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Loyalty, honor, duty, and love

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The room felt warmer than usual. Peaceful. Calm, almost too calm, even.

Unbearably so. The silence only punctuated by the quiet breathing of the woman lying next to her.

It's been years since Rui woke up in such condition, after a night's sleep without nightmares. It felt almost surreal, as if such reality couldn't happen in the world they were living in.

She glanced at the clock on the nightstand: noon.

Wow. Even though they went to sleep… very late, Rui couldn't remember the last time she rested for so long.

Not when she was so used to jump out of her bed, on edge, ready to fight anyone who would dare to attempt to her lover's life, and never expected she'd find any kind of downtime someday. 

She groaned, wrapping an arm over her forehead. Standing up in such a tired state wasn't easy.

Once she finally did, she staggered toward the bathroom. Even though she didn't have a drop of alcohol, she felt like she was recovering from a hangover. Maybe a hot shower could help…

As soon as she stepped in and turned the tub on, she winced a bit. The wounds from last battle and these scratches from the previous night were still fresh, after all.

It took a few seconds of hot water running over her body before Rui could finally relax, closing her eyes to try to forget. Even for a flash of time.

But she couldn't. How could she, after everything she went through?

Rui re-opened her eyes. She grabbed the soap and started to wash her body, trailing her hand over her skin marked with scars, bruises, and love marks.

She paused as her fingers brushed against a particularly ugly discoloration over her stomach.

That's right. How could Rui forget?

Instead, she remembered.

~

Rui was an orphan, picked up by a swordmaster at the age of five. Quickly, she grew fascinated by the countless tales of swordsmen, the single-minded purpose of their dedication to the blade. She wanted to become one of them, to make it through her shyness and take the same path as her master. No matter how strict her education was. No matter how harsh her training would be.

This was the dream she wanted to achieve, and over time, she received a lot of praise for her progress and motivation. Many had mentioned her potential and how she could serve a noble cause, beyond the prospect of living a traditional Japanese woman's existence.

Rui grew up, full of dreams, pushing her boundaries over and over until she couldn't stand anymore. Because she hoped that, one day, she could be useful.

How foolish of a nameless orphan to think she would become a swordswoman.

Her master became older while Rui became stronger. Old, sick, and desperately in need of money.

And his protégé was capable and worthy of being sold to the one with the best offer.

When her fourteen-year-old self met her new owner, the boss of one of the most prominent mafia families in Japan, her whole life suddenly crashed into a million pieces. All her dreams were now useless, and her ambition was stomped by a divine force. Now, all she would have to do was obey And try to survive.

She had no idea what she'd done to the Gods to deserve such a lifestyle. But her desire to serve a noble cause would be quickly replaced by a duty… Probably beyond imagination.

To her surprise, it wasn't in Tomoe-sama's plans to make an assassin out of her: he needed a bodyguard for his daughter, one that could stay by her side until death and beyond. Of course, Rui would be trained to become stronger and to kill, but the latter would be only in the case of absolute necessity.

As soon as they reached the mansion, the boss led Rui to the garden to introduce the trembling girl to his daughter…

That was the moment Rui's life changed. Because the Gods set a living Tennyo on her path. She didn't even consider such a person could exist in a world of crimes and betrayals. But there she was: Tomoe Tamao, the daughter of one of the scariest mafia families. The kindest and most beautiful girl Rui had ever met.

At first, Rui felt intimidated. She had no idea how to greet such a girl. The first seconds could have decided her fate, if she could fit the role of being their daughter's bodyguard… or if she'd prove herself useless to the Mafia Family.

She opted for a shy, tiny wave, feeling her cheeks burning when the other girl's eyes widened at the gesture. Until her mouth cracked into a smile, as beautiful and warm as the first rays of sunlight at dawn.

It was the first time that someone made Rui's heart race. The first time Tamao-sama did.

The two girls quickly found themselves sharing a lot of hobbies. They had both bathed in the traditional culture since their childhood and had received a similar education. They could spend hours talking about myths and legends, old theater plays, and movies.

Rui wasn't used to watching the latter. Being an orphan educated by an old swords master in a dojo didn't give her many opportunities to watch some of her favorite stories turned into movies. But Tamao-sama would always spoil her, happily introducing Rui to this new universe and discussing the adaptation and the acting for hours.

She would also show Rui the beauty of flowers, their meaning, how to take care of them, and how to arrange a bouquet properly. Such a fitting hobby for such a magnificent girl.

In return, Rui would tell her about the journey of the most famous swordsmen and would talk about kendo and her various swords. To her surprise, Tamao-sama would always listen to her ranting about swords with genuine interest. She would even sneak in to watch Rui's training whenever said training wasn't too violent for an ojou-sama.

Because this kind of sword fighting practice was far from Rui's usual kendo practice. Sometimes, the props were replaced by real swords, leaving the possibility of getting hurt. And yet, Rui had to give her best, couldn't show any reservation to her master.

That was nerve-wracking.

Thankfully, whenever Rui ended up getting hurt or felt down due to her hectic rehearsal, she could always count on Tamao-sama. The girl would always bandage her wounds and would stay by her side, sometimes even holding her hand until Rui felt better (which usually had the opposite effect… The move only made Rui's heart leap out her chest).

Before she realized it, Rui was quickly adopted by the Tomoe family. She had no clue what was the reason for this sudden acceptance: had she proved herself worthy of the mission the family had given to her? Was it because their beloved daughter had started smiling more and more by her side?

Rui had no clue. She should have blamed herself for being selfish, for considering this household as hers, despite the "matters" she eavesdropped, despite the danger. She felt at home by Tamao-sama's side, and if she could do anything to preserve this warm fireplace from dangers, hell, she would gladly risk her life to protect those gentle smiles.

And Rui grew up, learning the mafia's loyalty and honor code, fullfilling her daily duty as if this wasn't an obligation, but the most natural thing to do.

Through the years, Rui wasn't the only one to mellow. At almost 17 years old, her feelings had also bloomed, like a flower blossom caressed by the blissful sunshine. She couldn't exactly tell when she fell in love with Tamao-sama. Not that it mattered, considering she wasn't allowed even to expect any kind of romantic closure with her boss.

Else, the outcome would probably be death.

But things were fine. Rui enjoyed staying by the young woman's side. At this point, it was beyond a duty. This was where she was meant to be.

No matter how stressful her training became, despite all the… things she could witness due to her position, talking to her felt like a natural plaster on her opened wounds.

 

Over time, their relationship reached a bond neither of them ever suspected to attain.

The very first hint of this development came right after Rui had been requested to commit her first murder. Although the man she had to kill was already condemned by the family and probably fated to a way more cruel death, Rui didn't expect she would be the one to enforce the sentence.

'The girl has to get used to killing if she wants to protect the young Ojou-sama. She can't show any trace of hesitation.' They said.

This experience had been horrible. Rui never expected to slay someone who didn't even raise a hand over Tamao-sama. She wasn't an assassin. Or at least, that wasn't how she pictured herself.

She remained stoic during the whole ceremony, her state of mind only betrayed by the way her hands trembled, by the second of hesitation.

But she had no choice.

As soon as Rui closed the door of her shared room with Tamao-sama, after a whole day of pretense that everything was okay, she allowed herself to break down in front of her boss.

She shouldn't have done that. She couldn't show any trace of weakness in front of her.

And yet.... Everything Rui could remember was the pair of arms snaked around her shaky frame, this warm embrace, and the repeated whispers telling her that everything would be okay. Like a mantra.

Rui hugged Tamao-sama back, feeling safe in the intimacy of their room.

Being a bodyguard came with a few privileges. One of them was the fact Rui couldn't leave Tamao-sama alone, except during her training or for a few matters. Thus, she had one single bed placed in the girl's bedroom to protect her in any situation.

Despite the reassuring words, Rui had had a lot of trouble falling asleep, her mind hyper-focused on the events thread of the day. That was how that day, for the first time, Tamao-sama had slipped into Rui's bed to talk, to reassure her friend.

Although her close presence set butterflies in Rui's stomach, she couldn't refuse the comfortable warmth next to her. How they talked about anything, the way a dainty hand stroked her hair gently…

This moment was the first time Rui ever experienced such a closure with her boss, a friendship bond she'd never shared with anybody else before. She didn't notice when she fell asleep, and none of them commented when they woke up in each other arms, both shyly avoiding the other's gaze.

 

And their proximity never ceased to increase afterward.

During a radiant Spring afternoon, while the cherry flowers twirled and fell in a white carpet, Tamao-sama joined Rui in their solace, her beautiful hair floating lightly in the air, and an unusually concerned expression plastered over her face.

She sat next to Rui, observing the jonquils bed they had planted together with a forlorn expression. They stayed like this for a while, in a comfortable silence that none of them dared to break, fearing to overstep one boundary set between them.

It was Rui who finally broke the silence. "I am here for you no matter what, you know? If something's troubling you, I am all ears if that could help you feel better."

"I know you are. Thank you, Rui-chan." Tamao-sama smiled weakly. They met eyes, and Rui almost looked down, embarrassed by the sudden intensity in her boss's gaze. "Since I am turning 18 this year, my parents have started to pressure me with my duty."

Rui frowned. She knew the implication behind those words, even though she didn't want to think about it.

As the daughter of a powerful family, Tamao-sama had to accomplish her duty. Although most of the sons had to learn about leadership and the various family's activities, the daughters had to get married to ally with another clan. 

They could choose their promised, of course. But most of the men in the business appeared as boorish and pretentious, and they couldn't care less about their future wife. Not many women were happy about their situation, but this was part of their obligations.

A dull ache stabbed her right through the heart as a knife would. Rui couldn't bear the thought of Tamao-sama getting married to a man who might treat her like an object. She was sure the other girl wasn't happy about such a fate either. Especially for someone like Tamao-sama, always elusive and seemingly uninterested in romance.

"… Did they introduce you to many men, already?" Rui asked quietly, looking down and staring at her feet.

"A few. All of them seemed so… boorish. I felt like a piece of meat in a market place." The girl sighed, playing with a strand of hair absentmindedly. "I wish I could decide, but this is part of my burden if we want to avoid troubles with the other clans. Even the most powerful family has to form alliances if the clan wants to persist."

"… How do you feel about all this? I mean, I understand that you want to take responsibility… But if you could choose, what kind of outcome would you like?" Rui carefully asked, afraid she might overstep her boundaries.

"Someone I love." There was no trace of hesitation in Tamao-sama's voice. In her peripheral vision, Rui noticed how the girl was now looking at her. "I don't care if that person is a man… or a woman. I just want someone I could trust and who could trust me in return."

Rui looked up with sheer surprise, meeting eyes with her boss. Did she hear correctly…? "Or a woman…? You mean…?" Her voice cracked with shyness.

The woman chuckled. "Does this revelation makes you uncomfortable, Rui-chan?"

"N-No… I feel relieved, actually…" Rui hesitated. This wasn't the first time they had such a deep conversation… But it would surely be the first time Rui would reveal something so personal. Something no one else knew about herself. Something she had a hard time to accept. "This is the first time I hear about another girl being attracted to women. I- I am glad I am not the only one…"

Tamao-sama's eyes seemed to bore into her soul, as if she was trying to read deeper to her mind. Then, her amethyst globes crinkled with genuine gentleness. "So…" She started, fidgeting with the hem of her dress. "You are into women?" She then smiled kindly. " This is also nice for me to meet someone who understands me."

Rui almost jumped out at the question, getting sweet laughter from the other girl at her reaction. "I can. Though… T-This is the first time I can voice it out loud. The first time…"

"… That you can be yourself?"

"Precisely. I am so grateful to you, Tamao-sama, for allowing me to be myself…"

The other girl smiled. She placed a gentle hand over Rui's, who almost jumped again at the sensation.  She felt warm. Her whole body was overwhelmed by a heatwave coming from her heart and sending pleasant tingles down to her stomach.

"I should be the one thanking you… Since you joined the family, I don't feel like I have gained a simple protector. You're a wonderful friend, and since you came into our lives, I never felt lonely anymore… Thank you."

Rui didn't know what to say, nor if she could say anything more. She simply shifted so she could lace their fingers together as they sat here, watching the flowers in comfortable silence. Rui was Tamao-sama's friend… She never expected that much.

Of course, deep down, she wished they could become more than this… But she wasn't even allowed to think about it. So she would simply take whatever Tamao-sama was willing to give her.

In any case, it would be more than everything she had ever dreamed of.

 

Surprisingly, the two girls got even closer after this intimate conversation. Rui didn't know what initiated such proximity between them, but it seemed that Tamao-sama would become more and more playful through the months. She never missed a chance to tease her, making Rui's head spin out of confusion whenever Tamao-sama did.

The never-ending meetings with influential families' sons went on and on, bringing an uneasy atmosphere when Tamao-sama kept rejecting all the suitors. Much to her parents' annoyance and to Rui's amusement and relief. Of course, this would be short-lived… But knowing that Tamao-sama's future husband could decide to replace Rui with one bodyguard of his own family, Rui secretly wished that the leaders of the Tomoe's clan wouldn't end up enforcing a wedding on their daughter.

"I hope you know what you are doing. Your father might end up choosing for you, you know?" Rui said one day as they were watering the flowers.

Even though she was pleased by the current situation, Rui couldn't help but worry about her boss's well-being. If the other girl's parents ended up choosing the son of one of their biggest rivals… She couldn't imagine what the outcome of this union would be, knowing how pretentious and wrong these guys could be.

"Do you want to see me married as fast as possible, Rui-chan?" Tamao-sama raised an amused eyebrow, posing her current task to look at her friend. "I didn't know you were tired of our time together."

"Of course not!!" Rui blurted out. Maybe a bit too quickly. "I… I mean, when I see these men… I am just worried about you."

