Man! It has been more than a year. TT Thanks for the reviews, specially those who read the fic this year. Didn't think anyone's interested… ;. Well, the show must go on.


MENDING

Chapter 3:

Living Another Day

The call of the morning birds slowly permeated into Megumi's consciousness as she opened her eyes slightly. Daylight filled the room through the open window, getting a glimpse of a pale orange sky. She turned in her futon. Kaoru was already gone.

Megumi felt a weary heaviness, not from her journey or from her work, but mostly from crying. She had vented all her anxieties and relief into her tears last night as she lay on her bed with her faced turned away from the dozing Kaoru. Normally, Megumi never would let a patient's situation affect her. She was stronger than that. But Kenshin wasn't just an ordinary patient. To her, the former slayer was an important person to her and to everyone else around him. They couldn't stand to lose him. Not when she could do something about it.

'I'm not going to lie around feeling sorry for anyone,' she told herself as she pushed herself off from the futon. She folded and stowed the mattress in the closet then padded towards the window. Warm, brilliant sunshine tickled her skin as she saw the golden sphere just touching the horizon. She inhaled deeply and released her breath quickly, hoping the heavy feeling would go away.

"Ara, I can't believe it's already late in the morning!" she exclaimed to herself. But she didn't hurry. She inhaled again, enjoying the heady scent of a fresh new day. Slowly, the fog in her head gradually lifted, mind ready to focus. Today would be another day.

She shed off her under-kimono and donned a yukata before wandering down to the bath house reserved for the staff and permanent residents of the Shirobeko. The embers still glowed in the furnace that heated the large wooden tub inside. It didn't take her long to stoke the coals into a moderate flame. It seemed nobody has used the baths for the last hour, so she would have it for herself. She was glad. She needed the privacy she won't get during the rest of the day.

With her hair wrapped in a small towel, Megumi slowly stepped into the steaming tub. The water was warmer than what she was used to. But after settling into the water after a few moments, she sighed in content.

Megumi spent slow moments cleaning herself, mind devoid of thought and worry. This was, in her own little way, a ritual of self-indulgence where she left her concerns outside the door. Nobody would disturb her. Genzai-sensei teased her about her long baths, saying her beautiful skin might turn into a peach-colored raisin.

She grinned to herself at the recollection. 'I wonder how he's doing,' she thought, thinking of the old doctor and mentor. She had left in the middle of a busy week in the clinic. In fact, she even voiced her misgivings of leaving him with so much work to do. But Genzai-sensei only gave her an understanding smile, and told her their friends needed her. It was all the persuasion she needed.

Feeling invigorated by her bath, she stood up and began to dry herself. Today is another long day.

An odd droning reached Sano's ears that jarred him to semi-consciousness. He didn't open his eyes, but waited until the presence that disrupted his much-needed rest would go away. The presence did not go away, but instead, hovered to one side of the room and remained there. Then everything went bright. He groaned at the unwelcome intruder, and arm over his eyes.

"Good morning."

He stiffly shifted away from the brightness and from the newcomer who sat by his bedside.

"Aren't you a bit early?" he groused.

"I'm always early. Besides, you should learn to wake up early, Sanosuke."

He gave an audible grunt. Megumi sure had picked a good time to be insistent. "Can't you come by later?"

Sanosuke heard an exasperated sigh. "Even in your condition, you could still afford to be lazy," she remarked. He suddenly felt his blanket yanked from him.

"Are you here to cure me or to lecture me?"

There was rustling of cloth as Megumi soon came into view, her medicine box in her hand as she stood in front of him.

"Both." She had a suspiciously pleasant grin.

"I was afraid of that," he mumbled. He carefully rolled over. "All right, fine. Get it over with."

"Have you been feeling any more pains?" Megumi asked as she sat down.

His stare wavered slightly I trying to assess himself. "Here and there, but it's not so bad."

"What about headaches?"

"Not that I'm aware of." He watched warily as Megumi poked and probed at him. If he didn't remind himself it was for his own good, Sano would have swatted her nosy hand away and worry about the consequences later. That and his reflexes weren't up to the challenge.

"Good." She turned away to retrieve some items from her box. "You haven't suffered any severe head injury, so I think you'll be able to move about in less than a fortnight," Megumi went on. "But I want you to give your hand full rest. Don't use it if you don't have to. That also means no fighting and no gambling." She paused to look pointedly at him. "Do we understand each other, Sanosuke?"

He made a sour face. "With you around, do I have a choice?"

