Fleeting Dreams

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September, 1866

A notice board at the Sanjo Bridge proclaiming 'the Choshu Domain is the enemy' was pulled up, and the Shinsengumi were ordered to protect the boards.

"Oh, welcome back," Chizuru greeted Shinpachi when he came over to join her, Sumiko, and Sano in the shade and sit on the steps after having just returned from guarding the notice boards.

"Yeah. How'd it go?" Sano asked. Shinpachi responded with a huge yawn.

"I'm so tired, I can't stand it," he said. "I don't mind crossin' swords with those Choshu guys, but... I just can't get worked up about protectin'  a notice board."

"Well, in that case, don't think about it like that," Sumiko said. "Try thinking of it as waiting for a duel while you just happened to be by the notice boards, rather than making it all about the notice boards."

"Oh, I like that. Positive thinking, huh?" Shinpachi said, grinning. Chizuru smiled wryly.

"Now that the entire Bakufu army has lost to the Choshu Domain," Itou said, causing them to glance up and see that he was standing on the porch just a few feet away, "I don't think having killed some rogue samurai will change anything."

"Itou-san, you have a complaint with the duties of the Shinsengumi?" Sano asked challengingly.

"Heavens, no," Itou said. "Protecting a signboard is an important duty in and of itself. Well, please do your best," he said a bit too patronizingly for their taste as he turned and walked away.

"Damn. He's a creepy dude, as always," Shinpachi grumbled in annoyance.

"Freakin' okama," Sumiko muttered under her breath.

"I often see him and his pals getting together, whispering about this and that. Who knows what he's up to behind the scenes," Sano said, furrowing his brow. "Just what was Kondo-san thinking when he recruited a guy like that?"

"Harada-san," one of the men in Sano's group said, getting their attention.

"Oh. Time's up, huh?" Sano said when he saw his patrol group waiting for him.

"Good luck," Sumiko called after him as they left to start their watch.

"Please take care, Harada-san," Chizuru said.

"Yeah," he said, glancing back at them with a smile.

"Eyah! Sano, you've really done us a service!" Shinpachi said excitedly as he and all their fellow captains, Sumiko, Chizuru, and even Hijikata passed through the gate of Shimabara together the next night. The previous evening, Sano's group had successfully protected the sign boards and even caught a few of the would-be vandals. "I never thought you'd use the reward money to treat us all."

'Wow, so this is what the famous Shimabara looks like on the inside...' Sumiko thought as she glanced around. She had tried visiting before in modern times out of curiosity, but it was about as different as night and day. For one thing, they actually had a retirement home in the future where dance hall was now.

"Shinpachi-san, if you want to praise him, you should mention that he protected the sign board," Okita said.

"Yeah, of course. Oh!" Shinpachi said when he spotted their favorite place, rushing ahead. "Well, Sano's paying for tonight!" He paused outside the teahouse's entrance and gestured for the others to head inside. "Drink all you like, and sweep the gloom of the day away!" he said generously.

"Bastard, this is my money," Sano reminded his loudmouthed friend, sweat-dropping, as he passed him by and entered into the building first.

"Sano-san, thank you!" Heisuke yelled cheerfully as he followed their benefactor for the evening inside. "I'll be sure to drink my fill!"

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