A/N: Sword of the Stranger needs more looooove :) This is dedicated to The Lava Alchemist- if not for her, I never would've watched Stranger, one of the best movies I've ever seen, and this fic wouldn't exist in the first place. By the way, I used the names from the subtitled version of the movie since I watched that. And with that being said, I hope you enjoy this!

Disclaimer: I do not own Sword of the Stranger (although the DVD and OST would be a very nice Christmas present :D)

Rarou is a hero, even if he lives wholly for fighting.

It is cold. It is also very wet, but that's to be expected when the rain has not stopped falling for the past several hours. As if the Ming's bleak surroundings aren't depressing enough. The rocky areas are slick with water, making them extremely treacherous to walk upon. One misstep could result in a disastrous fall into the raging river below. Death by drowning is also possible from the bridge that most of them are standing on. The logs beneath their feet are sturdy enough, but the bridge lacks protection on its two sides, so if someone were to teeter to the edge, there would be nothing to prevent them from falling.

Fuugo has no intention of having a watery death at the hands of the turbulent river beneath him, not by accident or by purposeful means. (He wouldn't put it past some of his fellow soldiers to try and push him in.) There are still too many things he needs to do. At the moment though, Fuugo has been ordered by Byakuran-dono to stay on the bridge as the crates are carefully being brought back up. Fuugo does not envy the unfortunate soldiers that have crate duty- being right next to the raging and frothing river is much too risky. However, Fuugo can't help but to feel a little restless with standing around and doing nothing. He therefore crouches before his pet hawk.

The bird of prey swivels its head majestically left and right. It appears to be searching for any more signs of trouble, and upon finding none, looks straight at its owner. "Hey, there," whispers Fuugo, leaning in. "You should have seen Rarou-sama fighting those guys back there," he informs the hawk, his eyes darting automatically to the blond-haired swordsman's strong back. The bird just blinks at him for a few seconds before looking around again. Fuugo doesn't seem to notice for he just keeps on talking. "He was really amazing! The way he leapt-"

"Hey, Fuugo!" calls out Mu-mao. She beckons to him. "Come here for a minute!" Fuugo bites his tongue to prevent himself from swearing out loud. He is very tempted to just ignore her, but experience has taught him that she would keep on pestering him until she got her way. It is therefore with much reluctance that he makes his way over to one of the few women in their elite group. "What is it?" he asks, keeping a civil tone.

The archer holds up some cloth bandages, making sure to keep them under her hat so that they wouldn't get soaked by the rain. "Here."

Fuugo stares at his own forearm, surprised to see the blood flowing down his hand. He had completely forgotten about his injury. "Ah, thanks." Fuugo accepts the bandages and begins to dress his wound. It's a bit difficult using only one hand, but Fuugo makes do with his teeth and the wound is bandaged shortly. Fuugo can't feel any pain, but if he concentrates, he can feel the punctured area throbbing a little. That will not do at all. Fuugo takes out a small vial and uncaps it, shaking out a small dark pill. He gulps down the drug and the pain (if it is indeed pain- it has been so long since he actually felt it) recedes immediately. He spots, with his peripheral vision, Mu-mao also swallowing a pill. In fact, nearly all of the soldiers are doing the same.

After politely thanking Mu-mao again for the bandages, Fuugo heads straight back to his beloved pet. The hawk is blinking sleepily, but immediately becomes alert upon seeing its master. Fuugo smiles a little as he feeds his hawk a strip of meat; the bird gives a soft screech of gratitude. "He just leapt onto those rocks like they weren't even there." Fuugo resumes his narrative enthusiastically, his eyes following Rarou as the bigger man ambles back onto the bridge. The hawk ignores Fuugo as its attention is solely focused upon its treat. "And he took out all of those bandits so easily. Hah! Like any of those weaklings could even stand a chance against Rarou-sama. They can't even-"

"Ooh, Rarou again?" comes the distinctly female voice right next to his ear. This time, Fuugo does swear out loud.

