Fever Dreams ~ Chapter 5: Dreams
Sano's hoarse shout sounded just as Kaoru reached the door to Yahiko's room. She entered to find him rubbing his shoulder and cursing at Megumi.
"Chikusho! What are you trying to do to me, Fox Lady!? Che, that hurt!!"
"Really?" Megumi's voice was dry. " It feels better now, doesn't it?"
Sano gave her a disgusted look, too stubborn to admit she was right. The pain had almost subsided, and the nausea was fading.
"Megumi-san," Kaoru said, interrupting the tense silence before they could begin another round of name-calling, "is Sanosuke all right?"
"Yes. He's got some scrapes and bruises, but he'll be fine." For a moment Megumi's eyes softened as she looked at the disgruntled Sanosuke. "He's lucky. His shoulder was dislocated rather than broken." She turned again to Kaoru. "He said Ken-san did this?"
Kaoru nodded. Slowly she and Sanosuke related what had happened. "I managed to get him to go back to bed after Sanosuke left. He's sleeping again now." Kaoru hesitated a moment, then continued, "He seemed to be Kenshin again, demo, I still don't think he really recognized me." He couldn't remember my name when he told me goodnight, she thought. "Onegai, could you check on him?"
"Of course, that's why I'm here. Or it would be if only this fool could stay out of trouble." Megumi whapped Sano lightly on the head as she spoke.
"Hey! It's not my fault! I didn't do anything!"
"Hai, hai," she responded, already on her way out of the room, her tone clearly indicating she was just humoring him.
"Hey!!" Sano turned to Yahiko. "It wasn't my fault!" Yahiko simply shrugged in response. "Che... Kenshin no baka!"
Kenshin slept, and sleeping dreamt. Finding and replaying his fondest memories and quiet hopes, his subconscious delighted in the image of a beautiful girl, her hair dark as midnight, her blue eyes sparkling with joy. Images comprised of sunlight and laugher, moonshine and quiet moments flitted through his mind.
"His fever's broken." Megumi's voice was relieved. "It's going to be all right now, Kaoru-chan." To her surprise, Kaoru's arms came around her, hugging her as she stuttered relieved thanks. Megumi hugged Kaoru in turn when she felt the tears that accompanied the girl's relief. "Shhhhh. It's all right," she repeated.
Once Kaoru had calmed down, Megumi ordered her to take a bath and get some rest. "I'll take care of Yahiko-kun, Ken-san and the rooster head." At first Kaoru protested, but then Megumi unfairly -- to Kaoru's way of thinking -- pointed out that Kenshin would be upset if he found out she'd exhausted herself taking care of him. Looking reproachfully at the doctor one last time, she left the room.
Megumi turned back to Kenshin, reaching out to gently adjust his covers. He stirred slightly, mumbling Kaoru's name, his heavy eyelids fluttering. Soothingly, as she'd done once before, she whispered to him to sleep and dream of Kaoru. Unlike before, he smiled in response, at ease with whatever visions his memory and imagination chose to display, the demons that had disturbed his sleep before now gone. She wondered if Battousai's fight with Sano had anything to do with that. It was almost as if the fever had abated simply because the nightmares had stopped, rather than the other way around.
"Kenshin!" her sweet voice called his name, and she tugged gently at his sleeve, attempting to hurry him along. "Hurry up! We're going to miss it!"
"Kaoru-dono, we still have plenty of time," he laughed, lagging behind on purpose, teasing her.
"Mou!! Kenshiiin!" She pouted a little, tugging harder although her eyes laughed with him. A moment later those eyes widened in surprise as the thin material of his sleeve tore, sending her stumbling backwards to land on the hillside with a soft thump. She looked woefully at the scrap of material she held in her hand, and then up at him, stuttering an embarrassed apology.
"Ororo?!" He said, exclaiming his own surprise, and then convulsed with laughter when she blushed and offered him his missing sleeve. "Yare yare...."
In the morning, Megumi examined both Yahiko and Sanosuke. Although his cold was gone, Sanosuke was granted another day of rest due to his battered and bruised body. He was grateful, since he suspected Kaoru would make repairing the kitchen wall his first order of business once Megumi decided he'd recovered.
Yahiko, on the other hand, was pronounced ready to be up and about. He protested a little, knowing that "up and about" probably meant "cleaning the dojo", but the young doctor didn't fall for his antics. Kaoru was informed that her youngest patient had recovered, and soon the rhythmic pounding of footfalls could be heard as he raced up and down the wooden floors, dust cloth in hand.
He watched as Kaoru and Yahiko practiced, noting that the boy was improving. Kaoru remarked on it as well, and basking in their praise Yahiko turned cocky. Kenshin mentally shook his head, knowing the cockiness would earn the boy a turn or two cleaning the floors. Sure enough, Yahiko soon spouted off a little too much, his comments liberally laced with words like "hag", "old" and "ugly".
Whack! Kaoru's bokken struck Yahiko on the top of his head. "Yahiko!" her voice lashed out, laden with anger. Almost before Kenshin had time to blink, Yahiko was busy running back and forth, polishing the already spotless dojo floor.
"Mou!" With a thunk, Kaoru collapsed on the floor next to him, flopping back to lie looking up at the ceiling. Surveying her quietly, Kenshin replaced Yahiko's description with his own: Sweet, spirited, beautiful.
Kaoru stood in the open doorway to Kenshin's room, needing the sight of his peacefully sleeping form to reassure her that all was well. Megumi had said there was nothing left to worry about... but somehow, she couldn't stop herself. She wanted to hear him say her name, see his eyes light with recognition.
