The Course of Bonds

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As Heisuke drew closer to the crossing of Aburanokoji and 7jô, he could hear the sounds of an intense battle. Men were yelling and swords were clashing. His eyes widened, and he skidded to an abrupt halt when he spotted Itou's corpse among the other dead bodies littering the alleyway. It was true... It was really happening...

"Yaah!" He looked ahead at the sound of a familiar cry and saw Sumiko take out a Satsuma samurai who had been going for Shinpachi's back while he was busy fighting off two other opponents.

"Heisuke-kun..." Chizuru said as she rounded the corner, trailing off when she saw the carnage before them and their friends fighting together in the middle of it. Of all the men they had brought with them from the Shinsengumi, only Sano and Shinpachi and Sumiko were still standing now.

"Heh. This many opponents, and you're still only using the back of your blade?" Shinpachi asked Sumiko as he kicked one of the men away and cut down the other. "If you don't get serious, you'll get hurt!"

"I like a good fight just as much as the next person," she said, knocking out another enemy, "but as a doctor, the idea of taking lives with the same hands that are supposed to save them still just doesn't sit right with me. Besides, who says I'm not serious? I'm seriously risking my life here! It's just that I'd rather get a few cuts and bruises while upholding my beliefs than letting something like this shake me enough to do injury to my own soul. A battered body is easier to heal than a battered spirit. Even if I can't move anymore or my back gets bent out of shape, it doesn't matter—as long as my soul's still straight, I'll keep going."

"Well, that's just like you, Sumiko-san," Sano said with a rueful smile as he cut down two more enemies. "Do what you want. Just disable as many as of them as possible and leave the 'disposal' to us!" he told her as the three of them regrouped to form a tighter defensive formation. They were all panting from the seemingly endless fight they had been drawn into as the next wave of opponents came forth. Amagiri smiled slightly as he stepped to the front of the line to address them.

"I have a proposal for the members of the Shinsengumi," he said, deciding to give them a chance of out respect for the half oni's determination. Miyagawa Sumiko's resolution not to kill even at the possible cost of her own life had struck a chord with his own dislike for senseless violence. The three of them furrowed their brows and glared warily at him, wondering what he was up to. "Would you be inclined to give us Yukimura Chizuru-kun, who is just over there? I shall allow everyone else to escape if you do."

"What!?" Shinpachi said incredulously as all three of them gasped in surprise. Their eyes widened as they turned to follow his gaze as saw that Chizuru was standing only about a yard or two further behind them than Heisuke, who had also arrived unnoticed while they were preoccupied with their fight.

"Chizuru... What are you...? Heisuke, get her out of here!" Sumiko shouted, appalled to see how close they both were to danger. She gritted her teeth in frustration. Even though she knew Heisuke was supposed to die there tonight, she wasn't about to just sit back and let it happen!

"I do not believe it is an unfair trade," Amagiri said, frowning slightly. Although he knew Miyagawa Sumiko was protective of Yukimura Chizuru, he had hoped to receive a more favorable reaction. "With this difference in numbers, I can't advise that you fight." The wall of men behind him served to emphasize his point. The three of them could only keep this up for so long. "Yukimura Chizuru. Will you accept our proposal, yes or no?" he asked, turning his attention onto the pureblood female oni.

"I..." Chizuru said, looking at the worried and tired faces of all her friends. "If I go over to your side... the others will be spared, right?" she asked solemnly, furrowing her brow with determination. They were always protecting her, now it was her turn to do something to protect them.

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