Souji in Shimabara
Souji looked up nervously at the Kitsuya house in Shimabara. He could hear the raucous party going on upstairs, and could even distinguish, amidst the loud, sake-slurred voices, bits and traces of the Aizu accent. He remembered Kondou's words from that afternoon: "A bunch of higher-ups from Aizu are in town and throwing a big party. They invited me and both the vice-commanders as well…"
The cross-dressing captain grimaced and swallowed, wondering desperately if it was possible for two groups of Aizu samurai to be visiting Kyoto separately… and then he remembered that he wasn't supposed to swallow without hiding his throat with the shadow of his arm, and he felt dizzy from dread. There was no way he could do this. There was no way…
But people mistake you for a girl all the time! He scolded himself silently. This should be no problem! Pull yourself together- it's just a joke, you're playing a prank on Hijikatasan, that's all… it'll be fun! And anyway, there was no way he could back out now, without getting poor Kiku into worlds of trouble… steeling himself, he slipped into the building, trying his best to act like he belonged there. A flustered-looking woman met him as he was taking off his geta, and hurried him up the stairs with a tray of sake bottles in his hands.
Sure enough, Kondou and Hijikata were at the party. Souji forced himself not to look at them, and immediately got to work refilling sake dishes on the other side of the room. After a few minutes, when no one had accused him of being a man, Souji felt some of his nervous adrenaline dissipate, and found himself sneaking glances at his friends.
Hijikata looked bored out of his mind but Kondou seemed to be enjoying himself. Several girls were flirting with Hijikata, but whenever he was forced to answer them, his tone was annoyed.
"Toshiiii!" Kondou slobbered drunkenly, shaking his friend's shoulder. "Sing something for us!"
"Sing?" repeated the vice-commander, as if he'd never heard a more offensive word.
"C'mon, Toshi! You've got a good voice. The ladies sure would love it, wouldn'cha, ladies?" Kondou asked, beaming madly. The ladies cooed enthusiastically that they would love absolutely anything that the vice-commander did for them.
"No," Hijikata grumbled, glaring at the tatami. Across the room, Souji covered his mouth with his sleeve and giggled. Spying on Kondousan and Hijikatasan like this actually was a lot of fun! Everyone in the room had been partying for a while, and no small amount of alcohol had been consumed. Kondou was one of the rowdier, louder drunks, although there were a few of the Aizu samurai who had already gotten plastered.Souji had been in the room for nearly half an hour when Kondou finally noticed him.
Somehow Souji knew that Kondou was looking his way. And then-- "Hey!" the big-hearted commander called happily. "Hey there! You- the darling angel in pink! Yes, you! Come over here!"
Shy and sly, and don't look them in the eye, Souji reminded himself. He knew he was playing his part well thus far. Gracefully he made his way over to the fearsome Shinsengumi leaders.
"Well!" Kondou said warmly, looking him over. "You're certainly a pretty thing. Call me Isami! And this is Toshi. Toshi, isn't she a pretty one?"
"Who cares?" Toshi grumbled, not even looking at Souji. It took all Souji's willpower not to laugh.
"Oh ho ho, Toshi, aren't you the friendly one this evening!" Kondou laughed, leaning on Hijikata's shoulder. "I bet I can guess your problem, Gah hah hah! You're fidgety because it's been about an hour since you destroyed that poor girl, Gwah hah hah!"
"Destroyed?" Souji asked, genuinely startled. Hijikata's face twitched at the sound of Souji's voice, but he didn't look in Souji's direction.
"Oh, don't you worry, my dear," Kondou said to Souji affectionately. "He didn't really hurt her."
"I told you," Toshi said in a bored voice. "She had too much to drink. She just passed out. She got over-excited and she passed out."
"But they do that all the time, don't they, Toshi?" Kondou said, shaking his head. "I swear if I had your effect on women for just one day, I could die a happy man!" he laughed roaringly.
Hijikata grit his teeth and slumped forward, clearly annoyed.
Kondou stopped laughing and focused intently on Souji. "Oh my goodness!" he exclaimed suddenly. "I just had the strangest memory. Hey Toshi! Guess who I just remembered?"
"Your wife, maybe?" Toshi growled.
"No, no, no!" Kondou said, oblivious to the intended reproach. "Souji's sister! Remember Souji's sister?"
This seemed to wake Hijikata up. "Hell yeah," Toshi said loudly. "Now that's a memory I'll drink to. What a bitch!"
"She was pretty, wasn't she? And so feisty! I was in love with her. But, I forgive you for sleeping with her," Kondou said graciously.
