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To Be Useful

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Chizuru stood before the shoji to Sannan’s room, her stomach fluttering. She had spent all day agonizing over this decision to visit him, especially since the encounter earlier in the day. At that time, she had been frightened by Sannan and his proposition. She had been thankful when Hijikata had stepped in, giving her more time to consider, but Sannan’s words had stayed with her—like a judgment.

He was asking her to help—to contribute like the other members of the Shinsengumi were. Since coming here, all she wanted to do was serve and be useful, especially since they had been kind enough to take her in and protect her. Was it really so out of line for Sannan to request this of her?

Taking a deep breath to steel her resolve, she announced herself. A beat passed, during which Chizuru fretted over what Sannan could be thinking, before Sannan gave her permission to enter. She opened the shoji and saw Sannan turned away from his work table to watch her come in. The room was dark except for a lone candle standing lit on the table. She carefully slid the shoji closed and turned to face him again, every muscle in her body tense.

Sannan’s eyes sparkled behind his wire-frame glasses. “Yukimura-kun. This is indeed a surprise.”

Chizuru’s mouth was dry. She licked her lips to introduce some moisture and to make it easier to speak. “I-”

“I admit that I’m surprised you’re here after what happened earlier today. Does Hijikata-kun know you’re here?” Sannan’s voice was silky smooth, but it hinted at an underlying dangerousness. Chizuru gulped and shook her head. Sannan’s answering smile was feral. “Oh?”

“I…Sannan-san, I want to be useful!”

“So you have said.”

Chizuru looked down at her hands, which were clasped together tightly. She wrung them a moment as she considered how she would move forward with this conversation. A part of her was aware that this wasn’t something Hijikata wanted from her, and she was very aware that he could see this as a betrayal. Despite that, she felt it was ultimately up to her to decide how her blood was to be utilized.

“You said you needed my blood,” Chizuru began, her eyes closed.

“Are you prepared to die for the Shinsengumi?”

Chizuru’s eyes opened in shock, and she could see the seriousness in his facial features. She wasn’t sure how to answer this. Her mouth opened a little, but no words would come out. She closed it again, unsure how to proceed.

“I see your resolve is lacking,” Sannan responded, disappointment in his tone as he turned to face his table once again.

Chizuru took a step forward. “Sannan-san, you told Hijikata-san that you only needed a little of my blood. Did you lie to him? Why?”

Sannan turned his head to look at her over his shoulder. His expression was unreadable. “I would never lie to Hijikata-kun.”

“Then…why…”

“Come here, Yukimura-kun,” he beckoned, his voice barely above a whisper.

Apprehensive, Chizuru took careful, deliberate steps towards the man. Her heart pounded against her ribs, and she could hear her blood rushing in her ears. She wondered if she had made a mistake by coming here. All the justifications she had thought of earlier now seemed foolish. All she could think about was Hijikata’s angry glare and harsh words turned toward her, and she found the prospect of it disheartening.

Sannan held out a hand to her, and she took it. Both immediately recognized the tremble in her hand. Sannan guided her closer to him and gestured for her to sit seiza next to him. She did.

“Hijikata would do anything for the Shinsengumi, just as I would. But…he is a soft man and can let that cloud his judgment. Especially in this case.”

“What do you mean?”

Sannan chuckled softly, which made Chizuru’s hair stand on end. “Don’t tell me you don’t see it. He cares deeply for you, Yukimura-kun. Why do you think he reacted as he did when I made my proposition?”

Does he? The information buzzed around in her head, attempting to find proof that what Sannan was saying was true. Hijikata always said that protecting her was his duty as he had promised to do such when he had brought her to headquarters for the first time. In her eyes, his refusal to allow her this type of sacrifice was just another fulfillment of his duty. She eyed him dubiously.

“He just wants to protect me like he vowed,” Chizuru said with more conviction than she felt.

Sannan snorted quietly. “Yes.”

A brief silence settled over them. The tension in the room was thick, and Chizuru was beginning to register the tiniest details from the feel of the callouses on Sannan’s hands to the shadows in the room cast by the candle. She suddenly felt like she had made a terrible mistake, but now that she had offered herself up to Sannan, she very well couldn’t turn away now.

“Why do you need my blood?”

Sannan smiled, a beastly gleam in his eyes. “I’m sure you haven’t forgotten the night you were attacked by a rasetsu.”

Of course she hadn’t for so many reasons. She shook her head.

“Yes, well, I was shocked that your blood helped me regain my senses so quickly. It was after I had learned of your heritage that I began to make sense of it all. Your kind sees us as monsters, and maybe we are, but your pure blood…it helps tame the madness. Maybe, it will cure it.”

“So…you need my blood for experiments. Just how much?”

