Play 18: The Art Of Feelings

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The entire Shinsengumi headquarters was buzzing with anticipation and excitement.

  Everyone was running back and forth, yelling or carrying something as they laughed, and I couldn't help but to think that they were celebrating instead of preparing for a battle. The atmosphere somehow got to me too, and I was a little excited about it. I didn't want to bump into anyone who was rushing around though, so I hung out in my room instead. When things quietened down a little, I went to the main room to check out their progress.

  "We don't have enough men," Saito was saying as I stepped into the tense room. "Kondou-san has only ten soldiers ready to fight." I choked at that.

  "T-ten!?" I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat. "You've got to be kidding."

  As if they didn't hear me come in, Harada continued the conversation. "Hijikata and I have twenty-four apiece, right? Man, half our guys are out with stomachaches...Not exactly a laughing matter, eh?" He chuckled, contradicting his words.

  "Where are you going?" I asked slowly, wondering if it was right to interrupt them.

  "Kondou will be taking his men to the Ikeda Inn, while the others will follow Hijikata to Shikoku Inn," Saito replied seriously, meeting my eyes.

  Harada still talked as if I wasn't there, which was obvious why. He seemed to be thinking over this quite seriously, which wasn't really in his character to do that. "So...you think we'll bring 'em along on this one? It's a night mission. It'd be perfect."

  I hesitated. This had to be one of the forbidden topics I wasn't supposed to listen or bring up, so I quickly left the room. On the way back to my room I bumped into Kondou.

  "Oh, what are you doing here?" He asked.

  "I...I was just thinking about helping out, or something like that..." I trailed off, silently cursing at my mouth which always seemed to run.

  "Then...would you care to join us?"

  I blinked. "Wait...join?" I stared at him in disbelief.

  "Well, we could use a messenger, but if you'd rather not..." He looked almost disappointed.

  "No! I mean, yes! Of course! I'm honoured!" I was still in shock that Kondou would actually allowed me to go with them, on such a dangerous mission. Meeting his eyes, I swore to myself that I would be useful to them, and that I would not fail them in any way.

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There was a really bad feeling stirring in my chest.

  I tried not to cower behind Saito as we stood far away from Ikeda Inn. It had took me all my courage to complete each short errand, and I was shocked that I still had so much energy left. However, as soon as I thought of being alone in the night, I just wanted to recite every lines I knew from each play.

  "Well, looks like we hit the jackpot on this one." Nagakura glanced at the inn. "Not sure if they're brave or stupid for meeting right next to a government building..."

  I followed his gaze and stared at the cloth in front of the inn fluttering in wind. My heart was pumping so fast and loud that I swore everyone there could hear it. Trying to hide my discomfort, I studied the buildings around us.

  "I knew they'd be here. After all, they've always met at Ikeda before." Souji's smirk, instead of pissing me off, caused me to frown. Somehow, what he had said unnerved me.

  "Isn't that a bad thing?" I managed to stammer quietly. "I mean, they know this place well. What if they set up traps...?" Souji and Nagakura didn't seem to mirror my worries—they brushed them off casually. I gulped nervously at their carelessness, and decided to just wait and see.

  Heisuke had suggested that we held back until reinforcements came, and everyone thought it was a rather good idea, as excited as they were. However, they never came, and it felt like several hours before Nagakura spoke.

  "Damnit, it's getting pretty late." Nagakura looked up at the moon.

  Souji turned to Kondou, who was frowning at the only light source in the sky. "What do you want to do, Kondou-san? It'd be pretty lame if we just sat here all night and did nothing."

  Coming to a decision, Kondou patted my shoulder gently as if comforting my uneasiness. "Yukimura. Can you stay away from the Ikeda Inn? Things are going to get dangerous." I met his concerned eyes and felt a warm feeling spread across my body. I nodded hesitantly, as much as I wanted to be helpful in this operation.

  I didn't dare to speak as my voice would probably come out shaky and weird, so I waved as the Shinsengumi charged towards the inn. As they burst in, Kondou bravely declared that they were going to arrest them, and soon sword clangs, battle cries and escaping screams filled the night air.

  My eyebrows were furrowed as I paced up and down, a safe distance away from Ikeda Inn. The uncomfortable feeling was beginning to get really unbearable as seconds passed. I glanced timidly at the building. Should I help them, even though I didn't want to talk and interact with them at first? Can I trust this feeling that something bad was going to happen soon?

  I closed my eyes for a moment, recalling the times I had with them. Everyone was smiling as they fought and argued over dinner. I was smiling too—something I rarely did in the present. A warm stir of confusing feelings surged in my heart, making me frown.

  Even though they had no choice but to keep me with them, even though they initially didn't want to treat me like friends—no, family—even though they did keep some things from me...Whatever they did, wasn't it for the sake of protecting me?

  After all, ignorance is bliss.

  My fist clutched into a ball. Even if these feelings were all lies, even if how they treated me were all fake, even if they actually hated me...I glared at Ikeda Inn in determination, and as fast as I could, I dashed towards the 'battlefield', hoping against hope that this bad feeling was just my imagination, and everything and everyone would be fine.

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