Chapter Two: Incision

Her brother Sen called out to Yui just as she headed into the woods.

"Hey, sis! Hold on!"

She paused until he'd caught up. Yui waited for his response, but he was uncharacteristically quiet.

Sen hesitated, scuffing his foot against the dirt. "Uh, are you going to get more herbs today?"

Yui blinked but nodded. Though it depended on what she needed, Yui usually would go every other day to find plants in the forest; some only worked well when fresh. She did have a garden for the easier-to-grow plants, but it wasn't like she could go to the supermarket to buy seeds and fertilizer. Some herbs were too finicky to cultivate.

"Oh. Can I help?"

She nodded again. Whether it be helping her with the mortar and pestle, learning how to bandage wounds, or gather herbs, Sen had lately taken an interest in medicine. After grabbing a basket, he followed her down the small path into the woods, one that had been made by healers before her.

"D'you get much ninja to treat?" he asked as he followed her. Sen had become rather curious about her shinobi patients since he'd met Hashirama. "Are most of them like the one that stayed for lunch?"

She shrugged. "They're all a little weird."

"Or a lot weird," said Sen with a laugh.

Her thoughts turned to the ninja that had visited a few days ago. Hashirama had left after thanking her profusely and tentatively asking if he could come again someday. Yui, of course, had assured him that he could. As Sen had remarked, Hashirama was a little strange, but perhaps that was part of his charm. She hadn't met anyone with genuine ambitions in a long time. Not many people could dream when they were preoccupied with survival.

As they stopped to pick leaves and roots, Yui pointed out the names and uses for each one.

"Shiso leaves are for colds," she said, gesturing to a plant tucked behind an oak tree. "The seeds can be crushed to make oil. The wild, weedy ones ain't as good as the one in our garden, but I like taking some anyway."

Sen scampered to grab a few leaves, eyebrows furrowed with concentration.

"Over there is—"

"Burdock!" finished Sen. "The leaves are itchy, right? But the roots are really good for… um, fever?"

Yui smiled. "That's right. And that one over there?"

"Bay leaves!" He reached out to grab some, but Yui pulled him back.

"No, that's rhododendron." She gave him a hard look before pointing to the flowers. "Bay laurel has yellow flowers and light green leaves. Rhododendron has red, purple, and white flowers and dark leaves. It's also poisonous."

Sen cringed. "Oh. Sorry."

"It's fine. Just be careful. Picking the wrong berries or leaves could kill someone," said Yui, gentler than before. "Now, what're bay leaves used for?"

"Headaches?" he wagered.

"Stomach aches. They're also good for pregnant women."

They continued in silence for a while longer. Sen seemed to be glancing over every few seconds. Clearly, he had something on his mind. She'd wait. If it was important, he'd tell her. She brushed the dirt off the burdock root and sighed. Yui would kill for a fully stocked medical cabinet.

Most of these herbs did have medicinal properties. The problem was concentration. Back in the modern world, the components that did the healing were often isolated and distilled to increase potency. Willow bark contained salicin, a chemical compound that could be synthesized into acetylsalicylic acid, more commonly known as aspirin. Back in her original world, there had been ongoing debate about the efficacy of medicinal herbs. Sometimes, it wasn't possible to isolate all the complex interactions between compounds, and medicine didn't like not knowing.

That debate had no relevance now, of course. Here, Yui could only use the raw plants and hope for the best. She paused in front of an oak tree that she collected bark from. Unfortunately, she had no idea how to isolate salicin or aspirin. In comparison, the story and process of penicillin was well known. It had a low success rate due to the finicky nature of the fungus and the resulting low production, but the basic method could be done. On the other hand, no one really knew or cared about aspirin. It had been synthesized more than a hundred years ago and was ubiquitous the world over.

"Hey, sis?"

She turned away. Sen was scuffing his foot against the ground, something he only did when nervous.

"What is it?"

"Well…" He took a deep breath and blurted it out all at once. "Can I be your apprentice?"

