Prisoner in Myself

Mmm, candy canes are good. Wouldn't you agree?

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Okita awoke with a start; he'd been startled in his sleep by a sudden feeling of being suffocated. He sat up and wiped the sweat off his brow. Looking around the room, he realized Hijikata had left. He was disappointed at first, but once he thought about it, if Hijikata were to stay with him longer than necessary, there was a possibility that he would get sick too.

Again, he felt the need to wander outside, but after everything that happened yesterday, he thought it better just to sit in his tatami room and think. Once, Okita thought about Hijikata and his reaction to being asked to let him used his lap as a pillow. Okita laughed. He loved to torment Hijikata, if only to see his reactions to things that he said.

"Okita-san, are you awake?"

Okita turned to his sliding doors and saw the silhouette of little Tetsu, broom in hand. It looked darker than usual and how he wanted to go outside.

"What is it, Tetsu-kun?"

"I need to clean your room," Tetsu said bluntly.

Okita was about to remind the page that he was under strict orders not to leave his room for fear of getting sick(er), although it was mainly just to stay out of trouble, but then Tetsu stopped him.

"Susumu and Hijikata-san already said it was okay."

If Okita wasn't so sore from coughing all the time, he would have stood up and bolted for the door, but instead, he had to crawl out from under his blankets and gradually make his way over. He felt like an old man and that really upset him.

By the time he made it to the door, he was panting. He had to lean on the doorframe as he slid it open. Just as it had yesterday, the air soothed him as soon as it made contact with his skin. He didn't know if he still had a fever, but the crisp air felt great.

"Hi, Okita-san," Tetsu greeted. "There's dinner in the dining hall if you want any."

"No thanks, I'm not hungry."

Okita sighed as he walked past the page. This had to be one of the reasons why he felt so weak all the time. He knew he needed to eat, and sometimes he even wanted to, but every time he so much as smelt food, it made him sick to his stomach. He'd gotten so much skinnier as of late that now his clothes were beginning to be too big for him.

He noticed now why it had looked so dark when he woke up. The sun was already setting. He thought it was strange when Tetsu said there was still dinner, but apparently, Okita had slept the entire day. It was much colder now than what it had been yesterday.

As he began to leave the comfort of his room, he saw the snowman Tetsu and the others had worked so hard to build for him yesterday. Okita's Shinsengumi robe had been removed from the snowman, but from the blood stains left there from yesterday, the snowman looked as sick and pitiful as Okita himself.

He cringed as he walked past the horrible snowman and continued to the back of the Shinsengumi headquarters where Saizou and his family lived. Sitting with his knees tucked against his chest and his back to the wall, Okita buried his head in his knees and left his arms hanging limply at his sides.

Miserable, that's what he was. And sick. He hated that quality most of all. Not that he wished his illness on any other of the Shinsengumi members, but why had God cursed him with the disease? Had he really done so much wrong in his life to deserve this fate?

He sat contemplating this for a while, and if anyone were to come upon him at that moment, he would have seemed dead. At some point, he felt Saizou's presence as he joined him, but the piglet was ignored when he nudged Okita to get picked up. Okita was completely still if not for the occasional cough that caused his body to shake.

He knew he was bound for punishment once he was found. He would get harsh scoldings from Yamazaki and Hijikata, but after all, he did deserve it. His mind wandered freely as things like his illness and his deteriorating body, along with other topics that led to his feeling more and more depressed flashed before him.

When had he contracted the disease? According to Yamazaki, it was not something that came on suddenly, but rather took weeks to months to even years to take over the body. He could have had it without even showing symptoms. He could vaguely remember when he first began to have these coughing fits that stole the breath right out of his lungs, leaving him panting and exhausted.

After a while, although he didn't know how long exactly, Okita lost the feeling in his fingers and toes. Head still buried in his knees, he attempted to wiggle his toes back to life, but he quickly gave up when he realized it was pointless. He knew he'd been out back for over a half hour, and Tetsu was surely done cleaning his room by now, but Okita was in such a slump that he stopped caring. He shifted some to get comfortable again, but pretty much stayed in the same position. When he moved, he excited Saizou, but the pig soon curled up by its master's feet when Okita failed to move again.

