Oh man, this is the last chapter! I hope I got all the last bits tied up. I think so… My boyfriend kept telling me to kill off Kenshin. Don't worry, I scolded him. Of course I couldn't do that. I already made Kenshin and Kaoru's lives suck, I'm not going to make them absolutely dismal.
Anyway, that's about all I have to say about this... Stay tuned for a huge thank you at the end of this chapter!
1. Crawl, End Crawl (from the Motion Picture "Quantum of Solace") By: Four Tet -Quantum of Solace OST-
2. Rising By: Yoshida Brothers-Best of Yoshida Brothers-
3. Advent By: Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra -Fafner -No Where-
4. The Messenger By: Your Favorite Enemies -Final Fantasy Dissidia OST-
5. The Rock Main Theme By: Hans Zimmer
The Overall-Story-Theme (seriously, listen to it, it's like perfect. And good anyway)—In the Shadows (Radio Edit) By: The Rasmus
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN:: COMPLETION
"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical
substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed."
Kenshin woke to the feeling of Kaoru's fingers slipping free of his hand. Still half asleep, he didn't quite understand what was happening or how long it had been since he had first closed his hand around hers. All that really registered in his mind was that she was being taken away. Kenshin made a small noise of protest, trying to shake off the thick blanket of lethargy that lay over him, and flexed his fingers as if in an attempt to keep hold of her. But her hand had already removed itself from his grip. Kenshin sat up, blinding reaching. Or at least, he tried to. The stabbing pan in his side arrested him halfway, making him gasp and fall back. The pain cleared the last bit of hazy sleep from his mind and vision.
"And here you are, messing up all my hard work, of course," said a dry, exasperated voice. Kenshin turned his head, stiffly, toward it and opened his mouth to try to speak but all that came out was a hoarse cough.
"Ah, you're parched, I'll wager. Severe blood-loss will do that to you," Dr Takani Megumi told him pointedly. Kenshin closed his mouth and grimaced. The lady-doctor turned to the small table in the corner of the tiny room—it looked to be one of the small 'hospital' rooms that the Shishi had on the third floor of the HQ—and poured a cup of water from the pitcher there. As she did so, she continued: "It looks like all the hype about the Battōsai being all untouchable was a bald-faced lie—" Megumi plunked a bent-straw into the cup and held it to Kenshin's face for him to drink "—Or perhaps something changed to make you less cautious? Like, hmmm, a girl?"
Kenshin spat the straw from his mouth, swallowed the last gulp he'd taken, and told the doctor, a little severely: "If you're blaming this on Kaoru-dono…"
Megumi gave a little derisive snort. "Did I say it was her fault? No, it's been my experience that all the problems stem from men. That means you, O Great Hitokiri Battōsai."
Kenshin was silent, having no arguments there. Then, as Megumi propped her clipboard on one hip and inspected the handful of machines hooked up to the heavily bandaged redhead, he asked quietly: "Where is Kaoru-dono?"
"Hm? Oh the girl. She's just gone off to get herself checked over. Wouldn't leave your side until your boss himself came down and persuaded her to get herself taken care of. Even then, she lingered here about an hour after he'd left before finally giving in. You know, you two came in practically fused together. Even though you were both asleep, or unconscious, we just couldn't get you to let each others' hands go," Dr Takani said, scribbling on the clipboard. She looked up long enough to flash Kenshin an amused look. "Real cute."
Kenshin kept his face impassive. "Was she injured?"
"Not as badly as you were," she replied dismissively. "Now, let me check your bandages."
Megumi leaned over Kenshin in the hospital bed, brushing aside the light blankets so she could see the linen and gauze that swathed Kenshin's torso. She also flicked something metallic from his chest with a brusque-yet-gentle hand so she could pull up the edge of one bandage slightly. Kenshin sucked in a breath as he realized that the metallic thing was, in fact, a necklace with two rings strung on it like pendants. He recognized those rings, this odd necklace. It was Kaoru's, it had been Koshijirō's. The rings he, Kenshin, had given to Kaoru at her father's funeral, those years ago. Evidently, she had left them with him.
