Best of Intentions
The final chapter…
Kaoru's knees had hit the ground hard. Her hands reached out and she had a palm on both Kenshin and Aoshi's chest. She could feel their hearts beat. That was somewhat reassuring, except for the fact that the rate was so fast!
Yahiko crouched beside her and together they rolled Kenshin off of Aoshi, resting his head in Kaoru's lap. She cradled Kenshin's head but her eyes were on Aoshi, who brushed Yahiko aside and sat up himself. The ninja held his hand over the upper part of his arm. His face was white as fresh snow. "I'm fine," he assured Kaoru quietly. "Focus on Himura," he told her.
Kaoru sighed in relief as tears spilt from her eyes. "Thank all that is holy," she whispered. Aoshi grimaced as he scooted beside Kaoru and centered his attention on Kenshin. "Kenshin? Can you hear me? Answer me, Kenshin?" Kaoru ran her fingers through the man's silky red hair. She looked up at Aoshi with devastated eyes.
"Kenshin? Stop playing around," Yahiko ordered his voice tight with emotion.
Aoshi reached down and pulled back Kenshin's shirt. The sight was ominous with all the blood. Tatiana pulled up her skirt and ripped off a large section of her slip. She then crouched down with the others and offered the cloth to Kaoru.
The young Japanese woman took the silky material and tried vainly to sop up the blood stained mess on Kenshin's chest. The bullet had pierced straight through Kenshin's back and out his front, destroying his lung and most likely nicking his heart. Kenshin's eyes fluttered open and for a moment his lavender orbs focused on Kaoru, he reached up and grasped her wrist.
"Oh Kenshin, get up. You can't die! I love you! You can't die!" Kaoru cried, bending down so that her forehead touched the rurouni's, her long dark hair curtaining them from the others.
Aoshi bowed his head; his eyes were hidden behind his bangs as he listened to Kaoru's proclamation of love for the other man. He knew that the wound was meant for him. Another friend had been lost to him because of guns. He would have gladly taken the bullet himself. It is obvious that Kaoru loved Kenshin. How could he have thought he could compete with something so strong?
Kenshin released Kaoru's wrist and reached up his hand to her pale cheek and brushed away her tears. He then reached over and brushed away the tears falling from Yahiko's eyes. He doesn't want either of them to be sad; he especially wanted Kaoru to be happy. He tried to open his mouth, to tell them that everything would be alright, that he did not want to see them cry, that he was unworthy of all this.
However, his strength seemed to be ebbing. Perhaps it was fitting that he were to die sacrificing himself for someone else's happiness. He stole happiness from so many during his years as the government's assassin he didn't deserve it himself.
His eyes close briefly, they felt so heavy. When he opened them again his eyes flickered past Kaoru, Yahiko, Aoshi, and the Russian heiress. He became afraid to close his eyes for the vision before him might vanish. He could see someone he hadn't seen in a decade standing over him.
She looked exactly the way he remembered, strong and peaceful. Tomoe was smiling at him serenely.
"We can't leave him here, we have to find medical assistance," Aoshi said, his voice sounding hollow to Kenshin. It was like he was at the far end of a cave from him. He could faintly feel the other man place his arms around his waist and pull him up similar to they way he had helped carry him after the battle with Shishio. Kaoru put her arm around his other side; her familiar Jasmine scent drew Kenshin back to the present and to the immense pain in his chest.
The two helped him stand but Kenshin could not feel his feet on the ground. He was starting to feel numb all over. Only Kaoru's scent provided him a small measure of comfort.
"It is time my love," Tomoe told Kenshin softly as she walked in front of him. She reached out her hand for the area of his chest where he was shot and placed her palm over the wound. The pain lessened and Kenshin felt some strength return.
He turned his head to Kaoru and met her fiery eyes that he loved so much. Tomoe's standing in front of him meant that he had finally earned peace and would not burn in hell for eternity for the hundreds of lives he took and ruined during the war.
