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Broken Wings and Shattered Swords {ON HIATUS}

Chapter Text

            The candles flickered in the room, providing a warm, yellow glow to the atmosphere. Light from the candles seemed to make the gold accents of the folding lacquer screen next to him, shimmer and shine, accentuating the wings of the cranes that dotted the screen and created the illusion that the cranes were in mid-flight.

            Oikawa closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath before he opened them again and dipped the calligraphy brush in the ink. He held onto the sleeve of his gold kimono as he pressed the tip of the brush against the washi paper before him and dragged the brush down in a long, thick line. Stiffly, he moved the brush back over to the ink well and dipped the brush into it again. The faint pattering of footsteps reverberated in the hall leading to his chambers. Oikawa sighed as the doors to his chamber crashed open.

Iwaizumi burst into the room as two maids hurriedly rushed after him, attempting to get him to leave the room as their master clearly hadn’t given them permission to let him in. Oikawa didn’t look up from his work as he let the brush glide down the washi paper again.

            “My, my. Iwa-chan, it’s quite rude to just burst into my chambers like this.” There was a playful tone to Oikawa’s voice as he dismissed his servants with the back of his hand. They bowed deeply and hurried out of the room, closing the heavy doors that Iwaizumi had just burst through, like a storm.

            “Tea?” Oikawa motioned to the steaming cup of matcha tea that sat near the edge of the desk. Iwaizumi shook his head as he moved towards Oikawa’s desk and crossed his legs as he sat down on the extra cushion across from the desk. “How did the inner circle meeting fare? I’m sure many of the court officials were upset that I didn’t attend?”

            Iwaizumi snorted in laughter.Many of those old officials were rather relieved that you didn’t show your face. Old Hanazawa looked so happy that I was certain he was going to marry off his daughter to the next man that walked into the room.”

            The corners of Oikawa’s lips pulled up into a shrewd smiled. “The only good that would come with marrying Hanazawa’s daughter is wealth…unless you were attracted to that hideous appearance of hers.” Oikawa suppressed a shudder as he recalled an image of the girl he would rather quickly forget. “What news have you brought me? I doubt this visit of yours was based on pleasure, unless—” Oikawa lifted his head, “—you would like it to be?” The words playfully slipped off of his devilish tongue and he smirked as he watched Iwaizumi’s fist scrunch up the fine silk fabric of his attire beneath his fingertips.

            “The royal physicians have announced that the shogun won’t live for much longer.”

            Oikawa’s brush still against the washi paper, the ink was seeping into it and spreading out, making the brush stroke thick and uneven. “How much longer?”

            “They say he won’t live to see winter.”

            Oikawa smiled. He lifted the brush and stared at the blotchy brush stroke for a second before resuming his work. “It’s better that way. I’m glad my uncle has been enjoying that sake I’ve been having delivered to him. I heard it was blessed by the kamis themselves.”

            Iwaizumi bit down on his tongue to keep the wrong words from flowing from his mouth. It was more like the sake had been blessed by shinigamis instead of the god’s of good fortune. That sake Oikawa had been having delivered to the shogun was laced with undetectable poison.

            Oikawa tsked as he looked down at his work. “It’s quite unfortunate that my uncle doesn’t have any male heirs. Now who will I enjoy drinking sake with in the evenings?”

            Iwaizumi studied Oikawa’s face. “Wasn’t that your intention?” There was a playful tone to his voice as Oikawa’s brush stilled against the washi paper, he lifted the brush up and placed it down on a cloth near the ink.

            The doors burst open again as Oikawa’s face scrunched up in irritation. Oikawa and Iwaizumi stood up from their seats as a ninja, fully clothed in black from head to toe, appeared in the room and bowed before the two of their feet.

            “My lord. I have terrible news.” The ninja bowed his head lowly, avoiding Oikawa’s gaze.

            “What is it?” Oikawa snapped as he glared down at the ninja.

            “The shogun…had a bastard son.”

            “What!?” Oikawa roared, enraged he picked up the bottle of ink and hurled it at the ninja. The bottle hit the ninja in the shoulder and the black, tar smelling ink coated the fabric of his attire. Iwaizumi nearly laughed as he thought the ninja now at least matched with the shade of black on the folding screen in the room. Oikawa’s chest was rising and falling in fury. He glared at Iwaizumi.

“We need to find my uncle’s bastard now and get rid of him.”

            Iwaizumi nodded and bowed once to Oikawa before leaving the room to deploy a band of ninjas to kill his uncle’s offspring. The ninja dipped his head in apology before scurrying off to the shadows somewhere. Anger boiled in his veins like hot lead, he bent down and lifted the small table up and flipped it over. Washi paper and brushes slid to the floor, the cup of tea shattered against the ground, spilling tea all over the floor. The small table crashed against the floor with a loud thud. Anger, now slightly abated by the brief act of destruction, molded Oikawa’s enraged face into a smooth mask of calmness. He sank back down onto the cushion.

            Years of scheming and planning were now threatened by one, little insignificant bug that barely had a clue as to who its father was. He wouldn’t allow it, he would never allow some insignificant rat to come into the palace and sit on his throne. He almost felt sorry for the cousin he had never none, almost, but the palace was full of games and in order to survive you needed to know how to play.

And in Oikawa’s game, the wrong move meant death. He would never allow his uncle’s son to live to see another day, not if he had the power to do so.

 

            Hinata hummed a cheerful tune to himself as he traveled down the dirt road. The leaves above him rustled as a wind snaked through the canopy of tall trees that provided the forest ground with shade. He adjusted the large chest on his back that contained all of his medicine and the letter he had received nearly a week ago requesting that he come to the capital of Edo at the behest of a rich noble who had wanted to see his medicinal wares. He had been surprised at first. There were plenty of medicine peddlers across Japan, all of whom had better reputations that one small teen. What would a noble from Edo want with a medicine peddler that lived all the way in Kyushu?

            His little sister, Natsu had been worried about letting him travel all the way to Tokyo, she was the only family he had left and she had sulked and pouted and clung to the back of his yukata as he walked out of their small home. He had assured her that she would be fine and promised her that when he came back with more money than her eyes had ever seen, that he would buy both of them all the rice they could eat – and that doll she had been eyeing every time they had passed by the vendor’s stall.

            He was the only one supporting his little sister. Their mother had fallen ill last winter and they had thought nothing of it, for it had seemed like a common cold. Their mother had assured the both of them that she would get well soon in the blink of an eye, but she hadn’t gotten any better. Her skin had become pale and her hair thin and by the time spring had come around she passed away, leaving the two of them alone. Hinata swallowed thickly as he buried the memory deep within his mind, he didn’t like thinking about it. They needed the money, working as a traveling medicine peddler was tough, there were days were he couldn’t sell a single herb at all and more days than he could count on his finger that he had gone hungry. He always made sure his little sister had something to eat, if they only had enough rice for a single person he always gave it to her and refused a single bite from her chopsticks when she tried to give any of it to him. Besides the letter he had got from some noble who lived in Edo sounded promising, it hinted at the reward of more money than Hinata had ever seen in his life before if he came and showed the noble his wares—rare mountain herbs and plants that were native to his small village.

            His stomach growled in hunger and Hinata decided that it would be best to take a break before he continued on with his journey. He could hear the gurgling of a small river somewhere nearby. Climbing over rocks and through the tall grass, he came across a river that shimmered like freshly polished glass.

            Hinata had once seen a craftsman make the material. The glass had sparkled and shined as the craftsman held the glass up to the sky, the sun’s rays seemed to have bounced off of the piece. Cupping his hands, he dipped them into the river before leaning forwards and bringing his cupped hands to his lips. He sipped the water in his hands, it tasted cool and crisp unlike anything he had ever tasted before. He sat down on the earthen floor and removed his sandals before dipping his feet into the cool river. Reaching into the folds of his of his yukata, he pulled out an extremely large onigiri that his little sister had forced into his hands before he had departed. He unwrapped the cloth protecting the onigiri before taking a bite and stilled, his face gaunt and pale as the overbearing taste of something sweet flooded into his mouth. There were tears brimming in his eyes. His little sister had a long way to go.

            With reluctance, he scarfed down the rest of the onigiri before washing his hands in the river and folding up the cloth and placing it back into the folds of his yukata. He decided that a few more minutes of rest wouldn’t hurt him. Laying back against the grass covered earth, he folded his arms beneath his head and stared up at the sky. A pair of crows lazily flapped as a gust of wind carried them to their destination.

            Closing his eyes, he let the sounds of nature become his lullaby. He only rested for a few minutes before his eyes flew open and he sat up quickly and whipped his head back and forth to look around at his surroundings as his gut sank with the feeling that he was being watched. He pushed himself up onto his feet and brushed off his yukata of any dirt or grass that clung to him, before grabbing his medicine chest and strapping it back onto his back.

            He walked through the tall grass and brush until he came back onto the dirt road he had been traveling on. He walked down the road, stopping as he came across a small jizo statue. Clapping his hands together twice and bowed, saying a quick prayer, hoping that his journey would lead him to his destination safely without any problems arising. The sound of a branch cracking pierced the quite air of the forest surrounding him causing him to jump in the air. Goosebumps rose along his arms as he slipped his thumbs under the thick leather straps that dug into his shoulders.

            His heart was pounding in fear as he slowly looked around, observing his surroundings. The leaves overhead swayed in the wind as a few of them detached from the branches and slowly danced their way down to Earth. Swallowing slowly; he couldn’t shake off the feeling of being watched entirely. Shaking his head, he quickened his pace as he traveled down the dirt road, the sound of another branch cracking and the rustling of a bush nearby him caused his face to turn pale. Casting quick glances over his shoulder to see if anyone was behind him, he began to run along the dirt road. He ran and ran until dirt was flying behind him as his sandals kicked it up. A startled gasp came from his throat as his entire body crashed into another, limb tangled together with other limbs and he became unable to tell where the ground of sky was.

            “Get off of me!” Hinata found himself on the ground, limbs entangled with his; the orange-haired teen disentangled himself from the stranger that had crashed into him. He blinked and stared up at the tall figure standing above him. He had cropped short, black hair with bangs that hung just above his dark blue eyes that matched the color of the yukata that was draped over his frame. There was a youthful look to his face even as the corner of his lips turned down in a scowl, he couldn’t have been a year or two older than Hinata.

            A strong breeze picked up causing the fabric of their clothes to rustle in the wind. The air hummed with the sweet sound of the older boy drawing the katana he had strapped to his side out from its scabbard. The surface of the sword glinted as the sunlight bounced off of it, he pointed the tip of the blade at Hinata’s exposed neck. “What are you doing in these woods?”

            Hinata raised his hand and pointed his index finger at the older boy. “What are you doing pointing swords at innocent people?”

            The older boy scoffed, his scorching stare was intense and the rigidness in his face was so hard that Hinata thought if he threw a rock at him that the rock would be the one to break. He sheathed his sword back in its scabbard before crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I have a name other than you. It’s Kageyama. What’s a child doing in this woods alone? Where are your parents?”

            The tip of Hinata’s ears and his cheeks turned bright pink from embarrassment. “I’m not a child!” Sure he may have been told that he was short for his age on several occasions and his thin frame that was smaller than average for a boy his age got him mistaken for younger than he was, but a child?

            Kageyama didn’t seem to be convinced by Hinata’s declaration. He took a step towards Hinata and grabbed him by the wrist, hauling him up to his feet. “You can tell that to the dōshin1 when they find your parents.” The tall teen started to drag Hinata down the dirt road.

