Categories > Anime/Manga > Rurouni Kenshin > Lost and Found

Let what is past flow away downstream

by Firuze_Khanume 0 reviews

Nobody doubts that Takani Megumi is a dedicated doctor. Following the call of her profession, she gets lost in the snow, finding herself alone with the most unexpected companion. Based loosely in a...

Category: Rurouni Kenshin - Rating: R - Genres: Drama, Romance - Characters: Enishi - Warnings: [!!!] [X] - Published: 2005-09-26 - Updated: 2005-09-26 - 8438 words

Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and its characters belongs to Watsuki Nobuhiro, Shonen Jump, Sony, and other associated companies Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and its characters belongs to Watsuki Nobuhiro, Shonen Jump, Sony, and other associated companies. This fic is not intended to make profit of any kind.
First of all, I'm not a native speaker. If you find me lacking in the literary elegance or grammatical area, I'm sorry. I'd be glad to hear helping hints, though. Critiques without pointing solutions as well as flames (critiques and flames are two different things, just in case you didn't know it) will serve to fuel my stove. Here, in Argentina, we are in winter and in addition, under a shortage of gas. And therefore, they will be greatly appreciated. grins
Note: Don't be disappointed! The lemon is in the /next chapter/. But an alternate pairing cannot be pulled out of nowhere. It needs development.
Author note and acknowledgements at the end.

Chapter 2: Sugitaru wa nao oyobazaru ga gotoshi
/Let what is past flow away downstream. /

When Megumi recovered consciousness, she almost jumped in surprise, feeling the tickle of warm breath against her neck. To Megumi's shock, she found herself lying next to Enishi, their arms and legs entangled; their bodies far too close for her personal comfort. Then, the recollection of the recent events started to flood her mind, and though she felt relieved to some extent, these facts didn't stop the blush spreading through her features.

Since there was no point in staying in such an uncomfortable position and straining her nerves, Megumi did everything in her power to shift to a position that was still close, but that she felt less threatening. All her efforts however, failed piteously. Short of kicking and biting him, she tried everything, including attempts to tickle him, to no avail. In fact, all she got was making his hold on her more stubborn, until she gave up. He was a solid wall of muscles, and unless he loosened the hold on her, she was stuck into the embrace irremediably.

< /It will be a most interesting awakening./> Megumi frowned inwardly, recalling that the enigmatic man snoring beside her had been reluctant to lay with her to begin with, and
she was sure that he would be utterly mortified when he awoke.
To be honest, it would be awkward for both. Her stomach was twisting itself into an anxious knot just because of the physical proximity. Duty and all, the whole issue made her less than ill-at-ease, and the present situation only increased her nervousness.

< /But it's not his fault. And I won't let him die because of.../> Closing her eyes, she shuddered.

The fact that in the aftermath of their ordeal, the dangerous tiger had been turned into just a defenseless kitten was a very strange but comforting thought on its own, allowing her a measure of tranquility that she would utterly lack otherwise.

He shifted in her embrace, snuggling even closer to her, looking unconsciously for the warmth that her body provided, burrowing his face on the crook of her neck. The stubble in his chin scrapped against the skin of her shoulder, making her grimace and move. Somehow, during the lapse, his embrace loosened a bit, so she squirmed until she finally found a more satisfactory position. He protested in his sleep, frowning ferociously as he mumbled words that she could not recognize.

< /I'll bet it's Chinese. Yes, that must be it.../.> she thought, relaxing a bit, slightly amused at the twist.

The new position allowed her a good view of his sinewy shoulders and a part of his powerful arms, otherwise buried mostly inside their covering. There were scars scattered here and there, but far less than she had seen in Ken-san, Sano and Shinomori.
She remembered him uttering what she supposed was bravado at the time during the first match with Ken-san, when they were confident that the red-head would defeat him easily. Ken-san asked him to take off his dark glasses. Enishi had assured his brother in law that he wouldn't be able to touch him. While Ken-san had indeed landed heavy blows on Enishi, she had to acknowledge, to the white haired man's credit, that he had had strong basis for his claim. She doubted that any other swordsman could have really presented a real match to Enishi, and if Ken-san had, it had been just because he had once been the feared hitokiri of the legends.
However, to be entirely honest, Ken-san was sill paying for the exertion caused by his brother in law's attempt of revenge.
Her hand wandered, almost on her own volition, towards his most exposed shoulder. There, long and wider than the rest, was the clearly identifiable mark that the sakabatou had carved all those years ago on his skin. The pattern was unmistakable; she had seen it before in Sano and especially the wide gash it had left across Shinomori's chest during Kyoto events.

However, she had no doubt that that the most severe damage had been wrought upon Enishi's spirit. While after six years of being made, it should be already fading away, Enishi's still carried the angry red mark of recently regenerated tissue.

