Author's Note: Alright guys, here's the last chapter. Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed, I really appreciate it! I know this may not be the happiest ending, but there's gonna be a sequel so all is not lost! :) Anyway, here it is!
Kenshin stayed long enough for the wedding. Sano was his best friend, and there was no way he was going to miss something as important as his wedding. He didn't know if someone had said something on his behalf, or if she was just pacified because it was her wedding day, but Megumi seemed to have either forgiven him or forgotten about why she was mad at him, because she was civil to him. Whatever the reason, he was thankful for the olive branch.
The ceremony went off without a hitch. The bride was beautiful, the groom a nervous wreck … everything Kenshin would have imagined for a wedding. Everything was as if it had been ripped from the pages of some childhood fairytale; well, almost everything.
Kaoru was a beautiful maid of honor. He knew he was biased, but he doubted that anyone there would argue with him. The only blot on this beautiful day was who Kaoru had come with - Aoshi. Not enough time had passed for Kenshin to act like he wasn't hurt by it; in fact, the very sight of her holding onto his arm as he escorted her down the aisle made his insides churn. Kenshin knew that he couldn't deny the woman he loved her happiness, even if it didn't include him. Even if her happiness destroyed the hope of having his own.
So it was that the redhead was standing against the wall not far from the refreshments, lost in his own ruminations when he was overtaken by the whirlwind that was Misao. He hadn't seen her in what felt like ages, and the smile on his face was genuine when she came prancing over in that way that was solely Misao.
"Why the serious face, Kenshin?" She teased, "Normally people smile and laugh at celebrations."
Her comment did succeed in eliciting a small chuckle from him.
"I was just thinking, that's all," He told her, "You look nice."
"Thank you. Megumi has always had great taste. Mind if I ask what you were thinking about?"
"Actually, I was thinking about traveling."
"Wherever my father needs me," He answered, taking a drink of the sake he held, "He offered me a job in the company. It requires a lot of travel, though, and long hours, so I was debating on whether or not to take it."
"And you decided that you would?" She asked
"Yes, just now. I wouldn't mind seeing the world, and there's not much to keep me here anymore."
After he'd said the words he realized how they sounded, and that they could be taken to mean something more than they did. He opened his mouth to elaborate, but Misao just smiled and put a warm and caring hand on his arm.
"It's okay, I know what you mean," She reassured him, "Traveling might be just what you need. Take it from me, it's nice to get away for awhile. We'll all still be here when you get back. Just make sure to keep in touch, okay?"
He smiled at her, thankful for her concern and friendship. He and Misao had never really spent a lot of time together on a personal basis, but he had always considered her a friend. Kenshin had never realized that beneath that happy exterior, there might actually be some worldly wisdom to the young girl. He would be careful not to make that mistake again.
"Oh, and you better say goodbye to everyone," She told him, then zipped away as fast as she had appeared
Kenshin watched her go and smiled to himself. He was making the right decision, he knew, and somehow Misao had made him feel better about it, more certain that it was a good thing. She was right, they would all still be here when he got back. He just wasn't sure what state things would be in when he got back. For all he knew, he could come back to find Aoshi and Kaoru married. That mental picture brought with it a considerable amount of pain, and he frantically pushed it from his mind. Now that he had made up his mind, he had a lot to do. He finished his sake and slipped out the side door just as the couples' first dance song started playing.
Kaoru and Megumi were laughing as they packed, Kaoru's IPOD playing softly in the other room. The older woman was teasing her about not burning down the house, to which Kaoru told her that if it did burn down, it would inevitably be Yahiko's fault. They laughed harder at that.
She couldn't remember if they had ever actually discussed it aloud, or if it had just been one of those things that was understood; once they were married, it was agreed upon that Megumi would move in to Sano's house, leaving Kaoru and Yahiko in their house. Not that it was a big move, Sano only lived a few blocks from them anyway. Still, it was strange to be packing so many of the things Kaoru associated with home.
"What are you going to do, not being able to just borrow my clothes whenever you want?" Kaoru teased
The other woman laughed heartily at that.
"Please, we both know that it's the other way around. And don't worry, I still have a key. If there's something I need, I'll just come get it."
