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‘ “Freedom isn’t real my child who told you a lie like that...?” ’

His mother… he can still remember her voice fizzling in and out of his mind’s eye. Each day, years later, with her memory fizzled away to burned edges in the corners of his memories, he can still remember snippets of things his mother would say. He could still taste the hollow resentment he had harbored for her for years.

Now in his adulthood, Tokuma understood his mother in ways he never thought he could.

Lying here now, underneath this beast in human skin, drinking his fill of his body, Tokuma would understand everything about his mother.

He would understand nothing about his mother.

He would be stuck forever in that endless miasma of feelings.

‘Endless…’

[/A brutal thrust cracked his head back against the tatami mat. He plunged deeper into his own mind./]


 

Tsune had been his mother’s name he recalled. He used to ask about her, in the night, when his world was too cold. Searching for a hot thing; something to ignite the coals simmering in his belly when that demon prowled for him at night, A connection to his birth mother to understand her through his pain and misery.

Through her pain and misery; parents always damaged their children somehow.

He used to ask about his father. A man he never knew. His mother would look at him like she was seeing a ghost. One that never stopped haunting her, she’d keep that stricken look for the rest of the day Tokuma knew.

‘Love can’t protect you now…’ she’d whispered that to him, before going to the lake. Tokuma knew she was not supposed to, it was not a full moon and she did not have paint adorning her arms. His mommy did not have permission from Asahi-sama, despite her being grown up too. He would retrieve her before she’d try to nap under the lapping waves.

Didn’t she know she could not do that? the four year old had mused.

 He’d stumble down in a little bit, arms straining to bring her her favorite quilt, and she would pull him into her lap and sing to him. They would stay bundled like that until she was chilly against his back.

She would apologize, scoop him up onto her wide hip and take him home.

‘ “I love you so much…’”

[/ “I love you Tokuma. Beautiful….like your mother…”/ The man was still inside of him. He turned Tokuma’s face to look him in the eye. Tokuma stared into Yuki’s eyes, but he wasn’t there, distantly he felt him cumming.]

‘ “I’ll keep you safe..always..” ’

‘ “From what?” ’

His mother never answered him.

He’d ask her about his name. It was the one time she’d given him an answer and at the time he believed it had been enough.

‘ “When you were still in my belly…I never knew such…peace…you were a surprise honestly…a gift, I didn’t know I needed…” ’ she had said this to him when he was five.

He thought she was a liar at age seven.


 

His mother was a beauty, described as a muse.

She was stunning, her hair in an attractive bob, tassels adorning her bangs. Shapely breasts and strong hips.

She was fierce, mature and the life of her family.

She believed one day that her life could be her own.

Her mother reminded her it never would be.

Lost, she had flayed the flesh of her arms for release.

She had aged into a stunning twenty-two, and avoided the council member, Yuhi, as if his very presence would wilt her, like a flower too close to the sun. Her avoidance of him burned him like acid and he had turned his eyes to her sister. A pretty eighteen-year-old girl, her hair gave hints of honey, she’d been sweet too sweet for a hard clan like the Hyuga. He had attacked the girl in her own home.

He had not expected her to fight, or for Tsune to come home early. She had gone after the man with a kitchen knife.

She had saved her sister burying the knife into the man’s back, but she had hesitated at the sight of his blood welling up. It had cost her as the man turned with a vicious backhand that had sent her world spiraling into darkness. She had awoken to her mother cleaning her face of blood, informing her she had been summoned, her jaw ached he had almost broken it.

She had croaked out that she had been the one to injure the man, preparing herself for the activation of her seal; he had denied she did such a thing. In fact, he had insisted she were not present at all. He had feigned confusion as to why she had insisted she had been present, before asking her to reveal her arms to the council. He had felt an intervention into her mental health was necessary.

Yuhi was a serpent.

Tsune had felt the color drain from her face at the request.

Swallowing she had pulled up the sleeves of her yukata revealing the ruined flesh of her arms. Asahi had been outraged. He had berated her, insisting she had failed her responsibilities as a branch member. If she were defective, how could she carry out her duties? How could he know she would not actually break and seek to harm any of the clan members, including herself any further? He could not have her shaming the clan.

Yuhi had offered a solution.

After watching them peel the flesh from her sister’s back, staining her white yukata with cherries of red, she had been escorted against her will to the quiet corner of the compound where the clan housed a small medical facility.

