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Prices to Pay

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Author's Note:

Happy Valentine's Day, Shell-Senji and Sabinasanfanfic! Hijikata & Chizuru: So, You Got the Good Ending, Right?

Thank you to both of you for your kindness and conversation over the past year. I hope you enjoy this story—or find it interesting, at least.

... Part II will be forthcoming, Chibi Saitou willing.

~ Impracticalmagic

PS Happy Valentine's Day to everyone else too! You can read excellent stories by both these authors (Hakuouki and other) on tumblr, AO3, and FFnet.


Prices to Pay—Part I


Bitter cold and utter isolation. That summed up the newly-renamed Hokkaido, as far as Hijikata was concerned. The Kaitakushi—the so-called Development Commission—had promised great things since the final battles around Hakodate and the star fortress Gōryakaku. So far, the greatest thing they'd done was rename the island, a scant two months after Hijikata's alleged death. For some reason, that annoyed him more than it probably should. In the year or so since, Hijikata and Chizuru had been forced to move farther north, as the Commission's plan for "colonizing" Hokkaido included promoting the relocation of dispossessed and unemployed former samurai. Hijikata had become all too well-known during the last year or two of Shogunate rule.

On the good days, Hijikata found it amusing that the samurai who had looked down on Kondō and him were being forced to become farmers. Of course, the great lords and their families were mostly safe enough, although reduced in wealth and importance. And by 1868—hell, a lot earlier than that—the scions of samurai families grew up to be bureaucrats, not warriors, so that the loss of status hurt more keenly than the loss of a sword. Most of them knew enough not to hurt themselves drawing a blade; however, hitting a target eluded them, especially in actual combat What was the Meiji government supposed to do with hundreds of unemployed clerks and rice counters, many of whom they couldn't trust?

They'd kept the useful ones, of course—those who were competent and practical and appeared likely to accept the defeat of the bakufu and move on. No flies on the new Satsuma-Chōshu coalition—the New Government. Hijikata wondered a little about how they thought of themselves, now that they were in the process of eliminating the hans and at least the outer trappings of the clan system. He shook his head dubiously; he had seen too much war and violent death to believe that there wouldn't be long-term grudges. He'd heard rumours, even here at the edge of nothing, about the slaughter in Aizu, which had supposedly engulfed more than bakufu soldiers and Aizu retainers.

The edge of nothing
Grey water chills rocky shores;
The Great Bear watches

Hijikata frowned, trying to focus on the morning's haiku and not on his personal list of the names of the fallen. It did no good, and only detracted from the precious moments he had with—

"Hijikata-san?" Chizuru walked into their small, neatly furnished principal room, blinking herself awake. She had a near-uncanny ability to know when one of his darker moods threatened to overtake him.

"Good morning, Chizuru. I hope you slept well." Hijikata rose from his desk—a rather roughly constructed creation of his own—and walked around the low central fireplace to his wife. He kissed her brow, and then drew her small body against his, savouring her warmth.

"Yes—I mean no!" Chizuru placed her hands on Hijikata's chest and tried to look up at him. When that didn't work, she obligingly snuggled herself against the hollow of his shoulder, and allowed him to stroke her long, soft hair. "You didn't sleep last night, Hijikata-san—again."

"I came to bed," he protested, knowing the excuse to be even more feeble than usual. He'd returned to their small front window, and his desk, as soon as he'd thought her asleep.

"I doubt you were there for long," Chizuru told him softly. "I had those dreams again."

Hijikata let out a sharp breath. Those dreams meant the nightmares she sometimes had about the furies, the white-haired, blood-crazed monsters created by a desperate government to act as inhuman super-soldiers. A failed experiment that had claimed the lives of many Shinsengumi warriors, and unalterably changed most of its captains. Hijikata assumed that the nightmares were triggered by Chizuru's fears for his future, since he had spent so much time as a fury; in truth, they had no idea how long he had left to live.

He tried to form his question with care. "It's not that you are wrong, Chizuru"—they'd agreed not to lie to each other during that first night in each other's arms, before Hijikata's last battle of the Boshin War—"but I don't see why you link your nightmares to my absence."

With a sigh, Chizuru disentangled herself from his arms and went to the cooking area near the fireplace. He followed, feeling the deep, too-familiar lines forming between his brows. Sōji would mock him for those furrows—if he weren't dead of some combination of tuberculosis and overextended use of his fury powers. Mind you, he didn't know for sure whether Sōji was dead. The ass-end of nowhere didn't get regular news from the rest of Japan, and the final resting place of a sick fugitive like Sōji wouldn't be news to begin with, despite his former reputation as a swordsman. He still regretted that the last he'd seen of the boy with whom he'd grown up as a warrior was the end of a fist, followed by an achingly familiar, painfully straight, retreating back.

"That's your Okita-san face," Chizuru remarked, her hands busy with breakfast preparations.

She still couldn't bring herself to call them by their first names, not even her own husband. The Shinsengumi had raised her in a hard school, Hijikata sometimes thought. Only Heisuke had ever insisted on the familiarity of first names. Hijikata found himself staring at his wife, and thinking that it was time for her to stop treating him as General Hijikata, or the Oni no Fukuchō of the Shinsengumi.

