This story takes place after the end of the Kyoto saga, but before the
beginning of the Revenge Arc. While this chapter is spoiler-free,
later chapters contain references to Kenshin's past that could be considered
as spoilers for Revenge. With that in mind, read at your own risk.
Fever Dreams ~ Chapter 1: Fever
"...kuso!" Sano cursed as his sneezing caused him to spill his tea.
It certainly wasn't the brightest thing they've ever done, Kaoru thought.
"Achoo!" Although he managed to keep his tea in his cup, Yahiko's sneezing was no less violent than Sano's had been.
Sweet? Yes. Generous? Yes. But bright?
Definitely not. Kaoru shook her head at the three shivering, sneezing, miserable males seated around the table in the dojo's living area. All three were rapidly developing fantastic head colds... it wasn't going to be fun baby-sitting them until they were well. She toyed briefly with the idea of sending Sanosuke home, leaving her with only Kenshin and Yahiko to care for. And at least Kenshin won't be difficult, she thought, glancing at the red-headed rurouni as he succumbed to another fit of sneezing.
"O-ro! O-ro! O-o-o-ro!"
"Kuso.... Kenshin, can't you even sneeze like a normal person?" Sano grumbled, voice already distorted from coughing.
"O-ro-ro!" Kenshin sneezed in response.
Sano laughed weakly and then hunched deeper into his blanket as the laughter started him coughing.
No, Kaoru thought as she pounded him on the back, it's better if he stays here. If he gets worse in the night he'll need someone with him. Ignoring the fierce look Sano threw at her for the beating she'd been giving him, she turned to Kenshin and the two worried little girls huddled on either side of him.
They turned frightened eyes to her. "Kaoru-neesan," Suzume asked in a loud whisper, "are they going to die?" Kaoru saw the laughter in Kenshin's tired eyes and had to fight to keep from smiling herself.
"No, Suzume-chan. They're going to be fine. But I need you and your sister to fetch Megumi-san, all right?" Suzume had already begun nodding vigorously. "Good. Tell her that these three idiots jumped in the river. And," Kaoru continued, raising her voice slightly to be heard over the protests of Sano and Yahiko, "ask her to come help me take care of them."
"Why'd you have to do that, you old hag?" Yahiko complained as Ayame-chan and Suzume-chan hurried off on their errand. "We didn't jump in the river."
"He's right," Sano chimed in. "We didn't jump in the river. We fell in the river... and the last thing I need right now is for the Fox Lady to come harass me about it."
"All right, so you fell in the river," Kaoru replied calmly, gathering up the tea things. "And in the middle of winter no less." She shook her head. "You can tell her yourself when Megumi-san gets here. Because you do need her help." Stepping out of the room she added one final comment over her shoulder. "By the way, Yahiko.... I'll get you for calling me a hag. Just as soon as you're feeling better."
"Hag," Yahiko muttered defiantly, once Kaoru was out of earshot.
"This is all your fault, Kenshin," Sano groused.
"How was I supposed to know the ice would break?" Kenshin protested in a tired voice. "I was just trying to help the obaasan."
Sano grumbled a bit under his breath at that, but he couldn't really argue. Kenshin never asked me to help him in the first place, he thought, ...and it was probably the extra weight that caused the ice to break.
The room lapsed back into silence as they waited for Megumi to arrive, each of them privately dreading the acid comments she was sure to make about their cumulative intelligence. If there was one thing Megumi couldn't stand, it was someone becoming ill through his own stupidity. As her friends -- who should therefore know better -- they were really in for an earful. Her sarcastic laughter echoing in their minds, they heaved identical sighs of resignation.
Megumi arrived shortly, and as expected had much to say about idiots dunking themselves in ice-cold water in the middle of the winter. Sano of course protested that they had not done so intentionally, which only made Megumi laugh.
The Fox Lady and the Raccoon Girl are in complete agreement, Sano thought grumpily. It doesn't matter how we ended up soaked, it only matters that we did. A moment later he was forced to admit, at least to himself, that he was being a little harsh. Kaoru had at least admitted that they were sweet to help the old lady. He looked sourly at Megumi. The Fox Lady, on the other hand...
