Disclaimer: I own nothing Ruroken or Samurai X, but I'm having a lot of fun writing this and pretending I do!
Author's Note: I've added a glossary of terms to the end of the chapter. Check it out if you don't know some of the terms I use, or are trying to read this story while being unfamiliar with the Rurouni Kenshin universe!
Out of Time
Chapter 1: Deep Water
The streets were black. What little light the moon provided only served to spread shadows and add to the danger of the night. No one was foolish enough to wander the streets of Kyoto alone, especially after sunset. Unless you were a hitokiri. Or perhaps one of the Shinsengumi. But tonight, a young, dark-haired boy was out. A person would have to have a death wish to wander as he did. This blood-splattered boy did have a death wish. A week ago he'd lost everything. And now, he stood on a bridge, planning on ending the little he had left. Not expecting someone else to be out who had also recently lost everything.
The boy climbed onto the railing and sat there, trying to decide if the fall would kill him. The last one hadn't. At times like this, it didn't pay to have a hard head.
It was several minutes before he heard a soft voice from the shadows. "Are you going to jump or just look at the moon?"
The boy started, almost losing his balance. He reflexively caught himself, and turned to see a teenage boy quietly approach, his face in shadow. The teenager walked onto the bridge and stood beside him. The newcomer wore swords. A samurai then? A hopeful thought struck him. A hitokiri maybe. No. If it were a hitokiri, he'd already be dead.
"Just trying to decide if it's deep enough to drown."
The swordsman didn't look at him, but leaned against the railing. "I'm sure it is. I've come here often lately, thinking the same thing."
The boy watched the quiet young man. It was so peaceful. The two standing on a bridge, watching the moon. He could almost believe there was no revolution. No one out destroying lives.
Except that they were discussing suicide.
"But you're still alive."
"Yes. Someone died to save me. Someone I cared about. And I realize, every time I come here, that death would be too easy. Especially when others have spent their lives to save mine." The swordsman paused. "It's happened twice now. The first time, I had someone to help me through it. This time, I'm alone."
The boy watched him talk. It was too dark to make out his features, but he got the impression that this swordsman was different. He could hear the hollowness in the young man's voice. This was someone who understood.
The boy nodded. "Same here. But now that he's dead… I don't have anybody. I'm nothing."
The man sighed. "That may be true. But you're enough to remind me why I have to walk off of this bridge." He looked up at the moon. "They're watching me. I made an oath to them that I would live. I can't break it."
"I made no oath. I have no reason."
"Then maybe you should find your reason. Before you die, find out if there's a reason to live."
The boy seemed to think about it. "Maybe. I guess waiting one more night wouldn't hurt. Maybe the captain would want that." The boy shifted his position to get back off the railing, but he was still off balance from when he'd almost fallen, and this time, when he slipped, he couldn't catch himself.
The swordsman's reaction was instantaneous, but it wasn't quite quick enough to catch the child as he fell. Without thinking, without even dropping his swords, the young man leapt over the rail and dove into the water. He wasn't going to let this boy die. It had been too amazing a feeling to be protecting life for a change instead of taking it.
The water was icy cold, and was a terrible shock to the young man's body. It was winter, and he should have expected the temperature, but he was in such a hurry he hadn't even thought to brace himself. The sudden shock of cold made him gasp, and he inhaled a lot of water. His eyes grew hazy as things started going black.
Sano shivered as he and Kenshin walked from the small town back to Kyoto. He felt like they'd been walking for hours, and they were only just reaching the bridges at the outskirts of the city. The sooner they got home, the better, as far as he was concerned. It was freezing, and they were crazy to be out now when they could be warm and comfortable in the Aoi-ya. Not that Kenshin had made him come. Sano had just tagged along to get away from Yahiko and Kaoru.
But in spite of the cold, he was starting to think that it was a good thing he had joined the Rurouni. Coming to Kyoto was always hard on Kenshin, but this time it seemed worse. Tonight, Sano had caught him getting pulled into his past for minutes at a time. The ex-hitokiri's eyes would darken, and Sano could see that for a moment here or there, he was traveling with Battousai, not the rurouni. It was creepy, especially since that shouldn't happen to him anymore. The fighter snorted. Yes, it was definitely good that he was the one who'd come. The others would have panicked. Sano seemed to be the only one who really understood that rurouni or hitokiri, Kenshin was always Kenshin. Maybe the revolution tied them together that way. Still, Sano found that keeping Kenshin talking while they traveled helped keep him in the present, and that was easier on his friend. Sano scowled. But it was hard to keep talking when he was so cold. "Kenshin, remind me again why we had to go out tonight to buy stuff?" he griped.
