Yeah, it's been awhile since I last posted on this. I wanted to work on it, but life and other things got in the way. Anyway, I'd be lying if I said I could promise to finish it soon, but I will definitely try, because I've missed Sano and Megumi. Enjoy!
They were right.
Megumi listened to the clack-clack of her shoes on the road, and her brother's, slightly off-tempo. Kenshin, damn him, was absolutely right. Whatever she did, the past would be a part of her. As much as she wanted to forget that she'd made opium that killed people--as much as she wanted to deny that she'd once broken the very oath that made her a doctor--she couldn't. The only thing about all of this that she could control was what she did about it now.
It would be so easy never to tell Kei. Nobody here in Tokyo, besides her friends, knew about it. Some people in the underworld might remember that there had been a doctor that Takeda had gotten virulent opium from, but she'd never met anybody face-to-face. Besides, anyone in a position to know about her also knew that she'd fallen under the protection of the Kenshin-gumi. As the Raiko episode had proved, anyone trying to besmirch her reputation suffered.
She was going to miss them . . .
And nobody in Aizu knew, either. There was just no way. It would be entirely possible for her brother to go through the rest of his life innocent of the things she'd done.
And yet . . .
And yet, if she did that, she would be lying--not only to him, but to herself.
She paused to open the gate, and Kei said, "You're very quiet, Megu-chan."
He'd been calling her that a lot lately, as if reminding her of what she had been, once. But she wasn't that pretty, wide-eyed little girl any longer. The things she'd seen and the things she'd done were things that Megu-chan never would have had to.
"I'm just thinking," she said as they continued up the path.
They were inside the clinic now, and he turned toward his room. "Kei," she said, and he turned. She took a deep breath, like a pearl diver preparing to go under. "You know how you asked, earlier, how I met the Kenshin-gumi?"
The words had come out a little fast, but overall she was rather proud of the steadiness of her voice.
He blinked at her. "Yes--I suppose--but what made you think of it?"
"I want to tell you," she said steadily.
"Does it have to be now?"
"Yes. It has to be now."
Megumi looked at the table, and thought of asking him to sit so there was that barrier, that formality between them. But it would just a delaying tactic, one she couldn't afford, with her teetering courage. She looked down at her hands, and then forced herself to look up into her brother's puzzled eyes. But her hands plucked convulsively at the bottom edge of her jacket, without direction from her brain.
"Five years ago," she began, "I came to Tokyo to apprentice myself to a doctor."
Kei nodded. "Ah--and you met them when one came in to be treated?"
"Not--quite." She held up a hand. "Please don't say anything until I've finished."
He looked mulish, but he didn't say anything more.
She remembered the last time she'd told this story--in the kitchen at the dojo. She hadn't been able to look at any of them--Kenshin, Kaoru, especially not Sano, who'd sat with a face like flint, resentment emanating from him in near-palpable waves. At that time, she'd been sure they would throw her out of the place and not want any more contact with her after she'd told her story--but they hadn't.
She prayed Kei would be as merciful.
He had to be. Dear gods, he had to be. He was all she had left.
"It wasn't until I'd been here a few weeks that I realized the doctor was working for a mob boss named Takeda Kanryuu."
Kei abruptly broke his new-made promise. "I've heard of him--he was the one selling bad opium--that doctor worked for him?"
"He was making the opium--at least for awhile." She paused, choosing and arranging the words in her mind before she could let them out. Best to be straightforward about it. "Takeda had him killed after he disagreed with him. But that left me with the only knowledge of how to make it. So--" Her shoulders rose and fell. "He forced me to make it."
She turned away abruptly, towards her medical cabinet, and neatened up the contents, which were already in perfect order. She spoke quickly, trying to get the rest of the story out, to be done with it. "I met the Kenshin-gumi when I finally got up the courage to run away from Takeda. Kenshin and Sano were in a gambling parlor that I ran into, and they defended me from Takeda's men, then took me home to the dojo. The rest of it's a long story, but they were there the night Takeda's organization fell apart. No," she corrected herself, "they were the reason it fell apart. It's a bad habit of theirs. They saved me, in so many more ways than one. I would do anything for them--I honestly would." She turned around to face her brother. "So that's it. That's the story."
"You made opium for that criminal," Kei said in a low voice.
"Yes." What she'd done and why she'd done it were things she couldn't--wouldn't--deny.
