Away they went. This trip had been long a time in the making; years, maybe a decade. Why had they continued to push it off? This question ping-ponged around her mind. It was answered with a chorus of excuses; first it was marriage, then the twins, then little Kurumi. The Raikageship too. Other milestones emerged in between these moments, but they all led to the same place: not visiting that place. Speaking of it was veritable taboo; so Shi carefully tiptoed around it, focusing on family life and settling into Kumogakure. Three small children meant there was little time for much else; a useful distraction with such an elephant in the room.
But then her husband made the announcement; they were going to visit. While Shigemi thought about figuring out what changed his mind, she decided against it, assuming it would jeopardize the trip. Besides, she wanted to see who the woman was that had her father-in-law head over heels. As nice as it was listening to his copious stories, Shigemi wanted to meet in person. What would her mother-in-law think of her? And the children? Her calm slowly deteriorated as this questions came to mind. In an effort to recover that calm, she settled on her sleeping infant's face, staring at the child's cheeks, begging to be pinched.
Just more than a few years had gone by since that day of cataclysm. A day solely remembered by it's ability to take everything one thought they knew and flip it on its back. Or at it felt that way to Karai. For most of his life he went questioning the very cause of his existence. Seeing at a young age that there was something peculiar about his speck of brown in the vast sea of his white family. Less than satisfied with the answers he desperately sought, Karai's relationship status with his birth mother in simpler terms is one of distance, despite knowing her for a little over half a decade. But no matter the feelings toward his mother, Karai felt that it was essential that his children learned of their roots.
Traveling by cruise --which in part was a little too extravagant for his personal liking-- Karai found himself as calm as could be, unlike his spouse, whose mind wondered endlessly about the awaiting in-law. Cuddling up to her and the baby ever so lovingly, the man brought his soft almond coloured eyes to meet Shi's own. "Everything going to be fine. My mother was excited to hear I was coming so an extra five heads is going to be a field day for her." He reassured, lightly pecking her forehead. A loud snore pulled his attention just over a shoulder, relieving a soft laugh after noticing his doting father in a tangled mess of small children.
"We will arrive in just a few minutes, sir." The attendant spoke abruptly, respectfully bowing as she exited the cabin.
Shigemi nodded, snuggling closer while watching the rise and fall of Kurumi's chest. The loud snore of Seishi proved an additional relief; a smile broke before fading, as she thought of the one still missing. Last they heard, the woman had been seen in the far north of Lightning Country, before the path went cold.
The attendant's announcement refocused her; now wasn't the time for sad thoughts, not with new people to meet. Tomorrow, she'd worry about such things.
"By the gods if everything is not ready by the time my son makes it here the tree will be getting new roots tonight!" Her voice boomed as she stormed the halls of the palace. To say she was thrilled would be one harsh understatement. Other than a few touch in visits, Kirei's relationship with her son had not grown much since their initial meeting. It was sad yet she understood that it would take some time for them to actually bond, it was the only thing she could ever hope for. On even such a short notice, she wanted nothing less than the best to accommodate him and his guests. She prepped hours on end for the halls, pictures, rooms, entertainment and even the town had to be perfect. Everything have to be perfect. Her blue acrylics tapped the chair's armrests as her long mystic white hair cascaded down toward her lap. Her excitement rose and fell just as quickly as her second born entered the throne room.
"Mother, drink some water." The lass said sharply, handing her mother a glass of fresh spring water. "You are exerting yourself far too much. Karai may not know us much but it is a gentle soul, his father did well raising him. So he would notice all the effort and hopefully all the extra effort too." Her eye roll caught an unamused sigh from her mother's person.
"Kiyome, i just want him to like it here." She admitted almost in a whine. "All I want is for us to bond, I want to be his confident and backbone. And yes, that Seishi, he did good by our son."
"You want a Mama's boy but you and I both know it's way too late for that." Kiyome sneered, teasing her mother. "You can't overcompensate for lost time. Just make do with the time you have now, otherwise you'll end up hurting yourself."
"Oh hush!" The mother said with a bit of laughter, fanning her daughter away. "You dare preach to me. YOUR QUEEN."
"I'm going to go greet them now." Kiyome said rolling her eyes once more before turning away. "You stay here and try not to sweat out of that designer dress while having a panic attack. Good luck."
As they disembarked, Shigemi stopped to appreciate the abundance of nature around them. Unlike the stark cliffs, rock faces and mountains of Kumogakure, there was a multitude of fauna to be found, from gently rolling hills of green, to valleys of flowers. Trees too; it reminded her of home in that way. Though they didn't have the luxury of a waterfront.
Steeling herself, a still sleeping Kurumi in hand, she began to walk.
Meanwhile, a little ways behind her, Kokoro held her father's hand, before pointing at the landscape. Having rarely seen trees and foliage in Kumo, the sheer number filled her expression with wonder and delight. "Tree!" She felt an urge to climb it, but relented at her mother's knowing glance. A small pout followed before she brightened again, taking in the rising town.
"Whew." Seika yawned, stretched wildly cracking some stiff joints before sighing in relief. "I think that was a good trip, very nice view of the ocean."
Karai scoffed a tiny bit while giving his dad a side eye. "The only thing you saw was the back of your lids. I was amazed about the kids slept through your snoring. My ears are still ringing."
"You didn't seem to care while your munchkins were out of your hair, now did you?" The absence of a response sufficed as its own answer. Taking in the air fully, Seika couldn't help but smile while examing beautiful terrain, it truly never gets old visiting this place. Feeling as if he had forgotten something, the man looked about for his seemingly lost grandson. "Oh dear!" Seika exclaimed dramatic. "Where could the naughty Kanata have gone now?"
The mischievous child giggled hysterically, appearing from over the man's shoulder grabbing on his head. "I'm right here, Grandpa!" His laughter was cut short by the amazement of the gargantuan evergreen seen in the distance. "KOKO LOOK, BIGGER TREE!"