Kenshin, who seemed untouched by the frigid temperature, walked calmly beside him. He smiled up at the tall fighter. "Because I plan on visiting Shishou tomorrow, and the last time I visited, he insisted I bring a souvenir instead of trouble."
Sano's teeth chattered as he tried to snuggle up and get more heat out of his clothes. "Souvenir? Who asks for a souvenir? And who calls sake a souvenir, anyway?"
Kenshin laughed easily. "You don't know Shishou." He sighed, a little smile on his face. "And I guess I can't blame him. No one visits him unless they have a problem."
Sano boxed Kenshin's ears, causing the small redhead to go swirly-eyed for a moment. "News for you Kenshin. Your shishou is antisocial and chose to live that way. It isn't your job to make up for it. And it definitely isn't your job to buy sake four miles out of town, just because Hiko Seijuro likes that sake better than the stuff made in Kyoto."
"But Sano," Kenshin said, in a shaky voice, still staggering a bit from the blow. "It isn't much of a gift to bring something the person doesn't want, that it is not."
"He said souvenir, not gift. Souvenirs are never any good," Sano muttered. He wrapped his clothes around him tighter. "Hey, Kenshin. Aren't you cold?"
The smaller man looked up at him in surprise. "I guess."
"Well, you don't look at it."
Kenshin just shrugged. "I spent a lot of time in Kyoto during the revolution. In my job, I couldn't wear anything heavy that would slow me, so I had to get used to cold winters."
"That was ten years ago, Kenshin. You were just a kid!"
His friend looked amused. "Ten years ago, I was your age, that I was."
Sano blinked at him. He'd never realized that before, but he wasn't going to let Kenshin win that easily. "That's not the point. You were younger back then, so your body could take the cold better."
Kenshin smiled faintly. "So, you're saying I'm old now?"
Sano's glared at him, knowing full well that Kenshin had intentionally misunderstood. "No you're not old," he said through gritted teeth, "but you aren't used to it anymore. You're gonna get sick, and the Fox Lady's gonna blame me."
Kenshin laughed and didn't reply.
They were crossing one of the bridges when the moon finally came out from behind a large cloud and brightened their path.
Sano forgot both the argument and the cold for a moment to stop and stare. "Man, look at that moon. It's really bright tonight." He leaned against the railing and looked out over the water. "You can see for miles." Sano hopped onto the railing to get a better view.
"Get down, Sanosuke. That is dangerous. You could fall in, that you most certainly could. And then you would be the one Megumi-dono has to take care of."
Sano completely ignored him, slowly standing on the rail, and beginning to walk, his arms out for balance. "I remember doing this as a kid. We used to walk bridge rails for kicks when I was really little. You ever do stuff like that?"
Sano snorted. "Come on, Kenshin. Didn't you ever play or anything? Even before you became Battousai?"
Kenshin ignored the question. "Sano, please get down. I do not like this, that I do not," he said, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. "You're going to fall." He was tensing up, not sure why. Something was wrong.
Sano laughed. "You worry too much, Kenshin. I'm not going to drown, even if I do fall."
But Kenshin wasn't listening. Something had made him freeze in his tracks. His violet eyes had narrowed and darkened to deep blue as they had each time he'd become deeply lost in thoughts of the past. He remembered this particular bridge, now. The little boy sitting on the rail, while they'd discussed the pros and cons of jumping. And suddenly he remembered how that conversation had ended. "No!" Kenshin shot toward the rail, lost in the past, as once again, he saw the boy fall to his death.
"Kenshin?" Sano's eyes widened as he saw his friend suddenly slip into a memory as he had earlier. But those times had been harmless, and Kenshin had laughed them off. This time, he was about to go over the rail for who knew what reason. Sano tried to twist and grab his friend, but the rail wasn't the greatest place in the world to try to maneuver oneself in the first place. And he hadn't expected Kenshin snap out of it and stop before jumping. By the time Sano realized Kenshin was okay, he had already grabbed his friend's gi. It was too late to stop his own momentum, and Sano wound up falling, dragging a surprised Kenshin over the rail with him into the cold river.