            “Let me go!” Hinata twisted his arm and wrenched his wrist out of Kageyama’s grasp. He groaned in frustration as he looked down at his yukata which was now coated in a thin layer of dirt. Lifting up his foot, he kicked Kageyama in the butt with the bottom of his foot. Blue eyes widened at the sudden action as he stumbled forward. “I’m not a child! I probably have way more hair down there than you!” Hinata shook his head as he grumbled to himself and pushed Kageyama out of the way so he could continue on his journey. He barely made it a few feet away when Kageyama called out to him.

            “Oi! I could have you thrown in jail for assaulting a samurai!”

            Hinata stilled; becoming as rigged as the jizo statue he had just prayed at. His left leg was raised in mid step and his entire body shook, the entire surface of his body went pale. Turning around, he ran back as quickly as he could to where Kageyama stood. Dropping to his knees, he bowed repeatedly to Kageyama who had a smug smirk stretched across his face.

            “Samurai-sama, please forgive me. I didn’t even know you were a samurai!”

            Kageyama smirked as Hinata bowed and pleaded with him to spare his life. Rubbing a single index finger underneath his nose, before waving Hinata on his way with the back of his other hand. “You can go. I have better things to do than waste my time on a small fry.”

            The corner of Hinata’s mouth twitched in annoyance. “Thank you for being lenient with me samurai-san,” he said through gritted teeth, before turning on his heel and walking down the road. He sighed to himself, hoping that he could reach a town with an inn before nightfall.

           

            Kageyama turned on his heels, smirking to himself. He still had some patrols to do, the local townspeople had come to him earlier within the day to complain to him about seeing black shadows appearing in the corners of their eyes. He had wanted to chalk it up to no more than townsfolk, living in a small town becoming hysterical about a local superstition. His hand was casually resting on the handle of his katana, time seemed to slow down as a tree branch to his left shook, out of the corner of his eye he saw a clothed leg, covered in a dark blue fabric. It was only a fraction of a second, any other day Kageyama would have written this off as a figment of his imagination, a trick of his mind due to lack of sleep or drinking too much sake last night.

            Something was wrong, he could feel it deep inside of him; a sixth sense that only a trained warrior developed over time.

            He turned his head to see that Hinata brat sulking down the road, kicking rocks out of his way with the tip of his foot. His bright orange hair seemed to deflect the sun’s rays as the trees around him shook and out of the trees tops dozens of ninjas burst through the leaves, weapons already in their hand and all of them pointed to that orange haired idiot.

            Shit.

            His eyes narrowed as he spun on his heels. His hand wrapped around the handle of his katana as he ran towards the orange-haired teen.

 

            All Hinata wanted was a safe trip without so much as a problem popping up in his way. He sighed, that stupid bastard Kageyama already ruined his day for him. His name should have been Bakageyama. Hinata chuckled to himself, he should’ve been a comedian instead of a medicine peddler.

            He was preoccupied in his own thoughts, kicking a small rock he saw along the road with the tip of his foot. He didn’t see the shadowy figures hopping from tree branch to tree branch around him. The treetops rustled above his head and he stopped, wondering for a brief second if it was the breeze or a large bird. His eyes widened as he glanced up at the treetops, the leaves forming a large blanket that blotted out the shining sun. Ninja’s burst forth from the leaves, creating a momentary gap for sunlight to filter through. Hinata’s heart was pounding in his chest as he saw each Ninja—a large group, no more than maybe 20 men—were heavily armed. Katanas, kunais and sais were held between their hands and other weapons that he had only glimpsed before at the blacksmith’s shop.

            His eyes were blown wide with fear as the ninjas stepped closer to him, forming a tight half circle around him. He stumbled backwards, tripping over his own two feet as he fell to the ground. His fingers splayed out against the hard packed dirt. There was a ninja in front of him, both of his hands were gripping the handle of his katana fiercely as he raised the weapon over his head.

            The faces of his mother and sister flashed in front of his eyes as Hinata realized he was going to die; on a dirt road far away from his hometown. He squeezed his eyes shut and lifted his arms in front of his face to shield himself from the blow, not that it was going to do any good anyway.

            The clang of steel against steel reverberated in the air and then there was silence.

            Hinata slowly lowered his arms from his face and cracked a single eye open. His mouth dropped open in shock as he stared wide eyed at Kageyama’s back. There was an intense fire burning in his dark blue eyes as he gritted his teeth, holding his stance as the ninja he had connected blades with struggled to gain an advantage over him. Two pairs of ball and chains flew through the air, their destination trained on Kageyama.

            Kageyama jumped backwards as the weighted balls crashed down onto the earth. “Are you alright?” Kageyama kept his gaze trained on the ninja’s around the both of them.

            “I’m fine.” Hinata squeaked out.

            “Good, then stay behind me.”

            Kageyama spun on his heels and slashed a kunai out of the air that sailed towards the back of Hinata’s neck. The thick metal fell to the ground and imbedded itself into the dirt. Hinata stared at it with wide eyes as the ninjas cried out as they rushed towards the two of them. Hinata yelped as Kageyama quickly grabbed onto the collar of Hinata’s yukata and pulled the orange haired boy close to his chest.

            Hinata blushed. Their chests were pressed against each other and he had never been so close to another person in his life before. Sure, he could count his mom and his little sister, but there was a difference to skinship between family members and those who weren’t family.

            Balls and chains flew through the air, wrapping around Kageyama’s arms and both of his legs. He kept his stance firm as he gripped the chain with his free hand and tugged hard on it causing the ninja that was holding it to sail through the air towards him. Kageyama tossed his katana into that hand and slashed at the ninja’s throat, blood bloomed from the wound and soaked the front of the ninja’s garbs. He staggered on his feet, before falling face first into the ground below him.

            There was a devilish grin on Kageyama’s face as he pointed his katana at the ninja’s before him; blood dripped from the blade and the earth soaked it up. “What are you all waiting for? Come at me.”

            The ninja’s hesitated for a few brief seconds, disturbed by the intense bloodthirsty aura that Kageyama was projecting. A short ninja, a few inches taller than Hinata ran at them with his Katana pointed at the ground.

            Hinata gasped as blood spurted onto his face; the sleeve of Kageyama’s yukata was quickly turning dark brown from where the blade of the katana was embedded into his arm. Kageyama’s arm shook as he spun Hinata away from him, he lifted his sword and stabbed it through the ninja’s eye. A scream tore from the man’s throat as he dropped his katana. Catching it with grace, Kageyama lifted both swords high in the air in a swift motion.

            Hinata stood there, shaking in shock as he watched Kageyama fight. Blood bloomed and arced through the air like thousands of flowers. There was an almost bloodthirsty delight dancing across Kageyama’s features that he wondered if all samurai possessed, but there was also an air of coolness to it all that intrigued him as well. He thought Kageyama looked like a hero from the stories his mother used to tell him as a child. Kageyama danced and spun around on the road as he slashed and stabbed at the ninja who circled around them. The number of ninja’s who were able to stand or even hold a weapon in their hand was dwindling as still and writhing bodies along with severed limbs coated the dirt road. Hinata turned pressing his hands against his mouth as brown color of the road was replaced with the color red until he could barely tell what was dirt and what was blood instead.

            He heard the sound of a blade drop and Hinata turned his head to see Kageyama approaching him. He was wiping the blood on his katana off with his already blood soaked sleeve. There was hardly a single drop of blood on him that wasn’t his own, his wound was bleeding heavily, but if he was in pain he didn’t show it. He sheathed his katana and raised a single brow at Hinata who was struggling to temper the burning sensation he felt rising in his throat. Hinata begrudgingly removed his hands from his mouth and nodded.

            The burning sensation quickly rose again in his throat and he leaned forward, placing his hands on his knees as he vomited up his lunch. Kageyama wrinkled his nose at the sight as Hinata emptied the contents of his stomach. Tears were burning in the corner of his eyes as he suddenly felt a bought of nausea tearing through him and an indescribable burning pain on the side of his neck. Hinata straightened up and tentatively raised a hand to the side of his neck, something wet touched his fingers and pulled his hand away and stared at it. Blood coated his fingers as the cut on his neck that he never noticed he had begun to flow, staining the collar of his yukata. He staggered, the edges of his vision dancing with black spots.

            All he could hear was Kageyama shouting at him, but his voice felt muffled almost like he was sinking beneath the ocean waves. He felt backwards; weightless like a feather as the dark arms of nothingness gripped his mind.

Chapter Text

           Rays of moonlight shone into the room, casting everything it touched in a bone white glow.

            The clack, clack, clacking of the bamboo fountain was the only sound in the quiet garden.

            Hinata’s eyelids trembled as the thin fingers of a blissful dream raked through his mind. His eyes fluttered open as the feeling of longing settled into his gut. A bitter, almost sour taste coated the back of his throat. He pushed himself upright, the cover of the futon slid off of his chest and pooled around his waist. He raised a hand to his neck, his fingers gingerly grazed across the bandages wrapped around it. His hand dropped down to the futon below him. He tried hard to think about what had happened after the attack in the woods. He squeezed his eyes shut as the teeth clattering sounds of swords clashing against swords and the putrid scent of blood overwhelmed him.

            He lifted a hand to his mouth and pressed the flat of his palm against his lips as his stomach churned and gurgled precariously. His eyebrows rose as he noticed the coloring of the sleeve on the yukata he wore. He pulled his hand away and looked down at himself; surprised to find a yellow yukata in place of the one he had worn on the beginning of his journey. Cherry blossom petals dotted the sleeves and circled around his waist, plum blossoms of various colors cascaded down parts of the fabric, giving it the illusion that an artisan had let the flowers fall through his fingers and embed themselves into the fabric. A blue obi, the color of the spring sky was wrapped around his waist.

            Color rose to Hinata’s cheeks at the thought of someone having to have undress him.

            The yukata was something that Hinata’s little sister, Natsu would have typically worn or any female in his village really.

            He wondered where he was. Looking around him, he found himself in an unfamiliar room, in an unfamiliar place.

            The room was well decorated and spacious; a lot larger than the single bedroom back home that he and Natsu shared. The furnishings looked incredibly expensive as well.

            Gripping the covers of the futon, he pushed them away from his lower body and shakily stood on both feet. This earned him a better view of the room; there was a chest of oaken drawers pushed up against the wall. A small bonsai tree was placed in the alcove of the wall behind where the futon lay. A large scroll was hung up behind the bonsai tree, Hinata narrowed his eyes in an attempt to read what the scroll said, but stopped as his head swam from the single attempt to decipher what the complex, yet artfully written characters even meant.

            There was another scroll hung up on the opposite wall. He walked over to it, attracted by the scene depicted upon it. A lone boat rocked over the turbulent waves of the ocean, in it sat a lone woman. Her hair flying behind her as the rain pelted down upon her. A single red strip of cloth was strapped across her back and in her hands she clutched with all of her strength a Tsugaru shamisen. A giant wave rose behind her as she looked forward determinedly. He turned, his gaze settling on a pair of shoji screens on the far side of the room, he walked towards them and slid his fingers into the handle of the door, pushing part of the screen aside.

            Cold air caressed his cheeks and exposed skin. His eyes widened under the moonlit sky. A large garden was set in the middle of what Hinata assumed to be a large house of some sort. A large maple tree reached up towards the sky, from where he stood, Hinata could see the shimmering scales of koi fish swimming around a large pond near the base of the tree. Maple leaves danced upon the surface of the water as the clacking of a bamboo tube came from within the garden.