After checking each of them over, Megumi diagnosed them all as having nothing more dangerous than severe head colds. She gave Kaoru strict instructions -- interspersed with bouts of name calling with Sano -- to keep her patients in bed. "Make sure they get lots of fluids and lots of rest. And send for me if any of them gets worse."
As Kaoru could have predicted, Sanosuke was the worst patient out of the three. He ran her ragged during the first day of his convalescence, shouting for tea, pillows, blankets... anything and everything that would force her to scamper to keep up. She was sure he was doing it simply to be annoying. In exasperation she sent Ayame-chan for Megumi, and let Sano try his demands on her.
Megumi arrived just as Sanosuke bellowed for more tea. She calmly took the steaming kettle, prepared a fresh cup, and watched as Sano attempted to drink the nearly scalding offering. Yahiko, playing spectator from his futon on the other side of the room, laughed himself into a coughing fit at Sano's reaction. Megumi left half an hour later, a much-subdued Sanosuke in place of the termagant he'd been when she arrived. Sano wasn't sure which had been worse... the scalding his throat had received from the tea, or the upbraiding his ears had received from Megumi's tongue. "Kaoru-chan's doing her best and your stupid, childish demands aren't helping!" she'd said, among other things. Her final threat echoed in his mind as Kaoru brought dinner in that night. "Don't you dare complain about her cooking on top of everything else, or so help me I'll pour the tea someplace you'll really regret next time, instead of handing it to you in a cup!!" Glancing sidelong at Yahiko, Sano could tell that the Fox Lady's words were running through the boy's head as well. In absolute agreement, they accepted their meals graciously, and without complaint.
In direct contrast to Sanosuke, Yahiko surprised Kaoru with how well he behaved. As his symptoms progressed and a fever developed, he dropped his belligerent attitude and became only a sick little boy instead of the "Tokyo Samurai" he normally proclaimed himself to be. When she checked on him during the second night, she found him huddled miserably under his blankets, shivering with fever.
"Kaoru," he pleaded, "I'm so cold."
Heart softening at the adorable little boy he could be, she picked him up and cuddled him in her lap, rocking back and forth until he relaxed into sleep. He protested at first, of course, complaining that he didn't need mothering. But the rocking motion was comforting, and it was warm cuddled in her lap... and his tired body couldn't fight sleep long. "It'll be all right, Yahiko," she whispered, tucking him back into bed. "Everyone wants to be mothered when they're sick." Brushing his hair back from his forehead, she kissed him lightly before standing up.
"And I'm not going to tell anyone," she added pointedly, looking across the room to where Sanosuke lay awake, knowing he'd seen and heard the whole thing.
"Easy, Jou-chan," Sano whispered in response. "I wouldn't want to hurt Yahiko's pride, either." Satisfied, Kaoru nodded, and then turned to leave. "Oi! Aren't you going to tuck me in, too?" He received his answer in the form of an expertly aimed pillow and the rasp of the door sliding closed. A moment later a few faint, angry exclamations marked her progress as she stomped back down the hall.
Sanosuke laughed a little to himself, having received the response he expected from his taunting. Tired or not, Jou-chan rarely lost her spirit. He looked across to where Yahiko still slept peacefully on the other side of the room, and secure that his comments would go unheard confided in the sleeping boy. "You know, Yahiko-chan, we couldn't ask for a better sister. My imouto, your oneechan... Kaoru takes good care of us both." He smiled again, remembering how fast she'd flung the pillow at him. "Oyasumi nasai, Jou-chan, " he whispered, before snuggling into his blankets and letting sleep claim him.
On the morning of the third day, Kaoru awoke to find that Kenshin was already up and about. He, of course, had been an angel of a patient. If Sanosuke had been even half as good... still, she hadn't expected Kenshin to recover so quickly. Megumi-san had said it could take anywhere from three days to a week, and as slowly as the other two were progressing, Kaoru had been sure it would be a few more days before any of them were well enough to get out of bed. Yet here was Kenshin, doing the laundry...
"Ohayou, Kenshin," she greeted him, causing him to start a little at the unexpected sound. She frowned a little at that ...unexpected? Kenshin?
"Ohayou," he responded, smiling at her. "I'll make breakfast as soon as I finish these, all right?" She nodded absently, still watching his face. "Is there something wrong?"
