Author's Notes: This story takes place just prior to the Kyoto Arc.

CHAPTER ONE – GROW UP! Sanosuke Recruited

Yahiko ran across the floor with the rag yet again. Zipping across the front porch area in front of the Kamiya Dojo, the boy's hands began to redden at the stress he was putting on the cloth. The sound of his rushing feet hitting the floor followed him as he washed, the floor itself shining and mocking him with his own reflection. He knew it still would not be good enough for Kaoru, and he knew she would tell him so. Loudly.

His brows drew together in a frown as he took his eyes off the floor to look at Sanosuke, who, of course, was not participating in any of the cleaning jobs Kaoru had so generously placed upon the boarders of the dojo. While Kenshin was off doing the laundry and he, Yahiko, was scrubbing the floors, Sano was just sitting there, idly soaking up the sunshine on the front porch of the place, fishbone and calm smile on his face and everything. Yahiko stopped washing for a moment. That free-loader. Why the hell is here, anyway?

In all actuality, Sanosuke was simply enjoying the fact that he could come over while everyone else had to work and was laughing inwardly. He twirled the fishbone in his mouth with his tongue a little as he slouched further into his relaxed position leaning on one of the roof-supporting columns. Draping his arm over his closely bent knee, Sanosuke's face relaxed in the warm, tranquil air. The sun was shining, everyone was preoccupied with some chore or whatnot, the wind was blowing gently, he was not preoccupied with any chores, the sky was a nice, soft blue, and all was peaceful around the fighter-for-hire. That was, peaceful until Yahiko threw his rag at him.

"Dammit, Sanosuke! What the hell are you doing here? You don't live here, but you eat here and hang around here and don't do any of the work!" The jealousy in Yahiko's tone was evident.

Sanosuke brushed off the spot of dirt and grime in his hair the rag had left. Pulling the bone out of his mouth he said, "I know. Sweet deal, isn't it?"

Yahiko's anger increased, predictably. "The least you could do is help out with the chores! I mean, look! You're just sitting there! I know you've got nothing better to do, so why don't you just get up off your lazy-"

"Yahiko!" Kaoru opened the shoji door carrying what could become a very dangerous broomstick. "What's all this shouting about?"

"Him," the boy pointed to Sano, who by now, had slumped back down and started to take a nap. Yahiko's pointed finger soon turned into an angry fist and, while appearing upset at the older man's slobbish behaviour, his eyes held a twinge of envy. He had so wanted to sleep in this morning . . . "He's a bum! A parasite of the community! How come he gets all the perks of living here without any of the work?"

"Since when have you ever cared about the community?" Sanosuke questioned, opening one eye.

"You may have a point there, Yahiko," Kaoru said, stepping over to the 'bum' in question. "He should do something to pay off all the meals we've given him. Here," she dropped the broom into the fighter's lap. "You can start paying off your debt by sweeping the dojo."

At this, Sano got up. "Yeah, right. If staying here's gonna require work, I'm leaving."

Yahiko crossed his arms angrily. "See, I told you. A scourge to society . . ."

Kaoru's fine brows furrowed. "Hold it, free-loader!" she leapt out in front of the Sanosuke and held the broom like a sword, angled toward him and lifting his chin up slightly. The tall man's eyes widened and he stopped immediately. "Yahiko's right, you are a parasite of the community. And," her eyes narrowed, "if you won't help out here, maybe you need to do some community service elsewhere." The last few words sounded like a death sentence.

Sanosuke gulped.

Kenshin managed to smile while wincing at the same time as he washed laundry with Suzume smathering bubbles into his hair. Ayame continued to giggle as her sister shaped the foam into new and interesting designs that soon gave the ex-Battousai quite a new look indeed.

Suzume laughed as she swooped more white bubbles on, this time, upon Kenshin's upper lip. Now with white hair and a white moustache, Ayame could not help but exclaim, "Now he looks just like Grandpa!"

Finishing up the last of the laundry on the washboard, Kenshin took his sleeve and rubbed all of the girls' handiwork out of his hair and off his face. He hung up the linen with a smile to the children. "I believe that's enough of that for now, that I do."

The girls pouted, but nodded in agreement. Now that the laundry was done, there would be no more opportunity to decorate Kenshin.

"Let's go see if Miss Kaoru needs us to do anything more," he turned to walk to the school's entrance, Ayame and Suzume clinging to his feet for a free ride.