"I don't doubt you will keep protecting me no matter what, so I am not scared. I know the choice of the bodyguard is up to my future husband, but I can impose to keep you by my side as a condition." The other girl gave her a gentle smile, a shy expression making its way on her face. "This is also one of the reasons I refused to engage myself with these men… They all denied this simple arrangement."

Rui's heart leaped out of her chest as butterflies twirled in her stomach. "I… I am honored you put your trust in me. I am sure they would use all the means to assure your protection, though."

"But what's the point of staying with someone I don't love if I can't have you by my side?"

Rui was speechless. She wanted to tell her so many things that she wasn't allowed to. Instead, she didn't say a word and rested a gentle hand on Tamao-sama's back as the other girl laid her head over Rui's shoulder.

Their bond had strengthened so much over time… Rui couldn't even remember when they became so close. There was something unspoken between them, something she couldn't precisely describe nor pinpoint, but something that made them essential for each other.

On the day of her seventeenth birthday, Rui received another unexpected mark of Tamao-sama's affection. She didn't expect her boss to spend the whole day by her side, to begin with. Since her recent engagement with one of the second son of most influential clan, the Akuma's family, Tamao-sama had been a busy bee and couldn't have much time to herself.

Her bethrothed wasn't terrible, thankfully. He seemed pretty infatuated with Tamao-sama and had been kind enough to accept every single one of her requests. Even though they didn't share anything in common and… Rui would also call him boring. Nothing else mattered outside his family and the business, and Tamao-sama would sigh in relief every time their chaste meetings ended.

Thus, when her boss brought her outside the mansion for a walk and treated her to donuts, Rui couldn't feel happier. She had missed their never-ending talks and how each day went by so quickly whenever they were together.

Rui wasn't sure if they shared the same feelings, but at least she could tell that Tamao-sama was also having fun, and that was what mattered the most. Of course, she stood on her guard, watching for any danger that could occur during their dat-… day together.

But so far, a bright star seemed to watch over them as everything went by smoothly, as per usual. At least, that was what she used to believe back then…

And when they came back in the mansion's garden, Tamao-sama spun on her heel to face Rui and handed her a small package that revealed a beautiful white-gold necklace with a four-leaf clover pendant.

Although she already got many birthday gifts from Tamao-sama and her family since she joined the clan, it was the first time Rui received something so… Personal.

"This pendant made me immediately think about you," Tamao-sama explained, giving Rui a warm smile, "because I have been lucky to meet you. I already told you about it, but ever since you came in my life, I am not lonely anymore."

As her boss moved forward and hung the necklace around Rui's neck, without thinking, Rui snaked her arms around Tamao-sama's waist and pulled her into a tight embrace.

"I think I am the luckier one… Because you granted me a family." Rui whispered back, resting her chin atop the other girl's head.

They stayed like this for a long time, locked into an embrace that was growing more and more intimate as time passed.

Rui swore she would cherish this gift during her whole life. As an orphan dragged from one household to another household, purchased and trained to fit in or fill a duty, Rui never possessed any personal belonging. Everything she acquired was given by her old master or the Tomoe clan. Thus, this necklace felt like a treasure.

If only Rui had some money to return the favor for Tamao's eighteenth birthday…

 

She looked at all aspects of the problem for days. Until Rui gathered all her courage and decided to ask for this favor to the head of the clan.

Despite his stern expression and impressive aura, Tamao's father seemed touched by this girl who pleaded for a few bills so she could offer a proper present to his daughter. He didn't hesitate to reward Rui for her loyalty, even granting her more money than she had ever expected and allowing her to get out of the mansion for her shopping trip.

That was how, after hours of research through the local market, Rui ended up setting her heart onto a gold necklace with a daisy pendant. This flower symbolized loyal love, innocence, and a feeling one could never tell to the other. Indeed something that immediately made her think about Tamao-sama.

And when the d-day finally arrived, Rui simply waited patiently, dressed in her usual business suit and accompanying Tamao-sama and her future husband during the whole party. For hours, they exchanged silent conversations and amused glances every so often, much to the man's confusion. 

She couldn't forget how beautiful Tamao-sama looked that day, clad in an elegant long red dress sublimed by a white cardigan over her shoulders. And how this man who didn't deserve her, but would be able to call her 'his', made Rui envious.

It wasn't like Rui considered she deserved such a woman entirely out of her league. Still… She wished she could at least have a chance with her, although she called herself lucky for being the close friend of someone like Tamao-sama.

Of course, their relationship was beyond everything Rui could have asked in her life. But seeing the woman of her life in the arms of another, one she didn't even like, made Rui's heart ache.

When the man finally disappeared to get them a drink, Tamao-sama didn't waste any second and grabbed Rui's by the arm and lead her in the fresh winter temperature of their garden, to their solace.

The other girl shivered at the chill wind against the thin layers of her clothes, and Rui didn't hesitate to remove her vest and delicately wrapped it around Tamao-sama's shoulder. Their gaze lingered on each other as they both smiled knowingly, before, without a word, Tamao wrapped her arm around Rui's shoulder, and Rui snaked hers around Tamao's waist.

They waltzed, with the muffled whistle of the wind and the soft crack of the tree branches as only music, lost in their own little world.

For the span of a dance, Rui wanted to forget about their rank, about her forbidden feelings. Instead, she simply wanted to relish how beautiful Tamao-sama looked at this moment, with the moonlight reflecting in her softening amethyst eyes, with her hair swaying in the wind, along with them.

When Rui made Tamao-sama spin and caught her into her arm, the woman laughed, a shimmering sound that resonated right through her heart and made her forget about the cold. She felt warm and very much in love.

Their movements became lazier, their waltz turning into a slow dance in which they both moved closer, their bodies now touching. Tamao-sama moved a hand to caress Rui's neck before she rested her head comfortably in the crook of it.

"… I-I have a present for you…" Rui whispered after a few minutes, unsure about the timing. She was afraid to break this magical moment when she simply wished their embrace would never stop.

Tamao-sama tilted her head to face Rui, gazing into her eyes with an inquisitive expression. They were close… Close enough to…

Swallowing her running mind, Rui got a small box (the only one she could find to store the necklace) out of her pocket and shyly handed it to the other woman… Whom eyes widened at the sight as her cheeks turned a light shade of pink.

"… Are you going to propose? I am afraid it might be a bit too late…" Tamao-sama trailed off sheepishly yet amusedly.

That was only when Rui noticed just how the whole mood could have been interpreted… And felt her face immediately heating up at the implication. "Wh- N-No! I wouldn't possibly…!" Rui blurted out, unsure about where this would be going. She opened the box, revealing the pendant. "Happy birthday, Tamao-sama… I know this isn't much compared to what you gave me during my birthday, but… I really wanted to offer you something that made me think about you… Please accept this little gift from me…"

The silence that followed was almost unbearable. The woman inspected the necklace, trailing a finger over the lines of the pendant before she wordlessly hung the jewel around her neck, a gentle smile tugging the corner of her lips upward.

"I love it. Thank you, Rui-chan. This gift means a lot to me." Without any further notice, Tamao-sama wrapped her arms around Rui's neck and gave her a peck on the cheek. Then a second. And a third. One that lingered and made Rui's whole universe spin and her knees growing weaker and weaker.

"We've known each other for years… Could you please humor me and call me Tamao from now on?"

Rui swallowed, feeling self-conscious at the sudden intimacy and display of affection. She had no idea what to think about this and to imagine calling her boss without any honorific…

She closed her eyes, resting her chin on Tamao-sama's shoulder as she tried to steady her rocketing heart. "T-Tamao…Sama."

A giggle. "It's okay. We have all the time in the world for this…"

Of course, Rui wished she could believe Tamao. She hoped she would always be able to stay by the woman's side. But she knew it was only a childish dream, one that would crumble into pieces as soon as their duty would take precedence over their life.

This was the reason why they didn't exchange anymore word that night. They simply tightened their hold, locking themselves into an endless embrace, sitting onto a nearby bench so they could enjoy whatever it was between them for a fleeting moment.

 

Because those carefree and happy times wouldn't last.

Those moments Rui was welcomed and considered as part of the clan were indeed fleeting. A simple turn of events was enough to change everything, for someone reliable to be regarded as a threat suddenly.

Rui sighed, adding the last touch of her flower arrangement, hidden in the peacefulness of their garden's solace.

A week after Tamao's birthday, the situation had forced Rui to reconsider her place inside the family… And the idea of a confession to Tamao.

The previous day, Rui had been called by Tamao's mother. Despite her impressive aura, the woman used to be benevolent whenever it came to her family. Thus, when Tomoe-sama gave her a drink with a kind smile, Rui lowered her guard and gladly accepted the beverage.

She tended to forget that this gentle and seemingly harmless family mother was also specialized in every kind of poison…

When Rui started to cough and felt like suffocating, dropping onto her knee, the woman forced her to drink something else that slowly calmed her down.

Tomoe-sama explained that Tamao had canceled her vows with her future husband, apologizing profusely, without giving any reasons. Unlike her daughter, the woman was really… observant. Over the years, she noticed the way Rui was looking at her daughter. How close they were and how they sneaked out during Tamao's birthday.

She threatened Rui, still with the same intimidating gentleness, despite the situation. Even though she demonstrated that she would kill Rui without any hesitation if the girl weren't obedient.

Rui's attempts to clear the misunderstanding were vain. Although the woman knew that there was nothing between them, she couldn't take the risk to put her family in danger for whatever could bloom.

That's how she tasked Rui with asking Tamao to renew her vow, to beg the Akuma's family for another chance… And to precise that Tamao was nothing more than her boss.

Rui couldn't sleep that night, overwhelmed by the implication of what happened. Although she didn't consider she had any chance with Tamao, her conversation with Tamao's mother lit an ember of hope inside her heart. Did Tomoe-sama simply misunderstand the situation, or was there something Rui had missed?

Whatever the reason for this warning was, Rui knew. She knew that as soon as she was considered as a potential danger for the family, they wouldn't hesitate to make her disappear. She had nothing to lose, and the idea of confessing before anything could happen didn't seem like a bad one.

She just wished her feelings could reach Tamao. That way, she would have no regrets.

That's how she decided to confess through a flower arrangement, something Tamao loved and taught her. Needless for words, when the language could tell everything that her lack of bravery couldn't.

Yet here she was, staring at the flowers they planted together for half an hour, unable to move and decide to meet Tamao in her room. What if her life ended with Tamao hating her…? In that case, wouldn't it be better? At least, her boss wouldn't be too sad about Rui suddenly leaving…

The mood was insufferable. This usually beautiful and animated garden looked pale, almost disturbing with the lack of animation and sound beside the wind's quiet whistle against the massive wall of the mansion. 

Usually, there was a lot of back and forth from the members of the clan. But that day, most of them were out for a 'business trip'. A big opportunity that could bring a lot of money to the clan, according to Tamao. Only the Tomoe family, their bodyguards, and servants were present inside the mansion.

 But Rui was alone in the garden, not by Tamao's side… Not fulfilling her duty as a bodyguard always staying close to her boss… When she heard a muffled scream, like the cry of a slaughtered animal.

… Except that they didn't have any animals inside the mansion.

Rui's whole face went blank, the silence that followed heavier than before. She could have imagined it… Maybe this was just another trick of the wind. But Rui had a sudden bad feeling about this. Something was definitely wrong.

… Tamao…

Tamao was alone.

Her heart almost stopped. She dropped the flowers and carefully unsheathed her sword instead, starting to move as quickly and silently as possible toward the mansion. Something she had learned over years of training to become a protector and assassin…

Rui had to bite back a horrified sound when she saw the first corpse of a servant, lying in a puddle of blood.

Tamao…!

Adrenaline rose through her body as she rushed even faster, her mind overwhelmed with fear and the hope this wasn't too late. She ran through the building, still watching at her steps and avoiding the few corpses on her way.

She could only rely on her courage. She was running as fast as she could. And when she met a man she had never seen, wearing the clothing of another clan, she benefited from the surprise effect to cut his throat. Rui didn't hesitate. She didn't have time to. Not when every second counted to protect her beloved friend.

A scream. Coming right from Tamao's room.

She raced again, ignoring the blood on the floor. Unable to notice Tamao's father lying next to his bodyguard. Rui was close, and the door of Tamao's room was opened. And awfully quiet.

When she finally got a full sight of what was happening, she couldn't even see that Tamao's mother had joined her husband in the afterlife. All she could witness was an assassin, a pig mauling Tamao, and tearing her dress off.

The rage welled up inside Rui's brain. This man didn't even have time to open his pants. He couldn't. Because the next second, Rui had impaled his manhood before she removed her sword to slaughter him.

Rui was panting, unable to talk because of how mad she felt. At least… Tamao was alive…

She wanted to open her mouth to ask the other woman if she was okay… But Tamao shouted Rui's name, and Rui only had time to barely parry the blade that was about to slice through her. Not enough to avoid the hit entirely.

She could feel the hot blood flowing onto her stomach, yet the adrenaline allowed her to ignore the vivid pain. Rui had to protect Tamao.

A fight against an experienced assassin was brutal. The fact Rui was already injured wasn't helping. Although she could avoid her opponent's sword, she couldn't evade all the punches she received to her face, making her breath hitch at each impact.

Her only chance was the fact her opponent clearly underestimated her. He didn't expect a woman to give him such a challenge and couldn't imagine how Rui would sacrifice everything for Tamao. Everything she had, everything she was… And her life, if she had to.

When he thought that Rui was weakened enough, he became cocky, lowering his guard when he was about to give her the last hit.

That was the moment Rui chose to act first and stabbed him.

Rui let herself fall on her knee, watching as the guy fell lifelessly on the floor. She couldn't exactly tell what happened next. Her vision became a blur, and she had only enough presence of mind to let herself dragged into the hideout behind Tamao's bookshelf.

