theme #05: "ano sa..."
Tetsunosuke leaps forward and engages in a twenty-second battle with gravity before whipping around to glare into the black nothing of the courtyard behind him. As he does, he hears a soft whistle from above.
It's two in the morning; why in the hell are there birds out?
"Yo, up here! You're gonna give me gray hairs, shorty!"
"Hey, I'm not-" Tetsunosuke's personal fantasy of enacting various methods of torture upon whoever was speaking to him dissipates as one Sakamoto Ryouma drops from a tree to Tetsunosuke's left, which stands a convenient two feet from the inside of the wall of the temple.
"Augh, it's the hat guy from that one time! What're you doing here?!" Tetsunosuke points an accusatory finger in Ryouma's direction. Ryouma is busy struggling with a small fit of laughter.
"You're a weird kid, shorty. Anyway, I was lookin' for that nii-chan of yours. Didn't see him around today," Ryouma explains, hoping that the short boy will neglect to ask why, exactly, he was doing any "seeing" "around" Shinsengumi headquarters.
"Oh, yeah. Tatsu-/nii/ had a kind of rough day and-" a look of belated realization spreads across Tetsunosuke's face, "what, like you're stalking my nii-chan or something?!"
Ryouma can't exactly deny the statement - and it really had been more of a statement than a question - so he decides that now would be a good time to shift focus to a slightly different topic.
"You said he had a bad day. What happened to make it so bad?"
"Well..." Tetsunosuke begins.
'Good job, old man,' Ryouma thinks to himself; 'Sakamoto Ryouma: 1. Ichimura Tetsunosuke: 0.'
The small, red-haired boy beckons for him to lean down so the difference in height between them is reduced. He resumes his re-telling of why, exactly, his older brother hadn't been out and about for the majority of the day, whispering it at Ryouma instead of speaking normally, as if it were some horrible secret.
"This morning, Tatsu-/nii/ was delivering some books to Hijikata-/occhan/'s room - hey, you won't tell him I called him that, will you?" Tetsunosuke interrupts, giving Ryouma what the older man imagines is the closest thing to a withering glare that the fifteen-year-old can manage.
Ryouma assures the small boy that he will not be speaking to the vice-commander any time soon, let alone revealing to Hijikata-/occhan/ the adorable little nicknames that his page had assigned him. Tetsunosuke continues to cast a suspicious glare his way before eventually continuing where he had left off.
"Anyway, Tatsu-/nii/ was taking Hijikata-/occhan/ some books this morning and when he opened the door, guess what!"
"What?" Ryouma questions enthusiastically, biting his lower lip afterward to hold in a chuckle.
"Hijikata-/occhan/ and Okita-san..." Tetsunosuke leans in conspiratorially and puts a hand to the side of his mouth, "...were /kissing/."
"/Really/...were they, now?" Ryouma feigns surprise.
Okita Souji's sexual preferences are rather glaringly obvious, and after two years of being chased this way and that whenever he has set foot in Kyoto by the Shinsengumi captain, they were in no real way a mystery to him. If he had not known that Okita was not quite the angel that he seemed, his relationship with someone like Hijikata may have surprised him, but this was not the case.
"Yeah, yeah! They were!" Tetsunosuke nods in fierce confirmation, "And then, Tatsu-/nii-chan/ ran back to his room, yelling, 'I'm so sorry!' and wailing about how he'd have to commit seppuku. His face was /all red/. It was kind of funny. You should have seen it!"
Ryouma wonders whether or not it's possible to die laughing. This kid is too much, getting worked up over every little thing.
"Well, now," Ryouma starts in a questioning voice, "I wonder why that nii-chan of yours was so embarrassed..."
"Ooh, ooh, I know! It's because," Tetsunosuke holds up the little finger of his right hand, "there's someone he /likes/. But he never tells me when I ask who. He just says they're really important to him."
It had been a simple question. He hadn't expected to get anything out of it, but Ryouma can't help but feel his face become a little warm when he wonders if the person in question is none other than himself.
"Doesn't he, now?"
There is silence between them for a moment before Ryouma speaks again.
"So, is there someone who you like, Tetsu-kun?"
Tetsunosuke does not respond for several seconds, and when Ryouma turns his head to look at the boy, he is blushing.
"Yeah. Kinda, I guess. She doesn't talk a whole lot, and she's from Shimabara, so it probably wouldn't look that good, and Tatsu-/nii/ would probably get in trouble if anyone knew, but she's a good person, and I like her."
Ryouma smiles widely, partially in reaction to Tetsunosuke's awkward but endearing response, and partially because if Tatsu-/nii-chan/ likes who he thinks he likes, then Tatsunosuke won't need his little brother and his girl from Shimabara to get into a whole mess of trouble.
"Well, all I can tell you, kid," Ryouma pauses to ruffle Tetsunosuke's hair, "is that you gotta tell that girl how you feel about her, and don't get all embarassed because you've grown up under the sword and don't know a damned thing about love. You don't wait around for her to come to you. You be a man and go to her."
Tetsunosuke nods and puts on a stoic expression.
"/Ano sa/," Ryouma says, looking down at Tetsunosuke with raised eyebrows and what he hopes is a paternal expression, "don't pages need their rest? Shouldn't you be in bed, Tetsu-kun?"
"Yeah, I guess," he replies, rubbing the back of his head.
"You get to bed, and tell that brother of yours that I came by when you see him tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay. G'night, hat guy."
Ryouma gives his quiet response and watches as Tetsunosuke walks at a sluggish pace toward the building that serves as the Shinsengumi's barracks. He smiles, wondering if all of them - himself, Tetsunosuke, Tatsunosuke, Hijikata, Okita - have that same awkward relationship with love. Whether they all have to struggle to scrub and scrub and scrub until their hands are clean enough to touch it. Whether they are all afraid of it slipping through their fingers once they can grasp it.
After Tetsunosuke has disappeared from his sight, Ryouma makes his way back up the tree and situates himself on one of the higher branches, so he can see over the wall of the temple. He stays there until the sun has finished making its slow progress past the rooftops of Kyoto, and decides that when Tatsunosuke leaves today to run his daily errands, he'll tell him.
"ano sa..." - "hey, you know..."
-/nii-chan/, -/nii/ - abbreviated form of "onii-san/chan", which means "older brother"
-/occhan/ - suffix usually used to address middle-aged men; in this case, it's used in a somewhat derrogatory manner, since Hijikata really isn't that old
upraised pinky finger - Japanese "sign language" used to imply a significant other