This is dedicated to Sanosuke's family (in the manga). Been itching to write it down for a while. Enjoy.

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The young boy hoisted his single bag of belongings up his shoulders, glancing nervously around as he traversed the unfamiliar roads of outer Tokyo. The city – or what he had seen so far – was definitely busier and more developed than what he had heard, which befitted its status as the Meiji government's administration centre. He was thankful once more for his former neighbour for giving him a ride from the Shinbashi station, and even helped him find out the exact location of his destination.

His elderly father – though still as vigorous as he was four years ago – had merely raised his brows when he heard his youngest son's request to come here, but had not objected. He had obviously been expecting it since that night, and had halted the heated protests stemming out of his now-married daughter.

"You've got your own family to take care of now, so let him grow up and follow his own path," he had said dryly then. "He's old enough to do so, and he certainly isn't gonna run off like your no-good brother did." Although the old man had snorted in disgust at the mention of his missing eldest son, there was a strange softening in his eyes that would have surprised his children, had they seen it.

The boy stopped for a moment beside the river to rest and allowed his mind to wander as he sat down under a shady tree, munching on the rice balls his sister had pressed into his hands just before her husband's rickety wagon moved. "If this is what you really want, I won't stop you," she had said the night before, insisting to pack his bag as she was wont to do. "But I want you to be happy wherever your life takes you, and take care of yourself. And try to send word to us now and then, ne?" She had hugged him for a long time then, seeming to know that he would no longer be her plain little brother the next time they would meet.

Now that he was closer to his intended future though, he was beginning to have doubts about his decision. Was he strong enough to do this? Was this the right choice for him? What if he was not able to fulfil this wish? What was wrong with remaining with his family instead of going to an unknown city with only childish dreams and several yens in his pack?

For a few moments he wrestled with his private thoughts, holding the half-eaten rice ball in one hand as he seriously considered abandoning his cause and return to Shinsu. It would be so easy to just go back – he still had enough money for the return ticket, and his sister would be so glad, and his father… and that man…

His eyes widened as an image of the kanji for "evil", etched behind a white shirt billowing with the wind came into his mind. Dropping the rice back into the packet, he opened his canvas bag; and just as he had done in the past whenever he felt unsure of himself, he rummaged through his belongings until he found what he was looking for – his old shirt with the word "evil" sewn into it. The one he had seen behind the young stranger who liberated their village, whom he had secretly admired, who told him to be patient with his sister and to come here when the time was right…

He smiled briefly at the remembrance as he gathered back his belongings and shoved them back into the bag. Wiping his hand on the grass, secure in his decision, he stood up, stretched and once again looked at the piece of paper that held the address of the Kamiya Kasshin dojo. With renewed determination, he got back on the road and continued his search.

ooooooooooooooo

Myojin Yahiko rubbed his face and neck dry with a piece of towel, looking up at the evening sky. The last kendo class was already finished for the day, and Tsubame had promised earlier to buy him a nice dinner from Akabeko for helping her finishing her chores at the fields. Casting the towel beside the well for Kenshin to wash tomorrow, he walked to the front gate to go to the restaurant where she was sure to be waiting.

A small knuckle nearly collided with his chest as he slid open the door, and he had to step back to avoid the knock. "What the…" he began.

The young boy looking up in apprehension at him seemed ordinary, so ordinary one would not spare him a second glance. However, he could also sense… something in him, a determination, and that he wasn't quite what he seemed. It intrigued him enough to let the other speak up first.

The boy took a while to work his tongue. "Ah! Go-gomen nasai!" he apologised hastily. "I've just arrived here, and I'm looking for the Kamiya Kasshin dojo. Am I at the right place?"

"… And what's your business at the dojo?"

He bowed. "My name is Higashidani Ota," he replied firmly. "I am here to learn to be strong."