Disclaimer: I don't own anyone in this story. Except the random people I add. They are my creation. John and Jane Doe, at your service.

Author notes: There has been this rush of fics that involve Okita, and I thought I would join in. No, really, I wrote this quite awhile ago and am just now deciding to post it, though all the bugs have not been worked out. This is just something that popped into my head one day. It's a little what-if thing. This is not shonen ai. There is no romance in sight with this one. As for keeping the people in character, I do my best. I took some liberties with Okita, as we never really get to know him. I just love Okita's character. I consider him to be one of the most under-appreciated characters in all of Rurouni Kenshin. They concentrate so much on Saitou--who is cool, granted--but not really on any of the other captains of the Shinsengumi. Anyway. Kenshin is how I imagined he would be at the end of the war.

On with the story...

Evening Encounter

It really was a rotten day. Silence ruled in the supposedly deserted forest. Despite the sun and pleasant temperatures, Okita Soushi was not particularly enjoying himself. He had no particular desire to travel the fifteen miles back to Kyoto alone. Even on horseback, it was a long trip for him. The disease that had claimed his lungs required him to take frequent rest stops which were all the lonelier with no one to keep him company. By mid-afternoon, he was forced to stop for the day, his hacking cough draining his energy so that he could barely remain astride his mount.

When the horse was tended for, tied to a tree in a clearing near the stream, he found time for himself. Doubling over, he relented to the cough that burned in his lungs and tightened his chest almost unbearably. Blood splattered over his fingers, making him grateful for his foresight in resting beside the stream. When he had recovered enough to move around, he rinsed his hands in the cool water. Then, he drank some water, the liquid soothing his raw throat, and leaned back against a tree. His daicho set beside him, within easy reach, he tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and let the afternoon sun warm his skin.

At nearly twenty-six years of age, Okita Soushi was an accomplished swordsman and captain of the first squad of the Shinsengumi. He had earned the title, being one of the best samurai to walk the streets of Kyoto. But his fortune was not as good, if the consumption was any indication. And now, with the Boshin wars ending, he found himself without a sturdy foothold. Incredible as it was to him, the Shogunate was on its way out, overthrown by the peasants of Japan.

And good luck to those poor fools, he thought sadly. They really do not know what it means to build Japan from the ground up. But they will discover soon enough.

Strangely, Okita was at peace with the concept of the Shinsengumi's defeat. After all, what good would it do a dying man to resent a government he would likely never see? He applauded the opposition for their determination, that alone nearly enough to win the war. Of course, they never would have won if not for that one trump card. If not for that one swordsman, the rebellion would not have amounted to anything more than a farmers' revolt.

Hitokiri Battousai. Even now, the mere thought of the man sent a thrill through the Shinsengumi captain. Battousai had been the bane of the Shinsengumi, his mysterious style of swordsmanship being what tore them all apart. Of course, Okita had to admit, if the man had not been with good instincts and single-minded determination, no amount of kendo training would have made him so good. The man, hardly more than a boy, was the deadliest force the Shogunate had run across, and it cost the old regime everything.

The horse nickered softly, drawing Okita back to the present. It was just as well. He could not spend the entire night propped against the tree so close to the stream. If he were to slip and fall into the water, his energy would most likely fail him before he reached the side. What an undignified end to him should he slip into a river and drown. He could think of better ways to die. Even the tuberculosis was more suiting.

His horse snorted another protest, and Okita sighed. So much for a relaxing moment by the river. Smiling absently, he climbed cautiously to his feet. Turning around, he stooped slightly to pick up his two swords. He was aware of another person in the clearing, but he was not worried. Such a vulnerable position he had been in only seconds before that, had the intruder wanted it, he would have already been dead.

"Excuse me for interrupting your repose, sir," a soft-spoken apology made Okita stiffen in surprise.

And what a coincidence this! he thought with a brief chuckle. And I who was just thinking on the man.

Fastening his daicho in place, Okita turned halfway to smile at his intruder. He was nicely greeted with an astonished blink and an open mouth. How many times had he wanted to catch the man off-guard, and here, Battousai stumbled right onto him without realizing it.

