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Chapter Text

 

Uzumaki Ryoko fancies she will never forget the difficult and tragic birth of the twin princesses, Mito-hime and Maiha no Miya.

 

Saya-sama, may she rest in peace, had already born Ashina-sama three sons, with only the youngest not of age yet. She had been past her childbearing years, and no one had thought she could get pregnant again. Ryoko privately suspected it was the Uzumaki vitality, virility, and stamina to blame, rather than that Saya-sama had been trying for more children in a desperate bid to win back Ashina-sama’s attentions. Ashina-sama had always been an attentive and devoted husband to his wife, and Ryoko knew the man couldn’t be prouder of his wife for bearing him three sons that had survived the perils of childhood illnesses and battle.

 

When it became apparent Saya-sama wasn’t sick with an early winter illness, and that she was actually pregnant, the medics called Ashina-sama back from the field to convene with the clan head and his lady. While Ryoko herself hadn’t been there for the meeting, she knew from the small amount of training she had received in the medical arts that Saya-sama had been encouraged to induce a miscarriage for her safety.

 

Saya-sama had flatly refused, and stormed out. She didn’t budge from her position, determined to bring her child into the world, regardless of her age or the opinion of anyone else. Ryoko admired her for that, and scolded the gossips for their naysaying of the dead woman. Ryoko didn’t think she could remain strong in the face of opposition from her husband, friends, and family.

 

No, Ryoko knew she wouldn’t have chosen the path Saya-sama proudly took. If she was in Saya-sama’s place, Ryoko would have taken the safer path, because she feared death more than anything. But that wasn’t why she had a feeling she wouldn’t forget Mito-hime and Maiha no Miya’s birth.

 

Ashina-sama left for the front again once Saya-sama made it clear she would keep the baby no matter what. His departure obviously shook Saya-sama, but as she grew fat with her child, Saya-sama stopped asking when her husband would return to her. Her belly grew as the year dwindled, and she remained determinedly oblivious to the clan’ whispers with a maniacal cheer. She spent her days setting up the nursery, making clothing for her baby, singing to her baby, and pondering names whenever the clan did not need her. And the clan purposefully made sure to need her less and less as her pregnancy became obvious.

 

It was only when winter began to thaw and April came that Saya-sama called for her sons and husband’s return. Ryoko knew Saya-sama had patiently waited through all of the cold months for her family to return to her, and only called when she could no longer ignore the fact they weren’t going to return on their own. Saya-sama waited for word from any of her family during the month of April. She did not receive so much as an acknowledgement from her sons or husband.

 

It wasn’t surprising that a few days later Saya-sama unexpectedly went into labor two weeks early.

 

The clan dispatched their swiftest runner to Ashina-sama and his sons' location to inform him his lady had gone into labor as Saya-sama’s cries rang throughout the compound. Everyone winced at each one of her ragged sobs, and every now and then someone would demand a silencing seal be placed to silence the sounds. No one put a silencing seal down, and everyone was forced to endure Saya-sama’s pain with her.

 

Ryoko was too busy to deal with the clan’s guilt, because she was frantically fetching anything the medics demanded of her and occasionally trying to reassure a delirious Saya-sama that her family would be here before the baby. It was ugly business all around, with the atmosphere and the event causing it, but the worst part was when she wasn’t rushing after something for the medics. Having to listen to the medics and midwives grimly remark on the birthing, and then trying to calm Saya-sama (unsuccessfully) when she overheard something while she screamed and sobbed… Ryoko still woke up and had to restrain herself from going to Saya-sama’s side.

 

When the baby still hadn’t come after five hours that was when the medics started to worry. Saya-sama had given birth multiple times before, and should have completed giving birth to her baby in about five hours, give or take. It was a sign that there was complications, and the medics then began to administer a cocktail of drugs that Ryoko couldn’t identify. She guessed it had some effect, because three hours later, Mito-hime was born.

 

However, soon the medics noticed Saya-sama wasn’t coming out of labor and shedding the placenta, and that was when they knew it wasn’t over.

 

Ryoko’s memories of the next four grueling hours are blurry with exhaustion, with Saya-sama’s terror and demands for her family standing out starkly. But what Ryoko will remember is when Maiha no Miya entered the world.

 

Maiha no Miya entered the world with the same solumn quietness she would carry for as long as Ryoko knew her, despite the fact babies were supposed to enter squalling. Everyone in the room had thought her to be stillborn, but as the medic cleared away the caul she began to cry. The baby was crying, and the crying sounded wrong to Ryoko, but Saya-sama’s joy at both of her daughters was palpable.

