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A moment of introspection.

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Despite being considered a fledgling of just around 27 years, Tomioka Giyuu had always known his duty. In fact it was bound to his blood, especially he was the last scion of a line of ancient vampires, a family dedicated to maintain equilibrium in their current society.

Maintain the balance of supernaturals and humans. Never let the former kill or harm the latter. Never let the latter kill or harm the former. Three duties bestowed upon him ever since he was born, in which his father, mother, sister and best friend died for. [1]

He was never not bound by duty, taking up the sword at a young age to lead the night patrol squad of their organization. They mediated between the two worlds, keeping in check those who might break those three rules, protecting all those they can protect. Ever since his parents passed away, followed by his sister and his best friend, his duty has been his tether to this world, and possibly stretching to the many years vampires are expected to live with.

However, even since that night a week ago, he was bound by something—no, by someone—more than duty, more than everything he has known.

No, maybe he was bound by her longer than that.

He couldn’t describe properly what kind of spell she put him under. He wasn’t even sure if it was a spell—as if she was the spell herself—as so far as he knew, the Butterfly Alchemist [2] as she was popularly known, was the sole human in their organization’s top ranks. Her lack of magic was never felt due to her astounding skill of pharmacology and medicine, her peerless understanding of poisons, and her uncanny perception [3] of the nature of all creatures, human or not.

Further memories, not only of that night, rushed through Giyuu’s mind as he went to Kochou Shinobu’s laboratory, again bound by duty, this day with his promised blood sample checks with her for her experiments.

It was six years ago. She was a delicate-looking woman whose head only reached his shoulders, her black-purple hair pinned on a strange updo [4] by a butterfly pin, highlighting the enigmatic smile on her face. He didn’t understand why the All-Seeing Oracle, Lord Ubuyashiki Kagaya, made her join the highest ranks, just because she was the younger sister of one of their leaders, the powerful forest nymph, Kochou Kanae [5].

“I dare question the appointment of this human, My Lord.” He said aloud to all their members on their meeting then. After all, they protected the humans, whose transient lives made them often the target of rogue supernaturals. Not the other way around.

“My, my, I suggest you don’t question my sister’s abilities, Tomioka-kun,” Kochou Kanae said, who for some reason had a smile on her face that seemed… filled with pride?

Kochou Shinobu just giggled, her eyes narrowing at him. “Neesan, Kagaya-sama, I just need to prove myself to that… vampire, wasn’t it?”

Lord Ubuyashiki had a faint smile on his face as he approved their duel, as if amused by situation. Giyuu wasn’t as he unsheathed his katana while she unsheathed her thin, rapier-looking one, as he knew that even the strongest humans break down that easy when faced with supernaturals.

Within seconds, he was proven wrong.

He didn’t know what happened, but despite him giving his all with no handicaps, she was fighting him back equally as their swords clashed, her speed making up for the lack of strength, smiling as she did so. No matter how much he parried, he got kicked on his chest, on the face, as she flitted while he tried to slash her, his sword either meeting hers or slashing onto thin air. A further few seconds, he was pinned onto the ground, his sword kicked away, her sword now pointed at his throat.

“Should I cut your throat then, Tomioka-san? Or is this proof that despite I’m human, I’m enough for your so-ever high and lofty ranks?” She whispered with that sing-song voice of hers, her violet, angry eyes focused at his. No one had done so, not since Tsutako and Sabito died.

You are… beautiful, he wanted to say, but the words got locked in his throat.

 “What did you—” he was cut off when she brought down a handkerchief on him, making him inhale some weird kind of powder.

“Can you breathe better now with this antidote?” She asked as she turned her face away, her voice a bit… kinder as he nodded. “I never thought it would work that well, that weakening poison, especially with someone of your lineage.”

“What poison?” He asked as she stood up. Vampires were immune to so many things, poisons included, Giyuu knew. And his family had sharper senses than most of their kind. He should have detected it… but he noticed nothing until she told him.

She smiled again. “A weakening poison I made, especially made for vampires. It worked with elementals, like Tokito-san here, but it just made him sleepier. I threw it in the air when I unsheathed my sword. Otherwise,” she shrugged, “you would have broken my arms, Tomioka-san.” She sheathed her katana, and this time he noticed her thin arms were shaking.

“I…” He was at a loss for words. And ever since then, he never questioned Kochou Shinobu again.

It was a thing he regretted, his lack of knowledge of words except those spoken on duty. He never questioned why she let him feed on her for the first time, months ago, when he ended up on her laboratory as an injured mess after successfully single-handedly arresting a syndicate of human-trafficking vampires. Though he wondered. He still wondered.

“Stop fussing around, Tomioka-san.” She injected serum after serum of synthetic blood to his veins, trying to speed up the regeneration of the wounds on his body, but failed. They remained open, despite his utmost best trying to concentrate and heal them, his throat parched. I lost too much blood in that fight. He was desperately trying to curb his instincts, which screamed for the sweet scent of her blood like a siren song.

“Kochou, stay away.” He hoped she heard his voice, weak as it was. He didn’t want to harm her, never her. And yet his throat yearned, his eyes focused on her neck despite his best efforts not to.

“I see.” She then placed her syringes away to her work table, removing her butterfly pin as she fixed her shoulder-length hair [4] and he breathed a sigh of relief as she seemed to stay away.

“Wha—”

In a swift move, she was straddling him on his seat, her collar lowered, showing the expanse of the skin of her neck. He could feel her softness as she angled her body onto his, her arms circling his neck as she placed herself closer, his thoughts muddled by that unique scent of hers.  

“Bite,” she whispered softly into his ear. As her blood rolled onto his tongue for the first time, his mind went blank, all his senses were focused onto her, how sweet it tasted, how she touched him with such gentleness, how she smelled of home.

He never questioned her again. But now he was tempted to ask her a lot.

“Kochou Shinobu.” Her name rolled so easily from his mouth. Why. Why. Why?

She rarely let anyone close, except the members of her family, ever since her sister died. Just like him. And yet that night confused him further. Why was he allowed close, more than so, more than anyone else?

Did she expect he will forget it that easily? That night of firsts? Her kisses? Her skin against his? Her warmth surrounding him like that?

Why can’t he tell her what he truly feels?

And… as he approached her laboratory, he sensed another presence that added another question.

Why is Shinazugawa here?

He decided to stay behind the slightly open door, seeing the two talk. She looked… livelier than ever, her eyes dancing as she talked to the scarred werewolf, who was listening intently with whatever she was saying, a muting spell seemingly blocking their conversation from him.

What is this feeling? Giyuu held his chest, feeling uncomfortable as she smiled brightly at Shinazugawa. He has never felt like this until now, but ever since encountering Kochou Shinobu, he has experienced so many things he hadn’t before he knew she would never fail to surprise him.

He was about to turn away when he saw her, suddenly breaking down to tears.

Knowing what to do, he tore through the door, not caring about the muting spell’s rebound.

“Tomioka-san?” Her voice sounded incredulous as he moved in front of her, all thoughts of the previous strange feelings forgotten.

He was still a bit dizzy due to the spell rebound, but he clenched his fist as he snarled at Shinazugawa, his fangs bared, his other hand at his sword.

Why is she crying? Why did you make her cry? Hasn’t she been hurt too much?

Instead of those questions, what came from his mouth was “Get away from her.”

 

***

With her 24 years of living in this world, it wasn’t easy advising medical knowledge to who was supposed to be your brother-in-law, but Kochou Shinobu knew it was a part of her job as an alchemist and a doctor. Her sister never managed to quite finish the treatment to help Shinazugawa-san completely control his wolf form, and since this was not Gyoumei-ojisan’s specialty (his was more of reviving the almost dead) [6], she tried to explain again in detail how much of his medicine he was supposed to take.

And besides, she tried not to think of that guy, who she was still hiding from after that night. She has no plans of telling him why, and never would.

“Shinazugawa-san, I did tell you to take those wolfsbane tablets at least once a day.”

“I… was busy. Besides, my wolf form is rather convenient at times.”

“Neesan would have forced them onto your throat. Or at least would have it mixed with your with your precious ohagi.”

Contrary to his angry-looking face, he smiled gently as he remembered precious memories. “Yes, that she would. Even that would taste terrible.”

No wonder Neesan fell for this guy, she thought. Shinazugawa-san might be grumpy-looking and scarred, but his face totally changed when his true smile shined out, especially with the memories of her sister.