“I don’t know. A very small amount restored me quickly. I know I won’t need to kill you for it." A brief pause. "But…I need your assurance that you are in this completely. No going back after starting.”

“I…” Chizuru swallowed again, her heart feeling like it would jump up in her throat. Hijikata’s stern face came unbidden to her mind once again. “How will we hide this from Hijikata-san?”

Sannan released her hand. “I don’t know. I’m certain he has me watched, though I’m not entirely sure who is doing it. Perhaps Yamazaki.”

Chizuru gasped and immediately stood. She should’ve thought of that! She began to panic. Hijikata would certainly find out that she had been here. She had planned to explain to him that she was only doing what she could for the Shinsengumi--he should understand that! Sannan hummed thoughtfully with a vein of disappointment.

“I should’ve known…”

“What?” Chizuru’s question was breathless.

“It seems the feelings are mutual. Go, Yukimura-kun. It appears this will not end in my favor.”

“I…I’m sorry, Sannan-san!”

With that, Chizuru tore out of the room. Once she shut the shoji behind her, she ran down the hall and finding a sturdy wall, she leaned against it. Her breaths came quick and deep, and she tried to calm herself before she continued further. It wouldn’t do any good for anyone to come across her so flustered.

“What are you doing here?”

Chizuru gave a little shriek and whirled to her left to see Yamazaki standing not far from her. His eyes were narrowed as he took her in. She took a deep breath. “I…”

“Did Sannan summon you?”

“I-no! I…”

Yamazaki took a step closer. “Did he harm you?”

Yamazaki’s tone was so intense that it took a moment to process what he had asked. She then violently shook her head. “No, no!” She paused, letting misery creep into her tone. “I…I just want to help! I feel this is all my fault! If my father hadn’t…then Sannan-san and Heisuke-kun wouldn’t…”

Tears came unbidden to her eyes. Frustrated at her weakness, she scrubbed them forcefully away with the back of her hand. “I couldn’t do it. Hijikata-san didn’t want me to, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. Why? Why won’t he let me help?”

“I…can’t speak for the Vice Commander,” Yamazaki began, his voice kind. “But I do know he has very strong ideas of what sorts of sacrifices should be asked of people.”

Chizuru let out a short laugh. “I noticed.”

Yamazaki smiled. “The thing is, he doesn’t know all the implications of what Sannan asked of you.”

“You know?”

Yamazaki nodded. “The Vice Commander told me so that I could look for indications that something untoward was happening. The Vice Commander doesn’t like making uninformed decisions, especially when he doesn’t know how it will impact those under him.”

“Yes…I noticed,” Chizuru said quietly.

Yamazaki gave her a small, encouraging smile. “I know you mean well, Yukimura. But Sannan-san…he has changed. He says it is all for the Shinsengumi, but I wonder…if he just uses it as a justification for his own selfish needs.”

Chizuru had never heard Yamazaki speak his opinion so openly, and it shocked her. All she could do was stare at the man, who after a moment, became bashful. He looked away and cleared his throat.

“Come, we should get you back to your room before the Vice Commander finds out you were where you aren’t supposed to be.”

Chizuru nodded, following Yamazaki out to the main courtyard. A part of her felt guilty for going to Sannan without giving him what he requested, and yet, she felt relieved. Mostly because she wouldn’t have to endure the disappointment of the man she cared deeply for.

* * * * *

Hijikata sat at his desk as was his usual routine for this time of night, a lit lantern beside him and papers scattered across the top of the smooth surface. He had just finished making ink and was about ready to begin the long process of taking notes, going through reports, and writing letters. He pulled a fresh sheet of paper in front of him and began to read through the first report, brush ready to take notes.

He found he couldn’t concentrate. His thoughts kept swirling around the situation earlier in the day between Sannan and Chizuru. Hijikata had wanted to believe that Sen and Kimigiku had been unfairly blaming the Shinsengumi for an increase in overnight deaths in the city, but that moment when he walked in on Sannan with a knife drawn on Chizuru, his stomach had sunk with the realization that it was probably true.

The fact that Sannan would contemplate hurting someone they had sworn to protect just for his own selfish gain was something Hijikata was having difficulty coming to terms with. He had always known Sannan to be ruthless, but he would always do what was best for the Shinsengumi and would only reluctantly call for the bloodshed of a comrade when it was absolutely warranted. Serizawa's assassination came to Hijikata's mind, and his lips pursed as the residual anger he harbored for the long-dead man surfaced.

Hijikata’s musings were interrupted by the sound of people walking across the courtyard. He could hear the rustle of grass that could only be caused by footsteps. Curious, he went to his shoji and slid it open just enough for him to take a peek. He caught sight of Yamazaki escorting Yukimura back to her room. He slid the door open further and stood there, waiting for Yamazaki to come back his way. Annoyance prickled in his head.

