Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin is NOT mine.

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Chapter 20: Secrets

It was only after she had spotted the familiar building of the airport that it had dawned on Kaoru that they weren't anywhere near home. She turned sideways to shoot Akira a look of inquiring alarm and panicked when he ignored her. She leaned forward and clutched her dad's shoulder, who was concentrating a hundred percent on looking for a spot to park their car.

"Dad, what's going on?" she asked, "What are we doing here?"

A furrow formed between his dad's brows as he turned to look at her in disbelief. For a moment, his eyes were trying to figure out if Kaoru was faking innocence to give a joke or was totally serious and forgot that Akira was leaving a day ahead of them. He turned away, found a parking space, brought the car to a halt and turned to look at his dazed daughter again.

"Kaoru" he said, "Did you really forget that Akira is leaving today?"

Kaoru gaped, then she heard her father speak again, "Er…Akira did tell you, didn't he?"

Tetsuro heaved a sigh, the answer arriving before Kaoru could speak. He twisted to look at Akira, "Didn't you tell her?"

Akira was silent, which he had been since he got inside the car. He looked stern, at nowhere, his eyes distant and thinking, as if his uncle and Kaoru weren't there. Then, he looked up to Tetsuro, gave a strange crooked smile, got out of the car and started walking inside the building. Kaoru, despite the shock that still had not finished registering itself into her system, followed and grabbed Akira's arm to stop him from making an inch further.

"What is this?" she demanded, feeling tears well up in her eyes, "Is it true what Dad said? You're leaving?"

Akira bit his lip. He wanted to believe that his departure wouldn't be that big of a deal since she and his uncle would follow him tomorrow anyway. But he knew he'd be kidding himself. Kaoru wouldn't leave Japan for anything, now that everything in her life is turning okay. It caused him a lot of hurt, that's why he had to leave.

His silence was enough to answer her question. She swallowed the big lump that was now choking her throat. So, this is why Akira had been acting weird lately. But she didn't understand, why would he keep his leaving Japan a secret, especially from her? And why would he want to leave in the first place? Wasn't he the one who really wanted to be here and rediscover his roots? And why wasn't he answering any of her questions? Shouldn't he at least accommodate her desire to know the reason behind this sudden goodbye?

"I can't stand to be with you anymore" he suddenly said, his back to her, his voice breaking, "It hurts too much"

Kaoru stopped short. "What?"

"Goddammit, Kaoru!" he exclaimed, slammed his bag on the ground and grasped her shoulders so hard, she had to discover that it was the first time he had inflicted her physical discomfort. "Can't you see! I love you! I've always loved you!"

She could now see that he was crying and that he was perfectly serious about what he said. Of course she knew he loved her, he never missed any chance to prove it. What she did not know was that his love for her was like this kind of love. And although she felt not a single tinge of disgust or aversion for his affections, considering they were related, she was compelled to disapprove of it. They couldn't make each other happy that way and she was in love with someone else.

Kaoru looked down at her feet and saw that there were particles of sand stuck to them. "I'm sorry" she heard herself. "I'm sorry, Akira"

His grip on her shoulders loosened and she felt his hand gently lift her face to his. "I'm sorry" he murmured and pulled her in a warm embrace that, to Kaoru, felt very final. "You don't have to be sorry for anything. I loved you knowing this wouldn't work out. When we were kids, no matter how you said you hated him, there's a strange twinkle in your eyes that betrayed every word you say against him. I knew, God, how I wished I was wrong, that you were still in love with him the whole time"

It was now Kaoru's turn to cry. Akira had been her best friend and even though there was no way for her to ever return his feelings, she didn't want him to leave. She clutched to his shirt tighter, "Don't go"

"Kaoru" he almost whispered, "I can't stay…"

She shook her head in his chest but knew there was nothing she could do. She couldn't keep him in Japan, she couldn't be that selfish. Mustering the air she had left, she heaved a big sigh and looked at him in the eyes. He had made his decision. She knew he was hoping she would tell him that she would be following the next day, as was planned, but she can't indulge him that way. There was no way she was leaving Japan, now that everything had turned okay between her and Kenshin.