"Your scar is gone," Kaoru whispered on a gasp of shock.
"So it is," Kenshin said softly. "I love you too." He closed his eyes wearily. "Sayonara," he whispered with his last breath.
Kaoru stared in horror at Kenshin's lifeless body. She looked up towards Aoshi's face to see his expression grim as he shifted the rurouni in his arms and lifted him. "I am sorry Kaoru," he apologized quietly. He stumbled slightly off balance at holding Kenshin's weight with his injury.
"Foolish men," Tatiana muttered as she wiped the tears from her eyes with the sleeve of her dress. "Give him to me before you hurt yourself more," she ordered to Aoshi, taking Kenshin's body and surprising them all with her ability to carry him by herself. She glared down at Yahiko, "Help me boy."
Yahiko gave her a curt nod and helped her carry Kenshin's body. Kaoru moved to help Aoshi stand now that his adrenaline rush had worn off and the amount of blood he lost was paying a handsome toll.
"You are the one that needs the medical attention," Tatiana scowled Aoshi and she led the way down the drive.
"Oh Aoshi," Kaoru lamented as she supported his injured body with her surprisingly stout frame. "Don't you dare die on me," she warned with some of her old spark in her voice.
"Wouldn't dream of it," Aoshi answered winded. "You'd find a way to bring me back to life just so you could kill me yourself."
Unseen by the companions, two spirits watched them closely with hands entwined. "She'll be safe with him," Tomoe assured Kenshin.
"More importantly, she'll be happy," Kenshin rejoined with a genuine smile. He looked down at his other hand to see Kaoru's blue ribbon was tied around his wrist.
Megumi and Yutaro had worked together on Aoshi. They removed the bullet that had lodged in his humorous bone. As long as the wound did not become infected he would be fine. The ninja glanced down at his arm that was now in a sling. The pressing question on his mind was how soon would he be able to swing a sword?
His thoughts were interrupted when Kaoru came to him and hugged her body close to his. Her head was tucked under his chin, her ear to his heart, and Aoshi's uninjured arm was wrapped securely around her. The words that fell out of her mouth surprised him. He was ready to offer condolences but she beat him to it.
"His scar was gone," she whispered. She tightened her arms around him. "He finally found the peace he always sought."
"Yes," Aoshi agreed, not knowing what else to say. He decided he didn't need to say much at all. All he needed to do was hold this woman close to his heart and continue to love and protect her. That was the right thing to do that the oracle had foreseen. He kissed the crown of her head and when he looked up he saw Misao and his double walk into the room.
He angled his head so that his hair shadowed his eyes. He did not want Misao to know that had seen her yet. The look she had on her face was hard to interpret but acceptance was the foremost expression.
"I'm so sorry Kaoru," Misao called out, startling Kaoru. Aoshi loosened his arm around Kaoru and allowed her to step away from him.
"Misao!" Kaoru cried, rushing towards the ninja girl and surprising her with an embrace of grand proportions. Misao met Aoshi's eyes for a moment before she wrapped her arms around the other woman. "Are you okay?" Kaoru asked concerned, pulling back from Misao to look her over.
"Never better," Misao said with a cheery smile. She gestured towards the man at her side. "This is Joseph," she introduced.
Kaoru looked at the almost mirror image of her Aoshi. The differences were apparent to her, but it was easy to see how they could fool others with their similarities. Kaoru gave him a slight bow of greeting and respect. Aoshi had slowly walked over and joined them. Kaoru stepped back against Aoshi's comforting chest.
"Ah, my twin," Joseph greeted Aoshi with a smile. His face turned serious. "I am truly sorry for the loss of your friend. He was a good man."
"He was," Aoshi agreed. "You and I will have to talk later about your people."
"What are you going to do now?" Misao asked gently, looking at Kaoru and avoiding Aoshi's eyes.
"We're returning to Kyoto to place Kenshin's remains by his wife's," Kaoru said with a forced smile. "You?"
"I have made a special request that Misao serve as my bodyguard," Joseph answered.