            Hinata was awed at the garden’s beauty and the immaculate wealth that it seemed to reflect. Whoever's home this was, it belonged to someone important. He pulled the shoji screen shut and shuffled his feet across the tatami mat to the other side of the room. He stared up at the painted fusuma, two large rectangular panels that were pushed together to close off the space of the room from the rest of the house. A flock of cranes were flying above pink, fluffy clouds set against a gold colored sky.

            His fingers slipped into the handle of the fusuma, he slid the panel a few inches apart. Just enough for him to poke his head through. He pushed his head through the small space and yelped, quickly pulling his head back into the room He placed a hand over his chest; his heart pounding wildly like a beating drum inside of him.

            Taking a deep breath, Hinata hesitatingly poked his head through the opening again before sliding the fusuma even further apart. Enough to slip his body through. His bare feet padded against the wooden floor, silently towards the sleeping figure. Hinata crouched on the balls of his feet as he came within inches of the sleeping samurai.

            The black-haired samurai’s back was pressed against the wall, inches away from the room where Hinata had slept in. Hinata placed his elbows on his knees and dropped his chin into his raised hands. He wondered why—what was his name again?—had decided to sleep here all night. The black haired youth’s arms were crossed one over the other, his chin pressed against his chest. Hinata noticed his eyelashes were long and fluttered against his cheeks. His face was smooth and devoid of any wrinkles, a miracle considering that all Hinata really knew of him was scowls and threats. His sword was propped up next to him. This made him seem so…defenseless and vulnerable.

            Emboldened on a sudden whim, Hinata lifted his chin out of the palms of his hands and reached out towards the smooth cheek of the samurai with a single index finger.

            A scream wrenched itself from Hinata’s throat as his hand was seized in a tight grip. Dark blue eyes bore into brown ones. “Touch me with that finger and you’ll be leaving this town without your hand.”

            Hinata wrenched his hand away from the samurai’s grasp. His lips pouted outward and his hair a mess from sleeping gave him the appearance of an agitated bird.

            The black-haired youth chuckled low in his throat as he closed his eyes again and re-crossed his arms.

            The sound of creaking floor boards caused Hinata to turn his head. “Oh, you’re awake?” A voice sweeter than the summer air filled the silence of the corridor. A pink tinge rose to Hinata’s cheeks as he stared up at the most beautiful woman he had seen in his entire life.

            Raven black hair tumbled down her shoulders, her dark grey eyes were as soothing as storm clouds before it began to rain. A pair of glasses rested on the bridge of her nose. Her pink lips curved upwards in a smile that made the mole on her chin more apparent. The hem of her long, beautifully decorated uchikake trailed behind her. A gorgeous blue fabric, decorated with golden lanterns. Beneath it were several thick layers of kimono beneath it as well.

            Hinata wondered how one could wear so many layers of kimono? Especially in such a warm season. Whoever this woman was, she was powerful and wealthy that Hinata knew, and it would be a fatal mistake if he got on her bad side.

            Hinata quickly rose and turned to face this woman, before falling to his knees and placing his palms against the wooden floor. He bent forward and placed his forehead against the cool wood.  “Thank you for allowing me to stay in your home! I’m extremely sorry for imposing on you in such a manner!”

            The young woman let out a breathy laugh, she brought the sleeve of her uchikake up to her lips to hide her laughter. She motioned at Hinata with the sleeve of her uchikake once her laughing fit died down. “Please, stand up.”

            Hinata lifted his head slowly and pushed himself up off of the floorboards. The young woman motioned to the yukata he wore. “Your yukata was tattered when you arrived here, so I had my assistant take it back to her shop and repair it for you. Unfortunately, that yukata was the only thing in my home that I had that could fit you. Luckily I had yukata’s that were saved from my when I was younger.” The tips of Hinata’s ears went pink as the samurai behind him burst out into laughter.

            Hinata did a quick bow. “Thank you for taking care of my wounds and showing me such hospitality.”

            “It’s the least I could do.” The young woman replied. “My name is Kiyoko. Kageyama-san brought you here after what happened to you out in the forest. But enough of that, you must be hungry. If you come with me I can have someone prepare you a meal.”

            Hinata bowed again, “thank you very much, Kiyoko-sama.”

            Kiyoko laughed again, holding her sleeve up to her mouth, “please, just call me Kiyoko-san. You don’t have to use such polite speech.” Kiyoko lowered her hand away from her mouth, she looked over Hinata’s shoulder and down at the black-haired youth. “Kageyama-kun--” Hinata raised his brow at the closeness of these two implied by the honorific that Kiyoko had just attached to the samurai’s name. “Should I have a meal prepared for you as well?”

            “No.” Kageyama gruffly replied as he stood up and reached for his sword. He turned on his heel and began to stalk off down the corridor. “I’m going to go patrol the perimeter.”

            Hinata wordlessly watched his back as he walked down the corridor, only to disappear around a bend.

            “Now,” Hinata turned his gaze back to Kiyoko, “why don’t we see to your meal?”

 

            Tears traveled down Hinata’s cheeks like two miniature rivers had formed on his face. His chopsticks were moving at an inhuman speed as he shoveled rice into his mouth only to lift his head from the bowl to take a quick gasp of air before lashing out with his chopsticks at a juicy slice of meat on the plate in front of him. He shoveled that into his mouth and almost shuddered as the meat melted on his tongue. He paused mid-chew to watch Kiyoko elegantly pick at her own food. She lifted the full bowl of rice up to her mouth and plucked out a small ball of rice with the tip of her chopsticks and slid them between her lips. He balked at her movements, wondering how a single person in the universe could make eating as elegant as she did.

            “Is your meal not to your satisfaction?” Kiyoko raised a single brow as she placed her chopsticks down on the chopstick rest beside her, before placing her bowl down in front of her as well.

            Hinata shook his head, his cheeks still stuffed with food, he swallowed it down. “No. This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten in ages! We don’t have food as good as this back in the village.” Hinata leaned forward on his knees to rip off a piece of fish with his chopsticks.

            His eyes traveled around the well decorated, tatami room. The furnishings in here were as expensive and tasteful as the furnishings he had seen in the rest of the house and corridor. Instead of home, this seemed more like a collection of expensive items that were housed in a single building. He wondered who Kiyoko really was or at least what it was that she did? Hinata mentally shrugged, as long as she kept the delicious food coming he didn’t really mind.

            Hinata lifted his head at the sound of his name being called.

            “Hinata-san?” Kiyoko’s voice was like a pair of wind chimes that swayed in the wind whenever she spoke.

            “Yes, Kiyoko-san?”

            “What is your occupation?” Even though there was warmth to her voice, Hinata shivered. There was a smile plastered on her face, but something about the way she asked such a simple question made Hinata feel as if there was a knife poised against the tip of his throat.

            He swallowed thickly as his brows scrunched together, “I’m a medicine peddler.”

            Kiyoko hummed as her eyes narrowed and a cold and analyzing look flashed in her eyes, but quickly disappeared as she reached towards her mug of matcha tea. Her fingers stilled as a large crack appeared on the side of the cup. She called for a servant who soon came and replaced the broken cup with a fresh one.

            Kiyoko shut her eyes briefly as she lifted the cup to her lips and took a sip of the steaming liquid. “Hinata-san, where are you traveling to?”

            “To Edo. There’s a noble there that’s interested in looking at my wares.”

            Kiyoko held the steaming cup in her hands, her lips once more pulled into a smile. “You must be quite famous then—” she brought the cup back up to her lips and placed them against the rim before sipping out of the cup; she lowered it, “—especially in regards to what happened out there.”

            Hinata felt a deadly chill settle into the room and descend upon his skin. The wound beneath his bandages began to itch anew under the tense air in the room. Hinata’s tongue darted out between his lips to suddenly lick at the dry flesh.

            Kiyoko placed down her cup and quietly resumed her meal. Hinata swallowed tensely as he picked up his own pairs of chopsticks and slowly began to pick at his food until each dish began to disappear one by one.

            Kiyoko stood up after the dishes had been cleared away by the servants. “Shall we take a walk in the garden? It’ll help you recover quicker.”

            Hinata nodded his head, knowing that her words weren’t a suggestion, but a polite order. He was going to quickly learn that Kiyoko was a rather dangerous woman.

 

            Hinata shivered in the think yukata as he and Kiyoko walked through the garden. Her uchikake dragged behind her as she stepped over the fat stones that formed a pathway through the middle of the garden. The air was crisper and slightly cooler than it had been when Hinata had stepped outside earlier. A sakura petal floated down from the sky and landed on the tip of Hinata’s nose, he brushed it off with the tips of his fingers.

            There was barely any sound coming from garden around them, save for the clacking of the bamboo fountain and the baying of dogs somewhere within the town.

            “Kiyoko-san…how did I get here? I can’t seem to remember much after--” Hinata paused, the smell of blood and the sounds of screaming barraged his mind. His breath stilled as he paused in mid step, earning him a concerned glance from Kiyoko.

            “Kageyama-kun brought you here on his back.” She stared up at the night sky, a serene expression on her face. Thick, milky clouds lazily drifted across the navy backdrop of the star dusted sky. Like a painter had dipped his brush in gold paint and flicked it across a murky, blue canvas. “When you both arrived here, you on his back, I almost thought you were dead. You were extremely pale and there was so much blood dripping from your neck. Kageyama wasn’t any better either with his own wounds.” A soft, familiar smile built upon by years of tender affection settled itself on her face. “But I suppose he’s a special case.”

            He wondered what she meant by that or how deep she and Kageyama’s relationship went.

            “I took you both in and had my assistant Yachi-chan patch you up.”

            “Your assistant?”

            Kiyoko lowered her head and flashed a smile at Hinata, a dazzling flash of teeth that looked brilliant against the dark fabric of the night. “You must be interested to know what my occupation is by now. Besides being a poet, I am a doctor as well.”

            How is that a poet and a samurai’s paths would cross? Hinata wondered that, but his position was cause for bewilderment as well. A low peddler staying in the home of poet. It was something that not even the kamis themselves could have ever dreamed of.

            A thin, ball of mist spiraled away from her lips. Hinata shivered again as a cool breeze ghosted through the garden, causing the leaves on the trees to shake. A few leaves detached themselves from their brown limbs and fluttered to the ground like fallen butterflies.

            “Why don’t we go back inside?”

            Hinata nodded his head, he sniffled as he stepped across the stones and followed Kiyoko back into the house.

            The clouds lazily floated across the sky, a thick patch of clouds clawed at the moon, blotting out the light it provided, allowing darkness to crawl over the land below. On the roof of Kiyoko’s home, padded feet moved silently against the tiles. Their dark blue clothing blending in with the shadows. Their fingers gripped the tiles as they pressed their bodies flat against the tiles, their eyes tracked Hinata’s movements. They would wait. They would watch. They would strike.

 

            Hinata placed a hand over his mouth as a large yawn burst forth from his throat. He shuffled to the bedroom that Kiyoko had lent him for the duration of his stay. She had informed him that in the morning her assistant, Yachi, would be over to return his yukata once she had repaired it. Apparently the young girl’s mother ran a kimono shop, so repairing a yukata was no difficult task for her.