< /It's not surprising...I should have expected it./>

After all, it was widely known among physicians that sword scars such as this carried strong emotions behind them. As long as those feelings remained, the scar would never fade.
< /In a way, it resembles so much the one in Ken-san's cheek... />

While in Ken-san's case, his old wound was associated with vivid feelings of guilt and loss, in Enishi's it was a perpetual memory tattooed on his flesh of his failure in the goal that had guided him most of his life.

"Woman, you are the most annoying bed companion I ever had."

The irritated groan and his cranky voice startled her, tearing her brutally from her musings, and at the same time, announcing the end of the world for Megumi. Or at least, she would have wished it truly was the end of the world, and that earth would swallow her up and eat her completely to hid her utter mortification.
The doctor jumped literally in his arms, and though his face was still buried on her neck, he felt clearly the wave of heat emanating from her face. He released her from his embrace immediately, rolling on his side, turning his back to her, to make things easier for both.

He would have been more delicate, considering her obvious discomfort at the whole experience of their physical closeness, if her hands hadn't touched him just there, on that particular spot on his shoulder. But he was as jumpy as she was, hence his less than diplomatic approach. He seriously didn't want to be reminded on how or why he acquired that particular scar. Both knew, and that was enough. Now if he just could find a way to make the situation less tense...

"So, when did you decide to wake up?"- She asked indignantly, trying to cover her obvious uneasiness.
" Hell if I know... All I am aware of is that I was comfortably resting when you awakened me with all your movements and tickling." he grumbled.
" I wasn't tickling you!"
" Well, it felt and looked a lot like tickling to me..." he smirked, congratulating himself at the twist he had just given to the whole exchange.
" Ha! You wouldn't recognize a tickle even if it was painted in woodblock and rubbed on your nose." She was fuming, her finger punctuated her words as she poked him in his shoulder blade "I tried to tickle you for a good ten minutes to force you to let me go and..."

He turned just in time to see her clamping a hand over her own mouth. They looked each other for what it seemed forever, and finally started to laugh, bemused at the ridiculous situation.

" You should have seen your face..." he finally said, chuckling.
" You should have seen yours... Your eyes were almost bulging out of their sockets."

There was a silence until both started to laugh again. He knew he would have material to tease her with when she decided to turn herself into a plague.
But, it seemed she also had something to counter. It was always like this with her; he never had managed to be fully in control of the situation when she was around.

Suddenly, the smoke stained ceiling began to look very attractive to both of them, and so, they simply looked up at it, laying in silence. However, he had to admit that they were a lot more at ease with each other since they had entered that forsaken place.

"How do you feel?" she finally asked, trying to regain some of her dignity.
" Honestly? Sore in my face, hands and feet, but it had to be expected. Otherwise, I'm pretty well, all considering. Hungry, if I may add." He shrugged, "How is that head of yours doing?"
" Still sore, but at least is not pounding anymore." She answered, and turned to look at him "but it had to be expected also."
" Oh, well, time to get..." she put her hand on his chest making him to lie again, as soon as he tried to wake up.
" Where do you think you are going?"

</ Oh, crap.../>

" You better think twice before leaving the coverings, mister. Your body still needs rest and warmth, not to mention food to recover your strength. Just lie there, and don't give me any troubles, while I find something to make a decent meal."
She had that stubborn expression she used with her patients, which meant that she truly thought of him in these terms. He was doomed to a fight he knew he wouldn't win; he had seen her too many times performing her job to know better than trying to leave his place. He would do it if necessary, oh yes, but not after a long discussion, and granted, he was still tired. And it wasn't worth the effort to fight over who would be cooking in such a damn cold weather.
The idea of something more nutritive than the few half burnt chunks of meat he had served before had a nice ring to it. And he knew she was an excellent cook, the thought bringing images that made his mouth water... Besides, he wouldn't argue against her performing a woman's chore, he thought, repressing a smirk.

She woke up finally, wrapping herself in his discarded bear fur. He noticed her nervous, hesitant glances towards his spot, so he turned his back to her, faking a sudden attack of sleepiness, allowing her to protect her sense of modesty. She might not be of samurai background, but was certainly educated like the higher classes, and was undoubtedly very uncomfortable rolling naked around an equally naked strange man[1].

Enishi sensed her moving towards the row of drying clothes, shifting them to allow them to be dried faster. He also heard the sound of the heavy fur covering her falling to the floor, and when he turned briefly; he noticed that she was tying the belt over her naga-juban[2], which she had evidently found dried enough to be used.

She asked quietly where he had found the utensils and items of food, and after answering her, she got right to work, while a deep silence fell over them.

" Yukishiro-san..." her voice pulled him from the hazy embrace of sleep that was now engulfing him truthfully.
" Mmmm?"

Megumi almost regretted breaking the silence between them; now he wasn't faking, and was about to have a bit of rest finally. Unfortunately, the silence had gotten on her nerves, and she needed to get a measure of normalcy over a situation that made her uneasiness to grow stronger with each passing minute.

