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Happy birthday to Insane Scriptist, best beta!

This story is inspired by 'In a Definite Place at a Definite Time' on Ao3 by Pepperdoken, VagabondDawn and wafflelate, which is a (fantastic) recursive 'Dreaming of Sunshine' fanfic, and the associated worldbuilding.

Compass of thy Soul

Kita trots happily out of the house, a bowl of millet cradled carefully in both arms and the quail that had spent the night in the covered porch trilling and scuffling around her knees like a feathery eddy. Giggling at the brush of feathers against her bare calves, she scurries out into the middle of the vegetable garden, shifts her grip on the bowl so she can hold it one-handed, then uses her now-free hand to scoop up the tiny grains and scatters them across the vegetation.

The quail scatter after the seeds, cooing and trilling eagerly. Kita beams, turning around to scatter more millet in the opposite direction. There are lots of insects in the vegetable garden for the quail to eat as well, so it won't matter if they miss a few seeds and the millet sprouts. What is important was that the quail's breakfast is evenly scattered all over the garden, so none of them miss out. Mama said so!

Kita is a big girl now, three years old, so she is in charge of feeding the quail every morning and bringing them into the porch before it gets dark so the cats don't eat them. She has to count all of them on the way inside, and then go through the garden to see if any of them have laid eggs there rather than in the nest boxes under the edge of the raised floor in the house like they are supposed to.

That will be later though; it is only morning and she has given the quail their breakfast, so it is time to get the basket and check the nest boxes for eggs so Mama can make breakfast for everybody else!

Mama is going to have a baby in the summer, so Kita is learning to help more because she is going to be a big sister and big sisters have to set an example. She can make rice balls now, although hers don't look as nice as Mama's, and she knows how to check under the leaves of the plants in the garden for caterpillar eggs so the vegetables don't get eaten and how to sweep the floor and wipe the dust off the shōji. She wants to help with the laundry too but Mama says she's too small and would fall into the tub, and she isn't allowed to help Mama sew yet because she isn't strong enough to stab the hook through the layers without hurting her fingers.

Kita is allowed to check the silkworms that live in trays in the loft though, and can count how many trays need new leaves to munch on so Mama can cut fresh branches off the mulberry trees in the garden. She also tells Mama when the silkworms are making cocoons, so Mama can prepare to dry them out in the sunshine, then boil water and reel off the silk. That is a very important job because without the silkworms Mama wouldn't have any silk to do her special embroidery with!

Grandma helps with the silk as well, but she says she was too old to go climbing up ladders. Grandma spins the fluffy white silk from the less nice cocoons into thicker thread, which Mama dyes pretty colours in a special kettle with the thin thread and then sews with. In the summer when the hemp is all grown Grandma spins that too, after Papa had soaked it and Mama and Auntie Tsuyu had beaten and combed it. Grandma spent all autumn spinning hemp and weaving it on the big loom in her room to make sheets for the futons and bags for storing millet and bandages for when people get hurt. She also showed Kita how to twist the thin threads together to make rope for sandals, so she could help! Kita's new sandals have straps she made herself!

Kita isn't sure why they didn't dye all the hemp cloth in pretty colours like they did the silk and make kimono out of it, but Grandma scolded her when she suggested it, so there had to be a reason for it. Probably a weird reason that wouldn't make sense because she isn't a grown up; she does like her brown cotton kimono with tortoiseshell patterns –winter tortoises because Kita is a winter girl– but she wants a green kimono like Mama wears sometimes and Grandma's weaving is just as soft and nice as the indigo cotton Mama sews into coats for the older boys. Or a green coat! A green coat would be really pretty.

She asks Papa about a coat when she takes his bento to the forge and he ruffles her hair and says the Uchiha were a noble clan and nobles don't wear hemp outer clothes. Only farmers wear hemp kimono, because they can't afford to buy cotton. Kita doesn't think it's fair that she only has one cotton kimono that had belonged to her cousin Kuwa first when she could have two hemp kimono which are just hers, but Papa Looked at her when she said that so she apologised and watched him work for a little before going home again.

Papa makes wire. Mostly he makes steel wire for the clan, but sometimes he makes wire from gold and silver for Mama to embroider with, wire as thin as silk. Auntie sometimes says that Mama married Papa because he gave her gold to embroider her own obi with and Mama always rolled her eyes but never said it wasn't true.

Kita knows being Uchiha is important. She has an odd feeling she should live a village with people who aren't Uchiha, but she's run all over and everybody who lives in the cluster of houses around the fancy hall are Uchiha and everybody who works in the buildings near the river are Uchiha too and so are the people farming the fields around the houses and the warriors who gather around the shelters on the east side of the village where there aren't any fields.

She also knows the warm feeling under her skin is chakra, like the warriors talk about, and that when her grown-up boy cousins breath fire in the evenings to show off they are using chakra. Kita isn't sure when she was told this, but she knows that is what it is, the same way she knows about bridges and sand and dogs and cows despite never having seen any. Like she knows that as well as a Mama and Papa she has a Mum and Dad, but Mum and Dad aren't here.

She doesn't miss Mum and Dad; the memories are warm and comforting and she knows they know where she is, so they aren't worried about her being missing. She'd chosen to be here and be Kita with Mama and Papa and afterwards she would go back to be with Mum and Dad and everybody else who was family that isn't here.

She's done all the helpful things Mama asked her to and Papa is busy, so she's free to go play!

Kita is six now and she has a little sister called Tateshina and an even littler sister called Naka, who can't even walk yet. She knows lots more things now, things Mama and her aunties taught her, things she heard other clansmen talking about and things she remembered for herself.

She knows how to stitch a kimono back together after it has been washed, how to patch the heavy quilted jackets the warriors wear so nobody can tell it was ever torn or burnt or stained, how to print the colourful designs on the inside of the coats worn by her male cousins who have learned to fight and she is now learning to mend the beautiful silk patchwork on the inside of the coats of those clansmen whose lineage is more distinguished. Tajima-sama's wife died the winter before last and Mama has been made responsible for mending his coat ever since. Tajima-sama's sons don't have really beautiful coats like he does because they're still growing and only the oldest two are doing missions anyway, but Kita has been taught to stitch together bits of silk from Niniji-sama's old coat, which Niniji-sama gave to Mama to offset the cost of a new coat when he married Naka-sama the year before Kita was born. Naka-sama who has the same name as Kita's little sister; there are lots of women called 'Naka' in the Uchiha because the compound is beside the Naka river. Kita likes her name better; there are only two other women called 'Kita' and they are both much older than she is.

Mama unstitched the entire outside of Niniji-sama's coat and cut it down to make a coat for Papa, because Papa is shorter than Niniji-sama. She also carefully unpicked most the patchwork lining and is saving the pieces for when Tajima-sama's sons are old enough for proper coats. They aren't old enough yet –Madara-sama is only nine– but Kita is getting lots of practice and last summer Mama swapped some of Grandma's hemp fabric for Aunt Tsuyu's hemp paper, so Kita could start learning how to copy scroll paintings and prints and turn them into patchwork. Drawing is much easier than calligraphy, mostly because Mama doesn't mind her drawing with her left hand. Kumami-san who is teaching her to read and write along with the other girls her age makes her use her right hand and then scolds her for being messy, even though Kita can't help her right hand being clumsier than her left.

