Author's Note: Okay, I kind of wrote all of this before I put it up because I didn't want to get anyone upset if I didn't finish it, although if you like it that much you probably need professional help anyway. I think I need professional help for writing this. Anyway it's a load of crap and Soujiro's OOC in my opinion ANYWAY. I apologise for any bad grammar, spelling, stuff that makes no sense OOCness no plot no character development and severe lack of writing talent exhibited. Don't bother writing corrections in your reviews 'cos I wrote all of it before it got posted and I don't really take this stuff seriously enough to go back and correct it unless I am really bored. Since I have been working my butt off at school for the last three months and it is now holz I have better things to do.

Not really, but I hate editing. I apologise to anyone who finds this mannerism of mine offensive, I really am sorry but at least I'm not lying to you.

Okay… JAPANESE LANAGUAGE LESSONS, yay, boy do I need them. If you're good at Jap and I mutilated the language, I apologise VERY deeply. I'm bad at it. The language, not apologising.

Happy Easter for those of you it applies to. Happy holidays.

Is anyone outside of Australia even ON holidays, actually? Oh well. Happy holidays anyway.

Tasukete- help me

Dareka- someone/anyone

-chan- suffix denoting affection

-san- suffix denoting respect/politeness, usually dubbed with "Mrs/Miss/Ms/Mrs etc"

-sama- suffix denoting loads of respect/worshiping. Usually using in place of "Lord/Lady/Master/Mistress/Madam" and has also been dubbed as "dear".

-kun- suffix used on people you work with mainly and are on friendly terms with.

Genki de ne- stay well/take care

Tsuyoi- strong

Ano- um

Daijoubu/ daijoubu desuka- all right/ are you all right

Disclaimer: I own EVERYTHING to do with RuroKen. Right. And when that happens they'll start selling snow boots in Hell.

This starts a few months after Soujiro leaves Shishio. He's still eighteen.

Chapter One : Dareka…dareka, tasukete

Someone, anyone, help me

"Soujiro! Are you trying to make a fool out of me?!"

The wooden hilt of the sheathed katana struck Soujiro across his cheek. Blood spattered the ground as the eight-year-old stumbled, falling to the ground with a choke of pain.

The women…they stood and watched as the blows rained down.

"I'll KILL YOU!"

Soujiro tried to breathe, but all he could taste was blood. Their voices rang in his ears, abnormally loud, warped and terrifying as thunder began to roll in the distance.

"Wait, won't that look kind of bad?"

"Oh, as long as we tell the cops we'll be fine. There's a dangerous criminal hiding out around here, remember?"

"Right, and since we're giving them information we'll all be richly rewarded…"

"Go ahead and do it, brother…"

"Right, I'll KILL you, brat!"

Kill you

Kill

Kill…Soujiro's eyes widened as his eyes caught the unsheathed blade raised up high in clumsy but vengeful hands. He scrambled to his feet, too terrified to notice the screams of his body.

"Dareka.." he panted, fingers scraping the dirt as his staggered on a rock. "Tasukete…"their angry yells rang in his ears.

"Dareka…DAREKA TASUKETE!"

Soujiro's eyes slammed open and his hands hit the ground, supporting himself as he panted. Damp leaves crumpled under his hands as sweat trickled down his cheek and dripped onto the forest floor. The cry rang in his ears, too real…

Someone had screamed? The air seemed to echo. Soujiro jumped to his feet, his sword in his belt, disappearing into the shadows of the forest as the first rays of sunlight peeked out over the horizon.

Birds looked down from their perches or nests as something like a wind passed beneath them, rustling the leaves of the trees. Leaves settled back down on the forest floor again.

And because the wind does strange things, they paid it gave it no more thought.

The "wind" that had passed wasn't sure what to think anymore, but a cry it had heard too often was still ringing in its ears…

'Rei-chan, here.'

