Ano sa... ::「あのさ」

Chizuru found him out on the roof of the school skipping out on lessons for the third time that week and barely containing her exasperation, she gave no thought to mercy as she hit him as hard as could to the back of his head with her Discipline Committee handbook.

Wincing slightly, he turned to looked up at her. 'What was that for, Chizuru-chan?' he asked, green eyes large and watery. Or at least it would have been to a casual observer, but Chizuru had not been childhood friends with one Okita Souji without gaining at least some experience, and so she did not fail to see that mischievous glint in his green eyes.

'You know that look does not work on me anymore,' she said, trying to appear as stern as possible, but all it sounded of was fondness, and Okita could sense it too.

'Is that so, Chizuru-chan?' he asked, pouting slightly.

She sighed. 'Sometimes I wonder how I put up with you,' she said, shaking her head.

'Because of my irresistible charm, surely,' Okita suggested, his tone lightly teasing now that he had given up all pretense of innocence.

'Which as I have mentioned, has absolutely no effect on me now,' she said, hitting him lightly on the head again with her handbook before sitting down as well.

'Skipping lessons?' he asked, voice slightly curious but she could hear the silent laughter behind it.

'Lessons ended a quarter of an hour ago,' she replied, managing to sound resigned yet at the same time chiding. 'You know, Harada-sensei once said that with your good looks, if you put even a little more effort into your studies the world could be yours for the taking.'

'So you do admit that I am charming,' Okita said, sounding extremely pleased with himself and the normally mild-mannered and gentle Chizuru had to resist herself from hitting him again. There was only so much abuse her Discipline Committee handbook could take for a day and she might need it again later.

Instead she settled on another sigh and wondering how she had ever come to know someone as incorrigible as he. 'I never said that, Okita-san,' she replied, wondering a little indignantly if he had even listened to what she was saying. 'Neither was that the point of the conversation.'

'There was a point to the conversation?' he asked lightly, as though the thought had not occurred to him. 'I thought you were merely relaying Harada-sensei's ridiculous speculations again.'

'Okita-san!' she cried, horrified at his disrespect. 'Harada-sensei was not being ridiculous.'

'The thought of any one person possessing the world is in itself a preposterous ambition,' he said. 'No one can be that perfect, Chizuru-chan.'

It was nothing specific really, but there had been a strange lilt to his voice when he spoke which told Chizuru that there was more behind Okita's words than what was being voiced.

'Perhaps not,' she agreed, 'but there is never anything wrong with trying to achieve it, I think.'

'It is a waste of effort I cannot be bothered to attempt,' Okita replied, shrugging lightly, as though to dismiss the subject.

'You might say that, yet maybe those without ambition are the only truly preposterous ones.' Chizuru tilted her head slightly to look at him from the corner of her eye, and saw surprise flit across his face for a moment.

He smiled. 'You are giving this a lot of thought are you not, Chizuru-chan?'

It was blatant change of subject but Chizuru chose to pretend not to notice. 'The only reason for that is because you think too little about everything, Okita-san,' she replied, chiding him again because she can.

'Oya? I see that even Chizuru-chan has learnt how to talk back. How adorable,' Okita sang, the teasing glint returned to his eyes.

'Okita-san!' she protested, feeling herself blush. 'I wasn't trying to talk back-'

He laughed then, head thrown back with apparent abandon. 'You never change, Chizuru-chan,' he said, a strange gentleness in his green eyes. 'I wonder,' he said softly, making her turn to glance at him curiously.

'Wonder?' she asked, not entirely sure if he would continue.

'Yes,' he said, standing up and walking to the edge of the roof which overlooked the forests that surrounded their school in a dense greenery during summer. 'Have you ever heard of the red thread of fate, Chizuru-chan?' he asked.

'The red thread of fate?' she repeated, not understanding what it was that he might be trying to get at now. Even after knowing him for more than half her life-time, there were still moments when she felt as though she barely knew him at all. Moments when he would stand looking away from her and speak of things she had no idea how to even begin to understand. It was always during those times when she realized that perhaps he was, and had always been, somewhere very, very far away.

