He had arrived home late. His assignment had taken longer than he had expected it would, so the few days he told Tationy he would be gone turned into a couple of months. He worried about her, each day he was gone he found that his mind was on her when it was not on his assigned task. The house was quiet, which was not to surprising at the early morning hour, but something felt wrong to him. He heard Mikio moving around in his room, so he opened the door without knocking knowing him well enough to know that he was generally not engaged in anything that could not be interrupted. Mikio had given him a peculiar sideways glance, which Kuro shook off as he spoke, “Anything I need to know about before I get some sleep?”
Mikio thought about the question for a moment before responding, “Moromari returned and then left.”
“We both figured that would happen. Anything else?”
“He said that they had traveled across the water to our former home, took some items from there.”
Kuro frowned, “Also not surprising. Is he investigating it?”
“Who knows.” Mikio responded with a casual shrug of his shoulders. Kuro eyed him suspiciously, there was something wrong he could feel it, but Mikio was always guarded so deciphering what it was just by looking at him was no easy task. “Iashi is getting married.”
Kuro stepped into the room, closing the door behind him, “It has only been a couple of months since he left.”
“He was leaving the house a lot, I suspected something was going on though I never imagined he met someone. It was quick and unexpected. Tationy is not handling it well, but she refused to discuss it or even Moromari for that matter.”
Kuro rubbed his face a moment, trying to alleviate both the exhaustion and stress that came with being Tationy’s handler. “The girl he is marrying…”
“Exactly the type a Kari man would go after. I am sure some men would find her attractive. Admittedly I do not understand why Tationy was feeling so insecure, but she was definitely comparing herself to the girl.”
Kuro sighed, “She has no confidence in herself.”
“Iashi told the girl about is late wife, but never mentioned Tationy. He is trying to wipe her from his life.”
“There is something else, what is it?”
“She mentioned she liked Thacian, but she is feeling a call to be elsewhere. I believe one of the gods has been reincarnated.”
“Have you felt anything?”
“No, but there could be a number of reasons for that.”
“I will deal with all of this when I wake up.” Kuro responded as he stifled a yawn as he turned his back to Mikio.
“She is just like my mother.” He had not even managed to turn the handle for the door when Mikio’s words froze him in place. “It is weird to desire her. She knows I have been keeping my distance on purpose. She is perceptive, despite how she is sometimes. I have not found a way to tell her, not that I think she would understand. I don’t understand it.” It had been a long time since Mikio had talked to Kuro like this. It was one thing to tell him that he had almost taken her by force, it was another to express his feelings so open and honestly. The Sons of Rin were not exactly known for expressing their emotions. “That part of me that is Rin, wants to devour her and the part of me that is Mikio wants to be kissed on the forehead and told how special I am because I am her son. How twisted am I?”
“You can’t help the burden you carry Mikio. When Rin died he tried to take you with him. You were lucky you survived, but those minutes you were dead gave Rin the opportunity to be reincarnated within the most powerful of all the Ishi, his son and the son of the woman that he was obsessed with. It was the worst punishment he could inflict on the two of you that is why he did it. Our father was the sick and twisted one, you just carry a heavy burden that you never asked for or wanted. You only ever wanted to be Mikio, son of Tearra. I would have given anything in those days to have your life, now I think to myself how fortunate I am that I do not have to carry the weight that is on your shoulders. I don’t think I would be strong enough, I would probably lose myself and become Rin after all, I am the most like him of the two of us.” Kuro paused a moment before continuing, “You are right. There are certainly aspects of Tationys personality that are similar to Tearra’s and yet she is nothing like her at the same time. The kind and gentle soul that blossomed from a single flower in the middle of a battlefield awakens when she wishes.”
Mikio laughed under his breath, “She was certainly stubborn. I wonder why she did it. Why she picked her.”
“That seems to be the question that everyone has wanted to know since she arrived here. Maybe you should ask her.”
“She can’t answer me…”
“Tationy cannot answer you, but Tse might be able to. Tse has witnessed much through her many years, I am sure within all of that she has seen the reason for Tearra’s decision.”
“If Tse is aware of it then, so would Tationy.”
“One would think so, but I sometimes think that she has not completely grasped the knowledge she has. Within these ten years since she returned from the Land of Souls, she has locked most of what she learned away simply because she did not wish to deal with it. It is how she faces things. She relents and bends like the branches of a tree, simply going with the wind rather than becoming ridged. Her breaking takes years of being worn down by the elements, until one day she snaps and all of that unwanted emotion comes pouring out. It would not surprise me one bit if the answer is locked within her.”
Mikio gave an uneasy nod of his head, he was not certain he wanted to be the elements in this scenario. If she did wish to keep it locked away, then she most likely had a reason to do so. Unfortunately it was most likely as Kuro said, her simply not wishing to deal with it. It brought other thoughts to his mind as his words once again stopped Kuro from departing the room, “You gave her the rose colored bird. I do not believe she is aware of the significance, but I am. Lost traditions from those days are shared between the two of us. Are you going to tell her you’re courting her?”
“It is a nonsense tradition. I simply made it because I thought she would like it.”
“Who do you think you are talking to?”
“I loved Tse…”
“That is right you loved Tse, but you are in love with Tationy. All of your protest…”
Kuro turned quickly, “I am not a fool in love.”
“Remember when we were at the lake and she talked about what I said to her. I get it Kuro. We have the same face, the same blood, the same clan. No one understands better than I do, why you deny it. It is not as though the two of us have had the opportunities that other Ishi have. When marriages were being arranged between the Ishi and other clans we were often overlooked. There were never opportunities for the sons of Rin to know love. We could take the company of a young woman now and again, but we knew that no matter how we felt nothing was ever going to transpire more than sex because they needed us prepared for Tearra. You have a real opportunity here with her. I have never known you to be afraid of anything and yet the thought of telling her how you feel scares you to death. You protested, hundreds of times. I am sure you even told her that you could have her if you wanted her, but that you did not want her. You are very good at being a snake of the Ishi, but maybe it is time…”
“Are you done?”
“Who knows.” Mikio responded.
“Because we have the same face, the same blood, the same clan you think you can presume to know me? Child, you are a hundred years too young. Hisoka left the heavens and during that time he walked the world as a mortal, he had many children. Your mother was not the only woman Rin was obsessed with. I have a century on you, boy. Don’t think because we are brothers that you got me figured out. You don’t know me.”
