Get into that sad mood, this is no romantic comedy, folks. Now Karina does what she does best... angst at the beginning, WAFF-fest at the end. This fic kind of alludes to my other, "Episode 95: The Untold Story". To get the significance of the fireflies, then read that first.

Disclaimers: Rurouni Kenshin and its characters are sole property of Nobuhiro Watsuki. I'm only putting them into a fic of my own imagination.

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The Day The Fireflies Died
By: Karina Kineshi

They say that whoever walks with the one they love by the light of the fireflies, that person would stay with you... forever.

Sanosuke, you lied to me.

*******************

"Megumi-san, what are you doing here?" I recognized her as that waitress from the Akabeko, the one who was always smiling. I slid open the shoji door, afraid and at the same time hesitant at who I would see laying there.

Sure enough, it was Kaoru.

I felt myself losing control just to see that woman sniveling in her bed, but I put on my happiest face. "I just came to see the pathetic woman that Ken-san left behind." I even added a trademark laugh in there to make her comprehend. As much as I wanted to comfort her and be her sympathetic friend, I felt that this was the only effective way to get her off her feet.

It apparently didn't work. "He left you too." was the feeble reply from Kaoru. Tears had dulled her eyes and her normally smiling face was downcast. Was this what Kenshin meant to her?

He meant so much to me...

Still, no excuses. If she truly loves Kenshin, why doesn't she go after him? I tried another approach. "Don't compare me to someone who just sits in bed. All you've done is cry about this."

Even I didn't cry...

"Where's the point in doing anything? You have no idea how I feel, Megumi-san." The look on Tae's face told me that this was the most that Kaoru has spoken since Kenshin left her; I decided to keep up the bantering. It's a proven fact that talking with someone, even in the form of arguing, can lead to a more positive outlook on life. She just had some bottled up sadness that she needed to get out.

And I was her outlet.

"There's no point in doing anything? So is that what you want?" I demanded.

Kaoru blinked. "That's Ken-" She didn't finish, because I knew what she was going to say. Kenshin would not have been happy with the way that Kaoru was thinking.

I spoke more softly and in the way that my mother always talked to me when I was depressed like this. Firm, but not mushy soft. "So why don't you do something about it?"

Kaoru's head sunk lower. "But... I'm..." She was gripping her futon tightly, and I could even see a darkening of the forest green cover.

Crying.

I told her what was in my heart, and what I knew she was suffering from. "You're afraid he won't respond to your love." Tae gave out a small gasp, and the silence in the air was unbearable. Kaoru's head snapped up, and then sank back to its original position.

I had hit it dead center.

Now onto the next phase of my plan: a reason. I reached into my sleeves and got out a small circular container about two inches in diameter. The outside was a remarkably vibrant red with etched flowers, but it was the inside that really mattered. "This is an old family remedy for all sorts of injuries. Ken-san told me it was very effective. I'm afraid that he might need it..."

Not only him...

Kaoru's head rose again, but slowly. The thought of Kenshin being hurt was more than enough motivation for Kaoru, thank goodness. I continued, knowing that Kaoru was hanging on every word. "... I wanted you to give it to him but all you've done is cry. I think I'll give it to Yahiko-kun." Another part of my plan depended on Yahiko; I took a hunch that he would go to Kyoto, alone or with Kaoru. She wouldn't be too pleased about having her only student go by himself into a strange city.

The reasons were set, now for the coup de grace. "And when Ken-san gets this medicine, I'm sure he'll think of me and forget all about the raccoon girl."

Will he think of me?

Perfect, Kaoru's face twisted into a mask of anger. People who are angry do things that are in their heart and obey their impulse. I had all this riding on the hope that Kaoru wanted to go to Kyoto and would just get up and leave to prove me wrong. Instead, it had the opposite effect. "If you believe that, you should go to Kyoto yourself!"

Gods, I wish I could...

No, that's not the way it was supposed to go, but I improvised. "Unfortunately, I can't do that. I'm not like you. I have responsibilities to my patients and I can't just up and leave."

Why not?

