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Soothe Me, Save Me

Chapter Text

Saito’s never been one to stray from the less-than-glamorous side of his duty.

Hijikata once expressed his regret - that he inevitably hoists the dirty work on the young Captain. They’re tough jobs, the ones he throws to his subordinate - the kind that needs to be done with a measure of finesse, but could only be left to those with whom he felt an immeasurable amount of trust.

Saito understands this, and as has become characteristic of the stoic captain, accepts his appointments with somber dedication. It's the least he can do for what he has received in return - a home in the form of a ragtag group of people that would support his path of the warrior and give him a place to feel content.

He's back in Edo, the first time since he rejoined his peers in Kyoto. They've waited for too long without a word from the mysterious doctor and his medicinal curse, and with an air of reluctance, Hijikata had finally resigned himself to the idea that perhaps something has occurred beyond their control.

Not that the water of life could truly be controlled, if the previous experiments were any indication.

After a discussion with a local doctor - Matsumoto, if he remembered correctly - they had managed to uncover not only the location of his clinic but the existence of a daughter he's both carefully raised and deliberately concealed there.

It leaves a sour taste in his mouth, dragging innocents into this twisted world; but, perhaps she's not. Saito has always felt there was something off about Kodo, and he had little expectations for the daughter of such a man. Despite wanting to maintain a measure of respect for the fairer sex, he is more than aware of his duty.

There's mild movement from the house he's spent the better part of three days observing, a comfortable home, with few distinguishing characteristics. There is a bit of a shadow in the farthest window, a flash of dark hair, and then it's gone, settled once more.

He's not certain what this particular job will entail, whether the girl will fight or confess, but he keeps his observations clinical. She spends most of her time reading, pouring over medical texts with so many pages they may very well match her weight. Other moments she cleans, tends the garden with painstaking care, smiling brightly at the flowers that are still blooming even as a crisp breeze begins to sprout in the air.

Saito isn’t sure what to make of the observations. He wishes it to be nothing more than a young girl attempting to maintain the remains of her father’s clinic. Yet, the small bottle of substance powerful enough to render grown men into beasts haunts him, and with the memory, his resolve strengthens.

It’s the fourth night he’s spent hidden in the shade of an out-of-season cherry blossom tree, producing enough shade to keep him covered during the day and shadowed throughout the night.

It’s not the only location he’s scouted. There’s a blind spot on the roof of the shop next door, and a small cover behind her house that offers him an excellent view of her living area.

There’s been minimal contact with those outside the quaint neighborhood - something he finds odd for a young girl. She went to the market once to stock up on necessities, and though she seems awfully close to many of the merchants, she didn’t associate with many her own age.

He wants to find it bizarre, yet a part of him can only sympathize. He’s never related well to his peers, either.

He’s leaning against the tree when everything shifts.

Something is wrong, Saito notes. There’s a change in the wind, leaving the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. His sword hand itches, ready to strike, and his eyes flash back to the girl. She’s smiling absently as she strokes a fire, a delicious smell wafting from her kitchen.

No. She’s not the issue here.

Saito feels the stranger before he hears him, the low, drawling voice a mere afterthought as his sense heightens and adrenaline climbs. There’s a current in the air, like the contained energy before a storm.

“And who are you?”

He grabs the hilt of his weapon, subtly prepared to draw at any moment. Saito turns slowly, fully prepared to face the worst.

Instead, the men he’s greeted with fail to meet his expectations, but they do serve to establish new ones. A bulky man towers over them, a placid expression painting his gaze. His positioning is strategic, just behind the shorter man’s shoulder, a faithful guardian. It’s familiar - Saito has found himself in a similar spot with his own commander. There’s something intimidating, but subjective, observing the situation with a mindful eye. He’s not someone without reason.

It’s the central one that gives Saito the mildest measure of pause.

His appearance would be enough to draw attention, blonde hair and maroon eyes that very nearly resemble that of the Furies, but it’s the aura of scantily cloaked power he so clearly emits that encourages Saito to crouch into a fighting stance.

The man raises a trim eyebrow, and there’s something in the act that seems almost lazy. All of his movements are lethargic, yet purposeful.

There’s something deadly there, and Saito is all too aware that he is outnumbered.

“No one of consequence,” he answers smoothly, eyes flashing back to the house. The girl is no longer there, and his stomach churns.

Perhaps she is more attentive than he previously gave her credit for.

“Be wary,” the largest man warns, his eyes never straying from his enemy. “He is a warrior.”

“I find your lack of faith,” the central man draws his sword with an apathetic flare, “...disturbing.”

Saito stays focus, a hand moving to grasp the hilt on his right hip. There is an energy in the air, a current, nearly palpable in its strength. He’s not dealing with the typical rogue ronin, usurping peace for the simple sake of anarchy.

No, he sighs, watching every move with rapt attention, these men are not to be trifled with.

Then there is chaos.

The stranger smirks, a smooth event coated by disdain, and he’s gone. Saito turns, fueled by intuition and what he interprets as a gut instinct, just narrowly avoiding the blade.

How did he move that quickly?! Saito’s breathing is sharp, but he doesn’t give himself enough time to dwell, instead pulling out his own blade to deflect the impending blows.

He has to get on the offensive, he knows, but the man is fierce. He moves much faster than Saito anticipated, and though he’s keeping up with him, there is a nagging sense that this interloper is holding back.

“What are you doing?!” A voice calls, filled with unfiltered panic.

Saito’s eyes stray for just a moment and is greeted with the sight of a frantic Yukimura Chizuru rushing over to them. There’s something in her eyes that gives him pause, a look of consternation overrun by an overarching sense of concern, and he’s struck with overwhelming clarity.

She has nothing to do with this.

Her yell has successfully attracted the attention of his enemy and using the opportunity, Saito places himself between the girl and his foe. He glances at her, sharply, biting out a warning.

“Stay back.”

She’s at a loss, he can tell, especially when the mysterious blond laughs with an air of contempt, “It seems she has a loyal guard dog. How sweet.”

Saito scowls, wondering just who this man is and why he seems so interested in the doctor’s daughter. She appears unfamiliar with them - if the way she seems to place herself even further behind him is any indication.

He knows he’s hovered too long, too lost in his thoughts, when he hears the girl gasp.

“No!”

Saito feels his heart drop as he directs his attention to where the stranger should have been, where he was just moments ago.

He moves solely on instinct.

There’s a sharp pain from his flank, the feeling of steel cutting through flesh and then being carelessly removed. He knows that had it not been for her warning the wound would have been fatal. Blood leaks from between his fingers, a surreal feeling as he applies pressure to the wound.

He’s struggling to hold himself up, already feeling affected by the precise injury, but refuses to let his guard down any further. The blonde one is smiling, a mixture of victory and amusement.

Saito scowls with all the ferocity of a wolf who’s been backed into a corner. He won’t be toyed with my someone who strikes when their competitor’s back is turned. It’s sad that such skill is wasted on a man with such little honor. What a pathetic excuse for a swordsman.