"It's been awhile... Himura-san," he greeted.

The name was a bit of a joke to anyone who knew anything about the young swordsman. Little more than a peasant himself, Battousai was not really entitled to the honor of a family name. 'Himura' was meaningless, really--just a space-filler, or an addition to his primary name, 'Kenshin.' But the name had somehow caught on, despite its insignificance.

"Okita-san." To his credit, the red-haired man recovered quickly, the impassive mask slipping into place. "I would have expected you to remain longer in the battlefields."

"Likewise, I was surprised to hear of your sudden disappearance," Okita smiled pleasantly. "And if you had not looked so surprised to see me, I would have guessed you were here to kill me."

That elicited a slight smirk from the hitokiri and a slight shake of the head. Himura walked over to the horse and held his hand up to the animal's muzzle. When the creature had his scent, he calmly stroked its velvety hair.

"You do not need me to kill you, Okita-san," he murmured.

"Then, if I may be so bold," Okita smiled brightly. "Why are you out here, Himura-san?"

"Just passing through," Himura replied, tilting his head to look at the Shinsengumi soldier. He drew away from the horse. "And excuse me for disturbing you, Okita-san. I will leave you to your rest."

Okita watched in astonishment when Himura turned his back and started walking away slowly. It was not the way he had come, but rather, downstream. His destination had apparently been the river, but for what reason, Okita was not yet certain.

Throughout the Boshin war, Himura Battousai had been ruthlessly efficient. He would sooner kill the opponent that negotiate, and would have, if not for Katsura Kogorou's gentle but firm command. Very few people fully understood that, actually. The Shinsengumi, but for a few of the top captains, all thought that the man was a loose cannon. But each time Okita had fought him, he had initiated the confrontation. The only time Himura actually confronted them was by someone else's order--as a distraction. Which meant that Himura was far from wild, but, in actuality, a carefully controlled force.

Now, as Okita watched the man disappear through the brush, he realized how right that theory had been. Himura was no more looking for a fight than he was looking to die. His cold manner was meant as a deterrent for those he ran across. He took no pleasure in killing but was simply cursed with a talent for it.

Okita was overcome with a curiosity that would not let him remain silent. He walked swiftly toward the edge of the clearing where Himura had disappeared.

"Himura!"

His sharp cry startled the man, and Himura turned to look at him. He misinterpreted the call to be a challenge, if his hand on the hilt of his sword was any indication.

"I do not wish to fight with you, Okita-san," he said immediately.

"Nor I you," Okita agreed.

Himura hesitated, then pulled his hand away from his sword. Okita was surprised at the sight of only one sword at his belt. Even the great Battousai had always carried two swords. No matter how good a swordsman was, multiple opponents always made having two weapons a necessity. The single sword intrigued Okita.

"From one weary traveler to another," he held his hands out, unthreatening and inviting. "There are no other decent resting places around for miles."

Himura stared at him intently, trying to read his intentions. Okita continued to smile.

"I am sure..." Himura said slowly, "you wish to be alone."

"Quite the opposite, actually," Okita felt a familiar burning in his chest and swallowed, hoping to avert the coughing. He hoped his smile was not becoming too strained. His intention was to get Himura to stay, not to scare him off. "I hate traveling alone. It makes the sunniest day dreary."

Okita noticed the strange expression on his face as he stared uncertainly. He briefly wondered how he should interpret that. But then, his traitorous lungs made it impossible for him to keep up his careless act. He started coughing.

Covering his mouth with a hand, Okita doubled over in automatic reaction to the painful convulsions in his chest that brought up a mouthful of blood.

Oops, he thought absently as the darkness spiraled up to meet him. So much for that.

He felt the vague sensation of falling. Still coughing, he finally met the blackness. It wrapped up and around him, dragging him into oblivion. His last thought was one of absent puzzlement:

So that's what he meant by saying I didn't need him to kill me.

^_^

The darkness receded slowly; it always did. Okita struggled up, feeling no more rested than he had before losing himself to the illness. If anything, he was more exhausted than ever. However, he was comfortable. That, he found a bit odd, considering he had been falling face-first toward the ground before passing out.

