DISCLAIMER: I do not own nor will I ever own Rurouni Kenshin. I am making no profit from this and I will remove this if requested to do so for any legitimate reason.
WARNING: This story is rated R for violence, so if you do not like graphic depictions of people dying I suggest you find something else to read.
Author's notes: I suppose I should put in a little introductory note but I really can't say much other than this is my fourth attempted story. However it is only the second posted, if you want info on the others look at my information. This story is set after the manga although some details will have changed but nothing major, hopefully anyway. Read and review if you want, positive or negative I don't mind but if you have detailed comments on my style or problems in the story, email is probably the best way to tell me about them. Anyway just read and enjoy, again hopefully, four chapters posted at once to get you started, an unknown number to follow.
The Last Battle of the Bakumatsu
The Akabeko was bustling, as was the usual for this time of night. In amongst this sat a table of old friends who were taking the time to get reacquainted. Kenshin sipped his tea that had just been delivered by Tsubame and again she asked about Yahiko's whereabouts. He had been mysteriously absent for the past four weeks and was a notable absence from the gathering that now surrounded the former rurouni. There was also one other that was not present which seemed to leave a hole in the conversation but he had not been seen or heard from since he had fled the country five years ago.
Kenshin turned his attention to the people around him in silent contemplation. Across from him was Aoshi who also sat quietly drinking tea only interjecting in the conversation to say a few words. Usually this was only to correct the woman next to him. Misao was still as energetic as he remembered even if she had matured somewhat in the past few years. She was the focal point of the conversation as she tried to gain all the information on recent events as she could. Misao was mainly talking with Kaoru who was sitting beside him. Her energy was not nearly as great as that of Misao but that was to be expected after taking two classes at the dojo and looking after Kenji.
In between these two women sat Megumi with a sleepy Kenji in her lap. While she was paying attention to the conversation and even participating in it she looked far from interested. She mainly spent the evening entertaining Kenji as she watched events unfolding in front of her. She had returned to Tokyo only a few months ago with the sudden death of Dr Genzai and had stated that she would only stay until she could find someone to take over the clinic. That was proving more difficult than anticipated as the clinic only barely made enough money to stay open. Several doctors had come and gone with most only having a personal interest in Megumi rather than any professional interest in the clinic.
Much to Kenshin's amusement most of them had left just as quickly for two reasons. They either would find difficulty in Megumi's strength and independence or they could not match Megumi's scathing wit, which would be turned against them when their intentions had become clear. However Kenshin knew of only a few people who could match her and one of them was responsible for the incomplete feeling of this evening. Whenever this group was together there was always the battle of wits between Sano and Megumi that would last through the night. They would lighten the dull moments, lift the tension or even provide the entertainment as they constantly duelled. While it was missed Kenshin could see that it was affecting Megumi more than most.
The topic of the conversation shifted to why the two Oniwabanshu members were in Tokyo. Misao dismissed it as inconsequential business and it was left at that. While Kaoru was convinced Kenshin was not, especially since he knew that the pair had been leaving in the middle of the night and Aoshi had brought his kodachi. They had arrived a week ago with only one days warning and this was the first opportunity that they could all sit down together. Kenshin continued to act with his usual good nature while trying to discern as much as possible but had so far been unsuccessful. This was due to the fact that he hadn't been able to talk to Misao without Aoshi being present and any direct questions were quickly dismissed. Kenshin's major concern was that without Yahiko around and with his diminished abilities any trouble that came to the dojo could potentially be too much for them.
Just as he was thinking about trouble, a growing feeling of discontent in the pit of his stomach began to surface. To Kenshin it was a telltale sign that trouble was close and as if confirming his suspicion Aoshi started to look like he was noticing it as well. They both continued on, staying calm and hoping that it would pass without a need for them to get involved. Kenshin nodded and gave other signs of interest as Tae and Tsubame joined the conversation. Thankfully the Akabeko was empty and almost closed, as the evening had turned into night. The scuffing of running feet and the anguished cries of people running past the restaurant were the first signal of trouble. As the group sat in silence, waiting and listening to an equally silent street both Kenshin and Aoshi felt the unmistakable presence of battle auras.
