Part 2 | Part 3
The Demon Within


Defeat was in the air - it was thick with it, the smell of blood, the flicker
of eye meeting eye, sword against fist. Both bodies were mercilessly beaten,
weak beyond quick repair. Yet still, both proceeded in their fruitless
battle as if it meant something, both sets of eyes glowing in an unholy
light. One set, brown, dark as the night itself, his expression grim. His
fists clenched in silent fury - even this fight should not have been this
difficult. Despite the skill of the swordsman, his opponent was no Kenshin;
hell, the one in question wasnāt even close to being Kenshin.

So why, Sanosuke thought to himself, was he hurting so badly?

The small smile almost scared him, but he kept the emotion to himself - he
had been a member of the Sekihoutai, he had seen war, bloodshed, death of his
comrades, almost died himself. A mere smile from an enemy fighter should not
have frightened him. The fact that his enemy had actually managed to tire
Sano in the first place was amazing. His energy was boundless, and he
doubted that anyone could come close to him. Hell, even Kenshin sometimes
seemed a bit weaker than him. He knew if he had his zanbatou back ... but
that didnāt matter now.

He offered his own smile, and as always, it seemed ... angry with the world.
As if by fighting he was simply releasing the unresolved fury inside his
soul. He wiped one white-bandaged wrist across his mouth, ending at the
fingers, flicking the blood away to the ground, watching the hungry dirt
devour it. "Is that all?" he almost teased, his deep voice reverberating
through the forest that served as their fighting field. "Hardly scratched me
with your little sword. And Iām unarmed." His narrow eyes once more focused
on his opponentās, instead of his opponentās sword, waiting for the first
move, giving himself a second to rest as well. "Kinda sad, really. And I
was hoping youād put up a good fight, jou-chan."

The tiny, kimono-clad woman bowed to him with a small smile on her face,
which seemed almost like a smirk. "I should say the same about you. Give up

"Not even close, jou-chan," he chided her, and leapt forward, her bokken
smacking his hard stomach with a resounding thwack.

"Okay, fine, IāLL pay the bill if you please!" a voice cut in, and Sanoās
eyes widened, a hand on his chest, pushing him back away from the woman.
"Besides, one of you is going to end up getting hurt, that you are."

Sano raised an eyebrow, and then shrugged, grabbing his discarded white cloak
from the ground, tossing it over his shoulder carelessly. "I was holding
back," he said with a toss of his head. "You never let us have any fun,

The red-haired samurai shook his head, his small smile on his face seeming to
contain some secret, though he obviously wouldnāt tell what. Kenshin didnāt
often speak of his past, and if he did, it would be either in brief moments
of weakness, or his words would be as confusing as the Sphinx herself. "It
didnāt look like fun to me," he commented, and made a point to "accidentally"
poke one of Sanoās bruises.

The taller manās eyes widened, and he made a point to smack the redhead
across the top of his skull, before turning his back to the group. "Just
trying to have a little fun," he said with a shrug. "Itās better than going
shopping, or getting a picture taken." He paused, and shuddered violently,
before walking on, not bothering to look back.

Kenshin sighed, his hand on the hilt of his reverse-blade sword, before his
fingers finally unclenched, releasing the deadly weapon. Heād been nervous
around Sano before, but never this ... jumpy. It was as if his friend was
changing before his eyes. Sano had always been cold, but never this...
stand-offish. It was as if he felt his life was in danger, as if something
was going to happen. Something that none of them knew about. Kenshin wished
his friend would open up to him, tell him what was going on. Though it was
obvious the ex-Sekihoutai would say nothing of the matter that was obviously
affecting his moods. "He was afraid of you," Kenshin whispered to the small
woman behind him, the wind moving her kimono in the same direction as his
long red hair, "that he was."


*There was darkness.

*And the light grew so suddenly, it nearly blinded him, forcing his arm
over his eyes to keep his sight. And then he saw the growing shadow of the
demon, hulking over him. His sight slowly returned, and he could see
Kenshinās body, Kaoruās, Yahikoās ... even Megumiās laying limp around him.
He could barely stand, his clothing torn, the image of "bad" lingering over
his head, the demonās voice laughing. Itās claws cut him, but still, would
not allow him death, simply made him watch the dying bodies of his friends,
of his only friends outside of the Underworld.

And then, the claws struck his stomach, and sunk in. He screamed in
overwhelming pain, as the demonās body slowly absorbed its way into his. It
hurt so badly, his eyes were forced shut, his head thrown back, his bandaged
hands clenched across his forehead in remote frustration, helplessness, and
overwhelming ... guilt, perhaps. "NOOOO!" he screamed out, as he felt the
demonās body squirming into his, and his movements slowly became
uncontrolled. And then the pain stopped. Everything stopped.