Okita tried to remember what had happened.

Hitokiri Battousai.

He had seen him at his weakest moment. Now that was embarrassing. Okita hoped Saitou never found out about that one. He would never live it down. Assuming, of course, he lived long enough to see the man again. He hoped he did. Saitou, however arrogant and cynical, was one of his closest comrades. Okita admired him and knew the man admired him in return. Of course, Saitou would never openly admit that.

The soft sound of his horse whickering from across the clearing brought him to the present.

"I suppose you're ready to get moving again," he said softly. Odd to speak with a beast of burden? Never!

"The horse can wait."

Okita's eyes flew open at the familiar voice. Reacting automatically, he started to sit up, only to have two strong hands against his shoulders, pushing him back to the ground easily. Okita found himself staring up into Himura's pale, emotionless face. To say that he was alarmed would have been a huge understatement.

"Well, this is a surprise," he managed, smiling faintly.

Himura turned dusky, violet eyes to stare at him. He smiled, a very tiny smile.

"Don't move," he suggested after a moment. "You should recover from that last attack before bringing on another."

That was the most logical advice he had heard in a long time. However, it still did not explain why Himura had remained with him.

"I see you decided to take me up on that offer to share the clearing," he jested, hoping to lighten up the situation.

The response was a blank stare.

"Sit up," Himura ordered abruptly. "Some tea should help your throat."

Accustomed to Himura's curt manner, Okita was not at all put off by the gruff command. Tensing to sit up, he very nearly jumped at the sensation of Himura's hand behind his back, pushing him up. It was useful, making it so he did not have to strain his stomach and chest muscles so much, but he had not expected it.

"Completely unexpected," he commented when he was upright again. He accepted the cup Himura handed him. "Do you always help the enemy like this?"

"You know very well I never did," Himura replied quietly, busying himself with the fire.

"Then why help me?" Okita was beginning to find that direct questions were far more effective in gaining the answers he wanted from this particular man. Himura simply did not play the word games.

"You are no longer my enemy," Himura said simply.

"There's a curious thing to say," Okita smiled brightly. Actually, he was pleased with that particular notion. While duty declared that he fight Himura, he had always been intrigued by the boy. He would much rather have met him as an equal than an opponent.

"Indeed," Himura agreed, banking the fire and picking up his own cup of tea. Okita noted that the brew was his own.

"You've been going through my belongings," he said, not angry but curious.

"You were likely to have materials needed to treat your illness," Himura said with a little shrug.

"Why help me?" Okita asked again.

"Why leave you?" Himura countered. "As you say... there is no good place around here to spend the night. You and your horse needed tending, and thieves and ronins frequent this wood..."

He left that last comment hanging, allowing Okita to draw his own conclusions.

"I appreciate your assistance, even if I still do not understand it," Okita admitted.

All he received for that was a nod. No 'you are welcome,' no volunteered explanation, nothing--just a little nod. Even having left the battles, Himura was such an intriguing character.

Again, Okita found his eyes drifting to that single sword, resting on the ground beside Himura.

"You disposed of your wakizashi," he stated. He smiled. "Was it getting too heavy for you?"

Incredibly, a little smirk tilted up the corners of Himura's lips. The younger man gazed over his tea at Okita.

"Are you always in the habit of insulting the people who help you?" he murmured.

Okita chuckled, pleased he could do so without feeling the immediate need to start coughing again.

"Only if the situation warrants it," he replied. "Dare I say, I'm teasing you."

Himura lifted his eyebrows in mild surprise, then shrugged.

"So you were," he finished his tea, then glanced at Okita's nearly empty cup. "More tea?"

"Please," Okita watched as Himura's small hands lifted the kettle and poured the nearly clear liquid into his cup. "Thank you."

Another nod. Okita realized that his question had never been answered. In fact, when he considered everything they had said, it seemed that Himura had avoided each of his questions. Indirect comments had been ignored while straightforward questions had been expertly turned aside.

