A Knife in the Dark

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March, 1867

The sun was shining brightly. It was a beautiful spring day with clear skies, but there was an unseen darkness brewing on the horizon.

"Kazama and the others have returned to Kyoto?" Sen asked, furrowing her brow, when she heard Kimigiku's latest report. The kunoichi was kneeling respectfully before the younger girl.

"It seems the storm shall soon begin," Sen said gravely.

"Itou-san treated you to dinner!?" Sano said incredulously. He, Shinpachi, Okita, and the girls had been hanging out on some steps back at headquarters while watching Saitou practice his swordsmanship, when Shinpachi had suddenly dropped that bomb on them.

"Shh! You're way too loud, Sano," Shinpachi shushed him.

"He was trying to recruit you, wasn't he?" Sumiko asked, furrowing her brow and frowning worriedly.

"Yeah," Shinpachi said, only slightly surprised to hear that Sumiko had already figured out what was going on. "He was like, 'Aren't you dissatisfied with the Shinsengumi?' and 'If the Bakufu can't expel the foreigners, it's finished.' At the end of all that, he asked, 'Won't you come with  me?'"

"What did you say?" Chizuru asked.

"I'd already had plenty to eat and drink, so I said, 'Bein' partners with you all wouldn't be any fun,'" Shinpachi replied with a smirk. Sumiko smiled.

"I wish I could've been there to see the look on Itou's face," she said.

"It was the same with you, Hajime-kun, right?" Okita said, glancing at Saito.


Saito had cut the straw target he was practicing with in two places so swiftly, that it almost appeared as though both blows had been delivered simultaneously.

"Hai," Saitou said, sheathing his sword, as he turned around to face them.

Later that day, as the sun was setting, Okita was on patrol with his squad and the two girls. "If the heads of the 2nd and 3rd divisions were entertained, why didn't he call for me, the head of the 1st?" he wondered out loud, still thinking about their conversation from earlier that afternoon.

'Isn't that because you'd kill him on sight if he did?' Sumiko thought, smiling wryly.

"If he invited you, would you go with Itou-san?" Chizuru asked.

"Of course," Okita replied calmly.

"Huh? Okita-san!" Chizuru gasped, shocked.

"And maybe kill him," he added, glancing back at her with a smirk.

"I swear!" Chizuru said as she quickly hurried to catch up to them. "That doesn't sound like a joke!"

"That's  because it wasn't..." Sumiko said, sweat-dropping, while Okita laughed. "Hm?" Sumiko said, pausing when she thought she sensed someone watching them.

"Koff! Koff!"

"!" Sumiko said as Chizuru gasped, and they rushed over to Okita as he covered his mouth and bent over when his latest coughing fit hit him.

Nagumo Kaoru smirked as he observed this from the shadows.

Sumiko and Chizuru had been sleeping peacefully in their room that evening, when they were awoken by the sound of heavy footsteps on the porch outside their room. They sat up in their futons and turned to see a dark silhouette just on the other side of their door. Sumiko furrowed her brow. Something wasn't right. There was an eerie feeling, like on the night when San'nan had drank the Ochimizu...

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