Chains Required, Whips Optional
A Tale of Rurouni Kenshin
Conclusion: Happiness is Good Health and a Bad Memory
Limbs immobile, throat parched, head pounding, and an unbelievable heat. There was no doubt about it, he did not need to open his eyes to know that he had been strapped down in the middle of a desert somewhere. Except for that cool wet touch of cloth that kissed his forehead every so often. And the distinct sound of familiar voices. Sanosuke groaned quietly. Perhaps a desert was not the correct explanation. Perhaps he had been run down by a runaway carriage... repeatedly. That would explain the permeating ache in his body. And, perhaps it was a very warm summer day, which would explain how very thirsty and hot he felt. Certainly that had to be it, he had suffered some accident and was currently in the care of a certain foxy doctor as a result. That was assuredly the Kitsune's soft touch and quiet voice that was easing him back into reality, at any rate.
"Sanosuke, wake up. I have some water for you."
Funny, Megume sounded, well, concerned. Perhaps something more serious had occurred. What did happen to leave him in such a state? And why did his shoulder feel as though an ox were using it as a trampoline? An ox with sharp hooves, at that. Chocolate brown eyes opened slowly, focusing on the lady doctor who was bent down over him. She looked concerned too. The street brawler threw her a weak, crooked smile. "You... always bribe... guys... with... water?"
The sound of his own voice bothered him, gravely and as dry as his throat felt. However, he achieved the desired response from the lady doctor as she smiled in return and arched an eyebrow at him. "Only Roosters who don't seem to be bright enough to keep themselves out of trouble. This may hurt, but I'm going to help you sit up a little. You're running a fever from an infection to that wounded shoulder. Between that and blood loss, you need as much fluid as you can handle."
Sano grunted as the foxy doctor eased her arm beneath his left shoulder and hoisted him up a few inches. His intent was to help but his muscles felt like jelly. In any case, the young man drank thankfully from the cool teacup of water presented to him. After a moment his vision swam and he half choked on the liquid. The kitsune hurriedly eased him back down. Sano groaned, both from the sudden bout with dizziness and the loss of the refreshing water. Somewhere in the back of his mind, the subconscious informed him to thank the lady doctor before he passed out.
Kenshin shifted ever so slightly from his crouched position in the corner of the room. Sakabato rested balanced across the Rurouni's knee caps. "Megumi-dono, how is Sano?"
The woman doctor did not turn to face him, preferring to speak while still fussing with rearranging her patient on the soft mat. "He should be all right. He is very dehydrated; we will need to watch that. But, I've seen this Rooster-head pull through tough situations before."
Megumi stood gracefully, sweeping a stray strand of hair back with one hand while supporting the near empty cup of water with the other. Turning her cinnamon eyes on the red-head, Megumi requested, "Would you watch him for a while for me? I need to check on Kaoru-chan and the girls again. "
Kenshin ducked his head in respect, scattering crimson fringe across his face. "This one would be pleased to look after Sano, that I would."
Megumi nodded concisely and turned for the door, placing the teacup on a low table near the wall with a water pitcher perched beside it. "Keep track of his temperature, Ken-san. Be sure to bathe him occasionally. If the rooster should wake up, he will be thirsty again. Only let him sip at the water, not gulp. If anything looks peculiar, be sure to fetch myself or Dr. Gensai right away."
"Of course. You should get some sleep as well, Megumi-dono. It does no good for you to work your self ill as well."
The woman covered her mouth with a hand and chuckled softly. "Dear Ken-san. I will do what I can, but you must know that my patients come first."
With that Megumi slid the shoji open and disappeared into the dark hall of the clinic. Kenshin waited until the woman's padded footsteps were out of hearing range before gently easing his sakabatou to the floor. Kenshin then maneuvered himself to the younger man's side and kneeled between the water bowl and Sanosuke's head. The rurouni eased his sleeves up and reached for the soft cloth resting in the cool water. He gently slid it along Sano's forehead and neck.
Kenshin was still in somewhat of a state of shock, to be honest. He slid the cloth in a slow rhythmic pattern across the exposed skin of the younger man's chest, avoiding the bandages. There were too many bandages, to many bruises. Kenshin frowned. He was not at all sure of what he felt about this situation. Sano had done the best that he could. Sano had saved the girls. Sano had killed, a lot.
