A/N: Thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter, and for those who stuck around after so long. I'd really like to know what all my readers thought of this story, since I feel like I didn't get a whole lot of feedback on Chapter 9. Have any suggestions or afterthoughts? I love this story and would eventually like to adapt it into an original screenplay! (young James Spader as the Kenshin character….? Anyone else see it…? Haha maybe not...)
I know some of you may be disappointed in the way that I decided to do the final chapter as a type of epilogue, but I think it works out the best this way. You'll see. Or maybe you won't see, and you'll tell me so after you read this, haha. This was originally intended to be very short and purely lighthearted, but it turned out with ten times more angst and ten times longer than I had planned, since there were many emotional loose ends to tie up. Damn these characters and their complicated psyches! Oh well!
Epilogue (a.k.a "did you really think I planned to end this thing on a cliffhanger?")
Two Weeks Later...
Sanosuke straightened his tie nervously, his whole body seemingly wired with adrenaline. Was it the ungodly amounts of caffeine he had been living off of lately, or perhaps the nonexistent sleep that his body so desperately begged for? Or maybe it was something emotional and sensitive that his macho side wasn't going to let him get in touch with. Either way, he felt, and was sure he looked, as if a stream roller had had its way with him before leaving him for dead.
He squinted at the reflection bending awkwardly along the panels of the elevator, which was so useless to him that he might as well have been checking his appearance in a concrete wall. Still, he used it as an opportunity to rumple his brown hair into some kind of spiky order. He felt his chin. Stubble that had been there for who knew how long. He was mildly grateful that he couldn't see the redness in his own eyes.
The elevator doors creaked and made a pinging sound as they rumbled open. Sano shuttled his body into the echoing, calmly shaded hallway. His long strides separated the muffled click of shined black shoes as the agent moved down the corridor to the corner room. He paused hesitantly at the closed door, his hand trembling unexplainably over the handle as he drew in breath he would have liked to think was courageous and manly. If this had been a shoot-out, a stakeout or a fistfight, Sano would have run in without a second thought, but now his mind was clouded with doubt. Finally, drawing up his chest in a denial of his own nerves, Sanosuke turned the handle and pushed his way into the room.
There she lay propped up by large pillows, looking rather peaked and drained in a sea of coarse, blue hospital blanket. But even in the dim light of the hospital, with tubes and wires wrapped around her, Megumi was still beautiful. She looked up at him, a miniature smile quirking up the edges of her unnaturally pale lips.
"…Rooster-head…" this time it didn't sound remotely like an insult.
The spiky-haired agent took a step towards her bed, one hand shoving its way into the pocket of his obviously-disheveled pants. He tried to smirk at her, pose smugly and give her a flirtatious wink. He would be cool and collected, and show her exactly the type of suave man that he could be. He would make her knees weak with his dashing words. A million phrases and quips crashed into each other in his head as he stood over her.
He opened his mouth to speak, and only one word tumbled out in an emotion-filled croak. "Megumi…"
Sano was out like a shot down the staircase, his long limbs leaping down the stairs in fives and sixes, as he practically flew down them to the bottom floor. He would be too late to rescue her. Even if it had been just minutes, they had already wasted too much time loading Himura into the helicopter and restraining Seta, and now they would have to pay for that with the Fox's life! If his negligence was the cause of her death, Sano didn't know what he would do.
He peered around the edge of the doorway to see out onto the street. Had the car containing Megumi left already? The backstreet was empty, dim, silent to Sano except for the steady thrum of blood in his ears. He clutched his gun in his hand with uncharacteristically sweaty palms, as he pulled off the safety. If they were gone he would be back at square one. But there was still a chance that whoever had driven Seta here hadn't left yet, didn't know what had gone on inside the building.
