Disclaimer: Kenshin, his fun world and amazing friends are all the brain children of Nobuhiro Watsuki. They don't belong to me and I certainly make no profit from them. I have fun torturing them though :)

The Cost of Protection

A Rurouni Kenshin Story

Chapter One: A Fated Meeting

"Kenshin! Behind you!"

Kaoru's voice was shrill with the urgency of the call. Sanosuke dodged the fist flying toward his left shoulder and neatly flipped the man who threw it behind him even as he swiveled mid-battle to get an eye on Kenshin. The man was like a red-haired wind storm blowing through a battle field, opponents scattered like so many fall leaves on the ground behind him. Even as Sano watched, the rurouni used the momentum of one of his frontal attackers to take down the two men who were intent on attacking his back.

Sanosuke grunted as he looked back to one of his own foes in time to block the kick aimed for his belly. The young man plowed his fist into the man's knee and listened with no little satisfaction as he howled in pain before dropping to the ground grasping his leg. Spinning out of another attack, Sano quickly dodged his way back to his position at Kenshin's back. It was where he belonged in a battle after all. He saw Kenshin cast a brief appreciative smile and returned the favor before launching back into an attack on their opponents.

Kaoru and Yahiko stood off to the side of the large mansion's courtyard. Each of them had a wooden sword in hand, though it wouldn't be hard to see that Yahiko was putting more energy into taking down those few thugs that strayed toward them. Kaoru only had eyes for Kenshin. The object of the search that spawned this fight was quivering behind two big bodyguards, cornered against one of the very tall stone walls of the courtyard.

The name of the man they had spent the better part of two days hunting down was Nobu. Nobu was reputed to have been kidnapping people, specifically people of desired looks or skill sets, and holding them in his home for his own purposes. A form of slavery, but no selling involved. There was no doubt that the man was involved in worse things than that, but it was that charge that had brought Kenshin and his friends charging in.

Specifically when Tae from the Akebeko had gone missing two days before and Nobu's men had suddenly been bragging about the gorgeous and talented new chef the mansion had just "acquired."

Tae and the others that had been taken around Tokyo and beyond could be seen even now peeking through a basement barred window into the courtyard. Eyes on the battle being waged by the Kenshingummi against Nobu's not-so-small hired gang.

"I swear I've fought you jokers before!" Sanosuke bellowed as he backhanded yet another on comer. "You guys just drift from one lousy ass bodyguard job to another or what?"

It was true, he'd fought a number of these men before in various situations around Tokyo. And beat 'em all too. Amazing what stupidity people would sink to for money. Sano spun a kick at yet another man and was aware of Kenshin leaving his back again. Kenshin did that usually when he spied a stronger foe. Tended to leave the cannon fodder to Sanosuke. Not that Sano minded – much – as long as he was involved in the fight.

The hired gang, or what was left of them, closed in on Sanosuke, rather making it easier for him to take out more men at a time. The last of them fell and Sanosuke turned to find his red headed friend again. This time, he was engaged in a verbal match with the last standing of Nobu's to bodyguards. The other had quite obviously all ready been dispatched. Kenshin's look was determined. "If you will just let this one take care of your charge, you may leave. You know what is being done here is wrong."

The man smiled, a vicious thing. He stood taller than Kenshin, but not much above Sanosuke himself. His clothing covered him well, but it was easy to see he was muscular. The weapon he held before him was unusual though, looking like a twin set of wooden batons. "Don't matter to me if he's right or wrong, what matters is that he pays. You take him, I don't get paid."

Yahiko growled from their side of the court, a selection of fallen bodies scattered around him as well. "Are you stupid? Didn't you just see what Kenshin did to the rest of your buddies? Give up all ready!"

The man sneered, "I ain't like this other lot. I actually have some skills. And I plan on usin' them!"

Kenshin's look was serious. He repositioned his sakabato before him and said. "If it must be this way, then it must."

Wooden bat man took this as his cue and launched a flurry of multi-strike moves at Kenshin. And, Kenshin being Kenshin looked to deflect most if not all of them. Sure, the guy had some skills, but he was nothing on Kenshin. Sanosuke turned his attention form the fight and instead watched as the owner of this slave house tried to slink away during the action. Sanosuke grinned grimly as he sprinted over fallen men across the courtyard and half pounced on the evil little man. Nobu squealed as Sano lifted him by the back of his shirt and held him in place until Kenshin finished his fight.

As for that, Sano was impressed to see Kenshin pull out his flying sword technique on such a guy. But the bodyguard was not so sturdy as Sano himself and as the blunt side of the sakabato struck the back of his head, the man fell with out so much as a grunt.

Kaoru ran to Kenshin nearly before his opponent hit the ground, Yahiko hot on her heels. Kenshin himself nodded to Sanosuke, aware that he had caught the coward. The group made their way over to the ex-gangster and his charge. Sano smiled wickedly. "So, you gonna give us your cell key now? Doesn't matter if you do or don't, I can knock down the door on my own. Might be easier for you if you do though."

Kenshin shook his head. "It would be better to have the key," eying Sano, he briefly raised an eyebrow, "This one would prefer to see those held within remain unhurt."

