The Journey Home
"I'm leaving." Those simple words said in the early afternoon outside the dojo walls left the residents in a shocked silence. All knew with those words their way of life was going to change--and not for the better.
"Going?" Yahiko finally asked breaking the deafening silence. "Going where?"
Kenshin lifted soft violet eyes to Yahiko; he could see the hurt in his eyes and the questions on this face. Ones he really didn't want to and couldn't answer.
"I don't know," he whispered. "All I know is its time for me to continue on my journey."
Incensed Sanosuke found his voice and burst out, "Continue on your journey. What kind of bullshit is this?"
"Sano...I...It's just something I have to do," Kenshin finished lamely.
"That's fucking bullshit and you know it!" Sanosuke took a step forward wanting to beat some sense into Kenshin, but just clenched his fist back to his side muttering angrily to himself.
Kenshin watched as Sano turned his back on him. "Sano I'm not trying to make you angry, but I have my reasons for continuing my journey."
"Yeah, right" he scoffed sarcastically.
"Sano sumano de gozaru. I didn't mean to make you angry it's just...I didn't want to leave without saying good-bye."
Sano snorted. And kept his back still turned.
"So how long do you plan to be away," interjected Yahiko.
Kenshin shifted his gaze from the 'Aku' that was printed on Sanosuke's back downward to Yahiko's serious brown face. "I don't know long I will be gone. Or where I will be headed," he answered still remembering the young boy's previous question. He leaned over and placed a hand upon his shoulder. "I hope I will get to see you again when you're finally a man."
Yahiko jerked his shoulder from underneath Kenshin's hand upon hearing the last statement. "So, you plan to be away that long. Then why in hell should you come back?"
Kenshin sighed. He knew this wasn't going to be easy, but he didn't expect to encounter such hatred. Maybe Kenshin thought I should have gone with my original plan to leave a note. He sighed again, and then tried a smile. "I have invested time in you. And I hope to see the man you become."
"You hope? What shit is this? If you stay your ass here, you would see me become a man. Instead of 'hoping'."
"Yahiko, I have to go. Because, I don't know where I'll be going; or how long I will be. That's why I said hope."
"Or if you're coming back," said Megumi adding her voice to the foray. Pushing her straight black hair back from her face, she met blue eyes to violet eyes. "You might never come back isn't that right, Kenshin. That's why you really said hope, isn't it."
Not being able to answer those direct eyes, he simply nodded 'yes'.
"But why Ken-san? I thought this was your home now. I thought you were finished with wandering around the country. Why? Why Ken-san? Are you not happy here anymore." Megumi finished as her throat thickened with tears she could no longer hold back.
Kenshin's heart constricted painfully in his chest; he knew he was inflicting unnecessary pain upon his friends, but he didn't have a way to soothe their hurt away. He could not give them the answers that they needed. He turned and looked at Sano whose back was still turned to him effectively shutting him out. He looked down at Yahiko whose face spoke of pain and betrayal. Moving from Yahiko to Megumi, Kenshin looked into her face, which spoke of pain and confusion.
Yes, he was happy here, but he couldn't tell her that. Yes, for a while he dreamed that his wandering was over and that now the Kamiya compound was his home. He allowed himself to dream. But one thing about dreaming, sooner or later you have to wake up. And he just woke up sooner than he expected. Finally, he shifted his gaze to the one person he hadn't heard from: Kamiya Kaoru. Gazing down at her bent head Kenshin's chest gave another painful tug. Yes, he once allowed himself to dream.
He wondered why she hadn't said anything since he made his announcement. He wanted so badly to figure out what was going on in her head. He also wished that with this good-bye he would be able to voice the feelings that constantly over-whelm him whenever he looked into her beautiful blue eye and felt her sunny smile aimed his way.
For her he was leaving. He had to protect her at all cost--even if it meant leaving her. He wouldn't be able to handle it if Kaoru was hurt again because of the things he once did in the past. To protect the one he loved he was going to leave her, and probably never come back again.
Kaoru listened patiently to what was being said and asked. Kenshin wasn't fooling her. She had been around him too long, not to understand what he was doing now. She still was not privy to the majority of his darkest secrets, but she still knew him well enough to know his real reason for going away. He really couldn't hide that from her. She finally looked up her lapis lazuli eyes shinning with tears that she refused to shed. No, she wasn't going to let Kenshin see her tears. Not again. Not when she was leaving her again.
Kenshin looked into those blue eyes of Kaoru's and tried to memorize every detail he could, before he left on his long endless journey.
"It's about the kidnapping," said Kaoru finally. "Isn't it?"
Kenshin almost didn't hear her over the wails and sobs coming from Megumi's direction that she was having a hard time trying to control. He was tempted to lie to her, but he knew he couldn't. It was his final moments in her presence and he could not leave on a lie.
"It's not only about the kidnapping, Kaoru-dono," he said. "It's about all the events that have led up to your abduction. Because I've made friends with you and everybody else, I've put you all in great danger. Because I used to be the Hitokiri Battousai, I'm constantly hunted and it has put you all in the path of this danger."
"Kenshin you can't know and control everything around you. How were you supposed to know that I would be kidnapped? You can't live your life thinking about what could happen every time one of us leaves this dojo."
"I know, but I still have to leave, Kaoru-dono," he replied holding up a hand to stop her before she could cut him off. "When I was hitokiri, I had two choices that I used to think about often. I had the choice to let my target enjoy what life they could, or remove them from their lives. In the end, I chose a gruesome death for those people. I..."