I wonder what Neesan would think if she ever saw me with him. He was with her in a moment of weakness—that night was one of the few she had—though she had always been curious of the undercurrrents between them. He was an oblivious man, so oblivious that she was surprised he allowed her to take such leads on that night, not that she minded.

He had always pushed her buttons. From that impromptu duel he requested when they first met six years ago, the way he remained unperturbed despite her incessant poking and unprovoked sudden chatter. Tomioka Giyuu was still the calmest guy she has known, unlike the sometimes-seething rage she felt while looking at supernaturals who have done grievous crimes, the murder of her parents and her sister included. His unwavering serenity sometimes eased that anger, but of course she would never tell him that.

She had always wondered what would happen when she pushed that calmness to the edge. That night was proof of what would happen. It was a night of firsts for her, first frenzied kisses, his hands all over her while hers were the same, his skin against hers, the two marks of his fangs making her giddy, her limbs tangling with his—

“Kochou?” Shinazugawa-san raised his eyebrow.

She coughed a bit, trying to control what she remembered. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

Shinazugawa-san coughed as well as he continued. “I asked if you… and Tomioka were… going out. We know you’ve been feeding him—His Lordship did give approval—but it’s just last week…”

“Last week?” Her voice raised a little.

“I don’t… usually pay attention to the smell of people around me, unless I’m hunting renegades. But last week, while getting some of those tablets… I picked out Tomioka’s scent. From you. And this lab.”

Is his sense of scent now as sharp as Rengoku-san’s? she wondered.

“And so?” Her voice came out a bit strangled, her fingers consciously going to the two marks on her neck, hidden cleverly by her lab gown collar.

“I don’t want to presume anything, Kochou. But… please remember, Kanae-san always said wanted her sisters to be happy.” He sighed as he turned away, his eyes fixated on one of the butterfly pins preserved on a frame at Shinobu’s work table, something which belonged to Kanae before she passed away.

“I just love that smile of yours, Shinobu,” her sister used to say.

Neesan, what if… what if I found someone who might make me smile? What if I’m just afraid of this… whatever this is between me and him?

That thought pervaded until she felt… something wet from her eyes.

And then Tomioka Giyuu was in front of her, her laboratory doors still flapping, as if someone burst through. His fangs were bared at Shinazugawa-san, his one hand clenched, the other at his sword.

“Get away from her.”

“Hey, Tomioka, what are you doing?” The scarred werewolf unsheathed his claws, ready for a battle amid the hostility the vampire exuded.

“What did you do to make her cry?”

Shinobu’s eyes were still with tears, but his voice as he looked at her was... softer than the sharp tones she usually heard from him, his brows knitted as he prepared while about to draw out his sword.

He was… this concerned? For her?

Relief spread throughout her body as she started laughing.

“Kochou?”

“Hahahahahahahahahaha! Sorry, sorry, Tomioka-san,” she smiled again, “that concentrating face of yours was too funny I can’t help but laugh.”

Tomioka-san stopped from drawing his weapon out and instead looked at her, a scrunched expression on his face.

Shinazugawa-san looked back and forth between them and returned his claws back to normal. “Guess it’s time for me to head out then.”

Wiping her eyes, Shinobu retrieved a packet and threw it to the departing man. “Drink this once a day, as I said before. Please tell Genya-kun Naho, Kiyo and Sumi wants him to visit.”

“I will. That one,” Shinazugawa-san then moved near her and lowered his voice as he looked at Tomioka-san, “is a keeper. He reminds me of Kanae-san in a rage." He chuckled as he put the package on his coat pocket. "Sorry for the trouble. Genya sends his regards.”

He closed the laboratory doors as he went out.

“Now, now.” She smiled at the vampire, whose eyebrows were raised. I never thought he would look this cute. She locked the laboratory doors.

“Care to explain why you almost attacked my sister’s ex-fiancé, Tomioka-san?”

She never thought vampires’ faces would turn red as their blood were naturally cold as well as their skin, but a pinkish hue spread out on his face.

“E-ex-fiancé?”

“Shinazugawa-san was about to marry Neesan before she passed away.”

“I-I see.”

Silence ensued between them, but Shinobu wondered what made Tomioka-san act that way, something totally opposite his cool personality.

“Hey, Tomioka-san, perhaps… you were jealous of Shinazugawa-san?”

He turned his face away, his ears pinkening.

He’s so cute.

She then moved closer, putting her hands on his uniform, the familiar one he liked to wear during missions [7]. As his coat was loosened, she removed it easily, dropping it onto the ground.

“Let me ask again,” she said as she put her lips on his chest, his white buttoned shirt the only thing separating her from his cold skin. “Perhaps you were jealous?”

The only response she got was his deep breathing, his slow vampire heart beating faster, the sounds spurring her to move forward.

She removed one button, exposing his neck. “Gi—” He didn’t respond. She unclasped another button. “yuu—”. A sharp intake of breath. She removed another button, completely exposing his neck and his chest. “—san.”

She kissed his neck, just like the way he bit on to hers, as she remembered. Except that she didn’t bite onto him, she didn’t need to—as a doctor, one did hear things after all—and continued a sucking motion. I want to leave a mark, just as he did to me.

“Shinobu.” It was a soft whisper as he pulled her closer.

“Wha—”

He carried her to her favorite sofa as he sat there, shifting a bit so she was now straddled on his lap. He was still pink faced, but his normally sleepy blue eyes widened, the red vampire irises now appearing as they focused on her.

“Stop playing around.”

She touched the mark she just made, feeling his steady pulse. “Am I?”

His eyes focused on the bite marks he made on her neck, and then placed his forehead on hers.

“I… was jealous.” Such a simple admission, and yet it made her heart skip a beat.

His hands were gentle as they slowly removed her iconic butterfly pin, her lab gown, then at the buttons of her own shirt. Shinobu was aware of how her skin was growing heated, a contrast to his cold one, and yet she didn’t stop him. She knew she just couldn’t, just like how he let her slowly undo his clothes.

“I wanted for you to look at me, and only me.” He whispered again, nuzzling her neck and chest.

Was he capable of such words? She never thought he, a stoic, quiet person, would be. And yet he kept surprising her. She hoped, maybe in the future, he will keep surprising her.

“I’m looking at you now.” There were no more words to be said as she cradled his face and their lips met.

Chapter Text

Two months ago

Somewhere west of the center of the Infinity Fortress

 

“Hey, join us instead! You two are strong!” Akaza shouted as he made the ground shake while Tomioka Giyuu and Rengoku Kyoujuro tried to parry his punches.

They have been battling Kibutsuji’s third general for the past… has it been hours? Giyuu wasn’t sure of the time, but it wasn’t that long when their organization stormed into the Infinity Fortress, trying to stop Kibutsuji once and for all. It was a confusing fortress with shifting rooms, so much so that every leader got separated. He was managed to be tracked by Rengoku when Akaza lounged at them, on what Giyuu was sure the eastern part of the Fortress is located.

Where is she? Giyuu tried to remember the Oracle’s predictions, and so far, he was correct with Akaza’s location, but he couldn’t remember where she was supposed to head to.

“Tomioka, be on your guard!” Rengoku shouted as he punched Akaza back.

Giyuu and Rengoku were from powerful lineages of their kind, but they were no match for the Ashura [1]. The only thing they managed was exchanging blows, Akaza enduring or parrying each attack they managed while protecting his heart, where the fighting demon’s source of power, their anger, came from.

“Why do you protect humans? They are weak, unlike you two.” Akaza snarled as he kept lunging on them, trying to reach whatever he can. So far Giyuu has barely managed to avoid his arm getting ripped off, while Rengoku’s right eye has been gouged out by the Ashura’s claws.

“You wouldn’t understand preserving the balance between humans and supernaturals, won’t you?” Rengoku spat blood at Akaza’s face.

Weak?

Giyuu slashed at Akaza with his sword, managing to cut off his left arm, which the Ashura regrew quickly. “Humans aren’t weak.”

 She wasn’t.

“How do you know when you aren’t one?” The Ashura shouted as he landed a hard punch on Giyuu’s arm, almost breaking his bones in the process, though he quickly regenerated.

Such a small frame, yet she carried all those burdens with those fragile shoulders of hers. Smiling even if things were too much. [2]

How does one can call that weak?

Giyuu’s immediate reply was a slash on Akaza’s chest. “HUMANS—” He deflected a kick with his sword again, “—AREN’T—,”and made a heavy strike, making Akaza bleed further, “—WEAK!”

“I’m sorry if I was that powerless, Tomioka-san.”

Akaza’s punch almost sent Giyuu flying, but he endured the pain. Her pain was greater than this.

