"It's only for a few days. Nothing to worry about." The Saniwa mumbled as she nibbled on a homemade cookie, eyes never left the television screen even for a moment.
She felt someone--possibly Yagen Toushirou--lean on her shoulder while keeping her full attention on the documentary that was currently playing. The female buried her cheek on a cushion while lying on the tatami floor while a few of her charges either sat or lay there with her. Modern Warships was on and she wanted to make sure that she was well prepared when meeting the charges of her fellow exchange mate.
"What if they don't like us, Aruji?" Akita Toushirou inquired as he hugged a small stuffed animal--a recent gift from his master.
"I'm sure they will like everyone, Akita-kun."
"What if they don't like swords and accidentally dispose of us?" Kashuu Kiyomitsu reached out towards the female who allowed the said Uchigatana to lean on her other shoulder. "You said that they like ships much more."
"No one is getting dismantled, Kashuu." The young woman perked up as she watched a battleship returning to the shipyard for repairs after a three day battle at sea.
"But what if-"
"You'll be fine." The female interrupted as she the patted the auburn-haired warrior's manicured hand before glancing at him, meeting a pair of worried crimson eyes. "If anything, I would sink their whole fleet before they have a chance in dismantling you."
A month ago, the Saniwa had announced that she had taken part in an exchange program with a few other people who had been hand picked by the Government. She had woken up much earlier than expected one morning and received her notice via e-mail while scrolling through her phone. Once she sat in the Great Hall among her charges for a late breakfast, the Saniwa nonchalantly mentioned the notice and her decision.
"I'm going on a trip again next month." The Saniwa spoke as she sat amongst the Touken Danshi while dressed her in her casual clothes--some sweatpants and a hoodie, a nice change from the yukata that she usually wore around the Citadel. "It will only be three days at most."
"For the Capital?" Kasen Kanesda raised a delicate eyebrow as he lowered his bowl of miso soup unto the table. "Are we missing some things?"
"I thought we had purchased everything that we needed for the next few months, Aruji-sama." The stronghold's resident cook, Mitsutada supplied as he placed a tray that held a dozen bowls of side dishes.
"Can I come along, Aruji!?" Midare Toushirou exclaimed from a few seats down, his eyes sparkling. "I saw this dress in a magazine and it said you can only find it in the Capital at a certain shop!"
"Ah! I want to come along too!"
"I want to go!"
The voices of the Tantous filled the room as they eagerly crowded their master who smiled weakly and swallowed a bite of her toast. The young woman listened to the younger sword's excited chatter as she sipped her tea thoughtfully. The Saniwa felt a tug on her sleeve making her meet the mischievous eyes of one of the newest addition to her Citadel-- Houchou Toushirou.
"Please bring me along as well, Aruji!-sama!" The brown-eyed Tantou latched unto her arm eagerly. "I want to visit a sweets shop!"
A small amused smile appeared on the Saniwa's face as she allowed the boy to hold unto her arm while continuing with her breakfast. She cast a discreet glance at a few of the older sword and almost laughed at the faces Kashuu Kiyomitsu and Heshikiri Hasebe were making as they quietly sat eating their breakfast on another table.
It's a bit too early to be jealous in the morning, isn't it?
The female allowed her charges--especially the young ones-- to some hugs and cuddles which they had no qualms with since they saw here as a part of her family. On the other hand, the older swords were a bit more hesitant towards her and she was not one to pressure them into anything that they were not comfortable with. Although a few of the more expressive warriors like Kashuu and Jirotachi were usually humored by their master and allowed them to do as they please. She would let them play with her hair, laying their head on her lap and the occasional gentle head pats that leads to messing up her tresses.
It was only recently everyone had been fiercely protective of her after the accidental confession she received from her rival--turned Ministry's Citadel Inspector--that it is nearly difficult for her to go places and even definitely impossible for her to go on trip to the nearby town.
She was sure that her charges would disapprove of her decision to take on the exchange program due to issues on her safety and their well-being but she personally found it to be an interesting undertaking. Also, the government was willing to give them a bonus if they decided to be apart of the program.
