Categories > Anime/Manga > Rurouni Kenshin > Lost and Found

The End of Snow Is Nirvana

by Firuze_Khanume 1 review

Nobody doubts that Takani Megumi is a dedicated doctor. Following the call of her profession, she gets lost in the snow, finding herself alone with the most unexpected companion. Based loosely in a...

Category: Rurouni Kenshin - Rating: R - Genres: Drama, Romance - Characters:  Megumi, Enishi - Warnings: [!!!] [X] - Published: 2005-07-05 - Updated: 2005-07-05 - 8523 words

Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and its characters belongs to Watsuki Nobuhiro, Shonen Jump, Sony, and other associated companies. This fic is not intended to make profit of any kind.
First of all, I'm not a native speaker. If you find me lacking in the literary elegance or grammatical area, I'm sorry. I'd be glad to hear helping hints, though. Criticism without pointing clear and understandable solutions, as well as any flames (criticism and flames are two different things, just in case you didn't know it) will serve to fuel my stove. Here, in Argentina, we are in winter and, in addition, under a shortage of gas. And therefore, any kind of burnable stuff will be greatly appreciated. grins Author notes and acknowledgements at the end. Summary: Nobody doubts that Takani Megumi is a dedicated doctor. Following the call of her profession, she gets lost in the snow, finding herself alone with the most unexpected companion. Based loosely in a blanket scenario of sorts... but one sensible difference : it has a plot... and surprises. Chapter 3 had been edited to fit R rating. Set five-six years after Jinchuu.

Lost and Found

Chapter 1: Yuki no haté wa, Neban.(1)

The End of Snow is Nirvâna.

"I hate snow.", Yukishiro Enishi hissed, through clattering teeth. An endless white mantle laid in front of him, covering it all, in an uniform and deceitfully soft shroud of lifeless beauty and silence...

'So much like her.'

He shook his head, trying to get rid of old ghosts menacing to settle into his thoughts.

Even after all these years, he couldn't help it. In days like these, his mind inevitably wandered towards those memories. However, this time he was fortunate enough to have a situation at his hands that didn't allow for distractions or grim thoughts of such nature. He had to find a fucking place to weather the worse of the storm, or he and his companion would be dead before morning came. How had they ended in such circumstance, lost in that hostile landscape? It had been the woman's fault, obviously. He would not have ever been caught in a situation like this on his own volition.

"I warned you, woman, but no, you just have to be damn stubborn," he mumbled, more to himself rather than to the unconscious figure nested in his arms.

Focusing in anger was a bloody good way to keep his failing senses still alert. Like moving forward, through the blinding blizzard (2) . Right, left, right left, one step at the time, the movement bringing painful stabs on his feet, the snow clasping tenaciously to his legs, dragging him down, biting mercilessly his extremities. He shouldn't be there at all. If she hadn't insisted to assist an emergency call in a difficult delivery, they'd be secure, in the warm comfort of the clinic.


He cursed, the words slipping through his lips half heartedly, too tired to really care anymore. Maybe it would be better to give up against the odds... He shook his head. No, he couldn't, not this time. Not for himself, he'd be glad to end it all once and for all, but for the other stuck on this misadventure with him.

"What would your friends say if we die here, mm?" His voice trailed off, with a real gush of anger this time."Thus, I cannot give up."

He couldn't help to repeat to himself that he should have followed his first instinct and stayed in the clinic, leaving her to her antics and letting her travel on her own.

'As if I could..., he snorted, realizing the futility of repeating his own protests.

He was well aware he would have followed her no matter what, as he always did when his primal instincts put a female under his cover of his protection. It was an innate feature of his personality. He had followed Tomoe when he had been only eight years old, and he had devised a complicated plot to destroy his brother in law without harming his woman and therefore sealing his own defeat, and later, had jumped to save Kamiya from Wu's bullets. He shook his head, cursing silently.

The irony of it all was that he had eluded death many times at the odds and his enemies' hands, but his defeat in the most important battle of his life, as well as his current miserable existence were caused by women. He mentally sighed. The gods had surely fun creating within him the potential to become an almost undefeatable warrior, with a cunning intelligence, only to give him that pitiable weakness to counter those advantages. Women were his doom. Like the one cradled in his arms. Honestly, he knew the doctor would get in trouble the moment she'd stepped out of her clinic. The woman was a magnet for disaster. She had proven it in the months they had shared as acquaintances.

He shook his head. If he had stood behind, the local wolves would have had a tasty feast with her flesh, instead his horse. They had been fortunate that he had brought his gun with him, in spite of her opposition. He was able to shoot one or two of the wolves, before her horse went mad, its haunches bitten by the desperately hungry canines. Terrified by this and the echoing blast of the shots amid the woods, the woman lost her control over her horse, and it started a frenzied race among the woods. After escaping from the hungry pack, he had raced to follow her, until one of his own mount's hooves was apparently trapped in a burrow concealed by snow. The frantic pace he had forced on his mount made impossible to minimize the impact. He had known he'd have to dispose of the crippled animal before he had touched the ground.

