'Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin.

THIS IS SET POST-SERIES... SO THERE MAY BE SOME SPOILERS. ^_^

This is dedicated to Rosebud - thank you for supporting me! ^^

She'd never noticed it before, but she did now. It was a sort of dull, hollow ache in her chest, almost directly above her heart.

' What... my heart is hurting? '

She characteristically flipped her long, dark hair over her shoulders, trying to ignore the sensation inside of her. She closed her eyes and counted to ten, but it didn't ease the pain. If anything, it made it worse.

Was it because of what she was seeing? She turned away, shifting her position on the dojo. She raised her hand above her head, shading her eyes from the blinding rays of the sun. For a moment, she stayed that way, allowing her body to bathe in the warm light of the sun. She vaguely remembered spending days like this on the wooden steps of the clinic... with him.

God, she missed him. She'd tried to ignore the fact, but she couldn't. She missed him, she truly, truly missed him. It was almost frightening to know that she needed someone this much...

There was yelling... Yahiko's loud, but now deep voice; Kaoru's angry, high-pitched shrieks; Kenshin's soft, placating voice. She sighed, used to such a scene. But it wasn't complete.

He wasn't there.

She missed him so much that it hurt. That was what the hollow ache in her chest meant; that was what those long nights of lying awake, unable to sleep meant. She missed him.

' Darn you, why did you have to leave? '

She reached up to clutch her heart through her doctor's smock. The sun continued to burn down on her. The sensation warmed her, and brought back bittersweet memories. Memories that she didn't want to think of.

"Megumi-san?" Kaoru peered curiously at her. From behind her, Megumi caught a glimpse of the young Tokyo samurai known as Yahiko unconscious, drooling on the floor. "Are you all right?"

"Ah..." Megumi forced a smile onto her face. It wouldn't be right to preoccupy them with her problems. "I'm fine."

Kaoru cocked her head thoughtfully to the side, and then held out a plate of ohagi. "Don't you want some?" she asked. "You made it yourself."

Megumi shook her head no. "It's okay, Kaoru-san. You can finish it."

"Thank you!" Kaoru grinned happily and stuffed the last two in her mouth. Megumi laughed softly. This was her new life, wasn't it? She saw Kenshin watching the kenjutsu instructor. There went that hollow ache in her chest again.

It wasn't that she was jealous of Kaoru in the sense that Kenshin loved her. No, she had given up on Ken-san a long time ago. Some people were off limits, and the red-haired rurouni was one of those people.

She was jealous because she had love.

' Perfect time to admit it. Right in front of Ken-san and Kaoru...and an unconscious Yahiko... '

"I have to go now." She smiled at them, bowing slightly. "I'll be back tomorrow, okay?"

"Bye, Megumi-san!" Kaoru waved. Kenshin waved too, his rurouni grin plastered on his face.

' They're so... happy ... '

The clinic came to view a few moments later, but Megumi didn't feel like treating injured patients. She didn't feel like putting a smile on and reassuring people that they would be okay. She didn't feel like talking to anyone...

' Today's the one year mark... '

' It's been a year since he left... '

She wished, at least, that he would have written some letters. Even if it was only for Kenshin and Kaoru, it would have been better than nothing. There were no letters, no postcards, no nothing. Sometimes, she would lie awake and wonder if he were even alive.

Most of all, she wondered why he had left in the first place. Had he been unhappy with his life in Japan? But why would he be unhappy? He had Kenshin, his best friend. He had Kaoru, who, despite everything she said and did, always let him stay over at the dojo when he needed it. He had Yahiko, who, despite everything he said about him, was like a little brother to him. He had Ayame and Suzume, who always made him smile, no matter what.

And...

' You had me. '

There was nothing more to do or say. She walked up the steps and slid open the door. The place was empty, much to her relief, and she went straight to her room and plopped down on the futon.

' Where are you now? '

She concerned herself with the ceiling. It was pure white. She remembered staring at the ceiling for a long time, while waiting for sleep to come. She didn't bother to undress as she pulled the covers over her head.

' You stupid rooster-head... '

---

"Megumi-san, did you hear?!" Kaoru asked her, bright smile pasted on her face. She was glowing with utter happiness, and Megumi felt a twinge of jealousy. How long had it been since she had felt utter happiness?

