Bloodstained Spring Day
A/N: I bet all of you who read my other Rurouni Kenshin fic are saying, "Thank God! Not another one of her stupid so-called humor fics!"
You're right! Warnings are as follows: shounen-ai (Sano x Kenshin and mentioned Hiko x Katsu), character death, and just general Kaoru-bitchiness. Yeah, if you're obsessed with Kaoru, turn back now. Although she might be nice later on, I'm not sure.
I don't own Rurouni Kenshin. If I did, Kenshin, Sano, Aoshi, etc., etc., would be paired up with their fellow bishies.
"Auntie Megumi! Auntie Megumi!"
Megumi Takani looked up from a guide to new medicines, to see her two much younger friends run into her office at the clinic just as they did almost every day without fail. It had been the routine for several years, and although it hadn't changed, the girls had, slightly but noticeably to those who knew them well. Ayame, who was twelve now, had grown into something of a tomboy, and always wore her hair very short, and her younger sister was even more curious about everything than she had been when Megumi first appeared at the dojo.
"What is it, girls?" Megumi smiled. The clinic that Megumi and Dr. Genzai ran was like the girls' second home, especially now that Ayame was taking swordsmanship lessons from her "Auntie Kaoru-sensei".
Suzume climbed into Megumi's lap. "Tell us a story, please! Something with romance, and handsome princes, and-"
"And samurai! And swordfights!" Ayame piped up. Megumi reached down and scooped the older girl up onto her lap as well.
"Alright, girls." Megumi moved a bit so that she was more comfortable, and then continued. "Just so you don't fight, I'll tell you a story with both samurai and romance in it, and a handsome prince, and swordfighting. You girls think Sir Ken was a handsome prince, right?"
Ayame and Suzume vigorously nodded their agreement, and then, Megumi began the story.
"When Sanosuke- you girls remember Sano, right? Of course you do- looked back on this very day every year after the tragedy, he wouldn't remember the cloudless blue sky, or the fact that it had been unusually warm for an April day. He wouldn't remember the trees swaying slightly in the soft breeze, or the flowers, or even the fact that his friend Katsu had finally settled down with Kenshin's former teacher a few weeks before. All he would see, in his mind's eye, would be Kenshin, laying face-down in the green grass. He'd see blood on the grass, blood on the trees, blood on the sakuras that were scattered all around.
"The day had started normally, even happily, by Kamiya Dojo standards. Katsu, who was a constant source of fascination to Yahiko ('What happens when two men live together? Can they have kids? How do they...you know...do it? Kaoru, shut up, I'm not a little kid!'), had sent over some castilla cake. Kaoru was guarding it jealously, Kenshin was doing dishes, Sano was speculating about his chances with the little redhead (What if I just went over there right now and kissed him, hmm? Nah, he'd probably do that stupid 'Orooo!' thing or somethin'. I'll wait.), and I was watching over you girls. Do you remember this well? If you do, I'll stop... If you want, that is."
Both girls looked up at Megumi and shook their heads. "No!" both piped up. "Go on, please, Auntie Megumi!"
Megumi laughed softly, and continued. "Kaoru looked up from 'her' cake. 'Kenshin,' she asked, 'would you mind going fishing to catch tonight's dinner? Please? We could all use a rest from tofu.'
"Looking back, Sano never found it in him to forgive her for that. He'd have eaten tofu for the rest of his life if Kenshin had even just lived to be thirty-five years old.
"But Kenshin, always so kind, had said, 'Certainly, Miss Kaoru. I know a good spot, too! I should be back in time for lunch, that I should.'
"And then he left. It was the last time any of his little group would see him walking around, healthy and smiling, without one foot in the afterlife. If Sano had only known... He never forgave himself, either, for not knowing somehow, not going with Kenshin and saving him from his fate.
"And so the few hours before lunch passed. Sano wasn't at all worried about Kenshin. After all, the redhead had said he would be back by lunch, and there was no need to fret if he didn't come back early.