Kita also knows that if she doesn't do anything her friend Yahiko-kun and his little brothers Myōkō-chan and Saburō-chan are probably going to die, like they did in the story she remembers. Of course Yahiko's older brothers Izuna and Madara are going to have horrible things happen to them too, but that's later so it's less important now. She needs to try and help Yahiko now or else he is never going to play with her ever again or show her the koi in the pond of the clan's hall or climb oak trees with her in the summer to find wild silk cocoons for Mama to reel into green-gold thread or tell her more about chakra.

She needs to learn sealing. She doesn't have much chakra but what she remembers and what she's been taught suggest that sealing doesn't need much chakra. Not like the fire technique Yahiko is so proud of which Kita can't do at all; she can make enough of a flame to light the iori in the mornings and Papa taught her how to ignite and tend a slow charcoal burn, but those aren't proper clan techniques like Yahiko's fireball.

Unfortunately, learning sealing will mean spending all her pocket money on ink and scavenging old roof tiles to practice on, since paper is expensive. She should probably start by learning to make ink, like Uncle Iwate and his sons Yae and Ikoma. She could say she wants to learn so as not to waste his product for her patchwork designs and for practicing her writing; Uncle Iwate sells his ink to the daimyo's court because charcoal burned using chakra makes finer ink than the normal kind.

Kita knows a lot of special Uchiha craftsmanship involves charcoal made using the clan's fire techniques, from their weapon forging to the silk dyes to the coloured lacquer on the warrior's armour. They don't sell much of their work –they are too busy fighting the Senju to make much more than they need themselves– but what they do sell keeps the clan fed and equipped through the winter months when nothing grows. Nobody goes hungry, but the adults still worry until missions start coming in again.

Kita was too late for Yahiko; he died delivering a message shortly after Naka learned to crawl. She was also too late for Myōkō and Saburō as well and was almost too late for Niniji-sama's younger son Hijiri-kun, but she was delivering Hikaku-sama's new coat after staying up late to finish it and let herself into his house with a lantern at the same time as an enemy shinobi was murdering his and Hijiri's little sister Toku-chan. Kita had smelled blood, sensed the stranger's murderous intent and screamed fit to raise the dead, then dropped the coat and run; the shinobi had chased her out of the house and right into Niniji-sama and Tajima-sama, who had immediately killed him. They'd already killed the Senju who had snuck into the clan hall and killed Myōkō and Saburō in their beds.

After the funerals Niniji-sama and his wife had given Kita a length of cotton for a new kimono, dyed vivid red with a printed pattern of white interlocking circles. Kita had accepted the gift politely, been thrilled to realise there was more than enough fabric for an adult kimono and carefully, meticulously turned the cotton left over from making herself a not-quite-adult-size kimono into a bag and an obi to wear with her other kimono. Getting the pattern to line up was tricky, but the bright red obi looks very cheerful against her feather-print indigo kimono. She is allowed to wear a proper obi now she is seven, rather than just obi cords.

Kita misses Yahiko. He was bright and happy and full of energy and he'd played all her games even though he thought she was strange for wanting to pretend to be a squirrel and climb trees when playing at being ninja or dragons was cooler.

She works out her first seal in the winter of her seventh birthday. It is surprisingly easy; seals are metaphoric, they let you make one thing like another thing, or at least that's how it seems to her. The seal is there to tell the thing what it is being: the umbrella seal tells the house roof to be like an umbrella and water stops leaking in between the shingles, because umbrellas don't have gaps. It works so well the shingles stop falling off on windy days, because umbrellas are all in one piece so can't shed bits. She's very happy with it!

Seals are like playing pretend and Kita is good at playing pretend. She knows lots of stories, both ones she'd been told by Mama and other clansmen and more that she remembers from before. She puts seals on the storehouses so they can't catch fire, hiding in the space between the two roofs so nobody can see her drawing them. She paints more fire-stopping seals under the stones of the iori, so sparks will stop singing the tatami, then sneaks around her aunts and uncles' houses to do it there too.

Then somebody's house is struck by lightning during a storm, so she worked out a seal to prevent that, which forces her to learn the 'walking on walls' chakra trick everybody had done in the Naruto story but that nobody in her clan seems to know about. She already known how to stick to walls –well, to trees as it made climbing less scary– but actually walking up is harder.

Kita paints her 'lighting grounding' seal on the suzume-odori on top of the house's roof ridge, with a line down to the ground to dissipate the charge. Doing it to every building in the compound takes her until the spring and gets her in trouble twice for climbing on people's roofs –Papa is very angry when she is caught on the roof of the clan hall– but it was definitely worth it. She feels much safer now.

Maybe next she could work out a seal to keep the quail from escaping the garden? Shina always wants Kita to help when she can't find them, rather than going looking by herself. Even though looking by herself would be quicker than finding Kita and then looking for the quail together.

The year Kita will be eight at the end of is a terrible year. There is more fighting with the Senju, Uncle Katsuma dies hunting boar and a fox sneaks into the house one night and kills half the quail before anybody realises it is happening. Papa chases it out, then goes and shouts at Suseri-sama, the clan's cat summoner, because keeping foxes out of the compound is the cats' job. Shina is devastated by all the little bodies, but Mama just gathers them up and has them help her pluck them so they can be cooked, then turns the feathers into pillow stuffing. By the time morning comes another two quail have died of fright, but the rest seem well and four-year-old Shina carefully leads the much reduced group out into the garden.

Kita is sent to Aunt Yōko, to ask to borrow the male quail she keeps as songbirds so the remaining birds can breed. Aunt Yōko agrees, telling Kita that she and Mama have an agreement that once the birds are grown, Mama can keep the females and she gets the males. There won't be any eggs for several months as the flock recovers, so they will have to trade for them. Probably with Auntie Tsuyu, who has chickens. Kita doesn't like Auntie Tsuyu's chickens very much; they are glossy black like crows and the rooster is very, very noisy.

Mama is pregnant again and keeps getting sick, so Kita has to take over cooking and laundry, help Shina look after the silkworms and help Grandma with the hemp on top of carrying Naka everywhere in a sling. Mama is at least well enough to keep up with her sewing, but Kita has to dye the thread under Grandma's keen eye because Mama can't stand the smell. She doesn't mind so much –it's interesting– and having to help with the hemp gives her the idea of stitching seals. If it worked nobody would notice them so long as the seals were the same colour as the rest of the fabric and seals in bandages to kill infection and reduce scarring would be helpful.

Unfortunately there is no time at all for experimenting all year; it is all Kita can do to jot down ideas and surreptitiously add the anti-vermin seal to the house to make sure the quail won't get attacked again. She even has to help Papa draw wire after his apprentice –her cousin Fure– dies protecting the clan's quarterly shipment of iron sand.

Learning more about wire is interesting and helping lets her feel like she's protecting the clan, but she doesn't have enough chakra to do more than a few hours at a time. She knows she will grow more with age and practice, but she doesn't have much time to practice chakra skills when her days are full of chores and lessons and cousins who have far more chakra than she does, so don't want to play chakra games with her. In late autumn Papa finds another apprentice –cousin Yae has decided he doesn't want to make ink and he's got plenty of chakra– and Kita is freed in time to be buried under pickle-making and other winter preparations.