And in that distance, a figure soon came into clarity, appearing in the form of woman. Whose skin seemingly crafted of the finest milk chocolate. Her lips stretched upward as she approached the group, revealing a near perfect smile. "Well, look at what we have here!" The woman's voice because high pitched upon seeing the children up close, though she quickly went silence when noticing the youngest among them rest peacefully in her mother's arms. Kiyome hugged her brother tightly, lingering there for a few seconds before pulling away. "It's good to see you again, Elder Brother."
He reciprocated, genuinely finding joy in reuniting with his sister. "Same, Kiyome. You look amazing. The mature look really fits you."
"Mature? Nah, you got me beat, Mr Family Man." Turning toward Shigemi, Kiyome offered a similar experience to the man's wife adjusting just enough so that the baby slumber would go undisturbed. "Ahh, the wife. You are gorgeous. He's probably heard this from his other sister, but I definitely approve!"
Koko turned as she heard her twin brother's exclamation. Sure enough, the towering evergreen would appear in her view. "BIG TREE KAN!" she added affirmatively. However, her attention would be diverted upon the new arrival, staring up at the new woman. After hearing her address Karai as elder brother, the girl put two and two together.
"Auntie!!" She tackle hugged Kiyome's leg.
Shigemi's relief showed in a warm smile as she returned the hug, Kurumi shifting slightly before resuming her slumber. "You're beautiful yourself; Shigemi Amamoto. It's wonderful to meet you finally, Kiyome. I hope our visit wasn't on too short a notice."
With that, she launched into introductions. "The little girl hugging your leg is Kokoro. She's the oldest. Her twin brother Kanata is well...currently using his grandfather as a jungle gym. And this little one..is Kurumi." As if hearing her name called, the infant woke up, revealing striking indigo eyes. She babbled in baby talk before falling silent, watching Kiyome intently.
"Hey there little one." Kiyome said bending down to eye level with Koko before taking her into an embrace.
"Why thank you. And it is no worries of course, you're family after all." Regaining her stature, Kiyome tossed the bright eyed child on her hips before turning toward the other twin. "Well hi there," she sung while reaching out toward the boy.
"RAWRRR." He hissed, standing on all fours at the top of his Seika's head. "Any closer and I'll pounce!"
"Kan, be nice to your Aunt Kiyome." Seika reprimanded somewhat, picking the child of his head and down toward eye level. "Go on."
"Hi, Auntie." He said through squinted eyes, pulling a bit of laughter from the adults.
"Looks like we got ourselves a warrior. He keeps his guard up, I like that. And if course we can't forget about you, Seika." She said playfully, leaving a light peck on Kanata's head and hugging them both. Her excitement turned up a few gears as the baby awoke from her slumber, relieving angelic eyes that could warm even the coldest soul. "So precious!" Almost squealing whole caressing the baby's cheeks. It was then that after all the introductions the group resumed their travels to the palace. "Mother is very excited to see you. Of course I knew about the children and spouse, though I however I choose to leave those details out. Just to she her reaction."
"This will interesting to see, your mother is pretty melodramatic and hates surprises." Seika chimed through a snicker. "This is gonna be too good."
Karai paused for a second, turning toward his sister bearing a worried expression. "She does?"
"Which is exactly why I left it out." Kiyome face bore a wicked smile. "Don't worry, yourself, Kay. The worse thing could happen is her crying..... uncontrollably." She said opening the doors on the enchanted palace. "Welcome home, everyone."
Koko hugged her aunt back after being picked up. She shook her head at Kanata's antics, wagging a finger. "You woke up Kuru!" the girl complained, only to be struck by her baby sister's stare. It was clear the infant wasn't expecting to be surrounded by so many people. Still, the baby rewarded Kiyome's cheek pinching with a belly laugh.
As they continued along, the palace in question proved the latest thing to catch Kokoro's attention. "She lives in there? IT'S HUGE!" Her excitement bubbled over again.
A palace. There was no other way to describe the grand building that stood in front of them. While her husband had said his mother was wealthy, Shigemi hadn't anticipated this level of wealth. It was almost like-Shigemi stopped that thought before it could finish, focusing on the yawning entrance in front of the group. Her worry only multiplied when she heard her mother-in-law hated surprises; and crying uncontrollably? Not the best thing that could happen.
"Here goes." She started inside.
It was as if Karai could feel Shi's worry in all this, his eyes found hers once more and with a slight squeeze on her shoulder to indicate that thing would go smoothly. Upon entering inside, Karai noticed taht the place had changed very little since he had first visit. It was nothing short of beautiful, cascading with many different colors of many different flowers but of the most the white lily stood out. He looked about the group to see the awe taken faces of his children and wife, laughing in remembrance that too he bore similar expressions not long ago. Everything looked as though it costed a fortune, from the rugs, to pillars, and even tile all portrayed in shades of white. It was clear that white was her favorite color. "I see there as been minor changes." Karai joked a bit causing his sister to giggle.
"I'm surprised you could tell, mother typically hates rearranging, especially when it comes to her decor. If it's not completely outdated or unattractive she won't get rid of it. Kind of a brat really." Kiyome added laughing along with her brother. Not even I few seconds later the group entered room with a rather luxurious empty chair. Kiyome sighed in slightly annoyance followed by a bit of laughter. "Why's my mother? Did she run away again?" She shouted to no one in particular.
Karai smiled just a bit, finally noticing full on just how dramatic the woman is. And endearing feature that somewhat humanized the reigning monarch. "Looks like you weren't the only one nervous." The man said to Shigemi with a nudge.
She gave a slight squeeze back as they walked through the grand halls, Shigemi listening to Koko point out new and impressive details as she saw them. And there were no shortage of them; Shi cringed to imagine how much it cost to construct and maintain such a space.
Then her eyes fell on the grand, intimidating chair, set in a room that was easily the size of a house. She only half-heard Karai's words as she analyzed the space. Gargantuan? Yes. Equally large chair? Yes. It couldn't be......a throne room? The fine furnishings and ample space pointed to this; Shi hoped she was wrong.