Kenshin's hand twisted around the light chain necklace, the rings bumping his palm. He didn't much notice the rest of Dr Takani's inspection.
"Well, I don't believe you are in any immediate danger from your wounds. Not anymore," the russet-eyed doctor finally pronounced. Kenshin's eye flicked back to her face.
"Thank you," he said automatically, but still sincerely.
"You'd better," she replied sardonically, leaving the room. "You'll be looked in on from time to time, and I'll have food sent in later. Right now you're body isn't quite ready for solid food."
She was out the door before Kenshin responded. It was true that he didn't feel particularly hungry, though it must have been quite a few hours since he'd last eaten… perhaps even an entire day. Actually, he felt a touch nauseous. Likely from his wounds, and whatever painkiller they had him on. Kenshin eyed the IV drip hanging over his head.
He hated being on painkillers.
'But there's no reason to be so uptight here, now. The painkillers might make you a little fuzzy-minded, but it's not like it matters much now. It's not like you're in any shape to fight even if anything were to happen, anyway.' With some application of will, Kenshin managed to relax a bit. He closed his eyes.
And when he opened them next, he had the disoriented sensation of time that one gets after waking up without realizing one had fallen asleep in the first place. He blinked, confusion creasing his brow, and then realized that Kaoru was standing in the doorway of his tiny 'hospital' room. He struggled to sit up, and mostly managed.
"Kaoru," he said, a whole slew of emotions thickening his tone. Then, visibly reigning himself in, more moderately: "Kaoru-dono."
"I…" she said hesitantly, taking a few tentative steps closer. "You don't have to call me 'dono.'"
Her eyes flicked to his throat and then away again, very quickly. And Kenshin realized that his fingers were still tangled in the ring-necklace she'd draped around his neck. He carefully uncurled his fingers from it, let it rest gently on his chest, and held out the now-free hand to her. With a hint of warmth in his voice: "Kaoru."
Kaoru froze at the door as Kenshin stirred and opened his eyes just as she reached the threshold of his small room. She hadn't really expected him to be awake so soon. Unprepared for the confrontation, as peaceable as it might be, she was thrown off balance and all her insecurities and fears flooded her mind at once.
'I love him, but what if he doesn't return the feelings? He did kiss me back, when I threw myself at him during the fight… but what if that was just a response fueled by a fighters' high? What do I do now that I've kissed him?' her mind babbled. All her confidence and expertise on the battlefield was fled in the face of this unknown situation. What soldier's training included how to function in a social relationship? Particularly a Syndicate assassin-soldier. Her set of life-skills was woefully lacking in that department, relegating her to the status of a love-struck adolescent.
"Kaoru," Kenshin's voice said, the syllables tumbling from his mouth accented with intensity. In that one word she heard every answer to the questions and uncertainties she'd just been assailed with. She looked at him in time to see him control and correct himself: "Kaoru-dono."
He shouldn't hide behind that mask anymore. Kaoru remembered everything she'd been told about him by Hiko, everything she'd come to understand about him by her observations of his actions. Kenshin should let go of that mask of emotionlessness.
"I…" Kaoru started automatically, stepping toward him. She stopped and started over: "You don't have to call me 'dono.'"
About halfway through it, she realized that the flash she'd seen as she took those couple steps toward him was the light reflecting off the necklace she'd strung around Kenshin's neck before she'd left his side a couple hours ago. She glanced at it, then forced her gaze away.
'What if he only treats me the way he does because of my father?' asked that cursed part of her mind that seemed intent on causing trouble. 'Idiot,' Kaoru told herself in annoyance. She'd seen the look in his eyes when he looked at her without his shield. She'd just heard the unguarded emotion in his voice as he spoke her name. What a fool she was, to doubt him.
"Kaoru," he said again, and the softness of his voice kindled a ball of warmth in Kaoru's heart. He was reaching a hand out to her, the hand that had been twisted around the necklace at his throat. Kaoru took the hand.
Kenshin ran dark amber eyes over her, searchingly. "Wounds?"
She made a dismissive gesture. "Nothing serious." And then, swallowing, "You… almost died."
"I'm sorry," he said, sounding sincere. There was a slight, awkward pause.