He notices the red-haired man is looking off into the distance, distractedly. There’s a careful frown on his face as he watches the road.

Then there’s a light, a neighbor in the distance peeking out of his doorway. He had clearly begun to take note of the commotion and come to investigate. Saito can only hope he doesn’t decide to venture past the threshold. He isn’t certain he could protect two unarmed civilians in his current state.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem he will have to. The larger man’s voice comes out in a wisened rumble. He had been standing back, analyzing the fight but ready to intervene should it come to that. “We should leave. It would be foolish to draw any further attention to ourselves, Kazama-sama.”

Saito half expects him to ignore the warning when the man - Kazama - sighs resignedly. “Very well. Keep her safe for me, will you?”

Kazama turns away from them, disappearing into the night like a wraith. His protector offers a nod, a curious show of respect, and follows.

The adrenaline leaves Saito in a rush, and it’s by sheer strength of will alone that Saito remains standing. The wound is a throbbing reminder of the girl who, when he turns to look at her, is already rushing to his side.

“You saved me,” she smiles, and though she knows he’s dangerous, she’s unexpectedly open.

I was sent to kidnap you. To watch you. I’m not your friend, stranger.

But her heart is firmly on her sleeve and her eyes are glowing, and as the moon reflects in her irises he can feel something within him give away.

He's reeling, though he can't be certain if she's the cause or if it's the blood loss. The wound on his stomach further darkens the black of his kimono, and he feels himself sway, his body finally giving way beneath the pressure.

He hears a distant yell, and then he is on the ground, cold.

All he can see his Yukimura Chizuru kneeling over him, a look of concern marring her pretty features, the moonlight illuminating her with an ethereal quality.

His vision goes dark.

Chapter Text

The first thing he feels is pain.

He hears a groan and a grunt. It takes Saito a moment to realize he’s the one to make the sounds, and that they’re grating on his underused vocal chords. The light stings his eyes, brighter than the intimate moonlight he remembers from the moments post-battle.

Oh, yes. The fight.

Saito forces his eyes open, lids protesting through his gumption. He’s met with a ceiling, taking a moment to acknowledge the intricate knots in the wood, to study their swirling and uneven patterns. He feels out of sorts - there’s a stale taste in his mouth, a vivid pain in his side, and though he attempts to take note of his condition his mind is still in a fog.

His left-hand shifts, proclivity demanding he search for his sword. He can feel his lips tilting downwards. It’s bad enough that he is injured - he dislikes also being unarmed.

There is the sound of a shoji scratching against the flooring, and his displeasure grows until he processes who it must inevitably be. Saito tilts his head - why does it feel so damn heavy? - and is greeted to the sight of Yukimura Chizuru holding a bowl of water and a set of clean bandages.

She seems equally surprised, eyes widening comically. “O-oh! You’re awake!”

She sets down her supplies and proceeds to give him her full attention. He isn’t sure what to say, how he should approach whatever this is. They stare in an uncomfortable silence for one moment, and then two. She clears her throat, straightening her kimono, moving immediately into a deep bow.

Her cheeks are red when she finally rises, and in his particular state notes how the rosy hues seem to make her eyes sparkle.

“My name is Yukimura Chizuru. Thank you for last night. I didn’t get the chance to say it before…”

The ‘before you collapsed’ remains unspoken. Clearly, she knows better than to remind a warrior of their weakness.

Saito figures it would be inappropriate to answer with a simple ‘I know’. Rather, he nods, offering an equally eloquent, “Saito.”

He isn’t sure if it’s wise to offer his real name, but considering the circumstances, it may be for the best. Should the Shinsengumi inquire as to his extended absence, familiarity may be crucial. And she has already made it abundantly clear that she has no relation to the mysterious men from the previous night.

Or was it the previous night? How long had he been asleep?

She’s beaming when he looks back at her, snapping out of his wandering thoughts. “Saito-san,” she says his name in a way he has never heard before, a soft murmur that gets his pulse racing, “I’m glad you’re up. You’ve slept for nearly twelve hours. Though, I suppose with the blood loss that is to be expected.”

She’s rambling. They both know it, though she seems bashful. Saito wants to assure her it’s no problem, yet the words to do so escape him.

“We should change your bandages. I hope you don’t mind, but I wrapped them last night. I wanted to keep you from losing any more-”

“Yukimura.”

She snaps to attention, and he finds himself looking on with amusement.

“Thank you,” he tries to smile at her, calm her if he can while portraying his genuine gratitude. He knows he needs to leave, to inform the commander that his mission has been completed, but in his current condition, he wouldn’t get very far. Should he be attacked once again, especially someone like that Kazama fellow, he would be at a great disadvantage.

It would be like fighting with his right hand.

He sits up, carefully controlling a wince that threatens to escape. His side protests vehemently at any movement. Chizuru doesn’t appear any happier, either. He can sense the concern behind her eyes, even as she smiles at his gratitude.

“Are you a doctor?”

Chizuru is obviously caught off guard by his question, and he can hardly blame her. He’s spoken only a handful of words to her since the night before, none of them personal inquiries.

But Saito can’t let her know he’s familiar. He needs to play the part of the unsuspecting victim - a ronin who defended a total stranger. A ronin who did not know the woman’s name until moments ago. A ronin who is seeing a shockingly independent woman who is offering to change his bandages.

“Oh! Er, not quite. My father is. Although he is currently in Kyoto. He left for a trip a few months ago.”

Saito’s brow wants to furrow, his eyebrows twitching minutely inward, but he maintains his mask of indifference.

That’s not right. If the good doctor was in Kyoto, they would know about it. They’ve had ears to the ground for a while now. Even on patrol, they were to all instructed to keep an eye out for anyone resembling Yukimura Kodo.

“I see. So you have taken over the business?”

“I suppose you could say that…”

She can feel his eyes burning into her. She shifts uncomfortably.

“You’re... actually my first patient.”

“Comforting,” he offers.

She bristles, grabbing for the bandages and water and settling down next to him. He shrugs out of his sleeve which, he notes, is certainly not the same thing he had been wearing previously. It was still a dark color, yet slightly tighter than what he is accustomed to.

He wonders if it may be Kodo’s. A chilling thought, though far more tolerable than his undoubtedly torn and blood-stained kimono. Even if she had to be the one to change him.

A blush rises before he can help it. Saito ducks his head, letting his hair create a curtain around his reddened cheekbones.

“You’re lucky,” she starts, peeling away the soaked strips of fabric. He flinches when the air hits the wound. “You managed not to hit any major organs. If you hadn’t moved, it’s very likely the man would have punctured a lung.”

Saito grimaces at the thought. He would have a hard time reporting back to Hijikata if he couldn't breathe.

“I’m not certain I can pay you for the treatment.”

He left a majority of what money he does have at the base. He only brought enough with him for a local inn and meals, which would hardly cover the cost of a medical professional.

