June 14, 1878
Moving as quickly as they could, the little group made their way from the ruins of the Aoiya to the Shirobeko which Sekihara Sae had opened up for them to stay at. Hiko was a great help, taking Kenshin into his own arms so Sano would be free to help others struggle along. Hiko kept the body of his pupil hidden under his cape to protect him from any prying eyes that might be about. Thankfully, they were able to move under cover of night, guided only by moonlight, free from the stares of the townsfolk.
Sekihara Sae was waiting for them and quietly welcomed everyone into the Shirobeko. She showed Hiko and Kaoru to an upstairs bedroom with a futon already laid out in it. By the light of a lantern, Hiko and a pale, frightened Kaoru undressed Kenshin by slowly peeling away the tattered remnants of his gi and hakama and began cleansing his wounds.
Kaoru was sickened by the scourge of wounds and burns covering Kenshin's slender body. Though he was unconscious, his face was taut with pain as he struggled for each shaky breath. So shocked was she by the injuries, she couldn't even think of modesty and gladly assisted Hiko in any way she could in caring for the Rurouni. Hiko, having seen injuries many times before knew what to do, though his medical skills beyond the basic cleaning and dressing of wounds were lacking. Kenshin needed advanced medical care urgently.
The doctor who was brought in a few hours later to treat their wounds removed Hiko's ad hoc bandages and looked Kenshin over grimly. He didn't think there was much hope for the Rurouni, but couldn't bring himself to voice it to the giant swordsman and the young girl with the frightened eyes who refused to leave the room.
The doctor spent most of the night working on Kenshin's wounds; disinfecting them, stitching them, rubbing on a healing poultice and finally applying bandages. The three most worrisome ones were the stab wound in his right side, the blast wound on his right shoulder and the bite mark on his neck. Kenshin's forehead was hot to the touch due to a raging fever.
"He's very fortunate," the doctor told Kaoru and Hiko as he looked over the stab wound in Kenshin's right side. "If he'd been stabbed even an inch higher, his liver would have been pierced and there would be no hope."
Kaoru put her hands over her mouth and tried to fight back tears. Just the thought of losing Kenshin again drove her nearly to distraction. Hiko remained grim and silent.
"His fever is dangerously high. Someone needs to stay with him at all times. Keep the cloth on his forehead cool and send for me immediately if it goes any higher," instructed the doctor.
Kaoru could only nod, staring in mute horror at the bruised and battered Rurouni.
After the doctor left to treat Sano, Yahiko, Aoshi and Misao, Kaoru looked up at Hiko, her gaze beseeching him to say something comforting. Hiko, however couldn't really think of anything comforting to say. He believed, or at least hoped, his stupid student would pull through this.
"Hiko-san, thank you for your help," Kaoru said at length.
"You'll look after him?" he asked the girl.
Kaoru could only nod.
"Then I'll take my leave!" said Hiko, suddenly turning, his white cape billowing out behind him.
After Hiko left, Kaoru took Kenshin's bandaged hand between hers and watched as his chest and rose and fell in sleep, his breathing shallow and ragged.
"Kenshin?" she said softly. "Can you hear me?"
"You fought so well and you kept your promise to me. I'm waiting for you to wake up so we can go back to Tokyo, OK?" said Kaoru softly, tears slipping unheeded from her eyes.
Kaoru said nothing more. She just stayed by Kenshin's bedside, rewetting and applying the cloth on his forehead as necessary.
In the morning, Kaoru was awakened by a gentle tapping on the door.
'Wha? I fell asleep?' she thought in alarm.
She hadn't meant to do that.
Quickly, she looked to Kenshin and was relieved to see that he was still breathing, but disappointed that he was still unconscious. Again, the gentle tapping.
"Come in," she called softly.
The door slid open and in hobbled Okina, leaning on his cane.
"Kaoru-kun, Sanosuke-san told us about the lady doctor in Tokyo who's a friend of yours," said Okina.
'Lady doctor? Oh!' thought Kaoru.
"Megumi-san!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, that's the one," said Okina. "I've sent a telegram to her clinic in Tokyo and told her about Himura-kun's wounds. She should be here the day after tomorrow. After what he's done for Japan, Himura-kun deserves the best."
"Yes, he does," she agreed.
The doctor came by again, removed the bandages and checked Kenshin's wounds. Thankfully, no infection had set in yet. He reapplied the poltice, then wrapped the wounds in sterile dressings and tucked Kenshin back into the futon.
