title: Falling Sands
rating: g
author: Mir
email: cathedraldragon@bigfoot.com
website: http://ellone-loire.net/tfme/

disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin was created by Watsuki Nobuhiro,
published by Shueisha in "Jump," and produced by Sony
Entertainment, Media Blasters, ADV, etc. I am not affiliated
with the above names and no not write for profit.

AN: This story was inspired by a scene in Seisouhen OAV I in
which Kenshin is seen sparing with Yahiko right after the return
to Tokyo at the end of the Kyoto Arc. Many fanfics have been
based upon the assumption that Kenshin and Yahiko never
sparred, so here's a little detour from the norm. *shrugs* Another
Yahiko-introspective piece from yours truly (you could think of it
as a quasi-sequal to "Koinobori")....


*Falling Sands*

The boat rocked back and forth beneath our feet as the gray smudge of
land disappeared into the distance. Overhead, sea birds circled
restlessly, and the air was filled with their shrill cries of hunger.
I carefully stepped forward, still unsteady on my sea legs, my eyes
trained on the figure before me. He stood alone at the far railing
looking out over the water, and the wind sweeping in across the
churning blue expanse below caught his hair and sleeves as it swept
back up toward the clouds.

We had left Kyoto as soon as he was able, but we could not leave behind
the memories imprinted indelegably on our minds. They lingered in my
thoughts, resurfacing briefly in flashes of emotion, then sinking once
again back into the subconscious. I knew from experience that his
memory is impeccable, and I wondered what the past month had been like
for him. It had been like Hell for me. Then again, his eyes have seen
far more than mine, far more than I ever hope to see.


I found myself smiling as I joined him at the railing, my hesitation
evaporating like dew into the warm salty air. In Kyoto, it had
frightened me to see him lying so still, so deeply asleep. If it
hadn't been for the steady rising and falling of his chest, I would
have thought that... perhaps it's because I've rarely seen him sleep --
for he only seems to doze, and he wakes instantly at the slightest
sound. I sometimes wondered whether he has always slept lightly or
whether it's a habit ingrained by his Shishou and years of living on
the edge of a blade, never knowing when or from which direction danger
would strike from. I wondered, but I never thought to ask.

But then his voice was steady, reassuring, strong over the sloshing of
the waves against the sides of the boat. "It's over, Yahiko. We're
finally returning to Tokyo." He turned to me with a gentle smile
despite the dark smudges of fatigue that still lingered beneath his
eyes. Like the memories, they had begun to fade, but only by the
indomitable hand of time would they be completely erased.

I found myself nodding at his words, tasting them in my mouth like a
merchant who bites down hard upon a coin to test its integrity.
Despite everything, or perhaps because of it, I could hardly believe
that we truly are going home. "Kenshin..."

His gaze had drifted back to the water beneath us, but he met my eyes
as I say his name almost as though he anticipated the address before I
inhaled the air to speak. He waited patiently for me to continue, and
my mouth hung open as I arranged and rearranged the words in my mind.
"Sometime, I was wondering..." I didn't know why it was so difficult to
ask him, why I stumbled upon a request I'd made several times before.
"...perhaps, if you wouldn't mind... could you h-help me with my

Even as my voice trailed off, I prepared myself for the expected response,
the gentle negation, ever polite yet unquestionably firm -- but as the
wind whistled across the empty deck, it never came. "It would be my
pleasure." Kenshin, despite his perspicacity, can be annoyingly
oblique, and it took me a moment to realize that he had paid me an
enormous compliment, one I'd always hoped for but never truly expected.
I didn't know whether it was he who had changed or me, but I told
myself that either way, it didn't matter.

His words caught me off-guard; I had been prepared to nod in
resignation and nurse my wounded pride, but now there was no response
waiting immediately on the tip of my tongue. Instead, I stared into
his violet eyes, my mouth hanging slightly open like the beak of a
seabird waiting for its dinner. But to his credit and to my relief, he
neither laughed as Sano would have or teased like Kaoru. Instead, he
turned back to the water and waited as though my silence were perfectly
natural. Perhaps it was.