That was the issue, really. Kenshin trusted Sano implicitly. The younger man was brash, headstrong, and enjoyed the darker side of things. They were two very different people, and yet he greatly enjoyed Sano's company. For all that they were different, Sano understood him, often with no words needed. He found he also understood Sano. The younger man was quite mature really, Kenshin often forgot he was speaking with a nineteen year old when conversing with the ex-street fighter. And Sano could also make him laugh.
Yet Sano had killed.
The red haired Rurouni held his priority of not killing in very high regard. He found that most of his new found friends in Tokyo agreed, and looked up to him for it. Sano had never said anything for or against the no killing idea. However, the rurouni in all of his many fights with Sano at his side, had never seen the ex-kenkaya kill anyone. Kenshin had in fact managed to dilute himself into believing that in the respect of death, perhaps Sano was as nieve as Kaoru on Yahiko.
Kenshin wrung out the damp cloth perhaps a tad more vigorously than required. He knew better, about Sano. He had all along. Sano had seen war, moreover, Sano had fought with the Sekiho, along with the adults during the war. It was entirely possible that Sano had killed a man before he was ten years old. And Sano himself had never denied it. He had never been asked of course, but the ex-kenkaya himself had proclaimed while still fighting for a career, that he was hired to fight people, weather they lived or died was not his business. That should have said everything to the rurouni, of course. However, he had taken it for bravado.
Now Kenshin suspected that perhaps men really had died from Sano's mercenary pursuit of cash in Tokyo. And the red head was most unsettled by the discovery. Worse, that Sano was still capable of killing. He was no longer Zanza, he was moving on from his past... Why would he kill? Kenshin frowned deeper to himself. Had the rurouni's philosophy not worn off at all on the younger man? Did not Sano support him in his endeavourers, in his beliefs?
The rurouni sighed, realizing that he would rip the cloth if he continued to wring it with such passion. Kenshin was so unsettled by bearing witness to this side of his friend that he was not entirely sure he even wanted to be in the same room as the dark haired man. Kenshin would have much preferred to be tending to Kaoru-dono at this moment, which was cowardly in and of itself. However, issues with Kaoru-dono were even worse.
The young woman had not spoken a word to anyone since they had discovered her on that island. Not even to Megumi-dono. Worse, the young kendo teacher skittered away from any man who would come near her. Kenshin had automatically feared the worse with this response. Kaoru had been raped, there was no other explanation. Upon brining the four victims of Kurimori's madness back to Tokyo and securing them in the clinic, Megumi had reached another conclusion from what Kaoru could physically tell her and what Ayame could fill in verbally. It seemed that while Kaoru had not been raped, it had been a very close thing. In which Sano had saved her.
It was three days later and Kaoru-dono still had not spoken a word, and would not let go of Sano's bloody coat.
Sanosuke groaned softly from the depths of whatever darkness he had fallen once more into. Sleep was the wrong word for it with the fever that burned through his powerful frame. Kenshin sighed, touching the cool clothe to Sano's forehead and running it from temple to temple. The younger man settled back into silence. Indeed, walking into Matsuo-jo and the horror that had happened there had tilted Kenshin's world on its side.
And he felt anger toward the young man who lay ill and pained before him as a result. Some of the anger was entirely unreasonable. There was a small part of Kenshin that blamed Sano for ever even allowing this to happen. While he was at the dojo, those girls were under his protection. This blame was quickly quelled when ever it came up as Kenshin reminded himself yet again that it was his own past, his own history that had truly endangered the people he loved. However, he could still be angry with the younger man for displaying such brutality before such innocent eyes. For bathing them, and himself in human blood. For being so very near to not saving Kaoru-dono that she was still scared from the experience. And worse, for very nearly killing Kurimori in cold blood.
They should not have had to argue about that point. They should never have been in a position in which Kenshin should have to remind Sano about not killing a man who was not fighting back. Sano was better than that. Kenshin had thought, anyway, that Sano was a better man that that. And that was where the anger stemmed. Kenshin felt betrayed by Sano's blatantly murderous choice. And yet, there was that tiny portion of him, the Battousi still caught in the back of his memory that agreed with Sano. Upon seeing Kaoru and the girls in the condition they were in, and seeing Sano himself... Battosai agreed indeed that death would have been appropriate.