"What? I mean, no. I mean, are you sure you should be out of bed?" Kaoru stuttered through her thoughts, trying to figure out what about him seemed... wrong.
"Daijoubu, daijoubu!" he laughed, turning back to the laundry.
He certainly seems like his old self, Kaoru thought. And his symptoms seem to be gone... he's not sneezing or coughing... "Well, if you're sure... I'll go check on Yahiko and Sanosuke." At his nod, she left him to the laundry, moving back into the house.
Kenshin relaxed after she'd left. Something was definitely wrong. His muscles ached, and he was wracked with periodic chills, as if fighting off an illness to which he couldn't remember falling prey. But infinitely more disturbing was the fact that he couldn't remember the name of the girl who'd just greeted him good morning. His own responses had come more from habit than any conscious intent... It was a routine they went through every morning, familiar and comfortable... but one he didn't actually remember. She says "Good morning, Kenshin" and then you say "Good morning-----" and then the rhythm had stuttered to a stop as he'd struggled to remember her name.
He'd awakened that morning to surroundings both familiar and not, with a single thought hammering through his brain: Don't let her worry. There was someone important nearby, and she shouldn't be allowed to worry over him. Don't let her worry, don't let her worry. The thought had forced him out of bed, although another, calmer part advised that he should stay put. Don't let her worry, don't let her worry. A pair of blue eyes filled with tears, and a soft voice scolding him Kenshin... you shouldn't make me worry... trickled through his memory and spurred him on, coaxing his weary limbs down the corridors to the well to take up a task soaked in familiarity.
Why can't I remember her name? When she'd appeared in the courtyard, some part of him registered that she was the person in his memory. Why, then, couldn't he remember her name?
Kaoru had almost reached Yahiko's room, which he and Sanosuke were currently sharing, when it hit her. He didn't say my name, not once. He always greeted her by name. It was part of their daily routine. He almost always addressed her by name when she asked him a question... but this morning, he hadn't. And he was slow to turn and look at me... as if hiding something. Kaoru walked quietly back to the courtyard, where she stood and watched the rurouni for awhile. His motions are slow, she thought, and he doesn't seem to know I'm here. Something is wrong.
She walked towards him, not bothering to hide her presence, each step increasing her worry as he failed to notice her. "Kenshin..." she began, reaching out to lay a gentle hand on his shoulder.
Kenshin moaned aloud as her slight touch sent pain lancing through his aching muscles. He heard her gasp in shock, unaware she was more frightened by his temperature than the pained sound he'd just made. "Kenshin..." he heard her say again, this time her voice laden with tears. He blinked, trying to focus over the sudden pain her touch had brought, and then looked down into her beautiful blue eyes.
"I'm sorry...." again, he sought and failed to find her name. "I'm sorry," he repeated. "Please, don't be worried. I didn't want to worry you..." You're babbling, some portion of his mind seemed to say, that's only going to frighten her. At a loss, his words stumbled to a stop, and he simply stood watching her, wavering a little on unsteady feet. Her hands braced his shoulders as she scanned his face, and then she slowly closed her eyes.
"Kenshin... baka..." she whispered, and he blinked in fuzzy surprise. She opened her eyes again and smiled reassuringly at him. "It's all right. I'm not worried." Liar! Her mind screamed in response. Megumi had warned her that something like this could happen if a fever ran too high. Oh god, how could I have neglected Kenshin? She asked herself. That he was out here because some portion of his mind insisted he not worry her... She wanted to weep at her stupidity, knowing whence that particular concern stemmed. How many times had she scolded him for something, stating that he'd worried her? She gave herself a mental shake. Take care of Kenshin now, cry about this later. She felt him relax at her words. "But you have to come back inside now, all right? You have to go back to bed." He hesitated. "If you don't... If you don't, it'll make me worry." To her relief and horror, he agreed.
Pulling his arm around her shoulders,
she began leading him back to the house. They'd only made it halfway
when she felt him slip from her grasp as he collapsed. "Kenshin!"
Kneeling beside him she shook him, but got no response other than a faint
moan. "Kenshin! Please!" The panic she'd been fighting
since she'd first touched him finally over took her, and jumping to her
feet she whirled and ran inside, screaming for Sanosuke's help.
Teaser posted July 24, 1998
Chapter completed July 27, 1998