Hello, I'm back! The stories here are based in the world I created for my 'Between the Devil and the Deep' and 'Letter of Marque' stories. Basically, they are short, one-shot stories focusing on different characters and their lives. When I was writing BTDATD and LOM, I had these stories in my head as sort of background information, character-development type stuff. I thought it would be fun to write them down and share them with you. Enjoy!

Vignettes: Stories from the World of Between the Devil and the Deep and Letter of Marque
A Rurouni Kenshin AU Fic
by Gemini

Rated PG-13

Disclaimer: This Rurouni Kenshin franchise is owned and operated by Earl "Nobuhiro" Watsuki,
Tim "Shonen" Jump and "Sony" Jones. There are also a few silent partners I can't recall.

Sano: Better than Candy

Tetsuro Kamiya bounced his laughing five year old daughter on his shoulders, delighting in the sound of her shrieks and giggles. She had been rather quiet since the death of her mother and not even young Katsu, the scullery boy who was the closest thing she had to a brother, could make her smile. But today, for some reason only she knew, Kaoru was in a good mood. Perhaps it was the excitement of being off the ship and on land, right in the middle of the bustling village market. Maybe all she needed was a break from the ship and its constant reminders of her mother.

"Daddy! Daddy! Can I have one of those?" She tugged on his hair and pointed in the direction of a stall selling delicious looking candies.

"Well now, pet, which one do you want?" He asked indulgently. He lifted her off his shoulders and allowed her to drag him across the road to the stall. He couldn't suppress a smile at the serious way she scrutinized each candy, as though weighing the pros and cons of each one. Her little face was scrunched up and she chewed on a nail as she pondered the selection.

While she was busy weighing her options, a little boy, only a few years older than she was, sidled up to them. His arms were filled with various packages, all of them food related. "Don't get the yellow ones. They're coconut flavored." He whispered to the little girl.

She made a face. "I hate coconut."

Katsu nodded. "I know. That's why I warned you."

"Any trouble finding things, Katsu?" Tetsuro asked the scullery boy.

Katsu shook his head. "Nope. I found everything the cook wanted. I sent most of it back with the others."

"Daddy, I want this one." Kaoru had finally decided. With the seriousness that usually accompanied a life-or-death situation, she pointed to a particularly delicious-looking pink candy. "And can we get one for Katsu, too?" She looked up at her father with big beseeching blue eyes.

Tetsuro laughed. "Of course, of course." He reached into his pocket for a few coins and handed them over to the stall keeper, who then wrapped up the candies.

Kaoru carefully placed the package in her pocket and patted it. "We'll have them after dinner, okay?"

Katsu nodded, a grin lighting up his face.

"All right, you two, let's get back to the ship." Tetsuro went to pick Kaoru up and deposit her back on his shoulders, but she had run ahead with Katsu, having taken a few of the boy's bags. Still pleased with her apparent recovery, he followed the two children at a leisurely pace, not in any particular hurry.

"Hey, Katsu, how did you know the yellow candies were coconut flavored?" Kaoru asked, shifting the weight of the sack in her arms.

"Experience." He answered solemnly.

Her reply was cut off by the eruption of a fight not too far ahead of them. Several boys, about Katsu's age, were yelling at each other.

"Your father was crazy! My mom said so! He was crazy and a liar!" One of the boys sneered. The object of his attack, a dirty, spiky haired boy with a red bandana scowled.

"Shut up! It's not true!" The brown haired boy yelled.

"It is! My dad said it was in all the papers, how he lied and stole!" Another boy called out with a smirk. He stepped forward and pushed the brown haired boy down into the dirt.

"He was a liar and a thief and crazy!" The first boy ran in and kicked the brown haired boy gleefully.

Kaoru's face screwed up in anger. She dropped the bags of supplies and ran into the fray, ignoring Katsu's yelps.

"You bullies!" She howled, throwing herself on the first boy and knocking him over. "You're so mean!"

The boy pushed her off and stood, scowling. "What's this, Sagara, your girlfriend?"

The brown haired boy glared at Kaoru. "Go away! It's none of your business!" He hissed at her.

Kaoru stuck her tongue out at him. "Daddy said that people shouldn't stand by and let others be bullied!" She said, rushing at the second boy and kicking him hard in the shin. The boy howled and grabbed his injured leg.

Meanwhile, Katsu had abandoned his bags and rushed into the fight, grabbing Kaoru before she could kick anyone else. "What are you doing?" He asked incredulously.

"They were hurting him!" She squalled, trying to break loose from his grip.

"Kaoru?" Her father's stern voice stopped her protests. The bullies took one look at the tall, serious looking man and immediately ran away, shouting threats at the brown haired boy as they retreated. "What were you doing?"

Katsu let go of her and turned to the other boy and helped him stand up. "You okay?" He asked, eyeing the bedraggled boy.

"Fine." He said shortly, brushing the worst of the dirt off of his already stained and ruined clothes.

"My name's Katsu. What's yours?"

"Sanosuke Sagara." He answered as he straightened his bandanna.

"But Daddy, they were beating up on him!" Kaoru's whines interrupted their conversation. "And you always said…"

"I could have handled it myself." Sano replied angrily. "You shouldn't have butted in."

Tetsuro and Kaoru both turned to stare at the angry boy. Tetsuro merely raised an eyebrow, but Kaoru, who hadn't yet learned to curb her emotions scowled and ran up to Sano before her father could stop her, stomping his foot viciously.