Megumi began undoing the bindings on his hand as she spared him a glance. "Yes, you do. By keeping out of trouble! First, you were almost killed by that Saitoh, and now this! You and Kenshin are almost alike. It seems that violence keeps finding you two!"

He rolled his eyes. Women won't ever understand the ways of fighting men, even if you explained it to them. "I couldn't just stand there and not help Kenshin now, could I?" he reasoned. "Even if I knew I couldn't stand a chance, I just had to do something."

Anger quickly flashed in her brown eyes. "Well, there's no point in arguing that now," she said with a gusty sigh. "What's done is done. I shouldn't be one to complain when the country's safe."

Somehow Megumi sounded unconvinced, but Sano chose not to argue. He wasn't in any condition to retaliate in any way. "How's Kenshin doin'?" he asked instead wincing as Megumi applied a cold cloth on his head.

He caught the clouded look on her face before Megumi could turn away. She couldn't hide the worry even if she tried. It was all too evident in her eyes.

"He hasn't woken up," she answered somewhat lightly. "But his wounds have stopped bleeding, and they're beginning to heal properly now." Her finely arched brows drew closer. "It will only be a matter of time before we can tell his real condition."

"His real condition?" he couldn't help asking. Somehow, he partly knew she meant Kenshin's condition once he woke up. But he was piqued at the thoughtful look she wore. "What do you mean?"

She glanced at him, then gave him a small dismissive wave. "We'll know when he comes to." The old gleam in her warm eyes returned. "In the meantime, you ought to concern yourself with your own recovery."

Sano knew a diversion when he saw one. And this was one. "He isn't getting any better, is--"

"We'll know for certain when he wakes up," Megumi cut in, "and not before."

He grimaced when the hand that applied the ointment rubbed too roughly. "Oi, oi! Careful! You trying to kill me??"

Megumi looked down on him with unfriendly eyes. "Don't try to question my judgment on something that I do," she retorted.

Sano rubbed the offended area. "Look I was just being realistic," he tried to explain. "Kenshin's my friend, too. But I don't want you to get your hopes up."

She sat back, her hands returning to her lap. "I'm a doctor, Sanosuke," she pointed out. "At least, I try to be. And I'm telling you now, Kenshin will recover."

Spoken with such conviction, Sano didn't doubt it for a second. She'd see to it that Kenshin would come through it. He also believed Megumi had it in her to cross the netherworlds and drag Kenshin's sorry carcass back to the world of the living.

They fell into silence as Sano watched her rebind his hand. He wondered how she did it, staying in control when he knew it tore her up inside to see friends suffering. 'How did she cope with it all? Perhaps, if she were Kaoru, she would have been a bawling heap. Imagining Jou-chanas a doctor caused him to shudder involuntarily. And he was grateful that she wasn't.

Megumi noticed his shivering. "Are you cold?"

"Hn? Nah, I'm fine," Sano assured her. He paused as a thought came to him. "So how are you holding out?"

Megumi looked genuinely perplexed. "Me?" she returned. "How should I be?"

A calm, nonchalant reply. She seemed so detached from her own concerns, to say the least. There was Kenshin's abrupt departure, caring for all of them, then there was also the fact that Aoshi was around. Now, he wanted to know how their first meeting went after that incident with Karyu. Her current demeanor wasn't assuring enough. But even if he did find out, what could he do? And why did he concern himself over her personal affairs? It would be pointless for Aoshi to make a move against Megumi at this time.

He inwardly sighed. That must have been one hell of a knock on the head he took from Shishio.

Sano gave a tepid grin. "Yeah. Stupid question, huh?"

"Can I see him?"

"No, Yahiko. Perhaps, when you're able."

"But, Megumi..."

"Hush. Now be still."

The boy sighed, while trying to ignore the sting of the cream applied on his back. He had wanted to see Kenshin since he was brought back the day before. Not just to see how he was, but to tell the swordsman how he, Myojin Yahiko, had stood against the Juppongitana. He had fulfilled his promise to Kenshin, to protect Kaoru and the others. His heart was swelling with pride that day when he stood against Shishio's men, Yahiko had it in his head to tell Kenshin the moment he saw him. When he did, his joy was immediately replaced with concern at seeing the greatest swordsman he knew being carried back, almost lifeless. Everyone was distressed, especially Kaoru. And since then, they had all been confined to their beds, and he hadn't been able to see either Kenshin or Sano. He wanted to see them, or he was afraid that he would never get the chance to say what he ought.