Kenshin was not Battosai, even if in this situation he needed to remind himself of that fact.
After Sano had stalked in his temper from the castle map room, Kuromri had made a desperate attempt at escaping. Kenshin had quickly caught him and quelled him. Bringing the filth out into the hall he found Saito heaving the limp form of his best friend over a broad shoulder. It was interesting that the wolf had chosen to take Sano and leave Kenshin with the criminal. At the time Kenshin had been both insulted not to be left with the care of his friend while at the same time simmering at said friend. Perhaps Saito knew that on both counts. They had taken a boat back to shore, both of the youngest girls sitting between Kaoru and any of the men. Ayame had shook, Suzume and Kaoru-dono had both kept their eyes on Sano's still form.
All though the police carriage had been crowded, they rushed to the nearest town, and healer to get the most serious injuries immediate attention. There they had stayed for a day until Sano was stabilized. Saito then sent them ahead to Tokyo while he stayed behind to work with the local police on convicting Kuromori. That was what he said he was doing. However, Kenshin wondered perhaps a little bit if the Wolf had not simply taken Kuromori and run him through. Surely Saito would follow the legal system, even on this. He was a police officer after all.
In any case, Kenshin had directed the driver straight to the clinic in Tokyo and explained everything to Megumi-dono and Gensai-sensei as they settled the injured and coddled the children. Which left him in the evening, worried beyond words for Kaoru's mental health and Sano's physical. And left him fuming.
Kenshin sat well into the night with Sanosuke, bathing his head, neck, chest, and arms regularly with the cool clothe. Mind in turmoil and for the most part, over the young man who lay so still before him. In truth, the rurouni was unsure as to whether it was a blessing or a curse to have Sano begin to stir again in the early hours of the morning. The small kerosene lamp that had been set up to keep vigil of the sick room cast shadows on an increasing number of creases on the young dark haired man's face.
Concern won over temper for the moment as Kenshin pressed the cool clothe to Sano's forehead again and called out softly to the younger man. "Sano, wake up. You should have some water, that you should."
Again Sanosuke groaned, low and in the back of his throat. After a moment, one eye cracked open, followed by the other. He focused in slowly on Kenshin. The red head nodded to his friend even if he could not manage a smile for him. "Hello Sano. Allow me fetch the water for you."
The ex-gangster grunted softly in acknowledgment as Kenshin stood and poured the cool liquid from the pitcher in to the tea cup. Kneeling again noiselessly beside the sick bed the Rurouni eased Sanosuke's head up and pressed the porcelain of the teacup to his lips. Sano did not need to be told not to gulp as he seemed pressed to even sip at this point. After a point, the younger man turned his head aside, the cup nearly empty. Kenshin nodded, setting the cup beside him and settling back down to the floor himself. The red head turned his attention back to the water basin and the clothe, wringing it out with care. It took him a matter of moments to realize that Sano was watching him, however he did not rush as he turned back to the younger man. He could not trust himself just yet to start conversation. Silence was a better option.
Apparently, Sanosuke disagreed. "Kenshin?"
The red head cringed internally at the hoarse sound of the 19 year-old's voice. However, he could not ignore the plea. "Hai, Sano."
"Jou-chan, Ayame, Suzume… how are they?"
Kenshin sighed. That was a fair question, though he would keep the answer simple. "The children are doing well, though they are still frightened. Kaoru-dono is healing nicely."
It seemed to take Sano a moment in his fevered state, but he frowned just a little as he asked, "Will… will she talk?"
Even as Kenshin considered playing dumb, he knew Sano would catch him on this. They both knew what the younger man was referring to. "She has not spoken at all."
The frown on the younger man's face deepened. "Hn. Tomorrow… Kenshin, let me… talk with her."
Kenshin briefly considered refusing that. He would claim it was due to Sano's health, or some such. However, he was feeling uncomfortable in Sano's presence, how would Kaoru-dono respond? That was unfair to not allow the chance though. Perhaps Sano could sway the young woman. "If she will agree to it Sano, I will be pleased to tell her that you asked to speak with her."
