Disclaimer: Not mine.  Watsuki's.

Warning: Dark-ish type fic.

Inspired by the song "Hero" by Enrique Inglesias.  I listened to it one too many times.  Like…unhealthy amounts of it.  It actually helps to listen to the song when reading this…or so I think, since I listened to it while writing.  ^-^x  I actually want to make a music video to the song, but being as I don't have the ability to do that while at school…I settled for writing a fic off the top of my head when I should be studying for finals.

Hey, it worked last time…  The whole writing a fic off the top of my head thing, not the ignoring finals one.  (Hint: That fic would be "My Confession.")

Oh, and this fic ignores the Sessouhen, as do any of my post-Jinchuu stories (that being all of them so far…-_-x).  Takes place after the manga ending, seeing as I haven't seen the anime end.  Basically, this is a pointless piece of diversion for me, but if anyone likes it, then yay!  I only hope I don't go too OoC with the characters…I hate it when I do that.  I never do it on purpose.  Oh yeah…and bad language ahead, just to warn you.

The rain pelted down, churning up the dirt of the street.  Mud coated everything, everyone.  The air was cold, the sky dark and violent.

            Tsubame sat on the floor, her legs curled beneath her, her kimono stained irreparably with dirt and grime and mud.  The hard dirt floor didn't help matters, nor did the broken window and door.  Rain flew into the room in sheets, chilling her to the bone and freezing the few tears she had left to cry.

            "Yahiko-kun…" she whispered, her voice hoarse. 

            But no matter how much she cried, how much she begged and prayed, Yahiko wouldn't come to save her.  He couldn't come to save her.  No one could.

            Finally breaking down, she doubled over, her head on her knees, and wept.

Two hours earlier…

Yahiko ran into the Akabeko, a large smile plastered on his face.  Tsubame stopped cleaning the table she was at when he picked her up from behind, holding her to him in an unusual show of public affection.  As soon as he picked her up though, he set her down again, a blush turning his face red.

            "Ur, sorry about that.  But you'll never guess what happened!"

            She smiled, his excitement infectious.  "What?"

            The smile on his face only grew.  "It's a surprise!"

            Laughing softly, she lightly slapped his arm.  "Oh, you're horrible!"

            "I know."

            Rolling her eyes, Tsubame sidestepped past him, holding up the rag she was using to clean the tables.  "Yes, well, I'm afraid that I still have work to do.  Unless you can tell me what is so important, you'll have to excuse me…"

            "Tsubame…"

            She stopped when he called her name, his voice unusually soft and serious, especially after his energetic entrance into the restaurant.  Slowly she turned back to face him, her smile dying on her lips.  "What…?"

            He stepped towards her, taking her arm gently in one of his large hands, looking at the few customers left.  Even though it was nearing closing time, the regulars liked to stay as late as possible.  Nodding towards them, he whispered: "We need to talk…alone."

            Swallowing, she nodded, disengaging her arm from his hands.  The skin felt cold afterwards.  "I have to tell Tae-san…please wait a moment."

            His sudden change of mood unsettled her, but her curiosity won out in the end, and she found her employer sitting in the back, counting money.

            "Tae-san…  May I be excused early?  I only have one table left…"

            The older woman looked up, one eyebrow raised questioningly.  "Well…I don't see why not.  Just finish that one table and I guess you can go.  You work hard enough; leaving half-an-hour early won't be too bad.  I'll see you tomorrow morning then."

            Bowing, Tsubame thanked her profusely.  "Yes, tomorrow.  I'll see you then, Tae-san."

            Backing out of the door, Tsubame turned around, only to nearly run into Yahiko.  She gasped and held her chest, leaning against the wall for support.  Yahiko was either too anxious about if she could leave or too unobservant to notice.

            "Well…?" He asked, biting his bottom lip like a young boy.  On his seventeen-year-old face, the expression was only comical. 