"Where is she?" Shigemi asked, slowly returning from her racing thoughts as a picture constructed in front of her.
"Oh, Her Majesty will be back in a few." A few moments later, the source of the voice emerged, revealing a golden-brown haired woman with matching eyes. As soon as she spotted the group, she dropped into a half-curtesy, half-bow. "Your Highnesses."
Her formality would be ruined by the woman's squeal however, as she saw the three children. She sped over to them. "And who are these adorable tots?"
Shigemi paled. "Excuse me, but did she say Majesty and Highness?" Shi asked no one in particular.
"What was it, Chūgi? She ended up sweating out that dress, didn't she?" The woman laughed at her mother's misery. Turning to Shigemi, Kiyome seemed confused just a bit. "Why yes? Your husband didn't mention that he was a prince to our mother, the Queen?"" Her almond eyes travel to meet Karai's matching ones.
Chūgi smirked. "What else would it be? You know how Her Majesty is," she responded, making silly faces at Kurumi. She'd earn a few giggles.
"Ehh, I didn't really think it was important." He offered, snatching the back of his head. "How does even casually bringing up being royalty?"
Seika let out a hearty laugh, clapping Karai's back lightly. "Be easy on him guys. My boy has always been the humble lot.
Through their conversation, the woman of topic enter the room quietly leaving a moment to take in the beautiful scene. The range of skin tones brought small tears to her eyes as she examined her son and his family. Despite her anxiety, Kirei was handling the situation surprisingly well. Perhaps all she needed was to actually see him in order to feel better, all had seemed good. And it was amongst the conversation that Kanata managed to slip away from the group, making his way to the over to woman. Her eyes lit upon gazing at the precious child.
"You look a lot more like my dad than grandpa does." He said suddenly with his head slightly tilted sideways. "Are you my grandma?"
She reached down to embrace the child, using her thumbs to trace the outline of his face. "Why yes, I am." Her eyes watered a little more after picking him up. The child was mesmerized by the tone her hair unable to keep himself from playing with it. She was gorgeous. "My son." It was then that her voice began to crack as she approached the group with Kanata in her arms. "Hi everyone."
Karai turned toward the voice to find his son laced to his mother. "Hey mother." He said with a slight smile. "Surprise." Seeing that the emotion was starting to become a bit overwhelming for her, he stepped forward to hug his mother firmly. "Tears of joy, I hope?"
"Absolutely!" she said sniffling wiping away a single tears. "All these beautiful babies...and look," extending her arm toward Shigemi in an attempt to hug. "The mother is just gorgeous. I'm so happy so see all of you."
Shigemi paled even further, her suspicions confirmed. "How is something like that not important?" She hissed out of the side of her mouth, "now she'll think her daughter-in-law rude for not bringing a gift of some sort."
She would stand almost ramrod straight upon realizing the queen herself had arrived, only relaxing when she saw Kanata happily playing with his grandmother's hair. Shigemi offered a smile. "It's wonderful to meet you finally; I apologize for not bringing a gift. Someone neglected to inform me of your status. I hope you can forgive me," the woman said, accepting the hug.
"There you are my queen," Chūgi added, extended a curtesy and bow to the monarch before squealing again. "Aren't they precious?" She returned to her game of peek-a-boo with Kurumi.
Koko, meanwhile, remained mesmerized by the gravity defying white locks of her grandmother. Though in her aunt's grasp still, Kokoro attempted to touch a few strands as the queen came closer. "Be-aut-i-ful," she sounded out the word, looking pleased with herself for saying it correctly.
"A gift? Oh dear, you've brought me three amazing gifts here today." Kirei objected, taking the young Koko from her daughter. "Indeed they are, Chuugi. Goodness, I'm in love with them. Go on little one, you can touch too." Her smile fell upon Shigemi once more."Do be easy on him, darling. He isn't use to the all of the titles yet."
"Sorry, Shi. If I had you would've been even more freaked out." Karai offered giving his wife a pair of puppy eyes, entangling himself behind her. "Mother, this is Shigemi, my wife." Looking down to the baby, he made couple of kissing noises to kick out some laughter. "Our newest edition, Kurumi. And the two you're holding are Kokoro and Kanata, they're actually twins." The man couldn't help but smile after seeing Kirei's reactions to their names. " I thought it would be a good fit."
'Kokoro.." She looked down at the girl. "It's such a beautiful name. "A nice tribute your aunt, thank you, my dear." Despite her previous anxiety it was safe to say that Kirei was in utter happiness, surrounded by her children and grandchildren made her heart bleed with emotion. She took one more sweep of the room, noticing a familiar figure that tried to fade out from the scene. "I can't say that I'm totally surprised you're here, Seika. Part of me wondered when you would visit."
"Well, I was thinking that I could use a vacation." The man said after his cover was blown causing him to reemerge into the group. "I just figured now is as good as any." The room had grown extremely thick with tension as the two past lovers locked gazed for a moment. It was still very clear that despite being apart for so long the love share between them was as strong as ever.
Kokoro obliged, touching Kirei’s hair. “It’s so soft!!!” she exclaimed, touching it again. Wanting to braid it, she realized she didn’t know how. So, she returned to playing. The girl remained oblivious to the thick tension emanating between her grandfather and grandmother. “What do you like to do?” she asked Kirei.
Kurumi settled into being the center of attention rather quickly, babbling to Chūgi as the maid tickled her.
Chūgi paused from this as soon as she picked up on the tension. “Well well, looks like that special someone finally returned; after all these years of hiding,” she noted, her tone cheeky.
Shigemi almost sagged with relief at Kirei’s graciousness. “They are precious; my three bundles of joy.” The woman threw Karai a potent stink-eye before relenting. Her eyebrow raised as she felt the environment change upon Seika being noticed. It proved enough to draw her interest, especially as Chūgi added her own two cents. Shi suspected there were quite a few crying sessions.
