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Ghost of You

Chapter Text

By now Hijikata was used to the aftermath of battle. He was familiar with the burn of adrenaline and the stone-like feeling it left in his limbs once it was gone. The iron smell of blood he knew as well as the scent of sakura trees. These things were all part of his life, a part he held in high regard. And yet, for the first time after a battle he was glad to be alone.

The iron will that had kept him standing was suddenly gone, even the fury blood rushing through his veins couldn’t keep him steady. Hijikata fell to his knees, blood from the ground soaking into his clothing. He knew he needed to move quickly; he knew that if he didn’t move now this would be the end. Yamazaki’s blood was slowly seeping into the ground and if he didn’t get him medical attention, and now, he was going to die right here on a forgotten road.

Something in his gut told him it didn’t matter how fast he moved, how well he bandaged the wound, nothing. He tried to ignore that part of him, though, as he slowly rolled the other onto his back. Yamazaki made no movement nor noise, he only moved as a lifeless doll would as it was forced. The Vice Captain swallowed the rising lump in his throat. He needed to focus.

Between the drying blood and his black clothes, it was hard to see the actual wound.
“Just hold on a little longer Yamazaki, I’ll get you back and we’ll patch you up. I’m not...planning to replace you any time soon.” Carefully, with a steady hand, he found the gaping sword wound and pressed some fabric against it long enough to wrap it as tight as he dared. It couldn’t have taken too long, although his sense of time seemed to have slipped away as soon as he watched those purple eyes fade shut. By now his own skin seemed dark against the smaller, like he had paled with the setting sun. He was running out of time.

Although he’d never paid much attention to it, in the back of his mind the demon captain knew that his personal informant was a little on the slight side. Now, though, that fact seemed to glow. All alone on this quiet, deserted road, he looked so small and so young. How old was he anyway? Hijikata wanted to kick himself for not even knowing. No one should die with no birth date on their grave.

Since there were still no signs of him waking, Hijikata slowly worked the other onto his back. He tied Yamazaki’s wrists so that he wouldn’t slide off as he hefted the other like a living backpack. His own clothing would get covered with blood from the still-bleeding stab but that wasn’t even important enough to note. Instead, he noticed that even despite his fatigue the unconscious body on his back didn’t seem that heavy. It would be a long way so he would happily accept the small favors.

“Just so you know, Yamazaki, replacing you would be too much of a hassle. No one else is quite so dependable, I mean look at the people I surround myself with. So you have to heal up, that’s an order.” He knew that the man, no he felt like more of a boy, the boy on his back couldn’t hear him and wouldn’t respond, yet it felt somewhat comforting to talk out loud. As if his words could change the world.

“I never thought you of all people would do something so stupid. Just throwing yourself in front of me like that…” Ever step made his gut drop even as he got closer to the base he felt like his informant, his friend was getting further away. “A head needs reliable limbs you know. A head can’t function alone.” There were still shallow puffs of air against his cheek, it was a welcome sign of life when there didn’t seem to be any others.

More than anything he wanted to feel the other move against his back, to suddenly wake up and announce he would be okay. Hijikata knew it was impossible but he needed some sort of hope to cling too. They’d all made it through so much together, that couldn’t stop now. They needed to see this through to the end together.

“Don’t you dare die on me…” His own voice faded as the camp started to come into view. His body was screaming at him, he needed to rest his muscles but not yet. Not until he saw someone tending to Yamazaki. Normally the small informant would be the first one rushing over to check on him, to tend to any wounds. But now, who would tend to him?

Once Hijikata was close enough to be seen everything seemed to speed up. He didn’t remember much, everything was a big blur but soon enough he was lying on a temporary bed right next to Yamazaki the bed over. His breathing was still shallow and his bandages a dark brownish red. Someone was mumbling off to the side that he hadn’t woken yet at all.

“You can’t die yet.” He whispered to himself. “That’s an order…”

Chapter Text

Night had fallen many hours ago, time wearing the small candle illuminating the desk to only a shadow of its former self. And yet the report sitting on the desk was still as blank as it had been hours ago when the sky was still a sad shade of blue. Hijikata sighed, slowly looking over to his door. Everything felt much heavier than it had before, the reality of the situation slowly sinking into his skin. For the first time he knew, there was no going back. And they wouldn’t all be able to see this through until the end.

There was a quiet shuffle outside of his door before someone nearly whispered his name.
“Come in…” His door slid open to reveal Shimada kneeled outside, his hands on his knees and his head bowed. Why was he still up at this hour?

“I brought you the daily report. I...thought I should take it up. Unless you’d rather…” Normally Shimada wasn’t one to mince his words. He held a folded slip of paper which he set on the ground just inside the room.

“No, no you’re right, thank you.” He nodded and closed the door, a quiet thud as it shut. The noise seemed much louder now. For years it had been Yamazaki who’d taken it upon himself to form a report of everything he thought should be taken to the Vice Captain. He would always come to Hijikata’s room to deliver it, an automatic action now that needed no permission. He would arrive, drop it off and leave all without a sound. Now that all seemed like a ghost of another life.

Slowly the Vice Captain picked up the report to read it. Opening the report brought no closure; it did not bring normalcy to this new world. Instead, it only opened the wound, listed at the very top was the death toll followed by the names of the dead. Yamazaki Susumu.

People died in war, Hijikata knew this fact. He knew that once he picked up a sword, once he decided to lead others to do the same, that there was danger. There was the very real threat of death every day. But the thought, the theory, was so different than the reality. It was so different than knowing there would be no one always at his side, just waiting for a new order.

“We are replaceable.” Again, a theory so departed from reality that he could feel it ripping apart. There was nothing replaceable about a silent right hand whom he could trust with anything. Shimada was good at his job, and he would do his best to make up for the loss. But it would still be felt. And Hijikata knew he would feel it for a very long time.

Slowly the Vice Captain stood, intending to sleep. He slid open his door to look out into the cloud filled night. The wind was cold and swept through the trees with an unnatural harshness. In the corner of his eye, in the only stream of moonlight that could show through the coming storm, he could swear there was movement. There was something blowing in the wind. Someone.

A someone with a small figure, so slight it looked like they would be blown away. As the wind blew a tail of long hair and ties from a forehead protector fluttered into the darkness. As Hijikata neared them in the darkness they stood straight and then leaned forward in a reserved bow.

“I’m so tired...I’m seeing things.” He sighed to himself, rubbing his eyes and letting his paranoia ease. When he opened his eyes the shadow was still there but slowly starting to vanish as clouds inched towards the moon.

“Are you here to punish me? No, no you wouldn’t be. No, you’d be here to make sure that everything’s taken care of. That I’m sleeping at night and that I’m not getting too bogged down, right? I need to be leading not doing paperwork. Well don’t worry, Shimada-san is doing his best to do both your jobs. And I’m going to bed now so don’t haunt me.” He knew he was talking to nothing, just the fantasy of a tired and grieving mind. And yet a weight seemed to lift from his chest that he hadn’t even known was there. The figure in front of him slowly bowed again.

“As you wish.” He swore he could hear a ghost of a voice as the moon was finally overtaken by dark clouds.

“Don’t worry...I’m going to see this through, no matter what. History may forget you but...I won’t.” Hijikata smiled to himself as he turned back to his room. “I won’t.”