The following minutes had passed like a blur. Next thing he knew was that he found himself wrestling against the cold waters of a stream where the woman's horse had finally ended in its mad race. The ice covering the watercourse had broken under its hooves, the panic-stricken beast dragging its struggling rider towards a frozen tomb. He had finally managed to disentangle her from the mount before it was too late, but not before she received a hit in her head. When he dragged him both to the bank, she had already passed out. Gone with her horse were most of their provisions and change of clothes, though he could rescue one small case from his own mount where he had packed some items that could be useful in an emergency, and part of her medical supplies.

And boy, he could tell they were in the middle of a crisis. A real big one. In addition of being one of the coldest areas of Honshuu, Aomori (3) was one of the least developed. Not many hopes of being rescued in this ice covered hell hole. On top of it, they had lost the track, and he had no fucking idea where they were, not to mention they were drenched after the fall in the river.

'Though I seriously doubt the clothes will maintain much longer like this.'

Under the terribly cold environment, the garments wouldn't take long to start to freeze over their bodies. Their chances were nigh, no path ahead, far still from any civilized spot, and the fucking snow determined to shroud them in its mantle of silent death. The only hope he still counted in was finding one of the hunters' cabins distributed in the area, a well known spot for catching sables and fine fur species.

'But it has to be real soon.

He knew that the window time he had before turning into an incoherent, trembling heap of flesh was longer than most people in his same dilemma, being fueled by his indomitable determination, and the hard earned resistance by his martial training, yet he was only a human. A very stubborn and tough human, but contrary to popular belief in Shanghai, he wasn't a real demon, and therefore, he could be caught by death too.

Like everybody else, he thought wryly, shivering, the cold permeating his flesh.

Right, left, right, left, the rhythm marked survival... Unexpectedly, he found himself in the middle of a clear, and a diffuse silhouette cut itself against the now furious white slashes of the storm. He wasn't exactly a believer, but he had seen enough things in life to doubt the existence of supernatural events. And the small hut that was appearing more and more clearly in front of him with each painful step qualified like as something breaking the rules of the ordinary. Enishi had to blow the lock in the door with a shot. He had been wise enough to keep the gun in a dry place before throwing himself into the freezing waters. The woman mumbled something, but apparently the thundering blast wasn't enough to drag her back to reality.

The first thing that hit him was the overwhelming and almost nauseating smell of half tanned leather. A hunters' shed, indeed. No wonder that a pack of wolves were around. In this part of the year, when food was so scarce, they would probably scavenge in the remains left by the hunters... As long he didn't turn himself into a new carcass at their disposal, the arrangement was fine with him.

Almost faltering, he cast her inside, propping her against the wall, protected from the wind. Then, he entered the case and what he had saved of the wreckage, and started to search for candles or something that allowed him a limited vision inside the shack at least. After a quick search, he stumbled on a supply of oil (4) and an old but fully functional lamp, and a decent number of provisions. He immediately took note of some pieces of meat hanging from hooks inside the smaller room, frozen by the low temperatures. The meat and other provisions he found in a cupboard, and the general lack of dust in the place (though it was rather messy and untidy) were clear signs that the shed was regularly inhabited. The thankfully well stocked pile of logs around a chimney also pinpointed the same. In addition, the bottles of vodka, some empty, other half full, plus old papers in the typical Cyrillic alphabet indicated that the owner was most likely a Russian.

Fighting against the weariness that threatened to take over him and would mean certain death for both, and shivering like leaf in the wind, he proceeded to perform all the basic task necessary for survival. He lit a fire to heat the cabin and melt snow, and then he warmed some loose bricks, and did few other actions necessary to carry out the next step: checking the doctor's state.

Her head injury wasn't externally bad, but he knew how traitorous the hits taken on the head could be. There was no visible injury, or traces of blood. Having completed the most perfunctory of healings using the material provided by the rescued case, he found himself now with the part he dreaded the most: if she didn't recover consciousness, he'd have to undress her himself. He knew it was unavoidable if he wanted to preserve her life, but the sensible reasoning didn't make the task at hand any easier.

'I'm behaving like a moron, and if I don't act quickly she, no, we will be dead in a matter of hours,' he decided, shaking his head.

Enishi gave a look around the place. He would need something to wipe and dry her with as well as something to help to keep her warm. Suddenly two foul-smelling huge bear furs looked like heaven sent. The man that hunt the beasts had obviously taken great care of preserving the head features of his prey, probably thinking in making extra money selling them as carpets or wall decorations as he had seen in some Westerners houses. He was sorry for the guy; he'd lost all the time and effort invested in keeping these. As they weren't comfortable for his purpose as they were, he took an axe and simply cut the head parts.