"Kenshin, I don't think I've ever really thanked you for everything you've—" Kaoru started.
Even injured, the redheaded Battōsai moved gracefully, surging up and wrapping a hand around the back of Kaoru's neck, pulling her gently, swiftly down and kissing her as his other hand tightened around her fingers. Kaoru, hyper-aware of his presence as she was, felt the slight tremble of strain that Kenshin tried to hide from his muscles. She gently pressed him back to the hospital bed without breaking contact. After a moment, Kenshin pulled away, and locked eyes with her.
"Thank you, I'm sorry, and thank you," he whispered and pulled her forehead down against his. Kaoru crawled onto the narrow bed and, very carefully, slid her arms around him. There was nothing more to say.
It was about two more days before Megumi declared Kenshin fit enough to handle reporting in to Katsura. Kaoru accompanied him, ostensibly to push Kenshin's wheelchair (he wasn't completely healed, after all), but in truth because neither of them tolerated unnecessary separation very well. Not that anyone blamed them much, though Megumi did complain about always having to work around Kaoru. Katsura did not so much as bat an eye as the two entered his office together.
"Kenshin-kun," the Shishi Vice-Commander smiled, genuinely happy, "I'm glad to see you are recovering. Kaoru-chan, a pleasure to see you as well."
The two hitokiri bowed (Kenshin as best he could with his torso bound tight) and couldn't help but smile back at Katsura, whose smile widened a little at the expressions on their faces.
"You'll be happy to know that Operation FLOODGATE is going down as a complete success. And that Rebel doctors are predicting total recoveries for about ninety-percent of the liberated Vanished," he told them, tapping the front of one of the sizable files on his desk. "But now… I've been told that your doctor wants you back under surveillance as soon as possible, so. Let us hear your report on the operation."
Kenshin nodded, and jumped in to it. For the most part, Katsura remained quiet, listening attentively, occasionally making a note on this or that. The whole report was being recorded audially, but the notes were things of particular interest to Katsura. He did interrupt once, though.
"A power closet?" he asked, eyebrows rising.
"A power closet," confirmed Kaoru wryly.
"Ah," Katsura passed a hand over his face to hide his amusement, then told Kenshin politely, "Sorry, please continue."
Kenshin cleared his throat and did so, continuing on to the end of the conflict. "…And Kaoru killed Udō, and then I collapsed and was brought to the medics."
The redhead seemed to ignore the amused look Katsura was giving him, a look that said that the Vice-Commander knew just what omissions Kenshin had left from his telling.
"Hm," said Katsura, folding his hands together on top of his desk. He glanced at Kaoru, who gazed placidly back. Katsura's lips twitched. "Well, then. Thank you for your report Kenshin-kun."
Kenshin inclined his head. And then hesitated. "Katsura-sama… You told us that FLOODGATE was a success, but…"
"But what does it mean for the Revolution?" Katsura finished for him. The older man stood and walked to one of the few spare paintings that were hung on his wall. This one was an old ink painting of an aesthetically positioned sprig of plum blossoms. He clasped his hand behind him and traced the lines of the painting with what seemed to be fond familiarity. Then, smiling softly, he turned his head to look at Kenshin and Kaoru, sitting in front of his desk. "I can't say for certain whether it has won us the war, but I can assure you that because of it, there will be fewer black envelopes."
Kaoru, a little perplexed at the phrase, glanced at Kenshin. The redhead had frozen, eyes a little wider than normal. He stared at Katsura, barely breathing.
"Fewer…" he murmured, a catch of painful hope in his voice. Kaoru placed her hand over his, hearing that sharp emotion. The black envelopes were something significant, she inferred easily. Kenshin's hand flipped and gripped hers tightly.
"Yes, Kenshin-kun," Katsura assured him gently. "Fewer missions. Fewer deaths. Our success with FLOODGATE shook the Syndicate greatly. They're unstable enough as it is; it's not likely we'll need as many assassinations to weaken them."
Kenshin's eyes closed and he took a shaky breath, held it for a count of five, and then let it out slowly. He met his leader's eyes and said, sincerely: "Thank you, Katsura-sama."
