Disclaimer: I own none of Hideaki Sorachi's characters, but it was really fun stressing out Toshirou.

Rated: Teen for implications.

Summary: Authors are never good news.

Pairings: HxO, although Hijikata's clueless and who knows what Sougou's thinking.

A/N: The last chapter for now, and still bravely plotless! Those who reviewed, I worship you.

Artistic License

(Life is a Set of Twenty-four Volumes and None of Them are Translated)

Chapter Four

Staring at the girl-like thing in front of him, Hijikata quickly tried to remember the steps for figuring out if you're having a stroke. Wasn't imagining your colleague had changed gender one of the signs? If it wasn't, it should be.

"So . . . gou?" he said slowly.

It was Sougou, must be, the color and general Sougouness was still there, only . . . softer, not looking exactly like the captain but thankfully not looking exactly like his sister, either.

The figure, light hair teased into an innocent schoolgirl 'do that accented the spiced chocolate eyes, reached out to take hold of his arm and nestled up to his side devilishly. "Well, what does Hijikata-san think?" she asked sweetly.

Hijikata's thinking process, which had frozen upon trying to process pouty red lips, delicately outlined eyelashes, pale powdered skin and a radiant array of patterned kimono, abruptly ground back into gear.

"Get the hell away from me!" he screeched, jumping out of reach of the Sougou-thing.

"Maaa, Hijikata-san is so coooold," Sougou cooed, leaning up to touch the tip of Hijikata's nose with one coquettish finger.

He's never even been to the Geisha, how the hell is he so good at acting like one? Hijikata thought. The only answers he could think of were sure to scar him further.

"Stop acting like some Paako-chan," he said harshly. "The world doesn't need any more samurai-turned-kimono-girls."

Sougou looked dissatisfied, although at least that was a normal expression. "Don't I look better than Gintoki-san?" he asked petulantly, pursing his carefully painted lips.

"You're a member of the Shinsengumi! You're not SUPPOSED to look better in drag than other men," Hijikata snarled, avoiding the question (and planning to bury it deep deep in the layers of his subconscious never again to see the light of day). "Why are you even wearing that? If you tell me you like it I'll prepare the articles for seppuku right now."

Sougou shot him a reproachful glance. "You know how these 24-volume stories go. There's always some time when the hero has to dress as a girl."

Hijikata vowed right then and there to never, ever, read another 24-volume story again.

He winced as he felt a hand on his shoulder. "Now it's Hijikata-san's turn to be messy," Sougou reproved, straightening the dark "off-duty" kimono fastidiously.

In a strange, distant way, Hijikata felt the rest of his brain dissolve in fiery explosion.

"Fine. Can I leave now?" he sighed wearily as he contemplated the girlishly alluring figure of the premiere swordsmen of all his men.

"Kondo-san said you had to keep me company," Sougou said unbendingly.

Beaten, Hijikata allowed himself to be (delicately) manhandled back down to a spot on the floor and wondered when exactly he had lost control of his life. Somehow whenever it came into contact with Sougou, everything immediately went to hell.

In the middle of the room, Sougou, tabi-clothed feet twinkling, and perfumed sleeves falling back to reveal slender wrists, was examining an ornamental umbrella and murmuring about Kagura-chan.

It was going to be a long, long day.

Some time after what Hijikata liked to call The Time That No True Samurai Would Ever Mention Again I Mean it Kondo-San and No, Sougou, I Did Not Get Hard Watching You, It Was Just That I Fell Asleep and Had a Dream Which is What Happens to Men So Let's Not Talk About it Again Or I Will Really Kill You This Time, a special delivery came for Kondo.

Hijikata was first aware of more clamor from the dojo than usual and eventually stuck his head out of his room and grabbed the nearest person, who happened to be Yamazaki, who was almost out of the bandages now.

"What the hell is going on?" he growled. "Did Katsura suddenly show up at the main gates and start doing a strip dance? Did Sougou finally kill Kondo-san in one of their matches? Shit, Sougou didn't finally kill Kondou-san, did he?"

"Uh, no, nothing like that," Yamazaki stuttered, looking like he always did when forced to be the beleagured bearer of bad news. "It's just that the . . .uh . . . 24 volumes of Tsugu-san's samurai coming of age saga came out this morning and Commander Kondo just got them so we . . .wanted . . .to . . . see . . . .the . . . .pictures?"

Yamazaki had been simultaneously slowing down and backing away from the growing glower on Hijikata's face. Squeaking out the last word, he darted away like a black-clad gazelle sensing bloodlust in the savannah, leaving Hijikata alone with his InstantaBlaze wrath.

But even Hijikata occasionally succumbed - eventually - to certain inevitable things. The tide or pull of gravity he might fight, but when Kondo and Sougou teamed up resistance was impossible.

Sullenly, he picked up his trusty sword, which would never betray him and force him to go see his wakizashi dress up as a haircomb, and walked with heavy socked feet to the dojo where the assembled troops quaked momentarily with fear at his appearance, then sighed a collective if surreptitious sigh of relief when instead of killing them all, he simply made his way to where Kondo and Sougou sat and joined them.

"Toshi! They're out!" Kondo beamed.

"I still think we should get a royalty," Sougou said dissatisfiedly.

"Oh, Sougou, wasn't the experience alone worth any price?" Kondo asked good-naturedly. "I for one can't wait to see the finished product that took so much sweat and effort from our famed first captain!"

