Letters to Edo

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August, 1864

"So, Itou-san in the Shinsengumi, huh?" Heisuke asked. He had wondered what Kondo, Hijikata, and San'nan had called him in for.

"He's a gifted swordsman, and a splendid debater, which both Heisuke and San'nan-kun acknowledge," Kondo said.

"Yes, but Itou-san is an imperial nationalist of the Mito City tradition," San'nan reminded him. "Can he fit in with us Shinsengumi?"

"What? If you speak to him of our purpose, he's sure to join forces with us," Kondo said confidently. "Heisuke, you were Itou-sensei's fellow pupil. I'd ask you to speak with him. I will make for Edo later."

"Yeah. Got it," Heisuke said confidently. San'nan bowed his head, still feeling uneasy about the idea. Although Hijikata said nothing, he, was less than thrilled about the idea, especially after seeing San'nan's reaction.


San'nan had quietly left the meeting and was making his way back to his room, when someone called out to him from  behind. "Have you been doing those rehabilitation exercises I gave you?"  Sumiko asked. She had been looking out the window of her room as he  passed and decided to step out onto the porch to speak to him for a moment after noting how down he seemed. It's not like she had anything  better to do since they wouldn't let her go on patrol until her wound  finished healing. "I told you in the beginning it would take time to get back to normal. Don't worry about using a sword for now. You'll do yourself more harm than good if you try to overdo it. Just focus on those exercises I gave you." San'nan turned to face her.

"Nothing gets past you, does it, Miyagawa-san?" he asked with a wan smile. "Where did you learn to read people so well? Is it because you're a doctor?"

"Partly, but mostly it's because I grew up in an orphanage," she replied calmly. "You have to learn how to tell who you're dealing with quick if you don't want to end up going home with an adult who's got a bad personality. It can be hard to prove you're being abused if they're smart about it. I figured that out the hard way."

"Your parents abused you?" San'nan asked, surprised. But she always spoke so fondly of them...

"No, not them. The man before," she said, frowning. "I had to runaway when I realized it wasn't a daughter, but a punching bag that he wanted... That's how I met the Miyagawas, actually. I cut myself breaking a glass window to get out. It was pretty bad, so when I saw their clinic, I decided to risk going in. When they asked me how I got hurt, I told them the truth, and they believed me. They helped me get away from that man and eventually ended up adopting me. I guess they got  attached after investing so much in my welfare... Anyway, enough of the sob story. The point is, even when things seem bad, there's always a chance that they can still get better. So, don't give up, okay?" she said, turning to go back inside her room.


Meanwhile, Chizuru was out on patrol with Saito's group. The sun was beginning to set on Kyoto. Looking at the ruined remains of all the buildings damaged in the fire, Chizuru couldn't help but wish Sumiko was there with her. However, since it was only just recently that the older girl recovered from the wound on her back, Hijikata-san had insisted she wait a few more days before going out on a patrol, even though Sumiko kept stubbornly insisting she was fine. Chizuru smiled slightly at the memory of the indignant look on her friend's face while she had unsuccessfully tried to argue against the strict vice-commander. However, her smile faded when she saw the refugees wandering the streets. So many people had lost their homes...

"Um, Saito-san!" Chizuru said, speaking up.

"What is it?" he asked, stopping to look back at her.

"May I go speak to those people over there?" she asked, glancing over at a message board where people were looking at lists for the missing and dead and notes from survivors left to tell friends and family where to find them. "They may know of my father."

"We can't spare much time, though," Saito told her. They were supposed to be returning to headquarters soon.

"Hai!" Chizuru said, nodding, before dashing off without wasting any time.

Unfortunately, none of those people had seen her father either.

"Are you all right, Yukimura?" Saito asked, seeing how subdued the normally cheerful girl was.

"Hai," Chizuru replied.

"If you feel ill, say something soon."

"Huh?"

"We can't have you push yourself so hard that you collapse."

Chizuru smiled, understanding that it was Saito's way of showing concern for her. She was a bit more cheerful the rest of the way back to headquarters.


The next day Sumiko and Chizuru were doing the laundry by the well in the courtyard when Heisuke approached them.

"Chizuru! Sumiko!" he called out to get their attention.

"Heisuke-kun," Chizuru said, standing up. "What is it? Why are you dressed like that?" He looked like he was ready to go on a long journey.

"Going somewhere?" Sumiko asked.

"Yeah," Heisuke replied with a smile. "Will you tell me where your house in Edo is?" he asked Chizuru.

"Huh? Yes, but... Why?" Chizuru asked, blinking.

"I have to go to Edo for member recruitment," he said.

"Member recruitment?" Sumiko asked.

"Yeah. People have started to respect the things we've done, so the area we protect has been expanded," he explained.

"Is that so? Amazing!" Chizuru said with open admiration.

"Mm. Congratulations!" Sumiko said, smiling. Heisuke smiled.

"I'll investigate Koudou-san as much as I can, too, so hold out hope," he said.

"Yeah! Okay, hold on a minute," Chizuru said excitedly, running back inside for a minute.

"Thanks, Heisuke. Be right back," Sumiko said, following after her. The two girls each made a quick note. Chizuru made one for her father, and Sumiko made one for Matsumoto-sensei in case he had returned to Edo. She figured he might know something since he and Chizuru's father were friends.

"If you make it to our neighborhood and mention Yukimura, the Western doctor, everyone is sure to know him," Chizuru said as she placed her letter in Heisuke's hand.

"And if you have the time, this one is for Matsumoto-sensei," Sumiko said, handing over her letter as well. "His clinic is a couple of blocks away. He may know something if he's back, but if he's not, you can just leave this letter for him."

"Okay," Heisuke said accepting the letters.

"Well, thank you very much," Chizuru said humbly as both girls bowed to show their appreciation.

"Okay, I'm off," he said, smiling as he lifted his hat.

"Take care of yourself, okay?" Sumiko called after him.

"Yeah," he said, waving goodbye, as he left.

"Good for you, Chizuru," Sumiko said, grinning, as she hugged the younger girl.

"Un!" Chizuru said, smiling happily. Since they couldn't find her father in  Kyoto, maybe he had already returned to Edo. She really hoped Heisuke would be able to find him.

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