But she smiled, nonetheless. "No, I didn't. What happened?"

There was a bright, rosy blush on the kenjutsu instructor's cheeks. Megumi vaguely wondered what could have happened to make Kaoru so happy. She waited patiently.

"Kenshin -- he -- he proposed to me!"

Megumi, if she hadn't been the calm, serene lady she was, would have fallen over in shock. But she didn't, and she met Kaoru's eyes warmly, sincerely.

' I wanted him to do this, one day... '

She pulled the girl into a tight hug. A hug between women.

"I'm happy for you, Kaoru-san. I really am."

' I wanted him to propose... '

When they let go of each other, Kaoru gazed into Megumi's eyes, slightly shocked. "Thank you," she said. "The ceremony's next month. Can you make it?"

Megumi smiled. "Of course, Kaoru-san. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

When Kaoru had skipped away, glowing, just glowing, Megumi had trudged slowly back to the clinic. She numbly found her way back to her room. She fell weakly on the bed.

Megumi was the type of woman who didn't believe in crying. She believed that tears were useless. They didn't do anything, except let your emotions out. And there were plenty of other ways to let out emotions besides crying.

But she cried anyway.

She cried because of the future she knew she would never have.

She cried because he wouldn't be there anymore.

She cried because she had been foolish enough to fall in love with him.

---

The ceremony, of course, had been beautiful. Kenshin and Kaoru had shared a sweet, lingering kiss, and Yahiko had even refrained from making catcalls and jeers.

' I wish he were here. '

The dull ache in her heart hadn't lessened. If anything, it had grown worse. Days went by, but she couldn't stop it. It had grown there; it was stuck there now.

"Megumi-san?" A timid, shy voice said softly. Megumi turned, and saw that girl Yahiko had grown to like, Tsubame.

"Tsubame-san," She acknowledged with a slight bow of her head. Then she plastered that fake smile on her face again, an art she had perfected long ago. "The ceremony was beautiful, wasn't it?"

"Yes," Tsubame answered seriously with a cock of her head. Then she hesitated. "You -- You don't look very happy."

The barriers were slowly being peeled apart, and by who? Tsubame, for crying out loud. Megumi fought to keep her straight face. "I don't? Well, I don't really like this type of sushi anyway --" She pushed the offending piece of food to the edge of her plate.

"I shouldn't pry, I shouldn't pry," the younger girl mumbled apologetically.

Megumi watched her. She was so quiet, so timid.

"People can't be happy all the time," Megumi finally said softly. Tsubame's head jerked up.

"No, I suppose they can't," Tsubame agreed.

"You know what I mean..." Megumi trailed off, not feeling very hungry anymore. Despite the fact that she was at Kaoru and Kenshin's reception, she wasn't happy, she really wasn't. "...because he's just like him."

Tsubame smiled as she watched Yahiko begin to make all sorts of comments that made the newly married couple blush like a tomato. There was only so long that Yahiko could hold out, after all. "... I know."

"But he won't leave," Megumi added quietly. "Yahiko's not exactly like him. He won't just... get up... and leave everyone that he loves.."

' Unlike he did... '

"Do you miss him?" asked Tsubame. She hadn't expected to get this far with Megumi.

Megumi was silent. "Yes," she said. "I do."

' If he had stayed... we could have been happy together... '

"You're very strong."

Megumi laughed, but it was a hollow, bitter laugh. It wasn't her trademark "Ohohoho"s anymore. It was a laugh that had grown accustomed to time and life. "Am I? " she asked, amused.

Tsubame looked surprised at Megumi's reaction. "You are," she verified. "You've put up this big wall, this big barrier around you so that no one can tell what you're really feeling --"

' But he had broken them down, right before he left... '

" -- and you always have that smile on your face --"

' He used to call me all sorts of stupid names... '

" -- but inside... you're hurting."

There had been a time when Megumi would have brushed off such a statement with a laugh and a wave of her hand. She would have denied it and switched subjects. She wouldn't have admitted it, even if it was the truth.

"What use is it if I am, Tsubame-san?" Megumi said. "There's nothing I can do. God knows where he's at. He's probably somewhere off in China getting in streetfights..."

"And you're happy with that?"

"I don't know. Not anymore."

"Yahiko tells me a lot about him," Tsubame said fondly. "I didn't get to know him very well... but he told me you two were always fighting.."

