Under the Influence

It was a rather lonely evening at the Shinsengumi dojo. About two thirds of the squads were out on an all-night patrol --either Kondou had a sudden onset of paranoia or just wanted to show off-- and despite the vice commander's disapproval, the captain of the first squad was spending the night prowling the streets with his squad.

Tetsunosuke yawned as he set the final stack of folded dou gi on the shelf. Of all his chores, he hated laundry the most. Being so repetitive and mindless, the task gave him time to think. And what he inevitably thought about only made him angry. He slid the door shut a little more firmly than necessary and made his way to the barracks. With everybody gone, maybe the snoring wouldn't be so bad tonight.

Just as he was about to open the door to the hall, a furious voice echoed through the courtyard: "ICHIMURRRAA!"

Tetsu winced. That was the voice of his master, Hijikata, calling for his servant. Immediately he set off in the direction of the vice commander's room.

Respectfully he knelt at the doorway. "You wanted me, sir?"

"Where the hell have you been?"

Tetsu looked up uncertainly. Hijikata's expression was somewhat confused, and the boy thought he saw a bit of color on the tall man's normally pale face. Hijikata seemed to be trying hard to focus on Tetsu and wasn't having much luck. Tetsu's jaw dropped as the stone-like vice commander actually swayed on his feet.

"I- I came as soon as you called, sir. Hijikatasan, are you all right?"

"Of course I am," Hijikata replied, annoyed. "I just can't find anymore sake. Bring me some."

Tetsu blinked, his eyes widening. A quick glance around the room revealed four or five empty bottles. Tetsu couldn't believe it- the demon was drunk! He bit his lip and touched his forehead to the floor. Tatsu would have been proud. "I'm sorry, sir! I know for a fact that there isn't any in the storeroom!"

"What?" Hijikata stumbled towards his swords and snatched them up. "I killed four men yesterday, and two boys as small as you! I may as well kill one more!"

"Hijikatasan! Please!" Tetsu scrambled backwards, terrified.

Inexplicably, the demon's anger cooled. He stood staring at the sword in his hand as if he'd never seen it before. Then suddenly he threw the weapon across the room and turned his back on it.

"Where's Souji?" he grumbled.

"On patrol all night, sir," Tetsu answered. Hijikata's shoulders slumped forward and he glared at Tetsu out of the corner of his eye. Then, slowly, he sat down facing the boy.

"Come here," he commanded, and, gulping nervously, Tetsu obeyed. "You're practically worthless," the vice commander growled. "I don't understand what he sees in you. My shoulder's cramped."

"Uh…" Tetsu said, blinking. Hijikata looked up at him with a disdainful glare that could have withered a cactus.

"I said my shoulder's bothering me. Get over here and see what you can do about it," Hijikata snarled. Tetsu gulped again and scurried around behind the vice commander. Now out of range of his master's lethal glare, Tetsu mustered the courage to rest his hands on Hijikata's broad shoulders. Feebly he attempted to massage the rock-like muscles.

"ugh," Hijikata groaned. "Pathetic. Do it harder!"

Tetsu frowned. Nothing he did was ever good enough for his impossible man! With an angry huff, the boy redoubled his efforts.

"Hng," Hijikata grunted after a while, as evidence that he was still displeased. "Look, I'll show you," he said gruffly, and before Tetsu could react, the vice commander spun around and grabbed him by the shoulders.

"Ita!" Tetsu gasped, wincing as Hijikata's hands threatened to crush his collar bone, shoulder blades, and spine all at once.

"That's right," Hijikata slurred. "Make it hurt." But his hands eased their grip, and massaged Tetsu's narrow shoulders with just enough pressure. "Why'd he give me you?" Hijikata asked scornfully. "Tell me why."

"I don't know, Hijikatasan," Tetsu said hesitantly.

"I want him. Go get him."

"You mean… Okitasan?"

"I mean Souji. Damn it, Souji! Why isn't he here?"

"I'm sorry sir, but he's not back yet," Tetsu said, and then stifled a yelp of surprise as Hijikata pulled him into an awkward embrace. A sudden warning went off in Tetsu's brain, but he was too scared to act. Hijikata shuddered.

"He was there yesterday," Hijikata whispered harshly. "He watched me kill the last ones. And afterwards… he smiled."

Tetsu didn't know what to do. He was frozen to the spot, completely helpless. He had no idea what was going on, except that he really didn't like it.

