The lord was true to his word. As spring bled into summer, he sent craftsmen and architects to the village. The skilled men ranged from eager to dubious, but all were startled by Chiyuku. Her village, it seemed, really was liberal. The number of travelers—many of them being ninja—that flowed through meant that they had a greater amount of exposure to the outside world. And it was harder to fall completely into the city mindset about working women when so many already ran support business, Yui included.
Slowly, the village's infrastructure improved, starting with the roads. The architect planned out sectors for their growing population, and he seemed quite pleased at the chance.
"This town has the potential to become a city," he'd explained. "If we lay down the proper foundation, we'll make life easier for us and the generations to come."
That surprised Yui in two ways: that others saw Chiyuku as a town, and that Chiyuku had the potential to grow even larger. And the architect had little to gain from flattering them. He was in employ to Lord Fukuyama, not them.
She said as much to Madara when he came to pick up more salves, and his answering smile was almost incredulous.
"Of course Chiyuku has the potential to be a city," he replied. "I still remember when it was barely a few houses in the dirt. If it keeps this rate of growth, it's more than reasonable to assume that." Madara gave her a slight nod. "You've done well."
"It's not just me." Yui couldn't help the tinge of amusement from how Madara unknowingly echoed his brother's words. Coming from Madara, though, it rankled less.
"Sure," he drawled. "Not just you, but—" He gestured the salves. "You've driven a great deal of traffic."
She hesitated but ultimately decided on accepting his praise. "Thank you."
"Chiyuku isn't the only one that's changed." Madara raised his eyebrows. "I remember a girl who could barely look me in the eye and saw an ulterior motive in every 'unbelievable' compliment."
"Well, you've changed too," she retorted with a smile. "I was scared, yeah, but you wanted to scare me."
He shrugged. "Perhaps just a little."
Madara disappeared on that note, because of course he did, and Yui shook her head. She didn't know if she'd ever get used to ninja dramatics.
Hashirama dropped by two weeks later, when the architect was consulting her and the other councillors about the position of future buildings. Tama was with her, and she gazed at the ninja with starry eyes. The architect's guard, on the other hand, also stared at Hashirama—but for a completely different reason, Yui was sure.
"Ooh," Hashirama said. "That looks like fun! Can I help?"
"H-Help?" eeked out the architect, sounding rather like he was begging for it.
When Hashirama revealed his remarkable wood powers, the architect immediately lost his fear and instead became lost in a thousand plans. With good humor, Hashirama created the foundations for half-a-dozen buildings, all while picking the architect's brain for knowledge.
"You seem enthusiastic," Yui remarked when Hashirama paused to take a break—the architect was already lost in raptures about the difference it would make to his timetable.
"Yes, well… I hope to build a village soon." Hashirama wiped the sweat from his forehead and beamed. "Learning more about the process can only help."
Tama appeared behind him, a cup of water in hand. "F-For you," she stuttered. "I thought you'd be thirsty after all that… that amazing trees!"
Yui hid a grin. Amazing trees indeed. Hashirama accepted the glass with a smile bright enough to turn the young teenager red, and Yui found it harder to keep her expression neutral. Hashirama dealt with Tama's newfound devotion with distant amusement and good grace, something that faltered only when he saw Yui's expression.
"Tama, why don't you see if Eiji needs any help?" said Yui, deciding to be merciful. "I know that he spent the morning in the shed." Eiji had done well with taking care of the penicillin project without her, but it was still one of the most labor intensive tasks.
"Sure!" said Tama, though her voice wasn't nearly as enthusiastic as before. "But if you need a hand or something, you can holler for me."
Tama hesitated for another moment, biting her lip as she looked at her newest infatuation. "Bye, Hashirama-san." She scuffed her foot against the dirt. "I'll see you soon!"
They watched her trudge across the field, avoiding the laborers and materials, and Yui didn't hold back her smile.
"Oh, come one," he grumbled when Tama was out of earshot. "It's not that funny."
She couldn't help the giggle. "No, it really is."
The architect came over and, almost bouncing, herded them both over to a carefully marked section. "Healer, this was where you wanted your hospital, yes?"
"I did." It wasn't too far from her house-slash-clinic and shed. Yui gave Hashirama a wry look. So much for his break. He didn't seem all that bothered, though, and he followed the architect as he wandered around the foundation markings.
