Author's note:

Series of one-shots or drabbles, all of them Kenshin and Sanosuke-centric. Each installment is independent. The quote in my summary is an Arabian proverb.

True friendship is not words but meanings, not intentions but actions. --Khrysalis

A ripple moved through the crowded street. Of people slowing, and stopping to stare as a pair of young men blustered through.

The taller man had obviously been very ill very recently. He was very pale, and his breath still wheezed and rattled in his chest and he moved in what he might have meant to be an angry march, but his feet faltered and he staggered far too much to pull it off as he meant. He was clad in sleeping garments, loosely tied and fluttering around him in the late winter wind. He did not look as though he cared about the scene he was causing.

A much shorter man with long red hair struggled behind him to keep up. The red headed man drew even more eyes, because he looked, for lack of a stronger description, as if someone had beaten the living hell out of him. He was more black and blue than flesh-colored, the marks of large hands could be seen on his slender arms, when the wind blew his sleeves back a little. He walked with a limp, and one of his large, purple eyes was nearly swollen shut.

"Sano, wait! Please wait!"

"I don't think so, Kenshin--"

"I'm sorry."

"I don't want to hear it."

"I'm sorry!"

The bigger man whirled on the red headed one. Most of the people near him took a couple of steps back. Kenshin didn't move.

"Stop saying you're sorry, you idiot!"


"You don't even know what you're apologizing for!" Sano accused him, fuming. His voice rasped at the last word and he coughed, the sound of it racking deep inside his chest.

Concern in his bruised eyes, Kenshin looked like he wanted to move closer to his friend, but thought better of it. "You're right, I don't," he admitted, a note of exasperation in his voice. "Why are you mad at me?"

"Why am I mad at you?" Sano repeated, voice rusty from his coughing fit. "Why? Because you're a moron!"

Sano grabbed Kenshin by the back of his neck and shoved his head just over a frosty barrel that someone had set at the side of the street. It was full of water, the surface half-formed into ice, but it was obvious the taller man expected his friend to look at his own reflection in it.

"Look what I did to you! Why, why, why, why didn't you just get away from me?!"

"You didn't know what you were doing," Kenshin tried to explain, wincing at the rough handling but not making any effort to escape.

Sano straightened him again by his neck, and gave him a shake before releasing him. "Idiot! From the look of you, I was more dangerous delirious than I ever was clear-minded!"

"Couldn't use sakabato on you as you were, Sano--"

"So you just let me pound on you without defending yourself?"

A sheepish grin spread across the redhead's bruised face. "I…I couldn't keep you inside otherwise. You…well, you kept trying to leave. While you were dealing with me, at least you stayed inside where it was warm. I'm sorry, Sano. I just kept running out of ways to restrain you, all the ropes had been snapped and the medicine wasn't working so…"

For a moment Sano looked as though he was about to explode. A fist lifted as though he felt a need to hit something. But the slight tensing of his friend's small, badly beaten frame wasn't lost on him. The fist opened and he used his hand to swat the back of Kenshin's head instead.

"Stupid idiot moron!" he rasped eloquently, spun around clumsily and starting lumbering back the way he came.

"Sano, it was cold outside!" Kenshin called after him, still pleading for understanding. "You were already so sick--"

"Shut up. I hate you. Our friendship's over," the taller man called back over his shoulder, without any actual heat or meaning. And he was headed back in the direction of the clinic, and Kenshin sagged where he stood for a moment in relief.

Someone on the street stirred, and he looked around, as if noticing for the first time there were other people.

He cleared his throat, looking a bit embarrassed. "He is this one's friend," he stated, as if that explained everything.

Perhaps it did, aided by a slightly defensive note in the gently-spoken sentence.

Someone in the crowd asked, "What are your enemies like?"

"Some of them, a lot more gentle," Kenshin said with the ghost of a smile on his bruised lips. Then he took his leave of the crowd, hurrying along after his friend's retreating back.