Alright guys, thank you for letting me share Adamant Eve aka anna-neko's story with you! This is the end, and I hope you have found as much joy in reading this that I did.
It's been three months since the entire case with the Shikeigai. Three strange months of peace. I'm still somewhat expecting that something would come up to disturb it, but so far, there was no sign of anything amiss.
Kaoru has agreed to my proposal of marriage, which brought much felicity to our otherwise shaken household. I would have asked her sooner, but it...didn't seem right with all the turmoil that ran so high even after the resolution of the case. But I couldn't really wait that long, so I've finally decided to pop the question, and she accepted happily and wholeheartedly. The engagement was a wonderful affair, with lots of congratulations and lots of food. Naturally, Kaoru and I made love with reckless abandon when we were left to ourselves. She could summon raging desire within me with a single look of her sapphire eyes, which stands to reason why she never slept alone in her room again since we got back from Aizu. She never slept in her room again, period. I doubt that arrangement will ever change.
I will make certain of it.
We would be married in a fortnight, and I had been making serious plans about the future.
A job would be necessary. Kaoru and I are going to have a lot of children, and I fully intend to make my family's life comfortable. Saitoh has expressed an intention to recommend me as a consultant to the police investigation department, but I don't think I'll be taking his offer. I think I'd much rather take the building keeper, a.k.a. janitor job in the Municipal hall, but then I'll be having a family to consider, and I doubt if Kaoru and I can manage with a janitor job and ten kids (yes, ten. Kaoru and I are still arguing about it.) I suspect Saitoh's more interested in Kaoru's spy skills and spy brain than he is interested in my mine, and since they couldn't very well hire Kaoru, they'd hire her fiancée, or husband, depending on when they were planning to convince me.
Saitoh...that was perhaps the strangest thing of all.
The day after Kyosuke was caught, Daisuke came to the dojo bearing Saitoh's journals.
"I will not be long," Daisuke had said to Kaoru and I. "Only, I've come to tell you that I will not be recommending Saitoh's dismissal from his position."
Though we were relieved, we asked him why, even if the reasons may have been obvious. However, in an interesting twist, Daisuke was dropping the case for reasons we did not expect.
"Perhaps I still ought to have him dishonorably discharged," Daisuke began by way of explanation. "He did, after all, manage to abuse Miyori through the course of her Shikeigai career. But...just turn to the last volume, 5th of May, 1874."
He didn't say much. Just that, and he left the journals behind after he said his good byes.
Saitoh's entry for the 5th of May was short, but terribly disturbing.
"May 5, 1874. I have been stationed with a bunch of undisciplined, incompetent men who would sooner think with their dicks than with their brains. The Shinsengumi had purpose, but these band of bandits I had the misfortune of being stationed with do not have half of the honor, nor the conviction to be led by one such as myself. This evening alone, I had to deal with two morons who were raping the girl-folk. The first one I caught in the bushes was one I particularly disliked. I lapped off his head. He didn't even see it coming because he was too busy with Naoko. Good riddance. The second guy was a boy of 14. I think his name is Haruna. So young yet so undisciplined. He was having his way with Junko. I have no patience for rapists of any kind, but as a kid, there's still hope for him, so I just castrated him. I'm sure he learned his lessons well tonight. I had the two girls sent home. I don't need them distracting the other men. Why do they send me the comely ones? A toothless hag would be just as useful without getting the attention of the men and making me waste my time getting rid of the deviants. I feel I'm getting too old for this shit. ~~Disgruntled and tired as hell, Saitoh Hajime, San-Ban-Tai Kumichou, Fukuchou Jokin."
I hated how that entry made me feel I ought to thank Saitoh for doing away with Kaoru's aggressor, but it did make me understand how it had convinced Daisuke to drop his personal vendetta. Goodness knows, I was ready to kill Gen-ichi when I thought he...
I don't like to think about it.
After reading that passage, Kaoru and I decided that we did not wish to go through the rest of the journals. We would take it to Saitoh, who was still confined in jail but was due to be released the next day, when the tribunal officially dismissed his case for new evidence arising out of Kyosuke's arrest.
When we visited Saitoh in his jail cell, the wolf was as sarcastic as ever, but he had decided to change his plea. Our conversation showed the means for closure.
"We'd like you to have these back," Kaoru said, handing the journals over to him somewhat cautiously. She was still nervous around him. A tendency which perhaps will never leave her.
