A Truth In the Darkness
A Tale of Rurouni Kenshin
Chapter One: Little Lost Souls
It was a very pleasant day for traveling, the sun shining brightly on its cruise across the eastern sky. Kenshin and Sanosuke were content to be on their way to a nice fishing spot on the river near an out of the way road into Tokyo. Well, Kenshin was to go fishing, sent by one miss Kamiya Kaoru. Sanosuke for the sake of avoiding smart jibes about his freeloading habits had chosen to join the other man on his expedition.
Kenshin had, for his part, acquiesced to both mission and company with good grace, smiling a bright rurouni smile upon Sano's request to join. It was rare that the two men were allowed time between just the two of them. After the near constant bickering around the dojo of the past few weeks between Yahiko and Kaoru-dono, it would be relaxing to spend and afternoon fishing with Sano.
"How is your hand, Sano?" asked Kenshin by way of general conversation as they walked.
"Does fine till I hit something with it," replied the brunette street thug, flexing the hand in question before him, "Haven't hit anyone or anything in a couple of days now though. See? Looks all right now."
In different company, Kenshin may have let the conversation slide at that, however with Sano he choose to allow himself more freedom. A twitch of a genuine smile touched Kenshins lips as he teased, "Sano, you know a good rule of thumb to remember with an injured hand... is to not use that hand unnecessarily."
"Oh har, har. Very funny, Kenshin."
Kenshin could not help but laugh softly at this, his sides quivering with barely restrained hilarity.
"Hey, you were there and saw what happened that I had to hit that last guy. I was.. uh... distracted,"
"Yes, this one knows," smiled Kenshin. "She was very pretty."
"It's not my fault. How could I have known she had a jealous boyfriend what would want to strike up a fight over a wink and a smile?"
The smaller man rolled violet eyes at this statement, smile never leaving his mouth. "An offer to take her out for dinner was more than a 'wink and a smile.' If that was all that was involved, that poor man likely wouldn't have hit you, and you would not have re-injured your hand hitting him back."
"Yeah, yeah," shrugged Sano, uncharacteristically letting his pride leave it at that. "Point taken."
Kenshin glanced quickly over to his taller friend. It was not like Sano to allow a teasing barb to be dropped so quickly. He must be tired or hurting, Kenshin thought. Or both.
Sano noticed the look of concern from his friend. He added quickly with a confident smile, "Hey I'll be sweeping a girl off her feet with this hand again in no time."
"You should find a single girl first," Kenshin chuckled in reply to this, somewhat relieved. He noted silently the sense of forced bravado behind his younger friend's statement.
"Well, I walk by that shop nearly every day on the way to the dojo, and I did flatten her man pretty well..."
Kenshin shook his head and caught a new grip on the fishing pole in his hands. "Sano, my friend..." he said with a sigh, "I fear she may not be interested after you punched 'her man.'"
"Yeah, lets not mention 'punched' again for awhile, okay, Kenshin?" suggested Sano as flexed his right hand and winced slightly.
"Agreed," replied Kenshin with a still amused grin. Then his expression turned more serious. "Are you sure you are okay?"
"I told you, I'm fine. Hardly notice it at all."
Noting the undertone of agitation in that statement, Kenshin choose to abandon the question at that. It was a true, if slight, concern on his part. The younger man had indeed found himself back in Megumi-dono's care after the incident of the jealous boyfriend. And the lady doctor had goaded him to no end afterward. Sano, in return, had not visited the dojo very much in the last week.. When the younger man did show up, as with this morning, there were hints of dark smudges under his eyes and a shuffling in his walk that were unusual. He seemed tired.
In any case, none of these symptoms were cause for serious concern. However, as Sano's friend, Kenshin desired to know the cause of the younger man's troubles. If there were anyway to ease them somehow, Kenshin would have willing offered his assistance. The problem was, Sano was very much an adult about how stubborn and closed mouthed he could be about his own issues. If he did not want to discuss it, he would not. Neither would the younger man appreciate the mothering in the mean time.
It was with this as much as his own need for relief from the dojo that had pleased Kenshin most about Sanosuke asking to join him out fishing. If Sano would not talk, at least he would have a chance at a relaxing day in good company that would be good for him. He certainly seemed to have more bounce to his step since they had departed on their trip this morning.