"I… hate… that…" Hijikata whispered, and suddenly collapsed, falling forward onto the boy.

Tetsu gasped for air as Hijikata's weight settled on his chest. "Hi- Hijikatasan!" he cried desperately, starting to struggle. "Get off of me! Please, sir- let me go! Let-- " Tetsu stopped. The formidable vice commander was snoring gently, and Tetsu was pinned beneath him. He tried with all his might to push the heavy body off of him, but the best he could manage had no effect except to make Hijikata mumble something deliriously in his sleep.

This made Tetsu pause and think. Did he really want to risk waking the man? Tetsu chilled at the thought. No, it was better to be trapped than to risk the vice commander's wrath. Sooner or later Hijikata would roll over and then Tetsu would quietly make his escape. In the meantime the boy would just focus on not suffocating.

Several hours later, Hijikata finally rolled over- but he took Tetsu with him by wrapping a steely arm tightly around the boy's waist. Tetsu blushed furiously and clenched his teeth. Now he was trapped on his side, still chest-to-chest with Hijikata, snuggled up to the scary man like a child with its parent, or, worse, like a girl with her… lover. The horrifying thought made Tetsu's heart pound.

I guess Toudousan and Nagakurasan weren't just joking after all, Tetsu thought to himself. Hijikatasan and Okitasan must really be …together. The thought made his skin crawl. Sure, Okita looked and acted kind of girly, but Tetsu had never thought that Hijikata was, um, interested in that. With a squiggly sort of frown Tetsu closed his eyes. When he opened them again, it was morning.

"Hijikatasaaan?" called an obnoxious voice outside the door. Tetsu's eyes widened in fear. There was no mistaking the voice of the Shinsengumi's second-shortest swordsman and only other redhead, Nagakura Shinpachi. "Hijikatasan. It's late already. Are you up?" Tetsu held his breath and dared to look up at his master's face. The man was still out cold. "I'm opening the door," Shinpachi announced politely. Tetsu flinched as light poured into the room.

"oh my god, Tetsu!" Shinpachi said urgently, running across the room.

"Help me!" Tetsu cried as loudly as he dared.

Silently Shinpachi pried Hijikata's arm away from Tetsu and the boy scrambled free. Shinpachi stared coldly down at the vice commander in disgust.

As Tetsu rose to his feet Shinpachi put an arm around his shoulders and guided him back out into the hall. Once the door slid shut behind them, Shinpachi turned his plum-colored eyes to Tetsu's face. "Come on," he said softly. "I'll get you some breakfast."

Tetsu sat down and began to shovel rice into this mouth. "You look pretty roughed up," Shinpachi observed sympathetically.

"Well yeah," Tetsu exclaimed, furious. "Drunk old demon wouldn't get off me all night!"

Shinpachi winced. "God, we should have taken it seriously and warned you. I'm sorry, Tetsu."

"Warned me?"

"Yeah, well, ever since we first saw you the joke's been 'it's only a matter of time until Okita's out of town'… in a way, we knew this would happen, but, I guess none of us were willing to take it seriously, you know? It's better if it's just a joke."

"Just a joke? Everything's just a joke to you! Damn it- he might've killed me- I was scared- and- there's nothing funny about it!"

Shinpachi's expression was completely solemn for once.

"I was angry too," he said softly. "When it happened to me."

"Whaaaaaat!"

Shinpachi sighed. "Less than a year ago," he said, smiling ruefully. He turned his head and looked to the side. "Damned demon only gets drunk when Souji's out of town. I think he feels guilty, or he's just afraid, to get hammered in front of that guy. Souji's got that way of seeing through you, you know? Anyway the bastard was drunk. Showed up in my room when I was already asleep and I didn't have a chance, he's just too damn strong."

"Hey, wait a min-" Tetsu said uncomfortably.

"I wanted to kill him at first," Shinpachi went on. "But he didn't even remember what he'd done. Before long I realized that a guy like him already has too many sins that he has to remember. And by pitying him, I was able to get over what he'd done to me."

Tetsu stared at him in horrified disgust.

"What?" Shinpachi asked after a moment.

"Uh… Hijikatasan didn't actually… uh… rape me."

"Oh my god!" Shinpachi exclaimed, turning white. "You mean you went in there willingly? Or it was actually your idea!"

"No!" Tetsu cried, his face turning dark pink. "He just passed out and fell over on top of me and I couldn't get away!"

