By Gide Thomas

Disclaimer: I don't own Hayate x Blade. It owns me though.

Dedication: This fic is for you, Sean! Merry Christmas! : D Sorry but uh, I dunno much about feudal Japan. It's been years since I had my Asian history course in the Philippines, and we focused more on Shinto teachings.

Jun watched the koi fish swim across the artificial pond, their motions making her feel at peace with herself. Hime was having her monthly physical check-up with the royal physician, and Jun worried about her condition. The daimyo's heir must remain strong in order for the land to remain strong. If her condition worsened, the daimyo might overlook her in favour of a cousin vying for the title. The Lady, Jun knew, was a proud creature, and would not readily hand such an important title to another. Unfortunately, even the Lady had limits when it came to the extent of her power. If their empress found Hime unfit as an heir, the Lady would have no choice but to choose someone else, regardless of her preference.

Jun stifled a sigh and turned her gaze elsewhere, only to meet another's gaze in mild surprise. "Ah, Ayana, here to have a check-up as well?" She paused for effect before adding, "Don't tell me Hayate's finally gotten you pregnant."

Her bespectacled friend looked startled before flushing in anger. "Hayate and I aren't like that, Jun! If we weren't standing on the empress's grounds right now," she growled threateningly, "I would have drawn my blade already."

"You would have done it anyway," Jun replied airily. "Except you wouldn't want to harm the babe inside of you."

"Someone's having a baby?"

Jun grinned at the newcomer. "Congratulations, Hayate."

"Uh, thanks I guess?" Hayate said, scratching her cheek, the picture of childlike innocence.

"Anyway, what are you two doing here?" Jun asked curiously, ignoring Ayana's evil eye.

"Amachi-dono is here to visit the Shogun," Ayana answered through gritted teeth.

"Yeah, Ami-senpai, wants to talk to Taichou-san about border patrols and stuff," Hayate supplied.

Ami-senpai? Jun smiled in amusement at Amachi-dono's new nickname.

"The bandits along our borders have grown increasingly daring with their attacks," a new voice entered the conversation. They turned around to see Amachi-dono and the current Shogun, Miyamoto-sama, walking side by side. The former wore a light shade of red with patterned butterflies on the hem of her kimono, while the latter wore a dark shade of blue. Behind them trailed two of Miyamoto-sama's bodyguards. "Shizuku has agreed to lend me some of her samurais."

"Isuzu! Momo!" Hayate cried out in delight. She ran towards the two samurais and gave them each an enthusiastic hug.

"It's no big deal," Miyamoto-sama spoke shyly, her face flushed with pride. "I owe you a few favours anyway."

"No big deal? Friend, you offered me your entire army," Amachi-dono said in that same pleasant voice. "Suffice to say, I was quite flattered."

"Ah, in retrospect, perhaps that was a bit too much."

"You needn't worry about it any further, Shizuku," Amachi-dono reassured the Shogun, "You were always the kind of person who gave everything her all, be it from the battlefield or otherwise. It is simply who you are."

"Although, such an open and trusting attitude is dangerous in court," Hime spoke crisply. She bowed deeply to the Shogun, and then to Amachi-dono, before turning to Jun. "It went well, for the most part. Midori-san says I should restrict myself to light exercise." Hime sighed and rolled her eyes. "She disapproves of my practice sessions with you."

"And I suppose you shan't listen to her again, Hime?" Jun asked mildly. She almost took a step back as Hime did a thumbs-down right in front of her face. "I'll take that as a yes."

"The court finds an honest and impolitic Shogun refreshing," Amachi-dono spoke with a measure of certainty in her voice.

"That's true," Hime replied. "Still, you must be quite vulnerable to manipulations, Miyamoto-sama."

"I have," Miyamoto-sama paused, her eyes flickering to Amachi-dono who was standing purposely besides her, "I have good friends."

Hime tilted her head and nodded in assent. "Well, Jun, shall we go?"

"See ya, runt," Jun said affectionately, ruffling Hayate's head. To the rest, she gave a formal bow before hastening her footsteps to reach Hime's side.

"I'm glad you still keep in touch with your friends," Hime finally spoke after a moment of silence. "Miyamoto-sama is right. Friends are very important—especially in court. With so many artful courtiers about, it's hard to tell friend from enemy. Allies like them… They're irreplaceable."

"Why tell me these things, Hime? I rarely go to court anyway, and when I do, I'm far too preoccupied with your safety to even consider socializing with others. Would friends and foes matter to me?" Jun grinned viciously. "As far as I'm concerned, everyone's a foe. Dancing within the protocols created by court fools does not interest me in the slightest."

"I am tired, Jun."

Tired? "You wish to sit down somewhere? There are some benches in that pavilion over there," Jun offered.

"I am tired of court games, of constantly worrying about whether or not I am fit as the heir-apparent," Hime growled. She turned to look at Jun pleadingly. "Please, cousin"—Jun inwardly flinched at the word—"please. Why don't you claim the title? You are close enough in blood and of good standing. True, your father's teachings are uncanny in the eyes of the elders, but your ninjutsu is strong whatever they might say…" She shook her head and continued walking forward. "Never mind, it was foolish of me to ask," she murmured hoarsely.

Jun caught her arm. "Wait, Hime. What's wrong?"

Hime turned her gaze towards Jun. There was something about that gaze that made Jun's heart clench in pain. There was a sad and lonely existence within those eyes; an existence that yearned for human touch; an existence that yearned for release. She itched to hug Hime, her Hime, but they were in broad daylight. The Lady would frown most disapprovingly if Jun ever tried to make a move on Hime, be it a simple hug among friends. Jun was a member of the branch family, and her rank was only high enough for her to be Hime's bodyguard. Nothing more. She settled for squeezing Hime's hand reassuringly while continuing to watch the other with quiet eyes—eyes that waited for Hime to open up.

"I heard Okasama considering someone else as her successor," Hime answered bitterly. "My body has betrayed me in the end. I am just too, far too weak."

"That's not true, Hime! You're plenty strong," Jun protested. "A strong ruler is one who bears a strong body and a strong mind. You have both. In fact, I sometimes think you are overly qualified."

"You flatter me," Hime retorted dryly.

"I am simply telling you the truth," Jun continued with dogged determination. "You are strong, Hime. All you have to do is show to her just how worthy you are. I'm sure she'll change her mind, given time."

"Not everyone sees it the way you do." Her tone was suddenly soft, and the fury in those eyes had receded to a helplessness that made Jun frown. "Jun?"

"What is it, Hime?"

"If, if I'm no longer the heir-apparent, will you stay by my side?"

"Of course." Jun promised fiercely. Always and forever.

A/N: I had Miyamoto as the Shogun because it sounded too similar to a Shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate (Minamoto). Sorry for any possible historical inaccuracies. I dunno where to begin when it came to researching about Feudal Japan. ):

Will we ever see a chapter two for this? Maybe some day. Too many ideas in my head right now.