Author's Note: this is a mostly (but not entirely) serious chapter. To understand the last part, you may want to reread the end of chapt. four. By the way, I drew a picture for chapter four… if you want to see it, e-mail me (bunetwo at hotmail dot com) and I'll send it to you!
Chapter 6: I want to be like you
Himura Battousai had no problem finding his master. Upstairs in Katsura's new hideout, the boy knelt and touched his red bangs to the tatami. The two of them were alone in the room.
"Himura," Katsura said kindly. "I'm relieved to see you again. When you disappeared four days ago, we feared the worst. What happened?" His tone was concerned rather than accusatory.
"I was ambushed and taken prisoner," Battousai said softly, not meeting Katsura's gaze, "by the Shinsengumi."
"Shinsengumi?" Katsura repeated.
"Yes sir. I told them about the Tsushima estate. It won't be safe for you to return there."
"I figured as much. I had been hiding there for too long anyway." Katsura studied the boy for a moment, and then sighed, his heart heavy. "Were you tortured?"
Battousai shook his head. "Captain Okita questioned me," he supplied.
Katsura blinked in surprise. "I was under the impression that Vice commander Hijikata handled all the …interrogations."
"Yes," Battousai said, and his eyes narrowed a little. "And Hijikata meant to torture me, but he… became discouraged."
"Hijikata Toshizou, discouraged about torturing a Choshu Ishin-shishi like yourself?" Katsura asked, astonished. "I can hardly believe that. The man I've heard of is merciless. Why do you think he turned you over to Captain Okita?"
For a long moment the boy stared at the floor. "I think… Captain Okita might have acted without the Vice commander's permission," he said softly.
Katsura blinked at him. "Well. That's very interesting," he commented. "How did you manage to escape?"
"I didn't. Okita let me go," Battousai said quietly, hanging his head as if ashamed. "Hm. That's even more interesting," Katsura said, and his expression darkened in confusion. "Surely he knows how dangerous you are to the Shinsengumi and their cause. Do you think he took pity on you?"
"I'm not sure," Battousai admitted. "It might have been pity or he might have had another reason."
Katsura nodded thoughtfully, and sighed again. "Well. I'm afraid it's back to business. I'm sorry to put you to work so soon, but can I ask you to guard the door to the garden tonight? The front entrance is already under guard. Toshimaro should arrive within the hour, and after that, no one is to enter this building until he leaves."
Battousai bowed. "Yes sir."
The white-haired boy was out of breath from running. He carried a katana and wakizashi in his arms, and had a katana at his hip as well. A long white scarf was wrapped loosely around his neck. Breathing as loudly as a horse, he slipped through the fence surrounding the garden, and ran towards the house. Suddenly he was on his back on the ground, the tip of a sword poking his throat. He winced and gasped, the air knocked from his lungs, and looked up furiously at the person standing over him.
"Who are you?" the white-haired and red-haired boys asked simultaneously.
"I'm Yoshida-sensei's page!" the boy on the ground said in the next breath. "He told me to bring his swords here!"
Battousai moved his sword away from the boy's throat. It was true that the tall, dark, and Hijikata-esque Yoshida had arrived without swords. "You can't go in," the red-haired boy muttered. Suzu scowled and sat up, embarrassed.
"My master told me to bring him his swords!" he said angrily, climbing to his feet. "Get out of my way!" the red-haired boy didn't even look at him. Suzu's immaturity surfaced and he drew his katana. "I'm going in!"
Battousai sighed. He raised his eyes to the other boy's face for half a second. It was enough. Suzu blinked at him, swept by a mysterious sense of panic. Some suppressed instinct was telling him to bolt, to run for his life. Gripping his sword even tighter, Suzu resolved to stand his ground.
Slowly, gracefully, Battousai sheathed his katana. "You won't attack me," he told Suzu softly. "If you are Yoshida-sensei's page, you may sit here and wait for him."
