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Mitsuhide: A Twisted Tale

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Mitsuhide: A Twisted Tale

“Aleria? Just what are you trying to do?” I rolled my eyes at the curiously amused voice behind me. Considering I was perched precariously on a stool, on my tiptoes, and had a book in my hand about 1 foot too short of the shelf, I figured his question was rhetorical. I answered anyway “Oh, you know, practicing my balancing act for the Sengoku Olympics.” There was a pause. Without looking, I could almost see his eyebrow shoot up in that stupidly attractive way he had of making me feel like an idiot, even though he didn’t know what I was saying. “You say the most quizzical things when you’re frustrated, did you know?” I bowed my head in defeat. No matter how hard I tried, I was never going to have the extra foot of height I needed to get the book back from where Mitsunari had taken it. And the snake behind me wasn’t going to offer to help, it seemed. I took a step back…into nothing. “Ahh!” I screamed for a split second.

Time slowed down, and I could see myself hitting the ground. Ugh. Broken bones were no joke 500 years in the past. As I braced myself for the pain, I waited. And waited. And waited. Instead of the ground, gentle and long arms cradled me against a limber but muscular torso. “You know, Princess, you might be more trouble than you’re worth.” His cool, detached words were out of sync with the warm, amused tickle of his voice next to my ear. I finally opened my eyes and turned my head to look at him. “Mitsuhide… you saved me...” I smiled shyly. “Thanks…” The eyebrow went up, no doubt for the millionth time that day. It was his signature look. “So, I did. What, pray tell, will you give me in return?” A slow, delicious smirk morphed his face into a sinfully delectable sight. I had to look away, else the mind reader would guess what forbidden thoughts crossed my mind at his question. “Oh? Are you embarrassed by my question, Princess?” My body tensed. Apparently, I didn’t look away quickly enough. This man…no…This warlord frustrated me to no end. I’d been in the Sengoku Era for two months, and all he had done was tease and frustrate me, with no respite. Small touches here and whispered words there. And not once, had I been able to turn the tables. It was like he knew when I was ready to return fire and would retreat until he could catch me unawares again. I’d had enough. He had me in his arms, but that meant he couldn’t get away from me either. “Mitsuhide…” I whispered, turning my head to look at him with as much of a sultry look as I could muster.

I knew I’d scored a small point, when the amused look in his eyes was replaced with surprise. His plushy bottom lip separated from the top and a small, nearly silent “oh” escaped. Inside I squealed with satisfaction and delight. I’d finally gotten under his skin. I felt his long, cool fingers tighten their hold on me as he turned me around to face him. “Just what are you trying to do” he asked again. Only this time, his voice was hoarse, and barely a whisper. I smiled seductively and bit my lip, inwardly celebrating as I watched his eyes zero in on that action. “Aren’t you the mind reader?” I asked, in response to his own question. I watched his eyes drift back up to mine and I could see he was warring with himself. His indecision gave way to something dark and delicious and I knew the instant he gave in to it.

His hands let go of me for an instant as he pushed my back against the nearest book shelf. It wasn’t comfortable, but in an instant, I forgot about my back and Mitsuhide’s lips crashed against mine. His hands grabbed my wrists and held them above my head, as his whole body pressed against mine. We were so close, I couldn’t tell where he ended, and I began. And I didn’t care. All I could focus on were the incredible feel of his mouth, coaxing my lips to open. And when I gave in to his demand, I felt his moan inside my mouth. It vibrated into his chest. His tongue delved in between my lips to massage mine. He tasted of sake and sin. I could think of nothing but the desperation of his kiss. It was aggressive and incredible and when I sucked his bottom lip, he hissed in pleasure. Heat pooled low in my stomach and I felt my senses heighten at the feel of his erection pressed against my stomach. “Yes…” I whispered.

Instantly, I regretted the vocal intrusion into our moment. As if ice water had been dumped upon him, Mitsuhide released me and turned away. His hands were trembling. No, I corrected. His whole body was trembling. And so was I. “What is it?” I asked softly, afraid of speaking again. He shook his head, and his white hair swayed with the motion. I took a step toward him, but stopped when I watched his body go rigid, as if he knew I had moved. “Don’t.” He said. One word, but the reverberance of that one word stopped me in my place. His body quit trembling, and when he turned back around to look at me, something cold shivered up my back. The snake was back.

A small, amused smile played across his lips where mine had been ravaged only moments before. “Well, that was an interesting response. Are you quite that loose with all of the Oda Warlords?” I flinched at the insinuation, before getting angry. “How dare you?!” I moved then. My hand lifted and slapped across Mitsuhide’s cheek. Inside, I laughed at the idea that I could, in fact, surprise him in a whole other way. His eyes were wide as he looked down at me. I struggled to get my voice under control. “I thought you...I thought we…” I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment, before opening them to look at Mitsuhide with as much anger and disdain as I could manage. I knew tears were welling in my eyes and I cursed my angry-cry habit. He’d hurt me, but I didn’t want him to know that. “Don’t ever touch me again. Don’t speak to me, don’t look at me, and don’t you dare tell anyone about this. I hate you.” With that, I stormed out of the library.
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With a regretful sigh, Mitsuhide leaned down to the table and picked up the book Aleria had been trying, unsuccessfully, to put back in its place. With his back to the door, he placed his other hand on his stinging cheek, before moving down to touch his lips, where the sweet taste of her own still lingered. He’d never lost control like that before. He had meant to bait her, to see her delightfully amusing reactions, but he’d never expected her to look at him with desire in her dark eyes. That look had nearly cost him everything. His role in the Oda Forces was one of isolation. He could not have warmth and affection. People who got close to him could be used against him and he’d made too many enemies. He knew Aleria had not been touched by the others, simply because when he was at Azuchi Castle, he watched over her, for reasons he didn’t want to examine too closely.

With a soft sigh, Mitsuhide looked at the door she had fled through. Now that he was alone, he could confess. “My sweet Aleria... To love you is to put your life in danger. That is the one line I won’t cross. You will not die because my enemies guess you are my weakness. Hate me if you must, but at least you will live.” He shook his head and began to walk out the door of the library. He stopped and looked down at his hands. He still hadn’t done anything with the book she’d been trying to put away. A small grin appeared on his lips as he walked toward her room. He wouldn’t bother her, but he would tease her anyway. He placed the book by her door and quietly walked away, fighting to ignore the sound of her tears on the other side of the paper.

“Is that Aleria crying?” A small whisper came from behind him. Mitsuhide whirled, relaxing his features so Masamune didn’t realize he’d caught him off guard. Mitsuhide forced a shrug and a look of indifference. “Sounds like it.” Masamune took a step toward her door, an unusual look of concern on his face. Mitsuhide found himself placing a hand on Masamune’s shoulder to stop him. “Trust me on this one. Women of her caliber would not take well to your coarse brand of comfort. She will likely take offense.” Mitsuhide knew how to manage his words so Masamune wouldn’t bother her. Masamune hesitated, then nodded and walked away. Mitsuhide looked at her door and wondered to himself if he stopped Masamune because he was afraid Aleria would tell him what happened, of if it was because he didn’t want another man to comfort her. He shook his head. It did not matter. He couldn’t have her. “I’m not for you” he whispered, before turning on his heel and walking toward the war council room.

Chapter Text

I hadn’t spoken to Mitsuhide in three weeks. Not that it had bothered him. He smiled that snake-like smile that I hated and asked me if I was alright nearly whenever he saw me. I couldn’t help the stiffening of my spine every time he was near. I was still so angry at him accusing me of being an Oda-whore. Okay, so he hadn’t called me a whore, but he insinuated it and it set me off thinking about it again. I had just finished changing the flowers throughout the castle when I heard the maids whispering.

“Did you hear? Mitsuhide was spotted in Echigo attempting to bribe the Uesugi clan to go to war against us.”

“No way. Mitsuhide would never do that. Lord Hideyoshi would kill him. I don’t believe it.”

“No, it’s true! My husband says Lord Hideyoshi is investigating the claims and that there is some truth to them, already.”

I shook my head. They didn’t know anything about the Oda Warlords. I knew in my heart that not one of them would ever betray Nobunaga. I smiled inwardly. I considered myself a part of their group and had loyalties to them all as well. Perhaps I was naïve, but they each held a place in my heart. After hearing another maid speak ill of Mitsuhide, I spoke up in my most authoritative voice. “That’s enough gossip ladies. None of the Oda Warlords would ever betray Nobunaga, or us. Do not make me repeat myself. Understood?” In my best Mitsuhide impersonation, I raised my eyebrow, attempting to look threatening and above them in station. The maids bowed low to me, looking properly castigated. “Our apologies, Princess Chatelaine. We shall not speak of it again. You are right, of course.” Inward, I relaxed. I nodded to them. “Get back to work, please.” They raced out of the room and my shoulders slumped. I didn’t like speaking to them that way, but despite how he’d hurt me, I couldn’t stand the idea of everyone mistrusting Mitsuhide. He was an ass, not a traitor.

“That was quite a performance, Princess.”

My body suddenly felt like it was on fire. Damn. He’d been listening. I should have known. My cheeks were bright red and warm. But there was nothing I could do about that. I turned around, forcing myself to look like his presence didn’t bother me. “It wasn’t a performance, Mitsuhide. Just because I don’t like you, doesn’t mean I won’t defend you. You’re a Warlord and should be treated with respect. Your work is dangerous but necessary for our victory and survival. I know that, as should they.” His eyes widened for a split second. I knew I’d reached him again, because the sly smile he presented slipped from his face, replaced by a look of wonder. My own eyes widened at that look. God, he was beautiful when he wasn’t acting.

The look was short lived. His mildly amused smirk reappeared, and I suddenly found him hard to look at. “And what is it, exactly, you think I do” he asked. I glared at him. Okay, so I didn’t know EXACTLY what he did, but I was sure it was espionage of some kind. I wasn’t going to let him beat me in a war of words. “I don’t need to tell you what it is you do, Mitsuhide. I’m sure you’re smart enough to know what it is. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.” That was a lie. I was done for the day. He didn’t need to know that, though. I turned to go.

“Aleria, wait.” He wasn’t using that tone that set my teeth on edge. This was the real Mitsuhide, that I’d only encountered a handful of times. I slowly turned back around to him. “What Mitsuhide? If you’re going to tease, insult or confuse me more, I really can’t take it. I’d rather you leave me alone.” Another lie. I wanted to get to know him. For some unknown reason, I’d been attracted to him since I first arrived in this time. And now that I was stuck here, with no way to get home, I had fantasized about settling down and living a happy life. Only, my stupid heart decided to crush on the most unavailable man I’d met. Mitsuhide: The quiet, teasing warlord with a shady and mysterious job that made everyone distrust him. I shook my head to clear it. Mitsuhide still hadn’t spoken. Finally, he looked away from me and quietly spoke. “Do you really hate me?”

Surprise flitted across my face. THAT’S what he remembers from our clash? I stared at him, confused. “Would it matter if I did? Mitsuhide, I’ve been here almost three months. What do you know about me? For that matter, what do I know about you? You come in and out of Azuchi, make everyone distrust you, and you enjoy teasing me and making me want to pull my hair out. You kiss me, and then accuse me of… of...” I looked away, afraid he would see my tears as weakness. Apparently, time did not heal all wounds. This one felt as fresh as the day he’d carved it into my heart.

Mitsuhide took a step forward. Then another. He was suddenly in front of me, and he grabbed my chin and forced me to look up at him. I glared at him. I had a sense of Déjà vu. Nobunaga had grabbed me like this at my first war council. I hated the feeling then, and it certainly hadn’t grown on me in three months. “Let go of me, Mitsu—” My words died off as I looked at him. There was a look on his face I hadn’t seen before. Somewhere between anger, desperation and lust. It was terrifying and seductive. “You shouldn’t allow anyone to make you cry, Aleria. Least of all, a fox in the garden.” His softly spoken words were at odds with how hard he was grabbing my chin. “Answer the question. Do you hate me?” I stared into his golden eyes for another moment, thinking. Why was this so important to him? I wish I could understand what he was thinking, but his face gave nothing else away. “No” I finally whispered. “I don’t hate you, Mitsuhide. I find you extremely trying, but I don’t think I could ever hate anyone.” We stared at each other for another moment, before he let me go. I took a step back almost immediately. I was overwhelmed with the closeness of Mitsuhide. He filled my senses in a way that was dangerous in a whole different way. His eyes never left mine. Finally, he spoke.

“I’m sorry for accusing you before.”

My eyes widened. “What did you just say?” He rolled his eyes at me. “I will not repeat myself. You heard me. I won’t say it again.” He turned to leave but stopped at the door. “Thank you for defending me. But you need not put yourself in a position to get hurt. It’s dangerous to be seen championing me.” With those parting words, Mitsuhide was gone.
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Mitsuhide couldn't stand to see her cry. He enjoyed sparring with her, getting her worked up and watching her be frustrated, but God, those tears were unbearable. And that she would shed them for someone as unworthy as him. No. He would not allow it. She would stop the nonsense and show her grace and strength as she did with everyone else.

As he turned the corner to leave the room, he cursed. Once again, Masamune was there, with a look in his eye that Mitsuhide detested. “That’s the nicest I’ve ever heard you be to anyone. Ever,” Masamune said. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think—” Mitsuhide shut him up with a look. Masamune shrugged as if he didn’t care. “If you don’t want her, find yourself another woman. There are tons in town who would love to take you into their bed. And if they die, you likely won’t know, so your conscience wouldn’t be hurt.” Inside, Mitsuhide felt another piece of himself wither. It would certainly help to get the pretty Chatelaine out of his head, but he could no sooner touch another female than cut off his own head. Masamune was trying to help him clear his mind, but had no real concept of what dangers Mitsuhide brought with him. “Perhaps you’re right, Masamune. I shall go into town and find a woman who will distract me from my worries.” Mitsuhide turned to leave, then stopped short, his body going cold.

There behind him, was Aleria, with a look of hurt so deep across her face, he was sure it would never leave. “Excuse me” she said softly and walked past them both.

Masamune whistled and shook his head. “Whoops.”

Mitsuhide was thinking quickly. He couldn’t let Masamune know just what that look meant to him, but he had to stop Aleria from thinking the worse. He couldn’t admit the reason why. A slow smile spread across Mitsuhide’s pale lips. He could get to her room before she did. He knew passages in and out of the castle that few others were privy to. “Excuse me, Masamune. I think I will go into town.”

Chapter Text

I stormed off to my room, once again furious with the white-haired fox. Just when I started to think I’d gotten somewhere with him, he says something so revolting that I couldn’t bear to be near him. I cursed myself for my naivety once again. It wasn’t like I didn’t know that men in this time had loads of women. I’d had boyfriends and lovers in the future. Somehow, I’d thought Mitsuhide was above it. If he didn’t want me, that meant he didn’t want any girl. But as I had gone to leave the main part of the castle and retire to my room, I’d heard Mitsuhide. “Perhaps you’re right. I shall go into town and find a woman who will distract me from my worries.” I shook my head to clear his voice out of my head. I looked out at the garden outside my room. The sun had already begun to set, and it was growing dark. For a moment, my heart felt like the Earth, growing darker with every passing moment. I took a deep breath in and tensed. I hadn’t realized I’d been crying again. Frustration built up in me again. “Mitsuhide, you complete jerk!” It felt good to get that out. But, like a dam bursting, shouting my feelings had opened my heart up and I began to cry harder. I covered my face with my hands and shuddered quietly.

“Are you alright, Lady Aleria?”

I jerked my head up in surprise. It was one of the maids from earlier, that I had chastised. I nodded quickly. “Yes, thank you. I’m fine. A girl has to cry sometimes to get her emotions in order, don’t you think?” The woman looked bewildered but nodded. “O..Of course, my lady.” She turned and hastily disappeared. I sighed. Now I was the one acting strange. Great. I wiped my eyes and went into my room. I didn’t look up when I entered my room. I closed the door and laid my head against it, careful not to break the paper. “Mitsuhide… Why must you hide your true self from everyone?” I whispered softly to myself.
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Mitsuhide tensed as he heard her speak his name. He sat quietly on her futon, staring up at her. He thought she would have seen him as she entered. For a moment, he’d thought she might have guessed he was there, until she finished speaking. He’d rushed over to her room, taking a short cut through the palace to beat her there. And then he’d listened to her cry and curse his name outside. Mitsuhide touched his chest, feeling an unfamiliar pang there. He didn’t like it when she cried. She was much more beautiful when she smiled. He sat perfectly still, waiting for her to notice he was there. She didn’t. She kept her face pressed against her arm, which was against the wooden slats on her sliding door. Her body shuddered with the force of her tears. When he could take no more, Mitsuhide stood and walked over to her. He gently wrapped his arm around her stomach and picked her up. “WHAT THE? Mitsuhide?” Her voice lowered as soon as she realized who had a hold of her. “Let go of me!” Now she was angry. But anger was better than her tears. He could manage anger. He could not, however, accept her being sad.

Placing his arm behind her knees, and one around her shoulders, he picked her up, cradle style, and laid her on her bed. Positioning himself over her, Mitsuhide then placed a hand on either side of her face. He looked down at her bewildered expression, carefully observing her expressions. The last of her tears clung to her long lashes as she looked up at him. He finally spoke. “Why are you crying? Didn’t I just tell you not to allow anyone to make you cry? Surely your small brain does not forget orders so quickly, else you’d be a terrible Chatelaine.”

Aleria blinked up at him, confused, before clarity struck. “You can’t just order someone not to cry. We can’t help how we feel, Mitsuhide. No one can. Not me. Not even you, despite how hard you try.” She looked away from him, radiating hurt and anger. Mitsuhide marveled in how easily he could read her expressions. She changed them almost instantaneously, and yet he rejoiced in being able to understand what she was thinking. However, her words made no sense. “I do not hide what I feel or think.” He widened his eyes for a moment as she gave him a look that almost made him laugh. It was clearly the “I don’t believe you” look. He smiled at her, a real smile, and watched as her eyes widened. Then, as if she were remembering what she’d overheard, her eyes darkened, and she looked away again.

“Why are you here, Mitsuhide? Shouldn’t you be in town, looking for your next bed-warmer?”
Ah. So that was what had her upset. But why would she be upset at that? He tilted his head to the side and looked at her quizzically. “Why would that make you upset, Princess?”
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My senses were on high alert. Mitsuhide was here, pinning me to my futon, and asking me the most frustrating questions. He was also back to calling me “Princess.” I hated that. It was a word he used to put distance between us, and it was obvious. He only called me Aleria when he was being honest. I wondered, momentarily, if he was aware of that tell. I looked up at him, wondering if he really had no clue as to why I was so upset with him. The truth was, I hadn’t wanted to look too closely at my own feelings, because I was sure that heartbreak was the only thing at the end of that twisted road. But in this moment, looking up at him, I couldn’t help but ask him a question in response to his own. “Why does it matter to you if I’m upset, Lord Mitsuhide?” He flinched and sat back up away from me. More distance. I felt cold without him over me, which was a feeling I wished would go away. I sat up and stared at his face. He was looking at my door, but I sensed he was more looking through it, as if his thoughts were in that direction.

Without thinking about it, I placed my hand on his cheek, and brought his eyes back to my own. His cheek was cool, but his eyes were warm as he looked at me. “You’re beautiful when you smile, Aleria. I prefer it when you’re happy.” My mouth dropped open at the truthful ring his words held. He shrugged and smiled at me.

“I only spoke of finding a woman to appease Masamune. I would never condemn any woman to be at my side, because I alone know the danger that position holds. My job takes me all over our country in search of those who would incite war, assassinations, and plots against Lord Nobunaga. I destroyed my reputation in order to make his enemies trust me, and I will continue to do so, if it means his plan for Japan comes to pass. But this means I have made more enemies than I can count. Perhaps even more than Lord Nobunaga, for I seemingly play both sides. His allies doubt me, and his enemies doubt me, which breeds distrust and danger throughout the populace. I could never allow a woman to stand by my side and face those dangers just because she cares for me. I may be a monster, but I am not cruel to innocents like you.”

His long, alabaster fingers reached up and pushed my hair out of my face, and gently caressed my cheek. “You are so beautiful, smart and brave. You have set yourself above reproach here in Azuchi, and you have made this castle entertaining and tolerable. There are many cruel and terrible people in this world. Your innocence despite it is so refreshing and purifying. If something happened to you, because of me, I wouldn’t be able to bear it. So, I keep my distance from you as best I can.”

My heart pounded in my chest, so loud that I was sure he could hear it. That was the most honest I had ever heard him speak. His eyes were golden and passionate, but sadness lurked in their depths. My hand was still pressed against his cheek, and I realized he’d placed his hand over mine. I had no words at his confession. It felt like I was seeing Mitsuhide for the first time, and my heart ached. He’d placed himself in a position to always be alone. I couldn’t imagine how lonely he had been all this time. In that moment, I decided he wouldn’t be alone tonight.

“Come to bed, Mitsuhide.” I said softly, moving my hand and pushing the covers back as far as I could. He looked confused for a moment, before he began to shake his head. “I can’t. I—” I put my hand over his mouth and glared at him. “Come. To. Bed, Mitsuhide. That’s an order from your Chatelaine.” He stared at me a moment, perplexed and then laughed, his breath puffing out against my palm. “God, you’re incredible,” he said softly, before he moved to lay down.

He opened his arms for me, but I shook my head and walked behind him. “What’s this?” he asked, as I scooted down into the futon and wrapped my arms around him. My front pressed up against his back as I held him. “Sometimes, Mitsuhide, we need someone to care for us, even if it’s dangerous. Just let me hold you like this for a little while. If you still want to go later, I won’t fight you. I just want to give you this moment, so you aren’t so lonely on your journeys.”
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Mitsuhide was speechless. This angel sent from 500 years in the future was comforting him, when only moments before, she’d been the one in need of comfort. He was so confused. He’d spent his life learning tells and tricks to get information and make others do what he wanted, and yet this little waif of a woman had gotten under his skin and somehow was reading him. How perplexing.

When she told him to come to bed, he’d been afraid of what she wanted, worried he would taint her with his reputation, but she’d insisted on holding him, rather than sex. He’d never been coddled. In his head, he corrected himself. This wasn’t coddling. Aleria sensed something in him he didn’t recognize, and she’d felt the urge to soothe him. And she was soothing him. Her hand continuously ran fingers through his hair and down his side and she hummed a soft melody he’d never heard before. For the first time in his life, he found himself dosing off with someone beside him. And it felt wonderful.

Chapter Text

I woke up the next morning alone. I didn’t open my eyes right away. For one more minute, I wanted to pretend like Mitsuhide was still with me. My heart was torn between happiness at seeing him so honest last night and sad that he felt he couldn’t stay. I knew he was trying to protect me, but it still hurt. When I finally opened my eyes, I noticed I wasn’t entirely alone in my bed. Next to my head on my pillow was a small bouquet of fresh flowers. Spider lilies and camellias. Tears pooled in my eyes, blurring the flowers as I understood their meaning. Spider lilies meant goodbye forever, and camellias… Camellias meant love. I held the flowers close, wishing that our situations could be different. But I knew in my heart, that if he weren’t exactly who he was, I wouldn’t love him so much. My heart stuttered for a moment as I realized what I thought. Love? I… I love Mitsuhide? That’s not possible. I’ve only known him for three months and I barely know him at all. Despite my brain trying to deny it, my heart knew the truth. His whispered confession to me last night showed me everything I needed to know about him. He was selfless and brilliant. And no one else knew it, except for maybe Nobunaga. He and I alone knew the truth of Mitsuhide’s slithery nature and the sacrifices he’d made all this time. The others had an inkling, but no true understand of who and what my Mitsuhide was.

There were sounds of shuffling outside my door before I heard Hideyoshi’s voice. “Aleria? Are you dressed? I’m coming in.” I quickly wiped my eyes as my door slid open to reveal a concerned Hideyoshi. I tilted my head to the side and stared up at him. “What’s wrong, Hideyoshi? You look worried? Did something happen?” Hideyoshi’s eyes surveyed my room, before landing back on my face. He answered, gruffly, “I heard you were crying yesterday and that Mitsuhide was the reason. Are you alright? Did he hurt you?” My eyes widened. Someone must have put together what happened yesterday, or Masamune blabbed. As subtly as I could, I slid the flowers under my blanket. “I’m alright, Hideyoshi. Mitsuhide did nothing to me. I wasn’t crying, I had been dusting and a bit got in my eyes. He was helping make sure no debris lingered in my eyes, so someone must have been confused. There’s nothing to be concerned for.” I forced a smile and prayed Hideyoshi wouldn’t see through it. Luckily, 500 years in the past, the old “dust in my eye” trick still worked. Still, I needed to be careful. He was a worrier, after all.