Then, he made sort of insulating bed piling a thick layer of furs near the chimney, and extended one of the bear furs over them. He now required a layer of fabric to protect her body from the raw leather surface. Enishi made a quick search in the shack. Finally, he found a trunk and started to turn its contents on the floor. Wrinkling his nose in disgust, he reached to a very obvious conclusion: the guy living there wasn't exactly a tidy courtier.

He knew that if he dared to drape any of the filthy things inside the trunk that resembled sheets around the doctor, he would have to say goodbye to his eyes... or perhaps to a more sensitive part of his masculine anatomy. Women were women, always and first thing above everything else, even professionals. In fact, as a doctor, Megumi seemed to be a hundred times more sensitive to dirt than common people. He knew that even if she understood that whatever he did was performed in order to save her life, she would have a fit if she woke up with the soiled rags draping around her frame. Enishi couldn't exactly blame her. He wouldn't touch them either. He wasn't usually picky, but he wasn't sure he would want to contract any nasty skin disease like leprosy, scabies or something more mundane but equally annoying as lice.

Shaking his head in frustration, he closed the trunk with a noisy thump that she seemingly didn't register. He was about to give up, deciding to go for the raw leather surface of the furs when by sheer luck he found a wide piece of fabric over a shelf. It was rougher than a real blanket, but it would make it. He took it, making some scraps from its ends, and placed the bigger part of the fabric onto of the bear carpet-like fur. Now, he could start to work with the doctor. Enishi shook his head, looking at the voluminous amount of fabric enveloping the doctor's body. He had to admit that she was wise and if she hadn't suffered that accident, she would be protected by a very effective insulating coat. Now, the same protective shield was becoming quite fast in just the opposite. He had to work hastily. Her body had started to grow too cold, her skin taking a hue way too pale to be healthy.

Enishi knelt by her side, peeling her off of the padded douchuugi (5), even heavier with the water it had absorbed, and with fumbling fingers, he started to undo the straps of the over kimono she customarily used when working. Fortunately, she was a practical woman, so the obi bow and the other belts fastening her kimono were easy to undo, and layer after layer of dampened cloth ended pooling around her body. He finished to dry her as fast as he could, trying to avoid ogling her too much, which considering her delicate beauty and the time he had spent without touching a woman wasn't exactly an easy task. Hell, he was a man after all. Anyway, he couldn't help but being reminded of the time he undressed Kamiya Kaoru, and though the situation differed entirely, he wondered how the doctor would react when she woke up. It would be an uncomfortable reminder from both of them of a time they didn't want to talk about, but loomed on their heads, dampening their relationship.

Not that I need anyone around to begin with... and certainly not a bossy woman as an acquaintance, he snorted.

He was brutally pulled from his reveries from an unexpected sight: there, on her wrists there were fading lines marring the perfection of her creamy skin. He knew at first sight what they meant, and narrowing his eyes, he gave a quick but sharp glimpse to the rest her persona, and to his surprise, these weren't the only scars her body wore. There, well concealed on her armpits, in the tender skin of her inner thighs, even on her soles, the unmistakable faded pink marks of small, rounded burnings screamed of past agony.

Clenching his jaw tightly, he hurried to finish the task at hand, trying to remain focused in it and not in the million questions rising on his head. Enishi placed over a few strategic spots of her body the pieces of brick he had previously warmed, draped in the scraps of fabric he had separated, and finally wrapped her on the rough fabric and in the furs. This was the best solution he could come across, since while the ideal situation would have been to lay with her skin against skin, warming her up through body heat, he knew his own body temperature was too low to make it work. Laying against her would have meant both their ends. Then he took a little time for himself, and he divested, dried and wrapped inside the bear fur he had chosen previously for him. He hung their clothes near to the fire, but he knew that for the thickness and the quantity of layers it would take an eternity to get them dry enough. And then, he took some provisions, to make sure to have something ready to refuel their depleted strength.

'Well, it's not like we're going anywhere anytime soon.'

Indeed, the storm ranging outside, more and more furiously with each passing moment, predicted a long stay...

While he kept busy with all these chores, his mind went back to the marks he had found on the doctor. Very likely, the burns pointed a time where she had been deprived of her freedom. But these were purposely disguised, as if they were intentionally meant to punish without marring her beauty. Visible scars would spoil the pleasure of enjoying her physically given the chance. This could only mean one thing: she had been a concubine to someone powerful, that was a given, but that man had been a cruel master. He had seen his share of these creatures during his time on Shanghai, owned by powerful lords, Chinese and Westerners alike, kept in colorful golden cages but brutally mistreated and whose only escape was through death.

That would explain the scars on her wrists...

Enishi turned to look at the stirring bundle of a woman near the fire. He already had a pretty good idea where and by whom she had acquired most likely these markings. The name rolled easily down his tongue, in a barely audible whisper "Takeda Kanryuu."

The first thing that assaulted her senses upon awakening was the overwhelming, nauseating smell enveloping her. Then, she started very slowly to be aware of her surroundings. She was laying on her back, nicely and comfortably wrapped in warm blankets and...
Wait a minute...

