Warning: Okita and Soujirou are mine in my own little world, only. Mwa ha ha ha!! Er,
I do not own any character, real or otherwise, within this story. I am a very, very poor
post college graduate so please, please, please do not sue me. All respective rights
belong to Nobuhiro Watsuki-sama. Spoiler warning of episode 55.

Darkness of the Day
By April-san

Winter had been unusually harsh and the spring was not yet showing promise. The bitter
weather would just not release its hold on the small country, where most mornings ice
covered any open water and heating supplies were growing scarce. Wind was as sharp as
late autumn's. The skies remained cloudy and not even the rare rays of sun would warm
the earth.

The people's attitudes seemed to match the weather.

For a small group, a single man's death sent their hope spiraling into a deep abyss.
Kondo had been arrested by the newly formed government and branded a traitor. The
punishment was death. And, even against the protest of many, Kondo was beheaded on
May 17, 1868.

The whispers were heard across Japan. Kondo Isami, the leader of the Shinsengumi, was
dead.

Yet, there was one who was protected. There was a single young man many tried to keep
ignorant of these events. It was not difficult despite the constant buzz of news. Very few
inside the tuberculosis hospital wanted to know of the outside world, since they would
not be among the living for much longer.

Not that Okita Soushi did not want to know. Every visitor, every doctor he inquired of
news concerning his former comrades. Most outsiders would just look at the smiling
young man and shake their heads. Nothing. There was no word. The twenty-five year-
old then thanked them with a gracious smile and bounded away.

Okita knew they were lying. One was not a master swordsman without knowing
something about human nature and reading an opponent. He could see it in their eyes.
Kondo was dead. His mentor, his friend, his surrogate brother was no more. Later, when
he was sitting alone in a dark room, Okita cried until his body was wracked with his
coughs and his sleeve was wet with his blood.

Over the next week, his face became somber and his normal sunny mood disappeared.
His smiles grew as rare as the sunbeams. Even the playful mutt that roamed the halls
could not provide any of its usual comfort for the young man. Many at the hospital
attributed this change to the poor weather, saying once the spring finally broke Okita's
optimistic attitude would return.

Yet, the coughs worsened as his spirit slowly faded.

What, he thought as he lay on his mat desperately trying to catch his breath one dark
night, what was my purpose in life?

I spent so much time mastering the sword, I gave up my childhood. Now, before I can
live my life the way I want to, I will die. I can defeat any swordsman in Japan, but I
cannot defeat this. What have I accomplished? What have I changed? I failed to protect
the Shogunate. I failed my comrades when I was unable to fight at their side due to this
accursed illness. Have…

Have I helped even one person?

His attention was then diverted to the coughs that shook him to the core, and did not even
notice the tears falling down his cheeks.

***

"Soujirou!"

What…? Okita slowly stirred. Who is calling me? I…I haven't been called Soujirou
since I was a child, many years ago. I am Okita Soushi, now…

It took Okita a long moment to catch his breath and squint open his eyes, even in the dim
light. Where…?

One thing was for certain: he was no longer in the hospital. Okita found himself
standing, almost in a dream-like state, on a porch over looking a small yard. Large barns
stood in the near distance. Lightning snapped across the gray evening sky. He took a
deep breath of the ice cold air, held it for a moment, then let it escape his lips. To his
delight, he didn't cough. For the first time since Ikida-ya, Okita could breathe the cold
air without pain.

What the…?

He looked down and his heart almost stopped in disbelief. A familiar blue haori fell from
his shoulders. A haori that announced his position for almost five years: Okita Soushi
Shinsengumi Squad One Leader. A haori that sent many a common swordsman fleeing.
A haori remembered as bloodstained and torn, now bright and new.

This can't be…

"Soujirou, you stupid bastard! Where the Hell are you?!"

Okita's eyes snapped up to where the voice originated and his hand unconsciously
reached for his sword. The hand touched nothing. His eyes fell to where he normally
tucked his sheath in his hakama but found his favorite sword no longer there. His eyes
once again wandered to the direction of the voice. Hesitation was no longer an option.
He bit his lower lip and took off running.

He had never run so fast in his life, as if his feet never touched the earth. In three years,
Okita had not run due to his illness. This tiny exertion was paradise. It took only a
moment to approach the voices and he stopped, unable to believe the scene before him.

A small boy, dressed all in dirty torn blue, faced a group looming over him. Two of the
men held sheathed swords while another man gripped a shovel and two women had
expressions that would freeze the very marrow of one's bones. The boy's look was of
complete terror.

Okita blinked. He's not much younger than I was when I entered Kondo's dojo. I…I can
see myself in him.

"Soujirou!" a man from the group snarled at the child. "Do you know what it means to
defy the government in this day and age?! Are you trying to destroy my business?!"

A sheath lashed out and hit the boy on the cheek, knocking him to the ground.

Okita's heart leapt and he found himself between the boy and the group, arms
widespread, almost a growl on his lips. "Leave him alone! He doesn't deserve a beating
like this, no matter what he's done!"

The men continued forward, as if they did not hear his words and did not realize who
they were up-against. Did the haori not give them any clue?

"I'm warning you-"

But, their eyes were focused on the small figure coughing on the ground. None met
Okita's challenge. None even acknowledged his presence. As one lifted his sheath,
Okita lashed out, a strike intended to send the weapon flying.

His hand passed through the solid sheath as it swept down, though his body, and struck
the boy struggling on the ground. Okita could only watch in horror as another man
joined the first in beating the trodden child who was gasping for breath and coughing up
blood. It was as if Okita was not even there.

Am I a spirit…?