Hideyoshi let out a breath, as if he’d been holding it since before he came in my room. “Regardless, you should stay away from Mitsuhide. He’s dangerous and I don’t trust him fully.” I tried to keep my expression neutral as a pang shot through my chest. Even Hideyoshi didn’t believe in Mitsuhide. Outwardly, I nodded. “Speaking of, I need to ask Mitsuhide a question. Have you seen him this morning?” I asked the question without making eye contact, trying to appear casual. Hideyoshi sighed. “He’s gone. Lord Nobunaga said he left early this morning before sunrise to investigate who attempted to assassinate Lord Nobunaga at Honno Ji Temple.” I tried not to look disappointed. “I see. I suppose my question will have to wait until he returns.” Whenever that would be. Mitsuhide was often gone for weeks at a time, with no clues as to his whereabouts. Hideyoshi spoke up. “I came to get you, by the way. Lord Nobunaga has requested you come to today’s war council. Hurry up now.” Hideyoshi smiled and patted the wall beside my door, as if he wanted to pat my head, but was too far away. I nodded. “I’ll be ready shortly. Thank you.” Hideyoshi closed my door behind him and I slowly pulled out my little bouquet. I smiled sadly and hugged them to my chest once more. In my secret heart, I wished that Mitsuhide would be safe and that when he was lonely, he would remember that I held him.

A short time later, I was dressed and sitting in front of Nobunaga. Beside me were the other Oda Warlords: Hideyoshi, Mitsunari, Ieyasu, and Masamune. The air was tense and Mitsuhide’s absence was obvious. Nobunaga looked down at us with his confident smile. “It’s time” he said authoritatively, and each warlord sat up straight. “You may have heard, but this morning, one of our scouts delivered the news that large group of soldiers bearing the blue flag of the Uesugi Clan were seen marching toward Azuchi. Our forces are ready to be mobilized. I know its short notice, but we must depart in two days, or we risk Kenshin’s forces trampling over Azuchi and its citizens. I cannot allow that.” Each warlord nodded. I swallowed and looked down. War. I wasn’t ready for this. “Aleria.” My head jerked up and met the dark eyes of Nobunaga. “Yes?” I replied softly. “As mu lucky charm, you will accompany us to the battlefield. However, as you are now known as an Oda princess, we cannot have you out on the battlefield. Instead, you will stay at camp and support Ieyasu’s medical team. Understood?” I nodded, because I’d learned early on that it didn’t matter if I didn’t want to go. I would go. And this time, I wanted to. I loved them all and I wanted to support them. “Yes. I promise I won’t let you down.” Nobunaga smiled at me. “You never do.” I looked up, surprised. Each of the warlords smiled at me. They had become family to me, and I was so glad to have met them. I didn’t want to think about any of them being hurt or worse. “Cheer up, Lass” Masamune said. “We’re strong. We will win.” I smiled again and nodded. “I know we will.” I looked at each one of them and wished deeply for them to be safe. And separately, secretly, I wished for Mitsuhide to be safe, too.

Three and a half days later, I was doubting my promise to Nobunaga. Riding on horseback alone, my legs were already sore, and my back felt like it was going implode on itself. I worried that if I were this sore, I wouldn’t be much help to the wounded men. But at least I was staying in the saddle this time. Mitsuhide always teased me about falling off, so I made sure I was careful not to do so. Those attempts to keep him from making fun of me had paid off, and so far, I was doing well. The slow pace of our troops helped. Even Masamune was taking his time, his face transformed from the ruggedly handsome look to the hardened warlord. Each of my warlord friends had their stony faces on. It would have been comical, were I not so terrified of what was to come.

Hours and days passed slowly, until we finally reached camp. I could feel the tension in the air, and I knew battle was close. Terror loomed in my heart, but I put on a brave face for my Oda friends. “Tomorrow morning, war begins.” Nobunaga stood by my side as we gazed at what would be the field of battle in a matter of hours. “Are you frightened, Aleria? I won’t let anything harm you. None of us will.” I smiled at his promise. “I’m not really worried about myself. I worry for you, and the others and—” I cut myself off, but Nobunaga smiled. “And Mitsuhide? Is that what you were going to say?” I swallowed and nodded, looking up at him. Nobunaga looked at me curiously for a moment, before returning to his arrogant smirk that almost always stayed plastered across his face. “You are quite the woman, you know. In all the years I’ve known Mitsuhide, he’s never once gotten close to a woman. And yet here you are, the exception to his own rule. Each of my warlords love you, myself included. You are a cherished member of the Oda forces and I can see in your eyes that you love us too. However,” He paused and looked deep into my eyes. I wanted to turn away, afraid of what he would see if he looked too closely. “However, you talk of Mitsuhide and your eyes become different.” He continued to smile but looked back out toward the battlefield. “I’ve never envied Mitsuhide until now. How intriguing.” I had no idea what to say, so I stared out at the battlefield beside Nobunaga. Nobunaga knew Mitsuhide and didn’t warn me against him. That gave me hope.

“My Lord! Your tent is ready. As is yours, Aleria. It’s the violet one in the middle and next to Lord Nobunaga’s. It’s the safest spot.” Hideyoshi’s voice broke our reverie. “Thank you, Hideyoshi.” Both Nobunaga and I spoke at the same time. After a moment of silence, we turned and looked at each other, both showing bewilderment on our faces. Suddenly, I cracked a smile and started laughing. Nobunaga began to chuckle as well. Before long, we were holding our stomachs and trying to catch our breath. That moment of hilarity acted as a cathartic release. Suddenly, I felt much better. I was ready to help tomorrow. “Goodnight, Nobunaga, Hideyoshi.” I bowed to them both and took off to find my tent. “Aleria, don’t run!” Hideyoshi yelled after me.

Chapter Text

Exhaustion and fear warred within my body as the war raged on the battlefield. I hadn’t seen or heard how the Oda forces were doing, other than what the injured soldiers knew. The smell of blood and medicinal salves permeated the air around me as I continued to work. This patient’s leg was gashed so deep, I worried he would bleed out. Another had his arm cut off. I wasn’t sure what to do with that one, so I left the decision up to Ieyasu’s better trained team, and instead held his hand while they cauterized the wound. He was still screaming a half hour later. I didn’t blame him for that. We were beginning to run low on supplies and I could see the exhaustion on the faces of the soldiers. It had become a macabre routine. Patch them up and send out the ones who could still hold their swords. If one was in bad shape, we forced them to stay until he was able to go back out. It was awful. However, I was glad I had come. I wanted to help save as many lives as possible.

“Aleria! Over here!” I turned at the sight of Masamune and Ieyasu. Ieyasu looked worried. Masamune was bleeding and pale. Oh no. “Help me get him on this table!” I shouted to the other medical team members. Ieyasu allowed them to help get Masamune on the table. I quickly cut through his kimono and searched him for the worst wounds. He had a large slash across his torso that looked to be the cause of most of the bleeding. I looked up at Ieyasu and he nodded. “I know it looks bad, but we’re winning. We’ve driven back the enemy and our troops will return at nightfall. Tomorrow, we will go home. Masamune just got careless for a moment. Patch him up, please.” I nodded to Ieyasu and turned back to Masamune. He was trying to get up. I rolled my eyes and put my hand on his shoulder, which made him hiss in pain and glare at me. “I’m sorry, Masamune, but you need to let me treat this. You don’t want it to get infected. Then you really won’t be able to fight.” I held him down until I felt him surrender his weight to the table. I grabbed several pieces of clean cloth and after carefully cleaning the wound with water, applied a disinfectant salve, before wrapping bandages around his chest and stomach. “That should hold until we get back to Azuchi. It if begins to bleed through, let me know and I will change the bandages.” “Thanks, Lass,” Masamune said as he smiled up at me. I smiled, relieved to see he was looking better already. My relief was short lived.

A loud commotion outside the tents had me rushing to see what was going on. Unlike the other times, people were rushing around in chaos, panic on their faces. These were the wounded men and nurses. Why were they afraid? It was then, that I saw them. A team of black-clad ninja were cutting wounded Oda soldiers down like flies and looked to be searching for something. Suddenly, I made eye contact with one of them, who then pointed at me. “There she is!” Stark terror surged through my body, but I couldn’t move. Me. They were after me. Oh God. I turned to run and clashed with someone who grunted and cursed in pain. Masamune. He stepped in front of me and drew one of his swords. “You will not take the Lass!” he yelled. For a moment, I stood still. In my head, I pictured the wild Masamune that I first met when I was transported here. The one who flew on his horse, much to my horror. The one who helped me learn how to ride a horse, and who cooked delicious food for his men. I pictured his one blue eye crinkled at the edge, smiling his wicked grin at something that would inevitably make me blush. Back in reality, Masamune was basically bare chested, his kimono and armor having been cut through and removed. Through the strips of fabric, I could see his bandages were already crimson. He would die if he took these men on. In that moment, I could see Masamune being killed trying to protect me. I shook my head. I couldn’t allow that.

 

A feeling of utter calm surrounded me, and everything slowed down. My hand reached out and touched his shoulder. “Masamune…Don’t... It’s okay.” I stepped in front of him and turned to face him. He looked angry, confused and ready to throw me behind him again. “What the hell are you doing? Get behind me.” I shook my head at his order. “You’ll die if you do this. I won’t let you. Stay, protect the soldiers and tell Nobunaga and the others what happened. Please. I can’t watch you die for me.” I stepped away from him and felt someone grab me from behind. Masamune cursed as the color drained from his face. He was losing too much blood too fast. I could see blood staining his bandages and his legs were shaking. He would pass out soon, if my speculations were correct. “Let him go, please” I begged of my faceless captors. Surprisingly, he nodded. “We have no business with the One-Eyed Dragon. Let’s go!” The ninja holding me placed a black cloth over my head and picked me up. “ALERIA!!” I could hear Masamune shouting. For a moment, panic set in and I began to struggle. I couldn’t see anything, and it was terrifying. I felt a terrible pain on the back of my head, before everything went dark.
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Masamune growled and cursed at his lack of strength. “This is so not cool.” For the first time since this war started, he felt fear. It wasn’t for himself, but for the frail Oda Princess Chatelaine that had been captured. His kitten. He loved her more than any other female he’d ever let into his life. Her reactions to his words always surprised and amazed him. And she said the oddest things. Masamune blinked rapidly, trying to stave off the growing darkness. If he passed out, she’d be gone. He needed to get her back. He knew what men could do to a beautiful woman, and Aleria was gorgeous. The black-clad ninja had hit her on the back of the head, and she was no longer moving. “Let her go!” Masamune yelled. The ninja just laughed. “You’re in no position to bargain for her. You aren’t the Oda ally we’re interested in. Tell Mitsuhide we have his woman and we’re going to take very good care of her.” With one hand, the anonymous ninja caressed Aleria’s blood spattered kimono she had tailored to be of better use on the field. The insinuation in the ninja’s tone made Masamune sick. “If you touch her, we will come for you, and you will all die.” Masamune’s one eye bored a hole into the ninja. Despite his lack of strength, his words held a chilling tone that made the other ninjas take a step back. “Let’s go.” The leader called out, still grinning. Masamune watched as he tossed Aleria’s body over a horse and took off into the woods. This was not good at all.

TWO WEEKS LATER

Mitsuhide was travelling back into Azuchi with news. He’d found out who was behind the attempt on Lord Nobunaga’s life at Honno-Ji. It had taken the lives of two of his spies and six suspected members of the enemy’s forces. After a week, Mitsuhide had finally caught one who was a little younger than the others and didn’t want to poison himself rather than be caught. Poor fool. After three days of torture, he’d finally confessed to whom he worked for. The young Abbot Kennyo, a former monk from Hongan-ji, a temple they’d destroyed years earlier had come back with a vengeance and an army. Who would have thought he had it in him? Mitsuhide smirked and shook his head. He’d be dealt with swiftly. Or not, if Mitsuhide had his way. Demons like Kennyo had years of information on other fief’s and armies. Mitsuhide only hoped he would get a chance to interrogate him. But Lord Nobunaga was not one to let challenges like this go unanswered. Inwardly, he shrugged. Either way, Kennyo would soon be out of commission and unable to harm anyone else. Mitsuhide tilted his head and looked curiously at the castle. Something was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. The staff looked worried and stressed and there was a strange aura about the place. Mitsuhide was confused. He knew, through enemy sources, that the Oda forces had been victorious at the battle with the Uesugi Clan. So why was everyone upset? As soon as he dismounted from his horse, he heard a familiar voice behind him. “Mitsuhide.” His body tensed up at that tone. Hideyoshi didn’t sound angry or distrustful. He sounded…like he was pitying him. It was a sound Mitsuhide hadn’t heard since he was a young lad, and he never expected that tone from the mother hen, Hideyoshi. Mitsuhide raised his eyebrow and turned to face him. “Yes?”

“You need to come to council. Now.”
“What’s going on?”
“I can’t tell you until you get into council. Lord Nobunaga’s orders. Let’s go.”

A sliver of unease crept into Mitsuhide’s spine. Something was definitely wrong. He strode after Hideyoshi quickly.

Upon entering the war council, Mitsuhide took his normal seat in front of the dais. Masamune laid one hand on his left shoulder, and Hideyoshi took his right. Mitsuhide was confused. “What the hell is this?” he asked to Nobunaga who, for once, wasn’t smiling his signature cocky smirk. Nobunaga looked at him with an unreadable expression. “Aleria has been taken.”

A buzzing sound began in Mitsuhide’s ears, making it difficult to pay attention to Nobunaga, as he explained that it had been about two weeks since she’d been taken, and they had no leads. No clues other than the parting words said to Masamune. His face felt hot and his mid was suddenly flooded by Aleria. Mitsuhide could see her face in his mind, telling him to come to bed. He could still feel her warmth on his back as she held him. And his one true fear had finally come to pass. Someone he cared for was going to die because of affiliation with him. Not just die. Aleria was held by the most ruthless demon he’d come across. And she was so frail. So innocent and sweet. They would destroy her, if they hadn’t already.

Mitsuhide tried to stand, before understanding why Masamune and Hideyoshi had their hands on his shoulders. “You can let go, gentlemen.” He said icily. Neither warlord moved. Nobunaga looked down at Mitsuhide. “The ninjas were clad in black garb with no markings of any kind. Have you any idea who they could be?” Mitsuhide nodded. “Kennyo’s men, Coincidentally, they are the ones behind the attempt on your life at Honno-Ji. I spoke with them in Echigo only days ago. They never mentioned that they had taken Aleria.” His voice was clam, but the other warlords could see Mitsuhide was seething with rage. It was uncharacteristic of him. Nobunaga shook his head. I don’t think there is anything coincidental about it, now that I know what work you were doing.” Nobunaga took a deep breath, before nodding. “Very well. Then we shall exterminate them and bring our Chatelaine home. We begin the search for more information first thing tomorrow. Mitsuhide, rest, eat and be ready to leave at first light. You will not leave without us, understood?” Mitsuhide nodded, his eyes still not making contact with anyone. Masamune and Hideyoshi let him go and he stood immediately and turned to leave. He stopped at the door and turned to face them. “She is not my woman. But I will not let her die. I will bring her home safely.” The others nodded at him. Mitsuhide turned away again and left the room. She’d been in enemy hands for two weeks. There was no way to know what they had done to her or if she was even still alive. The message left with Masamune was quite clear on what they had planned, but Mitsuhide couldn’t think of that, else he’d go mad. He continued to picture Aleria in his mind and went to pack for the new mission: Rescue Aleria.

Later that evening, he was called to a private council with Lord Nobunaga. This wasn’t uncommon, but considering the circumstances, Mitsuhide was wary. Lord Nobunaga had a way of seeing through his mystery façade, much like Aleria did. Aleria. He paused outside of Nobunaga’s rooms to settle himself. He’d been frequently flying from enraged to terrified in a matter of moments. If Lord Nobunaga saw how much he was affected by this, he might try to keep him in Azuchi. Mitsuhide would never allow that. He was going to find Aleria if it killed him.

“My Lord?” Mitsuhide called out, once he was under control. Over the years, he’d perfected the icy amused look that seemed to rattle the common man or woman. He drew on years of control to walk into Nobunaga’s rooms and act as if he were going to discuss something mundane, like the weather. “Enter, Mitsuhide. We have much to discuss.”

Mitsuhide slid the door open and walked into the room where Nobunaga was sitting, using his trademark armrest, as usual. Once again, he was devoid of his other trademark: the smirk. Mitsuhide bowed slightly, before taking a seat in front of Nobunaga. The two remained silent for a moment, before Nobunaga shook his head and laughed. “You’ve changed much in the recent months.”
“Have I, my Lord?”
“Indeed. Who would have thought you of all people would fall in love.”
Mitsuhide tensed and opened his mouth to argue. But Nobunaga held up a hand.
“Perhaps I am wrong. However, you were seen leaving her room a few weeks ago. It was very early.” The message was clear and Mitsuhide felt terribly cold in his chest. If he had been seen, and Nobunaga knew, then it was quite possible that Kennyo and his men knew. Which meant it was open season on Aleria. Still, Mitsuhide felt the need to explain. He had made a vow long ago to never lie to Nobunaga. That way, when he took jobs that made him seem like a traitor, Nobunaga would always know what was happening. “It wasn’t what it seemed like. Aleria and I simply fell asleep together. You know the risks of being tied to my name. I would never allow her to be put in danger like that.”

“And yet, she was in danger regardless. Tell me, if she dies, will you survive? Or will I lose a valuable pawn?” Mitsuhide was already shaking his head. He would not let her die. He would not even consider it.

“Mitsuhide. Think carefully for a moment. She’s been gone two weeks. There has been no further contact made. It is quite possible that she is already dead.” Nobunaga was staring intently at Mitsuhide. Mitsuhide knew he wasn’t trying to be cruel, but rather prepare him for a potential inevitability. Aleria could be dead. “If she dies, I will raise such a hell that Kennyo will think he has truly descended into it. I will unleash such terror on anyone who participated, accepted or even knew of her capture who did not help.”

Nobunaga sat back and smiled. “And why would you go to those lengths for a girl you do not care for?”

Too late, Mitsuhide realized he’d been led into a trap. Damn. He glared at Nobunaga. “My feelings are irrelevant here.” But Nobunaga shook his head. “For all your knowledge, Mitsuhide, you have never truly grasped what love is or what it can do. Love is never irrelevant, because no matter what shape it takes, it is in everything we do. She loves you. And she loves all of us, in a way. She sacrificed herself because she believed we would bring her back. And whether she is alive or dead, we must not let her down. And if she is dead, I need to know that you will still be able to function. Our work is not yet done reshaping our country.”

Mitsuhide nodded hollowly. “Yes. You will have me. I gave you my word and I will not go back on it.”

Nobunaga seemed satisfied and sighed softly. “It’s quiet without her here. I’ve never been this rattled before.” Mitsuhide agreed. Without her, Azuchi seemed empty… lessened. Nobunaga changed the subject yet again. “Did you eat?”

Mitsuhide rolled his eyes. “Yes. Masamune insisted I eat everything he cooked for me. I did not realize he cooks when he worries.” Mitsuhide stopped for a moment and considered something. “I kissed her, you know.”

Nobunaga’s eyes widened for a moment.

Mitsuhide spoke softly, almost reverently. “She tasted so sweet. Isn’t it odd? I don’t taste food when I eat, nor sake when I drink. But I could taste her. I taste her still.”

 

Nobunaga tilted his head and looked at Mitsuhide quizzically. “And why do you think that is?”

 

Mitsuhide didn’t reply. Fear of what the truth would do to her kept his thin, pale lips closed.

Chapter Text

ONE WEEK AFTER MITUHIDE’S RETURN

I had no idea how long I’d been in the dark. Without seeing the sun, or having my phone or watch, I couldn’t tell much about the passage of time. I knew very little at this point, other than I didn’t have the answers Kennyo was after. Kennyo was the man in charge here. I’d met him once before and sensed he was dangerous. Now I knew he was. I’d been slapped, punched, kicked, cut, and hung by my wrists until I couldn’t stay conscious. The first night, I’d been introduced to Kennyo and treated fairly well. Kennyo had seemed sad, but kind. Understanding, even. But then he’d grown harsh when I didn’t give him answers. He wanted to know about the Oda forces. Nobunaga, Ieyasu and Mitsuhide, specifically. He wanted to know about Mitsuhide’s travels, any friends and what his role was with the Oda. Did he have Nobunaga’s trust. I gave them nothing. Most of their questions I had no answers for. What I did know, I would never tell. Eventually, Kennyo had stopped coming to my interrogations when it became obvious that either I didn’t have the answers he was looking for, or I’d never talk.

Then the interrogations stopped, and the real torture began. The first man they sent into the cellar was the one who had kidnapped me. While I hadn’t paid close attention in history, I knew enough of it to know what happened to women who were prisoners of war. Hell, even women who weren’t prisoners were treated as less than equal to men. The Oda warlords were the exception I had been lucky enough to find.

Despite my aching and bleeding body, I found the strength to try to fight him off. Very quickly, I learned that fighting got the man more excited. My already tattered kimono was yanked upward, exposing only my lower half. The man laughed cruelly, and I felt a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. There was no escape. “You’re quite pretty underneath all that dirt and blood. No wonder the Oda men kept you around. I bet Akechi used you well. If he hasn’t yet, well… I will take care of that!” I screamed as he grabbed fists full of my hair and pulled as he drove into me without preamble. The excruciating feeling of his form on top of mine, pushing into me and grunting in my ear, was nearly enough to make me pass out. I could feel his body on my chest and a sharp pain in my ribs let me know that he was pressing hard. I tried to take a deep breath, but I couldn’t. My chest wouldn’t rise, due to the force of his body on top of me. Panic set in and my arms clawed at the man, to no avail. With a few final thrusts and groans, he finished. It was over.

Once he stood up, I could take in a deep breath and quickly after, began to cough. He straightened his own clothing and spit on the floor close to my head. “Serves you right, Oda whore!” Just as quickly as he came, he left. I could hear him laughing maliciously with the other men outside. My body was trembling from shock and the pain of what had happened. On the outside, I was dirty, bloody, tired and very sore. My lip was split on both sides and I was pretty sure I had at least one black eye. My wrist felt swollen and unmovable. On the inside, I was dying. My heart was shattered, and my brain was hazy from shock. My thoughts flitted from one subject to the next, trying to avoid the shock of what had happened to me. Before I could calm down and think, in came another man. And another. My mind left my body for several days as they used me. When I couldn’t hold my head up anymore, they forced soggy gruel and water down my throat. It was just enough to keep me alive for their use.

More time passed. I vaguely recalled hearing a guard say that it had been over two weeks since I’d been here. My usefulness had worn out, and they’d decided to quit feeding me. My body had begun to shrink, and I could see hollows in my skin where none had been before. There was a small leak of rain water where the bricks met in the corner and a hole had formed over time. The water was dirty, but I was desperate. For a while. Then, I stopped trying to avoid the inevitability of my death. I could feel it was coming, just as I felt the cold, damp air whistling through my cage.

For a short while, before the questions began, I hoped for the Oda forces to save me. I was sure they would. After the rapes began, I’d quit hoping for salvation and started hoping for death. Now it was close, I was sure. A small scraping sound alerted me to the fact that I wasn’t alone anymore. Fearing they’d changed their mind about letting me die, I scrambled weakly to the far corner of my cell. It took so much effort, and I could feel my knee scrape across the floor. It hurt, but in a far-off way. Like it was happening to someone else. Somewhere in my head, I could hear myself screaming not to give up. “Don’t die, Aleria. You can beat this.” But I was too tired to respond in the affirmative. If I lived, that meant more pain, and I didn’t want any more pain. “Hey girl. You still alive?” A gruff strange voice asked. I didn’t answer. I quickly turned my head against the cold brick wall and closed my eyes, as he came down the small set of stairs and looked at me. “Hey boss, I think she’s dead.” I could vaguely hear a muttered laugh. “Good. Now we can take her body into Azuchi and dump her there. By the time we get there, she’ll stink of rot and they’ll all go mad with grief. The kitsune will beg for death and wish he’d never touched one of our men. Put an emblem from Uesugi in her hand. That should force the Oda idiots to war against Kenshin’s group. I will notify Kennyo.” All the words and muttered curses meant something important, I was sure. But I couldn’t piece them together. Lack of nutrition and water were taking their toll on me.

I was confused. I supposed I was dead. They knew it, so it must be true. My mind grew hazy again, as I drifted on a sea of cold black wind.

The next thing I heard was the sound of gunshots and battle cries. I had no idea how much time had passed, but I could tell whatever was happening was unexpected. I could hear men screaming and shouting, but they were far away. Or was I deep underground? I couldn’t remember. Whatever was going on was beyond my ability to understand and I closed my eyes again, waiting for death.
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Mitsuhide was on edge, another out of character behavior for him. Luckily, all the Oda Warlords with him were on edge, as well. He’d never attempted to get information so quickly before, but within three days, he’d managed to track the group of black-clad ninjas to a small village called Edo. Word that a travelling monk had passed through there only a week ago meant she might already be gone, but it was a risk he would take. Masamune, Ieyasu and Mitsuhide had ridden hard with a small group of soldiers. When they arrived in the village of Edo, they’d captured a ninja and knocked him unconscious before he could poison himself. What they learned made each of the hardened warlord’s sick. Aleria had been tortured. She’d been left for dead in the underground brick cellar of an old cabin in the woods. It was well armed, but they were getting ready to leave. The ninja also admitted that they hadn’t been giving her any food or water for a couple days, and that she was likely dead. God help Kennyo and his men if it were true. Mitsuhide had vowed to avenge her, and he would.

