Tetsu glanced enviously inside the dojo as he walked past. The Shinsengumi were busy at sword practice and even *Sanosuke* of all people was there. Watching Shinpachi score against the tall man twice in succession, Tetsu shook his head in disgust but then he let out a yelp of distress when the full teapot on the tray he was carrying started to slide. He barely managed to right the tray and prevent the tea from being spilled. Letting out a slow breath of relief, he sneaked one last envious glance at the dojo and continued on his way.
*He* could wield a sword ten times better than Sanosuke, yet here he was, stuck being the page to a demon, forced to fetch tea and feed stupid pigs…. Tetsu quickly looked around him, half expecting his thoughts to summon Okita’s crazed pet. Hijikata wasn’t the only demon around here and Saizou just loved to torment him for some odd reason. The stupid pig was probably lurking about, waiting to trip him right before he reached Hijikata’s quarters. Then, he’d spend the day washing uniforms or polishing floors or something else equally embarrassing. And it was all Hijikata’s fault. Why couldn’t he see that Tetsu was a warrior in his own right and deserved his own sword? "He probably enjoys having someone to boss around way too much. ‘Ichimura, fetch me tea. Ichimura, sweep the courtyard.’" He tried to mimic the Fukuchou’s deep, smoke-roughened voice but couldn’t get his own voice to go that low. Grumbling about his latest betrayal, he stepped onto Hijikata’s porch.
Tetsu noticed that the shoji were all closed which was odd on such a breezy, warm day. Usually Hijikata left at least one open, so his vile smoke could escape. Frowning, he balanced the tray precariously on one hand as he reached out to knock on the wooden frame. At the last minute he thought about the spy, Yamazaki, and immediately jerked his hand back. Maybe the older boy was reporting to Hijikata….
Tetsu glanced around, making sure that no one was watching him and crept closer to the paper door. He could barely make out some muffled sounds and thought he heard ‘Hijikata-san’ muttered lowly. Mindful of making any noise, he slowly slid the shoji open, just a few centimeters. Then he pressed closer, looking through the small opening.
Hijikata and Yamazaki weren’t sitting at the table. Sliding the door open a fraction more, Tetsu searched the room. His wrist began to tremble from holding the heavy tray and he had to squint to discern anything in the dim light. A slight motion off to the side caught his attention and, as his eyesight adjusted, he could make out a pale back and long black hair.
He recognized the man as Okita and immediately started to push the door open so he could greet his friend. Then he noticed other things. Like the fact that Okita was naked and straddling Hijikata’s waist. Like the large, strong hands tightly gripping the hips of the slender young man, constantly pulling him back down when he tried to pull away. The air was fragrant from more than just opium and soft gasps and low moans could be heard over the smack of flesh hitting sweaty flesh.
Tetsu watched, mesmerized, as Okita flung back his hair, neck taut and eyes closed as he moved on top of the Fukuchou. Hijikata’s hand shifted from Okita’s hip and tangled in the loose, black hair, frowning slightly as he dragged Okita’s face down toward his.
"Hijikata-san… please…." Okita moaned, his hands pressing against Hijikata’s chest, as if to push him away.
The tray slipped from Tetsu’s hand, crashing onto the wooden porch as he took a step forward. The katana resting by the futon reminded him - he was unarmed. He quickly whirled, jumping over the spilled and shattered tea set and ran toward the dojo.
He bumped into someone along the way but didn’t waste any time apologizing or finding out who it was. Ignoring the furious voice yelling his name, he ran to the dojo, his mind focused on the sight of his friend Okita being forced to….
He leapt onto the porch and hastily pushed aside the shoji, his pace never slowing. Charging into the dojo, he shoved through the crowd of men, intent on reaching the wall that held real swords. He’d almost made it when his shoulder was roughly grabbed and he was spun around.
"Hey, Puppy, what’s the rush?" Sanosuke smiled at him and patted his shoulder. "The Fukuchou finally tell ya you could have a weapon?"
