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.”
“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?”
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.”
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.
* * * * *
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.”
“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.
This takes place after Hijikata takes the Ochimizu.
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.