"Not at all, Kenshin-kun," Katsura replied. "I am glad… that you have this chance to live again."
It was clear what he meant. Kenshin's grip on Kaoru's hand tightened slightly. She squeezed back.
The Shishi's Vice-Commander transferred his gaze to the young woman, that small gentle smile still evident on his face. "And for you, Kaoru-chan. I understand you wanted to be a part of FLOODGATE since you felt a need to help rectify the wrongs the Syndicate commited while you were working for them. You've done well. I'm giving you this opportunity to end your soldier's career. I understand that killing is as disagreeable to you as it is to Kenshin-kun. If you'd like to lay down your sword, you may."
Kaoru glanced down, swallowing, then looked up. "Thank you, Katsura-sama, but if Kenshin is fighting, then so am I. We are a Team."
Katsura's eyes flicked almost automatically to Kenshin's face, to gauge the reaction to the declaration. The Hitokiri Battōsai did not fight on a Team. But Himura Kenshin tipped his head in tacit agreement with Kaoru's statement, causing a full-blown smile to spread across Katsura's face.
"Well, then," Katsura murmured. "Well, then."
He laughed. "Alright, you're a Team."
Katsura paused, surveying them. Then he gave them a bow that pushed the limits of what a superior afforded his subordinates. "Thank you, both of you."
"Sir," Kenshin protested, as Kaoru shook her head, blushing and bowing back, deeper.
"No," Katsura waved away their polite denials. "I'm grateful for your service, so I am thanking you."
They swallowed their protests, as etiquette demanded. Katsura shook his head and gave a wry smile. "And now, I believe you should head back to the medical wing, before Dr Takani decides to come scold me for keeping you too long."
Kenshin bowed and looked to Kaoru for her to begin to wheel him away, but her attention was still on Katsura. She hesitated before asking: "Katsura-sama?"
"I… have a request," she said, and paused for Katsura's nod before continuing. "You were right when you said earlier that I wanted to help fix what the Syndicate has ruined… And there's one more thing that I feel a personal responsibility for."
"Tell me," Katsura said, calmly, entirely the professional commander now.
"The Home," Kaoru said. "And Sensei. I want to be the one to put an end to the program."
Katsura was silent a moment, weighing the request. "Himura would be going with you."
"Yes," they replied in unison, without hesitation, without the need to converse. Katsura considered a moment more. Then—
"Very well. Yes," he said. "As a former Child, you would be best suited for the mission. You know what to expect, what the abilities of the other assassins and this 'sensei' are. Yes."
"Thank you," Kaoru breathed.
"Don't thank me yet," cautioned Katsura. "It will probably be a while before the order for such a mission is given. You two still need to recover, and then it is likely that the Home will have moved from its former location. We'll have to get our intel department on figuring out likely locations for a new Home."
"Yes sir," Kaoru said. "I can help with that."
"Right," Katsura nodded. "Is that all?"
"Then you are both dismissed."
Kenshin and Kaoru got back to Kenshin's room in the medical wing of the Shishi Headquarters to find Tsubame sitting quietly in a chair, waiting for them to return. She stood up when they entered.
"Kaoru-san!" she exclaimed, and then blushed at her outburst.
"Tsubame-chan!" Kaoru said, and came around Kenshin's wheelchair to embrace her. The younger girl returned the embrace happily.
"I'm so glad you're okay," Tsubame said, a little tearfully.
"Of course, of course," Kaoru murmured. They separated, but Kaoru kept her hands on the younger girl's shoulders. "How are you doing, Tsubame? Are you okay here at the headquarters?"
She nodded. "Tae-san visits me a lot. She says I'll be able to go live with her soon. And I just saw Yahiko. He and two of the Sekihōtai were just here looking for you and Himura-san."
"Sagara Sanosuke and Sagara Sōzō?" Kenshin asked, shrewdly. Tsubame nodded.
"They said they wanted to thank you for watching over Yahiko during the Operation," Tsubame told Kaoru. "But they had business to attend to and couldn't stay to wait for you."
"I see," Kaoru said. "Well, I'm sure we'll see them again."