"Let me go," Tetsu gritted out as he tried without effect to shrug off Sanosuke’s hand. "I need a sword."
Laughing, Shinpachi stepped smoothly between Tetsu and the rack of swords. "Ah, the impatience of youth. Why do you want one so bad?"
"Give me a sword!" Tetsu managed to take a step forward before being yanked back. "Shinpachi, give me yours! I need it!" Even if it wasn’t a real sword, he could still use the wooden stick as a club.
The shorter swordsman frowned and tapped his wooden practice sword against his shoulder. "Eh? I thought you wanted a real one. You been out in the sun a little too long this morning, Tetsu-kun?"
Filled with frustration and despair in equal measure, Tetsu squirmed in Sanosuke’s hold and stretched out his arm, almost managing to touch Shinpachi’s weapon. "I need it to make him leave Okita-san alone! His sword was right there, I need one of my own to face him and-"
"Whoa, wait a sec." Sanosuke jerked Tetsu back and shook him by the shoulders. "Hurt who? Who’s bothering Souji?" Sanosuke was perfectly serious for once, no trace of laughter left in his voice or eyes.
"We’ll deal with the bastard. Tell us who is it, Tetsu-kun," Shinpachi asked, equally serious. Throughout the dojo, the men held their practice weapons at the ready and started to murmur, a low, growling sound. "Who is it, and where are they?" Shinpachi asked again, his eyes narrowed in anger.
"It’s Hijikata and he’s-" Tetsu bit his lip, stopping himself from telling the men what he’d seen. Maybe Okita wouldn’t want that to be made public, wouldn’t want to be shamed in front of all his friends. "Give me a sword. I’ll handle this," he growled, his voice breaking a little.
Stepping back in shock, Shinpachi stared intently, his face furrowed in
confusion. "Hijikata-san? He’s hurting Souji?"
"I saw them. Give me a weapon. He’ll be done soon and poor Okita-san-" Tetsu was cut off as Sanosuke started to laugh uproariously, slapping his hand over and over against his side.
"I wondered why Souji wasn’t here to practice with you, Shinpachi. Guess he never made it back from taking the Fukuchou his breakfast." Sanosuke began laughing again, releasing Tetsu’s shoulder as he doubled over clutching his stomach. Around the room, the soldiers burst into laughter, lowering their weapons to wipe their eyes or to prod their neighbors in the side.
Tetsu could only stare at them in shock for a moment. "Why are you laughing?" he shrieked as he tried to pry Sanosuke’s sword free. "He’s hurting Okita-san!"
Shinpachi, tears streaming from his eyes, his face red from laughing so hard, grabbed Tetsu’s arm and hugged him close, tousling his hair. "Ah, that’s a good one, Tetsu-kun! You actually had us going for a moment there."
"Yeah, we were really worried for Souji," Sanosuke chuckled. "Now we know to worry instead about poor Hijikata-san."
The laughter increased and Heisuke even called out that maybe they should go rescue their poor Fukuchou. Shinpachi giggled and rubbed Tetsu’s head some more, fresh tears streaming down his face. "Well, someone’s being taken advantage of right now and it’s certainly not Souji! We won’t see either of them for the rest of the day, judging from how Souji’s eyes were twinkling this morning."
Sanosuke straightened up and ran a hand through his sweaty hair. "Poor Hijikata-san, not even a demon’s a match for a frisky Souji in the mood to ‘play’. It’s hard having a younger lover. They live to wear you out." He hiccupped in laughter and shook his head.
Standing next to a very confused Tetsu, Shinpachi suddenly stiffened and released him. "Oh, always being taken advantage of, are you Sano? Too old and tired to keep up with your ‘younger lover’?" he asked testily. "Is that why you barely had the strength to lift your sword today, you lazy old pervert? Here I thought it was just your usual pathetic fighting skills."
"Who are you calling ‘pervert’? Who kept who up all night, huhn? I’ll show you how lazy and pathetic I am!" Tetsu was brushed aside as Sanosuke leapt at Shinpachi, his sword held at the ready.