Yui stared at him, somewhat surprised. Sure, Sen had been helping more, but each time he'd had some sort of excuse: their sister Ume had a new boyfriend over for lunch, he was hiding from their mom, or something similar. In hindsight, though, it was obvious.

Fidgeting, he continued, "I'll work hard, I promise! I'll remember the herbs and make the mixtures and do everything right!"

"Why do you want to be a healer?" she asked slowly.

"Um, mom says I need to choose what to do. She ain't gettin' younger, and Hiro-nii's gonna take over the farm and Jiro's already a tanner and… it's just me now and I'm the only boy without work and I'm—"

"Breathe," said Yui, interrupting his rambling.

He stopped, took a deep breath, and continued at a more sedate pace. "So I've been thinking about what I wanna do, you know. The blacksmith's been looking for an apprentice, and I don't wanna do that. I… I like working with you. I think that's what I wanna keep doing." He scratched his head and gave a sheepish laugh. "And unlike the blacksmith, I don't gotta pay you if I become your apprentice."

With the steady growth of the village in the last few years, it had become more difficult to do everything by herself. Besides, Sen was eager and determined. He'd be a good student. And disseminating more medical knowledge was definitely a goal of hers.

Yui stepped forward and squeezed his shoulder. "Sounds good to me."

"Thanks, Yui-nee!" Sen beamed at her and hugged her tightly. "I'm gonna be the best healer ever."

She laughed softly. "I'm sure you will."

Despite its strategic location, the village had been too poor for anyone to take any interest in it. Farmers didn't have many objects of value besides crops and dirt. However, as the village expanded and became a small post for healing and rest, its wealth grew along with its size. Luckily, the village had mostly experienced peace during the last few years.

Unfortunately, their luck didn't last forever.

The end of winter was a slow season. Thanks to a surprise snowstorm, no travelers had arrived in the village for several days, and Yui had taken advantage of the downtime to carve a small wooden stethoscope for Sen to use. She had no rubber or plastic, so the rigid, hollow tube would have to do.

The first clue of the impending danger was the man who'd burst into her hut, his head bleeding.

"There's… there's danger," he slurred, nearly collapsing on the floor.

She rushed to his side and eased him into a chair. Sen had clean bandages ready which Yui took. She wiped the blood from his face and began wrapping his head. The man was Ume's current suitor, a hired hand named Kaito.

"Gotta… gotta help," he rambled incoherently. "Gotta help."

Kaito almost definitely had a concussion. Yui waved off Sen's offered willow bark concoction; salicin could increase bleeding, which was definitely to be avoided.

"Bring the ginger," she murmured. Ginger could relieve pain while acting as an anti-inflammatory. "Kaito, do you remember what happened?"

"There's danger," he repeated. "Gotta help?"

She checked his eyes, which were blinking normally. As she watched his motor functions, Yui made Kaito drink the warm ginger juice that Sen brought. Kaito's hands were steady as he raised the glass to his lips. Hopefully, his injury wouldn't be too severe. It was always difficult to tell with traumatic brain injuries. Yui stepped back and allowed Sen to bandage the few scrapes that Kaito had on his legs. There wasn't anything more she could do for him but wait and see if his responsiveness decreased.

She could hear screams and shouting from outside. Yui tensed, glancing at her patient and brother.

"Sen," she said, quiet but urgent, "I need you to move Kaito to the shed. Go through the back. Watch how he acts and keep him awake. Don't come out until I say, okay?"

He hesitated. "But I can't leave—"

"No." Yui grabbed him by the shoulders. "Do it. I don't want you or Kaito to be hurt. Understand?"

Sen nodded slowly and rapidly blinked his eyes. "I-I understand."

With some difficulty, he led the stumbling man through the back door. She bit her lip, uncertain if she should join them. If she left the hut empty, then any injured person who stumbled in would be without aid.

The door slammed open, making her choice for her. A tall, unfamiliar man sneered down at her. A scar bisected his forehead, and a sword hung by his side. Blood dripped from the length of the blade, staining his trousers and the floor.