Kaoru's mouth fell open in shock. If Misao fell in love with Joseph would it be because he looked like Aoshi? That was no way to live!
"He also made the same request of Soujiro," Misao elaborated. "It is a temporary assignment. I'm sure we'll return to Kyoto after a few months."
"Only temporary if you don't want it to be permanent," Joseph argued.
"Is Sanosuke here too?" Kaoru asked, interrupting a debate that might have sparked between the two.
Misao shrugged. "He was with Megumi but I'm not sure where he went."
"Yahiko and I decided that we should hold a memorial service for Kenshin here." Kaoru paused and Aoshi gave her a reassuring hug that gave her more strength. "All his friends are here already."
"I'll pass on the word."
The memorial service had been long. Everyone shared the story of the first time they met Kenshin and how he changed their lives. He was a good man and would never be forgotten.
Sanosuke had stood between Kaoru and Yahiko during the service while Aoshi was on her other side. After everyone had spoken their peace he leaned down. "Jou-chan, I need to have a word with you."
Kaoru agreed and followed the former fighter-for-hire outside. "First off Kaoru, you're like my little sister and nothing is more important to me than you being happy." His words made Kaoru smile and she wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tight.
"I love you too Sano," she told him.
"Kenshin was like the big brother I never had," Sano continued as he wrapped his arms around Kaoru in return and squeezed her tight. "He loved you, but he loved his remorse too. He loved you but his guilt would always come first and he knew that. That was the reason he never told you how he felt."
Kaoru snorted, "He's gone now Sano, you don't have to worry about my feelings."
"Why would I worry about your feelings?" Sano asked bewildered. He shook his head; he didn't have time to worry about silly female emotions. "He answered all the letters you wrote him, but he never mailed them. I found them hidden under his bed but he made me swear to never to tell you."
"Why are you telling me now?"
"Because," Sano pushed her arm's length away from him. "Because he knew that Aoshi was the man that could make you happy like you deserved to be happy. That's the reason he took this assignment. He wanted to do all within his ability to preserve your happiness."
"His scar was gone, did you notice?" Kaoru asked quietly.
Sanosuke was silent for a long moment. "His final act of redemption was ensuring your happiness," he decided.
"Do you think so?"
"I know so," Sano bend down and surprised Kaoru by kissing her firmly on the mouth. "When you and the icebox get married I better be the one you ask to give you away."
"I wouldn't dream of anyone else," Kaoru assured him. "Are you not going back with us?"
Sanosuke shrugged. "I think I'd like to wander around Asia for a while longer. Tatiana offered me a job if I was interested." A lecherous sparkle came within his eyes. "I may be interested."
"What about Megumi?" Kaoru probed gently.
Sano shrugged. "I am too selfish a man to hold second place in a woman's heart."
Five months had passed since Kenshin was buried in Kyoto. Aoshi's arm was out of his sling and he was back to full functional capacity. He had agreed to move with Kaoru to Tokyo and help her run her father's dojo. However, there was one condition.
She would have to be his wife.
They would travel to Germany for their honeymoon since they were unable to go there on their last journey. Megumi was serving as Kaoru's maid of honor and had truly had a fantastic time planning everything. It was the first time she had seen Megumi happy about anything in a long time.
At first Kaoru thought it had to do with Sanosuke's absence, but as time passed she thought back on the former gangster's last words to her and realized that there must have been someone else. The doctor was quiet about the matter, but Kaoru wanted her to be happy too.
As a matter of fact Kaoru wanted everyone to be as happy as she was feeling at this very moment as she was about to become Shinomori. Of course, right now she wasn't very happy. If Sanosuke did not show up soon she would have to find someone else to give her away. She started to panic forgetting that she was about to be extremely happy.
"Don't worry Kaoru, we'll find someone who can give you away," Megumi assured her. "There's Yahiko, Soujiro, that old pervert from Aoshi's clan," Megumi trailed off.