Mikio inwardly frowned as the two stared at each other. This was how it was between them. Kuro was the big brother who always wanted to be the only child and the perfect son for their father. Mikio was the unwanted little brother that always got in the way. Anything Kuro could do, Mikio could do better. They had been more rivals than brothers. Kuro had always been jealous since the arrival of Mikio, but truly Kuro had little understanding about how Mikio had felt. He had always looked up to Kuro, even with how mean he had been to him. Mikio had only ever wanted to be just like his big brother. That was why he had worked so hard to surpass him, hoping that Kuro might be proud of him. He never cared what his father thought, the only person’s opinion that mattered to him had been Kuro’s. “I am going to bed.” Kuro voiced finally turning away and exiting the room.
Kuro found his way to his room, dropping his gear in the corner and stretching the exhaustion from his limbs as he yawned. He was dead tired and the last thing he had wanted was to exchange words with Mikio. He heard movement and turned his attention toward the bed. In the dimly lit room his good eye focused, adjusting to the lack of light until he was able to see what was causing the sound. There in his bed was Tationy. To say that it was unexpected was an understatement as he stared toward her trying to understand why she was in his room. “Kuro.” He heard her whisper his name. He refused to respond right away trying to collect himself. “How was work?”
“It was fine…is something wrong with your room?”
“Is it not alright for me to be here?”
He realized by her question that his was taken the wrong way. “No it is fine….”
“You said fine twice that is unlike you.”
He made a sound, sort of like laughter, but it was a combination of disbelief and annoyance. “You and Mikio seem to think you both know me.” When she did not comment he realized that he had been to harsh with her. “I am just really tired, try not to read into anything I say.”
“Do you want me to leave?”
“You can stay, I will sleep on the floor.”
“Oh, I will just go to my room,” She said as she pulled the covers back and sat herself up.
Kuro sighed inwardly, “That was just a one-time thing…”
“Do you? What do you think is going to happen Tationy? Do you think that because Moromari and Iashi are gone and moving on with their lives that you have to find a replacement?”
Her head bowed, her lips formed a pout and that sadness that often overtook her washed over her so quickly that even Kuro was moved. “I just feel safe when near you. I don’t expect anything Kuro. I just….”
There were tears, he could tell by her voice that she could not hold them back. “You just what?”
“Are you and Mikio going to leave to? If you are, please don’t wait to do it. You said you would be gone a few days and then did not come back and I started to worry that you decide to not return. Please, if you are going to leave…”
Her words took him by surprise as he moved toward the bed. He had not expected her to be worried about him and his voice reflected it with a softer tone than he had previously, “Get back in bed.” She did not even hesitate as she did as she was told as he took a seat on the edge. He did not sign on to be her handler. When he began to train her, he took on the responsibility and had been managing her ever-since. “Mikio and I are not going anywhere. I am exhausted Tationy. I am sure you have a lot you need to talk about, but I just cannot do it right now. I can hardly keep my eyes open and I have already gotten into it with Mikio.”
“You are fighting?”
“Something like that.”
“Nothing, just the sons of Rin exchanging words. Now, you lie down and go back to sleep.”
“Really it was nothing.” He thought about it for a few moments in silence, then opened his mouth and began talking. “I am a lot older than Mikio. A hundred years means nothing to an Ishi. That first hundred years we are still consider children, by those of considerable age. Hard to believe sometimes that people like Jin, Jiro, Togore were still just children amongst the Ishi, but that is how it is. I had a hundred years on Mikio by the time he was born. My father still treated me like I was nothing and my clan treated me like I was a child, simply because I was the son of Rin. My first six years I lived with my mother amongst the Hamara. Hisoka did not shy away and treat me differently because I was a son of Rin. He was welcoming, but he died early and the Hamara no longer wished for a snake demon to be a part of their clan. I was on my own for a long time, but then Rin finally descended from the heaven and he and Tearra lived together in Shimragata. He built the Ishi and I was welcomed amongst them. I got to be with my father, it was a big deal, but Tearra was with child and when Mikio was born I was soon nothing more than another Ishi to train the prodigal son. I only ever wanted my father to see me, respect me, but I was not Mikio.”
Tationy rested her hand on his leg as she questioned, “How old are you?”
“I don’t know, a few hundred years.”
“How long do the Ishi normally live?”
“Couple hundred. Mikio and I are the exceptions to that rule because our blood is closest to Rin.”
She laughed softly, “Old man.” He looked over his shoulder at her, the soft smile upon her lips before she closed her eyes and yawned. He knew she was teasing him, but still the last thing he wanted to be called was an old man by her.
Kuro looked toward the window noticing the bright light of daytime shining through, he had stayed up talking with her. Not that he was complaining, but he was going to be of no use if he did not get some sleep. He turned his attention toward her, realizing quickly she was practically asleep. He had to force himself to look away, it was too easy for him to get lost watching her. Pulling himself from the bed, he began to remove his clothing though found his eyes continually drifted toward Tationy. He hated admitting it to himself, but Mikio was right. He had watched her and Hiko amongst the Kari for some time before he had finally approached Hiko in Shimragata. He had of course seen her before, at the Petal House. The Ishi had been told to hang out there until she appeared because it was important for Tse’s plan. The moment she walked in they had known she was the one they were waiting for. They all felt the same, disbelief that this odd little girl was Tearra.
Amongst the Kari she seemed happy and yet sad at the same time. It was difficult for him to put into words, but he hated how Hiko was treating her. He had been so cold and distant and he knew that Hiko realized that she was not Tse, at least not the one he had known, but that gave him no right to treat her as though she was nothing. When he finally approached Hiko, he had been disgusted by the fact that Hiko was not even going to tell her he was leaving. Only a heartless man would do such a thing and Kuro certainly was many things, but that was one thing that not even he was capable of doing. The Ishi saw women differently than clans such as the Maiba and Kari. Even after he had joined her in bed, he found that he laid there for some time awake and lost in thought. She was different than Tse, honestly that was part of the appeal. Tse had used him, manipulated him and his clan, binding them to a blood oath. Tationy had kept her word and freed them of that bond. She was not like Tse at all. There was no manipulation from her, she was genuinely kind and caring.