“So you’re protecting a human, too?” The Ashura snarled again as he aimed towards Giyuu’s head.

“Tomioka, watch out!” Rengoku managed to hack Akaza’s arms with his claws, but the Ashura was too fast—

Only when Akaza’s newly reformed arm pierced through Rengoku’s torso that Giyuu saw an opening.

“TOMIOKA!” Rengoku shouted as he gripped onto the Ashura’s arm tightly [3], giving him no chance to move.

“On it!” Finally he managed to deliver the final blow, Giyuu’s sword piercing through Akaza’s heart.

Akaza’s whisper was weak, though his kick wasn’t: he sent the two of them flying, his leg disappearing as he did so. “Humans aren’t weak… and the balance between… huh…”

The Ashura tried to remove Giyuu’s sword from him, his hand turning into dust as he did so. “I’ve never had this fun fighting in my life until now. This was a sword with blessed steel [4], right?” 

“…” The sword was given to Giyuu by their Oracle, Ubuyashiki Kagaya, before they were deployed there.

“Still not answering me, huh? You two were powerful. A shame.” Akaza whispered and smiled, his words directed at Giyuu, who tried to stand.

Giyuu grabbed Rengoku and helped him stand up despite the latter’s grievous injury.

“Koyuki-san…” [5] Akaza was disintegrating fast, Giyuu’s sword clanging to the ground as the Ashura crumbled into dust, vanishing into thin air.

Giyuu wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but he knew they were losing it, with Rengoku’s body showing a large hole that his werewolf body hasn’t able to regenerate, despite it obviously trying.

“Hey, can you still walk on?”

Rengoku coughed blood. “I don’t think so.”

What would she do in a situation like this? She hates losing any of our comrades.

“Ah!” Giyuu rummaged through his coat pockets, the largest one having a small wooden box of syringes and glass vials.

“Tomioka, what’s that?” Rengoku raised his eyebrows as Giyuu stuck one of the syringes on one of the vials— imitating what he saw from her countless times—and filling it with some blood-like liquid.

He then pricked it on one of the obvious veins on Rengoku’s arm, making the werewolf flinch.

“What are you—?”

“It’s Shi—Kochou’s medicine.” He caught himself in time before saying her name. “It makes regeneration for supernaturals faster than normal, depending on which type you are.”

“It works best for vampires though,” she said, giving him a wide grin as she opened and closed the box after checking it. “It might come in handy when you’re letting your idiocy get the best of you again.”

“I’m… not an idiot.”

“We’re all idiots sometimes, you know?” She dusted his coat, suddenly placing the box on its large pocket and patted his face. “Though your idiotic face looks cute.”

The medicine did its work, helping the werewolf’s body repair itself again.  Minutes later, a hole-shaped scar instead appeared on Rengoku’s body, with his breathing becoming easier.

“So… Kochou sent you that, eh?” The werewolf beamed at him [6] as Giyuu picked up his sword back.

He could only nod back. Where is she? He tried again to remember his Lordship’s instructions, this fight going on as the Oracle has predicted.

Rengoku’s hard pat on his back snapped him out of his thoughts. “Tomioka, go to her. She’s probably at the east from here, as per His Lordship’s instructions.”

“I… But your eye…”

“I’m feeling better. It was unfortunate her medicine didn’t regenerate my eye though.” Rengoku stretched and he touched his new scar, as if trying to see if it was fully healed or not. “Also, you wouldn’t let your marked person be in harm, right?”

“Thank you.” Giyuu then sped off, catching out Rengoku’s “Give her my regards!” as he went off the direction where he could detect her faint scent.

It was hard to pinpoint it out though in the vast corridors of the Fortress. Vampires may not have the sharper sense of smell werewolves do have, but in the middle of confusing presences, he could discern the scent of wisteria and her unique scent, straight in front of him. Giyuu continued running. Don’t you dare die on me, he desperately wished as that faint scent grew fainter and fainter, when he was suddenly thrown to the ground.

“Wha—” It was such a sudden blow which broke his bones, making his body feel too much pain as he hit the ground, hard.

“You cockroaches keep increasing as time goes by.” It was such a heavy, dark presence that Giyuu almost swooned due to pain and fear. Scarlet eyes stared back as he received countless blows so fast he hadn’t manage to deflect a single one.

“TOMIOKA-SAN!” Those voices. Tanjiro and Nezuko?

Giyuu tried to stand, though his vision was getting groggier. He could still make up the silhouettes of the ones who accompanied the kitsune siblings; one was Shinazugawa’s brother, phoenix flames enveloping his body. The others were her apprentices [7]: that pretty shapeshifter boy whose silver claws were unsheathed right now, and Tsuyuri, who was chanting while placing barriers of plants in front of them, which were immediately broken by that creature with the scarlet eyes.

So that was Kibutsuji, huh, he thought, coughing blood.

“You’re too reckless, Giyuu-san.”

“Kettle, meet pot.” He patted her head as she sent him off from her room.

He prepared his stance, trying to aim at Kibotsuji’s neck, though another invisible blow threw him off the edge.

He tried to stand up, but his legs failed him. He could hear the younger supernaturals calling out something, maybe his name, and saw Tanjiro summon something… was it some kind of warm light? It was like the sun. [8]

It reminded him of her smile before they set off. Her real one.

“Hey Shinobu, take care of yourself, all right?”

“You too, Giyuu-san.”

I’m sorry. No matter how much he tried to get up, he couldn’t as his body felt such pain and fatigue, he couldn’t even describe them.

“Shinobu.”

I want to see you.

And then all went black.

***

Two months ago, two hours before the Ashura’s attack

East from the center of the Infinity Fortress

 

“Get your filthy fangs off me, you bastard!” Kochou Shinobu snarled as she tried to kick off the monster away from her neck and was successful in doing so.

“Shinobu-chan, you’re not so cute when you’re snarling like that.” Douma was smiling a lot while licking his lips, still smeared with her blood. The large blows her kicks made healed as quickly as they come.

She had been fighting Kibutsuji’s second general for the past hour now, though attacks weren’t making any headways. Her apprentices [7] aren’t here either, the shifting rooms of the Infinity Fortress making them break up earlier.

“Shut up.” She was still reeling from blood loss, though she tried to assess the punctures on her neck. They have clotted and were far away from that person’s marks. I’m glad.

“Human blood is the best, really!” The vampire-demon mage’s rainbow eyes beamed at her as she prepared her stance while he lunged with his golden fans. “Though Kanae-chan’s blood was a great second.”

“SHUT UP!!!” She stabbed him in the heart and managed to cut his arms with her silver katana, but she was again blown away, an icy cold wind coming from a spell the mage chanted.

Anger was the sole thing fueling Shinobu as she stood up again, remembering all things she had lost due to this monster, whose arms had regenerated, and was repeatedly fanning out ice statues which she managed to break, one by one.

Her sister. Inosuke’s mother. And countless other humans she couldn’t save. All lost, just because of this monster’s bloodlust.

In fact, she could smell the bloodlust off Douma now as she parried him repeated while he aimed at her neck again. Demons were resistant to silver and vampires were resistant to wisteria, and with the mage being both, Shinobu was irked all her preparations were seemingly for naught, for all the poison she had to endure.

If the one attacking this monster was him, he would have killed this guy already.

He wasn’t here so she would have to make do.

“Ahahaha, so Shinobu-chan, are you dying? Let me finish the job then! I’ll drink all your blood, so it won’t go to waste, I promise!” Douma was smiling that empty smile again, which angered her further.

“I’m not—” her hand covered her mouth as she coughed, black-purple blood on her hand. The rebound was this early?

It wasn’t surprising. She has been feeling the rebound little by little ever since last year, when His Lordship predicted such a tactic would kill Douma. Imbibing wisteria poison wasn’t easy: its scent can be easily masked, but to a vampire, who has natural resistance towards its poison, it was a miracle he never found out. Or maybe he had an inkling, but never questioned her. It was one of the few things why she relied on him so much, having faith on her when she had so much little for herself.

She was still trying to parry Douma’s ice statues when her vision shifted out of focus and dropped her katana.

“An opening!” Douma lunged at her, fangs bared, aiming at her throat—

“GET AWAY FROM SHINOBU, YOU BASTARD!” Inosuke-kun shouted, kicking Douma in the face away from her.

“Eh?!”

As Shinobu was almost dropping to the ground due to shock, a familiar presence caught her.

“Kanao, Inosuke-kun, why are you—”

Kanao worked quickly, summoning out improvised crutches made of interloping vines, which supported Shinobu as her legs grew weaker. She also put on some bandages on Shinobu’s neck made of plants, some of them known to purge out poisons.