"That old pervert has a name," Kaoru started before she followed Megumi's dark eyes to see Hiko standing in the doorframe of her dressing room. She screamed and crossed her arms over her chest since she was only standing in her undergarments. "You're not supposed to see the bride before the wedding!"
"What about the bride's maid?" Hiko asked while casting Kaoru a bored look. "I wouldn't want to anger the groom by leering at his wife-to-be."
"You can't look at me either," Megumi assured him, suddenly throwing herself into her work. She slipped Kaoru's red wedding kimono over her head, red representing the color of happiness in all Asian cultures.
"Megumi," Hiko called softly.
Kaoru looked up at him after Megumi pulled the gown over her head and she could see. She had never heard Hiko sound so pleading before. She wouldn't have recognized him.
The door to the dressing room burst open again and Kaoru screamed. "You men can't keep coming in here!" She calmed down when she saw that it was Sanosuke, looking flushed and dressed quite handsomely.
He looked first at Hiko, then Megumi, and then finally ignored them and made a bee-line for Kaoru. "Don't you dare let someone else give you away!" He warned before reaching down and crushing her into a tight embrace and twirling her in a circle, sending red silky material flying out.
Sanosuke set Kaoru down on her feet and gave Megumi a serious look. "Go talk to the drunken fool and I'll help Kaoru."
"How do you know how to dress a woman?" Kaoru asked, but then quickly shut her mouth when everyone else looked at her funny. "Nevermind."
"Fine!" Megumi huffed, as she stormed outside with Hiko trailing behind her at a slower pace.
After the door shut Sanosuke touched Kaoru's dark tresses with his fingers. "I have more practice undressing women then dressing, but I'm sure we can figure it out." He grinned down at her charmingly moving behind her and starting to wind the dress' folds around her. "Aoshi's a lucky man. If I knew you were this gorgeous all dressed up I'd have kept you for myself."
"Oh shut up." Kaoru playfully hit his chest. "You look nice wearing something other than your typical white evil shirt."
He shrugged, "I figured it was a special occasion. Do you have everything?"
Kaoru bit her lip in worry. "Actually, I need someone old, blue, and borrowed." She laughed self-consciously. "It's a silly Western tradition that I just heard about from Misao."
"It's only a silly Western tradition. Aren't they the ones that use those evil objects that capture your soul?"
"You mean a camera?"
"Forget it, it's not important."
Megumi came back into the room and gasped. She gave Sanosuke an incredulous expression. "I don't know how you managed to do it, but you actually dressed her well."
Sanosuke smirked. "Thanks."
"We have to go now," Megumi told them. Distant sounds of music began to drift towards the trio courtesy of the violinist Yutaro had brought from Austria as a gift.
"What did Hiko want?" Kaoru asked.
"I'll tell you about it later," Megumi promised. "Let's not keep that handsome ninja of yours waiting any longer."
Megumi left first and Sano and Kaoru trailed behind, arms looped together. Kaoru stopped in the middle of the path, not believing her eyes. Stuck in a bush, fluttering in the breeze was a very familiar blue object that she had not seen in half a year.
"Sano, do you see it?"
The gangster reached for the ribbon and handed it to Kaoru with a large smile. "I believe this means he approves," Sano answered.
Kaoru closed her hand around the ribbon she had given to Kenshin. Her heart warmed at the thought that Kenshin was watching over her still. She tucked the ribbon inside the inner folds of her kimono.
Then she walked down the aisle with Sanosuke towards the man she wanted to build both her future and her life with. Aoshi looked so handsome standing by the priest waiting for her to join him. Kaoru's face broke out into a wide blissful grin and her heart soared even higher when Aoshi's lips curved into a grin as well.
A/N: Thanks for reading with me over the past two years. It has been a blast writing this and hearing from you. As far as the ending is concerned, there is a lot left to interpretation. I'm leaving it up to you, the reader, to decide what will become of the other characters/pairings.
Also, please check out my profile page for the link to my original novel Heart of a Wolf available via authorhouse.