Mikio had been right, he had told her he could have her if he wanted her. He had also told her that he was not interested in bedding her. That was when he held out hope that Tse might return, despite her manipulations. When did it happen? During those ten years in the Forest of the Ancients Sesiago had treated her so badly. He ignored her, denied her affection and love. She gave all of herself to that selfish bastard and he continually looked past her. He had continued her training, partly because it made Sesiago angry, but more importantly she needed it. When they were together, he did not hold back. He fought her until she was bruised and battered because it was what she wanted. She was so angry when they trained, verbally slapping him. He understood that her attacks on his pride were simply because the things she wanted to say to Sesiago she could not. So he took all of the punishment and when it came time to be hard on her, he held nothing back.
There were times though that he could tell she needed more than that. She needed someone to touch her and care about her. He would take her on picnics, read the words of Kita to her, and he let her talk about whatever she wanted to. She was funny that was the first thing he noticed. She had a goofy sense of humor and often made him laugh. He loved listening to her talk about her world, she missed it so much and there were certainly times he wished he had the power to send her back. There had been a few times he had considered telling her how he felt, but then she would start talking about being attracted to Moromari and he realized that it did not matter what he said, he was nothing. He was just some Ishi man training her in combat and giving her a brief moment of freedom.
Sleep just did not want to take him. His mind was in control and drifted to memories of the past much to easily for his liking. “Would you care to dance, Lady Shima?”
She chuckled softly, “Since when do you call me Lady Shima?”
“Isn’t that the point of this festival, to teach our young what is proper within our society?”
“I suppose that is true. I would be honored to dance, Lord Ishi.”
He had smiled as she took his offered hand and moved out on the makeshift dance floor. Chochi and Tationy had designed a festival, something for the entire village which took place in the spring. They had games, food, entertainment, dancing and it allowed the people that traveled to the Forest of the Ancients to cast aside their worries and for a brief moment in time, enjoy their freedom. “Lord Ishi, I never imagined you could be all respectable.”
Kuro laughed, “Lady Shima, your tone seems as if you are flirting with me. That is hardly appropriate.” He teased.
“I am a good girl Lord Ishi, I have no idea what you are talking about.”
He leaned in slightly, “I bet you can be bad when you want to be.” That night he swore he felt something from her. Something real and tangible, but deep down he knew it was wishful thinking on his part. After his words her eyes had grown somber even though she kept a soft smile on her lips. She was married to Sesiago and he could tell she was unhappy and lonely. He had nearly asked her to come home with him, but instead he danced with her. Certainly the two of them gave the village something to talk about and Sesiago was not happy with her. She never told him what happened when she went home with her husband that night.
Kuro inwardly sighed as he pulled himself away from her warmth. She stirred slightly which drew his attention toward her. He knew he needed to end this, before those feelings began to consume him, but he would be a fool if he did not enjoy this time with her. He moved toward his gear, searching through it until he found a small wooden box, with a silk bow, and a blue paper bird. He sat them at the end of the bed before laying himself back-down next to her. He closed his eyes, it was not as though he was going to get any sleep now, but he was certainly going to try, but the moment she sat up be realized it was unlikely. She was so tired, he could tell by how she scanned the room then laid herself back-down. She had sighed several times, before she forced herself to sit up once again.
Chuckling inwardly, Kuro watched her. It took her a bit for her to realize where she was and under what circumstances she was there as she turned her head to look at Kuro, who quickly closed his eyes. When he no longer felt her eyes on him he looked toward her again. She had the blue bird in her hands, a soft smile upon her lips. She had not even gotten to the small box and she was already happy. Knowing that something so small made her smile, brought him the greatest joy. She sat the bird to the side and reached out to grab the box. She was not the type of girl that ever received gifts. She tentatively pulled the silk ribbon from the small box and lifted the lid. Inside was a small green stone. It was not jade or even emerald, but it was beautiful. “You don’t like it?” He asked and she turned her head quickly in surprise.
“No, I mean yes. It is beautiful. I have never received anything so lovely before. It is too much.”
“Why is it too much?” He asked.
“You should be spending your money on someone you love. Saving it for your future. Someday you’re going to meet someone and…”
Her words were quickly halted by his mouth on hers. “I am not interested in happily-ever-after.” He told her as he broke the kiss. “I just want someone to share my bed.” He was being untruthful, but he hated that look on her face. She did not think anyone would want her. She was not ready to have someone tell her that they loved her. His fingers rubbed against her cheek, “Share my bed with me.”
He could tell by looking at her that she was considering bringing up the fact that this was meant to be a one-time thing. She opened the door for him and no man in his right mind would walk away from such an invitation. It made him happy, when she agreed with a single nod of her head.
He pulled her into an embrace. He did not get a chance to enjoy the moment, feeling her eyes on him he smiled, “Is there a particular reason you are staring at me like that?”
“Accepting me,” She said as she fought back the tears. “You are about the only person who has just seen me as Tationy. In fact, you told me often enough that I was not Tse, when everyone else was telling me I was her and that I needed to accept it.”
She was being open and honest with him, so he took the opportunity to ask a question that had burned a hole in him for many years, “Tationy…”
“That night of the festival when we danced, did Sesiago do anything to you?” He felt it, the way her body tensed at his question.
“No, of course not.”
He could tell she was lying. “Tationy, you do not have to lie to me. Whatever you tell me, no matter what it is, I will take it to my grave.”
She relented and spoke, “He was angry. Told me that I had allowed another man to touch. I told him it was innocent. Just two friends dancing, but he said there was nothing innocent about what we were doing. He thought I was sleeping with you. He yelled a lot and it probably would have went farther, but Asuka heard us and she screamed, told him to leave me alone. I don’t think he expected it. He was Kari and had lost control of his household. He made me sleep on the floor, in the corner of the room. Every night that was my spot. It was alright though, I didn’t mind.” Those tears were there again. “I had to be there for the girls, to make certain that they did not have a life like I did. One where their parents hated them. I wanted them to have one good thing in their lives. So no matter how he tried to humiliate and break me, I just smiled and stood by his side. There are women that have gone through horrific things, in comparison what I have experienced with Sesiago was nothing. They were my daughters, I miss them and would have done anything for them.”
“Moromari left because of me. I think he wanted me to stop him from going, but I just stood there and wished him well on his journey. At least he was honest about why he was not staying, Iashi could not even tell me. All of this time, I thought that he just needed time and space, but what he needed was someone that was not me. What is wrong with me?”