Nobu turned his head back and for the between Sanosuke and Kenshin, his beady little eyes wide with horror. "Of... of course, you won't hurt me will you?"

Nobu dug into his pocket and pulled out the key in question, dropping it into Kenshin's hand. Sanosuke growled into his ear as he did this. "We'll only hurt you as much as you hurt those people you took."

It was not much of a surprise to Sanosuke to see the man's eyes roll into his head as he passed out on the spot. Kenshin's hand closed on the key and he took the time to offer Sano a half amused, half scolding look as he darted into the mansion.

Releasing the people Nobu had taken was both a joyous and tearful affair. Sanosuke stood with his back against a far wall and watched the twelve people who had been captured, both men and women, each fall all over themselves to thank Kenshin for his wonderful deed. Kenshin was humble in receiving his praise, but did nothing to stop them. He understood, as Sano did, that they needed someone to thank. Sano was just more than happy to step out of the way and let Kenshin take that praise.

Kenshin deserved it more anyway.

There was one older woman though, who had been captured, who stood off to the side as well. The group of them, including prisoners, Nobu, and the hired gang that hadn't fled were all taken down to the police station. Statements were made and and those who deserved it were jailed. The Kenshin group were all content to see those people wind their way home, many for the first time in weeks. The emotional hug between Kaoru and Tae was particularity tearful as they waved the woman off on her way back to her restaurant and family.

That left only the older woman standing with them.

And Kenshin did what he was best at, looking after others. "Is there somewhere we can help you go?"

The woman was rotund, and homely. Any other woman of her age would have been called grandmotherly, but this woman's face lacked the maternal warmth for that. Gray eyes glittered back at Kenshin. "I'm happy for your help, but I've no place to go for the night, you see. I had hoped I could impose upon your household for a meal and a bed for the night. Perhaps I can offer you an appropriate reward for your good deeds today."

Kenshin smiled graciously at the woman, eyes closed in that fake look of his. "This one does not need or require a reward but..."

At this point Kaoru stepped up beside him and interrupted. "But you are more than welcome to spend the night in my home. I'm Kaoru, by the way, this is Kenshin, the loud one there is Yahiko, and the rooster head is Sanosuke. Who are you?"

The older woman smiled, and they were given to a display of very few teeth in her maw. "I am called Shizuka, and I thank you for your utmost generosity."


Sanosuke found that the woman Shizuka gave him the heeby jeebies. She was creepy in the way she stared at each of them like she could look right through them. She was creepy about her demand to cook dinner (all though the food had been very good, even he had said so) and she was creepy in the way she was watching Megumi fuss over Kenshin's bruises from the fight. Apparently that guard had gotten in a few hits to Kenshin's torso.

"Dear Ken-san, look at what has been done to your beautiful body! It will of course require but a few salves to be rubbed on these bruises. I will be more than happy to do that for you."

Kenshin blushed slightly under Megumi's open flirting. "They are only bruises, Megumi-dono, this one is fine as he is."

Megumi grinned that foxy grin of hers, especially as Kaoru 's face looked ever more like a thunder head over this treatment of her Kenshin. "Oh, but as your doctor I must insist that this gets rubbed in, Ken-san. Nice and slow."

Sanosuke could feel the tiniest of smiles tugging at his lips, despite the creepy woman. The fox lady played these mind games with Kaoru so well, it was funny sometimes. And when Kenshin got that 'caught in the middle' look to go with it, it made it better. In a moment, he would do something to save Kenshin, but not yet.

"No, no, Megumi-dono, this one is capable of rubbing the salve on himself if you think it is required..."

And then Shizuka moved. The old woman climbing to her feet with surprising nimbleness. She suddenly asked to the room at large, "If there was one thing you could wish for while your Kenshin-kun is in battle, what would it be?"

There was a moment of stunned silence in the room. No one was quite sure where the question had come from let alone how to answer it. Sanosuke upgraded his creepy meter on the woman. Kaoru on the other hand, gathered herself to answer. "I would wish that he would be safe and... not suffer any injuries for doing good."

The old woman's gray eyes pinned Kaoru. "No injuries at all?"

"Well, certainly none if it could be helped. But, its not as though that will ever happe..."

"Would you offer your Kenshin this protection at any cost?"

Kaoru blushed, "Of course I would!"

At the same time Kenshin tried to interrupt, "Mah, mah... this is all hypothetical. "

The old woman met Kenshin's eyes. "I can do this for you. Grant you immunity to all injuries."

Kenshin's eyes narrowed. "This is an impossible thing that you offer. At what cost would you plan on offering it?"

The old woman smiled her toothless smile. "I told you I would reward you for your good deed. Your reward shall be immunity and good health, which should please you and these lovely young women. Who here do you not need to protect?"

Kenshin blinked at Shizuka for the seemingly sudden change of topic. "This one would protect all of his friends."

"Certainly," the old woman allowed, "but who among them do you not need to protect?"

Kenshin eyed the woman for a long moment, as though trying to see through her as well. "Sano is more than capable of looking after himself."