'But…Madam…this is a-'

'-a dagger.' Madam finished calmly. She was a fairly young woman, in her late twenties. There was a little boy next to her, about eight years old, and a toddler not more than two next to her, shaking. Opposite the mother was a much younger girl, sixteen years of age dressed in a simpler kimono than Madam, if not so modest. Outside, there was another bloody scream, a slight gurgle. Both women kept their faces still, but the boy buried his face in his mother's sleeve. The girl looked at eh weapon in her small hands.

'Why, Madam?'

'I have children, Rei-chan.' Madam said primly, but her voice shook slightly as she lifted her legs and removed a false panel in the seat. She hurriedly shooed the children in the dark space beyond as three more screams rang out.

'I do not intend for them to die in a place and manner such as this.'

'Very good, Madam.' The younger woman schooled her expression as she lowered the dagger by her side.

'Are you afraid, Rei-chan?'

'Not really, Madam. My life is not worth so much.'

Madam sighed, looking fed up.

'We have got to do something about your inferiority complex thingy.'

'What are they, Madam?'

'I have no idea, but it sounds about right. What do you suppose it means?'

The girl known as "Rei-chan" never got a chance to reply as the door was swung open. A face, with an expression she had seen too often, leaned in side and waved a notched and bloodied sword. The smell of death and the cold early-spring morning floated in the door.

'All right…two attractive ladies.' The man said, with an impressive leer and stupid accent that was his idea of how you talked when you had an education and the money to buy whores.

'Out.'

'Certainly.' Madam said, rising to her feet. 'Come, Reiko.'

'Hai…' Reiko rose. Madam's hand flashed. The man coughed blood, and looked in astonishment at the blade buried in his chest. Madam pulled, and flicked the blood off the blade in an imitation of her palace guards, saying a word that made Reiko's blank expression crack in horror.

'Madam!'

'I've always wanted to say that. Usually to my husband.' Madam sighed happily, apparently not noticing the bandits closing in on them. 'You should try swearing sometime, you know.'

'H-Hai.' Reiko managed. Madam looked at the blood-covered blades that surrounded them.

'Oh my. Well, Rei-chan… it was nice knowing you. I appreciate your help with my children.'

'I am sorry for my position in your household, Madam. However I appreciate your care of me.'

'Are you girls done?' the apparent leader said. 'We were going to let you live, but for killing one of our buddies…'

'This is an overused line, but-' everyone looked around to where the young man stepped out of the forest, smiling amiably. Madam's eyes narrowed. The smile seemed a little… predatory.

'-if you lay one finger on those women, I'll show you no mercy.' There was a pause. 'And since I'm basically an honest person, I might as well mention that I haven't actually used mercy on anyone yet, so I might get it a bit wrong.' The boy added, laughing sheepishly.

Madam kept her eyes on him as a sudden rustle of fabric told her one had grabbed a hold of Reiko. The boy's eyes narrowed.

'Very well.' He said, not loud enough for them to hear.

And then he disappeared.

Reiko didn't move as blood spattered her clothes.

'I'm sorry Miss, I think I just ruined your clothes.'

He smiled on the outside. There wasn't one within.

'No. Thankyou for your help, young man.' Madam said calmly. She didn't remark on his sword skill. Anyone who could kill twenty armed men in less than a second was beyond unbelievably good. That was enough.

'Would you mind escorting us into town?'

The smile was beginning to become strained, so she added,

'Don't feel you must keep on smiling. What you did just now wasn't pleasant.'

Soujiro felt a twinge of gratefulness, but it was a while before he let the smile edge of his face. It felt strange, revealing himself like that.

'Pardon?'

'We were on our way back home.' Madam explained patiently. 'Our escorts, as you see, have been killed. After we bury all here, would you mind? I will pay you, of course but…' she looked him up and down, slightly amused. 'Perhaps some clothes, a hot bath and decent food with some small change might be more appreciated than a large sum.'

Hot bath…food!

'Hai, hai.' Soujiro found himself agreeing, bobbing his head up and down in hurried agreement. Madam laughed, and introduced herself and her associate.

