*All Standard Disclaimers Apply: This is a work of fiction.
She had laid out her clothes for the next day in preparation for joining her brother and the Iwatobi knights to Makoto's family's house for the midday meal. She had prepared from charms to give to Makoto's parents - a fisherman and seamstress, as well as set to give to the twins.
After spending some time with Makoto's family, they would end the day at her mother's elegant little home across the city. It wasn't far from where the Matsuoka ancestral estate that was situated further up the hill and overlooking the city, but since their father passed away during a rescue mission out at sea, their mother had felt more comfortable living on her own with two of her trusted retainers than living with her in-laws.
Gou made a point to visit as often as possible, sometimes with the knights. This time, she was pleased that they would all be going, as it was just as they were when they were children.
The priestess lazily rolled over on her bed, her internal clock telling her that she still had plenty of time before Rin and the others would pick her up. She could enjoy oversleeping that morning and she was determined to.
Her lethargic thoughts were cut short with a knock on her door.
Gou's shut eyes tightened and she turned away from the door. Another knock sounded and she wondered if they would leave if she remained quiet.
"Priestess Gou, you have a guest," one of the temple attendants called.
One dark pink eye opened and darted towards the window. There was light out, so she couldn't scold the attendant for bothering her too early. However...she was not on duty that day.
"I am not assigned duties today," she called, her back still towards the door. "Please have them seek one of the other priestesses." Gou didn't hear the shuffling outside before another knock sounded. She took a deep breath to try to calm herself. "Please, today is my day of rest."
"So you plan to remain in bed the entire morning?" a familiar voice asked, almost mockingly. "Then, I will have to have breakfast by myself."
She shot up in bed and kicked off her thin blanket. Still in her sleep robes and barefooted, Gou darted across her chamber. The door opened and she peeked out to find a tall, casually dressed knight holding a basket.
"If you really wish to sleep in, be my guest. I will just eat all these cream puffs by myself," Rin drawled out calmly as he dug through the basket with his free hand plucked out a sugar dusted pastry. "They're still warm...made fresh this morning at that bakery you love."
Gou's eyes went wide. "No!" she cried out as she rushed outside and reached for the treat. Rin merely lifted it up and held it out of her reach. "Brother, I'll eat breakfast with you!" she swore as she struggled to reach it.
"You just want the cream puff, not me," Rin pouted. Gou let out a groan.
"I heard your voice and I came right away, didn't it?" Gou reminded him.
He cracked a smile and brought the cream puff down. He quickly stuffed it into her open mouth and grinned. "I know," he teased. "I'll be in the garden. I bought some more food and tea for breakfast." Gou reached up and grasped the cream puff, biting it into it as Rin let her have it. He ruffed the top of her head. "Go and get dressed first."
She beamed. "Okay!" She rushed back into her room and Rin headed towards the garden, where he had one of the temple attendants set up a borrowed table and two chairs.
Just as he received the pot of hot tea from an attendant a few moments later, Gou rushed towards him dressed in a plain, dark blue and white dress. She looked excited as she grasped her hands together in front of her and looked down at the food her brother had brought.
"You didn't tell me you were coming in the morning," she said as Rin pulled out his chair for her.
"That's why it's a surprise," he said as she took a seat. "I thought you might want something to eat before we leave. Mako's house is a bit aways from here."
"Still, this is unexpected," she pointed out. She reached for another cream puff. "And you said you weren't going to buy me these."
"I happened to pass by the bakery this morning," he shrugged. "Since I was coming to get you, I thought I might as well get you a few."
"And the tea and the rest?" Gou asked with a raised brow as Rin poured some into her cup.
"I didn't want you to choke," he replied cooly. Gou huffed.
"Well, no matter what your reason, thank you for coming to have breakfast with me and for bringing all of this," she smiled brightly as she took her tea cup and blew across it. "It's your first day of rest in a while and I know how hard you all train."
Rin nodded and bit into a breakfast pastry silently. Gou began to pick different things to try as he slowly finished his pastry with pauses to take small sips of his drink here and there. Across from him, his sister couldn't seem to stop smiling, even as she ate.
It was the right decision to come early. A small life in the back of his mind told him he should've come far sooner.
"Gou," he blurted suddenly as his sister bit into a roll. She gave him a quizzical look as she chewed her food. Rin hesitated. He took a low breath, trying not to look obvious in his discomfort. He opened his mouth and forced himself to meet his sister's eyes. "I'm sorry."
She stopped chewing. Gou's brows knit together and she looked confused. She swallowed the remains of her food as she placed her hands on the table. "For what?" she asked, genuinely unsure.
Rin grit his teeth and looked down at the food in front of them. "For leaving without a word," he began in a low voice. "For not answering your letters. For not coming back to visit," he told her. His eyes crinkled up shamefully. "I should've remained in contact, but like a fool, I avoided you to evade my own feelings of guilt." He paused. Truthfully, he never did evade his guilt. It lingered even now.
Gou lowered her head and crinkled her eyes. She furrowed her brows as they sat in silence.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Gou gripped the edge of the table.
"I remember when the others came back from the tournament. I looked around for you and Mako and Haru, and Nagisa...they avoided me. I suppose Captain Sasabe instructed them to keep it from me, as he had to tell Mother first. She's the one who told me."
Rin closed his eyes and drew his head back. "I'm sorry, Gou."
She bit her lips for a moment. "I thought you'd come back," she admitted as she lifted her head. "I wrote to you so that when you returned, you would know what was going on."
He recalled that. All her letters in her terrible, childish handwriting read like news reports. There were statuses on things like her studies at the temple, on the knights, on various things around the city.
"You didn't return for festivals or the holy days," Gou pointed out. He hadn't return for her investiture ceremony. Every time one came around, she had convinced herself that he would come to visit, only to be disappointed when he didn't. "And you never answered."
Her letters had turned into questions: when was he coming home? Could he bring her something from Samezuka? She'd like some of that specialty fabric that they made there. How long was he going to stay? Could he come visit on the next holiday? Everytime he read her letters, it was clear she wanted to know when he would return and he himself had no answer. As a result, he simply didn't.
"I had left the knights in the middle of a tournament. I didn't even bother to return home, I went straight to Samezuka," Rin told her. "Everything happened so quickly and without much thought, that I was too ashamed to return and face the questions I was sure everyone would ask."
"You still could've written back," Gou stressed as her eyes crinkled up. "The closest thing we received on news of you was from your superiors when Captain Sasabe ran errands in Samezuka. They were always good things! Always praise! We were so proud of you!" she choked. "Why would you be ashamed to come home?"
"I regretted my actons, Gou! How could I not be?!" Rin exclaimed, his eyes moistening as Gou rubbed at hers. Rin lowered his head and lifted a hand to cover his eyes. He grit his teeth and tried to keep from looking at his sister.
"Everyone missed you, you know," Gou sniffled. "Mom was worried."
That too, he recalled. There were countless times he wanted to send a message to his mother and assure her that he was fine. He had even finished writing and addressing several letters. The problem was that they never made it to a courier.
He didn't know how his mother could welcome him back so easily after the stress he had put her through. He supposed mothers were amazing like that.
