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Enigma

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Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness."
— Friedrich Nietzsche


 

Chizuru wasn't sure whether to be amused or exasperated by the trio's antics.

By now, she decided, it was reasonable to feel both. Shinpachi and Heisuke were playfully arguing about who was the stronger of two. Well, it seemed playful until Shinpachi tackled Heisuke and they began rolling around the floor, cursing and trying to overpower each other. Harada pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed deeply.

The redhead sent her an apologetic look."Sorry you have to see this, Chizuru."

"I'm used to it, Harada-san. I'm sure you are too," she said.

He snorted."Yeah, well, I'm familiar enough with these idiots to know when to intervene before they seriously hurt each other." As if on cue, Heisuke yelled at Shinpachi for almost breaking his arm. Harada stood up and went to separate the pair, holding each man by the ear.

"Ow, damn it, Sano, what, are you trying to rip my ear off?!" Shinpachi whined.

"And why you gotta do this to me?" Heisuke whined, pointing at Shinpachi."He started it."

"Quiet, both of you." Harada sounded like he was scolding a pair of children rather than two grown men, and their complaints as he tightened his grip on their ears did not make them seem any less immature.

Chizuru giggled as she brought her teacup to her lips. Since her discovery about the Water of Life and the Furies, the real reason for the Shinsengumi offering her protection and aid in finding Kodo in exchange for silence, she had slowly but surely gained more freedom. Hijikata didn't outright declare that she was free to wander as she pleased, but he didn't scold her or glare at her if he saw her doing so, and had allowed her to actually fulfill some of her duties as his page. So while there was still tension, it was mostly between the leaders and Itou instead of being related to her.

Earlier today, Harada, Heisuke, and Shinpachi had asked her if she wanted to spend some time with them. Heisuke and Harada had been friendly and kind to her from the start, the latter having taken her out on a brief walk early into her house arrest and the former always trying to find a way to cheer her up. Shinpachi, though not as open as his friends all the time, acted like the older brother she'd never had. Ergo, she didn't hesitate to accept their invitation.

Heisuke and Shinpachi yelped as Harada continued to scold them and squeeze their ears, promising they would behave. Harada likely knew they would repeat this behavior in the near future, but released them. Heisuke crawled away from his friends and moved to be near Chizuru. He pouted as he massaged his aching ear; Shinpachi did the same. Meanwhile, a unsympathetic Harada had returned to enjoying his sake.

Lowering her teacup, Chizuru scooted closer to Heisuke."Are you okay, Heisuke-kun?" She touched his arm, worried that he hadn't been exaggerating about the injury his friend nearly gave him.

Grinning, Heisuke placed his hand over hers."Don't worry, Chizuru. It'll take a lot more than Shinpachi's drunk, clumsy ass to take me down." He puffed up his chest and jabbed a thumb against his chest, appearing to be the very picture of pride.

Shinpachi scoffed."Your pleas for mercy a second ago suggested otherwise." Harada did not look up from his cup as he smacked Shinpachi upside the head."Ow! Come on, Sano!"

Heisuke pointed at Shinpachi and laughed, causing Harada shoot him a stern look and start to stand up. Heisuke didn't hesitate to hide behind Chizuru.

Though there were still many questions to be answered regarding her father's status and whereabouts and his involvement with the Shinsengumi, Chizuru could honestly say that she was glad those questions led her here.

Speaking of her father's involvement, she had been thinking much about the Furies lately. The topic never completely escaped her mind, of course, but since her encounter with Sanan a few weeks ago, it had occupied her thoughts more often.

No, that wasn't necessarily true. Her father, the Furies and the Water of Life were crucial concerns of hers, but at the center of her mind was Sanan. The rumors about a ghost roaming their headquarters had faded and she hadn't seen him or heard anything about him since then. She knew his inner conflict had eased thanks to her, but still she worried about him. His burden was perhaps the hardest out of all the Shinsengumi men. As he said, most of the other Furies transformed before he modified the serum and even then he'd come close to killing her.

She suppressed a shudder. The terror she'd felt as he choked her, as he looked at down at her with that sadistic, bloodthirsty gaze haunted her dreams, yet it stood no chance against her faith in him. She hadn't known him as long as the others, but something in her insisted that he would not, could not be overcome by this madness and loneliness. And he had proven her right. He released her, he survived drinking that cursed medicine, and he swore to her that he would not give up. She didn't doubt him; he could and would pull through. And if he struggled again, she would do what she could to help him, however little that meant...

"You okay, Chizuru?" Harada asked. She'd been so lost in her thoughts that she failed to notice her own body language and facial expressions which caught the attention of her friends. Heisuke and Shinpachi were giving her concerned looks while Harada had walked over to her and rested his hand atop her head.

She ducked her head to hide her blush."Oh yes, I'm fine." She finished her tea and cleared her throat."Um, I think I'm just tired. I should turn in." She stood, bowed, and speed-walked to the door."Thank you for the invitation. I'll see you all in the morning. Good night."

She ignored their concerned expressions as she slid the shoji closed. She breathed in the cool night air and started heading to her room. She didn't make it far, stopping to lean against a wall and gather her thoughts. The time for lights out was not another hour or so and seeing as she wasn't an official member of the Shinsengumi and merely followed the rules out of courtesy nowadays, she had some free time. At this point, she'd earned enough trust to not be scolded for being out of one of the captain's supervision, and if there was an issue, she would allow someone to escort her to her room.

"Sanan-san," Chizuru whispered, putting a hand over her aching heart and directing her gaze to the stars in the sky.

She knew he was strong, that he would persevere, yet she feared for him, for the pain he would have to endure...

She clenched her hand into a fist and closed her eyes as she pushed her cheek into the wall.

The determination in his voice and on his face in response to her encouragement for him to remember he was alive and his vow not to give up made her so proud and sad for him. Perhaps he would not care what she had to do or say about it, but she was honest in her promise to support him however she could. Would he want her support? She stiffened. Though she had gotten to know these men rather well by now and vice versa, Sanan was the one she interacted the least with. She wondered if that minimal amount of interaction was the reason she sought to be closer to him, to get to know the man behind the sarcastic remarks and cool smile. That glimpse she'd gotten when she held his hand and urged him not to call himself a ghost strengthened that desire for closeness.

Chizuru sighed. What right did she have to seek intimacy with Sanan? She meant nothing to him, she was just a girl who had offered him kind, encouraging words and happened to be the daughter of the man responsible for the situation he and his comrades faced. Her father, this was all because of him, and she owed it to these men who had spared her life and protected her to do everything in her power to atone for the sins her father committed.

The sound of footsteps snapped her back to reality. Gasping, she turned toward the direction of the sound. It had been faint, barely audible, but the silence of the night made it easy to hear. Could it be...?

She spotted a familiar silhouette under a tree. Her heart skipped a beat, and she covered her mouth with her hand.

"Sanan-san?" Should she approach him? Ask him how he was doing? Would he want to interact with her?

Steeling herself, Chizuru made her way toward him and softly called his name. His eyes flickered from the sky to her. A cordial smile spread across his face.

"Hello, Yukimura-kun," he said."It seems it was your turn to catch me off guard."

Chizuru smiled as she approached him."The rumors have faded, though Itou-san insists he is not imagining things." She crossed her arms, adopting a playfully reproachful expression."He claims to hear a voice whispering his name at his window, and a laugh whenever he moves."

Sanan inclined his head."My, my, that is quite the recurring nightmare he suffers from. Has he been overindulging in sake lately?"

Chizuru shrugged."Hijikata-san and Kondou-san seem to think so. Unless, of course, there are other possibilities?"

"None that I have heard," Sanan said wryly."It has been a while since they paid me a visit."

Her amusement faded at the hint of sadness in his tone. She uncrossed her arms and stepped forward, twiddling her thumbs."Well, you three are quite busy. You have your hands full with the Fury Corps and they have their own duties. I'm sure they'll come see you as soon as they have a free moment."

"Hmm. Yes, I'm certain." The sadness in his smile matched that from his voice.

The way he acted and spoke was almost identical to that night...

In an instant, Chizuru was beside him, surprising both of them. She tentatively reached for his hand and he extended it for her to take. Their fingers entwined.

Neither of them spoke, words not coming as easily to her as they had during their last encounter, so she settled for squeezing his hand and offering a warm smile.

They stayed like that for awhile before Sanan broke the silence.

"Shouldn't you be with Toudou-kun or Harada-kun?" He raised his eyebrows as he posed the question to her. Confusion and curiosity were clear in his tone of voice, but there was something else there that she couldn't pinpoint. Or maybe she did have an idea. The word started to form in her brain...

She shook her head, both to dismiss the idea/word and in response to Sanan's question.

"Did you hear that Heisuke-kun, Harada-san, and Nagakura-san had invited me to drink with them?" She asked.

"I said nothing about Nagakura-kun," Sanan stated."Though I know you are friendly with him, you have always been closer to Toudou-kun and Harada-kun. Therefore, I assumed you would be spending time with one of them."

Again she detected that third emotion and again she dismissed the possibility. Surely she was imagining it. What reason did Sanan have to feel that emotion about her of all people? It was as strange a thought as her concern for him, but Sanan wasn't like her. None of the men were like her and though she was starting to get used to how things worked here, it didn't change the fact that she was a person of different background and morals. At least, it still seemed that way to her.

"You were with them today, then." A statement, not a question. Sanan was gazing at her with a sternness in his eyes and the tiniest hint of that emotion she had heard when he was speaking a moment ago. She glanced at their joined hands, and frowned when his grip loosened slightly. She tightened her own grip and looked back up at him nervously.

"W-Well," she said, biting her lip."I just left them, actually." She looked him in the eye and stated with complete honesty and as much calmness as she could muster with the butterflies in her stomach,"I was worried about you and...thinking about you when I noticed you out here, so I..." She gestured to him, knowing further explanation was unnecessary.

"I...see." His facial features and tone of voice had settled back into his usual coolness. If not for the darkness of the night, she could have sworn she saw a relieved smile flash very briefly across his countenance. For the third time now that word popped into her mind and become harder to suppress.

"Sanan-san." She was gripping his hand in both of hers now."I know I'm not...the ideal person for this or well, anything you're going through, but if you ever need to talk, my door is always open to you."

Sanan blinked at her, then smiled."Thank you, Yukimura-kun." Warmth filled his voice and facial features."I will keep that in mind."

She didn't know how long they stayed outside together in comfortable silence, only that she didn't want this to end, but reality struck, of course, when Sanan ended the quietude between them.

"It is getting late," he said."Come, I will escort you to your room."

She nodded, glad that he did not let go of her hand as they walked to her room. When they reached their destination, her released her and bid her good night before turning to leave.

Unable to suppress that thought any longer, even for another second, she stopped him with a soft utterance of his name."Sanan-san?"

He glanced at her over his shoulder."Yes?"

"When you asked me about Harada-san and Heisuke-kun, I couldn't help but think that you sounded...jealous." She gave a forced chuckle immediately after saying this. He went completely still as he processed what she said, and she began to grow nervous.

Then, Sanan spun around and marched toward her. He grasped her shoulder, drew her close to him, and pressed his lips to her forehead. Her eyes went wide and she gasped.

"Perhaps I was," he whispered against her forehead before releasing her. He smiled faintly at how obviously shocked she was by what he'd done and said,"Sweet dreams, Yukimura-kun." No sooner had he uttered those words, than he had left and was gone from her sight.

For several moments, Chizuru stood there, clutching her chest as her heart pounded inside her chest and covering the spot his lips had touched with her fingers.

Eventually, she entered her room and closed the door, though her heartbeat did not calm for another few minutes. She slid down to the floor into sitting position and replaced her palm on her forehead.

"Sanan-san," she murmured into the darkness."Do I really mean something to you?"

 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


"Always be honest about the way someone makes you feel about yourself."
-Nikita Gill

Chapter 2


Jealousy.

It was not an emotion he expected to feel. He had noticed a strange tightness in his chest whenever he witnessed Chizuru interacting with Heisuke or Harada in a...more friendlier way than usual. He was aware they both had feelings for the girl. They were closest to her from the start of her stay with the Shinsengumi, so it made sense that she'd have a special bond with them. But as logical a conclusion as that may be, he couldn't help the feeling he got when he pondered it and saw her with them.

Perhaps I was.

Sanan touched his lips, recalling the gasp she'd emitted when he pulled her close and kissed her forehead. A thrill had filled him, and grew when he saw her shocked expression before he bid her good night. From the moment he heard her admit she suspected him of being jealous to the second he was far enough from her, he had not been in control of himself. But this loss of control was nothing like that from his Fury transformation and subsequent attack on Chizuru...this felt more pleasant. And he didn't regret it.

With a sigh, he put his pen down. He lacked the concentration to focus on research, so he tried writing in his journal, with similar results. He turned a few pages back for his recollection of their encounter a few weeks ago that prompted him to lessen his nighttime escapades. He would step outside for a few minutes every night to breathe fresh air and gather his thoughts before beginning his duties and walk only once a week instead of almost every night for the sake of keeping the rumors from growing. He couldn't help but torment Itou a bit, but he received no indication from Hijikata or Kondou that this was an issue. Then again, as he'd told Chizuru, he hadn't received indication of anything from them for a while now. He didn't expect that to change.

He shook his head. He wasn't a toddler that needed to be coddled. He fully understood the consequences of drinking the Water of Life, and it had been his suggestion to fake his death. What right did he have to complain?

His hand tingled as he placed his palm on the page. He could hear the grunts and growls of his fellow Furies through the wall separating his room from theirs. As difficult as it was to endure their constant company, it had become a bit easier after his conversation with Chizuru. He didn't understand why. All she'd done was hold his hand and offer comforting words, yet the impact was undeniable. She seemed so proud of him, so trusting...

He furrowed his brow. Of all the Shinsengumi leaders, she interacted with him the least, yet she treated him no differently than she did the others. Perhaps even more intimately. Initially, he wanted to dismiss this as the result of pity, which caused him no small amount of annoyance. But it was impossible to stay mad at her, a struggle to be mad in the first place. There was a purity in her, an incorruptible kindness and optimism. It did make sense that she would want to cling to the positives in her situation, but few had the strength to achieve that.

The memory replayed in his mind, and he closed his eyes as he relived it. Everything about her reaction was the opposite of what one would expect. She hadn't reprimanded him for disobeying orders, and expressed empathy for him, having been confined indoors for a time herself. He recalled how he caught her outside and she stuttered out an explanation of wanting to find some shade in the fresh air, how she'd wished him well and brought a genuine smile to his face. She could have acted as coldly toward him as he had with her, she should have that done that...

The only time he'd truly experienced anger at her was when she delivered his meal to him, cut to make eating easier for him. But even then, he was inclined to direct the anger at someone else, believing she was ordered to do this for him. Her response had taken him aback. He still suspected that she wanted to try to start securing a place for herself here, but surely she knew it wasn't that simple, having been allowed to do chores to avoid going stir-crazy and feeling useless. She must have considered that prior to making a decision. So why did she go through with it anyway?

Such a simple girl Yukimura Chizuru was. Easy to read, easy to deceive, easy to bring to tears. So simple, yet so complex. A completely open book with subtext on every page one failed to notice without closer inspection.

"Who are you, Yukimura Chizuru?" Sanan whispered."And why do you affect me so?"

He sought answers to those questions, to get to know her and unravel the mystery surrounding that inner strength of hers.

In the meantime, he would hold her consolation and encouragement close to his heart. If it aided him in fulfilling his duties, then it was merely the logical thing to do...


Chizuru sighed as she sat next to the window in her room, hugging her knees to her chest.

It had been five days since she agreed to keep quiet about what she saw that night in exchange for the Shinsengumi sparing her life and protecting her. She had spoken to Hijikata yesterday about giving her something to do, and he said he would think about assigning her menial tasks to keep her busy. As he was occupied planning a mission to Osaka with Sanan, however, that wouldn't be for awhile. So she was left to somehow entertain herself while sitting alone in her quarters.

Harada took her out for a walk last night, which she appreciated. He and Heisuke would speak to her whenever they were on guard duty, especially the latter. With Heisuke, though, something seemed to be bothering him. Not wanting to cause him unnecessary stress, she did not comment on it.

From her pocket she took out the amulet she'd given her father before his departure, running her thumb over it. The flames hadn't damaged it too badly. Hopefully it had done its job of protecting Kodo and he was alive and well and safe. She just had to find him...

"Yukimura-kun."

She almost jumped at the familiar voice at her window. She stood and moved to the window to open it. Sure enough, she was greeted by the smiling face of Sanan.

"Sanan-san, are you on guard duty?" She asked. She thought guard duty was only for the captains.

He shook his head."Actually, Saito-kun is on his way for his shift. There is something I wished to discuss with you."

"Oh." She blinked and bit her lip."Did I do something wrong?"

"Not directly or intentionally," he replied. She frowned in confusion. She opened her mouth to ask him to elaborate, closing it when he lifted a hand to interrupt her. She noticed his other hand was holding something behind his back, and figured that had some relation to why he was here. She nodded to indicate she was listening.

"I understand that some of the captains, particularly Toudou-kun, have been conversing with you. I also understand that he may be discussing topics with you that he should not be."

Her face flushed."W-Well..." Heisuke was indeed less reserved and secretive when he spoke to her. They rarely talked about her father and even that was through indirect implications to prevent her from learning too much. Still, it was a risk.

"Neither of you are in trouble," he assured."I understand that being in this room at all hours can be stressful without some form of entertainment and that, like any person, you feel the need to get certain things off your chest. So, I am offering you a compromise."

Sanan showed her what he'd been hiding: a book and some pens. He chuckled at her confused expression."I have a few empty books I keep in case they are needed. Among the books that I do use is a journal for recording my private thoughts. It has helped me to deal with stress. I figured a journal of your own would be of equal benefit to you." He offered it to her, and she hesitantly accepted it.

"B-But if I write down all my thoughts regarding my situation, wouldn't that pose even more of a threat than me talking?" She didn't want to deny this compromise...

Sanan waved his hand."It is not as though as you actually know anything about what you saw and if you were to write something that could incriminate us, it can be easily disposed of." Before she could ask another question, he read her mind and said,"Kondou-san will have no problem with it. If Hijikata-kun does not like it, he can speak to me about it. You needn't worry."

His smile was reassuring and kind. Chizuru smiled back and bowed deeply.

"Thank you, Sanan-san," she said. He nodded curtly before turning to leave. She called out to him."Oh, um, Sanan-san?"

He stopped and looked at her over his shoulder."Yes?"

She hugged the book closer to her chest and bowed her head."I heard that you and Hijikata-san are leaving for Osaka at sunrise tomorrow for a mission. I wish you both good luck."

Sanan smiled again and inclined his head."I doubt we will need it. I am used to dealing with ronin." She nodded, and he added,"But thank you for the sentiment, nonetheless."

"Didn't need it, huh?" Chizuru murmured with a humorless smile. She lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and clutching her journal to her chest. She knew Sanan was careful, but anyone could be caught off guard, and that was exactly what happened to him. That man whom she thought of as logical and kind was seemingly replaced by a bitter, cruel shell of his former self. Were it not for the hints of kindness and good humor he showed around Hijikata and to her on the day of the cat incident, she might have believed that to be the case.

She always wanted to see the good in people, but that desire was special when it came to Sanan. An invisible wall existed between him and the rest of the world, his comrades barely being exceptions. Interacting with him was like opening a book after becoming attracted by the cover to discover that it was written in a foreign language which few, if any, could read. A mystery that could not be deciphered, let alone solved. If men far wiser and experienced in dealing with Sanan could not succeed in that goal, how low were her odds? Alas, she was not one to give up easily.

"Who are you, Sanan Keisuke?" She whispered as she closed her eyes."And why do you affect me so?"

This book...she was determined to study it until she could read it, and she would continue to study it until she solved the mystery behind each word in the text.

She fell asleep, one hand over her heart, with that goal in mind.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
— Martin Luther King Jr.


 

Chizuru was unusually quiet today.

She had given him her usual greeting and 'thank you' before they left for their rounds. She also asked around for leads on Kodo, to no avail. The optimistic smile he secretly adored was present on her face. On the surface, everything seemed normal. Perhaps if it weren't for the fact that he had gotten to know her pretty well, in addition to her strange behavior last night, he would have believed that nothing was wrong.

Something was clearly bothering her. Not to upset her, but to occupy her thoughts more than other topics. Though he knew she wasn't a good liar, the chance of getting the truth from her was unlikely, so he suppressed the urge to inquire.

Still, it frustrated him that he couldn't offer her the same consolation she often provided him. She may not think herself to be very useful, but with the code and his comrades not being the best people to discuss the things causing him stress with, her willingness to give a listening ear was crucial. He reminded himself that she had not pressured him into talking; ergo, he should be equally courteous.

When she was ready and if she wanted to, she would accept his support. And if and when that happened, he looked forward to helping her truly smile again. Her smile was contagious, brightening his mood no matter how depressed he was, and he desperately wanted to restore it.

"Heisuke-kun?" He turned to look at Chizuru, whose eyes held the same concern for him that he felt for her."Are you alright?"

He scoffed internally. He must have looked the way she did the previous evening. What was on her mind? It could be related to her father and the Furies, but something told him that wasn't the case.

"Sorry, guess I had a little too much to drink last night," he said with a reassuring smile.

Chizuru inclined her head, pursing her lips. If she pushed the issue, it would be the perfect opportunity for him to question her. As was to be expected from Chizuru, however, she did not pry, meaning he wouldn't either.

Shortly after that, they returned to headquarters and went to her room to have tea together, since neither of them had anything else to do for the rest of the day.

"Heisuke-kun, do you mind if I ask you something?" Chizuru asked as she poured him a cup. He nodded.

"What do you think of Sanan-san?"

Heisuke almost choked on his drink, but quickly cleared his throat and swallowed. He gave her what he hoped was a mildly surprised look, knowing he was likely unsuccessful.

"Why are you asking about him?" Fortunately, his tone was even.

She bit her lip."I've been thinking a lot of him-I mean, about-"

"This Fury business?" He offered, and she nodded."You already know I'm not crazy about the Water of Life, though I know it can help save someone at the last minute. But it's so dangerous. I don't think the risks are worth whatever reward it can bring." He shifted in his seat."Sanan-san...he's different from the others. He wasn't about to die from a wound or be forced to commit seppuku. He just drank it because he wanted to."

"I don't think it's that simple." There was the slightest edge in Chizuru's voice, as well as a tremble in her hand as she held the teapot. She put the teapot down a bit too forcefully, making Heisuke wince.

Heisuke studied her. Why had his comment about Sanan vexed her? In terms of interaction and closeness, he possessed the least amount with her, so why-

It clicked. Sanan had given Chizuru her journal. Chizuru was the one who succeeded in getting Sanan to start eating with the others again after his injury. Chizuru had been present when Sanan drank that serum. Those moments, though few, were meaningful. No wonder she cared for Sanan so much.

Chizuru had her hands folded in her lap and her gaze glued to the floor. When she noticed his cup was empty, she poured him another one, the swiftness in her movement making it clear that she wanted a distraction from her thoughts.

"Maybe it isn't," he said quietly. As he picked up his cup and drank, he ruminated on the topic of Sanan, but did not share his thoughts with Chizuru, and she didn't ask.

How sad it was that someone with less interaction with Sanan than anyone else here seemed more open-minded about his situation than one of his friends? Heisuke tried to dismiss that as the result of Chizuru not knowing Sanan well enough, but she wasn't stupid. Naive and a bit too stubborn for her own good, but he was no better in those categories; he was far worse. And, as he'd realized earlier, the time she did spend was Sanan was not the forgettable kind.

Perhaps he should pay Sanan a visit.


 

"Sanan-san!"

Heisuke didn't care who heard him, didn't care if he lost his voice, didn't care whether Hijikata would severely punish or rebuke him for behaving this way. He needed to see Sanan now. They could tie him down, order him to gut himself, he didn't care.

He shouted the older man's name again as he grabbed the shoji and harshly slid it open. Sanan, who was sitting in seiza position at his desk with his back facing the door, looked at him over his shoulder. Heisuke made no attempt to decipher Sanan's expression, instead opening his mouth right as Kondou and Hijikata arrived. He started to turn to them, when Sanan lifted a hand to prevent them from intervening. Kondou seemed more hesitant, but Hijikata placed a hand on his shoulder and he complied.

Once they were alone, Sanan fully turned around and locked eyes with Heisuke. The younger of the two had returned from Edo to be greeted by a smug Itou, who told him that Sanan had taken his own life out of despair during his absence. Were it not for that damn serum, Heisuke would have believed that.

He had run to the common room, and whispered Sanan's name while his eyes posed the question to Kondou and Hijikata. Their silence was all the answer he required. He ran to the section of the compound where the Furies were kept, pushing and bumping into whoever was in the way while his two superiors followed him. Even in his distressed state, finding the room his friend occupied did not take long. Maybe it was because of the state he was in that he found whom he was searching for this quickly and easily.

Sighing, Sanan adjusted his glasses."I suppose we should be grateful you did not alert anyone to our secret."

Heisuke clenched his fists."Don't play games with me, Sanan-san! Not now! I'm serious here!"

"As am I," Sanan replied, narrowing his eyes."Luckily, I imagine those who heard you will assume you were shouting from grief and forget about it."

Heisuke half-growled, half-shouted from frustration as he fell to his knees. He held his hands in his hands, not noticing how Sanan's expression softened before he stood and moved to sit directly in front of him. He waited patiently for Heisuke to speak.

Heisuke shook his head."Why? Why did you drink that...poison?"

Sanan shut his eyes and heaved another sigh. He lifted his left hand, flexing it.

"You know why," he whispered.

"You could have died!" Heisuke choked."That didn't occur to you?!"

Sanan smiled mirthlessly."Of course it did. It was either the healing of my arm or death. I am glad the former came true, though I would have had no complaints about the latter. Both were perfect options."

Heisuke wanted to be shocked by that, but he couldn't. He had expected that response as much as he wished not to hear it. He put his head back into his hands.

"If it weren't for Itou, you wouldn't have done this, right?" His voice was scarcely above a whisper."I brought him here. If I hadn't done that, he wouldn't have opened his big mouth and taunted you. I could tell by the way he talked about your 'death' that he was amused by it. Am I right?" He didn't wait for an answer, instead growling in frustration and slamming his fist into the floor."It's my fault! I-"

"Toudou-kun." Sanan's voice was stern and sharp. He gripped Heisuke's shoulders, forcing him to maintain eye contact."I had been thinking about drinking the medicine long before Itou joined us. His remarks quickened my decision, but I would have eventually made it without his influence. And even so, it is not as though you can control other people, so it is not your fault if he does or says something wrong. Blaming yourself is not only incorrect, but incredibly foolish and unbecoming of you. You know that, so stop this idiotic line of thinking immediately." He sighed and leaned forward slightly."It was my decision to drink the Water of Life, no one else's. None of you could have stopped me from doing so. Understood?"

Heisuke nodded, and they settled into silence.

Heisuke sighed as he shook his head to dismiss the memory. He had never liked the Fury section of the compound, for obvious reasons. The addition of Sanan to the Fury Corps. strengthened his dislike for the place. However, he had promised himself that he would do this.

The other Furies were chained up, and he knew how to dispatch them if they became an issue. And Sanan was no fool; he understood the dangers as much as the rest of the men did, if not more so because of his current situation.

No fool? Heisuke shut his eyes. Would a smart man consume something he knew could turn him into a soulless beast? He claimed that he wouldn't care if the result was his death, so why couldn't he take the simple route and-

He stopped in his tracks, shocked by his own harshness. How could he think that? As upset as he was by Sanan's transformation, he did not want him to be dead. Or would he have truly preferred that?

What was wrong with him? Here he was shooting negativity at Sanan when his own thought process was far from pure. He couldn't blame this on the code, as it hadn't even crossed his mind when he thought these things. He really should figure out his own issues before judging another person, especially a close friend.

What was he doing here? How could he talk to Sanan when his self-conversations were impossible to sort out? Maybe he should leave-

The shoji in front of him slid open, and he came face to face with a mildly surprised Sanan. The older man raised an eyebrow.

"Toudou-kun," he said."This is a surprise." He walked past Heisuke and stood on the engawa, closing his eyes as he breathed in the fresh air. After a few seconds, he looked at Heisuke from over his shoulder."What brings you here?"

"I was just leaving, actually," Heisuke said. It was a cowardly move, but he was not in the right state to have this conversation, assuming there was a right state.

Sanan inclined his head and lifted his gaze to the stars in the sky. His expression was thoughtful...and peaceful. It appeared that Heisuke's words hadn't affected him at all.

"Why are you still here?" His tone was calm. He did not remove his focus from the sky."You said you were leaving."

Heisuke furrowed his brow."You're not curious about why I came here in the first place?"

Sanan chuckled, the sound a mixture of humorless and...sadness? He completely turned around and brought his hands into his sleeves. The way he looked at Heisuke would have been more appropriate when interacting with a child.

"You decided to pay me a visit, then changed your mind at the last minute. What else is there to know? To be curious about?" He tilted his head."Or am I wrong?"

Heisuke had no response for that. That was exactly what had happened.

"I thought so," Sanan whispered as he padded back to the door."Now, if you excuse me, I have work to do."

"You shouldn't have taken the serum." As soon as the words came out, Heisuke wanted to slap his hands over his mouth. He hadn't wanted to say that, to speak at all. Yet he had spoken, and there was no taking it back.