"It killed people." He sounded appalled, revolted.
"I had no choice."
He shouted, "You should have died before stooping that low!"
She jolted backward a step, fetching up against her cabinet. The medicine bottles inside clinked violently against each other. "I'm trying to tell you--I would have--Takeda was a violent man, not used to being crossed--"
"You should have taken the sword before betraying the memory of our father's work!"
Her mouth trembled. "Don't you understand? All I wanted in the world was to see you again! I'd do anything to survive for that."
"Death before dishonor, Megumi!"
"So many times, I--"
Kei stabbed a finger at her face. "You're not who I came to look for," he said in a cold, hard voice. "You're not my sister."
"Get out!" He swung out, catching her a glancing blow on the cheek. It wasn't even hard enough to bruise her skin, but she reeled backward, almost falling.
"Go!" he snarled.
"What d'you say, all or nothing. C'mon, Sano, you've been a wet blanket all night."
Sano shrugged. "Sure. What the hell."
"Yeah, that's more like it!" Kinji tossed him the dice, and Sano caught them deftly. "What're you rolling?"
Sano shrugged, rattling the dice in his palm. "Two-six, chow," he said, picking the numbers at random.
"Awright, now roll 'em."
"Gimme a moment, would ya?" Sano rolled the dice around in his hands idly, listening to the rattle and clatter. A month ago, he would have been humming with energy at that sound. Now it just didn't seem to matter.
He looked up from the little knot of men outside the teahouse and let his eyes wander up and down the street, flicking idly over the faces of the pedestrians going by.
Tomo said, "What?"
Sano didn't pay him any attention. Megumi was moving like a sleepwalker, stiffly and awkwardly, occasionally stumbling and righting herself without reacting. Her face was white as the moon, and her eyes were--
Gods, her eyes.
The dice slid from between his fingers as he leapt to his feet and to a run. "Megumi? Megumi!"
She kept moving, as if she didn't even hear him, and the crowd surged around them. He shoved through, too worried to even mutter apologies, too frantic to hear his friends calling out for him to return. "Megumi!" he shouted again. "Fox! Megitsune!"
She paused at that, just long enough for him to push through a small group of girls. "Megitsune," he said again, touching her shoulder.
"Sano?" Her eyes came to life again, and filled with tears. She flung her arms around his neck. "Oh, Sano!"
He wrapped his arms around her waist, ignoring the people who stopped to stare at the respectable lady doctor and the scruffy ex-gangster. Screw 'em anyway; Megumi needed him. Right now, he didn't care what they thought.
"What is it?" he murmured into her hair, rocking her gently. "What's wrong? Did something happen?"
She said something into his neck, and he pulled back just enough to look into her face. "What?"
"Kei," she said again, and her face crumpled.
His brows drew together. "Is he hurt?"
"Sano, I told him."
A cold chill seized Sano's heart. Somehow, he didn't think Kei had chalked Megumi's past up to lousy luck.
"He hates me, he never wants to see me again--"
"Death before dishonor, he kept saying that--"
She was crying again. Megumi didn't cry. She'd told him once, in the lazy dark after sex where barriers came down, that she didn't let herself. They were a luxury she couldn't afford.
But these weren't a luxury. These were harsh, gulping sobs that sounded like they were coming from the very bottom of her broken heart. They were the vicious tears of a woman who wept because something she'd craved, yearned for, had almost gotten, had been ripped away from her. She wept because she, strong, capable, resourceful Megumi, could do nothing else.
He held her for several minutes, resting his cheek against her hair and rubbing her back in wide circles, before her breathing quieted. The worst of it was over, he thought, at least for the moment. He leaned down and caught her behind the knees, gathering her up to hold her against his heart. Under normal circumstances, she would've slapped his face, or worse, for such a liberty, but now she lay against his chest, limp as a rag doll. Damn that stiff-necked-- "I'm taking you to the dojo, okay? Jo-chan and Kenshin will take care of you."
"Aa," she whispered. "Arigatou."
His eyes lifted up to glare down the street that led to her clinic. The crowd that had gathered started to back away, their whispers falling silent. This was an area where that expression in his eyes was well-known. Any man who'd ever been in a fight with him knew to get out of his way at the sight of those hot dark eyes, or they wouldn't live to regret it.
And I'm going to take care of that excuse for a brother.