It snows in November, so Kita spends the whole month before her eighth birthday spinning hemp, coming up with new coat print designs and telling stories to Naka so the toddler won't get bored and scream. Shina learns to clean under their mother's watchful eye, feeds the quail and learns to make rice balls. Shina also likes Kita's stories; Grandma mostly likes the ones with a moral lesson, but lets Kita tell the silly ones anyway because they pass the time.

All the spinning teaches Kita that she can infuse chakra into hemp, provided she is very, very careful. Too much and the thread snaps, all the filaments exploded. Grandma gets angry with her when that happens. Well, Grandma is grumpy anyway, because Kita's thread is not as evenly fine as it needs to be for weaving, but it's good enough for hemming and sewing seams so once Grandma has finished each length of material Kita has to sew the fabric together into sheets, fresh futon covers and various undergarments, all with subtle woven patterns; noble clan they might be, but only the handful of wealthiest and most influential families can afford cotton underclothing.

It being winter, she has more than enough time to try out a few stitched seals on old bits of rag in between helping Grandma. It takes a while to find a method that works –unlike with ink, a stitched seal is continuous so several designs have to be adjusted– but by early spring she has made new undershirts for both her sisters, tiny sharingan eye seals stitched on the inside of the collar over the glands on their throat, so their immune systems can be ever-vigilant and retaliate swiftly against illness. She doesn't dare add the seals to her mother's clothes –it would interfere with her pregnancy, Kita knows that for sure even though nobody has ever explained that to her– but she does sneak them onto her father's undershirts under the pretence of re-stitching them. With her family wearing new underclothing, she is then free to wash, re-stitch, repair and embroider their previous sets, along with her own.

Grandma won't let Kita touch her clothes, so she will have to do without seals. Grandma is tough though.

Her new baby sister is born in February, so with Mama busy looking after little Midori and teaching Shina to sew, Kita has to look after Naka. She has a new seal –a leash that doesn't let Naka run out of sight– and lots of mending to do, as Tajima-sama needs all his clothes checking over now the spring season is beginning. Mama has a newborn to look after and Shina to train, so Kita sits in the sunshine on the edge of the engawa, poring over her clan head's clothes and keeping an eye on Naka as the toddler runs around under the mulberry, pear, persimmon and plum trees between their house and Aunt Tsuyu's, chasing insects and getting covered in dirt and grass stains.

She doesn't quite dare stitch seals into Tajima-sama's underclothes –he has an active sharingan and the clan's bloodline lets people see chakra– but she decides to try dying some cotton thread indigo, so she can stitch seals between the layers of his coat where he is less likely to notice them.

Of course she will have to have some seals in mind for that to be worthwhile. She will have to think up some new ones that would be useful. Seals against damage, maybe? Seals to spread impact? How would she even test those?

She isn't even sure how well her immune system boosting seals work, although Shina was only sniffling with a cold for a few days last week despite usually needing a full week to throw one off. Speaking of which, she needs to embroider some inside little Midori-chan's blankets.

Kita is eight now, so she has more responsibilities. She learns about mending screen doors and making new tatami rather than just mending old ones, about how much things cost and how much to charge people for her work, how to bargain for things and how to determine the quality of rice and beans and pottery and washi and salt and cotton. Well, starts to learn at least; there is a lot to memorise. There are new words and kanji to learn as well, which keep her busy.

Not so busy she doesn't notice the tension though. Last year was hard for the clan –more people died than usual– and everybody blames the Senju. Kita agrees that the Senju sending people to murder Tajima-sama and Niniji-sama's younger children was really horrible, but the clan then going and murdering the Senju's children and getting killed was their own choice. They didn't have to do that. Tajima-sama could have kept the high ground and got the daimyo involved.

Well, Kita thinks so, but she knows she doesn't really know anything about politics. She just knows that when her clansmen say 'honour' they often mean 'my right to do whatever I want and call it a good thing' and that most of her extended family care more about vengeance than about improving things. Which is sad but there isn't anything she can do about it. Yes, she does want peace, but there's no way to force peace to happen. To get peace everybody involved needs to be equally invested. That way nobody wants to break it.

Kita spends spring weeding in the garden around the quail, surreptitiously sneaking into other people's roofs to paint the umbrella seal in them so the endless rain doesn't wash everybody away and learning to defend herself. She is not a shinobi and is never going to be one, but Papa wants her to know her way around a knife so she will learn for him. Having her own knife will mean being allowed to do more foraging in summer and autumn too, which will be exciting. She might even be allowed to bring home some of the oak branches with wild silkworms on them, rather than waiting for them for spin cocoons and looking for them then!

Grandma says she's too young to spin silk, but as Kita gets better with hemp Grandma might be willing to spin more silk for her and she can at least reel the higher-quality cocoons now. Silk is more valuable, even though wild silk doesn't dye at all well due to being naturally greenish gold, and now there are seven people in the house Kita knows they will need more food to feed everyone. Mama has expanded the garden into the hemp field this year and lengthened the field towards the river to make up for it, but that might not be enough. More silk would help. There's nothing wrong with green.

Who knows, she might even find enough cocoons that Grandma will decide to start saving up silk for a proper formal kimono. Grandma wears her silk kimono all the time –well, all the time she's working indoors– but Mama doesn't. Mama says having children is a messy business so it's better to wear cotton, because cotton is easier to wash. Which, well… having seen Naka and now Midori burping up milk on Mama as babies, Kita has to agree with her. The apron doesn't cover up there.

Her biggest problem with being eight is that her hair is long now and her parents won't let her cut it, even though wearing it up in a bun makes her neck ache. Kita takes to braiding it, which get tut-tutted at by Grandma as a 'masculine' style but is tidy enough that nobody makes her stop.

Kita doesn't know for sure what happened, but at the height of summer Tajima-sama brings his heir to the house and informs Mama that he is commissioning a proper quilted jacket for Madara-sama. This means that Kita has to carry Midori around while she works as well as keep an eye on Naka, because Mama is busy re-stitching the patchwork silk pieces from Niniji-sama's old jacket and cutting new ones for the design in Madara-sama's new jacket. Kita helped Mama with the design last year –Prince Ōkuninushi helping the Hare of Inaba on the riverbank and it prophesying his successes– but she isn't going to be allowed to help sew it because Naka and Midori need to be looked after and Tateshina isn't old enough to do that yet.

Of course Shina isn't old enough to help Mama either, but she is old enough to take over some of the chores while Kita learns about making gold wire fine enough to wrap around silk thread from Papa. She can't make the wire of course, but her fingers are nimble and strong enough that she can wrap the soft, flat wire around silk tightly and neatly enough that Grandma leaves her to it.

Kita wishes Tajima-sama hadn't decided to send his son onto the battlefield so early, so she could have had time to get good enough at embroidering that Mama would have let her do the work. Then she could have sewn seals into his coat.

As it is, she takes advantage of Mama being busy and Naka and Midori being too young to pay close attention to work out more seals. A little cautious experimentation leaves her with seals to calm tempers, improve reflexes and dexterity, strengthen the fabric they are sewn onto to the point that a knife blade pressing on it doesn't cut the fibres –it may not shield against a sword but it will do something– and banish nightmares. She stitches the anti-nightmare seal into her own pillow right away; she is probably going to need it. She knows more about war than most girls her age and her memories are not at all reassuring when it comes to the many, many bad things that could happen to Madara-sama. He's not even twelve yet!