Shinpachi searched his eyes for a moment.

"All right, Tetsu. If that's what you'd rather believe-"

"It's the truth!"

"Well, at any rate, I won't tell anybody, ok? And if you ever need help… dealing with it, overcoming your denial or anything, you can always talk to me, ok?" he clapped a friendly hand on the shorter redhead's shoulder. Tetsu frowned and glared at his empty rice bowl in embarrassment.

Not long after, Tetsu made his way to the well to wash his face. For a moment he stared sullenly at his reflection in the water, noticing the bluish half-circles under his eyes. Suddenly a familiar face appeared in the water next to his.

"What do you want, Tatsu-nii?" Tetsu grumbled to his brother.

"I've been worried about you!" Tatsu exclaimed. "I noticed you weren't in the barracks last night. Where were you?"

"Yeah, well, you know, my duties as a page sort of kept me up all night."

Tatsu's expression was both concerned and confused.

Just then the door to Hijikata's room slid open with a sharp crack and the demon emerged, shuffling down the hall with one hand covering his eyes, the very portrait of a man suffering from a hangover and an excruciating headache.

Tetsu, meanwhile, glared mistrustfully at Hijikata out of the corner of his eyes, his face completely red. His entire manner was that of an angry cornered animal preparing to bolt.

Tatsu looked back and forth between Hijikata and his younger brother's expression, recognizing angry shame on the boy's face. Tatsu's eyes widened. "Impossible!" he gasped, falling to his knees and grabbing Tetsu by the arms.

"Eh?" Tetsu asked, shocked to see tears in his brother's eyes.

"Oh Tetsu, Tetsu- this is all my fault, how could I have failed to protect you like this! I heard them all joking but I never thought it would actually happen! Oh, I can't believe it- it's absolutely unforgivable!" His eyes ignited and he tightened his grip on his brother. "I'll kill him," he said darkly.

"Whoa, whoa!" Tetsu exclaimed. "Tatsu-nii, snap out of it! Listen to me, you can't kill Hijikata! That's craziness! And anyway, I'm fine!"

Tatsu hugged him, tears running down his face. "You're so brave," he muttered. "And I'm such a fool for overlooking all the jokes and comments all this time. Did it… did he hurt you very much?"

"WHAT!" Tetsu tore himself away from Tatsu's embrace. His expression was furious. "What the hell are you talking about? Hijikata didn't even do anything to me, okay? Sheesh, why does everybody around here have such a dirty rotten mind? He was just drunk! It's not like he molested me or anything."

Tatsu stared at him critically. "You're sure he didn't touch you?"

"ARG!" Tetsu rolled his eyes. "Yes, I'm sure! Anyway if he did do something like that, it's not like I'd let you kill him, I'd do it myself! What kind of man do you think I am?"

The older boy's expression was grave. For a second Tetsu saw his father in his brother's face. "A lot of the guys say you're like Okitasan."

"I'M NOT GAY!"

"But you are 'cute' and… there are definitely men out there-" he glanced in the direction that Hijikata had gone "-who would… be attracted to you. Understand?"

"Yeah, yeah, watch out for the pervs – I understand, ok?"

Tatsu searched his eyes for another moment. He couldn't shake the feeling that the younger boy wasn't telling him everything. At last he sighed.

"Ok," he said weakly.

In the next few hours, the squads that had been out all night returned one by one. Most of the men went straight for breakfast or straight to bed. Tetsu tried to go about his chores as usual, but he had a nagging suspicion that he was being …watched. He was crouched down feeding the pigs when at last he caught sight of an odd-shaped shadow on the ground beside him. He spun around, but of course there was no one to be seen.

"Stop spying on me!" Tetsu demanded loudly. "I just saw your shadow so I know you're there!"

Yamazaki Susumu dropped lightly to the ground beside him.

"Gah!" Tetsu screamed. "Where did you come from!"

"Nowhere," Susumu replied coolly.

"Whatever. What do you want?" Tetsu said, annoyed.

Susumu looked at him blankly. Then the pale, slender boy turned his dark eyes aside. "I jus'… wanted to talk to you."

"You wanted to talk to me?" Tetsu exclaimed incredulously. "HAH! Is that some kind of joke?"

"…no," Susumu replied quietly. He leaned against the wall of the pigs' shed, folding his arms across his chest. Tetsu blinked at him a few times. The young spy looked genuinely troubled- his dismal expression was a bit stormier than usual.

