Disclaimer: You know, if I owned Rurouni Kenshin, it wouldn't be called Fanfiction now, would it? ^_^

Okay, you might say, what the heck is this? Because anyone who knows me KNOWS I'm not a shounen-ai person. In fact, I was in the middle of writing a "Why I hate Kenshin x Sano" essay (long story) when this idea came to mind. And, naturally, it wouldn't leave until I wrote it. So I did. I hope someone enjoys it. (Clarus, this is all your fault, I tell you!)

***Spoilers for the end of the Jinchuu arc***

~*~

Covert Distractions

Akai Kitsune

~*~


The fox was leaving.

Sano was not happy, the first time he stumbled across this information weeks ago. It was just an innocent excursion to the clinic, getting his hand checked as usual.

He hadn't expected voices in the examination room, discussing Megumi's future move to Aizu.

All the way to Aizu.

Sano was NOT happy.

It wasn't simply the kitsune's presence, acting as a balancing force for the little group they had become. It wasn't just because he might - just might - have enjoyed the occasional verbal abuse she put him through, far too clever and sharp for him to keep up like he wanted to.

It wasn't simply because he loved her, as a dear friend who had remained a great support since she became part of the "family" they had created at the Kamiya dojo.

No, it wasn't simple at all.

Kenshin and Kaoru were getting married.

Not yet, he knew - Kenshin would have told him if it were that obvious at this point - and certainly not soon, but Sanosuke knew that the little tanuki-girl wouldn't sit by and let the man go to waste as just her houseguest. Hell, it was already beyond that, but he could sense that Kaoru wanted more - had in fact wanted more for a long time, now.

And Kenshin didn't seem too inclined to object.

Sanosuke was past the point of believing that Kenshin would be forced into a marriage he didn't want. The rurouni was too independant to allow anyone to make him do something he didn't want to do. After over ten years of taking care of himself, he didn't really need anyone to do it for him, even if he needed the friends to support him in what he did.

Sano could understand that; he'd needed very much the same thing.

And he'd gotten it, he knew. He'd been roped in by Kenshin and all his vows, his battles, and that damn sweet smile that could make anyone with half a heart want to melt. Without really knowing, he'd been dragged into the life that was Himura Kenshin, and he'd never wanted to leave. He finally understood why the Missie was so caught up in him already. Kenshin was like a tornado, a tsunami, perhaps: he came and swept you off your feet - not really intending to, just letting it happen, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Once you were caught, there was no letting go.

But the fox was leaving.

He knew why; with the inevitable pairing of Kenshin and Kaoru becoming a done deal, Megumi didn't want to be anywhere near it. She was happy for them, of course - she had been the one to initiate action half the time - but it must have been painful to watch them and know that, even though she cared deeply for him, Kenshin could never be hers.

Sanosuke wondered if the ache she felt in her heart was anything like what touched his whenever Kenshin and Kaoru were together.

He didn't know what it was, really. It could have been love, it could have been a terribly strong friendship, it could have been some childish fixation for the strongest man he knew - one who echoed the ideals he had loved in his taichou. All he knew was that he felt something for this man, and he would do anything to keep him from harm. Even if it was keeping such feelings to himself.

Which was, in a sense, precisely what Megumi was trying to do.

He cursed to himself, scuffling his feet in the dirt of the darkening Tokyo street. Did he love Megumi? Hell yes. In some way, that is. He'd be hard-pressed - and obscenely drunk - to give an honest answer to that question, although the master of his favourite bar probably knew it, judging by the dry smirk and puzzling question he was given the last time he'd come in for a drink.

Did he love Kenshin? That was... damn, that was...

He honestly didn't have a clue. But for the most part, he didn't want to find out.

Megumi was disappearing from their lives, becoming a shadowed friend from a distance, writing letters and making sparse visits for the sake of keeping in touch with the ones she loved. Chased away by the idea that Kaoru loved Kenshin, and Kenshin probably loved Kaoru, and they'd be settling down and having kids any time now.

But - damn it all - Sanosuke didn't want her to go.

He didn't want to lose her, when he was still trying to figure out those persistent feelings that kept coming back. He wanted Kenshin and Megumi to remain close to him until he could truly determine what to do about the situation. He wanted to know what love was, and if this was love, who was the focus of it all?

Sometimes he found it amusing, the secret glances between his other friends, those friends who seemed to know so much when he knew nothing at all. He loved Megumi; he wanted to be with her; the constant bickering was merely an escape from admitting those feelings.

Well, weren't they the clever ones, figuring everything out?