"Are you the healer?" he drawled out, rubbing his boots on the floor to clean off the melting slush. The man stretched out his hand. His knuckles were barely scraped, and on his pointer finger was a large, golden ring. "I'm hurt. Will you fix me up?"

She nodded, not trusting her voice to be steady. Yui grabbed more bandages and began wrapping his hands. As she started on his index finger, he grabbed her hand tightly enough to bruise.

"Don't cover the ring, sweetheart." The ring in question had a large, green stone. Yui dimly wondered if it was real.

Yui nodded again, using a different bandage to wrap the remaining fingers.

"Much better," he crooned. The man scanned the room, lingering on the scarves and pottery. "I bet you're the richest one here, huh?"

Yui said nothing.

"Can you fucking talk?" He grabbed the jar on the table and threw it onto the floor. The clay vessel splintered into pieces and salve splattered across the floor.

"Yes," she murmured, voice quavering.

"See?" The man calmed down abruptly, giving her a bright smile. One tooth was wooden, and a few others were rotting. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

"Not hard," said Yui, doing her best to not look at either the man or the mess. She could still hear people screaming.

"Good. I have another question for you." He grabbed her chin and raised her head so their eyes were level. "Where is the money?"

"In the chest by the corner." She didn't keep all her money in the same place, but about a third of it was in that box. It didn't have a lock. Why would their small village have a locksmith?

The man moved his hand to her wrist, dragging her along as he wrenched open the lid and snatched the bag of coins. His thumb pressed at the gap between her radius and ulna, increasing in pressure when Yui tried to wrench away. He rummaged through the box with his other hand and made a pleased sound.

"Not bad. Not bad at all."

He then pulled the scarves from their place on the wall, tearing a few, and for good measure, he knocked over the vase beside them. He opened a few of the jars on the table but quickly grew bored after discovering that most of them were ointments or tinctures. She tried to pull from his grip, hoping to run away or at least get something to hit him with, but he held her too tightly. After her third attempt, the man finally reacted.

"Fucking stop moving!" He slapped her across the face. Yui blinked rapidly as tears streamed down her face and spots danced in her eyes. "If you try again, it'll be worse. Do you understand?" He shook her violently. "Do you understand?"

"Yes." The word came out in a hoarse whisper.


He continued to break any object that caught his fancy, throwing them onto the floor with increased ferocity. Once he finished ransacking her hut, the man let go of her wrist and eyed her. He touched her cheek and frowned.

"You're quite plain, you know. Too dirty, brown, and peasant. Still, maybe I should take you with me. We could use a healer."

"It wouldn't be in your best interest," she choked out as her heart rate rose. Her eyes darted to the side. He was between her and both exits. "I make more money in this village. You come back, and I'll have more. If you take me, then you won't get nothing."

The bandit hummed, contemplative. Then, he stepped forward and struck her cheek hard enough to make her head slam against the floor.

"Uppity bitch," he snarled. "You're too ugly for me." The man spit on the floor. "When I come back, you better have more money."

Yui watched as he left. Slowly, she picked herself off the ground and touched her cheek. It was bleeding, and her entire face throbbed. She was also shaking, in fear and relief and in anger. She looked around at the devastation surrounding her. Shards of pottery and ointments she'd spent months making now covered the floor. Gifts from friends and people she'd helped were torn apart and broken. He'd ruined her home, the one place where she felt safe and human and useful.

Yui closed her eyes and sobbed. She hadn't been so scared since… she didn't remember being so scared in any life. Perhaps during her death, but she had no memories of that time. A sharp pain shot through her face each time she took a shaky breath—had he broken her cheekbone or was it just a facial contusion? Her temples echoed with the same stabbing ache, and Yui hoped that she hadn't gotten a concussion like Kaito had. She rested her head against the wall. All she wanted to do was curl up in a corner, but Yui knew that if she didn't get up now, she'd be scared forever.