            Yawning again, Hinata stopped in front of the fusuma, which separated the bedroom from the rest of the house. He slid the paneling open and stepped inside the room, turning around to close it. He groaned as he swung his arms above his head and stretched, the room was completely dark, save for a small lantern near the futon that emitted a small pool of light. He lifted one foot and placed it in front of the other, but stilled as his eyes settled on the human shaped shadow near the corner of the room. The shoji screen was open, letting cold breeze drift inside the room.

            He bowed low, “sorry,” he muttered, thinking that the shadow belonged to a servant who was not yet done fixing up the room.

            Hinata turned to leave, his fingers curled into the handle of the fusuma to slide the panel apart. His eyes widened as a shuriken embedded itself into the fusuma a few inches away from his cheek with a shallow thunk, he could feel the cool breeze caressing the fresh gash on his right cheek that was oozing blood.

            He could feel his heart hammering in his chest as he turned, his hand still on the panel. A blade glinted as the lantern flickered in the room. A ragged breath came from his throat as he ran towards the middle of the room. The intruder jumped, his sword raised and ready to come down on sinew and bone.

            Hinata fell to the floor, his face smacking down on the tatami mat beneath him, the tips of his fingers brushed against the edges of the futon. He gripped it and tossed the futon at the intruder. The sheets of the futon became entangled with limbs.

            This bought some time for Hinata as he pushed himself to his feet and began to run towards the fusuma, His body jerked with fright as something heavy slammed against it, causing the panels to wobble momentarily, the panel was jerked open to the side a few moments later. The acrid smell of blood flooded into the room as Kageyama stepped onto the tatami mat, rivulets of blood dripped down his blade and soaked into the mat. His presence in the room commanded all attention.

            “Surrender,” Kageyama growled that lone word, in the lack of light, his facial features reminded Hinata more of a feral dog rather than a human being.

            Hinata turned his head, watching as the intruder’s blade shook in his hands. Hinata opened his mouth as he watched the intruder leap towards them.

            He shook as warm blood splashed across half of his face; bile rose in his throat as the warm, rigid body of the intruder leaned against him. His eyes were wide, as round as a bird’s egg as he stood stock still; a thousand emotions swirled in his veins.

            Kiyoko rushed into the room, her face twisted into a flurry of emotions as she stared at Kageyama’s blood drenched sword and Hinata’s rigidness. She rushed over to Hinata, and gripped his shoulder. The body slid further down his torso, before falling to the floor like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

            “Hinata-san, are you okay?”

            Hinata shivered, everything around him felt like it was coated in a thin veil of red. He looked down at the front of his yukata. The cherry blossom petals were smeared with tiny droplets of red, areas where the bright yellow color of the fabric were apparent were soaked red with blood. His vision blurred as he took a labored breath. Why was it becoming so hard to breathe?

            His stomach churned and his throat burned, he quickly turned away from Kiyoko as he emptied the contents of his stomach all over the floor.

 

 

            Hinata pressed a hand to his mouth as pink rays dotted with gold, stretched across the wide expanse of the sky as the early morning sun rose in the horizon. Somewhere beyond the dark roof tiles of Kiyoko’s home.

            He took a shuddering breath as he closed his eyes momentarily to the slowly warming morning air. He could still smell the acrid tang of blood; it seemed to cling to his body, to everything that he ate and drank, to his very soul.

            Fright took over his body as he felt a strong hand grip his shoulder, turning him slightly so that blue eyes raked over his face.

            A vision of a boyish face flashed in his mind. He wrenched his shoulder away from that single touch.

            Blue eyes narrowed.

            “What’s wrong with you?” Kageyama scowled as he tapped his shoulder with the sheath of his katana; his hand wrapped around the handle.

            Hinata’s lips thinned to a small, pink line, a resemblance of the scar that marred his neck. He turned his gaze away from Kageyama and pushed himself away from the railing that lined the rim of the garden. He turned on his heel, only to stop in his tracks as Kageyama held out his sheathed katana in front of him, halting him in place.

            “Hey, when someone asks you a question do them the favor of responding.”

            Anger bubbled in Hinata’s veins, he raised his arm and pushed the blade away from his body. “What is wrong with you!?” Hinata yelled at the top of his lungs. Slim fingers reached down towards the mask that covered the face, underneath it was a boyish face, a face that seemed no older than Hinata’s own. Foam bubbled past blue colored lips as unseeing eyes stared up at his face. Almost as if they were asking: Why?

            Kageyama’s brows rose, as if he couldn’t comprehend the sudden outburst of anger coming from the orange-haired teen. Angered he reached out towards Hinata and pulled the shorter of the two towards him, his free hand bunching up the fabric of his yukata. “You can be mad at me as much as you want, but don’t forget that I’m the only person right now who’s keeping you alive.” Kageyama sucked his teeth and pushed Hinata away from him.

            Hinata yelped as he fell backwards, his butt landing hard on the wood beneath him. With a smoldering gaze, he glared up at Kageyama, his hands were curled into fists.

            “Um…,” a soft voice broke the tense air between the two. Hinata turned his head, to see a young woman standing a little away from them. There was an abashed look on her face that for some reason reminded Hinata of his little sister. She had blonde hair that slightly went past her chin and a side ponytail on the left side of her head that was contained by two star hairclips. With shaking hands she hid half of her face behind a brown parcel package she held in her hands. “Kageyama-dono, Kiyoko-hime wished to see you.”

            Kageyama glared down at Hinata before letting out a humph, he tapped the length of his sword against his shoulder again, before pushing his way past the woman.

            The young woman’s gaze was fixed on Hinata, “Are you….Hinata-sama?” He nodded. The young woman held out the package in her arms towards him, like a sacrificial offering.

            Hinata stood up, rubbing his backside as he did so. He walked towards Yachi and gratefully took the package away from her hands. He began to undo the thick string that bound the package closed, the brown paper fell open and inside of it was his yukata. He placed the package on the ground and pulled out the yukata, he let out a pleased noise at the site of his yukata. There was no visible sign of tear or wear and the fabric looked so new, that it seemed as if it was freshly bought from a store.

            Yachi yelped as she found herself in a tight embrace. Hinata’s arms squeezed her sides, “thank you so much, Yachi-san!”

            Hinata pulled back and Yachi bowed to him. “Kiyoko-hime told me to take a look at your wound as soon as I delivered your yukata to you.”

            Hinata nodded, scooping down to pick up the remnants of the parcel. He followed Yachi back into the interior of Kiyoko’s home.

           

            What seemed like moments later, Hinata was walking down the halls of Kiyoko’s home. Yachi had taken off the bandages binding his throat, and gave him a jar of cream to put on the wound on his neck. As she said to make the wound lighter and less noticeable. Hinata reached up to the side of his neck, his fingers traced along the length of the scar on his neck. It felt smooth beneath his touch, like the polished stones he would sometimes find in the riverbed that ran along the edge of his village.

            His stomach growled with hunger as he momentarily regretted not going to eat breakfast with Kiyoko this morning. But he couldn’t bring himself to face, Bakageyama. He stuck his tongue out in the air as he walked down the halls, looking this way and that for any sign that he was close to the kitchen.

            “What does it say?” Hinata made a face. Why couldn’t the kamis just give him a break today? He looked around the hallway in an attempt to pinpoint where Kageyama’s voice was coming from.

            Hinata slowly walked down the hall, taking care to not and make the wooden floorboards creak, without giving him away.

            He strained his ear, trying to pick up the distinct soft murmurings of human speech. He stopped near the edge of a shoji screen and pressed his ear close to it. He was startled and looked up at Kageyama as the shoji screen flew open.

            Kageyama glared at him, his eyes demanding that he moved...or else he would be forced to.

 

            Kageyama’s eye twitched as he closed the shoji screen. He could hear Hinata cursing under his breath as he walked down the hall.

            “Who was that?” Kiyoko looked up from the small scroll she was hunched over, a few scrolls were scattered over her desk, unfurled and falling down the wood, like a small waterfall.

            “That orange-haired dumbass.” Kageyama spat those four words out as he walked towards Kiyoko’s desk and sat in front of it. He picked at one of the scrolls, before letting it flap against her desk.

            “I heard that he and you got into an altercation earlier?” Kiyoko kept her head down as she poured over the scroll.

           Kageyama snorted, “it was nothing.”

           “It didn't sound like ‘nothing’,” Kiyoko smirked.

          “That's not what I came here to talk about. What does it say?”

            Kiyoko placed a single finger on a lone character on the first line of the scroll. “Shi-se-i-ji,” she mumbled under her breath, slowly reading out the syllables of every 3rd character in the scroll. Her brows scrunched up together and small wrinkles appeared on her forehead.

            The scroll had been taken from the dead of one of the ninja’s that had infiltrated the house. Kageyama had been lucky that he had inspected the bodies at all, before the doshin had come and taken the bodies away.

            Kiyoko abruptly stopped her reading, her spine stiffened and her finger stilled over a lone character. The room was silent, the only sound between the two was the creaking of floorboards from the hallway as the servants walked throughout the house performing their various duties.

            “What? What is it?” Kageyama stood from where he sat, pausing as Kiyoko held up a single hand and bade him to sit down.

            “The shogun--”she began, “tell me, have you heard anything coming from the capital?”

            Kageyama stared at her suspiciously, “besides monthly reports? No. Why are you asking?”

            Kiyoko threw a suspicious glance at the shoji doors, before looking back at Kageyama. “Not one word said here is meant for others ears.” Kageyama nodded. “The shogun is dying.”

            Kageyama lept to his feet. “What! What do you mean he’s dying!?”

            “Kageyama-kun,” Kiyoko hissed, “sit down…,” her expression became soft, filled with a motherly tenderness, “please.”

            Kageyama’s jaw clenched as he slowly sank to the floor. “How?” The word left his lips in a bitter whisper.

            “I don’t know. There are some...rumors, but that is all they are.”

            “Then, how is any of this related to that orange-haired dumbass?”

            Kiyoko closed her eyes for a few brief moments before taking a pause. “Kageyama-kun. Hinata is--”

 

            He couldn’t believe it. A bastard. No, the bastard. That orange-haired idot was the shogun’s bastard.

            Kageyama scowled as he watched Hinata shove a meat bun into his mouth. The two were sitting across from one another at a low wooden table inside of a local restaurant. Hinata’s cheeks swelled to the size of chipmunks as he reached out for another one that was sitting in front of him. Where the hell did he put all of it?

            “Why are we here?” Hinata managed to mumble out through the handful of food that was stuffed into his mouth. Tiny flecks of meat, sprayed from between his lips and landed on the table. Hinata frowned as Kageyama ignored him. He glared at him and hoped that Kageyama would choke on a meat bun.

            “Kageyama-kun!” A loud, eardrum piercing yell worked its way through the restaurant. A young woman with hair the color of honey that reached her chin, slightly slanted eyes and multiple earrings in her ears rushed over to Kageyama and gripped him up in a hug.

            Kageyama’s cheeks flushed pink as the woman smothered his head between her ample sized breasts.

            Hinata snorted as he chewed on the second meat bun in his hand.

            The woman let Kageyama go from her tight grip. The black-haired samurai gasped for air as the woman smacked him hard on the back, enough that it felt and sounded like his lungs would be dislodged from his body. “Kageyama-kun, you need to come around here more often. I swear every time I see you look thin.”

            “Let Kageyama eat in peace you old onibaba1. Besides you’re disturbing the rest of the customers.” Standing behind the woman, was a man who looked similar in appearance to her, save for his shaved head, sharp grey eyes and thuggish appearance.