"There's no way in hell I'm gonna do that!"

Suzume looked up at Kenshin. "Uncle Ken, he said a bad word."

"That he did," Kenshin responded, patting her head, his smile never fading. I wonder what it is that Miss Kaoru is trying to get Sanosuke to do. I hope neither of them has gotten too carried away . . .

"You're going to do it if you ever want to eat here again!"

"Oh dear," Kenshin said as he walked around the corner of the Kamiya school. "What seems to be the problem this time?" he put on his best peacemaker face.

Yahiko smiled smugly. "Kaoru's chewing out Sanosuke for being a lazy freeloader."

"Ah," Kenshin said, now understanding. "What is that she wants him to do?"

"I will not go and help that . . . that fox!" Sanosuke sputtered angrily.

"Oh, I think I see now," the wanderer said to himself.

"You'll do it all right," Kaoru put her hands on her hips obstinately, "unless of course you'd rather starve."

"I can get food elsewhere, you know!" but Sano's stomach grumbled in betrayal.

Kaoru would have none of it. "With what money, Sanosuke?"

At this, Sanosuke struggled for an answer.

"It's settled then. We're going over to Megumi's place right now," the assistant master of the Kamiya Dojo grabbed the great Zanza, fighter-for-hire, by the collar of his jacket and dragged him off the property.

"Poor guy," Yahiko said with genuine pity, for he knew Kaoru's anger and how terrible it could be from experience, but he smiled nonetheless. "Oh well, it just means more food for me!"

"Now, Yahiko," Kenshin berated softly. "That was a mean thing you did to Sano, that it was."

"What? How do you know I did something to cause this?"

Kenshin would not answer, but simply smiled and carried Ayame and Suzume to the bathhouse. He figured Miss Kaoru would want a bath after all that shouting.

It was only about three minutes into the walk to Megumi's clinic that Sanosuke decided it would be in his best interest to ditch his jacket and just make a run for it. The lady Kaoru dragged the now unstruggling but still pouting Sano down the road, his long legs scuffing and leaving a dusty trail behind the pair. Sanosuke carefully pulled one arm out of the sleeve, cautious as to not let her catch him. Prepping his hand to pull the other arm out of its sleeve, he judged the exact moment he would choose to run.

"It's not going to be that bad, Sanosuke," Kaoru said, still storming down the street. "I'm sure after a while you'll-what the-!" she stopped when she noticed that her luggage seemed a bit lighter. "Come back here, Sanosuke!" she chased after the now racing ruffian.

"You'll never take me alive!" Sanosuke called behind him as he ran.

"Oh, Doctor Gensai, what a pleasant surprise," Megumi smiled as she finished mixing one of her numerous herb medications. "What brings you here?"

The old doctor smiled, placing relaxed fists behind his back. "Just here to check up on how you're doing, Miss Megumi . . . and perhaps to ask for one of your expert poultices, if I may."

"Of course," the lady smiled, her delicate hands searching the shelves. "For what purpose is it?"

"It's quite unfortunate," Gensai said. "It appears a hotel owner was attacked on an outing by a group of thugs. He has some very bad lacerations and many bruises. And he was lucky to get off that easily."

"My," Megumi said in her neutral professional tone. After a few more seconds of scanning, she plucked a rather large bottle off the shelf and handed it to the doctor. "Here you are. Mix this with some rice meal and warm it up before you put it on the bruises and then bandage them before it's exposed any longer."

"Understood. Thank you, Miss Megumi," Dr. Gensai bowed in gratefulness and turned to exit, but paused looking out the door. "Miss Megumi . . ."

"Yes, Doctor?"

"Did you by chance schedule a check-in with Sanosuke Sagara?"

"No," Megumi frowned at the name and in confusion. "Why?"

"I'm telling you, I'm not gonna do it!"

"Stop being so stubborn! You're acting like a big baby!" Kaoru's voice carried quite loudly as she pulled the large man up to the entrance by his ear as he ineffectually flailed his limbs in hopes to escape. Forcing her way to the door, little Miss Kaoru shoved Sano before her. Sanosuke, now trapped in the doorway, stood there and pouted, his arms crossed over his chest huffily as he refused to make eye-contact with anyone present. Kaoru tried to ignore this and said in a firm voice, "Miss Megumi, you have a new volunteer at this clinic. Sanosuke's going to repay society by doing some community service here."

"Oh no," Megumi put her hand to her head in consternation.