The Cut Sleeve
Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin, nor do I make any money off of my dabbling.
Disclaimer 2: This story depicts a male-male relationship.
Sano puts a new twist on a very ancient tradition (which is Chinese, but was adopted into Japanese culture. See: Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan by Gary Leupp.)
"Emperor Ai was famous for being the most effusive of ten homosexual emperors of the Han Dynasty. Traditional historians characterized the relationship between Emperor Ai and Dong Xian as one between homosexual lovers and referred to their relationship as "the passion of the cut sleeve" (斷袖之癖) after a story that one afternoon after falling asleep for a nap on the same bed, Emperor Ai cut off his sleeve rather than disturb the sleeping Dong Xian when he had to get out of bed." – Encyclopedia entry, "Emperor Ai."
The ancient seamstress looked up at him with wide, dark eyes. Sano saw his smirking face reflected in their impossible depths, and held back a chuckle when he thought that the wizened creature, with her head tilted to the side, looked just like a ruffled owl. The owl and the rooster, he thought, and his smile grew wider.
"A sleeve?" she repeated. She reached up with gnarled fingers to tug at white silk that ended at his wrist. "Are you planning on losing one, lad?"
Sano threw back his head, indulging in, delighting in, the laughter that welled up through him and rushed his lips. When the last chuckle had lifted from him like a golden bubble, he was able to shape a single, delighted word. "Yes!"
As the gentle-eyed guardian of the Kamiya dojo, Himura Kenshin rarely slept through the night. He woke often to softly pad down the hallways and circle the moonlit property. Standing in the dark, he would stretch his chi, and – gratefully – feel no threat brushing against him, no shadow out of his past hovering at the edge of his senses.
This time it was not his internal alarms that woke him, signaling the need for another circuit around the building in which his friends peacefully slept. Something did brush against him, stirring his spirit, but it held no darkness and bore no taint. This spirit was familiar, even comforting in its strength, and he slept on unafraid.
Kenshin woke to see the fabric glimmering in the darkness. Without giving into full wakefulness, full movement, he stretched his fingers toward the soft glow. He curled his fingers around the softness, then flinched at the feel of something hard underneath the silk. He unfolded the white fabric, edged in black, and revealed a stone. Though crude, the stone was polished and heart-shaped, and it had a glow softer than that of the silk. Its coloring was a mixture of pinks and browns, and at the core was a fiery vein the color of his hair. The youth's spirit clung to the stone. Your heart wrapped in a cut sleeve… Sano… And Kenshin knew where he had to go.
He found the former fighter-for-hire stretched out on his pallet, customary jacket discarded. As Kenshin stood before him in the moonlight, he saw Sano's chest begin to rise and fall faster, but his voice was jaunty as ever when he said, "Your eyes don't look dangerous."
Kenshin's lips moved, shaped themselves around his name, but he didn't speak. He held the sleeve in his hands.
"Did I surprise you?" Sano asked, eyes gleaming, voice rumbling up from his chest
"Not a bad trick for one lifetime, surprising the Battousai."
"I like the sound of my name in your mouth," said the fighter. He was lovely in his stillness. Moonlight splayed pale fingers across his chest, his abdomen. To Kenshin's eyes no silver glow could ever rival the beauty of warm and living flesh and he heard his breath catch.
"No one ever takes risks for me, Sano."
Sano knew it was significant that Kenshin had used the word "me."
Drawing him closer with his eyes, Sano extended his long fingers and felt them clasped. "I'd risk hell to touch you."
A single graceful motion brought the lissome swordsman to his knees. Sano turned onto his side to look up at him; the expression on his face was incredibly soft, making him seem younger than he was. Kenshin reached forward and nudged his bandanna back into place. As he drew his hand away, his fingers trailed down Sano's cheek.
The urgency was there, a bright current flashing between them, sparking and sparkling with an alien heat. Yet, in that moment, both men marveled how the closeness of friendship remained, untouched. Fingers twined, each had the same thought: You still feel just like my best friend. It was Kenshin who first broke the silence, and there was wonder in his voice. "H-how How long?"
The younger man let his eyes close, long, dark lashes gleaming on his cheeks. He made as if to speak, but his own vulnerability overwhelmed him. "Kenshin…" The former samurai had never heard his name spoken that way. In those two syllables, Sano managed to speak his need and his struggle against it, his fear of ruining a friendship unlooked for, so rare and so precious, and the depth of his love. Just as he'd had no choice but to answer the gift of the heart in the sleeve, Kenshin was compelled to lean down and touch his lips to the fighter's forehead.
"Sano, this one is grateful that you thought him worthy of your heart." He folded himself into the younger man's waiting embrace. He placed a hand on his chest, over his heart. "This one will protect it, always."
Sano smiled, knowing that his greatest gamble had been a successful one. And though he could not offer the former Battousai protection, his shining eyes assured him that his life would never again be without love.