It's been too long that I've waited, perhaps that is the reason why I find myself in front of Matsudaira accepting his proposal. A marriage with a woman named Takagi Tokio, a woman of Aizu from a prominent samurai clan. Well bred and educated, there was really nothing I could complain about, even her beauty surpasses most women I have met. Noting the heart shaped face of the woman in the picture, I hand it back to Matsudaira.
"I'll arrange for you to meet her father. There should be no problems since I already told him in advance that I have every faith in your ability to protect and keep his daughter happy."
I watch the Daimyo of Aizu in indifference. There's nothing to object to nor anything to be ecstatic about. I merely nod at his eagerness to marry me off. Apparently he's taken it upon himself to make sure former Shinsengumi members were "secured" off one way or another. Perhaps it is because he still feels badly that he left Kondou-san out to dry. He still had political power back then but keeping that influence meant sacrifices and unfortunately Kondou-san was considered disposable. Not surprising as he did order us to assasinate Serizawa while we were still the Miburoshi to keep face. To be totally honest I don't want to be used as a token, but there's nothing else I see in the future except perhaps to commit seppuku. Taking the cup of sake that just arrived, I listen to him continue.
"Aside of course from my recommendation, your new job as Police Inspector will prove favorable to the Takagi's. The Meiji pays well and there are special privileges."
My hands stops mid-way. The allure of sake quickly losing it's appeal, I place the cup down preparing my rebuttal.
"I am not interested in special privileges." I reply with an edge to my voice. "Especially if it is from the Meiji government."
The Daimyo taps my shoulder lightly. Chuckling a bit.
"Well then don't worry about it. I'm just telling you it's there if ever you should need it."
This man is sometimes incorrigable. So I stand abruptly ready to leave, not caring if he will be jilted and have me thrown back to prison. Instead he does not stop me and continues to chuckle.
"Fujita Goro... Do not be late tomorrow."
Raising my hand in acknowledgment, I close the door with a definite "thud" at the end. Sometimes people, even Matsudaira are morons.
I walk out of the castle, pass the courtyard onto the streets. At least for an ahou like Matsudaira he was able to rebuild Aizu. The streets were a bit barren and dark but there were still some shops open. A few yards down the street I see a soba stand but I am not hungry at all. So I walk past it, not really thinking of where my destination will lie.
Tomorrow I shall meet in person the woman I am to marry and her family too. This moment I cannot at all care, the only thing important is to shake this weariness that has been tugging at me since that conversation. Perhaps I do not want to commit, at least not to that woman.
In Kyoto there was someone I had been looking at. A woman who disguised herself as a man and who eventually fell in love with a man whom I deemed as my brother, Okita Souji... He had always been so open about it with us. Whether he told her of his feelings himself, I sincerely doubted it. He was shy about his women and I of course did not encourage his feelings. Being at the brink of war, one cannot think too much about that, at least that's what I told him. It is true. I had no doubt in my answers everytime he inquired. But for myself, there was another reason... Because I secretly hoped that his affection will pass and then maybe I can show myself to her after the war was over. Perhaps I was being underhanded... Perhaps... But I never had plans to step in between them. There are after all unspoken codes shared between men. That no man should covet his friend's woman. The plan was to be patient and see if Okita will own her or not. Whether he still wanted her or not. I will be a bystander until he decided. It is amusing how one can make "plans", "preparations", "strategies" and still end up writing them on water.
Okita of course died in Edo while we were at war in Toba-Fushimi. I had heard she visited him quite often and I was sincerely glad, for he needed that because we could not be with him at his last moment. The last letter I received from Hide was a very disturbing one, she seemed distraught as I read between the lines. If I could be there to help her I would've, but we were pushed back from Toba-Fushimi and the Bakufu forces were almost annihilated. We sortied in Aizu to make sure it did not fall into enemy hands. Under the Daimyo we fought and the letters stopped, rather I do not know if she ever sent one again for I had heard from Hijikata-san himself that Souji succumbed to tuberculosis.
