Disclaimer: I do not own the characters and do not make any money from this.

Disclaimer the second: This story contains explicit content describing the relationship between two men.


He lifted the small drinking bowl over and over; it felt smooth and cool in his hands. He flashed a wry smile when its cherry blossom pattern caught his eyes. The glimmer of those painted blossoms – pale pink and white – made his brain pulse like a bruise. The men he drank and gambled with never saw how his hands clenched around the delicate bowl, how his fingers grew pale. He drank with the futile hope of capsizing his heart and dislodging the figure that had taken up residence there. Heh, he laughed inside. He'd just land on his feet.

On that first day, his body had been no match for the strokes delivered from that reverse blade sword. Now as he stumbled home, lantern-light banding his body with alternating light and shadow, he felt his heart breaking as his body had that day, splintering with the struggle of trying to remain numb, to hold back the surge of feelings that threatened to draw him under. He knew how dangerous the dark currents of memory could be, but, weakened with drinking, he couldn't help but look back and remember.

On that first day as he'd stalked through the alleys, bearing the zanbato on his shoulders, cherry blossoms had come dancing around his lean frame. They'd had such a ghostly, fragile glimmer as he'd made his way to deliver his challenge, their delicate scent bringing back old memories and old pains. They had seemed to have such symbolism then, their petals holding the noble soul of his lost commander, urging him on, telling him that it was right to defeat this last sword-wielding imperialist, to shame a hero of those people who had branded his family – his name – with the character "wicked."

And now? he wondered. Steps uncertain and wine-dazed, he shook his head. There were no blossoms now. And even the memory of his commander's voice had become distant. Back on Ruffian's Row, he made his way to the small, spare residence he'd taken after he'd been defeated, after he'd told Kenshin not to wander too far.

Inside, he collapsed and stared up at the moon-speckled ceiling. "Kenshin," he murmured, tasting the name on his lips. A painful smile caused his eyes to clench, to hold back a sudden surge of pain. I'll never have the right to say your name that way. Overwarm with drink and gnawed hollow with desire, he passed through memory and into dreams.


He awoke to the same ceiling and the same horsetails of moonlight – paler now with the passage of time – and a cool rag pressed to his forehead. His bandanna had been pushed back and his jacket was rumpled with being slept in. Anxious eyes watched him coming back to himself, and a gentle, alto voice spoke his name, "Sano?"

His sleep-fogged mind imagined that voice in this moment to be as impossible as the cherry blossoms he'd dreamed of. They were falling around your fiery hair. "Kenshin? Wha…?"

Callused fingers eased his eyes closed, held the cloth to his temples. "Shh. This one is here now. You should be more careful with yourself, that you should."

A bitter laugh welled up inside of Sanosuke's chest. He wanted this so badly – this terrible, perfect, out-of-time moment – but he knew that Kenshin's presence could never mean a reciprocal desire. "Why are you here?"

Kenshin was silent a moment, kneeling at his side. Sano drew the smell of him into his lungs, that cinnamon tang of leaves crushed underfoot, and wished he could bury his face in the lithe swordsman's lap. "This one was looking for you tonight," Kenshin said at last. "You were fevered when this one found you."

Sano wondered when he'd started to look. Kenshin wasn't the sort of person who could easily be eluded, and he knew his movements were pretty predictable.

"This one… has heard rumors that you were going back to the underworld."

Sano snorted derisively and propped himself up on one arm. "I'm only fevered from drinking and I'm not going to run off and do something stupid. You don't have to take care of me. I'm not one of Miss Kaoru's laundry piles."

Kenshin laughed, but Sano wasn't amused. "Have some pride, Kenshin! You're a warrior."

"A wanderer," came the correction. "And Miss Kaoru is kind to look after this one, that she is."

Sano flinched; the assistant master's name was like a black splinter working into his heart. "So why aren't you over there?"

"The dojo is empty. Miss Kaoru and Yahiko are staying with Dr. Gensai. There is no one to guard tonight."

Sano blinked his large, lovely eyes. He'd never thought of Kenshin in the capacity of guard before. So while they sleep, you're perched on your pallet, listening, naked blade shining in reach. I should have known. I should have been helping you. Censured, he mumbled, "What were you looking for me for?"

Kenshin didn't answer right away. Instead, he held a cup of lavender tea to Sano's lips. Sano drank deep and felt himself sobering in the moments afterward. The silence stretched on.