"I was trying to help you! It's okay to let people help you, you know!" She said fiercely.

Sano bit his lip to keep from crying out in pain, but he couldn't stop his eyes from watering.

"Enough, Kaoru." Her father's stern words stilled her, although her eyes shined with defiance. Suppressing an amused smile at her reaction, Tetsuro knelt by the boy and tipped his face upward so that he could look him in the eyes. "You said your name was Sagara?"

Sano scowled. "Why? You got somethin' to say?"

"Your father was Souzo Sagara?" The older man pressed.

"Yeah and he was the greatest!" Sano said defiantly.

Tetsuro nodded. "He was. I knew him. I didn't know that he had a son, though."

Sano looked up at the older man with surprise. "You knew him?"

"I did. It was terrible what the Navy did to him." Tetsuro said quietly.

Sano nodded, all the fight draining out of him like water. "He wasn't my real dad, but he was better than my old man. He wasn't a worthless drunk. He took care of me."

"He was a good man, an honest man, no matter what the papers say." Tetsuro eyed Sano thoughtfully for a long moment before he seemed to come to a decision. "Tell me, Sanosuke Sagara, what do you think of our Imperial Navy?"

Sano spat into the hard packed dirt, a scowl distorting his features. "They're bastards, all of 'em. They lied about Souzo."

Tetsuro smiled. "Let me ask you this, then, Sanosuke. How would you like to join me?"

Sano frowned. "Who are you anyway?"

"Tetsuro Kamiya, captain of the Kami Kaze."

Brown eyes widened with surprise. "Aren't you…a pirate?"

Tetsuro waved his hand dismissively. "A pirate is a rather…crude way of describing me. I prefer to think of myself as an arbiter of justice."

"Huh?" Sano scratched his head and looked blank.

"What daddy means is that he makes things better, he fixes things. Right daddy?" Kaoru appeared at her father's side and gazed up at him adoringly. "You're better than the Navy!"

Tetsuro merely smiled and ruffled his daughter's hair affectionately.

"So…you're asking me if I want to become a pirate?" Sano asked incredulously.

"In so many words, yes. I admired Souzo Sagara and I considered him a friend. It would be an honor to have his son aboard my ship." Tetsuro stood, towering over Sano, waiting impassively for his response.

Sano's eyes watered, although this time it wasn't because of any physical pain. Unable to say anything, he merely nodded.

"Excellent." Tetsuro rubbed his hands together and looked pleased. "Do you have anyone you need to tell, any extra clothing to get?"

Sano shook his head, biting his lip.

"Well, no matter. Katsu's about your size and I'm sure he can lend you some extra clothes. And if you have no one to notify, then let's go. I'll introduce you to the crew and Katsu can show you the ropes." Tetsuro clapped Sano on the back and smiled broadly down at him before starting off down the dusty road, expecting the three children to follow.

As they struggled to keep up with his long-legged stride, Kaoru sidled up next to Sano and eyed him. "I'm sorry about your foot." She said.

Sano shrugged. "It was nothing. I barely felt it."

Katsu, remembering the tears in the other boy's eyes, snorted.

Sano chose to magnanimously ignore him.

"Anyway, welcome to our ship. I'm Kaoru, the captain's daughter. That boy over there is Katsu. He's the scullery boy and he gets into trouble a lot."

"It's usually your fault, Kaoru." Katsu replied good-naturedly.

"And he lies." Kaoru replied seriously, a suspicious glint in her five-year old eyes.

Sano stared at the both of them, still feeling a bit shell-shocked by the surprising turn of events.

Katsu smacked Kaoru on the back of the head and the two fell to bickering, just like siblings, like family. He and Souzo had been like that, like a family, until the Navy had ruined their lives.

Sano didn't realize how sad his expression had gotten until Kaoru turned a concerned eye on him. "Are you okay?" she asked, reaching up and patting his cheek with a chubby hand.

He swatted her hand away and her eyes narrowed for a moment. Suddenly, she grinned. "I know what will make you feel better!" she announced. Katsu and Sano stared at her as though she had just announced an intention to join a traveling circus.

Ignoring both of them, she reached into her pocket and withdrew the bag of sweets. With a broad smile, she withdrew one delicate, slightly squished pink candy and proffered it to Sano. "Here. Daddy bought me this to make me feel better, because mommy is gone and I'm sad sometimes. I was saving it for after dinner, but I think you need it more than I do."

Slowly, Sano reached for the candy, a feeling he couldn't name welling up in him at her generosity.

Sensing his hesitation, but not knowing the cause, Kaoru leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, "Don't worry, it isn't coconut. Katsu told me so. He lies sometimes, but never about coconut."

Sano took the pink candy and smiled at Kaoru. "Thank you."

Pleased that her idea had worked, Kaoru gifted him with a dazzling smile. "Welcome to the Kami Kaze, Sano." Suddenly, she stopped in her tracks and looked up at him thoughtfully. "Hey, you know what?"

"What?" Sano asked, curious.

"Katsu's like my brother, so that means you are, too." Her smile broadened. "Now I have two brothers. That's better than candy any day, don't you think?"

Unable to say anything without giving in to his sudden urge to cry, Sano merely nodded. He decided right then and there that he would fight to protect that little girl and his new family, he wouldn't lose them like he had Souzo. He tucked the pink candy into his pocket and followed Kaoru and Katsu back to the Kami Kaze, to his new home. Better than candy any day.