Chizuru remained silent as she and Kazama walked to their room on the night of their wedding. Their footsteps, echoing off the walls of the Kazama palace, attempted to break the calm with their repetitive, constant reminder of what now belonged to her: the Kazama name, the hand of Chikage in marriage, the responsibility of producing an heir. The castle was too cold to call home.
Pearly folds draped over the newly-appointed matriarch’s arms and onto the floor, entangling between her feet as she struggled to drudge through its weight. Surprisingly, Kazama slowed his pace enough for her to catch her balance and begin again her march, all without aiding her. The latter was to be expected. This didn’t make his indifference hurt any less.
Finally, the silence choked an inquiry out of her. “Was all of this worth it?”
Kazama stopped, basking in the lull of flickering candles and the night wind blowing against the walls of the castle. “And what would you mean by that, my bride?” asked he.
A chill slithered up Chizuru’s spine. Where had the warm, joyful lull of his voice as he recited his wedding vows gone, she wondered? Where was the genuine smile he openly displayed during the ceremony? All that remained was the cold void of where it used to be.
“I mean this marriage, this pact. All of it. Was it worth coming after me day after day when I was in the Shinsengumi?” A remnant of her nearly-forgotten frustration rose in her throat, causing her to burn beneath the layers of her shiromuku.
Once more, Kazama didn’t answer right away. Instead, he began to walk again, his pace quicker and, from what Chizuru erroneously assumed to be, spurned on from anger. “I would say so,” he mused, and then shot a glance to Chizuru. “What about you?”
Chizuru blinked in surprise. “What do you mean by that?”
Kazama refused to meet the eyes that so desperately wanted his own. Instead, he planted his gaze on a vase at the end of the hall. “I mean just that. Was all of this worth it?”
Chizuru furrowed her brow, quickening her pace. He was always like this, either so infuriatingly vague that she didn’t have a clue of what he wanted, or so painfully specific that there was no room for imagination. She could only assume that he meant her time in the Shinsengumi, or all the times she rejected him, or witnessing the deaths of her dearly beloved without any hope in the end of saving them. Their still-fresh memories fooled her that they were alive, happy, soon to come home. They would never return.
Her answer emerged quieter than she had expected: “Yes. I have no regrets.”
Kazama stopped so abruptly that Chizuru nearly bumped into him. His figure stood rigid in the dim candlelight. He turned completely to face her, chin tilted above her head but eyes filled with an emotion that continuously flickered, choked, and died. Again and again, it revived.
“I don’t believe we’re talking about the same subject,” responded he in a low voice. “Was this...” He reached out his hand, causing Chizuru to recoil out of habit. Unfazed, but gentle, he stroked the snow-colored shiromuku that sat regally on her shoulders. “...worth it?”
Chizuru stared at him, gradually deciphering his meaning but unable to process what he wanted her to say. Did he want the truth? But honestly, did she even know the truth?
She did marry him, and she knew herself well enough to know that her stubbornness would prohibit her from doing anything that even remotely went against her wishes. But she also knew herself well enough to know that she was undeniably, excruciatingly lonely. Grief weight down her heart. It tempted to leech any sort of optimism or hope out of her mind completely. Despite this, she held firm to her values, holding dearly onto the memory of the Shinsengumi and the beliefs onto which they gripped even tighter. She was nothing if not stubborn.
And yet, here she was: walking down to her bedroom side-by-side with the man she swore she would never marry.
In the wake of her silence, Kazama began to walk again without a word. Chizuru followed after him, although she trailed behind the flow of his black montsuki-haorihakama. His hand swung empty by his side.
A gentle rain pestered the roof. It mixed in with their echoing footsteps that continued to mock, continued to reverberate throughout every crevice and corner of the palace that sat at Chizuru’s feet alongside the whole of the Kazama clan. Once more, she tripped.