“Nothing, you are beautiful, smart, funny.”
“You don’t have to say things like that. I know they are not true.”
“Look at me Tationy. Do I seem like the type of man that would speak untrue words?” He pulled himself away from her, sitting on the edge of his bed. He was so tired, but he stood and paced the floor. “Moromari was….is in love with you. Iashi is not the man you thought he was. If you have any feelings for Moromari you should…”
“Don’t….” He stopped pacing as his eyes focused in on her face. “We all have to walk our own paths. They are walking theirs. Please, let us not talk about them.” Kuro agreed by rejoining her in his bed.
Kuro did not feel like he had gotten any sleep, but at some point he had. He was not certain if he fell asleep before Tationy, but when his eyes opened she was lying next to him, cradled in his arms. “Kuro.” He heard Mikio’s voice and was quickly reminded what had woken him up to begin with.
“What is it?”
“I am going to the market, do the two of you want to come with me?”
“Yeah, give us a few.”
“Take your time.”
Kuro pulled himself from the bed, moving toward the bath. He sighed glancing at himself in the mirror. His hair was a mess, defying the laws of gravity as it usually did. After their arrival, during Mikio’s recovery he had cut his hair. He had not been the only one though, Iashi had cut off his ponytail and Moromari had cut and dyed his. It was their way of blending into their new environment. Kuro had rebelled much as he always did and left his hair alone. He found often that people made comments, it was not as though he was very good at conforming and he couldn’t care less about what people thought of him. He was not certain what brought it on or why he did it, but he lifted a knife that Mikio had kept in the bath that he used for cutting up his skin and began to hack away at his hair.
“Kuro…” He cursed under his breath having not heard her sneaking up behind him. She was getting better at being stealthy or he was getting old and his skills rusty. He quickly turned and watched as her eyes widened. “You cut your hair, why?”
“Just needed a change.” He told her.
“I still have not gotten use to Mikio’s hair and you go and cut yours….”
“You don’t like it?”
“I didn’t say that. It looks good,” She said and then brought her hand up to her mouth as though she was going to vomit.
Kuro laughed, “You could at least pretend you like it without the visual effects.”
She blushed, “Sorry, I just felt this wave of nausea pass over me.”
“Are you getting sick?” He questioned as he brought his hand to her forehead, concern knitting across his features, but it was quickly replaced by sharp pain as she pushed him into the cabinet and was on her knees vomiting. He leaned down pulling her hair out of the way as his freehand ran along her back.
“I am alright,” She said and then would vomit again.
“Let me get Mikio.”
“No…” She shouted though that was not her intent. “I am fine. I don’t want him to see me like this.”
“I am leaning over a bucket, with no clothes on, vomiting. It is kind of a private thing.”
“I am here.”
“That is different.”
“Why is that different?”
She stood and wiped her mouth, “I don’t mind if you see me at my worst.”
His hand reached out cupping her face as his thumb stroked her cheek lightly. He was certain that it was not meant how he took it, but those words made him happy. She was comfortable around him.
She blushed, “My mouth taste bad, my hair has vomit in it, and you are standing there looking at me like that…It is almost enough to make me forget that I was just bent over a bucket vomiting up my guts. Thank you.”
If there was ever a time to tell her how he felt it was probably that moment, but he pulled his hand away. “Mikio wants to go to the market, but if you are not feeling well…”
“I am fine. Let me get cleaned up, dressed….”
He smirked, “Oh, you don’t have to get dressed.”
She laughed, “Well that would certainly get the market buzzing.”
He stepped in close, “Can I have you?”
“Kuro, you just seen me vomiting and that does it for you?”
He grabbed her hand placing it on his hardening penis, “You do it to me.”
“You make it very difficult to turn you down, but I need to get cleaned…”
He leaned down kissing her forehead, “Then I will help you.” He loved that coy smile of hers and though she never said yes, the way she looked at him gave him her answer. He was certain he was playing with fire. One of them, most likely him, was going to get hurt.
When they exited the house there was a light peppering of snow upon the ground. It was going to be winter soon, the chill in the air said it was going to be a bad one this year. Their journey to the market was uneventful. Mikio was looking for herbs. Tationy often called him a mad scientist because he was usually in his little workspace just off his bedroom, working on one project or another. She did not really understand what he was making or doing and Kuro could not really explain it either or at least he did not want to. Kuro stayed close to Tationy, who shopped for items for dinner that evening. She was an amazing cook, which had surprised him, despite her telling him that she had some talent at cooking. “Are you feeling better?”
“Stomachs feels a little weird, but I am alright.”
“Just nauseous. You do not have to worry. I have been sick before.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“You are not really the type of guy to get all worked up. So yeah, it is a little obvious. You know, I can take care of myself. I feel like I have to keep reminding everyone that I am not a little girl anymore. I am grown woman, who…”
“I want to take care of you.” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself.
“I got everything I need,” Mikio said as he joined the two of them, then quickly realized he was interrupting something.
Mikio was about to escape to another vendor, but Tationy’s words stopped him. “I got what I need as well. I was thinking, if the two of you do not mind we might have a nice family dinner, with the three of us, Moromari, Iashi, and …”
“That is not…” Kuro began.
“Asina…” She said as she blinked at Kuro. “Did you think I was just going to invite Iashi and not her, Kuro?”
He looked away that was exactly what he thought and the part of him that was jealous opened his mouth before she finished, but it would be Mikio who would speak. “I think Kuro, believes it might be uncomfortable for you with both of them there.”
She blushed, “No, it will be fine. I have to do this.” Kuro did not like the idea, but he kept his mouth shut. She seemed intent on having this dinner and when Tationy set her mind to something she was not the type of girl to change it. “I am going to go get some apples so I can make a couple of pies and find some heavy fabric to make us some winter clothing.”
Kuro watched as she walked away and Mikio stared at him realizing something was wrong, “Did something happen?”
“I do not like the idea of this dinner.”
“It will be fine.”
Kuro quickly changed the topic, “She is not feeling well, will you take a look. Give her something. She felt nauseous when she woke and then was vomiting.”
Mikio squinted his eyes at his older brother. “Did she say how long this has been going on?”