Saitoh flipped through the volumes and raised an eyebrow. "Daisuke gave them to you?"
"Does that surprise you?" I asked him.
Saitoh set the diaries aside and leaned back on his bench, puffing out smoke. "Not really. He came in this morning to tell me that he would be recommending my continuance in office. He said it was his way of thanking me for punishing the man who raped his wife, and that dropping the case meant he owed me nothing. I had no desire to save his wife's virtue, neither do I give value to yours, Tanuki, when I decapitated that guy, but if it was good enough for Daisuke and Battousai, then it's certainly good enough for me."
I cringed, so did Kaoru
. "Are you still pleading guilty for the murders?" Kaoru asked after she had composed herself.
The wolf cocked a smile. "Why should I? I didn't do it."
"You seemed willing enough to claim you did, as I recall," I pointed out.
"Well, that was before Daisuke, the nerd, decided to leave me alone, Battousai," he replied, as if he were explaining to some six year old. "I meant what I said about choosing the lesser of two evils. It's either I go down for murder, or for incompetence. I chose murder, but that's changed, because incompetence had most convincingly decided to bow out of the picture."
Kaoru scoffed. "Hmph. Could've fooled me. "
"Watch it, brat," Saitoh said to her sternly.
Kaoru fidgeted, but otherwise stayed in her place stoutly.
"So what's your part in all this, Saitoh?" I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.
Saitoh looked extremely irritated by my question. "What do you mean, 'what's your part in this?' I've been framed for the murders, Battousai. Couldn't get in any deeper than that."
I forestalled my own feelings of annoyance and I shot Saitoh a glare. "Were you actually trying to find the killer?"
"Well, what did you think I was doing? Sightseeing?" Saitoh asked.
"Fujita-san," Kaoru began, pitying me. "We would like to know the details of your investigation, if you would be so kind."
The edge Kaoru put into "if you would be so kind" was sarcasm at its finest, but then, when had something like that ever bothered Saitoh, master of derision?
"Fine," Saitoh said, throwing his lit cigarette on the floor and grinding it with his toe. He then proceeded to light a fresh stick. "You want the details? I'll give you the details. First was the office break in. Couldn't have known it was a break in if not for some misplaced papers. Nothing was taken, but I guess now I know somebody just happened to like using my personal seal for his own letters. I didn't think much of it, really. If it isn't broken then don't fix it. That's what I always say."
Kaoru cocked her head impudently. "Ah, words of the wise..."
Saitoh turned his golden eyes to look at her. "Another crack from you and I'll turn you on my knee and spank you."
"Point," Kaoru said, pursing her lips right after.
I stifled a grin. She was actually affecting Saitoh. Something I had never succeeded in doing, ever.
Saitoh continued. "Then someone broke into my home...stole my journals. I wouldn't have thought of it much, but I was more pissed at the fact that someone had managed to come into my house unnoticed. I don't know how it happened, but it did. Whoever it was, he had to be brilliant. Then I got wind of a probe they were doing on me. Doesn't take a Shikeigai genius to figure out that there was something going on. I suspected the DIA would steal my journals to use it to kick me out, so I started my own investigation. Found out some stuff about Daisuke, about his affiliation with the Shinsengumi...call me an ego-maniac, but the Shinsengumi followers worshipped the ground I walked on. Didn't fit that Daisuke wanted me kicked out, because he DID want to kick me out. I discovered that he had REQUESTED for the probe on me, and that he wanted to be the one to head the investigation. So, I figured I must have done something to the guy to make him hate me so much. I dug up his dirt and found out that he had a wife who had died not too long ago, and the rumor was that his half-sister was responsible for her death. Being the brilliant detective that I am..." He stopped to look at Kaoru, just waiting for her to say something sardonic.
Kaoru raised her palms up and feigned innocence. "I ain't said nothing," she quipped.
Saitoh went on. "I checked up on his sister secretly, and found out that she was telling everybody that the 'Mibu's wolf' had made her do it. Conclusion, someone was trying to frame me that early on. But why Daisuke's wife? Why Miyori? I came up with nothing. The crazy-woman couldn't tell me anything. She wouldn't even describe who her Mibu's Wolf was. I had nothing. Then that murder in Aizu happened. Some man named Ooka Taka. I didn't think much about it either. It was just a standard newsreel from the police department in Aizu. It came with a batch of other reports from the different police departments. Standard stuff. Held no such significance to me. The guy was a bum, as far as I could tell, but then I got this note..."
