Two Wings A Rurouni Kenshin fanfic by Peregrine Vision

6 - Catch the Tears

Days passed, more days of alternately enjoying easy camaraderie with Sano-san and hardly being able to bear the temptation of his presence. It was getting worse every day. Soujiro began to grow intensely lonely when Sano-san was not present. He moped and pined and puttered about the house until Sano-san walked through the door, at which point he had to restrain himself from leaping into Sano-san's arms like a joyful hound greeting its master.

One night Sano-san was out...carousing, or something, somewhere, and Soujiro tossed about in bed, emotions and memories coursing through him with almost a life of their own. Just when he thought he would scream with frustration, the front door rattled and Sano-san staggered in.

Soujiro held his breath, staring through a torn hole in his screen at the tall fighter. The night was apparently too hot for him: His jacket was off, slung over his shoulder. The moon lit him from outside, outlining his glorious naked torso with silver.

Drunk or not, Sano-san still gave the impression of being able to thrash a roomful of men to a pulp. He straightened, with only a little effort, and shut the door, clumsily trying not to make too much noise.

//He remembers I'm here,//thought Soujiro, with a tiny secret thrill.

Sano-san turned his face toward Soujiro's screen, and Soujiro suddenly held himself very still, hardly daring to breathe. A strange, soft look was in Sano-san's eyes; he took a step toward the screen and then halted, casting his gaze up the stairs toward his own bedroom.

Then he started toward the futon. Soujiro gulped and quickly lay back down, shutting his eyes and trying to slow his suddenly frantic heartbeat. He heard Sano-san stop by his head, and kneel down.

There followed a long silence. Very, very cautiously, Soujiro slitted his eyes open the tiniest bit, barely enough to let him peer out through his thick lashes. All he could see was a dark, blurry outline bent over him. A sudden wash of warm (and rather alcoholic) breath gusted over his cheek, and with a new thrill in his heart Soujiro realized that Sano-san's face was now right next to his ear.

More rustlings and thumpings, and then a beautiful warmth as Sano-san nestled down by Soujiro, carefully settling his arms round the smaller man. Soujiro was suddenly acutely aware that he was wearing nothing but the oversize yukata, and that open and unbelted.

He couldn't take it any more. He opened his eyes.

Sano-san was more drunk than he'd seemed at first; he only gave Soujiro a sleepy smile. "Hey, you," he said, lifting a hand to cup Soujiro's cheek. The gesture was so unthinkingly tender that it filled Soujiro with longing. He wanted to answer, or better yet, to press himself closer and kiss the older man. But he was seized with the fear that Sano-san was not touching *him*; that in his drunkenness Sano-san imagined it was Himura-san who lay naked in his arms.

Dreamily, Sano-san brushed Soujiro's hair from his forehead. "So-ji, c'n I ask you something?"

Overwhelmed with relief at hearing his own name, Soujiro breathed out a "yes".

"You're in love with me, aren't'cha?"

The fear came rushing back, followed by waves of shock. "Wh--What?!"

"Hey, shh. Quit that. Head hurts." Sano-san's arms tightened round him, the hand that had been stroking his hair now coming down to move in soothing little circles against the small of his back. "Don't act like that. It's a logical question."

Love. LOVE. Love? What a word to use! That word had no meaning to Soujiro, was as empty and undefined as if it were in an alien language. It had never been said to him in his life, except in passing conversation. Yumi-san and Kamatari-san had both mentioned it in connection to Shishio-san, but it had been a matter which concerned them, not him. Neither the concept nor the word had any place in his existence. But how to explain this to Sano-san, who was the kind of person who loved as naturally as he breathed?

"I--I don't...I don't quite understand, Sano-san."

"What's to understand?" Sano-san looked puzzled for a brief moment, then bent his scruffy head. Soujiro gasped at the sudden sensation of warm lips on his throat. "I was just askin'. You in love with me?"

"Sano-san, you're need to get to bed, perhaps you're just tired..." Betraying his words, Soujiro's hands had already drifted to Sano's head and shoulders and were beginning to stroke the rough brown straggles of hair there. It was so sweet to be held, and kissed. Just to be touched again...

"So-ji." Sano-san lifted himself up onto his elbows and stared at Soujiro. Well, squinted--he was still quite drunk. "Listen to me," he said slowly. "I know what love looks like fromma inside...'n the outside too. An' you got the signs all over." His eyelids drooped a bit, his eyes unfocusing for a moment.