 

Since Ashina-sama wasn’t there, Saya-sama named both children before Ryoko took them to be watched over by a medic, and so she accidentally overheard Saya-sama’s only words to her daughters.

 

“Oh my darlings, you were worth it. Ryoko, which is my firstborn daughter?”

 

“Saya-sama that would be the one on your left, the louder one my lady.”

 

“Ashina and I always picked Mito as the name we would have given our sons if one of them had been born a girl. So you, my firstborn daughter, are Mito. And you, my precious surprise, I did not expect to ever carry twins. Your name is from me, and me alone Maiha.”

 

Saya-sama then kissed her daughters’ foreheads and whispered her love, and handed them to Ryoko. She would die an hour later from hemorrhaging and internal injuries, five hours before her sons entered the compound, and seven hours before Ashina-sama returned.

 

Ryoko wasn’t there to see what happened when Saya-sama’s sons or Ashina-sama arrived, because the medic watching over the twins hadn’t released her.

 

Maiha no Miya’s crying didn’t cease until she fell asleep, but Ryoko couldn’t help want to call it sobbing.

 

The true reason why Ryoko thought she wouldn't forget Mito-hime and Maiha no Miya's birth is that she didn't think she could forget the sound of Maiha no Miya's anguished crying.

 


 

Chapter Text

 

Uzumaki Kaien watched his mother’s grave silently, concealing himself from his little sisters with all the skill a recently crippled shinobi and middle child possessed. He had originally come to the graveyard to pay his respects to Haha-ue for the first time in far too long, but when he had divined there was already someone visiting, he couldn’t resist sneaking a peek at who had dared to come visit the woman no one spoke of.

 

Kaien had been surprised to see two little girls attending to the grave, cleaning it and laying out the proper offerings. But two random children wouldn’t go about cleaning the late clan lady’s grave, so they had to be pretty closely related to him, even if he didn’t know who they were. At a glance, Haha-ue’s grave looked like it had suffered about two, maybe three, years of neglect before someone had started to care for it. Kaien guessed someone had brought the kids out to Haha-ue for some reason, and they had started to care for her grave ever since. The question was who had brought them, and why had the children continued to visit and attend to the grave?

 

So far as he had been aware, neither his older or younger brother had set foot in the graveyard yet – Chichi-ue wasn’t even remotely on the table – and no one else would presume to attend to Haha-ue’s grave unless…

 

Kaien silently swallowed as it came to him who the two little girls must be; the twin sisters he had never seen. He almost hadn’t recognized them – he hadn’t been aware they were fraternal twins and not identical – but the one he thought was Mito had the exact shade of carmine Haha-ue had had.

 

While he had been unable to look away from Mito’s waist length hair swaying in the salty wind, the twin sisters had finished attending to Haha-ue’s grave and were sitting down to talk to Haha-ue. Mito was fidgeting mightily as she addressed Haha-ue, cheeks pinking in embarrassment as she relayed how her prank on “Oba-san” had been turned against her with a startling ease by Maiha’s lady-in-waiting and their caretaker. Maiha then forcefully usurped the conversation when she obviously felt Mito was indulging in far more self-pity than was proper in front of Haha-ue.

 

“Mito, you know how Ryoko doesn’t like anything that could harm her hair and you tried to prank her anyways. She’s very proud of it because few Uzumaki have a shade like her Alizarin crimson.”

 

Maiha’s lips curled up slightly from their neutral line.

 

“And Kuzuri-san had just complimented her on her hair an hour before you set up your prank.”

 

Mito gasped loudly at Maiha’s revelation, cheeks flushing brick red, looking positively scandalized by Maiha indulging in gossip in front of Haha-ue. Kaien had to choke back a guilty laugh at how Maiha had delivered that bit of scandal so placidly when Uzumaki Kuzuri was widely known throughout the entire clan as the shinobi captain every eligible woman was scheming to somehow wrangle into a marriage contract. Though Kaien was surprised to hear Kuzuri had complimented any woman, let alone whoever this Ryoko was. As a comrade and acquaintance of the man he knew Kuzuri had developed something like paranoia regarding women, and he had actually suspected the man was planning to remain an eternal bachelor due to that or other reasons. If Maiha wasn’t having Mito and Haha-ue on with her gossip, the clan might see some furious tempests over this issue in the future.

 

The twins continued talking to Haha-ue about things in a similar vein. They spoke of Mito’s pranks, sealing, and escapades; of Ryoko’s reactions to Mito, her possibly budding relationship with Kuzuri, and her remarks on her fellow underlings. Maiha spoke not at all of what she did, which Mito didn’t protest, but rather she occasionally made dry remarks, observations, and corrections. It was a very detailed, very through recounting. Kaien was unnerved that he kept drawing comparisons to their conversations with how kunoichi he knew made reports to a commanding officer.

