Last modified: 07/31/98
This is a short story I wrote earlier this year. I'm posting it because I'm sending out a companion story called "Apart". Both stories takes place after the final battle with Shishio and is based on the events in episodes 23-24 and 60-61.
WARNING: Contains spoilers for the Kyoto story arc.
As always, C&C is greatly appreciated! ^_^
TOGETHER: A Rurouni Kenshin Fanfic (by MadamHydra)
All rights and privileges to Rurouni Kenshin belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki, Shuiesha, Sony Music Entertainment, and associated parties. The characters of this series are used without her permission for the purpose of entertainment only. This work of fiction is not meant for sale or profit.
English translation of Episodes 61-62 by Shinsen Gumi and/or HECTO fansubs.
( ) are character thoughts
* ----- * ----- * marks the start and end of flashbacks
"NO!!!! I won't accept it! I can't stand it! The battle belonged to Shishio-sama!" howled the man in the green coat.
(Like I give a shit what you think....), thought Sano.
The idiot just couldn't accept the fact that his precious Shishio was now nothing more than a smear of ash on the ground. It didn't help matters that Saitoh was amusing himself in his own twisted way by throwing Shishio's words right back into the guy's face.
Sano watched Kenshin slowly bend down and pick up Yumi's shattered watch. He walked up behind Kenshin to gingerly pat his friend on the shoulder.
As Kenshin stared down at the watch cradled in his bloodied hand, he quietly murmured, "....no."
"He didn't lose! He couldn't lose! How could Shishio-sama lose!!!"
As the raving nutcase suddenly bolted out of the shattered arena, he slammed into Kenshin. Not too hard... just a grazing blow, really. But Kenshin instantly went limp and silently collapsed into Sano's arms.
The metallic clatter of a sword hitting stone was followed by the soft, moist plop of dripping blood. Lots of blood.
It was at the moment that Sano truly realized just how utterly drained his friend was... and just how much the day's battles had taken out of him.
Aoshi, Soujiro,... and finally Shishio Mokoto.
It would have been bad enough to fight just one of them... but to fight ALL of them, one after the other, with no rest... and then to actually defeat them.... He couldn't quite suppress a feeling of awe at what his friend had accomplished.
But Kenshin had paid dearly for each of those victories. And if Sano didn't do something soon, he could easily pay the ultimate price.
Standing there, watching Shishio burn in his own self-made funeral pyre,... watching Yumi's body consumed by the very same flames that devoured her beloved Lord Shishio,... Kenshin had seemed rock-steady. But he had been running on sheer willpower alone. And willpower could push a human body only so far.
Shishio's body had given out first.
Now it was Kenshin's turn.
His friend felt so light in his arms... so fragile that it seemed that the slightest breeze could blow him away.
It wasn't that long ago when it had been the other way around,... when Kenshin had cradled Sano in his arms. He could only hope that Kenshin found his grasp just as comforting and reassuring....
* ----- * ----- *
The Meiji State Department building,...
....Katsu's desperate cries in the background,....
....and Kenshin patiently waiting to meet his charge....
There was the rasp of steel leaving the sheath, then the agonizing impact.... Unable to breath,... unable to move,... he went limp and sagged into Kenshin's waiting arms.
As Kenshin held him up in a strong but gentle grasp, he softly whispered, "Sano.... I'm sorry...." In those words, there was an infinity of regret.
He couldn't find the breath to tell Kenshin that he had nothing to be sorry for.
Sano knew that Kenshin would do his utmost to stop him from carrying out the bombing.
Kenshin knew that Sano would never give up on the Sekihoutai.
Neither of them could back down from what they believed in... and they both understood the consequences. Any other person would have been furious at being forced into such a screwed up mess. But here was Kenshin... apologizing.
He didn't have to say anything. Kenshin probably understood why he'd acted the way he did much better than Sano himself. That was one of Kenshin's many gifts. But he wanted to say it anyway, even if his friend wasn't around to hear him....
"Kenshin... thank you...."
* ----- * ----- *
The roar of the gas flares brought him back to the present. Something told him that they should get the hell out of Shishio's little playground as soon as possible. With a silent Aoshi lending a hand, he hastily bound up the worst of Kenshin's injuries. The wound on his back had gotten even worse, no doubt from the stress of the Ama-Kakeru-Ryu-no-Hirameki. And the bandages barely managed to slow down the bleeding from the stab wound in Kenshin's side. Sano didn't even want to THINK about the damage Shishio's saw-edged sword must have inflicted on Kenshin's guts. They only had time to worry about the major wounds. The numerous shallower cuts and burns would just have to wait.