Sougou shrugged. "It was only dressing up for four days."

"Four days when you could have caught a cold from changing clothes, or gotten a nasty rash from some strange and dangerous material!" Kondo insisted grandly. "Not to mention the wounds you could have possibly sustained if you had tripped on your geisha kimono when Toshi attacked you after you did that fan dance for him! At any rate," he went on hastily as the level of hostily from the Hijikata side began to noticeably rise, "here, let us feast our eyes on the full 24-volume glory of a coming of age saga featuring the forever memorialized forms of those we know and love!"

There was a slightly dubious cheer from the assembled troops, then a more general murmur of approval as Kondo started to hand around the volumes.

The first book covers came as no surprise to Hijikata. They were the same photos as he had already seen – Sougou looking out at the reader in a slightly bored manner, Sougou leaning on a added-in tree looking bored, Sougou relaxing (bored), boredly doing kata for several books, then sitting more formally (bored), and then, all in various degrees of his standard bored attitude, wandering aimlessly on a painted-in road somewhere, meeting Kondo-san, looking down at the blood on his hands as Kondo pretended to be dead, with a superimposed close up of Sougou's battle eyes in the background, and of course then Sougou fighting and wounded and recovering. . . . .

Suddenly, the cheery babble of voices died off as if an ax had sliced its head off. Hijikata blinked, and dove across several troop members to snatch back volume 18 with a hiss. No, he hadn't been imagining horrible murder-inducing things. There, on the cover of book 18, apparently contemplating Sougou sitting lazily in one corner, was Hijikata himself, looking at Sougou with an expression that looked somehow . . . smoldering.



Like a man possessed, in eerie silence, Hijikata lifted up volume 19 from the box. Sougou, dark red kimono sliding off his shoulder stood with a slightly surprised look as Hijikata intimately reached up to pull the silk back in place.

But that wasn't how it had happened! There had been no intimacy! None!

"Uh, Toshi . . . ." Kondo began nervously, but the pure black fury rolling off of Hijikata froze his words.

Volume 20 showed Hijikata standing protectively in front of a disheveled, half-naked Sougou who peeked out from under one raised arm as Hijikata glared at an unknown assailant. 21, of course, had The Kimono. Hijikata, looking thunderstruck, was superimposed in a corner, staring lustfully at the coyly posing Sougou.

Okay, there had DEFINITELY been no lust. It had been pure 100 untainted horrified disbelief, somehow mutated by this cover into something absolutely wrong and full of covetness. Of which they had been NONE. AT. ALL.

"Toshi, maybe we should stop here . . ." Kondo managed weakly, his own eyes agape as he took in the yaoi-dripping covers.

"There are still three more volumes to go," Hijikata said tonelessly, and Kondo nodded, pale but brave in the face of shounen ai.

Volume 22 had Sougou tenderly straightening Hijikata's yukata collar (okay, MAYBE that had happened) and Volume 23 (When the hell had THAT been taken?) was a rather sumptuous picture of him stretched out sleeping with a faint grin on his lips, while Sougou (thank god out of the geisha costume) looking at him rather solemnly. And Volume 24 was a surprisingly simple shot of Sougou watching as Hijikata walked away, showing only Hijikata's back and a strangely unreadable expression on Sougou's face.

. . . wait a minute.

Hijikata frowned, his colossal anger derailed for the moment by the unexpected ending, much to the relief of everyone in the dojo.

His back? He was leaving?

"Are you telling me they broke up?" he demanded, outraged. "After all that, he's going to leave the kid? That bastard!"

"Uh," said Kondo eloquently, blinking under the sudden shift from heading-for-apocalypse to manga critic. "I think maybe they needed to follow their own paths?"

"What sort of crap is that," Hijikata growled, brandishing volume 24 like a weapon.

Kondo flinched as it was pointed at him. "Um, samurai crap?" he ventured again.

"Who wants to read 24 volumes of coming-of-age samurai shounen ai just to have them break up at the end, dammit! Where's that author, hasn't he ever read Jump, doesn't he know there are CONVENTIONS THAT REQUIRE HAPPY ENDINGS even in YAOI?"

There was a certain ringing pause, as of an entire dojo holding its breath as it waits for the very dangerous person ranting to replay his own words.

Hijikata paused and replayed his own words.

"They put me in a shounen ai yaoi samurai saga?"

"Now, Toshi, I'm sure they didn't mean –"


"None of us knew, I promise you-"


Sougou tossed his head. "Maa, Hijikata-san, you know a lot of people would be happy about that."

In any other neighborhood, the following shrieks of rage and panic, combined with the sounds of intense, methodical and somewhat papery destruction, would have caused the neighbors to call the police. Since, however, said shrieking and destroying was being done BY the police, the neighbors did nothing. After all, they were used to it by now.

"He'll just buy another set, you know," Sougou said reproving as Hijikata, his ire worked off on 24 volumes and most of the dojo, plus a few troop members who weren't quick enough in making their escape, sauntered out onto the engawa and lit a cigarette.

"Che, what do I care about some lousily written saga," Hijikata shrugged.

"Still, it was vaugely interesting." Sougou yawned a little and climbed lazily to his feet.

"Well, at least we got free dinner from that damn author," Hijikata admitted. "I suppose that was something."

"Mmm," Sougou agreed absently. "Well, that and the sex."



Hijikata froze then decided he hadn't heard anything.

And the strange, strange saga wound on.