“Like the pottery scattered about in pieces” — an excerpt of “1863, December”

Full fic here.

1864, December pt 2

“There’s nothing in my books about it,” Susumu says in report. The lights are low, and Harada’s eyes dance beneath their lids as Yukimura pats his hand fretfully. Hijikata sits seiza across from the medic with Kondou to his left. Nagakura and Todo–just returned from Edo–huddle at his right. 

The night is cold, but Okita leans against the open door frame in a move that would seem casual to anyone who didn’t know him. “I would like permission to summon Matsumoto-sensei,” Susumu continues.

Hijikata’s eyes are hard and his brow furrows. “We are to understand this is very serious, then.”

“Sir,” Susumu concludes, “his fever is not abating. If anything, it’s gotten higher.” His eyes travel to where Yukimura sits, wiping Harada’s brow with a cool cloth. “There are rashes all over his body, and I cannot know if they are contagious. I’ve never seen anything like them.”

Nagakura swears and clenches a fist. Todo is unnaturally still. Kondou clears his throat. “Of course,” he says, a look of consternation crossing his face. “We’ll send our fastest available page.” 

Okita sways forward and allows himself two steps into the room before he stops and stares. “Is that going to be fast enough?” he asks, and while the words are light, his stiffness speaks of unease. 

“It’s going to have to be,” comes an unexpected voice. Yukimura’s holding Harada’s hand again, but her eyes are hard. She meets Okita’s surprised gaze with a ferocity Susumu’s never seen. “It will be fast enough if Heisuke goes, if he leaves immediately, but he has to go now.”

“Me?” Todo yelps. “Why me?” He looks shaken and uncomfortable, and where he once was still, now he vibrates in his skin.

“Yamazaki-san can’t leave. Don’t they always call you ‘Master Forerunner?’” she replies, and the world tilts along with his perspective.

“Y-yeah! Of course!” Todo springs to his feet, muscles tensed in anticipation. “Send me, Hijiktata-san, I’m ready!” 

“I’ll go with him,” Nagakura adds, but Hijktata shakes his head. “You’ll slow him down,” he says. “One man.” He glances at Commander Kondou.

“I’ll write the letter,” Kondou says. He rises to his feet. Todo-kun, come with me. Toshi, you’ll handle things here?”

Hijikata nods once as the two sweep from the room which has now grown quiet but for the faint sound of Harada’s quick breathing. “His hands are so cold,” Yukimura murmurs, holding them all the tighter.

The Vice Commander shakes his head and sighs. “Alert me if there’s any change,” he says before heading toward the door. 

“Sir,” Susumu nods. Okita follows Hijikata but stops before the frame. Nagakura hasn’t moved.

“Shinpachi, it’s time to go,” he says, oddly quiet if blunt. “You can’t do anything for him.”

“I’m staying.” Nagakura shakes his head. His eyes are suspiciously bright. “I’ll stay here until Heisuke gets back with Matsumoto-sensei. Just in case Yamazaki or Chizuru-chan need help with anything.”

“We do not know if this illness is contagious,” Susumu insists in a firm and neutral tone. “Yukimura and I have already been exposed, but you need to leave this area and not return unless you are summoned.”

“That’s bullshit,” Nagakura protests. “You can’t just expect me to do nothing!”

“Come on,” Okita sighs. He fists one hand in the robe behind the larger man’s neck and tugs. “We’re going. You can help me work through the 10th Division Records if you want to be useful,” he adds, and Nagakura visibly deflates as he allows himself to be drawn from the room.

Susumu wonders if he has any friends so faithful if misguided, but shakes his head. Now is not the time to dwell on Nagakura’s eccentricities. Yukimura is wiping Harada’s brow again, and the water is warming despite Atutumn’s evening chill. Her face is pale, paler than he’s ever seen, and worn. “Chizuru,” he says in a rare slip of feeling, “why don’t you take a rest. I will sit with him.”

Yukimura looks at Susumu and back to Harada again, clearly torn. “You won’t be any good to him or to me if you’re exhausted,” he adds seriously. “I slept this evening, but you’ve been awake for two days. You need rest.”

