Authors' Notes:

(Note that 'Author' is now plural!  Rei-chan, the dear, is lookin' over my shoulder – and reading over my shoulder, and playing back-seat Spelling Queen - so, of course, she gets credit other than her usual 'I love you Mistress Rei-chan-sama!' in the dedications.)

I'm listening to "Shiroi Ichigo" right now, and I just need to say…  Holy shit, it's annoying!  Oh, goody, she turned it off…  Ah…

Anyhow…  Love and hugs to Rei-chan, as usual…

And, now, the really important stuff. (Who cares?!)

This fic takes places in the same universe as Ochiru and Kokoro no Tsubasa.  It's a companion fic, you might say – What happens to Sano and Megumi while Kenshin and Kaoru are piddling around, rebuilding their relationship and all that useless stuff…  ::Gets killed by KnK fans all over the world…  Ow…::  Anyway…  This is pseudo-yaoi, mostly het, and lots of other highly exciting things, including (not to spoil anything, we hope)…  Violence, depression, angst, heeeeeeeeet, bloody things, a carriage, a lime, whoops, I mean a lime scene, and other fun things…  Oh, I promise so much, and what do you wind up getting in return?  Not too terribly much.  Rei-chan just pulled my braid for emphasis.  I hope you appreciate author torture, too, 'cause I get looooots of that…  But, you see, the problem is, I like it that way.  ::Grin.::

So.  I hope you guys enjoy this thread as much as you seem to be enjoying the other one…  Gigantic hugs (as usual) to Clarus, who indulges us because we indulge her…  Or something like that?  (I'm paying for your oven right now, sweetie.)  Also hi to everyone else who's been reviewing KnT, because… Hey, guess what…!  We'd like you to review EnO, too!!!  ::Giggles.::  Love you all!

Please review, please enjoy, please tell me juuuuust what you think.  French Toast and cookies and muffins for all who are nice to us…  (Or an oven, if you're Clarus…)


(And Over-the-Shoulder Spelling Queen Rei-chan.)

Eien ni Odoru

Chapter One

The weight of his trunk on his shoulders was beginning to slow him down.  He needed to stop…  The longer he kept walking, the more lost he knew he would get, and he didn't like the feeling of being lost.

He found a teashop and put his trunk down on its end in the dust before sitting down on the platform.  He ordered a pot of tea and pulled Megumi's last letter from his pocket.  The thin paper was over-folded and worn from being held, but the address – Megumi's address – was still clearly visible on the envelope.  Her handwriting was neat and fluid – But Sanosuke had had plenty of time to admire Megumi's penmanship in the past.  He turned to the man who was setting down his tea.

"Excuse me," Sano said, slipping into a learned politesse.  "Do you know where this is?"  He extended the letter, motioning to the address.

The man frowned, studied him critically with a strain of distaste, and then glanced at the address.  When the proprietor looked back up, there was a certain sort of respect in his eyes.  "You know Takani-sensei?"

If acquaintances were gold, Sano thought, I'd be a rich man…  "I do, yes."

"Well," said the vendor, "in that case…"

Once his tea was finished, and the directions firmly impressed into his mind, he hefted his trunk over his shoulders once again and waded off into the crowded city.

Maybe it was better than Tokyo.  Maybe she had her own practice now, maybe she was successful.  But she was lonely in Aizu in a way that she had never been in Tokyo.  Surrounded by people and lonely, Megumi thought wryly.  Of course. 

But who am I to complain?  Maybe a woman can't have everything, after all.  It isn't reasonable to wish for everything...  She went through the clinic, closing the shutters and locking locks.  The light was low and bright red, and everything was stained by long shadows.  The rooms were cool, getting colder with the growing dark.