            “Ehh?” The woman cocked her head to the side, the corner of her lips curled upwards as she squinted at him. She stood up and grabbed him by the collar of his yukata and slipped her arm around his neck, putting him into a headlock. She took her fist and ground it into his head. “Who...are...you...calling...an...onibaba?” She seethed with each rotation of her fist. She let him up and punched him on the arm. “You get to clean up the restaurant when you’re done Ryūnosuke. I’m taking a break.”

            The shaved headed man, grumbled underneath his breath as he sank down to the ground and sat down at an empty space at Kageyama and Hinata’s table. He reached out towards the middle of the table and grabbed a meat bun before taking a huge bite out of it.

            “What brings you around here Kageyama-kun? I know it’s definitely not our food.”

            “Tanaka-san. I need your help. I need you to lend me your strength.”

            Tanaka’s brow rose, “what for? You never ask for help from anyone. Ever.”

            “I need to get to Edo.”

            “Why? I’m certain you can do that without my help.”

            “I can’t,” Kageyama begrudgingly admitted, “if I could, I would have left town already, but I can’t. I need your help Tanaka-san.”

            “Alright, alright,” Tanaka muttered, “I don’t want you groveling all over the place.” He sighed, “you’re never the type to ask for help, but hearing you ask for it. Whatever business you have in Edo it must be serious if you’re asking me for help.” Tanaka cast a glance at Hinata. “Who’s this shorty?”

            Hinata’s lips twitched as chewed slowly on his third meat bun.

            Kageyama jerked his chin in Hinata’s direction, “Hinata-san.”

            Tanaka swallowed the last bit of his meat bun before wiping his hands on the sides of his yukata. “So, why do you need to go to Edo?”

            “I can’t say.”

            Tanaka stared suspiciously at Hinata.

            “Alright,” Tanaka sighed as he stood up, “then I guess that means you’re going to collect the others?” Kageyama nodded. Tanaka’s lips stretched out into a wide grin, he lifted his right arm and wound it around in a large circle before smacking his other hand down onto his shoulder. “What are you waiting for Kageyama? Why don’t we go and meet our old friends.”

 

            The sun was high in the sky as the trio made their way to a blacksmith’s shop. The closer they got the louder the sound of metal clanging against metal became. Tanaka led them around the side of the building, where an open door allowed smoke to billow out into the air and orange flames cast shadows across the dark wood that almost seemed as black as the night from the soot covering the surface.

            The three of them walked through the open door, smoke wrapped around their bodies and heat licked at their skin.

            Hinata coughed as he hastily attempted to wave smoke out of his face.

            “Oi! Asahi-kun! You got company!” There was a man sitting on one of the wooden tables pushed up against the edge of the room. A mischievous grin lit up his face, and his hair stood up in the air, with a few tufts of blond hair falling over his forehead. He hopped off the table that he was sitting on.

            “You’re so small!” Hinata blurted out, quickly clamping his hands over his mouth as Kageyama shot him a murderous glare.

            The short man laughed as the smoke began to clear a little, exposing a rather tall man, sweat poured down his face. He lifted up his arm and wiped off the sweat on his forehead, his bun bobbed as he removed the thick leather apron wrapped around his waist.

            “Kageyama-kun. What brings you here?”

            Kageyama placed his hand on the handle of his katana, his lips stretched out into a thin grin. “Pack your things. We’re going to Edo.”

Chapter Text

            The forest was still around them. Birds flitted from treetop to treetop and the vibrant green leaves providing them with some shade reminded them that summer was in reign during this time of the year.

            Sweat rolled down the back of Hinata’s neck and slid down his back and soaked into his already sweat soaked yukata.

            Hinata puffed out his cheeks and sighed, he could hear the gurgle of a brook somewhere close by. The sweet thought of running towards it and dipping his hands into cool water was a blissful thought to his heat boggled mind.

            “When can we take a rest?” Hinata whined as he dragged his feet behind him, a plume of dust rose around his legs and clung to the already thin layer of dirt and grime that was already on his skin.

            They’d been traveling for nearly 3 days now, with very little time for rest between them.

            Kageyama looked up at the sky, beautiful orange ribbons were already streaked across the background of a setting sun. Kageyama could feel his own sweat pooling in the hollow of his collar bones. “A couple more hours; we can set up camp before nightfall.”

            Hinata let out an enthusiastic groan as his shoulders sagged beneath the weight of the medicine cabinet on his back.

            “Good, because I’m certain I’m sweating in places I didn’t even know I could sweat from.”

            Laughter rang through the air as Nishinoya clapped Hinata on the back with his hand, causing the orange-haired teen to stumble forward.

            “That’s not something you should be saying at your age Hinata,” Nishinoya leaned closer to him, a mischievous grin on his lips and his eyes twinkling with forbidden knowledge, “at least not until you get some hair down there.”

            Hinata’s entire body managed to turn a dusky shade of red as the entire group laughed at his expense aside from Kageyama who lifted a hand to his face, to push a sweat soaked lock of hair behind his ear.

            They walked for some time, before the sun dipped its head below the horizon and disappeared for the night. They set up camp in the woods, a few feet away from the brook. A fire crackled in the middle of them, the smell of roasting fish permeated the air as the snap and crackle of the fish's flesh provided a melodic sound that accompanied the gurgle of the brook and the cry of cicadas in the forest around them.

            This serene peace had Hinata dozing on and off, his back pressed to the smooth wood of his medicine cabinet.

            “Kageyama-san, where are we traveling to? We haven’t really seen much travelers on the roads that we’re taking.” Asahi leaned closer to the fire, rotating one of the skewered fishes so that the other side.

            “Matsushima,” Kageyama held his unsheathed katana in his hands, a soft rag was pressed against the steel. “There’s someone there that I trained with a few years ago, I think they’ll join us once they hear me out.” Kageyama removed the rag from the blade and lifted it in front of his face, inspecting the steel for any signs of blemishes or imperfections.

            The skin of the fish roasting in the fire let out an audible pop. Asahi removed the fish from the fire; Hinata sighed contentedly as his teeth dug into the crispy skin of the flesh to the soft, moist meat beneath it.

            The lull and warmth of the fire, coupled with the group’s laughter as they began to recount stories caused Hinata to drift in and out of sleep.

            “So,” Nishinoya began, “I was in the spring of my youth, just barely a man at the time. My father sent me a few towns over to deliver an order. I was armed with only my grandfather’s tanto at the time. A few days into the journey, I ended up getting lost in a thick section of the woods. I was wondering for hours and hours until I heard laughter all around me—” Nishinoya leaned forward, so that the flames of the fire cast eerie shadows across his face.  “And that’s when I saw it!” Nishinoya paused dramatically, “a couple of naked girls bathing in a spring.”

            A bark of laughter rose in the air as Tanaka punched Nishinoya in the arm.

            Hinata felt a swift kick at his legs and looked up to see Kageyama towering over him. “Get up, we need to talk.”

            Hinata raised a brow at this, but complied, brushing pine needles and dirt off of his yukata as he did so. He followed Kageyama a little bit away from the fire, enough so that he could still see the faint glow of it, but their features were obscured by the darkness of the woods around them.

            “Here.” Kageyama grabbed Hinata’s hand and held it so that his palm was facing upwards, he dropped something weighted and thick into Hinata’s open palm.

            Hinata pulled his hand back towards him and curled his fingers, feeling the smooth shaved wood beneath his fingers. Hinata’s breath was caught in his throat as he lifted his other hand to the hilt of the short blade and pulled it out. The blade of the tanto glinted under the slivers of moonlight that snaked their way through the leaves of the forest. Hinata quickly sheathed the blade, before pressing the weapon against Kageyama’s chest.

            “I don’t want it.” The taste of bile was burning in the back of Hinata’s throat as the increasingly familiar scent of blood filled his nose.

            Kageyama’s brows knitted together as he wrapped his hand around the tanto blade. “What do you mean ‘you don’t want it’?” His lips were pulled into a thin grim line and in the shadows his eyes had a dark look to them that blended in with the shadows of the forest.

            “You know exactly what I meant by it. I don’t need a weapon and I won’t learn how to fight with one either.”

            Hinata gasped as the tanto fell to the grass below them, the collar of his yukata was bunched up between Kageyama’s fists.

            “I can’t tell if you’re an idiot or just a giant dumbass, but if you haven’t noticed there’s enemies out there who are willing to kill you and your entire family without so much as a thought.” Kageyama’s voice was low, almost a whisper as he said this.

            Hinata pushed Kageyama away from him, his blood was boiling he jabbed a finger at Kageyama’s chest. “And how do you even know that? Because funnily enough, the only time those ninja’s seem to appear is when you’re around!” Hinata’s voice grew louder, filling the space between them both. “Hell, since the moment I met you it’s just been nothing but problems after problems!” Hinata jabbed his finger in Kageyama’s chest again. “Maybe these ninja’s are actually after you!” Hinata groaned, placing his hands against his head. “Oh, kami, maybe you did something awful and that’s why they’re after you! I’ve been traveling with a corrupt samurai this whole entire time!”

            “That’s not the reason—” Kageyama started, quickly biting down on his tongue before he said anything more than what needed to be.

            “Then what is the real reason?” Hinata glared at him and Kageyama was reminded of the conversation he had with Kiyoko a few days prior.

            He squinted at Hinata; if you looked at him you wouldn’t able to tell that he was the shogun’s illegitimate son. Not unless you looked hard enough and noticed the wrinkles at the corners of his mouth, the shape of his face and the slight orange tint that his eyes took on when the sun hit them at the right angle were a subtle nod to the shogun’s own features. Even though Kageyama had seen the shogun himself less than a handful of times during the course of his life, it was obvious if you were looking for it that Hinata was the shogun’s son.

            “Nothing that requires your concern,” Kageyama told him in a clipped tone.

            Hinata scoffed, turning his body so that the dim light of the fire was shining across his face.

            “Where are you going?” Kageyama reached out and grabbed Hinata’s wrist.

            “Oh, I’m sorry, but that doesn’t require any of your concern.” Hinata gasped as his cheek bloomed with pain as Kageyama’s fist collided with it. He staggered backwards, his back colliding with the rough bark of a tree.

            Kageyama glared at him as he began to walk towards the camp. A high pitched yell erupted behind him as he turned, only to see a ball of orange come rushing towards him and tackle him to the forest floor. A small fist struck his right cheek, Kageyama groaned and grabbed Hinata by the collar of his yukata and flipped him to the ground, before giving him a right hook to his nose. Hinata raised his leg and kicked Kageyama in the stomach as hard as he could, sending the black haired samurai crashing to the forest floor on his ass.

            “You little piece of shit!” Kageyama roared as he leapt at Hinata again only to have a pair of strong arms wrap around his shoulders, holding him back from the orange haired-teen who was cradling his broken nose between his hands, Tanaka and Nishinoya rushed to his side.

            “Stop it, both of you!” Asahi’s voice boomed across the forest, a clap of thunder between clouds. “I don’t know what got between the two of you, but right now your goal shouldn’t be trying to fight each other, but rather getting to Edo in one piece.”

            Kageyama shrugged his body out of Asahi’s hold. He lifted a hand to the side of his face and rubbed at the already swelling portion of his face. “Unfortunately, Asahi-san is correct,” Kageyama sighed as he let his hand drop to his side, he turned and picked up the tanto that had been kicked close to a tree in the scuffle. “I’m going to have first watch, Tanaka-san, Asahi-san, and Nishinoya-san, you’ll be after me.” Kageyama shot one final look towards Hinata before walking away.