            Tsubame nodded, then shook her head as his eyes lit up.  He was such a child sometimes.  "Yes, I can leave…as soon as I finish washing my last table.  You can wait here or outside, I don't mind.  I'll be only a moment…"

            He nodded, then followed her to her table, hovering behind her like a hawk about to strike at its prey.  Not letting him unnerve her, Tsubame finished as quickly as she could, then took the rag back into the kitchen.  He followed her there, too.

            "Yahiko-kun…" she began, picking up her things.  "You don't have to follow me everywhere, you know."

            "I know."

            A sigh burst through her lips before she could stop herself.  "Of course you do."  She motioned for Yahiko to stay where he was, then went into another room to change out of her western clothes.  A few minutes later she returned, wearing an ordinary kimono. 

Picking up the last of her things and shouting a quick goodbye to Tae, Tsubame turned to Yahiko, her usual smile lighting up her face.  "Well then, shall we go?"

            Yahiko smiled right back—not quite unusual for him, but still slightly unnerving.  "Yup."

            He led her outside, and she looked up at the slowly darkening sky.  The autumn air was cool against her cheeks, but smelled damp.  Definitely a sign of rain.  "It looks like there's going to be rain soon…" She vocalised her thoughts.

            "Yeah," Yahiko nodded, also scanning the sky above them.  "Kenshin said he thought we might have rain for the next few days."

            "Kenshin-san…" Tsubame said softly.  "How is he, anyway?  And Kaoru-san and Kenji-chan, too.  I haven't been able to visit them lately…"

            Yahiko shrugged.  "Like they always are.  Nothing changes with those three.  …Except Kenji.  He gets more annoying by the day."

            "You're too hard on him, Yahiko-kun."

            "Hey, I'm not the one that likes to climb tall things and not be able to get back down."

            "He's six-years-old, Yahiko-kun."

            "I wasn't that clumsy at six."

            She laughed.  "No, I don't think you were."

            He chuckled, but didn't say anything else. 

            They began walking, Yahiko in the lead, Tsubame a few steps behind.  Her mind began to wander the longer they walked and the more Yahiko was silent.  What could this surprise be?  Why would it matter to both of them, anyway?  She paused at that thought and blushed. 

She knew how she felt towards Yahiko, but his own feelings had always been a mystery to her.  Whether or not he liked her in the same way she liked him, she didn't know, but she was content to just be able to see him almost everyday.  Even if they did just see each other as friends.  'Maybe someday…' she thought.

Tsubame didn't know how long they walked for, but eventually she began to notice that the houses looked very familiar to her.  This was the way to the Kamiya dojo.

            "Yahiko-kun," she began, quickening her pace so that she was beside him.  "What are we doing at the dojo…?"

            "We're not going to the dojo."

            "Well, then…where are we going…?"

            "I told you, it's a surprise."

            Tsubame fell back a bit after that, her questions dying in her throat.  Yahiko was definitely acting weird.  He'd never hidden anything from her before—in fact, they knew almost everything about each other.  She knew of his time in the yakuza, and he already knew about her dark past with the gangs of Tokyo.  Ever since meeting each other, they'd supported one another, been the closest of friends.  What could he possibly be hiding from her now?

            They continued walking in silence, Tsubame only breaking the quiet once when they passed the Kamiya dojo.  She whispered a quick "hello," and to her surprise Yahiko smiled, but kept walking.  Now she definitely knew he had meant it when he said they weren't going to the dojo.

            About half a mile from the dojo, he finally did stop and turned to face her.  Tilting her head in a curious fashion, Tsubame walked right up next to him.

            "Yahiko-kun, where is this place?"  The area they were in was a little run-down, but not shabby at all.  At least, she didn't feel unsafe while standing there in the middle of the street as a few drops of water began to fall from the sky.  "Oh no…Yahiko-kun…"

            "It's ok, it's ok…" He said, huddling her close to him, shielding her from the quickly falling rain.  "We're here anyway."

            "But where is here?"

            "Here," he stated simply, looking at one of the buildings.

            "I don't understand…" She paused, then lifted her face so she could see him.  He couldn't possibly mean…  "Yahiko-kun?"

