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When Tōshirō woke, the first sense that worked was smell, and that reeked of booze. Slowly physical sensations were returning, unfortunately including the function of his inner ear, which even as he lay on the floor insisted he was being spun in some kind of giant heinous blender. The darkness refused to blink from his eyes, leaving only a dull yellow streak under the shōji, and straining his ears yielded only pained noises from his companions, who also seemed to be coming to. Just how many of them had gone out? It was so fucking hot in here. "Somebody please hit the A/C," he moaned.

"Where's Harada?"

"Whaat," said Yamazaki. "That baldy never shows."

"Right here." After a moment, "Not bald."

"Sure, asshole," said Sougo.

"Okitaaa," Tōshirō groaned. "Crank up the cold."

Dry chuckling came from somewhere, and it made his head hurt. "If I could stand, I might consider trying."

"I'm Okita," said Sougo. "And do it yourself, fukuchou."

"Eh?" someone answered. "What's wrong with your voice? Your balls finally drop or something?"

"I'm fukuchou," said Tōshirō, "and fuck yourself, Sougo. And—who invited Sakamoto?"

"Sakamoto's dead," said . . . someone.

"That laughing idiot?"

"Didn't we talk about this? How I supposedly killed him? Anyway, just how drunk are you, who the hell is Sougo?"

The room fell silent.

Then suddenly every man was standing, hands probably on whatever hilts they'd thought to bring with them drinking. "Nobody fucking move," said the voice that thought he was fukuchou. Tōshirō didn't necessarily want to move, but that fucking inner ear was just slaying his balance.

There was more silence, so he figured everyone must have been complying.

". . . can anyone see anything?"

"Fuck no."

Tōshirō reached out for the nearest shoulder to support himself (and to surreptitiously wipe the sweat from his palm) as he whipped out his lighter. In a flick there appeared a circle of countless dim faces, swaying uncertainly like reeds in a river of sake. Well—there weren't really that many of them, but it was pretty hard to count at such a gratuitous level of plastered. But he was sure there were more faces than there should have been, and there were definitely several he didn't recognize.

For one—he glanced down his arm at the owner of the shoulder he had grasped. "Who are you?"

The man seemed to shrink. "Kondō?"

Tōshirō eyed him through narrowed lids. The outline of the hair was kind of right, and he was sheepish enough, and boorish-looking besides. But something was wrong. Maybe too sheepish? Where was the gravel in his tone?

A crazy thought had him peering at the other faces in the room. He squinted at another figure that looked even more like Kondō in the drunk darkness. "Somebody help me out here," he said, pointing. "That's Kondō, right?"

A timid chorus of equal parts yes and no erupted among his audience, before awkwardly falling silent once more.

"Alright," Tōshirō grumbled. "Here's what we're gonna do." He patted the sheepish man's shoulder, which was still serving as quite a solid crutch. "Those who agree that this is Kondō here, come congregate."

Nobody moved.

"And those who agree that that is Kondō there—go congregate." Nobody moved, but Tōshirō started shuffling away, toward what he was pretty positive was the right Kondō, only to feel (and then ignore) the point of the fake fukuchou's sword under his ear. "Oi. Pipe down, will ya?"

"Don't move," he growled.

"I'm just trying to get this sorted out. Savvy?"

"Don't. Move."

He clicked his tongue. "Who put you up to this? Was it Sougo?"

"I must echo Harada's sentiments and ask who the fuck Sougo is."

"I'm Sougo," said Sougo.

"Shut up."

"Asked and answered, danna."

"Not helping," Tōshirō bit. "And why is he danna?"

"He's clearly more capable. We may disagree on who Kondō is, but I can agree that he's fukuchou."

He does mantain a pretty impressive bearing, thought Tōshirō, even as the guy's sword poked into his neck, drawing a trickle of blood. "Shit, buy me dinner before you start waving that thing in my face."

"Very funny."

"Do you honestly have no idea who you're threatening? Damn it, this sucks—here," Tōshirō said, holding out his lighter to the man, who, much to his surprise, immediately backed down. "What? Can you at least give me a break from holding this thing?"

"I'll take it."

"Thanks, Yamazaki." Idiot had crossed the room between Tōshirō and fukuchou-beta, who was staring at the flame with hesitant fascination. It was pitch-black again for an instant as Tōshirō handed off the lighter, which flicked back to life near Yamazaki's face. "Don't burn your hair, genius."


He was a disaster waiting to happen, but he was Tōshirō's disaster, and at least he was now standing together with him and Kondō-san. That left only Sougo, which, fuck that guy; he was flanking fukuchou-beta in a show of dissention.

