Six months later
"Are you serious?" Megumi looked at her pupil, half expecting him to laugh and say he was joking.
"Yes, sensei. Unless you need me around here. But Naoto-sensei is already teaching Haru, so he can help you when he's not in school." Soujiro went back to sweeping the clinic's floor. He and Megumi were on the afternoon shift, preparing to go back to the house for dinner.
"But why do you want to leave so suddenly?" Megumi asked. "Did something happen?"
"No, it's nothing like that. And it's not really sudden. I've been thinking about it, and I think it's just time for me to leave."
"You don't need to leave at all, Soujiro. You've been welcomed to stay with my family."
Sou swept the dust and dirt out the back door. "I know I don't have your skill, but I think I could still help people with what I know. So I'm going to try out your and Himura-san's way and see if I believe it. You understand, don't you sensei?"
"I suppose so."
"I still don't really feel sorry for killing most of the people I killed, but I do see that some of them didn't deserve to die, and that maybe it wasn't right for me to kill them just because Shishio told me to. Anyway, thank you for helping me, Megumi-sensei. I really liked staying with your family and learning from you. He set the broom against the wall. "It's strange too, because neither Shishio or Yumi-san believed in fate, but I'm having a hard time explaining how else we could have met like we did. Don't look sad. I promise to help people, at least for a little while, so I'll just be taking your work to other places, right?"
Megumi didn't answer for a moment. The she asked "Will you say goodbye to everyone else?"
"Of course. I wouldn't leave without thanking them."
"It's silly to start traveling this time of year," she objected. "You should wait until spring if you don't want to come down with another cough."
"Even if I do," he smiled, "I'll know how to treat myself." He held open the clinic door for her, and the two of them walked home together.
- - -
Naoto was surprised. The boys were upset and begged Soujiro to stay. Yuri looked sad, but she alone seemed as though she knew he was never planning to stay. Senior Takani-sensei merely wished him luck and thanked him for his assistance to the family. Soujiro thanked him for the opportunity.
Later, Sou helped Yuri with the dishes, and when no one else was in earshot, he mumbled "I hope I don't seem ungrateful, Yuri-san."
Yuri answered without looking away from her work. "You don't. I'm sad to see you go, Sou-san, but I knew you would someday. You were a wanderer when you came here; I'm just glad you stayed on for a while."
"Thank-you, Yuri-san. I like your family. In fact, I'm really kind of envious of Haru and Arata. Before I came here, I didn't know people could really live like this."
She glanced at him. "Like what?"
"Like ... just liking each other and being happy. Your home is so peaceful."
Yuri laughed. "No one's ever called this house peaceful before. Thank you."
Sou didn't quite understand what she meant, but he smiled anyway.
- - -
"I want to thank you all for taking me in and taking care of me. I know it's a little rude of me to not pay you back for all that you've done, but I promise I will when I can."
The family stood outside, between the house and the clinic, with Soujiro nearer to the street, and everyone else lingering by the house.
"Will you come and visit us?" Arata asked.
"I don't know. I'm not sure where I'm going yet."
"Here," Naoto said, holding a pouch out to him. "Take this for the journey."
"No, no, I can't accept that. I'll be fine."
"You've worked for us without payment for months. I would be an unjust man not to give you something for your service." Without allowing for another protest, Naoto opened Soujiro's medicine kit and placed the money in it.
"Take some of this, too," Megumi added. "It's the salve for sword wounds. It's a good recipe given to me by a friend, so be sure to spread it among those who need it."
Soujiro took it, thanked her, and looked back at the Takanis, unsure of how to say his last goodbye.
Thankfully, Megumi aided him. "It's going to get dark in a few hours, baka. If you don't leave now you'll be stuck on the road at night. I'd be humiliated if someone from Aizu found your body and returned within a single day of your leaving."
"Ha, okay. I'll be going them. Thank you all again. I hope I can visit you some day."
Suddenly feeling awkward, Sou bowed quickly, turned and hurried toward the main road. Once there, he glanced back to see his foster family waving to him. He waved back once, then continued down the road.
- - -
After a couple of hours, Soujiro sat down a little distance from the road to have a meal.
'Perhaps I should get a sword somewhere. I suppose I've done enough killing, but I'm still not comfortable without one. Besides, it's hard to keep my skills up without one. Maybe I'll buy a wooden one like the kind Kamiya uses. That might work.'
The food was good. Yuri had made it precisely to his liking. Briefly, he thought he should have asked her to teach him a few things about cooking before he left. Nothing he'd prepared had ever tasted as good as her cooking. Of course, he then realized, people would probably be happy to pay for medical treatment with food, so it might not matter anyway.
Once he'd finished, he stood, brushed himself off, and headed back for the road. He still had to correct his unintentional limp occasionally, but Megumi had assured him he wouldn't have it forever. When he reached the road, he found himself hesitating to continue his journey. The sun was just ahead of him, but the darker side of the sky - leading back home - looked more appealing. He sighed, turned toward the afternoon sun, and wandered on.
I hope the ending was satisfactory.
I'm totally indebted to you my readers. Thank you so very much.