Disclaimer: I do NOT own Hakuouki or anything related to it.
"There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness."
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Chizuru wasn't sure whether to be amused or exasperated by the trio's antics.
By now, she decided, it was reasonable to feel both. Shinpachi and Heisuke were playfully arguing about who was the stronger of two. Well, it seemed playful until Shinpachi tackled Heisuke and they began rolling around the floor, cursing and trying to overpower each other. Harada pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed deeply.
The redhead sent her an apologetic look."Sorry you have to see this, Chizuru."
"I'm used to it, Harada-san. I'm sure you are too," she said.
He snorted."Yeah, well, I'm familiar enough with these idiots to know when to intervene before they seriously hurt each other." As if on cue, Heisuke yelled at Shinpachi for almost breaking his arm. Harada stood up and went to separate the pair, holding each man by the ear.
"Ow, damn it, Sano, what, are you trying to rip my ear off?!" Shinpachi whined.
"And why you gotta do this to me?" Heisuke whined, pointing at Shinpachi."He started it."
"Quiet, both of you." Harada sounded like he was scolding a pair of children rather than two grown men, and their complaints as he tightened his grip on their ears did not make them seem any less immature.
Chizuru giggled as she brought her teacup to her lips. Since her discovery about the Water of Life and the Furies, the real reason for the Shinsengumi offering her protection and aid in finding Kodo in exchange for silence, she had slowly but surely gained more freedom. Hijikata didn't outright declare that she was free to wander as she pleased, but he didn't scold her or glare at her if he saw her doing so, and had allowed her to actually fulfill some of her duties as his page. So while there was still tension, it was mostly between the leaders and Itou instead of being related to her.
Earlier today, Harada, Heisuke, and Shinpachi had asked her if she wanted to spend some time with them. Heisuke and Harada had been friendly and kind to her from the start, the latter having taken her out on a brief walk early into her house arrest and the former always trying to find a way to cheer her up. Shinpachi, though not as open as his friends all the time, acted like the older brother she'd never had. Ergo, she didn't hesitate to accept their invitation.
Heisuke and Shinpachi yelped as Harada continued to scold them and squeeze their ears, promising they would behave. Harada likely knew they would repeat this behavior in the near future, but released them. Heisuke crawled away from his friends and moved to be near Chizuru. He pouted as he massaged his aching ear; Shinpachi did the same. Meanwhile, a unsympathetic Harada had returned to enjoying his sake.
Lowering her teacup, Chizuru scooted closer to Heisuke."Are you okay, Heisuke-kun?" She touched his arm, worried that he hadn't been exaggerating about the injury his friend nearly gave him.
Grinning, Heisuke placed his hand over hers."Don't worry, Chizuru. It'll take a lot more than Shinpachi's drunk, clumsy ass to take me down." He puffed up his chest and jabbed a thumb against his chest, appearing to be the very picture of pride.
Shinpachi scoffed."Your pleas for mercy a second ago suggested otherwise." Harada did not look up from his cup as he smacked Shinpachi upside the head."Ow! Come on, Sano!"
Heisuke pointed at Shinpachi and laughed, causing Harada shoot him a stern look and start to stand up. Heisuke didn't hesitate to hide behind Chizuru.
Though there were still many questions to be answered regarding her father's status and whereabouts and his involvement with the Shinsengumi, Chizuru could honestly say that she was glad those questions led her here.
Speaking of her father's involvement, she had been thinking much about the Furies lately. The topic never completely escaped her mind, of course, but since her encounter with Sanan a few weeks ago, it had occupied her thoughts more often.
No, that wasn't necessarily true. Her father, the Furies and the Water of Life were crucial concerns of hers, but at the center of her mind was Sanan. The rumors about a ghost roaming their headquarters had faded and she hadn't seen him or heard anything about him since then. She knew his inner conflict had eased thanks to her, but still she worried about him. His burden was perhaps the hardest out of all the Shinsengumi men. As he said, most of the other Furies transformed before he modified the serum and even then he'd come close to killing her.
