by Tari Gwaemir
"Twiggy vs. James Bond."
Hijikata looked down at the small, slight boy standing straight before him and frowned.
"Don't go easy on him, Toshi," Kondou had said that morning.
"Since when have I gone easy on anyone?" he had replied with a snort.
"I'm telling you this for your sake, not his," said Kondou with one of those jovial smiles that belied his devious mind.
Honestly what was the man thinking? Hijikata glared at the boy, who simply smiled back at him from behind his men.
"Oi, stop grinning like a fool," Hijikata snapped.
The boy continued smiling. "I can't help it, Hijikata-san. I'm too delighted that you've agreed to face me in keiko at last."
"It's only to see how much you've learned," Hijikata grumbled and gave a little sharp rap to Souji's shinai to test his center.
The boy didn't flinch, and they began slowly circling around each other, waiting for an opening. At a certain point, Hijikata became aware of something unusual about his opponent's movements. He narrowed his eyes. The boy was shifting his feet in a characteristic rhythm, as if he were dancing to a beat, and...was he actually humming?
"Oi, are you taking this seriously or--" Hijikata jerked backwards as the point of the shinai was rammed into his neck guard. A perfect katate-tsuki. He sputtered, tried to cough, and ended up croaking out hoarsely, "What...the hell...was that?!"
"If you go for the voice box, they won't even scream as they die," Souji said brightly, as if reciting a lesson. Hijikata waved him off resentfully, as he took off his men, and massaged his neck gingerly, as the boy, still smiling, bowed and backed away.
Later, in his study, he found himself humming the same tune that had distracted him before. He narrowed his eyes and tore up the half-written haiku before him. "Damn that boy."
Katate-tsuki is a one-handed strike to the throat. Men is both the strike to the head and the name for the mask or helmet that one wears as protective armor. Shinai is a practice sword made from bamboo slats. Ippon means literally "one point" but it also signifies the perfect hit that "kills" your opponent in one strike. Keiko is a term for practice.
Peace Maker Kurogane belongs to Kurono Nanae.