'They say everyone is bound by a red thread,' Okita said quietly, so much so that she could barely hear him over the sound of the wind. 'To the people they are destined to meet, no matter how many lifetimes come and go.'

Chizuru smiled slightly. 'I never thought you would believe in fate, Okita-san,' she replied, voice light with amusement.

'I believe whichever better serves my purposes at the moment,' he replied, and she could hear the laughter in his voice along with something that sounded strangely like wistfulness.

'And what would be your purpose now?' she asked, wondering how much she would be allowed to be ask and how much he would answer. It felt a little like prying, but she also knew that she might likely not have the chance to do so again.

'What do you think, Chizuru-chan?' he said, voice teasing although the wistfulness was still there, just beneath the surface.

She blinked, unsure of what he expected her to say. It was clear to her that there was a right answer to what he had just asked, but she could not seem to find it and she did not dare to give just any reply.

It was quiet after that, since Chizuru could not find a satisfactory response and Okita did not appear to provide one. From where she sat, she could hear the chatter of the other students as they prepared to return home for the day, their laughing voices drifting up in the summer air like the sound of crystal bells. She wondered if Okita could hear them too, because at the moment, he looked as though he was looking out at something no one else could see.

This might have been what he meant when he said that possessing the world was a preposterous ambition. After all, from up here where he usually went, reality seemed so clear and far away it was not hard to find that there were things that were worth more than the world. She thought, distantly, that she might have once known what it was - this important thing she could not lose - in another lifetime, another place.

Perhaps Okita knew what he was talking about after all. That maybe the red thread was not so much destiny as the hope that we will one day meet again. It might not be true, but she could see why one would choose to believe.

A cold wind blew past, and the silence stretched out into what felt like an eternity trapped within the turnings of time. Then Okita took a step backwards and finally turned to look at her again.

'Whatever binds me to you, Chizuru-chan,' he replied, viridescent eyes glittering in the late afternoon sun. But he might as well have been talking to himself with how soft the words were spoken.

That is all of the future I need.

:::

the space between Dream and Reality :: 夢と現の間

The snow was falling again, thick and fast like a colorless storm, blanketing everything in a sheet of whiteness. Like washing the world clear of the chaos of everyday, returning everything to what it had been and once was.

Saito had always felt a strange fondness towards the snow. It might have something to do with its harsh coldness which served as reminders for his betrayal, or it might merely have been the memory of a person who had once told him that the falling snow when they had first met was like unseasonal cherry blossoms in the wind.

That had been years ago now. Many long years which seemed to merge into a single unending dream - or perhaps just a nightmare caught between the shards of memory and daylight. During that time, the Edo era had disappeared in a blazing flame of fire and war, and then had come the dawn of the Meiji with its peaceful days and quiet nights.

But even so, he could not find the calm he had been searching for. The world seemed wilder now, somehow, more strange, more distant.

There was always the bitter taste of ash in his mouth.

Chizuru appeared the day after the snow, reminding of when she had first come to the Shinsengumi. It was almost cruel, the memory that taunted him, but he did not show any of it the way he had learnt years ago never to.

They sat in silence drinking tea for most of the afternoon. He did not ask why she was there and she gave no explanation. He was merely glad that she was - he had not thought that he would see her again after so many, many years. He had not thought he would even see her again at all.

It was evening when she finally spoke, and he had at first expected that she would announce that she was leaving. But her words after they were said left him with a distinct sense of disquiet - the remnants of regret perhaps.

'It was not your fault, you know.'

He turned to look at her. 'What do you mean?' His voice was more emotionless than usual, but he could tell from the look in her eyes that she could still read him like she had all those years ago.

'It was not your fault what happened to the Shinsengumi, there was nothing you could have done to change the end. They knew that too, I think, but they still chose to do what they did.' She looked up at him, a deep sadness in her eyes which he thought should not be there.

'Theirs was a conviction I did not share.'

'You know that is not true,' she said, a hint of reproach in her voice, making him think back to times when things had been different, when their conversations had been easier and not so tense and cautious.

'Why else do you think I am the only one left now?' There was a bitterness in his voice he did not recognize.

Chizuru shook her head. 'Not the only one,' she replied.