"You are as good with words as you are with your sword, Himura-san," he said with a little laugh. "It is a wonder you have kept your mouth shut for so long."

Himura offered a quizzical stare. He was quiet for a time, considering the observation.

"Too many cooks spoil the soup," he decided. "And too many opinions are counterproductive. Besides," Himura stood abruptly, walking toward the stream. "You know as well as anyone that the words of a hitokiri were never taken at face value."

"I still hold by that belief," Okita confessed. "Even now, I think you're a bit off."

"Really."

From his position near the fire, Okita watched Himura rinse his cup in the river. The man was methodical, even in cleaning, swiping the small dish dry with a clean cloth before slipping it into his travel pack. Okita smirked, amused by the domestic activity.

"Only a complete lunatic would tend to the needs of one of the enemy's strongest men," he declared with a quirky grin.

Himura looked at him, his eyes clouded with sadness.

"You are right," he nodded. "But you are no longer one of the strongest, Okita-san."

The smile dropped away. How the truth stung. And it was true. Okita would never survive another battle, should he be so foolhardy as to enter one. He knew it, as did most of his comrades. As he was now, Himura could cut him down in seconds. A lesser skilled swordsman would be able to defeat him in a one-on-one fight. Painful to admit, but oh-so-bitterly true.

But in that dark observation, Himura had shown something Okita never thought he would see. Not while he was alive, in any rate. The compassion the man had already shown still had him bewildered. His remorse was even more unexpected.

"And yet, I sense you are less than pleased by this," Okita said, smiling softly. "Does Hitokiri Battousai really have a heart?"

A brief spasm of pain flashed across the youth's face, making Okita regret his choice of words. Light of heart, quick to see the humor in every situation, the Shinsengumi captain rarely resorted to such defensive replies. Now, his sarcasm proved he was not happy with Himura's last comment.

"You are a good man, Okita-san," Himura said slowly, obviously choosing to disregard the biting insult. "I am saddened to see you in such a sorry state. You deserve better."

"Well, that's very decent of you, Himura-san," Okita sighed. "But do not make me your object of pity."

"The man who very nearly sent me to an early grave last year?" Himura smirked. "I would not dream of it."

They fell into an easy silence then. Okita leaned back against a tree trunk and closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of Himura tending to the horse. His thoughts drifted, still focusing mainly around the man across the clearing from him. Something occurred to him then, that he had thought of before, but never spent much time on. Now, for some reason, he spoke the idea aloud:

"Seppuku seems very appealing at times," he murmured.

He received no response. The clearing grew so still, so utterly silent, that he wondered if Himura had not just left. But when he opened his eyes, he saw Himura still standing next to the horse, one hand absently stroking the beast's side. Himura's dark eyes were not on Okita, but were unfocused, gazing down at the gurgling waters of the stream.

"That's true."

Okita blinked, startled by the sudden words that broke the perfect silence. Himura blinked rapidly a few times, coming to the present, and looked at Okita, his violet gaze piercing in its intensity.

"However, seppuku is meant to serve your ideals," he continued. "It should not be used to escape your pain... or shame."

Smiling disarmingly, Okita nodded his agreement. Then, he coughed again. Himura was by his side in an instant, handing him a damp cloth. Okita held the cloth over his mouth, coughing helplessly.

The spell did not last long, but when Okita opened his eyes again, he found himself on his back, staring up at the tree-lined sky.

I must have blacked out, he realized.

Sighing in frustration, he closed his eyes again. The sensation of a cool, damp rag being adjusted over his forehead made him remember that he was not alone this dreary afternoon.

"Just rest," Himura's husky voice ordered gently. "Another round of that, and you'll be out for longer than a few minutes."

"It's just so frustrating," Okita admitted.

His response was silence. Himura was still there; Okita could hear him moving around the clearing. Deciding he did not care that the man did not reply, he continued, changing the topic so that it was not only on himself.

"I'm still confused about your lack of wakizashi," he stated. "What happened to it?"

For a long minute, Okita was not certain he would get a response. He was prepared to keep talking when his unlikely companion finally spoke.

"It was never mine," Himura said softly. "I returned it to its owner."