So why not?
"Well…I'm not exactly going to the Capital." The young woman picked a piece of cherry tomato from her plate. "I'm going to be visiting and staying at a naval district base located by the ocean."
The voices of the Touken Danshi mingled which only created more noise making a few who tended to be much more quiet sigh. The Saniwa rubbed the back of her head weakly before finally calling out to the men and boys to catch their attention.
"The exchange program would prove to be beneficial not only financially but also a way for me to determine if my spiritual power will be sufficient enough to support everyone from a much further distance." The girl announced as she placed her chopsticks unto the side beside her bowl.
"But Aruji!!" Hasebe exclaimed as he stood up from his seat to follow his master who was gathering her dishes. "What about your safety!?"
"The government has screened all candidates for the program. It shouldn't be a problem."
"But what about us!?"
"What about you all?" The young woman smiled bemusedly as she gathered a few more bowls and plates on the way out.
"What if they don't like us?" Imanotsurugi asked quietly as he hid behind Iwatooshi's sleeve.
"I'm sure they would like you if you are nice to them."
"What about the sorties and expeditions?" Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki inquired as he finished the last of his breakfast.
"The assignments for sorties, training, and internal affairs have already been drafted a few weeks ago."
"What if you come back and we aren't here anymore?" Kashuu whispered fearfully, his handsome face taking on a horrified expression. "What if they sell us off!?"
"Worse! What if they replace us with counterfeits while you are gone?!" Hachisuka Kotetsu clamored from the other side of the room, startling his younger brother Urashima.
"I believe you guys will be just fine." The lady of the citadel spoke with finality as she stood up from her seat with a serious expression on her face--a sign that she will not be swayed easily. "If anyone has any inquiries about my decision, please come to my office in the afternoon after finishing your duties."
With that, The citadel's master stood, took her plates and made her way to the kitchen. It was only after she closed the Shoji doors that she heard the clamor of the panicked Tsukumogami which made her silently laugh. An amused smile appeared on the female's lips as she rolled her eyes at the over dramatic reactions as she walked away from the room.
Soon enough the ending credits for the documentary began to roll on the screen and the Saniwa slowly sat up to stretch her limbs. The female turned her head to glance at the napping visages of her charges. Kashuu was asleep with Yasusada by his side while Yagen and Atsushi was lying face down with a shared cushion underneath their foreheads. She met the amused gazes of Ishikirimaru and Nikkari Aoe who sat by a nearby table, each of them nursing their own cup of tea.
"Well…I hope that did not bore you like it did the young ones." The girl draped a blanket over the Toushirou siblings.
"Not at all, Aruji." Nikkari smiled faintly as he perched his chin on his open palm. "It's interesting to see how weaponry has evolved."
"I'm curious, Aruji-sama." Ishikirimaru spoke as he met his master's eyes. "Are you watching this to acquaint yourself with this person's charges?"
"Mhm." The Saniwa nodded as she stood over the slumbering Shinesugumi swords after placing a blanket over them. "It's a quick way to educate myself. It's like preparing from battle, I have to gather information on the ships and prepare for different possibilities that may happen."
"My, That's quite diligent of you." The brown-haired Oodatchi smiled in admiration as smiled at the praise.
"The person replacing me for a week will also be doing the same thing. He has much more ships than I have swords." A small sigh escaped the lady of the citadel as she rubbed the back of her neck with the corner of her mouth slightly upturned. "Well, If anyone needs me. I'll be in my room to start packing for tomorrow."
"We will see you at dinner then?" Nikkari gave his master a small wave as she nodded.
"Yup. I'll see you two later."
"What's all this? What happened to a simple dinner?"
The Saniwa blinked a few times at the space in front of her as she sat in her usual seat in the Great Hall for dinnertime. A feast of different delicacies--raging from Kaiseki Ryori, Tempura, Sukiyaki and much more--were laid out in front of her and she turned towards Horikawa Kunihiro who was her acting attendant that day. She must have made a funny face when she heard the said warrior muffle a chuckle making her pout childishly.
