Disclaimer: This story and its characters are based on the English visual novel game, Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. This doesn't really concern the anime though I have heard that they are very similar.
Warning: This story will contain spoilers and continues on from where the Chikage Kazama story arc ends. It also takes elements from all the other story arcs, so there will be spoilers from all of them.
The Woods Are Dark and Deep
by Blue Jeans
In the aftermath of the kiss and his promise, I touched my lips, feeling his warmth linger. "Kazama-san...?"
He smiled down at me silently. Slowly, I felt a smile touch my lips again, more naturally and more warmly this time than the last. My fingers fell away and I dropped my hand to my side. I looked up at him in wonder, unable to mask the surprise on my face.
Finally, I blinked and shifted my gaze shyly away. My eyes landed on the flag I still cradled to my body. It broke me out of my dreamy daze and made me remember the reality of why I was here. Why, only moments ago, tears had fallen unendingly from my eyes and dried on my cheeks. Even now I could still feel the tracks they left behind.
"Kazama-san, do you know where...?" I paused, my voice stronger but still soft. I swallowed the pain and uncertainty and met his gaze again, taking strength in his presence. "Do you know where Hijikata-san... died?" I forced the last word out, trying to contain the tears and the sudden sadness that pierced me again with the reality of this loss. "C-can you show me?" I asked. With him by my side I could find the courage to do this. Perhaps, even this terrible goodbye could be said with dignity.
Kazama watched me, slowly blinking. I looked back, suddenly aware again of how long his lashes were and the shadows they casted upon his face. Finally, he nodded, not at all as hotly self-conscious as I suddenly felt. He turned, probably in the direction of Benten Fortress, where he had told me earlier that Hijikata was headed when the other was shot.
At first, I could only clutch at the torn fabric in my hands and stumble after Kazama, trying hard not to think of the past too much. A part of me did not want to cry any more in front of him, but a part of me could not help but remember the Shinsengumi in their blue-white jackets, patrolling the streets on days like this one.
This was a foreign place in comparison to Kyoto, but in the silence I remembered Saito's quiet patrols so vividly that I could almost feel him next to me. However, as the walk stretched on, I found myself looking around me and noting the differences. With each passing step, I realized that we were probably retracing Hijikata's last moments. Finally, Kazama stopped and waited for me to catch up to him.
"Here?" I asked, almost reverently, once I stopped beside him.
He surveyed the area, a thoughtful look on his face, and finally nodded. "I cannot guarantee this is the exact spot," Kazama acknowledged, his face impassive. He did not continue but I understood what he meant. Having been shot down from his horse on his way to aid Benten Fortress, Hijikata died along this road. While the exact spot was not certain now that some time has already passed, it was as likely as any other spot on this road where a shooter would have found Hijikata in range.
I crouched and touched the ground, closing my eyes briefly and holding the torn flag to my chest, I wanted to be indifferent to this once-frightening man who had kidnapped me and forced me to stay with the Shinsengumi. I also wanted to be angry. Angry at him for leaving me behind that fire-filled night, for probably thinking I had died that evening when canons and guns rained down on the Ministry. I wanted to be angry at him for dying alone... for dying at all. Yet, despite what I wanted, all I could feel was the regret of knowing his presence was truly gone from this world and that none of us had been there for him when it had happened.
To each of us in the Shinsengumi, we had all depended on him so much that it was impossible to think of the Shinsengumi without thinking of Hijikata. To realize that in the end, despite all that he had done for each of us and the organization, here was where he had passed on alone. It was a depressing thought. Even in the face of such adversity, Hijikata had never failed to give us his all-
I could feel the tears again, prickling my eyes.
Perhaps it was for Hijikata this feeling rose inside of me, or it may have been for the dream of the Shinsengumi that he embodied till his dying breath, but now he was truly gone. With him and his imposing presence fading into the air around us, I knew that my days living within that dream were also over. The past was scattered to the winds and most of those pieces were claimed by death, never to resurrect itself again except in memory.
I finally managed to blink back the tears.
I wasn't angry anymore that he had left or sad that he had died alone, instead, I prayed. Someday, I silently wished, perhaps in a different life, Hijikata-san, I hope we can meet again. I hope to walk beside you again, beside the Shinsengumi again. To me, you would always embody the honor and the courage of the samurai spirit.