Sanan stood completely still, his back facing Heisuke. A moment later, he flatly responded,"We have already had this conversation." He snorted."Or a similar one, at least."

Heisuke clenched his fists. Again, he spoke against his will: "I would never make the same decision as you, no matter what position I'm in. I'd rather die than-"

Sanan laughed. Not a mocking or amused laugh, but an empty, cold laugh. This lasted for ten seconds before he abruptly stopped and said,"Toudou-kun," in an utterly serious tone of voice."I pray that you will never have to make that choice."

Heisuke's eyes widened."Sanan-san..." He reached out and was about to grasp Sanan's shoulder when-

A breathy grunt pierced the air as Sanan brought a hand to his chest, and his body began to quiver. His hair turned white and he fell hard onto his knees. It was obvious to Heisuke, to anyone familiar with Furies, what was happening. This was-

"Go," Sanan growled, then let out a grunt as a spasm took him. When Heisuke did not do as told, he turned to glare at him with crimson eyes and shakily reached for the shoji.

"Go!" He shouted as he violently slid the door closed.

This time, Heisuke obeyed...and he swore to never return.

 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.

"Some madness doesn't act mad to begin with, sometimes it will knock politely at the door, and when you let it in, it'll simply sit in the corner without a fuss - and grow."
― Nathan Filer


 

He should be used to this by now.

It was impossible to count how many times he'd experienced the bloodlust. As agonizing as it was, he thought, hoped, that he would grow accustomed to it. After all, he didn't feel the urge to drink blood every second of his existence like those who'd drank the serum before he changed it did. But he soon realized how foolish that thought was. No one could learn to deal with this pain. Not for the first time he wondered if he made a mistake-

"No," he ground out through clenched teeth, grabbing his arm. To hell with the side effects. To hell with the consequences. To hell with regret. He would rather die than live without the ability to wield his sword. His usefulness, his pride, his strength...it hadn't merely been returned to him, but came back stronger than ever. And if it meant he had to suffer this pain, alone, to spend his time with the Furies whose minds were not stable like his, then so be it. He was not weak, he would not waver, he would not break, he would not fall.

Still on all fours, he curled into himself. Each breath was a struggle, the tightness in his lungs increasing every time. His teeth felt like they were close to breaking from how tightly he was grinding them. He slammed his fist against the floor, the skin of his knuckles breaking and drawing blood. He growled as the wound healed and fought the urge to punch the ground again.

He pressed his forehead to the floor, near the spot where his blood was. The growls and grunts of the other Furies and the rattling of their chains made him shudder between spasms. He wasn't like them, he hadn't lost his mind, the smell or sight of blood didn't turn him into a mindless animal, this thirst and agony would not steal his sanity.

The medicine was not an option. He had eagerly stuffed it into his mouth and swallowed it the first few times, discovering that it was practically useless. And even if it were more effective, he didn't need it.

He was Sanan Keisuke, Colonel of the Shinsengumi, and he could, would endure this.

He didn't know long it lasted, though it likely felt much longer than it actually was, but when it ended, he exhaled loudly in relief and collapsed. His fellow Furies stopped making noise, except for the rattling of chains, which ceased after a moment. He closed his eyes and relaxed as he waited for his breathing and heart rate to return to normal.

The silence was conflicting. As disturbed as he was by the sounds the Furies made, he was used to it at this point. Not hearing it was strange. Part of him was glad for a reprieve while the other half was unnerved by it. He didn't enjoy listening to them, but their silence made him think. Did they know what was happening to him? This wasn't the first, nor would it be the last attack of bloodlust he suffered, and they hadn't reacted before. Why was this different? Was it different at all? He could just be overthinking it; that was his hope, anyway.

If they were aware of his suffering, were they taunting him? If so, why did they stop once the attack was over? Was there more to their brains than they were given credit for? It was certainly worth examining in the future.

Sanan rolled onto his back and gazed at the ceiling in contemplation. He lifted his hand, holding it above his face and flexing it. With a quiet sigh, he sat up.

You shouldn't have taken the serum.

"I shouldn't have gotten injured in the first place," Sanan muttered.

I would never make the same decision as you, no matter what position I'm in. I'd rather die than-

Sanan snorted. He meant what he said about hoping Heisuke never had to make that choice. Though he did not regret drinking the Water of Life, he wouldn't wish this on his worst enemy, let alone one of his friends.

Drawing his brows together, he slowly picked himself up from the floor. Perhaps he should investigate that thought from earlier.

What was the harm? Research was his primary duty, after all. If they became too difficult, he could handle it.

He slid the shoji open, startling the two Furies that occupied the room. One of them was groaning and tugging on the chains while the other blankly gazed at Sanan. He met the second one's stare as he approached, keeping one hand on his sword in case he needed to draw it. With his free hand he undid the chains, and took a few steps back as the Fury let itself land on its knees. The Fury that was still chained kept making noise, but the breathing of its companion was louder. Sanan's full attention was on the unchained creature, waiting and wanting for it to do or perhaps even say something. After five uneventful minutes, he sighed and moved to put it back into restraints, and when he took a step forward, the creature reacted.

He drew his sword and slashed the Fury across the chest as it came at him, deliberately missing its heart by inches. He then kicked it in the chest, sending it into the wall. He sheathed his sword and in the blink of an eye, was in front of the stunned Fury and putting it back into chains. The creature tried to bite him as he backed away, the chains making it miss just barely.

Sighing, Sanan adjusted his glasses and turned to leave. Well, that was pointless. Still, it was worth experimenting with. For all he knew, this could still lead to something of worth.

With that thought in mind, he nodded and decided to record the encounter in his notes.

 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"I thought about how there are two types of secrets: the kind you want to keep in, and the kind you don't dare to let out."
― Ally Carter, Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover


"Good afternoon, Yukimura."

Chizuru almost tripped over her own feet in response to the unexpected voice. The greeting itself was surprising, as the room's occupants were usually engrossed in conversation when she entered and simply gave her nods of gratitude for the refreshments she brought. She'd realized the room was quiet, and that voice had interrupted her thought process. A meeting was supposed to take place here; she must have come early, as did the speaker.

After regaining her bearings, Chizuru bowed her head."G-Good afternoon, Itou-san." She lifted her head and forced herself to look forward, giving the impression that she was looking at him.

Itou stood there, hands clasped behind his back and a saccharine smile on his face. He seemed a bit too pleased to see her, as if he'd been waiting for her. She dismissed that suspicion, as a meeting was scheduled for today and she had seen him enter. She just didn't know that he was the first to arrive. Kondou and Hijikata would be here shortly. All she needed to do was be patient for a few minutes.

"Would you like some tea?" She asked, smiling politely. She did not wish Itou ill, or anyone for that matter, but she preferred not to be around him. His remarks had caused Sanan to drink the Water of Life. The reasonable part of her brain knew that Sanan would have consumed the serum without Itou's influence, and that he just unknowingly quickened the colonel's decision. That understanding did not lessen her discomfort about him, or on what it led to her learning...

Even if her knowledge on the serum were to increase, she couldn't see herself ever approving of it. Perhaps that was for the best. These men were different from her, both physically and mentally. Still, she wondered if the situation could have gone better if Sanan's sensitivity to what Itou said were weaker or nonexistent. However small a role Itou played in causing this, he played a role nonetheless. And for that reason, she kept her distance from the man, as well as his brother. The encounter she'd had with Itou that Souji fortunately intervened in was as fresh a memory as yesterday, if not more so.

"Always so kind and eager to help you are," Itou said, ignoring her question. Chizuru frowned, her back tightening as he approached. Glancing at the door, she wondered what was taking the others so long.

Itou was standing in front of her now. The shoji slid open, and her heart swelled with relief...until she saw the new arrival. Miki waved at her as he closed the door and leaned against it. She looked back to Itou, whose smile widened. Again her heart swelled, this time with a different emotion. She took a step back, and Itou stepped forward. Miki chuckled.

She hoped the faint trembling that had consumed her wasn't noticeable. Her grip on the tray tightened, whitening her knuckles.

"Have you heard these ugly rumors of a ghost wandering our headquarters?" Itou asked casually, inspecting his nails."The Commander and Chief are convinced I have been suffering from nightmares because of it, but I know that none of my experiences are dreams."

Chizuru swallowed."It is just a rumor." She spoke carefully."I have heard some men claim that they sometimes see a figure walking outside after curfew. Someone is disobeying orders and trying to frighten others for his own amusement."

Lying was not among her skills, so she told the truth. Sanan was not a ghost, he was disobeying orders, and he was frightening Itou to amuse himself. She was being completely honest without revealing the entire truth.

Itou stroked his chin and hummed thoughtfully."I am inclined to agree with you." He nodded."It is the identity of this prankster that causes me concern. You see, he speaks to me, whispering my name and laughing at me, and his voice is very familiar." He tapped his fingers against his chin."I do not believe this is a ghost, but what other explanation is there for this voice sounding so much like...Sanan-san...?"

Chizuru bit her tongue. If she responded too quickly, his suspicions would be confirmed. She looked down, taking a deep breath to ensure she was composed. Steadily she raised her gaze, unable to keep from digging her teeth into her bottom lip.

"Someone must be playing a cruel joke on us then," she said, blinking back tears. Again, not a lie. Sanan was tormenting Itou."I know better than anyone how possible that suggestion of yours is." Yet another truth. She had been there when Sanan drank the serum and was more aware of his situation than anyone else.

That wiped the smile off his face. His thoughtful pose did not waver, though he added some feigned sadness to his body expression."Of course. You were the one who discovered his body."

That was the official story. The men had seen how shaken she was as Okita escorted her to her room and the next morning before Sanan's 'death' was announced. She had received sympathetic looks and words from some of them, but that stopped after a few months. And even during that period, Sanan was not a topic to be discussed in public, considering how difficult he'd become after his injury. Eventually, he was forgotten entirely by all except those who knew the secret.

Until now.

"Yes, I discovered him." She had discovered him about to take the "medicine" her father created, not caring if his arm healed or he died, so long as his suffering ended."I tried to save him, but he was too far gone." He was too determined to drink the Water of Life, making it impossible to talk him out of it. And she lacked the physical strength to stop him.

She met Itou's gaze. He put a hand over his heart and closed his eyes."What a tragedy that was. I wish I could have apologized for my inconsiderate remarks about his arm."

Chizuru almost dropped the tray, its contents clattering slightly before she managed to regain her grip. Both Itou and Miki were startled by this, and cautiously watched her place the tray on the floor and stand up straight to address the elder brother.

This time her loss of balance was not due to shock, or at least not just because of that emotion. A spark of anger had struck her when Itou displayed false remorse and grief. It wasn't the first time he'd done that, but hearing him mention that incident which he was partially responsible for, combined with him causing her to relive the night Sanan came close to losing his sanity and his life, made her want to spill hot tea over Itou's head. So for her safety and his own, she discarded that potential weapon.

"With all due respect, Itou-san," she was impressed by the lack of venom in her voice when she uttered his name."I do not believe that for a second." She winced after spitting the last few words of her sentence. Saying that alone was dangerous, especially when he had her cornered, but she didn't care. Itou knew this topic would upset her, and twisted the knife in her gut by reminding her of Sanan's last day as a human. His unawareness of the truth did not prevent him from striking a blow.

Were she not so easy to upset, she could have shrugged this off. Was that how Sanan had felt when Itou spoke that way to him? She wanted to flee the room as he had that day, hating the fact that Miki was guarding her only escape. Screaming and starting a scene was too risky. All she could do was pray that the others would arrive for the meeting soon-

Her eyes widened. Surely at least one person should be here by now. After all, Miki had said that-

If possible, her eyes would have widened more. She backed away from the approaching Itou and looked at his brother over her shoulder."Where are the others? You told me there'd be a meeting and that I was supposed to bring tea for them."

Miki widened his eyes in a show of fake innocence."Oh, did I say that? Sorry for the misinformation."

Itou tittered."Oh, Miki darling, you ought to be more punctual." He tutted and wagged a finger. Grinning wryly, Miki shrugged.

Chizuru paled, her whole body going cold. Miki cocked his head, silently daring her to try to get past him. Itou tapped on her shoulder to return her attention to him.

"What were you saying just now?" He whispered."If I didn't know better, I'd say that you think I am a remorseless pig."

Chizuru shrugged his hand off her shoulder."I'm leaving." She swiftly walked toward the door, giving Miki what was she hoped was an annoyed look that would persuade him to let her pass.

The younger of the two brothers stepped forward and reached out to grab her arms, holding her in place. Itou stood directly behind her, undoubtedly smiling.

"Let me go." She squirmed. Miki spun her around to face his brother and held her arms from behind to restrain her.

Just as Itou was opening his mouth, the shoji slid open to reveal Saito and Heisuke. Miki released her and stepped back, as did Itou. The captains ran to her, each of them coming to stand between Chizuru and one of the brothers.

"Itou-san." Saito narrowed his eyes."Is there a problem?"

"It's fine, Saito-san," Chizuru said. Saito and Heisuke glanced at her, the former lifting a hand to prevent the latter from speaking. Itou took this as an opportunity to excuse himself, and gestured for Miki to follow him. The captains reluctantly let them go.

Chizuru shakily brought a hand to her chest, and closed her eyes as she felt the rapid heartbeat within her ribcage.


 

After she explained what had happened, Saito ordered Heisuke to escort her to her room while he reported the incident to Hijikata.

Heisuke had tried to talk to her, but gave up when she indicated that she did not want to discuss the matter anymore for the time being. At the moment, he was silently standing guard outside.

Chizuru wrote quickly in her journal, not caring if her handwriting was intelligible. She needed to get this out of her mind immediately.

Itou had led her into a trap. And she might have given him too much information. She wouldn't put it past him to keep a close eye on her from now and try to get her alone again.

And it was all because of herself and Sanan...

She paused, holding the pen over the page and shutting her eyes. If she had told him to put an end to his walks instead of just lessening them, this wouldn't have occurred. It had been her mistake of letting her sympathy for Sanan overpower her logic. To make it worse, she had laughed at his torment of Itou and dismissed the threat this posed. She had not reported her findings to Hijikata and Kondou, instead allowing Sanan to do as he pleased with minimal restraint.

As much as it would pain her to do so, she should have treated him the same way she'd been treated when she started living with the Shinsengumi. Not because of ill will or a lack of pity, but pragmatism. If she could speak with him again, she would make that clear to him.

She shook her head. No doubt Hijikata and Kondou would handle that. Yet the desire to talk to him remained. As immature and illogical as it sounded, she didn't think anyone else could get through to Sanan. They hadn't tried to do anything about the rumors in the past, so what was stopping them from further inaction?

A sigh left her lips. This desire for closeness with Sanan, to learn to read and understand the enigmatic book that he was, was getting to her. Sanan would have found this obsession of hers ridiculous. She had no right to act this way toward him. They were barely friends, and no matter how significant their interactions may have been, there was no intimacy between them.

Why then had he kissed her forehead? She pressed her palm to the spot his lips had recently touched. If she closed her eyes, she could still feel the warmth and tenderness of his lips, his firm grip on her shoulder, his whispered sentence and breath against her skin. He had teased her, not denying or confirming his jealousy. Although this vexed her, she was used to his roundabout way of speaking, even enjoying it to an extent. That being said, she desperately wanted a straight answer just this once. Did she mean something to him? Did he feel this same strange fascination for her?

Groaning, she closed the book and pressed her forehead to it. A mere moment ago, her thoughts were focused on logic, only to return to this burning curiosity about Sanan Keisuke. She hugged the book to her chest.

What reason would he have to care for her? She was a child to him, having been called that by him on one occasion when she brought his food to him. He knew how easy she was to tease and likely sought to amuse himself. But the more she attempted to convince herself of that, the more reason she received to doubt that.

With another groan, she fell onto her side on the futon, still hugging her journal to her bosom. Stubborn, mysterious, confusing man! Why was clear and rational thought so difficult to achieve whenever he became the topic of her contemplations?

Sighing, Chizuru pulled the blanket up to her chin. Knowing Hijikata, she doubted he would get back to her about today's events anytime sooner, and the stress of it was draining her. She was in no condition to think about this, so she gave another sigh and let her eyes fall shut, hoping to have an easier time after a nap.


 

Heisuke closed the shoji with a sigh, having opened it to check on Chizuru and found her asleep. Her facial features were twisted with anxiety, and he was temped to comfort her, but he reminded himself that she should want to accept his help first. His worry was assuaged a bit when she relaxed and settled into a peaceful slumber.

He leaned against the door and rubbed his temples. Why did everything involving Sanan have to be so complex? He had known that ignoring the rumors and Itou's complaints would lead to trouble, but he kept his mouth shut. Honestly, he still didn't want to do anything about it. The moral part of him understood that this couldn't be dismissed and needed to be dealt with, but the other part was too strong to overcome.

He was still shaken by his encounter with Sanan last night. He wished he hadn't said the things he did, yet he knew he wouldn't be able to restrain himself from repeating those statements if he had to redo the conversation. Neither would Sanan. The pure seriousness in his voice when he stated that he hoped Heisuke would never need to make that choice regarding the Water of Life, and his demands for Heisuke to leave when the bloodlust struck him, how desperate and angry he looked as he closed the door on Heisuke's face...

That desire to judge Sanan burned inside Heisuke and each time he tried to, his less than logical thoughts poured over him like a bucket of hot water. He didn't know everything, and he was too scared to learn more. If there was a correct stance to take on this, he would not likely ever find it, or put much effort into attempting to.

What would Itou do now? It was no secret that he wanted to leave and convince others to join him. Heisuke was among those men, though he was already considering it without another person's influence. The one person he could get this off his chest with should not have to add to her own burden, especially in light of recent events, so he kept it to himself.

Shinpachi and Harada made 'being a man' seem so easy; he wondered how much they were struggling with all of this.

Heisuke snorted. Quite the situation they'd gotten themselves into. How they would get out of it should be even more interesting...

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"If you have to keep a secret it's because you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."
— David Nicholls (One Day)


"Sanan-san, we need to talk."

Sanan froze at the words that left Hijikata's mouth, his pen hovering over the page. He had opened his mouth to greet the Commander when he bluntly spoke.

Hijikata disliked nonesense, but his current tone indicated just how serious his reasons for coming here were.

After a second of silence, Sanan put down the pen and closed the book before turning in his seat to face Hijikata, who was already sitting down a few feet across from him.

"There was an incident today involving Itou-san and Yukimura," Hijikata said.

Sanan's eyes widened. His expression quickly returned to its usual stoicalness, though his fists remained clenched in his lap. Neither he nor Hijikata broke eye contact.

"Yukimura is fine, if a bit shaken," Hijikata explained."Itou-San had his brother lie to her about a meeting to lure her to the common room. Saito and Heisuke found them before anything extreme could happen. Saito gave me a report based on information from Yukimura about the incident. I'm sure you've heard rumors about a ghost wandering headquarters."

Sanan nodded curtly."From what I understand, that rumor is fading." He spoke carefully.

"Not enough to get rid of Itou-san's suspicions. He discussed it with Yukimura, who naturally tried to assure him it was just a prank, a cruel prank, but still a prank, and Itou seemed willing to accept that if not for one detail." Hijikata's tone hardened the slightest bit, and Sanan knew what was coming next. He wanted to close his eyes, but settled for tightening his fists. Hijikata did not shift his gaze, and thus did not notice this.

"For a few weeks now, Itou-san has been claiming to hear a voice at his window at night."

Sanan did not react, both from subtlety and a lack of surprise.

"And a laugh whenever he moves."

Still no reaction. He was well aware of what else was to come.

"He told Yukimura that while he is inclined to dismiss this as a prank...no, that wasn't his wording...rather, he said he doesn't believe this is a ghost, but what other explanation could there be for the voice sounding so much like...you."

Sanan raised an eyebrow.

Hijikata crossed his arms."Kondou-san and I were willing to brush this off as Itou-san drinking too much sake during his time spent with some of the men recently and experiencing recurring nightmares, but this detail can't be ignored."

"I agree," Sanan said, nodding."Especially if Yukimura-kun could have been put in danger because of this."

His hands twitched, and Hijikata glanced down a second after his hands stilled. He narrowed his eyes once he'd looked back up.

On the outside, Sanan was as calm as could be, but on the inside, a nagging feeling burned his soul. It took all his strength not to show any external reaction.

He meant what he said about Chizuru's safety. Itou's face flashed in his mind, and he imagined a sword splitting it in half. How dare that sniveling bastard involve her in this? How dare he put her danger?

Sanan stopped himself. As much as he wanted to destroy Itou, this was his fault. He had let his emotions get the better of him, tossing aside caution for what he fooled himself into believing was harmless fun. He knew the official story regarding his "death": Chizuru had discovered him and tried to save his life, to no avail. Of course Itou would use that knowledge as a lead. Sanan had delivered that information straight into Itou's hands and nearly caused Chizuru to suffer.

He should have kept his walks to just walking. No, he should just settled for stepping out to breathe fresh air. No, even that seemed too risky now despite the fact that no one unaware of the secret was allowed in this section of the compound. He should just crack a window for a few minutes and get his fresh air that way.

Hijikata sighed."I don't know what to make of this." He massaged his forehead with his fingers."I want to believe Itou is letting his imagination get the better of him in his desperation to find a reason to leave the Shinsengumi, but this could lead to something."

"It is quite the plight," Sanan agreed. A plight he caused.

Hijikata went on as if he hadn't heard him."If these nightmares stop suddenly, it'll add to Itou's suspicions that we're hiding something from him. I hope that they gradually fade like the rumors are. We're not ready for this yet."

Sanan parted his lips, then closed them. Not once had Hijikata lectured him, accused him, or so much as indicated Sanan's guilt. Was he giving him the benefit of the doubt? An indirect plea for caution?

Sanan nodded."That would be wise." If his thoughts were correct, Hijikata would accept his indirect gratitude.

Nodding back, Hijikata stood. Right as he was about to leave the room, he spoke with his back still facing his friend."Sanan-san, on an unrelated note, are you...alright?"

Sanan blinked, showing a hint of his surprise at the question."As well as can be expected." Not an assurance nor a denial. It was the truth, plain and simple.

When Hijikata looked at him over his shoulder with a worried expression, he smiled."I chose this, Hijikata-kun. It was my suggestion. Why would I complain?"

Hijikata gave a tentative nod."Just...be careful, alright?"

Sanan's smile did not falter."Of course."

Hijikata studied him for another minute before inclining his head and leaving.

Sanan remained completely still, listening to each footstep and the opening and closing of the shoji. He stayed that way for another minute, then raised his arm and slammed his fist against the floor. He shakily breathed in and out. The sounds of the Furies rattling their chains was almost inaudible compared to his own heartbeat.

What was he supposed to do? If he abruptly stopped, especially so soon after Itou made his suspicions known, that would practically confirm it. If he gradually stopped, like Hijikata may or may not have suggested, that could work. But what if Itou was counting on that? He could get up to investigate. Well, maybe not himself. Sanan knew that no matter how suspicious Itou was, his fear overpowered his skepticism. Yet as terrified as Itou may be, he could have someone else such as his brother keep watch for an unwanted guest. There was no correct course of action here, and he didn't doubt that Itou had ensured this would be the case. For all his cowardice and other negative qualities, he was clever.

Sanan closed his eyes and slowly twisted his lips into a smile."Very well, Itou-san. I can be clever too."


 

Chizuru's eyes slowly fluttered open.

Her journal was still clutched to her bosom when she awoke. She didn't feel as stressed as she had before falling asleep, but the issues that had drained her so much in the first place were at the center of her mind.

Sitting up with a sigh, she put the book aside. She hugged her knees to her chest and leaned forward to rest her chin on them. What was she going to do, with herself and Sanan? Even now, with a clear head from her nap, she couldn't think straight in regards to him.

Goodness, how long had she slept? It had been just an hour past noon when she drifted off, yet it was clearly well past curfew now. She must have underestimated her own exhaustion and stress as of late. Not that this stopped her from lecturing the men about getting rest. Perhaps recent events combined with those lectures were responsible for this. Oh, how clever irony could be.

The sound of footsteps snapped her back to reality. Before she could fully process this, she heard a tapping on the door and the moonlight revealed a familiar silhouette on the other side of the shoji.

"Yukimura-kun," Sanan whispered."Are you awake?"

Chizuru extended a hand whilst biting her lip. Should she let him in? This was not the first time she'd been alone with him in her quarters, having discussed Kazama's visit and Kodo's history with the Shinsengumi and the Furies in the past. Plus, she needed to talk to him about today's events.

And she did tell him that her door was always open to him.

After clearing her throat and swallowing thickly, she whispered for him to come in.

Sanan slowly and carefully slid the shoji open, giving her a grimace as he closed it. She sat in seiza position as he approached and then sat in the same position as her.

"Hijikata-kun paid me a visit," he said."He explained the...incident between yourself and Itou-san."

Chizuru gripped the fabric of her pants and partially hung her head. Sanan sighed, but she did not look up. Suddenly, warmth touched her chin and she was gently but firmly forced to meet his gaze. His thumb and index finger did not release her chin as he studied her.

Her heart was racing, though not like it had from her encounter with Itou."I-I'm fine," she stuttered, trying to close her eyes and hang her head again, but he did not let her."I was nervous, but I..." She swallowed once more."I wasn't hurt. You don't need to worry about me."

Why was she reassuring him? She should be scolding him, letting know how much worse it could have gone and that this should be a lesson to him. She told herself that she first needed to make sure he understood that this had not turned out as bad as it could have so he would be more cautious in the future. But as much as she wanted to lecture him, another part of her refused to do that. His gaze and grip on her worsened her struggle.

The shaking intensified and her eyes stung. No, she couldn't cry. She had to be strong.

You're a strong one.

She didn't think it possible, but the shaking got even worse. Tears pricked her eyelids. She opened her mouth to speak, but shut it when a choked, soft noise came out. No words formed in her mind anyway, so there was no point in trying to talk.

She wasn't strong. She was scared, unable to get a grip on her emotions, weak.

As uneasy as she'd previously felt about the encounter with Itou, it didn't come close to this. What if Saito and Heisuke didn't arrive in time, or at all? What if Itou did something to her? What if-

The grip on her vanished, warmth touching the back of her head and her back before she was pulled forward. Stronger warmth then touched her face. Her eyes widened and her cheeks flushed as she realized Sanan had pulled her to him. She balled the fabric of his clothing into her fists. Her body was still shaking as she choked again. She couldn't cry, she shouldn't cry, there wasn't any reason to cry...

A sob escaped her, and Sanan tightened his embrace. He rubbed circles into her back and stroked her head. She stopped fighting her emotions and sobbed into his chest. He didn't say anything, just held her. She didn't know how long they stayed like that, only that she couldn't seem to stop crying. Yet Sanan did not seem to mind.

She lifted her eyes to glance up at him, and his grave facial expression ensured that she wouldn't be able to lecture him. He knew that this was his fault. The idea of bringing more him stress by rubbing that in his face broke her heart.

Why did she care more about his feelings than her own? She could tell he felt that way about her, but that was merely logical considering his actions had led to this. So why did her heart insist there was more to it than that? And why was her brain torn between agreeing and disagreeing with her heart?

At last, after she didn't know how long, she relaxed. The worry hadn't left her, but crying it out had helped. Sanan loosened his embrace, allowing her to disentangle herself from his arms. He continued rubbing her back while he waited for her breathing to even out.

"I..." Her voice was hoarse.

"Hush," Sanan said."You have no obligation to explain yourself, nor feel guilty or embarrassed." He moved his hand to rest atop her head and tapped his fingers against her scalp.

"You needn't worry about Itou-san causing trouble for you anymore," he assured. She frowned. Did that mean he was going to put an end to his walks?

Sanan hummed."I will take care of this. Just relax...and trust me." His smile was both reassuring and wicked.

Chizuru gave a weak but genuine smile, and nodded.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."
― Ernest Hemingway


Things had returned to normal.

Well, everything seemed normal. The rumors of a ghost were almost gone; no doubt Itou wanted to be subtle in order to prevent the soldiers from becoming suspicious while still rubbing it in the other Shinsengumi leaders' faces. No one other than Itou, Miki, and those aware of Chizuru's situation knew about the incident, something that was unlikely to change. Chizuru wasn't sure if that relieved or unnerved her.

At the very least, she didn't have to be near Itou or Miki, since Souma and Nomura were put in charge of delivering refreshments to any meetings the brothers attended. Kondou hadn't even needed to assign them; they volunteered before the idea could cross anyone's mind.

As for herself, she spent more time cooking, cleaning, and patrolling, which was fine with her. Saito and/or Heisuke were always close by in case Itou tried anything else.

It had been three days since the incident, since Sanan came to her room and comforted her...

Lost in thought, Chizuru reached for another article of laundry to hang up, and frowned upon realizing she had completed her final chore of the day. She'd already gone on patrol with Hijikata in the morning, and she wasn't making dinner tonight, so the remainder of the day was hers to spend as she pleased. She would be pleased to have more to do, but knew she had done all she could for the time being.

She sat down on a rock, placing her elbows on her knees and resting her chin on her hands. She sighed. She could return to her room and write in her journal, yet she felt no desire to write. She'd already completed a written record of the encounter with Itou, so even if she did want to write, her sole idea was not an option.

Writing about Itou helped, though by the time she did so, a certain someone had relieved most of her negative feelings.

Sanan had stayed with her for a little while after she'd calmed down, quietly and patiently listening as she recounted the event. She'd eventually begun to drift off, but the memory made her nervous. Sensing this, Sanan offered to stay with her until she fell back asleep, which didn't take long thanks to the sense of safety and consolation that his presence provided. She felt much better upon awakening despite her plight.

