CHAPTER TWO

She had found the graves of her parents. Shallow, right off the road, but it's hard to see when one was running sixty kilometers an hour. It was the buzzards and the flies that alerted her and her heart dropped right into her heels. She hadn't been that close to them, having been heartbroken and angry for so long, but she had loved them like a cousin or close aunt and uncle. The thing that stuck out, though, was that there were only two graves.

Where was the retainer?

Or did one of her parents survive?

Hope beat painfully against her ribs and she sped up a little, knowing her parents would go to the village if they had no other way. The cart was lighter somehow in her rush to the West Gate. Only, she was stopped. "Papers?"

Akio had been to the village a grand total of four times since she was five, always with her parents, and well before she was supposed to carry her own papers. In fact, her parents probably still had her papers and there was no way she was going to rob their corpses for a piece of stupid shit like that. Huffing and ignoring how her eyes seemed ready to spill over, she grit her teeth and shook her rickshaw. "This asshole is the only reason I'm even here. My parents are likely dead on the side of the road unless one got away, and our retainer is either dead with them or elsewhere. They would have any papers."

The man hummed, a little pale suddenly. "And your rank?"

"Civilian farmer."

There is a moment of quiet, a stillness of a startled predator. Yeah, she had a ninja-dropout or whatever in her cart - that didn't make the guy any more special than the run of the mill civilian bandit if he didn't use caution and common sense. They always underestimated a good hard worker and a gardening tool in the hands of someone used to cutting vegetables, not people. Rosco yapped, loud and sharp like a reprimand. Akio turned to him.

"Do not start, mister. I know you don't like it, but it's bureaucracy to help the head not be overwhelmed. Military dictatorships are hard enough." The fluff ball calmed down with her calmer, firmer tone and started gnawing on the edge of the man's kimono. "Don't do that. Who knows where he's been."

The gate guard cleared his throat, looking at his clipboard before setting it down and looking at his partner. They both nodded and the one standing bowed. "Please, allow me to help you with your… cargo."

She looked at him, not impressed. "I can handle it. Just tell me where to drop him off and how to hire someone to cremate my parents. I would prefer a Uchiha; their fire techniques are superior to most anyone else and I think I can trust them not to be rude about my sudden and unwanted inheritance."

He backed up, hands raised with a small smile on his face. She was not fooled. "Be that as it may, having a woman cart a dead body through the streets wouldn't be good."

"Good thing he isn't dead. Yet."

His chest still rose and fell calmly, Rosco taking to her sandals instead of the man's clothing. At least she liked being barefoot most of the time. She was not getting those sandals back in one piece. Sighing, she tilted her head to the gate. "Which way to the building? Or should I take him to the hospital?"

The ninja on guard seemed perturbed and unsettled. Akio had no idea why.

"Right this way, Farmer-san." Akio followed.

The way was a winding trip to the center, passing small children running rampant, vendors hawking wares and services, and mostly women out shopping and running errands. She curled her lip is disgust when one man solicited a woman who was clearly uncomfortable with his advances. She stopped, watching and waiting for someone to help. No one seemed to even notice and that just… on top of everything else, she felt wrath like flames in her breast, like an inferno in a wind tunnel. Dropping her rickshaw for a moment, she calmly stepped over to the duo.

"What are you doing with my girlfriend?"

The man flinched upright from his looming position, a little too red in the face to be natural. He was drunk. It wasn't even that late! The smell was without a doubt alcohol of some sort. Was this allowed in the village? Disgusting. Throwing a careful arm around the smaller woman, Akio pulled her closer, hand respectfully between ribs and hip. Leaning towards the drunkard, the robust woman sneered at him.

"Buzz off, little fly. You are not wanted here."

The man grew belligerent, furious enough that he went puce with it. "Thash muh whore."

Would decking the offensive man be worth it? Would it be allowed? Was she sure she cared? Looking at the quiet, trembling woman with the straightest dark hair and deep indigo eyes, she decided that yes, it was worth it but most likely not allowed. "You have one chance. Leave or I will hurt you."

The man slurred something incomprehensible as he raised his own hand. Smiling at the opening, she kicked him. His knee when back and he went down with a screech of pain. Snorting at the figure as he rolled around, she let go of the woman and stepped back to bow. "Please accept my apologies for laying my hand upon you without permission. I could not stand back and watch something happen to you."

Standing back up, she was treated to a deep blush, indigo eyes almost teary. "Thank you so very much. I am sorry you saw me in such a state."

Akio smiled, soft and warm. "Don't worry about it. You deserve to be treated like the lovely lady you are." She looked over her shoulder at her escort, the man covering his face with a hand in exasperation. "I do have to be somewhere for a moment. Would you like to walk with me?"

