Last Time of My Life
Hey all! I'm back with a new Peacemaker Kurogane fic. And I'm just going to say this now to get it out of the way: this is a chapter fic, and it will span for 12 chapters. I hate saying that because we all know what happened last time to a certain fic that had this many (and more) chapters. It took me how long to finish? Four years? So, don't be expecting back-to-back updates or anything.
PLEASE READ: Events in this chapter, and probably a majority of this story, are going to happen in a different order than the anime or manga, or history for that matter. Also, it differs on how everyone (including Okita) finds out about the tuberculosis. I KNOW. I did that on purpose. But historically, this will take place in 1867, one year before Okita's death and two years after Yaminami's. So, please don't review or email me telling me something I've already told you.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to history, characters in the form of a manga belong to Nanae Chrono.
Also, thanks to Hellfire for helping edit and revise this chapter.
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Chapter One: August
He had coughed all morning. But it was nothing; his room was a little drafty at night, and anything could have made him cough. He had coughed so much that by noon, his throat was raw and his chest was on fire. Kondo had scheduled a practice session for all the captains that would be held later that afternoon. Thank God he had chosen the training hall and not the open courtyard because it was already starting to get cold outside.
They were still in the final days of summer, but already some of the leaves were starting to change color. The air was still dry during the day, but nights were beginning to get a lot cooler than usual for this time of year, and for that he was grateful. He was so hot at night. A lot during the day too, but mostly it was at night. Sometimes he would throw the covers off, just to get comfortable.
But this wasn't the first day that he was coughing. No, it had been about a month now. It came and went, and generally wasn't that bad. Whenever Hijikata or Kondo asked him about it--the two closest to him--he told them it was just a cold. He was sure they would get suspicious (he was starting to himself); a month was such a long time to have a cold, and what would he tell them now? He was coughing so much more than he had back then.
Now, he was out patrolling the streets with Hijikata. It was rare for Hijikata to be out on the streets during the day, but he had insisted on coming with Okita this morning. They were both wearing their Shinsengumi haori, accompanied by the swords dangling at their sides.
"You know," Okita said nonchalantly. "We're getting some awfully cold looks today."
"Who cares?" Hijikata answered. "You act like this is all new to you."
"It is, actually. They always look at us like we were anybody else. I think it has to do with you being here; you're so scary-looking that it frightens them."
Okita started to laugh at his own joke. He found it incredibly funny how the townspeople reacted to Hijikata's presence, if that truly was the reason they continued to stare so coldly. As he laughed, he became vaguely aware of the sudden tightening in his chest, but brushed it off as a product of finding Hijikata so droll. They continued to walk, until Okita's laughter came to an abrupt stop.
"Soji?" Hijikata asked, stopping to turn in Okita's direction.
"I can't breathe..."
Hijikata watched Okita who was bent forward, leaning on his knees, trying to catch his breath. There was no trace of a smile on his face and his cheeks were flushed. Okita began to stagger, but just as Hijikata stepped forward to brace him, Okita stood up straight and smiled timidly.
"That was weird," Okita said, still panting some.
"That's all you've got to say for yourself? You looked like you were going to pass out."
Okita said nothing; he didn't want to admit to Hijikata that he thought he was going to pass out. For a minute he couldn't breathe and the lack of oxygen had made him feel faint. But the feeling had gone just as fast as it had come, and that's what really worried him. He coughed lightly, hiding his face as he winced; his chest and throat burned. He looked up at the sky, shading his eyes from the sun with his arm. What time was it? He was in no hurry to get back for the captain's practice session, but he did want to get back to Headquarters, if anything, just to talk to Yamazaki about his strange symptoms.
"All right, I think we're done here," Hijikata said facing the small troupe of Shinsengumi members that had accompanied them for patrol.
They all turned to him, confused. Okita knew the practice session wasn't for at least another two hours, which still gave them plenty of time to finish patrolling. So he, along with the rest of the troupe had no idea what Hijikata was getting at.
"Hijikata-san, what are you doing?" Okita whispered to the vice-commander, not wanting to contradict orders in front of the other memebers. "We still have time--"
"You want to see Yamazaki-kun, don't you?"
Nothing got past Hijikata.