Sen. Taiko. Her family and the villagers. She reminded herself of what was at stake. Everything hurt as she stood up, bringing fresh tears to her eyes. Yui stepped over the wreckage and searched the clinic room for jars that hadn't been broken in that man's rampage. After rubbing some salve on her face, Yui staggered out the door. Anger and sorrow could wait. First, she had to assess the situation and do what she could to help.

It could have been much worse. Three men and three women had been injured by the bandits, and two people had bled out before Yui could have helped them. If she had access to blood transfusions, then they too would have likely survived. Three more had died from infections that could have been treated with antibiotics. She hated being reminded of how futile some deaths were, of the knowledge and treatments that lingered out of her reach.

The bandits had stolen and destroyed a fair amount, but their goal had been to set an example, sow fear, and escape quickly. It had worked somewhat. From what she heard, the bandits had been impossibly fast and strong. Even Taiko, one of the largest men in the village, had been unable to react to the single punch that had felled him.

Rounin, the villagers whispered among themselves. Rogue samurai who had abandoned the code and turned to banditry, using their hard-won prowess for selfish deeds. They were as skilled as ninja but more reviled. Ninja were and always had been mercenaries for hire. Rounin, on the other hand, were betrayers—men who'd turned their backs on a life of honor, and the bandits embodied the worst of the rumors.

Still, the village gradually rebuilt itself, and Yui did the same. Cleaning everything the bandit had broken was painful, but she refused to leave her clinic in disarray. She salvaged the items she could and threw away the rest. She had stored plenty of medicine in the shed, so Yui had a buffer of supplies as she made more to replace the salves she'd lost. Her physical injuries took longer to heal, especially the wound on her face, but she'd been lucky to avoid a concussion or traumatic brain injury.

While Yui had made her own resolutions, she wondered what the village's inhabitants would do. Was everyone so used to being beaten down that they would live with it? Would they try to band together? Or would they turn on the more fortunate? Fear was a powerful motivator, and it could make people act in unimaginable ways.

She had worried about the last one. Yui was a quiet, private person. She had a good reputation, but people thought she was a little standoffish, if not downright aloof. Yui was also a major reason for the transformation of the village into a trading outpost and rest stop, and her medical services made her wealthier than most. Certainly, a few people blamed her. She did make a good scapegoat.

Surprisingly or not, that wasn't the case for the majority. People were angry but not at her. They had gotten a taste of fortune and peace, and they didn't want to lose it. Immediately, the villagers began doing what they could to prevent a repeat of the situation. Along with nails and the usual farmstead objects, the blacksmith started smithing spear tips.

One of the farmers had been conscripted into the local lord's army during a war two decades ago, and he started training able-bodied men with pitchforks. Yui had no illusions about their actual ability. If they ever had to fight against bandits or ninja, they'd be slaughtered.

Yui decided to help out anyway. This was her home, too. Quietly, she used nightshade and wolf's bane to make a poison that could be smeared on the edge of a blade. (She gave it to the old, trained farmer and murmured an explanation. He accepted it with grim eyes. The younger men might have protested the use of poison, but he was too weary for that.) Yui made another one that could be slipped into someone's drink and hid it innocuously behind a vase. She told Sen to never touch it, and he promised her with solemnity.

One of her usual merchants, a thin woman who traveled the route to Wind Country, came to the village a week after. Tsubaki came by less for healing and more to trade items for her salves. Always with her was a pale-haired, masked ninja who worked as her bodyguard. It had taken a year of acquaintance before he'd introduced himself with a sharply barked "Hatake." The ninja didn't comment on the houses that were being rebuilt nor the bruised, slowly-healing fracture on Yui's cheek, but his eyes lingered.

Tsubaki was more forward. "Bandits?" she asked.

Yui nodded. "Probably rounin."

