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Two Wet Swallows

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The late afternoon sunlight bathed the world in a golden glow, and a slight breeze was stirring the air. A perfect end to a perfect day, Sei thought. She and Okita-sensei had been off-duty for the afternoon, and he had dragged her to a tiny shrine festival halfway across the city. She had grumbled all the way there about how childish he was, but once they were at the festival she had had as much fun as he did, buying snacks and playing games.

She was smiling to herself as she looked over at Okita-sensei walking beside her, finishing the last of his candies and licking the last sticky sweetness off his hand. He glanced over at her and grinned brightly around the mouthful of sticky fingers, and she felt herself blush happily.

He didn't notice, of course.

Suddenly, a crack of thunder split the air. Okita and Sei's heads snapped up to look at the sky, where a dark gray band of clouds was fast approaching. Okita grabbed Sei's hand and broke into a run. Sei followed him without question. They pelted through the streets hand in hand as around them people began crowding into shops or under awnings.

The rain began only moments after they started running; a sudden downpour that left them spluttering and trying to blink the water out of their eyes. They kept going, running as if it could keep them from getting too wet, but Sei could feel the chilly rush of water soaking straight through her clothes. Finally Okita-sensei slowed, paused, then abruptly changed direction and pulled her into a shop. It was an umbrella shop, it turned out, with a number of people inside trying to buy one for the rain. Most of them were buying the cheapest, thinnest ones just to get through the storm, but Okita-sensei caught the attention of a shop-girl and pointed out one of the most elaborately painted umbrellas.

"Okita-sensei!" Sei exclaimed. "That's expensive, you shouldn't buy that! Get one of the plain ones instead!"

"Kamiya-san, in case you haven't noticed, we actually get a salary nowadays!" Okita said, smiling at her and rummaging in his sleeve for money. "You don't need to be so stingy anymore!" He counted out quite a handful of coins for the shop-girl, and Sei raised her eyebrows in surprise.

"Okita-sensei, we went to a festival, and you still have that much money left? You usually spend everything on sweets!"

"Kamiya-sannn, you're so mean to me," Okita-sensei pouted. "Besides, if I had bought all the sweets I could buy, I would have a tummy-ache tomorrow and Hijikata-san would yell at me and you would yell at me too." He wrinkled his nose at her and she couldn't help laughing.

The girl handed over the umbrella and Okita opened it with a thwoomp, stepping out into the rain. Sei crowded under the umbrella beside him, shoulder-to-shoulder, and she could see some of the other customers smiling sideways at them and murmuring about the "handsome pair." She blushed with embarrassment and secret pleasure. Okita-sensei, of course, didn't notice--again--and they set out through the rain, huddling together in the shelter of the umbrella.

When they got back to headquarters they had to endure another round of teasing about umbrellas and romantic afternoons, and Okita-sensei finally figured out what everyone was grinning about and started spluttering in embarrassment. Sei thought to herself--with a secret smile that only encouraged everyone's suspicions--that it really had been a perfect day.



Umegawa and Chûbei by Kitagawa Utamaro