Strapped down, she’d watched in mounting horror as one of the medics consulted a final time with Yuhi before the man had left to retrieve his supplies.

Yuhi had raped her violently by the time the man returned. She knew he had been sitting outside the door listening. He had returned with a tool to lobotomize her.

“You’ll be my trained bird after a while…”


 

The lobotomy had been a failure.

She’d been rendered docile, her mother reporting that she no longer harmed herself but she was…off.

She had to relearn basic things. How to hold her chopsticks, dress, it was like she was a child sometimes. She was not there anymore. Sometimes she’d drift back other times she’d just sit eyes glazed. After a couple months she had relearned how to take care of herself…but still something was not right. She thrived on the smallest of things, falling in love with music and dance again but she was different. She honestly scared her mother.

She would have outbursts from time to time, violent ones. Her mother had awoken to her beating a cat to a bloody pulp in her shared room with her sister. Her sister watching dispassionately as Tsune laughed like it was the funniest thing to her.

It had chilled her mother to her core, seeing her daughter descend into madness, she had begged Yuhi to fix her.

Yuhi insisted she was fine.

When he had come to her later that night, she had not fought him. Her sister had squeezed her eyes shut, rolling away to face the wall. He knew she would not speak a word.

He had crawled into bed behind her, hands roaming down.

Her sister had told her mother. Unbelieving her mother had slapped her. Kicked her where she fell calling her a liar. Her sister had not spoken since.

For months on end, he would come for Tsune at night. Her mother had found out, walked out of the room after Tsune looked like a corpse underneath the man raping her. Her eyes distant gone. Her other daughter had watched her silent, eyes blank as her mother cried begging her to forgive her ignorance.

She had gathered her things and walked out of the door, stopping only to inform her that Tsune was pregnant.

Her mother had jumped off the highest building in the compound.

After the funeral, Yuhi became aware that Tsune was pregnant, her belly beginning to swell just the slightest bit beneath his roaming fingers. He had pushed her down the stairs the following morning, hoping to kill the life inside of her.

It did not work.

She had laughed at him when she saw him, telling him the baby was his.

He had confessed to Asahi and another council member, and Asahi had beaten him bloody for abusing his power. Asahi had told him to hope that she could not carry the child to term. The other suggested branding it, to let Yuhi gaze at his shame.

Yuhi would make sure it did not survive if Tsune did not. He still wanted her, but it was in the way.

 Yuhi stopped touching her the whole progression of her pregnancy. She had laughed and then cried at the unexpected peace, wanting so desperately to rid herself of the parasite inside her and yet aching for it at the same time.

When the child had been born, she refused to look at it. The medics told her it was a boy, and she had shuttered hating to think this child would grow up like its father. She would stop that if she could. The medics finally insisted she at least see the child before giving it away. They had left the new born in its cot at the foot of her bed. She could hear its cries and she grabbed a scalpel, intending to slit the creature’s throat into a smile.

She picked the squirming bundle up and as she set the scalpel to his throat, he had opened his eyes and looked at her.

She froze, looking at his face. A face she had not expected to look so much like hers, but all like his.

She’d sank down to the floor exhausted, staring at the bundle in her arms, at a loss for what to do. Cradling its head, she took notice of the soft brown hair. His head was full of hair, and it was her color, her texture, but it curled at the ends like his. Setting the scalpel down, she pulled the child close to her chest. The infant turned his head, mouth opening and closing searching for her breast. She pulled the hospital gown down to nurse him.

She was crying before she realized it. She wanted so badly to end this infant’s life as her sister had done weeks before her, bashing its head in against the wall, to the horror of the medics present. The moment they had set the infant against her chest she had swung it as hard she could, hysterical at the parasite he had implanted in her. She had not even known she was pregnant until her water had broken. However, she could not bring herself to pick up the scalpel again. Eyes glazing she tilted her head back against the bed, staring at nothing wanting to fall away into the cloud of fog that always settled just beneath her line of vision since she her lobotomy. She was drifting in it when the door opened. Yuhi walked in reaching for the child, leaning to grab the discarded scalpel.

It was crying in her arms, and she felt rage. She had lashed out at him, chakra charged hand sending the scalpel spinning as he tried to plunge it into the child. She screamed her throat hoarser, and Asahi and the medics had rushed in, taking in the sight. Asahi had been furious, grabbing the man and dragging him bodily out the door when he lunged for the child. She had turned her attention to the bundle throwing a fit in her arms and soothed him by singing to him.

