A.N. It's taken me a little longer than I expected to get this all together. I'm sorry I kept you waiting. I really appreciate the reviews. It makes all the work worth it to know that someone appreciates you work enough to send a quick note. I probably wouldn't write if I didn't get feedback. Anyway, this is the conclusion to "Protecting What's Mine." It ended up a little longer than I originally thought it would but I'm sure nobody cares. They belong to Watsuki-sama so I'm not taking any credit.

Protecting What's Mine - Chapter Two

By Magawa

Megumi exited the dark clinic trading it for the fiery light of dusk. The colors were enchanting at this time of night, playing softly over both ground and water seemingly creating pond ripples even in the air.

This would be perfect if I had my someone to share it with; she thought, instantly imagining how cinnamon brown eyes would look in this light, before recklessly shoving that thought aside. Like that freeloader would ever walk that way with me. He's just coming over for dinner... No ulterior motives here, okay? He deserves dinner at least for sticking up for me...

Megumi's thoughts ran the full gamut as she ambled along to her small house that was about ten minute's brisk walk from the clinic. She had decided not to live with Genzai-sensei and Ayame-chan and Suzume-chan. She needed a place to herself sometimes, away from the clinic and everyone else. The little house she'd bought from an older couple was perfect for her. Three small rooms and a kitchen with plenty of room out back for an herb garden were plenty large enough for her. Sometimes it was too large, and too lonely.

Megumi was so preoccupied with her thoughts she didn't even notice the men closing in around her until it was too late.

Megumi startled out of her thoughts quickly realizing it was the men who had been in the clinic earlier.

"Can I help you gentlemen?" Megumi began calmly enough. "Is there an emergency so soon?"

She gasped as two of them lunged at her holding her arms roughly. She struggled vainly against their hold before Jinenji slapped her face savagely.

"Stop struggling you whore," he snarled. Megumi guessed alcohol had made them brave or they'd have never assaulted her out in the open as they were. Even so, she thought desperately, I don't think I can get away from all seven of them, especially not in these stupid geta... I'll have to kick them off... she considered, trying to think ahead.

"If you were Zanza's whore you damn well should 'ave told us!" Jinenji yelled in her face, backed up by the affirmative jeers of his drunken comrades. "Now we're gonna die an' whadda we got to show for it?" he roared in her face. "So," he said, his voice softening dangerously, "we're gonna make it worth our time..." He grinned toothily at her before tearing at her kimono, forcefully ripping it from her body while she was held against her will. She struggled helplessly, calling for help while the men leered at her partially exposed body and laughed cruelly at her. The sheer terror overwhelmed her and she broke down in howling sobs, making her body go limp and heavy. Jinenji raised his hand to slap her again, wanting to see her cower before him, just as he had cowered before Zanza earlier...

Jinenji was half-way through his swing to strike at Megumi before he felt himself being lifted into the air and thrown with malicious precision face-first into a low stone wall. Jinenji grunted and mercifully passed out. Megumi's eyes trailed Jinenji's sailing figure until he crunched against the wall and then turned to her rescuer. Her wide wet eyes traveled up the familiar bandages wound around a man's legs, up and further up until she met concerned cinnamon flavored eyes.

Sano held her gaze for a moment before quickly searching the area for any sign of Jinenji's followers. After Zanza's appearance, Jinenji's gang had split faster than an apple's skin in the heart of a bonfire.

"Now I definitely have business with those fools..." Sano sneered in disgust. He glanced down at her partially exposed form and quickly removed his jacket covering her as best he could before scooping her into his arms amidst muffled protests of being "able to walk on my own."

Sanosuke cuddled her against his chest reassuringly, whispering something soft and gentle into her ear until she relaxed against him and fell into an exhausted sleep. Sano just cuddled her closer if possible, bending slightly to smell her hair and the slight perfume at the pulse point on her neck before continuing on to her small house.