"Who is that?"

"Don't be silly," Himura replied, a slight lilt of irritation in his voice.

"Right, right," Okita laughed breathlessly. "Despite the fact you abandoned the Ishin Shishi, you're still a hitokiri all the way."

"If you say so."

"Is that not true?" Okita asked, opening his eyes to look at Himura in surprise.

"Do you think it is?" countered the younger man, never looking up from his sword. He was cleaning it. Okita stared at that sword, noting the perfect edge of the weapon. Yet... there something odd about the katana.

"You'll have a difficult time killing anything with that," he decided.

Violet eyes blinked in confusion, moving from the blade to stare at Okita. Himura smiled and nodded, looking back to his sakabatou.

"That's the idea," he murmured.

"What made you think to have something like that forged?" Okita started to sit up, intrigued by the sword.

Snapping the sword back into the sheath, Himura turned and gently forced the older man to his back again. The young man gazed into Okita's gentle, brown eyes, his own face solemn, almost cold.

"Okita-san," he said softly, backing away again. "Perhaps you should spend more time on your own life than trying to understand mine. Not only will I continue to frustrate you by not answering your questions, but you will get tired and sick again."

"And does this bother you?" Okita challenged, smiling in amusement.

"Yes, it bothers me," Himura said bluntly. "It upsets me that you are destroying yourself by using up your strength when you are so obviously dying. Surely you have friends, family members, who wish to see you before you continue on to the afterlife. Will you hurt them by wasting your energy on someone who is no longer of any consequence to you?"

Okita stared at him, startled by the longer-than-usual monologue. And his words made too much sense. While he wanted to deny what Himura was saying, he had made a very good point. Just among the squad captains of the Shinsengumi, two of them were like brothers to him. Himura, the so-called heartless hitokiri, knew exactly what family and friends meant. Of course, the young man must have had so precious few friends that he treasured their friendships. Now, was he giving it all up?

No, Okita pulled away from those thoughts, knowing they were merely distractions from his own problems. He smiled, reaching up with a badly shaking hand, and clapped his hand against Himura's arm in a friendly manner.

"You are right, of course," he covered his mouth as the coughing rushed through his system. Blood on his lips, he continued to smile. "And I would ask one favor of you, before you disappear into the sunset, Himura-san."

"What is that?"

"I cannot make it to Kyoto alone."

Judging by the way Himura's emotions disappeared from his eyes, like a curtain, he knew just how much it cost Okita to admit that. Okita, however, just smiled through it, his pride and honor rising above him and allowing him to request what he would normally be too embarrassed to ask.

"Help me so that I may return home."

For a long minute, Himura and Okita stared at each other. Okita's gaze was steady and confident, almost a challenge to the younger man beside him. Himura's eyes were unreadable, as always, and unblinking. While Okita was prepared to wait out the day for Himura to respond, the ex-hitokiri did not make him wait that long.

"All right," the violet-eyed man nodded slowly.

Relieved, Okita relented to the constricting pressure in his chest and doubled over coughing. He was distantly aware of the strong, slender arms around him, supporting him as he struggled with his illness. Then, as he registered the considerable amount of blood spilling from his mouth, he drifted away on a sea of black.

^_^

Himura Kenshin grimaced at the sight of the blood splattered across the ground and down the front of Okita's shirt. Okita fell limp quite suddenly, becoming a dead weight in his arms.

"Okita-san," he whispered, hoping for a response that never came. After a few seconds of indecision, he adjust so that he was balanced on the balls of his feet and hefted the small man back, away from that puddle of blood on the ground. Kenshin was strong for his size, but he was still unprepared to carry an unconscious man any great distance, even if that man was the underweight Okita Soushi. So, he let Okita fall back to the ground, carefully cushioning the man's head against the impact.

Moving with swift efficiency, Kenshin located a clean rag and wiped the blood from Okita's face and neck. Within minutes, he had removed the man's shirt and replaced it with a clean one.

Feeling Okita's forehead for fever, Kenshin was relieved to find the man's face cool to the touch. He briefly turned his attention away from the man and rapidly cleaned up the clearing, dousing the fire and packing the horse for the trip back to Kyoto.