I will take care of this. Just relax...and trust me.

Those words were a constant comfort for her. Whenever she worried about this issue, his promise soothed her concerns. There was no indication that he'd done anything to fulfill his promise, yet her faith in him remained. It was too soon to judge. Whatever Sanan did and however long it would take, he would handle this.

A smile slowly brightened her expression as she nodded to herself. Everything would be fine. She just needed to be patient.


 

"You are worried about her."

Heisuke whipped around to face the speaker. Saito stood a few feet in front of him, white scarf fluttering in the wind. His voice and expression was as stoical as always, but his facial features softened the slightest bit as he looked in Chizuru's direction. Heisuke followed his gaze, and his frown returned as he watched the young woman.

"She would not want you to worry so much for her," Saito said. When Heisuke did not react, he smiled faintly and added,"The irony is not lost on me. She worries so much for us and ignores our assurances that we are fine."

Heisuke crossed his arms, his back still facing Saito."We call her a bad liar, but we're no better." He glanced at the sky."Now, one of our lies is close to being exposed."

Saito hummed."The risk has always been the same; recent events have merely made it more obvious. No amount of carefulness could have prevented that."

"We still could have done more." There he went again, complaining about a problem when he possessed little, if any, will to do anything to fix it. Add this to the list of times he regretted opening his mouth but knew he would repeat if given a second chance.

Saito sighed."There is no point in dwelling on past mistakes. Better that we learn from our mistakes and not repeat them in the present and future." Again he glanced at Chizuru."For our sakes, and hers."

"He will handle this," Saito stated after a brief silence."I do not doubt that Yukimura has faith in him. There is no reason we should not as well."

Heisuke pretended not to notice or share the hint of hesitation in Saito's voice.


 Sanan was rarely and not easily surprised. This was one of those moments.

He had opened the door to step outside for some fresh air and was greeted by Yamazaki, who'd been reaching to open it. Their eyes widened for a second before their expressions returned to normal.

"Yamazaki-kun," Sanan said."May I help you?"

Yamazaki bowed."I came here to ask you that, Colonel Sanan. The Commander sent me. He did not eleborate, saying that you would explain what you needed me to do once I arrived."

Sanan blinked."I never requested assistance. What-" It clicked, and he blinked again. His lips twisted into a small smile and he nodded."I see."

Hijikata knew Sanan would form a plan to handle the situation with Itou and decided to send him some help. Excellent; there were parts in his plan that left him worried about carrying it out, so having someone to help was exactly what he needed. He stepped aside and gestured for Yamazaki to enter.

If Yamazaki felt any displeasure with Sanan for causing this in the first place, he did not indicate it. While Sanan was aware that Yamazaki knew how to mask his emotions and not let them cloud his judgement and that he respected his superiors, he had his fair share of moments when the mask slipped and Sanan could read most people with ease.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Yamazaki flinch in response to the sound of chains rattling and growling as they neared a room containing Furies, specifically the one with the Fury that had seemed to show some coherent thought. Nothing similar had happened since, but he kept a special eye on that Fury just in case.

"I believe you can guess the real reason Hijikata-kun sent you here," Sanan said.

Yamazaki inclined his head."Itou-san is suspicious about the rumors claiming a ghost is roaming our headquarters at night." Sanan did not fail to notice that Yamazaki avoided mentioning the cause of those rumors, and was not sure how to feel about that.

"And," Yamazaki continued."He...caused problems for Yukimura-kun." His eyes narrowed for a microsecond and a little bit of venom touched his tone as he uttered that last sentence.

Sanan adjusted his glasses."Indeed," he muttered.

When they were directly in front of the door to the room with that Fury, there was a loud growl and the sound of chains rattling as the creature lunged for the door. Yamazaki swiftly brought a hand to his sword, but he reluctantly relaxed when Sanan gestured for him not to worry.

"This is nothing out of the ordinary," Sanan stated."Bear in mind that most of the men drank the Water of Life before I modified it." There had been a few new additions after he drank the serum and though they did not have to be restrained, their struggles were only slightly less difficult than their predecessors. He was the only one capable of completely rational thought. He supposed that made sense, seeing as he alone fully understood everything about the serum prior to drinking it and even then it was far from an easy transition.

"It must be an interesting experience," Yamazaki remarked, not taking his eyes off the door."To have all that power, to not have to fear death when fulfilling one's duty..."

Sanan knew Yamazaki was not afraid to die and would not hesitate to do so if duty called for it, as well as the fact that he had experienced brushes with death like anyone else in the Shinsengumi. Be that as it may, being close to death tended to make one think differently, to make them realize their opinions weren't as firm as they thought they were or at least make them question themselves. That thought must have crossed Yamazaki's mind, must have crossed anyone's mind; what they made of that thought depended on the person. Sanan was uncertain which category applied to Yamazaki, but he decided not to dwell on it for the time being.

Sanan turned to face Yamazaki, putting his hands into his sleeves. His expression was stern."Interesting as it may be, it is not a choice that should be made lightly." He glanced to the side."Honestly, it would be better if one never had to make that choice. But if it does come to that, it must be taken seriously, though that is much easier said than done."

Yamazaki closed his eyes and bowed his head in agreement. That final part of his speech echoed in his ears, but now was not the time for this.

Yamazaki opened his eyes."What is the plan, Colonel Sanan?"

Sanan was both eager and reluctant to change the subject, but he suppressed his conflicting thoughts and put all his focus on the main topic. He had made a promise to Chizuru and nothing could distract him from fulfilling it.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"Sometimes the only way to fix a mistake- is to make it twice."

— Julianna Baggott (Girl Talk)


Two weeks had passed since the incident with Itou. And it was finally time to enact his plan.

Yamazaki was an excellent help. Sanan did not have to worry about getting caught when he could send a spy to gather information and keep a lookout on the few occasions that he did go outside. He had a definite account of Itou's schedule and was able to plan everything perfectly.

As far as the majority were concerned, Itou was overreacting to nightmares. There were some skeptical ones, but not enough to cause a big issue. Which was why this had to be taken care of as quickly as possible. Not to mention his promise to Chizuru.

Sanan read over every detail of the plan in his head. He had planned this out completely, but he needed to go over it a final time. One little mistake could ruin it for them, for her...

Itou still took a few men out to drink with him, no doubt to earn their loyalty for when he at last found a way to leave the Shinsengumi. Itou always returned drunk, just not so much that a loose tongue would confirm what everyone suspected, but enough for the idea of his mind playing tricks on him to be a plausible explanation. Tonight would be no exception.

He and Chizuru hadn't spoken since he assured her he would handle the situation, but Yamazaki kept him informed on her status. She continued to work, avoiding duties that involved interacting with Itou. Saito or Heisuke were always nearby for protection. He'd personally checked on her last night. Through the open window, he saw her writing in her diary with a smile on her face. He must have made a noise, because she turned to the window; he quickly hid. Content that she was alright, he left. Soon she would have one less thing to worry about.

Frowning, Sanan rubbed his chin as he leaned against the wall. If not for him, she would not have this extra problem. Once this was over, he should keep his distance from her and put more limits on himself. She and the Shinsengumi were already at risk; the last thing they required was this addition. He nodded, eyes falling shut.

I know I'm not...the ideal person for this or well, anything you're going through, but if you ever need to talk, my door is always open to you.

His eyes snapped open. There never seemed to be an end to the list of words she uttered that touched his heart. His lips formed a smile as his hand came to rest over his heart. He sighed.

"Strange, kind, persistent girl," he whispered."If I didn't know better, I'd say you pitied me."

I must truly be in Hell. To be pitied even by the likes of you.

He'd wanted to think this was mere pity, but it did not take long to dismiss that idea. By the likes of her? That didn't even mean what he'd thought it did anymore.

She was naturally kind, perhaps to a fault, though she was not afraid to stand up for herself. He wasn't exactly the kindest person, and most of the time they spent together was after his injury, so her experiences regarding him, save for the journal and the cat incident, were not positive. Yet she hadn't snapped at him, hadn't distanced herself from him like the others.

"What did I do to deserve your kindness and faith?" He asked, gazing at the night sky.

The sun had recently set and Itou would be heading out soon. Then he had a plan to enact and a promise to fulfill.

He sighed again."Well, even if I don't deserve it, I will repay you, though this is the least I can do after causing you trouble."

He'd been standing outside for the last half-hour, enjoying the fresh air as he mentally prepared and waited for Yamazaki to let him know that Itou had left.

Five minutes later, he received the signal he was waiting for.


What was he to make of this situation?

When the whispers and laughter began, he immediately thought it was a nightmare and did not tell anyone. As the weeks rolled by, that explanation lost merit. It happened so often, almost like it was deliberate. Another suspicion within the Shinsengumi, another possible secret. His thoughts darted to Yukimura, Hijikata's mysterious page. The men claimed that he just appeared one day and was accepted with no questions asks. Despite being a page, Hijikata rarely took the boy with him on patrol, and he had his own room. Clearly, this young one was important to the leaders. Itou wondered if Yukimura could be called a he, as Miki had expressed his own suspicions about the page, but both he and his brother were reluctant to make such a claim. Hijikata, who took the rules so seriously, breaking them like that? There had to be a good reason for that; none that he could think of. Still, Yukimura was hiding something, perhaps more than one secret. What did Yukimura have to hide? What did Hijikata and Kondou have to hide? The answers to those questions might just be his key to escape from those savages.

How were these nightly scares happening? Itou did not want to let go of his suspicions, nor did he enjoy the possibility of a ghost. However, the fact of the matter was that he was not dreaming. He was not imagining that voice, which sounded as clear as it had the last time he heard its owner. So what was the truth? Had Sanan's death been a lie? It seemed convenient, since his reputation had plummeted before his death and Hijikata and Kondou wanted to let their old friend have some peace. Plus, no one would question Yukimura, the one who found Sanan and tried to save him. The incident had simply faded away. Until Itou lost his patience and tried to question Yukimura.

Yukimura was not a talented liar and every word the page uttered about Sanan was genuine. This could be a case of half-truths to avoid being caught lying. The emotion in those eyes and voice was not feigned, as if their owner were reliving the experience. And that anger when he casually mentioned insulting Sanan was undeniable. Itou had been honestly relieved that Yukimura put down the tea tray, lest it be used as a weapon against him. Everything about Yukimura's body language confirmed a personal connection to Sanan, regardless of whether he was dead or alive. It went beyond simple kindness and respect for others whom one admired. Yet it gave him nothing in terms of evidence to the truth about the night incidents. Which was why he kept pressing the page, though he'd be lying if he denied enjoying his discomfort. He might have been able get some actual clues if Saito and Heisuke hadn't arrived. Now those two were constantly close by to keep him away and Yukimura's duties were altered. His one chance of a lead gone. Now he was back to square one with no idea how to proceed.

Itou shook his head. Mulling over this wasn't doing him any good. For the moment, he should focus on ensuring he was ready to leave the second he uncovered one of their many secrets. Then they'd have no choice but to let him leave peacefully. He nodded to himself. Preparation would be his primary focus for tonight.


"Itou."

He froze, his laughter dying and eyes widening. He'd been laughing at Miki after he tripped when that voice spoke. The voice was so close, the words so clear, and he could have sworn he felt someone's breath hit the nape of his neck. He began to shake and then came the laugh, so quiet he barely heard it. His tormentor was here.

Reason urged him to accept that it was his imagination, that the sake explanation was the truth, and that he should turn around now and go to that window to see that no one was there. After all, he wasn't alone in his bed this time like all the previous occurrences, so what was the danger? But that gnawing uncertainty, however small it may be, kept him in place. He could be as skeptical as he wanted during the day, but at night, even in the presence of others, there was no escaping that fear.

The voice spoke again, softer and further away this time, as if taunting him. He swallowed, unwilling to so much as glance from the corner of his eye at the window. He had managed to stop shaking, saving himself from the additional fear of the laugh. He kept his eyes down and dared not move. The voice seemed to be drifting away and he was not going to risk calling it back. He waited until the whispering finally ceased before shakily rising and walking to the window. Each step was slow and hesitant, as if dumbbells were chained to his ankles. But his determination, weak as it was, spurred him on. Upon reaching his destination, he swallowed once more and examined the entire area he could see from the window. He comforted himself with the knowledge that he was on the ground floor, so on the off chance that this was a ghost, he would be unlikely to see any floating spirits.

Nothing out of the ordinary in sight. He was about to leave when that laugh came again, even harder to hear than the last time. He almost fell out the window in his hurry to restart his search. Desperately his eyes scanned the area, terror and confusion fighting over which would be the better outcome. He gripped the windowsill so tightly his nails dug into the wood. His heart, already racing, stopped beating for a second when he spotted him. There he was, standing across the street, grinning at him so widely he resembled a maniac. He raised his hand and reached forward as if it would grow in length and grab Itou. His lips parted, and Itou didn't need to hear to know what he was saying. Even through the crowd and Sanan's position in the shadows of a dark alley, he could clearly make it all out, so there was no mistaking Sanan as he took a step forward, and Itou watched him as if in a trance.

A hand grabbed his shoulder, and he shrieked. Miki recoiled as if he'd been burned, staring at his brother in shock and concern. His eyes narrowed, posing a silent question that Itou responded to with a nod.

Itou looked back outside, but there was no sign of Sanan. As if he'd vanished into thin air as quickly as he appeared. He glanced at the equally flabbergasted Miki. Words were not needed to convey their agreement that it was time to go home for the night.

Itou didn't expect to be able to relax that night, and he dared not move as the voice at his window tormented him.

Suddenly, the idea of a ghost was at the center of his mind.


The next morning, Itou and Miki were further perplexed.

"I hate to say this," Miki sighed."But is it possible that this is just your imagination?"

Itou also sighed."I don't want to accept the easy explanation offered by Hijikata-san and Kondou-san, but I am not enthusiastic about the thought of a ghost. Just last night I was heavily considering the ghost possibility."

Miki crossed his arms and leaned against the wall."Well, I haven't heard or seen anything and you obviously aren't making this up, so something is going on."

Itou rubbed his chin thoughtfully."Perhaps I am so desperate to find a reason to get out of here as soon as possible that I am obsessing over this." He bit his lip."That said, I cannot shake off my suspicion. Everything he did last night at Shimabara seemed so deliberate. Like he wanted my attention and enjoyed it."

"Just the idea that his death was faked is-"

"Insane, I know." Itou nodded with a hard expression."It brings too many questions. Where would they hide him? Our headquarters is large, but even so, keeping that secret would require carefulness to the extreme. No unknown variables can be allowed. The possibility of a ghost is even more unnerving. So believe me, brother, no one would prefer that this be the result of overindulgence in sake more than I, and I'm certain they understand that."

Miki clenched his jaw at the mention of them."So what are you going to do?"

Itou swallowed."I am going to stop drinking. See what happens. See if anything happens." He both anticipated and dreaded the results.

Miki started to nod when his eyes widened a bit."If this is a cruel, stupid prank, they might not torment you when you're sober to keep the lie going."

Itou gave a ghost of a smile."Which is precisely why I will go to Shimabara and not consume a sip of alcohol and pretend to be drunk when we return to headquarters." He wasn't a professional actor, but faking intoxication would not be difficult for him.

"Good idea," Miki said then tensed."What do you want me to do in the meantime?"

"See if you can catch Yukimura alone. I know it will not be easy with the extra watch on him and us since the incident, but see if you can find any cracks in it and slip through. But be careful."

"You too, big brother."

They walked along with their plan set, unaware of the ninja that had heard everything.


 

Nothing.

In the last hour since he'd gone to bed, Itou heard nothing. No whispers, no laughter. Just the occasional gust of wind. Other than that, complete and utter silence.

He lay in bed, glaring at the ceiling. He had done exactly as he planned. He went to Shimabara and did not drink at all, but made it seem like he was drunk when he returned to headquarters. And to both his relief and frustration, there were no disturbances. The voice and laugh should have come by now. He had moved several times and even went to the window to check, but the silence remained.

One night was hardly sufficient proof, so he repeated this a second time. Then a third time. And a fourth time. A fifth time, a sixth time, a seventh time, an eight time, a ninth time, and finally on the tenth night, he decided to give up on this tactic.

It pained and relieved him that it seemed sake was indeed the cause of these nighttime terrors. It did seem a bit too convenient, but he had no solid proof to reject it. That said, he couldn't completely accept it yet either.

"So what now?" Miki asked, lazily kicking at the dirty.

Itou rubbed his temples. This confusion and fear was draining him physically and mentally. It was a struggle not to pass out during meetings, let alone right now."I am going to start drinking again, but gradually. Only a little bit tonight and slowly increasing my intake of alcohol with each night afterwards."

"Fair enough," Miki replied."I haven't been able to get ahold of Yukimura. Toudou and Saito are taking their duty to watch over Yukimura more seriously than their patrols. And on the rare occassionas that Yukimura isn't with one or both of them, Hijikata is there." He threw his hands up."I give up."

Itou grimaced. He couldn't blame Miki for giving up and wasn't really surprised that his efforts ended in failure. But it had been worth a try. Or several, in their case. And it wasn't as though Miki was alone in wishing to throw in the towel.

Again the ninja heard and again the ninja told.


 

The voice and laughter returned.

The first night it was faint, barely audible, but definitely there, the second night it grew louder, even more so on the third and fourth nights, and on the fifth night it was as clear as possible.

It whispered his name, it laughed when he moved, and it tormented him for hours.

He hated how convenient it was. And he hated the lack of proof, and even more he hated the reality that sometimes convenience equaled truth. All the pieces fit together, there was no way around it and no one else to blame.

Therefore, loath as he was to admit it, there were no ghosts or pranksters tormenting him.

Itou became sick of sake and decided to take a break of it for awhile. Or maybe the rest of his life. He shuddered whenever he remembered the voice and laugh. For now, he was beaten. It was time to move on and focus other things that could get him out of here. No more wasting time and effort and losing sleep on superstitions.


 

Yamazaki heard, Yamazaki told, and Sanan was pleased.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"No matter where you are, you're always a bit on your own, always an outsider."
— Banana Yoshimoto (Goodbye Tsugumi)


Finally, things were actually returning to normal.

That wasn't to say they would go back completely to the past, but the tension within their large headquarters had lessened significantly. Hesiuke and Saito still kept an eye on her and Hijikata made sure Itou was a reasonable distance from her when they were in the same room. That said, their efforts seemed increasingly less necessary, as Itou and Miki stopped trying to trap her. The rumors were fading, with barely a whisper coming out every now and then. Itou no longer mentioned his nightly scares, nor did he drink. At last, they could breathe easier.

Chizuru hummed to herself as she sat in her cot and wrote in her journal. As stressful as the situation with Itou had been, it did help somewhat. Hijikata made sure she went on patrol more often so she could work more on finding leads about her father. She was disappointed but unsurprised to still come home empty-handed or with misinformation, but it was better than doing nothing. Eventually, something had to come up. Kodo always came back. He'd made it clear how important his daughter was to him and would never abandon her. No matter how long it took, she would find him, even if she needed to wait another few years. She had so many questions to ask him. About the Shinsengumi, about the serum...

She paused, biting her lip. Surely Kodo was well-intentioned in creating the serum. As a doctor, he wanted to save people. Which was why she both dreaded and yearned to hear his explanations. Did they really have a right to decide who lived and who died? Was immortality possible? And even if it was, was it worth the cost? The struggle with sanity and desire for blood? How could that be justified? Not for the first time she reminded herself of how different she was from the Shinsengumi, but that didn't explain Kodo's part in this. And how could one forget Kazama's claims about her father?

A heavy sigh escaped her lips. Though she did not doubt that Kodo loved her, she had realized that she didn't know him as well as she thought she did and the Water of Life wasn't the only questionable decision he'd made. He'd gone to extremes to ensure no one knew about how quickly she healed and sometimes scared her with his reminders that she was forbidden from revealing it to anyone. He hardly talked about his work outside of the clinic when he traveled, so it made sense that he was dealing in these dark matters. He'd kept her sheltered her whole life. Ironic that she learned more about the world from the people who initially imprisoned her than from her own father.

Growing up, she spent most of her time in the clinic. She did interact with other children, but her healing abilities made it difficult to form and maintain close bonds. Kodo was the sole close link she possessed. Even the Shinsengumi still didn't know her secret. Any injuries she received were always minor and nothing that required Yamazaki's help, so as bad as she was at lying, she could twist the truth and that kept her secret safe.

Then there was the lack of knowledge about her family other than Kodo. Her earliest memory was of Kodo. He never mentioned her mother, did not even say her name or how she died, though Chizuru had suspected as a child that her mother healed like her and may have suffered a terrible fate for it. Did Kodo have that ability too? Kazama did say that all Demons healed quickly, and loathe as she was to trust him, there was some sense in his words.

Chizuru gave another sigh. She missed the old days when all was simple, when she wasn't questioning everything she thought she knew, when there didn't seem to be lies and half-truths everywhere, when she wasn't wondering whom to trust or if she should trust anyone at all. Well, anyone except for Sanan.

There she went again. No matter what the man did, her trust and sympathy for him remained. Her mind was at an endless, one-sided war regarding him. He had kept his promise to make sure Itou no longer bothered her, yet he had caused that issue in the first place, but he was obviously very remorseful for his mistake. He had attacked her after drinking the Water of Life, yet he hadn't been in the right state of mind at that moment and he stopped when she uttered his name. He endured great loneliness, yet that his own fault for being so standoffish and later drinking the Water of Life and refusing to see past his own negative thoughts on himself and his injury. He suffered and regretted so much, yet most if not all of that was the result of his own illogicalness and pettiness.

She knew all of this, yet she could not scold him or condemn him. Any chance of harboring negativity toward him was low at best. He would always have her trust and compassion.

A tap on the window startled her back into reality. She stood, then hesitated, biting her lip while she pondered what to do. After a minute, she shook her head and opened the window.

She frowned upon being greeted by nothing. Had she been hearing things? No, the tapping had been soft but perfectly distinct. Someone had been at her window and fled for whatever reason. She looked around and was about to settle for the explanation of it being her imagination when she spotted something.

On the windowsill was a folded piece of paper. Chizuru looked around again before taking the paper and closing her window. She unfolded the note and her eyes widened slightly when she recognized a certain someone's handwriting.

Thank you.

She smiled. It would be awhile before things could be resolved, and she did not expect that resolution to be entirely peaceful and happy, though she wished for a fraction of positivity in the conclusion. But this little note gave her one thing to be genuinely hopeful about.


 

Sighing, Sanan rubbed his eyes.

Now that the situation with Itou was taken care of, he could return to his research. No sooner had he started, than he recalled his frustration with the lack of breakthroughs. No changes in behavior, no new test subjects, nothing. Twice he had reexamined the fury that seemed to show intelligence, to no avail; it had returned to its usual savagery. Even now he could make out its growls through the walls. He hadn't even been working that long and already he was nearing the end of his tether. He simply did not have it in him today to work.

Or maybe he wanted his thoughts to distract him.

Hijikata had not paid him another visit. Yamazaki gave him a few updates so he knew the plan succeeded, but that was over. Not that Sanan expected otherwise. Things were returning to normal, after all. Well, except for his walks. He only allowed himself a few minutes outside now (except, of course, his most recent trip). The last thing he wanted was to restart the problem he'd just fixed. Chizuru had suffered more than enough because of him.

Yet he knew she would forgive him. And he could never repay that kindness. That note, that tiny acknowledgement of her undeserved compassion and faith for him, was he all he could do to thank her besides resolve the messes he'd accidentally dragged her into.

She'd probably forgiven him already. Though she was certainly capable of getting angry, she always tried to be open-minded, a courtesy that was doubly extended to him and a courtesy that they both knew better than anyone else that he did not deserve. She would insist otherwise, for sure, but the obvious truth could not be ignored.

Yukimura Chizuru, the little simple-looking book filled with easy-to-miss subtext that few gave her credit for. He still wanted to solve that little mystery, but it was long past time to move on. They had just survived a close call because of his mischief; he was not about to let his fascination cause another problem. It was best for both of them, for all of the Shinsengumi, that he kept his distance. He had sacrificed the right to expect more from this life long ago.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"…I can't help seeing that you are very lonely, and sometimes there is a hungry look in your eyes that goes to my heart."
— Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)


Chizuru and Inoue exchanged a glance of shared frustration.

It really wasn't a surprise that Souji was refusing to rest like Hijikata ordered him to, or that Souji was being difficult at all. But they normally had better luck with him, managing to coax him with their concern for his well-being and the fact that Inoue was one of the few people Souji was humble around. Chizuru also liked to think that her keeping his secret played a part too. But today, they had no such luck. Souji was not hearing a word of their pleas and orders, and he knew full well that Kondou was unavailable to offer his own persuasion.

So the disguised girl and the older captain sat with their chins on their fists, trying to think of how to make Souji see reason. Occasionally their eyes met, ideas having sprung to their brains only to be dismissed with simultaneous headshakes as they realized that idea was bound to fail. Meanwhile, Souji was moving around the room like a mischevious child.

Chizuru sighed. Kondou was not available, Hijikata just barking more orders at Souji would be ineffective as usual, Yamazaki would have the same luck as Hijikata, Saito had been twice as busy lately so getting him to talk sense into Souji wasn't an option. And there was no point in even considering asking someone else for aid. It seemed Souji had won.

Right as Chizuru was about to give up, an idea clicked in her brain. She jumped a little in her seat, making Inoue and Souji shoot her curious looks though the latter shrugged it off and went back to ignoring them.

"You win this round, Okita-san," Chizuru said, standing. Inoue stood with a raised eyebrow. Chizuru winked at him, then returned her attention to Souji."Do whatever you prefer for now. Just know that I'll be informing a certain someone of today's events, which he specfically instructed me to do in such a situation."

Souji's eyebrows rose."Really, Chizuru-chan? Threatening to tell Hijikata-san on me?" He crossed his arms, unimpressed and amused."I can't believe I expected better from you."

Chizuru smiled sweetly."I wasn't referring to Hijikata-san." She felt a spark of sadistic glee."Do you remember the cat incident?" A pointless question. One would have to be suffering from terrible amnesia to forget a single detail of that day.

Souji's eyes narrowed. She could picture the gears turning in his skull, trying to figure out her plan. Inoue watched with equal curiosity.

Her smile widened."Well then, I'm sure you remember that Sanan-san pulled me aside and protected me so you couldn't involve me in your mess. He told me that if anyone ever tried to force me into one of their schemes again, I should tell them I was under strict orders from Hijikata-san." Souji narrowed his eyes further, knowing there was more to it than that. Chizuru crossed her arms, enjoying the incoming smugness."Sanan-san also said that if the mention of Hijikata-san was not enough to discourage the troublemaker, then I had his blessing to mention his name as well." She tapped her chin thoughtfully, pretending not to notice the way Souji whitened."If memory serves, Sanan-san personally handled your punishment for the cat incident and you walked with a limp for two days after some rather vigorous training." She adopted an innocent expression, waiting for Souji's decision and half-hoping she would get to make good on her threat.

Souji recovered swiftly, giving her a shaky smirk."Nice try, Chizuru-chan, but given the current circumstances-"

Inoue clapped his hands with enthusiasm and approval."Splendid idea, Yukimura-kun. I can easily deliver this message to Sanan-san and arrange for him and Souji to discuss this little problem."

Souji gawked at Inoue, whose smile was even sweeter than Chizuru's. Truly, Sanan would be proud of their attempts to mimic his mixture of pleasantness and unpleasantness.

Souji looked back and forth between them, mouth opening and closing. After swallowing nervously and pondering for a minute, he hurried to sit down and consume the meal they'd brought for him.

Chizuru and Inoue covered their mouths to hide their grins. Souji glared at them, impressed and annoyed at having to concede defeat.

After making sure Souji ate everything they brought and that he was actually resting, they left him alone.

Inoue patted her on the shoulder as they walked."Excellent job, Yukimura-kun. We should use that tactic more often."

"It won't get old?"

"Not even Souji is brave or foolish enough to take any chances with Sanan-san. No one knows that better than the man himself."

She giggled. That definitely sounded like Sanan. She could imagine him chuckling and smirking while his terrified subordinates shook and struggled to form excuses. Her amusement doubled at the knowledge that Souji easily counted among those unfortunate souls, although she couldn't deny that he often deserved it.

She bit her lip. She hadn't heard or seen anything related to Sanan since the note at her window last week. No one mentioned the Itou issue during the more private, secretive meetings; she was torn between relief and unease about that. It seemed everyone went out of their way to avoid the topic of Sanan and the Water of Life, and they certainly couldn't use the excuse of being careful with information around her anymore.

Chizuru looked around to ensure they were alone and there was no risk of being overheard. "Inoue-san?" She said hesitantly.

Inoue turned to her."Yes?"

She leaned in to whisper,"D-Do the others talk about Sanan-san much?"

Inoue frowned."You've noticed it too, then." Looking ahead of them, he sighed."It is no different when you are not present; they avoid that topic like a plague, only mentioning it when absolutely necessary."

She would be lying if she claimed to be shocked by that. It was just a confirmation of what she already strongly suspected.

"Like the recent Itou problem," she murmured. He nodded with a grimace.

"Have you heard anything?" She asked. Inoue was among those sent to handle the meals and supplies for the Fury Corp. and the only one that didn't express negative thoughts about it. Chizuru had done that a few times after they moved to the temple, but soon received other duties and barely saw the Furies. And with the two new recruits, Souma Kazue and Nomura Risaburo, becoming her page protégés, she did not expect that to change.