She was on her horse, in her way back to... Wolves attacking... the mad race of her mare and her futile attempts to control it... Enishi trying to catch up with her... the freezing water and the dreadful sensation of drowning... then nothing...

"Good, you are awake... I had started to worry... but I should have known better... you have a skull too thick to be broken."

Enishi's voice, ironic and slightly annoyed, came from a short distance, and she tried to move towards it. The sudden pain in her head told her that it wasn't a good idea. Not that she could move too much anyway, wrapped minutely like a parcel.

"Stay put and don't move around, woman, you need to keep yourself warm. You already messed it up enough for one single day," he grumbled, in what seemed a slightly uneven voice.

Megumi groaned, her voice raw and her throat dry. If she were less dizzy and more focused in reality, she thought, she'd be already giving the insufferable brat a good piece of her mind.

'Maybe later... with him I'll have plenty of opportunities,' she though, sighing.

Finally his face came into view, under his unmistakable spiky silver hair, messier than ever, still wet and plastered to his skin in some spots. He helped her to sit down, propping her up against a something like a box, since it felt softer than a wall, while he made her to sip some kind of warm syrup.

"Drink this, it will help you to recover."
"How...? Where...?" She was confused, not knowing what to ask for first.
"Shhh... just drink, any explanations will come later."

While he was gently coaxing her to swallow the syrup slowly, she found herself in a better position to take the full view of the place where they were stuck. It was a cabin of sorts, small, and with signs of being inhabited regularly. Piled in several heaps she distinguished what seemed animal's furs. That explained the awful smell lingering in the place. This was assuredly a hunter's cabin, and the result of his incursions was laying in the stacks before them. The stuff was crudely processed in the first step of production, and it was ready to be packed and sold, probably to the Russian ships docking in Aomori, eager for the refined sable's fur of the region. A crackling sound claimed her attention as she noticed also that small fire was lit in a little western style chimney, a rather odd detail in the area, and a neat stack of logs was by its side. And there also were hanging...

"My clothes!" She almost chocked with the syrup.
"Easy there!" he commanded, patting her back and restoring her to her original position.

Megumi realized through the contact that he was still trembling.

"Would you rather that I give you back your wet clothes and let you freeze to death?" he added when he noticed her shock. "You are the doctor here, and you know what would have happened if, to protect your modesty, I wouldn't have taken those clothes off, don't you?"

Megumi was suddenly hit by a wave of self consciousness, realizing that he had taken the cold and wet clothes off of her. Now, under the blanket and the layers of fur he had wrapped her in, she was naked as the day she was born.

Since his clothes were hung side by side with hers, the logical assumption seemed to be that he was in the same state of undress beneath the fur wrapped around his frame. The distinctive tinge of a rosy blush started to spread on her cheeks at such revelation. Though he had made the right thing, preventing them to die by freezing, she couldn't help but feel embarrassment and discomfort settling slowly in the pit of her stomach. At the same time awareness about the whole situation arose in her. She was not afraid of him, and mutual nakedness per se wasn't an issue... but there were unsolved, personal issues within her that she'd rather not face as long as possible, issues that the present situation brought forward though.

"Don't worry," he said in a mockingly acidic tone, raising a brow and smirking, surely alerted of her uneasiness. "I never threatened your virtue..."
"That's not what I meant!" She started to protest, indignantly, but she stopped her outburst.

She knew that with a prickly fugu (6) guy like him, every attempt of explanation was useless once he had made up his mind. She was sincere though. Perhaps she'd have entertained such kind of thoughts four or five months ago, when she had reluctantly agreed to bear his presence around the clinic for his father's health sake. But not now. It wasn't that she was as trustful and naïve as the tanuki, opening her house to any bum, freeloader or wanderer she found stray down the street. However, she knew, after their complicated relationship had evolved from cold distrust to an uneasy mutual understanding, that she could trust Enishi.

'Whether I like it or not, I have now even more reasons, after he had just saved me...'

Writhing in discomfort, she stopped glaring blatantly at him. It wasn't exactly right to do so, all considering, albeit she had to suppress the irrational urge to strangle him.He moved away from her, towards the fire, stirring it and turning something over it. Moving her head a bit, she could guess he had found something to eat, a thing that Megumi confirmed when he passed a plate with several pieces of roasted meat, and after that, they ate in deep silence, and Megumi took advantage of it to gather herself, and make some deep thinking.

'Better let things cool down.'

It was ironic to imagine that under the circumstances, but the volcanic temper of the man and her witty tongue made a bad combination in that time and place. She sighed, recalling the predicament that brought them temporarily together. After the old sweet man that happened to be Enishi's progenitor had been brought to her, badly beaten by a gang of bandits, the elder and she had made an acquaintance of sorts. That bond had included the tale of his lost family, and how weak he had been to protect them when the war came, a concept that she had tried to change in his mind, but to no avail. She was well aware that the people who lived on those hazardous times had done only what they could, no more, no less. There were things that simply could have not been prevented, even if they kept torturing themselves, thinking otherwise.