"I know," he admitted.
"When she found out you were coming, I didn't know if she was angry or happy," Gou stated. A small smile tugged at the corners of Rin's lips despite his damp eyes.
"Most likely both," Rin replied, his voice still somewhat shaky. "That's probably why she dragged me around the other night. She knew I was tired and yet..."
"A small price to pay," his sister replied.
"I know." He leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table as Gou continued to munch on her breakfast. "Gou," he said, drawing her attention back to him. She gave him a curious look. "I'm very proud of you, too." Her expression softened. "I knew you'd be an amazing priestess." Her lower lip trembled. She lowered her eyes and bit her lips. "I'm sorry you needed to sneak away and cross a desert to come get me." He offered her a hopeful smile. "But I'm happy you did."
"It doesn't matter what I had to do," Gou asserted as she wiped at her eyes. "You came back. That's all I wanted. Even if you're not staying...at least this time..."
He smiled softly and reached across the table. He placed a gentle hand on top of her head and soothed back her hair. "I know, Gou," he assured her. "You're not going to lose me anytime soon."
"He must've left early in the morning," Makato mused as he stood by a large fountain in the center plaza of the city. A bustling outdoor market place was all around them, though the chaos from the early morning shoppers had died down by that time in day. "He should be here soon with Gou."
"Did you see him this morning?" Haruka asked. "I didn't." He had been out in the courtyard doing basic drills before breakfast. Makoto shook his head once.
"No, but Sir Nitori said that he wasn't in their room. I believe he left very early."
Haruka leaned back, where he was sitting on the steps that lead up to the fountain. "He went to have breakfast with Gou," he deduced. Makoto smiled softly at the thought. It would be good for both siblings to have some time together. They were very close when they were children and Rin's absence had been devastating to Gou.
"Mako...," Nagisa called from the side of the fountain, where he was balancing himself on the wide edge. Rei was beside him, quietly accessing the groups of people going through the center plaza. "How much longer do we wait? Your parents' house is across town!"
"We're already at the halfway point," Haruka reminded him.
"It' won't take that long, Nagisa. We just have to wait for Gou and Rin to arrive," the green-eyed knight assured him. "Are you hungry?"
Still seated beside Makoto, Haruka lifted his head as he caught familiar shades of burgundy making their way through the crowds. "Ah," he said a loud.
Makoto glanced down and then followed Haruka's line of vision. A wide smile reached his face. "There they are!" he called as he lifted one arm.
"Gou! Rin!" Nagisa threw both arms in the air and began to jump up and down on the side of the fountain excitedly. "Over here!"
"Sir Hazuki! Please stop!" Rei gasped as he reached forward and tried to calm the shorter blonde. "You'll slip and fall into the fountain!"
"But I want them to see us!" Nagisa insisted as he continued to jump and wave.
Across the plaza, Rin narrowed his eyes and gave a slight shake of his head. "Why is he jumping? I told them that we'd meet them at the fountain. I know where I'm going."
"He's just excited," the priestess beside him beamed. She had her arm looped around her brother's left one and was smiling widely as she followed along side of him.
"Tell him to get down," Rin said as he reached the steps of the fountain. "He's going to fall into the water."
Makoto chuckled and looked over his shoulder. "Nagisa, Rei. Let's go," he called. Beaming, Nagisa launched himself off the side of the fountain and on the steps. Behind him, Rei let out a horrified yell as his jump.
The other knights and the priestess didn't see anything odd about Nagisa's antics. He landed neatly a few steps from the top and continued to hop down the steps to where Haruka had risen from his seat.
"Don't do anything needlessly risky," Haruka scolded him lightly as he noticed Rei's somewhat shaken look.
Nagisa just beamed. His pink eyes darted to the bouquet of flowers Rin was clutching in his free hand. "What's that?"
"Flowers for Makoto's mom," Rin replied lazily. "We're not bringing much, so the least we could do was bring her flowers."
"I have charms and some cream puffs for Ran and Ren!" Gou added, lifting up a cloth bag in her free hand.
"I'm sure they'll love it," Makoto assured them. "Shall we get going, then?" Behind Haruka, a still wobbly Rei nodded his head. Nagisa grabbed on to his arm and tugged him forward.
"Yes!" Nagisa cheered. "Gou, do you have any more cream puffs?" He asked as he came down the rest of the stairs, dragging Rei with him.
"I only have two left, one for each twin," Gou said, earning her a disappointed look from Nagisa.
"Why didn't you buy some to share?" the blond pouted as Makoto began to lead them around the plaza.
"I saved them from breakfast," Gou beamed. "Brother bought them for me!"
"So that's where he went that early," Haruka said from the front of the group.
"Rin went to have breakfast with you!?" Nagisa perked up and turned towards the older Matsuoka.
Rin's face reddened slightly as he diverted his eyes. "What's wrong with a big brother having breakfast with his sister?"
Gou nodded. "He brought me creampuffs and all these pastries with jam and butter. There was a few with cream and he also brought tea! Two kinds!"
"You don't have to tell them," Rin grumbled. Gou merely tightened her grip around her brother's arm and looked up at him with a pleased, wide smile.
"Aww...that's not fair," Nagisa sighed as he raised his arms and stretched them over his head. "Rin didn't bring us anything or got us breakfast the entire time he's been here."
"Why would I bring you breakfast?" Rin exclaimed. "The knights are served breakfast at the meal hall."
"Yes," Nagisa acknowledged. "But they don't serve creampuffs."
"Or tea," Haruka added.
Makoto chuckled. "Well, I hope you two saved room for lunch. My mother was so excited to hear Rin was back that she decided to cook several dishes."
A thoughtful smile reached the visiting knight's head. "She didn't have to."
"It's a big celebration," Makoto insisted. "She hasn't seen you for a long time and is looking forward to hearing all about your time in Samezuka."
"Yeah, Rin!" Nagisa piped. "You haven't told us much about it! I'm curious, too."
"You already know how we train," Rin pointed out. "We've been showing it to you since we arrived."
"Not training," Gou rolled her eyes. "They mean what it's like living in Samezuka. It's a desert! It must be hot and dusty...and you don't get fresh seafood like you do here."
"Caravans bring over fish," Rin defended. "They come in these big clay jars and sell them at the marketplace." Even as he said it, he had to acknowledge that fish that had managed to survive the desert journey still somehow weren't as good as the fresh from the sea fish he could get in Samezuka.
"I heard it's so dusty and sandy out there that even their bread picks up some of the sand," Haruka said aloud. "So when you eat it, you can feel the grains."
Rei let out a sharp gasp and turned towards Rin. "Is that why your teeth are so sharp, Sir Matsuoka!? Were they worn down that way by the desert sand bread?"
The group went quiet as Rin stopped and stared at the new member of the knights. His eyes narrowed. "What?"
His raised voice could be heard across the courtyard and a woman with dark hair lifted her head from a vegetable stand. Her eyes easily spotted her two children on the other side of the plaza. Rin was yelling at the darked-haired boy with the glasses and it seemed that Gou and sweet, kind Makoto were trying to calm him down.
