Disclaimer: I don't own any of them. Not making any money from this. Please leave me a review if you like the story.
Author's Note: Was recently in Kyoto again, remembered PMK and the scene where Souji muses that Hijikata would laugh if he were to divulge his true reason for becoming the demon's child that he is, and next thing you know, the muse bunny came by. There are too few Hijikata x Okita fics out there, and even fewer are written from Okita's POV. I adore Souji (who wouldn't?) and love the inner musings of Hijikata, but for once, I'd like to examine Hijikata through Okita's eyes. There's gotta be a reason the Kumichou Ichibantai loves his Fukuchou, ne?
The first time Souji sees him, it is spring and the cherry trees are in fullest bloom, their branches creaking under the weight of the deceptively delicate blossoms that smother their neighbours and carpet the grass underfoot. The moon is silvery on the horizon, and a cool wind is blowing, causing petals to flutter down like snow that speckles the dark head standing bowed under bough. The man's hair is raven-black and flowing, although not yet as long as it will come to be. But that is years into a future that Souji knows nothing of now. At this moment, he is a child of nearly eight years, and he is wide-eyed at the sight, because it is very pretty, and Souji likes pretty things. Is it all right to call a man pretty? He thinks that perhaps he will remember to ask someone later.
This house and this tree are new to him. He has been brought here by his sister after her adoption into the Kondo family, and it seems that he is to stay here for a while. He likes Kondo-san though, so that is all right with him, and his son is also very kind. He makes Souji laugh with his tricks – Kondo-san, the one that isn't quite so old, has a very big mouth, and his whole fist will fit in it. He often pretends he is going to eat Souji, and then he tickles him and gives him sweets before sending him off to play. Sometimes Souji does go off to play, but sometimes he sneaks into the dojo to watch the men train. Some of them are old, and some are young, but all are much, much bigger than Souji, so he is careful to stay out of the way.
He tries to do the same thing now, to be silent and unseen. He really shouldn't even be awake at this hour, but Souji has always loved the night. Things seem clearer in the still darkness. Like the whiteness of the cherry blossoms against the black of the man's hair. Souji's own hair is quite short, cropped closely around his head by his sister, but he thinks that perhaps he will ask if he may grow it out from now on. He isn't quite sure if his hair will be as pretty, but he hopes it will be.
The man appears to be deep in thought. There is a line – actually, a couple of lines – between his eyebrows, the same as Kondo-san's when he is thinking. His lips move as if he is reciting something to himself. Then he frowns, pursing his lips, apparently discarding something mentally. Souji watches in fascination as the man begins to pace under the tree, occasionally looking up at the pale fire of the petals against the darkness of the night. He thinks that the man would look nicer if he didn't frown quite so much, but there is still something very interesting about his face. It isn't big and open like Kondo-san's – again, the one that isn't so old. Instead it is all angles and lines – two thick slashes of ink for brows and a thin one for a mouth that looks like it could be cruel, sharp planes forming high cheekbones that cast faint shadows in the light of the lamps on the wall. Souji isn't very good yet at telling how old big people are – they're all just older, even his sister – but he thinks that perhaps this man is about the same age as Kondo-san. The not-so-old one.
It is spring, and it is still chilly at night, and Souji is only in a thin yukata. Another gust of wind shakes the branches of the tree, and blossoms rain down like bits of fine paper. Souji sneezes, then claps a mortified hand over his mouth. He ducks behind the corner of the house, then peeks out slowly, hoping the man has not noticed, because if he has then he might go away. And Souji would like him to stay a little longer.
But he has. Dark eyes glint in the moonlight as they turn towards Souji, a fluid motion, and he is reminded of the eyes of a wolf. He saw one once, in a cage at a market. It had dangerous eyes that glowed and promised death to anyone foolish enough to approach.
Souji had been mesmerized.
"Brats should not be wandering around this late at night," says the man. His voice is very low, lower even than Kondo-san's, and twice as menacing. Souji thinks that it sounds like darkness. Like night, and stillness. And he thinks that he should be afraid, the way the people had been afraid of the wolf.
But he wasn't. And he isn't. He's always liked the night.
"I'm not wandering around," Souji says finally, peeking out a little further. The man is standing quite still now, watching. "I live here."
A dark eyebrow lifts. "Do you, now."
"Yes." Souji sidles out from the shelter of the shadows, deciding that hiding is pointless now that the man knows exactly where he is. "Do you?"
"I don't have to answer to a child."
"Mou," pouts Souji. Older people can be so silly sometimes. "You just did. What are you doing, anyway?"
A growl. "Mind your own business."
"I am!" Souji thinks the man is being quite unreasonable. After all, Souji's business right now is the man. "I'm minding you, aren't I?"
The dour scowl doesn't change, but somehow Souji knows that he has surprised the man. For a moment the two stare at each other, and then the man sighs resignedly and pads over to the veranda. He sits, and Souji cautiously follows, careful to leave a good foot-and-a-half between them. Kondo-san says that wild animals need their personal space or they might flee or attack, and Souji doesn't want either to happen, because then he wouldn't be able to look at the pretty man anymore. There are still petals in his hair. He tells the man so.
"Hn. They'll dry and fall off soon."
"I hope not," Souji says solemnly. "They're pretty." There, he's said it. But he hasn't actually called the man pretty, just the cherry blossoms. The man looks like he can't decide whether to be mad at Souji or not, and Souji gives him the look, the one he uses on Kondo-san whenever he's done something naughty. It always works on bigger people. He knows this because he overheard the kitchen maids talking about it, about how no one could resist that face. It's a useful thing to know at the age of nearly-eight when everything he does seems to get him into trouble. He giggles slightly for good measure.