She named him Tokuma.

She had found out later, why Asahi had been there. In the middle of what he was saying, she had spaced out enthralled by the color of the flowers across the room. She would paint later she felt. The baby was fussing in her arms and she thought of flinging him across the room. He was distracting her, but his face was so cute scrunched like that. She leaned down placing her lips to his cheek, pulling back a little she bared her teeth and pulled the infants round cheek between her teeth.

Asahi had pushed her shoulder back gently, looking disturbed at the action.

She wondered why. Tokuma was crying earnestly now, she had not even bitten him yet. She was screaming too now, already this child was too dramatic.

Asahi had grabbed the infant from her.


 

Her child was of the main branch.

She had kept him safe and he had survived to eighteen months.

In return, he kept her safe. Yuhi was afraid to touch her; he had been warned away from harming the child. Asahi saying he would not stomach the man hurting the baby. How ironic.

When he was three, she noticed how independent the child wanted to be. He wasn’t fussy like he was as a baby. She wondered if all the shaking had calmed him down.

She liked to kiss his bare forehead, one more year and she could stop holding a pillow over him as she watched him sleep or doze in her lap.

She would protect him anyway she could.

She could tell his byakugan would be strong when he was four years old. She could feel his potential. He was sitting in her lap, idly kicking his feet as she brushed his hair. It was long, and curled at the ends when it was wet. She’d clip his ends when he was distracted by the bubbles in the tub. She wanted no trace of that demon on her son, even though she had to spread her legs again for the man at night.

He’d told her he’d agree to keep the child from being branded if she loved him. She had agreed.

She faked admiration for him. Sometimes it was too sour. She sometimes would see a ghost of him in her son, if she turned her head too fast. She clipped away that visage starting with the curls at the ends of his hair. Once she’d slid her hand around his small throat and realized how easy it would be to snap it.

He wouldn’t even struggle, didn’t struggle when she had set her fingers around it, he’d paused, turned and looked at her, eyes big, blinking innocently before returning to playing with the bubbles in front of him. So trusting…, she apologized, placed kisses on the crown of his head.

He turned and put some of the suds in her hands, grinning. It fell away quickly and he had then settled his hands on her cheeks and asked her why she was crying.

She had pulled her sister off of him when her sister had snapped because “that hell seed called me his aunt.” She’d grabbed her sister by the hair and struck her across the face. Tokuma was balling, cheeks red from the scratches on his face. She went and scooped him up hugging the child to her tucking his head against her neck as she comforted him. She watched her sister seethe on the floor and she started laughing. She wondered what the clan would say if she set all three of them free right now.

Would they be jealous?

Death wasn’t freedom though.

She hated how the branch perpetuated that awful ideal, she’d hated it even as a child, why couldnt they understand that?

Later she snatched the cup from Tokuma’s lips before he could take a sip of the milk she gave him and poured it out. She smashed the glass against the wall and fixed him a new cup of milk without the bleach.

She had sung and danced with him that night. The incident with her sister forgotten. He moved like her, and he liked playing with blocks like her. Sometimes they would fight over them. He would wait her out until he could have his turn, playing with his fingers, cleaning his nails.

She had read him a story as an apology and slipped something to help him sleep into his milk. Stroking his hair she’d carry him to bed. He didn’t need to hear what was happening to her in the room next door. She placed kisses on his face, checked to make sure he was breathing then closed the door.


 

He’d awoken, just as Yuhi was cumming inside her. He was calling for her. Yuhi grunted rolling off of her and she’d grabbed a spare yukata covering herself as she briskly made her way to his room. He was in the process of climbing down from his bed when she walked in. He’d stopped one leg dangling and looked at her before pulling himself back onto the bed, she pushed his butt up there when the sheets slide with his weight.

She thought again about smothering him, and she thought of the man down the hall. She thought of herself, her name endless, and the ending word of her son’s benevolence. He did not deserve her life. To be branded, to be cast out as a bastard should he know his father. She would not allow that. And she would not allow herself to brutalize him despite the voices telling her one tap and it’d be a painless end.

He was mumbling something to her, but she ignored everything he said, deciding to trace the features of her face in his. She should have ended her life a long time ago.

“I’ll keep you safe always…” she was stroking his cheek, thumbing away his tears.

“From what?” he asked her.