Lady Matsuoka opened her mouth, about to call for them, but stopped. A warm smile rested on her face. It was good for Rin to reacquaint himself with his old friends and watching him talk to the others in such an unguarded way lessened her concern. She would have plenty of time to spend with Rin in the evening. For now, he should enjoy his time with his friends and sister.
She chuckled to herself and paid for some vegetables before handing them off to one of the servants who had escorted her to the plaza market. She didn't recognize the boy with the glasses and figured that was the new Iwatobi knight Gou had written to her about.
"I hope he likes wild boar," she said.
"What was that, my lady?" her servant asked.
"Oh, nothing," the woman smiled. "I'm going to go to the stationery store before we leave. Gou said she was out of good paper so I told her I would purchase some for her."
"Shall I go with you, Lady Matsuoka?"
"No, no, you may wait here," the woman said as she turned around. The stationery store was just around the corner from the plaza and it didn't take her long to reach it. She made her way up the two steps and opened the door. A small bell rang and filled the cozy little shop with its sound as a brown-haired man at the counter lifted his head.
"Good day, my lady," he greeted. "Are you here to pick up more ink?"
"Not today," the woman replied as she crossed the showroom floor to the counter in the back. "Do you have any more of the parchment I purchased last time? It had a slight floral scent to it."
"I do, my lady. It is in the back. How many should I bring out for you?"
"Five sets," Lady Matsuoka requested. "Thank you." The man gave her a bow of his head before turning around and walking into the backroom. While waiting at the counter, the woman looked around the shop and finally noticed one other patron in the corner.
He was standing with a set of parchment in each hand. His brows were furrowed and he seemed concentrated as he tried to decide which set to purchase. He didn't need such high quality parchment for his reports back to Samezuka, nor did he need much more as they were bound to leave soon.
On the other hand, he didn't want to send her letters with poor quality parchment. All of her messages had been written on carefully prepared paper that smelled of roses and incense. He wanted to at least respond in an equally fitting manner.
However, he wasn't there to buy paper to use to send her letters. For those, he wanted to use paper made in Samezuka. The thought that they'd be exchanging letters made from parchment from their respective homes was a bit romantic. He was there to buy extra paper for his reports.
And yet, when he saw the different kinds of paper lining the walls, he immediately wondered which one would be best to write to her with.
"Pardon me," a voice said to his left. Seijuurou lifted his head and turned towards the voice. A woman was standing by the back counter with a curious look on her face. "I do believe we've met," she said as she took a step forward. "You are Captain Mikoshiba of Samezuka, yes?"
A brief moment of confusion hit Seijuurou as he tried to place the face. He had met many people at the celebrations he and his knights attended at the castle and as most were simply a passing introduction, he was ashamed to know that he did not remember all of them.
"Yes, madam." He stood up straight and gave her a formal bow. "My deepest apologies, but while I recognize you, I'm afraid your name has escaped me."
"It is of no trouble," she dismissed easily. "We were only introduced briefly when I came to fetch my son from you."
"Your son, madam?"
"Rin Matsuoka." It took all his strength not to look horrified that he had forgotten Rin and his precious priestess's mother. "I believe you also know my daughter." How did she know that? "Priestess Kou of the Water God's Temple. We call her Gou." Of course he knew who she was.
Trying not to seem panicked at his lack of grace, Seijuurou gave her another bow in an attempt to redeem himself.
"Then it 'my lady' rather than 'madam'," he corrected himself. "How are you this afternoon, Lady Matsuoka?"
"Very well, Captain Mikoshiba. Thank you for asking," she gave him an acknowledging nod of her head. "Are you buying a gift while you are here?" she asked, motioning one hand to the piles of paper around them.
"For myself, yes," he chuckled. "I send a lot of correspondence back to Samezuka and I'm afraid I've run out. Captain Sasabe suggested this shop to me."
"The paper here is of excellent quality, Captain. You won't find any better in Iwatobi," she assured him.
"Thank you for your kind words, Lady Matsuoka," the shopkeeper chuckled behind them. She turned around and he arranged her order on the counter. "Is there anything else I can get you?"
"I think I will pick up a few more bottles of ink," the woman asserted. "And a bottle of blue ink for Gou."
"I'll prepare it at once."
The man disappeared into the back room once more and the woman turned back to the knight. "Captain, are you free this evening?"
"This evening? I believe I am," Seijuurou mulled over. "I have some things left to arrange, but I have no assigned duties."
"Wonderful," the mother looked pleased. "You must come to my house for dinner. I would love to hear more about my son in Samezuka. He never sends us word and I doubt I'll hear more about his life there from his own mouth."
The orange-haired man looked taken aback. "For dinner, my lady?"
"Yes, as my guest," she smiled. "Rin and the others will be there. I'm sure he'll be a ecstatic to see you there."
Seijuurou almost contested her. Instead, he gave her a small nod. "If I am able to complete my personal arrangements before then, my lady, I will attend. I cannot promise it, but I will try."
"That is all I ask," the middle-aged woman nodded. The shopkeeper appeared once more and she returned to the counter. "Let me give you the directions and then I'll be on my way."
"No...!" Ren clung on to Gou. "You can't go already! Stay and have dinner with us!"
"I'm sorry, Ren," the priestess replied with a disappointed smile on her face. Makoto tried to wedge his brother off of Gou as she patted his head. "But we have dinner plans with my mother."
"Ren," Makoto's mother said sternly. "Release Priestess Gou. She came to play with you two this time, you should be thankful."
"I am!" Ren insisted as he was finally pulled away. "But they don't come to visit often enough and since they had that show-"
"Exhibition!" Ran corrected beside their older brother. "It's not a show!"
"Fine, that exhibition," Ren continued. "Big brother and everyone has been too busy to come see us!"
"Well, if you want to see them, why don't you join the knights?" his father joked as he crossed his arms over his chest. Ren's eyes widened at the idea.
"But I can't join the knights!" Ran protested. "That's not fair!"
"You can be like Gou and join the temple," Makoto reminded her. "She does all the blessings for the knights and the royal guard."
Ran wrinkled her nose and looked hesitant. "That doesn't sound as fun as being a knight."
"It's not," Gou admitted. Her brother gave her a light jab with his elbow.
"I think you'd make a fantastic priestess," Rin told the little girl.
A wide-eyed, glassy gaze fixed on Rin as the female twin clasped her hands together and looked at him earnestly. "Really?" she asked. "Even with the weird clothes?"
Gou furrowed her brows and pursed her lips. "My robes aren't weird..." They were just based on older styles, so they weren't exactly fashionable, but she thought they looked classically beautiful.
"Even with the robes," Rin chuckled, remembering how Gou didn't initially like her priestess clothes, as it prohibited her from playing with him because she wasn't allowed to get them dirty. "You will look very cute in the robes."
Ran looked excited. "Did you hear that?" she said as she turned to her brothers. "He said I look cute!"
"Yes, yes," Makoto agreed as he ruffled her hair. She looked pleased that he also believed it true. "Very cute."
"Alright, you two, bid them good-bye," their mother instructed.
"Come visit us again soon!" the twins chorused as they both hugged Makoto. The group left behind the energetic twins and Makoto's parents as they headed towards a street that would lead them to Lady Matsuoka's house.