It couldn't have been even five minutes later before Okita felt someone start to gently shake him. Like with Saizou, he ignored it at first, but then they began to shake him more violently.

"Okita-san? Okita-san!"

Finally, Okita looked up, but wasn't really seeing who was in front of him. He was met with the worried face of Tatsunosuke. Tatsu looked relieved to see some sort of response from the sickly captain. He looked directly into Okita's eyes, adding confusion to his already worried face.

"Okita-san, were you...crying?"

Okita's eyes widened some. Had he been crying? He didn't even remember. Whatever the case, he must have looked more of a mess than usual for Tatsu to ask him such a thing.

"Come on, we need to get you inside before you catch hypothermia too."

Tatsu kneeled down beside Okita and grabbed one of his arms to try and lift him. Okita, only vaguely aware of what was going on, allowed this and stood. His body was so stiff and frozen that it was difficult to move as he followed Tatsu across the raised deck. He noticed the sun was gone and it was a lot darker from when he had first stepped outside.

Luckily, Tatsu's room was just on the other side of the wall Okita had been sitting against. Tatsu sat Okita on the floor and tossed him a thick blanket, which he took greedily. Before Tatsu had taken a break from his work, he had made some hot tea, but had gone outside for a while to let it cool some. That's when he had found Okita. Tatsu figured now, whatever the temperature of his tea, it would surely warm Okita, so he handed it to the captain.

Okita, who had continued to stare straight ahead, his eyes glazed, took the steaming cup from Tatsu, set it beside him, and did nothing further. Tatsu, more afraid for Okita's health than ever, walked back towards the sliding doors, looking back over his shoulder as he opened them.

"I'll be right back," he said, stepping out and sliding the door shut behind him, leaving Okita completely alone.

Okita, who had been so numb from being outside for so long, only now realized how cold he was. He could feel painful pricks all over his skin as his body began to warm up. His fingers and toes were beginning to get their feeling back. Dropping and spilling the tea on the tatami mats, Okita lied curled up beneath the blanket and began to shiver, while continuing to stare at the opposite wall.

"W-We've got to go, H-Hijikata-san," he whispered, through chattering teeth. "We're g-going to be l-late."

It was spring and the cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom. Hijikata was taking Okita to his entrance ceremony into the Shinsengumi. Hijikata himself had already been accepted a few years back and was already a captain, and now it was Okita's turn. But they were never going to make it on time if Hijikata didn't walk faster.

In fact, they had made it on time. Or at least, were definitely there by the time Okita Souji's name was called. He recieved his Shinsengumi uniform that day, and his sword. The two objects he'd been allowed to carry everywhere with him, until he'd gotten sick.

As he lied shivering on the ground, he was aware of the a group of people that walked in, at least five of them. He even knew when Yamazaki kneeled down beside him and pushed away the empty cup of spilt tea.

"I d-don't want to join the S-Shins-sengumi-i...I n-need to pick some p-pickled p-plums."

This was before he met Hijikata. His farmer father wanted him to join, but he was naive and thought of nothing but picking fruits and playing with his friends.

"He's delirious!"

Okita recognized Kondo's voice, but he didn't understand what he had said. The old man tended to babble a lot and about nothing in particular. He felt Yamazaki place a hand on his cheek and he shied away from the warm touch. His skin was still icy cold.

"I can't tell if he has a fever--he probably does," Yamazaki said over him. "I need someone to bring me some warm towels, or he's going to freeze."

Although Okita continued to stare off distantly, from out of his peripheral, he saw someone tall remove something from their feet and hand whatever it was to Yamazaki. The ninja-turned-docter then placed a pair of tabi on his feet. They were unusually warm, but right now Okita didn't have the capacity to think on it any further.

Yamazaki took something from a short red-headed someone, and then Okita felt a warm wet towel hit forehead and neck. Okita had not been expecting the one on his neck and when it hit, it surprised him and he began to cough. He sounded worse than normal; his cough was a lot deeper and it made his chest burn.

"He sounds terrible," Tatsu said quietly.