Just before dawn, they arrived where Mitsuhide’s sources said the abandoned cabin would be. It had been raining non-stop for a while. None of the warlords had spoken much. They were all pensive and worried that Aleria was beyond saving. Mitsuhide’s breath caught in his throat as he spotted a dark structure in the thick of the forest. Up went his hand in a signal they all knew meant to stop the horses and keep quiet. From here, they’d go on foot. Mitsuhide would take out the guards with his rifle, and then they would charge in. The extra soldiers would take out any enemies that stepped outside, but they would not step foot in the cabin, unless directed by one of the warlords. That way, they could search the place quickly and orderly. If Aleria was alive, time was of the essence.

In complete silence, Mitsuhide and the others crept to the edge of the clearing. Mitsuhide drew his pistol and aimed at the head of the guard outside. In their arrogance, they hadn’t armed the place very well. Hell was at their doors and they hadn’t a clue. With a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, Mitsuhide fired. As suddenly as it had been there, the guard’s head was gone. Instead, a mess of blood, brains and bone splattered the door and the ground. Instantly, the Oda forces were knocking the door down. With swords and guns, they slaughtered all but three black-clad ninjas. Each warlord grabbed one and began shaking them. “Where is she?!” Mitsuhide bellowed, matching Masamune and Ieyasu in tone as they questioned their own captures. Finally, one screamed. “She’s dead! We left her in the cellar without food or water. I uh… I think it’s been close to three days that she’s been without. I’m sorry! Please, spare me! I don’t want to die!”

Mitsuhide saw red. “Oh shit.” Masamune whispered, closing his eyes. Only a small touch from Ieyasu reminded him that now was not the time to mourn. Masamune nodded. They had to finish the job and recover Aleria. Now was the time to keep their emotions in check. But Mitsuhide had no such qualms. He smiled at the ninja. “You ask me for mercy? Did she ask you for mercy? Did she beg? Did you grant her wish?” His voice rose with each question. The ninja blanched and tried to run. Mitsuhide caught him by the arm and put his rifle to the man’s heart. “You took mine, so I will take yours.” He pulled the trigger. Ieyasu followed suit with his short sword, slicing the throat of the ninja he held. Masamune whirled the man he held around, facing away from him and grabbed hold of his chin. With a vicious pull, he snapped the man’s neck and allowed the corpse to drop to the floor. At last, there was silence.

None of the Warlords moved.

Ieyasu was the first to speak. “I’ll go get her.” Mitsuhide shook his head. He wasn’t ready for this. Masamune stepped up to Mitsuhide and put his hands on his shoulders. “We can’t leave her down there any longer. The lass deserves better.” She deserved better than any of this, Mitsuhide thought to himself, but again, no words would come out. Finally, he moved toward the door to the cellar. “I’ll get her.” The other two moved with him. Masamune nodded “We will all go.”

On the other side of the door was a short set of stairs that led into a small room, with various torture instruments. In front of a small wooden chair, was old blood, in varying degrees of age. Some had to be no more than four days old, if Mitsuhide’s knowledge of the art of interrogation proved right. Th oldest looked to be three weeks. His stomach lurched at the sight of it. Ieyasu cursed and Masamune said nothing which, for Masamune, was in fact, saying something. Something small and vaguely pink caught his eye. His breath caught in his throat. His arms and legs went numb. No words would come to his mouth, so he just stared. Ieyasu was the first to follow his line of sight. His eyes widened and a soft moan of agony left his contrary lips. Masamune’s head jerked around and he gasped before his eye closed, unable to bear the sight of the frail, thin and pale body of their Chatelaine.

Her knees were bent up to her chest, as if she were trying to get as far in the corner as she could, her head tilted against the brick wall, and her eyes were closed. She could almost be sleeping, he thought absently. Mitsuhide was at her side in an instant. As gentle as he could, he reached his hands underneath her knees and behind her back and picked her up. She was so thin, he could have picked her up with one hand. Her once bright, silky curls were matted and dull. There was blood matted in her hair from a head wound and old blood crusted down her chin, as if she’d been bleeding from her lip, which was split in more than one spot. Bruises lingered around her wrists and ankles, as if at one point, she had been bound. The dark circles under her eyes were either bruises from torture or malnutrition. It mattered little now.

There was a knot in Mitsuhide’s throat that burned. In nearly his whole life, Mitsuhide had never cried. Not since he was three or four years old, when crying was how one communicated. But now, as a hardened warlord with a delicate dead flower in his arms, he wanted to weep at the loss. “I’m so sorry, Princess.” He murmured to her, leaning down to kiss her pale, cold forehead, which now lay against his chest.

“Mmm...”

The softest sound he’d ever heard penetrated the silence. Ieyasu and Masamune’s heads whipped up in his direction. For a moment, he didn’t move, as stark terror wove its way into his heart. Terror that what he heard was a mouse or something...anything other than what he hoped it was. But there it was again.

“Mmm…tss...”

He saw it then. Her lips, blue-tinted and chapped, had moved. She lived. A voice hoarse and soft left his mouth. “Ieyasu… Help me…” Of the warlords, Ieyasu was the most skilled, medicinally. It was one of the reasons he’d brought him on the mission: in case she’d needed help. He’d though her beyond it, but for one glorious instant, Aleria’s dark eyes opened. Immediately, they found his. They were only open for a second or two, but they’d opened. Ieyasu flew to his side and began to gently examine her. Masamune pulled a small bladder of water from his side and brought it over. They gently poured a few drops into her mouth. Then a few more. Ieyasu pulled out a pain-relieving salve and gently rubbed it over the worst wounds he could see, without removing what was left of her kimono. Without a word, Ieyasu pulled his yellow haori off and draped it over her. It wasn’t much, but their combined efforts were enough to get her a little more alert. Her eyes opened again, to see the relief on the faces of three of her warlords. Mitsuhide was trembling. Not from physical strain, but emotional strain. She was alive. After a few more small drinks of water, she spoke.

“I didn’t tell them anything.”

Had he not been holding her, Mitsuhide might have crumpled to the ground at her first spoken words. His training kicked in and he realized her throat was raspy from dehydration and screaming. Each left their own distinctive scars on a person's throat and she showed signs of both in how she spoke. Then her meaning kicked in and he realized what she was saying. Their sweet seamstress, Chatelaine and Princess had protected them, until the enemy nearly killed her. “You little fool…” Mitsuhide whispered to her, his voice hoarse from emotion and relief. “You could have told them everything and we would have understood. We wouldn't have cared. We just wanted you safe.”

The small bundle of Aleria in his arms shyly smiled. It was as if the sun shined in the dank little cellar. With her strength diminished from the small effort she’d expended, her head drooped back onto his chest. And in the silence, just before she lost consciousness, he heard her whisper.

“I knew you’d find me.”

Chapter Text

Though they were only days from Azuchi, it took nearly another week to get her home. Four times, they thought she died on the road, but she stubbornly clung to life—and to Mitsuhide. Except for Ieyasu checking her over every few hours and Masamune feeding her gruel to help reintroduce food to her system, Mitsuhide hadn’t let go of her, nor she of him. He’d held her while Ieyasu implemented a make-shift splint for her wrist. He knew it had to have been agony, but she merely whimpered and turned her head into his chest, her silent tears dampening his kimono. With Mitsuhide’s help, they had wrapped her rib cage with tight bandages, the one thing they had brought enough of to treat her.

Finally, they arrived at the castle. Mitsuhide held her against his lap, as he had the whole ride home, until Masamune and Ieyasu came to take her so he could dismount. “Masamune, please inform Lord Nobunaga and the others of our mission. Ieyasu, please get your medical supplies and meet me in Aleria’s room.” With those clipped requests, Mitsuhide took Aleria back into his arms and strode into the palace toward her room.

Masamune and Ieyasu looked at each other a moment. Masamune spoke first. “He said please. I don’t think that word has ever come out of his mouth before.” Ieyasu shook his head. “I think we are going to have a problem on our hands if she doesn’t make it.” Masamune smiled, though it was tinged in sadness. “Our Lass is a fighter, can’t you tell? I knew it when she gave herself up to save my life. No, she’ll survive. And we shall protect her better for it.” Ieyasu dropped his contrary look for a moment, showing real concern for Masamune. “You don’t still blame yourself for what happened?” Masamune shrugged, his young, wild features showing grief that had built up over the years. “We all must bear the crosses of those we love that we couldn’t save.” Before Ieyasu could respond, Masamune quickly strode away.

THREE HOURS LATER

Ieyasu opened Aleria’s door to leave, after finishing his examination of her, to find the other warlords and Nobunaga waiting outside for him. When he’d kicked Mitsuhide out of the room, none of the others had been there. Now, each was standing outside her door, looking worried, which was a testament to how much they adored the princess. Nobunaga spoke first.
“How is she?”
Ieyasu shrugged, a movement that didn’t match his furrowed brow or the sadness in his eyes. He pointed to the garden and the men moved away, so she wouldn’t overhear.
“She’s beginning to come around. She still can’t or won’t speak. But, from what I can tell, she has a broken wrist and rib. She was beaten on more than one occasion. I can tell because she had bruises that vary in healing. I was able to get a little more water down her than yesterday, since she was awake for a while today. She may be ready for some gruel now, but only a few bites. Too much and she will be in pain and it will make her sick. It’s a slow process, but she will live.”

Nobunaga nodded, relief etched on his face. Masamune smiled faintly. Hideyoshi sighed and nodded, as if he’d been holding his breath. Mitsunari looked away, remarking about the dust outside, and wiped at his eyes.

Mitsuhide spoke quietly. “Was she… I mean… Did they…” Somehow, the words kept dying on his tongue. Ieyasu looked away, a haunted expression taking the place of his normally contrary look. He nodded. “For her privacy, I won’t tell you what I found, but… It was bad. I don’t think she’s with child, but it’s not my area of expertise. And we won’t know for sure for a few weeks. But they used her. Hard.” His last sentence came out whispered, but the anguish and white-hot fury he felt were not lessened for it. He wanted to torture those who tortured her. In her eyes was the terror he remembered from his own youth. Seeing her like that brought up memories he’d tried to keep hidden. It was difficult for him. But she needed care and he was the best. He wouldn’t allow anyone else to treat her.

Mitsuhide looked back toward the room of his sweet Chatelaine. She would live, but she would never be the same. And it was all his fault. Outwardly, he made no expression changes, but inside, a volcano of rage churned. His eyes met Nobunaga’s first, then each of the other warlords. “When she is recovered, we will avenge this monstrosity.” The words came from Lord Nobunaga, but each warlord nodded his approval.

THREE DAYS LATER
Hideyoshi was getting on Mitsuhide’s final neve. If that simple, mother-hoverer didn’t stop attempting to order him around, Mitsuhide might have to kill him. Since nearly the moment they’d retuned with Aleria, Hideyoshi had upped his mother hen habits to their maximum capacity. From yelling at the maids to bring water and anything else he could think of, to scolding Mitsuhide, Ieyasu and Masamune about how to treat her. Mitsuhide rolled his eyes. Ieyasu was the best in medicine and Masamune was the best with food. And Hideyoshi was attempting to tell them how to do what they did best.

“Ieyasu, don’t forget to wrap the bandages tightly, but not enough to cut off her blood supply.”
“I’m AWARE, Hideyoshi. She is not my first patient, if you recall.”
“Right of course.”

“Masamune, have you added those extra vegetables I had sent to you to her gruel? If you mash them enough, they should aid in her recovery.”
“You mean the vegetables I ALREADY HAD? Yes, I added them.”
“Well, did you make sure to steam them enough to mash properl—”
“Shogetsu, sick ‘em.”
“Mroar!”
“MASAMUNE GET YOUR TIGER OFF OF ME!”
“Not until you leave.”
“FINE!”

Mitsuhide shook his head, as Hideyoshi rounded to corner, heading into Aleria’s room with that overzealous look of concern on his face. Mitsuhide should really warn him.
“I wouldn’t go in there, if I were you.”
Hideyoshi huffed and looked at Mitsuhide.
“And why is that?”
“Can’t you just trust me and stay out?”
“Trust you? That’s hilarious. Besides, she needs extra care, Mitsuhide. You know it. And if I don’t help, I’ll go crazy.”
“Suit yourself.”
With a touch more indignation, Hideyoshi opened the door to Aleria’s room.
“MROAR!”
“MASAMUNE!!!”

SIX DAYS LATER
Mitsuhide stopped outside Aleria’s door and listened. A calm, deep voice was speaking in low tones. As he recognized the voice, Mitsuhide slid open the door and entered her room. He’d heard correctly. Lord Nobunaga sat beside Aleria’s futon, with the Otogizoshi in his hands. He was reading fairy tales to her.

“And so, they named him Momotaro.” Nobunaga looked up at Mitsuhide in warning. Aleria was finally resting comfortably and he didn’t want her overwhelmed. Mitsuhide nodded at the unspoken order and stepped back outside, softly sliding the door closed and waiting until Nobunaga had finished.

A while later, Nobunaga stepped outside Aleria’s room and met Mitsuhide at the edge of the garden farthest from her room. It had become the unofficial meeting place to discuss Aleria’s needs and condition.

“How is she?” Mitsuhide inquired. Nobunaga sighed and shook his head. “She’s…broken. It’s peculiar. She was such a fireball and so insubordinate when she first arrived. I swore I would enjoy breaking her, but now… Seeing her this way? I abhor it. I want her back the way she was.”

Mitsuhide understood. They had all bonded with Aleria in their own way. She didn’t fear them or bow to them in subservience as most others did. She treated them as if they were just men whom she adored. And they had come to love her for it.

“She’s put some weight back on. That’s a good sign. And Ieyasu says she spoke this morning to say thank you. Perhaps we will have our girl back soon.”

NINE DAYS LATER
Aleria was propped up, leaning against Masamune’s chest as he held a set of chopsticks up to Aleria’s lips. “That’s a good lass. Just a few more bites.” The usually brash and rough warlord was speaking in soft tones and gently running a hand down Aleria’s arm as she swallowed her latest bite of porridge. She’d finally been able to eat enough to gain some energy and Masamune was thrilled. He swallowed the instinct to tighten his grip on her, for fear she would react poorly. She was so damn fragile now. But he was determined to revive her health.

Each evening, after his work was finished, Masamune spent hours pouring over books and recipes and working on adding to his porridge recipe. He wanted the most nutrients and the best taste. Good food promoted good health, in his experience.

Masamune was rewarded for his efforts as Aleria made a small noise of pleasure at her first bite of his new recipe. A small, soft smile had played over her lips and Masamune had the strangest urge to tell everyone he’d made her smile. Instead, he continued to help her sit up, by propping her up between his legs and keeping an arm wrapped around her abdomen. She’d lean back against him when her strength began to wane, and he’d hold her up until she finished eating. It as the best part of his day, if he was being honest. He was never honest out loud.

One she was finished, he patted her on her head. “Well done, lass. Feeling good?” She smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Masamune. That was delicious.” Masamune beamed. “You’re doing so well with it, I think you’ll be ready to start eating something more substantial. What do you think?” Aleria nodded. “Let’s try tomorrow. I need strength. I’ve been able to sit up on my own for a while, but I still get dizzy and tired when I try to stand. I miss being outside and enjoying fresh air.”

Masamune frowned as seeing Aleria’s smile falter. That wouldn’t do. “Alright. Well we can’t have this. Come on. Hold on to me. That’s it.” Masamune set the bowl and chopsticks down and stood with Aleria in his arms. Using his foot, he slid the door to her room open and carefully carried her outside into the evening air. The sun was just beginning to set, and sunlight danced across the flowers, stones and water that made up the garden outside her room. When Aleria gasped and smiled at the beauty, Masamune knew he’d made a good decision. The sunset lit up the hollows under her eyes and for the first time since she’d been rescued, she showed true signs of recovery. A hard lump formed in Masamune’s throat and he was grateful she was looking elsewhere. He didn’t want to look uncool in front of anyone. Even her. Still, he felt the overwhelming need to tell her something truthful that he had been holding in for a while. “Aleria…” He began. Instantly, her eyes turned to look at him and he swallowed hard. Time to be a man. “I’m truly sorry I couldn’t protect you. It’s my fault that you were hurt, and I will never forgive myself. But do you think one day you might be able to forgive me?”

Aleria looked confused for a moment before she reached up and put her thumb just under his eye. With a small swiping motion, she removed the moisture there before anyone else could see it. Then she smiled softly. “Masamune, there is nothing to forgive. If you had died trying to protect me, I still would have been hurt, but you wouldn’t have been able to help rescue me. You wouldn’t be here to feed me delicious food and help me get strong again. I knew what would likely happen to me when I gave myself up. Please, don’t guilt yourself over it.” Her eyes shined with unshed tears and Masamune stood in awe of her. How could a waif such as the lass be this strong? He would honor her strength. He nodded, his expression hardening slightly. “Very well. Then I will continue to help you get better. We all will.” Aleria smiled and nodded, returning to gaze at the sunset, which was now descending behind the horizon.

 

ELEVEN DAYS LATER
“Mitsunari, you really don’t need to make tea. Water is fine, honestly.” Mitsunari smiled serenely at Lady Aleria. “You’re so gracious, Lady Aleria. But please allow me to do this for
y—" Mitsunari stopped and looked down in surprise. “Oh dear. I seem to have spilled the tea. I’m so sorry, Lady Aleria. It seems as though I’ll have to give you water instead.” Aleria blinked up at him, and he watched curiously as her lips quivered. Oh no. Wasn’t that a sign of crying? Lord Hideyoshi had mentioned before that if she began to cry, Mitsunari would need to come and get him immediately. Without a word, Mitsunari left the room and ran for the council room. He arrived quickly and threw open the doors. The rest of his fellow warlords were inside and they immediately quieted, their expressions tense. “She…She...Her lip was quivering. I spilled the tea and she got upset. I think she may cry.” Without another word, the warlords began running toward her room.

Just as they got close, a strange sound permeated their ears. Soft and short noises were coming from Aleria’s room. Realization hit the men all at once. They peaked inside. Instead of crying, Aleria was laughing. Sitting up on her own and for the first time since her rescue, Aleria’s eye were twinkling and she was laughing. Mitsunari looked back at his comrade’s, a bewildered expression on his face. Grins and smirks danced across their faces in return. Hideyoshi put his hand on Mitsunari’s shoulder. “Well done, Mitsunari.”

 

SIXTEEN DAYS LATER
Mitsuhide sat outside Aleria’s door. It was late and most everyone had gone to sleep. Mitsuhide knew better. If he left now, he’d miss it, and he wouldn’t allow that to happen. The moon had moved across the sky. Any minute now, it would start.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, the screaming began. Each night, when the palace settled down and grew quiet, Aleria’s nightmares started. She’d scream until someone woke her. Mitsuhide was determined to be that someone. For the first two days, Aleria didn’t speak. Each warlord took watch over her, fed her and read to her. And at night, Mitsuhide had taken to staying outside her door. He swore to the others that it was for her benefit, so she would know that no one would be able to harm her again. But he knew the truth. It was he who needed the reassurance. He couldn’t bear to sleep in his palace, away from where he knew she was suffering. And he wanted to be the one to care for her in the night, when the worst of her symptoms began.

It was around night seven when it started. She’d finally gotten some strength back and was speaking and smiling. Her bruises were just beginning to fade, and she’d been able to eat her entire bowl of porridge. That’s when her nightmares started. She’d screamed until her voice gave out, which wasn’t long. But it was long enough to scar Mitsuhide’s heart. He couldn’t stand to hear her so afraid.

Mitsuhide jumped up and opened her door. At first, all he saw was her hair. It flowed down to her waist naturally, but now it was a tangled mess of waves as she twisted back and forth in her futon. In an instant, Mitsuhide had her in his arms. “Shhh, there there, sweet. I’ve got you... Shhh… You’re safe. Wake up, sweet. Look at me. I’m here and no one will harm you.” Each night, Mitsuhide repeated the same mantra to her until she opened her eyes and stopped struggling. “M..Mitsuhide… I’m sorry… I—” Her words were cut off as he placed a long, slender finger over her lips. “Not another word, sweet. You apologize to no one for this. Ever.” His voice shook. Mitsuhide swallowed to regain control. “If anything, it is I who should be apologizing to you. Were it not for my lack of discipline, this would never have happened.” Aleria shook her head, an old familiar look of stubbornness settling in her eyes. Mitsuhide knew that look and a part of his heart leapt in relief. She’d been showing small signs here and there of returning to her old self and that look was a new one of them. He missed her stubborn streak. He moved his finger from her delicate lips to allow her to speak.

“Mitsuhide, the only person who we should be blaming for what happened to me are the one’s who actually hurt me. Kennyo and his men.” Aleria reached up and placed a trembling hand on Mitsuhide’s cheek. She smiled softly as he unconsciously leaned into her palm. “You deserve to be cared for, Mitsuhide. Everyone does. Even Kennyo, although I pity whoever does. But the point is, you shouldn’t be forced to isolate yourself from affection. The right girl will stand proudly by your side despite the danger, because you are worth the risk.” Mitsuhide’s eyes were wide. She was so alluring in the small amount of moonlight that filtered in the room. She’d been beaten, raped and tortured and here she was, telling him he deserved to be loved, despite what he’d cost her. What an incredible woman she was. But she was wrong.

Instead of telling her so, he smiled benignly and patted her head, while gently laying her back on her futon. “Close your eyes, sweet. I shall stay here by your side until you fall asleep. Then I’ll take my place back outside your door. No one will harm you. I swear it.” Aleria smiled softly and closed her eyes. In no time, her breathing evened out and she succumbed to sleep. Mitsuhide leaned over her to pull her blanket up to her shoulder. It was August, but he worried she might get a chill in the night. It was only recently that her fever had subsided and he would not risk another one. As he looked down at her face, he couldn’t resist the urge to lean down and place a kiss on her forehead. As soon as she was better, he would break all contact with her and spread the information throughout Japan. It was what he was good at. He would protect her at all costs…Even to his heart.

Chapter Text

It was finally happening. After so long of being bed-ridden and waited on hand-and-foot, I was standing up, outside. On my own. I smiled at six men who were standing there with me, grins stretched across their faces.

“Well done, lass.” Masamune said softly. The others nodded.

A small smile of true warmth crossed Mitsuhide’s face as our eyes locked. I was truly grateful to him. I was grateful to all of them, really. But Mitsuhide alone knew about my nightmares, and he helped me each night. He showed no hint at the fatigue I knew he must be feeling after sleeping every night outside my room. Selfishly, knowing he was there had made me feel safe enough to sleep. The nightmares hadn’t stopped but waking up to him whispering sweet words to me had helped to ease the sting of them. I knew my road to recovery had only just begun but being home with my warlords made me feel safe.

Nobunaga spoke, then. “Would you like to go for a walk?” As soon as he said it, I realized that I absolutely wanted to go for a walk. I hadn’t been standing on my own until today and I felt good enough to walk around the palace. I nodded. Nobunaga held out his hand and I took it without hesitation. My torture had shown me new sides to each of my warlords and I trusted them all, completely. A part of me had been scared that being around so many men would bring up nasty memories, but surprisingly, I just felt cared for. They were truly my family. With the others at my sides and behind me, we walked through the palace. I was stopped a few times as maids and other staff members spotted me and came to congratulate me on my recovery from my ‘illness.’ It was what we decided to tell the others, instead of the truth. It helped me to know that only my closest friends knew the horrors I’d endured, and no one would be tempted to ask questions that could trigger unpleasant memories.

“I think that’s enough.” Mitsuhide spoke, after we’d been walking for an hour or so. He’d noticed what I was trying to conceal from the others. I tensed up, and Hideyoshi bristled. “That’s not your place to say, Mitsuhide. If she’s enjoying herself, she can keep doing what she wants. Back off.” Mitsuhide smiled with none of the warmth he’d shown me. When he spoke, his voice was icy cold, despite the silky softness of it. “For all your mother hen routines, Hideyoshi, you fail to notice the simplest things.” I shook my head, trying to covertly tell Mitsuhide to stop. I didn’t want them to know. But he ignored my silent pleas. “Look at her legs. She’s trembling with fatigue. If she doesn’t stop and rest for the day, she could hinder her progress.”

Silence followed, and I was suddenly looking into the eyes of six very angry warlords. Uh oh.

“Aleria.” Nobunaga said, his authoritative tone coming through for the first time. “You should have said something sooner.”
I suddenly felt very small. When I was finally able to speak, my voice came out very shallow and soft. “I didn’t want to stop. I missed everything and everyone. I wanted to do this.” The anger on their faces melted away, except for Mitsuhide, who I knew was still seething at me for pushing myself. It was funny to me that the others couldn’t read him, but I could.