"Everyone wanted to make it a special occasion since you are leaving." The raven-haired Wakizahi smiled amusedly as he glanced at his master who glanced at the overwhelming amount of dishes laid out in front of her.
"Hmm…I guess it is a nice surprise." A small smile appeared on the Saniwa's lips as she lifted her cup of sake towards Shokudaikiri who sent her a smile and bow of his head before handing Horikawa a cup and pouring him some sake as well. "Have a drink!"
"W-wait, Aruji!!" The Wakizashi jolted from his seat as he tried to stop the lady from pouring anymore in his cup which was almost overflowing.
"Quick! Drink before it spills!"
The short-haired warrior immediately took a long sip of the alcohol, preventing a drop from even escaping. The female beside him watched in surprise for a few seconds and clapped in admiration as the young man beside her drank the alcohol in the small porcelain cup in one go, the sound catching a few sword's attention.
"Ohhh…" The young woman praised her slightly flustered attendant, flashing him a grin while trying to pour more in his cup. "Is your cup empty? Have some more Horikawa-san!"
"No-wait!!" The Horikawa squeaked with flushed cheeks as his master poured more into his cup.
"How underhanded of you, Kunihiro." Kashuu Kiyomitsu pouted as he sat beside the Wakizashi along side his partner--Yamatonokami Yasusada-- who merely sent his master and his fellow Shinshengumi a greeting and a smile. "Keeping Aruji-sama all to yourself and having her pour you a drink."
"No one is keeping me all themselves, Kashuu." The female handed the brunette a cup of sake as well as his the raven-haired partner. "Everyone got to spend time with me today. I got up pretty early today to play with all of you too."
"That's right!" The Saniwa felt a hand mussing her hair which made her look up and meeting the cheerful visage of Yamabushi Kunihiro making her grin. "You did very well in tending to the crops, Aruji-sama."
"I'm glad to be of help Yamabushi-san." The girl grinned as she handed him a cup of sake. "Here, have a drink."
"Thank you." The Tachi gave his master a bright smile before sipping his drink and making his way over to his seat beside the hooded figure of Yamanbagiri in one of the nearby tables.
"Don't sulk, brother! Saniwa-sama will be back before we even know it!"
"I-I'm not sulking!" The Citadel's secretary whispered vehemently underneath his hood before tugging at it to cover his face. "Duplicates like myself are not entitled to sulk."
"He's be~ing sh~y!" The voice of the Saniwa floated over making the quiet blonde jolt and look up only to catch his master smiling at him with her eyes dancing in glee. "I'll miss you too Yamanbagiri-san!"
"Ah-I-!!" A furious flush appeared on the blonde Uchigatana's face as he tried to pulls his hood over himself.
The Saniwa smiled faintly as she listened to the conversation swirling around her while eating her delicious dinner, thanking the swords who had prepared the said feast. It was a blessing that she had a few swords that were responsible enough to help with food preparations.
"This is such a delicious dinner. Thank you Sayo, Kasen and Mitsutada."
"You're very much welcome, Aruji-sama." The purple-haired poet smiled kindly as he took a sip of his tea. "I hope it is elegant enough for your taste."
"Of course it is." The female handed the a plate of Sukiyaki to the young boy from across the table who accepted it. "Right, Sayo-kun?"
"Mnn…" The blue-haired Tantou mumbled as a he bowed his head with a faint blush on his cheeks.
"Would you like some, Aruji?" Shokudairiki smiled as he handed his master another plate that contained delicately placed sushi.
"Ohh!! Thank you, Mitsu-san!" The girl's smile widened as she greatfully took the plate then placed more food on another plate which was owned by the person beside her--Horikawa. "Here! Have some more Horikawa-san!"
"A-Aruji! That's too much!"
"M-Master, you can't have Kunihiro!" The brattish tone of Izuminokami Kanesada interrupted the two as the said sword sat in between both his partner and master. "He's my assistant!"