Inoue shook his head."I have not seen him in awhile, no. That task has fallen on others lately." He pressed his lips into a thin line."The last time I saw him was a few weeks ago, just before Itou started experiencing...nightmares. He seemed...the usual."

Chizuru opened her mouth, closed it, and lowered her head. As she'd expected, and as she'd worried. His next words made her head snap to the side to look at him so quickly that it was a wonder her neck didn't snap.

"It is possible I will be assigned to that task again soon." Inoue spoke smoothly, understanding in his eyes and the ghost of a smile teasing his lips. Her eyes widened and her cheeks flushed. After looking away for a moment, she glanced back at him with gratitude clear on her face and nodded.


Sanan watched the fury like a hawk.

He decided to bring the fury that had shown hints of intelligence and rationality to a separate room, away from their more savage counterparts. He had been ready to give up on it, but it'd again reacted fiercely during one of his bloodlust attacks and grown quiet when the pain stopped, as if it sensed what was happening to Sanan despite being in a different room. He undid its chains and waited for something, only to be attacked again. But as he re-chained the creature, it lifted its gaze to meet his own and though he couldn't decipher any emotion in its eyes, the calmness in them was human.

Just a day after he gave Chizuru the note thanking her for her kindness and trust, he already had hope for his research. A possible breakthrough. He did not let himself be giddy, however, left he become more vexed if this turned out to be nothing. Still, it was a nice thought to have some hope, for however long it would last.

After the second incident, he arranged for the fury to have its own room, still chained but receiving more observational visits for studying than the others. He spent almost half the night watching it, taking note of every movement that stood out. The creature kept its head down, but shifted whenever he entered the room. The first night was mostly growls and struggles, albeit not as fierce as in the past. Sanan placed some medicine within its reach, but it did not react. The medicine was still there when he came back later. The second night was the exact same, as was the third night. The fourth night was when things started to change. He left the medicine, and when he came back, it was gone. The fury still would not look at him, but as he left, he could have sworn that he noticed from the corner of his eye the fury glaring at his back. The fifth night was when the fury finally met his gaze, but still waited until he left to take the medicine. The entire time it glared at him, gaze never wavering. The sixth night was when the fury did both, watching him like he watched it and taking the medicine in front of him. Sanan smiled and avidly recorded this in his notes.

Now here he was, having just awoken on the seventh night, eager to continue with this breakthrough. It seemed he would truly not be alone in maintaining his mind, after all.

Someone was supposed to come tonight to deliver fresh supplies for the Fury Corp. For once, Sanan was glad that most of his comrades disliked venturing to this section of headquarters, as it meant there would be no dillydallying with small talk that distracted or delayed his work. He was not about to waste precious time and energy that this potential lead required. Though it would be nice to have someone to share his enthusiasm with, if only to brag.

Alright, maybe it was too soon to brag, but this week was more productive than any other period of time had been for awhile.

That was why it was a pleasant surprise to see who had been assigned to bring the supplies this time.

"Inoue-san." Sanan's eyes widened briefly before he nodded at the older man and let him in, taking some of the supplies from his hands. Inoue hadn't been assigned this task since a few weeks ago, shortly before the Itou problem began forming.

"Sanan-san." Inoue smiled as he followed him to his room."You seem to be in a good mood."

"I am," he admitted softly. He hesitated, glancing over his shoulder to check Inoue's expression. Inoue was always polite and friendly to everyone, and had never expressed a solid opinion on the Water of Life and Furies, so it was impossible for Sanan, despite his skill at reading people, to tell if this was a courtesy question or true curiosity.

"I might have reached a breakthrough in my research," Sanan confessed."Time will tell if it is truly signficant, but I am hopeful."

Inoue's smile grew."That's good to hear. I'm sure Isami-san and Toshi-san will be happy to know that as well."

Sanan shrugged. Almost everyone seemed content to ignore the Fury Corp.'s existence, and the few who tried to be more open-minded changed their minds and fled at the last minute, like Heisuke had done recently. Souji and Chizuru might be interested, if only for the sake of making sure he was well in the latter's case. Souji might be a mix of both concern for him and interest in the serum.

Sanan bit his lip."Is Yukimura-kun well?" He hadn't dared go out on any walks after the Itou problem was taken care of, hesitating to simply step outside for a minute of fresh air. He had no idea how Chizuru was doing since Yamazaki finished helping him and providing updates and had returned to his normal duties.

Inoue's smile was a knowing one."As well as can be expected." He said pleasantly."She has had more work to do recently, nothing that she can't handle, of course, and not that she is complaining. Souma Kazue and Nomura Risaburo have become pages for Isami-san, and Yukimura-kun is in charge of training them. She seems to enjoy it, and they are quite enthusiastic to learn as much as possible from their new Senpai. And since she has actually been allowed to act as Hijikata's page, she has plenty to teach."

"I am certain they will benefit greatly from learning the art of tea-making," Sanan said dryly.

Inoue chuckled."You joke, but that will indeed be a very valuable life lesson."

"Who said I was joking?" Sanan asked, half-humorously. He remembered his own beginnings as an instructor back at the dojo. A learning experience for both himself and his students. He was glad that Chizuru would get to experience that for herself. The boys were lucky to have someone so bright, kind, and optimistic guide them into properly serving the Shinsengumi.

Then something hit him. One of those names rang a bell."You said Souma Kazue has joined our ranks?" The same Souma Kazue that carried a painting of Serizawa in Fury form given to him by Ibuki? He did not expect to hear or see anything of him after the matter was resolved and he was let go.

Inoue nodded."Along with Nomura Risaburo, yes." Then he frowned."No one told you? Surely Toshi-san and Isami-san would have-"

"I do not get much news here," Sanan said icily, shrugging in partially feigned nonchalance. He'd already talked about this with Chizuru and wasn't in the mood to be reminded that his existence was a popularly ignored topic."The last update I received was a week ago, from Yamazaki about Itou-san's nightmares." He looked straight ahead as he walked, his good mood fading.

"I see." Inoue spoke quietly."That's very unfortunate." There was a hint of displeasure in his voice.

Sanan gave another shrug without looking back."Kondou-san and Hijikata-kun are busy men." He smiled sadly as he recalled Chizuru saying something similar while trying to comfort him after he admitted the same thing to her.

"Hmm." Inoue pressed his lips into a thin line."And they are especially busy at the most convenient times, it seems." The displeasure was far more noticeable now. Sanan opted to ignore it. Nothing would come of this, and his eagerness to return to studying the intelligent fury was all that kept his good mood from completely dropping. It was no insult to Inoue, of course, but simply how things were and perhaps how they should be.

Inoue finished helping him with the supplies in silence. Once that was done, he smiled kindly at Sanan and reached into his pocket."Before I go, there is one more thing I was asked to give you." He retrieved a folded piece of paper and handed it to Sanan, ignoring his confused expression.

"Good luck with your work, Sanan-san." Inoue patted his shoulder and turned to leave. Sanan watched him with a raised eyebrow. Once he heard the door open and close as Inoue left, he examined the note. Inoue claimed he was asked to deliver this to him, so he obviously hadn't written it and surely he would have just told Sanan if he wanted to let him know anything. Could it be an update from Yamazaki that he was too busy to do himself or just gave it to Inoue since he knew the older man was already coming here? Maybe a well-intended but ultimately meaningless apology note from Heisuke? Certainly possible.

Sighing, Sanan shook his head. He didn't need more reminders of what an unpleasant necessity he was viewed as by his comrades. So he decided to dispose of the note without reading it.

Until another possibility popped up in his brain. Could it be from Chizuru? A response to his own note to her from the previous week? Sanan hesitated for a second, then shook his head and unfolded the paper a little faster than necessary.

A slow but wide and genuine smile graced his face when he saw the familiar handwriting, and his heart swelled when he read the words.

I will always trust you.

"Let us hope you do not regret that, my dear," he whispered.

His left hand tingled at the memory of her touch. All the negative feelings left him, his eagerness to return to his research matching his hope for the new development. He placed the note in his journal, promising to write a new entry once he finished tonight's research.

His smile vanished as he walked to the room where the fury was kept, but his positive feelings remained strong as ever.

This time, the fury was already watching the door as if awaiting his arrival. It kept its calm gaze on him despite its slight physical struggles. Sanan placed the medicine in front of it again, hoping for a repeat of last night. Regardless, the fact that it seemingly had been expecting him by now was progress.

The fury kept staring at him. In the previous staring sessions, it had done so without blinking, but now it did blink. He wrote that down, trying not to rush in his excitement over the growing potential success of this lead. The fury directed its gaze to his notebook, following the movement of his hand and pen. Sanan stopped writing, and its gaze stayed glued to the pen. Sanan leaned down to make eye contact, and its eyes flickered to met his own for a second afore returning to his writing utensil. Sanan restarted writing and its eyes followed each motion, stopping when the pen stopped and glancing up at him briefly whenever he tried to make it look at him. The more he did this, the more he could have sworn that he detected an increasing glint of annoyance in its eyes. Sanan moved backward a bit, just in case its apparent annoyance eventually drove it to try to attack. The fury blinked, then narrowed its eyes, realizing he'd moved. It kept observing his hand and pen, though. Did it really understand what he was doing?

Sanan ceased writing and held up his pen, moving it around in the air. The fury's eyes did not follow the movement, yet they did narrow in understanding of what he was trying to do. The nonsense act was ignored by the creature, who cared only for the notebook. Sanan put down the pen and moved the notebook around the same way he'd done with the pen. The fury gave the same reaction to that action.

"You do understand then," Sanan murmured. The fury either didn't hear him speak or ignored the words. He placed both items down, receiving a brief glare. Sanan retrieved the items and began quickly writing, both from his eagerness to get all of this down and to see how good the fury was at following his movements. Its eyes didn't move quite fast enough, yet the creature was clearly trying.

A half-grunt, half-growl escaped its throat. Sanan's head snapped up to fully look at it, and his hand instinctively moved closer to his sword. He wasn't close enough for it to actually touch if it attacked, but one could never be too careful.

The fury made no move to attack, or any move at all for that matter. Nothing about its facial expression or body language indicated a threat, merely irritation.

Sanan took a gander at the medicine, hoping the fury would take it while he was watching just like it did last time. No such luck. It hardly mattered, though, with all the other things it had done. Accepting this was all he would be getting out of it tonight, (other than the medicine being gone when he returned, of course), he sighed and closed the book and stood to leave. Right as he was about to open the shoji, however...

"T-Took...l-long..."

He froze, almost dropping his supplies. He spun around on his heel, gaping at the fury. Had he imagined it, or had the fury actually spoken? Its lips were parted and it was swallowing profusely, which made sense given how hoarse and quiet the voice sounded. He wasn't imagining it.

Sanan took slow, careful steps toward the fury and knelt in front of it. He inclined his head, realizing what it'd been trying to say.

"What took me so long?" He asked slowly. The fury nodded curtly, actually nodded!

"You were waiting for me earlier," he whispered. Another curt nod from the fury!

"You can tell time then," he said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

The fury tried to speak again, but only a choked grunt came out, so it settled for a nod.

Sanan sat there in silence for several minutes, head swirling with so many thoughts that he almost didn't notice the fury reaching for the medicine. Their gazes met as the fury slowly and clumsily unwrapped the packet and stuck the medicine into its - no, his - mouth.

For the first time, Sanan no longer felt so alone among his fellow furies.


 

After completing their patrol for the day, Heisuke accompanied Chizuru in checking on Souji.

Partially, it was because he wanted to spend more time with Chizuru to make sure she was alright after the Itou problem. The other part was a feeling that she would need his help in getting Souji to cooperate.

So he was pleasantly surprised to see Souji fully cooperating. He was also amused by the smallest hints of nervousness on Souji's face and in his voice as he greeted Chizuru. For her part, Chizuru was wearing the ghost of a smile that reminded him of...Sanan. So much so that he wondered if they'd switched bodies.

Despite his uneasiness about Sanan's possible involvement, Heisuke grinned and raised his eyebrows at Souji."Who are you and what have you done with Souji?"

Chizuru giggled. She sat beside Souji and started pouring him tea and making sure everything was properly arranged on the tray.

Souji scoffed and crossed his arms. Chizuru giggled again, making him pout and point at her."Chizuru-chan is an evil genius." His eyes narrowed."Don't let that adorable face fool you!"

Chizuru looked away to hide her blushing cheeks, though her laughter didn't cease. She waited a moment to collect herself before giving Souji the tray with a stern countenance. Heisuke chuckled despite himself. If she really was the evil genius Souji claimed she was, then maybe seeing that adorable face would be more than worth the suffering...

Wait, what? Heisuke's eyes were now the size of saucers and his face turned crimson. Had he really just thought that? Clearly, the wrong brain had taken over for a moment.

"Heisuke-kun?" Chizuru touched his arm, frowning in concern."Are you alright?"

Heisuke blinked twice, then nodded rapidly."Ah, yeah, I'm fine, just got lost in thought for a second there." He grinned sheepishly.

Her frown didn't falter."You were red." She put her palm to his forehead and pressed her lips together into a thin line."Hmm, you don't have a fever. Don't strain yourself for the rest of the day, just in case, okay?" She smiled kindly, looking, well, adorable.

Heisuke dipped his head in a clumsy nod. Chizuru patted his arm and turned back to Souji. Her touch had almost made him blush harder than earlier.

The shoji suddenly slid open and Inoue poked his head in. He smiled in amusement and satisfaction when he saw Souji was complying. He gave Heisuke a nod, but was mostly focused on Chizuru.

"Yukimura-kun, can you help me with something?" Inoue asked. He appeared pleasant enough, but there was the slightest bit of ire in his eyes. Not directed at them, though. Heisuke wondered what and who made Inoue angry, then it hit him. Inoue was the one to deliver supplies to the Fury Corp. last night...

Chizuru and Souji seemed to be thinking the same thing, the latter grimacing while the former quickly stood up and hurried outside. Inoue stepped aside to let her pass and gave a polite wave to Hesiuke and Souji before closing the shoji.

"Well, they're dead," Souji said wryly."Kondou-san will be mostly alright, but Hijikata-san may have to take the Water of Life after Gen-san is through with them."

Heisuke scowled."That's not funny!"

"What's not funny?" A new voice enquired. Hesiuke turned to see Harada, Shinpachi, and Saito standing in the doorway. Without waiting for an answer, the three entered the room. Saito took a seat next to Souji whilst Shinpachi and Harada sat on either side of Heisuke.

Shinpachi pointed his thumb over his shoulder."Does it have anything to do with how angry Gen-san looked?"

"Last night was his turn, correct?" Saito guessed. Heisuke and Souji nodded. Saito sighed."The Chief and Commander will be getting an earful."

"The rest of us won't be off the hook," Harada said, rubbing the back of his neck."Even if we don't get it as bad as those two."

Souji snorted as he put down his teacup."Speak for yourselves. I have an excuse." A genuine cough escaped him, and he smirked as he gestured to the air as if say,"See?"

"It has not stopped you from jumping and running all over the place while Commander Hijikata yells at you," Saito stated, pouring a fresh cup of tea for Souji and handing it to him."And based on your out of character good behavior, I assume that he has already found a way to frighten you for the time being." A statement, not a question.

Souji huffed."It was mostly Chizuru-chan." At everyone except for Heisuke's surprised and curious expressions, he said,"You remember the cat incident?" They all nodded."And how Sanan-san rescued her and protected her from being dragged back into helping us?"

Heisuke shuddered. He had sent Sanan and Chizuru desperate looks, beggng them not to abandon him. Chizuru hesitated a bit, but Sanan tightly gripped her shoulder as he ushered her out of the room, the door closing behind them mere seconds before Hijikata exploded. At the very least, he didn't have to endure an extra punishment at Sanan's hands like Souji. At the end of the day, Hijikata was stuck with a lost voice for a little while and Sanan and Chizuru showed up at the meeting room with the cat. Sanan explained that it came into his quarters a few minutes prior, yet Chizuru's refusal to look at anyone confirmed that they'd found the cat long ago. Afterwards, Sannan grabbed Souji by the ear and dragged him away. The cat refused to leave Chizuru's arms until the next morning when she and Sanan ensured it was properly fed and clean before giving it to the owner of their then-headquarters' child, who'd told Saito that he liked playing with it often. Souji suffered from a limp for two days due to the vigorous training Sanan subjected him to as punishment.

"Well," Souji continued,"Sanan-san gave her his blessing to mention his name if someone ever tried to cause trouble for her. Gen-san backed her up. I wasn't gonna take my chances. You'd have to be an idiot to risk his wrath."

Saito chuckled, earning a glare from Souji. Heisuke and Shinpachi burst out laughing. Harada snickered into his fist. Scowling, Souji gulped down his tea a bit too quickly and thus choked. Saito slapped him on the back, and he spat out the liquid, waving off Saito's worries.

Once he recovered, Souji pointed at Heisuke."What was that look on your face earlier about?

Heisuke paled. Of course Souji noticed that! Harada, Shinpachi, and Saito snapped their attention to him so quickly it was a wonder their necks didn't snap.

Heisuke bit his lip."W-What are you-" He knew before he spoke that his attempts at denial were doomed to fail.

Souji scoffed."You're a worse liar than Chizuru-chan." He smirked, eyebrows shooting up."Blood flow to the wrong brain for second back there?"

Heisuke almost fell onto his back in shock and humilation. Shinpachi loudly choked on his own breath; Saito coughed lightly; Harada stiffened and looked away. Souji shook with the force of his cackling.

Heisuke hugged his knees to his chest and hid his face. Eventually, someone cleared his throat.

"Alright, that's enough," Harada said sternly."Lay off him." He patted Heisuke comfortingly on the shoulder.

Souji rolled his eyes."Don't think nobody's noticed you acting the same way around her."

Harada bit his lip to stifle a response. Taking hold of Heisuke's arm, he forced him to stand up and beckoned Shinpachi."Let's go listen in on Gen-san lecturing them." He waved an arm to the door.

"Please let us know what you hear," Saito said, then midly glared at Souji."Souji, your food and tea will get cold if you keep laughing to distract yourself." When Souji ignored him in favor of continuing to laugh at Heisuke and Harada, he picked up a piece of food and shoved it into Souji's mouth, shutting him up.

"You deserved that one," Harada said dryly.

Heisuke almost ran from the room alongside his two best friends. Shinpachi walked ahead of them, just out of earshot.

"Just ignore him," Harada whispered, lightly tapping the back of his head. Heisuke gave a small grateful smile to his friend and nodded. They caught up with Shinpachi and the three of them walked along in silence.

 

 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"I cannot imagine a more perfect hell than being trapped inside my own mind."— Beth Revis (The Body Electric)


Kimura Katamitsu wanted to be a samurai.

It was the first thing in his life that he dared to want. A shopkeeper's son who grew up on stories of samurai, those above him, those he could only hope to look up to. He could never become one of them, not even a page. How could a peasant boy raised to clean and sell and one day take over the family shop hope to be anything more?

A boy could dream and wish. But a man had to do. So as he grew and learned the ways of a man, he decided to stop wishing and dreaming and start doing.

The stories were merely an introduction to his dream. A foundation to his self-education for the ways of a true swordsman.

Whenever he found a book or scroll, not with tales but actual facts, he hid them in his room, desposing of them once he had memorized every word. He mentally recited the information every night before bed. And when he was alone, he whispered the words to himself.

It was hard balancing the expectations of his family with his own ambition. It was even harder knowing that one day he would tell them the truth and they would reject him. He would be alone, struggling to find his way and become a true samurai. But life was never easy for a true samurai. That was why he admired them. Whatever difficulty came, it would be worth it.

He was right. They wanted nothing to do with him, with a young man that refused to perform his true duties. Good could not come to foolish children trapped in men's bodies that wanted to defy fate. He at least had the skills he'd learned as a shopkeeper to keep himself fed, clothed, and sheltered.

Eventually, he heard about the Shinsengumi. Founded by men like himself that weren't born from a warrior's bloodline. They were hated, underestimated, they understood his dreams and struggles. They would welcome anyone that wished to become a warrior and honor the rules of swordsmanship. The code was strict. Harsher than the rules he'd learned about over the years. But they got things done, they fought and rose up together. They were the perfect place for him.

He made friends, brothers, there. And he lost many of them to the code. He understood that a warrior must follow proper conduct, but some of the things that were worthy of committing seppuku seemed overly harsh. Did acting like most other men really necessitate death? It wasn't like they were doing anything overboard. Or perhaps the purpose was to prevent things from ever nearing the point of extremeness? Of course. A harsh but necessary means of maintaining order and honor. After all, the real world wasn't like the tales. With each disgrace and subsequent hara-kiri, he repeated those thoughts.

Still, it would have been nice to say goodbye. To let his brothers know that he forgave them for their mistakes and perhaps even be the one to put them out of their misery as they commited the deadly redemption act. But he understood Chief Kondou, Commander Hijikata, and Colonel Sanan's preference to give the men privacy in that crucial moment. At least he was able to say goodbye to them before they were taken to a separate room for the deed to be done. He promised to honor their memory by being the best samurai he could be, to bring as much respect to the Shinsengumi as possible. A burden he shouldered proudly. Like a real samurai. Even when Colonel Sanan, one of their leaders, took his life from despair of losing his ability to wield a sword, Katamitsu would not break his vow.

And then Katamitsu died. Or he thought he would.

A regular mission, a small group, the ronin ambushed them. The Chief was briefly stunned by a blow to the head and the Commander was too occupied to protect him. One of the ronin raised their blade to finish off the Chief, and Katamitsu did not hesitate.

In a matter of seconds, he was between the Chief and the ronin. He knew he would be taking the blow for himself, not blocking it with his sword. Yet he couldn't help the gasp that escaped him as his foe's blade slashed across his chest. He dropped his sword and was falling as the ronin slashed his stomach with a viscious laugh, a mockery of the ritualistic suicide that claimed so many of his brothers.

The cold ground greeted him, warmed by the blood pool forming beneath him. He could hear shouting, of his comrades and enemies, of the Chief as he rose and beheaded the ronin that had brought Katamitsu down. Yukimura was by his side, turning him over and yelling and tending to his wounds. The page's eyes were wide, recognizing the grevious wounds and Katamitsu smiled. He weakly patted the boy's hand, an assurance that he did not blame him for not being able to save him. Yukimura shook his head and Yamazaki appeared, having managed to get past his own obstacles/opponents to help tend to their fallen ally. Yamazaki and Yukimura exchanged a grave look. Both of them knew, but did not want to give up.

It was a blur, being rushed back to headquarters, Yamazaki yelling for Matsumoto to be fetched while a tearful Yukimura whispered empty promises of hope into Katamitsu's ear. No matter how many times they'd seen death, it never got easier. Katamitsu was glad to have real friends and brothers that would mourn him, but most of all, he was glad to die as a samurai, as the man of honor from his childhood stories. He would die a hero, protecting his leader, serving his people, as he should.

He lay in his futon, futile bandages covering his chest and stomach, his body growing colder, his breathing quickening, his heart aching with physical pain and pride. He wasn't afraid, merely waiting for the end. By the time Matsumoto arrived, it would be too late.

There was arguing outside his door, muffled by his own agony. The door suddenly opened, and another dead man walked in.

"Colonel Sanan," Katamitsu laughed."Come to...guide me...to the world...of the...dead?" He coughed several times and clutched his heart as the strain from speaking worsened his physical condition.

A ghost of a smile crossed Sanan's lips."That is up to you."

"I'm a...dead man," he whispered."Just like you."

"That is up to you," Sanan repeated, and moved his left his hand, the one he had injured and been driven to despair by, out of his pocket. Had the gods taken mercy on him, returning his precious arm in the afterlife?

In his left hand was a vial of red liquid.

"Initiation into the afterlife?" Katamitsu asked.

Sanan inclined his head, neither a confirmation nor a denial."Your choice, Kimura-kun. How do you die?" He stepped closer and knelt beside him, offering him the vial.

A poison, perhaps, to lessen the pain as he passed. Sanan must be a figment of his imagination, of his desire to have one of his revered leaders beside him in his final moments, or an actual ghost. A mix of more than one of those things, maybe.

"I die a warrior," Katamitsu said, shakily reaching for the vial."I hope Chief Kondou knows...I regret nothing."

Sanan placed his palm on Katamitsu's forehead, watching and waiting. Katamitsu's eyes fluttered shut as he brought the vial to his lips and drank.

Darkness and pain consumed him as the vial fell from his hand and it shattering was the last thing he heard.


His throat burned. A tightness in his lungs. His body trembled. Blurry vision. His arms were chained.

Still alive? Dreaming?

He was breathing, painfully so, but breathing. Too intense to be a hallucination or nightmare.

So much pain, so many questions.

Had he not died a true samurai? Was he being punished?

Sanan. That blood red liquid. Had a Demon or evil spirit in disguise tricked him into dooming his soul?

The burning in his throat intensified. He coughed and whimpered. Thirsty, so very thirsty.

No matter how hard he tugged at the chains, nothing changed. His arms hurt more with each struggle but that extra bit of pain always faded within moments.

Please, please, he prayed to anyone, to anything, for mercy, for answers.

Make the pain stop. Soothe the thirst. Please.

Head so empty yet also so full. Desperate, tired, suffering.

A choked and raspy groan escaped him. Help. Please help.

He collapsed to his kness, forehead hitting the floor, the trembling increasing. Tears ran down his face.

Doomed, a failure. That was what he was. Surely this was some kind of punishment. Yet he prayed, again and again, because what else could he do besides endure it?

Door opening, rapid footsteps. He tried to lift his head without success. Hair being grabbed and head lifted, something stuffed in his mouth and down his throat. He choked but swallowed and relief filled him. Still so much pain, still so many questions, but it hurt slightly less now.

"I'm sorry," the same dead man that had offered him the vial whispered, still holding Katamitsu's hair, albeit not as tightly."It may have been kinder to let you die."

Alive. He was alive. Yes, the painful breathing confirmed that. Yes, it would have been kinder to let him die.

What had they done to him? What had he taken?

Anger, a desire to attack and demand answers and kill stronger than the confusion took over. He lunged forward, a backhand knocking him into the wall as Sanan backed away.

More soft apologies, more rapid footseps, the door opening.

No! Don't go! Don't leave him alone! Need answers, need vhelp. Make it all go away. Kill him, just do something else to aid him.

Door closing, and despair filling him.

He wanted to scream, but all that came out was another raspy and choked groan.


He wasn't alone in the room anymore.

Another man, a comrade whose face he'd first seen not long before his apparent death yet never learned his name, was chained beside him. White hair, red eyes, same desperation, same struggling. He looked like a monster.

Katamitsu must have become a monster too, with the same red eyes and white hair. That red liquid must have done this.

Sanan was here, checking on them occasionally, searching for something. Katamitsu struggled harder whenever Sanan came and brought that medicine to ease the pain. But all he got was a pitying, worrying look from the colonel, his supposed fellow deadman, while he rubbed his own left arm.

The red liquid must have healed Sanan's arm too. But why wasn't he a monster too? His hair and eyes were normal. He wasn't struggling for the thirst to be satisfied. Or was he?

Sanan's room was right next to them. Sometimes Katamitsu heard him grunt and cry out and beat his fists and kick his feet on the walls and floor. Yes, the same thirst consumed him, but not for all time like Katamitsu. He needed to let Sanan know that he knew, that he understood. But he couldn't talk, could only cry out and struggle like always.

Please, he prayed, let him realize that he knew. That he too didn't want to be a monster. That he wasn't alone.

So he waited and listened for the thirst to attack Sanan, so he could do something to get the message to him. He managed to squeeze out seconds, eventually minutes, of clarity, and put extra effort into his communication attempts when the thirst came for Sanan.

Finally, he succeeded. Sanan was suffering more than usual this time, even injuring himself as he punched the floor, if the smell of blood close by was any indication. He waited, paid attention to every sound, counted the seconds, and grew calm just as the agony with Sanan faded. He stayed quiet, praying that the uncharacteristic silence would attract Sanan's attention. And it did.

On the outside he was calm, but on the inside he was crying with joy. After gods knew how much time had passed, he was noticed. Sanan entered the room, and Katamitsu jumped from pleasant surprise.

Yes, yes, finally! Possible mercy, possible help!

He remained as outwardly calm as possible as Sanan cautiously approached and undid his chains. He was on his knees, relieved to be free but unable to show it properly. He watched Sanan and Sanan watched him.

Speak, he thought, unsure if he was willing himself or Sanan to do that. Please, one or both of them, do something.

A minute, two, three, four, five minutes. Nothing. Sanan sighed, moving to chain him back up.

No! Not again! Anything but the loneliness, the lack of attention, the despair. Don't take away the little bit of hope!

Again the anger, again the desire to kill overtaking him. He lunged. A slash across the chest and then a kick, then the chains were back on. He lunged once more, to no avail.

Don't go! Don't leave him alone! He had been so close, had to keep trying!


Minutes, hours, days, weeks. And all he could manage was a lunge for the door whenever someone passed.

The frustration added to the pain. Please, please come back. Help! Have mercy! Anything! Just don't abandon him.

Two more visits, and he wasn't strong enough to prove anything. Abandoned again.

Eventually, another attack of thirst for Sanan. Another desperate, well-timed reaction from Katamitsu. Another loss of patience. But not abandoned again. He was put in a different room, visited more, and the small moments of clarity came out each time.

First night, too worried of being left at first, head kept down, ignore the medicine. It didn't help much anyway. Two more nights like this, then hope renewed.