She only remembered removing her bloody jacket and handing it to her naked friend before she lost consciousness.

 

Apparently, this wasn't her time to die. When Rui regained consciousness hours later, her ugly wound was stitched up. Tamao found the first aid kit and spent all her time bandaging Rui's wounds. She didn't smile when she saw Rui opening her eyes. Tamao simply sighed in relief, tears welling up in her sad amethyst eyes.

Although she found some spare clothes in the hideout, Tamao was still wearing Rui's jacket, holding onto it as a shipwrecked would onto a makeshift raft.

Despite the healings, the ache finally sank in, and Rui couldn't help but wince in discomfort. Tamao helped her to lie more comfortably against a futon, giving her a few painkillers to attenuate her pain.

And they waited. Unable to say anything, merely staring at each other in a standstill. Unable to get some rest after the hardships they went through together. Until one of the loyal came in to tell them that this was over, surprised to see that the two girls survived such a butchery and defeated their three opponents.

But this wasn't over. This was a declaration of war. That kind of war full of low-blows and sneaky attacks that the population and police wouldn't even see.

This was only the beginning. And both knew that the family wouldn't be safe anymore.

Chapter Text

These scars might look like faded marks on Rui's skin, but the mental wounds they caused were still fresh on her mind. For years, they had been restless, unsure about the future. How could one remain the same after all the hardships they went through?

The shy and gentle teenager Rui became a confident, merciless, and strong right-hand woman. And the angel that was Tamao was now the leader of the most prominent mafia family, manipulative and an excellent liar with her enemies. Only they knew what was hidden beneath their cold shell.  

Rui sighed, rinsing the soap on her body that revealed once again those scars that would never disappear… And a few love marks from the previous night that stained her skin.

She shuddered when she ghosted her fingers over those reddish bruises, electricity running through her down to her core and fueling her love and passion. Although the trauma was still vivid, imprinted on her skin, the passion Rui felt for her lover was genuine, powerful, and only grew stronger over time.

Those bites and scratches weren't different from the first time they marked her skin… If anything, they only carried even more affection, fervor, and dedication.

~

From the assassination day on, Tamao and Rui only had each other.

While the rumor about the downfall of the Tomoe family's head circulated around the country and the clan prepared its next meeting, gathering all the powerful members, the two girls barely moved from their hideout.

After the traumatic event, Tamao remained quiet for two days, barely eating and sleeping. She didn't cry, didn't say a word about what happened. But she wouldn't let anyone but Rui come close to her, resembling a cornered animal.

Rui wasn't in a much better state herself, but she had to stand firmly for the two of them. During the daytime, she kept watching out, ready to fight if any sort of danger appeared. She also kept on training to grow stronger. At this moment, more than ever, she had to support Tamao at the risk of her life. She only made sure to keep her eating and drinking but didn't try to make her speak. And during nighttime, Rui would simply sit at the edge of Tamao's bed, staying by her side in a weird silence. One that was both heavy yet comfortable…

Until one night, where Tamao asked Rui to lay by her side. Rui had no idea what to expect out of this, but she obliged for Tamao's sake and to fill her duty. The first time they did, they stared at one another like statues for an hour before Tamao finally spoke up. From that night on, they shared their insecurities, their doubts, finding comfort in each other presence and slowly getting a few hours of sleep in their now shared bed.

The next day, they decided to fight.

They knew this wasn't over, that the person behind this assassination would track them down, that the chances for the family to accept a woman as their head were low. But Tamao wanted to take over the clan. To follow her duty and remain faithful to years of work accomplished through generations and generations of the Tomoe family.

And, more importantly, they both needed revenge against those who murdered a part of them.

Even though their vulnerability remained, they found a renewed strength and reason to fight through their unconditional trust. Their conversations switched between reassurance and putting together a plan for the clan meeting.

It wouldn't be easy to earn respect from their peers and for Tamao to be accepted as the clan leader. But they had nothing to lose. Not anymore.

Tamao wanted to fight. Gone was the innocent girl. She was the heir of the most significant mafia family and had to act accordingly to her position. Someone who wished to know the truth and avenge her parents. At all costs. And despite her gentleness, Tamao received a rigorous education that gave her more than one hidden trick.

They both prepared themselves for the big Assembly.

 

 

The meeting day came, reuniting all the remote family and the faithful to the clan around a table. All these men entrapped in years of tradition, staring down these young women who survived, standing at the end of the table. Some looked curious; some seemed respectful; others were contemptuous about the presumptuous of those who already dared to sit on her father's chair without the approbation of the clan.

Tamao stayed calm, holding all these men's gazes with the same attitude as her father. Without fear, emotionlessly. Once again, she wasn't alone: Rui was by her side, has always been. Her hand was on the pommel of her sword, ready to strike anyone that would dare raising a hand over her boss.

If Tamao wanted to have a chance, she had to convince all these men. From the Waka-gashira, her uncle, to all the kobun.

"Greetings, Gentlemen," Tamao spoke up with ease, not intimidated in the slightest as she smiled to her audience."As you may know, our family has been struck by a tragedy that took the life of our dear Oyabun, my father, his wife, my mother, and a few of our shatei, who perished with honor trying to save the clan leader."

Only Rui could see how her boss quivered at the mention of her parents and was impressed by how stoic Tamao stayed.

"My father has only been blessed by a daughter as his only child, and I know the tradition imposes that the inheritance of the Oyabun title goes from the late Oyabun to his son or his son-in-law. However, I know every single detail of our business through Japan and in America, and I believe that rewriting the code of our family could be profitable in our future expense overseas, and could take our enemies by surprise."

"Ojou-Sama," Tamao's uncle spoke up, facing her from the other end of the table in a respectful way, "I first wanted to express our sincere condolences for your loss. This heinous act won't stay unpunished, and I take personally the responsibility to find the one who shall pay with its life for this murder. I entrusted my life to the Oyabun, and I would do the same for you, who I consider as a daughter. However, I am afraid that a woman leading our corporation would only weaken our image and give our opponent the perfect opportunity to win back some of our market shares."

"My uncle, I know that each part of our business is lead by competent men who don't let anyone impinge on their territory without paying the highest price. I am certain they will continue to manage their activities as duty responsible men."

"I am sure they will, Ojou-sama. But the Kobun followed a respectful man. I am not certain-"

"They also followed my mother's commands without conditions, dear." Tamao interrupted, eliciting various reactions from the Assembly, from respect to anger. "We live in a world that changes, where women became a selling argument in many overseas countries, where people would start a business with me without hesitation because I would inspire them the confidence to invest in my project. As for our enemies, they already underestimated me and aren't able to speak out anymore."

"I can expand our affairs overseas and give you more power than you already have." Tamao continued, still holding the gaze of each man. "I can give us a renewed reputation that would clean our image and allow us to avoid the government's radar despite our activities. And…" She gritted her teeth, clenching her fist until her knuckles turned white, "I am personally going to get rid of those who dared to assault our clan. With your help and permission, and if you follow me, I claim revenge over our enemies and promise to devote my life for the sake of the clan."

The silence reigned on the Assembly, only broken by a few whispers. Until the moment a very conservative Kobun stood up. Rui slowly moved, getting a better angle to keep an eye on him and his bodyguard. From this angle, she noticed that two of his fingers were missing. "You talk big for a little girl." The man spoke up with all the disdain he could muster. "I pledged allegiance to a nobleman, not to a damn woman who couldn't even honor her family with a husband. You should follow the tradition instead of trying to play in the big leagues."

Rui clenched her fist around the pommel of her Odachi. She exchanged a glance with Tamao, getting her nod of approval.

"With all due respect, Sir," Tamao gave him a crooked smile, not hiding the disgust she felt for the man, "I don't see why I should give any credit to the opinion of a Kobun who practiced Yobitsume twice. It only shows how far your 'allegiance' to my father went."

"You little-!"

He never finished his sentence. In a swift motion and without hesitation, Rui cut his bodyguard's throat before she pierced the man's stomach with her blade. She calmly removed it, nonchalantly cleaning the blood that stained her sword on the man's suit while he fell onto the table. Lifeless.

Unlike her first murders, Rui was surprised to note how little emotions she felt over taking someone's life. This was her duty, after all. Nothing less, nothing more. Tamao-sama's life and security were far more important than those insignificant details.

Tamao herself simply stared at the dead body, remaining indifferent to the scenery and the incredulous gazes from the Kobun.

"So?" Tamao asked with a gentle smile that, in the context, appeared as terrifying. "Does anyone have further complaint about me taking over the Oyabun title? As you can see…" she placed a gentle hand over Rui's arm when the girl returned by her side, "I want to surround myself with people who have faith in our clan. And I will put all the necessary means to expand our business and make it thrive. If you follow me, I promise that you will be given five extra percent of our turnover increase. And we will work together to make sure that nobody would stand in our way."

 

 

The first step of Tamao's plan went smoother than the two girls expected. Two weeks after the Assembly, people over Japan were surprised to hear that the daughter of the previous Oyabun now led one of the most powerful Families. Although some of them were amused by the news, mocking the fact a woman would rule such a corporation that also did business over the sex industry, others considered it an excellent thing to regain trust and interest in various services offered by the Yakuza.

As a mark of their devotion to the clan, Tamao and Rui did their first Horimono, a few days after the meeting. Tamao got an Empress tree, the symbol of her family, tattooed on her nape, while Rui chose the same pattern on her arm: far more visible than Tamao's.

The young Oyabun also chose to represent a few faded lily petals on her lower back, hidden meaning that she wasn't an innocent young maiden anymore.

Rui was impressed by her boss's knowledge of her family business. She knew that Tomoe-sama gave her a strict and extensive education about the traditions and the corporation. Still, she didn't expect Tamao to juggle between specific conversations with such ease. In this industry, Tamao had to appear as strong, confident as the clan expected her to be, even though Rui knew. She shared those scars that stained their minds and left them sleepless. They still found comfort in each other's presence during their friendly pillow talk where they would mention their doubts, nightmares, and plans.

Although Rui's feelings for Tamao never changed, their old flirty exchange ceased to give place to deep emotions. After everything they went through, Tamao more than ever needed a friend, a family that would support her through her fights.

And Rui locked her love deep in the back of her heart to be that faithful person who would simply stay by Tamao's side without expecting anything in return. As a mutual agreement, this situation came out naturally that whatever happened before required both time and an emotional state that they didn't have yet.

For the time being, they had to find which clan assaulted their family that day. Unfortunately, the assassins' clothing belonged to a family that disappeared decades ago and there weren't any consistent evidence about their enemies. During weeks, they only did their job, with Tamao finding her standing as the Tomoe family leader and Rui protecting her, quickly growing stronger as she pursued her daily training.

They hoped that the Gods wouldn't abandon them and would give them some clues, anything that could allow them to identify their opponents…

 

 

Fortunately, their prayers got answered the day a familiar fool, overcome with remorse, came alone to the mansion and requested a private meeting with the Tomoe's Oyabun.

When Tamao saw her old betrothed kneeling in front of her, his eyes full of tears, she exchanged a questioning glance with Rui, unsure about the reasons behind this gesture that begged forgiveness. Until the Akuma's son confessed everything: from the way the he vented about his miserable state to his family when Tamao ditched him to how his family mentioned that 'they would take care of everything to expunge this affront'.

He apologized profusely, swearing that he had no clue of the weight under these words until he heard about the assassination a few days later. Tamao and Rui stayed silent, looking at each other to wordlessly decide the fate of this fool who dared to show up without a bodyguard and believed he could fix things between their families.

Until he revealed that his clan would never stop chasing Tamao unless she finally accepted the previously agreed-to alliance before her 18th birthday. Rui had to resist the urge to slay this man, only stopped by a tiny sign from her boss.

Tamao reacted… Uncharacteristically well judging by the situation and the revelations. She could have asked Rui to take his life right then and there. Instead, she gave him her most gentle and reassuring smile before she offered the man a drink, acting really sweet while he drank it all in one gulp.

That day, Rui learned that her boss didn't only study business and finance with her father. Among the many skills she got from her mother, Tamao mastered the art of poison. She could only watch when the man suffocated and fell on the floor, staring at them with a horrified expression as his body convulsed while the poison ran through his vein. Until he froze, petrified the moment life left him.

"Let's make it looks like he had an accident and never came here." Tamao simply said, immediately calling one of her Kobun specialized in 'cleaning' to take care of the corpse the same way he did after the last clan Assembly.

Everything looked like nothing happened within an hour, and the fool would be found like if he was stone drunk and had a car crash.

The following morning, Tamao reunited a special Assembly that gathered the most loyal Kobun to her father, those who swore to avenge him to all cost. She shared her information about their enemies' identity, carefully avoiding any hint about her plans. Although she had faith in these men, the first thing Tamao's father taught her was to never completely trust anyone in the Mafia, even among her clan.

–  "You're the only one I would entrust with my life," Tamao once told Rui, curled up in her arms during one of their nighttime conversations, "I already did, and tonight we are both still here to talk about it." –

Knowing the Akuma, the second biggest clan in Japan, this revenge proved to be a risky business where one family would disappear. Tamao and her Kobun agreed that this hunt would require a long observation and rigorous preparation. Taking the life of the oldest son of the clan didn't sound too hard: the man had many vices, and they could probably use their establishments in Kabukichô to lure him wherever they wanted.

The most dangerous threats would be the enemies’ Kobun and, of course, the Akuma's Oyabun and his wife. They would have to strike quickly and ideally move places between each strike to avoid any unnecessary exposure to their counterattack. The Tomoe clan would reinforce their security, while Tamao would always stay by Rui's side and wouldn't inform anyone about their position.

They imagined a secure way to inform each other through parallel communication systems once their first target would be out of the way and dismissed the Assembly.