"You're so stingy, Izuminokami-san!" The girl accused with a teary gaze as she dramatically threw herself on Kashuu Kiyomitsu's shoulder making the said warrior pat her hair gently.
"Stop bullying Aruji, Kanesada." The auburn haired Uchigatana admonished his fellow Shinsengumi, not noticing his master sticking her tongue out at the long haired sword.
"Wha-!? I-I'm not bullying her! Tell them Kunihiro!" Izuminokami interjected as he threw a pleading glance at his partner who merely shrugged with a smile on his face.
"Well, she is leaving for a few days…"
"I THOUGHT YOU WERE ON MY SIDE KUNIHIRO!?"
The loud antics of the Shinsengumi swords alongside their master caught the attention of most swords who either smiled and carried on with their dinner while a few others crowded over to join in on the fun. A few tables away, Mikazuki Munechika took a small sip from his ochoko as he watched his fellow comrades becoming more rowdy as Jirotachi loudly announced that a drinking contest was about to start.
"Haha~ It seems that Aruji is in the spirit of celebrating. " The citadel's Jiji smiled behind his sleeve as he watched his master from the other side of the room.
A familiar shadow of another Tachi stood behind Mikazuki. The said warrior noticed the overcast form making him look up with a passive smile. The friendly visage of Uguisumaru lifting a tokkuri toward him only made the said Tachi's smile widen.
"Would you like some more sake, Munechika-dono?"
"Hmm, that would be wonderful."
The nightingale took a seat beside the raven-haired Tachi then slowly poured a good amount into the said warrior's tokkuri then his own. The two older swords sat quietly as they watched their master pour sake for her charges who were taking part in the drinking contest.
"Are you looking forward to meeting this mysterious person replacing our master?" The green-haired Tachi asked as he sipped his cup of alcohol.
"Hahaha…I'm more curious if anything, Uguisumaru-dono."
"I'm sure everything will be fine." The green-haired male mumbled from behind his cup. "I trust Aruji-sama's decision."
The two older males threw a glance at their slightly inebriated master who seemed intent on getting a few of their comrades drunk as well--namely majority of the Shinsengumi and Jirotachi who was immensely enjoying himself while pouring himself another cup of sake.
"H-have another, Horikawa-san!"
"I bet I can out drink you, Kunihiro!"
"As if you can out drink my assistant! Show them what you're made of Horikawa!"
The green-haired Nightingale smiled weakly before taking a small sip from his cup, mumbling from behind the small porcelain.
"I just hope Aruji will behave herself while she is away…"
Yagen Toushirou slowly lead his master towards into the inner courtyard where a few of his comrades were already waiting and placing her belongings unto her horse. The young man kept a steady hand on the Saniwa's back as she swayed a little while trying to mount her horse.
"Careful, Taishō." The Tantou assisted his master who winced at the bright rays and slumped against the mare she was seated upon. "Come now, sit up properly."
"I shouldn't have drank so much last night."
"You should have thought about that before drinking last night."
"Careful with how you address Aruji, Yagen." Heshikiri Hasebe who stood beside the mare where his master perched on, gave the purple-haired Toushirou a disapproving look which was ignored by both individuals.
"Here. Take this, Taishō." The citadel's little doctor produced a small vial that contained a thick dark green liquid. "It should clear up that headache of yours--enough to clear the headache you have been experiencing since this morning."
The brunette Uchigatana held unto the reins of the horse as his master gently to sat up and take the prescribed medicine. Another attendant, Yamanbagiri Kunihiro, quietly approached her and provided her a Uchikatsugi whilst keeping his head down to avoid his master's eyes.
"What is this, Yamanbagiri-san?" The voice of the Saniwa reached the ears of the nearby warriors who recognized her teasing tone. "You're in a hurry to send me off?"
"N-no! I am just helping to see you off, Aruji-sama." The cloaked figure stiffened as he spoke up, emerald eyes flashing underneath his hood. "U-unless, you would prefer an original sword to come see you off."
"N-NO!" The Saniwa perked up and tried to reach for the blonde's hands with a smile on her face. "I would rather have you, one of my closest attendants, assist me in getting ready."