"But then, Kaoru had shouted that lunch was ready, and that they were eating, Kenshin or no Kenshin.
"He's lost track of time, Sano thought to himself. He's lost track of time, and that's what's keeping him.
"I looked questioningly at the empty spot at the table.
"'Where's Sir Ken?' I asked. 'Kaoru, what's happened to him? He said he would be back by now, and he's rarely late.'
"'I'm sure it's nothing," Kaoru replied nonchalantly. "Besides, he can take care of himself.'
"But Kaoru was thinking something entirely different: Kenshin, where are you? I hope it's not true, what Megumi's hinting at. I know you, you'd always come home on time even if you had to fight a horde of bandits to do it. You'd come home because you love me. And where would that leave me if you died?
"The spiky-haired former Sekihoutai, however, was anything but calm, outside or inside. He was worried now, really worried, and he had a bad feeling that something was amiss. It was, as his friend had said, very unusual for Kenshin to be late for anything, much less one of the meals that Kaoru served. Although Kenshin didn't love the girl romantically, he thought of her as a younger sister, and he'd always had a special place for her in his heart.
"Sano stood up. 'Look, guys,' he said impatiently, 'I'm going out to look for Kenshin. Whoever wants to come, can, but I'm leaving right now.'
"And with that, he slid the door open and walked out, slamming it behind him and causing Kaoru to shout, but he didn't care. He was too worried to think about the fact that if Kenshin was hurt, the culprit might still be around, and Sano's hand was still healing from the fight with Shishio. A fight between Sano and anyone who hurt Kenshin was a fight to the death, Sano would make sure of that, but with one hand burnt and the other one broken, it would probably be Sano who died in the end.
"At the edge of the forest, almost in the dojo's yard, lay a figure, crumpled on the ground, and all but invisible due to the sakura petals that were nearly covering him. Red was smeared all over the tree trunks; it pooled around the body and had turned some of the delicate little blossoms a violent shade of crimson.
"Sano broke into a run, and at the same time, felt distinctly sick to his stomach. He knew who the dead-looking thing was, he was sure of it, and at the same time, the ex-Sekihoutai was praying to every god, goddess, and demon he could think of that he was wrong. Sano hoped it was a bear, a traveler, a heap of clothes, anything that would mean that Kenshin really had just lost track of time at the pond.
"'Kenshin!' he called, nearing the thing. 'Kenshin, is that you? It's Sano, Kenshin!'
"Please be alright, please be alive. Kenshin, don't die on me, don't be dead, be healthy, be able to be healed. Please, please, please...
"Sano slowed down as he grew nearer to the crumpled figure. The shape was obviously a human, and the beautiful red hair that was fanned out around the body left no room in Sano's mind for hope that Kenshin was alright. Some of the hair was bloody and stuck to Kenshin's head, but most of the blood was from Kenshin's torso area.
"'Oh, Kami-sama, they've slashed his stomach open. He'll die for sure.' Sano's mouth was dry as he knelt down next to Kenshin.
"He knew Kenshin had to get back to the house, and fast, but Sano remembered something that I had said a few months ago about vital signs. He couldn't remember the exact words, but it approximated, 'If their heart's beating and they're not breathing, run like the wind to the nearest doctor. If they're alert, run faster than the wind. If the person's gone, run faster than the gods because the doctor might be able to save them.'
"Sano's hands were shaking as he put them on the little redhead's chest to feel for a heartbeat. There was one, albeit a very faint one, and a heartbeat meant hope in Sano's view. Sano could have jumped for joy at that moment; the little rurouni was alive, his pure heart was beating, they might just have a chance to fall in love after all!
"'Something's wrong here,' Sano muttered to himself, and he quickly figured out what that something was.
"Kenshin's chest had been heaving up and down the other times Kenshin had been badly hurt, heaving up and down while the redhead fought for every breath, not wanting to give up. But now... Now, it looked like he'd given up, because he was pale and unmoving. Sano, after all, had mistaken him for dead, at first sight, and it took a few seconds' worth of listening to Kenshin's heartbeat to convince the brunette that his dear rurouni was, in fact, alive.