"Rin," Haruka said as he walked beside Makoto, a few steps behind Rin and Gou.
The black-haired man's voice was deadpan. "Ran is too young for you."
"What!?" Makoto grimaced as Nagisa and Gou started laughing. Rin turned around to yell at Haruka, sputtering that he was talking non-sense.
"Is he always like this?" Rei asked Nagisa as he sped up to catch up with the blond.
The shortest knight nodded. "Oh, yes, Rin's always been very energetic."
Rei looked over his shoulder. Gou was trying to calm her brother down as Rin's face reddened. The new knight crinkled his eyes. It was almost hard to believe that the knight he saw in the courtyard was the same one standing a few paces from him, insisting he wasn't some sort of pervert.
"Well, if it is you," Makoto only made it worse. "I would give my blessing."
"Mine, too," Haruka agreed.
"No!" Rin exclaimed, horrified. "All little girls would look cute as trainee priestesses!" That only served to make Makoto and Gou look at him with even more concerned expressions. "Gou was very cute!" he tried to cite.
"Let's just keep moving," Makoto sighed. "I'm sure your mother is waiting."
He passed Rin and Gou looped her arm around her brother's once more. She beamed. "Thank you, big brother," she said. She poked his arm. "What about now?"
He raised a brow and turned his head away. "You're still cute," he muttered quietly.
"What was that?" Gou craned her head towards him. "I'm...?"
"Don't make me say it," Rin grumbled as he scowled. "You know I have the most beautiful little sister here," he complimented as he flushed, embarrassed that he had actually said it out loud. The knights in front of him barely kept back their muffled giggles. "Shut up! There isn't anything wrong with a man complimenting his younger sister!"
"Well," Gou looked pleased. "I have the best swordsman as a brother!" she assured him. "No wonder Mother wants to marry you off."
"Don't talk about that," Rin rolled his eyes. "She was just overzealous the other night. I saw her talking to Haru. Did she ask you about me?"
The other man shook his head. "She tried to introduce me to some noblewomen, too," Haruka said. "She asked about the others, but couldn't find them."
"She did?" Nagisa asked. "Why?"
"She thinks we are of age," the blue-eyed brunette asserted.
Rin let out a snort. "Come to think of it," Rei said as he adjusted his glasses. "Priestess Kou is also of age..."
"Ah...Rei...," Makoto began, his smile faltering as he held his hands up to try to stop him.
"When my sister was engaged, she was about the priestess's age," Rei continued on cluelessly in his attempt to join the conversation. "It is curious, now that I think about it. Do priestesses get married, Priestess Kou?"
The air around them seemed to grow heavier as Makoto, Haruka, and Nagisa unknowingly turned to Rin. Gou tried offer her brother hopeful smile as he tensed beside her.
"Engaged?" the sharp-toothed man smiled coldly. "Don't be absurd, Ryugazaki." Rei felt chills as the man's voice and hesitantly took a step back. "Gou needs no such thing!"
Seijuurou stood beside his bed, looking at the two items he had purchased on his way back to the knights' quarters. When he had parted with Lady Matsuoka, he hadn't been certain he would be able to attend her dinner; however, as a precaution, he stopped by a well-known Samezuka merchant to select a hostess gift.
He hadn't been able to decide on the hand blown glass bowl or the blooming flower tea balls. Both were useful and aesthetically pleasing, as he deemed necessarily. The woman was Gou's mother and he wanted to make a good impression.
The last thing he wanted was to be hated and rejected by her last living parent.
"Captain," a knock came from the door. "The your horse is ready."
"Thank you, I will be out in a moment," he called over his shoulder. He lifted a hand to rub his chin. "The tea," he decided. Perhaps it would be something nice to have after the dinner. He gathered the metal canister with the tea and tucked it under one arm as he passed his chair. He grabbed the cloak hanging off the back and opened his door.
"Captain," Aiichirou said as he looked up from where he was standing, looking down at the courtyard. He gave a respectful bow to his superior. "Will you be joining us for dinner?"
"No," the orange-haired man replied. "I'm attending a dinner on personal business," he replied. "Are you all going out?"
"Yes, Captain," Aiichirou reported.
"Do not stay out too late. Tomorrow, we prepare for our leave and I want everyone well rested before we begin the journey back to Samezuka," Seijuurou instructed. The younger knight nodded obediently. The captain headed towards the stables and narrowed his eyes as he saw the three knights he had put on probation seated in the center yard, shining the buckles and findings on various bits and saddles.
As they saw them approach, the trio jumped to their feet. "Captain Mikoshiba!" they greeted immediately.
"End early tonight and get dinner with the others, but do not stay out late," Seijuurou told them in a low voice. The three looked surprised and glanced nervous looks at each other, as if expecting there to be a catch.
"Really, Captain?" Minami asked hesitantly. "We are done with our assignments?"
Seijuurou paused, just a few paces away from where a stable hand had readied a horse for him. He turned around and narrowed his eyes. "If you wish to continue, be my guest," their captain told them. "However, I do want all the knights to be ready for the journey back tomorrow night."
Excited at the prospect of finally take a break after the last few days of punishment for their unorthodoxed actions during the melee, the three knights bowed their heads before they were dismissed.
The orange-haired knight didn't say a word as he watched them rush back to their quarters. Seeing the trio reminded him of the unpleasant business he would have to discuss with his father and grandfather when he returned to Samezuka.
"Here you are, Captain." The stable hand helped him on his horse and placed the gift in one of the saddle bags before Seijuurou began his ride across town.
He hadn't mentioned what the three knights had told him in his last letter to his father. Frankly, if Lord Samezuka did not take his word that Iwatobi was not preparing for a war with them, then there was a chance his personal correspondence was being screened before it reached his father.
The thought that their new leader would distrust his own knight so much as not to believe him only made Seijuurou more concerned. Lord Samezuka had been the one to bring up the 'rumors' of Iwatobi's supposed preparations. Then, he pushed three knights to act out in the middle of a friendly melee with their brother knights.
Something wasn't right and as soon as he returned, he would investigate further. It wasn't something he could bring up to his superiors. Word of his suspicion could reach Lord Samezuka's ears and he couldn't risk being discharged from the order, especially when he had the best chance of finding answers while within it.
At best, he could take the matter to his father and grandfather. Lord Mikoshiba, Seijuurou knew, had already disagreed with Lord Samezuka's stance on Iwatobi. Perhaps his grandfather had aleady started his own personal investigation as to why.
If their suspicions turned out to be correct and Lord Samezuka wanted to start a war with Iwatobi, duty would demand at the knights side with Samezuka.
But how would that fair for knights with strong ties to Iwatobi? Matsuoka's family, with whom he had just reconnected with, and his friends were in Iwatobi. Would he and knights like him take Samezuka's side and blindly go to war?
Seijuurou narrowed his eyes. Would Rin even get that far? It wasn't far-fetched to think that knights with strong ties would be pulled from the front lines. At best, they'd be relocated elsewhere. At worst, they would be incarcerated to avoid turning against Samezuka.