From me…


 

 He’d kept his promise, it was already three months after Tokuma’s birthday. Yuhi kept Asahi and council members at bay, insisting that as his son the boy had a right to be of the main family. She watched the little boy practice the dance move she had taught him. A secret dance she had told him, only for her to see. In truth, it was the step she’d seen Hiashi-sama practicing in the dojo. The boy picked it up fast.

Love was keeping him safe. Even if it was artificial.

He would be free unlike her

She was bathing him again when she heard her name. Rising, she’d took a backseat in her mind as she went to slide open her door. The council man was informing her that her sister and Yuhi were both dead. She was on autopilot not processing a thing; she would get the information later anyway. But even through the fog she couldn’t help but think their deaths had been so stupid, so pointless and unexpected.

Bad fish. A parasite in the food. Yuhi had been forcing her to share a meal with him when they’d consumed it.

The last time she’d spoken to her sister she had told her that it was a stomach virus. Yuhi had stayed away from her at night, not wanting to infect her.

She returned to Tokuma, asking him if he wanted to practice swimming underwater.

Before he could say yes she’d pushed his head under.

She felt more like she were the one drowning


 

They would come for him she knew they would. She tightened her supervision on the child.

They had both been outside when she heard multiple footsteps on the veranda. He had been practicing the gentle fist, her correcting his stance, fixing his posture.

“No” she heard herself whisper. She was on autopilot when they’d rounded the corner spotting her and she’d swept Tokuma up so quickly and violently he squeaked in her arms.

Escape.

The single thing in her mind underneath her mounting terror, she would not, could not let them harm him.

She wouldn’t let them take the last thing she loved. They already had taken her sanity, her sister, and her mother.

She knew where to put him so he’d be safe, the lake. She could get there quick enough.

She was prepared to throw him in it, her feet moving to turn to the lake when he’d informed her in a soft voice that she was scaring him.

She stopped. Staring down at the child in her arms, he looked everything like her. He looked nothing like her. His face calm and confused, hers blank despite the panic eating her up inside.

Asahi and the others were walking toward her and she realized she had not even run as far as she thought. Around to the back of the branch home she shared with him at best. His arms and legs were wrapped around her, and she was squishing him to her chest. She could not help but realize she was running from the inevitable. Her past was squirming in her arms, her present approaching and her future staring into her soul. Expression crumpling she dropped to her knees, Tokuma disentangling enough from her to pull her to his small chest, petting her hair, comforting her she realized.

She didn’t deserve his love.

She was too destructive; she wanted to erase herself from him.

He didn’t deserve her fate.

He still smelled of milk.

Asahi grabbed his hand, pulling him from her grasp, he slipped from her fingers like blood.


 

They might as well have ripped her heart out and seared her wounds closed.

She’d laid at the shore of the lake for how long, she did not know. She felt like the waves swallowed her even though they rippled and teased her back. Her mind was telling her to move further down, so that they could wash over her face and mouth and she could sleep, she wanted to but she didn’t have the strength to rise.

She closed her eyes miserable. She thought of the life, before her mother had taken away her naïve notions of freedom. Fuzzily she remembered the first member to touch her inappropriately, a branch woman.

When she opened them again, she was staring blankly at the door of her home. It was later now, the sun setting, she could hear footsteps. They were stopping outside the door, one tread light as a feather, her world; the other familiar.

Her door slid open, Asahi never knocked on any doors, it was all technically his anyway. It revealed him and his son, Hiashi. The boy looked a little ill. She didn’t care. She was staring at her son, the boy’s brow was wrapped, and his expression was calm. She wasn’t fooled, she read the etches of pain at the corners of his eyes. He had a headache.

Asahi was talking to her again, she turned a little, thinking about the knife in the kitchen and how quickly she could move. She wasn’t the best at kenjutsu. Hiashi eyed her, shaking his head.

What the hell did he know.

Asahi was saying something about Tokuma, his hand resting on the boy’s shoulder. Seeping red violence on his shoulder, she’d burn his training outfit later.

They looked at her expectantly.

She hadn’t been listening and her assistant hadn’t been taking notes, so she started laughing. Hysterically so, all of them took a step back, except Tokuma and Hiashi.

They left her then, and she thought of finally just drowning the boy in the tub, but her other self reminded her that, it wasn’t freedom.

