Upon their return to headquarters, Chizuru made a beeline for Sannan’s room. Guilt tore at her. It was her fault that Hijikata-san was now a rasetsu, and she was determined to do what she could for the man she was now daring to admit to herself that she loved.
She had never expected him to make such a sacrifice on her behalf, and it made her chest ache to know he was suffering because of her. It was now her duty to ease that suffering. Chizuru was aware that she had no right to ask a favor of Sannan since the night she had approached him and failed to follow through. Still, she hoped that Sannan would be kind.
Chizuru came to the shoji and announced herself. There was a pause that seemed to drag on for much longer than Chizuru imagines before Sannan’s silky voice granted her permission to enter.
The room was brighter than it had been the last time she was here due to the indirect sunlight filtering in through the covered windows. Sannan was seated at his table as per usual, and she could tell by his very straight back and refusal to face her that he wasn’t pleased she was there.
“Yukimura-kun,” he acknowledged, his tone courteous but distant.
“Sannan-san…I know I have no right to ask anything of you, but…but I’m doing this for Hijikata-san. I hope…that you’ll overlook my failings to help him!” She paused to see if he would respond, and when he didn’t, she continued. “He’s…a rasetsu.”
She bowed her head. “I hoped…that you would be sure that he had some of that medicine…to ease the bloodlust?”
Sannan peered at her from over his shoulder. “Of course. But…I am surprised that you would think I would withhold it because you lack resolve.”
Chizuru felt her cheeks burn at his words. “I just…I know Hijikata-san won’t ask for help himself. I thought…you might be upset if I was the one requesting on his behalf.”
Sannan’s answering smile was feral as he finally turned to face her. “Do you know if he’s experienced the bloodlust yet?”
“No. I hoped to get the medicine to him before he does.”
“I see.” Another brief pause. “I will take care of it. If that is all?”
“Yes. Thank you, Sannan-san,” Chizuru said with a deep bow before taking her leave.
* * * * *
Hijikata was exhausted.
He was accustomed to being up for long hours, sometimes not sleeping for days at a time, and he wasn’t about to change his routine just because he was a rasetsu. His work was much too important for him to give in to his need for sleep.
But he had never been a rasetsu. He didn’t realize how much more difficult it would be to maintain his usual routine, and how much more energy it appeared to take for him to maintain that sense of normalcy. Not only was it strenuous to work in the daytime, but no one had warned him of the increased sensitivity to sensory information.
Lights were too bright (especially the sun), scents too pungent, tastes too strong to the point of being unappetizing, his sense of touch was much sharper, and sounds too loud. Everything converged in his mind to create a cacophony of information that did nothing but worsen the headache behind his eyes. Still, he needed to press on with his duties.
What was rather interesting to the Vice Commander was the attacks of bloodlust. Yes, they were somewhat painful, but so far, they seemed manageable. He vaguely wondered if his prior knowledge of the attacks helped, but he didn’t have time to dwell on it.
Hijikata heard her approaching before Chizuru announced herself. He sighed, hoping that if he didn’t answer, she would leave him alone. The last thing he wanted to talk about was the fact that he hadn’t touched his breakfast.
“I’m coming in,” she murmured, though it sounded much louder than it probably was.
As the shoji slid open and Chizuru entered his space, Hijikata was assailed by her unique scent. It had taken him some time to determine what exactly it was that he was smelling, but he had learned that it was of a combination of ume and cinnamon. The bright, floral and fruity scent of ume combined with the spicy sweetness of cinnamon in a way that did nothing but arouse Hijikata.
He realized with some bewilderment that his undergarment had grown uncomfortably tight.
He tried to will the feeling away—control it—but the more he tried to ignore it, the more pronounced his arousal became. His eyes narrowed—the only indication of his discomfiture.
“Hijikata-san, you haven’t eaten anything. You really should or you won’t-“
“I’m fine,” he said through gritted teeth.
He had hoped the fact that she was scolding him would help settle him, but her voice sounded absolutely musical to him and only served to increase his desire for her. He had been aware for some time that she was Oni, and a part of him wondered if his rasetsu blood was responding to that.
Chizuru was silent. Hijikata hoped that it meant she would be leaving soon, and he would get a reprieve from her intoxicating scent. Through the haze of sensory overload, Hijikata could sense a sort of tentativeness in her, like she was debating if she should persist or simply let things go.
“What is it? If you have nothing else to say, leave. I have too much to do.”
Harsh, yes, but Hijikata wasn’t one for sugar-coating things. Then he realized that perhaps he should’ve remained silent because he could tell that Chizuru was going to take his statement as an invitation to stay.
“Hijikata-san, we all know you’ve changed…and while the ochimizu gave you strength, you have limitations too! You have to take care of yourself!”
Hijikata inhaled deeply, and nearly choked on the overwhelming sweetness of ume and cinnamon radiating off of her. He wrinkled his nose to try to deaden the smell, but it didn’t work. Instead, the edges of his vision were going foggy. The intense need to claim her and taste her blood was beginning to grow. For a brief moment, Hijikata thought it unfair that she smelled like his favorite flower and fruit.
But now wasn’t the time for frivolous thoughts. He was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, his skin crawling as heat burned from deep within him. He could feel the beginnings of a cold sweat prickle at the hairline on his forehead and the nape of his neck. He needed her to leave.
“Yukimura…” he groaned as his throat began to tighten, and his control began to slip. “Get…out.”
He felt a wave of pain overtake him, and his hand immediately went to his throat. He gasped and then focused on breathing deeply through the agony, though he quickly realized that each breath only increased his desire to taste Chizuru’s blood. His only option was to hold his breath and try to force her out, even if it would make the pain worse.