"Would somebody get the light switch already," said Kondō, "this is making me nervous."

"Half of what you all say makes no sense," said fukuchou-beta, irritation obvious in his sibilance.

"What, light switch? Are you guys stupid?" No answer. "As in, the switch to make the lights come on?" Silence. "As in light bulbs?" He pointed vaguely at the lighter in Yamazaki's hand. "Like that, but not filled with mayonnaise?"

"I'm getting real tired of this," the other Okita sighed, "can we cut 'em open or what?"

"Stand down, Souji."

"Souji?" said Sougo. "What a dumb name."

"Sougo's worse."

"You would think that, Jii-san."

"Goddamn it, Sougo," said Tōshirō, "I swear on your life I'll cut you myself."

Souji stepped closer to their group, making everyone instantly tense up. "What if I. . . ." His sword hissed from its sheath and aimed for Kondō, and in the same instant Tōshirō and Sougo had Souji surrounded with their own. "Eh?" he said, grinning. "Threaten this guy and they sure act like Okita and Hijikata."

"That's it," Tōshirō breathed as he replaced his sword, "I'm arresting you fools. I've let this go on too long, you've already assaulted two officers, with live blades under the sword ban, no less—"

"Hey, Hijikata-san," he heard from behind, "should I cuff them?"

There was a single click—"Wait, Sougo—" and a zip—"ffffffffuh." Jerk lifted the cuffs, dragging one of fukuchou-beta's wrists with it.

"Did you just call h—wait, did you just shackle me?"

"That's pretty quaint terminology," said Sougo. "But yeah, I guess I did. Consider yourself arrested."

"On what authority."

He pointed innocently at Tōshirō. Like, actually innocent, in a confused sort of way.

This was doing nothing to quell the captive's temper. "Unhand me. Now."

But Sougo didn't seem to notice. "Ah, well, I'm afraid it's too late, danna. See?" He dangled the man's limp wrist in his face, which seemed a hell of a lot like teasing a dragon.

He wrenched his arm back, which did not free him but at least stopped the puppeteering. "And yet you leave me untethered, with weapon in hand."

Sougo let out a noncommittal grunt.

"You could've at least cuffed his sword arm," Yamazaki mumbled, glancing at Kondō. He didn't like the gorilla being endangered either.

"Ahn." Sougo slapped the other cuff around Tōshirō's right wrist. "Like that?"

"Sougo." He exhaled slowly, fighting back an eruption of rage. "That's my sword arm."

"Look, now he's tethered, but still mobile."

The two advanced on Sougo, unintelligible strings of threats issuing from their throats, but Harada hefted the length of a spear against their shoulders. "Cool it, fukuchou. Stand back and think."

"You bring that thing with you to bars?" asked Tōshirō.

The guy looked down at his spear, frowning. "Not typically. . . ."

Tōshirō grumbled and with his left hand picked a cigarette out of the pack in his sleeve, rather forcefully nodding Yamazaki toward him for a light; Sougo used the distraction to quietly unlock Tōshirō. The cuff remained closed around his wrist, but he was now free to slip out at the most opportune moment.

His partner-in-cuffs seemed none the wiser and faced Harada. "You seem frighteningly lax about all this."

The spear stood upright again. "I don't know, they're kind of . . . funny. Don't you think? Ugh." He shook his head, poked at his temples. "Fuck, this hangover's gonna be harsh, huh?"

"So you're saying that criminals with a sense of humor may be left to their devices?"

"No, I'm not saying that. Who said that?"

"We aren't criminals," Tōshirō insisted, "we're the guys catching them."

"I'm sure. While your drive to assist is admirable, we don't take kindly to those attempting to impersonate officers."

He gave an impatient growl. "What is it going to take for you to understand, I'm motherfucking Hijikata of the goddamn Shinsengumi!"

But a shout came right back at him: "I'm Hijikata of the Shinsengumi."

"Oh? If you were so set on impersonating an officer," he said, left hand grabbing at the man's ponytail, "maybe you should have consulted a more recent photo of me, eh?"

Faces only inches apart, they glared daggers, fury on their breaths. Kondō tugged at Tōshirō's sleeve, and reluctantly he stepped back.

"Alright. Fine." He glanced carefully at this three companions; they each nodded. "In that case . . . cheese it!"

Flinging the cuff from his wrist, the four of them crashed through the shōji in what was surely a midair somersault, if the vomit suddenly crawling up his throat was any indication. He wasn't totally sure what was supposed to come next, but for the time being they were just going to hit the street—the rest surely would fall into place, or . . . something.

It'd be fine.


He clamped a hand over his mouth and ran.