" About what I said before... I really appreciate that you had decided to come with me."
" I told you, my father would have cried to high heavens and beyond if I hadn't." he snorted.
" Is that so? There is nothing shameful in caring about others. It doesn't make you less tough or manly..."
" You are flattering yourself." His infuriating smirk was in place, as she expected, taunting her.
" All I know is you are acting like a child caught red handed. As much as you try to deny it, you are not the same cold hearted jerk that hurt my friends."
" Careful, woman..." he hissed.
" You are still a piece of work, but you are changing... Now, if you only were less of an idiot..."

She just smiled, knowingly, which prompted a good scowl from him and some murmurs she didn't understand.

"Anyway, Yukishiro-san, I didn't mean to be thankful to you for being my escort. Take that as an extra bonus, because whatever where the concerns that guided your steps, they didn't bind you to help me in my work, and yet, you did it. And you cannot use the excuse of your father in this one."
" Whatever you say, doctor." he answered, dryly.
He shrugged and squirmed under the furs, burying himself deeper inside.
"Awesome piece of art you have on your back..." she commented. "Though why some kind of men chooses to undergo hours of pain on their bodies to hide it with clothes later eludes me."
He turned around, startled, looking at her inquisitively. When he was about to rebuke she stopped him, waving her hand dismissively.

" I know. It's a sort of rite of passage, a display of strength and endurance and..."
" Wrong."
" Oh?" She looked at him quizzically, arching a brow.
" You assume the use of tattoos is like among yakuza, right?"

Megumi nodded. That had been her first guess since she had seen the vivid depiction of a tiger tattooed in all its vibrant detail on his back, when he was turned. Yakuza underwent long sessions under the painful needle of what she would call artisans, making their bodies living pieces of art for the sake of showing off their endurance.

Granted, other social groups also distinguished themselves through this peculiarity, but the public frown upon it cast by the "enlightenment" pretended by the Meiji regime, had made the association of this "art" with yakuza more patent.

" Triads are not like yakuza. And there is nothing of the macho bravado in the tattooing. It's a simple method among us that allows recognizing corpses easier, especially if you are not transformed into shark bait, dissolved in any caustic, buried in the founding of some building..."
" I get the idea, thank you." She closed her eyes, shuddering.
He shrugged, easing himself more comfortably in his place.
"And the smaller one?" His confused gaze made her explain further "The one in your chest"
"Ah. That one." He said. Then he was silent for several minutes "It's also meant like identification, but in this case, it exposes yourself as a Triad member as well as your rank in the syndicate[3] ."
"But... could it not put you in serious troubles, in any authority find these? You are not a criminal anymore"
"One of your friends, the damn cop with the freaky eyes, would not agree with you and your definitions about my legal status." He pointed.
"He was never a friend of mine, and I have no reasons to feel particularly inclined to socialize with him." She commented wryly.
" Oh, yes... So I've heard... he hurt your dear Ken-san..." he said in a mocking tone.
Her glare only made him chuckle lightly, surely amused at how easily she had taken his bait.
"Now, back to the point: if you mean that I gave up performing illicit activities of any kind, yes, that's correct." Enishi made a pause after quoting what she already knew through his father's accounts "Anyway, the police assumed that I hadn't survived my escape from the ship after three full years without receiving any reports about me."
Megumi gasped, surprised. The last she had heard was that Saitou had stopped to think of him as worth of being hunt, leaving the affair to the local police, who after a brief display of "concern", had blatantly stopped to look for him. Now, she was learning why...
"Therefore," he continued "I was finally declared officially deceased. More accurately, "lost at sea", according to the records. However, if someone ever informs the authorities that I'm still alive, things could get pretty messy for me. As I never received a waiver, or pardon of any kind for my actions, nor I have submitted myself for trial and as I'm in, let us call it, living state, I'm technically still a fugitive at large. Thus, we could say it's still debatable whether I remain a criminal or not, according to the letter of the law."
He made a pause, and then added:
" In any case, once you are in the Hung society, the Triads, you are in for the rest of your life, for better or worse. Just some people say about marriage." He joked, dismissing the issue.
"I see... Could they force you to go back to... business?"
" No." His answer was curt, and didn't allow further questioning, at least not right now "But even if they could, I wouldn't. Anyway, I don't see why this should concern you."
" Because it would be a pity if you got involved again. According for what I've heard from your father, as well as for what I saw myself, you have changed." her eyes were fixed on the fire; she didn't want to face his inquisitive stare. "Honestly, I think that your heart was very sick once, but not completely rotten, and now it's finally healing. You owe a big debt to your father, whether you know it or not. He helped you to save your soul."
"Look, I don't want a lecture about morals... And you don't know anything about me that allows you be a judge of my actions, past, present, or future..."
" I saw your eyes yesterday, during the delivery, Enishi," It was the first time she called him by his given name, trying to convey with it the real meaning of her words. "as well as I felt you glowing with satisfaction after everything was finished. You can say whatever you want, but that is enough proof for me that you are not the same man I once met."