"Damnit, Mu-mao!" He glares at her. "Hasn't anyone taught you that it's rude to sneak up on people?"

Instead of backing away like he is hopes, she merely snickers at him. He doesn't like the catty expression on her face either. "It's your fault for not being alert," she says as she adjusts her red cloak. She sticks her face into his and leers. "And don't try to change the subject. It's always Rarou-sama this and Rarou-sama that. Rarou, Rarou, Rarou. You never get tired of talking about him, do you?" She looks at him slyly. "Just like a wife singing her husband's praises."

His hands twitch. He feels like grabbing the archer by her too short bangs and slamming her head against something hard- anything to wipe that maddening smirk off her face. "I just need something to talk about with my hawk," he snaps. "I'm bored and there's nothing better to do." Mu-mao's smirk merely grows wider at his words.

"You shouldn't say things like that- you're just jinxing yourself when you do." Mu-you comes up behind them. The strands which escape her sleek ponytail are plastered to her cheeks and forehead from the rain, but she doesn't appear to notice. She nods at Fuugo. "Byakuran-dono wants you to go help out with the crates."

Fuugo grumbles, but obligingly straightens up. "And what are you doing?" he asks out of curiosity.

A smirk, not unlike the one her sister wore, emerges on Mu-you's crimson red lips. "I'm going to see if any of those rodents are still alive." She jerks her head toward the bloodied bodies scattered over the rocks. "I doubt that they are, but there might be some more vermin hiding." Mu-you fingers her axe lovingly, running a finger down the sharp edge before she leaves.

Fuugo gladly takes it as his cue to ditch Mu-mao. However, he casts one last (longing) glance over his shoulder at the blue-eyed swordsman until Byakuran-dono's raspy, croaky voice summons him.

He remembers spying the scarlet cloak whip around in the air as the swordsman dashes across the bridge using their fallen guide as a human shield. Rarou darts gracefully from target to target, his sword flashing as he cuts through flesh and bones almost too quickly for Fuugo's eyes to follow. The bandits collapse before most of them realize that they had been attacked by the greatest warrior of the Ming. The unlucky fools that merely get a limb hacked off scream and writhe pathetically until they are silenced by a sword through the head. Fuugo watches in awe, unconsciously holding his breath, as Rarou coolly and swiftly finishes off the last idiot, shakes the blood off his sword, and sheathes it.

Fuugo is willing to follow Rarou to the end of the world and back as long as he can remain by the swordsman's side.

Tobimaru is a hero, even if he doesn't understand it.

It is raining again. The rain pours down unmercifully, soaking and completely drenching everything it touches. They are fortunate though; they have found a small abandoned hut to rest their eyes and prop up their weary feet for the night. It is by no means a luxurious inn- the door hangs off its hinges and can barely close, the wooden walls shake at the slightest touch, a musky odor hangs in the air, and the floor creaks loudly and ominously with every step they take. They do not mind though, for they've had to stay in much worse places during their journey so far. The only thing they care about is that the roof performs its duty of sheltering them from the heavy sheets of ice-cold water, which it does aside from a few leaky spots.

Tobimaru immediately awakens when the first wave of thunder begins to sound. His ears twitch slightly before perking up at the soft booming noise in the distance. His eyes fly open and he attempts to stand up, only to find himself pushed back down. He whines ever so softly in confusion until he realizes that Kotarou's arm is the obstacle preventing him from moving. The boy sometimes has a habit of sprawling out whenever he sleeps, and tonight is one of those times. His four limbs are flung out haphazardly, and his arm just so happens to lie across Tobimaru's back, unintentionally pinning down the poor dog.

Using his front paws to pull himself forward, Tobimaru finally manages to squirm out from under Kotarou's heavy arm. Tobimaru gives himself a good shaking and then pads back to his master's side. Kotarou's mouth hangs wide open and there is the slightest bit of drool running down the corner of his lips. Tobimaru notices that the blanket has bunched up around his master's stomach, so he carefully grabs the cloth with his teeth, taking great care not to bite Kotarou, and pulls it up to Kotarou's chin. The boy thanks him with a faint snore. Tobimaru gently licks the side of Kotarou's face and then makes his way toward Nanashi.