She sighed, continuing down the hall to her room, knowing he would wake only when his body and mind were ready.
Soon, she thought. Let it be soon.
He paused to close the dojo gate, the laughter of the others carrying to him as they made their soggy way inside. They'd gone to the Akabeko for dinner, and been caught in the rain on the way back. Now that they were home again, the rain had lessened to a gentle patter instead of the steady deluge they'd run through to get to the dojo. Of course. Yare yare...
He turned to find Kaoru still standing in the yard, watching him lock up for the night. Her wet kimono clung to her in interesting ways... Better not to think about that, he told himself. "Kaoru-dono, you should change before you catch cold. Would you like me to get a bath ready?"
She smiled at him, at his thoughtfulness. "No, I'm fine." Her voice was soft, barely audible. "I'll change in a minute." As she spoke, she tilted her head back, letting the rain dance lightly over her face, smiling at the tickling sensation.
He found himself smiling with her, then felt the smile dissolve as the storm picked up again, the previously gentle rain falling with battering force, the wind pushing at him where he stood.
Kaoru bit her lip nervously as she knelt beside Kenshin's futon. Worried that he still hadn't awakened on his own, she'd sent Yahiko to fetch Megumi. The boy had returned without the doctor, but with instructions for Kaoru to wake him herself.
"It won't hurt him. It's been three days... he needs to eat something," was the message Yahiko relayed.
Nevertheless, now that she'd been given permission to wake him, Kaoru was a little afraid to do so. What if he still doesn't remember who he is... who I am? Hesitantly she shook him, pushing gently at his shoulders. When that had no affect, she shook harder, her hesitation gradually fading as she began to get annoyed at his lack of response. Kenshin no baka! Cooperate, why don't you? she thought. Leaning forward she took hold of his shoulders and shook him as hard as she could, simultaneously calling his name. Finally! she thought with satisfaction as his eyes snapped open in response.
He blinked at her a moment, confused by the abrupt transition from dreams to reality. She waited, hoping, and then he smiled at her. "Ohayou, Kaoru-dono," he said, his voice rasping in his dry throat.
"No...." Kaoru gently shook her head. "Good afternoon you mean."
"Oro?" The violet eyes were shocked.
"Mmm." She nodded. "You've been asleep for quite awhile." She felt the tears welling up in her eyes and blinked them away in annoyance. There was nothing to cry about. Megumi had been right... everything would be fine now. "Almost three days, to be exact," she told him.
Kenshin noticed the tears and her dismissal of them, but his mind focused on her words. The violet eyes widened. Three days?
She nodded at the unspoken question. "You came down with a fever. Megumi-san gave you something to make you more comfortable, and to keep you calm until it passed." Well, it's not that far from the truth.... and she certainly couldn't tell him that. He'd feel guilty, and then worry that something similar might happen again, even though none of it -- not the delusion, not Battousai's anger -- had been his fault. She made a mental note to make sure Sanosuke fixed the wall in the kitchen before the day was through. Otherwise Kenshin was bound to ask questions.
Kenshin frowned, sensing there was something she wasn't telling him. The last thing he remembered was doing the laundry...
"Are you hungry?" Her voice was hopeful, as if this was some sort of test.
"Hai, de gozaru," he responded, slowly sitting up. She smiled brightly, and he decided he must have passed. Something happened while I was asleep. She'd been anxious as she spoke to him, watching him as if expecting to find someone else in his place. Slowly the tension seemed to be draining from her, replaced by an abundance of relief. Yes, something happened. But will she tell me what?
"Kenshin." He stirred from his contemplation to find her offering him his lunch.
"Thank you, Kaoru-dono." He paused, trying to decide if he should ask her for the details of the last three days. Her blue eyes begged him to leave it alone. Sighing, he let it drop, and turned his attention to his meal.
Eating proved an effort, his system still recovering, his body still tired. When he finally finished, exhaustion reasserted itself with a vengeance. He fought it as Kaoru cleared away the dishes, certain there was something he needed to tell her, but unable to remember what. She returned from the kitchen and tucked him back into bed, her fussing making him smile. There was something vaguely familiar about that, though he couldn't think what.
"Wait..." he whispered as she smoothed the covers one last time, and made as if to rise and leave. "Wait." Obligingly she settled beside him again, waiting for him to gather his fuzzy thoughts. What was it I wanted to tell her? he asked himself. He raised heavy lids, turning his head to meet her gaze, the worry beginning to gather there finally answering his question.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, reaching a hand out to touch her cheek. "For making you worry... I'm sorry."
Kaoru closed her eyes, remorse washing through her, uncertain how to erase this concern she'd unwittingly impressed upon him. "Daijoubu," she whispered in return, "you don't need to be sorry. Everything is fine. I promise." She smiled a little then, taking his hand in her own and squeezing it once, reassuringly. She opened her eyes to find he'd already slipped away into sleep again. "Oyasumi, Kenshin," she whispered. He smiled sleepily in response, her voice, if not her words, finding him in the midst of his dreams.
Kenshin slept, and sleeping dreamt.
By the riverbank, between the spreading roots of a sheltering tree, he sat with Kaoru cuddled against him. Worries, fears, painful memories... all were washed away by the warmth of the small smile playing across her lips, echoing the one he felt spreading across his own. He dipped his head, resting his cheek against the silk of her hair, more than content just to be in her presence.
August 26, 1998