Scars of the Past

Chapter Sixteen

Two days passed by relatively quickly.

Misao was walking again, albeit a bit lopsided, around the dojo with her leg done up in a brace. It fortunately hadn't been a bad break and Megumi thought that given a few weeks and proper rest she'd be as good as new.

Yutaro had taken over many of the chores in the dojo as well as cooking with Megumi's help. While Kenshin was gaining strength back every day, he was still in no shape to do his laundry washing and chore list. Kaoru too was supposed to be taking it easy and she spent quite a bit of her time sleeping or sitting in the small garden with Kenshin.

Megumi had moved into the dojo for the time being so she could better keep an eye on her patients. Yahiko was steadily improving and although he wouldn't be running around he wasn't in as much pain. The relief of knowing that Anohorea would never come after him again made his healing faster than it otherwise would have been.

Sano had been helping as best he could with one hand out to fix up the dojo. The ninjas had torn up a good deal of the ceiling and several rooms and the front porch looked like a warzone. He'd also led an excursion on the second day to the Tozuma stronghold for a band of police.

The compound was deserted as the Tozuma weren't that stupid. Anohorea's body was still lying where Sano had killed him though, and a stench was starting to fill the room. The police thanked Sano for his cooperation and the fighter could only hope that somehow it would help Soujiro.

Tae and Tsubame had of course heard of the incident and were constant visitors, bringing food and an extra helping hand. When Yahiko wasn't sleeping he was generally with Tsubame, drawing comfort from her steadfast support.

Soujiro was the only one who hadn't really improved. While Megumi had said that so long as there were no complications (i.e. going to prison) he would live. But the Tenken hadn't woken up and the doctor had taken to force feeding him so as to keep him hydrated and nourished.

An infection had set in on several of his wounds so on top of everything else he was running a mild fever. But due to his body's weak state if it got any worse it could become deadly. He was being monitored twenty-four seven and Megumi hoped it would clear up before tomorrow when Saitoh came to collect him.

Right now he was resting inside with Misao watching over him and Megumi taking a well deserved mid-afternoon nap. Yahiko and Yutaro were in the bathhouse and Kenshin and Kaoru had taken to the garden to rest once more. Sano was in the kitchen cleaning up after their late lunch and would then probably go back to repairing the porch.

Misao had brought a book of poems that she had found in Kaoru's room to read, but she couldn't focus on the poet's words. They were too surreal in light of what happened.

"You going to wake up soon, Sou?" she asked, re-wetting the rag that rested on his forehead. His face was flushed from the fever and perspiration dotted his brow. The bruises he'd received were even more pronounced now than when he'd gotten them and his whole body appeared to be a mass of black and blue, save for the layers upon layers of white bandages.

A soft moan issued from between his lips and Misao winced. At first they had thought Soujiro was waking up, but he had been doing that since yesterday. He was in immense pain and there was nothing any of them could do. Misao felt tears welling up in her eyes and reached out to touch his left hand, thick bandages wrapped around the deep gash he'd received when he caught Anohorea's blade between his hands.

"Oh Sou," she whispered, rubbing her thumb across his knuckles and closing her eyes.

It seemed so long ago since he first rescued her from her would-be attackers. She had hated his smile and cheery personality back then, deducing it as fake and unreal.

She would have done anything to see that smile back on his face. For him to smile that infuriating grin that annoyed her to no end. She wanted him to smile that warm, tender smile that reached all the way to his eyes. She wanted to talk to him and share her own stories… to comfort him when his past reared its ugly head.

Another moan sounded and he shifted slightly, rolling his head so that he faced the ninja.

Misao felt her eyes widen. He had never moved before… was this a sign? More than that, was this a good sign?

"Sou?" she said quietly, trying to keep the hope out of her voice. "Sou? You waking up?"

She remained silent as he shifted again, his eyelids fluttering like a butterfly's wings. And ever so slowly, his eyes opened, the cobalt blue foggy with pain.

"Sou?" she whispered, leaning in. "Hey, don't go back to sleep," she said as his eyes started to drift closed.

His eyes opened again as well as a small, fake smile graced his lips. He coughed weakly, that one action seeming to take everything out of him as he went still.

"No, no, no," she muttered, tapping him lightly on the cheek. "C'mon Sou, stay with me." Louder, she hollered, "MEGUMI-SAN!" On second thought she added, "SANO! COME HERE!"

