Disclaimer: Ruroken is not mine. Who wants to own a bunch of violent angsting morons anyway?

Summary: Sanosuke on Megumi, love, and the choices one must make. Not really.
Rating: PG, to be safe, because I felt like it, because Sano's a bad role model for little kids, and because I try my hardest to make people hate my guts. Why that has anything to do with this I have no idea.
Pairings: Sano/Megumi. Sort of. (And also Sano/Ken, Sano/Kaoru, Sano/Yumi... Um... Just KIDDING! Seriously.)

Notes: Inspired by Mirune Keishiko's beautiful "Evensong," another Sano/Meg-ish one-shot. Except hers is from Meg's POV. Go read it, it's much better than mine, and makes a LOT more sense!
By the way, Sayo/Magdala/whatever-the-heck-her-name-is does not exist in my world. (Third season? What third season?)

Born to be Free

White gulls wheel about in the sky above the ship, their harsh cries fading into silence as the sun sinks slowly beyond the horizon. Patches of light flicker about the rippling water like fire on the sea as the golden rays wash away into the long hazy shadows of twilight. And when the blazing red ball in the orange sky is swallowed at last by the endless waves and the world is plunged into darkness, still he stays and watches the silvery shimmering waters dancing past; and he feels the cool ocean breeze gently caressing his cheek, tastes the fresh saltiness of the air upon his tongue.

It is always at this time when he thinks of his country, his city, and the ones he left behind.

Within the span of months he had lived and died and lived again and yet the memories now seem as distant as the shores of his beloved Japan. He had been nineteen then, not quite a boy, not quite a man. Two years have passed since that time, and he is now twenty-one. No longer a boy, and still not quite a man. He has seen much of the world in these two years, more than he had ever seen in the first nineteen years of his life. He has seen enough to know that the times are changing, and the world is changing, and that perhaps he has been watching the backs of men who have been chasing an ever elusive dream.

Funny, how one could live and dream forever and ever and never wake up. Funny, how a mere six months out of a dream of nineteen years could completely change the course of one's life.

Did I make the right choice, Taichou? he asks the breeze. Did I do the right thing, Kenshin? He has been drifting like a ship lost at sea for most of his life, wild and free as the wind. He has no harbor to return to, no port to dock at. He has nothing but his fists and the character inscribed on his back.

Still, sometimes he wonders what would have happened if he had stayed. Of course he knows that this is but a foolish fantasy. The police had been after him, and probably still are; Kenshin has no doubt started a new family with Jou-chan; little Yahiko-chan is growing up into a fine young man. Somewhere far away in a little backwater town his father and his sister and his little brother are eking out a living in the daikon fields. And somewhere far away in Aizu, a certain fox lady has begun her life anew.

He knows this, and he knows he does not belong, anymore. His is a free spirit, and he is not ready to chain himself down in one place, one time. He wants to live his life unfettered by shadows, unfettered by the past. He wants to soar in the sky like the gulls at sea, zip through the ocean like the sleek seals in the north. He wants to see the world, no matter how painful its sights. He wants to chase the dreams that others dreamt, the dreams that slipped ever out of their grasp.

Sometimes he feels guilty, even though he knows that his friends do not need him, that they are living their own lives and there is no place for him any longer, though they will tell him otherwise, because they are his friends. Sometimes, his heart aches at the thought.

Sometimes he thinks about love.

What is love? he wonders. Love was not enough to tie him to his family. It was not enough to resurrect the Sekihoutai. It was not enough to make him stay. His father had loved his mother, and Kenshin loved Jou-chan, but he realizes that he does not really understand what it means, to love, to be loved. He wonders if love is just another dream, a dream of beauty and longing. He is, after all, not a blind man, and he has known many in his short life. Taichou, Kenshin -- they had been beautiful, though he had perhaps never realized it. The former okashira of the Oniwaban had been beautiful. Jou-chan had been beautiful. Shishio's woman had been beautiful. Even the weasel girl and his sister had been beautiful, in their own way.

Most beautiful of all had been the kitsune.

Oh, he would never admit it, but he had dreamed of her often, secret dreams at night when no one was around and it was cold and lonely and he could not fall asleep. Her lustrous black hair, the dark long lashes that framed fiery cinnamon eyes; the perfect curve of her lips, redder than blood. He had wondered what it would feel like, if he held her in his arms, stroking her soft pale skin, if only for a moment... Each insult they exchanged had seemed like precious secrets that belonged to the two of them alone.

A fantasy, at best, he knows.

He knows, well enough, that she had loved Kenshin. Sure, sometimes, when she had been treating him, her hand would linger for just a second longer than necessary; and sometimes, he had caught her dark gaze with his own and seen the worry in her eyes. But he thinks also that they have walked separate paths, lead separate lives, dream different dreams... And maybe he had just found her beautiful, and maybe she had just found him beautiful.

But here, at sea, beneath the open sky, he is free, and she is gone, and life goes on. There is nothing but sweat and blood and salt and the wind and the sun and dreams of distant lands beyond the horizon. The past is but a fading memory, and the future is but a hazy illusion, and when the sun sets the day has ended and he looks forward only to dawn. The night is but a passing shadow, brief and fleeting. He has made his choices, as she has made her own, and as they all have: there is nothing to regret.

At night he lies back and he gazes at the stars shining in the clear black sky, and he thinks that maybe, just maybe, he had loved her.


- Taichou = Captain (as in Sagara Souzou); Jou-CHAN = Little Miss (as in Kaoru). Thank you, Wistful-Eyes! (Been
watching too much anime -- it can get confusing. :-P)

- Just for reference, two quotes from Volume 27 (maigo-chan's translations):
"I got no one to protect and no home to go back to." - Sano
And: "A man grows up looking at the back of the man in front of him. You've been watching the backs of some good
men... If I could've, I would've liked to have raised you watching mine..." - Sano's dad

It's done. It's over. No continuing. Period. Sixteen paragraphs of BS. XD Written only because I kinda felt I had to, for Sano's sake. My head hurts.
No. 1 reason why this pairing will never work: Sano is gone. GONE, you hear? Kenshin is a baaaad influence. He inspires people run off and wander for years. :-P Ken and Sagara were always more important to Sano than Megumi ever was, no matter how much he actually loved her. (Which is quite debatable in itself.)

Update for Kakusei will come, eventually -- I'm halfway done with the next chapter.