And so I bowed stiffly, the gesture running more on instinct than
conscious thought. "Thank you..." The words were, of course, inadequate,
but what is one supposed to say when dreams fall unexpectedly from the sky?

- - - - - - - - - -

When I emerged from the interior of the dojo, he was already in the
courtyard facing the gate with his eyes closed. For a moment we stood
like two marble statues carved by some omnipotent invisible hand.
Around us, the world hovered -- inert, immobile -- as if the falling
sands of time hung suspended halfway between the heavens and earth.

I clenched my fingers tightly around the shinai in my hand, so tightly
that my knuckles hurt, and the second shinai thrust through my obi
bumped heavily against my leg. The air was still and thick over the
yard, and I inhaled deeply, trying to coax the dust into the sky as I'd
seen Kenshin do so effortlessly in the past; nothing happened -- but
had I really expected it to? Then he turned, pivoting carefully, eyes
meeting mine. "Then it's time?"

I studied his features scrupulously as he walked toward me, not in
those enormous bounding strides that can carry him across the ground
almost faster than the eye can register, but with normal, human steps
suited for a convalescent who's somehow managed to elude his doctor's
watchful eye. Still, I could find no evidence of weariness in his
gait; that inherent gracefulness I'd so often envied had replaced the
stiff limp of before, and I scolded myself for even thinking that he'd
risk his recovery by pushing himself too fast. I reminded myself
sternly that as I would trust him with my life, I should trust his
judgment as well.

Wordlessly, I held the shinai out to him handle-first, and I, not
trusting myself to meet his eyes, watched as his fingers curled around
the handle. I knew that if I looked up I'd find his gentle smile
hovering above me. I knew -- and yet I couldn't stop myself from
shivering as the memory of his intense amber gaze slipped unbidden into
my mind. No, I'd nothing to fear. Even as Battousai he wouldn't have
hurt us. The ground, when covered by snow, is still just as solid
beneath its thick white blanket.

The sun driped down through the clouds, falling like a cloak upon my
shoulders, and pooled in viscous puddles upon the ground. The shadows
had begun to lengthen, but as he held the weapon before him, testing
the unfamiliar weight in his hands, the nebulous shadow behind him was
still shorter than his actual frame. At another time I might have
thought of his mysterious childhood -- those years between birth and
adulthood that I know nothing about, but then, all I could think about
was showing him what I'd learned since we first met. I needed to prove
to myself that all the long hours of practice had not been in vain.

So we stood across from each other with only the ephemeral barrier of
air between us, and my heart beat rapidly within my chest as I
ruthlessly tried to chase all second thoughts from my mind. 'This is
what I've always wanted, isn't it? Then why does my hand tremble?'
Less than three paces from me he waited patiently, and perhaps he, too,
was dealing silently with the doubts in his mind -- No, I wasn't afraid
of him, not then or ever. The fear I struggled to shake from mind was
that of failure. There was no one I want to impress more than the man
who stood before me.

After a seemingly interminable time, he softly cleared his throat,
swallowed, and lifted his eyes to mine. Imbedded in his gaze was
unconditional permission to back down, to put off today until some
tomorrow in the future. But even though I was grateful for his
consideration, in my mind, retreat was not a viable option. Myouji
Yahiko always finishes what he begins. I nodded, and his smile

We were not indoors, and there was no shrine to pay respects to, but he
began the appropriate rituals, and I followed, pulling my mind back
from the clouds and concentrating on my breathing. With his left arm
still in a sling, his movements were somewhat awkward, but he didn't
even appear to be stiff, so I once again reassured myself that he
wouldn't push himself dangerously for my sake.