            Asahi sighed, placing a hand over his heart. “I really hate conflict of any sort.”

            Nishinoya sniggered as he punched Hinata in the arm, before helping the teen tend to his broken nose. “I’ve seen Kageyama-kun angry before; far angrier than that, but what’d you do to set him off?”

            “Nothing!” Hinata protested, wincing as he tipped his head backwards; blood dribbled from his nose and ran across his lips. “He was insistent that I learn how to fight, even though I told him I don’t want to.”

            “And why don’t you want to?” Asahi asked as he held out a hand towards Hinata, who gratefully took it and allowed himself to be pulled up off of the forest floor, though he swore his shoulder popped out of its socket from the ease in which Asahi pulled him up.

            Hinata’s mind turned towards memories of lifeless bodies and the coppery smell of blood. He swallowed down the lump in his throat. Hinata glanced up at Asahi, when he felt a heavy hand settle itself on the top of his head. “I’m sure you have your reasons, but don’t worry about it. You’ll get used to handling a weapon at your own pace.”

            “What if I never get used to it?”

            Asahi smiled at him, “...then you find your own way to fight your battles.”

 

            The sun rose over the hills as the logs smoldered; smoke curled from them and disappeared as the rays of the sun began to snake over the hills.

            Hinata whistled an old working tune that he had learned in his village as walked down the dusty road with Asahi, Tanaka, Nishinoya and Kageyama trailing behind him at a safe distance.

            “Hmmm,” Nishinoya hummed as he rubbed at his chin, his gaze focused on Hinata’s back. “Still, it’s weird Kageyama. Oikawa hasn’t sent a single person after us...do you think he’s given up? You always knew Oikawa the best, so why not a single attack in the last few days?”

            Kageyama rested a hand on the hilt of his katana; bird song filled the air, as a pair of blue birds darted from a tree, circled the air once and then flew towards the river in search of food. “...I used to know Oikawa,” Kageyama stressed, his eyes narrowed and his grip on his weapon tightened as phantom screams tore through his mind and his skin burned with a long simmering anger. “I can’t quite say either. He’s planning something, the only thing we just don’t know is where or when.”

            Tanaka let out a sharp laughter as he pushed up the sleeves of his yukata and flexed his well-toned biceps, gained through years of rough physical labor. “Maybe Oikawa hasn’t sent anyone after us because he knows he’s got to deal with these weapons.”

            Nishinoya laughed, tipping his head backwards so that his smile was pointed up at the sky. “What weapons? Those puny things? If Oikawa came, that would just give him even more of a reason to beat us up. If you truly want to see what real weapons look like then get a glimpse at this!” Nishinoya rolled up the sleeves of his own yukata and showed off his biceps as well.

            Both of them let out roaring peals of laughter as they flexed at one another.

            It was barely an hour into their journey when they could hear the bustling sounds of a busy town. Kageyama could smell the salt of the sea as a cool wind perked up and washed over the travelers.

            “So cool!” Hinata shouted, like a giddy kid witnessing something amusing for the first time in their life. He pointed to a bridge in the distance that connected the mainland to the other smaller islands that made up Matsushima, its long red dragon-like body stretched across the sea. As they approached closer and closer to the town, they could see that even though they had woken hours earlier, Matsushima seemed to have woken up long before them. There were already farmers tending to their fields and herding their cattle. Merchants were stacking their wares on their packs, prepping for the long journey to come. Mothers and wives were already down by the river, baskets of laundry balanced on their hips and bright smiles on their faces.

            “This is so cool!” Hinata was practically vibrating with excitement as they walked closer and closer to the town. The smell of baking bread, and grilled eel tickled at his nose and made his stomach growl.

            “Please, let me go!” The travelers turned their head at the high pitched shout of a woman. They could see a young woman, her hair tied back and adorned with a handkerchief as she went about work. Her wares were dumped all over the road and her wrist was gripped tightly by a beastly looking samurai. A large scar marked half of his face, curving from the corner of his mouth to the middle of his cheek. There was another samurai beside him. Both were way too close to the woman and looked leeringly at her.

            “Why? We just want to talk to you.” The samurai with the scar, smirked at the woman; the scar on his face, stretched, turning a pale pink, like the innards of a fish. The samurai’s friend reached over to one of the barrels that lined a vendor’s stall and reached in, plucking an apple from the barrel before taking a huge bite out of it. He grinned at the vendor, juice from the ripe fruit dribbled down his chin. He turned his head, finally noticing that Hinata and the others were staring at him and his comrade. The samurai elbowed his comrade between the ribs and jerked his head in Hinata’s direction.

            The samurai with a scar, removed his hold on the woman. She quickly bent down and gathered all of her scattered things before running away from the two. The two samurai sauntered over towards Hinata and his group, their arms casually draped over their katana’s like a silent threat.

            The samurai with the apple bit into it again, before sticking his face into Hinata’s personal space. “You don’t look like you’re from around here kid, did you get lost on your way to the candy store?” Small flecks of apple hit Hinata in the face, he cringed and lifted a hand to wipe his face off of bits of apple and spittle.

            “No, I actually didn’t get lost on my way here. I somehow managed to find my way, though I can’t quite say the same thing for your morals.” Hinata brazenly stared into the samurai’s quickly reddening faces.

            “Oi!” The samurai with the scar barked, “Do you want to try and get yourself in trouble little kid? It’d be quite a shame if we had to return to your mother’s house with your body.”

            Hinata’s eyes darkened as he stared into the scarred samurai’s eyes, “was that a threat?” His words were covered in a thick layer of ice.

            Kageyama stepped forward, placing a hand on Hinata’s shoulder, his grip tightened on Hinata’s shoulder—a warning— before pulling the orange-haired teen back towards him.

            Kageyama bowed his head in apology before the samurai’s, “forgive me, but my young companion here sometimes isn’t careful with his choice of words.”

            The samurai’s glanced at each other; their lips stretching into smirks.

            The samurai with the apple flicked the core of the eaten fruit at Kageyama. The apple core smacked against Kageyama’s cheek, before falling to the dusty road beneath his feet. Hinata’s eyes widened at the subhuman treatment these samurai were dishing out. Anger blazed in his eyes, almost making them seem amber-like in the morning sun, his cheeks were reddened and his hair was standing on ends, making him seem like a puffed up bird defending its territory from other predators.

            “Oh?” The scarred samurai grinned at his buddy, before placing his hands on his hips and leaning forward so that his face was in Kageyama’s personal space. “What are the dōshin doing, not teaching rats like these how to respect us samurai?”

            “I’m sorry,” Kageyama repeated, his jaw was clenched tightly together and his body was rigid.

            “Oi!Oi!” The two samurai looked absolutely giddy, “Is that any way to truly show that you’re sorry?”

            Kageyama gritted his teeth; everyone was on edge as he let his grip on Hinata’s shoulder slip, his hand fell to his side and he bowed his upper body towards the samurai.

            The samurai who had tossed the apple core at Kageyama, shared a knowing glance with his companion. “It doesn’t seem like this dōshin seems to be sorry for how his friend here acted. Is that how you show two higher class samurai that you’re sorry?”

            Kageyama’s clenched jaw couldn’t have possibly tightened more, there was a tick in his jaw and his fingers were curled into his palms, leaving half-moon shaped indentions into the soft flesh.

            “Kageyama—” Nishinoya called out, his jaw was clenched and there was a knot in his throat.

            “Nishinoya-san, please don’t say another word.” Kageyama’s words were barely a whisper as he sunk to his knees. His face was burning and the growing crowd around the travelers was quiet as they watched the events unfold. Kageyama placed the palms of his hands against the ground, a few inches away from his knees, before bowing lowly towards them.

            Hinata’s throat burned and his fists shook at his side as he glared at the two samurai. How could someone be so corrupt? How could Kageyama allow himself to be treated so lowly? So...subhuman?

            The scarred samurai, lifted his foot and kicked at Kageyama’s back. “That’s how lowly dōshin like you should be, always at the feet of us samurai.” He and his buddy laughed, “you’re lucky we’re in such a good mood, we’ll let you off with just a warning this time.”

            “Thank you...for being so humble towards us.” Kageyama forced his words through gritted teeth.

            The samurai laughed as they turned away from him, already bored with another person they managed to terrorize that day.

            “Welcome to Matsushima!” One of the samurai called out as he and his buddy disappeared into crowd.

            The crowd around the travelers began to disperse and go about their day, casting furtive looks at Kageyama who still was bowing in the road.

            Kageyama’s fingers burrowed into the dirt, his hand was shaking as he curled his fingers towards his palms. Tiny granules of dry Earth wedged into his fingernails. A frustrated roar erupted from his throat as he pounded the dirt road with his fist. Kageyama pushed himself to his feet, refusing to meet the eyes of his traveling companions. “Let’s go,” he whispered.

            Traveling through Matsushima was a shock for the group; a slap to the face and more salt to the wounds they already bared. Everywhere they turned, there was corruption at its finest. There was a samurai extorting money from an old woman selling jewelry. A pair of samurai walking down the street kicked at a defenseless old man who blindly bumped into them.

            It made Hinata’s blood boil. All this mistreatment, all of this...this abuse! All of them were upset, but none so more than Kageyama himself. His face and mood seemed to darken at every encounter of abuse of power they witnessed. He grew increasingly silent and his teeth sunk into his lower lip.

            “These aren’t samurai,” he finally spat out later, “they’re nothing but fat dogs.”

            The group walked in silence, until they reached a modest little home on a small plot of land, tucked near the edge of the craftsmen section of the town. Hinata noticed that the house looked incredibly old, the roof tiles looked as if they were ready to slide off of the roof. The group made their way to the front yard, a little vegetable garden was tucked near a stone wall. Lettuce and carrots poked their heads out of the soft earth.

            Kageyama called out to let the owners of the home know that they had guests. The front door slid open and standing there was a man close to Asahi’s height, his brown eyes exuded a friendly warmth and his honey blond hair was tied back with a simple cloth. His sleeves were pushed up to his elbows and sweat covered his face.

            “Kageyama?” The blond man called out, his eyebrows knitted together in confusion. The corners of his mouth pulled out into a smile as he rushed outside to pull Kageyama into a tight hug. He patted Kageyama on the back and pushed him away at arm's length to get a good look at him. “It’s been too long. I haven’t heard from you since—” The blond man finally noticed the presence of his other guests and squeezed Kageyama’s shoulders before letting his hands drop to his sides. “Who are these companions that you brought with you?”

            Kageyama introduced them, “this is Nishinoya-san, Asahi-san, Tanaka-san and Hinata.”

            The blond man nodded, glancing at the weapons Kageyama’s traveling companions held. “And I’m sure you’re not here to catch up on the past with me?”

            Kageyama shook his head, “unfortunately not today, I have a request that I wish to ask of you.”

            The blond man nodded as he looked at his guests, “I’m sure Kageyama has never spoken of me, but I’m Akiteru Tsukishima. It’s a pleasure to meet you all.” Akiteru’s gaze shifted to a group of samurai who were patrolling down the street. “Come inside, it’s not exactly best to talk about things outside.”

            Akiteru invited them into his home. It was homely, but the rooms and hallways were a little cramped for the five guests. Akiteru showed them to the main living space and seated them around the low table.

            He left the room and returned a short while later with cups of steaming tea and small snacks.

            “I’m sorry, I know this isn’t much from such a poor person like me, but this is all I can offer you.” Akiteru said as he handed out cups of tea to his guests.