The ronin has once again forsaken the hard wooden floor in favor of the even more uncomfortable wall for reasons that Tobimaru cannot see. Nanashi's legs are crossed and his arms are folded as he slumbers, his chest rising up and down with each intake and outtake of oxygen. Nanashi's head lolls against his chest, his hair falling down to cover his face as though compensating for the missing straw hat. Tobimaru trots over and settles down on his haunches right next to the sleeping figure.

As Tobimaru watches, the muscles in Nanashi's arm gradually tenses, and his breathing becomes more erratic with each passing second. When the next barely audible rumble of thunder sounds, the man jerks awake, his eyes flying open and his chest heaving as he gasps for air, a cold sweat collecting on his face. His left hand automatically reaches for a sword that is no longer there. Nanashi looks when his fist clenches around thin air instead of the smooth scabbard he is so accustomed to, and a wry expression crosses his face as he drops his empty hand.

Tobimaru uses his nose to nudge Nanashi in the leg until the man glances down to see wide doggy eyes staring straight at him. Tobimaru whines softly and licks the ronin's unclenched hand comfortingly. Nanashi blinks in surprise upon finding Tobimaru right next to him, but his lips eventually curve up into a faint smile, letting out a sigh that could best be described as one of relief. Tobimaru closes his eyes lazily as he feels Nanashi's hand pat his head a couple times and then move to scratch lightly behind his ears. Tobimaru lies his head down on his paws and snuggles up against the ronin.

The two of them stay that way for about an hour or so, with Nanashi stroking Tobimaru's fur and Tobimaru huddling closer and occasionally nuzzling Nanashi's rough yet gentle hand. They listen to the thunder- not so scary when there's someone nearby- which fortunately grows softer until they can't hear it anymore. Tobimaru remains where he is, unmoving, as the minutes tick by, a reassuring weight by Nanashi's side. His patience is rewarded when the man's body loosens up bit by bit. Nanashi's breathing evens out into a slow steady rhythm, and his head gradually droops down without him noticing. Once Nanashi's hand slides off of Tobimaru's back and stays on the floor, Tobimaru quietly gets up and makes his way back to his master.

The boy has abandoned his sprawled out sleeping posture. Instead, he has curled up onto his side in a fetal position. The blanket has somehow managed to slide down around Kotarou's stomach again, so it's no wonder that he is shivering. Tobimaru gets close enough to see that his master's face is scrunched up a little, a frown upon his trembling lips. Taking the blanket between his teeth once more, Tobimaru tugs on it until it covers his master before squirming under it himself. Kotarou's arms unconsciously and instantly wrap around the warm body cuddling against him, and he buries his face in the soft fur while making a content noise.

And when he is absolutely certain that both Kotarou and Nanashi are sleeping soundly, and that the nightmares wouldn't haunt them anymore tonight, Tobimaru finally falls asleep with his tail wagging slightly and a satisfied doggy smile on his face.

He remembers the sensation as his razor sharp teeth- deadly to those ill-fated enough to encounter them- sink into the tender flesh of the man's neck. It's almost laughable how easily and swiftly his canines cut through human skin and tissue. Tobimaru can taste the fear on skin mildly salty from sweat. Blood, disgustingly hot and cloying, bathes his tongue and stains his muzzle a crimson red. Tobimaru doesn't like it; his mouth gets a funny, coppery taste. It doesn't matter though. The taste of human blood, the man's choked screams and gurgles, the thud as the dead body hits the ground- none of it matters as long as his master is unharmed. Same goes for the swordsman. Tobimaru doesn't think as he jumps into the air. He doesn't think as he catches one kunai between his teeth, but misses the other one which cuts him. Even when the mind-numbing pain in his side forces his last meal to come back up, he can't help but feel relieved that his master and the swordsman are safe.

