Author's note:Well, folks this took a while to get out, I know. I've been spending more time writing code these days. But occasionally, I get to switch from C to English ^_^
As expected, I am not happy with the way things ended in this which means I'll probably do another installment but that'll be it. I'm a big trilogy fan. That's usually all you need and I've read way too many "Part 4" fantasy books that should never have been written.
But I'm holding off on that for the moment so I can finish my other story. My time is very limited these days and I can't do two stories at once anymore.
Thanks to all my reviewers. You guys always make my day. And the better part is I'm reading good stuff that you've either written yourselves or recommended.
The cloudless sky was mirrored in her eyes as she spun around, letting laughter escape her lips as she drank in the sun. Her feet twisted over each other in her solo dance until dizziness finally set in and she sank to the ground with a smile. A second passed before she felt the strong hand wrap around her arm. Looking up, her smile deepened at the look he was giving her.
"Gomen nasai," Misao said happily. "I was just having some fun."
"And you overdid it," he chided. "You know the doctors said you need to rest the next few days."
Misao nodded and watched as Megumi walked over to them. The young doctor shook her head and turned to Aoshi. "I thought I told you to make sure she didn't do anything silly."
"It wasn't his fault," Misao broke in. "I just… got excited to be outside again."
Megumi sighed and shook her head. "I'm going to go get the car. Wait here." The soft clicking of her heels slowly faded towards the parking lot.
Aoshi carefully lifted Misao up so she was on her two feet. She looked at her scrunching her face unhappily.
"What?" Aoshi asked.
"I know what comes next."
Misao sighed. "The lecture. You know 'Misao you need to stop being so irresponsible', things like that."
"I mean you only said like twenty times we were going to talk when I go back."
"…" Misao pouted and looked up at him. "So talk already!"
"Misao…You need to stop being so irresponsible…"
Misao rolled her eyes and sighed. It was the same old story every single time. She didn't know why she put up with it! She wasn't five years old! It was so infuriating, so annoying, so… so…
Misao blinked several times as she felt his arms encircle her. The color rushed to her face as she was drawn close into his chest. And the anger, more like any coherent thought, completely melted into the puddle of goo that was once her knees.
"…because I don't know what would happen if something…"
He trailed off and Misao smiled. Well, Aoshi was never one for words and she wasn't about to push him. Figures, though, it would take her being near to death to get him to budge from his ice-like approach on life.
Megumi watched the scene and let out a sigh, letting her hand drop from the horn. Well, she could wait a bit longer.
* * *
"How did you know?"
Sano blinked and looked up at the man lying in the bed. He turned the disc in his hand and tried to think of the best way to answer. He took in a deep breath and leaned back in the chair.
"I just knew it," Sano finally said.
Shougo turned his head and caught Sano's eye. "How?" he repeated.
The ex-gangster's head dropped a bit. "She told me once. Not that it was the password but…" He took in a deep breath.
Shougo smiled a bit. "She wanted to name her daughter that when she was younger."
"Yeah," Sano replied.
The smile faded. "It makes sense, you know, to protect the data with that name. The information on it would have given her the chance to…" Shougo fell silent and the room was once again filled with the short beeps and whistles of the machines around him.
"I'm sorry," Sano said softly, letting his voice break the silence.
Shougo sighed. "My sister was determined to follow her life as she saw fit. Her decision to enter the order, her agreement with our plans concerning the Juppongatana… she was never one to make a decision and waver from it."
"I saw that too."
"Even when I told her that I had the cure… she didn't want it until I was sure that the virus couldn't be used for evil. I failed her in that."
Sano was silent. He didn't want to agree with the already disheartened man but… there was one dead soldier that was testament to the fact that Shougo was right. Still this was not about laying blame. Sano had come here to simply settle things and then try to move on.
"Maybe," Sano finally settled on. "But you have the chance to make it up to her."
He held up the disk and Shougo's glance fell on it. His eyes closed slightly at the sight of the disc that had caused so much trouble. He shook his head.
"Destroy it," Shougo said. "The virus is gone but if someone gets their hand on that disc, they can make it again."
Sano turned the disc around. "But then… you'll lose the cure as well."
"What does it matter?"
Sano sighed and tossed the disc on Shougo's stomach as he stood up. "You do it then. I've had enough mindless destruction for one day." Shoujo turned away, muttering under his breath. "What did you say?" Sano asked, catching only the tail end of the other man's tirade.