            “This is more than enough.” Kageyama nodded in thanks as he wrapped a hand around his mug of tea.

            “Yea,” Hinata mumbled through the half of the dorayaki that was already shoved into his mouth, crumbs and bits of sweet bean paste coated his bottom lip. “I’ve had way less than this to eat growing up. This is more like a luxury really.” He shoved the other half of the dorayaki into his mouth and reached out to the plate for more.

            Kageyama sipped on his tea as he looked around the home. Taking in the shabbiness of the tatami mats, the patched shoji screens and the patches in Akiteru’s clothes that showed the age of it and where the fabric had been mended to over time with a thread and needle.

            Akiteru smiled as he took up his own cup of tea, “I take it this is your first visit to Matsushima,” he addressed everyone besides Kageyama, “how do you like it so far?”

            Hinata chewed the dorayaki in his mouth slowly as he and his companions traded glances.

            “It’s fine…” Asahi placed his hands on his thighs, “far more different from Karasuno.”

            Akiteru’s eyes narrowed, “I take it you guys had a run in with the samurai in town?” They all looked at each other and Akiteru sighed.

            Kageyama rested his mug in the palm of his hand as he leaned forward, “Akiteru… what happened to this town? It’s much different than how I remember it.”

            Akiteru sighed, setting his tea on the table before him. “Everything changed Kageyama. Everything changed.” His eyes became misty and clouded as he stared down at the green tea that rippled in his mug.

            Kageyama nodded, “and that’s why I’m going to ask you to lend me your sword. I need you to help me, this entire country needs you to help change it. So will you join me?”

            Akiteru sighed, crossing his arms across his chest. “Kageyama....you’re asking too much of me...I’m sorry, but I just can’t. I can’t lend you my sword.”

            Kageyama was taken aback, his eyes slightly widened. “What? Why not?” His voice was slightly raised and incredulousness laced his words.

            “I just—”

            There was the sound of floorboards creaked under the pressure of heavy weight as a rather tall teen, almost the same height as Asahi stood in the doorframe. He looked like an exact copy of Akiteru, save for the condescending look in his eyes and the glasses that rested on the bridge of his nose.

            “Ah, Kageyama this is my little brother Kei. Why didn’t you say anything when you came in? Kei, don’t be so rude and come in and greet our guests.”

            Tsukishima stood stock and glared at Kageyama, a smug smirk tugged at the edge of his lips as he cocked his head to the side and snorted. “A samurai for once that actually wants to do some good and change the world…tch. What makes you think you’re any different compared to those dogs outside?”

            “Kei…” Akiteru shot his little brother a warning glare.

            Tsukishima emboldened continued his onslaught of words. “No. This samurai here has the gall to come into our home for what? To ask you to fight for others, just for the sake of his own gratification?” Tsukishima scoffed and spat out, “look what that got us…”

            “Kei...keep your mouth shut.” The two brothers glared at each other, their eyes darkened with pain and anger.

            Tsukishima fixed his gaze on Kageyama, his eyes full of malice towards him. “What’s so great about samurai anyway? The fact that you get to do whatever you want? Even if it hurts the people you’re supposed to protect? All of you samurai are nothing more than worms that are desperate to eat the shogun’s shit—”

            “KEI!” Akiteru roared, silencing his brother’s rant.

            Tsukishima looked at his brother and scoffed again, before disappearing from their sights.

            Akiteru sighed, pinching at the bridge of his nose and squeezing his eyes shut.

            “Akiteru…” Akiteru looked up at Kageyama who softly called out his name.

            Akiteru laughed bitterly, “I’m sure you could tell that my family is no longer as...fortunate as we used to be Kageyama. It’s quite apparent.”

            Kageyama nodded. Years ago the Tsukishima family had had a beautiful and large home on a plot of land that was granted to the first head of their clan by the local Daimyo’s ancestor for their service. Kageyama remembered the splendid rock garden found in their home, the few occasions he had stayed there and the abundance of servants that attended to the family, along with the opulent kimono’s that the Tsukishima matriarchy would wear. Kageyama glanced around the home again, to go from such splendor and wealth to poverty like this? Poverty that was even below a farmer’s own? Something terrible must have occurred to the Tsukishima family and their reputation.

            “What happened?”

            Akiteru shrugged his shoulders, “what always happens...the weak get eaten and the strong thrive. A couple years ago during the Siege of Osaka, my father and I followed our Daimyo into battle under the Date Clan’s banner.”

            Kageyama nodded, the Daimyo of Matsushima was known to be the son in-law of the Date clan head.

            Akiteru’s mouth, thinned into a grim line. “We had just crossed the river and found our forces clashing fiercely with Gotō’s own. After Gotō committed suicide, our Daimyo was ordered to hunt down any of the enemies samurai’s who had escaped during the battle. We traveled to a small village, north of the battle grounds. One that we knew was loyal to the Toyotomi clan. When we arrived there, we found that the villagers had been giving shelter to many of the enemy samurai. We quickly disposed of them and my father and I thought that some penalties would be given out to the villagers, something befitting of the situation, but that wasn’t what we received...our Daimyo ordered us to kill every single person in that village…”

            Kageyama sucked air through his teeth, anger bubbled in his veins. For a Daimyo to order that his own men kill an entire village full of innocent people instead of punishing the perpetrators to hard labor or having a few months of their grains taken away, but murder?

            “My father and I refused. There were innocent men, women and children in that village...and to murder them all, for what? For a few injured and honorless men being sheltered in their village? Our Daimyo was livid, our refusal of his orders was like a direct refusal of the shogun’s orders.” Akiteru gritted his teeth as tears burned in his eyes. “He ordered that my father and I be detained and right before our eyes had every single villager brought before us to be executed. There were children there! Babies who could barely walk that were murdered like they were nothing more than cattle!” Tears were streaming down Akiteru’s face like a running river. “The Daimyo then ordered that my father and I be executed for insubordination, but my father pleaded with him to spare my life. So my father was beheaded and I was sent home with his body to return it to our family grave. Our family was stripped of its rank and our mother died a few weeks later from all of the stress.”

            Akiteru wiped at the tears that were flowing out from his eyes.

            Kageyama dipped his head into a little bow and apologized only for Akiteru to laugh bitterly, “What are you apologizing for? None of what happened was your fault besides people make decisions for themselves because they believe that their decisions are the right thing to do. My father and I made our own decisions because we believed it was the right thing to do and that’s not something I or my father regret.”

            Akiteru stood up, wiping his tear stained hands on his pants; the sun was just beginning to set below the horizon. “It’s getting late. I know that there isn’t much room or food in my home, but I can offer you what I can.”

            Kageyama waved Akiteru’s words away with the back of his hand, “a roof over our head and a bowl of rice is enough for both me and my companions. Whatever you can give us we’ll make do with it.”

            Akiteru smiled and excused himself before leaving the room to begin preparing dinner. Nishinoya smacked his hand down on the table. “Those bastards! Has the shogunate become so corrupt that even the lives of its people mean nothing to it?” Nishinoya shook his head out of fury.

            “That’s what we’re going to try and change.” Kageyama spoke with such a fierce determination that everyone around him truly believed it.

 

            “This may not be my mother’s cooking, but it should be edible enough to eat,” Akiteru announced as he walked back into the main room with trays balanced on his arm full of bowls of miso soup, brined vegetables, cubes of fried tofu, and tempura shrimp. Tsukishima walked behind him with another tray full of bowls of rice.

            Akiteru passed around the food as Hinata curiously lifted a slice of a brined daikon with his chopsticks cut in the shape of a bloated frog?

            Akiteru noticed, “I tried to make it resemble a lotus flower. I have to say I did a pretty good job myself.”

            Kageyama stared down at the bowl of rice in his hands, he looked to be contemplating something.

            “What’s wrong your lordship? Is peasant food not to your likeness?” Tsukishima’s sharp tongue lashed out as he lifted his own chopsticks full of rice to his lips.

            “Kei—” Akiteru was already calling out his brother’s name, his eyebrows knitted together in silent frustration.

            “I mean, I’ve had less to eat than this before in my village, but this tastes better than anything eating rice with miso.” Hinata pushed his words into the conversation, only for everyone to look at him. Hinata shifted his gaze from person to person. “What?”

            Kageyama elegantly started to eat, picking up a few grains of rice from the bowl and chewing them slowly before responding to Tsukishima’s verbal lashing, “I’m not a lord, but I do know when to be grateful for the things that I’m given—” Kageyama stared pointedly at Tsukishima, “—and even know how to respectfully treat guests under my own roof.”

            Tsukishima scoffed, the tips of his ear turning a shade of magenta. “How such a placating thing to say. But a lord is a lord and samurai will always love to preside over those who are much weaker than themselves. You’ll all one day strive for a way to gain more power than you have.”

            “Kei. I’m not going to warn you again; you need to still your tongue.” Akiteru reached towards his brother and gripped his slender wrist and gave it a warning squeeze.

            “No,” there was a smirk on Kageyama’s lips, “clearly your brother has something he wants to say. Let him.”

            “Ah, so the lord allows an audience with a peasant. Shame that my brother and father couldn’t have been granted the same fortune.” Tsukishima spat, a smug smirk on his lips as he watched Kageyama still and his cheeks redden with rage. The entire table went still as everyone stopped eating and glanced from Kageyama to Tsukishima, like watching two hawks fight over a single fish, waiting to see who would do what.

            Kageyama was the first one to fight back, “what happened to your family was a tragedy, but it was the result of a samurai who no longer understands or represents the true values of bushido. Not all samurai are like the one who robbed your family of everything.”

            Tsukishima was slowly becoming infuriated, “not all samurai may be like that, but I have yet to see one in this town or anywhere else that stands up for the people instead of himself. So forgive me, your lordship,” Tsukishima dragged out the title with a sneer, “if I think that such a name is fitting for a person like yourself.” Tsukishima slammed down his chopsticks and stood up, shaking his wrist out of his brother’s hold, before storming out of the room.

            Akiteru sighed for the billionth time that night, “I have to apologize on behalf of my brother.”

            Kageyama shook his head, “there’s no need to apologize...unless you want to apologize for that time you horrendously lost that shogi game.”

            Akiteru threw his head back as laughter fell from his lips. “I bet you won’t be saying that if I challenge you to another match.”

            “Prepare to lose.”

 

            Kageyama jolted awake as the back of a hand smacked down into his face. He turned, only to find Hinata’s open mouth a few inches away from his face, drool dribbled from his lips and was smeared across his cheek. Kageyama frowned in disgust, before pushing Hinata’s arm away from his face. Sunlight was already beginning to filter into the small, spare bedroom that Akiteru had offered his guests to stay in for the night. The space was cramped, taken up mostly by Asahi’s and Tanaka’s more bulky frame.

            Kageyama sat upright, swinging his arms above his head and stretched. There was the satisfying sound of his joints popping and a tautness in his back that eased away. Kageyama sat there in his futon, listening to the quiet sounds of the early morning, before it was disrupted by a loud argument in the hallway a few inches away from the room.

            Kageyama pushed himself to his feet and slid the shoji screen apart to poke his head into the hallway to see what was going on.

            Akiteru and his younger brother stood in the middle of the hallway, both of their faces were red and their bodies taught as if they were in the midst of an argument.

            “I can’t believe you,” Tsukishima hissed at his older brother, “do you even realizing what you’re doing?”