            He nodded, turning her around to face him, his hands gripping her shoulders lightly.  "That's right.  I finally saved up enough money to move out of the flat Sano left me."

            "But…why would you want to, anyway?  The flat was large enough and cheap enough for you."

            "I know, but I wanted a bigger place."

            In typical Tsubame fashion, she was quite clueless.  "Why?"

            Now he stopped as though he'd run into a wall, and his face slowly changed color, going from a dark tan to the red of embarrassment.  "Ur...well…that is…  You see…"

            "Aw, is the wittle boy all embawassed?"

            Yahiko whipped around quickly, his hand going to the sakabatou sheathed at his waist.  Tsubame squeaked in surprise, hiding behind him.

            "Who's there?!"  Yahiko yelled, his voice commanding.  Laughter was his only answer, and his eyes narrowed, a growl echoing in his throat.  "I asked who's there.  Show yourself!"  The threat was evident in his voice, and Tsubame huddled against him.  Suddenly this part of town didn't feel so safe anymore.

            "The wittle boy seems to be showing some fangs."  More laughter followed this statement, and Yahiko turned to his left quickly, trying to follow the voices.  "Oh?  Is he ready for a fight?"

            "Get the hell out here you assholes!"

            "Ah, the little boy is ready."  Tsubame began to tremble.  The mocking voice was serious now. 

Above them, the rain began to pour down in sheets, and the bottom of her kimono quickly covered with mud.  She didn't notice this, however, because the man that was taunting them walked out of the shadows just then.  He was willowy and tall, a bokken slung over his shoulder and an evil grin plastered on his face.  Tsubame knew right away he was yakuza.

            "Yahiko-kun…" she whispered in warning, and he nodded.

            "I know, Tsubame.  Don't worry though, I'll protect you.  I promise."

            The yakuza man sneered.  "Did you hear that, boys?  He's gonna protect the little bitch."

            Tsubame bit her lip, trying to ignore the jab, but Yahiko tensed against her.  His voice was deadly calm as he spoke.  "Don't call her that."

            "Don't call her what?  Bitch?"

            "I said don't call her that!"  Yahiko was extremely tense now, his right hand gripping the pommel of the sakabatou, but the man only laughed some more.  "Bastard, shut up!"

            The laughing stopped instantly.  "Don't…call me names, boy.  You're already on our shit list, don't make it any worse on yourself."

            "Go to hell."

            "Boy, you're going to regret ever picking a fight with us."

            Tsubame shook her head then, the words bursting from her lips before she knew what was happening.  "But Yahiko-kun hasn't picked a fight with anyone!  You're the ones who just attacked us!"

            "Bitch, shut up!"

            "Stop calling her that!"  The sound of a sword being unsheathed accompanied Yahiko's shout, and then he was holding the sakabatou before him, his eyes hard as he stared at the man before him.  "Now," he continued, slightly calmer but shaking with rage, "get away from us.  We haven't done anything to you."

            The man scoffed.  "Oh please.  Like we don't know who you are, Myoujin Yahiko.  You, who's nearly wiped out the yakuza in Tokyo single-handedly.  You're the reason for the decline in our power.  That, little girl," he said, scowling at Tsubame, "is the fight he picked with us."  At his words, twenty men came out of the shadows, weapons in hand, all sneering in the same evil way that man was.

            "Yahiko-kun…" Tsubame whimpered, clinging to his back, tears in her eyes.  Why was this happening…why now?  Yahiko hadn't done anything to these men, no matter what they said.  They were just ruthless murderers and thugs, looking to pick a fight.

            "Tsubame…" She started at his voice, but nodded against his back.  He must have felt it, because he continued.  "They're going to charge soon.  When I tell you, I want you to run as fast as you can to Kenshin.  Don't stop, don't look back—just keep running.  Do you understand?"

            "Yahiko-kun…!"

            "Do you understand?"  He repeated a bit more forcefully, and after a few seconds pause, she nodded.  Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw him smile.  "That's my girl.  I knew I could count on you…" His smile died as he shifted his gaze to the men slowly circling in on them.  "Shit…they're coming fast.  You're going to have to go quickly, ok?"  She nodded again, holding his haori tightly in her fists, tears streaming down her face, mingling with the rain.