"Well little Koko, I am a woman of many hobbies because sometimes ruling a nation can be really boring." Kirei giggled rubbing her nose against Koko's. "But if I had to pick, I'd say that my favorite thing to do is find new ways to style my hair. It's been a while since I've had braids, would you like for me to teach you?" Kirei eyes sharply glared at Chuugi. "Chuu, you really didn't have to bring that up." She whined, feeling almost embarrassed.
"Special someone? I wouldn't call it that much." Seika said, breaking his eyes away after getting a side glance from Karai. "Kirei and I have.....history. Yep. That's the way I'm looking for."
Kiyome interjected, throwing her hands in front of Seika. "Aht aht! No need to be modest, dearest Seika. This can actually be good for my mother after the whole scandal with my father trying to overthrow her. This eould be perfect to get her mind off it. So by all means, please."
Karai's annoyance was signified by his twitching brow. "Come you guys, this isn't about my parents rekindling their lost love, this is about the children and Shigemi." He said, grabbing his wife's shoulders.
Koko clapped her hands. "Yes!! When? When?" she exclaimed, before giggling back as she continued the nose rub.
"Oh but I did Your Majesty," Chuugi responded, wiggling her eyebrows, "how many times did you sob into my chest? All the late night snacks? You made him sound like the gods' gift to earth." She pretended to steal Kurumi's nose, the baby's face alight with curiosity as Chū cooed softly.
"Oh but I think it is; this story sounds juicy if your sister and Chūgi have anything to say about it. Besides, a little family history could be good; isn't that why we brought the children here?" Shi countered, another eyebrow raise present.
Kirei's own eyes began to twitch as the group itself wanted more details about she and Seika's past. "I can surely teach you before your trip is over," her voice sounded strained, she turn toward her maid with a contorted face of malice. "Chuu-san, who you like to become a new root?"
"Gods' gift you say!?" Seika ears had perked up at that particular line. "Sheez, now I'm intrigued to hear the story myself. I think this would be a golden opportunity for me to understand our relationship for your perspective." He would began to laugh but was silenced Kirei cold stare. "I don't wanna become a root."
"I was referring to the Land and history vof the clan, not my mother's and father love life." He pouted pressing his head towards the back of Shigemi's.
Shigemi smiled slightly. "But your mother and father's love life is part of that history right? Otherwise you wouldn't be here," she responded, pressing closer. The woman handed a wide-eyed Kurumi to Chū, who proceeded to bounce the child gently.
Chuugi smirked. "Do you know many times you threatened me with that as a child/teen, Your Majesty?" she managed to fit Kuru into a one armed cradle so she could wag a finger at the queen, "you still have yet to do it. Besides, this little tot already likes me. Isn't that right Ruru?" She received an affirmative babble, before nuzzling the infant.
"Yay!!" Koko added before patting her grandmother as she picked up on the woman's strain, "Is it that bad grandma?" the girl, tilting her head slightly.
"That's really beside the point, Shigemi. You just want "the tea"." Karai said with quotations, attempting to stray away from the tales of his parents love. If he was being totally honest, he could go his entire life without knowing of how he came to be given how things ended up soon after.
Kirei smiled at the little girl. "Not bad, it was just a tough time." She admitted. Seeing that some time had passed since Karai and his family's arrival, an idea came her mind. "I'll tell you all what. You guys go get settled in and we'll discuss details of your father's relationship with me over a nice dinner."
"Way to dodge a bullet, Mom." Kiyome laughed somewhat as she started toward the door.
Shigemi shook her head. "It's not tea if it's how you came to be," she responded before nodding. "Fair enough." she took back Kurumi, seeing the baby yawn. "It's about time for her nap anyway."
She started towards the door. "I look forward to hearing how it all went."
Koko remained attached to her grandmother, causing Chūgi to laugh. "Looks like you found two new fans," she commented before turning to leave. She then thought of something.
"Would you like me to show them to their rooms Your Majesty?"
"It seems so. But yes, if you could," Kirei laughs end sudden as she just remembered that they're wouldn't be rooms for the children due to her absence foreknowledge. "Oh goodness," she started up again, somewhat eyeing Kiyome for not telling her. "The children don't have their own spaces! I didn't decorate their rooms or ANYTHING!" the woman became to freak out, causing an erupture of laughter from her second born.
"Don't worry, Mother." Kiyome said through finishing her laugh, wiping away a single tears. "I had Karai's room modified to accommodate all of his family."
The side eye grew more intense as the empress huffed. "You better have. You sneaky snake!"
"It's fine really," Karai said with a smile, walking over to his mother. "They'll all somehow end up right in bed with us anyway. Can't seem to get them to sleep in their own rooms for anything." Though it was cute, it did cut into the parents own sleeping time. Even in attempts to break away from his huddle of body heat, Karai to find his escape into the living room --only to be joined by one of the children soon after. "Come on you two, let's go settle in and then you two can bother grandma all you want." He said reaching for the twins.
"No daddy! You will never take me!" Kanata roared, leaping from his grandmother's grasp before taking off in the fastest sprint his small legs should take him.
Chūgi bowed. "Then it shall be done. Come along; that includes you 'gods' gift'." She stifled a giggle as Kanata shot by her, attempting to evade his father's grasp while running the opposite way. "Wrong way little one."
Shigemi, meanwhile, rocked her daughter gently, Kurumi's eyes closing as the excitement wore off. She hummed a lullaby while doing so.
Kokoro refused to budge. "Noooo. I like it here," she complained, snuggling closer while ducking her father's hands.
Shi pretended to squint. "I guess neither of you want to spend dinner with us then; it's only a conversation for adults anyway." She began walking away, following Chūgi. A few moments later, she'd hear the sound of small footsteps running after her, Kokoro having dropped to the ground.
"Then behave; your grandmother is a very busy person who is generously making time for us." She shook her head before smiling. "Now hurry along; the sooner we're settled in, the sooner you can be back."
"Nooo you don't." The grandfather finally intervened, scooping the dashing Kanata up with relative ease. "You're not running away this time." Tossing the young boy over his shoulder, Seika followed the others out into the hall.
