~Standard Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin or Rurouni Kenshin characters. This story was not written for sale or profit. A friend is someone that knows you and likes you just the same. Two boys will test the boundaries of their friendship, as they each encounter different experiences in life.

A/N-- Sorry for the delay in writing but my life has been a very steep emotional roller coaster and I have been hanging on for dear life. But the ride has smoothed some for the moment so I will be writing and posting more often. Thanks for the support and the reviews, they do help.

Dare to Breathe

Chapter 1

After the shadows began to consume the town, turning the light into darkness, Soujirou made his nightly rounds. Moving through the twilight with an ease of one accustomed to hiding in shadows, Soujirou hunted. His quarry took special measures to hide, for to be found would mean ending the night and returning to the apartment that she shared with her son.

It had been almost two years since he and his mother had left his Uncle Hiko's house. And in that time, he had become the parent and his mother the child. Somehow he had been able to hide this fact from his Uncle, but he didn't know how much longer he could keep doing it.

Going to all his mother's favorite bars and opium dens, everyone he asked gave him a vague or indistinct answer, one addict covering for another.

Leaving the last establishment that he knew about, he stayed in the shadows, cautiously walking into the alley, hoping to find some sign that she had been there.

Hearing a small moan, he cautiously looked around to find where the noise was coming from and after pushing some sacks filled with garbage out of the way, there was his mother. The scent of alcohol reached his nose as he noticed her pale yellow dress covered with purple dots. Some of the pins that she had painstakingly put in her hair before starting her nightly ritual had fallen out, leaving her long dark hair a tangled mess.

"Mother," he called softly.

Kneeling down, he gently touched her face before brushing some stray strands of hair away from her eyes. He sighed. The nightly ritual was always the same; after school he would go directly home, get his homework done, then he would hunt until he found her and help her home. Most nights, she would be easy to find and he would have no problems getting her home. But some nights, she would visit a new place or find someone to lie for her, making it very difficult for him.

"Sou-chan, you found me. I guess I didn't hide well enough," she smiled. Laughing at her own joke, she raised her hand for the small boy to pull. But her laughter soon stopped as her eyes rolled back and her arm went limp.

Faced with the dilemma of leaving her and going for help or attempting to wake her up, he was about to go for help when he noticed two men at the entrance of the alley.

"Hey, there's someone in the alley and it sounds like a woman," one man drunkenly said to the other. Swaying the two of them tried to peer into the darkened alley.

"Yea, maybe we can get us some action yet tonight," the other man said, taking a step toward where Soujirou stood hiding next to the sacks of garbage.

Watching as the two men slowly walked toward him, Soujirou quickly put the sacks of garbage back over his mother and silhouetted himself against the light from the far end of the alley allowing the two men to see him.

Thinking that he could easily outrun them, he started running towards the end of the alley, glancing back to make sure that they were following him. But before he reached the road, he tripped and fell. Getting up, he was surprised to feel a large strong hand wrap around his wrist.

"Well look what we got here," the man said, his voice slurred and smelling strong of sake. Walking out into the light from the street to get a better look at his catch, he snarled saying, "What a pretty little boy."

"I like my boys pretty," the second man jeered, reaching for Soujirou but only managed to grab his companion's arm.

"Let go of me, you fool," the man shouted, using his free arm to swing at the other man. The back of his fist connected with his companion, as he pushed him away from the young boy in his grasp.

At the same time that Soujirou was being held captive; three teenagers were walking down an adjacent street on a collision course with them.

"Sano, you are going to get me into soooo much trouble," the girl admonished one of the boys. Coming around the corner, the girl started walking a bit faster down the street.

With hands stuffed in his pants pockets, his white tailored shirt un- tucked, and fastened with only one of the bottom buttons, Sano nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders, stating in his own defense, "Look, it wasn't my fault that you had to redo it. All I did was lean against."

"Yea, I agree with Kaoru, we could da been home playing video games instead a walking her home," the other boy said in his soft southern drawl. He punched at Sano's arm playfully.

"Well nobody asked you, Chou," Sano said sarcastically, ducking the other boy's punch. Straightening up, he noticed the man holding a small boy.

With his captor's attention diverted to the three teenagers walking towards them, Soujirou bit the man's arm just as hard as he could but instead of letting him go, his captor's free hand came back and hit his head, forcing Soujirou to let go of the man's arm.

"You know, it just isn't right for grown men to pick on a young boy like that. Don't you think?" Sano commented as the three teenagers stopped to access the situation.

"Yea, your right. Maybe we should even the odds a bit, ne?" Chou answered, showing an evil grin making it even more threatening with one eye closed.

"Let's have some fun," Sano said, cracking his knuckles.

Walking towards the two men, Sano noticed a glint of fear in his eyes as the man's attention was diverted from Soujirou.

Cussing under his breath, he tossed the young boy off to the side before approaching the advancing teenagers.

Kaoru watched as Chou followed Sano towards the two men. When she heard the moans of the young boy she hurried over to him, "Are you all right?" she asked. Kneeling down, she helped him to stand up, brushing his clothes off.

"Yes, thank you," Soujiro politely replied.

"Now what are you doing out this late at night?" she asked sternly, cocking her head. Looking intently at his face, she asked, "Don't I know you?" When she got no reply, she continued, smiling. "I remember now, you're the one who's always following Aoshi around."

Soujirou blushed when she mentioned Aoshi's name, and just as quick remembered why he was there, "Mother," he said, before racing back down the alley.

Kaoru glanced at Sano who waved her on before sinking his fist into the drunken man's stomach. Letting him fall to the ground, he followed her into the alley.

He uncovered his mother and tried to get her to sit up. But Sano pulled him back and gently reached down and pulled his mother up into a sitting position. Unable to stay sitting by herself, she leaned into Sano.