"When do you think he'll wake up?" Kaoru ventured.
"That's not something I can guess at. It depends on his will and strength," said the doctor simply.
'Will and strength,' thought Kaoru. 'Right now, I have to be Kenshin's strength. I must stay by his side.'
That is exactly what Kaoru did. She nursed Kenshin as best she knew how. She made certain the cloth on his forehead was cool, read to him, sang to him and sometimes just held his hand or stroked his bangs back from his fevered brow.
The only times Kaoru left Kenshin's room were when she needed the out house. On her way back in from said out house, she ran into Sanosuke, obligatory fish bone hanging out of his mouth. It seemed like nothing could get Sano down.
"Hey, Missy," he said non-chalantly, flashing his rogueish grin.
"How's the hand?" asked Kaoru.
"I've had worse," said Sano as he chawed his fishbone.
Kaoru smiled. Knowing Sano, he probably had.
"You told Okina-san to send for Megumi-san?" asked Kaoru.
"Thank you," said Kaoru earnestly.
"No problem. My little buddy needs the best right now. How's he doin'? Still sleepin', right?"
Kaoru nodded sadly, eyes downcast.
"Don't you worry. He'll wake up. You just wait till the Vixen gets here. She'll get him back on his feet in no time. Kenshin wants to get better. When he was fightin' Shishio, he said, 'I can't die. I won't die yet! Someone's waitin' for me to return.' I'm pretty sure that 'someone' was you," said Sano.
"He said that?" asked Kaoru, looking up at Sano with a hopeful gaze.
"Sure as the Aku on my back," said Sano.
"Thank you, Sanosuke," said Kaoru.
"Sure," said Sano. "See ya in a bit. I'm gonna go snatch some more a Tae's food now."
"You mean Sae. Tae's back at the Akabeko in Tokyo," corrected Kaoru.
"Sae, Tae... whatever. They got the same face," said Sano with an indifferent shrug as he sauntered down to the kitchen to pilfer Sae's food.
Kaoru stared after the Rooster and shook her head.
The next day proceeded in the same way. The doctor dropped by, changed Kenshin's bandages and examined him. The wounds however didn't show much sign of healing, still bleeding slightly into the bandages. The doctor although proficient, had no medicines powerful enough for such deep abrasions.
"I'm afraid these wounds are really beyond my ken. They need more powerful herbs than I have access to," he admitted sadly to Kaoru.
"It's alright. I'm sure he's better off than he would be otherwise," said Kaoru resignedly.
All Kaoru could do was look after the Rurouni and pray silently that Megumi would get there quickly. She looked out the window and saw Sano, Yahiko and Misao heading off to help the Oniwabanshuu repair their damaged home. Part of her wanted to go, but she just couldn't leave Kenshin's side till he either woke up or died.
Finally, on the third day, the door to Kenshin's room slid open and in came Megumi, carrying a large wooden medicine chest. Despite her dislike for the lady doctor, Kaoru was elated to see her.
"Megumi-san, thank you for coming so quickly," said Kaoru.
"No time for pleasantries. Let's get to work. Sit him up so I can get those bandages off," said Megumi as she began laying out her supplies.
Kaoru shot Megumi a glare, but didn't argue with her. Instead, she hoisted Kenshin into a sitting position and held him steady so Megumi could treat him. While Kaoru held Kenshin sitting, Megumi felt Kenshin's forehead, looked in his eyes, took his pulse and blood pressure and listened to his breathing. She then began undoing his bandages.
As the bandages came away, Megumi's trained eye could tell that Kenshin's wounds were quite severe and weren't healing properly with the regular medicine.
'Oh Ken-san, how could something like this happen to you?' Megumi screamed in her mind.
Forcing herself into her doctor mindset, Megumi decided that what Kenshin's wounds needed was the special Takani touch. With such severe injuries, Kenshin would need a lot of care if he were to recover. The first thing Ken-san needed was a good, cool bath.
Megumi dipped the cloth into a bowl of cool water and gently bathed Kenshin from head to toe. She had Kaoru lie him down on the clean surface of the futon and allowed Kenshin to dry off with the summer wind blowing through the open window. This would help to lower his fever.
'I've seen injuries before, but not like this. It will be nothing short of a miracle if he survives,' Megumi thought sadly as she eyed the hastily stitched wounds on the poor Rurouni's body.