I raised my face to the sky and opened my eyes. Looking up, I saw the crimson spreading overhead. I looked at the last thing he must have seen in this life as he died on the cold ground and hoped that my prayers would reach him when I had not been able to when he needed me most.
Kazama waited patiently for me to finish. The wind was getting chillier and the night was coming on. The sky darkened and I finally rose, looking to him after I straightened. "I'm ready," I told him, surprised to hear my voice as steady as it sounded. I had said my important goodbyes and it was time now, to start a new life. Hijikata would expect no less of me.
He smiled at my tone and turned. When I dusted off my jacket, I trailed off after him as he led me back to the inn we were staying at while on this trip. Like he had said earlier, preparations have already been made on his behalf to scatter his clan into hiding so that while he still knew where to find his people, the humans would have difficulties tracking them down.
To deter the humans from tracking me and confirming my identity as a female demon, he revealed that he had left Amagiri with a letter for Sen. "You can meet up with her in Edo, that is where Amagiri was headed and her last known whereabouts. I have informed her that you would stay there and wait for her." Kazama told me all of it that evening over dinner. "I know that you two have become friends." His smile showed his approval. "I still have business that will separate us for a while and I will be leaving for the mainland tomorrow, but as soon as I am done dealing with the humans, I will join you there. Right now, it is safer for you to be with others like us as quickly as possible. Do you have a place to stay to wait for her?"
I thought immediately of my home in Edo. I did not want to go back, but if worse comes to worse, I could stay there. I could also go see Dr. Matsumoto, who had previously extended an invitation to visit him whenever I was in Edo. I knew, if I went there that I would be alright. "Yes," I answered Kazama, and then I informed him of my thoughts on the matter. "How will Sen find me?" I wondered.
Kazama only smiled. "She will. That you do not need to concern yourself with."
He fell into silence again, thinking. I had realized earlier that Kazama had not wanted the humans to see us interact any more than necessary. Granted, his earlier kiss had been somewhat of a surprise especially because of this. Already my presence was causing some worry on his end. I never realized, until this moment, the different qualities to Kazama's silence.
Always I had been preoccupied with either my previous perceptions of him from the past or with my thoughts concerning the Shinsengumi. Now, I was free to be aware of him, the Kazama of the present. This time, in my eyes, Kazama was without the shadows of the past hanging off of his gestures and words.
I felt my cheeks heat again at the intensity of his gaze when our eyes met but nodded acknowledgement to his instructions on what boat and coach to take to get me to Edo. While Kazama had clearly stated earlier that he would let me think over his proposal, I did not doubt his sincerity or his determination.
Ever since that kiss I could also not doubt that my heart skipped a beat every time our eyes met. Granted, while I sometimes still found him to be incredibly arrogant, he was never ill-meaning nor as evil as I had first thought him when we had met. In fact, Kazama was a lot like the men of the Shinsengumi, Hijikata especially. He'd probably be insulted if I ever voiced this observation, but the fact is Kazama was probably just as stiffly honorable and strict with his morals as Hijikata was on his worst days. In fact, Hijikata's nickname in the Shinsengumi was rapidly taking on a whole new meaning for me the longer I spent time with Kazama.
On our last trip to Edo and from Edo to Ezo, despite spending a lot of time together, we had spent the majority of the trip not really talking to each other. Amagiri's presence was appreciated up until now, but I was slowly realizing it made no difference. Kazama had kept mostly to himself, and I had a lot on my mind anyway. Over time, I had started to relax around him more and more, trusting him to not harm me and to keep me safe from human interference. However, I felt now as if I was actually looking at him as a man. Well, maybe not a man, but a grown male who... who kissed me. I was seeing him for the first time and realizing that all this time, while I was right to fear him, I had also completely overlooked how attractive he was.
It was a good thing because it was probably a testament of how scary he could get when he wanted to be.
I was seeing him now, not as a demon or a traveling companion, but as someone who could come to mean so much more to me.
I tried to hide the shock of my revelations as best as I could while we went over some of his plans, but Kazama had always been too observant for comfort and I wasn't sure how successful my attempt was. Finally, as the moon rose high in the sky, he gave me two traveling tickets and a letter. At least I assumed it was a letter. The sheet of paper was slipped in with my tickets and I queried him with a look before unfolding it. I flattened the sheet, suspicious of the glint in his eyes as he watched me do it.