She had heard with a tinge of envy about the miraculous reunion with his only surviving child, a boy lost for fifteen years, who came back to him like a man badly scarred emotionally and practically at the verge of madness. From then on, the old man had said, he had struggled to recover the youth from the bottomless pit of desperation, confusion and guilt he had fallen into. And somehow he had succeeded, at least partially, the elderly man said. He was still troubled because his son couldn't find peace and lacked someone to share his burdens with, while helping him to mellow his hardened heart. Megumi still remembered the wistful expression in the man's eyes when he had explained that was the only reason he couldn't leave this world serenely yet.

Somehow, that bittersweet story softened her jaded heart. She could relate to it personally, in a way. Though her own story hadn't ended as well as the old man's seemed, it was heartwarming to learn that father and son had been finally reunited, despite war and many hardships. She had stopped to dream of happy endings nearly four years ago, she thought, sadly. Though she had felt a small measure of jealousy at the lucky pair, she soon took a great pleasure in helping them to reunite again after the old man's close encounter with death. She had even found wishing eagerly meeting the son of such a devoted father.

At one point, Megumi detected what she could call amusing attempts from the old man to extol the virtues of his son in a sort of awkward matchmaking. Maybe he had been carried away by the enthusiasm she put into his healing, giving him the idea that she could also cure his son's emotional ailments, she had thought. But her amusement had turned to horror the day the dreaded Yukishiro Enishi had shown up in her clinic. Convinced that he had come back to hurt Ken-san using her in one of his twisted plots, she faced him, tanto in hand, only to learn that he was the prodigal son (7) coming back to find out the whereabouts of his father.

Ony the old man's pleas and his tears, the memories of what he had told her about his ordeal to bring his son back to sanity, and the tale of the efforts made to overcome what he had been, had prevented her to go to the police. She also pondered about the fatal blow that she would deliver to him if his son was seized by her denounce. She couldn't bring herself to destroy a family that had been so cruelly preyed upon by Fate, even if only for the old man's sake. Back then she could not feel an ounce of compassion for the white haired monster that had hurt her friends. However, recalling when Ken-san had told them about Tomoe's story and looking at the old man, she knew she had to give them a second chance. After all, her own past resembled theirs at some point, and she had been also given a new chance to live, she thought, rubbing absentmindedly the scars of her wrists.

Of course, other things also had counted in her final decision: her memories of how Enishi had saved Kaoru and had spared Wu Heishin's miserable life. Ken-san's belief in the possibility of atonement for everyone, even the lowest kind of scum, had also weighted in the scale. Last but not least, she felt she had to honor Tomoe-san's sacrifice.

After all, if she hadn't died saving Ken-san, he would have never showed up in her own life, saving her in turn from Takeda Kanryuu's clutches. She'd be either dead after being tortured or forced to produce more poison for the masses. And then there were the other things she had endured and would have continued enduring... Instead, Ken-san had saved her of all that, putting her into the path of redemption she was trying to walk. All in all, as she saw it, her present life was the by-product of a chain of events unleashed by Tomoe-san's death. So in a way, she owed her to give her brother, another sinner like her, the same possibility of a second chance she had been offered once. However, she had never given him a complete carte blanche, and had always kept an eye on him.

After a very awkward beginning, they had started to tolerate mutually each other, though their continuous bantering had become legendary all around the town. Rather than expecting any explanation from the man himself, she had set a careful observation upon Enishi, which in the end had allowed her to learn that he had changed.

Her knowledge about his past wasn't detailed, but she had heard enough from his own tongue in those far away days, as well as from Kaoru and Ken-san's to know the kind of man he had been. But, truth be told, the man she had found in her clinic one day, was not the cold-blooded murderer she had once met. Though he never provided personal information about himself, Megumi had learnt through his father, the pains and efforts he made to lead an honest life. Enishi was trying to walk a path his sister would have wanted for him in his own terms.

But it hadn't been all that hinted her of his change. The arrogant and self assured male had turned into someone very somber, surly and isolated, who never smiled. His gaze had lost the maniacal glint that the hunger for revenge had ignited in him, only to gain a dull, blank look. His presence brought discomfort wherever he went because of the endless sadness pouring off of him. Sometimes, he looked like a walking shadow, the empty shell of a man. Somehow, looking at him, she couldn't help to think of Shinomori, only that where one was infuriatingly repressed, this one was explosive if wrongly handed and sometimes, he turned as irritating as a brat.

And so, watching this broken but still struggling man, all her animosity for him had finally vanished, though their mutual uneasiness remained somehow. It was just the rational consequence of Jinchuu. Though the topic remained closed to discussion, it was always there, like a deep gorge keeping them apart.

The sizzling of timber in the chimney brought her back to the present. At this point, the prolonged, stubborn silence from both sides had turned uncomfortable; Megumi decided it was wiser to break the ice asking the logical --and neutral-- questions lingering in her mind.