And that was just his concerns for his men. His family did trade with Iwatobi. In fact, many families he knew did, as well. That would certainly be interrupted if the two countries were thrown into a war. And what of their mutual allies? They would have to pick a side - the wealthy and prosperous Iwatobi or the better armed and trained Samezuka.
The orange-haired knight narrowed his eyes as he reached the base of a hill. He looked upwards. According to the map, Lady Matsuoka's home was just up the street. Seijuurou took a deep breath and his hands tightened on the reins.
Gou was in Iwatobi. If they went to war, he would not only lose his knights, his family's business, and their allies, but he would be force to fight against her. How could he keep her safe if he was amongst those who attacked?
Silently, Seijuurou began his ascent, trying to clear his mind and focus on the task at hand. Rin was going to be at the dinner and he wanted to have plenty of good stories to share about his Iwatobi-born underling.
He reached a large home and a servant was awaiting just outside the gate. "Captain Mikoshiba?" the old woman called. He sat upright in his saddle and nodded.
"Yes, Madam. Is this the home of Lady Matsuoka?" he asked carefully.
"Indeed, Captain. Please let me take your horse. Shall I escort you inside?" the old woman asked as Seijuurou slid off his saddle. He turned to get the tea canister before giving her a bow of his head.
"No need, Madam. If you'd show me where to go, I will find my way," he assured her. He was directed up a path and up some steps to a door. As he reached it, he raised his hand to knock, only to have the door swing open.
"Captain, we are expecting you," another old woman greeted him. He bowed his head. "Please follow me. My lady and her guests are down the hall."
"Thank you," he said calmly as he followed behind her. They walked through the foyer and into a hall lined with portraits of family members. He would've stopped to look over some of them in depth, as he could've sworn he recognized two children around the same age who should've been Rin and Gou, had he time.
"Lady Matsuoka, your last guest has arrived." Seijuurou looked ahead of him and saw that the elderly woman had stopped in front of an entryway.
"Last guest?" he heard Rin asked, confused. "Mother, did you invite someone else?"
"Yes, a kind man I met with today at the parchment store," Lady Matsuoka replied.
"What? Mother, you met a man?" Rin sounded upset by this and Seijuurou held back his amused smirk. "Why haven't you told me?"
"Mother, I also didn't know that you were seeing someone," Gou piped, confused. "When did this start?"
"Never mind when it started, I want to meet this man!" Rin demanded.
"What are you two talking about?' their mother scolded. "You're being rude."
"Sir," the old woman who had let him into the house stepped to the side and motioned for him to enter. Seijuurou took a deep breath and stepped out of the hall.
"Lady Matsuoka," he greeted with a warm smile. "Thank you again for inviting me to dinner." Rin had jumped up from his seat behind his mother at the sight of the man, while the Iwatobi knights looked at him, almost shocked to see him there.
"Captain!?" Rin choked out.
"Captain Mikoshiba?" Nagisa and Makoto chorused, equally surprised.
"Seijuurou!" a voice exclaimed delightedly. Several heads turned to Gou as she turned red and fiddled with her hands. "I mean...Captain Mikoshiba!" she offered weakly as she diverted her eyes. Rin looked from his sister to his captain and wasn't sure where to begin.
Haruka rose from his seat to properly greet the newcomer. Rei mirrored his senior knight, still unsure why they would be surprised to see Sir Matsuoka's superior.
"What...," Rin tried to speak. "What...sir, what are you doing here?"
"I told you," Lady Matsuoka answered sharply. "I met him at the parchment shop and invited him to come tonight to tell us all about your time in Samezuka!"
The visiting son wasn't sure how to feel. Humiliation at the thought that Captain Mikoshiba would tell them about all those times he made a fool of himself or horror at the very same reason. A dumbfounded expression didn't seem to leave his face.
"I brought a gift," Seijuurou offered the middle-aged woman. "It is a sweet tea from Samezuka."
"Oh, lovely!" the mother beamed as she clapped her hands together before reaching forward to accept the gift. "We'll have it with our desserts!"
"Lady Matsuoka, dinner is served," the elderly servant said from the entrance.
"Thank you! Come, everyone," the woman said. "Let us go to the dining room."
"Oh, my lady," Seijuurou took a step back and turned, offering his arm to the the older woman. She smiled widely.
"Thank you, Captain. I hope you like wild boar. It is a speciality of the Matsuoka family..." They exited the parlor and the remaining knights and Gou looked at Rin.
"Why is he here...?" Rin seemed to whisper. His face paled. "What if he tells her about...?"
Nagisa seemed to snicker to himself as he bounced out the door. "Maybe he'll tell us some good stories about Rin!"
"I can't wait," Haruka agreed as he followed behind him.
"This is going to be quite an interesting dinner," Rei agreed. Makoto ushered them out, urging Rin to relax, as he was sure the captain wasn't there specifically to humiliate him.
Rin narrowed his eyes. "Well, what other reason does he have for coming?"
"I quite like him, Rin," his mother told him as he accompanied her outside for her post-dinner walk. "I think you are lucky that your superior officer is so responsible and patient with you."
Rin grit his teeth. He could still hear the laughing from within the house as the captain continued to entertain questions from his friends. Most of them were from Nagisa and thus, many of the answers were humiliating in nature.
"I wish you could've warned me about him. Nagisa is asking unnecessary questions," Rin grumbled.
"He's only curious about how life is different in Samezuka," his mother assured him. "How do you all practice when it gets that hot there? What kind of sun protection to do wear is a valid question."
"He asks if it gets so hot that we have to practice nude," Rin sighed. Captain Mikoshiba had laughed and said that when it got too hot, it was far too dangerous for them continue training. They risked dehydration and heat exhaust.
"I know you were determined to prove your worth to them, Rin, but you didn't have to push yourself so much," his mother sighed. "To think you became so dehydrated that you collapsed in your underwear."
"Mother!" Rin flushed. "I wasn't used to the desert sun!"
"Clearly," Lady Matsuoka said. "Still, your captain is a good man. He's obviously a dedicated knight and leader to his men, he's from a good family, and," she admitted, rather pleased. "He is quite good looking." Rin's face seemed to melt into a look that was a mixture of horror and disgust. "It's a shame he's all the way in Samezuka."
Rin frowned. "What do you mean by that?"
"It is only an observation," the woman said. She stopped beside her plants and looked back at the house. "Rin," she began carefully as her eyes met her son's. "If ever you want to return, know that you will always be welcomed home."
"Mother...," Rin's eyes softened. "I know. I won't hide away this time."
"I'm serious, Rin," the woman said. "You know the Iwatobi knights can use someone of your ability. Not to mention that you work well with them."
He sighed. "Mother,"
"I know there isn't much opportunity here compared to Samezuka-"
"I'm not going to leave Samezuka because of-"
"But if you plan to raise a family, I think you should raise it here." Rin's mouth snapped close. He lowered his eyes and furrowed his brows as he looked at his mother.
She grasped his hands and smiled. "You're of age now, you know."
"No," Rin frowned. "Mother, I don't have time to...I'm simply too busy," he insisted.
She narrowed her eyes. "Very well. Gou is only a year younger than you," she began. She watched as Rin began to look panicked. "And there are many who have approached me with inquiries about her."