Sano lost his grip on Kenshin when he hit the water. It was so cold, and he could feel his hands and feet already going numb, making it hard to swim back to the surface. So, maybe Kenshin was right. He shouldn't have messed around on the bridge. If the river hadn't been so calm, he probably would have drowned. Sano broke the surface, gasping for air. He tried to wipe the water from his eyes while still treading water, but his legs were numbing. He was going to go back under if he didn't get out soon. Sano looked around. Where was Kenshin? Not in the river by the looks of it. Knowing him, he probably hadn't even felt the cold and just swam to shore. But even as Sano's eyes scanned the land, he knew the rurouni would never have left him. "Kenshin!" He hollered.
"Kenshin! Where are you?"
Finally, a ways away, he heard someone break the surface. Sano turned in relief to see red hair. "Kenshin! Thank god."
He swam over just as the rurouni started slipping under again. He wasn't completely conscious. "Come on, buddy," Sano said, catching his friend's arm and pulling him toward the shore. When they finally reached land, the dark-haired fighter dropped the redhead onto the grass. It didn't seem like Kenshin was breathing. "Damn," Sano swore, realizing that Kenshin had inhaled water. Sano immediately began pressing on his chest, trying to force the water out. "Come on, Kenshin."
Finally, the smaller man sat up, coughing up water. Sano leaned back in relief as his friend began gasping for air. "Don't do that to me. I thought you were dead." He glanced over at the rurouni, and froze.
Kenshin's wet hair was out of its ponytail and spilled out over his dark blue gi and his face. He hadn't looked up at Sano, but was already standing, tense, with his hand on his sword hilt. His second scabbard was empty.
Second scabbard? Sano had the oddest feeling that he shouldn't make any sudden movements. "Kenshin?"
"Who are you?" Kenshin's voice was low and dangerous. Other than his narrowed dark blue eyes, his face was an expressionless mask. "Where is the boy?"
"I'm not known for patience."
"Since when? Kenshin, what's gotten into you?" He moved to stand.
Kenshin was gone. Sano hadn't even seen him move, but suddenly he felt a blade against the side of his neck, and a low voice saying into his ear, "Don't move. I don't want to kill you, but I will hurt you if you move."
A thin trickle of blood made its way down Sano's neck. That was no sakabatou. It was a regular katana. But Kenshin wouldn't carry that…" His eyes widened, as things started falling into place, making no sense at all. The extra scabbard, the dark gi, the katana… the deadly voice. "Battousai," he whispered, not understanding.
"You know me." His voice was flat. "And you know my name. Who are you?"
"Sagara Sanosuke," Sano replied.
"You aren't one of the Shinsengumi," Battousai said. "And you're no hitokiri." The pressure of the blade finally eased as Battousai moved back into Sano's line of vision, his sword still ready. "Why are you out? Do you want to die?"
Sano rubbed his neck. The cut had already stopped bleeding. Battousai had been making a point, not trying to hurt him. Sano realized that truth was probably the best answer for now. "I was with a friend. We were buying sake."
Battousai's eyes narrowed further. "I am to believe that you would buy sake in Kyoto at night? I ask again, do you have a death wish?"
"I can take care of myself," Sano said.
"I could tell. Where is this friend of yours?"
Sano froze, his brown eyes widening. "Damn, that was right. If this wasn't just Kenshin spacing out… if this was the real Battousai… then where was Kenshin?" He turned to look at the river. There wasn't even a ripple.
Battousai seemed to understand Sano's expression. His voice was low, and if Sano hadn't known better, he'd have sworn it sounded a little apologetic. "If he hasn't come out by now, he isn't going to. Neither of them are."
Battousai shook his head. "Forget it." His eyes hardened again. "You shouldn't have seen me. I need to report this. Go home before you get yourself killed." He finally sheathed his sword.
Battousai tensed at the sound of his name and stopped but didn't turn back.
Sano took that as an invitation to finish. He closed his eyes and jumped in, hoping Battousai wouldn't kill him. "Do you have any idea where you are?"
"Kyoto." The voice was flat.
"Do you know when?"
"I would suggest seeing a doctor, Sagara Sanosuke," he replied before walking toward the city.
Sano watched him for a moment. Then looked back toward the water, hoping that somehow Kenshin was okay. The fighter sighed, and stood, muttering, "I must have a death wish," before following Battousai.
Author's Note 2: I hope you liked chapter one of "Out of Time." Thank you so much for reading. I'm aware that this is a weird story, so please review. I'd love to know what you think!