“Lord Nobunaga!” From behind us came a young page who knelt by Nobunaga’s feet. “Lord, Nobunaga, there is a man at the gate who says it’s important he speak with you. He’s armed, though. When I told him that he could not speak with you without disarming, he threatened to cut MY head off.”

Instantly, the atmosphere around the six men changed to a frigid and dangerous aura. Nobunaga spoke, “Thank you, Ran. Take him to the council room.” The young man nodded, stood, bowed, and ran off to do his master’s bidding. Nobunaga turned to everyone. “Mitsuhide, see to it Aleria is returned to her room. Quickly. Do not leave her side until Hideyoshi comes for you. The rest of you, come with me.” Without another word, each of the warlords, except for Mitsuhide, began to walk toward the council room. Mitsuhide turned in the opposite direction from his allies and began walking. “Come, Aleria.” His voice was clipped. I turned to follow him.

By the time we were nearing my room, I thought my legs would give out. “M..Mitsuhide...” I began. With icy grace, he turned to look at me, instantly taking stock of my fatigue. A small, teasing smile emerged on his face as he leaned down and picked me up, bridal style. “Little mouse, if you wanted me to carry you, you should have said so sooner. We’re almost at your room already.” His voice carried the old familiar teasing notes it used to and my heart thudded in my chest and a tingling sensation dipped lower. The feeling confused me. After what I’d been through, I couldn’t imagine being intimate with a man, and yet…. I shook my head to clear the confusion from it. The action did not escape his notice. “What is it? You’ve lost your smile. Don’t tell me you hate being carried that much?” I couldn’t find the words to respond.

As we entered my room, Mitsuhide carefully set me down on my futon. He quickly closed my door before returning to sit by my side. Suddenly, I was finding it difficult to look at him. I thought, perhaps if I ignored him, he would let it go. I should have known better. His long fingers pressed under my chin, urging my face toward him, forcing me to make eye contact. His knowing eyes penetrated deep. I felt as if he could read my mind for real, and I didn’t want him to. Neither of us spoke for a moment. Finally, Mitsuhide interrupted the silence.

“Tell me what’s bothering you.”
“I’m fine.”
“Is that so? I don’t believe you, princess.”

I didn’t like the icy tone in his voice. It stirred something dark and angry in my heart. Or perhaps I was just looking for a fight, because anger was easier to control than the feelings battling inside me.

“Well that’s not really my problem, is it?”

 

A part of me felt bad for goading him this way, but another part of me needed to make him angry. To shake him as I was always shaken by him. To anger him enough to bite back at me.

He did not rise to the bait.

“Tch. I won’t do this with you, Aleria. I won’t harm you the way you want, and I won’t let you harm yourself. If you don’t want to tell me what is clearly bothering you, then don’t. My job is to protect you from harm, and that includes from yourself.”

A breath I hadn’t realized I was holding escaped my lips. Just as quickly as it had come, the fire inside me cooled. He’d known all along what I was subconsciously trying to do, and he’d protected me from it. “I’m sorry... I don’t know why I did that. You didn’t deserve it.”

“Indeed. Now that you’ve let it go, care to tell me what brought it on?”

My cheeks flamed, causing his golden eyes to widen and his eyebrows to shoot to his hairline. His thin, pale lips spread into a slow, mischievous grin.

“That’s an unexpected reaction. Was it that scandalous, princess?”

I rolled my eyes and turned away from his teasing stare. “Shut up, Mitsuhide.”

“No no. You’ve started this. Tell me what was going through your mind. I’m…curious.”

I bit my lip. Mitsuhide knew more about me than anyone. Could I trust him with this?

“It’s just… After what happened to me, I didn’t think I would ever be able to stand being intimate or close with another man. I can tolerate Nobunaga and the others being so near because I know they care for me and are honorable men who wouldn’t harm me. But with you… You conjure feelings inside me that confuse me. Make me feel in such a way that I was sure had died. How can I want to be close to you after what was done to me? It’s shameful.” My last few words were accompanied by a lump in my throat and unshed tears as I covered my face.

I heard him move, and suddenly my hands were moved from my face. Two burning golden eyes bore into mine with such an intensity that I felt it in the pit of my stomach. I’d only ever seen him look at me that way once before. When he spoke, his voice was soft, but intense.

“Do you trust me?”

I didn’t hesitate in nodding. Something in his eyes softened a degree, but he didn’t let me go.

“What you feel for another man, whether it be me or someone else, has nothing to do with what happened to you. Those men harmed your body, but sex isn’t about your body, is it? Otherwise you would have sex with just anyone and it wouldn’t matter. Sex, for you, is sharing your heart and soul with someone you entrust to protect it. It’s making love. Am I wrong?”

My heart was pounding, and my eyes were wide. I shook my head. I’d always felt that way, but how on earth did he know that? How was it possible that he was putting my thoughts out in the open, when I’d never said them aloud? He continued in the same tone.

“When the time comes that you wish to share your heart and soul with someone on that intimate level, those demons will have no place in your mind. He will drive them out.”

I looked at him, only a small touch of doubt still in my mind. How could they be gone? They were in my nightmares, and in my fears every time I was left alone. Mitsuhide seemed to know what I was thinking. Indecision wavered in his gaze, before determination.

“Close your eyes.” It was not a request, and I found myself capitulating after only an instant.

Soft, gentle lips pressed against mine. He’d let go of my hands but hadn’t sought to touch me anywhere else. His lips brushed back and forth over mine, until I gasped, and responded to him. A soft sound of appreciation vibrated in his throat as he traced the outside of my lips with his tongue. He wasn’t trying to breach my lips, only tease, in true Mitsuhide fashion. My heart pounded in my chest, but not from fear. My body shook, but not from pain. In an instant, all thought was driven from my mind. It was forced out by his kiss and I found myself leaning in to touch him. Instantly, my hands were captured, and my eyes snapped open. He pulled away from me and shook his head.

“Careful, princess. I’m still a man and I’m trying very hard to be gentle with you. I only meant to give you a memory to prove that your trauma would not rule your life. Touch me, and I might lose this delicate hold I have on my desires and show you just how easily I can remove all thought from your endearing little mind.”

My lips trembled from the feel of him and my fingers reached up to touch them. He was right. He’d been able to kiss me, and I hadn’t thought of anything else. And for once, he wasn’t hiding behind his well-schooled features. He was looking at me with raw carnal lust and something inside me I thought had died, was rising up to meet it.

Mitsuhide turned away from me and looked at the door. A moment later, it was opened and Hideyoshi stepped into the room.

It was only years of training that allowed Mitsuhide to adopt a cool, mildly amused look as Hideyoshi stepped through Aleria’s door. The feel of her lips against his was still lingering as he surveyed the man. Judging by his posture, the stranger the others had met with wasn’t here for malicious reasons, but Hideyoshi was still tense over it, obviously. He also looked shocked, which meant he’d heard something he wasn’t expecting. And his immediate action was to look at Aleria, which meant that likely whatever the disturbance had been, had to do with her. Interesting. As he continued to derive information from the easily-read Hideyoshi, Mitsuhide felt himself relax and fall back into his carefully constructed façade.

“Aleria, do you know the name Sasuke Sarutobi?”
Mitsuhide’s face jerked around to face Aleria in time to see her eyes widen and her lips form a soft “Oh” of surprise. “Yes, I do. He’s a friend from… from the same village I come from.”
Ah, thought Mitsuhide. So, he was from the future as well. This was information that Mitsuhide kept close and never spoke of, even to Aleria. He’d believed her the first time she’d said she was from 500 years in the future. Mitsuhide had trained his entire life to know what the truth sounded like, and it had rung clear in her words the night they’d met. The others laughed and ignored her words as the silly ramblings of a frightened woman, but Mitsuhide knew better. Her eyes had been afraid, but clear. She had told the truth. Of course, Mitsuhide was also very careful, so he’d searched her room and found the one thing she’d arrived with: A bag, made of products he’d never seen before, and items inside that corroborated her story.

This man, this Sasuke, knew her from her life before she came here. Mitsuhide watched her expressions carefully. Surprise at hearing that he was in the castle. Which meant she never expected him to be here. Interesting. Affection in her eyes at the fact that he was around. Was that desire or simply friendship? Mitsuhide ground his teeth together. He couldn’t tell and that bothered him. Was he losing his skills, or was it simply because it was her? Refusing to delve farther into that line of thought, he turned back to Hideyoshi, who was also watching her. Hideyoshi spoke again, “He is asking to see you, and quite forcefully. He also scolded Lord Nobunaga for not taking better care of you, so it seems word of your...incident…has travelled back to your village.” Aleria’s body went rigid. A small hiss of displeasure escaped Mitsuhide’s mouth. “That’s impossible. If he knows what happened, then he is a part of Kennyo’s organization. Kill him.”

“No! Mitsuhide, that’s not—”
“I will not compromise your safety, princess. It’s not happening.”
“He’s a ninja, but he doesn’t work for Kennyo!”
“Then WHO DOES HE WORK FOR?!”
Aleria opened her mouth, to speak, but shut it violently, her eyes widening with shock, immediately followed by anger. Mitsuhide smiled a thin, silky smile: the snake smirk.
“How dare you…” She whispered. Horror had blanched across her face as realization struck. He’d used one of his simpler techniques of interrogation on her to attempt to get more information on this Sasuke. Inwardly, he flinched. It had been habit, rather than a conscious decision to hurt her that way. Still, her judgement had never been self-protective, and he wasn’t going to allow anyone near her until he knew more about the man. A small fission of regret flitted through him, but he kept it from his face. Instead, he arched an eyebrow at her, daring her to continue.

“Actually, I belong to Kenshin Uesugi, if it’s that’s important.” A soft but firm voice from behind Hideyoshi spoke up. Aleria’s eyes left Mitsuhide’s to search for the man. Hideyoshi stepped aside but kept his hand around Sasuke’s upper arm. “No farther, ninja.” Hideyoshi warned. Not that it mattered. Aleria was struggling to her feet to go greet him. She’d gotten to her knees, and her legs trembled as she attempted to stand. Just as she looked ready to fall over, Mitsuhide held out a hand to her. “Allow me.”

“Don’t you dare touch me.” She said softly and continued her struggle. Mitsuhide shrugged and looked away. He dropped his hand. To an untrained eye, the movement would have seemed natural. However, when his hand softly landed on the grip of his rifle, Sasuke shifted, his eye zeroing in on the movement. Mitsuhide raised his eyebrow again. Ah, so he was a well-trained ninja. Of course, if he belonged to Kenshin, as he’d admitted earlier, it was no question. Kenshin was a war mongering lunatic who often attacked his own men out of boredom. If Sasuke was still alive, that was a testament to his skill.

Hideyoshi glared at Aleria. “What are you doing? Get back in bed. You’ve already tired yourself out today.” Aleria shook her head, just as Mitsuhide knew she would. His stubborn little mouse. When she finally reached the door, she threw her arms around the ninja and began sobbing. Instantly, Hideyoshi released Sasuke’s arm, and he wrapped her up in a tight embrace.

Sasuke spoke softly to her, but Mitsuhide caught the words.

“I’m so sorry, Aleria. I didn’t know until Shingen’s sources alerted him to what had happened. I had to leave Azuchi to help Kenshin with the war. I didn’t even know you had been there until a week ago. I’m so so sorry.” Aleria nodded and clung to the man. “It’s okay. I’m okay. They’ve been taking care of me.” Sasuke shook his head, the anger on his usually stoic face surprising Aleria. Even from the back, Mitsuhide could read her. “They should never have put you in harms way. I wouldn’t have left you here if I’d known they couldn’t protect you.”

Hideyoshi bristled. “Now wait a minute. Lord Nobunaga may have allowed you in to see her, but I won’t tolerate you speaking ill of my Lord.” Sasuke ignored him, walking Aleria back to her futon, instead. Mitsuhide stood and crossed the room to stand behind the scene unfolding. His hand still gripped his rifle, ready to strike if the man made one wrong move. He didn’t have to look at Hideyoshi to know his hand was on his sword. But Sasuke made no move to harm her. Instead, he laid her back on her futon and covered her. His voice was still soft as he spoke. “I will be in town indefinitely, on Kenshin and Shingen’s orders, to track down the culprits and help the Oda bring them to justice.” Aleria’s eyes widened. “But...Why?” Sasuke showed her a small smile, “It seems they are all just as fond of you as I am.” Aleria allowed herself a small smile. “Thank you for coming, Sasuke. I’m glad to know you’re here.” Her eyes were heavy-lidded, and her words began to slur. Mitsuhide made a small movement and caught the ninja’s attention. Mitsuhide nodded toward the door and they each made their way outside. “Sleep, little mouse.” Mitsuhide whispered. He was careful not to show surprise when she smiled and nodded. The silly little thing was incapable of holding a grudge.

The three men made their way over to the edge of the garden, where Nobunaga, Ieyasu, Mitsunari and Masamune were waiting. As they reached the edge of the garden that would be just out of earshot from her room, Nobunaga spoke. “How is she, Mitsuhide? Did she push herself too hard?” Mitsuhide shook his head. “No. She will be sore, I’m sure. But she’s stubborn. She’ll be fine.” Nobunaga nodded, and turned to Sasuke, whose face showed none of its earlier concern. “Sasuke Sarutobi, you’ve been honest so far, but I will not allow you near Aleria unaccompanied. I will, however, allow you to help gather information on Kennyo and report directly to Mitsuhide. He will compile all the information gathered and will lead the charge to destroy Kennyo and his men. Is this satisfactory to you both?” Sasuke was silent for a moment as he contemplated Mitsuhide. Instead of looking offended, Mitsuhide shrugged and smiled, as if he were completely unaffected. “I have no objections, My Lord.” Sasuke nodded and addressed Nobunaga as well. “I accept. As this is a temporary peace offering, none of what I see or hear that could be used against you will be reported to my Lord. We all want the same thing. Justice for Aleria.”

And so, it was decided.

 

 

 

 

 

Another week passed, and Mitsuhide was in his usual spot outside Aleria’s room. He’d watched her up and moving around with much more ease. She grew stronger each day and inwardly he praised her strength. Women were usually whiny and boring, and they lacked the smarts to match wits against him. But not his Aleria. She’d been through hell and yet she had teased him today, when he’d snapped at someone for running into her. She’d accused him turning into Hideyoshi and asked if he would prefer to be called “mother hen” also. He couldn’t let her get away with that, so he’d pretended to be angry at her long enough to make her come to him and apologize. As soon as she had, he’d pretended not to know what she was apologizing for and sent her away, fuming. Mitsuhide smiled at the memory of her frustrated glare, which barely held back her smile. She enjoyed matching wits as much as he did. Of course, he’d actually angered her later, when he insinuated that the ninja that she’d been spending time with would prove more useful down in the dungeons, where Mitsuhide could question him properly. She’ hadn’t liked that. Mitsuhide hadn’t bothered to tell her he actually DID trust the ninja, after watching how Sasuke acted toward her. He treated her like a little sister, which calmed the possessive streak in Mitsuhide.

He stared up at the bright moon with apprehension. Something was off. He couldn’t put his finger on what, but he could feel it. As a shadow passed in front of the moon, it clicked. Mitsuhide let out of soft chuckle and spoke aloud. “Don’t trust me, ninja?” After a short moment, Sasuke dropped down from the roof and landed agilely in front of Mitsuhide. His face was covered with a mask and he had a sword on his back, but he made no threatening moves toward Mitsuhide. Instead, he cocked his head to the side, removed his mask, and spoke. “You’re quite talented, Mitsuhide Akechi. Not many others could have detected my presence.” Mitsuhide smiled and shrugged. It didn’t escape his notice that the ninja hadn’t answered his question, but he let it go.

“I learned long ago to trust my instincts.”
“And what do they tell you of me?”
“You’re alive, aren’t you?”
“And you’re arrogant.”
“Am I?”

Sasuke sat down opposite Mitsuhide. Mitsuhide noted that the ninja made no noise as he moved. How intriguing. He’d taken to the time period much quicker than Aleria had.
“How is it that you ended up with the Uesugi clan and Aleria with us, if you travelled back in time together?” Mitsuhide bluntly asked, watching for the smallest tell. It arrived in the form of Sasuke’s eyes widening ever so slightly. “You know?” Mitsuhide nodded. “The others did not believe her. I am trained in finding the truth. She spoke no lies. She said you are from the same ‘village’ meaning you must have travelled to the past with her. Yet she is still learning, and you seem to have so quickly adapted. It’s curious.”

Sasuke relaxed a fraction and shrugged. “When we travelled through the wormhole, I was thrown back 4 years father than she. She only arrived the night of the attempted assassination on Nobunaga at Honno-ji.” Mitsuhide nodded, accepting it as truth. “I see. And are you able to return to the future?” Sasuke hesitated, before shaking his head. “Not that I have been able to determine.” Mitsuhide allowed himself a small moment of relief. That meant she wouldn’t be leaving any time soon. He squashed the thoughts inside his head that wondered why it mattered to him if she stayed or left, since he was planning to remove himself from her life. He stood up, his senses telling him it was almost time for her nightmares to begin again.

“I’m afraid it’s time for you to retire, Sasuke. “
“And why is that?”
“Because any minute now, she’s going to start screaming and she doesn’t want anyone else to know it’s happening. I’ve already told you more than I’d tell the others. Now go.”

Sasuke hesitated, then stepped back into the shadows, disappearing.

Almost immediately, Aleria began shrieking. Mitsuhide opened her door and was at her side in an instant. He swept her up into his arms and began whispering to her. “Easy, sweet. Shhh, darling. I’m right here. You’re alright, darling mouse. I’ve got you. You’re safe. There there. Shhh… Open your eyes, little mouse. Look at me.” Aleria’s eyes opened but were unfocused and terror-filled. She was thrashing and nearly struck Mitsuhide in the face before awareness crept in… For a moment, she just stared at him as he caressed her cheek, a motion he knew she found soothing. “Mitsuhide…” She whispered, her eyes, filled with tears “You’re here?” Mitsuhide cocked his head and gave her an amused smile. “Where else would I be, sweet?” She looked more confused. “But you knew I was angry at you. And yet you’re here.” Her voice was barely a whisper. Mitsuhide shrugged and used his kimono to wipe the sweat from her forehead and cheeks. He was infinitely gentle with her. “Your naivety, while endearing, is dangerous. I won’t let you place yourself in danger ever again, sweet. You might trust the ninja, but I will not trust just anyone to care for you. If that means facing your wrath, well I think I’m up for the challenge.”

Mitsuhide held her tight against him, waiting for her heartbeat to slow and her trembling to subside. As much as he hated that she had these nightmares, he enjoyed the moments afterward, when he could hold her and soothe her. In the middle of the night, where no one could witness their closeness, he could be honest with her. Mitsuhide kept his arms around her, but allowed her a small amount of distance, so he could better gauge her reactions, as he confessed what his intentions were.

“I’m leaving tomorrow.”

Aleria’s eyes snapped back up to his, her moment of calm interrupted by the sudden news. A small, adorable furrow appeared between her brows. “Why?” He narrowed his eyes at her. “You know why.” A small delicate shudder ripped through her. “You’re going after Kennyo, and his men.” It wasn’t a question, but Mitsuhide nodded. “You’re finally able to walk around and do as you please. And the others will learn to deal with your nightmares, as I have. I am best suited for getting information on his whereabouts, but I cannot do that here. You know this must be done. Not just to avenge you, but to keep Azuchi safe. Kennyo hates Nobunaga, but now he holds a grudge against me for…mistreating…the members of his forces that I’ve captured. Others will be harmed in his quest for vengeance, and I cannot allow that to happen.”

Aleria reached for his hand and he obliged her. The next part, he knew, would be hard for her. Because it was tearing him apart. “Once I leave, I won’t see you again.” Her eyes widened. “What? Why? No, Mitsuhide—” He shook his head, his presence enough to make her capitulate. “You were harmed because of my fondness for you. I will not allow that to happen again. Once I leave, I will make sure the news is spread that you are nothing to me, and you will be free. The others will keep you safe and your life will go back to sewing and medicine and simple things, and you will think nothing more of me or the past.” He laid her back down and stood, his powerful golden gaze taking her in, one last time. He memorized the curve of her face, the shape of her sweet, sweet lips, even as they frowned at him now. Without another word, he turned to leave.

Just as he reached the door and moved to open it, a small shuffling sound caught his attention. He turned back to her, in time to see her stand. Her legs were trembling, but her eyes were wide and staring at him with a look that made his own knees weak. Mitsuhide meant to turn away from her, to leave the room, and never look at her again. But as she stood there, staring at him, he couldn’t seem to look away. In a heartbeat, she moved, taking one, then two steps toward him. Mitsuhide barely noticed that she wore a simple kimono that barely fell to her knees. His eyes were focused on her face and the look in her eyes as she drew closer to him.
Aleria came to a stop in front of him and he stared down into her eyes which mirrored the desire that he felt coursing through his veins. He knew he needed to turn her away. She wasn’t ready for this, and he needed to leave her, for her protection. And yet, as if he were chained, her eyes kept him immobile.

Aleria’s hand rose slowly, coming within an inch of his face. “Don’t…” He whispered. She stopped moving for an instant, before she laid her hand against his cheek. The soft, cool sensation was almost too much for Mitsuhide to bear. He had to walk out of that room right then, or else he’d do something that they’d both regret. He might be mistrusted, but dammit, he was an honorable man, wasn’t he? He couldn’t do this to her. He couldn’t taint her any further.

“Mitsuhide?”
“Yes, Princess?”
“Do you really want to go?”

His eyes widened. The creature in front of him shook him to his core. His muscles were tensed and rigid, his careful self-control that he’d honed over the course of his life was hanging by a threat connected to the small, delicate hand on his cheek. Aleria took another step forward, and her body pressed gently against his. Mitsuhide sucked in a breath, instantly hardening at the feel of her. His mind was screaming at him to leave. He watched her eyes as she took in his expression. He wondered briefly what she saw, but in another instant it didn’t matter. Her doubt faded into a look of certainty that settled on her face. Aleria leaned up on her tiptoes and pressed her own lips against his.
Her lips unleashed something Mitsuhide hadn’t realized he’d been holding back. A low growl erupted from his throat as he grabbed her waist with his longer fingers and pulled her harder against him. He ripped control of their kiss away from her and slanted his mouth over hers. Mitsuhide was still screaming at himself to let her go, but a moment later, Aleria’s mouth opened, allowing his tongue to delve into her, finding every sensitive hollow before massaging against her own tongue, which sought his and drove out all rational thought. A soft sound of pleasure escaped her lips and he knew he was lost to her forever.

“Aleria...” He spoke breathlessly against her lips, his last-ditch effort to reintroduce their sanity. “You have to stop this…you’re not ready for this and I have no self-control with you. Please…”

 

My thoughts were scattered, somewhere between desire and panic. Only moments ago, Mitsuhide had said he was leaving, never to return. He thought he was protecting me by refusing to allow me into his life, but in that moment, I knew I couldn’t let him walk out of my room. Once again, I watched his time-hardened control waver, silently praying it would break as I held my courage and kissed him. And when it did, he kissed me like I’d never been kissed before. He kissed me like I was the air he needed to breathe.

I felt his fingers dig into my hips and pull me tight against him as he sought to explore every inch of my mouth. He begged me, then, to stop him before we reached the point of no return. He was trying so desperately to hold onto his honor, thinking that I was still too vulnerable to do what our hearts and bodies were demanding. It was a contest between his honor and his desire, and I wanted his honor to lose.

Ever so slowly, I grabbed his hand and placed it on my neck. His palm was hot and felt incredible on my skin. But I wasn’t finished. With the same slow movements, I guided his hand down my neck to my collarbone. A harsh noise escaped his throat and his lips immediately moved to my neck, where his hand had been moments before. A small sigh of pleasure left my lips, and I moved his hot hand farther down to feel the swell of my breast, whimpering when his thumb grazed my nipple through the soft fabric of my kimono. My heart was pounding so hard against its cage, that I was sure he could feel it as I continued guiding his hand down to the cord holding my kimono together. Mitsuhide lowered his mouth to my collarbone, still following the trail I’d made with his hand. I could feel him nip playfully at my skin, before soothing the sting with his tongue. The stimulation created a firestorm in the pit of my stomach. I’d never been touched like this. I wanted to touch him too.

Mitsuhide pulled on the cord and, in an instant, bared me. A slow hiss of desire rattled in the air as he towered over me. My hands instantly went to his kimono, pulling and demanding it release him to me. Within a moment, we stood skin to skin, our breaths coming ragged and harsh. I sucked in a hard breath at the sight of his erection. I knew he was large from our first kiss but seeing him in all his glory was daunting. I licked my lips and was rewarded with a twitch that shook his whole body.