He was crying, reaching his arms up to her. She wanted to kick him away. He was being so stupid right now, she was the one who’d sealed his fate the moment she set the scalpel down. When his crying turned to hitching breaths, she pulled him to her, up on her shapely hip. One arm secured around him she grasped his left and slow-danced with him. He was so trusting of her, too trusting of her. He was too bright and she was not. Not anymore, she had been once, but that was a long time ago.

When she thought her life could be hers, and her mother had beat it out of her.

She didn’t know how long he blabbered into her neck, but she’d soothed him somehow. Switching her grip on him, to let him lay his head on her opposite shoulder. She could feel his breath against her collarbone, the sweep of his long lashes against her throat. The tension in his small body was slowly eking away, she drifted down the hall to his room. He was dozing and she was happy, she shifted him till she was cradling his head with her forearm stretching it along his spine, his mouth pressed against her right breast. She stretched his legs out over lap, and realized how she’d positioned him in a cradle hold, rocking him.

He blinked his eyes open at her, squirming a little probably in protest to the restraint. He was saying something , but his words were watery still, she didn’t like it. He was saying he was not a baby anymore, he always did protest being treated like a baby. Didn’t he understand he would always be hers? Only hers, forever.  The moment he sucked from her breast, he was hers; she’d keep him always, away from him away from them. However, she had failed. She failed and the screaming had not stopped since she watched him walk away with them.

“You’ll always be my baby,” she whispered to him, he turned against her, looking up at her, hair mussed. She smoothed his bangs, caressing his face and he closed his eyes. They were unruly just like hers, always fluffing at the ends and she thought of giving him the tassels that adorned hers. She moved her hand over his nose and mouth, moisture pushing in her eyes, as she felt his breath puffing against her palm. He bit her fingers, but she would not even consider it a bite, more like pressing his teeth to her skin.

It did not matter how big he’d get, he’d always smell of milk to her. Her milk on his breath, forever; but the calculating look he was giving her, studying her like one of his puzzle books he devoured unnerved her, because it was the same look, he had settled on her the first time she saw him.

She stared at him stricken, her past boring into her and she rose, he slid off her lap, peering up at her as she rose. Brown hair rippling like waves when he cocked his head at her, confusion in his eyes, he shifted a little asking her why she was looking at him like that. The pout on his lips reminded her that he was hers, still.

“Love can’t protect you now…” she croaked out and realized that the screaming had intensified.

She was back in the fog, but she could not breathe. Opening her eyes, she saw blue, and realized distantly she was in the lake. She gasped out, before pulling her head back under the waves stilling. Struggling to stay under she heard splashing and saw Tokuma trying to wade into the water to her, but it was too deep she knew and despite her dunking his head, he was not a strong swimmer.

She coughed out, telling him to turn back, go back to the shore and she wondered if she were commanding him or herself.

I’m drowning.


 

Her son was a prince, a prodigy, and pretty.

At six, he spoke so properly it was well beyond his age. His talents were shining.

He had the best byakugan in the clan in over a century.

He was mature for a six year old and Tsune knew that was her fault. He was looking after her, had been since his branding. Why? How could he still love her even now?

She’d watch him drink water and taste milk in her mouth every now and then.

He was beautiful, and would grow to look everything like her, she noticed. His will would be stronger however and his love, like velvet. Hers was too thick, like a blanket in summer. He was a quiet kind of fierce, calm where she had not been. Even now she could feel him wanting to make his life his own, whispering of freedom.

“Freedom isn’t real who told you a lie like that?” That bitch had spoken before she could, and it burned her. He had looked crestfallen, withdrawing into himself, and she viscously lashed out at herself in her head. Screaming at that taunting bitch she was always screaming, bitter, wanting her baby’s breath to be sour, sour enough she finally gave him his precious freedom. She’d run from him then, to the bathroom, and watched the woman in the mirror laugh at her. She wanted to reach in the mirror and strangle her. She’d slammed her fist into it, shattering the glass and plunging it into that bitches side, Tokuma was their shrieking at her. She shoved him away but that little boy was persistent, and she realized he had knocked her to the floor and was trying to bandage her bleeding side and her fist.

Startled she had gone limp. She studied his face as he fixed her from his position in her lap

He should never be wearing an expression like that. When he finished, he sat there watching her, and told her that he wouldn’t take what the other her had said to heart. He was too perceptive for his own good.

But he was still a child. A beautiful child, and she knew what his fate would be.