"'Shit!' Sano growled. He couldn't lose Kenshin, not after he'd just gotten his hopes up that the redhead might live.
"So, he picked up Kenshin and ran, faster than he'd ever run before, faster even than Kenshin ran sometimes, faster, in Sano's mind, than the gods themselves. It was a speed fueled by desperation, and love for the delicate man cradled in his arms.
"I opened the door to find Sano panting and wild-eyed on the porch, cradling what appeared to be a mess of bloody fabric close to his chest.
"'Sano, what's-,' I asked, but Sano cut me off.
"'It's Kenshin,' he whispered. 'He's hurt real bad.'
"And with that, Sano thrust Kenshin into my arms and sank down on the porch of the dojo with his head in his hands. From the way his shoulders were shaking, I knew that Sano was crying, and so I carried Kenshin into the house and decided to give the younger man some time alone.
"He's not supposed to die like this, Sano thought to himself. Kenshin's not supposed to die like this, not in pain, and ill, and alone.
"In the fighter's mind, if Kenshin never woke up, he had died out there, no matter how long it was until the gentle little rurouni's heart stopped beating. All of Sano's memories of Kenshin were replaying themselves before his eyes: the day they met, fighting Shishio together, Kenshin struck blind by Shougo Amakusa's sword, the night Sano very nearly left all he had to fight alongside his best friend Katsu and had ended up falling, wounded, into Kenshin's arms and feeling the redhead's tears on his shoulder, so faintly and delicately. Kenshin getting just a little bit drunk one night last summer, and leaning forward into Sano's face, kissing him lightly.
"Yeah, that was a great night, Sano remembered.
"It hadn't been Kenshin's idea to get drunk on that summer night. No, it took Sano a good twenty minutes of chiding him and finally, flagging down Miss Tae and ordering a sake for the little redhead, so that he'd have to drink it. Even then, Kenshin was so very reluctant to drink that Sano ended up feeling a little guilty for what he'd done. But then...
"'Oh, fine.' Kenshin had what could almost be called a pout on his face, and Sano was sure that it was quite unintentional. 'But just one cup, and only so I don't have to carry you home this time.'
"Sano laughed, and handed him the bottle of sake, watching as the little redhead carefully poured it into the cup and drank. Kenshin drank the rest of the bottle, too, and he'd been having so much fun by that time, just drinking sake and laughing with Sano, that one bottle turned into two... Then three... Then four...
"Although Kenshin was not tall or excessively muscular, he had a good tolerance of sake, and by the end of four bottles, he was only a bit tipsy...or so he thought. When Kenshin stood up next, the room swirled around him, a spinning stream of colors. The rurouni reeled, stepping back and back and back as he did so, and then-
"-warmth and the softness of an old, often-worn jacket. Kenshin looked up at where he'd been just a moment ago, his intoxicated mind hazy and slow at piecing together what had happened. A pair of strong arms wrapped around him, and Kenshin's first instinct was the Battousai's- fight off whoever was holding him down- but his second instinct was that of Kenshin Himura, a human being who merely wanted to save others and be accepted for who he was.
"And Kenshin followed that second instinct. He turned in the pair of arms encircling him, leaned his head on Sano's shoulder, and sighed happily. Kenshin breathed slowly and rhythmically right in time with Sano, and the two sat chest-to-chest, with the fighter holding the smaller man in his arms protectively.
"'Y'fell,' Sano whispered into Kenshin's hair. Sano was really drunk tonight, so drunk that Kenshin would undoubtedly end up carrying him home yet again, no matter what the redhead had said before. 'Never... Never wanna let ya fall ever again, Kenshin. Unh-unh,' Sano shook his head vigorously, the tails of the red headband sliding gently across Kenshin's face.