"Hijikata-san?"

Damn. He hadn't noticed that she'd turned. He'd been feeling so… fuzzy-headed lately. He couldn't help but wonder if it meant that his time was up. Chizuru had never been able to stop him from using his fury powers when he deemed them necessary, although he suspected that he had always used them less than he could have because of her love and concern. Hers and Kondō's. A wave of dizziness caused him to sit down a little less gracefully than usual.

"Hijikata-san!"

"I'm right here, Chizuru. I'll be fine."

A wooden spoon clattered onto Chizuru's work surface, and the next moment she was on her knees at his side. She appeared to have tears in her eyes, but she also seemed angry. Well, angry for Chizuru, anyway.

"You are NOT fine, Hijikata-san! You haven't been yourself in months! Especially recently. And I'm… I'm worried." The last was spoken in a low tone, irritation fading inexorably into fear. "You aren't like the other men here, after all."

Hijikata tried to frown at her, but the effort was too great. What he really wanted—needed—was her touch, her warmth. Before he could articulate his request in a way that his pride would allow, Chizuru was holding him, her slim, strong arms wound around his chest as best as she could manage.

"What do you mean… Chizuru… that I'm not like other men?" His breathing was becoming laboured, and he honestly couldn't tell if he was hot or freezing. Was he sick or was he dying? It would be a shame to get all worked up about a bad cold. "Being a fury… you mean?"

"Yes, partly, maybe, but… You need to go back to bed, Hijikata-san—"

"Toshi."

Chizuru stared at him, caught entirely off-guard. "Ah—"

"Or Toshizō, if you prefer. But I was thinking Toshi." Chizuru didn't respond at once, and Hijikata muttered darkly: "I'll never forgive Sōji for naming that damned cat after me."

"You're burning with fever, Hijika—um—Toshi-san."

Chizuru's face was as red as if she had the fever, not him. But he was truly glad that she'd used his proper name, even though she'd pronounced it very gingerly, as though it might curse her in some way. Hopefully, he wasn't dying. He'd like the chance to hear her say his name more often.

"I'm cold."

"You have a fever. I'll help you get back to bed—or rather, into bed. Half an hour at nine o'clock last night doesn't count."

"Yes, doctor." He could see the tears in her eyes, but he could also see the courage that held them in check. With an effort, he rose to his feet and stumbled toward the bedroom, one arm curled tightly around Chizuru's shoulders.

"So… why'm'I different Chizuru?" He sounded—and felt—drunk, but for some reason it didn't matter. He buried his face in Chizuru's hair, and inhaled deeply. "I am a hell of a lot smarter, that's for sure. Fucking morons think they can grow rice in a place like this! Rice! Goes to show that farmers can be samurai, but samurai sure as hell can't be farmers!"

"Yes, Hijika—um—oh look, here's the bed!"

Lucidity returned fully for a moment, and Hijikata turned to stare incredulously at Chizuru. Then he grinned at her in a way that she hadn't seen in at least a month. His face immediately became serious again, but there was a gleam in the beautiful purple eyes that had been missing for almost as long as the smile.

"Thank you, dear. It would have been embarrassing to somehow miss an object that takes up approximately eighty percent of this room."

"Oh!" Chizuru was blushing hotly again, but her expression was one of relief more than embarrassment. She managed to smile, and said as seriously as she could, "Do—do you think it's that much, Hiji—I mean, Toshi-san?"

Despite improved awareness, Hijikata could feel his knees starting to buckle. Almost desperate to hold onto this feeling of normalcy—of contentment and affection—with Chizuru, he elected to drag her down onto the bed with him, honed reflexes coming to his aid when muscles started to fail.

"Do I have to get used to Hijitoshi-san?" he asked, grateful for the high, Western-style bed. He occasionally missed the easy practicality of a futon—Western beds wasted too much space—but this was not one of those times.

"Aah! Hijikata-san!" Chizuru had fallen across him, and was struggling to both right herself and roll off to one side.

"Toshi." Hijikata held her securely in place. How could he have forgotten how important she was to him? Not that he had forgotten, exactly; more like he had felt increasingly wrapped in fog since moving away from the Hakodate area, with its visible connection to the main island of Honshu and its sense of activity.

Early on, he had been amazed to be alive at all, let alone alive and able to finally take the time to see Chizuru for all that she was—to him and simply as herself. She had nursed him through his near-fatal wounds—been his doctor, really, since he couldn't be seen in town. He knew that she'd gotten him through at least one significant fever since, although he'd never known if it was an infection or something else, some legacy of the poison ironically known as the Water of Life. He still didn't remember much about that incident, and it bothered him.

"Toshi-san." Chizuru had finally given up trying to move. "We need to talk."

"Never good words to hear from a woman, in my experience," Hijikata replied lightly, running a hand down his wife's back, and caressing the curve of her waist and hip. He could tell that she was determined to tell him something, but she was also reacting to his touch, and he could feel desire flaring in both of them. How long had it been? Not just since making love, but since he could feel the connection between them as clearly as he did now? At least he had had the good sense to marry her last year, while they were still living near Hakodate. It had been the best way he could think of to tell her that both she and his love for her were unique.