Silence settled between them again. She had made him uncomfortable, giving him at the same time, a good deal to think about.
Megumi knew that he was completely aware of what she meant. He had surely been since she had thanked him earlier.

It had started the previous day, when she received a call for help from one of her patients, a pregnant young woman whose labor apparently had started almost a month earlier than expected, which foreshadowed trouble. Thus, she had paid no heed to the combined the difficult conditions of the weather, terrain or the trip. She had a duty to fulfill and that was all that mattered.
Consequently, in spite of the combined attempts of Hiroshi-san, Ichimura-san and Enishi to make her stay at the clinic, she had steeled her determination, and answered the request. Therefore, he had ended grumpily tagging along with her.

When they reached their destination, they found the young woman, called Midoriko, accompanied only by her very younger sister and her old mother in law. Megumi was used to attend deliveries on her own all the time, but for the look of things as soon as she had seen the girl, she knew it would be long, painful and complicated, and she had cursed under breath, because of the lack of the security and extra help that her clinic offered for such emergencies.

Finally, she had been forced to perform a very delicate and painful maneuver to accommodate the baby and only his help during the process had allowed it. His assistance marked the difference between life and death for both mother and child. His coolness facing a distressing situation that would have rendered many people useless had been admirable, and that alone had made all his sarcastic comments during the trip worth the trouble.

The men of the house, gone for provisions several days before, had arrived just after the baby had born, while she was finishing attending the infant's mother. After making sure she wouldn't bleed anymore and had explained the instructions for her care, Enishi had tried to pull her back to the city, before the storm started to rage above their heads.

However, the new father and grandfather had decided that they would have none of it until they shared a couple of cups of sake with them, and despite Enishi's protests involving words like 'storm' 'danger' and 'suicidal tendencies', they had finally stayed in he house more than was wise. Still, it had been another moment worth of being remembered, because despite his initial grumpiness, he had finished blending somewhat reluctantly into the general happiness. Megumi could have sworn through his attitude it had been the first time in a long time he felt welcomed, and not loathed, rejected or feared.

< /And for once, he was not alone.../>

She knew how he had felt; it was the only little pleasure she allowed herself in her path to redemption, and it had made them closer than she had ever thought possible.

"It does feel different, doesn't it? I mean, to help to preserve life rather than take it." she hadn't realized she had voiced her thoughts until his burning gaze locked with hers.
" Yes, it does." he said, his voice tight, his posture stiffening.
" I'm sorry... I didn't mean to disrespect you..."

He merely shrugged, faking to be unconcerned, but Megumi could see through his mask. The months they had spent as acquaintances had allowed her to read many of the subtle signs that revealed his true mood.

As silence befell once again among them, she pondered on the events of the day and what these had revealed about his companion.

While they were at Midoriko's house, he had clearly separated himself from the rest of the house inhabitants, the feeling of fitting obviously alien to him. The experience had lain bare how lonely he was. Enishi had no-one besides his father, and she was certain that unless he changed drastically, he would not find anyone else willing to be close to him, being the difficult man he was. Even worse, as far as she knew, he had lost his goals and though he had a lot to atone for, he lacked the right motivation to do so.

Megumi realized now, not without a little dismay and discomfort, that in more than one way they were very similar. She wasn't an easy person, just like him. Usually people simply stopped at her prickly first layer of wit and forwardness, which in most cases was exactly what she wanted. After her experiences, she preferred to keep a safe distance with most people, and her ways had always offered a good cover and a shield, except in a very few cases.

Sagara Sanosuke had gotten disturbingly close to break her carefully erected defenses. He had a heart as big as his mouth... and his stomach. And despite his lack of manners, he had a natural yet gruff kindness and protectiveness towards women. But she always knew that he was a free spirit, and he had a destiny to forge. Besides, after her ordeal with Takeda, his aggressive masculinity had always unnerved her.

Ken-san had been the other man that had gotten a well-deserved place near her heart. But it had been different. He had understood her, seen beyond the 'opium woman', tending his gentle hand to her, and since then, she had known that there would be nothing she wouldn't do for her dear Ken-san. Even give him up to another woman, to grant him happiness.

A crucial difference set her apart from Enishi. He was obviously trying hard to straighten the course of his life, but it was also apparent that he lacked motivation and goals. On the other hand, while she also was following the same course, she had the right incentives to go forward.

Ken-san had shown her a narrow and hard road to pursue, one that she now was walking with determination. This path had made her tough and resolute again, after going through a personal Hell that had stripped her of hopes and dreams. It also had provided her with the necessary strength to cast aside the new loneliness that had befallen upon her following her departure from Tokyo to face, like all of them, a change of life. The purpose Ken-san had given to her had also been the balm that had healed the bitterness of finding a family that didn't want to be associated with someone as filthy as a former criminal involved in opium making was[4].