I turned to leave; my inner voice had been asking me the same question that I am asking Kaoru.

Why can't I just go? You know you love him...

This had escalated into a war with my subconscious. I heard a voice from behind, accusing. Mocking. "You choose your patients over Kenshin. Do your feelings for Kenshin only go that far?!"

That did it. All it took was the look on that girl's face to make me angry. She was mocking me, how dare she? If I only had the freedom that she did, maybe I could go to Kyoto and give him the medicine myself!

You have the freedom...

I didn't even see my hand lashing at her, damn her, this is to convince her to go, not to give my mind more reasons to leave! For a red-eyed, pale raccoon girl, she blocked my slap with her opposite hand easily. This served to make me even madder. "I may be in bad shape, but I'm still the master of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu." Her eyes turned steely. "Don't push me."

Don't push me...

She may be the master of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu, but I've got the saying, "When one strikes you on the cheek, turn the other one." My other hand moved with surprising speed, racing towards the right side of her face. She winced, and just to see her in pain would make my entire day. Had she any idea how lucky she was? Not even a clue?

You have no idea...

I have no... idea...

"If the person walks with you while the light of the fireflies is glowing, that person would stay with you forever..."

Forever? Can God grant that wish?

"Megumi... thank you..."

Why are you thanking me?

"... thank you, so very much..."

That's how I knew it was real.

My memory always chooses the right time to remember such things and of course, it worked. I was stunned speechless. I thankfully stopped my hand in time from hitting Kaoru's cheek, shocked at what I was about to do. If Kenshin saw what we have degenerated into, what would he say?

What would he say?

That still didn't erase the anger I felt in my heart. This was no longer a battle with Kaoru; this was a battle with myself. How I wanted to go to Kyoto, to see his face... I lifted her chin up with as much gentleness I could muster without hurting her. "You shouldn't be provoking me either! I've chosen to make up for what I've done and become a doctor to help everyone to the best of my ability..."

You have the ability to go to Kyoto... go...

"... this is how I live..." Kaoru's eyes were wide with tears; this was really striking a chord in her. "Ken-san was the one who made me realize that this was the way to live..."

And him too...

A tear of hers fell on my hand, but I didn't bother to remove it. "And no matter what happens, I will always be here as a doctor, even if times are bad." I paused. "...working as a doctor shows my feelings for Ken-san! Don't even presume to judge me, I'm not as weak as you!"

There. I've done all that I can do. I had no idea that this would take such a toll on my own guilt-racked mind. Kaoru buried her face in her hands and cried even more. I sneered, still angry with her. She still didn't have a clue. "You've been timid and submissive, and now you choose to be childish?" The display was making me sick. "You really are a spoiled brat!"

Kaoru sniffled for a moment, and then shouted at my back. "You have no idea what I'm feeling! You don't know what it feels like to be told "Goodbye" and then abandoned!"

I was frustrated at my own helplessness and turned around, afraid she might see what I want no living person to see again. "No..." My voice was going to crack, but it didn't matter. "... but now we're even. You have no idea what it feels like to be abandoned... without so much as a goodbye."

Something changed in the room; I think it was the atmosphere. Our verbal confrontation had left the little waitress girl in tears, reflecting what my own inner child was experiencing. I knew that I had succeeded when Kaoru didn't say a word and just stared numbly at my back.

Abandoned... without so much as a goodbye...

I gathered what was left of my voice. "You... should watch what... you say..." It took all my willpower to keep me from running down the floorboards and crying my eyes out. Then again, it would look foolish if I were to submit to that childish excuse for nothing...

That was when I walked away, listening only to the sound of my heels tocking on the floor.

Abandoned.

What was crying good for anyways? It was just a time-waster, and although others have shown that it can be an outlet for frustration, I felt that I was better than that.

I was better than a child! I had to be!

I didn't even know where I was going until Yahiko's voice stopped me. "Did you talk to her?" He was standing by the gate to the dojo, waiting patiently for me to return. How long had he been waiting there?