Yamanbagiri felt heat creep up in his cheeks, immediately averted his eyes and pulling his hand away while a few of the other swords watched with amusement. The girl laughed softly as she sat up and balancing the veiled hat on her head and shooting the shy blonde a smile then turning her attention to her the blonde warrior's brother.
"This should be the last of your baggage, Aruji-sama." Horikawa Kunihiro spoke as he tied the last of the young woman's bags to her horse. "Are you sure you have everything you need?"
"Yeah, I should have everything. Thanks Horikawa-san " The Saniwa nodded as she allowed the Wakizashi to help her wrap the veil around herself, creating a layer of protection from both the sun's rays and mosquitos. "Did you two want anything from the seaside?"
"Just keep please--please--make sure you take good care of yourself, Saniwa-sama." Hasebe stood and reminded his master who accepted the reins, noting more colour returning to her cheeks. "Also make sure to be cautious. We don't know what lurks in the oceans."
"Yes…I'll make sure to do so. Do not worry Hasebe-san." the young woman smiled while waving m at a few of her other charges who were making their way over.
"Aruji-sama! Are you going now?" Maeda Toushirou inquired as he walked over alongside his brother, Maeda.
"Make sure to take care, Aruji-sama."
"I will. Thank you for coming to see me off." The Saniwa gave the two a bright smile as she noted a few more of her charges coming over to join them. "Oh what a surprise, Are you three also here to see me off?"
"Morning, Aruji-sama!" Hotarumaru and Aizen greeted while dragging a sleepy-looking Tachi who seemed to be intent in pretending that he was asleep. "
"My, How rare of you to come see me off as well Akashi-san." The master of the citadel merely laughed as the designated guardian of the Rai swords, Akashi Kuniyuki, merely opened one eye and mumbled his greetings
"Mornin' Aruji." The purple-haired warrior spoke, not making a move to remove both Hotarumaru and Aizen's hold on his clothes. "Make sure not to have too much fun."
"Heh…Thanks for the advise, Akashi-san." The Saniwa grinned as she waved at the other warriors who came to see her off before addressing everyone.
"Everyone, please ensure that our guest is comfortable and make sure to treat them the same way as you treat me." The Saniwa spoke as she eyed each and everyone of those present in the courtyard. "Also, I trust each and everyone of you to act responsibly while performing your duties--yes, that includes internal affairs as well."
"…Aruji is pretty Kakkoī." Akashi Toushirou whispered to Akita who nodded his head energetically.
"Mhm! She looks and sounds like a real General, doesn't she!?" The statement which was definitely heard by everyone--the Saniwa could see some smiles appearing on a some of her charge's face--caused the girl to stiffen while trying to fight the embarrassed blush.
"That's because she is our Taishō." Yagen supplied with proud smile while pushing his glasses above the bridge of his nose.
"Saniwa is as cool as Ichi-nii!"
"Mhm! That's our Aruji-sama!"
W-Wha-!! I-I'm just giving out orders!! I'm even getting compared to Ichigo-san…
"I-I can hear you three…" The Saniwa mumbled under her breath as she coughed into her fist to try and shake off the embarrassment then redirecting her gaze to the warriors present. "I-I expect everyone to actively take part in also holding down the stronghold while I am gone!"
"I vow to protect the citadel with my life, Aruji-sama." Hasebe knelt down while bowing his head.
"We shall await your return, Saniwa-sama." Yamanbagiri supplied as he also bowed respectfully alongside his smiling brother, Horikawa.
"Please take good care, Aruji!" The small crowd of Tsukumogami waved back at their master.
The swords watched as the Saniwa directed her horse towards the gates, giving everyone one last wave before passing the large doors that slowly closed behind her figure. The swords listened to the steady gallop of their master's horse slowly become more fainter as she placed some distance between her and the Citadel. Within the next few minutes, the swords began dispersing and tending to their tasks seeing that their troublesome master had expected much from them.
