Sano was exhausted by the time he made it to Chinatown. Bad enough that some psycho kid had rammed a knife through his hand, but he was beginning to think the explosion had done more than just crispy-fry his back. Come to think of it, the grenade had pretty much sucker punched him down the stairs. He was aching all over, muscles in his shoulders and arms stiff to the point of making him cringe every time he put out his good hand to keep his balance. The hangover still lurking in his system wasn't helping, either. Some bed rest would be nice.

He passed the adult vid store and turned right, weaving down the narrow alley way and doing his best not to trip over the homeless guy by the dumpster now staring at him with interest. The tattered jacket wadded around his hand was soaked through and he felt light headed enough that he knew he'd lost a little too much blood. Well, Megumi would take care of him. She'd done it before. This was just another Sano visit, needing another patch job after a fight. Nothing out of the ordinary. Certainly nothing to scream at him over.

Right?

He eased his way down the stairs to the herbalist's basement and hesitated for a few moments before finally lifting his good hand and thumping on the door. Technically, Megumi was closed. Night surgery and all. But he had a feeling she'd still be here, especially if Kaoru had come this way. He hoped Kaoru had come here. No clue where she'd be otherwise … he didn't want to think about that.

Nobody was coming to the door. Sano leaned against it heavily and knocked again, quieter this time. "Come on, Megitsune," he muttered wearily. "I know you're in there."

The faintly peeved voice he heard coming from the other side surprised him. "Sagara Sanosuke, I told you to go home."

He blinked. Go home? "What?"

And then he fell as the door was yanked open, costing him balance. He hadn't meant to. Megumi stood in the doorway, one hand outstretched as if she'd intended to haul him in by the collar. Instead, her eyes widened as he collided with her. He felt her arms wrap around him automatically to arrest his fall and heard her sharp intake of breath. Felt it, too; his head was mashed against her chest in a way he'd definitely enjoy under better circumstances.

"Sano? What did you do?"

Not, are you all right? Or even, what happened? Sano grinned. "I can stand, you know. Shut your door."

"Just because you can doesn't mean you should," she said tartly, guiding him across the room. He felt the hard edge of a chair at the back of his knees and gladly sank down into it, slouching forward as she let go and disappeared from his view.

The door shut with a soft click. Megumi went straight to the bench above the sink, rummaging through it with a violence that told him he was in big trouble. "Tell me what happened," she demanded.

"First things first. Is Jou-chan here?"

She was silent for a moment. Then she replied evenly, "To your left, behind the curtain, and please don't tell me you're hurt because of – Sano, sit!"

He was already up, lurching across the room to yank the curtain aside. Kaoru was sleeping peacefully, blanket tucked up under her chin. Her face was too pale, and he could see the gauze padding that lined her ears on either side. But she was breathing deeply and evenly. Not something she should be doing, given the booster shot she must have taken … but then Sano could work out for himself that Megumi had deliberately drugged her. He sagged against the bed in relief. At least a few of his fears could be laid to rest.

"She gonna be okay?" he asked.

"I don't know," Megumi said frankly. "Depends on how she is when she wakes up. You know what happened."

It wasn't a question. "Yeah."

"You idiot."

"What? It wasn't my fault!"

"You gave her what she needed!"

"Hey!" he glared. "In case you didn't know, that's my job! And I told her not to—"

"Oh sure, telling her not to is a perfect way of—"

"I told her she had to wait until I was there!"

"Yes, I see. That would work so much better. Forgive me my doubts." She switched the desk lamp on, flooding the room with brightness. "Now come over here and stop bleeding on the bed. Sit. I need to deal with your hand first."

Sano sighed and pulled away from the bed, wincing guiltily at the bloody handprint he left on the blanket. He sat down obediently as Megumi pulled the chair forward and gave him a warning look. Then he tried not to flinch as she began the delicate process of unwrapping the sodden jacket from his hand.

Fuck. This is going to hurt a lot. He gritted his teeth as she worked. At least she was being gentle, which was at odds with the upset look on her face. She was mad at him for Kaoru, he guessed.

"…she'll probably be okay," he said, fixing his gaze on the wall so he wouldn't have to look at the mess. "I mean, she got here on her own, didn't she?"

"No," Megumi said shortly. "She was brought in by another girl. And she was a mess, Sano. Let's not get into the fact that there are going to be people all over this section of the neighbourhood looking for her."

No, let's not. His hand jerked in her grasp as she finally uncovered the wound and began carefully peeling cloth away from matted blood and torn flesh. I won't look. I won't look. Her hands were cool, shifting to steady him as she slowed in her work, treating the injury with due care.

"I'm sorry," he said at last. "I didn't think."

He was met with total silence, which surprised him. Admissions of not thinking had never been safe around Megumi. He dropped his eyes to her face and was surprised to find that she looked even more upset. Hell, if he didn't know better, he'd say she was about to cry.

"Megumi?"

"Don't say it," she snapped.

He shut his mouth. Opened it again. Finally said, "Okay. Where's this other girl?"

"Gone for supplies, she said. She'll be back soon." The torn and bloody jacket slid off her lap onto the floor and she tugged his hand gently forward to rest on her knees. He couldn't help it; a strangled sound escaped between his teeth as she laid his fingers flat, stretching the hand out, palm up.

"Hold still a moment more," Megumi said softly. Sano squeezed his eyes shut and did as he was told. Then he yelped again as something cold was sprayed across the open wound.

His hand went numb. Blessed relief. Thank the joys of modern medicine.