“Kanao?”

“Aoi… told us about your plan to have your poisoned blood drained by that scum. She then told us that you should never leave your medical records open in the lab.”

Shinobu chuckled a bit. It wasn’t surprising that Aoi would find out, she was surprisingly a very sharp one.

“Master…” Kanao’s head was bowed as she quickly chanted, while Inosuke matched Douma’s blows and spells one by one. “No, Neesan. That bastard has consumed your blood, right?”

Shinobu managed a weak nod as she felt the poison rebound on her veins, concentrating as she tried to suppress the extreme pain she was feeling.

“That’s not cute, you girls ignoring me. And hmm, boy, your face is familiar.” Douma’s face was scrunched as he sent further ice statues to their direction while trying to avoid Inosuke, who has managed to injure him so many times with his silver claws.

Kanao chanted again, vines sprouting from the ground as they protected them, and one of the vines again managed to stab Douma in the heart. Inosuke wasn’t talking at all, which was unlike him: he seemed entirely focused on attacking whatever part of Douma he could reach.

“Ah, I remember! So Kotoha’s son [9] survived huh. Such a lovely woman. Such lovely blood too.” He smiled while breaking off Kanao’s vine and again parried off Inosuke’s attacks.

“Don’t speak about my mother, you bastard!” Inosuke then managed to slash off Douma’s mouth, though the mage managed to regrow his lips… slower than expected.

“Hmm? Why is that—” Douma frowned at them as his regeneration from Inosuke’s slash slowed further, some of his flesh crumbling.

Shinobu grinned. It’s working.

“What did you do, all of you?” The mage wasn’t smiling at all.

Kanao stopped chanting as she clenched her fist. “Die, you scum.”

Wisteria flowers and stems grew from inside Douma’s body, making him crumble further.

“What did you—”

“My blood was delicious, you say?” Shinobu almost wheezed as her body felt such numbing fatigue she hasn’t felt in months.

“Well, what if wisteria poison was in it? My katana has vampire weakening powder embedded on its very blade. And that vine earlier… a wisteria seed is now growing in your very veins. It would be more delicious, wouldn’t it?”

She was fortunate the powder she developed worked on him during their duel years ago [10]. If a vampire of his lineage was weakened considerably during that event, how much more would this bastard end up with?

Douma’s rainbow eyes narrowed at them as he tried to stop crumbling, but it was no use. His right leg collapsed as he tried to lunge at them again, the wisteria plant taking more and more of his body. Inosuke was about to attack while Kanao prepared to defend—

“You two, stop. I got this.” Shinobu grabbed the two and kicked them away as far as she can away from Douma.  Retrieving a flask from her coat pocket, she sprayed the contents at the crumbling mage. He quickly ignited, the screams from the mage swallowed by the flames and surrounding wind, which blew Shinobu away as well as the mage exploded, turning slowly into ashes.

As she hit the ground, coughing, she managed to smile. Neesan, we won. We won.

“Liquid fire [11] tastes better too, don’t you think?” She managed to say to the burning mage, now a pile of ashes still surrounded by fire, though the flames might have drowned her words.

What would he say when he learns about this?

Will he pat me on the head with that childish way of his?

Ah, those flames were warm, Shinobu thought. She couldn’t move a muscle any longer.

It reminded her of his smile before they set off. One of his few ones.

“Hey Shinobu, take care of yourself, all right?”

“You too, Giyuu-san.”

I’m sorry. Black-purple blood continued to drip from her mouth, her chest heaving in pain. Consuming poison had always been a risk, and she knew the rebound would be stronger.

“Giyuu-san.”

I want to see you.

And then all went black.

Chapter Text

“Thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome, Tomioka-sama! Always a privilege!”

I’m a fool, Tomioka Giyuu thought after going back from the artisan’s shop near his estate. He has been opening and closing that box the artisan gave him for quite some time, staring at the violet butterfly pin, wondering why she would prefer wearing this thing. The artisan was blabbing about the pin having kyanite and amethyst and white glass [1] and such and such, but he was only glad it looked as good as new, unlike the shattered pieces he found two months ago.

As he stared at her, he wondered about the pin now on her desk. “That pin… why do you wear it?”

She was glancing… no, glaring at him back? “Because it’s beautiful. And I do have a good fashion sense, unlike you. That mismatched coat of yours still looks stupid when turned over. I mean that half-scarlet and half… whatever that green-yellow pattern is.”

“Th-that’s because…” That coat was now on the bed, along with hers, which had the pattern of butterfly wings.

“I know, I know. I’m just teasing you.” A soft kiss on his lips. “Your fashion sense is as bad as usual though.” Her hands moved swiftly, his uniform and shirt joined his coat and hers on the bed. “Hmm? You’re blushing, aren’t you?” A light touch on his cheek, a real smile on her face. “That’s cute.” Warm, laughing violet eyes gazing at him instead of the half-glances they were used to before.

“I’m not cute.”

“But you’re really being cute right now.”

It has been two months since Giyuu has last even taken a glimpse at her.

By that time, was by a sheer hard effort that almost all their organization’s leaders survived that war against Kibutsuji Muzan and his generals [2] in the Infinity Fortress, destroying it in the process. Giyuu expected half of them might retire by now.

Uzui has lost an arm and eye from fighting Gyuutarou and his doppelganger, Daki. Giyuu and Rengoku almost died by Akaza’s hands (Rengoku ended up failing to regenerate his right eye and having a scar on his body which resembled a hole, while Giyuu still has that large scar on his right arm which may never heal). Kanroji and Iguro were now on a journey half the world away to undo the curses Nakime and Hantengu managed to place on them before they cursed them out of existence. Shinazugawa got another bunch of scars while Tokito almost lost his elemental powers while defeating Gyokko and Kokushibo. An elemental kid by the name of Agatsuma Zenitsu however, managed to defeat Kaigaku single-handedly. Himejima lost a century of his lifespan while trying to heal them all from imminent death amid their injuries during the fights. Their Oracle, Lord Ubuyashiki Kagaya, used all his lifespan in predicting every move they needed to do to defeat Muzan’s generals.

Giyuu, however, when he reached Kibutsuji, was prepared to die. Instead, another group weakened and finally killed the being, namely Agatsuma, Tsuyuri Kanao, Shinazugawa Genya, Hashibira Inosuke, Nezuko and Tanjiro. Tanjiro managed to finally obliterate Kibutsuji by summoning the purest of the sun’s light instead of simple flames kitsune were wont to have and control [2].

And after all of this she managed to live, he has heard from Tsuyuri.

“Master… she’s still being treated,” Tsuyuri told him when he asked a week after the fight.

“Is she…” Giyuu didn’t manage to finish. He already had known of her plans to defeat Douma beforehand. The vampire-demon mage did kill Kochou Kanae, and he knew her anger would never be stopped until he disappeared from this world forever. Yet he could not question her anymore than he could question himself, when they were both prepared to face death’s doors.

“She’s alive… but barely. Aoi’s monitoring her right now. We’re sorry, Tomioka-sama, but we can’t allow anyone to visit her yet.”

His heart was filled with relief. She’s alive. She’s alive.

“Tomioka-sama?”

“I…” He stared helplessly at the pieces of her butterfly pin, now in a pouch he just opened. He found it while searching for her in the Fortress, not knowing she was already sent back to the Butterfly Estate, which served as their main hospital.

“That’s… Master’s…”

Giyuu put it back on his breast pocket. “I was about to return this… but will you tell her I’ll have it repaired instead?”

A nod. Tsuyuri then sped off, carrying some files with her as she closed the door of the Butterfly Estate.  

She’s alive. It’s enough.

But what would they do now?

It was a question he was planning to ask Lord Ubuyashiki Kiriya, their new Oracle, whose summons he had come to respond to in their headquarters ‘office.

“Giyuu-san, welcome.” The new Oracle has kind eyes like his father, and yet he got his appearance from his mother, as well as the steel in his voice.

“I’m pleased to see you in good health, My Lord.”

“Well, with Kibutsuji gone, the curse which have been killing our family members has gone for good.” The young leader sighed, something Giyuu felt beyond His Lordship’s 14 years. “Father would have been pleased.”

“I will continue to pray for you and your family’s good fortune.”

“Thank you, Giyuu-san. Now as for my summons…” His Lordship grabbed a scroll from one of the drawers in their meeting room. “Despite Kibutsuji being gone, our work hasn’t ended yet. There are still many renegades having the power and influence to replace his group, and it would take a year before we fully manage to dismantle the human trafficking network he has established. Can you do further night patrols, then?”