Or the daughter of a medical profession, in this case.

“You saved my life. Please, Saito-san, let me return the favor.”

She smiles at him, a disarming little expression. From this close, Saito could see all the different shades of brown in her sparkling eyes.

He has to look away.

-

When he next wakes, the sun has long since set.

There’s something comforting in the darkness, a stillness he craves.

He’s feeling just restless enough to move, just reckless enough to fight through the pain. It’s a struggle, but he manages to get to his feet, a hand firmly placed on the wall to support his weight.

He never saw Chizuru use this room during his observations, so he isn’t certain where exactly he is in the house. He makes his way to the door, opening it quietly. Even with his impediment, his movements are silent. Saito can’t tell what time it is, but he knows it’s likely Chizuru is fast asleep.

To Saito’s immense surprise, when he finally makes it to the front door, Chizuru is sitting on the porch. She doesn’t notice him, rather, remains motionless as she stares into the night sky.

Saito debates retreating, pretending he hadn’t seen anything, but there is something so heart-wrenchingly lonely about the scene. A young girl who throws herself completely into the recovery of a stranger shouldn’t be sitting alone in the dead of night.

“The stars shine brightly tonight.”

She whips around. He’s awfully good at catching her off guard, Saito notes with amusement.

“Saito-san! You shouldn’t be up moving around yet!”

Chizuru is fussing, but for some reason, Saito doesn’t mind. Having someone worry about his well-being is still a relatively new concept for him, only since meeting those at Shiei Hall, but not an altogether unpleasant one.

“I am fine.”

She had begun to rush towards him, only reluctantly stopping as he reassures her otherwise. They sit in companionable silence for a while, Chizuru resuming her act of looking off into the sky.

There’s something sad, there. Something vulnerable. Saito can see the distress in the tension of her shoulders, in the way she chews on her bottom lip. The girl is an open book, something few can say. It’s… refreshing.

He’s talking before he can second-guess himself. “What are you thinking about?”

“Has anyone you loved just… disappeared?”

Saito recalls his childhood - something he very rarely allows. He supposes he must be that person to his family. After the duel that cost him everything, he had been content to just… fade away.

Not that his parents noticed, regardless. Introspection is a far easier path when everyone around you is comfortable ignoring you.

If he looked at it from that angle, his family may have abandoned him far before he ever did them.

“Yes.”

Her eyes meet his own - hopeful, inquiring. Desperate for someone to understand exactly what it is she has been forced to experience.

All at once, Saito hates Kodo for leaving her to her own devices.

“What did you do?”

“I trained. I grew stronger. I took my life into my own hands, never looking back.”

She’s staring at him like he said something profound, but Saito doesn’t see it that way. He simply answered her question. The rest, what she would like to do with that answer, is up to her.

-

A week later, they’ve fallen into something like a routine.

They wake up, they make breakfast together. He rests, she studies and completes the chores she deigns necessary that day. They eat lunch, relocating to the porch to brave the crisp air of November. She talks, he listens. Chizuru doesn’t seem to mind his propensity for silence, rather, takes his (at times) monosyllabic responses in stride.

She seems to take it as a victory when Saito offers more than a few words in response. She has successfully managed to pry out his more poetic side on more than one occasion, and he has quite enjoyed the philosophical results.

It’s shockingly comfortable. It would be easy to get swept up into the domesticity of it all. But he knows nothing is that simple, and it is just an illusion of normalcy.

So he gets stronger. And he does what he’s good at, what his initial job was - still is, really. He watches.

Saito watches the way she carefully studies her father’s medical journals. He watches out of the corner of his eye as he feigns disinterest, all the while looking out for something related to the furies.

He tries to ask her, once. If she believes medicine can be used for more nefarious purposes.

Chizuru tilts her head innocently, absentmindedly pulling her haori tighter. “I believe it’s possible. Though it seems awfully counter-productive. Doctors should be doing everything in their power to save their patients, and if that doesn’t work, ensure their comfort until their time comes. To prolong their suffering seems… cruel.”

It’s an incredibly earnest answer, completely ignorant of the horrors he has seen, and Saito suddenly feels the inexplicable need to protect that innocence. There’s something in her eyes that keeps him from believing her responsible for her father’s actions.

Saito wears a humorless smile. Chizuru is beautiful and captivating and kind, and he… respects her. That’s all there is to it. It can’t be easy - having a father who disappears when she needs it most, only then to completely forego any contact. She’s been left in the dark, without answers, but still, she burns brightly. Anyone would find her determination respectable.

He sighs. Lying to oneself is exhausting.

Chizuru is smiling at a child playing on the street, a bell-like laugh making his heart skip a beat. He can feel his gaze soften when she meets his eyes, a vibrant smile on her pretty features.

Nothing good will come from getting attached.

Chapter Text

 

“Those men….”

Surprisingly, it’s Saito that breaks the comfortable silence.

It’s substantially colder outside that it was a few weeks ago. Winter had approached before either of them had completely come to terms with it, a bracing chill blanketing the city. It’s far too frigid to spend time on the porch this late into the day, leaving them to relocate to the modest living quarters.

Chizuru’s mending his kimono, a futile endeavor, he tries to tell her. Even if it hadn’t been so thoroughly soaked with blood, which she miraculously managed to remove most of, the sheer amount of torn fabric is simply an unnecessary headache.

She doesn’t appear to mind, however. She’s pleasantly absorbed in her work, composing delicate stitches across the dark fabric. After all their time spent together, he’s noticed she is not a fan of remaining idle. She much prefers to have something to do with her hands or to keep her mind occupied.

He’s much the same way, upon reflection. If it wasn’t for the essence of a task, he knows he would be stir crazy by now. And, though he initially had trouble admitting it even to himself, he truly does appreciate Chizuru’s company.

“...are you acquainted with them?”

It’s been bothering him for a while now. Whatever their plan had been, whatever this Kazama had in mind clearly involved the doctor’s daughter.

Yet, he wasn’t interested in harming her. The brief words of parting he offered assured Saito of that. He’s theorized a few possibilities, though none of them seem conclusive. That the man knows where she lives and her name is odd - made even more so by his surprise that she is not alone. As if he is aware of the good doctor’s absence.

Her brows furrow, her sewing coming to an abrupt halt.

“I’ve been wondering about them, as well. I have never seen them before. I’m not sure what it is they wanted with me.”

After a beat, “I see,” and the anxiety beginning to unfurl in her eyes is palpable.

“Saito-san? What happens if they come back?”

He’s considered this, late one night when sleep refused to come. Saito will have to leave eventually, return to his rightful place with the Shinsengumi. And should Kazama and his companion return, he’s certain they will not hesitate to complete whatever goal it is that brought them to Chizuru.

The sole saving grace he has come to realize is they are unaware of who, precisely, he is. He’s immensely grateful he had the foresight to refrain from giving them his name. They can’t possibly be aware of his actual motivations, nor of his organization. If they believe him to still be here, then perhaps he can buy them time.