"Yes," Kenshin agreed. He was looking wan, Kaoru thought. He was still injured, after all. He was drained from reporting in to Katsura. Evidently, Tsubame noted his pale, drawn face, because her next words were a farewell.
"I should go. I also told Dr Takani I would tell her when you got back."
"Alright," Kaoru hugged her again. "I will see you later, Tsubame-chan."
"Goodbye, Kaoru-san. I hope you will get better soon, Himura-san," the girl said before disappearing out the door. Kaoru turned to Kenshin.
"Here, take my arm. You should get back into bed."
Kenshin had to have a little help to stand—he winced as the movement made muscles in his torso stretch and flex, which pulled at his wound—but he walked the few steps to the hospital bed under his own power. Lying back, he breathed deeply and slowly to combat the pain that had awoken in his side. Kaoru stood at his side, eyebrows drawn together.
Megumi walked in with firm strides, then, saying: "Well, about time you're back. I'll bet you could use some pain meds right about now. It's also time for another treatment of antibiotics."
Kenshin grimaced; he, like all other hitokiri or ninja, or others who used their senses to an extreme extent, didn't like how painkillers fuzzed his mind and reactions. But Megumi either didn't notice the expression or ignored it, because she said nothing as she handed Kenshin a couple pills and a cup of water. She watched as he swallowed them, and then took the empty cup back.
"Those'll work pretty fast," she warned belatedly. "And they'll put you to sleep."
Kenshin was already relaxing back into the cushion of the pillow behind him. Already tired from moving around and reporting in, the drowsiness from the pills was tipping him over the edge of sleep.
"It's alright if I stay here, isn't it?" Kaoru asked Megumi, who flicked a look between the young woman and the redhead on the hospital bed.
"Just don't bother my patient too much," she warned, not really seriously. She just liked it better when she ended a conversation on her terms.
Kaoru just nodded, her eyes on Kenshin. Megumi gave a small smirk and left quietly.
A few days later, when Kenshin was nearly completely recovered, Yahiko, Sagara Sanosuke, and Sagara Sōzō did indeed come back to thank Kaoru in person. Misao stopped by as well, a day before the Sekihōtai trio, bringing news of the ex-Vanished Oniwaban members and Aoshi, and some 'get well soon' wishes. Hiko came by to "make sure his baka deshi wasn't doing anything stupid" and Tsubame stopped in to visit every once in a while.
In a way, it was almost as if the war were over, though they never really believed it, not even for a second. They were too aware of what was left to do, but there was nonetheless a happier, more relaxed atmosphere among all the Rebels. Kaoru noticed that Kenshin's face was softer now, his expression not held as rigidly as it had been when she'd first seen him.
When he was fully healed, they went to the top of one of the Rebel-controlled buildings and sat out looking at the City. Kaoru inhaled deeply and looked up at the SAM-C sky.
"Do you think," she asked, "that people will ever be able to live Outside again?"
"Maybe, eventually," Kenshin responded after a moment. "The poisons from the Cataclysm aren't quick to decay. It's only been a couple hundred years; maybe in a couple hundred more, we won't need the SAM-C."
"I hope," sighed Kaoru, closing her eyes again. "I hope. The SAM-C, it… It's a cage."
"Without the Syndicate in power, it will be less of one."
"Yes," Kaoru breathed, wearily. Kenshin turned his head and surveyed her with careful amber eyes. He turned back forward, so that only the curve of his cheek and a mess of red hair were visible to Kaoru, before speaking again.
"Katsura-sama gave you a way out. You… don't have to do this. Your father may have been a soldier, one of the Shishi. He may have killed. But he believed that blood wasn't the best answer, though in the case of the Revolution, it was the only one open to us. He waited and worked for a day in which violence became obsolete. He despised killing, wanted to protect life. I'm sure he passed these ideals onto you when he raised you. And I know that you hate how your life has forced you to a path contrary to them."
With his face hidden to her, his voice and ki perfectly composed, she couldn't tell his feelings on what he was saying were. She watched his shoulder and the sliver of face she could see and opened her mouth. "Ke—"
He turned abruptly, and Kaoru's teeth clicked together. She could see in his bright gold eyes just how much it was costing him to tell her she could walk away. "I chose this life, you did not. The Syndicate forced you into it; you're not obligated to see it through to the end. You don't have to suffer through it."