When Kenshin spoke, Sano couldn't identify the emotions that held sway over his words. "This one… is needing… someone who understands. The Kamiya Kasshin style is noble… but you… Sano, you've seen blood spilled. Taken life. This one can pretend to be gentle… but sometimes…"

Sano saw his long, pale fingers clench in darkness. The movement mirrored the way his own fingers had clutched at the drinking bowl, grasping desperately, seeking any handhold. Scars shined on those hands, fine as spider-webbing and silver in moonlight. "You want to be who you really are," Sano said, sitting up. His jacket slipped off of one shoulder, but he didn't notice, focused on the man at his side.

"Hai. This one is needing… somewhere to break, Sano."

"Break?" The word sounded utterly foreign from Kenshin, but Sano saw his fine trembling. We ask you to be so much. The hero that no one really sees.

Kenshin's eyes were lowered when Sano spoke again. "Kenshin… Kenshin, there is a place."

Violet eyes, depths shining with silver, settled on his face. "…hai…?"

Sano opened his arms and drew the samurai into them. "Here. Here with me."

Kenshin's lissome form shuddered at the sudden contact, but he clung to Sano, fingers tangling in the white silk of his tunic. Sano swallowed hard. He felt the heat coming off of Kenshin's body. He didn't run. Should I… could I do that? And then he gave up on questions and pressed a sweet, lingering kiss to Kenshin's forehead.

Kenshin sighed with his entire body, and that sigh became a name lifting from his lips. "Sano…"

Heat flashed through the younger man's face, then he paled, his cheeks all the colors of the cherry blossom. "Kenshin… I'm sorry." He turned his face away to wait for the words that would banish him from his best friend's side forever. He heard Kenshin's words from before, "…back to the underworld…" At least there would be work waiting for him.

"This one would not be sorry, Sano." His words were as soft as thistledown, and Sano had to turn back, had to strain to hear words that he couldn't initially accept. "If it's what you want."

Eyes the color of forest earth widened and brightened, and Sano was hauling Kenshin into his arms, one hand coming to cup his chin and lift his face. "Yes," those eyes said, and then their mouths were joined.

Sano kissed hungrily, aching for deeper contact and moaning into Kenshin's mouth. The samurai slid down under the pressure of his need, hands thrown behind him to cushion his head. Sano came down over him, his lean and hungry body dwarfing the red head's smaller frame. His mouth opened just a little, and Sano probed into the hot, tight circle of his lips. Kenshin moaned at the sweet intrusion and his callused hands framed the former fighter-for-hire's face, fingers tangling in his hair. He shifted to allow Sano better access to his mouth and heard him gasp with pleasure.

Yet, even as he burned for the man in his arms, a feverish flush high in his cheeks, Kenshin held back. "This one can give you so little, Sano."

Sano pulled back in surprise. Just to touch you… it's so much more than I dreamed. Kenshin… "I don't want any more than this." His voice was a low growl, rough with need.

Kenshin lay quiet for a moment, regarding the man he was about to make his lover. "Sano, once it would have been an honor to lie with this one. In this new age, there is no honor that I can give you." His unworldly eyes rested on his partner's face. Can you accept that? they asked. Am I enough for you?

Sano's chuckle seemed to lighten the darkness. "You think too much." He slipped out of his jacket and turned so that Kenshin could see his naked back. The character for "wicked" glittered there in ink. "Told you I couldn't get rid of it. It's not honor I'm here for, idiot. It's for you. Thought you'd realize that eventually. I know Missie and the others think I'm not too bright. It's probably true. But I'd never fail you, Kenshin. You can be whatever you need to be with me." He winked. "I think I can even handle all that Battousai strength of yours." He gripped Kenshin's hand with strong fingers, anchoring him, promising his strength. "If you need me to care for you, I will. I know I could please you. If you need something to do with all that power you have, you can bring it to me. I can take it. And if it's just for tonight," he shrugged, though his eyes dimmed, "then I can take that, too."

Kenshin had never been given so much, and he had never needed it more. The circle of Sano's arms became the world he'd been looking for, the safe place that his past had always barred him from. He pulled the younger man to him, hands running up and down the satiny skin that covered his strong shoulders, his ribs. Sano all but purred under his touch. He leaned down until their faces practically touched, until they were breathing the same air, eyes locked. Anything, those eyes said to Kenshin. You can do anything you want to me. Kenshin stroked his back, bringing them into deeper contact as Sano moaned under his touch. His hands memorized muscle, learning the body he'd hungered for through touch.