Sano quickly let them into her house all thoughts of dinner gone. Sano meant to place her in her own futon and then take watch or make tea or rice balls or something until she'd recovered enough that he could talk to her about it if she wanted. He was finding it difficult to detach himself from her though. Or really it was the other way around... Sano tried to lower her to her futon but she clung to him desperately in her sleep making small, pathetic whimpering noises hat Sano had never heard from Megumi before and definitely never wanted to hear again. Heart in his throat, Sano gathered her to him again and sat against the wall cradling her in his lap, watching over her while she slept. He tried desperately to ignore the way she called for him and for help so pleadingly. She clung tighter to him. When waking her proved futile he bent slightly to kiss her lips, an almost instinctive gesture born of love. Megumi quieted instantly under his gentle touch, tilting her head for more even in sleep. Sano pulled away feeling guilty for taking advantage – even if it had quieted her. She was not his to take.

A short while later Megumi woke naturally in Sano's arms. Well this feels nice, she thought sleepily before jolting awake, realizing the warm body and solid strength were real.

"What happened? Where am I? What happened?" Megumi asked quickly all in one breath, still muddled from sleep.

"Daijoubu, daijoubu – we're at your house, I took care of those idiots for the time being and you fell asleep and wouldn't let me go." Sanosuke finished smiling slightly, still holding her comfortably in his arms.

"Naze..." she began before he silenced her.

"Because you're worth it. I'm going to go start some tea. I want you to change into something you're comfortable wearing around the house, okay?"

"Arigatou." The word was quiet, nearly hidden in her muffled movements as she began to rise. She stilled as Sano rose with her still in his arms before gently depositing her on her feet, leaving her alone to dress.

Sano moved around Megumi's kitchen uneasily. He'd never made tea before, but how hard could it really be to boil water and add some leaves?

Also weighing on his uncertainty was how to deal with Megumi. It'd definitely be easier if Kenshin and Jou-chan were here or even Genzai-sensei... but he didn't want to leave her alone so he could go get someone, and he seriously doubted she was willing to leave her house just so he would be comfortable. Besides, the lure of being alone with her, caring for her and talking seriously without their usual barbs... well, the decision was more than made, but he still wasn't completely comfortable with it.

He remembered the feel of her relaxed body against his chest, her warm breath tickling the exposed skin of his chest. He remembered her whimpers as she clung to him unwilling to detangle herself from his protection. She was heavy, comfortably so – reassuring not crushing. It was like being home on a rainy day – cozy, comfortable, languorous.

His thoughts were interrupted by Megumi's return. She was casually leaning in the doorway between the kitchen and the front living room. She had changed her ruined kimono for a lighter yukata. Her obi was tied tightly around her waist but she still looked comfortable. Her hair was left loose as usual. Sano idly wondered how long she'd been there quietly watching him. The silence between them was mostly comfortable – only awkward in its unfamiliarity. Up until today there had only ever been bickering or teasing between them. Each seemed to sense that the passion behind their arguments would turn to passion for other things if they let their guard down. But now, now the barriers were gone – teasing facades melted away in protectiveness and gratitude until it really was just the two of them.

Sano had gestured towards a seat at the low table in the living room just outside the kitchen when he had noticed Megumi. She asked if he needed help preparing the tea and he declined her help – all without words between them.

Sano brought the tea out and served it. He had seen Jou-chan and Megumi and plenty of other women serve tea often enough to know how it was done, but he had never performed the ritual himself. He was uncertain and Megumi could tell. She hid a smile as he slipped up yet again, but made no move to break the silence. It was as if both were afraid to say the things that really needed to be said. Each secretly knew that either more insults or a declaration would ensue from their lips if they spoke. And both seemed to feel insults would follow either path... So instead of choosing a road to walk upon, both remained at a standstill. That is, until Megumi had her first sip of tea.

Megumi sputtered tea out all over the table before coughing and hacking to get the horrible liquid out of her wind pipes. Her face turned bright red from the exertion and lack of oxygen and it still took several steadying pats to her back from Sano before she could breathe properly. Regaining her senses, Megumi looked up only to be caught by his concerned and questioning eyes.

