Another Chance
written by 2003-4, ffnet: eriesalia
A fanfic set in the Rurouni Kenshin universe
standard disclaimers apply
The tall woman stood still in the dusty road, ignoring the flow of the crowd around her that moved impatiently as they did all throughout the streets of Kyoto.

She frowned as she looked up at the impressive building before her. Some five years ago, she had been here, standing in this very spot. It had been in complete disarray then -- destroyed during a battle of sorts. But it stood rebuilt and whole now -- even stronger and larger than it had been before. And it made her question whether she should be here at all.

After all, she was hardly the friend of the man who served as its master.

Nor were they mere acquaintances. How could she simply call him that after all that had happened and the history that they shared?

Megumi Takani stood outside the entrance of the restaurant and hotel known as the Aoiya and cautiously looked past the open gate. She could clearly observe the flow of patrons coming in and out through its doors. Even though Tokyo was now the heart of the Meiji government, Kyoto still lured many of her countrymen and foreigners here with the opportunities to work, teach and live a prosperous life. And the Aoiya had certainly benefited.

It was her work as a doctor that finally gave her reason to return to Kyoto. The open door policy of her own country in recent years had in fact drawn many foreign doctors to Japan. And some had taken a particular interest in her work and extended a particular invitation to her to discuss her work. Although she had her suspicions about their motives (as some of the families who traveled with them mentioned that the younger doctors also had heard quite a bit about her reputed beauty), she could not help but to accept the invitation.

But then this very day, after spending several days in lectures and at one of the local clinics with several of the physicians, came an even more surprising invitation. They were all smiles as Dr. Quent, the senior physician of the group, suddenly handed her the opportunity of a lifetime -- the offer to go to America and study at a women's medical college.

It was on her lips to answer, "Yes." The honor alone was tremendous. But she hesitated and then demurred for very good reasons. It would be four years of hard work on the other side of the world. There were many personal matters here that she had left unresolved.

She expected them to be disappointed, perhaps even insulted at her answer. Instead, she was surprised when the doctors and their spouses laughed. "See to it that you try to tie up those loose ends, Doctor," one of the gentlemen had winked at her then. "Think on it some more and give us a better answer in two weeks."

She had smiled weakly before finding herself agreeing politely. The doctors' wives had taken a fancy to the Japanese doctor and had invited her to a function at the embassy in Tokyo to meet the American consulate. She really would much rather go back to Aizu, but their insistence and her politeness made her accept the invitation for the event two weeks from now.

'Tying up loose ends.' It was one of the metaphors that the foreigners used. She found it rather amusing in her own way -- as if things could ever be so simple and easy to change. She had been trying to resolve things for herself for the last five years, and could hardly say that she had been successful. But the words of her colleagues made her realize that perhaps there was one more avenue she had not yet exhausted.

She looked up again.

To step through those gates -- to walk back into the past, to face a life she had thought left behind.

A woman suddenly brushed past her reminding her of where and when she stood -- and that at the moment, she was standing in the street like an idiot. The woman immediately turned back to apologize. Her eyes widened, however, as soon as she recognized the young doctor.

"Takani-san!" Omasu's face brightened. "What are you doing here?!"

Megumi looked at the friendly face of the younger woman and bowed. "I'm here on busine--" she started to answer, but was cut off as Omasu ignored formality by grabbing her hand and dragging her inside the entrance.

"My goodness!" Omasu began babbling cheerfully as she led the doctor past several startled patrons and other Aoiya staff in the restaurant and then into the area that served as their quarters. "Everyone will be so surprised." She began calling out names, looking for some of those she had met the last time she had come here. "Okon, Jiya, Misao..."

Megumi nearly ran over the other woman as Omasu came to a sudden stop and glared at nothing in particular. "Just where is everyone?"

"They're at the market."

They both started at the unexpected answer.

That deep, quiet voice ­ no matter how much time had passed, she knew it better than any other.

She was not surprised when Omasu dropped her hand and turned around to bow apologetically. "Sir! I'm sorry for being so noisy. If I had known you were working in your office..."

Megumi could swear she felt the man's eyes boring into her back. Unlike Omasu, she turned slowly and bowed politely to the tall, imposing man who was the master of this place and yet was much more than merely the owner. "Shinomori-san."

The two regarded one another carefully, before Aoshi Shinomori bowed in return. "Takani-san."

Omasu gave them a sheepish look before backing away with a nervous smile on her face. "I think I'll leave you two to be reacquainted while I go look for the others." She waved slightly and did not wait for a response.

"My apologies--" Megumi forced herself to look at his face and into his strange blue-grey eyes. Underneath her kimono, her legs trembled slightly. Even after all this time, one look from him inspired a mass of swirling emotions, none of which she could explain. "I was in town on business and thought to pay a call."

"Misao and Okina are out," he answered. After a slight pause, he added more politely, "Omasu will call for tea, if you would wait."

"I do not want to impose--" she lowered her eyes again, but this time not out of any semblance of fear. After all, Shinomori had given up some of his old ways, or so she had been told. He was simply a businessman. Or that was at least what everyone said. "This is not a social call. I have something of a private nature that I want to ask of you as the head of the clan. It is something I should have asked long ago."

"I see." He took a few steps forward and then opened a paneled door. "Perhaps we should discuss this inside my office."

It was more of a command then a suggestion. However, she obediently followed the man into the quiet room and sat in a chair that faced his writing table. He took his position at the window, looking outside perhaps at the activity in the Aoiya compound.

