The Best Retort is Rising to a Challenge — an excerpt of “1863, December”

(full story here)


1864, July — The Kinmon Rebellion, Aftermath

“How cruel, calling all of you that…”

“Well, this is how others treat us. Don’t you worry yourself.”

“But, it–”

Chizuru is angry, and she doesn’t know what to do with it. 

By all accounts, the Shinsengumi’s reputation shouldn’t really be her business. She is little more than a carefully watched guest, after all. Somehow, however, these men have taken root in her heart like a maple tree in fertile soil, and she can’t stop thinking about the derision in that Aizu retainer’s tone. From midmorning to late evening, the troops marched from post to post, looking for orders and–to some extent–validation. What sort of leader, she wonders uncharitably, calls the Shinsengumi to defend but doesn’t make their orders known? What kind of retainer scoffs with derision at his comrades in arms? Calls them “wolves” as though they’re less than man?

Bureaucratic bullshit (Thank you, Hijikata-san, for the phrasing.) aside, at the end of an already trying day, she can’t begin to untangle all the things she feels. All she knows is that she’s angry. That’s enough to unpack.

She sets the laundry down with unnecessary force, adding underthings to an already mountainous pile of hatori, robes, and miscellaneous other linens. The men have taken to setting their laundry out each week for her collection, and so collect she does. With every additional article tossed atop the pile, the eyes of the man watching her grow more assessing, more concerned.

Not that she knows he’s watching, of course. Chizuru is far too absorbed in her own frustration to notice the eyes observing from the engawa to her right . Some of the tenth unit men had noticed her off behavior, and–as most men are–these soldiers were prone to gossip. Gossip doesn’t get far within the tenth unit without Sanosuke knowing about it, so here he is, watching to see if the rumors are true.

It’s the wrinkle between her eyes, he thinks, that really distinguishes what she’s feeling as anger. He’s seen Chizuru sad–over breakfast when she thinks no one can tell she has been crying–and he’s seen her afraid–when he launched his fist at Heisuke to avoid an assassination over dinner. Each time, her eyes have spoken volumes. Today, they say she’s… frustrated.

Having listened to Shinpachi espouse his displeasure over their recent treatment by fellow troops at the conflict days prior, Sanosuke can confidently say he’s well versed in outbursts of frustration. If this is a frustrated Chizuru, he thinks he can handle that.

He’s able to get worryingly close to Chizuru before she notices his presence. She startles lightly and dips her head in greeting. “Harada-san,” she says.

Her voice remains light and sweet, but the wrinkle between her brows isn’t going anywhere.

“Hey, Chizuru.” Sanosuke smiles down at her. “The laundry pile today is taller than you are.”

She blinks at that and turns to examine it with new eyes. Abruptly realizing the size of the pile before her, she visibly deflates. 

“I don’t know where the day has gone,” she says. “I’d planned to finish the laundry hours ago, but then…”

She thinks back to how she’d burnt breakfast, how she’d pulled stitch after stitch while mending. She’d had to steep new tea for the Vice Commander twice this afternoon because the pots grew too bitter, her mind tasked with other things…

“Harada-san,” she says again, and this time, her voice is different. Soft, but darker somehow. “After…” She stops, swallows, starts again. “I’ve seen enough of the Shinsengumi to know all the good you do…”

Sanosuke leans in closer, but Chizuru is looking at the ground, and her words begin to rush.

“You came under the order of Aizu, but when you arrived, they mocked you. They called you “wolves” as though you’re less than men! But I’ve seen you all work so hard to keep the peace here in Kyoto, and–!” She squeaks when Sanosuke pats her on the head. Her eyes fly open (When had she closed them?) and fists unclench. Unlike the first time he’d touched her, she understands the weight of that hand.

“Your heart is so big,” he says. His gaze is soft.

No, she thinks, her heart is pounding, but Sanosuke looks at her as little more than a child. 

“I had no idea this was bothering you so much.” He shakes his head, and his hand moves to her shoulder. “You have to understand. To a lot of people out there, we’re a bit of a menace. They see us fighting–see our very noticeable patrols–and think we’re the ones causing trouble in town. They don’t realize that it’s because of those things that they don’t see ronin pulling a daily shakedown on street vendors. So, it’s kinda’ double-ended, if you know what I mean.”

“But they called you ‘wolves!’” Chizuru protests. Breathless or not, her indignation hasn’t abated. She meets his gaze squarely. “That was cruel.”

“We’re not formal samurai, so we’re uncivilized. We patrol in packs. Hence, ‘Wolves of Mibu.’” He sighs and rubs the back of his neck. “I know it isn’t exactly appreciative, but it’s what they know. You can’t blame people for that. I mean, weren’t you scared when you realized you’d been taken in by the Shinsengumi?”

Chizuru exhales, but she crosses her arms. “Yes,” she admits regretfully. “I was.”

“Word-of-mouth is powerful. Our reputation precedes us. Those other guys thought they were better than us, yeah, but Aizu’s taking a chance on us because they’ve seen what we can do. We just gotta’ show the rest of them.”

“It just bothers me,” she says, “to see you all talked about like that.”

“That’s because you’re a good person. Good people don’t like to see other people spit on.” 

“Don’t you ever…feel angry about it?”

“Of course I do.” Sanosuke’s words ring with honesty. “I get fu–I get pissed every time. But I learned when I was younger that the best retort is rising to a challenge. I don’t recommend taking that lesson to quite the extreme I did, though.” She cocks her head, and he smiles.

“If you’re looking for someone to commiserate, you should talk to Shinpachi. He shares your outrage ten-fold. But,” he gestures to the mountain of clothes, “if you’re looking for someone to help you with all this, I think I can spare some of my time.”

Sanosuke has a winning smile. Sanosuke knows it, and Chizuru knows that he knows it.

“If you’re sure, Harada-san,” she concedes. Between the two of them, maybe they’ll get this laundry done in time to start on dinner.

Notes:

This one kind of got away from me, to be honest. I had a good time with it. 🙂 I hope you enjoy the chapter. Yes, Chizuru does a lot of laundry, but I mean… there is a LOT of laundry.

Also, I feel like I heard “work so hard to keep the peace here in Kyoto” in the dub (woot woot!) somewhere. Have you watched the dub? It’s great. ❤

Your comments and kudos are motivating! Thanks!

If you wanna hear me ramble in-between chapters, I’m on Twitter @Shoujothoughts.

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