The merchant made a noise of understanding. "They're likely the same men who've been harassing the trade route. Those bandits made an attempt on my own wares, but Hatake here scared them off." She frowned. "They've been more and more daring. Those bastards actually attacked Lord Fukuyama's own caravan and his tax collectors. I hear that Lord Fukuyama's placed a high bounty for their heads." Tsubaki shook her head with grim amusement, causing the glass beads in her hair to jingle. "The problem should be fixed soon enough."

The merchant continued with a steady stream of gossip, more than used to Yui's lack of participation. After they did their usual trade, with Tsubaki giving glassware for salves and Yui patching up Hatake's few scrapes, Yui broke their routine and spoke first.

"I got something to ask you."

Tsubaki's thin eyebrows were raised as high as humanly possible, and Hatake lifted his head to stare from his shadowy corner.

"Oh?" said Tsubaki. "This is new. What is it?"

"I need a special kind of glass." With a piece of charcoal, Yui sketched crude pictures of laboratory glassware, describing its transparency, volume, and high heat resistance. It was about time that she made an effort to synthesize something. She then continued, drawing an even worse picture of a weapon.

"It looks like this, with a little block to put arrows on and a bow-like thing on top." Yui didn't know the word for it in this language.

"A crossbow?" Tsubaki's face was furrowed, and Hatake was suddenly much closer to her.

"Yeah, that." Yui committed the word to memory. "A crossbow. Do you think you could get one?"

Tsubaki stared at the drawings for several moments and fixed Yui with a long, scrutinizing look.

"I can do the glassware," she said. "And I'll do it cheap, too. There were a few nobles who wanted something similar, so it's not that much extra work. Just give me extra containers of that special pain-killing paste." The merchant tapped the sketch of the crossbow. "I could probably do this. They're common in Lightning, and I've got some friends there. It'd be difficult, and it'll cost you extra."

Yui gave a short nod and smiled. "I can pay." They haggled over the price for a few minutes before coming to a figure that satisfied them both. Yui promised to pay half now and the other half upon delivery.

Tsubaki blinked and inclined her head. For a second, it seemed like she had something to ask, but she shook her head and decided against it. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you," she said instead, "and it will be my pleasure to help."

Two weeks after the bandit attack, the snow had completely melted, bringing with it true spring and many travelers. There were a spate of children being born too, and Yui trudged back to her hut after delivering the second child in two days. It had been an easy birth for the mother, but delivering children always made Yui both exhausted and relieved.

She wouldn't have many opportunities to rest; three more were due any day now. It was no surprise. There were always a sudden surge of births nine months after the harvest festival. She dreaded this time of year for that very reason. Despite her best efforts, she couldn't single-handedly fix every complication with her crude tools—maternal mortality would remain insanely high without antibiotics.

She heard voices as she opened the door, but Yui assumed that Sen had returned from helping their mother with spring planting.

"She's finally here."

She stopped midway through opening the door. It wasn't Sen. Yui glanced at the strangers, noting that the two of them were clearly ninja. Both were abnormally pale with pitch-black hair and matching, dark eyes. Their armor was a mix of gray and blue, and they had swords hanging by their sides.

"Need help?" she asked. Yui flipped the sign outside to "closed" as she shut the door behind her.

The taller man with a mane of wild hair stepped forward. On his right shoulder pad was an emblazoned fan. Over the last several years, Yui had gotten better at recognizing the people of different nations and the ninja of different clans, and she was almost certain that these two were Uchiha.

"My brother is hurt," announced the man, cold and unyielding. His pale, sculpted features lended a disdainful tinge to his scrutiny. "Give him the best treatment you have."

She nodded, somewhat intimidated by his overwhelming presence. Yui stepped forward to examine the smirking younger man with due haste. As she came closer, Yui realized that the two men weren't as old as she'd first thought. They were likely in their late teens, about the same age as her.

"Brother, don't scare off the poor little healer," said her patient, chuckling. "There's no need to be so terrifying to everyone."

The other ninja simply scoffed as Yui began the examination. Her fingers ghosted over the burns and scrapes on his arms. They were all superficial, but they extended to his shoulders and looked rather painful.