"I do, yes," Okita said. "It can wait until later though."
"Fine," Hijikata said gruffly. "Just remember: Kondo reserved all day tomorrow for everyone's bi-yearly physical."
Okita frowned, trying to go unnoticed. He had forgotten all about that. The bi-yearly physical ususally took place in July, but this year it had been postponed due to the Ikedaya Affair, and Kondo had stated at the last captain's meeting that it would be the very day after their practice session. Whether or not he told Yamazaki about his symptoms today, the ninja-turned-doctor was sure to find something during the physical.
He sighed. What was he so worried about? So, he had a cough and one measly spell of lightheadedness, big deal.
"Okay," Okita said, surpressing a cough. "We'll go back now...but we take the long way."
Hijikata knew that the "long way" meant still patrolling the streets, but doing so in a matter that would please both him and Okita. Even with this compromise, Hijikata still felt defeated. He had known Okita for years and by now it felt like second nature to him to notice whenever something was bothering the young captain. Okita needed to see Yamazaki, that much he was sure.
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On Okita's way to the training hall, he passed Hijikata's page, Tetsunosuke. He was carrying a tray laden with two cups of tea. Kondo's practice sessions were usually private, but today, he had allowed any and all Shinsengumi members that wanted to watch to come and do so.
Okita's mind wandered. He hadn't told Yamazaki about his symtpoms. The again, Okita hadn't done much of anything since returning from patrol; he'd barely had the time to change into his training clothes.
"Hi, Okita-san," Tetsu greeted. "I heard from Kondo-san that you were going to be in the first match."
Okita only smiled. He followed Tetsu into the training hall. A lot more people showed up than what he originally thought, but that never bothered him. He sat himself one space away from Hijikata to allow room for his page and watched as Tetsu served tea to Kondo, and then to Hijikata. Tetsu took his seat, and everyone waited for Kondo to speak.
"Okay, you two," Kondo said after a sip of tea. "First match participants."
Okita stood up, tying his hair back away from his face. Earlier in the week, Kondo had asked him to fight first as a sort of demonstration for the other members. Someone else stood up as well, and Okita noticed it was Todo Heisuke. There were whispers from the crowd, all of them in Okita's favor. Heisuke was the eighth unit captain, he wouldn't stand a chance against the first unit's Okita Soji, they said.
Both Okita and Heisuke walked to opposite ends of the hall, each taking a bokken sword from a rack on the wall. They turned to face each other, Heisuke already in his stance. Okita held up his hand, signaling him to wait. He coughed into his other hand, then fluidly went into his stance. Kondo instructed them to begin.
Okita knew what to do. He had trained with Heisuke before and he knew he had a bad habit of attacking straight forward as his opening move. So, as Heisuke charged toward him, Okita moved into a defensive stance, stepping to the side, and causing Heisuke to stumble awkwardly. Immediately, Okita went back on the offensive, striking Heisuke on the forearm. Heisuke, temporarily learning from his mistake, turned back to face Okita, allowing him to make the next move. Okita lunged forward, bokken lowered for he was aiming for Heisuke's ribs. Heisuke was unable to find an opening in Okita's attack and ended up taking a direct blow. As he fell to one knee, he was grateful they were only using bokken, not that it lessened the pain much. He didn't have much time to think of a strategy, for as soon as he stood, Okita was coming towards him again. He blocked Okita's bokken with his own and for a moment, the two were in a stalemate. It might have gone on longer, but Heisuke pushed back Okita's bokken and hit him in the chest with the butt of his own hilt. It was a cheap move and he knew it, but it was a split-decision, last-resort kind of move. Okita staggered back, dropping his bokken in the process.
The match was over.
"The winner: Todo Heisuke!" Kondo yelled.
As people got up to congratulate Heisuke, Okita removed himself from the training hall. He walked across the raised deck and began to cough. His entire diaphragm hurt now. The more he coughed the more he felt like he was going to vomit. He didn't blame Heisuke, but it didn't help that he had been hit that hard. He coughed once more, tasting copper. He walked to the end of the raised deck and spit into the dirt. He saw blood.