Sano's eyes closed, lashes touching his cheek. His voice became low, and he spoke as a man inside of a dream. "When I was lying on that pallet, healing after that first fight with you, I wanted you to lay down beside me. I wanted to beg you to hold me. But I'd already lost so much to you… I couldn't risk that you'd say no."

Kenshin's laughter was lovely in the dark, chiming like small bronze bells. "This one belonged to you, even then. This one can sense chi – did you not think this one could direct it, too? This one's spirit was ever at your side, Sanosuke."

The sound of his full name off of that tongue made Sano sigh into his neck with pleasure. Lifting his head, he kissed down the terrible lines of the scar that covered Kenshin's cheek. Kenshin lifted a hand to his face. "No one has ever…"

Sano tortuously traced the scar with his tongue. "I want it all, Kenshin. All of you."

But even with those words in his mouth, he kept distance between them. Kenshin noticed his restraint even as the fighter's tongue delved in his mouth. When they broke apart, he smiled. "Sano, do you think this one is so weak as to break under your need?"

Sano laughed, thinking of how easily Kenshin had defeated him and his zabato. You freed me from that ancient sword and from a life I only thought I wanted until I saw you for the first time. "No, I don't think you'll shatter." But his grin had mischief in it. "My need's pretty big, though."

Kenshin's nimble fingers worked beneath the waistband of his silky pants to trace his hip. "Sano…"

The battousai…my battousai… begging?

Sano relinquished the space he'd kept between them and thrust against the smaller man, pushing his need into his hand. "This is much better," Kenshin's laughing voice came through the darkness. "That it is." Gripping Sano's naked shoulder, he welcomed the body pressing down on him. "Sagara Sanosuke…" he murmured in admiration. "This one wonders if you know how very beautiful you are."

Sano was in no position to form a coherent answer. He worked his hands into Kenshin's autumn-bright hair, wanting to feel it spread in silken waves over his fingers, over his body. He tugged at the ribbon holding the tresses back. "Let me?"

Kenshin nodded and gave over the intimate gesture to Sano's clever fingers.

It was the unleashing of something for both of them.

As Kenshin's bright mane came tumbling down over his shoulders, his body surged into Sano's arms. Sano's hands came down – those fighter's hands, scarred and rough – to struggle with the slippery folds of Kenshin's kimono. When the fabric became stubborn, he bared his teeth, making Kenshin howl with laughter. His amusement made him even harder to undress, but Sano was persistent, and was finally rewarded with the sight of his naked chest. He gleamed, the color of white roses under moonlight. Reverent in his motions, Sano slowly traced from his collarbone to his chest, delighting in the softness of the skin and the hard muscle underneath. Kenshin whimpered at the touch. So sensitive, thought Sano, how all of those wounds must have hurt you…

The samurai's hands encircled him, trying to touch, but Sano gently laid them over his head. "Let me. This is for you."

Where his fingers had gone, his lips followed, tongue dipping just below the fabric of the hakama, teasing. Kenshin moaned as he retraced his course, licking a sweet trail from navel to chest, then circling a peaked nipple. Sano saw those pale, lovely fingers search for something to hold onto and moaned himself as Kenshin arched prettily, rubbing need against need.

"I want to draw this out," he said huskily, "to keep seeing you look like that for me. But I think you said something about needing somewhere to break, hai?"

He tugged at the sash holding Kenshin's pants about his waist. As the hakama fell away, Sano gasped. As the dark haired youth lowered his head to take him, without warning, deep within his throat, Kenshin screamed.

Sweet, Sano thought at the first preliminary taste, molten honey.

He sucked him slowly, enjoying the feel of velvet flesh over hard need, learning every curve and contour of the former hitokiri's weapon. Kenshin bucked and writhed, attuned to his every motion, hips and shoulders twisting against the pallet. He struggled to find his voice and form words, breath sounding like a sob in his throat. "Sano… please… undress. This one wants to see you."

"This one?" Sano asked, voice playful. "Still the rurouni? Even in my bed?" He dipped his head, circling Kenshin's hard cock while watching his face.

"I want to see you. Sano, please."

"Good. I wanted Himura Kenshin in my bed. I've waited so long to see you drop all those damned shields in your eyes."

Kenshin panted, still recovering from his ministrations. "…were never for you… for the others… please, Sano!"