"Note?" I interjected. Remnants of my conversation with Kyosuke cropping into my mind.
"Yes Battousai, a note. You know, those little pieces of paper with words scribbled on them?"
I grit my teeth. "I know what a note is, Saitoh. Please continue."
With a satisfied smirk, he did. "The note said something like 'I know what you're doing, Mibu's Wolf. You won't get away with it. Signed, Concerned Citizen.' So, filing for an investigation order under the break-in incident, I got the police department to finance my inquisition. I went to Aizu, asked around about the murders, and just heard stuff I already knew about, as I expected. I got another note, not long after, from Mr. Concerned Citizen again, if the handwriting was any indication. This note said that I wasn't going to get away with killing off the Shikeigai. That Anenokoji Yasushige would be avenged. Imagine my surprise when Anenokoji turned up dead a few days after. Until then, I had dismissed the existence of the Shikeigai to rumors and paranoia, but with all that's been happening, I couldn't afford to take things for granted. So I looked for the one person who might be able to shed some light into the matter, Kido Imaedigawa Matsuhime."
"Oro! You knew about Matsuhime-dono's adoption?" I asked in astonishment.
Saitoh's eye twitched ever so slightly, his tolerance walking a very thin line. "Please, Battousai. I keep tabs on the person responsible for the fall of my side of the war. Frankly, I hold no admiration for Katsura Kogoro, but then, when a man like myself hates a person, it's like information about that person crawls out of the woodwork. Do you understand what I'm saying? I couldn't get away from news like that, almost as if it insists on following me around. I knew everything there was to know about Katsura Kogoro, through no desire of my own. I knew he had adopted a daughter and a son, and I knew she had moved to Shiroishi with her adoptive brother. So I went there, asked her some questions, confirmed the existence of the Shikeigai and found out who the remaining Shikeigai were. It annoyed me to no end finding out that our friendly neighborhood Kamiya Kasshin shihondai was the Shikeigai sekkou Naoko." He turned to Kaoru and blew out some smoke. "I wanted nothing more than to go straight to your dojo and give you the whipping you deserve."
Kaoru merely glared at him.
"But," Saitoh said pointedly. "Before I could do that, I had to pass by Aizu again on my way back to Edo. I had to go looking for Tenshio Kyosuke in Yanaizu and see if I could get somewhere asking him some questions. It turns out that Kyosuke was on the run for some debts he had with the Aizu mob boss. I did ask the mob boss some questions, but you know how they are...good at keeping secrets. I wanted to kill the deviant myself, but I didn't need something like that to make my situation worse. I see now that I should have done it anyway."
"You never passed by Yokohama?" I asked him.
"Never," Saitoh said. "I thought I would, but I'd heard that the Shikeigai connection there had been killed."
"Then where did you go that time you told us you were going on a trip?" I asked him.
He scratched his chin casually, taking his time in answering me. "I don't see how that's any of your business, but if you must know, Tsutomi wanted to go see Omiya."
Kaoru raised an eyebrow. "Tsutomi?"
"My four year old son."
Kaoru and I stared at him open-mouthed.
"You have a son? Other than Mishima Eiji?" Kaoru asked him, flabbergast.
Saitoh was looking more annoyed than ever. "Mishima Eiji isn't my son. He is my ward. Tokio and I are taking care of him. I have sons..."
"Sons?" Kaoru exclaimed.
"You are irritating me, Racoon. I can have sons. Is that so hard to believe?" Saitoh asked. "Well, Tsuyoshi isn't born yet. Tokio's just pregnant with him, but I could tell by the ki that it's going to be a boy, so his name will be Tsuyoshi."
"Eew! Tokio actually does it with you?" Kaoru cried, sincerely disgusted.
"Don't push it, Naoko," Saitoh told her darkly. "And before you go off on me again, I did not use government funds for that trip. I should have, though. That same government was ready and raring to kick me out. Anything else?"
"God forbid," Kaoru muttered.
"Terrific," Saitoh said in a dry tone. "That's just about it. I came back here to Edo, threatened you...my usual fare. It got me nowhere, but I was quite stumped. That Kyosuke guy, he fooled everybody."
I nodded. "Yes he did, Saitoh."
"Who'd have thought, eh?" Saitoh said with a shrug. "Now if you're done, could you please just go? I've got a big day tomorrow."
Kaoru and I took our cue. Making our way out of the cell, we left Satoh to his solitude...and his journals.