As Okita continued to cough, Yamazaki helped him sit up, the towels sliding off his neck and forehead. He grabbed both his shoulders and began to shake him, for even though he was sure Okita knew of their presense, he still had the same dazed look in his eyes and did nothing as blood began to leak from the corners of his mouth. When Yamazaki shook the man by his shoulders, his head rolled back once or twice. That's when Yamazaki decided that he had had enough. He removed his right hand from Okita's shoulder and slapped it across the man's cheek.

That had done it.

Instantly, Okita's eyes returned from their lifeless state and he blinked them several times. The force of Yamazaki's blow had sent the blood trailing from Okita's lips flying out of his mouth and onto his and Yamazaki's sleeping kimonos. He coughed once more and then surveyed the room. Yamazaki and Tatsu were there, along with Kondo, Hijikata, and Tetsu.

"What's going on?" Okita asked, wrapping himself tighter with the blanket Tatsu had given him.

"I found you sitting on the other side of this wall," Tatsu explained. "Across from the pigpens."

"I was going to find you and tell you your room was cleaned," Tetsu said. "After about an hour and a half, I told Hijikata-san I couldn't find you."

Okita noticed the boy looked hurt. He felt bad for making him worry.

"I was outside that long? No wonder I'm so c-cold."

"Okita-kun, are you all right?" Kondo asked, frowning.

"You mean, aside from the fact that I'm dying?--"

"Stop it."

It was Hijikata. Okita knew that Hijikata hated when he joked around with a matter so serious as his own life, but Okita really couldn't see any harm in it. After all, he was dying.

"What he means is," Yamazaki started, moving so that he was directly in front of Okita. "I just woke you up from a slight form of depression. When Tatsu-kun found you and when I examined you here, you were completely unresponsive. You've gone through so much recently that it would have seemed unnatural for you to not get a little upset about it."

Okita's mind was hazy. He understand what Yamazaki was telling him, but it seemed strange. A depression? Tetsu had told him about dinner, which had reminded him how the disease had taken away his appetite. He had gone to visit Saizou, but he had let his mind wander. He remembered he had cried, briefly; the weight of knowing he was about to die, the always present reminders of Yaminami's ritual suicude, it had been too much.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled. He didn't know why he said it, but it seemed appropriate.

"We need to get you back to your room," Yamazaki said, standing. "I'll go make you some broth; it'll warm you up and it's light enough that you shouldn't have a problem eating it."

When he left, Kondo followed. Tetsu came to pick up the towels and then dashed out to put them with the rest of the used laundry. Hijikata stayed behind, walking over to help Okita back to his room. With help from Tatsu, Okita was able to find his balance and stand properly. Okita began to pull the blanket off his shoulders to hand it back to Tatsu, before he stopped him.

"Keep it," Tatsu said. "It's cold out there, and I can just have Tetsu bring me another one."

Okita smiled his thanks, and was then led out of the room by Hijikata. Having the weight of the blanket over his weakening body, made the trip back to his room seem so much longer. He was disappointed about having not seen Saizou as he had wanted to, but he figured maybe he would be lucky enough to get another chance of going outside tomorrow. He had to smile at that one. This was already the second day in a row that something had happened because he had been allowed out of his room. He was sure that he would be condemned to his room forever now.

He bowed his head and closed his eyes as he walked. If this truly was his last chance of being outdoors, he was going to treasure every second of it. He took in a big breath of air through his nose, releasing it slowly through his mouth and almost sighing with pleasure.

"Is there something about socks that you don't like, or am I just imagining it?"

"Why would you ask that?" Okita asked, smiling while keeping his eyes shut.

"I'm always having to get you a new pair, that's why."

Confused, Okita opened his eyes. With his head still bowed, the first thing he saw were Hijikata's bare feet walking beside his own covered ones. He knew he had gone outside without putting on any tabi...

"Hijikata-san! You're going to catch a cold like that! What were you thinking?"

"I was wearing socks when I went looking for you," Hijikata said, wiping his nose on the back of his sleeve.

Hijikata pulled his pipe from out of his other sleeve and lit it. It was true about him wearing socks before.

"Then, these...are yours?" Okita asked. In the back of his mind, he remembered someone taking off their socks and handing them to Yamazaki. He remembered how they had been unusually warm, not like a new pair would have been.

For an answer, Hijikata removed the pipe from his mouth and blew a long stream of smoke into the air. He looked down at Okita, but never said a word.