Without hesitation the two men stood and hurried out to see what was occurring only storefronts down from the Akabeko. They paused just outside the doorway letting their eyes adjust to the dark night. By the time they had the remaining members of the group had joined them. Aoshi took the lead walking on the left side of the street. Misao followed on his far side with Kenshin and Kaoru walking down the middle. Megumi trailed slightly behind with Kenji in her arms. She and the two Akabeko waitresses stayed close to the shadows of the right side of the road wanting to watch but not wanting to be seen. As the shapes and details became clear they all froze, some with fear and horror others with disbelief and anger.
This scene was not unfamiliar to Kenshin but that had been fifteen years ago in Kyoto. He was now in Tokyo in the Meiji era and while violence was not uncommon this was. Six men stood surrounding a man and woman who had been backed up into the closed doorway of a shop. Of the six men, Kenshin could only see one who could possibly be old enough to have truly worn the uniform that they all were adorned with. The youngest of the six could not have been much older than Yahiko but all six carried bloodied swords and awaited the final blow.
Their target was very familiar to Kenshin and once wore the uniform that his attacker now wore. Saito kept himself between the men and the woman who was leaning heavily on his back. Her skin was pale and gleaming with sweat as blood soaked her kimono from a gash in her thigh. Saito's belt was haphazardly secured around it in a rushed attempt to stop the bleeding. Saito himself was not unscathed with several minor cuts that could be seen through his torn police uniform. His steely eyes surveyed his situation as he waited for his opponents next move unable to move himself and seemingly defenceless without a weapon. As time appeared to stretch out to an eternity a bead of sweat trickled down Saito's cheek bringing a smile to the leader of his attackers.
"Who are they?" Tsubame whispered although to those like Aoshi and Kenshin it sounded like a scream in the stillness of night. Tae was either unable or unwilling to answer but Tsubame wasn't going to let this go so Kenshin answered for her.
"Shinsengumi," Kenshin whispered through gritted teeth and it was a name that turned the fearful into the terrified. Kaoru took a firm grip on Kenshin, desperately trying to dissuade him by her presence from an attempt to intervene. Misao was also shaping to try and interfere but a gentle touch from Aoshi stopped her. There were too many things stacked against them here for his liking. The fact that most of the attackers could not be nearly as strong as Saito meant that he had a better chance than most, especially if he could disarm someone as they attacked.
Aoshi's attention was diverted to a new presence, one that was approaching from the opposite side of the battle. Who ever it was made no attempt to hide their approach as their heavy footsteps echoed through the quiet streets. Kenshin felt a slight sense of relief as he sensed the aura of the new presence. It was of someone who was strong but had been taught to control their ki so that they could hide their strength. The new arrival didn't go unnoticed but was ignored as the leader inched forward preparing for the final strike.
"You bastards should know that it's rude to leave before a fight is over," the low growl of a voice startled the group of Shinsengumi.
"Im… impossible," the youngest of the group and closest to the new man choked out as he turned to face the silhouette. He dropped his guard in fear while the other men's anger began to show.
"You idiots really should make sure the person you are trying to kill is dead before you run off to kill someone else." The voice was a relief as it signalled more than just someone to help fight the Shinsengumi. As the moonlight penetrated the clouds, Sagara Sanosuke's familiar silhouette began to fill with colour. What was revealed was not inspiring but cause for more concern. His normally white clothes looked grey, covered in stains of grass and dirt as well as blood both fresh and dry. They were tattered and torn and looked as if they would fall apart at any instant. His bare chest was crisscrossed with fresh cuts that trailed blood down his chest where it soaked into the bandages around his stomach.
His hands were clenched into tight fists and held at his sides as a light breeze cause the ends of his red bandana to flutter to one side. His head was bowed but he slowly raised it removing the shadows that hid his eyes from sight. They were focused and determined, black instead of their normal brown and the slight glint that they gained in the moonlight made them look like black pearls. His face was emotionless apart from the confident grin that showed he was not afraid but relishing the fight that was about to begin. He stretched his fingers out and then curled them back up to the sound of knuckles cracking. As the youngest Shinsengumi member stood paralysed with fear another stepped around him and charged at Sano.