"Kenshin smiled in response to Sano's words and the tickling sensation of a headband tail sliding over his nose. 'Thank you, Sano,' he replied softly, 'But don't you know? To catch me, you might have to fall too.'
"And then, Kenshin had leaned in, so close to Sano's face, and Sano tightened his embrace and smiled slightly. The little redhead had to stretch up a few inches for their lips to be touching, and when he did, he pressed his mouth to the fighter's, and kissed him, gently, quickly.
"So it was done. Sano wasn't sure for a long time whether or not it had just been a pleasant dream, one of those hallucinations that can be brought on by too much sake, but he found out later it wasn't. He wanted so badly to kiss Kenshin back, but- and he told me this, girls- he was afraid that Kenshin was hallucinating himself, seeing Miss Kaoru when he was kissing Sano.
"Sano did something then that he told me he'd always regret. He ran, jumping up from where he sat on the floor and dumping poor Kenshin unceremoniously on the ground. He ran, but not because he didn't love Kenshin. No, in fact, Sanosuke loved Kenshin so very much that the ex-gangster was afraid of finding that Kenshin wasn't truly in love with him."
Suzume looked up. "Auntie Megumi, why would Uncle Ken lie to Sano? Uncle Ken never lied, ever! That doesn't make sense," she said, eyes wide with curiosity.
Megumi chuckled softly. "My dears, when you are older, you will learn that sometimes, people may answer to a higher authority than their parents, their teachers, and even their gods. This authority is alcohol... It can lead to happy accidents, girls, but it can also lead to heartbreak. Sano and Kenshin experienced both on that night. Now, if there are any more questions...? No? All right, my dears.
"Sano ran the three miles from the Akabeko to my house, and when I found him panting on my doorstep, he told me that he hadn't even paused for breath! Over tea, I managed to get him to tell me everything, and I promised to help him. I didn't know that, almost a year later, my attempts at help would fail when they were most needed.
"So, back to that spring day. As Sano sat on the porch, praying to every divine being he knew that Kenshin would live, I was inside the house tending to the older man. I must tell you two, I didn't think Kenshin would survive the night. He'd already lost so much blood, and I must confess that I find deep stomach wounds especially difficult to heal. Kenshin's wound was so deep that I almost feared he'd tried to commit seppuku, but later, he told me everything that had happened to him on that morning.
"I managed to bandage both his stomach wound and the gash on the side of his head, but it took the rest of that day, and then the whole night. Kenshin had lain on the ground for a little over two hours before Sano found him, and I had to clean off the poor redhead before bandaging him, so that he would not become infected. To tell you the truth, I was already worried– he had an awful fever and the area around a less serious cut on his chest had started to swell. I began to cry, not something I'm too proud of, but I was just so shocked that anyone could do this to Kenshin..."
Megumi rubbed at the corner of her eye for a few minutes.
"Auntie Megumi," Ayame whispered, "if you don't want to tell us the story...well, I guess it's okay."
Megumi looked up. "No, dear. I'm fine. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. I had just finished bandaging Kenshin, and I honestly didn't know if he would survive until the next day.
"Then Sano walked in. He was rumpled, his hair was messy- messier than usual- and his clothes were utterly wrinkled. I asked him what was wrong.
"'Oh,' he replied. 'Kitsune, so much is wrong here. Oh, man.'
"I realized that I'd said the wrong thing, spoken without thinking. I told him that I meant his appearance, and that I hoped he hadn't gotten into another brawl. They were going to ban him from the Akabeko if he got any more rowdy than he usually was!
"'No,' Sano replied. 'Come on, you didn't see me? I spent the whole night outside, sitting on the porch. I... I didn't want Kenshin to die with out hearing...'
"Sano had trailed off, so I prodded him. 'What did you want him to hear?' I asked gently.
"Sano looked at the floor, and then briefly at me, and then returned his attention to the floor. There had been tears in his eyes.
"'I have to apologize for that night,' Sano whispered. 'And I need to tell Kenshin that I love him.'