I am here too, am I not? The unspoken words hung in the air between them, neither voicing it out loud because both knew that there was no need to.

'Did you come just to tell me that?' he asked instead, turning away from her to pour himself more tea. 'It is a little late even so, now that it would not matter either way.'

The look on Chizuru's face then was something that appeared almost fragile and broken. 'It is never too late,' she said quietly. 'Everyone needs someone to forgive them, even if the other was in no place to do so or if the wrongs were never their own.'

Saito did not speak for sometime after that, and Chizuru merely watched him, her dark eyes holding in them the years of loneliness he thought his own might reflect.

'Are you the same, then?' he asked finally, and he knew from the expression that flitted across her face that it was not what she had expected from him. It unsettled her.

But she did not pretend as she might have done many winters ago. The years had left their heartless memories on her as well, and he wondered if the innocence was still there, or if all that was left was a shadow of what had once been - who she had once been.

'I do not know,' she replied carefully. 'It has been such a long time, and-'

Saito did not ask. He had tried to forget as well, but that had been, perhaps, even more painful than remembrance. Forgetting meant leaving behind the only evidences of who he was once. If even that was gone, then what would there be to validate his existence? What could ascertain the reasons and the whys and hows?

'I am glad I found you,' she finished at last, but they both knew that that had not been what she wanted to say.

He smiled slightly all the same. 'So am I.'

She looked up at that, barely concealing her surprise. When their gazes met, he saw her expression softening into the same gentleness he remembered from so long ago, and he thought, a little relieved, that maybe she had not changed after all. That the years had not worn her down; that here, perhaps, he could finally the silence and peace he had been searching for without really knowing why.

'Will you stay?' he asked quietly, and for a moment thought she might refuse.

Then she smiled, the same smile he had come to remember from that world which now seemed little more than a dream.

'Of course, Hajime-kun. Thank you.'

:::

Our own world :: 二人の世界

Kazama had never once attempted to conceal his contempt for the human race. Weak and useless, yet so proud and arrogant. He could not understand their self-obsession, nor their fascination with things like war and pain and suffering.

He never tried.

And centuries later, he met one who was the very personification of all these qualities he so hated in the humans.

Hijikata Toushizou. It was a name he was sure he would remember for the rest of his long life.

It might perhaps have been this very reason which made him so strangely fascinated with the other. Everything he did, even to the extent of becoming a rasetsu, all for something no more than his friends and the people he loved.

Foolish. Kazama wanted nothing more than to crush this man's idealisms, yet even as the people around him disappeared one after another, he still fought on.

If I kill you all, then we will become the real Oni...

Do you think it is so easy? Kazama wanted to laugh. We belong in a place you can never reach even in exchange for your life.

But he never told Hijikata that because even despite himself, he was curious how far the other could go. What would it take to destroy the spirit of one who believed so much in himself? He wondered. How much sacrifice would it take before he realizes the futility of human existence?

But even so, even as the world around him crumbled into ash after fire and war, Hijikata never looked back, and Kazama made sure to stand forever just a little ahead.

A reminder. A mockery.

You can never be where we are... human.

It did not matter what name he decided to go by, Kazama thought. The title of Oni would never be within his hands. All he had was an imitation.

But even as he told himself this, Kazama could not help but wonder, faintly, at the back his mind. What if...?

Rasetsu...

Just how far away was his world?

For the first time in his life, Kazama wanted to know.

:::

A/N: And here is my second contribution of three pieces. I am not entirely happy with them, but they were the best I could do...

I have decided to try some of the requested pairings, like Chizuru/Okita and Chizuru/Saito (both requested by Litschi ^^). The last one is... maybe Kazama/Hijikata...? Not what I originally intended, but I suppose it could work that way.

If you would like to request a specific pairing, just drop me a review as always. If you would like a separate one shot, message me the pairing as well as a prompt (anything from one word to a scenario) and I will try to write it for you. All is on a first come first serve basis, and if the pairing is too strange and unfathomable, I would not write it either, just so as not to traumatize everyone...

I hope you liked this anyway. :3

Ja ne!

Sei-kari and Ame