A Far Smaller Sacrifice

It had to take the truest kind of moron with the deep discipline of idiocy who can actually make you feel bad about saving his life. Or trying to, anyway.

I should have known better. Probably he would have pulled one of those tricks with his sword and displacing the air and "flown" back up, saved his own scrawny hide. Then I wouldn't be sitting around here with a dislocated knee, a swollen ankle, and hands so skinned up it hurts to touch anything, and every rib on my left side cracked.

Like any of that would be a big deal, except he's so damned guilty for what happened. You think I'd be enjoying the last couple of days, the hero being waited on hand and foot by his grateful friends. But no, not when one of them is looking at you like he's almost killed you. Sheesh! The injuries aren't even that serious! Hell, he's beat me up worse than this on purpose!


Stupid rope bridge. I hate rope bridges. They shake, they creak.

They rot if you give them enough time.

It wasn't a very long bridge, but it was old and there was a plenty good fall below. The girls, Ayame-chan and Susume-chan, ran on ahead with Kenshin just behind them, Jou-chan right behind him, vocal that day about her fear of heights, then Yahiko, and then me. Toward the middle, Kenshin really started to bristle. He's always edgy on bridges anyway. Memories of bridge fighting, maybe.

It seems like its not any safer to be on a bridge with him than it is to be on a boat with him. Of course fraying ropes on one side snapped. Kenshin realized it was going to happen two seconds before it did…enough time to grab onto all the girls, spinning around to press himself with them over Kaoru. I grabbed Yahiko, even though the kid got a pretty good grip on the ropes by himself. The bridge tilted wildly, the little girls screamed.

Among all of us, we managed to inch almost toward the third-way point of the bridge where the supports were intact again. Almost. Almost safe, when Susume, dropped her toy. I don't even know what kind of toy it was. Something little like a top or something.

And Kenshin, dives for it. Why he did that? I don't know! Maybe it was the pitiful noise the kid made. Maybe it's something about his reflexes--he could catch it, so he moved before he thought. Something. I don't know!

He slipped. Or at least, it looked like he slipped.

And I panicked.

Everyone else had been in the clear, Susume still crawling on her hands and knees when the toy dropped, and Kenshin slipped right off trying to catch the stupid thing! Like we can't make or buy her another toy or something.

He probably had it all under control. I should have known. I did know. But I also knew it looked like my best friend was falling off a bridge. It also looked like the ground was a mighty long way down.

He fell slow, or maybe I was just me. I remember Jou-chan shrieked. I remember surging forward, grabbing a big handful of his gi, hauling him back onto the quivering wood planks, losing my balance…

I learned two things that day. One, I can add "incredibly long falls" to the list of stuff I'm tough enough to survive, and two, Kenshin can move like a god, but he can only fall as fast as gravity lets him.

Damned if the idiot didn't go throwing himself off the bridge anyway when I fell, but he was able to break his fall a little better than I did, bouncing off the canyon while I skinned my hands up trying to find a handhold and hurt my legs trying to land feet first like an idiot.

Not as much of an idiot as he is, though. Not only is he feeling guilty because he believes he caused me to fall, but then he was upset with himself for not falling fast enough to catch me.

I don't think it helped when he hit the ground ten seconds after I did, running to me shouting for me to speak to him, and I, well… I saw that he had his hand closed around Susume-chan's stupid bauble, whatever it was. I really blessed him out for actually catching it. At first, he looked relieved that I was well enough to swear at him, but then he kind of looked hurt. Like he thought I was angry at him for saving the toy and not me.

Tch! Damn it, Kenshin, I didn't mean it that way!

Makes me wish I had landed on my head instead. At least then I might have been too dazed to say anything to him at all and that would be one less thing for him to mope about.

I also, again, didn't manage to help matters when he got on my nerves with it after we got home, and I jerked his ponytail hard enough to hear him yelp and told him if he apologized one more time I was going to break his jaw. My tolerance for incessant apologies was remarkably low that day.

I really have to go to the bathroom. Do you have any idea what it's like trying to walk with a sprained ankle and a freshly-relocated knee, and a busted ribcage? Any one alone, I could have handled and not even looked like I was hurting at all. All three, well there's just no place to put you're weight so that you aren't hurting. But, when nature calls…

Why does the bathroom have to be so far away, anyway? I get myself up, and Kenshin hears me shuffling around and comes to me.

I look at him, trying not to show my irritation. Because it's with myself and the general situation, not him. Not exactly. I guess maybe I've hurt his feelings enough for a while, and for all those unwanted apologies he's heaped on me, I just can't seem to find one of my own.

"Do you need any help, Sano?" The hesitation in his voice makes me think of just what kind of mood I've been in. He feels guilty, I feel guilty that he's feeling guilty, guilt makes my mood sour, I take it out on him, he feels even more guilty…

Ahhh, sheesh!

This is starting to get a little out of hand.

Even now, I kind of lean against the wall to take weight off my knee and stare back at him, dozens of retorts reflecting my annoyance on my tongue.

But he looks so miserable. I'm tired of pointing out to him that I haven't died, and that my injuries are not any big deal, and it's not his fault, but I know that's not what's really making him feel so bad about it all. It's that I got hurt thinking I'd save him. He doesn't like it when anyone gets hurt within his sight, and likes it even less when it's on his behalf. He feels bad because he wasn't able to prevent the injuries. He feels bad because, falling off alone, he wouldn't have gotten hurt at all, no one would have. He probably wishes like hell he had just let Susume-chan's toy fall, which would have been a far smaller of a sacrifice.

And he feels bad because he doesn't know what to do to make me feel better.

I sigh, and he ducks his head slightly, like he's expecting another smart remark to follow.

I really have been a jerk lately, haven't I?

So, just for the smallest part of a second, I watch my best friend, braced for a blow he's just going to stand there and take. And in that same tiny part of the second I almost wish that I had just stayed put on the bridge and went ahead and let him save himself.

Almost. It'll never happen. Even if he could save himself, he's my friend. He is my friend. Whatever the consequences, I can't ever just let him fall.

I have a feeling he won't quite agree, so I don't say it. Instead, I hold out my arm to him. "Could you help me walk to the bathroom?" I say quietly.

He blinks at me, then smiles a little, his first in a couple of days. Almost eagerly, he gets under my arm, ready to be a crutch. He's more helpful than I thought he would be. Knee still hurts, ankle still hurts, but at least I can keep my torso straight and take some of the sting out of the ribs.

We shuffle along toward the bathroom. Still feeling like I needed to tell him something more, I squeeze his shoulder. Apology or thanks, he can take it how he wants as long as he doesn't figure it for forgiveness. There's nothing to forgive.

After a moment, he squeezes my arm back. I think he understands. I hope so.

Maybe I leave things unsaid sometimes, but I can't leave him not understanding.

There are some falls I know he can take that he can't save himself from at all. So I need to make sure that I'm there to help.

And I need to make sure I'm never the one who pushes him.

Author's note:

(-waves cheerfully-) Hey again, everyone. Indulge me this; it's a really old one. The second RuroKen story I ever wrote, not really a story for the sake of a story, but more a little something I had written to help me get a feel for Sanosuke. Looking back now, I don't think I was all that far off.

Interestingly, I wasn't as in love with his character before the story as I was after I wrote it.

It seemed too old and too short to pester my beta with, so any mistakes are all my fault and not hers. I hope you didn't mind my little whim of nostalgia. And I hope you liked it.