 

Thenceforth, Tamao and Rui started living between the Tomoe mansion and the many Kabukichô places owned by the clan. Some days, they wandered through the streets, disguised, mingling with the crowd in the Capital's red-light district, moving from kyabakura to soapland establishment and resting in love hotels for discretion. Tamao sought information and allies among these ladies of the evening. She knew that her target was a regular to these places, and knowing his fearsome reputation, Tamao was convinced that more than one of these workers also wished for his disappearance.

Rui was amazed by how easily her boss adjusted to this environment… Unlike her. It seemed to amuse Tamao how flustered Rui could be whenever they visited those unfamiliar places, while she effortlessly got along with these girls.

Although Rui only slept a few hours in the Tomoe's mansion, the security of which was reinforced, she was restless in the Capital, between these fancy places and their stays in various love hotel… Sharing a room with the girl of her dreams, and trying her best to focus on their plans despite the… Setting.

A few months after the tragedy, even if they shared the same torment, their common goal and these little trips seemed to lighten their mood a bit. This was the first in a long time that Tamao would tease Rui about her awkward yet endearing behavior and laugh heartfully when Rui pouted in return, patting her head with a genuine smile. One that Rui had missed for so long…

Whenever they came back to the mansion, Rui followed her training with the same discipline. She accepted to teach the art of the sword to her boss: if they were ambushed by their opponents and had to fight together, two blades would be better than one. And Tamao proved herself as a competent woman.

"Got you!" Tamao claimed triumphantly as Rui let her disarm her.

"Aww… What am I going to do now…" Rui mock-whined, watching for the moment Tamao would raise her prop sword for the final hit.

In a swift motion, she caught Tamao's arm and stumbled over her, both falling in a soft thud against the training carpet. Rui snatched the wooden blade and placed it against Tamao's neck, staring straight into her widening eyes.

"You're getting better," Rui whispered with a smirk. "But never hesitate in front of a weaponless enemy. They would take the first opportunity to kill you."

The silence that followed felt heavy, charged with an odd yet familiar mood.

"Would you kill me?" Tamao breathed in a way that sent butterflies in Rui's stomach.

There was something about this situation, a closure they both missed. Rui was speechless, lost in those half-lidded amethysts, shining like the most precious gems and reflecting so many emotions she couldn't decipher. Or maybe Rui was only projecting the whirlwind of feelings that were probably dancing in her own eyes.

"No, I will protect you." Rui finally answered with a cracking voice before she finally removed herself and stood up, offering a gentle hand to help Tamao.

Tamao laughed, and for some reason, Rui swore she heard a ting of bittersweetness in it.

 

This happiness was only short-lived. Rui couldn't exactly understand if she did anything wrong, but the following week was tainted with a barely bearable distance. Even though nothing changed between them, she noticed the forlorn expression on Tamao's face and how her boss would simply lay by her side without holding her. She knew the other girl enough to see right through her despite Tamao's diplomatic smile.

Rui had no idea how to handle this. What did Tamao need the most? While Rui knew that her boss needed a close friend's support, she was also conscious of that little something… This unique atmosphere between them that appeared years ago that Rui couldn't exactly name. Of course, she wished her feelings could be returned. But she didn't want to mess up what they had over a misunderstanding.

However, such an unpleasant situation that affected both of them wasn't acceptable. Rui needed to find the perfect opportunity to talk to her boss, to clear up the tension.

She got her chance after another week in Kabukichô.

Tamao had located a call-girl who counted their target among her clients. The older son of their enemies was well known as someone cruel who enjoyed manhandling his playthings, and this woman was no exception. She was trapped, unable to even refuse or leave because he would always find her. And Tamao saw the perfect ally in this soul.

She had a hard time convincing her to poison him: even the promise of a new life didn't give the call-girl enough guarantee of safety. But Tamao could be very… Persuasive. After days of diplomatic talks and gentle reassurance, the Oyabun didn't leave her much choice: a chance at a fresh start with an excellent reward or a terrible fate.

Once the plan was settled and the worker's destiny sealed, Tamao and Rui returned to the mansion. They didn't want to give too much suspicion over their implication and chose to avoid the Capital until everything was put in action.

In the safety of their hideout, Rui decided to let the proverbial cat out of the bag. When Tamao laid by her side, Rui turned around and wrapped an arm around her friend's waist, feeling her tensing at the sudden contact. Usually, she wasn't one to initiate these moments: Rui wouldn't dare to overstep her boundaries.

"Tamao-sam- … T-Tamao… Did… Did I do something wrong?"

Rui's voice was cracking a bit. She felt vulnerable, fearing the answer she wasn't sure she wanted to hear. Her discomfort wasn't helped by the way Tamao looked up to stare at her with an unreadable expression.

"Why do you ask?"

Rui gulped. "I don't know... I know you enough to feel when something is a bit off and awkward, even if you won't let it show to other people."

A silence. Tamao only bored into Rui's eyes, searching for an answer she wasn't sure to find. Until she scoffed. "You know me so well." She shook her head, raising a gentle hand to pat Rui's head affectionately. "You did nothing wrong, Rui. It's just… A misunderstanding, really. It was my fault for misinterpreting a few situations."

… What was Tamao talking about?

A part of Rui was afraid to ask… Although she hoped that they could be on the same page, Rui had no idea how to bring up her feelings. Was it the right moment for it? Would Tamao reciprocate them? Could someone like the Oyabun fall for a simple bodyguard?

Maybe the cryptic method would be the best approach…

"I was worried, you know?" Rui breathed, tightening her hold around Tamao's back and pulling her slightly closer. "My affection for you goes far beyond my duty… I wouldn't forgive myself if I ever messed our relationship up."

Tamao's eyes widened, the soft glow of the moon dancing in her beautiful lavender eyes through the window and illuminating her face. "You… Mean it…?"

"O-Of course! I already told you, didn't I? How much you mean to me…" She raised a shaky hand, wanting to stroke the other woman's cheek but stopping in her track. Once again, Rui didn't know if it would be too daring of her… "…Did you doubt it?"

Tamao remained silent, her gaze darting between Rui's face and her hand in the air until she chuckled. A soft, amused chuckle that immediately sent butterflies in Rui's stomach. It has been so long since the last time she heard Tamao's mirth, even a short-lived one…

"No, I didn't." Tamao grabbed Rui's hand and brought it to her face, nuzzling her cheek into it before she curled up further in Rui's arm, resting her head in the crook of her neck. "But there are moments like this where I appreciate when you remind me about it."

"Moment like what…?"

"Mhmm… Nothing ~. Don't worry about it." Tamao practically purred while Rui started to brush her hair and rested her chin atop Tamao's head.

 

They allowed themselves to stay like this until dawn, be carefree, and enjoy this closure for a few hours. Rui surprised herself to hope that someday, they would figure out what they really wanted from their relationship - if they preferred staying friends or would ever cross those boundaries that seemed thinner every time.

But between their duties, their objectives, and the permanent danger hanging over their head, it never seemed to be the right moment to bring up this conversation… And due to her position, Rui was hesitant to make the first move.

That was probably why Tamao decided to take the matter in her own hand. The first time she did happened once they moved overseas for a month. When they received the new about the 'mysterious murder' of the son of their enemies, the Oyabun remained true to her promise and helped the call-girl to disappear.

Tamao and Rui then left Japan for a 'business trip'. This was one of the Oyabun's wishes to expand her business in Europe, and the prospection opportunity came at the perfect moment. After what happened, even though they weren't at the crime scenes, the two women wanted to be forgotten and disappear until they could place their next pieces on this giant chessboard.

They traveled through various countries, sleeping in different hotels daily. The first week, nothing happened besides their business prospection among giant companies. As soon as they felt secure, they even tried to take this first time outside Japan to take a little break, visiting a few places and allowing themselves to rest a bit.

One night, while Rui took a long, relaxing shower, she heard quieted footsteps walking in the bathroom and the sound of a door being locked. Rui immediately froze. Over time, the bodyguard grew so familiar with her boss's presence that she could recognize her sound and scent out of a million. She slowly turned around, self-consciously hiding her intimacy as she faced Tamao and her unreadable expression.

"… Can… I join you?" Tamao asked carefully as if she was conscious of the effect her presence had on the other woman. "The room feels cold… And I could wash your back if you want?"

Rui didn't know how to answer. She had no idea what to expect, excitement welling up inside her at the prospect of such proximity with the one she loved. She settled for a shy nod before she turned back toward the wall, trying to calm her racing heart when she heard the crumple of clothes being removed and tossed away.

Cleaning each other's back was all they did. As soon as Tamao stepped behind Rui, she simply grabbed the soap and started washing her back as if it was the most natural thing. Rui closed her eyes, sighing happily and letting her wandering mind relax to her friend's massage.

Right. Her friend.

She shouldn't be so distressed, after all. Showering together, as two girls, wasn't something unusual.  But Tamao wasn't any girl. She was the one Rui loved for so many years. One that would probably never become anything more than this.  

Rui was okay with that, of course. She simply wanted to stay by Tamao's side until death separated them and wanted to risk her life daily so the Oyabun could finally get her revenge.

She only wanted to love her from afar. Yet, at the same time, she carried the secret hope that she didn't misinterpret those mixed signals, the exchange between them that gave her the hope that maybe someday…

"Rui-chan? Can you wash my back, too, please?"

Rui jolted out from her reverie, finally realizing that Tamao was done and simply waited for her to return the favor. She took a shaky breath.

Guilt invaded her mind the moment she laid her eyes over Tamao's naked back. This wasn't the first time she saw Tamao's exposed body. Even though this whole context was… Different, Tamao was her boss and friend: watching her during an unambiguous shower didn't feel right.

But God, Tamao was simply gorgeous.

Rui grabbed the soap, gently trailing her hand from the tattoo in her nape to the white lily petals in her lower back. She could hear the other woman sighing happily, relaxing at the contact. Slowly, Rui also grew accustomed to the moment and censored her brain to enjoy those precious carefree minutes.

It became a new ritual for them, another time of comfort they both awaited after a long day of work and negotiation. Until that evening…

When Tamao joined Rui in the shower, not bothering to ask for permission anymore, Rui wasn't suspicious about her friend's intention. She simply grinned in anticipation, looking forward to another of their comfortable massage punctuated with small talks. But this time, a supple body pressed flush against her back while curious hands trailed along her collarbone and arms down to her stomach, where dainty fingers traced the lines of Rui's abs… And of her scars.

Rui almost jumped when soft lips peppered kisses against her nape and collarbone, her body heating up at the unexpected intimacy.

"T-Tamao-sa…" Rui's voice trembled. She felt vulnerable, hopeful, with her heart ready to leap out of her chest if Tamao came any closer (if it was even possible).

She faced the other woman, taking a few steps backward and reaching for the wall for support. Because how was she supposed to stand straight when Tamao was holding her and looking at her with such a blazing and powerful gaze? Rui tried to keep herself together, not knowing what to do nor say in such an unclear situation.  What did Tamao want? Why this sudden move? Was Rui's heart even allowed to race with expectation?

The tension between them reached its peak. None of them dared to move: they stood in an endless staring contest, with Rui gripping onto Tamao's waist for support and Tamao lightly digging her nail in Rui's stomach.

"Rui… I am ready."

A few words, blasting with the effect of a bomb that took away the last barriers between them. One sentence and an exchanged stare were enough for Rui to understand that even though she didn't know what Tamao was precisely ready for, she knew they were on the same page.

And Rui leaned in the moment Tamao yanked her in to capture her mouth with her own, finally indulging themselves after years of restraint. Electricity jolted through Rui's body, making her heart burst with love, with the desire she kept locked for so, so long. Their lips' first meshing was messy, frenzy, and uncontrolled, but it was everything they ever wanted. Like if the planets finally aligned in the right way after months of empty space.

They couldn't tear their hand off each other, exploring every inch of skin with caresses that were both soft and hurried at the same time. They wanted – no, needed to catch up for the lost time and discover everything.

Tamao bit onto Rui's lower lip, sucking sightly before she ran her inexperienced tongue over it, asking for permission. In answer, an overwhelmed Rui lifted Tamao and gently pushed her against a nearby wall, deepening the kiss. They both whimpered when their tongues met for the first time, initiating a dance that would become their favorite.

Without thinking, Rui adjusted their position, pressing her leg between Tamao's. In return, the other woman gripped onto Rui's hair, trying to bring her as close as possible, pawing and scratching onto her scalp.

It pulled Rui out of her trance, making her realize the position they were in… And the heat that radiated from Tamao's core against her skin.

"S-Sorry!" Rui yelped, almost dropping the other girl. Her whole face warmed up out of embarrassment. "I-I got a little carried-"

"Bedroom."

"Huh…?"

"Don't apologize." Tamao panted, her eyes half-lidded. She then reached out to stroke Rui's cheek affectionately. "Just… T-Take me to our room… Please…"

They exchanged another knowing glance, brushing their nose together. Their next kiss was slow, more controlled, expressing their mutual yearning for more. They didn't halt their lip-lock when they turned the bathtub off, quickly wiped themselves with a towel, and moved to the bedroom. They hit a door, a closet, knocking off small items on their way until they sank together onto the mattress.

Only then they paused to observe each other, the dim light of the moon illuminating their still slightly wet and trembling body. Their hands lingered onto the other's skin, relishing every reaction, every goosebump that erupted under their touches. Rui brought one of Tamao's hand to her lips and kissed her knuckles, her palm… Tamao returned the affection before she led their linked hand lower. She blushed when Rui's fingers grazed her most private area and looked up at her expectantly, making her desire crystal clear.

 

The experience that followed was one of the most heartfelt, passionate, and tender Rui ever had in her entire life. Some would say that the first time wasn't that exceptional, but despite the early awkwardness and mutual exploration, Rui still felt the butterflies and an incredible feeling of longing. She woke up in a daze, with the feeling she had awakened from a perfect dream. Only the peaceful sound of Tamao's breath and the warmth of their embrace gave her the confirmation that this was real.