Her eyes locked again on the fur-wrapped form of her companion. He still had an imposing aura around him, one surely acquired to allow him to lead over dangerous men who only respected power and strength, but that conceitedness that was wrapped around him before, like a second skin, had diluted to almost non-existence, visible only when he felt threatened or questioned. Megumi wondered how much of that aura was the real Enishi and how much a mechanism of self-defense.

An unexpected wave of sympathy for the man enveloped her.
Yes, they were uncannily similar, as much as the discovery bothered her. Loneliness and lack of purpose were bad companions for people like them.
Suddenly, she discovered her fingers caressing on their own accord the scars of her wrists, her eyes locked intently on his white hair, his own scar. And she wondered...

Through half lidded eyes, he noticed her fingers touching mechanically her own wrists, where he knew her scars reminded her of anguish and failure.

< /And boy, I do know a good deal about it.../>

Something stirred inside of him. Something that he had started to realize for some time, yet refused to acknowledge: she was fighting her own demons. And he could connect to her somewhat in that. It was disturbing. And at the same time, it gave him a strange surge of empathy towards her.

"You don't have to worry anymore. He is already dead."
"W-what?" she looked puzzled.
"Takeda Kanryuu. He is dead."

For a moment Enishi wondered if she wouldn't faint, so pale and trembling she had become. Concerned, he woke up and went towards her, and scooping her in his arms carried her back to the makeshift bed.

"I told you woman, I was the one in better condition. The hit in your head was pretty bad. Now, lie down, and tell me what I must do with this food, unless you want to eat something resembling Kamiya's cooking."
It took her a few moments to register it, and she wondered how she had managed to stand still before he caught her in his arms and deposited her back among the furs.
The wrenching feeling at her stomach told her that he knew. Oh, yes, of course, he knew. How could she have thought otherwise? The extensive, minutely detailed knowledge he had shown about Ken-san, his friends and acquaintances during Jinchuu was proof enough.
Still, there was one thing she needed to know.

"How long has it been since you knew?" her whisper carried an undisguised note of shame, anguish and sadness. Megumi braced herself for the cruel revelations that would come.

He didn't turn to look at her while he draped the bear fur morosely around his frame. A mixture of wariness and curiosity arose in her while the silence grew a rocky cliff between them. Instead of receiving the coup de grace through his expected derisive remarks, Megumi found herself facing a man sunk deeply in a pensive but darker mood.

"Long before I set foot in Japan again."
"Then, why didn't you throw it at my face when I insulted you about the origin of your money?"
"I think you'll agree with me that I'm not the most apt judge when it comes to human faults." There was a wary, tired smirk in his lips. Then, he simply turned his gaze and stirred the pot hanging on the hook over the fire.
"You've never stricken me as the understanding or forgiving type of guy, if you know what I mean." She felt an all-consuming shame beginning to envelope her like a cumbersome shroud.
" And what purpose would have served to throw your past in your face? I have no particular grudge against you, except your friendship with my brother in law, but instead I end up owing you big time." He made a pause, and said in small voice: "Besides, as I'm tired myself of being reminded what I was, I guess that it is alright to cut you some slack."

After these words, Enishi fixed his eyes in the fire, and said nothing else, and Megumi found herself completely at loss.
Was he /that/ changed?
He surely was far from the arrogant man who had raised into judge, jury and executioner during Jinchuu, a man consumed by such hatred, that his own body had underwent dramatic transformations because of it.

However, somewhere amid those six past years, he had faced his acts, and tried to choose another path, as she had seen with her own eyes. A wave of shame deeper than the one she felt after his revelations about Takeda took over her when she recalled her own behavior towards him and his past.

< I'm a hypocrite >

She had dared to judge him, she, a murderer herself. Who knew how many had fallen victim to her Spider Web opium during the long three years she was prisoner to Takeda? And how many more during the years she served her older employer, the traitorous doctor who had betrayed her trust? She would never know, never, ever. But her hands were as bloody as Enishi's, and she had dared to put him to trial.

Megumi reminded the particular incident were she had lashed out all her prejudices against him pretty well. It had been almost at the beginning of their acquaintance, being as she was still very resented towards him for what he had done to Ken-san and the others.
She had refused to accept the money he had offered to cover the costs of his father's lodging, the medicines she had used on him, and her work. Megumi had been polite, but curt, expecting that the man gathered the hint.
However, as he insisted more and more tenaciously, until one day she finally exploded and poured on him all the resentment and anger she had accumulated against him during the days of Jinchuu.
Megumi had tossed the money to his face, giving him particularly cruel a piece of her mind concerning the profits made through other people's blood. She hadn't held back anything.
Enishi had said nothing then, taking it back, and leaving mounted in a cloud of pure rage, and the following she knew was that he had left the town with the excuse of business.