No matter where they go or how long their journey takes, Tobimaru will always protect Kotarou and Nanashi.

Kotarou is a hero, even if he is still just a child.

"We're resting now," announces Kotarou spontaneously. He doesn't ask for Nanashi's opinion (probably because he doesn't care about it), nor is he suggesting that they stop for a while. Kotarou outright declares, in that decisive way of his which entertains Nanashi to no end, that they would be stopping. There's no "Can we?" or "Do you want to?" or even a "What do you think?" There's only a "We're resting now," uttered in a tone of finality that leaves absolutely no room for argument. Anyone else would balk at being ordered around by such a short and overconfident kid, but Nanashi is Nanashi and therefore has gotten use to it. (He will never say so, but he finds Kotarou's bossy nature to be rather cute).

Nanashi turns his head left and right, taking in their surroundings. It's actually a very nice resting place. Over on one side are the trees- numerous trees with sturdy trunks and branches bearing budding green leaves. On the other side is the river (though its name, like so many others, escapes Nanashi). Sunlight dances on the water, creating a shimmering effect that is both fascinating and blinding to watch. Based on its clearness as well as how strongly the sun shines on it, Nanashi ventures a guess that the river water is pure enough to drink from. Yes, it is a very nice resting place indeed. There's just one thing though…

"Eh? Didn't we take a break a moment ago?" Nanashi reminds Kotarou. "I thought we stopped at that spot with all the rocks a while back." In spite of his words, Nanashi ceases walking, slowing down his pace until he brings his feet to a halt. "Don't tell me you're tired already?"

Kotarou turns up his nose, looking for the entire world like a member of the nobility. "I can't help it if my feet are sore," is his snooty and speedy reply.

Nanashi arches one dubious eyebrow. It would certainly sound like a reasonable complaint under slightly different circumstances. No, if Kotarou wants to lie, he's going to have to try much harder than this. "It's kind of difficult to get sore feet when you're not even walking," he points out casually.

The kid twitches and makes a funny sound, having just remembered that he is riding on a horse. Said horse lets out a snort and swishes its tail conspicuously as though annoyed with its rider. Despite being seen through, Kotarou still keeps his nose upturned, lifting his chin higher and crossing his arms. "Then my butt is sore," he corrects himself huffily.

"But didn't you just say that your feet were sore?" teases Nanashi, refusing to let the boy's mistake slide so quickly.

"I changed my mind," Kotarou retorts. He holds his arms out to the ronin. "Now help me get down," he orders. Nanashi looks at Kotarou- at his pouting face, his outstretched arms, and his dangling legs- and feels like laughing. He holds his tongue though, and instead lifts the boy down as commanded. The instant his feet touch the ground, Kotarou zips off towards the river straight away with Tobimaru bouncing around at his heels and barking joyfully.

Shaking his head in amusement, Nanashi grabs the discarded reins and leads the horse to the edge of the river. He pats the horse's neck as the big animal drinks up its fill. Once it's done, Nanashi brings it over to the trees and ties the reins to the lowest branch. He doubts that it would run away, but one should never let one's guard down. Nanashi lowers himself at the tree's base, crossing his legs and leaning his back against the firm trunk. Even though he's not tired, Nanashi closes his eyes anyways, letting the peaceful sounds of nature course through his ears.

He hears the whisper of the gentle breeze flitting through the tree's branches, the tinkling laughter of the flowing river, the melodious singing of birds somewhere above. He listens to Koutarou and Tobimaru splashing around in the river, their merry laughter and barking ringing in the calm air. After a while, the crunching leaves and heavy panting alerts Nanashi to their presence. Nanashi chooses not to remind Kotarou of his supposedly sore butt when the boy noisily plops down right beside him, preferring to keep the serene atmosphere. However, as Nanashi feels the pressure of the kid's constant stare on his wrist and side, he eventually realizes the actual reason for the stop (like anyone would believe the sore butt tale).