The man was looking at her son, as he practiced his technique. He called Tokuma over to the northern main-house veranda. She’d watched the man talk to her son a smile on his face, poison on his lips. She dropped the basket in her hands, briskly walking over, she took Tokuma’s hand and the man frowned at her as Tokuma looked up at her.

“I can teach you another move now if you’d like Toku-chan,” her smile was real for him, he lit up nodding to her. “Go grab my training uniform for me?” He nodded bowing to the main house Hyuga and bounding off toward their room, hair swaying.

The man tracked his movements, the sway of his hair, and Tsune’s gaze turned arctic.

“Stay away from my son” she breathed, the anger was twitching in her fingers.

The man looked at her uninterested. “A branch pet like you can’t address me like that.” He rose, and she stepped up to him, which surprised him. She pushed her bosom to his chest and his eyes hooded. His hands settled on her wide hips, Tokuma forgotten.

She whispered hotly in his ear and he left, turning back into the depths of hell.

 She would keep her son from that life, he would never go through what she did; she’d make sure of it. Her beauty had been a curse it would not be his.


 

Hizashi had come to her one afternoon. He had just had a son and the squirming child looked so much like Tokuma she started to snatch the child away from him. Tokuma was clinging to his hip, trying to see the new baby. Hizashi handed him the baby and Tokuma sat on the steps with it. Hizashi was speaking to her about his son, saying that he hoped Tokuma would help him out with training his son in the future; it would be great if the best byakugan taught his son. She had smiled at him, but her attention was focused on her son as he set his teeth to the infant’s cheek.


 

He was seven now and she was eternally grateful he was a calm quiet child. She hoped it would keep eyes from seeing him. It didn’t, but she was pretty enough to take the attention off of him with her body. He’d seen her one day, doing it and questioned her.

“…I love you too much to let anyone touch you. Anyway I can, I’ll keep them from you…” she’d said that to him, and wondered if he’d ever truly understand her.

He had just looked at her quizzically. She breathed a sigh of relief that he didn’t understand her right now, some of the screaming quieted.

He asked her about his father. She had lied through her smile, telling him she’d conceived him out of love with the man who’d stolen her heart.

The man had stolen her heart, but he’d ripped it and fed it back to her stained and ugly. She’d make sure Tokuma never knew his father, not that serpent. She’d impress upon him that he was made out of love. He was, but he was not. She hoped her love for him would fill him up, keep him Tokuma long after she left this world and it attacked him.

She heard the crying before anything else. The crying grated her nerves and she threw the pitcher across to the wall turning to go roar and lightly shake the child to silence. It always hushed Tokuma, and she believed it had shaken all the bad out of him. He’d cry because that man’s blood was in him, but she’d diluted it. She was unsure what the child, Neji’s problem was, but she’d fix him up too. She liked Hizashi so she’d help him out.

Hizashi beat her to the two, just as she set her sights on them through her open door. Tokuma had been crouched to the baby’s level. Pulling him up and had been trying to make the 12-month-old walk, he was holding his hands keeping the baby from toppling, but his head was turned behind him. Somebody was talking to Tokuma, she could see a hand reach toward the crown of his head but Hizashi, swept him to standing. He held his son asking the child if he wanted to visit his uncle, his lips were noticeably downturned, as if he resented the very idea. The child didn’t respond of course instead stuffing some of Hizashi’s loose hair into his mouth, Hizashi had guided Tokuma away from the main house member with a steady hand at his back.

When she had seen them later, Hizashi had tied his hair in a low ponytail and Neji was not happy about the change. His chubby fingers were reaching for his father’s hair, fussing out of frustration, Hizashi rocked the boy through the tantrum.

She wondered if he smelled like milk to Hizashi too.


 

 Playing ninja that night Tokuma asked her stories about when he was a baby. She indulged him. Admitting that she honestly did spoil him, she didn’t say sometimes it was out of guilt. Even now she showered him with gifts and affection. Life in this clan was hard, and she saw no reason to take things away from him, they would be taken away soon enough. She kissed his brow, and then brushed his hair for him.

He complained of course, sitting there between her knees, idly pointing his toes as his mother taught him when they would dance. She had asked him to turn, he had looked at her, and she felt her heart break in half at the devastating reality that he would face. He was a beautiful boy, would turn into a stunning teen, and then a handsome man. She thought of how some woman, or man would touch him because they believed they had a right to his body and she felt enraged.

She would never allow that to happen. She’d keep him safe no matter what.

