Iris

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Later that evening, Sumiko was sitting out on the porch and staring up at the night sky, taking a short break from reviewing Koudou's notes on the research he had been conducting for her, when an ominous feeling suddenly came over her. She lowered her head and furrowed her brow when she saw who was standing in the courtyard, only a few feet away from her.

"Nagumo Kaoru," she said, narrowing her eyes at Chizuru's twin brother. He smirked.

"I heard you were sharp."

"I heard you were the one who gave Okita the Ochimizu and arranged for those riflemen to give us trouble."

"Hnh. So, he told you, did he? I had heard he survived. I suppose he has you to thank for that."

"I already know you have some kind of grudge against Chizuru, so what is it you want from me? Why are you here?"

"If you already know, it makes things easier. Join me."

"Excuse me?" Sumiko asked, furrowing her brow. She had to have misheard that.

"Koudou told me about you. We're not that different, you and I. You know what it's like to suffer. Why should Chizuru be the only one who is loved and protected?" he asked with a manic gleam in his eyes as he closed the distance between them. "I've been watching the two of you for a while now. I know she stole the man you love from you. Don't you want for her to have a taste of despair as well?" he asked, leaning in close to whisper into her ear. Sumiko closed her eyes.

"You think she stole Hijikata-san from me? Is that what it looked like?" she asked, opening her eyes again to glare at the little jerk with the same face as her friend. "Hijikata-san fell in love with Chizuru on his own, and since she loved him too, I decided to let her have him."

"But it's not that simple is it?" he asked, straightening up to look her in the eye while he gauged her reaction. "You still love him, and it still hurts. Without Chizuru in the picture, that man could be yours."

"Nice try," Sumiko said with a bitter smile. "But that's a dream I've already woken up from. Even if I wanted to hurt Chizuru, which I never would, getting rid of her wouldn't stop him from loving her. If he picked me after that, he'd just be settling, and I don't want that. Of course he'd prefer Chizuru. She's a yamato nadeshiko. I'm just the weed growing through a crack in the sidewalk. Yes, it hurts to admit defeat. It hurts a lot... but I like them both, so I want them both to be happy."

"You're lying," Kaoru said, furrowing his brow. "There's no way you could forgive her for something like that so easily."

"I'm not lying," Sumiko replied calmly with certainty. "It's really simple. I just made a choice. I decided I'd rather stay friends with Chizuru than hate two people I care about for something that isn't their fault. You can't help who you fall in love with. Just because you love someone doesn't mean you're meant to be together, but those two are. Anyone with eyes can see that."

"But it isn't fair! Why is it always Chizuru!?" Kaoru demanded as his face twisted into a sneer, an ugly and hateful expression that she had never once seen on Chizuru's face. Sumiko sighed.

"Oh, you poor unfortunate soul! If you expect the world to be fair with you because you're fair, you're fooling yourself. That's like expecting a lion not to eat you just because you didn't try to eat him. Shit happens. How you react to it is your own karma. Stop acting like a brat and get over it," she scolded him sharply, fed up with his attitude. "If you claim to be her older brother, then act like it. Don't you know why the older ones are born first? It's so that they can protect the little ones who follow."

"You..." he said, trembling with his head bowed low. "I thought you, of all people, would understand... but if that's how it's going to be..." He discretely pulled a vial of Ochimizu out of his back pocket and quietly popped the stopper out with his thumb. "You leave me no choice!"

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