"I didn't choose it then, I do choose it now," Kaoru told him firmly. "And you shouldn't suffer through it alone. We are a Team. Don't try to send me away. I won't go."
Kenshin moved, reaching out with all his Hitokiri Battōsai speed and seizing her. A quick jerk and she was half across Kenshin's lap, her face pressed against his shoulder, his arms tight around her.
"Good," he growled into her hair. "I don't want you to go."
Kaoru shifted a little and put her arms around him, too. She could feel him trembling slightly. They held each other for long moments, each savouring the feel another person's touch and care. Eventually, Kenshin lifted his face from Kaoru's hair and tipped it back to look up at the 'sky' as Kaoru had before.
"You've never been to your father's grave, have you? After his funeral, I mean," he asked Kaoru very quietly. Kaoru twitched a little, surprised by the sudden question.
"No," she answered. "It was too dangerous for me to be seen at my father's grave, if the Syndicate wanted to keep me unknown. A Rebel visiting my father's grave might have seen me, might have recognized me. If that happened, I would have had to kill them. So I stayed away."
A beat of silence, and then Kenshin asked: "Would you like to go there?"
Kaoru turned her face up to look at him, blinking. "What, now?"
"When you like," replied Kenshin.
"I would like that," Kaoru said. She settled her head back on Kenshin's shoulder. "But not right this moment…"
Kenshin slid his fingers into her hair, hesitantly. Softly: "Alright."
"Kenshin?" Kaoru murmured. "You will let me stay with you, right?"
Evidently, the episode with the power closet hadn't just annoyed her. It had also put a bit of fear into her. Fear of abandonment. Kenshin tightened his arms around her.
"As long as you want," he said. Then he closed his eyes and put his mouth against her ear and whispered: "Nothing less than forever."
The tone was hopeful, a question, a suggestion, a demand. Kaoru's hand slid to the back of Kenshin's head and she tucked his forehead into the crook of her neck.
"I'll agree to that," she said, smiling.
--Several Months Later--
The sight of two figures standing before the gravemarker would be a familiar one, were there anything in the small cemetery to record such things. The two came every week, had done so for some time now. There was always fresh incense smouldering before the marker, or fresh sake sitting in a plain ceramic ochoko in front of it. Sometimes they came in the day, when the SAM-C rained light down on the City. Sometimes they came, as they did now, in the night, surrounded by darkness.
One of the figures was carefully lighting a stick of sandalwood-scented incense, crouched low to the base of the grave. The scent wafting up, the figure stood to join the other. Both were dressed in dark clothes, almost indefinable from the night.
They stood with their heads bowed a moment, and then their chins lifted. Thin chains glinted at both their throats, hung on each was one ring. A matched set, each with half. The one who had lit the incense laid a hand against the smoothly polished marker.
"Another step toward a free City, Father. Tonight the Home falls."
"Another support stuck out from under the Syndicate," added the other. They turned away from the grave.
"One of the last."
"Yes. Shall we?"
"Keep up with me."
AUTHOR'S END NOTE:: "Effing eff, Relik, why'd you leave it there?!" Because I figured you all were smart enough to figure out what happened next. I laid it all out nicely for you. Obviously they destroy the Home, get married, blah blah. You can decide whether Kenshin and Kaoru see the actual complete fall of the Syndicate in their lifetimes, or if they simply see it weakened and then retire and whatnot. I didn't show the fight with Sensei because I didn't want to cheapen the whole big fight to free the Vanished by plunging Kenshin and Kaoru into another fight right after it. Anyway. Hope you enjoyed the ride, it was certainly a fun time for me. And now the big finale of thanks and groveling at the feet of my readers. Seriously, you people rock.
BIG BIG THANKS TO ALL YOU WHO READ, FAVED, ALERTED, OR COLLECTED THIS STORY. PREEMPTIVE THANKS TO THOSE WHO WILL READ IT AFTER THESE.
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