' That's right. The idiot rooster-head never gave me a break... '

"He says that you two were probably in love."

:: "Because you know, Megitsune... even after everything I've done... I love you." ::

Megumi gave a sudden, pained gasp. She reached up to clutch her heart. It was aching more than ever.

"Excuse me," she murmured, and escaped to the bathroom. She didn't come out until everybody had left.

---

Months later, she found herself wandering to the Kamiya Dojo, a small bag of freshly made ohagi clutched in her hand. It wasn't rare to see her going there. She usually went out of her way to make a trip there, just to catch up with Kaoru and to ask her about her married life.

"Megumi-san!" She barely caught a flash of the dark ponytail when she was thrown into a tight embrace. She caught Kenshin's eye, and he gave her an apologetic gaze.

"Kaoru-san, what's happened?" Megumi managed to gasp out. Kaoru let go of her. Her eyes were shining.

"I'm pregnant!"

The world suddenly came crashing down on her. Everything she had worked so hard for.. Everything she had tried to hide and deny.. It all fell apart.

"That's great, Kaoru-san!" Megumi couldn't keep the emotion out of her voice. She blinked furiously on instinct. Was it because the tears were starting to come? She swallowed loudly.

Kaoru, thankfully, didn't notice. Megumi wished Kenshin hadn't noticed either, and she pointedly avoided meeting his purple eyes. "I'm already three months along, and the morning sickness isn't all that great, but --"

Megumi didn't bother to listen. Kaoru was pregnant.

She knew this was going to happen eventually. After all, they were married, and after they were married, it was only natural that they should have children..

' I once dreamed of having kids... '

The carefully crafted barriers were falling out of place. Because now, more than ever, she knew:

She was jealous.

She'd dreamed, from the very beginning, of falling in love with someone... and then getting married, and then having kids. They would have a big, grand family, but most of all, they would be happy.

' What's happened to me? '

" -- and I really think it's going to be a boy," concluded Kaoru. "Kenshin thinks it'll be a girl, but we all know the mother always has it right."

Megumi snapped out of her thoughts and laughed along with her. "That's right. Mother knows best..." She found she was gripping something rather tightly, and placed the bag on the porch. "I made ohagi."

"Great! Thank you, Megumi-san!"

"Yes, thank you, Megumi-dono," added Kenshin, giving her a meaningful look. The look that meant, "I want to talk to you."

Megumi knew she wouldn't be able to escape it, but there was no harm in trying. She untied the bundle and presented three neat rows of ohagi. As always, Kaoru dug in.

Megumi took one and bit into it delicately. The skies were cloudy, with patches of blue and rays of the sun barely managing to peek through. She remembered, somewhat hazily, sitting on the wooden steps of the clinic, with a tray of ohagi between them...

' I can't forget. I just can't. '

Kaoru was pregnant now. She was married to Kenshin. Yahiko and Tsubame were going steady, and she knew, wisely, that it would only be a matter of time before they were to get married as well.

Things were changing, but one thing remained the same.

' I'm still alone. '

There were still no letters, no postcards, nothing. Absolutely no acknowledgement that they had even known each other. Maybe he had found some other girl to spend his life with. Even so, a voice in the back of Megumi's head said, he should have written.

Once night fell, Megumi excused herself politely and walked back to the clinic, which took somewhere near half an hour. She, once again, locked herself up in her room and fell back on the bed, not bothering to change.

' Why is everyone finding happiness except me? '

There was no stopping it. The tears came.

---

She was a doctor, and she had treated many wounds before. Broken legs, broken arms, broken ribs... Even the slightest thing like a fever or a cold, she knew how to treat.

A little boy, no older than the age of ten, wandered in one day. His face was contorted into a look of pain and agony, and Megumi quickly rushed to him, seeing that Gensai-sensei was busy.

"What's wrong?" she asked softly.

"My hand..." The boy croaked out. "It's -- bleeding."

And it was. Megumi very gingerly held the boy's hand, watching as the blood dripped down from his fingers, to his palms, and eventually down to his arms. She didn't bother to ask what had happened. She was a doctor. She was only there to treat the wounds, not to ask questions.

"Sit down," she ordered him, pointing to a chair. The boy obeyed, and Megumi rushed off to the medicine cabinets, fetching some antiseptic and bandages.