Saitoh was being no help at all, of course. With that infuriating little smirk of his, he seemed much more interested in the human-shaped heap of ash that had once been the great Shishio Mokoto than in trying to save Kenshin's life.
Finally, there was no more that could be done. He slung Kenshin's arm over his shoulder, then glared at Saitoh.
"What the hell are you waiting for? I'm outta here."
He glanced down at his precious burden.
"Kenshin can't wait."
They slowly made their way back from the Hiei mountains and the ruins of Shishio's stronghold. Aoshi Shinomori silently walked beside him. The man hadn't said a word after Saitoh smashed open an escape route for them with his Gatotsu.
Even as he carefully carried Kenshin's torn body, Sano's thoughts bounced between worrying about his friend's condition to pure fury.
(Saitoh, you miserable bastard! How DARE you die on me!?)
Aoshi didn't offer to help Sano carry Kenshin. Sano was not about to ask for help. Kenshin was HIS burden....
No. Kenshin was his responsibility, but never a burden. Against tremendous odds, Himura Kenshin had successfully carried out his mission. Now it was time for Sagara Sanosuke to do his part.
At the outskirts of Kyoto, he came to a halt. (With Kenshin so badly hurt, maybe we should just stop right here. I can send a message to the Aoiya....)
Aoshi said nothing and stoically waited for Sano's decision.
But in the faintest of whispers, Kenshin murmured a single word.
Sano sighed. He knew what Kenshin wanted. And if his friend managed to survive this long, he would undoubtedly hang on a bit longer,... especially if it meant that he could see Kaoru and the others again. He adjusted his grip on Kenshin's body and trudged onward.
He shot a look at Aoshi and wondered if the man had been hoping for some sort of reprieve. While he and Kenshin could look forward to a warm and eager reception, Aoshi had no such assurances. The man would be facing old comrades whom he had either cold-blooded abandoned to Shishio's intrigues, brutally tried to murder, or deliberately betrayed.
Honor demanded that Aoshi help Kenshin fulfil his promise to bring the former leader of the Oniwabanshuu back to the Aoiya and Misao. And now that Kenshin had successfully reawakened Aoshi's heart and soul, Sano had no doubt that the man had every intention of satisfying that promise. But it was only natural that Aoshi would be apprehensive about the welcome -- if any -- that he would receive.
Sano knew damn well that everyone at the Aoiya would be very glad to see Aoshi again, despite what he'd done. But Aoshi didn't know that. And at the moment, Sano didn't feel inclined to give the man any reassurances. Aoshi Shinomori was a stubborn, stuck-up, arrogant, obsessive bastard. True, he had probably saved all their lives by buying Kenshin time to recover. But for all the trouble that he'd caused Kenshin in the first place, Aoshi bloody well deserved to suffer SOME anxiety.
(What the HELL!?)
Far down the street, Sano saw a huge heap of rubble where the Aoiya used to be. Soujiro had told them that the attack on the Aoiya had failed. If this was failure, he would have hated to see what the Ju-pon Gatana considered a success. Even from this distance Sano could pick out the old man, and one or two of the Oniwabanshuu. But where was Yahiko and Misao? Where was Kaoru? Yes, Shishio's people had been defeated... but at what cost? From what Soujiro told them, Sano assumed everyone was still alive. However, that didn't mean that someone hadn't been seriously hurt.
He sensed a sudden faltering in Aoshi's footsteps. Was Aoshi afraid that Misao or some of the Oniwabanshuu had been injured? Or was he afraid of being rejected for what he had done? Before Sano could say anything, Aoshi resumed his deliberate forward pace. His face might have been devoid of emotion, but Sano thought that Aoshi looked more like a man walking to his execution than a person returning home to the people who loved him.
(I just can't figure out what that kid Misao sees in this guy. A chunk of stone's got more emotion!)
As they approached, Sano saw a tall, white-caped stranger stand up and look in their direction. The people around him quickly followed suit.
Sano gave everyone a smug, cocky grin. With tears and smiles, Kaoru, Misao, and the others ran forward to welcome all of them home.