Awestruck at seeing the blood come from his mouth, Okita subconciously began rubbing the right side of his chest, where Heisuke had hit him. It hurt and started to feel bruised. He knew that it was going to hurt the moment he was hit, but it shouldn't have made his entire chest feel this way. And he couldn't breathe properly; it felt like his ribs were pushing his lungs together. What was wrong with him? Yamazaki was inside the training hall in case someone were to injure themselves in their matches...Should he tell him? He didn't know why he had suddenly changed his mind about seeing the doctor; he had been somewhat eager to talk with him earlier.
Still undecided, Okita walked back into the training hall and took his seat next to Tetsu.
"I already talked to Yamazaki-kun," Hijikata said as soon as he noticed that Okita had returned.
Okita turned his head and saw Hijikata leaning over Tetsu to whisper to him.
"But Hijikata-san," Okita whined, leaning the other way over Tetsu to whisper back to Hijikata. "I wanted to be the one to tell him."
By now, little Tetsu got the gist and pushed himself back, away from Okita and Hijikata. Although he was curious to know what they were talking about, he absolutely refused to be a Tetsu-sandwich.
"You looked so pale when you were fighting that someone else was bound to tell him eventually," Hijikata snapped, ending the discussion.
Okita coughed a few times into his hand. He knew Hijikata was right about someone telling Yamazaki about him, but it still hurt to know that he was beginning to look so bad that now others were starting to take some notice. He should have figured as much, he guessed; he was coughing a lot more, and he even had to admit, he felt a little sick.
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Okita asked that his dinner be brought to his room later that night. He had coughed all day and was completely exhausted. He hadn't seen anymore blood, but still his lungs felt like they were only working at half-capacity; it was just so hard to catch his breath. Thanks to what Hijikata said, Yamazaki was going to be meeting with him privately before tomorrow's required physical. Okita sighed, and then put his hand to his mouth to muffle the coughs that followed.
He felt worse than he had all day and now he just wanted to sleep. He curled up on his futon, not even bothering to get under the covers. Shutting his eyes, he listened to the world around him. There wasn't really much to listen to; there were a few people walking around Headquarters. Most people were done with dinner, with an exception of the stragglers, while the rest of them were probably getting ready to relax before going to bed. Okita could already feel himself drifting off to sleep.
He opened his eyes and moaned. Coughing made it hard to breathe, which therefore made it hard to sleep. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes again.
Damn it. He wasn't going to be able to sleep tonight, was he?
This time when he closed his eyes, he tried to concentrate on falling asleep as fast as he could. He soon learned that wishing to fall asleep meant not falling asleep. It didn't feel like much longer, but eventually Okita fell asleep. Even as he slept, he could unconsciously hear and feel himself coughing, removing him from the deep sleep in which he wished to remain.
Now, when Okita coughed, he could feel his whole body shake. It was annoying. He opened his eyes and saw Yamazaki staring down at him.
"Yamazaki-kun, what are you doing here?" Okita asked groggily.
"Hijikata-san asked that I do a check-up on you," Yamazaki said. "I knocked first, but you never answered; I didn't think you'd be asleep this early. I'm sorry to wake you."
"It's very hard to sleep when you can't breathe," Okita said trying to laugh, but failing miserably. He was not in the best of moods.
"You've probably caught a cold, and it's no wonder; it's freezing in here," Yamazaki said. "And, you're not bothering to cover yourself."
Yamazaki looked down at where Okita lie, noticing the covers that were under him. Okita also wasn't wearing any socks. Okita's room was facing the North, which, during this time year, was usually where the strong winds came from. None of the rooms were well-insulated, but a lot of the time, the temperature of each room depended strongly on it's location.
"I've never heard of anyone coughing up blood when they have a cold," Okita said.
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When Okita had said that, Yamazaki had had no choice but to further examine him. He listened to Okita's coughs, and on many occasions Okita felt that his personal space was being violated when Yamazaki listened to his breathing and his lungs. Okita knew he sounded worse than he had that morning.
"Wait, Yamazaki-kun," Okita had said as Yamazaki got up to leave.
