Author's Notes: I actually wrote this one-shot in May, then put it aside to wait till Hakuouki Reimeiroku had finished airing, so I could make sure it meshed with the new canon. This fic refers to some events that aren't touched on in the anime version, but are compatible with it.
Snow had built up on the roofs of the Shinsengumi Headquarters and dusted the shrubs around the courtyard. The ground, however, was muddy. The snow had been stamped out early that morning by the men preparing to depart for Osaka with Hijikata and Sannan. It was a desolate, chilly scene that had driven most men indoors. But the young captains of the Shinsengumi were out on the porch as usual. At times, it seemed that they lived out here: sometimes they could be found practicing their swordsmanship in the courtyard, but at most times, they hung about the porch to sit back and trade gossip.
Today, Saitou was the only one of the bunch engaged in any profitable activity. He was drawing his sword while staying seated, over and over again. It hardly seemed that he needed any practice at this, but his friends were long since accustomed to his perfectionist pursuits.
Shinpachi and Souji were watching him. Their conversation had long since flagged into companionable silence. Heisuke, who had just come out to join them, frowned.
"Where's Sano?" he asked.
"He's taking his turn guarding that girl's room," replied Shinpachi.
"So . . ." Heisuke paused and looked around the porch. No one was paying him attention. "SO!" he continued. "How long does Hijikata-san plan to keep this girl here?"
"What? Are you planning to steal away the Vice-Commander's new girlfriend?" drawled Souji.
"Souji!" roared Heisuke. Shinpachi laughed. Saitou continued his practice, seemingly oblivious to his companions.
Having found his mark, Souji continued. "You're eager to guard her door, aren't you, Heisuke?
"Well, I wouldn't mind," admitted Heisuke. "Don't you think she's pretty?"
"Easy enough on the eye," said Souji, yawning and settling his back against a post. "Not really dressed to her best advantage, now, is she?"
"Ah, she's just a kid," said Shinpachi. "But then so's Heisuke."
Heisuke, who was nineteen to Shinpachi's elderly twenty-four, punched Shinpachi in the ribs. Shinpachi shoved him back, knocking him over.
Souji smirked. "You couldn't even spot she was a girl, Shinpachi," he commented. "How old do you think she is?"
Heisuke had been about to retaliate, but paused to see how Shinpachi would answer.
Shinpachi shrugged. "Sixteen perhaps?" he guessed.
Souji closed his eyes. "Ahh ... good guess. Maybe you're not so blind after all."
"Souji's pretending to be a expert on women, now," laughed Heisuke.
"Souji and Saitou-kun were holed up with the Vice-Commander before he went to Osaka," Heisuke explained to Shinpachi. "Souji obviously got her age from him. Hijikata-san and Sannan-san spoke with the girl a long time after we were sent out, you know."
Souji grinned. "Our Vice-Commander's very taken with her. Wouldn't shut up on the subject. What did you think, Hajime-kun?"
"Hmmm?" If Saitou had been listening to them - and he probably had - he wasn't going to let them know.
"What do you think of our prisoner?" Souji asked him loudly.
Saitou slid his sword back into his sheath. "I haven't thought much on it," he answered Souji.
Souji's eyes danced with mischief. "Is that so? Were you ignoring Hijikata-san all that time he was lecturing us? The Vice-Commander is going to be very disappointed in you."
Saitou's grave expression didn't change. "I doubt the Vice-Commander wants our opinions of the girl so much as our observations," he said quietly.
"Eh, Souji? What is Saitou-kun trying to tell us?" asked Shinpachi in a stage whisper.
"Oh, Hijikata-san thinks the girl is a spy," said Souji.
And now, to Souji's obvious delight, Saitou was frowning. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but then seemed to think better of it.
Heisuke, on the other hand, was unrestrained in his disbelief: "What? A spy? That little thing!"
"You're ever so much taller, Heisuke-kun," put in Shinpachi.
Ordinarily, that sort of teasing was the signal for Heisuke to retaliate, but he was obviously giving Souji's revelation his full attention. "She's not the sort of woman who could be a spy," Heisuke protested. "Hijikata-san is paranoid."
Souji watched Saitou's face hopefully for an indignant response, but Saitou said nothing.
"Hijikata-san suspects the girl of being a spy because it's precisely the sort of plan he would dream up," Souji offered.