Shortly after their master had left her charges, the men and boys slowly made their way back to the Great Hall or the kitchen to finish their preparations for their coming guest while a few others proceeded to carry on their everyday duties which included sorties, expeditions and training that had been assigned by their master--after all, the assignments were not going to do themselves.
Although, most of the swords did not approve of their master's decision of taking part in the program--considering that she would be venturing into some unfamiliar land with no escort, they understood that she was old and adept enough to protect and make sensible decisions for herself.
It was in the evening when the guest arrived at the Citadel, a young man who was dressed in a white naval officer's uniform. The swords watched with curious and wary eyes as their guest descended from his horse with practiced ease before lifting his cap from his head in a respectful motion. The glint coming from the man's numerous golden badges pinned to his chest caught the attention of some as he stood illuminated by the torchlight.
"Good evening, gentlemen. I am the Admiral from the Naval Base and a good friend of the Saniwa." A friendly smile appeared on the man's face before bowing his head respectfully. "I hope to learn much from everyone in the next few days."
It seemed that their guest was going to be a pleasant fellow…and thankfully, not as troublesome as their dear master.
Within those three few days, the swords came to find that they actually enjoyed the company of their guest and tended to the young man. The admiral even accompanied a few of the Tsukumogami in one of their sorties, claiming that he was genuinely curious how the battles were carried out and if they similar to ones he would draft for his own fleets. To the surprise of the swords, the young man was able to keep himself safe and even able to provide orders--which were scarily similar to how the Saniwa's own commands sounded.
The three days passed in a blur and it was late in the morning that the swords bid their guest fair well but not without a few traditional sovieneirs such as a few bags of wagashi, dried tea leaves, and various furoshiki--courtesy of the citadel's inhabitants. It surprised the men and boys that they enjoyed another individual's presence, other than the Saniwa's, but were quite excited to see their master.
As the sun begun to set, the sound of the bell echoed throughout the citadel causing quite a ruckus as the Touken Danshi scrambled to make their way to the inner courtyard to welcome back their master. The Saniwa's attendants and retainers stood quite close to the gates to immediately assist her once the young woman appeared.
Once the gate opened, the Saniwa's mare trotted inside and on it's back a smiling young woman who was hidden behind the veil of the Uchikatsugi. The girl gently tugged at the reins of her horse and directed the animal towards her charges before removing her headwear.
"Welcome back, Aruji." Horikawa greeted as he took the veiled headwear from the girl before another attendant, Hasebe, assisted her in dismounting her horse.
"Thank you." The Saniwa answered before allowing the Uchigatana to help her down only to be crowded by a few of the Tantous who give her a hug. "It's nice to be back."
"How was your stay at the Naval Base?" Hasebe asked as he neatly folded the veil of his master's hat before allowing some of his comrades to take some of his master's luggage to her room.
"O-Oh! It was wonderful! The ships were amazing!" A small glint began to appear in the Saniwa's bright eyes as she began to speak of her experience while being lead towards the Great Hall. "The sea was beautiful, I wish you could--!"
All of a sudden, the Saniwa's luggage accidentally fell open from a certain Mikazuki Munechika's clumsy hands and it's contents fell unto the grass. The raven-haired Tachi apologized and was aided by Hasebe and Horikawa in gathering her belongings when he noticed a small picture of their guest who had just left this morning.
"Aruji, don’t tell me--?"
Before Mikazuki could collect the picture, the Saniwa swiped the piece of paper with red tinted cheeks and clutched the picture to herself. She immediately gave the older man a stern but embarrassed look before whispering fiercely.
"Y-you saw nothing, Mikazuki."
A short but tense silence passed between the two and the young woman stood up before making a run for the Great Hall. The other surrounding attendants and retainers watched in confusion as the girl escaped while leaving her usually passive night attendant who looked pleasantly surprised.
"What was that all about?" Horikawa blinked as he held unto the reins of his master's horse .
"Hmm…Nothing. It's nothing at all..." A small amused smile decorated Mikazuki's lips before proceeding to carry his master's luggage to her room.
And maybe, possibly to further pester his master about her little crush.