"Much appreciated, dearest Chuugi." Kirei nodded, smiling a tiny bit at the two troublesome refused to go back with their parents. "They are so adorable." Her heart warmed at the walked them walk away, just whispering to herself. "I'm so happy they're in my life."
"They are a mess." Karai laughed quietly as his stubborn children while standing next to his mother. "I'm glad to be here actually, it's been too long and I didn't want them to miss out of something great, ya know." He said to her, planting at light kiss on her cheek. "I'll see you at dinner."
Kiyome on the other hands was quite over the family festives, walking off in the opposite direction. "It was endearing to talk and all, but I'm gonna split for a bit. See you lovelies at dinner." Her voice faded as she disappeared with a slight finger wave.
Chuugi would continue to lead the cohort through the space, occasionally pointing out some obscure artistic or architectural detail.
"And here we are." Unlocking the entryway, she would throw open the doors to reveal what could only be described as a master bedroom. The sun streamed through the floor to ceiling windows, lighting the breathtakingly large space. Front and center was a california king sized bed, easily large enough to accommodate several people.
"This is where you will be staying for the time being. You'll have the entire wing to yourself; consisting of this room, and two adjoining rooms, all connected by hallways between so you don't have to trek outside," Chu placed the keys in Shigemi's hand.
"Alas, you'll have to content yourself with one of the side rooms. Unless, she invites you somewhere else of course," she added, patting Seika before wiggling her eyebrows teasingly.
"Anywho, if you need anything, just give a call; staff is always around, busying themselves with keeping this lovely place shining." With that she bowed once more. "See you at dinner Your Highnesses."
Kokoro would hear only half the head maid's speech, busy running back and forth through the rooms. She'd stretch her arms as wide as she could before falling back dramatically.
"IT'S SO BIGGGG."
"Let me go you big oaf!" Kanata hollered at Seika, slapping the back of the man's head in a fit. Eventually from his failed attempts he calmed down, throwing his small body across his grandpa's shoulder. "You're really no fun."
Seika ignored the boy's tantrum, remaining unfazed even through the assault. Despite his prior history with the royalty of the nation, Seika was never familiar with how they lived. The decor was something you'd see right out of a realtor magazine. Stunning would do too simple of a word. And despite being well of from his endeavors as an assassin for hire, Seika found himself just slightly envious of the ever luxurious palace. "If there were a kitchen in here this space would be an entire home." He couldn't help but laugh at Chuugi antics. "Ha. I doubt she'll want to go down that road again."
"GIANT BED WRESTLING!" Kanata shouted leaping from Seika's shoulder and onto Koko she fall into the bed. "Tap out!"
"Kanata get off your sister!" Karai approached from lagging behind, grabbing the mischievous lad by the back of the shirt, hoisting his squirming body in the air. "Looks like you'd rather sleep than join everyone at dinner. And Dad, don't give them ideas. Mother will do everything she can to keep us here."
The size and sheer number of covers threatened to swallow Kokoro whole. As Kanata fell towards her, she slowly rolled out of the way, before preparing a headlock for her twin. "NOOPE." However, her father grabbed Kanata before she was able to use it. "Whyyyyy. I was going to show off my new skill!"
Shigemi laughed again as she crossed the room. Finding an opulently designed crib close to the bed, she would lay Kurumi in its confines, swaddling her in the covers. While she was tempted to tell the two to pipe down, Kurumi had slept through thunderstorms and other natural phenomena like her father's snoring. Shi doubted the rough housing of her siblings would wake her.
She took a seat on the foot of the bed before suddenly grabbing her oldest daughter and mercilessly tickling her. "We should have asked Chuugi when dinner is," Shigemi noted, pausing from her tickle attack as Kokoro squealed.
"Would you rather it not be a surprise?" Seika asked while taking in the view of the outside world. "Given that you've been surprised sense our trip started. I think I'd like to see the surprise on your face, it's kinda funny."
"Let her alone." Karai nudged his father playful, joining him in looking out over the city. "She wasn't proper prepared to get brought into all of this." His hands motioned to their surroundings. "I'm still getting use it myself honestly."
Seika paused for a minute, thinking over the dramatic events that have covered the last few years of their lives. "Perhaps we are all getting use to the changes." His mind wandered off to his youngest. She had probably been through more than anyone. So much so that she has disappeared without a trace several years ago. Though with his past as a hired assassin, Seika knew how to keep tabs on someone without their knowledge. But even, he knew that he was the last person she ever wanted to see but as long as he knew she was alive, it was all really that mattered.
Shigemi huffed, deciding she had grown a bit rusty in the past few years. She was saved from giving a retort by her husband. Her temptation to still add one, however, dried up as she noticed the suddenly somber atmosphere. "Thinking about her again?" Not that she should be surprised; even though Shigemi had only known Mi for the briefest of times, it was clear the girl was the soul of the Amamoto household. A snarky, yet still considerate soul.
Koko moved to her mother's lap before taking a seat. "Thinking about who?"
"Your Aunt Mihaya, she's...going through a lot."
Kokoro frowned, sensing an increasingly sad atmosphere. "Where is she?"
"I think about her every waking moment." Seika replied shifting his attention to Koko. "Let's just say she's away," he bent down, coming to eye level with the bright eyed child. "But never too far." Running his fingers through Koko"s light colored hair. "She'll be back one day though, I can promise you that."
Karai stood quietly thinking on the situation on it's entirely. It was a tale of twists and turns, some ups and some downs in this journey of life. Losing the woman that practically raised him only to gain his birth mother, while his sister had no such luck. She witnessed the brutality in its entirety, as her mother's life stolen by her father while out of his comprehensible mind. It was enough to scare her away, far away. She kept very loose contact over the next half decade appearing to her brother in random visits but wanting none to do with their father. That day had changed so much for her and all Karai could do was wish he could rewind time to fix it -be there when she needed it- even if that meant losing the growing relationship he had with Kirei now.
The attention the room was turned back to Kanata with a loud smack, shortly followed by a giggles. "Got ya!" The boy laughed, looking as though he were glued to the back of his father's head.