I gave a faint head nod and reached into my sleeve to get out the medicine. "Give... this to Kaoru..." I couldn't understand why I couldn't open my eyes until I realized that...

Oh God... tears...

I haven't cried over a man in years, and I didn't want to start now, but when one tear came, all the rest came tumbling out. Oddly enough, I found that it was beyond my power to wipe them away. Only one person could ever make my tears flow now...

Him.

I felt so foolish until Yahiko ran towards the dojo, I didn't even hear what he had said last, but something in me really didn't care. My mind was too preoccupied with thoughts of him.

You don't know what it's like to be abandoned without so much as a goodbye...

Forever. I will stay with you forever, Megumi... take my hand and walk with me and the fireflies...

Kaoru assumed that the man I was talking about was Kenshin when I said that he abandoned me without a goodbye.

She was dead wrong.

You promised me forever, but you left me half a day later without so much as a goodbye...

"Sanosuke, you liar..." I then did something that I had sworn that I would never do again as long as I lived.

I broke down and cried.

*******************

Hours passed in days, and days into weeks. Genzai-sensei made sure that I was busy to keep my mind occupied; but he knew that something was troubling me. He just knew my mind that way. Sometimes when there was no one to treat and the clinic was spotless, I'd move my favorite stool to the porch and just watch the world pass me by. I'd always think about Sanosuke, and what he said before he left me. Rarely would I think of anyone else.

Sometimes... a tear even slipped out...

Genzai-sensei would rap on the support beam next to me and murmur, "Megumi-chan; there's a patient here to see you." He'd watch me for a couple of seconds until I moved, then sigh and walk away. "Never mind, you just rest... you've had a hard day." He felt sorry for me. I admired his concern, but it was wasted effort.

I was all right, right?

Why do I keep seeing his face in the starless night sky then? Even the fireflies' glow has diminished; maybe they were mourning right along with me. I close my eyes and wonder if he's lying in a ditch somewhere, thousands of sword wounds lacing his body. If that happens, please let him come back to me so I can at least say...

Damn that rooster head, just when I was starting to like him, he has to pull something like this on me...

I had the most troubling dream last night, and although it would sound stupid if I tried to explain it, but I woke up with my cheeks wet. It had Kenshin fighting a shadow, a black, shapeless shadow. The shadow would move faster than Kenshin could see it, then when he would least expect it, it would attack with vines of black lightning. The toll it was taking on his body was remarkable; the ground was stained red with his blood. The shadow made it rain blood.

When the shadow was ready to take Kenshin's last breath away, in came Sanosuke out of the blue. Sanosuke would attempt to punch the shape-shifting silhouette, but to no avail. Instead of being hit by black lightning, the shadow engulfed him and sucked him into its body. I heard a scream...

Sanosuke's name.

I woke up with a jolt. The next few minutes was spent just lying there in bed trying to gather my thoughts, wondering why in the world that dream bothered me as much as it did. I heard a knock at my door, "Megumi-chan, are you okay in there?"

I'm all right, right?

"Sanosuke... come home..."

I swear, if some divine being sends him back to me safe and sound, I would never call him rooster-head again.

"... come home, you idiot."

*******************

God bless that old man.

I knew that my act couldn't have fooled him for long. Genzai-sensei saw right through my false smiles and my cheerful façade. Underneath, he knew that something was wrong. Underneath, he saw me for who I really was:

Scared for Sanosuke and myself.

He gave me an ultimatum, either I go to Kyoto or he will toss me out on the streets. Of course, I knew he was joking, but it struck me that even he could see what was going on inside my head. He must have seen the look in my eyes when he said something like, "I wonder how Himura-san is doing right now..."

He saw.

After a thought provoking conversation late at night with Genzai-sensei, me looking at the stars on my stool and him sitting beside me, I realized that he was right.

Damn him.

"If you love him, go after him." The old man had a twinkle in his eyes. "He needs you more there than here."

I smiled; he was just saying that after a particularly bad episode with a patient this morning. Acupuncture and moxibustion were part of my arts, and a man with a bad headache came into the clinic. To cure the man, I put some powder on top of his head. Unfortunately for him, as soon as I lit that match, my mind went somewhere else. This time, I was thinking about Kenshin and Aoshi.