Admittedly Kita is only eight, but nobody is making her kill people. Part of that is not being born in a warrior family, part is her lacking the chakra for it but mostly it is because she is a girl and hasn't shown the drive or aptitude for it. If she were a boy she would be expected to learn from Papa, but there would also be more pressure to learn to fight as well. Madara-sama's father leads the clan, so fighting is all he is ever going to be expected to do.

Kita is nine when she gets her own heavy cotton craft apron and her first proper commission: Tajima-sama has decided that newly-eleven Izuna-sama is old enough to join his brother on the battlefield come spring. Seeing as Tateshina is nearly six now, she gets to teach three-year-old Naka to do the easy chores while Mama looks after Midori and watches Kita as she fits and stitches the silk pieces together, keeping an eye on the weave of each little piece so that the resulting work isn't lopsided or inflexible. Everything has to be slightly larger than it looks like it needs to be, so that it will pad out properly over the lining and won't inhibit Izuna-sama's movement on the battlefield. The coat also needs to be big enough that he won't immediately grow out of it.

Kita thinks it's dumb to call a snotty boy of eleven 'sama' but Mama is doing it so she does too. His coat will have Ryūjin coiled inside across the upper back and down the sleeves, complete with a red and white coral palace rising up from the hem and swirling waves at the neckline. It is going to take her a long time –several weeks at best– just for the design, and she will then have to carefully sew the backing fabric into the sturdy outer indigo coat over another layer of padding and quilt that too, this time in neat lines rather than following the patchwork design.

Kita is planning on sewing as many seals as she has time for onto the backing fabric as well, especially at the collar and cuffs. Fireproofing and strengthening seals in particular. Being left in peace to work for hours on end is surprisingly enjoyable; Mama even lets her off her usual chores.

All in all, the only fly in the ointment is that, despite being briskly pleased by the quality of his son's new coat, Tajima-sama very clearly can't be bothered to remember Kita's name. Niniji-sama knows her name!

The winter she turns ten Grandma decides her spinning is finally even enough to be used for weaving and promptly starts teaching Kita to set up a seated loom like the one she rarely gets up from between summer and spring. Grandma also starts explaining things that Kita had kind of guessed at but never had confirmed.

"The decorative coats your mother makes are one of our clan's precious treasures and it is good to see you have the patience, dexterity and discerning eye needed to both complete an existing pattern and create a new one. However weaving is a necessity, so no matter how little talent for it you may have, I will expect you to persevere until you are at least competent. Should you discover a talent for it I will instruct you in how to weave a pattern, however I do not expect you to; your mind is too swift and you are too enamoured of novelty and variety. Tateshina is more methodical than you are and shows a greater appreciation for subtlety and repetition, so I expect she will be my successor. I wove Hitomi-sama's wedding kimono when she married Tajima and I hope that by the time Madara-sama marries, Shina-chan will be skilled enough to dress his bride." Mama had been taught by Grandma's mother, her own Grandma, but Kita's Grandma had learned weaving from her father's mother, who had been a civilian and joined the Uchiha clan along with her son when he married Great-Grandma.

"Yes Grandma," Kita says obediently. She has never been particularly interested in weaving –unlike Shina, who will happily sit beside the loom and watch for hours– but she knows that without Grandma's many hours of dedicated work, everybody in the house would wear underclothes with more patches and darns and the bedding would be similarly threadbare. The clan would also have fewer bandages to wrap wounds and the clan's fighters would have less of the chemically treated fire-proof wraps to protect their arms and legs with in battle.

Clothing and protection are important things and need to happen regardless of how little Kita is interested in weaving, as one day she will have a home of her own and need to both keep her family in undergarments and contribute to the wider clan. She will also one day have to weave dyed silk into short bolts for the patchwork coat linings, so it is definitely important.

Setting up a loom is hard, even with only half the number of threads as Grandma is using; Kita will be starting off weaving bandages, as they can be of indifferent quality and nobody will care if the weave in uneven. They are only going to be boiled and wrapped around injuries after all.

Working out a way to weave seals into them is going to have to wait until she actually knows what she's doing and Grandma isn't scrutinising her every move. Once her work is passable Grandma will likely turn all her attention to Tateshina; her little sister is six after all, more than old enough to start learning a proper craft. Kita was repairing quilted jackets at six and learning to make figured patchwork.

Sure enough, a few days later, once Grandma has taught Kita the basics and ensured that she knows what she is doing, Papa fetches the frame of another loom out of storage. Grandma then starts giving Shina a much more detailed lesson on maintaining a loom, setting it up and what all the pieces are called and what kinds of fabric they are used for. Kita listens with half an ear –weaving bandages is excruciatingly, mind-numbingly simple– then loses interest. Singing under her breath makes everything go faster and also distracts Midori, who is still a bit young to understand what 'don't touch' means.

Untangling her grubby-fingered little sister from the loom is not something Kita wants to have to do, today or ever.

Weaving bandages leads to delivering bandages, which introduces Kita to a part of the clan she'd not seen much of before: the pharmacy and the surgery. They were near the clan's shrine, which Kita had never actually visited. Her parents and other relatives have though, mostly at festivals. All the histories and kami were all very well as stories, but she didn't personally believe in them. They weren't who she'd dedicated her previous life to, so even if they did exist they had no hold over her soul.

The largest feature of the pharmacy is the herb garden surrounding it. Kita had been fed various medicines for coughs and colds and watched as the clan's pharmacist –who writes regularly to the Nara clan, who are much more focused on medical matters than the Uchiha – examined her younger sisters and prescribed poultices and ointments and teas and breathing in burning herbs. She's never actually visited Yumiori-san though.

Yumiori-san is high-ranked, both due to her birth into the main family of one of the clan's lineages and due to being the clan's only pharmacist. She looks about the same age as Grandma and talks to Grandma like they know each-other better than the usual 'I see you regularly and we are in the same clan' that happens when there are over five hundred Uchiha, and doesn't have an apprentice. Well, doesn't have a proper apprentice; Oizuru is the clan's surgeon, responsible for stitching wounds and setting bones, but he is a retired warrior missing his left leg below the knee and is mostly there to hold people down while Yumiori-san works and doesn't really care for the pharmaceutical side of things.

Kita suspects that is because he is bad at reading, but is not about to ask. Oizuru is Papa's age and asking would be rude.

Unlike Grandma, Yumiori-san likes to talk. "Kita-chan! Ah, I see you are finally learning to weave. Not to say your mother shouldn't have nurtured your talents –the clan's coats are important and it is only proper for our leaders to be dressed as is fitting for their station– and with four daughters it's important to ensure you can all contribute to the clan. Your grandma Fushimi has very high standards too; I know my sister wanted to apprentice her Naka-chan to her but was refused; Satomi was terribly offended at the time, but Naka-chan was happy following our brother into chemistry and pyrotechnics, at least until she married and took in all those orphans from the warrior families. She loves children, does my niece.

"Let me look at those bandages; not at all bad for a first effort! This loose weave is perfect for wrapping injuries, Kita-chan, so don't pull too tight and do your best to keep the tension even. Wraps for shinobi need to be stiffer, so they can be treated and made impervious to flame, so when weaving those you add an extra dozen threads in the warp, to make a denser weave while keeping the overall width the same. I'm sure your grandma will show you once you've convinced her you can be trusted with more complex work." She chuckles, shaking her head as she re-wraps the parcel of bandages and puts them in a basket with other similar bundles.