When everything was prepared, Kenshin turned back to the man laying unconscious at the edge of the clearing. He truly did respect and admire the man. After all, if anyone was strong enough to face down imminent death with an honest smile on his face, he deserved to be held in high esteem. And Kenshin was never one to scorn such proud, honorable characters.

Coaxing the horse to Okita's side, Kenshin considered the situation. Finally coming to a decision, he muttered a quick apology to the oblivious man and awkwardly hauled him up onto his back. Another, rather precarious, movement had both himself and the Shinsengumi captain on horseback, and Kenshin adjusted so that he sat behind Okita. The young man in front of him slumped forward, against the horse's neck, and the poor creature snorted and fretted at the stark scent of sickness.

Kenshin tried to soothe the beast, then decided that it would be better to just get to their destination as quickly as possible. Nudging the horse's flanks with his heels and leaning forward, urging the animal on, Kenshin prepared for the long jaunt back to the city he had just left.

^_^

"Who goes there?!"

Shifting Okita's weight on his back, Kenshin mentally groused about the Shinsengumi's paranoid methods. He sighed and called out an answer, lest the guard decide to cut him down for fear he was opposition. Never mind that he was, Kenshin did not want to die quite yet. And carrying a sick man on his back in the dark did not make defensive maneuvers very effective.

"Shut up and help me," he growled.

The Shinsengumi guard came forward, his astonishment visible by the lantern light playing off his face.

"Who dares-"

"This man is one of yours," Kenshin snapped. "And he's getting heavy."

Obviously hesitant, the guard stepped into the gloom of the late night streets, holding up his lantern. Kenshin tilted his face away from the illumination, his night vision destroyed by the candlelight. The guard barely glanced at him, his wide eyes focusing on the dark head on Kenshin's shoulder.

"Dear lord!" the guard quickly re-sheathed his katana. "Bring him down here."

"I'm afraid this is where I leave him with you," Kenshin contradicted the man. "I must be on my way. Now be a good man and take Okita-san to a doctor. Inform his friends and family he is not long in this world and should like to see them again."

Sensing the great wisdom in Kenshin's words, if not completely understanding them, the guard set down the lantern and relieved Kenshin of his burden. The guard, a great deal larger and stronger than the petite swordsman before him, bore Okita's weight easily. He looked back at Kenshin before going inside.

"Who are you, so that you may receive the great honor of being recognized for saving Okita-sama's life?" he asked, a bit reverently.

Kenshin smirked, the amused expression invisible in the dancing shadows. He stepped forward so that he was just barely visible in the candlelight.

"I think that no one would believe you, sir," he said softly, sensing a strange desire to laugh at the man's shocked expression. "Take care of him. He is a good man."

That said, he turned and darted away into the night. The guard wasted a few seconds, gaping after the one he knew as Battousai, barely able to believe his own eyes. Finally, he whirled and ran into the house, shouting for the doctor.

^_^

A few weeks later, Okita sat outside, wrapped in a warm, heavy blanket, and gazing out over the countryside of Edo. His every breath rattled in his chest as he inhaled the cool spring air, but still he smiled pleasantly at the nurse that tended to his every need.

So many things had happened over the few days that followed his abrupt arrival in Kyoto. Late the following morning, he had finally regained consciousness. The place had been in chaos, soldiers and the higher ranking squad captains demanding to know if what the guard had said was true. But Okita had just smiled, never confirming the man's declaration. While the captains--particularly Saitou--had known better, the other men settled down, believing the rumor to be just that. It simply was not possible that Himura Battousai had returned the first squad's captain to them. The guard was dismissed as seeing things, and everything returned to normal. Only Okita and that hapless guard knew the truth.

The day after that, an exhausted horse had appeared in the stables. No one saw the horse come in, so none could even hazard a guess where it had been for the past two days. The guard, now seen as a joke among his peers, insisted that Battousai must have ridden the horse for a day before sending it back. Of course, no one believed him.