"You dare defy the Shinse…" his cry was cut off as Sano's hand clamped over his mouth with a crack as his grip broke the other man's jaw. With barely any effort Sano slams his enemy's head into a wall staring coldly into the vacant eyes as he releases his grip. The dead body slides down the wall leaving a blood trail from its fractured skull.
"Like you could ever be like the Shinsengumi," Sano hissed as three others charged towards him. He ran forward, agilely avoiding the first two as their swords slice through only air and his gi. He ducks under the third, plunging his right fist into the man stomach. The man gags and doubles over as the Futae no Kiwami smashes his internal organs. Sano saves him from a slow and certain death by taking hold of his head and snapping his neck with a powerful twist that causes his body to twirl through the air before falling in a heap. By this time the two men he passed have regrouped and attack again.
Sano's right hand pulls a short sword from beneath his gi and with the blade protecting his forearm he defends the first man's strike. Kicking with his right leg, his foot connects squarely with the man's chest pulverizing his sternum, ribs, heart and lungs and sending his corpse careering back down the street. Sano is left slightly off balance, only just avoiding the second man's thrust but receiving a cut to his side under his left arm. This allows him to wrap his left arm around the man's forearms, pinning them to his side. The man's eyes widen in horror as Sano brings his sword back slicing open his opponent's throat. Sano closes his eyes to shield them from the spray of blood. He releases the man's arms and he immediately tries to stem the flow of blood as he falls to the ground.
Sano steps around the struggling body with out a second thought, moving towards the two remaining Shinsengumi soldiers. In the background his friends are still present, their reactions determined by their exposure to this kind of violence. Tae and Tsubame are huddled together with their eyes closed trying not to watch. Misao has one hand on her stomach and the other over her mouth, fearing her nausea will cause her to vomit. Aoshi continues to watch unfazed his eye flashing between the battle and Saito who seems content to remain where he is. Megumi is standing with her mouth slightly open and her eyes transfixed on the events still holding Kenji who is watching with an innocent fascination. Kaoru has her face buried in her husband's chest not wanting to watch the brutal display. Kenshin is standing firm, the screams, the violence, the blood, the death all reminders of his past life. His fighting ability may have dimmed by his spirit still burns as bright and he continues to watch with amber eyes.
"Hey, I didn't know the Shinsengumi liked to play hide and seek," Sano scoffs as the leader steps behind his still frozen subordinate. Without replying the elder man pushes the younger one at Sano using him as a shield. With a swing of his left arm, Sano swats the boy away with the back of his left fist just in time to spot the other man's attack. Twisting his hips so he is side on, Sano just avoids being impaled but the sword still slices though his stomach bandages giving him a superficial wound. Sano's left hand clamps down on the other man's right as it holds his sword. He attempts to kill the Shinsengumi leader with his sword but it is blocked by his enemy's short sword. The two swords lock together and their owners grunt and groan as they wrestle for control.
Sano's strength looks to prove decisive as the Shinsengumi's right arm is twisted to the breaking point. Before it gives way the old man stuns Sano with a head butt causing the street fighter to stumble back and release his hold on the other man. Free from restraint the older man thrusts his sword towards Sano's unprotected face. Panic overcomes him though as Sano nods quickly and the sword disintegrates into metallic dust. He attempts to hit Sano with his short sword but Sano's sword slices into the flesh, muscle and bone of his arm. Just as he is about to scream in pain, Sano's left fist crushes his cheek and nose leaving a fist shaped indentation in his face as his falls silently to the ground. With the demise of his leader the last attacker stands back up, confronting Sano with his sword but not looking very threatening as he shakes like a leaf. He allows Sano to walk right up to him and in a flash Sano's hand is clutching his throat cutting off the air.