It was a change from Sanosuke...

Aoshi had come into the dojo earlier that week to find Kenshin; I was ecstatic that the door had been left open. If Kaoru wasn't there, Kenshin might be there, and that meant that Sanosuke would be there! Instead, I found Aoshi waiting for me.

But that's getting beside the story. Now, I am in a carriage bound for Kyoto, Genzai-sensei has an acquaintance here and told him to make me as welcome as if I was his own daughter. You should have seen the look on the man's face when I told him that I was not Genzai-sensei's illegitimate daughter, but his accomplice in medicine.

Go figure. Men. How he could even think that I bear any semblance to that old man is beyond me...

Exactly a month and three days have passed since Kenshin left us, maybe I'll be there in time to treat their wounds from Shishio's blows. Kyoto was a dangerous place, and from Saitoh explained to Aoshi, it was even more dangerous with Shishio there. He was rumored to be even more powerful than Kenshin...

God, I hope he's okay.

The man driving the carriage was supposed to take me to his house, but the wheels eventually stopped turning. I had never been in Kyoto previous to this, but I knew that this man lived on the outskirts. From what I could see, it looked like downtown. Despite the fact that the door hadn't been opened for me, I was curious to take a glimpse of this new city. I swung the door open and glanced around. The sight shocked me speechless.

Holy...

The street was blocked with scattered debris from one side of the street. Giant planks of wood lay littered all over the ground and in the spot where a building once stood, only about two thirds of its walls remained. That wasn't the most surprising thing though; I think I almost had a heart attack when I saw—

"Kaoru-san!" She was sitting on a large beam of wood from the broken down building, it looked like a tornado just ripped through there. She had her fighting clothes on, and judging by all the dirt streaked all over her face, she actually partook in the fight. Her eyes were raised to the skies. When she heard her name, she looked around at who might have said it.

But she wasn't the one who saw me first.

Yahiko ran out towards me, his eyes were dancing and his clothes full of holes. Some blood and dirt was caked near the corner of his left eye. "Megumi, what are you doing here?"

I smiled and stepped down from the carriage. I turned to the man who was driving the horse, "Thank you. Genzai-sensei sends his deepest appreciation. Please leave me here with my friends." Concerned, I squinted at Yahiko's injury. "The question is, 'What would you do without me here?'"

He winced as I scraped off some blood off his cheek. "You came for Kenshin, right?"

Kenshin... wrong.

"Megumi-san. Welcome."

I nodded in silence. "Kaoru-san." Her eyes were different from before, now they had a new fire in them. Although her body was battered, her eyes were still clear.

Kaoru closed her eyes, but didn't make a move to hug me. "No Megumi, I should be who is thanking you."

"Has Kenshin and... Sanosuke... have they come back yet?" My heart ached just to say his name. Kaoru sensed my hesitance and blinked in surprise, but she just shook her head.

She's grown up before my eyes. This is the result of only a month's time...

Yahiko kept shifting his gaze from me, then to Kaoru, then back to me again. "Oi, you two are acting funny..." His eyes became serious as he tugged on my sleeve and pointed at what was left of that building. "There are people inside who need you."

I mock sighed loudly. "That's exactly why I'm here..."

*******************

Kaoru sighed. "... and that's basically it. Kenshin and Sano went to Shishio's earlier this morning..."

You idiot...

"... and if they defeat him—"

I interrupted. "—no Kaoru, when they defeat him. When."

The girl smiled. "Yes, when they defeat him, I expect them to come back and be all bruised and crying." She winked as she poured another cup of tea. "Leave it to the women to patch up the men."

"Amen to that..." We both laughed, this felt just like old times. Maybe not exactly like old times, it was more open. She told me all about their battle with the seven Juppon Gatana and their resulting victory. I teasingly asked her if they were sure that they won, because the Aoiya was in shambles. We snickered again, until the phrase struck a chord inside of me.

