With one hand, Ringo held the slim trunk of a young tree and bended over, hurling a foul green mass from her mouth and onto the ground. She shouldn't have eaten so much… Now that she thought about it, maybe she shouldn't have eaten at all. Or just have kept her eyes closed.
She had been feeling alright during dinner (even though her hands were unnaturally sweaty and she just couldn't bring herself to look Madara in the eyes), and considering she hadn't had lunch that day, she ate more than usually. However, as she was trying to sleep, her brain started reenacting all the past scenes of the afternoon. Tried as she might, she couldn't stop it, and in the end she had to put out everything she had eaten.
"No…" She whispered, eyeing her meal with more sadness than disgust, and kicked a few fallen leaves in a vain attempt of hiding what she just did.
Ringo pulled her hair with her free hand before vomiting again, and almost cried when she noticed that she'd never be able to hide it like this. She couldn't let them know… Father would get so worried and Madara would be so disgusted… Maybe he'd never want to kiss her again.
The girl shook her head. Was that all she was worried about? Madara didn't even have the right to be disgusted by that! He just cut up a bunch of men like it was nothing and afterwards kissed her, while his mouth was still full of blood and he was stinking like death. He had no right to complain… And Ringo slapped the trunk in anger when she remembered that that wasn't the biggest problem at hand.
She let her head fall against the tree as she took deep breaths to calm down. Now that she thought about it, it was all her fault. It wasn't like her to feel ashamed for speaking what came to her mind, but she felt that if she had just been quiet, none of that mess would have happened. She didn't know what she was supposed to do to solve things, or even if she should do anything at all. According to her father, she had done more than enough.
Shivering, she closed her eyes, wishing she had someone to share her worries.
"So do we kill him or do we not kill him?" Madara asked his brother for the umpteenth time, pointing at him with his chopsticks "And give me a clear answer this time."
Izuna sighed in frustration "You could try to use your brain a little bit sometimes, you know? It doesn't hurt… We… We probably shouldn't kill him."
"And that's because…?" The other raised an eyebrow.
"Look, if you want to kill the kid go ahead. I'm just saying that it wouldn't be necessary. If Takehiko's son ever tries to take control of the clan, he won't get any support if we do our job right. On the other hand, killing him would make people see you as merciless."
"And if some idiot wants to put the brat in power?" He argued.
"Unlikely. And if that does happen, we can deal with them." Madara sighed at his brother's words. "If the other clans hear you murdered a kid just to assure your position, don't you think they're going to gossip? …I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being seen as a barbarian."
The elder sibling took a deep breath and lifted his head to stare at the ceiling, thinking. He didn't spend much time worrying about Takehiko's son, though, as a new thought came to him.
"…Why is everything so quiet?" He muttered to himself.
"Hm?" Izuna swallowed his drink and turned to him "Yeah, now that you mention it…"
"Where is Ringo?" Madara frowned, finally realizing the reason for the unusual calmness, and his brother's eyes widened in understanding.
"I haven't seen her all day."
Madara stood up and walked towards the girl's room. He was about to burst in, when he decided it'd be best to knock first. When no answer came, he peered inside, but found no living soul.
His next destination was Katsuro's room, which he opened unceremoniously. The farmer was inside, folding some blankets, when he looked up at the intruder.
"Ah, Madara-sama." He greeted politely "Have you finished your breakfast yet? Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Ringo is gone again."
"Oh, no." The man smiled "She's in the river. She said she wanted to think."
"And you believed her?" Madara asked, and Katsuro shot him a brief but extremely hostile glance. He had grown used to the man's sinister eyes, but when Katsuro tried to seem threatening the unpleasant feeling would always come back.
"Yes. I think she's already scared of going after Michio enough."
With nothing more to say, the young man turned on his heels and walked back to the living room. He didn't go back to his seat, but instead opened the front door and stepped on the porch.
"Hey, where are you going?" Izuna asked, his voice sounding shriller than usual.
"And you aren't even inviting me?!" The boy looked absolutely shocked.
"You didn't finish your breakfast yet."
"Yeah, and neither did you!" Izuna retorted smartly, standing up "I'm coming too." Madara narrowed his eyes.
"Finish your food."
"Why is it you don't want me to come with you, huh?"
"Whatever." The eldest replied in his best uninterested tone and left the house "Do what you want."
"Hmm, grumpy." The other commented, before following his brother outside.
Madara walked across the orchard, determinate, with Izuna on his tracks.
"Wait, where are we going?" The question ringed in his ears, and his sibling's voice had seemingly acquired an annoying tone.
"To the river." He answered gruffly.
"Because Katsuro said she was there. Now shut up."
"Woah, you're even more irritable than usual." The youngest observed, and Madara flinched, feeling more and more angry at each word spoken. He wouldn't bother answering that.