"You told them no, didn't you?" Rin gushed. "Mother, she's a temple priestess!"
"Priestesses can get married!" Lady Matsuoka reminded him quickly. "And I want to leave that decision to Gou. She's always with Haruka and the others, I thought she'd be courted by one of them."
"They see her as a sister," Rin asserted proudly. He was certain they would never do such a thing.
"Nagisa is here age-"
"He's too immature and irresponsible. Do you know that he enjoys eating candy for breakfast?" Rin pointed out.
"Well, Haruka is a sweet boy-"
"He's far too dedicated and distracted with his knighthood, Mother. He wouldn't be attentive," Rin assured her.
"What about that new knight?'"
"They hardly know each other."
"Makoto, then," Lady Matsuoka countered. She looked at her son confidently. "You can't say something is wrong with Makoto. I know plenty of young ladies who would love an introduction with him. It's very well known that he's a next in line to be captain of the knights, he comes from a respectable family, and he is good with children."
Part of Rin was irritated that his mother was right. There really wasn't anything he could say about Makoto. "He is...busy with Haru and the knights..." he offered weakly.
His mother scoffed. "Well, then what about the good Captain?"
"Ugh! Mother, Sasabe is too old-"
"Captain Mikoshiba," the woman snapped. "Honestly, Rin..."
"He's not from Iwatobi!" Rin argued. "The Captain is very dedicated to his family back in Samezuka and...and he has admirers there!"
"This night has filled me with disappointment," his mother sighed dramatically. "You know that you cannot control who your sister chooses to start a relationship with, Rin."
"Mother, with Father gone, I need to do what I can to make sure that Gou is not plagued by undesirable men," Rin rambled. "And if I am not here, the knights will make sure for me." He made a mental note to make them swear to it.
"You're far too invested," the woman said as she turned around. "Let us return to the house. I hear silence now. They must be done laughing at your expense." Rin rolled his eyes. "We need to see our guests out. Are you and Gou still staying the night?"
He could hear the hopeful tone in her voice and smiled slightly. "Yes. I have to return by midday tomorrow to prepare for the journey back."
"Are you leaving at night?"
"At little before sunset," Rin replied as his mother held on to his arm and allowed him to escort her the rest of the way back. "By the time we reach the edge of the desert, it will be nightfall. This time of year, it'll be easier and far cooler to travel at night."
"I wish you all safe travels then," she said as they reached the house. They climbed the steps and headed to the parlor. They could hear a few voices talking within and as they entered, four Iwatobi knights rose from their seats.
"Lady Matsuoka, thank you for your gracious hospitality this evening," Makoto bowed his head.
"It was an honor to meet you, Lady Matsuoka," Rei added. "Thank you for having us."
Rin narrowed his eyes. His sister and his captain were missing.
"It was my pleasure," the woman smiled. She noticed them gathering their things from the sofa. "Are you all leaving now?"
"We need to return to the knight's quarters, Lady Matsuoka!" Nagisa piped. "The food was delicious!"
"We'll walk you out," the woman said as she lead them to the foyer. The door was part way open and they could hear Gou outside. Rin quickened his step and pulled the door open wide. At the front gate, Gou was sitting on Captain Mikoshiba's horse.
"Look!" she beamed. "Sei...er...Captain showed me how to get on!"
Before anyone could respond, Rin seemed to instantly appear at his sister's side. "Gou! Get down from there! What if you fall?"
"I'm holding on to the reins," Gou reminded him, lifting her hands to show him the pieces of leather she was gripping.
Rin lifted his arms towards her. "Come down," he told her firmly. Sighing, exasperated, Gou shifted in the saddle and allowed her brother to help her down. "What were you doing up there to begin with?"
"I want to learn how to ride so that when I go with them to the tournament, I can ride on a horse by myself," Gou said, motioning one hand to Makoto and the others. Rin furrowed his brows and looked surprised.
"Tournament?" he asked.
"The western division preliminary tournament," his captain reminded him . "It's in a few weeks, remember?"
Rin blinked and looked back at the group. "I know that, but...already?" They had trained quite a bit and were naturally good, but they wanted to join a tournament so soon?
"They only needed one more person!" Gou reminded him. "And now, with Rei, they have a four man team!"
"We can't guarantee we'll win," Makoto chuckled sheepishly. "But it would be a good experience. Captain Mikoshiba says he will have some tournament registration papers sent."
"It doesn't matter if they place this time," Seijuurou explained. "Practicing is one thing, but what they need is tournament experience. The more they do, the more accustomed they will become. Experience will be the best teacher for them."
"I agree," Lady Matsuoka nodded.
"Well, since everyone is out here and my horse is already out, I'm afraid I will need to take my leave, my lady," the orange-haired man bowed gracefully before the older woman. "Thank you for your kind hospitality, once more."
"Please do visit us again, Captain," the woman acknowledged.
"We'll join you on the ride back, Captain Mikoshiba," Makoto told him. "We're returning, as well."
"I see," the older man acknowledged. He turned to Rin, who was now standing in front of his sister. "And you will not be returning tonight?"
"I'll spend the night here, Captain," Rin replied.
"Alright," Seijuurou acknowledged. "Just be sure to return early enough to pack your belongings and prepare for the journey back."
A few horses neighed and Nagisa started climbing up his horse. The others followed. With one more bow to the Matsuoka family, Seijuurou mounted his horse.
"Have a good evening, Matsuoka, Lady Matusoka," he said before turning his gaze to Gou. A small smile tugged at his lips as their eyes met. "And my priestess."
"I'm going to ask Mother for a horse," Gou said, sounding determined as they reached the temple, where he would drop her off.
"Just borrow one from the knights if you're going to go with them," her brother said. "You have no place to keep and tend to the house at the temple. I doubt you'll have time to, as well."
"But I can't practicing riding if I don't have constant access to a horse," Gou argued.
"What about the horses they use for the carriages at the temple?"
"They're not riding horses, they're pulling horses," Gou said.
"Then just take a carriage. It'll be more comfortable and you can sleep inside," Rin suggested. Gou wrinkled her nose. She just really wanted to ride a horse. They reached the main hall of the temple and she turned around.
"I'll think about it," she muttered.
"Good," Rin told her. He leaned forward and kissed the top of her head. "I'll see you at sunset for the departure blessing."
Gou gave him a nod and watched as he descended the steps to the base of the temple mound before getting into their mother's borrowed carriage. He stuck his hand out and gave her one more wave before the carriage trotted out the gates.
Tiredly, Gou turned around and entered her familiar temple. Several attendants greeted her as she passed. Before she could go relax in her room and then ready her clothes for the blessing she'd perform for the departing knights later that day, she first had to go to the main chamber.
She could hear the rushing water from the spring within before she stepped through the threshold. Before entering, she removed her slippers from her feet.
"Welcome back, Priestess Kou," someone greeted.
"Hello!" Gou smiled back. She carefully made her way into the water filled main chamber. The floor was wet, with the water from the spring spilling over on to the stone tiles. She could smell the familiar scent of incense.
Before the elevated spring, she knelt down on one of the dry stone steps and bent over, scooping water with her hands up to her face. She muttered the Water God's prayers to herself before bowing her head once more and standing up to leave.