"'Oh,' I answered quietly. 'Sanosuke, I'm so sorry. Go on, tell him, but he won't hear you.'
"'What do you mean?' Sano shouted. 'He has to hear... Oh, Kami-sama, if he dies before I can tell him...! Shit!' Sano punched the wall, hard, and kept punching until his knuckles were skinned and there was a bloodstained dent in the wood. He slumped down, not even wanting to see Kenshin in his nearly lifeless state.
"Kenshin was in a very deep sleep, so deep that no one could reach him, and I'd tried all night, the night before. His skin was unhealthily pale, his red hair dull and limp. It was odd how much life had left him already, but this was only a whisper of things to come. Kenshin told me later that he spent this whole time dreaming, and from the tortured looks that crossed his face as he lay unconscious, I can only guess what the rurouni was dreaming of.
"Those sad expressions and the tears that sometimes streamed down Kenshin's cheeks were the only indication that this was indeed a body with a soul, and not merely a corpse who did not realize that its essence had already left it. For a week and a half this continued, but one day, I heard noises coming from Kenshin's room. Screaming, shrill and painful.
"I ran in, frightened that perhaps an old enemy of the Hitokiri Battousai had come to kill Kenshin while he was in a defenseless state, but the room was empty. The screams came again, and I realized they were coming from Kenshin. They were wordless, but from the way he was sobbing and hyperventilating, I knew that these were screams of despair and madness.
"I stood by him, holding his head in my lap and stroking his long red hair, but, if anything, that only made his screaming worse. Finally, after two hours, he said a coherent word: Tomoe. I did not know at the time that Tomoe had been a young woman who fell in love with Kenshin and was subsequently killed by him when she jumped in front of his sword during a fight.
"Then, something frightening happened. Kenshin's scar began to bleed. It poured crimson blood down his face, onto his bandages, and into his hair, where it matted the fine orange strands. This scar was a wound that had never been allowed to heal. Kenshin had never allowed it to heal, just as Sano would take every scar Kenshin had gotten from his encounter in the forest, and scar his own soul just as deeply. Guilt is a powerful thing, and Sano, despite his strength, had fallen to it.
"I bandaged up the scar, and my hands shook. This was the most difficult part of caring for a patient; the knowledge that he might die no matter what, that all of my love and time would come to nothing. I didn't know whether or not Kenshin would live, but I couldn't give up on him. I wouldn't, not after he'd saved my life so many times.
"I suppose that I still did love him in a way. When I first came to the dojo, I'd had the worst crush on Kenshin, but I saw the way that he and Sano looked at each other. Although it wasn't obvious to them, it was obvious to anyone else that those two were enamored of each other, so I actually set my sights elsewhere. That is a mark of maturity, and don't forget it: the ability to give up your love of someone when there is little chance that the person will love you back.
"Kenshin was my friend, however, and it was plain from the way he acted towards Sano that he loved the man. And after a while, after I began to really notice Sano, I began to see that he loved Kenshin as well. I also saw that those two were driving themselves mad with the fear of being rejected, and I wanted so badly to tell one of them that the other loved him. I couldn't, though; I just felt that something like this had to blossom on its own.
"The next morning, Sano finally worked up the courage to see Kenshin. The older man had been his idol and love interest for so long that I worried what Sano's reaction would be– he'd seen Kenshin ill or wounded before, but not that badly, and seeing one's hero so vulnerable... Well, it can do strange things to a person. Sano became so quiet as he looked down at Kenshin, and I left the room. I didn't want to intrude on Sanosuke's privacy, and the things he was going to say were almost certainly things only meant for his beloved redhead's ears. I did look in several hours later, to ask if Sano needed anything to eat or drink.
"He was just kneeling at Kenshin's side, kneeling and holding the redhead's hand. Kenshin looked even smaller and paler than usual now that he was at death's door, and his hand disappeared inside the street fighter's two much larger ones.
"'Nah,' he whispered. "I'm not hungry, Megumi.'