That was the same thing that Kaoru teased Sanosuke about when he was fighting Hyottoko of the Oniwa Banshuu.

For me.

Kaoru had shown me this great place down the street from the Aoiya where we could take a break from rebuilding and eat shaved ice and drink tea. It became our pastime, just waiting for the men to come back safe and sound. Once again, the hours melded together, but I wasn't counting them anymore. I felt pretty confident that Sanosuke would return to me.

I'll defeat Shishio myself if he doesn't!

Kaoru pushed around the ice with a spoon, some sloshing over the edges. "Um... Megumi... why did you come to Kyoto? Is it because of... Sanosuke?" When she saw the spoon drop from my hand, she blinked in surprise.

I mumbled an apology and pretended to be fascinated by my drink. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Kaoru-san."

Kaoru smiled. "Megumi, there's no need for formality here. Just call me Kaoru." She continued once I looked up at her, my eyes amused. "I knew it."

I picked up my glass and crossed my legs with a sneer. "I came because Sanosuke would need to be taken care of probably even more than my beloved Ken-san. I probably could hear that idiot's whining from my clinic in Tokyo." Kaoru laughed lightheartedly; I was glad that my cover worked.

But did it?

Kaoru's eyes turned semi-serious again, but they still had that teasing look in them. "You talk as if you don't care about him."

I smiled. "That's because I don't." She didn't suspect a thing. This was all mockery; it had nothing to do at all with my true feelings. I suppose it was the shaved ice talking, I've heard stories that cozy little places like these make people say strange things.

"You... haven't... heard?" Kaoru looked astonished. "It's all over Tokyo."

My heart plunged to the bottom of my stomach. "H-Heard what?"

Kaoru shut her eyes. "Well, you know Tae from the Akabeko, right? She somehow coaxed it out of Sanosuke, but now he admits that he thinks you're gorgeous. You know what a gossip she is, she sent a letter here to Kyoto to her sister, Sae. It seems that they both have the same blood in their veins; everyone within a three mile radius knows of 'Takani Megumi the foxy doctor and Kenkaya Zanza.'" She opened her eyes casually. "Have you..."

She must have seen the look of panic in my eyes. My voice went ear shatteringly high. "No I haven't heard! Oh God, what the hell is going on? Why am I the only one who's out of the loop! That's so..." I covered my face with my hands; my face was even redder than the cherry ice in my glass. I just wanted to die.

My mind formulated all kinds of possibilities for this. Sanosuke thought I was gorgeous? Wow, that was a compliment. Never would have guessed that the word was in his vocabulary...

Another sound pricked my ears. Laughter. "Ano... Megumi... look..." Kaoru was the one who was giggling, gasping for breath and pointing at me. Her face was flushed from lack of air.

I didn't know what on earth was so funny until I looked down at my glass. There, in all their glory, were my fox ears nestled on top of my head.

Oh... that's... not good...

Kaoru composed herself long enough to take a sip of her melting ice. "I'm guessing this... doesn't bother you."

I rolled my eyes. "It bothers me because my name is associated with his. Since when does a platonic friendship become the talk of the town?"

She put her glass down and her eyes turned to me with all seriousness. "Is it really platonic?" Kaoru seemed genuinely interested. One could never tell what she was thinking, because unlike Sanosuke, she didn't show the world through her eyes.

I chose my answer very carefully. One wrong word and my conversation would be all over Kyoto as well. I sighed, "Kaoru, when I know, I'll—"

A shrill scream jarred me out of my senses. "Megumi!!" I didn't even see the bearer of the voice, because it seemed that she just came out of nowhere and was shaking the living daylight out of my shoulders. "Megumi! We have to go!!!"

Kaoru was just as stunned as I was, but she didn't have the alternating view of sky and table for about 2 minutes. "Misao-chan, what's going on? And stop shaking Megumi-san!" Immediately, the ground reverted back its normal level, though my head was still spinning.

I heard crying as Misao took my hand and pathetically started pulling at it. "Aoshi... Aoshi..."