"You're drunk," Soujiro repeated. "Let me get you to bed."

At that the chocolate eyes blinked. Then Sano-san grinned. "Ya just did," he said cheerily, flopping on top of Soujiro and knocking the breath out of the young man. "See? You, me, bed. Mission accomplished." He snuggled into Soujiro's neck again, skin sliding against skin. Soujiro closed his eyes and shivered.

"Ah, liked that, didja?" mumbled Sano-san, nuzzling at Soujiro's jaw, just beneath the ear. "Me too." A knee slid between Soujiro's thighs, and everything in his body jolted and seemed to increase speed. It was as if Sano-san had started them moving forward, and they were going to start going very fast, very soon. But Soujiro couldn't quite see where.

"Sano-san," panted Soujiro, hands already sliding over the broad back. "Sano-san...what signs?"

"Signs?" Another puzzled look.

"You said I have the signs--all over." ("Mmm, all over..." said Sano-san, distracted, and Soujiro had to take the red bandanna by the knot to recapture his attention.) "Do you mean signs of love? What signs are those?"

"Oh, I forgot." Sano-san lay his head on the pillow almost nose to nose with Soujiro's. The unexpected proximity made Soujiro blush. That alone should have let him know how he had changed--if he had been paying attention at the moment. "You've never been in love, huh?"


"Don't believe in it?" Those eyes were so candid, peering inquiringly and a little fuzzily into Soujiro's soul.

"Well...I think I did, or do. But only for other people. Love is not a thing I understand."

"Crazy thought." Ignoring--or perhaps not seeing--Soujiro's bemusement at this statement, Sano-san wrinkled his brow. "Let's see...oh dammit, my head's not on straight tonight. Signs. Well, you've been avoiding me in that smooth oh-I'm-not-avoiding-you way of yours, where you smile and nod and talk about everything except what happened that time we slept together. But sometimes I catch your smile cracking, like when...when...ah, I'm too damn drunk to remember when right now, but I remember. You're not as good at it as you used to be. You're gettin' skinny, and your eyes are kind of hollow." He traced the line of Soujiro's eye sockets with a tender fingertip. Soujiro shut his eyes, savoring the touch.

"But you're always lightin' up when I come in the room, your face shines like a...pretty shinin' thingie..." This appeared to be rather too long a speech for him in his state, and the voice faded toward the end.

Soujiro was startled, and deeply disturbed. "Am I...transparent, Sano-san?" he asked sadly. "Is it so obvious to you, what I feel?" It was one thing to give up old and unhealthy habits. It was another to lose skills you'd had all your life.

A none too gentle snore made him blink. Sano-san's mouth was open, his eyes solidly shut, finally unconscious.

For a moment Soujiro debated whether or not to get the man into his own bed upstairs, but then he decided he just couldn't be bothered. Besides, a sleeping body in your futon had certain benefits. He snuggled into Sano-san's chest. The scarred arms wrapped around him, as if even in his sleep Sano-san had been expecting this. Soujiro fell asleep.

* * *

He woke pillowed on Sano-san's bicep; not a soft headrest at all, but a surprisingly comfortable one. It fit his neck quite well. Sano-san was warm, his breathing still deep and gentle. His other arm was firmly around Soujiro's waist.

Soujiro blinked, trying to remember what had led to this. Ah, yes...

He smiled up at Sano-san. The fighter had cuddled him close like a favorite doll, and that comforted him somehow. Sano-san was in his sleep as he was awake: perfectly relaxed, at ease, and vaguely happy. A smile curled the corners of his mouth as Soujiro tentatively pressed closer to kiss him.

Sano-san sighed.

Soujiro pulled back, eyes almost crossed. He buried his nose in the blanket.

It was not a good idea to kiss a man in the morning who had been drinking the night before. Not a good idea at all.

Sano-san groaned and stirred, mumbling something about his head. Soujiro shut his eyes quickly and began to take deep, even breaths.

He felt the arm under him give a tiny jerk of startlement. "Wh--" he heard Sano-san say.

Then there was silence, in which he tried to keep his breathing even and stop his eyelids from twitching.

After a while he felt a hand cup his face. He felt Sano-san kiss his hair. Artfully he snuggled closer. Sano-san kissed his forehead.

There was a limit to how long he could go on acting. Soujiro made a show of stirring, then slowly opened his eyes, blinking as if the sunlight hurt him. The first thing he saw was the gentle smile on Sano-san's face.