“My injury has healed, so I can resume them even tonight, My Lord.”

“Ah, you don’t need to be that hasty. Besides—” The young leader grabbed another thing from the drawer, but this time it was an envelope, with the Tomioka family seal on it.

“That was—”

“The Butterfly Estate has finally answered your petition to see its master with this.” His Lordship handed Giyuu another envelope under it, sealed by beeswax shaped like a butterfly.

Shinobu-sama has recovered. Please use this at your discretion, though do not enter the laboratory nor the wards.

- Kanzaki Aoi

Along with the letter, inside the envelope was a strange-looking flower-shaped pin-like thing.

His Lordship grinned at Giyuu. “They gave you the master key to the Estate.”

Giyuu gently put the letter and the key in his breast pocket.

“Giyuu-san, you really care about Shinobu-san, don’t you?” His Lordship’s eyes brightened with interest.

“I…” he managed to control himself before he said anything inappropriate. He was hers were words too personal, too awkward to reveal, especially to the leader of their organization.

“Well, I don’t blame you. Father has told me she used to provide you with her blood, and considering the state she is in right now…”

“What do you mean by state? Is she all right?”

His Lordship raised his eyebrows at Giyuu, then smiled widely.

“I really suggest you talk to Shinobu-san. Please greet her for me as well [3]. Also, don’t forget to thank Aoi-san for checking on my sisters, will you? You’re dismissed.” His Lordship then pushed him out of the room.

As Giyuu prepared himself to finally visit the Butterfly Estate, he wondered what His Lordship found so funny, as he could hear loud chuckles while he walked away from the office room.

***

Two and a half months ago

The Butterfly Estate

 

He never intended to hear that conversation.

He was only about to return the report Kochou Shinobu insisted he read the previous night. They still haven’t finished dealing with the vampires in the East, and with their war against Kibutsuji and his cronies ramping up, they would need all information and weapons they can get.

However, the all-familiar laboratory doors were locked up. Her assistant, Kanzaki, wasn’t exactly forthcoming when he was about to return the papers. “Shinobu-sama’s not here. And the laboratory’s closed for current patient check-ups.”

“Where is she?”

Kanzaki stared at him then shifted to closing the doors from the inside. “Her room. Three doors from here, to the right. I advise you knock if you’re going to bother her.”

Three doors later, Giyuu had detected something.

Voices? And muffled by a muting spell, too.

Learning from the experience last time [4] , Giyuu did learn how to bypass muting spells, though he knew he shouldn’t listen—

“Ojisan, thank you for coming here.”

“Don’t mind it, Shinobu.” Himejima's deep voice spoke softly, and his tone seemed… very familiar?

Why is he calling her Shinobu? Another question Giyuu added to the list of things he might never ask her.

“I’ll be drinking it again later, so minimizing the rebound will do.”

“Painkilling is the only thing I could do in this case. But are you sure of your plan?”

“His Lordship has given approval for it. And given how sick that monster, Douma, is, he’s sure to take the bait.”

“But to turn yourself into a poison bait is too excessive, even in my opinion.” The Caladrius’ voice was tinged with worry.

Poison bait? What did Himejima mean—

The faint smell of wisteria from her unique scent growing stronger. The initial resistance she had one day when he asked for her blood. The numerous experiments she undertook on him every time after he fed on her. Her eyes which sometimes turned hollow. The way she clung onto him after every encounter, as if she was afraid of letting go.

“There are no guarantees my apprentices [2] can take on that demon either. He has already sent assassins after me and them, the sick bastard. I can’t protect anyone if I don’t defeat him.”

Do you always need to take the burden? Another question Giyuu can’t ask.

Himejima sighed. “It’s fortunate we have located the Infinity Fortress.”

“More like a lot of preparations after, Ojisan.”

“Very well, let us start this ritual.”

In the few minutes which passed, Giyuu heard Himejima chanting. He has heard the chants before. It was the Caladrius’ way of starting healing and taking in discomfort from injured beings and people, which was well-known to the organization.

“We’re finished.” Himejima’s breathing was labored, as if in great pain.

“I’m sorry for the trouble.”

“You don’t need to be. This is the only way I can help. And besides…”

Giyuu heard a shuffling, and then he saw Himejima opening the door for him, the Caladrius’ white eyes looking at him sharply.

“This one might pose some problems.”

“Gi—Tomioka-san?!” Shinobu was seated on a bed, her black purple hair up to her shoulders now loose, the butterfly pin she usually wear was now on a desk, a chair in front of it. Her eyes looked less exhausted than usual, and she was clad in the white shirt they wear under their uniforms, her pants a bit worn. Her coat, which has a butterfly wing pattern on the underside, was placed neatly on the bed alongside her uniform.

She must have been from a medical patrol. Giyuu knew it was one of her regular duties in their organization.

All of them looked at each other, the tension quite palpable in the room.

“What are you doing here?” Her voice seemed to have a higher pitch than usual.

Giyuu brought out the report clipboard with his own check marks on it.

“I see.”

“Shinobu? Will you need help—” Himejima continued to stare at Giyuu, as if assessing him for something, “—with this one?”

She chuckled. “I’ll be talking to him, Ojisan. You don’t need to worry too much, I’m not a kid anymore.”

Giyuu entered the door to the room as he fixed the papers on the clipboard. “Himejima… what are you doing here with Shi—Kochou?”

The Caladrius’ eyebrows raised at him further… and his face beamed. “She asked me a favor. Kanae was my junior apprentice, so you can say Shinobu is a younger sister of sorts [5], if that’s what you’re truly asking, Tomioka.”

The larger supernatural smiled at Shinobu. “You’re right, I shouldn’t have worried.”

Patting him hard on the back, Himejima whispered, “Help her, will you?”, shoving him further inside the room before he closed the door.

“Now, now, Giyuu-san, may I ask what you are doing in my room?”

Her room was like her laboratory, except there was no glass flasks, charts or any of the apparatuses he mostly saw there. There were some cabinets which he assumed where she kept her clothes, one filled with books and a ladder on them. He placed the clipboard on the desk, which was lined with books and several papers filed up neatly, a small lidded jar on it, her butterfly pin standing out.

The room was like her: neat, efficient and proper.

It was his first time in her room. Their meetings were always in her laboratory or in his main room in his estate, around five streets away. His feeding on her was personal business, so he had invited her to his estate, as they could not use her laboratory all the time, which was occasionally used by her apprentice doctor. And besides, what usually happened after…

“You really should concern yourself with other people more. Look, you’re spacing out again.” Her voice was teasing, but her eyes were hollow.

I’m concerning myself with you, Giyuu wanted to say. Instead what came out was, “Are you all right?”

“How much have you heard?” She remained seated on her bed, her shoulders drooping.

He couldn’t lie to her, so instead he bit back those questions he wanted to ask. “Enough.”

She glanced at him before taking a swift look at her desk. “Can you get that jar of salve there? And sit here?” She moved a bit, patting the space on the bed as she beckoned him to sit.

Giyuu went to the desk, retrieved the jar and sat beside her. The sweet scent of her blood made him yearn a bit, though she just fed him last week.

She shimmied out of her white shirt, and wordlessly she removed the bandages which wound up around her chest and torso.

He never thought her back would be scarred. Not heavily as Shinazugawa, but the scars were deep, based on the ridges. There was this one slash at the center of her back, short but still healing, the skin around it turning red. During their encounters, he had never seen her back this closely, and she usually distracted him before he had taken a good look.

“Will you… will you put some salve on that wound? It’s acting up, and I would like for it to heal nicely.”

He got some of the salve, then moved his fingers gently. She flinched a bit, but the salve did its work the moment it was on her skin, the swelling and the red disappearing away. Her skin was soft, with the faint smell of wisteria clinging on to it.

She was about to wound up a new roll of bandages when Giyuu took a quick hold of her hand and moved closer, feeling her warmth.

"Wha—what are you doing?”

As he released her hand, he kissed the scar near her right shoulder.

“Gi-Giyuu-san?!”

In their previous encounters, he had always focused on her face, trying to see what was beyond that smile of hers. This time, he tried to memorize each scar on her back, his fingers and then his lips running over the ridges. Each had a different shape, Giyuu thought, and even if he did have his fair share of injuries, his body quickly healed, being a vampire. How did she bear the pain? How could she even smile?