“No. Don’t make a big deal out of it, just be casual. She does not want you to see her at her worst.”
“Well she spends so much time taking care of everyone other than herself it is not to surprising that she is sick. When are you leaving again?”
“Trying to get rid of me already?”
“No. She just gets sad when you leave. I am not equipped at dealing with it. By the way, why did you cut your hair?”
“Not you to.” Kuro responded with an exasperated sigh. “I just needed a change.”
“It fits you.” Mikio responded and Kuro’s eyes focused on the side of his brother’s face. Mikio was staring off into the distance saying nothing further. Kuro was not used to compliments, especially from Mikio so he was certain that it was some sort of dig against him.
“I ordered some fabric, the man said he will deliver it later today.” Tationy voiced as she rejoined them and began looking through a vegetable cart near were the two Ishi men were standing. The sound of children running through the market caught Tationy’s attention and Kuro watched her as she watched them. There was a soft smile on her lips, “Kuro, could you by me a bag of that candy you get me?” She asked.
“Sure.” He did not particularly like buying her candy, seeing every bag he bought her disappeared the same day. When he returned he handed her the bag and he got an armful of items to hold on to. He had opened his mouth to protest, but she had already started walking toward the small children. He liked how she knelt down to eye level and his mind flashed back to when he had witnessed Tearra engaging children in Shimragata.
“You think I was wrong, Kuro?”
“Children do not need candy or toys.”
“Certainly you were given both when you were small.” She had smiled resting her hand to her stomach, tilting her head to the side.
“What point does it serve?”
“It allows a child to be a child.” It was such a simple answer. Her words made him realize that he had forgotten what it was like to be small and as his mind came back to the present he understood now what Tationy was doing with the candy he would buy her.
He watched her as she interacted with the children, talking and smiling. In his opinion, no one deserved to be a mother more than she did. “Get dirty,” She said with a soft smile as she ruffled one of the little boys hair and the group of them hurried off with the bag of candy in hand. When she turned, Kuro’s eyes were locked on her and she nervously blushed. “You know my secret now. Are you mad?”
“No. You miss being a mother?”
“I miss the girls a lot. I…can’t believe Shiano killed them. It pains me to no end, but I got to see them grow up, get married, have children, it is all a mother can ask for, I guess.” Mikio began to walk away and Tationy sighed, “We chased him off.”
“He feels like he is interrupting.”
“He does not have to feel that way.” She responded. “Mikio is more than welcome to join in on our conversations.” Kuro forced the frown not to appear on his face, simply giving a single nod of agreement, though he hardly agreed. The selfish part of him wanted to keep her all to himself.
During the walk home his mind kept revisiting the past. “Your hair is just like Hisoka’s.” He heard a familiar voice say as he looked up from the book he was reading to the soft smile of Tearra. “He always had these pieces that just did whatever they wanted.”
“You miss him?”
“I was surprised at his passing.”
“That did not answer my question.”
“I have missed him, long before he was even gone. When we were still in the heavens, he was no longer with us. Did he miss me?”
“I think so. He would get this far-off look in his eyes, when your name was mentioned. Why do you stay with Rin?”
“Rin is your father Kuro, it is disrespectful to call him by his given name.” Kuro made a face and Tearra laughed softly, “I stay because I choose to.” His eyes focused in on her, there was something there that he could not read. He tried desperately to decipher the look she gave, but the many years since then, he never understood that expression.
“This is no life for a woman.” He finally responded.
“You will make a good husband and father.” She had changed the subject on him. “I know the perfect person for you. When the time is right, I will make certain I introduce you.”
Kuro rolled his eyes, “Why not now?”
Tearra smiled, “She has not been born yet.”
Kuro laughed as he stood and moved toward Tearra, “Oh, I was unaware the Queen of the Gods was capable of making jokes.”
She grabbed his hand which caused him to tense and more than a little nervous when she placed his hand on her stomach. She was pregnant with his little brother. It was not as though this child was going to be any different from any of the other brothers he had thanks to his father Rin’s pollinating, but this one was the only one that Rin was having with Tearra. “This little boy is special. Do you know why?”
“He will be born from two gods.”
“No, he is special because he has you as a big brother. You will take care of him and love him. It will be because of you that he will grow into a strong Ishi man. It will be hard for him, harder than it will be for any other Ishi. I have asked the stars to bless him with eyes the color of grass and hair the color of the mist at dawn. I will name him Mikio. No matter what happens, it will always be you and him. As time passes, people you know will have long since passed on, the two of you still will continue to stand tall and strong like trees. You will live hundreds of years, maybe even longer. My eyes only let me see so much, but you will be responsible for him. You will be both his brother and his father because he will have no one else that understands what it means to be a Son of Rin. Then, there will come a time when you will be a father and my son who relied on you so much through the years, will help you raise a fine Ishi man. Someone that will surpass both of you and it will be that child that will be the true legacy of Tearra and Rin.”
Kuro admittedly never understood what she was talking about. Perhaps if he had been as smart as Mikio or Nao he might have understood her words. In the end, he was a terrible big brother to Mikio. He had been mean to him, treating Mikio the same way his father had treated him, as though he was nothing. His thoughts were suddenly broken when he heard his name called several times. He shook the thoughts away, “Something wrong?”
“I should be asking you that. We have been home for a while now, but you are just standing out here in the cold. Are you alright?”
“I was just lost in thought.”
“What were you thinking about?”
“Something Tearra said to me once.” The questioning look on her face made him think she was curious about what she said, but then he realized it had nothing to do with that. He had told her once that the best person to ask about Tearra was Mikio and he could tell by her expression that she had assumed that he knew little about her. “I lived with them and helped her with Mikio and trained him. My father wanted me to keep an eye on her that was the most important assignment. He felt that there was something going on between her and one of the other gods that she was thinking about abandoning him.”
“No. I never understood it, but she loved him. Whatever it was, defied anything, everything that made sense. I cannot imagine a woman loving a man that did that to her….” He stopped talking when he realized she had bowed her head. He assumed he said something wrong.
“I have this feeling that I loved Chochi even though he…raped me in another lifetime. I don’t think those feelings go away, simply because someone does something bad. Maybe you just condition yourself to become use to it or expect it. Tell yourself that is the only way they can express their feelings. Maybe Rin gave her something that no other man could,” She had paused then added, “Mikio.”
