Chapter Eight

"Okay, now hold on!"

"Yahiko!" Kaoru snapped, glaring at the impudent boy. She pulled the blanket closer to herself, and spoke softer, "Don't interrupt the story."

Yahiko gave her a look, and crossed his arms, "You have got to be kidding me. This is the worst scary story I have ever heard! Its not even scary!"

Ayame and Suzume clutched each other tightly. "Its scary!" they wailed. Dr. Genzai comforted them quietly as Yahiko rolled his eyes.

"Now, now," Kenshin smiled patiently. "It is a scary story, Yahiko. You just aren't taking it seriously enough."

"Geesh," Sanosuke drawled, leaning back. "Scary stories are never good enough for little kids. You should know that, Kenshin."

"Are you calling me a little kid?" Yahiko growled.

Megumi sighed, "Can we get back to the story now?"

"Yeah, Yahiko. How do you know its not real?" Sanosuke pointed out.

"Yeah, be quiet Yahiko," Kaoru frowned. The boy stuck out his tongue, but remained silent. Kaoru turned to Kenshin, "Go on, Kenshin."

Kenshin smiled, "Of course. Now. . .where was I?"

The pit seemed to disappear, and Sanosuke ran as fast as he could, with my unconscious form over his shoulder. "Hold on tight, there, buddy," Sanosuke muttered through clenched teeth. A light seemed to be far away from us, but Sanosuke simply ran faster, his long legs stretching as far as they could. The light came closer and closer, until we were suddenly back in the long hallway of our prison.

Sano growled, "No, not this place again!" He paced for a few moments, until he noticed something peculiar. There were no doors, and the hallway didn't come from anywhere, or go anywhere. There were simply blank walls. "What the. . ." he stared at the walls. They didn't budge.

I moaned quietly.

"Hold on, Kenshin," Sanosuke told me. He walked to one side of the hallway and all the way to the blank wall. With me still hanging over his shoulder, Sanosuke kicked down the wall with his right leg. The wall gave way, revealing weak cardboard. Behind the wall was a normal room surrounded by rice-paper shoji walls. There was nice furniture and plants. Sanosuke shook his head. "Crazy."

He stepped into the room and found the door. He slid it open, only to reveal a room very much like the first. He looked up, "God, if you're up there, would you please explain to me why you made such CRAZY people?!"

Laughter echoed through the room, "Starting to drive you mad, isn't it?" The voice seemed to come from everywhere.

"I've got to get that poison!" Sanosuke yelled. "I need to know what poison you infected him with!"

"Tough luck."

Sanosuke sighed, "Please?"

There was a pause. "Oh . . . . alright."

"Okay, now hold on!"

"YAHIKO!" they all shouted.

He just threw up his hands, "Why would the bad guy just flat out tell Sano the poison he had used? It's just too easy!"

Kenshin shook his head, "You didn't let me finish."

Sanosuke frowned, "Really?"

"NO! Of course not! What do you think I am, a moron?" the voice shouted and laughed uproariously.

"It's not funny!" Sanosuke shouted. His frustration had jumped leaps and bounds. He looked down, disheartened, "Shit. I don't know what poison Kenshin was infected with, I only have a little time left, and I don't even know where the hell I am!" He gently put me on the floor and punched the air several times. "I just don't know what to do."

"Sano. .s-suke!" I frowned in my sleep.

He looked down at me, eyes wide, "Kenshin! Kenshin! Can you hear me?" He didn't get a reply, but the simple sound of his name had renewed his strength and courage! He stood up, and put me over his shoulder once more. Yelling a battle charge cry, he ran from room to room. Every time he opened a door, it only revealed a new room exactly the same as the last. Despite this, Sanosuke ran through at least six doors.

He paused, breathing heavily. He rested a hand on his knee, "How many of these rooms are there?"

The voice seemed amused, "If you can't go any farther, I'll provide you with a little something. Its on the table."

"Huh?" Sanosuke glanced at the table. A knife. He growled, "No! I . . . I couldn't. No. . ." He fell to one knee; my weight was making his shoulder very sore and tired. Sanosuke took in a deep breath and closed his eyes. Even though he was disheartened, even though he had nearly given up all hope, there was an image in his mind. He frowned, and looked closer at the imaginary image.

It was Kaoru. Crying.

"Jou-chan, it's all my fault," Sanosuke sighed. He looked up at the door in front of him. He took in another deep breath. "Would it kill me to go into one more room?" he could hear something ticking. A clock. A race against the clock. A race against time. "Stupid old man," grinding his teeth, he pushed himself back up.