And his eyes opened again, but they werenāt his eyes. They were ... yellow,
narrow-slitted. The wide grin on his face grew slightly, and when he could
see himself, he saw the pointed teeth in his own mouth...*

Sanosukeās eyes widened, and he sat up, suddenly, panting, sweat forming on
his brow. His fingers were clenched around pieces of his blanket so tightly
he could barely move them. His breath came out shuddering as his heartbeat
moved slower, and slower still. He was usually fairly skilled with calming
himself. It was what made him an excelled fighter. One couldnāt win any
battles unless the object of the battle was clear. Captain Sagara had taught
him that. Though the meaning of the dream escaped him.

"Ah, what do I know? It was just a dream," he mumbled in frustration; but
still, he checked his stomach for scratches, just in case. And then he
growled at himself in annoyance. "Come ON Sano, get a hold of yourself," he
growled again, and slapped his palm to his forehead. "Youāre letting some
little dream bother you when you ... and hell, youāre talking to yourself."
He smacked his forehead again, and stretched all of his limbs, raising from
his bed. "Ahh, what would they all say to you if they saw you like this?"
He didnāt want to scare his friends, nor did he want to make them worry.
He did have a soft heart, though heād never admit it. His eyes flickered
with the first sign of humor heād shown since heād woken.

He got up, and grabbed his long, flowing cloak, stepping out of his part-time
room at the dojo. He snuck out as quietly as possible, and...

"Couldnāt sleep either, could you?"

His head swiveled, and he shrugged at the nearly invisible form, sitting
crouched over a bucket of water, staring into it as if fascinated by his own
appearance. "Yeah. Couldnāt sleep. I just got to thinking. Maybe go for a

"You need company?"

A surge of anger touched Sanoās senses. "I donāt need you to protect me!"
The words escaped his lips so quickly he could hardly control them, let
alone keep them from slipping out, and all he could see was Kenshinās head
lift, look at him in confusion. "Ahh hell, just forget it," Sano snapped,
and turned on his heels, walking out into the woods. He had nothing to feel
sorry about. Every time he got into a fight, Kenshin somehow showed up to
either save him or ruin it. Well, dammit, he didnāt need any of them. He
could protect himself, didnāt they get that? Heād survived through to see
the Meiji era, lived through his entire patrol being betrayed and
slaughtered, and that heād done without Kenshin, without any of them.

Still, he could almost feel his friendās eyes penetrating his back with that
sad, hurt look. No malice at his sudden, harsh choice of words. Nothing
except that sudden ... sadness. Well, he had nothing to feel sorry about.
Nothing at all. It was Kenshin that did everything wrong. Kenshin who
interrupted his fights, told him right from wrong. Kenshin the conscience.
A snort escaped his throat, and he swung his fist out almost instinctively,
slamming it into a tree, no reaction whatsoever reflecting on his face of the
obvious pain that he felt. He didnāt know why he was being so serious these
days; maybe it was the dreams, or maybe he was just growing up, finally.
Well, it was bound to happen one of these days.

But still, he could almost see the shadow of the demon lingering on the road,
itās shadow flickering towards him, threatening to envelop him in its claws,
trapping his mind, body and soul. He didnāt have to go back. He didnāt
have to involve them in his battles. It was his own fight, and he was
willing to fight it alone. He wrapped his cloak around his shoulders
tightly, dark eyes flicking back and forth in slight concern. Heād have to
go back, soon, else theyād worry, at the very least.

And he turned, the flickering against the fire giving life to shadows. Not
ones as large as the demon of his dreams, though threatening enough - there
was a fight. Kenshin. And another.

His feet pumped against the ground as he ran as quickly as possible.
"Kenshin!" he roared, catching up to the small fight.

Kenshinās opponent looked familiar, though ... Sano couldnāt quite place it.
Though his movements were quick, almost as fast as the slender ex-assassin.
A quick spin, and he had caught Kenshinās blade in a stand-still... and then
he turned his head, to face ... to see the fighter-for-hire standing there.
The familiar face smiled... and then backed away from Kenshin so quickly it
almost knocked the red-haired swordsman off balance, had that been possible.
He started to chase after him, but Kenshinās arm blocked his chase. "Why?"
he asked, not turning to face his friend.

"He was good, that he was," Kenshin replied softly. "Good enough to kill.
With the will to do so as well. Better he leaves and causes no harm to us."

"But he looked like..." Sano bit his bottom lip, and then the expression
faded, green eyes turning to face him.

"Yes, Sano? Who did he look like?"

Sanosuke shrugged. "Ahh, never mind. Just a dream Iāve been having. Itās
nothing, really."