“Is that any reason to stay with a man you do not love or treats you badly?”
“Women will stay with a man for many reasons and most of the time those reasons make no sense at all.” He made a face, though did not express his thoughts on the matter. He never wanted any woman to stay with him for reasons like those. He was foolish, he did believe in love. It was his Hamara blood that made him such a romantic fool. She laughed softly and he blinked at her. “There is nothing wrong with being a romantic fool.”
“I said that out loud?” She smiled and nodded her head with a soft laugh. The annoyance and embarrassment was clear as he looked away from her.
“That is what I want. The kissing, the hugging, the romantic gestures, but I don’t want him to stop once he has me. I don’t want him to be one of those men that does that kind of stuff to get the girl, then does not care when she gives her heart to him. I want him to be able to talk to me about anything, ask me anything, and not be afraid to be a little bit crazy. After all he is going to have to put up with me, so it is better for him to already have one foot in the nuthouse. It does not matter if he is the best looking guy in the world, the smartest, or even the strongest. All that matters is he loves me for me.” Her eyes never left his as she spoke and there was a part of him that felt like she was saying those words to him. “I have a pie in the oven, are we going to keep standing out here?”
She always found a way to change the topic and make the things she said, seem like they meant nothing. It was why she was so difficult to read. He allowed her to lead the way into the house.
After dinner, Tationy tended to cleaning up while the sons of Rin drank and played cards. “I still think you cheat at this game.” Mikio responded.
Kuro laughed wildly, “You cannot be the best at everything.”
“You know, when I was a kid I thought you were reading me and that was how you consistently beat me.”
“Now, I think you are just that good at this game.”
“Can I play?” They heard Tationy’s soft voice ask. The two Ishi men had enough alcohol in their systems to knock out most men and Tationy was just a bit to tempting for both of them this evening. She showed off more skin, then she had ever before. Both men made note that her outfits had begun to get shorter. Even though they had both seen her naked numerous times, this was different. When they were in public she showed of just enough skin to be teasing, but when she was at home with them, she was no longer teasing she was enticing them. Kuro patted the spot on the floor between the two men and she smiled gladly accepting. “This is brusac right?”
“Right.” Mikio responded.
Tationy laughed softly, “You have had a lot to drink haven’t you?”
“What makes you think that?”
“You are slurring your words a bit and you both are smiling a lot more than usual.”
“Oh, maybe we are just happy.” Kuro replied.
“Are you just happy?”
Kuro was paused by her question, “I will deal.” He responded, not answering her. “You have a lot of catching up to do.” He added as his younger brother, Mikio grabbed the bottle of shakma, a highly concentrated form of alcohol and went to pour her some.
“I can’t.” She whispered, putting her hand over the cup and giving them both a sweet innocent smile.
“Why not?” Kuro questioned.
“Well, because I have to keep my wits about me around you Ishi boys, otherwise things might get a bit out of hand.”
Kuro smirked, “Oh, so you can be bad when you want to be.”
Her smile turned into a broad smirk, “I never said I couldn’t be.”
The two of them had been so lost in their banter that they had not realized that Mikio had gotten up and left until Kuro had resumed dealing the cards. He frowned as he set the deck down on the table, “I guess the game is over.”
“I am sorry, it is my fault he left, I interrupted the two of you.”
“No, you were not interrupting at all. He is just dealing with some stuff.”
“Because of me?”
“It is Mikio’s business, if you want to know you should ask him.”
Kuro found that he was staring at her a lot more than usual, so he quickly looked away a lopsided grin overtaking his face. “What are you smiling about?”
“Just think it is kind of funny how things turned out. Do you still think about Hiko?”
“Not as much as you might think. For me I think it was just a passing crush. I had never been around anyone like him before and when he looked at me, it was just really intense and overwhelming. Tse loved him so much, but he was definitely not the only man that was important to her. I think mostly about, regrets. Tse had a lot of them, things she wanted to say, but wouldn’t.”
“Did she love me at all?”
“Kuro I wish you would not ask me that.”
“Just tell me.”
“No. You were a temptation, a toy, something to amuse her. It wasn’t you though, by that point she was just incapable of love. So much manipulation and plotting that she forgot what was truly important and you became nothing more than a means to an end. I am sorry.” She whispered and even though the words hurt, seeing the tears roll down her cheeks hurt him more.
“I expected as much. I was not good enough for her.”
“No, it is not that at all. She was just in love with someone else.”
“No. She was in love with Atsuki. It is weird really, she was just a little girl and yet her feelings are so powerful regarding him. All of this, everything, was a game between them. They were both plotting and manipulating and it had nothing at all to do with saving the world or stopping wars, it had to do with them. The sick and twisted love affair between the child prince and the leader of her guardians. They ruined lives. People are dead because of them. They could not just run off together and live their lives, they had to destroy everything and everyone to play some sick game of outdoing each other. Chochi, Taku, Abe, Otoha, Sadoo, and Sohma were just pieces on a Bagola board.” She wiped the tears away, collecting herself quickly and asking him a question, he never expected to be asked, “What happened between you and Hiko?”
A short laugh of disbelief left his mouth as he looked to the ceiling. He could lie to her, but he was certain she already knew. “Tse saw it?” He asked.
“Tse, manipulated it to happen.”
Her words surprised him, “What?”
“She knew you would go to bring him back.” She paused, taking several deep breaths before continuing, “You were used to make certain Hiko left the Kari, left me. There was no way Hiko would stay, when hearing Tse was alive, but Tse also knew that being in Agito’s body worked against her. Not just any person could reach Hiko, it had to be someone that understood him. Someone that was like him. Someone that could offer him something without any strings or worry that it would be held against him. So what happened?”
“You already know.”
“No, I know what Tse saw, I don’t know what happened.”
“He wanted to know how I could with a man. It simply led to an intimate moment.”
“You had sex?”
“No. It ended before we even arrived at the Forest of the Ancients. He ‘paid’ me back, and that was that. We never talked about it again.”
“Did you feel anything?”
“He was just a warm body, Tationy. I don’t particularly care if someone is a man or a woman, it is all the same.” He wished he could take back his words when her head bowed and she frowned. He sighed inwardly, quickly opening his mouth to speak, but was halted by her words to him.
“He is pretty good kisser huh?”