I whirled around in my seat and faced her. All the while Misao was whimpering and pulling at my hand as if she couldn't find the words she wanted to say. "Aoshi? Does that mean..." My shocked eyes met Kaoru's wide open ones.

They've returned.

I instantly bolted to my feet, knocking over the chair in the process. The world seemed to slow down to a crawl as I saw Misao's braid fluttering in front of me, still holding onto my hand for dear life. I heard Kaoru's running footsteps behind me, and each hit to the ground was as punctuated as a cannon shot. I never thought I could run so fast.

Sanosuke came back to me.

*******************

He'll be all right, I'm his doctor... he has to make it through...

All the scenarios that I had carefully planned when I saw Sanosuke had been blown to hell when I saw his face. All of these situations ranged from a slap on the cheek and an "Are you stupid?!?" to a giant hug and hearty handshake. I nearly keeled over when I saw that...

He had no more hand.

It had been reduced to a pulverized mess of dried blood and pulp. The metacarpals and carpals of his wrist were exposed to the air; how can he be standing this? After all, there are no nerves in the dermis of your skin; I saw how he could not be feeling any pain. He had lost a lot of blood too; he was unconscious. The whole situation made me want to cry, I might not be able to fix his hand without Genzai-sensei here to help me...

Aoshi seemed to be fine except for a few cuts across his face. Misao had overestimated the seriousness of his wounds; in fact, he was the one who escaped "unscathed".

I felt all the blood rushing to my head when I beheld Kenshin. Aoshi supported him on one side and Sanosuke on the other, Sanosuke's skeleton like hand propping up his shoulder. Kenshin was also unconscious, holding his sakabatou in a death vise. His wounds were too numerous to count, and a particularly deep gash in his abdomen was still spurting blood.

Very, very weakly.

My God, he could have suffered so much blood loss, he might...

I heard a strangled "Ken...shin..." and a thud to the floor. My instinct told me that it was Kaoru, and although fainting was serious, I had more important things to worry about. Not that I didn't hold Kaoru in priority, but she would rather me treat Kenshin first.

"Takani, we meet again."

A feeling electrified my nerves; it was a common sensation whenever I realized that another person's life was in my hands. "Shinomori, lay Kenshin down on the table. Undress him and remove as much of his clothing that may interfere with the operational process..." I tried to keep my voice steady. "Kaoru... Yahiko, move Kaoru to another room and fan her face until she comes to..." Yahiko nodded his head vigorously and carried her out by her shoulders, dragging her out of the room like a sack of potatoes.

Well... that'll have to do.

My heart skipped another beat when Sanosuke raised his head weakly, smiling feebly. It was like he didn't want to waste movement. "Fox... you came for me..." Upon saying so, he crumpled to the ground. Aoshi foresaw this and held him up by his tattered jacket, straining at the effort of carrying two men.

I jumped forward and put my arms around Kenshin. My ears were pricked for the slightest movement. All I heard was shallow breathing, My God; can it be possible for me to save him? "Put Sanosuke down somewhere and prop his arm up so that it's higher than his body. Stand there and hold it if you must." I reached into my kimono sleeve and searched until I found what I was looking for. "This is a plastic bag. Put his hand in there until further notice. We don't want it getting infected. Got it?"

Aoshi released his grip on Kenshin and I nearly teetered backwards when his full weight was resting on me. With a "Yes" and a head nod, the unshakable Shinomori Aoshi left the same way he came and shut the screen door behind him.

I laid the battered man as gently as I could on the operating table; scared to death that the slightest wrong move would kill him. This truly was a pathetic sight, blood was everywhere and even on my own clothes. All because of 15 seconds of contact with him.

Stupid Ken-san... look what happens when you don't listen to me...

"Takani Megumi. I found you." I whirled around came face to face with who I recognized as the man who drove me in the carriage. An elderly sort with a bushy bead; it was odd, hardly anyone I knew had beards.

Another doctor.

"Megumi-san, I do know that you are an accomplice of Genzai-san and are skilled in the art of medicine, but..." Doubt flickered in his eyes. "Please let me handle this one. I'll just patch up the worst of it and be on my way. Two hands are better than one."