Souji's mouth fell open. He had no idea that Hijikata and his sister had… quickly he remembered his situation and regained his composure.
"Well, thanks," Toshi said, and held his empty sake dish out towards Souji. Silently, Souji filled it for him.
"Saaa…. I wonder what brought on that old memory? Do you think this girl here looks anything like her, Toshi?" Kondou asked. Toshi glanced disinterestedly at Souji and then returned his attention to his sake.
"I think she looks more like Souji," he commented neutrally. Kondou laughed so loud it threatened to dislodge the roof tiles.
"Haaaa!" the Shinsengumi commander said at last, his face bright red. "She DOES look like Souji!" he reached out a large hand and patted Souji's arm. "Oh, I hope you're not offended, darling. The young man we're talking about is a very pretty young man, after all." He turned to Toshi, grinning cluelessly. "Isn't that right, Toshi?"
"Whatever," Toshi growled.
"No, no, come on and admit it!" Kondou insisted drunkenly. "Souji's beautiful!"
"Hmf! Souji's just a twink," Hijikata snorted.
"Aw, now don't be mean…" Kondou said.
"I'm not being mean. I'm stating the obvious."
Kondou leaned forward and patted Souji's knee with a mildly embarrassed smile on his face. "Looks like there's to be no reasoning with old Toshi tonight," Kondou said kindly. "Unfortunately, without a certain someone around, there just isn't enough water to put out his fire, or something like that. I'm sorry I dragged you over here, honey. I'll bet if an angel like you were to serve drinks to those miserable bastards over there, they'd at least speak with decency in front of you, unlike this poor sod of a medicine-peddler."
Hijikata sighed and Souji sneaked a peek at his face, which, to Souji's astonishment, was just the slightest shade of pink. Souji realized that Kondou, despite being drunk, had just offered him a way out that allowed everyone to save a little face. Souji fluttered his eyelashes and bowed to Kondou with painstaking grace, muttering, "excuse me."
Once again Hijikata twitched at the sound of Souji's voice, but he only scowled and looked annoyed. Quickly Souji retreated to the other side of the room, and continued to pour drinks and chat benignly with the Aizu samurai, but he was no longer enjoying the charade. He felt guilty for overhearing Kondousan and Hijikatasan talking about him. And it made him a little sad to know that Hijikata thought his cheerful, friendly sister was a bitch, and that he was a …twink?
Souji wasn't even sure what that meant, exactly, but judging from Kondou's reaction, it had to be something pretty bad.
But as miserable as it was to feel guilty and sad, after a while he began to get a worse feeling… the feeling of being watched. And sure enough, Hijikata was staring at him. The vice-commander had dropped out of all conversations and was completely ignoring everyone around him, even the young, inebriated ladies who seemed intent on coaxing him out of his clothes and into their… arms…
Hijikata sat back, silently drinking his sake and staring at Souji, studying his every move. Souji began to feel uncomfortable, and began to seriously think about his options. He came to the conclusion that if Hijikatasan was starting to suspect his identity, it would be best for him to try and make a hasty escape. Surely it would be better for Kiku's replacement to leave the party early for a mysterious reason, than to be revealed as a cross-dressing Shinsengumi captain. But before Souji actually made up his mind to run for it, Hijikata stood up.
"I can't stand it anymore," Hijikata growled, grabbing the nearest girl and pulling her to her feet beside him. Then he looked straight at Souji, "You too," he commanded huskily. "Come with me, now."
"I'm very sorry, sir, but I--" Souji began to say softly-
"Shut up. You're coming with me if I have to drag you," Hijikata said threateningly. Souji realized that to resist would cause a scene that could only end in an ugly disturbance of the party. Bowing his head forward in resignation, he rose to his feet.
"Two at once!" the Aizu samurai roared, and began toasting Hijikata as their hero.
Reluctantly, Souji followed Hijikata down the hall. The vice-commander pulled open the door to an empty room and shoved the girl inside. With a soft cry she lost her balance and tumbled to the floor.
"Not a word out of you," Hijikata warned her. "And when I open this door again, there better not be a stitch of clothing on you, understand?"
Behind him in the hall, Souji's eyes widened in fearful disbelief. The girl, however, only nodded, and began to undo the large bow of her obi, as Hijikata threw the door shut and whirled around to face Souji.
"Now, as for you…" Hijikata said, squinting at him in disdain. His frown deepened, and then suddenly he shoved Souji against the wall and began tearing at the front of his kimono. He pulled the collar open enough to get his hand inside, so that he could grope… nothing.
