Disclaimer: Not mine.

Notes: Based on the middle of chapter 8 of theSIPM manga (Manga-City translation). I think this also happens in episode 6 of the anime. It might help to go back to that scene before reading this.
Summary: An interpretation/re-telling of the exchange at the end of the scenewhere Tetsu asks Okita to spar with him, afterTetsu asks him why he took up the katana and why he became strong.


"Stop it."

The sound of Okita's voice resonated in Tetsu's mind as he lay in his bed, the snoring of the sleeping men nearby unable to drown it out. It wasn't the words themselves that had brought Tetsu's ranting to a dead stop that afternoon in the training hall, but the way Okita had said them, low and sharp, cutting through Tetsu's haze of emotions with the same precision and force that he displayed with his sword. Tetsu had stopped mid-sentence, as if he had been slapped. Never had he heard Okita speak to him, or anyone for that matter, in such a tone. The shock returned him to his senses, and he began to realize that he really had no right to demand an answer from Okita and had seriously overstepped his bounds.

More than the sharpness, though, it was Okita's dignity that had made it impossible for Tetsu to utter another word. Without his mask of good humor in place, Okita's presence was intense, brilliant nearly to the point of being staggering. His bearing demanded that Tetsu come up to his level, and Tetsu remembered suddenly feeling very small and childish under the weight of his gaze. He felt his face flushing warm even now as he stared up into the darkness, the shame of being caught in a tantrum coming back to him.

"My answer cannot become your answer," Okita had said, his voice flat and forbidding, and Tetsu could say nothing in return. He could only look on, hypnotized by this side of Okita that he had barely glimpsed that first time they had sparred, when he was trying to join the Shinsengumi, and in the handful of times since then that Okita had spoken to him seriously.

The meaning of Okita's words worked past his mind and settled like a weight in his chest. He felt his breath shorten and a cold sweat break out over his body as he realized that Okita had spoken the unvarnished truth. Okita-san couldn't tell him the answer. Perhaps he didn't know the real answer either. Tetsu couldn't follow on the path already cleared by Okita; he would have to find his own way. It was a daunting and, above all, lonely realization.

Perhaps Okita saw all this and understood, maybe even sympathized with Tetsu, because the sharp edge of his intensity began to fade and something akin to sadness crept into his eyes. Tetsu, who had previously been held up and pinned in place by that intensity, felt the withdrawal like a sudden change in gravity, an unexpected increase in weight, and he struggled to maintain his internal balance.

"There is nothing I can do," said Okita, and the deadness in his voice made Tetsu feel at a loss. He felt the heaviness inside him increase even more.

"However…."

And Tetsu's entire being snapped to attention and his breath froze in waiting, hinged on that one word, hope rushing through him so quickly he might have felt ashamed or embarrassed, had he not been concentrating so much on Okita's next words. Was there another way, a shortcut or parallel trail that would make the whole journey easier and more bearable?

Okita smiled once again in that easy way of his, the blazing fire from before fully contained now, the emotions withdrawn beneath the surface without a ripple.

"I won't say 'until you defeat me,' but until you are satisfied, I'll be your sparring partner," he said.

It took Tetsu a moment to understand what Okita was really offering. Friendship. Patience. Support. Not someone to walk the path with him, but someone who would keep an ear out for his footsteps as they forged their separate ways through the forest. It wasn't what he had asked for, but now that he'd had some time to think about it, lying in his bed with his eyes open and his body aching all over—he'd have to find some way to hide the bruises from Tatsu-nii—maybe it was what he had wanted all along.