of the room and out onto the engawa. They sat down beside each other. Kaoru snuggled against Kenshin who put his left arm around her and held her close to him. They watched the sun rise together, enjoying the early autumn morning.
Megumi, who had come in through the front gate, came outside, having found the bedroom and house empty. She wanted to see if Kenshin's bandages had been changed yet. She rounded the corner and saw the couple sitting together, the picture of bliss. She decided the bandage change could wait a while and went inside to start breakfast.
Kaoru and Kenshin smelled cooking food. Kaoru looked back toward the kitchen.
"Megumi-dono's cooking breakfast. She's been here for about for 30 minutes," said Kenshin absently.
"That's nice," said Kaoru simply, wishing she could sense people the way Kenshin could.
Kenshin stood up and offered Kaoru his hand. They went in together and found that Megumi had laid out miso soup and fish for breakfast. The three ate together. After they were finished, Kenshin complimented Megumi highly as usual. Kaoru frowned. She wanted to be the one whose cooking Kenshin complimented, and meant it. He seldom said mean things about her cooking the way Sano and Yahiko did, but if they were to be man and woman together, she would have to be able to cook for him. Kaoru decided that she was going to teach herself to cook, even if it killed her.
Back in the bedroom, Megumi removed Kenshin's old bandages and checked his wounds. They were healing very nicely and there wasn't even a trace amount of blood coming from any of them. Megumi undid the sling and moved Kenshin's arm about, doing so carefully to avoid causing him any pain. His shoulder was healing very well too. The sling might be able to come off in two weeks instead of three.
"You're an amazing man, Ken-san," she said as she finished dressing the wounds in new bandages.
Kenshin smiled. He didn't think he was amazing, but didn't mind hearing his friends say it!
Megumi cleared Kenshin to start doing some light work around the dojo such as dusting and polishing. Kenshin sorely missed doing the laundry and sweeping, but it was nice to be functional again in some capacity. Kenshin did various one-handed jobs until noon. It was around then that he heard a string of muffled expletives coming from the kitchen.
Kenshin came in and found Kaoru, trying to chop vegetables for lunch and having a miserable time doing it. The damn things seemed to roll off the cutting tray on their own. Kaoru got so frustrated with an errant sweet potato, that she picked it up and was about to chuck it out the window, when Kenshin stopped her.
"Kaoru, what are you doing?" he asked her.
"What's it look like I'm doing?" snapped Kaoru. "I'm cooking!"
"It looks like you're mutilating these vegetables to me," said Kenshin, trying not to laugh.
"Kenshin, I'm in a bad mood and I'm holding a sharp knife," said Kaoru with an edge in her voice.
"What's the matter?" asked Kenshin. "Megumi-dono left plenty of..."
"That's what's the matter!" cried Kaoru, spinning around to face Kenshin, sharp knife in hand. "Megumi's doing all the cooking. I'm the one who loves you, not her! I'm going to learn to cook even if I blow up this dojo trying!"
"If you wanted to learn how to cook, why didn't you just say so?" asked Kenshin gently. "I would be happy to teach you."
"Really?" asked Kaoru, feeling badly for snapping at Kenshin and turning on him with a kitchen knife, yet another of her unwomanly shortcomings.
"Really," said Kenshin, pressing his body against Kaoru's and bringing up his good hand to cover her left. Kenshin guided Kaoru's hand over the potato and showed her how to hold it down.
"Now, cut into it slowly. Don't hack," said Kenshin.
For the rest of the hour, Kenshin gently and patiently instructed Kaoru on matters of the kitchen. Kaoru learned that the reason she had trouble with cooking was because of her lack of patience. She always tried to hurry through meal preparations, with unbecoming results. Kenshin showed her that cooking was something that must be done slowly and with great attention to detail.
Kaoru had always wanted to learn to cook. Her mother had died before she had been old enough to begin lessons. Megumi was a good cook, but Kaoru had never felt comfortable enough around her to ask, and Tae was too busy running the Akabeko every day. Finally she got what she had wanted her whole life, not from another woman, but from a man who had taken on many of the functions of a woman. Life was just full of ironies.
By the time the meal was prepared, Kaoru finally had a vague understanding of kitchen matters. Kenshin promised to teach her a bit more every day. Kaoru couldn't wait for the day when meal preparations came as easily to her as kendo drills.
As promised, Sano dropped by that evening for dinner. Megumi, along with Aoshi, Misao and Yahiko joined them, being rather surprised at the food already being prepared, but said nothing of it. This was their first time eating together as a group since the start of the Revenge.
"Hey, Vixen this is some damn fine goya chanpuru," complimented Sano.
"Yeah. Thanks for doing all the cooking. With Kenshin outta commission, you're the only one who can cook decently around here," said Yahiko.
"Actually, I didn't cook this food," said Megumi. "Kaoru-chan did."
"Yeah, right," said Sano.
"Megumi-dono tells the truth. Kaoru-dono did indeed cook this meal," said Kenshin, backing Megumi up.