Soujiro winced slightly and she quickly apologized for the pain of practically shouting right over him.

The street fighter arrived first, sliding into the room on his stocking feet.

"Sou sort of woke up," Misao said, gesturing at the Tenken who had gone back to shuddering slightly.

"I'll go get the fox… I don't think she heard you."

Sano dashed right back out and returned a moment later with a sleepy, but quickly waking up Megumi.

"He started moaning and then he sort of opened his eyes," the ninja explained as Megumi knelt down next to her, pressing her fingers against Soujiro's wrist to find his pulse. "He tried to cough but since then he's sort of been shaking like this."

"His pulse is racing," Megumi said, placing his arm back down. "That's not good… he can't afford to overexert his body right now."

"What should we do?" Misao asked, as Soujiro's fingers curled into the blanket, his smile dimming slightly as he tossed his head again to the side.

"We need to calm him down… either wake him up or have him go back to sleep. I have sedatives but I don't want to use them unless as a last resort. Misao-chan, can you think of anything that would help him calm down?"

"Ummm," she said, glancing at Soujiro's face. "M-maybe. But don't think anything of this!" she warned, a blush tinting her face.

Even Sano didn't say anything.

She carefully scooted closer to Soujiro and as gently as possible pulled him to a half sitting position, so he was leaning against her. Making him let go of the futon blanket she maneuvered him so that his head rested directly over her heart.

Breathing deeply, she forced her heartbeat to become slow and steady. She knew that young children could be calmed by their mother's heartbeat. Jiya had told her stories that as a little girl she'd fall asleep on Aoshi's lap after listening to his heartbeat and although Soujiro wasn't a little kid she hoped the concept still held true.

And fortunately it seemed to. Soujiro's shudders gradually faded and the smile fell from his face as his eyes fully closed. His hand was now fisted in the yukata she had been wearing and he showed no signs of releasing her.

"That worked quite well," Megumi said, fox ears now popping out of her hair. "And look how cute you too are. Aren't they just adorable, Sano?"

"Say anything and I kick you where the sun don't shine," Misao threatened, her face becoming redder.

"As much as I'd love to leave him just like that," Megumi sighed, "I know it can't be good for his stitches. Sano, help me lay him back down."

"Judging by that little episode it looks like Soujiro is getting closer to waking up," Megumi said once the young man had been tucked back into his futon and a new washcloth on his head. "We need to keep an extra eye on him so that when he does wake up it isn't in that panicked state.

"I'm giving it another hour or two until he really wakes up," the doctor continued. "When he does we need to make sure he's calm and doesn't agitate himself. Misao-chan, I'm putting you in charge."

"M-me?"

"Who else? I'll of course be on standby, but I think your presence would be best. Once he wakes up, we have to do our best to get some food in him. He's already losing weight and his body can't afford that. I'll worry about making some soup, you just stay here."

"All right," Misao said, gazing down at Soujiro. "If it's okay then, I'm going to go run and get something to eat and use the bathroom now. Can you stay with him, Megumi-san?"

"Or course," she answered graciously. "And Sano, back to work with you."

Misao made it a quick trip, snatching some of the grilled fish Tae had dropped off earlier and some rice balls Yutaro had made. They really were quite good.

"I'm going to head back to sleep for now," Megumi said, rising to her feet once Misao entered the room again. "If you need me just call."

"Hai," Misao said quietly, settling down next to the Tenken, absentmindedly playing with her braid as she sat.

She wanted him to wake up so badly and tell her that he was going to be all right. He was the Tenken after all… practically a legend. He should be able to shake this off and get right back to smiling and helping out way too much.

The Oniwabanshu leader (although she'd given it back to Aoshi-sama she still liked to say she was the leader) sighed and cupped her chin in her hand. Speaking of Aoshi-sama, she wondered if any of this had reached him. After all, being that the Tozuma were involved he should be at least a little aware of it.

She was frustrated with herself about him. In both life-threatening experiences she'd had on this trip she had called for him to save her. And while she had on the second occasion pulled her act together she still was unable to save anyone.

She wasn't able to save Sou.

And that hurt most of all.

She had to make it up to him somehow. She had to make it up to herself. No longer could she go around being such a weak little girl when she had to protect the people she loved.