"'Morning, So-ji," said Sano-san, in an unusually soft voice. The sound of it made Soujiro quiver to his very toes. He opened his eyes wide, unable to think of what to say.

But Sano-san had felt the little shiver, and saw the blush which now spread across Soujro's face. He squeezed Soujiro around the waist. "Now this, I think, is worth waking up for," he murmured. "Even with a hangover."

Suddenly Soujiro didn't care about Sano-san's breath any more. He leaned forward and kissed him. Sano-san made a brief "mmf" of pleasant surprise, and then began to kiss Soujiro back. Slowly. Intensely. In an extremely...*involving* way.

Sano-san's mouth moved down to Soujiro's neck, and he slipped his hands under Soujiro's open robe. Soujiro made a little gasp of delight. Yes, this was what he wanted, what he had been wanting, Sano-san's big hands under his clothes, moving over his thighs and his back and...ooh, ooh, yes, and his bottom, squeezing first one round, firm cheek and then the other, stroking the curve of them, all the while Sano-san kissing his neck and making little delicious mutterings of satisfaction. He squirmed a little in Sano-san's arms, trying to get more friction between their bodies.

The robe was pulled off one shoulder, and Soujiro gasped as Sano-san began to lavish attention on it the way he had been doing on Soujiro's neck. Soujiro sighed, running his hands up and down Sano-san's bare ribs. Sano-san responded by gently rolling Soujiro onto his back, and climbing on top of him.

Then the laughter started, dry and mad and utterly contemptuous in Soujiro's head. God damn, Sou, it's unbelievable how pathetic you are.

Soujiro froze, with a shocked gasp. Sano-san paused, blinking down at him.


Shishio-san would not stop laughing. Shivering with horror, Souijiro pushed against Sano-san's chest. "Sano-san...please stop, I...I can't..."

Come here, Sou. Let's do it the way you remember. Let me burn you inside and out; let me scorch your soul as well as your skin. It's all the same, in the end. Him or me, there's no difference.

Looking bewildered, Sano-san shifted his weight off Soujiro. He didn't let go, though. "So-ji? What's wrong?"

I fuck you, he fucks you, everybody fucks my sweet little Tenken. Shishio-san's voice became a mad singsong. It's all the same. Everybody's the same.

Soujiro's throat hurt. //Not true. It's not true.// But here was Sano-san now, sweet and concerned but nevertheless *here* in Soujiro's bed, unexpected, uninvited...

And I bet he doesn't even remember last night. This time it was Yumi-san, speaking in her sultry, jaded voice. What he said. How he made you feel, how he makes you feel, even now. You want him, don't's just like he said...but how do you know he wants you? Poor stupid Boy. I of all people would know how this works. Shouldn't you know better too?

"Am I too heavy?" Sano-san was saying, holding him gently. Stroking his hair, all loose on the pillow. Kissing his forehead, then his temple, moving toward his mouth...

"No!" Soujiro pulled sharply away, drew his body into a little fetal curl, away from Sano-san.

"So-ji...?" This time Sano-san sounded hurt as well as puzzled. "What did I do?" He had no idea; he would never have any idea what Soujiro had to go through every single day, this trying to live with two dead people in your head. Two very cynical dead people, who thought everything you had learned and felt and wanted was wrong.

And maybe it was wrong. Soujiro felt a pang deep inside him, somewhere between his stomach and chest, when he thought of Sano-san and Himura-san. Waking up like this, after a night of drinking. Sano-san had told him that he and Himura-san would often go out gambling together. Coming home late, maybe falling asleep in each other's arms. Waking up still tangled in each other's limbs, smiling and murmuring sleepy greetings, and then slowly awakening to one another, beginning to touch and kiss and...Soujiro's breath grew shallow and painful. He shut his eyes and buried his face in the pillow.

The soft touch of Sano-san's hand on his back sent a shock through his body. "Did I..." Sano-san's voice was low, and apprehensive. "Did I...*do* something to you last night?"

He didn't even remember. This was the most humiliating, painful thing of all. And yet it somehow *catalyzed* Soujiro. It was like the battle with Himura-san. It was as if he had been wearing some sort of veil over his eyes and it was suddenly lifted off and everything was terribly clear. Soujiro wished it wasn't. There were some things the better for being unseen.

"No, Sano-san," he whispered. "You did nothing. You only asked a strange question. And I didn't know the answer."