To do what, exactly, he’s still unsure. That will ultimately be up to Hijikata.

His gaze is fierce, never straying from her.

The words slip out before he can really dwell on it, no longer content to remain unspoken. “I won’t let them hurt you.”

Her cheeks begin to redden, and only after a moment does he realize exactly what it is he vows. Belatedly, he follows suit, his own blush growing.

Self-consciously, he tears his gaze away from her hopeful eyes, searching the room for anything else to occupy his attention until his heartbeat can slow.

Something in the corner gives him momentary pause, a familiar glint flickering from a high shelf.

Saito stands, carefully making his way to the distraction.

Just as he thought, a short kodachi lays carefully upon the plank. It’s a beautiful weapon, he notes, with gold detailing upon the sheath.

“Is this yours?”

She nods, a bashful movement.

“Technically, yes. It’s a family heirloom. My father made certain I was able to handle it well enough, but I’ve never excelled at the art.”

He raises an eyebrow as he inspects the blade, impressed. It’s a fine tool, though clearly hasn’t been used in a long while.

Absently, he notes the gesture of unsheathing the kodachi is not nearly as cumbersome as it was just a few days ago. A good sign.

He’s far too distracted to take notice, but Chizuru smiles, watching him with a charmed expression as he pays close attention to the sword. There’s a gleam in her eyes as she says, “Unlike yourself, Saito-san. You’re very talented with the blade.”

He offers a noncommittal, “Hmm,” only turning his gaze to her as she begins to release a twinkling laugh.

“I don’t recall doing anything amusing.”

She covers how mouth with a dainty hand, doing her best to suppress her giggles. “S-sorry, Saito-san.”

He turns his attention back to the weapon, feeling oddly embarrassed by the whole exchange. “It’s a fine weapon. Do you maintain it?”

“I try, though I admit I don’t know the proper techniques to really care for it. Neither did Father. He’s more suited to the sciences than fighting,” she admits with a bashful tilt of her head.

“Then you will learn.”

Chizuru nods, gathering the needed materials and rushing over to where he’s made a spot for them.

He goes through the process carefully, making certain she is paying careful attention to his descriptions. She is an apt student, following his motions with an elegance he was unprepared for.

Chizuru is an anomaly, and quite unlike any woman he has previously interacted with. Not that he’s had an abundance of experience, other than the few times Harada and Shinpachi have successfully dragged him to Shimabara, but the way she tackles the task with a sober discipline is utterly captivating.

Saito doesn’t bother to hide his smile. He doesn’t feel the need to hide anything from her, really. And that alone is concerning.

-

He’s watching her, as he often does, when the realization sweeps over him like powerful current - all-consuming and breathtaking.

She’s hardly doing something exceptional, humming melodically to herself as she prepares their dinner, but the way his heart swells and how his eyes refuse to stray from her reveals everything with a clarity he was unprepared for.

Because at some point he stopped observing her for the sake of his mission. At some point, his duty became second to Chizuru and everything she entails. At some point, he stopped realizing that is an issue.

At some point, Saito found that being in love with her is easy. And that terrifies him.

He’s even more silent than usual as they eat. Not that he’s ever been a particularly talkative fellow, but his thoughts weigh heavily and all-encompassing.

He’s very far from a wordsmith. He’s well aware of this little weakness. Many of his thoughts remain trapped, spinning in his mind without an apt way to escape their confines.

Chizuru takes note of his detachment, offering light conversation before trailing off at his lack of a response. She’s shifting in her seat, clearly uncomfortable. It hasn’t been like this since his first night there when they were simple strangers with no attachment. And even then, despite the throb in his side, he was more receptive to her attempts.

He finishes quickly, offering a quick thanks, and retreating to the small, enclosed backyard.

He barely registers the chill, the crisp and refreshing scent of cold air hitting him as the door opens.

It’s still bright outside, the moon is full and the stars sparkling above. He enjoys the night sky, the endless infinity reminding him how encompassing the universe truly is, the mysteries it offers far more severe than his little world.

He hears her approach but doesn’t react. He’s almost surprised she followed him, but deep down he knew she would. She’s not someone who can sit by when another is in pain.

Another difference between them. He’s a fighter, a shadow of a weapon for the whims of the Shinsengumi. She’s a healer, the sunlight on a beautiful summers day.

They’re worlds apart and it’s painfully apparent.

“Are you okay?”

She’s innocent. He knows this. He’s had a feeling since the moment he began his mission, the confirmation only growing as he spends time with her. She’s untainted from her Father’s influence, something he is infinity grateful for.

Which is why he knows she deserves the truth.

“Kodo is not in Kyoto.”

He hears a sharp intake of breath, and then there’s silence. She’s turning it over, processing the implications as she whispers, “How do you know…?”

When he doesn’t immediately respond, shaking fingers grasp his arm, fingers chilled from the temperature. “Saito-san. Please. Tell me.”

She takes a step closer to him, pleading. His jaw clenches with resolve.

“I... work with a group of warriors. Kodo was assisting us when he disappeared. We’ve been looking for him as well.”

He watches as she turns the information over in her mind. The thoughts are whirling, expression flitting, the heart on her sleeve betraying her every thought. He knows she will reach the proper conclusion, and he can’t help but wonder if she will be horrified.

“That’s why you were here that night. You were looking for him?”

“Partially, yes.”

She nods, unsurprised by the response. “Then… you were looking for me.”

“I was.”

She doesn’t react, remaining firmly focused on the ground. Her hand is still gripping his sleeve as she processes everything. He hates that her face is hidden, immediately missing the sight of her.

“Chizuru.”

There’s surprise in her eyes when they jerk up to meet his own, and he realizes he’s never called her name before. Another carefully constructed wall crumbles, and a very large part of him can only feel relief.

And as it crumbles, he can see the lines blurring even further and he knows what he must do.

“Thank you for the hospitality you have shown up me. It is a kindness I hope to one day repay. I won’t worry you any longer - I will be gone within the hour.”

Chizuru gasps. Saito makes to turn away, to leave her in peace once and for all. It’s better this way. He should protect her while he can from the path he is on. It can only bring her pain, the affection of a warrior.

A voice, soft and devastated, stops him before he can make it to the door.

“Why would I want you to leave?”

It’s the last thing he anticipated, and the most his traitorous heart could have hoped for.

She should be raving, or at the very least, quietly watching him pack. He wouldn’t blame her if she never spoke another word to him, remembered him as a cruel stranger who tricked her into saving his life. He’s lied to her, kept her in the dark from the one thing tormenting her since her sole parental figure’s disappearance. A mystery he could have offered even a shred of clarity on, yet for his own sake remained silent.

Please, don’t give me a reason to stay. Don’t make this harder. I can’t trust myself around you, beautiful fool.

“Saito-san. You saved me. Or at the very least, my freedom. You may have had different motivations than I anticipated, but you never hurt me.”