At a loss, Suzu put his sword away and sat down. He really wasn't sure what it was about the kid that conveyed such authority- he seemed to be only about the same age and height as Suzu himself. Blushing in frustration, Suzu glared at the red-haired boy out of the corner of his eye.
"so…" he asked hesitantly after a few moments. "Just who are you, anyway?"
Battousai had stepped back into the shadow of the house and was leaning against the wall, his hands listless at his sides and his head inclined slightly, as if were purposely hiding his face in the shadow of his bangs. "I'm guarding the door," he muttered softly. "That's all you need to know."
Suzu scowled. "So you work for Katsurasan?" he asked. Battousai made no reply. "Where are you from?" Suzu asked a moment later. "Satsuma?" Suzu guessed. No answer. "Tosa?" Suzu guessed again. Once more the other boy ignored him. "Hey! I'm talking to you here!" Suzu called, exasperated. When he still didn't get a reaction, he frowned and pulled his knees to his chest. Of course it was none of his business who the red-haired boy was. But for some reason, he was curious. He was just about to ask the boy another question when the door to the house opened suddenly.
Suzu jumped to his feet. "Sensei!" he breathed.
"Suzu." Yoshida said gruffly, strolling out into the yard. Battousai stood aside and bowed slightly. Yoshida ignored him, completely focused on his page.
"Sensei, I brought your swords. I--"
"I heard your voice out here from the second floor," Yoshida said, his voice quietly threatening. He took a menacing step towards the white-haired boy. "What have I told you about remaining inconspicuous?"
Suzu gulped. "I… I know I'm not supposed to do anything to attract attention," Suzu said breathlessly, and practically threw himself to the ground, bowing at his master's feet. "Sensei, I'm sorry!"
"I'm disappointed in you, Suzu," Yoshida rumbled. Suzu looked up at him fearfully, but Yoshida turned his attention to Battousai. The young hitokiri didn't look up, but he stiffened as Yoshida reached towards him. Suzu watched wide-eyed as Yoshida actually patted the red-haired boy's shoulder.
"This is a good boy," Yoshida said. "Suzu. You should learn to be more like this."
Without another word, Yoshida went back into the house. Suzu stared after him, feeling angry, confused, and hurt. He glanced furiously at the silent red-haired boy who had just been praised by his sensei. The boy was standing there listlessly as if nothing had happened, as if he didn't even care- sensei's praise didn't matter to him one bit. Suzu gritted his teeth, and knew that his face was turning pink. He turned away from the other boy, and told himself that he wasn't going to cry, not here, not like this, not in front of that red-haired boy.
But jealousy and self-loathing overpowered his pride. Battousai glanced over at him and saw the tell-tale trembling of Suzu's shoulders. For a second Battousai looked annoyed, but then he closed his eyes and sighed.
"Hey," he said awkwardly. "Are you ok?"
"Huh?" Suzu grunted, wiping his face on his sleeve.
"You've never… killed anybody?"
Suzu looked up, confused. He wasn't really sure if that had a been a question or a statement. He shook his head 'no', and the other boy looked away silently. Suzu was puzzled. Why would this boy seem to know whether or not Suzu had killed someone? Suddenly Suzu remembered something he had overheard at Masuya's. Something that sounded too scary to be true… something that was almost certainly a rumor. Suzu's eyes grew huge. He stared at the red-haired boy, his mouth hanging open.
"Impossible…" he whispered. "You… you're him, aren't you? You're that hitokiri! You're the Choshu hitokiri- Himura Battousai!"
After a tense moment, Battousai nodded his head.
Suzu's eyes ignited in awe. "Unbelievable!" he said, and then he blushed. No wonder sensei had praised the boy- he wasn't just some ordinary page, he was a legend! Some people called him the strongest Ishin-shishi, although of course there was no way he was stronger than sensei. Still, it now made sense why sensei would pat his shoulder like that, and tell Suzu to be more like him. "Is there… is there anything you can teach me? Please!" Suzu said eagerly, and bowed his head.