When I saw what it was, my eyes narrowed and I couldn't help but shoot him a glare.
He had, apparently, drew me a map of both how to get to the port from where we were currently residing, and a second map of how to find a travelling coach company that would be headed for Edo. When I looked up this time, I caught a fleeting smirk on his lips before it disappeared into unsmiling innocence. "I didn't want you to get lost," he said in that dead-pan voice that hid any humor that continued to sparkle in his eyes.
He raised a challenging brow, but all I could do was frown at him. After all, how could I begrudge him for trying to be helpful, though I begrudged him quite a bit for the amusement he was getting out of it. While I had been oblivious to Kazama's habits and thoughts, he seemed to have accurately observed some of my own failings.
Even after living in Kyoto for almost three years, the Shinsengumi were always amazed at how easily I could get lost in the city. Even when delivering messages to the most common of places, so long as I was not familiar with it, I would usually get hopelessly lost. Eventually, Hijikata would have to send someone after me to lead me to my destination and then back to head-quarters. It had gotten to the point that Hijikata had just taken up the habit of drawing maps for me whenever he knew it wasn't going to be a straight-line from the Shinsengumi's to wherever I was going. As much as it gulled me to admit it, I was hopelessly bad with figuring out where I was without landmarks I could recognize and I was always thankful for the maps. This time, however, I couldn't help but be put off by Kazama's smugness, knowing he was well aware of my surprise at his rather accurate observation.
"Thank you," I finally managed to ground out reluctantly and tucked everything away. While I had been sad at the thought of parting from him earlier, all of a sudden I couldn't wait to get away. Seeing my ire, Kazama finally stopped trying to hide his smile. It was a very attractive but irritating smile, and he must have had an inkling concerning the root of my growing annoyance because he was still smiling when he finally got up to lead me to my room.
I was beginning to miss the past when Kazama would go for days on end without so much as quirking his lips once in my direction.
When we parted that night, Kazama had looked at me for a long, uncomfortable moment as we stood in front of my room. It was almost as if he was memorizing my face. I wanted to look away at first because it had felt so intimate, but I quickly realized that I might also not see him for some time, as well. This thought allowed me to let go of my earlier feelings of irritation and embarrassment.
I looked back up at him.
Shyly, I traced the line the moonlight left along his face and tried to remember the shade of his skin under the warm glow the lamp light. I wasn't bold enough to hold his gaze for long, but I held on to the image of him at that moment as best as I could. The soft strands of his hair framing his face, the strength in his gaze looking back at me, the thinness of his lips showing how unhappy he was at our parting that reflected how I felt as well, and the shadows along the muscles along his lean neck as my eyes slid down his chest to come to rest on his elegant fingers resting on his belt, near his katana. I tried to remember all of this, but I wasn't sure if my memory could ever do him justice. His presence was just so strong, even when it had stopped being so terrifying.
"I will see you as soon as this is over," he promised again.
I blinked, almost as if in a dream as my gaze swept up and lingered on his lips, too shy to do more than hope. "Th-thank you, Kazama-san," I finally said softly instead, unable to say goodbye and unable to do more than wonder if he would kiss me again. I had said enough goodbyes this day and I knew I would see him again. The kiss... it burned its memory into me, making me wonder when the next one would come and how it might be the same... how it might be different.
He didn't kiss me again, instead he tilted his head to study me. I knew I could trust his words. I would see him again. Kazama was not a man to go back on his promises nor was he one to lie, these were the first qualities I recognized in him and the first ones I truly liked and admired about him. It was how I had come to trust him, really.
"Good night," he said gently, "Chizuru," he added with only the slightest pause of hesitation. It sounded as if he tasted my name as he spoke it. Even though he had said already that we were not strangers, even though he had kissed me in broad daylight, in public where anyone could have seen, my name on his lips was more intimate than anything he could have done up to that point. I blushed again and hoped that the lamp light would not show it as clearly as I felt it, but I also didn't refuse the warm familiarity in his words or the gentleness in his voice.
"Go-good night... Chikage," I answered, almost in a whisper. I gave him a final shy smile and entered my room.
That night, I held that last moment close to my heart. The warm glow from the memory of his voice allowed me to not cry in the dark, despite the goodbyes I had to say to the past in the light of the day.
To be continued...