As the thought crossed his mind, a black car with windows dark whipped around the corner with a deafening screech and zoomed past Sano. There it was: the car that he was after. Not wasting even a second, he split out onto the pavement, readying his gun between both hands, low at his side. His muscles pumped as hard as they could to propel him as he followed the car. Suddenly on his knees, the gun cocked expertly in line with the car tires, two sets of two shots were fired in successive bangs that cut through the air as if in a stark and deadly message to the driver.
With a loud pop, the right rear tire had burst, causing the car to lose control, skidding in a mess of smoke and burning rubber. Before the driver had the time to move, Sano was at the door. "F.B.I.!" He roared, but it was a mere courtesy. He didn't need the title right now to intimidate- his actions would speak for themselves from now on. With fierce and unrelenting strength, the agent threw open the door.
Not giving the driver enough time even to raise his own gun, Sano had barreled into him with one fist buried in the other man's shirtfront, and the other slamming efficiently into his face with a sound "thwack." The large man underneath Sano struggled with a grunt ripping from his throat, trying to pull his trigger on the federal agent, or at least use the gun as a battering tool. He was able to get one solid hit across Sano's temple, but it was no use. The lanky man only smirked grimly after the hit, a long trickle of dark blood spilling over his eye menacingly. This hired bodyguard was not going to lay another finger on him. In a frighteningly swift motion, he had dislodged the gun from the man's thick fingers with a twist, and had turned it back on him.
He shook with barely-contained rage as he shoved the barrel of the gun into the hollow of the man's cheek. "Where is Megumi Takani?" The driver flinched under the cold metal of the gun, and jerked his head and eyes towards the backseat, which was obscured by a tinted bulletproof panel.
Sanosuke threw a flurry of punches into the man's face, each one growing progressively more powerful. And then he stopped, to drag him up by his collar so he could see him face-to-face. "If she dies, I'm gonna make you wish you'd never lived," he growled. Delivering him a final blow, Sano's specialty, he slapped a pair of handcuffs onto the man and left him sprawled across the driver's seat.
He scrambled out of the front seat, a jolt of apprehension shooting through his stomach, as he pulled the back door open. There Megumi was, curled up unconscious on the floor, her wrists and ankles bound. She looked already dead, no color in her cheeks, her beautiful face marred by cuts and bruises, and her body peppered in wounds. What had they done to her? He glanced up the street, to see three other agents rushing towards the car to assist him.
"Get some medical assistance here!" He heard his own voice hitch.
He crawled into the back and pulled her up on the seat. Her breathing was so shallow she might as well have not been breathing at all. He moved strong, slightly bloodied fingers up to cradle her head with pained gentleness.
"I'm so sorry…"he whispered, shakily.
Sanosuke gave her a smile that didn't hold for very long before it started to waver. With an awkward shrug, he unceremoniously thrust a bouquet of flowers in to her hands. She could tell that he had been rough with them, as it seemed as if half the blooms had their petals hanging off at odd angles. But knowing his nature, the roughness was likely unintentional. She chuckled wryly under her breath as she leaned her nose in delicately to sniff the flowers.
"Uh…I got them for you at the gift shop." Sano scratched the back of his head uncomfortably.
"They're blue violets," she stated, turning her eyes expectantly to him. "What is that supposed to mean?"
He looked very cornered in a very typical male way. "Er…the lady said that you would like them."
She laughed at his expression as she set the flowers on the bedside table. "She was right." It was rare to see Sanosuke Sagara looking so cowed, and she reveled in the moment. Usually by now they would have already been embroiled in a heavy match of words and flirtatious quips. She might even have called it unnerving to see him this serious. Sanosuke was never serious with her.
"The nurses told me that you've been here everyday to see me, Sano…"
"Heh…well…uh…" He looked as if he had been caught off guard by the statement, and he gulped deeply.
"…And I wanted to thank you." A red blush colored his face.