“Hijikata-san! You need my blood!”
“N-no!” he managed to exclaim through the pain.
He turned to face her and saw that she had gone to the stand where his swords rested. She pulled Kunihiro from its place and slowly began to slide the blade from its scabbard. A deep yearning filled him at the thought that her blood would soon spill followed by the realization that once that happened, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from indulging.
At any other time, Hijikata would’ve been extremely offended that she had the audacity to touch his sword without permission, but at this time, all he could think about was taking the weapon away before she did something stupid. Doubled over, he shuffled across the room and knocked the sword from her hands. It clattered to the tatami, and he grabbed the front of her kimono. She yelped as he pulled her toward the shoji.
Flinging it open, he spun her forcefully around until she was out of his room. Hijikata loosened his grip and watched with grim satisfaction as she stumbled backward. He took one cleansing breath of the fresh air before slamming the shoji shut and allowed the pain to wash over him.
Hijikata collapsed to the tatami, gasping. His throat burned, and his muscles protested from the effort it took to expel Chizuru. He remained doubled over, his hands clutching his abdomen. His breaths came ragged, and sweat was dripping down his face.
Chizuru’s scent returned, and Hijikata felt the pain escalate. The harrowing cry he released was involuntary, and he heard Chizuru’s sharp gasp.
He heard her sob, and it tore at his heart, though he knew it was because the beast within was screaming for relief. He wouldn’t…couldn’t let her be used like that. Hijikata rolled until he was lying on his side, and he closed his eyes. He continued to try to stifle the sounds of his suffering, but the pain continued to wash over him in waves until he passed out.
When Hijikata came to, night had fallen. He wasn’t sure exactly how much time had passed–a few hours, a day?–but he realized that he felt better than he had earlier. Flashes of what had transpired earlier between him and Chizuru crossed his mind, and he lay still, hoping to determine if she was still around or not. He couldn’t smell her or hear her, so he assumed she had gone to her room.
Just as well.
Hijikata sat up, taking stock of his current state. His clothing was rumpled from lying on the tatami, and he could feel his bangs sticking to his face. He used his fingers to peel them away, deciding a bath would be in order once he had finished this visit with Sannan.
Sannan came in as Hijikata lit the lantern beside his desk. He sat seiza on the cushion, his back to the desk. He gestured to another cushion, and Sannan accepted. The two stared at each other for a moment before Sannan broke the silence.
“How are you?”
“I doubt this is a courtesy visit,” Hijikata said sternly. “I suspect you know how I am.”
Sannan nodded. “I…was told you had an attack earlier.”
Hijikata looked to the side with a humph. “Who told you that?”
They both knew, of course, and Hijikata was annoyed that Chizuru had inserted herself into the situation and had now involved Sannan. Hijikata had a feeling that he knew why Sannan had decided to approach him now, and it was wasn’t for any altruistic reasons.
“Let’s just cut to the chase. Why are you here?”
Sannan smirked. “You were never one for pleasantries, so I’ll indulge you. Nothing really prepares you for the torment that is bloodlust. Though…I admit…I’m rather shocked you had the capability to resist her.”
“She told me she offered her blood to you. It takes a certain type of man to resist something offered so freely when in the throes of bloodlust.” Hijikata merely humphed. “You know…I’m certain that Yukimura’s blood could be the cure for that indescribable pain.”
Hijikata’s eyes narrowed as his head snapped back to Sannan. “If you think I’m going to change my mind just because I’m suffering. I refuse to allow her to be used like that.”
“Why?” Sannan demanded. Hijikata didn’t answer, but they both knew why. “You’ve grown soft,” Sannan spat.
Hijikata snarled at Sannan, a beastly sound that came from deep within. He grabbed the front of Sannan’s kimono, pulling the man toward him until their noses were touching. Sannan bared his teeth with a feral growl.
“Soft?” it was whispered; barely restrained.
“She wants to make this sacrifice. Why not allow her?”
“And let her be the food for the entire Corp? Excuse me for thinking there is more to her than her blood. The Sannan I know wouldn’t have fathomed asking a woman to make such a sacrifice.”
“Or is it because you love her?”
The resulting silence was deafening. Hijikata refused to give Sannan an answer, though they both knew that Sannan’s question was really him voicing what everyone already knew. It was something that Hijikata worked desperately to hide and deny. Sannan sat up, his hand over Hijikata’s. Hijikata released his hold on Sannan’s kimono. Sannan slid a hand into the front of his kimono and withdrew a small folded piece of paper. He offered it to Hijikata.
“I want you to think carefully about what you’re denying not only yourself but myself, Okita-kun and Todo-kun. In the meantime, this will offer temporary relief from the bloodlust.”
Hijikata took the packet. “What is it?”
“Medicine. Yukimura-kun found it in her home. As I said, it’s only a temporary fix. It lessens the intensity but doesn’t satiate.”
Hijikata’s fingers curled around it. He could hear Sannan still trying to argue for Chizuru’s involvement in his experiments, and he wasn’t swayed. Hijikata looked away.
“You may go.”
It was an abrupt dismissal, and one Hijikata was certain Sannan was expecting. Sannan didn’t even bother bowing or tilting his head in any semblance of one, and Hijikata decided the best thing was just to ignore it. The disrespect was obvious, and this was only the beginning. Sannan took his leave.
Hijikata turned and placed the packet in a drawer in his desk. He ran a hand through his hair, exhaling. He wanted to be angrier than he was, but he couldn’t. He knew Chizuru meant well, and while it warmed his heart, he knew that he could never allow Chizuru to give of herself in such a way. And if that conviction soured the relationship between Sannan and himself, then so be it.