//But I do now. And the answer is yes.//

"And you're not gonna tell me what upset you, are you?" Sano-san's black eyebrows drew together. "You're just going to pull your old tricks on me again. You're going to smile that stupid smile and dance your stupid dance of 'who me? why you must be mistaken, Sano-san.' I hate that. You *know* I hate that."

Soujiro wrenched himself away, sliding out of the futon and sitting up, dragging the blanket protectively in front of his chest. "Why should I care what you hate?" he demanded. A ray of early morning sunlight was shining in through the window; it touched Sano-san's forearm and lit up every fine hair on it in glowing gold. Soujiro looked away; gods, he was getting so WEAK, how could he have let his discipline slip so badly? "Why should I care what you want, for that matter?"

"How would you know what the hell I want?" Sano-san snarled back, sitting up to face Soujiro across the futon, brown eyes furious. "How would you know anything about me? I let you into my house, I tell you a couple of stories, and suddenly you think you can read my mind? Who do you think you are? Kenshin?"

The name Soujiro was learning to hate all over again was the last straw. He couldn't even speak. Uttering something that was more scream than sob, he scrambled for the closet in the back of the house, for the clothes he hadn't worn since his ill-fated arrival in this cursed country.

He didn't bother with the shirt. He'd already gotten the gi on and was pulling up the hakama when Sano-san seemed to realize what he was doing and came up behind him. "So-ji--"

Soujiro didn't even bother to say "Don't touch me!" He whirled, clutching the untied waistband with one hand, and backhanded Sano-san hard with the other.

Sano-san staggered back, looking shocked. The sudden pang in Soujiro's chest made him even more angry. Hastily he tucked his gi into his pants and tied them firmly. He ran to the back door--the older man being between him and the front--up to the brick wall in the back of the little yard, and vaulted it.

The pain when he landed reminded him he was still barefoot. But Soujiro didn't care. He ran, dodging people who were on their way to market, who were hanging out laundry, who were doing stupid, happy, everyday things. Soujiro hated them all, every last one of them.

He collapsed sobbing in an alleyway, out of breath more from suppressed crying than from fatigue. He wept as he hadn't done since the first beating he'd ever taken. He had felt just this way, he remembered: scared and lonely and shocked, shocked that people who he'd thought would take care of him, instead...

//No. Stop it. Stop acting like you're still that stupid child.// That was probably why he was always betrayed. He'd been asking for it, every time. Acting like an idiot, letting feelings and false assumptions run his life...he deserved to be beaten down.

Now you understand. The deep, rough voice was almost gentle. Soujiro lifted his head, not knowing what he expected to see, but there was no one there. Only the memory of Shishio-san's presence, the memory of a hand barely brushing Soujiro's cheek. I'm the only one that ever really knew how to treat you, Sou. I'm the only one that ever really knew you.

"But you never loved me, either," he whispered.

Love?! Shishio-san sounded as if he couldn't believe his ears. Did he still have ears? Soujiro remembered the strangely corrugated shells that were all that remained of the Juppon Gatana commander's ears. He wondered if Shishio-san's ears were whole, in the afterlife.

Love? Is that what you want? Good grief...didn't I teach you *anything*? Love isn't going to get you anywhere, Sou. Love will lead you nowhere and get you nothing. You can waste all your life in looking, but love never comes. Not to people like us.

"But...what about Yumi-san?" He knew Yumi-san had loved her master, and in a way that love had been returned. In a cruel way, yes...even so...

And look where it got her. A blade in the back and forever in Hell. A low, unbelievably dry chuckle. That's love all right. That's as good as it gets, for us.

As good as it gets...Soujiro sobbed and buried his wet face in his hands. It was true, it was all true. Death and destruction, forever, only for him and his kind. Happiness was for other people: ignorant, innocent people. Soujiro was not even a person anymore, only an empty vessel, seeing others' happiness through cold eyes. He had tried to change his life, but he was still the same. One of the walking dead.

In his heart, instead of his head, he remembered Sano-san's smile. The memory of it made him want to die.

"Why am I still alive?" he asked.

To learn, Boy, said Yumi softly. He laid his head on the dusty ground at the foot of a wall, and it was as if he had laid it in her lap again, and she was stroking his hair. To realize these things for yourself. We can try to tell you, and Battousai can preach all he wants, but you had to see it to understand.

"Yes," he said softly. "Yes, I... I think I am beginning to understand."

He closed his eyes and went to sleep right there on the ground, alone as he had always been.

But not unnoticed, this time.

-end 7-