Lost in these thoughts, Kenshin blinked to suddenly find a a hand beneath is nose pointing ahead of him across the river. He eyed the direction briefly, noting the upcoming bridge and the small village suburb of Tokyo that both road and bridge lead to. He then followed the the arm back up along that white jacket sleeve and met the dark and good humored eyes of his young friend with curiosity.
Sano's lips twitched into a laughing little smirk as he seemed to realize that his companion had no idea what had caught his interest. Kenshin blinked owlishly back at him and looked once more to the village as Sanosuke waggled his finger for emphasis. "Soba stand. I can smell it from here. Might be a long time out fishing , ya know? And I'm hungry, we should eat there."
"You're hungry again? Sano where do you put it all?" asked Kenshin teasingly. Sano had eaten breakfast with them not two hours before.
"Hey, look at me, I'm a growing boy you know."
Kenshin looked up to his younger friend with comically widened eyes. "Now that is a daunting thought..."
Sano grunted and looked sour for a moment before tugging at the sleeve of his white and black decorated jacket. "You think I'm joking? I'll need to figure out how I'm paying the tailer again soon at this rate. My jacket's tight across the shoulders and preparing for high water round my wrists..."
Kenshin's eyes widened in reality this time. He often forgot how young Sano was, young enough that the man was still at a growing age. All though Kenshin had not been among them, many young men continued growing into their twenties. It was simply a startling thought to imagine his tall friend as, well, getting taller. "Ahh. This one is a little hungry himself. Perhaps there is enough money to be scrounged up for soba, that there is."
"Plenty," agreed Sanosuke as he threw a friendly arm about Kenshin's shoulders, "I had a good night round the gambling dish last night, I can buy us lunch for once!"
Kenshin raised his eyebrows at the announcement, but said nothing. Sanosuke, it seemed, had a very good nose for food as it was another several meters of walking before Kenshin caught the scent that Sano was so deftly guiding them toward. They made their way across the bridge in companionable silence both of them finally able to see the stand in question. The village itself was quite small, consisting of perhaps two streets of houses, some with thatched roofs, some tiled. The village was a stones through from Tokyo, and one could see that in a few more years of growth the great sprawling city would likely claim the little place. For the time being, however, the village was its' own separate entity.
The village was also very unnaturally quiet.
Noting the quiet streets, Kenshin felt an uneasy sensation tingle at his senses. Sanosuke must of sensed it as well, as the two comrades exchanged a knowing glance and went immediately into a familiar 'watch each other's back and prepare for a fight' mode. They continued their journey to the soba stand in silence, senses alert for any sign of trouble.
The soba stand, like the outskirts it sat in, was small and they were the only customers to attend the place. As they approached, Kenshin took a quick assesment of the stand-keeper who smiled at the two of them. He was a man not long past his middle years, dark hair graying at the fringes. The life of a stand keeper must have been good to him as his rotund figure attested to.
"Welcome," said the man.
"Slow day?" asked Sano as he looked about the street.
"No. We don't get nearly the business on this stretch into Tokyo that we used too, most travelers into the city tend to take the main road to the west side of town. Most of the residents here either work in the city or are out in the fields. It's been dry this summer, their trying to get water to the rice paddies."
Both men breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed their guard.
"We are sorry to hear that," Kenshin said sympathetically.
"Don't be," the man told him. " Might be the best thing that has happened here in a long time."
"It brought all the farmers together. This was a village separate from Tokyo not many years ago, you know. But after the war the city has grown to nearly include us. The villagers are divided in working in the city or working the fields. So, the last few years , everyone around here's been cold and indifferent to one another. Every man for himself, so to speak. Like they didn't care. City life seems to do that to folk. No one talked to each other. Now, everyone physically able to dig is out helping to save crops that feed the area... and the city. I'd be out there too, but..." he indicated to the empty sleeve of his shirt, hanging limply at his side. "I can't dig too well with but one arm."
Sano nodded. "Well, that makes sense. I was thinking the area was deserted."
"Looked like that before the drought," the soba stand attendant continued. "The kids weren't even allowed to play together. Now the streets are filled with their laughter by day. It's just too bad it took something like this to open people's eyes."
"That is usually the way it goes, requiring disaster to see what you have," Kenshin agreed with a heavy sigh, having seen this both during the Bakamatsu and many times in his wandering afterward. "This one does hope they've learned how much they really do need each other."