Or, in this case, to ask Megumi-dono to tell her that Sano wished to see her. He could not stand to see Kaoru-dono cringe back upon seeing him again. He would allow Megumi to explain to Sano during the day why Kaoru choose not to come. All though, perhaps she would; she still clung to Sano's coat, after all.
Kenshin bowed his head to the younger man at this before taking up his cooling duties again. The fever that raged through Sanosuke had yet to abate. However, he did not seem to have gotten any warmer. This was a good sign. The Rurouni did not make further eye contact with the ex-kenkaya, intent on letting the conversation safely die there. Now was not the time to let Sano know how disquieted he was. The boy was quite ill, it was not right to lay such a heavy burden on the sick. Again, Sanosuke appeared to have either ideas.
The red head did not bother to cover his sigh this time. The younger man simply wouldn't take the hint. "Hai, Sano."
"You're… angry with me."
Kenshin froze. That was uncanny, he did not think he had been so obvious. He did not think it would occur to the fevered Sano to ask about it now. Perhaps when he was better, but certainly not in his current state. And Kenshin still was not ready to confront this. Sano was certainly too ill to have to worry on that.
Recovering as fast as he could, Kenshin refused to meet those chocolate orbs as he returned to his ministrations. "Do not worry about that now, Sano."
"You don't like… that I killed."
"Sano, you are feverish and tired, you should rest."
"I would have killed Kuromori… I still would."
Kenshin ground his teeth on this, the skin about his eyes tightening. If Sano were so determined to see this through here and now, than Kenshin would grudgingly oblige him. "In cold blood?"
Sano reached out and caught the red head's wrist in his hand, demanding silently a face to face argument. Kenshin met his eyes again, only to find a temper nearly as great as his own burning behind them. "In cold blood," Sanosuke agreed.
"Sano, I don't approve of any of the killing. Such unnecessary force takes precious lives. Cold blood is worse, it makes you no better than our enemies."
"Conceited. Kenshin… you are conceited. I am no… better than they. I am… no better than anyone. We're all the same in the end… Don't give me the high and mighty… bull shit, ex-Battosai!"
Indeed, Sano knew him too well, he knew which buttons to push. Kenshin reared back on this, tossing the cloth with a splash back into the basin. "Correct Sano, "ex", as in no longer. I am not Battosai and I will not kill! You know that. You have fought by my side so many times. There are so many better ways than killing, I have tried to impart that to all of you. Do you not believe me Sano, do you not follow my example? No, you betray me instead, and everything I stand for!"
"Bull shit, Kenshin! I… I am not your student! I am… not innocent! I have not taken… an oath not to kill. You mistake me for… for being your shadow. A… a clone in your parade. I respect you… Kenshin. I… respect all that it is you stand for. Your methods are… ideal, but not always… realistic. An' you know that! I'm not you Kenshin, an'… I don't want to be you! It's you who doesn't respect… me, I think, if it is now a betrayal to be an individual… and to make these decisions on my own."
This speech left the younger man winded, and he closed his eyes for a moment to breathe. His cheeks were flushed from effort and fever at this point. The Rurouni had to stop at this. He was an intelligent adult after all and Sano had made a very good argument. Sano knew him to well indeed. "I feel betrayed that you would have the urge to kill in cold blood, Sano."
Sano eyed him for a moment and grunted. "Don't feel… betrayed Kenshin. I… don't do it to… spite you. I… don't ask that you condone my actions,… just that you accept them as being my actions. I'll pay… for it sometime, you know. I ask that you respect my… individual choices, Kenshin… I ask that you respect me even if you don't like everything I do. Don't try to change me… it's too late for that. Just understand that… your rooster of a … friend here isn't perfect, like we've all… accepted of you. Be angry… if you wan'… but don't feel betrayed 'cause I don't mimic your every belief."
Kenshin blinked at the boy lying ill before him. Often, Sano didn't seem very bright. Kenshin knew that much of that was an act as was his own Rurouni bit. However, there were times when the younger man was surprisingly mature in his views. And truthfully, he was right. Kenshin ducked his head, however he maintained eye contact. "I apologize Sano. In this case you are more than correct. You are an individual and I enjoy your company due to that. I will remember to cherish that for what it is, Sano, and your choices. I cannot condone your methods this time, but you do not need me too. And in any case, you protected the girls quite well. You are as ever a reliable friend and protector."