Finally an interesting shop comes into view. It is decorated rather simply and of foreign writings on the door. Having nothing better to do, I enter out of curiousity.
Bowing in acknowledgment I scan the small room. There are bottles of what I think is foreign liquor and on another shelf a most peculiar looking cardboard box.
"What is that?" I motion to the boxes stacked one over another. There are gold, red, blue and silver colors. Quite delightful to the eye actually.
"Tobacco sir... A new type which comes from Europe."
I tilt my head still not grasping what she is saying. Tobacco comes in small round containers and is used with a pipe. I glare back at her for being absurd.
"Oh! You should try it sir. Here I'll get you a pack." She reaches down and comes out with a gold pack, slightly the size of playing cards and some matches.
She hands it to me and I take one look. It's foreign and it's decorated in gold. It must cost a small fortune.
"Iie. I am not interested." I move the foreign object back to her.
"Oh please take it. We are new here and would really like to establish business."
"I do not have enough money for something this frivolous." I insist.
"Iie! Consider this a gesture of good business. You can take it for free and I hope you come back again soon."
Narrowing my eyes at the stubborn woman. I take the package. She does not strike me as a person who will take no for an answer. And I do not want to stay here any longer.
I leave the store noting it's location. If this tobacco is any good I will return. I never was a tobacco smoker.. Much less a "cigarette" smoker. My preference has always been hot sake for it calmed my nerves during those battles. It even saved me once in buddha hall. Smirking I note the inconsistency of that thought... No the sake almost killed me in battle for I was hot from drinking and I wanted to take off the chainmail. If the chainmail wouldn't have stuck to my haori, I could've probably died that night.
Opening the small package I note the clear wrapping. Interesting... The gold color is actually embossed on cardboard itself. Taking the "cigarette" out, I try to figure out which end to place on my lips. Deducing from it's looks I place the foam end on my lips and lighted the other end which contained the dried grass.
I had watched Hijikata-san smoke his pipe many times before so I inhale, making sure it travelled through my throat and lungs slowly. I feel hazy for an instant and my eyes slightly teary from the smoke that was inconveniently too close. But after a few more puffs I realize that the effect is mildly similar to the effect of hot sake. Calming... Walking back from where I came, I feel slightly more relaxed and my thoughts wandered once again.
To Kyoto... The generous household that housed my comrades. To the broom that was always held upright when we first came. To the old woman who turned it down towards the earth signaling our welcome. To that girl who unsuccesfully hid herself from me. It was always puzzling why no one ever noticed... There were times I had wanted to shout at everyone not to treat her so roughly. But I knew her cover would be broken and that would not be a good thing for that household so I kept my mouth shut. But maybe that wasn't such a good idea... For while I leaned on the engawa, Souji showed her kendo thinking she was a man. Perhaps that is what they call fate and she... She did not notice I watched her quietly from a distance. That I was watching her not as hidejiro-kun... But simply as Yagi Hide.
I choke for a moment... Forgetting I had inhaled rather forcefully. Grinning I crush the cigarette under my boots and take another one out... This is rather good. Perhaps it is also fate I chanced upon that small shop.
Matsudaira Katamori – Daimyo of Aizu who supported the Shinsengumi. He was the protector of Kyoto
Okita Souji – Captain of the First Troop of the Shinsengumi
Yagi Hide (Hidejiro) – Sole daughter of the Yagi household who is Okita Souji's love interest. (Hidejiro) was her name during the time she disguised herself as a man when the Shinsengumi came to live in Mibu.
The broom when turned upright means that the household wants the guest to leave quickly. When the right side is up for the broom it means signifies that the guest is very much welcome.
To those who didn't know. Tokio and Saitou were in an arranged marriage facilitated by the Daimyo himself.
(This fic was inspired by NHK Shinsengumi and a friend. The Saitou Hajime in this case is a cross between history and Rurouni Kenshin)