Koko listened attentively before appearing to think. "We should make a big party for her when she returns!" she decided.
Shigemi hugged her daughter tightly. "That's a great idea. We'll start planning when we return home, ok?" She received an eager nod.
The tension in the room was released as Kanata did this, a small giggle from Kokoro, followed by a further laugh from Shi.
So that's what is ailing him. Chūgi thought, having listened in as she leaned against a wall outside. A wayward child was indeed troubling; she was certain there was far more to this story, but felt it wasn't her place to pry. At least, not more than she already had. The head maid continued down the hall, turning over the name of the missing girl, now woman. "Mihaya...."
A couple of hours had passed and before everyone knew it, that time rolled around the hour of feasting. And if you could tell by the expressions on their faces you could smell it all throughout the air. The dish on today's dinner was none other than one of tradition, one of the personal favorites of the queen majesty. And with how it tastes, it was sure to win the hearts of her kin with as little as a single bite. She summoned them all to the dining area, presenting them with the royal treatment and placed along the table. She had reserve a seating order with herself at the at the head, and her children on her right and left sides with the eldest to youngest respectively, anyone else was allowed to seat wherever they pleased.
"I hope you all are hungry because we have plenty." The woman stated as she made her way into the room. Her appearance drastically different from the elegant attire she wore earlier, taking a much more relaxed route. Her hair now encased in a knitted turban.
"That's great, because I can eat." Seika said after taking his seat at the table.
"I thought this would never come!" Kanata erupted, his mouth watering with anticipation.
Karai laughed at his son and father, shaking his head. "It smells amazing."
"This is a traditional dish, one often saved for special occasions. I hope you all enjoy this just as much as I do."
Kokoro hopped into her seat, buzzing with impatience as the smells of the waiting appetizers and entrees reached her nose. It took all of her will not to stretch across the table and grab an entire dish. "Is there anything to do? Or can we just start eating?"
Shigemi, meanwhile, was a mix of hunger and trepidation. She breastfed Kurumi before coming to dinner, and the baby was now spending time with her new favorite person in Chūgi. But that left this dinner; what was etiquette like? And while it certainly smelled good, what if she didn't appreciate the flavors properly? An abundance of spice in one dish had her nervous as well, since she suspected they were expected to taste each and every one of them.
She refocused. "I don't think you'll have to worry about leftovers. The twins alone nearly eat us out of house and home. Add their grandfather and well, you might have to worry if there will be any left for you," Shi added, smiling slightly.
"Of course my dear, eat at your leisure." Kirei replied to Koko in-between bites. The woman laughed just a tiny bit at Shigemi comment on Seika's eating habits. "I guess some things never change." She said glance at Seika for just half a second only to find him and Kanata face deep into their plates.
"The table etiquette on those two," Karai shook his head with disappointment. "Kanata, you're mother and I thought you better than this. You will not eat that way at your grandmother's table."
"But me and Grandpa are.." he started to contest but quickly retracted from the glare his father gave him. "Okay." He said after finally finding his matters at to eat like a decent human being.
Having finished his plate already, Seika sighed with content upon hitting the table with his silverware. "Kirei, my darling, what is delicacy? It is delicious."
"Seika dearest, you're too kind. It's called Jollof." She answered him with a giggle, taking small bites of her own food. "It's a dish that between in my family for generations."
That was all the encouragement Koko needed, the girl dipping into her plate with an endless gusto. While she was content to wolf down her food, the withering glare her father sent Kanata and Seika's way convinced her otherwise. So she slowed down: a little bit. At least she wasn't sticking her face in the plate.
"Jollof! What is it made of?" Koko asked as she picked her plate clean.
Unlike her enthusiastic children and father-in-law, Shigemi picked at her plate, carefully tasting and chewing each bite before moving onto the next. Her tongue would be overwhelmed with a variety of spices which made the food she grew up on feel...plain. And bland, tasteless even compared to the carnival happening in her mouth now.
"I second that; what ingredients are used for this dish?" She couldn't help but cringe as she thought of the meals she considered "good", even as the spicy aftertaste took her breath away.
"The recipe varies among families." Kirei replied in-between chews. "Some like it mild and others enjoy it with more kick. Typically I enjoy it really spicy, but we settled on a mild so that everyone could enjoy. As for ingredients, there are different peppers, depending on whether you how spicy you want it, some veggies, meat, tomatoes, tomato paste and curry powder." She turned toward the young Koko with a big smile. "The peppers we use are actually grown in the garden, along with other fruit and veggies. Would you like to take some home?"
"Oh that makes sense," Karai said eyeing his plate as he ate slowly almost disappointingly. "I felt that it was missing some kick, it seemed a lot milder than last time." His eyes glanced over to Shigemi. "But it would make sense why you would."
As if right on que chefs entered the ring area to restock the eager place of the guest, bringing smiles to Seika and Kanata's face once more. Kirei laughed at the two, suggesting a pot to be brought out so that it would save the repeated trip. "Do eat to your hearts' content."
And eat to their hearts' content they did. Kokoro's manners began to slip as she made plate after plate disappear. As soon as her grandmother mentioned taking some home, she beamed. "Can we? Can we please?" she pleaded, giving her parents puppy eyes.
Shi didn't answer for several seconds, still marveling at the juiciness, spice, and impact of each bite; she couldn't help but be a little jealous. This feeling only grew when she caught the glance sent her way. It wasn't her fault she grew up in Konoha.
"Yes, we can take some home."
"YAY. Where's the garden? I want to see it," Kokoro declared, setting her utensils down.
"Not everyone is fond of food with too spice, so I tried to accommodate everyone." Kirei added whilst giving her son a look of disapproval. "It tastes just as good in my opinion, still heart warming and all the more tummy filling." She was a bit amazed at the appetite on the twins, now fully believing Shigemi statement from earlier. She reveled in Koko's interest in the garden, her smile brightening while placing her own utensils down. "Well as promised, I mentioned I was going to tell you all of the story of how Seika and I met. So we could go to the garden first thing in the morning. Is that okay with you Koko?
