RECOVERY: Chapter 1 - Introductions
By Haku Baikou

Takani Megumi stood outside the room, hesitating, afraid. She frowned. It was unlike her to be this way. Fear was an old acquaintance, one she'd lived with for years, one that drove her to either desperation or action. But never one to freeze her in her steps, dazed like a helpless deer.

"Megumi-sensei?" came Sekihara Sae's voice from beside her. "Is something wrong?"

Megumi shook her head. "No, nothing. It's just that I don't want disturb him if he's sleeping," she said, mentally cringing at how pitiful and unbelievable a lie it was.

Sae apparently took her statement at face value. "Megumi-sensei, I'm afraid what you've heard is true. Himura-san has not opened his eyes since the night of the battle. If anything, I wish you would disturb him. It would be something, at least. He hasn't moved in three days." With that, Sae slid the door open, and Megumi had her first glimpse of Ken-san since he left Tokyo weeks earlier.

The change was alarming.

Three days. Three days he'd been like this.

"He's dying," she whispered, staring in disbelief at the pale form that lay unmoving on the futon by the window. She only vaguely registered Sekihara Sae's soft gasp at her words. Movement returned to her, and she walked the interminable length of the room toward Himura Kenshin.

Sweat drenched his fine red hair and beaded on his forehead. The unhealthy tinge of his lips and the shadows under his eyes were unsettling, but the searing heat emanating from his skin disturbed her the most as she touched his forehead lightly with the back of her hand. The cross-shaped scar on his left cheek burned in angry relief against the pallor of his skin and only served to exaggerate the unnerving stillness of his normally expressive face.

Megumi fought the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. Throughout the carriage ride to the Shirobeko, she'd been afraid that she's lose her composure if her fears about Kenshin's condition were found to be true. To her own surprise, her only sign of distress was the force with which she flung back the rurouni's covers. Ignoring Sae's anxiously whispered questions as to what she was doing, Megumi carefully parted the front of Kenshin's yukata to get a better look at his dressings.

They were competently wrapped, at least. She'd expected as such when she'd heard from the officer that had brought her here that the best doctors in town had been called to see to Kenshin's wounds. Those doctors, however, were already overwhelmed by the myriad injuries suffered by the police and did not have the time to adequately care for Kenshin after their initial assessment and treatment. Okina's people had done a decent job with the dressing changes these doctors had taught them, but they were still amateurs who lacked Megumi's practiced eye. They'd allowed his wounds to become infected. She was sure of it even though she had not yet found the source of the infection.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sae putting the covers back in place over Ken-san's sleeping form.

"Leave them," she ordered, her tone more curt than she'd intended. She made an effort to soften her voice. "He's burning up, Sae. The covers will only make him worse."

With a guilty blink, Sae dropped the covers as if they burned in her hands. Megumi repressed a sudden urge to strike at the other woman. Sae's anxiety and inept actions were driving Megumi mad. But no, that was unfair of her, she knew. Sae had nothing to do with Kenshin's current state. Sae was a gracious woman who had housed Kenshin and the rest of her friends out of the kindness of her heart. And Sae really was a competent and intelligent woman. It wasn't Sae's fault that she knew nothing of caring for a wounded man.

"How long before the others return from the Aoyia?" Megumi asked.

"A few hours at least. They usually don't come back until after sunset. Are you sure you don't want me to send a message to them? I'm sure they'd want to be informed of your arrival as soon as possible."

"No," she assured the woman. "They'll be back soon enough. Plenty of time for reunions then. I need peace and quiet to assess Ken-san, and I'm afraid my friends' enthusiasm wouldn't allow for that."

Sae nodded in understanding. "I'll have someone bring the things you requested as soon as they're ready." Sae had looked at Megumi in some confusion earlier when Megumi had requested her odd assortment of essential materials, but she'd simply nodded and ordered the restaurant staff to see to the doctor's request.

Sae really was a great help, Megumi thought, feeling a bit guilty for being short with her. She really had to get her emotions under better control. She had to forget that it was Ken-san lying before her, had to regain her physician's objectivity, had to keep from screaming in frustration and worry.

The steadiness of her own voice amazed her. "Thank you, Sae." And because she felt it needed to be said, "I apologize if I was rude-"

"No need, Megumi-sensei. Just take care of your friend," said Sae with a gentle smile and left the room.

Free of distraction at last, Megumi turned her full attention on the man lying before her, and hardening her heart, began to remove the multiple bandages, exposing the ghastly wounds underneath.

He was just a man, she told herself as she gently untied his obi and freed his arms from the yukata sleeves. Just another patient who needed her care. He wasn't the man who had saved her from the bastard Takeda Kanryu. He was merely a difficult case to be treated, an interesting medical puzzle to be solved. He wasn't the kind-hearted man with the soft voice who made her feel safe no matter how dire her circumstances....

"Ken-san," she whispered, awed by the array of fresh wounds she had uncovered and grief-stricken at the latticework of old scars that already covered his body.

She stared at the bloodied bandages, her vision blurring in liquid blossoms of white and red.

"Megumi no baka." She wiped her eyes in disgust at herself, and with renewed determination, began a detached clinical survey of the wounds. No obvious injuries to his head. That was a relief. The stitches on his various wounds were neat and well done. Another relief. The bruises on his face were fading. The two slices on his neck were scabbing over, and despite their proximity to his jugulars, were no longer of immediate danger. The gash on the right shoulder was, likewise, healing. The burns on his chest were at risk for infection, and concerning, but they seemed to be all right for the moment. The long slash across his back, though dramatic in appearance, was also beginning to heal, if slowly. Her main concerns were with the deep bite on his neck and the stab wound in his side. The skin around these two areas was an angry red and hot to her touch.

She heard someone enter the room behind her. She looked up in annoyance at the interruption. And blinked in surprise at the tall giant of a warrior who had come in with her requested supplies.

He was not the type of person Megumi had expected Sae to send, and his confident manner somehow kept her from demanding any explanation of his presence as she had intended. Instead, she found herself watching in curious silence as he set the basin she'd requested filled with cooling boiled water and sterilized washcloths on the floor nearby. Along with those, he had brought a selection of sharp knives, needles, thread, and a small oil lamp. To her further surprise, he did not leave, but instead, sat down beside her and crossed his arms.

"So. You are the woman doctor everyone's been talking about," he said, looking askance at her, frowning slightly.

"Megumi. Takani Megumi," she said flatly. "And you are...?"

"Hiko Seijuro," he said simply, staring straight forward. And left it at that.

As if those two words were explanation enough.