"I said what would you know."
"Well," Sano started, "I know that destroying that disc is not the right thing to do. Sometimes, even if you know there is a chance that something could be dangerous, you still have to go for it, especially if the benefits can outweigh the evil."
Shougo's eyebrows furrowed as he let the words work their way through his mind.
"And," Sano continued, "I know that Magdaria wouldn't agree to destroying it. She was always so concerned about everyone else. What would she say if she knew you were going to throw away something that could help people just because of her?"
Sano waited, watching the other man's face before turning towards the door.
"Sagara." Sano turned around and looked over his shoulder. "Put it on the table."
Sano nodded and took the disc, dropping it safely on the table next to Shougo's bed. He waited a beat longer before understanding that there was nothing left to be said between the two of them.
He quickly retreated out into the hospital's hall and made his way to the exit. Well, that had gone better then he expected. Sano was not one for emotional outbursts but when Magdaria had died in his arms, he couldn't lie to himself and tell him that it was going to be okay.
He hadn't known her that long but he knew her type, the type that gives all she can to the world and never expects a bit of reward for it. It made him think of Kaoru and Kenshin. Those two went out their way to help others.
But there was more, something he couldn't bear to face himself. How did he know the password was Irene? Sure Shougo had seen the logic behind it but Sano hadn't had much time to think about it. He had just looked in her eyes and seen the same fierce determination and strong faith that she always showed him when they had met.
Only this time there was something else. A bit of sadness, as if she was almost a little reluctant to give up her life because of something. Sano knew what that was. She had missed her chance to fulfill a dream.
And he knew what that felt like. It had haunted him since the day everyone in his gang had been killed in front of his eyes. He may survived the attack, but… he hadn't really done much since then. Maybe he had been afraid that someday he would end up like Magdaria or like his comraes, dying in the street and regretting things that were unfinished. It had seemed better to just not start anything at all, no regrets at the end, ne?
But then he had met Kaoru and she kept pushing him around. Forcing him to get a job… even joining the academy. He had been a bit resentful at the time… but maybe she had been right. Maybe he did need something like that to do with his life.
Sano sighed. Too much introspective thinking. He needed something to drink.
* * *
Megumi sighed as she watched Sano approach them with several paper bags. He gave her a winning smile and walked up to her and the other two.
"So, I see they finally let you out of your cage," Sano nodded to Misao.
The younger girl scowled a bit before she smiled. "Good to see you too. What's in the bags?"
"Ah… just a bit of things for a makeshift party," Sano grinned. "I figured we needed to celebrate your return."
"As if you ever needed a reason to drink," Megumi said.
"Ouch, that hurt, fox."
"Don't call me fox, rooster head."
"Oh look," Misao interrupted, "the elevator's here."
The foursome walked into the elevator in relative silence and waited as it made its slow ascent to their floor.
"So where are Kaoru and Kenshin?" Misao asked.
"They stayed behind," Aoshi replied evenly.
"Good!" Misao smiled. "I can't wait to see them too."
The elevator doors opened and the group walked out, heading towards the closed doors of the suite. Megumi pulled out her card and was about to unlock the door when she heard some laughter inside. She hesitated just long enough to hear the voices from inside.
"You're sure you're okay with this?"
"Yeah… I mean, I've never done it before, but how hard can it be?"
Megumi quickly let her hand drop and pressed an ear to the door. The first voice was obviously Kenshin, the second was definitely Kaoru. What were they talking about? It took only a second before Misao and Sano were next to her, eavesdropping as well.
"What's going on?" Aoshi asked.
The trio hushed him before returning to their listening.
"Are you sure you're comfortable?" Kenshin's voice sang out.
"Hang on, let me just switch… ah, that's better. I've got a better view now anyway," Kaoru replied. There was a laugh as Kenshin responded to her. Misao and Megumi's cheeks turned a bit pink, Sano's face broke out into a grin and Aoshi's eyebrow started to twitch.
"Just let me know if there's anything I should do."
"Mou, Kenshin, I think I can figure things out."
"It's just, I've done this a lot before."
Sano's smile increased. Misao and Megumi shot him a look and he shook his head. Meanwhile, they had all failed to notice Aoshi's icy façade slowly melting behind them.
"Are you all right Kaoru-dono?"
"Yeah… I mean it hurts but it's just a little prick."
"Just suck on it, that'll help," Kenshin replied quickly.