Megumi knew perfectly well that if he had been able to take his father back with him, he would have done it then. Hiroshi had made perfectly clear that Enishi had even planned to bring a Western doctor from Nagasaki with him, to put him under the foreigner's care. Only through several letters stating firmly and clearly that he would not allow another doctor but Megumi to attend him could the old man convince his son to let him stay under her care.

However, it took him two full months to come back, his feathers still ruffled by their previous exchange, so to speak. And, by that time, she was the one was ashamed and had tried to apologize. His father had cleared the origin of his funds, since he had raised the same objections, rejecting any link to money won by illicit means.

She had believed he would never forgive her insult, being the man he was, but then she saw in him something that was astonishing. As his father pushed him to forgive her beyond the forms, she discovered that Enishi could never deny anything to someone he cared for.

Though she was extremely surprised at first, later she realized that it made perfect sense, considering how he had treated to please, though mistakenly, his sister's spirit.
The experience had been a painful reminder of her life, and the prejudices she had encountered on her own path, and since the incident, she had felt guilty about it.

She had learnt then through the old man's words that Enishi had made his way back to a relative comfortable lifestyle starting from zero. Using pure physical strength in the beginning, and his abilities as a trueborn entrepreneur later, he had saved enough to start a modest trade on his own. Subsequent clever and accurate investments had made him grow as a merchant, and now he made his living strictly through these developments. And all was absolutely legal from the beginning.
Enishi, like her and Ken-san, had tried to start life anew, and what had she done? The same thing she had hated to witness when people threw his past at Ken-san's face.

"I'm sorry" she said, feeling sincerely regretful.
"For what?"
"Because I judged you unfairly."
"Ah... that..." the corners of his lips uplift in a slight smile "I told you then as I tell you now: there is no need for apologies. It was your right to distrust me. After all, you had basis to."

He shrugged and made a brief silence, then turned to her and said: "Anyway, even then, having such suspicions about me, you still attended my father. For that I'll be forever grateful."

"No need to thank me for following my duties. I have never turned down a sick or wounded person, and I'll never do it. I would have assisted even you during the worse of Jinchuu."
"I know that, I saw how you helped the rest of the Comrades wounded at the Kamiya dojo. What I mean is that you didn't turn me in to the police, even with all the righteous hatred you feel towards me for what I did. And you didn't just because you knew that it would have killed the old man. I'm grateful for this."
"I don't hate you. I was just... angry with you." She turned her eyes to the floor, unable to look him in the eye "But this doesn't justify my behavior towards you. I had no right to say those things to you."
" You had every right to say what you said about these events of my past, because it was true. Part of my troubles came because I hadn't been able to accept the truth, so I had to learn to do it. I'm still learning, in fact."
Megumi bit her lips, the feeling of guilt growing inside more and more unbearable with each one of his words.
"Look, I don't expect you to be my friend, or even a simple acquaintance. Besides, as soon as everything is done, my undesirable presence will be removed from your life permanently."
" I've been a hypocrite to you. I'm not any better than you are. I also murdered people. In a way I was worse, since I made my poison in the shadows. At least you faced those who you killed"
" It wasn't always like this ... that's part of the deal of being a weapon's smuggler..." He shrugged, his smirk half hidden in the shadows cast by his bangs.
A soft, unexpected chuckle escaping from his throat startled her. It was inconsistent with the seriousness of their present chat. He shook his head, and as if answering her silent questions, he explained what was going on in his mind.

" My, my... aren't we the two perfect examples of Japanese politeness, profusely apologizing to each other? I guess my father's crazy habits started to crawl under my skin..." his tone was bitter, and sarcastic, almost as if he disbelieved how much had he changed.

< /Perhaps he feels that apologizing it's a weakness... Of course... that's why he never does it... he is used to avoid showing weaknesses or flaws.../>

"Enishi..." she started to say.
"Anyway" he cut her off "you're forgetting something very important, my dear doctor. I chose to be what I was. But those slashes on your wrists and the burnings tell a very different tale."

He turned now looking her squarely in her face, his eyes burning with emotions she could not understand.
" You see, we are nothing alike. I was a predator, you were prey."

She looked deeply into his eyes, trying to gather the meaning of his last words, and then it happened, just like a wall of bricks falling on her back. Realization, shame, pain, all these feelings hit her at the same time. He had seen, he knew. Of course, he had divested her. And knowing her connection with Kanryuu... it had taken him just a small deduction to have the whole picture. She was paralyzed at first, her air taken out of her lungs by the strong impression, then with a soft cry, she crumpled in boneless pile of shivering flesh, hiding herself inside the covers.

he cursed mentally.

He hated when women got all emotional. He felt always awkward and inadequate in this kind of situations. Not that he was in many of these; he hadn't been prone to allow his concubines in Shanghai any display of moronic behavior. However, he had reasons to feel very uncomfortable each time it happened. It was... disturbing... it brought up childhood memories that he preferred to keep carefully buried.