It’s so much. It’s so much and it’s everything he wanted and everything he was afraid to want.

Saito knows he should have thought better of her. It’s cowardly for him to think she would turn away from this. She’s done nothing but defy his expectations since they met, a truly mesmerizing woman quite unlike any he has met.

“You should hate me.”

Chizuru looks at him the way no one ever has - that despite the beauty of the night sky, he’s the one who offers her all of the secrets of the universe. It’s loud enough that, despite their lack of flowery declarations, the words they are both thinking can remain firmly unspoken.

He’s never been particularly eloquent, anyways.

She shakes her head, a smile like a bloom in the dead of winter,“I could never hate you.”

He kisses her then, and for the first time since he’s realized his feelings, it’s as if he can finally breathe.

Her lips are softer than he could have imagined. It’s not particularly practiced, both of them wildly inexperienced, but it’s candid.

He pulls away long enough to breathe and it feels like an eternity. He swallows her gasp, mouths open and breath intoxicating. A hand comes up to hesitantly touch his face, and he pulls her closer, tucking her securely against his chest.

It would have been easier for her to push him away, to try and remove herself from the situation. But as their lips move in an elegant synchronization, Saito sees the world with a striking clarity and unyielding resolve.

It won’t be easy, but he won’t give this up without a fight.

Chapter Text

Chizuru peruses a stand, eying the vegetables as she debates what they should have for dinner that night. She had grabbed tofu from under his nose, or so she thought, tucking it securely beneath some of the other assorted ingredients. It made him smile, touched she thought to pick up his unspoken favorite. It had been so careful, so deliberate, no doubt she hoped to surprise him.

Saito is more than willing to play along if it will make her smile. It’s disarming just how willing he is to go out of his way for her contentment.

He’s been feeling good, strong, for the first time in a long while. Enough so he actually felt comfortable resuming his strict practice regime, getting a feel for his body’s current limitations even as the muscle memory rose through his limbs.

Chizuru had watched him on a handful of occasions practice, asking questions when they come to her about form and technique. She joined, once, the only woman he’s met to have actively studied the art of the blade. It came nowhere near the challenge of his fellow captains, but she was impressive regardless, rivaling a number of their newest recruits.

She inquired about his left-handedness early on, but without any of the judgment he has grown accustomed to, easily accepting his quirk with grace. Saito assumes she saw the remains of defensiveness in his eyes, commenting only that his skill surpasses what she could have imagined.

It has been a rather speedy recovery, thanks to Chizuru. Saito watches as she exchanges pleasantries with the merchant, a beaming smile on her sweet face. It makes his heart warm mildly, lips tilting so faintly he’s not sure anyone would ever catch it.

She looks over at him, eyeing the expression while trying to juggle the conversation. Saito can almost feel her soften, the doting look he’s not sure he deserves slowly blooming on her features. It’s overwhelming, what he feels for her. It’s out of his depth, deeper than he could have imagined, and equally unexpected.

It terrifies him. Their relationship is reminiscent of the bombs of the West -  inevitably, it will explode, leaving only devastation in its wake. And Saito isn’t so sure how he’ll feel about the remnants.

Chizuru finally slips away from her conversation, carrying the large basket back to him. “Shall we head home?”

Home. She doesn’t think anything of the question, of course not sparing it a second thought, but the way she says home makes his insides squirm.

He’s never had a home before the Shinsengumi. And although he still considers them his family, he’s grown so comfortable in the small abode it makes him second guess himself. They’ve built a little world amidst the medical journals, an illusion of peace. It’s counterfeit, doomed to shatter at any time.

Swallowing down the emotions, Saito nods, easily taking the basket out of her hands and ignoring her protests. There is a pull on his free hand, and then cool fingers intertwine with his. He doesn’t miss the faint blush on her cheeks that forms, nor the way his own heat up in response at the easy kindness.

It’s a short walk to the small residence, but the recent chill in the air is lessened by the sun high in the afternoon sky. Undoubtedly, as soon as it disappears, the impending winter will make itself known. Chizuru relays her conversation with the merchant, how he had been friendly with her Father and made note of his extended absence. Unfortunately, he is no more aware of his location than the pair of them, offering a plethora of theories they’ve both already considered.

It isn’t until they’re in the yard that he spots the one things to shatter the calm built like a careful illusion.

There’s a letter there, solitary, imposing. It’s simply set against the door, and a sense of duty washes over him in a moment. He can feel himself standing a bit taller, a bit straighter, eyes narrowing as obligation swallows him whole.

Saito had sent off an explanation after his wound allowed him to move somewhat easier. He offered a general overview of the situation, as well as details on the men he fought that night. It was as detailed as Saito felt was appropriate, enough to inform his superior of who to keep an eye out for and why he cannot resume his captain duties immediately.

It had been a bit longer than he thought it would be for a response, but the message was much the same as he anticipated. It lacks any overt detail, too risky an enemy would intercept the messenger. But Hijikata’s handwriting is enough for the loyal warrior to rise once more.

We need you here. Come back as soon as you’re well enough to do so.

He knew he was living with her on borrowed time. Saito was just surprised how reluctant he was to see it come to its inevitable end.

Chizuru waits patiently next to him, her eyes knowing, sad. She doesn’t feign ignorance as to what was hidden on the parchment. It’s one thing he admires about her - the gentle strength she wears on her sleeve.

“You’re leaving.”

It’s a statement, matter-of-fact. He feels it’s only right he responses with an equally frank, “Yes.”

Chizuru smiles, as bright as always. But there is something behind her eyes that shows the pressure she is undoubtedly feelings. He almost reaches out to her, almost does what he can to offer the semblance of comfort he is capable of, when she speaks. “Let’s make dinner. I got your favorite.”

-

Saito packs up his belongings slowly, meticulously. Everything has a place, a compartment, an area where he will be able to find it in a moment. The dark kimono and scarf that was damaged so thoroughly the night of the incident looks as good as new and lays waiting for him to take up his self-imposed armor. His sword has been cared for, in peak condition, as if he would settle for any less. He’s already burnt the letter. Soon, there will be no trace of him to have ever graced the Yukimura residence.

That thought alone is sobering.

There’s a knock, delicate, soft. There’s only one person it could possibly be, however late the hour. Certainly, it’s far later than propriety deems customary for a young woman to come to his door.

Saito swallows those thoughts. He can hardly tell her to leave - he’s certain she’s seen his moments. And, although he has trouble admitting it to himself, he wants to see her. He softly breathes, “Come in.”

“Excuse me,” Chizuru says and she slides open the shoji screen, polite as ever. It warms his heart.

“It’s late,” he remarks. She’s fiddling with her sleeves, eyes slipping to the knapsack he’s just finished packing. He’s overcome with the nonsensical urge to hide it from sight.

“It is,” she pushes a stray hair behind her ear, “I… wasn’t sure what time you intend on leaving.”

“Early. It’s a long journey.”