"Wait, you're not seriously considering going into the next room, are you?" the voice asked. "It's just going to be another room, exactly the same."

Sanosuke shook his head, "No. I can feel it. This one's different."

"Are you kidding?" the voice asked, sounding surprised. "You should just give up. Give up hope and faith."

"No," Sanosuke took a step forward. "I can't."

"Wait! You. . You can't go on. You can't open the next door, because you know it will simply be the same thing. You might as well just give up!" the voice sounded panicked.

Sanosuke took a few steps more, and leaned over to slide the door.

"No! You can't go out that door! You have to give up!"

Sanosuke grinned, ironically, "Tough luck." He opened the door to reveal a completely different room. It was a cold, damp room with a single table in the center. On the other side of the room was a door. Above the door were the words, EXIT. But the table interested Sanosuke even more. On the table was a small vile. He grabbed it and looked carefully at the label. With a grin, he pocketed the vile and ran to the exit door. He opened it and was immediately met with a rush of wind. Sanosuke stepped out and took in a deep breath of fresh air.

And then he turned around.

Almost nothing was behind him. Only rubble. Stones and rotten pieces of wood. Sanosuke's jaw fell. He took a few steps backwards. He glanced to his right, where a sign was buried halfway into the ground. It stood leaning slightly to the right. Sanosuke jumped to it and read the nearly scratched out words. The Aku-gumi. Sanosuke gasped at such a sight. He shook his head and stared at the rubble.

Suddenly, he remembered me still lying across his shoulder. "Oh crap!" and he ran as fast as he could. We weren't far from the town, but far enough to make Sanosuke's worry increase to 100. He had very little time left. His long legs stretched past breaking point; the hot sun beat down upon his neck, his red ribbon waved wildly behind him.

He ran across the bridge, past the thrift shops, around the market, beyond several large estates and straight for the clinic. He finally reached it, and broke down the door. Megumi screamed from inside. She saw him, all muscle and sweat, and smiled with fox ears popping from her head, "That's my man."

Sanosuke pulled out the vile from his pocket and threw it to Megumi. Her eyebrows rose at the sight of the name, and she ran into the other room. Sanosuke set me down upon the patient's bed. He huffed heavily with a small smile, "You're gonna make it, buddy. You're gonna make it."

Megumi ran back in with a tiny glass. She lifted my head and poured the contents of the antidote down my throat. I was so numb, I gave no complaint. When she was finished, Megumi let out a long sigh. She glanced at Sanosuke, "Where the hell have you been?"

"I have no idea," Sanosuke shrugged. And then he fell to his knees. "There was a building, and an old man, and an endless hallway," he muttered, closing his eyes. Megumi quickly ran to get a glass of water. "When we got out, it was only rubble. Like it hadn't been there for years. The Aku-gumi. . ." he took the water from Megumi and gulped it down greedily.

Megumi frowned, "The Aku-gumi? I thought they were just a silly made up story from the Bakumatsu."

Sanosuke shook his head, "I really don't care right now." And then he fell to the floor, fast asleep.

"Sano?" Megumi asked. She panicked. "Neither of you have had nutrition for days! Dr. Genzai!"

I woke to the faint murmur of voices. I frowned and carefully opened my eyes. My sight was blurred for a moment, until it re-adjusted. A white face and black hair looked down at me. Her black eyes met my own. Her smile warmed my bones, heart and soul. My Kaoru. I opened my mouth to speak, but she pressed a finger to my lips.

"Rest, Kenshin. Sanosuke explained everything," her soft voice sounded like a melody.

I stared into her eyes, and frowned. They were black. I looked around; everything was black or white. There was no color. For the first time, I noticed her hand holding my own. She held onto me tighter. Despite the odd sight of black and white, comfort wrapped around me like a warm blanket, and I closed my eyes.

The next time I woke up, she wasn't there. I blinked, and held up my hand to look at it carefully. There was no color. No skin pigment. But my arm felt strong. I sat up and looked around. The whole room was colorless. Black and white. Nobody was around. I frowned, "Hello? Is anyone here?"

"Kenshin?" Sanosuke opened the door and smiled when he saw me. "Hey! You've been sleeping for days!"

I smiled back, strained, "Sanosuke?"

His smile fell, "Kenshin, what's wrong?"

"I-" I looked down. "I feel fine, my arm is fine, but-"

"Kenshin, I know," Sanosuke looked down as I looked up. "I'm sorry. I had to trade your sight for your life. You will be color-blind for the rest of your life."

I was shocked speechless.