The warm spring water was always somehow refreshing and she had once been told that it had healing properties. She believed the hot water gushing out was just relaxing. As she emerged from the chamber an attendant rushed to meet her to towel off her feet.
"Gou?" a surprised voice said to her left. She turned her head and her eyes widened. Immediately a hot flush filled her face and she forgot about the attendant drying her feet.
"Seijuurou!" she gasped. He was a few paces from her, bent over as head adjusted his booths. "What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to pray for a safe journey for me and my men," the orange-haired man smiled lopsidedly as he stood up straight. "Did you just return from your mother's?"
"Yes," she said as she thanked the attendant and then put her slippers back on. "You missed my brother. He just returned to the knights' quarters."
Seijuurou nodded understandingly. "I suppose I should return myself."
"Captain! I mean...Seijuurou," Gou took a step forward, her hand extended. He tilted his head head to the side questioningly. "Do you have a moment to escort me to my chambers? I just want to rest up and prepare my robes for the departure blessing."
He smiled widely and Gou felt her chest clench. "Of course," he told her warmly. He extended his hand towards her. "I would be happy to escort you."
Giddily, Gou reached for his offered hand and moved closer to him as they headed out of the temple. "I was telling Rin that I wanted to get a horse, but he said I would have no where to keep it, so I should just learn using the horses at the knights' stables."
"I agree. Those horses are well taken care of and with good temperaments," Seijuurou said as he squeezed her hand. "They are good for learning and Sir Tachibana, Nanase, and Hazuki are all experienced riders. I am sure they can give you a few riding lessons in between the sword lessons," he mentioned casually.
Gou furrowed her brows and looked up at him as they emerged into the gardens. "The sword lessons?"
"You want to continue, don't you?" he asked. Gou nodded.
"Of course! But, I can't expect them to take time out to teach me! Especially the tournament you all were talking about last night," Gou pointed out. Her eyes lowered, disappointed. "They just don't have time."
"They will be the judge of that," he told her. "On the ride back to the knights' quarters, we discussed continuing your lessons. Sir Hazuki said it would be good for Sir Ryugazaki to have someone at his level with a long sword to practice with."
Gou squeezed his arm as she moved closer. "You're not joking?" she asked, afraid to get her hopes up. "They'll continue to teach me?"
"At least the basics," he told her as he looked down and smiled softly. "We'll see how you've improved the next time we meet."
Gou couldn't stop smiling. "At the tournament."
"At the tournament," Seijuurou agreed. They stopped in front of her chambers and she stood in front of him. Her hands slipped over his large, calloused ones and she wove her fingers between his. "The time until then will be far too long," he told her softly.
Gou nodded. "Don't forget to write to me."
He chuckled. "I won't."
"And take care of my brother."
Gou bit her lower lip and glanced up the path where they had come. She couldn't hear anyone coming and decided to make her move. She quickly leaned upwards and placed a kiss on his lips. Seijuurou's eyes widened, looking surprised that she had initiated it.
"A good-bye kiss!" Gou told him, sounding determined as her already flushed face seemed to turn even more red.
He blinked and smiled softly "Is that an Iwatobi tradition?" She found herself nodding, even though it wasn't. It was just that she saw her chance and she took it. "Ah...then this is how we say good-bye in Samezuka."
His right hand rose and a finger curled under her chin. He gently tilted her head upwards as he stepped forward, closing the gap between them. She felt his hot breath against her skin just before his lips moved over hers.
Gou closed her eyes and leaned against him. She had hoped he'd react and was pleased that he was. It wouldn't hurt to kiss him once more before he left. Her hands snaked their way around him. She could feel his heart beat against her chest as they parted for a quick breath before returning to each other.
Her hands clawed against the cloth over his back and Seijuurou let out a quick gasp. It was surprising and somewhat exciting.
"Are you alright?" Gou pulled away when she heard him, looking worried.
He nodded. "I'm fine," he assured her. "It's nothing."
"Oh...," Gou nodded. She leaned upwards to continue when she heard someone in the garden. She turned her head away, resulting in Seijuurou putting his lips against the side of her head.
"Gou?" he asked.
"Someone's coming!" Her hand clamped around his and she fiddled with her door until it opened. Without thinking, she pulled the tall, muscular man into her bed chambers and slammed the door behind him. "Shhh!"
Seijuurou froze. He stood just past the door and was staring at Gou's hastily made bed. The bed where she slept...in thin, billowy robes...
"The Water God is testing me," he muttered to himself.
"Gou! Are you there?" The bed was forgotten. Both the captain and priestess turned to look at each other and paled as they recognized the voice. "You left the cake Mother sent with you in the carriage."
"It's my brother!" Gou hissed out in a low, panicked voice. "What do we do?"
Seijuurou's eyes moved around the room, trying to find a place to hide. Her vanity and desk wouldn't have enough room. There was no space under her bed. His amber eyes settled on the closet.
Too afraid to speak and be discovered, he pointed to the closet. Gou nodded in agreement and all but shoved him towards it. Fumbling around her various clothes, Seijuurou miraculously managed to wedge himself into the space. He was bent in an awkward position, but kept his mouth tightly shut.
Gou quickly tugged her clothes straight and took a deep breath to calm herself before opening the door. "Thank you, Brother!" she said as she stepped out.
"I was halfway to the castle when I realized it was still next to me," Rin sighed as he shook his head and handed her a small box. "Here you go. Don't eat it all and get a stomach ache."
Rin nodded and turned around to leave. Before he stook a step, he paused and ran his eyes over her once more. "Are you alright?" he asked. "Your face is red."
"I was laying face down on the bed when you came," she said.
"Were you going to take a nap again?" Rin frowned. "Gou, you'll oversleep the blessing."
"I won't! An attendant will wake me!" she countered. It was true; she did make a point to have attendants wake her if she was going to take a nap.
"Alright," Rin said. He reached out ruffled her hair, bringing her head close to his to kiss the top of it again. He planted the chaste kiss and stopped. Pausing, he inhaled deeply and narrowed his eyes. "Is that cologne?"
Gou forced herself not to let out a squeak of alarm.
Inside the closet, Seijuurou lifted his shirt to his nose and silently swore. He'd have to make sure to bury any clothes with his cologne in his bag so as not to alert Rin later.
"It's probably a lot of things," Gou assured him. "I was just at the main chamber." It often had many people and was laced with incense. It was typical for her to return to her chambers with ten different scents on her.
"Oh," Rin said. He took a step back and nodded. "I'll see you in a bit then."
Gou smiled and gave him a wave. "Okay!" She waited until he was out of sight before rushing back into her chambers and shutting door behind her. She placed the box Rin had given her on her desk before crossing the room to her closet and helping Seijuurou out. "I'm sorry...it must've been cramped in there!"
"It's fine," he assured her. "He certainly caught us by surprise."
Rin had and it was oddly invigorating. Gou nodded and as Seijuurou carefully placed a piece of cloth that had fallen over his arm back into the closet, Gou wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him another kiss.
"I think you should wait until Brother leaves the temple complex," she told him seriously.
