Title: The Rain in Kyoto
Summary: There are reasons.
Disclaimer: Konomi-sensei owns TeniPuri. Shinsengumi belong to themselves.
A/N: This is a Shinsengumi AU. Historical knowledge may add flavor, but is unnecessary for understanding the story. All you need to know is that they had many rules - and the punishment for breaking any of them was suicide. If you so wish, more information can be found at: http://www.shinsengumihq.com/
Kyoto summers were notorious, and Tezuka felt hot, clammy fingers groping around in his lungs as he tried to exhale. Anywhere else in Japan the water would collapse into rain, but here the humidity dangled in the night air, unwilling. Beads condensed on Tezuka's forehead, the wet and heat unbearable under the cloth-and-metal headband. His left hand grasped a paper lantern inked with a faded Aizu crest. His right hand curled around the sheath of his sword, the thumb pressed against the guard. Half a finger's length of dull steel flickered when the lantern light struck it.
"You are disappointed?" came the low, smooth voice behind him.
"I'm not you," Tezuka said, not turning to the right or the left.
"You were looking forward to showing me your new technique," Fuji reminded. "A pity Momoshiro and Kaidoh killed the scouts first, isn't it."
"So long as they are dead. And Fuji, you will keep your hand on the sword. They're coming for us."
Fuji clasped the hilt carelessly. "Tezuka, I never let down my guard."
They turned as the scraping sound of footsteps took on human form, with drawn swords. Tezuka had always thought that real fights would have a more rousing accompaniment, a stirring swelling roar and din of excitement or at least the rhythmic grunts and footsteps of practice, but reality was little more than grinding, shuffling, and confusion. Sounds and words saturated his brain, and eroded into senselessness from too many repetitions. Hard practices meant easy kills, Ryuuzaki had taught him, but the calluses on his feet always ripped, and his arms ached every time, and sweat made his hands slippery and dangerous inside their gloves.
He and his enemy pushed off each other and crouched to keep from sliding too far; then they charged again, and again, and again. Tezuka truly couldn't remember how it ended. His instinct cut and ran, leaving a scab of lost time. He tried to catch his breath, and when he straightened he saw Fuji standing, blood smeared on the edge of his blade, staring off into the distance.
Tezuka's hands throbbed.
And, he realized he hadn't apologized yet, because he was unsure whether it would be cowardly to be sorry.
Tezuka remembered the Fuji estate. It was torn down a few years before this mess and replaced with a western-style mansion -- one of the first in Edo -- but still with the traditional wooden wall outside, and a name plate that Yumiko had inked carefully. It had three floors, was painted white, with green trim around the windows, white lace curtains in the windows, and a ridiculous-looking glass contraption on the roof. Gardeners were planting rose bushes as they strolled around the streets and spoke. It had been one of their less pleasant conversations. All their unpleasant conversations revolved around trivial objects; they laughed at death.
"Was this eyesore your father's idea or yours?"
"What, don't you like our new house? It's quite unique."
Tezuka wore a grimace. "For someone who claims to support His Majesty and sonno joi with his honor, your house looks awfully provocative."
"It's only a house. Do you plan to burn it down after you join up with the Shinsengumi?"
"It's a western-styled house. They killed fifteen Aizu yesterday! Whose side are you on? What principles do you stand for?"
"Well," Fuji said, looking away, "does it matter? What I --"
Without thought, Tezuka's hand flew to the wrapped grip of his sword.
"No, really," Fuji said. "Does it matter what I think?"
Tezuka said, "It will when you kill for it."
"Then perhaps I should stop before I take myself that far."
The art was supposed to be a reflection of the practitioner. After ten-odd years, Shuusuke rarely gave his blows, or his movements, the full measure of the soul that Ryuuzaki said was real kenjutsu. And last week Ryuuzaki had said so, sharply. Fuji's choice response contained the words "firearms" and "obsolete", earning him a hundred laps around the dojo and cleaning duty afterwards.
Tezuka's hand fell from the hilt, as though Fuji had cut it away.
"Just wait until you've killed someone. Even you will find that interesting."
Fuji had told him everything as they developed. Tezuka should have realized that the rare clarity was a sign that the world, Fuji's anyhow, was beginning to end.
Tezuka had brought up the idea of joining the Shinsengumi. Fuji was the only one who didn't jump at the chance at honor, glory, and his name in the annals of history. He knew better than to apply to Fuji's sense of honor or nationalism (anything besides his sense of entertainment, if truth be told), and anyway the honor of being in the service of Japan and the Emperor was entirely above manipulating Fuji. It was beneath Tezuka to attempt tasks with certain failure, and he did not try.