Kenshin just smiled, watching them argue. Perhaps he saw something no one else did - he always seemed to look beyond appearances to find the heart of people, especially those with well-kept secrets. Perhaps he could see the deeply-knit indecision lurking behind Sano's eyes.

If so, Sano wished - though sometimes he cursed the idea - that Kenshin would tell him what the hell was going on in his head so he could fix it.

Megumi was a pleasant distraction from Kenshin's calm, soothing presence, just as his time with Kenshin took his mind off the beautiful vixen with a tongue as quick and sharp as a whip-lashing. Indecisive as he was, he needed them.

But he knew, deep in his heart, that he couldn't have them. Either of them.

Steeling himself, he continued to follow the path before him, not quite sure where it would go and not really caring either way.

~*~

It was amazing, really, how Fate came and threw her hand into the patterns of the world when a man needed it the most. With Megumi halfway out of Tokyo, not even an hour gone, the appearance of the policemen after his head was just so... perfect. He didn't have a problem with having to leave - indeed, far from it. It was refreshing, somehow, getting away from the others, with his feelings about the departure so fresh and new.

For a week he traveled through his old network of friends and allies, dodging the police and seeking refuge from all who wanted him locked away. It wasn't as difficult as he might have thought, slipping back into the underground. He found it to be an almost pleasant surprise.

He had a great deal of time to think about what he was to do, and when the time finally came, he made a decision. There had been enough tiptoeing around, enough secrecy. It was either confess his long-lived confusion, or leave.

And Sanosuke was not the type to confess something he himself was unsure of.

Even if something were to happen - not that it would, he warned himself, driven by the memory of Kaoru mentally clinging to Kenshin at every opportunity - his new criminal record would certainly get in the way of any sort of blooming relationship. No, better to escape Japan, give himself time to sort things through. Perhaps even let the silly charge fall into the past and fade over time. He'd come back.

He was pretty sure he'd come back.

Maybe he'd come back.

So he'd sent one of his gambling buddies on a run to the Kamiya dojo, and had waited by the docks with a bag of his belongings and a fishbone in his mouth. It hadn't taken them long to arrive; they all looked concerned, and more than a little upset.

Kenshin's expression was puzzling, really... as if he'd already known, already resigned himself to the fact that Sano was leaving. If they were alone, he might've tried to wrestle an answer out of the older man, but with Jou-chan and the kid around, Kenshin was less likely to admit anything. He was like that; never gave more than he had to, never let himself tell a secret if it was someone else's right.

Kaoru and Yahiko tried to argue with him, of course. They seemed desperate to keep their little family alive - with Megumi gone, it was already falling apart at the seams - but none of their statements were able to convince him. He was ready for a change, and even looked forward to seeing more of the world without being led by Kenshin's life . He wanted to act on his own accord like he used to, instead of moving in the rurouni's shadow.

He'd encouraged them as best as he could: Kaoru, with the promise of a long, healthy marriage with Kenshin, sending the girl blushing and stammering protests - even though the statement made his heart sting, made him feel as if he was surrendering already; Yahiko, with the expectation of his own predestined greatness, the knowledge that his reputation of "evil" was safe in the boy's hands.

And Kenshin...

Kenshin, he left a smile, a familiar act of companionship that showed more of their relationship than words ever could. He left the promise - unspoken, implied - that someday he'd be back, and the rurouni had darned well be ready for his arrival with some of that youkan and miso he enjoyed so much, or there'd be hell to pay.

But, really, above all else... he wanted Kenshin to be happy. And if that meant him being with Kaoru - well, Sano would be damned if he got in the way of that.

As he stepped on the little boat that waited for him, pushing off the dock and waving to his friends with the familiar, wry grin by which he was known, he felt... relieved. Almost as if he had truly made the right decision. The path ahead of him was wide - wider than those in Tokyo, the paths of indecision and worry. Wider even than all of Japan, a country filled with ghosts and old regrets.

No, this path was nothing less than the entire road... and Sano planned to walk over every inch of it before he came home again.

Home... the word carried a new meaning for him. He knew he'd never forget what home was for him. And watching Kenshin and Kaoru speak quietly on the dock, smiling sadly as he disappeared, he knew that Kenshin wouldn't forget, either.

And he smiled.

~*~

Owari

~*~

AN: This almost seems like I'd run off making a wandering-Sano sequel, ^_^;; Maybe someday.

I still don't know why I wrote this, but looking back, I'm not sorry I did. Not directly shounen-ai, but not a canon-pairing either. This is probably one of the strangest, most indecisive fics I've ever written. (kind of like Sano in the story, ^_~)

I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading.

~Akai