It's been a while since Kaoru-chan wrote… I wonder how she's doing…  Or Sano… It's been even longer since I hear from him… Megumi sighed, slipping another lock through its bolt.  Well, of course you're lonely!  What, exactly, do you expect to achieve by reminiscing about the old times?  Well, all you're doing is making yourself unhappy!  Snap out of it!  She straightened and squared her shoulders, picking up her haori and slipping her arms into the sleeves.

At the knock at her door, she froze.  All of her clients knew that she was very firm about her regular hours…  So it was either an emergency, or a new client…  Megumi stepped forward and unlatched the locks, opening the door.

The face she was presented with was – a shock.  The name slipped from her lips without as much as a thought.  "… Sanosuke…?"

He smiled sweetly, his bruised face twisting stiffly with the expression.  "Hey…"

It took a moment for Megumi to process this – Sano's face, Sano's voice – Sano…  Sano was in Aizu, at her door, with a trunk over his shoulders and a nasty-looking black eye…  But…  "What are you doing here…?"

The smile faltered.  "Well –"  He let the steamer trunk down to the porch, dropping it down with a heavy thud.  "… I decided t' come visit…  If-"  Sano took in a breath, watching Megumi's face in a careful way.  "If you don't want me here, I'll leave…"

"Not at all – Please, come in."  She stepped back, urging Sano in.  The young man picked up his trunk and stepped into the dark clinic.  "I was just closing up…  I haven't lit any lamps yet, but…"

"It's all right," Sano assured her quickly.

"Well, let's find a place to put that trunk of yours…  How about the guest room?"

"S-Sure…"  He followed Megumi through the dark house into the back rooms, rooms that were not part of the clinic.  "Here," she said, opening a door.  Sanosuke stepped past her and put the steamer trunk down on the floor.  "Now," Megumi said shortly, closing the door again, "are you hungry?  Come on into the kitchen, I was thinking about starting dinner anyway."

He just followed the tall, graceful woman, wondering how her brisk, casual manner could set him so at ease.  Megumi lit the lamps in the kitchen, and urged Sano to sit down, which he did gladly.  He'd hardly had any rest since leaving Tokyo, and a cozy home and a good meal sounded close to heaven.

"So what brings you to Aizu?" Megumi asked, rinsing some rice and putting it out to dry.  She moved with a grace that was slightly awesome, completing the simplest tasks with elegance.

Sano faltered.  He'd thought of so many things on the road, come up with so many explanations…  But they were gone now that he was sitting in Megumi's kitchen.  "…  I… dunno…" he said.

She smiled pleasantly over her shoulder.  "Just visiting, then?"  It's nice to have Sano nearby again, she thought idly, chopping vegetables.

The thought of returning Tokyo made Sano slightly ill at the moment – Returning to Saito, particularly, made him break out in a bit of a cold sweat.  "…  Maybe…  Um…  Maybe a kinda long visit…"

"Oh?"  She frowned a little, her eyes on the chopping board.  "Is there something wrong back in Tokyo…?"

"N-no!" Sano replied quickly, gritting his teeth once the words had been said.  Too quick, he told himself.  Don't be so quick to act like you're okay…  "Nothing's wrong," he repeated more slowly.  "It's pretty good, actually."  He looked away, bowing his head to study the tabletop critically. 

"Are you sure…  You look a little roughed up…"

Sano laughed nervously.  "Well, you know me," he said, trying to diffuse the tension.

"I know you," she agreed with a sigh.  "Here."  She put a cup of tea in front of him, which he accepted gratefully.

"Thanks," he said without looking up.

Megumi shrugged and went back to her cooking.  "It's nice to see you again…"  It felt good to voice those sentiments, nicer still to have an opportunity to do so.  "How is Kaoru-chan?  Is she still having those – spells?"

The tall, young man sipped his tea.  "Yeah, I guess," he said over the rim of his cup.  "She was kinda gettin' better, though, when I left…  I dunno."