They dissolved into laughter again. The whole day had passed just like this, with the two women alternating between laughter and talk, and actual packing. Yahiko had made himself scarce as soon as he'd heard there was going to be packing, but had promised to come back and help with the actual moving of the stuff. Sano was at home, getting everything ready Kaoru suspected, so that left just the two women. She was glad for the bonding time - it wasn't going to be like this much longer. She was going to miss the Fox Lady.
She had just finished taping a box and handing it to Megumi to set aside with the rest of them when the doorbell rang. Kaoru stood and made her way to the door, hopping over several piles of stuff still waiting to be packed. When she opened the door, she caught her breath at the sight.
Kenshin stood on her porch, fiery hair pulled back in a ponytail. Behind him, the setting sun cast its dying light in hues of orange and red, enveloping him in a cocoon of amber light. The scene stole the breath from her lungs.
"Sorry to just stop by like this," He told her, his voice honey warm, "I had something I wanted to give you. That, and I knew if I left without saying goodbye you'd never speak to me again."
"Left? You're leaving?" She questioned, stunned
"I took a job with my father's company," He explained, "It requires a lot of travel."
"How long will you be gone?"
"I'm not sure, actually," He answered, smiling slightly, "One of the stipulations of the job. Anyway, I have to get to the airport. This is for you."
He handed her an unmarked envelope. She took it wordlessly, her mind still trying to process the fact that her best friend was leaving. The man she had spent so much of her life with was leaving - just like that.
"The letter explains a little more," He told her, "I'm sorry I don't have more time to talk to you about it all."
"But you haven't even told me where you're going!" Kaoru protested, starting to panic
"Tokyo," He replied, "At least for now."
"Kenshin, this is ridiculous!" She insisted, "Please tell me that this doesn't have anything to do with me. Please tell me that you're not leaving because of me."
Kenshin said nothing, just gave her a small smile and touched her cheek gently. He looked so … different, suddenly. Like he'd aged years in a few short days. Where was the Kenshin she'd grown up with? Where was the man who knew her better than anyone else, the man who she shared everything with?
"It's time, Kaoru. There's so much I need to do, so much I need to deal with."
"So you're running away?"
"No. I'm coming back. I just need to get away for awhile. Who knows, this may only pan out to be a temporary thing, a few months. Either way, I need to gain a little perspective."
"But … I don't want you to go," She said as she fought back tears, "What am I supposed to do without you?"
"You'll be fine. I'll stay in contact. This is a good thing, Kaoru, for both of us. Hard, but good. I really should be going."
Without thought or protest Kaoru lunged at him, throwing herself into his arms. She held him tightly, crying. He held her for a few brief moments, then pulled away enough to kiss her forehead.
"I think of you every day, Kaoru, whether I'm in Kyoto or Tokyo. That will never change."
Kenshin stepped away from her, and as he walked toward his car in the evening light Kaoru was reminded of the little red dragon figurine she had bought for him that night at the movies.
She brought her hands up to wipe the tears from her face and was surprised to see Kenshin's letter still clutched in her fist. She glanced away from the letter long enough to watch his car disappear down the street. Without waiting another minute she nearly ripped open the envelope and pulled out the letter.
They say that love makes you stronger. That it makes everything more beautiful and gives everything meaning. What no one says is that love also makes you a coward. Loving someone means that there is something that can be taken away from you, something that you can't live without. So you do everything and anything you can not to lose it. People have killed for it, run from it, done everything they could to keep from losing it. So, you see, it makes cowards of all of us. My heart breaks every time I see you and know that I lost my only chance at being happy. I just can't handle that. Brave men, strong men would stay and fight for their love. The thought crossed my mind, believe me. But I would only be hurting you. It is my belief that, when you truly love someone, you should be the last person to try and stand in the way of their happiness. Even if that happiness doesn't include you. What I'm trying to say, Kaoru, is that I love you enough to let you go. I have hurt you enough, and I don't ever want to be the one to hurt you again. So I'm going to Tokyo, and wherever else the company needs me. No matter where that is, I love you Kamiya Kaoru. Without reservation. I'm sorry that I was not brave enough to tell you this face to face; if you think me a coward, please know that it is only because my love for you is so strong, I fear that it may crush me. Think of me fondly, Kaoru.
"Oh, Kenshin," Kaoru whispered to the air, "You're so stupid. I love you too."
She took a deep breath and glanced down at the letter again. He would be back. She knew he would. When he did come home, she would be waiting.