His comment only results in silence, too candid. Saito has wished on more than one occasion that he was better with people, more adept at handling their emotions. Maybe then he would know what to do, to make her smile despite the situation.

He hates to leave her alone in this house, wondering where he is and where her father is and why she was left behind. Undoubtedly, it’s heavy on her mind, thoughts swirling as he contemplates how to possibly convey his regret - that the last thing he would ever want is to force her back into solitude. The strangers could return any day, the ones bent on bringing her with them. He hopes only that he posed enough of a threat to keep her safe, for now.

Saito wonders if she can sense his indecision, or if it’s something else that makes her surge forward, hands gripping his kimono tightly. It takes him a moment to recover, to contend with the sudden, suffocating proximity.

It takes him a minute too long to respond - she almost pulls away. Saito can’t think of anything he desires less at the moment, and without overthinking it, he sets a hand on the back of her head. Chizuru rests against him, in turn, silky hair tickling his chin.

“I’m sorry,” Saito murmurs, voice in her ear and trying not to feel the way it makes her shiver against him, “I don’t know what to say, how to make this better.”

She pulls her head away just enough to see him, deep blue meeting rich brown. Saito sets his head against her forehead, lost in her eyes against the moonlight.

“You don’t need to. Being with you is enough.”

She’s right, of course she is, so he kisses her instead. It hasn’t been a common occurrence since that first time, just a light brush of lips to say good morning, or absently when she’s bright and laughing in that captivating way of hers. But Saito knows he’s clumsy at best, and isn’t always the best at expressing what’s in his heart.

But tonight, the walls fall. Calloused hands fall to her waist, pulling soft curves flush against lithe muscle. Chizuru’s breathe hitches, but he kisses through the gasps, lips moving skillfully, wanting nothing more than to draw more of those sounds out of her pretty lips.

It’s nothing like he’s ever felt before, raw and unrestrained. Her mouth is open from the noises she’s making and he takes the opportunity to explore, see what she tastes like.

He can tell she needs to breathe, needs to recover, but the idea of pulling away is nothing short of traumatic. So instead, lips move from her own to the side of her mouth, grazing her jawline. He can see her collarbones, elegant, and he wonders if it would be inappropriate to kiss them next. He settles just beneath her ear and on the high plane of her neck, at war on how far he would like to push himself tonight.

“Saito-san,” she sighs, and the noise is beautiful but wrong. Not what he wants, not what he desires.

“Hajime,” he insists, and when he talks his lips hit her earlobe.

“W-what?” Dazed, Chizuru blinks, caught off guard by the turn of events.

“Call me Hajime.”

She goes to argue, even as her flushed cheeks and heavy breathing give her away. Silly girl, so concerned about decorum as the fabric falls from her shoulder, exposing the smooth, unblemished skin to the night air.

He insists, once again, accompanied by a sharp nip to her earlobe, fascinated by the feel and texture.

And when this time she sighs, “Hajime,” it does things to him he wasn’t totally prepared for - cheeks reddening but eyes darkening. This lust is new, all-encompassing. He wonders if he should be worried about all of the new emotions she invokes in him, when he’s actively spent years trying to limit their pull on him.

It’s recklessly inappropriate for an unwed man and woman to promise themselves to each other in such a way, he’s far too aware of his traditional philosophies. But simultaneously, Saito understands this is it. He would never dream of giving himself to another, not when Chizuru is there and so achingly complete.

“Chizuru,” his hands tighten in her disheveled apparel, “stop me.”

It’s a helpless plea, but one he means. If she doesn’t want this, if she’s uncomfortable, he’ll pull himself away right now. It will remain a distant memory, the last thing before his lengthy trek home tomorrow.  

Chizuru grabs his face, small hands cupping his cheeks. She kisses him, carefully, affectionately, her thumb running over a cheekbone. “No. Please, Hajime.”

The nail fits beautifully in the coffin, he thinks.

Saito’s painfully out of his element, so far removed from his realm of experience. He can conquer an entire room of ronin, can fight any foe who dares questions his way, but he hasn’t the foggiest idea how to approach the art of making love.

The whispers of his comrades and what they do in the dark of night or at Shimabara come to him, but they feel so wrong, so… detached. If he’s giving his heart and soul to this woman, then he fully intends to go about it in a way that really portrays such unabashed adoration.

Saito gulps, pulling gently at the tie keeping her attire closed. “May I?” he asks, voice far lower than is customary.

Chizuru nods, glancing at him through her eyelashes. Deft fingers pull at the fabric, pleased to see it is slipping, exposing more of the soft skin to his eager eyes. Finally, the robe falls, and she shivers. She’s as beautiful as he imagined, surpassing even his wildest of dreams.

Lowering her slowly onto the tatami mat, Saito watches as her hair fans out elegantly behind her, watches how her chest rises and falls with rapt fascination. He hasn’t come to terms with the idea that he can touch her, feel her, be selfish.

Chizuru takes his hand, setting it atop her chest. He takes the opportunity for what it is, feeling her carefully. The breast fits perfectly in his hand, and he massages it, enjoying the feel. He takes his thumb and teases the bud carefully.

Saito ducks his head, letting his lips find her collarbone as he has wanted to for a while. He bites at the skin, fascinated by the way it makes her breathe hitches and forces a light gasp to blossom from her parted lips.

A small hand runs through his hair, down his neck, until it reaches the opening of his own attire. Chizuru pulls at it, attempting to free him from the confines until he is equally exposed. It comes as a relief, really. He had been so focused on her Saito hadn’t acknowledged how warm he’s gotten, or the throbbing that’s becoming rather uncomfortable.

Saito pulls away enough to give her what she wants, satisfied when she sits up enough to help him out of the cumbersome garb. He takes note of the way her eyes scan up and down his body, a sort of masculine pride he’s never felt before coming to life at the satisfaction in her gaze.

Saito braces himself on his right arm, elegant fingers tracing their way down her torso until it reaches lower lower lower. Passing the curls above her entrance, he carefully traces the folds, surprised to feel just how wet the area is. He explores, feeling the way she responses to different stimulus, until he reaches a spot that has her moaning his name again, in that way that drives him oh-so crazy.

He circles a small bud just above her opening, fascinated by her expression shifting and changing with the motions. Deft fingers caress in a way that has her moving against him, her own hair moving to his hair and forcing his head down into a kiss.

Saito keeps his thumb on the bud, thrusting a long finger into her opening, and another, feeling the way she moves around him.

Chizuru sets her head against his shoulder, before kissing it, placing affectionate bites on the exposed skin. It makes him groan, the feeling of her marking the area just how he did to her earlier oddly satisfying. His scarf will conceal the marks, regardless.

Her noises increase in volume, a beautiful symphony, and it takes Saito perhaps longer than it should to realize she’s climaxing. Chizuru’s face is stunning, mouth open and eyes half-lidded in such a way he knows he’ll see it in his dreams.