"You are here in Kyoto meeting the group of physicians from America?"

"Yes." Megumi answered, somewhat surprised. "Have you met them?"

"I was informed that they would be here by our contacts in Tokyo and was asked to take good care of them." He turned back towards her. "They came here earlier this week for several meals."

"I see," she answered. "Then you found out that they are recruiting students? "

"Yes," he gave her a faint smile. "They were quite free with information after several rounds of sake. I did not have to spy that out of them."

"Oh," Megumi actually looked a bit disappointed.

He raised his eyebrow in response.

"I was hoping to find something of the onmitsu still here, Shinomori-san," Megumi stood up. "But I was being selfish. I'll take my leave."

Before she could step out the door, his hand was on her arm and he had her turned around. "Are you in trouble?"

She blinked up at him in first surprise then, when she realized that her face was only inches away from his own, she flushed and took a step back. "No," she laughed nervously, "I just thought perhaps the Aoiya connections could help me find my brother Kenichi." She saw his puzzled look on his face and sighed. "I know, why you and why now?" She smiled, "The truth is that all this time I've been simply waiting for my family to show, thinking that I had all the time in the world. But those kind doctors made an offer this afternoon to take me back with them to America."

"You said no." Aoshi stated. "Your family ­"

"Of course." She knew he would understand immediately. "It's been many years now, but I always thought they'd show up one day. If -- if I could be sure that they really were gone, then--"

"Then you could leave without regrets," he answered. "That makes sense, but after all this time, why come to me?"

"You're well-connected and probably one of the few who could do this in two weeks time. But," she looked away, "the truth is that you're the only one I think who could understand what I'm about to ask of you." She looked back at him, "If you find him, you must not say anything to him about me."

He frowned slightly. "That seems illogical. Why waste both our time with such an effort?"

She set her jaw. "That's what the police said."

He thought for a moment and rephrased it more delicately. "Takani-san -- why go through all that effort and not try to let him know that after all those years that he has family?"

"If he's alive," she spoke quietly, "and undoubtedly has heard I am as well, why has he not come back? I thought about it a lot. Perhaps there is some reason he won't face his sister... a matter of dishonor or shame... or captivity." She clenched her fingers tightly. "It isn't so unusual after all."

The flicker of his eyes told her that he understood her quite well. After all, they both had worked once for Kanryuu Takeda and known dishonor and shame. He was the man who had stood there silently enforcing her captivity, despising her for her weakness. He ignored her plight, until the very day the Kenshin-gumi had showed up to free her.

As she waited for his answer, she reflected that Aoshi Shinomore was certainly not the same man as he was then, but whether she could hope he would be compassionate, she did not know. But at the very least, she had swallowed her pride and come here. If he said no--

"I will do what I can, Takani-san. It is one thing I can do to repay you for the past."

She looked up suddenly, surprised by his answer. "Thank you, Shinomori-san"

He nodded and then looked away.

"Takani-san," Omasu's appearance broke the awkward silence that had lapsed between them. "We would be delighted if you would join us for tea."

"I would be delighted to," Megumi smiled and moved towards the door. She paused for a moment to turn back and nod her thanks at the man who now had become her helper. "Shinomori-san, will you be joining us?"

He shook his head no and then turned away to look out the window, to contemplate something strange. .

A sudden smile on her face -- Aoshi Shinomori had seen her smile like that only once, long ago when he had first stumbled upon her while she was wandering the grounds of the Takeda estate. It was before he knew who or rather what she was, and she knew of him. Kanryuu remedied that situation quickly, his voice gleeful and malicious as he informed him that the beautiful girl was his opium whore. In turn, she must have been told something equally frightening; the next time they again passed one another, she had averted her gaze and quickened her pace towards the tower that served as her prison.

That time in Tokyo been one of the darkest times in his life. And for her as well.

But today, something about her smile had struck him anew.

And it puzzled him.

- . -

Hundreds of miles away, on a boat that moved lazily across the sea, a wild-looking man with a fishbone dangling out of his mouth stared east. Mongolia had grown rather boring; he had pretty much defeated just about everyone he could find to fight.

He was tired of wandering and tired of running. As promised in his letter to his friends, had finally decided to deal with that annoying warrant for his arrest. After all, he rather missed them -- all of them. And the thought of jail wouldn't keep him from his destination now.

Sanosuke Sagara was heading home.

Author's Notes: updated 7.04 - Thank you to the kind people who nominated this fic in the RKRC 2003 awards at tfme dot net slash rkrc. To introduce this again to the people jumping on board -- this story's basic foundation is to continue from the events of Jinchuu and Kaden. The continuity is primarily taken from the manga, although some elements from the anime crept in.

This story rivals some novels in length. I hope that will not prevent you from starting and going through this fic. It is a complete work. The first 17-20 parts are fun, light fare, and part 21 is where the serious stuff begins.

For you casual readers uncertain of whether to buy into reading this fic I encourage you to sample chapters in these different parts. The plot reveals itself slowly and what starts off as fun rapidly becomes a dizzying ride as someone once put it :-) . Please leave reviews too as it will impact the parallel story that is this year's project (Blades, Knives, Steel and Mettle.) I'm also slowly reformatting the old chapters as I finish the story. My apologies for the clutter. It was also my intention to put up an illustrated version, but it is going slowly. In the meantime, please also look at my other fics which focus on a host of other characters. I hope you enjoy. -ea/s/lwg