In a matter of seconds my fears were instantly dispelled, and
underneath tree branches smothered in dark summer leaves, we clashed
together, shinais trembling, faces only inches apart. My sandals dug
into the dirt as I pushed against him, but even one-handed he seemed to
be able to hold his own. He led me confidently through Kaoru's drills
-- and even knowing that our movements ware prescribed, just practicing
with him as my "opponent" was, without a doubt, nothing less than

And as my body began to warm to the exercise, the scenery around us
blurred and faded. Leaves dissolved like sugar into the liquid sky,
and the rough dirt beneath my sandals felt like yards of woven silk
stretching onward into eternity. My body began to react instinctively
to each attack, and I realized (on a personal level I could not have
before) why Kenshin is one of the best swordsmen in Japan. Even
holding a shinai instead of a live blade, his technique was flawless,
and his movements flowed together like water cascading over a waterfall.
I knew from observation that this was the first time he'd practiced
since returning from Kyoto, and yet as he moved, all the pain and
fatigue seemed to fade away -- leaving behind a younger man, one whose
shoulders didn't sag under the weight of a nation's problems.

"Let's stop for a moment," he muttered, pulling away. As we both
dropped our hands to our sides, I was surprised to find myself winded.
Kenshin, too, was breathing heavier than normal, and after tucking the
shinai through his waistband, he reached up to brush the hair from his
eyes with the back of his hand. There was a faint flush to his cheeks,
and as his eyes traced the flight of a bird passing overhead, moist
beads of sweat slid smoothly down my back.

"It's awfully hot today, isn't it?" I nodded in response as there was
no denying the intensity of the weather. But I could feel myself
growing restless, and I ground my teeth together as I unconsciously
shifted back and forth form foot to foot. Were we going to continue or

"We'd better go in before Kaoru-dono begins to worry." He pivoted
smoothly toward the porch, but I hesitated, my eyes cast down as I
rubbed grooves in the dirt with the toe of my sandal. Was that it? I
admitted I was somewhat relieved that no comments on my performance
seemed to be forthcoming. I knew that I'd improved, but I didn't
delude myself in thinking that I could win a fair fight against someone
of his caliber.

"But she doesn't even know you're out here..." Some boys have fathers
to show them how to live their lives. Others have older brothers to
tread the paths before them. And some have friends walk the journey
with them side by side. I had Kenshin, who had been all three to me...
and Kaoru -- teacher, sister, mentor... ugly hag. For two abnormally
astute individuals, they were amazing oblivious to each other. Then
again, the dragon and the raccoon are an unlikely pair indeed.

"Then perhaps just a few minutes longer..." He breathed deeply,
looking comfortably relaxed in the warmth of the sun, but as I nodded
in agreement, his body stiffened, and his eyes shifted clearly toward
the porch. From his guilty expression and the sound of approaching
footsteps, I didn't need to look myself to confirm the presence of
Kaoru and Megumi. I turned anyway, with reluctance, afraid that they
would accuse me of selfishly jeopardizing Kenshin's recovery. Why are
adults always so eager to indite the youth?

"Kenshin, I think --" I didn't dare to meet Kaoru's eyes, afraid that
she would deny permission before I even had the chance to ask.

He tore his eyes away from the women and shook his head without
hesitation. "No, let's continue --" With all his self-effacing
politeness, one is apt to forget how intrinsically independent he truly
is at heart. I know he cares deeply about us and about society, but at
the end of the day, he doesn't let anyone else tell him what he ought
to do. "-- You may attack with you're ready... and don't mind the
audience." He pulled the shinai from his obi with a conspiratorial
wink, and I found myself smiling at the open invitation for defiance
against the women of the house.

"I won't hold back!" Although the taunt was barely louder than a
whisper, his eyes narrowed slightly, and he readjusted his grip. It
was impossible to tell whether his response was genuine or merely an
act (for my benefit), but I had no time to think, and in truth it
didn't matter. I pushed off from the ground, rushing forward, trying
to act first and think later, for I knew that Kenshin's strength is in
prediction, and my only hope seemed to be catching him off-guard. Still,
each attack was met solidly, and his footwork was clean and efficient
compared to my unplanned scrambling.

"No matter who you cross swords with, you can't divorce your mind and
body." Suddenly his stance shifted, and he slid forward, forcing an
attack. "Neither alone will prevail." And even as I fell back I could
see the error in my strategy. Of course, it was obvious now, and I
didn't need to be told twice.

He neatly sidestepped the first thrust, ducked underneath the second,
then choose to block the third. "Thought and action must come
simultaneously, not one before the other." Again, we broke apart and
circled warily. Kaoru and Megumi were nothing more than a blur in my
peripheral vision, two figures like birds perched above us, all the
while looking on. "Focus less on what you're doing and more on my
movements; let your senses lead, and your body will follow."