"Let's hope so," sighed the older man. "But listen to me babbling on... What can I get for you gentlemen?"
They ordered their food and drink, Sano paying the man (much to Kenshin's private amusement) with no argument about the prices. The two then sat at one of the stand's provided outdoor bench tables
"So, Kenshin, you've fished this place before have you? I see you've even brought a basket for the catch."
"Actually," Kenshin replied somewhat sheepishly, "This one has not fished here. This one has not done much fishing at all. It was recommended to Kaoru-dono by another dojo master. She sent this one in hopes that there truly are many fish here."
Sano raised an eyebrow beneath his ever present red bandanna. "Did you tell the little miss you haven't done much fishing?"
The red head ducked his head, bangs covering his eyes. "This one did not. When Kaoru-dono is on a roll, it is best to just go with her."
"Yar, yar," Sanosuke said with a laugh as he downed another helping of soba, "It's a good thing I came with you. I've done fishing enough to help out a bit."
Just as Kenshin had been about to indulge in a portion of the soba, now that it had cooled to a comfortable eating temperature for him, the peace was interrupted by a police officer running down the street . He was panting and could barely catch his breath as he stopped by the soba stand, he must have run a fair distance.
Kenshin and Sanosuke shared a quick look before standing from the bench to move to the uniformed man's side. The man looked up, and heaved a decidedly pleased sigh on sight of Kenshin's red hair and cross shaped scar. "Himura-san! I've been looking for you, sir! The chief sends for you!"
Kenshin shared a second look with Sanosuke. The last time there had been such an instance had lead them to a very long trip to Kyoto. "What is it that he needs of this one?"
"There's paper work to be signed today among some higher ups. The chief feels your presence there will keep them in check. He says they're behaving like children or he wouldn't have sent for you. It's a good thing Kamiya-san gave such excellent directions on where you were heading or I would have never found you."
"All right, we're coming then. You lead the way," Sano said with a resigned sigh to the officer.
"Actually," the man said with a confused look at the ex-gangster, "The chief only asked for Himura-san so..."
Sano's eye twitched, and Kenshin laid a soothing hand on the taller man's arm. "It is all right, Sano. Please, finish your soba. And, perhaps you could get started on this one's fishing duty? This one will join you as soon as this is taken care of."
Sanosuke looked for a long moment at Kenshin before excepting the deal. "Yeah, all right. Paper work is boring anyway. You have fun with that. I'll be sleeping along the river bank when you get back."
Closing his eyes, Kenshin smiled for his friend before returning his focus to the officer. "This one will accompany you, as soon as you are ready."
The man nodded, taking a deep breath and righting himself. "The sooner the better, negotiations have all ready started. Let's go then, Himura-san."
With a resigned look to Sano, Kenshin followed the man off through the suburb and toward greater Tokyo.
Sanosuke sighed as he left, and sank back to the bench with nothing but the fishing equipment across from him and two sets of soba before him. With a scowl, Sano finished off his own dish and helped himself to Kenshin's lunch. No use letting good food go to waste.
Setting into Kenshin's drink last, he felt on one hand sulky and on the other grateful about the whole deal. It was one of those things that you just had to get used to with being Himura Kenshin's friend; you would forever be in his shadow. Sanosuke shrugged to himself. It wasn't really fair of him to judge as such, Kenshin certainly didn't ask for the notoriety. And Sano was generally content to go entirely unnoticed himself. Sometimes though, being blatantly shunted to the side because people only knew Kenshin and not his friends was really friggin' annoying.
Despite his musings, Sano's head came up as he lingered over his drink as the silence of the village was once again disturbed by the sound of running feet. He wondered for a brief, if fanciful moment, if Kenshi and the cop had come back fro him, underestimating his usefulness. The fancy was dismissed as quickly as it came, the sound was all wrong.
This time it was a woman, clad in a working woman's kimono with the sleeves bound back. She was in the same state the officer had been in. Like she had been running a fair distance, and she was crying.
"Shuhei-san!" She wailed as she came upon the soba stand. The blithely ignored Sano sitting at the bench as she pelted past and up to the stand counter calling again, "Shuhei-san, please!"
The soba stand keeper came around to his front counter in a hurry and the woman's calls. He held out his one hand as though to calm her, but the woman carried on tearfully before he could say a word.