Watching his two friends fight each other while yelling out insults with the rest of the men cheering them on, Tetsu walked out of the noisy dojo in a daze. So Okita wasn’t being hurt but for some odd reason Hijikata was in trouble…. Things just didn’t make any sense. Maybe he was asleep still in bed and having a nightmare.
Tatsu hurried along the courtyard, trying to catch up to Kondou Isamu. He’d been told that the Kumichou was headed this way and he was needed to answer some questions regarding the numbers he’d just calculated.
Hearing his brother’s name called, he turned around the corner to find Kondou sitting on the ground, one of the soldiers helping him stand. Tucking the book he was holding into his yukata, Tatsu ran to him and began brushing dirt off his hakama and gi. "Are you all right, Kondou-san?"
"Yes. I think it’s a good thing I was planning to practice today, it’s obvious my reflexes need a little work," Kondou laughed cheerfully. "Your brother is very fast! Ah, to be that young again."
"I’m sorry," Tatsu apologized automatically, bowing his head before his supervisor. "I apologize for his autrocious behavior. I’m certain he didn’t mean to knock you down, sir." When Tatsu got his hands on the little brat he was going to throttle him. Why did he always end up apologizing for something Tetsu had done?
Kondou brushed aside his apology. "I’m sure he didn’t. Tetsunosuke-kun looked to be in a hurry, maybe Hijikata sent him on an errand. Tetsunosuke-kun’s been working very hard to please him, lately."
Or maybe his brother had done something and was running away before he ended up having to wash the company’s dirty clothes again, Tatsu thought. "Yes he has." Bowing again, he set off in the direction Tetsu appeared to have disappeared, the matter of the account ledger completely forgotten. "Good day, sir."
Heading toward the dojo, Tatsu was overcome with trepidation when he heard yelling and raucous laughter coming from the practice room across the courtyard. Picking up his pace, he was practically running when he caught sight of his brother walking slowly away from the building.
Tetsu didn’t even react as Tatsu approached, though he let out a startled yelp when Tatsu grabbed him by the ear and yanked him toward somewhere a little more private. Tatsu didn’t let go until they reached the compound’s well, giving his brother’s poor ear another squeeze before releasing it. "What trouble have you caused now? Do you even have any idea what you did back there? What if you’d hurt Kondou-san?"
Tetsu looked up and blinked at him, eyes filled with confusion and misery, his mouth trembling. "I’m sorry," he murmured, sounding almost ready to cry. Then his eyes narrowed and his face tightened. "Wait, what did I do now?"
Tatsu let out a long-suffering sigh and smacked his little brother on the head. "Why did I just know you didn’t have a clue what you’d done back there?" he said, the question almost drowned out by Tetsu’s wail of pain. "You knocked Kondou-san to the ground with your running around. What were you up to and what did you do inside the dojo?" Part of him didn’t want to know what new trouble his brother had stirred up.
"That hurt," Tetsu sulked, rubbing his head. The look of confusion slowly crept back onto his face. "I… I thought Hijikata was hurting Okita-san." He faltered for a moment, his teeth nibbling at his bottom lip. "I found them… I thought that Okita-san… I wanted to save him but Sanosuke and Shinpachi told me that Hijikata was the one in trouble…. I’m so confused."
Tatsu felt all the blood drain from his face and a queasy lump settle in his middle while he struggled to puzzle out his brother’s broken rambling. He’d known the truth about that couple almost as soon as he’d joined the Shinsengumi. It wasn’t like it was a secret and several of the soldiers teased Okita about his relationship with the surly Fukuchou. Tatsu just never thought that he’d have to explain things to his brother, especially like this. Surely Tetsu wasn’t that old yet. He’d never shown any interest in the opposite sex or his own for that matter, so Tatsu thought he’d been spared that responsibility. Not any longer though, it seemed.
Taking a deep breath, he plunged ahead. "Well, you see Tetsu… when you get old enough, you’ll start to feel an… attraction to other people. Probably to some girl but for some men, it will be to another man. It’s a natural thing and y- OW!" Tatsu scowled at his little brother, who had just whapped the back of his head.