The door to the suite came down with a large bang. Aoshi slowly lowered his foot from the kick and the three eavesdroppers looked a bit stunned still crouched down and leaning against their now non-existent perch.
Kenshin looked up from staring down at Kaoru as he stood on the chair. Kaoru turned from her kneeling position and glanced over, her finger in her mouth, the offending needle in the other hand with a thread still attached to the hem of his pants.
"Nani?" she said watching Aoshi's expression.
Kenshin, meanwhile, was a bit quicker on the draw and made the connection fast. "Wait… no… it isn't what you think…"
Aoshi's breath was a bit haggard as he faced the redhead and pointed a finger at him. Kenshin quickly retreated, forgetting he was on top of chair and stumbled backwards, landing on the sofa behind him before pitching over it and hitting the floor with a resounding thud.
A/N : Uh huh… and just what were you thinking, eh??
* * *
Misao burst out laughing again, ignoring the unhappy faces that looked at her. Things had settled a bit and they had spread themselves out among the furniture. Kenshin held a bag of ice on top of his head, Kaoru was intensely interested in the floor and Aoshi was frowning as deeply as possible. Misao didn't mind, she had Sano and Megumi laughing along with her.
"Okay, okay," Sano said suddenly regaining a bit of composure. "I've got something to fix all of this." He reached down to the paper bags and pulled out several bottles depositing them on the coffee table. There was a collective hiss as the group took in what Sano had just shown them.
"Nani?" Misao asked, the only one not effected. "What's the problem? It's just tequila."
"That is the problem," Megumi frowned.
"Oh come on," Sano said. "Don't tell me you're one of those!"
"One of which?" Misao pressed, thoroughly confused.
"Those people who swore off tequila," Sano responded. Before Misao could answer, Kaoru suddenly perked up.
"It's just that… well, everyone usually has a bad tequila story," she said. "It's always the same. A bottle of tequila to start and the next morning, the bottle is empty, the worm is gone and you're swearing the stuff off for the rest of your life."
Misao's eyes opened wide. "Really?" she turned to Aoshi. "Even you?"
Megumi and Kaoru giggled but Aoshi shot them a glance. "Let's just say, it involved a pig's head, a hula skirt and karaoke machine… OHOHOHOHO," Megumi finished, little fox ears popping out of her head. Kaoru started laughing as well.
"As I recall," Aoshi said evenly looking at Megumi. "There was a certain recently graduated intern who had the desire to see all of Tokyo from the highest point of Tokyo Tower, even if she had to climb there in high heels" Kaoru erupted into happy giggles. "And her friend who thought to cheer her own by singing "We are the Champions" at the top of her lungs while using her shirt as a pompom."
While Megumi and Kaoru blushed several shades of red while the others laughed at their discomfort. "What are you laughing at?" Megumi shot at Sano. "Don't tell me that you have never…"
"Oh, several times," Sano smiled. "I just wake up naked somewhere and figure whatever the hell happened, it must have been good." Megumi clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and rolled her eyes.
"Ne, what about you Kenshin?" Kaoru asked, shooting a glance at the red head.
Kenshin shifted and shook his head uncomfortably until the chiding of the group got to him. "It was in high school… we won the national soccer match and well… let's just say I woke up the next morning tangled up in the goal net."
That earned a good round of laughs from people but it was Kaoru's smile that caught his attention the most. Who could blame her? It was the first time she had really gotten a glimpse of his past. Albeit an embarrassing one, but it was enough for her to hear a bit of his childhood.
"All right!" Misao cried reaching over and opening a bottle. "I don't have a bad tequila story so let's get this going and see what I do." Aoshi attempted to protest but by then, the rest of the group was giving a resounding agreement.
* * *
Several hours passed and the group had already dwindled down to four. Kaoru and Kenshin sat on the sofa, watching the scene play out with happy, drunken smiles. Poor Sano… Kaoru thought. He didn't know what he was in for.
"Not a chance in hell," Megumi replied.
"But why not?" Sano said, trying to muster up his puppy dog eyes.
"I know your type," Megumi continued, her hand waving the tequila bottle in the air. "Take 'em out, liquor 'em up, and get 'em to bed."
"You're pretty liquored up now," Sano laughed.
"Right and I have no inten… itination… screw it, it just ain't happening," Megumi finished, taking a swig of the bottle.
Sano huffed. "Feh, you don't know what you're missing!"
"I think I do," Megumi replied.