"I will put some salve and bandage them," she murmured to the younger teen.

"Please do!" he said with a wider smirk as his brother glared.

While doing her utmost to ignore the other shinobi's intimidating visage, Yui grabbed the cloth and energy-infused ointment. She wouldn't normally use her special medicine for injuries like these, but Yui thought it best to placate the already tense ninja. If they wanted her best, she'd give it to them. As she cleaned the wounds, Yui couldn't help but listen to their conversation.

"If it wasn't for Hashirama, I'd have been right there, and you wouldn't have gotten wounded."

She very carefully did not react to the name. Yui didn't know if it was a common one among ninja—could they possibly be talking about the strange shinobi that she knew?

"Don't worry about it. I'm fine! I just didn't expect for his damn brother to use fire release. How many elements does that bastard know?"

She began placing the salve, and the teen gasped and jerked away. His brother was behind her before she could even breathe. Yui could feel his fingers on her shoulder, and she froze. Yui had noticed that ninja were initially a bit twitchy when she used her special salve, and she'd suspected that it had something to do with life energy, but no one had overreacted to this degree.

"Izuna, what is it?" he snarled.

"No, no, I'm alright! It's just…" her patient—whose name was apparently Izuna—stared at her, "the ointment has chakra."

His brother stepped back, and Yui let out a breath.

"What?" said the older one, skeptical.

He grabbed the jar from her and scooped some salve out with his fingers instead of using the conveniently placed spoon. Though the tension in the room was tangible and life-threatening, Yui was still annoyed. She didn't want any cross-contamination because of ninja getting their grubby hands in her medicine. The man's eyes widened slightly as he rubbed the ointment between his fingers.

"See?" Izuna almost crossed his arms, wincing as he remembered the injuries covering them.

"You weren't lying." He set the jar down and stared at Yui. "How in the world did you, a peasant healer in the middle of nowhere, learn how to use chakra to heal?" He didn't say it dismissively but in a matter-of fact manner, as if describing the weather or the color of grass.

"Chakra?" She frowned. "Is that related to life energy?"

The two brothers exchanged looks.

"Life energy. How quaint." The man raised an eyebrow. "The proper term for it is chakra. How did you learn to use it? And what is its purpose in this medicine?"

It seemed like ninja were familiar with… chakra, as they called it. Perhaps they used it to achieve all the fantastical feats that were attributed to them.

"I was taught by the healer before me. It speeds the healing a little." It was no miracle solution, but her patients healed about ten-percent faster when she used it. Yui kept her face blank as she removed the spoon and pushed the lid on the jar. She turned to her patient. "I will have to use a different ointment to avoid infection."

"Why?" asked Izuna.

"It's..." Yui paused, not knowing the right word, "it's dirty, now." She grabbed another jar of the same salve and finished her task in silence. Assuming that the wounds didn't get infected, they would heal quickly and without extensive scarring.

"My goodness," drawled the older brother, looking almost amused as he gave her completed work a once-over. "I'm almost impressed by your handiwork. A competent healer with the ability to use chakra is such a rarity. Perhaps we should bring you back with us."

Yui flinched back, her hand reflexively touching her bruised, still-healing cheek. Her eyes darted to the poison behind the vase as she was reminded of the bandit who'd threatened to do the same.

"I'm more useful here, and this time of year is real busy, with all the births," she said, voice shaking despite her best efforts. "Seiko and Aoi are due any day, and three more women are expecting, and with the beginning of spring planting, there'll be more accidents in the field. My village needs me now. If, if you can please let me stay…"

The two brothers exchanged another, longer look.

"I meant it only as a jest," murmured the older one, inclining his head. "We have no desire to actually spirit you away."

Yui gave a short nod in acknowledgement and glanced away. Despite their profession, she had rarely felt threatened by the ninja she'd treated. These were no real exception. They were intimidating, yes, and the older one in particular had a focused kind of intensity that commanded everyone's attention and made her a little nervous. Still, they'd been courteous the entire time. To her embarrassment, she may have slightly overreacted to his innocuous comment.