"I know all about sex," Tetsu grumbled, rolling his eyes. "I’m not a child! Why does everyone treat me like one!"
Maybe because you act like one, Tatsu thought but considered it wiser not to say it out loud. "Then what’s your problem, eh? Why’d you cause all that commotion if you knew what was going on between Hijikata-san and Okita-san?"
Tetsu snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. "Because Okita-san was having sex with *Hijikata*." He stared at Tatsu as if his point was made perfectly clear.
Feeling a headache coming on, Tatsu rubbed his temples. "Okay, you must have hit me harder than I thought, because that made no sense whatsoever."
"You- argh!" Tetsu stamped his foot and clenched his fists at his sides. "How can someone as nice as Okita-san let such a… a… a demon have sex with him! Hijikata is mean and nasty and ev- mmph."
Ignoring his brother’s glare at being muzzled silent, Tatsu glanced anxiously around, half afraid that the company’s Fukuchou had overheard the insults. "Will you ever learn to watch your tongue?" he admonished after being assured that they were all alone. "You’ll never be a soldier if Hijikata-san hears you talking like that about him." He did some glaring of his own when Tetsu snorted in derision. "He just might kick you out for something like that. I don’t know why he hasn’t done it already, considering the way you act. "As for him and Okita-san, nobody here thinks anything about their relationship and they know those two better than we do," he pointed out. "Besides, Okita-san used to be Hijikata-san’s page. Of course they’d be… close."
Tetsu appeared ready to argue further, or maybe even heap more slander on Hijikata, but then a worried expression settled on his face. "Really? Okita-san used to be a page?"
"Just like you are now," Tatsu answered eagerly, hoping that fact would help Tetsu accept his current post and stop clamoring to be a soldier. "He was even younger than you when Kondou-san and Hijikata-san took him in and he served as their page while he learned to fight."
However, his brother’s reaction wasn’t exactly the one he’d been hoping for or expecting. Tetsu’s bottom lip started to tremble again, his eyes growing huge and he suddenly grabbed Tatsu and hugged him tight. "WAHHH! Save me, Tatsu! You have to save me!"
Yes, he was definitely about to suffer a very bad headache, Tatsu thought. Of course Tetsu’s caterwauling had several curious people coming out of the dojo to investigate the ruckus. As Shinpachi and his friends demanded to know what Tatsu done to his little brother to upset him so, his stomach clenched in enough pain to rival his burgeoning headache. Why oh why couldn’t he have been an only child?
"Hmmm, Hijikata-san, you still feel too tense," Souji cheerfully pointed out as he massaged Hijikata’s shoulders. He leaned in close, his warm breath flowing over Hijikata’s cheek. "Perhaps we should have continued for a little longer," he drawled as nimble fingers teased along Hijikata’s sensitive spine.
Hijikata grunted and gently nudged his young lover in the ribs. "We’ve wasted enough of this day. I have some reports I need to respond to and you should be practicing," he pointed out gruffly. Hearing Souji’s disappointed sigh, he could very well imagine the pout curving the full lips that had taken great delight in tormenting him earlier.
"I’m sorry to have distracted you from your work, Fukuchou-san," Souji’s voice was a study of abject misery. His hands slowly pulled away from Hijikata’s back. "I’ll leave you alone. Perhaps Nagakura will still be in a mood to spar with me." There was a slight sniff as Souji started to rise to his feet.
Hijikata exhaled a breath of smoke and reached behind him to pull Souji down. "You’re not a distraction, unless you’re being as silly as you are now. Be quiet and if I have time, after responding to these messages, I’ll spar with you myself." His left eyebrow twitched and his teeth clamped onto his pipe as he berated himself for giving in to Souji. Why did his iron resolve always fail him where his lover was concerned? It was disgraceful, the way Souji so expertly played him.