They followed the usual path, and arrived at the river in few minutes. Just as Katsuro had said, Ringo was there. She was standing in the shallow part, the hem of her pants rolled up to her knees, and throwing small rocks in the water, not paying attention to her surroundings.
"Hey there!" Izuna shouted, and the girl jumped, splashing water everywhere.
"You scared me!" She shouted, putting a hand over her heart and trying to catch her breath, while Izuna laughed "Uh… What are you two doing here anyways?"
"Oh, that?" The youngest of the two gave her a mischievous smile, making her furrow her brows "Madara wanted to come looking for you."
Ringo's eyes widened and turned to the older brother, as her face became red as an apple. Her lips opened, closed, and opened again, as if she was trying to find something to say.
A hand connected with Izuna's head and he was pushed to the ground, landing with a painful thud.
"Shut up." Madara said darkly, looming over him "And stop making up stories."
"I'm not making anything up, you…" He stopped in midsentence once he found a foot dangerously close to his throat.
"You were saying…?" The shinobi raised a brow, and his brother grinned, brushing some hair off his face.
"Okay, I'm making stuff up. I can't help it; it's just so fun!"
Madara seemed satisfied with the answer, and offered his hand to help the other stand up.
Once they had turned around, Ringo had already walked out of the river, and was now sitting on a large rock on the shore, staring at them, expectantly.
"…What?" Madara was the first to speak, and she smiled, shaking her head.
The elder shinobi rolled his eyes, while the other returned the gesture.
"So what were you doing?" Izuna asked, walking to where the girl had previously been.
"Oh, just messing with the fish." She shrugged "I got bored."
The boy kneeled down to observe the creatures swimming close to him. He was watching them peacefully, until a different glisten caught his attention.
"Hey I think I've found something golden here…" He mused out loud, cocking his head to the side.
"It's probably a golden eel." Ringo said dismissively.
"A golden…!" Izuna's excited exclamation was cut short, when something kicked him into the river, and he plunged headfirst into the water.
The boy emerged again, soaked to the bone, coughing large amounts of water and shivering.
"MADARA!" He yelled after he caught his breath again, standing up wobbly.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you wanted to see the eel closer." The other snickered
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Izuna questioned, taking his wet bangs from his eyes. He was visibly angry, and if Madara didn't know his sibling any better he'd be scared of the glare that was being directed to him.
"If I were you I'd change those clothes before catching a cold." He replied uninterestedly
The other shot him a last dark glance, before turning around and marching all the way back to where he had come from.
Ringo furrowed her brows at Izuna's reaction, and watched as he stormed away. She only realized he had left her alone with his brother when the other was standing in front of her.
"Space." He demanded and Ringo complied, moving to the edge of the rock. She brought her legs together and tried to make herself as small as she could, so he could be comfortable. Madara, on the other hand, didn't seem to have the same concern about her, as he spread his legs wide, and even though the peasant had been shrinking away, she still felt his knees brushing against hers.
The shinobi silently unstrapped one of his pouches to examine its contents, while Ringo watched, uncomfortable. She shifted in her seat, and just then Madara's eyes narrowed dangerously. He was still looking at his belongings, so chances were he was thinking about them, but the girl couldn't help but worry that she had had some impact on his expression.
"When are you leaving?" She asked, breaking the awkward silence.
"Three days." He replied, still not looking at her.
"And then are you going to… you know, the clan thing?"
"You mean takeover? No, we have to report first. Then we can start planning and looking for allies… But that could take a while."
"Oh" She breathed out, running out of things to say "Well… Hum… Good luck?" He snorted.
"I don't need luck." For a moment she was worried he would get angry at her, but on a close inspection, his face seemed more amused than annoyed.
The girl fell silent and just observed as Madara finished inspecting his pouch and then putting it back in its place. When he was finished, he looked at her, staring straight into her eyes, and Ringo turned around, remembering it had been quite some time since they had eye-contact.
"And when we go back I assume you're going to resume your ordinary country life?" He asked with a mocking undertone.
"What's wrong with that?" She mumbled
"It doesn't suit you."
The farmer turned back to him instantly, the uneasiness from before being replaced with confusion.
"What do you mean? I like it."
"I never said you didn't. But you're so loud I'd imagine you'd eventually find it boring."
"I'm not that loud!" She protested and covered her mouth at the volume of her own voice.
"You contradict yourself own your own; how convenient." He mocked "You are annoying more often than not."
"Yeah, and so are you." She rebutted unthinkingly, and immediately wished she hadn't, but she was relieved when his only response was a huff.
"Definitely not meant to be picking apples…" Madara said in a low voice, more to him than to her and Ringo shrugged, losing interest in that topic. She turned her head to the other side, and her eyes widened when she saw the glistening water, remembering something.