Okita fell to his knees next to the child, his emotions spiraling, helplessness gripped his
chest. "Please stop…" He wanted to gather the boy up in his arms and take him from
this place, far from the memory of this place. For some reason, a reason buried deep in
the recesses of his heart, he knew he had to find a way to protect this child. "Please…"

The men stopped their onslaught and stepped back.

"I can't take this boy anymore. I'm going to kill him."

"Now, now, brother. Wouldn't that look bad?"

"Nah. There's a dangerous criminal on the loose."

"That's right. We're certain to be rewarded for any information on the rebel. It won't
matter if our brother became one of his victims."

Brother?! Okita's head snapped up. No! It can't be! How can you be his family?!!

"Do him in," one urged to another.

If only I had a sword, I would kill them. I swear to you. Under my creed, I would kill
them all. They are evil in the truest sense. "Run," he whispered to the child. "Run!"

The child's eyes grew wide as the meaning of their words suddenly sank in. He took off
in a dash, tears flowing down his face. "Help! Anyone! Someone! Anyone! Someone
help me!"

"I won't let you run!"

"Kill him!" The two men took after the figure, drawing their swords.

Okita had not moved from his spot on the ground, the pain from just watching the
incident was overwhelming. His hands clenched the material of his haori and his
knuckles turned white. Why? His bangs covered his eyes. Why am I here? To witness
a murder? To see a child betrayed by his own family? To realize there are many horrible
ways to die? Why must I bear witness this child's death?! Why must I be here?!! Or,
maybe… His head slowly rose with the realization. Perhaps…just perhaps, I must be
here…so he doesn't die alone.

A fire appeared inside Okita as he came to his feet, a fire he had not felt in years. The
passion was reflected in his eyes as he smiled. In an instant, he found himself next to the
mortified child. A quick glance at the multiple beams scattered around them told Okita
they were beneath the house. He turned back to the boy and stopped. A sheathed
weapon was held tightly in those tiny hands.

"Soujirou, you cannot-"

The boy was on the verge of shock, eyes wide, hands trembling. "Help…" the word
tumbled off his lips.

"They are experienced swordsmen," Okita spoke softly. "They will kill you if you go
against them like this. But…" He closed his eyes for a moment. Oh, please let this
work. Let him hear my words. "Lend me your strength. Lend me your strength,
Soujirou. Let me protect you." He infolded the trembling child's hands with his own. "I
will protect you."

The child's eyes met Okita's and the terror, the fear disappeared for just a moment, just a
fraction of a moment before movement caught their attention; a figure was quickly
crawling toward them. Soujirou, horrified, twisted around, so the sheathed weapon faced
the approaching threat. The youngest brother had found him.

"How dare you hide down here. Eh? What is that? Did you find this expensive looking
wazatashi in the rice barn? Let me see…" His hand took hold of the scabbard and
slowly unsheathed the short sword in Soujirou's hands.

"Soujirou, I will protect you." Okita wrapped his arms around the boy, his hands wielded
the sword through the small hands. "It is a good thing to live. Trust me on this. Live,
Soujirou..."

A smile touched Soujirou's lips.

Okita's face mirrored Soujirou's.

***

"Fujita-san!"

The chiseled face of the man looked up from the piles of papers on his desk and turned to
the speaker. "Eh?"

"Have you heard, Fujita-san? Have you seen the papers? Everyone is speaking of it.
Okita Soushi is dead."

Even though it felt like a sword had passed though his body, Saito displayed no emotion.
First Kondo, now Okita? "No. I had not heard." He reached into his pocket and
withdrew a small cigarette. In a flash, Saito was deeply inhaling the calming drug.

"They say he died last night." The speaker's voice cracked. "He was a great
swordsman."

"The greatest," Saito corrected quietly as he bowed his head a moment in silent
benediction. "Was anyone at his side?"

"The papers say he died alone. Yet, they say a smile was on his face till the very end.
Isn't that strange? A smile. What do you think he was thinking about?"

Strange? Maybe for one who did not know the Shinsengumi Squad One Leader. For the
general public, Okita would become a legend. He was one of the greatest sword masters
of all time. But, few would know him the way Saito knew him. As a companion. As a
friend. It was that which Saito Hajime, Shinsengumi Squad Three Leader, treasured
most. "It no longer matters. We have work to do. Shishio must be recaptured
before…before…" His gaze focused just beyond reality, caught in his own thoughts.

"H…hai, Fujita-san." With a nervous bow he quickly left the room.

Saito shook his head, clearing the remnants of his wandering mind, quickly stood, and
abruptly paused by a large window facing the sprawling city. "Sayonara, old friend."
His hand touched the cold glass. "I hope you found some happiness in your short life."
He flipped the remnants of the cigarette to the ground and extinguished the smoldering
stub with his shiny black boot. He proceeded to shrug his blue police jacket over his
shoulders before he departed, perhaps a touch more sadness in those golden eyes.

Outside, a tiny iris poked its head from the cold earth to bask in the bright sun. Spring
had finally arrived.

The End



Author's Notes:

I know. I know. I know the timeline is off a few years and a few months (depending on
where you get your information on which year Okita died). Gomen. I apologize. Please
forgive me. And I also know the events are not verbatim. Give the author a little creative
license, please. I had to write this because it was driving me nuts, absolutely insane.
How could Soujirou, who had never picked up a weapon in his entire life, suddenly have
the ability to kill his brothers, who obviously had some experience with swordsmanship
(other than divine intervention and the child prodigy theory)? I know the brothers were
not very good, skill wise, but still… Anyway, I wanted a serious fiction with the
Soujirou and Okita paring and this was the only thing I could think of. I did the first draft
in one night, listening to the War of the Last Wolves, Kimi Wa Dare, and Warriors Suite
over and over again. So sad. I have no life. I hope you liked it. Comments would be
appreciated. Domo Arigatou Gozaimasu.