"I tried to design it to your requirements," he said. "Separate wards, the..." He glanced down, realized that he didn't have his plans with him, and spun on his foot. "Kirito! Where are my papers!"
The long-suffering guard jogged over, scroll in hand. He looked more amused than irritated, handing it over with a small shake of his head.
"Yes, thank you." The architect (Sato was his name) unrolled it with a flick of his wrist. "The examination rooms, as you called it. And a teaching area. I think we can make it quite big! I'd removed some areas for time and space constraints, but we can make it bigger than we planned for—if we can rely on this esteemed Senju's help."
Sato said the rote forms of flattery with the practiced ease of someone used to working with nobles, but there was a real note of sincerity behind it.
"That would be lovely," she murmured. Her clinic was getting awfully cramped. Even though they still mostly made house visits for the villagers, the volume of visitors more than made up for it. "I wouldn't want to bother Hashirama, though. Not when he's done so much already."
"It's not a problem." He grinned. "I already told you that I'm not just being altruistic. I'm really learning a lot about city planning."
Under the architect's guidance, Hashirama laid down the foundations for what would be the new hospital. A chill ran through her, prickling her skin, and it wasn't from the chakra. Under her old mentor Anzu, she'd learned in a one-room wooden shack with a dirt floor. Yui hadn't had a shawl to her name, and the village hadn't had a name.
Yui hadn't required much guidance from Anzu, not really, not when the echoes of her last life had shown her so much more. Even her knowledge of chakra—life energy, she'd called it—had merely been a foundation. Yui had far surpassed her by every measure.
Now, however, she wondered. She wondered about Anzu, an old woman with more wrinkles than years, more years than either of her lives together. What would Anzu say, if she saw what the village was now? Would she be proud? In some ways, her predecessor had been stronger. Anzu had lost all her students save for her, and Yui had been her last. Yui had lost one student, and it had almost broken her.
(She hoped they were in a better place. She hoped that, if they were born into another life, it was a gentle one.)
She hoped and wondered, as the hospital sprouted, a dream taken root, and reached towards the sky.
They took a second break when the sun dipped lower, when dusky violets and muted orange replaced blue. Spring creeped forward with every day as night came later and later. She stood next to Hashirama on a sloped hill, marveling at the new buildings dotting her village.
"It's a town," Yui corrected out loud. "It's a town now, and it might be a city one day."
"It will," said Hashirama. "It's beautiful." He sounded weary, almost sad.
A group of children took advantage of Hashirama's break and, though cautious at first, approached him and began to stumble over themselves asking questions about his magic. The exhaustion melted away as he listened to their questions, intently, seriously, and then he broke into a huge grin.
"Let me show you," he said instead.
Hashirama lightly gestured with one hand, and the air thrummed with chakra, as it had every time before. Instead of the heavy, deep regard of the forest, the chakra felt different—fragile and quick, like the brisk wind and warm sunlight on the first day of spring.
The grass around them erupted with wildflowers. Daisies and hardy dogstooth violets mingled with pink anemone blooms and dozens of others, painting a brighter sunset than the sky. The children shrieked and dove into the pile of flowers, and several began to pick handfuls of daisies for an already-growing chain.
Yui bent down and picked a purple flower, rubbing her fingers against the velvet petals that prickled with chakra.
"I will never get tired of seeing you do that," she murmured.
He smiled, and it almost reached his eyes. "I'm just glad to use it outside of battle."
"I've never seen you use it in battle." She gave him a faint smile too.
Hashirama blinked at her. "You haven't. No… you haven't."
She nodded. Yui wondered how that would work. Barricades, perhaps? Or perhaps stakes. The wounds from wood could be nasty, especially if splinters and debris were left in the wound. Strange. She'd never thought of his ability as a tool for violence. But almost anything could be twisted into a weapon: her own knowledge could poison or cure, and all it took was a moment of inattention for chakra healing to twist flesh.
"I would rather be an architect," Hashirama said suddenly. "I would rather use these powers for anything but—" He stopped. "For anything else." Softer, so soft that she might have imagined it, he murmured, "I'm tired."