Bath finished, Megumi rubbed her ointment onto his wounds. Kaoru then helped her bandage Kenshin up. After this was done, Kaoru tucked him back into bed.
"Has he been given anything to eat since he returned?" Megumi asked.
"No. The doctor just had me give him water to keep him hydrated," said Kaoru.
"Alright. I'm going to feed him a miso broth tonight and see if he can tolerate that. It's very important that he start getting nourishment so he can recover faster," said Megumi. "I'm also going to give him a sedative so he can heal without too much pain."
Kaoru looked down at the still form of the supine Rurouni. She certainly hoped he would recover faster now that Megumi was here. She couldn't bear seeing him lying there helplessly, feverish and covered in bandages. It was like he wasn't really Kenshin anymore.
With Kaoru holding Kenshin in a sitting position, Megumi began slowly feeding him a miso broth. It contained no solids for fear his weakened body would reject it. Megumi poured a small amount into his open mouth, then rubbed the bottom of his jaw to make him swallow automatically. It had to be done very carefully or Kenshin could choke on the soup.
Eventually the soup bowl was depleted. Megumi then fed Kenshin his medicinal tea, which had been keeping warm in a pot. She repeated the slow process of pouring and rubbing, pouring and rubbing until the tea was gone. With a nod of Megumi's head, Kaoru gently laid Kenshin back down on the futon.
"Kaoru-chan, come around here. There's something I want to teach you so you can care for Ken-san," said Megumi.
Kaoru came around to Kenshin's side. Megumi folded the blanket down so Kenshin's abdomen was exposed. Taking Kaoru's right hand under her own, Megumi guided it to Kenshin's belly and began showing her how to rub her hand in slow clockwise circles on Kenshin's stomach in a gentle massage, taking care to stay away from the sword wound. Kaoru's eyes widened.
"Megumi-san?" she asked.
"This will help Ken-san digest his food. Massage also has healing properties," said Megumi.
Megumi removed her own hand and watched as Kaoru continued to rub hers gently in slow, rythmic motions. Megumi nodded her approval.
"Just keep that up for the next five minutes and slowly taper off in the last minute," she said softly.
"Alright," said Kaoru, determined to do anything she could to bring Kenshin back.
As she continued rubbing, Kaoru became aware of the odd fact that she was enjoying this. Of course she hated the fact that Kenshin was in this state, but touching him so intimately and caring for him was a somewhat pleasurable experience that almost offset the worry.
'I've never felt this way before,' Kaoru thought to herself as she continued the slow, gentle massage on Kenshin's stomach.
Because Kenshin couldn't move on his own, Megumi came in several times a day to reposition him slightly on the futon to keep bed sores from developing and to keep the blood circulating properly to his extremities. Megumi also had Kaoru rub Kenshin's limbs to aid blood flow.
With Kaoru holding Kenshin upright over the pot, Megumi pressed her left hand sharply into his lower abdomen and her right hand into his groin, causing a stream of urine to shoot out from him. Kaoru blushed crimson as she heard the sound of the pot being filled. Megumi continued pressing down until no more urine came out.
The two women laid Kenshin back down into the futon and covered him up with the sheet. Kaoru looked at Megumi with curious eyes. Megumi couldn't help but smirk at the girl's ignorant curiosity.
"Pressure points," was her succinct answer.
Kaoru nodded, feigning comprehension.
Megumi shook her head, picked up the pot and went out to empty it. With a sigh, Kaoru turned back to the redhead and gently placed a cool cloth on his forehead. Hopefully he'd wake up soon.
Megumi and Kaoru worked together to bathe the fallen warrior. The lady doctor carefully removed all of his bandages. Kaoru held Kenshin in a sitting position while Megumi bathed him with warm water and soap. Megumi took her time, sponging off the Rurouni's torso and limbs. She then poured warm water over him, making certain to get all the soap off.
After he was clean and dry, Megumi medicated and then wrapped his wounds in fresh bandages. This done, Kaoru tucked him back into the futon. Through this, he never once responded.
The rest of the week passed in similar fashion. Every morning, Megumi and Kaoru would bathe Kenshin and change his bandages. Megumi was pleased to see that Kenshin's wounds showed a bit more evidence of healing each time she checked them.
Although she knew he was getting better, Kaoru still refused to leave Kenshin's side until he awoke because she wanted him to see a familiar face upon awakening.