The past night, they made love like if it could be their first and last time. That morning, Rui couldn't remove her hands and her lips off the girl she loved. She was scared, afraid that as soon as Tamao would wake up, she would regret everything that happened between them.

But when Tamao opened her eyes and gave Rui the most beautiful, loving smile she had ever seen, it made the bodyguard almost cry out of genuine emotion. She could only grin back, pressing their forehead together and then capture Tamao's lips for another long kiss.

"I love you," Rui whispered in between kisses, her voice breaking out of sheer emotion. She just realized that she forgot to confess in the heat of the moment, to tell Tamao everything she carried in her heart for years. "I've loved you for so long… I know I shouldn't be allowed to but… I… I just want to be by your side…"

"Then, this will be my first order as your Oyabun, Rui." Tamao whispered back, tears welling up in the corner of her eyes, "Please… Please love me and stay by my side until our last breath… Because I am feeling the same way for as long as you have."

It was the first time since the tragedy that Tamao teared up. When the girl assumed her role, her duty as the family leader, she locked her emotions deep into her heart. Even though she would let some out around Rui, Tamao remained worthy of her name around her Kobun.

The sight of the woman she loved, breaking down because their feelings were mutual, was enough to make Rui weep. For the first time in months, they allowed themselves to be happy. They pressed their foreheads together, smiling fondly, and they held each other as close as humanly possible, never wanting to let go.

"I am sorry I didn't do things in the rights order, but… I just realized that I didn't ask you out before we… Huh…" Rui whispered sheepishly, her cheeks heating up out of embarrassment. "D-Do you think you would like to…?"

"Yes." Tamao kissed Rui's forehead. "I would love that." Then, her nose. "I told you, didn't I?" Followed by a lingering peck onto her cheek. "I feel more than ready to start a relationship with you."

They exchanged a knowing glance before they burst into giggles. That day was a new start, where troubles would only begin and where both would have to fight for having a chance to reach happiness—a path full of challenges and another reason to meet them.

It wasn't merely a battle for their life and revenge, but one for a second chance at life.

Once again, Tamao and Rui closed the distance in another long, tender kiss. From now on, they would also fight, so each of their embraces wouldn't be the last one.

Chapter Text

Rui turned the bathtub off, staring absentmindedly at the wall. She ghosted her fingers one more time over her love marks, filling her heart with a plethora of mixed emotions.

Although she knew they were finally safe, her brain hadn’t registered that information yet. It was as if she would suddenly hear some faint noise outside the room and have to grab her sword as fast as she could.

But nothing. Only the same insufferable silence that felt more threatening than peaceful. It used to be a sign of calm before the storm, and after two years of war, Rui forgot how to enjoy these supposedly peaceful moments fully. Even more after those particularly eventful past months…

Were they really getting a chance in life? Although the beginning of their relationship marked the rebirth of their chance at happiness, the women were uncertain about their future. They settled to enjoying every fleeting moment they spent together as if it would be the last because they knew how ephemeral human existence could be.

And now… Was it really over? Were they allowed to live like a happy family despite everything that happened and everything they did?

Once she was done drying herself, Rui put her underwear and the top of her suit on. While she tried to find her pants, seemingly nowhere to be seen, her eyes laid on her necklace, and she paused at sight.

It was probably the most precious jewel in Rui's life, right after Tamao herself. Not only was this the first gift she received from her lover, but it also became the safest way to wear her wedding ring close to her heart without putting them in danger.

The symbol of their love in a fleeting and unfair world… As if it were a blessed artefact, Rui grabbed the golden band and brought it to her lips before she almost religiously placed the necklace around her neck.

Still holding the pendant tightly, Rui closed her eyes. Were the Gods granting them this quietude after their revenge?

~

The war between the two families really began when the kobun got involved in Tamao's plan and had murdered one of the kobun from the other clan.

From that day on, Tamao and Rui had to hunt and survive: observing their surroundings and their enemies' schedule whenever they could while moving between different places every night. They lived as recluse between Japan and the other continents, only showing up for concise meetings with their followers.

Over time, Tamao asserted herself more and more as the head of the family. Although the young and innocent maiden was gone for a long time, she still took advantage of her apparent kindness and naivety to fool anyone who would underestimate her.

The Oyabun (or how she henceforth called herself, the 'Hahaoya') was now a confident and manipulative woman, lying as she breathed and never hesitating to use her charms to reach her goals. Of course, Tamao remained gentle and caring, but she would only show those sights to her girlfriend.

A private sight. One of many others. While the two women were now in a relationship, they couldn't show any sign of closure for their own safety. In a war where Tamao was now the number one target, their relationship's publicity would only endanger Rui more and their enemies wouldn't hesitate to attack her to reach the Hahaoya directly.

Thus, their love would only be hinted at through hidden symbols or in the privacy of their guarded room. The expression of their affection was designed through their skin. Tamao added a four-leaved clover tattoo above the lily petals on her back, with a bouquet made up of three red roses behind it to express a three-word sentence. At the same time, Rui settled for a bouquet of daisies that mirrored Tamao's new tattoo on her back, even though her own piece was still incomplete.

Sometimes they would even act out of the distance they put between them. As the conflict reached every loyal and decimated many Yakuza from each family, this wasn't an easy task to gather everyone under the same banner. Plots and treasons were legion and growing and especially expected in a clan led by a woman.

At least, Tamao believed in this possibility, and for weeks, she and Rui played disagreements and tensions, wishing this could lure a potential conspirator who would see Rui as a reliable ally against the leader of the clan.

When a sole man first contacted Rui, she didn't say anything to Tamao. She simply followed their instructions, earning their trust until she would be invited to a meeting with all their opponents inside their clan who claimed Tamao's head and asked Rui to do the job.

What a waste, all those men's efforts were ending in a bloodbath and disappearing in flames like an unfortunate accident, taking away all the evidence of Rui's presence.

"It's done." She simply said that night as she joined Tamao in their shared room.

As naturally as Rui's statement, the woman opened her arms with a bright smile. As a reward, an apology for those weeks being harsh on her so their conflict would seem more real. And of course, Rui would always forgive her. No matter how they would act in front of the world, how Tamao could easily make people believe what she wanted, they both knew the weight and intensity of their mutual feelings.

Although the women wouldn't allow themselves long and tender moments, they would never miss an opportunity for short, passionate intimacy during their time in Japan. They reserved the deep, romantic affection during their trips overseas, where they usually felt safer.

'Dismantling' the traitors inside their clan was only one of the many steps they needed to cross to accomplish their revenge. This achievement reinforced Tamao's power and allowed her to start hunting down the rival Lady Akuma without the risk of someone inside the clan compromising their target's monitoring.

Unlike with their first prey, tracking the two leads of the Akuma's family wasn't an easy task. Gone were the days where none of the camps expected the attacks from the other. They were both on their guard, reinforcing the protections around their Kobun or leaders. This was a war of patience and observation. Tamao and Rui had to stay careful during their daily work and had to pay attention to any detail that could bring them closer to an assault opportunity.

The stalking lasted a year—one year, where Tamao and Rui would note every movement, every detail about Lady Akuma whenever they weren't busy with their business and family matter. Until they found the breach that they needed to reach her.

As a powerful Oyabun's wife, the woman never missed a chance to mingle in 'high life' evenings. Attending one of those events appeared to be their only chance to strike, despite the many bodyguards protecting her. A fancy masked ball seemed to be the perfect opportunity: even though finding their target could be more challenging, Tamao and Rui wouldn't be recognizable either: like everyone in the ball, they wore long cloaks, a hoodie, and a Venetian mask that would hide their appearance completely. Rui even put a corset on, trying to conceal her woman's features as much as possible to avoid further suspicion about their identity.

Although these parties were usually hidden and inaccessible to ordinary people, Tamao had no trouble finding anonymous invitations. The Hahaoya was rich, powerful, and had various contacts among the world of the night.

Their luck came from the fact the woman was the only one moving with four bodyguards around her, making things easier to spot her among the crowd. Rui never considered herself as a party person. However, she loved those rich, masked events with a heated mood, where making out with Tamao was the most effective way to mingle among the crowd and not look too suspicious. Once their target was comfortably sitting with a glass of wine, enjoying the wanton mood and lowering her guard, Tamao pressed further into their embrace. Their moves were frenzied, growing even more heated as Rui pushed her girlfriend backwards, lifting her in the process… Until her back would press against the Oyabun's wife table.

Tamao took advantage of the surprise effect and her leverage to subtly pour the content of a flask, hidden in her long sleeves, in their target's glass.

"Oh, I am deeply sorry if our behavior disturbed you and your friends, Oba-sama." Tamao apologized profusely, bowing politely in sync with Rui. "We were so caught up in our reunion, my fiancé and I, that we didn't notice we went in the wrong direction. Please accept our most sincere apologies. We didn't mean to bother you…"

To their surprise, after a brief exchange of gazes with the bodyguards ready to intervene, the woman simply gave them a polite yet forced smile.

"It's alright, Ojou-sama. We have all been young, haven't we? At least you haven't overthrown anything or ruined my clothes. I don't think I would have been so… patient if you did."

"You're too kind to us, Oba-sama… Is there anything we could do to make it up to you?"

"Please enjoy the party. You're lucky enough to be a lady from a wealthy family: just be more careful about who you perturb, next time…"

The threat was evident in her voice. Tamao didn't bother to add anything else: their mission was done, after all. She simply bowed one last time, tugging at Rui's sleeves and whispering a playful 'come here, honey. Let's find a more secluded area ~' before they left the moment Lady Akuma brought her glass of wine to her lips.

 

When the wife's death was announced, Tamao and Rui moved overseas for three months. Even though the murder was a mystery to most people – especially when no one noticed anything, they knew that their enemy would immediately suspect their family, and his wrath would be terrible.

They travelled between Europe and Canada, roving wherever business would lead them. They switched destinations many times, paying everything in cash to make sure their path would be untraceable.

For the first time in a while, they spent months of recklessness: a well-deserved break before the storm when they would get back in Japan. It had been a long time since their last 'carefree' trip together, and although they didn't let their guard down, Tamao and Rui enjoyed every second by each other’s sides, even taking their time to make love and cuddle properly all night.

And for once, Rui allowed herself to dream about the future.

Holding the woman she loved every night made her realize how much she fantasized about having her own family. Rui felt like a little girl, dreaming about Prince Charming and a happy ever after…  Even though Prince Charming was a gorgeous Hahaoya and they could lose their life anytime if they weren't careful enough.

Despite the danger, Rui wanted to hope that her family relationship with Tamao could exceed a simple feeling or a clan membership. She wished to make it official, and those months seemed like the only opportunity to take the plunge.

A proposal during wartime sounded crazy, even to Rui herself. But the more she entertained the idea, the more her initial nervousness left space to all the love Rui carried for the woman she fantasized about calling 'her wife.'

And one day, as they walked around the Lake of Love in Bruges together in peace, Rui finally decided to make her move. For the first time that week, the weather seemed in her favor. Gone were the grey days of rainfall, with the sun now peeking through the blue sky and caressing the water's surface. They relished the beautiful scenery before their eyes as well as the silence, only interrupted by a couple of swan's songs.

"What do you think about people who propose in these kinds of places?" Rui asked as they halted under a weeping willow.

"It's quite cliché, don't you think?" Tamao chuckled, glancing at the various couples walking hand in hand around them. "When people want their proposal to be unique, unforgettable, but ultimately all get the same unoriginal ideas."

"And… Do you like cliché?"

"I don't know… Are you proposing ~?" Tamao raised a curious eyebrow, shoving Rui playfully with her shoulder.

Rui gulped. She had tried to figure out this answer for the past weeks, wondering if she should take the risk, whether Tamao would ever accept to tie the knot with her when their relationship was already hidden and prohibited in the Yakuza society. She had no doubt that her girlfriend loved her but she wasn't sure that their dreams and desires aligned properly in terms of their relationship.

But this was the perfect chance to find out.

"Yes." Rui finally answered with all the seriousness she could muster. She stared straight into Tamao's eyes, her cheeks feeling hotter by the second as she examined the change of expression on her girlfriend's confused face.

She took a deep breath. "I-I mean… I could have done it anywhere else. No matter where I would do it, nothing would be enough to express how much I love you, and this setting may be cliché but will never match all the things I want to give you, and how happy I want to make you."

Tamao's eyes widened at every word. Although the woman was good at hiding her emotions, Rui could see her lower lip trembling with emotion and her eyes prompting her to continue.

"I don't have much to offer. You already own my life, and I am only an orphan that wished to become a samurai and wanted a family. Even though you already are, I want us to be official, to build our own family from our love and care and not from an old contract. Since the day we met, you are my everything—the one I want to share my emotions with and the one who keeps me sane and human. We came back from the darkness, and I believe that proposing today under the daylight is a nice way for us to move on together."

Tears started rolling down Tamao's cheeks and Rui could barely contain her own. She quickly cut a branch off the willow tree, making a ring out of it. Even though they were more or less secure, she couldn't leave Tamao alone to purchase a wedding ring secretly.

"I know this is nothing compared to what I would like to give you…" Rui continued, getting down on her knee as she held her makeshift ring close to her heart, "but I want us to finish what we started together. I want to be by your side until the end, and ever after, if you allow me to try my best to bring you joy, love and passion."

"Tomoe Tamao…. My dear Hahaoya, will… Will you marry me?" Rui was shaking, unable to control her emotions as she watched the woman she loved break into tears in front of her. "I-I promise I will get you a real ring if you accept me as your wife."

The silence that followed was unbearable. Rui's face crumpled as time passed, powerless at her girlfriend's unreadable reaction. She could only stare in belated horror, wondering if she made a mistake, if she should have considered the weight and implication of these words more than she had already.