"And so I left. Sano told me later that he hadn't moved from Kenshin's side for almost ten hours. I can only imagine the great love sadness that must have had hold of Sano for the normally impatient man to sit still for so long. The fact is, though, girls, that he did. And I left him alone for most of it, returning only for the final hour of his vigil.
"'Sano,' I said, kneeling beside him and wrapping one arm around his shoulders. 'Sano, I'm trying so hard, and it's not working, I'm failing... He's dying on me, Sano, my friend is dying on me and I can't even save him... Oh...' And I began to cry again.
"Sano just leaned against me, comforting me with his warmth and his presence. We supported each other, the two of us, just sitting together. After a while, Sano's shoulders began to shake as well; he was crying. I felt so guilty then, so guilty at being unable to end the sadness that had caused the two of us, fairly stoic people, to cry for so long.
"But our tears were not for much longer.
"Sano jumped slightly, more of a quick jerk upwards, and he looked over at me. Something was shining in his eyes, something other than tears. It was happiness, sunshine breaking through clouds, and he had a crooked, sad smile on his face.
"'Megumi,' Sano began hesitantly. 'Megumi, I think... I think he just squeezed my hand.'
"Sano waited a few minutes, seeing if Kenshin would do it again. We were both so worried that it would have just been Sano's over-stressed, tired imagination. Neither of us wanted to be disappointed. I told Sano as much; he sighed, seeming almost to deflate, and he shook his head.
"'Sorry,' he replied. 'I'm stupid, it's just that I needed him to...'
"I nodded, patting Sano's hand. Suddenly, though, he shook me off, and I wondered if I'd offended him somehow. On his face, though, was not an insulted expression, but one of extreme concentration.
"After what seemed like an hour, but was really ten or fifteen minutes, Sano spoke up again.
'I'm sure of it,' he said. 'I'm sure of it, he squeezed my hand. Megumi, he's trying to tell us that he'll live!'
"Sano seemed so delighted that I didn't want to tell him my opinion. I'd lost faith, you see, that Kenshin would ever wake up.
"It's a spasm, I thought. I'm sure it's a spasm; this is the beginning of the end. He's losing control over his muscles, and he'll be dead before tomorrow morning.
"I'd forgotten that Kenshin could pull through horrible injuries just for those who loved him. To this day, I am convinced that had Sano not been there, what happened next would have only been a wildly optimistic dream of mine.
"Kenshin's eyes opened slightly, making contact with mine. That little bit of violet struck something within me. There was hope now that Kenshin would live through the night, hope (not much, I'll confess) that Kenshin might even survive those horrible injuries.
"When his eyes closed again, I felt cheated, robbed. But what happened next was even more of a miracle.
"'T-tell Sano...' Kenshin whispered, so soft that I was unsure for a minute whether I'd imagined it or not, "Tell Sano... That- that I love him... And I won't give... Give up j-just yet...'
"I thought at first that Kenshin hadn't seen Sano, but that was impossible. Later, I learned that Kenshin had told me because I was so close to Sano; he knew that I would know whether or not Sano loved him.
"I relayed Kenshin's message to Sano. The tall man's eyes registered first disbelief, then shock, then a happiness so vivid that it seemed for a moment that everything would be all right again. I cried again, tears of joy now, for Sano and Kenshin. Maybe things would sort themselves out. Maybe I had no right to be so pessimistic.
"I left as Sano leaned in close to Kenshin and pressed his lips to the redhead's. Kenshin might have responded slightly, I'm not sure. We were all so happy, ending what had been a horrid day on a good note such as this.
"Maybe I should have known that things couldn't stay this wonderful."
Well, here it is. I'm not sure when I'll update again, as I'm working on a Jonny Quest fanfiction, a Yu-Gi-Oh fanfiction, and a Harry Potter fanfiction, not to mention that school starts soon. I'm going to try, though, and I'm thinking of making this into a trilogy. The next would be about Hiko and Katsu, and the third would be about Yahiko and Yutaro.
Thank you for reading!