"So, what other ointments do you have? Do they also have chakra?" Izuna's attempt to change the subject was obvious, but Yui was no less relieved.

"Some of them. Others don't." She began listing the different medicines she had, their ingredients, and their purpose. Reciting the various herbs and components was familiar and soothing. Yui felt her fear begin to subside."... with the addition of mint and lavender for the smell," she finished.

"Impressive." Izuna flexed his arm to test his range and ease of movement. The cloves in the ointment had likely numbed the pain, but it was best to avoid opening the injuries again. Yui gave him a disapproving look and shook her head. With a sheepish grin, he lowered his arms.

"Healer, you share all this information so easily," said the still-nameless ninja, his lips twitching with what appeared to be amusement. "Aren't you afraid of people stealing it and making their own?"

"No." She gave him a dubious glance as she began cleaning up.

"Why not?"

"Because," Yui said slowly, "if they wanna know, I'll just tell them."

Medical information was not meant to be hoarded. That defeated the entire purpose of accessible medical care. She had no problem with people wanting to make and learn about medicine. If anything, Yui encouraged it.

The man stared at her for several moments, his mild condescension replaced by disbelief. His brother seemed just as baffled.

"That's… not the best way to run a business," said Izuna.

"I'm not running a business." Yui stepped back after her once over, satisfied with her work. "I'm not here to make money."

"What?" Izuna raised both eyebrows and stared at his brother. "I thought Akio was making shit up when he said the healer didn't charge anything. Maybe he wasn't lying."

The other man blinked. "It can't be true. That's nonsense." He turned the full force of his unnerving gaze on her, and Yui felt a jolt of fear again. "How much do we owe you?"

Yui looked away and swallowed. "As much as you wanna give. If you don't wanna pay, you don't got to."

His eyes narrowed. "Are you making a joke?" His already deep voice dropped further in pitch. "What are you trying to imply?"

She shook her head. "Nothing like that. I don' mean it like that," she assured hastily. "But if you're not wanting to pay, you—" Yui paused, let out a shaky breath, and continued at a slower pace. "If you wanna give something, you can. Most do. Some do before healing, some after, and some not at all. I'm not gonna make you pay anything."

"So you have no guarantees?" asked the shinobi. He frowned. "What if someone promises to pay and then reneges?"

Yui tilted her head at the unfamiliar word, but context clues were enough for her to guess at the meaning. "Then they don't pay. It's based on honor, really."

She'd treated people destitute enough that a payment would devastate their life, and from them, she'd refused to accept anything. She'd also had wealthy merchants who, upon hearing that the medical care was technically free, had left without paying a dime. However, the vast majority of people paid at least something. They would technically be in her debt if they didn't. In this feudal society, honor was an important—if not the most vital—part of society. There weren't background checks here; reputation was all anyone could go on.

"Don't you know?" The man's tone was darkly sardonic, but his expression was blank. "Ninja don't have honor."

"That's not true." Immediately, Hashirama's words came to mind, as did the quiet loyalty most ninja gave in return for healing. Yui rubbed her clammy hands together, but she continued regardless of the older Uchiha's intensity. "They've got their own sense of honor... based on family, uh," she cleared her throat, "instead of a written code."

The pressure in the room alleviated somewhat. The man chuckled, looking at her distantly. "How strange." He rubbed his forehead, though his smile lingered. "Someone once said the same thing to me before. You remind me..." He grimaced. "Regardless, it isn't relevant."

It was Izuna's turn to look displeased. "Healer, so you treat anyone who walks in through your door?" he asked with an oddly sharp edge.

She nodded.

"Everyone? Any ninja who needs help?" His eyes narrowed, and he stepped forward.

Yui raised her head. In this matter, she would not be intimidated. She met his unnerving gaze straight-on. "Everyone." The single word held all of her conviction. "Merchant, peasant, and ninja alike."

"Even Senju?"

"Everyone," she repeated firmly.