"Uh… Why did you push Izuna into the river?" She tilted her head to the side.
"I wanted to get away from him." He replied with a grin, and she was most surprised by the answer.
"Really? But you two are so close…"
"Exactly. We're too close. One of these days he's going to start following me into the bathroom." The girl giggled at the answer, and Madara started checking the rest of his belongings, not saying anything else. At first the stillness felt comfortable, but soon Ringo started to wonder if Madara didn't want to be completely alone – that maybe she was being a nuisance.
"So I… I guess I will stop bothering you…"
"You are not bothering me." He answered, almost too quickly, and she looked up at him, only to be disappointed when she saw he was still looking at the things in his bag.
"If you're lying as to not hurt my feelings…"
"How many times have I lied 'as to not hurt your feelings'?" He interrupted with a glare, and Ringo smiled. It was true; even when he was talking to her about Michio, he had been completely honest, even knowing the kind of effects it could have. She wondered if he cared about hurting her feelings at all…
"You seem busy." She whispered shyly.
The reply she got was not what she was expecting. Madara didn't told her to leave, nor he made some disrespectful commentary, but he muttered something and threw his pouch away, before turning to her.
"Fine. You have my full attention." He said deadpan while Ringo just gawked at him for a good whole minute "Well, aren't you fascinating?" He snickered and the girl shook her head, as if awakening from a trance.
"I just really don't get why you tried to get away from Izuna but won't mind me."
"Izuna can be a bother." He answered with a sigh, and the girl flinched when she noticed he wasn't particularly happy with that question "He's my brother, but it doesn't mean I can drag him everywhere I go."
"But you didn't kick me out." She reasoned, and Madara immediately turned to her with a crooked smile. Ringo heard a thud inside her chest, and automatically bit her lower lip while shrinking her shoulders. There was something about the look he was giving her…
"Yes, and why would I not kick you out?" He didn't seem fazed by her reaction, and his expression remained the same.
She just gave him a sheepish smile, while mentally scolding herself for not coming up with a decent reply. Well, scolding herself as best as she could. She couldn't even muster the thoughts needed to answer him, let alone get mad at herself for that.
"You'll leave me waiting then?" He raised an eyebrow, but his grin didn't falter even once "I don't like waiting."
Ringo almost gasped when something intertwined with her hair and she was pushed forward, only to be met by a pair of lips. Even though she was forced into the kiss, she didn't try to pull away from it.
Madara wasn't being as forceful as the last time and eventually the girl found herself relaxing … that is, until he took advantage of a small gap between her lips to sneak his tongue inside. Ringo let out muffled cry of protest and tried to pull away. The shinobi complied, but moved his free hand to her lower back to keep her in place.
However, this precaution proved of little use, as Ringo directed all her weight to the right side of her body and fell down. Madara didn't have time to react, as she quickly sprung to her feet and took off running.
The girl scampered up the hill, tripping over a rock and almost falling down on her way. She was extremely happy when she regained her balance, for she didn't want to go back to the river shore again, and certainly not rolling down the slope like a ball.
After a few minutes of running, not exactly sure where to, the girl stopped. She had escaped... But escaped from what? Ringo frowned when she realized she didn't even know what she was doing. That was a completely new and scary thing, but she was sure she had overreacted. She could just have pushed him away, couldn't she? She knew he would get angry anyways, but after she had ran away from him like that…
Ringo shook her head and assessed her surroundings. She was in a part of the forest she was decently familiar with, so she'd have no troubles getting back home. And also, she wouldn't find any dangerous people there.
She let out a sigh, half of relief and half of frustration. She wished she had done something else, but she couldn't go back in time. And then, again, the worst was over. She smiled when she remembered that. She could talk to Madara later; he couldn't be so angry he would refuse to even listen, could he? She could and would solve that issue eventually… but not now.
Madara stabbed his sashimi with a chopstick. Even if attempting to pierce meat with a flat piece of wood would be considered a wasteful effort by most, he was almost achieving this feat, though unconsciously. The young man really wanted to stab something, and if raw fish was the most socially acceptable thing in a radius of five feet, then so be it.
He had pushed his brother into the river with solely one purpose, and since he didn't get what he wanted, it was no wonder he was rather angry. The fact that Izuna had been treating him coldly ever since didn't help either.
The sliding door was suddenly opened, and he turned to look. Upon seeing who entered the house, he glared. Ringo lowered her eyes and walked to the other side of the table, trying to stay as for from him as possible.
Madara stabbed the fish again.
"What were you doing, Rin?" Katsuro asked with a smile, shifting in his seat to give the girl more space "You've been out for quite some time."
"Just- just thinking." She replied, grinning sheepishly and sitting down.
