Nikka4: Thank you for finding it still nice. I still have my hangover from the deadlines, though, so I'm sorry if this wouldn't turn out as you'd hope it would.

KasumiDestruction: It is...blame it on my dysfunctional brain. Sumimasen!!!

Hiss: And now, it's almost a year since I last updated. (saying to self) Baka na onna!

Sigh...I'm really, really, really sorry I haven't done anything for almost a year. It's just that, I still have a lot of deadlines to meet for the Malate Literary Folio (our university's literary publication). Sumimasen! Sumimasenmasen! (Oh, I got that from a funny skit in NHK, you know, Doyah! Unko! Hahahahaha...)

***

Soushi walked along the edge of the pond of their headquarters and stopped a while to stare at the moon. Everything was so serene and everything seemed to be in place but the setting was really bothering him. He cast his eyes down and sighed. "Have I killed that much?" he asked himself and shook his head as he sat down on a stone. In his moment of silence, all his senses lessened so that with the opening of the shoji toward the garden, he suddenly jerked upright with his thumb stroking his sword hilt. Realizing who it was, he relaxed. "Saitou-san, please don't scare me like that."

Saitou emerged from where he was and shook his head. "I wasn't scaring you," he replied as softly as he could, "Something is bothering you so you got surprised easily."

Soushi looked at him and once again, only his smile was evident. "What are you doing here, anyway?"

"I could ask the same of you, Soushi-san," Saitou walked sullenly toward him. "Has your assignment affected your mood today?"

"I don't know," he admitted sullenly although his expression never changed, "I'm not really sure. But let me ask you Saitou-san, have you ever regretted killing anyone?"

The 3rd squad captain looked at him in askance and put his sword down. "I have no time for regrets, Soushi-san. If I give it room, I'll only falter and I'll be a dysfunctional captain of my squad. Do you feel remorse now?"

Okita only looked at his sword then at the moon. He didn't understand anything now. He knew he was doing the right thing but, he also knew he was not. He was balancing principle and morality at the same time. He also knew he was confusing himself and he didn't know how to make it right. "Perchance, but..." he sighed not knowing what to say, "How do you see the moon?"

Saitou blinked. "What does the moon have to do with anything?" He rolled his eyes and stared at his companion. He knew Soushi was saying something. He just couldn't get it but he didn't want him to know that.

"I see it red, Saitou-san," he whispered, quite afraid something was wrong with him, "I've never seen it red. A red moon is unrealistic, isn't it?"

For once, Saitou was at a loss with words. He felt the cold draft and enhanced the mood around them. Autumn was coming and the weather was getting cooler by each passing day. Seeing the opportunity, he avoided the topic saying, "The weather might be affecting you. Perhaps it is best if we go back to the safety of our rooms. If you stay out here too long, you might not be able to do the next task assigned to us. I overheard that the Ishinshishi has just acquired a new recruit. A neophyte; but unmistakably dangerous, the say."

Soushi looked up as his companion began to stand up. "So, you do not see it the way I do," he forced the words out in a laugh, "I knew I am the only one who has this enigma. It's just that I'm a little confounded by my own thoughts. Not to worry. If you feel the draft, please go at your own convenience. I have to think more out here...with nature as what I have grown up with."

"Whatever be your desire," the taller man sniffed, "Just don't let that hinder your duties. The Shinsengumi is in great need of someone such as you. You are a rare find, Soushi-san. Just don't stray away."

"I'll try not to." Soushi smiled as he watched the other walk away. If he wasn't mistaken, he could see the hesitation of his co-captain. Saitou did not hesitate, he never did. Then why did he sense that from him. Maybe there was something worse going on inside of his head than his worries whether he was doing the right thing or not. Or maybe, Saitou was just acting friendly. A ridiculous idea, but an explanation, nonetheless.

"Don't try. Do it." Hajime said as he closed the shoji behind him.

Okita smiled after him and stared at the shoji. "Thank you, Saitou-san," he whispered knowing that the other couldn't hear his words. He looked up again and sighed. He just has to find himself. [I wonder what I really believe in,] he thought, [Do I really dwell on morality more than principle? Or do I - ] he suddenly cut off his thoughts as he sneezed. "Saitou-san must be right. The weather has to be affecting me," he laughed.

***

Soushi entered the meeting room seeing Yamazaki (the Shinsen's spy) who was opposite Kondou already there the long table with Nagakura at the middle seat to the left of Kondou. He sat in his place opposite of Nagakura to the right Hijikata who smiled at him, probably for coming early. Soon the others arrived as well. Saitou sat next to Soushi and Matsubara, the 4th troop captain, sat to the left to Nagakura. Lastly, Kashitaro, the military advisor, sat to the left of Kondou.

Kondou cleared his throat before he began, "Yamazaki, tell us of your report."

Yamazaki nodded respectfully and reported, "The Ishinshishi has been recruiting ronins and untrained farmers by the hundreds each month. Most of them are unworthy opponents, however, there is one formidable recruit. They call him Battousai. It's true that he's in his youth yet he has slain a number of our men more than his whole troop combined. His speed and accuracy is clearly worthy of a real samurai and if my memory serves me right, he might have been trained in the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu."

"The legendary sword technique," Hijikata voiced out his thoughts, "But how could such a technique based on peaceful principles be involved in this war."

"People have their beliefs, Toshizo-san," Soushi interjected politely, "Then if this is so, we would have an impediment to get rid of. Although it wouldn't be quite easy, would it?"

"Not easy at all," Kondou agreed, "Sanjyuuno, Tani, captain of the seventh troop, has been killed by him. His whole troop barely made it out alive."

"The Ishinshishi," the spy continued, "has planned to attack the daimyo of the Shirakawa fief and they have the hitokiri, Battousai, with them.

Soushi's eyes suddenly went wide at the report and his face was suddenly creased with worry. His mouth gaped open and suddenly shut it, gritting his teeth. It was all he could do not to clench his fists and demand how they can counter the attack.

Kondou understood the captain's reaction well and nodded. "We'll have your troops to assemble at the fief and hinder their plans."

"Since it is situated below a valley," Kashitaro began, "the Ishin could attack from the top and work their way down. This could affect the surrounding village and a possible, unnecessary bloodshed may occur. We have to avoid this and drive them out." He brought out a map of the valley and a few stones. "The 3rd troop will be situated here as the first line of defense for the village and the 1st troop on the other side. Make sure that the attackers positioned at the back will not get through. That is where they have put their best. The 2nd and 4th troop will surround the daimyo's dwelling and prevent anybody from trespassing."

"That will include servants, personal samurais and civilians as well," Hijikata added.

"Does anybody have a question?" Kondou asked before nodding to dismiss them. "We shall be on our way when the sun begins to set."

***

waaa...hontou ni tsukareta'n da yo.