He retracts his hand, using his other to push dark bangs out of her face. He swoops down to kiss her once more but is rendered immobile by a delicate hand grasping his length. Chizuru feels him, slowly, adjusting to the sensation.

It’s incredible, and almost too much to know that Chizuru’s the one bringing out these feelings, to know that she’s the one caressing him. That thought alone challenges his self-control.

In a swift motion, Saito uses all of that razor-sharp discipline to grasp her delicate wrist, halting the deliberate strokes. She releases him immediately.

“Chizuru,” he bites out, and she immediately freezes, eyes going wide.

“I-I’m sorry. Did I do something wrong?”

The girl looks at him from under her lashes, the concern apparent even through the dilated pupils.

“No, never,” he huffs. He didn’t mean to upset her. “But-”

Saito stops short, not certain how to articulate what it is he wants. He glances downwards, cheeks blazing once more. He clears his throat, “But if you would like to- to go any further…”

Chizuru smiles reassuringly, through whatever doubts she may secretly be having. “I want to. I want this, Hajime.”

Her wish is his command and he is more than willing to comply. He has a feeling she could ask anything of him at this moment and he would be all too eager to see it come true. An alarming thought, to be sure, but not one he’s willing to think too far on. Not now, not while she’s laying ready and willing looking like that.

Saito fills her slowly, a pleasurable stretch as he works his way into her. Chizuru flinches when he’s finally in, all the way, but concern completely overrides any of the pleasure he’s feeling.

“Are you okay?”

She nods, biting her lip for a moment, as she formulates a response. “Y-yes. Just give me a minute?”

Anything, he wants to say. Instead, he kisses her forehead dotingly. He’ll wait as long as she needs. Even if the feel of her wet and warm and willing is enough to drive him crazy. This is a brand of restraint he has never before contended with.

Chizuru recovers quickly enough, her expression easy into something more pleasurable in just moments. It doesn’t take long before she’s kissing him, telling him it’s okay and to let go.

He moves, finally, and can’t contain the subsequent moan. Thrusting into her once more, he begins to set a tempo, finding a rhythm. And although he had initially planned to keep things slow, Saito finds it’s harder and harder to hold himself back.

Chizuru responds ardently to the increased pace, hands never quite settling in one place. They move from his back where the nails scrape against the muscles, to his shoulders where they firmly grasp, to his hair where they graze his scalp and pull and the long strands. It’s surprisingly pleasurable, enough so he doesn’t even mind when his hair comes loose from its tie, falling freely down his back.

Observing her is a gift. The shifting expressions, gauging her reactions, a detail he never spared a thought on. But seeing what makes her head tilt up, finding what angle makes her bite her lip, the way her eyes light up when she says his given name that way is more than he could have foreseen.

He anticipates his climax is approaching quickly, and he’s too unprepared. She doesn’t seem ready yet, and no , that won’t do. Saito he sits up on his thighs so that he can pull her into his lap, giving him plenty of access to the spot that made her scream before. He toys with it, caressing firmly enough he knows she can feel the waves of pleasure, all-encompassing.

He rocks against her, riding out the peaks until both of their highs finally die down. He’s tired, he realizes, but a content sort of exhaustion that settles through his limbs. Not wanting to crush her he rearranges them so he’s on his back, and Chizuru presses against his side, not quite willing to let the warmth of the afterglow fade. That suits him just fine, really.

He cleans them up quickly, while he still has the energy to do so. Things are quiet for a while, calm, their breathing mingling with the cool air. Saito feels her hand on his bare chest, drawing invisible shapes, telling a tale he is not privy to. Her eyes are honest enough, the good-bye written in them even as they both pretend it is not the case.

Her voice is soft, slipping into the established calm with ease. “Will I ever see you again?”

“...yes.” It’s a cruel promise, one he isn’t certain he will be able to keep, but as he looks into her crystalline eyes he’ll be damned if he doesn’t do everything in his power to see it come true.

Sleep comes too quickly, and the morning even sooner. He awakens feeling far more comfortable and content than he can ever recall. He feels Chizuru’s warm breath on his neck, feels her curled securely against his side and he knows with a resounding clarity what it means to be in complete conflict with oneself.

He’d give up almost everything to wake up like this every day, to feel her warmth pressed securely against him. Everything except what it would take for that dream to come true.

The faces of the Shinsengumi are there, smiling, scowling, fighting - so very alive, even as they put their lives on the line recklessly. Or perhaps that’s why they’re alive, unsure of how many days are left for them, determined to live each day as if it’s their last. Their career offers far more uncertainty than it does anything else. It’s unfair to both her and his organization to continue this ill-fated romance.

Saito has sacrificed too much, fought too hard to be anything other than a swordsman. It’s marked within his soul, a fated path he was destined to walk.

Chizuru grasps the blanket, pulling it more securely against herself. She nuzzles further into the mat, a noise of contentment escaping from swollen lips. It makes him smile, fond.

He’s wasting enough time, he’s far too aware of the sun slowly rising in the East. He kneels, kissing her forehead one final time.

“I love you,” he whispers into the night, heart heavy, and leaves.

It’s foolhardy - their entire relationship was an optimistic affair - but for an uncharacteristic moment Saito cannot help but imagine what their life would have been like under different circumstances.

-

The Furies were out.

Their howling could be heard easily from the captain's quarters within the base. He's up, grabbing for his sword and throwing on the uniform before his mind has totally caught up, an automatic response to a stimulus he's far too familiar with.

The mark on his abdomen is still tender when he moves certain ways, but he pushes through, giving little thought to the pain as he meets up with Souji and the commander, both fully garbed in the standard blues. They exchange a simple nod of the head and then they're gone running through the streets in search of the lost creatures.

“You two, go to the shopping district. See if they haven't gone for the more populated areas. I'll follow the river and circle around.”

Saito offers a focused, “Hai, Taicho,” and Souji’s lackadaisical hmm of acknowledgment follows. There’s something there that gives Saito no small measure of pause. Despite his nonchalance, he’s buzzing, a spark in his gaze that screams for action. The Sword of the Shinsengumi poised to strike.

He's too eager, Saito thinks, aching to toy with his prey. And though that's fine when there are stray ronin harassing shopkeepers, this a time for discretion. Souji lacks tact at the best of times, but he’s perilous when the mood strikes, far too eager for bloodshed.

Idly, Saito reviews the most efficient way to dispose of the creatures.

It doesn't take long to locate them - perverse laughter echoing through the desolate streets, a macabre call to action. There is too much blood, empty bodies of what once may have been thugs littering the alleyway.

It takes Saito mere moments to see the Furies fall, sword cutting through them smoothly, watching their bodies fall with dispassionate interest. It’s a shame they hadn’t been able to spare the other men. Souji complains immediately about Saito’s quick word, eyes glittering despite himself. Saito reminded Souji that he takes no pleasure in battle, simply doing his duty.

There's a strangled noise, and nothing could have prepared Saito for what he finds pressed, terrified against the adjacent building.