She worked silently and quickly. She carefully dabbed at the boy's hand with the antiseptic, glancing up once when the boy hissed in pain. As soon as that was over, she took the roll of gauze and deftly unrolled it. Holding the boy's hand out flat, she wound the gauze around his palm and thumb, and then down to his wrist.

' This seems... so familiar... '

She tied a little knot at the end of the gauze, her signature move. She gave the boy a small smile as he bounded off and shouted a belated thank you.

' It's just like the way he used to come to you. '

"Megumi-san, you don't look well," Gensai-sensei stated, peering at her worriedly. "Are you coming down with something?"

Megumi brushed his worry off. "I'm all right..."

:: "Che, kitsune, you're a doctor. You shouldn't be getting sick." ::

Megumi reached up to rub at her temples. Why was she remembering him now?

"I don't know..." Gensai-sensei frowned. "You should go to your room and get some rest. Now," he added, as she opened her mouth to argue. "It's really no big deal. There are only two patients left, and they don't look to be anything major. Just go."

Megumi recognized that she was defeated, and slowly walked back to her room. Her head was pounding.

:: "The stars are out tonight. You wanna watch them with me?" ::

She groaned. It had been a year now, probably a year and a half. She had gotten this far without him. She didn't need him. Takani Megumi needed no one, especially a man.

Then, she thought slowly, why had she been pining, waiting for the same man for over a year?

"I'm not pining," she muttered bitterly.

She knew she should give up. It was useless to wait forever. Sometimes, things aren't meant to be. She and Kenshin hadn't been meant to be, but she had coped along just fine with that...

' Maybe it's because you weren't in love with Kenshin. '

:: "Why don't you make some of your ohagi?" ::

She cast her thoughts around, trying to think of something, anything else but him. Kaoru was beginning to show, and her belly was growing larger. Motherhood flattered her, however, and she chose not to make a big deal over the gain of weight.

Two more months, she realized, before Kaoru was due to give birth.

She didn't want to be the one to birth the child, she thought selfishly. She knew it was selfish, but she didn't want to, period. It would be awkward and strange -- she might even start crying at some point. Kenshin and Kaoru were living out her dream life... and she hated it.

She was a doctor. She was supposed to be able to heal all wounds -- cuts, scrapes, fevers, colds, broken bones, sprained ankles... but she realized, with a pang, that doctors could not heal emotional wounds.

---

Megumi found that she couldn't really stay away from the dojo, despite the fact that it held too many memories, both good and bad. She was there again, but this time, she had no ohagi with her.

It was a chilly, starless night. They were sitting inside, eating. Everyone was talking, but as usual, she just sat there and listened.

"I went to Gensai-sensei this afternoon," Kaoru said cheerfully. She patted her belly. "He says that I'm due any day now..."

"That's wonderful," said Megumi, silently putting a piece of fish in her mouth. Judging by the taste, Kenshin must have cooked. She was trying not to think of the inevitable.

"And we were wondering..." Kaoru glanced at her husband, but he clearly was avoiding her eyes. She decided she would have to have a talk with him about that. "... if you would be the one to birth our child."

:: "Have you ever thought of having kids?" ::

Megumi was finding it very hard to breathe. She took a piece of rice, stuffed it in her mouth in the most ladylike way she could muster, and swallowed.

"Please, Megumi-san?" Kaoru looked at her pleadingly. "It would mean so much..."

She tried to say no. "But Gensai-sensei would do just fine.."

' I can't be the one to birth their child.. '

"But we want you, Megumi-san," Kaoru continued earnestly. "I mean -- you've been there...through it all. You've patched up my wounds, and Kenshin's wounds, and --"

"I can't," Megumi found herself saying, "I'm not one for birthing --"

:: "I think that one day, if I find someone, I could have kids. Although you probably think I wouldn't make a good dad, huh, kitsune?" ::

"But we really wanted you --"

"I can't, I can't --" Megumi felt weak, so horribly, pathetically weak. If she were to birth Kenshin and Kaoru's child, it would be too painful. Much too painful. Kenshin and Kaoru were living out the life she'd always dreamed she would have, and having a child would make that dream complete. She was selfish, she was terribly selfish, and she knew it, and she wished she wasn't, but it was no use -- she was still so selfish...