He stepped toward me again and picked me up. He was slim-figured, and without touching him, one might not realize how ripped he was. He lifted me with ease and placed me down on my futon. His body was hot and heavy on top of mine, but his sculpted arms held him up off me.

Again, he crushed his mouth to mine in a scorching hot kiss that had me panting. In another instant, Mitsuhide sat up, staring down at my body with a look of stark possession and lust that spoke to something wild inside of me I hadn’t realized was there. I reached up to touch his chest, marveling in the hard feel of him. His sharp intake of breath let me know I’d done something right. I wanted him to make more sounds. I reveled in my ability to make him lose control, and I wanted to keep him like this for as long as possible. I sat up, and pressed my lips to his neck, smiling inside when I was rewarded with a small moan. He liked that. Good. He was going to like this a lot more. My trembling hand wrapped around the hard length of him and his body went rigid. His hand fisted in my hair and pulled my mouth back to his, where he devoured me as I tentatively, then with more confidence, explored his arousal. Finally, Mitsuhide placed a hand on my shoulder and pushed me back down. My heart rate shot up as he positioned himself between my legs. But he just leaned down and kissed me again, this time with more gentleness. As he pulled away, his golden eyes pinned me down, searching for a refusal that I would never give.

“Are you sure, Aleria? If you aren’t, I have only a tiny wisp of control left. I will leave this room. But you must say so. Now.”

His words were whispered, with the last being bit out for urgency. His eyes were gauging every nuance of my reaction. My heart was beating so hard, but I wasn’t afraid. I just wanted him.

“Mitsuhide…” I called softly, pulling his hand back down to my breast.

The last of his walls came crumbling down before me and I finally saw the true Mitsuhide. A beautifully warm smile etched across his lips and he leaned back over me.

“Look at me, Aleria.” It was a redundant order. My eyes were lost in his as I felt him angle his body and thrust into mine.

I braced for pain, but my mouth opened in a soft moan as pleasure filled my senses. His eyes closed as he leaned over me, ecstasy carved into every line of his face. He didn’t move, and for a moment I thought he’d stop. But he finally opened his eyes and leaned down to capture my lips again, thrusting once more. Another harsh noise vibrated in his throat as he thrust again and again, his pace as fast and intense as it was passionate and sweet. I didn’t recognize the voice ripped from my throat. His eyes stayed locked onto mine, making sure I was seeing only him.

My nails scored the edges of his stomach and he growled deep in his throat, while tantalizing me with his long, pale fingers. It almost tickled, making my back arch. A soft smirk liquidized across his lips and he moved his hands to my waist, keeping my back arched up. He moved up onto his knees, so that he could lean down and kiss, bite and nibble my sides, stomach and rib cage, all while holding my lower half and easing it down and up his long, thick shaft. The overwhelming sensations continued to build inside of me.

His grip on me grew harder and he began plunging deeper into my channel. His breathing was ragged, and he was losing control. Just as I felt his body begin to spasm from his climax, I teetered over the bring and fell into my own. His lips caught mine before my cries carried out of my room. Simultaneously, I could feel his throat vibrating with his own moans, as his thrusts became harder, but slower.

Eventually, he stopped moving, but his chest rose and fell in ragged, harsh breaths. His usually silky white hair was slick with sweat and clung to his cheeks. He slowly eased himself out of me and stared, as if mesmerized, into my eyes. His hand reached down to cup my cheek and I leaned into it, seeking something I couldn’t name. Mitsuhide tilted my head, forcing me to look into his eyes again. This time, he was searching. Instinctively, I knew he was checking to make sure I was alright, so I smiled up at him. The look in his eyes was one of pure adoration, and I basked in it.

“You’re incredible,” he whispered, and I felt heat return to my cheeks. I looked away and he chuckled, the sound deep and soft in his chest. “You can’t be shy now, sweet.” He poked my side, sending electric tingles through me. I jerked, hard and a sound of laughter escaped my lips. Mitsuhide’s eyes lit up and the slow, sexy grin he used to tease me with slipped back into place. He poked me again and I tried to escape. I quickly realized it would be nearly impossible, so I wiggled, trying to get away from the worst of his tickling.

Eventually, he stopped and lay down beside me. Propping up on his elbow, his golden eyes surveyed my naked body, before coming to rest back on my face. As if he couldn’t help himself, he trailed his fingertips down between the valley of my breasts and down to my belly button. “You’re exquisite” he murmured, leaning down and kissing the tip of my nose, before brushing gently across my lips. I smiled shyly and he moved to lay flat on his back. I laid my head across his chest. He was still warm, and the strong sound of his steady heartbeat calmed me like nothing else ever could. I felt drowsy and deliciously tired. As if he knew it, he grabbed my blanket and covered us up, wrapping his long arms around me. “Sleep, little mouse.” He whispered, and I felt him press his lips to the top of my head. “You can’t command someone to sleep, Mitsuhide.” I felt obligated to argue, but as I felt him smile against me, I realized I was already drifting away.

 

Mitsuhide held Aleria in his arms for a while, listening to the sound of her breathing. Her soft breaths against his bare chest tickled, but he didn’t dare move. In one night, she’d crumbled all the walls he’d built around himself to keep her away. His little miracle. As he held her, he felt her body tense for a moment, before relaxing. In her sleep, she uttered “Mitsuhide…” and he froze, his heart seizing and melting inside its cage. What was he going to do now?

Throughout the long night, he contemplated what was honorable and what his heart was demanding he do. In the end, he knew that he had no choice but to seek out those that hurt her and destroy them. He could not rest until the atrocities committed against her had been avenged. Not to mention, he knew that others might eventually come for her, due to her relationship with him. He looked down at the top of her head, smiling at the mess of silky waves that splayed out over his chest and stomach. She was truly a miracle and he didn’t deserve something so pure. Yet, she’d looked at him with such love and desire, he couldn’t help but be pulled into her light.

Later, just before the sun was coming up, he slipped from her room, unnoticed. He let Lord Nobunaga know he would be leaving and explained about her nightmares, giving instructions on when they occurred and what to do. If his lord was surprised, it did not show on his face. He simply nodded and ordered him not to fail. They shared a brief look of understanding. Mitsuhide would find them all and make them pay. And then he’d bring Kennyo to his knees and cut out his heart while he still lived. He deserved worse for harming the angel that had been in his arms all night.

Mitsuhide stood at the castle gates, his eyes closed. He could still feel her, smell her on his skin. Absently, he wondered when those reminders would fade. He hoped not for a long time.

“Are you ready, then, Mitsuhide?” A voice called from behind him. Mitsuhide allowed his face to sink back into his old routine as he turned and faced the stoic ninja behind him.

“Are you sure it’s alright for you to leave Aleria, Sasuke? You only arrived a week ago.” Sasuke looked away, regret passing through his eyes. “It is regrettable, but I was sent here to bring the vile monsters who hurt her to justice. I’m with you on this.” Mitsuhide turned his eyes up to the castle, seeking the spot where her room lay. He pictured her smile one last time, before nodding to Sasuke. “To Edo, then.”

Chapter Text

“I must say, Lady Aleria, you are positively the finest seamstress in Azuchi. I’d dare say, maybe in all of Japan!” I felt my eyes widen at the sweet compliment from Mitsunari, before heat seeped into my cheeks. As always, he wore a dazzling sweet smile and walked slowly beside me as we returned to the caste. I’d needed to deliver a new kimono to the wife of the tea house owner and, as always, had to have an escort. It was part of my negotiation with Nobunaga when I asked to return to work. I was free to roam Azuchi Castle, but if I needed to go into town for any reason, I was to request one of the warlords to go with me. Until this morning, Masamune had been away in Oshu, and Ieyasu was grumpy, so that left Mitsunari. Not that I minded, since Mitsunari was always so pleasant.

“If you like my work, Mitsunari, then why don’t you ever ask me to make you something? The last time I offered, you had me make something for Ieyasu.” It was probably the funniest thing I’d ever seen. Ieyasu was bright red and super angry, but he’d put on the Haori and stomped away. I knew he loved it, though. Ieyasu always said the opposite of what he meant, and anything rude went over Mitsunari’s head anyway. I smiled at the fond memory.

“Yes, but didn’t you see how happy he was? He said he didn’t want to wear it, and I know it’s because he was concerned, he’d destroy it. Lord Ieyasu is so nice, isn’t he, Lady Aleria?” I nodded, amused at how Mitsunari’s mind worked. He could find something good to say about anything. “He is very nice.” I replied, shaking my head and looking around the town we were walking through. It had been over six months since I’d returned to work, and since then I’d found enjoyment in these short walks into town. I didn’t speak to anyone other than my escort and my clients, but watching the busy atmosphere of Azuchi was pleasant, nonetheless.

As we neared the castle gates, Mitsunari stopped moving and placed his arm out in front of me, protectively. “Please wait for a moment, Lady Aleria. I’d like to make sure there is nothing dangerous going on up ahead before we continue.” I turned my gaze from the slowly darkening sky to the gates to see a small crowd of people gathering and speaking excitedly. Two horses were in the center of the crowd. Odd, I thought. What’s the big deal about two horses?

Mitsunari relaxed his arm. Just as he did, I spotted them. My heart skipped a beat before beginning to beat harder and faster than it had in months, including training classes with Masamune. His hair was a little longer and he seemed thinner, as if he hadn’t been eating enough, I noticed absently. Everything else was exactly the same. His golden eyes were cold, and he wore a detached, albeit amused smirk on his pale lips. “Lord Mitsuhide and Sasuke have returned.” Mitsunari said, a hint of confusion in his tone. He wasn’t the only one confused. I thought back to the day after he left, and the conversation Nobunaga and I had.

“Mitsuhide and Sasuke have left to look for Kennyo and his army. I suspect it will take them years to track them all down, so they will not return here for a while. I’m sorry you did not get to say goodbye to them, but I have been left specific instructions on your care.” Nobunaga had paused, before saying hesitantly. “I didn’t know you were having nightmares.” My eyes had burned with unshed tears, but I put on a haughty smile that would have convinced even Mitsuhide. “My nightmares have stopped. Don’t worry. I know I still need to finish recovering, but I’m feeling much better already. It’s thanks to you and the others that I’ve begun to feel safe and strong again.” Nobunaga hadn’t said anything, but I think he was relieved that he wouldn’t have to console me in the nights as Mitsuhide had done. Regardless, none of us were expecting to see either one of them less than a year after they’d left.

“Mitsunari,” I said softly, my legs suddenly itching to run in the opposite direction, “I’d much rather avoid the crowd. If you’d like to speak to…them… I can manage from here and go the back way into the castle. I don’t mind.” Mitsunari shook his head, smiling. “That’s not necessary, Lady Aleria. I’m sure Mitsuhide will present himself at war council tomorrow morning. I can say hello to him then. If you’d like to go around into the back of the castle, it would be my pleasure to escort you.” I smiled and nodded, turning away from the scene in front of us. Just as we began to walk, my geta sandal caught itself on a rock and I stumbled. Heat flooded my face instantly, and I imagined how humiliated I would be to fall in front of the man I’d been trying to avoid. But it never came. “Oh, Lady Aleria! Are you alright? Here, allow me.” Mitsunari had kept me upright and now held out his hand. I smiled softly at the sweet Mitsunari. Not for the first time, I wondered why I hadn’t fallen in love with someone so kind and considerate. As I took his hand, he smiled kindly, and walked with me around to the back gates.

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Mitsuhide stared at Aleria’s back until she was well out of sight. A multitude of emotions flared up in his heart and mind, but his expression never wavered. He’d been watching the large number of women and children come to greet him and Sasuke at the gate, and hadn’t realized she’d been watching him, until he heard Mitsunari say her name. When he’d looked up, he’d watched Mitsunari hold his hand out to her. He’d watched her as she smiled and took his hand. His blood boiled at seeing them walk together. Yet, once she was out of sight, he turned his gaze from her and nodded at Sasuke. “We need to get inside and get some rest. I’ll tell Lord Nobunaga to call a war council for tomorrow. He likely has one already scheduled.” Sasuke nodded and together they walked their horses to the castle page, before entering Azuchi’s gates.

Ten minutes later, Mitsuhide stepped back outside the gates, and walked to where he knew Aleria had tripped. Looking closely, he spotted a large rock that had been slightly jarred from its natural spot. The rock had a small sharp peak that had a single spot of blood drying on it. Mitsuhide narrowed his eyes and picked up the rock. A slow, mischievous smile played over his pale lips as he pocketed the stone and crept back inside the castle.

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Mitsunari and I walked in the direction of my room. He chatted amicably, but my mind was elsewhere. Why was he back? Surely, they hadn’t completed their mission yet. Questions continued to plague my mind, until I heard my name being called from the training room. “Hey Lass! Are we training today, or do you need a little break after sewing your fingers off all day?” I smiled and shook my head at Masamune’s taunt. He said the same thing every time. Mitsunari and I walked into the training room that smelled of sweat and lemons. I’d have to let the maids know the new cleaning chemical we’d made wasn’t strong enough. “I just got back from town. Can you give me time to go change?” Masamune nodded and smirked. “Sure. Just don’t take too long. Waiting for a woman isn’t cool.” I shook my head. Mitsunari and I continued our way to my room. “Masamune tells everyone how hard you’ve been training. We’re all quite proud of your accomplishments.” Mitsunari was always so kind, never bringing up the past, but focusing on the present. It was one of the things that made me gravitate toward him as a friend. Our conversations were nearly always pleasant. He could talk of books, weather, and local commerce without batting an eyelash. These topics were safe and never jarred unwanted feelings or memories. “I don’t think I’m that good, but I appreciate Masamune helping me learn self-defense. I hope I never need it, but it helps me feel in control.” I was more in-shape now that I had been from running each morning in the future. But I didn’t say that out loud.

Ten minutes later, I had changed into what I called my “battle clothes.” I’d made form fitting pants with a draw-string waist and a long-sleeved shirt that Masamune had not-so-innocently asked me to take off the first time I wore it to practice. It was scandalous in this time period, but much easier to maneuver in. It was almost impossible to train in women’s kimonos and all the warlord’s dwarfed me in height and bulk. So, I’d had to make my own outfit. It hadn’t let me down yet.

Masamune and I had our routine down. We’d stretch, work on hand-to-hand combat, and then wooden swords, which I’d learned were called bokuto. Masamune was excellent at teaching me to work to my strengths, rather than trying to train as a warlord. We’d practiced how to get out of another person’s grasp, even if they were bigger than me. I’d done pretty well with hand-to-hand, and even managed to surprise Masamune once, when a kick connected and nearly knocked him down. He’d praised me for that, but inside I’d felt sick. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I know I needed to be able to protect myself, and that thought was usually enough to help me complete my training.
A quick hit to my legs, and I’d landed flat on my back on the tatami mat beneath me. “You’re not focused today, lass. That could get you killed.” I flinched at his sharp tone, my mind being drawn back into the present. Masamune was right. I’d been distracted with thoughts of Mitsuhide and with the past. Masamune reached his hand out and helped me off the mat. I shook my head to clear it. “You’re right. I’m focused now. Let’s do this.” He grinned and his hand shot out right at my face. Instinctively, I stepped to the side and caught his wrist, pulling him past me. Without letting go of his wrist, I put my foot in the crook of his knees and he fell to the mats below. Once he fell, I put my foot against his back and kept his wrist pulled tight. “Good!” He called out. “Now bend my arm and pull upward. Yes. NOT TOO FAR THAT HURTS! Right. Just there. That should help you immobilize an attacker. If he moves too much, you can pull up more like you did before. The pain will make them much more agreeable.” I let him go and stepped off him, a triumphant smile on my face. When Masamune stood and turned to face me, his expression matched mine. “Well done.” He said, before nodding to the wooden swords in the corner.

I lowered my head, already defeated. We’d been practicing these for months and I hadn’t gotten the hang of it. Masamune was a skilled swordsman and an incredible teacher. But I still couldn’t manage to keep myself ‘alive’ in any of our matches. “Don’t look like that, lass, or you will always fail. If you don’t believe you can win, you won’t. Come on, Lass. Don't make that face. What do I always say? ‘What doesn’t kill you, cannot break you. It can only make you stronger.’” Still, I trudged over to the swords and picked them up. I tossed one to Masamune and inwardly cursed the ease in which he caught it. It didn’t seem to matter how hard I trained with them, the swords felt heavy and awkward, which made me slow during practice. Still, each day, I picked it up, and held it in the way Masamune taught me, and got my butt kicked again and again.

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Mitsuhide walked through Azuchi palace as though he’d never left. Long ago, he’d memorized the palace and all its nooks and crannies, secret passages and scenic routes. He’d never been gone so long before, but the minute he stepped foot inside, everything came back to him with a roar. That included his last night in the palace before he’d left. Before he’d left her.

Mitsuhide was so caught up in his thoughts of the princess, he failed to notice the young maid in front of him until she called his name. “Lord Mitsuhide. We’re so pleased to see you back at the castle.” She smiled sweetly up at him, a soft pink blush on her cheeks. Mitsuhide blinked and looked down at her face, an amused smirk falling into place. Mitsuhide almost laughed out loud as the girl’s pupil’s dilated. Silly girl. “Thank you.” Her smile widened and Mitsuhide fought the urge to roll his eyes. Was this all it took to get soldiers into her bed? He could see straight through her innocent act. Still, the thought crept into his head that he could use this girl to erase the other that plagued him. “Would you like to have dinner brought to your room, my lord?” Mitsuhide shrugged. “I suppose it would make things easier on me.” The girl batted her eyelashes, a small coy smile playing on her lips. “Is there anything else my lord requires this evening?” Her implications were clear but held no interest for him. Mitsuhide reached into his pocket and pulled out a few coins and put them in her hand. He leaned in close to her ear, cringing inwardly at the way she shuddered in pleasure at the closeness of his mouth. He whispered softly, “do this for me. Spread the word that I’ve bedded you and three other beautiful women in this castle. One every few days. I’ll double this amount of money when I hear you’ve done your job. Understood?” The girl’s eyes widened, but she nodded and bowed low, before turning away from him and scampering down the corridor. Mitsuhide sighed. “That should do the trick.”
Just as he was about to walk away, he heard a clacking noise that caught his attention. It almost sounded like training swords, but the sound was…off. A soldier came out of the room opposite the training room and Mitsuhide called him over. “What’s going on in there?” The soldier smiled, his tone patronizing. “Nearly every day, Lord Masamune and the Princess train in self-defense. As if a woman could ever take down a man. Lord Masamune humors her though and has been teaching her hand-to-hand combat, along with basic sword work.” Mitsuhide’s eyebrows flew into his hairline. Aleria was fighting? That was a must-see. With a nod, Mitsuhide swiftly moved around the man and stopped in the doorway. His eyes widened and his mouth fell open as he caught sight of her.

She was sweating, glaring at Masamune, and breathing hard. None of those things took away from the stunning, alluring goddess in front of him. In clothes he’d never seen on a woman before, she looked deliciously lethal. They clung to her skin, leaving very little to the imagination, as traditional kimonos did. Her long, waist-length hair was braided and wrapped in a bun on her head, although several pieces had slipped down and stuck to her attractive neck, which currently had a red tint from her exertion. Her arms were slender, but showed signs of muscle growth, telling him this was not her first lesson. In her hands was a long wooden sword. Something was off about the sword, but still, she swung it hard, initiating a loud CLACK as it came into contact with Masamune’s own. Masamune nodded. “Good. Again!” Aleria took a deep breath and stepped back, analyzing Masamune for any weakness in his stance. Her arms were trembling slightly, as if it took all her strength to hold up the wooden sword. Mitsuhide had trained with swords in the past and was as proficient with them as he was his matchlock rifle. It shouldn’t have been that heavy, even if she hadn’t trained with it. Something was definitely off, but Mitsuhide lost all thought of that as he watched her place her hands and sword on the ground and cartwheel over them, before taking her shot at Masamune’s shoulder. She was slow, Mitsuhide noticed. How odd, with how much skill she seemed to use. Masamune easily blocked her, before hooking his sword under her knee and pulling, knocking her on her delectable rear end.

Mitsuhide closed his mouth, which watered at the sight of her, even as she yelped and glared up at Masamune. “Do you ever take it easy on anyone, Masamune?” She complained, before jumping back to her feet. Masamune grinned wickedly and shook his head, his deep blue eye roving over her body. “Never, lass. And you’d hate me if I did.” Aleria showed a small smile and nodded. “True.” Masamune looked toward the door and stared, confusion clouding his handsome features. “Mitsuhide?”

Aleria’s body went rigid. Mitsuhide would have laughed at how easily he could read her, were he not inwardly flinching at being caught staring. Still, he smiled in his typical detached manner and nodded at Masamune. “I was told I’d find you here, Masamune.” There. That wasn’t a lie. But it implied he’d been looking for him, instead of Aleria. She still hadn’t turned to look at him, choosing instead to take Masamune’s wooden sword and place them in the corner. Mitsuhide forced himself not to look at the way her sweat-dampened clothes clung to her, and instead kept his eyes on the approaching dragon.

Masamune walked up to Mitsuhide and greeted him. “I didn’t expect you back so soon. You fail already?” Mitsuhide’s lips twitched in amusement. Masamune only had an inkling of the kind of work Mitsuhide did, and constantly made challenging remarks in a pitiful attempt to rile him. “In fact, I came to warn you that your life is in danger. But since your arrogance has officially surpassed Lord Nobunaga’s, I don’t suppose you’d heed the warning anyway. Oh well.” Mitsuhide turned to go, before ducking as Masamune threw something at his head. “Ass.” Masamune muttered, a small grin on his face. “I just meant I am glad to see you.”

Mitsuhide turned back to look at the one-eyed dragon and placed his hand over his own heart in feigned shock. “Why, Masamune. I’m touched.” They both chuckled and shook their heads. Masamune turned back to Aleria, who was stretching in the center of the room, her back carefully placed to them. “Tomorrow, Lass. Same time. Make sure you rest your muscles and get some hot food in you. If you want, I’ll make you something good as a reward for working so hard today.” Aleria waved her hand, still refusing to look their way. “There’s no need, Masamune. I’ll be fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As they walked out the door, Masamune turned to Mitsuhide, his jovial expression turning stern. “Seriously, Mitsuhide. What’s going on? It’s not like you to return before your mission is completed.” Mitsuhide shrugged and nodded. “Tomorrow morning I will present all the information for why I have returned. But the gist of it? We’re in for a fight. And soon.”

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It was several hours after training. I’d bathed, changed for the evening and had just decided to extinguish the candles in my room, when I heard a knock on my door. “Aleria? It’s Sasuke. May I come in?” I wanted to smile. Sasuke was the only one who would ever ask me if they could enter. The others just simply announced themselves and barged in. “Of course.” My door slid open, revealing my friend and time-travel buddy. He’d changed out of his ninja garb and into a more traditional kimono. The color was dark green, typical of Sasuke. I smiled warmly at him and indicated for him to sit down. “I’m glad to see you’re doing so well, Aleria.” He spoke softly, his expression barely wavering. If you didn’t know Sasuke very well, you’d miss the small nuances of emotion that flitted across his stoic face. In truth, Sasuke was a very emotional person, but his lack of expression always gave people the opposite impression. At the moment, he was giving me a small smile. I returned the expression. “I’m glad you're safe, and back here in Azuchi. Will you be staying long?” I watched his face, carefully. He gave me no hints. “Sorry, Aleria. I’m under strict orders to not speak of anything until war council tomorrow. The information cannot leak, and there are ears everywhere. I nodded, my expression showing disappointment. “I understand.” Sasuke placed his hand on mine. “Your presence at the war council is expected. You won’t be left out of the loop, I promise.”

Sasuke and I chatted inanely for a long while before he decided to go back to his room and sleep. It was dark outside, and the moon was almost at its peak. Quietly, I slipped back into my battle clothes and extinguished my candles. As silently as possible, I slipped out of my room and, after short walk, into the training room. It had become my secret routine. I knew that if I slept this early, I’d have nightmares. To circumvent that, I’d begun training on my own for two hours. Through trial and error, I’d learned that if I waited until the moon was behind the castle—which I estimated to be around 2 or 3 in the morning—my nightmares could be staved off. Some nights I ran laps around the castle. Other nights, like tonight, I practiced with the wooden sword. I couldn’t hit anyone or make any noise, but I went through the motions until I was exhausted. When sleep finally came later, I’d be so tired that I’d fall deep asleep, and forgo the nightmare stage.

I’d been practicing with my sword for a while before I felt him. How long he’d been staring at me, I had no idea. But I continued to ignore him, focusing on my nightly ritual.

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Mitsuhide watched her, uncaring if she noticed him or not. He was in awe of her body, her movements. She still seemed awkward with the sword, but she moved it with accuracy and skill. It didn’t take Mitsuhide long to figure out what she had done. So, this was how she avoided her nightmares. The little seamstress was nothing if not resilient. She’d found away without his help. He smirked the moment she noticed him. Instantly, her neck went rigid and her moves were more robotic. Still, she ignored him and focused on her footwork and jab techniques. When he could no longer help himself, Mitsuhide struck his detached smile and clapped his hands.