"Write to me" was all Akira could find to say, realizing that as he was made up to leave, she has decided on staying. He grabbed her face and planted a big kiss on her forehead. And Kaoru, without planning it but deciding there was nothing wrong with it, tiptoed to kiss him on the lips. Akira's heart crumpled, confused if it was hurting or overjoyed. But either way, he smiled and hugged her once more. A moment later, he had disappeared through the crowd.

"So, did you guys say goodbye?" Tetsuro asked when Kaoru had gotten back inside their car.

Kaoru looked at his father sadly and with a weak smile, said, "No goodbyes, Dad."

"So I take it you won't be going with me to Germany tomorrow, then?"

Her stomach winced and all she could do was look at her father.

Tetsuro sighed and pulled her forehead to his lips. "Kaoru, no matter what your decision is, I'm okay with it. If you're happy, I'm happy. And besides, Moritama-san is here to watch you. I'm confident you'll be safe with her"

Kaoru's eyes were again full of tears. "Oh Dad…" she murmured, putting her arms around her old man. "You're the best daddy anyone could ever have. But…but you are going to visit, aren't you?"

The father chuckled, "Of course, I wouldn't last a year without seeing my little girl"

That was all Kaoru needed to hear. Brushing a tear from her eye, she looked up at the sky from her window and pictured Akira once more. She would miss him no doubt and she'll try to go visit Germany once in a while to see him and her dad. But for now, she wanted to stay. To live where her true home is, to love the man who she hated the most, to start a friendship with the four people who had ruined a big part of her life. Yes, just being there, driving home, and being able to say 'home' is a wonderful mystery she would surely enjoy uncovering.

That night, Kaoru turned to Kenshin for comfort. They were sitting on the roof of Kaoru's room, the night sky wheeling above their gazes. Her hand was slightly cold in his and he held it tighter. Out of the corner of his eyes, while half-pretending to stare at the stars, he could see a tear or two fall from hers. He didn't want to ask, the atmosphere told him to let her come around.

"You know" she started, "Akira and I used to do this in Germany. We loved it, especially if the moon was full. Everything was so beautiful"

Kenshin could not help but feel jealous at this. If Akira hadn't been her cousin, he would have suspected that he had some un-cousinly affection for her. And although he loved star-gazing himself, he didn't really appreciate that this activity reminded Kaoru of someone else…even if it was just a cousin.

"Yeah it is" was all he could say in reply. Noticing that she was once more silent, he pulled her head to his shoulder and wrapped his arms around her, as if to tell her that he was ready to listen.

"Akira left" she sobbed, her hands flying to her face. "He—he told me he loved me"

To this, Kenshin's brows had to tangle. Did he hear it right? "Akira, your cousin?" And he was careful not to put too much emphasis on cousin. Feeling Kaoru's head nod, he continued, "He loves you like a cousin or he loves you like I love you?"

"Loves me like I love you"

The redhead didn't know what to feel exactly and how to react. So, he was right after all. The cousin did have beyond cousinly love for her. He tapped her shoulder and kissed her hair. "And he left?"

It wasn't his intention to make her cry even more, but that was what his question seemed to have done. "I'm sorry, Kaoru! I didn't mean…" and getting a handkerchief from his pocket, he gently wiped her tears.

"No, I'm sorry" she said, getting the handkerchief from his hands and now stopping short. To Kenshin's bewilderment, Kaoru started to appraise the handkerchief like she had never seen one before and when she had spotted something, cried even more.

Kenshin looked at the piece of fabric and realized that it was the handkerchief "hime-chan" gave to him. He hadn't thought about that anymore, it didn't matter who hime-chan was anymore. He loved Kaoru. But what was strange was Kaoru's reaction. What did she see that made her even more upset? Or was it just him and his apparent lack of talent in giving consolation?

"Kaoru, I'm sorry…If I did somethi—"

"Kenshin, where did you get this?" Kaoru cut him off, holding the handkerchief. She sounded half-angry, half-excited that for a moment, Kenshin felt afraid of her.