This was how Aoshi-sama must have felt after Hannya and the others died.

He had never told her, but eventually Jiya had explained what had happened. It was unfair to her for her to not know the fates of her fellow comrades.

Except in her case Sou was still alive.

"For now," the darker part of her mind whispered and she shook her head vehemently to chase the voice away.

"No. Sou is going to make it through this," she whispered, denying that she could ever think such horrible thoughts. "He'll be running around and cleaning again in no time."

She sat with him quietly after that, alternating between holding his left hand and fingering her braid. After a while, she would guess about an hour, Soujiro had started to shift in his sleep, his face sometimes taking on a pained expression.

He would be waking up soon.

"Hey Sou," she said quietly as his hand unconsciously twitched in her own. "You going to wake up for real this time?"

He let out a soft moan and turned his head slightly towards her voice, his eyelids fluttering.

"Mi…Misao?" he managed after a second, his eyes still closed.

His voice was hoarse from disuse and the constant coughing and screaming he'd been subjected two only two days ago. But it was his voice, and she had never been happier to hear it.

"Yeah, it's me," she said, giving his hand a very gentle squeeze, mindful of the cuts on his palm.

"Are you… okay?" he asked, licking his dry lips.

"Yeah," she said, ready to kick herself for her mono-syllable answers. "Do you want some water?"

"Sure," he said, voice barely audible.

"I'm going to help you sit up so you don't choke, okay?" the ninja said, removing the washcloth from his head so it wouldn't fall off. Once it was safely on the floor, she gently slid her arms behind his back and lifted him up so he was leaning against her. "You okay?"

He merely smiled in response, which Misao didn't know to take as good or bad.

"C'mon, drink up," she said, pressing a cup to his lips.

Obediently he drank, wincing slightly as the liquid ran down his abused throat. Just drinking seemed to take all the energy out of him and he slumped even more if it were possible against the ninja.

"Oi! Daijobu desu ka?" she asked worriedly.

"Arigato, Misao," he said softly, allowing his head to lean more comfortably against her, causing Misao to blush as said head pressed against her chest. Had it been anyone else she would have filled them with shuriken in an instant.

"Think nothing of it," she said, forcing herself to sound chipper. "Now, how about you open your eyes, huh?"

"They feel so heavy," he mumbled. "And it's so bright."

"Do you want to go back to sleep for a little while? Maybe once you wake up you'll feel a little better."

"Mmm," he agreed, but showed no signs of moving from his current spot.

"Ummm… Sou?"

The Tenken didn't respond, already having drifted back to sleep in the few seconds of silence.

Fighting back a smile, Misao gently shifted so he slid down until his head landed in her lap, still a bit uncomfortable but not nearly as intimate as the previous position. Once she was sure that his angle wasn't pulling on any of his stitches, she made herself as comfortable as she could in her kneeling position, running her fingers through his hair.

She was right. He was going to make it through this. And she would be there waiting for him when he did.

xxx

Night was approaching and causing the dojo occupants to become restless.

Soujiro had not woken up again, prompting concern from Megumi. If Saitoh was going to come the next day, probably early morning, Soujiro had maybe twelve hours. He needed to wake up and be briefed on the situation he was going to find himself in.

Tsubame, the one calming presence at the dojo, had gone back to her own home after dinner, leaving only injured and worried people behind.

They were all clustered in Kaoru's room, which had unanimously been selected as their main sleeping room and meeting place. It was the largest bedroom by far and there was something about being all in one room that was comforting after what they'd gone through. Plus, Megumi was right there if anything went wrong.

Misao had changed into a yukata and was sitting on her futon, placed directly next to Soujiro. Only Megumi and Sano had not gotten dressed in pajamas, Sano because he always just wore his pants and Megumi because she wasn't planning on sleeping for another few hours.

"So what are we doing about tomorrow?" Kaoru asked, her health having improved tremendously since just that morning.

"I will go with Soujiro to the police station," Kenshin said, leaning comfortably against a wall by the bedroom door. The support helped his back he claimed.

"I'm going too," Sano said.

"You?" Misao asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Someone's gotta look after Kenshin. He's in no condition to be dealing with Saitoh by himself."

"And you are?" Misao argued back.