"Well… uh… what's up?" Tetsu asked awkwardly.

Susumu glanced at him and then looked away again. "Are you… ok?" he asked softly.

"Huh?" Tetsu's eyes bugged out, and then he blushed angrily. "Am I OK? Since when do you care if I'm ok?"

"With so many people gone las' night," Susumu said, still not looking at Tetsu, "I stayed up to stand guard."

"Well good for you! I didn't get a good night's sleep either but it's not like it revolutionized my personality. What's your deal?"

"I'm jus' sayin'… I know what happened."

Suddenly Tetsu figured out what Susumu meant. He wasn't sure whether to explode or collapse. With an exasperated sigh his head fell to one side. "Nothing… happened," he insisted, rolling his eyes.

"Sure," Susumu said. "You jus' make sure you don't tell no one, understand?"

"There's nothing to TELL!" Tetsu practically shouted. Susumu's face twitched angrily.

"Yeah, well, it's your business. Don't you go cryin' to my sister."

"Huh?"

"I said, whatever you'd like to think happened or didn't happen between you and the vice commander, don't tell my sister!"

Tetsu blinked, confused. "But how come-" Tetsu tried to ask.

"Shut up, runt! I don't know why I tried to be nice to you."

"Me neither!" Tetsu declared, as Susumu vanished right before his eyes.

"Man, what is his problem?" Tetsu asked the pigs. He frowned, his mind racing. "Ugh, this is going to drive me crazy!" Saizo looked up and gave an irritated snort. "There's only one way to get to the bottom of it," Tetsu determined, and trotted off to look for Ayu-nee.

He found her in the yard outside the kitchen, her sleeves tied back, chopping blocks of firewood into narrow slats. "Ayu-nee!" Tetsu called, waving to her. "Here, let me help you with that." He picked up a block.

"Why, thank you, Tetsunosuke," Ayu said, smiling kindly.

"With all the guys around here, why is it that you have to chop firewood?" Tetsu asked. Ayu wiped her forehead with the back of her hand.

"Oh, I don't mind it," she replied. "But usually I do have help from Captain Harada. He gets the leftovers from breakfast in exchange- but since he was out all night on that patrol, he's fast asleep right now and it jus' needs doin'."

"Hm," Tetsu said, focusing on the task. Ayu smiled at his serious expression.

"Now, I'm jus' guessin', but I believe there might be somethin' on your mind, Tetsunosuke."

"Well, yeah, there is," Tetsu admitted. "It's about Susumu."

"Has he done somethin' to upset you again?" she asked, smiling apologetically.

"No, not really. He talked to me a little while ago, and, well, it was the first time he ever said anything that made it seem like he cares about me or you."

Ayu's expression turned serious in surprise. "What?" she asked softly. "What do you mean?"

"Well, he asked me not to tell his sister something."

"His sister?"

"That's what he said. He asked me not to tell you something."

"Now, why would he ask you that?" Ayu said.

"I don't know! It was really weird. I was hoping you could help me figure it out."

"Are you goin' to tell me… what Susumu didn't want me to hear?"

"I was hoping I wouldn't have to," Tetsu admitted. Ayu smiled again and wiped her hands on her apron, more out of habit than from necessity.

"Tetsu, will you excuse me for a minute? I think I need to talk to Susumu about this. If you don't mind, 20 or 30 more pieces would be fine." Waving goodbye, Ayu hurried away, leaving a dumbfounded Tetsunosuke behind with the pile of firewood.

Ayu didn't have far to go before she found what she was looking for. She pulled a throwing knife from her obi and hurled it into a tree. A split second later, it was thrown back, landing in the dust at her feet.

"Will you please come down here for a second?" she asked.

Silently, her brother dropped down in front of her, scowling darkly.

"I heard you talked to Tetsunosuke today," Ayu said, putting her hand on her hip.

"I shouldn't have. But I guess it's no surprise that a crybaby like that would also be a tattletale."

"Mataku ne," Ayu said. "You are acting strange. What was it you didn't want him to tell me about?"

Susumu's glare was practically burning a hole in the ground. He folded his arms. "Susumu," his sister said, clearly as a warning. The boy sighed.

"Alright, I'll tell you, but you ain't gonna like it," Susumu said softly, still staring at the ground. "Vice commander Hijikata kept the boy in his room las' night."

"Well," Ayu said, closing her eyes in a smile. "He is Hijikatasan's page."

