Chapter One:


Megumi looked around the closely spaced clinic. The day had been slow, and she found she had time on her hands. Rarely comfortable standing idle, she looked about the room for something to do. She started when she saw a figure standing in the opened door.

"Excuse me, please," a boy - maybe fifteen, Megumi surmised - stood smiling in the doorway.

"Yes?" Megumi said, approaching her visitor. "What can I do for you?"

"Is this the clinic, ma'am?"

"It is." The doctor sized up her patient. She found him noticeably pale, even if his natural complexion was light. He was also thin for his height. It was clear to Megumi's eyes that, although not starving, the boy had not eaten well for some time.

The boy began to fidget slightly, as he felt himself subject to the woman's scrutiny. "Um, I was hoping to see someone . . . I haven't been well lately . . ."

"Yes, come in," Megumi said, remembering herself. "I'm the doctor." She led the boy inside. "What's the matter, child?"

If the young man was bothered by the condescending term, he gave no outward sign. His pleasant expression was fixed. "It's a cough I've had, sensei. It's been a couple months now, but it hasn't gone away. I'm sorry to trouble you with something so minor," he half-smiled, "but I can't get any work done. The last man who hired me told me to leave earlier this morning. I have to stop what I'm doing for a few minutes once I start to cough, so no one will keep me working for them."

After listening to the boy's short monologue, Megumi motioned to his shirt and said, "Well, let's see." Obediently, the boy removed the upper part of his light blue kimono, and then began to unbutton the western styled shirt beneath it. He was silent as Megumi felt his back, telling him when and how to breathe. Apparently, he took one breath too deeply, because he began to stifle a cough.

Megumi watched as the boy's light frame was racked by his cough. A dry, hacking cough, she noted. The kind that quickly left one gasping for air while simultaneously trying to expel it from the lungs. At length, the boy recovered himself. Holding his sides, he smiled up at the doctor. "Sorry about that."

"It's not a problem." Megumi gently placed her hands on either side of the boy's throat, only briefly noting that he tensed at her touch. Tilting his chin up with her fingers, she pressed one hand against the underside of his jaw. "Open your mouth."

The boy did as he was told. Removing her hands from his face, Megumi said "That cough won't go away on it's own. Have you coughed any blood while you've had it?"

"No, sensei. Nothing like that."

"I don't know about your living conditions, but I have to advise you to stop trying to work for a while. At least not strenuously. You're young enough that you can get over this, given time, but aggravating it will only lead to something more serious. Do you have someone to take care of you for the time being?"

The boy looked up from a stubborn button he was attempting to re-fasten. "No, sensei."

"You live by yourself, then?"

He nodded.

Before responding, Megumi noticed that the boy's hands were shaking. He saw her gaze and smiled nervously. "They do that sometimes," he stated.

Suddenly, Megumi felt strangely moved by the thin, smiling boy standing before her. Strangely, he reminded her of a small, smiling swordsman she knew from Tokyo.

Calmly, she took the boy's trembling hands in her own, and turned his palm towards her. A glove of calluses covered the child-like hand. The boy pulled his hand back quickly, with an apologetic smile.

'He works hard,' Megumi thought. She looked up at his face again. Thin, hungry, and smiling. She signed inwardly. 'I can't just send him out like this.'

"Do you have a place to stay the night?" she asked sharply.

"Well, not yet."

"Well then you can stay at the clinic for a day or two," she said plainly.

The boy blinked and widened his eyes. "Oh, but I really don't have that much money, and besides, it's just a cough - "

"Don't worry about it. I can't just let you leave unless I think you'll be all right. What kind of a doctor would I be if you came here to get well and I only sent you out to get sick again? Come here, let me get you something to soothe your throat."

Soujiro looked around the room the female doctor had placed him in. A shaded window took up a large portion of the wall to his left, while the one to his right harbored the door by which the doctor had left. A shelf and sink stood a few feet before him. The room suddenly seemed far too small. He had not wanted to stay. He hadn't even wanted to see a doctor in the first place. It was only due to his aching ribs and chest, and his consequent lack of work that he'd come at all. Now, he was in a room waiting for his good-natured captor to bring him "something to soothe his throat." The memory of those words relaxed Soujiro a bit. It would be nice, he reflected, to have something hamper the raw scratching in his throat. He also told himself that this way he'd at least have somewhere to stay for the night.

After another few minutes, the doctor returned with a bowl in her hands.

"Drink this slowly," she said, placing the bowl in his hands.

"Thank you, sensei."

"You're welcomed, and my name is Takani Megumi." The doctor knelt down next to him.

"I'm pleased to have met you, Megumi-sensei. My name," Soujiro paused, wondering if he should give his real name. Even in Aizu, someone may have heard of him. He knew how big Chou's mouth could be. But he didn't have an alias on hand . . .

"is Soujiro," he finished.

Megumi showed no notice of his hesitation. Soujiro turned his attention to the bowl of warm broth in his hands. He raised it to his lips, gauging the temperature, and took a sip. True to the doctor's word, it felt wonderfully soothing as it went down his throat.

As Soujiro was coming to the end of his soup, a man casually entered the room. He stopped when he saw Soujiro, and looked down at Megumi.

"This is Soujiro," Megumi said to the newcomer. Turning to Soujiro she said, "This is my cousin, Takani Naoto. He is also a doctor here."

"Hello, Naoto-sensei," Soujiro smiled.

Naoto nodded. "A patient, I'm presuming?"

"Yes," Megumi said. "He'll be staying here for a day or two."

"I see." Naoto, seemingly satisfied, walked over to the shelf, knelt before it, and proceeded to rummage through the items on it.

Soujiro set his bowl down and smiled up at Megumi. "I really don't need to stay here, Megumi-sensei. You're much too kind. Besides -" Soujiro unintentionally interupted himself by coughing.

"Besides nothing," Megumi said before the boy could recover himself. "If you wanted to sleep on the streets so badly, you shouldn't have come here. You're health is now my responsibility."

Soujiro looked down at his empty bowl. This woman, he thought, had a very persuasive air about her.

Well, there's chapter one. As the title states, this is merely an introduction - the following chapters are longer. Reviews will be appreciated. :)