Fourth night, medicine taken when alone, more to prove than to help with the pain. Head still down except for when he glared at Sanan's back as he turned to leave.

Fifth night, head up, eyes meet, medicine taken when alone.

Sixth night, head up, eyes meet, medicine taken in front of Sanan, a smile from Sanan and quick writing in his book.

Seventh night, Sanan was late, eyes on the door, praying he was not abandoned, Sanan came, Katamitsu blinked for the first time in gods knew how long, vision less blurry now, fast writing, eyes on the pen and following its every move, writing stopped, eyes stayed on the pen and waited, eyes briefly meeting, writing starting and stopping several times, it was annoying, Sanan moved back in concern of another potential attack, Katamitsu's eyes narrowed, patience barely supressing his strange inhuman anger, Sanan moved the pen and Katmitsu's eyes followed, then the same happened with the notebook, a murmur of understanding from Sanan, pen and notebook put down, more annoyance, then more quick writing that Katamitsu could just barely follow, even more annoyance, then Sanan preparing to leave. The desire to scream, to beg him to stay, finally won, and the raspy words came out.

"T-Took l-long..." Katamitsu barely recognized his own voice after so much disuse. Sanan froze, eyes wide, and slowly turned. Slow, careful steps toward Katamitsu, and then he knelt, truly realizing that he had heard him speak.

"What took me so long?" Sanan asked. Katamitsu nodded.

"You were waiting for me earlier." Not a question, but Katamitsu nodded.

"You can tell time then." Also not a question. Katamitsu tried to speak, to no avail, but he managed to nod yet again.

Silence for gods know how long, then Katamitsu reached for the medicine and without breaking eye contact, stuck it into his mouth.

Sanan tentatively placed his left hand on Katamitsu's head, both of them shaking, and Katamitsu's eyes posed a silent question.

What am I?

Closing his eyes, Sanan whispered,"You are alive, and you are not alone."

Katamitsu bowed his head. He let out a choked laugh mixed with a sob as tears rolled down his face.

No longer alone. At long last, help and mercy.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"What you say means very little when you're always doing the opposite." - Unknown


Chizuru fidgeted with her hands as she followed Inoue. He had found Yamazaki and asked him to accompany them. Yamazaki was confused, but complied. When she glanced at him a moment ago, he seemed to have understood why Inoue requested his aid.

The sole previous occasion she'd seen Inoue angry was during the cat incident, not that long into her stay with the Shinsengumi. She and Sanan had entered the kitchen to get the tea and snacks to avoid the situation and found Inoue yelling at Harada and Shinpachi. The cat had destroyed lunch twice along with the clothes line. He stopped when he saw the pair in the doorway. Harada and Shinpachi sent her pleading looks like Heisuke had on hers and Sanan's way out of the room mere seconds before Hijikata exploded. And like earlier, Sanan tightly gripped her shoulder with his one good hand and ushered her past them. Inoue nodded in approval at Sanan, then went back to lecturing his fellow captains.

Now he looked far more angry, more so than Hijikata and Sanan combined. She wanted to ask, figuring it was related to him delivering supplies to the Fury Corp. last night. Was Sanan alright?

A hand touched her shoulder. She looked to the side; Yamazaki smiled faintly and gave a comforting squeeze, as if sensing her thoughts. She nodded in thanks.

Inoue stopped in front of the common room door and slid it open. Inside were Kondou, Hijikata, Itou, and Miki. Souma and Nomura were serving them tea.

Itou and Miki tried to make eye contact with her; Yamazaki stepped in front of her.

Inoue clasped his hands."I apologize if I am interrupting, but there is something I must discuss with Toshi-san and Isami-san." When Itou attempted to protest, he gave a fake smile."It is a personal matter. Don't worry, Itou-san." His polite, firm tone made it clear this was not up for debate. Souma and Nomura obeyed without hesitation, bowing to Chizuru on their way out. Yamazaki stayed in front of her, refusing to let Itou and Miki catch a glimpse of her as they exited.

Hijikata and Kondou exchanged a glance, realizing what Inoue wanted. The Commander opened his mouth to speak, but Inoue lifted his index finger to stop him, glanced at Yamazaki (who nodded to confirm that no one was within earshot), and gestured for them to follow him into another room, just to be certain they weren't heard. Once they settled in the new location, Inoue ordered them to sit and crossed his arms.

"Do you remember whose turn it was last night?" Inoue asked. Chizuru's eyes widened. So this was about Sanan.

"Is he alright?" She blurted. Her teeth slammed into her tongue immediately afterward, and she hurriedly lowered her gaze. She hadn't seen or heard anything regarding him besides the note and what Inoue told her.

Inoue looked at her over his shoulder, his expression softening."Well enough. He said he might be reaching a breakthrough in his research." Chizuru relaxed, and Yamazaki raised his eyebrows in curiosity at the revelation. Inoue scowled at Hijikata and Kondou."Of course, if you bothered to check on him, you'd know that."

Chizuru hesitantly spoke up."Sanan-san told me that it'd been awhile since you visited him." She rubbed her arm, her voice barely above a murmur."That was just over three weeks ago."

The tension in the air thickened, so much so that one could cut it with a knife.

"Really?" Inoue rubbed his chin thoughtfully."Souma Kazue and Nomura Risaburo have been with us for a little over a month...Sanan-san didn't find out until I told him yesterday. Your addition explains a great deal, Yukimura-kun."

Chizuru frowned. Yamazaki uttered his equally confused thoughts before she could."Do you mean that he didn't know they had recently been made pages for the Chief and apprentices under Yukimura-kun?"

Inoue shook his head."He didn't know about them at all," he said, cold as ice.

Chizuru tripped over her own feet, saved from falling by Yamazaki grabbing her arm and steadying her. How could Sanan not know the basic, most important details of the Shinsengumi's daily activities? Especially considering the complexities surrounding Souma meeting them.

"You can imagine his surprise when I mentioned the name Souma Kazue." Inoue turned to them, giving Yamazaki a stern look."Yamazaki-kun, you spent two weeks assisting Sanan-san after Itou-san bothered Yukimura-kun. Did this never come up between you two?"

Yamazaki's frown was deeper than hers."We were primarily focused on the plan." His eyes flickered at her."The only other topic we ever discussed was Yukimura-kun's condition and that could technically be considered part of the plan."

Chizuru ducked her head to hide her blushing cheeks. That was...nice to know.

"I see..." Inoue exhaled, twisting around to return his attention to Hijikata and Kondou. Silence filled the air. A droplet of sweat slid down her head. It was quiet for so long that she felt the urge to say something, but could find no words. Yamazaki shared her discomfort.

"What is wrong with you two?!" She and Yamazaki jumped at Inoue's sudden shout, both of them almost falling and having to catch and steady each other this time. The shout wasn't directed at them, but they trembled like frightened children. Perhaps the unease and fear of the men the yell was directed at had affected them.

Inoue was shaking with ire and pointing at his superiors. She leaned forward to see his face, and saw a vein popping out of his forehead, his teeth gritted, and his eyes glinting furiously. She remembered how harsh and strict Hijikata had been during her early days here and Sanan's murderous insanity mere moments after he became a Fury and attacked her. Those times paled in comparison to now. Hijikata and Kondou were gaping at Inoue, clearly having never seen him this irate in all the years they'd known him.

Inoue stepped, or rather stomped, forward. Hijikata and Kondou moved backwards in response. It would have been comical if the circumstances weren't so serious."You don't think I'm also uncomfortable about the Water of Life and the Furies?!" He waved a fist."Desperation or not, we accepted this responsibility and are obligated to shoulder it properly! I would have thought you of all people would have understood duty, Isami-san!" Kondou hung his head."And you, Toshi-san. You understand almost as well as Sanan-san does that duty can be a very, very unpleasant thing sometimes and that we cannot always choose the honorable, good option so easily!" Hijikata hung his head."And both of you have always understood the importance of trusting and supporting one another in our times of need! Yet you abandoned not just Sanan-san, but the whole Fury Corp! You gave half of them the option to avoid seppuku, only to leave them to a fate worse than death where they may never regain their sanity, let alone their honor, and let the second half, men who nearly died while on duty, have a chance to survive only to also abandon them! Every single one of the Furies, including Sanan-san, were in desperate need of a second chance to be true samurai again and you left them alone in the dark! Literally and figuratively!" He stomped again."Get your heads out of your behinds, young men, and at least acquire the wisdom and decency to assign someone to check on them who actually cares about their suffering!" He waved an arm when they tried to argue."Do not give me any rubbish! Yukimura-kun has expressed constant concern for him, rivaling all of us combined, ever since that night, and she even asked me to give him her regards! Why does a former outsider, not even an official member of the Shinsengumi, show more understanding of trust, love, and worry for a comrade than the men who lead us?!" That last question sliced completely through the tension, and everyone else paled at the pain in Inoue's voice as he uttered it.

Done with his tirade, he sighed deeply and slumped his shoulders. He held his head in his hands. Chizuru covered her scarlet face with her hands, shocked by Inoue's outburst and that he had mentioned her in his speech. It wasn't the first time someone suggested that she might as well as be a real Shinsengumi member, but still...

Without turning/looking, Inoue snapped his fingers and pointed to the door. Yamazaki hurried to the shoji and slid it open, revealing the eavesdropping trio. Harada fell first, then Shinpachi fell atop him, and then Heisuke fell atop them. They looked mortified at having been caught, most notably Heisuke.

"I will deal with the rest of you later," Inoue muttered. Chizuru walked up to him and touched his shoulder. He patted her hand. After heaving another sigh, he motioned for her and Yamazaki to follow him and they left their comrades to ponder.

They sat on the engawa, Inoue in the middle. His anger had completely switched to tiredness."How did I not notice this sooner?" He wondered aloud, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Yamazaki bit his lip."I should have been more observant and inquisitive."

Chizuru folded her hands on her lap. Maybe she shouldn't have waited so long to bring this up, or been more active herself. But to think that Sanan's loneliness and isolation was really this bad, to the point that he was left unaware of major updates and not even being properly monitored...

'I should have talked to him more, asked more questions.' She thought.

"I think I'll be taking over the deliveries now," Inoue declared after five minutes of silence, now resting his arms on his knees.

Chizuru didn't hesitate."I can help!"

"So can I," Yamazaki said firmly."Not only should the Fury Corp. be kept up to date on events with us, but the Chief and Commander should also be aware of their status. It is basic pragmatism. It is outright irresponsible and foolish to avoid them."

Subtle and respectful as the ninja was, he wasn't blindly loyal (much like Saito), and though his tone was calm, his words made it clear that he disapproved of their recent actions, or lack thereof, toward the Furies.

Inoue relaxed and nodded, thanking them for their offers of assistance.

"I can help too." No sooner had the murmur come, than the shoji slid open and revealed Heisuke. He kept his head down and was rubbing his arm.

Inoue inclined his head in acceptance of the offer and stood to leave. Yamazaki took his own leave as well.

Chizuru thought about saying something to Heisuke, but when she opened her mouth, no words came to mind, and Heisuke wasn't looking at her anyway. She sighed, not having it in her to think about this right now.

She patted Heisuke on the shoulder, then went in search of something else to do to distract herself.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"I had no idea how lonely I was until I wasn't lonely anymore."— Fyn Alexander (Angel and the Assassin (Angel and the Assassin, #1))


Katamitsu stayed still, not even daring to shake as Sanan undid the chains. Once freed he fell and was caught by the colonel, who lowered them both to sit on the floor. He clung to the older man's clothing and squeezed his arm in a painfully tight manner. Terror of being abandoned again, chained back up and left alone, overtook his relief. The words uttered to him minutes ago were the only thing keeping him calm.

You are alive, and you are not alone.

He lowered his head, allowing his body to tremble and the sobs to restart. His grip on Sanan tightened. He collapsed, Sanan's grasp on him the sole thing preventing him from falling face first onto the floor. The sobs came so forcefully and swiftly that he choked. He wanted to hit something, scream, but it wasn't the murderous fury that consumed him since he woke up after almost dying, but a human desperation. The same kinds of emotions but in a different manner. His heart beat wildly in his chest. So much pain, but not the agony and thirst. Those inhuman sufferings were replaced by human things he hadn't felt in gods knew how long.

He closed his eyes, remembering in perfect detail, without the pain and dehydration to distract him. The ambush of the ronin, him shielding Chief Kondou, Yukimura and Yamazaki tending his wounds and yelling for Matsumoto to be summoned, and Sanan coming to him with the red liquid, waking up in so much pain...

He swallowed, finally regaining his calmness and clarity. He relaxed, loosening his grip on Sanan. His brows furrowed."Dead," he rasped, putting a hand to his stomach, where the ronin had wounded him in a mockery of seppuku. He weakly gestured to Sanan."Dead."

Neither of them should be alive. Katamitsu knew the moment he was wounded that he was doomed, and Sanan had killed himself from despair after injuring his arm. Yukimura, the same one that had offered empty promises and consolations to the dying Katamitsu, had found a dying Sanan and unsuccessfully tried to save him. Then Sanan came with that red liquid, the pain and darkness once he drank it, then he lost consciousness and awoke to madness...

Come to...guide me...to the world...of the...dead?

That is up to you.

Your choice, Kimura-kun. How do you die?

I die a warrior.

Sanan snorted."For all intents and purposes, we are dead." He gestured to the general area."Everyone here is dead."

Katamitsu let go of Sanan's clothes to touch his own lips."Drank something, tasted like...blood." He coughed and choked on air. How long had he been mute save for grunts, growls, and cries of agony? He couldn't recognize his own voice, and his throat was dry, though thankfully not from the burning thirst.

"The Water of Life." Sanan's voice was silkily smooth, matter-of-fact."We are Furies. We heal faster than humans and we are physically stronger, but sunlight weakens us and..."

Healing. Sanan's arm, Katamitsu's wounds...

Katamitsu's fingers moved to his throat."Woke up hurting and...thirsty. Throat burned." But not anymore. He felt normal, minus the chaotic need to cry moments ago.

Sanan smiled sadly."Bloodlust. Most of you consantly feel it. I experience it randomly."

Yes, he'd listened for the sounds of pain and hitting as the thirst attacked Sanan, put his efforts into trying to be noticed every time, and it'd finally worked.

Katamitsu shook his head."N-Not thirsty anymore."

Sanan hummed thoughtfully."The medicine helps ease the pain. It is no cure, just a-"

Katamitsu shook his head again."N-Not thirsty at all."

Sanan's eyes narrowed."I see." He stroked his chin."Then you've become more like me. The bloodlust will be an occasional agony rather than a constant one." He chuckled humorlessly."I don't know if that's better or worse." He pursed his lips."Odd, considering you still look like a Fury. Your hair and eyes haven't returned to normal."

So he still resembled a monster.

Katamitsu broke into a coughing fit, frantically gesturing to his throat. Water, not blood, water.

Sanan reached into his pocket for more medicine. Katamitsu waved his hand."W-Water!" He choked out.

Sanan raised an eyebrow, complying when the younger man kept coughing and gesturing to his throat. He returned a minute later with a pitcher and cup of water, the latter of which Katamitsu practically yanked from him. He choked on the water in his urgency, forcing Sanan to slap him on the back.

Sanan kept a palm on his back as he poured another cup of water and handed it to him."Relax," he whispered, rubbing circles into his back."You are alive, and you are not alone."

Downing the second cup, Katamitsu nodded vigorously. He shakily consumed the third one. The fourth cup was sufficent to sooth him. The cup fell from his hands into Sanan's free hand and he dropped onto all fours, panting heavily. He pressed his forehead to the floor, waiting for his breathing to even out while Sanan continued rubbing his back.

"Your body is adjusting," Sanan said."This may be worse than the adjustment period immediately after drinking the serum."

Whimpering, Katamitsu curled into himself.

The thought of looking in a mirror and seeing the white-haired, red-eyed monster staring back at him made him want to shatter every mirror in the world. Of course, that posed the risk of catching a glimpse of himself before breaking it, so better to avoid mirrors completely.

He wished this were a dream, a nightmare, but it felt far too real and he'd long since dismissed that possibility.

Sanan stopped consoling him."I remember you." His voice lowered, and he chuckled."You thought I was initiating you into the afterlife." Wistfulness entered his tone."Not too long ago, I would have agreed that we might as well be dead. But she-I mean, I was convinced otherwise by someone recently."

You are alive, and you are not alone.

"She?" Katamitsu's question was muffled by the floor. Women weren't allowed at headquarters. He'd heard rumors of a woman Sanan knew, but...

Sanan bit his tongue and then clicked it against his teeth.."I...will explain that later. When you are better." Not having it in him to protest despite his curiosity, Katamitsu tried something resembling a nod in his current awkward position.

Sanan's hand returned to his back."Kimura Katamitsu, right?" Another awkward, more shaky, attempt at a nod."You were - are - one of our best men. For what it's worth, I'm glad you're alive."

You are alive, and you are not alone.

Katamitsu moved to rest his cheek on the floor so he could look at Sanan."O-Others here?"

Sanan's glasses flashed."Everyone that suffers a fatal wound or breaks the code is offered the Water of Life. But they haven't regained their minds like you and I have. The bloodlust is...not easy to endure."

Katamitsu sat up."Everyone?" Including his friends that had to commit seppuku?

Sanan nodded, his face grim. But then he smiled."However, you and I are sane despite some...occasional pains, so there is hope for them as well."

His limbs lost their strength, unable to hold him up, and he fully collapsed flat on the floor, arms and legs outstretched like a star's arrows. He groaned, and Sanan resumed his soothing ministrations against his back.

Several seconds of silence, then a chuckle from Sanan that evoked a curious look from Katamitsu.

"Forgive me," he said, still chuckling."But you remind me of one of my students back at the dojo after a particularly vigorous training session. They would drop like rag dolls to the floor, miraculously not breaking their noses in the process."

Katamitsu snorted, choked, and started coughing. Sanan reached for the water pitcher, stopping when he received a wave of assurance. Katamitsu rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, limbs still outstretched like star arrows.

Sanan stood, bringing his hands into his sleeves. He examined the room."We'll have to modify this room. Get rid of the chains, bring a futon in here, find your sword and return it to you, so many things to do..." He paused."I remember after most of your friends..."died", you gave their swords to their family, friends, or any important loved one. We tried to give your family your sword, but they..." he trailed off, frowning.

It wasn't a surprise in the slightest. He knew years before he told them about his desire to become a samurai and to reject the position fate demanded he follow that they would disown him. The only new thing they must have done upon being told he was dead was probably celebrate him getting what he deserved for defying the law and use him as a cautionary tale against disobeying fate. He wondered how they'd react to his true fate. Would they consider this a worse fate than death and insult him further for it?

Katamitsu snorted, managing to not choke this time."Dead to them...long before this." It was easier to talk now, his voice slightly less raspy and throat no longer dry.

Sanan sat in seiza position beside him. There was sadness in his eyes, but no pity, which Katamitsu appreciated. Given Sanan's disdain for pity after he injured his arm, that was understandable.

Katamitsu swallowed."I want...t-to see-" Maybe if they saw him, he could get through to them, help them like he'd wanted to when he thought they were dead.

"Not tonight," Sanan said in a tone that brooked no argument. He gestured to Katamitsu."As I said, it is better to give you the full story when you are better. You are still too weak and in shock. I must keep a close eye on your condition."

Having no rebuttal for that and never having been one to defy his superiors (not counting his family, of course), Katamitsu closed his eyes in acquiescence.

Sanan offered him a hand up, and after taking a deep breath Katamitsu accepted it. Slowly the older man helped him to his feet, though Katamitsu still had to lean on him for support. They made their way out of the room.

Sanan stared straight ahead."Furies are not allowed outside, but..." They stopped in front of the exit and Sanan slid the shoji open. The warm night air immediately drifted in, a pleasant breeze touching them both

Katamitsu clung tighter to Sanan as they stepped outside. The moon and starry sky looked so beautiful, and he gawked up at the sky like it was his first time seeing it. How long had he been chained up inside?

Sanan helped him sit against a wall. Katamitsu hugged his knees to his chest, holding back tears at the sight of the beauty he had under-appreciated in the past.

"No one is allowed to go to this section of the compound, so as long we stay within our boundaries, there shouldn't be an issue." He looked away, his voice so quiet that Katamitsu guessed he wasn't meant to hear the next thing Sanan said."For us, and for her..."

Again those thoughts of women at headquarters and the stories of a woman from Sanan's past. He wouldn't get an answer tonight, so best to ignore it for now.

Katamitsu gave an absentminded nod, never taking his gaze off the sky."What happens to us now?" He asked."To all of us?"

Sanan lifted his left hand to point his palm toward the moon as another breeze came."We survived, so we adapt, we have faith." He gave a faint smile."And we live."

Katamitsu liked the sound of that.

You are alive, and you are not alone.

It seemed those words didn't just apply to himself.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT Hakuouki or anything related to it.


"The Universe doesn't like secrets. It conspires to reveal the truth, to lead you to it."— Lisa Unger (Beautiful Lies (Ridley Jones #1))


Sen strolled through Kyoto, hands folded in front of her. She hummed to herself. A smile was plastered on her face, practice for her dealings at court and a mask to hide her true self from the humans and any fellow Demons lurking nearby. Much was on her mind lately in regards to Demon politics.

Lately, Kazama had shown an interest in the Shinsengumi. Kimigiku doubled her espionage efforts whenever a Shinsengumi member, be they a high ranking leader or a common soldier, went to Shimabara. No luck. If the Shinsengumi was keeping secrets that attracted Kazama, they were good at ensuring they stayed hidden. Sen had to admire that skill; it must match that of a Demon for Kazama to be so fixated on them. Even Kazama required compelling reasons to justify his pettiness, or to make an amusing attempt at justification/reason.

Kimigiku got along well with Amagiri and Shiranui, perhaps a bit too well with the former. They endured Kazama's behaviors, but never approved of it. Still, she didn't trust the games of Shiranui and nearly unshakeable loyalty of Amagiri. So asking them about it was out of the question.

Sen would be lying if she denied wanting to satisfy her own curiosity by learning more about the Shinsengumi. Anyone who could get Kazama this obsessed and frustrated deserved respect. It could be an unintentional thing, but Sen didn't believe the rumors about the Shinsengumi being fools and criminals masquerading as samurai. Humans simplified their own kind so easily to sooth their pride and avoid acknowledging humilation, something they shared with Kazama, though he'd sooner die than admit that.

Her hand came to rub her chin as she thought. Perhaps she should start prying directly into the matter herself instead of relying on information from others. Things had been relatively peaceful for her village lately, so what was the harm in a little investigating? She giggled at the image of Kimigiku facepalming in response to those thoughts.

She'd become so lost in her musings that she bumped into another girl. Before she could look up to apologize, someone seized her by the wrist and yanked her to her feet. She met the arrogant, threatening eyes of a ronin and noticed that the other girl had been grabbed by another ronin.

The girl widened her eyes. She was pretty, dark hair pinned up, simple makeup, and a kimono with flower decorations. She tried to free her wrist from the man's grasp; he yanked her closer and she gasped.

"What do you want?" The girl asked. She wrinkled her nose when he got close enough for their noses to touch. Sen fought not to roll her eyes and kick her own captor in the groin when he ran his free hand through her short hair.

"You should know already," The second ronin said, smirking."You owe us money, like any other citizen to their protectors."

Sen's captor nodded, which distracted him long enough for her to free herself. She grabbed the girl's shoulder and stood between her and the men."We owe you nothing," she said, cold as ice.

"Settle down, young lady," one man said in a false soothing tone."Money isn't the only way to honor us." He eyed her up and down and looked over her shoulder to do the same to the girl.

Yes, their presumptions that they were owed worship, especially from women, reminded her of Kazama so much that she imagined his face ogling them.

"Leave us alone," the girl said, sounding more angry than afraid. In fact, any remaining fear seemed forced. Sen could only raise her eyebrows before someone suddenly intervened, placing themselves between the girls and the men. The girl gasped and moved to stand beside Sen, looking quite interested in their rescuer.

"Don't touch them!" The new arrival, who Sen could tell just by looking at their back was the same age as herself and the girl, put an arm out to shield them and the other arm reached for the sword sheathed at their side. Their body shook with indignation on behalf of the citizens they were protecting.

"What the-" the ronin blinked. The surprise quickly became rage, as they reached for their swords. The protector tensed, realizing they had entered a dangerous position without proper consideration, but tightly grippd the handle of their sword, refusing to back down.

The ronin only managed to reach for their weapons afore swords were pressed against the nape of their necks. Standing behind the ronin were Shinsengumi men, based on their blue haori. One of them was purple-haired and showing no emotion. The other was clearly enjoying the way the ronin froze in terror as they realized they were doomed.

The purple-haired man gave the young person shielding the girls a scolding look."Next time do not rush into danger so easily, especially alone." His expression softened."You should know better."

The person lowered their head."Sorry, Saito-san."

The other man laughed."With how scary you've been lately, I wonder if you really needed our help."

"Okita-san," the person said in a half-amused, half-embarrassed tone. They relaxed and turned to the girls. Sighing, Saito shook his head.

Sen's eyes went wide. Their savior was a young girl dressed in male clothing and now that the danger had passed, Sen felt the unmistakeable aura of a Demon. Were it not for that Demonic aura that the girl either didn't know how to suppress or chose not to, Sen would have believed she was a normal human boy.

Sen lowered her guard over her own aura, hearing her fellow former damsel in distress gasp yet again. Their savior gave no indication of noticing the lowering of guard.

Was this the secret Kazama was so obsessed with? The Shinsengumi kept a female Demon hidden among their ranks? For once, Sen couldn't blame him, but she certainly wouldn't let him get his hands on this girl.

"Are you both alright?" Their savior asked, fidgeting with her hands.

"Yes, thank you," the overdramatic girl said, also fidgeting with her hands. Sen was uncertain what to think of her but she was very curious about their savior.

"That was very brave of you," Sen remarked, gesturing to the ronin who were being taken away by other Shinsengumi soldiers. She bowed."My name is Sen. A pleasure to meet you."

The other girl also bowed."And I am...Kaoru. Thank you for your help."

The crossdressing girl blushed."I just...saw you in trouble...and I...wanted to help."

"Might I know know your name?" Sen asked.

The disguised girl looked to Saito and Okita, who exchanged a glance before the former nodded curtly and the latter shrugged.

"Chizuru," she muttered, rubbing her arm."You can call me Chizuru."

Sen smiled."Chizuru-chan then." Okita raised an eyebrow at the choice of honorific.

Kaoru stepped forward to touch Chizuru's shoulder."Thank you again for your help, Chizuru-san."

Chizuru inclined her head, still blushing."You're welcome, Kaoru-san, Osen-chan." She gave each of them a bow.

Okita and Saito watched the seemingly innocent and grateful women with suspicious eyes. Chizuru did not notice this.

Okita sighed."These ronin are getting stupider and more boring every day."

Saito rolled his eyes."Only you would complain about an easy arrest. And considering your condition, you should be grateful you are allowed to patrol at all and that we have had little trouble lately."

Okita pouted. Saito rolled his eyes again. Chizuru, despite having her back to the men, giggled at their exchange.

Sen clasped her hands together, her smile as much a practiced one as it was a genuinely fond one. She found herself taking a quick liking to Chizuru."If you do not mind, I would like to thank you for your coming to my - I mean, our - rescue." She pointed to a nearby place."Would you like some tea and dango, Chizuru-chan? My treat."

Kaoru, whose hand hadn't left Chizuru's shoulder, gave it a squeeze."Yes, I can pay as well."

Sen and Kaoru locked gazes for a split second, the latter breaking contact before Sen could decipher her emotions. She'd like to know more about both of the young girls in front of her. The two enigmas, seemingly well-meaning but clearly hiding secrets. With Chizuru, it might be unintentional, or at least not maliciously intended, but Kaoru was impossible to figure out. Sen wondered if Kaoru was a Demon too, or had some Demon heritage diluted by human blood, since she couldn't sense the Demonic aura from her like she could from Chizuru. Or maybe Kaoru was skilled enough to hide her aura like Sen.

Chizuru bit her lip."Oh, um, that's very kind of you, but I'm on patrol and investigating an important lead-"

"We were on our way there anyway," Okita said."Shouldn't take more than five minutes to check it out and I doubt it'll end up being a real lead." When Chizuru slumped her shoulders, Saito nudged Okita and Okita shrugged. Whatever lead they spoke of must be personally important to Chizuru, and possibly related to her Demonic heritage.

Either this girl was inept enough to think no one would notice her aura or she didn't know who she really was. But that made no sense. She was bound to notice her healing powers and wonder why she was different from everyone else. Yet something about her made Sen want to trust her. She clearly did not sense Sen's aura. Kaoru's reaction at the same time that Sen realized what Chizuru was and when Sen lowered her guard to see if Chizuru could sense her Demonic aura added credence to her theory that Kaoru had Demon blood.

Okita patted the crossdressing girl's back."Go on ahead, Chizuru-chan." He slowed his voice and smirked at Sen as he uttered the honorific. Sen innocently tilted her head, and the very brief glint of suspicion in his eyes showed that he didn't believe her innocent act any more than he believed Kaoru's.

"We will let you know if the lead proves useful," Saito said to Chizuru. He avoided looking at anyone except for Chizuru, subtly revealing his own suspicions toward the girls they'd rescued.

Chizuru turned to the men and bowed, then turned back to the girls. Sen hooked her arm through Chizuru's while Kaoru coped the action at the disguised girl's other side. Chizuru smiled politely as she allowed them to lead her to the shop.