"Stop it Sanosuke!!" Sano's eyes lock straight onto Kenshin and they stare at each other momentarily oblivious to their surroundings. Kenshin can tell Sano's aura is now controlled and focused unlike the raw untamed power of a few years before. However even with this Kenshin can see the physical weakness that is only being held back by sheer will power. The stalemate is broken by a small childlike giggle. Sano's eyes go over the people before him, Kenshin, Aoshi, Misao, Kaoru, Tae and Tsubame. Unable to see directly, Sano moves the boy in his grip to one side and then looks straight at Megumi. He starts to feel a pang of guilt as his eyes travel down to the small replica of Kenshin in her arms. The child is in a futile struggle against Megumi as he desperately tries to reach out towards Sano. A hint of a smile presents itself on the street fighters lips as Kenshin feels Sano relax. With one final motion Sano head butts the boy letting the unconscious body fall to the ground.
His head bowed and blood trickling from the fresh cut on his forehead over his closed eyes he takes a deep breath. He stands like a statue with every next breath coming with increasing difficulty as his physical exertion and injuries catch up with him. Everyone else breathes a sigh of relief relaxing if only momentarily as the reality of the situation begins to sink in. Off to the side the woman leaning on Saito faints only to be caught by him and lowered to the ground. He looks over to a stunned Megumi but she is still focused on Sano. Sano's chocolate brown eyes open and a bittersweet smile plays upon his lips as he attempts to walk forward but his foot only slides a few inches along the ground. Almost forlornly he looks around until he spies Saito hovering over the woman's unconscious body.
"Hey… Hey!" Sano shouts finally getting Saito's attention. "There is some big political gathering tonight right?" Saito tenses up but Aoshi speaks.
"There is a party for some important foreign dignitaries and government leaders," he stated emotionlessly already fearing what Sano's is about to say. Sano just glances at him before turning his attention back to Saito.
"Well whatever it is, there is about fifty of these Shinsengumi wannabes heading there but be careful, some of them, like him, are the real deal," he kicks the dead leader to accentuate his point. Saito nods and looks down to the woman, wiping some sweat off her forehead as a last gesture. He moves quickly, taking a sword from the ground and hurriedly passing Sano as Sano sheaths his sword and pulls it from his belt.
"Take care of her Battousai," they are Saito's parting words as he sprints away into the night.
"You better go with him," Sano mutters as he tosses his sword to Aoshi. Aoshi catches it and nods to Sano as he begins to follow Saito.
"Misao stay here and help them," Aoshi states as Misao tries to follow him. She pauses to protest but he has already broken out into a run. Megumi finally snaps into doctor mode and hands Kenji off to Kaoru and kneeling down beside the injured woman.
"Hello… Hello miss can you hear me," Megumi asks as she checks the woman for injuries other than the wound to her leg.
"Her name is Tokio, Fujita Tokio," Sano's voice is soft as he feels his remaining strength fading. Megumi begins readjusting the belt on her leg to make it more effective. Misao stands watching Megumi and waiting for the opportunity to help until a thought occurs to her.
"Wait do you mean that this is Saito's wife?" Misao asks in an incredulous tone. Sano can only nod and then smile as Misao makes an astonished cry, feeling the same sense of amazement and disbelief that he had felt when he found out who she was. The light-headedness of blood loss was starting to affect him and his mouth felt incredibly dry. He can feel himself begin to sway and somewhere in the background he thought he heard his name being called. A sudden jolt told him that his back had hit the ground but he felt a sense of detachment from his senses.
He felt tired but not restless like he had been for most of his life. He was home and for the first time it actually felt like a home rather than a city he lived in. The pressure on his wounds and the blurred images were his friends. He couldn't hear them anymore, he couldn't feel the pain anymore, he hadn't had some decent sake and he could barely see anymore but every fibre of his being said he was home. This is why he came back and this is why he felt utter contentment. He could have died happy, not having his idealised images of his friends tarnished by the reality of what they had become. Of course he knew he wasn't going to die just yet, he had survived worse than this and he wasn't ready to die just yet. So he just relaxed and slipped into unconsciousness safe in the knowledge that his friends would take care of him unlike the long lonely nights of his past in the outside world.