"Well, don't exert yourself too much." He laughed warmly, before turning back to his dish.
She smiled awkwardly, and started picking food and dropping it on her plate. Meanwhile, she took a quick peek at Izuna, and, as if on cue, he looked up. His expression wasn't hostile, but there was no sign of the smile she was hoping for. The boy's blank glance didn't give her the confidence boost she had hoped for.
Tentatively, she turned to Madara, and was immensely grateful when he didn't look up from his battered meal. She was glad he didn't turn to her, but that didn't do much for her confidence either.
Lunch went by silently, and an uncomfortable atmosphere was ever so present. Izuna was the first to finish, and excused himself, going outside. Her father was the second, but he remained in the room, sitting in a corner with a parchment, ink and a brush, no doubt planning about the next crop… at least she hoped so.
Madara had already grown bored of injuring his food and started eating, albeit slowly. Once he was finished, he placed his chopsticks on the table rather forcefully and left the house without a single word. Not even once had he spared a glance at her.
Ringo felt guilty – guiltier than she knew she should. He was behaving so childishly, he had no right to do so! …but then, again, running away like she had done wasn't at all mature. She could understand that he was mad, but that… the peasant really didn't want to make up right now.
Clutching her vest and biting her lower lip, the girl stood up hastily. She wasn't motivated to go talk to him, but she felt that that was the right time – and she wouldn't find a better opportunity.
There were just three more days before he left… left, maybe never to return again… probably never to return again. Her reason screamed at her not to pursue him, but everything else urged her to do so. But how'd she regret this…
Ringo cursed herself, from the hair rising on the back of her neck to her bones and guts, and exited.
She turned her head left and right, but no sign of Madara. She had no idea of where he went, and to make matters worse she felt as if she wouldn't ever make up with him if she didn't find him quickly.
Their camp was probably a good place to start. If he wasn't headed that way, then she had no clue where to look next.
Ringo took off in the direction of the forest, all the while muttering insults under her breath, as if hoping it would make her want to come back. Her legs still forced her to proceed.
There wasn't much left when the girl spotted who she was looking for, just walking leisurely towards where she thought he'd be.
He looked back from over his shoulders, but turned his head to the other side, as if he had looked right through her. It hurt.
Ringo ran faster and bumped into his back. Once he had stopped, she wasted no time and circled him, holding his wrists in her hands, as if to keep him from moving. As if she could keep him from moving. Yet, she was hoping he would remain still, and that's what he did. When she looked up at him, he was already staring at her, so emotionlessly it made her chest pang.
"So?" The shinobi said narrowing his eyes, and she noticed that they had been like that for quite some time "What do you want?"
She turned her face away, not even sure how she should start.
Madara didn't seem to be interested in waiting, as he growled and pushed her away.
"Don't waste my time." He stormed to the campsite, but Ringo chased after, throwing her body against his to push him towards a tree and keep him from leaving.
"Wait I-!" She started, not daring to meet his eyes "I- I- I'm sorry- I… I shouldn't have run away like that… it was so rude… I didn't… That had never happened before, and I got scared… I… I didn't want to run away."
"Really, now?" He retorted mockingly, though there seemed to be a bit of anger in his words "It seemed the opposite."
"I was scared!" She yelled "That was the first time I'd ever… And I didn't want you to get mad at me…"
"It looked like I disgusted you…" The reply came in a humorless dry chuckle, making Ringo flinch, feeling even guiltier.
"No! It wasn't you! The last thing I feel towards you is disgust…"
"Hn…" There was a poignant pause before Ringo felt something lightly brushing against the top of her head and Madara spoke again "Prove it."
She finally looked up and noticed his face was almost on the level of hers and his lips curled in a small smirk.
Hesitantly, the girl laced her arms behind his neck and hoisted herself up. She planted a soft, but long kiss on his lips. She had expected him to try to get closer, but he remained still. He hadn't pushed her away, which was probably good, but his lack of response bothered her.
When Ringo pulled away, she was worried about what she would see in his eyes, and she felt relieved whit the look he was giving her, as if he was studying her reaction as well.
"Are you going to run again?" He asked, and she shook her head, only to have a hand holding her upper arm and other resting against the right side of her face, and Madara leaned much closer, closer than ever. And she didn't run.
Ringo stretched her hand in front of her face unconsciously. She was in peaceful slumber, not entirely asleep but certainly not awake, when she felt something brushing against her arm. The movement was a simple reflex, but when her fingers connected with something very solid, her eyes shot open and she looked around, terrified. Upon seeing a shadow hovering above her, she opened her mouth to scream, but something blocked the sound.
Upon recognizing the voice, she calmed down, trying to adjust her eyes to the darkness, to be sure of who was in the room with her. The stranger stopped covering her mouth with his hands, and the girl sat up, staring into his eyes.