Now, he was frozen in place, still deeply disturbed for the similarities he had found between the two of them, and on top of it all, not knowing what the right thing to do was. The whole affair made him feel very edgy.
Should he go to her and comfort her? He guessed that was what was expected from him, though he doubted she'd anticipate such a deed from him.
He was getting more and more nervous with each passing minute, so he finally got up of his place and sat down by her side.

" Sensei... I'm sure you did what you needed to... "
That was a lame way to put it, and both knew it. Of course, they did whatever was necessary to stay alive. It wasn't this issue what was put into question here, but if their lives were worth the price they paid.
"Do you think about it often? The people you... you..."
"Before Jinchuu, barely." He said curtly "After reading my sister's diary, I do, every single day."

He didn't stop to consider his actions for a second after he had killed the Japanese family in Shanghai. He had understood at that point that he had to cut all moral restrains and to throw all the values he had been taught behind his back to achieve his goal. And the murder in cold blood of that family had been the last bridge he had crossed and burnt down in the process. Oh, he had crossed many other bridges and moral crossroads after leaving his house in Edo, that was certain, but that one had been the definitive turning point. After that, there hadn't been anything to return to, just a goal to fulfill, no matter the cost, for him, his soul or anyone unlucky or foolish enough to cross his path. Because he had failed to protect Tomoe, and thus he had to appease her troubled soul avenging her. Or so he had thought... Discovering the truth had been shattering.

She had obviously considered other options to her own predicament, the scars a mute testimony of her inner battle and choices.

"But you are different from me, Megumi-san. As I told you, I chose the path I took." He realized, with little surprise that his voice sounded far more bitter than he had intended.
" Sometimes I wonder if I haven't been a coward all the while. I had to heal and protect, to bring relief. That was the only way to honor my family. Instead, I collaborated in mass murder."

Enishi remained by her side, giving her a side-glance, as to avoid making her more nervous. He saw her pause, choosing to let her talk; it seemed the right thing to do, since she looked calmer letting the words flow out of her mouth.

"I tried to perform the one deed expected from me, to wash away my dishonor, and allow my ancestors to rest in peace. But I failed, time and again. While some have accused me of not trying hard enough, I now know that those attempts failed for a reason. They failed because there was something else expected from me."

The sight of the bitter smile in her face shook him inside. Suddenly it felt like looking himself in the mirror, and he squirmed uncomfortably.

"Last time I tried, two dear friends gave me the most unexpected and perhaps underserved gifts, friendship, forgiveness and hope." She made a pause, her eyes shining with unshed tears that he knew she would not let drop. "And one of them received a wound that he will keep till the day he dies as a reward. Thus, every time I feel ashamed and want to give up, I remember that moment, and why I must go on. However, this doesn't lessen the guilt and the memories."

Her last words were said in such sad voice... it was the same tone that she had used.
"At least you have something to hold on to." He winced at his own words. How could have he admitted such a thing in front of her?
"You have your father" she said, her eyes downcast.
" And for how long, doctor? My father is dying, you know it, he knows it, I know it. Maybe it won't take weeks but months, but our time together is coming to an end. At least you have your calling and duty to hold on to, even with the pain and your burden. I have nothing left."

After six years of emptiness, he was weary, too jaded to care for an elusive truth he knew he didn't deserve, and with the prospect of his father's demise, there was nothing ahead to fight for anymore.

"I should have realized that you'd know, you have been on the vicinity of death for too long to miss the signals." she said quietly.
" Indeed." he sneered

His thoughts drifted to the old man fading slowly, but inexorably, away in the clinic. Years of deprivation, cold and starvation had taken a heavy toll on Enishi's father. That had prevented the quick healing of his bones, and now brought the recurring fevers and constant coughing.

"I should have told you before. But I was hoping... I had gotten a new recipe from an old teacher of my father, and I was expecting some progress before the spring... It was a long shot, but I couldn't help but to try before talking to you."
"I know. When I saw that red root you added into his medicine... They use it in China when there is nothing else to use." She looked very surprised, and he explained "The doctor of my first boss in the Triads used it... I was in charge to control the food and beverages brought to him. To avoid poisoning, you know."

She nodded, shame on her features again, but he knew it was a new kind of shame, the one she would feel as a healer failing in her task. As a doctor, she knew that his father would be soon fall prey to a more serious illness, and then the old man's defenses would totally collapse, undermined by age and a hard life. That she hadn't told him yet, trying to put a fight until the bitter end to save the old man, made him wonder if she wasn't trying to avoid marring the last happy moments he could share with his father.

"Thank you, for your efforts, Megumi-sensei. Even when it's a fight he won't win, I really appreciate your craft and your hard work."