"W-Why…?" Tamao sobbed, her voice cracking up. It had been so long since she had looked this vulnerable.

Suddenly, Rui felt sick. She slowly moved into a standing position on wobbly legs, her tears finally rolling down her cheeks. Try as she might, she couldn't contain them anymore- not when the fear started to sink in her mind and all she could do was stare at her feet.

What has she done? What if she overstepped a boundary she should never have crossed?

… What if she ended up losing her because she couldn't remain at her place?

"W-Why… W-Would you want someone like me…? Wh-What did I do right…?"

Rui froze. When she looked up, she noticed how Tamao held her hand, like she was waiting for Rui to put a ring on her finger. Her eyes widened. She finally watched her lover, how Tamao looked away with puffy, reddened cheeks and eyes…

She raised a shaky hand, gingerly putting the makeshift ring on Tamao's ring finger before she laced their fingers and brought their linked hands close to her heart, making the other woman stare at her as she did. Despite trying to remain worthy of her rank and as deadpan as she could, this gesture was enough to crack Tamao's remaining walls. It only took a glance before the women threw themselves in each other's arms, embracing each other as tightly as humanly possible and never wanting to let go.

They sobbed together for the first time in years, and at that moment, they felt closer than words could describe. Their emotions and feelings lined up perfectly. They were simple women in love who experienced terrible things and sometimes had to act horribly in return. They were only humans who, for once, felt that if they survived, they could maybe reach that desired happiness. Together.

"I-Is that a yes…?" Rui pressed their foreheads together and peered through Tamao's puffy yet gorgeous amethyst eyes.

"I-I told you, didn't I?" Tamao caressed Rui's cheek with the tip of her fingers before she leaned in to plant a short, soft kiss on her lips, "I-I asked you to stay by my side until our last breath… And I told you that this feeling was mutual. So p-please, let us be a married family from now on…"

Rui's knees were weak. The world could have stopped turning right then and she wouldn't have cared less. Right now, she released all those pent up emotions she had to lock. She wanted to live. Because if they survived hardships, they had a chance at happiness. And Rui would fight for it.

She always did: for Tamao's sake, for the family's sake, to fulfil her duties without considering herself. But now, she would fight for them. Because now realized that Tamao wanted her safe and by her side as much as she did. That maybe her now-fiancée also wanted to seize her chances in a second life once their revenge would be accomplished.

With their relationship as 'Hahaoya and bodyguard' becoming a 'married couple' relationship, both women now wished they could end this war as quickly as possible. Even though they knew it wouldn't be easy now that they awakened the wrath of their worst enemy.

 

Tamao and Rui stayed in Denmark the following month for their wedding ceremony. Since Tamao devoted her life to the traditions, they celebrated their marriage in 'De Japanske Haver', a Japanese garden they booked for the event. Tamao was dressed in a long, white shiromuku adorned with flower patterns, her hair tied in a bun and a white lily fixed around it. Rui, however, wore a montsuki haori hakama, a suit usually reserved for the groom.

Although they didn't strictly respect the Shinto style wedding's symbolism and rituals, Tamao and Rui couldn't care less. Nothing else mattered but the gorgeous woman in front of them that was about to say 'yes.' They were happier than they had ever been, and for the time of a ceremony – and later, a honeymoon -, they put away all their negative feelings. They had been thinking about their revenge, enveloped to their resentments for years.

Tamao and Rui deserved this break, savoring each other's presence during a honeymoon where they didn't deprive themselves of anything. Rui even took advantage of their trip to complete her back tattoo: she tied the bouquet of daisies with a ring, as a secret mark of their engagement.

With the current war, which did cause more difficulties on top of the clan rules, they were aware that they would have to keep their relationship even more hidden than before. If anybody suspected their link, Rui could be in even more danger than she already was. Her opponent would consider her a direct target instead of a barrier to indirectly reach Tamao, which wasn't an option for the Hahaoya.

So, Rui decided to hook her ring up to her necklace, close to her heart, away from prying eyes. Tamao, however, chose to display hers in front of everyone. It didn't fail to spread rumors and curiosity among her loyals and even the other clans. The Hahaoya developed a reputation of a single, unreachable woman, power-hungry, and willing to rewrite the mafia family's traditional codes. Although none of them found it surprising that she would keep her leadership despite the marriage, they wondered what kind of man would stay in the complete shadow for his wife's benefit.

This curiosity suited Tamao's plans perfectly. While her enemies tried to find a phantom man, it allowed her to gain more time between assaults. As soon as the information about the women's returns in Japan spread, the ambush attempts against them multiplied.

Tamao and Rui weren't the hunters anymore: they became the prey, attacked during every opportunity their opponents had, tracked relentlessly in an attempt to weaken them. Although Rui was the only one standing close to her wife, the women always moved with a faithful minion group. Some of them were fighters who would either protect Tamao alongside Rui or serve as livestock that would allow Tamao and Rui to gain precious time and fight back against their enemies.

Through the years, they became experts in disappearing while keeping an eye over their business. Of course, the Akuma family's Oyabun exerted all the means to find them. But even though their opponent appeared as a fantastic player, Tamao moved on the chessboard with one step ahead. They got injured multiple times during the ambushes, causing Tamao a few jitters whenever Rui was hurt and in a bad position. But both were always able to strike back and eradicate their opponents, now battling side by side as a strong duo.

The months of being tracked down were exhausting. The human losses in both camps were significant, slowly affecting their business and their mental and physical health. With the disappearance of an important Kobun, both families had to name some less experienced Shatei to the head of their various companies. The situation turned more and more unacceptable as time passed as their sudden decline allowed other families to appropriate the market segments they lost.

With the uncertainty of these days, Tamao and Rui could barely have time to reassure each other, if only holding each other for a few minutes. Years of lust for vengeance had drained their energy, and even though they wanted to fight to save everything that remained, they sometimes wished they could end everything in a final stand.

Their wish was about to be granted. As terrifying as the Akuma Oyabun was, he was also an influential businessman that would never accept establishing his power over a falling Kingdom, with the risk of losing everything over the slightest opportunity taken by one of his many enemies.

Truth to be told, the Oyabun never expected the weakened Tomoe family to give him so much trouble, especially with a woman at its head. Despite his principle and scorn for Tamao, he recognized her strength and spirit among the underworld. And his most significant mark of respect was to challenge them in an honor duo-battle to the death.

This was their chance to end everything, to face or incarnate death: they would look at their enemy as their own reflection through a mirror and accept whatever fate would befall them, as long as they stayed together. Being the reapers or the victims, without any way to turn back…

The day before the event, Tamao and Rui held each other as if it could be their last time on Earth. And if it were, they wanted to spend it in each other's arms, forgetting for a fleeting moment about everything that happened and allowing themselves to dream anew about a brighter future. If happiness was ever possible inside the Yakuza clan…

The fight was organized in a secluded building, big enough to receive a few remaining notables from each clan that could intervene if a party tried to interfere in the battle. Both leaders were allowed to choose one of their best fighters, and although the Waka-gashira was the most indicated to fight by his Oyabun's side, of course, Tamao designated Rui. The Hahaoya learned to fight by her wife's side, and their bond and mutual trust was their best chance against the raw power of two strong warriors.

When the two women faced their opponents, with a crowd of dangerous men around them, the Akuma Waka-Gashira almost snickered at sight. For a mercenary like him, these two weak women, unsuited to fight, looked like cannon fodder. He expected a quick, simple battle and immediately dashed towards Rui to deliver a decisive blow with his sword, easily dodged by his opponent.

While the Waka-gashira and Oyabun were two hunters fighting by each other’s side, Tamao and Rui battled together in sync. They couldn't spare such hits from a strong opponent. Thus they decided to move around them, evading the attacks before striking back in an attempt to weaken their enemies. Their training, combining Tamao's dance skill and Rui's expertise in swordfights, paid off as they swayed both their bodies and their weapons around their opponents together.

The clan members strictly respected the rules: no one interfered in this fight where the strongest would win over the weakest, and any mistake could be fatal. Since they followed the Ninkyōdō code, they had to respect and obey their leader's choice and not hold any grudge towards the winner.

Rui already fought opponents like them, with similar strength and stamina. But never against enemies animated with such a grudge, who wouldn't give up until their last breath. And she couldn't help but worry about Tamao. Although they battled together in the past, the Hahaoya never faced someone like the Akuma Oyabun. Rui couldn't help keeping an eye over her and tried her best to protect her, sometimes neglecting her own security.

Until the Waka-Gashira's elbow landed in Rui's face in a loud thud as she helped Tamao dodge the Oyabun's hit. Her environment spun at the contact, the taste of blood filled her mouth, and she found herself thrown to the floor at the violence of the punch. Years of fighting made Rui used to receiving such hits and recovering quickly. But against opponents like them, this kind of mistake could result in death. By putting Tamao in a good position, she placed herself in the worst possible one.

She just wished that her wife wouldn't lose her means by wanting to save her. To win this battle, Tamao had to leave Rui to her fate; they had to trust each other instead of worrying.

And Tamao did. As Rui had spun her away and behind the Akuma's Oyabun, the Hahaoya immediately planted her sword into her enemy's collarbone, making him drop his weapon out of pain. While Rui's only chance came out of the Waka-gashira cockiness. When she faced him as she would face death, the man addressed her with a devious, hateful grin, giving her a kick in the ribs before he raised his sword to impale her…

But his blade got slowed down by a Tachi, meeting it halfway and allowing Rui to roll away and slew him with her Odachi, planting the sword in his stomach with all her remaining strength. She felt no satisfaction, nothing when she stared at his surprised expression, fading away as life left him.

She was, once again, covered in the blood of someone else. And at that moment, Rui wished it would be the last time. When Tamao wordlessly finished her enemies, plunging the crowd into a religious silence, and when their eyes met, Rui knew that her wife shared the same sentiment. The only peace of mind this revenge would give them was a pipe dream: they were simply alive and full of hope that maybe someday… They would rebuild their lives.

 

They left the building without a word, without turning back, with the uncertainty about their safety after years of playing hide and seek. Tamao and Rui needed time to process everything that happened, to heal their wounds.

And thus, they took the first plane they found that left Japan. They had no idea where to go, nor what to do. They just wanted to be away and take a moment to think properly. More than ever, they felt alone, confused, and lost in a world that seemed way too vast for them.

Except that maybe now, they had a chance to find their place.

They decided to stop by their favorite palace in Bruges, reminiscing their stay during the year Rui proposed. As soon as they stepped into the elevator, their bodies rushed on adrenaline. Tamao and Rui almost didn't make it to their suite, locked in a fiery lip lock where limbs collided, walls were hit and furniture knocked over on their way.

They were alive. Nothing else mattered and they took advantage of those precious lull moments. They had no idea how long it would last, nor if it was over. But they were together, and for the time being, Tamao and Rui wished that the planet would turn in slow motion and allow them to relish each other's presence for the longest time.

They didn't know what awaited them, but they would certainly figure it out. Together.

Chapter Text

Rui wished she could leave the Yakuza with Tamao.

The idea had run through her mind for a long time. She had entertained it since her marriage proposal, back when Rui thought about her future and what she wanted.

Now back into their room, with the dawn's light peeking through the curtains, Rui paused the search for her pants and glanced at the silhouette under the cover. The woman looked like she was sleeping so peacefully after their intense night of intimacy. The first one they had in a long time since they couldn't stay vulnerable for too long during the last phase of the war against the Akuma.

Tamao was the one Rui had devoted her life to. Although Rui had always fulfilled her duty for her former master, she realized that her place had always been by Tamao's side. Her work, her commitment, her life – everything gravitates around her wife. Rui didn't care about the family business, the clan members, or even their revenge. Everything that always mattered to her was their safety and their happiness.

Even with their vengeance accomplished, staying as the Tomoe family's head still implied potential dangers, hidden love, and fleeting life regularly bathed in violence and lies. It was ultimately hard to define how they used to be and how they could be in the future.

Rui was scared of having this conversation with Tamao. Of course, she would accept whatever decision the woman would make. But she didn't want to deceive her wife, or worse, make her think she could betray her anytime.

Even though Tamao wouldn't believe anything like this, the Hahaoya made so many sacrifices, worked so hard to build her business empire and establish her leadership in a man's world. This was her duty, the heritage of the Tomoe family weighing over her shoulders from the very beginning.

Rui would never question Tamao's feelings for her. She knew full well that they were genuine, and Tamao proved it multiple times through her acts and words. Yet, to think Tamao would even entertain the idea of giving up on everything in the name of love… sounded like a childish delusion.

"What are you spacing out about?" A familiar voice called out, jolting Rui out of her daydream, "You have been staring for the past minutes. Or… Maybe you like what you see? ~"

Rui blinked, her surroundings finally sinking in. Tamao was looking at her with a playful smirk, dressed only in her red family kimono. Said kimono was open, half hanging on the woman's bare shoulder, revealing the beginning of her tattoo but angled in a way that would only suggest the shape of a perky breast.

Tamao and Rui might have been together for years, yet the sight of her wife's… everything, never failed to steal the breath out of Rui and make her heart flutter with butterflies.

"Uh… Of course, I enjoy the view. Though it wasn't what I was looking for…"

"Rui, that's rude!" Tamao chuckled, her eyes crinkling with mirth. She then reached out next to her and held Rui's pants out. "Is this what you were looking for?"

After all this time, Rui should have known better, that an innocent-looking Tamao probably had something on her mind. So, Rui wasn't suspicious when she made her way to her wife. Despite her daydreaming, she was still focused on her duty: she had to be ready to protect Tamao under any circumstance.

Before Tamao held her by the necktie and pulled her onto the bed.