 

If he had his dates correct, the twins were only a little over five years old. And while Kaien himself wasn’t a father, he’d been around his baby brother and enough cousins to know Maiha’s mental acuity was disturbingly advanced. She didn’t act like she was a five year old, and she certainly didn’t act like Mito was in any way older than her. Mito even called her aneue, instead of Maiha calling Mito that.

 

As he continued to watch the twins, he became more convinced that both of the twins were genii, and that they had been left to their own devices for far too long and at too young an age. They didn’t act like children at all, and their views on social hierarchy and niceties were far too dim for princesses to hold.

 

Kaien gulped in dread. He was going to have to be quit avoiding his sisters and be responsible. Thankfully, he was quickly distracted from that morbid thought by Maiha reminding Mito she was going to be late to her fuinjustu instructor if she didn’t get going. Mito scrambled up and took off running as fast as she could, and she was a speedy little kid for someone that wasn’t in kunoichi training… As far as he knew.

 

Kaien gave into the urge to groan into a muffling hand, because it was pretty shameful just how little he knew about his sisters. He nearly sobbed when he thought at how he was probably going to have to wrangle his stuffy, busybody older brother and battle-obsessed little brother into helping him with Maiha and Mito. Kimihiro and Kōsuke weren’t going to take this well.

 

His attention was drawn back to Maiha when he felt chakra fluctuating in a way that meant a seal was being activated, and saw her remove a bottle of sake from what looked to be a beginner’s storage scroll. Kaien had no idea how Maiha had gotten her hands on what looked to be some quality sake some shinobi captain had acquired, but he was disturbed when she pulled out two saucers and filled them to the brim. She poured out Haha-ue’s saucer into the grave’s ground, and then pinched her nose and swallowed hers as quickly as she could. Maiha started hacking immediately, little fist pounding against her chest.

 

“Ugh, that was nasty. Much rather have some vodka. Ah, Saya-san, it’s been awhile since we’ve talked to you, and even longer since I’ve talked to you by myself. My most humble apologies, honored mother.”

 

It was rather startling to hear Maiha suddenly switch to the most polite and formal form of speech after hearing her talk to Mito and Haha-ue informally.

 

“Normally I wouldn’t risk trying to bring you sake Saya-san, but I figured something extra special was needed to help soothe your spirit. I apologize for Mito Saya-san. We came here for her to apologize to you, but as you can see, she didn’t feel like apologizing for doing what she sees as right and proper.”

 

Maiha poured Haha-ue more sake and emptied the saucer again.

 

“Mito calling Ryoko kaa-san must have hurtful.”

 

Kaien ignored the sudden burning in his eyes. Maiha was right. Haha-ue would have been deeply hurt.

 

“I know why she did it. Mito hates how everyone ignores us, and Ryoko is practically the only Uzumaki who interacts with us on a day to day basis. Mito can’t help but see her as her mother because Ryoko is all we have. Even if she is my lady-in-waiting.”

 

Maiha poured more sake and poured it out, as Kaien kept listening.

 

“The fact Ryoko is now my servant is what makes it worse. You know, she was going to be an apprentice medic a couple months after we were born, since she apparently impressed somebody enough with how she handled you during labor. But she gave up on her dream to take care of us. Then the others started pressing recently, saying how we didn’t need a wetnurse or a nursemaid anymore. That’s when Mito got upset, and said Ryoko was her kaa-san, so she couldn’t leave her or me.”

 

Kaien stared numbly as Maiha kept talking as she served Haha-ue another drink.

 

“Mito’s words made it worse, because it was fuel on the flames. Suddenly the clan was in an uproar over how Ryoko was disrespecting you, usurping your place, rising above her station, and such. It was getting pretty bad, and Mito took it very poorly, despite what I said to her. As you know Saya-san, Mito isn’t one to shy away from doing what she thinks is right. So she went and confronted one of the ruder clan members, behind Ryoko and I’s backs.”

 

He honestly didn’t know how he didn’t know about this. An incident of this magnitude shouldn’t have slipped by him, even if he had been ignoring and avoiding all mention of his sisters. Kaien had to wonder just what had been going on, and how much of what Maiha was saying was the truth.

 

None of them had handled Haha-ue’s death well, and Chichi-ue had made some comments after he had arrived home to find Haha-ue dead. So everyone had agreed that they wouldn’t have anything to do with the twins until they got a hold of themselves. But they never did get a grip and learn how to deal with it, they had done the easy thing and completely avoided the twins. They hadn’t acted responsibly, and Kaien knew it. They had abandoned Mito and Maiha, and he wouldn’t be surprised if the girls thought they were orphans.