Kuro laughed as he laid back on the floor. “Yeah, he was. Did you do anything with him?”
“He kissed me, held me, touched me a little, but not anyplace … you know.”
“Did you want him to?”
“Yeah, a lot. I figured he would be my first time, but that was Sesiago.”
She moved to stand, but he grabbed her hand pulling her down on top of him. “Where are you going?”
“I just figured I would clean up…”
“You can talk to me.”
“You have told me so much about you and yet, there is still so much I do not know.”
“Can I ask you anything?”
“If you want.”
“That girl at The Petal House, the one you and Mikio were…..”
“What about her?”
“What did the two of you do to her?”
He considered her question, pondering how to answer it. “She liked it rough, so we made certain not to take it easy on her. It wasn’t like with you. Are you disappointed?”
“I just wonder if you gave all of yourself to that moment and less of yourself with me.”
Kuro hated how self-conscious she was. How she was always comparing herself to other people. He did not want to talk about this anymore, but to his surprise it would be Tationy who ended the conversation as she leaned in and claimed his mouth. When the kiss broke, he ventured to speak. “There is not a man amongst the Ishi, that would not do anything to have you. Just because we hold back, does not mean we give any less of ourselves. We simply do not wish to hurt you. That girl, we cared nothing about. You are special, to Mikio and to me.” His mouth got the better of him. He should have just stopped talking, “Is that what you want Tationy? Do you want a man that is mean to you, abandons you, makes you feel like nothing? Is that what turns you on?” He stopped talking suddenly when he realized he was losing control of his temper.
“That night we danced after all the arguing, Sesiago finally went to bed. I tiptoed to the door, but Asuka caught me and asked me if I was leaving her father. I just smiled and told her I just needed some fresh air. I am a terrible wife. I didn’t need fresh air, I planned on leaving him. I was heading to tell you when she caught me. I figured if anyone would stand by me it would be you. I stayed with a man like that because Asuka had that look in her eyes, like I was going to abandon her. I could not bear to see such sadness on my daughters face. It is a shame that you and Mikio are the only Ishi left, the world could use a few more good men.”
Her words brought so many questions to mind, but he pushed them aside. There was no point in asking her about them right now, so he responded. “We are not the only Ishi.”
“Rin had many children, some of which came to these lands long ago. There is a group of Ishi that resides outside Thacian.”
“Why don’t we go and see them?”
“They cast aside their blood. To them, Mikio and I are just relics. A reminder of a time when the gods reigned and did as they wished. They won’t want us among them.”
She was looking at him so intently and as much as he wanted to be able to read her, this one was of the few moments in time he couldn’t. “Kuro.” She whispered her lips brushing lightly against his.
“I don’t want to talk anymore.”
“That makes two of us.” He responded as his mouth claimed hers.
The joy of being with his family ended so quickly. It felt like he had such little time with them. This time, he had been gone for six months. His employer had many enemies, who Kuro was sent to deal with. Sometimes that meant tracking someone to another city or village. He was good at it. It was a job he could do well, but the jobs were getting longer which meant that was more time he was away from Tationy and Mikio. He had already told his boss that he was done that it was time for him to settle down and grow old. The man understood because he had days like those, but the business was a mistress that was hard to let go. Kuro worried that he as well would feel the pull and get sucked back into that world.
Much as he always did when he arrived home he checked in on Mikio. He was sleeping, a first for him because Mikio often went days without sleeping and eating. He wondered if he should be worried, but decided that Mikio had probably went long enough without and his body had given out. He moved toward his room, happy to be home and more than looking forward to seeing Tationy. Disappointment hit him suddenly when he opened the door to his room and realized quickly she was not there. He knew it. He had gotten sucked in by the attention from her and she finally decided to move on. “When did you get back?” Her voice broke his thoughts.
He smiled as he looked toward her, which was quickly replaced by surprise. “You’re….”
“Are you mad?” His mind slowly mauled it over as he kept his eyes on her. “You’re mad…”
“No.” He responded as he moved toward her. “No, I am just … ” He ran his hand through his hair as he tentatively reached his hand out, “Is it alright?”
He was not certain why he was so nervous as he reached his hand out, resting it lightly on her belly. After a moment, he smiled. “Well this explains why Mikio is sleeping, you must be tiring him out.”
She blushed, “He has been trying to build a bed….for a genius, he is not very handy.”
Kuro laughed, “I will see what I can do. I have always been better with my hands.”
“I can confirm that you are definitely very good in that department.”
“Oh,” He laughed, “I rather like this side of you.”
She smiled and then in a rather serious tone responded, “I missed you.”
“You will be tired of me before too long.” He voiced and then smiled again when the baby moved. Inwardly he was spinning. She was pregnant, and there was no doubt the child was either his or Mikio’s, though deep down he was certain that the child was not his.
“Don’t…” She whispered and he realized the saddened expression on her face meant she knew what he was thinking.
“You want me to just pretend that there is not the chance…”
“I have already talked with Mikio.”
“What do you mean?”
“This child is yours.”
“Tationy, it is not that simple.”
“Kuro, I am pregnant with your child. Mikio is going to help you turn him into a fine Ishi man…”
Her words caught him off guard as his mind flashed back to the conversation he had with Tearra. Was this what she was talking about? Was Tationy’s words, Tearra’s way of saying that she was the girl Tearra planned on introducing him to? He kissed her, wild and free as he tugged on her clothing. He wanted to see her, take in how she looked. Once she was naked, he stepped back from her taking in every little change and submitting it to his memory. “You’re beautiful.”
“Then you are not disappointed?”
“Not at all.” He noticed some dark bruising around her belly, frowning deeply, “Did something happen?”
Her head bowed as his hand reached out to rest on her stomach, “I got knocked down….Mikio says I am fine though. There was some bleeding and as you can see a lot of bruising, but I am alright.”
“Knocked down by whom?”
“Just a ruffian in the market. He was harassing a woman and I jumped in without thinking. When I went to protect her, I got knocked down. I landed a bit hard, but I am okay. The baby is okay. Mikio is certain we will both be fine.”
“Where was Mikio?”