"Better than you, Weasel. I've got two working legs."

"Stop bickering, the both of you," Kaoru said, wishing she had her bokken and could knock them both upside the head. "Concentrate."

"The gesture is appreciated. Thank you, Sanosuke," Kenshin said.

"I want to go too," Misao said, stubbornly crossing her arms.

"You're not going anywhere," Megumi said. "You'll stay here with the rest of us and wait for them all to come home."

"You're awfully optimistic, Fox," Sano said.

She shrugged. "One of us has to be."

"Do you think they'll let him go?" Kaoru asked, glancing at the injured form of the Tenken.

"Saitoh is not unreasonable," Kenshin said, his violet eyes firm with resolve. "He has shown that he trusts us, and therefore Soujiro, by allowing him to remain here for the three days. We will reach an agreement."

"I don't think anything else should be said on the matter," Megumi said. "What will be will be and it's detrimental to your health to continue worrying."

"I want to go," Yahiko said quietly, voicing his own opinion for the first time.

As Megumi opened her mouth he cut in quickly. "It's my fault Soujiro is injured. I got him involved with Anohorea."

"Don't say that," Kaoru butted in, giving her student a slight whack upside his head. "None of this is your fault and Soujiro wouldn't want you blaming yourself."

"But maybe if I talked to Saitoh-"

"Your body is in no state for you to be gallivanting about," Megumi said in her no-nonsense manner. "Your wounds are serious, Yahiko, and I won't risk you damaging anything."

"But Kenshin's just as injured as I am!"

"Ken-san and you are on different levels. Besides, I'm positive that Saitoh will bring a carriage so Ken-san won't even have to walk."

"Then why can't I go?"

"Because as your doctor I said so," she sniffed. "The less people the better, and the baka rooster is already going to make Saitoh irritable."

"Nani?" the said rooster head blurted out. "Irritable?"

"Well, he completely hates you, you know."

"Like you're one to talk, Fox!"

"We're off topic again," Kaoru mumbled wearily.

"Hey!" Misao burst out. "If I can't go, Yahiko can't go. End of story, got it?"

"That… seems oddly fair," Yutaro said.

"Agreed," Kaoru said.

"Wow, the Weasel can say something semi-smart."

"Gah, I'm gonna kill you Roosterhead!"

"Off topic," mumbled the kendo instructor.

"Oro?"

"What was the point of this conversation again?"

"Losing your train of thought at this age, Sanosuke?"

"Shut up, you stupid fox!"

"ENOUGH!" roared Misao, startling everyone into silence. "I think Sou's waking up."

All eyes immediately turned to Soujiro, the subject in question stirring slightly.

"Hey, you waking up for real now?" Misao asked, leaning over the Tenken.

At that same time, Soujiro jerked awake, lifting his head off the small pillow and colliding with Misao's forehead.

"ITAI!" she screeched, leaning back and grabbing her head. "That hurt!"

"Ow," came the very meek and hoarse voice of Soujiro, lying completely still on the futon now.

"That was quite a hit," Sano remarked.

"Daijobu desu ka?" Megumi asked, lifting Soujiro's good arm and taking his pulse.

"Daijobu," he responded just as softly.

"How about some water?" the doctor continued. "Sano, help him sit up."

"Hai, hai," he muttered, obediently moving to help Soujiro into a sitting position.

"Can you open your eyes now?" Misao asked, fully recovered as Megumi pressed a cup to his lips.

Soujiro answered the question a second later as his soft slate blue eyes became visible. They were a little cloudy, no doubt with pain, but they were open.

Megumi switched once more again into doctor mode. "How would you rate the pain right now? And be honest, please. I deal enough with masochists."

"Hey," Sano muttered, but wisely didn't interrupt more.

"Seven," he answered after a moment.

"Where do you feel the most pain?"

"My arm," he said. "And right here," he said, gesturing somewhat vaguely at his side where both stab wounds had been.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" she asked, placing her hand directly in his line of sight.

"Three."

"Follow my fingers with your eyes," she commanded, moving her index finger slowly side to side and up and down. Soujiro's pupils followed spot on.

"Good," she said with a sigh of relief. "I was worried that the poison might have damaged parts of your vision. Once you've recovered I want to test your reflexes and motor skills, all right?"

"Hai," he said, a smile on his face.