Sano suddenly moved to sit heavily in the chair beside her bed- the same he had occupied every day until now. "This is all my fault. I should have never let you get involved with something so dangerous…I…I should have been there to back you up earlier." He raised a shaky hand to clutch his face in frustration. Megumi opened her mouth slightly in surprise. She felt as if she were watching his heart strain in front of her…as if the mighty Sanosuke Sagara were breaking apart at her expense. He rubbed his hand over his face, and blew out a labored breath. Then his deep brown eyes, bloodshot with stress, rose to meet hers. "I thought I had lost you for sure. I don't know what I would have done if that had happened."
She smiled somewhat tearfully, as she lifted a cool hand to his cheek, a warm feeling spreading through her chest. And for the first time, she was speechless.
Kenshin's fingers flexed nervously on the top of the steering wheel. He took three deep breaths to steel himself. The car had been in "park" for five minutes already, but he couldn't seem to find the right moment to leave the car. In fact, he was worried about exactly what he would do when he saw Kaoru Kamiya. What would she have to say to him? What could he say to her that would allow her to forgive him?
It had been two weeks since the night of his fight with Soujiro, but he had not talked to Kaoru since. He had spent a large chunk of the fourteen days recovering in a hospital bed, under the watchful eye of the F.B.I. The agents that had drifted in and out of his room, as he drifted in and out of consciousness, had passed on information from the doctors. He had suffered severe blood loss, a mild concussion, among various other injuries. The days had been a blur of drugged sleep and a steady line of new faces that had introduced themselves and both apologized and thanked him for his help, in a very impersonal and formal way. No one had really been able to provide much solid information or explanation to him except for Sanosuke Sagara, but even he hadn't been able to visit most of the time. After the agents had run a few standard questions by him, and had promised to reconnect, the doctors had allowed him to go home and rest.
But she hadn't once come to see him. Not that I can blame her…After all, he had been the reason Kaoru's life had been in danger in the first place. And then she had been forced to watch as he had done the unspeakable. I lost control of myself. He gripped the steering wheel with pent-up force, shutting his eyes tight, and feeling disgust towards himself. If the fight had gone on any longer, what would have happened? Kenshin had broken his own rules…he had let violence drive his actions. He had promised to never go down that path again, and now he was no better than Soujiro…he was no different from Enishi.
Kenshin wanted to at least see Kaoru, though…he wanted to make sure she was okay, he wanted to apologize, and then he would leave her alone forever. He hung his head, finally releasing the wheel to cradle his head in his hands. He struggled to swallow the feelings that kept rising within him with undeniable force. A large part of him wanted desperately to forget that the fight had ever happened. If only he could be worthy enough to deserve Kaoru's affection! But a girl like Kaoruneeded someone young and strong who wouldn't put her life on the line. She deserved somebody far better than him.
Taking one last deep, steadying breath, Kenshin knew that it was time to get it over with. He slid out of the front seat of the car, and walked towards the entrance of the Imperial Insurance building.
As soon as Kenshin entered the office he knew something was different. He couldn't pinpoint the feeling, since nothing had changed physically in the office. All the same old faces that, to him, characterized the office were there. The old man by the door, who had been working there since the top floors had been added, and repeatedly told everyone he only stayed for the delicious coffee. They all knew he was there for his pension. And then there was the row of middle-aged women whose gum-snapping was louder and more constant than the tapping of their computer keys, who all lived for gossiping about the beautiful thirty-something Latin man, Eduardo, who worked at the front desk. The horn-rimmed spectacled assistant manager who was always lapping at Saito's feet like a doting puppy. All the burgeoning office romances and secrets and memos and buttocks copied with much glee in the copy room by the interns.
He didn't belong among them anymore. Kenshin limped down the corridor to Kaoru's cubicle, his wounded leg still causing him to grimace with pain, and he felt suspicious eyes on him. He remembered that he had been gone for weeks now without explanation. And nobody would have expected or believed the reason. He realized with a start that he could never again have the same simple mindset as before. He couldn't sit at a desk any longer and watch the clouds pass above the skyscrapers while forging through pointless documents and contracts. He couldn't hide any longer from the questions that he hadn't found answers to, and expect to be happy. He would have to find peace elsewhere. He had to leave this place once and for all, and find a quiet life elsewhere. He wondered how many of the people here understood that feeling, as he watched them chat idly to one another or shoot him disdainful glances. He straightened his shoulders, not sparing them a glance.