Closing his eyes, he leaned his head against the pile of furs behind them, trying to find a more comfortable position. Then he added quietly, fighting the voice of common sense yelling the wrongness of his decision:

"Haven't you ever felt that every single thing that keeps you pushing forward runs like sand between your fingers, until you simply don't care to push anymore? " he opened his eyes, answering himself before she could utter a word "No, I suppose you don't. After all, as you said just a moment ago, you have your friends and your duty."

He also caught for a briefest of instants, the glimpse of a devastating sorrow in her gaze. It was the same kind of searing sorrow that he had once seen in Tomoe's.

"Duty or goals or being an outsider of other people's happiness don't fill the emptiness or calm the loneliness. Surely after being so focused during your Jinchuu, I'll bet you know what I mean."

She wasn't being mean, that was a given, the implication of her own her loneliness and emptiness too clear for that. She was simply stating facts. But facts weren't always easy to swallow.
He moved from her side, pretending to attend the cooking, too uncomfortable to follow that trend of conversation.
Surprisingly, she got up, and followed him. Mirroring his earlier behavior, she sat down by his side, near the fire, smiled wistfully at him, and gently took the spoon out of his hands.

"Let me help with this. I feel better now." She said quietly.
When he tried to rise from his place to find a spot in one of the corners, he found her hand holding his wrist firmly.
" Stay. Doctor's orders." And when he looked quizzically at her she simply said: "It's nicer near the fire. And when you share, things always look better, don't you think?"
He opened his eyes widely, and accepted her offer.
" Indeed." He whispered.

< /Let's share solitude tonight, doctor. For tomorrow will bring back loneliness to haunt us all over again/.>

First revision: 18-05-2004 Second revision: 17-05-2004
Finished: 13-05-2004
First Posted:17-06-2004
Author's note:
Thanks to /Kamorgana/, for her patience and bearing my annoying rants. Also for being the first one to bring forth this pairing, help with suggestions ideas, and correcting those things that needed to be corrected. I want to remind you once again about her fic, Children of the Revolution. If you haven't read it, I sincerely recommend you do it.
Also all my love and a big hug to /MightyMightyMunson/, for all her help and kind words, her insights and comments, and all her valuable suggestions, and to /Mary Ann/, for her collaboration.
If you enjoy this fic, it's also because of these ladies' work.
And a mighty hug bear to /Michaela/ and /Nigihayami Haruko/, for her support and kindness.
Answers to the kind reviewers can be found here (courtesy of the new rules of FanFiction net): www . livejournal . com(slash)users(slash)tiger(low dash)consort. (remove the blank spaces and (slash)and (low dash) by the corresponding marks. I'm sorry for the extra work, but our local censors at are absolutely bent on control even the slight access to outside sites and eliminates the slashes and dashes, and eat completely anything remotely resembling a URL. I guess they are afraid of our feeble minds, and that we could not handle choosing going somewhere else to (gasp) read a lemon, for example. In case this doesn't work, got to, and search the username tiger_consort . Thanks.) If you have questions, you can ask in the reviews, I'll answer in the LJ. Thanks.
All corrections or grammar comments, etc, can be addressed to my mail box and will be greatly appreciated.
Next chapter: Lemon.

[1] Communal bath in bath houses (sento) were common prior to Meiji Era, and working classes were used to work in almost complete nakedness, both women and men up to that time, a custom that scandalized the foreigners. Therefore, to give the looks of an 'enlightened and civilized society' edicts banning communal bathing (circumvented in funny ways that followed the letter of the law breaking it spirit most of the times, at least for a while) as well as public displays of nakedness and public urination were strictly applied in bigger cities, though in the country customs stood more lax until the end of WWII. So, open nakedness wasn't a big deal in Japan up to the Bakumatsu and the Meiji Era, at least among the commoners, and certainly the sight wouldn't have caused the fainting of any lady of higher classes, unlike among Western Victorian women. (Remember Kaoru and Misao attitude towards Kamatari display, and also, when Kaoru after the Aoiya fight was standing almost in rags and her breast bindings, without so much of batting an eyelash). Samurai, on the other hand, applied strictly codes based on Confucian morals, partly to distinguish themselves from the inferior populace, and they took a great deal of care concerning their appearances and dignity. Rich merchants copied samurai moral codes. However, as it's hinted through the fic, her uneasiness is product of the years of abuse under Takeda Kanryuu since as a professional, she would be used to see naked men and women in a daily basis, and her attitude therefore would not make sense otherwise. For the record: Japanese women didn't use undergarments well up to the first decades of XX century. A more extensive info here: http: / www 3. la .psu .edu textbooks / MJ /ch4.htm (Just remember to delete the extra spaces)
[2] Underkimono.
[3] This idea is not entirely factual. I took it from a comment about a series of movies with Triad-based stories (Young and Dangerous) were it's mentioned that the characters chose the tattoos for identificatory purposes as described above. Also, I've read that the members o Triads carried tattoo as identification as members, but I'm not sure about these displaying the ranks
[4] This is the reason why she is not working in Aizu, but in Aomori. This will be developed in the next fic.

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