The cheeks of the pretty, pretty girl darkened into a proper blush. "Please."

Offering the smaller woman her arm, she lead her to the rickshaw. Folding out a small table, she helped the woman onto it. It didn't hold much weight, just a few hundred pounds, but this woman didn't look like she weighed more than a bushel of soybeans soaking wet. Taking back up the handles, Akio waited for her escort to gather himself. He did with a sigh, stalking off with the most troubling woman known to humanity behind him. Akio just used common sense - that made her dangerous. This time, the route seemed more streamlined, as if her escort wanted to be rid of her.

Arriving at the main building in the village, Akio helped the pretty woman from her cart, bowing low in an European bow, lips pressed to the soft skin of the woman's hand before walking off, hauling the deadweight on her shoulder with Rosco at her heels. She never once looked back, ready to be done with this village. If she had, she would have seen wide, bright eyes and a blush so heavy it turned even the tips of the pretty woman's ears red. Her escort did see and took notes for himself, fighting not to flush as he realized what he was doing. Clearing his throat, he lead the way inside and up the stairs.

"Drop him off here. The healers will tend to him and we can see about your bounty."

Akio blinked, stopping as she put her hands on her hips, Rosco sitting like a cotton ball between her feet. "Are you serious?"

The man nodded and she sighed, rubbing her face. "I just want my parents taken care of. What is this shit."

Still, she decided to follow. Before long, wailing could be heard. It was that fake crying that she hated, the kind that grated on the ears and made you want to smack someone. It was also familiar. Too familiar. Out stripping her guide, she made it to the door to see her parents' retainer, pristine and pretty and holding onto a bag that was full of valuables from her parents. She recognized the bracelet that fell from the lip of the bag, the sleeve of the kimono her mother favored. This woman shouldn't have them, her mother wouldn't have let her have it at all. The woman was little more than a maid, but she still made Akio bristle.

Around her neck was her mother's missing necklace, her ear full of the pretty baubles her father had bought mother. Her hair with the hairpin Akio herself had carved laboriously for months.

"Thief."

The word her mouth without permission but that didn't make it any less true. "Murderer. Thief. Dumbass ." Each word had the woman paling. Now she knew why the man looked kind of familiar - he had to be related to this viper of a woman. "You didn't think your dearest brother or cousin or whatever he is, could kill me too, did you?"

She turned, all dramatics gone. Her face was cold and angry and fearful. "You."

"Me," Akio replied, calm and banked with a rage that went straight from hot to freezing cold. "Nice try, by the way. Mother and Father had noticed how things went missing. The necklace around your neck, the earrings, the hairpin I carved for three months. I was wary, of course. The dogs that were vicious with you, growling and snarling. Trying to kill them when my parents didn't get rid of them for your delicate sensibilities." She started to stalk inside, ignoring her escort and the others in the room. "Thought you could kill us off and seize the land? How stupid do you think these people are?"

"If you would have just died like a good girl, I wouldn't have had to resort to this."

She snorted at the thought, smiling. "The poison water? The poisoned food? The poisoned hairpins? Once I found out your mode of operations, it was easy to avoid it. It's why I took over so much of the work in the house. You couldn't risk poisoning the land without damaging what you wanted and the dogs were too smart to eat your shit."

The woman screeched suddenly, flying at her with rage and a dagger. Akio didn't so much as flinch with the wrath of a death god under her skin, fires burning blue in her breast as she sidestepped and punched the once retainer in the face, teeth flying. Akio shook out her hand a little, indents of teeth in the knuckles. When the woman tried it again, she kicked her in the face, then the ribs, knocking the breath from her and sending her to the floor. Stepping on the wrist attached to the hand strangling the knife handle, Akio plucked it from her fingers and tossed it.

"I hate stupid people. Currently, that is you," she hissed, grinding her foot a little to the breathless, real wails of pain from her captive. "Fuck you."

There is a moment where the only sound is the woman's sobbing wails before the room is active again. Looking at her guide, Akio saw him, once again hand over his face, sighing deeply. She shrugged when he looked, Rosco by his feet as she dealt with the woman who had… had killed her parents. For a little gain. The rage inside banked as tears welled up.

"She killed them. For being good farmers."

Akio didn't mean to, but when the first tear fell, that was it. She cried. She cried like her world was ending. Like she had lost everything. For her, she had. She had lost the only human connection in this world she had and couldn't help the ugly, awful sobs that clogged her throat. Standing in a room of strangers and a betrayer, she mourned the two people who had loved her and only wanted her happy.

She hadn't deserved their love but she had held it close. Now she wouldn't have it ever again.