 

But it was one thing for him and his brothers and father to act like they had, and another for the entire clan to do the same. Kaien knew he had thought the clan would step in until they could handle dealing with the twins, because that’s Uzumaki were supposed to do. Support one another, and hold their precious people, their family, above everything else.

 

If Maiha was telling the absolute truth, and that the clan had treated their princesses like pariahs… Well. There was a reason he had survived a Lava Release user in close combat, and had come out the victor.

 

“That was a disaster. If Mito wasn’t the greatest budding fuinjutsu-user… Well, cousin Samuru might never recover, but as far as I’m concerned he deserved it. We had to do some quick thinking to get Mito out of the fire for that, and Ryoko ended up swearing herself to me after all of it in order to ensure she couldn’t be separated from us. Though I think it was more on Mito’s behalf she swore herself to me than anything on my side. I’m pretty sure Ryoko sees Mito as her daughter, and the loyalty she’s displayed to us has attracted that captain to her.

 

Heh. A ninja-pirate captain.

 

But you know me Saya-san, I’ve been dithering over telling you why I stayed behind this time.”

 

Maiha poured the sake out directly from the bottle, soaking the ground and the grave in alcohol.

 

“I’ve been told sake can soothe enraged spirits, so I thought I would bring you some Saya-san as an apology for Mito’s actions. And as a bribe.

 

Mito loves Ryoko, and Ryoko loves her back. I can’t change that, and I wouldn’t even if I could Saya-san. I can justify reprimanding her for calling Ryoko kaa-san in public, or if we’re around people. I can’t order her to do so in private, and I know Mito will continue to, despite my disapproval. Forgive me Saya-san, but I beg you to allow this.”

 

Maiha, the overly formal and polite child, bowed with utmost deference.

 

“She is my sister, and Ryoko is unwaveringly loyal. I would see them happy, even if that means you focus your displeasure upon me alone.”

 

Maiha poured out the last of the sake and stood.

 

“For I am an Uzumaki, and they are my precious people as he will say. I will do anything for them Saya-san. So, please, let them have this.”

 

Maiha left after that, and when he was sure his sister was gone, Kaien emerged from his hiding spot. As he stood over Haha-ue’s grave, the marker glistening with sake and the ground wet, Kaien talked to his mother for the first time in nearly six years.

 

If his cheeks were as wet as Haha-ue’s grave, that was his business.

 


 

Chapter Text

 

Uzumaki Shigure pitited Maiha no Miya, though he would never shame her by ever revealing he felt so. His student worked hard, and remained dedicated in her own solemn way, even when her thimbleful of talent was made even more trivial by her twin’s glorious promise. He didn’t understand why Maiha no Miya had such difficulty with her birthright, but Shigure couldn’t help but wonder if this was a product of their failure on the princesses’ behalf.

 

It was frustrating to know that despite his efforts to teach a willing pupil the ways of Uzumaki fuinjutsu, Maiha no Miya would never succeed. He could already tell Maiha no Miya would never master Uzumaki fuinjutsu, since while she eventually could recreate any seal he set down in perfect working order, mastery demanded she be able to create and modify seals. Maiha no Miya utterly failed in both qualifications for mastery, despite her intelligence.

 

Shigure had no idea how he was supposed to tell Kaien-sama that his eight year old sister had more talent in any shinobi art than she possessed in Uzumaki fuinjutsu. He felt justifiably worried that he might not survive the experience.

 

After Kaien-sama returned to them after his final battle, he had called a clan meeting in lieu of his father and older brother’s absence. The clan hadn’t had such a meeting in years, since all men of the ruling line had refrained from remaining in the compound any longer than strictly needed. There had been much speculation over what Kaien-sama had decided was worth calling such a meeting over, since he had ordered everyone that was considered to be of age to attend unless health or duty demanded otherwise, but in the end Kaien-sama had remained tight-lipped until the meeting itself. In hindsight, the reason had been blindingly obvious.

 

Once everyone had gathered in the hall, Kaien-sama had ordered the hall closed and sealed shut. They had done so, and then Kaien-sama began calling people to stand for questioning. While that had been fairly damning in and of itself, Kaien-sama had activated the old seals inscribed into the floor that would inform the activator if the affected lied to them. The questioning following the seals’ activation was exacting, rigorous, and brutal, with Kaien-sama displaying his displeasure at being lied to in a very informative matter. Samuru did not try to lie again, and neither did anyone else.