"Shuhei-san, there has been an awful accident! The children were in the abandoned mine when it collapsed!"
That was all Sanosuke needed. The young man was on his feet and standing beside the woman at the counter before he really had time to contemplate it. The woman started, only noticing him for the first time now. The soba attendant wheeled from behind the stand. "By all," said the stand keeper. He looked expectantly at Sanosuke.
Sanosuke's mouth hardened as he acknowledged the man's silent request. It went something along the lines of 'you look strong and able bodied, will you...?' Really, there were children involved, the young man did not hesitate. "You know where this mine is?"
"Yes, you'll help us?"
"Of course," Sano nodded to him. There was no question about helping kids. He then turned to the woman. "You go and round up all the people you can. Have them bring digging tools," he directed of her. "And lanterns," Sanosuke added as he and the soba man took off down the street.
His mind was whirling with how to tackle such a situation. He would need to see the actual cave in, but the young man was realistic enough to realize that his art of the two-layers would likely be far too destructive in a delicate situation concerning kids. Which was why he was asking for digging tools to aide.
Sanosuke wished he could leave word for when Kenshin got back, but there wasn't time. He left the fishing gear where it lay, hoping one of the townsfolk would fill Kenshin in and the older man would join him at the mine. Sanosuke suspected his more world experienced friend would be of more help for coming up with a plan than he was, but Sano's strength was nothing to be ignored and made him a very good candidate for getting in there and digging. He had to do something fast.
They raced to the abandoned mine, Sano keeping a step behind the soba-man. With approaching it, Sanosuke could see that the entrance was completely blocked. After a quick assessment, the young man decided the best place to start would be to begin pulling rocks from the top of the blocked entrance.
Another woman was standing near what used to be the mine's entrance. "The children! The children are inside!"
The way she was ringing her hands and her eyes were skittering all about the place suggested the begginings of hysteria. She'd be no good to them like this. Sano choose to quickly reasure as best he could before heading up th pile of rocks. Resting his bandaged right hand on the woman's shoulder briefly, Sano counseled, "We're here to help those kids. There's more help on the way."
Having offered his reassurances to the woman, Sanosuke picked his way gingerly up the rock pile that blocked the entrance to the mine and began heaving rocks and dirt of all sizes as fast as he could from the pile. He knew he only needed a relatively small opening to get his body inside, all though if Kenshin were there the opening could have been smaller. In any case, an opening large enough to admit him would be large enough for him to get in and get the kids out. He could only hope he he wouldn't just find corpses under a pile of rocks inside. The elderly soba man soon joined him, digging as best he could with one arm. The two of them moved the rocks and dirt with their bare hands, working with that solid determination that Sanosuke was well known for.
"Name's Shuhei. Good thing you and your friend happened along when you did," the soba-man said as he worked. "It'll take a while to round up all the people from the fields, and I'm not much help here with one arm. Not next to the way your throwing rocks."
"I'm Sanosuke," the brunette replied, tossing aside another such big rock that the soba-man had been referring to. "I take it this is not a typical day for this side of Tokyo?" he said, only half joking.
The soba man smirked, wiping sweat from his brow briefly before returning to moving rocks and dirt. "I have no idea why all hell has suddenly broken loose. Maybe this is some kind of punishment from the Gods," said Shuhei.
Sanosuke didn't even want to ponder on that thought. He was not a man smart enough or deep enough to think on anything to do with the Gods. It didn't matter whether this was the work of some ticked-off God, a run of bad luck, or just coincidence. There were kids trapped inside this cave and he had to do everything in his power to get them out. Sano did briefly wish once more that Kenshin were here with him, the rurouni would have likely had a better idea for tackling this than Sano did. He likely would have already had the kids out.
With a small leap of his heart, Sanosuke heard the first feint and muffled cries of the children inside. Shuhei must have heard it as well, as both of them began digging even faster. Pulling a small boulder aside finally left them with a hole big enough that the two men could talk to the children with in.
Shuhei leaned in before Sano had the chance and said in a reassuring tone, "It's all right children. We're getting you out. Is anyone hurt?"
"We're scared, and we can't find Kyou," a girl's voice replied.
