The Fetters of Fate

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Chizuru and Sumiko were hanging some freshly laundered kimonos up to dry.

"I'll go get the rest," Sumiko said, heading back to the well, where they'd left the ones that needed to soak a little longer.

"Okay," Chizuru said, wiping her brow. She turned when something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye and saw that Okita was walking with Matsumoto-sensei. Curious, she decided to follow them.

"You have no appetite, a slight fever, and sweat profusely at night..." Matsumoto said thoughtfully, repeating the symptoms Okita had just told him he was suffering from.

"Yes," Okita replied. He figured he might as well ask Matsumoto-sensei while he was here before Sumiko carried through with her threat to tell Hijikata. That woman was just crazy enough to do it. Matsumoto was silent for a moment, and then he sighed heavily.

"Here's what I think: your illness is tuberculosis," the doctor informed him frankly. There was no point in sugar-coating such a fatal diagnosis.

"Tuberculosis!" Chizuru gasped softly from where she was hiding around the corner, horrified.

"Oh, jeez. That famous deadly illness, huh?" Okita said rather calmly.

"You're not surprised?" Matsumoto asked.

"To be honest, I'd already heard as much from Sumiko-san. She insisted I get a second opinion since she wasn't entirely sure. But being told for certain like this to my face, yeah, it sucks," he said, laughing, while he rubbed the back of his neck.

"This is nothing to laugh about!" Matsumoto said sternly. "You should leave the Shinsengumi at once and begin recovery! You need to rest at a place with fresh air—"

"Leave the Shinsengumi?" Okita asked, turning back to face him. "I can't do that."

"!" Matsumoto gasped in astonishment. If he had already talked to Sumiko about this, then surely she would have told him the danger his life was in...

"Whether my life is long or short, there are few things I can do," Okita continued resolutely. "To stand with the Shinsengumi and kill our enemies... That's about it. All the more so if I have little time left. Being here is everything to me." Even though she had threatened to rat him out, Sumiko had never even broached the subject of him possibly leaving the Shinsengumi. Perhaps, because she understood this. Maybe she already knew what he would say if she did. She was sharp like that.

"But..." Matsumoto began to protest, but he fell silent after seeing the solid determination in the eyes of the young man before him. "I accept your resolve," he eventually conceded. "All the more reason that you should do as I say going forward. Don't push yourself too hard."

"Hai," Okita said solemnly. So, in the end, it was pretty much the same as what Sumiko had already told him. "Oh, and please don't tell Kondo-san and the others. I'd also appreciate it if you could let Sumiko-san know we talked, since she was threatening to tell if I didn't see another doctor soon. Promise me, okay?" he asked with a sly smile.

Matsumoto nodded and went to find Sumiko. Okita sat down and waited for him to disappear before calling out to his little eavesdropper.

"Chizuru-chan."

"!" Chizuru gasped, startled to have been so easily discovered.

"Come on out, it's okay," he said. She stepped out from around the corner, peering cautiously at him. "Yes, come over here," he told her, patting the spot next to him. Chizuru quietly walked over and sat down beside him. "Are you taking that talk just now to heart?" he asked, smiling slightly, when he noticed how upset she was on his behalf. "You wouldn't tell anyone this silly story, would you?" he asked, trying to laugh it off. Chizuru was silent. "Sumiko-san already knows, but if you plan on telling anyone else, well then... I'd have to kill you."

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