 

Kaien-sama first dragged out every detail regarding his sisters’ upbringing, and how everyone had played their part in carefully refraining from having to do with them. Then he asked for the details of every malicious, neglectful, or potentially harmful action they had committed. The stories some of his clansmen had revealed horrified him, because while no one had ever dared to physically harm the princesses, their little cruelties built on each other until suddenly it wasn’t so little after all.

 

Each action that went without punishment or comment from the ruling line encouraged the next to be a little bit crueler, a little bit more daring. Tales of how education was obstructed, medical care was reluctant, and other cruelties brought his opinion of himself and his clan to the lowest they had ever been. And then Kaien-sama had asked why.

 

Everyone gave an answer, usually one relating back to Saya-sama somehow, but the seals revealed none of them really mean the answer they gave. Further investigation from Kaien-sama revealed no one really had a legitimate reason. It had started from someone’s petty grudge against Saya-sama that carried over to her babies, and when they hadn’t faced any punishment, it had grown from there until they had ended up here.

 

But Kaien-sama had then revealed that wasn’t what he had been asking.

 

“I was asking, why did no one step in and stop this? As Uzumaki, we pride ourselves on our devotion to our family, comrades, and allies above anything else. When it was obvious that my father, my brothers, and I were unable or unwilling to take care of Mito and Maiha, someone should have stepped in, but no one did. There are procedures in place in case something like this happens, and there are several options to take. But none of you men and women close to my family stepped in. None of our comrades stepped in. None of our medics, vassals, or even acquaintances stepped in. Instead, a young woman gave up her dream to do what all of you should have. And we’ve all heard how you reacted to Uzumaki Ryoko’s actions-”

 

And that was where Samuru spoke up, and Shigure started repressing the incident. Kaien-sama had proved to the entire clan that despite losing a leg, his viciousness was fifty magnitudes greater than anyone else’s and was still as terrifying as ever. Shigure shivered as he started tamping back down the memory.

 

Shigure was drawn away from his terrible memories when Maiha no Miya asked him something.

 

“Shigure-sensei, I believe it is obvious to the both of us my talents do not lie in this direction. But I would like to try something.”

 

Shigure felt a sense of dread as Maiha no Miya’s eyes lit with a flame he remembered Kaien-sama having when he- Shigure shuddered and redoubled his efforts in suppressing that event.

 

“Hidenka-sama?”

 

“I want to try a different method of sealing. With a different…script.”

 

“And what seal will you be attempting to make with this script Hidenka-sama?”

 

“The basic explosion.”

 

“…I see. Very well Hidenka-sama, let’s go the Testing Grounds and see what happens.”

 


 

 

Shigure watched Maiha no Miya craft her seal in mingled interest and dread. The script she had asked to use seemed to be of her own making, comprised of glyphs composed of straight lines that go over dots, concentric circles that have dots as their center, and horizontal lines and vertical lines around the dots. It looked nothing like any written language or sealing script he had seen, and Shigure had no idea how Maiha no Miya can conceived of such an alien thing. He would have to report this development, that Maiha no Miya had secretly created an entire language or script.

 

Painstakingly she wrote a paragraph in her script, brows furrowed in concentration. Once she was finished, Maiha no Miya made her way to the center of the desert island the clan used as their seal experimentation area. The island was fifteen minutes of hard running across the ocean surface from the compound, and after seeing generations of Uzumaki failures and successes, the desert island was covered in glass craters and pockmarks.

 

Shigure watched from his spot in the bunker as Maiha no Miya returned from placing the seal, and as she entered the bunker he asked, “Did you prime it?”

 

She nodded, quickly checking her ear protection and placing her eye protection on. “Thirty seconds until detonation Shigure-sensei.”

 

“What was the activation command?”

 

“Dople. Rrha ki ra ruinie.”

 

Shigure was about to demand she tell him what it was in their language, and not in her invention, when the world shook. Even with their ear and eye protections, Shigure was nearly blinded and deafened. The explosion kept occurring for nearly two minutes, and Shigure was ready to strangle his student for not telling him she had attempted something of this magnitude. Basic explosive seal his ass!

 

After the explosions hit the two minute mark, they suddenly ceased. It took five minutes before he felt safe enough to remove his protection, and another five until Shigure’s sight and hearing returned to normal. Once he could see, he saw that Maiha no Miya had written another seal in her alien script on the wall of the bunker, but it had been used already and was quickly fading.

 

“I didn’t expect that Shigure-sensei.”

 

Explain Maiha no Miya.