Sano smiled lazily back at him, is eyes closing and his grip on Kenshin's wrist loosening. "Good."
With that he promptly passed out. Kenshin smiled back at him, easing the arm back beneath covers and turning once more to his water basin. He felt as though a great weight had been taken from him in that. It was true, he did not need to approve of the methods, he just needed to appreciate the friend. And that friend was indeed well appreciated which could remind him of that.
Which left him with the worry of Kaoru-dono.
As it turned out, it was in fact a couple of days later when a bored and still weak Sanosuke was interrupted on his pondering of the sunny day beyond the shoji screen by a timid nock on the wooden frame of the door at his back. The ex-gangster's fever had broken the day before and he was now ready to face the day with a night of sound sleep under his belt for the first time in a week. He had been greeted early that morning by two little girls, both of which smiling and happy to see him awake. Suzume had in fact produced an adorable rice ball with leafy rabbit ears to show how pleased she was that he had recovered. The rice ball sat on a plat near his sleeping mat, the bunny far too cute for the ex-kenkaya who had all ready had his breakfast to eat. The visit had been most fun as the two little girls seemed to be back to themselves. Aside from the fact that little Suzume was now far more talkative around him, assertive even!
The young man turned his head and gazed up at the bowed head of the dark haired young woman who stood at the door. Tilting his chin to the side he eyed the girl for a brief moment before addressing her. "Oye, Jou-chan. Come on in."
Kaoru looked up at that point to meet him eye for eye. Yet she stood immobile. One hand tightly wound in his coat. A coat that Sanosuke silently noted to himself, seemed ruined beyond redemption. He would have to figure out later how he intended to pay the tailor to get a new one made. Sanosuke grunted, his patients for silence in this sort of situation was notoriously short. "C'mon, c'mon, you know I don't bite."
To his surprise the girl responded this time with vigor. Jerking away from the doorframe Kaoru flung herself to her knees and her arms about Sanosuke's neck in a moment. Honestly, the ex-kenkaya hadn't known what to expect of the girl when she did show up. The lady doctor had told him that Jou-chan was shying away from all men at this point, something that Kenshin had neglected. Apparently he was the exception. Sanosuke gently pat the woman's back with his left hand as she clung to him. And there they sat for a solid five minutes.
Sanosuke allowed the younger woman her time, she would disengage the impromptu hug when she was ready. As she did, Kaoru pulled away from him and sat knees tucked beneath her on the floor beside his bed, watching him, smiling. Despite himself, Sano chuckled. "I'm happy to see you too, Jou-chan. And for once your not throwin' any food at me."
For all the world Kaoru grinned wider and her frame shook silently as though the laughter really did want to come out an be heard. She did give him a nice, solid punch to the left arm for his efforts though. "Hey, hey, that wasn't called for," he laughed.
Nodding as though to say 'yes it was!' her ponytail sent flying, Kaoru continued smiling. After a beat she held out her other hand and the coat and bandanna she held. Sano raised an eyebrow. "I can have those back, eh?"
Again, the young woman nodded. Sanosuke took the coat and laid it on his lap while picking up his bandanna. He made the effort to tie it 'round his head only to cringe at the stiff ache that threatened his right shoulder. Kaoru promptly took the red cloth from him at that and leaned forward to tie it on for him. As she did this, Sano spoke quietly to her neck. "They tell me, Jou-chan, that you're refusin' to talk all together. And that you're avoiding men. All though, I'm not included in the latter, I guess."
Kaoru's movements slowed, though she finished the knot before leaning back again. She sat for a moment and looked at her hands. Sano readjusted his bangs, thankful to have them pulled up and out of his face again, before reaching out and laying his larger hand on top of hers. "You know, Jou-chan, s'all right to be scared once in a while. Hell, I'm scared every time I peep into my food cupboard in my apartment; I just know some creepy, furry, eight-legged bugger is going to come out and have me one of these times."
It was meant as a joke, but the young man's audience was not in the mood for it right then. Sano sighed and decided to try again. "You know everyone her cares for you, and we're worried for ya. What happened at Matsuo… well. It was horrible Jou-chan, I agree. I promise I'll have as many nightmares from this as you; maybe we can go out and drown ourselves in sake someday and reminisce. In any case, ya gotta keep in mind that we all made it out all right and that nothin' worse happened than, well, what happened.