Sen tried to meet Kaoru's gaze, but Kaoru ignored her in favor of focusing solely on Chizuru. In fact, she seemed to tighten her grip on Chizuru as they neared the shop.


A very pleasant surprise.

Kodo had sent Kaoru to search for his sister after Kazama come to him to complain about not being informed about her. Kaoru never would have thought that his long-lost sibling would jump right in front of him.

Sen didn't trust him, maybe suspected his Demonic heritage. Her name rang a bell to Kaoru, some high ranking leader within the political world of Demons, but the Nagumo Clan had always been considered outsiders by their fellow Demons, so he wasn't certain. What he did know was that Sen was a Demon, as she'd lowered her guard, perhaps to test Chizuru. Kaoru couldn't help but gasp at that. Running into two fellow Demons within moments, how amusingly coincidental.

Okita and Saito didn't trust either of them, as much as the "innocent citizens" trusted each other really.

As much as Kaoru wanted to pick his sister up and carry her away, that went against Kodo's orders. They weren't anywhere near ready to take her, so they needed to watch her. They couldn't risk the Shinsengumi finding Kodo.

The lead they discussed was obviously related to Kodo. Just as Kodo suspected, Chizuru was searching for him alongside the Shinsengumi. Whether she knew about the Water of Life or they knew about her healing powers was unclear. Kodo had taught Chizuru to guard that secret with her life and would not hear a word suggesting she would ever disobey him. Even if Chizuru knew their secret, they definitely didn't know hers. The argument replayed in the his ears on an endless loop.

Chizuru has never disobeyed me. She has always been my good smart little girl.

So have I, Uncle.

Good children don't complain and ask questions. They simply obey...and endure.

I have obeyed and endure more than she ever has!

You fulfilled your duty to protect your sister, as you were obligated to. And you complain and glare at every opportunity. Chizuru stopped questioning and hesitating by the time she reached this age.

I'm the same age as her! Older even by a few moments!

And yet she does a much better job of showing her age than you do. Now stop your whining and go find her, and remember-

Just watch her, don't take her.

See to it that you never forget that order.

Kaoru tightened his grip on Chizuru, ignoring Sen's attempts to intiate eye contact with him. If Kodo had taught Chizuru to hide her aura, they wouldn't have to deal with this nuisance. But, of course, Kodo was determined to maintain his deception until the time for their revenge and restoration plan came, not a second sooner, and revealing the full truth to her before then might risk the success of their plot.

"So tell me, Chizuru-chan," Sen spoke smoothly and sweetly."How did a young girl like yourself join the Shinsengumi?"

Chizuru's head snapped toward Sen so swiftly it was a wonder her neck didn't break. She paled and tried to pull out of Sen's grasp, but recieved a kind smile.

"I'm sorry." Her smile reached her eyes."I didn't realize that was supposed to be a secret."

Chizuru's unease remained. Kaoru patted her shoulder."If it's any consolation," he spoke just as smoothly and sweetly as Sen.", we simply recognized you as...one of us."

"Yes," Sen said through her teeth."It was mostly a lucky guess." Kaoru resisted the urge to scoff at the lie.

Chizuru hesitated."You're the first ones in awhile to see through me." She bit her lip."Although I haven't spoken to other girls for a long time..."

Sen nodded."Yes, I heard the Shinsengumi don't have women in their ranks." She grimaced."It must be terrible living with all those sweaty, improper men."

Better than living with a bunch of presumptuous, naive little girls, Kaoru thought while suppressing a scoff.

Chizuru let out a true laugh."They're not that bad. Well, most of them. And not all of them know about me."

"Your secret is safe with us," Sen said. She showed Kaoru her teeth."Right, Kaoru?"

"Of course," Kaoru replied immediately.

Five minutes later, the three of them were sitting on a bench, trays carrying dango and hot tea on their laps. Chizuru was in the middle. Sen and Kaoru each had a hand on one of her shoulders.

"So how did you join the Shinsengumi, Chizuru-chan?" Sen inquired once more. Seeing her hesitation, she squeezed her shoulder.

Chizuru brought the teacup to her lips. She rubbed her thumbs on the cup's surface as she contemplated. Eventually, she looked to the sky."I-I'm looking for my father." She drank again."He's a doctor, so he travels a lot, but he always wrote to me. But then, awhile ago now that I think about it, he stopped writing. I came here looking for him and...the Shinsengumi told me they wanted to find him too. He was working with them when he went missing so we...made a deal." She shut her eyes."We get leads sometimes, like today, but they turn out to be useless."

It was merely a verbal confirmation of Kodo's suspicions. They were desperate to locate him, chasing down every lead even if they knew it would almost certainly reveal itself to be void.

"I'm sorry to hear to that." Sen patted her shoulder."How long has it been?"

"Long enough," Chizuru murmured, taking a bite of her dango. Tears pricked her eyelids; she blinked them away.

Before Kaoru realized what he was doing, he wrapped an arm around his sister's shoulders and rested his chin on her shoulder.

"I'm sure he's closer than you think." The words left of their own accord, soft and reassuring.

No sooner had he spoken, than his eyes widened and perplexity at his own actions filled him. He relaxed, recalling that they weren't alone. Sen watched curiously. Kaoru lifted his eyes to glance at Chizuru. She wasn't smiling, her eyes were still shut, yet he could tell from the way she relaxed that he'd managed to console her.

Just like when they were children. It didn't need to automatically lift her wavering spirits, so long as her brother was there with an embrace and some reassuring words Chizuru's sad mood would lessen slightly. Kaoru bit his lip in response to the memories.

"He always came back," she muttered."I've heard some disturbing rumors about him, and-"

"You'll see him again," Kaoru stated firmly, wanting to be annoyed and instead just feeling the urge to comfort.

No doubt Kazama also told Chizuru that Kodo was on the enemy side. Hence her worry about him.

"Your father," Sen spoke slowly, running a finger through her hair."Who is he? Perhaps I can ask around for clues. It may not be that helpfful, but every bit counts, yes?"

Kaoru turned his head to hide his eye roll.

Chizuru chewed on her lip, tensing as she pondered. Kaoru kept his arm around her, neither tightening nor loosening the embrace.

"Kodo," she said."Yukimura Kodo."

"Yukimura?" From the corner of his eye Kaoru noticed that Sen's eyes grew wide.

"Yes, you've heard of him?" Chizuru sounded hopeful."He's a well-respected doctor so maybe-"

"I've heard the name Yukimura before, yes," Sen said. So she was the high ranking leader Kaoru had vaguely heard of. She hadn't put her guard back up, though Kaoru didn't drop his, and he sensed human blood within her. Just a little, nowhere near enough to weaken her, but it was there.

Kaoru rebuilt his innocent girl facade as he turned back to his sister."I've heard it too," he said, fluttering his eyelashes. Now Sen was hiding her eye roll."Perhaps if we keep in touch we can help you." This was way too easy.

Hope brightened Chizuru's eyes, though not without some caution and reluctance. Good to see she wasn't completely gullible and naive, though given her situation, he couldn't blame her for being desperate. He ignored the flicker of anger he felt toward Kodo for being so arrogant and reckless with such a very important component of their plan. He also ignored his imagination filling his ears with Kodo's potential response of a scoff and telling him to look at his own actions before he judged Kodo for his.

Chizuru unconsciously leaned further into his embrace and placed her hand over Sen's."I guess it couldn't hurt. People would be more willing to talk to other civilians than the Shinsengumi officers."

Kaoru grinned from ear to ear."Splendid." He coughed to cover up his regular voice which he drifted into briefly using due to his satisfaction. Luckily, neither girl noticed. Sen was too occupied expressing her own joy at the decision.

As if on cue, Okita and Saito returned to collect Chizuru. She finished her tea in one gulp, stood and bowed to her new friends and ran to the men. They were too far away to be heard, but she was obviously telling them about the offers of aid. Saito rubbed his chin thoughtfully and eventually gestured that they should return to headquarters. Okita watched Sen and Kaoru over Chizuru's shoulder with a mix of amusement and distrust, paying no attention to their innocent expressions. After a moment, he gave Chizuru a grin and touched her shoulder to indicate that she should walk ahead of him. He shot Kaoru a menacing glance that lasted for a microsecond afore leaving with his comrades.

So Okita didn't trust them and was quite open about it, wanting them to be aware of that, while Saito chose a more subtle approach. Kaoru expected similar reactions from the other men. He made a mental note to work on his act. He could pass off his constant gasps today as results of the threats from the ronin. After all, fear affected people, especially a so-called helpless young woman, harshly. That would give him an advantage over Sen.

Once the Shinsengumi and Chizuru were out of their sight, Sen turned to Kaoru, but he was already gone.

Kaoru had a report to make to Kodo.

 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"An intimate relationship is not necessarily a physical relationship. Rather, it is a trusting, close friendship with another person in which one can be honest without fear of rejection." — Erik Erikson


Four-year-old Chizuru wandered her small home. Since awakening from a bad fall and hitting her head, she was too worried about getting hurt again to move around much, so she stretched her legs by familiarizing herself with the house she and her father had just moved into. He assured her it was nothing serious, that she'd just fallen off their wagon while they were traveling to Edo and hadn't sustained any serious injures, but warned her to be careful in the future.

Her father was out getting supplies. He told her to stay inside and not break anything or hurt herself, placing emphasis on the latter. So she studied every inch of the place and started a game to test her memory. She rushed from one part of the house to the next, guessing little details. A grin grew on her face with each success and soon she was giggling. So caught in her excitement was she that she forget the situation and was startled by the door suddenly opening. She tripped over her own feet and fell on her backside with a squeak.

"Chizuru!" Kodo almost dropped the supplies in his hurry to check on her."I told you to be careful! Are you hurt?"

She jumped up."I'm okay!" She gave him a grin."You just surprised me...father." It felt strange calling him that. Perhaps she'd hit her head worse than Kodo thought. But he was a doctor, so he knew best. She was just a bit dazed by the fall like he said, and needed to get used to things. They were in a new home, so a fresh start for her mind was perfect.

After giving a half-amused, half-exasperated headshake, Kodo patted her head and moved to get the rest of the things he'd gotten inside.

"Can I help?" She asked, following him around as he brought everything inside.

"It's too heavy for you to carry," he replied, setting down the last box. He turned to close the door but she beat him to it. He chuckled at her eagerness to assist."Don't worry, once I've set up the clinic, there will be plenty for you to help me with."

Her eyes lit up."Am I going to learn how to be a doctor like you, father?"

"Well, not right away. For now, let's just settle for getting things for me and when you're older you'll move to more tasks." Kodo smiled."And I also have far important duties for you to...fulfill."

She nodded vigorously."I'll be the best helper ever! I promise!" She was bouncing with glee."I won't ever fail you!"

Chuckling, he knelt to pat her head."Of that I have no doubt." His voice dropped to a murmur."You'll always be my good little smart girl..."

Yes, of course she would. Disappointing him would be the worst she could ever do.


 

"Chizuru, come here."

Chizuru turned away from the window and hopped off the desk she'd been standing on. She ran as fast as her little feet could carry her. He sounded serious, enough for her to wonder if she accidentally did something wrong. Kodo finished setting up the clinic and they'd eaten dinner recently. He asked a few times about her head to be certain she had recovered and checked once, but all was well.

Kodo was knelt over a box, his back facing her. When he heard her enter, he told her to sit. She nervously plopped down in front of him. Turning, he revealed a sword in its sheath. He smiled at her wide-eyed expression and removed the blade from its sheath for her to see.

"This kodachi belongs to you, my dear," he explained."It has been passed down within our family for generations."

Her eyes widened further."M-mine?"

"Yes, yours." He beckoned her to come closer, which she tentatively did. She couldn't stop gaping at the weapon. She was a doctor's daughter. Shouldn't fighting and weaponry be the last thing on her mind? Still, she found the blade to be pretty and wanted to hold it.

Kodo ran his fingers along the sheath, an emotion she couldn't decipher glinting in his eyes. After a long moment of silence, he looked up at her."Don't worry, I'm not going to make you fight anyone. Rather, you should avoid fighting completely. But this sword is an important part of your history and a part of you, so you'll learn the basics of using it."

Chizuru nodded. She liked the sound of that. Maybe she could use the sword as a reminder of why medicine and safety were so important. She fidgeted with her hands, wanting to take the sword but unable to shake off her initial nerves about it.

"Give me your hand," Kodo commanded, reaching for her. She did not hesitate to obey.

He brought the blade closer to her skin and she panicked, tugging on her hand to get free. A thousand confused, terrified questions filled her mind and were about to burst from her lips. Kodo's grip was gentle but firm, and his expression brooked no argument. He lightly cut her finger with the blade. Just a prick, and only a droplet of blood escaped the wound before it closed. He released her, and she cradled her hand to her chest, studying it in disbelief. Her skin showed no sign of having been cut and were it not for the blood on the floor and the phantom of a light pain from where her finger was pricked, she would have believed she imagined it all due to her headfirst fall.

Kodo sheathed the blade and offered it to her. She shakily took it and gawked at him, wordlessly pleading for an explanation. He patted her head; she grasped his wrist in her tiny fingers to keep it there. A ghost of a smile touched his lips. His free hand took her by the chin.

"You are special, my dear. Always have been. Ever since you were born, you've healed faster than others." He gave her another pat on the head."That's why your head healed so quickly and just left you dazed and asleep for a short while. There are some injuries that will take longer to heal if they are especially severe or...a certain weapon is used, but you will still recover faster than everyone else."

She tightened her grip on his wrist."I was...born this way?" How had she not noticed this? Her memory must have been greatly harmed by the fall. But if her father was telling her this, it had to be true and she'd just seen it with her own eyes. It was real.

Nodding, he tightened his own grip on her chin."Don't tell anyone else. When you train with your kodachi you'll wear special gloves and equipment to protect yourself. No playing any rough games that could get you hurt at all. If anyone asks, tell them that you're sick and get hurt easily. You're a doctor's daughter, so people will know better than to doubt."

Chizuru nodded vigorously while clutching the kodachi to her chest.

Her father said so, so it was best. And she would always be her father's good smart little girl...


Chizuru gasped as her eyes snapped open and her head flew up to gape at the sky. Her journal and pen fell from her lap onto the ground. She'd been sitting on the engawa when the memories suddenly overtook her, replaying perfectly in her mind as if she were reliving them.

Two of her earliest memories, for she could recall nothing before awakening as a four-year-old girl and Kodo explaining what happened to her. She never regained her memories prior to the fall, ultimately agreeing with Kodo that it didn't matter since she was very young and otherwise made a full recovery. Chizuru obeyed his command to be careful, making sure everyone heard the lie about her fragile health. Children tried to play with her a few times until Kodo and their parents reprimanded them. Mostly it was her playing with her toys alone inside the house with an occasional neighbor child joining her, though not long enough to form a friendship or even an acquaintanceship, their faces and names leaving her memory as quickly as they'd appeared. Rarely, Kodo was able to take a break from his work to play with his daughter, which were awkward but pleasant times. For the most part, though, she was alone. The children ceased all attempts at befriending her, not inviting her even to simple games that required no physical effort. Chizuru liked having privacy and was used to being alone, a result of no friendships as well as Kodo often traveling for work. But to have no one else besides her father...she hadn't realized how odd that was until she left Edo.

It was a strange, good feeling to have friends despite the unpleasant circumstances that led to it. The Shinsengumi, Iba, and as of recently Sen and Kaoru. All of them were helping her find her father and comforted her in her moments of doubt. Yet Chizuru could not bring herself to reveal her healing abilities to them. She couldn't risk breaking her oath to Kodo or face their fear and rejection. Even if they didn't reject her, she would still be an inconvenience and she selfishly refused to take that risk. Just for a little longer, she wanted to pretend to be a normal human girl.

Kodo must have a good reason for making her hide it, for creating the serum, for hiding the truth from her. He was trying to protect his little girl and she needed to keep being his good girl by protecting and finding him. Certainly he would be able to explain everything, it would turn out to be some very unfortunate misunderstanding and all would be well. She needed to maintain her patience and faith in her father, like the good smart little girl he always claimed she was. As Matsumoto suggested, the guilt of what he'd caused by making the serum must have played a part in him vanishing.

From her pocket she retrieved the protection amulet she'd given him before he left. Kazama had to be lying. For all she knew, he and his cohorts were responsible for Kodo's disappearance. He disapproved of Kodo "making humans into Demons" and could be holding him hostage to lure her into his trap. Kodo would never let the likes of Kazama harm her. He constantly talked about ensuring that she would have a perfect husband and...mate.

Mate. He put the slightest bit of extra emphasis on that word, on the topic of ensuring that she had the best possible man in order to conceive the perfect children. He really wanted grandchildren, though he'd never actually said those precise words.

Oh, why was she overthinking this? Any parent, especially a single one raising an only child, shouldn't have to directly spell out that they would do anything to give their children complete happiness, peace, and safety.

How terrible of her to doubt him, to think she didn't really know him. He was good father, protector, doctor, and caretaker. That was all that mattered, all she needed to know.

She nodded to herself in self-confirmation, and picked up her journal and pen, clutching the book to her chest.

A week had passed by so quickly. Tonight she would accompany Inoue, Yamazaki, and Heisuke to deliver supplies to the Fury Corp. Inoue wanted to give Sanan a nice surprise so he ordered them to keep up the facade of avoidance until they visited him.

Chizuru bit her lip. She hadn't seen Sanan since he comforted her and promised that Itou wouldn't trouble her again. That was four weeks ago. He kept his promise. Save for Itou and Miki trying make eye contact with her when she, Yamazaki, and Inoue interrupted a meeting they were having with Hijikata and Kondou to confront the latter two about Sanan, there were no more incidents with Itou toward her. Yamazaki swore he would immediately let Sanan know if he suspected the brothers were trying anything else.

She looked around to make sure no one was nearby, then dug her nail into her thumb to make a tiny cut which she watched heal. Growing up, when she would marvel in this manner at her powers, as amazed as she was anxious about them. Although she longed for a normal life, she couldn't be ashamed of her abilties. Kodo forbade her from ever thinking/saying the slightest negative thing about herself. If the world couldn't accept and love her kind, that was their problem. She was not to blame being born different.

Her kind. Kodo obviously never mentioned Demons or anyone else that shared her powers, just said that people like her deserved better than the world's cruel judgement. Had that been a secret reference to Demons and/or Furies disguised as a hypothetical situation?

Chizuru hugged her journal tighter to her chest. This confusion and fear, was this what the Furies felt? She may have been born this way, yet she'd never understood it, and while she refused to hate her abilties, the current situation made her terrified of discovery and of what Kazama might do.

She ran her fingers over the journal. This journal was her sole constant source of comfort that she could spill all her secrets to sans hesitation. She would die before she gave it up, both to protect her secrets and from refusal to surrender her main outlet. Yet it wasn't a replacement for a real person to confide in, it never could be.

She realized now that this was why she was so devoted to trusting and helping Sanan in any little way she could, why she was willing to lend a listening ear and shoulder to cry on. No one should experience this loneliness. Though she couldn't tell the full truth, but she could offer her empathy and thus be more useful.

Her father was the only one that completely understood, he was all she truly had and needed. Everyone else, no matter how much they cared, would not be able to cope with who and what she really was if they knew the truth. They would be jealous, fearful, angry, or a combination of all three. Because she wasn't normal, no matter how desperately she wished to be, and Kodo alone could properly handle that. Once she found him, things here would be cleared up and they would return home, back to the way things used to be, and how they should be. It was for the best, for herself and her new friends...

Then an idea clicked in her brain. She needed to be a good daughter by finding her father and the political situation had gotten so chaotic that they couldn't devote more than a few investigations of rumors/leads that occasionally popped up. Kodo may have good reasons for keeping her in the dark, but as she'd worried earlier, he could be in trouble and needed to her help. She needed to gain a better understanding of how to help him, and to do that she had to learn more about him.

Sanan had told her about Kodo's inolvement with the Shinsengumi, though that was purely broad information. Sanan worked closely with Kodo in his experiments, taking over after Kodo went missing. Iba hadn't said anything else besides that he often visited the Yukimura clinic when they were children, though he had a decent amount of memory regarding Kodo that he didn't elaborate on. Both of them would love to share more about Kodo with her, as Sanan had greatly approved of her desire to learn more and Iba wished to help her remember their childhood friendship and she was genuinely sad about not remembering him.

She vigorously nodded, a smile brightening her face. Today she would ask Sanan to tell her more and write to Iba to request his aid. She rushed into her room to start writing the letter for Iba.

 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


"You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you mad." — Aldous Huxle


Katamitsu slowly blinked several times, brows drawing together as he wondered what happened and where he was. He stared up at the ceiling as memories filled him. He was a Fury, had taken a serum called the Water of Life after almost dying to save Kondou. So much time, or what felt like a long time, in chains, alone, confused, and in pain, until he finally spoke and Sanan released him. Going outside, breathing fresh and seeing the beautiful starry sky, Sanan whispering words of hope and then nothing.

Now he lay in a futon. He still felt tired, but didn't want to sleep more. He worried he might not wake up if he remained asleep.

A palm touched his forehead, reminiscent of Sanan doing so as Katamitsu made his choice whether to drink or not. Katamitsu had been in so much pain from his wounds and consumed by thoughts of impending doom that he could not remember if the touch felt as warm then as it did now. It kept him calm, suppressed the urge to panic.

You are alive and you are not alone.

"You're awake." Sanan's voice was a mix of a gasp and a whisper. Katamitsu turned his head to see Sanan sitting beside him. He smiled widely, and the hand on Katamitsu's forehead twitched. Katamitsu tried to speak, but his throat was too dry so a raspy noise came out. A coughing fit overtook him as he threw off the blanket and Sanan hurriedly brought a water pitcher. Struggling not to snatch the cup, Katamitsu shakily reached for it. Sanan helped him into sitting position. Katamitsu managed to take slow, careful sips. Three additional cups and his throat improved. He took deep breaths as Sanan rubbed circles into his back.

Once his breathing eased, he asked,"H-How long?"

"All night," Sanan replied."You passed out minutes after we went outside. As I said, your body is adjusting to the sudden changes and this may be more intense than the period immediately after drinking the serum. I doubt you rested while you were chained."

Hugging his knees to his chest and resting his chin on them, Katamitsu let his eyes flicker. This was the room he occupied after Sanan began keeping a closer eye on him. As promised, Sanan had modified it. There was, obviously, a futon on which he had just awoken, the chains were gone, there was a desk a few feet away from the futon, a book shelf at the very back of the room, and a sword wrack.

"We can discuss anything else you'd like to add," Sanan said, gesturing to the general area of the room with a slow wave of his arm.

Katamitsu cleared his throat."Did I...do anything while sleeping?" Talking wasn't anywhere near as hard as last night and his voice was only half-raspy.

Sanan shook his head."No, you were completely unconscious." He chewed his lip."I worried that you might not awaken or would stay asleep for days, but it seems your body is adjusting to a change in constitution. The bloodlust is occasional rather than constant and you may even learn to control your Fury form."

"I can...look human again?" He would be able to look in a mirror and not fear the sight of a white-haired, red-eyed monster?

Sanan pursed his lips."Look human, yes," he said, void of emotion."The bloodlust and discomfort under sunlight reminds us otherwise. And for the moment, in your case, a glance in the mirror will suffice."

Katamitsu winced. The thirst, pain, desperation, and terror being abandoned to lonely madness would come again when he least expected it. Would he lose his sanity to the bloodlust? Stuff as much medicine down his throat as possible? Break and drink blood?

Sanan stiffened."I am still sane despite the fears of others." His glasses flashed and his eyes narrowed, as if he were relieving a memory."I...lost control after drinking the Water of Life. I almost killed Yukimura-kun, but she...said my name and I...snapped out of it."

Wait, she? Yukimura was female? That was the "she" Sanan referred to? People suspected Yukimura was hiding something, but gender?

The page was a mysterious one. Appearing out of nowhere, having a personal room, never bathing with the men, primarily talking to the founding leaders...and having a few days off more than the rest of the Shinsengumi members every month.

A secret kept by their superiors, including the rule-obsessed, strict Hijikata? As if this strange liquid called the Water of Life was not sufficiently shocking. What else were his superiors lying about?

Katamitsu's brows furrowed. Yukimura was the one that found a dying Sanan, according to the official story. Did she know about the Water of Life and Furies? Were her tears as she and Yamazaki struggled to keep Katamitsu alive out of fear that he would become a monster?

If most of his friends that had to commit seppeku drank the serum, that explained why no one except the leaders were present for the ritualistic suicide. Then there were many like Katamitsu suffering from fatal wounds. None of the bodies were shown to the men. Because there were no corpses.

Sanan promised to explain once Katamitsu was better. Much as he longed for answers, Katamitsu wanted to believe that his superiors had a good reason for this. He prided himself on being a loyal soldier, it was all he had after the disownment from his family and losses of his comrades to the code. Surely, there was an explanation.

An explanation for deceiving most of their soldiers? An explanation for giving someone the choice between death and madness? An explanation for creating this poison that turned men into monsters suffering from seemingly eternal agony? An explanation for abusing the trust of their loyal brothers-in-arms? An explanation for breaking the rules of no women being allowed at headquarters? An explanation for being the ultimate hypocrites?

"How do you feel?" Sanan asked.

Everything he knew was a lie. How was he supposed to feel?

"Nothing hurts," he mumbled. Nothing on the outside at least."I think I'm...hungry." No sooner had he said this, than his stomach growled. No thirst, no sore throat, genuine hunger.

Sanan smiled."That's good. I haven't lost my taste for food, you've regained yours. It seems you truly are evolving."

Sanan stood, offering a hand to help him up. Katamitsu ignored the offer in favor of standing on his own, paying no attention to Sanan's frown. His legs ached but he could stand upright sans worry of his legs buckling.

Tears pricked his eyelids as he rushed to the sword wrack and removed the blade, carefully holding it to his chest. He was grateful his family rejected it as they had rejected him. His sword was the sole certain, honest thing in his life after all this insanity and deception.

"A warrior is nothing without his sword," Sanan murmured.

A lying warrior in your case, Katamitsu internally scoffed. He gestured to the older man's left arm."Your arm."

Sanan rubbed the limb."The Water of Life healed me."

"Worth it?" Katamitsu asked bitterly.

"Yes," Sanan replied without hesitation, posture straight and eyes staring ahead."I regret my injury, but not my choices afterward. I would have commited seppuku for certain if I kept living as a pitied cripple."

Pitied? That was inevitable. But if anyone lost respect for the colonel it was because of his hostility and poor coping skills, not pity. Any attempt to help was mistaken as pity and received a reprimand. What else did he expect?

A warrior was more than his sword. One didn't need to physically fight to be a warrior. He thought someone as intelligent as Sanan could understand that. Another addition to the list of lies he worshipped as truth.

If Sanan wished to live this way, that was fine. That didn't give him the right to give others hope for redemption only to leave them to lonely insanity. Kondou and Hijikata were in on this too. Katamitsu trusted and respected these men, and they repaid it by them, their own brothers!

Glaring at Sanan from the corner of his eye, Katamitsu thought that his friends would've preferred death if they understood the full truth of drinking that poison.

Sanan looked to the spot where the chains used to be."All that struggling, was that you trying to get my attention?"

Katamitsu bowed his head in confirmation. The despair whenever the door closed as Sanan left, the commitment to forcing out moments of clarity...each second felt like an eternity. He swallowed."H-How long was I chained?"

Sanan raised his eyebrows."I thought you could tell time."

Katamitsu shut his eyes."I figured it out...eventually." He hugged his sword tighter."It hurt so much, had to make myself think, make myself focus, to make you notice me."

Sanan inhaled sharply, avoiding eye contact."You "died" six months ago, Kimura-kun. I noticed your struggling three weeks ago. All those months you were fighting for sanity and begging for aid. The others..."

Katamitsu's head snapped up."I want to see them. They need help. They're scared, hurting, confused, and angry! I can't leave them alone!" He fell to his knees, clutching the sword to his chest harder than ever for comfort.

Being trapped, whether in chains or behind bars, not understanding anything, desperate for the agony and thirst to be soothed, that overwhelming urge to kill, the complete chaos that consumed nearly the entire mind. He endured it for six months. He spent years with the Shinsengumi and lost so many friends to the code and battle that he wouldn't have been able to keep count if not for his devotion to honoring their memory.

Sanan brought his hands into his sleeves, still struggling with eye contact."The other men who drank the serum after I did are kept in cells while the truly unstable ones are chained like you were. I've never seen any of them show a hint of sanity. It took you months to indicate your sanity to me. Them...they must be..." He cleared his throat and looked to the side, eyes wide and teeth digging into his lower lip."The Furies sleep during the day. Well, those that can sleep do. It would best to go once everyone is awake. I checked on them while you were unconscious. I did not see any changes, but as you have proven, one can never be certain."

Katamitsu jumped to his feet, dropping his sword in his urgency."I recognized you right away! Maybe if they saw someone familiar, or someone more like them who understands, they could...please, I need to help them."

"Someone more like them who understands," Sanan parroted in a whisper. He smiled sadly."Yes, you would be the better candidate for that. As I said, you are the first I have seen indicate, let alone regain, sanity. So I do not know what to expect, what to look for, from them. There are also those that joined the Shinsengumi shortly before or after I faked my death, so there is no familiarity. And any familiarity that may have existed has likely shattered for...obvious reasons, I suppose."

