The payback for Sano’s winter pranks is more than he bargained for.
The rurouni paused and turned. As the young man, slipping occasionally but never quite falling, pelted up the hill toward where his friend stood on the more level road, Kenshin wondered, “What is wrong, Sano?”
“Look out!” Sano cried as he reached him, and, ducking behind Kenshin, this time really did fall full-length into the snow. Kenshin didn’t have time to worry about that, however, for, the very moment Sano was behind him, a snowball struck his scarred face so forcibly it knocked him backward; he tripped over Sano and fell, and his tofu bucket went flying.
“Thanks, buddy,” Sano gasped as he wriggled from beneath Kenshin and took to running again, off the road once more into the field on the other side.
“I’d apologize, Himura,” came a new voice, “if that hadn’t been the most comical thing I’ve seen all week.”
“No need for an apology, Saitou,” Kenshin replied as he sat up. “I am used to Sano using me as a shield against missiles. Of course,” he added, smiling brightly and bringing a large handful of snow with him as he stood, “that does not mean he always gets away with it.”
Sano had ducked behind a hedge, presumably to assemble an arsenal, and it only took a single glance between the other two men to coordinate their attack: Saitou crept around the shrubbery’s far end while Kenshin approached it broadside just at the point where he sensed Sano opposite him. Then, simultaneously, Saitou came charging at Sano from the right while Kenshin cleared the hedge in a jump and landed on his left; Sano was pelted with multiple snowballs from both directions.
With a yelp, Sano tossed the one he’d been making at a bad angle, missing his two assailants entirely, and, ducking away, once again ran off.
Kenshin, obviously satisfied with this, turned with a grin and the intention of searching for his lost bucket. However, as he did so, a snowball struck him squarely on the back of the head, and when he turned again another hit his face. Saitou, who’d been more alert and therefore successfully dodged Sano’s attack, threw Kenshin a look that said, Are you just going to take that?
Kenshin bent and scooped up another handful of snow.
Sano wasn’t giving much thought to strategy, but was vaguely aware that the belt of trees toward which he was slowly being driven by the now-doubled enemy force was 1) not likely to provide much snow for further missiles but 2) likely to provide better cover than the field. It was just as he started trying to think what to do about this change in terrain when he noticed someone on the road off to his left and his face broke into a grin.
“Hey, Katsu!” he called.
The figure, which was indeed that of his good friend Katsu, stopped and looked in his direction just in time to see him take two snowballs to the chest. Sano’s subsequent cry of, “Help a guy out, will ya?” was a little breathless as a result.
Katsu stood quietly watching for several moments as Sano dodged another assault. Deciding that the hedge he’d abandoned was probably a good option as long as he didn’t let anyone take him by surprise by jumping over it again, the kenkaya tried to run back that direction and throw snowballs at both Kenshin and Saitou at the same time. One endeavor worked better than the other: although he hit his targets, his calculated movement was entirely thwarted by the return volley.
And that was when Katsu’s first snowball struck him squarely between the shoulder blades from behind.
“Katsu!!” Sano bawled in anger and surprise.
“Sorry, Sano,” said the grinning Katsu, “I like these odds better.”
“Your friend has sense,” Saitou smirked.
“My friend’s a fucking traitor!” Sano growled, now trying to watch all three of them at once.
“Besides, Sano, I still owe you for shoving snow down my pants last week,” Katsu explained as he took careful aim and hit Sano’s forearm so accurately that the ball Sano had been about to release from it was knocked right out of his hand.
“He shoved snow down your pants?” asked Saitou in an odd tone.
“It was a non-sexual shoving,” Katsu assured him quickly.
“I am not sure in what context shoving snow down someone’s pants could be considered sexual,” remarked Kenshin.
“Well, with Sano, you never know,” was Katsu’s mock-sober response.
They all got back to business. The brief exchange, though, had given Sano an opportunity to take a better stance against them and hastily manufacture enough snowballs that he was able to hold his own for a few minutes. He felt rather proud of himself, actually; he knew he excelled at facing off against multiple enemies, but he wouldn’t have thought he could last this long at snowballs against both Saitou and Kenshin — and Katsu was proving uncannily good at this, too.
“What’s this??” A new voice from the road. “Nobody told me it was Everybody Throw Snowballs At Tori-Atama Day!”
“Shit,” Sano muttered.
As Chou came sliding down the slope to join the others, Sano had another moment of relative freedom in which to replenish his collection of weapons somewhat desperately.
“You’re supposed to be at the station,” Saitou was admonishing.
“I think you are too,” Chou grinned. “But I need to get even with this bastard for shovin’ snow down my pants the other day.”
“Hmm…” Thoughtfully Kenshin cocked his head to one side. “Whose pants has Sano not shoved snow down recently?”
“His own, presumably,” Saitou replied.
“We should totally fix that,” Chou suggested.
Sano did not like the sound of this. Gathering up his snowballs, he turned and fled into the trees.
They followed him — Kenshin the most quickly, of course, but Sano, expecting that, slowed him up with a pointed missile. Then his heart lightened as he cleared the trees and came upon exactly what he needed.
A little ridge of rock curved toward the forest belt, a considerable snowdrift piled between its protective arms. If his enemies kept to the cover of the trees, they would have little ammunition; if they advanced to where the snow began again, they would be forced into the narrow space between the rocks, and he would have an easy shot. And he had plenty of snow within reach; he didn’t even have to bend down for it. He grinned in triumph and turned to face them.
They must have seen immediately the advantageous circumstances in which he’d placed himself, for after a few missiles they’d probably brought with them from the field, everything went still and silent. Sano watched carefully for their movements behind the trees they were using for concealment, a snowball in each hand and a defiant smile on his face.