“My my, we’ve become quite the warrior, little mouse.” She stopped moving, but refused to look his way. Her grip on the wooden sword tightened, until her knuckles began to turn white. That wouldn’t do. She’d hurt herself. A slow, patronizing grin swept across his face. “I’d never have imagined you’d be one for combat. But I suppose you’ve always been a fool.” His words were harsh and targeted, and they did the trick. Her anger erupted and she turned and threw the sword at him. He narrowly dodged it, before chuckling under his breath and reaching for the wooded sword that now lay at his feet. “Temper, temper, little princess. That behavior isn’t becoming of one who holds your title.” Her eyes narrowed, reminding him that while she had been sweet and loving to him before he’d left, she had always been a fireball and she wouldn’t hesitate to put him in his place. Now, with combat training, she was even more alluring.

“Is that anyway to treat a friend?”
“You are NOT my friend, Mitsuhide. Leave me alone.”
“Oh, but I have a present for you.”
“I don’t want it.”
“Are you sure? I went out of my way to procure it. It would be rude not to accept something I put effort into acquiring just for you.”
His tone was teasing, but he had said just the right things. She might be a fireball, but she was kind to a fault. She would accept it just to keep his feelings from being hurt, even when she knew she was being teased. Oh, what fun her expressions. She sighed and glared up at him. “What is it?” With a small smirk, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, cloth-wrapped package. Carefully, he placed it in her outstretched hand. “Open it when you’re alone.” She nodded. “Thanks, I guess.”

They stood in silence for a moment, just staring at each other. She looked angry and he looked amused. The funnier he found the situation, the angrier she became. Finally, she spoke. “I kept up with your travel for a while. You were in Edo for two months and Kai for a short two weeks. I quit asking after I heard about your nightly visits to brothels and the line of women you left in your wake. You made quite the reputation for yourself.” Her tone was complimentary, but with a hint of condemnation. Her eyes, however, were always honest. Mitsuhide noticed her hurt swirling in their depths, and inwardly he cursed the necessity of keeping his distance from her. She’d be safer this way, and no one would think to use her against him. None of his thoughts bled through in his expression, however. Instead, he raised an eyebrow, and smirked at her. “Jealous, princess?” His words were carefully picked to incite her anger. His tone was also carefully provocative. Better for her to be angry than to show him hurt. His carefully constructed façade was strong, but her tears were his weakness, and right now, he could not afford them. He was unprepared, however, for her to smile up at him and bat her eyelashes.

“I have no need to be jealous, Mitsuhide. I assure you, my needs are met. Azuchi castle is full of those willing to service a princess.”

White hot rage exploded in his gut. Instantly, his mind filled with unwanted visions of her wrapped up with different men. Her eyes closed in passion, her voice keening in pleasure. Clearly, her tears were not his only weakness when it came to her. She smirked and stepped up beside him, standing on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear. “I lied. But it doesn’t feel good when the person you want seeks solace and pleasure in others, does it?” Mitsuhide blinked as she continued out of the training room. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came into his head. His sweet, innocent princess was no longer here. In her place stood a vixen. A part of him was sad that she was no longer as she was. But he understood her need for change and recognized it as a coping mechanism. Still, matching wits with her, while he was here, would be entertaining. He looked forward to it.

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When I closed to the door to my room, I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. My body was hot and cold at the same time. I was angry with him, and yet I found myself wanting to throw myself at him. Damn him and his…sexy magical asshole nature. And damn me for loving it. I tossed his ‘present’ onto my futon and changed into my sleepwear, still trembling from being so close to him after so long. He was so maddening. He couldn’t help but tease me. But I saw the look in his eyes when I let him think I’d been sleeping around. He was furious. Good. He deserved to feel that way, since I had to deal with hearing about his sexual conquests while he and Sasuke trekked all over Japan. My heart had felt like it was back in the cellar, being tortured every time the soldiers laughed at the stories sent back. Sometime with two women at a time, Mitsuhide had been insatiable. It made me sick to my stomach.

As I approached my bed, my eyes fell upon the wrapped present he’d given me. I’d intended to leave it, and never open it. My curiosity got the better of me. As I slid down into my futon, I pulled the cord holding the cloth around it. I blinked at the rock. It was just a plain rock. Just to be sure, I turned it over, knocked it on the floor and twisted it. Nope. Just a rock. I was confused, until I spotted the dried blood on the tip of a nasty looking point. My confusion turned to shock as I recognized what it must be. This was the stone I’d tripped over, when I was running to escape seeing him just after he’d arrived. He’d seen me trip, after all, and was letting me know I had, in fact, humiliated myself in front of him. The bastard. Of course, he’d tease me about it. I threw the rock and huffed as I laid back in bed. Mitsuhide was such a jerk. As I closed my eyes, my thoughts wondered back to the rock. I suddenly wondered if he’d given me the rock to humiliate me, or if he’d simply wanted to remove something from my path that had caused me harm. Knowing Mitsuhide, it was both.

Chapter Text

The next morning, I was cranky, groggy and very not-princess like. But still, I dressed myself, pulled my hair up with a hair stick I’d bought with my earnings, added a touch of rouge for a confidence boost, and made my way to the council room. As I entered, all eyes turned to me. Whoops. Maybe I went too far, I wondered, as my eyes connected with each of them. Nobunaga smiled, amused as always. Hideyoshi looked me over with the concerned look of a mother duck worried about her youngest duckling. Mitsunari’s eyes simply widened. Ieyasu’s typical irritated look was replaced by one of surprise. Sasuke...Well… His face didn’t change. But I knew by the warmth in his eyes that he was complimenting me. Masamune whistled, his blue eye roving over me in a way that felt like a compliment. As my eyes locked with the final warlord, I struggled to maintain a look of nonchalance. If Masamune’s look had been hot, Mitsuhide’s was scorching. His golden eyes moved over my face, neck and body with a look of starch possession. And for a brief moment, I felt like I was his.

Dignity and willpower allowed me to turn away from him and smile at the others. “Did I overdo it?” Instant denials filled the room, with Nobunaga shaking his head, laughter in his eyes. Hideyoshi spoke up. “It’s nice to see you taking care of yourself, Aleria. Really. We’re so proud of you.” He turned to Nobunaga, who looked down from his dais at Mitsuhide, who’s face had returned to that annoying detached look. “Shall we begin?”
**********************************

Mitsuhide stood, nodded and turned to Sasuke. “We set out to track down Kennyo and his black clad ninja. The goal was to eliminate each of them and the threat to Princess Aleria. However, when we arrived in Edo, the last place we’d seen any of them, we ran into…trouble.”

Sasuke, who nodded, then began. “I was surveilling a local tea house that, after nearly a month of gathering leads, we’d learned had a bad reputation of playing host to enemies of Lord Nobunaga. Mitsuhide played the traitor and I stayed up in the ceiling.” Hideyoshi stiffened and glared at Mitsuhide, who looked unaffected by it. Hideyoshi was known to abhor Mitsuhide’s unusual tactics for getting information, but he made no comment. Mitsuhide took over the briefing once again.

“It was here that we learned that Kennyo had left the area but had left instructions for anyone who hated Lord Nobunaga to meet him in Echigo. In a little over a month, he’d planned to hold a meeting with every one of our enemies he could find. We realized he was building an army with hatred as its foundation. Well, it looked as though we could not only avenge our princess but dismantle a large coup hell bent on destroying the Oda.” Mitsuhide paused, looking over at his comrades. “But we underestimated Kennyo’s charisma. When we arrived at what I expected to be a small gathering of men, it became clear that he’d been busy sowing seeds of lies and loathing. Sasuke and I went over the information that we were each able to gather. Kennyo’s got around thirteen thousand men at his disposal, between the Ikko Ikki, local Daimyos who were still loyal to Kai and Imagawa, and more whom he’d tricked with lies about us. He’s united thousands of our enemies. We were vastly outnumbered, and tried to keep a low profile, but Sasuke was spotted.” Sasuke’s head bowed apologetically. Mitsuhide waved it off with a scoff. “Regardless, we had to disappear, quickly, whilst making our way here to warn you all. It took us much longer to return, because we were ambushed several times when our trail was discovered. But we knew we had to reach you to warn you. War is coming. And soon.”

Mitsuhide sat back down. He could feel the tension in the room, most of it coming from the lovely flower at the end of the line of warlords. She’d lowered her head as he’d spoke, taking in the news that they’d been unable to destroy the men who’d hurt her. He had one other thing that needed to be said, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it in front of her. He gave a small look to Nobunaga, who picked up on the gesture quickly. His head turned to Aleria.

“Aleria, can you get us some tea from the kitchens? I think we all could use it.”

Aleria looked confused but stood and bowed, quickly leaving the room.

Mitsuhide waited a moment, before getting up and checking the hallway. He wouldn’t put it past the smart little mouse to be waiting outside the door. But she’d gone. Perhaps she had needed the break, after all. Satisfied, Mitsuhide turned back to the others and chose his words carefully. “The man Kenno has placed in charge of his army matched the description Aleria gave us on the first man who brutalized her.” There was a sharp intake of breath as each warlord understood the implications. They knew the man had lived, because his description hadn’t matched any of the ninja they’d killed during Aleria’s rescue. On top of that, as Chatelaine, Aleria would be expected to accompany them to war, and take care of the wounded men. And if she were there, she’d be possibly facing one—if not more—of her rapists. If he’d escaped, others might have as well.

“We must leave her here!” Hideyoshi spoke first.

“And leave her unprotected?” Nobunaga countered.

It was rare to see him so conflicted, thought Mitsuhide. He would have been amused, had the subject not been the alluring and vexing princess that never left his thoughts. In this one thing, all the warlords agreed. She must be protected. But how?

Ieyasu turned to look at the others. “If she comes, we will have to have someone stay with her for protection. If we do that, our front will not have the necessary strength to defeat Kennyo’s army.”

Mitsunari had been quiet, his eyes staring off into nothing. Finally, he voiced his thoughts. “Sasuke, do you think Lords Kenshin and Shingen would oppose looking after her for the duration of the battle? It would keep her away from the fighting but would also keep her protected.” He paused. “However, it could lower morale, and make us look as though we are incapable of protecting our own.”

No one spoke, as they contemplated the pros and cons of the option Mitsunari had suggested.
Finally, Nobunaga shook his head. “I don’t want to keep her from one enemy by placing her with another. No offense, Sasuke.” Sasuke shrugged, not perturbed. “My lords would never harm her, but I understand your concern.” Sasuke turned to Mitsuhide, who raised an eyebrow. Sasuke was one of the few people Mitsuhide struggled to read, no doubt due to the stoic expression he always kept . “Mitsuhide, your job in most war operations is to lead archers and rifleman from behind the line, correct?” Mitsuhide nodded, now understanding with growing dread, what Sasuke was going to propose. “If you keep Aleria with you there, she has the best protection, no? You’re up above the battle, generally, and any threats can be taken out at a distance.” Mitsuhide turned to Lord Nobunaga, who looked as though he were trying very hard not to give in to the laughter in his eyes. Of course, he’d find this funny, being one of the only people who knew of Mitsuhide’s conflict with Aleria. Damn it all.

********************

I left the war council a little confused and a lot concerned. Thirteen thousand men against us who hated with every fiber in their being? What a formidable foe we would face… I shuddered in trepidation. In truth, I was nervous about returning to battle after what happened before, but I knew it would happen eventually. I was the Chatelaine after all. I couldn’t abandon the soldiers who fought for us and were wounded, just because I was afraid.

“I’m telling you, he’s incredible in bed. Kinky, too. Lord Mitsuhide gave me the ride of my life last night.”

I stopped dead in my tracks, my eyes going wide. I recognized the voice as one of the maids who fawned over the other warlords. I was almost positive Masamune had slept with her before, and she was known for entertaining the higher-ranked soldiers when they returned home. My blood ran cold at her words. She’d been with Mitsuhide last night? Was it before or after he came to me in the training room? A thousand questions plagued my mind as my heart absorbed yet another crushing blow. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard he’d been with another woman. Since he’d left all those months ago, rumors had spread like wildfire of the golden eyed sex maniac who took two and sometimes three partners to bed with him. I’d cried the first couple of times I’d heard it. Now, it just made me feel cold inside. I wanted to punish myself for still having feelings for him. I couldn’t seem to help being drawn to the one who would rip my heart out.

“Oh yes. He came to me just before sun down, and I swear to you, he didn’t stop until the sun came up. He was there all night. Tied me down and made me scream. You’ve got to try him sometime, Haruka. And when you do, you MUST tell us all about it.”

I blinked once. Twice. Wait… What?? That couldn’t be right. He’d only been back one night, so she couldn’t be confused on what day she’d been with him. And I know he was there with me for a while. Maybe she’d fallen asleep and didn’t realize that he’d left? But then, she said specifically that they’d been going at it since before nightfall. He’d been with Masamune for that time period. What was going on? I grabbed the makings for tea as I contemplated what I’d overheard. I could have been over thinking things but… What if all the rumors had been just that? It wouldn’t be the first time that Mitsuhide had spread lies about himself to produce a particular outcome. Could it be he was trying to distance himself from my name by letting rumors of his prowess flit around the castle and all of Japan? I was going to test the theory.

I walked over to the maid, a conspiratorial smile on my face. “So, you’ve bedded Mitsuhide as well, Sunako? He was fabulous, no?” Sunako nodded, her expression relaxing when she realized I wasn’t there to scold her. I continued, planting my trap. “I’ve never seen a mole like that, though. It is well placed on his shaft. Wasn’t it incredible? It hits all the right places!” Sunako didn’t miss a beat. “Oh, I know! He was blessed with that wonderful mole! It made things much more interesting!” I faked a laugh and nodded, before walking away. I’d confirmed my suspicions. After all, I’d been up close and personal with Mitsuhide. There was no mole on him, anywhere. I smiled, putting together my plan to confront Mitsuhide. He wouldn’t know what hit him.

***********************

“It’s decided then. Aleria will stay with you during the battle, Mitsuhide.”

Mitsuhide held up his hand for silence as light footsteps confirmed that Aleria had returned with tea. She entered the room. Instantly, he knew something was off. She seemed perplexed, thoughtful. He didn’t like it. Aleria should be smiling, always. Of course, he couldn’t say that to her, so he simply poked her in the side as she walked by. Aleria squeaked, teetered and nearly fell. Almost instantly, Mitsuhide grabbed her from behind to hold her up, and captured the cups she had almost dropped. “You shouldn’t be so clumsy, princess. You could hurt yourself.” His voice was amused and wicked, and he felt Aleria’s body temperature rise, warming his own body in response. The others laughed, but he caught sight of the side of her face. She wasn’t angry, which surprised him. Instead, the vixen was looking at him with a calculated expression that, in Mitsuhide’s experience, didn’t bode well. He released her, maintaining his amused expression, but watching her face closely. He needed to figure out what she was thinking, but damn if she hadn’t suddenly become harder to read. What was it about her? Mitsuhide didn’t understand it. Only she vexed him this way.

Nobunaga and the others thanked Aleria for serving them tea. Mitsuhide had to get up to get his own cup, which he found amusing. His little mouse had a temper and she was barely keeping control of it, if her actions were an indication. He shook his head ruefully. He had to force himself away from her, but god, she was fun to tease.

Finally, Nobunaga looked to Aleria. “While you were gone, we decided what your role will be during the upcoming war, Aleria. You will stay at Mitsuhide’s side with the archers and rifleman. That way we can be assured of your safety. At night, during the cease-fire, you will be able to attend the wounded and help distribute rations.” Aleria’s eyes bored holes into Mitsuhide, who forced himself to shrug, as if her being around didn’t matter to him. After a moment of silence, she turned to Nobunaga and nodded. “Very well. I accept.”

“Bold of you to think you had a choice, little mouse.”
“Shut up, Mitsuhide.”
*********************************
I spent the rest of the day plotting. I knew that Nobunaga had asked Mitsuhide to go into town and listen for any news of Kennyo. I knew he’d be back soon, and I was ready for him. I didn’t want to look to closely at why it was so important to me that Mitsuhide confess he hadn’t touched another woman, but I felt the need deep in the pit of my stomach. I retouched my rouge, and added a hint of eye kohl, brushed my hair and doused my neck in rosewater. Perfect. I smiled evilly. Time to con the master.

*********************************

Mitsuhide was walking the perimeter of the castle on his way back from town, when he spotted her. For a moment, he thought she might have been a ghost. Her skin looked nearly translucent in the bright moonlight. Her makeup had been redone and she looked as though she was trying not to be seen. Intrigued, Mitsuhide followed her as she walked around the outside of the castle. When she’d gotten nearly to the back gates, he pounced, grabbing her from behind. She shrieked once, before he covered her mouth. Before she could begin fighting back, he whispered in her ear. “You’re a terrible sneak, princess. Didn’t Sasuke teach you anything?” Instantly, her body relaxed against him, and she lightly bit the inside of his hand. While he knew it was meant as a warning to remove his hand from her mouth, the feel of her teeth gently grazing his flesh sent a jolt of electricity to his groin. This little vixen would be the death of him. He let her go, and she whirled on him, looking slightly panicked and angry. “What the hell are you doing out here, Mitsuhide?”

“I could ask you the same thing, little mouse.”
“Don’t call me that. I have a name.”
“But little mouse suits you so much better. Small, fragile and you squeak when you’re surprised. Did you know that?”
“Shut UP Mitsuhide.”
“Tell me where you’re going.”
“No.”
“Very well.”

Before she could run, Mitsuhide grabbed her arm and shoved her gently up against the brick of the castle wall. Releasing her, he placed a hand on either side of her face and leaned in close.

“Last chance, princess. Where are you going?”
“I think I preferred little mouse.”

Mitsuhide lowered his hands and squeezed her sides between his thumbs and the rest of his fingers. True to his description, Aleria sqeaked and tried to escape his tickling.
“OHMYGOD MITSUHIDE STOOOPP!”
“Not until you spill.”
“NOOOO!!!”
“Come on, Aleria, tell me.”
“I’M MEETING MITSUNARI!”

Mitsuhide released her as if she burned him. He turned his back to her, his expression unreadable. Once he was in control of himself, he turned back to her, his eyes swirling with golden intensity.

“You’re meeting him…Dressed like that?”

Aleria’s eyes were wide with something Mitsuhide couldn’t quite name. She nodded, blushed, and looked down. Ah, it was what he feared. His heart broke as his mind again filled with images of her in the throes of pleasure, but instead of himself at the helm, he saw Mitsunari. He thought their exchange outside the castle yesterday had been merely platonic, but he’d been wrong before.

“How long has this been going on, princess? It was my understanding you weren’t allowed outside of the palace without an escort.”
“I get no privacy here. Mitsunari understood, so he rents the back room of the tea house for our…meetings.”

Mitsuhide tried not to flinch at the hesitation in her voice.

“We started seeing each other about two months ago. We meet in private usually three times each week.”

Mitsuhide suddenly felt cold and empty. While he knew he would have to stay away from her, knowing she’d moved on so quickly when he secretly could not, hurt somewhere deep inside him. “I see.”

Aleria cocked her head, confusion spreading across her face. “You seem upset, Mitsuhide. I don’t understand. Did you think I wouldn’t hear about your conquests while you were away? Or, hell, the ones you’ve already had since you’ve been back in Azuchi? I am a woman with needs and feelings. I want love and honesty and loyalty. Mitsunari understands that and gives it to me. You didn’t want me. You left after you had me and you went on to have many other women. I can’t be one of many, Mitsuhide. It hurts too much.”

Mitsuhide felt the familiar buzzing in his head that always meant he was going into shock. This time, it was from the lovely flower in front of him that he could no longer touch. His heart was pounding as he looked at her. She was everything his secret heart had ever wanted, and she wasn’t his. Would never be his. He shook his head, looking at her. Denial flared in his mind. She couldn’t belong to another. He would never allow the woman he loved to be with—…

His eyes widened. He loved her. He’d denied it to others and to himself, and now, when she was out of reach, he’d finally accepted it. It figured. He was a master of torture, and he’d found the perfect way to torture himself. He stepped away from her and turned his back, trying to block out the thoughts ravaging his brain. He had no clever come backs. No slick jabs to get under her skin. She’d taken everything when she took his heart. Damn it all.

“Mitsuhide. You have to look at me. I don’t understand what is happening. You’re hurt with me, but you rejected me, not the other way around.”

Mitsunari was his friend. His fellow warlord. He couldn’t speak his thoughts and risk ruining Mitsunari’s happiness. He would never punish someone who could love Aleria the way she deserved. Mitsunari would love her right.

“Mitsuhide… Please...” She placed her hand on his arm.

His control snapped in a firestorm of anger. He whirled around to her, his eyes blazing with golden flames. Aleria took a step back as he moved toward her. But he didn’t care.

“What do you want from me, Aleria?” Mitsuhide snarled. “You want me to tell you that all the rumors about me fucking other women were lies? Congratulations. They were lies. I beg your forgiveness for trying to protect you. You want me to tell you that all this time I’ve loved you, knowing I couldn’t keep you, and now you love my brother in arms, my comrade, and it’s killing me inside? Congrats, princess, you’ve finally peeled back the layers of the white snake and found his one true weakness. You. I love you. And now you belong to someone else. Bravo, princess! Now, get the hell away from me, before I do something we will both regret tomorrow. Mitsunari is waiting for you.”

Silence followed his little rant. He turned his back on her, waiting to hear the inevitable footsteps of her running from him. But they never came. Instead, the soft tinkle of laughter filled his senses.

“Goodness, that took so much effort. You do this all the time? I couldn’t imagine having to lie like that every day. Your job must really suck.”

Mitsuhide felt like he was stuck in a loop of whirling away from her and back toward her. Once again, he turned to her, his eyes bewildered. No clever quips came to his mind. Nothing, but the simple word “…What?” escaped him.

Aleria’s eyes were shining with tears of laughter. And she was smiling. Something didn’t make sense.

“I mean, really, Mitsuhide. I thought you were supposed to be a human lie detector test. But instead, you’re just as easily manipulated as everyone else? I’ve got to be honest. That’s a little disappointing.”

“…What?”

Aleria took a step toward him, her eyes glowing with a different emotion. Mitsuhide didn’t move, but his whole body stiffened, as he realized he’d been had.

“Mitsunari’s not in town, is he?”
“Nope.”
“He’s not your lover.”
“Nope.”
“And he’s not in love with you.”
“Nope.”
“And…You’re not in love with him?”
“Nope.”
“You don’t belong to him?”
“I don’t belong to anyone, Mitsuhide.”
“Now, that’s a lie.”

Mitsuhide’s voice deepened as he stepped toward her, his breathing short and his hands trembling. She took a step back, her coy smile dancing across her lips.
“Is it?”
“Indeed. You belong to me.”

With those words, Mitsuhide struck.

*************************************

If I thought he’d kissed me with passion our first night together, I’d been wrong. Those kisses had been sweet, but tepid. The scorching heat of Mitsuhide’s lips against mine now, had me moaning into his mouth. He was an expert in kissing me. His tongue didn’t wait for permission, but plunged into my mouth, teasing and caressing every perfect spot. I was instantly putty in his arms. I felt my legs tremble and I feared they would crumble underneath me. I tried to tell him. “Mmmm..Mitsuhide.. Ohh… My..mm.my legs…” Instead of stopping, he pushed me harder against the rock wall of the castle. His skillful hands ripped my obi cord off and loosened my kimono until it fell from my shoulders. As soon as it fell, his hands gripped my thighs and lifted me off the ground. My back was crushed against the rocks, and I wrapped my bare legs around him to steady myself. As I did, his hands moved to cup my bottom, grinding my naked sex against the hard arousal still covered by his hakama trousers. The sensation nearly sent me over the edge right them, but Mitsuhide pulled away. Instantly his lips were kissing and biting my neck. The action ripped small cries from my lips, and I wrapped my legs tighter around him. I needed him. I needed to feel him connected to me, in every way. He supported my body against him with one hand as he freed himself from his silk hakama trousers.

“Tell me who you belong to.”
“Mitsuhide, please! I need you!”
“Not until you say it.”

I could feel him poised just outside my slick, needy entrance, and I wiggled, trying to force him inside of me. Instead, he released himself from his own hand and smacked my bare bottom. The small sting fueled my need for him.

“Who do you belong to, Aleria?”
“You! Oh my gosh. I belong to you, Mitsuhide! PLEASE.”

Mitsuhide smiled, his expression somewhere between affection and satisfaction at my answer.

“Damn right. You belong to me.” And he slammed home.

Instantly, I careened over the edge into ecstasy. My body clenched around him and he made a noise like a growl, low in his throat. One again, both hands were on my bottom, gripping me tightly, but now he was using my bottom as an anchor. Pressing me harder against the stone wall, he slammed into me again and again. I reveled in the glory of how much he wanted me. It didn’t matter in that moment that we were outside, and someone could see us. Mitsuhide was in my arms and inside of me, and I was right where I wanted to be.

