Summary: There exists no cure for them, but Yukimura Chizuru goes in search of one anyway, by paying a visit to someone unexpected…

Disclaimer: Houtori does not own Hakuouki Shinsengumi Kitan, no matter how much the desire to own all these bishounens is present…

A/N: Highly likely that it's OOC, but the plot bunny latched on doggedly with extremely sharp teeth and wouldn't let go until I gave in… *sighs*

Seeker, Trader, Guardian

"Well, well, well… who do we have here?"

"It has been a while, Honored Lady." Yukimura Chizuru bowed respectfully at the black-clad figure standing at the porch of the old Japanese shop house, maintaining an air of utter politeness and wary admiration. The woman that the brown-haired crossdresser had come to visit smiled amusedly, before gesturing for the other female to enter.

"Maru, Moro, ensure refreshments are prepared for my customer and I," the woman ordered as she proceeded to a nearby room, Chizuru following quietly behind her. The young girl only resumed talking once both parties were seated comfortably and the tea and sake served.

"Forgive my intrusion, but I have a request to ask-" She was abruptly cut off with a swift motion of her hostess' hand, and fell silent as her hostess cleared her current cup of its alcoholic contents before speaking.

"Yukimura-chan, you know as well as I do that I don't grant requests or favors. I merely sell wished with an equivalent price-tag attached." The woman opened yet another bottle of sake and poured a cupful, sipping it slower this round as Chizuru spluttered out a response.

"B-But…! I was just… I merely wanted… Won't you accept a trade?" At this, the woman's eyes sharpened; she placed her cup down firmly (wouldn't want a drop of quality sake to go to waste, after all) and fixed a piercing gaze on the female opposite her. The latter fidgeted slightly under the steel hidden behind the former's gaze before stiffening, her back straight and her eyes conveying some of the despair and desperation hidden within her small frame. Finally the woman sighed.

"You're prepared to pay any price for what you seek?"

"Hai!" No hesitation whatsoever.

"… Very well. Maru, fetch for me the glass bottle on the second-highest shelf in the backroom, the one next to the pink staff." Chizuru started as a little girl dressed all in white appeared at the door and bowed, before disappearing as swiftly as she had appeared. She returned quickly, though, a glass bottle the size of a fist clasped in her hands, and placed it on the table in between the both of them, then left at her dismissal. Chizuru stared at the clear liquid within the bottle, shoulders shaking in anticipation, before looking up and across.

"… Is this it? Is this the cure?" The woman seated opposite her unexpectedly shook her head in an empathic 'No!' before explaining, "There is no cure for such a condition."

The girl blinked. "But isn't that my wish, and thus that which should be granted?"

The woman took a sip. "Ah, but is that really your wish? Think long and hard on that first."

"… I don't understand." Her companion sighed; perhaps she'd overestimated this girl's faculties?

"I won't spell it out for you, Yukimura-chan – that would be too easy – but I will grant you a hint: Would those whom you are staying with appreciate a cure?"

For a long while, no other words were spoken. The lady in the black dress continued drinking, letting her guest-cum-customer sort her thoughts out. On the part, the crossdresser had been busy puzzling out the answers to her hostess' cryptic questions, and now understood what she meant.

At least, she hoped she did.

"… You're not offering me a cure not because there isn't one, but because it's not my wish for one, right? And I don't really desire a cure… because the people I have been staying with won't want one," Chizuru begun quietly, her voice tinged with bitterness and sorrow. Her hostess nodded, gesturing at her to continue.

"In a way, they want what the ochimizu gives them: the increased strength, the extra speed, and the faster healing powers. However, like humans do, they want only the advantages, and not its drawbacks: the dependence on blood, the weakness to daylight and the eventual descent into insanity. So, maybe, what this bottle contains is not a cure to their condition, but a cure to its side-effects?"

"… Hm, not bad, Yukimura-chan." The girl in question smiled, triumphant at being correct, but the woman was not finished. "But not entirely accurate, though close."

"Humans are not meant to become what you consider Oni, Yukimura-chan. You know this, and hence you acknowledge that in order to become one, or something similar, a price must be paid. As such, your wish is not a cure for its side-effects, but rather a suppression of those – for a time, at least. That is the purpose of the liquid which is contained in this bottle. Now, shall we exchange?"