Karai couldn't mask his displeasure, not even a little bit. "I was hoping you had forgotten." He cackled, his laughter containing small traces of bitterness.
"Oh no my dear," his mother started, wagging her finger at him playfully. "A promise is a promise. I don't ever break my promises."
"It's true." Having finally removed his face from his food, Seika added. "Her word is her bond, just trust me on this."
Kanata released a loud burp and almost collapsing out of his chair in the process. "Excuse me." He said rather quickly upon receiving a glance from his parents. "It was great grandma!" He started before going silent once again. "What's for dessert?" The child was certainly a bottomless pit.
Kokoro nods eagerly, the story having remained on her mind for some time now. "That's fine! Now," she paused dramatically, "The GRAND STORY. Love. Romance. Mystique. Allure. Political Intrigue!"
Shigemi laughed. "And where did you pick such ideas Koko?"
"I read them in a book a lady showed me! It was really dramatic." She nods again before lightly swatting her twin brother.
"Focus, the story's starting!" With that, she gave Kirei her undivided attention, buzzing again.
The excitement that a young Koko carried brought a smile to her grandmother's face. Just as eager to share as they were to listen, Kirei gathered her family from the dinner table and led them to another room. It was what normal people would consider a "living" room though it was far more grandiose. To every crevice and corner the place beamed tranquility. The sofas and plush pillows called for relaxation, promoting the children to run full speed into velvet clouds, quieting their laughter as the ears perked toward the angelic voice.
The Have and the have not
A day as any other. Burgeoning with life. Shown by the clattering of heels and the chattering of many voices. In the perils of spring, the fields of blossoms coming to fruition by the sun's rich gaze. Presiding over this wonderland was a King and two daughters. A family connected to the very foundation that held their country together. Unlike their father, who was a spent most of his time behind the guarded chambers of the palace, the daughters were well known throughout the grand city of Hotarugakure to the edges where land meets sea. The two teenagers were very similar in age, with their difference only being about a year and four months. Despite the closeness in age, their personalities were quite distinct in many ways. While one loved and even encouraged attention, the other cared, if at any, very little.
"I truthfully never get tired of the awe taken faces of our people." A very young, hot to trot Kirei whispered to her elder sister. "Some of them just can't take their eyes away."
Kokoa waved politely to onlookers, secretly wishing that she was home, away from the numerous eyeballs studying her. Her books were calling her and well, she was tired, having missed her recharging nap. But Kirei insisted on walking the city, so here they were, strolling among the masses. She wondered where her sister got the energy from.
"Sometimes I think you live for it," she murmured back. As they passed a bookstore, she was tempted to stop. Then she remembered the mountain of literature waiting for her at home. Another time then.
"Are you hungry?" Kokoa added.
"I honestly do." Kirei admitted with a long sigh, looking throughput the mass of people as of she were searching for someone specific. Her eyes scanned the crowds eagerly, flashing with a sharpened gold when her target didn't register. It became more apparent with her exaggerated whine, her heels crashing into the ground angrily. How dare he not show up? The lass fumed just enough to keep her from speculating but by then it was probably too late.
"Yes, I suppose I could use the distraction." Her tone soured as her boots clapped speedily in the opposite direction.
Kokoa sensed the mood change almost the moment it arrived. Of course she was looking for him; envy became relief when he was nowhere to be found.
"Food it is then," she began only to see Kirei furiously running away. "Um....the food is in that direction, sister." Koko nodded at the way they were going before Kirei turned around. She stifled a laugh.
Kirei sighed after acknowledging her sister's remark, tossing her head back with frustration. She turned out around slowly as the eldest lead the way to the favorite eatery. It was the place of magical cuisine, ingredients so fine that it was guaranteed to erase one's trouble with a single nibble. At least for a short moment of time. Because of their high status, it took no time at all to find a table for the two. Even going as far as to be serviced before people who were there long before the sisters.
"What an asshole." The younger one proclaim alas, breaking the long silence that had arisen between.
Of course her mind was still on him. Kokoa buried another rising tide of envy. "Maybe something else came up; I mean, how much do you know about his work life?" Kokoa asked. Truth be told, she didn't necessarily see his appeal, beyond him being unusual and well, not someone their father would approve of. She was certain the latter part played a role.
The server arrived shortly after with their meal; well, dessert for Kokoa. She stifled a joyful squeal and molten lava cake was placed in front of her, a massive dollop of strawberry ice cream served on a side dish.
"Of course I don't." Kirei replied, offering her sister an unamused look. Her mood laxing slightly as she gave in to the deliciousness of her hotcakes. It was a strange feeling she had. To be bothered with someone's of such lower class yet her mind has always seemed it wonder about this man. It was as if it didn't really matter in the moments they spent together. Her royal heritage meant very little to him, she warded no special attention from him; and as confusing as it may seem, that was what Kirei enjoyed the most. Unlike most, who would bow at her feet, this man --by the name Seika-- would be only kind enough to give a simple head nod in her direction.
It was quite obvious that he was a young busy man but she couldn't help but bring herself to be around him constantly, bothering him with any chance she would be allowed. Because of his lack of interest, she yearned for attention that much more. "You intend to tell father about this, do you? I'd hate for him to try restriction our travels."
"I don't know, it depends on whether you'll become a love-sick puppy, or keep your wits about you," Kokoa responded, polishing off her ice cream before indulging the lava cake, "I'm sure even if I did, you'd find a way around it; when it comes to the spotlight, you always gravitate towards it, no matter the obstacles."
"Still, what it is about him that drives you so? It's like you spend most of your waking hours and some of your sleeping ones thinking about him." Truth be told, Koko had her own suspicions for why this was the case, but she wanted to hear it from the source.
Kirei took another bite before her eyes traveled over to her sister. "I really like his persona." She admitted with a wide smile. "He's very humble yet he treats everyone with the same amount of respect. Even us of Royal linage. Normally everyone would go far beyond out of their way to ensure that we're comfortable, practically kissing the ground we walk on." She ate a bit more, turning her palms upward to rest her chin. "He doesn't no such thing. Even going as far to ignore me when I shout at him." She could admit it was a weird feeling to have but for once Kirei was excited to be the chaser than the chasee.