Before she could ask, the children crowded around them again. He turned bright and cheerful as if someone had flicked a switch, matching their exuberance. They'd turned their newfound bounties into crowns for everyone—even Hashirama, her, and Sato, who accepted it with bemusement.
Hashirama wore his daisy crown proudly, and he watched the children play with a wistful smile. "If every child could be so free..."
She adjusted her own crown as the kids harruanged Sato into putting his on. "We're getting there."
Yui gave him an exasperated look. "Hashirama, you've only been telling me about your dreams for years. Are you really saying that nothing's changed since you've become clan head?"
He opened and closed his mouth. "I… I guess you're right."
They sat among the flowers in silence, enjoying the light breeze. And, Yui realized, she was genuinely happy. Content, even, if bittersweet—and she couldn't remember the last time she'd consciously felt that way.
"Thank you," she said softly.
Hashirama didn't ask any questions. Instead, he smiled, and this time, it did reach his eyes.
Tsubaki was the first to bring her a letter from a noble, and she wasn't the last. After they completed their usual dealings, exchanging salve and glassware, she handed Yui a scroll tied with a silk ribbon. Yui rubbed the material between her fingers with raised eyebrows. It took a certain level of extravagance to use silk for something so small, and that was not a word she'd use to describe Tsubaki.
"This is from Lady Mikasa," said Tsubaki, smiling. "Lord Fukuyama has been raving about your skills to other members of his circle, so the lady decided to find out for herself. I've had dealings with her estate, so she requested that I give this to you." She shrugged before dropping her voice into the conspiratorial tone she used when giving her own opinion. "If you ask me, this is more of a test than an urgent need. But if you were to impress her, she'd probably send someone from her household to meet you in person."
Yui paused, closed scroll still in hand. "I don't think I can leave Chiyuku again. Not so soon."
Tsubaki shook her head. "No, it's nothing like that. I'd bet it's nothing more than a supply request."
"And even if it were a summons," Hatake said, in his low, rumbling voice, "you can decline."
"You have enough connections now." He spoke calmly, matter-of-fact. "You know enough ninja and merchants to vouch for you, and after what you did for Lord Fukuyama, he would support you. It is one thing to refuse the leige lord of your village. Other nobility is a different matter."
"I could say no," she echoed.
Tsubaki smiled. "Chiyuku is in a unique position. I don't think you and your village realize how unusual it is to know so many ninja. In most places, they're like creatures from myths—ones that can kill you, of course. Only the cities might see them so often, and even then, it's usually one or two clans. The capitals are the only ones that see such variety."
"You make us sound like fruit," grumbled Hatake, and Tsubaki nudged him affectionately.
(This banter, she knew, was a show of trust to her, a more valuable gift than any letter.)
"I've… never written to a noble before."
The complicated calligraphy of the letter was as unreadable as it was beautiful. And even after her experience at the estate, some of the phrasing was complex. At least she got the gist—it seemed nothing more than a long request for some muscle pain and cough medicine. That, Yui could do.
"It can definitely be intimidating," Tsuabki said knowingly. "If you like, I can help you phrase a response."
Yui smiled. "I'd appreciate that."
She jotted down notes while Tsubaki articulated the rules to formal correspondence, discussing the differences in greetings and titles. Hatake interjected from time to time, giving his opinion and adding details. As Tsubaki talked, Yui started to think about what she could do with access to this new social network.
In her hands, the scroll no longer felt like a burden but an opportunity.
Yui had just returned from delivering a baby when a ninja walked into her clinic. She didn't recognize him, but he looked oddly familiar. He was about Eiji's age, just leaving his teen years, but his armor was well-worn. His shock of pale brown hair barely reached his shoulders, and a faded, cross-shaped scar stretched across his cheek. Most telling was the Senju emblem on his shoulder.
Eiji had none of her uncertainty. "You!"
"Me," replied the ninja.
"What do you want this time?" Eiji scowled and shut his book, a textbook that Makoto had sent.
"The same thing I wanted last time, healer. Do you have the salves for the Senju clan?"
"Yeah, yeah. Wait here. Don't break anything." Eiji stood up and opened the door with his foot, pausing to turn around and toss another glare over his shoulder. The door slammed shut with enough force that Eiji had to have kicked it behind him.