"If Megumi-dono doesn't wish to, then we can't force her, that we can't." Kenshin's voice was like the calm ocean waves, and it immediately quieted Kaoru's cries down. Megumi shot the red-haired man a grateful look.

"I'm sorry," she said after awhile. "I really am."

Kaoru forced a smile. "It's okay. Gensai-sensei will do just fine."

But there was something else on her mind. Megumi knew it. She also knew Kaoru well enough that eventually, whatever it was would come out.

"You still miss him."

Megumi dropped her chopsticks. Yahiko opened his mouth to say something -- he had been unusually quiet this whole time, almost as if he was trying not to be too loud for her sake.

She picked it up with as much grace as she could muster. "Him?" she echoed.

"Him," answered Kaoru firmly. "It's been well over a year, Megumi-san. I know he's hard to forget, but you can't pine away for him forever!"

"I'm pining for no one," said Megumi, but her teeth were undeniably clenched.

"He's the reason you came back," argued Kaoru. Kenshin watched silently, and Yahiko continually opened and closed his mouth, words never coming out. "You'd already gone to Aizu...but after we told you that he left, you came back here."

"Coincidence," snapped Megumi.

"Is he the reason you can't birth our child? Because you can't stand to see someone being happy? Because you can't stand to see me and Kenshin being happy, but you still don't have anybody?"

Megumi stood up abruptly. It was too dark now, much too dark to walk by herself to the clinic. She would have to stay here.

"I'm going to bed," she announced curtly. "Thank you for the meal. I'll be leaving in the morning."

She made her way to the extra room, the room she slept in whenever she stayed at the dojo overnight. She slowly undressed and fell onto the soft futon. She pulled the covers tightly over her head.

Kaoru had been right. She had hit it dead center.

In the middle of the night, Yahiko came running to her room. He knocked loudly, voice panicked and frenzied.

"Megumi? Megumi? Megumi!!"

Megumi sat up, brushing her hair out of her eyes. "What is it, Yahiko?" she called.

"Kaoru!!" So panicked was he that he didn't bother to call her "busu" like he always did. "She's -- She's having the baby!"

There was no time to think. Megumi leapt out of bed and ran to Kenshin and Kaoru's room, barefoot.

---

"You're doing fine..." Megumi reassured the sweating woman. She had tied her hair into a messy ponytail, and she repetitively flicked the strands out of her face. Three hours into labor, and there was finally some progress.

"It hurts..." Kaoru groaned, sinking lower into the pillows. Blood stained the previously white bedsheets.

Megumi smiled grimly, some of her former attitude coming back. "Yes. That's what happens when you decide to have a child. Better think twice next time, hm?"

There was no laugh, just a small, forced smile. "Megumi-san, I wanted to say -- I'm sorry -- for dinner..."

"Don't worry about it, Kaoru-san," Megumi said in a calm, soothing voice. She pressed the cold towel to Kaoru's forehead. "...you were right, anyway."

Kaoru's eyes widened. She gasped.

"Megumi-san?" she said uncertainly.

Megumi determinedly avoided the other woman's eyes. She checked underneath the sheet. "Not yet," she said briskly.

"No.. about him."

"You shouldn't speak," said Megumi, trying to fill in the silence with her voice and uncertainties. "You'll wear yourself out soon enough."

"I'm fine, Megumi-san, and you know it," snapped Kaoru. "You can't avoid this subject forever." Her voice softened as she met Megumi's pain-filled eyes. "I'm not trying to pry, or to gossip or anything like this. I just don't want you to keep on hurting, that's all."

"I'm not hurting," insisted Megumi through clenched teeth. She bent again to lift the sheet. Still, nothing. They had only been at it for three hours, after all, and it wasn't uncommon for it to take much longer than that.

"You can't lie," said Kaoru weakly. She gripped at the sheet tightly. "Tsubame-chan told me --"

Megumi stiffened. "Don't talk," she said once more, but she was weakening, she knew it.

"I know he loved you..." Kaoru trailed off softly, sinking once more into the depths of the pillows. "I don't know why he left. I guess he just had to."

:: "Don't make this any harder, please..." ::

"Stop it." Megumi clutched her head in her hands. She remembered abruptly that she was a doctor, and that Kaoru was in the middle of childbirth. Her voice regained his professional authority. "It's not much longer now," she stated. "Maybe one or two hours left. This is good, it really is -- most women take over a day."