Then Yuuta, not Shuusuke, had become engaged to the prettiest girl in their town. Yuki came from a family of impoverished samurai, and though she was too well-bred (too quiet, Shuusuke said) to even hint that she noticed, her family thought of her marriage as a sacrifice. She didn't have to say anything. The whole town said: the Fuji family was made of nothing but merchants, swaggering about with the biggest house in town, profiting off trade with those white-devil-foreigners, and were just trying to buy their way up the social class.
"And Yuuta is only the second son!" they added with scorn, when they knew he could hear. "Shuusuke would have been a better match, had she had to dirty herself."
"I'm going to Kyoto to join the Shinsengumi before any of you!" Yuuta said the next week. He'd called the entire family together, and they were sitting, uncomfortable without the familiar and secure weight on their knees, on plush chairs in what the builder had called the "living room".
Yumiko opened her mouth, and Yuuta said, "I don't want to know what your fortunes read."
"You already know, then," she'd said.
"She wishes you were dead, you know," one of Yuki's other suitors said to Yuuta just before he went off to Kyoto.
Shuusuke had been the last to speak to him.
"Your older sister is asking you not to go. Yuki-dono is not asking you to do. Are you still going to go?"
Yuuta stared at him. "Anywhere you aren't," he spat, and Shuusuke finally saw the anger that up until then he'd only intuited, however perfectly, and it was a shadow of the real thing.
He went away. A month later he was dead, and Fuji put on his uniform for the first time.
"I'm going out on patrol this evening," Fuji said.
Tezuka started, as if stabbed with a knife, and returned to the moment.
It had been five weeks since Shuusuke lost his little brother, one week since his first kill, and Tezuka knew better than to let on that he thought of both these things, constantly. It made his fists clench and his skin tense, and he was wise and human enough to recognize it as fear of many things.
This week Fuji had spent every free waking moment in the dojo, with a taut and forthright concentration that seemed to have frightened off his usual languid form. Everyone saw his fervor as an improvement, no suspicions at all. Tezuka wanted to grab them all by the shoulders and shake their bodies until their bones rattled and their eyes opened.
Sometimes, Tezuka resented that Yuuta could be a reason for Shuusuke's stint in Kyoto. Or perhaps it only irritated him that Fuji did not hold Tezuka's reasons for being in Kyoto. Those who cared were at the complete mercy of those who did not. Such was the nature of the power, undeniable except during his rare self-indulgent moods, that Fuji had over him.
He looked up from his brush and ink. "I think that's a bad idea," he said, breaking his own rule. Do not be careless. There were letters from Edo to answer, and Hijikata had put him in charge of practice for the next week. Temple maintenance was being ignored. (In his opinion Hijikata could stand less piss-contesting with Itou and more on training the troops, but it was neither the time nor his place.)
"Well," Fuji said. "It's what I came here to do. Real kenjitsu."
"I'm not sure Okita would agree with your assessment."
"He's a child with a sword. He always wants to play. And win." Fuji smirked, fingered the hilt at his hip.
"He's also ill with a fever these past two days." Tezuka tucked his hands inside his sleeves. "The first troop isn't going out tonight."
"That's all right."
"I found out who killed Yuuta."
Ink splattered all over the fine wooden table, Tezuka's robes, and the woven floor mats. The sharp, dark fragrance filled his nose.
His first thought was wondering what worse truth could Fuji be hiding behind this already hideous thing.
"Did you think saying that would make me more likely to allow you to go?"
"You can't stop me from going."
"I'm going to try."
"Really?" Fuji smiled.
"I'm more capable than you give me credit for."
"The wind will blow without you puffing on it, Tezuka," said Fuji.
The rebuke stung and then flared into a low burn, like too-strong sake, bruises, and regret. The shoji slid shut, softly, as Fuji's lips closing. Tezuka did not hear it.
He thought of the Fifth Rule: Members are not allowed to engage in private fights.
Fuji would risk seppuku. And he would, in all likelihood, kill the man. Tezuka searched the group quarters and noted with relief that Fuji's blue-and-white uniform was still folded, newly washed, atop his belongings. His weapons, however, were very distinctively gone. Fuji almost certainly had a plan for getting away with it all, which Tezuka was almost certain would be worse than anything he could imagine up. He started digging through Fuji's few personal effects in search of clues. A few books, a packet of letters from home tied up with a blue silk cord. A toy pinwheel, tattered and torn, rested with an elegant tortoiseshell hair comb of Yumiko's, both wrapped in a linen square.
He realized then that Fuji had gone, and would always remain, halfway out of Tezuka's sight and reach. But he immediately rejected simply awaiting Fuji's return, which left him with playing Fuji's favorite game. Tezuka grabbed his weapons and headed for the closest route towards the forests that skirted Kyoto.