That was… interesting. Eiji definitely hadn't talked to ninja like that before. He'd been polite and wary, content to leave the work to her while he handled her usual duties. Yui watched with interest as the Senju stood patiently. His gaze flickered to hers, and he gave a shallow nod.
"Healer Yui," he said. "It has been quite some time since we last met. Both of our previous encounters were brief, though momentous."
He spoke like a teenager trying to give himself greater authority—which he was. Each word was stiff and careful, as if he was imitating someone else.
"That so?" Yui gave him a faint smile.
"I am Kawarama, the younger brother of Hashirama. You saved my life twelve years ago, and I was the one who delivered the agreement of neutrality." There was a faint distaste as he said that last word.
Ah, now she could see it. Kawarama did resemble Hashirama, though it looked like he was trying to imitate Tobirama. Yui had only met the other brother a few times, but he'd left quite an impression—along with the sealing scroll.
"It's nice to meet you properly."
Eiji returned with a few jars, and he placed it on the table with a little more force than necessary. "Did you behave?"
"Of course, healer." Kawarama's tone changed, and he sounded like the teenager he was. "Did you think I wouldn't?"
Eiji's glare was unimpressed. "Yeah, I did think that. Considering that you almost stabbed someone in my clinic last time."
"Your clinic?" Kawarama's smile was all condescending. "Healer Yui's clinic, you mean."
"Her clinic. Our clinic. Whatever."
Yui cleared her throat. The two boys stopped and looked at her. "Excuse me," she said mildly. "What's this about someone being stabbed?"
"The Senju here almost stabbed one of my patients because she was a ninja from an Uchiha-allied clan!" Eiji crossed his arms.
"But I didn't stab her," said Kawarama, sour. "I only threatened to."
"That's not much better!" Eiji snapped.
Yui shook her head. "Please refrain from doing that," she agreed dryly.
"I understand that Uchiha," he said the name like a curse, "and their allies are allowed in this clinic. It doesn't mean I have to like it."
Both Eiji and Yui exchanged a glance. If she had a coin for every time they'd heard that sentiment from either clan, she could decorate her whole clinic in gold.
"It's true! They're not good for anything but violence. It's this kind of soft thinking that's making my brother…" Kawarama stopped. "I, uh… it's not..." Any righteous self-possession he had disappeared under the weight of their visible disapproval.
Yui let the silence linger for a moment longer. "I think it's time for you to go," she said with a smile.
He shook his head, and then nodded, turning red. "I didn't mean to imply anything. I'm sorry if I—didn't mean to disapprove, er… of course, we're grateful. I'm grateful. I didn't..."
"Give your brother my greetings." Yui picked up the jars and handed them to him. "I hope to meet you again."
Kawarama nodded again, still red. "I'll do that." He left, head bowed, and closed the door gently behind him.
Eiji watched with awe. "You've got to teach me how to do that."
"Do what?" she said, amused.
"That. You got him out, and you didn't even shout or nothing." He huffed. "He doesn't listen to me." Eiji blinked. "Uh. Lots of ninja don't unless I get angry."
"Has Kawarama been coming around often?"
Eiji's turn to blush. "His brother's been really busy with clan stuff. He's trying to bring more peace, you know how it is. So he's sent Kawarama to do the usual stuff. Yeah."
"Yeah," she repeated, lips twitching. She took mercy on him. "Well, some of it is experience. I've been working with the ninja for some time now. I'm sure they'll listen more to you."
Eiji nodded, and in a completely unobvious way, opened his book and changed the subject. "Actually, I had a question about something written here…"
Yui went to his side, and like she had a hundred times before, began to explain.
The letters between Makoto and Yui grew more frequent. Though the doctor might protest otherwise, Yui knew she'd neglected their correspondence in the aftermath of Sen's death.
Makoto noted that more people were speaking to him about his budding medical association, ones who'd rejected him before. The support of a noble meant a lot in the capital, even if the noble himself was a country one. He kept her posted on the new advances and the slow, slow process to find a proper sponsor to refine the penicillin strain.
He also funneled requests from other doctors and researchers, all who almost universally threaded their letters with curious skepticism. Yui did her best to be honest, even while sticking to their established cover story—she was a rural colleague of his who was an expert in herbal and chakra medicine. The 'new ideas' were still his.