            The man across from them laughed again.  "What are you waiting for, wittle boy?  Scared?"  He jerked his head to the side, and his men began to advance faster, their weapons held before them, glinting in the rain.  Live steel.  Tsubame heard Yahiko curse as he noticed as well.

            "Shit…  Tsubame, are you ready?"  She didn't answer.  "Tsubame?  C'mon, are you ready to run?"

            "Y-yes…"

            "Ok then."  His voice softened as he spoke.  "Don't worry, ok?  Just get to Kenshin; I'll hold them off till then."

            "Yahiko-kun…"

            The advancing men were laughing, their mouths splitting their faces in a grotesque mockery of humor.  Tsubame trembled, unable to stop.  She felt Yahiko nudge her, but her legs felt rooted to the spot.

            "Tsubame…you have to go now…"

            "I can't…  Yahiko-kun, I can't…" Tears of frustration mixed with those of fear as she stood there, unable to move.  "I'm sorry…I can't move…"

            "Tsubame, you have to run!"  He shot her a quick glance, his features hard.  "C'mon, I can't do this if you're here!  You have to get to safety!"  She shook her head, still unable to move, and he growled low in his throat.  "Damn it, Tsubame, move!  Do you want us both to die?!"

            She started, staring at him.  He met her gaze and didn't back down, and she felt a sob choke her throat.  He was serious…  She would get them both killed.  Her.  And he'd blame her.

            Finding her feet at last, Tsubame took a step away, then turned back to look at him one last time.

            "Goodbye, Yahiko-kun."  She thought she saw his eyes soften, as though he were about to say something, but then she was off, running with all her might back towards the way they'd come from.  Behind her, she could hear the rush as the men charged Yahiko, the clang of steel on steel and men's curses as they were injured.

            Only a few yards from Yahiko, though, someone jumped out in front of her.  She gasped as she realised they'd hidden an extra man for just this occasion, and darted quickly to her left, trying to out manoeuvre him.  He was faster than she, however, and, despite the fact that she ran as fast as she'd ever run in her life, he caught her.

            "No!  Yahiko-kun!"

            The man holding her laughed in her ear, his stench filling her nose and making her gag.  "I don't think the little boy will be able to help you much tonight, dearie."

            He flung her around, and her eyes widened as she saw Yahiko, distracted by her scream, bashed upside the head by a man with a large club.  She screamed as more men crowded around him, beating him with their hands and feet, churning up the mud beneath them.

            "Heh heh, seems like the little boy wasn't as tough as we all thought he was."  The man laughed in her ear again and hauled her back to the fight scene, where the men were moving away from the fallen teenager.  Tsubame choked back at sob when she saw his body, broken and bloodied, lying in the mud.

            "Yahiko-kun…" she whispered, her vision blurry, and then she was being pulled away from him, towards the group of dirty, evil men.  Her eyes widened in fright, and she tugged as hard as she could, clawing at the man's hands that held her arms, kicking his shins and fighting as hard as she could.  All to no avail.

            "Well, well, lookit what we have here, boys.  The little bitch the brat was protecting.  What do you think they were doing out here, all alone?"  Their leader sneered at her, but Tsubame just glared back with a defiance she didn't know she possessed.  The man with the bokken just whistled.  "We~ell, looky here, looks like the little bird's got some guts to her after all."

            Tsubame didn't say anything, but her eyes were full of hatred, and she glared as long and as hard as she could, praying he would see.  He only grinned at her.

            "No tongue though, it seems.  C'mon boys.  Pack her up and let's go.  Don't want to be around here when the police come by.  Her screaming made a lot of noise."

            She lost her defiant look when the man who still held her arms violently wrenched her after him.  A startled "ouch" flew from her lips, and she blushed when the men all laughed at her.  She didn't want to show any weakness in front of these men.  Especially since Yahiko…

            She craned her neck, trying to catch one final glimpse of her friend, but then the men were crowding around her, blocking her sight.