"Daijoubu," she spoke breathily still recovering. "But that is the WORST tea I have ever had...Kami-sama what on earth did you put in it?"

Sano's face fell but he dutifully answered. "A little bit of everything, I think," he said thoughtfully before ticking off the ingredients he knew and describing the ones he didn't.

"Baka!" Megumi cried. "That black powder wasn't oolong tea, it was ground charcoal and the 'interesting' smelling yellow powder was either mustard or saffron and neither is good in tea! Chamomile and cinnamon and ginger are all okay for tea to an extent but Kami-sama! How on earth can YOU accuse tanuki-chan of being a bad cook when you're just as awful?"

"I've never made tea before!" Sano defended hotly.

"I can tell!" Megumi shot back before bursting out laughing. She must have registered Sano's bewildered and hurt look before he covered it with his usual indifferent look because she began to apologize.

"Gomen Sano. Gomen nasai," Megumi apologized, still laughing. "You're trying so hard to help out..." Chuckling harder she added, "You somehow always manage to cheer me up, break me out of my depression..." Megumi's face was bright red still – this time from laughing so hard. "But it really is the worst tea I've ever had and you tried so hard..." Megumi finished, wiping her eyes of the mirthful tears that had escaped to roll merrily down her cheeks. Megumi tried to quiet her laughter but wasn't exactly successful. It just made her snort in a very unladylike way.

Sano watched mesmerized as Megumi explained away her laughter. Her hair was mussed, her cheeks and eyes were red and wet and her whole body was shaking with suppressed hilarity. Sano had never seen her look so normal. And her natural beauty just shone. The laughter danced in her eyes and she radiated happiness and genuine peace. Her emotions unlike anything he'd seen from her before, so opposite of the fear displayed earlier in the evening. Her laughter was beautiful to behold and all her wanted in that moment was to see more of it. Her attempts to silence herself only brought a devilish smile to his lips. Training his features to look angry and revengeful he advanced upon the softly snorting kitsune.

A low playful growl finally caught Megumi's attention. She abruptly stopped laughing as she caught the predatorial gaze in his eyes before he warned in that low voice that made her stomach curl expectantly, "I'm going to get you back for that kitsune-chan..."

He leapt at her knocking her gently to the floor as she inhaled sharply before he began tickling her. Megumi shrieked in real laughter struggling to free herself from his roguish hands. Her breath came in shallow pants between giggle fits and short pleading words for him to stop. Sano had stopped Megumi's arms from wildly flailing by gathering her wrists into one hand and pinning it up over her head still using his free hand to dance gently over her most ticklish spots. Half a minute or so later, Sano stopped as Megumi's struggles to get free abated. Panting lightly himself Sano finally realized his position. He had straddled her hips to keep her legs from kicking him and was leaning rather precariously over the length of her torso so he could keep hold of her wrists more easily. He hadn't realized he was so close to her while he was tickling her and now it was blatantly obvious.

Senses heightened by her closeness, Sano could feel the quick rise and fall of her chest against his, could feel the echoing rhythm of her hummingbird heartbeat. He could almost taste her breath and wondered if her kisses would taste that intoxicating. Just the scent of her slightly musky perfume caused the tiny hairs all over his body to stand on end.

Megumi was similarly affected by his presence. His weight was comfortably settled over her and she could feel his body heat in every place he was touching and all the places he was near touching. Excitement sang through her body at being so close to him and she relished the earthy elemental smell that clung to his skin. It was that smell, his smell, that defined masculinity for her. It was like sweat and strength, cool forests and blazing sunlight all mixed into one alluring scent. It was more than she could handle.

They leaned in simultaneously, closing the distance between their mouths. The kiss was breathless, passionate and gentle. Their tongues tangled desperately reveling in their communion, this passionate sharing. Sano released Megumi's wrists so he could support her neck and hold himself over her without crushing her slight body. Arms free, Megumi twined them around his neck, gathering fistfuls of coarse hair to lead him closer for rougher, needier kisses. Having him hold her so close, feeling him need her as much as she needed him dispelled all her pent up fear and frustration. She gave herself up to him, easily allowing whatever was going to happen to happen.