 

“The script is designed to draw power from the outside energy source, and apparently this makes self-perpetuating explosions for as long as the script I designed my explosive seal from lasted. The script would last upwards of six minutes, and I wasn’t sure if we’d survive that, so I blind scripted to spontaneously create a cancelation seal to forcefully end the explosion seal.”

 

Shigure wanted to weep. Maiha no Miya had designed her script to draw on natural energy and it had worked.

 

How was he supposed to explain this to Kaien-sama?!

 


 

Chapter Text

 

Uzumaki Kimihiro glowered with all of his might at Kaien, attempting to activate any residual kekkai genkai that might allow him to incinerate his brother with the power of his eyes. He was not happy his younger brother had decided to switch up the schedules of the raiding parties in order to force him home. As far as he was concerned, Kaien had been leading the clan admirably after he had spontaneously discovered some maturity after that Lava Release user permanently benched him from future raids and pillaging. There was no reason for his impertinent little brother to have forced him home, unless…

 

“Have you received word that something has happened to Chichi-ue or Kōsuke?!”

 

Kaien looked away from the papers he had been reading while Kimihiro had verbally lashed him to give Kimihiro a wry look from behind the clan head’s desk.

 

“Nii-san, if that was the case I would simply have sent word of such while ordering you to return home. I certainly wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble to force you to actually set foot in the compound.”

 

Kimihiro grimaced at hearing Kaien sound so…adult. The brother he had grown up with had been shamelessly immature whenever he wasn’t leading a raiding party, no matter how he or their father had tried to get Kaien to act like his future second in command. It may have been nearly eight years since he had been around Kaien, but he honestly hadn’t thought he would live to see Kaien grow up.

 

In the two hours they had been secluded in the clan head’s office –Kaien’s office – he couldn’t help but note the differences in his little brother.

 

He smiled less, smiles dimmer, lines of stern frowns and stress making inroads to where there had only been lines of laughter. He was intent on his paperwork, not shirking it or whining about how much he hated the “White Demons.” He remained focused on his work, giving it the lion’s share of his attention. Kimihiro felt his anger fade as he took in all these changes in his baby brother, distress setting in.

 

What had happened to Kaien?

 

Kimihiro started to ask Kaien when the office door suddenly opened, and he turned to see who would dare to enter the office while the acting clan was holding a meeting. The intruder turned out to be a pale preteen girl who swept into the office with a solemn regality that contrasted her swift movement. Free flowing waist length hair colored lava red caught his eye with its bold color as it swished over a simple forest green training kimono, and Persian indigo irises focused on Kaien with an intensity Kimihiro hadn’t seen in a preteen before.

 

“Ah, there you are Kaien. I was hoping you were here. My apologies for interrupting your meeting with an acquaintance, but Samuru’s son, Seiya-”

 

Kaien groaned in pain as a hand came to massage a brow that had furrowed deeply when the girl had mention Samuru.

 

“And now Mito’s about to see if she can’t use him as a test subject for her fuinjutsu. I’ll take care of it.”

 

Kaien quickly rose from behind his desk and stormed over to the door, but he paused before leaving, carefully refraining from turning around.

 

“By the way, Kimihiro isn’t an acquaintance. He’s our eldest brother Maiha.”

 

After detonating that explosive tag, Kaien charged off to go head off whatever disaster she had been talking about. Kimihiro was still frozen by the knowledge he was in the same room as the sister he had never met (his mother’s killer) when she turned and addressed him first.

 

“I was wondering what Kaien was up to since he went and raised such a fuss over the scheduling. It was out of character for him to do so, but now I can see why.”

 

She looked over him, her expression remaining coolly unperturbed in the face of meeting him for the first time. Kimihiro couldn’t boast possessing the same calm, knowing he was visibly affected by learning who she was.

 

“Well, I suppose introductions are in order since you’ve never have had the fortitude to meet me or my sister. My name is Uzumaki Maiha, younger fraternal twin sister to Uzumaki Mito. It is an incomparable pleasure to finally make your acquaintance Uzumaki-san.”

 

Kimihiro clenched his jaw in anger at her barbed words.

 

“How dare you address me in such a manner you-”

 

She raised an eyebrow at his words, interrupting him before he could finish.

 

“Murderer? Hardly. But it’s nothing I haven’t heard before.”

 

Her mouth curved from its unaffected line into a tiny, vicious showing of teeth.

 

“Go on, call me whatever you wish– if you have the courage to do so. But considering how you have avoided your own home for nearly thirteen years, how you’ve shirked and abandoned your duties… I sincerely doubt you do, you craven wretch.”

 

Each hissed word bit deeply, and Kimihiro’s vision ran red as the monstrosity taunted him. He took a menacing step in it direction, wanting to intimidate it so it would stop hissing at him.