"T-Tamao!" Rui yelped, helplessly watching her wife straddle her hips. She tried to give her an indignant look but failed miserably as Tamao's body came into full sight, and the woman started playing with her necktie, slowly undoing it. "I need to be ready to ensure your protection! What if our opponents-"

"Honey, considering where our enemies are now, I highly doubt they might come for us anytime soon. Besides…" Tamao seductively pulled Rui by the collar, brushing their noses together, "I am apparently the most dangerous woman in Japan. So why don't you check me up first?"

Rui inhaled a sharp breath. Her mind was filled with mixed feelings between guilt… and desire. Even if she wished for a chance for an everyday life with her lover, Rui needed to stop worrying about an imminent danger 24/7.

She couldn't help it: after years of hunt-and-run, Rui was conditioned to staying on high alert. They already allowed themselves to lose each other in a raging torrent of limbs, passion and love, the previous night. They couldn't possibly-

But her body didn't seem to cooperate with her brain. Rui could feel the desire growing through her in a tingling sensation the more she helplessly stared at Tamao. Said woman had planted a few butterfly kisses over Rui's cheek down to her neck before she slightly backed away, making sure Rui could see everything she was doing.

And Tamao exactly knew how to get the reactions she wanted . She slowly flew down the buttons of Rui's blouse and ghosted her fingers across every newly-unveiled expanse of skin, eliciting goosebumps at the light touches. In the meantime, she lazily began to roll her hips against Rui's, grinding up to her stomach once Rui's blouse was fully opened. Every movement shifted Tamao's kimono, the silky material floating and unveiling the velvety smooth dainty body underneath.

It took all of Rui's willpower to stop herself from reaching out and trail her hand across all those curves, to draw the shapes of her few faded scars, less prominent than Rui's but marking years of fighting by her side.

More than ever, Tamao was beautiful. Gorgeous. Irresistible. And fully aware of that fact and the effect she had on others.

"Tamao…" Rui groaned, shuddering at the sensation of arousal starting to coat her skin the more her wife grinded against her. She placed her hands on each side of Tamao's hips and readjusted their position, pressing herself flush against her, "You seem a bit needy today… Aren't you?"

"Is it odd to desire my wife so badly?" Tamao whispered in a husky tone, leaning in to brush her lips against Rui's, "I missed you, you know?"

The Hahaoya turned her attention to the necklace around Rui's neck. She reached out to grasp the wedding ring hung onto it, brushing her fingers around the golden material. She removed the pendant with great delicacy and unhooked the ring before putting it on Rui's finger.

"We’ve had so little time for each other lately…" Tamao brought Rui's hand to her lips and kissed her palm, then all her knuckles, and ended with a lingering peck on her wedding ring, "Don't you think that the end of our revenge implies the birth of a new era, for us? One where we could spend all the time we need together?"

A jolt of electricity went through Rui's whole body. Her lower lip trembled out of raw emotion: there was no trace of hesitation nor hint of lies in Tamao's expression. She felt overwhelmed by Tamao's silent honesty, by her loving gaze when she cradled Rui's still bruised and discolored cheek. Her shining amethyst eyes reflected her unadulterated affection more than any word could express it.

For a moment, Rui almost forgot about her doubts, her worries. Tamao's words resonated in her head, and she secretly wished the implication behind them matched her desires. Furthermore, she had also missed Tamao. If anything happened today, Rui wanted to worship her, to tell her how much she adored her, and lose herself in the woman's arms.

When Rui finally gave in and captured Tamao's lips, nothing else mattered anymore but the woman who smiled victoriously against her mouth and joined their familiar fiery dance with equal fervor. The first steps were slow. Their tongues waltzed languidly, then the pace quickly increased and became frenzied the more Rui whispered how much she loved Tamao in between kisses. Tamao would punctuate each word with grazing or sucking at Rui's lower lip.

She wasted no time removing her lover's blouse and tearing her bra off: nothing but Rui's panties separated their naked bodies pressing flush against one another. They now moved in tandem, shuddering as limbs and mouths collided in a wanton, wet desire.

Tamao's kimono was still on, floating up and down to the rhythm of their not-so-gentle pace. Although Rui never considered herself as a particularly kinky person, she relished the sight of Tamao's exposed glory only covered by her silky kimono. The woman was the epitome of grace, the symbol of power, and the definition of attractiveness.

Instead of undressing her lover, Rui slid the silky material off Tamao's shoulders and kissed the unveiled skin, going up to sucking and biting at the base of her throat while one of her hands slipped between Tamao's legs. She started teasing Tamao's core with her fingers and was quickly rewarded when a moan escaped Tamao's throat, vibrating against Rui's mouth.

Her other hand mapped Tamao's chest, kneading and massaging it with a delicate reverence. Quickly, Rui's lips trailed down to join her hand, and she wasted no time wrapping them around a hardened nipple and sucked hard, in contrast with the unhurried moves of her hand, enough to make Tamao's body quiver with desire.

She played with Tamao's breasts for long minutes, rolling her tongue and ghosting her thumb around each mound. When Tamao unconsciously rocked her hips against Rui's hand, trying to get more friction, Rui let go of one breast to snake an arm around her wife's back, giving her more leverage.

"Rui…" Tamao breathed shakily, struggling to keep what remained of her dignity and stop herself from rubbing harder against Rui's fingers, "Y-you wouldn't tease you’re your Hahaoya, would you?"

Maybe it was the spur of the moment, or perhaps the various emotions welling up inside her, but Rui felt playful. Bold, even. "Oh, I wouldn't tease my Hahaoya. My wife, however…" Rui grinning, moving to peck Tamao's cheek. She couldn't help but chuckle at the glare Tamao shot at her.

"H-Honey," Tamao whined, this time, shuffling her hands into Rui's hair and gripping tightly onto them to get her full attention, "make love to me."

Due to her rank, the Hahaoya would hardly beg whenever it came to their intimacy. Not that Rui was daring enough, nor wanted to make her, anyway: her lover was so adorable whenever she was all worked up that Rui would happily oblige.

She stopped her teasing and finally relaxed her hand, allowing Tamao to coax her fingers inside her. Rui immediately slipped in two, knowing exactly what Tamao liked. She already noticed how aroused Tamao was during her teasing, but now, she realized how close the woman was, her walls already clenching around Rui's digits and throbbing with need.

In moments like these, the world could stop and they wouldn't care less. They were lost in their own universe, where their 'you and I' turned into ' us .' A single word that perfectly fitted whenever they became one.

Tamao was in a trance-like state, rocking her hips rhythmically to Rui's thrusts and singing her name like a beautiful melody as Rui kissed her and intoned various loving words as the chorus of their shared piece.

Tamao soon ended their duet performance with a single high-pitched note she couldn't contain anymore: powerful yet so vulnerable. She yanked Rui in for a messy, passionate kiss and dug her nails into her scalp as waves of pleasure rippled through her. Rui held Tamao in place, helping her ride the effect of her orgasm until her body went limp, and Tamao released puffy, satisfying breaths.

Rui gave her one last peck on the corner of her mouth before she nuzzled against Tamao's cheek, holding her close and protectively while Tamao was coming down her high. Once her lover finally relaxed, Rui slowly took her fingers off the still sensitive crotch and fully embraced the other woman.

Gone was her unflappable leader mask: Tamao was comfortably nestling in Rui's arms, nuzzling against her neck and sighing happily. Rui melted at the contact. If this was what their future together would look like, she would gladly sacrifice everything for a carefree daily life made up of cuddly sleeps-in.

Sacrifice. Rui went sombre at the mere thought of that word. Even though she was willing to give up on many things, it didn't mean that Tamao would do the same, nor that their perception of happiness converged.

Happiness… Was it only a pipe dream? A mirage that appeared in front of reckless travellers chasing for it, and disappeared as soon as they thought they finally reached it? All these years by Tamao's side were far from a chimera: being with her was pure bliss, a light in the middle of an ocean of darkness.

Yet, in the back of her mind, Rui couldn't help but be concerned about the consequences of her newest goal. Of course, she would stay by Tamao's side no matter what. But what if their relationship changed even in the slightest way? Or what if they doomed themselves to a fleeting life by staying in the Mafia?

Rui would never forgive herself if anything like that happened. She needed to talk to Tamao, like they always did whenever something was bothering them.   

Her trail of thoughts was interrupted by a light pressure under her jaw.

"Hey, sweetheart," Tamao whispered, pecking and nibbling at Rui's neck, sending goosebumps all over her skin.

"Welcome back, Love. How was it?"

"I’m not sure. What do you think? ~" Tamao smiled sweetly, delving lower to kiss her way down to Rui's breasts, "you always know how to love me the way I want you to."

Tamao slowly unclasped Rui's bra, quickly replacing the material with her hands, "I guess it's time for me…" Tamao placed a chaste kiss atop Rui's chest, "to show you…" another one next to her nipple, "that I also know exactly what you want."

As if on a cue, she gave Rui a cocky grin before she wrapped her mouth around the mound and rolled her tongue onto it. Without warning, she let go of one of Rui's breasts to insert two fingers into Rui's crotch, making her body jerk up at the unexpected move.

Yet, instead of giving her wife what she wanted, Tamao's hand stayed almost still, only thrusting with a lazy pace, carefully avoiding all of Rui's sensitive spots. The contrast between Tamao's vigorous mouth biting and sucking her breasts and her passive hand unwilling to give Rui some kind of release was unbearable.

Rui felt restless, her hips helplessly rocking for naught against motionless fingers. She let out small whimpers whenever Tamao's tongue teased her nipple, fondling her in a way that always made Rui forget how to breathe.

"Ta-Tamao…" Rui whined, unable to think straight anymore. She felt overwhelmed, torn between her lingering insecurities and the need to forget about everything in her wife's arms. She wanted to lose her mind and lose track of all those things that should matter but wouldn't anymore, because nothing else was more important than Tamao and how she was gazing at Rui with an intensity that rivalled the sun.

"What do you want, Rui?" Tamao asked sweetly, never breaking eye contact while she circled her tongue around Rui's nipple before she grazed it with her teeth.

Rui could only moan in answer. She desired so many things: although her urge for a release sounded obvious, Rui wished for happiness, for a daily round that wouldn't be made of crimes, pretending, and fleeing.

"I-I want… to… b-be a-and live… with you…" Rui panted, feeling more vulnerable than as she plunged her dilated scarlet eyes into Tamao's darkened lavender ones.

The other woman paused at the sudden declaration, visibly caught off guard. Then, she chuckled and reached out to tenderly stroke Rui's cheek, "we already do, Sweetheart. We’re married, remember? You already have me…"

"Y-Yes, but…" Rui stuttered, emotions welling up through her.

Of course, Tamao noticed her inner conflict almost immediately. Using the appellation of 'one's other half' for their lover proved to be true for their couple: they might have had communications issues in the past, but now Tamao and Rui were closer than ever. The Hahaoya could easily read Rui like an open book, sense her emotions and see through her shell. Her brows furrowed in concern for a second, and the next one she peppered Rui's bruised cheek with butterfly kisses.

Gone were the teasing: Tamao flashed Rui a determined, reassuring look before she kissed her way down. She delved lower and lower, paying attention and giving love to every single part of Rui's body: from the arch of her neck to the valley of her breasts, down to her taut stomach. She paused a bit there, nuzzling and trailing her mouth over all of her scars as if she was trying to heal the deepest ones with affection. In answer, Rui combed her fingers in Tamao's hair, stroking her scalp and urging her for more .  

The Hahaoya didn't immediately go for the prize. First, she traced the curves of her hips to her powerful thighs, nipping and suckling to leave more love marks on Rui's skin. Then, she gave her another gaze, one that seemed to peer through her soul, and reached out to grab Rui's hand, intertwining their fingers together.

They stared at each other for a few seconds, with their masks peeled off, only revealing their raw, genuine feelings. It wasn't unusual for them to show each other like this, but today, their relationship seemed to reach a renewed harmony.

"I… I w-want you to love me." Rui's voice finally cracked, summarizing everything she desired at this precise moment and in the near future. She hoped that her wife would never stop loving her.

And Tamao plunged. She never let go of Rui's hand as she flattened her tongue and dragged it over Rui's slicked slit in the first slow, long lick. Once she hit Rui's erected bud of nerves, Tamao wrapped her mouth around it and suckled, making her lover's body jerk up at the stimulation.

Rui couldn't think straight anymore. She was caught in a blinding vortex of sensations as waves of arousal hit her over and over again as Tamao drew various patterns between Rui's clit and her throbbing groin. No matter how frightening Rui could be as a bodyguard, no matter her cold-blooded behavior: whenever she was with Tamao, Rui was simply a woman . Athletic yet vulnerable, with her qualities and flaws.

Her environment became a blur. Nothing else existed. Nothing else mattered, but this woman who was worshipping her in a way that pulled unexpectedly girlish sounds from her. Rui moaned and whimpered, rolling her hips to the rhythm of Tamao's twirling tongue that brought her closer and closer to the edge.

Rui didn't immediately pay attention to the patterns Tamao was drawing with the tip of her tongue. Still, when the woman started whispering and sending puffs of hot breaths against Rui's core, she almost froze as the realization hit her: the kanji repeatedly traced by Tamao formed the words 'I love you.'

Something stirred up inside Rui, crushing her last walls into million pieces while her voice broke into a single loud, powerful cry. She was enveloped in a searing sensation of bliss, unlike everything she had experienced before. Her hips bucked uncontrollably, hit by a powerful orgasm while Tamao held her in place.

And then, the universe turned white. Rui collapsed for a second, experiencing a real 'little death' as she slowly came down from her high. For a bit, she forgot about her insecurities, didn't even notice when Tamao embraced her and nuzzled her neck. It felt like time passed in slow motion until she slowly regained consciousness… and her mind finally took the full weight of everything that happened: the overwhelming affection she received from her wife mixed with her earlier fear.