He pounded into me, relentlessly, and I could feel my pleasure building again. My nails dug into his back as I held onto him, eliciting another growl of approval from him. Soft keening cries escaped my lips until he pressed his against my own to silence me. I could feel the soft vibration of his own moans against my lips, and it dove me wild. My legs wrapped tighter around his waist as his thrusts grew with intensity and speed. He wasn’t holding back or making love to me this time. It was a claiming. A raw demand that I know who I belonged to. I reveled in it.

“Fuck.. Aleria. You feel so good.”
“Mmm.. Mitsuhide.. Don’t stop.”
“Oh, like hell.”

With that, he drilled into me even harder, my cries getting louder until I felt my word explode around me. Stars danced in front of my eyes as my body convulsed and clenched around him, causing him to moan the word “fuck..” again, and join me in ecstasy. I held onto him through his own convulsions, kissing his cheeks, his eyes and his lips, until he looked up at me, the lusty haze leaving his golden eyes, replaced with a look of love so deep that tears pricked in the corners of mine.

“I…I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?” His voice was hesitant, whispered. I smiled and shook my head. “This wall isn’t comfortable, but I’m only just now noticing it.”

With such gentleness, he slowly lowered me to my feet. He tied his hakama quickly, before reaching out to grab my clothes. I dressed in silence, my mind still in the afterglow of being ravished by Mitsuhide. Once I was ‘decent,’ he reached for my hand. I looked at it, embarrassment now beginning to take hold. Heat flamed in my cheeks. Mitsuhide raised an eyebrow. “Oh, NOW you’re embarrassed?” I glared up at him and he chuckled, swooping down to kiss my pout away. Again, he held out his hand. This time, I didn’t hesitate. He smiled softly, and pulled me close, allowing his knuckles to trail down my cheek. “Come on, let’s go.”

****************************
Mitsuhide’s mind was still fuzzy over the strange turn of events, but he knew one thing for sure. He’d crossed a line he swore he’d never cross. And he would never take it back. With her soft hand in his, he led her back to her room, amused that she kept her head down. She’s kissed him, rode him with sweet abandon, and now she was like a shy puppy all over again. He felt a curious melting sensation in his heart. His little vixen was adorable. His. The word still shocked him. She’d admitted she belonged to him and had even set up an elaborate ruse to force him to realize how he felt about her. When did she turn into such a vexing little actress? He smiled ruefully. The master of deceit had been deceived by a goddess hell-bent on making him love her. He’d been taught that a warrior never surrenders, but in this one battle, he’d give her the victory.

As they reached her room, she stopped at the door and fidgeted with her hands. “Um...” She began, her cheeks a deep red—and not from the rouge. “Do you want to stay the night with me?” She asked softly, her eyes looking up to search his. For a moment, he looked surprised, before he began chuckling. He slid open her door and backed her into her room. As soon as he closed the door, he wrapped his arm around her and began pulling at her obi cord once more. “Did you think I was finished with you, little mouse? I haven’t even begun.” She smiled, leaning up to press her lips against his.

Suddenly, he stopped moving, and looked into her eyes with a serious expression. “Aleria, I’ve practically bared my soul to you. And you haven’t said how you feel. I don’t want to pressure you into saying something you don’t mean, but it would be nice to hear it, if you do feel for me.”

In pure Mitsuhide style, Aleria raised a single eyebrow. “I’m not sure you’ve earned those words yet, my lord.” Mitsuhide’s eyes narrowed as he caught the playful intonation in her voice. “You’ve declared war, Oda Princess. I’ll get those words from you before this night is over.”
He kissed her, hard. She pulled away from him, laughter and teasing in her eyes as she reached for his kimono and pulled him to her futon. His little vixen continued to shake her head. “If it is war, I’ll have you know that I know your weakness, my lord. You won’t win so easily.” He grabbed her leg and kissed the arch of her foot. She gasped softly, provoking a sinful and alluring smile across his lips. “Surrender.” He whispered, then grinned again as she shook her head coyly. “War it is then.”

And he abandoned himself to the battle.

Chapter Text

I woke up late the next morning, but I couldn’t find it in myself to care. I was sore in the most erotic places and it warmed me to know who had made me feel this way. I listened to his soft, shallow breathing. He was still asleep, I was sure. I opened my eyes to find the source of my delicious bruises. For once, he’d stayed all night. Of course, we’d only gone to sleep once the sun had begun to creep up over the horizon. I smiled, enjoying the chance to see a completely unguarded Mitsuhide. He was curled around my body, his lips softly pressed against my bare shoulder. His arm was draped across my stomach, and his breath skittered across my shoulder and neck, giving me chills that were quite pleasant. I noticed, not for the first time, just how beautiful Mitsuhide was. He was pale, white haired and had thin, soft lips. But he also had incredibly thick eyelashes that touched his cheeks when his eyes were closed, and a delicate complexion that proved he spent most of his time in the shadows. That last thought left a pang in my heart. He’d been so alone, by his own doing, to protect others from being used against him and being hurt. Not anymore, I vowed.

 

I couldn’t bear just staring at him any longer. With the softest touch, I pressed my lips to his forehead. Instantly, he stirred, his sleepy golden eyes opening. His lips curved up into a thin smile that reminded me of the devouring look he gave me last night, when I’d finally given in, and told him the truth. As soon as his eyes were opened and focused on me, I said it again.

“I love you, Mitsuhide.”

The smile he was giving me morphed into a teasing amused smirk. “Is THAT what you were screaming last night?”

“MITSUHIDE!!”

Scarlet flushed into my cheeks, causing him to chuckle softly, and bring his hand up to my face. His thumb caressed my bottom lip as he laughed. The sound and touch sent pools of heat low into my stomach. His smirk was back in place as he spoke. “Did you know that nearly every thought you have is so exquisitely expressed on your face? I can tell exactly what you’re thinking right now, little mouse. “
In an instant, he shifted. His body was now over mine, his hands pressed down on my hips, pinning me and reminding me that we were both still naked. My body went plaint and hot. I knew I should be embarrassed that he’d caught on to my desire, but the way his eyes were lit up with the same feeling caused me to throw inhibitions out the window. He smiled softly then, showing me one of the rare, REAL Mitsuhide smiles that gave me butterflies. He leaned down slowly and pressed his lips to mine.

“I love you, Aleria. Damn the consequences.”

 

It was several hours later, after Mitsuhide had finally left to deal with ‘business’ and Sasuke and I were chatting in my room. Sasuke continued his story.
“I’m telling you, every time I turned around, Kenshin was striking out at me from the shadows. It was either learn to defend myself or die. I was terrified of him for months, until I found out he keeps rabbits in his room. After that, he just didn’t seem scary.”

I shook my head as Sasuke stoically told a story that had me in fits of laughter. The idea of Kenshin looking anything but a terrifying God of War was beyond me, but I could see that Sasuke loved his lord, as I loved my warlords. The thoughts of the wormhole crossed my mind again. “Sasuke, if there was a wormhole that would take us home, would you go?”

Sasuke was quiet for a few moments, before he shook his head. “No, I don’t think I would. If you wanted to leave, I would escort you, of course. But I wouldn’t go.” He seemed to hesitate for a moment, before looking into my eyes. “What about you?”

I thought for a moment about what my life would be like without my new family. Nobunaga’s mischief and hysterical “extra” behavior. Ieyasu’s underhanded affection that always seemed contrary. Masamune’s wild, untamable affection for life and his incredible culinary talent. Mitsunari’s sweet demeanor and love for teaching me. Hideyoshi’s worrying and caring attitude toward nearly anyone. And Mitsuhide… The shadowed, mysterious tease who I’d fallen in love with. I shook my head. “No…” I whispered. “I wouldn’t leave them.”
********
Mitsuhide was bored. He’d been dealing with his spy network all afternoon, learning more about Kennyo’s whereabouts. The ex-monk was clever, but he was a man who taught himself to be a shadow. Mitsuhide was born to be a shadow and had more cleverness than Kennyo could ever hope to gain. He’d stuck several men in Kennyo’s group to filter out information, along with several prostitutes in most of the villages surrounding Azuchi, to retrieve the secrets boastful and drunk soldiers let slip to the beautiful women. Kennyo might fancy himself a demon, but those who followed him were still men, and most were easily convinced to brag about what they knew. Only those closest to Kennyo and his black garbed ninja were harder to crack.

Once he’d returned from Azuchi’s market, he made his way to Masamune’s manor. Masamune was at his desk, writing another letter. Mitsuhide shook his head, smiling ruefully. “I’ve never met someone who writes as many letters as you, Masamune. Surely you know that letters are easily intercepted and read or changed.”

Masamune shrugged, never once looking in Mitsuhide’s direction. “I never write anything in letters that could be used against us. If it’s important, I send one of my vassals. These are just because I want to know how the people in Aoba are handling my lengthy absence.”

Mitsuhide secretly respected that about Masamune. His people loved him, respected him, and welcomed him when he returned home. Mitsuhide had never received a welcome home in Tanba, his fief. He was always looked at with wary side glances or fear. It was only in Azuchi, where the sweet little chatelaine resided, that his company was welcomed and even wanted.

Masamune finished his letter and finally turned his one blue eye to look at Mitsuhide. “Finished. What did you want, Mitsuhide?”

Mitsuhide smiled his typical Cheshire cat smile and shrugged. “Can I not visit a friend and fellow warlord with no ulterior motives?”
“No.”
“Why ever not?”
“Because it’s you. And I know better. What do you want?”
Mitsuhide’s smile slid off his face. Masamune was wild and brazen, but he was also smart. It was a trait not very well known about the man. He was ruthless and battle hungry, but he was also shrewd and observant, only showing his cunning in small doses. Mitsuhide secretly considered the Oda forces very lucky to have him on their side. He sighed. “I wanted to ask a favor.” Masamune looked surprised, forcing a chuckle out of Mitsuhide. “I know, it’s shocking. But it’s important.”
“Tell me what you want. I’ll tell you afterward if I will accept.”
“Very well. I want you to stay in Azuchi and keep Aleria with you here.”
Silence unfolded in Masamune’s room, while the two men stared at each other. Masamune’s face read of shock, while Mitsuhide looked intently at him. Masamune’s eye stared at Mitsuhide for another moment, before he spoke.
“Why?”
Mitsuhide shrugged. “I don’t want her near the battle. While you are a value to Nobunaga’s army, you generally choose to ride in the vanguard, rather than command your troupes from the rear, as most commanders do. Therefore, your position is the least needed. You could stay here, protect Azuchi and Aleria.”

Masamune was already shaking his head. “You know Nobunaga will never allow me to stay, nor her. She is his lucky ch—”
“Nobunaga does not believe in luck. He calls her that for entertainment. You know that as well as I. Even she knows it.” For the first time, Mitsuhide sounded almost angry, his voice rising above the usual blasé tone, becoming curt and fierce. “If you asked him, he would allow you to stay, I’m sure.”
“Mitsuhide, have you discussed this with the lass?”
“Why should I?”

Masamune rolled his eye, a wry smile forming on his lips. “Because I have been training with her for nearly 5 and a half months, showing her how to defend herself, and preparing her to go to battle. Because that’s what the lass said she wanted.”
“What she wants is irrelevant. She must be protected.”
“I agree. But as much as you wish I could be away from the battle to protect her, my men make up the majority of the vanguard, and they need me there to rally them into action. I’m not saying that to embellish my own battle prowess. I know my men. I know war. And I cannot stay behind. I’m sorry.”

Masamune looked genuinely apologetic, a rarity for the man. Mitsuhide sighed, knowing he’d been out maneuvered. Aleria would be riding into battle. Damn it all to hell.
“Mitsuhide… Can I ask you a personal question?”
Golden eyes lifted to meet the single blue one.
“You may ask. I may choose not to answer.”
“Very well. Perhaps I will change my question.” Masamune grinned mischievously. “Did you know you have a love bite on your neck?”

Mitsuhide’s fist darted out and made contact with Masamune’s jaw. He’d lessened the blow at the last minute, but a flash of pain crossed Masamune’s face a second before his laughter broke out.

Masamune was still laughing when Mitsuhide strode out of his manor.
****

 

At the next morning’s war council, Nobunaga had announced that we would be departing in two days. Kennyo’s army had reached the edge of one of the Oda forces’ holds and had been laying siege to it. We would be riding to meet them. My emotions were all over the place, between fear of the coming war, and happiness from my relationship with Mitsuhide. He’d proven he could be very attentive and sweet when we were alone together. Other times, he’d tease me relentlessly. I’d begun to think he did it when my fear or sadness began to overwhelm me. That idea made me love him even more.

That evening, I was meeting Masamune for training again. I’d changed back into my battle clothes and warmed up my muscles. Masamune strode in and tossed a sword at me. With instincts I hadn’t anticipated having, I caught the hilt, surprised when it didn’t feel as heavy as the wooden one had been. Masamune grinned. “I have a confession to make.”

“I’d say so. Why does this feel so light?”
“Because I made you train with a weighted sword.”
“And why, may I ask, did you decide to do that?”
Masamune was laughing openly, holding up his hand in mock surrender.
“Here me out, lass. It started out as a way to dissuade you from learning to fight. I wanted you to be protected, not protect yourself. But then, when I realized how serious you were about it, I decided to keep you on the weighted sword. If you could handle it enough to protect yourself, then a real sword would be no problem.”

I stared, open mouthed, at the one-eyed dragon. Part of me was impressed. The other part of me wanted to hit him over the head with the weighted wooden sword.
“But you always put the two swords together after training. How did you know I’d get the weighted one?”

“They were both weighted. If you had to fight with a handicap, so did I.” Masamune shrugged. “Fair is fair.”

Well, maybe he wasn’t such a jerk after all.

“So today we’re practicing with real swords. We leave in two days. While you should be safe with Mitsuhide, I want to make sure you can protect yourself in any situation.”
For a moment, Masamune’s eye clouded over with guilt, and I found myself reaching out to touch his hand.
“Hey… Don’t go there.”
He smiled softly, revealing a sweet and vulnerable side to Masamune that I didn’t think many others knew about. Always concerned with ‘being cool’ Masamune never let his true emotions show when he was around others. I considered myself lucky that he trusted me enough.

In another moment, Masamune’s expression changed back to his regular smile, and I relaxed. He was back. He nodded once, a silent gesture of thanks, before drawing one of his own blades. “Take your stance, Lass.”

I moved, holding the lighter, real sword up as he’d shown me. Almost in a blur, Masamune moved, and struck out with his blade. I jumped backwards, wobbled, and just barely managed to hold up my sword to block his strike. Instantly, he stopped moving, a frown on his face. “What’s wrong?”

My breaths were coming out sharp and my heart was pounding heavily. I was trembling and sweating, unable to see Masamune or my own sword, which clanged to the ground. Instead, I saw HIS face. The nameless ninja who’d kidnapped and raped me. Someone was screaming, but I didn’t know who. I was trying to get away, but the ninja grabbed me around my waist, and ran his hand down my shoulder.

“Aleria! Hey, woah, Lass. Focus. Hey! Shit. This isn’t good. YAHIKO! GET MITSUHIDE! NOW!”

I couldn’t understand what the kidnapper was saying. The walls were closing in, and the room was becoming significantly darker and darker. My lungs were unable to fill up with air. On instinct, I scratched at my attacker’s arms, until he hissed and loosened his grip. I flung myself away from him and darted for the door. Air. I needed air. I ran, confused as to how I knew the cabin well enough to get free, and wondering how big the place actually was. Turn after turn, and I still hadn’t found my way outside. Instead, I found myself climbing higher, which confused me further.

I didn’t stop running.
******

 

Mitsuhide was walking with Sasuke, his hand on the lead that was attached to his horse. They were on their way back from a small demonstration with their riflemen and archers. Mitsuhide had noticed that his horse was anxious and decided it would be prudent to walk him for a while, get him relaxed before riding again. Sasuke has followed his lead, and walked along size his own horse, and they’d ended up walking nearly the full way back to the castle without riding. Mitsuhide had already discovered how genius-like Sasuke was, but his training as a ninja and his expertise from the future were still surprising at times, and Mitsuhide found he enjoyed the man’s company. He’d be sad when Sasuke returned to Kenshin’s side.

Mitsuhide looked over at the man, just as his head snapped up and his eyes narrowed. “Someone’s running this way, Mitsuhide.”
Mitsuhide’s head swung around to catch sight of Yahiko. He was Masamune’s subordinate. Masamune, who was to train with Aleria tonight. Mitsuhide found himself rushing to meet the young man. “What is it, Yahiko?”

“M..My Lord..” The boy was out of breath from running. “I’ve...been...looking for y…you. Th..The princess…”

Mitsuhide’s blood turned to ice. What had happened? Had she been taken again?

“Spit it out. NOW.”

After a deep couple of breaths that felt to Mitsuhide like a couple of years, Yahiko was finally able to speak clearly.

“The princess and my Lord were training, and she went wild. My Lord tried to calm her, but she was screaming and fighting him, and then she ran. I saw her while looking for you and it looked like she was running toward the tenshu. I’m afraid she might throw herself out the window.”

Without a word, Mitsuhide and Sasuke handed their horses over to Yahiko and sprinted toward the gates.

“It’s a panic attack, Mitsuhide. I’m sure of it.”
“How do we stop it?”
“I’m not sure. But we need to get to her quickly.”

Mitsuhide’s long legs pushed him faster toward the tenshu. He begged to any god listening that Nobunaga was in the tenshu and had enough sense to catch her. As they got into range, he heard a nervous sounding Nobunaga.

“Aleria, focus. Look around you and see where you are.”

She was whimpering, and Mitsuhide pushed himself harder, until he burst into Nobunaga’s room.

Instantly, his eyes found her. He couldn’t image ever being unable to recognize her mess of long, shiny hair, even as it wrapped wildly around her in messy waves. Nobunaga had shoved his desk in front of the door to his balcony and had managed to corral her into the corner of his room. Without a word, Mitsuhide stepped past him. Sasuke entered the room, showing no signs of being out of breath. He, too, found her and moved to stand beside Lord Nobunaga.

“That’s definitely a panic attack. I’ve never seen one this severe before.”

Mitsuhide stared at his beloved, his heart aching at the terror on her face. It was as if she were caught in a nightmare, but instead of being asleep, she was awake. Awake, but unseeing. He knelt down in front of her, trying to prevent his own terror from showing. Mitsuhide bit his lip and moved his hand toward her face. She trembled, but didn’t move, her mind still in the throes of fear.

 

He placed his thumb against his middle finger and flicked her nose as hard as he could.

 

In an instant, she drew back from the unusual sensation, her nose crinkling, and she blink. Her eyes widened, and he let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He watched as her eyes regained lucidity. Slowly, her breathing relaxed. She continued to tremble, her eyes darting from Mitsuhide, to Nobunaga and to Sasuke, before returning to Mitsuhide.

“W…What happened?”

Uncaring that his Lord and Sasuke were witnesses Mitsuhide reached a thin hand out and grabbed her, pulling her into his arms.

“It doesn’t matter right now. Are you alright?”

She nodded her head, hiding her face in Mitsuhide’s shoulder.

Nobunaga spoke up. “This has never happened to you before. What caused it?” His tone demanded an answer. Mitsuhide could hear it in his voice that his Lord was worried about the princess.

Her voice was tiny and hoarse, as she replied. “I don’t know. I was training with Masamune. He’d given me a real sword to practice with. I was ready to try it. He moved and… And then I was back in the cabin. I’m sorry…”
As if summoned, Masamune strode into the room, concern across his face. He knelt next to Mitsuhide. Her hand reached toward him, and he didn’t hesitate to take it and place it over his heart. “Are you alright, Lass?”

“I’m sorry, Masamune. I don’t know why that happened.”

“Shush. I don’t care about that. I’m more concerned with your wellbeing. Are you alright?”

Mitsuhide gave him an unfathomable look, and Masamune bristled, unsure of why he did so. He had done nothing wrong.

Aleria raised her head and nodded at Masamune.

“I’m really sorry. I don’t know why that happened.”

Sasuke spoke up, pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “If I may, I believe this is a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was bound to happen, Aleria. You went through something terrible, and now the stress of going back into battle was bound to manifest in some fashion.”

Mitsuhide felt her small retreat into herself, and he took the opportunity to stand, taking her with him. When he spoke, his voice was firm and brooked no argument. “I’m taking her to rest.”

Without a word, Mitsuhide turned and carried her from the room. As he left the room, he ran into Hideyoshi, who was scurrying up toward them, worry stretched across his face. “Is she alright?!” he asked.

Mitsuhide nodded. “She had an episode related to her trauma." Hideyoshi blanched, reminding Mitsuhide that all of the warlords had suffered with her. He sighed softly. “Can you bring me two bottles of Sake to her room? I’m going to try to get her relaxed and the alcohol will help.”

Hideyoshi nodded. “I will send for it immediately. Go.”

Mitsuhide nodded in gratitude and continued down out of the tenshu and toward Aleria’s room. Hideyoshi sent Nobunaga’s page to get the Sake for Mitsuhide, before walking into Nobunaga’s room. He bowed to Lord Nobunaga.
“My Lord. Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Hideyoshi. I’m more concerned with our princess, and whether she will be able to handle the upcoming battle. This ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ occurred with little stimulation. If she meets one of her attackers, I worry she may go mad.”

“The lass is stronger than you think.” It was Masamune who spoke up. “I know she seems frail now, but she is ready for this. She was caught off guard, but she adapts quickly. I don’t think it will happen again.”
Nobunaga eyed him for a moment, before he answered. “I hope you are right. We cannot afford to leave her here. She will be safer with Mitsuhide, where she can be guarded well. He won’t let anything happen to her.”

The other warlords missed Masamune’s flinch at the unintended jab. He knew he’d failed her. He hated himself for it. He wouldn’t fail her again. If he ever got his hands on any of the surviving men who’d harmed her, they’d beg for death before the might of his rage.

Chapter Text

My mind was still in chaos as Mitsuhide laid me back on my futon. I barely paid attention as he removed my sweat soaked clothes and wrapped me in a soft silk haori I didn’t recognize. It smelled of him, making me pull it tighter around me and breathe in his scent. He smiled softly.

 

“My colors look good on you.”

 

I focused enough to see the Akechi symbol, a flower with delicate swirl designs, embroidered on white and blue silk, edged in purple. It was beautiful. I could feel the smile on my lips, and I watched as some of the worry melted out of his expression.

 

There was a knock at my door. “My Lord Mitsuhide? I’ve come on Hideyoshi’s orders?” Mitsuhide moved to the door, thanked the page, and returned to my side, holding two bottles of sake and two cups. I looked up at him, confused.

 

He filled each cup and handed one to me. “It will help you to relax.”

 

As I drank down the cup, I felt the warmth of the alcohol seep into my bones. He was right, it did help me relax. I smiled gratefully to him and shook my head. “I can’t believe that happened.”

 

Mitsuhide shrugged and caressed my cheek. “Sasuke said it’s common when a woman experiences something traumatic. “

 

I nodded, tears threatening to overwhelm me. “I still feel so ashamed…

 

Something in Mitsuhide’s eyes changed. It was subtle, but I could see it. I looked up at him. “What’s wrong?”

 

He said nothing for a moment, but he caught my chin between his thumb and index finger, forcing my face up to meet his eyes. When he spoke, there was a cold steel in his tone. “I want you to listen closely, little mouse. He pulled me toward him, his lips nearly touching my earlobe, as he whispered. “You have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing.” Though his voice betrayed his anger, he kissed my cheek with a gentle touch.

 

As he pulled away from me, I could see desire in his eyes, as well as resolve. He wouldn’t stay with me tonight. As he looked at me, he finally cracked a smile. “I can read your disappointment, little mouse. You need to rest and if I stay, we won’t rest. I promise you that.”

 

His voice dipped low and sensuous, reminding me of our previous night of passion. I smiled softly. “I love you, Mitsuhide. Thank you for taking care of me.”

 

His devilish smile softened into one that also allowed his affection to show in his eyes.

 

“I love you too, Aleria. Truly. Now sleep, before I make you wish you had listened to me the first time.”

 

With that, he left.

 

As his footsteps faded, I curled up in my futon, and closed my eyes, hoping sleep would take me quickly. But my body and mind were restless. Finally, when I could take no more, I rose from my bed. I wrapped Mitsuhide’s haori around me. It was a little big, as he was so much taller than I, but it would have to do. Quickly and quietly, I padded out toward the training room. Masamune’s quarters were only a little way past it. As I came closer, however, I heard the sounds of someone training hard. I peeked in the room.

 

I stifled the gasp that was at the edge of my lips.

 

Masamune was bare-chested, scars patterned across his torso. With a wooden sword in his hands, he practiced moves I knew he’d never shown me.  He was grace and strength, with beads of perspiration dripping from his chestnut colored hair onto his glistening upper half. For a moment, I watched him move, entranced by the poetry of his sword work. He was all muscles and tawny skin, ripples of strength, like a tiger stalking its prey. I subconsciously licked my lips. He was a glory to behold.