"Thank you, Yumiori-san," Kita murmurs. "Is there a need for many bandages?"

"The gods be willing, this year will not be as bad as the year Tajima-sama's younger sons died," Yumiori-san says gravely, shaking her head. "So many deaths, both on the battlefield and off it. I would hope for more, but I'm told that the daimyo of Tea is starting another trade war with the daimyo of Fire, so the warriors are likely to be away for months at a time and we'll lose more to supplying them." The older lady patted her on the head absently. "You're a good, dutiful girl, Kita-chan, making the clan strong."

"Would weaving more bandages help, Yumiori-san?"

"Yumiori-oba is fine, Kita-chan. More bandages would be lovely, dear; the warriors clear me out completely when they go on campaign and then there's always somebody falling out of a tree or mishandling an axe that needs to be patched up before my stocks have been replenished. You're a good girl offering to help."

"Thank you, Yumiori-oba."

Kita takes this to mean that sneaking seals into her finished bandages would be very helpful and also very unlikely to get traced back to her, since just about every woman in the village who doesn't fight or work iron weaves bandages, and they pass through enough pairs of hands that anybody pinning her down as the responsible party is very unlikely.

She has stitched seals to keep wounds sterile and prevent sepsis now –which she hopes will work as the theory is sound– and to encourage muscles to connect themselves back together how they were before the injury, and will probably stitch her immune-boosting seal into everything too. It can't hurt.

If a daimyo is going to hire all the clan's warriors for a single campaign –well maybe not all but certainly the entire Outguard– then there is going to be a push for supplies and equipment. Madara-sama is probably going to need his coat letting out; he's thirteen now and getting taller very quickly. Mama will probably let her do that when everybody else's coats need checking over for rips and wear, which means an opportunity to add seals into his coat lining to match Izuna's.

She has certainly spun enough hemp this winter to not have to worry about running out of thread.

For the daimyo's samurai, the military season runs from late June to mid September: through the summer after the rice planting is over and the fields have been flooded, up until it is time for the harvest to be gathered in and weighed so that a certain percentage can be sent to the daimyo as tax. For shinobi, the military season begins in spring with the cherry blossoms and ends mid-autumn, after the daimyo has collected his annual rice tithe. Quite a few local landowners hire shinobi to protect their offering on its way to the capital to ensure that all of it arrives; those landowners also tend to pay in rice, which gets the clan through the winter until fresh contracts are offered in the spring.

With a war in the cards for the year, Kita decides to be proactive and suggests to Mama that they get an early start on repairing and replacing coats. The weather is still bitter, it being February, but Mama gets around that by inviting one of the smaller warrior households over for a meal and having Kita go over their coats with her, by lantern-light on the engawa behind the weather-boards, stitching and patching and circulating her chakra for warmth while Grandma entertains.

A few sessions later word gets around; Kita and Mama spend the tail-end of the winter being invited over to practically everybody's house and checking over their coats in exchange for meals and tea. Actual leaf tea, rather than just in cups to drink; she even gets a little canister of sencha from Niniji-sama and Naka-sama, which is much finer than anything she has ever drunk at home before. The best tea is kept for guests, so Kita mainly drinks kukicha, twig tea. She has drunk more sencha in the past month than in all of her life before!

She even gets invited to the clan hall, where she spends an entire day meticulously unpicking Madara-sama and Izuna-sama's coats and washing them, then another day stitching them back together again as Mama does the same with both of Tajima-sama's coats. Madara-sama has indeed grown and Izuna-sama has too, if not quite as much, so both coats are let out. Kita also removes some of the roughly-stitched patches from both boys' coat linings –repairs carried out by firelight in the field after skirmishes– and replaces them with more subtle ones that match the design, complete with suitable decorative stitching.

She also sews as many seals as she can into Madara-sama's coat lining and checks the integrity of the ones in Izuna-sama's coat, unpicking and replacing a few that have given out. She takes great care to do that part while Tajima-sama is meeting with somebody in the hall's central reception room; she doesn't know what he would do if he caught her but she doesn't think he'd give her the benefit of the doubt, even though she is a clanswoman.

Even if he did, Kita doesn't want to be pushed into making explosive seals or other things for killing people. She wants to help and nurture and protect, not kill. Killing has never solved anybody's problems, no matter what Izuna-sama thinks. The twelve-year-old has evidently got hold of some sophistic philosophy scroll or other and is sprouting his newfound belief in the cyclical nature of fate to everybody who stands still long enough. He clearly finds the idea that everything he does is set in stone before he even begins to be comforting, but Kita can't stand the nonsense babble. She eventually has to politely request that he stop distracting her, which makes him stomp out of the room in search of his older brother.

Kita does not even believe in fate, let alone in a 'cycle of inevitability.' Kita believes that every single person has power over their own future and is capable of changing it, for better or for worse. She also believes that there is no such thing as a divine mandate beyond 'be kind to one-another' and that the world is inherently too complex for human understanding, so the best than any one person can do is to find contentment in the present and not make themselves miserable striving after impossible ideals.

She doesn't believe in 'honour' or 'pleasing her ancestors' either, which will likely be a sticking point sooner or later. Her ancestors are dead –well most of them are– and they don't get a say; their lives are over and done with. Her life is for her, and at most for any future children.

It is her memories of another time and place that make her roll her eyes in private at Izuna-sama, who is almost two years older than her. She knows to her very bones that the world is wider and more subtle than his father has raised him to recognise; considering the endless conflict with the Senju as 'inevitable' makes for obedient warriors who do not question the never-ending parade of injury and death, and thus do not bring into question the stability of the clan hierarchy.

Madara-sama at least sees that peace would be good for the clan.

The entire fighting force of the clan being hired by a single client is very different to the usual missions in handfuls and dozens. Kita learns that it's not the just warriors who go; numerous wives and sisters go too, to cook and carry and tend to the injured and trade for supplies on the move. Also to spy and listen to gossip and cultivate friendships with influential civilian women, who pass on information of their own to maintain the privilege of a friendship with a lady of the nobility.

The clan compound is very empty with half of its inhabitants gone; Ohabari-sama, Tajima-sama's sister, is the highest-ranking person left behind and the guards patrolling the land around the compound are made up of the teenage, the injured, part-time craftspeople and the middle-aged. After planting is over Kita finds herself with far less to do than usual, so approaches Hikaku-sama to ask for shuriken lessons. She's capable of defending herself with a knife now –Papa has made sure she knows where to stab– but being able to throw something from a distance rather than having to wait for an enemy to get up close is probably a good idea.

Hikaku agrees, on the condition that she drops the 'sama.' A dozen of her girl cousins take an interest as well, which gets more of the older boys interested in teaching, and it becomes a regular thing. Kita is never going to be very good at it –unlike her cousins Kuwa and Maya and Sato, who get extra lessons and will probably demand coats of their own next spring– but she doesn't need to be. She just needs to be good enough to get away and raise the alarm.

Hikaku-kun is very serious about teaching her and very, very capable in his own right. Kita respects Niniji-sama very much for letting Hikaku stay at home with his pregnant mother and two little brothers –Hijiri is nine but Hidaka is barely weaned– rather than dragging him out onto the battlefield like Tajima-sama is doing with his sons.