"That'll stop the pain for an hour." Megumi eased the hand back onto his lap and stood again, making for the sink. "I'll have to clean the wound thoroughly; it'll be better if you aren't flailing like a baby while I do so. After that, I can pack the wound with some temporary regenerative coagulant and apply a layer of plastiskin—"

"Will my hand be okay?"

"In a week or two, maybe." She snorted. "I'm not a hospital. Medicine has come a long way, but I can't work miracles in a back street surgery. I can make sure your hand holds together to heal properly, but you aren't allowed to use it. For at least two weeks. Can you even manage that?"

"I can try," he said darkly. "Think I'll get the choice?"

"You still haven't told me what happened. Hand on the table, please."

He leaned forward to place it flat under the light as she came back with hot water and a sterile cloth. Now only his back hurt, but he wasn't going to ask about that right now. His hand was far more important. His eyes dipped to the torn, raw wound and ragged skin, and the glimpse of something not bone underneath. Tendons? Nerves? His stomach turned over.

"Stop looking at your hand and start talking!" Megumi snapped, sounding annoyed again.

For her, he mustered a sickly grin, fixing his gaze on the determined set of her jaw. Which was admittedly a very nice jaw, the way he saw it. "Oh you know, the usual. Guy comes to the store, doesn't like what I have on sale. Picks a fight."

"Be serious for once."

He shrugged and immediately regretted it, wincing at the tight burn across his shoulders. Megumi set to work on cleaning his hand out with hot water and antiseptic. He could barely feel it. "Fine. They came looking for Jou-chan."

"I guessed that much on my own, idiot. What happened after that? You've covered in burns. Some of them second degree; looks like you escaped anything worse." She gave him a wan smile. "What, did your oven explode?"

"Uh, actually…"

She froze. "They blew up your store?"

"Well." He fought off an urge to fidget. "No. I did."

Megumi stared at him. "I don't believe it. I thought this morning's idiocy took the cake, but—"

"I had to," he snapped, feeling hurt. "In case you hadn't worked it out, I was dealing with a psycho who thought ramming a knife through my hand was a good thing. He would've killed me if I hadn't done it." Sano paused. "…wait. This morning?"

Silence. He peered at her face and was surprised to see she'd gone white. He opened his mouth to push the issue, and then shut it with a snap as she bent her head back to the job at hand, cleaning the last of the blood and dirt away. They sat like that for a good minute, neither speaking. She was working faster now, shutting out all distractions. Sano felt a faint stirring of unease. Something was wrong. She knew something he didn't.

Megumi said nothing while she treated the hand, only speaking once she opened the tube of heated plastiskin. "I guess we're both idiots. Sanosuke," she said in a low voice. "You were probably followed here."

He jerked as she slathered the warmth over the back of his hand, smoothing it down before turning his hand over. Hot. Not painful, due to the anaesthetic. It would hurt later. What Megumi was implying was far more important. "They think I'm dead," he said shortly.

"They'll make sure. If they attacked you at the store, then that means they knew where to find you to begin with. They'll have thought this through. Sumitomo enforcers aren't the type to leave anything to chance."

He blinked. Nobody had mentioned Sumitomo. "But … you'd have heard by now."

"No. You've only been here a few minutes. You—"

She broke off as they heard a faint commotion in the alleyway. Sano snatched the roll of bandaging off the table, winding it tightly around his hand as he stalked to the door. The plastiskin gave his hand the appearance of being whole; the bandaging would protect it from further damage. He hoped. He could hear the sound of running footsteps and braced himself, reaching out his good hand to grab the chair back.

Then there was a solid, desperate thudding at the door, and a girl's voice. "Megumi-san!"

Familiar. It suddenly clicked who the other girl had been. Sano dropped the chair, reaching forward to draw the bolts back instead. Misao all but tumbled through the door, dressed in a violet summer dress, out of breath, a bag over one shoulder. He yanked her inside and slammed it shut again.

"Hi, Sano," Misao said breathlessly, glancing over to Megumi as the doctor sank into a chair. "It's good that you're here! You can carry Kaoru—"

So he had been followed. Sano closed his eyes briefly, then turned and met Megumi's gaze as Misao continued babbling. "—on the roof, but you'll have a whole squad in your lap in about two minutes, probably. If we leave now they'll see, but we can still run. The streets are busy. Megumi-san?"

"There is a back entrance," Megumi said calmly. "Of a sort. Straight up into the herbalist. He has a plant stand in front of the door."

Not for long. Sano rounded on the bed, pulling the blankets back and scooping Kaoru off the mattress. He staggered a little under her dead weight; he wasn't really well enough to be doing this, but what choice did he have? Misao wouldn't be able to lift her at all, and as for Megumi—

Megumi hadn't moved from her seat. He glared at her. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"I'm a doctor," she snapped. "I've done nothing more than my job, and therefore I've done nothing wrong. If someone comes to that door—"

"She'll turn us in," Misao supplied helpfully. "So we better get going. Come on, Sano. She's covering her butt, that's all. Better than being on the run, right?"

Seriously debatable. But they didn't have time. The first, ever so polite knock sounded on the door.

Sano hoisted Kaoru up as carefully as possible and followed Misao out into the back rooms, heading for the small flight of stairs. He still had no clue how Misao had gotten herself involved, but it didn't matter. Nothing did now, in the face of the mistake he'd made.

They'd have to run and hope it was enough.

-o0o-

Short one this time! It's just the best place for a chapter break with this one. :D