"… What can I offer you? I don't really own much…"

"Ah, but you do have something of value, or, to be more exact, somethings." The woman lazily pointed at the sword carried by the young girl, whose eyes widened.

"But this isn't really worth much! It's just a sword given to me by my father…" The woman frowned at that.

"That kodachi is worth more than you think, Yukimura-chan. You are aware that you possess the Demon Sword of the East, which in turn recognizes your status as a Guardian?"

"… The Demon Sword of the East? … That's kinda what Kazama-san said too, except he called it the Oni of the East's kodachi…"

"That demon is more perceptive than you think, and also more aggravating." A laugh permeated the room, lightening its atmosphere to a less severe state.

"How well do I know that! He appears at the most unexpected times at the most unexpected places… It's funny to see their reactions, especially Hijikata-san's. I think he regards him as a rival as well as an enemy." The woman made a non-committal noise.

"So, you'll exchange my sword for the cure?" Chizuru asked, placing her kodachi on the table as she did so.

"Partially." A sip then, "Your sword will form the first part of the payment, for it will be returned to you eventually. The second part… well, you'll pay it sooner or later."

"… I will?" For a second, an expression of what seemed like pity or sadness flitted over the woman's features, before vanishing in the next second as if it never existed.

"…No matter what you do, you cannot permanently get rid of the ochimizu's effects, and neither is there any way you can stop them from dying before their time once they become Rasetsu. Knowing that, do you understand the second part now, Yukimura-chan?"

"… Yes."

"Very well, then. Shall we?"

The sun had nearly set by the time Chizuru reached the safety of her own room.

She still could not believe that her secret trip had gone off without a hitch, thanks to what she considered was a combination of incredible timing and sheer pure luck. It had been recklessly daring for her to abruptly slip into the 'hidden' store during one of her messenger routes (that is, delivering messages from one patrol captain to another). Surprisingly enough, no one had questioned her when she finally found Heisuke-kun's patrol, but she figured that her lateness had been acceptable: only a short period of time had passed in that shop, and her excuse of getting lost was credible, since the Shinsengumi had recently moved into their new Headquarters at Nishi Hongan-ji Temple.

A dark thought crossed her mind, unbidden: 'All the better to hide someone away…'

The brown-haired girl shook her head in the next instance, driving it away before it led to more depressing topics, and focused on the menial task of changing from her current, dirty clothes into a fresh new set. She had to hurry; she had been scheduled for kitchen duty today along with Okita-san and Saitou-san, and she didn't want to be late if she could help it. Saitou-san probably would not say anything on the subject, but knowing Okita-san, he would likely threaten to kill her for being late at least once, out of habit.

'Plus, if I get a chance to, I'll start adding the potion into their tea or miso as soon as possible…'

The crossdresser paused at this, a moral dilemma presenting itself to her mind at that. It was actually quite likely that she would have a few chances to do so, for the Captains now trusted her enough to let her handle minor errands and housework without supervision. However, that trust was what she was intending to betray, by adding an unknown substance to their meals when she could against their knowledge.

On the other hand, it was going to be done with good intentions in mind…

'Right, and didn't someone once tell me that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions?'

The girl debated deeply on the issue for a while, before striding to the door and beyond it on her way to kitchens.

And as Yukimura Chizuru hastily mixed a little of the 'cure' into the green tea she was about to serve to them that evening, heeding the instructions she had been given ("It's colorless and odorless, so you can ensure as constant and continuous a dosage as you can give them, Yukimura-chan"), she realized that despite whatever misgivings she had possessed before, they were insignificant compared to the realization that she would do all she could to lessen the burdens of the men she had come to admire and befriend, regardless of the personal price she may have to pay… and would, if it was within her power to do so.

'And you know this all this time, didn't you? So thank you… Yuuko-sama.'

In an old-fashioned house not so far away, the Dimensional Witch finished one last bottle of sake before arising from where she had been seated, a smile adorning her lips as she retired for the night.

And thus another day passed…