And then the old woman turned her attention on him for the first time all night. Sanosuke just restrained himself from swallowing the lump that popped up in his throat. The woman eyed him up and down as though weighing a piece of meat. Sanosuke upped the creepy meter another notch even as some little alarm began sounding in the back of his head.

"I see he is strong. And Sanosuke, would you offer this protection to your friend at any cost?"

Kenshin spoke up abruptly. "This one wishes no cost to be taken of any of my friends for any sort of protection."

But the old woman's eyes never left Sanosuke. The young man's lips thinned into a small frown. "I would."

She grinned again, all gums and homely features. "So be it."

Turning on her heel, Shizuka knelt with the same agility that she stood with, firmly placing herself between Kenshin and Megumi. Kenshin, began backing up, protesting, but she quickly laid her hands on the bruised flesh of Kenshin's torso and whispered something low and a little too much like some witchy incantation for Sanosuke's tastes.

The group all watched, enthralled by this strange performance. Sanosuke was so engrossed, that when he abruptly felt something like a static shock hit him in his chest, he grunted not in pain, but in surprise. Kenshin had loosed a small yelp at the same moment, and so all attention was drawn to him and not the ex-street thug. Sanosuke took only a moment to rub at the spot, but his attention was quickly riveted back to Shizuka and Kenshin.

The bruises were fading away beneath her fingers.

The entire company stared in no little awe as the old woman stood and stepped back, surveying her work. Megumi choked even as her own fingers darted out to dance across Kenshin's now perfect flesh. "But, that's not possible. Wounds do not just disappear!"

Shizuka nodded sagely. "There are more types of magic in this world than your science will ever explain, child. From now until you call me forth again, your Kenshin shall be immune to illness and injury. This is my gift to you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am an old woman and I will retire to my room now."

"Wait!" Kaoru called out, hand out toward the fast leaving back of the old woman. "Why would we call you back to take this gift away?"

The old woman stopped and with out turning around she started laughing, something closer to a cackle. "You will see child, you might or might not call me again."

With that she left the room and left its occupants to marvel over this strange turn of events. Megumi's eyes were narrow with contemplation. "It just is not possible, medically. It isn't."

Yahiko grinned. "Honestly, Megumi-san, if she really has made it so Kenshin won't get hurt anymore, are you going to complain?"

Megumi shook her head, long tresses swaying. "If it were possible I would kiss her toes. I certainly have enough on my hands keeping the rooster healthy. But, it just is NOT possible!"

Kaoru smiled happily. "I don't know who or what she is, but I think she's telling the truth. The bruising is gone! Is the pain gone too, Kenshin?"

Kenshin's own eyes were narrowed, as though he smelled a flaw in this plan. "This one is feeling none of the pain that he was. In old wounds and in new."

Kaoru clapped her hands together in delight. "Then, you see? She is telling the truth. Oh, Kenshin, it would be wonderful if you really will never be hurt again! Imagine all the good you can do for so many people if your invincible? I... why do you look so unhappy?"

Megumi growled. "Because magic does not exist."

Kenshin eyed her briefly before saying, "Because even if such a magic does exist, Shizuka-dono spent too much time talking about cost for this one to think that such a gift comes with no consequences."

Yahiko snorted. "From where I'm sitting, I don't see any downsides! You should test it out!"

Kenshin shook his head. "True or not, this one would prefer to exercise his usual caution."

Sanosuke grunted. "Ya know Kenshin, if your feeling good, that's what counts. I'd take it at face value on this one."

Kenshin scowled a moment longer. "Perhaps."

The ex-gangster took the last pull of the tea before him and shuffled himself to his feet. "Well, this has been fun all, but I'm gonna go have a few drinks and head home. I'll be back tomorrow, so you'd better have lunch ready for me. Until then, good luck with the creepy old woman."

With a wave of his hand, Sanosuke stepped outside and slid the shoji closed behind him. He walked out into the crisp evening air, sliding his shoes on, and walked out through the front gate. He was more than a block away from the dojo before he allowed himself to stop and gently press his forearm to his bandage wrapped torso.

He knew that when he took the bandages off, there would be a lovely set of bruises on his belly to match what had once been on Kenshin's. He knew that because he had felt the pain come on about when said bruises had disappeared from Kenshin.

Sanosuke grunted softly to himself. He had said he would afford Kenshin that protection at any cost. He just wondered how long he could keep that cost from the rurouni himself.

To be Continued.

Author's Note:

Yeah, I'm back at it again. And what am I up too? The same old same old! I'm not so certain there is much of a plot to this story. Most of the plot, if there is any, is laid down in this chapter (my apologies if you found it slow, I needed some sort of backdrop into this.) The point of this story I am not afraid to admit, is SANOSUKE WHUMPAGE :) And whump on him I will. What is whumping? Why torturing with love. And I do love to torture Sanosuke. I don't usually do the whole "magic" bit, but... well, for this particular form of whumpage I needed some sort of explanation. Creepy Old Woman filled the gap.

I think maybe some character study will come out of this as well, but causing pain to Sanosuke is the real goal.

Enjoy ;)