"So you're going to be okay now?" Yahiko asked quietly, knowing that the memory of Soujiro's torture would forever haunt him.

"I hope so," Soujiro said.

"See, there's finally another optimist," Megumi said with a smirk.

"Soujiro, you are in a grave situation," Kenshin said, grounding the conversation again.

And within a few minutes between various people, they explained what was going on with Saitoh.

Soujiro's smile didn't waver the slightest.

"Whatever punishment Saitoh-san has for me I'm sure it will be fitting," Soujiro said after a second of thought.

"Sou!" Misao gasped. "Don't say something like that!"

"I have committed many unforgiveable crimes," he said quietly. "Whatever Saitoh-san thinks is necessary-"

"Bullshit!" Misao all but screamed, her face heating up in anger. "How dare you say that?"

Sano, sensing the seriousness of the situation, wisely didn't comment that they were reminding him of a feuding married couple.

"I am a wanted criminal, Misao," he said evenly, looking up from his lap to meet the furious aquamarine eyes. "Whatever is-"

SLAP!

Soujiro's head flipped around from the force of the blow, his eyes wide in shock. Everyone else save Misao seemed to be in a similar state.

"Don't you ever say something like that again," she hissed, cradling her hand. "Your life isn't your own anymore. You think that we'll just watch you leave our lives? You think I'll let you leave my life? You became a part of this family the moment you stepped into the dojo and we're not letting you go without a fight. So don't you dare think that you can just toss your life away and it will make everything better.

"It won't, you baka," she said, her rant showing no signs of stopping. "We're not letting you go without a fight and you'd better not let all our efforts go to waste, got it? You are not walking out on us and we're not giving up on you. So get your act together, accept our help and realize that you're not a criminal? Got it?"

Soujiro gave a short nod, his eyes still wide and his injured cheek bright red.

"Good, glad that's cleared up," she said, reverting back to the happy-go-lucky everyone was used to. "I think it's all time we got some sleep, ne? Busy day and all tomorrow."

"What… just happened?" Sano asked.

"Some questions are better left unasked, Sanosuke," Kenshin said sagely, carefully maneuvering himself over to his futon. "Oyasumi," he said once under the covers.

"Oyasumi," Kaoru said, snuggling under her own covers.

"Am I the only one going "what the fuck?"" Sano asked.

"Language, Sanosuke," Megumi said, slapping him on the back of the head. "Now go to bed."

The doctor left the room to go change into her sleeping garments in peace and Sano, grumbling loudly, headed towards his futon and flopped down on it after tossing off his jacket.

"Are you all right?" Misao whispered, once Soujiro had finally returned to lying down. "I didn't mean to hit you so hard."

He turned his head, causing Misao to blush at just how close their futons were. They were practically nose to nose! "Iie, Misao. I deserved it."

"I just… You should be happy, Sou. I want you to be happy."

He smiled. "Arigato, Misao. But I also want…" he paused, not sure if he should continue.

"Go on," she encouraged.

"I want to be free," he said quietly. "I don't want to have to run from the law or go into hiding. I don't want to be tied down to the title of Tenken. I want to be myself and choose my own future."

"Then that's what you're going to do," she said, reaching out and squeezing his uninjured hand. "Himura won't let anything bad happen tomorrow."

"I hope so," he said, although he didn't seem entirely convinced.

Which surprised Misao. Not that he was unconvinced, but that she could tell. Was she starting to be able to read his emotions more clearly?

"You've got all of us behind you," she said, squeezing his hand once more. "We're here for you, Sou. We won't let you leave us."

"All right, enough talking!" Megumi barked, walking back into the room in a very simple light green yukata. "I'm turning out the lantern and we're going to sleep. Save all your chatter for the morning."

That said, she climbed into her own futon that lie right next to Kaoru's.

"You heard the doctor," Misao grinned. "Oyasumi, Sou."

"Oyasumi," he replied, obediently closing his eyes to sleep when he felt Misao slip her hand into his. "Misao?"

"Don't let go," she whispered.

And he didn't.

Author's Notes:

I love pointless and random dialogue. It certainly breaks up the rather depressing arc I've got going here xD

On another, better note, Happy Birthday Twin! I figured this would be a nice mini-birthday gift for you!

Reviews are loved (especially as birthday gifts! :D)