At first, Chizuru thought it was the wind it was so quiet, so unlike his aggressive, arrogant personality. Only at the sound of her name was she thrusted into the emotions that he seldom showed.
“I was asking you if you loved me, Chizuru.”
By now they had reached their destination, the bedroom standing before them with its door as tightly shut as either of their hearts towards each other. At this question, however, Chizuru realized how open his was.
Chizuru locked eyes with her new husband, unable to fully trust him yet completely willing to do so. “I could ask you the same thing,” murmured she. “How do I know you didn’t marry me solely to produce an heir?”
“If I were so pressed for an heir, my dear, I would have chosen that Yase princess.” A mask would have shown more emotion than Kazama’s face at this time. However, his eyes overflowed with honest passion. “But here I stand, now, don’t I?”
The weight of her kimono coupled with the burden of his words felt like it crushed her bones as she stood there, overwhelmed by fervor. Tears welled in her eyes. “Why did you choose me?”
Kazama shook his head, a smirk playing on his lips. “You ask so much,” he muttered. With a hand she did not see, he grasped her own. “And yet, what you request is so little.”
These words, this last statement, revealed the fire that burned and died behind his eyes: sympathy.
“All you wanted was a normal life. You wished to live among the humans, for it was all you knew. It was a lie, and perhaps that is why I chose you: to save you from your delusion. Perhaps it was to tear you away from the man who populated the country fakes and insisted on calling them our kind.” He paused, and this time Chizuru replied.
“But that wasn’t the reason, was it?”
His blond hair trembled when he shook his head. “No, it wasn’t. It was because you requested so little, for a life with which you could be content. You mistakenly put your hope and trust in a group of dogs that were fated to ultimately tear themselves apart. You didn’t know better, even after everything that Yase princess and I told you. You continued chasing your fleeting dreams.”
Chizuru coughed, an attempt at a laugh. “This annoyed you to no end, didn’t it?”
Kazama’s expression did not change. “Watching you hurt yourself and chase an illusion of happiness did so much more than annoy me.”
A gust of wind spawned from the breathless moments between them, choking the candles’ light as to blanket the couple in darkness and hide the tears that stained Kazama’s words. “It killed me.”
In the dim of night, amber embers burned in their irises. Same eyes. Same kin.
Chizuru reached out and grabbed Kazama’s free hand. “That’s why it was worth it.”
Kazama remained silent, either too proud or too caught up in preserving his own emotions to answer. She was beginning to know him well enough, though, to understand that he wanted her to continue.
“I didn’t marry you because I had nothing left and you were some backup plan in the back of my head.”
He laughed at this. “How dare you group me with something as lowly as Plan B.”
Chizuru continued as if she hadn’t heard him, yet the edges of her lips tempted a smile. “Yes, it’s true that I was… I am lonely. But if I merely wanted friendship, I would have spent time with ‘that Yase princess.’ If I merely wanted love, I would have eloped with any of the other men still living in what remains of the Shinsengumi, or one of your other friends who happen to be a lot more polite than you."
Kazama sniffed un-regally. Chizuru chortled nobly.
"I chose you because I loved you.”
Kazama’s grip on his wife’s hand tightened. “An oni doesn’t go back on their word.”
Chizuru squeezed his hand even tighter. “I don’t intend to.”
“Neither do I when I say this," Kazama leaned in closer, his lips softly pressed against her own. His words were warm. "I love you, as well. And I…” Even in the darkness, Chizuru could sense his expression souring at the words dancing on his tongue. His next statement flowed out in a slurred rush. “I’m sorry I didn’t act like it.”
The new bride laughed, leaning her head into his chest. She felt his mighty heart beat once in surprise. “That’s exactly why it was worth it,” she whispered, peering up at him. “It was worth it all to hear you apologize.”
Kazama’s face grew hot, and he snorted. “Don’t expect me to do it again.”
Giggling again, Chizuru sighed. “Oh, one time was all I needed.”
And with that, the door opened.