"Do you remember about the girl I told you who saved me?" he said slowly, "she gave that to me"

Kaoru's tears started to fall in more heavy drops and seconds later, she was already on the verge of wailing. Kenshin, now realizing, that women, no matter how much you love them, come with this kind of ambiguity, which no matter how much they tried, men will have to go close to crazy to comprehend. Out of idea as to what to do, he grabbed her shoulders gently and pierced through her wet eyes.

"Listen to me, Kaoru" he said sternly, "I don't care who hime-chan is anymore. If I see her, I'll thank her and we'll be friends but that's just it. I love you now and nothing is ever going to change that, okay?"

She sobbed and tried to speak once or twice but her voice still broke. When her tears had subsided, she looked back at Kenshin and embraced him all of a sudden. Kenshin, a bit taken back, was glad to know that he wasn't the reason of her crying. "Kaoru, what's wrong?" he asked, stroking her hair.

Kaoru pulled back and smiled. Unfolding the handcerchief, she showed him the letters T and Y embroidered on it. Kenshin was still fresh out of ideas what she wanted to tell him by showing him those. He had thought that the letters meant Tomoe Yukishiro and that was why he was so quick to conclude that she was "hime-chan" which she apparently wasn't.

"T stands for Tetsuro and Y stands for Yuuko" she said, her voice a little broken but confident and sure. "My dad said I wouldn't let go of it at my mom's funeral so he gave it to me. Unfortunately, years after that, I lost it. I couldn't remember when or how. All I knew was that I gave it to a boy. Maybe that was why I thought I've heard it before, the story you told me when you almost got killed by a jellyfish"

It was Kenshin's turn to be enveloped with shock. For what seemed like several hours, he stared at the letters as if they were going to rise to life any moment soon. He hadn't noticed it at first but there was a symbol "&" embroidered between 'T' and 'Y'. He wanted to laugh at himself for being so stupid. If he had seen it sooner, Tomoe Yukishiro wouldn't have been an issue. But there was a more pressing, more incredible fact unfolding right before his eyes. His hime-chan, all along, it was Kaoru.

He held the hanky tight in his hands and tears threatened to fall any moment soon. Turning to Kaoru, he met her warm eyes and without warning, pulled her into his arms, crushing her into an embrace that took all his strength. He was crying now and he held her even tighter. All his life, all along, he had been in love with only one girl, the same girl he now had in his arms. He felt so wonderful, so in love with her that he felt he was going to explode the next second.

"All along…all along, Kaoru…it was you" he whispered breathlessly.

Kaoru smiled and kissed his hair. Life was just too full of surprises, especially for them both. She felt Kenshin's hold loosen and her face cupped in his hands. Slowly, he brought down his lips to hers and they kissed under those stars.

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Author's Notes: Heya guys! I was going to update sooner but I left this file back in my hometown so I had to go home and finish it. I was glad you guys liked the confession, I had fun writing it myself. And thanks to those who favorited the story and put it on alert. Thanks to those who waited, read and reviewed. My love to you guys as always. Next chapter will be the last. Thanks for sticking with me so far!

Special thanks to these wonderful people: (Hope to hear from you guys again)

DeeKaui: Hey dee! I missed you! Thanks a lot. Your review makes me smile as usual. Hope you like this chapter too.

Blacksheep21: Awww, thank you very much. Well, here's the update, hope you like it!

Cosmic-lover: Thank you!! I hope you like this chapter as well!

Sulou: sulou! You can't imagine how happy I was to see your review! I got even happier when I read it. Thank you very much, you're always inspiring. And good luck with work, I know how tough it gets sometimes. My love to you.

Rein Petals: Lol! Well, I hope Akira redeems himself to you this time! Thanks for reviewing!

Serphtears: Serphtears! I get ecstatic when I hear from my old reviewers, makes me warm and fuzzy inside heehee. Anyways, hope you like this chappie.

Sapphireraccoongal: Thank you very much! Your review was soo sweet, I just had to write immediately when I read it. Heehee, I hope your questions are answered in this chappie. :-D