"I wish you'd make prescriptions like that more often," Okita said with a laugh and a rueful smile.

"Good night, Okita-san," Sumiko said, smiling wryly, as she turned and headed for her own room. Okita watched her walk away for a few minutes to make sure she was really going before continuing on his way to meet up with San'nan.

"San'nan-san? You still awake?" Okita called through the door.

"Is that you, Okita-kun? You may enter," San'nan replied. Okita slid the door open while balancing the tray and sake in one hand.

"Diligent, aren't you?" he asked when he saw that San'nan was holding a beaker of red liquid. Just as he had thought, San'nan was still working on that medicine. "You won't get anywhere if you get sick doing all this research, though," Okita said, shutting the door behind him.

"No need to worry," San'nan replied calmly. "I've been sick for some time now."

"Yeah, and a certain doctor has noticed," Okita said, setting down the tray from Sumiko. "She was going to come herself before I intercepted her. She knows you're avoiding her. Still, can't have her finding you here and seeing all this, can we?"

"No," San'nan replied a bit more solemnly, narrowing his eyes slightly as he glanced at the rice balls. "Anyway, look at this," he said, showing him the glass container of red medicine. "I've improved the Ochimizu. Theoretically, this should have reduced side-effects."

"Feel like trying it?" Okita asked. "If you feel confident, I won't try to stop you."

"I find myself hesitant for some reason," San'nan admitted.

"Well, if you fail, I'll do you a favor and kill you," Okita said.

"My, that's reassuring," San'nan said with a wry smile.

"Well, anyway, what do you say? Want some?" Okita asked, switching to a happier subject, as he held up the jar of sake.

"Sake? That sounds better for my body," San'nan agreed, smiling, as he turned away from the red medicine sitting on his desk.


October, 1864

"Itou-dono!" Kondo said excitedly, smiling brightly, as he greeted their honored guest and the two men he had brought with him with Hijikata at his side. "We've awaited you."

"I'm humbled you came to greet us in person, Commander," Itou said as they shook hands, smiling politely.

"Who's that?" Sumiko asked curiously. After hearing an important guest was coming, she had snuck out with the captains to have a peek from a safe distance away. Heisuke was still headhunting in Edo.

"Itou Kashitarou," Shinpachi replied. "Apparently, he's achieved full mastery of the Itto style."

"I see..." Sumiko said thoughtfully, furrowing her brow slightly. The name sounded familiar, but she couldn't really remember why it was important at the moment. At any rate, she wasn't sure she liked the look of this guy... there was something too rehearsed about that smile of his. His mannerisms were kind of feminine, too. Not that there was necessarily anything wrong with that, but...

"I heard Itou-san espoused imperial nationalist philosophy. I'm surprised he'd have his name associated with the Shinsengumi," Saito said.

"The same mindset as those Choshu guys, huh? Can someone like that really get along well with us?" Sano asked.

"Itou-san is a highly educated and gifted speaker," San'nan said as he came up behind them.

"Heh?" Sano said, as they all glanced back at their guest.

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