Silence fell between them. Katamitsu found his anger at the deception fading, or rather becoming balanced with his oncoming sympathy for the way Sanan acted. He'd realized last night that the promise of being alive and not alone didn't just apply to himself. That said, his anger remained. Sanan had been a part of this lie. He made a free choice to drink the serum for petty, selfish reasons while Katamitsu did not even understand what he was doing when he drank due to his dying state. And the others that chose had to choose between death and a possible second chance. Sanan may consider living with his injury to be a worse fate than death, but that was his problem. If he felt guilty, then good. He should feel guilty for betraying men who trusted him like this, as should Hijikata and Kondou. They were disgraces no different than the ronin they hunted. They created a joke of a code they did not even follow, yet punished others with death and worse for doing the same or far lesser crimes. He recalled hearing Hijikata and Sanan expressing frustration with their superiors, and Kondou's faith in his superiors that mirrored Katamitsu's own undying faith; he scoffed at the memories.

Katamitsu was going to help his friends recover. The leaders who doomed them to madness and loneliness could rot for all he cared. Well, they could rot after he finished using them to fix the damage they caused to himself and gods knew how many others.

Sanan yawned."My apologies," he said, his voice muffled by his hand covering his mouth and the lingering yawn."I am usually asleep during this time."

Although Katamitsu wished to save his comrades as soon as possible, he was too disgusted to look at the one of his traitorous superiors right now. He also needed time to process all of this on his own anyway, so several hours away from Sanan and some alone time would be a blessing.

His stomach growled again, remembering his hunger.

Sanan massaged the bridge of his nose."Let me show you the kitchen and training room here, then I will...give you time to process this."

Katamitsu crossed his arms and silently followed the colonel. Once that was done, he bid him good night (or rather good day considering their situation) and they went to their individual quarters.

Katamitsu sighed deeply as he explored his modified room. He replaced the sword on the wrack and recalled the book shelf. Curious, he approached it and was pleasantly surprised to see books and scrolls containing the stories and history books he spent his whole life reading as part of his devotion to the ways of a samurai. There were also some books full of blank pages and several pens on the shelf.

Humming thoughtfully, he glanced at the desk then back at an empty book and the pens.

The stories and histories he read obviously never had anything like this. For all he knew things like this had been going on since the beginning of time. He clenched his fists, his blood boiling at this deception and betrayal. Someone should know, should make sure others knew, or at least hear these "stories". To know that this suffering was not for nothing. He would die if that was what it took to ensure that this served some purpose.

Grabbing the pens and book, he marched to the desk and sat down. Maybe he could write something to read to his friends, an additional assurance that he understood exactly how they felt and that they could and would make it out of this...alive and not alone.

And so Katamitsu began to write.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


 

"Lonely isn't being alone. It's the feeling that nobody cares." -Unknown


 

An agonized cry roused him.

Sanan's eyes snapped open and he shot up into sitting position. That sound had by now become one of the most familar things to him. He emitted it himself, heard various forms of it from his fellow Furies. He could be deaf and still be able sense that cry.

Another cry, quieter and more strangled than its predecessor, and pounding on the floor from the room next. Muttered curses, choked gasps, and a third cry.

Bloodlust.

Sanan threw off the covers, put on his glasses, and rushed to Katamitsu's quarters.

Katamitsu was on all fours, curled into himself and struggling to breathe between pained noises. The shoji being hurriedly slid open caused his head to snap up. He made eye contact with Sanan, clenched his teeth harder than they already were, and tried to turn away. A violent spasm made him scream at the top of his lungs and collapse onto his stomach, spasms still attacking his body. His cries were muffled by his face being pressed against the floor.

Kneeling, Sanan helped the younger man sit and retrieved a medicine packet from his pocket. Katamitsu had taken it several times, more to prove his sanity than to soothe rhe pain, because they both knew it was practically useless. Sanan's condition was more stable. Katamitsu needed time to adjust; the medicine could be a huge help or hinderance. This should be his choice.

Katamitsu was clinging to Sanan for dear life, one hand gripping his arm in a painfully tight manner and the other holding his clothes tightly enough to rip. His feet wildly kicked and stomped, knocking around the book and pens he'd been using. His eyes were squeezed shut. He wheezed between grunts of pain.

"Kimura-kun," Sanan said into his ear, giving him a small shake. Katamitsu opened his eyes, desperation and ire filling the crimson irises. Sanan hesitantly showed the medicine packet."This will help a little."

"I-I...know," Katamitsu choked out."A little...not...worth it." He squeezed his eyes shut again and tightened his grip on the colonel."C-Can endure...h-have to endure." Tears ran down his cheeks, and he cried out. His nails dug into the fabric of Sanan's clothing and the skin beneath.

Sanan grimaced. He couldn't stand the idea of pity and would have rejected someone offering him comfort during the bloodlust. He reminded himself that his condition was stable whereas Katamitsu was undergoing severe changes for the second time. Katamitsu was in no condition to handle this alone and even if he could, it was his job to monitor the Furies, so he had to be here.

Keeping one arm around Katamitsu's shoulders, his free hand dropped the medicine and pressed his palm to his forehead. Katamitsu's brows furrowed, his lips parted in preparation to scream, freezing for a full second before a groan came out. He took a deep breath as the spasms and kicks lessened in severity.

Katamitsu loosened his grip."T-That helps."

Sanan smiled."Consider it a reminder that you're alive and not alone."

And neither am I, he refrained from saying.

Try as he might, he couldn't deny his excitement over finding another sane fury. One that had been trying to communicate for months.

It worried him to think how many other pleas for attention he hadn't noticed. So much work to do. Things could only go up from here, they had to. His patience and Chizuru's faith would pay off for certain.

Chizuru. His heart swelled as he recalled her note. He'd been so occupied with keeping an eye on Katamitsu, checking on the other Furies, and then passing out from exhaustion in the morning that he forgot his mental promise to write a journal entry about her note which was still attached to a page within the book. He should get to that once tonight's duties were completed.

Katamitsu managed to snort. A faint tremble overtook his body as the bloodlust fit passed. Within a few minutes his breathing was normal. His eyes slowly unclosed. He went still and swallowed."I'm alright now." He shrugged Sanan's arm off and got to his feet to pick up the things he'd dropped, moving quickly to prevent Sanan from assisting.

Sanan frowned. The hostility and distrust he'd failed to notice in his surprised, giddy, and tired state several hours ago afore going to bed was now clear as day. Intially, Katamitsu clung to him like a starved man to a piece of bread, but this time during the bloodlust he did so with resignation, as if he had no other options...which was not necessarily incorrect, since Sanan was the only one here that could help.

"You're angry," he said quietly.

Katamitsu snorted as he placed the book and pens back on the shelf."And here I thought I was being subtle." Were it not for the gravity of the situation, that jest would have made Sanan smirk.

Sanan brought his hands into his sleeves. It made perfect sense, He should have realized sooner that this was bound to happen and would likely repeat once the others regained mental clarity."It is deserved," he said."I will not deny you that."

Katamitsu gave a tight-lipped smile."I'm so glad my anger is approved by you. Guess I don't have to worry about committing sepukku for insubordination, hmm?"

Once again, in a less grave situation, Sanan would be able to enjoy this banter. With a grimace, he replied,"I'm afraid seppuku isn't possible anymore. Unless you stab yourself in the heart or somehow manage to behead yourself, you cannot die." He supressed the pang of worry that the younger man would do exactly that.

Scoffing, Katamitsu rolled his eyes."Don't worry, I don't plan on dying and abandoning my friends to rot in the dark from their seemingly endless loneliness and insanity. I'd never dream of betraying them like that." In a quiet, scathing voice, Katamitsu added,"That would be unforgivable."

Sanan lifted his chin and narrowed his eyes. Katamitsu copied the actions. They stared each other down. If looks could kill, they would both be bloody corpses on the floor.

"You consider a second chance at life, being a warrior again, a betrayal?" Sanan asked, cold as ice. His arm ached; he resisted the urge to rub the limb.

"Life?!" Katamitsu snarled so fiercely that Sanan stepped back and brought a hand to his sword just in case he lost control and attacked. Seeing this, Katamitsu sneered."You call this life? You call this being a warrior? We're monsters who can't go out in the sun, who are officially forbidden from stepping outside, left to rot in chains or cells or gilded cages! Water of Life, bah! Poison of Madness or Half-life would be a better name!"

Sanan snorted."Not as catchy, I'm afraid."

Eyes furiously lighting up, Katamitsu grabbed a random book and flung it at Sanan, who sidestepped. He watched the younger Fury like a hawk, ready to draw his sword.

Scoffing, Katamitsu crossed his arms."Do I need to repeat myself? I don't plan on killing anybody. That would ruin my chances of saving my friends. And I am not a traitor."

Sanan clicked his tongue against his teeth."Need I remind you that every Fury was given the choice between drinking or dying?"

Katamitsu stamped his foot, hard enough to crack the floorboard."You call that a choice?! Drink an unknown chemical or die?"

Sanan raised an eyebrow."I was under the impression that warriors don't fear death. I specifically recall you saying you think of yourself as dying a warrior and that you regretted nothing...right before drinking. Additionally, while most that were given the choice drank, there was still a decent amount that accepted death."

Katamitsu laughed, the sound a mixture of iciness and sorrow."And I was under the impression that warriors did whatever it took to fulfill their sacred duty! I was also under the impression that warriors stood beside their brothers, especially when they were in need! And you know I wasn't thinking clearly when I drank! I was in pain and dying, I thought I was imagining things! I didn't know the truth! The sole reason I don't regret drinking is that now I do know the truth and can help my friends be true samurai again, instead of tossing them aside like you did!"

Sanan threw his arms up."What were we supposed to do? Write a book of our history with the serum and recite it to you whilst hoping you would not die before we finished explaining and then offered you the medicine? You could have died at any random moment, as could anyone else who drank while fatally wounded. Those that had to commit sepukku were able to receive an explanation. Lest you, one of our most loyal soliders, has forgotten, their lives were forfeit for breaking the code. It was a chance at atonement." He exhaled deeply."Men in both situations were offered survival and those that drank got exactly that."

Katamitsu touched his chest and stomach, where the ronin had wounded him and would have killed him if he refused to drink. Closing his eyes, he murmured,"Survival isn't enough."

"They could serve the Shinsengumi again, be the warriors-"

Katamitsu's eyes opened, the red irises wide as saucers."Serve the superiors that lied to them about everything?!" Scowling, he waved an arm as if smacking the idea aside.

Sanan clenched his jaw and swallowed thickly."We did not want to lie, but we had our orders. The shogunate assigned us the task of experimenting with the Water of Life. We were backed into a corner, had little if any other options..."

Tears pricked Katamitsu's eyelids, and he furiously blinked them away. His voice cracked."Then you shouldn't have us left to rot. Even if you didn't care about us anymore, practicality and your orders should have made you help those that drank-"

Sanan lost control of himself, his voice rising to the loudest possible volume and the words rushing from his mouth of their own accord after gods knew how long of begging and demanding to be released."What do you think I've been trying to do?" He put a hand over his heart."I am a Fury too, remember? I am stuck in this section of the compound, officially dead to the world, unable to enjoy the sun, feeling unbearable pain when the bloodlust strikes, with almost no one else around that I can talk to!" He held his head in his hands and clenched his teeth painfully as he fought the desire to violently hit or throw something."You think I want to live like this? What I want is to never have injured my arm, what I want is someone to talk to besides the person that arrives once a week to deliver supplies, what I want is to find the man who created this concoction so he can explain why he suddenly vanished and left several confused, terrified men as well as his own daughter behind to pick up and put together the broken pieces, what I want is for this serum to be improved and used as the life-saver it is meant to be and not a poison that should only be considered as a last resort, what I want is for myself and every Fury here to be able to serve the Shinsengumi again and be the warriors they want to be and are meant to be! Alas, that is far easier said than done, because I have had practically no assistance, since most of my friends fear the Fury Corp. and think we might as well be a lost cause, and the few that do care and want to help are in no position to do so!"

Silence, so intense that a pin dropping could be heard, settled within the room once Sanan finished his rant. He inhaled and exhaled deeply, willing himself to calm down and relax. His head pounded, his heart raced, and his throat hurt from yelling. Katamitsu gaped at him for a total of five seconds, then turned his back to him and crossed his arms as he pondered what had just happened. The argument had drained both of them.

Eventually, Katamitsu looked over his shoulder and muttered,"If I weren't aware of your disdain for pity, I'd think you were trying to make me feel sorry for you." He stiffened."You were the only one of us that suffered no coercion to drink, at least not the same kind that we faced."

Sanan pursed his lips."Yes, I am the closest thing we have to an ideal Fury." He straightened his posture and stuffed his hands into his sleeves."You have every right to distrust and despise me, to feel that way about all of your superiors. But be aware that your negativity toward us cannot compare to the self-loathing we feel for having failed our brothers and not being strong enough in the past to stand on our own feet without relying on scum like Chief Serizawa and Kodo-san. Unfortunately, we are stuck cleaning up their messes and must make the best of it."

Biting his lip, Katamitsu turned away from Sanan in favor of staring at the bookshelf and absentmindedly running his fingers over the various books and scrolls on it."Define 'better'," he said.

Sanan tilted his head."Hmm?"

Katamitsu turned to face him with crossed arms."You promised you'd give me the full story and let me see the others once I was better. So far, I've gotten bits and pieces of an explanation, but not the full story."

Sanan nodded."Fair enough. I believe you are ready to hear the full story. As for your friends...well, as I said, your body is still adjusting. Once you are more stable, I will take you to them. I just need you to be a little patient with me."

Katamitsu turned away."I suppose if I can endure six months of being chained and struggling for attention, then several more days or weeks of...adjustment won't be a big problem."

Sanan hesitated, but approached Katamitsu, stopping a few feet behind him. He laid a tenative hand on Katamitsu's shoulder."I know I am repeating myself, but I accept your contempt and distrust. But while I do regret the ways things have been handled here, I do not regret where they led us."

Katamitsu tensed."We can agree on that, at least. Just not for the same reasons."

Sanan squeezed his shoulder."And we can agree that our fellow Furies need our help and that we need each other's help in order to save them." Katamitsu gave a curt nod at that statement."Then we have a truce?"

"For now," Katamitsu replied coldly. He laughed mirthessly."Should be interesting multitasking between watching each others backs and our own backs."

Sanan lifted his chin and narrowed his eyes. The threat was clear and to be expected; he would be ready if it came to that, but he would prefer for that to not happen."You won't even give me the chance to atone for failing my brothers?" He whispered.

Rather than snap at him, Katamitsu slumped his shoulders. He looked as tired and wistful as Sanan, and his voice as he whispered back reflected that."I'd rather not be disappointed again. I fully expected betrayal from my family and I was a fool not to expect it from my superiors. Good intentions don't guarantee good results."

"True," Sanan agreed, smiling faintly."But the Shinsengumi have never given up easily."

Katamitsu huffed and rolled his eyes."Please just give me the full story already," he said, voice filled with exasperation.

Well, this was a start, and better than exchanging shouts and fighting each other.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


"Second chances are not the same as forgiveness." — Erin Bowman

 


Silence settled over the men once Sanan finished explaining.

Sanan told the full story of how the Water of Life entered their lives and why Chizuru's gender was kept secret. Katamitsu showed little emotion during the explanation, eyes shut and fists clenched on his lap. He hadn't uttered a word nor made a gesture in reaction, and even three minutes after the story concluded he remained still and silent as stone. Sanan wondered if he'd fallen asleep while sitting.

Finally, Katamitsu heaved a sigh."Here I thought I was exaggerating when I wondered if everything I knew was a lie. From the very start, you've been lying." He reached for his teacup that had gone cold and downed it in one sip."Why am I still surprised?" There was no sarcasm, just resignation with a painful reality.

Sanan clutched his teacup. No consolations or apologies would mean anything. Actions spoke louder than words and he had much work to do in regaining trust and saving his fellow Furies.

Katamitsu crossed his arms."If Yukimura is his daughter, how could she not know? She seriously has no clue?"

Sanan bit his tongue to keep from snapping at the younger man for daring to suspect Chizuru. Snapping would do her no favors. Swallowing, he tapped his fingers against the cup."We had no clue Kodo-san had a daughter until we met her. He was quiet about his personal life. We had no reason to be interested in his private affairs until he went missing. She said he often traveled for work for long periods of time and hardly spoke of business outside of their clinic to her. He kept secrets from all of us." He tilted his gaze downwards."...Yukimura-kun is honest. We were initially suspicious of her, but it has long become clear to us that she is just as perplexed and frightened by her father's actions as we are."

Katamitsu scoffed."Or she's as skilled a liar as her father."

Sanan tightened his grip on the cup until his knuckles whitened. Again he bit tongue."I know her," he said sternly then added in a quieter voice,"All of the leaders know her. She can be too kind for her own good sometimes, but she is not like us...especially me." He lifted his chin and locked their gazes."Take out your anger on the men who did this to you. I won't allow her to suffer anymore because of my mistakes."

Looking to the side, Katamitsu closed his eyes. He appeared torn between irritation and amusement."Either she's as honest and innocent as you believe she is, or she's got you wrapped around her little finger." He snorted."Although I certainly wouldn't mind the latter, it'd be nice to have someone else that knows what it's like to be used as a pawn by the people you trust."

Sanan suppressed his annoyance. Alright, he deserved that along with the other insults. As long as Chizuru wasn't bearing the consequences for his actions and it didn't hinder research, this was fine. And Katamitsu was not wrong; he had put her in danger with his nightly pranks on Itou.

Katamitsu was going to be his main concern for now, a slow but sure recovery and then he would do the same for the rest of the Fury Corp. Best they primarily focus on research and study; along the way Sanan could attempt reconciliation. He needed Katamitsu to trust him beyond the practical logic of requiring each other's assistance, to try to rebuild that camaraderie. That in itself was a logical choice, but it was also Sanan's wish to raise his comrades back up. He couldn't bear the thought of all this suffering being for naught, and Katamitsu shared that desire. The Furies were his responsibility, and only cowards fled from their responsibilities.

"How do you feel, physically?" Sanan asked.

Katamitsu shrugged."Normal. I eat, drink, and move around the same as before, save for the bloodlust and discomfort under the sun." At Sanan's worried look, he said,"I didn't go outside, just opened a window and stuck my hand out. Oh and I still look like a Fury, right?"

Furrowing his brows and tilting his head, Sanan uttered,"You haven't looked in a mirror?" He'd been alone all day and hadn't thought to do that, after not seeing his own face for months?

Katamitsu ducked his head, looking like he was struggling not to cry."I'd rather not see the monster staring back at me." His voice was scarcely above a murmur.

Sanan winced. No matter his pride in regaining his ability to wield a sword, the bloodlust always implanted little doubts in his soul. He always responded by damning those doubts to hell, but no one was invincible. He simply learned to endure the mental pains the same way he endured the physical pains...or attempt to.

He grasped Katamitsu's shoulder."Monsters don't weep." The tears and sobs Katamitsu had released after speaking for the first time in months almost drove Sanan to tears. He didn't want to imagine being chained for that long, with no sense of time for the majority of his imprisonment, trapped inside his own mind, unable to make his body cooperate, struggling for even a microsecond of clarity, anything to be noticed and given help and mercy...he shuddered at the thought.

Tired eyes looked back up at him. The ghost of a smile, wry and sad, crossed his lips."I used to think that too."

Sanan gave a second wince. He knew words would have little effect, or most likely none. Still, he had to try.

Katamitsu pinched the bridge of his nose, yawning from sleepiness as well as exhuastion from the argument and revelations. He rubbed his eyes."Do you need me for anything right now?"

Sanan shook his head."You may go rest if you wish." As Katamitsu stood to leave, he added,"We should start adjusting your sleeping schedule to make research easier for both of us."

Without turning around, Katamitsu said,"Right. Wake me up halfway through the night tonight."

"Very well," Sanan said softly."Good night."

Katamitsu gave a lazy wave over his shoulder on his way out.

Sanan sat still, listening as the shoji to the room next door opened and closed, and Katamitsu's footfalls as he went to his futon. He stayed silent for several minutes until he was sure the younger Fury had fallen asleep.

Sighing deeply, Sanan rubbed his temples. He needed to go check on the other Furies, but after what happened with Katamitsu, his excitement was battling dread. He should have expected this. It was preferable to the silence, dead ends, and loneliness, but still difficult nonetheless.

Speaking of dead ends, the investigation for Kodo was at a standstill. At least, last he heard it was. He didn't want to wonder how long it'd been since he received a complete update, especially after Inoue revealed that Kondou and Hijikata neglected to inform him of Souma and Nomura's recruitment. He truly might as well be a lost to cause to them.

Clenching his fists, he swore that he would not let his Furies suffer that. If they were to be considered lost causes, then they should have been allowed to die. They weren't going to sit until madness claimed them or the shogunate decided they were more trouble than they were worth and ordered their extermination. He would have been content to drag the cowards down to hell with him if he were the sole person affected by this, but that wasn't an option in these circumstances.

There was much to do, and come what may, he - no, they - would persevere. Alive and not alone.


Katamitsu lay on his side, somehow both exhausted and restless.

Every word uttered between himself and Sanan since the former at last managed to speak echoed in his ears on an endless loop. Such a myriad of emotions. Relief, shock, anguish, fury, tiredness, desperation, and last but certainly not least in the slightest, determination.

He didn't forgive Sanan, wasn't sure if he could ever forgive him. He stood by his belief that Sanan deserved to pay for betraying his comrades, and that the other leaders should get what they deserved too. Deserving of it as they might be, he couldn't enjoy seeing and hearing the pain on Sanan's face and body language as he released his frustrations with his plight.

Did Sanan consider himself a monster? That calm acceptance of the anger, the claims that their victims' indignation couldn't compare to the self-loathing the perpetators already felt...

...and the statement that most of the Shinsengumi higher-ups aware of the Fury Corp. considered them lost causes and the few people that wished to help could not.

Sanan had been "dead" for years; he was put in charge those that received little if any positive attention and handled this alone. He could be lying, and Katamitsu's shattered trust of his superiors made him greatly consider that possibility, but something about the pain he displayed seemed honest, like it was one of the few times he said something with perfect, utter truthfulness. No wonder he hadn't been making breakthroughs. Katamitsu must have been the first true hope he received in his research. Having spent six months in chains with no apparent hope of freedom, help, and mercy, Katamitsu understood his vexation.

You won't even give me the chance to atone for failing my brothers?

He sighed. He wanted to be able to trust the men he'd admired again, to regain that feeling of faith and happiness that came with being a samurai and standing up for justice against those that lazily sat back and offered empty words while innocents suffered thanks to them. But that was impossible. Kondou was blindly loyal, Hijikata complained and fought but abandoned his "dead" comrades after they consumed the Water of Life. As for Sanan...it did not matter how guilty he felt and if he wished to atone; he had done too much to make amends for his crimes. Once Katamitsu finished using Sanan to save his friends, the colonel would be on his own. He couldn't bear the thought of becoming devoted to a leader only to be stabbed in the back and left to rot a second time.

He nodded in self-confirmation of his plan, and settled into an uneasy sleep.


He mustered the courage to look in a mirror.

Katamitsu had awoken on his own. No nightmares, he just woke up and decided he was no longer sleepy. Seeing as Sanan had not come to rouse him, the night was probably not halfway over.

His knuckles whitened as he held the mirror in front of his face. He had a clear view of his once shoulder-length medium brown hair that was now several inches past his shoulders and pure white, formerly dark blue eyes that were now crimson, and his now pale and gaunt face.

Six months in chains, of endless mental and physical agony. He wished all this chaos would turn out to be a nightmare, that his friends were alive and well or had at least been allowed to die as samurai rather than forced to live as monsters, that his superiors had not lied to their brothers-in-arms...

Shakily lowering the mirror, he then covered his face with his hands as tears pricked his eyelids. His heart raced, his head pounded, and his throat ached as sobs begged for release. Resisting the urge to hug himself, he struggled to keep his breathing normal.

There was a tap on the door."Kimura-kun?"

"I'm awake," he said, voice muffled by his palms covering his face. The shoji slid open and Sanan uttered his name again in worry.

Katamitsu tore his hands off his face, coldly saying,"I'm fine." The suppressed sobs made him choke but he swallowed them down.

Sanan knelt beside him and saw the mirror. Katamitsu backed away from the mirror and slid it away, not trusting his emotions as the fear of snapping and shattering the mirror consumed him.

Sanan's eyebrows rose."I thought you didn't want to see your reflection yet," he said. Taking the mirror, he put it behind his back to hide it from the younger man's view, which he appreciated.

A sigh left the bespectacled man."If you weren't ready, you shouldn't have-"

Katamitsu slammed his fist into the floor, almost hard enough to break the tatami. He hissed in pain as the skin of his knuckles broke; a few droplets fell onto the mat afore the wounds healed and every visual hint of damage vanished. A string of curses burst from his mouth in half-growls, half-mutters as he rubbed his knuckles.

He scowled at Sanan."Is anyone ever ready to look at their reflection for the first time in months and see a stranger that may not even be human staring back at them?!"

Sanan moved backwards in his seat and glanced at his sword. Katamitsu resisted the urge to scoff and coldly remind him that he had no intentions of attacking since that would ruin his chances of saving his friends. True as that was, controlling his Fury side was difficult to put it mildly. Plus, he'd lost control the first three times that Sanan checked on him for hints of sanity but left after not noticing anything satisfying.

Exhaling deeply, Katamitsu rubbed his forehead to ward off a headache. He stared at the tatami, his quivering fists clenching and unclenching. Sanan grasped both of his wrists and lightly squeezed them; the quivering slowed and then stilled after he gave another squeeze.

"You're not a monster," Sanan stated, as if it were an universally known fact. When Katamitsu did not look up, Sanan leaned down to make eye contact and placed a hand on his shoulder."When you doubt yourself, think of your friends. If you can't see yourself as anything more than a beast, how can you help them recover?"

Katamitsu scowled."You think I haven't considered that?!" He covered his face with his palms again and gave a weak shake of his head."It's not that easy," he mumbled miserably.

Sanan squeezed his shoulder."I know. But the way of a warrior is never an easy one, and the Shinsengumi, and any true warrior, do not give up easily."

Katamitsu bit his lips and tongue to stifle the angry responses he longed to start yelling out again. He couldn't afford to yell whenever the desire struck him and he needed help in order to save his friends. He couldn't help them if he couldn't help himself. From a practical and emotional perspective.

Maybe Sanan thought the exact same thing about himself.

Katamitsu exhaled deeply once more and rubbed his hands over his face to clear his mind. He didn't try to remove Sanan's hand from his shoulder.

For better or for worse, they were alive and not alone.


The bloodlust came.

Sanan dropped the books and pens he'd been carrying, barely hearing them clatter to the floor. One hand clutched his chest, where his lungs and heart tightened and pounded, and the other hand clutched his burning throat. He crumbled to his knees at the same time that a spasm attacked him; instead of landing on all fours like usual, he landed on his side and hit his desk in the process.

Crying out, he clawed at the tatami to keep from clawing at his own flesh.

The shoji slid open. Katamistu ran over and knelt beside him, trying to help him sit, but Sanan shook his head.

"I'm fine," Sanan muttered."I-I can...you don't need to-ah!" He punched the floor in response to another spasm."Damn it!" This was the only time when he agreed that the Water of Life deserved to be called a poison. But it was worth it. He couldn't, wouldn't entertain a life as a useless cripple wallowing in self-pity and pity from those around him.

Katamitsu seemed torn. His eyes were wide, mouth opening and closing, hands still hovering in the air from his attempt to aid the colonel before being told not to. After closing his mouth for the third and final time, his expression softened and he let his hands drop to his lap where he balled the fabric of his pants in his fists.

Sanan gave him a grimace, then turned away as another cry escaped him. He continued clawing and punching the tatami, and muttering curses between gasps and moans and grunt and cries of agony and frustration. The spasms now plagued his entire body, each worse than the previous one, his throat burned so much he worried it would actually catch fire, his lungs tightened to the point that he expected to suffocate at any random moment, and his heart pounded so fiercely that it made him wonder if his heart would burst from his chest. Whimpering, he pressed his forehead to the floor.

Then he felt something touch his back, soothingly cool even through the fabric of his clothing, and begin rubbing comforting circles into his back. He stilled for five seconds, succeeding in getting a full inhale of air before a spasm went through his whole body and he emitted a choked groan.

Katamitsu's ministrations were slow and hesitant, as was his voice when he whispered,"Consider it a reminder that you're alive and not alone."

Sanan snorted. The bloodlust went on for...he was uncertain how long, but he guessed a few more minutes, and then he steadily started to relax and regain self-control. With a final groan of exhaustion, he completely collapsed.

"You've been a Fury for years," Katamitsu said, voice strained."How did you endure that alone?"

Sanan averted his eyes."I had no choice."

"Yes, but-"

"How did you maintain your faith after loss upon loss of friends to the code?" Sanan asked, his tone clipped.

Katamitsu pursed his lips and looked to the side."...I didn't think I had a choice," he muttered.

"Warriors must constantly endure, otherwise they are doomed," Sanan stated, shakily sturggling to get into a proper sitting position. He was still averting his eyes as he asked,"Why did you help me? I've lost count of how many times I've suffered the bloodlust. I am, well not used to it, but I am more stable, so I can mostly cope without aid." He snorted."And I deserve this."

Katamitsu kept his gaze sideways."I...don't enjoy seeing others suffer, even if they may deserve it, and even then I doubt anybody deserves to suffer this agony." He stood and turned to leave.