He finally reached Kaoru's desk, and in the instant that he saw it, he felt his face burn with shame. Kaoru and all of her things were gone. Of course she had left already. Why would she want to stay in a place with such bad memories? Why would she want to risk running into him again if she could help it?
His shoulders sagging heavily, he returned to his own desk. He frowned and sighed at the sight of his things, seeing how ridiculous they were. Had he really been trying to suppress himself this whole time by keeping this kind of order? It was silly, he thought. Even if he had known Kaoru for just a short time, she had taught him that that kind of success was only achieved through human contact. He had been wrong about that for ten years. His salvation was in people and in helping them. He thanked her silently for that lesson.
Suddenly furious at himself once again for everything that had happened, he lunged at the desk, and began throwing things haphazardly into a box. Staplers, paperclips, keyboard all fell out of their perfect order into a disordered mass. He supposed that gave him a small measure of satisfaction. So involved was he with his own thoughts, that he didn't hear the abrupt cough from behind him, that carried an obvious amount of distaste and sarcasm. Only Saitou could cough with sarcasm.
"So glad you finally decided to join us, Himura. It must be so nice to live in a world where an entire corporation revolves around your every whim." Kenshin whipped around to see Saitou Hajime, as tall and imposing as ever, with a smug look morphing his features into a wolfish smirk. Saitou's smirk wavered slightly as he saw Kenshin's face, and it was only then that Kenshin realized exactly how he must have looked. He was still pale and sickly-looking, walking with an exaggerated limp, and his face was cut up by a sword, with his left eye black and blue. He stared Saitou down, not flinching under the yellow gaze.
"You waltz in here after two weeks of unexplained absence, you look like you just got mugged, and you aren't even wearing a tie. You look weak and stupid. This is not the type of company image Imperial Insurance is aiming to project, Himura." He spat out the name with a sardonic twist, waving the pen between his fingers as if it were a lit cigarette.
Kenshin could feel his insides boiling with rage. Saitou didn't frighten him anymore. If the rest of this office was living empty and selfish lives, then Saitou would have to be their ringleader. Kenshin turned away from his boss, closing his eyes to calm his thoughts. His whole body was tense with annoyance, but as he opened his eyes he continued to pack up the items on his desk, and chose to ignore the manager. He was teetering on the edge of provocation. His hand shook as he emptied his pencils into the box, letting them clatter over the rest of his possessions.
Saitou sniffed in displeasure. He took loud, sauntering strides closer to Kenshin, who could practically feel the eyes narrowing behind his back. "Don't turn your back on me, Himura. I'm not going to take this kind of attitude from you. If you don't straighten up, I'm going to have to take drastic measures. I don't care how long you've been working here, either."
Kenshin's hand rested on the last item on his desk- the portrait of Tomoe. He let one finger slide over the glass before he snatched it up, and laid it neatly on top of the other items in the box. Having packed up all of his things, Kenshin brushed past Saitou without even looking at him, and began to move as swiftly as he could toward the door. He was having trouble containing his anger.
Saitou growled in offense, and he barked out at Kenshin. "Himura! Get back here this instant! If you walk out that door right now, you're fired!"
Kenshin focused solely on the door in front of him, blowing hot air out of his nostrils in an expression of anger. "I quit!" he threw over his shoulder with a biting tone.
"What did you say!" Saitou began to stalk after him, which attracted the attention of the workers who had been buzzing around them. It was not often that any of them saw Saitou's impeccable cool shatter. Maybe it was because nobody had ever stood up to him before.