'I am Yamazaki Shiori. This is my husband's mistress and my handmaid, Kirabaysahi Reiko. Hajimemashite.'

'Hajimemashite.' Soujiro repeated, bowing. 'Excuse me-'

'Everyone calls me Madam.'

'-Madam, but…did one of you scream before? Did…anyone scream for help?' Doubt was beginning to assail him… it a had been a child's voice, that had scream so loud…

Madam looked in blue eyes, filled with confusion, unaccustomed to having to be hidden, and deep, deep hurt and pain…

'No.' she said eventually. 'We did not scream for help, young man.'

'I…see…' Soujiro turned his face towards the rising sun. 'I see.' He repeated softly.

'Your name?' Madam asked suddenly, tying up her sleeves as she looked at the bodies.

'Seta.' Soujiro said, shaking himself. 'Seta Soujiro.'

The group attracted quite a bit of attention when they arrived in the town late that afternoon. Madam had found a hot spring when Soujiro had insisted on burying the bodies, and sent the women and children off and they had all washed their clothes and bodies. He'd never done such a thing as burying bodies before, but he didn't like the thought of a mother with two little children and a girl quite obviously unwell digging graves.

He'd known Reiko was sick as soon as he'd looked at her. There was the slight pallor of her skin, and a constant aura of exhaustion. And then she'd started coughing; so hard her entire body shook, just after Madam revealed the children. Madam had supported Reiko while the girl coughed, and Soujiro had watched the blood stain the ground. Madam had explained, once they had begun walking and the youngest child was asleep on her back, and the other telling Reiko about something his friends had been doing. She had said that ever since she was a young girl Reiko had been a sickly child, since she came to her household. Her parents had sold her when she was seven years old to Madam's husband. This man, Madam explained with no love in her voice, found weakness desirable; whether it was feminine fragility or sickness or tiredness from wounds. Reiko had all of these, though it got worse after he started using her. Madam's marriage had been for financial benefits on both sides, but Reiko's movement into the household had been for her husband's own sick pleasure.

'But she is a naturally sweet, caring child.' Madam sighed; glancing at the girl she allowed herself to call "Rei-chan" in certain company. 'She does not believe she has been wronged, but that it is a simple fact that her life is like this. She does not feel marginalised at all because she believes she is not worthy of anything that other people call better.' She shook her head and looked at the young man, whose smile turned on and off, as if he was not sure when a smile should be worn.

'But if you don't mind my intrusion, what are you doing, travelling by yourself?'

'I'm just… finding my truth.' Soujiro said softly.

'I see.' Madam smiled, and left it at that. Soujiro never found out whether she truly did see, or she didn't.

Reiko had another coughing fit in the main street of the town, enough to send her to her knees. Blood hit the ground in splashes.

'Reiko-san.' The oldest son said, hugging himself as his mother bent to rub the girl's back. 'Soujiro-san, can't you do anything?'

'Me?' Soujiro blinked. 'I'm sorry, Kenji. I'm a swordsman, not a doctor.'

'But she's so-' Kenji murmured, wincing as more blood hit the ground. The crowd that had flowed through the streets was in a circle around them now, and the wince was collective with most. Soujiro guessed, however, nothing could be done but wait for the fit to stop; he looked around, beginning to notice strange discrepancies. He had noticed several guards hiding in the forest, more as they approached the town. Inside the walls, most swords could be seen around every corner. It seemed almost as if the law hadn't reached here. The crowd began to part and fall silent, the sympathetic murmurs and wishes for a half-decent doctor falling into quiet as a large man that greatly reminded Soujiro of some large farm animal, like an ox. On two legs like pylons and little piggy eyes, dressed in fine clothes that looked out of place on his unevenly coloured body.

Intuition as the man strolled heavily forward, sake bottle swinging in his hand, led Soujiro to look at Madam. The women had raised herself into a standing position, her chin raised and her shoulders back. Despite her short stature, she seemed at that moment far above this red-nosed, ugly man in rich man's clothes. The sake bottle swung, and shattered over her forehead. Madam raised an elegant and hand brushed the fragments of pottery aside, ignoring the blood that was beginning to stream.