'What are you thinking?' Yahiko clenched his jaw. 'He's strong, I know. He'll pull through this... He has to.'

"Megumi?" He called out softly.

"Yes?"

He looked down on his fingers toying at his blanket. "Kenshin... he's gonna wake up, isn't he?"

He saw her pause from her work. "Of course, he will," Megumi replied. "Let's give him time, and Kenshin will be his old self again."

To someone like him, boy as he was, being relied upon was important to him. It showed how mature he was. Kenshin was the only one who had taken him seriously from the start. To him, Yahiko wasn't just some kid; he was someone who knew honor. From that time he was plucked from yakuza, Yahiko vowed to himself that he' would carry on the legacy of a Myojin samurai. He worked towards that goal by studying under Kaoru and putting up with her, learning discipline and long-suffering under their tutelage. This time, he had accomplished a feat that would make Kenshin proud. He just had to tell him about it!

"Will you do something for me?" he asked.

"Certainly."

Yahiko swallowed, his throat dry. "Could you let Kenshin know that I did what I promised to him? That I was able to help protect the Aoiya ." He waited.

"Yahiko, Kenshin is still unconscious," Megumi slowly explained.

He was mildly surprised she didn't scoff at his request. He was somewhat expecting it. "I know that." He looked down once more. "It's just that... well, in case he won't wake up." He felt a twitch in his chest. "I just want him to know that..."

"Look at me." It sounded like no mere request.

His head turned. Yahiko recognized the command in her low voice.

"You'll have to tell him yourself."

He blinked at her. "Megumi..."

"It might seem very grim for Kenshin, but I believe he'll come back to us," she said. "There's still so much waiting for him, people who need him. Like you." Her eyes softened as she went on . "You must lend him your strength, like I have mine, so that he'll return to us soon."

Yahiko couldn't find any words to say, stunned as he was of what he heard, but smiled at Megumi and nodded in agreement.

"You're right," he answered. "Kenshin's tough. He will come back soon."

Megumi returned the smile and helped him back into his robe without a word. As he lay on the futon, she covered him with a blanket, and began gathering her things.

"Uh, Megumi?"

The lady doctor paused at the door and looked back at him.

"I just wanted to say thanks, for coming here and all that." His gaze wavered from hers slightly. "Thanks."

She gave another warm smile before sliding the door panel shut.

From the length of the shadows cast, Megumi estimated it was already mid-morning. But she had already seen to all of her patients except Okina, whose room she is seeking. Her features darkened slightly. And Aoshi. The task of bringing the former okashira's meal became hers. And, as much as she wanted to see him earlier and be done with him for the day, Megumi would rather see to him last than let him ruin the rest of her day.

She sighed. The mere thought of Aoshi almost riled her. This wasn't the case before, where she trembled in fear at being near him or his men. His presence just constantly nagged her.

As Megumi spotted Okina's door, she allowed herself a long deep breath, releasing it in a forceful sigh.

"Okina-san?"

"Ah, Megumi-san!" His voice was exuberant. "Come in, come in!"

She couldn't help but smile at the invitation as she slid the shoji aside. She was greeted by the old man with a wide grin.

"A lovely morning we are having today, ne?" he announced from his seat on the tatami. He indicated the empty mat in front of him.

She acknowledged the gesture with a quick bow, then joined him on the floor.

"How are you feeling recently?" she asked.

"Much better, thanks to you," he answered. "Your herbs and healing touch has worked magic on me."

The tone he used, his open grin... Megumi made a mental shake of the head. She knew the signs an enticement only too well, having been used by every other male patient on her; so often, she had her strategy already laid out.

"No stabbing pains? Aches?"

"Ah, I think you have completely healed me."

Megumi raised an eyebrow. "Well, if that's the case"--she produced several packets from her sleeve--"I'll leave you these herbs to take to complete your recovery. I will see you again later." She noted the downcast face in quiet satisfaction. Men are such lechers at any age…

"Must you go now? I've been detained to my quarters for days," he reasoned. "Can't you at least keep a foolish old man company for a little while?"

The look contained no mischievous intent, only hunger for another presence. Megumi relented, rearranging herself on the tatami.

"Very well," she said. "But only for a moment. I've still to check on Shinomori-san."

Okina nodded. "Why in a hurry to see him?"

Megumi wasn't put off by the question, seeing his candid expression. "You know as well as I do that I really don't look forward to seeing him again."

