Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin- not mine.

Notes: SPOILER WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SEISSOUHEN (for those who don't know, that's the new Rurouni Kenshin OAV that JUST recently came out). If you don't want to be spoiled (second episode especially), don't read it. If you don't like angsty things, don't read it. (Don't watch the new OAV, for that matter, if you don't like angst.) With that said, if you're still here, enjoy!


When I first heard about a red-headed recluse with a scar on his face, my first thought was "That's impossible- there's no way Kenshin would be all the way out here in the middle of China." But I had a nagging feeling, and since I had nothing much better to do, I had to find out for myself. After all, there's a chance Kenshin got himself dragged into the war, but that's been over for some time now, and I know he'd want to be back with Jou-chan as soon as he could. So without further ado, I tracked down the recluse in question.
Nothing, and I mean it, NOTHING could have prepared me for what I found. Crouched on some rocks by the beach, staring out into space, was Kenshin. Or maybe, what could have been Kenshin. He wasn't even aware of my presence until I called him. When I got a look at his face, I was stunned stupid. While his cross-scar was more faded than I recall it being, he'd aged terribly, he looked awful. I admit that I don't look so great myself, but haircuts and a good shave are tough to come by on the road. But Kenshin... He'd lost weight (and he'd already been scrawny the last time I'd seen him years ago.), and was wearing almost as many bandages as that Shishio freak. (Well, maybe not THAT many, but he was virtually covered in the things from the neck down.) The most disconcerting though, was that he hardly seemed to recognize me. Not too surprising at first, given that the last time we'd seen each other, my hair was short and I still had my favorite 'bad' shirt- I was still the loud-mouthed street fighter, as opposed to the well-traveled wanderer that I am now. But even after I told him who I was, he didn't seem to really recognize me, and he wandered to a sparse little shack a little ways down the beach. Determined to get to the bottom of this, I followed.
When I entered the shack, I immediately took stock of how wretched an existence this was for Kenshin. Why hadn't he gone back to Japan? Kenshin was staring out the window, when a fit of coughing hit him and he collapsed. I caught him before he could hit the floor, stunned stupid by how fragile he'd become. Still coughing, he pushed me away (and only because I was still stunned.), and fell fully to the floor, insisting that I go back. Like hell I'd just leave him to rot here.
"I'm going to find a doctor!" I bolted for the door and flung it open. "Wait here, Kenshin!"
Yeah, like he could really go anywhere in his state.
I got on my horse and made tracks for the nearest town I knew of. Of course, my only real experience with doctors was being patched up by Megumi, or watching her patch up Kenshin or one of the others. Megumi would try to help the patient, no matter how futile. Not all doctors are that caring, as I would soon discover.
After I was pointed to the nearest doctor's house, I pounded on the door. "Oi! Open up!"
After a moment, an old man answered the door. Few things teach you a language like living in a place where everyone else uses it. "What is it, young man?" He inquired.
"A friend of mine is sick." I explained. "But he's too weak to be brought here- he needs help!"
The doctor peered at me and asked what the problem was. As I described Kenshin's illness, the doctor looked increasingly uneasy. When I finished, half begging the man to come back with me to tend to Kenshin, he looked at me like I was crazy.
"There's nothing I can do for him." The doctor stated.
"What?!" I stared in surprise at the doctor. "Nothing? You haven't even SEEN him! How can you just pass judgment like that?!"
"I've seen that illness before. There's no cure, the most even the best doctor could do is slow its progress, and from what you've said, your friend is in the advanced stage of it. There's nothing I could do by seeing him, except maybe catch it myself." With that, the doctor shut the door in my face. After a moment of seething in silence at the man's lack of compassion, I mounted my horse again and began the long trek back to Kenshin's cabin, cursing soundly in my native language, and throwing in the curses I've heard in other languages, for good measure.
Which brings me to this point, sitting in front of the fire I built for the both of us, and cooking some fish. Kenshin's off in his own little world, sitting on his makeshift futon. I can barely hear what he's mumbling to himself, but what little I've heard sounds like he's going over my name and his, trying to place where he's heard them. It didn't take me long to figure out that whatever had stranded Kenshin here must have also muddled his memory as well.
"You don't have to try so hard." I tell him, bringing him out of his reverie. "What's important now is getting your strength back." I check the fish, and find it's done. "It's done, catch!" And I toss the fish over to Kenshin.