Mindlessly, Seijuurou felt his head nodding. "I agree," he said as his large hands slid down the sides of her body and wove around her back. Her small, petite figure seemed to fit perfectly against his. He lowered his head and moved his lips over hers. "I'll wait a bit longer."
Gou wondered if Seijuurou made it back on time to finish packing his things and overseeing his men. It was just a journey that would go through the night, but they still had to make sure they had enough water and food to keep them hydrated and with energy.
She also wondered if anyone noticed he had been gone for longer than even he expected. She turned her eyes away from the carriage windows, suddenly embarrassed. They had fallen back on her bed and somehow, she ended up falling asleep on him.
Gou didn't think a hard, muscled body would be all that comfortable, but he was warm and his arm was around her. She felt very safe and calm as he stroked her hair. It was a nice, relaxing cuddling after they fell back on the bed and she found her head resting against his chest. She could hear his heart beating...slowly lulling her into a blissful rest. The next thing she knew, she was awoken by an attendant knocking on her door.
She had shot up and realized that the warm body she had fallen asleep on was gone, but his handkerchief was by her head. Why? She had been drooling in her sleep and it seemed that the captain had wiped some of her drool so it wouldn't dry against the side of her face. Gou let out a groan and covered her face with her hands.
"Priestess, are you alright?" one attendant in front of her asked.
No, the man who was writing love letters to her had to wipe her drool, as if she were an infant!
"I'm fine," she said, trying to look as composed as possible.
"You will miss your brother, won't you?" the second attendant asked softly. Gou nodded. "Not to worry, Priestess. He will visit again soon."
They reached the castle and Royal Guards dutifully opened the carriage door for her. She was escorted out, flanked in front and behind by an attendant as they were led to her usual balcony above the courtyard. The fanfare wasn't as grand as it was when the knights arrived, but the king and his family were already present to see them off.
Gou would give her blessing just before they left.
The knights were lined in the courtyard, listening to the king's speech Behind her, attendants held blessed water and a large clam shell from which to pour it into in preparation for the blessing. As attention shifted to Captain Sasabe's good-bye words, a royal guard entered the balcony.
"A message for you, Priestess," he knelt down beside her and lowered his head as he presented a neatly folded piece of paper
It itself was plain and unscented. Gou furrowed her brows, having thought that the princess was passing her a note again, but Princess Chigusa's stationary smelled like cake. She thanked the guard with a small nod before carefully unfolding the paper.
She barely contained her small, excited reaction. Seijuurou had written her another letter.
He had left whe he realized she was asleep and didn't want to wake her. He hoped he didn't disturb her when he slipped out from underneath her and that she looked rather cute sleeping with her mouth open.
He also regretted that he hadn't given her a token of himself and requested that she keep his handkerchief. "I always seem to be handing it to you. If you'd like, please keep it until we meet again."
She brought the letter to her chest and smiled thoughtfully. Seijuurou had also made sure to tell an attendant to wake her so she wouldn't miss the prayer.
"Knights! Salute!" she heard Makoto's voice order below. She rose from her seat and peered over the edge. The Iwatobi knights saluted their visiting counterparts.
Seijuurou, clad in his lightly armoured travel uniform stood in front of his rows of men. "Samezuka! Salute!" They mirrored the actions of the Iwatobi knights.
"Priestess," a voice said behind her. She turned around and saw the shell presented to her.
She tucked the letter away just as the knights turned to her for her blessing. With well practiced movements, she blessed the water, recited a prayer and then sprayed water over the knights with her right hand.
"Safe journey to you all!" the king concluded.
Gou didn't waste a moment. She turned around and slipped past her attendants. "Priestess?"
"I want to say good-bye to my brother!" she called without looking back. A knowing look rested on her attendants faces as they nodded and allowed her to run off.
As she did, she tugged off her blue veil to keep it out of her face. She didn't have time to write Seijuurou a response, so she would respond to him in kind some other way.
"Gou," Haruka called as she nearly swept past him. "Are you going to the courtyard?"
She hesitated. She looked from Haruka and out to the courtyard, where Seijuurou was shaking hands with Captain Sasabe. She bit her lower lip and turned back to the swordsman with a desperate look.
"Haru, can you do me a favor?"
"Gou!" Rin let out a surprised yell as his sister rammed into him.
"Safe travels! Please write when you get back safely!" she told him as she buried her face in his shoulder.
An exasperated, but please smile filled Rin's face as he shook his head and embraced his little sister tightly. "I will, Gou. Take care of yourself and visit Mother often."
She nodded as he pried her off of him. "I...I got you a charm," Gou said as she reached into a pocket of her robes and pulled out a neatly inscribed satchel. She lifted it up proudly. "You don't need it. You're the best swordsman and will come out ahead at the tournaments," Gou assured him "But I wanted to help bring you good luck for your tournament."
For a moment, all Rin could see was the little girl he had left behind all those years ago. She was before him once more, earnestly telling him that she wished him the best, but that she had all the faith in his abilities.
This was his second chance. His eyes began to water. He would make the best of it and, this time, come back.
"Sir Matsuoka?" Aiichirou asked, confused as Rin lifted an arm and shielded his eyes.
Gou chuckled. Her brother always did cry when he was happy.
"How does Rin know Iwatobi's priestess?" Minami asked, confused as he looked at the two.
"I didn't know he was involved with someone here," Nakagawa added.
"That's his little sister," Captain Mikoshiba said as he passed them. "Hurry up and get moving. The sun is going to set soon!"
They rushed around him and before Seijuurou could follow, another voice called for him.
He turned around and gave a small nod to the black-haired swordsman. "Sir Nanase, thank you again for your hospitality. I expect impressive results from you in the upcoming tournament."
Haruka gave him a small nod in return. "Thank you," he said. He held up a small, folded piece of cloth. "I was asked to give this to you."
It was one of the towels they used around the courtyard. Seijuurou looked a bit confused, but accepted it none-the-less.
"Er...thank you, Sir Nanase."
"You have to open it," Haruka instructed dully. He glanced over to where Rin was motioning for Gou to go back so he could collect himself before his ride out. "Please be sure to write to her that you received it."
The captain lifted a corner of the worn, brown towel and saw a bright, silken blue tucked away beneath it. Her veil.
Seijuurou closed his eyes and brought the cloth to his chest. His heart was swelling. He took a deep breath and tucked the gift carefully away as he gave the other knight an appreciative nod.
"Thank you, Sir Nanase."
The brunette nodded. "Good luck, Captain."
"I love you, big brother!"
"Gou, return to the temple! It will be dark soon!"
Haruka stepped back. "You will need it."
A Note From the Author:
Thank you very much for continuing to read! This was mainly a filler chapter, so I hope it wasn't too boring. Unfortunately, due to my responsibilities at work, I will not be updating in September and possibly early October. It is the end of the fiscal half and the department I work in gets quite busy.
I did not plan to raise the rating of this fanfic above what it is now, but if you all would like, I can try to write smutty scene that will be left out of the regular fanfic and post it as a separate story on AO3. Such scenes aren't my forte, but I'll give it a shot.
Thank you again for your patience! If you have any questions, please feel free to send me a message.