August, 1878


The hot pot was long over and the men had retreated to their hovels to sleep, except for Kuma, who brooded over the fire with about a bowl's worth of stew left in it. Now that the men were gone, it was time to do what he had promised Oibore he would do. He dipped a bowl into what was left of the stew in the pot. Then he took a cup of water and the bowl of stew and approached the hunched over swordsman. Kuma pounced on Kenshin, pulling his head back and forced his mouth open.

Kenshin struggled feebly, but was so weak by now that he couldn't even voice his protest. In the darkness, his weary eyes could barely make out a human shape looming over him and holding him down. Distant memories of the slavers' leering faces flashed into his mind's eye. He struggled again and was pinned down more firmly.

"I promised the old man I wouldn't let you starve to death, so just bear with me," came a rough, but not unkind voice.

Kuma poured some of the warm stew with vegetables and beef into Kenshin's mouth, then clamped the redhead's jaws shut and worked them, forcing Kenshin to chew the food. Kuma's fingers roughly massaged Kenshin's chin and throat until Kenshin automatically swallowed the food. He then forced the rurouni's mouth open again and repeated the procedure.

Kenshin coughed and gagged as the warm stuff was forced into his mouth and made contact with his palate. Some kind of soup? His body jerked, but was in far too feeble a condition to fight back. He tried to pull his head away as he felt his jaws being moved up and down in some kind of makeshift chewing motion, the few solids in his mouth being broken down between his teeth. He felt fingers roughly rubbing the base of his chin just in front of his trachea and felt himself swallow involuntarily.

Finally, he was too exhausted to fight and went limp as more and more of the warm stuff was poured into his mouth and down his throat.

The process repeated until the bowl was empty. Now, Kuma pulled opened Kenshin's mouth and poured the water in. Kenshin's body responded by swallowing automatically to prevent choking.

The stew and water seemed to revive Kenshin somewhat and gave him enough strength to voice his protest.

"Get off me!" he snarled feebly.

Kuma let up on the rurouni without speaking a word to him. They were done for now, but this would be repeated every night until either the swordsman died, left, or Oibore told him to stop.

Kenshin did nothing more than lower his head and close his eyes, allowing sleep to reclaim him.

Kuma sat down by the now empty pot, lit a cigarette and watched the the redhead, who had slumped back into stillness again.