"She really does need Ken-san…  I don't know if she could recover without him…"

Sanosuke sighed.  "She might have to…"  The memory of Kenshin's voice was still fresh in his mind, the memory of that day a few weeks ago, the feeling that Kenshin was back, and somewhere nearby…  But he kept those thoughts to himself.  "I mean, everyone thinks he's gonna come back…  But if he doesn't…  Kaoru wants him back, too, but she won't – y'know – say anythin'…"

"Stubborn girl," Megumi chided.  "She just doesn't think…!"

"D'you know she stopped teachin'?  She tell you that…?"

Megumi nodded.  "Yahiko forced her to stop."

"Yeah…"  Sano was glad to have something to distract him.  As time passed, the ease slowly seeped away, and he felt his nervousness growing once again.  If he didn't think about it, it wasn't so bad…  "That was all she was about there for a while, y'know?  Runnin' the dojo and…"

"I know," Megumi replied.  "But – I don't think it was good for her.  She was spreading herself too thin.  She just didn't have it in her, anymore…  Ken-san took some of her away with him…"

"She does need him…  Or she did…  Or something…"

"I really wouldn't have though her capable of… actually…"

Sano sighed, nodding slowly.  "Yeah…  Scared the shit outta Yah'ko, too…"

"It sort of seemed like she didn't ever really recover from that suicide attempt…  She almost seemed split by it, if that makes sense…"  Megumi filled a kettle with water and some soup stock, putting it over the fire.

"I think it does…  Was like… every time she'd smile – at me, or Yah'ko, or, y'know, whoever – it was like, 'Hey, this isn't right…'  It was kinda scary, for a while there…  Or she was, or something…"  Sano shrugged, banishing the thought.  There had been days when the look in Kaoru's blue eyes had sent a shiver down his spine…  Those were days he would much rather forget…

"I worry that Kaoru might try again, if Ken-san doesn't come back some day soon…  She might easily slip back into that depression, and from there, suicide is hardly a long way away…  I'd know," she added quietly.

"That's why I don't think I can stay here… in Aizu… for too long…  If it weren't for the two of them, I'd be tempted t' leave Tokyo behind me forever."  And it was true.  It was a very tempting thought when the bad memories outweighed the good ones…

"But we ought to be hopeful…  If only for Kaoru-chan's sake."

He nodded, watching Megumi's hair sway as she moved about, cooking.  The silence descended and Sano felt it weigh down on him like a curse.  He didn't want it to be quiet.  It was quiet at home with Saito; it had been quiet in the Kamiya Dojo while Kaoru was recovering from her suicide attempt…  He didn't like silence.  Silence promised nothing but ill luck…  No, he really didn't like silence…  "So – How, um, have you been…?"

"As well as can be expected.  The clinic is doing well, I have a large client base… I couldn't find my family, in the end, but I was welcomed here…  These are my people… Aizu is my home.   But, still, I miss Ayame-chan and Suzume-chan…  I miss going to visit Kaoru-chan…"

"I'm sorry," Sano murmured.  "- About your family, I mean…"

"It's all right," she said, shaking her head.  She put the vegetables into the pot of boiling water.  "I knew, really, that I wouldn't find them…  But… sometimes you simply have to fail in order to accept the circumstances, isn't that so…?"

"Still, I'm sorry…  I know what it's like, kinda…  So I'm sorry."

Megumi sighed.  "Don't be sorry, Sanosuke.  There's no need.  I knew I wouldn't find them…  It's all right…  I just wish, now, that I weren't so far away from Tokyo…"

"…  We miss you…" Sano said quietly, his eyes downcast.

"I missed you, too," she said absently, cleaning her chopping knife.

Nervous laughter bubbled in Sano's throat.  "Shit, if we get any more nostalgic, I'm gonna fuckin' cry, or somethin'…"

She couldn't help but smile a little.  Same old Sano…  He'll be all right…  "All the same…"  Here eyes fell to focus on his bowed head, his wild, longish hair falling around his face.  "I missed you…"