As summer gradually crawls to a close Kita realises Mama is pregnant again. She will have another younger sister not long after she turns eleven –well it could be a boy, but being one of four sisters means Kita doesn't think it's very likely– just in time for Naka to start teaching Midori how to do the chores. Tateshina is already settling firmly into being Grandma's apprentice –it will probably be made official soon if it hasn't been already, what with Shina being seven now and wearing obi– and Yae is now good enough that Papa is letting him do more than prepare charcoal and sort iron.

She doesn't know how many clansmen are going to come home. Two-thirds of the Tea daimyo's wages are brought to the clan compound every month, in salt and iron and mulberry paper and the promise of rice, escorted by scornful samurai or scrupulously respectful shinobi from clans that the Uchiha have loose alliances with, like the Akimichi, Yamanaka and Nara clans, the Fūma or the Hagoromo.

Having less to do –and with a reduced risk of running into Senju outside the compound– Kita wanders further afield than usual, gathering wild greens and digging up roots to take home and eat or plant in the garden, and manages to get her hands on a truly unexpectedly large quantity of wild silk by way of bringing home oak branches covered in caterpillars and keeping them in trays alongside Mama's silkworms. She has to make the extra trays herself –she cobbles them together out of hemp paper and broken floorboards– and regularly bring in fresh branches, but the result is well worth it: four times as many cocoons as she has ever found herself before.

Mama tells her that she is old enough to decide for herself if she wants to rear her own silk moths, so Kita only dries three quarters of the cocoons and lets the rest hatch, setting up a tent of old sheets for the moths to fly about in at night and branches for them to lay their eggs on. She takes care that all the hatching cocoons are on the smaller side –a larger cocoon can be a sign of a caterpillar having been parasitized– so that her moths will all hatch, and that the cocoon itself is well-made. The silk will all be greenish-gold, but Kita likes the colour. It's pretty.

This autumn Grandma has promised to teach her to spin her own silk –since it is hers and she won't be wasting Mama's cocoons trying to learn– and has unbent enough to inform her that the silk from the split cocoons the egg-laying moths came out of is also valuable despite it not being possible to spin it as finely. Monks will buy it, because the caterpillars did not die to produce it, so that will be a new market the clan can take advantage of.

Wanting to preserve the spirit of that market, Kita sets her moths free out of the loft window after they have stopped laying eggs. Maybe they will lay more eggs outside as well and visit the flowers in the garden, and even if not, the bats will enjoy eating them.

She has already reeled and thrown the silk from the cocoons which were of high enough quality to allow for it, so even if she never manages to spin silk properly she still has thread.

Niniji-sama doesn't come home; Naka-sama is so distressed by his death –right at the very end of the fighting, so late they even bring his body home rather than just his ashes– that she goes into labour early.

It ends up being two bodies on the pyre. Ohabari-sama takes over raising Hikaku, Hijiri and Hidaka, and Hikaku has to name his tiny, premature sister that Naka-sama's older sister Tsugi-san is wet-nursing alongside her own son. He calls her Benten; Kita stitches a patchwork blanket out of coloured cotton scraps as a gift and hides as many immune-boosting seals in it as she thinks she can get away with.

Winter arrives as she is snowed under with mending the coats of the living and taking apart coats whose owners are dead so the material can be reused elsewhere, the cold lingering in bitter frosty mornings and persistent sleet as she learns to spin her silk.

Silk is both easier and harder to spin than hemp. It is stronger and stretches much more, but the fibres are much finer and smoother as well as less even in length, which makes them difficult to handle. Well, her lower-quality wild silk is at least; she cheats a little with chakra to help her keep the thread thickness even, which had the added benefit of ensuring she will be able to stitch seals with it later.

She leaves the broken cocoons until last, as those fibres will be even shorter and will take far more care. In the end it is Grandma who spins those for her –while Kita spins more hemp in return– and shows her how the resulting thread is thicker and less even, but that in this case it is considered proof of quality and an indication of character. It really goes look nice in that shade of green.

Little Benten-chan survives the winter, much to many people's surprise. There is no war in the spring, which is a relief in some ways but stressful in others: just as her clan is all at home and dependent on whatever missions come in for income, so are the Senju. They have plenty of necessities stockpiled, but they are low on weaponry and iron and need to trade for lacquer and leather to replace and repair armour plates. Kita overhears her parents and Grandma talking about whether to trade her thrown thread directly or weave it into bolts first; there is not enough of the 'peace silk' to be worth weaving with unless it is turned into a shawl or obi, but Grandma judges the other three-quarters to be enough for two whole kimono, one of reeled silk and one of spun. There is also enough of Mama's silk that weaving a kimono's worth and then painting it would be a worthwhile investment, rather than her usual practice of weaving single bolts and dying them various different colours along with skeins of thread so that she does not run out of supplies for her patchwork.

War means looting, and several warriors brought back variously damaged kimonos of both cotton and silk, some of which were exchanged with Papa for wire or with Mama for discounts on new coats for growing sons and nephews. Mama is unlikely to run short, even if both Madara and Izuna need bigger coats this year and Tajima decides he wants a new one as well.

Papa says that the money from Kita's reeled silk kimono will be set aside for her dowry; not having even thought about marrying yet –she is eleven– Kita finds that a little uncomfortable. It is a relief to be able to pretend she didn't hear anything and be gratefully accepting when the next morning Grandma 'suggests' that Kita allow her to weave all her wild silk into figured kimono they can then sell.

The whole point of bringing in the silk had been to provide more money for her family, so Kita is happy that it is helping. Mama is due to give birth any day now and the knowledge that there will be extra income to keep everybody fed is a tremendous relief.

That it is very likely that Mama will also be teaching her to paint on silk this year –she already knows how to paint on cotton, as that is how all the lower-ranking warriors' coat linings are decorated– is something to look forward to.

It is spring and Kita has a baby brother. A brother. Mama is over the moon over little Jōnen, but Kita is mostly tired. The house now has three adults and five children in and there's really not enough space for all of them. Her younger sisters might not notice, having grown up like this, but Kita remembers when it was just her, her parents and Grandma –well, and Shina for some of that– and she misses the quiet. She really misses the quiet.

It being warm enough to sit on the engawa to work helps, even with all the rain. Most of the wind comes from the other side of the house, so the floor remains dry and she can sew a new coat for fourteen-year-old Madara –who has indeed grown right out of his old one– away from the noise and mess. Tateshina is learning from Grandma, so can hide in Grandma's room and watch as she weaves the wild silk to produce a complex crane figured pattern, but Naka is loud and cheerful and Midori is much the same, so the three-year-old is happy to bounce after her next-oldest sister and learn how to look after the quail and sweep the floors.

Izuna is not getting a new coat, despite having grown out of his old one; he will fit into Madara's old coat once Kita has taken it in a bit. She would have scavenged the Ryūjin design she stitched two years ago as materials for Madara's new coat lining, but Izuna had thrown a fit and insisted on keeping it and Tajima-sama has paid extra to let him, so Kita has sewn his old coat lining onto sturdy indigo canvas backing panels so it can be displayed and the loud thirteen-year-old has already carried it off to hang in his room.

Kita would be lying if she didn't admit to being a little flattered.

Madara's old Hare of Inaba coat needs a little touching up and she is probably going to entirely replace the outer layer and padding –so many patched burns and hastily-stitched tears– but the lining is fundamentally intact and that is what matters. Now she knows more about the evils of campaigning –everybody complained about their clothes smelling mouldy after too much rain and no coat has escaped unsinged from people using low-level fire techniques out of desperation– she has her medical disinfecting seal to add, which will probably work decently well against unpleasant smells and unwanted flora.