"You know," he starts to say. Because his eyes are still closed, the sound of his voice causes Kotarou and Tobimaru to jump. "My wounds completely healed about a week ago," he mentions nonchalantly. Hearing the leaves where Kotarou is sitting suddenly rustle confirms Nanashi's speculation.

"That has nothing to do with us resting!" Kotarou denies hotly. Even without looking, Nanashi can tell based on the much too swift retaliation that the boy is blushing. "We're resting because…because…because Tobimaru is tired!"

Nanashi cracks open an eye to find the dog jumping around energetically, trying and failing to catch a butterfly fluttering around his head. Kotarou grabs Tobimaru around the neck and hastily yanks the yipping dog into his lap. "The little dog doesn't look tired to me." Tobimaru wriggles out of Kotarou's grasp and resumes chasing the butterfly.

To his entertainment, Kotarou puffs up his cheeks and shoots Nanashi his most withering glare. Nanashi thinks to himself that the kid looks very much like an annoyed squirrel. "Tobimaru is tired," Kotarou insists, regardless of the dog running around behind him, "and that's why we're resting." He shoots Nanashi a fierce look, once again resembling an annoyed squirrel, and says irritably, "I'm your boss, so you shouldn't be questioning me."

Nanashi's eyes soften, and he lets out a brief chuckle as he reaches his hand out to ruffle Kotarou's hair affectionately. The boy lets out a yelp and predictably swats the ronin's hand away. "You realize that, at the rate we're going, we'll be stuck in Japan for a long time, right?"

"We're still going to get out soon enough," Kotarou replies snarkily.

Chuckling once more, Nanashi decides to play along. He makes a big deal out of stretching his arms over his head and yawning widely. He tucks his arms behind his head as he exaggeratedly slides down the trunk to lie on his back, eyes sliding shut as he feigns sleep. Pretty soon, he senses both Kotarou and Tobimaru curling up next to him, and without realizing it, Nanashi falls asleep along with them.

He remembers viewing the world through blurry eyes still slightly tinted by blood. The first thing he sees is the kid standing in front of him. He then spots his sword, the tip speckled with blood, in the kid's trembling hands. In fact, the kid's entire body is trembling, but he holds the sword up anyways. Nanashi realizes that the kid- no, Kotarou- is shielding him from the blond-haired swordsman with whatever protection his small body could provide. A warm feeling spreads through his chest and gives him the strength to stand up and fight again.

In all of Nanashi's years of living, Kotarou has been and is the only person to give a damn about him and for that, Nanashi is grateful.

Nanashi is a hero, even if he doesn't think so.

They are flying in the skies again. Kotarou watches with glee as the ground below disappears behind him before he can even get a close look. The horse's hooves pound into the dirt road, kicking up a light spray of dust and pebbles that hovers briefly in the air before settling back down on the ground. Tobimaru runs alongside the horse with his tongue lolling out; the dog barks occasionally, a happy bark that matches his master's elated mood. Kotarou laughs with delight as the wind blows against his face and through his hair, disheveling the short dark strands even more.

Even Nanashi is enjoying himself. Kotarou knows this because his arms are wrapped snugly around the man's waist. (Once when they were galloping, Kotarou accidentally slipped off in the midst of his excitement. He was lucky that they were at a beach, but from then on, he made sure to hang onto Nanashi for dear life, lest the ronin make fun of his one tiny moment of clumsiness again). Nanashi's back, though straight, is relaxed, and he doesn't complain when Kotarou tightens his grip some more. Kotarou believes that times like this, when they're flying and flying and flying without a care, are the only instances when Nanashi truly relaxes. Sometimes when Kotarou wakes up in the middle of the night, he sees that Nanashi's body is slightly tense even when he sleeps, always wary of any possible attacks. (Afterwards, Kotarou hugs Tobimaru a bit closer because the eerie shadows cast by the moonlight and the ominous rustling in the bushes are a little scary. Just a little because Kotarou's a big boy.)