Instead of asking, he ran his lips and tongue on each scar he could find. He felt her breathing keenly, her pulse going a bit faster—

“My my, what do you think are you doing?” Shinobu turned quickly and pushed him back until he could feel the mattress against his back as she straddled him, her legs caging his. He could feel her strength from her small body as he was pinned on the bed, and she wasn't giving him an inch to move on. 

This is too much, he thought. She was not smiling, but there was no angry tic on her forehead. Her face was flushed, her black-purple hair now loose on her shoulders. Her breasts were heaving, her breathing seemingly faster than before. One of her hands was now on his torso, slowly toying with his uniform. He had never seen her this bare to him.

He knew she was always beautiful, but the sight took his breath away he could only look at her.

“I was… trying to memorize you.” Finally, he managed to say it.

She gasped, her eyes not hollow anymore. The vibrant color reminded him about the pin which was now on her desk. “That pin… why do you wear it?”

She was glancing… no, glaring at him back? “Because it’s beautiful. And I do have a good fashion sense, unlike you. That mismatched coat of yours still looks stupid when turned over. I mean that half-scarlet and half… whatever that green-yellow pattern is.”

“Th-that’s because…” That coat was now on the bed, along with butterfly coat of hers.

“I know, I know. I’m just teasing you.”  She kissed him softly on the lips. “Your fashion sense is as bad as usual though.” Her hands moved swiftly, his uniform and shirt joined his coat and hers on the bed.

“Shinobu.” He never thought his heart would beat faster, but he was wrong. She always took the lead in their encounters, but she wasn't as playful as this. 

“Hmm? You’re blushing, aren’t you?” She touched his cheek as a real smile spread on her face. “That’s cute.” Warm, laughing violet eyes gazed at him, compared with the half-glances they were used to before.

“I’m not cute.”

“But you’re really being cute right now.”

Her fingers continued down the center of his chest, lingering over the ridges of muscle on his midriff. He breathed deeply as he felt her hands, which looked fragile yet calloused, toyed with his trousers, wordlessly beckoning him to take it off. She lifted herself away on the edge of the bed as her hands moved swiftly again, her trousers and other clothes pooling down into a mess on the ground. 

He obliged, managing to take them off hastily as she straddled him again, pinning him on the bed. She kept kissing him, her tongue running softly over his fangs, her kisses swallowing the sounds from his throat as he got overwhelmed by her scent. 

Her hands were now on his chest, her unique scent surrounding him now, urging him back against the pillows. Her fingers continued down, slipping between his legs, wrapping around him, making his body hum with a pleasure so intense he bit his lip. 

“What are you—”

“You keep forgetting I’m a doctor.” She whispered between kisses. “Of course, I knew things.”

Of course, she would know things. She had done this before to him, but not this quick nor this hard. That same knowledge was making him pant right now as he strained against her hand further, rolling his hips. He knew he should control himself, but she only smiled that no-good smile of hers. As he tried to bit back his words she continued further.

“I want you,” he managed to whisper, begging her. Her smile widened as his hips tried to move, but her legs pinned him further, bringing such pleasure-pain he didn't know how to deal with. 

She then withdrew her hand, her hips fitting the right angle with his, and sank slowly onto him.

They both gasped as he filled her, and he fought that urge to move as she trembled, holding herself above him. Her hands were now at his shoulders, using that to support herself as she rolled her hips, seating herself fully against him.

Their previous encounters weren't like this. It's as if she was inciting his senses: her unique scent overtaking him further, her heart beating on a pattern that was the same as his, her tongue and lips on his neck, slowly sucking a spot there. He could feel her breasts on his chest, her fingers continued to move all over his body, caressing his skin with a gentleness he only felt when he was with her. 

Giyuu felt her touch so keenly, such pleasure rolling on his veins and senses, especially with him inside her, her warmth spreading on every inch of his body. His thoughts were focused on her and only her. 

He sat upright, her arms shifting as they fully embraced. She clutched onto his shoulders fully as he moved forward, his hips continuously bucking up, her legs now shifting so he could move deeper into her. He could see her face flush further as her eyes focused on his before he kissed her again, thrusting continuously as he did so.

“Giyuu-san.” Her hands found his hips, guiding his next actions. They panted as they moved together, further grinding against each other. She continued kissing him back, her tongue reflecting the same motion as their bodies, pushing him on as she moved faster.  Her body received his thrusts willingly as he caught up with her pace, his hips moving frantically against her. 

"Shinobu." He could only whisper her name against her neck as her thrusts tipped him over the edge, his lips finding the marks he has given her as he tried to stifle his gasp, his release overtaking him fully. Her warmth surrounded him, making him find such pleasure he was at a loss for words. 

She followed, gasping in pleasure, her body turning limp afterwards.

He caressed her back as he waited for their heartbeats to slow, his fingers again moving gently over her scars. They were still joined, but he refused to move, the pleasure he felt earlier clinging onto his body. 

“Are you…”

He could feel her breathing as she lifted herself away from him, and he keenly felt the loss. She then pushed him again onto the bed, but this time she just rested on the crook of his neck.

“I’m all right. Thanks to you.”

Her heartbeat slowed as she settled on top of him, and his cold skin felt her warmth spread further. 

“There’s something I want to say to you. Before we set out to the Fortress.”

“What is it?” Her eyes were a bit alarmed as she stared at him again.

He might not have a chance again, and he knew he could never to lie to her. “Shinobu, I… I l—”

She kissed him deep and hard it left him breathless.

“Don’t say them. Please.”

She pressed a finger on his lips, a sad smile on her face.

 “Can we… can we stay like this, then? Just for this night.” He hoped he would have this plea at least, even though he didn’t want to hold back. But like all the questions he could never ask her, he bit back those three words.

“Yes.” Her voice sounded wistful as he hugged her to him, settling against him with a soft sigh. 

***

The master key worked as expected, and Giyuu found himself again inside her room, silently closing the door.

It still looked the same. The same cabinets which he assumed where she kept her clothes, one filled with books and a ladder on them. Her desk was still lined with books and several papers filed up neatly. He hoped Tsuyuri has told her he got her butterfly pin, now resting inside the case in his coat pocket.

Her bed was still there, the pillows and the covers placed on order, though her scent lingered there, as if she was there recently. He quickly glanced around the room, but he couldn’t find her.

Where is she? Isn’t she still sick?

He looked frantically around, trying to find her… when a sharp blade pressed against his neck.

“You won’t make a good thief after all, Giyuu-san,” a voice whispered weakly at his ear.

He turned and saw Kochou Shinobu stepping back, a small dagger on her hand. Her head was shaking at him, her black-purple hair still on the loose, and she was clad in a loose lavender kimono with a wisteria pattern, a white overcoat on it. Her violet eyes focused on him as she smiled, her other hand holding his.

He could feel her hand, its pulse beating steadily, her fingers warm as they interlocked with his.

She’s alive. She’s alive.

“Welcome back, Giyuu-san.”

“Shinobu.” I’m home. 

Chapter Text

It was her birthday today [1]. Two months after what was supposed to be her death.

Not exactly in good form to celebrate a birthday in her bed, Kochou Shinobu thought. A drip was connected to her arm as she ate the chawanmushi [2] her apprentice, Kanzaki Aoi, gave her, placed on a portable table-tray [3]. The young intern balefully watched her, her blue eyes narrowing as she made sure her patient ate every spoonful.

“My, my, you’re too strict on me, Aoi.”

“HOW CAN I NOT BE?! Seriously, Shinobu-sama, you should not have left your records in the lab!” Aoi shook her head as she retrieved a clipboard on Shinobu’s desk. She checked on the near-empty drip, removing it gently from her patient’s arm.

She smiled at Aoi, happy at how her skills had improved from being a nervous intern. “Your cooking is as impressive as always. And that’s an efficient way of removing a drip.”

“Shinobu-sama.” Aoi scanned her from head to toe. “Your sense of taste has returned?”

“Among other things.” It has been a tough battle to have a semblance of normalcy on her body in the spent the past two months, when Shinobu was trying to recover after the attack on the Infinity Fortress. She has heard of what happened with the other leaders [4], and Gyoumei-ojisan himself took her to the Estate, saving her in the nick of time from blood loss by helping her body regenerate itself with his spells, just like what he did with the rest of them, losing a century of his lifespan as he did so.

The rebound from consuming excessive wisteria poison was different: for a month and a half she spent her mornings in the bathroom, throwing up black-purple blood. The numerous drips came after, filled with blood to help her replenish what she lost during that fight with that monster Douma. She also had nutrient drips, as no matter what happened, she couldn’t hold her food for even seconds. Shinobu wasn’t used to eating broth, the only thing her body accepted, nor the excessive pain wracking her body every day that she occasionally thrashed while Kanao, Aoi and Inosuke helped her take her medicine.