 

Shut up. You have no right to talk when you killed Kaa-san. She is dead because of you. If you hadn’t been born she would still be alive!”

 

Persian indigo irises stared flatly at him, and Kimihiro could see the malice and cruelty swimming in its dead eyes as it opened its mouth.

 

“Oh. Did I hit a nerve? You have my most sincere apologies Uzumaki-san.”

 

It began circling him as he trembled under the weight of his rage.

 

“But I wonder what nerve I struck. Is it jealousy from that Haha-ue chose us, chose to keep us while knowing she was likely throwing away her future with you and the others? Is it grief born from how she died before you could ever beg for her forgiveness for leaving her all alone?

 

Or is it guilt that has you trembling like some stripling Uzumaki-san? The guilt you feel over abandoning Haha-ue while she was pregnant. The guilt from shunning her when she needed your support and love, for letting her die alone knowing that you weren’t coming.

 

Kimihiro let out a strangled cry of rage,unable to take any more of its lies(truths) and aimed to strike it with all his might so it could no longer hiss at him. It couldn’t dodge his blow, but Kimihiro was confused when his strike passed through its skull without the resistance flesh and bone should give. It bared its teeth again with an unholy, savage glee as he realized,

 

“This is an illusion-”

 

Suddenly all of his limbs went dead and limp, completely unresponsive to his will, and he crashed to the floor. The pain of hitting the floor without doing anything to catch himself, and the burst of pain from his nose breaking yet again, shattered the genjutsu he had been caught in. It rolled him over onto his back with a savage kick to the ribs, and Kimihiro saw it had been behind him. It was the same as it was in the genjustu, but it was only smirking faintly at him instead of baring its teeth.

 

“And to think some people claim genjustu isn’t useful. Well Uzumaki-san, despite your attempt to end my life, I have spared yours. I’ve even refrained from crippling you in retaliation. Am I not a generous imouto?”

 

Its smirk faded back into the placid expression it had entered the office with, and it gave a small put-upon sigh.

 

“I suppose I’ll have to go report this to Kaien, so don’t move Uzumaki-san. I’ll be back soon, don’t you fret.”

 

With that, it swept out of the office to the sound of his snarled curses.

 


 

Chapter Text

 

Tears welled in her green eyes, ruefully grinning lips trembling as she haltingly pronounces that she cannot accept his courtship, and Uzumaki Kuzuri stares helplessly as Ryoko silently cried through her explanation.

 

“Kuzuri, I swore my services to Maiha no Miya several years ago, before Kaien-sama came back and took over. I no longer have the ability to accept your suit because of this. Maiha-hime is my liege-lady, and until she releases me from my oath, you must have her permission in order to court me.”

 

Kuzuri couldn’t help but pale at Ryoko’s explanation, despite his relief that she wasn’t refusing his suit because she didn’t want him. But the idea that he would need to face Maiha no Miya… he felt like a particularly unlucky animal, one that had accidentally tumbled into a tar pit. Shakily, he ran his hand through his hair, trying to let the sensation of the short bristles distract him from the rising dread at the thought that he would have to abase himself before one of the most terrifying females in the clan in order to beg a boon from her.

 

Ryoko gave him a weary grin at seeing his nervous habit resurface, well aware of how he viewed the princess, and he returned it with his own wry, apologetic smile.

 

“In order to avoid this, I had planned on asking Maiha-hime if I might seek your hand, since it wouldn’t go against my vows, and because I know that-”

 

She halted abruptly, rage filling her face as green eyes flashed in the coldest manner, completely unwilling to voice it; the surge of affection for her that generated nearly had him tearing up. He still couldn’t believe that he, with all his issues and flaws, had managed to catch her attention, but things like this proved that his heart hadn’t chosen wrongly. But Ryoko quickly regained her footing and continued before he could voice his feelings and distract them.

 

“But I can’t do that now. Now that you’ve asked me first, you must ask Maiha-hime yourself, least I face accusations of trying to circumvent my oaths or you face reprimands from the ruling line for overstepping your bounds.”

 

Kuzuri frowns, teeth worrying at his lower lip, because he hadn’t thought that their actions could be seen that way, and certainly not by Kaien of all people. They had been close comrades, perhaps even friends, for a long, long time. He was the man that had helped him come to terms with his trauma in between the raids and fighting; even if Kuzuri had never been able to bring himself to confide in Kaien the details behind his issues. But that same man was their clan’s lord and master in all but name nowadays. Kaien personally might not find it a big deal nor take issue with this, but Kaien-sama might.