A week later, Okita was quietly admitted to the Tuberculosis hospital in Edo. Only scant few officers knew about this, everyone else assuming he had been posted elsewhere or had risen in the ranks and transferred.

Now, weeks after the trip that was nearly the end of him, Okita was residing in that same hospital. He looked up at the bright blue, cloudless sky, a contented smile on his face. He was at peace with his rapidly approaching death. The doctors gave him a year at most. They knew, as did he, that he would never live another month.

"Your medicine, Okita-san."

A woman's lilting accent of southern Japan struck a pleasant chord against Okita's ears, and he smiled at her when she knelt beside him. She was not tall--just the same height as he--but very pretty. Her deep brown eyes gleamed with a light of their own, her dark hair nearly hidden beneath a cleverly tied handkerchief. Her smile was nothing but warmth.

"And how are you today, Kouri-chan?" he asked, accepting the bitter liquid that was supposed to help ease his coughing.

"Doing well, Okita-san," she smiled, always charmed by his courteous manner. "And what were you thinking about that had you so distant?"

"Something someone told me," he replied, noting that his voice did not sound as hoarse as it usually did. "A strange man. You would have liked him."

"If he's anything like you, I'm sure everyone would like him," Kouri smiled gently.

Okita laughed and shook his head.

"Curt and frustrating, actually," he declared. "But wise beyond his years."

"What did he tell you?"

"He told me to stop worrying about inconsequential details," he answered, looking back up at the sky. "Why wonder why the sky is blue or who runs this country so long as the sun still shines and the people are happy? And why question this disease when I cannot stop it?" he glanced at Kouri with a little smile. "I intend to enjoy the afterlife."

The woman's eyes flooded with tears at his words, but she smiled bravely.

"You deserve a life in nirvana," Kouri informed him, leaning forward to press a quick kiss to his cheek. She forced her face into a frown, trying to look intimidating, although Okita's steady smile implied it was not working. "Now get some rest. You've been out here all day. To bed with you!"

"I never could turn down a beautiful woman," he replied, steadying himself by gripping her proffered hand as he stood. She slipped an arm around his waist and supported him, feeling little more than skin and bones beneath the cloth of his robe. Okita leaned against her as she guided him to his room, but insisted, as always, that he could get into bed without help.

"The day I need help just to lay down is the day I never get up again," he had often declared.

Even now, as he had obvious difficulty manipulating his weary, weak body onto the futon, Kouri stood back and let him do as he wished. Morale was key to survival. If a person lost the will to live, then he might very well roll over and die. And Okita had shown more determination to live--and not just exist, but truly live--than the hospital had seen in a long while.

When he had finally relaxed onto his back, Okita smiled up at Kouri.

"At least I did not start coughing that time," he said lightly.

She smiled and adjusted the blankets around him.

"Sleep well, Okita-san."

^_^

One day, late in May that year, 1868, Okita admitted he needed help getting into bed. He had tears in his eyes as he laid there afterwards, murmuring softly that he would not be getting up the next morning.

Then, one morning, after long days of being bedridden and coughing up blood, he did not wake.

Okita Soushi died on the thirtieth of May, 1868, the first year of the Meiji. He met the afterlife, free from the restrictions of his earthly body. The hospital staff mourned the man's death, then celebrated his life and afterlife, knowing he was happy, wherever he was.

The End.

Notes and explanations: I'm pretty sure that date is correct. Okita, having been a real person, did have an actual birth date, which I could not find. The research I did produced May 30, 1868 as the man's death. I believe he was 25 or 26 when he died. As far as the hospital in Edo (modern-day Tokyo), this was how he spent the rest of his days after the war. It was done in secrecy.

I'm not all that happy with my ending here. Heaven knows it is sad, but I think I could have figured out something better. Oh well. Please review and let me know if you liked it. Granted, if you thought it stunk to high heavens, constructive criticism is never a bad thing. Let me know how I can improve this story.

Oh, and that whole thing about Kenshin's last name. Since Kenshin was a peasant before joining the Ishin Shishi, it was very likely that he did not have a family name prior to that. I could be mistaken, but that is my impression.