Did I ever say what a baka I am? I completely forgot his current condition, for just an instant. For just an instant, he was Kenshin, the Battousai, again. The strongest swordsman in all of Japan, with reflexes and power nobody could hope to match. I watch the fish arc through the air toward Kenshin, watch him slowly raise a hand to reach for it... and miss it completely. I get up and hand him another fish, wishing that hadn't just happened. While I eat my own dinner, I think back to 'the good old days'. The first time Kenshin and I fought, and he cut through my zanbatou like it was nothing, and then knocked some sense into me. Then again, when Katsu and I went to attack the government with his bombs. Again, Kenshin knocked some sense into me. But to see how he's fallen now... he can barely walk on his own, let alone wield a sword. It's depressing. I've looked up to him for so long, he'd taken care of me in a way, and now he's fallen so far, wasted away... I could barely think of him as our Kenshin. Yeah. 'Our Kenshin'. Me, Jou-chan, Yahiko, Megumi... he's helped them as well. Jou-chan has got to be worrying herself sick about him right now.
I get up and squat by Kenshin, who's occupied nibbling at his food. "Is it good?" I inquire. He glances over at me and nods just barely, a ghost of his old smile on his face. God, I can't take this. I can't stand seeing him so helpless. Overcome with emotion, I hug him, and the hell with whatever illness he's got. "You don't have to stay in this country, and there's nothing you need to accomplish. I'll get you home to Japan, back to Jou-chan's side!" Trying to keep from bawling like a little brat right there, I hear him murmur Kaoru's name. Well, at least his memory isn't completely muddled. I release him so he can finish his dinner, and step outside to regain something resembling composure. How long has he been stranded here like this? And how did he get here in the first place? Of course, that starts a train of thought leading back to everyone else. How has Jou-chan been holding up? And Yahiko? What about the fox? Did she marry anybody? Or, by some miracle, will she still be waiting for me? ... Like Kaoru's undoubtedly waiting for Kenshin.
Awhile later I go back inside and find Kenshin's fallen asleep, so I get as comfortable as I can get on the floor and think some more. About how I'm going to get Kenshin home to Kaoru. I'm sure we can find a Japan-bound ship in Shanghai. I glance over at Kenshin and frown. That body of his doesn't look like it will endure the journey well, if at all. What should I do? He might die before we even get to Shanghai. But then again, I can't just let him die here by himself. And even if he dies before I can get him home, Jou-chan will want to give him a proper funeral, I'm sure. I'll just have to take the chance, and hope for the best.
The next day, he doesn't protest when I lift him up onto my horse and mount up behind him. Yeah, I'm being exposed to whatever the hell he's got, but at this point, I don't really care. It's a long, silent ride, aside from Kenshin occasionally murmuring to himself. Not trusting him to be able to survive roughing it, I stop us for the night at a cabin that seems to have been abandoned. I tell Kenshin to stay there, and head off into the woods armed with my spear. Yeah, I've got a spear now. I still fight with my fists, but the spear's handy for catching dinner. While prowling through the undergrowth, I hear a low growl, and look to find a tiger not too far from me. I turn and stare the cat down.
"I don't have anything against you." I speak to the cat, and it growls louder. "But I need you for a friend. Sorry." With that, the tiger roars at me and lunges, and the fight's on. Fighting big cats is different from fighting people, that much is for certain. It doesn't take me long to dispatch the furball, though I've got a couple of gashes that are probably gonna be messy for awhile. Taking the hide and some of the meat, I head back for the cabin, ignoring the pain in my leg. Kenshin's sleeping when I return, but I roust him, putting a grin on my face for his sake. He looks confused by my injuries, but I hold up the food triumphantly. "We have a delicacy meat for dinner tonight!" I explain, and light a fire to cook it with. It's the least I can do for Kenshin. God only know how many days the guy has left, and he won't have some bland fish for his last meal if I can help it.
While the food is cooking, Kenshin watches me bandage up my injuries with mild interest. I hear him start to murmur something that sounds vaguely like "You didn't have to-"
"Baka." I glance over at him. "I didn't have to, but I wanted to. So don't start feeling guilty about a couple of scratches that I got in the process." I finish with the bandaging and check the roast, trying to act like I usually do, mostly to hide my own fear and anxiety. When some of the roast is done, I hand some to Kenshin (remembering to actually hand it to him, rather than toss it this time), and get some for myself. I still can't believe how frail he is now. The thought briefly comes to me that he looks like a corpse who hasn't realized he's dead yet, but I hastily stomp that thought out. He may be extremely sick, he may not really remember much of anything, and he may not be all there mentally, but he's still Kenshin. The same Kenshin that kicked my ass twice, saved Jou-chan at least double as many times, rescued Yahiko and Megumi from thugs, saved Japan from a madman, and I can only imagine what else. In spite of how he seemed back then, he was, and has always been, a mortal human. It was inevitable that he'd grow old and weak eventually.