Kaoru knelt down and checked the woman's condition, shaking her head slightly; she commented "We should take her to the hospital."

"She will be all right once I get her home. She just needs some sleep and she will be fine in the morning," Soujirou pleaded.

"No, if we don't take her to the hospital she may not make it to morning," Kaoru said, motioning to Chou. "See if you can find someone with a car, we need to get her there fast."

Once at the hospital, everything seemed to go in fast forward for Soujirou. His mother was wheeled to the inside of the building and a nurse in a crisp white uniform led them to a room to wait.

"Thank you for your help," Soujirou quietly managed to say. Slumping down in chair, he was able to get his first good look at the people who had rescued him.

"The name is Sanosuke and this guy over here is my cousin, Chou," Sano said, pointing his thumb over at the grinning Chou, "And the little missy is Kaoru. What's your name?"

"Soujirou," Soujirou said, feeling a little uneasy as the two boys sat down opposite him. "Will they call my Uncle Hiko?"

"I don't know, but I think so," Kaoru said, sitting down next to Soujirou. Nervous and not knowing exactly what else to say, she felt that the best thing to do was to just sit and wait with Soujirou so that he wouldn't be alone.

They didn't have to wait very long before the door opened and Hiko stood with his large frame filling the doorway before walking into the room. The three teenagers immediately stood and each in turn excused themselves, leaving Hiko alone with Soujirou.

"How are you doing, Sou-chan?" Hiko inquired, towering over the young boy.

Frightened by the powerful force that the large man emitted, Soujirou tried to make him self small enough so as not to be seen. It had worked for him many times in the past but looking up at the giant of a man, he knew that he would have to change his tactics.

Putting a forced smile on his face, he stated, "Everything is just fine. As soon as mother is able to get up we can make it home on our own. Thank you."

"Your mother isn't going anywhere. She is stoned out of her mind and can't even open her eyes," Hiko forcibly said, irritated by the obviously forced smile on the boys' face.

Standing up, Soujirou clenched his fists and retorted, "We don't need you, we have done just fine without your help."

"Do you call going out every night looking for her in those places, doing just fine? I know what you have been doing these past few months and this is the last time." Hiko said quite loudly. Lowering his voice, he continued, "I have had people watching her from the day she left my house."

"Well, where were you tonight when."

"She gave them the slip tonight. Such incompetence, I should have known that they couldn't keep up with her," Hiko replied somewhat embarrassedly.

Startled, Soujirou gave Hiko a genuine smile. "She will be all right." he began.

"No she won't, not without some very special help," Hiko cut him off, the frustration evident in his voice.


"That is the end of the discussion. You are coming with me," Hiko sternly said, giving the boy a few moments to digest his statement, "We'll go get your things tomorrow."

"No. MOTHER," Soujirou screamed as he ran from the room. He continued to run, yelling for his mother hoping that she would hear his voice and respond. But his sudden burst of energy soon diminished, leaving him leaning with his back against the wall as he slowly slunk to the floor, tears welling behind closed eyes.

With the silence came a familiar voice that motivated him to move in the direction the voice was coming from. Coming to a door that was slightly opened, he pushed it enough to see Kenshin sitting on an exam table with blood all over the front of his white shirt and Aoshi standing next to him with his back to the door. Keeping quiet, he listened to their conversation.

"I told you to ignore those creeps. The only thing that they wanted was to see if you could fight," Aoshi stated.

"I showed them I could," Kenshin quietly said a small smile on his pale face. Looking at the angry look in Aoshi's blue eyes, the smile vanished and hanging his head, he continued, "I just wanted to find out what they knew about my parents."

"Did you find out anything?"


"And now you will have a permanent scar on your perfect cheek," Aoshi whispered as he touched Kenshin's chin, moving his face to see the line of small stitches on his left cheek.

Kenshin blushed, turning his head away from Aoshi's glare.

Letting his hand drop, Aoshi asked, "What is Hiko going to say?"

Kenshin shrugged as Hiko barged into the room, towering behind Soujirou. Quickly moving out of his path, Soujirou stared at the two boys that were now the target of his Uncle's wrath. With his energy now spent, Soujirou slowly sat on the floor waiting to see what would happen.

Both boys turned as one to look at Hiko.

Aoshi backed away from Kenshin, their eyes meeting with a quick glance as Hiko advanced toward them. Walking over to Soujirou, Aoshi helped the young boy to his feet.

"What happened to you?" Hiko asked, standing directly in front of Kenshin.

"I was careless," Kenshin nonchalantly answered.

"Fighting never solved anything," Hiko chastised the redhead sitting on the exam table.

"So what am I suppose to do, just sit back and do nothing?" Kenshin angrily asked his benefactor.

"You wouldn't have that scar if you had done that, now would you?" Hiko answered the question.

"I had to do something. No one has told me anything, so should I just idly go about my daily life when my parents may need my help?" Kenshin quickly answered the anger he felt intensifying.

"They don't need you to go and get yourself killed and besides those boys wouldn't have known anything," Hiko said, trying to get the conversation directed towards a safer subject.

"Then who knows?" Kenshin bluntly asked.

"Look its pointless to worry about things that you have no control of, you should start worrying about your training and making a life for yourself. So just leave it be, they would have wanted that."

"You think that they are already dead, don't you?" Kenshin asked his fists now clenched at his side as he sat glaring at Hiko while fighting back the tears that were forming behind angry golden eyes.

"I didn't." Suddenly the room became very quiet.

Aoshi took this opportunity to guide the young boy out the door and into the hall.

Once outside the door, Aoshi tried to turn and glance back inside the room but was stopped when small arms encircled his waist. Looking down, he relaxed a little before returning the embrace.