            The last thing she saw of him was a dark lump in the mud, unmoving as the rain poured down on him like her tears.

An hour later found her curled against herself on a cold dirt floor, with broken windows and a door hanging off the wall, letting rain and cold into the room.  She didn't notice, though.  Her face was pressed against her knees as she cried, trying to muffle the sound of the sobs.

            The men hadn't done anything to her yet, but it was only a matter of time, she knew.  And there was nothing she could do to stop them.  She told herself there was—she could try to steal a weapon, she could make a run for it and try to outrun the guards around the room, or she could bite off her own tongue.  But deep down, she knew she couldn't do any of those things.  She wasn't strong enough to do them.

            So instead she wept.  Weeping was neither productive nor comforting, but it was all she could do.  Yahiko was dead because of her, and he'd died blaming her, she was sure.  That thought hurt more than anything else.  She loved him more than anything, she knew that now.  But he…  He could only blame her. 

'Do you want us both to die?!'

Those words echoed in her head, and she couldn't fight down the choked sob that escaped her throat.  A wail rent the air as she fell over onto her side, her cries no longer muffled by her knees.

            "I'm so sorry Yahiko-kun…  I…  I c-couldn't run fast e-enough…"

            Someone pounded on the wall to jeering laughter, and Tsubame bit back her sobs as she heard someone yell for her to be quiet.  She hated these men.  She'd never hated a thing in her life, but these men made her skin crawl and her blood boil.  The feeling didn't surprise her though.  They were the reason she was here, they were the reason Yahiko was lying dead and cold in the street—

            She cut off that line of thinking as fast as she could.  Getting angry wouldn't help her situation any.  She needed to think straight.  If she could get free and find her way to the police, or—even better—the dojo, she could get help.  They would come, arrest the murderers, and then find Yahiko's body…

            What would she do then, though?  She couldn't imagine her reaction to seeing what he looked like after the beating they'd given him.  And…what if he hadn't been dead?  In that case, she would have left him to die, which was just as bad as being the cause of his death in the first place.

            "Oh God…Yahiko-kun…" She broke down again, letting her tears and the rainwater wash over her, not caring.

            She stayed lying that way, on the floor, for she didn't know how long.  After a time though, the laughing on the other side of the wall began to get louder and rougher, and she lifted her head slightly.  They were all probably sufficiently drunk now.  It was only a matter of moments before the first man would barge into the room to have his way with her.

            Sitting up slowly, rubbing her face, Tsubame watched the door expectantly.  She'd made her decision.  As soon as one of those men came through that door, she was going to make her move.

            The rowdiness on the other side only got louder, though, and eventually one of the two guards stationed outside the broken door walked in, glaring at her.

            "Bitch, what the hell's going on?"  She didn't answer him, and he walked towards her, one hand lifted as though to strike her.  "I said—"

            He was cut off as the door into the other room broke off from the wall, sailing over Tsubame's head and smashing him in the face.  Startled, she turned her head and saw a shadowed figure hunched over in the doorway.  The only detail she could make out was the eyes, and those were so filled with hatred she knew they could only belong to one of the yakuza members.

            The noise of the door being smashed brought the other guard from outside into the room, but Tsubame didn't notice.  She also didn't notice the lack of sound coming from the other room.  Instead, she focused herself, opening her mouth, ready to bite through her own tongue.  There was no way these men would take her alive.  She would never allow that.  As soon as the intruder and the guard saw her doing this, though, they lunged, and the guard was closest to her.

            He never made it to her side, but she never managed to bite her own tongue, either.

            The guard collapsed at her feet, unconscious, a sheathed sword falling with a clang beside him.  The intruder stood above them, breathing hard, still in shadow.  He had thrown the sword at the guard, knowing he couldn't reach them in time.

            He started forward after the dust settled around the sword, but a quick movement from Tsubame stopped him.  She stood on shaky legs, creeping away from the man.