She suppressed a shudder. The terror she'd felt as he choked her, as he looked at down at her with that sadistic, bloodthirsty gaze haunted her dreams, yet it stood no chance against her faith in him. She hadn't known him as long as the others, but something in her insisted that he would not, could not be overcome by this madness and loneliness. And he had proven her right. He released her, he survived drinking that cursed medicine, and he swore to her that he would not give up. She didn't doubt him; he could and would pull through. And if he struggled again, she would do what she could to help him, however little that meant...
"You okay, Chizuru?" Harada asked. She'd been so lost in her thoughts that she failed to notice her own body language and facial expressions which caught the attention of her friends. Heisuke and Shinpachi were giving her concerned looks while Harada had walked over to her and rested his hand atop her head.
She ducked her head to hide her blush."Oh yes, I'm fine." She finished her tea and cleared her throat."Um, I think I'm just tired. I should turn in." She stood, bowed, and speed-walked to the door."Thank you for the invitation. I'll see you all in the morning. Good night."
She ignored their concerned expressions as she slid the shoji closed. She breathed in the cool night air and started heading to her room. She didn't make it far, stopping to lean against a wall and gather her thoughts. The time for lights out was not another hour or so and seeing as she wasn't an official member of the Shinsengumi and merely followed the rules out of courtesy nowadays, she had some free time. At this point, she'd earned enough trust to not be scolded for being out of one of the captain's supervision, and if there was an issue, she would allow someone to escort her to her room.
"Sanan-san," Chizuru whispered, putting a hand over her aching heart and directing her gaze to the stars in the sky.
She knew he was strong, that he would persevere, yet she feared for him, for the pain he would have to endure...
She clenched her hand into a fist and closed her eyes as she pushed her cheek into the wall.
The determination in his voice and on his face in response to her encouragement for him to remember he was alive and his vow not to give up made her so proud and sad for him. Perhaps he would not care what she had to do or say about it, but she was honest in her promise to support him however she could. Would he want her support? She stiffened. Though she had gotten to know these men rather well by now and vice versa, Sanan was the one she interacted the least with. She wondered if that minimal amount of interaction was the reason she sought to be closer to him, to get to know the man behind the sarcastic remarks and cool smile. That glimpse she'd gotten when she held his hand and urged him not to call himself a ghost strengthened that desire for closeness.
Chizuru sighed. What right did she have to seek intimacy with Sanan? She meant nothing to him, she was just a girl who had offered him kind, encouraging words and happened to be the daughter of the man responsible for the situation he and his comrades faced. Her father, this was all because of him, and she owed it to these men who had spared her life and protected her to do everything in her power to atone for the sins her father committed.
The sound of footsteps snapped her back to reality. Gasping, she turned toward the direction of the sound. It had been faint, barely audible, but the silence of the night made it easy to hear. Could it be...?
She spotted a familiar silhouette under a tree. Her heart skipped a beat, and she covered her mouth with her hand.
"Sanan-san?" Should she approach him? Ask him how he was doing? Would he want to interact with her?
Steeling herself, Chizuru made her way toward him and softly called his name. His eyes flickered from the sky to her. A cordial smile spread across his face.
"Hello, Yukimura-kun," he said."It seems it was your turn to catch me off guard."
Chizuru smiled as she approached him."The rumors have faded, though Itou-san insists he is not imagining things." She crossed her arms, adopting a playfully reproachful expression."He claims to hear a voice whispering his name at his window, and a laugh whenever he moves."
Sanan inclined his head."My, my, that is quite the recurring nightmare he suffers from. Has he been overindulging in sake lately?"
Chizuru shrugged."Hijikata-san and Kondou-san seem to think so. Unless, of course, there are other possibilities?"
"None that I have heard," Sanan said wryly."It has been a while since they paid me a visit."
Her amusement faded at the hint of sadness in his tone. She uncrossed her arms and stepped forward, twiddling her thumbs."Well, you three are quite busy. You have your hands full with the Fury Corps and they have their own duties. I'm sure they'll come see you as soon as they have a free moment."