"What are you doing here?!" She whispered, pulling the covers to herself and looking around.
"I want to show you something." She could not decipher his expression, but the voice was definitely Madara's. She was worried about him creeping in her bedroom while she was still sleeping. It was too uncharacteristic of him.
"It's not even light out yet. Can't you wait until later?"
"Absolutely not." And waiting for no permissions, he tossed the girl over his shoulder, before standing up. Ringo let out a displeased grunt and picked up her cover, as she was feeling far too cold to willingly leave it behind.
"What do you want to show me so much you can't wait for a decent hour?" She yawned
"I want to show you, not talk to you about it." He replied, annoyed, walking towards the window "Now shut up; you're too loud."
"That's my house, I can do whatever-" She exclaimed, but was interrupted when her head was hit against the window frame, making her let out a small whimper "You did that on purpose…"
"So what if I did?" She could feel him smirking, and she sighed, throwing the blanket over her shoulders.
"That hurt." She complained, but her only response was a sudden movement beneath her. She figured Madara was shrugging.
Silent seconds ticked by, and feeling frustrated and on the verge of dozing off, she decided to speak, since it was clear that the shinobi had no intention of doing so.
"I can walk, you know. No need to be carrying me around."
"If you go walking you'll see it too soon." He sighed. Ringo saw they had just passed a bunch of trees, so Madara should be heading towards the forest. She wondered why…
"I mean it, where are we going?" She struggled in his grasp, which made him intensify his grip on her.
"It's a surprise~" He answered in between teeth, a mock sing-song voice.
"Then I'm just going to worm my way out…" She grumbled, trying to escape. She had no idea what she'd do if he'd actually let her fall down, and how much it'd hurt, but she didn't have much time to think it over, as her stirring seemed to trigger a reaction she wasn't expecting.
Ringo felt a torrent of blood rushing to her cheeks when she realized something had slapped her backside.
"Wh-wha… Why you…?" She murmured incoherently.
"Behave." He commanded, and she instantly went limp, worried about what could happen otherwise. "Ah, so you do learn."
Madara seemed quite pleased about having quieted her down, and though the girl felt mad, she remained silent and still. It didn't hurt, but she really wished he wouldn't do that again.
A few minutes passed before Madara finally stopped, and Ringo dared to move her head slightly to examine her surrounds. She could see a few clothes scattered on the ground and a sleeping Izuna, nuzzling his backpack and producing a comforting humming sound. He looked so peaceful that she couldn't help wishing she was still sleeping now.
"What do you want to show me?" She asked, rubbing her eyes "I want to go back to bed."
"You won't be going back to bed." He replied, setting her on the ground. The sudden change of position made Ringo stumble sideways, but she managed to catch her balance before falling down.
"Right on time" She heard Madara say, and for a moment she thought he was speaking to her, but once she turned around it became clear as to why he had brought her there. As her eyes regained focus, she realized she was staring at something she hadn't seen in months.
The orange glow surging from the horizon bathed the whole valley in a soft light. The rivers glistened like they were made of diamonds instead of water, forming a pattern that resembled tree roots. The poor villages to north looked as if they were made of gold and the hills cast shadows, growing bigger with the distance, resembling the waves at sea. The forest in the Senju territory, far to east, was surrounded by an orange light, creating a striking contrast with the trees' silhouettes. Up in the still starry sky, the clouds floated above her, unusually close, and it almost looked like she could touch the fluff if she just stretched her arms.
"Ah…" Ringo drew a shuddery breath as her lips curled into a smile "T-that… How… how did you-? I-I…"
"Such a way with words." Madara sighed, and she turned around to see him sitting in a tree log. When he tapped the space beside him, her expression brightened up even more, and she skipped to sit beside him.
"I don't…" She stopped to think of what to say next, and, giggling, shook her head "How did you know?"
"It doesn't take a genius." He snickered "You told me you used to watch the sunrise here with your brother, so of course I'd figure."
"You remembered it?" Her eyes widened in disbelief, but her large grin was a sign of her exhilaration "I assumed you wouldn't care…"
"Then don't assume things about me." He smirked, only making the girl giggle again and lean against his shoulder "Did I give you permission to do that?"
"I don't know." She answered, trying to put on a straight face but only laughing more in the process.
Madara made a humming sound, which was different from his characteristic "hn's", so Ringo assumed he was content. He sneaked the arm she was leaning against around her waist and pulled her closer, making her nestle against his chest.