 

Kuzuri absentmindedly licked his lower lip as he tasted blood, and decided that getting a lay of the land before trying to create a plan of attack for how he would approach Maiha no Miya wouldn’t be a bad move.

 

Now when was Kaien officially done with work again?

 

 


 

 

 

Kaien groaned with muted pain as he rolled his shoulders and stretched, feeling like an old pain with how stiff and achy his body was. He was not meant for this kind of work, sitting behind a desk endlessly slaving over paperwork with an agonizingly careful eye. He was meant to be an ambassador to their allies and friends outside the clan, a liaison to their clients, and a negotiator when dealing with anyone who didn’t fit into those categories.

 

Kaien heaved a sigh, hating where his thoughts led him. Because he couldn't, could never be what he was meant to be; his brother’s right-hand man. Gods, what a mess…

 

He was drawn from that morose line of thought when a sharp, familiar pattern of rapping announced a visitor. Kaien heaved himself to his feet, curious as to why Kuzuri would want to visit so late. He opened the door, a small grin on his face at the thought of spending some quality time with a good comrade, “Kuzuri, this is a surprise-” Kaien’s welcome came to an abrupt halt halfway through what he was going to say as he got an eyeful of what Kuzuri was carrying; plum wine and honey baiju.

 

This was no casual visit.

 

“That’s some potent liquid bribery you’re carrying there Kuzuri. If I recall correctly – and I know I do because I was there when you claimed these as part of your pay – these vintages and brands aren’t available anymore. Haven’t been in some time in fact.”

 

Kuzuri gave a nervous laugh, his skin reddening, arms twitching like he wanted to run his hands through his hair. Kaien’s eyes narrowed at the sign of that combination of nervous ticks. This was even bigger than he had thought. Just what the hell was Kuzuri trying to pull him into?

 

“What the hell have you gotten yourself into Kuzuri that you’re all but throwing these priceless drinks at my feet?”

 

“Uh… I, ah, want to court Ryoko.”

 

Kaien blinked once. Twice. And tried to regather his thoughts after that unexpected explosive tag. Leaping for a chance to think about this brewing disaster, Kaien took a different path.

 

“I didn’t even know you were thinking about seeing Ryoko seriously. Or at all, really. You’d think that’d be something you’d tell your comrade, instead of suddenly springing on him you want to court Uzumaki Ryoko.”

 

“Well. I’ve been interested for years, but it’s only within the last two that I’ve been home long enough to see if she was interested too or if we could work together.”

 

“Aren’t you rushing this a little? It’s only been two years. Hell, not even that when you take into account that you’ve gone on Ransom Runs and got hired as a bounty hunter to take down that Kaguya that was giving the Water Daimyo so much trouble. You do know we Uzumaki usually take at least five years before deciding to give courting a try right? Barring an arranged marriage of course.”

 

Kuzuri’s sheepish grin strained as Kaien kept nattering on, even though his complaints came straight from the heart. Kuzuri, and presumably Ryoko, had completely ignored the unspoken rules their clan ran on when it came to personal relations. Even though Kaien knew both of them were very private individuals due their pasts, this was a little beyond the pale. He couldn’t help but feel slighted, and god alone knew how Maiha–

 

Kaien could feel the blood drain from his face at that thought. Maiha would take this very, very poorly, and Mito would be at least as bad (for once) because this involved Ryoko.

 

“You want my help with my sisters, don’t you.”

 

Kaien didn’t even bother to keep the accusation from his voice, because this was a dirty move.

 

Kuzuri had purposefully sought him out after a long day at work, when he was exhausted and unlikely to be thinking straight. He had brought substantial bribery, picking Kaien’s favorite alcohols as his bribe because he knew, with the stress of the job, he would dearly want some relaxation. He knew Kaien regarded him as a trusted comrade, perhaps even a friend, and would be disinclined to turn him away when the man did honestly need his help. And he had made sure to come to Kaien, the man, and not his clan head.

 

And Kaien wanted to damn himself, because even as Kuzuri reluctantly nodded, he knew he’d be involving himself in spite of the fact Kuzuri had used dirty tactics to get his help. He was a sucker, weak to the idea that Ryoko could make his friend happy, even after his trauma, and vice versa.

 

“You are so fucking lucky you’re my comrade Kuzuri. Get your ass in here and give me my alcohol. I’m damn well going to earn these drinks helping your sorry behind, and you’re not getting so much as a drop for putting me into this position.”

 

He could visibly see Kuzuri relax as he eagerly hustled into his living room, clearly desperate to get out of the open. Kaien barked a laugh filled with schadenfreude. He'd be afraid of someone listening in and reporting back to Maiha, or Mito, too.