“He was gathering what I needed to make dinner. I had to sit down, it has been a bit difficult walking. My back kills me most of the time. So I sat on a bench and he was at the vendors, gathering what I needed. He hurried back when he heard the commotion, but by that point I was already on the ground. The man was so quick, I was not prepared for how fast he moved and he had little regard for myself or the baby. It was weird, I got a strange feeling from him. He backed off when Mikio arrived, it was probably a good thing he did because Mikio was really angry. Never saw him like that before, but the guy disappeared into the crowd and Mikio got me home, took care of me. Once he was sure I was alright, he went to town and found a healer, brought him back to double-check that the baby and I were okay. He has not let me leave bed since, so the moment I knew he was sleeping I got up.”
“You should be in bed, if he thinks it is best.” He told her hiding his concern over the man with the adept skills.
“Not you to. Will you come to bed with me then?”
He laughed softly, “Coming to bed with you is hardly resting.”
“Oh, I will promise to keep my hands to myself.”
“I never said you had to.” She responded with a smile.
Eventually she fell asleep and he took the opportunity to make his way toward Mikio’s room. He was awake, he could hear him moving around so he opened the door, entered, and closed the door behind him. “Why didn’t you stay with her?” He questioned, trying to keep his voice flat and without emotion the best he could. Mikio turned to face his brother, the guilt-ridden expression said more than any words could. “No matter.” Kuro waved him off from responding, “Is she going to be alright?”
“She and the baby are fine. She needs to be taking it easy though and she refuses.” Mikio paused a moment then added, “Say what you need to, Kuro.”
Kuro stared at his brother for a moment then responded, “Let’s take this outside.”
Mikio agreed by dressing quickly in the winter clothing Tationy had made him and following Kuro outside.
They held nothing back from each other. All the anger and frustration they both felt poured out through their fist. Since their arrival to Thacian, this had become a common ritual for the two of them, allowing them to vent without saying a word to each other. When they finally finished battling, they stood there in silence watching the world pass them by. “This man…”
“Matsuo assassin I think, though why he would be so brazen in such a public place I am uncertain.”
“That certainly is out of character for the Matsuo clan. You are certain she is alright?”
“There is some concern that the baby might be born early, but it should not be an issue. His Ishi blood should protect him from any complications, but I would rather not risk it. Getting her to take it easy though has been….she is stubborn and only really listens to you.”
“Well I have no plans on going anyplace, so I will manage her and take care of building that baby bed I hear you failed at making.” He said with a laugh.
Mikio made a sour face, “If you can read her plans for it, good luck to you.”
“Oh, she designed it.” That just made him laugh a bit harder, “No wonder you were having such difficulties.”
“I am glad you are back.” Mikio responded.
The seriousness of his words, brought the lightened tone to a sudden halt, “Don’t get all weak on me Mikio, our enemies are still about.” Kuro voiced, not certain how to truly respond to Mikio’s words. He could have told him that he was glad he was back as well and that he missed them both, but it had never been something that he was very good at. He kept his emotions locked away the best he could and hid what did show up behind arrogance and smugness.
As the two walked in silence making their way back to the house, Tationy’s voice called out. “Kuro.” It sounded pained and both men rushed quickly into the house, finding her sitting on the edge of the bed. “Something is wrong.” Kuro knelt at her side, resting his hand on her stomach as she grimaced in pain and holding her breath. “It hurts.”
Twenty-two hours she was in labor, by the time the baby was ready to be born she was exhausted and could hardly keep her eyes open. Kuro talked to her the entire time, never once leaving her side and though Mikio thought he should run and get the healer, Tationy insisted that she only wanted them there. He did not understand it, if there were issues, a healer was better equipped at dealing with them, then he would be. He overheard her telling Kuro that the only people she trusted were in that room and that she and the baby would be fine. She had such faith in them, more faith perhaps, then they had in themselves.
“Getting close.” Kuro told her.
“I am scared.”
“What if I am not a good mother.”
“You already raised three little girls in to fine young women, you will do great.”
“I don’t want to be like my mother.”
“You won’t be. You have so much love to give and our baby will be healthy and strong, just like his mother.”
“More like his father.” Kuro leaned in to kiss her cheek. He helped her into a comfortable position, “Have you two done this before?”
Kuro laughed, “You ask that now?”
She laughed then grumbled softly, “I need to push.” She told him.
“Just hold on a bit longer.” Mikio told her, as he shuffled about the room getting everything ready.
“I was there when Tearra gave birth to Mikio.” Kuro spoke. “He was an ugly kid. Had a big head.” Tationy laughed, then took several deep breaths in as the pressure to push overwhelmed her. “Tearra was so happy when she saw him, called him the most precious thing in her life and promised to protect him even after she died. She kept her word, Mikio had managed to defy death more times, then I can even remember. She squeezed my hand so tightly, I lost feeling in it. I was there for the births of countless Ishi; Jin, Nao, Togore, Nene, Oro, Jiro, and so many more. Each one, I trained and guided to be an Ishi man. Somehow this feels different though. Each Ishi man relies on another to help guide and train his child, I never thought I would be the one having to rely on another.”
“Mikio will do great, there is no better teacher than the first Ishi you helped bring into this world.” Her words only added to the emotion he was feeling as he looked toward his brother who was walking toward them, there was a part of him that believed that the child was going to come out of her with eyes the color of grass and hair the color of the mist at dawn. He did not know if he would be as strong allowing another man to raise his child, he never asked Mikio why he was going along with it, now as she was about to give birth, he wished he had.
“Ready to push?” Mikio questioned.
“Yes.” She responded as the two Ishi men guided her through the long process of labor. By the time the baby was out, Tationy was too exhausted and had laid back with her eyes shut.
“You did great.” Kuro whispered as he leaned down and kissed her forehead. He looked toward Mikio waiting for the sound of his child taking breath, but there was no sound. He did not want fear to overtake him, so he refused to allow weakness into his heart and mind as he looked toward her.
She managed a meek smile, “Is the baby alright?”
Kuro offered her a smile, which must have comforted her because she closed her eyes again and allowed sleep to overtake her. He wanted to cry, he wanted to break things, and scream at the top of his lungs. He never felt this helpless before and he looked toward his brother for some sign that everything was alright.
Relief as he heard the baby take its first breath and cry out. Mikio was still tending to him, so Kuro had yet to see if they had a son or a daughter. He turned his attention on Tationy, she was so exhausted so he did not disturb her as Mikio finally turned with baby in hand, cleaned and wrapped, “Congratulations, you have a son.”
To Be Continued