His features contained mild surprise. "So he saw you, after all?"

Megumi nodded, her eyes tracing the hem of her kimono. "It just took a bit more convincing him of my skills."

She looked up to see old man smiled in response and shook his head. "I'm sure you have. It takes a really strong will when it comes to dealing with that young man."

Megumi tilted her head slightly."Have you had a hard time raising him?"

"Raising any child is." His eye took on a softer look. "Such a precocious boy, so full of curiosity, it will drive any caretaker crazy."

Megumi couldn't help but smile at the image Aoshi made as a boy. She couldn't associate childhood with that man at all. She decided to change the subject.

"I presume you raised Misao as well?"

"Ah, yes," he drawled with another grin. "She's just as exhausting, that child. One would think that Aoshi would be the rambunctious one, and Misao the quiet one.

"Misao mentioned he took care of her."

"I charged him with Misao when he was still a young boy," he explained, crossing his arms, "to give him a taste of how hard it was raising him. I never thought he would take me seriously. He was very patient and caring with her."

'No wonder Misao thinks highly of him.' Her brows knitted. "Are you saying all this to change my way of thinking?"

Okina regarded her with a patient eye. "Nothing of the sort, young lady. I'm merely telling you how it was before."

Megumi lowered her gaze, aware of the truth in his words. Sitting before her was the man who would know Aoshi better than anyone else. But... "Since you're the one who knows him best," she spoke up once more, "then perhaps you can tell me why he did those things he had done?"

Okina was silent for some time, obviously at a loss for words.

"You know I don't have the answer to that," he answered at last. "But what I do know is that Aoshi is a man of purpose. He does everything for a reason. And sometimes, to serve that purpose, he resorts to any means possible." He gave a bitter smile. "That was the way he was taught."

'By you, or by the Oniwabanshu,' she wanted to ask, but held back thinking such question as impertinent.

"I know," she murmured. "It's just that if I wanted to come to terms with that man, I... I want to know his reasons. Why-why he did all those things."

She couldn't understand why she was being open to this man, who was clearly Aoshi's ally, Megumi felt she couldn't hide anything from his scrutiny. Yet, at the same time, she felt it safe to divulge their common past to this man. A man in a secret trade would know how to be discreet. Most of all, to be able to talk to someone who clearly understood her situation was a comfort she needed.

Tsuzuku


I have a confession to make. I've been holding out this chapter 'cause I dunno where this story's going, anymore. Either that, or I've lost touch with the story. Argh! One thing I DON'T wanna do is give it up entirely.

Thank you SO much for the comments and your interest in this story. Most of you guys certainly know how powerful a review can be. Shout out of thanks to Lidens, Fallen, Angelica Lita of Jupiter, rei, Shimizu Hitomi, Sanosuke Hidaneand to these people I can't help but reply back at:

eriesalia – Sorry; couldn't wait for your final edits and posted. I just gottas post, right?

– re: megitsune… I haven't really gotten the real meaning of this, but I think it's derogatory. And, unfortunately, Meg doesn't have sole rights to this title. I heard this used by Kyo when referring to Okuni (Samurai Deeper Kyo).

kongykun- re: Kaoru and Megumi are getting along. IMHO, I think they do get along. Kaoru knows Meg has Kenshin's welfare at heart, despite kitsune-onna's penchant for mischief. Unfortunately for Kaoru, Meg lives for this stuff. P

Firuze Khanume - … girl, you left me really speechless when I first read this. I'm glad you liked that scene of Kaoru and Meg. Kaoru's not my most favorite character, but I do try to understand her. She is young, but she's gone through a lot, yet she still retains that certain innocence. It's fun to have them fight over Kenshin, but that's so old. It's just that some folks just don't see more than what they see on cel.

Kyris – thanks! m( )m I'm tickled you think so. Muses talking behind our backs? Definitely. You know, when I was in the middle of going back to my first Mending drafts (a looooooong time ago), haku baikou came up with Recovery. So, yeah, they're all in cahoots, them lot.

Sharon – (looks around) You sure you're talking to me???

haku baikou – Thanks for the heads-up on the grammar nits. I just have to find time to sit really, really still and check them over. I liked writing the A/Meg scene, which helped.

Leila Winters – keen of you to notice the slight changes. And I like to 'torture' Aoshi to make him more glompable.

Sorry I let everyone wait close to forever. A whole lot happened to my this year, like changing teams (i.e. more work! Dernit) and stuff. Here's hoping that now that I'm on a different department, things will change.