title: uninvited, not unwelcome
fandom: Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto
characters/pairings: Ibaragi/Kotoha
rating: G
warnings: none
summary: She arrives in the North.
notes: based on ep 21, Shiranui seemed to imply that Kotoha was with Soutetsu, and in 22 she seemed to be complaining about him, but we seem to be deprived of a reunion scene. therefore... ^_~

He didn't look up when the door opened. He was hunched over the map of the area, plotting out exactly what they knew and what they didn't, and what they needed to do, and what they couldn't. Messengers weren't his priority, after all, especially on a rare occasion when Enomoto was out of his private rooms.

"Excuse me, sensei. You have a visitor?"

He pushed the line back a bit in the northeast quarter. Information there wasn't reliable. He wanted more precise...

The French general stood up straight, and puffed out his chest proudly, adjusting his tie. If it were one of his troupe, as he had suspected, the old coot would have scowled and ignored them. Soutetsu raised his eyes.

And then his eyebrows.

"Sensei," Kotoha bowed her head, smiling. She was dressed rather prettily, of course, in a fur-lined jacket, very much in the style of the North, and she had her delicate hands in a muff. "Sorry to disturb you."

He felt the hair on the back of his neck raising. In a room full of men, Kotoha was like a rabbit in the middle of a pack of wolves.

"Ibaragi! Don't tell me you have such a pretty wife! If that's the case, man, what are doing neglecting such a delicate flower! Some other gardener is likely to pluck her! Now, miss, if this bookish fool is mistreating you, don't fear, you can still..."

"Excuse me," Soutetsu stood up straight, and adjusted his coat. He turned to look at Enomoto. "I'll just be a few minutes." Enomoto inclined his head, but only he knew what he was thinking.

He moved swiftly to the door, holding his hand out to lead Kotoha away. Away from the wolves. He put his hand on the small of her back, and guided her through the halls. There was a slight scent on her, European, he was sure. It was spicy and sweet at the same time. Hm.

"Sensei," she said quietly, in her teasing voice. "A lady might think she was unwelcome."

"Unexpected," he corrected her. "I doubt there's a room in this world where you'd be unwelcome."

"Praise from you, sensei, can be a bit uncomfortable," she tried to laugh. He was moving her quickly. As they walked by, they passed soldiers and footmen. Each one of them brightened as they saw Kotoha, straightened up, and stopped to watch her pass.

He frowned deeper with each man they passed. "Is that so? My apologies, then. I have no desire to make you uncomfortable."

She laughed musically. She leaned in and whispered softly. "Shall I ask what you do desire, then, sensei?"

"I desire your safety," he returned easily. "I thought you were in Edo. Safe, in Edo." He brought her to his room. Fortunately, he had a lock on his door. He ushered her in, and sighed in relief.

"I can't be safe in Edo if you aren't there, sensei," she replied with equal evenness.

She was facing him and looking him in the eye, her chin raised. Her eyes were clear and strong. He admired her, but... "This is a war zone, Kotoha."

"So was Edo, last year. I saw my house burn down, remember?" she lifted her chin a bit more, even.

He sighed.

"If you wish for me to leave, I will, sensei. But I won't be going back to Edo."

He reached out and touched her chin. "This is a rough place, full of frustrated men, most of whom are preparing to die. Tomorrow, I'll go with you into town. I know someone. We'll find a suitable shop. But, Kotoha..."

She stepped forward, and put her fingers over his lips. "Sensei. Please. I won't regret coming here."

He kissed her fingers, reaching up to hold them to his lips. Just then, someone barged into his room. He turned, still holding Kotoha's hand.

"Hijikata-kun. Is there something I can do for you?" he asked, witheringly.

Hijikata blinked, staring at Kotoha like she was some giant insect. "Ibaragi. I wasn't expecting you to be here."

"Ah, you wanted to go through my room uninterrupted? How rude of me to disturb you. Please make yourself at home." He moved imperceptibly closer to Kotoha.

Hijikata had the grace to look abashed, even though he seemed tempted to follow Soutetsu's suggestion. "I wanted to leave these correspondences from the Western front where they wouldn't be intercepted. Please take care of them."

Soutetsu nodded. "I'll have them back to you before midnight. Thank you."

Hijikata nodded, left the packet of papers on Soutetsu's desk, and turned to leave, closing the door thoughtfully behind him.

Soutetsu sighed.

"Hijikata-kun? Don't tell me that's Hjiikata Toshizo from the Shinsengumi?" Kotoha asked.

"One and the same," he affirmed with a wry smile. "They say he left as many broken hearts and broken bodies in Kyoto."

"Kyoto women must be very crude, then," she dismissed. "Women from Edo have more refined tastes. Don't tell me that you were worried about something like that, sensei?" She ran her hand down his chest, smirking.

She was using her best manners. He reached up to touch the trail of hair framing her face. No, not her best manners. She wasn't behaving as a courtesan. This was something reserved for him. He leaned down, and covered her mouth with his. For a breathtaking minute, the kiss remained between them, like a chaste promise, binding them.

She broke off, stepping back to look him in the eye, but he turned his face. "Please wait here. I'm sorry it's not more comfortable. I won't be too much longer. And tomorrow, I'll find something to suit you." He turned to go, putting his hand on the doorknob. He paused, though.

She was standing in the middle of the room, exactly as he left her.

"I'm not at all unhappy to see you, Kotoha." He wanted to promise to keep her safe, but he wasn't sure. He hadn't gotten that far ahead in the play.

She laughed. "That's not what a woman wants to hear, sensei!"

He winked at her. "I can't say what you want without having time to prepare. You know that, Kotoha."

"Take your time, then," she teased him, going to sit primly on the edge of his bed. "I'll wait here for you."

He shook his head, smiling. As he left, he locked the door.

Of course she would wait for him. That was what he told her to do.