Sometimes, when Ryouma wasn't busy negotiating with the foreigners down at the edge of the ocean or with Satsuma and Choushuu far to the south, when Tatsunosuke wasn't locked in his dusty library o...
Sometimes, when Ryouma wasn't busy negotiating with the foreigners down at the edge of the ocean or with Satsuma and Choushuu far to the south, when Tatsunosuke wasn't locked in his dusty library of a prison, calculating and re-calculating the Shinsengumi's treasury, they would run through the narrow pathways of Gion. Past the red lanterns of the geisha houses. Past the little piles of salt standing sentinel at the doorways. Past the mossy alleyways that were barely wide enough to walk down. Down the cool, dim streets that never saw sunlight.
Sometimes, they would climb up onto the roofs of Hanamachi, the tile burning their hands and knees, and there would be nothing above them but the gods up on the hill at Kiyomizudera. Tatsunosuke would always try his damndest to see the ocean, a desire that Ryouma never understood; Ryouma spent his days in shipyards, and the sea was no mystery to him. He would stand on his tip-toes, balancing precariously on the teeth of his geta, squinting and shielding his eyes against the white sun, trying to catch a glimpse of light reflected off distant water. Once, he slipped, breaking the thong of his right geta and knocking loose a few roof tiles. Ryouma had managed to catch him in time, but he had made Tatsunosuke promise he'd stop trying to see the ocean, that he would take him there someday.
Sometimes, Tatsunosuke would talk about how if he were a fish, he could swim down the Kamogawa River, right out into the ocean.
Sometimes, Ryouma would laugh at him, leaning back to lie on the warm roof tiles, stretching out under the wide, blue sky.
Sometimes, Tatsunosuke would come back to Kyoto, back to Gion, and he would hear people singing mournful songs through the static of intricate, wooden radios instead of the harsh twang of shamisen strings being plucked; he would hear the scuff of Western dress shoes instead of the clopping of geta against the brick roads. And as he walked slowly down the long aisle of Hanamachi, he would see a section of roof missing a few tiles and he would look away.
Sometimes, Tatsunosuke would walk all day. He would follow the Kamogawa River in his old man shuffle, straight down to the ocean, and he would sit there on the dark, rocky beach and stare at the ocean. It always surprised him that it wasn't the perfect blue he imagined it would be when he was a young man, sitting on the roofs of Hanamachi with his best friend. With the only person he'd ever loved.
Sometimes, he would sit and listen to the sound of the waves as they crashed against the shore, and it would remind him of Ryouma. It would remind him of his laughter, of his voice, even though he could no longer remember the other man's face.
Sometimes, in fall, he would press his lips to the petals of a red chrysanthemum before setting them adrift in the murky water, letting the tide take them out toward the horizon, and thank Ryouma for never telling him that a river fish couldn't survive in the sea.