The only thing which calmed her during that time was recalling his face, his blue eyes looking at her with such focus it left her...

“Aoi… about my records…”

“If you’re asking who thought of revising that plan of yours, it was Kanao. Inosuke asked her to include that vampire powder on his claws. Kanao and I were testing how fast would wisteria plants grow inside a living body, when the summons to fight in the Fortress happened.”

“Is that why you closed the laboratory for days?”

Aoi nodded… then managed to give Shinobu a slight knock in the head.

“Aoi?! What are you—” She stopped as her apprentice gave her a tight hug.

“Naho, Kiyo and Sumi asked me to do that. ‘Shinobu-sama is an idiot and knocking her head might get it back to normal!’ they said. Inosuke wanted to do this himself, but he’s busy training with Himejima-sama right now.”

“My, my.” She remembered all of them rushing to her, wailing and hugging her as they did so when they saw her after she was brought back home to the Estate.

Shinobu didn’t deserve it, she knew. She might have prepared in her will to keep them safe after her death, but it would never be enough. She was prepared to throw away her life and abandon them, these girls who did nothing wrong but give her affection and respect, as well as the boy she taught how to read on a whim [5].

She could not think of those things now. Her revenge, her purpose has ended. And judging by the tears Aoi was wiping on her face, she has people she should now start living for.

So what do I do now?

Of course, adding to the growing list of questions is what to do with him, who she failed not to think about while resting. How could she forget him, when recalling his blue eyes helped calm her before she went to sleep?

“Truthfully, I’m glad Kanao and Inosuke did manage to stop that idiotic plan of yours and changed it.” Aoi fixed the clipboard, with various reports attached on it.

“However…”

“What is it?”

Aoi gave Shinobu the clipboard. There were charts of blood flows, as well as the previous annotations she made while experimenting with her own body using the poison in more than a year.

“To avoid further rebound of absorbing such huge amounts of wisteria poison, we tried to purge it out from your body. You were about to die then. Inosuke helped in trying to restrain you while you were thrashing out. However, something in your body… filtered it completely that you yourself spat out the poison every time you vomited [6]. We managed with blood transfusions and nutrient drips after that.”

“Why did that happen?” She has never heard of such a case.

“That… something has such a strong wisteria poison resistance, so much so it protected you and made your body react like that.”

Shinobu shook her head. “It’s impossible. You know I expected to die, if not from blood loss, then due to the plain rebound.”

“Shinobu-sama, it seems like you’re not lucid enough to read my report fully.”

“What do you mean?”

Aoi raised her eyebrows. “Pardon me if this is too rude to ask, but when did you last had your period?”

“What does it have to do with this?”

“Please answer my question.”

Shinobu sighed at the impossible question her apprentice asked. “You know my period is set like clockwork, right? It’s always on the 15th of the month—”

Wait.

She didn’t have them during the month they attacked the Infinity Fortress, nor even her months of recovery after. She attributed it to stress during that time, as it took them days before even managing to infiltrate the place, while on her recovery—

It can’t be. It can’t be.

Aoi gave her a terse nod. “One thing I’m sure after your examination: that filtering would have been likely impossible… if that something is human [7], that is.”

“That's impossible.” She always took the pill [8] after every encounter—

No. There was that night, two and a half months ago, in this very room. [4]

I totally forgot to take it after that, didn’t I?

“Damn it.”

Aoi’s eyes widened at hearing Shinobu curse, as if it was the first time she said it aloud. “Shinobu-sama… have you even told Tomioka-sama about this?”

Shinobu dropped the clipboard completely. “How did you—”

“What you do with others is your personal business. But…”

Aoi bowed her head, blushing as she picked up that clipboard. “You two were discreet, I grant you that. But please remember that I also use the lab. Last year, I forgot some files here and when I came back, I saw you lock the doors and… uh… start kissing [9]—”

I guess I’m an idiot to try and conceal that to anyone.

“OK, stop there.” Shinobu, in order to distract herself, stamped the urge to tease Aoi, whose ears were now red.

“IN ANY CASE,” Aoi coughed, recovering quickly, “you should be more careful from now on. Possibly for the next eight months [7].”

A further eight months. Shinobu crossed her fingers, hoping she wouldn’t be as sick unlike the past two.

“… I’m sorry for the trouble, Aoi.”

Aoi took a deep breath. “I just want you to take better care of yourself, especially in your condition right now. Kiriya-sama has assigned most of your duties to me, while Kanao will be taking in your alchemist jobs in the meantime. So please, PLEASE REST, all right?”

Shinobu meekly nodded. “Aren’t you going to congratulate me or something?”

“If that was your attempt of a joke, it’s not funny.” Aoi managed to crack another smile as she retrieved the tray from the bed and placed the clipboard on it. “But I’m sure Kanae-sama would have been happy for you. Kanao, Naho, Kiyo and Sumi, too.”

Neesan would have been ecstatic. Kanao might faint from excitement though.

“Shinobu-sama, before I take my leave,” Aoi bowed before closing the door, “happy birthday.”

What a birthday this was, Shinobu thought as Aoi left.

I was supposed to be dead on this day.

Is this supposed to be a birthday gift?

Another life?

A chance to start anew?

As she tried to sleep, she noticed something wet from her cheeks.

Tears?

As she tried to wipe her eyes unsuccessfully, Shinobu covered her mouth. Why?

She should have been worried. She hasn’t fully recovered yet, their organization was still on a disarray, and the power vacuum Kibutsuji and his group left could be filled by more power-hungry, messed-up supernaturals.

And yet.

“Shinobu, have you ever thought of having a family of your own?” Her sister asked her on the day she got engaged to Shinazugawa-san.

“I’m not like you, Kanae-neesan,” Shinobu replied. “And besides, you, Aoi, Kanao, Naho, Kiyo and Sumi are family as well, right?”

“My, my, you’re right. But won’t you like to continue our parents’ legacy?”

It was ironic, given she never expected that very legacy, a duty her older sister was about to gladly take before her untimely death.

Neesan, I’m supposed to be scared. I should be.

I should have been shaking in fear right now.

But why am I feeling the opposite?

Why am I reacting like I would imagine you to react?

Happiness… is something I haven’t felt in a long time. I should fear it.

And yet, I don’t.

His face flashed again on her mind, when she stopped him from telling her three words she didn’t expect.

Will he say them again?

There were never any promises between us.

We shouldn’t have any more ties.

What will he think of this?

Before a wave of tiredness hit her, making her eyes heavy, she patted her midriff and managed to ask.

“Little one, will you have his beautiful blue eyes, I wonder?”

***

Various memories came in fits and starts in Shinobu’s sleep, some hazy, some crystal clear.

Sometimes of his calm stance, clad in that military uniform of his, that black cloak with the half-scarlet, half-green-yellow-pattered underside, epaulettes on his shoulders, his sword and scabbard on the left. That grumpy face of his and his rare smiles. His decisive way of fighting, and that strength he displayed before their enemies, which she both admired and envied.

At times it was those of the six years they have known each other. How she barely managed to defeat him in that duel when they first met, as she knew he wouldn’t be the first supernatural to mistrust her skills. How he trusted her after to a point that every time he was injured to the point beyond regeneration, he would ask for her to treat him. Or the experiments he willingly did for her in her laboratory. The many times she laughed at him as she poked him with her syringes. Or during the raids when he always had her back, the way she did for his. It was funny, seeing that idiotic face of his when they sometimes dueled, him teaching her how to improve her arm strength while she tried to beat him again using her speed.

Or the instances when he became her only comfort. During her sister’s funeral three years ago, when she only wanted to be alone, to shout and scream in anger and loss. After all the guests left and her girls cried themselves to sleep, he stayed a moment longer, giving her a wordless pat on the head. She cried in his arms as he stayed still when she hugged him, him wrapping his arms around her back.

In a life she expected to be short, Tomioka Giyuu had been many of her firsts.

To be frank it was her first time feeding a vampire, when the serums of synthetic blood didn’t help him regenerate after a raid he undertook. She couldn’t let him die, and without ado she beckoned him to feed on her in her lab. She didn’t know what to expect, but the giddy pleasure-pain she felt on her body as his fangs bit into the curve of her neck wasn’t it.

The connection he explained as the two scars from it healed and resembled birthmarks didn’t help either. She has heard of marked people from some of their colleagues but becoming one to him wasn’t something she expected. She occasionally touched those marks, wondering if he could feel her fingertips.