"Megumi-san..." Kaoru suddenly let out a wailing shriek, and Kenshin and Yahiko came rushing inside the room. It was selfish, it really was, but Megumi was glad -- Kaoru forgot about their discussion.

Megumi peeked underneath the thin sheet. "I see the head," she announced triumphantly. "Now, Kaoru-san, take a few deep breaths and count to ten... there you go... now push..."

:: "I never figured out how you got to be a doctor. It's hard work, isn't it?" ::

Kenshin's hand was turning purple from all the pressure Kaoru had exerted into her tight grip. He didn't seem to notice. His purple eyes were focused intently on his wife.

' He loves her so much... '

"Just a little bit more," Megumi coaxed her patient. "One, final push, Kaoru-san..."

And it was done. With a small push, the baby entered the world. Small tufts of dark red hair uncoiled from its head, eyes sparkling and bright. It was a he. The small living being uttered a cry, and Megumi signaled to Yahiko to bring her a fresh towel to clean the blood up with.

' He's so tiny, ' Megumi found herself thinking as she wiped up the blood. She retrieved a new, clean towel, and wrapped the baby with it. She walked over to the new parents, smiling.

"Your son," she said as she placed him in Kaoru's arms. Her black hair clung to her forehead, her face drenched in sweat. "Have you decided on a name?"

"Kenji," said Kaoru automatically. "Himura Kenji."

"Yes," said Kenshin, watching his wife and newborn baby fondly. "Himura Kenji."

That was when Megumi took her leave, hands drenched in blood, hair sticking up in the strangest places. She sighed to herself. It had been a long night.

When she turned back, she found Kenshin, arms wrapped tenderly around his wife, gazing lovingly at their newborn son. His amethyst eyes were soft, and Kaoru smiled and placed a kiss on both of their foreheads.

' They're happy. They have a child. '

She had sworn she wouldn't be the one to birth their child. But time, fate, and destiny, they hadn't allowed that. They had thrown her into it, ignoring her complaints.

:: "Don't you wanna watch the stars?" ::

The memories were too painful, too heartwrenching.

She closed the door.

---

Three days after, Megumi was invited over to the dojo for dinner. A thank you dinner, Kaoru had said, to thank her for being the one to birth their baby.

With her usual batch of ohagi in hand, she ambled slowly down the streets. It was around midday, and the heat of the sun burned down on her, causing her hair to stick to the back of her neck. She let a rare sigh escape her lips.

Kenji was like a cross between his father and mother. His hair was darker than his father's, a deep dark red, and he had his mother's eyes. He would grow to look every inch his father -- except for the eyes.

He brought a sense of happiness that no one had ever been able to bring to Kenshin, not even Kaoru. He smiled more often, and it wasn't that fake rurouni grin, but a true smile.

"Ken-san? Kaoru-san? Yahiko?" Megumi called, pushing the gate open. It creaked loudly.

"Megumi-san!" Kaoru walked to her, clutching her baby tightly. Her smile lit up her whole face.

"Hello, Kaoru-san." Megumi smiled back, and she peered closely at the baby, whose eyes were half-open. "And hello to you, too."

"He's so wonderful," Kaoru said breathlessly. "He cries at night and all... but he's just so wonderful..."

Megumi understood completely. There was something about the presence of a little baby that just made it seem like everything in the world was all right. It was the exact same thing that used to happen to her whenever he was around..

"May I hold him?" Megumi asked. At Kaoru's nod, she gingerly took the small baby into her arms, and swayed slightly. She couldn't help but smile.

' I always wanted to have a child.. '

This wasn't her first time to hold a baby. Whenever she had gone out to birth someone else's child, the parents had always let her hold it, boy or girl. It had always felt nice, but today, it hurt.

' They really are living out the life I always wanted to have. '

She thought of the baby she might have had, if he were still there: A girl, perhaps, with her beautiful dark hair and his clear brown eyes... She would undoubtedly pick up some of her father's habits, but Megumi would always be there to make sure she didn't get out of control. She would be beautiful, oh so beautiful...