Shinpachi chuckled. "That sounds about right."
"Hey, do you believe this spy stuff?" Heisuke demanded of Saitou.
Saitou sighed. "It's a possibility, Heisuke. Our enemies won't have given up just because we caught the last bunch of spies. They'd count on Kondou-san's kind heart to take in a girl with this sympathetic story."
"I don't buy it," said Shinpachi. "You saw her in front of the Executives. She couldn't tell a convincing lie to save her life."
"That's a pity," said Souji drily. "She might need to."
"Surely Hijikata-san wouldn't have a woman killed!" exclaimed Heisuke.
Souji looked at him pityingly. "What a pleasant idea you have of the Vice-Commander!"
"This is a most improper conversation," spluttered Saitou, finally goaded into reaction.
"But Hajime-kun, Heisuke would like to know. Has the Vice-Commander ever ordered us to kill a woman?"
"I don't want to hear this story again," snapped Shinpachi. "It was sickening enough to live through it. Look, Souji, shouldn't you go relieve Sano?"
"Is it time? Yes I'll go." He yawned, and slowly stood up. "Maybe, I'll get lucky and she'll try escaping on my watch."
There was deep silence while Souji crossed the courtyard. Then, as he went out of sight, Heisuke whispered, "What was Souji talking about?"
Shinpachi sighed. "I'll tell you, Heisuke-kun. It's to do with Serisawa. You remember when he was killed, there was a woman in his room?"
"Yes, I know that," said Heisuke. "His mistress, Oume. But Serisawa killed her himself, didn't he? Hijikata-san said he cut her throat before they even entered the room."
Shinpachi bit his lip. "I'm not doubting Hijikata-san's word. But Souji told me the Vice-Commander ordered the woman killed as well." He paused, watching Saitou's motionless expression. "I don't know why Souji had to tell me this at all. He knows I never wanted that man dead."
"That's why he told you," said Saitou quietly.
"He's goading you for the same reason he runs down Hijikata-san in front of me. Because he wouldn't be Okita Souji if he wasn't trying to pick a fight."
Shinpachi looked at Saitou with interest. "You've been thinking this through, have you?"
"Saitou-kun is always thinking," put in Heisuke. "You could learn something from him, Shinpatsuan ... Ow!"
A few moments later, Heisuke's and Shinpachi's impromptu wrestling match was interrupted by Sano returning from his watch.
"Hey, Sano-kun!" Heisuke greeted him. "Souji's been telling us the Yukimura girl's probably a spy, and Hijikata-san might order her killed."
Sano shook his head. "You should know better by now than to listen to Souji."
"So you don't think she could be a spy?" insisted Heisuke.
Sano shrugged. "I hope she isn't. But I'll tell you one thing, Heisuke."
"If the girl's a spy. Hijikata-san would never order Okita Souji to kill her."
"He'd do it himself."
Author's Notes: I'm very grateful to Tokio Fujita's Hakuouki Reimeroku game translations which I actually enjoyed more than the anime season. (Since this site doesn't allow linking, I'll say you should google her name to read the excellent translations.) The anime really rushed through the material, I thought, and passed in silence over some of the harsher aspects. Two of these are referenced in this fic. They didn't happen on-screen, but they still fit with the canon.
One of these is that Hijikata never is shown giving the order to kill Oume in the anime. I thought it made an interesting point of exactly how tough the demonic vice-commander could be, and how badly it could have gone for Chizuru if he had concluded that she was a spy for Kodo-san or the Sonno Joui ronin.
The other referenced event is the discovery of spies within the Shinsengumi that occurred historically about the time that Hakuouki Reimeiroku winds up. In Saitou's good ending, the spies' executions are mentioned. These spies were placed inside the organization by agents of Choshu domain, which was heavily involved in directing the Sonno Joui terrorism in Kyoto. If you're a fan of Gintama, you'll be amused to know that the Choshu official in charge of these operations was Katsura Kogoro aka the inspiration for everyone's favourite Gintama terrorist: Katsura Kotarou.
I mostly am writing Gintama fic these days, but Hakuouki was my first love, and I have a long one-shot plotty story about half written concerning a historical incident where a member of the Shinsengumi was discovered to be extorting money from local shopkeepers, fled from Kyoto, and was captured and brought back to commit seppuku. That story will involve almost the entire cast, but will focus on Hijikata, Saitou, and Okita.