After he's done eating, Kenshin dozes off, and I do likewise to escape my thoughts.
A few days of hard riding later, I can see Shanghai in the distance. And Kenshin's still alive and doesn't seem to have gotten any worse than he was when I found him, but I'm no doctor. I grin slightly, hoping that just maybe I'll actually be able to do it, to get Kenshin home alive to Kaoru.
"Shanghai's right in front of us!" I declare, though Kenshin barely seems to register it. "Don't fall off the horse, Kenshin." I then joke weakly. The Kenshin I remember wouldn't have to worry about falling off a horse, but the Kenshin sitting in front of me... well, I wouldn't LET him fall, but if not for me, I doubt he'd be able to stay on the horse. When we arrive at the harbor, I tie up the horse and help Kenshin down. "You stay here, I'll go find a ship!" I take off running for the boats, searching for one that's heading for Japan and willing to take Kenshin. Luck seems to be with me, as I spot a familiar ship and track down her captain. After some brief banter, the captain agrees to let Kenshin hitch a ride to Japan on his cargo ship, free of charge. (It's not my fault he owes me one for saving his ass in a brawl.) He tells me that he's setting sail that night, and I head off to share the good news with Kenshin.
Not surprisingly, I find the redhead standing where I left him. "Kenshin!" I shout, catching his attention. I sweep the poor guy up in another hug. "Kenshin, a cargo ship to Yokohama is willing to give you a ride. If you go back to Japan, if you meet Kaoru, your memory will come back all at once." I don't doubt that at all, even to myself. Those two were meant for each other, they made such a cute couple. I wonder if Jou-chan's aged like Kenshin has. "I want to go back with you, but I have things to do here." I look down at my friend again, trying to keep my sadness from showing on my face. "Farewell."
Kenshin looks up at me, and I mean he LOOKS, not that half-there gaze he'd been using since I found him, and stammers weakly. "Sanosuke...th-thank you."
I lead him down to the boat, chattering all the while about what I'd been up to, that he'd better say hi to Jou-chan and the fox and everybody for me when he gets back, everything I wanted to say before but hadn't had the chance to. I'm trying to keep happy that Kenshin will get to go home and see Jou-chan, but I can't help feeling a little sad. This is the last time I'll see him alive in this world. I know it, deep down. I can't really bring myself to think it, that I'll never see Kenshin again after this. It seems almost unreal, but...
It's night when the ship finally leaves port, with Kenshin on it. I stand on the docks and watch it slide past. I'm the one who should be thanking you. You changed me, and everyone. I'll carry my whole life until the very end. Just like you. I turn to leave, since the boat is rapidly shrinking into the distance. Good-bye, Kenshin.
I stop before I get to the end of the docks and glance behind me where the ship had vanished into the night, finally letting my tears fall. I really won't ever see Kenshin again.
"Sayonara, Kenshin." I whisper to the darkness.


Author's notes: Maybe I just get way too much into it, but it wasn't until I saw the second OAV that I realized just how emotionally attached I am to Rurouni Kenshin. I do sometimes get teary-eyed at a sad movie, but the way I felt after watching Seissouhen... I don't think I can adequately describe it. I was in tears. Sometimes, you see something, or read something, and even though it's not real, it becomes special to you, becomes a part of you emotionally. I guess that happened to me the very first time I watched a brash young woman armed with only a bokken confront a goofy redhead with a cross-shaped scar on his left cheek. There was no going back. I wasn't going to originally write this, but the scene where Sano tosses the fish to Kenshin and he misses it completely hit me right in the heart, and after reading "The Way Back" by dementedchris, I had to write it, I had to give voice to emotions I felt when I watched, hoping against all odds, that there would be a 'happily ever after' for Kenshin and Kaoru. Kenshin's "Sayonara... Kaoru" during the end credits just about killed me. Of all the stories I've written, this one, by far, has been the hardest and most emotional for me. I hope you enjoy it. Comments are appreciated, flames will be ignored.