 

Finally, when I decided too much longer and it would be considered creepy, I cleared my throat to get his attention. Instantly, a single bright blue eye was locked onto me. Surprise flitted across his face before a stern look of concern.

 

“Shouldn’t you be resting, Lass?”

“Probably, but I couldn’t. Masamune, are you alright?”

Masamune cocked his head, smiling in a way that made me feel sick. Bravado and cockiness etched itself across his face, matching his smile. It was fake and I hated it.

“Me? Alright? Who are you talking to Lass? I’m perfect. Wanna find out how much?” Even though I knew it was just a technique to distract me from his pain, my face turned scarlet. I took step backward, and like a feline, Masamune’s eye lit up and he stepped forward.

 

“Masamune, stop. Please.”

 

It was all I knew to say, and it worked. He changed, instantly, no longer meeting my eyes. He sighed softly and put his wooden sword down. “Shouldn’t I be asking you if you are alright? You’re the one who had a…what did Sasuke call it? A panic attack?”

 

Tears gathered in my eyes. “Yes, but I needed to make sure you understood that it wasn’t your fault. It was bound to happen at some point, and it just happened in a moment of great change. It wasn’t because of anything you did.”

 

“You’re wrong.”

The words were spoken in a whisper, but Masamune’s tortured expression finally erupted on his face.  “If I had been stronger, I could have prevented the whole thing from happening. You wouldn’t have been hurt, you would have been happy, and we could have—”

 

Masamune trailed off into an awkward silence and looked away again. I bit my lip as I pieced together the unuttered end of his sentence.

 

Slowly, I walked over to him, taking his hand in mine. Without speaking, he wrapped his arms around me, similarly to how he’d held me when I was recovering from the attack. His embrace was strong, warm and comforting. Not for the first time, I questioned myself on why I didn’t choose him. He wanted me, and I couldn’t deny the small part of me that was attracted to him.

 

But..

 

“Masamune, you need to understand a couple of really important things. First, you are in no way responsible for what happened to me. The only person blaming you, is you. The people responsible are Kennyo and his men. No one else. Secondly…” I took a deep breath. “I was in love with Mitsuhide long before I was taken. I love you, but as a brother, a comrade, a friend and an ally. I’m really sorry.”

 

After a moment, Masamune shook his head, smiling gently.

 

“You know, if you’d been any other woman, I would have said to hell with Mitsuhide, and I would have kissed you anyway, to show you that you could want me. But… I can’t do that do you.”

 

I knew some small part of me believed he could do it, but I smiled. “I’m glad you respect me enough not to try

.”

Masamune’s normal wicked gleam was seeping back in his eye and I felt a small bit of relief.

“Or maybe I don’t want to piss you off and have to kick your ass again.”

 

As I reached around him and grabbed the wooden sword he’d put down, he laughed and ran out of the training room. I shook my head and walked back toward my room.

************

Mitsuhide stood outside of the training room, his golden yellow eyes trained on his friend and his love. Waves of jealousy poured through him, along with relief that Aleria hadn’t given into Masamune’s charms. He shook his head, trying to clear away the emotions he wasn’t used to feeling. For the first time, a sliver of fear swept through him. Would his emotions about Aleria cloud his judgement in the future? Would he put himself, Aleria or Masamune in jeopardy because of his jealousy?

 

Quietly, Mitsuhide stepped away from the training room and returned to his own room. It looked as though Masamune has all the comfort he needed or desired.

 

 

Chapter Text

Death was all around me. The stench of gunpowder, blood and sweat permeated my senses. I could hear the screams, clangs of metal and cries of the horses in my head. I tried to take a deep breath in to calm myself, but the sight in front of me was so grisly, I couldn’t seem to make my lungs work. I’d been at many battles, but nothing like what I was witnessing in front of me. Thousands of men, both allies and enemies lay dying or dead on the battlefield below. Steel sparked against steel and arrows flew past me in a cloud of destruction.

“Aleria! Get back here with me, now!” Mitsuhide’s voice sounded alarmed, broke my horrified trance. I looked down at my feet and realized I had moved, stepping closer and closer to the far-right edge of the cliff where we, along with thousands of archers and a few hundred riflemen were stationed. I quickly darted over and stood behind him as he positioned his rifle and fired into the mass of soldiers below. Almost instantly, I heard the subsequent scream and watched as an enemy solider fell. Bile rose in my throat not for the first time since the battle had begun. I didn’t think I could handle much more of this kind of stimulation, but the ferocity of the war hadn’t begun to wither. Kennyo’s men fought with the desperation of a wounded rattlesnake, biting and killing its prey even as it died. What his army lacked in technique and training, they made up for in viciousness and determination. More than once already, I’d seen the fanatical grins on their faces as they took down our men even as they took their last breath.

Finally, when I could no longer watch, I buried my head in Mitsuhide’s back. He was strength, sturdiness and comfort. Even as he moved to take another life, I knew it was to protect me. If I didn’t watch, I could almost convince myself I wasn’t in the middle of a war. Almost. I inhaled his scent of gunpowder and rain and just...him. It was comforting. It was there that I felt his entire body stiffen.

He spat a curse and reached for my arm, pulling me in front and turning me to face him. “You need to get behind our lines and out of sight. Now”

I looked up into his face. Something besides his usual battle face was lurking in his eyes. A rage I’d rarely seen from him. I felt my body go cold.

As though my body had a mind of its own, I turned and moved to the edge of the cliff once more, just in time to see the new arrivals riding on horseback onto the battlefield. I vaguely heard Mitsuhide curse again as I recognized the two men at the front of the approaching unit. I let out a single agonizing cry of alarm.

For a moment, the world went silent. The wind blew around me, and the battle was raging, but no sounds could be heart. My body felt cold and hot at the same time and I could feel the hairs on my neck and arms stand up. As if an explosion went off right in front of me, I felt a blast of stark terror. My body began to shake, and I involuntarily took a step back. He might have been hundreds of feet from me, but I could still see him. I knew his face. Seated beside Kennyo on a tall black horse was the man who’d nearly destroyed me. The man who’d kidnapped me, beat me, tortured me and raped me, before sending others to do the same. He sat atop his horse, smirking and looking proud at the destruction in front of him. I saw his face turn up, in my direction. He was across the field in front of me, but I felt his eyes pierce me, and a smug grin crossed his face.

Mitsuhide pulled be away from the cliff toward a small tent of provisions and called out an order to fire at the new unit of soldiers. “Look at me, Aleria. No, LOOK at me.”

He placed his hand on either side of my face and forced my gaze up to his. His gaze was hard, but even still, I could see the love behind them. I fought to pull myself from the haze of terror that had begun to consume me.

“Do you trust me, little mouse?”
I didn’t hesitate. “Yes. Completely.”

He nodded, and smiled at me, though it was strained.

“I knew he’d likely be here. I won’t let him hurt you. I will kill him. I will keep you safe. Do you believe me?”

His golden eyes burned into mine with such intensity, that I found myself smiling at him, despite the terror I felt at the demon across the field.

“I believe you, Mitsuhide.”

He reached behind me and grabbed a sheathed katana and held it toward me.
“I don’t think you’ll need it, but I’d feel better if you had this in your hands.” He smiled faintly. “You’re damn good with a blade, little mouse. Don’t forget that.”

I nodded and he returned to the edge of the cliff.
***********
Mitsuhide was glad the battle was raging around him. His control over his rage felt slippery and if he didn’t know he needed to be exactly where he was, he’d have saddled up and rode for the front lines to take the head of the man who’d hurt his beloved.

He glanced back at her. Her face was pale, but she didn’t look as though she’d throw herself off the cliff anymore. He took a small breath in relief, before returning to the sight in front of him. He called to Kyubei, who was close by him.

“Yes, my lord?”
“I need you to get a message to Nobunaga and the others. He’s here and he knows where she is. They need to capture or kill him and Kennyo at all costs.”

Kyubei nodded, bowed quickly and raced to grab a horse. He rode hard and fast to where Masamune and Nobunaga were pulling several of their units back to the healers’ tents. Kyubei dismounted and ran to help get the wounded men inside.

Hideyoshi arrived moments later, blood pouring from his right arm. Despite his own injury, his words of concern were for Nobunaga. “My Lord, are you alright?”

Nobunaga turned instantly, taking fistfuls of Hideyoshi’s robes and practically hauled him off his feel. Hideyoshi’s eyes were wide, at odds with Nobunaga’s wild ones, but he made no move to defend himself. Nobunaga’s words were like whips.

“Don’t you EVER risk your life like that again. I am the man who will unify this country. Did you think I would fall to one warrior monk with a moment of luck on his side? I do not need you jumping in front of me and taking hits for me. Never again, Hideyoshi!”

After a moment, Hideyoshi nodded. “Yes, my Lord. I shall be more careful.”

It didn’t escape Kyubei’s notice that Hideyoshi did not swear he wouldn’t jump in front of Nobunaga ever again. It was well known that Hideyoshi’s loyalty went above and beyond the normal Vassal/Lord relationship. Shaking out of those thoughts, Kyubei bowed to the warlords, gaining their attention. With one last glare at Hideyoshi, Nobunaga addressed him.

“Kyubei? What is it? Mitsuhide wouldn’t send you unless it was important.”
“Yes, my Lords. I was sent by Lord Mitsuhide to give you this message. ‘He’s here and he knows where she is. You must capture or kill him and Kennyo at all costs.’

At his words, the tent seemed to grow icy. Nobunaga’s, Masamune’s and Hideyoshi’s expressions hardened. In that moment, Kyubei was very glad their rage was not directed at him. Nobunaga spoke again, his words clipped.
“Hideyoshi, get that wound bandaged quickly and meet Masamune and I on the field. Masamune, with me.”
Both warlords spoke in unison. “Yes, my Lord.”

Nobunaga and Masamune cut their way across the field in search of their pray. Masses of soldiers swarmed them, but Nobunaga’s and Masamune’s proved incomparable. Solider after soldier fell to their blades.

When the reached the other side of the field, Masamune and Nobunaga shared a tense look.

“Do you see either of them?” Masamune asked?
Nobunaga shook his head. “No. I’ve got a bad feeling. If Kennyo and that man aren’t here, then this was likely a distraction. He’s going to go for her or Mitsuhide or both. Let’s head back.”

Nobunaga’s head lifted to look at the cliff overlooking the battlefield. He could almost picture her standing on the edge of the cliff. “Be safe, my little fireball. We’re coming to your aid. He shall not lay another finger on you.”
*********************************
Kennyo was beginning to regret his decision in naming the man beside him as his second in command. More than once Kennyo had caught him in a lie, and now he had a sinking feeling his path of revenge against Nobunaga had somehow turned into a quest to destroy Mitsuhide and the chatelaine. Instead of killing her, as Kennyo had ordered, she’d been brutalized and managed to escape. Now, thousands of Kennyo’s followers and brothers in arms lay dead on the battlefield. They had no real plan of attack against the Devil of the Sixth Heaven and the One-Eyed Dragon. Instead of facing them on the battlefield, Kennyo had been advised to attempt to take the girl, as she was allegedly the key to the Oda’s downfall. But she wasn’t with Nobunaga. Something felt very wrong and Kennyo was determined to find out.

As they and a medium sized unit of men made their way through the woods, another part of his ninja’s mad plan, Kennyo asked. “How is this going to win us Nobunaga’s head again?”

The man grinned evilly, his eyes wild. “Patience, Master Kennyo. Once Mitsuhide is dead and we have the girl, they will give us whatever we ask for. It is well know how favored she is, and how protected after she escaped us before. They will sacrifice themselves to save her from a repeat experience. Fear not, Abbot. This plan has worked for me many times before.”

Kennyo felt bile raise in his throat at the man’s boasts. As he opened his mouth to speak against him, a flash of red caught his attention. A flicker of surprise crossed Kennyo’s face.

What was Shingen Takeda doing in these woods, and alone?

Chapter Text

Kennyo fell back to “check on the front lines,” leaving the madman to march forward with the last of Kennyo’s men in a secret ambush against Mitsuhide’s riflemen. As the last of the soldiers left his sight, he stepped off the path and pulled the hidden blade from his staff.

 

“Why are you here, Shingen?”

 

With a smirk that didn’t reach his eyes, Shingen stepped out from behind a rather large tree trunk. “Is that any way to greet your oldest friend, Kennyo?”

 

Kennyo couldn’t help the retort that he’d always used when they were young. “Emphasis on the old.” His eyes sparkled for a split moment, before all life left them again, his demon mask back in place. “That still doesn’t answer my question. Why are you here?”

 

Kennyo eyed his old friend with no little amount of suspicion. Shingen was smart. He was a genius strategist and had always had a talent for reading people. If he was here, in this exact spot where Kennyo was, it was no coincidence.

 

Shingen stood up to his full height, towering above even Kennyo. “Very well. You must stop this war, Kennyo. You must sever ties with that man. Ryuu. He is a true monster and his actions are beneath even you.”

 

Kennyo laughed, refusing to meet Shingen’s eyes. “You know nothing of what actions are beneath me, Shingen. I have given up my humanity for my cause.”

 

Shingen stood quiet for a moment. The air around him seemed almost charged with electricity. Kennyo found himself unable to do anything other than look up at his old friend. Something in Shingen’s eyes made Kennyo want to take a step back.

 

“I understood,” began Shingen, “when you decided to take this path to vengeance. I understood that your plans were different than mine, darker than mine. I was a leader of my fief. Of Kai. You were an Abbot, a leader in your own way. And your temple was destroyed. Many of your brethren killed. I could understand your hatred of Nobunaga, because I felt it too. But I watched you carefully, old friend. You had dirty tactics, but you were never unnecessarily cruel. You helped animals and those in need, alike. You focused solely on Nobunaga and the Oda forces. And I continued to believe in you.”

 

Something in Shingen’s voice made Kennyo’s heart pound. They’d known each other since boyhood, and Shingen was using that tone that meant he was about to tell Kennyo something difficult. Kennyo found his body tense, but he couldn’t stop listening. Shingen continued.

 

“Something changed a year ago. Your decisions were no longer simply for your vengeance. Innocents were harmed,” Shingen spoke, which no small amount of condemnation in his tone.

 

Kennyo bristled. “If you’re referring to the Oda’s chatelaine, I did nothing more than intimidate and question her. It was clear she wasn’t well enough informed. She was imprisoned for a few days, and then released once my general made sure I was out of range of any spies or rescue missions. And then those Oda bastards massacred my men. Yet you condemn me.”

 

Shingen’s eyes widened. The expression that crossed his handsome face was one Kennyo hadn’t expected. Pity.

 

Shingen was shocked for a moment, before everything clicked into place. “You don’t know, do you” he breathed.

 

That look and that tone was back, Kennyo noted. “I don’t know what” he practically barked.

 

Shingen stepped forward and placed his hand on Kennyo’s shoulder. “Your General, Ryuu, didn’t release her. He kept her for weeks, after you left. They beat her, hung her by her wrists, starved and dehydrated her. And then, when her spirit was barely hanging on, they took turns raping her, until they believed her to be dead. Because they kept her for so long, the Oda were able to locate your men and take her back. Interestingly enough, only Ryuu and one other managed to escape. It’s almost as if he left the others to die to fuel your hatred for his own plans.”

Kennyo was already shaking his head. “You lie,” he whispered.

 

Shingen smiled, seeing the indecision on Kennyo’s face. He could tell by his tone and his face that Kennyo simply didn’t want to believe the truth.

 

“Do you need proof, old friend?” Shingen asked. “The other that managed to escape? He was one of mine. And he ended his own life, on the end of his own blade. He could not live with knowing he’d had to brutalize an innocent woman in order to survive and report back to me on the atrocities committed in your name.”

 

Kennyo’s vision swam. His stomach clenched. Before any more could be spoken, the monk had turned his back on his old friend and retched.

 

“You are a lot of things, Kennyo,” Shingen said softly as he watched Kennyo’s violent reaction, “but you are not this. Let it go. Let this war go. Or you will die.”

 

Kennyo rinsed his mouth with water from his water bladder. He stood with his back to Shingen for a moment, before turning to face him. His eyes were red and surprised. “You’ve brought your army, haven’t you? You’ve held out, to see if you can save me, but you will defend Nobunaga in this battle.”

 

It wasn’t a question, but Shingen nodded gravely.

 

Kennyo shook his head, disbelievingly. “But you hate Nobunaga.”

 

Shingen nodded again. “That’s true.”

 

“And yet you would defend him?”

 

Shingen shook his head sadly. “Haven’t you noticed? This war was never about Nobunaga. Ryuu has been focused on Mitsuhide and Aleria since before you took her.”

 

Kennyo couldn’t deny it, as he had begun to question Ryuu’s actions already. He struggled internally as the sounds of the battle reached his ears. Kennyo pictured the girl he’d ordered captured. She’d had a fire in her eyes that he’d found pure and charming. Despite the necessary pressure he’d placed on her, he’d had no intention of physically harming a woman. Yet, she had been, and the vile deeds had been committed in his name. He sighed.

 

“What would you have me do, Shingen?”

***************************************************

He’d grown too arrogant, Mitsuhide realized with dread.

 

He’d fought to keep Aleria away from the battle, but he’d never actually imagined he might be unable to protect her from it. Now, he wished he’d fought harder.

 

Shortly after Kyubei had left to warn the others, Mitsuhide realized he’d been led into a trap. He cursed his intellect. Kennyo and his General had appeared at the edge of the field only briefly. As soon as he’d sent Kyubei away, the two disappeared. Mitsuhide realized, too late, they were coming for Aleria. And for him.

 

Let them come, he’d thought arrogantly. Until he realized their lack of ammunition. They’d been drawn into using up much of their resources. His entire unit would be killed, if they stayed.

 

Thinking quickly, he moved to take Aleria’s hand, and ordered his men to stop firing. He sent them down the hill to join Hideyoshi’s and Masamune’s troops. He kept his rifle and a sword for himself. Together, they hid, hoping that Kennyo and his general would fall for the charade, and assume that Mitsuhide and Aleria had fled down to regroup with the rest of the Oda forces.

 

It didn’t work.

 

Mitsuhide felt Aleria tense in his arms as the man walked out of the forest. He’d seen him from a distance before, when he and Sasuke had tried to infiltrate Kennyo’s forces. This close, Mitsuhide could see the madness in his eyes. Ryuu: The man who’d tried to destroy the love of his life. He’d nearly broken Aleria’s body and spirit. He’d nearly killed her. And here he was. Mitsuhide felt a wave of determination. Ryuu would come no closer to Aleria. Never again.

Mitsuhide turned Aleria in his arms and looked at her. Her eyes were wide, her skin pale with fright. He gave her a smile and kissed her lips. “I won’t let him near you, little mouse. Never fear.”

 

With those words, he put her away from him and moved out in the open to face Ryuu. He fixed a blithe smile upon his face, as if Ryuu’s appearance was of little consequence. Mitsuhide raised a hand of greeting to the man. “You’re clever, Ryuu. I should have known you wouldn’t fall for our ruse.” Mitsuhide’s tone was light and friendly. His eyes were cold and ruthless.

 

Ryuu’s smile faltered for a moment. Just as quickly, hatred and madness flickered in his eyes as he glared at Mitsuhide.  “You look awfully relaxed for someone who will die today, kitsune. You should have fled with your unit like the cowards you all are.”

 

Mitsuhide laughed and shook his head. “The only coward I see is the one in front of me, Ryuu. Did you realize you couldn’t defeat the Oda forces and decide to try and sneak up on me? I’m afraid you will find no victory here. My men will destroy Kennyo’s forces, and I will destroy you.”

 

There was no laughter in Mitsuhide’s voice as he finished speaking. But Ryuu seemed to find Mitsuhide’s words hilarious, erupting into raucous laugher. “Your men are dead by now, Mitsuhide. They would have been ambushed by my men before they left the woods. I estimated you had around three thousand riflemen and archers, yes?” Ryuu laughed wildly again. “Dead. They’re all dead. Will Nobunaga forgive you for losing so many? You’ll never know!”

 

Mitsuhide lifted his rifle and began to take aim at Ryuu.

 

“Ah ah ah. I wouldn’t do that if I were you. You wouldn’t want your precious little flower to die, would you?”

 

Mitsuhide whirled around to where he’d left Aleria. She wasn’t there. His eyes widened. A small whimper, followed by a WHACK and a thud, snapped his head to the right. Aleria lay on the ground, face up and not moving.

 

A ninja, clad in black, stood over her body. His face was covered, but his eyes were trained on Ryuu. He bowed once and ran.

 

Mitsuhide turned to look at Ryuu.

 

Gold eyes flashed with rage. The man who always smiled, now held no smirk at all. Instead, a deep stillness emanated from him, causing Ryuu to step backwards. It seemed Ryuu was not stupid, after all. Mitsuhide’s flicked over to where Aleria lay unconscious. He allowed himself a modicum of relief when he spotted her chest rising and falling. Perhaps she wasn’t hurt too badly, as he’d worried. As Mitsuhide’s gaze returned to Ryuu, he dropped his rifle and reached for the longsword at his side.

 

Ryuu began to laugh as he drew his own blade. “It is well known, kitsune, that you are a master with your rifle. You are no match for me with swords. Give up now, and I shall consider allowing your whore to live.”

 

Mitsuhide’s eyebrows shot up. “You are correct that I am trained well with my rifle. But you are incorrect on two other points.”

 

Mitsuhide drew his longsword from his scabbard. “First, Aleria is not a whore. She is an Oda princess, and a woman deserving of the title “goddess.” With several quick steps toward Ryuu, he swung. Ryuu’s eyes widened as he raised his own blade, just in the nick of time. The steel of their blades clashed violently.

 

 “And secondly,” Mitsuhide said softly, “Just because I choose not to use a sword, doesn’t mean I’m not a master of it.”

 

CLANG.  CLANG CLANG.

 

Sparks flew from the swords, demonstrating the savagery of the battle of the two men. Ryuu’s face maintained his mad smile, and he laughed maniacally every time they separated. Mitsuhide’s breathing was the only sign that his energy was dissipating.

 

Ryuu darted forward and swung. Mitsuhide stepped to the left to avoid a direct hit and cursed. He’d allowed Ryuu in between his body and Aleria’s.  He moved, attempting to regain the upper hand, but Ryuu was clever in his madness. With two quick steps backwards, he held his blade to her neck. Mitsuhide stilled, his eyes narrowing onto a tiny drop of blood that trailed from the tip of Ryuu’s blade down Aleria’s neck.

 

“Let her go, Ryuu,” Mitsuhide said softly.

 

Ryuu smirked and shook his head. “I think not. Don’t you know, Mitsuhide? I never would have harmed her, except that I knew it would destroy a piece of you. You have always been my main target: The wild Kitsune. The left hand of the Devil King, who reads minds and destroys enemies from the inside. You had but one weakness, and I have broken her. And in doing so, I have broken you. Her blood, her innocence, her sanity; I took it, but it is on your hands.”

 

Mitsuhide’s heart shriveled in his chest. He’d known all along he’d been to blame for what happened to her but hearing it from Ryuu was a confirmation of his deepest fears. His cool façade faltered, and Ryuu laughed sadistically.

 

 “Your face, kitsune… Dear gods, you really are pathetic. Shall I put you out of your misery?” Ryuu removed the blade from Aleria’s neck and held it over her heart. “I shall make you a deal, Mitsuhide. You let me take your head, and I shall spare the pretty one attached to her shoulders. Your life, for hers. That’s a fair trade, no? You’ve caused her enough pain, after all.”

 

Mitsuhide’s eyes moved to Aleria’s form. He wished he could see her face, but her body lay in such a way, that her head was turned away from him. A sense of calm settled over him. There was no decision to make. He could never allow harm to come to her, his love.

 

Ryuu grinned victoriously, as he saw the expression on Mitsuhide’s face change to one of acceptance.

 

 Mitsuhide nodded, released his own sword, and dropped to his knees. There was no guarantee that Ryuu would keep his word, but Mitsuhide hoped that Masamune or any of his brothers would find them and rescue her. He could try to fight, but Mitsuhide had no doubts that Ryuu would kill her in order to win. And he couldn’t allow that. He sighed softly. “Very well, Ryuu. Take your pound of flesh.”

 

Mitsuhide closed his eyes and pictured her face. He saw her smiling as she had before she’d been taken. He pictured her after the first time he’d kissed her: her lips swollen and a darker shade of red, her sweet eyes widened with an emotion he was afraid to acknowledge at the time. He pictured her the morning after he first made love to her, how her face looked so at peace as she slept. “Aleria…” He whispered.

 

Ryuu gripped his sword tightly and strode over to Mitsuhide. His eyes were red-rimmed and devoid of rationality. “Finally, the fox demon dies. And by my hand.” Ryuu raised his sword and swung with all his might, his blade aimed to take Mitsuhide’s head.

 

CLANG.