"I was your doctor, moron," Megumi said.
Sano was preparing a retort but it died quickly on his lips. He started to turn a shade of pink before he heard Megumi's trademark laugh fill the air.
"Got you," she smiled.
Sano quickly turned his embarrassed look into an indignant look. "That wasn't funny! I got my pride, you know!"
"That all you got," Megumi replied.
"Oi! I resent that. For that, now you HAVE to go out with me."
"Not a chance in hell."
Kaoru sighed and shook her head. "Well, this should go on for the rest of the night," she said to Kenshin.
"Aa," he replied, watching his friend get made fun of by the doctor again. "Stubborn."
"Which one?" Kaoru asked.
"Both," he smiled.
Kaoru laughed until a yawn quickly replaced it. She frowned and looked at the bottle before putting it down on the table. "Better stop or I'll just fall asleep. Wouldn't want to miss the rest of this show," she said, motioning to the two.
"Aa." Kenshin replied.
"Ne, Kenshin?" The redhead turned to Kaoru, watching as her eyes, mostly black at this point, looked at him. He frowned with concern at her unhappy look before she suddenly broke out into a smile. "Arigato."
"For what?" he asked.
She turned away and closed her eyes, leaning back into the pillows. "For telling us your tequila story. You never talk about your past. I know some of it was bad, but none of us care. It's nice to hear stories like the one you told." Kenshin's lips turned into a smile. "You should tell us, me, more things like that. You don't have to lie or pretend. Just be truthful."
"Hai," she said softly, her breathing becoming very steady.
"Kaoru… you are very beautiful."
There was no response. Kenshin looked over and wondered if she had fallen asleep. But apparently not yet, because when he strained his ears, he could barely make out her last words.
"Baka, tell me that when you're not drunk."
Kenshin smiled, watching as Kaoru fell asleep. It was true, he had said it because the alcohol was floating around his head. Mainly because he was afraid of how she would react if she told him that sober. But now, her response had been… well, encouraging.
Kaoru slowly shifted and tried to curl up into a ball on the couch. Her head fell onto his shoulder and he gently moved his arm around her shoulder and let her move a bit closer. He wanted to enjoy this moment for as long as possible. But the sight of her and the sounds of Sano and Megumi slowly faded away as he fell asleep.
* * *
Megumi woke up the next morning and the first thing she thought was that she was never, ever drinking that much tequila again. She didn't even remember what happened after arguing with Sano in the living room. She sat up in the bed and noticed that it wasn't her bedroom but the guys.
She looked around, realizing she was the only one in the bed. There was suddenly a large sound next to her and she jumped. Cautiously, she peered over the edge of the bed and quickly backed up at the sight on the floor.
Oh no… that wasn't… it couldn't… she was still drunk. Very VERY drunk.
Taking in a deep breath she slowly looked over and was greeted with the same sight. A very happy looking Sano, lying under the floor barely covered by a sheet from the bed.
Megumi quickly reeled back and tried to get a hold on herself. She patted herself down, looking and making sure that all her clothes were in the exact same state they were in the night before. They were but… there was something else that caught her eye.
Holding her hand up, she examined the object and felt the color drain from her face. Looking over the edge of the bed, she examined the sleeping form beside her.
A second later she started to scream.
Aoshi burst through the other bedroom door, wearing only a pair of black pajama pants and holding his gun tightly as he ran across the suite to the other room. So intent on seeing what had happened with Megumi, he completely missed the scene in the living room.
Which was very fortunate for Kenshin as he opened his eyes at the sound and was greeted with a very content looking Kaoru sleeping on his chest. Her eyes blinked open and she looked up, blue catching violet. She was about to unleash a powerful blush on her cheeks when she heard the screaming again.
They quickly got up and headed towards the running, almost colliding with a sleepy looking Misao who was paddling out of the bedroom with a black night shirt on.
"What's going on?" she asked pushing some hair out of her face.
"I don't know," Kaoru said quickly, following Aoshi into the room. Before Misao could enter, Kaoru suddenly came barreling out, a deep flush on her face.
"What's…" Misao started.
"NOTHING!" Kaoru yelled.
"OI! Don't look at me like that Kenshin!" Sano's voice boomed out. "How the hell was I supposed to know I wasn't wearing anything."
Sano stood up, wrapping the blanket around himself and shook the last bit of sleepiness from his head. "What the hell is all the yelling for?"