            Akiteru sighed, his back straightened and he crossed his arms in front of him. “Kageyama’s right, Kei, this entire country needs changing and it starts with us...besides...I need to be right beside Kageyama to see it happen.”

            “And that means abandoning your own family to do it? To just what? End up like dad?” Anger was written all over Tsukishima’s face as he turned on his heels and stormed out of the home.

            Akiteru groaned, threading his fingers through his hair and rubbing at his scalp in frustration. He turned on his heels and was surprised to see that Kageyama was up and standing in the hallway.

            Kageyama slid the shoji screen shut behind him as he dipped his head in greeting.

            “I apologize if my brother and I woke you up,” Akiteru motioned to empty space behind him with the back of his hand.

            “There’s no need to apologize, I was up long before your...talk with your brother.”

            Akiteru sheepishly scratched the back of his neck, “I take it you heard what we were talking about?” Kageyama nodded, “I tried my best to raise Kei after we lost our parents, but sometimes I feel that he carries a lot more anger in his heart about everything that he lets seem.”

            Kageyama nodded, “it’s an understandable feeling for your brother...for the both of you to be carrying inside your hearts.”

            Akiteru nodded, avoiding Kageyama’s gaze. “I’ve been meaning to ask you Kageyama, considering that I know you so well. I know that changing this country isn’t your true goal...so what is?” Akiteru raised his brows, his questions having pierced Kageyama’s armor.

            Kageyama opened his mouth the respond, but quickly snapped it closed when the shoji screen slid open. Hinata stepped into the hallway, a hand hovering over his mouth as a giant yawn stretched his lips apart and his other hand lazily scratched at his butt.

            Akiteru snorted, glancing at Kageyama with a look that told the raven haired samurai that he would be getting an answer one way or another from him later. “I’ll go make us breakfast.”

            Hinata mumbled an incoherent response, a garble of stating his need to pee and something about giant delectable fishes. He yawned again, before stalking off down the hall to empty his bladder.

 

            Hinata groaned, a pout on his face. “Can’t we just stay here for another day?”

            Tanaka crossed his arms in front of him, “no. We have places we need to be, besides I want to return home as quickly as possible to see Kiyoko-san’s beautiful expression.”

            Nishinoya nudged Tanaka in the sides, “where we’re going, there are surely going to be more girls far beautiful than our own Kiyoko-san.”

            Tanaka and Nishinoya glanced at each other, before placing their hands together and bowing their heads as if they were reciting a Buddhist prayer, tears streamed down their faces at the thought of angelic beauties who were far more stunning than Kiyoko herself.

            Akiteru laughed as he walked outside, a bundle of cloth resting in his hands that contained dried and preserved goods. “Kageyama, wherever did you manage to find your companions?”

            “It’s a long story.”

            Akiteru nodded, fixing his gaze on bamboo staff that sat propped up against the side of the house. The sun was high in the sky, signaling that it was late in the afternoon. Akiteru bit the inside of his cheek as he looked up and down the road leading away from his home.

            “Akiteru, what’s wrong? We should get going.” Kageyama called out as he slid his sheathed katana into his obi belt. The day was beginning to get late, they had already spent enough time in Matsushima and Kageyama was eager to place the group back onto the road.

            “I know, I know, but Kei isn’t here yet, and I’d really like to say goodbye to him.” Akiteru’s eyebrows squished together as he glanced up at the sky. “He’s never been this late before…” he mumbled, his voice dying as an older woman rushed down the road. The sleeve of her yukata pressed against her trembling lips as tears streamed down her face.

            “Masahara-san?” Akiteru called out in a concerned tone as the older woman rushed towards him; her complexion was pale and the skin beneath her eyes seemed a sickly color as if she would faint from grief alone.

            “Akiteru…” the older woman swallowed down a choked sob as she reached out and gripped Akiteru’s arm for support to keep herself upright.

            “Masahara-san, what’s going on?”

            “They-they…” she pressed the sleeve of her yukata even harder against her lips as a sob racked over her entire body, “they’re going to be murdered!” she finally choked out, her body collapsing into Akiteru’s arms.

            Akiteru, Kageyama and the others stared at each other inquisitively, wondering what the older woman meant and what could cause her to fly into such hysterics?

            “The shogun…” the woman sobbed, “is sending forces to burn down the temple on the hill and I saw Kei-chan going with a couple men to the temple.”

            All of the color in Akiteru’s face was drained, replaced by pale and grey flesh. He gripped the older woman’s arms, his fingers pressing into her skin. “Where’s the shogun’s forces right now!?”

            The older woman held down her head, sobbing into her sleeve. “They’re already at the temple!” Akiteru let go of her, leaving the woman to collapse to the ground from her grief as he ran towards the house and picked up the bow staff. Panic was apparent in his eyes as he rushed towards the road, only to have Kageyama stand in his path.

            “Think about what you’re doing,” Kageyama warned.

            Akiteru stared him down, his eyes narrowed and burning with a threat that if Kageyama didn’t move, that he would forcibly move him. “Get out of my way Kageyama.”

            Kageyama stared him down, before sliding out of the way. “We’ll come with you.”

 

            Anger was boiling in Tsukishima’s veins as he blindly rushed out of the house.

            Did his brother not understand that traveling down the same road that got their father killed would only lead him to his own death as well?

            ‘This entire country needs changing and it starts with us’ Tsukishima chuckled bitterly at his brothers words as he let his feet aimlessly carry him to any destination that wasn’t home right now. What good did the world ever do for them? The world had given them nothing. Tsukishima was barely a child when his father died, barely old enough to comprehend finding his mother’s body seated at the kotatsu, her eyes closed and her head bowed, giving her the appearance that all she was doing was sleeping. The world hadn’t given a single shit about them when they became orphans, or the fact that his older brother had to work jobs that back breaking and cruel just so that they could both eat for the day, or the days were his brother was cheated out of months of wages only to watch as his brother smiled and grinned with dirt covering his face, as he pushed a the only bowl of rice and slab of tofu that they had left in front of his little brother so that he could have something to eat.

            “I don’t need anything to eat! The daimyo was so happy today that he gave all the workers beef to eat.” Akiteru rubbed at his stomach, “I’m really full.” He grinned so brightly that Tsukishima’s eyes were filled with wonder and happiness that he felt that the daimyo was really a wonderful and just person.

            A lie that he believed for so long, until he truly saw the way the world worked. The weak kept getting eaten and the strong only grew stronger. That was the way of the world; and that’s how it would always be.

            “Hey! Tsuki!”

            Tsukishima was snapped out of his thoughts. He lifted his head to find that somehow he had made it to the town market. He turned to see his childhood friend waving at him as he rushed through the crowded market towards Tsukishima.

            Yamaguchi coughed from exertion as he finally caught up to Tsukishima, he leaned forward and placed his hands on his knees as he grabbed lungful’s of air. “I’ve been calling your name for a while now, but you didn’t notice,” Yamaguchi cocked his head to the side, making the freckles on his face more apparent, “you look...upset? Are you okay?”

            Tsukishima pursed his lips and turned his body away from Yamaguchi, before starting to walk down through the market, Yamaguchi trailed closely behind him.

            “Hey!” Yamaguchi and Tsukishima turned, to see a slightly older man sitting on an empty crate, there was a knife in his hand that he was using to peel an apple in his other. “You looking like strapping young boys, what’s say you join a little group of mine? We have a meeting at the temple on the hill very soon.”

            “Tsuki!” Yamaguchi harshly whispered into Tsukishima’s ears, “let’s go.” He glanced nervously at the old man, apprehension twisting his stomach.

            “What’s this group of yours for?” Tsukishima called out to the old man.

            The old man smiled, a sort of smile that was lopsided and looked like it belong on one of the masks that the local town’s men would wear during the summer festivals when they pretended to be youkai. “For anyone like yourself that feels angry and disillusioned by the injustices in this town; by the corruption of the samurai.” The old man pulled his knife out of the apple and pointed it at Tsukishima. “Don’t you want to change this town? This world?” Tsukishima snorted as he was reminded of his brother’s words. “Why wait for someone else to change it? When you can do it now through rebelling and having your voice heard? That’s what my group wants to do, overthrow the samurai, the Date, eventually even this entire system itself.”

            Yamaguchi was now shaking Tsukishima’s shoulder, “Tsuki, seriously let’s leave.”

            Tsukishima stared at the man, “where is this meeting?”

 

            Kageyama, Akiteru and the rest of the group were running through the streets of Matsushima; wind whipped at their hair and sweat dripped down their faces as they raced towards the temple.

            Akiteru’s heart caught in his throat as he looked up at the sky to see a pillar of black smoke curl into the sky, blotting out the sun and turning the sky as black as night. Even so far away from the hill, they could still feel the heat beginning to lap at their skin.

            They could hear the neighing of horses and the clatter of armor and weapons as they raced towards the hill to see samurai’s on horseback and foot, milling around at the bottom of the hill.

            “How many people do you think were in that temple?” A samurai with a spear, jabbed at his comrades ribs.

            The samurai shrugged, “who cares? They weren’t anybody important.”

            Akiteru stepped forward, his grip on his staff was so tight that it almost looked like the staff would snap in two in his hand.

            Kageyama placed a hand on Akiteru’s shoulder, “stop. That’s not what’s important right now.” He could feel the tension in Akiteru’s arm subside some as they began the ascent up the hill.

            “No, no, no,” Akiteru repeated like a chant as they climbed the worn down stone steps up the hill, two at a time. The smell of smoke and charred wood was becoming stronger, along with the smell of burning flesh.

            The ashes of the temple finally came into their line of sight, along with a handful of samurai who stood around the burnt remains. The temple had collapsed in on itself sometime during the fire; a twisted ball of burnt and blackened wood was all that remained of it. Kageyama’s stomach twisted as he spotted a burnt and slender hand of a woman, poking out through the twisted and charred wood.

            Akiteru was struggling for breath as he dropped the staff down into the dirt, before sinking down to his knees. He reached out in front of him and with shaking fingers, picked up a pair of glasses, a lens of missing from it, and the other one was cracked, the frames were twisted and the entire thing was covered in a thin layer of dirt. “These were Kei’s,” Akiteru whispered as the glasses shook in his hand, the grief was apparent in his voice.

            Akiteru bit into his lower lip, drawing blood as he glared at the samurai around them. Kageyama squeezed his shoulder as he squatted down beside Akiteru. “I know you want to get revenge, but it won’t ease the sorrow within your heart.” Akiteru gripped the glasses, curling his fingers over them as he leaned forward, placing his fists on the dirt beneath them. His tears dripped down his face and plopped down into the dirt, turning it a dark brown. Akiteru roared in sadness, as Kageyama squeezed his shoulders. A pair of birds, startled by the loud noise took to the sky as the smoke from the temple started to die down, leaving nothing more than charred remains and memories.

 

Chapter Text

Just a quick note, but this fic is on indefinite hiatus for now. The past chapters haven't been up to my own personal standards and I don't think I'm really conveying what I really want to say through these characters. So I'm going to take some time away to really hone my skills and try my hardest to come back in a month with a rewritten fic that really punches you in the feelings.

Tl;dr: I'm going to rewrite this fic, probably under the same title name or something different, but be on the lookout for any updates from me!

Chapter Text

I'm sorry for not updating this fic and putting it on indefinite hiatus, but the good news is that I haven't forgotten about it!

I'm currently in the process of researching and rewriting this fic. I may keep the same title of the fic when it's rewritten or choose a different title. But thank you for your patience!