Rui broke down in tears .

"Honey… Are you alright?" Tamao inquired. She gave light pecks on Rui's jaw to calm her down, but it only had the opposite effect. Rui cried harder; all her emotions were sinking in simultaneously and feeling too much to bear.

"T-Tamao… I want us to l-leave the mafia…"

The bomb was finally dropped. Rui couldn't even dare to look at Tamao, scared about the reaction she might witness if she did. She ironically found courage in clinging to her wife's family kimono, not wanting to let her go.

"I-I didn't join the family by choice… I would lie if I said I regret my life because being part of the Tomoe clan allowed me to meet you." Rui sobbed quietly, burying her face in Tamao's collarbone. "I love you, Tamao. I vowed to stay by your side, I want nothing else than this, protecting you and making you happy. B-But this wasn't the life path I wished for."

Facing her wife's lack of response, Rui felt her heart sinking deeper. Every word was like molasses in her mouth, more and more difficult to let out as the silence grew heavier.

"…I understand that you would never give up on your family's heritage, your life, and your duty." Rui kept going, unsure about where this conversation was going, "You made so many sacrifices to come this far… No matter what, you know I will stay by your side, where I belong, and support you whatever choice you make. B-But, I am dreaming about a normal life with you." 

"I won't pray, I won't insist. And I'm so sorry if I disappointed you… If I did, I would do anything to beg for your forgiveness. If the yubitsume is the price to pay, I will do it. But p-please forgive me…"

While she asked for another chance, Rui didn't notice the way Tamao's frame trembled in her arms, nor the shaky hand that was now caressing her hair, or the tears that prickled in the corner of her eyes. Until Tamao whispered a quiet 'yes' that Rui almost missed.

"D-Did you say something…?" Rui finally looked up. Her eyes widened when she took in full sight of Tamao's vulnerable expression.

"Y-Yes…" This time, Tamao's answer was clear despite her quivering tone, "I would like that…"

Rui's mouth gaped open, unable to produce any sound. She only gazed into her eyes, feeling her own tears welling up through her while she watched the woman she loved slowly crumbling in front of her… b efore she broke down.

"M-My family would dishonor me for what I am about to say… but h-hell, it doesn't matter anymore. You are my true family now…" Tamao allowed herself to cry into Rui's arms, curling up against her to find the strength she needed.

"T-The day they assassinated my family, a part of my world crushed with them, along with the old Tamao. I am… proud of everything we accomplished together to stay alive and achieve our revenge. B-But whenever I am looking through the glass… I both love and hate this calculating, fake, and shameless business-shark that I became."

"I think I only survived and kept my sanity because, after all this time, I wasn't alone." Tamao flashed Rui a wry, sad smile, "you always stayed by my side; you loved me in a way that allowed this woman that wasn't entirely me to remain her real self whenever we were alone. Y-You have no idea how much it means to me…"

Rui tightened her embrace protectively and kissed Tamao's tears away before she pressed their foreheads together. She remained silent, knowing from the watery glance her wife gave her that she hasn't finished talking.

"I hope my parents will forgive me for somehow remaining weak and selfish… I accomplished my duty when I avenged them and led the Tomoe clan to a new, mighty era. B-But now…" Tamao brushed their lips together, "I want to stop wearing a mask. I need this fresh start with you… We deserve this chance."

They closed the short distance between them, clinging to each other for dear life like two castaways in a makeshift raft. Their kisses tasted salty from the tears and carried the promise of a brighter future. They couldn't let go, nor wanted to. From now on, they simply desired to relish each other's presence, each second together.

And more importantly, they needed a plan to disappear.

Still locked in a comfortable embrace, they talked it out. They considered various options until the souvenir of a play about Ryugu Jo caught their attention. Much like the newest version of Urashima Taro and a few Shakespeare stages, Tamao and Rui accorded themselves that if they wished to find happiness in the afterlife, they had to die first.

But unlike those tragedies, they would become reborn under a different identity.

 

Leaving Japan shouldn't be too tricky for the Hahaoya. As a criminal organization leader, Tamao's properties and wealth were carefully covered in an off-shore bank account. Of course, she had official belongings in Japan. But most of her money and securities transited through various 'charities' screen associations and disappeared without a trace. Since Rui had no declared belongings, they would only leave the manor behind if they simulated their departure, keeping comfortable security for their new life.

If they wanted to fake their death, they needed to make it real. Finding two corpses with a similar build was the most challenging part. Tamao and Rui had to manage everything on their own to avoid any risk of compromising the operation. The bodies didn't have to be total look-alike: they needed people to believe it was them.

Although the clan's members knew about their horimono, no one ever saw them in order to respect the women's intimacy. Thus, this played in their favor: they only had to reproduce the empress tree leaf symbol over their impersonator's bodies.

Their plan consisted of carrying them in Tamao's car and leaving a few belongings behind them. Tamao left her wedding ring behind her for further authenticity, while Rui had to abandon her odachi. And once everything was settled, they burnt the car and fled through the night.

With that car, they burned the last heritages of their previous life without looking back. This wasn't only the end of something: this was the beginning of their era. The Tomoe became the Akikaze, settling for Rui's old orphan name for their new identity.

They abandoned the Tomoe clan without regret, with their eyes set towards their future, with their hands joined on their way to another continent. They joined a couple of artists, Yachiyo and Mei Fan, who they met during one of their business trips. The only ones they considered as friends and could trust with their secret.

Tamao and Rui would need time to build this new existence after the hardships they went through. But now, they had faith. And they promised each other that they would never have to suffer anymore, nor commit any crime.

From now on, they were reborn.

Chapter Text

The feeling of bliss. What an unusual sensation.

Back during her time in the Yakuza, Rui couldn't remember when she experienced this sole feeling without a sword of Damocles hanging over their head— without danger lurking everywhere and making them feel restless.

If someone had told Rui that one day, she would have been able to live out her idyllic life with Tamao without the fear of losing her, she would have called them crazy or naïve. And yet…

Lost in a deep ocean of amethysts, lulled by the warmth of a gentle smile, as bright as the sunbeams caressing their skin, Rui was more peaceful than ever. It's been a year since the Akikaze began their new life overseas: the couple now lived in a friendly little house in a quiet village, a few kilometers away from the nearby city. They opened up a Japanese restaurant called 'Rinmeikan,' symbolizing a dignified and bright place where their clients would enjoy their meal in the middle of activities such as traditional dance representations. Tamao managed the business and took the chef’s role while Rui helped her, taking the orders and service.

Even though they still needed time to heal their past wounds, they slowly recovered in a world that was theirs, far from perfect yet much more carefree… and full of love.

Because adoration was everything that Rui felt at this precise moment, lying in the emerald grass of their garden, surrounded by the daffodils they planted together. Tamao and Rui were alone in a universe that was theirs, wrapped in the comfortable warmth of each other’s arms and brushing their noses together.

Rui couldn't tear her eyes off her, wanting to freeze that picture in time, imprisoned in a whirlwind of emotions she never wanted to leave. She reached out to caress Tamao's cheek, brushing her thumb against soft skin and smiling fondly as Tamao's eyes crinkled and brightened at the contact.

"What are you thinking about?" Tamao whispered, sighing happily and closing her eyes when Rui pressed their foreheads together.

'You' sounded like a too-perfect answer. But Rui wasn't sure it was the most appropriate, considering that Tamao was everything she was thinking about whenever they were alone. So, instead, she leaned in for a chaste kiss, simply pressing their lips together and savoring the blissful sensation.

Tamao reciprocated in tow: she snaked her arms around Rui's neck as their lips meshed together in a long, unhurried, hazy kiss. Neither of them wanted to speed up: they appreciated every second without any ulterior motive besides the joy of sharing an intimate, relaxing moment with the person they loved the most.

"Hey, newlyweds," a familiar teasing voice called out, "I know you don't mind being watched, but I didn't expect that you invited us for this sole purpose ~."

Neither Rui nor Tamao immediately stopped kissing upon hearing Yachiyo. After all, they grew used to her antics since they met her and Mei Fan during one of their business trips before they got married. Both couples attended the same theatre pieces, and by chance, sat next to each other. They ended the night talking for hours about the play, about life, and many further details. As Yachiyo was observant, she quickly noticed the Tomoe emblem hidden on their clothes and didn't seem bothered upon discovering their prior occupations, unlike Mei Fan, who seemed more careful.

' Don't you think that having arch-criminals friends could be exciting? ' Yachiyo joked, much to her horrified wife's dismay. Of course, it was clear that the woman was also distrustful about them. But as time passed, their growing friendship took over their suspicion, and the four of them learned to trust each other and sympathized over their respective passions.

Mei Fan was a rising actress, becoming the headline act of prestigious movies all around the world— a passionate, loyal woman with interests in martial arts and fortune-telling. Yachiyo, her wife, worked as a famous designer and could read people as quickly as she could guess their body size, even though she found Tamao and Rui to be fascinating, unreadable subjects when they first met.

Although none of them expected to ever trust each other, this was probably the reason why their sudden honesty became the fuel of their budding friendship and how Yachiyo and Mei Fan offered to help the couple out if they ever needed them.

Tamao and Rui didn't have many friends, but meeting the two women convinced them that, at least, they knew how to choose them. Neither of Yachiyo or Mei Fan betrayed them: their bond got reinforced once they became neighbors, if anything. Rui would spend her free time training and hanging out with Mei Fan, while Tamao enjoyed sharing their respective hobbies with Yachiyo.

"Yachiyo!" Mei Fan's voice scolded, "Sorry to tell you this harsh reality, but not everyone is like you!"

"It's okay, Mei Fan-san," Tamao answered when she finally pulled away from their intimate embrace, "she isn't that wrong, though this isn't the reason why I invited you over ~."

It was Rui's turn to gasp and blush when Tamao gave a final amused peck before she stood up, extending her hand to help her to do the same. Sometimes, Rui wondered if Yachiyo was a good influence for Tamao… Or maybe the two women completed each other just fine at being terrible teases.

"See?" Yachiyo chirped, appearing out of nowhere next to Tamao to place a hand over her shoulder, "Tamtam' knows how to answer to my good ol' jokes ~."

Rui had to stifle back a burst of laughter. Even after a year, she couldn't get used to the ex-mafia boss being called such a nickname. It was refreshing, seeing Tamao enjoying herself and giving her friend a grin as she playfully pushed her away. The sight was enough to make Rui smile.

"Rui…" Mei Fan pulled Rui by the shoulder, her tone solemn, "I think we both married vixens…"

Rui snickered. "We did, although mine is also an adorable dork…" she added dreamily, watching Tamao pouting during her conversation with Yachiyo.

"… We are helpless, aren't we? I’m your elder, I can tell you that we are."

"We’re literally the same age…"

"But I have more experience!"

"Yup, you've got more experience in being a dork than I do."

"Hey!"

Both women playfully fought, taking turns to ruffle each other’s hair. Although Mei Fan could be intense and overdo most things she was doing for others, she was a wonderful friend for Rui. They could spend hours talking about their past, without judgment despite their fixed ideas over various topics. Sometimes, Mei Fan would even let out tears upon hearing what Tamao and Rui went through and couldn't help but pull Rui into a bear hug.

It took a while for Rui to get used to it, but she quickly grew fond of the one she could now call a best friend. She could never be thankful enough for everything those women did to help them and how Mei Fan would always be there for her and Tamao. It was refreshing, the experience of everyday life with their own family and a circle of friends.

"Jeez, you two…" Yachiyo shook her head as she joined them, Tamao beside her. She looked at Mei Fan with a soft expression that could be described as nothing but adoration, "Why are you always being so cute whenever we leave you alone…"

"I don't know…" Mei Fan wrapped her arms around Yachiyo, tenderly pecking at her cheek, "Maybe because we secretly like it when you look at us like that…"

Cute wasn't exactly the word Rui would use to describe herself, considering everything she had done… Rui glanced in Tamao's direction, grinning as their eyes met. But even though this wasn't her opinion of herself, Tamao's adoring expression made her believe that her wife agreed with Yachiyo. She extended her hand to grab Tamao's, relishing her warmth and presence while their friends mentioned their plan for the day.

Their existence had indeed changed for the best. Of course, both still had nightmares, suddenly waking up with the fear of losing their lives and being tracked down like deers under a headlight. But whenever that happened, they curled up comfortably in each other’s arms and talked about their lingering insecurities until they would drift back into a dreamless sleep.

They knew they would never forget what they experienced, all the things they did in the past. But they weren't alone. They didn't have to be wary of every person they crossed paths with— at least, they hoped they wouldn't have to anymore. Tamao and Rui moved on: with a fresh start, new goals, and a much more comfortable life. Like every couple, they would face barriers they had to overcome, but they would also entertain new ideas to fuel the happiness they had started to build.

Because yes, they were happy. More than any word could describe. And they cherished every second of it, catching up for the lost time spent to survive and wish they would never have to repeat what happened.

"Honey?"

Rui was jolted back from her thoughts by her wife's soft whisper. She glanced back at her questioningly, losing herself into her amethyst globes for the countless time of the day.

"What are you thinking about?" Tamao asked again, mirroring her earlier question.

A simple question, indeed. The first time a proper answer didn't come up to Rui's mind, feeling too evident yet unappropriate, but now, Rui found the word she was searching for this whole time. She held Tamao's gaze, reaching out again to stroke her cheek gently as she gave her the most genuine smile she could muster and squeezed their linked hands.

" I'm thinking about us."

The sentence resonated and meant more than a vow they made when they got married: this was their promise, their desire, and their joy— the moment when ‘you and I' became 'us.

On a path strewn with pitfalls, they both built their own, peaceful road, where they progressed hand in hand. And Tamao and Rui both knew that as long as they would be 'us', they would perform the stage of their life that would lead them to the happiness they always desired.