Recognition flickers in her gaze, and he has to consciously take a deep breath to prevent himself from running to her - because it is her, even through the boy’s clothing and hairstyle she cleverly thought to don. Saito’s first thought is that she shouldn't see this, carnage too brutal for someone so pure. He hopes the blood hasn't already spoiled her innocence.

His second thought is what in the world are you doing here. He had informed her months ago that Kodo is not in Kyoto, and has yet to return, from their deductions. So either she decided to follow the sole lead she had, the only city where Kodo has promised to visit.

Or…. or, she wished to find him. He hopes to whatever deity may listen that is not the case, that there is a third option she discovered.

His final thought is that, somehow, those ronin from before never got her. She’s safe, as strange as that is to think when corpses litter the street.

“Saito-san,” her voice is much the same as he remembers, as he’s heard every day since he left in the early morning light. Except now, it’s tinted with something akin to panic. He doubts she expected to see him there, of all people, even less than he could have planned for her sudden appearance.

“Interesting. Didn’t think you had many acquaintances outside of the Shinsengumi, Hajime-kun.”

Saito skillfully ignores the probing comment, far too used to his partner to rise to the bait.

“Edo is far from here. Dangerous. You could have been hurt,” he voices his concerns, caring little for the way Souji watches the exchange. It would have taken him moments to discover their connection, anyways, thinking too far and rapidly for his own good.

“I’ve been careful. Until…” Chizuru’s eyes pointedly look away from the mess, trying to pretend the excessive blood doesn’t bother her.

“Until now,” Saito finishes for her. No use denying the obvious, not when he was the one to slay the monsters so close to attacking her.

“Saito-san, these men, they- what-”

“Uh-oh,” Souji cuts in, coyly watching the woman, “you weren’t supposed to see this. Looks like you have some rotten luck, kid.”

Saito sighs. He may be fond of the older man, but he excels at trying Saito’s extensive patience. Saito doesn’t get the chance to respond, to reprimand his comrade before the vice-commander makes an appearance.

Hijikata is as imposing as ever, pointing a blade strategically at her throat. Chizuru’s eyes widen in a way he would have thought to be comical, in any other circumstance. And although he has faith his commander would never harm a civilian, the image of her with a blade pointed her way doesn’t sit well with him.

The mercy in his eyes is the only thing keeping Saito from stepping in, or out of line. Chizuru won’t do anything rash. Hijikata must sense this, as well, because he withdraws the blade with only a warning. She simply gulps, nodding compliantly.

There’s a handful of deliberation, but ultimately, they decide to take Chizuru back to the base. He can only hope this works out favorably.

-

Saito is exhausted.

It was an uphill battle on his side, certainly tougher than the Furies from earlier, but somehow Hijikata agreed to let Chizuru not only live but stay with them. Her pleas were sincere, offering to assist the Shinsengumi with their search if they agree to house her until the good doctor is found.

They discovered her connection to Dr. Matsumoto, a talented medic whose practice resides in the center of town. Saito is relieved to see she had a plan, after all, an idea of where to go and spend her proactive energies. Unfortunately, the man is out of

It took everything in Saito to carefully school his expression, maintain the apathy necessary to make it through the discussion. It would have easily fooled a lesser man or someone who is not well-versed in the minimalistic habits his discipline has been unable to break. Unfortunately, Hijikata knows his charges well.

Something tells Saito that the commander is all-too-aware of his… connection to the doctor’s daughter. Souji, too, if the way his gaze flickered with mirth between the two. Shinpachi, Heisuke, Kondou…. likely unaware of the position. Harada, however, is a wildcard. If he hasn’t already caught on, odds are, he would have an idea shortly. It depends on how closely he was watching, where he was focusing his attentions. 

Hijikata had pulled him aside, intentions good despite the awkward approach. Neither of them knows the best way to go about it, so the commander leaves him with a vague warning about the dangers of getting attached in their line of work. As if Saito hasn’t already spent countless sleepless nights dwelling. As if his affections haven’t diminished in the slightest despite the months apart.

He’s leaving the vice commander’s room, warning fresh in his mind. And really, he has countless responsibilities to attend to. None assigned, none official, but Saito has always been something of a workaholic. He needs a goal, a task, a way to serve those whom he has pledged his services to.

Chizuru’s door is there, empty, void of any captains monitoring her. It’s easy to rationalize it's his duty to make sure she doesn’t escape (she’d never dream of it) or is tempted to venture further into the headquarters (she won’t).

Still, Saito approaches her door, wondering if he should knock. The sound may only draw more attention from his peers, their voices littering the hallways. He thinks he may hear Shinpachi’s boisterous laugh somewhere close, no doubt at Heisuke’s expense.

He can’t imagine what they would say if they saw him staring at their charges door. Without a second thought, he pushes back the door.

And then he sees Chizuru, beautiful even through the disguise. She’s staring out the window, watching the moon. It’s full tonight, standing proudly against the dark of the sky.

He clears his throat, unsure of how else to draw her attention. He’s been told on multiple occasions his movements can be silent, difficult to detect even to those attuned to their surroundings.

“Saito-san!” she exclaims, expression brightening when she realizes who has disturbed

“I hope I’m not intruding.”

She shakes her head kindly, gesturing for him to come further into the room she was given.

“You didn’t mention your organization was the Shinsengumi,” Chizuru comments offhandedly, pulling at a strand of hair. He wonders how their reputation is received in Edo, if Serizawa’s poison has reached even there. If her nerves are anything to go by, Saito would assume word travels quickly.

“You never asked,” he counters, knowing it’s a futile comment. He had offered too much information already, had to preserve some of the discretion on who it was that sent him on that preordained mission in the first place.

“Perhaps that’s for the best.” Perhaps they wouldn’t have gotten so close, she wouldn’t have trusted him so willingly. And yet, her heart is open, willing. He has a feeling she would have treated him the same, regardless.

“Indeed.”

“This is the second time you’ve saved me.”

He hums, acknowledging the truth of the statement. And he will save her a thousand times, if necessary. “And this time I wasn’t stabbed.”

She laughs, a light, soothing sound. Saito’s glad she can still do that, laugh, through the situation.

Things go quiet, peaceful. They sit in companionable silence, both lost in their respective thoughts. There are a million things they should discuss, should come to terms with, but nothing measures up to the knowledge that she’s here, with him, alive and healthy.

“I missed you.”

The confession is quiet, unsure. As if she thinks distance could have lessened his affection.

Fool. His cheeks brighten.

“And I, you.”

She looks at him with wide eyes, sparkling. He wonders if she’s surprised to have Hajime the man rather than Saito the warrior at that moment.

Something shifts in her expression, uncertainty fading and she kisses him. It’s awfully sudden, after too much time without her. But he can’t imagine doing anything other than kissing her back, reveling in the joy that she’s there and she’s safe and she’s still his.

There are flurries dancing through the air which is getting colder by the minute, but being here with her in his arms…

It feels like Spring.