            "Stay where you are…" she ground out, her voice barely above a whisper.  "Just…stay where you are…"

            "Tsubame…"

            "STAY AWAY!"  She screamed, nearly falling backwards, not even noticing the shadowed figure had used her name.  Catching her balance, she turned to run, but the intruder moved faster, latching onto her arm, bringing her to an abrupt halt. 

She struggled against him, leaving claw marks in his arm, but he wouldn't let go, no matter how much she fought.  Tired as she was from her crying and the fight that landed her in this situation, her struggle didn't last long.

            Finally out of strength, she collapsed against him, and only then noticed his smell.  He didn't smell like the men that had grabbed her.  He smelled healthy and natural—like the trees. 

            Slowly, ever so slowly, she lifted her head, and a strike of lightning illuminated the room.  Her eyes widened and, though she thought they were all gone, tears welled up and fell down onto her dirty cheeks.

            "Yahiko-kun…"

            He nodded and smiled, lifting a hand to brush the tears off her cheeks.  "Yeah, it's me…"

            She hiccupped, and her voice caught in her throat.  "Yahiko-kun…" She wanted to cry even more, seeing him.  His face was a mass of bruises, one eye swollen shut, blood matted in his hair.  The hand that touched her cheek had cuts and abrasions, one finger broken.  The claw marks she's just given him were already beginning to swell into welts along his arms.  She feared what the rest of him must look like, and tried to pull away, afraid she'd hurt him even more.

            Instead he pulled her closer, against his chest, resting his chin on the top of her head.  Tsubame let loose a wail and clutched his haori, desperate to make sure he was real.  Then, for good measure, she lifted a hand and punched his chest with all her might.  He grunted, but still held her tight.  She realised at the last second he must have bruises and broken ribs, and shivered against him.

            "Yahiko-kun…  Yahiko-kun, I'm so s-s-sorry…  I…I wasn't fast e-enough…  I thought you were…you were…"

            "I know.  I'm sorry."

            The fact that he was apologising sent anger coursing through her—anger mostly at herself.  "It's not Yahiko-kun's fault!"

            He shook his head.  "I'm sorry for saying those things.  I didn't mean them."  She looked at him, confused.  "I saw your face.  You thought I blamed you…"

            "No, I…"

            His no-nonsense answer silenced her.  "You did, and I'm sorry.  I pulled you into this…"

            She shook her head, then rested it against his chest.  "No…you came for me…"

            "Nothing can keep me from your side, even death."  Her eyes widened at this statement, and she tentatively touched his chest, as though he were a ghost.  Yahiko was definitely talking like he wasn't completely himself.  He laughed slightly.  "I'm too stubborn to die just yet, anyway."

There!  That was her Yahiko—full of himself until the end.  She was about to retort back, but paused, then looked to the man at her feet.  The fact that Yahiko had to fight through an entire group of rowdy, drunken men to get to her just became apparent in her mind.  "Yahiko-kun…  The yakuza...?"

            "Dealt with."  She gave him a quizzical look, and he shrugged.  "Dealt with in the Kenshin way."

            She let out a breath she wasn't aware she'd been holding.  "That's good.  I was afraid for a moment…"

            "I never killed anyone before, and I don't plan on doing it now.  Even though they did take you…" His eyes glinted dangerously.

            She blinked up at him, slightly startled by the vehemence in his tone.  "What…do you mean by that?"

            He looked at her, just staring.  She tried to meet his gaze, but dropped her face after a few seconds, blushing. 

"I meant what it sounded like.  I won't forgive anyone who hurts you."

            Her breath caught in her throat.  Could he mean…?  "But why…?"

            He stared at her again, this time with an incredulous look.  Her blush deepened, although she couldn't tell exactly why.  

            "You…don't know?"  She shook her head, and he smiled slightly.  Gently, so she almost didn't feel it, he brushed his lips over her forehead in a kiss, then pulled away again, meeting her eyes with his own.  "Then I guess I'll just have to wait until you do."

He didn't say anything after that, but just draped an arm over her shoulders, and she supported him as he led her from the building and out into the rain.