"Do you have any idea where we are?"
"Inside a hunter's hut?" he said in a mocking tone, stating the obvious, with apparent intent to annoy her, "besides that, I have no idea. After the accident with your horse we lost our bearings completely."
"So we are lost..." an ominous feeling rose at the pit of her stomach.

"Somewhat," he confirmed, to add later:"But this place cannot be too isolated. The owner obviously come here frequently, at least in this part of the year. There are plenty of provisions, even honey, and they are fresh." he pointed the jar.

'So he made the syrup-like concoction diluting honey in melted ice... very clever... and accurate.'

She'd make sure to ask later.

"My guess is that he uses this shed as a resting place during his incursions, as much as a storage space for his merchandise," he elaborated. "If the poor devil wasn't in town, selling his goods when the storm struck... Oh, well... not my business," he shrugged. "Anyway, if my guess is right, even if the path is hidden by the snow, we'll be able to find enough sings of civilization to help us find our way as soon as the blizzard stops."

With a measure of relief washing over the unease enveloping her mind, she peeked at him. As his voice had confirmed, he was still trembling.

"You did a pretty good job with me..." she commented, now looking on him more attentively, the doctor in her awakened, and making calculations for a diagnosis.
"It's not the first time I get lost in the snow." He said, without taking his eyes out of the fire, lost in thought for a brief moment. "the second time, I was rescued by some Sherpa guys, near Nepal."

Megumi widened her eyes, surprised. He was being so incredibly subtle, yet there was no way she could miss the feeble hint. She wondered whether he had made it on purpose, not like a simple slip. Enishi was too careful and aseptic concerning his life before and after Jinchuu, keeping purposely all information out of their talks. Anyhow, Megumi doubted he had committed a lapse; she believed he knew she'd take it for what it was, no matter how insignificant or tacit the details were. She wondered whether the circumstances they were trapped in had made him unusually open. She arched a brow and was about to ask when he cut her unvoiced question off, rather harshly.

"Business. You don't want to know, and I don't want to explain. Suffice to say it was a close call that time, and I learnt one or two useful tricks from them."

Business, he had said.

'Of course,' Megumi thought.

What a detached, dehumanized way to refer that bloody, damned trade that took so many lives in probably many places she had never heard of before, like that Nepal he had mentioned. Probably it was in China, or close to it. However, she did not miss the bitter aftertaste in his tone. And though it wasn't first time she noticed that he actually had regrets because of what he had done, this time she had no shadow of doubt he couldn't come to terms with his past, to the point he couldn't bring himself to mention it only superficially.

'Definitely, I know the feeling.'

"Anyway, my point is, Yukishiro-san that you are a complete moron," she decreed, after studying him while she had let him talk.

His surprised face, with his expressive turquoise eyes wide and his mouth slightly agape, was worth all the fear that the wolves and the maddened horse had caused to her as well as the cold she had endured. As she expected, rage soon colored his cheeks, as every time she managed to piss him off, which, in fact had been less than she would have liked.

"What did you say, woman?"
"That you are a moron," and then she pointedly explained, "the care you put in wrapping me to keep the warmth of my body, as well as the substance you used first to feed me shows you know indeed what you are doing. Any layman would have initially given me a sip of that liquor leaning by your side. Alcohol and severe exposition to cold don't get on too well, contrary to popular belief. Yet, after this display of practical knowledge, here you are, shivering under that poor excuse of a covering, drinking, when you know it does no good in your state, yourself the same care that you provided to me. See? You are a moron."

It was blatant that he still hadn't recovered completely his temperature, and if she didn't implement the right measures soon, his condition would deteriorate quite fast. But he was not a man to hear soft and sensible words. He usually needed a bit of harsher persuasion, and Megumi was ready to give him what he thrived for.

"You are an ungrateful..." he started to spit out, furious, and tried to get up from his corner, but he was obviously cramped. "I have just saved your life, and you are bold enough to throw insults at me... You have some nerve!"
"It's not like you don't know that I'm a doctor, and my first concern is the well-being of those around me," she said cutting his fit off, "as for now, what I have in front of me is a potential patient behaving like the brat he is."
"I guess there is no point in bringing forward the issue that women are not supposed to address men like you do, and they should be silent, obedient and respectful."

When she snorted disdainfully at his remark, he gritted his teeth, obviously annoyed, glaring at her. She knew that he had rather conservative ideas about women's places, which was logical considering that his female role model had been his sister, the typical samurai woman in more than one sense, according to all descriptions she had heard.