Although it was not my place to argue with a senior member who knew more than me, it hurt my pride. If I had been a man, he would have had no hesitance in entrusting Kenshin's life to me. I stood up from my chair and tried to look menacing. "I promise you, no matter who's friend you are, if you do anything to hurt my Ken-san or do a worse job than what I would have done, I will hunt you down and pay it back. You might not be living like him."

The man gulped in astonishment, obviously surprised at having a woman speak to him this way. He was probably thinking about how Genzai-sensei stumbled onto someone like me... "There's another young man in there with a severely broken hand. I trust you will fix him up."

I started to walk towards him knowing I looked in command. "The wound was made by a sword with gritted edges. There are even burn marks on his face and torso, so therefore the skin there is very fragile. Be careful." Without looking back once, I shut the door behind me.

I uttered a silent prayer for Kenshin. I didn't believe that prayer could heal him, but desperate times called for drastic measures. Please let him live through this, for his sake, and for Kaoru's.

*******************

I never thought I'd see the day I'd cry over a patient. We doctors were not supposed to become emotionally involved with the people we treat, but a part of me just couldn't take the pressure anymore. However, I did have enough control to start sobbing until after I had fixed his hand.

The bones were shattered, but with my needle I did the best I could and sewed them up. The skin on his hand was in tatters, and there wasn't enough to cover it, so I took some skin from the bottom of his feet and made a graft. I tried to make it look as presentable as I could, and sooner or later it would be indistinguishable from the rest of his skin, but for now... he looked like a patchwork quilt.

He'll be in pain for a long, long time...

The grueling process took me a total of 8 hours. I worked long into the night, all alone, no one else for company. The only contact I had was with Sanosuke; his breathing was a little deeper than Kenshin's. If one hadn't known better, he was sleeping. It got dark quickly, and I said thanks to God that I had remembered to hide a small tallow candle in my sleeves.

Sanosuke... you're such a liar...

I couldn't tell whether he was sleeping or truly unconscious, there wasn't enough light to tell whether his pupils were dilated or not. Other than that hand, the rest of his body was in relatively better shape. It was humbling when he was splayed out on the ground, his body seeming to reach clear across the room. I felt so small and helpless.

But no, I was helpful.

If he had gotten here any later, he might have...

"Sanosuke... wake up, you idiot."

Nothing answered me except the sound of his breathing. I put on my most scornful face. "So, you suffer one hand wound and you won't grace me with a retort?"

Nothing.

I felt myself starting to break; his face was just so peaceful and innocent. Hard to believe he could stand up there with Kenshin...

"No 'fox lady'? Not even a... 'woman'?" My eyes were starting to sting with hot tears. I put a hand on his chest and felt his heartbeat; it was very slow. "C'mon... insult me already... I won't make fun of you if you do... just... wake... up..."

Oh God... I can't take anymore...

I had no doubt that he would make it and live; but just the fact that he wasn't answering... When he looked at me with those eyes and said, "Fox, you came for me..." that told me that he somehow snapped out of unconsciousness for a brief moment and acknowledged my presence.

Mine.

Sanosuke didn't ask if Kenshin was going to be fine; he didn't look anywhere else. He looked at me.

He was teetering on the edge of life and death, and he came back for me...

I put my head down on his chest and listened to him breathe. The gesture was not a medical one, but another totally different kind. The way air rushed in through his lungs and expanded his chest made me feel safe. "You won't believe all the things that Kaoru told me when I was away. She's starting to have suspicions about me; she thinks I'm in love with you."

I rested there for a few moments, and then raised my head, fearing that his eyes would be open and he would say something. No such fear; he was still sleeping. I closed my eyes to hold back my tears. "She says that it's obvious that I love you, isn't that ridiculous? What do you say to that?"

Nothing.

"I was sort of hoping that our relationship could be more than platonic, and if you would agree, that would... well, aren't I the idiot now? I'm talking to myself..." Something wet trickled down my cheek. Gods, how much easier this was when he wasn't able to hear it. I was crying now, what would I be doing if he were awake?

