A series of moments showcasing Sanosuke and Kenshin's changing feelings.
Disclaimer: I make no money off of this and intend no copyright infringement.
Strand I: Flame-Touched
The spring wind, newborn, stirred the dark, unruly strands of his hair and toyed with the red tails of his bandana. The caress of wind across his brow called him back to himself. He opened his dark, lovely eyes and blinked slowly and remembered that he had lost. Bruised and broken, he lay very still, breathing shallowly and pretending to feel nothing. He found himself strangely unable to mourn who he had been.
A line of fire caught his eye.
It was a single strand of autumn-burnt hair caught on the hilt of his zanbato, a relic he'd been unable to give up. He stretched his fingers toward it and felt a dozen muscles scream beneath his skin. Slowly, he wound the hair around his fingers and wished that he could keep it, make it a lifeline to replace the life the slender samurai had struck down.
But he won't go, won't wander until I say he can. He studied the blazing strand. I don't need this. I can see his face.
He released the strand into the wind and imagined it finding its way into a bird's nest to burn and shine.
Strand II: Caught
He fell forward and a slash of moonlight gave brilliance to his bruises and silvered his blood. He closed his eyes against the moonlight, and against the pain. The wind rose as Kenshin's arms rose to catch him, as if the former samurai had summoned the breeze to comfort the man he had broken with his blade. The wind stirred Kenshin's hair and the moonlight stole its blood-bright coloring. Himura Kenshin was a ghost, the gentle wraith of the man who had dealt him pain, come now to suffer for causing it. He regrets, thought Sanosuke, and I hurt for him. Sano felt the strands of his friend's mane touch his face. "Thank you, Ken…shin…" He breathed in the cinnamon and apples smell of the gentle warrior, and felt Kenshin's tears on his skin.
Strand III: Anchored by Threads of Fire
A veil had been drawn between him and the rest of the world; images, even feelings, came dim, barely formed, and were then whisked away. And yet, just beyond the vapors and the mists and the sudden flares of pain that made him reluctant to seek a world less full of ghosts –there was flame. Steady and constant, something burned just beyond his sight, something that called life to his body and called him to fight to keep his spirit safe within its mortal house. Once, his name came falling down like still-bright ash, and the voice that named him spoke as if casting a spell of healing, but spoke, too, as if tortured. He thought words that did not seem to belong to his own mind: And the stake you're bound to… is me.
He found he wanted to drift, even if it meant the burning-that-was-Kenshin went beyond the horizon, diminishing, slipping away into the west. The wound was too deep. A shard had lodged within him, sharp and glinting like the eyes of the Wolf of Mibu, and he wanted to fall away into some place where he couldn't hold a wound, where no scars could mark him, no splinters of metal dig through flesh and vein and find only weakness and deliver him into pain. Let me go. Words he'd never say in life, he spoke them to the spirit of the only man he'd loved in the long years since Sagara Sōzō's death: Sweet swordsman, let me go.
Kenshin lay over the fight merchant's long body, one hand covering – hiding, denying – the bandaged wound where Saitoh's blade had struck home. The fine strands of his hair – gone tawny in the dying light – fell against the fighter's skin and shined there in defiance of blood, and loss, and the ending of the day. Blazing lifelines, they glowed overbright in contrast to Sano's bloodless face. Kenshin sought Sano's fingers and braided the limp digits with his own. Hold on. My friend, my heart, stay.
Because he knew – even in the shadowed lands between living and dying – that to refuse was to send Kenshin back to that life they both knew too well, a life given over to vengeance and blood, a place past caring for one's own life, he paused at the edge of leaving. Sagara Sanosuke could have renounced many things, but he couldn't give Kenshin over to exile in darkness, nor exist, himself, without the samurai's fiery light in his life.
Strand IV: Joined at the Soul
He journeyed from darkness to darkness and knew himself for awake only by the separate, countless, searing pains. Kenshin shined before him; he had held his vigil for days, never breaking his silence, unmoving, waiting to see light return to Sano's eyes. The fighter gasped, unable to keep from giving voice to the pain that ruled him. Kenshin was at his side without having seemed to move; his fighter's grace carried him across the room and he settled over Sano without a sound, their faces only inches apart.
Speaking that name – his name – he knew that he would live, that he wanted to live to say it again, to repeat it, even, over and over again to himself, tasting of dragonfruit drawn through fire, sweet and burning on his tongue.
Face shining white in the darkness, eyes silvered, Kenshin said nothing – only stared as if to memorize his pain-worn features, the way his face managed to be both battered and impossibly gentle at once.
Though it took all the strength he had and left him hollow, Sano raised his arms and brought the fighter down upon him more firmly. As if in answer to a wish he had not voiced, Kenshin's hair fell free of the leather thong that held it back and came swinging in a bright arc around his face. They were curtained from the world, enclosed by a wall of autumn roses, a ring of impossible color and softness. Sano breathed deep and tasted cinnamon.
Kenshin did not speak of revenge or fear of loss, or of the moment he had felt Sano's spirit chime against his and felt his soul sing in answer, announcing what they now both knew. You belong to me.
Their mouths met and the bond formed that night when Kenshin had gone to the door of the dojo in answer to a challenge was consecrated in the act. Still lapped at by the dark waters of pain and exhaustion, Sano drew away first, eyes soft. The bond was true, and would hold until he could try its strength.
"Rest, that you should," Kenshin told him, brushing a hand over his cheek. "This one will keep watch."
Sano tangled his fingers in his hair, drew a few strands across his lips. "I've never needed something to hold on to," he said, the growl of his voice lessened by pain. "But, Kenshin…"
Kenshin heard the words he did not speak: please, don't ever let go.
Kenshin sought out his fingers and squeezed. "This one will not lose you, Sanosuke, not ever again."
Breathing the slow, even breaths of a rest without fear, Sano drifted to sleep. Kenshin stayed at his side, cradling his dark head. Even in deepest sleep, the clasp of the fighter's fingers never loosened. Between their clasped hands, a single strand of bright hair glittered.
Author's note: In case it isn't clear, the four scenes correspond to these parts of the story:
Following the fight with Kenshin that Sano is hired for
Following the second fight (from the anime) involving Katsu and the bomb plot
and 4. Following Saitoh's wounding of Sano
I've thought of carrying on this little series, past the Kyoto arc – thoughts? Reviews welcome.