A/N: It was high time I wrote a straightforward Sanosuke/Megumi fic instead of just slipping them into KenKao. I hope those of you who have read any of my other RK stories ("Never Look Back," "Now That You've Returned") will enjoy this one too. I warn you, it's fluffy as well as angsty, so watch out!

Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin. Same old, same old.

Vicious Cycle

By Nessie

As long as they had known each other, they had shared a sense of spontaneity…or maybe produced it. Both of them were highly unpredictable, and both of them liked it that way. After all, what was there to guess at in a fighter-for-hire and a little clinic doctor? They had their arguments, they had their conversations. They were friends through a mutual friend, but they had never truly been friends themselves.

And then something happened. The summer had arrived; their third summer in Tokyo, and someone had sewn a pattern into Sagara Sanosuke's and Takani Megumi's lives.

She had begun to expect him to get hurt and randomly barge into her office, never asking for her help, just waiting for it.

And he had started to go to her without fighting with himself about it. He'd stopped thinking it was such a disgrace to need her help.

Of course, not everything changed. She still gave him a lecture every time it occurred, and he still ignored her or smarted off in response. They needed some stability, after all.

But they were both caught up in a cycle together. They were pieces of each other's lives. Sanosuke wouldn't be able to function correctly without that thought that the next time he tore open his knuckles, the fox lady wouldn't be there to bandage them up. And Megumi simply could not imagine the day when that stupid rooster would stop coming to her for her aid.

Naturally, they never admitted any of this. Not even to themselves. These expectations were completely secret, and perhaps even a little hidden by denial.

But then it happened that that day would come. And it wasn't something Megumi could hide.

"Can I get you some tea, Megumi-san?" A very pregnant Himura Kaoru smiled warmly up at her from the low table she was kneeling at. The luster in her black hair shone from her customary high ponytail, and her pretty blue eyes were especially happy-looking today. Pregnancy was suiting her well.

Megumi kneeled on the other side of the table with her own small smile, but held up a hand before the young woman could reach for an empty teacup. "No, thank you, Kaoru. I can't stay long." It was the truth, otherwise the doctor may have taken the time to poke fun at how poorly Kaoru tended to present tea, which was a sure way to rile her up. But that would have been bad for the baby, anyhow.

Looking out of the open doors, she could see Kenshin and Sanosuke working on chopping wood to better supply the bath furnace. They didn't yet know she had come. Her eyes set with a sisterly fondness upon the redheaded samurai, who was working with a smile, his impressive strength lending to the ease of the task. As for Sanosuke, who was even better equipped for this type of labor, he used an axe expertly and chopped with all of the grunting and sweating she would expect from most men. The difference was that he had cast off his shirt just minutes ago, and now the lean back the face her was gleaming with a healthy sweat. She chose to ignore, however, the fact that her pulse had done a quick little skid at seeing the muscles bunch and release there.

Turning back to Kaoru, her red smile widened. "I just came to let you know. I…" Now that it was time to actually announce it, Megumi found she was having trouble getting the words out properly. "I'm…leaving Tokyo."

Kaoru blinked her large eyes and slowly sat her teacup down. "Leaving?" A touch of sadness entered her tone without a moment's hesitation. "For how long, Megumi-san?"

"A while," she answered hastily. "I'm going to Aizu. I've already arranged everything with Gensai-sensei. I want to…"

The older woman broke off suddenly because something moved in her peripheral vision, and Megumi felt like ice-water had been dripped down her spine. Jerking her head up and to the side, she stared right up into the face of Sagara Sanosuke's hard gaze. Her hands balled into fists on her lap as she realized that he and Kenshin had finished chopping wood just in time to hear the latter end of their conversation.

"You're leavin'?" inquired the still-shirtless man. Damp dark hair hung in front of even darker eyes and gave him a dangerous, threatening look in cooperation with the tough set of his jaw. "For Aizu?"

There was something in his voice that set Megumi on edge, but she forced herself to utilize the control and coolness that she was so well-known for. "Tomorrow morning," she replied calmly. "As I was just telling Kaoru, I've business there that—"

He dropped to his knees suddenly, and though it height made it impossible for them to be directly eye-to-eye, they were close now than when he'd been standing. The air around them changed as she exclaimed, "There's nothing there!" His voice was suddenly harsh, and Kenshin walked up to them. He had most likely been putting the tools away, and he now set a hand on Sanosuke's shoulder.

"It isn't our decision, Sano." His violet eyes met hers with a kind look. "Megumi-dono must have her reasons."

"There are patients here too," Sanosuke told her suddenly. "People that need a good doctor's help."

Once the initial surprise faded, a small smirk cross Megumi's face. Her eyes narrowed in a hard expression. "And since when would you admit that I'm a good doctor?"