She nods then, resignedly. “But you will wake me if something changes, or if I can be of help?” she asks. His quiet confirmation sees her curled up in a nearby corner, head on her hands.

When she’s well and truly sleeping, Susumu peels back Harada’s cover and checks beneath his sleeping yukata to the red splotches climbing his chest. He sends up a prayer for Todo’s haste as he begins to wipe down Harada’s torso again.


1864, December pt 3

“It’s a swelling on the stem,” Matsumoto-sensei explains, “that we’ve been seeing since the foreigners took port.” His eyes match the Vice-Commander’s for intensity, and Chizuru thinks of her own father from her position across the engawa. Matsumoto-sensei had insisted that this meeting take place in an airy spot after having spent more than a few hours at Harada-san’s bedside. 

“Just here,” he says, pointing at the base of his skull. “Prognosis varies wildly, but the disease spreads easily from person to person. Anyone who has had prolonged or intimate contact with him will need to isolate themselves for several days. This could become endemic if we don’t snuff it out now, Hijikata.”

“Noted,” says Hijikata-san, arms crossed and brow furrowed. “I’ll make the necessary arrangements.” He glances toward Chizuru with something like concern, but it doesn’t last as he looks away again. Chizuru wonders what her face is doing as he asks the doctor what they’ll need for treatment.

“There’s nothing to be done that hasn’t been tried, I’m sorry to say.” Matsumoto-sensei sounds truly regretful, but his words are firm. “Yamazaki-san and Chizuru have done everything correctly. Now it is a matter of his will. The next few days will be critical.”

She knows this, Chizuru thinks, she knows this. So, why is it so hard to be still? A gifted distraction, Chizuru hears the crash from just behind. She startles to find Nagakura-san standing amongst the wreckage of a demolished dinner tray, his own eyes locked on Matsumoto-sensei. 

“N-nagakura-san…” 

At the look in his eyes–Chizuru thinks back to a neighborhood child she found lost in the market–she wonders again that providence can be cruel. 

“Shit,” Nagakura-san mutters. He shakes out his hands once, twice. “Shit,” he says, and he bends for broken ceramic. Instinctively, Chizuru reaches forward, but she’s stopped by a hand on her arm. Sensei.

“Do what you must,” Hijikata-san orders, a forced quality to his fierceness. His eyes meet Matsumoto-sensei and no one else. “Send any request, and it will be handled. Use what you need. Whatever you do, don’t tell the troops just how severe this is, and for the love of the gods, Shinpachi,” he adds, raising his voice, “get your shit together before patrol this evening!” 

Nagakura-san doesn’t say anything, and Hijikata-san turns purposefully from the scene. He rounds the corner without looking back, and Chizuru can’t help but think they’re all to some degree like the pottery scattered about in pieces. “Nagakura-san…” Chizuru begins again.

“We’ll send someone to help clean that up,” Matsumoto-sensei says at the same time. “Why don’t you rest before…”

“I’m fine.” Nagakura-san doesn’t meet their gaze. “I’m fine. Just gotta get this shit picked up. Fuck,” he swears, catching his finger on a jagged shard. “Fuck, shit.” He drops what’s left of the cup and sticks the finger in his mouth. Chizuru’s eyes burn, but she blinks her tears away.

Even Matsumoto-sensei leans in this time, but he remembers himself quickly. “Go,” he says again, more firmly, “and check on Todo, Nagakura. He ran all night and most of the morning. Make sure he’s resting. Then I need you to run to the market and pick up some herbals–ephedra and licorice root–for me. Can you do that?”

His tone books no argument, but it doesn’t seem like Nagakura-san would have argued anyway. “Yeah.” He stands and shakes out his hands–once, twice–again. “Yeah, of course. I’ve got it. I’ll get to it,” and there’s a nervous energy in the way he strides from that place.

Now Chizuru crosses the distance between herself and the dishes. She kneels, reaching forward, and Matsumoto-sensei sighs. 

“I will go and relieve Yamazaki-san.”

“Right,” Chizuru chirps, bowing her head. The doctor walks away.

Tears slip silently down her cheeks.

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