"It's been a week Jou-chan, and I don't wanna tell you to just move on an' get over it. I jus' wanna tell you that we miss our bossy, noisy, sweaty assistant dojo master. We miss you, Missy. Hell, loathe as I am to admit it, I'm even craving some of that unique Kamiya Kaoru cooking right now."
The young woman stared at him for a moment, expression void. Then there was the gorgeous sound of a choke, and then a half sob, followed up by a giggle. And she continued giggling, soon turning to full blown laughter. Clutching her sides Jou-chan was soon laughing so hard that she gasped for air whenever possible. Sanosuke was no longer sure if this was a good sign or if the dojo-master had lost her little mind.
However her voice rung loud and true, drawing the attention of everyone in the medical clinic. Megumi, Yahiko, Gensai, the girls and Kenshin all came running for the door. Every one of them staring in some cross of amazement and confusion at the sight before them. It was Megumi who finally stepped forward and lay her hand on the younger woman's shoulder, shaking her from the laughing fit, "Kaoru-chan, are you well?"
Kaoru turned to Megumi, still chuckling softly and said while casting a quick glance at Sanosuke, "I think I will be, Megumi-san. It may take time, but I will be."
Megumi quickly pulled the younger woman into a hug on this, pleased beyond words. Kaoru drew back first and stood. Smiling to Sano she said, "Thank you, Sanosuke, for everything," turning then to the open door where Kenshin stood behind a grinning Dr. Gensai she continued, "Kenshin, would you take a walk with me?"
"I would be honored, Kaoru-dono, that I would," smiled a very pleased Rurouni.
Yahiko steeped to the middle of the room and threw his hands wide, "Hold on a second, isn't anyone curious about what the heck the Buso found so funny?"
Kaoru grinned wickedly, walking past Yahiko and thumping him on the head on her way to the door. "Sanosuke just admitted to wanting to eat my cooking is all, and I will be sure not to forget that in the future!"
The wolf knelt in the earth of the forest floor, heedless of the dirt on his navy blue pants. With a casual manner he wiped his sword clean of the deep red glittering stain on it blade using the western cut coat of the man lying dead on the ground before him. Kuromori's eyes stared sightlessly his face frozen in terror even in death. Satisfied that his blade was clean the wolf stood and sheathed the sword. Tipping his police hat forward on his head he moved to start his journey back to town, the moon at his back.
Golden eyes glinted in the moonlight as a cigarette was lit and caught between his teeth. The situation was very simple really; no one hurt one of his men with out repercussions. As far as he was concerned, Sagara was one of his own.
Authors Note 05/06:
You have reached the end of Chains Required Whips Optional. You have survived my grammar and spelling errors and my sometimes clumsy use of the Japanese language. You have born witness to Sano being shot, beaten, threatened, hammered, and quartestaff-ed while going through the trauma of saving three girls. You have seen Sano and Kenshin have words, and reach an agreement. Your reward? Saito killed the jerk-off Kuromori! (Tosses about with wicked laughter). Okay, maybe that little piece of story was for me alone. Oh well.
As a birthday present to myself, I decided it was high time to finish this story. (My birthday was the 10th, in case you wondered) I've apologized enough fro my often impressive delays. This time I put forth to you, yes you, the patient waiters and the new comers to Chains Required, that DoC has ( given three to four years to do so) completed the story. This gem is not to be left incomplete, but given to you as a reward for digging through to seek out a Sanosuke Torture Ficcy. We have both been successful.
Ahem, seriously folks, I must say again how grateful I am for the wonderful reviews you have granted me. To those who have stuck it out, I am more than glad to have you as my loyal readers. I do hope that if I post a RuroKen story again that I can have your time for that story as well. I do have a few ideas for stories rolling around. In the future, however, I will be sure to finish typing the story at home before posting it on so I don't scare everyone into thinking it will not be finished.
Anyway, I have a OneShot humor fic in mind, and two or three angsty buggers hoping merrily around for our poor Sano. Plot bunnies being the wonderful things that they are, I don't know if they will ever take shape. In any case, just browse for my name every year or so, or look up Sano fics. I swear to you, no romance from me!
Good luck finding your next Sano fic kiddies, I know that's where I'm heading off to.