Megumi, knowing that it was safe to turn around again, quickly grabbed a pillow and headed towards him, bashing him repeatedly on the head.
"YOU!! WHAT DID YOU DO?!!"
Sano held up a hand to block the assault. "OI! Stop that! What the hell are you… Eh? What's this?"
He paused and looked at his hand, looking at the gold band on his finger. His mind slowly caught up and he looked up at Megumi. She held out her hand to show the matching one.
And then Sano, once the toughest street fighter in Tokyo, did something he had never done before. He fainted.
* * *
Megumi's eyes shot around the table, waiting for the next person to make a mistake. Everyone stared down at their food, trying to push the breakfast into their mouths to prevent themselves from making a noise. It worked for a while but as soon as the dishes were cleaned, the snickering started. Megumi's temper slowly started to rise and she watched for the first one to…
Misao lost it. She had been trying to keep it in. But the moment she saw Aoshi crack a small smile, she knew it was over. If he was trying not to laugh, she didn't stand a chance.
"It's NOT FUNNY!" Megumi yelled.
"Shhh…" Kaoru said, holding her friend by the shoulder, and looking around the airport terminal as people turned to stare.
"Well, its not," Megumi repeated harshly.
"Yes it is," Kaoru snickered. Megumi shot her a glance but Kaoru rolled her eyes. "Come on, it's probably not even legal. You guys are both Japanese citizens, this is the US."
Megumi continued to glower. She cast over a glance at Sano who was several tables away, exiled from the group until she thought of a proper punishment. Right now, though, he seemed very content to just stare into the Styrofoam coffee mug in front of him.
Flight 445 to Tokyo, now boarding.
"That's us," Kenshin said standing up and breaking the silence.
"Are you sure you guys can't get out of it?" Kaoru asked, looking at Aoshi and Misao.
"No chance," Misao replied with a shrug. "Okina said we had to take this job."
"You'd think he'd give you a break or something," Kaoru added.
"It'll be okay," Misao smiled.
They traded good-byes and disappeared into the terminal, leaving just Misao and Aoshi behind. Misao smiled and turned to Aoshi.
"So… you're sure about lying to them?" she asked.
Aoshi shook his head firmly. "Look what they did to Megumi's vacation. I haven't had one in years and they are not about to ruin it."
Flight 671 to Honolulu, now boarding.
Misao smiled and stood up, grabbing his hand. "Come on, then! That's us!"
Aoshi let himself be pulled along until they reached the gate. Misao stopped and turned around, facing him with a smile.
"Ne, Aoshi?" she said, looking up at him with pleading eyes. Aoshi knew this was dangerous but he nodded anyway. "I just wanted to ask… you know… there's something I wanted to ask you to do…"
He paused, weighed the options and finally relented. Misao's face broke into a big smile.
* * *
"…so after the ball hit the post, it was a free-for-all. Everyone went after it. All I remember is it getting to my feet and then…"
"You kicked it and won the game?" Kaoru asked, watching him.
Kenshin looked at her with a slight blush. "Actually, one of the other team took my legs out and hit the ground very hard."
Kaoru laughed and playfully landed a hand on his upper arm. "Poor thing, must have been very embarrassing."
"Aa," he said with a smile, noticing she sliding her hand down to meet his.
It had started slowly at first. Megumi was busy at the university and Sano was studying hard at the academy. It only made sense that the two of them go out for the occasional dinner and movie together.
But after awhile, it became they weren't just doing it because there was no one else around. So the occasional handholding had meandered its way into their evening. It was slow but neither seemed to mind. Kaoru was enjoying hearing stories of his youth, Kenshin was learning about hers as well.
They eventually reached their shared house and Kaoru went for the mailbox. She shuffled through the bills before she came across a handwritten postcard.
"Hey! It's from Misao," she said reading the card. Kenshin looked over her shoulder and read it as well.
So… ummm, we didn't have a mission. We kind of went on vacation. Just relaxing on the beaches of Hawaii. It's been real nice but we're headed back to work now. Before, though, I figured that I owed you something for all the help in Vegas. So that's why I sent the card.
"That was sweet," Kaoru said, turning the card over. Kenshin nodded and was about to say more before he saw the picture on the front.
Misao was there, wearing a pareo and smiling brightly as she attended what looked like a luau. But that wasn't what had stopped them in their tracks. It was Aoshi's part in the picture. He was wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt, standing in front of the pig from the banquet, wearing a hula skirt.