Rika felt like her heartbeat was going to burst a blood vessel in her ears. His golden eyes were like a pair of suns, burning across her skin.
She had been preparing to sleep. The few pins she slipped into her hair to keep it in place were missing. Her knife and other weapons were tucked beneath her bedroll. The pieces of leather usually tied so tightly around her for hidden protection were piled neatly in the corner of the tent.
Her arms crossed her chest, holding the shirt she had just removed in front of her. Perhaps more blush-inducing than the compromising position were the indented lines that ran the length of her forearms from the armor and the hidden blade, skin that longed to be free, to breath the night air and relax before having to be bound again.
The picture of delicate femininity, in Rika's mind, was everything she wasn't.
"How about we start with you turning around?"
Dai obeyed, wordlessly, though he didn't show any embarrassment as he did. Rika plunged herself into her shirt as fast as possible, then held her arms behind her back.
She knelt on the floor of the tent, inviting Dai to do so with her. The lantern flickered, brushing their silhouettes against the tent.
"Jekial...I should've known. Blood control. Brutal clan with some brutal practices, though I imagine it woudl be hard not to when the sharing of blood is as common as you said. You know, not too long ago, we might've been enemies. My clan was in the midst of a...crusade, against people with bloodlines. Said you were unnatural beings that would ruin the world. And I have to admit the whole...blood-licking thing was kinda weird."
She found her thumb tracing the memory of the cut on her hand.
"But you know, I'm glad you did it. If my clan is going to go into a future where we live and work beside people with bloodlines, we'll have to learn to accept customs that are different than our own. This was an important lesson to me, and when I go back it'll be a reminder that a man exists out in the world that can end my life because of his bloodline. It'll keep me from falling back into those old ways."
She smiled. A true, genuine smile, that she hadn't felt in a long time.
"I don't need anything from you Dai. To be honest, when I leave, we may never see each other again. I can't stay and fight this war. I have to tend to my own people. But if it'll make you feel better, then I'll seek you out if I think I need your help."
It was a bit odd to say those words. Why she would ever need a bunch of thugs when she had an army of trained hunters at her disposal was beyond her. But anything for this new, odd friendship of hers.
She reached out and took his hands, both of them, her one hand running over the mechanical intricacies with her thumb.
"I'd tell you to be careful, but you don't seem like the type. So I'll just leave you what we Nanaya say.
- - -
Kyuuen's fingers wiggled.
"I had a team once, you know."
The words floated there between them, meaningless and peculiar.
"It...turned out that it was all a sham. Only Ichigo was a true team member. One was an Iwa spy and the other was an undercover ANBU operative. But for a little while, they were a real team with real fights. Ichigo and the other guy, they never got along. Ever. Always trying to outdo each other, always throwing insults. Got pretty bad there. But I knew how to handle it."
She turned away from his extended hand and folded her hands behind her back, wandering in a gentle circle.
"I knew how to handle it because when I was in my team as a Genin, I was the problem child. I didn't like Suna, I didn't trust anyone because they didn't trust me, and I basically did everything on my own as much as I could until it got to a breaking point. That's when Hana-sensei stepped in. I was already getting medical training from her at the time, and she was so kind and sweet and understanding and loving. But she wasn't that day."
She straightened up her posture, to try and mimic Hana's height, and glared like she did.
"You don't have to like them Kyuuen, but you have to trust them."
"I didn't really get it at first, but after a while I saw that I couldn't survive the missions unless I trusted the others to do their parts. So I never liked them. They were jerks, and prejudiced, and immature, but after a while I did trust them. I said the same thing to Ichigo and Taro. And...I guess I'm saying it again. To myself."
She spun back around and finally took Toya's hand.
"I don't like you yet, Toya. But I do trust you. With my life, and more importantly, with Ryou's."
That was enough for now. She shook his hand off hers and turned back to her tent.
"Now get some sleep will you. Unless these sand nomads pulls some complicated parts out of their ass, that airship isn't going to be rebuilt. And it's a long, long walk to the south cities."
- - -
Moxie actually smiled at that.
"Sorry, Ryou, but Senpu thinks only the strongest emotions will be transferred, since chakra is part experience. For the most part our thoughts will be private."
She rested one hand on Ryou's shoulder and the other on her own, right on the flesh between collarbone and breast. Chakra flowed through her palms, and the Nunojutsu spread open holes in their clothes, exposing bare flesh. She then set her hands back together in quick handseals. Flames of chakra appeared on her fingertips, just as they had when Senpu taught her the technique.
She pressed her fingers into Ryou's chest and into her own.
The sensation was odd. For her, it felt like she was being healed. That emptiness that had plagued her since that moment at BLOSSOM was finally sated. But in a different way. Before the presence had been powerful and overwhelming, and in a sense she felt lost in it. Her father, protecting her with all of his accumulated might, her own power pale in comparison.
With Ryou, it was the other way around. She was the stronger. And yet she didn't feel like she was overpowering him. He felt...more like a brother.
A wave of tremendous sadness overtook her at that moment. She had never felt this way about Pantsu. Not this sort of quiet comfort.
She shoved it away as fast as she could, not wanting the feeling to feedback into Ryou. The last thing she wanted was for him to have to bear her sadness this early on.
The flames sizzled out. She felt strong again, immediately so. Her chakra was stable, and explosive, like it was going to leak out the seams of her body. A whole extra chakra network to feed off of and support her.
Effortlessly her Chakra Threads mended their clothes. Moxie reached out and hugged Ryou.
"Thanks. We'll get rid of it soon as we can."
- - -
"Camels! It is not much, but it is all I can offer."
Moxie bowed. "Thank you, Konoka-san. It's most generous and we won't squander your gift."
He bowed as well, then waddled away, back to his business. They had said so many goodbyes already; to Dai, to Senpu, to Irimara. Even to Ayasato, though she didn't answer them.
"Well, everyone. Let's do our best not to get captured, injured, drugged, or hijacked this time, hm?"
The four turned to Rika, who stood beside her camel with a downcast gloom.
"I wish I could. I know you need all the help you can get, but I can't be away from the rest of the Nanaya any longer. There's too much work to be done."
Moxe nodded, and left her camel to walk to her. Then she hugged her.
Mom always said a hug was the best thing to ever give anyone.
"I understand. Take care of yourself, Rika. And thank you, for saving me, and for everything you've done for the Wind Country's future."
"If I can ever do more, I will." The girls separated and Rika walked to Ryou. "Good luck, Ryou. Don't let Toya do anything too stupid, got it?"
Then she stood face to face with Kyuuen.
And at last, one more hug, cousin to cousin.
"Well you certainly keep things interesting, cousin. About what I said before...on the airship. I think I'm going to be okay now. This has taught me a lot, so don't worry about me. But, don't wait too long before you come and visit, all right?"