Sanan closed his eyes and gave a faint smile while emitting a thoughtful hum."Monsters don't feel sympathy and empathy." He cracked an eye open."Or is that something else you used to think too?"

Katamitsu froze in the process of opening the door. His back was facing Sanan, so he couldn't see the younger man's expression. But he did see Katamitsu tense before exiting the room, having never replied to Sanan's question.

Sanan's smile widened and he gave another hum.

Well, this was progress. Slow but sure progress.


For the tenth time in the last half-hour, Katamitsu cursed.

He had decided to practice with his sword, and the six months of no training were in brutal effect. The motions were either partially or fully gone from his memory, no longer coming naturally to him. Several times he stumbled, paused in thought, and muttered profanity. The desire to shout and destroy the room in a blind rage consumed him, worsening his attempts to train. He needed to learn to handle his frustration, otherwise he would become a worse monster than he already was.

Monsters don't weep.

Monsters don't feel sympathy and empathy.

He froze mid-motion, eyes falling shut and a sigh leaving his lips. He couldn't take any chances with his or Sanan's sanity since they required one another's help. Even if Sanan could handle it, best to minimize the risks. Still, he couldn't claim that he didn't feel sorry for someone in pain. If anyone deserved that suffering, it would be a traitor, but he couldn't enjoy witnessing that nor could he wish it on someone.

"I had trouble readjusting too."

Katamitsu spun around on his heel, almost tripping in his swiftness, to see Sanan standing near the entrance of the room. He must have been so busy focusing on his attempts to train that he didn't hear him come in.

The colonel was rubbing his left arm with a wry expression."I had been injured for a year, could barely move my arm. Needless to say, I had much readjusting to do in terms of practice."

Katamitsu had considered asking Sanan for a sparring partner, but if he could barely handle regular practice motions, a practice fight was far beyond his abilities for now. But he could use some help nonetheless.

Sanan sighed, still rubbing his limb."For the most part I was alone. No constant sparring partners. My body needed to catch up with my mind."

Katamitsu tried to perform a move with his blade, but as with the others, he only remembered half of it and tripped in the middle of a critical turn. He cursed under his breath for the eleventh time and sheathed his sword. He turned to Sanan and crossed his arms."I need is to recall the motions. I've either partially or completely forgotten all of them. I tried to find books so I could read and then physically relearn everything, but couldn't find anything." He lightly kicked at the tatami."How did you relearn this without reading?"

Sanan snorted."I spent that entire year after my injury experimenting with the Water of Life in the hopes that it would fix my arm, so you can imagine I also kept my brain aware of the motions even if my body could not perform them. That being said, thinking and doing are not the same." He frowned and shook his head."People think drinking the Water of Life will make them undefeatable gods simply because their strength and healing is enhanced. Your body can only do so much without discipline." After glancing at his own weapon and then at Katamitsu's weapon, he nodded."I'll request some books about swordplay tomorrow."

"Why tomorrow?"

"Someone will deliver supplies to us tomorrow night."

Katamitsu's eyebrows rose. He'd forgotten about that."Who?" He inquired.

Sanan shrugged."Last week it was Inoue-san. As far as I can tell, there isn't much of a pattern. Probably whoever is least disturbed by the idea of stepping foot inside this section of the compound during that week. Most of the time I imagine the poor soul is forced to go. They usually deliver the supplies and flee." His tone became increasingly caustic as he continued speaking, to the point that the air felt thick enough to slice with a blade.

For some reason, Katamitsu felt amused."You'd like it to be Yukimura, wouldn't you?" He asked, half-jokingly.

Sanan's face showed no emotion, but his was voice was barely above a whisper."...She used to do that in the beginning, but she has other duties now." He stiffened."And I would rather she not be troubled because of me."

"Hmm." Katamitsu bit his lips to supress a smile. He still wasn't sure why this amused him, but he wasn't going to complain about feeling something other than frustration.

Sanan turned to look at him with an arched eyebrow."Why are you asking?"

Katamitsu inclined his head."I think you know why."

Now both of Sanan's eyebrows had risen and he was in the process of opening his mouth to ask for clarfication when the realization of Katamitsu's implications abruptly struck him. His jaw dropped and he froze for a full five seconds before shaking his head."Do not be ridiculous!" He said sternly but also a bit too quickly."She is younger than Toudou-kun!"

Katamitsu rolled his eyes."Why do I get the feeling you're trying to convince yourself more than me?"

Sanan scoffed."I think I liked you better when you were glaring at me and insulting me."

Katamitsu gave his own scoff."Don't worry, that won't be changing anytime soon."

Sanan smirked."But it will change eventually," he said dryly.

Katamitsu's eyes widened and he scowled."I never said that."

"You implied it."

"Don't put words into my mouth."

"I'm not doing anything of the sort."

"Then don't twist my words. Is that more accurate?"

"Not really, you still implied-"

Katamitsu lost his patience then."Shut up!" The blind rage almost completely took over him, but he had enough control to know what he was doing. He rushed at the colonel at the speed of light. Sanan reached for his sword, but Katamitsu threw himself to the floor to dodge a swing aimed for his chest and then he lunged at Sanan, catching him by the left arm and kicking him in the knee. More surprised than pained, Sanan dropped his weapon. Katamitsu slammed Sanan against the wall, drawing his sword and holding it close to the older man's neck. Sanan went still, watching Katamitsu with curiosity instead of alarm.

Katamitsu snarled in Sanan's face."I will never forgive you, Commander Hijikata, or Chief Kondou for what you did to us! I won't forgive anyone who orchestrated all this suffering and betrayal!" His voice then became cold as ice."And if you lead the Furies astray, if you become a threat to us...I'll kill you myself."

Sanan lifted his chin, meeting the gaze of the man threatening his life without hesitation. He nodded curtly, and his voice was matter-of-fact as he said,"I'll hold you to that."

Katamitsu wanted to snarl again, but strangely he decided to silently accept the colonel's words. He released him, stepped back, and sheathed his sword.

And then he felt his appearance change. He knew, just knew, that he looked human again. Sanan's pleasantly surprised countenance merely confirmed what he already knew.

With a calmness even he didn't understand, Katamitsu left the room.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.


"And perhaps most I loved this about her, her helpless way, love it still, how she can't hide a single thing, that she looks hurt when she is hurt, seems happy when happy. That I know at every moment the precise place where she stands. What else can move a man like me, who would find nothing as siren or comforting?" — Chang-rae Lee


Sanan stood on the engawa, enjoying the fresh air.

Whoever was delivering supplies should arrive at any moment now. He wondered whose turn it was. Inoue might come again, or perhaps Yamazaki. They'd both shown interest in his research when the former was here the previous week and during the two weeks that the latter spent assisting Sanan in forming a plan for Itou. Sanan would like to talk to someone that cared and was curious about the Furies.

You'd like it to be Yukimura, wouldn't you?

Sanan shoved his hands into his sleeves. His palm tingled in memory of her touch, his eyes shut as he recalled her smile and kind words. The last time they'd spoken was that night when he comforted and promised her he would ensure that Itou never bothered her again, and the last time he saw her was without her knowledge when he secretly checked on her two weeks ago; he had fled immediately after leaving a note on her windowsill. It would be nice to have a pleasant encounter with her.

Unconsciously he touched his lips, remembering how he kissed her forehead. His research busied him enough to distract him from thinking of her too much, but now that he was alone and sans distractions, she rushed to the center of his mind.

He missed her. Missed her consolations, assurances, and positivity. It occurred to him that even when he wasn't directly thinking about her, her moral support helped him keep going.

From a logical standpoint, it might be good for her to come. She'd shown interest in learning more about her father's involvement and seeing the Furies would be beneficial for that. He had only given her a summary of how the Shinsengumi met Kodo and began the experiments and although she was understandably upset at hearing the dark truth, she did not regret asking and he did not regret telling. It was a relief to tell anyone of the situation, more so when that someone was technically as much a part of it as him and shared his feelings on the matter.

Regardless of who came, he had a report to make. Katamitsu did not seem ready to reveal himself, so Sanan promised to let him remain anonymous until the younger man decided otherwise. It wouldn't be hard to explain that the Fury needed time to adjust before talking to others, as he was still adjusting to Sanan. None of that was a lie.

Soon he would allow Katamitsu to accompany him in visiting the rest of the Furies. Not tonight, but soon. Hopefully, this would lead to additional breakthroughs.

His ruminations were broken by the distant but approaching sounds of footsteps and voices, the latter of which were very familar. Three specific voices he had heard the most out of anyone else recently.

Inoue, Yamazaki...and Chizuru.

Sanan ceased breathing and blocked out all noise except for the voices. He had to be imagining things. It was simply impossible for the three people he wanted to see most to actually be here. But as he focused on the increasingly closer and clearer voices, he could not deny the truth. Unless, of course, he blamed the serum for influencing his mind, but his pride would not allow him to consider that possibility. And those voices, especially hers, could never be perfectly copied by a hallucination. Nothing about her could ever be faked.

He spun around, eyes the size of saucers. Sure enough, the trio appeared from around a corner, chatting amongst themselves without noticing him. Sanan blinked, once, twice, thrice, but the image of the visitors did not fade.

They were really here.

This was one of the the greatest coincidences of his life.

Chizuru was the first to notice him. She locked eyes with him and her lips spread into a bright smile that made his heart skip a beat. Yamazaki and Inoue only had time to turn their heads forward before Chizuru dashed past them and hurried toward Sanan.

"Sanan-san!" She was still smiling as she stopped in front of him. Sanan felt his own lips twist and spread to return the smile. His hands moved out of his sleeves and one of them rested atop her head. They stayed like that until Inoue and Yamazaki got there. Reluctantly he withdrew his hand and turned to her companions. Part of him longed to embrace her and kiss her forehead, but the presence of an audience prevented him from fulfilling that desire.

"Well, this is a pleasant surprise," he said, raising his eyebrows.

Inoue chortled."That was the intention."

Chizuru nodded."Inoue-san wanted to give you a surprise." She bit her lip, glancing down before quickly looking back up and regaining her smile."We'll be taking over the deliveries from now on."

Sanan's eyes became saucers again. Maybe there was a small problem with his hearing, after all.

"Sanan-san?" For the second time her voice assured him that this was real. Perhaps wanting to provide further assurance, she shifted the supplies she was holding to one arm and reached with her free hand, entwining their fingers as she had done twice in the past. His other hand moved of its own accord to cover hers.

Her warmth was the most realistic thing in existence. This was certainly real.

"Toudou was supposed to join us tonight, but he received serious last-minute orders from the Chief and Commander that they wouldn't eleborate on," Yamazaki said. He glanced at the sky whilst muttering,"Whether or not he keeps his word when he is available remains to be seen."

"Unlikely," Sanan spoke automatically, his voice matter-of-fact. Heisuke tried to visit him weeks earlier and fled despite showing some hesitation when he witnessed Sanan enter a bloodlust fit. The colonel didn't want half-hearted apologies or for anyone to force themselves to pretend to care. If someone preferred to stay away, it was better for both sides that they did precisely that.

Yamazaki seemed to agree with Sanan, as did Inoue, though the latter showed sadness. Chizuru looked like she wished to protest but thought better of it. Silence fell over them until Inoue cleared his throat.

"When we say that we are taking over deliveries, we also mean that we'll be paying frequent visits here so you can receive and give updates." His lips formed a thin line, the displeasure he'd displayed upon learning that Sanan got little to no news clear as day and stronger than ever."This should have always been the case, but since Isami-san and Toshi-san are so conveniently busy, we'll be taking care of this for them."

Grimacing, Yamazaki shifted his supplies to one arm and pointed to his ear. It took Sanan six seconds to realize that the ninja was trying to convey that Inoue had yelled at Hijikata and Kondou on Sanan's behalf.

Inoue was offended for Sanan and had not suppressed/forgotten his indignation. He had simply decided that changes would happen and that this was not up for debate.

Alas, that is far easier said than done, because I have had practically no assistance, since most of my friends fear the Fury Corp. and think we might as well be a lost cause, and the few that do care and want to help are in no position to do so!

It seemed that those few were not as powerless to help as he believed. Naturally, a pang of pessimism struck him, but he suppressed it. He knew Inoue, Chizuru, and Yamazaki would always try to do what was right and now he felt guilty for dismissing them as powerless people with good intentions. How delightfully convenient that he thought of them right before their arrival.

Many thoughts flooded his brain, yet no words formed in his mouth. One was certain: he was not complaining in the slightest. He was pleased...and touched.

He squeezed Chizuru's hand, then released her to reach for some of the things she was carrying. She let him take half. He turned to go inside, and the trio followed with Chizuru walking closest to Sanan.

How strange it'd be to adjust from getting practically zero attention to this. Not an unpleasant change for sure, but it'd take time to get used to.

This would make it harder for Katamitsu to remain anonymous, but Sanan would respect his wish to the best of his ability under these circumstances. It was the least Katamitsu, along with the other Furies, deserved.

Sanan led them to his room, where they set about sorting the supplies. It occurred to him that Katamitsu used to be a shopkeeper's son prior to joining the Shinsengumi, so maybe Sanan should ask him if he wanted to help with this task when everyone else was gone or when he was ready to drop his anonymity. He also remembered that he promised to ask for swordplay books so Katamitsu could relearn his sword training.

"By the way, Sanan-san, how is that breakthrough you mentioned?" Inoue asked casually, as if sensing Sanan's thoughts. Yamazaki's head snapped in Sanan's direction so quickly it was a wonder his neck didn't snap; he obviously intended to ask that question. Chizuru tilted her head curiously.

No sooner had the question left Inoue's mouth, than a door sliding open and footsteps were heard. Katamitsu appeared in the doorway, looking nervous and distrustful of the guests, and his head was down.

"I thought you weren't ready to reveal your identity," Sanan said."I told you I'd leave your name out in my report."

Keeping his gaze down, Katamitsu shrugged. Mayhap he was curious, or his desire to do something instead of hide convinced him to exit his room, or both reasons caused this.

Chizuru and Yamazaki stepped forward, spurred by curiosity and...recognition. When Katamitsu lifted his head, they both gasped.

"K-Kimura-san?" Chizuru stammered, one hand covering her mouth and the other over her heart.

Yamazaki took another step forward, as fascinated by the breakthrough as he was shocked by who exactly it was."You were injured protecting the Chief," he stated.

Katamitsu lifted his head, eyes wide. He touched his chest and stomach, where the fatal wounds had been located."You...remember me?" His focus was mostly on Chizuru, but no hostitility was directed at her, else-wise Sanan would have shielded her.

Chizuru straightened her posture, showing a somberness anyone rarely saw from the optimistic young woman."Doctors never forget their patients," she said firmly. Yamazaki nodded in agreement. Kodo and Matsumoto had said that same sentence multiple times, leaving zero room for doubt of them really believing those words.

Katamitsu closed his eyes."I've heard that warriors never forget their comrades." He met her gaze, the ghost of a smile crossing his face."I'm glad that one of those phrases is true."

None of the caustic quality he usually displayed when saying something like this was present. He was as somber as Chizuru.

Sanan ignored the bemused look Inoue sent him, though the older man soon reached an understanding of Katamitsu's meaning.

Crossing his arms, Katamitsu leaned against the doorframe."I heard," he said curtly, knowing there was no need to elaborate.

Yamazaki and Chizuru exchanged a glance afore they looked at Sanan, who was unsure how to proceed. Inoue was the one to respond.

"If he prefers to remain anonymous for now, then we will simply not tell the others his name. They would still be getting a full report without this tiny detail. If they have a problem with that, they should have gone here themselves."

Sanan flicked his head at Inoue as if say,"What he said." It was practically identical to the original plan they'd agreed upon, save for the three people that as of recently knew the anonymous Fury's identity.

Katamitsu blinked, then gave a a slow, cold smile that impressed even Sanan."What stopped you from going until recently?"

No one responded. Katamitsu's expression softened briefly when he saw Chizuru hang her head in shame, but he offered none of this sympathy to Inoue or Yamazaki, giving them the same treatment he gave Sanan.

Inoue nodded, looking very repentant."I should have noticed this issue sooner," he agreed.

"As should I," Yamazaki said.

"Me too," Chizuru said softly.

Again Katamitsu offered the girl sympathy."The few that do care and wish to help are in no position to do so," he spoke just as softly. Sanan needn't be a telepath to know that Katamitsu was also recalling his wish to have another person who understood how it felt to be lied to and manipulated by those one trusted.

"In any case," Katamitsu changed the subject, pushing himself off the doorframe and uncrossing his arms."The colonel's organization is shitty, so I figured I'd help sort and arrange things."

Sanan’s eyebrows rose to the greatest possible height."Excuse me?" Sanan was many things, and disorganized was certainly not one of them. He prided himself on always being neat, as opposed to Hijikata.

Katamitsu rolled his eyes."You heard me. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, considering you probably need those glasses to see two inches in front of your face."

Sanan scowled."Excuse me?!" He only needed the spectacles to see from a distance, an important necessity when one was a warrior in constant danger.

Really, of all the topics to insult him over...

Katamitsu lazily waved an arm."Seems you have trouble seeing and hearing. No surprise there."

Sanan tried to stutter out a response, but all he managed was the constant opening and closing of his mouth, and he was fully aware that he resembled an imbecile.

Katamitsu smirked."So you can dish it but you can't take it. Do the lack of surprises never cease?"

"Excuse me?!" Sanan scowled once more."I have 'taken' your insults and distrust all week, so I am perfectly capable of 'taking' it"

Grinning wryly, Katamitsu shrugged."Well, you're petty enough to not be able to take the simple stuff."

Sanan's eye twitched"I'm petty?!" Never had anyone taken the risk of completely infuriating him in this manner.

"No!" Chizuru said quickly, grabbing his hand. She bit her lip as she contemplated the accusation, then she quietly said,"Okay, maybe a little. But I don't think you mean to be."

Katamitsu howled with laughter."It must be a tragic day, or night I should say, for you when even she can't completely reassure you!"

"Most likely," Inoue agreed. Yamazaki pretended to be interested in the wall; he seemed to be hiding his own agreement/amusement.

Sanan wanted to disappear into the floor. This spiteful young man had done the impossible: he beat Sanan at his own game. Sanan was impressed as he was humiliated and furious.

Satsified with his victory, Katamitsu walked to them to help sort the supplies. Well, at least Sanan was correct about him wishing to use his knowledge from prior to becoming a samurai to help. However, there were better, less pride-damaging ways for that to happen.

Chizuru still held his hand, and he was loath to break contact. He wanted to hold on to her warmth for as long as possible.

Inoue cleared his throat, and everyone turned to him."Perhaps Kimura-kun can show Yamazaki-kun and I where to put these materials while Yukimura-kun assists you here." Not waiting for approval, he smiled and marched to the door. Yamazaki somehow managed to maintain his stare on the wall while carrying supplies and walking. Katamitsu had forgotten his amusement, but was no doubt aware of what Inoue seemingly plotted.

The door slid shut behind the three men, and their footfalls echoed in the hall as the only sounds due to the awkward silence between Sanan and Chizuru. They stood there, waiting for the sounds to fade out of earshot. Eventually, Sanan realized that someone needed to break the silence and that if they kept waiting for the other person to do it, they would remain like this forever. That wasn't guaranteed to be an utterly terrible fate, but it did not change the fact that they needed to talk.

He emitted a fake cough."It has been awhile." Yes, a statement of the obvious was definitely the best way to start this conservation.

Chizuru blinked, taking a moment to register his sudden ending of the silence. She blushed slightly."Yes, it has." She gently rubbed her thumb along his dorsum.

Well, this conversation was going swimmingly.

"Itou-san hasn't bothered you, I hope?" He inquired, feeling a strong pang of guilt for causing that man to trouble her. He suppressed the desire to slice the bastard's smug face in half.

She shook her head."Yamazaki-san said he'd let you know if he ever suspects that Itou-san or his brother are up to something."

"I see," Sanan murmured."That's good then." He couldn't bear the thought of her suffering because of his mistakes. He made a mental note to thank Yamazaki.

"Are you alright, Sanan-san?" She asked."I was worried, especially when Inoue-san said that Kondou-san and Hijikata-san weren't talking to you." She frowned."I knew they avoided you, but it never occurred to me that it was this bad." She moved closer to him."I'm sorry."

Ironic that the sole person that deserved no blame was the one apologizing the most.

Chuckling, Sanan laid a hand on her head and tapped his fingers against her scalp."I told you that you have no obligation to explain yourself, nor feel guilty or embarrassed. You haven't done anything wrong."

Chizuru stiffened."Well, I haven't done anything right either. I should've mentioned my concerns to someone sooner."

Sanan gave another tap of his fingers on her scalp."It's not your responsibility to clean up the messes of grown men that have forgotten their responsibilities."

"Don't treat me like a child!" Chizuru exclaimed, making him jump in surprise."One of those men is my father! He kept secrets from me and left me alone! The only way for me to find him is to help clean up his mess, and the Furies are a part of that mess!" She paused to take a deep breath."And I won't stand by while someone I care about suffers alone!"

With a sigh, Sanan glanced to the side."You are too kind and optimistic for your own good sometimes, my dear," he mumbled.

Chizuru huffed."And you're too jaded and pessimistic for your own good sometimes."

Sanan chuckled mirthlessly."Experience has taught me that. It is called being realistic."

Chizuru shook her head vehemently."Being negative all the time isn't realistic!"

Normally, he would have responded that being postive all the time was equally unrealistic. But that wasn't the kind of person Chizuru was. There was a purity within her, an incorruptible kindness and optimism. It didn't render her oblivious to the problems in the world, far from it; she clung harder to her postive emotions in reaction to each bad experience, refusing to let sorrow control her. It was admirable, and he envied her strength.

Sighing, he stroked her hair."Are you suggesting that you can help me fix this flaw of mine?"

Chizuru hesitated, but when she spoke her voice was firm."I-I don't want my friend to be alone."

Friend. She considered him a friend. Him. He who had been cold to her save for a handful of good interactions, he who had nearly killed her, he who had put her in danger, who had not shown her the clemency she insisted on gifting him.

He laughed humorlessly."Your standards for friendship must be very low," he said dryly.

Chizuru shifted uncomfortably."Maybe as I continue learning about friendship, I can actually set some standards." She grinned weakly at his confused expression."I didn't really have friends or acquaintances growing up. When I was little I was...sick. I got hurt easily, so I couldn't be too active. I sometimes played dolls with other kids, but I never got close to anyone. My father was the only one always there with me, and he often traveled for work so I got used to being by myself."

Well, he hadn't expected that at all."I thought you were friends with Iba-kun."

Again Chizuru shifted uncomfortably."He must have been one of those children I played with a few times." She shrugged."I forgot about all of them. I'm glad he at least positively remembers me; the other children mostly considered me weird and avoided me. I couldn't play like they wanted to and they didn't want our parents to lecture them so... " She sighed deeply and gave another shrug.

So this was why she was insistent on being there for him. She understood the loneliness and misunderstanding he endured. The last few years of his life were similar to her whole life until she met the Shinsengumi...

She went on."I got better as I grew older. But my father was still worried and by then there was no changing my status as...the strange girl. My father thought it was for the best that things didn't change."

Yes, she was a strange one, but how could that be a bad quality to have? Normality, if it even existed, was overrated. And unlike him, she hadn't chosen to be an outcast, but she was trying to make the best of it. He chose this type of existence, and somewhat deserved his outcast status.

If she was sick during her childhood, that explained her discomfort around weapons. She was a doctor's daughter, so that would have added to her preference to avoid danger. Even if she'd improved in health over the years, spending many years under a strict routine was not an easy habit to break, especially if her father insisted that the routine continue even after the problem was long gone.

A spark of anger struck him in regards to Kodo's actions. Protectiveness was understandable, yet if he really wanted his daughter to have a safer life in her condition, he should have used his knowledge as a doctor to make adjustments so she could act like a typical child without hindering herself and taught the other children to be tolerant. It made him wonder if Kodo possessed different reasons for keeping her hidden other than misguided overprotectiveness. As if the man wasn't suspicious enough already...

"I wanted to talk to you about my father," Chizuru said seriously."The investigation isn't making any progress and Hijikata-san and Kondou-san have other things to focus on. I want to find him just as much you do, because we both need him to answer our questions. So I...I'm asking you to help me find him."

Sanan blinked."Y-You wish to take over the investigation?" Half a question, since she'd clearly stated her desire. Sanan had to stifle a laugh at the timing of her request.

Chizuru nodded."I'm tired of sitting on my hands and waiting and praying for a miracle. I know this change won't guarantee success, but I'd rather do something."

He understood her frustration. The desperation to become a participant in one's fate instead of a passenger dependent on the success of others and the mercy of potential gods. The wish to break out of the confines of a doll controlled by players or the leash of a dog trapped in a guilded cage. She wasn't a Fury, but she empathized with his and their plight.

An overwhelming feeling consumed him, similar to the feeling from that night when they spoke of jealousy. The hand that was stroking her hair stopped its ministrations and his arm wrapped around her shoulders and he drew her close. His lips pressed against her forehead, and she let out a gasp. She brought a hand to his chest, resting it over his heart. After he pulled away, although his arm was still around her, she stared at him with adorable wide eyes and blushing cheeks.

He smirked."Consider that an answer to your question," he said smoothly.

Her blush deepened."A-Are you going to answer all of my questions that way?"

Smirk widening, he tugged her nearer to him, making her squeak."Do you want me to?" He asked, voice filled with false innocence.

"U-Umm," she stammered, her face now the color of a tomato."W-Well, I don't really mind..." She squeaked upon realizing what she was saying. He feared his face would freeze due to how increasingly wide his smirk was becoming.

"Good to know," he said, tightening his embrace. His tone of voice was silky smooth."I'll keep that in mind."

Chizuru swallowed thickly."R-Right..."

She lowered her gaze, focusing on her palm which covered his heartbeat. He grasped her wrist, his fingers caressing her dorsum. She gazed at their hands for several seconds, then grinned at him."And if I, and Inoue-san and Yamazaki-san of course, visit you, then you won't have to feel so lonely and isolated here. Although Kimura-san is here too, so-"

"I think the interaction between he and I that you just witnessed sufficiently summarizes our relationship," Sanan said dryly. It would be awhile before Katamitsu could truly trust him, let alone respect and be friends with him.

Chizuru frowned."I'm sure he'll-"

Sanan snorted."I'm afraid not everyone has your capacity for mercy and forgiveness toward those that have wronged them."

Chizuru's frown grew and she bit her lip. She started to bow her head. Sanan used his fingers to lift her chin."That said, I do appreciate your undeserved support," he said.

She moved even closer, nearly pressing herself against him."Everyone deserves and needs support, especially you, Sanan-san."

He lightly poked her forehead with his index finger."You really are too kind for your own good. And too honest." He grinned and brought his hands into his sleeves."But those aren't bad qualities. When one is mostly surrounded by deception, this is a welcome change."

Chizuru hung her head and rubbed the back of her neck."Yes, I guess it would be," she mumbled.

Sanan was angry for her. Kodo had decieved the Shinsengumi over the course of months, but for Chizuru this deception was possibly lifelong. Yes, Kodo owed the two of them many answers, and Sanan was eager to have a word with the man. An honest, merciful, compassionate soul like Chizuru deserved so much better than the deceitful men controlling her life. For her and for his Furies, he would ensure that Kodo was found.

It was then that a deep ache filled his body. One hand flew to his tightening throat and the other to his chest where inside his lungs tightened and his heart began to race. His breathing quickened, and he staggered back. Spasms started attacking his body. Chizuru's horrified gasp and utterance of his name confirmed the worst: this was bloodlust.

No, he begged to any gods that would listen, please not now, not in front of her.

She was gaping at him as she stood frozen in place for a moment. Then she loudly uttered his name again and weakly reached out to him.

Taking a step back, he forced a smile with gritted teeth."D-Don't w-worry," he said shakily, trying not to cry out and collapse from agony."Have you a-any idea h-how many...times I've endured this?" She gasped a third time at the reminder that this was a regular occurence and that this particular instance was merely the first time that she witnessed it.

He swallowed down his cries, determined to hold on until he got her to look away or leave the room. She shouldn't have to see this when she was already so worried for him. He'd caused her more than enough trouble.

"G-Go," he said gently, nothing like the growls and shouts when he uttered that word to Heisuke weeks ago."T-This will pass...soon."

The pain became too much, and he choked on a cry as he turned around away from her and fell to his knees. He heard Chizuru's rapid footfalls and was glad she listened to his commands...

Then he felt...warmth. One arm wrapped around him and soft fingers grasped the wrist of hand that was gripping his throat. Something warm and wet pressed against his back, making his clothes damp. Then he realized...those footsfalls had been coming towards him, not away, and the door hadn't been opened/closed to indicate her exiting the room. She was kneeling behind him, embracing him as he suffered the pain.

"Y-Yuki...mura-kun?" He choked out."W-What..." He trailed off with a grunt.

She tightened her embrace and let out a small sob."I-I'm sorry. I wish I could do more to help." She was crying with her forehead pressed against his back.

Had she really stayed and watched/listened to his suffering just so she could offer him a little comfort? She truly was too kind for her own good.

Sanan groaned, knowing he was in too much agony to resist her efforts at consolation. And small as these comforts may be...he really did not want her to go. Just this once, maybe not insisting on enduring the pain alone wouldn't be such a bad idea...

For the next several minutes, they settled into silence, save for the occasional muffled sound of pain from Sanan.