Sano was in heaven. He gasped against her hot mouth to feel her lithe body shift beneath him. The pleasure and need were overpowering, but he needed to know. More than anything he needed to know if she really wanted this, wanted him or if she had just been swept up in the sensations. Worse, this could just be her method of payment for helping her. His stomach sank at he thought and he slowly drew himself away from her body, allowing her to sit back up.

Megumi was both surprised and disappointed as he drew away. Maybe he didn't want her like she wanted him. The thought made her feel like crying. Rejection is so very painful.

Sano tried to compose himself enough to look her in the eye and ask her if she truly wanted him when he heard a soft sniffle. He looked up quickly to see hurt rejection embodied in unhappy tears. He quickly hugged her form to him trying to dispel her tears and tell her without words how much he needed her. She struggled against him briefly before submitting to his tight embrace.

"Oh Megumi," he whispered sans the honorific, naming her for just herself... "What a fool I am."

Megumi continued to sniffle holding herself as far away from him as the circle of his arms allowed. Her body was stiff, fearing the verbal rejection she thought she knew was coming. This is the part where he tells me he's been a fool for protecting someone as worthless as I am - that there's no way a rooster could ever love a fox... she thought shaking her head pathetically back and forth trying to erase the painful thought from her head.

"I love you," he whispered softly. "I've always loved you, wanted you, wanted to share this with you." Megumi's head shot up in astonished disbelief at his simple declaration, accidentally knocking her the top of her head on his chin.

"Itai!" Megumi cried out breaking the tension.

Sano laughed unaffectedly trying to act as if laying out his emotions for her was easy. "That's not exactly the response I was hoping for kitsune-chan..."

Megumi rubbed her forehead lightly as she replied, "Gomen, but that really hurt. Your head really is hard as a rock," Megumi added teasingly, confidence restored with his heartfelt words.

"Megumi," he began seriously. "I need to know how you feel about me..." he trailed off hopelessly, already feeling like rejection was inevitable. She hadn't said anything to reassure him that she felt anything at all for him...

Sano started to get up, to leave. What was the point in staying if she didn't want him? His pity party was abruptly interrupted as Megumi flung herself at him to prevent his leaving. Shocked by her own bold move Megumi lay sprawled across his body gaping like an adorable fish before her words came tumbling chaotically out.

"I love you too Sano!" she blurted. "I've always wanted you!" Megumi gasped slightly – so much for finesse...

Sano grinned whole-heartedly and took advantage of her temporary stupor to kiss her lightly before whispering breathily in her ear, "Do you remember Megumi-chan, when you first came to us, how you said that maybe you'd 'entertain' me?" He watched Megumi blush becomingly as he nibbled on her earlobe lightly. He felt Megumi nod before he continued, "I'm ready to take you up on that offer if it's still available..." he finished, his voice deep and suggestive as he moved to place open-mouth kisses down the column of her neck to her collarbone.

Heart in her throat, Megumi could only vigorously nod her assent.

Appendix/Notes

geta – wooden sandals with blocks of wood on the bottom to slightly elevate the person wearing them. It was meant to keep one high enough off the ground to avoid the mud.

daijoubu – this one word has two meanings. 1.) "Are you okay?" and 2.) "I'm fine" or "It's okay."

naze – why?

arigatou – thank you

kimono – the robe-like portion of traditional Japanese clothes

obi – the long length of fabric that wraps around the waist holding the kimono closed. Tied in a complicated knot.

yukata – a lighter robe than the kimono, worn more in the spring and summer or for sleeping.

itai – essentially "it hurts" or simpler, "ow!"

Megumi offered to "entertain" Kenshin if he ever got tired of Kaoru and told Sano teasingly that if he ever became a real man she'd "entertain" him too. This takes place in the fourth book of the manga. You can imagine how Sano would have felt at THAT invitation/insult...

Just to reiterate: Reviews are ALWAYS welcome.