Sanosuke's heart sank on hearing this, he'd seen the forces of the real world at work and knew it was delusional to hope all the kids would have come out of this unscathed. Still, aside from a brief hardening of the eyes, the young man didn't let on to his fears. He leaned down toward the hole beside the temporarily stricken soba man. "Don't be scared. We'll find 'im. I'm coming in to get you. If you can, back off from the entrance in case any of these rocks start falling in."
They continued to dig until they had a space big enough for Sanosuke to crawl through. Which took longer than he might have liked and for once the young ex-gangster cursed his widening shoulders. At that moment he heard voices behind him and he turned to see several people approaching. Most with shovels and hoes and some lanterns.
"What can we do to help?" asked one of the men.
"I need a lantern," Sano said quickly.
"Here," replied another man, as he offered one, all ready lit, to Sanosuke.
Taking the lantern, Sanosuke said, "Great. I I'll get them out in no time," having no interest in frightening the adults either, Sano choose not to tell them just yet that there was a missing child. He noted Shuhei stayed silent on the matter as well.
"You want some help in there?" one of the villagers asked Sano.
"No," Sano said decisively with a shake of his head and a fluttering of his red bandanna. "I'm don't know how stable it is in there right now. Let me have a look around and I'll let you know."
With lantern in hand, the street thug-turned-impromptu-hero shimmied his way into the opening and made his way cautiously down to the mine floor. There were six children inside , their ages varying. But they were all very young. He looked them over quickly. They were dusty and dirty but all appeared to be unhurt.
"Okay, one at a time, up the rock pile and out the hole. Take your time and don't slip. Everything will be fine," Sano said in a gentler tone than most would suspect him capable of.
"What about Kyou?" a frightened girl with dual braids in her hair answered. She looked to be the oldest, maybe ten or eleven.
"Where'd you last see him," Sano quietly questioned the girl.
"He was near the back of the mine area," cried the little girl. "It's so dark and I called for him but he didn't answer. I was supposed to watch him. He's only four," she sobbed.
"Don't you worry, I'll find him," Sanosuke said with a reassuring smile and a calloused hand to gently pat the child's head. "You stay here and make sure everyone gets out okay, then you go out, too," Sano urged of the girl.
It looked as though the child were going to protest. Gently ruffling the girl's hair with the hand already on her head, Sano said with determination, "I'll find him."
The girl nodded and turned to help the younger children crawl up the pile of rocks and out to safety. Sano checked their progress over his shoulder as he headed toward the rear of the abandoned mine. As he held the lantern high and negotiated a path through the rocks and debris, Sanosuke issued a silent prayer for one of the few times in his life, to any Gods if there were any. Please, let that little boy be all right...
Kenshin sat patiently if quietly while the diplomats negotiated a new ruling for the laws of Japan. The chief had been right to call him in, as the two men had settled from a childish argument nearly as soon as he was ushered through the door.
It was a particularly dry thing that they were negotiating, and Kenshin could not help but think of his friend enjoying the sunshine, and yes, likely sleeping on the river bank. There was a decided envy in that thought.
As soon as papers were signed, which took a full hour to accomplish, Kenshin stood and made apologies for skipping out on offered tea. Bowing once to the chief of police, the rurouni struck out from the political building to head back across the length of Tokyo and see if he could, perhaps, engage Sano in a small competition yet this afternoon in who could catch the most fish. Sano would enjoy that.
Author's Free Talk: Boy, writing Kenshin's speech style is an exorcise in humility on it's own, isn't it? Anywho... Yes, I'm here to bring you another RuroKen fic. Yes my dear readers, I'm still trying to add to the non-romance pool here at I have not had this story beta'd, so as usual I apologize for all spelling and grammar errors and claim them as entirely my own.
About the story. The story is in fact complete on my computer as we talk here. It was really written as an extremely long one shot, so I apologize if the chapter cut off seem somewhat jagged in places ( I will try to avoid that). Yes, this is a hurt car fiction, as in if any of you have read my previous work, you know I just love inflicting injuries on Sano. You've been warned :P
I Like the story, but I don't know as how well it will fly with, say, the public. So, I'll go ahead and post a chapter approximately once a week (Unless of course for what ever reason folks are rabid about this story... which I kind of doubt.) I would love to hear out your thoughts and critiques dear readers, if you've the time I'd appreciate if you would share them with me!
Next Chapter: Deep Breaths.