Sanosuke's face blanked, and he made a feral noise of frustration. Standing up, his clenched right fist was visible, balled around the shirt he held in his hand. "I guess you gotta go," he muttered. His voice was low and sounded odd. The doctor in Megumi wondered if he was alright.

She only nodded. Sanosuke looked down at her, and there was a strange glint to his eyes that she didn't know how to identify.

"Then you better get packing," he told her. Shoving his free hand deep into his pocket, he stalked away, slightly hunching his shoulders.

Megumi didn't know how to respond to the man's strange reaction. Completely confused by his negativity, it was difficult for her to fully concentrate on the warmhearted goodbye Kenshin gave her right before she left the Kamiya dojo.

A cycle. That's what it was. A vicious cycle of never understanding.

That night, Megumi had just finished packing up all of her medical supplies from Gensai-sensei's clinic and was thinking about heading to bed and leaving some personal items for last-minute packing in the morning. Looking around, she realized that she really was going to dearly miss everything about this little office. The lantern light that was only fully useful when the daylight helped it was comforting, the nearly-spartan furnishings were never distracting, the less-than-grand patient's futon had helped many an injured body to relax.

It was in this place that she had first obtained a sense of achievement. Instead of hurting people the way she had under Takeda Kanriyu, she had learned better ways to heal them under Gensai-sensei and her friends, people like Kenshin, Kaoru, even Yahiko, and…

Before she could even finish the thought, the sound of the thin, rice-paper door being snapped open disturbed her, and she swiveled around, worried it might be one of the girls needing comforting from a bad dream or some other such event.

Instead, Megumi felt like she was the one having the bad dream. Standing there, filling the entire doorway with his broad, tall frame, with a backdrop of a starry night, was Sagara Sousuke. And judging by his stance and facial expression – which had a decent stream of crimson blood dribbling from the eyebrow all the way down to his chin – he was completely and totally drunk.

"Hey there, Fox Lady." There was a slur to his words that had Megumi's eyes narrowing, and when he lifted a hand to give her a small wave, she saw his head was nearly drenched in blood.

Her eyes now went wide, but it was due to disapproval, not shock. She had seen far worse things than bloody hands.

"Now, now, don't look at me like you've never seen me here before." Sanosuke gave her a sideways glance and took a step into the clinic room. "You're the only one I'd come to, to get fixed up."

"Oh, what a compliment!" she snapped and turned away, hair swinging, to pour fresh water into a clean bucket. She had seen him drunk before, certainly, but not after a fight? "What in the hell did you do, Sanosuke?"

"Don't worry, 's'not my blood," he assured her, his eyes glazed as he watched the way he moved.

Megumi bit back over her shoulder, "That's what I am worried about." She had just thrown a sanitized cloth into the warm water when she heard a loud thump. She pivoted quickly to see what had happened, and she didn't like it a bit. "Sanosuke!"

He had fallen over, all six feet and how-many dirty inches of him, onto her previously clean futon. Facedown. His red headband slipped from his hair and gathered into a filthy pile near his ear. Muffled by the futon, a low groan rumbled out of the ex-mercenary's throat.

As concern, real and lively, jumped to her heart, Megumi dashed forward and rolled him over. "Sanosuke," she called, "can you hear me?"

His eyes, still glazed and disconnected, fluttered open and stared up at her. "You look like an angel when you're not yelling at me," he whispered. His eyes gleamed like onyx in the dim light.

Though she paused, Megumi refused to acknowledge that any part of her may have been moved by his words. Lying him down on the mattress, she went back for her bucket and sat again with the wet cloth in hand. "Yelling is all you deserve," she told her, her voice ironically soft.

He smirked. "I guess so." Sanosuke didn't move while she cleaned his hand, methodically and professionally. Megumi preferred to work in silence, he knew, so he kept his mouth shut until she was finished inspecting his knuckled for any potential damage. "Even so…" He sat up and gave her a serious look. "You're the only angel I've got."

Megumi couldn't tell whether he was joking or not, but if she took the way his jaw was set as any indication, she supposed he was trying to butter her up. "I'm no angel, Sano," she said after a moment, wringing out the cloth and dipping it again. "I'm just the doctor you don't pay."

When her hand was halfway up to wash the wound at his eyebrow, he caught her wrist and distracted her into meeting his eyes, something Megumi had been trying to avoid. "You want pay?" he asked, his tone rough. "If you do, I'll get money. I'll go back to work and—"

"What? Kill people?" She gave a high chuckle, but the image scared her to death. "Go back to being 'bad'?"

His eyes turned down at the question. "You tell me, Megumi. What'll make you stay?"