"Hmm. Yes, I'm certain." The sadness in his smile matched that from his voice.
The way he acted and spoke was almost identical to that night...
In an instant, Chizuru was beside him, surprising both of them. She tentatively reached for his hand and he extended it for her to take. Their fingers entwined.
Neither of them spoke, words not coming as easily to her as they had during their last encounter, so she settled for squeezing his hand and offering a warm smile.
They stayed like that for awhile before Sanan broke the silence.
"Shouldn't you be with Toudou-kun or Harada-kun?" He raised his eyebrows as he posed the question to her. Confusion and curiosity were clear in his tone of voice, but there was something else there that she couldn't pinpoint. Or maybe she did have an idea. The word started to form in her brain...
She shook her head, both to dismiss the idea/word and in response to Sanan's question.
"Did you hear that Heisuke-kun, Harada-san, and Nagakura-san had invited me to drink with them?" She asked.
"I said nothing about Nagakura-kun," Sanan stated."Though I know you are friendly with him, you have always been closer to Toudou-kun and Harada-kun. Therefore, I assumed you would be spending time with one of them."
Again she detected that third emotion and again she dismissed the possibility. Surely she was imagining it. What reason did Sanan have to feel that emotion about her of all people? It was as strange a thought as her concern for him, but Sanan wasn't like her. None of the men were like her and though she was starting to get used to how things worked here, it didn't change the fact that she was a person of different background and morals. At least, it still seemed that way to her.
"You were with them today, then." A statement, not a question. Sanan was gazing at her with a sternness in his eyes and the tiniest hint of that emotion she had heard when he was speaking a moment ago. Glancing at their joined hands, she frowned when his grip loosened slightly. She tightened her own grip and looked back up at him nervously.
"W-Well," she said, biting her lip."I just left them, actually." She looked him in the eye and stated with complete honesty and as much calmness as she could muster with the butterflies in her stomach,"I was worried about you and...thinking about you when I noticed you out here, so I..." She gestured to him, knowing further explanation was unnecessary.
"I...see." His facial features and tone of voice had settled back into his usual coolness. If not for the darkness of the night, she could have sworn she saw a relieved smile flash very briefly across his countenance. For the third time now that word popped into her mind and become harder to suppress.
"Sanan-san." She was gripping his hand in both of hers now."I know I'm not...the ideal person for this or well, anything you're going through, but if you ever need to talk, my door is always open to you."
Sanan blinked at her, then smiled."Thank you, Yukimura-kun." Warmth filled his voice and facial features."I will keep that in mind."
She didn't know how long they stayed outside together in comfortable silence, only that she didn't want this to end, but reality struck, of course, when Sanan ended the quietude between them.
"It is getting late," he said."Come, I will escort you to your room."
She nodded, glad that he did not let go of her hand as they walked to her room. When they reached their destination, her released her and bid her good night before turning to leave.
Unable to suppress that thought any longer, even for another second, she stopped him with a soft utterance of his name."Sanan-san?"
He glanced at her over his shoulder."Yes?"
"When you asked me about Harada-san and Heisuke-kun, I couldn't help but think that you sounded...jealous." She gave a forced chuckle immediately after saying this. He went completely still as he processed what she said, and she began to grow nervous.
Suddenly, Sanan spun around and marched toward her. He grasped her shoulder, drew her close to him, and pressed his lips to her forehead. Her eyes went wide and she gasped.
"Perhaps I was," he whispered against her forehead before releasing her. He smiled faintly at how obviously shocked she was by what he'd done and said,"Sweet dreams, Yukimura-kun." No sooner had he uttered those words, than he had left and was gone from her sight.
For several moments, Chizuru stood there, clutching her chest as her heart pounded inside her chest and covering the spot his lips had touched with her fingers.
Eventually, she entered her room and closed the door, though her heartbeat did not calm for another few minutes. She slid down to the floor into sitting position and replaced her palm on her forehead.
"Sanan-san," she murmured into the darkness."Do I really mean something to you?"