Besides the interested nobles and doctors, there was a third new category of letter writers that Yui hadn't expected: female scholars interested in meeting someone who'd also broken through the barriers, even if their fields of interest didn't overlap with hers. Historians, amateur chemists, philosophers, physicists... it was dizzying. Yui had been so far from an intellectual center for so long. She'd almost forgotten there were other fields besides medicine, that knowledge didn't stand still without her.
(From her clinic, she could see the skeleton of what would become a teaching hospital. Perhaps, one day, it would expand into something more.)
The increased demand and additional letters on top of her usual work in the village was enough to overwhelm their small team of two—three, including Tama, though she was still being trained. They would need to bring in more people to help.
And, Yui knew that it would only get worse when Eiji left to study in the city, a development she still hadn't told him about. She had mentioned it before, she had mentioned it to both him and Sen, yet... it had fallen to the wayside. When Yui had returned from the estate with confirmation, she hadn't reminded him. The air between them was still thick with unsaid words, even as Eiji and Yui tried to recover their comfortable familiarity.
She would have to rip off the bandage. She didn't want to, but she owed it to both of them.
Yui had just finished writing to Makoto about an idea for mapping out the systems of the body using the chakra-MRI when Eiji and Tama returned from their rounds.
"More letters?" he said, unraveling his scarf.
"Yeah," she murmured back.
Yui unrolled the next letter. This one was from Lady Fukuyama—like other nobles in her father's circle, she wrote to request medicine, but the supply requests felt like an excuse to keep in touch. The lady was courteous in her letters, writing with a politeness that she hadn't exhibited in person, but there was a wry bent to the gossip that made up most of the scroll. Yui actually looked forward to her letters. Lady Fukuyama's efforts to prove herself to noble society were entertaining, to be sure, but Kono's letters were sent along with the lady's, and Yui was always glad to hear from her friend.
Yui flexed her hand, feeling a cramp coming on, and added, "At least my handwriting's gotten better."
"That's... good," replied Eiji.
Yui tried not to grimace. She'd expected a joke or a comment—Eiji, the grandson of the village scribe, had flawless handwriting compared to Yui and Sen's scrawls. Eiji used to tease them both about it. (But maybe it wouldn't feel right, without Sen to respond in mock-anger at his insult.)
Eiji and Yui were both quiet, even as Tama looked between the two of them. She was an empathetic child, but even an oblivious one would have noticed.
It wasn't fair to her either.
Yui opened her mouth to say something, but the words stuck. "I... Eiji," she managed.
"Yes?" His voice was neutral as he cleaned up, scrubbing at his hands and quietly giving Tama instructions to do the same.
"We should... uh, we should," Yui openly grimaced this time and took a different approach. "Can I talk to you?"
He paused, mid-scrub, even as Tama sped up her efforts.
"I'll go!" she blurted out, literally throwing her towel as she sped out the door. The cloth missed the bucket and flopped to the floor, but Tama was already gone.
The silence she left was more stunned than awkward, and Eiji was the first to break it with a chuckle. Yui exhaled, equally amused, and they exchanged looks.
"That kid needs to learn to clean up properly," he groused, good-natured.
"It took a long time for that lesson to stick for two other kids I knew."
The memory of Sen hovered there, just a moment, but Eiji broke the silence. "Yeah," he said. "It did."
She met his gaze and tried to pack everything unsaid into two words. "I'm sorry."
Eiji shook his head. His eyes were wide, and he gripped the rag. "No, you shouldn't be. I'm sorry. For this… this everything."
Yui sighed, sitting cross-legged on the floor, chin in her hand. "We're a mess, aren't we?"
He sat next to her, rag still in hand. "Yeah, we are. Without him to keep us from sulking…"
"We've done a lot of sulking."
"Moping. Book-staring. However you want to call it." His weak smile faded. "I meant it, you know. I am sorry."
"I do." Eiji toyed with the rag. "I've done a lot of thinking, you know, when you were away. I had this big speech I wanted to tell you, but I… when I saw you, I couldn't get it out. And I kept putting it off. But I don't really have an excuse anymore."
She hesitated. "If you want." Yui really didn't think he needed to, but wounds and words shouldn't fester.