Hikaku is probably going to want a coat soon, now he is the head of his household with two little brothers and a baby sister to provide for. His only being twelve doesn't mean anything now his father is dead; Tajima will consider him old enough.

Madara's new coat is going to be adult sized, although it's not going to look it; Madara is not actually adult sized yet so his coat will be taken in at the seams and hems. He's vanishingly unlikely to manage to grow out of it though, seeing as she's working off Tajima-sama's measurements in terms of total length. Tajima-sama has already paid in advance for a full-size coat, including extra gold and silver that Papa and Yae are turning into wire for her to transform into thread. Only the best for the heir to the clan, especially since Madara is probably going to be wearing this coat until it either falls apart or he dies in it.

All the more reason to reinforce it. He probably needs new undershirts too; she should offer to make them, 'to ensure everything is the right size' and sneak more seals into the seams.

When summer arrives Kita discovers that she has grown too tall for her yukata; she hadn't noticed at all. Grandma purses her lips and looks Kita up and down, making her realise that her calves are visible beneath the hem of her nagajuban and her wrists are sticking out of the sleeves as well. She suddenly feels unkempt.

"You," Grandma says forbiddingly, "are going to be tall. I can tell already. Minami, get one of your spare kimono out of storage while I ask Tsuyu for a yukata."

Auntie Tsuyu's husband Uncle Sefuri is a shinobi, and he buys her a new yukata every year or so just because he can. In the summer she wears them on alternate days, so as to show them all off and not wear out any one of them more than the others. Kita will probably end up wearing the oldest or plainest one, but that isn't really important when she is going to have her first adult yukata! And a proper grown up kimono as well! She gets to dress like an adult!

Grandma comes back with an unexpectedly new-looking yukata set showcasing a large water iris print. "Tsuyu thinks this one will look good on you, since you're going to be tall and have the proper Uchiha figure. Now take off your clothes and let me see how much this needs hemming."

Implied is that Auntie Tsuyu takes after the mother of Grandma's civilian father, who had apparently been short and stout. Grandma isn't very tall, but she isn't very wide either; Mama is taller, but also a bit more solidly built. If Grandma thinks Kita is going to have 'the proper Uchiha figure,' what that means is that she is probably going to be tall and slim. Tall like Mama, but slim like Grandma.

After standing still for the yukata fitting Kita has to let Grandma put Mama's clothes on her –plain undergarments as well as the very pretty hawk-brown kimono with an all-over hemp leaf pattern in red and beige with white accents– so that she can decide how much to turn them up. Kita will not be involved in that decision, so once Grandma is satisfied she changes back into the freshly hemmed yukata set and heads outside; her moths need more oak leaves to eat and Mama's need mulberry leaves.

After the success Papa had selling the kimono material Grandma made from her silk, Kita wants to continue contributing to the family. She is probably never going to be as good at weaving as Tateshina seems likely to become, but she can probably manage a simple Bishamon tortoiseshell pattern if she tries hard. She wants to be able to weave her own silk into more than just plain bolts. Yes, a plain kimono can be beautifully painted or embroidered –and she helped Mama decorate one with bush clover and vivid bellflowers against a delicate, almost misty blue-green background– but Kita is never going to be able to wear a painted kimono. She's not important enough to do the kind of official social visiting that requires a coloured tomesode or a tsukesage kimono.

A plain silk kimono with a subtly woven pattern however could be equivalent to either a very fine komon or an iromuji, which she could wear regularly. When she is twenty she will wear her lineage's old and very beautiful furisode for her coming-of-age and when she marries she will inherit a black tomesode from her husband's lineage –at best be given Grandma's, since Mama is her oldest daughter and Kita is Mama's oldest– but she secretly wants a new kimono of her own choosing. One that reflects her own tastes, not those of a relative or the wider clan.

It probably isn't going to happen until after she's completely grown up and maybe even married, but it's a nice dream to have. Mostly because it's something she can probably achieve with a little forethought and care, since it doesn't depend on anybody else getting involved.

It's a lean year as far as shinobi work goes, which means more pushing and posturing from the Senju and lots of injuries on patrols along the edge of Uchiha lands; Uncle Sefuri spends several weeks nursing broken ribs. This means a high demand for bandages, but also a need to wash all the used bandages so they can be reused. Kita is enlisted to help with the soaking in cold water to remove stains, then the boiling to properly cleanse impurities and the folding after the bandages have dried in the sunshine. She uses up most of her stash of infused thread to stitch sterilising and immune-boosting seals into more the bandages; it's a very worthy cause.

On the upside, there are fewer injuries on outside missions, but that is due to there being fewer missions at all, which in turn means less money. Tajima-sama travels to the capital for a month with his inner circle and returns with a permit to expand the Uchiha's farmland slightly, so they can grow more beans and grains. Most of it will be soy followed by buckwheat in the late summer, but there will be adzuki beans as well, probably winter squash and maybe another orchard. Next year, anyway; there is only enough time left before winter to fell the trees and clear the undergrowth in preparation for spring planting.

The tree felling at least provides its own opportunities; Kita spends some of her precious silk money on boards for proper caterpillar trays and carefully transfers the eggs the hatched moths have laid. Having cultivated this year's caterpillars from the egg, she had nearly twice as many as last year and had to do a lot of tree climbing for fresh leaves; she has planted three acorns in broken pots in the interests of maybe not still having to climb trees in five years' time. Mama just snips branches off her mulberry trees and Kita can probably do the same with oaks if she coppices them to stay short. She can even give the stripped branches to Papa later, to dry out then burn to charcoal.

Twice as many caterpillars mean twice as much silk; she only allows the same number of cocoons as last year to hatch, otherwise she would be completely overwhelmed come spring. Spinning all the lower-grade and hatched cocoons is going to be her main activity through the winter, but at least silk is valuable enough –and Tateshina and Naka are old enough– that Mama has reduced her chore load in light of her other contributions to the household. Her main domestic task these days is cooking, which Mama is using to teach her how to make all the various dishes that are served at different times of year and how to prepare all the different ingredients.

Kita has come a long way from wobbly rice balls made with clumsy three-year-old hands. She still has just as far to go though; she may be good at pickling by now but Mama expects her to be able to make tofu and miso and that's hard. At least Mama is also teaching her about all the different kinds of red bean paste as well, so she gets to make sweets in between wrestling with soya bean curd.

Just to emphasise how hard things have been this year, Tajima-sama escorts Hikaku to see Mama shortly after the first frosts and states that his nephew will require a coat in the spring. Actually making the coat will have to wait until Hikaku has been fitted for armour –the coat needs to go over the top– but advance warning means Mama can acquire appropriate materials and plan a suitable pattern. Hikaku is Niniji-sama's eldest after all, and Niniji-sama was Tajima-sama's brother.

Mama asks Kita about a pattern, because Mama knows Kita likes creating new patterns rather than just reproducing old ones and that she has come up with several. Niniji-sama died in the coat Mama had made for him to wear when he married, the coat with Susano-o turning Kushinada-hime back into a person after wearing her as a comb in his topknot while killing Yamata-no-Orochi. Niniji-sama's previous coat, which Kita had learned patchwork from, had shown Tsukuyomi slaying Uke Mochi and is a standard clan design belonging to the Amaterasu lineage. Younger sons in the Amaterasu lineage are allowed to wear Tsukuyomi, but as Izuna is wearing the Hare of Inaba –which is a new design Kita helped with and not claimed by any lineage– it is appropriate to offer it to Hikaku. Provided he doesn't want a new design, of course, or a different Tsukuyomi.

