Disclaimer: I do not own RK, or anything related to it. I do now own Twilight Zone, or anything related to it either. Even if sometimes I could swear I live in it…
Author's Note: What is about to follow is a collection of short stories I wrote inspired by a love of Kenshin, and a Twilight Zone DVD marathon. This is not a Twilight Zone/Kenshin crossover, but a series of stories that blur the lines between what we consider reality and the realm of the unknown or what some would call the 'supernatural'…
Not Always as They Seem
Sano groaned, squinting his eyes tightly shut against the bright glare that still managed to pierce it's way through his eyelids, making his head throb worse then it already did. And it wasn't only his head that throbbed, his back, his legs and arms. It felt as though he'd been beaten to hell and back. Which was what happened, if he could remember what had happened correctly…
Groaning again he tried to sit up, but was steadied by a hand on his shoulder. "Easy. Don't move too fast."
Sano slowly opened his eyes as he tried to focus on who was next to him. "K…Kenshin?" he asked slowly.
"Actually it's Kenjiro." The voice seemed to laugh slightly. "But that's not really important right now."
Sano forced his eyes to focus, turning his head as he tried to ignore the increase in the throb in his skull. The man kneeling next to him didn't look more then a year or two older then Sano at the most, but there was an air about him that made him seem…older somehow. His clothes were old, faded and worn from obvious years of use. His longish brown hair was held away from his face with a faded headband that kept it back from his tired gray-green eyes. Sano stared hard at the man, it was as if he knew him, but he wasn't sure how, or from where.
"You are in terrible shape kid." Kenjiro shook his head. "Didn't anyone ever teach you about picking your fights a bit better then this?"
Sano hitched himself closer into a sitting position. "A few before. Mostly I just ignore them though." Sano gave a slight, though still amused smile.
Kenjiro shook his head again. "I can tell. You got in way over your head with that group, and if I hadn't stepped in you wouldn't be just bleeding all over my ground, you'd probably be ready to be buried under it right now."
Sano bristled. "Hey! I don't need anyone's help in my fights! Least of all yours, old man!"
"Well if you'd rather I'll just leave you here then." Kenjiro started to stand up.
"Good." Sano said, starting to stand up, but quickly fell back against the ground. He was in worse shape then he thought.
Muttering something under his breath Kenjiro bent down, slinging Sano's arm over his shoulders. "If I help you, can you stand?"
Sano grunted a yes as he got to his feet with Kenjiro's help. He'd be all right, after a bit of rest he decided.
"I'll take you to my house, get you patched up and rested, then I'll let you go. Far be it from me to intrude into your life further. Though I have to admit that sitting out here alone for ten years does get boring." Kenjiro still seemed amused by all of this.
Sano just rolled his eyes, pulling himself back from Kenjiro to stand on his own, limping slightly after the man. After a short few minutes walk, they came into a small clearing with a house built into the middle of it. Kenjiro opened the door, letting Sano go in ahead of him.
Sano looked around, the house was small, but very clean, everything orderly. Kenjiro dug something out of a corner, walking back over to Sano with it. "This won't take long, provided you just sit still." He looked at Sano pointedly, as though expecting him to act otherwise. Sano just shrugged, letting the man work.
"There. You'll live." Kenjiro quipped as he stepped back, after how much time Sano wasn't sure. "You still look beat though." Kenjiro gestured towards a futon in a corner of the house. "Go rest, then you can leave."
Sano shook his head as he started to stand up. "No, I'm fine. Thanks for your help old man, but I better be…"
Kenjiro frowned at him. "Don't backtalk me kid! I'm not letting you go all the way back to Tokyo without resting first. So go sleep, or I'll add another bruise to the already impressive collection you have!"
"Alright, alright!" Sano held up his hands in defeat. There was something about this strange man that rather made Sano feel he should listen to him. He started towards the futon, then paused. "Wait…how did you know I was from Tokyo?"
Kenjiro started grinning again. "Lucky guess. It's the biggest city around these parts…"
Sano nodded, but still wasn't convinced. He didn't intend to actually sleep, but he was asleep before his head had fully hit the bedding.