Responding to the need he heard in Kenshin's voice, Sano obliged, stripping quickly. He knelt again, this time between Kenshin naked thighs. "Put your hands in my hair," he told his lover. "You can show me how you want me to take care of you." He smiled. "If I do something you don't like, pull."

And even as Kenshin began to pant under him, making sounds that threatened his sanity, Sano was left to wonder how he'd become overwhelmed so quickly. He knew that Kenshin could feel it, the slippery heat dripping from between his legs, the way he pulsed every time Kenshin said his name.

But this isn't for me, he reminded himself, trying to counsel his body into numbness, or at least a reduced need. It's for him. To give him a place where he feels safe to feel again. He gave the samurai his hand, offering to anchor him. Kenshin's eyes flashed open gratefully and his lips shaped themselves around his name.

But Kenshin was holding back, just as Sano had. His trembling had long passed into hard shaking as Sano worked him with his mouth. Wound up tighter and tighter, he just couldn't let go. All that death, all that blood… They loomed before him, those dark memories, becoming real, making Sano and all of his gentleness a phantom.

"You came here to break," came a low growl. The memories receded before the power of Sano's voice.

I remember that voice. The same one he used when he came toward me – so fast! – with the zanbato…

Sano was staring into his eyes, hand wrapped tight around his cock. "You think I can't see how close you are? You're safe here, Kenshin. You can let go." You can ask me for anything.

Kenshin's body surged up and he threw his arms around him. "Sano, make me forget! The blood, the screams. Drive it all out. This body, used so long for war… for killing. I want to be more than a weapon, Sano. Please."

Sano covered him, gave him his warmth. Long, lean, and shaped by years of fighting, he gave him his strength. As he covered him, hands beneath, exploring, preparing, he bit his lip, distracting him with the mingled pain and pleasure of a biting kiss. Kenshin wrapped his legs around Sano's hips, offering access, begging to be taken.

Sano gasped at the wantonness of the invitation, the directness of his need. "I don't want to hurt you…"

"When I fought you, Sano, I hurt you. The pain is not what I'll remember from this night. Do you want me to beg?"

Sano positioned himself, heard the urgency in the pronoun that Kenshin never used. He positioned himself. "Kenshin… you said there wouldn't be honor," He pushed into him, groaning, enveloped. "But it is an honor….ahhhh…."

Their cries mingled, Kenshin's becoming higher, sweeter, and more desperate as Sano pounded into him, forced him to exist in the present, to feel all that they were together. No space existed between their bodies; there was simply no room for dark memories, no room for ghosts.

Sano gripped him again, holding himself up with one hand. "Give me all you are," he pleaded, stroking faster. "Show me how it looks when a hitokiri lets go."

Kenshin's teeth clenched; his pixie face was contorted with pleasure, with holding back a scream. The muscles of his throat were pulled taut.

"Give it to me," Sano insisted again, thrusting harder. "Kenshin…"

The willowy fighter arched, abdomen clenching, hair thrown back in the suddenness of his motions. Sano felt himself drawn deeper inside, felt the complete and terrible shuddering, felt scalding heat splash over his skin. And then his body was answering the release Kenshin had found and he heard his voice screaming, over and over, Kenshin's name.

A haze of cherry blossoms stole his vision, and he drifted down through warmth and pale colors, falling down and down and down, just as he had under the blow of the reverse blade sword.

But this time, welcoming arms were there to catch him, surround him, and hold him tight, even as Kenshin spoke sweet praise-words into his dark hair.

Recovering, the fighter searched his partner's eyes. They were shining, a purer, softer color than he remembered before. "Sano…"

"Feel better?" he asked with a smile, willing to know nothing beyond the moment, to demand nothing.

Teasing himself, Kenshin gave a version of his particular verbal trill, looking sensual and wrecked. "Orrooooo."

Sano ruffled his mussed hair. "Good." He cleaned the two of them with a stray bit of clothing and curled up beside the samurai, covering them both. "Now, no bad dreams, hai?"

Kenshin kissed him in answer, and settled himself against his chest, Sano's heartbeat beneath his ear.

The next morning Sano watched as Kenshin dressed and prepared to return to the dojo. "I'll be over tonight," he said. "From now on, I'm going to help you keep watch over there."

Kenshin gave a disarmingly oblivious look. "Oro?"

Sano swatted at him. "Don't play with me. It'll give you a chance to rest. And if you need a break, I'll be nearby." Always. Whether you need me or not.

Kenshin gave him a look full of promises. "This one will be waiting for you, Sano."