The exhilarating moment is over too quickly, always too quickly in Kotarou's opinion. It's okay though. Kotarou understands that horses, even though they are strong and much bigger than he is, need to rest. Besides, they can always do it again (and again and again since they have all the time in the world). So Kotarou closes his eyes and rests his forehead against Nanashi's back, the two of them breathing the cool morning air in deeply as their hearts- hammering from the adrenalin rush- slow down to a steady thumping. Tobimaru pants as he trots along in time with the horse's walk.

When Kotarou catches his breath, he opens his eyes and loosens the vice-like grip he has around Nanashi. Kotarou thinks he hears the man let out a sigh of relief, but it must be his imagination, so Kotarou doesn't dwell on it. Instead, as they move forward bit by bit, Kotarou finds himself captivated by the scars on Nanashi's arms. Although Kotarou does his best not to stare too much, the man still asks "What is it?" (Kotarou wants to find out how Nanashi knows what he's thinking. He brought it up once, but the man just laughed and very rudely ignored him).

"Nothing," Kotarou says, tearing his eyes away from those fascinating scars. Kotarou wonders how many fights Nanashi must've gotten into to receive so many scars. As he ponders, Kotarou remembers something that they talked about a long long time ago. (According to Kotarou, a week is a long time ago, and anything beyond that is a long long time ago.) "Hey, Nanashi."


"When are you going to teach me how to fight with a sword?" Kotarou waits for a reply. He expects Nanashi to say something like "Later" or maybe even "Never." However, Nanashi doesn't even bother to answer. Kotarou scowls. The nerve of that man! Kotarou therefore takes to prodding Nanashi's right side. (Nanashi claims that his wounds have healed, but Kotarou wants to be careful). "Hey." One nudge. No answer. "Nanashi." Two nudges. Still no answer. "Hey!"

Nanashi speaks up after the third round of prodding. "Why?"

"Why what?" demands Kotarou. Is it really that hard to answer such a simple question?

"Why do you want to learn to fight with a sword so badly?"

Kotarou feels like blowing up. Wasn't the man listening the first time Kotarou told him? But Kotarou is a big boy now, so he decides to revive Nanashi's faulty memory. "Because it's dependable. I already told you that," Kotarou reminds the ronin. Kotarou tries a different tactic as well. "And because you're a good swordsman, you'll be a good teacher for me," compliments Kotarou.

To Kotarou's annoyance, Nanashi rewards his kindness by lapsing into another lengthy silence. Just as Kotarou is about to start prodding him again, Nanashi finally replies.

"When you take up a sword," he says, "you have to accept the consequences that come with it." Nanashi speaks slowly, as though each word is so heavy that they can not be said any quicker. "All of the consequences. Not many people understand that. The sword is a burden that you have to carry with you forever." Tobimaru's barking fills up the awkward silence.

Kotarou feels exasperated. On one hand, he wants to smack Nanashi and yell at him for acting all cool and depressed. On the other hand, he wants to comfort the man in some way. He chooses to do neither (because he is a big boy, mind you, and so knows what the right thing to do is). "You don't have to teach me now; you can teach me some other time," he offers generously.

He must've said something right for Nanashi sounds a bit more cheerful when he says, "How about we make a deal? I'll teach you the basics about sword fighting as soon as you master how to ride a horse."

"Eh? But you said that I was good!" protests Kotarou indignantly.

"I said that you've gotten pretty good," Nanashi corrects him. "There's still a lot of room for improvement."

Kotarou considers it for a moment. "Fine," he accepts. "I'll master horse riding so fast that you'll be teaching me before you know it!" he declares. Tobimaru barks in agreement.

"We'll see about that. Just don't get your hopes up too high," warns Nanashi as he lets out one of his infuriating chuckles. "We shouldn't start your riding training too soon though. The horse deserves some time off, and I think we've abused enough horses already."

Nanashi's words remind Kotarou of another very important thing. "Oh yeah, I want to rest now," Kotarou proclaims abruptly. He thinks he hears Nanashi muttering something about unnecessary breaks, but the fondness in the man's voice drowns out the words. The ronin pulls on the reins and they come to a stop with Tobimaru, taking yet another half hour to do absolutely nothing. It's the least that Kotarou can do, in his own way, to thank Nanashi for saving his life so many times.