When Sano woke up the light streaming in the half opened window told him it was early morning. Cursing under his breath he sat up, looking around. As he remembered what had happened the afternoon before he started to look for Kenjiro.
"Hey! Old man! Kenjiro!"
Strange, Sano mused as he glanced around the room again. It was clear he wasn't here, but maybe he was outside. But as he went outside, Kenjiro was nowhere to be seen. This puzzled Sano, but finally decided the older man had just left to go get something, or take care of some business. But in the meantime, Sano had to leave, he was sure his friends in Tokyo were worried about him.
Either that or they were celebrating he hadn't been there to freeload from whatever they'd eaten the night before…
Chuckling at the thought Sano set his steps back to Tokyo, putting Kenjiro out of his thoughts. Though it would have been nice if he'd at least been able to say thank you…
"Sano, you don't look so good, that you don't. What happened to you?"
Back at the dojo Kenshin looked at his friend with concern. Sano just shrugged. "Just got in a fight, no big deal."
Kenshin didn't look convinced. "It must have been quite a fight."
"Heh…bunch of guys tried to get the jump on me for some reason or another. I was actually doing very well until one of them snuck up behind and cracked something over my head…" Sano tried to think back to what had happened after that.
He couldn't remember.
Wait, what was it Kenjiro had said, if he hadn't gotten there when he did? Had…Kenjiro really saved him? Sano tried to remember, but after the sharp impact on his head, the brilliant, painful flash of light there was nothing. Had the old guy saved him?
"Sano?" Kenshin's voice sounded far away.
"Er…it's nothing." Sano looked away. "Look, I have something I gotta do, catch you later."
Kenshin watched as Sano walked, or rather rushed away, wondering if he'd somehow missed something.
Sano's whole focus though was getting back to the clearing, and talking to Kenjiro again. He just had to ask what was really going on with the old guy, it just seemed too strange for him to have been there at just that moment, just at the time and place that Sano had been.
The sun was sinking low, casting gray and gold shadows through the trees as Sano found the clearing again. But this couldn't be right.
There was no house there. Not anymore anyway. Instead there now stood blackened ruins, faded and weathered with age. Sano walked closer, feeling a slight chill come over him that wasn't from any mortal wind. Nothing had been here in a long time, he could tell, from the way plants had started to grow up through the ruined building.
But how was this possible? There had been a house right here just this morning.
"What are you doing on my land?" A voice behind Sano barked, making him spin around to face a red-faced, stout man in worn clothes glaring at him.
"Yeah, this is my land. What are you doing on it?" He demanded.
Sano blinked, now fully confused. "I was just coming to see someone…who lived here." He finished lamely.
The man looked at Sano as if he'd suddenly sprouted another head. "Listen son, no one has lived here in years."
Sano pointed to the ruins. "What about that?"
The other looked at it for a long moment. "Someone did live here, you're right, but it was over ten years ago."
Sano blinked again, remembering Kenjiro's words 'sitting out here alone for ten years'
"What was that man's name? Ken…something…" He seemed lost in thought.
"Kenjiro." Sano said quietly.
The man looked up. "Yeah! How did you know that?"
"Lucky guess. What happened to him?"
"He lived here for a long time, but from what I heard he left about ten years ago. Ran off to join the Sekihoti." He didn't seem to notice the startled expression cross Sano's face.
"He never did come back. This place just sat here with no one in it, and would still be there if there hadn't been a fire a few years back…"
The man's voice faded into the background as Sano looked around. He suddenly realized where there had been something naggingly familiar about the man. Kenjiro. He had been in the Sekihoti, a man with some medical training, a dry sense of humor, and a soft spot for the unlikely duo of friends Sano and Katsu. But he'd been shot down with the rest of the Sekihoti…
Just how had he managed to be there to help Sano?
Sano had heard stories of spirits sometimes returning from beyond this world, to help those they'd looked after in life in a time of need…
He turned slowly back to look at the ruins as something that hadn't been there before caught the corner of his eye. Tied to one of the charred support beams a red headband fluttered in a breeze that wasn't there and Sano felt the hair on the back of his neck rise up just a little bit…