Once, briefly, I touched him, and he leaned back as the shinai brushed
his arm, smiling as if to say, 'See, that's more like it.' But almost
as quickly as it began, the match was over, and it was only from the
scarcity of attacks on Kenshin's end that no clear victor emerged.
Again we stood wordlessly across from each other, and if it weren't for
the dust upon our hakama and the heaviness of our breathing, I might
have convinced myself that it had all existed merely in my mind.

The women descended upon us like anxious mothers, dark hair flying
behind them and sharp eyes holding us captive. If I could, I would
have take off through the yard and led Kaoru on a long, hard chase as
I'd done so often in the past, but for some unexplainable reason, my
feet were rooted into the ground, and I couldn't move an inch.

At first both gravitated toward Kenshin who stood silent in the waning
sunlight, seemingly lost in thought. He winced slightly at Megumi's
touch, and she began to fuss over him, spewing doctoral jargon while
he insistently denied all acquisitions of overexertion. And then
apparently seeing that one situation was under control, Karou pivoted
abruptly in my direction, and I, too, steeled myself for the inevitable

"You did well..." Her words hit me, and I knew it was too good to be
true. "...for an amateur." And as she laughed and roughly patted my
back, I debated whether or not I should let her get away with the
(unnecessary) additive.

"That you did." Having at last dismissed Megumi's concerns with a
smile and a shake of his head, Kenshin appeared behind Kaoru, one hand
resting absently on her shoulder. His nod was firm and deliberate, but
despite his efforts to conceal it, I could still see that he leaned
lightly against her for support.

"...but don't let that go to your head. There's still a lot of work to
be done -- and this dojo to clean up, mind you. Houses don't just put
themselves back together, I'll have you know." I could see now that
she held a broom in one hand and her sleeves were tied back behind

"Well there's plenty of time now that we're all back in Tokyo..." I
replied evasively. I knew there was no escaping the call to duty, and
my one and only savior was the steady falling of the sun across the
deep blue sky. I stared hopefully into the lengthening shadows.
'Surely there isn't enough time to begin a major cleaning project is

And as if he read my thoughts, Kenshin leaned forward slightly so that
his head hovered over Kaoru's shoulder. "Sano should be arriving any
minute to see if dinner's been started. We can begin the repairs
tomorrow... but let's just relax today." His voice was soothing,
almost hypnotic, and I could see Kaoru visibly giving way to her
concern for him. She sighed heavily, the epitome of martyrdom, and
reached up to pat Kenshin's hand.

"I suppose you're right. Very well..." And as she spoke, a subtle
smile spread across her face, and her eyes lit up with anticipation.
"We can watch the fireflies tonight, can't we Kenshin?" Honestly,
I hadn't a clue why she was so enthusiastic over the fireflies, of all
things, but I assumed that it was something just between she and
Kenshin because his eager nod left no doubt of his agreement.

Time, that intangible measure of life, was moving again, passing by
with impersonal regard to the lives of men. In the long days of Kyoto
it had claimed Shishio, claimed him and pulled him down to the raging
fires of Hell -- but we had been spared, spared by the one enemy that
no one can ever hope to defeat, spared today to live again tomorrow.
And still the sands keep falling, falling.

*end of falling sands*


This has taken me long to write that I originally thought it would!
*Whew* I actually like the first section better than the second, but
I've been reworking some parts of this thing for so long that I'm
utterly sick and tired of it (even though I'm still not particularly
satisfied with the ending). Oh well, let me know what you think.
Many thanks to MKasshoku for pre-reading.... ^_~

Next scheduled: "Ikedaya"
Next, next scheduled: A sequel to "Parallel Minds" perhaps....

- Mir (07.01.02, rev. 07.05.02)

07.16.02: Have sat down and done some serious editing to this piece –
mostly changing the tense from present to past, a suggestion from
Calger in respect to the vocabulary used by Yahiko. I keep forgetting
that he's only supposed to be 10... ^_~