Finally, after a tense minute or so of this stalemate, Saitou stepped out into plain view.
Sano threw immediately; Saitou dodged one and took the other, and kept walking forward. Sano reached back for more snow, at which the officer raised his empty hands and Sano paused. He would accept their surrender graciously.
“You’re freezing,” Saitou murmured as he came within arm’s length of the younger man and observed his heavy shivering.
“And whose fault is that?” Sano wondered.
“Entirely your own,” replied Saitou with a smirk. “We should probably stop…” He bent and kissed Sano soundly, working the coldness from his lips with a massaging motion.
As he drew back, Sano’s shivering increased, but his eyes were sparkling. Then his expression changed completely as Saitou added softly, “…but not yet,” and sprang abruptly backward, bending for a handful of snow.
“What the fuck was–” Sano began, but was cut off as snowballs came flying at him from all directions. He dashed for cover, but found the very ridge he’d been using for that purpose now held against him. Two of his enemies must have scrambled up it from either side while he’d been too distracted to notice and thwart them.
“Your diversion techniques are rather unusual, officer-san,” Katsu remarked from high on Sano’s left.
“What?!” Sano demanded as he attempted to dodge in multiple directions at once and failed miserably.
“Yeah, I gotta try that one one of these days,” Chou laughed from high on Sano’s right.
“No, you don’t!” Sano growled as he went to scoop up more snow to retaliate, only to have an unfairly accurate projectile knock his hand away.
“Sano, you really should know better than to lower your guard in the middle of a battle,” Kenshin’s voice came from not far behind Sano to his left, “no matter who it is kissing you.”
“‘Battle?'” Sano swatted a snowball out of the air but took another to each side of his head.
“I keep telling him that,” Saitou remarked from Sano’s right, “but he really is too thick-skulled.”
“You’ve never said a word about kissing in the middle of a battle!!” Again Sano attempted to fight back, but started to recognize the futility of his efforts. Soon there was nothing to do but fall to his knees and try to guard his face and head with upraised arms.
“Well, Sano, do you give up?” Kenshin wondered cheerfully.
“Never!” Sano roared.
“Come on, Sano, my hands are getting really cold,” Katsu prodded, nearly as cheerful as Kenshin.
“Not mine,” Chou put in, more cheerfully than both of them. “I could do this all day.”
“You’re wearing leather gloves,” Katsu pointed out.
Despite his defiance, Sano was weakening. What’s more, he was beginning to be able to distinguish which snowballs were whose, and that was pretty pathetic: Saitou’s hit hardest, Kenshin’s came fastest, Katsu’s were the most accurate, and Chou’s were just sloppy. Not that it mattered much; four on one would suck in any case. He was getting to the point where he was almost ready to start thinking about maybe giving in when he was unexpectedly saved.
“What is going on here?”
The tone was enough to stop them all in their tracks, frozen more thoroughly than the snow could render them.
“Kenshin, I sent you out after tofu an hour ago!”
Sano, peering warily through his arms, saw Kaoru standing back beyond Kenshin and Saitou in the trees, brandishing the bucket Kenshin had dropped earlier and glowering like death incarnate. “I come out looking for you because I’m worried something might have happened to you, and what do I find?? A bunch of grown men playing around in the snow!?!”
“And if you were all gonna beat up on Sano,” grumbled Yahiko from her side, “you could at least have invited me.”
After smacking Yahiko briefly, Kaoru held out the tofu bucket and growled, “Kenshin…”
“Yes, yes, Kaoru-dono.” Kenshin dropped the snowball he’d been about to throw and began self-consciously brushing and shaking snow from his clothes even as he went to join his dojomates.
“I swear, you’re as easily distracted as Sano is!” Kaoru ranted as she turned sharply and walked away with a tight, hauling grip on Kenshin’s sleeve. Sano noticed Yahiko casting those that remained in combative positions a somewhat wistful glance as he followed.
Watching with grins and rolling eyes, Katsu and Chou began making their way off the high ground they’d so unfairly captured — one careful, the other reckless. “I’ve entirely forgotten what I was on my way to do,” Katsu said.
Chou glanced over at him. “You were on your way to have dinner with me?” he suggested hopefully.
“Oh, was I?” wondered Katsu with a laugh. “I guess I’m late, then.”
“Oh, I have a feelin’ you’ll get there the same time I do,” Chou grinned, “so it’s probably all right.”
“Better get going, then.” Katsu returned the expression, then glanced at Sano. “Sano, it appears I’ve got a date, so we’ll have to finish this another time.”
Sano, who had not yet removed his arms from over his face, grumbled from behind them, “You’re wasting your time with that guy, but all right!”
Soon, therefore, the only people left were the two with whom the entire drama had originated, and the scene had become very quiet. Seeing both of Saitou’s hands engaged in lighting a cigarette, Sano deemed it safe to emerge.
“How the hell did that start, anyway?” he wondered, standing at last.
Saitou looked over at him with a raised brow. “By you stuffing snow down my pants?” he suggested.
“Oh, yeah,” Sano grinned. “Well, I guess that was worth it.”
“You’re going to be black and blue,” smirked Saitou.
“No shit, man.” Grimacing, Sano glanced over the various red spots that had already developed on his raw, aching skin. “I swear Katsu’s had little eyes and brains of their own.”
“He does seem to be quite a good shot,” Saitou agreed. “But I meant you’re going to be black and blue once I’m finished with you. Come on; let’s go take a bath.”
Sano’s grin widened as he bounced over to Saitou’s side and took his arm. “All right!”
With narrowed eyes and a puff of smoke that seemed double in the frosty air, “And we’ll make sure it was ‘worth it,'” Saitou added.
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