And that was our conversation with Saitoh. The following day his case was dismissed and he was reinstated to his post.
Kyosuke was soon arraigned, and having pleaded guilty, not to mention his apparent insanity, everyone expected that he would be merely sentenced to life imprisonment. Unfortunately, the tribunal thought him too insane and too brilliant for comfort. They sentenced him to death, by decapitation.
Though it was a rather tragic end, I had to admit that it was somewhat of a relief, because I no longer had to worry about him harming Kaoru or anyone else. Kaoru even said that he had it coming, since he could be such a d%*k-wad. However, amidst Kaoru's scorn, she was unable to hide her deep sadness.
She was a woman of compassion after all, and only I saw the tears she shed for Kyosuke on the day of his execution. Knowing I was the only one who would understand, she waited until we could be alone so she could cry on my shoulder, seeking the comfort I gave to her.
Banshio did not go back to Yokohama. He was, after all, supposed to be dead. So, after everything was settled, he packed what little belongings he had and made his way to Kyoto, where he said he might find a job suited to his skills. Unless he was planning to join the Oniwabanshu, Banshio would most probably just get bored with his job and move on, like he did with his last eight jobs in Yokohama.
Kaoru had finally gotten around to telling Megumi and Dr. Genzai about her Shikeigai identity, after having failed in her attempts at least three times. As expected, they were extremely shocked and very hurt. It was rather discomfiting for everyone to actually see Dr. Genzai angry. And Megumi...oro! We've seen her furious, but the silent treatment was perhaps the most unsettling behavior from her any of us had ever witnessed. It took a while, but forgiveness came sooner than Kaoru expected. Being the good souls that they were, they accepted Kaoru for who she was, though Megumi was still excessively miffed that her taunts and teases before had barely affected Kaoru in the past. To Kaoru's credit, she maintained a sort of "remnant" of her Tanuki personality, for both doctors' sakes. I love her all the more for her thoughtfulness and consideration.
It was hard to believe that we could all just go on with our lives from where we left off at the beginning of all the fuss, but that was exactly what we were doing right now. Not exactly trying to forget, but learning to make it part of our past, so that it may serve us well in the future.
I was so deep in my thoughts that I barely noticed Kaoru sitting beside me on the porch. Only when she took my hand did I snap out of my musings.
"Mou! Think any harder and your head will explode," Kaoru said with an amused grin.
I smiled back at her, squeezing her hand. "Did you enjoy your bath, love?"
"Heaven," she replied with a contented sigh, pushing her damp hair from off her shoulder. "It was exactly what I needed for my tired joints."
"You are working far too hard, Kaoru," I told her seriously. "You should have taken my advice to forego teaching today."
A blush crept up her cheeks.
Ah. I wonder if she would tell me already.
"But I can't disappoint my students," she muttered.
Her "students" consisted of Yahiko, two little boys from some families nearby, and one little girl, who was accompanying her twin brother (one of the two little boys) to his Kenjutsu lesson. Needless to say, the little girl's lessons have not been paid for, but when has that ever deterred Kaoru from teaching anyway?
"They would not have minded," I said. "You've been feeling out of sorts lately. You should have taken a break."
Kaoru frowned. "I'm fine, Kenshin. Besides, Yahiko's obsessed about earning his spar with you. I still don't think he's ready, but he isn't letting up. That little decree of yours just might be the death of me."
She will be stubborn about this, but I can be just as bull-headed.
"Have you gone to Megumi yet?" I asked her innocently. "You promised me you would last week."
"N-No...not yet..." she replied, her eyes refusing to meet mine.
I held back a chuckle. It's quite puzzling why she wouldn't tell me her little secret. It's not like I would get angry or anything like that. I am, in fact, elated, thrilled by the prospect. She should know I'd consider such a thing as good news.
"Is there something you're not telling me?" That ought to help her along.
She fidgeted on her seat. "Umm...n-nothing..."
"Kaoooruu...?" I murmured slowly, as if in mild warning. This is getting more delightful by the second, watching her blushing and fretting uneasily. It was terribly endearing to see her so discomfited when she was supposed to be some sort of fearless femme fatale.
In a totally unexpected turn of events, she burst into tears.
My astonishment was real and I immediately took her in an embrace. "Kaoru! Sweetheart, tell me what's wrong! I promise you we'll fix it!"
