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In the immediate wake of the confrontation with Garyukai, the Kuryuugumi executives let the question of the seisai alone.

Kozuki Tsukasa walks alongside Ryuji, his bodyguard and his trusted companion, and after what happened at the Megafloat airport, only a fool would dare to question her right.

There are always fools, but they have chosen silence for the moment.

Meiko wonders how long that will last.

Within the gokudo clans, it’s public knowledge that Tsukasa is a girl, but not even the clan heads object to her assumption of male status - perhaps, because they hope that if she is concerned with the things of men, she’ll fail to take an interest in the things of women. Namely the sandaime of Kuryuugumi.

Meiko could tell them otherwise, but who would listen? She is a mere woman, and a medic to boot – what does she know of clan politics?

Would they listen if she were to tell them that she regularly tends the bruises Tsukasa leaves on Ryuji when she kicks him out of her bed? Would they listen if she were to tell them that Tsukasa always checks in with her after Ryuji has left, to ensure she hasn’t hurt him? Would they listen if she were to tell them that Tsukasa has begun to come to her for menstrual products – but not for contraceptives?

Well, yes, perhaps they would listen to that last.

But Meiko is sworn to Kuryuugumi, and to sandaime. Her mouth is as though stoppered with clay when it comes to the secrets of the sandaime and the young woman who he would have as his seisai.

That does not mean it is stoppered when it comes to speaking to Tsukasa.

“The protector is in the way,” Meiko tells Tsukasa one day as she bandages the young woman’s ribs. Some gaki from a minor clan thought to improve his standing by challenging Tsukasa’s position as Ryuji’s bodyguard. His summary dispatch was harsh without being brutal, but he got two good hits in – one in the eye, the other in the side, hard enough to crack a rib. “You should leave it off while healing. Besides, it is not good for your breasts.”

The skin under her hand goes faintly pink. “It is protection.”

“Against what?”

Tsukasa hesitates, betraying her uncertainties. “Damage.”

Meiko finishes her bandaging, and starts putting her creams away. “You cannot play at being male forever, Tsu-bo.”

“It is not play!”

“A bad choice of words,” Meiko concedes. “But it’s not proper. You must face the world as you are, without shame.”

“I am not ashamed of what I am.” Tsukasa tries to yank her shirt on her shoulders, then winces. Meiko assists her into the shirt without comment. “But I can’t fully protect Ryuji as a girl.”

And that is how simple it is to Tsukasa.

Meiko sighs and judges her silence to be of better use than her lecturing. So she only watches as the young woman saunters out - a very male stride for one who holds the heart of Shirogami Ryuji.

The next day, she is once again wearing the protector.

Meiko simply sighs.

It does not seem to bother Tsu-bo that she is not seen as a girl. That she is not considered suitable for Ryuji in her guise as a boy, no matter how female she may be beneath it.

It does not seem to bother sandaime either. He treats her with a possessive pride that is recognised by those who have worked with Kuryuugumi since before his birth – in just such a way did nidaime look at his seisai. And yet, whatever agreement she and sandaime have reached between them, Tsukasa continues to demand her personal space from Ryuji.

Sometimes he is not inclined to give it.

Ryuji takes the bruising and battering in good humour, even if Meiko is inclined to call the young woman in for a stern talking-to when she sees the condition of sandaime one morning.

“I climbed into her bed,” he says by way of explanation, and his eyes dare her to comment on his unwisdom.

If this was any other young man, Meiko would joke that these are probably not the marks Ryuji wished for when he went to Tsukasa. But something in her realises that fighting is an acceptable and familiar contact between these two, and that the marks Tsukasa leaves on Ryuji’s skin are her own kind of brand.