It was midnight by the time Tezuka paused in his walk. He stood on a dirt road with fields of grass and brush on either side, a dry silvery sea underneath the gibbous moon. A dark, vague arc of forest surrounded the fields on the edges of the night.
Fuji was an anomaly, he thought as he sat down, weary, on a tree stump by the road. Perhaps some of that would spill over into him. Perhaps Fuji's improbabilities would --
Reflex came before recognition, and suddenly Tezuka's sword was at the speaker's throat. Tezuka turned around to see that it was indeed Fuji's face, smooth and shadowed, above his blade.
"I followed you," Fuji said, and his voice had no tightness even before Tezuka pulled the sword away, hastily.
"You --" Tezuka stared at Fuji, and nothing made sense; Fuji's face seemed to belong to someone else and Tezuka's body didn't feel like his own, either. He was processing nothing. "You -- you were going to kill --"
"Mizuki," Fuji said, all smiles and helpfulness. "The bastard who killed Yuuta."
"Ah," Tezuka said.
"I already killed him last night. Don't worry, the body won't be found."
"I'm sure." Tezuka stared at Fuji. "Why tonight, then?" Why tell me? Why make me share in your guilt? Is this your idea of --
"I wanted to see if you would have tried to stop me." Fuji sat on the damp grass, legs crossed and hands folded in his lap. "And then I was going to ask you why."
"Rule five," Tezuka said. "I hear seppuku is exceedingly unpleasant."
"Probably," Fuji said, and tore a few blades of grass from the ground. "Didn't you trust me to do things properly?"
"I'm not careless," Tezuka said automatically. It sounded ridiculous.
"True that," Fuji said. "Was that it?"
Tezuka raised an eyebrow. "That's not enough?"
"Oh, don't think me ungrateful or anything," Fuji said quietly. "Are you going to tell Hijikata now that you know?"
"That depends," Tezuka said. "Do you care?"
"Why should I, anymore? I've done what I came to Kyoto to do. I'm finished here.."
"It's against the rules to leave the Shinsengumi -- alive, that is," Tezuka said dryly. "Hijikata will send Okita or Saitou after you. He didn't even spare Yamanami."
"In that case, I hope you'll do the honors." Fuji raised his right hand, caressed his own neck. It looked almost loving.
Something in Tezuka snapped. Futility burned through him, painful and contorting like a cramped muscle. He stood, hands balled into fists. Almost childishly, he threw both katana and wakizashi on the ground. Only Fuji could have wrung that gesture from him. "If you want to leave -- do it. Go. Never come back."
Fuji regarded him as if he were a puzzle, a question, an exercise. "And how do you suggest I defeat both Okita and Saitou?"
Tezuka exhaled. "I'll tell them that I caught you trying to escape. And killed you myself."
Fuji lowered his head, and he fell into silence. Then: "I've never known you to lie. Could you carry it off?"
Tezuka made a point of toeing the dropped blades, making the metal clatter softly. "I could do it for real, if you'd prefer." He thought about spitting into the wind, and how it would fly back into his face. "I'm doing this for you."
"I don't like favors. Even from you, Tezuka."
"That's too bad."
"Satsuma, Choshu, and the western powers. They're gaining on us. You know it, right? The black ships are coming, and more await. Do you like fighting losing battles, Tezuka?"
He did not, and so he did not answer. Were they on the compound, Tezuka would have punished him for treason instead. Here he merely said, "You don't like easy fights."
"You would allow me to leave?" There was a touch of wonderment in Fuji's voice, the first inflection of emotion that Tezuka had heard in his voice all night. "Do you want to --"
"Many have already died," Tezuka said. "More will."
Fuji's fingers brushed the hem of Tezuka's clothes. He said, "I know," and put a hand to the swords dangling from his belt.
Fuji had done his part, too, of course. They were part of something larger now. Tezuka did not mind, but Fuji resented holding up any institution, much less a crumbling institution that, as it fell into pieces, was likely to strike him on the head. And so, if Tezuka were truly exculpated from bringing him to Kyoto, then he would already have left. With or without Tezuka's approval.
"I'm sorry for what I said to you. In Edo."
"But you were right. It's been ... interesting."
Tezuka flinched. "It was the wrong thing to say."
"But it's not why I came to Kyoto."
"And it's not why I'm going to stay," Fuji said.
"Oh, well," Fuji said. He looked up at the night sky. It was still dark. Clouds rolled in thin waves over the moonlight. The kind of night that made people see phantoms, Tezuka supposed. Fuji seemed to be trying to see something. "He always did want to beat me to something." A twist of the lips, and Fuji stood. His hand brushed Tezuka's, almost tenderly. "Tezuka, you'd wait for me, right?"
"As long as it takes," Tezuka said. He started walking towards Kyoto again, and heard the sound of Fuji's following footsteps.