Bitter Medicine

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"Ah, this sucks," Sumiko mumbled as she held a cool cloth over her face. Her eyes were still raw from all the crying she had done the previous night. "Chizuru's so lucky... no puffy eyes at all!" It must be thanks to her special healing abilities... Before meeting Chizuru, she had thought she healed abnormally fast, but Chizuru was on an entirely different level. She thought it was pretty amazing, but she understood why Chizuru and her father might want to keep it secret since a lot of people were still really superstitious in this era, and there could also be people who might want to exploit an ability like that... Like the way the Bakufu wanted this Ochimizu.

The cloth slipped from Sumiko's hands as her eyes widened when a terrible thought suddenly occurred to her. Was it really just a coincidence that Chizuru, a girl with unbelievable healing abilities, was the daughter of a man who knew how to create a medicine capable of doing the same thing to a regular human who wasn't born with...? She shook her head. No. No way! Koudou loved Chizuru. There was no way he would test something like that on his own daughter!

"Agh! Pull yourself together, Sumiko!" she snapped at herself, clapping her hands against the side of her face to wake herself up. "... Okay, Ow." That had definitely been too hard... Great, now she probably had red marks in the shape of handprints on her face, too!

"What's Aniki doing over there by himself?" one of the men whispered to his friend as they watched from a safe distance. They had been passing by coincidence, when they happened to spot Sumiko sitting all by herself.

"A one man comedy routine?" his friend suggested. They exchanged a glance.

"Yeah, that's probably it," they decided, continuing on their way. Aniki was cool like that.

"Hey, sorry for the wait..." Sumiko said as she entered the Kitchen. Chizuru had gone ahead to get started on making the tea while she tried to fix her face without the miracle of makeup.

"It's all right. The tea is ready. Now we just have to..." Chizuru said, smiling wryly, as she turned. "... Sumiko-san, did you pink your cheeks?" Sumiko hung her head.

"Oh, whatever! I give up," she said, throwing her hands in the air. "Let's go bring them their tea before they start assuming we're up to some sort of 'unsettling activity'."

The atmosphere in the room was heavy and tense as Kondo, Hijikata, and all of the captains aside from Okita, who was still guarding San'nan-san, waited anxiously for further news on the deputy-commander.

"Pardon us," Chizuru said, sliding open the door, so she and Sumiko could serve the tea. The girls, sensing the tense atmosphere, entered and carried out their task quietly. Chizuru served one side of the room, while Sumiko served the other. When Sumiko reached Hijikata, she set down his cup with her usual grace, but she kept her eyes down, avoiding his gaze as he watched her every move. Deep down, she was still afraid that if she made eye contact with him, she would see that cold and heartless look in his eyes, that it was being reserved for her.

Hijikata didn't know what to think as he watched her retract her hand and leave to sit off to the side with Chizuru. She had served him his tea without complaint, but she still wouldn't look at him. He furrowed his brow, silently berating himself. He should have expected this. Even though it was important to give the girls a scare to show them just how much danger they were in, he knew what an oppositional and stubborn personality Sumiko had. He pushed when he should have pulled. He had not only threatened her life, but he had used her affection for Chizuru to force her to listen to him. She was sure to hold a grudge for that, if nothing else.

The door to the inner room slid open, revealing a smiling Okita and Inoue.

"Looks like San'nan-san is out of the woods," he announced without preamble, much their collective relief.

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