Yamazaki turned back. At that time, he didn't yet have a prognosis for Okita's symptoms, but he had already concluded that it wasn't just a mere cold that ailed the Shinsengumi's first unit captain. He hadn't mentioned it at the time, but during the examination, Yamazaki knew Okita had coughed a little blood into his hand. Although Okita had already pointed that out to him before, he neglected to show or tell Yamazaki the moment it happened. Yamazaki had only seen the blood when Okita had attempted to wipe it onto the edge of his futon.
"Whenever you find out...what's wrong with me," Okita seemed to have had a hard time with that sentence," please don't tell Kondo-san or Hijikata-san. As soon as you know, come to me first."
That had been three weeks ago. Since then, Yamazaki had done little else but study Okita's symptoms in medical textbooks purposely left behind by Matsumoto. When asked why he had suddenly turned reclusive (more so than usual they would often add), he said the only thing that seemed to be acceptable and not result in any further questions: "It is simply a case of doctor-patient confidentiality."
When Yamazaki had finally come to a consensus, his heart ached. Immediately, he had gone to visit Matsumoto to see what he thought; Yamazaki prayed to God that he had somehow confused the symptoms with some other disease. But that wasn't the case. Matsumoto had agreed with everything about the diagnosis, and when Yamazaki hoped to change the doctor's mind by stating what he had heard in Okita's lungs, Matsumoto had told him that it couldn't have been anything else. All symptoms matched perfectly and there was absolutely no mistake.
Okita Soji had tuberculosis.
Yamazaki hung his head and retreated back to Shinsengumi Headquarters. He was sure Okita would know just by looking at his face, but it was still Yamazaki's duty to do as he had been instructed. It was early afternoon, which was when most members tended to do whatever they pleased (not that they didn't do that regularly, too), so Yamazaki hoped to find Okita so he could talk with him privately.
Okita was out behind the training hall sitting with Saizou. That's where Yamazaki found him.
"Yamazaki-kun," Okita greeted cheerfully. "You're looking rather down today. What's--"
Okita's smiling face suddenly faltered. He put Saizou back on the ground and stood up so he could listen to what Yamazaki had to say.
"It's not good is it?"
It was a moment before Yamazaki could answer him, but finally he said, "You have tuberculosis."
Yamazaki stopped there. What more was there to say? Okita's life had just been shattered with this very information; was it really necessary to tell him he only had a year left? Maybe it was, but Yamazaki couldn't bring himself to be the bearer of more bad news. Not today. To his surprise though, Okita didn't seem too phased to hear this. He was shocked, of course, Yamazaki could see it in his eyes; but Okita's face remained unnaturally calm.
"Thank you, Yamazaki-kun...for telling me the truth."
Okita lowered his head, hiding his expression as he walked past Yamazaki. Yamazaki couldn't be certain, but he thought he saw a small smirk on the captain's lips. He knew it was definitely a ruse for hiding his remorse.
"Are you going to be all right?" Yamazaki asked.
Of course, Yamazaki didn't mean overall; Okita was going to die, not too many people would be all right with that. But Yamazaki didn't want the information he had given Okita to ruin him for the rest of his very short life. He still had time, it wasn't much, but it was a hell of a lot more than some people got. Okita just needed to pull through this moment.
"When I was growing up, I knew someone with tuberculosis," Okita said, stopping. "I still know them, in fact. Perhaps you know who I'm talking about, Yamazaki-kun?"
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Ikedaya Affair (history): July 1864
Ikedaya Affair (fanfiction): July 1867
Woohoo, I altered history! You know, ever since I started reading/watching Peacemaker, I've noticed that I've become a lot more interested in the Shinsengumi. I'm not Japanese or anything, but I would have loved to learn about Japanese imperialism in school. Now, I'm stuck reading about it on Wikipedia and getting small tidbits of information from historical manga (i.e. "Peacemaker Kurogane" and "Kaze Hikaru"). Although, I can't believe everything I read, especially if it's from a manga, but at least the historical Shinsengumi figures are portrayed as such in manga. Did that make sense? I'm going to stop talking about this before I start confusing myselsf.
Anyway, tell me what you thought about the chapter. Suggestions welcomed. Oh, and as stated at the beginning, I owe Hellfire a bunch for helping me edit this chapter and for some other things down the road.
Next chapter: a new character connected to Okita's past will be revealed.