He remembers being bound to a wooden cross. The snow falls daintily, snowflake by snowflake, from the cloudy heavens and piles up on his head and shoulders. It doesn't bother him. Nothing bothers him now, not even his dull-eyed reflection in the huge, curved blade about to slice him up. And then, he hears it. He hears that faint but familiar voice, hoarse and frenzied all at once, shouting his name. He hears the ronin frantically screaming out "Kotarou!" for the very first time. And before Kotarou knows it, the big Ming warrior disappears, leaving behind only splatters of blood.

Nanashi may not think highly of himself, but he means the whole world and much more to Kotarou even though Kotarou will never admit it.

Digging his hand into the pouch, Nanashi grabs a handful of the dark berries. He pulls them out and dumps them into the pot of boiling water at his feet, watching as they sink one by one to the bottom of the pot. The water bubbles soothingly as the steam, warm and wispy, rises up to mingle with the mildly cold air. Nanashi leans his head back against the tree trunk and closes his eyes, basking in the comforting heat of the fire that combats against the early morning chill. It is quiet at this hour- not even the birds are up yet. Nanashi enjoys the complete silence as much as he can for he knows that it won't last.

Sure enough, he can hear Kotarou and Tobimaru yelping and whimpering respectively as the stench of boiling berries wafts under their noses to give them a rude awakening. "It stinks!" whines Kotarou, pinching his nose shut with one hand. Tobimaru has buried his own nose under the blankets. "Can't you do that somewhere else?!"

Nanashi rolls his eyes. The one time that he considerately boiled the berries far away from the campsite, Kotarou had woken up early and panicked at the lack of Nanashi. When he finally came back, Nanashi was treated to a very long lecture from Kotarou about how he was a terrible bodyguard to leave his boss (and dog) all alone where anyone could attack. "How are you going to be a swordsman if you can't even stand a smell?" Nanashi calls over his shoulder. "I thought you would've gotten used to it by now."

Kotarou reluctantly gets up, wrapping the blanket around his shivering shoulders, and marches over to where the ronin is sitting. "I never said that I can't stand it," he says. His wrinkled nose contradicts his words. "I just said that it stinks."

"Aren't those the same thing?" Nanashi asks, bemused.

"No," snaps Kotarou, throwing himself down next Nanashi. He scooches closer in order to share the man's body heat. Tobimaru nestles against his master's other side. "And besides," he adds with a pointed look in his eyes, "there's no need for you to keep dyeing your hair anymore."

Nanashi gives the kid a curious look. "And why not?" he inquires.

Kotarou's face adopts an annoyed expression, and he shakes his head as if wondering how his bodyguard could be so slow. "Because we're almost going to leave Japan, that's why," he states matter-of-factly like it is the most obvious thing ever (it is to Kotarou at least). Kotarou turns his head to the side and mutters, "Idiot," out of the corner of his mouth.

"We don't have that much money, you know," Nanashi reminds the kid.

"It doesn't matter!" Kotarou jumps up. His feet are spread apart and his hands are clenched into fists; his expression has immediately switched to one of excitement. When Nanashi looks closely, he can see the fire burning in Kotarou's eyes. "It doesn't matter," Kotarou repeats, grinning. "When we get to the foreign country, we're going to be heroes! Then everyone will give us money and we'll be rich for the rest of our lives!" Kotarou pumps his arm in the air as Tobimaru barks in approval.

"Heroes, huh?" Nanashi whispers to himself as Tobimaru grabs Kotarou by the blanket and drags him away to play. Nanashi tilts his head back to gaze at the sky. Though currently gray and smothered by clouds, it still holds the same beauty as its azure counterpart- vast, open, and free. The corners of his lips curve up gently. "That doesn't sound too bad at all."

A/N: And that was my attempt to capture Stranger's epicness. Thank you very much for reading! ^.^