Still, his jaw unclenched when Souji let out a happy exclamation and settled behind him, once more massaging his back. This time, Souji’s hands didn’t stray and his lover remained quiet, except for the occasional cheerful hum.
Hijikata allowed himself to enjoy the skilled massage for a moment before picking up one of the letters stacked on the table before him. Losing himself in the missive, he puffed on his pipe.
A heavy tread approaching them made Hijikata look up from the letter. Behind him, he felt Souji tense and pull his hands away before settling against his side, his eyes intent on the partially open door. Setting the letter down, Hijikata reached out and moved his katana closer.
At first he only noticed was the suit of armor, and his sword was half out of its sheath before he recognized the person wearing the suit. Tetsu’s head poked out of the overlarge armor like a turtle out of its shell, his bushy red hair unadorned by a helmet. As Souji started to laugh, Hijikata realized that his armored page was carrying a tray of tea. At least he hadn’t dropped this one yet.
Hijikata had a feeling that he really didn’t want to know but felt compelled to ask, "Ichimura, why are you wearing armor?" If one of his soldiers had put the boy up to this, he was going to be stuck on night duty for an entire month.
Struggling to move while wearing the overlarge armor, which for some odd reason consisted of two full skirts, Ichimura glared slightly as he tried to set down the tray. Souji stifled his laughter and reached out in time to save this tea set.
Ichimura blushed as he looked at Souji and quickly stepped back, putting space between him and Hijikata. He was very careful to keep his front facing forward the entire time. "I will fetch your tea and I will do whatever I must in order to prove that I am worthy of being Shinsengumi." Ichimura’s eyes flickered toward Souji and he flushed again, losing some of his bravado. "I… I’m not *that* kind of page. I don’t want to… I can’t…." He folded his hands behind his back and burst into tears. "Please, I’m too young! I’m not pretty or nice enough to be your lover! I thought all I had to do was bring you tea, not… not…." His breath hitched as he sobbed, Ichimura flung himself onto his knees before the table. "Please, let me remain a virgin!"
Feeling his eyebrow start to twitch again, Hijikata quickly removed his pipe from his mouth before he clenched his teeth through the thin stem. Beside him, Souji was shaking from laughter, pressing his tear-streaked face against Hijikata’s sleeve. As Ichimura continued to wail that he was too young to be taken as a lover and unworthy to replace Okita-san, Hijikata heard a muffled laugh and glanced at the open door. He caught a glimpse of bushy black hair and a freckled face beside it before the figures quickly vanished. Having an idea of who supplied Ichimura with the armor, an evil smile teased at his lips.
Ignoring Ichimura’s increasingly frantic pleas, he stroked a hand through Souji’s hair, grasping his lover gently by the back of the nape and tilted his face upward. "I think you’ll have no shortage of sparring partners for the next few weeks. Sanosuke, Shinpachi and Heisuke have just volunteered, it seems."
Souji smiled at him and hiccupped, wiping at his wet face. He tried to suppress his laughter and affect a solemn air but failed miserably. "Please t-tell me you’re not going t-to t-toss me aside, Hijikata-san. I know T-tetsu-kun is younger and very pretty, but I’ve been fuh-faithful t-to you for so long."
"Fool," Hijikata snorted as he tapped his lover on the head with his pipe. "This is all your fault, you know. You get to straighten out that idiot." He nodded toward Ichimura’s prostrate and still pleading form.
Laughing softly, Souji rocked forward for a brief kiss. "I think you should reassure me later, after the paperwork is done and we had our sword practice. It would make me feel much better and maybe I’ll help you completely relax this time." There was another kiss, longer and much more passionate before Souji pulled away, his eyes smoldering with desire and his lips curved in an amused smile. He rose to his feet and hurried over to reassure Ichimura that he wasn’t ‘that kind of page’.
Taking a deep draw of smoke from his pipe, Hijikata tried to think about what he’d done to deserve having those two foisted upon him. He was ready to swear off ever taking on a page again. They were never anything but trouble.
Fukuchou – sub or vice commander
Kumichou – commander
Shoji – sliding paper doors
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