"KENSHIN!" Kaoru screamed finally interrupted her voice thickening with unshed tears that she refused to let fall. "That was a long time ago."
"No, Kaoru-dono, it wasn't. It was last night and almost every night when I close my eyes. Because of who I was, people will come after those, and me--around me. I have to go. I will NOT chose death for you!"
Hearing the conviction in his voice, the little ray of hope that was burning inside of Kaoru's chest winked out. She hung her head low; she had lost. There was no way she would be able to convince him to stay. She felt more tears gathering behind her eyes threatening the ones already there to spill over and roll down her cheeks. I won't cry Kaoru thought, I won't cry. However, inside she was breaking.
Straightening her shoulders she plastered a fake smile across her face, and reached inside the sleeve of her kimono and found the sowed in pocket. Reaching inside she pulled out the medium bag of money that she stashed there. She clasped it between her two hands to keep them from shaking. Kaoru lifted her head.
"I understand, Kenshin." Kaoru stated quietly. Again, the dojo residents were shocked to their core.
What they hell was she talking about? What did she mean, by "I understand"?
Yahiko finally had the strength to look back up at Kenshin. Megumi's tears ceased to a small hiccup, and Sanosuke finally turned back around. They waited for what else that she had to say.
Kenshin looked confused. "You understand?"
She smiled and nodded. "You have to do this for yourself. To maintain your sanity."
Kenshin just nodded.
Kaoru smiled a sad smile that reflected in the deep blue pools of her eyes. Unclenching her hands she held out the money, she had saved to give her and Kenshin a special evening out. Who would have thought the money would end up being a good-bye present she reflected ruefully.
Kenshin just stared at the bag in her hand before realizing it was for him to take. "No, Kaoru-dono," he began to protest. "I can't take your money."
Still holding it out to him, she persisted. "Take it. I insist. Think of it as a good-bye present." Her voice had thickened with unshed tears. "I would hate to think of you having to sleep underneath the stars. Besides, you will probably just give it to the first person in need that you meet. But I will feel better knowing that you have it on you." Rushing the sentences out of her, because she knew in a few more seconds the tears would begin to fall.
Kenshin reached out and took the money from her hand, putting it inside of his shirtsleeve pocket. "Arigatou, Kaoru-dono." Kenshin said with sad eyes.
Finally realizing that was the last time she was going to hear Kenshin call her 'Kaoru-dono' the tears she had tried so hard to keep inside slipped slowly down her cheeks.
Taking a several steps forward Kaoru grabbed Kenshin and held him in her arms as her heart began to break in half, and her dreams melted away.
Kenshin felt the hot tears land on his scarred cheek giving him a profound sense of deja vu. "Kaoru-dono?" He asked again still locked in her embrace.
Slowly Kaoru angled her head up a notch so her mouth could reach his ear, and whispered in a voice thickened with tears "Sayonara, Kenshin." Releasing her hold on him, she took one last look at his face, before turning around and running inside the compound walls.
Kenshin just stood there staring at her retreating figure, as it disappeared inside. And at the same time inside, he felt empty. An emptiness that he thought he could bare when it came time to say good-bye. But this emptiness was much more profound as if he was losing a large piece of his soul. A part he knew about and a part that was hidden. His heart felt heavy.
Yahiko, Sanosuke, and Megumi had listened and watched to what had transpired between Kaoru and Kenshin. Each of them knowing that it was the last time those two would ever see each other again. And it was all Kenshin' fault. They too felt a lost of something unknown.
Kenshin looked around at his friends' faces hoping that in time they would understand. "I'm sorry," he began before Sanosuke interrupted him rudely.
"Che, cut the sorry crap." Sano pointed a finger at him. "You know exactly what you are doing. So, take your shit and go. And that's all the 'bye' you'll get from me." With that said Sano turned on his heels and went inside after Kaoru.
Yahiko spoke next, and just shook his head. "I don't know why I thought I could always depend on you, Kenshin. Kaoru has been the only person I've been able to depend on. Well, bye. I hope you find what ever the hell you're looking for." Then he too disappeared from sight, leaving only Megumi standing outside the walls.
Kenshin looked up at her standing in her doctor's uniform and waited to see if her parting words were going to be as full of anger as Sanosuke and Yahiko's were.
Megumi looked at the hesitation on his face and smiled. "No I'm not going say anything like the idiot and the boy."
Her words pulled a small smile from Kenshin's face. Her and Sanosuke's feud will never end. Slipping a hand into her blue overcoat pocket, she produced a red tin with cherry blossom leaves painted on it. Kenshin recognized it as the same medicine tin Kaoru gave to him over a year ago when he fought Shishio.
"I refilled it with the original medicinal cream." She began struggling not to break out into tears again. "Take it with you. Not only does the case bring good luck, the cream will come in handy if you should hurt yourself or find some who isn't badly hurt."
Kenshin looked at her and nodded. "Arigatou de gozaru Megumi-dono." He put the tin can inside his other pocket.
Megumi smiled as tears tumbled down her cheeks. "Good-bye Kenshin have a safe journey." She bowed to him and followed the others inside the dojo.
Kenshin looked at the dojo compound one last time. Hefting his stuff up from where it had been leaning against a cherry blossom tree, Kenshin bowed to walls of the dojo. And whispered his final good-bye.
He was rurouni again.
End Chapter 1. 08/14/00. Shishou M. Coming next time: Cause and Effect. As always comments and criticisms are encouraged, and this includes flames, too. firstname.lastname@example.org
Che--All-purpose curse word. 'Damn' or 'shit.'