There was something that made Ringo feel safer than she had felt in years, or maybe ever. The chirping of the birds and other animal noises reassured her that the forest was safe, while Izuna's breathing reminded her of her brother, whose snoring sounds always lulled her back to sleep after a nightmare. Madara's warmth and heartbeat awakened a much older memory, of when she was so small her mother could carry her with ease and hug her so close she felt she would disappear in the embrace. And there was something she felt coming from the valley, as if it was being carried by the wind that she could not describe, but it was just… right. As if all the stars were on her favor and as if nothing bad existed – as if nothing besides that existed. For all that, she wished that that moment would drag for eternity. She was sure she'd never find such peace again, at least not the exact same peace.
However, her companion didn't seem to share of her opinion fully, as he spoke, shattering that sliver of perfection into tiny little pieces.
"What do you think of there?" He indicated the immeasurable forest much ahead of them, in the rival clan's territory.
"…It looks pretty." She answered simply, after regaining her thoughts.
"Hm." Madara smiled at her, and under the dawn light she couldn't avoid noticing how nice his features were, something she prided herself in usually ignoring "Would you like to go there?"
"What?" The girl looked up startled "What are saying? There are Senju there! I'm not going!"
"And I commend you for that answer, but say there weren't."
"I…" Ringo furrowed her brows "I guess I would. It's much bigger than ours."
"How long what?" She was getting quite irritated with those cryptic questions.
"How long do you give me to take the Senju out of there." He chuckled at her now open mouth "Watch out; your jaw is going to fall."
"You are kidding me." Ringo glared
"No." His smirk grew larger, making the peasant feel as if she was being mocked "Give me a number."
"Of course not." That seemed to annoy him "If you say you want me to get rid of them in two seconds I'll punch you. Be sensible at least."
She gave him a doubtful glance before looking straight ahead. She could not believe he was being serious about something like that, but she also had no idea what his true reasons to say something like that were.
"I want…" She roamed the non-ending sea of trees, feeling a sudden desire to explore all its length "Seven years."
"Deal." He replied with no signs of hesitance, offering his left hand for her to shake. "In seven years, that will not be the Senju's land anymore."
"I'll hold you to that." She grinned sheepishly "But what if you fail?"
"Fail?" He snorted "Unlikely. And if you actually want to see those lands you'd better hope I succeed."
Succeed… That reminded her of something.
"You'll do that after you become the clan leader, right?"
"Yes, it would be a little hard to wipe a whole clan by myself." He snickered.
"That's not what I meant." She shifted uncomfortably "Is that… When you are leader, I… And even now…"
"You need to work on your rhetoric." He said, holding both her shoulders and turning her towards him "Speak clearly."
"You…" She bit her bottom lip and looked down "You are leaving… You are leaving to the stronghold today, and you are going to do whatever it is you have to do to become leader, and then you'll have to go to wars, have reunions and I don't know what else, so what's the point…?" She took a deep breath "You are going to have so many things to do and be so far away… It's not like if you take those lands it'll be of any difference, because you won't rub it on my face like you should… You won't even care if I…"
Ringo had let out more than she had intended to. It was a worry that she had been brooding over for the past few days, and that she suspected Madara would find foolish, but she felt as if her heart was being squeezed every time she thought about it. She knew he'd be too busy to look for her – and why would he ever want to? He'd meet other girls; prettier, smarter, and more interesting than her, and certainly some of them would be strong kunoichi. And even if that was not the case, he'd have to live in the clan compound, while she knew she couldn't leave her home. She'd never see him again, it was logical, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to give up hope.
"Do you really think you're going to get away from me that easy?" He replied with a growing smirk, making she stare at him, eyes large and mouth agape "You say you don't want me to call you stupid, but sometimes you make it really hard for me not to."
"I don't…" She started, but the young man interrupted with a kiss, which she promptly responded.
"Yes, I agree; you don't ever shut up." He said after pulling away, but then his tone became more serious "I don't pretend to like things, and I don't give up on the things I like."
"So…" She shook her head in confusion "You… You are not going to forget about me?"
"I don't think I would be able even if I wanted to." The peasant sighed in relief. Seeing him taking that situation so lightly made her feel as if a weight was being pulled from her chest.
"Are going to come see me again?!" Madara raised a questioning eyebrow at her, making her smile brightly.
"But it won't be for anytime soon." He drawled, sliding one of his hands from the girl's shoulder to her waist "And as you said, I'm leaving today…"
She didn't need to be given anymore hints, and as he bended to her level brushing his lips against hers, she locked her hands behind his neck and closed the space between them.
The kiss started as a peck, much like the previous one, but it soon grew deeper, as Madara pulled her towards him.
Though they had kissed a number of times, Ringo frequently found her limbs going stiff for no good reason when he touched her, and she always felt like he was doing all the work. She wondered if it was just her fear of doing something wrong or if Madara could simply shut down certain parts of her brain.