Madara's coat is a new design, and probably counts as a masterwork since Mama hasn't actually given her any new sewing lessons since she finished it. Tajima-sama's coat is a traditional design, Susano-o birthing five gods from Amaterasu's necklace, and he's been wearing it since he became clan head before Kita was even born. He did have another coat –one made for his wedding– but that one got completely destroyed in a Senju ambush during last year's war and he doesn't seem interested in replacing it yet.

Hikaku decides that he would like a coat like his father's first one, please, so Kita gets out the scroll with the pattern and starts talking about colours and metallic threads and prices as Mama watches silently over her tea. Tajima-sama watches attentively as Hikaku asks questions and chooses colours and bargains, face impassive but chakra approving. Hikaku is only thirteen, but Tajima-sama is probably thinking of preparing him to be one of Madara-sama's top subordinates alongside Izuna, so Hikaku showing that he can plan and ask good questions and make decisions that account for available resources is important for the clan.

Of course nobody cares that Kita is showing all those same skills; she's a girl and not a warrior so it's less relevant, even though she's a year younger than Hikaku. Her choices only affect her household, not the whole clan.

Once the haggling is over Tajima agrees to the price and arranges for Kita to be paid a third of it in advance, so she can acquire suitable materials from the storehouses and have metallic thread made. That way, when Hikaku has been fitted for his armour, he can immediately have his measurements taken and she can start.

His is not the only new coat she has been commissioned for this winter, but the others are all prints so take less time, even though they are in some ways fiddlier. Lots of messing around with print blocks and rice starch paste and dye baths, which isn't much fun in the cold as everything takes longer to dry, even if it's sunny. She will likely end up doing most of those all together in the early spring, spending every waking hour at work.

It's worth it though, to see the clan's shinobi walking around in coats she has made, with seals hidden in the lining to help protect them from harm. Mama will help, although she is spending much more time with little Jōnen that Kita can remember her doing with any of her other sisters when they were babies.

At least this year Tateshina has taken over spinning and weaving most of the hemp, so Kita only has to do as much as she needs for her own mending and seal-stitching.

Spring arrives but warmer weather does not; the frosts continue for weeks longer than usual, the rains come two months early and are frequently sleet, everybody is cold and wet and there is mud everywhere. Sneezes and coughs become a common sound and Yumiori-oba runs so short on throat soothers that the warrior patrols around Uchiha lands dig up wild liquorice when they can find it to bring home to her.

Kita does not suffer worse than a mild fever for two days and a tickly throat; her baby sisters and brother are similarly fortunate, as is her father, but Mama and Grandma are coughing and wheezing for weeks on end. Armed with undeniable proof that her immune-boosting seals are extremely effective, Kita offers her services to Yumiori-oba to tend to bedridden clansmen and is instantly snapped up. Taking her sewing with her, she makes tea and miso soup for feverish children and supports exhausted clanswomen, watching at bedsides so variously distant aunties in variously poor states of health can complete all the very necessary tasks that keep a household afloat.

In between her own work of quilting printed coats and completing Hikaku's patchwork coat lining, she helps wash kosode and underclothes and stitches her sharingan-shaped seals under the collars of shirts and slips in a bid to speed recovery. Kita has no idea how much it actually helps, but nobody has died yet. Then one morning she is sent to sit in Ohabari-san's house: Hijiri, Hidaka and Benten are all sick along with their aunt and Hikaku has been added to the patrol rota, wearing a borrowed coat to replace another ill person. Kita is healthy –a quality which is in short supply in the clan right now– the children know her and her current main project is for Hikaku, so he is unlikely to complain if it is a little late because she prioritised his siblings' health.

Kita understands completely why Yumiori-oba picked her. It is however nerve-racking, because Ohabari-san's house is one of the finest in the clan –well it used to be Niniji-sama's house too, but Ohabari-san is the only adult living in it now– and everything in the house is of much higher quality than Kita is used to, right down to the dishes and the sheets. Grandma had talked about the main families of the clan's most prominent lineages having cotton sheets, but Kita hadn't quite grasped the implications before now. Imagine being able to just buy all your sheets! All the material for growing children's undershirts as well! The only cotton kosode Kita owns is the one that came with the yukata set Auntie Tsuyu gave her!

This creates a problem: Kita does not have any chakra-infused cotton thread. Well, not fine enough to darn undershirts with anyway; her coat-quilting thread is cotton but it's sturdy, made of many finer strands twisted together. She ends up having to offer to do the laundry, which reveals the house's spools of thread used to assemble kimono, and has to put off everything until the following morning while a skein of thread from the spool sits on a hastily-constructed seal intended to slowly 'spin' her chakra into the cotton without damaging it.

A Homeguard patrol like Hikaku is filling in on is not just a march around the perimeter of the clan lands; each patrol is assigned to a specific area, where there's a hidden shelter with supplies and beds, and they stay in that area for up to a week at a time, keeping in contact with the patrols on either side several times a day. Kita is therefore going to be babysitting her sort-of friend's younger siblings –and trying to look after Ohabari-san, who refuses to stay in bed despite her fever– for quite a long time. It doesn't take very long for Hijiri to start complaining about the miso soup, despite all the ginger Kita is adding to it to clear their heads. It doesn't help that he's not much more than a year younger than her; he vacillates between being grumpy that a girl has been put in charge of him and wanting his mother.

Naka-sama has been dead for over a year now.

Kita sings songs, keeps the children hydrated and manages to whisk Hidaka out onto the engawa in time for him to be sick over the edge on the ground outside rather than on the futon. She talks about the mostly-finished patchwork she is making for their brother's new coat, tells them the story of Uke Mochi and Tsukuyomi –both boys find the idea of a goddess vomiting up food to be disgusting yet hilarious– and sits on the engawa as they nap in the middle of the day, Benten tied to her back and snuffling as Kita sews seal after seal into shirt collars, the white-on-white in the dim light from the overcast sky requiring far more concentration than her patchwork; she only has the metallic accents left now and those are easily seen even in the late afternoon.

Setting the last child-sized undershirt aside, Kita rolls her shoulders and stretches her neck –then almost jumps out of her skin.

Tajima-sama is standing at the far end of the engawa where it turns the corner around the house, body still and chakra muffled but eyes sharingan red with tomoe spinning lazily as he watches her.

"So you are the clan's mysterious sealing spirit," he muses, stepping closer. "The Toyotama girl; how old are you?"

Kita is not surprised that Tajima-sama only knows her by her lineage. She is not exactly significant enough to the clan's governance and defence for him to consider her name important. "My twelfth birthday was in December, Tajima-sama," she murmurs, not daring to stand but tilting her face up so she can keep an eye on his hands.

She has his niece strapped to her back. He is probably not going to hurt her.

He nods, his chakra pulsing with a sudden burst of satisfaction. "I will talk to your parents."

He turns and walks away back around the corner of the building, leaving Kita behind with her hands shaking in the aftermath of the adrenaline rush as she struggles to breathe evenly. What is going to happen to her now?