Battousai looked down at him, his eyes glinting coldly. "Teach you?" he repeated incredulously.
"Yes, I want to be like you! I want to be a hitoki-"
"Shut up," Battousai said, his own temper flaring abruptly.
"What?" Suzu said, his eyebrows lowering.
"You don't want to be a hitokiri."
"Yes I do! I want revenge for my brother- and I want to be useful to Yoshida-sensei!"
Battousai looked unimpressed. "That's so stupid," he told the white-haired boy.
"What?" Suzu hissed, clenching his hands into fists. "You better take that back! After my brother was killed, Yoshida-sensei saved me and--"
"That's no reason to say you want to kill people!" Battousai said, clearly annoyed. "You don't understand anything!"
"I understand just fine," Suzu said venomously, glaring at Battousai with his cat-like eyes. "You don't want me to be a hitokiri because you're afraid I'd steal your glory- you want to be a hero all by yourself!"
An eerie gust of wind swept the garden as Battousai's hand went for his sword. His fingers closed around the hilt and stayed there, his whole arm twitching. "Take that back," he said dangerously.
"You take back what you said first!" Suzu demanded.
"I said, take it back!" Battousai repeated, furious.
The door to the house slid open once again, and both boys turned to look.
"Katsurasan," Battousai said, letting go of his sword in surprise. Katsura smiled kindly at both of them from the doorway.
"I see you two are getting along," Katsura remarked good-naturedly. Battousai and Suzu exchanged sideways glares of malice. "But unfortunately, Himura-san, I can't afford to have you distracted right now. I just received word that the Shinsengumi's crawling all over the Tsushima-han estate. I know you're sure that no one followed you here today, but all the same…"
Battousai bowed his head. "I'll be extra vigilant," he muttered. "Nothing will get even close to this door."
"No doubt," Katsura said warmly, and turned to Suzu. "Kitamurakun. Will you be so kind as to follow me inside, so that we can let Himurakun get back to being 'extra vigilant' out here?"
"Of course," Suzu said, wide-eyed at the prospect of such an honor.
"Before we go in, however, I would like both of you young gentlemen to say something nice to each other," Katsura said with a smile. "Kitamurakun. You first."
Suzu's mouth fell open. He glared at Battousai, his mind racing. The sooner he made up a compliment for this punk, the sooner he could go inside and be closer to his sensei. "You're good at guarding doors," Suzu said lamely.
"Never underestimate politeness," Katsura said wisely. "Himurakun, your turn."
Battousai looked Suzu over from head to toe. "I like your scarf," he stammered, even more lamely.
"All right then. Himurakun, please excuse us." Katsura turned around, still smiling softly, and Suzu gave a smug little smirk in Battousai's direction. Battousai gave him a half-scowling, half-pouting expression in return. The door slid shut behind Yoshida's page, leaving Battousai to sulk alone in the garden.
The sun had just set when the white-haired boy first arrived, and now it was rapidly getting dark. Battousai slouched against the wall, completely still, listening carefully as sound replaced sight as the keenest of his senses in the darkening environment. He was feeling a little tired. The night before, of course, he had barely slept, since he had been talking with Captain Okita pretty much all night. It had been strange to just talk to someone. It had been a long time since he'd been able to have a real conversation. He wasn't able to talk to any of the other men at the Kohagiya. They either avoided him, or made jokes about him, and of course even the few other teens in the group were so much older than him, but he had been exposed to much more suffering and bloodshed than they had. Suddenly Battousai found himself wondering about the white-haired boy with the scarf. He wondered if Suzu had any friends to talk to among the groups of Choshu ronin hiding in the city. Frankly, he didn't act like the kind of person who would have a lot of friends.
Just as Battousai came to that conclusion, the door slid open again. It was Suzu, carrying a tray with a teacup on it. Battousai looked up at him neutrally.
"Hey," Suzu muttered, looking off to the side, a little embarrassed. "Would you like some tea?"