They were now very near Okita's sickroom, and when he noticed it himself, he pulled Hijikata's arm, rushing them over, and insisting that Hijikata borrow some tabi. The energy used to drag a man of Hijikata's stature left Okita bent over and coughing once they reached the inside of his tatami room.

"Quit pushing yourself, Souji," Hijikata said firmly.

Making sure that Okita was going to be all right, Hijikata went over to the dresser and pulled out a pair of tabi. Pressing his arm on the wall for support, Hijikata slipped on the socks and made his way back to Okita. By the time Hijikata made it back over, Okita was already sitting on his futon, the blanket Tatsu had given him draped over the one he always used.

"Are you still cold?" Hijikata asked.

"A little, but I'll be all right."

"You were worried about something this evening, weren't you?"

"Ah, so Tetsu-kun told you. I tried not to make my face too obvious," Okita said, smiling solemnly. "He's got a good intuition."

It didn't look like Okita was going to elaborate on the subject any further, so Hijikata decided that he would go out and finish smoking. He stood and began walking towards the two sliding doors. Although Okita tended to joke about the matter in public, Hijikata knew that Okita's condition was a very touchy issue with him. He smiled only to make the others happy.

"I couldn't breathe," Okita said softly as Hijikata reached to slide open the door.

Hijikata stopped, his arm still outstretched. He did not turn around.

"I had a dream before that," Okita continued. "I was dying. My lungs were filling up with something...and I was drowning. When I woke up it felt like I had been choked. It really terrified me; it's probably the main reason why I had that depression Yamazaki-kun was talking about. But I should worry about it since it was only a dream, right? What do you think Hijikata-san?"

Hijikata brought his outstretched arm back to his side and clenched it into a fist. Okita had paused before saying that last part, and by the sound of his voice, Hijikata could tell he was smiling. And Hijikata couldn't stand to see the front Okita used to mask his pain, so he didn't bother to turn back.

"Get some rest," Hijikata said, once again reaching for the door; this time he was able to take a step outside. "I'll see you in the morning. Good night."

As Hijikata slid the door closed behind him, he could have sworn he heard Okita say something. He shook his head, hoping he hadn't heard what he thought he had. He took a few steps forward and stopped. He took a few more and stopped again. He did this repeatedly until he had made it back to his room. Okita couldn't have said that. He thought about turning around and asking just to make certain. And he did.

He slid Okita's door open and peered inside. If it weren't for the candle used to light the room, Hijikata wouldn't have been able to see much. He hadn't even been gone five minutes, but already Okita was lying in his futon with his eyes closed. Why was the candle still lit? His heart beginning to race, Hijikata took another careful look at Okita. His chest was not rising nor was it falling.

Hijikata cursed suddenly. It wasn't appropriate, but it was the best he could do now. He wasn't thinking. He couldn't think. That's when Okita's parting words rang in his ears, and he was certain he had heard correctly.

"Goodbye, Hijikata Toushizou."

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Okay, so the real Okita Souji was born in a mansion, so was therefore a little rich kid, which means that his father couldn't have been a farmer...BUT, he was for the purpose of this story. Get over it. Also, a lot of other facts about the historical characters were changed to aid the story. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, not much about the characters' pasts were brought up in the anime or the manga (I only just finished the second volume of Shinsengumi Imou Peace Maker though).

You know what I realized recently? Tuberculosis is apparently a very common disease in anime. According to what I've seen, we have Hayate and Kimimaro from Naruto, Ukitake from Bleach, and Okita from Peacemaker Kurogane. I know there are others too (because I looked them up on youtube), but they're not from any series I'm currently interested in. Hmm, which reminds me: I missed Ukitake's birthday. I posted Hitsugaya's on my profile, but not Ukitake's. Forgive me Ukitake-taichou! (I'm crazy...just ignore it)

Well, tell me what you thought of the story. It was originally supposed to be a one-shot, so I struggled with the end of the second chapter. Sorry if it wasn't up to par. Anyway, I'm getting ready to write another Peacemaker Kurogane fic, but there's a detail I purposely "forgot" to tell Wah-Keetcha for fear that she would kill me. Ugh...