She snapped back to reality when she felt something stroking her lips, and she parted them to grant him entrance. Just then she realized the position she was in. The shinobi had pulled her so close that their chests were skimming against each other and her legs were hanging at his sides uncomfortably, hovering millimeters above his. They didn't seem like they would budge.
Ringo slowly slid her hands from Madara's neck to his back, and with what she felt was inhuman strength, lowered her legs until they were hugging him. Taking that as a permission to go further, the other entangled his fingers in her hair to bring her even closer.
Before they had to part for air, a sound made them freeze on the spot. Something grazing the ground. A heavy breath.
The pair watched Izuna from the corner of their eyes, unmoving, and so close to one another, it wouldn't be surprising if someone watching from afar thought they were the same thing. The boy tossed and turned, mumbling a chain of nonsenses. The girl's heart started racing and her breath hitched in her throat when his eyes opened just a crack. Izuna's sleepy expression gave away nothing; it was as if he was staring right through them. After five seconds that felt like five minutes, the boy closed his eyes and turned to the other side.
They only dared to move once they were sure Izuna was asleep. Madara removed his hands from the girl, allowing her to pull away and cross her arms over her chest.
"I-I…" She staggered "Should we wake him up?"
"Why?" A deep wrinkle formed on Madara's nose as he looked at her condescendingly.
"You two are leaving today. I wanted to spend some time with Izuna too." That answer made the other sigh deeply and shake his head.
"You don't know what you're saying."
"He's my friend!" She protested
"And he's my brother. Therefore, I will have to deal with his shenanigans for the rest of my life." He turned his face to the valley with a small grimace "I can waste my time with him whenever I feel like it; you are a different story."
Ringo furrowed her brows. That made she think of Michio.
"Hm…" She started, trying to think of something to say that would have nothing to do with siblings. She felt that if she reprimanded Madara he would only get mad at her. When she came up with something, a mischievous grin spread across her face "So you're going to miss me?"
She felt a fist being pressed against the top of her head, and she moaned, displeased.
"You like to test your luck, don't you?" He asked with a twisted smile, scrubbing her scalp with his knuckles, making the girl yelp. She pushed his hand away and rubbed the spot, pouting.
A loud snore made the two turn their heads sharply at the sleeping boy, who kicked around and murmured something about plums before calming down again. Ringo inhaled slowly.
"I think we should leave…"
"Maybe we should." Madara quickly scanned his brother sleeping form, before standing up "Even though Izuna could probably sleep over an earthquake."
"Are you sure that this is enough?" Katsuro asked, lifting Izuna' backpack. If the way his bony hands trembled didn't state anything about the weight, nothing else would.
"No, it's alright!" The younger boy replied hastily, shaking his hands in front his face "I'm sure we have enough food already. It's just a day of travel, anyway."
"I'd say you can never be too careful, but if you think it's fine…"
"Cra-ap…" Ringo muttered, holding another bag with both hands.
"Ringo, language." Her father warned seriously, and she dropped the object on the table.
"It's just that it's too heavy… This is going to give them back problems or something."
"I'm sure they have dealt with heavy weights before."
"But for a whole day?" She asked, widening her eyes before sighing "And you gave them too much food, they're going to get fat! Look at Madara; he's already halfway to it!"
At the mention of his name, Madara glared at the girl from the corner of his eyes, making her laugh nervously.
"You really must be leaving today?" Katsuro handed the bag to Izuna, looking as if he was eager to get rid of the weight.
"We do." The boy smiled apologetically "We should report as soon as we can. And besides…"
"I know." The man chuckled and shook his head "Duties, duties. There is a job I think would never suit me…" After a short pause, he smiled "Maybe we'll meet again, this world is curious."
"I surely hope so." Izuna returned the expression, towing his belongings over his shoulder "Madara, ready to go?"
The older brother nodded and grabbed his bag as well.
"Father, Can I go with them until the village?" Ringo asked.
"Of course, as long as they don't mind it." The farmer turned to the two shinobi, and seeing no sign of protest, nodded to his daughter "On a second thought, Asuka passed by here just yesterday, looking for you, but you weren't home. Since you'll be going to the village, you may want to pay her a visit?"
"Oh!" The girl exclaimed, with wide eyes and blushing cheeks. She told her father she wanted to go the plain fields, but she didn't tell him she was going with Madara. She suspected he wouldn't be too happy about that. "I'll go see her, then! D-did she say what she came for?"
"No, I believe she just wanted to talk to you… You should get going; it doesn't look like they are going to wait for you!"
Ringo whipped her head around to see Izuna and Madara in front of the exit, staring at her, the former with a confused smile and the latter with a bored expression. She stood up and stumbled towards them.
"I'll pray that you have a safe trip" Katsuro said, bowing his head lightly "And wish you the best. "
There was an unusual happy glint in the man's eyes, and the brothers found it hard to imagine how they thought there was something wrong with him at first.