Sanosuke watched me carefully, "I told Megumi. She'll tell everyone that it's a side-effect of the poison." He shifted from foot to foot, "Are you ready to see everyone?"

To shocked to say anything, I simply nodded.

He left the room. A few minutes later, he re-entered with Megumi, Dr. Genzai, Yahiko and Kaoru. My Kaoru. They walked in unsteadily and nervous. I gulped at the sight of their colorless faces. Shivering slightly, I met the eyes of Kaoru, my Kaoru. She read my mind and walked up to the bed. I looked down and took her hand. As everyone watched, I brought her hand to my lips and kissed her knuckles and fingers.

There were tears rolling down her face.

"What happened?" I asked Sanosuke, finally finding my voice.

He looked grim, "We don't really know. When I finally got out, there was nothing there but a pile of rubble. Does the name Aku-gumi ring any bells?"

I looked at him square in the eyes, "Aku-gumi? A made up group meant to scare naughty children during the Bakumatsu so that they wouldn't go out of doors at night." I looked down, "They were supposedly blood thirsty murderers who didn't care who they were killing. Parents would tell children that the Aku-gumi had a grudge against them according to whatever the naughty child had done in the past."

Sanosuke whistled, "I went back to where I thought the rubble was, but it wasn't there. I haven't been able to find it. Pretty scary."

"Yes," I agreed. "So, I guess we'll never really know what happened, will we?"

Everyone nodded slowly and quietly.

I took in a deep breath and whispered, "It was real, though. It was real."

Kaoru comforted my scarred cheek. She smiled, "Kenshin, why didn't you tell me about Sanosuke cross-dressing?"

I nearly choked, "Oro! Kaoru-dono. . . I-I-"

"Well, I guess he's back to normal," Megumi chuckled.

"Almost," I recovered. A smirk found my lips, "But not quite the same." And then I kissed Kaoru, my Kaoru, with all my heart. Nothing would be the same. Everything had to change at one point or another. Every good thing must come to an end, to make room for another good thing. Once a window closes, a door opens. I kissed her to prove that.

"Wow. That was quite possibly the most cheesy and rushed ending I have ever heard."

"Yahiko! Why are you such a brat?" Kaoru berated him, while Kenshin simply smiled.

Yahiko just rolled his eyes. "That wasn't scary at all. I'm going to bed now," he got up from the circle they had created in the middle of the dojo floor and walked towards the hallway. The group at the circle watched him walk away.

"Don't have any nightmares, Yahiko!" Sanosuke called, laughing.

"Sano!" Megumi scolded him. She shook her head, and then rested it against Sano's shoulder. He smiled and rested his head upon her's.

Dr. Genzai stood up slowly, "Well, I better get these little ones home." He chuckled at the sight of the girls sleeping. He bent over and nudged their shoulders, "Come on girls. Time to go home. Say bye bye." They obeyed and did so. Everyone else responded accordingly, and watched as the doctor and little girls walked out of the dojo. Everything was quiet for a few moments.

Kaoru shifted against Kenshin's warm body. She sighed, "We better go to bed. It's very late." She stood up and wrapped the blanket around herself tighter. She smiled down at Kenshin. "Coming?" she asked.

He nodded, "I'll be there in a minute." He watched her walk away. His eyes shifted to where Megumi stood up.

"Goodnight Kenshin. I'll be in bed, Sano," she walked dreamily away.

Only Kenshin and Sanosuke were left on the dojo floor. Sanosuke grinned, "Good job, buddy."

"Well," Kenshin drawled. "If I had told them the truth, none of them would have believed me anyway." He stood up with the candle in hand, and stared down at its colorless flame. "Its best that they didn't know the truth." He looked up at Sanosuke's strong eyes.

Sano looked back, "Kenshin, I know I've said it a million times, but. . . I'm sorry."

"No, Sano," Kenshin smiled softly. "If you hadn't done what you did, I don't think I would have had the courage to kiss Kaoru. None of this would ever have been," he looked down at the ring on his finger Sano had told him was gold. And then he looked back up to Sano's eyes, "Thank you."

Sanosuke grinned, "I told you. A little gambling in life is worth the risk."

Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin.

Author's Notes: OH MY GOD! It's over. And only two years have passed. LOL. Wow, I AM SO SORRY it took so long to finish this thing. I got SO stuck in the hell called writer's block. I'm pretty happy with the ending though. I hope you all liked it, too (if you guys are still alive, and still love me [cries ). So that's it. That's the end. I just want to thank you all for waiting and reading and reviewing. I LOVE YOU GUYS!!! Please review and tell me what you think of the ending. Cheers!