"Th- that's very rude of you, Hijikatasan," Souji said weakly.
"Nobody mentioned that my name was Hijikata," he growled menacingly, and shook his hand free from Souji's costume. "So it IS you," he breathed, clenching his fists.
Souji sighed. "All right, I admit. It's me."
"What… do you think… you are doing?" Hijikata seethed, barely able to contain his rage.
"Well… it's a little complicated, but, I thought it might be fun," Souji said. He smiled sheepishly.
"You thought it might be FUN?" Hijikata repeated incredulously.
"Don't be angry, Hijikatasan, there was no harm done after all…"
"That's not the point! Look at you! Dressed up like a fucking drag queen!"
Souji's smile wavered a little. "But," he said weakly, "It's not that bad… I mean, you don't get mad when Yamaza--"
"Don't even mention Yamazaki," Hijikata threatened. "How can you be so stupid? Or are you just that twisted, thinking it's fun to dress up and sell yourself?"
"Now, hold on, Hijikatasan. Of course I wasn't going to--"
Hijikata's eyes narrowed. "I've had it with you," he hissed. "You were cute as a mischievous little kid. But here you are, a full-grown basket case, and this is all just a game in your sick head, isn't it? You always want somebody to hug you, to hold your hand, to cuddle you like a god-damn infant. How am I supposed to know what's really the matter with you? Grow up, Souji. Before you dress up like a slut, maybe you should learn exactly what a slut is."
"Hijik--" Souji started to say, but found himself gasping in pain instead as Hijikata reached out and grabbed him by the hair, dislodging Kiku's pink ribbon and causing Souji to stumble forward awkwardly as Hijikata pulled him into the room where the girl was waiting, sitting on the floor, completely naked. Souji glanced down at her and his eyes quivered darkly with pity. Hijikata released his grip on Souji's hair, and Souji took a few steps backwards, wincing.
"Hijikatasan," Souji said gravely, finding his voice. "You're drunk. Please let the girl put her clothes back on."
"Not until she's served her purpose," Hijikata growled. "You may be a lot of things, Souji, but you're not a woman and you're going to figure that out right here, right now. You're gonna give it to this girl and make her earn her money. Don't worry, she'll show you where to put it if you don't already know."
Souji only stared at him, his mouth slightly open in shock. Hijikata looked into his eyes, and was suddenly moving towards him. Souji felt threatened. He took another step backwards, but Hijikata reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder, stepping in even closer. Souji looked away, as if suddenly afraid or ashamed-- but Hijikata brought one hand to Souji's throat, and gently swept his fingers over Souji's collarbone all the way up to his jaw. Then, with his thumb and forefinger, he tipped Souji's chin up and looked down into the round, boyish face until at last the disarming violet eyes focused on him.
Hijikata sneered down at Souji. "Yeah," he half-whispered at length, "yeah, you're beautiful all right. Heh!" with a snort, he practically threw Souji at the girl. Souji fell to the floor and stayed there, staring up at Hijikata.
Hijikata looked back and forth between Souji and the naked girl. "Have fun, kids," he snarled, and slammed the door behind him as he left.
Souji seemed frozen in place.
"Hey," the girl said after a long moment, her voice soft and shaky. "I don't know what's going on, but, you better do what he says. Come on, let's get it over with."
Souji looked at her with tears in his eyes.
"What's wrong?" the girl asked. "Don't cry-- it won't be that bad. Here." She scooted towards him and wordlessly began to remove his ridiculous costume. Souji, in a state of shock, allowed her to undress him just as placidly as he had allowed himself to be dressed in the kimono in the first place. Soon he was just as naked as she was-- but when the girl began to touch him, he came out of his trance and caught her hands, his expression sad but determined.
"What is it?" the girl said worriedly. "You, ah, you do know what you're supposed to do, don't you?" she asked.
"Oh-- yes," Souji said, blinking. "But… I don't want to."
The girl gave an evaluative glance at the current state of affairs and raised an eyebrow at him. "At least part of you obviously wants to," she teased, with the same disingenuous pout that had been on Kiku's face earlier that evening, when she had said she wanted Souji to talk dirty to her.
Souji shook his head. "I don't care about that," he told her. "You should just hurry and get out of here."
"But that man…" the girl whispered.
"He's drunk," Souji said, as if somehow that explained everything. "Please… I'm sorry that you had to get mixed up in this."
The girl searched his eyes. "What are you going to do?" she asked.
Souji shook his head again. "I don't know," he whispered. "But I'm not going to do anything to you. It isn't right."