"So it is the thrill of the chase. You like that he makes you sing for your supper. It's certainly different from how everyone else treats you. I remember that one time you got two servers fired because they ended up doing your order wrong. And I think one spilled water on you?" Kokoa responded, continuing to eat away at her lava cake.
"I wonder how you'll react if and when you get what you want.." This part was murmured under Koko's breath, virtually indiscernible between bites.
Kokoro raised a hand. "So you were head over heels??" she questioned, pretending to fall dramatically, "How romantiiiic."
"That's one way to put it." Seika interjected with a laugh.
Kirei could not suppress the external eyeroll at Seika. "Romantic is a very nice way of putting. Looking back on it now, I can agree that my behavior was a bit unhealthy."
"He did it intentionally!" The lass argueed through a smile. "He clearly wanted a piece but was leagues under me. Though I would've glad stomped my boot heel into his neck." Despite picking on Koko's underhanded comment, her sister did pose an interesting question. Once she would be faced with the boy she so desperately craved, what would be the next course of action? The heat rose in her cheeks as she covered her face bring somewhat embarrassed.
Koko smirked at the action. It seemed she ought to keep her thoughts to herself next time. "You ought to be prepared; it would reflect poorly on the family if you made it all the way there and then had no idea what to do. It's not like you to blush like a schoolgirl," she commented. "Stomping your boot heel into someone's neck is how you kill someone. It's bad for your reputation little sister."
"Whoa wait? Really?" Karai blurted suddenly. "You were like a teenager."
"And doing act like you haven't had that feeling before. After all that's what got you here, and eventually these lovely children."
Shigemi laughed gently. "It's always difficult to imagine our parents being that age once," he said diplomatically.
"Would you be angry if I said I didn't really care how it would reflect on the family?" Kirei answered just above a whisper, trying to read her sister's face. "Please, don't shoot me for actually liking someone who challenges me, rather than settle for one of these upper class blockheads." Being that the two sisters were direct inheritors to the crown meant that most of their actions were perceived in a similar light as their father. Straining at times, bearing such responsibly hindered their sense of freedom. Their explorations never truly entailed much exploring and they were never allowing into the lower class area because of potential dangerous situation.
"Men who come for wealth are soft. I like a guy with a little bit of roughness."
"Uh huh." Kokoa mused, her poker face unreadable, "You want a man of the proletariat. Rough edges, keeps you on your toes. Makes you sing for your supper." She understood her sister's frustration with their restrictions; there were things she wanted to research that stretched beyond the "reasonable boundaries" their father had set. Nonetheless, she wasn't the kind to go exploring; not when the library beckoned.
"Promise me you won't do anything stupid; and that'll you'll keep me posted," she whispered back, relenting slightly even as envy flared in her mind. How nice it must be to be younger, able to buck responsibilities the older shouldered.
"Please sister," Kirei scoffed, lightly rolling her eyes. "I never do stupid things." This interest of hers was bizarre to say the very least. This boy certain did have one outstanding effect on the young princess. And to think it had all began due to the young man doing something as so simple as not acknowledging her heritage. It was phenomenon she wasn't very accustomed to. Usually, those of royal or higher class stature were treated as the upmost importance to anyone below. Unfair, yes, but it was never in the laws of the land, it was simply the way things flowed naturally. But to him it didn't matter, he saw every individual the same — no matter their status.
"Why is that?" Kirei blurted aloud suddenly. "Why is it that our mother gets to choose who we bed with? Should that be a decision made from the heart?" Her gleamed sincerity, pleading for sister response.
"Because that's the way it is. It's a matter of power, of prestige, of reputation. There's also the matter of genetics; it simply won't do to have the lesser breeding in, or conversely, cultivated genes suddenly landing in the laps of those unable to handle it. More specifically, landing in the laps of those who would exploit it. There's a fine balance to these things sister," Kokoa responded, her tone just a bit cold. She had long given up the idea of marrying for love. One could say it was never an idea for her to begin with; there were more important things to be pursued.
There was a brief moment of silence between the two sisters. Despite having been raised in it, ironically even fully prospering and sometimes abusing it, there was a small part of Kirei that disliked the privilege she held above others.
"Those were different times indeed." Seika said laughing in a very dry manner. "This would be the one of the milder moments in what would be a war of between financial classes."
"And it was a shame really. That those of less fortunate would be deemed unworthy of fair treatment or a good quality life. The thought alone disgusts me." The woman's eyes looked out toward the people surrounding her with light coloured orbs clouded by sadness. "It pains me even so say that this wasn't long ago. After my father's passing I was determined to change the ideals of how everyone viewed one another in this country. Poverty among my people could not exist! If I could eat then so should they." It was easy to tell just how passion she was about her words --and the despite her authoritative presence -- Kirei had always been one her wear her emotions on her sleeves. "My goal since succeeding my father was to obtain solidarity. To be one entity as a nation, where everyone who lives here know that they are loved."
If admiration could be specified into an expression, it would be all that was shown on Karai face in that moment. Nothing had ever seemed so clear in his life, it was at last that he finally began to understand what role he played in creating the benevolent leader of this home nation. The struggle of losing a lover and child to the very system the glorified her existence came to burn her so much that she sought to destroy it entirely. A reform of social constructs. "That would explain why many think so highly of you." Karai's thoughts finally became words.
Shigemi could feel her husband beaming next to her. She breathed a sigh of relief; she was glad the two were coming to an understanding. For her, it only made sense that a mother and son be close. "That's quite the tightrope you have to walk. How do you manage? I'm sure some of your fellow aristocrats weren't too keen on the changes you decided to make," Shi commented.
Kokoro nodded several times; that was her grandma. Doing things; being a mover and a shaker. She still wanted to learn how to braid though. This reminded her of a question. "Grandma? What's an average day like for you?" she asked.