"Let me remind you, doctor, that you are not in keen condition," he added, in a more calm voice."You got a hard hit in your head and passed out. So it's not your place to go bossing around. Just stay quiet, and rest. I don't need any examination."
"You are in no position to properly assess the state of your health."
"Stop it. It's not your damn business."
"Great, my head is pounding as if there was no tomorrow, I'm lost in the middle of nowhere, with a snow storm raging wildly over my head, and to top it off, I'm stuck in this cabin with you , being your usual nice self, just grumpier and childish than usual..."
"Thank you very much, sensei, but if I my memory doesn't fail me, you are the cause of our present situation. I have a vivid recollection of how I warned you about the incoming storm, but as always, you never listen, you bossy woman," he grumbled.
"You could have stayed with your father, at the clinic, and save yourself all the trouble," she countered.
"As if I could. You have the words 'trouble on legs' carved on your forehead." He tapped his own head to stress his point. "And I was right. You'd be wolf chow if I hadn't come."
"Why, thank you Yukishiro-san, I didn't know you cared," she said with mocking tone.
"I don't. But I would have to endure the old man scolding me if I had stayed," he retorted." And to be honest, between you and me, I prefer your witty tongue than his oh-so wise remarks."

Megumi closed her eyes, too weary to carry on with the bantering. She closed her eyes, the rhythmical throbbing in her head making her feel nauseous. After spending a few minutes gathering her forces, she started to wrestle within her cocoon, trying to liberate herself, despite the pain it brought to her skull. She had a duty to perform. He still didn't recover completely his temperature, and if the right measures weren't implemented soon, his condition would deteriorate quite fast.

"What the fuck do you think you are doing?" he almost yelled, stumbling to her side.
"My job. Since you refuse to move towards my spot, I'll move to yours, and examine you."
"Shit, woman, what must I do with you? I knew it, I should have tied and gagged you."
"Don't be ridiculous, and come here."
"I told you..." he mumbled.
"I know what you told me. You are supposed to be a clever guy, and you know the consequences of being careless with one's health." She reasoned.

Reluctantly, he went towards her, staggering a bit, and mumbling all the while about her disrespect, but he helped her to loosen her wrappings in a way that allowed her enough movement without having to stand up. He was now shivering visibly, which meant that his condition was worsening quickly.

"I've been in worse situations, and survived," he grumbled, defensively, foreseeing her diagnosis.
" How long have we been in the cabin?" Megumi asked, back in full professional mode

He was obviously startled at the question. Frowning, he evidently tried to find a suitable answer, and it was apparent to her that his control over his rational thinking was slipping fast from his hands. Another very alarming sign of his true condition.

"Several hours... four to six, at least," he finally said, "but honestly, I can't be sure."

"And haven't you still recovered from the exposure?" She raised her eyebrow in a mixture of concern and scolding "Honestly, some men never cease to amaze me with their never ending childish conduct. Drop the silly macho act and let me see if there are signs of the effects of frostbite. Don't you know that you can lose your toes, or worse?"

She enumerated the consequences he could pay, though probably he already was well aware of them. However, he hadn't been half as careful with himself as he had been with her.

"You won't leave me alone otherwise, will you?" he glared at the doctor, trying to intimidate her, but he already knew after being successful just a very few times, that she would not fall for the trick anymore, so Megumi ignored his gesture and followed with her examination.

"Of course not. It's my duty." her voice contained a clear note of reproach, like the one given to a misbehaving child.

He was indeed in better state than he should, all his own carelessness considering, yet judging for the color of his hands and face, the uppermost layer of skin would probably peel off later (8). His feet were alright, but so red... Like the other affected parts there would probably be skin loss as well. Still, he was lucky, no signs of severe freezing risking his extremities with the dreadful danger of amputation. However, Megumi was now completely aware that something wasn't quite right with him, especially since he was fighting to stay awake during the whole examination.

"You need being warmed up, quickly, and the best and fastest method if getting the heat directly from another body. Help me to remove these covers and lie against me."
"My, my, sensei, I didn't imagine you were that kind of woman... but even if I am a corrupted criminal, I still consider myself a bit old fashioned about certain things, so I must decline... regretfully, I must admit, since you are a real beauty." He said smugly.

She gritted her teeth, a mixture of grief, rage and shame coursing through her mind and heart. If he wanted to play hard, she would give it back to him hard too.

"Let me put things in perspective for you: you have started to loss control of your movements, you are mumbling, and are getting sleepy. And it's evident that you are losing focus in reality, not being aware of the danger you are in. I bet you know what this means: you'll be dead very soon if we don't do anything about it."
"You are exaggerating... I..."
"I have the feeling that you are hell bent in your own self destruction, and believe me, in other circumstances I would not interfere with your goal, and I would rather mind my own business. However, Yukishiro-san, I believe you need a reality check. If you think that my actions are due to infatuation caused by your bright, humble and nice personality, you are sorely mistaken. I guess the world wouldn't miss you or your contributions to its development too much either."

He paled, opened his mouth, and shut it again, his countenance slightly flustered.

"However, this time I refuse to be the one breaking your father's heart telling him that you decided to die of moron-itis," she concluded, leaving no room for further discussion.

Silently, he woke up from his spot, without uttering another word, keeping his face carefully hidden behind the shadows cast by his bangs. Then, he unwrapped her coverings to allow him access, and got rid of the annoying weights he had placed on her chest and armpits. Now, free of the restricting cocoon, she helped him to get inside and restore the insulation around them, using his covering as an additional layer on top them.