'Where were you, woman?!' the man bellowed. The members of the crowd were beginning to retreat; to hide or to watch from a safer viewpoint. 'You were supposed to be back for LUNCH!'

'I am very sorry, my lord.' Madam said, kneeling on the ground and bowing. 'We were attacked by bandits and had to walk back.'

'Attacked by bandits, huh?' the man sneered. 'I likely story.'

'Excuse me sir.' Soujiro said. The huge man focused on the lightly built boy dressed in blue. 'It's true. I helped your wife and her handmaid.'

'Mama, mama daijoubu?' Kenji tugged at his mother's sleeve. She pushed him quickly over to Soujiro, taking the blow meant for him from her husband's meaty hand.

'Mama!'

Madam caught herself on her hands. Soujiro looked in astonishment at the boy that had crashed into his legs. Madam wiped blood from her mouth with the back of her hand and took a deep breath.

'Mama!'

'No, Kenji.' Soujiro said sharply, rgabbing the back of the boy's shirt.

What am I doing?

You're helping the weak.

But I don't- I don't do that! It's not-

-not right? But that's Shishio-san's truth. Helping the weak is how Himura leads his life. You aren't Shishio-san or Himura, so…

So?

…why don't you do… what you started to do, without thinking?

Soujiro pushed Kenji behind a barrel of rice and stepped into the middle, picking up the little toddler and giving him to his brother. He then crossed back to Reiko and Madam.

'Ma-' blood hit the gravel. '-dam.'

'She's fine.' Soujiro said, Reiko's back gingerly, a gesture he'd never felt the compulsion to use before.

'Help her, please-' more blood. 'she's been so kind…to me…' Reiko panted, and coughed once more. Soujiro stared. Help her… but you…

Don't THINK! His own head screamed at him. His hand raised shakily, resting on his forehead. His fingers tightened.

'Don't think..' he muttered. 'Don't think, don't think, don't think about it, just don't think about it, I can't, I won't, I don't want to-… I DON'T CARE ANYMORE!' he shook his head from side to side frantically, trying to get rid of the voices that plagued him; Himura's, Shishio-san's, his own two inner voices…

The young warrior shook his head, screaming to himself aloud, one hand buried in his raven hair. Lord Yamazaki stopped abusing his wife and grinned at the young man.

'And this is the little boy you claimed save you? He's just a child with his father's sword! I'll kill you, BRAT!'

I'll kill you?

Kill you

Kill…

Kill…

Soujiro's eyes widened as Madam and Reiko faded to shadows and the man grew to a giant size, phantoms appearing behind him, slowly, echoes at first at then, like fog, colour rolled in, swirling, lending itself to create forms and features.

"Wait, won't that look kind of bad?"

"Oh, as long as we tell the cops we'll be fine. There's a dangerous criminal hiding out around here, remember?"

"Right, and since we're giving them information we'll all be richly rewarded…"

"Go ahead and do it, brother…"

"Right, I'll KILL you, brat!"

'-KILL YOU, BOY!'

'Aah-' Soujiro's right hand twitched.

"Go ahead and do it, brother…"

'Nng-' Soujiro's eyes screwed shut as his hand shook.

"Right, I'll KILL you, brat!"

'NOT AGAIN!'

Soujiro looked along his outstretched arm. Blood trickled off his katana. There was a gurgle behind him. Soujiro turned around as if on strings, eyes wide, watching the torso of Madam's husband split in two. Blood sprayed his front, but Soujiro didn't move. Madam stood stock-still, too still. Reiko watched Soujiro, though the young man didn't notice.

'I-'

'He killed Lord Yamazaki.' Someone said flatly. Madam rose shakily to her feet, and gathered her children to her.

'Soujiro-san, you will pick up Kirabayashi and follow me.'

'H…Hai…' Soujiro said numbly, willing to follow any voice of authority. I.. killed someone again.

But… back then…

I was crying…

Tasukete.