"I know that," Susumu hissed. "And that's why you should stay out of it."

Ayu frowned sadly. "Susumu…"

"I don't want to discuss it," Susumu said sharply.

"I'm not sorry I saved you that time," his sister said. "You'll never make me sorry for that."

"Well I am sorry," Susumu said, his voice like ice. "I'm sorry my sister's a slut." He looked up at her, his eyes smoldering. Then he disappeared.

Ayu felt the heat of tears in her eyes and she clenched her hands into fists at her sides. It was cruel and childish for her brother to call her that, and he was mature enough to know that it wasn't true… but her issue with Susumu could wait. There was something far more important that she had to take care of.

Okita Souji was asleep when Ayu knocked on his door. "I'm glad you're alone," she said softly as she let herself in. She closed the door behind her as Souji sat up.

"Ayumusan?" he asked sleepily, his eyes round and puzzled. Automatically he adjusted the front of his yukata so that it closed properly over his chest. Ayu knelt beside his futon and bowed to him respectfully.

"I'm sorry to wake you, Okitasan," she said. "But you're the one I need to talk to."

"About what, Ayumusan?" Souji asked, yawning.

"Hijikatasan got drunk last night, and kept Tetsunosuke in his room," she said quietly.

Souji frowned, blinked, and then smiled. "Surely that's nothing to worry about," he said brightly. "You don't actually believe those jokes about-"

"I'm sorry, sir, but there's somethin' else. It happened five or six months ago, when you and the commander were at that meetin' out of town."

"Yes, Saitousan was with us too," Okita said, nodding. "While we were gone there was a skirmish. Three of ours were killed."

"Yes. And after that, Hijikatasan got very drunk. My brother thought that it was his duty to stay with Hijikatasan that night, since he had drunken himself sick. Well, in the middle of the night, the vice commander woke up. I heard him sayin' 'Yamazaki!' so I went to see what was wrong. And, well, I found my brother in a somewhat unprofessional situation."

"I see," Souji said softly, his eyes narrowing.

"It wasn't my place to interfere, but, it was my little brother, so I stepped in. I sent Susumu out of the room and took care of Hijikatasan myself. All this time, Susumu's blamed me for it. My brother thinks that because we look so much alike, Hijikatasan mistook him for me that night."

"As I recall," Souji said quietly. "You and Hijikatasan had a bit of a romance after that."

"Yes, we did," Ayu said, blushing. "But what I never told my brother, or anyone else until now, is that Hijikatasan never had the slightest interest in me before that. And he wasn't mistaken about Susumu. Here's the problem with that: because I'm a woman livin' with a gang of violent men, it's understood that occasionally I will get an offer I can't refuse- but an unspoken obligation like that don't apply to a fifteen-year-old boy. There are limits of propriety. I know I don't have to remind you of what happened with Serizawasan."

"Are you implying that Hijikatasan…" Souji trailed off into silence. Ayu bowed her head.

"For Tetsunosuke's sake, please… will you at least talk to him?" she asked. Souji sighed heavily and laid back.

"I'll talk to him," he resolved, and closed his eyes. His voice softened. "But first, Ayumusan, I would like a little more sleep."

"Of course," Ayu said, and smiled down at him sadly. She picked up the edge of the blanket and pulled it up to Souji's chin. Souji opened his eyes and mirrored her smile. Knowing that it was improper but not caring, Ayu leaned down and lightly pressed her lips to Souji's forehead. "Thank you," she whispered, and withdrew.

When Souji woke up it was already evening. He rolled onto his side and collected his thoughts. Almost as if on cue, a familiar shadow appeared outside his room. He narrowed his eyes as the door slid open.

"Souji. You're in bed?" Hijikata asked abruptly from the doorway. The smell of smoke drifted into the room.

"Right where you like me," Souji replied.

"What?" Hijikata hissed, clearly caught off guard. He stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. "Souji, what's the matter with you?"

"What's the matter with you, Hijikatasan?" Souji replied, studying the vice commander with dark, heavy eyes.

"What are you talking about? Are you trying to piss me off? I have a headache."

"If you want to get drunk, go to Shimabara," Souji said quietly.

"Who said anything about getting drunk?" Hijikata demanded.

"Why did we kill Serizawasan?" Souji asked.

"You know why!" the vice commander practically shouted. "He was a disgrace! That arrogant bastard thought he was god and had no self control."