It was a very awkward moment for both, but she managed to keep her professionalism during the whole process. He didn't say a word, but avoided to meet her eyes, even when they were forced to be face to face. She wrapped her arms around him, allowing the largest contact possible of her skin against his. He was a tense and solid wall of shivering cold flesh, his teeth clashing violently against each other. Enishi had finally closed his eyes, but had said no more words since her severe scolding. Megumi understood enough about him to know he was somewhat resentful towards her.

But better resentful than dead.

After a time that seemed like an eternity for her, his shivering started to recede slowly, his body got gradually warmer and he started to relax in her arms. He mumbled something, and when Megumi looked at his face, she realized that at last, sleep has wrapped him in its cottony arms. Relieved by his progress, she snuggled against him, trying to find her own share of rest. And the unrelenting pounding in her head was a good incentive to do it. And since I'm stuck with him in this situation, I might as well make myself as comfortable as possible. Torn between her wariness and the requests of her body, she finally gave in, and drifted into a uneasy sleep.

Started: March14, 2004 First revision: April 18, 2004 Finished: June 5, 2004 First Posted: June 8, 2004
Author's note: If you are reading this, it's because the fic is already completed. It comprises four chapters. It will be posted one chapter a week, hopefully. I want to dedicate this fic to Kamorgana, for her patience and bearing my annoying rants. Also for being the first one to bring forth this pairing. I would never have thought of it on my own, but her fic, Children of the Revolution, really opened my eyes to it, and made me very fond of it. If you haven't read it, I sincerely recommend you do it. Also to Michaela (welcome back) and Bianca. All my love and a big hug to MightyMightyMunson, for all her help and kind words, her insights and comments, and all her valuable suggestions, and to Mary Ann, for her collaboration, tips and suggestions. If you enjoy this fic, it's also because of these ladies' work. And a mighty hug bear to Nigihayami Haruko, for her support and kindness.

1 I chose to use a Japanese proverb as title for each chapter. This first is a Buddhist one. The above phrase, as might be inferred, is not a popular expression: it is rather an artistic and poetical reference to the aspect of a landscape covered with snow to the horizon-line,--so that beyond the snow-circle there is only the great void of the sky.
2 Blizzards do happen in this area. The kind of snow produced in this location (Tsugaru snow) has been described as "gushing out of the ground." It's quite an experience to be in a storm where snow is blown up form the ground by the wind.
3 In 1625, under the instructions of Nobuhira, to create a port, the second Lord of Tsugaru, Yashichiro Moriyama undertook the development of the village of Utomura, lovated in the district of Sotogahama.At the time, there was a small hill in the Komemachi neighbornhood. It was covered with a year-round green forest and thus made an excellent landmark for fishing vessels entering the harbor. This is said to be the origin of the name Aomori(literally "blue-green forest") Aomori Prefecture came into existence in 1871. In 1889, Aomori Town was established. With a population of 28,000, the town was incorporated as a city in 1898 and modern-day Aomori City was born. Locked as it is between mountains and sea, Aomori has long, cold, snowy winters. Its summers, by comparison, are relatively short and mild. In fact, there are probably few other cities of comparable size (300,000 inhabitants) in the whole world that experience such a winter snowfall. The average temperature is 9.9?(49.8F) and average humidity 75. While the average annual rainfall is 1,087mm (about 43 inches), the average total annual snowfall measured over the 23-year period 1974 - 1996 was 777cm (about 25 feet). A record depth of 209cm (6.9 feet) of ground snow was recorded in 1945.
4 Kerosene freezes at -73 Celsius, and oil at -38. Lets assume the temperature was up these marks.
5 Sort of coat. Michiyuki are three-quarter length coats with square necklines. Garments similar to the michiyuki include the douchuugi, which provides greater protection against inclement weather, the kimono raincoat, which provides complete cover of a kimono, and shawls or stoles, which serve the same purposes they do in Western culture.
6 Fugu: Personally I think the analogy suits Enishi well, see for yourselves: considered a delicacy in Japan and the Philippines, the blowfish (scientific name Diodon holacanthus), an unattractive fish that boasts the ability to inflate its body and project protective spikes, contains signifigant amounts of tetrodotoxin, a powerful toxin that will shut down your CNS at a deadly speed. The lethal dose of tetradotoxin for a full-grown man would fit on a pinhead. Tetrodotoxin is 1200 times deadlier than cyanide, and one blowfish contains enough poison to kill 30 people. The Tokugawa shogunate completely banned blowfish consumption, but by the mid-1800's it had returned as the government's power over the people waned.
7 Prodigal son: I know that Megumi surely wasn't acquainted with the biblical story, but as many other common expressions, it's used here as a figure of speech. As I don't know the equivalent Japanese expression, bear it with me, please.
8 Slight frostnip causes something akin to a sunburn or first degree burn.
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