"Yes, thank you," Battousai said, taking the cup. Suzu put the tray down, and then sighed.
"I'm sorry about earlier," Suzu said after a minute, glancing guiltily at the other boy. "I was feeling kind of …jealous, so I was trying to make you mad. It was dumb of me- I was acting like a kid."
"It's ok," Battousai said, closing his eyes and sipping the tea.
"But…" Suzu continued, looking distressed. "I still want to kill people, you know."
Battousai stared into his teacup, infinite sadness somewhere in the depths of his cold eyes. For a moment neither of them spoke. "I'm sorry about your brother," Battousai said at last.
Suzu nodded his head; apology accepted. He squatted down, wrapping his arms around his legs, and gazed out at the dark garden. After a while he whispered, to no one in particular- "Isn't… isn't killing the only way?"
Battousai looked up at the stars, not answering Suzu's question. Later that evening, Yoshida departed with his faithful page at his side, and Battousai was a little bit sorry to see the white-haired boy go.
Back at Shinsengumi headquarters, Yamazaki Susumu was feeling a little frustrated. He had been spying at the Tsushima estate all day, and hadn't learned anything useful. Sure, most of the revolutionaries were low-class scum, but the people at the top were smart. Too smart.
"There you are!" Tetsu exclaimed victoriously, stepping into the watcher's path. Susumu blinked at him, his face expressionless.
"I've been looking for you all day!" Tetsu said.
"What a pity that you finally found me," Susumu muttered.
Tetsu ignored him and concentrated on making his eyes as round and shimmering as possible. He was determined to get this right! He turned his full attention to the tall, slender boy. "Yamazakikun," Tetsu said soothingly, trying to imitate Okitasan's melodic voice. "Hijikatasan is…?"
Susumu looked down at him, his expression halfway between blank and dour. "…is…?" Susumu prompted at last.
"Is where," Tetsu clarified, trying not to get flustered. "Where is Hijikatasan?"
"You're his damn page, so if you want to know where he is, try looking for him," Susumu said grumpily, turning to go. Tetsu's heart began to beat a little quicker. This wasn't going perfectly, but the most important part was coming up- he'd been rehearsing it all afternoon and he was going to get it right!
"Yamazakikun?" Tetsu asked suddenly. "Before you go- I have one small request." Susumu stopped and turned his head, glancing over his shoulder at Tetsu with a cold gleam in his eye.
"What is it?" the kansatsu asked, his voice deadly soft.
"Will you please… smile? Just once?"
Susumu blinked, but his expression remained as somber as stone.
"Come on, I know it's in you somewhere," Tetsu said encouragingly.
Susumu looked down at the floor. His mouth twitched several times, as if he meant to speak. Then it appeared as if he was concentrating furiously on something. Tetsu thought he seemed sad, then angry, then simply confused. And then suddenly the young kansatsu looked up.
"Get away from me," Susumu said, disgusted.
"Aw, please?" Tetsu begged, chasing the taller boy down the hall. "Pleeease? Come on! I know you can do it. I've seen you do it when you were dressed up as a girl!" Susumu stepped into a room and slammed the door in Tetsu's face.
Tetsu turned around and crossed his arms, pouting. Obviously, he had a long way to go if he hoped to be as persuasive as Okitasan. Tetsu sighed, but refused to be disheartened. In such a negative, hopeless world, positive-minded people always had their work cut out for them. Okitasan had managed to cheer up their gloomiest enemy. Perhaps Tetsu could cheer up their gloomiest friend. The thought of the challenge made Tetsu grin. He would give it his best, and even if it was an impossible goal to reach, his determination to succeed made him feel like he was already halfway there.
Author's note: …or is it? Sorry if the Suzu/Battousai encounter was not very entertaining, but I decided to save some stuff for the sequel. That's right, there's going to be a sequel to this story, because Battousai needs a hug. Don't forget to e-mail me if you want to see the fan art from chapter 4! Thanks for reading!