Dread suddenly struck me at the thought that maybe she was reluctant to tell me because she herself did not like what was happening. Maybe...maybe she doesn't want it...
"Oooh...shhhit!" She moaned miserably. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean to cry. It's just that I'm in this ridiculous state of hormonal imbalance...it goes on and off like a damn water pump...I couldn't stop it at times. It's been so weird! Sometimes, I'm washing the dishes and it just comes out, you know? It's so damn irritating! The other day, Dr. Gensai was telling Suzume the Little Match Girl story and I bawled like a baby! Could you believe it? I cried over a damn children's tale! How pathetic is that?"
I rocked her soothingly, my worry increasing.
"Dammit" She whispered. "What if I'm not ready for this...I just know I'll screw it up! What'll I say when it starts asking questions? How am I ever going to explain what I had to go through in the Bakumatsu when I couldn't even tell Yahiko the whole truth...?"
It dawned on me what she was stressing about and I could have laughed out loud if she wasn't so upset. "Oh Kaoru! You'll make an excellent mother! Don't worry about what they would think of you!"
Kaoru looked up at me, confused. "W-What?"
I smiled and wiped the tears from her face. "Children are angels that way. Their love for their mother is always unconditional..."
The flush on her cheeks became tense splotches and she pulled away from me slightly. Realization was quick to come over her features.
"You!" She cried. "You've known all this time?"
"Kaoru," I said calmly, pulling her closer in my embrace. "Of course I know. You cannot keep secrets like that from this unworthy one. Your ki cannot hide the truth. Now, one will definitely be named Kenji..."
"Mou!" She cried, wriggling feebly to pull away from me. Of course, I wasn't about to let go. "How could you not tell me you knew? Since when-?"
"Oh...I wasn't sure that night we..."
"Mouuuuu! From the very beginning?" She exclaimed. "How dare you not tell me I was pregnant! I can't believe you made me go through it alone!"
"Oh sweetheart! Oh Kaoru, was that how you felt? That you were alone? Of course you're not alone! I just wanted you to be the one to tell me! I thought you'd want it to be that way! I'm so sorry..." I kissed her forehead and began to chuckle. "I thought maybe you would have liked to surprise me, that's all. Had I known you had all these concerns...but you do want the babies, ne?"
"Idiot! Of course I want to have the babies-" She halted in her speech, then a few seconds later, a brand new scowl was forming in her face. "Mouuuuuuuu! Babies? As in more than one? When were you planning on letting me in on this?"
"Well...the usual way. When you gave birth to them..."
"Aaaargh!" She yelled, beginning to mutter mild curses and finishing it with, "Rurouni, I'll get you for this one day...Kenji indeed! And I suppose you know what the other one will be..."
"I was thinking along the lines of Kazuhiko...but Rintaro sounds just as nice..." I replied with dreamy thoughtfulness.
She groaned. "Two boys...we're going to have our hands full..."
"You've had tons of practice so I'm sure we'll do fine," I said.
It got her to chuckle, her tears reduced to sniffles. "See? Now I've stopped crying. It's just a damn see-saw. Crying one minute and laughing the next..."
I smiled and hushed her. "Now about that other name..."
"Shinta," she put in decidedly. "We'll name him Shinta."
Warmth spread over me. I had not thought of that, but hearing her say it...it meant a lot. "Sounds good, Kaoru."
"It does, doesn't it?" She replied, finally settling comfortably in my arms. "It's perfect."
Life does indeed go on, and sometimes in the most delightful way.
The past is behind us. That can never be changed, but the future is yet to be shaped, and that makes a world of difference. It wouldn't do to live in fear anymore. Kaoru and I, we fought for this peace with our own blood and tears, and we must honor our own efforts by accepting the hope it offers us.
"We will be happy together, ne Kaoru?" I asked her tenderly.
I gave Kenshin a brilliant smile as I looked at him. He needn't even ask, but I liked talking about it this way. I couldn't express enough how much I love him and the way he makes me realize that I didn't have to be afraid anymore.
After all these years, fighting nightmares, trying to beat down the past...
I remembered thinking, "...maybe, in the future, we can see what's ahead of us unhampered by the spirits that torment us, and dream something more than just the need to survive..."
The future is still uncertain, but the haze of torment has ceased to blur our visions. We now watch with eyes of hope, and our dreams have gone beyond mere subsistence.
I replied to his gentle query, and there was no longer any doubt. "Yes, Kenshin. I believe we will be."