I impetuously leaned forward and kissed him on the lips, careful not to touch anything else. I smiled; it was the only place on his body that wasn't hurt. A light, lingering brush and I saw a tear of mine drop onto his face. "We can worry about platonic later. Just get well soon... Sanosuke."

I almost blew out the candle until I saw something shine from a far corner of the room. It was dim in the room; the only light was concentrated on Sanosuke's face. Taking the candle with me, I curiously went to investigate. It had rolled out of Sanosuke's jacket when I threw it earlier that day. No time for tidiness, after all. I picked it up, my eyes widening from recognition.

It was my medicine.

The lid was scratched and dented; it looked like it had actually been through a fight. I pried the lid open, difficult to do because of all the dings. All the powder inside was gone.

At least he had the common sense to use it...

There was a little note inside the lid that I wrote on washi paper, just some hasty scribble. The paper itself had been folded and refolded many times; obviously someone had read it more than once. It said something along the lines of "Ken-san, you may recognize this medicine from before. You know how to use it by now, if you need any help, then just send word to Tokyo and I'll come as soon as possible." I could feel my heartbeat through my face; there was also something else in that note.

P.S. If Sanosuke needs this, then share. It would be nice to have him come back alive. The fireflies are growing duller by the day when he isn't here to antagonize me.

I covered my face with my hands; I should have known that Sanosuke would find it! That was meant for only Kenshin's eyes, not his! Once I got over the initial embarrassment, a part of me had hoped that he would read it; maybe it would be a motivating force in deciding whether or not he lived.

I absentmindedly closed the lid and walked over to the door. There was one door that led to the center of the Aoiya, and another door that opened to the air outside. I decided that the humidity in here might do something to the stitching and people heal faster when exposed to night air. It wasn't cold outside, so I didn't think too much about Sanosuke being cold.

You must have thought of me in Kyoto... how did you feel when you saw your name in my note?

I carefully slid the door open and was greeted by a blast of summer air. It really was beautiful outside; this particular door didn't open to the street, but instead to the enclosed courtyard in the center of the compound. I gasped in surprise when the sudden burst of wind blew out my candle, but there was more than enough light from the moon for me to see around.

The pale light washed over the lone sakura tree in the middle, petals long since gone. Other flowers danced in the midnight breeze, their drooping heads almost touching the ground. I saw the way the water rippled when the wind struck it, shattering the moon's reflection into thousands of tiny slivers of light.

I sighed. This was like that same night when Sanosuke left me...

They say that if the person you love walks with you by the light of the fireflies, they will stay with you forever.

When I saw a faint flicker from the corner of the garden, I laughed in disbelief. It was the very first firefly I've noticed since that day over a month ago. Call me crazy, but I could have sworn that they were brighter than before.

You kept your promise, Sanosuke.

The skies aren't so starless anymore now that the fireflies came back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Author's notes: I uploaded this as soon as I finished, so it is not at ALL proofread or edited. Whatever came out was what you see here. It was just something I thought of when I was rewatching the episodes again. Megumi could have very well meant Sanosuke when she was talking about being abandoned without a goodbye. "Starless" is the name of Megumi's theme, for those of you who watch the series, it's the theme where Misao jumps the gorge to find out Aoshi's whereabouts.

~~ Thanks to Nodoka/Jan Story for giving me about how long the Kyoto Arc took.

~~ Plastic indeed was invented in the early 1860's, but it isn't the type that you can pick up in the local WalMart. The bag that Megumi used would have most likely been a natural polymer. If you are confused or need more information on plastics, email me at coronaflare@mail.com

~~ I'm not too good at endings, but I can say that the ending is supposed to be abrupt. Megumi's feelings are just surfacing and this is only the end of Kyoto. So the dangling feeling... that's the reason ^_^

Now that I'm done with this idea, I have to start writing the last chapter of "The Handcuff Chronicles". Comment please, I need it for unedited fics like these. Hasta!