When the shinobi came back and made eye contact with Hijikata, he beckoned Yamazaki over with a jerk of his head.

“What was Yukimura doing out of her room so late?”

“May I, fukuchō?” Yamazaki gestured to the room.

Hijikata turned to allow Yamazaki entry. The man came inside and settled himself in seiza. Hijikata followed suit, placing himself in his usual spot in front of his desk. Yamazaki looked down at his hands folded in his lap, taking a deep breath before meeting Hijikata’s stern gaze.

“I found her outside Sannan-san’s room.”

Hijikata’s eyes narrowed, and he felt his heart skip a beat. “What?”

Yamazaki nodded gravely. “She was unharmed, but from what I can gather, she went of her own volition.”

Hijikata growled low in his throat. “Why would she do something idiotic like that? Especially after this afternoon!”

“She told me she wanted to be of use. I…I think she had offered herself up for his experiments, but-”

“Damn it!” Hijikata exclaimed as he stood.

Hijikata was dimly aware that Yamazaki had called out to him as he exited his room. He couldn’t stop himself. He was so angry that all he could think about was giving that young woman a piece of his mind. His jaw clenched tightly and his hands closed into fists, Hijikata stormed to the young woman’s room. Without any preamble, he slid her shoji open with a snap, drawing a high-pitched shriek from the occupant within.

There was a moment of stillness--Hijikata took the time to take deep breaths, which seemed to help calm him. He was able to discern details around him, noting that Chizuru was sitting up in her futon wearing a pale pink yukata with her hair flowing loosely around her shoulders. Her eyes were wide.

“Hi-Hijikata-san!” she finally croaked.

“What were you thinking?” he snapped as he stepped further into the room and slammed the shoji shut behind him.

“I…” she looked pale, and he could see a fine tremor in her slender fingers.

“Didn’t I tell you not to go wandering out at night alone?”

Hijikata knelt at the foot of Chizuru’s futon, using the distance to keep himself from doing something physical to express his ire. Chizuru’s eyes sparkled with tears, and she closed them with a shake of her head.

“I just wanted…” she paused, drawing a deep breath. Her eyes opened, and he saw the fire of determination burning brightly in them. “If my father hadn’t involved you all in his horrible experiment, then Sannan-san and Heisuke-kun wouldn’t be those creatures. They wouldn't be suffering! If my blood can cure it, then…”

“Stop,” he ordered harshly.

Chizuru looked down at her hands. Hijikata took another deep breath, heaving his shoulders, trying to quell his temper. “How do you know your blood will cure the madness?”

“I…I don’t. But Sannan-san recovered his senses quickly after he…” a shiver crawled up her spine. “And Sannan-san did tell me that he felt it would.”

“But he doesn’t know either,” Hijikata said as he closed his eyes, bunching the fabric of his grey hakama in his hands.

Chizuru shook her head. “But that’s why he needs to run experiments.”

Hijikata’s eyes flew open into narrow slits. “No one asked you to make such a sacrifice.”

“But Sannan-san has a point!” Chizuru argued, her cheeks turning pink. “I think you all consider me one of the Shinsengumi. So, why is it okay for everyone else to pledge their lives and not me?”

Hijikata turned his head away with a huff and folded his arms, sliding his hands deep into his sleeves. “Because I…”

He could feel heat begin to spread in his cheeks. His heart was hammering. He knew exactly why he wouldn’t allow Chizuru to sacrifice herself, but he wasn’t ready to share the deep-seeded affection he held for her. What could he tell her instead?

He turned his head to make eye contact with her. “Do you honestly think Sannan-san’s experiments will benefit all of the Shinsengumi?”

“I…” Chizuru’s mouth remained open as if she was attempting to say more, but the words were trapped. “Wouldn’t it?”

“Think of how many people would be dependent on one person’s blood. I can’t allow them to use you in that fashion. You’re more than just your blood, Chizuru.” And that was all he was willing to say regarding his own feelings towards the headstrong young woman.

Chizuru’s cheeks flushed further. “Hijikata-san…”

He could tell her determination was faltering. He sighed and unwound his hands from his sleeves. “I don’t want you to be wandering out at night by yourself, especially near Sannan-san.”

“But-”

“If you can do that for me,” his voice rose above hers to cut her off, “then…I’ll see how you can help.”

Chizuru was shocked into a momentary silence. “Really?”

“Don’t make me regret saying so,” Hijikata grumbled as he stood up.

He made his way to the shoji and was stopped by Chizuru’s gentle voice.

“Thank you, Hijikata-san.”

He glanced back at her over his shoulder, discerning hope shining in her eyes. He sighed and gave her a quick nod before leaving her.

“God help the man who ends up as her husband,” Hijikata mumbled as he returned to his room to endless paperwork.