And sure enough, the man sighs again and turns away. "Yes, they are."
They sit there in silence for a while. Souji doesn't mind, because it's a comfortable silence, punctuated by the looks he steals from the man and vice versa. He knows that some people think he chatters too much, but he only does it when he wants to know something, or share something with people he likes. Otherwise he's quite happy to enjoy the sounds of silence – the rustling of leaves, and the lapping of water on stone, and right now, the slow, steady breathing of the man beside him, whose mouth doesn't seem quite as cruel as it did. Although it is cold. He shivers, and the man stirs.
"Stupid kid, you'll catch your death of cold in that." The words are harsh, but the tone is neutral, and the man meets Souji's vaguely reproachful gaze levelly.
"No I won't. I'll just get a medicine for it, and I'll get better. Medicine makes everything better," Souji says with the lofty confidence of one who has seen it happen. It worked when his sister had a cold. She was grumpy and red-nosed for a week, but she got better and now she's here and so is Souji.
A half-amused snort. "Sorry to break it to you, kid, but there are some things no medicine can cure. I should know."
Many years from now, it will be the man who procures medicines with all the fervour of a true believer. And Souji will accept the bitter tonics, sweetened with honey and mint and love, and he will pretend to still believe that medicine will make everything better, because it eases the heart of the man that he holds within his own. But he will know, and the man will know, that the truth spoken so freely years ago is still as cutting as ever.
Emotions have a way of making lies seem preferable though. Everything passes. Is it so wrong to allow the illusion of hope for a single moment?
For now, Souji believes, and his eyes widen. "Are you a doctor?"
The man shakes his head and leans back a little on his hands. "No. A medicine peddler."
"You make medicines!" This is even better than being a doctor, at least to Souji. His experience with doctors is that they make disappointed chuffing noises and lecture people, then give them little pieces of paper with writing. It's the medicine peddlers who hand over odd smelling packets of magic that go into boiling water or tea. And they're always kind to him, sometimes giving him little pieces of sweetroot or candied ginger to suck on. Not as good as sweets would be, but still quite nice. "Will you teach me?"
"No means no."
Souji narrows his eyes and pouts dangerously. "Why?"
"Stop being a brat."
"I'm nearly eight. I'm not a brat. How old are you?"
"Then don't behave like one. I'm old enough to tell when you are."
Souji opens his mouth to retort, but sneezes instead. The man glares accusingly at him.
"You should get to bed. I don't want to have to waste good medicine on you because you were too stupid to listen."
"I'll go to bed if you go to bed," Souji bargains, not wanting to miss out on anything.
"I'm not sleepy."
"Neither am I," Souji says obstinately, although he can feel a yawn coming on. "What are you going to do now?"
The man stands up. Souji makes to follow, but is instead swung up with ease in the man's arms. They are heavy and tense in the way of big people unused to carrying children, and the full sleeves are comfortably warm with the heat of the man's body. "First, I'm going to make you go to bed. I don't want Kat-chan after my head because I allowed his newest pet to fall ill."
"I am not a pet," Souji argues back sleepily. And then he recognizes the term of familiarity. "You know Kondo-san?"
"Hai. Baka. How else would I be here in his house? I always visit when I come this way."
Souji snuggles into the man's chest. He smells different from other people Souji has met, like a mix of herbs and smoke and oil, and under that, like musk and incense. It's a nice scent though, and Souji decides that he wants to be able to smell it more often. "I don't know your name."
"I don't know yours."
"Okita Soujirou Fujiwara no Harumasa," Souji says sleepily, but with all the formality that his sister has drummed into him. The effect is ruined as he shrugs, the uncaring gesture of a child. "But people call me Souji."
"You should not give your name out so freely," comes the terse rebuke. "But a name for a name. I am Hijikata Toshizuo Yoshitoyo." Souji rolls the name around his head. It's a nice name, he decides at last. A strong name. It goes with the man carrying him. He wonders fuzzily if people called the man Toshi as a child, and giggles a little. It's hard to imagine the man ever having been a child. But he is pretty.
There is a pause. "Yes?"
Souji can no longer contain the yawn, so he lets it out and buries his head in the front of the man's – no, Hijikata-san's – yukata. "What are you going to do after putting me to bed?"
He is asleep before the answer comes.
When he wakes in the morning, it is to the relieved exclamations of his sister and Kondo-san as they discover him in Hijikata-san's room. The man himself has already left, leaving no trace of his presence behind but for the faint scent on Souji's yukata and a scattering of cherry blossom petals upon the pillow and a note beneath it. Souji is disappointed that his pretty friend has left, but Kondo-san says that he will be back this way again soon enough, and Kondo-san never lies. Souji tells him about his night adventure and shows him the note, and Kondo-san laughs and says that Hijikata-san was probably trying to compose a haiku when Souji saw him under the tree. Souji isn't sure what that is – a haiku, not a tree - so Kondo-san explains, and says he will give Souji a few to read later – never too early to start, he guffaws. For some reason, ever since Souji told him that he thought Hijikata-san looked very pretty under the cherry blossoms, Kondo-san has been red-faced as if holding back laughter. Maybe men aren't supposed to be called pretty.
Later, after he understands what a haiku is, he goes back and reads the paper that Hijikata-san had left him under his pillow. He supposes Hijikata-san left it there in answer to his last question. He doesn't know if it is any good – he's only nearly eight – but he knows that it is all his.
The wonder of a child's eyes
Spring in a moment
Souji thinks he will have to buy Hijikata-san a present in return. Perhaps a book for Hijikata-san to write his haiku in. Of course, Souji will have to be allowed to read all of them – Kondo-san says that there is no better way to learn to write than by example after all.