The girl locked eyes with him for another moment, and then nodded once. Quickly and silently she wrapped her clothes around herself and fled from the room.
Numbly Souji reached for the clothing scattered on the floor around him and clothed himself in the white under-kimono, and then collected his feet beneath him and sat neatly on his heels in the middle of the room, his hands clenched into fists on his thighs, his eyes closed tightly as he tried to sort out what he'd done to make Hijikata hate him so much.
Souji remembered the first time he killed someone. That night, Hijikatasan said he needed him. Souji was just a little boy back then, and he remembered screaming, screaming over and over that he didn't want the power to kill, he didn't want it, didn't want it… and Souji felt sick as he wondered for the first time if Hijikatasan had tolerated his presence ever since that night because Hijikatasan needed him… to kill people? No. No… surely, there was more to it than that… wasn't there?
Souji opened his eyes. There were heavy footsteps in the hall, unmistakably heading towards him.
Hijikata flung the sliding door open. Souji was sitting with his back towards the door, and he didn't turn around.
"Well? What happened?" Hijikata demanded. "Where's the girl?" Souji didn't move. "Damn you, Souji, you let her go, didn't you?"
"Yes," Souji said softly, still not turning around. To his surprise, Hijikata laughed.
"Well. I can't say I'm surprised." He shut the door, and Souji frowned. "That girl was your last chance to rid yourself of your worthless innocence," Hijikata said gruffly, walking towards him. "Now I guess I'll just have to do it for you."
Souji looked up at him sharply.
"Since you're so desperate to be a girl, I'll let you see what it's like to be the next best thing." Hijikata crouched down in front of him, staring at him coldly. Souji felt his skin prickle, and he flinched as Hijikata grabbed his arm. "What, will you actually say no?" Hijikata murmured, squeezing Souji's arm hard enough to leave a bruise. Souji winced.
"You're hurting me," he whispered.
"That's how this works. Deal with it," Hijikata snarled, and pushed Souji over onto his side on the floor. Immediately Souji tried to get up, but two rough hands on his shoulders pinned him to the floor. "Stay on your back," Hijikata instructed. "I'm not in the mood to wrestle around."
Souji narrowed his eyes. "It's hard to believe that so many women write love letters to you, if this is how you behave…"
"Oh, Souji. Going to turn all cunning and clever, are you? What's next after that, 'kid on a sugar high'? God, I hope not. That's better-- keep your eyes open like that. I want you looking right at me. You think you're the only one who can see through people? Ha! I know you've been in love with me for about ten years. Ten years! You're quite the fucked-up little homo, aren't you? Only missing the actual 'fuck' part, right? Practically begging for it right in front of everyone, and nobody ever took you up on it, did they? Well, it turns out tonight's your lucky night. I'll give you what you want."
"That's not what I want," Souji whispered. It's never what I want….
"What?" Hijikata grunted.
Souji swallowed. "That's not what I want…" he said a little louder. "Hijikatasan, that's not what I want from you."
"Damn you," Hijikata growled, pressing down harder on Souji's shoulders, as if he meant to push him through the floor. "What do you want? You make me feel so god-damn filthy, you know that? You make me feel guilty, like it's all sin and murder and tragedy, and then, you act like it's nothing at all, and people are twigs you might snap or blades of grass you might cut— and then you make me feel guilty about feeling guilty!"
"I- I'm sorry," Souji gasped.
"No," Hijikata grunted, abruptly adjusting his grip on Souji's shoulders. The vice- commander hunched down, his head dropping forward, until his forehead was pressed against Souji's chest. "I'm sorry." He said it so violently, so aggressively, that at first Souji didn't understand him. "I'm… sorry," Hijikata repeated in a fierce whisper.
An apology. Weakly Souji raised his arms to hug Hijikata against his chest. He knew better than to say what was on his mind: That's not what I want from you either.
A moment passed and Hijikata didn't move, and Souji began to suspect that the vice-commander had had a change of heart about ridding him of his innocence. Calmly, almost emotionlessly, Souji wondered if the 'innocence' he'd been clinging to, for whatever reasons, really was 'worthless' after all. He was in love with Hijikatasan-- what else could it be? And, forcing himself to think seriously about it now, Souji realized that he wouldn't say no. If he was uncertain, and shied away now, how would he ever be able to face Hijikata again? Souji made up his mind.
"Hijikatasan," he said softly. "You're drunk. Let me take you back to headquarters."