Sano, Yahiko and Misao gaped at Kaoru, who just smiled smugly and let the coals burn on the two fellows' heads. Kenshin smiled at her, happy that she was finally getting that monkey off her back. Sano and Yahiko ate the rest of the meal in silence, wondering how the hell Kaoru had learned to cook so well. Aoshi of course, said nothing.
It was time for Kenshin to have his stitches out. He held perfectly still as Megumi cut and pulled the stitches out of his wounds.
"Another week and we'll be able to take your arm out of the sling, Ken-san," she said.
"Thank you, Megumi-dono. You're a wonderful doctor," said Kenshin, who was very glad to be rid of the noisome stitches.
Just a week after returning from Enishi's Island, Kenshin was well enough to travel.
Kenshin and Kaoru walked through the gateway into the quiet graveyard, shaded by lovely old trees and decorated by many stone gravestones on either side of the sidewalk they trod softly upon.
Kenshin's right arm was still in the sling. In his left hand, he carried a bucket full of flowers. At his side, walked Kaoru, who was equally excited and nervous about her impending "introduction" to Tomoe.
When they arrived at the small grave, their eyes widened in surprise at the sight of two buckets of flowers, burning incense, a hairpin and a small vial of white plum all laid out at the grave.
"Did Enishi come?" asked Kaoru.
"It would seem so from the flowers," said Kenshin as he stooped down and picked up the hairpin.
'What other relatives could Tomoe have had besides Enishi?' he thought.
"What is it, Kenshin?" asked Kaoru, made curious by the rurouni's silent appraisal of the hairpin.
"Oh, it's nothing," said Kenshin, gently replacing the hairpin.
Kenshin and Kaoru folded their hands together and spoke silently to Tomoe's spirit.
'Hello, Tomoe-san. My name is Kamiya Kaoru. I just wanted to thank you for watching over me while I was on the island with Enishi and keeping him from killing me. Kenshin told me about what you did for him and your love for him, even to the point of giving your life. I thank you so much for saving Kenshin's sanity and life so I could have privilege of meeting him and someday soon, being with him. I want you to know that I'll do my very best to care for Kenshin just as you would have if you and he had been permitted to be together. Thank you for everything! Kaoru.'
'Well, Tomoe, it looks like my second visit here came a bit sooner than I thought it would. I just couldn't wait for you to meet Kaoru, the woman I love with all my heart now. Remember that I will always love you and will never forget what you did for me. I thank you for coming into my life and restoring my sanity to me during my darkest days. I'm sorry for cutting your life short after I had promised to protect you. Now, I must say goodbye to you so I can start my new life with Kaoru with no reservations. I will always love you and be eternally grateful to you. We will see you next Obon and every one after that. Kenshin.'
Kaoru ended her prayer, opened her eyes and looked up at Kenshin, seeing that he had also opened his and was looking back down at her.
"What did you say to Tomoe?" he inquired.
"Um, well... 'Thank you', I guess. During the dojo battle and on the island, Enishi couldn't kill a girl who was the same age as Tomoe-san when she died and then he ended up saving me. I also think that perhaps Tomoe-san was protecting me the whole time," said Kaoru.
Kenshin couldn't help but smile at the thought of Tomoe protecting Kaoru. It was something she would have done.
"So for that and many other reasons, thank you!" said Kaoru with a blush.
The two stood in silent contemplation over the small grave for a few moments, each thinking about the events of the past few weeks.
"Yukishiro Enishi, I wonder where he's gone to since then. When you fought each other, he said, 'The crime of murder must be paid for by execution'. But if you think about it, he himself killed people and he sold destructive weapons that killed even more people. I wonder if he killed himself," said Kaoru.
"No. He's alive. When time stopped for him 15 years ago, he couldn't understand what he was doing. But now that time has started moving again, Enishi will have to pay for his crimes, not with his death, but by living his life. If he doesn't do that, Tomoe won't smile. Until he pays and begins to smile, Tomoe won't smile in his heart," said Kenshin.
"That sounds so painful," said Kaoru sadly.
Kaoru looked up.
"The real Tomoe was kinder than anyone I had ever known. She will surely watch over Enishi. She will watch over him through everything. At least, that's what I think," said Kenshin with a smile.
"Yeah. I think so too," agreed Kaoru with her own smile as she gently laid the flowers before the grave.
"Hey, Kenshin. What did you say to Tomoe-san?" she ventured.
Kenshin fell silent, gazing down at the small grave.
Kaoru's heart began to palpitate. Perhaps she shouldn't have...
"The same as Kaoru," Kenshin answered suddenly, causing Kaoru to sigh inwardly in relief. "Thank you and I'm sorry... and farewell."
At this last word, Kaoru's eyes widened and her jaw actually dropped a little. It took all her effort not to drop the empty bucket.
Kenshin's eyes twinkled and he smiled at Kaoru's startled face and held out his bandaged left hand.
"Come. Let's go home," he said softly.
The couple fell silent as the wind whispered its commentary on their visit to the graveyard. Hand in hand, they left the cemetery together, their hearts beating as one.