Kenshin froze in front of the open door, breathing in deeply, his lips curling up in a snarl. And then, he did something that even he was shocked by. He turned slowly to face his boss, his box of belongings bending underneath the strength of his tensed fingers. Saitou stopped dead in the walkway, pierced by Kenshin's glare, as if all that pent-up hatred were radiating outward through his steely blue eyes.
"Fuck off, Saitou," he spat.
He left the manager standing in the corridor, mouth hanging open in surprise.
As Kenshin walked out into the parking garage, he was still stunned by his own actions. He couldn't help but chuckle a little though, as he remembered the unbridled shock that had painted Saitou's face. He wouldn't have denied that it had been a small victory to be able to counter Saitou with his own biting words. Now that he had severed ties with the insurance company, he could leave the city to wherever the road took him. He knew he had a long journey ahead of him.
When he saw his car though, his body stopped moving, and all of his thoughts and plans seemed to rush out of his head. For, leaning on the back of his car was Kaoru Kamiya, giving him a nervous and worried smile. Kenshin felt something inside of him melt to see her there, as if she had broken through his defenses just with that one look. He walked dazedly toward her, a part of him wondering if this was a dream, another convinced that she had come to rebuke him.
Before he could think of anything to say, she had already spoken. "Kenshin…" she murmured, her smile widening in concession.
He placed the box in his hands on top of the car, turning away from her so he could shade his face with his bangs. He couldn't even think of where to begin. "Miss Kaoru…" his voice drifted off in a sigh, as he swallowed a lump of emotion that was still threatening to overflow through his words. If only he could tell her exactly how he felt. But that wasn't what she had come there for.
"Kenshin, I came here to apologize." Kenshin's head shot up immediately, his eyes wide in surprise. She bit her lip meekly, as if she were ashamed. But why? "I was the one who caused you so much trouble. If I hadn't insisted on going along with you, you wouldn't have gotten into that fight, and you would have never been hurt." Her eyes flickered over the wounds on his face in concern.
He opened his mouth, but couldn't think of any way to respond. She was apologizing to him? But he had been the one that Shishio was after. He had dragged her into it. "Miss Kaoru-"
"And I also wanted to…thank you." She continued, and her eyes dipped down, away from his. She looked beautiful, a light blush brightening her cheeks, her dark hair falling around her face. "You...you saved my life, and you put your own life in danger. I wanted to visit you since the fight but…" her blush darkened even more. "But I thought you wouldn't want to see me."
Kenshin felt as if the whole world had been turned upside down. What had he done to deserve any of this? He should be the one apologizing her, begging for her forgiveness, as he had intended to do. And yet, here he was, Kaoru standing in front of him with a sorry and a thank you. "Miss Kaoru, I don't understand!" his voice was quiet and tender, with a hint of confusion, and she smiled a little bit. "I should be the one who is ashamed. I was the one who put your life in danger. You don't owe me anything!"
"Kenshin, you were brave, and you did the best that you could. I'm sure…I'm sure Tomoe would have been proud," she gulped, her voice moving into a whisper.
Kenshin frowned, his violet eyes clouding in frustration. He had planned to leave the city without any regrets, but seeing her like this, so sweet and untouchable caused his heart to cry out. He didn't want to leave without her. But he couldn't very well stay here… Kaoru needed something more, something that he couldn't give her. He spoke once more. He had to make her understand the seriousness of what he had done. "But, Miss Kaoru-"
Without warning, his words were silenced by her lips on his. He melted into the feeling, the sensation of the kiss like heaven. His hands found his way to her sides, and without thinking, he had pulled her up against him, drowning in the sweetness and perfection of the moment. They separated slowly, their hot breaths mingling as they brushed noses. Kenshin panted heavily, his eyes still shut tight. He couldn't believe it. Kaoru had kissed him.