Her first kiss was a surprise from him as well. His lips were gentle at first, but then he deepened the kiss further, as if he’s testing something, and she could still taste her blood from his tongue. As she kissed him back then, she wondered after if it was his first kiss, too.

That suspicion proved correct way after, when he first invited her to his residence five streets away. She always joked to him he lived in a shack, though the house itself was a large one, almost as large as the Butterfly Estate. His room, an elegant one with furnishings reflecting how grand the Tomioka family had been, was wide too.

“And you live here all alone?” She teased after he fed on her in his room. His canopied bed was wide enough that Shinobu thought she would be lost on the covers alone.

“Occasionally I hire cleaners. This is a large house, after all, and I’m busy with patrols.”

“You didn’t answer my question, Giyuu-san.”

He nuzzled the curve of her neck, kissing the marks as he did so. “I was always alone. But now, you’re here.” He then reached for her hand, placing a gentle kiss on it.

She always knew he was lonely. The way he isolated himself from the organization’s leaders in meetings, on why he never partied on their celebrations, the way he was always on guard like the patrols he oversaw. She felt his loneliness further as he told her snippets of his parents, his sister Tsutako, and his best friend, a well-known soldier named Sabito. She recalled all the names: they were lost in that war [9] incited by Kibutsuji and his horde, with the aftermath resulting in a mob of frenzied supernaturals murdering her parents, who were doing their duty as healers.

Shinobu wasn’t sure if that loneliness was part of why she reached for him on their first night together in her laboratory. Becoming lovers was such a natural conclusion to her due to the undercurrents between them going on for the years they knew each other, but she never expected he would admit she was his first.

“You say the most surprising things,” she replied breathlessly after, still straddling him. He was her first, too, but she would never, ever admit that.

He was blushing red, though he didn’t make any moves to fix his clothes then. “I-it’s fine if you don’t believe me.” He turned away, burying his face on her chest.

She ran her fingers through his long jet-black hair, now untied due to their actions earlier, loving the way it flowed on her fingers freely. “Well, what if I say I do?”

She kissed him deep and hard after that.

Just like in what was supposed to be in that final night in her room [4] . Her own goodbye to him, as she willingly met death’s door with her plan before their deployment to the Fortress.

She just thought he wouldn’t find out her secret, judging by the way he said “Enough.”

He further surprised her when he kissed her scars in such a gentle way it almost broke her. She could feel his lips and fingers tracing every ridge, making it too unbearable when his fangs lightly scraped some of them, reminding her of the way he fed on her, that connection between them.

So she acted quickly, pinning him to her bed, trying her best to breathe despite her heart hammering due to his touch.

“I was… trying to memorize you.” Such hurting words, and yet she welcomed them, just as how he welcomed her touch, of how she memorized his body, her fingers running over the beautiful ridges of muscle on his midriff, the result of his constant training as a warrior. She let hands roam all over, his skin on hers etching on her mind, a memory she would keep before fighting her enemy.

“I want you,” he managed to whisper, begging her by his actions and the way his body strained against her hand.

I want you, too, she wanted to reply.

Instead, she replied by sinking her hips slowly to him, trembling as she did so, thrusting as she held his shoulders to hold herself upright. His scent, that hint of lavender and rosemary [10] that she could only smell from him, surrounded her, making her thrust further as he sat upright, fully embracing her as she clutched onto his shoulders for further support.

“Giyuu-san.” He moved deeper and faster, the pleasure almost making her weak. She panted as they ground against each other, while she continued kissing him, running her tongue all over his fangs as she did so. Her hips moved frantically against his, her body willingly receiving his thrusts.

“Shinobu.” The way he whispered her name on the marks on her neck made her lightheaded, making her feel his release inside her keenly, his body shivering as he did so. A couple of thrusts later she soon followed, warmth and pleasure spreading throughout her as she found her own release.

The gentle way he caressed her back after gave her pain. He knew she was leaving him alone again, so why was he this kind?

“I’m all right. Thanks to you.”

She then pushed him again onto the bed, resting on the crook of his neck near his heart as she tried to memorize his slow heartbeat.

“There’s something I want to say to you. Before we set out to the Fortress.”

“What is it?” His deep blue eyes now again have those red irises, focusing on her again, as if looking straight at her soul. She knew those beautiful, calm eyes would haunt her before impending death, so she etched them on her mind.

“Shinobu, I… I l—”

She cut him off with a kiss. She couldn’t even bear his gentleness; how would she bear those three words?

“Don’t say them. Please.” She pressed a finger on his lips.

Don’t make me regret what I already regretted many times. Please. Not you.

***

Hearing the opening door made Shinobu jerk awake from her bed.

She had already memorized Aoi and Kanao’s footsteps, but the intruder wasn’t as light footed as they are, and she could hear the clack of wooden slippers on her bedroom floor. Grabbing some slippers, she quickly fixed her bed in any case this was a visitor from their organization.

But why would they have the key to her room?

Quickly she removed some books from the cabinet, opening the secret door she had installed in her room for emergencies, a small dagger attached to its wall. She could see from the hole inside that a silhouette of a man was walking around, as if searching for her.

When he shifted, she saw his deep blue eyes, his face making an expression of worry.

She then quickly got out of the door, and as his back was turned away, pressing the dagger on his neck.

“You won’t make a good thief after all, Giyuu-san,” she whispered, her voice weak with relief.

She then held his hand as she sheathed the dagger, placing it inside her coat pocket. He was clad in a black kimono, the same green-and-yellow pattern on his coat now embroidered on the legs, a red overcoat over it. He was wearing wooden slippers, too. It looked better on him than his military uniform, Shinobu thought.

“Welcome back, Giyuu-san.”

“Shinobu.” He then hugged her tight and caressed her face, his eyes having the sheen of tears.

“As you can see, I’m still alive—wait—Giyuu-san?!”

He carried her to her bed so quickly she didn’t have time to react. His kisses were of overwhelming speed too, as well as him touching her all over, as if confirming she was alive.

“Wait! Giyuu-san! Calm down!” She managed to say between his kisses as she placed her hands on his face.

“O-oh.” He blushed again as he shifted them as he sat on her bed, placing her on his lap.

She pinched his cheeks lightly. “You really don’t have self-control, don’t you? I’m still recovering, you know.”

He nodded as he placed something on her hand. It was a drawstring pouch that can be used as a necklace, and in it was the flower master key to the Butterfly Estate. “Your assistant gave that to me in a letter.”

Ah, so that’s why Aoi tried to tell me I should talk to him.

“Very well. Why are you again here at my room?”

His face looked solemn as he stared at her again, his eyes focused on her as he retrieved something from his coat. It was a velvet case.

“I thought I would return this to you.” He opened the case, and inside it was her purple butterfly pin, which she thought was destroyed during that fight in the Fortress.

“Thank you.” Maybe it was time to tell him the truth about it, as she remembered him asking about it before. “It was a gift from my parents. Our family’s name means ‘butterfly’ [11], you see. Father and Mother thought it would be beautiful if their daughters wear them.”

“I see.” He then helped with her hair as she arranged it in a yakai-maki [9], the pin holding her hair as she did so.

“Your hair… it’s longer.” He touched the edges of her hair, some strands loose.

“Well it’s been two months. But you’re not here just to give me my pin back, or is it?”

“No… I… just look at the case again, please.” His ears were red, and she wondered why.

There was another thing inside the case, on a small hollow just near the place where the pin was earlier.

“A ring?” It was a beautiful but simple gold ring, two small sapphires lining one side, and at the center was a small amethyst, its shade having the same color as her eyes.

“I… would be honored if you wear it.” He was blushing again. How cute of him.

“Hmm? Is this a proposal you’re saying, Giyuu-san?”

He nodded vigorously, then blushed again. “That ring… it was Tsutako-neesan’s. Something from… my parents. I hope you’ll accept it. It's... your birthday after all.”

“Oh. You remembered?”

“It's not something I would forget. I had the amethyst added there. It reminded me of you when I saw it."

A new start.

“Your timing is really impeccable, isn’t it?” Shinobu replied as she wore the ring on her left hand on her second finger. It fitted comfortably, just like how his hands fitted hers as she quickly grabbed them.

“What do you—” She then placed his hands on her midriff, smiling as she did so.

“Little one, I have one wish.” She then placed her hands over his. “Please, don’t be an idiot like your father here, all right?”

Shinobu half-laughed and half-cried as realization spread over his face, kissing her enthusiastically as he did so.