She spoiled him rotten the next week. She’d hesitated every night as she listened to him breathe in his sleep. That elder came by their home every night waiting for her to slip. She could not be with him every moment, he would be going to the academy soon. He would be out of her sight. Prey for a family of vultures looking to punish and pervert for power.

The man had made Tokuma trust him. Treating him kindly, watching him when his mother had to run out, comforting him the rare times he cried because his mother was in one of her moods. She hated herself for being like this, hated that man for fooling her child. Her milk scented baby, trying to corrupt him. She’d put him somewhere safe, she finally promised herself. Two more weeks and she stopped hesitating, it had cost her her sister it would not cost her her son.

That night she’d done everything possible for the child to be comfortable. She pulled the tassels off her bangs and attached them to his. A symbol of her love for him, something she hoped would protect him she hoped. She insisted that as long as he wore those, she’d always be with him. He’d insisted she was with him whether he wore them or not because she loved him. She’d barely kept her eyes from watering, and the boy kissed her cheek with a smile. She stroked his hair, noticing how long it was, she herself preferred her shoulder length locks, and marveled why she never cut it. She knew why deep down. Part of her didn’t want him to look like her, to be seen like she was even as a child, the other part of her never wanted to harm or cut away even a piece of this child, sans to keep him off of her baby.

She sent him to get dressed for bed, and walked to her room to string up the noose, shutting the door softly as she walked out.

He’d ran toward her with a hug when he’d emerged to meet her in the living room with his favorite book. He’d said that he knew he was a little big for stories now but he wanted to read to his mother that night. He’d told her that he couldn’t sing but he had been working on his story telling voice for her, and that Neji was good practice.

It melted her heart and voice thick she had asked him to read to her. They’d cuddled up together and she stroked his hair before she mustered the strength to rise. It was late, past his bedtime and he rubbed furiously at his tired eyes, wanting to stay up with her.

Throat closing she’d told him to grab another of his favorite stories and she’d finally read him to sleep.

As Tokuma stumbled off to obey, she’d pulled the sleeping pills from the very top of the shelf, and crushed half the bottle into a fine powder. She started to put it in juice but settled for warming some milk and dissolving it in there. Peaceful, unlike how her end would be, she deserved that he didn’t.

 He’d returned and she’d handed him three of the pills to swallow. He’d asked her if these were more of the vitamins she had him take starting two weeks ago. The boy was smart and she didn’t want him to catch on to her glances at the cabinet, though she knew he’s never suspect this, she stowed the sleeping pills behind the vitamins. She had lied and said yes. He took them without complaint like he always did, walking to sit on the couch, patting for her to sit. She kissed him, beginning his story.

He was drifting, she could tell, the boy was fighting, lids stubbornly refusing to close, though they drooped heavily as he leaned against her left shoulder. She’d pulled him down to lay across her lap, and she continued reading to him. She finished and he was barely awake.

“I love you so much…”her voice was quivering now. Her breath was beginning to hitch in her chest slowly, propelled by her mounting grief.

“I love you more.”

She’d asked him why, how could he love her. He responded that she was silly for asking the question. He’d love her no matter what, she was his mother. Eyes closed he asked her to sing to him. Her throat was tight already and her eyes flooding with tears but she did, she sung of a better place for him as she watched his breathing even out, body going limp.

She stifled her sob with her hand. Pressing kisses to his face, before picking him up. She changed him into the simple white yukata she had made for him and set him in bed. She lingered not wanting to leave his side, the voices reminded her she didn’t deserve to touch him, she was undeserving of his love. That bitch told her she was setting him free. That bitch was lying, death wasn’t freedom, but it was safety. She was putting him somewhere safe, away from a hurting future. Her ugly past would not become his future.

She drifted to her room, feet quiet so she wouldn’t wake him and donned her rope necklace. She thought of him, remembering his scent before she kicked the stool from under herself. 

 She had not hesitated.


 

The first thing Tokuma remembered when he awoke in the hospital was his mother’s voice still singing to him.

Tones pretty but hurting, hurting so much.

An elder had talked to him, a man he remembered his mother seemed to dislike. Why she hated him he never understood. She would only say she didn’t like the look in his eye.

A week after she had been laid to rest, Tokuma found himself crying. That man had pulled him to him, stroked his hair and told him not to cry.

He’d told him it was ok to be hurting and that his mother would want him to smile. Smile for him, right now, that look his mother never liked gleaming in his eyes.