"We wish you the same" Izuna replied, waving, while his brother jerked his head and smirked in acknowledgment.
"Later~" Ringo sang cheerfully, leaving after the boys and closing the door behind her.
All they left was silence. Katsuro didn't like the silence. It was something he had left long behind him, and he was not used to it anymore.
He walked over to a window, opening it to let the sun light and chirping of the birds in. He leaned against the sill, watching as the three walked towards the forest, not sparing a single glance back to the house. The scene made his heart thud painfully, as if it wanted to burst from his chest. He rubbed the corner of his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, letting his head hang to the side.
He had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. He could only hope that Ringo's friend would keep her busy for a long time.
As the village gates became visible, Ringo's tone started dropping to the point of being inaudible. They had gotten there too soon…
"Hm?" Izuna stopped and eyes her curiously, before smiling "Then I guess this is farewell?"
"What? Oh, Yes…" Her shoulders dropped and she looked down, but quickly snapped her head back when she heard a warm laughter.
"I'm just kidding! Actually, I'm sure we'll meet again; I have a feeling we will."
"Me too. I… No, I know we will meet again." The girl nodded firmly.
"That's the spirit!" He grinned in response
Ringo turned around to say goodbye to the one person she didn't want to part from at the moment. Unlike what she was expecting, he had a smirk on his face.
"Hum…" She cleared her throat, diverting her eyes to the left "Good luck with… your clan leader thing. I hope you do succeed."
"We will succeed, and your good luck wish will have nothing to do with it." Madara said slowly, as if explaining a concept to a child who was particularly stubborn about not grasping it.
"Well… I already wished it, so too late." She joked, sticking her tongue out.
Ringo didn't know what his reaction to that would be, but she expected something different from the emotionless stare he sent her. After a few seconds of disappointing silence, she felt something grabbing her by the back of her head and pulling her forward. Her breath was stolen when something crashed against her lips. It took her sometime to realize that Madara was kissing her, and when she finally did, her instinct was to push him away. They had never talked about keeping what was between them a secret, but she thought he didn't want his brother to know about it, so she was rather surprised by his actions.
The young man furrowed his brows and grunted in disapproval. Figuring he didn't care about who was witnessing it, Ringo placed her hands on either sides of his face and started responding to the kiss. Madara slid his fingers to the back of the girl's head to her shoulder and set his free hand on her waist.
It wasn't a peck, but it also wasn't the most heated they had shared, and she thought it was the nicest one yet. She guessed it was how he wanted to say goodbye, and that was fine with her. Ringo liked the kiss, even though it ended too soon.
"My neck is killing me." Madara remarked with a crooked grin "Why must you be so short?"
"I'm not short, I'm fourteen!" She complained, lightly slapping his arm.
"I see no difference." He leaned in closer until their noses touched, and Ringo closed her eyes and parted her lips, thinking he would kiss her again.
"Oh-!" Someone exclaimed, and they both turned around to see Izuna gawking at them "Oh! I… I get it…"
"You get nothing." The older sibling walked towards him, grabbing him by his collar and pulling him along the road.
"I am going to miss you two!" Ringo yelled waving her hand frantically, making the brothers look back.
"We'll meet again!" Izuna reassured, cupping his hand around his mouth.
"Just be patient." Madara told her.
"Don't you dare forget about me!" She screeched, making him roll his eyes at her.
Ringo watched as the two walked away and disappeared in a turn of the road. She stood there for a few more seconds smiling to herself, before turning around and sprinting towards her friend's house, swerving from unprepared villagers and feeling blissful all the way.
Ugh… I feel like I should have considered looking for a beta-reader before starting with this story
Now, I'd like you all to read the author notes, please. They're pretty important, actually…
First of all, let's pretend this story is fancy, and it will have multiple endings. Chapters elven (this one :D), twelve and the epilogue will all be in sequence, but you can decide which one you like best. But of course, chapter twelve is a continuation of chapter eleven and the epilogue is a continuation of both. So… yeah, you can decide how the story ends for you.
Second, about the delay…. I'll not bore you with all my reasons to have taken .long (because I do have them) but I also know that I could have uploaded it earlier if I weren't so lazy. I won't pretend to be noble. Anyways, don't expect me to update again soon – I might, but don't be surprised if I take months. There's not much left of the story, but the last chapters will be long, and I need to find out how to balance my duties with my free time.
On an irrelevant note: SCREW KISSING! WHY DO PEOPLE EVEN DO THAT; IT'S SO GROSS! AAAARGH…! *huffing in frustration* this chapter main objective was to be fluff and show Madara's and Ringo's (I'll never call her Rin again, btw) relationship but I feel I did too much and it ended up stupid. After this story I think I'll never write things like that again…