Hijikata didn't say a word as Souji helped him navigate the dark streets of the city, and he made no accusations or comments when Souji followed him into his room. Souji was right about him being drunk, but he wasn't drunk enough. Even though what happened next was just a blur of warm skin and muffled sounds and sweat and darkness, Hijikata knew what he was doing and knew it was his fault, and did it anyway.
The next morning found them still wrapped around each other, neither one completely sure why the other was there, but both of them certain that it had to be that way between them after all-- and neither of them regretting it.
"Hijikatasan," came the gentle voice, entirely too soon.
Souji smiled. "Are we ever going to get out of bed? It must be nearly lunch time by now…"
"I don't care. I have a headache."
"That's what happens when you drink too much," Souji informed him.
"Get away from me," Hijikata muttered, rolling to his side and pulling the blanket over his head. Souji sat up, stretched, and automatically rearranged his clothes around himself.
"I'll bring you some water and tea," Souji said, smiling down at the vice-commander. "That should help."
"…Thanks," came the reluctant reply from under the covers.
Souji made his way to the door, relieved that everything seemed normal between him and Hijikatasan. He drew back the sliding door and stepped out into the mid-morning sunlight, and realized that he felt a little happier than usual just to be alive.
Souji turned towards the kitchen just as the commander came around the corner.
"Oh! Good morning, Souji!" Kondou said, beaming. "Just who I was looking for!"
"Good morning, Kondousan," Souji said, blushing faintly. "You certainly don't look any the worse for wear—did you have a good time at the party?"
"Gah hah ha!" Kondou laughed. "Those Aizu people just don't know how to hold their liquor. Which reminds me, is poor Toshi face-down in a ditch somewhere?"
"Ah- no sir, he's in his room. Says he has a headache though- I was about to bring him some tea."
"Of course," Kondou said, nodding. "That old devil, he managed to escape before I convinced him to sing anything. But still, I'm sure he had a wild time last night."
Souji blushed a bit brighter. "A-anyway, Kondousan, you said you were looking for me?" he asked.
"That's right," Kondou said with a broad grin. An almost mischievous broad grin.
And from his sleeve he pulled a silky pink ribbon.
"It just so happens, I found this in the hall at the Kitsuya house last night. And for some strange reason, I think you might know who it belongs to."
Souji's mouth fell open. All he could do was stare. The ribbon fluttered a little in the breeze. "So you… you knew it was me?" Souji asked at last.
"Hmm?" Kondou asked, blinking cluelessly.
"At the party- at the Kitsuya-with the Aizu people-" Kondou dropped the ribbon into his hands.
"Saaaa!" the commander said loudly. "It sure was fun! You should've been there, Souji! Maybe next time, eh?" He clapped Souji on the shoulder fondly, winked at him, and shuffled off down the hall, humming. Souji watched him go, awed.
"By the way," Kondou said over his shoulder. "Thanks again for taking care of Toshi." There was nothing in his tone beyond his usual kindness. He disappeared around the corner, leaving a dumbfounded Souji behind. Was Kondou referring to how Souji had gotten Toshi to go to the party… or to how Souji was bringing tea for Toshi's headache, or… did Kondou know everything? The leader of the Shinsengumi certainly wasn't someone to be underestimated.
Souji shook his head and smiled. Kondou and Hijikata were best friends, after all… but Souji was an essential part of the picture. The family. The relationship. Yes. That, at least, he was sure he wanted...
Author's notes: Ok, I have tons of notes. First of all, I know you're thinking, "that's it? no sex scene?" but ...in the story when Souji says to the girl, I don't care about that... that was supposed to be the point. I wrote this when I was a bit disgusted with Souji for looking/acting so gay and girly, but I don't think that Souji's behavior is sexually motivated. If Hijikata is sleeping with him, I'm sure he appreciates that, but for some reason I don't think that sex is terribly important to him.
anyway...the only book in English devoted to the Shinsengumi names five kyoto women that had relations with Kondou, and two of those had kids that were supposedly his. Hence the comment in part 1 about Kondou having kids all over Kyoto. And I read somewhere that Sano actually married the girl who entertained him…awww! It is also an historical fact that women were always writing love letters to Hijikata. Moving on… one of my favorite scenes in the NHK drama is when Kondou gets Hijikata to sing at that party, so I threw in a reference. And I mentioned the scene in book 5 of the PMK manga, when little Souji kills that creepy thing, and Hijikata takes him by the hand and says, basically, "I need you." As for the ending, for some reason, PMK's Kondou strikes me as one of those brilliant genius people who've got it all figured out and who play dumb and act clueless for their own amusement. Well, that's all I've got for now. Reactions? Criticisms? Review!