With prayers for long life and happiness — an excerpt of “1863, December”

1864, September pt 1

“I was born today,” he says, his eyes locked on his task.

On the fourth and seventh days of every ten, Sanosuke helps Chizuru in the kitchen after dinner. On nights like these, with the changing of the seasons, sunset paints their surroundings in a gentle twilight wash. Chizuru’s dainty hands move speedily through dish drying motions as Sanosuke’s larger ones scrape at the bottom of a stubborn pot.

The world–their world, perhaps–is so soft like this, soft and quiet. Even as the words pass his lips, he wonders why he said them.

Chizuru glances up from her work with wide, surprised eyes. They meet his own across the table. “Really? Happy birthday, Harada-san! I had no idea…”

Sanosuke’s ears burn, and he turns back to his scouring, scrubbing that much harder. “No,” he mumbles, “no need.” He clears his throat. “I don’t even know why I said it, really.”

Chizuru sets her last dish on the pile and shakes her head quite firmly. “Today’s your birthday, Harada-san! That’s a very important day. Have you heard anything from your family?”

“Ah–” he mutters, giving up on the pot. He dries his hands on his pants and looks at her somewhat awkwardly. “No, I don’t really–no.”

“Oh,” Chizuru says again, quieter this time. Sanosuke’s ears flush anew.

“Aw, come on now, none of that.” He leans back against the wall. “It’s nothing at all like you’ve imagined. I was a bit of a rough-edged child, is all. I left home at seventeen.”

“How old are you now, Harada-san?” Chizuru asks with a small smile as she begins to untie her sleeves.

“Twenty-four,” he says, “though I’ll ride the coat-tails of twenty-three until New Year, I suppose.”

“I wish I had known. I would have done something special for you.”

With a scoff, he surges forward and ruffles her hair again. She squeaks out a predicted little yelp at the contact, but he cannot know how much he loves and hates this act in equal measure. “You’re sweet, but there’s no need for that.” With the other hand, he rubs the back of his neck somewhat ruefully. “I don’t even know why I told you,” he says. “It isn’t important…”

“It is important, Harada-San,” she says, all earnesty. She looks up from underneath his fingers. “Truly. Someone should do something for you.”

“That’s not really the way things work around here.” There’s laughter in his eyes as he lets her go. “It isn’t exactly in the Shinsengumi code. I don’t have a clue when anyone’s birthdays are, if it makes a difference.”

“Surely their families must send some sort of acknowledgment…”

“We’re neither children nor elders, Chizuru, and honestly, not every member of the outfit has a family to write home to, if you know what I mean.”

She blinks, looking a bit forlorn. “That’s sad, Harada-san, but if…” She shakes her head and puffs out her cheeks. “No,” she says. “It matters.”

This time Sanosuke can’t hold back his laugh. Grinning brightly, he gestures to the soaking pot. “This needs to stand overnight. Let me toss out the water, and we’ll call it done, yeah?”

“Of course, Harada-san.”

Almost immediately–as if waiting for his cue–Saito arrives. He casts a long shadow from the doorway. Chizuru has been given many freedoms, but Hijikata-san (and Saito-san, Sano secretly thinks) have insisted an honor guard stay firmly in place for things like bathing. Sano can’t say he doesn’t approve.

Saito gives Sano a brief nod, and with Chizuru’s small bow and gentle smile, they depart.

Later that night, after meeting Shinpachi on his way back from patrol, Sanosuke finds a small plate of red bean mochi waiting for him by his quarter’s door. He brings it close under the light of his lantern and sees that a note, written in precise, neat hand adds simply, “With prayers for long life and happiness.”

Saito, watching from beside the scarred ginkgo in the yard, can see Sanosuke’s smile. He nods once, firmly, and slips away.

Notes:

It’s been a while, huh? Thanks for your kind kudos and reviews! I’ve been researching quite a bit for this fic, and now I know how birthdays were celebrated during the Edo period!

Does anyone wonder what’s up with Saito? (I’m not saying anything…)

If you wanna scream about Hakuouki between updates, I’m on Twitter @Shoujothoughts!

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