He nodded and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry for how I acted and what I said. I blamed you because it was easier than grieving. Because I was too blind to see that you were grieving too, just differently. When you left, and it was just me, I… I couldn't really tell myself that. When you first helped me… when you fixed my arm as a kid, you were like a hero to me. Like in the books my grandfather had. I wanted to…" Eiji rubbed his chin. "It's not coming out right," he mumbled. "It sounded better in my head."
"Take your time."
He did. Eiji twisted the frayed cloth between his fingers, hunched over as he waited for words to come. Finally, he asked, "Do you remember why I became your apprentice?"
"Your grandfather told me that you wanted to be a soldier," she said slowly. "And he asked me to take you on because I might convince you to stay."
"Yeah, though there wasn't much chance of me going anywhere." His shoulders relaxed, and he began to talk faster. "At first, I was a bit starry-eyed about it all. I wanted to see the world, become a legend like in the tales, and if I couldn't be a great warrior," he scoffed here, "I'd become the world's greatest healer. As I grew older, working with you and Sen… it became something I loved. But one thing didn't change. You were still a hero to me," Eiji said softly. "You, my teacher, with knowledge that even city doctors found miraculous."
He smiled. Of course he'd noticed. At first, her knowledge was nothing special in the little world of their village, but Chiyuku had grown. So had he.
"You were all-knowing, with an answer to everything, a remedy for everyone. When Sen died… I expected you to be strong. I wanted you to support me. I'd put you in a shrine, treated you different, and it wasn't fair for me to do that." He shook his head. "And after all my talk of being grown, asking you to rely on me… I'm sorry." Still sitting, Eiji bent down, ducking his head almost to the floor.
Yui put her hand on his shoulder and raised him up, moving. "It's not your fault."
"Then it's mine too." She owed him honesty in return. "I—when Sen—" She stopped.
Yui wasn't used to talking about her own feelings. She was more than familiar with being the recipient. Everyone seemed comfortable speaking to her, and Yui was generally willing to listen, but… when everyone expected her to be their rock, who could she confide in? Yet, keeping quiet hadn't helped her either.
"I felt like a failure," she said. It was her first time verbalizing something that had become a truth in her mind. "What kind of healer was I, to fail my own brother? There was nothing I could do, so… I—I kept working, because if I didn't do my job, everything would fall apart. And it'd be my fault again."
"But it didn't fall apart," he said softly. "And it's not your fault."
"You did good without me." She smiled, her eyes going misty for a different reason.
He snorted. "I guess. It was hard. Especially the ninja. A lot of them still thought of me as the bratty kid who followed you around, so I had to get a little… drastic with them to get me to listen."
"Drastic? Like with Kawarama?"
Eiji flushed. "Yeah."
Yui reached out and held his hands—which still had the rag clutched between them. "I'm sorry too," she said again, for the third time. "You're my brother too, just as much as Sen was. I was worried I'd lost you when I was at the estate."
"You didn't. You won't."
"I won't?" She sighed. "Should've told you earlier, but I was avoiding it too. I didn't want you to leave, not before we… figured something out." Yui put on her best smile. "Makoto was able to get you a place in the university. You'll begin attending in the spring."
"What?" He stared at her.
"You wanted to see the world, right? You can start with the capital."
He stood up. "Absolutely not!"
She also stood up, confused at the anger she heard in his voice. "Eiji—"
"We already lost Sen. Tama's half-trained. The town's getting bigger, we just built a new hospital, and you want me to leave you when things get hard? I'm not leaving."
"I thought you wanted to go."
"I do!" He picked up the dropped rag, lowering the volume of his voice, but not its intensity. "I even wrote letters to Dr. Makoto to learn more about the city and the university. But I'm not doing that now. I can go next year. Or the year after. There's no rush." Eiji met her eyes. "Besides, when it comes to teachers… I don't think I'd have a better one than you."
She hugged him tightly. Yui hadn't realized how much she'd feared losing him to distance, physical and otherwise. After a second, he hugged her back, just as tight.
"I don't think anyone would have a better teacher than you," he said, pulling apart. "We can look around for more apprentices. If we're building a proper hospital, we gotta have more doctors. I won't leave our village unprepared."
Yui squeezed his hand. "You're right," she said. "We should do that."
"We'll do it together."