September 15, 1878
Megumi gave Kenshin a checkup. Although he was still a bit underweight, his ribs and spine were more covered in flesh than before. The hollows in Kenshin's cheeks had filled out and his eyes were once again clear and bright.
She removed the stitches from Kenshin's right shoulder. Kenshin moved his right arm around and flexed it gingerly, testing it. It was stiff from being in the sling so long, but not at all painful. As he put his kimono back on, Megumi gave him a stern lecture about not overdoing it with his right shoulder.
"Don't even think about picking up a sword for at least two weeks, Ken-san. Your shoulder is weak from having not been used in so long. I want you to work gradually back into swordsmanship," she said firmly.
"I promise not to even look at a blade," said Kenshin.
Megumi was unconvinced. Kenshin was a warrior by nature and would start pushing himself faster than he should as his shoulder started to feel stronger.
"If you don't keep it, you'll re-injure your shoulder worse than it was before, even to the point of not being able to use your arm," she warned severely.
While Kenshin was getting dressed, Megumi emerged from the bedroom and said a few words to Kaoru.
"He's going to need at least two weeks before he starts wielding a sword again. If you see him even looking at the Sakabatou, beat him senseless," she said.
"I'll keep a bokken on me at all times just in case," said Kaoru. "Thank you, Megumi-san."
Kenshin came out of the room silently behind Kaoru and snaked his arms around her waist. Kaoru flinched a bit, but quickly relaxed into Kenshin's embrace. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world to be fully held by the man who had become the focus of her world.
That night Kenshin and Kaoru lay under the covers of her futon. Kaoru wore a sleeping yukata and Kenshin wore just his hakama, preferring to sleep bare-chested, which Kaoru didn't mind at all. The time had finally come to get to know this man in both mind and body. Kaoru's hands began their relentless exploration.
September 20, 1878
The wind bore a slight chill on its gusts now, a reminder that summer was over and autumn was in full vigor. The leaves on all the trees were turning to their polychromatic reds, browns and yellows and falling from the tree branches, borne gently to the ground by the chilly gusts of wind.
"What do you mean you're going back to Aizu?!!!" screeched Kaoru.
The Kenshingumi, plus the Oniwabanshuu were sitting in the clinic conferring with Megumi, who had just finished her final examinations of Kenshin and Yahiko and pronounced them fully recovered.
"It's not like I just decided this yesterday. I've been asked to open a clinic in Aizu. Now that everything's over and Ken-san and Yahiko-kun are better, I've decided to leave Tokyo in a week," answered Megumi.
"Kenshin!" said Kaoru, hoping Kenshin would ask her to stay longer.
"It will be a bit lonely around here, but this is Megumi-dono's choice. Those of Kamiya Dojo will gladly see you off," smiled Kenshin.
"Thank you," said Megumi.
Then a look of sadness passed over her face. There was something that she had known for some time and had kept to herself. It was time to tell all.
"Ken-san... I've kept quiet until now, but as your doctor, there's something I must tell you," she began.
"Is it perhaps about my body?" asked Kenshin.
The others stared at him.
Megumi raised her hand to her mouth in shock.
"Then you knew..." she gasped.
"It is my own body, so a little. I first felt something wrong right after the battle in Kyoto. And now, each time I fight, it gets a bit worse. It was so faint, I thought I might have been imagining it, but I can feel something stagnating inside my body," said Kenshin.
"Between the time I examined you in Kyoto and when I examined you today, your condition has worsened," confirmed Megumi.
"It was probably triggered by my mastery of the secret," said Kenshin.
"By its nature, Hiten Mitsurugi is a superman's kenjutsu, meant to be used by giants like Hiko with big muscles to shield their bodies from the impact. Ken-san, you're just too small, despite your great talent. The more you use it, the more severely your body will be affected. You've seen the slight damage already," warned Megumi.
"I knew I risked my life when I chose to master Hiten Mitsurugi. I have no regrets, no matter the cost to my body," said Kenshin with a forced smile.
Then the smile fell and Kenshin gazed at the lady doctor earnestly.
"But please, tell me honestly, what will happen to me in the future?" he asked.
Megumi's hands clenched in her lap and she closed her eyes, willing away the tears.
"The damage to your body is still slight. If you take it easy, wielding swords won't be a problem. However, no matter how careful you are, in four or five years, you will no longer be able to use Hiten Mitsurugi," she concluded sorrowfully.
The good friends Kaoru and Kenshin were coming to see as their surrogate family all went their separate ways. Misao and Aoshi left for the mountains to collect their fallen comrades for burial in Kyoto. Megumi left for Aizu. Sano, set up by the corrupt politician Tani Jusanro, was chased from Japan and set off to see the world. The Wolf migrated north to Hokkaido. Yahiko moved into Sano's flat on Ruffian Row, leaving Kenshin and Kaoru alone in the dojo.
Time flowed on and the story continued. There are no endings of people's stories until they are dead. Kenshin, Kaoru, Sano, Yahiko, Megumi and the others were bound to have more adventures, laughter, tears, love and hate. That is the flow of time, that is the course of life.
Where the first story ends, the second picks up.