"You're trying to distract me." Chizuru's voice was a complicated mix of love, anxiety, hope, and longing.

"You're the one who announced the presence of the bed," Hijikata pointed out. The corners of his lips twitched upward, spoiling his attempt at innocent surprise. He relaxed his hold on Chizuru so that he could run both hands along her body. She was thinner than she should be—he could feel her ribs and shoulder-blades too easily—and he wondered how long she had been giving him an unfair portion of their food. In the past—both distant and not-so-distant—he would have noticed and put a stop to that immediately.

"That was—you know I didn't mean it that way!" Chizuru was becoming flustered and turned on in roughly equal measure, he judged. Though with her, the two often went together. Her ears and neck were almost as flushed as her cheeks now, and the tip of her tongue kept flicking out to moisten her pretty lips. He could feel her heart beating faster—it seemed almost loud to him—and there was a small catch in her breath. She was very lovely, overwhelmingly desirable. How could he have forgotten?

Ignoring her outburst, Hijikata continued to caress her body through the thin night-robe, slowly widening the gap at the front. Chizuru had belted it very loosely in her rush to find him earlier, and soon it became easy to push the fabric off her shoulders and down to the tops of her small breasts. Her skin was as soft as ever, despite hard work and cold weather. He assumed that her Oni heritage helped a great deal, but preferred not to dwell on it. The glowing golden eyes that sometimes haunted his nightmares weren't hers.

"You said something… about not meaning to take me to bed with you?" He brushed aside a lock of hair and then bent to trace his tongue along her upper neck.

A low, almost sub-vocal moan escaped Chizuru's lips as he allowed his calloused hands to run over her bared shoulders and down her arms. Her reaction was satisfying and exciting but... Had it been that long since they'd touched? Surely not—but he found he couldn't quite remember. Somehow, he could sense her emotions very clearly now, and while her deep love and physical longing for him only intensified his arousal, there was a distinct and growing thread of fear in her that suddenly made him hesitate to go on without hearing her out. The former Vice Commander of the Shinsengumi (and former Assistant Minister of War for the Republic of Ezo) wanted to know what the hell was going on. Hijikata Toshizō of The Backwater-to-End-All-Backwaters, unemployed wanderer, sometime farmer, and occasional poet, wasn't sure it was worth it.

With a less-than-happy sigh, Hijikata forced himself to fold his hands behind his head. The Vice Commander had won—again. His body still craved the touch and taste and warmth of his beloved, but his mind was more or less free of the buzz of lust. Momentarily. It was more difficult than he remembered to hold it in check. Chizuru scrambled off him and sat up, pulling together her robe. She was flushed, and there was still fire behind the deceptively meek brown eyes, but she was clearly master—or mistress?—of herself.

"Alright Chizuru… what is it?" He knew that his words were ungracious, but he felt as though he needed all of the Oni no Fukuchō's resolve, and temperament, to stay focused on something other than the graceful lines of Chizuru's neck and jaw. He forced himself to keep his eyes on her face, deciding that staring was less vulgar than ripping off her clothes in a frenzy of—apparently—long-denied need.

"Hijikata-san? At least—do you prefer Toshizō-san now?"

"Yes. I do. Or Toshi. But either way… Chizuru, what's wrong? I can tell that I haven't been myself, and that I scare you—a little. I have the feeling that something has gone completely sideways, but I can't think what. Can you answer a question for me?"

"Yes, Toshi-san?" She still used his name with a trace of doubt in her voice, but he ignored it.

"When is the last time we made love?"

Predictably, Chizuru reddened and bit her lower lip. Then she shook herself with something like her usual vigour, and said bluntly, "Two months ago."

"What?! Matte, Chizuru! Have I been away? Have you? That sounds very unlikely."

Chizuru's back was stiff as a board, and she averted her face. "Can't you remember?"

Unease turned to something approaching panic. "Yes! Of course!" He wasn't sure. How could he not be sure? How could Chizuru tell him 'two months' when he couldn't imagine letting a day go by without making up for a great deal of lost time. He was feeling light-headed again. It must have been another fever, one that had left him weak and listless for longer than he'd realized. And now… now he was regaining his strength and that meant—

"Toshi-san. I'm very, very sorry. I tried to handle things myself and it didn't go well and I may have made it worse."

"Chizuru?" He stared at her blankly.

Chizuru sighed. She laid a cool hand against his cheek, and for a third time he caught the glimmer of unshed tears in her anxious eyes. "…Bloodlust. That fever you had just after we arrived here. And again two months ago. You weren't ill, you were a rasetsu. Mostly. I think."

"Mostly? You think? For the gods' sake, Chizuru, what the fuck—what does that even mean?!"

Up went the small, firm chin that he remembered so well from Chizuru's earliest days in Kyoto with the Shinsengumi.

"Yes, Hijikata-san. I think you were mostly a rasetsu. The rest of the time your eyes were golden, not red."


[END of PART I]


Note: I hope you are looking forward to Part II, gentlewomen and gracious readers!