Had he known that look then he’d have run and never looked back.

Tokuma had obeyed, trusting his words and smiled through the pain. Trusting this man he’d followed him to his room.

Years later he would wonder, what kind of man used his penis to puncture the trust of a child?


 

He had been angry for years.

 But anger was easy, it was a mask to cover the pain he felt at that betrayal. Until finally he began to forgive her, and learned pieces of her truth, from the man that had molested him only a week after her death, he had listened to the man at the end of his life.

 The man kept some things from him Tokuma knew he did. He didn’t mention his father, unknown to Tokuma, he’d kept his mother’s lobotomy and consequent change to himself. He’d told him her mark had been activated too much and had messed her up in the head, she’d always been a sad and moody child from the beginning, half truth was always better than a lie. The weight of the clan had broken her, but she loved him more than life itself. He’d told him that his father and mother, were in love, and that their union to make him had been love just like she told him.

 That man had lied to him, he’d never know the truth, and that was what Tsune wanted. He remembered Yuhi confessing to Asahi and him, and he felt an irritable regret.

He’d then fingered his then long locks, saying how he’d always preferred them.

It was easier to wrap his hair around his cock.

He’d kept it long out of spite, then because he wasn’t strong enough. He was now, he sheared the locks off with a kunai, anger tearing into him, pain for what had happened to his mother.

Gathering his clothes now in the present, leaving that disgusting room, he thought of her.

He remembered vaguely how he’d seen her divert attention from him onto herself. He hadn’t understood it then, too young to know about matters like that but he understood now why she did it.

He understood that now, because he was employing the same techniques to protect Neji from this fate. 

Yuki wanted him.

Tokuma diverted his attention onto him, it worked because they looked so much alike, both stunning. Tokuma kept him entrapped with skills he should never have had to develop so early in his life, he was careful and kept the man satisfied.

He understood that sacrifice, he hadn’t understood why she thought death would be safety for him.

Hizashi had told him that she loved him too much to let him suffer, afterwards he’d taken Neji down to the lake his mother used to frequent. Tokuma knew he would try to drown him, his mother always tried to drown herself there, so he’d went to try and stop them. Hizashi had just been sitting, Neji sleeping in his lap. Confused Tokuma watched them before returning to his quarters.

He still didn’t understand how she could not see the difference between her putting him into safety and the suicidal ideology of the branch she refused to follow.

He guessed it was because he would live to see Hizashi’s suicide and the devastation left after.

Stepping into his room, he touched the tassels adorning his bangs; despite everything, he’d always worn them. Her love for him had never truly been questioned, even if he didn’t understand her reasoning for the actions she’d taken at the end. He knew she had been sick, even as a child that night she’d hurt herself with the mirror. Screaming at the mirror to leave her and her son alone, he had stopped her from gutting herself. He knew she had been unsure of what to do with her pain and the fear she had for her child, fearful that’d she’d hurt him one day and decided that she would save him from herself and could he really blame her for that? He could, he did for a while, but the anger didn’t feel right.

It didn’t describe how he had really felt about everything after her death, he could admit it now.

Overall, he was just sad for her. Angry at the clan, but achingly sad for her.

He felt moisture pushing into his eyes and he swallowed, blinking them away. He would not cry.

She died thinking she had not been worthy of his love. For years up until his adulthood, he’d tried to be angry at her with all his heart but he couldn’t be. Her crime had been being born into this clan and it breaking her, distorting her love for her son. Loving him too much, too hard until her lines of love were just messed up. He wondered what hurt more, too much or not enough love. He had suffered too much, almost died from the suffocation of it, he was suffering from not enough now.

He bathed until he forgot that man’s body on his, inside his.

He clipped his ends where they curled, unsure why his mother always did that, he figured it was one of her many strange habits on account of her illness.

He lit incense for her, he had always prayed for her in his head, not trusting his voice. He doubted she had ever heard those prayers; things always did need to be spelled out for her, and they had always been half hearted anyway, too blinded.

“You always thought you didn’t deserve anything in this world…” he sat back, picking up her picture. “You didn’t deserve the pain…” he spoke into the silence, voice strong.

It was the first time he had spoken out loud addressing his mother, it was the first time since her death he had the strength to address her directly.

“You died and you were loved. Throughout all these years, and the pain, I never stopped loving you, I never will.”

He reached up to touch the tassels.

I’ll love you always….