Suddenly, she didn't want to let go. She knew, deep in her heart, that the moment she gave little Kenji back to his mother, it will all suddenly vanish, and reality would take over. She didn't want that. She wanted to stay here, wherever here really was, and be content with dreaming of the husband she could have had, and of the daughter she would never have...

The memories suddenly came flooding back. She had suppressed them for so long now, bottled them up in the depths of her mind and her heart -- but she understood now: There was no holding back.

:: "Won't you please watch the stars with me? I swear, I won't bother you anymore if you do.." ::

It was right here... She realized with a start, she was right at the place where she had last seen the rooster-head. This was also where she had said goodbye to him when she had left for Aizu, only to come back once she heard the news that he had left..

:: "There's absolutely nothing wrong with watching the stars, kitsune!" ::

It had been late into the night... almost midnight, maybe. She had sat on the front steps of the dojo, leaning against one of the columns that provided support for the building, in his arms, feeling secure and comfortable.

In his arms..

:: "See? I told you the stars would be beautiful tonight." ::

The sky had been black -- darker than she had ever seen it. And scattered across the endless depths of the sky were hundreds, thousands, millions of tiny flickering stars. Megumi had wondered if there was some point where there were no stars -- but as she craned her neck and looked as far as she could in the distance, the stars still remained.

:: "I wanted to tell you something." ::

She remembered leaning into his arms, resting the back of her head on his chest. She remembered breathing in his scent, a strange combination of sweat, sake, and smoke.

:: "I'm going to be leaving soon. I don't know when." ::

And she remembered looking straight into his eyes and denying the inevitable. She remembered breathing in sharply and avoiding his eyes.

:: "I -- I don't belong here. You've gotta understand that. And I just beat up that idiot who dares to call himself a government official -- the cops will be after me. You know that." ::

And she remembered lying to him. She remembered hissing, in a low, even voice, that fine, he could go, leave and never come back, for there would be no one here who would care. She remembered saying painful, spiteful words, like she didn't care what he did and that he could leave and die for all she cared -- when what she really wanted to say was no, please stay, I need you.

She had never been good with words.

:: "But whether or not you really do mean those words, there's still something else I have to tell you." ::

She remembered closing her eyes and standing up, and walking away, not bothering to listen to the rest of his words. The sky was black, and the stars lay defenseless.

:: "Because you know, Megitsune... even after everything I've done... I love you." ::

She swallowed, and reached up to clutch her heart. There it was, yet again: that dull, hollow ache that never seemed to go away.

"Megumi-san? May I have Kenji-chan back? He's crying... I think he's probably hungry."

Megumi snapped out of her thoughts, just now noticing that Kenji was crying. She wordlessly handed him back to his mother. She sped off in the direction of the dojo, inviting Megumi to come in.

She really needed to let go... Megumi knew that. She needed to let go. She couldn't waste the rest of her life waiting for something that might never happen.

He wouldn't have wanted her to do this.

Maybe he'd wanted to leave, somewhere deep inside. She could have hidden him from the police. So could Kenshin, Kaoru, and Yahiko. He could have even got to Kyoto to hide in the Aoiya. She was sure that Kenshin could have even convinced Saitoh to give the police some false tips...

Sagara Sanosuke had always been a free spirit. She knew and recognized that. She was fully aware of that the moment she chose to love him.

Maybe it was time to let go of those bitter memories.

---

Later that night, after Megumi had eaten dinner and, despite Kaoru's protests, had cleared off the table, she stepped outside, her wooden sandals clacking on the wooden porch. As she looked up, she saw that it was the very same sky she had seen almost two years ago.

"The stars are out tonight," she whispered quietly. "Are you watching them too?"

There was no answer. She had long given up on the hope that he would one day return and answer that. But that was okay. It really was.

There was no need for an answer.

Because she knew, that somewhere, far across the depths of the ocean, a certain rooster-headed man sat, underneath this very same sky, watching the stars as well.

And for now, that was good enough.

-- owari: the end --

A/N~ Ah, what happened? This was originally meant to be a fluffy, light-hearted, humorous sort of story, but in the end, it obviously turned out to be much darker than I originally intended. *shrugs* Well, leave a review and let me know what you think, okay? ^_____^ And, I think it should be pretty accurate with the series... Megumi leaves to go to Aizu, and shortly after that, Sano also departs from Japan... ^__^ Well, you know, review!