His brother put his hand on the younger one's shoulder. "Little brother, let us put this matter to rest. I doubt that this healer will be swayed to do otherwise." He turned to face her, and his eyes were softer than before. "I am Madara," he said, finally introducing himself. "Do you sell the chakra-infused salves?"

"I do. But unlike treatment, they're extra." Yui wasn't that generous. The salves took time and energy, and giving them away would mean less stock to treat others with. Doubly so with the chakra infused ones.

Madara gave a short nod. "So, to the matter of payment. I posses no currency at the moment, and I doubt Izuna does either."

"No, I don't. As strange as it seems, I rarely bring coins with me to the battlefield," Izuna said with a sardonic lilt.

Madara ignored his brother. "Do you accept alternate forms of payment?"

She nodded again.

"Very well." His gaze dropped to her cheek. "Who injured you?"

She stopped part way through cleaning the table. "Why do you wanna know?"

"As I said. Payment." Madara pushed back the fringe covering his eyes, and… though Yui would never call him gentle, the intensity she'd seen in his face became a bone-deep sincerity.

Yui grimaced. She didn't want to remember it. The less she thought about it, the better. Still, Yui described the man in slow, halting speech. The encounter was burned into mind regardless, and if her help could lead to those bandits' capture, Yui would do what she could. She gave every detail she remembered, down to the large emerald ring on his finger. The two ninja listened intently, but to her surprise, Madara gave a low chuckle after she finished.

"How fortuitous," he murmured under his breath. He continued, louder. "Very well. I swear on my… honor," his lip twisted upwards at that word, "as an Uchiha that I will pay you for my brother's treatment and a jar of salve."

Yui hesitated. While she didn't mind waiting for payment given in return for medical treatment, she usually asked for something upfront when it concerned the tinctures and salves she made.

Madara drew a short blade from his sleeve and placed it on the table. "Collateral," he said. "I shall return, healer." Beside his brother, Izuna inclined his head.

Yui nodded. To her utter lack of surprise, the two men took that opportunity to vanish, leaving the faint sensation of life energy—or chakra, as they'd called it—lingering by her door. She sighed and glanced at the table. The jar of salve was missing, too. Yui picked up the knife that had replaced it. The blade gleamed in the fading light.

Though Yui didn't know much about weapons, even she could tell that it was very high quality. The knife would certainly come in handy for the impromptu surgeries she did. It looked much sharper than her old, iron one. Honestly, it was enough payment, but Yui doubted that the two ninja would agree with her assessment.

While ninja were warriors, Yui had rarely seen any as forceful and self-assured as the brothers that had arrived, especially the older one. She had a feeling that this wouldn't be the last she'd see of them.

The door opened again. "Sorry for disturbing you, sis!" panted Sen, peeking in. "I saw that the sign was closed, but Kiko is going into labor, and early, too!"

Yui set the knife down on the table and got back to work.

AN: Wow. I was rather blown away by the response from everyone. Thank you so, so much for the follows, reviews, and favorites. I'm very flattered. I've also decided to expand the fic to five chapters... yes, I know. I'm not trying to bloat it. I swear that I have it all plotted out. I just underestimated how long each scene would be.

I've made a short post on t̶u̶m̶b̶l̶e̶ t̶u̶m̶b̶l̶e̶r̶ my tumblr page? Blog? What do you call that? Anyway, I posted there (with the username sage-thrasher) about some of the decisions going into the fic. In other words, crossbows, stethoscopes, and a little elaboration on the world-building/banditry. I didn't want to make the author's note too long (though it already is), so I stuck it there.

As for romance, I got an avalanche of wonderful comments concerning it. Some opposed, some for, and quite a few offered potential pairings. For now, I'll keep an ambivalent mind, but if there's some chemistry developing between certain characters, do let me know.

Special thanks to DianaMoth and Enbi for beta-reading. They're incredible writers (take a look!), and I'm very grateful for their help. Also, much thanks to you, my wonderful readers, for reading and your encouragement.