She reached a hand up to his cheek, and his violet eyes fluttered open to meet hers as he felt it. Her face was flushed, eyes bright. Light fingers moved loving across his cross-shaped scar. "Now do you understand?" He searched her eyes, wondering in awe over this girl…How one simple gesture had nullified everything he had been considering the past two weeks. There was so much now that he had to figure out. But somehow, with a new fire lit in his heart, he wasn't so frightened about that journey.
"I'd be careful with him, Missy!" They both jumped apart from each other as the deep voice boomed from behind them. Kenshin and Kaoru turned to see Sanosuke Sagara walking towards them, his tall frame impressively almost reaching the parking lot rafters. "He's fresh out of intensive care. Anything more than kissing and he might bleed to death!" He winked playfully at the two, and Kaoru's face looked like a tomato.
Kenshin scowled lightly at the innuendo, but still eyed the federal agent with respect. "It's good to see you again Agent Sagara, that it is."
Kaoru grinned to herself. That it is. She never thought she would have missed that phrase.
Sano nodded in agreement, his body in a relaxed slouch. They could both tell that he hadn't had much sleep. "I told Missy that you would be here. I decided to come down to thank you one last time for everything you did for us. I know that we…that I…put you in a difficult and dangerous situation, and that was wrong of me. I regret that either of you had to be involved."
Kenshin looked solemn for a moment as he considered the apology, before replying in a calm tone. "You did what you had to do, and you could not control what Hiko Seijuro and Shishio's organization tried to do. You did everything that was in your power, I am sure. And I am grateful that you were able to find Kaoru and I in the end, that I am." Sanosuke felt pride in hearing the older man's praise. While Kenshin was a civilian, he could sense in the man's eyes an overwhelming sense of strength, experience and depth.
Kaory spoke up, the blush still lingering on her cheeks as she met Sano's eyes. "That's one thing I've been wondering. How exactly did you know where to find us?"
Sano laughed at the question, reaching into his breast pocket with two fingers to pull something out. He held it out to Kaoru. It was his business card, just like the one that she had found in Kenshin's pocket. "You had one of these with you. I'm sure you noticed that it wasn't made out of paper. That's because it has a tracking device in it. Once we realized that Shishio had sent someone after you, we were able to pinpoint your location…Sorry it wasn't sooner." He looked truly regretful, as he accepted the card back from Kaoru.
"How is Miss Megumi doing, Agent Sagara?" Kenshin asked, a questioning smile on his lips. "You two were partners, correct?"
Kaoru slyly noticed the change in his demeanor when the female agent's name was mentioned. Sano had kept the same rough exterior, but his eyes had a far away look in them, and a slightly wistful smile was on his face. "Yes, Megumi's my partner. We weren't sure for a while, but it seems like with some recovery she'll be just fine."
"I'm glad." Kenshin smiled a genuine smile, his violet eyes kind.
"Me too," said Kaoru.
"And…Soujiro?" The question was more hesitant, carried guilt and fear along with it.
"He'll be just fine. The fact that we captured him gives us plenty of leverage against Shishio, though. You're the reason for that, Kenshin." Kenshin pursed his lips in response.
"Anyway," Sanosuke said abruptly, as if to avoid any more uncomfortable topics. "I should be going…I'll let you two get back to what you were doing before I interrupted." This time they both blushed. The agent chuckled to himself. "You know, Kenshin," he spoke with laughter in his voice. "I noticed you held your own against a professional assassin. That's very impressive. Maybe you should become a federal agent!"
Sano's smile faded when he got chills up his spine.
….Or maybe not.
A/N: Hehe did anyone really think I was going to keep Kenshin and Kaoru apart? My general rule for this story was to at every turn ask myself what I would want to read in a fanfiction. And, therefore, it had to end with warm and fuzzy feelings!
Thanks to everyone for reading! Writing this story was a complete blast, and I'm sorry it's over. Please let me know what you thought of it! I created some forums in my profile, too, in case you have anything that you want addressed (I would love to hear from you guys).