That he had actually used her real name and not some foolish nickname made her stop. At least, that's what she told herself? Megumi didn't like to think that she'd been frozen by his question. After several tense moment, she gently pulled her arm from him and began to dab at the cut at his eye. "Don't tell me that's why you went out and got drunk and made a moron of yourself?"

"That's why."

Her eyes darted back to his, and two pairs of two eyes battled for an instant. Then the female doctor drew back and, in a surge of temper, threw the cloth back into the bucket. Water flew and sloshed on the floor.

"So that's your way of dealing with me leaving?" she demanded angrily. "This is how you handle things that bother you? What a giant idiot you are, Sanosuke!"

"Maybe," he countered, and some alertness finally entered his eyes at the challenge of arguing with her. "Maybe it is, but that's my business."

"I'm going for a reason! Weren't you the one to tell me that if I lived I may find my family in Aizu one day?"

His heart broke with those words. He remembered that night better than his most recent days. Seeing her in the tower at Kanriyu's, watching that knife gleam an split-second before he had managed to keep it out of her heart. But how unfair for her to bring up that?"

"I didn't mean to…" He found he couldn't find the words.

Shock crossed her face, swiftly followed by direct anger. "You didn't mean to? You didn't mean to give me hope back?" Disgust entered her voice like a thousand poisonous needles. "You have the nerve of an—"

"I didn't mean to fall in love with you!" he shouted, planting a hand on the floor so hard that wood splintered beneath his calloused fingers.

Silence reigned in that moment…just the way Megumi liked it, but this time it was only because she could think of nothing to say. It took nearly a full minute before she could even remember how to speak. "You…"

"Don't you get it?" he asked, and the timbre of his voice made her heart feel as heavy as lead. Sanosuke lifted his right hand, the hand she had cleaned, and thread it through the black silk of her hair, dampening it as he did. "I'm not saying you don't have your reasons…everyone has their reasons for leaving, Megumi. But don't." His hand came back to cup her cheek, and Megumi, who had no idea how to react, simply sat there. "Don't leave this place that you've come to love."

A dull smile turned the corners of her mouth upward, and Megumi shook her head fractionally. "Is that what you mean?" she asked lightly. "You, who claims to be in love with me? Or do you mean that I shouldn't leave you, Sanosuke?"

His eyes darkened. He wasn't used to being called on his words, but he wasn't a liar, and he couldn't deny the truth to what she had said. "Both," he told her honestly.

Megumi stared at him. She scooted backwards, feeling suddenly as though the shift between them might hurt her if she didn't secure some distance. "But you have to prove that to me, Sanosuke. You made a living out of hurting people—"

"I can't hurt you," he interrupted, urgency coating his voice. "How could I ever?"

"If I don't leave tomorrow," she answered quickly, "you will leave sometime later. You can't stay in one place your whole life. Can you, Sanosuke?"

His mouth fell open as though he was going to charge her down with denials, but in the end he said nothing. Megumi smiled sadly. "I thought—" Her so was cut off by a thorough and almost violent kiss.

She had secretly wondered if this would be what kissing Sanosuke felt like. He crushed her against him with strong arms, and she responded without any accord by digging her fingers into the rough mass of his hair. It was a long kiss, and he drank her in like he might never have the chance to again, and admittedly Megumi did the same. There was a storm between them, and it left her mind stricken and thoughtless.


When they parted, Sanosuke turned her face up to his. "Don't leave," he pleaded, out of breath.

She laughed airily. "How will you stop me? I'm all ready, Sano, to go somewhere else. I've never been ready for you."

He smirked at her arrogantly. "Honey, no one can be ready for me."

She failed in not being amused by him, as she always was, but she pushed out of his arms. "You're either going to have to find ways to keep yourself from getting hurt," she told him seriously. "Or you're just going to have to find a new angel. I don't want to hear about your vicious cycle continuing."

"I already told you, Fox Lady." Sanosuke grabbed her hand and stood, bringing her up with him. There was truth in his eyes. "You're my only angel."

Megumi accepted another kiss, but this time her mind stayed on-task. With a smile, she gave him fair warning:

"Decide quickly then."

The next morning, Himura Kenshin found a note slipped under the gate of his home. It was, he quickly realized, a farewell note from Megumi. It read only one line.

I've taken your pet rooster.

From the door of the dojo, Kaoru called to him. "Did Sanosuke leave with her, Kenshin?"

"Yes." Running back to her, the man formerly known as Battousai swept his wife up into his arms and whirled her around, careful of her bulging stomach. "But don't be sad, my love. This unworthy one knew it was only a matter of time."

Kaoru smiled and stood on tiptoe to kiss him. He bent down happily to meet her halfway.

After all, he thought, bidding his friends a silent goodbye. Those two had only been caught up in a vicious cycle.

The End

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