"Sometimes, Hijikatasan, what we hate about other people are the things that we hate in ourselves."

"What kind of nonsense-- the man was giving the Shinsengumi a bad name! He was getting in the way!"

"And let's not forget what he tried to do to the captain of first squad."

"I haven't forgotten," Hijikata seethed. "Why you didn't kill him on the spot, I'll never understand."

"He was drunk."

"That's no excuse."

Souji sat up, frowning harshly. "You better hope it's an excuse, Hijikatasan. Because right now it's your only excuse for last night."

"What?" Hijikata clenched his teeth. "You weren't even here last night."

"Apparently, you slept with Tetsunosuke." Souji studied the vice commander's blank expression.

"I..." Hijikata said, taken aback. "I what!" He pressed the heel of his palm to his forehead and slowly shook his head.

"You don't remember?" Souji asked carefully. "That's convenient."

"Don't you dare--" Hijikata growled, taking a menacing step forward. Souji stared up at him placidly. There was nothing that infuriated the vice commander more than tranquil defiance. "Don't you dare," he repeated. Souji just sat there, solemnly gazing at him. Suddenly the vice commander reached out and struck Souji across the face. Souji didn't even flinch- he merely turned his face back towards Hijikata with that same serene expression.

"Damn it!" Hijikata turned away, furious. For a handful of seconds he stood there, shoulders trembling. And then he collected his composure, and walked out of the room.

Souji stared down at his hands for a moment. Then with a faint sigh he flipped back the covers and stood up.

Eventually he made his way to the kitchen. Ayu looked startled when she saw the bruise forming on his cheek, and rushed to get him a piece of ice wrapped in a cloth.

"Thank you," Souji said quietly, holding the ice to his face.

"Well?" Ayu asked worriedly. "What did he say?"

Souji smiled. "He said he feels horrible about it," he replied. "He said he's furious with himself."

"Really?" Ayu asked, blinking in surprise. "He said that to you?"

"He said it right to my face." His voice was completely devoid of sarcasm. Ayu nodded and felt tears in her eyes for the second time that day.

"You know, y'all are headed for destruction," she predicted breathlessly. "You won't get a happy ending."

"That's ok," Souji said, smiling again. His voice was somehow softer than usual. "We don't deserve one anyway."

Meanwhile, Hijikata was busy pacing from one side of the grounds to the other, and everyone who saw him knew well enough to avoid him. The sun had just set and the world was in transition from orange to blue-gray light. The vice commander knew what he had to do. He'd heard that Tetsunosuke slept in the closet. It was dinner time so the barracks were empty when he stepped inside, and the closet door was closed. Aggressively he stomped over to the closet and wrenched it open, revealing Tetsunosuke curled up under a blanket on the shelf. Tetsu opened his eyes and then sat up in horror, opening his mouth as if to scream.

"Why the hell do you sleep in the closet?" Hijikata demanded gruffly, before Tetsu could utter a sound. "Well, never mind." The vice commander closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. "I'm sorry about last night," he said in a low voice. Tetsu's eyes grew huge in disbelief. Hijikata looked him over in annoyance. "I'm sorry for whatever I did to you. And I hope you're all right."

"I'm fine!" Tetsu squeaked.

"Are you really?"

"Y-yes. You… uh, sir, all you did was pass out on top of me."

"Well, it was wrong of me. It won't happen again. Understand?"

"Yes sir."

"Goodnight." Hijikata shut the closet door and turned away, feeling his heart rate decrease. He stepped out onto the porch and allowed himself a moment to appreciate the cool air of the evening.

"Hijikatasan," called a gentle voice. Hijikata turned his head to see Souji standing down the hall just outside his room.

"I apologized to Ichimura," Hijikata grumbled, walking up to Souji. He gently cupped Souji's bruised cheek with his hand. Souji smiled at him. "And…" the vice commander grunted, "I would like to apologize for this, too."

"There's no need for that, Hijikatasan."

"Yes there is. Soro soro …I didn't do anything to Ichimura."

"I know."

"And… do you really think I've become like Serizawa?"

"Considering that you just apologized to a mere page boy… no." Souji smiled brightly.
"Let's go inside," he said, sliding back the door to Hijikata's room. "Then I suppose you can apologize to me all you want."

"Thank you." Bending his head forward gratefully, the vice commander followed Souji indoors, and softly shut the door behind them.

IT'S OVER!